Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 1, 2005
BASEBALL: When Do Rookies Emerge?
Well, the AL Rookie of the Year race has a clear favorite; not only has Tadahito Iguchi raced out to a hot start - .302/.450/.355 and 7 steals through yesterday's action - but he's been one of the major improvements behind the surprising White Sox having the best record in baseball. (Jeremy Reed, Chris Young, Gustavo Chacin or Huston Street could still catch him over the course of the season). The NL race is much murkier - Clint Barmes is off to a real good start even adjusting for Coors, but Brad Halsey has been outstanding as well.
But could we be missing someone? (Say, Felix Hernandez or Andy Marte, for example?) Well, we could be forgetting someone who's played a little but not got going yet. But the odds are against anybody arriving for the first time after this point in the season. I took a look back at when the Rookie of the Year made his major league debut in each year since 1947. The results, out of 116 Rookies of the Year:
*18 debuted more than one year before winning the award. The longest wait was five years - Lou Piniella broke in in 1964 with the Indians but had to wait for the 1969 expansion draft to get an everyday job.
*43 debuted the year before winning the award. Although historical trends aren't that clear, it does appear that this has become more common in the past 20 years, with 23 of the last 38 winners appearing in the majors one or more seasons before being Rookie of the Year (the proportion rises to 23 of 35 when you count out veteran Japanese imports).
*45 debuted in April, many of them apparently on Opening Day or in their first turn in the rotation. The times within April have varied based on when the schedule started.
*Just 8 waited until May to appear, including Hideo Nomo, who was in the Dodgers starting rotation in 1995, when the season started late due to a lockout. The others: Joe Black (May 1), Darryl Strawberry (May 6), Dontrelle Willis (May 9), Don Newcombe (May 20), Don Schwall (May 21), Willie Mays (May 25), Chris Chambliss (May 28). Black, despite the late start, managed to throw 142.1 innings in 56 appearances, all but two in relief, plus 21.1 innings in the World Series. Unsurprisingly, this was his last good year.
*Only two men have won the Rookie of the Year Award having debuted after June 1: Bob Horner, who came straight out of college on June 16, and Willie McCovey, who did not arrive until July 30. McCovey may be the most famous example of a late arriving impact rookie, but he's also essentially the only one to win the award.
*By the way: Iguchi's early progress indicates that the AL is nearly as dominated by an influx of star-quality Japanese rookies in recent years as the NL was by Negro Leaguers in the late 40s/early 50s. The award has gone to Kaz Sasaki in 2000 and Ichiro in 2001, and could have gone to Hideki Matsui in 2003 if two sportswriters hadn't refused to rank him on their ballots. Similarly, 6 of the first 7 men to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award were former Negro League players - besides Newcombe, Mays, and Black, you had Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Jim Gilliam. An impressive group, indeed.