Friday, April 29, 2011


Meryl, here's a role where you won't have to
suppress your boarding-school accent...
Nine down, one to go, to you Miss Kilgallen (and why hasn't someone done a movie about Ms. Dorothy? Seems like a natural part for Meryl Streep...are we just tired of JFK conspiracy stories??) and we have reached the 1948 squad for the Showdown.

This is yet another odd corner of the baby boom, featuring a catcher who didn't like to catch, a first baseman who didn't like to throw, a third baseman who waddled, and an outfield that is somehow shifty and shiftless all at once.

In its own baksheeshy, careening way, it's a fascinating roster, filled with fakers, phonies, and the occasional taciturn "take it for the team" type, a cross-section of what increasingly collided on the baseball field if not (quite yet) in America as a whole.

They haven't got a chance in the Showdown, but they will make Big Hair and Plastic Grass author Dan Epstein skip a heartbeat or two as he contemplates their louche-like lapse into seventies-dom:

C: Earl Williams, Steve Yeager, John Ellis, Buck Martinez
1B: Steve Garvey, Chris Chambliss, Willie Montanez
2B: Toby Harrah, Lee Lacy, Dave Cash
SS: Dave Concepcion, Bill Russell
3B: Ron Cey
OF: George Foster, Mickey Rivers, Dave Kingman, Ron LeFlore, Ron Blomberg, Mike Jorgensen

Mickey Rivers: the "Anti-Yogi"...
Right from the start you know that there's just a dollop or two too much "shake-n-bake" with Mickey Rivers at the top of the batting order. Mick the Quick doesn't inspire a lot of confidence with his low OBP (.327), despite some reasonably impressive seasons once he'd been shipped to the Big Apple along with fellow 48er Ed Figueroa for Bobby Bonds and became a most unlikely fixture in the Yankees' brief return to dominance during the late 70s.

Toby Harrah, given those powder-blue pants by the
randomly capricious "Day-Gloizer."
He's also part of a semi-dubious fraternity that we've taken to calling the "Run, Don't Walk Boys"--players who have more stolen bases than bases on balls. As with everything, Mick has one foot in the club and one foot out of it--all while managing to be a kind of anti-Yogi: the man whose weird quips are scurrilous as opposed to endearing.

In fact, Mick's presence provides the inspiration to go Day-Glo again, bringing some visual panache to a set of players who pale in comparison to their 60s brethren. Not that Toby Harrah wasn't a fine player--in fact, from several vantage points it can be convincingly argued that he is the most accomplished member of this squad. But he's just not, er, colorful we decided to fix that for you.

It's the old "bat your real leadoff man second" trick--and hey, it worked for the Big Red Machine, so what the heck??

George Foster
The 48s take a conspicuous tilt to the right with their next five batters. Trying not to create an odd on-off pattern in the OBP progression, we've chosen to bat George Foster third, on the theory that his big homer numbers (second highest lifetime total on the team and the highest peak seasons) will translate into more runs than any other approach. A guy like Foster reminds us that astonishing accomplishments can come from those who look like they are going to be washouts: the terrible trade that the Giants made over the 1971-72 off-season didn't look like any great shakes going into 1974, when Foster had hit just .260 in AAA with 15 HRs. For once, it took the Giants a few years to look really stupid--but not nearly so stupid as the Mets, who traded for him just as he was ready to fall off a cliff...
The short answer to the question: yes.

Following Foster is the squad's resident phony, Steve Garvey. A model of bruisingly boring consistency during his peak years (1974-80) with the Dodgers, Steve eventually degenerated into a just-a-bit-too-sleazy version of Ronald Reagan, who despite his many other faults never wound up as the subject of bumper stickers that extolled his prowess at parallel impregnation. One has to give Garvey props for being a terrific post-season hitter (.338, .910 OPS), but the problem is that there ain't gonna be no post-season for this team.

Ron Cey--a master of looking the other way...
He will be followed in this lineup by the man who always seemed just slightly ashamed to be in the same infield with him--the wizard of waddle hisself, Ron Cey. Whatever amount of mixed blessing that might be part of the sabermetric thrust and parry, one just moment of clarifying perspective can be found in the calculations that demonstrate the superiority of the quiet, unassuming Cey to the glib, glad-handing Garvey. It can all be boiled down to one stat: Cey has more than twice as many walks (1016) as Garvey (479). In a way, Cey functions as both an RBI man and a second leadoff man in the 48s' batting order. Not that it will probably matter all that much, but he can just do more for you without making a spectacle of himself.

Past Cey, we move into "tools players"--no, not those track-star nightmares that some scouts "project" into greatness despite the fact that many of these guys often don't seem to know which end of the bat is which, but ballplayers who happen to be tools.

And one of the game's biggest tools (in fact, encompassing virtually every dictionary definition of the term) is Dave "Kong" Kingman, whose consistency in alienating fans and insiders alike was well-nigh unprecedented.

He can be seen as a kind of pioneer of the world we now inhabit, where entire cottage industries can be built around jerkdom. Indeed, his impassive expression in our photo (snapped by the great New York photographer Sylvia Plachy), almost makes one long for a Kong autobio entitled "The Zen of Jerk."

Don't call him Pearl:
Earl Williams

Following Kong, we have another king of self-absorption, the plastic not-quite-fantastic Earl Williams. The seventies seem to be a unique time for flameouts--the extreme example of this phenomenon being represented by Joe Charboneau, who went from Rookie of the Year to dead meat in just barely over twelve months--but it's undeniably rare for a player to peak at age 22 and just bounce down the ladder one rung at a time until they are drop-kicked into a dumpster. 

That's what happened to Earl, who found no takers when he pulled a Bette Davis and advertised that his services were available after burning every bridge that he'd driven across in the preceding six years.  Day-Glo isn't quite enough to capture the rosy world that was punctured for Williams when no one picked up the telephone.

Dave "Immaculate" Concepcion
One more odd shading follows, in an attempt to capture the strange half-light occupied by longtime Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion, who came up as Venezuela's answer to Mark Belanger and actually learned how to hit. He was a quintessential Astroturf fielder, a type of player now clearly threatening to go the way of the dodo bird, so the "artist" has tried to "render" him in a kind of semi-translucent haze. Going into 1973, after his first three years in the majors, Concepcion's OPS+ was 58, and while no one knew that at the time, no one needed it to question whether he was going to be in the big leagues for any great amount of time, glove or no glove.

He doubled his OPS+ in '73 (is that some kind of record?) and spent another fifteen years with the Reds, remaining useful even after the entirety of the Machine fell apart.

While there are some other talented players floating around on the 48s roster, it really looks as though this team is going to be one that doesn't platoon.

That batting order, in black and white:
"Hough as in rough," the 48s' analogue to "Veeck as in wreck"

1. Rivers, cf
2. Harrah, 2b
3. Foster, rf
4. Garvey, 1b
5. Cey, 3b
6. Kingman, lf
7. Williams, c
8. Concepcion, ss

You've got a good defensive catcher in Steve Yeager, oodles of mediocre versatility in Bill Russell and Lee Lacy, and a whole lotta left-handed hitting on the bench with Chris Chambliss, Ron Blomberg and Willie Montanez. You just don't quite enough firepower to overcome another weak-kneed pitching staff...

Doc Medich rendered in Rudy May pale
Day-Glo: practicing his already
questionable bedside manner...
Let's face, a team whose staff ace is Charlie Hough might possess some kooky charm, but the baseball field is neither high society nor Hollywood. Hough rhymes with "rough," and that's what opposition hitters are all too often going to be on the 48s starters.

Gary Nolan...basically
going to get broken.
Doc Medich? For goodness' sake, the tall, well-spoken one got into some post-career fracas over false prescriptions, and he's all that and more as a #2 starter in this league.

Gary Nolan? Some flashes of real brilliance there, but far more fragility and inconsistency. Ed Figueroa had a blip of a peak. Doug Rau had one of the most graceful deliveries one could hope to see, but he was the #4 guy on the Dodgers' 70s teams and has no "step-up" potential.

The bullpen, like so many of these teams, will have a lot of potential for fun, what with big-innings guy Bill Campbell, Aurelio "Senor Smoke" Lopez, "la lob" lefty Dave LaRoche, Randy Moffitt (aka Billie Jean's little brother), and swing man Jim Barr. But the same caveat that we've mentioned at least twice previously needs to be put out there: these guys might not be able to get into the game until it's already too late.