"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
May 23, 2000
BASEBALL: Players vs. Fans
Last week's melee at Wrigley Field, touched off by fans stealing Chad Kreuter's hat, triggered the usual bout of hand-wringing over out-of-control fans and players who crossed the line by attacking them. (Next on FOX: "When Backup Catchers Attack!") What is wasn't, was something new. While it has never been a common occurrence, players have been going into the stands to settle scores with the fans for as long as the game has been played before paying crowds.
Just a few examples:
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Perhaps the most infamous incident occurred in a game at the Polo Grounds in NY, when Ty Cobb beat the stuffings out of a handicapped heckler (he had no arms). The heckler reportedly accused Cobb of being part black, which to a white guy raised in the backwoods of Georgia at the turn of the century was automatic fighting words. When the unfairness of the assault was pointed out to Cobb afterwards, he reportedly snarled, "I don't care if he has no toes."
Now, you can't excuse Cobb, who had John Rocker's brain, Mike Tyson's temper and Latrell Sprewell's capacity for remorse. But this fan had to be a classic New York heckler: he's loud, he's sitting in the front row, he taunts a big, strong, fast, and famously hot-tempered and aggressive athlete into a certain fight, apparently with no regard to the fact that he had absolutely no means of defending himself.
Bill James, in the Historical Baseball Abstract (the one book I'd take to a desert island with me), tells the story of how, in the early 1940s, the Giants were being plagued by a series of hat thefts. Giants catcher Ernie Lombardi, renowned as the slowest man ever to play the game, responded by chasing a young fan several rows into the seats and shocking everyone by hauling him down from behind and handing him over to security.
One run-in I can recall: a game in the late 1970s when a fan poured beer over the Mets' combative catcher, John Stearns, as he went into the dugout. Stearns retaliated by picking up the dugout water cooler and dumping it over the fan's head.
Sox fans, of course, should particularly remember a frightening moment during the 1986 pennant drive. The Red Sox were at Yankee Stadium, where there had been a number of nasty incidents that summer; Wally Joyner had had a knife thrown at him. There was a collision in left field, and while Jim Rice was prone on the ground, some brain surgeon decided that it would be a good idea to run on the field and steal Rice's hat. Now, personally, I don't like to pick a fight with a man who can break a baseball bat on a check swing, but maybe that's just me.
Anyway, Rice didn't take this very well, and he went charging full speed into the field level seats by third base, followed by John MacNamara, Roger Clemens and (if I remember this correctly) Don Baylor. I can only imagine the horror of Red Sox management at watching the team's manager, best pitcher, and one of their two best hitters wading into a belligerent crowd
To this day, I'm not sure how they got out of there in one piece. And that, if nothing else, is what baseball can count on to keep the players on the field.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I know why they were throwing that stuff at me. What I don't understand is why they brought it to the park in the first place." -
Joe Medwick, after being pelted with rotten fruit, boxes and spare auto parts during the Cardinals' 11-0 rout of Detroit at Tiger Stadium in Game 7 of the 1934 World Series.
TRIVIA QUESTION: Ted Williams holds the career on-base percentage record (.482), making him the game's toughest out; Babe Ruth is second. Who's
ANSWER TO LAST WEEK'S QUESTION: In 1990, Eddie Murray hit .330, leading the majors in batting (over AL batting champ George Brett at .329) but lost the NL batting title to Willie McGee, who had already qualified for the title (hitting .335) when he was traded from the Cardinals to the A's. McGee hit just .274 with the A's, thus lowering his overall average for the year to .324.
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May 16, 2000
BASEBALL: WHERE TO, RICKEY?
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website
So, Rickey Henderson, baseball's would-be all-time runs leader, is unemployed again. Boo hoo. Someone will probably pick him up, eventually, although it's worth noting that he was cut by a team, the Mets, with one of baseball's worst outfields. The question is, should anyone pick him up?
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To start with, Rickey's on base percentage this season is .387. It was over .400 nine of the prior ten years, and was .376 in 1998. Guys like that can help you, ordinarily. Any serious fan can tell you that getting men on base is the single most important part of winning baseball games -- baserunners are scoring opportunities, just like shots in basketball or hockey or possessions in football.
These days, though, .387 is not quite what is sounds like. The NL average is .344, so Rickey's numbers are good but nothing that would be among the
Is he likely to do better? The Rickey Henderson of April-August 1999, hitting well over .300 with some power, was a very valuable player -- and one
My sense is that we can expect a motivated Henderson to produce something like a .230-.240 average and enough walks to keep the on base percentage around .380. That's a useful bench player, and a defensible starter only if there are few other options.
Of course, to watch Henderson play on a daily basis is to be reminded of the difference between a line of batting statistics and a ballplayer. He's an indifferent baserunner, sometimes choosing puzzling moments to loaf (such as the game in Philly in the midst of the Mets' September swoon that ended with a bases-loaded GIDP that Henderson could have legged out if he wanted), and sometimes embarrassing ones (the 358-foot single that was the last straw).
He's insubordinate; Joe McCarthy was right about who will get fired if the manager can't get along with a .400 hitter, but a .219 hitter is another story. The Mets canned him because they had a bunch of guys in their late 20s who'd been in the minors forever and would do anything for playing time (Jay Payton appeared in an afternoon game after being shot up with morphine in the morning while passing a kidney stone). Most managers would rather have the hungry ones.
He's also such an awful fielder that Valentine repeatedly had to remove him for a defensive replacement during the playoffs. Not only is he careless, but he covers little ground and can't throw. Yeah, he won a Gold Glove once -- when I was in the fourth grade. Other Gold Glove winners that year included Dusty Baker, Manny Trillo and Mike Squires. I wouldn't want Dusty as my right fielder today. DH-ing full time, though, would make sense for an injury-prone, motivationally challenged veteran looking to conserve energy over the long season for the business of scoring runs.
The ego, and his chase for records, removes Rickey's value as a platoon player or fourth outfielder. He'd grumble too much. If Henderson won't be happy as a part-timer, the Red Sox and Rangers are out of the question, no matter how much of an improvement he'd be on the likes of Andy Sheets or Scarborough Green.
His defense in left makes him such a liability that, in my opinion, he really has to DH, cutting out a lot of NL teams. One report I saw mentioned the Pirates, but he'd have to play the field and doesn't really fit in with the Bucs' bargain basement budget. Still, they might suck it up if they really have delusions of playoff contention. He can't even pretend to play center field, so the Indians or a fifth turn with the A's (who need a leadoff hitter but already have about six DHs) is out.
The Mariners have been desperate for a leftfielder-leadoff man for the past seven years, and they've passed on Henderson almost every year; if he could co-exist with Piniella he'd have been there years ago.
Who does that leave? Can there really be a team out there so desperate for baserunners that they can carry a DH who can't slug .250?
Well, with records on the table you can never rule out the gimmick-obsessed, veteran-laden Devil Rays, and they could actually use more baserunners. But
The Yanks have a serious hole at DH, with Shane Spencer struggling and Nick Johnson unavailable for promotion. And Steinbrenner has a big soft spot for people he's warred with before. Granted, he wouldn't fit in in the clubhouse, but neither have Strawberry or Clemens; the Yankees are professionals. But I still don't see it. The Yankees have expressed a preference for a lefthanded bat, and they're the high rollers; they can afford something better than Henderson.
The Angels are always hurting for baserunners, and amazingly they are hanging in the race. But Scott Speizio, freed from the strain of impersonating a second baseman, has outperformed expectations, and at age 27 he is in his prime, so a career year is not impossible. They may not be eager to displace him.
That leaves Detroit, worst team in baseball with the worst offense by far. In a rational world, they'd be playing Robert Fick and Eric Munson and forgetting about 2000, but with decent pitching, a lineup full of power, a big new ballpark to fill and a free agent slugger to please, the Tigers feel they have to try to right the ship. Certainly playing Henderson over the likes of Gregg Jefferies and Luis Polonia won't cost them their future. He can't disrupt the chemistry, since whatever they're cooking up at Comerica isn't worth saving. And Rickey at the top of the lineup would give Juan Gonzalez the RBI opportunities he craves. The only hurdle is that they just signed Rich Becker, another specialist in getting on base who's a questionable glove man, but I'd rather try Henderson as a DH. Also, Comerica is an even worse place to hit than Shea, but you have to at least try to score now and then.
Funny things happen; I wouldn't be shocked to see someone else pick Henderson up. But, based on his current skills and the needs of the teams, I'd say the Tigers are really the best fit.
So, it seems that the Mariners have claimed Rickey Henderson. Henderson meets the M's offensive needs, since they have a strong middle of the order and a weak leadoff man in Mark McLemore. A top 4 of Henderson, Rodriguez, Olerud and Martinez will get them a whole lot of baserunners. The Mariners may look like a young team, but given the mileage on Martinez, Moyer, Buhner, Sele and Sasaki and the impending free agency of Martinez and Rodriguez, they have to try to win now.
Lou Piniella claims to be OK with the move, and if he's telling the truth, kudos to Lou for putting an old grudge behind him (if you've forgotten, in 1987 Lou accused Rickey of being a "dog," mostly for rehabbing very slowly from strained hamstrings).
I'm still not convinced that this is a great move, however, because with Edgar Martinez entrenched at DH, the Mariners have to play Henderson in the field. Granted, I haven't seen McLemore play left field much; I suspect he's no great shakes there either, but they do have Stan Javier. Rickey, combined with the creaky-kneed Jay Buhner in right, makes their outfield defense very shaky. With a big ballpark and several young pitchers in the rotation, that's a risk.
QUOTE: "Some people hit when they can. I hit when I want to." -- 1970 AL batting champ Alex Johnson.
TRIVIA QUIZ (answer to follow in the next column): Who's the only man to lead the majors in batting in a season and not win the batting title?
ANSWER TO LAST WEEK'S QUIZ: Baseball's first world champs, crowned after a postseason championship series against New York (not Detroit -- sorry), was the Providence, R.I. Grays.
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May 10, 2000
BASEBALL: FRANK SULLIVAN
(Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website)
I was going to write about Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and the greatest pitchers of all time, but I'll get to that later. This week I wanted to write about Frank Sullivan, who pitched for the Red Sox in the late 1950s.
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Sullivan isn't well remembered today, particularly outside of Boston. He wasn't on the Globe's "Top 100 New England sports figures" list. I hadn't even heard of him until I ran accross his stat line in my handy STATS All-Time Sourcebook, and I've heard of nearly everybody. His career record isn't impressive: 97-100, with a 3.60 ERA. Numbers don't lie, but they can certainly deceive, and this is such a case. Because, for a few years there, Frank Sullivan was a heck of a pitcher.
Sullivan pitched briefly for the Sox in 1953, and joined the rotation to stay at age 24 in 1954. Here are Sullivan's numbers from 1954 to 1958:
Sullivan led the AL in wins and innings pitched in 1955, and was fifth in the league in ERA in 1955 and 1957. Pretty good, you say, but still not numbers that say "superstar." What the numbers don't show, however, is that Sullivan carried a heavy burden: Fenway.
Park effects change over time, with small shifts in the park and other parks, in weather and visibility. Fenway was never a more extreme hitters' haven than it was in the mid-1950s, and as a result Sullivan's numbers suffered, plus the Sox offense looked a lot better than it really was. In fact, until Pete Runnels arrived, Ted Williams and Jackie Jensen were the only consistent hitters on those teams, and Williams was in his late thirties and hurt about a third of the time. Compared to Red Sox road games, scoring at Fenway in those years was up 8%, 56%, 8%, 24%, and 12%, respectively.
What, I wondered, would Sullivan have done under friendlier conditions? So,
Anyway, adjusting Sullivan's ERA downward by 1/2 of each "park factor" (after
Wow. Was Frank Sullivan as good as Koufax? Of course not, and I won't
Sullivan's adjusted ERA and won-loss record are significantly better, although Drysdale was still more of a workhorse. Remember, these are the seasons that put Drysdale in the Hall of Fame. Plus, we're not even adjusting for the Dodgers' superior defense compared to the plodding Sox of the 50s. Drysdale was six years younger than Sullivan; both were big (Sullivan, 6'6", Drysdale, 6'5"), righthanded and from Southern California.
Now, we can't know if Sullivan would actually have been as dominant as Drysdale if he'd had the same opportunities; but we also can't know if Drysdale would have fared as well under adverse conditions as Sullivan did. But, I would submit that, for these five seasons, compared to the other pitchers of his era, Frank Sullivan was every bit as valuable to the Red Sox as Don Drysdale was to the Dodgers in his prime.
For this, Drysdale became a legend, going to Cooperstown and appearing on
I'm not suggesting that we put Frank Sullivan in the Hall of Fame, and I'm not even 100% sure I would put him on the Globe's list over Jim Lonborg or Rico Petrocelli. But he was quite a pitcher for five years, and that's something worth remembering.
QUOTE: "Benito Santiago steps in . . . you know, Santiago is Spanish for San
TRIVIA QUIZ (answer to follow in the next column): In 1884, a National League team led by Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn defeated the Detroit Wolverines of the American Association in Major League Baseball's first-ever postseason series. What city did the NL team hail from?
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May 5, 2000
BASEBALL: Down With The One-Out Specialists
The column that started it all; originally posted on the Boston's Sports Guy website.
Hi. This is my debut column here on the Boston's Sports Guy website as The Baseball Crank. Bill Simmons has been generous enough to spare some room in his corner of cyberspace for my column, which will be a rant of irregular schedule and questionable wisdom, probably starting out every other week but hopefully (day job and long-suffering wife permitting) working up to a weekly spew of bile. Some of you (those who read Bill's "Ramblings" column in college, back when we actually had to print words onto paper) may remember my byline there as the "Angry Young Man." Of course, I'm not as young these days, plus I don't really want an irate letter from Billy Joel's lawyers, so I'll be writing here as The Baseball Crank. (For you history buffs, "crank" is what they called fans around the turn of the last century.) I had also considered being the "Cranky Old Fart," but that will have to wait just a bit longer.
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Also, full disclosure: I am not a Boston sports guy myself, although I did spend seven years in school in Mass. I'm a Mets fan living in Queens, and I've been a Mets fan since they were managed by a nitwit named Joe Torre (there's no justice, but that's another topic). But I will promise not to mention Bill Buckner in this column (except, well, two things: one, all you true Red Sox die hards know that the real goat was the Steamer, Bob Stanley, and two, one of my all-time favorite baseball moments was in 1990 when Buckner - who by then qualified for a handicapped parking space - was credited with an inside-the-park home run when Yankee outfielder Claudell "Washington Slept Here" fell into the right field stands at Fenway and was held there by enterprising Sox fans while Buckner hobbled around the bases. Claudell came out of the seats with mustard on his shirt, which is the closest he ever got to getting his uniform dirty).
This week's topic is a pet peeve of mine: we'll call it LaRussa-ism (I believe Bob Ryan coined the term), because he's the one who popularized it, although Whitey Herzog was as much responsible its invention as LaRussa. I speak, of course, of the ever-increasing tendency of managers to use multiple pitchers in an inning, often just to face a single batter apiece. The absurd result of this is an entire breed of pitcher who averages well below one inning pitched per appearance. The master of this practice today is Bobby Valentine, who in one instance in last year's playoffs brought in a pitcher halfway through an intentional walk so that he could be immediately removed if the opposing manager pinch hit for the next batter. Not everyone is addicted to this practice, of course; Davey Johnson's pitchers with the Dodgers have set major league records by being the first pitcher to hit the same batter with a pitch twice in one inning (Orel Hershiser) and the first pitcher to give up a grand slam to the same batter twice in one inning (Chan Ho Park).
Anyway, this may be perfectly good strategy for the managers; the platoon advantage is an important thing, and the one-batter reliever can pretty much cut loose with everything he has. Or, as some have argued, it may not; each fresh pitcher is that much more likely to be off his game than the predecessor who was throwing the ball just fine, and the fielders can get awfully stiff sitting through three guys warming up in one inning (especially if one of them is the glacially slow-moving Dennis Cook). But the entire business stinks from the fan's perspective, particularly if (1) you have to go to school or work in the morning and were hoping to get to the ninth inning before 11:30 or (2) you're at the park, it's the top of the eighth inning, and suddenly the game slows to a crawl just as they've stopped selling beer. Who goes to the ballpark to watch Matt Whisenant warm up? By shuttling pitchers in and out of games, what we get is more innings (or pieces of innings) thrown by marginal talents against pinch hitters, and much longer games.
My solution? Don't just grouse about long games; change the rules. Require that, instead of one batter, each new pitcher must face at least three batters before he's removed. In most cases, this would limit the manager to one pitching change during each inning, unless the roof is really caving in. You would need exceptions, of course, if the pitcher was hurt or got ejected (we won't get into whether managers would order headhunting to get a situational lefty in the game to face Barry Bonds), or had to be pinch hit for. After all, nobody wants to see Whisenant or Sean Runyan bat, either, and forcing managers to double switch more would also be a bad thing.
Yeah, a few careers would be ended, but really, four decades of Jesse Orosco is enough even for me. And the managers would scream bloody murder, but the college basketball coaches said the shot clock was the end of the world, too. Fans have a right not to be forced to sit through the four-corner stall, and this is no different. In fact, this rule would help restore some of baseball's tradition - in the 1870s, you couldn't remove any player, even the pitcher, unless he was hurt - by reducing the number of specialists and keeping the game in the hands of people who can actually play all-around baseball, at least to the extent of being able to at least try to pitch an entire inning at a time.
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