Monday, March 28, 2011


Yes, I ran an image for The Killers in the previous post to get the flavor of film noir into the mix, since 1946 is the beginning of the six-year boom for dark movies in America. (Fear-mongering and America's real national pastime, co-optation, put the fizzle to the sizzle as fast as you can say HUAC!)

It's also the beginning of the baby boom--the post-war era's ongoing paean to fertility--and, as you might expect, the 46s have a surfeit of bodies. (Naturally, none of them quite measure up to Ava Gardner's, but a double-cross is far more damaging, base-out wise, than a mere double play. Consider The Killers, with more flashbacks than the number of hurlers on a post-modern pitching staff, to be the quintessential look at a "busted hit-and-run play".)

Pete Seeger: not quite the "banjo hitter"
we had in mind, but welcome nonetheless.
(Thanks to Tom Nawrocki for the image.)
The roster:

Catchers--Gene Tenace, Joe Ferguson, Bill Sudakis, Johnny Oates
First basemen--Al Oliver, Bob Watson, Nate Colbert
Second basemen--Ken Boswell, Art Howe
Shortstop--Frank Duffy, Marty Perez
Third basemen--Billy Grabarkewitz, Bob Robertson
Outfielders--Bobby Bonds, Bobby Murcer, Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Ken Henderson, Willie Crawford

The players in bold are the ones we're gonna keep at the outset: we don't need to keep both banjo-hitting shortstops. Duffy is the better defender, so he stays and Billy Grabarkewitz can fill in as necessary. The biggest point of exposure for this team is the lack of a two-way player at third base: the 46s are gonna have to close their eyes and play Bob Robertson there, and replace him in mid-game a good bit with either Grabs, Art Howe or Bill Sudakis.

Tough choice for the last OF slot, too, but we'll go with Ken
Henderson due to two factors: switch-hitting, and the capability of playing CF.

The 46s will be leading off Bobby Bonds and playing him in left field, despite the fact that he didn't play there much. (Bonds, Murcer and Reggie were all primarily right fielders, though the two Bobbys had some time in center. You could really just move these guys around as you saw fit.)

I used to be skeptical about Bobby's birth year, but subsequent revelations about his drinking habits make it clear that his sudden decline at age 34 was probably a cumulative effect of that behavior. Bonds Sr. (as he's become known) was the prototype for the post-modern slugger, with a swing-from-the-heels style that produced record-setting strikeout totals.

Gene Tenace hitting one of his four homers
in the 1972 World Series
Just to give Bobby the maximum chance to run wild on the basepaths (he and his son--y'all know who his son is, no??--are 1-2 in stolen bases for hitters with more than 300 HR), we're going to bat a man with six 100-walk seasons in the #2 slot behind him. Yes, that's right, it's Gene Tenace (birth name: Fiore Gino Tennaci), who used to smirk when he heard his name pronounced "tennis." From a sabermetric stance, Gino is hard to beat: his walk-to-hit ratio for his career is .93, which is a numerical palindrome of the historical ratio for all hitters (.39). Needless to say, he's not your typical #2 hitter.

If anything, however, his pitch-taking skills might up his walk totals even further (if you take a look at the data we presented a few posts back about Jim Gilliam's stats when batting with Maury Wills in stolen base mode).

Exemplary baseball historians that y'all are, you probably know that two members of the 46s were traded for each other. It was a big deal at the time, the type that never happen any more. And it was two Bobbys--Bobby Bonds for Bobby Murcer.

I'll confess to having something of a soft spot for Murcer, though it's true that his pretense at being "the next Mickey Mantle" rests solely on his ability to hit at Yankee Stadium. (Over his career, Murcer hit 4.6 homers per 100 PA in the Bronx, just 2.7 per 100 PA elsewhere.) His peak years as a hitter (1971-73) were awfully good: his 160 OPS+ ranked him fourth behind Willie Stargell, Dick Allen, and Hank Aaron. He faded very early, and it's likely that the Yankees' move to Shea Stadium in 1974 in order to renovate the fabled but now-abandoned "House That Ruth Built" hastened his decline. Still, we'll bat him third on this squad in hopes that he'll catch some of that youthful lightning in a bottle.

Behind Murcer in the 46s lineup we have an entirely different breed of Yankee slugger, a man who never lost his home run stroke, and never misplaced his ego. Yes, it can be none other than Reggie Jackson, whose swing was one of the most ferocious and whose mouth was one of the most rapid and most combustible. Reggie is more fondly remembered in his A's incarnation--a driven, relentless, intense competitor who hadn't quite found his "true voice" and was still playing world-class defense in right field. Naming a candy bar after Reggie always seemed gratuitous; they should have named an urban renewal project after him.

Two members of the 46s go head-to-head:
Bob Watson and Joe Ferguson
Al Oliver, professional hitter
In the fifth slot we are back to an interesting platoon situation. The 46s have three robust hitters who primarily play first base: Nate Colbert, Al Oliver, and Bob Watson (though Oliver actually has more games in CF). Colbert's career got derailed early, in part because the Padres traded for Willie McCovey and tried to turn Nate into an outfielder, so he's the odd man out here. It probably makes sense to just platoon Oliver and Watson, as both these guys have sizable platoon advantages.

Bob Robertson, 10/3/71:
the day he hit three homers
in an NLCS game
Dropped into the sixth slot is another career flameout. Bob Robertson was actually the most impressive of the three young (22-23 year old) hitters that the Pirates had on their roster in 1970 (the other two were Oliver and Richie Hebner), and all of these guys kept on chooglin' in 1971, when the Bucs won the World Series.

The Pirates thought that Robertson would become the next Ralph Kiner: back and knee maladies would soon turn him into Ralph Kramden instead. (He literally looked twice as old in early '72, making only 12 hits in 107 ABs though mid-June.) Though he would recover his home run stroke to some extent, Robertson was never able to hit for a decent average again and quickly became a part-time player.

For the life of me, I simply cannot recall Ken Boswell
ever being able to get this high off the ground...
The big problem for the 46s isn't just Robertson's quick fade: it's that they just don't have any actual third basemen to play. Robertson played a total of sixteen games there in his career, and the only other choices available are Billy Grabarkewitz (a one-year wonder in 1970) and Bill Sudakis. Platooning the two one-time Dodger kids might be an option: we will leave it to the player-manager to sort it out.

Art Howe: right place,
right time...
At the bottom of the order there are
middle infielders:
and this is where the 46s have to trust their man in charge--Art Howe, whose managerial career is a study in extreme contrasts. (That career also gives rise to the hope in every man that he might yet find himself, if only once, in the right place at the right time.) Howe will probably decide to be modest and create a platoon at second between himself and Ken Boswell. Of course, he might get greedy and try to take over the starting job at third base. (I don't think so: if he does, Reggie will crush his spleen.)

As noted above, Frank Duffy is the shortstop, a standard-issue 70s good field-no hit infielder who will not disgrace anyone--except, of course, those who remember that he was part of not one, but two of the very worst trades in the 1970s (the Giants inexplicably coveted Frank enough to part with George Foster; not satisfied with that move, they waited a year, then packaged Frank along with some guy named Gaylord Perry in order to acquire Sam McDowell).

In addition to the folks we've mentioned, there are three guys on the bench with some pop in their bats: Joe Rudi, who'd be starting on three or four other birth-year squads; Ken Henderson, a perfectly serviceable center fielder with decent power and good strike-zone judgment; and Joe Ferguson, Tenace's backup behind the plate and versatile enough to play first and the outfield.

The 46s have some good pitching, including Hall of Famers at the top of the rotation and the bullpen, but these members of the Hall seem to be tainted in some eyes. Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers are often cited as two recent BBWAA mistakes: regardless of whether this is true or not, they will be solid if not spectacular. Hunter is joined by a blue-collar corps: Mike Torrez, Paul Splittorff (bearing a scary resemblance to Frank Duffy), Larry Dierker, Ken Forsch, and the inimitable Bill Lee (who really ought to be on the same team with Dock Ellis).

Behind Fingers in the pen you have some crumbly-cheese characters: Pedro Borbon (a man with an alarmingly low K/9 rate: looking back at his stats, one has to wonder how the hell he did that for so many years), Skip Lockwood, Danny Frisella, and Dyar Miller. There are no lefties here, which could mean bullpen duty for Spaceman Lee.

For this squad, Rollie may just want to lose the moustache and try to blend in...
The 46s look to be another also-ran team, despite what looks like some solid 1-5 hitting. In fact, I've got a sense that we might be looking at our tenth-place team right here.

Perhaps Art Howe will want to call up Johnny Oates and let him take it on the chin as the manager. Looks like a case of wrong year, wrong birthyear showdown.