Monday, May 30, 2011


Anatomy of the USA baby boom,
End of the line, as we prepare for the Big Show Down itself, masterminded by a highly valued old crony who wishes to remain anonymous to protect what's left of his reputation. The 1949 squad is highly populated, even though there was a bit of a lull in the "baby boom" birth rate, which had become a virtual straight line in the years immediately following WW II.

Percent of black ballplayers in MLB, 1947-1986
The '49s are also a team with an unusually high preponderance of Afro hair styles, demonstrating the developing link between politics and fashion and the role of the latter in diluting the former. This was also the time when the percentage of black players finally broke through to a plateau where they represented more than twice the actual US population (as shown in the diagram accompanying Mark Armour's SABR essay on major league baseball integration from 1947 to 1986). As a consequence, the 49s have the highest proportion of black players on the roster of any team in the Birthyear Showdown.

Catchers--Ted Simmons, Rick Dempsey, Fred Kendall, Johnny Wockenfuss
First basemen--Cecil Cooper, Mike Hargrove, Andre Thornton, John Mayberry
Second basemen--Bobby Grich, Phil Garner, Lenny Randle
Shortstop--Frank Taveras
Third basemen--Mike Schmidt
Outfielders--Dusty Baker, George Hendrick, Don Baylor, Ben Oglivie, Bake McBride, Garry Maddox, Richie Zisk, Oscar Gamble, Bill Buckner

"Two-thirds of the earth is covered by
water; the other third by Garry Maddox."
OK, OK, we'll play him, despite the
ungodly stack of big sticks in the OF...
Top-heavy with outfielders, to be sure. And it's going to get surreal, because this squad needs to squeeze some more OBP into the lineup by playing Mike Hargrove in left field. That gives us a total of nine outfielders on the roster.

The jam-up of talent in the outfield is about as daunting a proposition as any manager could have to deal with, as the career data chart indicates. The guys in green are really the only ones you can trust to play center field; some of the career defensive numbers in the Sean Smith WAR system seem unduly harsh (George Hendrick's -5.5 leaps out as some kind of anomaly), but it's clear that there's very little advantage to be found in any single configuration of players.

Platooning is the only answer here. We'll go with the following:
Ted "Simba" Simmons

Not aerodynamically sound: Oscar Gamble.
Hargrove and Baker in left;
McBride and Maddox in center;
Oglivie and Zisk in right.

That leaves Baylor, Hendrick and Gamble to come out swinging off the bench.

Elsewhere, things are more cut and dried. You're gonna play Ted Simmons just as much as possible behind the plate, except possibly against the squads with big base stealers (where wise-ass but big-armed Rick Dempsey will get a few chances to do the thing he did best aside from shoot off his mouth).

He made his mark in
Milwaukee: Cecil Cooper.
You're going to platoon Cecil Cooper with Andre Thornton at first, if only due to the fact that A.T. was one of yours truly's very favorite players back in the mid-70s.

Bobby Grich is going to play every game at second base.

So, unfortunately, will be the case with Frank Taveras at short. Trust us, the alternatives among the other SS born in 1949 are even worse.

Mike Schmidt, perfectly balanced at the horizon line...
Michael Jack Schmidt, who used to wear his own red Afro, will bat cleanup for this team in 162 straight games.

So that lineup is going to look something like this (left handed platoon first, then right):

1. McBride cf/Baker lf
2. Hargrove lf/Grich 2b
3. Simmons c
4. Schmidt 3b
5. Cooper/Thornton 1b
6. Oglivie/Zisk rf
7. Grich 2b/Maddox cf
8. Taveras ss

Except for that black hole at SS, this team has some nice pop.

Pity there's no room for Johnny Wockenfuss.

The pitching staff is pretty well balanced and ought to hold up reasonably well. There are no superstars here, but a rotation of Vida Blue, Rick Reuschel, Jerry Reuss, Steve Rogers and some combination as yet to be determined between Mike Caldwell and Rogelio (Roger) Moret seems as though it could hold its own.

Rick "Big Daddy" Reuschel...
...and Al "The Mad Hungarian"
Naturally, we want to make easy-going, never-saw-a-milk-shake-he-didn't-like Reuschel roommates with the little left-handed relief pitching mountebank and all-around-slice-of-cheese Al Hrabosky. Talk about strange bedfellows.

The rest of the pen features Gary Lavelle, Jim Kern, Steve Foucault and Doug Bair. Some possible control issues for most of these guys, so this just might the team's only real Achilles' heel.

Do I think this team could win it all? Well, just maybe. They have to carry Taveras, but they will score some runs anyway (projected to around 760). They need some fancy pitching out of the top end of their rotation, particularly Vida Blue. I'd be pretty surprised if they came in with less than 85-87 wins.

So just who is Vida Blue talking to, if you catch my drift?
And just what kind of a cigarette is that, Beauregard??
We'll toss together some kind of wild and woolly overall comparison for the ten Birthyear teams (that's "Birthyear," not "birther", for all you Afro-haters out there...) and then we will actually get down to the season, which will start early in June at an accelerated pace, to be reported on across the rest of the 2011 campaign and wrap up in tandem with this year's competish.