Saturday, January 22, 2011


Bert Campaneris, venting because he's
not going to have a starting job on the 42s
Before the men of the Greatest Generation were swept off to war, they did a little procreatin'. More than a little, in fact, because in 1942 they hatched a whole heckuva lotta baseball babies. This birthyear team is highly populated and loaded with talent--even if virtually all of its hitting talent swings the lumber from the right side.

Catchers--Jerry Grote, Randy Hundley, Jack Hiatt
First basemen--Dick Allen, Mike Hegan, Ramon Webster
Second basemen--Jim Lefebvre, Ike Brown, Hal Lanier
Shortstop--Jim Fregosi, Bert Campaneris, Don Kessinger
Third basemen--Tony Perez, Bob Bailey
Outfielders--Jimmy Wynn, Willie Horton, Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Alex Johnson, Mickey Stanley, Jesus Alou, Richie Scheinblum

Out of these twenty-two possibles, only four aren't RHB (Lefebvre and Scheinblum switch-hit, plus Hegan and Webster). So the bench will have a couple of guys who are a bit wan with the bat just to get some kind of platoon advantage. You can probably get away with Campaneris as the utility player (but has there ever been anyone with more plate appearances and a lower OBP? yeesh...but he could sure throw a bat when he put his mind to it!!). But at least that way you can keep Hal Lanier down on your taxi squad, hitting endless balls off a batting tee in search of a viable swing.
This Ike Brown...

...not this Ike Brown.
The imp in me wants to keep Ike Brown on this squad, though, despite his short career. Not only can Ike play a lot of positions for you (first, second, third, and the OF), but he can be Willie Horton's roommate, which bunks together two guys whose names have been linked with notoriously politicized African-Americans.

Be all that as it may, the 1942 squad has some serious lumber in the middle of its lineup. I think I'd try to front-load the lineup a la Gil Hodges with his '69 Mets and put Tommie Agee in the top slot. Agee is not a classic leadoff hitter in any sense, but he had some pop in his bat and good speed--though his base-stealing skills were a bit variable, if spectacular (see below). The 42s are lacking true leadoff man, especially in comparison with the 40s and 41s, who were overloaded with them.

Of course, Agee's exploits in the 1969 World Series add a bit of a rosy tint to those retrospective lenses. We'll room him with his real-life best friend Cleon Jones (even though Cleon is gonna have to be the fourth outfielder on this squad).

The Houston Colt .45s All-Rookie squad, put on the field once and 
once only on September 27, 1963. Back row: Brock Davis (LF), Aaron Pointer
(RF), Jimmy Wynn (CF). Middle row: Glenn Vaughan (3B), Sonny Jackson
(SS), Joe Morgan (2B), Rusty Staub (1B). Front row: Jay Dahl (P), Jerry
Grote (C). Three great players and two solid major-leaguers...
To get a bit more getting-on-base-ability higher up in the batting order, I think it's best to put Jimmy Wynn in the #2 slot. While Wynn is known mostly for his power, he had plenty of speed in his early years and he drew 100+ BB in six seasons, one of only four players born in the 40s with at least that many (Joe Morgan, eight; Mike Schmidt, seven, Wynn and Gene Tenace, six).

One can legitimately argue that Wynn was the NL Most Valuable Player in 1974 (he finished 5th in the voting).

Those two will set things up nicely for the Crown Prince of the 42s lineup, the one and only Dick Allen. Dick's nickname ("Crash") testifies to his impact both on and off the field, and that's been rehashed so much over the years that it would be tiresome to revisit it here. But what is so often forgotten about Allen was how hard he played the game: "Crash" was not simply a name evoking what happened when his bat met the ball, but what happened to him as he played the game on the field with a coldly reckless abandon.

Hitting behind Allen is Tony Perez, a man often referred to as the "Heart and Soul of the Big Red Machine." (You are free to ponder the metaphorical incongruities of that phrase for yourself.) Tony should post some nice RBI totals for this squad, but he's not anything close to an elite hitter. He wound up in Cooperstown thanks to a fine peak from 1969-73 (150 HRs, 144 OPS+) and six seasons of part-time play into his mid-40s that padded his total of games played.

Tony Perez slamming a homer off
Bill Lee in the 1975 World Series
His value to the 42s will be increased somewhat by the fact that he'll be playing third base. (Oddly enough, the WAR fielding data suggests that Tony was actually getting better at third base when the Reds decided to move him over to first base in 1972. Go figure.)

Willie Horton: surprisingly fragile slugger
Behind Perez there is more power. Willie Horton (again, not to be confused with the notorious criminal and lightning rod of the 1988 presidential campaign) was a fixture in Detroit for more than a decade. Unfortunately, he was also something of a statue in left field for most of those years--though, even with that, he also managed to get injured a lot.

Jim Fregosi: surprisingly solid
in his younger days
Willie wasn't able to play 120 or more games in a season in any of his age 27-31 seasons, and a few wags back in the mid-70s suggested that he'd been the silent force behind the DH rule, since it was such a natural role for a man who didn't enjoy having to move around in the outfield. (The 42s will have a solid replacement for Willie if and when he gets carried off on his shield in Cleon Jones.)

Originally I was going to bat Jim Fregosi second, but it ultimately made more sense to get Wynn's OBP higher up in the batting order. People tend to forget just how good a player Fregosi was for the Angels from 1963-70; he tends to be remembered mostly for being the washed-up guy for whom the Mets gave away Nolan Ryan.

When one looks at the shortstops born in the 1940s, very few of them (Rico Petrocelli, Denis Menke) can get anywhere close to Fregosi's offensive output. While he doesn't have the defensive reputation accorded to several of his contemporary flyweight-hitting SS (Mark Belanger, Eddie Brinkman), he was no slouch with the glove in his early days.
Who knew Ed Sullivan was so short?? Here are six of the members
of the 1965 Dodgers on that "really big shoe" right after they'd clinched
the NL pennant: from left, Don DrysdaleWillie Davis, manager Walt
Alston, Sullivan, Lou Johnson, Jim Lefebvre, Ron Perranoski.

In the seventh slot, there's short-career switch-hitter Jim (Frenchy) Lefebvre. The good news for the 42s is that Jimmy was a better hitter left-handed, so that would give them a bit of a boost since they'd probably see as many RHP as possible given the tendencies of their lineup. Lefebvre looked as though he might be a star in 1966, but the word on the street was that he just didn't have the dedication to elevate his game, and by the early 70s he was in Japan. He's carved out an admirably odd career in baseball ever since, but somehow the general impression seems to be that he's managed to underachieve.

Looking over the catchers available for the 42s, I was surprised to discover that Jerry Grote actually had better overall offensive statistics than Randy Hundley. It was also a bit of a shock to see that the WAR fielding numbers pegged Grote as being inferior defensively to Hundley. I don't think it's going to be a crucial matter either way, but for purposes of setting up the team I went with Grote as the starter. There's some temptation to keep short-career "walking man" Jack Hiatt (16% BBP) as the backup, but that's just for fringe value. I mean, jeez, these guys are literally locked into the #8 slot...

Dave McNally: "sure,
I'm better than Koosman...well,
I sure played for a better team!"
Fergie Jenkins: tough to lick
1. Agee, cf
2. Wynn, rf
3. Allen, 1b
4. Perez, 3b
5. Horton, lf
6. Fregosi, ss
7. Lefebvre, 2b
8. Grote (or Hundley), c

I love that lineup, actually, despite its right-leaning bias. It projects to 755 runs, a good bit better than the 41s and pretty close to what's projected for the 40s.

Now wait until you see the pitching staff.

"Sudden" Sam, who was
suddenly no good after he
passed the 200-bar limit...
Starting pitchers: Ferguson Jenkins, Jerry Koosman, Dave McNally, Sam McDowell, Jim Lonborg
Relievers: Ron Reed, Cecil Upshaw, Grant Jackson, Chuck Taylor, Mel Queen
Swing man: Fred Beene (!)

Waiting in the wings: Steve Blass, Pat Dobson, Fred Norman, Fritz Peterson, Tom Phoebus, Jim Roland, Jim Rooker

Cecil Upshaw, whose "dunkin'"
career was henceforth
limited to the donut shop
The quality and depth of this pitching staff is quite probably unparalleled in the 1940s birthyear showdown. There are twenty-game winners (Dobson, Peterson) and World Series heroes (Blass), who can't even crack the team. I think this is the only example of a fully-loaded major league-level 40-man roster in the entire decade.

Fred Beene: even smaller
than he looked...
The relief pitchers may or may not make your socks roll up and down, but they're better than you might think. Not quite up to the snuff of the 41s, but they'll do all right so long as Cecil Upshaw stays away from the basketball court. Grant Jackson was a solid lefty set-up guy once he found his niche in the bullpen. And they got the Mighty Mite, Fred Beene, the pocket-sized swing man. (No, I'm not completely serious when I suggest that the 42s bring up the Texas-born Beene, who sports a 70s "prequel" resemblance to both Jerry Seinfeld and Michael C. Hall, but he's just one of those fun fringe guys who deserve some ink.)

All things considered, the 42s are going to be a force when we finally get around to playing the simulated games. I wouldn't bet against them.