The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Will Clark”

Is the Wrong Giants First Baseman in the Hall of Fame?

A while back, I asked the question, “Is the Wrong Red Sox Outfielder in the Hall of Fame?”  This is a follow-up of sorts, though the intent is not necessarily to turn this into a new series.  Nevertheless, I do become intrigued from time-to-time by the often haphazard approach the various Hall of Fame voting groups take to selecting their Hall of Famers.  This is one of those times.

Player A is in the Hall of Fame.  He gained entry into the Hall of Fame in his 15th-year on the ballot, receiving 77.4% of the votes cast that year.  In his first year on the ballot, he received just 4% of the vote, but there was apparently no rule at the time that a player must receive at least 5% to remain on the ballot.

Player A spent his entire career with the Giants.  He batted and threw left-handed.  He was a Southerner.  He stood 6’1″ and weighed 200 pounds.

Player B is not in the Hall of Fame, having fallen off the ballot in his first year of eligibility when he received 4.4%, a bit more than did Player A on his first year on the ballot.  But as it stands today, if a player doesn’t receive 5% of the ballot, he drops off the ballot.

Player B spent the first half of his career as a Giant, and it is the team he is still primarily associated with.  He batted and threw left-handed.  He, too, was a Southerner.  He stood 6’2″ and weighed 190 pounds.

Now let’s compare their respective career statistics:

Player A:                            Player B:

Career Hits – 2,193          Career Hits – 2,176

Doubles – 373                    Doubles – 440

Triples – 112                      Triples – 47

Home Runs – 154              Home Runs – 284

RBI – 1,078                        RBI – 1,205

Runs – 1,120                      Runs – 1,186

Batting Average – .341    Batting Average – .303

On-Base % – .393            On-Base % – .384

Slugging % – .506             Slugging % – .497

OPS – .899                        OPS – .880

OPS+ – 136                       OPS+ – 137

Walks – 537                      Walks – 937

Strikeouts – 449               Strikeouts – 1,190

WAR – 54.2                       WAR – 56.2

As you can see, they were close in a few statistical categories, and each “won” seven categories.  If you throw in their respective Black Ink scores, which indicates the number of times a player led his league in a statistic in a particular season, Player A scored a 12, while Player B scored a 13.

Neither player won an MVP award.  Player A finished third twice in the voting, while Player B once finished runner-up in the voting.

So, have you guessed the identities of each of these players?

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Bill Ter...

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Bill Terry of the New York Giants #20. PD-not renewed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Player A is Bill Terry.

Player B is Will Clark.

If you think Terry’s .341 career batting average should give him the edge, keep in mind that Terry won just a single batting title in his career, and generally played in a much hitter-friendlier era than did Clark.

It appears to me that if one of them is in the Hall of Fame, then so, too, should be the other.  Whether you believe either of them belongs in the HOF is another matter.

But it does raise the question as to whether or not the 5% rule should be abandoned.

After all, clearly a player’s stature can grow significantly over time, as it did with Bill Terry (not to mention Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice, and several other Hall of Famers.)

 

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inning of 12 August 1992 game between San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Game boxscore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

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Hall of Fame of the Heart

What does reason know?  Reason only knows what it has succeeded in learning. -Dostoevsky

If you could build your own Baseball Hall of Fame, what kind of place would it be?

It’s likely that the actual Hall of Fame includes several  players you admired while growing up.  It’s also likely that some of the players you admired the most then, and still do today, were never deemed Hall worthy.

You may not even have any real problem with that.  Intellectually, you probably understand the statistical reasoning that has served to exclude some of your favorite players.

But suppose we were to construct a Hall of the Heart, that is, a place (or, more accurately, an idea), where those players who captured our imagination all those years ago would be enshrined?  In fact, when we use the term “Hall of Fame,” it begs the question, famous to whom?

If fame is the fleeting, fickle standard by which we are to choose our immortals, it is by definition an extremely subjective standard.  Just because the evolution of The Hall has coincided with a revolution in statistical analysis doesn’t necessarily mean that the membership of the former should be almost entirely dependent upon the mathematical equations of the latter.

Or, as the 19th century Russian writer, Dostoevsky, stated in Notes From Underground:

[Man] is fond of striving toward achievement, but not so very fond of the achievement itself, and this is, naturally, terribly funny. In short, man is constructed comically; there is evidently some joke in all of this. But two times two makes four is still an altogether insufferable thing. Two times two makes four–why, in my view, it is sheer impertinence. Two times two makes four is a brazen fop who bars your way with arms akimbo, spitting.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  This is not a diatribe in favor of the so-called “traditionalist” view of baseball.  Nor am I suggesting that the statistical work that has been done by the modern, progressive wing of the baseball universe has been accomplished by “brazen fops.”   The fact is that the “traditionalists” use stats just as readily to make their particular cases just as often and with as much gusto as those of the sabermetric persuasion.  They just choose to use a different set of (generally older) stats.

What I’m advocating here is a return to the idea of baseball as fun, as entertainment, and as the fount of the dreams of youth.  For that, we have to look inward, into our irrational, passionate selves.     We never cheer a 1.040 WHIP, but we do cheer the unlikely triple hit by the chubby kid that scores the go-ahead run in the home-half of the eighth inning.

What follows, then, is (perhaps inevitably) a list of the players who inspired my imagination as a child, and on into my teens and early twenties.  They are the by-product of time and place, and are of a distant genetic lineage to the gods and immortals of old:  Hercules, Odysseus, Achilles, Agamemnon, Heracles, Theseus, etc.

I will strive for brevity in my comments about each one of my heroes.  My list, after all, is not intended to convince you of anything at all, except of my own vulnerable humanity.

It is also not in any particular order.  Let the imagination do its work, uninterrupted:

1)  Tom Seaver:  My very own Odysseus.  Conquering hero, fated to spend several years away from home ( Queens / Ithaca) eventually to return again, triumphant, however briefly.

2)  Freddy Lynn:  Inspiration in the summer of ’75 for so many backyard dives and catches.  To play so fearlessly, even for one season in the sun, is what it’s all about.

3)  Steve Garvey:  Though it’s not a Steve Garvey model, I bought a first-base mitt to be like him.  I still have it today.  Handsome, dependable, heroic and a star, in the mid-1970’s, he was everything I could ever hope to be.

4)  Rusty Staub:  There was always something mysterious about him.  Rusty sometimes wore a black glove while batting, he came from foreign lands (Montreal, by way of Houston), and he was also a practicing chef.  He was like a secret agent masquerading as a baseball player, and he had a certain swagger about him.  He was like Robert Vaughn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  crossed with Robert Vaughn in The Magnificent Seven.

5)  The Boys of Summer:  This was the first grownup book I ever read.  I was around ten or eleven years old, and while reading it, I wanted the entire Brooklyn Dodgers team to be my friends and family.  Roger Kahn also made me want to be a writer, if I couldn’t be a ballplayer.

Giants manager John McGraw and pitcher Christy...

Giants manager John McGraw and pitcher Christy Mathewson during the 1911 World Series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Christy Mathewson:  Although he played long before my time, I was struck by his story, his boyish good looks, and his integrity.  Mathewson was college educated.  His manager, John McGraw, was an old-school tough without much formal education.  Yet McGraw loved Mathewson like a son.  It was the sort of relationship I coveted with my father.

Mathewson was gassed in a training accident in 1918 during the First World War.  He would die young, at age 45 in 1925, of tuberculosis.

Like Achilles, he would shine brightly all too briefly.  He was both literally and figuratively a warrior, and the war would contribute to his early demise.

7)  Keith Hernandez:  Keith was, without doubt, the greatest fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen.  He took charge of the infield in a way I’ve never seen a first baseman do either before or since.  Always fearless and accurate when throwing across the diamond, he cut down more base-runners in a week, than I’ve seen some do in a year.

Keith was also a great clutch hitter.  Never a big power threat, Keith would spray line-drives all over the place, usually when they mattered most.

He also had a smoking habit, and, although it never inspired me to start smoking myself, it did make him seem more accessible and human.  He wasn’t some body-building athlete intent on perfecting his physique.  He was a baseball player with the God-given ability, the natural instincts and the competitive drive to succeed in a very difficult sport.

8)  Will “The Thrill” Clark:  An intense southern boy from the bayous of Louisiana, Will Clark was  nothing if not a competitor.  The eye-black he wore made him look like a special forces sniper.  Another first baseman, he helped get me back into collecting baseball cards in the late 1980’s.  I wanted to collect every card that featured him, and I wanted to copy his smooth, left-handed swing.  I was always happy when the Giants came to town so I could watch him play.

If the character, Swan, from the movie, “The Warriors” was a pro baseball player, he’d be Will Clark (and wouldn’t the Baseball Furies just love that?)  Swan is the very first Warrior you see in this clip. The movie is loosely based on Homer’s, The Odyssey.

Eric Davis hit for the cycle in 1989.

Eric Davis hit for the cycle in 1989. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)9)

 9)  Eric Davis:  Eric the Red.  A contemporary of Will Clark, he played with a slash and burn style reminiscent of the Norseman of myth and legend.

I absolutely loved the way Eric Davis, in his prime, made the game of baseball look so easy that he might soon grow bored with it and find another hobby.

He could steal bases, hit homers, range around the outfield, score runs, and he played with just enough of the toughness of the streets of L.A. where he grew up.

Later, in 1998, Davis also made a heroic comeback from colon cancer to play remarkably well for the Baltimore Orioles.

Eric Davis and I also share a birthday, May 29th.  He was born exactly one year before me.

10)  Jeff Bagwell:  Bagwell grew up in my home state of Connecticut and is just a few years younger than I.  Throughout the ’90’s, Bagwell was my favorite player.  He was powerful, he could really run the bases, which was most unusual for a first baseman, and I loved his wide-open stance.  An aggressive player, Bagwell basically had no weaknesses in his game.  If the god Apollo could play baseball, he would be Jeff Bagwell.

These are certainly not the only ten players in my Hall of the Heart.  A random sampling of many others would include Roger Maris, Dwight Gooden, Larry Walker, Bernie Carbo, Jerry Grote, Lou Gehrig, Bill Lee, Jim Bouton, Dave Kingman, Sid Fernandez, Rube Waddell, Jerry Koosman, Mookie Wilson, Jon Matlack, Jimmy Wynn, Bobby Murcer, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Kirby Puckett, Ken Griffey, Jr., Ted Williams, Cal Ripkin, Jr., Gary Carter, David Cone, Mike Vail, Lenny Randle, Mark Fidrych, Ron LeFlore, Sandy Koufax, Smoky Joe Wood, Ron Guidry, Dizzy Dean,  Arky Vaughan, Paul Konerko, Brian Giles, Nomar Garciaparra, Rusty Greer, “Toe” Nash, Sidd Finch, Moonlight Graham, Robin Ventura, Addie Joss, and yes, even Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Oh, and some guy who used to pitch for the Red Sox named Babe Ruth.

Now that’s a Hall of Fame for which I would happily pay the price of admission.

Who would you include in your irrational, sentimental Hall of the Heart?

I’d like to know.

Happy Endings: The Art of Going Out On Top

Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once it was announced that Andy Pettitte was going to come out of retirement to pitch yet another season for the Yankees, the first thing I thought was, why bother?  What does he have left to prove?  He has 240 regular season wins to his credit, plus another 19 playoff game wins.  Pettitte will turn 40-years old in June.  Why take the risk of potentially embarrassing himself in front of his fans?

Meanwhile, Chipper Jones is heading the other way, recently announcing that 2o12 will be his final season in the Majors.  When he was healthy enough to play, Chipper (who turns 40 in April) put up some decent numbers last season.  Again, though, one has to wonder why it is even necessary to attempt one more season.  Like Pettitte, Jones has had a long and distinguished career, so why risk going out with a sub-par performance?

This led me to consider how few players in baseball history have retired at or near the top of their game.  After examining the final seasons of many of baseball’s best players, the answer is damn few.

If Pettitte had decided to stay retired, his final performance in 2010, an 11-3 record in 21 starts with a 3.28 ERA (and an ERA+ of 132), would actually qualify as one of the finest final season performances by any pitcher in baseball history.

Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves

Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly, if Chipper Jones had retired after last season when he swatted 33 doubles to go along with his 18 homers, 70 RBI and OPS+ of 123, he could have held his head high.

This is not to say that Chipper or Pettitte will perform terribly in 2012, but baseball’s long history of final performances is one long, ugly indictment of playing one season too many.

Having said that, here are eight random final season performances that were actually quite impressive.  In some cases, the player was forced into retirement due to physical reasons.  In other cases, the player had become so controversial that no team would sign him, regardless of his ability to remain productive.

Albert Belle

Albert Belle (Photo credit: Keith Fujimoto)

1)  Albert (Joey) Belle – You remember him best, perhaps, as the infamous sociopath who tried to run over some kids with his car on Halloween night.  You might also remember that Belle was one hell of a hitter during his career.  As far as I can tell, Belle is the only player in history to drive in at least 95 runs in every one of his full seasons in the Majors, including 103 in 2000, his final season.

In 2000, Belle cranked 37 doubles to go with 23 homers and a .281 batting average for the Orioles.  His OPS was .817.  While not one of his greatest years, it was far superior to the average final season of most Major League sluggers.  He retired at the age of 33.

Photograph shows Eddie (Edward Stewart) Plank,...

Photograph shows Eddie (Edward Stewart) Plank, pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  Eddie Plank – “Gettysburg”  Eddie Plank, unlike the vast majority of highly successful pitchers, Plank did just fine in his last season in the Majors.  Although his record in his final season in 1917 (pitching for the St. Louis Browns) was just  5-6, he posted a sparkling 1.79 ERA in 131 innings.  His ERA+ was an outstanding 147.  Clearly, this 41-year old future HOF’er had something left in the tank.  But he wisely decided to call it quits after that final season.

3)  Reggie Smith –  One of the most underrated players in baseball history, and one of the top 50 players not in the Hall of Fame, Smith enjoyed his final hurrah in 1982 at the age of 37 while playing for the San Francisco Giants.  Entering ’82, Smith was just four homers shy of 300 for his career.  He ended up slugging 18 while playing his home games in Candlestick Park, a notoriously difficult park for hitters.

Smith’s triple slash line in ’82:  .284 / .364 / .470, with an OPS+ of 134, were remarkably similar to his overall career numbers:  .287 / .366 / .489, OPS+ of 137.  In other words, Smith was about as productive in his final season as he had been in any previous average year.  That’s not at all a bad way to go out.

4)  Tony Gwynn– Even in his final season at age 41, was anyone really surprised that Gwynn batted .324?  Granted, he played in just 71 games in 2001, but his OPS+ during those plate appearance, 127, was pretty close to his career OPS+ of 132.  Gwynn was essentially the same professional hitter at age 41 as he had been much earlier in his career.

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers unif...

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers uniform, 1954. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  Jackie Robinson –  Given the relentless abuse heaped upon him day after day, year after year, it’s a wonder he played as long as he did.

Robinson was already 28-years old when he debuted in the Majors in 1947.  He played a solid decade before retiring after the 1956 season at the age of 37.  During this decade, he was a career .311 hitter who scored at least 99 runs in each of his first seven seasons.  His career OPS+ was an excellent 131.

In his final season, despite playing in just 117 games, Robinson drew 60 walks while striking out just 32 times, posting a .382 on-base percentage.  He posted an outstanding dWAR of 1.9, and a respectable overall WAR of 4.6, third best on the 1st place Dodgers.  He also finished 16th in MVP voting, not a bad way to end a legendary career.

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inning of 12 August 1992 game between San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Game boxscore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Will Clark – Will “The Thrill” Clark was one of my favorite players of the late 1980’s into the early ’90’s.  He played with intensity, had a beautiful left-handed line-drive swing, and was nimble around first base.  His career OPS+ of 137 is the same as the aforementioned Reggie Smith, and is better than those of Hall of Famers Bill Terry, George Brett, Al Kaline, and Paul Waner.

His final season in the year 2000 did nothing to blemish his fine career.  In splitting his season between Baltimore and St. Louis, Clark posted a fine triple slash line of .318 / .419 / .546 and an OPS+ of 144 in 507 plate appearances.  His overall WAR was a respectable 4.1.  Retiring at the age of 36, Clark certainly went out at the top of his game.

7)  Mike Mussina –  That rarest of rare pitchers, Mussina decided to retire after winning 20 games for the first time in his career (at age 39) while pitching for the New York Yankees in 2008.  As far as I know, no health issues would have prevented him from returning for yet another season at the age of 40.  Clearly, he decided he’d had enough.

Those 20 victories pushed his career total to 270, and probable induction into the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and Hall of Famer ...

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and Hall of Famer in a 1961 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Sandy Koufax – Koufax and Mussina are the only two pitchers since 1920 who retired after posting 20-win seasons.  Mussina did it out of choice.  Koufax was forced into retirement due to chronic pain in his elbow.

It’s interesting to speculate how much longer Koufax would have pitched had he not suffered from this lingering pain.  Would he have eventually bounced around like Steve Carlton in his final years, trying to recapture lost glory?  And if he had tried to pitch while declining in effectiveness year after year, would his legendary reputation have become diminished over time?

Regardless, Koufax’s final season in 1966 at age 30, pitching for the L.A. Dodgers, was the single finest final performance in baseball history.  En route to his third Cy Young award over four seasons, Koufax posted a 27-9 record, a 1.73 ERA (which led the league for the fifth straight year), 27 complete games in 41 starts (both of which led the league), 317 strikeouts, and a ridiculous ERA+ of 190.  His WAR was 10.8, matching his career high set in 1963.

I think Neil Young had it correct when he said it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Regarding Chipper Jones and Andy Pettitte, it remains to be seen if their final seasons will match those listed above, or if their respective final seasons were one year too many.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 18 – The San Francisco Giants

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

Image via Wikipedia

I thought he was destined for the Hall of Fame.

For a five-year period, from 1987-91, Will “The Thrill” Clark of the San Francisco Giants was one of Major League Baseball’s  most dominant players.  His eye-black and competitive nature provoked fear in many opposing pitchers.  His glove around the first base bag was plenty good, but it was his bat they feared and respected most of all.

During that five-year period, Clark averaged 27 home runs, 104 RBI’s, 94 runs scored, a .304 batting average, an OPS of .900, and an outstanding OPS+ of 153.  He accomplished all of this while playing in one of the better PITCHER’S Parks in the N.L.

By way of comparison, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez topped an OPS+ of 150 only twice in his 23-year career.  Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando Cepeda topped 150 three times.  Yet another Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman, Bill Terry, touched an OPS+ of 150 in just two seasons.

Will Clark topped an OPS+ in five separate seasons, as many as Cepeda and Terry combined.

Obviously, then, Will Clark had several outstanding seasons before he turned thirty years old, and many other good seasons during the rest of his career.

Will Clark’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1989.

As with some of the other players I’ve profiled in this series, a case could be made for one or two other seasons as well.  But ’89 was arguably Clark’s best season for several reasons.

In 1989, the 25-year old Clark batted .333, second best in the league.  He accumulated 321 Total Bases, again, good for second best in the league.

His WAR was a league-leading 9.4.

He led the N.L. in runs scored with 104.

He posted a career high 196 hits, and his OPS (.953) and OPS+ (175) were also each second best in the league.

He won his first Silver Slugger award, and he played in the All-Star Game.

Clark’s 136 Runs Created led the N.L.

He led the N.L. in times on base with 275.

He hit 23 home runs, drove in 111 runs, knocked 38 doubles and added nine triples.

Defensively, his Range Factor / Game of 9.85 was also the best in the N.L.

Just for good measure, he was voted the N.L.C.S. MVP by single-handedly smashing the Cubs pitching to the tune of a .650 batting average, a .683 on-base percentage, and a ridiculous slugging percentage of 1.200.

Will Clark finished second in the N.L. MVP voting in 1989 to teammate Kevin Mitchell who slugged 47 home runs and drove in 125 runs.

Clark finished in the top five in MVP voting four times in his career.  He played in six All-Star Games.  He won one Gold Glove, but was good enough to have earned more.

Astonishingly, Will Clark’s career OPS+ of 137 is better than 90 hitters currently in the Hall of Fame.

It is also better than two of his more celebrated contemporaries at the first base position, Don Mattingly, (127), and Keith Hernandez, (128).

The primary reason’s why Clark is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame have to do with his career power numbers.  Hall voters like to see lots of home runs and RBI’s from a first baseman.  Clark’s career totals in these two areas — 284 home runs and 1,205 RBI’s —  look modest compared to some of the other first basemen in The Hall.

Clark also never won an MVP award, and he never played on a World Championship team.

Clark ended his fifteen-year baseball career after the 2000 season when he was just 36-years old.  But he showed even in his final days as a player that his bat was still just about as dangerous as ever.

As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the last 51 games of his final season, Clark batted .345, had a .426 on-base percentage, slugged .655, and compiled an OPS of 1.081.  He smoked 28 extra-base hits in just 171 at bats.

Although Clark’s best overall season had occurred almost a dozen years earlier, clearly he had saved the best for last.

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