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Archive for the category “Baseball History”

A Mets Anniversary, of Sorts

Sometimes,  coincidences have a way of falling into your lap.

A little while ago, I was replying to a comment on the fine baseball blog, Misc. Baseball, where a conversation about no-hitters as they relate to the Padres (and Mets) was taking place.  I happened to recall that San Francisco Giants pitcher Ed Halicki tossed a no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.  Curious about the date of that no-hitter, I decided to look it up.  Strangely enough, today is the 40th-anniversary of that game.

Here are some bits of trivia I discovered while researching Halicki’s no-hitter.

The Mets manager that day was Roy McMillan, who had replaced Yogi Berra whom the Mets fired just 18 days earlier.  The Mets had gone 56-53 up to the point Berra was fired.  Under McMillan, they went 26-27.

The Giants manager was Wes Westrum.  Westrum had managed the Mets from 1965-67.  After 1975, neither McMillan nor Westrum ever managed in the Majors again.

Entering the ’75 season, both Ed Halicki and Mets starting pitcher Craig Swan had pitched fewer than one-hundred innings apiece in the Majors.  They went on to have not entirely dissimilar careers.  Halicki posted a career record of 55-66 with a WAR of 11.6.  Craig Swan finished his career with a 59-72 record, and a 12.6 WAR.

In 1978, Halicki won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 1.060 WHIP.

In 1978, Swan won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 2.43 ERA.

Halicki’s no-hitter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco was the second game of a double-header that day.  The Mets, behind Jon Matlack, won the first game 9-5.  In the first game, the Giants didn’t even attempt to steal a base off of lefty Matlack and catcher Jerry Grote.  In the second game, they ran wild, notching five steals off of Swan and catcher John Stearns.

The most controversial play of the game occurred in the top of the 5th inning.  Mets batter Rusty Staub hit a liner off of the leg of pitcher Halicki, which then bounced over to second baseman Derrel Thomas who picked up the ball, then dropped it.  The official scorer ruled this an error on Thomas.  But Mets beat-writer Dick Young was outraged by this scoring, and complained loudly about it.  He believed this play should have been scored a hit.

Though the no-hitter stood, official scorer Joe Sargis of UPI lost his part-time job as an official scorer.

Giants first baseman Willie Montanez drove in the Giants first two runs of the game in the bottom of the first inning.  Though the Giants would go on to win 6-0, those first two runs would be the only runs Halicki would need to win.  Three years later, the well-traveled Montanez would lead the Mets with 96 RBI.

Other than Staub reaching on an error in the 5th, the only other base-runners the Mets would have that day were pinch-hitter Mike Vail’s walk in the 6th-inning, and a one-out walk in the 9th to center-fielder Del Unser.

This was the last no-hitter ever pitched by a Giants pitcher at Candlestick Park.

It would be another 37-years until Johan Santana would throw the first no-hitter by a Mets pitcher in history (June 1, 2012.)  June 1st is also the birthday of Rick Baldwin, who pitched three innings in relief of Craig Swan on that August day in 1975 at Candlestick Park.

Look closely enough, and baseball is always full of quirky stats and surprises.

Dreams Before Dusk

The white sun showered Sacramento with fraying rays ’til well past 4:00.  By then, the only folks left in the ballpark were those paid ten cents an hour to pick up hot dog wrappers and half-filled soda cups under the bleachers.  Even the drunks had staggered out of the cooler spots under the grandstand, destinations to-be-determined.  And the Japanese kid, now just a hushed memory of Depression-era reticence.

Nine vs. nine, plus a couple of local high school kids on the bench to provide the home-team with extra lumber, should the boys from Nippon come looking for a fight.  Word was they were plenty good, though being on foreign turf had to rattle them some.  Especially out here in the Central Valley, where hard times had folded and molded men into something only faintly resembling human beings, and the W.P.A. was the only game in town.  Moering Field was the only getaway for the Oakies,  baseballs courtesy of Our Lady of Humble Secondary Offerings.

That Japanese kid, though, was some fast out there.  First six guys might not have even seen that steam, just read about it a half-second later in the catcher’s mitt, smoke emanating from leather like redolent gunshot.  My, how the laws of physics were Putting on the Ritz!  A pair of self-conscious pop ups to the infield, a ground-out to short, harmless as a baby snake, and three K’s, each punctuated with a grunting final swing, finished off the first three innings.

But our own kid, the dark-haired Angelich, held his own, too.  Just nineteen-years old, still had a year on their guy, Sawamura.  Angelich tossed down and slow, heavy pitches with just enough movement to frustrate over-eager sluggers, like suckers at a five-cent peephole aback a county fair.  Damned familiar she looked, too, all churlish grins as we counted our sins.  That is to say, they couldn’t touch it.

Still, their boys scratched out a pair of runs in the sixth and seventh innings, though none of the balls left the park.  Angelich left in the eighth to a Standing-O, waving one quick gloved-hand up to the crowd as he slicked back his hair with his bare one.  A fine performance, but still no permanent spot on the team.  Tough year, ’35.  And much tougher to come.

Sawamura, though, had the look that day.  Could’ve knocked down Mount Shasta with that game-face.  Baby-faced or not, the kid had STUFF.  How we managed even the one lone run was a water-to-wine miracle.  And what was he getting paid for this performance?  Did he even own a wallet?  Did he have a girl waiting for him back home?  And what did he think about during that empty Sacramento night, hours after reluctant American crowd regaled him with polite applause?  Fate writ large is still invisible to the naked eye, even to small-town heroes.

An ocean away, (both oceans, as it turned out), steely men with glinting eyes that knew neither love nor laughter planned hurricane death because they could and would.  Big plans, small minds, and lots of flags.

Baseball only a kid’s game, of course.  Inconsequential, but to those along the third-base line, shouting as the runner rounds third, digging for home, dirt-churning cleats digging clods of sod in a straight line to home plate, base-path all possibility, a dream out-running time and space, as the soft summer light fades into gray, and the dream withers at dusk.

This one’s for Jerry Angelich and Eigi Sawamura.

Please read the excellent link below for further context.

http://www.baseballsgreatestsacrifice.com/biographies/angelich_jerry.html

 

What Yogi Berra, (And Others), Never Actually Said

When it comes to famous quotations, Americans seem to love them more than any other people on the planet.  We put them on bumper-stickers, toss them around in political or religious debates, and use them as an excuse to avoid actually having to think too deeply about any particular topic.  If it can be summed up in a phrase or two, so much the better.

Baseball fans, of course, also love famous quotations, such as Satchel Paiges’s “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”  Simply recalling these quotes puts a satisfied smile on our face.

Unfortunately, the truth is many of the quotations we take for granted as having been said by, for example, the Founding Fathers, or old-time ball players, in many instances turn out not to have been said by them at all.   Sometimes, the alleged statements are inaccurate renderings of much less interesting comments.  Other times, they appear to have been simply made up completely out of whole-cloth, or actually belong to someone else.

English: New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra i...

English: New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in a 1956 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra probably has more quotes attributed to him than any other baseball player in history. Yogi was lovable, successful and humble, and he looked kind of funny with big ears and the grin of a six-year old who just tasted his first ice-cream cone.  What’s not to like?

Many of the sayings attributed to Berra, however, are probably apocryphal.  But if a quotation could be attached to the legend of Yogi Berra, it would seem to be that much more funny and interesting.

The same can be said, in a way, to all the alleged quotations attributed to our Founding Fathers over the years.  While these men actually did, of course, pen many significant, historical statements, many other quotations which have been credited to them (especially in recent years), are at best of suspicious origin, and, at worst, are obviously fake.

I have provided a list of several famous quotations allegedly made by famous people (including Yogi Berra) which, it turns out, were probably never penned by the person to whom these lines are attributed.

1)  “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”  – George Washington.  Except here’s what the official, non-partisan website of Mount Vernon and the legacy of George Washington has to say about this quotation:

The quote is frequently misattributed to Washington, particularly in regards to his farewell address of 1796. The origin of the misquote is, perhaps, a mention of a similar statement in a biography of Washington first published in 1835. However, the quote that appeared in the biography has never been proven to have come from Washington.

2)  “Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”  – Yogi Berra.  Unfortunately, Yogi didn’t come up with this one.  The origin of this quote can be traced (at least) as far back as John McNulty writing in the New Yorker magazine, in a story published February 1943, before Yogi was even in the Majors.

English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Sec...

English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”  – Thomas Jefferson.  It appears that this statement was first made (sort of) famous not by Jefferson, but by that other Founding Father…President Gerald R. Ford.  Barry Goldwater has also sometimes been credited with making this statement.

As an aside, I just saw this exact quotation on a bumper sticker in a parking lot today, and it was attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  The interesting thing is I also saw this same quotation on another car in a different parking lot a few weeks ago, but it was attributed to conservative philosopher Edmund Burke.  So, at least in Greenville County, SC, you appear to have your choice of whom to award this statement.

4)  “Its Deja Vu all over again.”  – Yes, Yogi Berra is often credited with this saying, but in a phone interview with journalist William Safire in the late ’80’s, Yogi denied ever having made this statement.  About a decade later, however, Berra did take credit for it after all.  Did he really say it, or did he just come to believe that it would do no harm taking credit for it after all?  A version of this line was also found in a poem called “Thanks to You,” by Jim Prior, which appeared in a Florida newspaper in 1962:

It’s Deja Vu again / Out of the blue again / Truer than true again / Thanks to you.

5)  Most of us are familiar with the following quotation, frequently attributed to Protestant theologian Martin Niemoller:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out for the trade unionists, because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came out for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This quotation has always held strong emotional appeal precisely because it points out the inherent danger of good people remaining silent in the face of great evil.  But was Martin Niemoller really the first to say it, assuming he ever said it at all?

On the floor of the House of Representatives in October, 1968, a slightly different version was entered into the Congressional Record by Henry Reuss, a Congressman from Wisconsin.  His version led off with the Jews, then moved on to Catholics, then unions, then industrialists, and finally the Protestant church.  His version left out the communists and socialists.

Representative Reuss credited these words to a Jewish businessman named Howard Samuels.

A paraphrase of the lines attributed to Father Niemoller was discovered going back to the mid-1950’s, however, and though the thoughts are generally similar, the phraseology isn’t as clearly defined and polished as the version most commonly attributed to him.  It should be pointed out that Niemoller actually did bravely stand up to the Nazis, and did survive a period of time in a Nazi Concentration Camp.

Niemoller himself did later say that his favorite version of this quotation included the communists and the socialists as two of the persecuted groups because it was much closer to being historically accurate than the ones which leave out those two groups in favor of Industrialists and Catholics.

Nevertheless, no written record of Niemoller making the specific statement famously associated with him has ever been located.

6)  “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  –  Yogi Berra.  Berra is on record stating that he’s pretty sure he never said this one.

7)  “The death of one man is a tragedy.  The death of millions is a statistic.”  – Josef Stalin.  The person who actually first wrote those words was the German journalist / satirist Kurt Tucholsky in an essay on French humor in 1932.  He was a left-wing Democrat in Germany during the Weimar Republic.  Later, under Hitler, his books were burned and he was stripped of his German citizenship (though he had already fled to Sweden.)  He died in 1935, before the worst of the Nazi genocidal campaigns and the Second World War commenced.

8)  “Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”  –  Yogi Berra  While that very well be true, Berra didn’t say this.  Instead, the quotation belongs to Rocky Bridges, who played for several Major League baseball teams from 1951 to 1961.

Why does this happen so often?  In many cases, there is a political motivation involved.  If you can attribute a statement which appears to support your side’s political convictions to a Founding Father, for example, you gain implicit credibility in the eyes of an unsuspecting, credulous public.  As for baseball fans, we just like to read cool-sounding stuff.

 

Saves, No-Hitters and Homers: Oh, My!

Consider this a follow-up to my last post.

Several of my readers made many fantastic additions to my previous list of players who had thrown a shutout and earned a save in the same season.  One of my readers wondered how often a pitcher tossed a no-hitter, (as opposed to merely a shutout), and earned a save in the same campaign. So, of course, I did a little more research.

Let me say, once again, that I don’t pretend that my research here is necessarily comprehensive.  I may have missed a few guys, but I hope not very many. Here are a couple of dozen pitchers who, at the very least, pitched a no-hitter and earned a save in the same season.  As you’ll see, I broke them down into a bit more specific categories.

Also, I’m only going back as far as 1900.  And no, chronological order doesn’t much interest me.

Pitchers Who Threw a No-Hitter and Earned a Save:

1)  Nolan Ryan:  Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career, four with the Angels.  The first two of those no-hitters occurred in 1973.  Also that same year, Ryan earned a save, one of just three he would record in his 27-year career.

2)  Jeff Tesreau:  Tesreau was an excellent rookie pitcher on the great 1912 New York Giants.  He tossed his only career no-hitter that year, and earned a save.

3)  Jim Bunning:  Bunning threw two no-hitters in his career.  The first one was when he was a member of the Tigers in 1958.  His second no-hitter came against the Mets, while pitching for the Phillies, in 1964.  He also earned a pair of saves in the 1964 season.

George Leroy "Hooks" Wiltse, of the ...

George Leroy “Hooks” Wiltse, of the New York (NL) baseball team, winding up for pitch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4)  Chris Bosio:  Bosio pitched the second no-hitter in the history of the Seattle Mariners franchise, in 1993.  Later that same year, he also earned a save.

5)  Hooks Wiltse:  Wiltse, a left-handed pitcher out of Hamilton, NY, enjoyed his finest season in 1908, recording a 23-14 record for the Giants.  He no-hit the Phillies on the 4th of July that season, one of his career-high seven shutouts on the year, and recorded a couple of saves along the way that season.  In his career, he threw 27 shutouts and earned 33 saves.  

6)  Dean Chance:  On August 25, 1967, Dean Chance of the Minnesota Twins defeated the Cleveland Indians on the road by the score of 2-1.  Oddly, Chance actually pitched a complete game no-hitter that day, but his five walks, a wild pitch and an error by Twins third baseman Cesar Tovar led to the lone Indians run in the first inning.  Tovar later scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a balk by Indians pitcher Sonny Siebert.  Chance also acquired one save in ’67.

7)  Allie Reynolds:  If there is such a thing as an underrated Yankee, I submit Allie Reynolds as Exhibit A.  Reynolds tossed a pair of no-hitters in the 1951 season, about ten weeks apart.  Already 34-years old that season, Reynolds won 17 games for the Yanks in ’51, leading the A.L. with seven shutouts.  He also recorded seven saves that same year.  In 1952, he led the A.L. in ERA (2.06), won twenty games, and led the league, again, with six shutouts.  He matched those six shutouts by registering six saves.

8)  Gaylord Perry:  Facing Bob Gibson in Gibson’s unbelievable ’68 season (1.12 ERA), Perry actually bested him by no-hitting Gibson’s St. Louis Cardinals.  (How would you like to have been anywhere near Bob Gibson in the Cardinal’s clubhouse after that game?)  Perry also earned a save that year.  He didn’t hit a homer in ’68, but he did hit exactly one homer in ’69, ’70, ’71 and ’72.

9)  Carl Hubbell:  In just his second Major League season, Hubbell tossed the only no-hitter of his fine career, an 11-0 victory over the Pirates at the Polo Grounds in 1929.  He also saved a game that year.

10)  Paul Dean:  Like Jeff Tesreau 22 years earlier, Paul (Daffy) Dean, (brother of Dizzy Dean),  pitched a no-hitter in his rookie season (1934.)  Paul won 19 games in each of his first two Major League seasons, then won just 12 more in his career.  He also saved two games in 1934.

11)  Dutch Leonard:  Leonard tossed a pair of no-hitters in the early years of the Boston Red Sox, one in 1916 and one in 1918.  In addition to his six shutouts in ’16, he also saved half a dozen games.

12)  Carl Erskine:  “Oisk” tossed a couple of no-hitters for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first one in 1952 and the second one in 1956.  In ’52, he also saved two games, but he saved none in ’56.  His one career homer came in 1955.

English: Pitcher Jimmy Lavender of the Chicago...

English: Pitcher Jimmy Lavender of the Chicago Cubs at the Polo Grounds in New York City, 1912. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

13)  Jimmy Lavender:  Nope, I’d never heard of him before, either.  Lavender was a decent pitcher on a mediocre Cubs team in 1915, but he did have one big day.  He fired a no-hitter against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds, defeating them 2-0.  Former Giant Roger Bresnahan was his catcher, and his manager.  Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem was behind the plate.  Lavender also earned four saves in ’15.

Those Who Did a Bit More:  A no-hitter, a save, and a home run (or two.)  

14)  Bob Feller:  Feller hurled three no-hitters in his legendary career.  The first one occurred on Opening Day, 1940 (the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history.)  His second no-hitter was in 1946, after he arrived home from WWII.  His third and final no-hitter was recorded in 1951.  Feller also earned four saves in both 1940 and ’46.  In 1940, Feller also slugged two home runs.  He was one of only six pitchers on this list to toss a no-hitter, earn a save and hit a home run in the same year.

15)  Walter Johnson:  You might think 1920 was one of Johnson’s best years because he accomplished what Feller did, pitching a no-hitter, earning three saves and hitting a home run that season.  But 1920 was otherwise a rare bad year for Johnson, as he posted just an 8-10 record.  A fine hitting pitcher, he slugged 24 homers in his career.

"Smokey" Joe Wood, Boston AL (baseball)

“Smokey” Joe Wood, Boston AL (baseball) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

16)  Smoky Joe Wood:  As a 21-year old stud on the Red Sox in 1911, Joe Wood would pitch a no-hitter and save three games.  The following year, he would enjoy his legendary 34-5 season, leading the Red Sox to a World Series triumph over the Giants.  Oh, and he also hit a pair of homers in ’11, and two more in ’12.

17)  Lew Burdette:  The best player ever to come out of Nitro High School, West Virginia, Milwaukee Braves pitcher Burdette pitched a no-hitter on August 18, 1960 against the Phillies, winning by a score of 1-0.  Burdette also led the N.L. with 18 complete games, won 19 games, saved four games, and hit two home runs in 1960.

18)  Warren Spahn:  That same 1960 season, Burdette’s teammate, Warren Spahn, virtually matched Burdette’s trifecta.  Spahn pitched the first of his two career no-hitters at age 39, saved a pair of games, and hit three homers.

19)  Phil Niekro:  Thirteen years after Burdette and Spahn, Atlanta Brave Phil Niekro did his best to emulate those Braves pitchers of the previous generation.  Though 1973 wasn’t one of Niekro’s very best seasons, he did toss the one and only no-hitter of his career, (his only shutout of 1973), recorded four saves, and even hit one of his seven career home runs.

One of a Kind:  a perfect game and a save.  

20)  Addie Joss:  On October 2, 1908, Joss pitched the second perfect game in American League history.  It came against the Chicago White Sox.  He also earned two saves that season.  Less than two years later, in April of 1910, he again no-hit the White Sox.  He won both games by the score of 1-0.  Almost exactly one year later, on April 14, 1911, Joss died of meningitis.  Until Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum no-hit the Padres last week for the second time in his career, Joss had been the only pitcher in history to toss two no-hitters against one team.

From Another Dimension:  a perfect game, a no-hitter, saves and homers.

21)  Sandy Koufax:  Koufax was the first pitcher to throw four no-hitters.  He tossed one each over four consecutive seasons beginning in 1962.  His final no-hitter in ’65 was also a perfect game.  In ’62, in addition to his first no-hitter, he also saved a game and hit a home run.  In ’63, he threw a no-hitter, won 25 games, and hit a homer.  In ’64, he threw a no-hitter and saved a game, but didn’t hit a homer.  In ’65, Koufax enjoyed his perfect game, saved two additional games, but did not hit a home run.  All in all, not a bad four-year stretch.

Cy Young.

Cy Young. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All That, and a Bag of Chips:  A perfect game, a save, and a home run.

22)  Cy Young:  Like Bob Feller, Cy Young recorded three no-hitters in his career.  He tossed his first one in 1897, his second one in 1904, and his last one in 1908.  But his ’04 no-hitter was also a perfect game.  He earned a save as well in ’04, and a couple of more saves in ’08.  In ’04, he also hit a home run.

23)  Jim “Catfish” Hunter:  Before he was Catfish, he was just a young phenom pitcher named Jim Hunter.  In 1968, he actually matched Cy Young’s ’04 performance.  Hunter tossed a perfect game, earned a save, and hit a home run.  Young and Hunter are the only two pitchers I’m aware of who accomplished this feat in one year.     

If you can find more pitchers to add to this list, O Faithful Readers, I welcome any and all additions.  I’m sure there are a few more out there.

Last of the Old Negro League Ballparks

I’ve always been fascinated by the history of the Negro Leagues.  Recently, I was wondering about which of the old Negro League parks, if any, were still in existence.  I suspected that only a small handful have survived through the years.  That turned out to be an accurate assessment.  Here’s some information about the last three Negro League ballparks, either still in use or at least having escaped the wrecking ball, in which Negro League players used to regularly ply their trade.

To be clear, if you search online you will find several other venues that once hosted Negro League players or teams at one time or another.  I chose not to list several of them because they were merely locations where Negro League teams simply barnstormed through on the circuit, or they have been so modified that almost none of the original field exists (Ammon Field, now Josh Gibson Field in Pittsburgh, comes to mind), or at best sketchy evidence that Negro League teams played there at all (West Field in Munhall, PA.)  Having said that, if you come across credible information that I’ve missed a significant Negro League home ballpark which still stands, by all means let me know.

1)  Hamtramck Stadium:  3201 Dan St.  Hamtramck, MI (a part of the Detroit metro area.)  Built by Detroit Stars owner John Roesink in 1930.  A brick, steel and concrete structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Most famous player who called this park home:  Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes.  Hosted the 1930 Negro National League Championship Series, which Detroit lost to the St. Louis Stars.  Other Negro Leaguers who played here include Mule Suttles, Josh Gibson, Willie Wells and Cool Papa Bell.

Though a short 315 feet down the left-field line to the wall, it was a very deep 415 feet to right-field, and a cavernous 515 feet to center.  The park originally held between 8,000-9,000 customers.  The original metal grandstand still stands.  The park was used by local Little League teams in the 1950’s, and later by teams from the local Catholic high schools.  Once those schools closed, the park was left abandoned.  It hasn’t been used at all for the past few years, though structurally, it is still sound.  The pitcher’s mound and the original flagpole are also still there.

 

 

2)  Rickwood Field:  1137 2nd Avenue West, Birmingham, Alabama.  Opened its doors in 1910 (making it older than either Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.)  First pitch, first game:  August 18, 1910, 3:30 p.m.  Named for team owner Harvey “Rick” Woodward.  Seating capacity:  10,800.  Deepest part of the park:  399 to left-center.  Outfield fence has twice been destroyed by tornadoes.  Originally the home of the Birmingham Black Barons.

USA's oldest surviving baseball park here in B...

USA’s oldest surviving baseball park here in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A’s owner Charlie Finley leased the park from 1967-75 for the Double-A minor league Birmingham A’s.  Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Willie Mays each played at one time in their careers for the Black Barons.  The Black Barons played their final game in 1963.

Until 1987, the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate, the Barons, called Rickwood home before eventually moving out to the suburbs.

It is 90 feet from home-plate to the backstop at Rickwood Field.  Thus passed balls and wild pitches could be exceptionally dangerous.

The first legally integrated game at Rickwood for both players and fans took place on April 17, 1964.  A representative of the Ku Klux Klan promised that his boys would not make any trouble that day.

Interestingly, Rickwood Field actually has a blog on WordPress.com.  Here’s the link:

http://rickwood.wordpress.com/contact-information/

Today, Rickwood Field is maintained by the Friends of Rickwood who continue to work on restoring this facility which hosts exhibition games for local amateur and semipro teams.  Some scenes from the 2012 film, “42” were filmed in this park.

 

English: I took this photo myself in the winte...

The remains of the oval-shaped Hinchliffe Stadium in Patterson, New Jersey.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  Hinchliffe Stadium:  Patterson, New Jersey.  As with the previous two stadiums, this one is also on the National Register of Historic Places.  Hinchliffe Stadium first opened in 1932.  It was the home of both the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans.

In its prime, Hinchliffe held up to 10,000 fans, though sometimes even more crammed the place for special events.   Hinchliffe was also used for football, boxing and even auto racing.

An oval-shaped park similar to the L.A. Coliseum or New York’s old Polo Grounds, the distance to straightaway center-field was 460 feet from home-plate.  One member of the Black Yankees, George Crowe, was called up to play for the Major League Boston Braves in 1952.

In 1957, playing in place of the injured Ted Kluszewski, Crowe slugged 31 homers and drove in 92 runs in 133 games, at age 36.  Many other fine Negro League stars played at Hinchliffe as well, though official records are generally incomplete.

The Black Yankees left in 1948, an ironic victim of desegregation in Major League Baseball.

Today Hinchliffe Stadium is the property of the Patterson, N.J. school system, though no games have been played on this field since 1997.  The Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium continue to try to raise funds to renovate the park for potential future uses, and to preserve this historic place for posterity.

There are many more excellent photos of Hinchliffe Stadium at this link:

http://www.northjersey.com/photo-galleries/photos-historic-hinchliffe-stadium-in-paterson-1.617628?photo=1&c=y

If you would like to donate to the Friends of Hinchliffe, here’s a link to their website:

http://www.hinchliffestadium.org/

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The Day Babe Ruth Called His Shot

Writing about Babe Ruth is like writing about God.  No matter what you say about either of them, you are bound to offend someone.

Still, there is one major difference between the two of them. God never hit 714 home runs.

Oh, sure, God COULD have hit that many if he had wanted to, you say, but we’ve heard that before about countless prospects over the decades. Yet only a heroic Henry Aaron and an inflatable Barry Bonds have surpassed Ruth. Gods, of course, have the power to know what truths the future holds, a power that mere mortals are not privy to.

So how, then, was Babe Ruth able to predict that he would hit a home run off of Cubs pitcher Charlie Root in that legendary at-bat in the 1932 World Series? Actually, the essential question here is, DID Babe Ruth truly call his shot on that early October afternoon in Chicago?

It all began with sportswriter Joe Williams.  In the late edition of the same day as the game, he wrote, “Ruth Calls Shot As He Puts Home Run No. 2 In Side Pocket.” (Ruth had already hit another home run earlier in the game.) At first, even Ruth dismissed the story, saying that he was just pointing towards the Cubs bench telling them he still had one more strike to go.

As time went on, however, Ruth began to warm up to the story, embellishing it as time went by.

Yet no other player on the field that day was able to positively confirm that Ruth actually did call his shot, a monster 440-foot home run towards the flagpole beyond the outfield wall. Still, the famous photo exists that shows Ruth gesturing, arm outstretched, pointing at someone or something during this very at-bat.

Isn’t it at least plausible that this enormously talented hitter and consummate showman really could have called his shot that day? Ruth later claimed that he announced, “I’m gonna hit the next pitched ball past the flagpole. Well, the Good Lord must have been with me that day.” God, apparently, is a Yankees fan (which would explain a lot of things.)

Yet Yankees pitcher Charlie Deven, in an interview given seven decades later, said that while at first he thought Ruth’s foreshadowing gesture was indeed a portent of the subsequent home run, he was corrected by Yankees shortstop Frank Crosetti who told Deven that Ruth simply put up one finger to indicate he still had another strike coming.

Cub’s pitcher Charlie Root denied to his dying day that Ruth called his shot.  In one interview, he said that if Ruth had tried a stunt like that, his next pitch would have knocked Ruth on his ass.

The player who was physically closest to Ruth in that moment was Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett.  Hartnett later stated that Ruth did not in fact call his home run.  Instead, he said that Ruth bellowed, “That’s only two strikes,” while pointing at the Cubs dugout.

One might argue that Crosetti simply wasn’t physically close enough to Ruth to hear what he actually said.  And it can also be argued that Gabby Hartnett, being the catcher for the opposing team during a bitterly contested World Series (which the Yankees swept in four games), would have every reason to try to deny additional glory to the Yankee legend.

We must keep in mind that Ruth was not a brash, 25-year old kid just trying to make a name for himself.  In that case, it is conceivable that players on both teams would have tried to cut Ruth down to size for his lack of humility. But Ruth was an aging, 37-year old legend playing in his last World Series.  He was not just another star; he was THE star that all of baseball was indebted to for leading the way out of the woods of the scandalous 1919 season which could have ruined baseball indefinitely.

It was his exploits that changed the game forever, filling stadiums all over America, putting a little more money in every player’s pocket. In other words, his reputation already cast in stone, it’s hard to see why, if Ruth really had called his shot that day, not a single player on the field that day would grant him this one last diamond in his crown.

Unless, of course, it never happened. But why, then, would Ruth feel compelled to embrace this apocryphal tale?

To answer this question, we have to take a closer look at Ruth the Man, as opposed to Ruth the demigod. Despite enjoying a very productive season in 1932, Ruth was clearly no longer the dominant slugger in the American League.  For the first time since 1925, Ruth failed to lead the league in any of the following three categories:  Home Runs, RBI’s, or Slugging Percentage.

His teammate, Lou Gehrig, with whom a tense rivalry existed, had driven in 151 runs to Ruth’s still fine 137.  Worse, Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics had out-homered Ruth 58 to 41, falling just two homers short of Ruth’s own single-season home run record.

While Foxx and Gehrig had finished 1-2 in MVP voting in ’32, Ruth finished tied with Joe Cronin for a distant 6th in the balloting. Ruth, age rapidly creeping up on him, must have sensed his days as baseball’s most awesome slugger were numbered.  He also must have known that despite how much he was loved by his countless admirers, in the end, his on-field production would dictate the intensity and degree of their future admiration.

Ruth would also have realized that the world itself had changed drastically since the Yankees glory days of the late 1920’s. Charles Lindbergh had flown across the Atlantic back in ‘27.  Now, Europe was faced with the specter of Fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany. A world-wide Depression had taken hold, and America itself was threatened by malignant forces both from within and without.

In short, the world was clearly not headed into a new Age of Reason.  Dark forces could only be effectively met by new heroes.  Franklin Roosevelt and his inspirational Fireside Chats were still months away.  Ruth, then, already a hero back in the heady days of the ‘20’s, tapped into the American Zeitgeist once again, and delivered the miracle this emotionally impoverished nation needed, i.e., that a man could still control his destiny.

Babe Ruth’s Called Shot resonated with the American public because it proved that even in the face of extreme darkness, heroic moments were still possible.

Yet, for our purposes here today, during a time of renewed social and economic turmoil, our rationalist selves have to accept that there just doesn’t seem to be any objective evidence that Babe Ruth really did call his shot.

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Each Team’s Single-Season WAR Leader

Measured by WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which player has had the best individual season for each team in Major League history? Listed alphabetically, here are the single-season WAR leaders for each baseball team (since 1900), and the year during which they produced the team record:

1)  A’s – Eddie Collins – 10.5, 1910

2)  Angels – Mike Trout – 10.9, 2012

3)  Astros – Craig Biggio – 9.4, 1997

4)  Blue Jays – Roger Clemens – 11.9, 1997

5)  Braves – Greg Maddux – 9.7, 1995

6)  Brewers – Robin Yount – 10.5, 1982

7)  Cardinals – Rogers Hornsby – 12.1, 1924

8)  Cubs – Rogers Hornsby – 10.4, 1929

9)  Diamondbacks – Randy Johnson – 10.9, 2002

10) Dodgers – Sandy Koufax – 10.7, 1963

11)  Expos / Nats – Pedro Martinez – 9.0, 1997

12)  Giants – Barry Bonds – 11.9, 2001

13)  Indians – Gaylord Perry – 11.0, 1972

14)  Mariners – Alex Rodriguez – 10.3, 2000

15)  Marlins – Kevin Brown – 8.0, 1996

16)  Mets – Dwight Gooden – 12.1, 1985

17)  Orioles – Cal Ripkin, Jr. – 11.5, 1991

18)  Padres – Kevin Brown – 8.6, 1998

19)  Phillies – Steve Carlton – 12.1, 1972

20)  Pirates – Honus Wagner – 11.5, 1908

21)  Rangers / Senators – Josh Hamilton – 8.9, 2010

22)  Rays – Ben Zobrist – 8.8, 2011

23)  Reds – Joe Morgan – 11.0, 1975

24)  Red Sox – Cy Young – 12.6, 1901

25)  Rockies – Larry Walker – 9.8, 1997

26)  Royals – Zach Greinke – 10.4, 2009

27)  Tigers – Hal Newhouser – 12.0, 1945

28)  Twins / Senators – Walter Johnson – 16.0, 1913

29)  White Sox – Wilbur Wood – 11.7, 1971

30)  Yankees – Babe Ruth – 14.0, 1923

As you may have noticed, a pair of players each appear twice on this list.  Rogers Hornsby holds the single-season WAR mark for both the Cardinals and the Cubs.  Kevin Brown, and under-appreciated pitcher if there ever was one, compiled the greatest single-season WAR for both the Marlins and the Padres.  A pair of men named Johnson, Randy and Walter, also appear on this list.

What do you make of the fact that four of the six highest WAR’s on this list occurred before 1925?  Could it be that the level of talent between the very best players and the average players was much greater then than it has been since?

The 1930’s and the 1950’s are, perhaps oddly, the only two decades since 1900 not represented at least once on this list.

Four players, Larry Walker, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, each set their respective team records in a single season, 1997.  Three other players, Cal Ripkin, Kevin Brown (twice), and Greg Maddux, also set their team’s record during that same decade, the 1990’s.

Fourteen different pitchers are represented on this list, including five lefties:  Koufax, Carlton, Newhouser, W. Wood and R. Johnson.

Given how much offense has historically been expected from first basemen, it is surprising that not one single first baseman is represented on this list.  Nor are any third basemen or catchers to be found here.  But eight players who were primarily middle-infielders during their careers are on this list.

Chronologically, the list spans from Cy Young’s 1901 season with the Red Sox to Mike Trout’s 2012 with the Angels.  Five of these players are still active:  Trout, Josh Hamilton, Ben Zobrist, Zach Greinke, and (technically) A-Rod.  Trout and Hamilton are currently teammates on the Angels.

All but seven of these players are still alive.  Only Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Hal Newhouser have passed away.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has identified the period 1947-72 as the “Golden Era” of baseball.  Interestingly, however, only four of the single-season WAR records on this list occurred during that era, and three of them (Carlton and Perry in ’72 and Wood in ’71) barely qualify.  Only Koufax’s 1963 season fits squarely in that arbitrary time-frame.

It will be interesting to see if any of these records fall this season, or over the next several years, as today’s talented young ballplayers leave their mark on the game.

 

 

 

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Is the Wrong Red Sox Player in the Hall of Fame?

Here’s a comparison of a pair of Red Sox players, one who is in the Hall of Fame, another who never came close to induction.  The better player in each category is highlighted in bold print:

Player A:  On Base Percentage – .360

Player B:  On Base Percentage –  .352

Player A:  Slugging Percentage – .484

Player B:  Slugging Percentage – .502

Player A:  OPS+ 129

Player B:   OPS+ 128

Player A:  Doubles – 388

Player B:  Doubles – 373

Player A:  Home Runs – 306

Player B:  Home Runs – 382

Player A:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 10

Player B:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 11

Player A:  Total Bases – 3,352

Player B:  Total Bases – 4,129

Player A:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 149

Player B:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 315

Player A:  Walks – 857

Player B:  Walks – 670

Player A:  Times Struck Out – 1,116

Player B:  Times Struck Out – 1,423

Player A:  WAR – 49.9

Player B:  WAR – 47.2

Player A:  Gold Gloves – 4

Player B:  Gold Gloves – 0

Player A:  All Star Games – 9

Player B:  All Star Games – 8

Player A:  MVP Awards – 1

Player B:  MVP Awards – 1

Admittedly, any statistics one chooses to use will be at least somewhat arbitrary.  Still, I believe I have included a broad selection of useful statistics (as well as awards and honors), to make a legitimate comparison between these two former teammates possible.

Player A trumps Player B in the following nine categories:  On Base Percentage, OPS+, Doubles, GIDP, Walks, Times Struck Out, WAR, Gold Gloves and All Star Games.

Player B trumps Player A in the following four categories:  Slugging Percentage, Home Runs, 20+ Home Run Seasons (again close), and Total Bases.

Player B, Jim Rice, played his entire career in a Boston Red Sox uniform, benefiting from the friendly hitting environment of Fenway Park for 16 seasons.

Player A, Fred Lynn, played his first half-dozen seasons in a Red Sox uniform, then went west to play for the Angels (in a less hitter-friendly environment), and spent time in Baltimore and Detroit before finishing up in his final season in San Diego.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if their career histories were reversed, and Lynn got to stay in Boston for the entirety of his career, while Rice was sent packing at age 28 to less hitter-friendly locales, Lynn might be in the Hall of Fame today, while Jim Rice almost certainly would not.

I am not arguing that either Lynn or Rice should be in the HOF.  In fact, I wouldn’t select either as a member.  But, clearly, the difference between their respective careers is not nearly so great as one might imagine.  Basically, one choice would be about as good as the other, though I might give a slight edge to Freddy Lynn.

Finally, it should also be noted that yet another Red Sox outfielder who played alongside Lynn and Rice — Dwight Evans — probably has a better HOF case than either of his outfield mates.  Evans hit more home runs, drew more walks, had a higher on-base percentage, scored more runs, and had a higher career WAR than either Lynn or Rice.

Perhaps some future Veteran’s Committee will reexamine the careers of both Lynn and Evans, and present each with a HOF plaque of their own.

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Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century: Part 3

This is the third and final installment of this series.  If you are just discovering this series, and you want to go back and take a look at prior posts, here’s the link to Part 1 (which also discusses the criteria I used compile this list) and Part 2, which lists players #11-#20.

Now, on to pitchers #21-#25:

English: Mike Mussina

English: Mike Mussina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

21)  Mike Mussina – Yes, here’s another one whom we might not think of as, strictly-speaking, a 21st-century pitcher.  Yet about 43% of Mussina’s career WAR value occurred from 2001 until his retirement after the 2008 season.

Mussina’s career fits neatly into almost two halves.  He spent the first ten years of his career, through the year 2000, with the Baltimore Orioles.  They were generally his best years.

During that span, he finished in the top ten in Cy Young voting five times.  In his tenure with the Yankees (2001-2008), he managed to make the top five in voting just once (with a 6th-place showing in his final season as well.)

As an Oriole, Mussina was often a borderline-great pitcher who compiled an ERA+ of 130 in ten years.  As a member of the Yankees, Mussina was still a very good pitcher who compiled an ERA+ of 114, and a WHIP of 1.212, in his final eight years.

As a Yankee, in the 21st-century, Mussina compiled a WAR of 35.2, and a won-lost record of 123-72 (.631), with an ERA of 3.88.  He made 249 starts with the Yankees, tossed 1,553 innings, and struck out 1,278 batters.

His WAR ranks 10th-best all-time for a Yankees pitcher, and his 1,278 K’s rank sixth-best ever for a Yankee starter.

Mussina’s 4.01 strikeout to walk ratio is the best in the entire history of New York Yankees starting pitchers.

Although Mussina led the A.L. in wins with 19 in 1995 (and he also won 19 games in 1996), the first and only time in his entire career that he won 20 games was in the final season of his career, in 2008, when he posted a 20-9 record, in a league-leading 34 starts, for New York’s A.L. franchise.  Lest you think those 20-wins were primarily about run support, his ERA was 3.37, and his ERA+ was 131.

It’s good to go out on top, and that’s what Mussina did after the 2008 season.  He certainly enjoyed a Hall of Fame-worthy career, and he definitely belongs on the list of best pitchers of the 21st-century.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren (Photo credit: on2wheelz)

22)  Dan Haren – Haren has been about as solid as they come over the past decade.  He has won 129 of 316 starts, and boasts a fine WHIP of 1.186.

Over a seven-year period, 2005-11, he averaged 34 starts per season, leading the league in that category three times, and pitching over 200 innings in each of those seven seasons.

From 2007-09, inclusive, he posted a fantastic ERA+ of around 140.  He made three-consecutive All-Star teams, and finished 5th in Cy Young voting in 2009 while pitching for Arizona.

An excellent control pitcher, Haren has walked more than 50 batters in just three of his eleven seasons.  At the same time, he has been an above-average strikeout pitcher, fanning at least 192 batters five times, and over 200 three times.

Though Haren’s past couple of years have been somewhat below his historic standards of effectiveness, a move to the Dodgers and to the N.L. West could help Haren post a nice comeback season in 2014.

cain

cain (Photo credit: artolog)

23)  Matt Cain – Similar to Haren in that he has not received the press he should have for the many fine seasons he’s enjoyed pitching for the Giants.  Still just 29-years old, Cain has already been a veteran of parts of nine MLB seasons.  One of the unluckiest of pitchers, Cain has received little run support throughout his career, and usually ranks among the leaders in no-decisions for that reason.

Cain’s career record of 93-88 does not accurately reflect how well he has usually pitched since 2oo5.  From 2009-11, for example, Cain won just 39 of 99 starts, and was left with 30 no-decisions.  His record during that period was 39-30, but with proper run support, it could have been closer to 50-25.

Still, Cain has received moderate attention in Cy Young voting in three of his seasons, and he’s  been named to three All-Star teams in his career.

A veteran of eight post-season starts, he has demonstrated poise and effectiveness on that stage, going 4-2 with a 2.10 ERA in 51 innings.

Cain certainly has the potential to accomplish much more in has career, which may just now have reached roughly its midpoint.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

24)  Josh Beckett – I saw Beckett pitch twice while he was a Portland Sea Dog (AA-Portland, ME) back in the summer of 2001, in the Eastern League.  He was absolutely dominant on both occasions.  He made 13 starts for Portland, posting an 8-1 record, a 1.82 ERA, and 102 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 74 innings.  At age 21, he pitched like a man among boys.

Beckett had been the Marlins 1st-round pick in the 1999 Amateur Draft (2nd pick overall), and rapidly progressed through the Marlin’s system.  After Portland, Beckett later that season made his debut for the Marlins, making four starts near the end of the year.  In those four starts, he struck out 24 batters in 24 innings, resulting in a 1.50 ERA.

For the next four years in Florida, Beckett’s strikeout rate hovered around one per inning.  But he never stayed quite healthy enough to put it all together.  There were always some sort of blisters to contend with, or one ailment or another that suppressed his starts and innings pitched each season.  It wasn’t until he got traded to Boston in the deal for Hanley Ramirez just before the ’06 season that Beckett finally reached the 200 inning pitched level.

But before we get to his Boston years, let’s back up a bit to the 2003 World Series.  Beckett’s performance in that series provided the Marlins with a competitive edge vs. the Yankees.  The 23-year old Beckett made two starts against the Yankees in that World Series.

In 16 innings, he struck out 19 Yankees, gave up just eight hits, only two earned runs, and posted a 1.10 ERA, along with an 0.796 WHIP.  He shut out the Yanks in Game 6, the final game of the Series, defeating Andy Pettitte 2-0.  For his performance, he was named the World Series MVP.

Josh Beckett then spent his next seven seasons, the prime of his career, pitching for the Boston Red Sox. It was a mixed bag.  At times, Beckett demonstrated the incredible promise he flashed in the minors, and from time-to-time with the Marlins.  At other times, he seemed uninterested, unmotivated, and uninspired.  In alternate seasons, Beckett was either among the better pitchers in the A.L., or one of the biggest disappointments.

In 2007, 2009, and 2011, Beckett posted WAR’s of 6.5, 5.1, and 5.8.  In ’07, he won 20 games and finished second in the Cy Young voting for the A.L.  In ’11, he again finished in the top ten in voting.  In each of those three seasons, he made the All-Star team.

In ’06, ’08, ’10, and ’12, however, he posted WAR’s of 2.7, 3.3, -1.0 and 0.2.  What’s more, in perhaps only one season in his career, 2007, out of 13 seasons, could he be said to have pitched and acted like the ace of his staff.  He generally seemed satisfied to get in his 30 starts per year, not push it to the max, and coast when he was able to.

Finally labeled (fairly or not) an out-of-shape clubhouse cancer, he was shipped off to the Dodgers near the end of the dismal (for the entire Red Sox team) 2012 season.  Apparently, management felt that Beckett (and another pitcher or two) eating fried chicken and drinking beer during games did not set a professional tone in the clubhouse.

Stories regarding Beckett simply not taking the game seriously enough even occurred back in his younger days in Florida.  Manager Jack McKeon used to literally lock the door leading from the dugout to the clubhouse because Beckett and one or two others would simply disappear off the bench during games, go into the clubhouse and start drinking beers during the game.

McKeon actually instituted a hall-pass system for the use of the bathroom during games.  Apparently, he expected Beckett to pay attention during the games even on his “off-days” so he could actually learn something by watching the other team’s hitters.

From his earliest days in Portland, Maine in the minors up until last season, Beckett has always been the Texas stud who has gotten by with his hard stuff, dominating on pure talent and adrenaline in short spurts.  But he’s never appeared to take his craft seriously enough to reach the high level of success predicted for him, or the talent God gave him.

Now, at age 34, whatever Beckett has left in the tank should carry him through another couple of seasons in the Majors.

Bartolo Colon

Bartolo Colon (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

25)  Bartolo Colon – As probably already know, the Mets acquired the portly 40-year old pitcher as a free agent this past off-season.  What you may not know is that Colon has a chance to surpass 200 career victories this coming year.  Currently, he has 189 wins in his 16-year career.

Actually, 138 of those wins occurred in our current century.  Colon threw his first pitch in the Majors at age 24 in 1997.  As recently as last season, he led the A.L. in shutouts with three, while winning 18 games and posting a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts.  The big question is, of course, (especially for Mets fans) how much does he have left in the tank?

To a certain extent, a great deal of Colon’s success will depend on the defense behind him.  He throws strikes (just 29 walks in 190 innings last season), so he won’t beat himself with the free pass.  Not at all a strikeout pitcher, he averaged just 5.5 / 9 innings last season, down from his career high of over 10 / 9 innings in the year 2000 as a member of the Cleveland Indians.

With the Mets outfield defense vastly improved over this time last season (assuming they start the terrific Juan Lagares in center-field on Opening Day), and considering that Citi-Field is basically yet another pitchers park (as is Oakland, where he pitched last season), and figuring in that this season he gets to pitch against the others teams’ pitchers for the first time since he spent a half-season with the Expos about a dozen years ago, there is room for optimism here.

The Mets may have caught lightning in a bottle here with this three-time All Star (who won a Cy Young award for the Angels in 2005), or they may discover to their horror that the carriage has turned back into a pumpkin.  But Colon surprised many with his improbable comeback which began in 2012.  Perhaps he can continue to do it on a larger stage in New York City.

Briefly, Those Who Did Not Make the List:

Barry Zito – Zito has made over 400 starts this century, and only three pitchers have tossed more than his 2,477 innings.  He also has a WAR of 30.5.  So why did he not make the list?  Well, his career ERA of 4.07 is one reason.  Another is his 1.339 WHIP, higher than any of the 25 pitchers who did make the list.  Also, despite the advantage of pitching his home games in favorable parks, his ERA+ is just 105, a little more than a replacement-level pitcher.

Finally, if you remove his fantastic 2002 season in which he won the A.L. Cy Young award, his career record stands at just 142-138, despite pitching for mostly good teams. This is not to say that Zito has not provided the Giants with any real value, just not nearly as much value as they paid for when they signed him to a contract for over one-hundred million dollars.

Tim Lincecum – Despite two Cy Young awards and four quality seasons, Lincecum did not make my list because his career WAR stands at 23.3 after seven seasons.  Consider that Clayton Kershaw has a WAR of 32.2 after just six seasons.  They’ve each won a pair of Cy Young awards, but the difference is that Kershaw has never had a bad year.  Lincecum has now suffered through two very poor years in a row.

Basically, if Lincecum had even just decent seasons in 2012 and ’13, garnering an additional 3.5 WAR per year, for example, he would have made the list and would have probably been slotted in right behind Kershaw.  But two terrible years, during which he produced a combined -2.3 WAR, cost Lincecum anywhere from 7.0 to 10.0 WAR, a significant drop in production.  In fact, few pitchers in baseball history have ever gone from being so very good to so very bad so quickly, unless they were injured.

As far as we know, Lincecum has not been suffering from any serious arm injuries.  He pitched nearly 200 innings last season, and his strikeout rate is still very solid, if not quite where it was a few years ago.  In short, I have no idea why Lincecum’s career has so suddenly all but imploded.  But whatever the reason, it certainly cost him a place on this list.  I do hope, however, that he finds a way to reverse his recent misfortunes, because The Freak at his best is not only good for the Giants, it’s good for baseball.

Randy Johnson – Johnson was a still a great pitcher in the early first couple of seasons of this century and, like Lincecum, actually won a pair of Cy Young awards while some of us still hadn’t quite grasped that the 1900’s were gone for good.  But eight of Johnson’s best eleven seasons occurred in the 20th-century, and Johnson’s last five seasons in the Majors did not add much to his legacy.

Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly make a case that R.J. belongs on this list, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did.  But in compiling this list, I chose to emphasize pitchers whose accomplishments this century would continue to be overlooked if I added nearly every pitcher who began his career back in the ’80’s, but who remained effective through ’01 or ’02.  Therefore, I decided to evaluate each pitcher on a case-by-case basis.  Since over 60% of R.J.’s effectiveness occurred in the last century, I chose to leave him off this list.  You may disagree with my reasoning, and that’s fine.

Roger Clemens –  See:  Johnson, Randy above.

Yovani Gallardo – Despite four consecutive seasons of over 200 strikeouts, and double-digit wins five times, Gallardo annually posts rather low WAR’s.  I was surprised when looking at his career stats that after seven years, his career WAR stands at an oddly unimpressive 13.3.  In fact, he’s never produced a single-season WAR that’s reached even 3.0 in his entire career.

Gallardo, as far as I can tell, lives for the high pitch count, which limits his overall innings pitched, and produces some big innings for the opposition.  For even though Gallardo has struck out nearly a thousand batters over the past five years, his career WHIP is 1.304, which indicates simply too many runners getting to first base, regardless of his live arm and numerous strikeouts.  His career home run rate of around one per nine innings also reduces his overall effectiveness.  And it isn’t simply the home runs that are the problem, it’s that there always seem to be runners on base when they occur.

Gallardo’s career ERA+ of 109 through age 27 either indicates a to-this-point under-achiever, or a he-is-what-he-is preview of his next seven years.  It’s not that Gallardo has been a bad pitcher.  It’s just that he’s sometimes mistaken for an ace, when, in fact, he’s been more of a #3 starter for his entire career. What comes next, entering his age 28 season, will go a long way towards clarifying his probable future.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for you on this topic.  Agree or disagree, I hope it was worth your while to read it.

 
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Leaving It All On the Field

It wasn’t the mud, the stench, or even the corpses that got to him.  It was the rats.  No matter how many you killed, more would spill out of the sludge underfoot, tearing into the dead as if Hell had come north.

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predomi...

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predominantly those of France and the British Empire, were stalled at trenches on the Western Front. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Standing in a fetid stew eight inches deep, blood, bodies and spent bullets sloshed and swirled over his boots.  But whatever lie decomposing under his boots was preferable to that which lurked over the top.

Funny, that.  The sky above was a robin’s egg blue, the same hue he remembered from autumn’s evening sky over Harvard Yard not so many years ago.  Evening papers.  Pipe smoke. Brandy.

Yet, only the promise of a quick, impersonal death outside of this trench kept him planted down here among his pallid companions.  In the scrum-space between thinking and dreaming, shards of old poems gleamed like glazed glass in an apothecary shop, inertia spawning iambic pentameter.

“I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats / And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain / Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats / And mocked by hopeless longing to regain.”  – Siegfried Sassoon

Ancient Odysseus could inform on this particular point, the whole show was the getting back to Home, where the runs scored, recorded for all time in those mottled ledgers.  Pinch-running for McLean, sacrificed to second, then Matty driving him in, his only run scored in the Series.  Matty shutting the door on the Athletics in the bottom of the tenth, winning that second game, three-nil.  Stepping on home plate for Matty was all that mattered that afternoon.

[Eddie Grant, New York NL (baseball)]  (LOC)

[Eddie Grant, New York NL (baseball)] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

God, how he missed those boys.  Just five years ago, almost to the day.  McGraw’s Gang.  Drop that bunch in the Argonne, this whole, tired affair would long ago have ended.  Matty and the Doughboys – 1, the Kaiser – 0.  Another shutout.  He grabbed a handful of thick mud from the trench wall, and smiled silently.

The whistle would soon wreck the reverie, as over the top they’d go, each man marked in advance by a German machine-gunner, himself frozen to the bone.  Last letters pinned inside coat pockets, but for him, a scribbled scorecard, his last will and testament, evidence that his run did once count.

Now all was flashing muzzles, cries and blood.  Men tumbling over the wire and into ravines running red, now into the marshes, no longer marching, but tumbling ass over teat as the shells exploded all around, Eddie Grant, commissioned a captain back on Long Island, the last officer standing, directing his men onward into the thicket, never hearing the final blast that separated him from his men, from his Giants, from his Harvard Law School chums, forever.

Third baseman Eddie Grant, leaving it all on the field, going home once more.

Eddie Grant Memorial Plaque

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