Rogers Hornsby (1896-1963) is one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball. Thanks to Babe Ruth (who was the player who saved baseball after the destructive Black Sox Scandal) and Ty Cobb (another contemporary who is the only player to finish his career with a higher composite batting average), Hornsby is one of those players well known only to baseball junkies and historians. The brash, opinionated Texan was the best hitter in the 1920s not named Ruth or Cobb, and for a six year stretch (1920-1925) was absolutely unbelievable. He led the National League in batting in each one of those years, with averages of .370, .397, .401, .384, .424(!), and .403, an unheard-of run that will never happen again. He was also a power hitter, leading the NL in homers in 1922 with 42 (the second-place guy, Ray Grimes, hit only 21.) He regularly boasted OPS (on base average plus slugging percentage) numbers over 1.000. Because of a steep decline that occurred as the 1920s wore down (Hornsby had his share of injury problems), he finished his careeer with 2930 hits, seventy short of the almighty mark of 3000 hits. (more…)
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.
Casey at the Bat
(“Phin is Ernest Thayer, the Harvard-educated “One-poem poet” who crafted that beautiful read.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. My twitter is @scotteiland
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.
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…)
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:
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
Thanks to an algorithm I created on the fly, my wife Amy picked Harmon Killebrew of the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins as my Hall-of-Fame-or-not profile this week. Killebrew was the franchise player of the nomadic Minnesota Twins since before they moved to Minnesota. To best understand how a team came to move to Minnesota, you have to understand the following:
1. Major League Baseball awarded Minneapolis, Minnesota an expansion team in 1960.
2. Clark Griffith, nephew of the skinflint owner of the sad-sack Washington Senators, petitioned major league baseball to move the Senators to Minneapolis instead, awarding Washington an expansion franchise to immediately replace the departed club.
3. Major League Baseball actually allows this, and Griffith moves the club to Minneapolis to play in Metropolitan Stadium.
Incidentally, the new Washington Senators didn’t exactly thrive when the District was awarded an expansion franchise (also, ironically, named the Senators.) A decade of ineptitude and bad ownership by trucking executive Bob Short eventually led to the Senators being relocated to the Dallas Metroplex beginning in 1972. Major League Baseball would not return to the District until the broke, non-drawing Montreal Expos (who played for more than three decades in the decrepit warehouse known as Stade Olympique (or Olympic Stadium to all you anglophiles) moved to Washington and built a brand-new stadium in 2005.
That brings us to Killebrew, Minnesota’s first franchise icon. Killebrew was a slugger in the game’s “second dead-ball era” (see Jimmy Wynn’s episode for more on that.) A soft-spoken strongman from Payette, Idaho, Killebrew amassed 573 homers in the pitching-rich era of the mid-1960s, hitting towering home runs for the Twins under adverse circumstances. Killebrew, the 1969 American League Most Valuable Player, played on some truly terrible Twins ballclubs, winning just one pennant in his career in 1966. Nevertheless, he was one of the top fifteen home run hitters of all time, and deserves greater accolades than he receives today; the “east coast bias” is alive and well in the baseball media, and most younger fans have no idea who Harmon Killebrew was. He was UNDOUBTEDLY a Hall of Famer, but where does he rank among the following first basemen?
We also answer a fan mail question from Brad Haven: Does Will Clark belong in the Hall of Fame? I say no, because his numbers are not quite strong enough to overcome the fact that there are a LOT of first basemen in the Hall of Fame. Clark’s numbers are good, but nothing jumps off the page enough to make him get serious consideration. Since some numbers in his era of the mid 1990s may be a bit tainted, his exclusion from consideration after one year may be unfair, but ultimately he falls just short for me to vote him in.
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*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.
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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!
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.
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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.
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