Category Archives: Baseball

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billy williams

Billy Williams was one of the best players in the National League in the 1960s and 1970s, but it’s possible many young fans have never heard his name. He was known as “Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams” and “Sweet Swingin Billy from Whistler (Alabama, his hometown)” and was a fixture in Cubs and Athletics lineups from 1959-1976, eighteen full seasons. His numbers were very, very good – Williams was among the league leaders in on base percentage and slugging average, was top five in Most Valuable Player voting twice, won the 1961 Rookie of the Year, and – most impressively – played in 1,117 consecutive games, then a National League record (later broken by Dodgers 1B Steve Garvey). He was steady and productive for most of his 18 seasons, but teams he played for only made it to the postseason once; when Williams was 37, he played for the Oakland Athletics club that faced the “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox juggernaut in the 1975 American League Championship Series (they were swept in three straight games.) I think he’s a Hall of Famer, and I’m surprised it took him six elections to make it (he retired in 1976, and was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987. There is a five-year waiting period for most Hall elections.)

Behold, the text of “Casey At the Bat”

The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they’d a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

“Phin”

Casey at the Bat

(“Phin is Ernest Thayer, the Harvard-educated “One-poem poet” who crafted that beautiful read.
Email us at scott@thebaseballexperience.com. My twitter is @scotteiland

Billy Williams career stats


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14Merklesboner

merkle

Fred Merkle had a long, solid career in the early 20th century, playing primarily for the New York baseball Giants, led by manager John McGraw. A mistake, however, that he allegedly made in his rookie year (1908), unfortunately made his name synonymous with “bonehead” mistakes and baserunning errors.

He probably didn’t deserve the moniker that followed him for the balance of his playing career, but the nickname “Bonehead”. He went on to have a fantastic career, but the chaos surrounding his “mistake” haunted him.

BR Describes Merkle’s Boner
Fred Merkle’s Baseball-Reference page
Washington Times discusses Merkle’s Boner


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bobby thompson
Scott breaks down the historic playoff game between the surging New York Giants and the supposedly superlative Brooklyn Dodgers, which decided the winner of the 1951 National League Pennant.

The situation: The Dodgers led the Giants by as many as 14 1/2 games in the summer of 1951, with superlative seasons by Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, and Jackie Robinson leading them to an “insurmountable” lead.

Someone forgot to tell the Giants, who were led by Monte Irvin and Bobby Thomson. They surged after August 10, running off an amazing winning streak to the point where the faltering Dodgers had to beat the Phillies just to tie the Dodgers at 96-58 each at the end of the regular season.

In those days, the American and National Leagues had only eight teams each, and the winners of the respective leagues would then face each other in the World Series; the ALCS and NLCS wouldn’t be invented until 18 years after this game. Under National League rules in 1951, a three-game playoff would decide the pennant winner.

The Giants won Game 1 behind a homer by Bobby Thomson and an excellent pitching performance by Jim Hearn. Brooklyn rebounded to win the second game 10-0 behind four homers by four separate Dodger players. That set up the climactic matchup, which sent Sal Maglie to the mound for the home team Giants to face the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe in front of a huge throng of Giants fans. (more…)


Category: Baseball
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gil hodges

Former Brooklyn and LA Dodgers star Gil Hodges is this week’s “Is he a Hall of Famer?” subject Hodges is best known as the manager of the 1969 “Amazin” Mets and the best defensive first baseman of his era. Do his 370 homers plus his historical significance put him in the Hall of Fame? Answer the poll below:

I answer the following email:

Scott,

I just reviewed your podcast on iTunes and wanted to write an email as well. I just love the new format and I am learning something new every show. You can never stop getting new nuggets of baseball information, even at 41 years old. I never even heard of Jimmy Wynn before until your podcast. I guess I need to brush up on my Astros history. So, I would like to request a player to be reviewed for consideration of the Hall of Fame on your show. I am an avid Chicago White Sox fan here is the Chicago area and would love to hear you discuss the candidacy of Harold Baines. Also, are there any clips of him ever speaking? I don’t even know what his voice sounds like. Does he even have a voice box? Just kidding of course. The soft-spoken Baines is probably my favorite Sox player of all time. I have fond memories of going to games as a child and chanting “HAROLD…HAROLD…HAROLD” and singing Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Good Bye every time the opposing pitcher was removed from the game. I miss old Comiskey. Anyway, I don’t mean to banter on so if you could discuss Baines that would be great. I’m not sure if he is still on the ballot. Keep up the great work Scott. Another idea you could do when you are tired of discussing individual players could be to devote entire shows to great GAMES in the history of the game. That would be cool too. Thanks again for your hard work.
Phil in Tinley Park

Links:

Baseball Reference’s EloRater
Gil Hodges Baseball Reference page
Harold Baines Baseball Reference


Category: Baseball
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mazeroski

*NOTE: THIS REPLACES THE OLD EPISODE 10, which had a technical snafu I missed. If you listened to the original Mazeroski/Belanger profile, I apologize. If you didn’t, never mind.

Bill Mazeroski was a difficult man to research. Acknowledged as the best defensive second baseman in the 20th century, Mazeroski was a bad hitter in every measurable way; he hit for a low batting average (.260), hit only 138 homers in 17 seasons, got on base less than 30 percent of the time during the course of his career, but because of his defense eventually made it into the Hall of Fame through the vote of the Veterans’ Committee.

I also profiled Mark Belanger and discussed Frank White; three defensive specialists, one of whom made it into the Hall of Fame.

1969 American League Championship Series Game 1
Bill Mazeroski Baseball Reference Page
Mark Belanger Baseball Reference Page
Gaylord Perry and the Man in the Moon


Category: Baseball
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joe sewell

First, thank you to Brad Haven, Jimmy Lobowski, Christine, and everyone else who provided written feedback on the show so far! Be sure to email scott@thebaseballexperience.com or leave a comment below. To earn my everlasting gratitude, go to iTunes and leave a written review. I will indeed appreciate it.

WE HAVE A NEW PARTNER Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball! The best fantasy baseball site on the net. Fully customizable! Play mixed, NL-only, AL-only, with as many categories you want! New to fantasy baseball? No problem! Join a free league and you’re supporting the podcast! Just go to http://thebaseballexperience.com/fantasy and join a free league! You don’t have to buy anything! Just create or join a Yahoo! fantasy league using my affiliate link and you’ll be supporting the podcast. Thank you. Yahoo!, for the support!

Joe Sewell was born October 9, 1898 in Titus, Alabama. After lettering in in college football in 1917-1919, Sewell made his debut for the Cleveland Indians at shortstop in 1920, shortly after one of the most tragic moments in baseball history, the on-field death of Ray Chapman.

Sewell, however, became the new starting shortstop for Cleveland in 1921. He was not a power hitter in the just-started “lively ball” era. but he had a knack for getting on base and superior bat control skills. He almost never struck out. Using just ONE bat for most of his fourteen-year career, he struck out only 115 times in over 7,000 at bats. To draw a contrast, Cameron Maybin struck out 110 times…in 2012. From 1925-1933, Sewell struck out 4, 6, 7, 9, 4, 3, 8, 3, and 4 times. During this time period, Sewell also set a record playing in 115 games without striking out once. This simply will never happen again, and I defy anyone to come up with a scenario in which it might.

Sewell recorded 2,205 hits and had a lifetime batting average of .312, with a .391 on base average. He only hit 49 homers, but was still a top-five MVP twice. He played in two world series, winning both in 1920 and 1932. Is he a DESERVING Hall of Famer? Download the show to find out!

Links:
Hardball Times: Jimmy Wynn (2006)
Joe Sewell Baseball-Reference
Jimmy Wynn Baseball-Reference
BR: The second deadball era


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Mark McGwire gives testimony to Congressman Lacy

Mark McGwire gives testimony to Congressman Lacy

Mark McGwire is one of the most controversial figures in the “steroids era” and has fallen short of Hall of Fame election by the Baseball Writers Association of America. He will forever be linked with Roger Maris, as his storybook 1998 season in which he and Sammy Sosa both broke Maris’s 47-year-old single-season home run record (McGwire finished 1998 with 70 homers; Sosa finished with “only” 66). A huge, lumbering power hitter who didn’t field or run well, McGwire relied on his prodigious power to carve out what looked like a surefire Hall of Fame career.

Unfortunately, he used steroids during his playing career, and he wasn’t a good defender or baserunner. By the same token, he did hit 583 home runs for his career and had OPS numbers that are nothing short of stratospheric late in his career. He is one of two people to hit over sixty homers in a season twice, along with fellow baseball limbo-dweller Sammy Sosa.

One of the things that doesn’t help McGwire is his congressional testimony, which reads like a “what not to do” video in regards to public testimony. His famous quote “I’m not here to talk about the past” in response to Congressman Ed Lacy’s questions made him look even guiltier than he turned out to be. He eventually admitted to using steroids, citing “health reasons” for doing so. What I had such a hard time with was making a decision as to his Hall worthiness. If he never used a performance enhancing drug, would McGwire be a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Probably. 583 homers is an automatic entry into the Hall for most writers, and many of those writers would look at a .263 lifetime batting average and decide it’s more than outweighed by McGwire’s superior on base percentage.

What is the verdict? Download the podcast to find out.

Links for this episode:
Mark McGwire’s Baseball Reference Page
Sammy Sosa: Heck Yes we’re HOFERS
Marshall: McGwire is a Hall of Famer
Why McGwire doesn’t belong in the Hall

Be sure to subscribe to the show through iTunes. OUr feed address is http://feeds.feedburner.com/thebaseballexperiencespodcast. Copy and paste that into any podcatcher and you’ll be able to subscribe that way.


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Roger Maris
I was PLANNING on breaking down both Maris and the player to whom he will forever be tied to, Mark McGwire, today. However, the amount of content available for both players is so vast I decided to make two episodes. So, without further ado, let’s discuss the Hall of Fame case of Yankees, Athletics, and Cardinals outfielder Roger Maris.

Roger Maris’s reasons he SHOULD be in the Hall of Fame

-One of only three two-time MVP winners to not make the Hall of Fame (Barry Bonds and Dale Murphy are the others)

-He hit 61 home runs in 1961, breaking a record many said would never be broken.

-He hit his 275 career homers before the advent of steroids. His 61 home run season is also apparently blameless.

-In his short career, he participated in seven World Series

-He was considered the best corner outfielder in the game during his prime

Roger Maris’s detractors will point to the following:

-Career batting average of .260, the lowest of any Hall Of Fame outfielder.

-Only twelve seasons of major league service, plus only four years where he played more than 140 games.

-Without 1961, there’s no way he’d be featured on this podcast.

I really thought that, after looking at the data, I would look at the back-to-back MVP seasons, plus the single-season home run record (under tremendous media scrutiny, death threats, and a frustratingly antagonistic New York fan base that revered Babe Ruth but treated Maris like a carpetbagger)

The case is much more difficult than I expected it to be. On one hand, the 61* movie by Billy Crystal colored my judgment and made me believe that Maris was a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Sabermatrician Rob Neyer wrote last year that Maris isn’t a Hall of Famer. and it isn’t close. The question, of course, is what is MY verdict? Tune into the episode to find out. You might want to revisit Bill Simmons’ mythical five-level Hall of Fame as you listen to the show.
Links:
The 1961 Major League Expansion Draft
Why Isn’t Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame (Moran)
Neyer: Nope, Roger Maris Isn’t a Hall of Famer
61*


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Today, we take a look at another controversial case for Baseball’s Hall of Fame, examining the career of Atlanta Braves outfielder (with short stints in Philadelphia and Colorado) Dale Murphy. We also take a quick look at another strange career from yesteryear, evaluating Detroit Tigers hurler Virgil Trucks.

First, let’s take a look at Dale Murphy. Many old-school journalists loved Dale Murphy, and many Braves fans clamored for him to be in the Hall of Fame, citing his two MVP awards and amazing six-year peak as rationales for his inclusion in Cooperstown. His detractors point to his precipitous decline, the abrupt end to his career in 1993, and his pedestrian “counting” stats. Which side is correct? Let’s look at his career.

Dale Murphy was born on March 12, 1956 in Portland, Oregon. After excelling in high-school ball at Woodrow Wilson High School in Portland, the Atlanta Braves made him the fifth pick in the 1974 Rule IV Draft. He got cups of coffee in the majors as a catcher in 1976 and 1977, then had his first full season as a 22 year old in 1978.

His rookie year did not go well, posting a triple slash line of .226/.294//394, numbers that are considered so awful today sophisticated writers would be howling for his demotion to the minors. He improved quite a the following season (splitting time between catcher and first base), hitting .276/.349/.510 in 104 games, hitting 21 homers in 394 at bats.

As a 24 year old in 1980, hitting 33 homers and driving in 89 in an era when 30-homer seasons were rarer. Murphy hit .281/.378/.507 and came in 12th in MVP voting. This impressive year was followed by mediocre numbers in the strike-shortened 1981 season before Murphy’s meteoric rise occurred.

Dumping the “tools of ignorance” for good, Murphy won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1982 AND 1983. He smacked 36 homers in each year and led the league both seasons in RBI. He was the best player in the league in both seasons, but in 1983 he was otherworldly, joining the then-unheard of club of players who hit 30 homers and stole 30 bases in the same season. He was extremely durable during his peak, going over four years without missing a game and piling up Silver Slugger awards and Gold Gloves (Gold Gloves are subjective, yes.) Murphy went on to post great seasons (albeit non-MVP seasons) in 1984, 1985, and 1987 (finishing in the top-12 in MVP consideration those years) before his numbers started to fall off.

Rob Neyer wrote a Sweetspot blog post in 2009 explaining what happened next. Murphy underwent knee surgery in 1989 and was never the same player. His career, which began with so much promise as a 20 year old, was over by age 37. In that way, his career was similar to current Dodger manager Don Mattingly’s; like Mattingly, Murphy had an amazing peak. His “decline phase” (seasons between ages 34 and retirement) was so precipitous that by the time he was up for election in 1998, it had been more than a decade since his last amazing season. Add that to the gaudy numbers being put up in the same time frame (70 homer seasons, anyone?) and Murphy’s great 1982 and 1983 seasons pale in comparison.

For that reason, voters never seriously considered him for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. His numbers hovered between 18 and 28 percent in each of his fifteen seasons on the ballot, which unfortunately concluded this past season. Murphy will have to wait for the Veterans’ Committee to put him in the Hall; I’m not holding my breath, but stranger things have happened.

Does Dale Murphy merit inclusion in Baseball’s Hall of Fame? Rob Neyer says no. Stay tuned for my verdict.

Virgil Trucks links:

Virgil Trucks Baseball-Reference page
1952 Standings and results


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hoffman
Trevor Hoffman presents the Hall of Fame voter with a dilemma. How do we evaluate elite closers in this era of specialization?

Let’s take a look at Hoffman’s career. He was drafted as a shortstop in the 11th round of the 1989 Rule IV draft by the Cincinnati Reds. He struggled with the offensive side of the game, so the Reds made him a pitcher due to his cannon of a throwing arm. He wasn’t deemed good enough to protect by the Reds brass, though, so he was selected in the 1992 Expansion draft by the new Florida Marlins. He pitched for the Marlins as a rookie, then was traded to the Padres in the Gary Sheffield deal. He became the full time closer in 1994 and kept that job for 14 years. He led the league in saves twice and averaged 41 saves from 1995 through 2002 before missing the 2003 season after he had shoulder surgery. He returned in 2004 and barely missed a beat. saving over 40 games in each of the next four years. He was the closer for the 1996 National League Champion Padres. but never won a World Series. He retired in 2010 after pitching his final two years for the Milwaukee Brewers with 601 total saves, the 2nd most ever to Yankee stalwart (and a likely Hall of Famer himself) Mariano Rivera. He never won a Cy Young (a difficult achievement for any reliever) but did finish 2nd in 1998, when he led the league with 53 saves.

Hoffman’s candidacy depends on how you view the save rule. He never pitched more than 90 innings in a season (he did this as a rookie for the Marlins). He was a classic “one-inning” closer. His numbers reflect today’s tendency of managers who force pitchers to pitch only one inning. a practice that I object to. Comparing Hoffman to other relievers in the Hall (Bruce Sutter and ESPECIALLY Rich Gossage) is a joke.

Anyway, here’s the history of the save rule. And how I feel about it can pretty much be summed up this way.

The “Save Rule” was invented by a sportswriter named Jerome Holzman. A SPORTSWRITER made up a rule. Here it is:
A pitcher gets a “Save” when:

He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;
He is not the winning pitcher;
He is credited with at least ⅓ of an inning pitched; and
He satisfies one of the following conditions:
He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning
He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat or on deck
He pitches for at least three innings
If a relief pitcher satisfies all of the criteria for a save, except he does not finish the game, he will often be credited with a hold (which is not an officially recognized statistic by Major League Baseball).”‘

Because of this, I consider Hoffman to be a fringe hall of famer at best. It’s a very tough call. Download the show for my verdict.

I also broke down Cap Anson‘s career and discussed how his careder correlates to today’s PED argument.