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