Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The ongoing muddle of how to define "replacement" level players drives this little series. Here we'll look at  the pitchers whose careers lasted long enough (at least 1000 IP) for them to be considered valuable enough to use regularly at the major league level but whose overall performance is at least ten percent below major league average (as measured by ERA+).

We'll do this by decades, so as to keep each entry mercifully brief. First up: five poor saps from the first decade of the twentieth century (the decade known as "the aughts").

(ERA+ data: seasons under 150 IP are shown in italic type and shaded in blue.)

Our five pitchers combined to win just over 40% of their decisions (that exact WPct, for those who like numbers on the right side of the decimal place, is .403). Out of a total of twenty-six season-years where they pitched at least 150 innings, they had only four years in which their league-relative ERA (ERA+) was above league average. None of them did it more than once.

Harry McIntire is the only one of these guys who never had a league average season (though he was reasonably close in his age-28 season, which happens to be 1907). Oddly, he's the only pitcher here who was actually coveted by a good team: the Chicago Cubs, falling out of first place in 1909 after three consecutive trips to the World Series, gave the Brooklyn Superbas--a sad misnomer of a nickname at that point, given that the team had just completed a five-year stretch where they'd managed a collective .378 WPCT (287-472)--not one, not two, but three warm bodies for McIntire (two of them mysteriously surnamed Smith).

Odd behavior for such a storied franchise, given that McIntire had actually pitched under his team during those seasons (42-82, .318 WPCT, allowing 4.31 runs per nine innings).

Irv Young, no relation to Cy, about
as blue-collar a pitcher as you can get
Perhaps when we have game logs for these years, we'll be able to discern just what the Cubs saw in McIntire. Whatever that might have been, he improved in 1910, becoming a kind of "sixth wheel" in the Cubs' pitching staff--and actually had a winning record. (The fact that the Cubs actually had an offense--finishing second in the NL that year in runs scored--might have had something to do with it, of course.) The Cubs made it back to the World Series that year, but the Philadelphia A's made quick work of them, winning in five games. McIntire had one excellent relief appearance in Game 1, but it was offset by a disastrous one in Game 3.

As is often the case, older and out-of-favor performance measures (WPCT) work reasonably well when used comparatively: McIntire's own WPCT consistently trails the WPCT of the team he's pitching for, which is what we might call the "pre-sabermetric indicator of a below-average starting pitcher." Many of these guys demonstrate this pattern as well--although Irv Young, a stocky left-hander who was dubbed "Cy the Second" by some wishful-thinking Boston sportswriters after his 1905 rookie season, fits the profile of someone who was pushed too hard and who faded away prematurely as a result.

Casey Patten, looking a bit worse for wear...
Patsy Flaherty would seem to be an example of another phenomenon: what we know call a "AAAA pitcher"--someone who puts things together for a single season and then reverts back to a substandard level. Flaherty's 1904 (19-9 after being acquired by the defending NL champion Pirates) is totally out of whack with the rest of his career. Casey Patten, a lefty who toiled for the pre-Walter Johnson Washington Senators, is yet another type: a reliable innings-eater who is clearly better than any "replacement level" concept and often pitches better than his team. Patten's 1904 season, when you look at it in a certain way, is one of those heroic "ace-like" years (14 wins for a staggeringly bad team that began the year with a thirteen-game losing steak and went 38-113 overall).

No reason to be cheerful: "Happy" Townsend
Happy Townsend is probably the best example of replacement level performance that we have in this little gang of five. The best analogy for Townsend might be someone like Steve Dunning--a highly regarded college prospect brought to the big leagues with no minor league experience, only to fall far short of the achievement level projected for him. Townsend's nickname came from what was described as a cocky, carefree attitude, and he exemplifies the cheeky esprit de corps that players demonstrated in the first half of the 'aughts, when there was still a large amount of internecine warfare between the leagues (as Brian McKenna's essay outlines). In his case, Townsend "jumped" from frying pan to burnt-out shell, landing on the same Senators squad as Casey Patten and compiling some distinctly unhappy numbers (14-53 from 1903-05, with an 80 ERA+).
Brooks Stevens: template/guru for the
post-modern small-market GM?

We'd be remiss in not noting that the economic/contractual changes in the game have probably had as much to do with defining and blurring the concept of replacement level. In today's game, there's no reason to keep respectably bad players on a team for more than three years: they will get arbitration rights and their salaries will escalate beyond the point where they are worth having around. Back then, however, such an idea was more feasible, since the salary structure of the game was what we might call "more self-correlated." You could pay low wages to mediocrity for an extended period of time, an economic model that would soon be supplanted by the now-pervasive (and still controversial) concept of planned obsolescence.

We'll conclude by looking at how often these pitchers managed to post winning seasons, and summing up their simple won-loss performance by year. (There are a total of seven winning seasons here, but only four of them came with sub-.500 teams. That's the same total of higher than average ERA+ seasons we'd seen earlier: the old and new "metrics" are often more in accord than is commonly thought.)

1905 is their "summum bonum in reverse," where they combine for a 59-93 record--a full season's worth of last place performance. Summed together, our five "best bad" pitchers in the 'aughts are nothing more or less than the inverse of Cy Young: their collective won-loss record is 342-514.

It's not much of a legacy, but sometimes there's no choice but to just take what you can get.

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.

Monday, December 20, 2010


The dark age of the triple began in 1946. (Note: chart
presented in logarithmic scale.)
The reinterpretation of baseball history that's been underway ever since sabermetrics brought its own lens to the past is not an unalloyed success. While we've discovered a series of obscure, forgotten players in the process, there has been an odd, troubling homogenization of the past that all too often jettisons the differences in playing conditions in place during what I like to call baseball's "triples age".

(As the chart shows, the "triples age" came to an abrupt halt right after World War II and isn't likely to return any time soon.)

The Bill Mastro Collection, a superb assemblage of baseball memorabilia, was auctioned earlier this month; it's a reminder of just how much has changed, how the game has narrowed itself. Do we have better quality of play today? Without question. But it is a game increasingly steeped in uniformity. What's astonishing is that Babe Ruth's large hand (the visible documentation of which was one of the stunning centerpieces of Mastro's collection) did not, in and of itself, bring the "triples age" to an end: as we can see from the chart, the Ruthian era brought triples and homers into parity. It was the post-war game, with its increasing emphasis on home runs, that brought about the "endangered species" status of the triple.

The increasing remoteness of that past game makes it all the more alien to us even though we can clearly see its similarities. While we can use measures to determine the "value" of these players, these applications of modern, "scientific" methods have no stylistic or aesthetic component to them, and completely sidestep the question of whether the game on the field in the 21st century is as rich or as varied as the game being played in the 1920-1945 time frame, where triples still had a fighting chance to contribute to a player's value.

You can see the beginning of the end in pre-Ruthian days, of course. One of Mastro's items from his collection of baseball pins shows how the fascination with the long ball was brought into being a few years before Ruth made his debut as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Frank Baker, third baseman for the Philadelphia A's dynasty that dominated the first of the 1910s, was a great hitter; his enshrinement at Cooperstown, however, was ensured not so much by his superb six-year peak as the A's cleanup hitter (an OPS+ of 153) but by the fact that he hit two dramatic home runs in the 1911 World Series. That feat led to his nickname--"Home Run" Baker--which began the slow, steady, but increasing fascination with the long ball.

It's clearly coincidental, but the shape of Baker's stats changed markedly once he left Philadelphia. (Baker held out in 1915 and was sold to the Yankees in 1916). While with the A's, Baker hit nearly twice as many triples (88) as homers (48). While with the Yankees, Baker hit three times as many homers (48) as triples (15). This is readily explained by modern baseball analysis, of course: Baker lost his foot speed as he entered his thirties. Nevertheless, it's an interesting harbinger of the overall shift that would soon come.

The Mastro Collection wasn't assembled in order to provide a glimpse into the changes in the game, of course, but it really can't help doing so. For example, the incursion of the media into the game began much earlier than one might think, as using baseball star power to sell products began prior to the Ruthian era. One of the earliest (and most interesting) is the Christy Mathewson baseball game, exploiting the recently retired and deeply revered New York Giants pitcher (known as "Big Six" for his lean, lanky frame). Apparently you're supposed to "Spin the Pitcher" dial to produce the outcome of each plate appearance: it's clearly a precursor to Ethan Allen's "All Star Baseball" game, though whether either of these indoor games can actually capture "all the thrills of the diamond" is an open question.

Today, of course, we have computer games that produce season results in an instant. It's already become a quaint notion to play a baseball simulation game in real time; one wonders if someday it will seem quaint to actually play the game itself...

Here's another example of how marketing and media have changed over the course of a century. Today it would be virtually impossible for a baseball player--for any athlete, in fact--to attach oneself to products containing any kind of serious health warnings. That was certainly not the case in the late 1940s, when this Chesterfield cigarette advertisement appeared regularly in sports publications, and featured an entire menage of baseball luminaries (in this photo, we have: Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Elliot, Ewell Blackwell, and then-Yankee manager Bucky Harris).

One way of looking at the decline in triples would be to map the usage of cigarettes by ballplayers. With more and more players lighting up, the more winded they would get trying to go to third base on a long hit. Hence why not swing for the fences so you won't have to run that hard? Nobody wants to look winded in front of a paying crowd! This is exactly the point in time (as shown on the chart) where the ratio of triples to homers, which had made a bit of a comeback during WW II, reversed itself. (Yes, there was a bit of a gain in the 70s--possibly due to the Lords of Baseball having a backlash to Roger Maris's 61-home run season in 1961--but the "dark age" of triples has been with us since the mid-50s).
Nothing wrong with A-Rod, but....baseball needs 
a player like Honus Wagner again--check out that hand!

Consequently, the chances of us ever seeing a player like Honus Wagner again--an amazingly rough-hewn performer, with outsized hands, who looked twenty years older than his birth age but was described in the media of the day as "the most amazing Methuselah ever seen on the diamond"--are approaching absolute zero. A player who could hit 20 triples in a season at the age of 38, 17 triples at age 41. (The most triples we've seen from a player that age in modern times is 12--Steve Finley did it at age 41 for the Giants in 2006). Fourteen of the twenty players with the most triples from the age of 35 on (a list led by that surprising Hall of Famer Sam Rice--with 87, three ahead of Wagner) are players whose careers occurred prior to 1946, when the dark age of triples began.

The increasing rarity of these players is not something to simply shrug one's shoulders over--we need some pioneering spirit in the game to turn the tables on the stifling uniformity that has taken over baseball. We need someone to build ballparks like Forbes Field (yeah, yeah, I know, only with luxury boxes). Ballparks where triples come to live, not die. Ballparks where speed and power can operate on a level playing field.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


If there is one topic that induces mouth foam more than post-season awards, it is the dear old Hall of Fame, with its pre-digital (but all-too-rarely post-coital) set of "initiation rituals." (Virgins, ban yourselves to Sleepy Hollow at once!)

So if you see a lot of lather around at the moment, it's not that your can of shaving cream is "going into business for itself", it's just that eligible BBWAA voters are popping up out of the ground like stunted stalks of corn and making pronouncements (and there's nothing more consternating than a talking stunted stalk of corn, lemme tell ya!).

They say the silliest things, and the boys in the back room ("chat" room, that is, even though it's not a room, and the "chatting" is often, well, more dread-inducing than the bantering exchanges between Martin Balsam and Anthony Perkins in Psycho: as with that "chat," you just know that all hell is going to break loose, and likely sooner than later) are gearing up for another post-holiday season of quail, carp, and (in Bill James's best-ever phrase) bone-eating.

One of these erstwhile BBWAA guys posted a blog entry that eliminated a series of currently eligible candidates (including several who are "stathead" favorites, including Bert Blyleven, who's primed to be inducted thanks in part to the indefatigable efforts of head Baseball Analyst Rich Lederer) because they were merely "compilers."

In other words, these players didn't dominate the game (in the way that, say, Lloyd Waner did), but merely compiled statistics (the way Paul Molitor did, amassing 3000+ hits).

It's an odd argument, and it won't really wind up being of much import--but it is an excuse for me to provide a brief clap of thunder in keeping with the third and last subtitle of this here blogg.

For goodness sakes, Mr. Leume, all Hall of Famers--all ballplayers, for that matter--are "compilers." Their numbers pile up--some a good bit more than others. If one wants to exclude Rafael Palmeiro because he is in the cross-hairs about steroids, let's simply get down to that point, and not look for ways to discredit his statistics (which in any other context would give him a front-door entrance to Cooperstown).

As noted in a previous post, a large Hall is the only way to ensure that all of the deserving players are enshrined. A large Hall does have the potential drawback of putting in a few folks who really don't belong, but it really is a minor problem and not one to get all knicker-twisty about.

"No, no, Bill, I promise this time I won't eat the bone!"
Consquently, I'm going to suggest here--no, actually, in keeping with the carping, quailing, and outright bone-eating that will raise the earth's decibel level faster than the lethal increase in global temperature--I'm going to demand that Hall of Fame ballots be expanded to 15 potential slots per year and that any BBWAA voter who doesn't include at least five players have their votes set aside.

(As my old boss in Las Vegas said when I told him that they'd finally gotten the massive bureaucracy out of my way and that I was actually getting something accomplished: "We'll put a stop to that shit.")

Now, as it so happens, there are 13 players listed on the 2011 ballot who belong in the Hall of Fame once the effete elite who see HoF voting as an excuse for increasingly tendentious ranking schemes are either put into adjoining rubber rooms or launched into tandem asynchronous orbits. Here they are, kiddies, in alpha-heretical order.

Roberto Alomar

Forget that he's not the spittin' image of Rogers Hornsby, he was a brilliant player. Nearly 3/4ths of the BBWAA is in agreement, which is a bit surprising but not something to worry about when one is sending their ideologically-pure tweed jacket out to the cleaners.

Jeff Bagwell

I suspect he won't go in until the other, smaller "Killer B"--Craig Biggio--appears on the ballot in 2013. That's OK--sentiment (but not crying!) is accepted in baseball, especially on the dais in Cooperstown. Bagwell was a great player, and besides, if he doesn't get enshrined, there's a danger that the carping about the trade that sent him to Houston for Larry Andersen will actually die off. (And wouldn't that be a pity!!)

Bert Blyleven

I think Bert should be put in simply for having worn this shirt.

All of the rest of the arguments are what the late, thought-he-was-great Paul Piccone used to call "overdetermined hoo-hah."

Kevin Brown

It's vital that Kevin get into the Hall, because the Lords of Baseball have to find a way to justify paying him so much money. Without it, the top-end monopolists will have no convenient raison d'etre to point to for handing all-too-well-told millions to otherwise barely worthy folk (sorry, folks, still in a Carl Crawford kind of mood here...) and the causal link (granted, it's a bogus causal link, but when has that ever stopped the Grand Whizziers of High Finance?) will fall-down-go-boom like Uncle Lincoln's chain-link fence in N'Awlins during Katrina Time.

And besides, we need more surly guys in the Hall. All this glad-handing is heading at high speed toward the County of Retch.

And I simply want to hear someone on the Cooperstown dais intone these words when Kevin is inducted: "Good job, Brownie."

Barry Larkin

A princely ballplayer, a great shortstop, and the type of player who should be adored by traditionalists (he played for one team, and one team only, during his 19-year-career). Numerologists of a different sort will need to get over the fact that his career oWAR total amounts to 66.6.

But have you noticed that Barry has a very intense stare? (Maybe it's just the company...)

Edgar Martinez

In a time frame where most if not all of the great uber-hitters were swatting 40-50-60+ homers, Edgar is the antidote: the high-average, high-OBP slasher with moderate power. You can't shun such a magnificent throwback to the former dominant style of the game, such a terrific specimen of a sadly dying breed. Did you know that Edgar has the fifth highest number of doubles for players aged 32 or older? (Of course you don't: that's why I asked. And you don't know who the four players ahead of him are either. But since you didn't ask, here's the list: names in bold are players in the Hall. Yes, God damn it, they put Sam Rice in the Hall!)

Fred McGriff

Let's face it. Fred is probably the most marginal of the candidates here, given the position he played. But he's a Large Hall inductee for sure, and how can anyone with even a soupcon of an aberrant mind not want to see Chris Berman introduce McGriff on the Cooperstown dais as the "Crime Dog" and then have Fred stand up with a pair of handcuffs and lead Chris away to that dark little secret room in the bowels of the Hall of Fame Library, never to be seen again?

Mark McGwire

He'll have to go in through the side door, I'm afraid, but perhaps a reconstituted version of the Vets Committee will get inspired and enshrine him in the same year that they finally induct Ron Santo and Dick Allen. Somehow that seems strangely appropriate...

Rafael Palmeiro

As noted, the "compiler" argument is nothing more than a way to lock the doors to the most flagrant of the steroids folks. We will never know how much PEDs actually PE'd anyone, but we sure know how much it PO'd a lot of folks who couldn't have hit a single home run even with PEDs.

Along with McGwire, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, Raffy will bear the brunt of the steroids scandal and will have to watch a lot of others pass through the front door before he'll hear a "Pssst..." from a guy wearing a burlap suit. I don't think he'll have to wait as long as Pete Rose or Joe Jackson (hey, look sharp!!), but he might be old enough to need an ear horn to hear the whisper from the servant's entrance.

Tim Raines

Rickey Henderson lite, yes, but 70% of Rickey is still a Hall of Famer. This one might be tight in terms of the front door--mostly due to the glut of candidates coming in the next decade.

Somehow, the "Queen of Hearts"
is not exactly how one remembers
Lee Smith...
Lee Smith

Big Lee is probably #12 in terms of overall quality ("career value", etc.) and might actually be a kind of example of what Leume really meant in terms of a "compiler." But y'know, it ain't closers' fault that the game shifted (was gonna say "evolved," but that's highly arguable...) toward what we have today, where a different set of counting stats became overexposed. Denigrate the save stat as much as you want, but the fact is that Lee is #3 on the list and it's not likely that anyone is going to pass him in anything remotely like the forseeable future. You can close the door on closers after Lee, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner if you want, but a large Hall should at least have the closers who had extended careers of consistent excellence. Lee's not at the top of that group, for sure, but he's in it.

Alan Trammell

Along with his great Tiger sidekick Lou Whitaker, Alan is going to have to go into the Hall via the side door. According to the career measurement methods based on "replacement-level modeling," he's not all that far behind Larkin, but there are enough subtle differences (extra-base power, stolen base/stolen base percentage, offensive consistency and aging patterns) to have kept the BBWAA (an oddly intuitive organization when it comes to such comparisons) from getting on his bandwagon. He belongs in the Hall, however; hopefully a future Vets Committee freed of its political paralysis will vote him along with Whitaker. It's a natural idea, ambient since some of the first non-Baseball Abstract books penned by Bill James.

Larry Walker

Yes, my stare is a lot more intense than
Barry Larkin's, and I'm not anywhere
near GWB!!!
A fabulous nine-year peak from 1994-2002 in which he did everything that a multi-dimensionally all-time great ballplayer is supposed to do: hit, walk, run, and field in a consummately excellent way. No one's really sure how the BBWAA is going to take to Larry--some may discount his hitting due to his years in Coors Field. At worst, however, he'll go in the side door, where he can take a look at his ancestral peak-years doppelganger: Chuck Klein.

If Mr. Leume doesn't vote for at least six of these folk when he casts his BBWAA ballot, he needs to be put out to pasture. We shouldn't ask for the same penalty if he votes for six and happens to add Jack Morris or Dale Murphy or Dave Parker on to the ballot, however. We just need him to get half of the questions right. It's the new grading curve in America, a land that still thinks it's "dominating" when, in fact, it's merely "compiling."

I'm serious about adding more voting slots to the ballot, however. There is a logjam a-comin', and these chimps need some leeway to make the right choices.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


"The Perfect Storm", gliding into the Fenway
"Metro-plex" as part of baseball's 

latest occluded front...
Don't get me wrong. I like Carl Crawford. In fact, I like him a lot.

But that feeling is primarily aesthetic in nature: I don't like him as much as Theo Epstein apparently does, because there is No Highway in the Sky (go look that one up, kiddies...) that would make me pay him $20 million a year no matter how high the Stalinists at Fangraphs set his value.

Which brings us to the fact that baseball's delicate balance of monopoly and free agency keeps straining at the seams. The only thing keeping the game from becoming an outright proxy for the economic strangulation orchestrated in America over the past decade is the fact that the two teams with the longest and darkest shadow, payroll-wise, happen to be in the same division and thus cannot play each other in the World Series every year.

It is a hollow saving grace, however, as the decidedly unaesthetic result is that the Boston Red Sox, formerly a team with a tragic curse, have Turned Into What They Hate (for those of you who've been stranded in a bathysphere for the last twenty years, What They Hate is the New York Yankees). This turn of events, though mitigated a bit by the current insurgency of the Tampa Bay Rays, will only intensify over the natural course of events during the next ten years. (Despite what neo-sabermetricians like to profess, teams such as the Rays cannot compete for more than a few years with two uber-funded franchises like the Yankees and Red Sox: it is a tribute to their pluck that they made such an ascent at all. The unwritten "history of market inefficiency" does not contain enough nuance to permit a team with a fourth of the payroll resources of these two behemoths to be consistently competitive.)

So Crawford, a fine player who is a rare, refreshing throwback to baseball's former style and shape of play, is in the cross-hairs here because the need for these two organizations to wage baseball's version of the Thirty Years' War is fueled by the ongoing economic imbalance in the game. So-called "revenue sharing" as defined by the two sides is a convenient fiction that allows this travesty to continue. Its side effect--allowing small-market teams to make money even while putting "AAAA teams" on the field for years on end--is equally noxious, but the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" between owners and the Players' Union isn't going away anytime soon.

What's distressing is that most fans seem to have simply thrown up their hands about this situation. One can remain mollified by the fact that the league structure itself makes it impossible for these two franchises to dominate the post-season, but the prospect of ten-to-twenty years of these teams as a 90% lock in the playoffs is unseemly--and unprecedented even in the Yankee-centric past. The remedies are out there--move a third franchise into the NYC metro area, lower the threshold for revenue sharing, create a salary cap, make the penalties for signing elite players to long-term contracts more severe--but it seems as though the tenor of the times, with its anarchic, asynchronous anger and an on-going sleight-of-hand in the canyons of Wall Street, has created a new kind of torpor.
Once the fever is in the blood, can one ever turn back??

The Red Sox used to be a thing of beauty, the hothouse flower of baseball franchises, rhapsodized about the way troubadours used to write songs about their maidens, or the way that a beautiful woman (for example, the young Dana Wynter in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) was adored, not merely lusted after. But we all fell asleep, and the world pushed the contrary dictums of pornography, family values, and global monopoly deep into our collective subconscious, and now we find our maidens, our pastimes, our very beings possessed by this inchoate bloodlust, a mindless frenzy that knows no bounds.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


 Is it science or nostalgia that drives the intense interest in historical simulations? Does the term "inextricably intertwined" ring a bell?
Batting leadoff for the "40s": Tommy Harper,
here shown playing out of position

Batting second: jack-of-all-trades 
Cesar Tovar
Like many with less time left on the bandstand than what’s already been played, I’m looking for some safer kicks than the ones that brought me to my knees. So returning to the time when baseball became a Daily Dose—the early 60s—made me think that constructing sim teams based around birth years in the 1940s might provide a congenial combination of nostalgia and science.

Batting third: Joe Torre, catching
(and maybe even managing)
So here we have the fixings for something that could be (and is...) called the Big Bad Baseball Birthyear Showdown. (We had another name for it about a decade ago, but it was a different concept and it kind of fizzled. But that, as they say, is another story...) Here, however, we can keep things more on the narrows.

While many of the players who dominate memories of the baseball 60s were born in the thirties, it somehow seemed more compelling to start with those who were born in the following decade. We can always go backward in time later.

Batting fourth: Willie Stargell
So herewith begins the Forties showdown—beginning with the players born in 1940. We can make solid teams for every year, then someone could toss ‘em into a simulation game and play the old 60s ten-team schedule (probably the most aesthetically pleasing  of them all) to see who's best.

We’ll just start calling these guys “the 40s.” (They’ll be followed by the “41s”, etc., all the way up to the "49s"--and don't call 'em the "49ers", please!!) Going by playing time and availability at positions as the criteria for the hitters, and by games started, saves, and ERA+ for the pitchers, here’s the roster. (There are a few more than 25 names here, and that’s on purpose. The names in parentheses are the backups.)

Batting fifth: Ron Santo

C—Joe Torre (Elrod Hendricks)
1B—Joe Pepitone (Danny Cater, Tommy McCraw)
2B—Glenn Beckert (Chico Salmon)
SS—Denis Menke (Gene Alley)
3B—Ron Santo
LF—Willie Stargell (Len Gabrielson)
CF—Willie Davis
RF—Tommy Harper (Roger Repoz, Bob Chance, Brant Alyea)
UT—Cesar Tovar

SP—Mickey Lolich, Luis Tiant, Jim Maloney, Bill Hands, Dick Ellsworth
RP—Jack Aker, Frank Linzy, Ramon Hernandez, Tom Timmerman
SW—Woodie Fryman

Batting sixth: Willie Davis
Batting seventh: Denis Menke
a 60's SS with some pop
This squad is pretty darned interesting. One big break is the presence of Cesar Tovar, who can pretty much play anywhere and be a solid #2 hitter in the lineup—meaning that you can rest other players or swap things around here and there for some platoon advantages. The rest of the bench is pretty weak, but depending on who you keep (I’d be going with Hendricks, Cater, Beckert, Salmon, Repoz, Chance and Alyea) you’d at least have some home run pop sitting around.


Batting eighth: Joe Pepitone (shown in his
NYC stickball, pre-hairpiece days)...
1. Harper rf
2. Tovar 2b
3. Torre c
4. Stargell lf
5. Santo 3b
6. Davis cf
7. Menke ss
8. Pepitone/Cater 1b

This is a solid little lineup, with a nice trio in the middle of the order and a shortstop (Menke) with some actual pop in his bat. The BBBA run estimator projects 765 runs out of this lineup, which isn’t too shabby by 1960s standards. This is a team that can utilize both speed and power as part of its offensive equation.

#1 in the rotation: Mickey Lolich,
King of the Wheels

The CCQ (clubhouse chemistry quotient) is low, however: Joe Pep, 3-Dog, Tommy (Mini-Me) Harper and the often dyspeptic Ron Santo are going to need to be policed by Pops Stargell and Joe Torre. Whoever manages this team (and one can surmise that it might be Torre) will need to keep a firm hand with Joe Pep, who could sulk with the best of ‘em…

#1a: El Tiante, never without a light
even if he'd been lit up...
The starting rotation for the “40s” is, again, very solid but not spectacular (consider, for example, that the “44s” will have Seaver and Carlton). The peak seasons of Lolich, Tiant and Maloney, if you could somehow get ‘em in sync, could make for some sweet summer music. The bullpen is a little bit on the “fickle” side, with one too many “peak” guys out there. Using Woodie Fryman out of the pen is the best way to go here, but some of that will depend on how well Dick Ellsworth holds up in the #5 rotation slot.

Other pitchers born in 1940 with more than 100 GS: Ray Sadecki, Tony Cloninger, Jim Hannan.

Other players born in 1940 with more than 1500 PA: Larry Brown, John Bateman, Paul Popovich, Tom Satriano, Jackie Hernandez, Ron Brand.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


BBBA 96: a book literally
bursting at the seams...
Here in the present, in the relapsarian world of abbreviated newspeak, we can rightly ask: WTF was going on with these folk, anyway? "Fiddling with Bud Selig, while Flushing Meadow burns." Indeed. It was the winter of 1996, and no one knew how bad things would really get, until GWB and the neos (neo-sabermetricians, that is...) glommed onto center stage, wedding post-imperalism with the swagger of Wall Street.

In simpler yet more surreal times, once upon a literary digression, there was Wanda Tinasky, ostensible alter ego of Thomas Pynchon, and there was a team essay in BBBA '96. The two freight trains, running in opposite directions, happened to be on the same track.

It was all one continuous, seamlessly disintegrated Dark Age; no Hesiodic myth for these initiates, they held dross dear, held it right to their bosom, found it execrable, and blessed its pointed little head anyway.

It was shadow history, drawn to truth by an elaborate counterfeit. The so-called "lost letters" of Wanda (clearly not the chick shown here, whose face, like Pynchon's himself, was always kept out of view...) were the fabrications of a feckless fabulist, prior to inventing an even more id-like doppelganger.

But truth is obscure, and prefers to remain hidden in a miasma of manic interludes that modern pharmaturgy has made all-too-mechanically reproducible; and the last of these cultists seem to have been swallowed up, and vanished, taking their theories of upheaval to ever more unfathomable realms.

If only Wanda, or the one claiming to be her, had known what was coming: the stylistic plagiarism might have been Ernest Hemingway instead...

And there was the game I loved, the game of threes and nines, being torn up like some Tenderloin trick gone wrong, swallowed whole by a neo-colonialist "gentry": blood was in the air, coarsing through the veins of some Ueber-monster who spread infection whenever he drew breath...

Guess Wanda didn't think too highly of Peter Ueberroth, but consider the alternatives. As a disgruntled but ever hopeful Met fan, however, (s)he'd strayed far from home, only to sneak back into town under everybody's nose like a winter rose...

Now I'm just an old woman who lives not too far from the shadows in Flushing, you could figure out where I live if you know how to read them, if you know geometry. And on any given day or night, you could even find me once again in the ballpark, back with my Mets, the ones who have returned to innocence...
Jason, Paul and Bill: the sound of a thousand
toilets in forlorn Flushing Meadow...

Of course, Wanda knew that those days at Shea would be numbered, but some kind of heroic frenzy had taken hold of her in '96, leading her to a series of prophetic "excited utterances" that burst forth like a friendly witness doing the thing that friendly witnesses do: namely, name names.

...the vivacious, vibrant, virtual, velvety names these kids have got (or have been given, as if part of a greater design): O-cho-a, Al-fon-zo, A-ce-ve-do; the Norse-like Isringhausen and the sulphurous Pulsipher; the brawn of Brogna; the gum-chewing law firm of Hundley, Kent, and Everett; the exploratory zeal of Vizcaino; the uncommonly common Bobby J. Jones. From the farm there's Wilson and Payton and Byrd, and someday Arnold Gooch. That last one makes me want to return to church, for that name is so divinely bad that I find it an irresistible object of worship, like Jesus or Mohammed or Ahura Mazda; all hail the great Gooch, apple-cheeked child of a virgin birth.

"Someday" never came for
Arnold Gooch...
Wanda's wacky, woozy affection for the Mets' star-crossed youth movement was quaint even before it was ghost-written, and (s)he could not have known that few--very few--of the pseudo-sacred names (s)he'd intoned would be members of the 2000 team that brought the Mets back into the World Series. In fact, only three of the players (s)he mentions in that 1996 rhapsody--Edgardo Alfonzo, Bobby Jones, and Jay Payton--were on the Mets' roster when they became the latest lambs slaughtered to their cross-town rivals.

Of course, few of the BBBA readers knew who Wanda was (or wasn't), and we'd probably have been better off keeping it that way. Thomas Pynchon would recover from his writer's block even before the Mets would rebound, and the ballclub would give Flushing Meadow the same type of bum's rush that even an erudite bag lady like Wanda would find overly antiseptic and unnecessarily cruel.

Which only leaves one question: whatever happened to Arnold Gooch??