But he's trying way too hard. His column this morning suggests that Moneyball (that goes-good-with-everything fashion accessory masquerading as deep thinking) has raised the level of "walk-consciousness" through the roof, and is encroaching on the possibility that anyone will ever reach the 3,000-hit milestone ever again (now that Nate Silver's backgammon partner, Derek Jeter, has crossed over).
(And, of course, if only Carig could have been there in 1949 to see what real walking was all about--especially in the American League. Bill James, showing admirable restraint when characterizing the style of play embodied by late 1940s baseball--"the baseball of the ticking time bomb"--didn't jump on the bandwagon and declare the short-lived walk mania in this time frame as a "golden age" of baseball. (No, a different set of New York-based sportswriters did that, mostly because the teams they wrote about were dominating the game to an extent that was unprecedented.)
Of course, if we'd been looking at this trend in 1949, we might have jumped to the same conclusion that Carig has--and the direction of the chart at that time would certainly seemed to have supported such an interpretation. Such a conclusion would have been proven wrong by subsequent events--strike zone adjustments, the rise of power pitching, etc. Baseball history suggests that an extreme condition will eventually relent and move back toward the center (though this may never happen with some features in the game, such as complete games).
And though Stan Musial broke through in the 1950s, the incidence of 3,000-hit players remained scarce (only 5% made it out of what we might call the "eligible population").
Suddenly in the sixties, however, this all changed. Over the next four decades, eighteen players joined the 3,000 hit club. The percentage of the eligible population making it to 3,000 hits reached its all-time high at 28%.
Now, interestingly enough, we are at a point where a lot of eligible players made the list in the last decade (17 players had 1600+ hits by the age of 31), but their follow-through, like those players in the 1920s and 1930s, has not been good at all. Whatever the reason for this, one thing is clear: it has absolutely nothing to do with drawing too many walks.
Some trivia questions--who is the player with 3000+ hits who had the fewest number of career hits at the age of 31? How many more hitters are out there who got 3000+ hits but who had less than 1600 hits by the age of 31?
Answer to question one: Cap Anson had only 1290 hits at the age of 31.
Four other players had less than 1600 hits at the age of 31 and made the 3000 club: Paul Molitor (1557), Dave Winfield (1568), Honus Wagner (1576), and Wade Boggs (1597). You could make a pretty good infield out of that squad (yes, Winfield played eight games at 1B!).
To get back to our indiscriminate bashing, let's conclude by noting that Marc Carig is no historian. If he were, he might understand that the adjustments made in the game of baseball in the 1960s helped a series of players with less clearly defined superstar skills (read: power) develop long, productive careers and add to the ranks of 3,000 hitters. Players such as Lou Brock, Pete Rose, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn, and Rickey Henderson.
|While folks will inevitably carp about how a singles|
hitter can be the "best" in the game, it wouldn't
hurt to have a time frame where someone like
Rod Carew could legitimately be considered as
"the best"--baseball needs that variety...
And that is the surest way to produce more 3,000 hit players.
Exciting "middle way" players have become exceedingly scarce: it's time they made a comeback. These guys have been more than just popular--they have been downright lovable (OK, not Pete--but he's the exception that proves the rule). A little of that quality can go a long way. Paging the next Rod Carew...