1959 World Series

Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 1959 World Series.  The Chicago White Sox had not won a pennant since the infamous “Black Sox” of 1919.  Comiskey Park was not a hitters park by any stretch, and power hitters especially struggled.  When Al Lopez left Cleveland for the South Side of Chicago in 1957 he decided to make his team run.  In 1959 the “Go-Go Sox” stole 113 bases, leading the league by 45 (the league average for the other seven teams was 43 steals).  Leading the way was future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio who paced the league with 56 swipes, out-distancing second place Mickey Mantle by 35.  Also guiding the offense was MVP Nellie Fox, who hit .306/.380/.389.  In an attempt to add some power to the team they made a late season trade for Ted Kluszewski.  On the mound the Sox were led by 39-year old Early Wynn, who was 22-10 with a 3.17 ERA (3.66 FIP, 120 ERA+) and 26-year old Bob Shaw (2.69 ERA, 141 ERA+, 3.40 FIP) as the staff led the AL with a 3.29 ERA.  Chicago was in a tight race with the Indians for much of the year, but took over first place on July 28 and never relinquished it, eventually clinching in the last week of the season in what was a down year throughout the AL – only the Sox won 90 games and the usually reliable Yankees were only 79-75.

 

The Dodgers were in their second season in Los Angeles and after a rocky first year had rebounded to once again be one of the best teams in the Senior Circuit.  While many of the names that made the team great in Brooklyn were gone (Robinson retired after 1957 and never moved with the team, Campanella’s accident occurred in January of 1958, and Pee Wee Reese had retired after just one season in LA), Duke Snider (.308/.400/.535, 140 OPS+) and Gil Hodges (.276/.367/.513, 125) anchored the lineup along with Wally Moon (.302/.94/.495, 129).  The starting rotation featured five guys all under 30, led by 22-year old Don Drysdale (3.46 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 18 hit batsmen).  Also included was a 23-year old lefty who hadn’t quite hit his stride (nor the top of Mount McKinley, I mean the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium) named Sandy Koufax and a guy who would make a bigger impact later on as a pitching coach, Roger Craig.  But mostly, it was Drysdale as he was the only starter to log 200 innings (270.2).  The National League race featured three teams: The Dodgers, Giants, and Braves.  Going into the final weekend of the season the Dodgers and Braves were tied atop the standings at 84-67 and the Giants were two back with three left to play.  Both Milwaukee and Los Angeles took two of their final three games to set up best-of-three playoff for the pennant.*  The Dodgers won the first game when John Roseboro’s homerun to lead off the top of the sixth snapped a 2-2 tie and the Dodgers held on for a 3-2 win.  The second game the Dodgers entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-2, but rallied to tie it and then won in the 12th to take the flag.

 

*-Fun fact:  The Dodgers were involved in the first FIVE National League tie-breaker playoffs.

 

Game 1 was at Comiskey Park and it wasn’t a contest.  Big Klu hit two homers and the Sox put up a seven run third and took the opener 11-0.

 

In Game 2 it was Johnny Podres and Bob Shaw taking the hill.  The White Sox took a first inning lead when Aparicio doubled and later scored on a Kluszewski ground out, then Sherman Lollar added an RBI single for a 2-0 start.  The Dodgers finally got on the board in the fifth when Charlie Neal homered to left, in the process giving left fielder Al Smith an inadvertent bath as a fan’s beverage doused him as the ball was chased for.  The game remained 2-1 into the seventh when with two outs pinch hitter Chuck Essegian tied the game with an upper deck shot into left field.  Then super utility man Jim Gilliam drew a walk and Neal blasted one into the White Sox bullpen for a 4-2 Dodgers lead.  In the bottom of the eighth Kluszewski and Sherm Lollar led off with back-to-back singles off of Dodgers relief ace Larry Sherry and Earl Torgeson pinch ran for Big Klu.  Then the recently baptized Al Smith lined one into the left-center field alley.  Left fielder Wally Moon (great baseball name) threw in to Maury Wills whose relay throw nailed Sox catcher Lollar by about 20 feet.  What third base coach Tony Cuccinello was thinking, who knows.  Lollar never was a speed threat (lifetime 20 stolen bases, caught 10 times, 13 career triples in 1,752 games), you now have the go-ahead run in scoring position and the tying run on third with nobody out.  The only thing more frustrating than watching a team bunt their way out of an inning is watching a team run their way out of one.  Sherry then got a strikeout and a foul out to avoid any further damage.  Sherry got three straight ground outs in the ninth and the series was even as it made its first ever trip to the West Coast.

 

Game 3 featured Dick Donovan and Don Drysdale in the most alliterative pitching matchup in World Series history.  The White Sox figured they were going to try and use their speed like they did all season long.  Luis Aparicio struck out to start the game, then Nellie Fox drew a walk and Jim Landis singled to put men on the corners with one out.  Landis then stole second to put two men in scoring position.  Drysdale intentionally walked Kluszewski then got a foul out and , Drysdale issued a one out walk to Jim Rivera.  Rivera attempted to take second, but Johnny Roseboro was up to the task, nailing him for the second out of the inning.  Two more White Sox reached before the third out, but again no runs.  They put two more runners on with two outs in the third, but a Drysdale strikeout of Al Smith kept the game scoreless.  In the fourth Luis Aparicio had a two out single, but was promptly erased as Roseboro threw out the shortstop to end the inning.  Nellie Fox led off the fifth with a single, but was erased on a strikeout-throw out double play.  In the sixth the Sox got a one out single, only to have it erased on a double play.  In the seventh they got two more two out singles, but then a strikeout ended the threat.  In the first seven innings the White Sox had 13 base runners and couldn’t get any of them to touch home plate.

 

Dick Donovan on the other hand was cruising just fine.  A one out single by Gil Hodges in the second was all the Dodgers could muster through the first six innings, but finally got something going in the seventh.  Charlie Neal singled with one out and after a fielder’s choice moved him to second, Donovan suddenly lost the strike zone and walked the next two to load the bases with two out, though Donovan’s day was through.  Gerry Staley was called upon to get pinch hitter Carl Furillo.  Furillo hit a grounder up the middle that took a bad hop on Aparicio and it snuck into center field for a two-run single.  Staley escaped further damage but the Sox were now trailing and needed to finally break through.

 

In the eighth Kluszewski singled to lead off then Lollar hit a fly ball to right that Moon apparently lost in the sun and there were runners on first and second with nobody out.  Walter Alston decided that Drysdale’s day was through and went to Sherry to get the Dodgers out of a jam.  Sherry didn’t make matters much better as he mistook Billy Goodman’s kneecap for the inside corner and the bases were loaded with nobody out.  Sammy Esposito was brought in to run for Goodman as he needed to be helped off the field.  Sherry then got the pitcher’s best friend – a 6-4-3 double play – and though Big Klu scored the bases were empty with two out and after a Jim Rivera pop out the Dodgers still clung to a 2-1 lead.  They would add an insurance run in the eighth and would take the game with a 3-1 final.

 

Game 4 brought Early Wynn to the hill to oppose Roger Craig for the second time.  The Sox again would load the bases in the first, only to come out empty after a double play ball ended the rally.  The Dodgers would threaten in the bottom of the second, but to no avail.  After snuffing out another White Sox threat, The Dodgers broke the scoreless tie in the third, and all with two out.  Wally Moon singled, followed by a Norm Larker single, and as Moon went for third Jim Landis’ throw to the bag hit Moon’s leg.  Though Wynn backed the play up, his throw to the plate was late and the Dodgers took the early lead.  Hodges then dropped a single into left and it was 2-0.  After another single to put men on the corners, a Lollar passed ball scored Hodges.  Roseboro then singled home another run and it was 4-0 Dodgers after three and the soon-to-be Cy Young Winner’s day was over.

 

It stayed that way until the seventh.  After a groundout Landis singled.  Then after Aparicio stupidly sacrificed Landis to second (really?  Down four runs in the seventh you’re going to count on a two-out rally?  Ugh!), Nellie Fox shot a ball back up the box that Craig deflected to keep it in the infield, but Fox reached for a single, putting men on the corners.  Kluszewski singled to get their first run across.  Sherm Lollar then ripped an 0-1 pitch over the left field fence for a three-run homer and a tie game (this must have been what Lopez and Aparicio were thinking).  After Gerry Staley cruised through the seventh he faced Gil Hodges to lead off the eighth.  Hodges crushed an 0-1 pitch of his own into the left-center field seats for a 5-4 Dodgers lead.  Sherry would pitch a spotless ninth and the Dodgers were one win away from their second World Series championship in franchise history.

 

Game 5 Bob Shaw came to the hill to face Sandy Koufax.  The game stayed scoreless until the top of the fourth when after a couple of singles put runners on the corners with nobody out, bringing up Sherm Lollar.  Lollar hit into a double play, scoring what turned out to be the lone run of the game*.  The Dodgers did load the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth, but a pop out and fly out killed the rally.  The White Sox won 1-0 to bring the series back to Chicago for at least one more game.

 

*-To put into perspective how low scoring the 1960’s were – to go along with how low scoring the Dodgers were – Sandy Koufax famously had a career World Series ERA of 0.95 in 57.0 innings (and even if you take out his lone relief appearance it remains below 1.00), but because four of the 10 runs he allowed were unearned and the fact that his team scored a total of 17 runs in his seven starts (seven of them in one game), his World Series record is just 4-3.  And in his eighth game that wasn’t a start he pitched two innings of mop up duty in Game 1 of this series, meaning that despite his brilliance the Dodgers were just 4-4 in World Series games he pitched in.

 

Game 6 was Johnny Podres against Early Wynn.  The game was scoreless until two outs in the third.  After Wally Moon walked (you’ve got to love that phrase) Duke Snider crushed a two-run homer into the left-center field seats for the lead.

 

Then in the fourth Norm Larker led off with a single and was pinch ran for with Don Demeter.  Roseboro then bunted him to second because of course he did (35 points).  Maury Wills then singled up the box to score Demeter and extend the lead.  Johnny Podres then doubled over Landers’ head to score Wills, and Wynn’s day was through.  Desperate to keep the game close, Lopez brought in Dick Donovan who promptly walked Jim Gilliam, then Charlie Neal lined a double into left-center, scoring both Podres and Gilliam.  Wally Moon then crushed one into right-center for a two-run homer and the rout was on.  Turk Lown replaced Donovan, but the damage was done.

 

Now with the score 8-0, one would think that Podres could simply cruise to victory, but that wouldn’t be the case.  After getting Nellie Fox to pop out Podres hit Jim Landis in the head (luckily he was wearing a helmet), then walked Lollar, bringing up Big Ted Kluszewski.  Big Klu crushed a pitch into the upper deck for a three-run homer and giving him a tie for most RBI in a World Series with 10.  Podres then walked Al Smith and Podres’ day was done.  In came Sherry and after a single he struck Billy Goodman and after a walk loaded the bases a pop out ended the threat.

 

It remained uneventful until the top of the ninth when Chuck Essegian pinch hit for Duke Snider and crushed a homerun into the left field seats.  He became the first player ever to hit two pinch hit homeruns in a World Series.  Sherry retired the side in order to finish the game and give the Dodgers their second title and first in just their second season in the City of Angels.  Larry Sherry was named MVP, going 12.2 innings, getting two wins and two saves while allowing just one earned run and 10 baserunners.

 

For the White Sox, it would be 24 years until they saw the postseason again, and 46 year until reaching another World Series.

 

As for the Dodgers, this would be just the beginning for them.  Since moving to Los Angeles the Dodgers have won over 5,000 games, made 21 playoff appearances, won nine pennants, and five World Series.

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Dick Allen

Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Dick Allen.  Allen was signed out of Wampum High School (western Pennsylvania) by the Philadelphia Phillies when he was 18 years old in 1960.  In 1963 he was a September call up and in 1964 was the Phillies fulltime third baseman, winning the Rookie of the Year Award almost unanimously (took 18 of the 20 first place votes) and finished seventh in the MVP voting.  That season he hit .318/.382/.557, leading the NL in runs, triples, total bases, and strikeouts (138; a mediocre total now but crazy high in 1964) as the Phillies improbably stayed in first place until their famous collapse down the stretch*.

 

*-Gene Mauch was known as a manager who small-balled his way through his entire career.  If you want evidence of this here you go:  In 1964 he had Dick Allen attempt to sacrifice bunt 15 times.  Eight of those attempts came in the first inning.  The overall Sidorski Score for these 15 attempts was 33.27.  The bigger question of Gene Mauch is this:  Why in the name of science would you have a guy with his numbers bunting?  Was the .306/.384/.531 line in 2,086 minor league plate appearances not a clear enough indicator of his ability to hit without giving away outs?  Again, Gene Mauch would’ve driven me crazy if he managed the Indians.

 

The next season Allen hit .302/.375/.494 and made his first All-Star team.  He made the All-Star team in 1966 and 1967 as well, leading the league in OPS and OPS+ both years.

 

But things weren’t always easy with Allen.  In July of 1965 he got into a fight with teammate Frank Thomas (no, not the Hall of Famer).  Thomas had swung a bat at Allen, which most likely led to Thomas’ release the following day.  In the meantime the players were not permitted by the team to give the press their side of the story.  With Thomas able to give his side since he was no longer with the team, Philly fans and local media were given the impression that Allen had cost a white guy his job*.  Back in the 60’s, this was big.  And since Philly was the perfect city for such incidents to happen, Allen’s life became a nightmare.  From verbal obscenities to a wide variety of objects thrown in his direction, his time in Philadelphia was anything but enjoyable.

 

*-It should be noted that in a 2009 interview with Bob Costas on the MLB Network Allen stated that he and Thomas are good friends.

 

Then in 1967 he mangled his throwing hand when a headlight got in its way.  In 1969 he was fined and suspended indefinitely for missing a double header in New York.  Apparently he went to see a horse race in the morning and got stuck in traffic on his way to the game.

 

By the end of 1969 he had had enough.  He demanded a trade and was sent to St. Louis in a seven play swap.  Naturally this was not without controversy.  One of the players traded was Curt Flood, and we all know his side of this story.  The Cardinals completed the deal by sending two other players to Philly.  In his one year as a Cardinal he hit 34 homers and made the All-Star team.  After that he was traded to the Dodgers for former Rookie of the Year Ted Sizemore and Bob Stinson.  His lone year in LA he hit 23 homers (a good total considering Dodger Stadium) but after the season was sent to the White Sox for a weak hitting middle infielder and a surgeon.

 

In his first year in the American League he was an instant success.  Allen hit .308/.420/.603 while leading the league in homeruns, RBI, walks, OBP, slugging, OPS, and OPS+, making the All-Star team and winning the AL MVP Award (receiving 21 of the 24 first place votes).  On July 31 of that year the White Sox played the Minnesota Twins.  After Pat Kelly walked and Luis Alvarado singled, Dick Allen stepped in against Bert Blyleven.  Allen drove a ball to center field.  Twins center fielder Bobby Darwin slipped and the ball bounced over him and rolled to the wall.  By the time they got it in Allen had touched all the bases for an inside the park homerun.  He came up again in the fifth with the Sox now leading 4-0 after a double and single preceded him.  He hit the ball this time to left center.  Bobby Darwin ran to cut it off . . .  and failed.  Thanks to Darwin’s momentum the left fielder had to go after the ball.  Allen slid into home well ahead of the throw and he had his second inside the park homerun.  It was the first time in 40 years that anyone had accomplished the feat.

 

Overall Allen hit .292/.378/.534 with a 156 OPS+ in 15 seasons.  My Hall of Fame Rating  system has him at 65.04, above the average first baseman score of 63.82.  In my opinion he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but in all of his years on the ballot he never received more than 18.9% of the vote.  Maybe he will be enshrined by the Veterans Committee or one of the other committees they have created.  I don’t know.  But I would like to see him in.  Yes, he ranks 17th on my current list of Hall-eligible players, but all 17 are worthy candidates as well.

2017 All-Star Selections

Well, the All-Star voting is almost wrapped up.  Here are my AL and NL rosters for the game in Miami.

 

Catcher

AL – Gary Sanchez, New York

NL – Buster Posey, San Francisco

Buster Posey is the best cátcher in the game today.  Besides posting a .347/.435/.531 line (157 OPS+, 160 wRC+), he’s the only legitimate player on a Giants sporting the second worst record in the National League.  Add in his job behind the plate and he’s the obvious choice for the NL.

 

This won’t be the last selection for the young Sanchez, whose .911 OPS is the best of any regular catcher in the AL.

 

First Base

AL – Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay

NL – Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona

Miguel Cabrera has been a shadow of himself this season, and the AL isn’t exactly overwhelming with candidates here.  Paul Goldschmidt is finally starting to get the attention his career has earned.

 

Second Base

AL – Jose Altuve, Houston

NL – Daniel Murphy, Washington

I don’t think there’s too much to argue about here.

 

Third Base

AL – Jose Ramirez, Cleveland

NL – Nolan Arenado, Colorado

Ramirez is not a homer pick.  He leads AL third basemen in fWAR, and his .318/.371/.561 line has been the best on the team as they have finally taken over first in the AL Central.

 

Besides putting up good offensive numbers, Arenado he is also leading the league in Total Zone Runs at third and for the third straight season is leading the league in DRS.

 

Shortstop

AL – Carlos Correa, Houston

NL – Zack Cozart, Cincinnati

I doubt that anyone has noticed but Cozart has actually been outperforming Dodgers phenom Corey Seager (.320/.404/.562, 149 wRC+, 148 OPS+ compared to .283/.392/.461, 130 wRC+, 127 OPS+).

 

As for the Correa, his overall hitting numbers are better than Boston’s Xander Bodaerts.  Surprisingly, defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons is actually hitting this season, but Correa is having the better year.

 

Left Field

AL – Corey Dickerson, Tampa Bay

NL – Marcell Ozuna, Miami

Two of the more under the radar selections, Ozuna has been the best left fielder in the NL while Corey Dickerson is emerging into becoming a star for the Rays.

 

Center Field

AL – Mike Trout, Los Angeles

NL – Charlie Blackmon, Colorado

Injured or not, Trout is the best player in baseball.  Charlie Blackmon already has 42 extra base hits this season (he had 69 all of last season).

 

Right Field

AL – Aaron Judge, New York

NL – Bryce Harper, Washington

Nobody is even close in either league to these two.  Judge’s 1.144 OPS easily outdistances everyone not named Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper has recovered from last year’s down numbers to get himself back into the “Best Player” argument.

 

Starting Pitchers

AL – Chris Sale, Boston, Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland, Dallas Keuchel, Houston, Chris Archer, Tampa Bay, Lance McCullers, Houston, Michael Fulmer, Detroit, Corey Kluber, Cleveland, Ervin Santana, Minnesota

NL – Max Scherzer, Washington, Zack Greinke, Arizona, Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles, Stephen Strasburg, Washington, Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco, Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh, Carlos Martinez, St. Louis, Robbie Ray, Arizona, Kyle Freeland, Colorado

That is a hell of a lot of strikeouts from those arms.  What’s frightening are the guys I left out.

 

Relievers

AL—Cody Allen, Cleveland, Andrew Miller, Cleveland, Craig Kimbrel, Boston, Chris Devenski, Houston, Roberto Osuna, Toronto

NL – Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles, Corey Knebel, Milwaukee, Wade Davis, Chicago, Greg Holland, Colorado, Jim Johnson, Atlanta

Again, a lot of power arms and some surprises.  Amazing what some later round picks can generate as failed starters.

 

Reserves

AL – Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore, Miguel Sano, Minnesota, Salvador Perez, Kansas City, Jose Abreu, Chicago, Shin-Soo Choo, Texas, Jean Segura, Seattle, Yonder Alonso, Oakland, Brian McCann, Houston, George Springer, Houston, Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles, Marcus Stroman, Toronto, Aaron Hicks, New York

NL – Joey Votto, Cincinnati, Anthony Rendon, Washington, Aaron Altherr, Philadelphia, Michael Conforto, New York, Giancarlo Stanton, Miami, Wil Myers, San Diego, EricThames, Milwaukee, Corey Seager, Los Angeles, Anthony Rizzo, Chicago, Justin Turner, Los Angeles, Jay Bruce, New York

That should round out the the lineups pretty well.  Expect a lot of power in the game basically because that’s what we’ve had all year.  This season has been about homeruns and strikeouts, and that’s what we’ll see in Miami.

 

Obviously it isn’t easy since every team needs to be represented and I’m sure that not every pick would be agreed upon, but it’s the best that I can do.

Gene Tenace

Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Gene Tenace.  Tenace was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in the 20th round of the 1965 draft – the same draft where they took Rick Monday first overall.  He worked his way up through the minors and by the time the Athletics were hitting their stride after moving to Oakland he was strong contributor.

 

Never one to hit for average, his value was overlooked because people didn’t value walks like we do today.  Despite his lifetime .241 batting average he posted a .388 lifetime OBP (ironically, the same as Tony Gwynn’s).  Of his 1,060 career hits, exactly 400 of them were for extra bases.  He was doing this in an era more favorable to pitchers (league OPS during his time was .694).  Six times Tenace drew over 100 walks, leading the AL in 1974 and the NL in 1977.  For his career he walked about as often as he struck out (984 BB, 998 SO).

 

In 1972 he was mainly the A’s backup catcher to Dave Duncan, but over the last couple of months manager Dick Williams started using Tenace more and more and by the time the postseason came around he was the starting backstop.  While he struggled in the ALCS, managing just one single in 17 at-bats, he managed to find his stride in the World Series.  In Game 1 against the Reds Tenace was 2 for 3 with a pair of homeruns in a 3-2 A’s win.  In Game 4 Tenace added another homer in another 3-2 win.  Then in Game 7 with the game tied 1-1 in the top of the sixth, Tenace ripped a double into the left field corner and to give the A’s a 2-1 lead.  The A’s went on to win 3-2 and Tenace was named series MVP, hitting .348/.400/.913 with four homers in the seven games.

 

By 1973 he was the team’s regular first baseman and part time catcher as the A’s were in the midst of their dynasty.  They would win three more division titles and two more World Series with Tenace and the crew, but as free agency dawned Charlie Finley sent everyone packing.  By 1977 the A’s were a 90-loss team and the stars were everywhere else.  The 30-year old Tenace signed with the San Diego Padres, and though they were terrible in their own right (they lost 93 games that season and only had one winning season during his time there) he continued to rack up walks.  Despite his .237 average in San Diego he had a .403 OBP and an .825 OPS.

 

In December of 1980 he was a part of a 10-player deal in which he was sent to the Cardinals.  Serving as a platoon catcher with Darrell Porter, he contributed with a .426 OBP in 124 games.  Though he was 0 for 6 in the World Series, he did collect his fourth ring as the Cardinals won for the first time in 15 years.

 

He retired after a season in Pittsburgh, then bounced around as a coach with various teams, and even filled in for 33 games as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1991.  He won two more rings with the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993, giving him six total.

 

In 2016 Bill James made up a “Gene Tenace Trophy”.  The idea is that it favors hitters with low averages but draw a lot of walks and hit for power.  The formula is simply (.270 – avg) times (OPS – .670) times plate appearances.  Going back to 1950 you see a list of fine players who finish first.  Harmon Killebrew was first six times.  Duke Snider was first in 1960, Eddie Mathews in 1958.  Ralph Kiner was first in 1952.  Reggie, Jimmy Wynn, Mike Schmidt, Lance Parrish, Jack Clark, Gorman Thomas, all finished first at least once.  Gene Tenace finished first four times himself.

 

The idea behind that is that many people are still stuck on batting average as the measurement of hitters while forgetting how while this is pointing out just how valuable walks and homeruns really are.  It’s not an end-all statistic, just a quick and dirty number to give us an idea about the value of power and patience.

2006 NLCS

Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 2006 National League Championship Series.

 

The St. Louis Cardinals were a major disappointment in 2006.  After back-to-back 100-win seasons and a trip to the World Series, the Cards suffered through poor play, losing seven in a row during the next to last week of the season in an attempt to blow a seven game division lead.  The lineup rode the bats of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols (178 OPS+) and all-star Scott Rolen (126 OPS+).  Injuries to the rotation led to Tony La Russa counting on Adam Wainwright as his closer at the end of the year and only having one real good starter in Chris Carpenter.  St. Louis somehow breezed by the Padres in the NLDS, allowing only six runs in four games.

 

The Mets were the best team in the National League in 2006.  They ranked third in the league in both runs scored and allowed and featured a mix of veterans and youth in their lineup (both David Wright and Jose Reyes were 23 while Carlos Beltran was 29 and Carlos Delgado was 34).  The pitching staff was based much more on the veterans (five of their top pitchers were 34 or older).  The Mets cruised past the Dodgers in their division series in a three game sweep, setting up the matchup of former division rivals.

 

Neither team had won the World Series since the 1980’s, just like their awaiting American League opponent the Detroit Tigers.

 

Game 1 was in Shea featuring Jeff Weaver for the Cards and Tom Glavine for the Mets.  Both teams were held scoreless through the first five innings, but in the bottom of the sixth Carlos Beltran came to the plate following a Paul Lo Duca two out single.  Beltran got a 2-2 pitch and crushed it off the scoreboard in right center to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.  That would be all the scoring as Glavine went seven innings and the Mets took Game 1.

 

In Game 2 the scoring started early.  This time Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first with a double, followed by a 36-point bunt by Lo Duca.  After Carlos Beltran walked Carlos Delgado went yard, making the score 3-0 and already threatening to end Chris Carpenter’s night very early.  The Mets’ John Maine couldn’t keep it there, though, as he walked Jim Edmonds to lead off the second, then after an error and another walk Yadier Molina doubled to score a pair and cut the lead to one.  In the bottom half, though, the Mets got one back.  Endy Chavez doubled and Maine put down a 35 pointer.  Jose Reyes then singled to score Chavez and make it 4-2.  That didn’t last long, either, as Albert Pujols came up with one out in the third and drew a walk.  Edmonds then crushed a two run homer to tie the game.

 

The game remained tied until the bottom of the fifth when Delgado blasted his second homerun of the night, this one a solo shot giving the Mets a 5-4 lead.  They followed that up with another run in the sixth as Reyes scampered home from first on a Lo Duca double and the game was at 6-4.

 

Then in the seventh Guillermo Mota was on the hill and got the first two outs easily.  Then Albert Pujols worked the count full and singled to keep the inning alive.  That was followed by a walk from Jim Edmonds.  Then former World Series hero Scott Spiezio came up launched fly ball into the right field corner.  The ball deflected off of Shawn Green’s glove for a game-tying, two-run triple.  The game remained tied into the ninth when the Mets went with their all-star closer Billy Wagner.  The first hitter was defensive replacement So Taguchi.  Taguchi was also a 36 year old who made his debut as a 32-year old four years earlier and had a career .399 slugging percentage coming into the postseason.  Naturally, Taguchi launched a 2-2 pitch deep into left field for a lead-taking homerun.  The Cards would add two more runs and take Game 2 9-6 to even the series.

 

The scenes moved to St. Louis for Game 3.  The Cardinals sent Jeff Suppan up against Steve Trachsel (probably most famous for giving up Mark McGwire’s 62nd homerun in 1998).  Trachsel didn’t last long.  He started off rough, allowing the first three hitters to reach (only picking off Eckstein spared him from giving up any runs early).  Then with two out Spiezio tripled to score a pair and give the Cardinals the early lead.  Then to lead off the second, Jeff Suppan hit an 0-2 into the seats for a 3-0 lead.  Trachsel then loaded the bases and with no one out his night was done.  Darren Oliver then threw a pitch to the backstop and after three groundouts the score was 5-0, which is where it would stay.  Suppan allowed three hits and one walk over eight innings and only twice did a hitter reach second.

 

Game 4 was anything but a classic pitchers’ duel.  Mets’ starter Oliver Perez gave up three homers in 5.2 innings, including one to David Eckstein (he of the career 27 homers in 3,785 plate appearances up to that point), but managed to still be credited with the win because Anthony Reyes and the Cardinals bullpen gave up four homers of their own – two to Carlos Beltran – as the Mets rolled, 12-5 to even the series at two games apiece.

 

Game 5 pitted Glavine against Weaver in a Game 1 rematch.  The Mets got on the board first when Shawn Green and Jose Valentin hit back-to-back doubles in the fourth to give New York a 2-0 lead.  Glavine couldn’t hold it, though, as Albert Pujols would homer with one out in the bottom half of the inning.  Then with two out Scott Rolen drew a walk and Edmonds singled.  Ronnie Belliard then singled and the game was tied.  In the very next inning Eckstein led off with a bloop single and scored on Preston Wilson’s double.  Chris Duncan later added a homerun and the Cardinals were going back to New York with a 3-2 series lead.

 

Game 6 started with John Maine getting into early trouble before dodging a huge bases loaded bullet in the first.  In the bottom half Jose Reyes led off with a homerun off of Chris Carpenter for the early lead.  The game remained that way until the fourth when Shawn Green’s single scored Beltran.  The Mets added two more runs in the seventh with Lo Duca’s RBI single and despite a ninth inning rally the Cardinals fell short, 4-2, and the series was going to a seventh game.

 

The Mets got the scoring started in Game 7 when with two outs Beltran doubled and Delgado walked.  Then David Wright singled to score the game’s first run.  In the second Edmonds led off with a single then after Rolen flied out Yadier Molina singled and men were on the corners.  Naturally, Tony La Russa called for a safety squeeze, which I guess worked because the Cardinals tied the game and now there were two outs and a runner on second.  Suppan struck out and the inning was over.

 

Things remained uneventful until the sixth.  With one out Edmonds drew a walk then Scott Rolen lined the first pitch deep to left.  The Mets left fielder Endy Chavez sprinted back to the fence, reached up and over it and robbed Rolen of a homerun.  Edmonds was on his way to third as Chavez caught it, and was easily doubled off to end the inning.  In the bottom half of the inning Delgado drew a one out walk then Wright reached on a Pujols error.  Shawn Green was intentionally walked to load the bases just so Jose Valentin could strike out and Chavez could pop out on the first pitch he saw, ending the inning.

 

It remained tied into the ninth.  Then with one out Scott Rolen singled.  That brought up Yadier Molina.

 

Now up to that point Molina had 16 career homeruns and career .238/.291/.342 line (64 OPS+) in 1,033 plate appearances.  Even now he is considered an all-star mostly for his defense (his career OPS+ is 98).  Willie Randolph elected to stay with the righty Aaron Heilman instead of going to his closer, left-handed Billy Wagner*.  Molina promptly launched the first pitch into the left field bullpen and the Cardinals had the lead, 3-1.

 

*-Wagner’s splits in 2006:

 

Vs. Righties:  .234/.308/.341

Vs. Lefties:  .161/.190/.214

 

In the bottom of the ninth Adam Wainwright immediately gave up two straight singles which prompted Randolph to send up pinch hitter Cliff Floyd.  Wainwright caught Floyd looking and got Jose Reyes to line out to center.  That brought up Carlos Beltran.

 

Coming into this at-bat Carlos Beltran had 62 plate appearances against the Cardinals in postseason play.  In those PA’s he was 18-50 with seven homers and 12 walks.  In other words, he was murder to the Cardinals.

 

Beltran took the first pitch for a strike, then fouled off the second pitch.  Wainwright then made Beltran’s knees buckle with a curveball for a called strike three and the series was over.  Jeff Suppan was the MVP of the series (because someone had to be).  The total runs for the series were 28 for St. Louis, 27 for New York.

 

The Cardinals would go on to defeat the Tigers in the World Series in five games for their first title since 1982.  The Mets would have to wait another nine years before finally getting back to the World Series, but 1986 remains the last time the ‘Mazings won it all.

Fred McGriff

Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Fred McGriff.  McGriff was drafted by the Yankees in the ninth round of the 1981 draft.  A year and a half later he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays along with Dave Collins and Mike Morgan for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray.  In 1987 he started getting regular playing time with the Jays and in 2,322 plate appearances he hit .278/.389/.530 (153 OPS+) and twice finished in the top ten in the MVP voting.  In the 1990 offseason he and Tony Fernandez were traded to the San Diego Padres for Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter.  The trade was a rare one in that both teams benefitted from the trade.  In the early 1990’s the Padres were having a fire sale and McGriff was one of the players sold for 15 cents on the dollar.  On July 18, 1993 he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott, and Melvin Nieves.  While the three combined for 489 games in the majors McGriff was worth it for just the 68 games he played for Atlanta in 1993.  In 291 plate appearances the Crime Dog hit .310/.392/.610 and the Braves completely dominated the National League.  After 94 games the Giants had a nine game lead on Atlanta:

 

W L GB Pct.
Giants 62 32 0.660
Braves 53 41 9 0.564
Dodgers 49 43 12 0.533
Astros 48 44 13 0.522
Reds 48 47 14.5 0.505
Padres 36 58 26 0.383
Rockies 33 59 28 0.359

 

The Giants played great, going 41-27 (.603) the rest of the way.  But the Braves all but forgot how to lose:

 

W L GB Pct.
Braves 51 17 0.750
Giants 41 27 10 0.603
Astros 37 33 15 0.529
Rockies 34 36 18 0.486
Dodgers 32 38 20 0.457
Reds 25 42 25.5 0.373
Padres 25 43 26 0.368

 

The Braves won the division on the last day of the season and McGriff finished fourth in the MVP voting.  In the NLCS McGriff hit .435/.519/.696 in the six games but the Braves lost the series to the Phillies 4-2.  The next season McGriff made his second All-Star team.  In that game in Pittsburgh McGriff came on as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning with the National League trailing 7-5 and facing Lee Smith.  McGriff homered off of the Orioles’ closer to tie the game and force extra innings.  The National League would end up winning the game in the tenth but the season was cut short with the players’ strike and the entire postseason was cancelled.  In 1995 the Braves would win the World Series, the first major professional sports championship in Atlanta.  McGriff hit .333/.415/.649 in 14 postseason games for the Braves’ championship run.

Ten times he hit 30 homers, between the ages of 24 and 38.  And I think this is where McGriff falls of for people.  His numbers were good, many times even great.  But when the higher powered numbers of the mid-to-late 90’s started skyrocketing, McGriff just stayed steady.  He never cleared 40 homers, he never racked up 110 RBI, only twice he scored 100 runs, and only three times did he hit .300.  Twice he led the league in homeruns, but none after 1992.  And that seems to be reflected in the Hall of fame voting (he’s never cleared 25%), and his HOFR of 53.55 falls short as well.  He was a nice player for a long time, but the all is about greatness, not niceness.

Tim Salmon

Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Tim Salmon.  Salmon was originally drafted out of high school in the 18th round by the Atlanta Braves in 1986.  He opted to go to Grand Canyon University instead and three years later was drafted again, this time in the third round by the California Angels.  Ten picks later another really good player was taken – John Olerud.  Other players of note in that draft:  Frank Thomas (seventh overall), Charles Johnson (10th), Mo Vaughn (23rd), and Chuck Knoblauch (25th).

 

After getting his feet wet in the big leagues in 1992 he was the everyday right fielder for the Angels.  In 1993 he hit .283/.382/.536 with 31 homers and won the Rookie of the Year Award unanimously (the vote in the NL was also unanimous, with Mike Piazza taking the honors).

 

In 1995 the Angels surprised many.  The previous year they were 21 games below .500 before the strike and not much was expected out of any team in the division.  But the Angels got off to a strong start and were 20-13 after May and went into the All-Star break tied for first in the AL West.  The came out of the break on fire, winning 17 of 20 games after the break and after a 5-4 win against Seattle on August 2 they held an 11 game lead in the division.  The lead seemed big enough that Angels manager Marcel Lachemann actually announced his postseason rotation before the calendar turned to September.  On August 16 they still held a 10 ½ game lead on the division, but trouble was brewing.  The Mariners had just gotten their young star Ken Griffey Jr. back from the disabled list after fracturing his wrist.  Combining his return with Edgar and Tino Martinez, Jay Buhner, and the left arm of Randy Johnson the Mariners were ready to go the opposite direction the Angels were heading.   On September 1 the day started with the Mariners 7 ½ games behind the Angels.  The Mariners went 20-9 from that day until the end of the season, including the one-game playoff for the division title while the Angels were just 24-34 after July.  The playoff game started innocently enough, but in the bottom of the seventh the wheels came off for the Angels.  The Mariners loaded the bases with two out and then Luis Sojo shattered his bat.  The ball was fair and somehow got by J.T. Snow and went into the Angels bullpen.  Salmon gathered the ball and tossed it into Mark Langston who attempted to throw out a hustling Joey Cora.  Langston’s throw went to the backstop and Sojo scored, making the score 5-0.  Seattle added four more runs in the eighth and the Angels’ collapse was complete.  The Angels go six more seasons without postseason play, but they finally did win the pennant in 2002, ultimately taking the World Series from the San Francisco Giants in seven games.  In Game 6 the Angels trailed 5-0 in the seventh and things were looking bleak.  Then Scott Spezio hit a three run homer in the seventh then after Darrin Erstadt homered in the eighth, Salmon singled to represent the tying run.  He was pinch ran for and after a another single Troy Glaus launched a double to the wall in left center and the Angels had the lead.  They won the game and the series.  It’s also the last time the Halos have been to the Fall Classic.

 

Injuries would start to take their toll on Salmon as after 2003 he would only play 136 more games.  Salmon currently sits second all-time in games played for the Angels.  He’s the team’s all-time homerun leader and also leads in walks.  His OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS all place third in franchise history.  I’ve been including my Hall of Fame Rating with these players to give a sense where they stand.  Salmon’s is 49.06.  My baseline is 60.00, so obviously Salmon falls short, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he was a fine player.  Overall in 14 years he hit .282/.385/.498 for a 128 OPS+, and though he never made an all-star team, he did twice finish in the top ten of the MVP voting.

Dick Howser

Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Dick Howser.  Howser was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1958 out of Florida State University.  He made his debut on Opening Day in 1961 and would go on to hit .280/.377/.360, made the All-Star team, and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting.

 

That was about the best as it would get for Howser, though.  The next year his average dropped to .238, though would maintain a good walk rate throughout his career.  After eight years and three teams, he hung up the spikes in 1968 with the Yankees.  The following season he took over as the team’s third base coach.  He held that job for a decade before going back to FSU, this time as the head baseball coach.

 

After one season in college he came back to the Yankees, this time as manager of the club (he did manage one game for them in 1978).  The Yankees won the AL East that season, but were swept by the Royals in the ALCS.  A key moment in the series came in the eighth inning of Game 2.  With the Royals leading 3-2, Willie Randolph hit a one out single.  Then Dennis Leonard struck out Bobby Murcer for the second out.  Bob Watson then lined a 1-2 pitch to the left wall for a clear double.  With two out Randolph was off and running.  Royals left fielder Willie Wilson played the bounce off of the wall perfectly and looped a throw to George Brett.  The Yankees third base coach had sent Randolph home with the chance to tie the game.  Brett’s relay throw beat Randolph by 10 feet.  Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner – a rational man by all accounts – was livid at his coach’s decision and demanded that Howser fire him on the spot.  Howser wasn’t one to put up with Steinbrenner’s B.S., and refused to do so.  After the series was over Steinbrenner fired Howser.*

 

*-This was nothing new for George.  From 1973 through 1995 his list of managers goes like this:  Ralph Houk-Bill Virdon-Billy Martin-Dick Howser-Bob Lemon-Billy Martin-Dick Howser-Gene Michael-Bob Lemon-Gene Michael-Clyde King-Billy Martin-Yogi Berra-Billy Martin-Lou Piniella-Billy Martin-Lou Piniella-Dallas Green-Bucky Dent-Stump Merrill-Buck Showalter.  Billy Martin was actually in line to manage the Yankees a sixth time in 1990 before getting drunk and dying in a single car accident.  His next to last hiring led to one of the greatest cartoons in the history of the Plain Dealer.  It was a newspaper headline reading “Martin to Manage Yankees Again:  Cold Day in Hell”.

 

Howser wasn’t unemployed for too long.  Late in the 1981 season the defending American League champs were struggling.  They were just 10-10 in the second half of the split season and management had decided a change was in order.  So they fired Jim Frey and replaced him with Howser.  The Royals went 20-13 the rest of the way to win the second half title only to be swept by Oakland in the Division Series (they remain the only team in Major League history to make the playoffs with a losing record).

 

The next year the Royals won 90 games but finished second to the Angels.  After a losing record in 1983 the Royals got back to the postseason in 1984, taking the AL West with a modest 84-78 record.  They were expectedly swept in the ALCS by the Tigers in three games.  The next year the Royals were so-so for most of the year and were five games out on the morning of August 6.  They went 36-23 the rest of the way to win the division by one game.

 

I’ve pointed out how Howser managed the 1985 ALCS in a previous post, but this time his team got completely over the hump.  After trailing the World Series three games to one against the heavily favored Cardinals, the Royals won Game 5, caught a break and watched the Cardinals melt down at the end of Game 6, and then watched the melt down finish throughout Game 7 as the Royals won their first World Series in franchise history.

 

The following year the Royals stumbled throughout the first half of the season and at the All-Star break were 40-48.  Howser managed the All-Star Game as the reigning AL Champion manager, and it was noticed that he didn’t look right.  It turned out he had a cancerous tumor in his brain.  He took the rest of the year off and despite the efforts at a comeback the following spring, the 1986 All-Star Game was the last game he managed, as his deteriorating health wouldn’t allow him to continue to manage.

 

In June of 1987, Dick Howser died; he was only 51 years old.  His lifetime record as a manager was 507-425, with four playoff appearances and that 1985 World Series championship.  In July of 1987 Howser’s number 10 was the first Royals’ number retired.  Florida State named their stadium in his honor.  And the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce created the Dick Howser Trophy to reward the top college baseball player in the country.

 

This season Rockies manager Bud Black is wearing number 10 to honor his former manager.

 

In 2013 Bill James created a method to compare managerial records, with 100 points being the ideal dividing line between Hall of Fame worthy and short of that.  Howser only managed five full seasons (parts of three others), but his accomplishments had already accumulated 42 points.  It’s tough to say what would have happened, but one can’t help but wonder about a life cut tragically short.

 

It seemed to be the start of a downhill ride for the franchise.  A few years later Ewing Kauffman died.  Then in 1994 the Royals had a 64-51 at the time of the strike.  It took another 20 years for the Royals to return to glory.

Worst MVP Selections

A few months ago on our popular Facebook game my webcast partner Pat Langdon hosts, “Ask Pat” I asked him if Dennis Eckersley winning the MVP in 1992 was the worst selection ever.  He still feels that Albert Belle losing to Mo Vaughn was a worse selection, but he’s also a Clevelander and we tend to have the belief that we get shafted constantly.  Now, while Mo Vaughn was six Win Shares (basically two wins) behind Albert Belle, there was another legitimate candidate on a division winner who finished a distant third* who actually had better hitting stats than Albert.  Edgar Martinez hit .356/.479/.628 (185 OPS+) compared to Belle’s .317/.401/.690 (177 OPS+).  Edgar hit just as many doubles, drew more walks, and scored just as many runs.  Martinez had 32 Win Shares that season, tops in the league.

 

*-Vaughn received 12 first place votes, Belle 11, Martinez 4.  The other first place vote went to Tribe closer Jose Mesa.  Whoever voted for a closer over any of the other three is beyond my comprehension, but if they would’ve voted for Belle he would’ve won the award.

 

Now, two Win Shares is basically splitting hairs and eight is significant, but the worst?  Hardly.  I decided to go through and find the worst selections in the history of the BBWAA’s voting for the award.  Here are my top ten since 1950.

 

  1. 1979 NL MVP: Willie Stargell splits with Keith Hernandez

Willie Stargell is a Hall of Famer, but in 1979 he was a 39 year old man finishing out the string.  Theoretically, anyway.  He got off to a hot start, hitting .339/.392/.670 by the end of May.  Now, he had only played in 31 of the Pirates 45 games and the Pirates were trailing the upstart Montreal Expos in the standings.  The Pirates ended up passing up the Expos for the division title, but Stargell played in only 126 games and had 480 plate appearances for a .281/.352/.552 line, including a pretty rough .222/.328/.485 September line.  If Stargell was a catcher, I get it.  But he was a 39-year old first baseman.  His performance earned him 18 Win Shares, a decent total.  But Hernandez earned 29 Win Shares and even he didn’t have the best year in the senior circuit. Hernandez hit .344/.417/.513 and was a terrific defensive first baseman, but Stargell’s teammate Dave Parker had 31 Win Shares, about four more wins than Stargell.  But Parker won the award in 1978 and they had already handed out back to back awards three years earlier.  Which is fine because Mike Schmidt and Dave Winfield both had 33 Win Shares.  If Stargell had won it outright this would have ranked much higher.  But splitting the award with someone much more deserving keeps it lower.

 

  1. 1991 NL MVP: Terry Pendleton over Barry Bonds

In 1990 the Atlanta Braves were terrible.  They were 65-97, dead last in the NL West. They had traded their most popular player, Dale Murphy, to the Phillies for two nothings.  The 1991 season really had nothing to offer the fans of the Turner Broadcasting System.  But the Braves were better than everyone thought.  They battled for the NL West all the way until the next to last day of the season when the Braves clinched the division title.  One key acquisition was a veteran third basemen from the Cardinals named Terry Pendleton.  The free agent ended up winning the NL batting title along with leading the league in hits and total bases.  Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the defending NL East champions were rolling, winning the division by 14 games.  Their best player, Barry Bonds, led the league in OBP, OPS, and OPS+.  Bonds was tied with Ryne Sandberg at 37 Win Shares apiece, with Will Clark (34) and Bobby Bonilla (31) also finishing ahead of Pendleton’s 27.

 

But writers like stories.  Bonds won the award in 1990, the Pirates won the division in 1990.  And also, Bonds only hit .167 in the NLCS in 1990 (because, you know, 24 plate appearances trumps 600 and we’ll ignore his six walks and .375 OBP in those six games, too).  The Braves went from 65 wins to 94 wins, Pendleton was the big name addition, he did win the batting title, so naturally he HAD to be the MVP.

 

  1. 1958 AL MVP: Jackie Jensen over Mickey Mantle

The American League in the 1950’s and early 1960’s basically consisted of discussions of how to find a way not to give Mantle the MVP.  From 1952 through 1964 Mantle only won three MVP’s but was the best position player in 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 (tied with Nellie Fox), 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1964.  I purposely avoided catchers in this exercise, believing that since they usually aren’t going to get 600 plate appearances that they deserve a little extra credit, so 1954, 1955, and 1962 will discount for the time being (those being two for Yogi and one for Elston Howard).  In 1952 starting pitcher Bobby Shantz actually had one more Win Share than Mantle (33-32).  He won the award in 1956, 1957, and 1962.  In 1959 Nellie Fox did tie him AND the White Sox won the pennant, so CLEARLY Fox had to be the MVP.  In 1961 Maris won the MVP because he hit 61 homeruns and considering the historical significance you can see – while still unjustifiable – how one would’ve voted for Maris.  In 1960 Maris won it, but they two of them were within five Win Shares of each other.  So that leaves 1958.

 

Simply put, Mantle had just won the past two trophies and you can’t just give it to the same guy every year.  Can you imagine how meaningless the award would be in the NBA if they just gave it to LeBron James every year?

 

Anyway, they couldn’t give it to Mantle so they had to find someone else.  What do you do when that happens?  Simple!  You check the RBI leaders.  Jackie Jensen’s name was right at the top with 122 of those.  Besides the difference in Win Shares (39-27 in favor of The Mick), the voting itself is atrocious.

 

Mantle finished a distant fifth with 127 points and did not receive a single first place vote.  Nine went to Jensen, seven to Mickey’s teammate pitcher Bob Turley (18 Win Shares), four went to Rocky Colavito (32), three to Bob Cerv (29), and one went to Nellie Fox (22).

 

The one we’ll point out here is Turley.  How did this happen?  Oh, he was 21-7 with 19 complete games.  Now most of us know a lot better and realize that:

 

  1. The Yankees were going to score a lot of runs for their pitchers
  2. That Yankee Stadium was favorable to pitchers, which means
  3. That Yankees pitchers were going to get a lot of wins.

 

His 1.3 K/BB rate is hardly MVP worthy, nor is the fact that he led the league in walks issued (third time he did that in his career).  I’m not sure how you could possibly figure that to be the case (he also won the Cy Young, don’t get me started), but hey, it was baseball’s golden era, right?

 

  1. 1962 NL MVP: Maury Wills over Willie Mays

In 1971 an overall forgettable movie called “The Steagle” was in theatres.  The movie stars Richard Benjamin as a college professor named Harold at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and he, like most of America, felt that the world was going to end.  As a result he quits caring about what is “important” and just decides to go through life as he pleases.  At one point he begins a lecture about the mystique of the Elizabethan hero, but instead comes up with this gem:

 

“In the lights of existing political action events however, I think a discussion of a more contemporary hero is in order.  I cannot understand, and never will if I live to be a hundred, is why Willie Mays did not get the Most Valuable Player Award las year or for that matter the year before and GOD DAMMIT HE WON’T GET IT AGAIN THIS YEAR!  HOW IN THE HELL ANYONE CAN OVERLOOK THIS MAN IS COMPLETELY INCOMPREHENSIBLE TO ME!”

 

“Look, JUST LOOK AT THE GOD DAMN RECORD! HERE IT IS:

 

Forty-nine homers

A hundred and forty-one RBI

A point three oh four average

A hundred and thirty runs scored

Eighteen thefts

 

Who? Who can touch him with glove work? WHO?!?!”

 

Then again, Willie Mays was more often than not a great player.  In all 17 seasons in which he played 130 or more games he earned at least 20 Win Shares (all-star level), 13 of those he earned 30 or more (MVP level) and five of those were at least 40 Win Shares.  In other words, voting Willie Mays the MVP every year would’ve been just plain boring.  So who could they find in 1962?

 

Bring on Maury Wills.  Wills did not see his first big league action until he was 26 years old.  Not much of a hitter, it was his speed that made him stand out.  By 1962 the stolen base was basically a relic.  In the 1950’s every team had at least one slugger in the mold of a DH – a big guy who clogged up the base paths but hit a lot of homeruns.  This also meant that pitchers were more lax about holding base runners and a catcher’s throwing arm wasn’t nearly as valuable, especially if they could hit.  Enter a couple of changes to some rules (and complete disregard to others) and all of a sudden Wills’ speed became significant.

 

Wills stole 104 bases in 1962, breaking Ty Cobb’s record.  That seems to be the best reason.  The Dodgers lost to the Giant in the three game playoff for the pennant (they tied at season’s end for the flag), so the “pennant winner” thing doesn’t fly.  The reigning MVP, Frank Robinson, was actually better in 1962 (41 Win Shares, tied with Mays), and Hank Aaron was every bit as good as Wills (34 for Aaron, 32 for Wills), and Tommy Davis was actually the best Dodger (36).  But nothing was expected of Maury Wills.

 

Willie would finally win his second MVP in 1965, 11 years after his first.

 

  1. and 5. 1987 AL & NL MVP’s: RBI leaders over the table setters

Baseball writers have long been a fan of the RBI.  They consider those RBI men as “clutch” without recognizing the guys in front of them who were every bit as “clutch” for getting on base ahead of them.  If you look throughout the history of the MVP you will see a lot of RBI bias in the voting.

 

In 1987, the AL MVP was given to George Bell of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Bell that year led the league with 134 RBI, was second in homers (there was a homerun boom in 1987), hit .308/.352/.605, and didn’t spike himself in left field.  Alan Trammell that same season hit .343/.402/.551 and had a higher OPS+ than bell (155 to 147) while playing a solid defensive shortstop.  Wade Boggs hit .363/.461/.588 with a 174 OPS+ while playing third base to a draw.  Either Trammell or Boggs would have been a better pick (Trammell had 35 Win Shares, Boggs 32) than Bell (26).  You can’t even point at the postseason argument, as Trammell’s Tigers beat out Bell’s Jays on the last weekend of the season.  But this is nothing compared to what happened in the Senior Circuit.

 

Andre Dawson signed with the Cubs after the Expos (and everyone else) wouldn’t make an offer.  Dawson led the league in homers and RBI playing half his games in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.  He also posted a .sorry 328 OBP, keeping his OPS under .900 (his OPS+ was 130; good, but, well, you’ll see).  Dawson’s total performance was good enough for 20 Win Shares.  Twenty Win Shares is right at the fringe of all-star level and that tied him with teammate Ryne Sandberg and Expos reliever Tim Burke.  For 24th in the league.

 

Oh, there were some sluggers on the list of guys ahead of The Hawk.  Jack Clark of the Cardinals (33 Win Shares), Darryl Strawberry of the Mets (30), all around great player Eric Davis of the Reds (30) Dale Murphy of the Braves (29), Pedro Guerrero of the Dodgers (28), a near the end of the line Mike Schmidt with the Phillies (26), Will Cark of the Giants (25), and a young Barry Bonds of the Pirates (22) all put up better contributions.  Meanwhile, three Hall of Famers finished with more Win Shares than Dawson.

 

First, Tony Gwynn of the Padres racked up 218 hits, hit .370/.447/.511 for the Padres.  But the Padres were terrible, losing 97 games, so even if they looked at Win Shares (or WAR, just about anything else) Gwynn probably wasn’t going to win the award.  Then again, Dawson’s team also finished last in their division.

 

Ozzie Smith, who finished second in the voting, put up the best offensive season of his career up to that point.  He hit .303/.392/.383 and was his usual stellar self at short.  His 33 Win Shares tied him with his teammate Clark, but wasn’t enough to in voters’ eyes.

 

In the meantime, Dawson’s good friend and former teammate up in Montreal Tim Raines got a late start to the season.  Because of the owners’ collusion, Raines signed late and didn’t play his first game until May 2 (the Expos 22nd of the season).  That first game was going to be tough to top (4-5, 3 R, 3B, GS, 4 RBI, BB), but he kept that level all season.  He finished the season hitting .330/.429/.526 with 60 extra base hits, a league-leading 123 runs scored, and 50 stolen bases in 55 attempts (90.9%).  He also walked 90 times while striking out 52 times (32 walks and 103 K’s for Dawson).  His 34 Win Shares were apparently not enough, either.  So Dawson, despite playing on a team 18 ½ games out of first, and despite at least a dozen candidates more valuable, won the award.

 

For some strange reason between 1950 (Phil Rizzuto) and 1990 (Rickey Henderson) writers forgot the value of the leadoff hitter.

 

  1. 1974 NL MVP: Steve Garvey over Mike Schmidt

Mike Schmidt was in his second season as a full time player for the Phillies and was already blossoming, hitting .282/.395/.546 with a 158 OPS+ and a NL tops 36 homers.  His 39 Win Shares topped the National League.  Following him were Joe Morgan (37), Johnny Bench (34), Garvey’s teammate Jimmy Wynn (32), Willie Stargell (29) and Darrell Evans (28).

 

Garvey, while putting up a very good season (.312/.342/.469, 130 OPS+), his 27 Win Shares pales in comparison with Schmidt, Morgan, and Bench.  So how did this happen?

 

Well first, the Dodgers reached the postseason for the first time in eight years.  Second, they won 102 games, best in the league.  Third, Garvey was a very popular player.  Fourth, he was a good player.

 

Writers spend a lot of time looking for narratives.  They like phrases like “stats don’t tell the whole story” or “you can’t measure heart*” over saying “Ya know, this guy was just better and the facts show it.”

 

*-Feel free to replace “heart” with “guts”, “determination”, “leadership” or whatever other B.S. line you would like.

 

  1. 1984 AL MVP: Willie Hernandez over Cal Ripken

Cal Ripken won the award in 1983 and was every bit as good in 1984 (37 Win Shares).  But of course, the story was the Detroit Tigers, who cruised to a 35-5 start and road it to a World Series title.  And yes, Hernandez did not do what the modern day closers do (80 appearances, 140.1 innings, 32/33 saves), he falls well short of Ripken.  You don’t want back-to-back (only the NL does that stuff!*)? You could’ve gone with Eddie Murray (33), or Don Mattingly (29) or Hernandez’s teammate Alan Trammell (29) or Oakland’s Rickey Henderson (28) all over a reliever.

 

*-I have a strange hunch this would’ve been the thought since it had been 23 years since Maris went back-to-back and the next three to do so were in the National League.

 

  1. 1950 NL MVP: Jim Konstanty over Stan Musial

The last person to complain about anything would have been Stan Musial, so don’t be surprised that he didn’t gripe about this one.  Stan the Man had a typical year for him:  .346/.437/.596, 164 OPS+ (avg., slg., and OPS+ all topped the league), 105 runs, 109 RBI, 28 homers, 41 doubles, 7 triples.  His 32 Win Shares topped the NL that season along with Boston’s Earl Torgeson (who put up inferior numbers but in a much tougher park on hitters).

 

Konstanty was a reliever for the Whiz Kids, the spunky bunch of Philadelphia Phillies who took their first pennant in 35 years.  In 74 games in relief he had a 16-7 record with 22 saves and a 2.66 ERA with only three blown saves (only one of those gave him a win), good enough for 23 Win Shares.

 

Konstanty was the first reliever ever to win the MVP – not exactly the brightest moment in the history of the BBWAA, especially when you had three legitimately better candidates (Eddie Stanky of the Giants had 30 Win Shares of his own).

 

  1. 1992 AL MVP: Eckersley over the American League

Dennis Eckersley in 1992 pitched in 65 games and 80.0 total innings.  He faced 309 batters.  There were 136 AL position players who had more plate appearances than Eck saw that year.  His 18 Win Shares was good enough for fifth . . . on his own team; his total was good enough to tie him for 40th in the league.  His 51 saves led the league but was still six short of the record set just two years earlier.

 

Of the position players, Robbie Alomar (34 Win Shares), Frank Thomas (33), Kirby Puckett (31), Robin Ventura (30), Brady Anderson (29), Mark McGwire (29), Tim Raines (28), Carlos Baerga (28), and Paul Molitor (28) all finished with at least 10 more Win Shares.  If you’re concerned about winning the division, then Robbie’s .310/.405/.427 over 671 plate appearances easily out-values Eckersley’s 80.0 innings and 309 batters.

Rick Wise

Today’s Random Player From the Baseball Project That May or May Not Amount to Anything is Rick Wise.  Wise came up in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and had become a pretty good starter.  In 1971 he pitched 272.1 innings with 155 strikeouts, a 2.88 ERA and a 17-14 record.  Remember, this was for a Phillies team that would go on to lose 95 games that year.  On June 23 of that season he got the start against Cincinnati.  That day he struck out only three Reds that day, but he only walked one and allowed zero hits.  At the plate Wise homered twice, driving in three of the four runs.  It was easily the best game of his young career.  He was just 25 years old.

 

But Wise wanted a raise.  This was before Peter Seitz’s ruling so getting a raise was not an option.  The biggest issue was that no one was willing to go to Philly.  Hell, the whole Curt Flood battle began because he was traded to Philadelphia.  Fortunately for the Phillies the Cardinals had a similar situation with a young pitcher who was demanding more money.  So on February 25, 1972, the two pitchers were traded for each other straight up.  Wise pitched pretty well for St. Louis in 1972 (3.11 ERA, 110 ERA+, 2.92 FIP in 269 innings), but it is what the other pitcher did in Philadelphia that is remembered by everyone.  More on that later.

 

After two seasons in St. Louis Wise and Bernie Carbo were sent to Boston for Reggie Smith and Ken Tatum.  Wise was a disappointment in Boston – though he is the answer to the trivia question “Who was the winning pitcher in the famous Game 6 of the 1975 World Series?” – and right before the start of the 1978 season Wise was traded again.  This time he, Bo Diaz, Ted Cox, and Mike Paxton were sent to the Indians for Fred Kendall and a 23-year old pitcher.  Again, we’ll discuss this later.  After two so-so years with the Tribe he signed with the San Diego Padres.

 

Overall Rick Wise posted a 3.69 ERA, a 188-181 record, 1,647 strikeouts in 3,127.1 innings.  But what he will be remembered for is else was involved in his trades.

 

Reggie Smith had a very good career (marginally Hall worthy – a 64.68 Hall of Fame Rating, though below average for a right fielder is still a very good score), but the two pitchers are the bigger story.

 

In 1972 Steve Carlton went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for the Phillies as they lost 97 times.  Carlton won the Cy Young Award and would go on to win three more with the Phillies as they moved towards respectability and eventually success, winning five division titles and their first World Series championship over the next decade.  In 1996 Carlton was inducted into Cooperstown.

 

In 1978 Dennis Eckersley won 20 games for Boston and 17 more in 1979.  By the mid 80’s he was a complete mess and after the 1986 season he checked into rehab.  By 1987 he was Oakland’s closer and from 1988 through 1992 he saved 220 games and won the 1992 Cy Young Award (questionable choice) and Most Valuable Player (a complete joke and the worst selection of the 1990’s).  Eckersley got his induction ceremony in 2004.

 

Yes, twice in Rick Wise’s career he was traded for a future Hall of Fame pitcher.  Such is the way with some players.