Baseball History Notes for June 10, 2013

Braun

The big news of the week in baseball was an ESPN Outside the Lines report that Major League Baseball is seeking to suspend 20 or more current players for their involvement with the now defunct Biogenesis of America clinic. Tony Bosch, the company’s founder, agreed to provide MLB with documents to help their cases. Players including Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera are all reported to be those in the crosshairs, with more details of the whole mess still to come.

The report indicated that suspensions could be as long as 100 games if MLB gets its way. However, want and reality could be two completely different things. The MLB Player’s Union immediately issued a statement declaring their intent to vigorously defend the players in the investigation, and will use their considerable power to minimize any punitive damage. It’s a situation that is highly unlikely to be determined quickly, but will probably play out in courtrooms and boardrooms for an indeterminable amount of time.

Regardless of the length of possible suspensions, the damage has already been done to the reputations of the players involved in the scandal. No matter how much you believe or don’t believe steroids and PEDs are cheating, the amount of lying and general scumbaggery (I made this word up specifically for this situation) on the part of these players has completely impugned their character. No matter how far they can hit a ball or fast they can throw a pitch, their greatest attribute as players and human beings has been irrevocably shattered. Continue reading

Baseball Notes for May 27, 2013

Hack

The 2012 season saw Detroit Tigers’ slugger Miguel Cabrera win the Triple-Crown with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. Although it’s hard to fathom, he may be headed to an even better season this year, which could see him make history.

Cabrera is currently hitting .385 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI. He ranks first in the American League in batting and RBI, and is second in home runs. If he were to repeat the Triple Crown, he would not only be the first player to ever win consecutive Triple-Crowns, he would also join legendary Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams as the only players to accomplish the feat more than once.

Another mark Cabrera is eyeing is the all-time RBI record. To date, he is on pace to finish the season with 192, which would break the major league record of 191 set by Chicago Cubs’ outfielder Hack Wilson in 1930. While RBI has seen its reputation tarnished in the advancing sabermetric world, the possibility of Cabrera unseating Wilson to set a new standard would still be a big deal. Continue reading

Mike Trout Is The 2012 AL MVP Any Way You Look At It

WAR, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing; at least within the confines of this article. While they aren’t the end-all, be-all, I am a major proponent of advanced baseball stats because I believe they greatly enhance the understanding of many components of the game. Not everyone agrees, and traditionalists prefer more time-honored metrics like batting average, home runs, and RBIs in lieu of WAR, UZR, and other acronymic gauges. The 2012 American League MVP, which has already become the most hotly debated baseball topic in recent memory, is hurtling the two sides of the baseball stat spectrum to their Antietam and promises to last well after the final vote is announced tomorrow. Continue reading

Lou Gehrig Talks Baseball

Baseball icon Lou Gehrig became truly legendary because of his production, durability, and finally his untimely death at the age of 37 in 1941. His name still resonates with fans today, and despite playing many years with Babe Ruth, he was able to stay out of his shadow and create his own enduring legacy.

Much of what we know today about Gehrig comes from his statistics and anecdotal references from many baseball books and stories. Fortunately every now and then good first-person transcripts emerge on the internet like a long-lost treasure. I recently came across a radio interview given by Gehrig on August 22, 1939 in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was undergoing treatment for his ALS at the Mayo Clinic. The interview was conducted by correspondent Dwight Merriam, who got the “Iron Horse” on the record on a number of interesting issues.

The entire interview was posted online- http://moregehrig.tripod.com/id16.html with the permission of KROC-AM Radio. It’s a great opportunity to get some insight on one of the most memorable and tragic players in baseball history. I have pulled out some of Gehrig’s answers that I found most interesting, and included a few of my own thoughts (in italics). Continue reading

Bruce Spitzer Brings Teddy Ballgame Back to Life

Ted Williams remains as much of a mythic figure in death as he was as a player. His stubborn personality and astonishing ability to hit a baseball made him an object of curiosity, admiration, and occasional scorn. This only grew in the wake of Williams’ death in 2002 when news leaked that he had been cryogenically frozen by two of his children; a shocking state of purgatory for such a legend. Author Bruce Spitzer has just released a new book, Extra Innings, which adds a new chapter and then some to the ongoing saga of Teddy Ballgame. Continue reading

Logic: I Won’t Vote for Bonds Because You Stopped Voting For Morris

In the upper echelon of absurd there sits an article by Mr.Caputo where he explains, in an elementary school yard kind of way, why he refuses to vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa. Take a look:

In the aftermath, Peter Gammons, one of the preeminent baseball writers of all time, talked on MLB Network about how he put Morris on the ballot the first three years he was eligible, but stopped because another baseball writer had displayed extensive statistical proof to him that Morris’ 3.90 ERA was “not because he pitched to the score” but rather because he lost a lot of leads.

Right then I decided this coming year, the first time they are eligible for election to the Hall of Fame, I am not voting for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa.

So, because Peter Gammons, the best baseball journalist of our time and possibly of all-time, stopped voting for Jack Morris thanks to advanced statistical analysis Mr. Caputo then “decided this coming year” that he will not vote for Bonds, Clemens, or Sosa in their first year of eligibility. That is akin to a school yard kid saying “you didn’t pick me and my friend for your team so I won’t pick you and your friend for mine next time we have recess. Na-na-na-na-boo-boo, stick your head in doo-doo.” Logic.

Mr. Caputo then goes on trying to defend Morris and his Hall of Fame credentials:

Continue reading

Playing in Babe Ruth’s Sandbox

Baseball cards don’t have the same relevance as they did when this writer was a kid. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, kids of this writer’s generation collected baseball cards fanatically. Sure, some of them ended up with clothes pins on bicycle spokes and some of them were used in flip games against any wall at school or otherwise. Most of you have no idea what this writer is talking about, right? But the coolest part of the baseball cards were the backs with all the players’ statistics. The more years a player played, the cooler the back of the card was. Great players that played a long time were obviously the coolest of them all. Baseball-reference.com is like having the baseball card of every player that ever played the game. Talk about nirvana! This writer’s most recent baseball card adventure was going to B-R to look at Babe Ruth’s career. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?

The thing about Babe Ruth is that his memory is a bit of a caricature. If you happen to see a film of him, you see this odd looking man swinging a bat and running like an ostrich. Most people know of him as this larger-than-life character that was either beloved or slovenly and immoral. We know about his 714 home runs. He is also known by most as one of the greatest, (if not the greatest) players that ever played the game of baseball. And we know that the original Yankee Stadium was the House that Ruth Built. But it isn’t until you actually pour over his player page on B-R that you get a full sense of what kind of player Babe Ruth was.

Most people know he started off as a pitcher. Most people also know that he was a good pitcher. But when you look at his player page, the reality of what kind of pitcher he was sinks in. He had a .671 winning percentage as a pitcher. Seventeen of his 94 wins were shutouts. In 1916, he led the league in ERA (1.75), complete games, shutouts and hits per inning. As a pitcher in the World Series in 1916 and 1918, he went 3-0 with an ERA of 0.87. In his only start of the 1916 World Series against the Brooklyn Robins (they wouldn’t become the Dodgers until 1932), he gave up a run in the first inning and then threw shutout ball for the next thirteen innings. That’s right, he pitched every inning of a fourteen inning game…a fourteen inning World Series game.  He was a pretty good pitcher, no?

Of course, we know him much more as a hitter. Every year he pitched for the Red Sox, he started playing more and more of his non-pitching days in the field. In 1915, it only happened fourteen times. By 1917 and 1918, it was more than twenty times. By 1918, he started making his reputation as a batter. He led the league that season in homers with eleven. That seems strange now, doesn’t it? By 1919, he wanted to play in the field much more often and he did. He pitched only 17 times and played 116 times in the field. His 29 homers again led the league and created a sensation. Nobody had ever done what Babe Ruth was doing. Babe Ruth changed the game.

In 1920, Ruth was traded to the Yankees and his pitching career was over. He pitched a handful of times after that, but they were mere novelties. In his first year with the Yankees, he hit 54 homers. His final total that season was more than every other teams’ combined totals except the Philadelpha Phillies who hit 64. What he did that season rocked the world. George Sisler was second in the league with 19. The live ball era had begun and Babe Ruth reveled in the new game.

In 1921, Ruth hit 59 homers. Bob Meusel and Ken Williams were second with 24. But by 1922, the majors started catching up to the Babe. He missed 40 games that season and hit 35 homers. Rogers Hornsby led the majors with 42. But Ruth led the league in homers eight of the next nine seasons despite the fact that more and more home run hitters were being recruited in the game.

But you would make a mistake to think that Babe Ruth was just about home runs. He was a complete offensive machine. He had over 200 hits three times and had 199 hits at the age of 36. From 1920 on, he led the league in strikeouts four times, but led the league in walks eleven times. His 177 runs scored in 1921 is the highest single season total from the year 1900 to today. He hit over 40 doubles in a season twice and over 30 four other times. He hit over ten triples on four different occasions. In his fifteen years as a Yankee, he averaged 137 RBI and 131 runs scored a season. And one more astounding batting statistic: For his career, Babe Ruth got on base 47.4 percent of his plate appearances. Only Ted Williams had a higher career on base percentage than Babe Ruth. But Ruth holds the all time records for career slugging percentage and career OPS.

And just in case you might think that the short porch in the Yankee Stadium (and the Polo Grounds before the stadium was built) was the reason for his great success, consider that he hit more homers on the road than he did at home for his career. His OPS was slightly higher at home, but a 1.168 road OPS is hard to sneeze at.

He was also a good fielder, which may be a surprise to some considering the way he looked. B-R gives him 76 runs created for his career as a fielder and he had 204 outfield assists, an average over ten a season.

It’s only looking at Babe Ruth’s “baseball card” at baseball-reference.com do you fully appreciate Babe Ruth and his place in history. His statistics titillate like no other. His statistics are the backbone behind the legend.

P.S. Babe Ruth has the all time record for career WAR at 172. Barry Bonds almost caught him and finished with 171.8. Ruth had 18 WAR as a pitcher. Does anyone know if the 172 includes the 18 as a pitcher? Or should his total WAR be 190, which would blow Bonds away?

-William J. Tasker, a/k/a The Flagrant Fan, a knowledgeable and passionate baseball fan that can be followed on twitter and found writing daily at his blog