A small part of the fun in delving through baseball's long, glorious history is the useless playing of the 'what if' game. It's almost as useless as making preseason predictions, but we can't help doing it all the same. What if Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio had swapped places? Certainly many more homeruns for both, and a very different individual public perception for each. What if ballplayers were excused from military service during WWII? Williams may own all the major hitting records. What if the Red Sox and Yankees weren't so slow in shaking their racist sensibilities in the aftermath of Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson? Willie Mays should've been in Boston, either hitting in front of, or behind Williams. What fun would've been had in Boston. The Yankee dynasty would have likely extended beyond the end of the Mantle Era. Would Georgie Porgie have gotten his hands on the team if they hadn't fallen from prominence? There are countless of these scenarios, and they are fun to postulate about in barrooms. But here's a silly one that surely would've created some exciting roster instability. What if Frank Lane and Jack McKeon had been GMs at the same time? Ooh Boy! No player's job would've been safe.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The camera moves along a rooftop patio overlooking the East River. The sun is just rising, casting an optimistic glow on a gray New York City morning. A man, dressed neatly in ironed slacks and shirt sits in a chair, fighting the wind to read the newspaper, drinking a cup of coffee. He stands and walks to the railing. He scans the river, the bridge extending across, the rotting cityscape of the luxury elite. He looks down on the city and says to himself, "This Could Be It". The movie cuts to a tracking shot. The centerfield gate to Shea Stadium opens, and we move across the green outfield grass toward homeplate. Thirteen hours until game time, we are told.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Sunday, January 22, 2012
|Two fine pitchers...two Hall of Fame mustaches.|
I have only recently entered into the annual Hall of Fame debate conducted by thousands of people, most of which have no significant influence on the vote (including myself). And already I have grown weary of the vitriolic arguments for or against certain players. In researching for this post, I quickly tired of the argument I was going to make against Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame. The guy was a very good pitcher who is now being dragged through the ringer that results from straddling the fence between an older generation that evaluates the game and its players with archaic measures and a narrow range of focus, and the new generation that takes advantage of all available tools to better understand baseball and all its intricacies. The old generation remains stubborn in the face of progress because there is a lot more work involved now, and I imagine a creeping feeling that what they've always known about the game amounts to not nearly as much as prided upon. And they don't like it. Gut vs. Brain. The game pulls at both but should lean more heavily on the brain. And the new generation, the stat-heads, as we are so derisively regarded, fuel this ongoing fire in part because it is so damn frustrating to have all these resources that provide clearer, more interesting representations of the game that are all but ignored by the baseball mainstream, from ESPN to broadcasts to the BBWAA. The new generation is winning the war, which will make baseball better in the long run, but the old curmudgeons don't like it one bit. And Jack Morris is the man chosen to represent that older generation's outlook on the game.*
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
A late night Google image search of Fernando Valenzuela led me to find this delightful piece of baseball ephemera. Chicago-area artist Jeremy Scheuch has an entire series of zombie baseball cards, based on the 1986 Topps set. Do yourself a favor and check out the entire gallery here.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
|Looks a lot like an 'M', or if you prefer, an inverted 'W'|
Kerry Wood is still a Chicago Cub, signing a one-year deal for $3 million to set-up cardiac closer extraordinaire Carlos Marmol. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I was thrilled when Wood signed with the Cubs prior to the 2011 season, coming off his brilliant flash of dominance with the Yankees, and even more so upon learning the sentimental details of his contract negotiations with then GM Jim Hendry following Ron Santo's funeral. Wood took a discount to come back home to Chicago. Such a mutual display of loyalty between player and management has always been rare and is almost unheard of in modern baseball business. But coming into this offseason, I've had a difficult time shifting my weight on either side of apathy.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
The Reds are trying to find out this year. After a disappointing 2011 campaign, Walt Jocketty and company have made some shrewd moves this off-season and have addressed the team's biggest issue; pitching. As a team, the 2011 Reds were on the wrong side of league average in ERA, ERA+, WHIP, HR/9, and K/BB. They didn't have a much trouble scoring runs (2nd in the NL in runs scored per game), but the whole run prevention thing proved to be a little tricky for the Redlegs. Now, in addition to the Mat Latos acquisition (which we discussed here), the Reds have a two-headed monster at the back end of what was already a pretty decent bullpen.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Last year : received 32.9% of the vote
The late, great Red Smith referred to the Designated Hitter as "that loathsome ploy". I agree with this, but the DH ploy has survived in the American League for almost forty years now, and in all likelihood, will soon spread to the National League shortly after realignment. In an attempt to prepare for my beloved Senior Circuit abandoning one of the fundamental foundations of baseball, that being a game of nine innings featuring nine players, I keep the sentiments of Ted Williams close in mind:
"Baseball should adopt the football specialist. A guy who would do nothing but hit. I hate it when I see a pitcher up there with the bases loaded, some half-athlete who swings like an old maid, rear end flying, can't run a step, gets about one hit a year. Why not have a specialist who could bat two times a game for weak hitters like that? Then great hitters like Mantle and Mays could stick around longer...when their legs are gone."
I don't really agree with this, but I can see the point. Although it is important to keep in mind that it was made by a guy who loved to hit and never cared much for the field. I mention all this because the only thing keeping Edgar Martinez out of the Hall of Fame is the fact that he spent nearly 75% of his career as a DH. His prime years offensively place him in the upper echelon of the Hall of Fame: from 1990-2001, he posted a batting average of .321 and an on-base percentage of .429, both awe-inspiring numbers. In 1995, the year Mo Vaughn inexplicably won the AL MVP, Martinez had a line of .356/.479/.628. It is one of the greatest offensive seasons in AL history. To cap off that tremendous season, he knocked the clinching double in the ALDS vs. the Yankees that saved Seattle baseball.
Martinez didn't often play in the field, and when he did, he was a below average third baseman. But there are many terrible fielders in the Hall of Fame, several of whom were not nearly as effective at the plate. If the DH gimmick had expired as all gimmicks should, Martinez would have been a poor fielder but great hitter, and would likely have already been enshrined in Cooperstown. But there is a DH*, and as stated above, it will likely pervade all of baseball soon. Martinez isn't simply the best DH of all-time, he is one of the best hitters of all time. And he deserves a plaque alongside the best of baseball company.
*Martinez is being kept out of the HoF by writers who frown on the DH, even though these are likely the same writers who have grown apathetic toward the DH's role in baseball and will show minimal outrage when it is instituted in the National League. Realignment and constant inter-league play will bring the DH discussion to the forefront, and in all likelihood, the DH will win for financial, and I suppose pragmatic reasons. The only potential positive effect of Edgar Martinez continually missing the Hall, would be the added negative emphasis placed on the career DH. If players see that being a DH will exclude them from the Hall regardless of their greatness, perhaps they will complain to their union rep, and perhaps the DH will lose some of its supporters. And perhaps it may one day go away. I doubt it, but either way, Edgar Martinez should be in the Hall of Fame.*
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Last year: received 37.5% of the vote
Since his first year of eligibility, Tim "Rock" Raines has been the one of the players the saber-crowd has been promoting for Hall of Fame enshrinement. With Blyleven now in, the focus can now narrow on Raines finding his way to Cooperstown. It seems that with every passing year advanced stats are making their way further into the consciousness of mainstream baseball. Sure, there are still Murray Chasses and Mitch Williamses (and seemingly every writer from Boston) out there railing against reason and progressive thought, yet slowly but surely it is beginning to take hold. There has already been a great deal of virtual ink spilled on the subject of Raines' Hall of Fame case (Tom Tango and Jonah Keri have an entire website devoted to the subject), so I'll try and keep this brief.
Raines was an absolutely dominant player during his peak, and just because that peak was only five years long, doesn't make it any less impressive. From 1983 to 1987 Raines accumulated 33.5 WAR, averaged .318/.406/.467 with an OPS+ of 142, stole 355 bases at an 88.3% success rate, was 1st in the NL in Avg. and OBP in 1986, was an All-Star all five years, and finished no lower than 12th in MVP voting each year. Raines had another great year in 1992 (6.1 WAR), and remained a useful player into his mid-30's. In fact, his only negative WAR year was his final year, as a 39 year old playing for the Mariners. His career 70.9 WAR total bests Hall of Fame outfielders Tony Gwynn, Lou Brock, Dave Winfield and Andre Dawson. However, Raines continues to be an afterthought for Hall of Fame voters.
I suspect we will see a significant increase in votes for Raines this year, but I doubt he will make the nearly 40% jump needed to get his plaque. This is even more unfortunate when you consider the glut of talent that will become eligible in the next three years. Raines was an unequivocally great player, one of the best leadoff hitters and base-stealers the game has ever seen. He just so happened to come up at the same time as the guy who is considered to be the very best leadoff hitter and base-stealer of all time. Hopefully some day he will get his due.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Larry Walker will not make the Hall of Fame this year. Nor will he be enshrined anytime soon. The reasons for this are simple: (1) he had a relatively short career (17 seasons, only 12 of which he had over 400 plate appearances), (2) he played the prime of his career in Colorado, and... (3) he played the prime of his career in Colorado.
As for #1 : While career longevity is important in determining the quality of a ballplayer, it also creates contradictory arguments. To stay in the game for 18-22 seasons, a ballplayer must be good, obviously. But a ballplayer must also be lucky in health (and in some cases, major wars). A long career is what allows players to accumulate the counting stats that most voters and fans value so much when deciphering the greatness of a given ballplayer...3,000 hits; 500 home runs; 300 wins; etc. These are all great numbers. I will never argue against a member of the 3,000 hit club or 300 win club from entering the Hall. However, good health, reputation, and salary play a huge role in allowing a player the opportunity to reach these milestones.* Larry Walker was an injury-prone player, as his only 12 full seasons show. While unfortunate, his poor health does not take away from his greatness when on the field. During those 12 seasons he was among the best of all-time, and certainly one of the most dominant of his era.
*the 3,000 hit club is the most precarious, even with the steroid taint on hitting 500 home runs. A player can accumulate hits over a career without being a dominant, or even great player. If 2,500 of those hits are singles, the feat is not overwhelmingly impressive.
As for #2 : Colorado, at least until recently, was a wasteland for publicity. While Larry Walker was tearing up the NL West, not many people in the East were even paying attention.
As for #3 : That thin air in pre-humidor Coors Field. This fact should not be discounted. Walker's numbers should be viewed in context. He hit .381/.562/.710 at Coors Field, mind-boggling numbers. Away from Coors, not nearly as good, but still among the league's best, especially considering most hitters (even great ones) perform better at home than on the road. Players like Stan Musial are few and far between. In hindsight, it is unfortunate that Walker played his prime years in Colorado as this is now the strongest argument against his enshrinement. His career suggests that he would have been a dominant player in any ballpark, certainly with less superhuman-like numbers, but a dominate player nonetheless.
MON : Ages 22-27 : .281/.357/.483
COL : Ages 28-36 : .334/.426/.618
STL : Ages 37-38 : .286/.387/.520
In the strike shortened season of 1994, his last in Montreal, Walker put up a .322/.394/.587 line, belting 44 doubles and 19 home runs in 103 games. With injuries plaguing the next two seasons, Walker's peak had to wait until age 30. And his peak was remarkable. While a player's home ballpark should be taken into account, especially in borderline cases, Larry Walker is not borderline. In addition to his tremendous hitting, he was a stellar outfielder, winning seven gold gloves and owning one of the most feared throwing arms in baseball, he stole bases and ran them well, was considered a great teammate, and at times sported some stellar facial hair. To help alleviate your concerns over the pre-humidor Coors Field effect, Larry Walker's career OPS+, which takes into account park effects and league comparisons, is 140. That is 5th highest among right fielders all-time. He ranks higher than Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Tony Gwynn, Al Simmons, Roberto Clemente, and Dave Winfield. They are all in the Hall of Fame, and those are just the right fielders. The list of Hall of Fame left fielders and center fielders behind Walker is much much longer.
So we can't punish Larry Walker for playing in Colorado. Somebody had to. If we keep Walker out, does that mean we have to keep Todd Helton out as well? That doesn't sit well with this baseball fan.
Monday, January 2, 2012
Last year: received 62.1% of the vote
This is an easy one for me. In a lot of respects, Barry Larkin was baseball for me as a kid. He was one of, if not the best player on my favorite team for the majority of my formative years. Larkin was drafted by the Reds the year after I was born, and retired when I was twenty years old. Players spending their entire career with the same team is a rarity in the era of free agency, and even more rare when the player is a homegrown talent. Along with Pete Rose, Larkin is somewhat of a folk hero in Cincinnati, but it seems to me that he is slightly underrated outside of the Queen City.
Larkin spent the first half of his career overshadowed by Ozzie Smith's defensive wizardry (and gymnastic feats), and the second half of his career in an era when shortstops were showing impressive power. But, Larkin quietly went about his business and showed baseball fans that a slick fielding shortstop could also effectively swing the bat. During his peak (from 1988-2000) he had 8 seasons of +5 War, 11 All-star appearances, 9 Silver Slugger awards, 3 Gold gloves, an MVP award and a World Series ring.
Larkin was a true five-tool player, and it seems that the fact that he was so well rounded has actually hurt his candidacy for Cooperstown. There was not one thing Larkin did that made him stand out, which made him easier to overlook. He had great range, a great arm, could hit for both power and average, and he could steal a few bases. But, it was the sum of all these attributes that made him the great player that he was. Consider career WAR totals for modern era shortstops that played the majority of their career at short and you can see that Larkin is in some impressive company:
Alex Rodriguez - 112.5
Cal Ripken, Jr. - 99.7
Luke Appling - 84.7
Joe Cronin - 75.4
Derek Jeter - 74.4
Arky Vaughan - 74.3
Robin Yount* - 74.1
Barry Larkin - 70.6
Ozzie Smith - 70.3
Lou Boudreau - 69.8
Pee Wee Reese - 69.7
The two active players here (Jeter and A-Rod) are both presumptive shoo-ins to make it to Cooperstown, though by the time Rodriguez's contract with the Yankees is up he will not have the majority of his games at short. Everyone else on this list, with the exception of Larkin is already in the Hall of Fame. The consensus opinion seems to be that Larkin will join his peers this year and be enshrined among the greatest shortstops of all time. Personally, I couldn't be happier about it.
*Robin Yount very narrowly makes the cut on this list with only 51.79% of his games played at SS.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Last year : received 41.7% of the vote
Bagwell should be a no-brainer. That he isn't is a part of what makes the Hall of Fame voting process such an absurd good time. For my money, he was the best player among those eligible for the vote; however, I would be very surprised if he is voted in this year. The only reason for not voting for Bagwell is the continued whispering about his potential steroid use. This of course, is not a good reason. This is a worn-out line, but the man never pissed dirty, denies using, and has never actually been accused of using. It is best we all just believe he was clean, and give the man his due. The time is fast approaching to move beyond steroids when judging the players of the Selig Era. The great players were great regardless and should not be denied their plaques, even if it does leave the taste of bile on one's tongue. Players have been seeking an edge since the game of baseball was created. We will all have to let go of our hatred soon enough.
So forgetting steroids, Bagwell was a great hitter. One of the most feared in all of baseball for nearly the entire length of his career. You can view his career numbers here. But some quick math for you: nine seasons with 30+ homeruns; seven times surpassed a .550 slugging percentage, perennially among the league leaders in on-base percentage. As a Cubs fan, Jeff Bagwell was the scourge of baseball. More than any other hitter in the league, I winced as he stepped in the batter's box. To augment his hitting, Bagwell played a great first base, stole bases, and was beloved both in the clubhouse and with the fanbase. If his shoulder hadn't of gone bad, Bagwell would have hit all those asinine benchmark numbers in which many voters and fans still place much of their faith: 500 homeruns, 500 doubles, 2500 hits. Bagwell was a force in every aspect of the game. One of the greatest hitters of his era. And his was a great hitters' era. Cooperstown, for sure. Though probably not yet.