The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Barry Bonds”

This Year’s Hall of Fame Arguments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Baseball Hall of Fame Vote (Or, Rats Boarding a Sinking Ship)

Normally, when a ship is about to smash itself upon the craggy coast of, say, a nineteenth century New England village during a nor’easter, the black rats aboard would be wily enough to read the warning signs in time to jump ship and attempt to save themselves by swimming through the swells.

Not so, apparently, with the Baseball Writers of America (BBWAA), America’s last bastion of discomfiting morality.  Just as the S.S. Hall Ballot 2013 set sail, the BBWAA rats began to puncture holes in their own vessel, now listing dangerously to port-side before they’d even left port.  And more of them  continue to climb aboard,  though it should be obvious by now that their (nautical) position, (like Dave Kingman playing third base), is untenable.

How else to account for the inevitable shipwreck-of-a-ballot being buffeted around like a latter-day Pequod doing battle with the GREAT WHITE WHALE of our time, steroids?

Wait a minute.  Aren’t the writers — those sportswriters lucky enough to actually receive a ballot (in a newspaper industry, mind you, with about as much of a future as a harpooner) — simply supposed to vote for the best players of the past decade or so whose names now appear on ballot?  When did the baseball writers, an old-time boys club not to be mistaken for a boy’s choir, become the Maginot Line of virtue in our society?

Yet moralize they will once their ballots are submitted on January 9th.
Some of them will tell you it’s simply wrong to allow cheaters into The Hall of Fame even though plenty of cheaters are already in there.  They will argue that to let in a Barry Bonds or a Roger Clemens will turn the Hall’s Plaque Room into an atrocity, akin to burying Napoleon’s remains in Westminster Abbey (well, they probably won’t come up with that one, I suppose, though they’ll wish they had.)

Yet the Hall has withstood the induction of a KKK member, Tris Speaker, as well as the enshrinement of such other virulent racists as Cap Anson and Ty Cobb, to name just two of probably many.

Gaylord Perry was an admitted cheater.  He even wrote a popular book about cheating called, “Me and the Spitter.”

 Leo Durocher, while managing the Giants in ’51, had his players utilize a complex set of mirrors and a German-made telescope to steal the signs of opposing pitchers in the second half of the ’51 season, up to and including  the pennant deciding game in which Bobby Thomson probably knew what Ralph Branca was about to throw before he hit the legendary (probably tainted) home run.

Don Sutton and Whitey Ford were said by many to have regularly scuffed the ball.

And as for Performance Enhancing Drugs, “Greenies” don’t count?  Mike Schmidt and Hank Aaron were both admitted users of “Greenies” and Willie Mays probably used them as well.  “Greenies” have been specifically banned from baseball since 1971.  They might not have enabled a player to hit a ball further or to throw it harder, but they did allow the player to continue to perform at peak performance when their body otherwise might not have been able to.  That is the same purpose for which  Mark McGwire claims to have used PED’s.

Meanwhile, even if none of those reasons impress you very much or cause you to take a second look at PED use, consider this.  It’s probable that at least one or two PED users are already in The Hall.  The taint has probably already occurred.  If PED use really began to manifest itself in the Majors in the early to mid-1980’s, this means that for around twenty years now, the BBWAA has been inducting players who could conceivably have used PED’s.  Given the large number of stars who’ve now been linked to PED’s (either by leak, personal admission, or circumstantial evidence) over the past 20 years, is it inconceivable that some of their peers already in The Hall might also have been users?

Consider, as well, that the despite the “best” intentions of the BBWAA over the next decade, almost certainly at least a couple more PED users will be enshrined.  The alternative is that NO players will be enshrined, and despite the Baseball HOF’s best efforts at appearing Regal and Above the Fray on this issue, no organization will squawk louder than The Hall will when NO player is inducted into The Hall for several years running.

We’re talking big bucks on the line here for The Hall’s big, annual Induction Weekend.  No induction, no big crowds.  No big crowds, a lot less money coming into the town coffers.  (Current Hall Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark, whose family owns just about all that is worth owning in Cooperstown, would not be happy about that.)

Finally, there is the long-term issue of the continued relevance and viability of a HOF which excludes virtually all of the significant record holders and award winners of an entire generation of players.  Consider List A and List B, for a moment:
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List A:

Tommy McCarthy
George “High Pockets” Kelly
Rick Ferrell
Lloyd Waner
Jesse Haines
Freddie Lindstrom
Chick Hafey
Herb Pennock
Jim Bottomley
Ray Schalk
Rube Marquard
Elmer Flick
Ross Youngs
Kiki Cuyler
Joe Kelley

That’s a list of 15 players who are actually in the HOF.
Now let’s take a look at List B:
Barry Bonds
Mike Piazza
Jeff Bagwell
Roger Clemens
Sammy Sosa
Larry Walker
Mark McGwire
Craig Biggio
Edgar Martinez
Tim Raines
Alan Trammell
Kenny Lofton
Curt Schilling
Fred McGriff
Lee Smith

Virtually every player on List B is better than every player on list A, yet there’s a very real chance that NONE of the players on List B will be elected this year, and that perhaps only 2 or 3 will be elected in coming years.  Granted, not all of these players suffer from the scarlet letter of Steroids.

Yet, from both a historical standpoint as well as from a perspective of pure entertainment, obviously far more fans (despite their misgivings about any particular player) would prefer to visit Hall Plaque Room B over Hall Plaque Room A.  And certainly the players on List B were both more talented and, therefore, more Hall-worthy than List A.  So, the question arises, how irrelevant do we want to allow The Hall of Fame to become?

Which players from List B (and let’s add Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, and Don Mattingly to round out our ballot) would you vote for?  Remember, you can vote for up to ten players.  Which ones would you choose not to vote for, and why?

Happy New Year,
Bill Miller

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Johnny Mize

Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox is doing his best impersonation this season of “Casey at the Bat.”  Like Mighty Casey, Dunn either hits a heroic home run, or he flails at strike three, sending thousands of fans home disappointed.  Dunn is currently third in the A.L. in home runs with 25, and first in strikeouts with an incredible 131.  He is on pace to shatter the Major League single-season strikeout record of 223 set by 3rd baseman Mark Reynolds in 2009.

In fairness to Dunn, he does lead the league in walks (67), contributing to his acceptable .359 on-base percentage.

Thirteen of the top 15 strikeout seasons by a hitter in baseball history have occurred over the past dozen seasons.  To illustrate how much things have changed around the Majors as far as strikeouts are concerned, consider that Dave Kingman, who back in the 1970’s and early ’80’s, was known as the ultimate practitioner of the home run / strikeout approach to hitting, never struck out more than 156 times in a season.

Although he led the league in strikeouts as a hitter three times, his worst season (156 in 1982) now ranks as just the 128th highest total of strikeouts in a single season.

Indeed, current New York Mets third baseman David Wright actually surpassed Kingman’s career high when Wright struck out 161 times in 2010.

It wasn’t always this way.  There was a time when even power hitters considered the strikeout to be the ultimate embarrassment for a hitter, a reproach to the batter’s very manhood.  Some power hitters actually used to choke up on the bat when down two-strikes to minimize their chances of getting struck out.

When Mark Reynolds was asked if he’d like to be a player who struck out a lot less often, he replied, “I’d like to be, but I’m not going to make drastic changes, like choke up and hit grounders.”  Yes, because, obviously, hitting a ground-ball that might sneak through the infield for a hit is far worse than, say, striking out 200 time per year.  And real men don’t choke up.

English: An image of Major League Baseball Hal...

English: An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is no surprise, then, that when we look at the list of home run hitters who maintained relatively low strikeout rates, the vast majority of them played many, many decades ago, long before most of us were born.

One player who has always intrigued me as an overlooked power hitter — a player who I don’t think most baseball fans fully appreciate — was former Cardinal / Giant / Yankee first baseman, Johnny (Big Cat) Mize.

Johnny Mize played in the Majors from 1936-53, missing three of his prime years to WWII.  He led his league in home runs and slugging percentage four times each, and RBI, OPS and total bases three times each.  He even won a batting title, hitting .349 in 1939 for the Cardinals.

Johnny Mize was, along with Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, one of the most difficult power hitters to strike out.  Mize hit 359 home runs in his career, while striking out only 524 times in his entire career.  By contrast, Ichiro Suzuki, perhaps the ultimate contact hitter of our generation, has already struck out 786 times in his career, while hitting 99 home runs.

So Mize could hit lots of home runs without striking out very much.  This raises a question:

English: New York Yankees first baseman .

English: New York Yankees first baseman . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Johnny Mize ever have more home runs than strikeouts in a season? 

Before answering that question, keep in mind that since 1920, a player has accumulated more home runs than strikeouts (minimum of 30 homers) twenty-five times over the past 90 years.  Joe DiMaggio accomplished this feat an amazing six times.

Barry Bonds is the only player to have more homers than strikeouts in a season (45 homers / 41 strikeouts in 2004) in the past half-century.

The answer to my question regarding more home runs than strikeouts as far as Johnny Mize is concerned is, yes, Mize twice managed to accumulate more home runs than strikeouts in a season.  In 1948, he slugged 40 home runs while striking out only 37 times in 560 at bats.

But here’s the most amazing statistic I’ve seen in a long time.

In 1947, in 586 at bats, Mize slugged 51 home runs while striking out just 42 times.

Johnny Mize is the only player in baseball history to hit as many as 50 home runs in a season while striking out fewer than 50 times.  

Despite his amazing accomplishments, the BBWAA never voted Mize into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, the writers never gave Mize more than 43% of the vote.  It wasn’t until the Veteran’s Committee finally elected him in 1981 that Mize was finally honored among baseball’s greatest players with induction into the Hall of Fame.

Now that we have compared the achievements of modern power hitters — especially their strikeout totals — with the impressive exploits of Johnny Mize, we can more fully appreciate what a great hitter Mize was in his day.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Hank Aaron

This is the eighth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  Here are links to the first seven parts:  Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Joe Jackson, Roger Maris, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and Pedro Martinez.

When you think of Hank Aaron, what comes to mind?  Is it the number 714?  Or perhaps 755?  Is it that you still consider him to be the “true” home run king of all-time (Barry Bonds be damned?)  Or on a more personal level, is it the stoic demeanor he displayed in the face of the bitter racism he faced during his daily assault on Babe Ruth’s career home run mark?

English: Milwaukee Braves outfielder and Hall ...

English: Milwaukee Braves outfielder and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in a 1960 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some players are linked forever to one particular season:  Roger Maris in ’61 comes to mind.    Hamerin’ Hank was such a fine, consistent hitter that few people could even tell you which of his seasons was his best.  He won his only MVP award in 1957, but played well enough in several seasons to have won half a dozen more.

But it his home runs that have made him famous.

I was aware that although he broke Ruth’s career home run record, Aaron never reached the 50 homer plateau in any particular season.  That led me to ask the following question:  What was Hank Aaron’s best single-season home run total?

I also thought it might be interesting to compare his career high with some other notable sluggers, minus the obvious ones such as Ruth, Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds.

It turns out that Aaron’s single-season high for home runs didn’t occur until 1971, when Aaron was already 37-years old.  He slugged 47 that year, good for second place in the N.L. (Willie Stargell hit 48.)

But what struck me as remarkable about this total is that Aaron missed 22 games that year due to injuries.  In ’71, Aaron led the N.L. in slugging percentage (.669), OPS (1.079) and OPS+ (194!)

Here’s something else I thought was interesting about Aaron’s annual home run totals.  Look at his mean, median and mode numbers as far as home runs are concerned:

Mean – 37 (per 162 games)

Median – 36 (if you throw out his final season in which he played only 85 games.)

Mode – 44

So Aaron’s mean and median numbers are remarkably consistent, but he was more likely to hit exactly 44 homers in a season than any other particular number.  In the first three of those 44-home run seasons, by the way, Aaron led the league in home runs.

English: Hank Aaron, former US Baseball player...

English: Hank Aaron, former US Baseball player who set a new record of 755 homeruns, during a visit to the White House on August 15, 1978. Cropped from the source. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now take a look at the number of seasons Aaron reached a particular home run plateau:

40+ home run seasons:  8

30+ home run seasons: 7

20+ home run seasons: 5

Fewer than 20 in a season: 3

For the vast majority of players who have ever lived, to the extent that they could even be represented on a list such as this, you would probably find the opposite result: More 20-homer seasons, then fewer 30-homer years, fewer still 40-homer seasons, and perhaps a season or two reaching the 50 mark.

Here’s Willie Mays, for example:

50+ home run seasons:  2

40+ home run seasons:  4

30+ home runs seasons:  5

20+ home run seasons:  6

Fewer than 20 homers in a season:  4

While his top totals are higher than Aaron’s, his home run pyramid, if you will, is basically inverted; fewer seasons at each succeeding home run level.

Many players have hit more homers in a single season than Hank Aaron.  The list includes Dave Kingman, George Foster, Cecil Fielder, Brady Anderson, Greg Vaughn, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and many others.  Troy Glaus matched Aaron with a career high 47-home runs in the year 2000.

Yet for year-to-year home run consistency at the highest caliber, however, few players in history could match Hank Aaron’s annual efforts.

Keep in mind, too, that Aaron did not play in the best hitter’s era in baseball history, he had to play night games, which did not exist until 1935, and, unlike the sluggers in the pre-Jackie Robinson days, Aaron obviously played in an integrated league facing stiffer competition.

For each of these reasons, then, if you are asked what comes to mind when you hear the name Hank Aaron, and you should reply, ” Home Run King,” no one can reasonably assail your choice.

Why Larry Walker Deserves to be in the Hall of Fame

Larry Walker

‘Tis the Season.

This is the time of year when the Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) submit their final ballots for the players they think are deserving of induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Among the eligible inductees this year are Bert (haven’t I been here before?) Blyleven, holdovers from last year Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and Edgar Martinez (shame on you, BBWA,) and first-time eligibles Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmiero, Mark McGwire, Kevin Brown, Juan Gonzalez, John Olerud, Bobby Higginson, and Larry Walker.

If baseball Hall of Fame history provides any lessons, then Blyleven, Alomar and Bagwell are the most likely candidates for Hall enshrinement in 2011.

But an equally deserving candidate for HOF enshrinement is Larry Walker.

Walker was overshadowed in his day (1989-05) by players like Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa.  But, with the tainted exception of Barry Bonds, Walker was arguably a more complete player than any of the others.

In fact, only Barry Bonds and Jeff Bagwell were truly comparable to Walker as  complete Major League players.

One way to go about evaluating a potential Hall of Famer is to start with his weaknesses (or at least his perceived shortcomings.)

Thus, one can argue that Edgar Martinez, for example, was “only” a DH, and therefore, because he seldom played in the field, his Hall credentials are penalized.

As for Sammy Sosa, (aside from the steroid issue,)  he was neither a great base-runner, nor was he a legendary defensive outfielder.  And in many seasons, his batting average wasn’t all that fantastic, either.

Barry Bonds, even before he ever (allegedly) used steroids, was nearly a complete player, but his throwing arm was just average.  If he could really throw, he would have played right field.

Jeff Bagwell was as close to being as complete a player as you could find during this era, but first basemen have to be exceptionally superior around the bag to win a reputation for defensive excellence.  Bagwell won just a single Gold Glove, and his throwing arm was considered average.

Ken Griffey was a sleek, graceful defensive outfielder and an excellent power hitter who won 10 Gold Gloves, had an average arm, and who never led his league in OBP, OPS, OPS+, hits, doubles, or walks.  His base-running skills were considered solid, but not fantastic.

Frank Thomas was a devastating hitter for both power and average, walked a lot, but was a poor defensive player and a below average base-runner.

I’m not arguing that the aforementioned players have questionable Hall of Fame credentials.  If any of them don’t make it into The Hall, it will be due to the taint of steroids.

But suppose you can find a truly flawless player?  Doesn’t it stand to reason that this player, given enough time on the baseball diamond to prove himself, would be a Hall of Fame quality player?

Enter Larry Walker.

Every player has at least one minor shortcoming, right?  I’ve listed the relative shortcomings of several Hall of Famers already.

But as I searched for Larry Walker’s hidden weakness, I kept coming up empty.

Let’s start with a couple of traditional stats: batting average, and its sexy younger sister, on-base percentage.

Batting average is overrated, I know.  But a player with a career .313 batting average who happened to win three batting titles (as many as George Brett,) has certainly demonstrated at least one strength.   And for those of you who snicker at the very mention of batting average, Walker posted an On-Base Percentage in his entire career of exactly .400.

By way of comparison, Derek Jeter, whose specialty is getting on base, has posted an OBP of .400 or better in just four of 16 seasons.  Brett reached that magic number in just three of 21 seasons.  Walker topped .400 in eight consecutive seasons.

Fine.  He got on base a lot.  But what about hitting for power?  Let’s look at homers and RBI’s.  Acknowledging (again with a nod to the sabermetric crowd) that RBI’s are overrated, Walker drove in 1,311 runs, topping 100 RBI five times.  He drove in over 90 runs for the first time, while playing with the Montreal Expos, at the age of 25.  He drove in over 90 runs (104, actually) for the last time, playing for the Rockies, at age 35.  Thus, for a solid decade, he was a serious middle of the order masher.

As for home runs, he hit 383 in his career, topping 30 homers four times.  He topped the N.L. in homers with 49 in 1997, and he averaged 31 per 162 games in his career.  Albert Pujols, who, if he quit playing tomorrow, would be a definite inductee into The Hall, also reached 49 homers just once.

In addition to Walker’s 383 homers, he also produced 471 doubles and 62 triples.  His 916 extra base hits are 56th all-time, more than Hall of Famers Paul Waner, Joe DiMaggio, Harmon Killebrew and Duke Snider, and just four fewer than Willie McCovey.

Impressively, Walker’s career slugging percentage is a remarkable .565, good for 14th best all-time.  Virtually every single player ahead of him on this list is either in the Hall of Fame already, or will be elected eventually (Pujols) unless their alleged use of steroids keeps them out (A-Rod, Bonds, Manny Ramirez.)

Likewise, Walker’s OPS (on-base + slugging) of .965 ranks 16th best all-time, just below Stan Musial, and just ahead of Johnny Mize.  He posted an OPS north of 1.000 six times in his career.  By contrast, Hank Aaron reached that level five times in his career.

Enough already, you say.  So he was basically just a big, slow-footed Canadian who could slug the ball.  There have been lots of sluggers.  What else does he bring to the table?

How about seven Gold Gloves?  And how about 150 outfield assists?  Walker led the N.L. in assists three times, and his career total of 150 assists ranks seventh best, just four behind Jesse Barfield, and only five behind the legendary Dwight Evans.

Clearly, Walker was an excellent defensive right fielder with a gun for an arm.

Base-running skills?  Check.  In poll after poll of managers and of his peers, Walker was consistently on the short-list of best base-runners in his league.  Only Jeff Bagwell and a couple of other players were considered comparable to Walker during the entire decade of the ’90’s.

Not only was Walker extremely adept at turning singles into doubles, and reading the ball off the bat so that he knew when to score from second base, but he was an underrated base-stealer, too.

Larry Walker stole a surprising 230 bases in his career, and was caught 76 times.  His career stolen base percentage of 75% was about the same as Lou Brock’s and better than Maury Wills’.  Walker set a career high with 33 stolen bases in 1997, and topped 20 steals in two other seasons.

In his base-running prime, over a seven-year period (1993-99), Walker’s stolen base percentage, in 153 attempts, was an even more impressive 81%.

So Larry Walker could hit for average and for power, he could field his position with the best of them, and he was an excellent base-runner.

Oh, and due to his great base-running and his excellent power, he scored 1,355 runs in his career, topping 100 runs scored four times, and 90+ runs scored in two other seasons.

But I’ll bet he hit into a ton of double-plays, right?  Sluggers like him, even if they are smart on the base-paths, are susceptible to the old 4-6-3 double-play. And hitting into double-plays is an underrated killer of a player’s total value.

Even here, however, Walker’s career numbers are fantastic.  He hit into just 153 double-plays in his career.  Cal Ripkin is the all-time leader, having hit into 350 double-plays.  Jim Rice and Eddie Murray each hit into 315.  Frank Robinson checks in at 270.  Willie Mays hit into 251.  Charlie Hustle himself grounded into 247 twin-killings.  Derek Jeter clocks in at 235.

Walker was about as difficult to double-up as Craig Biggio (150), and Biggio once went an entire season (1997) without grounding into a double-play.

Larry Walker was a five time All-Star.  He won the N.L. MVP award in 1997.  He won three Silver Slugger awards.  He had a 200 hit season.  He won three batting titles, a home run title, and he led his league in OPS twice.

Now this is where you pull out your trump card.  Walker played his home games for nine+ seasons in the most favorable hitters park ever constructed, Coors Field in Denver, Colorado.

There is no doubt  his overall career numbers were given a boost by this ballpark.  But in the last of his five seasons with his first team, the Montreal Expos, (1994) Walker posted an OPS+ of 151, a number he surpassed just four times in nine full seasons in Colorado.

Walker’s career OPS+, which takes into account a players’ home ballpark as well as the era in which he played, sits at 140, the same as Hall of Famer Duke Snider.

Moreover, while in Montreal, he had already established himself as a fine defensive outfielder by winning two Gold Gloves.  He had also already demonstrated fine base-running skills by swiping 29 bases in 36 attempts in 1993, and he led the N.L. in doubles with 44 in ’94.

As for his home-road splits, consider the following.  In Walker’s finest season, 1997, he slugged .709 at home, and .733 on the road.  He belted 20 homers at home, and 29 on the road.  He drove in 68 runs at home; he drove in 62 runs on the road.  His home on-base percentage was .460; his road OBP was .443.  So his numbers, in some cases, were actually better on the road, and even the stats that were better at home were not vastly superior.

Other Hall of Fame ball players certainly benefited tremendously from their home ballparks.  Mel Ott, for example,  hit 323 of his 511 career homers (63%) at the Polo Grounds.  If Jim Rice had played his entire career in Houston, there would have been little difference between him and Jimmy Wynn.

Finally, a few of you may even pull out the “whiff of steroids” excuse to besmirch his reputation.  But no credible evidence exists to suggest that Walker ever used steroids.  Frankly, as intelligent adults, we need to move beyond the perversely gratifying,  sensationalist rumor-mongering on this issue.

Not everyone who hit 25 or more home runs in a season in the ’90’s and early 2000’s used PED’s.  Unless credible evidence has come to light regarding a particular player, we have no choice but to extend to them the benefit of the doubt on this issue.

According to baseball-reference.com, of the ten players whose careers were most similar to Walkers, four of them, (DiMaggio, Snider, Chuck Klein and Johnny Mize) are already in the Hall of Fame.  Another close comp., Vlad Guerrerro, will be once he becomes eligible.

Taken as a whole, then, Larry Walker clearly produced Hall of Fame numbers.  Whether or not the BBWA sees it this way, and I suspect many of them won’t agree with me, Walker deserves enshrinement in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Yesterday, December 1st, was Larry Walker’s 44th birthday.  Consider this blog-post a birthday present, Larry.  You deserve it.

Did Babe Ruth Really Call 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. It must also be remembered 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. He must 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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If Babe Ruth Were Alive Today

If Babe Ruth were alive today…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…he would own a Hummer.

… he would play his first night baseball game.

…he’d max out a dozen credit cards.

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

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

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

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