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St. Louis Cardinals Showed That Baseball Purists Don’t Appreciate Excellence

The St. Louis Cardinals won their third consecutive pennant in 1944.  They faced the St. Louis Browns in the World Series. Since the teams shared Sportsman’s Park, all the games would be played in the same park.

The Cardinals had beaten the New York Yankees in 1942. The Yankees returned the compliment in 1943.

The 1944 Cardinals won 105 games. The Browns had won 89. The purists wrung their hands in anguish. How unfair to give a team with a record 16 games worse than its opponent’s record a chance to win the World Series.

When the leagues were split into two divisions in 1969, the purists cracked their knuckles in disgust, because the team with the best record was forced to play a best-of-five series against an opponent that might have finished with a much worse record.

Baseball purists never liked the wild card. To them, having a second wild card is anathema. They cite the possibility that a team can finish 15-20 games behind a division winner and win the World Series.

In 2006, the Cardinals won 83 games. Only the 1973 New York Mets ever won a division title with fewer wins when they finished at 82-79. The Mets defeated the Cincinnati Reds, a team that won 99 games, to win the pennant.

The 2006 Mets won 97 games but lost the NLCS to the Cardinals. The Mets’ 14-game regular-season edge over the Cardinals was meaningless once the playoffs started.

The 1944 Cards held a16-game edge over the Browns. They were highly favored to win the World Series, which is just what they did.

Despite the war, the Cardinals had a fine team, which is more than can be said about the Browns. The Cardinals averaged about five runs a game to lead the league. They were the only team in the majors to hit 100 home runs, and the pitching staff led the league with a 2.67 ERA.

Stan Musial (.347), Johnny Hopp (.336) and Walker Cooper (.317) all batted over .300. Mort Cooper led the staff with 22 wins.

The World Series was a little closer than expected. Cooper held the Browns to a pair of runs over seven innings in the opener, but it wasn’t enough as the Browns won, 2-1.

The Cardinals won the second game 3-2 in 11 innings, but when the Browns became the home team, they won the third game handily by a 6-2 score to take a two-games-to-one edge.

Then the Cardinals went to work, winning the next three games. The Browns could manage only two runs in the three games and finished the Series batting .183. They scored only 12 runs in the entire Series.

The 1944 Cardinals maintained their regular season excellence to win the World Series. The 2006 Mets were unable to maintain their regular season play to win the pennant.

The purists just don’t get it. A team that gets to the World Series because it took advantage of the rules earned it by playing best when it counted the most.

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Why Batting Average Is Not Overrated; Or, Ichiro V. Eddie Stanky

Batting average is not an overvalued statistic. When you compare Ichiro Suzuki‘s 2004 season with Eddie Stanky’s 1950 season, it illustrates the importance of a player’s batting average when you evaluate him.

Suzuki batted .372 with a .414 on-base percentage and a .455 slugging average.

Stanky batted .300 with a .460 on-base average and a .412 slugging average.

I must point out that singles, not extra base hits, created Suzuki’s higher slugging average.

Suzuki hit 24 doubles, five triples and eight home runs. He hit 225 singles.

Stanky hit 25 doubles, five triples and eight home runs. He hit 120 singles.

Ichiro had 105 more singles than Stanky.

The difference in on-base percentage between the two came from the fact that Stanky walked 144 times and Ichiro walked 49 walks. Stanky had 95 more walks.

Adding Ichiro’s 225 singles and 49 walks results in his getting credit for reaching first base 274 times.

Adding Stanky’s 120 singles and 144 walks results in his getting credit for reaching first base 264 times.

He and Ichiro each reached first base almost the same number of times.

Now, with a runner in scoring position, Ichiro’s singles are much more valuable than Stanky’s walks.  The single will almost always score a runner from third and usually score one from second.

Batting average measures the chances a batter will hit safely. It really is that simple.

In 2004, Ichiro had a 37.2 percent chance of getting a hit when charged with an official at-bat. In 1950, Stanky had a 30.0 percent chance of getting a hit when charged with an official at-bat.

Ichiro had 762 plate appearances with 262 hits. He had a 34.4 percent chance of getting a hit when he batted.

Stanky had 692 plate appearances with 158 hits. He had a 22.8 percent of hitting safely when he batted.

 A single is more valuable than a walk. It makes little difference whether a batter singles or walks when the bases are empty. A single is often more productive when one or more runners are on base.  

A batter who doesn’t draw many walks is criticized for not “working the pitcher.” Singles hitters who don’t walk a lot can still work pitchers by taking a few pitches before offering.

The game has changed. In the 21st century, starting pitchers are held to pitch counts, which strengthens the criticism that Ichiro doesn’t walk much.

When Stanky drew his 144 walks, “working the pitcher” was not important because it didn’t matter. Starting pitchers in 1950 were expected to finish what they started, and many did just that.

Let’s say that your team is trailing in the ninth inning by one run. The team is down to its final out with the number nine batter, Max Bishop, at the plate.

Bishop was an integral part of the 1929 world champion Philadelphia Athletics. He had a .398 on-base percentage, but batted only .232.

The chance of Bishop getting a hit to tie the game is 17.8 percent. The chance of Bishop walking and keeping the game alive for the next batter, Eddie Stanky, is 20.7 percent.

If Bishop walks, Stanky has a 22.8 percent chance of tying the game.

The chance of both Bishop and Stanky drawing walks is a little more than five percent.

Your team has a better chance in such a critical situation of tying the game with a batter that has a high batting average. On-base percentage is almost irrelevant.

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Lou Gehrig Might Not Have Succumbed to ALS or "Lou Gehrig’s Disease" After All

Lou Gehrig passed away 71 years ago today, June 2, 1941. A study released on Aug. 17, 2010 created speculation about the cause of Gehrig’s death.

12 athletes that suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) comprised the study’s sample. It was discovered that three of the 12 had symptoms similar to those of Gehrig, who died from amyotophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

ALS is rare. About 6,000 individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with it each year.

Individuals that suffer from trauma to the head and brain develop symptoms similar to those of ALS.

The researchers identified spinal cord markings on the three individuals with symptoms that resembled Gehrig’s. They suggested that they died by concussion or other head trauma that attacks the central nervous system.

Two former football players diagnosed with ALS, Wally Hillenburg and Eric Scoggins, had the condition, according to the study.

Gehrig was hit in the head numerous times during his career. Because he was Lou Gehrig, he continued to play despite fractures and being knocked unconscious.

Dr. Anne McKee, director of the neuropathology lab for the New England Veterans Administration Medical Centers, who was the lead neuropathologist of the study, hypothesized the concussions Gehrig endured, not ALS, might have killed him.

“Here he is, the face of his disease, and he may have had a different disease as a result of his athletic experience,” McKee told the New York Times.

The danger of blows to the head cannot be overemphasized. It wasn’t until the 1950s that players started to wear batting helmets on a regular basis. I remember when all that players wore was a protective plastic lining under their hat.

The cause of Gehrig’s death will always be considered ALS. It doesn’t matter whether it was ALS or the concussions he suffered and basically ignored. Both problems are being addressed.

Major sports today are taking steps to protect players that suffer head trauma. Better late than never.

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Chipper Jones Rates Stephen Strasburg Ahead of Maddux, Smoltz, Pedro and Johnson

“He has the best stuff, the best repertoire of pitches that I’ve seen on any one single pitcher,” Chipper Jones said about Stephen Strasburg Friday, as reported by Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Who are we to question him?

I mean, none of us has ever faced Jones’ teammates Greg Maddux, John Smoltz or Tom Glavine. Neither has Jones, but he has seen enough of each to compare them to Strasburg.

Jones batted against Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, Randy Johnson and possibly the greatest of them all, Roger Clemens.

Don’t conclude that Jones has said that Strasburg is or can be greater than any of the above-mentioned future Hall of Famers: He said Strasburg “…has the best stuff, the best repertoire of pitches…”

Maddux and Glavine relied on their assortment of pitches.

Smoltz, Santana, Johnson and Clemens had unbelievable fastballs that they complemented with either cutters, curves or split-fingered fastballs. Their two pitches made them more effective than Strasburg’s repertoire might ever make him.

Jones is an old man by baseball standards. He is hanging on, which is, in some ways, admirable. This season, despite injuries, he is batting .307 with five home runs in 101 at-bats.

One question is, how would Chipper Jones at his peak—which is when he observed Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine—have ranked Strasburg?

At the age of 23, Strasburg has started 26 major league games. He has pitched 145 innings.

It is impossible to know what kind of a career Strasburg will have. In 2010, he tore his ulnar collateral ligament, which resulted in Tommy John surgery.

A long time ago, there was a pitcher named Karl Spooner that had as good a fastball as anyone had ever seen—or at least it seemed that way to opposing batters in Spooner’s first two starts.

Karl Spooner made his major league debut  on Sept. 22, 1954, shutting out the soon-to-be World Champion New York Giants.

The Brooklyn Dodgers‘ young left-hander struck out 15 Giants to set the strikeout record for a major league pitching debut, which J.R. Richard equaled a few years later.

In his next and final start of the 1954 season, Spooner shut out the Pirates, striking out 12, to set the record of 27 strikeouts by a pitcher in his first two games.

Brooklyn fans shouted, “Spooner should have come up sooner.”

Pitching at Fort Worth in June 1954, Spooner had hurt his knee while playing pepper. He eventually needed surgery.

He changed his motion because of the bad knee, and he was finished at the age of 24.

Chipper Jones isn’t alone in his evaluation of Strasburg. We can only hope that the Nationals ace fulfills his potential.

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Tony Lazzeri’s Two Grand Slams Helped the New York Yankees "Slowly Pull Away"

It happened 56 years ago. On May 24, 1936, the New York Yankees were visiting the Philadelphia Athletics. The Athletics scored their only two runs in the first inning. It wasn’t enough.

Shortstop Frankie Crosetti hit a pair of home runs and Joe DiMaggio hit one, but that was nothing.

Tony Lazzeri batted in the second inning with the bases loaded. He hit a home run.

Tony Lazzeri batted in the in the fifth inning with the bases loaded. He hit a home run.

Lazzeri hit a solo shot in the seventh inning. He also had a triple and finished the day with an American League record 11 RBIs. That record still stands.

The final score was 25-2.

The Yankees had 19 hits and received 16 walks. The game was reminiscent of the time a writer asked Yankees’ owner what he considered a good afternoon.

Ruppert responded that  it was “When the Yankees score eight runs in the first inning and slowly pull away.”

The Yankees and Athletics had played a doubleheader the previous day. The Yankees won the opener, 12-6 and took the nightcap by a score of 15-1. Lazzeri hit three home runs in the twin bill, which meant that he had six home runs in three games.

Lazzeri was considered by many, and is still considered by some, the greatest of all Yankees second baseman.


He played for the Yankees from 1926-37. During those years, he was an integral part of six pennant winners and five world champions. Lazzeri was with the Chicago Cubs when they lost to the Yankees in 1938.

“Poosh ‘em up” Tony hit .293/.379/.467, averaging 17 home runs and 114 runs batted in over a 162-game season.

As a comparison, Robinson Cano, who will go down as the Yankees’ greatest second baseman despite his habit of first watching his deep drives and then running instead of the other way around, has batted .307/.347/.495, averaging 22 home runs and 94 RBIs over a 162-game season.

Nineteen-thirty-nine was Lazzeri’s last season. He played for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants that year. He is among of a handful of players that were Yankees, Dodgers and Giants.

Lazzeri was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.

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Thurman Munson V. Carlton Fisk: Using Modern Statistics Reveals Better Player

There is a difference between being a great baseball talent, being a great player and having a great career.

Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk were great baseball talents. Munson and Fisk were great players. Fisk had a better career than Munson did. As Helen Gamble of The Practice might say, “I wonder why.”

Traditional statistics reveal little when comparing them, although Munson had a better batting average (.292 to .269) and a better on-base percentage (.346 to .341). Fisk’s slugging average (.457) was superior to Munson’s (.410).

Do you think that Munson’s home park compared to Fisk’s home parks was a factor?

Munson and Fisk each had Hall of Fame ability. Modern statistics shed new light on the careers of both catchers.

Munson’s career WAR or WIns Above Replacement was 43.3 for his 10 full complete seasons. Fisk’s career WAR was 63.7 for his 21 complete seasons. This is to be expected based on longevity.

Munson’s WAR was 3.9 over an average season compared to Fisk’s 2.7. It is a substantial difference that favors Munson and reveals his value.

Rbat or Runs Batting refers to the number of runs better or worse compared to average. Munson’s average Rbat was 11 compared to Fisk’s seven.

RAR or Runs Above Replacement is the number of runs a player is better than a replacement player. Munson’s average RAR was 38. Fisk’s average RAR was 25.

Turning to defense, Munson’s fielding percentage was .982 compared to FIsk’s .988.

Munson nabbed 44 percent of base-stealers compared to the league average of 38 percent while Fisk threw out 34 percent of potential stealers compared to the league average of 35 percent.

Munson’s RF or range factor was 5.61 per nine innings. Fisk’s was 6.00.

Munson was clearly as good as Fisk. Based on sabermetrics, he was probably better than Fisk. His problem was that his career was cut short.

Roy Campanella, like Munson, had his career cut short by a tragic accident. He has become terribly underrated with the passage of time, but to those who saw him play, he was every bit Yogi Berra’s equal. Just ask Vin Scully.

Campanella played 10 seasons, batted .276/.360/.500. His WAR over an average season was 3.2. which is not as good as Munson’s 3.9, but which is better than Fisk’s 2.7.

A better defensive catcher than Campanella never played the game.

The point is that Munson’s relatively brief career has resulted in his being underrated. Longevity might be more valuable than greatness, but longevity too often results in a player being overrated.

Munson was at least as good as Fisk—and Gary Carter, Roger Bresnahan, Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell. It’s upsetting that Munson will never be elected to the Hall of Fame.

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Maris and Mantle: Back-to-Back and Wall-to-Wall Home Runs at Yankee Stadium

The New York Yankees were hosting the Chicago White Sox for a twi-night doubleheader on July 25, 1961. The second-place New Yorkers trailed the Detroit Tigers by one game. The fifth-place White Sox were 13 games behind despite having a respectable 50-47 record.

Whitey Ford (17-2) faced Frank Baumann (7-7) in a battle of left-handers in the opener. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle each had 37 home runs going into the games.

The teams traded zeroes until the bottom of the fourth inning. Bobby Richardson became the Yankees’ first baserunner when he drew a leadoff walk. Tony Kubek moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt, bringing up Maris.

The future single-season home run record holder promptly hit a drive that hit the right field foul pole.

Mantle, batting right-handed, now trailed Maris by one home run. He swung at a Baumann fast ball and drove it down the left field line. Guess what? The ball hit the left field foul pole.

The fans went wild as Mel Allen joyfully screamed that Maris and Mantle had hit back-to-back and wall-to-wall home runs.

In the eighth inning, with the Yankees leading 4-0, Maris faced Don Larsen. He hit his second home run of the game to pull one ahead of Mantle.

The Yankees won easily by a score of 5-1. Ford pitched seven scoreless innings to earn his 18th win.

The nightcap figured to be tough for the Yankees. Left-hander Juan Pizarro started for the White Sox against 22-year-old Bill Stafford. It was no contest, as the Yankees coasted to a 12-0 win. Stafford went the distance, but Maris was once again the story.

In the fourth inning, facing right-hander Russ Kemmerer, Maris hit a drive to right field that barely cleared the short concrete wall, or at least that was umpire Frank Umont’s call. White Sox manager Al Lopez was ejected for disagreeing with authority. Maris now had 40 home runs.

He wasn’t finished.

Right-handed veteran Warren Hacker was on the hill. Clete Boyer led off the sixth with a home run. After Stafford grounded out, Richardson singled and Kubek doubled him to third, bringing up Maris.

First base was open but the White Sox pitched to Maris. The result was Maris’ fourth home run of the doubleheader. He finished the day with 42 home runs.

Maris had five hits in nine at-bats, including four home runs. It was a memorable performance that almost everyone has forgotten.

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Barry Bonds Enraged Prosecutors by Not Being Intimidated or Subservient

William Rhoden of the New York Times presented some interesting ideas about Barry Bonds in a column a little more than one year ago.

Rhoden posits that America, despite having a president whose father was black, is not comfortable with powerful, prominent black men that do not conform. Bonds, the greatest player of his era, plays by his own rules, which forced the media to resentfully follow those rules.

Lawyer Allen Ruby told the jury at Bonds’ federal trial that one reason Bonds was being tried was because he was Barry Bonds.

Bonds attitude has been compared to Bessie Smith’s legendary blues classic, “’Tain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do.” The following from the work easily applies to Bonds:

“If I should get beat up by my poppa / That don’t mean you should call no copper / Cause it ain’t nobody’s business if we do”

It is significant, according to Ruby, that prosecutors were enraged with Bonds when he testified before the grand jury in 2003.

“He was not intimidated,” Ruby said.  “A lot of the venom in the government’s pursuit here was because he wasn’t intimidated. He was not subservient. He was Barry.”

Bonds is a fiercely independent American who will not ever be limited by society’s beliefs about how a champion must act.

Namon Lewis, head of the Sable Group in the Bay area which advises black athletes, believes that blacks in general didn’t like Bonds when he played.
“They considered him aloof, wasn’t involved in black issues and thought he was in a special category,” he told Rhoden, but he added that the persecution of Bonds has united the black community.

“Blacks don’t necessarily love Bonds, but they will fight to the death to protect him. The attitude is that the government is trying to cut him down to size. They don’t want Bonds to be the prominent figure in baseball history.”

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Bill Skowron’s Final World Series Performance Hurt the New York Yankees

“Batting sixth and playing first base, No. 14, Bill Skowron, No. 14.”

Skowron stepped into the batter’s box against the ace left-hander on the Yankee Stadium mound in the second inning of a scoreless game. There was a runner on second with one. The fans watched with eager anticipation.

The pitcher peered in to get the signal from his catcher, nodded assent and delivered. The “Moose” lined a base hit  to center field as the crowd let out a groan.

Skowron’ base hit came at the expense of his good friend Whitey Ford. Mickey Mantle fielded the ball cleanly, but he had no chance of throwing out Frank Howard at the plate.

The Los Angeles Dodgers led the New York Yankees 1-0 in the first game of the 1963 World Series.

Following Skowron’s single, weak-hitting Dick Tracewski singled and left-handed-hitting John Roseboro hit a three-run home run.

In the third inning, Skowron batted with runners on first and third and two outs. He hit his second single and drove in the Dodgers’ fifth and final run.

The Yankees had traded Skowron to the Dodgers over the winter in exchange for right-handed pitcher Stan Williams. It was a bad trade for the Yankees.

Skowron had trouble adjusting to the National League. He batted only .203 with four home runs in 89 games and was a little surprised when he started the first game of the Series.

“It was the nicest thing that has happened to me all year,” Skowron told reporters after the Dodgers’ 5-2 win.

“Let’s face it. I was garbage all year. It’s no secret that I would be traded this winter. So I surely didn’t expect to play in the Series. And let’s be honest. I didn’t deserve to.”

The modest Skowron didn’t appreciate manager Walt Alston’s baseball acumen. He knew that Skowron usually rose to the occasion.

In 1956, the “Moose” hit a grand slam home run in the seventh game of the 1956 World Series off Roger Craig to put the game away and give the Yankees the world championship.

Two years later, against Yankees’ nemesis Lew Burdette of the Milwaukee Braves, Skowron hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning that produced an insurmountable 6-2 lead.

As a Yankee, Skowron, who was hampered by a bad back, batted .294/.346/.496. He averaged 121 games, 18 home runs and 75 RBIs a season, but according to Baseball-Reference’s projection, Skowron averaged 25 runs and 101 RBIs over a 162-game season.

The Yankees won seven pennants and four world championships with Skowron at first base. He was greatly appreciated.

The Yankees and their fans knew how important his right-handed power was in providing balance to the batting order. He was better than many in the modern media will ever know.

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Mickey Mantle Was Criticized for Not Hitting Important Home Runs

Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956, batting .353 with 52 home runs and 130 RBIs. My brother and I often heard some of our friends that didn’t exactly root for Mantle or the New York Yankees claim that Mantle usually hit home runs when the Yankees were well ahead or far behind.

Baseball-Reference has posted data that allow us to discover if that claim is true.

The Yankees opened the 1956 season in Washington. In his first at-bat of the season, Mantle hit a two-out home run against Camilo Pascual to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. He put the game away with a three-run blast in the sixth inning for an 8-2 lead on the way to a 10-4 win.

In 1956, Mantle hit 10 home runs with the score tied, seven home runs with the Yankees behind by one run and six home runs with the Yankees ahead by only one run.

Twenty-three of his 52 home runs, 44 percent, were hit when they were most meaningful.

bWE is a statistic that calculates a team’s win expectancy after any play in a game.

After a Mantle home run, the Yankees’ win expectancy was at least 90 percent 12 times, at least 80 percent nine times and at least 70 percent five times.

Only 11 of his 52 home runs resulted in the Yankees’ win expectancy being less than 50 percent.

I guess my friends were wrong during Mantle’s Triple Crown season.

Mantle distributed his home runs nicely. He never had a three-home run game and hit two home runs six times, which means that he hit home runs in 46 of the games in which he played.

The Yankees won the pennant and faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Much had always been expected of Mantle, but coming off such a dominant season put even more pressure on him, if that was possible.

In the Series opener, against Sal Maglie with Enos Slaughter on first and one out in the first inning, Mantle hit a home run—just as he had done his first at-bat in the regular season.

The Yankees won in seven hard-fought games. Mantle was considered to have had only a decent World Series because he batted .250, more than 100 points less than he hit in the regular season.

In 2012, we know that Mantle didn’t perform only decently. He had a great World Series because his on base percentage was .400, his slugging percentage was .667 and he hit three home runs, which was only one short of the record for a seven-game Series.

It’s amazing how Mantle gets better and better despite not having played a game in over 40 years.

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