February 12, 2000
One Man's Trash.
by Steve Lombardi
My family and I have recently relocated. If you've ever gone through this process, you know the feeling of wonder that I am about to describe. For those who have been lucky enough to have never experienced this thrill, try and hang in there for a minute. Packing up a house is an eye-opener. Countless times, I came across items that I had either forgotten about in their entirety (meaning I did not remember that I ever owned it until I saw it again) or I found stuff that I had no idea that I still possessed. Each discovery would lead to the same exchange with my wife:
Me: Hey, check this out! Look at what I found.
My Beloved: Oh my! What were you keeping that for?
Me: I have no idea.
My Beloved: Do you need it?
Me: Probably not? I didn't even know that I still had it.
My Beloved: Then, throw it out.
It's amazing what those on the obsessive compulsive side, like myself, will retain. Some of it was funny. Some of it was sad. Other times, it was down right scary. Nonetheless, each time, it was a surprising moment that stirred some particular emotion. Where am I going with this? Somewhere - or at least that is the attempt. It's all about old things which we lost track of - - and then find again.
As some of you may know, Rob Mains and I co-author baseball features for Express Stats (www.express-stats.com). We've been doing this together since 1998. However, in 1997, I performed this feat solo. Recently, I came across some of the articles that I penned that year and - much like my bewildering discoveries from the house packing experience - until I read the features again, I forgot that I ever wrote them.
My forgetfulness was somewhat odd as it's not exactly like these essays were lost treasures. They can still be seen on the Express Stats Website. But, they are buried under the archives of all the features from 1998 and 1999. So, unless you were to dig deep, there's a good chance that you would never find what was written in 1997.
Therefore, I decided to reprint selected sections of some of the better (?) efforts from the season in which the Marlins won the Series (yes, it was THAT long ago!) as I felt the NetShrine audience may enjoy them. These snippets follow, below. The range of topics is varied. It's anticipated that you'll find something in here that will amuse. Fire up the Way-Back Machine and step into 1997. Just don't forget to come back..........and, if you see anything long since remembered, and you no longer need, throw it out.
January 3, 1997
There is a question which arises from time to time amongst baseball fans - whether it be in an on-line chat room, neighborhood pub, cafeteria at work, wherever - that solicits a myriad of responses. The question? Simple: Who was the best fielding outfielder in the history of the game? Right away, after hearing the question, many are quick to offer an exclamatory "Willie Mays!" or "Joe DiMaggio!" or "Paul Blair!" Actually, there were and are many great fielding outfielders who have graced the game of baseball. Who are they? Well, certainly the aforementioned three, plus the likes of Curt Flood, Richie Ashburn, Devon White, Tris Speaker, Fred Lynn, Max Carey, Gary Maddux, Johnny Mostil and Dom DiMaggio. But, who was the best? I offer to you that it was none other than the seldom mentioned Taylor "Ball Hawk" Douthit! Who?!?! Yes, Taylor Douthit. (Even his name sounds like a great fielder: "Dou[b]t Hit".)
Taylor Douthit was a Center Fielder who played with the Cardinals and Cubs (primarily the Cards) from 1923 through 1933. Statistically speaking, he was the best fielding outfielder of all time. Douthit has the highest rate of Total Chances per Game (TC/G) as a Career Average of all Outfielders with at least 90 games played per year and a career of (at least) ten seasons - 3.16 TC/G. He is the leader by far - followed by Ashburn at 3.03 TC/G. None of the other "notable" names are even close to Douthit's Total Chances per Game average.
Granted, TC/G is somewhat a product of the type of pitching staff that an outfielder plays behind. Those playing behind a "fly ball" pitching staff would do better than those behind a "ground ball" staff. Nonetheless, you can not be anything but impressed by Douthit's numbers. For those who offer that "Successful" TC/G may be a better measure, I reply with the following: if an outfielder has no range whatsoever; but, catches everything hit right at him, he would have an excellent "Success" ratio. Still, would you want a potential statue with good hands as your "Greatest Fielding Outfielder of All Time."
So, the next time the question "Who was the greatest fielding outfielder?" comes up, think "Taylor Douthit." He deserves to be mentioned.
January 27, 1997
If a person were to say "Juice had nothing to do with it," some may angrily reply with: "What!?!?! Hey, are you bananas? You're ignoring the facts! Let me tell you, there's no other explanation other than the fact that the 'Juice' was behind it all!"
If you're reading this and nodding your head in absolute agreement, I'm about to tell you that you are wrong.
Whoooa! - simmer down there bunky. Don't get your underwear in a bunch. Before you get hostile, we're talking about a whole different animal here. This is not one of those "You can't forget about the traces of Simpson DNA - the designer Italian shoes were a smoking gun - Kato can't be trusted" arguments. When referring to "Juice" in the opening of this feature, it is not meant to imply that we are discussing O.J. Simpson. (After all, aren't we all tired of that by now?) Still, the argument presented here today may be just as controversial and hard to believe for some as the Simpson murder trial!
Well then, what is meant by the comment "Juice had nothing to do with it"? It's the case in which the fairy tale notion of the Major League Baseball "Juiced Ball" conspiracy theory is totally debunked and laid to rest. Absurd, you say? Nah, just an opinion - comfortably backed up by some facts. Please, read on:
It's impossible to ignore that there has been a homerun explosion in baseball. Last season was the most prolific homerun year in the history of the game. There were 2.2 long balls hit per game in 1996. This is the record by far - followed by a 2.12 homeruns per game (HR/G) average from the 1987 season. In fact, five of the top ten HR/G seasons are from this decade: #3 - 1994 (2.07 HR/G); #4 - 1995 (2.02 HR/G); #5 - 1993 (1.78 HR/G); and, #10 - 1991 (1.61 HR/G) in addition to #1 last year.
O.K., it has to be a "juiced ball," right? What else could it be? The numbers do not lie, do they? Agreed, the numbers do not deceive. However, what the numbers illustrate is that homeruns are being hit more frequently in the 1990's than ever before. The numbers do not provide any tangible evidence to establish a "juiced ball". It's that kind of "jump to a conclusion" mentality that once had us burning "witches" at the stake. Nonetheless, without providing reasons why the ball may not be "juiced" in addition to providing other alternative explanations as to the possible root of the homerun explosion, it is doubtful that you will be convinced of any other possible solution than that of the Rabbit Ball. Therefore, the following pieces of evidence are presented for your attention:
1. Besides their overwhelming propensity for stupidity, the majority of Major League Baseball franchise owners have consistently shown us one thing: they cannot agree on anything - no matter how high the stakes or dire the circumstances. Only once a gun was placed to their heads did they reach a consensus on revenue sharing, the current labor agreement and the placement of the 1998 expansion franchises. What makes anyone think that these 28 idiots could convene and conclude to "juice" the ball? If that were the case, that's one meeting at which this writer would have loved to have been a fly on the wall.
2. If the ball was "juiced", would not it be "juiced" for all players? Surely, a "juiced" ball would not discriminate? As all men are created equal, all men will go deep - and often, no? Well, how do you explain Wade Boggs and Kevin Elster? Despite the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium, Boggs only hit 2 HRs in 501 ABs in 1996. On the other hand, in 515 ABs in 1996, Elster hit 24 HRs. Was not Boggs hitting the same ball as Elster in 1996? Granted they're different types of hitters - where most would agree that Boggs is the more accomplished hitter and would have more homers. Then how do you explain a gap of 22 HRs in Elster's favor over Boggs when the ball is supposedly "juiced" for all? Something's rotten in Juice Town..............
3. There have been many new ball parks introduced to baseball in the decade of the 1990's - to date, witness the following: Camden Yards, Comiskey Park, Jacobs Field, Coors Field, Pro Players Stadium, Skydome and The Ballpark in Arlington. Additionally, other ballparks have undergone reconstruction such as the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum which has resulted in favorable conditions for hitters. Why is this significant? Think about all the new and redone ballparks mentioned here. Whether it be due to short distances to the outfield fence or the impact of playing surface altitude, each of these parks make it much easier for players to hit homeruns. In 1996, it was 10% easier to hit a dinger at Camden than the average park. In the last two years at Coors, it was 69% easier to hit a tater than at an average stadium. The HR Index in Arlington last year was 15% above the normal park. In many ballparks today, it's just easier to hit homeruns. It's the parks, not the balls. Otherwise, there would not be such a large disparity between some parks and others.
4. Unnoticed by most, there has been a major shift in the batting "style" used today by big league hitters. In vogue today is the "high leg kick, dive into the ball, and swing from your heels - shave your bat handle down to the size of a toothpick in order to get more whip in your swing - what me worry about strikeouts?" mentality. Before Mel Ott and Sadaharu Oh, how many players used the exaggerated leg kick to shift their body weight into their swing? Not many. (By the way, it worked for Ott and Oh. For little men, they hit a ton of homers.) Today, all the batters are winding it up and letting it rip in the batter's box. Also, don't you marvel when a batter today strikeouts out and then breaks the bat over his knee in frustration? How do they do it? Tell you what, next time you are in a sporting goods store, pick up bat (a wooden one, silly, not aluminum) and try and break it over your knee. It cannot be done without putting yourself in the hospital. So, how do the big leaguers do it? It's because their lust for whip and centrifugal force (in order to hit the ball farther) has caused them to shave their bat handles down to the size of a pencil. This makes the bat easier to break. And the "damn the strikeouts" theory? Look at the numbers: In 1970, the Strikeout per At Bat (K/AB) ratio for the major leagues was 16.9%. Over a quarter a century later, in 1996, the K/AB ratio in the big leagues jumped up to 18.7%. Adding the fact that there was no DH in 1970 and A.L. pitchers (who are typically weaker hitters) were included in the 1970 total makes this increase even more significant. Today's players are trying to hit more homeruns as evidenced by their efforts (batting styles) and subsequent failures (strikeouts). Can you blame all the strikeouts on the "juiced" ball? Surely it's not because the pitching is better today? Have you seen an ERA lately?
5. Lastly, and I admit this is somewhat subjective, today's players are in better condition than those in the past. This is not intended as a slight to yesterday's players. It's just the fact that today's player has the advantages of better training equipment, increased knowledge in conditioning and nutrition, more abundant coaching, and easier access to advanced video technology enabling productive study, etc. Today's better conditioned athlete is more apt to succeed at their craft and hit the ball farther.
Based on the evidence presented here, is it not somewhat safe to conclude that the homerun explosion in baseball is not due to a "juiced" ball; but, rather it's the product of several cumulative factors - smaller, more hitter friendly ballparks and bigger, stronger players who are consciously trying to hit homeruns? Well, at least, think about it. The next time you see a ball flying out of the park and someone comments "Sweet Fancy Moses, the ball is juiced!", offer to engage in a little friendly dialogue and offer some other solutions. The truth is out there.
March 15, 1997
Most would rather explain to a six year-old child "Where do babies come from?" than to attempt and address the question "Where do closers come from?". Fear not friendly searcher for saves. You have now entered our cozy, yet dauntless, confine where no inquiry produces the Willies. (Well, maybe a few inquiring minds make us sweat. But, on the whole, not that many. Now, we are not saying our responses may always be right; however, we are stating that they are fearlessly provided nonetheless.)
In order to determine where something came from, you often need to see where it presently resides and look backwards from there. It's called backtracking. Quite a successful notion, indeed. In this case, we ask ourselves: "Where are our closers today?" and then peer to their past to determine their origin.
For this investigative report, let us examine the top 13 active career "Saves" leaders and their roots. Hopefully, there will be something in common in their past which will enable us to draw a conclusion towards a possible mutual breeding ground. The Active Fireman's Top Bakers Dozen:
1. Lee Smith (473 Saves): His roots: Predominately a Starting Pitcher in the minors with 82 Games Started (GS) before his big league debut and his eventual ascension to King of the Closers.
2. Dennis Eckersley (353 Saves): Before switching to relief pitching, he had 361 GS in the majors. (A trend is forming! The top two were once starters.)
3. John Franco (323 Saves): Made 51 starts in the bush leagues before cracking the show.
4. Randy Myers (274 Saves): He had 94 GS at the minor league level before becoming an ace reliever. (Oh yeah, there's a pattern starting here. This places reeks of former starting pitchers.)
5. Doug Jones (242 Saves): One hundred and five GS in the minors preceding his success a closer.
6. Jeff Montgomery (242 Saves): Forty four GS in the bushes. (As the point has already been well illustrated and now made that most good closers began as a starting pitcher, we'll just list the career minor league GS from here on out.)
7. Todd Worrell (221 Saves): 74 minor league GS.
8. Rick Aguilera (211 Saves): 50 GS.
9. Mike Henneman (193 Saves): One GS. (O.K., there's always one exception in every bunch.)
10. Jeff Russell (186 Saves): 63 GS. (See? We're right back on track with the "former starter" motif.)
11. John Wetteland (180 Saves): 88 GS.
12. Gregg Olson (172 Saves): Zero GS. (Sure, another exception. However, maybe if he HAD started a few times early in his career, maybe he would not have blown out his elbow prematurely?)
13. Rod Beck (162 Saves): Ninety-nine GS. Little known, but true. Look it up.
Granted, perhaps running through the whole thirteen was a bit excessive. Still, it aids in representing the point. Most successful closers were not closers in their minor league career. Many started out as Starting Pitchers in the bushes before becoming "Stoppers". Therefore, "Where do closers come from?" Based on the previously mentioned research, it's safe to say they come from minor league, hard throwing, starters with good control that are converted to pen at the big league level. If you knew this two years ago, maybe Jose Mesa would not have been such a surprise back in 1995? Consider this a clue when attempting to predict future closers.
April 14, 1997
The recent health woes and subsequent placement on the disabled list of Relief Aces Jeff Brantley and Troy Percival have caused many to have a "Bye Bye Closer" flashback. Who could forget the following closers who, prematurely and almost overnight, went from "Look at me Ma! I'm on top of the world!" to "Would you like fries with that burger?"
Mark Davis - In 1989, he led the NL with 44 saves. The next year, at the age of 30, he fell to 6 saves for the entire season and never again had more than 4 saves in a year.
Bobby Thigpen - In 1990, he set the record with 57 saves that season. He followed that with 30 in 1991 and 22 in 1992. However, in 1993, at the age of 30, all he could muster was one save for the year.
Mike Schooler - At age 28, he had 30 saves for the 1990 season. The next season, he had a whopping total of seven.
Bryan Harvey - He went from 46 saves in 1991 at age 28 to 13 saves in 1992.
Rob Dibble - Somewhat the NL's version of Thigpen, he had 31 saves in 1991. He followed that with 25 in 1992 and 19 in 1993. In 1994, at the age of 30, he had zero for the year.
Duane Ward - At age 30, he had 45 saves for the 1993 season. The next season, he had none.
Gregg Olson - In 1993, at the age of 27, he had 29 saves for the year. He followed that with one save for the entire year in 1994.
Stan Belinda - He went from 19 saves in the 1993 season at age 27 to one save in 1994.
This is not to imply that Brantley and/or Percival are finished. The point meant to be illustrated is: Closers come and Closers go. Enjoy them while you have them - for you may not have them for long. And, do not covet thy neighbor's Closer as he may be tomorrow's deadweight. Just as physical beauty in real life is transitory, so is your source for saves in rotisserie/fantasy baseball.
May 10, 1997
As a result of recently reading STATS Inc. new book "Diamond Chronicles 1997," all of a sudden, I got one of those burning itches that just begs to be scratched. No, not the kind that requires penicillin. You know, the "Hey, I wonder?" kind. (By the way, the "Chronicles" is an excellent book - a superior read for the thinking baseball fan and bound to cause many a raised eyebrow accentuated utterance of "Fascinating!")
One of David Pinto's many wonderful contributions to the "Chronicles" is a list of seasons, beginning in 1949, where the MVP Award winner was actually YOUNGER than the player who won the Rookie of the Year Award (ROY). The list was generated starting in 1949 as that was the first year the ROY was given out in each league. (The ROY Award itself began in 1947.) All told, this paradoxical occurrence has happened an amazing NINE times. The "Young Man's Coup D'état" was last accomplished in the American League as recent as 1994 when a 26 year-old Frank Thomas won the MVP and 27 year-old Bob Hamelin won the ROY.
Pinto's observation brought cause for the following inquisitive thorn to harpoon the horsehide recesses of my cerebellum: How is it possible that the "rookie" is often the old-timer in comparison to the "younger" player being the league's best player? Before I even arrived at the answer to that question, another one popped into my head: Are the baseball writers THAT FAR OFF in factoring a possible productive career when selecting the Rookie of the Year winners? (My mind often races from one question to a far stretching, distantly related, subsequent question before I get the answer to the first. I'm still not sure if it's a gift or a curse? It does not matter. Just go with the flow.) After all, while 99% of the time, the player who was chosen to win the ROY in any given year did have a very good season, memory serves to suggest that many ROYs do not end up having significant playing careers. There is usually little argument as to whether or not the ROY winner was exceptional THAT season. However, there is usually always some argument as to whether or not he is the player with the best future who played that season. Therefore, should not "potential" also be part of the equation in determining the best "rookie"? Granted, it's Rookie of the "Year"; but, one would think that "future worth" would carry some weight in concluding the best "newcomer" for that given year. It should not be a sole determiner - nevertheless, it should be part of the criteria to an extent, no? Just how well do the judges handle this issue?
In order to further investigate the matter, it was time to look at ALL the players who have won the Rookie of the Year Award. In total, 100 players have won or shared the ROY since its inception in 1947. Enjoying the clarity and fool-proof advantage of hindsight, it is effortless to single out certain players who won the award and went on to achieve a career of such mediocrity that it was barely worth being printed on the back of a bubble gum card. Who can forget the aforementioned Hamelin or the any of the following who won the ROY in this writer's lifetime:
Carl Morton (1970). Pat Listach (1992). Jerome Walton (1989). Stan Bahnsen (1968). Steve Howe (1980). Al Bumbry (1973). Earl Williams (1971). Ron Kittle (1983). Butch Metzger and Pat Zachry (1976). Joe Charboneau (1980). John Montefusco (1975). Mark Fidrych (1976).
O.K., there are a few colorful and perhaps one-time useful players in this group as well as some who had their career cut short by injury. However, NONE of them could ever be confused with Hall of Fame material. There are many other ROY winners who could be included in the list. In fact, of the 100 ROY winners, only SEVEN are in the Hall of Fame (Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey, Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench, and Rod Carew). Sure, ROY Pete Rose should be in the Hall; but, he ain't. Also, someday, ROYs Andre Dawson, Carlton Fisk, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. will be in the Hall. However, as of right now, the number of ROYs with plaques in Cooperstown still stands at seven - not a helluva lot. Even if you count those "future Hall of Famers," it still only pushes the number up to a dozen. All right, I will also discount the "100" as almost one-third of the ROYs are still active players and cannot be considered for the "Hall" as such. Nonetheless, that still only makes it seven out of seventy or ONE-OUT-OF-TEN to make it to Cooperstown.
So, that's "the number" - one out of ten - ten percent. Conventional wisdom then dictates that a Rookie of the Year winner has only a ten percent chance of being a Hall of Fame (HOF) candidate. Or, on the flip side, they have a 90% chance of NOT being a HOF player. What does that say about the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) being able to scout future stars? It means they would not know the difference between a future baseball Hall of Famer and Snidely Whiplash even if their livelihood depended on it - firmly illustrating that most of the BWAA does not know much about scouting talent, period. Maybe that's why they will not elect scouts for the Hall of Fame either? (Even though scouts are the most underrated contributors to the game and the only part of baseball NOT rightfully represented in the Hall of Fame.)
Think about this the next time you read an article in your local paper hyping some ROY candidate or when someone in your rotisserie league is trying to trade you last year's Rookie of the Year. The odds are that you are not reading or talking about a future Hall of Famer.
June 1, 1997
It should never be forgotten that rotisserie and fantasy baseball are games of statistics. However, statistics are often misleading. During many a lazy summer afternoon in the late 1970's, I heard Vince Scully utter during a telecast of the "Game of the Week" that "Statistics are a lot like a bikini. They show you a lot. But, they don't show you everything." Heck, as far back as the 1800's, English Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was widely quoted as saying "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics."
At first blush, to the casual fan, a hitter with a .300 Batting Average (BA) may seem more adept at his craft than a hitter with a .240 BA. However, many an astute baseball fan is already educated enough to know that this is merely conventional wisdom. A batter with a .240 BA who has an On Base Average (OBA) of .400 is tremendously more valuable as a hitter than a .300 hitter who has a .330 OBA - assuming all other offensive numbers are similar. The old adage that "A Walk is as good as a Hit" is no lie. Only a batter who has illustrated his mastery of the strike zone (via his OBA) is a complete hitter. If you don't believe me, go talk to Ted Williams about it. I dare you.
There is another statistic out there, very popular among the roto-community, like Batting Average, that has been driving me crazy lately - Earned Run Average (ERA). The following point will explain the root of my mental agitation.
On any given day, a pitcher may end up going 5 2/3 Innings Pitched, throw 101 Pitches, allow 3 Base-on-Balls, give up 6 Hits and Strikeout seven. Let us assume at this point in time said pitcher is lifted by his manager for a relief pitcher. There will never be any change to his performance for that day once he is removed from the game. It will always be 5 2/3 Innings, 101 Pitches, 3 Walks, 7 Punchouts and 6 Hits. That will never change - it physically can not - it's in the books forever. (Barring any official scoring changes, of course. Can anyone say Curt Schilling?)
Here's the rub - let us say that this pitcher had not given up ANY runs at the point in which he was removed from the game; but, when he left, the bases were loaded and no errors were made by his team in the inning.
Now, if the incoming relief pitcher gets the third out of the sixth inning on the first batter he faces, no runs score, the inning is over, and the pitcher who was relieved will have an ERA of ZERO for the day.
However, if the incoming relief pitcher serves up a homerun to the first batter that he faces, then all baserunners score, and the pitcher who has left the game is charged with three earned runs as the runners on first, second, and third were his responsibility - AND - his ERA for the day is 4.76.
Is this fair? The pitcher in both cases has performed EXACTLY the same: 5 2/3 Innings, 101 Pitches, 3 Walks, 7 Punchouts, 6 Hits, and 3 runners left on base when he was removed. Nonetheless, as a result based solely on the performance of his successor, the difference in his ERA is between great (zero) and lousy (4.76). This is not fair. What it tells us is that ERA is not a very accurate statistic in determining pitching performance. It's often the end result of the baserunners which a pitcher bequeaths that determines his ERA - not his actual performance.
So, if ERA is such an illusory stat, why does almost every rotisserie league out there insist upon using it? After all, do not most leagues also use "Hits Plus Walks Divided by Innings Pitched" (Ratio/WHIP)? Isn't this the root of ERA anyway? (You have to give up a hit or a walk in order for someone to become a runner who may eventually be an "earned run".) Therefore, is it not redundant to use both ERA and Ratio or WHIP? (For those keeping score at home, the answers to these questions are I dunno, Yes, Yes, and Yes.) It's time to stop the insanity.
Most leagues have two qualitative pitching categories (percentages) such as Ratio and ERA; and, they have two quantitative pitching categories (whole numbers) such as Wins and Saves. (Some leagues add a fifth quantitative stat like Strikeouts.)
Why not replace the redundant and misleading statistical category of ERA with another qualitative stat (in order to keep the qualitative/quantitative balance of 2/2 or 2/3)? Are you not looking to achieve the widest possible scope of all avenues to measure pitching performance? (As you can tell, I'm in a "question" mood today.) Looking for a suggestion? (Another question!) Try the statistic of "Command" aka Strikeouts per Walk (K/BB). It's still one of the best true indicators of pitching ability out there - albeit seldom used by the masses.
Who were the top five leaders in K/BB Ratio in 1996? Here they are:
Greg Maddux 6.14
John Smoltz 5.02
Kevin Brown 4.82
Shane Reynolds 4.64
Jeff Fassero 4.04
Safe to say that is an impressive list of hurlers, huh? It says something for K/BB - if you excel in that department, odds are that you're an excellent pitcher. Much more than can be said for ERA which allows too much room for luck or chance. Think about it. Maybe it's time to ditch ERA as a measuring tool? It is not trustworthy. Some day, even the casual fan will catch on - as they have now in realizing that Batting Average is a "bikini" statistical lie. (Now, I could go into the full soapbox sermon with my "Saves are a product of managerial discretion and Wins are random and often unjustified awards" speech. But, nah, maybe another day. You're off the hook for now.)
July 12, 1997
First, a fact: In the last 50 years (1947-1996), there have been 6,671 different players to appear in the Major Leagues. Of those players, only 38 have gone on to have a 20-year (or more) big league career. That's slightly over one-half of a percent (.0057). Need more for impact? Look at it this way: Using the rate from the past 50 years, one out of every 175 players will go on to a 20-year career. That's one player for every seven teams. Or, only two per league, if that suits you better. Needless to say, a 20-year big league career is not a dime-a-dozen. And, some of them are not all that stellar - often it's a good fifteen year career with a five-year "hanging on" period tacked on the end.
Granted, the numbers will go up slightly as there are some players in the aforementioned 6,671 who are still active and MAY go on to a 20-year career. Ken Griffey and Alex Rodriguez come to mind. Still, the numbers will not go up tremendously. Think about it: Not that many players remain active until age 40. But, even for those who DO play until forty, it means they would have to have been in the bigs since age TWENTY to get in two decades. How many players are in the bigs at age 20? O.K., where am I going with this? Follow and the truth will set you free.
There's been a heep of talk lately about SOMEONE breaking Roger Maris' single season homerun record. Know what? It probably will fall - if not this season, maybe in the next two or three. No big deal. It's overdue. Here comes the heresy: You may just see Joe DiMaggio's record of hitting in 56 straight games in a season fall some day too. Nonsense!, you say. Nope. Shoot, in the context of a single season, anything can happen. When Maris hit 61 homeruns, did most folks predict that HE would be the one to break the homer record? Nooooo. In any given season, some fluke player can come out of nowhere and do something that was thought impossible. Didn't Bobby Thigpen save 57 games one year? Here, I am not implying that Maris was a fluke. But, most fans would have expected someone else to break the Babe's mark. Maybe Mantle or Hank Greenberg? In actuality, the only "single season" record that may never be BROKEN is Johnny Vander Meer's. Think about it. Consecutive no-hitters. Sure, someone may TIE it; but, to BREAK it, they would have to throw THREE consecutive no-hitters. Now, that would be a tough nut!
In any event, while everyone banters about the "single season" records, few focus on the "career" records. Nonetheless, have no fear, that's why we are here.
Keep in mind that VERY few players these days go on to a 20-year career. (We've already established that.) Still, for the purposes of this examination, we're going to use the "20-year career" as a "yardstick" to illustrate just how easy or difficult it may be to break some of the "career" records out there.
Let's start with the Homerun Record, since taters are in vogue. Hammerin' Hank Aaron holds the lifetime record with 755. O.K., let us say that some player DOES manage to have a 20-year career and he hits 37 HRs EVERY year. Never mind the fact that it would be almost impossible for someone to play 20 years and hit 37 long balls EVERY year - season after season without fail - even if someone did, this would still leave them SIXTEEN short of breaking Aaron's record. Man, you would think that TWENTY years of 37 HRs a year, an inhuman performance, would be enough to shatter the record? Uh-huh. Doesn't even really come close.
Like pitchers? What about the Strikeout Record? Von Ryan's Express, Nolan Ryan, has the record with 5,714. Again, let's say some pitcher manages to pitch for TWENTY years and strikes out 285 batters EVERY year. That would STILL leave him 14 short of Nolan. Never mind the fact that NO pitcher could probably EVER fan 285 batters a year for TWENTY straight years. How many pitchers can even strikeout 285 batters in a season just ONCE?
Want to talk about baserunners? Coming into this season, Rickey Henderson holds the all-time Stolen Base Record with 1,186. (And, in this season, he's already added to that total.) All-righty-then, suppose someone managed to play 20 years and stole 59 bags EVERY year. That still would leave them short of Rickey.
Again, as in the case of the 37 HRs in a season or the 285 K's, how many players have stolen 59 bases in ONE season - much less EVERY bleeping season for TWENTY YEARS? Remember the stat "one-half a percent"? That was JUST the players who have PLAYED twenty years. Never mind the insane task of assuming monster production EVERY year of those 20 years. We're talking some serious milestones here.
Which other ones apply? Pete Rose's 4,256 hits? It would take 20 straight years of 213 hits a year! Hank Aaron's 2,297 RBI? Two decades of 114 RBI every year wouldn't do it. Babe Ruth's 2,056 career walks? Twenty years of 102 passes a season still would fall short. Cy Young's 511 wins? TWENTY straight years of TWENTY FIVE wins a season would STILL not break the record. How many pitchers have even won 25 in a year TWICE?
O.K., a point to all this was promised. Simply put, there are some baseball records out there that are not talked about as often as others - when, in fact, they are the TRUE marks worthy of repeated mention. Sixty-one homers in a season? Big deal. How about 755 HRs in a CAREER? Now, that's something.
Kicking it down a gear, who are the aforementioned 38 players who played for 20+ seasons within the last 50 years? It's a fun list - some stars and some "not so stars." Here they are, ranked in order of most games played as a career average (1947-1996):
Eddie Murray - 20 years, 149 Games Per Season (GS)
Pete Rose - 24 years, 148 GS
Carl Yastrzemski - 23 years, 144 GS
Hank Aaron - 23 years, 143 GS
Robin Yount - 20 years, 143 GS
Willie Mays - 22 years, 136 GS
Dave Winfield - 22 years, 135 GS
Reggie Jackson - 21 years, 134 GS
Frank Robinson - 21 years, 134 GS
Dwight Evans - 20 years, 130 GS
George Brett - 21 years, 129 GS
Al Kaline - 22 years, 129 GS
Rusty Staub - 23 years, 128 GS
Darrell Evans - 21 years, 128 GS
Brooks Robinson - 23 years, 126 GS
Andre Dawson - 21 years, 125 GS
Graig Nettles - 22 years, 123 GS
Tony Perez - 23 years, 121 GS
Joe Morgan - 22 years, 120 GS
Willie McCovey - 22 years, 118 GS
Brian Downing - 20 years, 117 GS
Ted Simmons - 21 years, 117 GS
Ron Fairly - 21 years, 116 GS
Alan Trammell - 20 years, 115 GS
Bill Buckner - 22 years, 114 GS
Willie Stargell - 21 years, 112 GS
Harmon Killebrew - 22 years, 111 GS
Carlton Fisk - 24 years, 112 GS
Tim McCarver - 21 years, 91 GS
Jay Johnstone - 20 years, 87 GS
Manny Mota - 20 years, 77 GS
Rick Dempsey - 24 years, 74 GS
Hoyt Wilhelm - 21 years, 51 GS
Jim Kaat - 24 years, 38 GS
Phil Niekro - 21 years, 35 GS
Steve Carlton - 22 years, 32 GS
Curt Simmons - 20 years, 30 GS
Jerry Reuss - 20 years, 28 GS
Did I leave anyone off the list? I do believe the research is sound. If anyone knows of someone missing, I'd love to hear about it.
What's so interesting about this list? Two things: Number One, there are four catchers on the list, and, Number Two, look at some of the names. Would you have expected to see Dwight Evans, Rusty Staub, Darrell Evans, Brian Downing, Ted Simmons, Ron Fairly, Bill Buckner, Jay Johnstone, Rick Dempsey and Jerry Reuss on the list? This is some fun stuff. I'm still scratching my head over Jay Johnstone. How the heck did he squeak out two decades? At the very least, that accomplishment warrants having a rotisserie league named after him or something.
August 10, 1997
Twenty-one years ago, Earl Weaver, perhaps baseball's best manager ever, was quoted as saying: "Nobody likes to hear it, because it's dull. But, the reason you win or lose is darn near the same thing......pitching."
Now, Weaver always managed to hit square upon some ingenious baseball theories. The one that I've always been most drawn to was his notion that "Your most precious possession on offense are your twenty-seven outs." (Think about it: A game doesn't last 3 hours exactly, or 35 batters, or 150 pitches. A game lasts 27 outs. Give one away and you're one closer to being done for the day. This is why the Earl of Baltimore hated the sacrifice bunt.) Anyway, back to the point, Weaver was right. The name of the "game" has always been "pitching" - whether you play Little League, Softball, Major League Baseball, or, for that matter, rotisserie or fantasy baseball. (Don't forget: You get one-half of your points in "our game" from pitching!)
So, if pitching is paramount, how does one find a good pitcher? Quite often, for YOU to find a "good" pitcher, you need to do EXACTLY what they do in the big leagues: Take someone else's "prospect" who may have failed or was not given a fair chance and let him become a star pitcher for you. How many times in rotisserie or fantasy baseball have you had a pitcher, waited on him (probably not long enough), cut him, and then watch him go to someone else's team and become a star? Many? It happens. It doesn't only happen in rotisserie.
Take a look at the following "star" pitchers in the game today:
(Just for fun, here, I've also attempted to do a "Chris Berman" and come up with some clever [?] nicknames. I know, I know........anyone who has ever watched Boomer on ESPN has taken a stab at imitating him. So what? Add me to the list. There are worse crimes. At least, I'll try to come up with stuff that is a bit out of the ordinary. You may not "get" all of them. Don't worry. You probably should be more concerned if you DID get all of them!)
Randy "Don't Forget To Flush When You're Done In The" Johnson - Perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the bigs. Certainly, the most intimidating. The Montreal Expos didn't think so. They gladly threw him in on a trade with the Mariners to pick up Mark Langston in a "rent-a-player" move. Montreal's loss has certainly been Seattle's gain.
David "Would You Like Sprinkles On That" Cone - David just notched his career 2,000 Strikeout. He reached "star" status back with the Mets in the late '80's. He should have reached that status with the Kansas City Royals. However, the Royals evidently didn't foresee Coney lasting long enough to get a couple thousand "Ks." They shipped him off to the Mets to acquire the immortal Ed Hearn.
Roberto "I Swear I Never Touched" Hernandez - The super stopper from the White Sox who was recently traded to the Giants was not originally signed by the Pale Hose. He was signed by the Angels and they shipped him over to the Chisox for OF Mark Davis.
Rod "What The" Beck - Another class closer not originally cultivated from his present team - the San Francisco Giants. He was signed across the Bay by the Oakland A's and traded to the Giants for Charlie Corbell (who?) before becoming one of the NL's best stoppers.
There are many others to prove the point. Here are just a handful more:
John "The Stupid Yutz Bought Property In The Florida" Wetteland - Born a Dodger, went to the Reds, became a star in Montreal.
John "As Ellen Said To Kathy Lee, Let Me Be" Franco - Another Dodger find who became a stud elsewhere (Cincinnati).
Pedro "Who's The Guy Who Used To HEAR People Give Him the Finger? Billy" Martinez - Ramon's "Lil' Bro" did a "Wetteland" - minus the stop with the Reds.
Robb "Buckwheat Sez New Nines Hive Is" Nen - Flopped in Texas. Blossomed in Florida.
Denny "Cops Like To Call It A Bread Donut Instead Of A" Neagle - The Twins ditched him in a "rent-a-player" deal and be became a star for Pittsburgh.
Shawn "When I Urinate, It Hurts My" Estes - Discarded by Seattle. An All-Star in San Francisco.
Curt "Princess Di Took Prince Charles For His Last" Schilling - Went through Boston, Baltimore, AND Houston before hitting it big in Philly.
Jeff "No The Lady Is Not" Fassero - Dig this: Signed by St. Louis. Went to the White Sox in a Rule Five Draft - then RELEASED. Signed by Cleveland and THEN let go. After all this, he became a star in Montreal.
John "They Stamp Them When They're" Smoltz - This nickname goes back to the old Monty Python skit "The Penguin." There's a part of it that goes something like this:
A: "Perhaps it's (the Penguin) from the zoo?"
B: "Which zoo?"
A: "How should I know? I'm not Dr. Bloody Brunoffsky."
B: "How would he know?"
A: "He knows everything."
B: "Hmmmm. I wouldn't like that. That would take all the mystery out of life. Anyway, if it was from the zoo. It would have 'Property Of The Zoo' stamped on it."
A: "No it wouldn't. They don't stamp animals 'Property Of The Zoo.' You can't stamp a huge lion!"
B: "They stamp them when they're small."
I digress. Smoltz was a Tigers' find who hit pay dirt for the Braves. Another fine example of "Pitchers often change teams a few times before they CLICK."
They are even more examples out there. Don't ever forget that the Mets gave up on Nolan Ryan! But, you get the point by now. The lesson to learn is this: when looking to get a "good" pitcher - since you need pitching to win - don't be afraid to go with someone who's had a chance, didn't make it, and is now somewhere else. That just may be where he'll become great.
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