The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Fenway Park”

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

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

Player A:  On Base Percentage – .360

Player B:  On Base Percentage –  .352

Player A:  Slugging Percentage – .484

Player B:  Slugging Percentage – .502

Player A:  OPS+ 129

Player B:   OPS+ 128

Player A:  Doubles – 388

Player B:  Doubles – 373

Player A:  Home Runs – 306

Player B:  Home Runs – 382

Player A:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 10

Player B:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 11

Player A:  Total Bases – 3,352

Player B:  Total Bases – 4,129

Player A:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 149

Player B:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 315

Player A:  Walks – 857

Player B:  Walks – 670

Player A:  Times Struck Out – 1,116

Player B:  Times Struck Out – 1,423

Player A:  WAR – 49.9

Player B:  WAR – 47.2

Player A:  Gold Gloves – 4

Player B:  Gold Gloves – 0

Player A:  All Star Games – 9

Player B:  All Star Games – 8

Player A:  MVP Awards – 1

Player B:  MVP Awards – 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Major League Ballparks: Largest to Smallest

Sometimes you look at a stadium filled to capacity, and you wonder why they didn’t build it just a bit larger so it could accommodate more people.  On the other hand, you could go to a Mets game at Citi Field in August, and wonder why they didn’t build it half as large, so it wouldn’t look quite so empty.

Here, then, is a complete list (largest to smallest) of each MLB stadium, along with their officially listed seating capacity:

1)  Dodger Stadium – 56,000

2)  Coors Field –  50,480

3)  Yankee Stadium – 50,291

4)  Turner Field – 49,586

5)  Rogers Centre – 49,282

6)  Chase Field – 48,633

7)  Rangers Ballpark – 48,114

8)  Safeco Field – 47,476

9)  Camden Yards – 45,971

10) Angel Stadium – 45,483

11) Busch Stadium – 43,975

12) Citizens Bank Park – 43,651

13) Petco Park – 42,524

14) Great American Ballpark – 42,319

15) Progressive Field – 42,241

16) Minute Maid Park – 42,060

17) Citi Field – 41,922

18) AT&T Park – 41,915

19) Miller Park – 41,900

20) Nationals Park – 41,418

21) Comerica Park – 41,255

22) Wrigley Field – 41,019

23) U.S. Cellular Field – 40,615

24) Target Field – 39,021

25) PNC Park – 38,362

26) Kauffman Stadium – 37,903

27) Fenway Park – 37,499

28) Marlins Park – 36,742

29) O.co Coliseum – 35,067

30) Tropicana Field – 34,078

You can also call this list, the Incredible Shrinking Ballpark.  Ballpark construction certainly is headed down as far as seating capacity is concerned.  During the last boom of construction in the 1960’s and ’70’s, stadiums regularly topped 50,000 seats.  For many years, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park were normally the two “coziest” parks in baseball.  Now, about half the parks seat 42,000 or fewer folks, while 23% of MLB parks now seat fewer than 40,000 fans.

 

Ten Fast Starts in Baseball History

In baseball, as in life, it’s important to get off to a good start.  If I begin my day, for example, by mistakenly squeezing my wife’s hair gel on to my toothbrush, I know I’m in for a rough day.  And my first morning cup of coffee better have the right balance of sugar and cream, or the joy of the day will seep slowly away.

Championship baseball teams do not always get off to fast starts. The 1914 “Miracle” Braves began the season with a 4-18 record before going on to win the World Series.  Other teams stay close to the top before catching fire during the final four to six weeks, stealing victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.

Often, however, a championship team (or at least a playoff-bound team) will send a message to the rest of the league early, making it clear that they’re out for blood. The obvious advantage of getting off to a quick start is, of course, that it leaves said team with a certain margin for error as the season plays out.  Also, it puts early pressure on their divisional opponents to not fall too far behind too quickly.  

While this is not a scientific, comprehensive study of this topic, the following ten teams are examples of how and why a fast start can make it virtually inevitable that the team that sprints out of the gate most successfully will often be the team celebrating (at least) a division title come October.

1) 2001 Seattle Mariners – Finished the season with a Major League record 116 wins against just 42 losses. The Mariners began the season with a 20-5 record in April, and were 40-12 at the end of May.  They won their division, and advanced all the way to the A.L. Championship series vs. the Yankees, where they lost in five exciting games.

2) 1986 New York Mets – Posted a record of 108-54, winning their division by 21.5 games over the second place Phillies.    The Mets enjoyed a 13-3 April, including an 11-game winning streak, and were 31-12 by Memorial Day.  They would, of course, go on to defeat the Red Sox in a seven-game World Series thriller.

3) 1998 New York Yankees – Before the Mariners won a record 116 games in ’01, the Yanks had set the record themselves with 114 wins in ’98.  The Yanks finished 22 games ahead of the second-place Red Sox in the A.L. East.  After dropping four of their first five, the Yankees quickly righted the ship and won 16 of their next 18 games, finishing April with a 17-6 record, which further improved to  37-13 after two months.  The Yanks would go on to sweep the Padres in four World Series games.

4) 1984 Detroit Tigers – The Tigers began the season 35-5, and never looked back.  They led their division from wire-to-wire, eventually winning a total of 104 games.  Starting pitcher Jack Morris, who tossed a no-hitter in April, was already 10-1 before the end of May (though he was just 9-10 after that point.)  Morris also won three playoff games that season, posting a 1.80 ERA in those three starts.  The Tigers defeated the Padres in a five-game World Series.

5) 1969 Baltimore Orioles – Blew away the rest of the A.L., winning 109 games.  The Orioles finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the A.L. East in the inaugural year of divisional play.  After sweeping a double-header by the combined score of 19-5 on May 4th against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles were already 20-8 on the young season.  Through May 30th, they were 34-14.  The Orioles would defeat the Twins in the first ever A.L. Championship series, then would shockingly win just one game in the ’69 Series vs. the Mets.

6) 1956 New York Yankees – Another in a long line of Yankee championship teams, the ’56 Yanks won seven of their first eight ball games, and were cruising with a 29-13 record by May 31st.  They finished the year with 97 wins, dropping their final two decisions at Fenway Park.  They went on to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a seven-game World Series.  Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in Game 5.

7) 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers – The only 20th-century Brooklyn team to win a World Championship, Dem Bums ran off ten straight victories to start the season, and were an unbelievable 22-2 by May 10th.  By the end of May, they were 32-11.  Ultimately, the Dodgers won 98 games, then defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

8) 1931 Philadelphia Athletics – This highly talented group finished the season with 107 wins, 13 more than the mighty Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig.  Admittedly, the A’s were just 7-7 at one point, but then won 17 consecutive games and went into June with a record of 30-10.  Nevertheless, this particular Athletics team lost the ’31 World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

9) 1927 New York Yankees – Murderer’s Row opened the first week of their historic season by going 6-0-1 in the first week of the season.  By May 19th, they were 21-8-1 en route to a 110-44-1 season.  They finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Athletics.  In the World Series, they systematically dismantled the Pirates in just four games.

10) 1905 New York Giants – This team featured Christy Mathewson, “Iron Joe” McGinnity, Roger Bresnahan and, for one game, the mysterious “Moonlight” Graham.  The Giants began the season by winning six of their first seven games, and were 25-6 by May 23rd.  Ultimately, they would win 105 games on the season.  In just the second World Series ever played, John McGraw’s Giants would defeat Connie Mack’s Athletics in five games, a Series in which Christy Mathewson would toss three shutouts in six days.

As you can see, there are several examples in baseball history of the importance of getting off to a fast start.  While this has not been the path followed by each and every championship squad, a good start often does bode well for a team’s chances of making the playoffs.

Major League Ballparks, Oldest to Newest

Lately I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to go on a cross-country tour of each of the Major League ballparks in North America.  I’ve been to four MLB parks in my life, only one of which, Fenway Park, still exists (RIP:  Seattle Kingdome, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, and New York’s Shea Stadium.)

Then I got to thinking about how many new stadiums have been built over the past 15 years or so, and that led me to consider ranking every MLB park from oldest to newest.  What would that list look like?

Well, here it is:

1)  Fenway Park, Boston – 1912

2)  Wrigley Field, Chicago – 1914

3)  Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles – 1962

4)  Angel Stadium of Anaheim, California – 1966

4)  The Coliseum, Oakland – 1966

6)  Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, MO – 1973

7)  Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario – 1989

8)  Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg – 1990

9)  U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago (South Side) – 1991

10) Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore – 1992

11) Progressive Field, Cleveland – 1994

11) Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington, TX – 1994

13) Coors Field, Denver – 1995

14) Turner Field, Atlanta – 1996

15) Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ – 1998

16) Safeco Field, Seattle, WA – 1999

17) AT&T Park, San Francisco – 2000

17) Comerica Park, Detroit – 2000

17) Minute Maid Park, Houston – 2000

20) Miller Park, Milwaukee – 2001

20) PNC Park, Pittsburgh – 2001

22) Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati – 2003

23) Citizen’s Bank Park, Philadelphia – 2004

23) Petco Park, San Diego, 2004

25) Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO – 2006

26) Nationals Park, Washington, D.C. – 2008

27) Citi Field, (Queens) New York – 2009

27) Yankee Stadium, (Bronx) New York – 2009

29) Target Field, Minneapolis, MN – 2010

30) Marlins Park, Miami, FL – 2012

Only two stadiums, the Rogers Centre in Toronto and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg (which, as you’ll notice, were built just a year apart, and are each in the A.L. East), still use artificial turf.

Fourteen ballparks, representing 47% of all the parks in MLB, have been built since the year 2000.

Camden Yards in Baltimore, at one time the showpiece of the return to the “retro” ballparks, is now the tenth oldest park in America.

No ballparks built in the 1920’s, ’30’s, 40’s, or ’50’s are still in existence, and only one each from the ’70’s and ’80’s are still in use today.

Since 1999, the only teams to have won a World Series after moving into a new stadium are the Giants and the Cardinals (twice each), the Phillies (won in 2008), and the Yankees (won in 2009.)  It’s interesting to note that the Cardinals and the Yankees each won the World Series in their first year in their new parks.  Also, the Tigers have been to two World Series since 2000, but lost them both.

Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles is capable of holding the most fans (56,000.)

Tropicana Field can hold the fewest (34,000.)  There are currently seven ballparks that are designed to seat fewer than 40,000 people, including three that have been built since the year 2000.

If you are currently at least 50 years old, all but two of the ballparks currently in use have been built in your lifetime.

I guess I need to do some traveling.  Which parks have you been to?  Which ones do you like the most?  Which ones would you like to finally see for the first time?

Always happy to hear from you.

Ten Facts About Lenny Dykstra

You may have heard that former Mets / Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra, already serving jail-time

Grand Theft Auto (film)

Grand Theft Auto (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

for Grand Theft Auto, has now had an additional six months added to his prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud, hiding baseball gloves and other souvenirs from his playing days that were supposed to be part of his bankruptcy settlement.

Apparently out to convince the public that he isn’t a one-trick pony, he has also been accused of indecent exposure through the use of Craigslist ads.

Alas, there was a time, not that long ago, when Lenny Dykstra was merely a well-paid baseball player.  Dykstra played in the Majors from 1985-96.  You may recall him as being a fine ballplayer.  That’s how I choose to remember him.

Here are ten facts about Lenny Dykstra, the baseball player:

1)  He was born Leonard Kyle Dykstra in Santa Ana, CA in 1963, and raised in Garden Grove, CA.

2)  He was drafted by the Mets in the 13th round of the amateur draft in 1981.  He was just 18-years old.

3)  Listed as 5’10” and 160 pounds, he was a small but tough (as Nails, hence his nickname) package of speed and surprising power.

4)  In his MLB debut on May 3, 1985, leading off for the Mets, Lenny went 2-5, scored twice, drove in two runs, stole a base, and hit a home run to straightaway center-field off of Reds pitcher Mario Soto.  It would be the only home run Dykstra would hit in 273 plate appearances in ’85, but he would go on to hit 80 more in the regular season in his career.

5)  In the Mets World Championship season of 1986, Dykstra, in his first full season at age 23, finished among the top 20 in N.L. MVP voting.  He was successful in 31 of 38 steal attempts, drew more walks than strikeouts, finished in the top ten in the N.L. in WAR, and posted an OPS+ of 129.

6)  In the ’86 World Series against the Red Sox, after the Mets had lost the first two games of the Series at Shea Stadium, Dykstra led off Game Three at Fenway Park by launching a lead-off home run down the right-field line.  It was one of four hits Dykstra would tally that evening.  The Mets would go on to win the game, 7-1.

7)  In 32 career post-season games for the Mets and the Phillies, Dykstra posted a triple slash line of .321 / .433 /.661, with an astonishing ten homers in just 112 at bats.  He also scored 27 runs, and was a perfect 5-5 in stolen base attempts.

Juan Samuel

Juan Samuel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Dykstra was traded for Juan Samuel in the middle of the 1989 season.  In the one half-season that Samuel played for the Mets, he posted a triple slash line of .228 / .299 / .300.  His OPS+ was 76.  Dykstra would go on to lead the N.L. in hits twice, in runs scored once, in walks once, and in on-base percentage once with the Phils.  In his first four years with the Phils, he would post OPS+ scores of 138, 132, 122 and 144.

9)  In just 1,278 MLB games, Dykstra produced a career WAR of 41.0, higher than former star players Gil Hodges, Don Mattingly, Al Oliver, Carlos Delgado, Curt Flood, Tony Oliva and teammate Darryl Strawberry.

10)  Dykstra retired as a player at age 33 in 1996 after just 40 games.  His no-holds barred style of play resulted in injuries that certainly shortened his impressive career.  Still a young man, Dykstra, lured by the temptation of easy money, fell prey to many of the same influences that have destroyed the lives and reputations of so many others along the way.

Here’s to hoping he is able to salvage the rest of his life someday.  Meanwhile, I prefer to recall Dykstra as the player he was, not the man he was to become.

After I post this, I’ll be taking a hiatus from blogging for a few weeks until after the New Year.  Might be doing some traveling, for a change.  Hope you all have a great Christmas, or whatever it is you celebrate.  Stay safe, and I’ll see you when I get back.

Cheers,

Bill

Eight Reasons Why the Red Sox Stink in 2012

Personally, I have nothing against the Red Sox.  It is true that, as a Mets fan, I did get my biggest baseball thrill from watching the Mets beat the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.  Yet I’ve never felt any animosity towards the proud Red Sox franchise.  In fact, I always root for the Red Sox to defeat the Yankees.

Still, a fact is a fact, and there is no denying that the 2012 version of the Red Sox are the least enjoyable, not to mention the least successful, Red Sox team I have witnessed in many years.

Not being a regular viewer of Red Sox games (though when I lived up in Maine for 20+ years, I often listened to WEEI, Red Sox radio), I haven’t paid close attention to the BoSox relative failure this year, aside from occasionally looking at the A.L. standings.

So I decided to examine a bit more closely why the Red Sox, despite their prodigious payroll, fanatical fan-base, and the bewildering wizardry of stat guru, Bill James, this team stinks.

Here are eight items I came up with:

1)  Red Sox pitchers are giving up too many bases on balls.  As of this writing, Red Sox pitchers have surrendered 370 walks this year.  Only four A.L. pitching staffs have walked more batters.  The Yankees pitching staff, by way of contrast, have walked the fewest.  They can’t score if you don’t put them on.

Josh Beckett 01:38, 23 July 2008 . . PhreddieH...

Josh Beckett 01:38, 23 July 2008 . . PhreddieH3 . . 1,943×2,936 (2.01 MB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  The Red Sox pitching staff is starting to show its age.  They are now the third oldest group of pitchers in the A.L.  Obviously, some pitchers age faster than others.  The Yankees staff is actually a bit older.  But Red Sox pitchers appear to be exhibiting a bit more wear and tear thus far than their New York counterparts.

Josh Beckett, for example, is 32 going on 36.  And Clay Buccholz, whom some Red Sox fans still maintain is a rising star, recently turned 28-years old.

In fact, the Red Sox currently have just one pitcher on their staff, the combustible Felix Doubront (4.70 ERA) under the age of 25.

3)  The Curse of the Piano.  What, you thought that just because the Red Sox won two World Series in the past eight years, that they’d no longer be cursed?  Well, no one told the Babe, a moulderin’ in his grave.  Perhaps you’ve never hear of the curse of the piano?  Well, unless someone drags the Babe’s old piano out of the pond up in Sudbury, this “other” curse might just linger for another century.

4)  Bobby Valentine is entirely miscast as a Major League manager.  In fact, he would be miscast as a manager at any level.  A manager, like a teacher, is a father figure (assuming the male gender, of course.)  Bobby V. is not a father figure.  He is the odd uncle who comes over on Christmas afternoon with his latest exotic girlfriend, this one from Saigon, the last one from the Philippines.

Always too quick to put little brother up on his shoulders (narrowly missing the overhead fan by mere inches), he always has an odd anecdote to tell about a business deal that narrowly went sour.  When he finally leaves around 7:45 p.m., he’s had one too many, and his hugs are awkward, and strangely tearful.  His girlfriend will do the driving, and you know as you wave to them as they back out of your dad’s icy driveway, you won’t see or hear from him again until next Christmas.

Wally the Green Monster

Wally the Green Monster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  Wally the Green Monster, the Red Sox’ mascot, has been having some problems of his own.  After a torrid, three-year affair with Bernie Brewer, followed by a brief, drunken fling with the Milwaukee Sausages, Wally the Green Monster had just about settled down with the Swinging Friar (San Diego.)

But it turns out that the Swinging Friar had a few secrets of his own.  Apparently, he’s been seen leaving some local San Diego hot spots with the always unpredictable Stomper (Oakland), himself recently recovering from an addiction to powdered, fried dough.

Word is that Wally has been so depressed lately that he’s usually hung over and asleep inside the Green Monster until the 8th inning, when misty-eyed and reckless, he starts to undress for the fans in the center field bleachers during the bizarre routine of the disembodied voice of Neil Diamond singing “Sweet Caroline.”

Socks

Socks (Photo credit: scalkins)

6)  Their socks.  They’ve been the Red Sox now for over a hundred years.  Perhaps it’s time to change those socks?

When either of my sons goes a couple of days without changing theirs, the stench is unbearable.  Why should it be any different for Major League baseball players who sweat in theirs all day long?

So, in keeping with the Sox recent advances into the 21st century (a Facebook page!), here’s a look (see pic) at what the BoSox are considering for their players next season.  David Ortiz is already on record endorsing the new look saying, “My toes get cold in April and in October.  Those little toes on the socks look toasty and warm.  I hate New England weather.”

7)  Their Offense:  Despite the fact that the Red Sox are among the league-leaders in runs scored, there are some problems here as well.  For starters, Carl Crawford, a huge disappointment since he joined the Sox (his on-base percentage in his last 160 games played is .293), is about to undergo Tommy John surgery Tuesday.  Meanwhile, Jacoby Ellsbury, who enjoyed an MVP-caliber season last year, currently sports a .309 on-base percentage to go along with his one home run and six stolen bases.  Last year, he had over 30 steals and 30 homers.

The injury bug, then, has seriously affected the Red Sox ability to add to their already very respectable run totals.

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox on deck i...

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox on deck in Fenway Park in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Their Enthusiasm:  It hasn’t been this boring to watch the Red Sox play (and I don’t very often) since the heady days of Phil Plantier, Bob Zupcic, Jody Reed, and Luis Rivera.  The Red Sox have finished below .500 just three times since 1992.  This year could be their fourth finish below .500 in 20 years.

Worse, it is hard to say that any of the players on the field look like they’re enjoying themselves.  Sure, losing sucks, but you’re not likely to play any better if your approach is the same as the man who gets to go to work in the West Virginia coal mines, earning a tiny fraction of what the players make.  Gone are team leaders like Varitek, Wakefield, Millar and Damon, guys that could both lighten up the clubhouse and/or lead by example.

For the sake of the Red Sox and their fans, some of the veterans on this team (and it can’t be just Dustin Pedroia) have to step up and lead by example, while demonstrating to the kids that playing baseball can still be fun, even if you are expected to take home obscene amounts of cash.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Ted Williams

Ted Williams is commonly considered the greatest hitter in baseball history.

He was the last batter to hit over .400 (.406 in 1941, at age 22), and he won the Triple Crown twice in his career.  No modern player has won the Triple Crown even once since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.

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

English: An image of Major League Baseball hall of famer Ted Williams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Williams was an uncommonly patient hitter who hit a lot of home runs and drew a lot of bases on balls.  Unlike the mythical portrayal of “Casey at the Bat,” a superlative slugger who wasn’t afraid to strike out, Williams actually didn’t strike out very often.  In other words, he did not sacrifice batting average for power.

If you peruse Williams’ career numbers over at Baseball-Reference.com (as indispensable a baseball reference tool as exists anywhere), you’ll find lots of “black ink” on his resume, indicating that he led his league in multiple offensive categories several times throughout his fabled career.

There are batting crowns, home run titles, and, for the modern sabermetrics-inclined baseball fan, OPS+ and WAR victories as well.

But did Ted Williams, the greatest hitter of all-time, ever lead his league in hits?  

To clarify, I’ve already pointed out that Williams won several batting titles.  But was there a single season during which he actually accumulated the most safe hits in his league?

Among players who have won batting titles, several of them have also led their league in hits.  Tony Gwynn, for example, won eight batting crowns and also led his league in base hits seven times.

Ty Cobb won an amazing 11 batting titles and led the league in base hits eight times.  Rogers Hornsby won seven hitting crowns and led the league in hits four times.

Generally speaking, then, players who win multiple batting crowns also tend to  lead their league in actual hits at least some of the time.

It may surprise you to learn, then, that Ted Williams never once led his league in hits.

Ted Williams’ career high for hits in a season was 194 in 1949, when he was 30-years old.  Interestingly, despite winning six batting titles in his career, Williams did not lead the league in hitting in the season in which he accumulated a career high in base hits.

Ted Williams in the Marines

Ted Williams in the Marines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The secret to all those batting titles for Ted Williams, was, of course, his fantastic batting eye.  He might not have accumulated a staggering number of hits, but, perhaps more importantly, he generated very few outs per plate appearance, relative to virtually every other hitter who ever played the game.

Ted Williams simply would not swing at a bad pitch.  When he was in the batter’s box, it was the pitcher who was immediately at a disadvantage, despite the fact that the pitcher could throw any pitch he wanted, at any speed he wanted, anywhere he preferred.

What then to make of baseball’s continuing fetish for high hit totals, especially 200-hit seasons?

Just a decade and a half after Williams retired, Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey, a ten time All-Star and the N.L. MVP award winner in 1974 was widely regarded as one of the best players in the game.  Garvey made a science of accumulating 200 hits in a season, apparently reasoning that it was an obvious mark of excellence.  He reached the 200 hit mark six times in seven years from 1974-80.

Yet Garvey, who never walked more than 50 times in a season, also never won a batting title.  I recall as a boy growing up at the time that a base on balls was considered a wasted plate appearance.  Apparently, there were many players at the professional level who believed the same thing (and some who still do.)  As Juaqin Phoenix’s character, Merrell Hess says in the movie, Signs, “It just felt wrong not to swing.”

There have been many baseball pundits, philosophers, managers, coaches, players and mere fans who have reasoned over the past several decades that to hit for power, you have to sacrifice some batting average.

Sluggers are supposed to drive in runs by driving home runs out of the park.  Meanwhile, the rest of the players — especially at the top of the lineup — like Pete Rose, Lou Brock and Ichiro (none of whom drew very many walks overall)  are supposed to swing away, lashing singles and doubles around the park.

Yet Ted Williams proved long ago that a slugger does not have to sacrifice batting average for power, and that the number of base hits a player accumulates is not really all that important a statistic.

It appears, though, that Ted Williams was just way ahead of his time, and it has taken so-called baseball experts a while to catch up.

But the great ones are always ahead of their time and, as far as hitting is concerned, Ted Williams was the greatest of them all.

The Best Players I Have Ever Seen (Live)

Tomorrow I will be purchasing a dozen tickets to a baseball game for a group of people I work with.  We will be going to a Greenville Drive (Single A Red Sox) minor league baseball game in early May.  I don’t get to as many games as I used to, and I haven’t been to a Major League baseball game in an embarrassingly long time.

Greenville Drive marquee sign

Greenville Drive marquee sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, baseball is baseball, and Fluor Field here in Greenville is a nice facsimile of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster of its own in left field.

This got me to thinking of all the players I’ve seen live over the years, in both minor league and major league baseball parks.  So, inevitably, I decided to make a list of the best players I’ve seen in person at each position since my first game at Shea Stadium in 1974.  I’ve included the year and the city in which I witnessed them play.

First Base:  Steve Garvey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Willie McCovey (Shea Stadium, 1977), Willie Stargell (Shea Stadium, 1979), John Olerud (Seattle Kingdome, 1993), Mo Vaughn (Fenway Park, 1998.)

I was lucky to have seen a pair of first baseman, Garvey in ’74 and Stargell in ’79, who would each win their league’s MVP award that season.

Second Base:  Dave Lopes (Shea Stadium, 1974),  Rennie Stennett (Shea Stadium, 1976), Dave Cash (Shea Stadium, 1976), Roberto Alomar (Kingdome, 1993).

Not a lot to offer here.  Alomar was just beginning to reveal his greatness in ’93.

Sorry, fellow Mets fan, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to add Felix Millan to this list.

Fenway Park on June 21, 2008

Fenway Park on June 21, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Third Base:  Ron Cey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Mike Schmidt (Shea Stadium, 1976, ’77), Lenny Randle (Shea Stadium, 1977), Richie Hebner (Shea Stadium, 1979),  Butch Hobson (Fenway Park, 1979), Robin Ventura (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).

One Hall of Famer and…Lenny Randle.  Hebner supplemented his income in the off-season by digging graves.  Ventura’s career WAR of 55.5 is right there with several HOF’ers, including Boudreau, Medwick, Herman, Kelley, Terry and Gordon.

Shortstop: Bud Harrelson (Shea, 1974), Larry Bowa (Shea, 1976, ’77), Nomar Garciappara (New Britain, CT, Double-A Minor League park, while playing for the Trenton Thunder, 1995), Nomar Garciappara (Fenway Park, 1998), Edgar Renteria (Portland, ME, Double-A Minor League park, Portland SeaDogs, 1995), A-Rod (Fenway Park,  1999).

Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo...

Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo by me, alcinoe 06:36, 25 September 2007 . . Alcinoe . . 1,100×768 (256 KB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s some real talent to choose from there.  Renteria was just 18-years old when he had a breakout season playing up north for the Portland SeaDogs.  I watched him play there several times in ’95.  I also watched a very skinny Nomar lash a triple and make an outstanding defensive play in Double-A for the BoSox minor league team that same year. He was clearly the star of the show that day.

Catcher:  This is where mediocrity rules the day.  Jerry Grote or Steve Yeager in ’74?  (both fine defensive catchers), John Stearns (at Shea in ’78?)  Stearns set the N.L. record for steals in a season by a catcher (25).  How about Ed Ott (Shea, 1979) of the Pirates?

Charles Johnson of the Sea Dogs was a fine defensive catcher who could hit with some power.  He became the very first draft pick ever for the Florida Marlins in 1992.  I saw him play in Portland a few times in ’94 and ’95.

But I suppose I’ll have to take Jason Kendall who turned in a fine performance for the Pirates back in 2000 (Three Rivers Stadium.)  Ironically, Kendall broke John Stearns N.L. single-season stolen base record for catchers a couple of years earlier.

Three Rivers Stadium

Three Rivers Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I wanted to cheat, I would add Pudge Rodriguez and Mickey Tettleton, both with the Rangers, each of whom I saw play in Spring Training in 1996 down in Florida.

Outfield:  Jimmy Wynn (Toy Cannon came to Shea in ’74), Rusty Staub (Shea, several times throughout the mid-70’s), Dave Kingman (Shea, ’75 and ’76), Del Unser (Shea, 1975), Greg Luzinski (Shea, ’76, ’77), Lee Mazzilli (Shea, 1977-’81), Dave Parker (Shea, ’79), Freddy Lynn (Fenway, ’79)  Jim Rice (Fenway, ’79), Dwight Evans (Fenway, ’79), Bobby Bonds (Fenway, ’79), Ken Griffey, Jr. (Kingdome, 1993, Fenway Park, 1998), Jay Buhner (Kingdome, 1993), Joe Carter (Kingdome, 1993), Brian Giles (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).

But Vladimir Guerrerro (Harrisburg Senators, Expos AA team, playing at Portland, ME, 1996) is responsible for my favorite jaw-dropping performance.  I watched Vlad take apart the Sea Dogs in a game in the summer of ’96 where he hit a ball so hard to straight away center field, that it was still rising slightly on a line over the raised, distant scoreboard, and it just kept going like a missile until it hit a clump of trees at the base of the railroad track up on an embankment beyond the stadium.

I’d never heard a ball hit that hard in my life.  Neither had anyone else in the park, for as young Vlad rounded the bases, the stadium was just stunned into silence.  It was as if a shotgun blast had just echoed around the park.  I remember turning to my brother after this homer and saying, “Looks like this kid’s got a pretty good future ahead of him, huh?”

Designated Hitter:  I think I’ve seen only about a half a dozen games in American League ballparks, but I have seen three of the best.

Carl Yastrzemski (Fenway Park, 1979), Paul Molitor (Kingdome, 1993), Edgar Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998).  Edgar did not play in the game I went to at the Kingdome in ’93.

Shea

Shea (Photo credit: Kethera)

Pitchers:  Don Sutton (Shea, 1974), Tom Seaver (Shea, 1975), Jerry Koosman (Shea, 1976), Randy Jones (Shea, 1976), Jerry Reuss (Shea, 1980), Dwight Gooden (on Rehab., pitching for Tidewater vs. Maine Guides, Triple-A, Old Orchard Beach, ME, 1987), Al Leiter (Kingdome, 1993), Roger Clemens (Fenway Park, 1996), Tom Gordon (Fenway Park, 1996), Pedro Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998), Al Leiter (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000), Josh Beckett (Hadlock Field, Portland, ME, pitching for the Double-A Sea Dogs, 2001).

So I got to see Al Leiter twice, seven year apart, pitching for two different teams (Blue Jays and Mets.)  I’ve seen five pitchers who have won Cy Young awards.

That’s it.  By my count, I’ve seen nine players who are already in the Hall of Fame.  I’ve also seen several others (A-Rod, Griffey, Jr., Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens) who certainly have a case for future HOF induction.  Also, players like Evans, Staub, Nomar and Edgar Martinez were all among the very best players of their respective eras.

But an entire generation of new, young players has emerged in the last few years, few of whom I’ve had a chance to go out and see perform live.

Guess it’s time to buy those tickets.

2011 Hall of Fame Vote: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Perplexing

Jeff Bagwell

Image via Wikipedia

The results are in, and there weren’t any major surprises.  Bert (we suddenly loved you all along) Blyleven (79.7%), and Robbie (sorry we messed up last year) Alomar (90%), were the only two players on this year’s ballot elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Looking over the percentage of votes each player received from the BBWAA revealed interesting results, some unexpected, some utterly perplexing.

THE GOOD:

1)  Roberto Alomar will now be enshrined in The Hall.  Alomar was a stunning offensive player, and although his defense was a bit overrated (see my last bl0g-post), he certainly belongs in The Hall.  Some bloggers / writers have Alomar rated as among the top three 2nd basemen of all-time.  I think that overstates his legacy a bit much.  I am comfortable rating Alomar in the top 5-10 second basemen ever.

2)  Bert Blyleven, the Bearded Dutchman, joins Alomar.   Personally, I don’t think I would have voted for Blyleven.  I know that some people will think it’s outrageous to hold this opinion, but if he was such an obvious HOF candidate, then why has he been passed over 13 previous times?  Some people point to his 3,701 career strikeouts (5th all-time) as one bit of evidence that he should be enshrined.  But he averaged 6.7 K’s / 9 innings in his career, good, but not great.

Voting for Blyleven isn’t voting for greatness; it voting for remarkable durability (he averaged 245 innings pitched per season in his career.)

So why file his election under THE GOOD?

First, because I have nothing against Blyleven personally, and there’s no reason to rain on his parade.  Obviously, this vote means a lot to Blyleven and his supporters.

Second, because now that his enshrinement is a done deal, we can start to focus a little more seriously on some of the other players who also deserve enshrinement.  Which brings us to…

3)  Barry Larkin: Larkin received a promising 62% of votes cast, an improvement over the 51% he received last year, his first on the ballot.  Larkin is one of the ten best shortstops of all-time, and the best N.L. shortstop of his era.  It will be interesting to see if his relatively strong showing this year represents his high-water mark, or if it is a stepping-stone to future Hall induction.

Next year’s relatively weak class of first-time HOF candidates, however, could work in his favor.  Let’s hope it does.

THE BAD:

1)  Jeff Bagwell, an obvious Hall of Famer if there ever was one (unless you really weren’t paying attention), received a lower percentage of votes (41.7%)  than I thought he would, and I had low expectations for him going into this election.  His (hopefully temporary) rejection does not, however, come as a surprise because, and there is no way to sugarcoat this, many of the BBWAA voters are cowards.

What are they afraid of?  They are afraid to induct a player that they know, statistically speaking, should be a first-ballot HOF’er because they believe he just MIGHT have used steroids.

Even though Bagwell’s name has never appeared on any list of users, and even though no former teammates of his have ever accused him of being a user,  somehow an internet driven whiff of scandal has created a false cloud of controversy over his name and reputation.

And the voters are deathly, and unreasonably, afraid that if they were to induct Bagwell into The Hall, and then it was later revealed that he was, after all, a steroid user, then they would look foolish.

But they are wrong.  If (as unlikely as it is) that Bagwell was elected and then, at some later date, it turns out he was a user, then the shame of his tainted induction would be on him, not on the voters.

In other words, placing the onus of responsibility on a particular player to prove that he didn’t use steroids is unreasonable and unjust.  Guilty until proven innocent is the fallback position favored by cowards in an irrationally fearful society, and history is seldom kind to those who accuse others of some perceived crime, who then later turn out to have been innocent.

Prediction:  Bagwell is eventually elected into The Hall, but it could take a while.

2)  Larry Walker: Much of what I have just written about Bagwell can be applied to the case of Larry Walker as well.  And, as an added obstacle to The Hall, Walker is penalized for having played in the best hitter’s park ever constructed in one of the better era for hitter’s in modern history.

Only one in five voters (20%) believe Walker had a HOF career.

Setting aside the steroid issue, on which you have probably already formed an opinion, yes, Walker benefited from playing at Coor’s Field.  But I can’t think of any other player in baseball history who was penalized for having similar good fortune.  For example, if you had put Jim Rice in the Astrodome for his entire career, he certainly would not have ended up in The Hall.  Conversely, if you had put Jimmy Wynn in Fenway Park for his career, he would have put up HOF numbers.

As another example, Mel Ott hit 323 (63%) of his 511 career home runs at the Polo Grounds, the highest total any player ever hit in their home ballpark.

Walker was already an outstanding player before he signed with the Rockies.  He was a great defensive player, an excellent base-runner, and could hit for power and average.

Yet his relatively poor showing in this year’s Hall of Fame vote does not portend, I fear, an eventual Hall induction.  More likely, he will continue to languish in the Dale Murphy/ Ted Simmons limbo, never taken quite seriously enough by the BBWAA that the full weight of his career will ever receive anything other than token appreciation.

3) Tim Raines: Raines was named on 37% of the ballots cast.  It is clear that Raine’s cocaine use, as well as the Conventional Wisdom that other lead-off hitters such as Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock outshone him, will probably keep Raines out of the Hall.  I can’t think of any other reason why someone would not vote for him.  The Conventional Wisdom in this case is, as it often proves to be,  just plain wrong.

The Utterly Perplexing:

1)  Edgar Martinez: (33% support) – What to do with Edgar Martinez, one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball history?  The crux of the issue is, there is no consensus on what constitutes a legitimate baseball player.  And don’t wait for the Baseball Hall of Fame to clarify the issue of what to do with the virtual life-time DH anymore than they will the issue of players linked to steroids.

The Hall of Fame, an institution that should be jealously guarding its reputation, has been cryptically, irresponsibly silent on the salient issues of the day regarding baseball, and the players it accepts for enshrinement.

2)  Lee Smith: Smith, 3rd on the all-time Saves list, was snubbed, appearing on 45% of the  ballots  cast.  What is a closer to do?  Either Saves, as a statistic, impress you, or they do not.

Smith emerged from the single-inning “clean” Save era, where 9th inning specialists usually entered the game with no one on base, and three outs to work with.  Sounds simple enough, and Smith did his job well.  But is this task, however well-performed, impressive enough to merit HOF recognition?

I believe, despite the large number of closers who compiled over 300 saves, that the voters will ultimately reward only a small handful of these specialists.  Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman come to mind as probable future inductees.  But I don’t believe that the BBWAA membership is all that impressed by raw Save totals.  Nor do I believe that they should be.

3)  Fred McGriff: (18% support) – Why the lack of love for the Crime Dog?  If I told you that a player who hit just under 500 home runs, registered eight 100+ RBI seasons, who had the same OPS+ as Al Kaline, and who has never been linked to steroids, appeared to be on the road to nowhere regarding Hall of Fame enshrinement, what would you think?  Frankly, I don’t know what to think, either.

4)  Marquis Grissom received four votes.  Tino Martinez received six votes.  B.J. Surhoff nailed down two, and Brett Boone and Charles Johnson received HOF support from one voter each.  How is it that each of these decent but unspectacular players received votes for The Hall, yet so many writers do not see Bagwell, Raines, Larkin or Walker as Hall material?  It’s a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, without the inevitable “now it all makes sense” ending.

So what are your thoughts on today’s BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results?  I’d like to know.

The complete results from the BBWAA:

Name Votes Pct.
Roberto Alomar 523 90.0%
Bert Blyleven 463 79.7%
Barry Larkin 361 62.1%
Jack Morris 311 53.5%
Lee Smith 263 45.3%
Jeff Bagwell 242 41.7%
Tim Raines 218 37.5%
Edgar Martinez 191 32.9%
Alan Trammell 141 24.3%
Larry Walker 118 20.3%
Mark McGwire 115 19.8%
Fred McGriff 104 17.9%
Dave Parker 89 15.3%
Don Mattingly 79 13.6%
Dale Murphy 73 12.6%
Rafael Palmeiro 64 11.0%
Juan Gonzalez 30 5.2%
Harold Baines 28 4.8%
John Franco 27 4.6%
Kevin Brown 12 2.1%
Tino Martinez 6 1.0%
Marquis Grissom 4 0.7%
Al Leiter 4 0.7%
John Olerud 4 0.7%
B.J. Surhoff 2 0.3%
Bret Boone 1 0.2%
Benito Santiago 1 0.2%
Carlos Baerga 0 0.0%
Lenny Harris 0 0.0%
Bobby Higginson 0 0.0%
Charles Johnson 0 0.0%
Raul Mondesi 0 0.0%
Kirk Rueter 0 0.0%

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 9 – The Boston Red Sox

Back in the 1970’s, a powerfully built young black man roamed the outfield in Fenway Park.  Although he would go on to hit over 300 home runs in his career, he would never ingratiate himself with the powerful Boston sports media.

Born in the South, he found himself playing for an overwhelmingly white baseball team, the last to integrate in the years subsequent to Jackie Robinson’s arrival 200 miles south in Brooklyn.

But, although by now the Red Sox were integrated, they were far from harmonious.  According to an article published in Sports Illustrated on October 2, 1978 (about the Red Sox clubhouse in the late 1960’s-mid ’70’s), the Red Sox were divided up into at least four different cliques.

There was a Carl Yastrzemski group, a Jim Lonborg group, a Ken Harrelson group, and a Tony Conigliaro group.  Apparently, each group would throw parties primarily to exclude teammates they didn’t like.

Entering this fray, a black man on a team that had never had a black hero, was problematic enough.  But this particular black man, young and brash, was unafraid to speak his mind.

This did not turn out to be a good career move.

Labeled for years afterward as a negative clubhouse presence, his reputation overshadowed his physical skills as an athlete, particularly his powerful bat in the middle of the Red Sox lineup.

Reggie Smith, therefore, did not become Boston’s first great baseball superstar, although, by all rights, he should have.

Drafted by the Red Sox in December, 1963, Reggie Smith made his Major League debut in 1966 at the age of 21.  A switch-hitter with speed, power and a strong arm, Reggie Smith patrolled center field in Fenway for seven years.  During that time, he threw out base-runners, tracked down fly balls, slammed line drives, alienated fans, and pissed off the Boston media.

In that same S.I. article, Smith said he first realized that Boston was a racist city to play ball in when one of the Red Sox executives told him, early in his career,  that Smith had the kind of body that would last a long time in the Major Leagues.  At first believing he had been complemented, the executive then added, “Blacks have that kind of body.”

In another instance, Smith, running late for the team bus one day in his rookie season, complained that the team bus always waited for the sports writers and journalists, no matter how late they were, but sometimes threatened to leave players behind for being late.  Smith thought this was unfair, and said so.  In retaliation, a Boston sportswriter told Smith, “Son, I made you, now I’ll break you.”

Meanwhile, during his tenure with the Sox, Smith made two All-Star teams, led his league in doubles twice, in Total Bases once, batted over .300 three times, finished in the top ten in Slugging Percentage five times, led the A.L. in put-outs once, and in outfield assists once, and hit at least twenty home runs in five consecutive seasons.

Reggie Smith’s Best Forgotten Season with the Boston Red Sox was in 1971.

In 1971, at the age of 26, Smith led the A.L. in Total Bases with 302, in Extra Base Hits with 65, in doubles with 33, and in center field Range Factor at 2.94 chances per game.

Smith also finished second in Runs Created – 106, Assists – 15, third in RBI’s – 96, and forth in hits – 175.

Mysteriously, Smith finished only 17th in the voting for league M.V.P. in 1971.  Freddie Patek of the K.C. Royals, who amassed an embarrassingly flaccid .697 OPS  (143 points behind Smith), placed sixth in the voting.

During his tenure in Boston (excluding his rookie year), Smith’s OPS+ range was between 126-150, meaning he was always significantly better than a typical, league-average outfielder.

But by the end of 1973, Smith’s final year in Boston, the Fenway faithful were singing out to him, “Goodbye, Reggie, we’re glad to see you go.”

In 1974, still very much in his prime at the age of 29, Reggie Smith was traded to the Cardinals.  He enjoyed two productive seasons in St. Louis, including his first 100 RBI campaign in ’74, before finally settling in with the Dodgers in 1976.  Smith finished 4th in N.L. MVP voting twice in L.A., in both ’77 and ’78.

In Los Angeles, Smith came to be looked upon as a respected clubhouse veteran, a leader on and off the field.  In his thirties, Smith had found a place that recognized his talents, and that allowed him to shed his prior reputation, deserved or not, as a malcontent.

Switch-hitting Reggie Smith retired after playing one season with the Giants in 1982 at the age of 37.  He played on seven All-Star teams throughout his career, and was one of the best overall players in the decade of the ’70’s.

Ironically, in 1975, a couple of years after Smith’s turbulent exit from Boston, another young, black slugger (also born in the South), moved into the Red Sox outfield.  He, too, would experience his fair share of run-ins with the Boston sports media.

Jim Rice, however, gradually learned to keep his opinions to himself.  As a result, he spent his entire career with the Red Sox.  Rice, unlike Smith, finally made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, albeit after a 15-year wait.

Interestingly, although Rice generally posted better counting stats than Smith in his career, they aren’t that far apart in certain key statistics. For example, Rice’s career OPS is .854;  Smith’s is .855.  Rice’s career OPS+ is 128; Smith’s career OPS+ is 137.

It is, of course, impossible to say in retrospect how Smith’s career would have turned out if he had played for 15 years in the bandbox that is Fenway Park.  What we can say for sure is that, in 1971, Reggie Smith enjoyed one of the Best Forgotten Seasons in Red Sox history.

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