Thursday, October 31, 2019


Of course it should be noted that the 2019 World Series was really nothing like its counterpart fifty years earlier. The entire process was different, though divisional play began in '69 and the post-season added its first intermediate step that year.

The two World Series were not the same length--and the impact of top-notch starting pitchers, though ballyhooed extravagantly by the consumerist groupies who've overrun the game in both mainstream and social media, was actually not as great in 2019 as it was in 1969, when three starters for the Mets were able to hold a 109-53 team (the Baltimore Orioles) to a .146 batting average (and a .210 SLG!).

But the general lay of the land was quite similar. You had a team that had stumbled out of the gate (the Washington Nationals) and had to regroup over the course of the season; in 1969, you had an upstart team (the New York Mets) who'd never finished above .500 during its first seven seasons. You had a team that was loaded with talent (the Baltimore Orioles) that had roared through its league; in 2019, you had an organization that seemed to turn every player it acquired into an All-Star (the Houston Astros), whose combination of trading acumen and in-house development threatened to turn the American League into a mockery.

All four teams had top-notch starting pitching, but the 1969 teams had starters who could do two things their 2019 counterparts could not: 1) throw a lot of innings and 2) keep the ball in the park. The Mets overachieved in many ways during the '69 Series, and one of them was actually hitting six homers in the five games--a ratio that would have netted them 194 HRs over the regular season. (They hit 109, an unfathomably low number in '19, whereas the sleepy Nationals cruised their way to 231 and the Astros had four players with 30+ HRs plus three more with 20+ en route to a staggering 288 for the year--and didn't even lead the league!)

The Mets top two pitchers (Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman) don't quite have the same cachet as Gerrit Cole (riding high after his best season, but with just three grade-A years in the book thus far) and Justin Verlander (whose second wind in Houston has burnished his reputation), but they managed to be a good bit more effective in shutting down the mighty Orioles.

The combined record of Cole and Verlander against the Nationals in the 2019 World Series: 1-3, 4.88 ERA. The combined record of Seaver and Koosman against the Orioles in the 1969 World Series: 3-1, 2.48 ERA.

And then there are the second basemen. Mighty mite Jose Altuve, who knocked the Yankees out of the ALCS with his walk-off homer, hit .303 in the Series--but it was a quiet .303: just one RBI, three doubles and a .688 OPS. Meanwhile, his sometimes counterpart, Howie Kendrick (used as a DH during the Series' stay in Houston) cracked a game-winning homer in Game Seven, following in the footsteps of the Mets' most unlikely hero, featherweight-hitting second baseman Al Weis, whose seventh-inning HR in Game Five pulled the Mets even in their incredible rush to glory.

We even had parallels in "managerial banishment"--Dave Martinez followed in Earl Weaver's footsteps by getting ejected in the final game of the World Series. But, as our headline says, vive la difference: Weaver's team took it on the chin and went home stupefied; the Nationals, however, pulled away from their opponents after a questionable call and made Martinez into a uniquely plucky hero.

Add it all up and you have two underdog winners in tumultuous times--which is, perhaps, the most pugnacious parallel of all. Unlike the two occupants of the White House during these teams' indelible date with destiny, these unheralded victors proved to be downright unimpeachable.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Here are two quick charts to provide some historical perspective on Game Seven as it has evolved over the years: neither of these seem to be available elsewhere, so here is something that's hopefully useful and new for you to take in...

First, a D/Y table showing Game 7 incidence over the years, along with a notation as to which league won.

We didn't see any reference to the fact that NL teams have a 23-16 lead in Game Seven--there has been much more attention paid to the ongoing "games won on the road" phenomenon that's still in play after the Nationals' 7-2 win in Houston last night. [NOTE: The table has been updated as of 11/1 to reflect the 2019 outcome: the NL now leads in Game 7 wins, 24-16. We still haven't seen any mention of it anywhere else...]

This table shows us that the greatest number of Game Sevens in any decade occurred in the 1960s, with the adjacent decades (50s, 70s) clustering up with five more apiece. 2019 brings our current decade into a tie with the 50s and 70s.

One feature of this chis a breakout by the "suffix" of a year--all years ending in 0, 1, 2, etc. The AL has fared extremely well in years ending in "2," winning five of six Game Sevens. Which means that in all other years, the NL has put up a 2-to-1 advantage in these games (22-11). The NL team has won the only two Game Sevens to occur in a year ending in "9."

An occult little table, but hopefully one with some amount of interest...

Next, a chart that shows all of the teams who have participated in a Game Seven, the years in which they have done so, and the outcome (orange for a win, blue for a loss).

As you'd expect, the Yankees have been in the most Game Sevens (a total of 11), but they are not the most successful team in such a situation, winning only five times (the last in 1962).

The Cardinals are the most successful team in Game Seven situations, winning seven times out of ten appearances in a "do or die" game.

By far the most successful franchise when we measure by winning percentage, however: the Pittsburgh Pirates, who've won all five of the Game Sevens in which they've appeared.

Two notes: 1) we've obviously left the color-coding blank for the 2019 series; 2) we've shown the Nationals as their own franchise, since their lineage is from the Montreal Expos; the other Washington appearances (from 1924 and 1925) have been put into the Minnesota data. (The same principle is applied to all franchises who've moved around; this should be self-explanatory). [NOTE: As of November 1, the color-coding has been updated to reflect the 2019 outcome.]

Enjoy these visual aids, and enjoy Game Seven tonight. They happen about a third of the time overall, but they pack an outsized amount of excitement into them due to the dual nature of the "do or die." Who will traverse the tightrope, and who won't? We'll know soon enough...

Sunday, October 27, 2019


In the midst of an eventful post-season (a flurry of coverage about a less-than-#metoo-friendly front office, a stop-and-start-and-stop-and-start-again path toward a World Series title...) the Houston Astros' in-season achievements in 2019 have, to our knowledge at least, not been fully identified.

As is (more occasionally than usual) the case, we're here to bring you those as-yet unrevealed facts.

Or, more modestly, fact. But even one fact can drive home a point (if not a run). And this fact is another point noted in an escalating series reminding us that baseball in 2019 has continued to rewrite the rules of the game by rewriting the record book.

So, yes, we're teasing out the exact nature of this record by posting several of our patented "decade/year" table that capture frequency of events over time. We do this both for your own good and because we just can't help doing it--somewhere in the inchoate middle of those impulses there is (hopefully, at least) enlightenment.

Above right: a D/Y table with all incidences of 20 or more homers hit by the batter occupying the leadoff (#1) slot in his team's batting order. (This is not "leadoff homers", as in leading off an inning with a homer--those would be much more numerous--but the number of homers hit by the man "batting leadoff.")

As you can see, the 20+ threshold took awhile to be cracked, despite the appearance of Babe Ruth in 1919-20 and the slow-but-steady homerification of the game. The initial incidence was 1949; as you can see, the rise was slow but steady until the mid-90s, when it accelerated--and over the past four years, has (like so much else in America during this time...) gone out of control.

Above left: the next level up of "leadoff lightning"--that subset of the first table dealing with those #1 slot hitters with 30+ HRs in a season. You may be surprised to discover what team was the first to have a 30+-HR performance from its leadoff hitters...but you are probably not surprised to discover that over the past four seasons this number has risen sharply--reaching double figures (including, as you doubtless suspect, the Astros).

Continuing into more lofty regions, we have one more chart for the leadoff slots that have produced 40+ HRs in a season. The table at right shows you that this is, at least at present, a much more rarified occurrence: only eight teams have managed to accomplish this feat. Perhaps unsurprisingly, four of them did so in 2019: the Braves, the Twins, the Dodgers--and, yes, the Astros.

(By the way, the three times it happened in the 2000s--2001, 2002, 2006--the main culprit was Alfonso Soriano, whose 46 HRs in '06 for the Nationals allows us to make this into a "World Series" post...despite his involvement in these single-season peaks, Soriano is only second in baseball history in terms of career totals for HRs while batting in the #1 slot--in fact, his total of 197 is a distant second. And, no, we're not going to tell you who #1 is...we trust that you can figure this out for yourselves!)

So perhaps you've figured out what the record is by it the fact that George Springer hit 39 HRs batting leadoff for the Astros this year, tying him with Soriano's 2006 mark?

Nope. (Though the above is true.)

The record we're referring to is a team record, not an individual record. In this instance, it's the sum of all HRs hit by all the Astros' #1 hitters in all the gin joints including Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Derek Fisher, Kyle Tucker, and Dooley Wilson (hit it again, Sam! ...just making sure you're paying attention).

That total--Springer and his surrogate Astro spaniels--adds up to an even 50. That's a new record, and the first time it's happened. (And no, we're not putting up a table with only one square filled in just to complete the set--you can visualize that on your own...and get your own damned letters of transit while you're at it!)

And, yes, the Astros had more HRs from their #1 slot in 2019 than any of the more traditional "power slots" in the batting order.

Remember, just because we report these things does not mean that we approve of them. When we say that it's the first time a team has had its #1 hitters hit 50 HRs in a year, we also mean to say that we hope it never happens again. Baseball's whack is out of whack, regardless of the virtues of a front-loaded batting order. We're shocked, not awed--and you should be, too.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Political controversy was certainly in play fifty years ago, when the New York Mets upset the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. The anti-Vietnam protest dominated print journalism on the morning of October 15, 1969, but there was no 24-hour news cycle to fan it into further flames. By that evening, the protests for peace had concluded, making a point that would be duly ignored by the Nixon administration, who would invade Cambodia the next year.

The story dominating the news that evening (and over the next several days) was the odd, dramatic set of events at the World Series. Game Four, with its irregular heartbeat-inducing action in the late innings, evoked wonder (Ron Swoboda's reckless, do-or-die catch in the ninth) and controversy (should J.C. Martin have been called out for interference?).

The Mets' World Series lead of three games to one loomed larger than anything else, eclipsing (for the moment, at least) politics and the first incarnation of America's crippling "culture wars."

Today, we are in another October fraught with political controversy--a darker, more surreal time thanks to fifty years of concerted effort to divide America into as many disconnected pieces as possible. A desperate, despicable game of chicken with the principles of democracy is playing out; the climate in the country is locked and loaded on retributive justice. Marlene Dietrich's words to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil are hideously (but hilariously) on point: "You're a mess, honey."

This year, we have monopoly money teams (Yankees, Dodgers, Astros) mirroring the state of American income equality in their domination of leagues where "tanking" and other egregrious manifestations of competitive imbalance are writ large, but somehow tolerated in a similar slow ooze of the game's checks and balances that echo the proto-fascism emanating from Washington, DC.

And now we have the World Series right smack in the middle of that debacle, with its home team (stolen away by monopolistic practices imposed long enough in the past that we shrug our shoulders) representing the underdog position held fifty years ago by the Mets. Were it not for the absurd HR spike of 2019, the Washington Nationals (a dimly anodyne team nickname if there ever was one) might well be known as the "Gnats," as so humorously conjured up by Walt Kelly back in simpler times (you know, the times that produced Joe McCarthy).

These "Gnats" are currently on an eight-game post-season winning streak that continues to defy belief, as their suspect bullpen (5.68 during the regular season, worst by far of all the 2019 post-season teams) somehow bends but does not break--at least not yet. (They've been getting help from the usually mighty Astros, who've been increasingly off their game, needing five games to vanquish the pesky Tampa Bay Rays--the true "Gnats" of baseball, with their dumpster-dive approach to talent acquisition--and then falling into a mysterious slump with runners in scoring position ever since, combining for an alarming .113/.203/.290 slash line in their six-game series with the Yankees and the first two Fall Classic shockers in Houston.)

But the big news is bound up in the centripetal retributive anger of #metoo, which surfaced in the mournful melee in the Astros' clubhouse after their Game One loss, when assistant GM Brandon Taubman made an insensitive remark in earshot of female reporters. The upshot of this sequence of events was to brand Taubman as a supporter of domestic violence: his comment seemed to imply an ideological alliance with relief pitcher Roberto Osuna--acquired by the Astros during a time when he was serving a 75-game suspension for domestic violence.

We should also note that is extremely tacky for the Astros to be
advertising "youth apparel" for someone in the shadow of
domestic abuse allegations...
Taubman's poor judgment and even more catastrophic timing has cost him his job--likely a bit of an overreaction to a situation that certainly called for some form of disciplinary action short of one-strike-and-you're-out termination. In this age of instant everything--instant replay, instant outrage, instant retribution--he is another victim of a world that is becoming more divisively Draconian on both sides of the political spectrum. Without doubt a suspension was warranted, but the Astros may have decided to sacrifice him in an attempt to stem the flood tide of negative reporting they've been receiving on this issue.

Note, please, that we agree with attorney/writer Sheryl Ring that stronger policies need to be implemented in major league baseball for domestic violence offenders. We also agree with those who hold that women--particularly white women--should be voting out politicians with profiles that lean toward any evidence of toxic masculinity, and wonder why on earth white women gave 53% of their votes in 2016 to a philanderer and accused sexual abuser.

A question that Sheryl Ring and others might like to answer: is domestic violence worse in 2019 than it was in 1969? Is there a bizarre correlation (or, at least, a relationship...) between the onslaught of power in baseball and the incidence level of sexual abuse?

At any rate, rooting for the underdog remains at least as easy a decision in 2019 as it was fifty years ago...

Sunday, October 6, 2019


Yes, if we're going to be stuck somewhere, it's better to be stuck in 1969, which beats the bejesus out of what we're currently stuck with (but chin up, folks, there will be a reckoning)...

And fifty years ago today, on this day (October 6), we were getting used to a newfangled invention that baseball was foisting off on an unsuspecting public. It was called--for lack of a more scabrous term (notice how "scabrous" has pretty much taken over for that quaint term "imagination"? Dog whistles and tweets have left us bereft of actual wit...)--"da playoffs."

But if we are going to be scientifically descriptive, we might well define them as the first "multi-part post-season" in baseball's storied history. It began with two extra series, and has by now expanded to two and a half rounds, which in our tortured age is either far too much (attention-deficit) or not nearly enough (meta-masochism). I will remind myself to digress on this subject a bit later, but for now we'll kow-tow to those of you who are doubtless already fidgeting as you read this...

So--fifty years ago today, on this day, October 6, we saw two blowout games set the stage for a World Series filled with outrage, oddity, and even social relevance (the Vietnam Moratorium, which brought the protest down to what is now called "middle school" and set in motion a series of events that would spare me from graduating from the same school as the Orange Menace).

The Orioles, who'd struggled mightily to gain a 2-0 lead over the Minnesota Twins (winning two consecutive extra-inning one-run games at home), took apart the very first "opener" in baseball history (Bob Miller--who wasn't really the first opener: he'd started 11 games for Minnesota during the '69 season but had been strictly a reliever for five years previously), thanks in part to the first of two errors committed by right fielder Tony Oliva (a man more than ready to be a DH, save for the fact that they'd not yet invented the position). Twins' manager Billy Martin, then known as "the Itchy One" (it'd be another decade before he'd destroy starters' arms by relentlessly forcing them to pitch inordinate quantities of complete games--hey, remember them??) went to his bullpen with impunity--and was punished for it time and time again.

Final score: O's 11, Twins 2. Five hits (and five RBI) for Paul Blair, four for Don Buford--18 hits in all. It wasn't a game: it was a mugging.

Meanwhile, at Shea Stadium, the Mets--whom you'll recall for their anemic hitting--had just scored 9 runs and 11 runs respectively down in Atlanta to take a 2-0 lead back to their home park. Their opponents, the Atlanta Braves, had cuffed around Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman a bit, but their pitching (instrumental in a 17-4 run that had gotten them into the "first multi-part post-season") had pulled the pin on several hand grenades, blowing apart the heroic homer hitting efforts of Hank Aaron.

They'd do the same thing at Shea that day: Aaron hit his third HR of the series in the first, giving the Braves a brief 2-0 lead. Their #3 starter, Pat Jarvis, dodged a few bullets in the early going, but served up three homers to the Mets (!!!) in consecutive innings while Mets' manager Gil Hodges provided the first glimpse of a 300+-win career for Nolan Ryan by bringing the 21-year-old into the game to relieve shaky starter Gary Gentry in the third inning, whereupon the future Express mowed down the Braves, allowing just three hits the rest of the way. Final score: Mets 7, Braves 4.

Actually, though, these games look too much like the ones we're seeing today. Five homers in that Mets-Braves game, for Crissakes. The post-season, whether "single malt" or "multi-part," was often an austere occasion, punctuated by elevated pitching performances. (In the days of the "single malt" post-season--1903 to 1968--World Series games featured run scoring of two runs or less nearly 42% of the time, as opposed to the historical regular season frequency of 32%. We'll keep you guessing about those ratios in the "multivariate" era from 1969 on...)

On the day prior to these two blowout games (Sunday October 5, 1969), we also achieved a "first." What was this brand new thing? It was a 1-0 post-season game that was not part of a World Series. (Just for the record, we're not counting any of the tie-braker playoff games/series, i.e. Dodgers-Giants 1962, Red Sox-Indians 1948, etc., as "post-season" games--the rules state that they are part of the regular season and count in the official season stats.) The O's took 11 innings to scratch across a run to beat the Twins, 1-0. Though we are not quite so able to appreciate it anymore, there is serious beauty in such minimalism.

So: here's the stealthy question we've been waiting to spring upon you. How many 1-0 games have there been in the post-season? And how often has the winner of that 1-0 game won the series in which such a game occurred?

And here are some answers. Strangely enough, we've had exactly fifty (50) 1-0 games in the post-season--and, at the moment, there have been 25 such games in the World Series and 25 such games in the "pre-World Series post-season" (...yes, we do get paid extra for devising all these different ways of describing these categories: our sponsor is funny that way).

You can see the historical distribution of these games in the two tables (one for the Fall Classic and the other for the Fall Classic's ever-expanding!). What's astonishing is to see how few of these have been occurring in the World Series since the beginning of the "multi-part post-season." Given the established rate of just under three 1-0 games per decade's worth of World Series, we should have had thirteen 1-0 games from 1969 on...instead, we've had only seven.

But what is quite probably a far greater gob-smack is the discovery that the decade with by far the most 1-0 games in "the rest of the post-season" (insert cash register sound here...) is...the one we're just about to depart: the 2010s.

Now, it's true that the 2010s have proven (in so many ways besides baseball...) to be incredibly schizoid, and the first half of the decade was much more of a pitcher's mini-era than what's been the case in the recent time frame where certain folks seem bound and determined to set the Constitution on fire (and yes, we teased you with that with the image up top...just like the current administration, there's always a payoff to be found here sooner or later).

But it's interesting, is it not, to see so many of these games welling up now. Could it just be that there are so many more teams in the post-season these days that it's just more likely that several of these teams will "come up cold" and have a low-scoring game?

And what about those series results when a team wins a 1-0 game in the postseason? Is it a random thing, or does such a win seem to have some talismanic significance? (Skeptics of all stripes may rev their small-sample-size-engines now.)

In the 50 1-0 games in the post season, the teams who won such a game have won 34 of the 50 series in which they occurred. That's 68% of the time. Winning such a game in the World Series is a bit less of a harbinger: 16-9 (64%) as compared with 18-7 (72%) for such a win in the "pre-World Series post-season."
Still in need of a place high in the 
batting order: E. F. Schumacher.

(We just missed having a 1-0 game today...the Cardinals took a 1-0 lead into the top of the ninth, but it fell apart for them in that inning and they wound up losing to the Braves, 3-1.)

So...1969 initiated a new post-season wrinkle, one where the minimum score could crop up with greater frequency (32 times in the past 50 years, as opposed to 18 in the sixty-five seasons from 1903-68--remember, no World Series in 1904!). In a world bent on maximizing its diminishment, this is an oddly agreeable paradox, since it reinforces an idea that needs reviving: small is beautiful.

(And don't think we've forgotten about that earlier, as-yet unactivated digression--we remember it all right...we're just going to save it for another blog entry. But here's a clue to hold on to: how can we spice up the post-season with something more outrageous and unpredictable--and downright random? Those of you who remember our crackpot notions for a round-robin post-season, first presented back in 1996, will vouch for the fact that we can come up with a humdinger when we put our minds to it. So...stay tuned!)