The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Jimmie Foxx”

My Inner-Circle Hall of Fame Choices

Over at Baseball Past and Present, Graham Womack is conducting a fun and interesting survey of who his readers believe are the best of the best, regarding baseball’s Hall of Fame.  He is calling it the Inner Circle project.  If you click on the link, you’ll find access to a ballot which includes players currently in the Hall of Fame.  Our challenge is to choose just 50 of them (and it has to be exactly 50) who theoretically make up the core of the Hall of Fame.

English: Original title: "Plenty of baseh...

English: Original title: “Plenty of basehits in these bats” Original description: Washington D.C., July 7. A million dollar base-ball flesh is represented in these sluggers of the two All- Star Teams which met in the 1937 game at Griffith Stadium today. Left to right: Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg, 7/7/37 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I submitted my ballot a couple of days ago, and decided to share it with all of you today.  I have to admit that I found it very challenging to restrict my list to just 50 players.  In my initial run through of the ballot, I checked off 65 names, and it was very difficult to decide which 15 players to knock off my list.

I suspect that somewhere around 30-40 players will appear on just about everyone’s ballot, but I anticipate some disagreement, perhaps a great deal, regarding the final 10 or so choices.

I decided to just list my choices without explanation, but I will be interested to hear which players you would have included or rejected compared to my ballot.

So here’s my list, as they appeared on the ballot:

1)  Al Kaline

2)  Babe Ruth

3)  Bob Feller

4)  Cal Ripkin

5)  Carl Yastrzemski

6)  Carlton Fisk

7)  Charlie Gehringer

8)  Christy Mathewson

9)  Cy Young

10) Duke Snider

11) Eddie Collins

12) Eddie Mathews

13) Eddie Murray

14) Frank Robinson

15) Gary Carter

16) George Brett

17) Hank Aaron

18) Harmon Killebrew

19) Honus Wagner

20) Jackie Robinson

21) Jimmie Foxx

22) Joe DiMaggio

23) Joe Morgan

24) Johnny Bench

25) Lefty Grove

26) Lou Gehrig

27) Mel Ott

28) Mickey Mantle

29) Mike Schmidt

30) Nap Lajoie

31) Paul Waner

32) Pete Alexander

33) Reggie Jackson

34) Rickey Henderson

35) Rod Carew

36) Rogers Hornsby

37) Sandy Koufax

38) Stan Musial

39) Steve Carlton

40) Ted Williams

41) Tom Seaver

42) Tony Gwynn

43) Tris Speaker

44) Ty Cobb

45) Wade Boggs

46) Walter Johnson

47) Warren Spahn

48) Willie Mays

49) Willie McCovey

50) Yogi Berra

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis – Final Thoughts

By my count, there are just over 200 former Major League baseball players in the Hall of Fame.  This does not count players who were eventually elected to The Hall not for what they did on the field, but for what they later did as coaches, managers, or even team owners.

Satchel Paige

Image via Wikipedia

I also did not count former Negro League players like Satchel Paige who, though he did spend some time in The Majors, is actually in The Hall primarily for his vast accomplishments as a Negro League pitcher.

After having written well over 15,000 words on this subject, I have come to several conclusions.

First, there is broad consensus on the top 40-50 players of all-time.  I don’t mean that you and I would come up with exactly the same list of players on such a list, just that if you polled a room-full of those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time on this stuff, our lists would not vary greatly.

So far, so good.

There are 23 players who have a career WAR over 100.  These are the shoo-ins.  There are another ten players who accumulated WAR between 90-99 in their respective careers (interestingly, this is one of the smallest cohort groups in the HOF.)

Among the players in the 90+ range include Christy Mathewson, Jimmie Foxx, and Al Kaline, so I think it’s probably safe to assume that expanding the Hall to at least the top 33 players would be acceptable to a reasonable person.

Yet, if we limit Hall membership to this elite group of 33 players to ensure that only the “best of the best” are included, we have slammed the door shut on Cal Ripkin, Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, and a dozen other players who generated 80-89.9 WAR in their careers.  And I know you’re not up for that, are you?

Now that I have strong-armed you into accepting the top 50 players, (as measured by WAR), into The Hall, I’m sure you feel like you can rest on your laurels here.  Just keep these 50 plaques in The Plaque Room in the HOF, and eliminate all the others.  Then you’ll have a TRUE Hall of Fame where only the best of the best are honored.

But we still have a couple of problems here (three actually.)  The first thing you might be forgetting is that baseball is constantly generating new players, some of whom are pretty damned good.  Albert Pujols, for example, is already approaching 90 WAR.  What happens when he is elected into The Hall?  To keep Hall membership exclusive by limiting it to just the 50 top players, whom do you then kick out of The Hall?  Wade Boggs?  Steve Carlton?  Good luck on that.

And Pujols won’t be the last player to top 80 career WAR in his career.

You also have another problem.  You still don’t have a catcher in the HOF.

WAR is tough on catchers (see Adam Darowski’s Hall of wWAR for more on this topic,) in large part because they just don’t play as often as other position players, and because the nature of the position takes a bigger toll on the human body, which tends to wear out faster than someone playing, say, first base.

Also, though this may be of lesser concern to you, there also aren’t any relief pitchers over 80.0 WAR in The Hall.

We can go on and on like this, adding now all players between 70-79 WAR (including Bench, Carew, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Mize, Robin Yount, etc,) and even dropping into the 60’s WAR (including Ernie Banks, Duke Snider, Tony Gwynn, Carlton Fisk, and some guy named Jackie Robinson, to name a few.)

Pick a random WAR cohort to eliminate, and I’ll tell you why you have a problem.  No players in the 40-49 range should be allowed, you state firmly, because now you’re shoving in guys with less than half the career WAR as the top couple of dozen players in The Hall.

English: Baseball pitcher Rube Waddell in 1901

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve got two words for you:  Sandy Koufax.  Or, if you prefer, Dizzy Dean.  How about Rube Waddell?  He only led his league in strikeouts six straight season.  Sure there are players in the 40+ WAR cohort who don’t belong in The Hall, but where’s the cutoff, exactly?

Meanwhile, in the 20+ and 30+ career WAR groups of HOF players, you have some of the best relief pitchers of all time, including Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers.  What should we do about them?

If we ignore WAR for these players, plus the players like Koufax and Dean who burned brightly for just a few short years, and players like Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Ryne Sandberg and Willie Stargell (each in the 50+ WAR cohort) whose reputations somehow don’t mesh with what we’d expect their WAR’s to be, we are left with a bit of a mess of a situation.

Sure, in general, the lower the WAR, the worse the player is, but there are enough exceptions to make us consider, perhaps, what this all means.

What exactly is it we’re trying to accomplish here?  When we say that we want only the best players in The Hall, do we mean that we simply want the players, regardless of our emotional connection to them, and despite what their historic legacy might be, who meet the standards of a mathematical formula (however well put together), or are we looking for something more here?

Catfish, Billy, and Brad Gulden

Image via Wikipedia

Catfish Hunter has one of the lowest career WAR of any starting pitcher in the HOF.  I concede, unconditionally, that he was an overrated pitcher who, if we wasn’t fortunate enough to have pitched for excellent A’s, then the Yankees teams in the ’70’s, he would have been more or less just another pitcher.

But I’m glad Catfish is in The Hall.  The fan in me just doesn’t give a rat’s ass what his WAR is (and I don’t consider myself a “traditionalist,” whatever the hell that means, when it comes to stats, either.)  I greatly respect modern statistical analysis, and I’m glad that I have a nice peg to hang my biases on when it suits me (WAR says Jack Morris doesn’t belong in The Hall, so screw him.)

Tommy McCarthy, Boston Reds, Albumen Print

Image via Wikipedia

None of this changes the fact, however, that there really are players in The Hall who don’t belong there.  We could probably even agree on several of them.  I would take out Lloyd Waner, Tommy McCarthy, Freddie Lindstrom, Herb Pennock, and Dave Bancroft before breakfast tomorrow morning.  But they’re there, and I guess they’re not going anywhere.

Meanwhile, short of taking the vote away from the BBWAA and from the Veteran’s Committee (which has largely stopped electing former players just about all together anyway), what is to be done about Hall voting now and on into the future?  How do we eliminate mistakes, and get back to the Golden Age of the Hall of Fame?

Here’s the good news.  If it is exclusivity you seek, we are already swiftly sauntering down that street.  Here’s the evidence.

In each decade since the 1970’s, inductions of former MLB players into The Hall has declined for four straight decades.  The number of players inducted into the HOF in each of the past four decades is as follows:

1970’s – 36  (one of the worst decades in terms of quality of players inducted in history.)

1980’s – 29

1990’s – 24

2000’s (including 2011 inductees) – 22

And this is without yet knowing how the steroids controversy will affect several (otherwise obvious) potential HOF’ers like Bonds, Clemens, etc.  Almost certainly, in the very near future, there will be a huge backlog of historically significant players not in The Hall that will rival the untapped talent available to the first HOF election committees back in the 1930’s.  Whether this is a good thing or a tragic situation depends on your point of view.

But one thing’s for sure.  No one will be able to argue that too many mediocre players are being elected into The Hall.

Although no group of humans, and no statistical formulas, will probably ever solve the puzzle of how to create a “perfect” Hall of Fame, I believe that if you are looking for a time when there was something resembling a Golden Age for the HOF, you can stop looking.

We may already be there.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the first 45 players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The purpose of doing so was to determine if it is true, as so many claim, that The Hall was once the exclusive domain of the truly excellent, the best of the best.

After examining all the players inducted into The Hall through 1949, we have to conclude that even in its early years, the BBWAA and the various Old Timers Committees were already arriving at some questionable choices for player inductions into the Hall of Fame.

Fully 38% of the first 45 players chosen can be regarded as specious choices.

Although my analysis is not entirely a matter of sabermetrics, modern measurements like WAR, OPS+ and ERA+ do figure prominently in my evaluations.

Now let’s take a look at the subsequent players elected into The Hall for the years 1951-69.

1951 — BBWAA: Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott

Nine-time All Star, three-time MVP Jimmie Foxx, who came within two homers of matching Ruth’s

Jimmie Foxx of the Boston Red Sox, cropped fro...

Image via Wikipedia

single season record just five years after it was set, received just 9% of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 1936.  A word of caution to the Class of 2012, that’s what a crowded ballot can do.

Ott, like Foxx, topped 500 home runs, thus helping to create the myth that 500 home runs is the standard by which power hitters must be judged to gain entrance into The Hall.

1952 – BBWAA:  Harry Heilmann, Paul Waner

Heilmann, with a pocket full of batting titles and a career OPS+ of 148, received 1.7% of the vote from the BBWAA in 1942.  A decade later, without producing so much as a bunt single in the interim, the same BBWAA gave him 86.8% of the vote.

This Waner brother (Big Poison) actually does belong in The Hall.

1953 — BBWAA: Dizzy Dean, Al Simmons. VC: Chief Bender, Bobby Wallace

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the dorsal fin of the Veteran’s Committee appears on the horizon.

The Veteran’s Committee absolutely loves light-hitting, slick fielding middle infielders.  Bobby Wallace’s defensive WAR (11.9) is the same as Bill Mazeroski’s, and is very close to Rabbit Maranville’s 11.8 as well as Phil Rizzuto’s 11.0.  Theoretically, this should bode well for Omar Vizquel (13.3) once he becomes eligible.  Undoubtedly, some will argue that a Vizquel induction would seriously erode the high standards of The Hall.  Clearly, as you can see, that would not be the case.

Dean had a great run, but flamed out fast.  He had five great seasons in a row, winning an MVP award along with two second place finishes, and one other good year.  Essentially, he paved the way for Sandy Koufax, and his equally brief run of greatness, to make it into The Hall.

Chief Bender, a Native-American of the Chippewa tribe, pitched for three A’s championship teams in

Chief (Charles Albert) Bender, pitcher and inf...

Image via Wikipedia

the early years of the 20th century.  In his rookie season, 1903, he led the league by plunking 25 hitters in 270 inning pitched.  Don’t mess with the Chippewa.  But his career ERA+, 112, and his WAR, 38.5, are significantly lower than the vast majority of pitchers elected to The Hall up to this point.

1954 — BBWAA: Bill Dickey, Rabbit Maranville, Bill Terry.

Eleven-time All Star Bill Dickey is still among the ten best catchers who ever played the game, so at the time of his induction, few catchers in history had ever been as good as he was.

Rabbit Maranville:  See Bobby Wallace above.

Bill Terry was similar to George Sisler in that he was a slick-fielding first baseman who hit for high averages, but delivered little else of significance between the foul poles.  Won a batting title.  Career Offensive WAR 48.1.  Essentially, he was John Olerud.

1955 — BBWAA: Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance. VC: Home Run Baker, Ray Schalk.

Hard to believe that by 1955, Joltin’ Joe was already eligible for the Hall of Fame.  In his short 13-year career, he finished in the top ten in MVP voting ten times, winning the award three times.  Certainly an obvious choice for The Hall.  Interestingly, his closest modern comparable player (according to Baseball-Reference) eligible for The Hall is Larry Walker.

For seven consecutive seasons, from age 31-37, Dazzy Vance led the N.L. in strikeouts.  I’m of the opinion that this kind of dominance merits Hall membership.

Of the pair of catchers elected, Gabby Hartnett was a solid choice, but Ray Schalk was a poor one.  In fact, Schalk’s election set the bar so low (at least for catchers) that it is possible to make a case that Butch Wynegar deserves to be inducted into The Hall.

Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs.  Home Run Baker hit 96.  They both led their league in home runs four times.  McGwire’s career WAR was 63.1.  Baker’s was 63.7.  This is as good an indication as any of how misleading traditional counting stats (home runs, batting average, RBI, etc.) can be.  Baker does belong in The Hall.

Ted Lyon’s election set the stage for later misfires like Eppa Rixey, Burleigh Grimes, Red Ruffing and Waite Hoyt.

1956 — BBWAA: Joe Cronin, Hank Greenberg.

Two solid choices for the Hall of Fame.

1957 — VC: Sam Crawford

MLB career leader in triples with 309.  Career OPS+ 144.  Career WAR 76.6.  Solid choice.

1959 — VC: Zack Wheat.

Wheat is a marginal HOF’er.  Won a single, empty batting title in 1918 (18 extra base hits.)  OPS+ 129 is the same as Freddy Lynn.  Career WAR 57.8 puts him in Willie Davis territory.

During the 1950’s, then, just 14 of 21 players inducted into the Hall of Fame were high quality choices.  Therefore, about one-third of all the players inducted during this decade were of questionable merit (or worse.)  Thus, out of the first 66 players inducted into The Hall between 1936-59, just 42 were what can be described as high quality choices.  That represents just about 64% of all players chosen up to this point.

This begs the question, so when does this Golden Age of the Hall of Fame actually begin?  Perhaps we’ll have better luck during the 1960’s, the next installment of this series.

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

The Green Hornet Trading Card

Image by Sean Castor via Flickr

For your reading pleasure, today we take a look back at a shortstop that once appeared headed for greatness, a superhero team possessing no particular superpowers, and a pre-WWII Japanese pitcher.  Along the way, we’ll also throw in a visit to a restaurant, and a strange baseball story or two.

Overrated:  Dave Concepcion – Recently, I’ve been reading arguments on baseball blogs and websites that Dave Concepcion should be in the Hall of Fame.  The reasoning goes that without Concepcion’s defense and solid approach at the plate, the Big Red Machine would not have been able to fire on all cylinders.  For the record, Concepcion’s career OPS+ was 88, meaning that he was just 88% as effective at the plate as a typical replacement level ballplayer.  In 12 of his 19 seasons, his OPS+ was below 100.  He never scored 100 runs in a season, and only once did he top 90 runs scored.

Concepcion’s career high in hits was 170, he seldom drew a walk, and he had very limited power.  His career batting average was .267, his on-base percentage was .322, and his slugging percentage was a horrid .357.

With those kinds of stats on offense, it would take one helluva resume on defense to get one into The Hall, wouldn’t it?

Concepcion won five Gold Gloves, but Gold Gloves can be misleading.  They are not based on actual defensive metrics; they are awarded solely on the subjective perceptions others have of a player’s defensive abilities.  But, although Concepcion’s defensive statistics are good, it’s unclear whether they qualify as Hall of Fame worthy.  His Range Factor / 9 Innings, 4.98, is 16th best all-time among shortstops.  His career defensive WAR stands at an acceptable 1.1.

Dave Concepcion, with a total career WAR of 33.6, had a fine, nineteen-year career.  But arguments that he should be among those inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame are, at best, overstated.

Underrated:  Gary Templeton – It is no overstatement to say that as late as 1980, five years into Templeton’s career, he appeared to be on the verge of greatness.  He had already led the N.L. in triples three straight years, had batted well over .300 in 1977, ’79 and 1980, and had posted a couple of 200 hit seasons (including a league-leading 211 hits in ’79.)

Templeton also averaged 30 stolen bases per year over that same four-year period.  More to the point, however, Templeton’s cocky, flamboyant temperament captured the imagination of many of the young fans at the time.  For example, in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” (1982), one of the primary teen characters has a Gary Templeton poster prominently displayed on his bedroom wall.

Templeton also exhibited excellent range in the field, though he did make his share of errors.  In fact, in ’78, ’79 and ’80 he led the N.L. in errors.  But his career Range Factor / 9 Innings was 5.07, seventh best of all-time (and nine places better than Concepcion.)

Then a funny thing happened on the way to stardom.

On December 10th, 1981, the Cardinals unceremoniously traded Templeton to San Diego for some guy named Ozzie Smith.  Ozzie, of course, went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.  Templeton’s career, for reasons that probably included his inability to draw a walk as well as the poorer hitting environment he encountered in San Diego, faltered badly.  At the age of just 27-years old, when many players are just entering their prime, Templeton’s career was already on a down-hill slide.

Templeton’s fielding remained alternately spectacular and erratic.  He finally retired after the 1991 season at age 35.

Yet his career OPS+ of 87 (but higher in his St. Louis days), and his fielding range, were not significantly different from Concepcion’s.

If you prefer a career with a higher peak than one that is steadier over time, Templeton is your man.

Either way, however, neither Concepcion nor Templeton, despite having enjoyed success in the Majors, can truly be considered a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Overrated:  Batman and Robin (the 1960’s T.V. show) – As superheroes go, not only did they not actually have any superpowers, but Robin was basically useless in a brawl.  Countless times, Batman had to rescue Robin.  Moreover, Batman’s inability to read a trap before he encountered one occasionally even led to an emergency rescue by Bat Girl.  And why didn’t Batman ever finally make a serious move on either Bat Girl or Cat Woman?  Did he secretly favor Robin?  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Underrated:  The Green Hornet and Kato – How cool is it when the junior partner in a crime-fighting team is Bruce freakin’ Lee? The short-lived T.V. series (one season) starred Van Williams as newspaper publisher Britt Reid, a.k.a., the Green Hornet.  Bruce Lee, of course, played Kato. Williams and Lee played it cool and low-key, but were always in complete control of a given situation. And their ride, the Black Beauty, was a deadly arsenal prowling the nighttime streets.  Good stuff.  If I was in the middle of being victimized, I’d prefer this dynamic duo to bail me out rather than the more famous caped crusaders prancing around Gotham City.

Overrated:  Roger Clemens first 20-strikeout performance (April 29, 1986) – Do you know who was batting leadoff for the atrocious Seattle Mariner ball club that day?  Try Spike Owen, who finished the year with a .300 on-base percentage (that’s on-base, folks.  Not batting average.)  Gorman Thomas, who hit .194 for the season, was the cleanup hitter.  In the three-hole?  Ken Phelps and his .247 batting average.  The lineup also featured Jim Presley (career .290 on-base percentage) who fanned 172 times that season.  Phil Bradley was perhaps the only respectable hitter in that lineup: .310 batting average, 12 home runs, 50 RBI’s and 134 strikeouts.  Clearly, Clemens was basically facing (at best) a Triple-A lineup that day.  The Mariners finished 1986 with a 67-95 record, the worst in the A.L.

Underrated:  17-year old Japanese pitcher vs. America (November 20, 1934) – On a barnstorming tour of the orient in the 1934 off-season, a talented group of American baseball players engaged in an exhibition game in Japan.  During that game, a Japanese teenager named Eiji Sawamuru of the Yomiuri Giants came in to face a star-studded American lineup.  Sawamuru pitched five innings, and he struck out nine Americans, including future Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx, in succession.

Ten years later, 27-year old Sawamuru was killed fighting the Americans in the Pacific Theatre during WWII

Overrated:  Salad Bars – The tubercular guy across from you coughs violently onto the wilted lettuce.  A single, desultory piece of broccoli lies dead on a metal tray like a cadaver at a morgue.  The mushrooms are all in it together, gathering bacteria in one last-ditch effort to take you down with them.  Flies dive-bomb the antipasto salad, depositing feces and larvae wherever they can. The shredded carrots, bereft of dignity, no longer even care.  All this, and stale bread-sticks, for $7.95.

Underrated:  The Dessert Cart – Undisputedly, the high point of Western Civilization.

Overrated:  (Strange but True Category) – In the second game of a double-header on Sunday, August 19, 1951, Edward Carl (Eddie) Gaedel, an American with dwarfism, received his one and only Major League at bat for the Browns against the Tigers. He drew a walk. Gaedel was 3’ 7” tall, and weighed 65-pounds.  He was signed by St. Louis Brown’s owner Bill Veeck to a one-day contract as a publicity stunt.

But Gaedel’s story is more tragic than funny.  A heavy drinker with a combative personality, Gaedel died of a heart attack after being mugged in 1961.  The only person in any way associated with Major League baseball who attended Gaedel’s funeral was retired pitcher Bob Cain, the man who walked Eddie Gaedel in his sole Major League plate appearance.

Underrated:  (Strange but True Category) – The strangest story I’ve ever read about the death of a Major League baseball player involves Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Len Koenicke.  Koenicke, 31-years old, had been playing for the Dodgers for just two seasons when, on September 17, 1935, he was involved in an altercation on an American Airlines airplane.  Intoxicated, he was forced to get off the plane, so he hired a charter plane.

While in mid-flight on the charter, Koenicke began to fiddle with the flight control panel.  The pilot was forced to physically prevent Koenicke from touching the controls.  This led to a brawl between Koenicke, the pilot and another passenger.  While no one was flying the plane, the pilot, out of desperation, grabbed a fire extinguisher and smashed it over Koenicke’s head.  Somehow, the pilot managed to regain control of the airplane, and he made an emergency landing in Toronto, Canada.

When the Toronto police came to investigate the situation, they found that Koenicke was dead due to the blow on the head he received during the fight.

Thus endeth another edition of Underrated / Overrated. Hope you enjoyed it.  Now, a special message:

Special Note: Beginning this Friday, January 14th, Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present and I will be teaming up on a new series entitled,  “Baseball’s Best of the Worst.” This 12-week long series will examine one player per week (to be published on Fridays) who was the best player on a terrible baseball team.  Graham will guest-post six of the twelve installments here on this blog.  His focus will be on teams and players pre-1961.

I will write the other six installments in an alternating format with Graham.  My focus will be on post-1961 teams.

Graham’s blog, Baseball Past and Present has been a constant source of information and entertainment for me for some time now, and I am really looking forward to sharing this space with him.  So please join us beginning this Friday for the first post in our new series.  I’ll be writing the first post, and Graham will be officially joining us on Friday, January 21st.

We hope you enjoy it.

Regards, Bill

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