Tuesday, January 22, 2013


What's my line??
Words are too brittle and inadequate when it comes to Stan Musial, who passed away a few days ago at age 92. We need--more desperately than words can say--players like Stan the Man, not only because of his all-American good guy heroism (though that is of undeniable importance), but because of the unique range of hitting skills he possessed.

Timeless baseball hero...
We need high batting averages, despite what we know about the incompleteness of that stat in terms of player value. We need high triples totals, to counteract the two-dimensional encroachments of the post-modern game.

There was nothing two-dimensional about Stan Musial.

His career (and his stats) straddle the beginning of the modern game, with its increasing emphasis on homers. While the two rough halves of Musial's career are still recognizably the same player, it's easy to see that the lower line is right in the pocket of the stat shapes we see all the time today, while the upper line documents the ascent of some wondrous alien. (Ironic, in fact, that his descent would prove to be what has become the commonplace shape of excellence.)

His greatest season, 1948, was the closest he came to a triple crown. (Not a classic swing-from-the-heels slugger, Musial clubbed over 900 non-HR extra base hits, something that only two other players in baseball history have done.) That season was the one time he had an adjusted OPS (OPS+) of at least 200, and it's a remarkable coincidence that this masterful '48 campaign is one of just 48 such seasons in baseball since 1901. (That odd symmetry will doubtless change sometime soon, so we should celebrate it while it's here.)

We'll look at that list of 48 elite hitting seasons in more detail next time, but let's contextualize Musial's '48 season within that pantheon before we depart...

--Stan had 103 extra-base hits in '48 (46 D, 18 T, 39 HR). Only eight players had 100+ XBH in their ≥200 OPS+ years.

--Stan led the NL in doubles and triples in '48, and only two other players on this list achieved the same feat. (We'll reveal those names in the companion essay.)

A swing so ferocious that it could conjure up dust clouds all by itself.
--Stan is one of only four players to have more than 60 XBH other than HRs in ≥200 OPS+ seasons. (Same caveat as above...but you probably won't be surprised to know that he's the last hitter to do so.)

The more astonishing facts about Musial's '48 are contained in the batting splits for that year. While Stan's home field in St. Louis (Sportsman's Park) was considered a hitter's park, the bald facts document an incredible feat: Musial hit .415 on the road that year. His batting line at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn was something out of science fiction: 24-for-46, .522/.560/1.022. That's an OPS of 1.582.

There were similar numbers at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Braves Field in Boston, and Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Stan hit 8 HRs in 11 games vs. the Giants at the Polo Grounds.

It might have been the greatest "road warrior" performance in baseball history.

We can only hope that we will someday see another player with his unique combination of skills.

[EDIT: Answers to the questions above--redirected from the future, so to speak...

Who are the two other players besides Musial to lead the league in doubles and triples as part of their ≥200 OPS+ season? Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb.

Who are the four players with 60+ XBHs other than HRs in one of these "mega"-seasons? Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, and Musial.]