The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Roger Clemens”

This Year’s Hall of Fame Arguments

I’ve been reading a sampling of the vast body of opinion regarding the 2014 baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which includes many of the most famous (and infamous) names in baseball history:  Bonds, Maddux, Clemens, Sosa, Bagwell, Biggio, Piazza, Schilling, Glavine, Mussina, Morris, Raines, etc.  Predictably, there is not only little consensus on which players belong in The HOF (with the probable exception of Greg Maddux), but there also seems to be a great deal of disagreement about what standards we should even use to judge these players.

What follows is a random sampling of the often contradictory (occasionally hallucinatory) opinions that fans and writers have expressed online regarding the players, and the Hall of Fame voting procedure itself.  The player being commented upon appears in parentheses.

1)  “He was a compiler.  He needs to get used to the fact that he was a good, but not a great player, and only got to 3,000 hits because he hung around for a long time.”  (Craig Biggio)

2)  “He didn’t play long enough.  His career was too short.  He never got anywhere near 3,000 hits.”  (Larry Walker)

3)  “He didn’t hit 500 homers, which is the gold standard for first basemen.  Also, he just looks like a ‘roid user.”  (Jeff Bagwell)

4)  “Although he hit over 500 home runs, and was mostly a first baseman, he was just too much of a one-dimensional player.  He probably didn’t use steroids, but that’s not enough of a reason to vote for him.”  (Frank Thomas)

5)  “If he’s not in the Hall of Fame because of the mistakes he made, which he’s paid for long enough, then no one should be.  Betting on baseball is not any worse than steroid use.  In fact, steroids are far worse.”  (Pete Rose)

6)  “He should be in the Hall of Fame because he was one of the greatest players who ever lived.  Period.  It’s not like he bet on baseball, which is much more serious.”  (Barry Bonds)

7)  “Mostly, he got to 300 wins because he played for great teams.  Put him on a more average team, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation today.”  (Tom Glavine)

8)  “I can’t see him getting elected to the Hall of Fame because he didn’t reach 300 wins, which would have made him an automatic Hall of Famer.”  (Mike Mussina)

9)  “If he and the other ‘roid users get in, then the Hall of Fame will have lost all respectability.”  (Roger Clemens)

10) “If the BBWAA doesn’t vote him into the Hall, then the Hall will no longer have any credibility.” (Roger Clemens)

11) “That’s what I hate about stats.  You can make an argument for lots of guys.”  (Tim Raines)

12) “He wasn’t any better than Ray Durham.  He just ended up with more numbers.”  (Craig Biggio)

13)  “He wasn’t any better than Lew (sic) Whitaker.  So why should be get in?”  (Craig Biggio)

14)  “A loudmouth phony and a shameless self-promoter.  Had a couple of great seasons, but so did a lot of other guys.”  (Curt Schilling)

15)  “This shouldn’t be a popularity contest.  There are lots of scumbags in the Hall of Fame.”  (Barry Bonds)

16)  “The Hall has been so watered down over the past few years, he’d just water it down further.”  (Argument against Jack Morris)

17)  “Winningest pitcher of the ’80′s, and always pitched to the score.  That’s why his ERA shouldn’t matter.”  (Argument in favor of Jack Morris.)

18)  “They all used steroids, so if everyone is cheating, then no one is cheating.”  (Clemens, Bonds, etc.)

19)  “All the steroid users should be in jail.”  (Clemens, Bonds, etc.)

20)  “I know stats wise he is better, but he also quit while he was ahead.  So people saying Glavine is just getting in over him due to 300 wins also need to look at the downturn that getting to 300 caused to the rest of his stats.”  (Argument apparently favoring (?) Tom Glavine over Mike Mussina.)

21)  “Not denying {he} was a pretty good pitcher, but he could throw the ball anywhere near the plate and the umps would call it a strike.”  (Greg Maddux)

22)  “No one ever had better command and control.”  (Greg Maddux)

23)  “Bloody sock, my ass.  One great World Series moment does not a career make.”  (Curt Schilling)

24)  “His Game 7, 10-inning shutout in the World Series was one of the greatest moments in baseball history.  That’s why he should be in the Hall.”  (Jack Morris)

25)  “Greatest right-handed pitcher ever.”  (Roger Clemens)

26)  “Greatest right-handed pitcher of all time.”  (Greg Maddux)

27)  “The Hall of Fame is just a museum of baseball, so you have to take the good with the bad.”  (Regarding the alleged steroid users.)

28)  “It’s a special honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.   It would send a terrible message if we put {them} in.”  (Regarding the steroid users.)

29) “Mantle’s stats were great… now think how better they’d have been if he hadn’t tried to paint every town red across the country. Heck, Babe Ruth’s off-the-field escapades were legendary. In the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s, how many players were on the field after a night of uppers or downers? Few people speak ill of those guys.  Which affects a MLB game more? A home run that IS hit or a home run that IS NOT hit? A base hit or a strike out due to a hangover? (So, therefore, Mantle and Ruth should be EVEN MORE in the Hall of Fame?)

30)  “As long as he’s not in the Hall, it’s all a complete joke.”  (Argument for Shoeless Joe Jackson)

31)  “No one who played before Jackie Robinson came along and broke the color line should be considered as great as today’s players.”  (Argument against Shoeless Joe Jackson)

32)  “He shouldn’t be in there if Gil Hodges isn’t.”  (Jeff Bagwell)

33)  “To argue that he should be in the Hall when Tommy John and Jim Kaat are not is ridiculous.”   (Mike Mussina)

34)  “He was a good hitter, but as a day-to-day catcher, I’d take Brian McCann over him.”  (Mike Piazza)

35)  “Saves are a junk stat.”  (Lee Smith)

36)  “One of the two or three best closers of all time.”  (Lee Smith)

37)  “Largely a product of his home ballpark.”  (Larry Walker)

38)  “New how to use the short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium to his advantage.”  (Roger Maris)

39) “All those who broke the rules should all be banned from baseball forever!”

40) Otter’s Defense of the rule-breakers:  (Animal House)

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Matt Harvey: A Baker’s Dozen Starts

You may have noticed that Mets phenom Matt Harvey is off to an incredible start to his career.  The big right-hander has made thirteen major league starts, and, to this point, he has been nothing but dominant.  Relatively small sample size, yes, but his numbers are staggering.  Take a look at his pitching line below:

Innings Pitched: 81, Hits: 48, HR: 6, Strikeouts: 95, Walks: 32, ERA: 2.21, WHIP: 0.984, K’s /9 IP: 10.5

Notice the unbelievably low number of hits surrendered, the high strikeout totals, and the fantastic WHIP.

This got me to wondering about the first 13 starts of several other famous pitchers in MLB history.  Can we draw any valid conclusions to what Harvey has accomplished so far?  Is there historical precedent for such a dominant beginning to a MLB career for a starting pitcher?

I took a look at several pitchers, some active and some retired.  A couple are in the Hall of Fame.  How much success did they enjoy at the beginning of their careers?  Here’s what I discovered.  Which of the following, if any, do you think is the best match for Matt Harvey’s career to this point?

The number in parentheses after the pitcher’s name is his age at the time of his MLB debut.  Matt Harvey, by the way, was 23-years old.

Tom Seaver:  (22)

IP: 101.2,  Hits: 85,  HR: 11, Strikeouts: 59, Walks: 25, ERA: 2.41, WHIP: 1.08, K’s /9 IP: 6.5

It may come as a surprise that Seaver did not immediately begin his career as a big-time strikeout pitcher.  His K rate of just 6 1/2 per nine innings is decent for a young pitcher, but not spectacular.  Certainly, Seaver’s rate is nowhere near as impressive as Harvey’s.  Keep in mind, thought, that a stigma still existed among hitters in those days regarding striking out.  Some batters used to choke up on the bat with two strikes on them.  Does anyone still do that?

Dwight Gooden:  (19)

IP:  82.2, Hits:  57, HR: 1, Strikeouts:  96, Walks:  35, ERA:  2.61, WHIP:  1.12, K’s /9 IP:  10.6

Doc Gooden’s first thirteen starts do bear a striking resemblance to Matt Harvey’s fledgling career.  In virtually the same number of innings, Gooden’s strikeouts and walks are essentially the same as Harvey’s.  Gooden was unbelievably stingy with the long ball, however, surrendering just one to Harvey’s six.  But Harvey was even tougher to hit than Gooden.  Harvey’s lower WHIP is primarily the result of nine fewer hits surrendered in about one less inning pitched.

Roger Clemens: (21)

IP:  78.2, Hits: 101, HR: 9, Strikeouts:  68, Walks: 17, ERA:  5.13, WHIP:  1.50, K’s / 9 IP:  7.5

Just looking at that bloated ERA suggest Roger wasn’t quite ready to establish himself at the Major League level when he first arrived.  The same is true of his WHIP, though his K rate is promising, and obviously improved as he matured.  Clemens first 13 starts do not match up well with Matt Harvey.

Mark Prior:  (21)

IP:  79,  Hits:  61,  HR: 11, Strikeouts:  96, Walks:  30, ERA:  3.65, WHIP:  1.15, K’s / 9 IP:  10.6

Again, as with Gooden, not entirely dissimilar to Harvey, though the homer rate is considerably higher for Prior.  Prior’s WHIP is impressive, but still not in Matt Harvey territory.  His K rate per nine matches up well with both Gooden and Harvey, though.  And that’s 13 more hits for Prior in two fewer innings pitched than Harvey.

Kerry Wood:  (20)

IP:  79.1, Hits:  56, HR:  5, Strikeouts:  118, Walks:  42, ERA:  3.40, WHIP:  1.24, K’s / 9 IP:  13.1

Holy smoke, look at that K rate per nine innings.  That’s unbelievable.  Respectable WHIP, homer rate, and a decent ERA as well.  Higher walk rate leads to a higher overall WHIP than Harvey.  Harvey has allowed 80 base-runners in 81 innings pitched.  Wood allowed 98 base-runners in 79 innings.  Clearly, aside from the strikeouts, Harvey has been a much more polished pitcher than was Kerry Wood.

Felix Hernandez:  (19)

IP:  89.1, Hits:  63, HR:  5, Strikeouts:  81, Walks:  25, ERA:  2.62, WHIP:  0.98, K’s / 9 IP:  9.0

The first thing that I noticed was the relatively high number of innings pitched over his first 13 starts.  Among the pitchers on this list, only Seaver tossed more innings.  Hernandez, though, appears to have been a pretty efficient pitcher.  His walk rate is low, and while his K rate is very nice, it’s not so high that his strikeout totals are causing him to throw an inordinate number of pitches per batter.  His WHIP is second only to Harvey on this list.  King Felix was a remarkably polished pitcher at age 19, but Harvey’s K rate is better, and his WHIP and ERA are still lower.

Stephen Strasburg:  (21)

IP:  73,  Hits:  58, HR: 5, Strikeouts: 96, Walks: 17, ERA:  2.71, WHIP:  1.02, K’s / 9 IP:  10.6

Fantastic strikeout to walk ratio, and basically the same K’s per nine as Prior, Gooden and Harvey.  His WHIP is close as well.  Harvey is still tougher to hit than is Strasburg, and his ERA is slightly lower as well.  All things considered, through 13 starts, Strasburg is quite close to Harvey, though he’s not better.

Clayton Kershaw:  (20)

IP:  69,  Hits:  74, HR:  6, Strikeouts:  65, Walks:  32, ERA:  4.11, WHIP:  1.53, K’s / 9 IP:  7.2

His numbers are closer to Roger Clemens’ than to anyone else’s on this list.  Kershaw may have come up to the Majors a bit before he was ready, but it hasn’t seemed to have harmed him so far.  As with Clemens, the K rate showed potential for growth, and the K to walk ratio is quite respectable for a 20-year old kid.  The WHIP is high, revealing a hit rate higher than some of the others on this list.  Kershaw’s command wasn’t yet refined, as it was to become a year or so later.

This list could go on and on, of course.  But I have a suspicion that you aren’t going to find many debuts as impressive as Harvey’s.  Where his career will go from here is anyone’s guess.  While Prior and Gooden can be viewed as cautionary tales, and Strasburg and Kershaw haven’t been around long enough to draw useful conclusions, Felix Hernandez, now in his ninth season, has had a successful and healthy career thus far.  Let’s hope for the same for Matt Harvey, and enjoy him while we can.

Soundtrack for Baseball: May, 2012

Back by popular demand, today I offer you Part 2 of my monthly series,  Soundtrack for Baseball.”  Here’s the link to Part 1 if you missed it, or if you want to go back and have another listen.

A lot has happened in baseball over the past month, and I hope this video soundtrack captures just a bit of the flavor of this season up through the first week of June.

As a Mets fan, I have to say that the first couple of months of the 2012 baseball season have been more fun than I can remember having in years.  At the beginning of the year, my only hope was that the Mets would just play competitive baseball, and lose fewer than 90 games.  As of this writing, the Mets are in a three-way tie for first place in the tough N.L. East, an amazing eight games over .500.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, Johan Santana became the first Mets pitcher in the half-century history of this franchise to throw a no-hitter.

Yes, it’s been a truly magical year thus far at Citi Field.  Hopefully this magic bubble won’t burst during the dog days of August.  The question is, do you believe in magic?  Back in 1969, when the Amazin’ Miracle Mets won their first World Series, Jay and the Americans had a hit single with “This Magic Moment.”

One of the teams keeping up with the Mets is the Florida Marlins, who are apparently attempting to steal their way to a pennant.  Generally, I think stolen bases are overrated as a strategic weapon, and most teams that run a lot seldom go on to become World Champions (yes, there have been some exceptions.)

The Marlins have stolen 62 bases as a team this year; no other team has reached 50.  Emilio Bonifacio leads the Marlins, and the Majors with 20 steals.  Maybe the Marlins will run into a pennant with their speedy legs.  I’m guessing Marlins fans hope their favorite team stays hot, even if it means they’ll have to leg their way into the playoffs.   Hmm, hot legs.  Why does that sound familiar?  Maybe Rod Stewart can help us out.

If, incidentally, some future anthropologist decides to mine Rock n’ Roll for a glimpse into the psyche of late-20th century Western Civilization, he could do worse than to display this video as Exhibit A.  Please excuse the damned commercial that might pop up.

Has anyone noticed what a great year Carlos Gonzalez is having for the otherwise winning-impaired Colorado Rockies? (23-30.)  It took me by surprise that this 26-year old star is having a big year, leading the N.L. in total bases (128), slugging percentage (.634), and runs scored (45) through 50 games.  After an off-year last season, Gonzalez is reasserting himself as one of the top young players in the game.

I wonder what Gonzalez hears in his head when he’s rounding second base, digging for third, and being waved around to score.  Is he thinking just one word, HOME?  How exactly does that sound in his head?  Perhaps something like this:

Back on May 2nd, I picked up this story on CBS This Morning about Roger Clemens’ old friend and teammate, Andy Pettitte, testifying against his former mentor in the trial to decide if Clemens has committed perjury regarding the use of HGH and other banned substances.

One has to consider these drugs a kind of high for athletes who are addicted to success from which they don’t ever want to come down.  Most of us will never know the kind of fame and fortune that was Clemens good fortune at one time, so it is perhaps impossible for us to ever know what it was like to be faced with the end of a brilliant career.  What then?  The broadcast booth.  Endless rounds of golf for the next 35 years?

But worse, how must it feel when your former best friend testifies against you in open court, in front of thousands of witnesses.  One can only guess that Clemens must be feeling that he hopes Pettitte will never let him down again.  Or perhaps it is Pettitte who feels let down by Clemens alleged behavior.  Either way, here’s a song by Depeche Mode called “Never Let Me Down Again” that captures the sinister nature of a friendship turned sour.

But long before the ugly, inevitable breakdowns of age, there is the limitless potential of youth.  For most young people, especially for those who have been marked at an early age for greatness, there is  a tendency to cockiness, a natural inclination to eschew nuance and moderation in favor of the simple and the bold.

Such has been the start of the Washington Nationals’ young star outfielder Bryce Harper.  When Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels pointlessly plunked Harper in the back, the completely unimpressed Harper later stole home off Hamels.  Take that, old man!  (Hamels is 28, nine years older than Harper.)  Harper is part of a new generation of young talent (Angels outfielder Mike Trout is 20) that is ready to very quickly make their collective mark on Major League baseball.

For my money, no song has ever quite captured the brash, emotional intensity of the teenage male the way The Who’s song “5:15″ did on the highly underrated album “Quadrophenia.”  Play it loud, and picture Bryce Harper stealing home, or slugging a fastball out of the park.

When Kerry Wood announced his retirement on May 18th after a 14-year Major League career, I think many of us immediately remembered the then 20-year old Wood’s fifth career start when he struck out 20 Houston Astros in a one-hit pitching performance that, at the time, seemed to herald a long, dominating career.

In a way it did, though not exactly as we expected.

Wood struck out the last batter he ever faced in the Majors, the White Sox’s Dayan Viciedo, then left the field to a standing ovation.  After 14 years in the Majors, Wood ranks second all-time in strikeouts per nine innings (10.317.)  Only Randy Johnson averaged more strikeouts per nine innings.

Yet Kerry Wood finished his career with a record of only 86-75, and he spent most of his career either on the Disabled List or pitching in relief.  The complete game shutout Wood tossed against the Astros as a 20-year old was one of only eleven complete games and just five shutouts he would throw in his entire career.  Wood led the N.L. in strikeouts in 2003 with 266 — one of four 200 K seasons in his career — then was essentially finished as a starting pitcher at age 26.

But boy, in his glory days, he could throw that speed-ball by you (and that curve ball, too.)  Just 34-years old now, Wood should have plenty of years left to tell boring stories of his glory days to his kids and grandchildren.  And maybe he’ll think of himself whenever he hears this Bruce Springsteen classic called, appropriately enough, “Glory Days.”

That’s all for tonight, folks.  Hope you enjoyed this particular playlist.  We’ll probably do it again in about a month.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Cy Young

This is Part 2 of the series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  The object of this series is to revisit players most of us already know something about, then to uncover one fact or statistic about that player that isn’t widely known.

The particular fact I wanted to discover about Cy Young was, how many Cy Young awards would Cy Young have won?

Cy Young.

Cy Young. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cy Young pitched for 22 years, from 1890 to 1911.  Many, perhaps most, baseball fans know that his 511 career wins are the most in baseball history.

Though he is not usually considered the greatest pitcher in history, it is the Cy Young award (and not the Walter Johnson award) which is awarded annually to the best pitcher in each league.

So how often was Cy Young the best pitcher in his league during those 22 years?

Young won at least 20 games in a season 15 times, and he topped 30 wins five times (twice after 1900.)

He led his league in wins five times, in ERA and win-loss percentage twice, in complete games three times, and in shutouts seven times.  Additionally, he paced his league in both strikeouts and ERA+ twice.

Cy Young won 511 games during his career, 94 m...

Cy Young won 511 games during his career, 94 more than second-place Walter Johnson. “Career Leaders & Records for Wins”. Baseball-Reference.com . Sports Reference LLC . . Retrieved March 26, 2010 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As measured by WAR, Young topped all pitchers in his league a remarkable seven times (the same as Roger Clemens; one less than Walter Johnson.)

Certainly, then, a case could be made that Cy Young should have won the award as the best pitcher in his league seven times.

But should have won is not the same as would have won.  No one was measuring a player’s WAR in those days.  Wins would have been the primary stat.  Some combination of ERA, strikeouts, complete games, win-loss percentage and shutouts would have been the secondary stats considered.

Of course, if a pitcher led the league in virtually all or most of those stats, then, as today, he would likely have won his league’s best pitcher award.

There are four seasons that I am confident Cy Young would have been officially recognized as the best pitcher in his league.

In 1892, pitching for Cleveland, Cy Young posted a 36-12 record, a 1.93 ERA, 9 shutouts, and he tossed a career high 48 complete games and 453 innings.  He led the league in wins, win-loss percentage, shutouts, and ERA.

1901:  33 wins, 1.62 ERA, five shutouts, 158 strikeouts.  Each of those stats led the league.  (Young pitched for Boston from 1901-08.)

1902:  32 wins, 43 starts, 41 complete games, and 384 innings pitched, all of which led the league.

1903:  28 wins, .757 win-loss percentage, 34 complete games, 7 shutouts, and 341 innings pitched.  Again, each of those stats led the league.

Young also may have been voted league’s best pitcher in 1895 when, pitching for Cleveland, he led the league in wins (35), lost just ten games, and tossed a league-high four shutouts.

My original question was, “How many Cy Young awards would Cy Young have won?”  The best answer is that he would probably have won four or five awards, about the same number as Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson.

That’s not bad company to keep, especially if you have an award named after you.

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball, and Other Stuff – Part VII

The Green Hornet Trading Card

Image by Sean Castor via Flickr

For your reading pleasure, today we take a look back at a shortstop that once appeared headed for greatness, a superhero team possessing no particular superpowers, and a pre-WWII Japanese pitcher.  Along the way, we’ll also throw in a visit to a restaurant, and a strange baseball story or two.

Overrated:  Dave Concepcion – Recently, I’ve been reading arguments on baseball blogs and websites that Dave Concepcion should be in the Hall of Fame.  The reasoning goes that without Concepcion’s defense and solid approach at the plate, the Big Red Machine would not have been able to fire on all cylinders.  For the record, Concepcion’s career OPS+ was 88, meaning that he was just 88% as effective at the plate as a typical replacement level ballplayer.  In 12 of his 19 seasons, his OPS+ was below 100.  He never scored 100 runs in a season, and only once did he top 90 runs scored.

Concepcion’s career high in hits was 170, he seldom drew a walk, and he had very limited power.  His career batting average was .267, his on-base percentage was .322, and his slugging percentage was a horrid .357.

With those kinds of stats on offense, it would take one helluva resume on defense to get one into The Hall, wouldn’t it?

Concepcion won five Gold Gloves, but Gold Gloves can be misleading.  They are not based on actual defensive metrics; they are awarded solely on the subjective perceptions others have of a player’s defensive abilities.  But, although Concepcion’s defensive statistics are good, it’s unclear whether they qualify as Hall of Fame worthy.  His Range Factor / 9 Innings, 4.98, is 16th best all-time among shortstops.  His career defensive WAR stands at an acceptable 1.1.

Dave Concepcion, with a total career WAR of 33.6, had a fine, nineteen-year career.  But arguments that he should be among those inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame are, at best, overstated.

Underrated:  Gary Templeton – It is no overstatement to say that as late as 1980, five years into Templeton’s career, he appeared to be on the verge of greatness.  He had already led the N.L. in triples three straight years, had batted well over .300 in 1977, ’79 and 1980, and had posted a couple of 200 hit seasons (including a league-leading 211 hits in ’79.)

Templeton also averaged 30 stolen bases per year over that same four-year period.  More to the point, however, Templeton’s cocky, flamboyant temperament captured the imagination of many of the young fans at the time.  For example, in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” (1982), one of the primary teen characters has a Gary Templeton poster prominently displayed on his bedroom wall.

Templeton also exhibited excellent range in the field, though he did make his share of errors.  In fact, in ’78, ’79 and ’80 he led the N.L. in errors.  But his career Range Factor / 9 Innings was 5.07, seventh best of all-time (and nine places better than Concepcion.)

Then a funny thing happened on the way to stardom.

On December 10th, 1981, the Cardinals unceremoniously traded Templeton to San Diego for some guy named Ozzie Smith.  Ozzie, of course, went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.  Templeton’s career, for reasons that probably included his inability to draw a walk as well as the poorer hitting environment he encountered in San Diego, faltered badly.  At the age of just 27-years old, when many players are just entering their prime, Templeton’s career was already on a down-hill slide.

Templeton’s fielding remained alternately spectacular and erratic.  He finally retired after the 1991 season at age 35.

Yet his career OPS+ of 87 (but higher in his St. Louis days), and his fielding range, were not significantly different from Concepcion’s.

If you prefer a career with a higher peak than one that is steadier over time, Templeton is your man.

Either way, however, neither Concepcion nor Templeton, despite having enjoyed success in the Majors, can truly be considered a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Overrated:  Batman and Robin (the 1960’s T.V. show) – As superheroes go, not only did they not actually have any superpowers, but Robin was basically useless in a brawl.  Countless times, Batman had to rescue Robin.  Moreover, Batman’s inability to read a trap before he encountered one occasionally even led to an emergency rescue by Bat Girl.  And why didn’t Batman ever finally make a serious move on either Bat Girl or Cat Woman?  Did he secretly favor Robin?  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Underrated:  The Green Hornet and Kato – How cool is it when the junior partner in a crime-fighting team is Bruce freakin’ Lee? The short-lived T.V. series (one season) starred Van Williams as newspaper publisher Britt Reid, a.k.a., the Green Hornet.  Bruce Lee, of course, played Kato. Williams and Lee played it cool and low-key, but were always in complete control of a given situation. And their ride, the Black Beauty, was a deadly arsenal prowling the nighttime streets.  Good stuff.  If I was in the middle of being victimized, I’d prefer this dynamic duo to bail me out rather than the more famous caped crusaders prancing around Gotham City.

Overrated:  Roger Clemens first 20-strikeout performance (April 29, 1986) – Do you know who was batting leadoff for the atrocious Seattle Mariner ball club that day?  Try Spike Owen, who finished the year with a .300 on-base percentage (that’s on-base, folks.  Not batting average.)  Gorman Thomas, who hit .194 for the season, was the cleanup hitter.  In the three-hole?  Ken Phelps and his .247 batting average.  The lineup also featured Jim Presley (career .290 on-base percentage) who fanned 172 times that season.  Phil Bradley was perhaps the only respectable hitter in that lineup: .310 batting average, 12 home runs, 50 RBI’s and 134 strikeouts.  Clearly, Clemens was basically facing (at best) a Triple-A lineup that day.  The Mariners finished 1986 with a 67-95 record, the worst in the A.L.

Underrated:  17-year old Japanese pitcher vs. America (November 20, 1934) – On a barnstorming tour of the orient in the 1934 off-season, a talented group of American baseball players engaged in an exhibition game in Japan.  During that game, a Japanese teenager named Eiji Sawamuru of the Yomiuri Giants came in to face a star-studded American lineup.  Sawamuru pitched five innings, and he struck out nine Americans, including future Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx, in succession.

Ten years later, 27-year old Sawamuru was killed fighting the Americans in the Pacific Theatre during WWII

Overrated:  Salad Bars – The tubercular guy across from you coughs violently onto the wilted lettuce.  A single, desultory piece of broccoli lies dead on a metal tray like a cadaver at a morgue.  The mushrooms are all in it together, gathering bacteria in one last-ditch effort to take you down with them.  Flies dive-bomb the antipasto salad, depositing feces and larvae wherever they can. The shredded carrots, bereft of dignity, no longer even care.  All this, and stale bread-sticks, for $7.95.

Underrated:  The Dessert Cart – Undisputedly, the high point of Western Civilization.

Overrated:  (Strange but True Category) - In the second game of a double-header on Sunday, August 19, 1951, Edward Carl (Eddie) Gaedel, an American with dwarfism, received his one and only Major League at bat for the Browns against the Tigers. He drew a walk. Gaedel was 3’ 7” tall, and weighed 65-pounds.  He was signed by St. Louis Brown’s owner Bill Veeck to a one-day contract as a publicity stunt.

But Gaedel’s story is more tragic than funny.  A heavy drinker with a combative personality, Gaedel died of a heart attack after being mugged in 1961.  The only person in any way associated with Major League baseball who attended Gaedel’s funeral was retired pitcher Bob Cain, the man who walked Eddie Gaedel in his sole Major League plate appearance.

Underrated:  (Strange but True Category) – The strangest story I’ve ever read about the death of a Major League baseball player involves Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Len Koenicke.  Koenicke, 31-years old, had been playing for the Dodgers for just two seasons when, on September 17, 1935, he was involved in an altercation on an American Airlines airplane.  Intoxicated, he was forced to get off the plane, so he hired a charter plane.

While in mid-flight on the charter, Koenicke began to fiddle with the flight control panel.  The pilot was forced to physically prevent Koenicke from touching the controls.  This led to a brawl between Koenicke, the pilot and another passenger.  While no one was flying the plane, the pilot, out of desperation, grabbed a fire extinguisher and smashed it over Koenicke’s head.  Somehow, the pilot managed to regain control of the airplane, and he made an emergency landing in Toronto, Canada.

When the Toronto police came to investigate the situation, they found that Koenicke was dead due to the blow on the head he received during the fight.

Thus endeth another edition of Underrated / Overrated. Hope you enjoyed it.  Now, a special message:

Special Note: Beginning this Friday, January 14th, Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present and I will be teaming up on a new series entitled,  “Baseball’s Best of the Worst.” This 12-week long series will examine one player per week (to be published on Fridays) who was the best player on a terrible baseball team.  Graham will guest-post six of the twelve installments here on this blog.  His focus will be on teams and players pre-1961.

I will write the other six installments in an alternating format with Graham.  My focus will be on post-1961 teams.

Graham’s blog, Baseball Past and Present has been a constant source of information and entertainment for me for some time now, and I am really looking forward to sharing this space with him.  So please join us beginning this Friday for the first post in our new series.  I’ll be writing the first post, and Graham will be officially joining us on Friday, January 21st.

We hope you enjoy it.

Regards, Bill

Baseball 2010: An Old-Timer’s Game

It has often been said that baseball is a young man’s game.

And truth be told, major league baseball is in a transition period now, with many of the game’s stars of the ’90′s and the early part of this century giving way to a whole new crop of young and talented players.

Over the past couple of years or so, we have witnessed the retirements (or the virtual retirements) of Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, NOMAR!, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, and Pedro Martinez, to name a few.

Meanwhile, other former stars, such as Ken Griffey, Jr., David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez are clearly close to the end of the line.

In their place we have seen an enormous influx of exciting new players who are still just 27-years old or younger.  This group represents the vanguard of a new, (hopefully) post-steroids generation.  This list includes several young players who will some day end up in the Hall of Fame.

Most of these names are already very familiar to you:  Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.

Even younger players such as Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, and Ike Davis are also on the way, or have arrived within the past year.

Yet there is a group of graying players for whom Father Time seems to have given a free pass, at least as of this writing.  These players, all at least 36-years old  (which is like 65, in baseball years), show no signs of slowing down.

Actually, in some cases, they did show signs of slowing down, but appear to have caught a second wind.  Several of them are either obvious future Hall of Famers, or should, at the very least, merit some consideration regarding their Hall worthiness.

So here they are:

1)  Jorge Posada: Through tonight’s game against Baltimore, Jorge has produced some impressive numbers.  He is hitting .316 with five homers and 12 RBI, while slugging over .600.  At age 38, he keeps himself in excellent shape, and the Yankees are committed to giving him extra rest throughout the season.  For these reasons, I believe Posada will continue to produce at a high level throughout this season.

Posada has played in parts of 15 seasons, and, aside from a few World Series rings, he has put up some nice numbers in his career.  He has hit 248 career homers, driven in 976 runs, hit 346 doubles, has a career batting average of just under .280, with a .380 on base average.

He is 7th all-time on the Yankees career doubles list, ahead of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.  He is also 8th on the Yankees career home run list, just three behind Graig Nettles for 7th place.

Posada also has five Silver Sluggers to his credit, has played in five All-Star games (with a sixth all but assured this year), and he has finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice.

A serious argument could be made that Posada just might belong in the Hall of Fame.

For now, he will have to remain content hitting the stitching off of baseballs.

2)  Mariano Rivera: “Mo” has not allowed an earned run so far this season.  He is a perfect 6 for 6 in save opportunities.  His WHIP is 0.57.  He is now 40 years old, pitching just like he did back when he was 30.  An obvious Hall-of-Famer, there really isn’t any reason to spend time rehashing his career numbers.  The only question is, will his greatness ever end?

3)  Andy Pettitte: (No, I didn’t intend this to be Yankee night, but here we are.)

Believe it or not, he is off to the best start of his 16-year career.  Through his first four starts, he is 3-0, with 22 strikeouts in 28 innings.  His ERA is 1.29, and his WHIP is 1.07.  Clearly, the soon-to-be 38 year old Pettitte isn’t just hanging around waiting for the playoffs to begin.

That’s when he really excels.

Pettitte now has a career record of 232-135, a .632 win-loss percentage.  He has finished in the top 10 in Cy Young award voting five times.  And he has 18 career post-season victories.  At this point, his resume probably isn’t quite that of a Hall-of-Famer.  But if he continues to pitch this well for another 2-3 years, we’ll have to take another look.

4)  Jim Edmonds: Now playing for the Brewers, Edmonds was actually out of major league baseball last season.  But he earned his way onto the team this spring, and I’m sure the Brewers are happy he did.

So far this season, Edmonds (now approaching 40 years old), has hit better than .300, including a .340 batting average against right-handed pitching.  He has slugged almost .500, and he has scored 10 runs.  As part of a platoon, he gets most of the playing time, and he has made the most of it.

Edmonds would get my vote for the Hall of Fame as well.  His defense in center field alone would merit some consideration (eight Gold Gloves and several circus catches.)  But he also has 383 career home runs, 421 doubles, over 1200 runs scored, and nearly 1200 RBI’s.  Only a few center-fielders in history have combined his defensive prowess with his offensive statistics.

5)  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez: Although recently side-lined with a back problem, when Pudge has played this season, he has been excellent.  In 56 at bats for the Washington Nationals, he is hitting a mere .410 with 23 hits, including 7 doubles and 10 runs scored.

Not bad for a 38-year old catcher who happens to be a life-time .300 hitter with over 300 home runs, 13 Gold Gloves, and 14 All-Star game appearances.  A first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, to be sure.

6)  Jamie Moyer: Pitching for the Phillies, the 47-year old (!) Moyer is off to a 2-1 start, with a respectable 1.278 WHIP.  He has fanned 11 in 18 innings.

Although Moyer now has 260 career wins, he is in the Tommy John-Jim Kaat class of pitchers.  That is to say, he has put together a fine career, but falls just short of belonging in The Hall.

7)  Ichiro Suzuki: Perhaps because of his physique and his unique style of play, it’s easy to forget that Ichiro, now at age 36, is not that young anymore.  But he is off to his usual start this season, hitting around .310 with six stolen bases and 13 runs scored.  Ichiro is in such great physical condition that, although he is slowing down a bit, he should remain a productive, above-average player for another couple of years.

Although I listed Ichiro as an overrated player in a prior blog-post, I still believe he will, and should be, elected to the Hall of Fame someday.

Each of these seven players not only continues to be highly productive, but they provide an invaluable link between the younger players, and all those who came before.  It’s how baseball’s greatness is continually perpetuated from one generation to the next.

If there are other worthy performers who you believe should be included on my list, please let me know.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

If Babe Ruth Were Alive Today

If Babe Ruth were alive today…

…he’d appear on billboards advertising the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

… he’d be the wealthiest, most famous athlete in the world.

… his wife would throw him out of his house for having numerous affairs with other women.

… there would be at least two paternity suits pending against him, which would eventually be settled out of court.

…. he would hold a press conference apologizing to “Baseball fans all over the world, especially you kids out there,” for letting them down with his irresponsible behaviors.

… he’d make the All-Star team every season, whether he deserved it or not.

… he would have a cameo in an ABC after-school drama about the importance of staying in school.

… we can’t say for sure that he wouldn’t have used Performance Enhancing Drugs.

… he would be the unanimous, first overall pick in every fantasy baseball draft around the country, ahead of Albert Pujols.

… his name would be attached to a summer camp for at-risk youth.

… he would break both Barry Bonds’ career and single-season home run records.

… both political parties would court him to speak at their party fundraisers around the country, though Ruth himself wouldn’t have any idea who these candidates actually were.

… he would star in his own T.V. reality show in which we would learn that Mrs. Ruth would often get annoyed that The Babe would drink orange juice right out of the carton while standing in his boxer shorts in front of an open refrigerator.

… he would NOT review his at-bats on videotape.

… he would require a rub-down before and after every game with a professional Swiss masseuse as part of his contract.

… his favorite movies would be “Raiders of the Lost Ark,”  “Ghostbusters,” and, of course, “The Natural.”

… he would be available to pitch out of the bullpen.

… he would have greeted President Obama with a slap on the back and a “How ya doin’, kidd0?”  VP Joe Biden couldn’t help but laugh.

… Roger Clemens would buzz him with a high & tight fastball.  Ruth would hit Clemens’ next pitch into the upper deck for a game-winning home run.  After the game, Ruth would tell the press that Clemens fastball “was nothing special.”

… he would still, at some point in his career, play for the Yankees.

… he’d wonder why “all the dames wear pants.”

… he’d fart loudly during manager Joe Girardi’s initial club-house meeting, thereby undermining Girardi’s authority for the rest of the season.

…he’d play regular season baseball games against, and with, African-Americans for the first time.

… he’d go to a Denny’s Restaurant every Saturday morning for the Grand Slam Breakfast.

…he would own a Hummer.

… he would play his first night baseball game.

…he’d max out a dozen credit cards.

… 21st Century America wouldn’t have any more idea how to contain him than did 20th Century America.

… we’d realize how small and inconsequential our modern celebrities have become.

… America would once again realize what it is like to have a Hero.

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff

There is more to life than baseball.

Well, perhaps not.  But there are other things that fill up our day-to-day lives that, at one time or another, at least some people deem important.

Things such as the Punic Wars.  Or the T.V. show, “M.A.S.H.”  Or the Industrial Revolution.

Some of these events / people / movies / wars, etc.  have been underrated.  Some of them have been overrated.

Baseball, of course, has always featured its fair share of underrated players, managers and teams, and their overrated counterparts as well.

In this blog-post, I will combine my all-time (including contemporary) underrated and overrated people and topics regarding baseball, and some of everything else as well.  And I do mean everything.

Stay with me on this one, and I think you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Overrated:  “Field of Dreams.” This movie becomes increasingly unbearable to watch with each subsequent viewing.  It is basically an  exercise in Baby-Boomer self-indulgence masquerading as a lesson about “listening to your dreams.”  The overwrought Ray character (Kevin Costner vs. The Man) Stays True to Himself and reconnects with his estranged dad (even if he is just a ghost tromping around in a cornfield.)

Baseball is Spiritual!

And there’s something in there about kidnapping an African-American Civil Rights era writer (who ends up being O.K. in the end with having been kidnapped, of course) so that they can go to a baseball game together.

Baseball is Progressive!

Just, please, stop.

Underrated:  “Eight Men Out.” Every time I watch this film, I notice something subtle I hadn’t noticed the first time around.  Not as graceful as “The Natural,” but not as mawkish, either.  And, of course, this movie about the Black Sox Scandal has taken on added irony since Roger Clemens, who has a cameo in this film, has been embroiled in his own scandal as well.

Overrated:  B.J. Upton – No, he is not likely to ever become the superstar that baseball fans have been fantasizing about for around three years now.

Underrated:  Justin Upton – Yes, he is likely to become the superstar that many people thought his older brother, B.J., would become.

Overrated:  The Revolutionary War – Yeah, I know, it’s cool to be an independent nation and all, but the American colonies, over time, would probably have enjoyed an increasingly greater level of self-government vis-à-vis the Brits.  And we would have avoided the pointless War of 1812 as well.

Underrated:  The French and Indian War – If the French Army, in league with their Canadian trapper and Indian allies, had won this war, the inhabitants of the original English colonies would have eventually faced the choice of sailing back to England, or becoming subjects in the North American realm of King Louis’ French Empire.  There wouldn’t have been any Founding Fathers, Constitution, United States as Beacon of Liberty / Spread of Democracy Worldwide, etc.  Game. Set. Match.

Overrated:  Carl Yastrzemski – O.K., Red Sox fans, name your favorite Carl Yaz moment.  You can’t, can you?  Perhaps the single most boring superstar of all-time.

Underrated:  Luis Tiant – Although I rooted for the Big Red Machine in the ’75 Series (someone had to), I certainly did enjoy watching Tiant pitch against the Reds in that series.  What a character. Tiant’s dad, by the way, once pitched against a St. Louis Cardinals team barnstorming through pre-Castro Cuba.

Overrated:  John F. Kennedy / Ronald Reagan – Given the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, I probably shouldn’t point out that people of Irish ancestry routinely deify their heroes, whether they’re dead or not.  Bono, for example, has already surpassed James Joyce as the Emerald Isles wordiest artist-in-search-of-immortality.

Underrated:  Dwight D. Eisenhower – Supreme Allied Commander during WW II, two-term President of the United States, responsible for America’s interstate highway system, sent the 101st Airborne into Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school integration, and warned us (presciently, as it turned out) about the dangers posed by the Military-Industrial Complex in his Farewell Address.

Overrated:  Derek Jeter – Not as a player, but given the sorry state of baseball’s “marketing” campaign, as the de facto “Face” of baseball.  Um, like it or not, yes he is.

Underrated:  Albert Pujols – Not as a player, but as a symbol of the Latino community’s continual, and unjustifiable, second-class status as Americans.  There is no reason why Pujols, the greatest player in the game today, should not be as recognizable to the average American as Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, or (ahem) Tiger Woods.

Overrated:  Napoleon – One Word:  Waterloo

Underrated:  Alexander the Great – One Word:  Undefeated

Overrated:  David Wright – A very good baseball player, perhaps a future Hall-of-Famer.

Underrated:  Ryan Zimmerman – A very good baseball player, perhaps a future Hall-of-Famer.

Overrated:  “Tarzan and Jane” movies, 1950’s.  Their bodies were safely covered up like Mainers in the Summer, wary of that sudden, impending chill off the lake.

Underrated:  “Tarzan and Jane” movies, 1930’s.  In the heady days before Hollywood went off the deep end with its puritanical rating system, Jane is obviously, sumptuously nude while swimming in the water of an African river.  Good stuff.

Overrated:  A’s General Manager Billy Beane: Yes, I know, he always has a limited budget to work with.  But didn’t he give a huge contract extension to Eric (maybe I’ll play tomorrow) Chavez?  Like it or not, a G.M. still has to win something once in a while to stay credible.

Underrated:  Braves General Manager John Schuerholz: Does anyone remember the last time the Braves had a string of truly awful seasons?  You would have to go back to the late 1980’s, culminating in the 65-97 record of 1990.  That’s back when a country called the U.S.S.R. still existed.  Since 1991, the Braves have enjoyed 13 ninety-plus win seasons in 20 years.  In a football crazy region, with a medium-level payroll, Schuerholz usually (but not always) avoids big mistakes, gambles effectively, and promotes discipline and balance throughout the Braves system.

Overrated:  Classical Music – Before you snub your nose at me and laugh at my blue-collar, Bridgeport, CT, roots, let me tell you that, yes, over the years I have listened to, studied, and even purchased classical music, so I believe I do have a healthy appreciation of this art-form.  Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” are some of my favorites.

But I also have no doubt that if an 18th century audience heard Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” in a live performance down the hall, they would have wet their collective bloomers in astonishment and excitement, and stampeded towards that remarkable sound.

Underrated:  Jazz Music – The purest and greatest of all American art-forms.  It is simply impossible to imagine America without Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Billie Holliday, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, or Miles Davis.  America without Jazz music would be like watching a film in a movie theater with the sound turned off; you could still enjoy the spectacle, and figure out the basic premise, but you’d miss the mood, tone, and soul of the film.

Overrated:  Roger Clemens – America loves the image of the lone Texas gunslinger riding into town, wrestling control of the situation through violence, or the threat of high-heat, and riding off mysteriously into the sunset.  Nolan Ryan may have been baseball’s original Clint Eastwood-Anti-Hero archetype, but Clemens played it to the hilt. Clemens, however, (even before the steroid scandal broke), more accurately fit the Shape-Shifter archetype.  The defining trait of this archetype is Uncertain Loyalties.  To whom was Clemens ever loyal?  He was more like a soldier-of-fortune.  Rooting for him was pointless.  He existed to fulfill his own ambitions.

Underrated:  Greg Maddux: He actually did all the things that a Western gunslinger is supposed to do, but he did them without the self-preening drama carefully orchestrated by Clemens.  During the 1990’s, in the Era of The Hitter, Maddux posted a period of seven consecutive years of ERA’s beyond comprehension.  From 1992-98, his annual ERA’s were as follows:  2.18, 2.36, 1.56, 1.63, 2.72 (Oh, My!), 2.20, and 2.22.  These are ERA’s right out of the Dead Ball Era.  Well, it’s just too bad he wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, because strikeouts are sexy.

Oh, really?  Maddux finished tenth all-time in career strikeouts with 3,371.  Who is just ahead of him in ninth place?  None other than Walter Johnson.

Maddux, by the way, also won 18 consecutive gold gloves.

Lastly, Maddux broke the immortal Cy Young’s record of 15 consecutive seasons of 15 or more wins, having reached that total in seventeen consecutive years.  Maybe the Cy Young award should be renamed the Greg Maddux award.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing.  Greg Maddux was born in San Angelo, Texas.

Overrated: T.V. Show, “M.A.S.H.” – For too many years, this preachy message-driven drivel (War is Bad!) was imposed on a Vietnam Era audience (although it uses the Korean War as its backdrop.)  It turns out that even in the face of an odious, unjust conflict, American boys (and a girl or two) could crack jokes, shower together, and drip sincerity between commercial breaks.  Who knew?  The way Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) looked during his nervous breakdown in the Final Episode was the way I felt through most of the other episodes I ever bothered to sit through.

Underrated: T.V. Show, “The Shield.” -  How do you survive and do the job that needs to be done when no one around you (including your boss) wants you to?  Hidden dangers, both from without and within, lurk everywhere.  There is enough betrayal, passion, cruelty and nobility in this show to make Shakespeare envious.  And beyond that, it was never predictable or dull.

Overrated:  Alfonso Soriano - Usually leads the league, or is among the league-leaders, in Outs Made.  Even during his best seasons, his baseball instincts have always been poor.  Now he is older and injury-prone.  Good luck, Cubbies!

Underrated:  Bobby Abreu – Eight 20 / 20 seasons (homers / steals). Eight seasons of at least 100 runs scored, and eight seasons of at least 100 RBI’s.  His career Adjusted OPS+ is 132, higher than Hall-of-Fame outfielders Roberto Clemente, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Carl Yaz, Goose Goslin, and Jim Rice.

Overrated:  “300” – Plays like an S&M / Bondage primer masquerading as a modern, historical epic.  The Spartans, mind you, really did practice enforced homosexual relations within their ranks.  Perhaps this film isn’t such a stretch after all.

Underrated:  “Gladiator” – Russell Crowe’s best film.  Fantastic performances, excellent dramatic tension, great battle scenes.  “A people should know when they are conquered.”

Let’s leave it at that for today.  I hope you enjoyed this blog-post.  Agree / Disagree with any (all) of my underrated / overrated items?  Let me know.  Again, thanks for reading.

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