The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Carlton Fisk”

Those Who Caught the Great Pitchers: Part 2 – Jerry Grote

This is the second installment of this series.  You can read Part 1 here.

As a young boy growing up a Mets fan in the 1970’s, I always liked Jerry Grote.  Looking at the back of his baseball card, I realized he wasn’t going to ever win a batting title, but watching him play on WOR-Channel 9, I watched him catch enough to know that he was a true professional behind the plate.

Even with the advances made in modern statistical calculations, including dWAR, it is difficult to put a real value on how much a catcher like Jerry Grote was worth to the Mets while he was their primary catcher from the late ’60’s through the mid ’70’s.  Thumbing through a copy of the 1974 Mets yearbook, I found this entry:

“Fortunes of Mets continued to revolve in great measure around availability of bulldoggish, fiery competitor ranked with elite N.L. receiving corps; Shea troupe’s decline began to set in after Ramon Hernandez pitch fractured his right arm bone in Pittsburgh May 11, while pennant push coincided with return to steady full-time duty July 21.”

Perennial stolen-base leader Lou Brock considered Jerry Grote the toughest catcher he ever tried to steal off of, and Johnny Bench himself once remarked that if he’d been on the same team as Grote, he (Bench) would have been relegated to third base with Grote being the regular catcher.

Joe Torre, who both played for and managed the Mets, once compared Grote to Johnny Bench and Ted Simmons.  He said that while Bench and Simmons were hitters that caught, Grote was a catcher who hit.  While that may have been an oversimplification of the abilities and careers these three fine players enjoyed, it does reflect on the high level of respect accorded to Grote by his contemporaries, especially concerning his defense.

Tom Seaver worked with a total of 25 catchers during his MLB career, including Grote, Bench and Carlton Fisk.  No catcher caught Seaver more than Grote did.  Grote was behind the plate for a Seaver start 239 times.  Bench was a distant second at 94 times.  Mets backup catcher Duffy Dyer caught Seaver 55 times.  Seaver made 395 starts as a Met.  Grote was behind the plate in 60% of those starts.  It’s hard to imagine Seaver developing quite the way he did without the defensive prowess of Jerry Grote.

Grote was the Mets starting catcher 1,105 times during his 11 1/2 seasons as a Met (1966-77.)  During that time, he was named to two All-Star teams, led N.L. catchers in putouts in 1970 and ’71, in Range Factor / Game six times, and in Fielding Percentage once.  He never led N.L. catchers in runners caught stealing largely because most base-runners just wouldn’t test his arm.

A .252 career hitter with just 39 career homers, Grote was never a great hitter, but he always viewed his defense as his primary job.  With Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and, a bit earlier, Nolan Ryan to catch, the question is, was his reputation partly enhanced by having the good fortune to catch those excellent pitchers, or were those pitchers so highly productive at least in part because they were lucky to have Jerry Grote behind the plate?

Certainly, a young pitching staff has a lot to learn, and a catcher as assertive and competent as Grote could only have reinforced their development.

Grote’s toughness behind the plate was legendary.  Out of San Antonio, Texas, Grote was an old school guy who was not afraid to call out Seaver or any of the other pitchers when they made a mistake.  He often had run-ins with umpires who earned his wrath, including one alleged incident when he allowed a pitched ball to hit an umpire in the mask.

Pitchers who shook him off could expect him to come barking out from behind home plate, so it didn’t happen very often.  And in 1988, seven years after he’d retired as an MLB catcher, Birmingham Barons manager Jerry Grote inserted himself into a game as his team’s catcher when no one else was available.  At age 42, it was the final time he suited up for a game.

Perhaps we should allow Tom Seaver to have the final word regarding the career of Jerry Grote.  Seaver once remarked on national television that even having had Bench and Fisk behind the plate at one time or another in his career, the finest catcher he ever enjoyed as a battery-mate was Jerry Grote.

If Jerry Grote  was good enough to win high praise from none other than Tom Seaver, who are the rest of us to judge?

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Pete Rose

To perhaps tide you over until I return with some new material, here is a post I wrote about a year and a half ago about Pete Rose.  Some of you haven’t seen this one before.  If not, I hope you enjoy it.  

This is Part 5 of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  To link to any of the first four parts, click on the links to the right under “Recent Posts.”

The object of this series is to revisit players most of us already know something about, then to uncover one fact or statistic that isn’t widely known.

Pete Rose, like Joe Jackson before him, made some personal choices regarding baseball that came back to haunt him, and from which his personal reputation will probably never recover.

Rose walks onto the field with the Cincinnati Reds

Rose walks onto the field with the Cincinnati Reds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the fact remains that, on the baseball field, Pete Rose accomplished some very impressive things.  He is, of course, baseball’s all-time hits leader with 4,256 safeties.  His 3,215 singles are also the most in history.

Rose is also in second place on the all-time doubles list with 746.  He had ten 200-hit seasons, won three batting titles, and played in more games (3,562) than any other man in baseball history.

Perhaps most impressively, though, Pete Rose reached base safely more times (5,929)  than any other player ever did.

That’s a lot of at bats.  That’s a lot of plate appearances.

Which inevitably leads me to the question, “How many outs did Pete Rose make in his career.”

First, some perspective.  Babe Ruth made 5,758 outs in his entire career.  Mickey Mantle made 5,899 outs.  Richie Ashburn, who was primarily a lead-off hitter for most of his career, and who played in parts of three decades, made 6,096 outs.

Willie McCovey broke into the big leagues when Eisenhower was President, and he didn’t retire until the eve of Ronald Reagan’s first term.  McCovey made 6,259 outs.

Carlton Fisk, who would probably still be playing today if someone hadn’t hidden his catching gear from him (1969-93!) made 6,767 outs.

Ty Cobb, to whom Pete Rose in often compared, made 7,748 outs.

Peter (Charlie Hustle) Rose made 2,580 more outs than Ty Cobb.  (Imagine if he hadn’t hustled?)

Pete Rose made about as many outs in his career as Babe Ruth and Phil Rizzuto combined.  He made  approximately as many outs as Mike Piazza and Edgar Martinez combined.  He made just a few less outs than Bobby Murcer and Kirby Puckett put together.

Pete Rose at bat in a game at Dodger Stadium d...

Pete Rose at bat in a game at Dodger Stadium during the 1970s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The answer to my original question as to how many outs Pete Rose made in his career is that Rose made exactly 10,328 outs.  He is the only player in history to have made more than 10,000 outs.

Another way of looking at this is that if you take Rose’s 162 game average of 723 plate appearances per season, and divide 10,328 by 723, you end up with equivalent of 14  seasons where Rose did absolutely nothing but make outs!

Rookie outfielder Bryce Harper is 19-years old.  If Harper began next season going 0-4 in his first game, and then kept doing absolutely nothing but making outs UNTIL HE WAS 34 YEARS OLD — not a single hit, walk, or hit by pitch — he would then begin to approach the number of outs Rose made in his career.

Would the Washington Nationals be patient enough to wait out a 14-year super-slump from this year’s phenom?  I’m guessing probably not.

So here’s a thought.  If Pete Rose’s job was basically to do nothing other than to get on base (for he was by no means a slugger, nor was he much of a base-stealer), then do we consider him a success for reaching base more times than any man in history?

Or do we shake our collective heads in disbelief regarding the overwhelming number of outs he made and ask, was it really necessary for him to play as long as he did?

In short, were those 5,929 times on base really worth the 10,328 outs it took to get him there?

Let’s hope Bryce Harper doesn’t have to find out the answer to that question the hard way.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 7

Been away for a while.  Blame illness, child hunger (or just hungry kids), work, exotic invasive species, parents who never understood me, locusts, a dead car battery, the Republican primaries, Industrial Disease, etc.  Anyway, it’s good to be back doing the thing I love best.  Or, at any rate, one of the top four or five things.  And this one’s the cheapest.

So let’s get back at it.

When last we left this series, we had reached the happy conclusion that HOF voters did a very nice job with their induction choices in the decade of the 1990’s.  In fact, other than the half-decade of HOF choices in the first few “classes” back in the 1930’s, this was the best showing by the BBWAA and the Veteran’s Committee that we have seen in decades.

The ’90’s may have been the mythic Golden Age that some people seem to fervently believe has once been a part of the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame before, you know, they started letting in “just anybody.” (Please proceed to the links to Parts 1 and 2 below, if you haven’t already read them.)

Now it’s time to take a look at the most recent decade of HOF voting, the 21st century Aughts.  For most of us, we are well within our comfort zone here, having witnessed at least in some part the careers of virtually all of these inductees.

2000:  BBWAA – Carlton Fisk, Tony Perez 

Fisk is an obvious choice.  He is always rated among the top ten catchers of all time, often in the top five.  The original “Pudge,” from Bellows Falls, VT (population 3,165), caught more games than any other catcher in baseball history: 2,226.  He is second in career home runs as a catcher behind only Mike Piazza.  Fisk’s career WAR of 67.3 is certainly Hall worthy.

Odd factoid of the day:  the only time that Fisk led his league in any category occurred in 1972 when he paced the A.L. with 9 triples.

Tony Perez is a classic case of traditional stats vs. modern sabermetrics.

Like Fisk, Perez played well into his mid-40’s, but Perez was essentially finished being a useful player several years before that.  Perez slugged over 500 doubles, hit over 300 home runs, and drove in 1,652 runs.  He topped over 100 RBI in a season seven times, and, of course, he was a key cog in the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970’s.  He also scrubbed the floors, washed the dishes, and took the trash out when needed.

So what’s the problem here?  Well, those pesky modern stats (dag-nabbit!) are at it again, cutting a good man down to size.  And that’s precisely the point.  Perez was a good player, sometimes a very good player, but a questionable HOF’er.

In only five seasons did Perez reach 5.0 WAR in a season.  His career high, 6.7 in 1970, was the best in the league, but he never finished higher than seventh best in any other season.  In fact, after 1974, he never reached even 3.5 WAR in any year, meaning he was essentially treading water for the last dozen years of his career.  And not once in 23 seasons did Perez ever lead his league in any positive offensive category.

His career OPS+, 122, is good, but it’s the same as fellow first baseman Derrek Lee and Andre Thornton.

In other words, Perez is a questionable choice (though not necessarily a terrible one) for the Hall of Fame.  Yes, there are worse players in The Hall, but was he really one of the very best players of all time?

2001:  BBWAA – Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield  V.C.  Bill Mazeroski

Kirby Puckett

Image via Wikipedia

Once upon a time, we all thought we knew Kirby Puckett.  He seemed like a happy bundle of baseball joy.  Then the tragic Dennis Martinez pitch that broke Puckett’s jaw in September of 1995, followed by the glaucoma that ended his career at age 35.

Does it matter that we now know of his internal darkness, his violence, his personal demons, when reevaluating his HOF career?

Dave Winfield was a terrific athlete and apparently a decent man who toiled hopelessly in the shadows of Mr. Steinbrenner’s insatiable demand for glory.  That Winfield now enjoys permanent glory in the HOF is perhaps the cosmos way of balancing out the ledger.

In retrospect, both Winfield’s and Puckett’s careers feel like those periods of our life that we always thought we’d remember more fondly, but for which we now feel a strangely lackluster emptiness,  like a once-indispensable girlfriend whose very name now elicits a furled brow and an anxious, dyspeptic glance around the room.

The Hall of Fame, being, as it were, the litter-bin of the great and good, collects players like these whose stats and reputations are the stuff of the moderately great, or the toss-away fine.

So, yes, into The Hall of Fame with both of these mini-giants, and may at least a few of their former fans smile at the recall of their names!

Montage of Mazeroski's 1960 World Series winni...

Image via Wikipedia

As for Bill Mazeroski, well, what a difference one big hit can make.  Despite the fact that he was one of the finest defensive second baseman of all time, would he have been voted into the HOF if not for his Game Seven World Series winning (for the Pirates) home run against the Yankees in 1960?  I think not.  So does the man make the moment, or does the moment make the man?

Either way, WAR says Mazeroski is a HOF wannabe, (26.9 WAR), unless you really love your Gold Glove-winning middle infielders (and who doesn’t?)

2002:  BBWAA – Ozzie Smith

Professional baseball player Ozzie Smith is sh...

Image via Wikipedia

Now that’s a nice segue.  Ozzie Smith was the ultimate fan-favorite, light-hitting, acrobatic, awe-inspiring (almost out of hyphens now) middle infielder of all-time (damn, that was the last one.)

Now, a baseball player who finishes his career with an OPS+ of just 87 typically won’t make my list of players who deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown.  Ozzie Smith is the exception.  If you think Mazeroski’s defense was impressive (and I know you do), just wait until I pull out The Wizard of Oz career numbers.

Mazeroski’s career DWAR was an impressive 11.9, and his Total Zone Runs was an excellent 148.

The Wizard, by contrast, recorded a DWAR of 21.6 and a TZR of 239!  Clearly, he was from another planet.  Ozzie Smith recorded more assists (8,375) than any shortstop in history.  Another excellent defensive shortstop, Omar Vizquel, is still about 700 assists behind Smith despite having played in about 300 more games.

You might as well add in the 580 steals (about an 80% success rate) and twice as many walks as strikeouts, as well as the 2,460 hits and you have a package unlike any other in MLB history.  No, he doesn’t have Mazz’s one big heroic homer, but I’ll take the daily package just fine, thank you.  (Career WAR: 64.6).

2003:  BBWAA – Gary Carter, Eddie Murray

Like Pudge Fisk, Carter was a top ten all-time catcher.  Personally, I’ll take Carter in the top five.

Eddie Murray was a demonically consistent player.  In his rookie year with the Orioles at age 21 in 1977, in 611 at bats, Murray had 173 hits, of which 29 were doubles, 27 were homers,  he batted .283, and he slugged .470.

Sixteen years later, at the age of 37 with the Mets in 1993, in 610 at bats, Murray had 174 hits, 28 of which were doubles, 27 were homers, he batted .285, and he slugged .467.

In between, Murray hit at least 25 homers in a season 12 times, posted an OPS+ of at least 130 eleven times, topped .500 slugging percentage seven times, and generally wreaked havoc and fear in both leagues from both sides of the plate.

In his 20-year career, Murray cranked out over 3,000 hits, 500+ doubles, and over 500 homers.

His 1,942 runs created ranks 25th best ever, over 200 more than compiled by long-time teammate Cal Ripkin, Jr.

So, yeah, he was good.

2004:  BBWAA – Paul Molitor, Dennis Eckersley

Virtually all of Molitor’s career value lies in his offense (career DWAR just 0.8).  But, with an Offensive WAR of 74.0, who cares?  He was the second greatest Brewer ever, after Robin Yount. He also contributed an MVP-caliber season in 1993 with the World Champion Blue Jays.  He hit .341 at age 39 with the Twins in 1996, his 19th season in the Majors.  Certainly, Paul Molitor belongs in The Hall of Fame.

Dennis Eckersley is the Frankenstein’s Monster (Dr. Frankenstein being A’s manager Tony LaRussa) of the modern 9th inning save specialist.  And for that we may grind and gnash our teeth without let or hindrance, but to no avail.  The modern, ninth inning save specialist is here to stay.

But let’s not hold that against Eck.  Although he looks like one of the Allman Brothers circa 1972, the man could pitch.  Even the infamous home run he surrendered to Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers in the ’88 World Series never really sullied his reputation.  I think that’s because Eck was always such a fierce competitor, he was able to brush off a moment that would have wrecked the careers of lesser mortals.

Eck basically had two careers, including four distinct phases as a starting pitcher.  He went from being a young, unpolished flame-thrower with the Indians (200 K’s in 199 innings, 1976) to a staff ace in Boston (20-8, 2.99 ERA in ’78), to a mediocre innings eater (13-13, 3.73 ERA in 224 innings with Boston in ’82) to a broken down hunk of scrap metal with the Cubbies in 1986 (6-11, 4.57 ERA in 201 innings.)

Oakland took a chance on Eck in ’87, and by ’88 he was on his way to becoming one of the most dominant relief pitchers of all time.  He enjoyed an unbelievable run of five consecutive years from 1988-92, inclusive, during which his worst WHIP was 0.913.

My favorite Eck season, though, and one of the best by any pitcher in history, was in 1990 when, in 73 innings he fanned 73 batters while walking — are you ready for this?– 4 batters all season.  He gave up just five earned runs all year resulting in an ERA of 0.61.  His ERA+ was a comically absurd 610.

In 1992, he was voted A.L. MVP and won the Cy Young award.

I’m sure there aren’t too many pitchers in the HOF with 197 wins, 100 complete games and 390 saves.  I have no problem with Dennis Eckersley being in the Hall of Fame.

2005:  BBWAA – Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg

Boggs received 91.86% of the vote; Sandberg just cleared the hurdle by the slimmest of margins, receiving 76.16% of the vote.  Boggs was a slam-dunk choice:  3,010 hits, seven consecutive seasons of at least 200 hits and at least 100 runs scored (1983-89), and an incredible run of five straight years (’85-’89) accumulating a WAR of at least 8.2 in each season.

He was also a pretty good defensive third baseman, accumulating 10.1 DWAR in his career.

I believe a case can be made that Wade Boggs was the best player in Major League Baseball during the 1980’s.

Ryne Sandberg was nearly as great as Boggs.

Sandberg was a ten-time All Star, he won nine Gold Gloves, earned seven Silver Sluggers, and won an MVP award in 1984.  His wide-ranging skills are revealed by seven 100+ runs scored seasons, a 200 hit season, a 40-homer year, a couple of 100 RBI seasons, and a 50 steal season.  He was one of the top ten second baseman of all time.  Bill James ranks him seventh best at that position, between Nap Lajoie and Charlie Gehringer.

Why nearly one-quarter of BBWAA voters left him off their ballots in 2005  is beyond me.

2006:  BBWAA – Bruce Sutter

English: Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Bruce S...

Image via Wikipedia

Is it unusual for a 13-year old kid to emulate his favorite split-fingered fastball tossing relief pitcher?  ‘Cause around 1977, that kid was me.  I got pretty good at it, too.  My friend Johnny, who actually had a catcher’s mask and mitt, used to hold his glove about eight inches above the ground, and damned if I didn’t hit that target directly in the middle  eight times out of ten.

I’m not saying I was quite as good as Bruce Sutter, but the fact is that between us, we saved exactly 300 games.  I’m just saying, Bruce, that it would be nice to, you know, send me a postcard once in a while.  Where’s the love, man?

2007:  BBWAA – Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripkin, Jr.

Now that’s a pair of ballplayers.

I loved Tony Gwynn.  I loved listening to him talk, and I loved knowing that players with his natural ability to hit a baseball (eight batting titles) come along once in a lifetime, and that I was there to see it.

Ripkin circling the perimeter of Camden Yards the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record is a memory that still gives me goosebumps on my arms.

Could Cal Ripkin, Jr. be the last legitimate American Hero?  To borrow from Simon and Garfunkel, “Where have you gone, Cal Ripkin, our nation turns it lonely eyes to you?”

2008:  BBWAA – Goose Gossage

Sparky Lyle, the Yankees closer, won the 1977 Cy Young award.  That off-season, the Yankees then went out and signed free agent Goose Gossage, prompting Yankees 3rd baseman Graig Nettles to quip that Lyle went from “Cy Young to Sayonara.”

310 saves later, Gossage represents one of the last of the old time closers for whom 100 innings pitched in a season was not unusual.

Incidentally, Gossage helped lead the Yanks to their second consecutive World Championship in ’78.  Sparky Lyle was still a Yankee in ’78, playing second fiddle to Gossage, then went over to Texas and on into oblivion.  But he was a helluva pitcher in his own right.

Still, Gossage is in the HOF, and Lyle is not.  So it goes.

2009:  BBWAA – Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice  V.C.  Joe Gordon

Rickey Henderson was the greatest lead-off hitter of all-time.

But what if, somehow, we find out that Rickey Henderson used steroids?  He was certainly in the clubhouse with Canseco and McGwire when this phenomenon was relatively new to baseball.  And I remember seeing photos of Rickey in about 1988 or so in which his upper body was just massive.  I mean, it was a body-builders body, not a typical lead-off hitter’s body.

Obviously, without any objective evidence one way or the other, we can only go by his numbers, and they are extraordinary.  No one would argue that his numbers are not Hall-worthy, and it isn’t fair to pronounce on him guilt by association, is it?

So, then, why do we allow this to happen with Jeff Bagwell?  Just sayin’.

As for Jim Rice, more than enough ink has been spilled by people like myself who do not think he is a highly suitable choice for The Hall, unless you also consider Jimmy Wynn, Dave Parker, and Dale Murphy to be HOF’ers.  And perhaps you do, but Jim Rice wasn’t significantly better than they were.

The Veteran’s Committee has had a very quiet decade, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Joe Gordon is a decent addition to the HOF, ranking among the top 15 second baseman of all-time.  Had good pop for a second baseman, cranking at least 20 homers in a year in seven of his eleven seasons.  He was also reputed to be excellent on the double-play pivot.  Not a top tier HOF’er, but we’re past worrying about that, right?

2010:  BBWAA – Andre Dawson

Player A:  Career WAR:  57.0,  Career OPS+ 119,  Runs Created:  1,518

Player B:  Career WAR:  64.6,  Career OPS+123,  Runs Created:  1,636

Player A is Andre Dawson.  Those aren’t bad numbers, sort of the lower middle class among non-middle infielder HOF’ers.

Player B is Dawson’s former teammate, Tim Raines.

If you asked a typical HOF voter why he would vote for Dawson over Raines (and, obviously, many have) they would probably cite intangibles like leadership, solid citizenship, and other “hidden” factors.  They might knock Raines down a peg or two for the cocaine scandal he was involved in at one point in his career.

Personally, the scandals of prior generations don’t much interest me.  We have our own, and future generations will have theirs as well.  It turns out that ballplayers are human and make mistakes after all.  We can continue to play mother-superior every time a new scandal “shocks” us, or we can allow for a cool-off time to provide some greater context.

Meanwhile, the BBWAA, having chosen Jim Rice and Andre Dawson in consecutive years, seems to be slowly reverting to it’s habit of previous years, selecting those players whose lobbying efforts by proxy, combined with a bit of laziness on the part of the writers themselves, creates a bogus need to fill a false void in The Hall.

2011:  BBWAA – Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven

When I was a kid, there is no way I considered Blyleven to be a future Hall of Famer.  Our heroes included Tom Seaver, Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, and perhaps Steve Carlton.  What did we know?  Blyleven was an excellent pitcher who toiled on lots of mediocre teams.  Career WAR:  90.1 is definitely HOF worthy.

Roberto Alomar was graceful and fun to watch at second base, though a bit overrated defensively.  A great base-stealer and an excellent line-drive hitter, there are maybe half a dozen better second basemen in The Hall, and that’s about it.  If he hadn’t spit on umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996, he would have been a first ballot inductee.  Stupid thing to do, but he apologized, and Hirschbeck accepted it.

Since the year 2000, then, 22 players have been inducted into The Hall.  Depending on how you view relief pitchers like Eck, Sutter, and Gossage (I’m fine with all three), you could choose to determine that about 17 or 18 of these choices were solid.

I think that legitimate arguments can be made that Tony Perez, Bill Mazeroski, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, and, if you want to be picky, Joe Gordon, were questionable inductees.  Mazeroski, Perez and Rice are, to me, the worst picks of the decade, though not as bad as some of the players chosen in previous decades.

In the next, and last post, of this series, I will attempt to draw some final conclusions regarding Hall of Fame inductees over the past three-quarters of a century.  And we’ll attempt to answer the question we started with, “Has there ever been a Golden Age of the Hall of Fame.”

Parts 1-6, should you care to go back and take a look at them, are listed below.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 21 – The Chicago White Sox

 

Fielder Jones of the White Sox hits the ball a...

Image via Wikipedia

 

You can put together a pretty damn good team composed entirely of players who toiled for Chicago’s south side franchise over the past hundred years or so.  The list of best players in White Sox history looks something like this:

Carlton Fisk

C  Ray Schalk

1B  Frank Thomas

1B  Dick Allen

1B  Paul Konerko

2B  Eddie Collins

2B  Nellie Fox

SS  Luke Appling

SS  Luis Apparicio

3B  Robin Ventura

OF  Shoeless Joe Jackson

OF Magglio Ordonez

OF  Lance Johnson

DH  Harold Baines

SP  Eddie Walsh

SP  Red Faber

SP  Ted Lyons

SP  Lamarr Hoyt

SP  Jack McDowell

SP  Mark Buehrle

RP  Goose Gossage

RP  Hoyt Wilhelm

RP  Bobby Thigpen

A couple of the players on this list are more readily identified with teams they played with prior to coming over to the White Sox.  I am referring specifically to Carlton Fisk (Red Sox) and Dick Allen (Phillies).

Both players were born in the region or the state where they first debuted in the Major Leagues:  Fisk in northern New England (Bellows Falls, VT, a couple of hours north of Boston) and Allen in the small town of Wampum, PA (about an hour from Pittsburgh, six hours to Philadelphia.)    Both are small, rural towns, and both are about 97% white.

This is approximately where any similarities between the two players end.

Fisk is white; Allen is black.

Fisk was reticent; Allen sang in his own band.

Fisk was lionized by the people of Boston; Allen was generally regarded with disdain by the people of Philadelphia.

Fisk is in the Hall of Fame; Allen…should be?  We’ll get back to that topic later.

Although they both played for the White Sox, their careers never overlapped.  Fisk played 13 seasons for the White Sox beginning in 1981.  Allen played just three years with the White Sox, from 1972-74 (about the time Fisk’s career was just getting underway in Boston.)

Actually, they do have one more thing in common.  They each enjoyed one very productive season as hitters while playing in Chicago.  Although Fisk was generally productive in several of his seasons with the White Sox, one season in particular stands out.

1985 was Carlton Fisk’s Best Forgotten Season with the White Sox.

In 1985, Fisk was already 37-years old.  Yet he played in 153 games that year, catching in 130 of them.  He accumulated 543 at bats and 620 plate appearances.

While his .238 batting average might not seem all that impressive, his 37 home runs and 107 RBI’s were both career highs.

Fisk also scored an impressive 85 runs, quite a lot for an aging catcher who managed just 129 hits on the season.  Shockingly, Fisk even stole 17 bases, matching a career high he had set three seasons earlier (also with the White Sox.)

His .488 slugging percentage was good for tenth place in the A.L. in ’85.

He even chipped in 17 time hit by pitch, second most in the league.

Defensively, his range factor of 6.63 paced the junior circuit, as did his 801 putouts.

He made the 1985 All-Star team for the tenth time in his career.  (He was named to eleven All-Star teams in his career.)

For his efforts, and despite his low batting average, Fisk finished a respectable 13th in MVP voting in ’85.

Other than his famous moment in Game Six of the 1975 World Series in which he hit the game winning home run vs, the Reds, Fisk put together a quiet and steady 24-year career during which he belted 376 home runs, drove in 1,330 and amassed 2,356 hits.

When Fisk retired, he had caught more games and had hit more home runs than any other catcher in history.  ( Both records have since been broken.)

Fisk is obviously one of the top ten catchers in baseball history, perhaps top five.  He was a worthy inductee into baseball’s Hall of Fame in the year 2000.

One word that has never (to my knowledge) been used to describe Carlton Fisk is “controversial.”

Which brings us to Dick Allen.

In “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (p. 438), baseball stat guru Bill James called Dick Allen, “The second most controversial player in history, behind Rogers Hornsby.” He finished his terse little paragraph on Allen by claiming that he “…lost half of his career or more to immaturity and emotional instability.”

Harsh words.

What are we to make of that damning sentence?

Was Dick Allen diagnosed with a mental illness that only Bill James was aware of?  Can immaturity really shorten the career of an otherwise highly productive player?  Allen was enjoying an outstanding career through age 32.  Eying his age-33 year off in the distance, did he suddenly panic and become the black Adam Sandler?

It’s true that Dick Allen rubbed some people the wrong way, like the population of the city of Philadelphia.  But Phillies fans are notorious for their ability to find the dark cloud in the silver lining.  They have never been considered baseball’s most forgiving bunch of fans.

But let’s have a reality check.

Here’s what some players who were actually teammates of Allen said about him years later:  ( All quotes and text in the following three full paragraphs below are from Wikipedia-Dick Allen.)

Gene Mauch of the Phillies and Chuck Tanner of the White Sox  managed Allen the longest.  Asked if Allen’s behavior ever had a negative influence on the team, Mauch said: “Never.” According to Tanner, “Dick was the leader of our team, the captain, the manager on the field. He took care of the young kids, took them under his wing. And he played every game as if it was his last day on earth.”

Hall of Fame teammate, Mike Schmidt, credited Dick Allen in his book, “Clearing the Bases,” as his mentor.

In a Mike Schmidt biography written by historian William C. Kashatus, Mike Schmidt fondly recalls Dick Allen mentoring him before a game in Chicago in 1976, saying to him, “Mike, you’ve got to relax. You’ve got to have some fun. Remember when you were just a kid and you’d skip supper to play ball? You were having fun. Hey, with all the talent you’ve got, baseball ought to be fun. Enjoy it. Be a kid again.”

Mike Schmidt responded by hitting four home runs in that game. Mike Schmidt is quoted in the same book, “The baseball writers used to claim that Dick would divide the clubhouse along racial lines. That was a lie. The truth is that Dick never divided any clubhouse.”

Playing in a pitcher’s era, Dick Allen amassed some outstanding statistics in his 15-year career.

From 1966-74, he led his league in slugging percentage three times.  He led his league in on-base percentage twice.  He also led his league in OPS four times.  In various seasons, he also led his league in runs scored once, triples once, home runs twice, walks once, RBI’s once, total bases once, and OPS+ three times.

Dick Allen won the 1964 Rookie of the Year award.

He was named to seven All-Star teams.

His career .534 slugging percentage is good for 44th best of all time.

Perhaps most impressively, his career adjusted OPS+ is 156, good for 19th best in baseball history, and tied with another White Sox slugger, future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas.

By way of comparison, Stan Musial’s OPS+ was 159; Tris Speaker’s was 157; Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio are each at 155.

That’s pretty select company to be able to share.

But Dick Allen’s Best Forgotten Baseball Season with the White Sox was in 1972.

Dick Allen won the A.L. MVP award in 1972 by leading the league in home runs (37), RBI’s (113), walks (99), OBP (.420), slugging (.603), OPS (1.023), and OPS+ (199).

An OPS+ of 200 means that a player is exactly twice as good as a typical replacement level ballplayer.

Allen also batted .308 and scored an even 90 runs.  His 131 runs created also led the American League.  Not usually a prolific base-stealer, Allen even contributed 19 stolen bases to his efforts.

He enjoyed another fine season for the White Sox in 1974 at age 32.  His swift and steep decline dovetailed with his off-season trade back to the city he once demanded to be traded from in the first place, Philadelphia.

Dick Allen retired after playing in a limited capacity for the Oakland A’s after the 1977 season.  Allen was 35-years old.

Two questions come to mind:

1)  Was Dick Allen a victim of racism?

2)  Does Dick Allen belong in the Hall of Fame?

As for question #1, yes, of course.  Phillies fans often hollered highly offensive racial slurs at him, not to mention bottles and batteries while he played the outfield.

More to the point, some writers then (and now) have always been uncomfortable with the idea of an assertive black man who isn’t interested in schmoozing with the media.

Historically, black athletes in America who have flaunted their wealth, confidence and pride have often been labeled as surly, divisive, angry and controversial.  This reality goes all the way back to the great heavy-weight boxer Jack Johnson a hundred years ago, and has continued in recent years with players like Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds.  (Bonds was subject to many of these demeaning terms long before he was linked to steroids.)

Meanwhile, Joe DiMaggio, who certainly flaunted his confidence, wealth and pride was spoken of as, at worse, aloof, but was more frequently praised as classy and noble.

For what it’s worth, if you do a google search using key words: “Controversial white baseball players,”  you will find there are 174,000 hits.

If you substitute the word “white” with the term “African-American”, you will find there are 263,000 hits.

Do I think baseball writers like Bill James and others are inherently racist?  No.  Bill James, for example, has also written eloquently on the subject of race in baseball in  books like, “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame.”

But I do think there is an intrinsic racial bias in the kinds of knee-jerk reactions and words writers, fans and others use that has evolved down through the generations.  These auto-responses have imprinted themselves in our psyches, and  handily come to the fore in place of more reasonable, sensible alternatives for which we might have to dig just a bit deeper.

I think this is as true for myself, Bill James and perhaps you today as it was for others generations ago.

So does Dick Allen belong in the Hall of Fame?

Depends on your definition of a Hall of Famer.

A case can be made that he does belong in The Hall.  Some of the numbers and other career accomplishments I have alluded to already in this post make the case that he is a viable candidate.

For those of you, however, who favor a more Career Numbers and Milestones approach, I suspect that Allen’s 351 career home runs, 1119 RBI’s, .292 career batting average, and fewer than 2,000 career hits has you firmly ensconced in the NO column.

So be it.

But one thing remains true.  During his career, few players were as feared, respected and productive between the lines as Dick Allen.

And it is also true that places like Wampum, PA, Bellows Falls, VT, and other small towns and hamlets across our country will continue to produce ball players who will, whether controversial or not, bestow their legacy in some fashion on our timeless yet ever-changing National Pastime.

Strange Baseball Seasons and Careers

Every once in a while, as I’m doing some research for this blog, I’ll come across a baseball statistic that stuns me.  What is most surprising, however, is that even after all these years of studying baseball and looking at stats, there are still surprises lurking in the shadows of the ancient statistical tomes.

I’m not suggesting that no one else has ever noticed any of these odd items before, either, but if they are new to me, they might just be new to you, too.

Further, as the title of this blog-post states, statistical oddities may not reveal themselves until a player’s career has long since ended.  Conversely, though, some unlikely stats will pop up and demand your attention like an inebriated, embarrassing  guest at a dinner party.

This blog-post claims no pretensions that its writer has any real idea of just what a dinner-party actually looks like, so in the name of Frozen Dinners and improvisation, lets eschew any formal organizational structure in this blog-post from here on out, and just indulge our (my) fascination with statistical oddities, free-style, as it were.

To begin with, who do you think were the toughest pitchers to hit (using Hits Given Up per Nine Innings) of all- time?

Did you say Walter Johnson?  Well, O.K., he is 33rd on the all-time list having given up 7.47 hits per nine innings in his career.  Randy Johnson?  You’re getting warmer.  He is 22nd on the list.

Remember, we are not talking about WHIP here.  Just hits per nine.  Yes, of course, you remembered Nolan Ryan.  He was the Number #1 toughest pitcher to hit, having given up just 6.55 hits per nine.

Sandy Koufax comes in at Number #2, posting a 6.79 hits per nine ratio.  Again, no surprise there.

Number #3 Toughest Pitcher to Hit, Ever?  Well, let me save you some time:

Sid Fernandez.  Yes, that Sid Fernandez.  El Sid.  The Mets’ secret weapon in the bullpen against the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series.

Sid Fernandez posted an incredible 6.85 hits per nine innings in his career in 1866 innings.  He pitched in parts of 15 different seasons and made exactly 300 starts in his career.

So how many wins did El Sid record out of those 300 starts?  Just 114 wins, against 96 losses.  In other words, Fernandez ended up with a no-decision in 30% of his career starts, a rather high percentage.

So why didn’t he win more games?  Apparently, El Sid just couldn’t get much past the sixth inning.  In fact, he completed only 25 games in his entire career!  Thus, his bullpen mates ended up swooping down for the win, or they blew the game and took the loss.

Sid Fernandez’s idea of a workout routine was a 6,000 calorie breakfast, followed by long periods of rest and idleness.

Fernandez only reached double-figures in wins in five seasons; his best win totals were 16 (in 1986), 14 (twice) and 12 (twice).  That’s it.

Sid Fernandez was, then, one the greatest six- inning pitchers ever.  But even though one inning specialists now routinely make it into Cooperstown, (they’re called “Closers”), El Sid will never get in without first paying for a ticket.

Now that’s a strange career.

Almost as strange was the career of a former teammate of Sid Fernandez:   David Cone.

At first glance you might not expect Cone to have had a weird career, but let me throw some numbers at you.  I’ll do it in the form of a Table so you can more clearly see what I noticed.

The first number represents a season with exactly that number of wins; the second number directly to the right of it represents how many seasons Cone reached that number of wins.  So let’s take a look:

20  –  2  (Cone had 2 twenty win seasons)

19  –  0

18  –  0

17  –  0

16  –  1

15  –  0

14  –  3

13  –  1

12  –  2

11  –  1

10  –  0

Cone finished with nearly 200 wins in his career in over 400 starts.  His career win-lost percentage was a very nice .606.

But where did all those 194 career wins come from?  How does a pitcher have two 20 win seasons, but NO 15, 17, 18, or 19 win seasons, and still have an excellent career?

Cone is the antithesis of Bert Blyleven.  Blyleven won nearly 300 games (287) in his career, but his entire career was made up of exactly the kinds of seasons Cone NEVER even had once in his entire career (except for the one lonely 16 win season.)  For example, Blyleven produced five 17-win seasons.

There are two types of Hall-of-Famers, and two kinds of HOF voters.  One group prefers the bright shining stars that flame out fast, but oh, what beauty when they shined.  The other group prefers slow-and-steady-wins-the race.  Cone is not in The Hall, nor is Blyleven.  But they are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the kinds of careers a pitcher who could be considered for The Hall might have.

Now, how about a hitter.

Hitters, of course, are mainly supposed to hit.  But it’s O.K., even lauded in some circles, if a particular hitter draws an occasional Base-on-Balls, too.

One particular hitter that, occasionally, did draw a walk was former infielder Alfredo Griffin.  Griffin played his first full season in the Majors in 1979, winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year award playing for the Blue Jays.  He retired in 1993.

Alfredo Griffin just might have been the worst regular, everyday offensive player in the history of baseball.

Now, I know, there have been lots of really bad offensive players throughout baseball history.  But this, as they say, you have to see.

Griffin’s highest single-season on-base percentage in his career was .333 in his rookie campaign of 1979 when he drew a career high 40 walks in 689 plate appearances.  He never walked as many as forty times in a season again.

But the season that truly boggles my mind was 1984 when in 441 plate appearances, Griffin drew exactly FOUR walks all year.

How is that even possible?

His batting average that season was .241; his on-base percentage was .248.  For his entire career, Griffin posted an OBP of .285 in over 7,000 plate appearances.

Folks, we are talking about a guy that played all 162 games in four different seasons, not some part-time late-inning defensive replacement.

Defensively, by the way, he was pretty good, although he managed to win just one Gold Glove award in his entire career.  But even fifteen Gold Gloves couldn’t justify those awful non-hitting skills of his.

You want to hear the best part?  1984, the year he drew just four walks, the year he posted an OBP south of .300, was the Only year he made an All-Star team.

Well, did he hit lots of homers?  Nope, just 24 in his entire career.

Did he score lots of runs.  Nope, he reached 80 runs scored only once, his rookie season.

Did he steal lots of bases?  Well, here’s the thing.  He did steal 192 bases in his career, but he was also caught stealing 134 times, a poor “success” rate of .588.  In fact, in a two year period, 1980-81, he successfully stole a paltry 26 bases in 61 attempts!  He did improve later on in his career, but was never truly an asset on the base-paths.

In 1980, he led the A.L. in triples with 15, and in outs made with 532.

In November of 1988, the Dodgers, enamored by Griffin’s .199 batting average and .965 fielding percentage from the ’88 season, signed Griffin as a free-agent for one million dollars.

Ladies and gentleman, am I missing something here?

To sum up, the weirdest thing about Alfredo Griffin isn’t his career numbers, it’s that he ever had a career at all, and a long career at that.

O.K.  Let’s follow Griffin up with a player who actually could hit.

Carlton Fisk was one of the best overall catchers in baseball history.  Suffering from numerous injuries early in his career, he nevertheless ended up playing in 2,499 games, amassing 9,853 plate appearances.

Most of his career numbers are pretty standard (meaning very good) for a player of his caliber, especially for a catcher.

But one season late in his career when he played for the White Sox stands out.  In 1984, when Fisk was already 36 years old, he slugged a reasonable 21 home runs.  Now, normally when a player hits over 20 homers and plays more or less every day, their RBI total lands somewhere in the 75-90 range, give or take a few.

Somehow, despite hitting 21 homers, Fisk managed to drive in only 43 runs in just under 400 plate appearances.  I am guessing that his RBI total that year has to be one of the lowest ever recorded, perhaps the lowest, for a player who hit at least 20 homers in one season.

I am not casting any aspersions on Fisk’s talent or on his career, but that is one fluky statistic.

Finally, there is the strange case of Storm Davis.

Davis was an extremely young man of 20 when he threw his first pitch for the Orioles in 1982.  By the age of 22, Davis had already pitched 525 innings in the Majors; there were no Joba Rules in those days.

By 1989, Davis was a member of a formidable Oakland A’s rotation.  In that year, his age-27 season, Davis enjoyed his career-year.  Despite tossing just 169 innings, Davis posted a record of 19-7.

It was the worst 19 win season in major league history.

Here are the ugly peripheral numbers behind that inflated win total:

ERA:  4.36, WHIP:  1.506,  Strike-Outs:  91,  Walks:  68,  K’s / 9 innings:  4.8,  Hits / 9 innings:  10.

In short, if Davis had pitched that year for virtually any other baseball team, he would have ended up with a sub-.500 win-lost record.

Of course, the Kansas City Royals, unable to see past Davis’ gaudy win total, signed Davis in the off-season to be the ace of their staff for over a million dollars (still big money in those days.)

The Royals were rewarded with a 7-10 season in 1990.

This is one reason why some small-market teams continue to be unsuccessful.  When they do splurge on a free-agent, it’s usually the wrong guy.

Davis’ career was strange because he was actually a pretty good pitcher who pitched terribly one season, still won 19 games, and was rewarded with a large contract as a free agent.

I’m absolutely positive there are many other players who have had strange, unlikely individual seasons and /or careers.  If you can think of others and would like to share them, by all means please do.  I’m not necessarily talking about One-Year Wonders; I already did a prior blog-post on that topic.

Now, let’s see what kind of strange, unlikely seasons we are in store for in 2010.  We know they’ll happen.  We just don’t know yet who they’ll happen to.

And once again, thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  I appreciate it.

Bill

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