Friday, December 24, 2010


Leading off for the '41s: Ron Hunt, shown here in 1971, the year he
set the modern record for most HBPs in a season (50). (Manager
Gene Mauch is showing what will happen to a certain part of
Ron's anatomy if he's not careful when he leans into the pitch...)
Back to the birthyear showdown...

The players born in 1941, at first glance, don't seem to measure up to the class of '40, but it's a sneaky squad: their starting lineup has better OBP at the top of the batting order. They are going to suffer from having to carry a featherweight bat at shortstop, but they won't be embarrassed at the plate and they have admirable depth in their pitching staff. Let's get started.

C--Bill Freehan (Tim McCarver, Dick Dietz)
1B--Boog Powell (Duke Sims, Ken Harrelson)
2B--Ron Hunt (Tommy Helms)
Batting second: Pete Rose, a man still grasping
at straws and groping for an answer...
SS--Ed Brinkman (John Kennedy)
3B--Jim Ray Hart (Ed Spiezio)
LF--Pete Rose (Allan Lewis)
CF--Adolfo Phillips
RF--Art Shamsky (Andy Kosco)

Starting pitchers--Mel Stottlemyre, Al Downing, Dean Chance, Ray Culp, Clyde Wright
Relief pitchers--Clay Carroll, Darold Knowles, Eddie Watt, Ken Sanders, Paul Lindblad
Swing man--Wilbur Wood

This is a squad that is heavy on catchers, and it would definitely benefit by being able to get Dick Dietz into the lineup on a regular basis. An erstwhile manager might try moving Bill Freehan to first, and then swallowing hard when shifting Boog Powell to left. (Visual evidence of why this is so will be forthcoming below). Pete Rose, shown in a characteristic pose, could move to right, where he can more easily signal his bookie with a series of decidedly unsubtle hand gestures...

There's some flexibility in how these players can be deployed, and there's going to be some decent power available off the bench.

Batting third: Boog Powell, clearly the inspiration for
Carole King's "I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet"...
As stated, you've got some good OBP at the top of the lineup (boosted by Ron Hunt's propensity for being plunked--253 lifetime HBPs, to be exact). Rose is probably best in the #2 slot, where his versatility as a hitter can be used to maximum effect.

This is not a team that's going to win any track meets, however. Hunt and Rose are among the most lead-footed of leadoff men, and they have a collectively abysmal stolen base success rate (263/467, or just 56%). They are followed by Boog Powell, a mountain of a man who really shouldn't be allowed in the same county with a jump rope (and, in fact,  legislation banning this was passed in Florida and Maryland in 1966).

Boog's a good hitter, though: he compares more favorably to the 40s #3 hitter, Joe Torre, than you might think. Unfortunately for the 41s, their team pretty much peaks with Powell. Their cleanup hitter is the enigmatic Jim Ray Hart, who provided a potent power bat for the San Francisco Giants in his first four seasons (1964-67, during which time he averaged 29 HRs a season, with a .501 slugging average and a 136 OPS+) but just lost his way in the middle of 1968.
Batting fourth: Jim Ray Hart, who would
soon come to loathe Glen Campbell's hit
"By The Time I Get to Phoenix"...

Jim Ray's Rubicon, so to speak, occurred on Bastille Day (July 14th). Coming off a three-game series against the Reds in Crosley Field where he'd gone 8-for-14 with three homers and eight RBI, his '68 stats were on track with those of his previous four years (19 HRs in 78 games and a .291/.365/.535 batting line). From Bastille Day on, however, he hit just .212/.263/.313 with only 4 HRs. Jim Ray struggled through 1969, hitting just 3 HRs, and the baseball world was shocked the next year when he was optioned to Phoenix (then the Giants' AAA farm club) at the end of spring training. He would spend portions of the next three years there, hitting the way he'd used to hit in the majors, but he never quite got it back together in the big leagues. (Part of the problem is shown in the picture, which dates from 1966, when Jim Ray's waistline was still relatively under control. Always error-prone at third, he put on some excess weight: the results were not pretty. Grumbling resulted, Hart was shifted to left, he sulked. And a career just went off the rails.)

Batting fifth (smoke cloud optional): Bill Freehan

So Hart in the #4 slot for the 41s is not quite so imposing as Willie Stargell for the 40s. Such relatively unflattering comparisons continue in the #5 slot, where Bill Freehan resides. Now, Freehan is a fine catcher, but he is no Ron Santo at the plate. On his own club (the Detroit Tigers, from 1963-76), he batted primarily sixth and seventh. He was one of the first mega-durable catchers, playing in 155 games in back-to-back seasons. It's probable that the team would need to shift some players around (as noted above) to get Dick Dietz' bat into the lineup, at least against lefties (a .428 OBP and .478 SLG against them lifetime).

Swinging from the right: Ken Harrelson
Swinging from the left: Art Shamsky
Barring that, however, a platoon in right field would seem to be in order. And the 41s sport two extremely sporty guys who would make for a surprisingly effective platoon: Art Shamsky and Ken Harrelson. Shamsky clearly made the most out of his brief peak in New York with the Mets, spending a good bit of time on what can charitably be called "extra-curricular activities." (An ex-wife sued him in the late 90s for neglecting to inform her that he had a sexually transmittable disease, which she said was "his god-damned gift that kept on giving.") Harrelson established his wacky, faux hip persona early on, and has parlayed it into a career than has made him into the second most reviled baseball broadcaster in America.

However, as interchangeable parts in right field--so long as their body parts remain inside the foul lines, that is--Shamsky and Harrelson project to be reasonably useful.

Batting seventh: Adolfo Phillips??
The 41s' center fielder continues this team's trend of short-career players (presumably making up for the fact that they have the all-time games played leader in Rose). But Adolfo Phillips (the long form of whose nickname has always been rumored to be "The Panamanian Flash in the Pan"...) might just hold the record for the player with the shortest career to wind up with a full time starting job in the entire 1940s showdown, just 649 lifetime games. Despite being anointed by Leo Durocher, who famously batted him eighth in the Cubs lineup and dubbed him his "double leadoff and double cleanup hitter," Adolfo's big-league career barely made it out of the 60s, which is why we've seen fit to alter his Topps image into an ersatz hommage to Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Given his speed, however, it might be worth at least considering moving Phillips into the #2 slot, and dropping everyone else down a notch. We'll leave that to the folks who actually play the games, though.

There can be no doubt, however, that the 41s' shortstop, Eddie Brinkman, should bat at least eighth. And, if Tony LaRussa were managing this team, he wouldn't be that high in the lineup. A breathtakingly bad hitter with the exception of two seasons (1969-70) when he was hypnotized into thinking he was the illegitimate son of Ted Williams, Brinkman was revered for his range at short--so much so that he ranked ninth on the MVP ballot in 1972 (receiving more votes than any of his other teammates on the division-winning Detroit Tigers) despite hitting just .203. It's safe to say that this is something that will never happen again, unless the Lords of Baseball decree that the game be played in the dark.

So, that lineup again:

Hunt 2b
Rose lf
Powell 1b
Hart 3b
Freehan c
Shamsky/Harrelson rf
Phillips cf
Brinkman ss

These guys project to score 705 runs (about 60-65 less than the 40s.) So they are definitely going to need some pitching, n'est-ce pas? And this team does have some solid peak performance guys in their starting rotation. Two 60s Yankees stalwarts (Mel Stottlemyre and Al Downing) start things off reasonably well, and early-blooming Dean Chance was a high-quality starter for a few years before his arm evaporated. Similarly short peaks are the name of the game for #4 and #5 men Ray Culp and Clyde Wright. If these guys were all working on full cylinder at the same time, it would be an awfully good rotation.

And then there's the team's probable "secret weapon": Wilbur Wood. I cannot recall any other left-handed knuckleball pitcher in baseball (though I'm sure this is nothing more or less than a brain cramp). The freakishness of Wood, though, is something that goes beyond his dual success as a late-inning reliever and as the ultimate innings-eating starter for the Chicago White Sox in the early 70s: it goes right to the notion that Wood could literally pitch in 90-100 games the way Mike Marshall did, except with the added twist that he could start 20-25 of those games.

Additionally, the 41s are blessed with a deep bullpen that features five firemen who all had significant success in what we now call the "closer" role. I think I'd go for dual closers with righty Clay Carroll and lefty Darold Knowles, with Ken Sanders and Paul Lindblad as the set-up guys. Eddie Watt can pitch in the seventh inning, and Wood can simply get deployed whenever there's a tight situation (whenever he isn't getting a start, that is). More than any of the other teams in the 40's showdown, the 41s' pitching staff is a post-modern manager's dream: LaRussa or Bruce Bochy should get the nod to push this team's buttons.