Hall for Halladay

The baseball world was shocked this week by the death of Roy Halladay.  The former Blue Jays’ and Phillies’ pitcher, 40, perished in a private plane crash on November 7.

The reports invariably mention the highlights of Halladay’s career: a Cy Young Award in each league, a perfect game on May 29, 2010, and a divisional series no-hitter on October 6 of that same year.  Nice résumé items, people agree, but they are not so unanimous when it comes to the Hall of Fame.  Many seem to think Doc is a borderline candidate at best; after all, he won “just” 203 games with a modest 3.38 career ERA.

Borderline?  With the possible exception of Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay is the most-accomplished pitcher of the 21st century.

In an era where less and less is expected of starting pitchers, Halladay was a horse.  He topped his league in innings pitched four times, and in complete games seven times.  And with the quantity came quality.  According to WAR, for what it’s worth, Halladay was the best pitcher in his league four times.  Besides the two Cy Youngs, he finished second twice, and third and fifth once each.  He amassed 3.50 Cy Young Award shares, ranking him in the top ten all-time:

MOST CY YOUNG AWARD SHARES, 1956-2016

7.65     Roger Clemens

6.49     Randy Johnson

4.91     Greg Maddux

4.29     Steve Carlton

4.26     Pedro Martinez  

3.96     Clayton Kershaw

3.84     Tom Seaver

3.57     Jim Palmer

3.50     Roy Halladay

3.15     Tom Glavine

            Doc was a surgeon.  He led the NL in fewest walks per nine innings three straight times, and had his league’s best strikeout-to-walk ration five times.  His career mark also ranks in the top ten all-time:

PITCHERS WITH BEST STRIKEOUT:WALK RATIOS, 1876-2017 (Min. 2000 SO)

Pitcher                            SO     BB    RATIO

Curt Schilling                3116    711      4.38

Clayton Kershaw          2120    507      4.18

Pedro Martinez             3154    760      4.15

Dan Haren                    2013    500      4.03

Max Scherzer               2149    534      4.02

Zack Greinke               2236    594      3.76

Mike Mussina               2813    785      3.58

Roy Halladay             2117    592      3.58

Cole Hamels                 2227    645      3.45

Greg Maddux               3371    999      3.37

            Most impressive of all was Halladay’s ability to win games.  Over three decades ago I developed a statistic I call Normalized Win Percentage.  It compares pitchers’ win percentages to their teams’ and scales it to .500, putting all pitchers, past and present on an even plane.  Among all 200-game winners since 1900 – including the likes of Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Tom Seaver – Roy Halladay ranks second.  You read that right: number two in modern history.  Here are the 14 who managed a .600+ NWP:

HIGHEST CAREER NWP, 1900-2017 (Min. 200 Wins)

Pitcher                           W         L     NWP

Pedro Martinez          219      100      .663

Roy Halladay             203      105      .661

Randy Johnson          303      166      .650

Lefty Grove                  300      141      .643

Roger Clemens           354      184      .642

Grover Alexander         373      208      .640

Whitey Ford                 236      106      .630

Walter Johnson          417      279      .629

Cy Young                     511      316      .621

Christy Mathewson       373      188      .616

Tom Seaver                  311      205      .614

Curt Schilling                216      146      .603

Mike Mussina               270      153      .602

Juan Marichal               243      142      .601

            Rest in peace, Roy Halladay.  You were one of the very best pitchers of your generation.  If that’s not a Hall of Famer, I don’t know what is.

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The Declining Influence of Good Pitchers

Over the past quarter-century, there have been a lot of theories – some provably false – on why there is more offense in today’s game than in yesteryear’s.  One I don’t hear mentioned very often is the fact that more and more innings are shifted from a team’s best pitchers to its worst ones.

To illustrate this, about a dozen years ago I went through Neft & Cohen’s Sports Encyclopedia Baseball.  I compared the seasons of 1962 and 1999 – the former because it was the first year that all teams played 162 games, and the latter simply because it was the latest in my edition of the book.

For each team in each year, I ranked pitchers by innings pitched.  Then, I averaged the number of frames tossed by the #1 pitcher on each team, by the #2 pitcher, and so on.  Following were the results:

YEAR #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 Others Total
1962 252 220 197 157 133 108 91 77 64 51 100 1450
1999 216 192 173 145 112 92 79 73 66 58 234 1440
Diff. -36 -28 -24 -12 -21 -16 -12 -4 +2 +7  +134  

In other words, the average staff ace in 1962 hurled 252 innings; by 1999, the number was down to 216, a decrease of 36 innings.  That pattern held through the top eight pitchers on the staff: each one’s frames were down in 1999 in comparison with ’62, totaling 153 innings pared from the best eight pitchers on each staff, to be divided between its worst ones.  Isn’t that going to help the hitters?

Note that the average staff pitched ten more innings in 1962 than in ’99.  My first guess was that there were more tie games in 1962, but in fact there were only three ties all that year (one in ’99), so that wasn’t it.  In any case, it was not enough to skew the data much.

One might have guessed that a big part of the shift would have been the supposed move from four-man to five-man rotations.  But the percentage drop in innings of the #5 pitchers was actually greater than that of the #1-4 spots!

I thought it was time to update the study, so I ran the numbers for the 2017 season.  Here are the results, as compared to 1999:

YEAR #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 Others Total
1999 216 192 173 145 112 92 79 73 66 58 234 1440
2017 184 166 146 127 101 82 70 65 61 57 383 1442
Diff. -32 -26 -27 -18 -11 -10 -9 -8 -5 -1  +149  

The pattern has not only continued, it’s become more dramatic: 147 more innings taken from the top ten pitchers and given to the worst ones, in half as much time.  The most drastic 2017 examples of this trend were the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners.  Tim Adleman led the Cincinnati staff with just 122 innings, and only one other Red had more than 91.  The Mariners used 40 different pitchers, giving 559 innings to hurlers beyond their top ten.

Now let’s look at the full 55-year comparison:

YEAR #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 Others Total
1962 252 220 197 157 133 108 91 77 64 51 100 1450
2017 184 166 146 127 101 82 70 65 61 57 383 1442
Diff. -68 -54 -51 -30 -32 -26 -21 -12 -3 +6  +283  

So, the net effect has been taking away 297 innings from the top nine pitchers on each staff each year, and giving them all to the worst pitchers on each staff.

Some might argue that it is a case of maximizing pitching staffs: using various pitchers in optimal match-up situations, while preserving the arms of their aces.  If so, I’d expect to see lower ERAs, a higher percentage of leads protected, and fewer arm injuries.  Does anyone see those things?

Gene Michael, Master of the Hidden-Ball Trick

Gene “Stick” Michael, former player, coach, manager, and executive, died on September 7.  With him died the last true master of the hidden-ball trick.  Michael successfully executed the play five times in his 973-game career, fifth-most all-time, and more than anyone else in the past 80 years.  To put that into perspective, there have been only five successful tricks in the majors in this century.

The hidden-ball trick is a legal ruse which dates back to the earliest days of organized baseball, but which is rarely used any more.  To pull it off, an infielder conceals the ball until a baserunner, thinking the pitcher has it, wanders off the bag.  The art is to fool not only the runner, but his coaches and teammates and even the fans – yet the pitcher and umpire have to be wise to it.

Here are the details of the Stick’s five tricks, from my book, Finding the Hidden-Ball Trick: The Colorful History of Baseball’s Oldest Ruse (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015):

            Date: September 17, 1968

            Teams: New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers (American League)

            Perpetrator: Yankees’ shortstop Gene Michael

            Victim: Tom Matchick, Tigers

According to The Sporting News in 1970, “Michael had previously pulled (the hidden-ball trick) on Zoilo Versalles and Tom Matchik [sic].”[i]  With these sparse clues, I was able to determine that the one on Matchick was on this date, as Michaels nabbed the Tigers’ rookie in the seventh inning.

            Date: June 28, 1969

            Teams: New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians (American League)

            Perpetrator: Yankees’ shortstop Gene Michael

            Victim: Zoilo Versalles, Indians

The other trick referenced above was found in this game, Michael getting Versalles in the sixth frame. 

            Date: June 13, 1970

            Teams: New York Yankees vs. Kansas City Royals (American League)

            Perpetrator: Yankees’ shortstop Gene Michael

            Victim: Joe Keough, Royals

According to noted journalist Bob Addie, “Kansas City’s talented sophomore Lou Piniella started the sixth inning with a double and scored the tying run on a single by Joe Keough.  While Keough was congratulating himself for getting Kansas City back in the game, Michael palmed the relay from the outfield.  Keough, concentrating on (pitcher Gary Waslewski), took his lead and Michael then stepped in and tagged the embarrassed Keough”[ii]  According to The Sporting News, “Gene’s mates call him Stick because of his build, but many opponents refer to him as Slick for the bag of tricks he unfolds.  Joe Keough of Kansas City was the latest victim of Gene’s hidden-ball stunt recently … He does it with a sheepish grin. ‘I’d never do it just to embarrass a guy,’ Michael said.  ‘If it might help win a game, then I’ll try it.  I guess all’s fair in love or war.’”[iii]

Date: July 27, 1970

            Teams: New York Yankees vs. California Angels (American League)

            Perpetrator: Yankees’ shortstop Gene Michael

            Victim: Jarvis Tatum, Angels

According to The Sporting News, “Gene Michael pulled the hidden ball trick for the second time this year and it helped beat the Angels.  He got pinch-runner Jarvis Tatum, to blunt an Angel rally… Shortstop Gene Michael of the Yankees was up to an old trick against the Angels July 27.  Michael pulled the ancient hidden ball trick on pinch-runner Jarvis Tatum, who had strayed off second base, to help Mel Stottlemyre out of a ninth-inning jam.  ‘That was the fourth time I’ve pulled it in the major leagues,’ said Michael.  Earlier this season he nailed the Royals’ Joe Keough.”[iv]  According to Bob Addie, “Jarvis Tatum was put in to run in the ninth inning of a tie game when Yankee pitcher Mel Stottlemyre was in a jam.  Jarvis represented the winning run.  Michael palmed the ball and bluffed Jarvis back to second.  Michael then strolled back to second and Jarvis, intent on Stottlemyre, didn’t bother going back to second base.  Michael put the tag on and the inning was over.  The Yanks won with three runs in the 10th… ‘I make sure the second base umpire knows I’m going to pull the hidden ball trick,’ Michael said.  ‘If you don’t warn the umpire, it could get a little confusing.   I must say the umpires have been great actors.  It’s tough to keep a straight face when it’s going on.’”[v]  Three decades later, Michael recalled, “One time I knew there was a runner I could get, but I looked and the umpire, Emmett Ashford, was in right-center.  I yelled to him and he came trotting to second.  I showed him the ball and his eyes got real big.  The runner didn’t see it.  He took a couple more steps, and I trotted over and tagged him.”[vi]

Incidentally, The Stick tried for his third trick in eight weeks on August 7, 1970, according to a picture caption in that day’s New York Times: “THE OLD HIDDEN BALL PLOY – FAILS: Gene Michael, Yankees’ shortstop who was successful twice recently in fooling baserunners, was unable to entice Tigers’ Elliott Maddox off second base in second inning at the Stadium.”[vii]

            Date: June 6, 1973

            Teams: New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers (American League)

            Perpetrator: Yankees’ shortstop Gene Michael

            Victim: Vic Harris, Rangers

Michael scored his fifth successful trick, more than anyone else since 1937 and unapproached since.  The Yankees’ shortstop took the relay from left fielder Roy White, following a sacrifice fly by the Rangers’ Toby Harrah (who had pulled the trick off himself less than a year earlier), kept the ball, and nabbed Harris at second base.  According to The Sporting News, “The Yankees pulled the old hidden-ball trick on the Rangers in a 5-2 victory June 6.  With Texas runners at first and second base, two out and Rico Carty prepared to bat in the fifth inning, New York right-hander Steve Kline circled the mound pretending to rub the baseball.  When Vic Harris led off second base, shortstop Gene Michael moved in for the tag and the inning was over.  ‘Michael had the ball, but I had to make it look good,’ said Kline.”

A decade later, Michael seemed embarrassed to discuss his prowess.  “Heck, I only pulled it five times in my career, no big deal.  But the truth is I could have done it a lot more times if I’d wanted to.  It’s always easier to pull it at second base because the runner usually has to do something ‘extra’ to get there (hit a double, steal, etc.) and it seems to cause a temporary loss of his concentration.  But if you keep doing it, you run the risk of antagonizing the player you fool.  He thinks you are showing him up.  The first time I worked the hidden ball was against Zoilo Versalles of the Twins.  He told the press I was bush.  And I said ‘Why?   He was the guy who made the mistake.’  Why didn’t I pull the hidden ball trick more often?  Why didn’t I want to run the risk of antagonizing people?   I don’t know.  Human nature, I guess.”[viii]  Three decades later, Michael reflected “I had five of them, but I could have had 15.  If you did it too much, they’d think you were trying to be smarter than they were so I stopped doing it.”[ix]

[i] The Sporting News, July 4, 1970, p. 15.

[ii] Addie, Bob.  “Pickoff.” Street & Smith’s 1971 Official Baseball Yearbook, p. 73.

[iii] The Sporting News, July 4, 1970, p. 15.

[iv] The Sporting News, August 15, 1970, p. 13, 30.

[v] Addie, Bob.  “Pickoff.” Street & Smith’s 1971 Official Baseball Yearbook, p. 73.

[vi] New York Times, July 7, 2002.

[vii] New York Times, August 7, 1970.

[viii] The Sporting News, April 4, 1983, p. 19.

How About a “Contributors” Category for Cooperstown?

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has a category called “contributors” among those considered and enshrined there.  So does the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  And the World Golf Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  Just about every major Hall of Fame has that category, or something equivalent.

Except the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The early Baseball Hall elections didn’t categorize candidates, or even have formal ballots.  If you got enough votes, you were enshrined.  The BBWAA considered 20th-century players, while special old-timers’ committees elected men who, decades later, were categorized as pioneers, executives, managers, or old-time players.

In 1953, a formal Veterans’ Committee was established, with the power to consider major league players by-passed by the BBWAA, along with managers, executives, and umpires – that’s all.  No more pioneers, no coaches, no scouts, no broadcasters or writers (who are eligible for special awards, but not enshrinement), no standouts in leagues outside of Major League Baseball (though Negro leagues’ stars were made eligible in 1971).  Since 2001, the Veterans’ Committee has been succeeded by a series of long-named similar bodies, but the candidates they can consider remain the same.

There is a rule which states, “Those whose careers entailed involvement in multiple categories will be considered for their overall contribution to the game of Baseball; however, the specific category in which these individuals shall be considered will be determined by the role in which they were most prominent.”  And they must meet the ten-year service requirements for that category.  Again, only the four eligible categories count.

So, what if the Hall’s Board of Directors created a “contributors” category, enabling voters to consider all contributions to the game of baseball?  Who might break out of the pigeonholes to find a home in Cooperstown?  Here are a few potential candidates:

Lefty O’Doul – Though he didn’t become a regular outfielder until his 30s, O’Doul was one of the top hitters in the game for a few years.  He won the NL batting title in 1929 (.398) and 1932 (.368), setting a league record with 254 hits in the former season.  He finished with a .349 career average; only Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Jackson had higher marks with as much playing time.  But, though O’Doul played the requisite ten years to qualify for the Hall of Fame, he topped 400 at bats in just four of them, and BBWAA voters largely ignored him.  He peaked at 45 votes (17%) in 1960.

The reason for O’Doul’s delayed start as a great hitter was that he started as a pitcher.  He pitched in the pros from 1917-24, with four cups of coffee in the majors.  In 1921, he went 25-9 for his hometown San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.  But an arm injury forced him to reinvent himself as an outfielder at age 27.  From 1924-27 he batted .392, .375, .338, and .378 in the PCL, and he finally got a chance in the majors at age 31 in ’28.

After his big league career ended, Lefty returned to the PCL as a player-manager in 1935.  His playing time gradually diminished, but he remained in the dugout for 23 years, amassing 2094 victories and becoming a legend in San Francisco.  O’Doul led the Seals to four straight playoff championships, 1943-46.

Perhaps his biggest contribution was as “The Father of Baseball in Japan.”  O’Doul made some 20 trips to that country in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, performing as player, manager, teacher, and ambassador.  He had a profound influence on the development of professional baseball in Japan, earning him posthumous enshrinement into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Buck O’Neil – A lot of people were upset when O’Neil was passed up for Hall of Fame honors in 2006.  A special committee of baseball scholars voted in 16 Negro leagues’ participants, all of them dead and most of them obscure to the average fan, effectively closing the book on eligibility for pre-1947 African-American players.  O’Neil died later that year, just shy of his 95th birthday.

The consensus of the voters was that he was a good player, but not Hall of Fame-caliber.  Maybe so, but there was a lot more to Buck O’Neil than his playing record.

O’Neil played 12 years, mostly for the Kansas City Monarchs.  A singles-hitting first baseman, he batted .292 in league games (based on available data), winning a batting title.  He was the Monarchs’ player-manager in 1948-50, then remained as manager another five years, leading the team to five pennants.

O’Neil scouted for the Chicago Cubs, signing future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Lou Brock.  In 1962 he became a coach for the team, the first African-American coach in major league history.  O’Neil later became a special scout for the Kansas City Royals.

But Buck’s most-remembered role was in his golden years, as a goodwill ambassador for the game.  He served on the Hall of Fame’s Veterans’ Committee from 1981-2001, and was chairman of the Board for the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City from its opening in 1990 until his death.  O’Neil stole the show in Ken Burns’s 1994 Baseball documentary, with his upbeat recollections of early black baseball and observations about the current game.

Shortly after his death, and perhaps in response to his snubbing, the Hall of Fame created the John J. “Buck” O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.  O’Neil was the first honoree; he has been followed, at three-year intervals, by Roland Hemond, Joe Garagiola, and Rachel Robinson.

Johnny Sain – Sain is considered the pitching coach whom all other pitching coaches are compared to – but it won’t get him to Cooperstown, under current rules, which don’t recognize coaching service.  Sain had many pitchers who won 20+ games under his tutelage, some who had never done so before and would never do so after: Whitey Ford, Ralph Terry, Jim Bouton, Mudcat Grant, Jim Kaat, Earl Wilson, Denny McLain, Wilbur Wood, and Stan Bahnsen – not to mention Dave Boswell, Jim Perry, and Mickey Lolich, who learned from Sain and won 20 later on.

Sain had been a pretty fair pitcher in his own right, winning 20+ games four times in five years for the Boston Braves.  He led the Braves to the 1948 NL pennant with 24 victories, finishing second in MVP voting.  Sain rebounded from shoulder problems to become a top-flight reliever for the Yankees in the 1950s.  He could handle a bat, too, batting .245 lifetime, leading the NL in sacrifices one year, and striking out just 20 times in 856 plate appearances.

Sain peaked at 123 votes (34%) in his last year of BBWAA Hall of Fame eligibility, 1975.

Bill White – During his playing career (1956-69), White won seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards at first base and earned five All-Star selections.  He was a solid middle-of-the-lineup man, posting three straight seasons of 100+ RBI and a .300+ average for the Cardinals.  He finished with 202 homers and a .286 average, and received 18 Hall of Fame votes over three years.

White then spent 17 years as a respected Yankees’ broadcaster, playing straight man to Phil Rizzuto’s comedy show.  And, in 1989, White was named President of the National League – the first African-American to hold such a lofty post.  He retired in 1994.

A Polka-Dotted All-Star Team

In the same vein as the all-time Italian-American baseball team I assembled for a recent blog, here I present a mythical all-star team made up of players of Polish descent.

In determining players’ positions (except designated hitter), I consider only the post at which a player has played more games than at any other.  For example, although Carl Yastrzemski played 765 games at first base, he was not considered at that position because he played far more in the outfield.

Without further preamble, here are my nominations for the “Polka-Dotted All-Star Team”:

First Base: Ted Kluszewski, Cincinnati’s bulging-bicepped belter of the 1950s, is a strong choice.  Big Klu had three 40-homer seasons, five 100-RBI campaigns, and topped .300 in seven of his eight seasons as an everyday player.  He had tremendous bat control for a slugger, often amassing more home runs than strikeouts, and was a sure-handed first sacker, leading the N.L. in fielding percentage for five straight years.  Other solid Polish first basemen are the White Sox’ Paul Konerko (half-Italian), who had 439 homers and a .279 average, and makes the lineup as the team’s DH; Ed Konetchy, who collected 2148 hits and a .281 average during the dead-ball era, also leading his leagues in fielding eight times; and Bill “Moose” Skowron of Yankees’ fame, who poled 211 homers (plus eight more in World Series play) and batted .282 lifetime.

Second Base: Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski is almost universally regarded as the greatest defensive second baseman in the game’s history; his double play records and eight Gold Gloves attest to that.  Maz also had more than 2000 hits, including the dramatic, World Series-winning home run for the 1960 Pirates.  Other capable keystoners include Cass Michaels (born Casimir Kwietniewski), Eddie Mayo (Edward Mayoski), and Mickey Witek.

Third Base: Whitey Kurowski gets the nod for his short but sweet Cardinals’ career.  He batted .300 three times, and had two 100-RBI seasons, helping the Cards to four World Series in the 1940s.  Runners-up at the hot corner include Hank Majeski (57 homers, .279 average) and Ray Jablonski (83, .268).

Shortstop: Mark Grudzielanek, who collected 2040 hits and a .289 average, is the choice here.  Other sharp shortstops of Polish descent are Tony Kubek, who was the 1957 AL Rookie of the Year and helped the Yankees win six league titles during his nine-year career; Eddie Kasko; Billy Urbanski; and Joe Boley (John Bolinsky).

Outfield: the Polish-American outfield could top that of just about any real or imagined team in history.  How about seven-time batting champion and three-time MVP Stan Musial in right, Hall of Famer Al Simmons (Aloys Szymanski) in center, and Triple Crown-winner Carl Yastrzemski in left?  The trio accounts for nearly 10,000 hits, more than 5,600 runs batted in, and 12 batting titles.  Their individual batting accomplishments are too numerous to list, and they were no slouches in the field, either.  Other gifted gardeners: Greg Luzinski (307 HR, 1128 RBI); Richie Zisk (207 HR, .287); Tom Tresh (153 HR); Chet Laabs (117 HR); Rip Repulski (106 HR); Tom Paciorek (.282); Adam Comorosky (.285); Johnny Wyrostek; Whitey Witt (Ladislaw Wittkowski); and Gene Hermanski.

Catcher: Stan Lopata, who hit 32 homers in 1956 and 116 in his career, is the best catcher of a weak group.  Backup backstops are Gene Oliver, Mike Tresh, Frankie Pytlak, and Carl Sawatski.

Right-handed Pitcher: Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski, who collected five 20-win seasons and two ERA crowns, gets a slight edge over another inductee, knuckleballing 318-game winner Phil Niekro.  Other respectable righties include Joe Niekro (221-204 record), Cy Young Award-winner Doug Drabek (155-134), Steve Gromek (123-108), Mike Krukow (124-117), and Mike Ryba.  There is evidence that ageless spitballer John Paykos, A.K.A. Jack Quinn (247-218), was also Polish

Left-handed Pitcher: Eddie Lopat (Edmund Lopatynski) is the ace lefty on the staff on the strength of a 166-112 career log.  Southpaw standouts of Polish ancestry also include Frank Tanana (240-236), Harry Coveleski (Stan’s brother), and Ray Sadecki (135-131).

Relief Pitcher: Lefty Ron Perranoski, who had 79 relief victories, 179 saves, and a 2.79 ERA, is the closer.  Other bullpen aces, all righties: Dick “The Monster” Radatz; MVP-winner Jim Konstanty; Poland-born prankster Moe Drabowsky; and Ted Wilks.

Manager: Eddie Kasko, whose Red Sox’ teams never won fewer than 85 games during his four years at the helm, is the skipper.

If the Polish-American All-Stars were to compete against the Italian-American ones in an extended series, it might be an interesting one.  The starting lineups match up pretty evenly; it would probably boil down to the Poles’ pitching depth versus the Italians’ bench strength.  I’ll leave the results to imagination; we have enough ethnic battles in this world already.

THE TEAM

 POS. Player YRS AB R H HR RBI AVG
1B Ted Kluszewski 15 5929 848 1766 279 1028 .298
2B Bill Mazeroski 17 7755 769 2016 138 853 .260
3B Whitey Kurowski 9 3229 518 925 106 529 .286
SS Mark Grudzielanek 15 7052 946 2040 90 640 .289
OF Stan Musial 22 10972 1949 3630 475 1951 .331
OF Al Simmons 20 8761 1507 2927 307 1827 .334
OF Carl Yastrzemski 23 11988 1816 3419 452 1844 .285
C Stan Lopata 13 2601 375 661 116 397 .254
DH Paul Konerko 18 8393 1162 2340 439 1412 .279

 

POS. Pitcher YRS IP W L SO ERA
RHP Stan Coveleski 14 3093 215 142 981 2.88
LHP Eddie Lopat 12 2439 166 112 859 3.21
RP Ron Perranoski 13 1175 79 74 687 2.79

The All-Star Game That Wasn’t

The Major League All-Star Game has been held each year since 1933, with one exception.  If you check the record books for the result of the 1945 contest, you will see something like “Game canceled due to wartime travel restrictions.”  But, who decided that there would be no game?  And when?  Was anything held in its stead?

The game was scheduled.  It was to be played at Boston’s Fenway Park on Tuesday, July 10.  Even after the contest was nixed in February, schedule-makers left the dates of July 9-11 open in hopes that circumstances might change by then.

During the winter of 1944-45, America’s involvement in World War II was at its most critical stage.  Although President Franklin Roosevelt had given the “green light” for baseball to continue three years earlier, times had changed, and there was serious doubt as to whether the 1945 season would be held at all.  The game had no commissioner, following Kenesaw Landis’s death on November 25, 1944, and most of its biggest stars – Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, et al – were in military service.

On February 21, 1945, league presidents Ford Frick and William Harridge met with Col. J. Monroe Johnson, Director of the Office of Defense Transportation (ODT).  By the end of the meeting, the baseball season was still alive, but the World Series appeared doubtful and the All-Star Game was dead.  “The transportation situation this year is so critical,” announced Johnson, “that I am asking Baseball to effect such further economies as will permit the continuance of the national game.”  Johnson “requested” that baseball cut travel by 25% in comparison with 1944, and Frick and Harridge – as part of the reduction plan – volunteered to eliminate the mid-summer classic, estimating that “500,000 man-miles” would be saved.  Spring Training was also curtailed again; no team trained any further south than Cairo, Illinois.

The March 8 edition of The Sporting News had a column from Boston Post writer Jack Malaney.  Malaney, former president of the Baseball Writers’ Association, and future member of the Hall of Fame Veterans’ Committee, proposed that each of the 16 major league teams play inter-league exhibition games on July 10, scheduled to minimize travel.  The five cities with teams in each league – Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis – would host games between the cross-town rivals, while the others would play in cities en route to regularly-scheduled games.  Proceeds from the games would be split between the American Red Cross and the National War Fund (in 1942-44, many regular league games had been designated for the same cause).

On April 24, club owners – meeting in Cleveland to select the new Commissioner, Happy Chandler – approved the “Jack Malaney Plan.”  Besides the same-city games, Cincinnati would play at Cleveland and Brooklyn at Washington.  An eighth contest would later be scrapped when the ODT refused to grant the Tigers permission to detour 62 miles to get to Pittsburgh.

After Germany’s surrender on May 7, baseball followers wondered if the All-Star Game might be exhumed.  Col. Johnson, however, quickly burst that bubble.  “They ought to quit yapping about that sort of thing,” said Johnson on May 12.  “Conditions are far worse now than at any time since we began going over transportation problems with various sports groups.”

On June 1 came a surprise twist to the story.  Brigadier General Michael Todd, a New York theatrical producer and consultant for the Army Special Services on Entertainment, announced his plan – approved by the Supreme Allied Headquarters – to stage the mid-summer classic at Germany’s Nuremberg Stadium (capacity 120,000).  “GI’s want American entertainment,” said Todd, “and there isn’t anything more American than the All-Star Game … We’ll have a game right here where Hitler used to strut.”  Todd offered to arrange the transportation, and suggested that the likes of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb be brought over to act as coaches or managers.  The plan provided for two games between league All-Stars and servicemen, leading up to the main event.  But major league officials, hearing of the grandiose scheme, quickly pronounced it wholly impractical, due to traveling and scheduling red tape.

The seven benefit games were held on July 9 and 10.  At old Comiskey Park, the White Sox edged the Cubs, 5-4, in ten innings, before Chicago’s biggest crowd (47,144) since 1941.  At Cleveland, the Reds blanked the Indians, 6-0.  At New York’s Polo Grounds, Hershel Martin’s grand slam helped the Yankees trounce the Giants, 7-1, in a rain-shortened game.  At Philadelphia, slugger Jimmie Foxx was the starting pitcher for the Phillies (or Bluejays) as they defeated the Athletics, 7-6.

At St. Louis, the Browns avenged their 1944 World Series loss to the Cardinals with a 3-0 triumph.  The Browns had nine different pitchers hurl one shutout inning each, while the Cards had four pitchers work two innings apiece.  Despite the 11 pitching changes, the game took only one hour, 31 minutes to play!

At Fenway Park, the Red Sox topped the Braves, 8-1, in the only day-game of the series.  Dave “Boo” Ferriss, discarding plans to pitch both right- and left-handed in the game, stayed with his right in subduing the Braves.  The Sox’ Jack Tobin singled off his brother, Jim, while Tommy Holmes managed a safety for the Braves.  Holmes entered the All-Star break with a .401 average and a N.L.-record 37-game hitting streak, but the skein was snapped the day the regular schedule was resumed.

And, at Washington, the Senators defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-3, in a game marred by the career-ending knee injury suffered by Brooklyn’s rookie pitcher, Lee Pfund.  Ironically, the game’s winning pitcher was Bert Shepard, who had lost a leg in military service.

The games raised a total of $244,778 for charity, and on July 12, it was back to business as usual.  By 1946, the war was over, baseball was back in full swing, and the All-Star Game was again an annual event.

The All-Time, All-Italian, All-Star Team

Assembling mythical ethnic all-star teams is one of my hobbies as a baseball researcher, though the research can be frustrating.  For example, in trying to ascertain whether Ken Boyer belonged on my All-French team, I checked his player questionnaire on file at the National Baseball Library.  Under “nationality,” Boyer had written “unknown.”  To further cloud the issue, Boyer’s big league brothers, Clete and Cloyd, had listed “German” and “Irish,” respectively, on their questionnaires.  If the players themselves don’t know their ethnic backgrounds, how am I supposed to know?

Nevertheless, I have managed to put together several hypothetical teams which could compete with any of today’s pennant contenders.  One of my favorites is the Italian-American team, as follows:

First Base: Jason Giambi displaced another former MVP on this team.   The slugger amassed 440 homers, 1441 RBI, and the 2000 AL MVP Award during his career.  He supplanted Dolf Camilli, who was the NL MVP in 1941, when he topped the league in homers and RBI.  In a 12-year career, Camilli clubbed 239 home runs and knocked in 950 runs.  Joey Votto (.313 average and the 2010 NL MVP Award) could overtake Giambi before he’s through.  An argument could be made for the Polish/Italian Paul Konerko (439 homers, .279), but he’s needed more on my Polish-American team.  Other notable first sackers of Italian descent include Zeke Bonura, who averaged .307 with 101 RBI per year over his brief time in the majors; Phil Cavarretta, who batted .293 with 1977 hits in a career that included an MVP and a batting title; Joe Pepitone, a slick fielder who hit 219 homers during his stormy big league tenure; Jim Gentile, who hit 179 round-trippers, including 46 in 1961; Steve Balboni, who said “Bye Bye” to 181 baseballs; Paul Sorrento (166 homers); and Rico Brogna (106 homers).

Second Base: Hall of Famer Craig Biggio finished his career in 2007 with 668 doubles and 291 homers among his 3060 hits, not to mention 414 steals, 1844 runs scored, and four Gold Gloves.  He replaced Tony Lazzeri of the “Murderers Row” Yankees, who batted .292 lifetime with power and speed.  Steve Sax (1949 hits) and Dick McAuliffe (197 homers) both had Italian mothers.  Other second sackers of note are Tony Cuccinello, Mickey Morandini, Frank LaPorte, Frankie Gustine, Oscar Melillo, and Alfred Pesano.  Pesano – better known as Billy Martin – was a scrapper who saved his best play for October, slugging .566 in 28 World Series games.

Third Base: Hall of Famer Ron Santo, even though he is part-Swedish, gets the vote for his 342 home runs, 1331 RBI, and five Gold Glove Awards.  Other paisanos who starred at the hot corner: the Mets’ David Wright (235 homers, .298 through 2016), whose mother is Italian; Gary Gaetti, who collected 360 homers, 1341 RBI, and four Gold Gloves; Robin Ventura, a five-time Gold Glover whose 294 dingers included 18 grand slams; Sal Bando, who swatted 242 homers and drove in 1039 runs; Doug DeCinces, who hit 237 big flies; Ken Caminiti, the 1996 NL MVP; Jeff Cirillo, who had a .296 career average; Frank Malzone, another Gold Glover, who batted .274 with 133 homers; plus Bob Aspromonte, Cookie Lavagetto, Bill Serena, and Mike Pagliarulo.

Shortstop: Phil Rizzuto’s 1994 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame guaranteed him not only a plaque in Cooperstown, but – more significantly – the shortstop job on my team.  The Scooter gets the nod over such notables as Rico Petrocelli, Rich Aurilia, Jim Fregosi, Larry Bowa, Frankie Crosetti, Mark Belanger, Tim Foli, and Bobby Valentine for this unique honor.  Rizzuto helped the Yankees into nine World Series with his slick glove and scrappy play, batting .273 lifetime and winning the 1950 AL MVP Award.  Petrocelli hit 210 homers, including 40 in 1969.  Aurilia had 186 long-balls and a .275 average.  Fregosi had 151 homers and a .265 mark, while Bowa had 2191 hits; both are half-Italian.  Crosetti collected 1006 runs and 1541 hits, while Foli had 1515 safeties.

Outfield: There is little room for dispute in the selections of Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio in center field, flanked by Rocky Colavito in left and Carl Furillo in right.  Offensively, DiMag batted .325 with 361 homers and 1537 RBI in just 13 seasons, winning three MVPs; Colavito was, until 2004, the all-time Italian home run champion, with 374 circuit clouts; and Furillo had 192 homers and a .299 average, including a batting title.  And, defensively?  Any outfield in which Joe DiMaggio has the weakest throwing arm can’t be too bad!  Other Romans roaming the outfield: Dominic and Vince DiMaggio, Jack Clark (Italian mother), Frank Demaree (born Joseph DiMaria), Tony Conigliaro, Tito Francona, Lee Mazzilli, Dan Pasqua, Ernie Orsatti, Ping Bodie (Francesco Pezzollo), Pete Incaviglia, Buttercup Dickerson, and Sam Mele, to name a few.

Catcher: Hall of Famer Yogi Berra is arguably the greatest catcher of all time, thus certainly the best of an ultra-strong field of Italian backstops.  Berra, a three-time MVP who played in 14 World Series, slammed 358 homers and drove in 1430 runs, enough to beat out fellow Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Ernie Lombardi (190 HR, .306) for this spot.  Piazza can lay claim to being the best offensive catcher of all time, with 427 homers and a .308 average on his résumé.   Other solid backups include Mike Napoli, Gene Tenace (Fiore Gino Tennaci), Johnny Romano, Gus Mancuso, Phil Masi, Jim Pagliaroni, Mike Scioscia, and Joe Girardi.  Two others deserve honorable mention, at the least: Hall of Famer Roy Campanella, an African-American whose father was Italian; and Joe Torre, the 1971 NL batting champ and MVP, who divided his major league playing time between catcher, first base, and third base.  Since we can’t identify Torre with a single position, he will serve capably as the team’s designated hitter.

Right-handed Pitcher: Mike Mussina (270 wins, 153 losses) beats out Hall of Famer John Smoltz (213-155, 3084 strikeouts, 154 saves, plus 15-4 in post-season), whose mother was Italian.  Other respectable righties include Jim Maloney (134-84), Vic Raschi (132-66), Sal “The Barber” Maglie (119-62), San Francisco’s Barry Zito (165-143 and a Cy Young Award), Ralph Branca, John Montefusco, Chris Bosio, Tom Candiotti, and Ernie Broglio.

Left-handed Pitcher: Andy Pettitte, even though he is half-Cajun, gets the starting assignment on the strength of a 256-153 record plus 19-11 in post-season.  Runners-up are Frank Viola (176-150 and the 1988 AL Cy Young Award), Johnny Antonelli (126-110), Don Mossi (101-80), and Jeff Fassero (121-124).

Relief Pitcher: Righty Rollie Fingers (341 saves) is only half-Italian, but his Hall of Fame status puts him ahead of left-handers John Franco (90-87, 424 saves, 2.89 ERA) and Dave Righetti (82-79, 252 saves, 3.46), and right-hander Dave Giusti (100-93, 145 saves).

Manager:  Billy Martin, for the first year; then we fire him and bring in Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, or Tommy Lasorda.

 

THE TEAM

 

POS. Player YRS AB R H HR RBI AVG
1B Jason Giambi 20 7267 1227 2010 440 1441 .277
2B Craig Biggio 20 10876 1844 3060 291 1175 .281
3B Ron Santo 15 8143 1138 2254 342 1331 .277
SS Phil Rizzuto 13 5816 877 1588 38 562 .273
OF Joe DiMaggio 13 6821 1390 2214 361 1537 .325
OF Rocky Colavito 14 6503 971 1730 374 1159 .266
OF Carl Furillo 15 6378 895 1910 192 1058 .299
C Yogi Berra 19 7555 1175 2150 358 1430 .285
DH Joe Torre 18 7874 996 2342 252 1185 .297

 

POS. Pitcher YRS IP W L SO ERA
RHP Mike Mussina 18 3563 270 153 2813 3.68
LHP Frank Viola 15 2836 176 150 1844 3.73
RP Rollie Fingers 17 1701 114 118 1299 2.90

 

Note: statistics are complete through 2016.

Big Leaguers on the Small Screen

(Note: The following article originally appeared as “Some Stars Have Their Act Together” in the April 15-21, 1998 issue of USA Today Baseball Weekly.  It has not been updated.)

Baseball and television have gone together since 1939 – in more ways than one.  Besides the televising of major league games, many current and former players and personalities have increased their visibility through TV.  Many (such as Joe “Mr. Coffee” DiMaggio) have appeared pitching products of one kind or another.  Others have tried their hands at acting.

Dozens of big leaguers have appeared on the small screen.  They are most often geographically-advantaged Los Angeles players, and typically portray themselves in guest star roles.  We are indebted to James Mote, whose book Everything Baseball documents baseball connections to TV and just about every other form of art and/or entertainment.

Don Drysdale, the L.A. Dodgers’ Hall of Fame pitcher, was the champion of the prime-time guest spot.  Drysdale – invariably playing himself – appeared four times on The Donna Reed Show, and once each on Leave it to Beaver, Our Man Higgins, The Flying Nun, The Joey Bishop Show, The Brady Bunch, Then Came Bronson, and The Greatest American Hero.

Leo Durocher, another Hall of Famer, ranks second to Drysdale.  Durocher surfaced in The Beverly Hillbillies, The Munsters, Mr. Ed, and two episodes The Donna Reed Show.  Durocher – at the time a Dodgers’ coach – was unsuccessful in signing either Jethro Bodine, Herman Munster, or Mister Ed for the Dodgers.

Other major league players or personalities who popped up in prime time:

Bo Belinsky – The Los Angeles Angels’ high-profile pitcher appeared in The Lloyd Bridges Show (with teammate Eddie Sadowski) and 77 Sunset Strip.

Johnny Bench – The Reds’ Hall of Fame catcher guested on an episode of Mission: Impossible.

Yogi Berra – The Yankees’ Hall of Fame catcher turned up on The Phil Silvers Show, after Sergeant Bilko (Silvers) discovered that one of his men had great potential as a ballplayer.

Wade Boggs – The Red Sox’ third baseman stopped for a drink at Boston’s Cheers, only to be unceremoniously booted out of the place.  Bar patrons thought it was a practical joke played by a rival bar-owner, and didn’t believe it was really Boggs.

Jim Bouton – The former pitcher and best-selling author of Ball Four starred in a 1976 series based on that book.  Ball Four took a walk after four episodes.

Ron Cey – He and former Dodgers’ teammate Rick Monday appeared in a 1985 episode of Hardcastle & McCormick.

Chuck Connors – The former Brooklyn Dodgers’ and Chicago Cubs’ first baseman became a successful TV actor, starring in such series as The Rifleman (1958-63), Arrest and Trial (1963-64), Branded (1965-66), Cowboy in Africa (1967-68), Thrill Seekers (1973-74), The Yellow Rose (1983-84), and Werewolf (1987-88).  Incidentally, another former big leaguer – Johnny Berardino, who played with three teams between 1939-52 – made it big in daytime television.  Dropping the second “r” from his surname, Johnny starred for decades as Dr. Steve Hardy on General Hospital.

Willie Davis – The Dodgers’ outfielder teamed with Drysdale in The Flying Nun, as Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) found a moral victory in her team’s 43-1 loss.

Whitey Ford – The Yankees’ Hall of Fame pitcher appeared on two shows 27 years apart: in The Phil Silvers Show, with teammates Berra and Phil Rizzuto (plus announcer Red Barber) in 1957; and in Remington Steele with Mickey Mantle in 1984.

Joe Garagiola – The catcher-turned-announcer was in the pilot episode of Lucas Tanner, a show about a former baseball player (Tanner, played by David Hartman) who became a rural English teacher.  Other shows who featured fictional former big leaguers include Cheers (Ted Danson as Sam “Mayday” Malone, a former Boston Red Sox’ reliever tending bar); and Who’s the Boss? (Tony Danza as Tony Micelli, a former St. Louis Cardinals’ player keeping house for a wealthy widow).

Bob Gibson – The Cardinals’ Hall of Fame pitcher taught a Little Leaguer the value of good sportsmanship on Gentle Ben.

Keith Hernandez – The former Cardinals’ and Mets’ first baseman played himself on Seinfeld.  After George Costanza (Jason Alexander) was “hired” by George Steinbrenner, a parade of Yankees – including manager Buck Showalter, and players Danny Tartabull, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter – made appearances on the show.

Reggie Jackson – The Hall of Fame slugger appeared, with Angels’ teammates Brian Downing and Mike Witt, on The Jeffersons in 1985.  The episode was entitled “The Unnatural.”

Sandy Koufax – The Dodgers’ Hall of Fame pitcher surfaced on Michael Shayne and Dennis the Menace.

Jim Lefebvre – He and Dodgers’ teammate Al Ferrara portrayed island natives in a 1967 episode of Gilligan’s Island.  Covered in war-paint and headdresses, they would have escaped recognition except for the closing credits.

Willie Mays – The Giants’ Hall of Fame outfielder turned up on three episodes of The Donna Reed Show, twice joining Drysdale and Durocher.

Don Newcombe – The former Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitcher, accompanied by former major league umpire Art Passarella, appeared on Nichols.

Wes Parker – The Dodgers’ Gold Glove first baseman portrayed himself as the fiancé of Greg’s math teacher in a 1970 episode of The Brady Bunch.  Parker must believe in long engagements: he is still unmarried.

Steve Sax – The Dodgers’ second baseman appeared on Square Pegs and Who’s the Boss.

Vin Scully – The long-time Dodgers’ announcer guested on Michael Shayne, Karen, and The Joey Bishop Show.  He can also be heard doing a fabricated play-by-play during a 1964 episode of The Fugitive.

Larry Sherry – Appeared with fellow Dodgers’ pitcher Stan Williams in both The Tom Ewell Show and Michael Shayne.  Fellow Dodgers Koufax, Scully, and Ed Roebuck joined them on the latter program.

Duke Snider – The Brooklyn Dodgers’ Hall of Fame outfielder showed up on Father Knows Best, after Jim Anderson (Robert Young) arranged for him and his touring all-star team to play in Springfield.

Bob Uecker – Another catcher-turned-announcer, Uecker guested (with Sax and legendary manager Billy Martin) on Who’s the Boss, then starred for many years as George Owens in Mr. Belvedere.

Maury Wills – The former NL MVP appeared in an episode of Get Smart.

2016 Baseball Briefs

 

Inspired by the late Bob Davids’s annual “Baseball Briefs,” for the past two decades I have been compiling my own tidbits about each major league season.  Baseball Digest usually publishes a selection of them, as they did in the current March/April 2017 issue.  Following are the 2016 items that didn’t make the cut: 

  • Boston’s Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young Award, but didn’t get a single point in MVP voting. Only three previous Cy Young Award-winners failed to get a mention in MVP voting: Pat Hentgen (1996, AL), Roy Halladay (2003 AL), and Brandon Webb (2006, NL).
  • Two long-time managers finished the 2016 season exactly at .500 for their careers. The Athletics’ Bob Melvin has a 955-955 lifetime won-lost record, and the Mets’ Terry Collins is at 925-925.
  • Padres’ rookie Ryan Schimpf hit 20 home runs, but just 18 singles, enabling him to join sluggers Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire as the only players to have more homers (minimum 20) than singles in a season. Following are those who accomplished this feat, and those who came close, including two other 2016 players:

SMALLEST DIFFERENTIAL BETWEEN 1B & HR HIT, SEASON, 1876-2016 (Min. 20 HR)

Player                                 YEAR     1B         HR   DIFF.

Barry Bonds                          2001        49            73        -24

Mark McGwire                      1998        61            70            -9

Mark McGwire                      1999        58            65            -7

Mark McGwire                      2001        23            29            -6

Mark McGwire                      1995        35            39            -4

Ryan Schimpf                       2016       18           20         -2

Mark McGwire                      2000        32            32            0

Carlos Peña                           2009        41            39            2

Jose Bautista                        2010        56            54            2

Dave Kingman                      1973        27            24            3

Barry Bonds                          1999        37            34            3

Mark McGwire                      1997        63            58            5

David Ross                           2006        26            21            5

Ryan Howard                        2016       30           25           5

Don Mincher                        1964        29            23            6

Art Shamsky                         1966        28            21            7

Mark McGwire                      1996        59            52            7

Giancarlo Stanton 2015        34            27              7

Gary Sanchez                       2016       28           20           8

Adam Dunn                          2012        50            41              9

  • The Marlins’ José Fernandez, tragically killed in a boating accident on September 25, finished seventh in NL Cy Young Award voting with 18 points. The only other player to receive votes for a major award after his death was Lyman Bostock, who died from a gunshot wound on September 24, 1978.  Bostock received eight points in AL MVP voting that year.
  • Boston’s David Ortiz finished his career #5 on the all-time list – behind only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, and Ted Williams – for most extra-base hits per at bat. Following are the sluggers who averaged at least one long hit per eight at bats, including two other active players:

MOST EXTRA-BASE HITS PER AT BAT, 1876-2016 (Min. 800 EBH)

Player                                       AB      EBH      PCT

Babe Ruth                             8399        1356        .161

Lou Gehrig                            8001        1190        .149

Barry Bonds                          9847        1440        .146

Ted Williams                         7706        1117        .145

David Ortiz                           8640       1192       .138

Jimmie Foxx                           8134        1117        .137

Manny Ramirez                    8244        1122        .136

Mark McGwire                      6187        841         .136

Carlos Delgado                     7283        974          .134

Larry Walker                         6907        916         .133

Albert Pujols                        9138       1209       .132

Jim Thome                             8422        1089        .129

Juan Gonzalez                       6556        847         .129

Joe DiMaggio                       6821        881         .129

Lance Berkman                     6491        818         .126

Johnny Mize                         6443        809         .126

Miguel Cabrera                   7853       986        .126

Stan Musial                        10972         1377        .126

Frank Thomas                       8199        1028        .125

Todd Helton                         7962        998          .125

  • Neil Munro notes that the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury shattered the all-time record for most times in a season reaching first base on defensive interference. Roberto Kelly set the old mark of eight in 1992; Ellsbury broke that on July 19 and finished with 12 – more than any team ever had in a season (1992 Yankees, 10), and more than all other American Leaguers had combined (10) in 2016.  In fact, Ellsbury’s 12 DI is more than all but ten other major leaguers had in their careers!  Pete Rose holds the all-time mark of 29; Ellsbury is now just three behind him.
  • The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner again was among the best-hitting pitchers in the majors, ranking tops among hurlers in runs (8), home runs (3), and walks (10). He now has 14 career homers.  Other pitchers who contributed with their bats in 2016: the D’backs’ Patrick Corbin (.306 average), the Pirates’ and Blue Jays’ Francisco Liriano (homer, .286), the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta (17 hits, 2 homers, .262), and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard (3 homers, including two in one game).  But the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright was the cream of the crop, leading all pitchers in doubles (8), RBI (18), and slugging (.484).  Of his 14 hits, 11 (including his first nine) went for extra bases, including two homers; he didn’t get his first single of the year until September 5.
  • Both the Mets’ Curtis Granderson and the Cardinals’ Jedd Gyorko had 30 home runs but just 59 RBI, making them the fourth and fifth players ever to finish a season (minimum 20 homers) averaging less than two RBI per homer. Yankees’ rookie Gary Sanchez also had a low RBI:HR ratio, as shown in this chart:

LOWEST RATIO OF RBI:HOME RUNS, SEASON, 1876-2016 (Min. 20 HR)

Player                                  YEAR        HR        RBI     RATIO

Barry Bonds                          2001        73          137            1.88

Kevin Maas                          1990        21            41            1.95

Chris Duncan                        2006        22            43            1.95

Curtis Granderson             2016       30           59           1.97

Jedd Gyorko                         2016       30           59           1.97

Barry Bonds                          2003        45            90            2.00

Rob Deer                               1992        32            64            2.00

Chris Hoiles                          1992        20            40            2.00

Hanley Ramirez                     2008        33            67            2.03

Mark Reynolds                     2014        22            45            2.05

Carlton Fisk                           1984        21            43            2.05

Alfonso Soriano                   2006        46            95            2.07

Mark Bellhorn                       2002        27            56            2.07

Ron Gant                               2000        26            54            2.08

Joc Pederson                        2015        26            54            2.08

Ruben Rivera                        1999        23            48            2.09

Brad Wilkerson                    2004        32            67            2.09

Garrett Jones                         2009        21            44            2.10

Mark McGwire                      1998        70          147            2.10

Gary Sanchez                       2016       20           42           2.10 

  • In an injury-shortened season, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw had 172 strikeouts but just 11 walks, shattering the all-time single-season record (minimum 150 K’s) for highest SO:BB ratio:

BEST STRIKEOUT:WALK RATIO, SEASON (Min. 150 SO), 1893-2016

Pitcher, CLUB (LG)                          YEAR         SO          BB     SO:BB

Clayton Kershaw, LA (N)               2016       172         11           15.64

Phil Hughes, MIN (A)                         2014        186          16            11.63

Cliff Lee, SEA-TEX (A)                       2010        185          18          10.28

Curt Schilling, ARI (N)                        2002        316          33            9.58

Pedro Martinez, BOS (A)                    2000        284          32            8.88

Greg Maddux, ATL (N)                       1997        177          20            8.85

Pedro Martinez, BOS (A)                    1999        313          37            8.46

Ben Sheets, MIL (N)                            2004        264          32            8.25

Max Scherzer, WAS (N)                      2015        276          34            8.12

  • Each year, the Elias Sports Bureau lists the “top pinch-hitters” in each league – but instead of using a number of hits as the qualifier, they use a minimum of 20 at bats. This produces wacky results annually.  For example, Seattle’s Seth Smith was listed as the AL’s #3 pinch-hitter, going 6-for-28 for a paltry .214 batting average.  But Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim (6-for-9, .667) and Houston’s Tyler White (6-for-13, .462) – each with as many hits in far fewer at bats – were not listed among the leaders, essentially because they didn’t make enough outs in the pinch.  The most impressive AL pinch-hitter was Detroit’s Victor Martinez: in 11 plate appearances, he had three walks, a single, and three home runs, knocking in six runs.  Martinez led all AL pinch-hitters in homers and tied Seattle’s Dae-Hoe Lee for the lead in total bases (13) – but Lee was listed as the slugging leader, as Elias apparently thinks 13 TB in 23 AB is better than 13 TB in 8 AB.  Likewise, Elias listed Miami’s Derek Dietrich as the NL pinch-slugging leader, based on 17 total bases in 20 at bats – but Arizona’s Jake Lamb (17 total bases in 18 at bats) didn’t make the cut.
  • Bursting into the big leagues, the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez blasted 11 homers and batted .379 in August, earning the AL Player of the Month Award. Sanchez didn’t debut in the majors that month, however: he had played in two games in 2015 and one in May, 2016.  The only men to earn Player or Pitcher of the Month honors in their very first months in the majors were Marty Bystrom (September, 1980) and Yasiel Puig (June, 2013).
  • The Rangers’ Carlos Beltran moved into the all-time top ten most prolific switch-hitters, while the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins is just a few spots behind:

MOST PROLIFIC SWITCH-HITTERS, 1876-2016

Pete Rose                              4256

Eddie Murray                        3255

Frankie Frisch                       2880

Omar Vizquel                         2877

Chipper Jones                       2726

Roberto Alomar                    2724

Max Carey                             2665

George Davis                        2665

Carlos Beltran                     2617

Tim Raines                            2605

Ted Simmons                        2472

Ozzie Smith                            2460

Jimmy Rollins                     2455

Red Schoendienst                2449

Mickey Mantle                     2415

  • Before the 2016 season, some pundits – particularly in New York – were touting the Mets’ four young pitching studs, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, and Matt Harvey, as the greatest of all time, with the potential to match the 1971 Orioles’ feat of four 20-game winners on one team. But only Syndergaard even finished the season, going 14-9; Matz was 9-8, deGrom 7-8, and Harvey 4-10 before going down with injuries.  In other words, the rest of the Mets’ staff did better (53-40) than the big four (34-35), and the biggest winner on “the greatest staff of all time” was 43-year-old Bartolo Colon (15-8)!  Also, Michael Fulmer – whom the Mets traded to the Tigers in 2015 because they thought their pitching was so deep – finished with more wins than three of the big four (11-7), earning AL Rookie of the Year honors.
  • At age 25, Mike Trout already ranks 17th all-time in MVP Award shares (where a unanimous selection is equal to one share), with 3.96. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw, 28, ranks sixth all-time in Cy Young Award shares, also with 3.96.  Barry Bonds (9.29) and Roger Clemens (7.65) are the respective leaders.  Other active players among the MVP leaders are Albert Pujols (6.92) and Miguel Cabrera (4.67)
  • How’s this for a batting line: 591 at bats, 191 hits, 52 doubles, 44 homers, 145 RBI, and averages of .323-.404-.641? Those are the numbers amassed by Boston’s designated hitters in 2016.  David Ortiz did most of the damage, but other Red Sox DHs – most notably Hanley Ramirez – combined for even higher averages than Big Papi.
  • Against his old team, the Detroit Tigers, on May 11, the Nationals’ Max Scherzer tied the all-time record of 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning pitching appearance. He matched the mark held by Roger Clemens (4/29/1986, 9/18/1996), Kerry Wood (5/6/1998), and Randy Johnson (5/8/2001).  Perhaps more impressively, Scherzer did not walk a batter during his gem – nor did any of the other three!  So in these five games encompassing 45 innings, the hurlers had 100 strikeouts, and zero walks.
  • David Ortiz hit 38 home runs for the Red Sox. If he keeps his promise to retire, he will have broken Dave Kingman’s record for most homers in his final season; Kingman hit 35 in 1986 before being forced into retirement by owners’ collusion.  Ortiz, who hit 37 in 2015, will also have set the record for most homers (75) in his final two seasons, breaking the record of 69 set by Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg back in 1946-47 (44, 25).
  • Thomas Stripling, who made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 2016, was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1989. He is only the 38th major leaguer ever born on that holiday, joining the likes of Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez, 1988 AL Rookie of the Year Walt Weiss, and Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia.  Even more rare are the leap-day players, joined this year by the Cubs’ Gerardo Concepcion (born February 29, 1992).
  • The Yankees’ Mark Teixeira finished his career with 1862 games played and 1862 hits.
  • Reds’ reliever Tony Cingrani was the best at stopping baserunners in their tracks. Though he pitched just 63 innings, he had four pick-offs – two behind major league leader Julio Urias of the Dodgers – and base-stealers were 0-5 in steal attempts with Cingrani on the mound.
  • As usual, AL substitute batsmen were a collective study in failure, but they took it to new lows in 2016: the league used pinch-hitters on more than 1,400 occasions with an aggregate batting average of just .196.  Over the past eight seasons, AL pinch-swingers have hit .208, .206, .216, .207, .208, .208, .215, and .196, respectively.  Since pitchers rarely bat in this league, I’ll repeat my annual question: Whom are these guys hitting for which makes this such a great strategy?
  • Brandon Guyer had a total of just 345 plate appearances for the Rays and Indians – yet he was hit by 31 pitches, more than any two other AL players combined!

2017 Baseball Season Forecast

                As I said last year, making predictions is the stupidest thing a baseball columnist can do.  Being an expert on baseball’s past does not make you an authority on its future, and predictions usually make you look foolish.  Remember all those experts who said that Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games-streak record would last forever?  Or that the 2016 Mets’ pitching staff would be the greatest of all time?

                But that doesn’t stop writers from doing it.  Every spring, we see columnists’ predictions for the coming season in newspapers and magazines around the country.  I’m no exception; I’ve been making forecasts for the baseball season each year since 1972 (though only twice before in print).  Sometimes I do well; more often I don’t.  In 2014, for instance, I predicted three of the six division winners (better than most prognosticators), but each of the last two years year I got only one.  I guess I’m saying “Don’t mortgage your house to bet on my picks.”

               I did get a few things right, though.  I predicted the Mets’ starters would underperform, and I picked Corey Seager, son of two high school classmates of mine, to win NL Rookie of the Year.

                Without further ado, following is how the 2017 pennant races figure to go, according to my crystal baseball:

                NL East – The Nationals win by a safe margin over the Mets (wild card).  The Marlins, Braves, and Phillies finish far behind.

                NL Central – The Cubs repeat easily, winning well over 100 games.  The Cardinals are a distant second, followed by the Pirates, Brewers, and Reds.

                NL West – In the closest NL race, the Dodgers nip the Giants (wild card).  The Rockies, Padres, and Diamondbacks round out the standings.

                AL East – Despite the loss of David Ortiz’s big bat, the Red Sox win handily.  The real races are for second place and the wild cards: the Blue Jays and Orioles take those, with the Yankees and Rays just behind.

                AL Central – The Indians romp, with the Tigers, Royals, White Sox, and Twins watching from below.

                AL West – In the tightest AL division, the Mariners emerge on top, followed by the Astros, Rangers, Angels, and Athletics.

                Post-Season – The Cubs beat the Nats in the National League Championship Series, and the Red Sox top the Indians in the ALCS.  The Cubs become the first team in this century to win back-to-back world championships.