The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the category “Rock Music”

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fan’s Life

Mediocrity is nothing to brag about.  We don’t normally start out as kids seeking the truest, straightest path towards mediocrity.  We are proud and happy when, as my older son just experienced, we come home from school with straight A’s on a report card.  We enjoy it very much when our boss gives us a glowing annual review.  And when our spouse is happy, we understand that it’s a good idea to be happy, too.

Yet, if one was to measure one’s life in retrospect in any objective way, it might become all too apparent to many of us that we’ve lived thoroughly mediocre lives.  Surely, we’ve had our high points.  The birth of our first child.  The one time we dated that really hot girl at work.  (Note that the first example is not often a direct result of the second example.)  The moment when we received our high school, or college diploma.  The time when we didn’t forget our boss’s wife’s name at a dinner party.

The failures are there, too, ready to sabotage our happier moments with their dreadful memories.  Dropping what would have been the winning touchdown pass in a high school football game.  Nervously stuttering through a presentation among colleagues at work.  Drafting Bip Roberts instead of Robin Roberts in your all-time fantasy baseball draft.  Mistaking her harmless friendliness for something more personal and intimate.  I’ve got a truckload of those types of memories.

Which brings me to the Mets.

As far as I can tell, (and I wasted nearly fifteen minutes researching this on, I became a Mets fan on or about August 12, 1974.  Since that date, the Mets have won exactly 3,012 regular season games, and have lost 3,065.  That works out to a .496 win-loss percentage.  That’s just 53 more losses than wins, spread  over 38 seasons.  I will be rooting for the Mets to win their first 53 consecutive games this year just so I can say that they’ve been the most perfectly mediocre team in baseball since I’ve been following the Great Game.

Looking back over the nearly fifty years that I’ve been alive, I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for this extended mediocrity.  What I’ve decided to do is to take a look back at the last 38 years of my life, and compare them to that same year in Met’s history.  I hope you enjoy this casual biography of a man and his baseball team, in four excruciating installments.

Shea Stadium

Shea Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1974:  I am eleven years old, and make a baseball card of myself and my brother.  Apparently I hit .725 that year in sandlot ball.  I sit behind Joanne Beaudry in Math class.  She spends the entire year turning around flirting with me.  Her fingernails are often dirty.  I am terrified of Joanne, and of girls in general.   I’m also terrified of the snarling, frothing dog that is barely contained behind a short metal fence I pass on my way to and from school.  The Mets finish the year with a record of 71-91, in fifth place.  Tom Seaver has a rare off-year, posting a record of 11-11.  John Milner leads the team in runs scored with 70.

1975:  My friends Scott and Johnny have an argument over which member of the Rock band Kiss is the coolest.  Johnny, nearly four years younger than Scott, and a foot shorter, grabs Scott by the mid-section, wrestles him to the ground and pummels him.  Apparently, it turns out that Ace Frehley really was the coolest member of the band.  Tom Seaver rebounds to win his third and final Cy Young award.  The Mets tantalize on a daily basis, finishing the year 82-80, holding out tenuous promise for better things ahead.  Rusty Staub sets a Mets record with 105 RBI, and owns a restaurant in Manhattan.

1976:  My body begins to change in several different embarrassing ways.  I discuss this with no one.  My Catholicism convinces me that everything that I might do, think, or say about this topic would be a mortal sin.  Anna Corrales, three rows and several romantic light-years away from me, never looked so good.  My family and I vacation in Quebec, and I witness an elderly woman getting hit by a car.  Also on that vacation, a small boy at a table next to ours in a restaurant falls and hits his head on the table’s edge, blood all over the place.  Meanwhile, the Mets perform unexpectedly well, posting a record of 86-76.  They wouldn’t have a season that successful again for seven years.  Waive goodbye to Rusty Staub, and hello to 35-year old pitcher Mickey Lolich, who manages to win eight games.

Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1977:  I graduate second in my class from junior high school, winning numerous academic awards, then receive the first “D” and the first “F” of my life in my first semester of my first year in a Catholic high school.  I tryout for the school baseball team.  My job is to run a mile or two in the cold March mud, then drag a huge duffel bag full of bats down several flights of stairs to the supply room after each practice.  I decide I hate organized baseball, and quit the lousy team after three weeks.  David Johnson, a kid who sits and draws comics almost all day throughout all of his classes, becomes my best friend through high school.  The bottom absolutely drops out at Shea Stadium.  The Mets trade Tom Seaver for a clutch of Romanian strippers, four Mars Bars, and a case of orange Fanta.  The Fanta is flat.  The Mets fall to last place, posting a 64-98 record.  Lenny Randle, who hits .304 and steals 33 bases, is the sole reason to watch this miserable team.

1978:  Almost every kid in my high school is hooked on disco (except for one girl who dresses like David Bowie.)  My mom gets a job downtown as a secretary, and I visit her sometimes on my way home from school, just four blocks away. We have two major snowstorms that year, and miss around two weeks of school, which is fine with me because I’ve come to the conclusion that Catholic school sucks.  Unfortunately, the public high schools in my town are more famous for their crime reports than their academic records, so I keep my mouth shut and tolerate the experience as one would tolerate a novocaine-free root-canal.  The Mets are completely hopeless as well, finishing 30 games under .500 under manager Joe (It’s All About the Eyebrows) Torre.  23-year old center-fielder Lee Mazzilli becomes the heart throb of Queens.

Remington Arms

Remington Arms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1979:  My dad comes home early one summer day from his job at Remington Arms.  He surprises me by not saying anything at all, going into his room, pulling the shades down, and going to sleep.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that a friend of his had accidentally blown himself in half at Remington Arms where they both worked.  Apparently, some gunpowder had ignited in the heat.  They had given dad a tranquilizer and sent him on his way, half a day off with pay.  See you bright and early tomorrow morning.  I got my first, considerably safer job slinging ice cream at Carvel’s on Park Ave.  At $2.25 an hour, I would now be able to hang out with my friends in style.  The Mets slog through a 63-99-1 season (yes, an official tie, like in hockey.)  Craig Swan is by far and away their best pitcher, going 14-13.  Their roster is littered with the sorry remains of Elliot Maddox, Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner, Kevin Kobel and Dock Ellis.

1980:  I am now straddling the line between my junior and senior years of high school.  A kid named Mike, apparently a refugee from Central High School, introduces me to marijuana in the school bathroom.  Well, it was either that or Ms. Ligouri’s English class.  I also attend my first high school dance, and spend most of the evening discovering that while I like slow-dancing, and the physical sensations it creates,  I generally dislike my dance partner, creating an awkward, alternating series of dance-couplings followed by strict and severe avoidance of said date.  Her dad picks us up from the dance at 10:30, and neither she nor I ever speak of this event again.  The Mets successfully avoid 70 wins for the fourth straight season.  Their starting rotation of Ray Burris, Pat Zachry, Mark Bomback, Pete Falcone and Craig Swan might just be the worst in the history of the franchise.  And with youngsters, Roy Lee Jackson, Juan Berenguer and John Pacella in the ‘pen, help is decidedly not on the way.

And that’s all for this installment.  Join me next time, if you can stand it, when I survive the 1980’s with my dignity mostly intact.


Soundtrack for Baseball: April, 2012

There are many different ways to summarize the first month of the year.  You can parse endless stats, compose paragraphs of the sweetest prose, or just make yet another damned list.

I decided to change things up around here.  You know, wake the neighbors, scandalize the community, turn the volume up to 11, things like that.

In other words, I have created a video-soundtrack, via Youtube, for what I very subjectively consider to be the most significant story-lines in baseball for the first month of the season.  I hope you enjoy it.  And, as it says on the back of the Rolling Stones L.P. “Let it Bleed,”  play it loud!

To begin with, let’s honor Robin Ventura’s Chicago White Sox, under whose steady hand the South-Siders are keeping their collective heads at or above .500.  More to the point, the White Sox currently enjoy the best run differential, +3, in their division.

So let’s celebrate with a rousing version of “Sweet Home Chicago,” brought to you by an unbelievable All-Star cast of blues musicians.  Guaranteed to get you up and rocking, even if you aren’t a White Sox fan.

On the other hand, Chicago still has to answer for the Cubs, who finished the month of April with an extremely dismal 8-15 record.  Sure, they have a few interesting players.  Starlin Castro is a star in the making, and my kids love Darwin Barney, but let’s face it, this is a team going nowhere.

The song I’ve decided to dedicate to the Cubs for their April performance is a classic of the 1970’s, a song that when I first heard it as a kid of around 8 years old, I was fascinated and mesmerized.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said (except in a negative sense) about the Cubbies so far this year.

So listen, if you will, to the most original Rock song ever, “The Night Chicago Died,” by a band called Paper Lace.

Are you still with me?  Good.  Now let’s turn to a player who may be the most underrated star in the game, Joey Votto.  Votto currently sports a .939 OPS and an OPS+ of a cool 158.  He also leads the N.L. in doubles with ten, and in walks with 20.

Did I say walks?  Perhaps he should show the rest of the league how to Walk This Way, as Run DMC does with Aerosmith, in one of my favorite Rock songs and videos.  Again, if you missed the original announcement, PLAY IT LOUD!

Poor Bobby Valentine.  Hasn’t Managed a Major League baseball team in years, then gets shanghaied into taking the helm of a Red Sox team more in need of a psychoanalyst than a manager.  He found out just how quickly the Red Sox fans, media and even the players could turn on someone who had the temerity to, you know, speak honestly and candidly, (if not very wisely) about, just perhaps, the lack of focus of one semi-star (Kevin Youkilis) player.

Boston currently sits in last place in the always tough A.L. East.  Although it’s not too late to turn this season around for a talented team like the Red Sox, one has to wonder if Bobby V. will still even be around at the end of the year to take credit if a turn-around does occur.  Bobby V. must be confused now, and thinking something along the lines of, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Mick Jones, Joe Strummer and the boys in The Clash just happened to be wondering the same thing back in 1982.  Here’s how that sounded.  (Incidentally, I was at the show at Shea Stadium where this live footage was shot.)

Speaking of managers who put their foot their foot in their mouth this past month, it’s hard to top Ozzie Guillen’s mega-stupid comment (in Miami, no less), that he admired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.  That’s a little like Mayor Bloomberg of New York City saying to a throng of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn that he kind of admired Adolf Hitler.

But Ozzie has made a career of allowing his mouth to function at 45 RPM’s while his brain spins around (when it functions at all) at about 33 RPM’s.  He likes to impress people, I guess, but not everyone is amused by a Big Shot.  Just ask Billy Joel.

On the other hand, the news out of Baltimore is positive for the first time in many years.  The Orioles finished April with a record of 14-9, just one game out of first place.  Manager Buck Showalter has his kids playing fundamentally sound baseball, outfielder Adam Jones is off to a strong start, catcher Matt Wieters is displaying the multiple skills scouts raved about a few years back, and the pitching is holding its own.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this could last the whole year?  Wouldn’t it be nice if they were in a weaker division, say, the A.L. Central?  Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the Beach Boys about now?

If you don’t love this song, your U.S. citizenship will be revoked.  Please proceed to the line to the left marked, “Un-Americans.”  Thank you. Waterboarding begins at Noon.

Then there’s Albert Pujols, formerly the best player in the game.  Is it too soon to say that Sir Albert may never again be the best player in baseball?  How is it possible that he didn’t hit a single home run in April?  Is it the pressure of his huge new multi-year contract?  The change of leagues and ballparks?  Is age prematurely setting in?

The Angels and Albert Pujols himself must be wondering if somehow, he made a wrong turn somewhere out in the California desert, and left his talent behind in some long-forgotten hotel along the way.  ‘Cause, you know, the heat of the California wastelands can cause hallucinations and create mirages.  Perhaps that’s what happened.

If Albert’s nightmare season continues, the lyrics of “Hotel California” might come to seem benign by comparison.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Has there been a less fortunate pitcher in all of baseball over the past half-dozen years than Matt Cain of the Giants?  Through 207 career starts dating back to 2005, Cain has a career ERA of 3.33, an ERA+ of 125, and a 1.183 career WHIP.  Somehow, though, his career record stands at 70 wins and 74 losses.

This April, it was more of the same.  In four starts, he has recorded a 2.37 ERA, and has just one win to show for his efforts, and it took a complete game shutout to earn that win.

Matt Cain displays a stoic demeanor, but internally, he must be a “Man of Constant Sorrow.”  Wouldn’t you be?  Hot Damn, it’s the Soggy Bottom Boys!

Speaking of people who must be ready to stick forks in their eyes so they don’t have to watch what’s going on down on the field anymore, how would you like to be a Royals fan?  Not only are the Royals an A.L worst (tied with the Twins) 6-16, they have yet to win a game at home!  That’s right, folks, no Royals fan this year has yet witnessed their team triumph over the opposition on their home turf.  The Royals are 0-10 at home.

Now this was a team featuring a youth movement of talented young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, among others.  How did it all go so wrong?  It’s like washing your car, changing the oil, rotating the tires, then ending up with a Flat Tire.

What’s that like?  Just ask Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons.

Well, folks, there are an endless number of story-lines to choose from, but we don’t have time for them all.  I’d be interested to hear your story-line / songs that you would have added to this soundtrack.  I hope you enjoyed at least some of it.

Maybe we’ll do it again at the end of May.  Thanks again for reading, er, listening.

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

Frankie Frisch's fiery personality won him a l...

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome to Episode Six of Underrated / Overrated.  On tap today,we have HOF hopeful Jack Morris, The Who, Robbie Alomar, The Alamo, Saturday Night Live, and Sam Adams beer.  Enjoy!

Overrated:  Jack Morris – More than a few people believe that Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Dave Stieb pitching in Toronto, Canada in 1985...

Image via Wikipedia

They point to his outstanding ten-inning marathon performance in the 1991 World Series Game 7 vs. the Braves as Exhibit A for evidence of HOF worthiness.  His supporters also point out that Morris was the winningest pitcher of the ‘80’s.

Taking the last point first.  Decades, as such, are purely artificial constructs.  Why not, for example, choose the “decade” 1975-85, or 1985-95.  Or, for that matter, 1978-88?  You would almost certainly come up with a different“winningest” pitcher whose career would also significantly overlap with Morris’ career.

Also, wins, as a measure of pitching greatness, are no longer front-and-center these days.  And Morris has precious little else to offer in terms of statistical analysis that points to unappreciated excellence.  His career ERA+ is 105, meaning that he was actually just 5% better, overall, than a typical replacement level pitcher, taking his career as a whole.

Morris’ performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is the stuff of legend.  But there is little in baseball history that suggests a fleeting moment of greatness on the Big Stage necessarily translates into a VIP Pass into Cooperstown.  Joe Carter, who had a very nice career, hit a walk-off home run to defeat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series.  Carter was unceremoniously dropped off the HOF ballot after just one year (2004), when he received just 3.8 percent of the vote.

Morris will, and should, do better than that.

But Jack Morris is no Hall of Famer.

Career WAR: 39.3

Underrated:  Dave Stieb –   Victimized by lack of run support his entire career, and often pitching for some very bad teams, Stieb still managed 176 wins in his career, as well as a .562 win-loss percentage.  Morris’s career win-loss percentage was .577, just slightly better than Stieb’s despite mostly pitching for better teams than Stieb ever enjoyed.

Stieb led the A.L. in ERA once, and in ERA+ twice.  Jack Morris never led the league in either category.

Moreover, Stieb’s career ERA was a respectable 3.44, and he kept his ERA at or below 3.25 in seven full seasons.  Only once in 18-years did Morris ever post an ERA below 3.25.  Morris’ career ERA was 3.90.

Stieb’s career ERA+ was 123, considerably better than Morris’, and the same as Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

I’m not arguing that Dave Stieb should be in the Hall of Fame. But, compared to Jack Morris, he was a very underrated pitcher.

Career WAR:  53.0

Overrated:  The Who – “Tommy” – A “Rock Opera” album that definitely doesn’t “Rock,” and, like the worst of opera, has an incoherent storyline obfuscated by lots of unnecessary drama, cluttered spectacle, and bombastic music.  By 1969, a sizable cohort of that generation’s rock fans (who hoped they’d die before they got old), apparently decided that rock n’ roll wasn’t just for Saturday night keg parties anymore.  It needed to express meaning and gravitas equal to the ambitions of millions of middle class white kids who were out to change the world, one college credit at a time.  Precious little of what eventually evolved into what was called “Art Rock” left any significant legacy on rock n’ roll, let alone on society itself.

Underrated:  The Who – “Quadrophenia” – A true masterpiece by a great band at the top of their game.  Keith Moon’s drums never sounded better, and Roger Daltrey, liberated from the nonsensical off-Broadway melodies he was forced to endure on Tommy, actually sings like the street-tough that he was born to portray.  Quadrophenia actually started out as a “concept” album, God help us, and was eventually turned into a pretty decent feature film.  But it largely avoided unnecessarily pretentious operatic stylization, and most of the songs just plain rock.  Go back and listen to songs like “The Punk Meets the Godfather,” and “5:15” if you haven’t done so for a while, or especially if you never have.

Overrated:  Roberto Alomar’s Defense – I know, look, when I first heard that some baseball analysts were trying to make the case that Alomar’s defensive reputation was largely overblown, I would have none of that either. After all, I saw Alomar make enough (apparently) spectacular plays over the years that I dismissed that sort of criticism out of hand.

But once I settled down enough to take a closer, objective look at the numbers, I noticed a perplexing and disturbing trend.

Robby Alomar’s defense really was overrated.

Let’s begin with, for example, times leading his league in assists as a second baseman.

He led the league twice in this statistic.  Not great, but not bad, either.

How about times leading the league in putouts?  He led his league in this stat just once in seventeen seasons.  Hmmm.

Well, for cryin’ out loud.  How about that old standard, Fielding Percentage.  Robbie sure seemed sure-handed enough, right?  Turns out his career Fielding Percentage was .984, good for 42nd all-time, just a hair behind Jeff Frye.  Again, not bad, but nothing to write home about, either.

But his range seemed extraordinary; I saw him get to balls that no one else would ever have reached.  Yet Alomar NEVER led his league in Range Factor / 9 Innings.  In fact his career mark in that category (4.95) ranks just 91st in MLB history!  He falls between Mark Loretta and Wally Backman in that stat.

Roberto Alomar’s career Defensive WAR is a shockingly low -3.4. (Yes, that’s a negative sign before the 3.)

By way of comparison, consider the career Defensive WAR for the following players:  (all are positive numbers)

Orlando Hudson: 2.3

Ryne Sandberg: 5.3

Bobby Grich: 8.5

Bill Mazeroski: 11.9

Frankie Frisch: 13.7! (underrated)

All of which leads us to the sadly unyielding conclusion that, although Robbie Alomar certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame, it should not be for his defense.

Underrated:  Roberto Alomar – Base Stealer – Alomar stole 474 bases in his career against just 114 times caught stealing.  His 80% career success rate is about the same as Rickey Henderson’s, and is considerably better than Lou Brock’s 75%.  It is also just four percentage points behind Tim Raines all-time career best (minimum 300 steals) 84% success rate.

Alomar topped 50 steals twice, and reached at least 30 steals in five other seasons. Over a six-year period, from 1999 through 2003, he stole 134 bases in 156 attempts, an outstanding 86% success rate.

Overrated:  The Alamo –  1836 – Approximately 180-250 “Texans,” virtually none of whom were originally from Texas, were massacred by Mexican General Santa Anna’s superior numbers.  The Texans’ goal was to create a slave republic in territory annexed from Mexico, without Mexico’s permission.  Originally, the Texans had come as settlers, but soon made it clear that they had no intention of living under Mexican law and custom.  Thus, in effect, the “Texans” were breaking the law. Mexico responded with an ultimatum:  pack up and leave, or die.  So the Texans died, later to be avenged at the final battle at San Jacinto, where Santa Anna was captured, and the new Republic of Texas, a new slave territory, was born.

Underrated:  Battle of Verdun, First World War – Perhaps the biggest, bloodiest battle in human history.  Lasted from February-December 1916.  Perhaps as many as a million casualties in all, of whom about 550,000 were French. The Germans literally tried to bleed France to death, but France never capitulated.  For France, this was Marathon, Gettysburg and (yet-to-be-fought) Stalingrad combined.  Essentially ended as a stalemate, but can be viewed as a moral victory for France.

Overrated:  Sacrifice Bunts – Giving up one-third of all of your outs per half-inning to move a runner up one-base, instead of allowing your offense to try to do the same thing without intentionally surrendering an out, statistically just doesn’t make sense.  As a manager, I would happily allow the opposing team’s offense to move a runner up to second base if they were going to give up a free out.  So, when managing my offense, why would I reciprocate the favor?

Underrated: Getting Hit By a Pitch – Craig Biggio reached base due to getting hit by a pitch 285 times during his 20-year career (just two fewer than the all-time leader, Hughie Jennings.)  Biggio led the N.L. in getting hit by a pitch five times.  Imagine getting 285 extra hits in a career.  All those extra times on base certainly lead to a lot of run scoring opportunities.  In Biggio’s remarkable 1997 season, Biggio was hit by pitches 34 times, he didn’t waste a sacrifice hit one single time, and he did not hit into a single double-play all year.  He stole 47 bases, scored a league-leading 146 runs, drew 84 walks, and played in every single game.  His OPS+ was 143.  That, my friends, is pretty nearly a perfect season.

Overrated:  Saturday Night Live! – I recently watched the S.N.L. Christmas Special.  I think I laughed maybe three or four times.  Other than Tina Fey lampooning Sarah Palin, this show hasn’t been funny since around the late ‘80’s, and it hasn’t been REALLY funny since the ‘70’s.  This show is testament to the power of ego, in this case, the ego of producer Lorne Michaels, who just won’t let this Frankenstein’s monster die.

Underrated:  Fawlty Towers – (1975-79) This British comedy, starring former Monty Python alumnus John Cleese as hen-pecked innkeeper Basil Fawlty, features some of the funniest acting and writing in T.V. history.  Connie Booth, who eventually married, and later divorced Cleese, was his co-writer.  She played Polly, the maid.  The show actually lasted just two seasons, 1975 and 1979, with a three-year hiatus in between.  There were only twelve Fawlty Towers episodes ever made.

Overrated:  Scrappy, Hard-Nosed Players – David Eckstein is the poster-boy of these dirty-uniformed fan favorites who run out every grounder, dive after every ball, and generally make themselves annoying in countless ways.  They also often share another common trait:  Low career OPS+.  Eckstein’s for example, is 87, meaning that he has been just 87% as good as a typical replacement level ballplayer.

Underrated: “Lazy” Players Who Make it Look Too Easy –  Andruw Jones / Manny Ramirez, etc.  Personally, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll take Andruw Jones (in his prime) and his ten Gold Gloves, his 23.7 Defensive WAR (second only to Brooks Robinson all-time) and his 407 home runs.  And Manny Ramirez, with or without steroids, had one of the prettiest, most lethal swings of any right-handed hitter in history.

Overrated:  Sam Adams Brewery – This Boston-based brew company is extremely good at self-promotion.  If you live in the greater Boston area, it is expected that you have only nice things to say about the various Sam Adams brews.  As for me, I don’t like a beer that tries too hard to get my attention while I’m actually drinking it.  And, as a side note, Sam Adams was overrated as a patriotic “founding father” as well.

Underrated:  Warsteiner Brewery – DAS GUT BIER!!  A fine German brew.

Until next time, folks.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog-post on this week’s BBWA Hall of Fame voting results.   Should be interesting.

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff – Part III

fairytale of new york

Image by late night movie via Flickr

Back in March, and again in April, I did a couple of posts that I had intended to turn into a regular series called “Underrated / Overrated – Baseball and Other Stuff.”

For better or worse, other blog-post topics relegated this idea to the bench for several months.

But I am here today to tell you that we are back in business.

The idea was to combine in each post people and things in baseball that are either overrated / underrated along with something or someone from the wider world outside of baseball that is overrated / underrated.

Thus, the prior pair of posts went something like this:

Overrated:  Field of Dreams

Underrated:  Eight Men Out

Overrated:  The Revolutionary War

Underrated:  The French and Indian War

Overrated:  David Wright

Underrated:  Ryan Zimmerman

And so on and so forth.

The first two posts in this series were well-received and have generated continuous traffic to my website during the course of this year.  Apparently, people like to measure their likes and dislikes against those of others.  It’s always prime fodder for a debate.

So here begins the third chapter in Underrated / Overrated – Baseball and Other Stuff. Hope you enjoy it.

Overrated:  Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First” is the best schtick they ever performed.  For many years, I got a kick out of this one.  Then one day, it just stopped being funny.  And it occurred to me, hey, maybe these guys just aren’t that funny after all.

Underrated:  Elvis Costello – One of the most consistently creative talents in Rock music for over 30 years now.  You don’t think he can still knock you down and stomp all over you?  Listen to this 30-second clip from a song called “Needle Time” from an excellent album called “Delivery Man.”  Buy it.  Download it.  Play it loud.  You WON’T be able to sit still.

Overrated:  Lou Brock – His 75% career success rate as a base-stealer is decent, but unspectacular.  He stole 939 bases in his career, but he was thrown out over 300 times.  That’s 300 needless outs he made, possibly costing his team run-scoring opportunities.  In fact, he led the N.L. in  caught stealing seven times.  He also struck out at least a hundred times in a season nine times.  His career OPS (.753) and OPS+ (109) are decidedly unspectacular.  Career WAR:  39.1

Underrated:  Tim Raines His career stolen base success rate was an excellent 84%.  The Rock stole over 800 bases in his career, but was caught just 146 times.  He never once lead the league in times caught stealing.  He also never struck out even 90 times in any one season.  His career OPS (.810) and OPS+ (123) are obviously better than Brock’s marks.  Career WAR:  64.6

Overrated:  Friday Nights – Every one gets home from work tired and cranky after a long week.  You rush around on the way home getting last-minute errands done, the traffic is heavy, and you still don’t even know what you’re going to do about dinner.  You badly want to relax and unwind, but the kids are fighting and the dog needs to go out for a walk.  And, oh fuck, it just started raining out.

Underrated:  Sunday Mornings – There is a fleeting moment early Sunday mornings when you are drinking your coffee, reading your newspaper (or a baseball blog), and the kids are miraculously quiet.  Maybe you’ll go to the park later.  Maybe you’ll sort through some old baseball magazines in the garage.  You might even wash and wax the car.  You feel nearly whole and human again, before the Monday morning American grind pulverizes you for another week.

Overrated Christmas Song:  The Little Drummer Boy – Not even David Bowie and Bing Crosby could rescue this damned slow death-march of a song.  Cloying, boring and melodramatic all at the same time,  like a Russian poet standing in front of a Tsarist firing squad, the end can’t come soon enough.

Underrated Christmas Song:  Fairytale of New York (The Pogues) – The most cynical,  unusual, and unabashedly romantic Christmas song you’ll ever hear.  Pogues front-man Shane McGowan‘s duet with the late Kirsty MacColl is one for the ages.  If you’ve ever been to NYC with someone you love at Christmastime, you’ll be able to feel the cold, the wind, and the delicious warmth of possibility in this one.  Hold your cursor over the above pic, and join us at the bar.

Overrated: The Babe Ruth Yankees – The Yankees won four World Championships in the fifteen seasons Ruth wore pinstripes:  1923, ’27, ’28, and ’32.  Good, certainly, but by way of contrast, Mickey Mantle’s Yanks won seven world series.  But I would never call The Mick’s Yanks underrated, so…

Underrated:  The Joe Rudi / Sal Bando Oakland A’s – This team won three consecutive World Series:  1972-74, but they also had to win the A.L. Championship series each time.  Ruth’s Yanks never had to go through that extra round of playoffs.  Also, Ruth’s teams played before baseball was integrated, so the degree of competition was watered down in his era.  Finally, there were more teams competing for the World Championship in the 1970’s (24), than there were in Ruth’s day (16.)

Overrated:  New Year’s Eve – The shrimp ring has gotten rather soggy and warm by the time that damn crystal ball finally descends into the throng of frozen drunks in Times Square.  There are about four cops and 12 security cameras for every poor bastard who just paid eight dollars for a glass of sparkling wine at the bar in lobby of the local three-star hotel .  Meanwhile, you are already half asleep on the couch, zoning in and out of the Dick Clark Pantomime Zombie show.

Underrated:  Labor Day – No, this is NOT a day that was intended to celebrate all Americans who happen to be employed.  It was specifically intended to recognize the legacy of Organized Labor, meaning the trade unions.  There was a time when working class Americans were overwhelmingly Democrats, and the Labor Unions ensured these men and women a livable wage for a hard days work.  The American working class can trace its hard, precipitous decline to the undermining of Labor Unions which began in the early ’80’s, and has continued unabated on a downward trajectory ever since.  Both major political parties are to blame.

Overrated:  Andy Pettitte‘s Playoff Performances – In his career, Pettitte has posted a 19-10 record in the playoffs, with a 3.83 ERA, and a 1.304 WHIP.  In 265 innings, he has surrendered 271 hits, has struck out 173 batters, and has averaged 5.9 K’s per nine innings.  Solid performance, but not as good as…

Underrated:  John Smoltz‘s Playoff Performances – In his career, Smoltz has posted a 15-4 record in the playoffs, with a 2.67 ERA, and a 1.144 WHIP.  In 209 innings, he has surrendered just 172 hits while striking out 199 batters.  He has averaged 8.6 K’s per nine innings.  He also has four saves to his credit.  Few pitchers in history can match those playoff numbers.

Overrated:  Climate-Controlled Offices – You get to breath recycled air all day.  The hum of the machinery supplies the white noise that is the dull, mind-numbing soundtrack of corporate America.

Underrated:  Screens – You get to enjoy the fresh air while keeping the bugs out.  Great invention.

Overrated:  Willie Stargell – Everyone loves Pops Stargell.  I love Pops Stargell.  Here are Stargell’s career numbers:

475 home runs, 1,540 RBI, 2,232 hits, .282 batting average, .889 OPS, 1,195 runs scored, two home run titles, five 100 RBI seasons.  Career WAR:  57.5. First ballot Hall of Famer, 1988.  Fine, his numbers merit HOF induction.  But how are they substantially different from, say…

Underrated:  Fred McGriff – It is becoming increasingly apparent that Crime Dog will have to pay for a ticket to the Hall out of his own pocket if he wants to get in the door.  Yet, here are his career numbers:

493 home runs, 1,550 RBI, 2,490 hits, .284 batting average, .886 OPS, 1,349 runs scored, two home run titles, eight 100 RBI seasons.  Career WAR:  50.5. I suppose Stargell was a little better than McGriff overall, but not by much.  So where’s the love for Fred McGriff?

Overrated:  Grace Slick – Former lead “singer” for Jefferson Airplane / Starship.  Bellowed out her vocals like a foghorn in heat.  Stoned baby-boomers mistook her cat-wailing for aggressive sexiness.  As artistically satisfying as listening to a domestic disturbance in the kitchen of your neighbors apartment.

Underrated:  Chrissie Hynde – The Pretenders lead singer / songwriter set the standard for confident, strong-yet-vulnerable sexiness among female Rock stars.  Her band, the Pretenders, exemplified the energy of the post-punk New Wave sound of the early ’80’s, the most underrated period in Rock n’ Roll history.  Several of Hynde’s songs have become classics of Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio.  And they are as listenable today as they were a generation ago.

Well, my friends, that completes the third edition of Underrated / Overrated.  I hope you found it entertaining.  I look forward to reading your comments.  Thanks for having a look, Bill

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