Wednesday, March 2, 2011


He didn't really catch it, it was just a mass hallucination...
but what the heck, let's keep Ron Swoboda around anyway
Are they the odds-on favorite to win the showdown? Or are they a little soft in the offense department?

We won't know the answer to that for awhile. But we can tell you that the 1944 birth year squad has a log-jam at third base, and they possess the pre-eminent 1-2 starting pitching combo across the entire decade.

Let's look at the roster:

C--Manny Sanguillen, Jose Morales, Ed Kirkpatrick
1B--George Scott, Tony Horton
2B--Tito Fuentes, Denny Doyle
SS--Mark Belanger, Freddy Patek
3B--Graig Nettles, Sal Bando, Doug Rader
OF--Rusty Staub, John Briggs, Paul Blair, Ollie Brown, Del Unser, Pat Kelly, Ron Swoboda

WeGetArty 1:
The Red Rooster
(Doug Rader)
sees red...
Doug Rader is the only player with significant managerial experience on this squad, and we suspect that the ol' Red Rooster will be rational enough to remember that "it's all in the wrists" (quick, without looking it up, name the log date in Jim Bouton's Ball Four when Doug makes this quip after popping up to the infield) and recuse himself to the bench.

There are only thirteen slots filled, however, so Doug could hold himself out as a pinch-hitter. If it were up to me, though, I'd keep Ron Swoboda around just for laughs. In the picture (above) it really looks like he's crawling, not diving. Ah, the vagaries of high-speed film...

John Briggs after discovering the delights
of German food while with the Brewers 
How do we bat these guys? Rader might want to get cute and bat the mighty mite, Freddy Patek in the leadoff spot. After all, he did steal 385 bases in this career But Freddy's the guy who stood 5'5" and managed to only walk 8% of the time. Albie Pearson, he's not.

No, the man to lead off on this squad is John Briggs, despite any objections about his possessing too much power for the #1 slot. Briggs's lifetime .355 OBP is about as good as it gets on this squad. He's a little weak against lefties, however, so you might want to drop him down in the order against them and do something unorthodox, such as batting Manny Sanguillen leadoff against lefties.

During his days with the Baltimore Orioles, Paul Blair batted second more often than anywhere else--this despite a OBP that was lower than Freddy Patek's. As it turns out, this was an Earl Weaver directive, so who are we to argue against it? The upside: more power in the top of the lineup. Keep repeating that whenever you feel the need to do so...

Paul Blair, in a rare quiet moment.
Of course, Blair is a peerless center fielder, and the other choice (Del Unser) is a significant downgrade defensively. A committed tinkerer might platoon the two of them, but given that Del is the lefty, you'd be sacrificing some HR pop to do so.

Remember when there was
a baseball team in...
Batting third for the 44s is Daniel Patrick Moy--uh, let's not conflate politics and baseball, for Crissakes. OK, Daniel Joseph (Rusty) Staub, who should be played by Philip Seymour Hoffman if they ever decide to make a movie out of the 1973 Mets (which sounds like an idea whose time not only hasn't come, but never arrived in the first place.)

All gibes aside, Rusty was a fine hitter, putting together an excellent five-year run from 1967-71 (.302/.397/.472, 147 OPS+), which makes one wonder what Astros GM Spec Richardson was smoking back in 1969 when he traded Staub to Montreal for Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon. (Hint: it's still not legal in California.)

Sal Bando
OK, stop reading these words to yourself for a moment and ponder this question: has there ever been a team that platooned its cleanup hitters? Let's rephrase that: has there ever been a good team, a successful team, that platooned in the #4 slot?

Graig Nettles, as painted by Dave Choate:
the '78 Dodgers still have nightmares about
Game Three of the World Series...
It's sort of a research question for the ages, and when I have some more time to go delving into the batting order data at Baseball Reference, I'll report back with whatever I discover. In the meantime, however, we can say without fear of contradiction that the 44s will be platooning in the #4 slot (which makes sense if you consider that they are the "double-4's") and at third base, since they have two borderline Hall of Famers available to them: Graig Nettles and Sal Bando.

Uh,oh...looks like Boomer went bust...
It's one of the vagaries of the birthyear showdown that two guys this good wind up on the same team without a way to play full time. Bando played a few games at first, but this team has George Scott, another right-handed hitter, to play there. Could we move Boomer somewhere? Well, sure: but the only other position he played aside from first base was--third base!!

It's not fair, but as my old man used to say--who sez that life is fair?

You can bet that Rader will be doing what he can to maximize the use of these guys.

So, yes, Boomer will bat fifth. As first basemen go, he doesn't really set the world on fire, and he often seems to be in a terrible mood, but he's about the same player as the 43s Lee May, and he's better than the 40s platoon of Joe Pepitone and Danny Cater. (Of course, the 40s are batting those guys eighth...)

Manny Sanguillen's "noir moment":
talk about a cover illustration totally
at odds with a book title!
Behind Scott is Manny Sanguillen (or Briggs, if you're going to do some lineup swapping). I recently had a chance to watch a DVD of Game Seven of the 1971 World Series (Pirates 2, Orioles 1) and it was revelatory in many ways. While Manny was not by any means a great player, he was awfully good in his prime and he was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. His slashing type of line-drive hitting seems to be in extremely short supply these days. The  Pirates batted him in the #6 slot more often than anywhere else, so doing so for the 44s seems perfectly in character. (Oddly, however, in about half a season's worth of at-bats, Manny hit .344 when batting cleanup.)

Tito (sans headband) parties hearty at his herbalist's
home "back in the day" with the mother of Barry Bonds
Bringing up the rear for the 44s are the middle infielders. Tito Fuentes, the man with the expanding headband, who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time while Juan Marichal was using Johnny Roseboro's head for batting practice, gets the nod to bat #7. Tito never saw a pitch he didn't like to put in play (5% BBP), but the Giants' managers kept writing his name down in the #2 slot on the lineup card.

Mark Belanger, the
Orioles' "secret weapon"
After all that talk about Freddy Patek earlier, you are probably assuming that he's going to be the starting SS for the 44's. Nope. It's clear from all vantage points (reputation, physical comparison, defensive WAR data) that Mark Belanger is a significantly better shortstop than Patek, and this is a team that's going to need all the defensive advantage it can muster. It worked for the Orioles, though they had a better hitting team than the 44s on several occasions. (And there's always the chance that, when you play the simulation, that you'll get a performance that looks like 1969, 1971 or 1976--the three years when Belanger seemed to be swinging the bat with the handle instead of the barrel.)

So here's that lineup:

1. Briggs, lf (or Sanguillen vs. LHP)
2. Blair, cf
3. Staub, rf
4. Nettles/Bando, 3b
5. Scott, 1b
6. Sanguillen, c (or Briggs/Ollie Brown vs. LHP)
7. Fuentes, 2b
8. Belanger, ss

There will be a couple of good right-handed pinch-hitters available with Jose Morales and Ollie Brown, and either Bando or Nettles will be waiting in the wings as well. Spotty lineup, but a solid bench.

A whole new line of work: Tom Seaver eschews
the horsehide for the pigskin, works out with
"Lover Boy" Joe Namath
Now, what about that 1-2 pitching combo? How about Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton--does that get your attention? How many teams are there with two 300-game winners at the top of their rotation? You'll want to get those guys out there for 35-37 starts a year, as a wedge to offset the subpar offense.

WeGetArty 2: Dayglo Rudy May
The rest of the rotation isn't too bad, either. Joe Niekro will eat some innings for you; Denny McLain and Bill Singer, while not blessed with long careers, have some impressive peak season accomplishments and don't look too shabby as back-end members of the rotation.

And there's Rudy May to boot, who had solid success as a swing man for the Yankees and the Expos, turning around his career (from 1974-80, Rudy was 88-59 with a 112 ERA+).

The combined best years of these guys:

Carlton 27-10 (1972), Seaver 25-7 (1969), Niekro 21-11 (1979), McLain 31-6 (1968), Singer 20-12 (1969), May 15-5 (1980)

That's a total of 139-51.

You should be able to offset a subpar offense with that.
Albert "Sparky" Lyle,
ex-lion tamer at the Bronx

And if that's not enough, there's the bullpen.

Tug McGraw's banner outside
Citi Field, new home of the
financially troubled Mets...
Sparky LyleTug McGrawKen TatumWayne GrangerSteve Mingori.

Three good lefties. A pair of righties who operated as bullpen aces.

These guys will more than pick up the slack for the starters.

The 44s are loaded with pitching talent.

Now, whether that means they'll hold the opposition batters to the lowest runs allowed in the league is a matter still open to question.

WeGetArty3: Steve Mingori
in the land of noir...
That's probably what they're going to need to do in order to win it all.

But I wouldn't put it past them.