Breakfast With Bill James
Last summer, I decided to review all twelve of Bill James' Baseball Abstracts, not knowing just how long such a task would take or how enjoyable such a task would become. The project forced me to re-read every book from cover to cover and, in doing so, I came away with a greater appreciation for James than ever before -- and, trust me, I have been a big fan dating back a quarter of a century.
Although Bill has written nearly 40 books overall, the Baseball Abstracts are undoubtedly his best-known body of work and among the most significant collections in the game's history. James has arguably been the most influential person with respect to how we think about baseball since Branch Rickey.
James self-published the first five books. The early editions were typed on single-sided pages, photocopied, and stapled using a plain card stock cover and back page. The 1977-1981 Abstracts, in fact, were rather crude with several noticeable strikeovers, white outs, and handwritten corrections throughout the pages. If nothing else, they serve as a reminder to Bill's humble beginnings as a baseball writer.
1977-1988 BASEBALL ABSTRACT COVERS
The Baseball Abstracts grew in size and stature over the years. From a one-inch classified ad placed in the back of The Sporting News in 1977 to a publishing contract with Ballantine Books five years later to earning a regular spot on the New York Times bestsellers list every year, the Baseball Abstracts became an annual staple eagerly awaited each spring by the multitude of James' loyal readers.
An English major, James has a unique writing style that combines numbers and prose in a manner that make his essays clear, informative, and fun to read. To call Bill a statistician is a misnomer. He is a writer who took on the challenge of debunking baseball's conventional wisdom through the use of statistical evidence. At times, Bill may have felt as if he was the lone voice in the wilderness but there were a number of prominent early readers who were paying close attention, including current Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, who hired James as the ballclub's Senior Baseball Operations Advisor in 2002.
In what I view as the culmination of my "Abstracts From The Abstracts" series, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of interviewing Bill on Sunday, December 12, 2004 during the Winter Meetings in a restaurant at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel.
The following is the first in a three-part series of the conversation that took place at our two-hour breakfast on the third and final day of the meetings.
RL: I was curious how you originally came up with the idea of writing the Baseball Abstracts?
BJ: I didn't understand how difficult it was to do this. It actually started spring of '75 or '76 when I bought a stack of preseason baseball annuals. I was working my way through them and realized that there were guys writing these who didn't know more about it than I did. I thought, "I could do better than this," with no understanding of the difficulty of finishing the book and getting it published.
RL: How did you come up with the Baseball Abstract name?
BJ: All of the good names were taken. Digest, Guide, Register and Preview...so that was all that was left.
RL: Good choice. It has been reported that you sold about 75 copies of the 1977 Baseball Abstract.
BJ: I know that's been reported forever. That sounds reasonable but it's been so long ago, why would I remember?
RL: Is it true that you made less than $100 in profits selling those books?
BJ: I'd be surprised if I made any money at all.
RL: What kept you going from one year to the next?
BJ: Well, I did the second one because I didn't do a good job on the first one. The first one I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I didn't get a lot of it done. So I thought if I started this earlier and worked harder on it, I could do more things.
While the Abstracts didn't sell big numbers, the other good things that happened in my career happened as a side benefit to the Abstracts.
RL: In the 1978 Baseball Abstract, you wrote if readers didn't like your work, their money would be "cheerlessly refunded." Did anybody ever take you up on that?
BJ: Uhh, it seems to me that somebody did.
RL: [shakes his head]
BJ: I'm almost sure that one person did.
RL: Shame on him. I bet that person wishes he had that book back. I was curious how you developed the "dot, dot, dot" style of writing used in the early Abstracts?
BJ: I don't think I developed that. I think I borrowed it. There were certain Sporting News columnists of that era who wrote the same way.
RL: I think your writing is as fun to read today as it was 27 or 28 years ago. One thing you pointed out in 1978 is the notion that "the final test of any statistic is whether or not it correlates with winning."
BJ: I might state it a little bit differently. The value of a statistic is whether it's tied to winning. There may be valuable statistics that don't correlate to winning because the correlation is hidden. A lot of people, who don't understand what we do, think that it's just measuring individual glory. What we're trying to do was change the way we looked at statistics, so instead of measuring individual glory they measured contributions to winning. That's always what I've been trying to do.
RL: You also mentioned that "any statistic the meaning of which can be expressed in understandable terms in a common English sentence is always to be preferred, other things being equal, to one which cannot."
RL: I think that holds more true today than ever given the number of complex formulas that have been created.
BJ: That is true. There are actually a lot of stuff that loses me and I don't know whether it loses me because I'm just not following the math or it loses me because someone failed to say what it is they are actually measuring. But if we don't know what it is you are actually measuring, then I'm kind of lost.
RL: In the 1979 Baseball Abstract, the text was copied on both sides of the paper for the first time.
BJ: [in a facetious voice] We progressed that year.
RL: You indicated that it was remarkable you had "so little company" back then.
BJ: Is that right? I didn't realize that.
RL: Do you remember who the others were back then?
BJ: There may have been a couple of people doing similar stuff that I didn't know. The only people I knew that were doing anything vaguely familiar were Pete Palmer and Dick Cramer. Otherwise I didn't really know anybody who was doing anything similar.
RL: You said there were "two essential offensive statistics: on-base percentage and advancement percentage"...
BJ: Right...which closely ties into slugging percentage. But that's right.
RL: Similar to Branch Rickey's way of looking at slugging, right?
BJ: That's correct.
RL: You developed Runs Created for the first time. Do you think Runs Created has made any significant advances since then or is that original definition close enough?
BJ: The more sophisticated versions are better and are probably worth the trouble figuring them out, but the basic formula still pretty much works.
RL: Do you think today's version of Runs Created, which includes hitting with runners in scoring position, is a more retrospective way of measuring contributions rather than a prospective way of determining value?
BJ: Stats are backward looking by nature. That is one of the limitations of them. One might be able to step from the stats to an assessment of the skills in a more pure form. It's debatable whether there is an ability or a skill involved in hitting with runners in scoring position so at that point, you might cut that off. As long as you are simply dealing with what the stats mean, they are always backward looking. The danger is that because stats are backward looking, if you're not careful, you could be the last person to see something.
There may be a pitcher who adds a pitch and the scout may see immediately that, wow, that pitch looks good and it's going to make him into a totally different pitcher. But, if you are just looking at the stats, you won't see that until two years later when the value of it has gone...so there are some situations in which you need to be aware of that.
RL: You brought "park illusions" to the forefront that year. I knew there were differences from ballpark to ballpark but never realized the magnitude of those differences until I read your work.
BJ: Well, Pete Palmer was certainly ahead of me at that time. It is surprising how far back some knowledge of that goes. Rob Neyer and I started noticing when pitchers became aware of what can now be called "the Colorado effect." As soon as the Babe Ruth era began, it was very apparent pitchers in Salt Lake City and other high altitude towns were very aware of that right away, so park effects have been around for a long, long time.
RL: In the 1979 Abstract, you noted that Rod Carew once swung at two pitches when he was being intentionally walked, trying to get the pitcher to throw him something he could reach. Do you think that is a strategy Barry Bonds could employ today?
BJ: I don't know. I would argue about it this way. If it is genuinely advantageous for the defense to intentionally walk Barry Bonds, then logically it has to be defensible for Bonds to swing at one or two pitches to try to negate that advantage and try to tempt them into throwing him a pitch. On the other hand, if hitters never react by swinging at pitches to try to stop the opposing team from intentionally walking them, the implication is that the offense always agrees to accept it even though the defense thinks the walk is helpful, which seems somewhat illogical.
RL: Do you think if Bonds swung at a pitch or two that pitchers would then decide to pitch to Barry by virtue of being ahead of him in the count?
BJ: No, in the case of Bonds, probably not. I suspect if number eight hitters in the National League, for example, swung at a pitch or two, the pitcher would decide to try and get him out. In the case of Bonds, it's black and white. His walk totals have become surreal because of a blanket decision not to pitch to him with men on base. I'm fairly confident that the blanket decision would automatically cover the situation where he was hitting 0-2 just as much as if he were hitting 0-0.
RL: Moving to the 1980 Baseball Abstract, you defined sabermetrics for the first time.
BJ: Is that right?
RL: Yes, you said sabermetrics is "the mathematical and statistical analysis of baseball records."
BJ: And not a very good definition. My wife bought a dictionary recently and I pulled it out to check to see if sabermetrics was in there, which it is, but the definition is even worse. They defined it as "the computerized use of baseball statistics" or something. It's an awful definition because computers don't have anything to do with it.
RL: Well, as long as they didn't attribute that definition to you, then maybe it's OK. [wink]
On that subject, in the 1981 Baseball Abstract, you said "good sabermetrics respects the validity of all types of evidence, including that which is beyond the scope of statistical validation."
BJ: I'll be darned. I'm glad to know I wrote that back then. In the wake of Moneyball, some people have tried to set up a tension in the working baseball community between people who see the game through statistics and scouts. There is no natural tension there. There's only tension there if you think that you understand everything. If you understand that you're not really seeing the whole game through the numbers or you're not seeing the whole thing described through your eyes, there is no real basis for tension and there's no reason for scouts not to be able to talk and agree on things.
RL: Conversely, you indicated that "bad sabermetrics attempts to end the discussion by saying that I have studied the issue and this is the answer."
BJ: That's one I'm still committed to.
RL: Do you still see bad sabermetrics out there?
BJ: Yeah. One of my failings is that I can't keep up with the discussion very well. My justification for it is that I grew up in a world in which nobody was doing this type of baseball research and the only person who was working on the issues was me. I was 40 years old before there became to be an established community of people working on the issues. I never established a habit of following the rest of the discussion. I often wished I did.
RL: Now that you're with the Red Sox, do you find that you have less time than before staying abreast of the developments within the sabermetric community?
BJ: I don't have the time and sometimes I think I'm wasting time studying something that probably someone else has already studied or someone else knows more about it than I do. Nonetheless, I don't know where the research is and I'm not in the habit of looking through it.
RL: In light of the Red Sox World Series victory this year, I thought it was interesting that you wrote in the 1981 Abstract "the lion's share of championships have been won by teams which play in pitcher's parks." Do you think that still holds true today?
BJ: I think it is true. I think there are special challenges to winning a championship playing in a hitter's park. If you look at the last few years, I'm not sure. I mean, Arizona is obviously a hitter's park and they won a championship. But you got Anaheim, Florida, and several with the Yankees. I think it's still possibly true.
[We take a break to visit the buffet line.]
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part Two of my exclusive interview with Bill James.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Two on Two: AL Central Preview
Season previews come in all shapes, sizes, and color. Divisions will be analyzed up and down and around between now and the beginning of the year. In an attempt to stray from the norm, we decided to make our previews a bit different here at Baseball Analysts. Beginning with today's column, we will tackle one division each week, discussing the 2005 outlook with two other Internet writers. We hope this combination of perspectives proves to be informative and entertaining.
To avoid the usual format, we will discuss the divisions by starting in the middle, then moving to the West, and finishing with the East. In week number one, we break down the AL Central.
Two on Two: Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts meet up with Aaron Gleeman and Brian Borawski of The Hardball Times. Gleeman also writes about his hometown Minnesota Twins through AaronGleeman.com, while Borawski covers the Detroit Tigers at his TigerBlog.
Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy.
Bryan: For three years, fittingly the streak in which the Twins have taken the division, the AL Central has been hailed as the worst division in baseball. This has probably been a fair accusal, in my opinion, but a notion that soon will be dying. Do you think criticizing this division was fair in 2002-2004?
Aaron: Criticizing the division is absolutely fair, because it has been a horrible division pretty much since it was created back in 1994. I wrote a column about how horrible the AL Central has been a little while back, but the short version is that the division has rarely had a combined winning record against non-Central opponents and has rarely produced an elite team.
Rich: I think they may have named that BBC show -- "The Weakest Link" -- after the AL Central. The Twins had the fewest wins for a division leader in two of the past three years (the exception being the Cubs in the NL Central in 2003). And it's not just that the best team hasn't been all that great. The team finishing last has had the worst record in the majors in two of the past three years as well. Say no more.
Brian: I'm going to agree with both of you. Perennially, the worst team in the league (outside of maybe Tampa Bay) has been in the AL Central. Compound this with the fact that the Central has never had a Wild Card team, and it goes to show that the best team coming out of the Central is usually not the best team in the league.
Aaron: I have also maintained -- while trying to remain eligible for Twinsfandom -- that the Twins would probably still be looking for their first post-1991 trip to the postseason if not for the fact that they are in the AL's worst division. Stick them in the East and they have no chance; stick them in the West and they have a shot, but I think we'd see just how quickly these 90-win seasons erode when you play a tough schedule.
Bryan: So, the worst team has been the worst, and the best team is the least best. Yikes. But optimistically, I feel that the Central is starting to gain some solid depth and might avoid the same judgments in the future.
Brian: I agree that the division is getting deeper. I'm not sure about the Indians' and White Sox's prospects, but the "homer" in me wants to believe the Tigers are going to be right there with the Twins this year.
Aaron: The obvious opinion is that the division is improving, simply because the Twins figure to be good again and the Indians have a lot of really intriguing young talent. However, what happens if the White Sox decline a bit (which I expect them to do) and the Indians improve -- then isn't the division right back where it has been over the last few years, with the Twins at the top, one other solid-but-unspectacular team in second place, and a mediocre club in third?
Rich: Yes, I don't think much has changed. I see the Twins finishing first and the Royals last. Who winds up in second, third, and fourth place is anyone's guess.
Bryan: It sounds as if -- and Las Vegas agrees -- that the Twins are the obvious favorites to win the division. Call me a skeptic, but I just don't see it. Just judging by my own eyes, it seemed as if Carlos Silva had to be the most overachieving pitcher in the majors last year. I don't see him sustaining his level of performance at all.
Aaron: I'm not sure why Silva would qualify for that distinction. He gave up 17.7% line drives last year, which is exactly league average. He doesn't strike anyone out, which will obviously keep him from being a great pitcher, but he also doesn't walk anyone (35 BBs in 203 IP) and he gets a ton of ground balls. He now has a career ERA of 4.04 in 374.1 innings, after ERAs of 3.70 and 3.83 at Single-A and Double-A. I'm not saying he's a lock to repeat his 2004 performance, but I don't see why he can't toss another 180-200 innings with a league-average ERA in 2005.
Bryan: Yeah, my thought process there is simply by seeing him a couple times against the White Sox. Seemed like fringy stuff, but I also don't know that it's the best way to evaluate a pitcher. Anyway, this whole rotation seems a bit mediocre to me. I think a level of decline is likely from Brad Radke.
Brian: As long as Radke and Johan Santana do their job, they can probably play .500 ball with the rest of the starters in there and still be right at or near the top of the division in September.
Aaron: I agree that Radke is likely to regress, since he's 32 and coming off arguably his best season. Still, the Twins didn't exactly dominate in his starts and he went just 11-8.
Bryan: I think the weight of this rotation lies squarely on the shoulders of Kyle Lohse and J.D. Durbin. If they pitch poorly, they could pitch Minnesota to third.
Brian: I think if you look at the Twins rotation as compared to the rest of the division, they're right where they need to be. You might not have a lot of confidence in Lohse and Durbin, but the Tigers are throwing out Jason Johnson and Wilfredo Ledezma.
Aaron: Lohse is the biggest question mark. I would bet on him improving, simply because he has proven he can be a decent middle-of-the-rotation guy in the past and, considering what he's making from arbitration this year, he won't be around in 2006 if he doesn't.
Rich: Overall, the Twins starting pitchers are certainly not the caliber of the Cubs, Red Sox, or Yankees, but any team with Johan Santana as its ace ain't half bad. Heck, a rotation of Santana and the four of us would be better than what a lot of teams are likely to put out there.
Bryan: I don't know, Rich, there isn't really a precedent for pitchers as far over the hill as you. Aaron, who will be at the end instead of Mr. Lederer?
Aaron: The fifth spot is Joe Mays' if he's healthy. I wasn't a big believer in Mays back when he was healthy and pitching well, so I'm not optimistic about him having a good year. If he struggles, the Twins can either turn to Terry Mulholland (yuck) or one of their prospects like Durbin and Scott Baker. Is the Twins' rotation great? No, but as long as Santana is, that'll be plenty in this division.
Brian: Not to skip away from pitching, but Justin Mourneau's condition sounds pretty worrisome. If he's not fully recovered from pneumonia, it could be a huge set back because he's their best bat.
Bryan: That's a good point, Brian. The Twins are relying on Morneau and Joe Mauer probably more than any two hitters this year, and both have legitimate health concerns. If either falters, the offense suddenly is a lock to be the fourth best in the division. The training staff and Mother Nature just might be key to the Twins season.
Aaron: Health is going to be huge. They already lost Jason Kubel, who would likely have been their rightfielder for the entire year. Mauer is a major question mark and now, seemingly out of nowhere, Morneau's health is a big concern. On the other hand, their offense stunk last year and it's hard for me to imagine it getting significantly worse.
Rich: I know we're not talkin' Mantle & Maris here or Mays & McCovey, but those M & M boys could be a pretty damn good tandem this year and for years to come. Well, at least until they become free agents.
Bryan: I think the main question with this team is, in what area are they significantly better than the Indians and White Sox? And, of course, the age-old question with the Twins, can they continue to out-do their Pythagorean record?
Brian: I don't think they're significantly better, but Aaron's point about them never having a good offense is valid. When you have one of the best starting pitchers in the game, that gives you a nice advantage, and I haven't been really impressed with the moves the White Sox and Indians made. El Duque and Kevin Millwood, in my opinion, aren't going to put them over the top.
Aaron: The Twins won last year, and the year before, and the year before...so the real question is "In what way have the other teams significantly closed the gap?"
Rich: Don't look at me, Aaron. That's a question for the Brians...err, Bryans -- ahh, forget it -- to answer.
Bryan: Rich, The only way to spell BrYan is with a "Y." It's funny, the White Sox almost made themselves more Twins-like this offseason, going with a fast, better defensive team. The hope by Ken Williams, I think, is to make them stop doing worse than their Pythagorean record expects them to.
Aaron: I love that the White Sox are going to try to out-Twin the Twins, because frankly I don't see that happening. I've been watching the Phoenix Suns a lot this NBA season and it is always amusing when opposing teams decide they will try to run and fastbreak with the Suns.
Rich: I'm confused here. Are the Suns in the AL Central?
Brian: I'm projecting the White Sox to finish fourth. Paul Konerko can't seem to put together back-to-back solid seasons. Unless Frank Thomas gets back, I don't seem them being in the mix.
Bryan: The problem is that through all these moves, he's put a considerable weight on Aaron Rowand's shoulders, especially while Big Frank sits on the DL. If he falters, this offense might be forced to steal home with runners on third.
Rich: I imagine Thomas would be a considerable weight on anybody's shoulders. As far as Rowand is concerned, put me in the skeptical camp. No way he finishes seventh in slugging this year. He has some talent but his walk-to-strikeout ratio makes me think he could easily lose 30 points off his batting average. I say he winds up under .300, under .350, and under .500 this year.
Bryan: The club is filled with a lot of players that go up and down a lot, with Konerko, Rowand, Jermaine Dye, Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia...I could go on all day. The ball will have to bounce pretty perfectly for them to take the division.
Aaron: I'd be shocked if they finished lower than third (sorry, Brian), but I don't think they are in better shape now than they were last season.
Brian: Do you think I'm nuts for thinking the Tigers have a chance? First, their pitching should be at least a little better. Kyle Farnsworth and Troy Percival (injury risks aside for the moment) should prevent us from blowing games in the later innings. But yeah, it's all going to come down to their starters.
Bryan: I think, from a fantasy sense, Jeremy Bonderman is going to be huge this year. His second half -- and particularly September -- numbers were spectacular, and it's time he took ahold of this rotation.
Brian: Ledezma is supposed to have nearly as much upside, depending on who you listen to. Nate Robertson showed some flashes, too.
Aaron: I love Bonderman. I also like Ledezma, but their 2-5 in the rotation is a bunch of #4/5 starters, at best.
Brian: Second, it looks like Magglio Ordonez will be ready for opening day. While he'll never live up to his contract, if he hits 25-30 homers and hits .300, that will be a huge addition to the lineup.
Bryan: Yeah, they got a .731 OPS from right fielders last year. That's on the way up for sure.
Rich: If Maggs is healthy, I believe the Tigers could surprise a lot of folks this year. On the other hand, if he stays off the DL and doesn't produce, the bigger surprise will be if Dave Dombrowski keeps his job after this season because Detroit will be forced to pay an aging player no less than $75 million over five years.
Aaron: I like Detroit's offense quite a bit, particularly if they get smart and ditch Alex Sanchez.
Brian: I was pretty disappointed he was signed, even for a million. You know Tram is going to bat him leadoff, too. I'm hoping Curtis Granderson is playing in July.
Aaron: Also, what's Carlos Guillen's health status?
Brian: Well, the injury is definitely a concern. While nobody is saying when he'll be back, it seems doubtful he'll be ready for opening day.
Aaron: I'd be surprised if Guillen put together another great year, but people said that about Melvin Mora. If Guillen is going to take that deal with the devil into a second year, he'll need the use of his knee.
Bryan: It might not even matter. I looked into Guillen a while ago, and it's weird how closely his season matched the breakout years by shortstops Rich Aurilia and Hubie Brooks. I can't help but think that he's going to go right back to the .700 OPS range that he came from.
Aaron: Ramon Martinez is the backup shortstop, right? Martinez isn't horrible...he'll out-hit the Twins' shortstop.
Bryan: It seems like the Indians almost have the market cornered on middle infield depth. I mean, I really think the club has six players that can play up the middle and hit better than than the Twins' shortstop and second baseman. Shapiro did a masterful job building depth with this team.
Aaron: Even assuming Brandon Phillips has fallen off the face of the earth, the Indians are stacked in the infield. What I wouldn't give for Alex Cora or Jose Hernandez...
Rich: Wow, I never thought Cora or Hernandez would be so coveted. Maybe I better rethink my position on the Twins.
Brian: A lot comes down to Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez repeating what they did last year.
Bryan: I don't see why the Indians aren't the frontrunners of this division...I really see them winning it by five games or so. with the Twins declining a little bit (reasonable expectation, probably) -- and given the massive number of injuries that the Indians took last year -- it's not out of line.
Aaron: They lost by 12 games last year...I don't know that they are 17 games better than they were. That's an awful lot of games, particularly since they improved by 12 the year before. Who have they added that is an impact player? Millwood? How many wins is he worth, really?
Brian: Is Cliff Lee the wild card of the team? And can Jake Westbrook repeat what he did last year?
Bryan: Well, between Lee and Westbrook, you had a 4.31 ERA last season. I think Westbrook will decline a bit this year, but if they can post a 4.31 again this year, then Millwood and C.C. Sabathia makes a nice top four.
Rich: Mark my words, Lee's numbers will get better and Westbrook's will get worse.
Aaron: I like Lee a lot, but he really fell apart in the second half. I also like Scott Elarton for some strange reason...their rotation should be pretty solid.
Brian: Arthur Rhodes could turn into a nice pickup as well if he can get back into his old form.
Aaron: Rhodes and David Riske setting up Bob Wickman is pretty good, potentially. Throw in Rafael Betancourt, Kazuhito Tadano, Bobby Howry...it's a deep group.
Rich: Well, I can see where the Indians might Wedge their way into second place. But I think it's a stretch to expect anything more than that.
Bryan: I'm going to go out on a limb here. Call me crazy, but I think we have a consensus on the last place team in this division. Am I right?
Aaron: Yeah, are the Royals still in the Central? I like Zack Greinke. I'm trying to think of nice things to say.
Brian: Who will end up with Mike Sweeney, and will he put together a full season? I like David DeJesus, too.
Aaron: Yeah, that's true, DeJesus is solid. And...the ballpark is very nice.
Bryan: The return on Carlos Beltran was just not enough. I know he had to be dealt and that was probably the best offer, but then it means they should have dealt him the winter before.
Rich: Given the situation, I believe the Royals did about as well as they could with Beltran. They had no chance of resigning Carlos so giving up a half season of Beltran for three decent prospects -- John Buck, Mark Teahen, and Mike Wood -- is a pretty good tradeoff in my book.
Aaron: Here's all you need to know about the Royals: Over at MLB.com, their depth chart has Terrence Long starting in both outfield corners.
Rich: The Neifi Perez of outfielders.
Bryan: I'll say this: if Tony Pena starts Ken Harvey over Calvin Pickering, it will be the worst possible thing the team can do. Pickering is their second-best hitter right now, if not better than Sweeney.
Rich: Did I hear someone mention Sam Horn?
Aaron: It's a good thing they moved the fences back though, because their pitching staff could be really ugly. Imagine if Kauffman would have been a hitter's paradise last year!
Bryan: How about this question, do they have any hope of not finishing last in the Majors? Is there a worse team than the Royals right now? Or are they our official favorites for the Andrew Miller race?
Brian: I'd say Pittsburgh, but they actually have some young talent. But it should be a long season for Royals fans.
Aaron: Well, KC has the advantage of playing in the AL Central. They went 26-60 outside of the division last year.
Bryan: OK, I can't talk about this team anymore. There has to be something else with the other four...
Brian: Has anyone looked at the schedules? I looked at the Tigers, and April is almost all AL Central, 6 games against the Twins, 6 against the Indians.
Aaron: Twins finish with 4 vs KC and 3 vs DET, at home. The White Sox finish with 13 of their final 17 vs MIN and CLE.
Bryan: So it looks like no matter where the White Sox finish in the division, their September performance could determine the winner. Alright, man up, let's get some predictions here...
Brian: Twins-Tigers-Indians-White Sox-Royals
Aaron: Twins-Indians-White Sox-Tigers-Royals
Rich: Twins. Hmmm...Indians-Tigers-White Sox. Royals.
Bryan: Indians-Twins-White Sox-Tigers-Royals
Brian: How many wins will the division winner have? I was thinking high 80s.
Aaron: 88-92. I'm pegging Minnesota at like 90, Cleveland and Chicago at like 85-88.
Rich: I can't remember the last time a first-place team finished with less than 88 wins so I gotta think the Twins will win at least that many. Don't forget, they get to play these other four teams more often than anybody else. However, I don't see how the Indians and the White Sox can both win that many. I mean, that's just too many victories coming from this division.
Despite the conversation turning into one of weakness, we thank the strong-minded Aaron and Brian. The official Baseball Analysts consensus calls for the Twins to finish first, the Indians second, with Chicago and Detroit fighting it out for third, and the Royals very, very far out of the picture. Maybe, for Bryan, the title should read "Three on One."
Top 20 Sophomores
The players who succeed at a young age are too often forgotten in prospect evaluation. Once they reach the Majors and become fair game for all analysts, those of us in the prospect world move on. We simply smile and say we got that one right, blessed he wasn't another Ryan Anderson or Wilson Betemit.
While 130 at-bats and fifty innings pitched officially cuts off the "prospect" tag, few players make the Albert Pujols switch from the minors to superstardom. This leaves time for further evaluation on their tools and stats, more speculation on whether that once highly touted ceiling will still be reached. Now that we have all seen the skill sets of these players and realize that their chance of bottoming out now is just becoming another Moonlight Graham, I don’t think they should be deemed "unrankable."
So, given that philosophy, I have ranked the top 20 Major League Sophomores below -- not by how their 2005 season will be, but instead their career. Think of this as a prospect ranking one year removed, now that we all know a little more. I should note that I also excluded anyone who was more than 25 years old this season, so Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis fans will be left disappointed.
1. David Wright- 3B- New York Mets
Pardon me while I start with a controversial choice -- given the talents of the rest of the top ten -- but I'm going with the total package. His OPS for a 21-year-old third baseman was fourth all-time, behind greats Eddie Mathews and Pujols, along with "what coulda been" Bob Horner. If you believe in David Pinto's Probalistic Model of Range work -- the best on defense out there, in my opinion -- then Wright was positive at the hot corner, saving two runs over the course of 69 games played. Throw in the ability to steal 20 bags a year -- and expect Willie Randolph to try -- and you've got it all.
The major concern with David was his abandonment of the base on balls when he reached the Major League level. To his credit, he did walk 69 times last year (AA and AAA included), and his minor league stats indicate that he should be trotting towards first base more often this year. Given his well-rounded game, I think the best comparison here is Ron Santo, who wasn't walking 80 times a year until he was 24. Santo was very similar at 21, in his second year in the big leagues. No matter who he turns out to be, the Mets will not be worrying about the hot corner for another decade.
2. Joe Mauer- C- Minnesota Twins
My concern of Joe hitting for power is long gone now, though the only other critique he drew a year ago still exists. Only four catchers in the history of baseball with Mauer's height have recorded 100 hits in more than two seasons. Their names don't exactly belong in the who's who list of catchers: Jody Davis, Tom Haller, Johnny Edwards, Sandy Alomar Jr. Last season's injury is hopefully not a sign of things to come, as Alomar shows what can happen when you mix height and knee problems. The Twins won't let that happen. They'll make Mauer change positions (it worked for Joe Torre) if necessary. He should never worry about struggling offensively. Now that his power has arrived, we see why he was chosen first overall.
3. Zack Greinke- SP- Kansas City Royals
Greinke had to deal with about twice the pressure as most 20-year-old rookies, both holding the K.C. rotation on his shoulders and the continuing comparisons to Bret Saberhagen. Given all that, Zack handled himself with the perfect poise that he had been touted to have since being drafted. In his final 112 innings (19 starts worth) he amassed 86 strikeouts, answering critics with a 6.91 K/9 -- far better than Saberhagen at the same age. Furthermore, should he keep his K/BB consistent, he'll have the third best ratio ever...directly ahead of Cy Young. Expect those two names to fall in the same sentence a lot in the next 15 years.
4. Justin Morneau- 1B- Minnesota Twins
Really the only thing holding back Justin Morneau from 40 home runs was at-bats in 2004. His power is that real. Unfortunately, it looks like health might hold back Morneau this year. A slew of illnesses struck Morneau this offseason (chicken pox, appendix removal, lung problem), and his weight loss could result in time off. Remember when Adrian Beltre had his emergency appendectomy a few years ago? If similar, Morneau could struggle this year. As for last year, I'll blame his low average (given his minor league numbers) on a .272 BABIP, when if adjusted to the league average .300, puts his average on the plus side of .290. I still think he's extremely likely to meet his huge potential, though sickness could result in a subpar 2005.
5. B.J. Upton- SS- Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Looking through the numbers, it is safe to say that B.J. Upton had one of the top fifteen offensive rate seasons for a 19-year-old ever. His OPS was the 12th best ever, his RC/G was eleventh. In both cases, he's eerily close to Ken Griffey Jr., which is as high praise as any young hitter can get. Unfortunately I don't think he'll stick with Griffey, his power ceiling is nowhere near that high. My guess is more along the lines of Claudell Washington with better selectivity. B.J. also suffers from his defensive shortcomings, which should probably land him at another position. No matter where Upton ends up playing, I expect him to be part of what's becoming an extremely solid Devil Ray core, one that I pray will be kept together long enough to make some noise.
6/7. Khalil Greene- SS- San Diego Padres- 24
6/7. Bobby Crosby- SS- Oakland Athletics- 25
Here's an article idea I never wrote, comparing these two fantastic shortstops. Both had sensational rookie seasons, and have established track records dating back to college. Where Crosby was the 25th overall choice in the 2001 draft, Greene was picked 13th following a sensational .470/.552/.877, Golden Spikes award-winning season. Here's how they matched each other at levels since leaving college:
Level KG AB KG OPS BC AB BC OPS
A+ 183 .893 280 .797
AA 229 .733 228 .778
AAA 319 .788 465 .939
MLB 484 .795 545 .745
Please note that Greene had a better hitting ballpark in the California League and the Majors, but Crosby's stadium was far more hitter-friendly in both AA and the PCL. Normalized these are pretty similar hitters, both with good amounts of discipline. Greene created 5 more runs offensively, but Baseball Musings tells us that Crosby saved fourteen more runs defensively, where both are above average.
Both of these players are fantastic talents, and should develop a nice California rivalry over the next decade. Expect nothing but solid play from these two going forward...forget the sophomore jinx.
8. Grady Sizemore- CF- Cleveland Indians
Care to jump on the Grady Sizemore bandwagon? In his second season, the great Willie Mays played just 34 games, resulting in 127 at-bats. During that season, Mays hit .236/.326/.409...mind you, that's a .173 Isolated Power, and .090 Isolated Discipline. In his rookie season, Sizemore had 138 at-bats, with a .246/.333/.406 line. For the mathematically challenged, that's a .160 ISO and .087 Isolated Discipline. Freaky. As if that wasn't enough, Wily Mo Pena, Johnny Damon and the great Duke Snider are other fitting comparables. He's not a lock though because Willie Crawford's numbers compare better than anyone else. There's a reason PECOTA likes Sizemore so much. Expect the young outfielder to pay dividends for Cleveland very soon.
9. Adam LaRoche- 1B- Atlanta Braves
Coming out of the minors, Adam LaRoche drew the usual good defense and contact praise, with the promise of lack of power. The typical J.T. Snow comparison. But playing first base last year, LaRoche gave hope that he'll be closer to Will Clark than Mark Grace, as he led the Braves with a .576 slugging after the break. A little more plate discipline would be nice, and his defense was good but not great last season. There are things to work on, but getting Gammons' support is definitely a step in the right direction. Would make a good late-round corner infield selection for you fantasy players.
10. Alexis Rios- RF- Toronto Blue Jays
When I started these rankings, I was a bit concerned about the .096 Isolated Power that Rios had in 2004. Alexis was one of forty-nine outfielders to have an ISO under .100 at 23 in the last sixty years, though I'm not sure whether that calmed or ignited my nerves. I was definitely relieved to find a few very good comparisons, though each offers a very different career path. First there is Bobby Bonilla, who actually had a worse age 23 season, but would hit .300/.351/.481 the next season. The no-power comp would be Willie McGee, who was faster than Rios is, but still showed very similar offensive numbers. Finally, the comp Rios wants to avoid is Al Woods, who had just one good Major League season before flaming out. Last year's popular comparison, Dave Winfield, only had a .136 ISO at 23. Once his bat determines which kind of power he'll develop, if any, locking down a comp will become much easier.
11. Edwin Jackson- SP- Los Angeles Dodgers
An odd one in the sense that he's not as good as he was in 2003, and not as bad as he was in 2004. His repertoire is lively, which should yield some return for the Dodgers, if not what was originally hoped. Here's what I wrote on Jackson's arsenal last September:
In the 12-pitch inning, Jackson threw nine fastballs, showing a drastic preference for the pitch. He was between 91-95 mph on what I've described as a 'slow gun', so probably even 93-97. Despite walking one batter, Jackson showed solid control of the pitch, never missing by too much. He also showed a decent curve, with solid downward bite at 82-84 mph. It looks like he has the tendency to leave his pitches up in the zone, which is probably the reason for the three home runs allowed this season.
12. Ryan Madson- RP- Philadelphia Phillies
13. Ryan Wagner- RP- Cincinnati Reds
Could two roads have diverged as far apart as these two and still be on their way to meeting? Ryan Madson was a ninth-round draft pick in 1998, a big 6-6 right-hander from California. It took him six full minor league seasons as a starter to even make the club, and his move to relief last Spring Training saw him flourish. If not for the one start the Phillies decided to give him, his ERA would have been 1.65 last year. All this coming from a guy who was more likely to be traded than becoming a Phillie in 2003.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Ryan Wagner. Given the job of succeeding Jesse Crain as closer of University of Houston, Wagner set the NCAA K/9 record in 2003 with 16.8 per nine innings. He was drafted fourteenth overall by the Reds that year, and given just nine minor league innings before his September call-up. He was dominant, and big things were expected for 2004. After an 11.25 ERA in April, he was sent down shortly after, and his ERA was just 3.50 for the rest of the season.
Going forward, it is hard to say who will be the better reliever. Madson gets the nod for his great 2004 season, but a coin flip probably has a better chance of determining which career ends better than me.
14. David DeJesus- OF- Kansas City Royals
Given the hard task of succeeding Carlos Beltran, David DeJesus shown he might be the next solid Royal outfielder. He's no Johnny Damon, but he's the sort of steady player that sabermatricians will plead be kept at the top of the lineup while his .380 OBP is wasting away in the seven hole somewhere. His power is pretty non-existent with no signs of it coming soon, but given his OBP, that will be fine. Like Jeremy Reed, center might be a push for him defensively, but he'll be there in Kauffman until a better option is found. And for the record, Terrence Long is not it.
15. Yadier Molina- C- St. Louis Cardinals
Pardon me for violating the sabermetric code, but I agree with mainstream beliefs that St. Louis made a massive mistake allowing Mike Matheny to walk. His hitting wasn't great, but his steady defense and overall presence will be missed. Ken Rosenthal noted in a column recently that it's dangerous for a World Series-contending team to run a 22-year-old catcher out there. The last team to do so and win was the 1981 Dodgers, with Mike Scioscia behind the plate. What's funny, is just how similar the two profiled at 21 (rate stats are vs. league, by ratio):
Name AVG OBP SLG AB
Molina 99 96 81 135
Scioscia 95 95 85 134
That's extraordinarily close, especially when you factor in similar body types and low strikeout rates (in the minors for Molina). The only difference is the side of the plate they bat on, but I think the Cardinals will be pleased with the right-handed Mike Scoscia. And who knows, maybe get a successor for Tony La Russa in the process.
16. Erik Bedard- SP- Baltimore Orioles
Chalk up another victory for medical science, as after surgery, Bedard has regained most of his good stuff. The Orioles have actually found a pitcher they can't ruin, congratulations to them. Bedard still must develop further control if he is going to be an effective pitcher, and there were obvious signs of endurance problems in 2004. Strength and control could make Bedard a top notch player, but I'm also a little leary of the yellow light that Will Carroll issued. He's not a sure bet by any means, but if treated correctly, Bedard could be special.
17. Yhency Brazoban- RP- Los Angeles Dodgers
18. Chin-Hui Tsao- RP- Colorado Rockies
Another two relievers paired together, and again, they come with different stories. Tsao has been followed since the day he signed with the Rockies - a hero in his native Taiwan - Chin-Hui looked like he'd be a great starter until injuries set their course on his arm. It looks as if Tsao will replace Shawn Chacon in the closer role, and likely will be fantastic there. Another good fantasy idea.
As for Brazoban, he was an under-the-radar type that went in the Jeff Weaver deal from the Yankees. He'll set-up Eric Gagne well this year, though probably not doing quite the job that Guillermo Mota did. This is more due to control problems than anything else, although those issues did not plague him at Chavez Ravine last season. I'm not sure pitching in winter ball was the best idea for him, or he could fall to the same fate that Tsao has.
For the record, Brazoban gets the call over Chin-Hui pretty much only because of the stadiums they pitch in. Talk about extremes.
19. Noah Lowry- SP- San Francisco Giants
I admittedly didn't know a lot about Lowry before this season, and still don't. His numbers look good, and he's a southpaw in a pitcher's park, both of which bode quite well for his future. But my lack of experience with his stuff went me asking around. First, to Grant at McCovey Chronicles:
...my favorite thing to see from a young pitcher is the ability to make a hitter look like an idiot...Lowry's changeup, at its best, is a pitch that will do that. From what the folks at Baseball America have written, it is a pitch that made incredible strides just last year. It is deceptive coming out of the hand, and just dies at the perfect time.
It appears as though Lowry has a limited ceiling, one that he will be tapping into the next few years. He'll be a solid rotation candidate for the Giants, who have had more failures developing pitchers than success stories.
20. David Bush- SP- Toronto Blue Jays
Like Lowry, Bush is another player that actually played better in the Major Leagues than he had in AAA. It's hard to make a decision on these players, the ones that you know do not have the stuff to be a frontline starter. Bush is almost guaranteed a career in starting following a very solid season, but he'll never be more than a third starter. His assortment of pitchers are all solid, but he needs to start pitching better to left-handed batters. If corrected, the Jays found a steady innings-eater to slot somewhere behind Roy Halladay.
Note: For reasons of not developing carpal tunnel on a single article, this list had to be cut off at twenty. There were five more players that just missed, all garnering consideration. Alphabetically: Frank Francisco, Gabe Gross, Scott Hairston, Matt Holliday, Matt Riley.
While I'm sure the next season will make as much a difference on ranking these players as this season did, I believe it's important to continually evaluate the prospects we cover. John Sickels is running "Young Pitchers Week" at his site, and it comes as no surprise that he is showing belief in the same philosophy.
Finally, can I get a final round of applause for my partner's compilation of the first series here at Baseball Analysts? Job well done, Rich.
Day Three: "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?"
Part Three of a Three-Part Series
Today's column concludes the opening series of the launch of the Baseball Analysts. We would like to thank all of our guests for their time and participation in what has turned out to be a fun discussion of a very popular and dear topic to all of us baseball fans.
Interestingly, only three players received more than one vote out of a total of 39 respondents. Carl Yastrzemski was named as the favorite player five times. Tim Raines won the hearts over three participants -- all of whom grew up in Canada. And Tom Seaver was the number one choice by two New Yorkers.
Boston Red Sox players gathered ten votes, while the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs had five each. The New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers had four apiece, and the Montreal Expos three (thanks to the "Rock"). The only other team that had more than one pick was the St. Louis Cardinals with two.
At the risk of small sample size, it comes as no surprise that the list of teams -- with the exception of the now defunct Montreal Expos -- are pretty much the most popular ones then and now. Geographical biases were even minimized. There was a cross-section of west and east coast respondents as well as those from the midwest. Why else would I ask Bill James to participate in such a poll other than to get some balance in this survey?
With that, we'll start off Part Three with one of Bill's neighbors. You go, Joe.
Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Star: "Duane Kuiper. Watching him made me feel like I could play second base for the Cleveland Indians, too. After all, he only hit one more home run than me.
"I remember listening to the home run on the radio, against Steve Stone, wind-blown, just fair over the right-field wall. My recollection is that Herb Score, the announcer said, 'Fly ball to right, it has a chance, is it foul? No, it's gone. Home run.' He sounded as surprised as I felt. My favorite call for Kuiper though was Joe Tait's, 'Grounder to second. Kuiper bobbles, gobbles, picks it, throws it, gets it!' I also remember that Kuiper's jersey was always dirty."
I asked Joe if he had ever come into contact with Kuiper. "Amazingly, no. I know Duane is a broadcaster in San Francisco. But I've never met him. My football hero was Brian Sipe and my basketball hero was Austin Carr and I've never met either of them. Maybe I'm avoiding them -- who wants to be disappointed?
"I don't have any special memorabilia of Kuiper's, but I do have a Jim Kern autographed baseball. Jim Kern was my very first autograph. I remember he had to go back to the dugout, and I pleaded with him and cried, and he came back and signed. Unfortunately, I was about eight years old, and I didn't know you shouldn't have people sign with pencil. By the time I got back to my seat, I couldn't even SEE his autograph. It broke my heart. Many years later, I wrote the story, and a Royals marketing guy got me a baseball signed by Kern. It says: 'Joe, here's your autograph. Stop whining. Jim Kern.' I cherish that ball."
Ron Rapoport, Chicago Sun Times: "Detroit Tigers outfielder Johnny Groth was my favorite player growing up. He had a couple of good seasons just when I was getting interested in baseball."
Rapoport remembers "that it appeared he might be a big star, but it didn't work out that way. A good lesson for a young boy to learn." Ron never came into contact with him nor collected any baseball cards or autographs of his favorite player.
Tracy Ringolsby, Rocky Mountain News: "My favorite player growing up? Willie Smith, outfielder/reliever with the Los Angeles Angels."
What made you like him, Tracy? "He was left-handed and was versatile. He'd pitch in relief or start in the outfield. I remember his versatility the most. I got his autograph in the bullpen at Chavez Ravine."
Ken Rosenthal, The Sporting News: "Ron Swoboda. I grew up on Long Island and was seven years old when the Mets won the 1969 World Series. Swoboda hit a home run in the first game I ever saw. For some reason, I just took a liking to him. Maybe it was because I thought his name sounded cool!"
Rosenthal remembers "his great catch in the '69 World Series" the most. He never came into contact with Swoboda and doesn't have any special memorabilia of him. "But I was a HUGE autograph collector as a kid -- had more than 1,000. I would write letters to players on every team. The Orioles and Mets were both good about sending autographed pictures back, as I recall."
Is there anybody out there who can say they never wrote such a letter to a player? I remember writing to Johnny Bench during the summer of his first MVP season. I think I still have the carbon copy of the typed letter I sent. That means more to me than the black and white photo with the facsimile signature that I received back in the mail.
Christian Ruzich, All-Baseball: "Bill Buckner. He was a left-handed first baseman, just like I was, played for my favorite team, and was one of the only good players on that team."
What do you most remember about Billy Buck, Christian? "He had bad knees, hit for a high average, and rarely struck out."
Did you ever come into contact with him? "No, but I was at the game in 1989 when the Cubs moved into first place for good, and sat down the left field line at Wrigley with a guy whose name was Bill Buckner."
Do you have any special memorabilia? "Nope. Used to have an autographed baseball, but lost it in the fire."
Alan Schwarz, New York Times/Baseball America: "My favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski. One of the first games I ever listened to on the radio was the one where he got his 3,000th hit, against the Yankees. For some reason I always rooted for him after that.
"Yaz seemed like a quiet, classy fellow who took his craft seriously. I admired that." Did you ever come into contact with him? "Not as a kid. I have interviewed him several times as a journalist, though.
"I collected baseball cards pretty seriously as a kid in the early '80s, and made sure to have all of his cards, even his rookie card, which was pretty expensive. I still remember buying it for $47 and having it complete my collection."
Joe Sheehan, Baseball Prospectus: "Chris Chambliss was my favorite player when I was very young, then Don Mattingly from about 1983 on.
"Don't remember why with Chambliss...the only resemblance to me as a player was that we both batted left-handed. I remember him as a classy, quiet guy on the late 1970s Yankee teams. I can still remember the night he was traded to the Blue Jays.
"Mattingly...I can remember latching onto him even when he came up at the end of '82, and wanting him to get more playing time in '83. He just screamed 'hitter,' and I would eventually adopt his crouch at the plate.
"Both were the quiet centers of some very turbulent Yankee teams. Mattingly always seeming to come up with a big hit when we needed one (even though I know now that's a memory trick). His explosiveness out of the crouch, before the bad back ruined him."
Asked if Joe had met either player, "No, not yet. Saw Chambliss at the winter meetings, and just couldn't go up and say, 'hi.' I was never a collector, but I do have a couple of framed Mattingly pics in my office -- including this 'Hit Man' poster from his peak. And Sophia got me an autographed baseball for our anniversary a few years back."
Now that is an understanding wife. Let's just hope that Joe didn't give her a Chambliss autographed baseball in return!
Bill Simmons, ESPN.com: "Freddie Lynn was my favorite player because he was the coolest player on the Red Sox. Nobody else was close.
"I remember the diving catches the most. . .he made about 500 of them his rookie season. And he used to spray the ball off the wall. It's funny, I remember nothing about actually seeing him play other than his 3-HR/10-RBI game in Detroit, which I vividly remember for some reason."
Did you ever come into contact with him, Bill? "Yes. I met him at All-Star Weekend two years ago. Wrote a whole column about it."
Do you have any special memorabilia? "Yeah, I keep his rookie card in my wallet (the one when he was Topps All-Rookie). . .it's been in every wallet I've had since I was 16, like a good luck charm. He autographed it for me in Chicago and was genuinely flabbergasted when I pulled it out of my wallet. I've been afraid to take it out of my wallet for 15 years because I didn't want to anger the Karma Gods. So I left it there. It's in TERRIBLE shape."
I can relate to Bill's story. I have a 1959 Jim Gilliam baseball card that was torn and so heavily taped that I felt an obligation to keep it. I think that particular card meant more to me as a kid than a perfectly centered card with four sharp corners.
Bryan Smith, Baseball Analysts: "My favorite player was Glenallen Hill. I watched a highlight of Hill hitting a home run, and you would swear he was a superstar. As a minor leaguer, Hill looked as if he'd be breaking strikeout records in the majors, but it turns out the only record he would own is farthest home run out of Wrigley. He was as intimidating as they come at the plate. His face alone in the batter's box would make young children cry.
"Simply put, his name is synonymous with power. It will be hard to ever forget the highlight of him hitting a baseball over the rooftops at Wrigley. That and his face during his stance. The latter still gives me shivers."
Did my partner ever come into contact with Hill? "No, but I'd definitely like to thank him for getting Candy Maldonado out of dodge."
As far as special memorabilia goes, Bryan told me, "Not really, but I do have a Bo Jackson autograph. And it's quite possible no human has ever seen both players in the same room at the same time."
Studes, Hardball Times: "I didn't have a hard core favorite, but probably Tom Seaver, with a close second to Roberto Clemente. Casey Stengel is my all-time favorite baseball personality.
"I pretty much became a baseball fan when Seaver was first promoted to the majors, and he seemingly made the Mets contenders single handedly. The psychological transformation of the Mets from losers to winners was incredible, and he was credited with being the guy who wouldn't settle for losing anymore. One of my favorite all-time baseball memories is the near no-hitter he threw against the Cubs in 1969 (the one Jimmy Qualls broke up).
"Clemente was just amazing to watch. Grace on the field. Awesome arm. Great hitter. Always dignified. I just loved seeing him on the field and watching him play. I lived in West Virginia from 1969-1973 and watched the Pirates all the time. Casey Stengel was Casey Stengel. Say no more.
"Besides the Qualls game, I most remember Seaver's RC Cola commercials with Meredith McRae (the blonde from Petticoat Junction), with Seaver singing. He couldn't sing, but who cared? Meredith McRae! Remember, I was an adolescent at the time. I have no specific memory of Clemente. My respect for him is based on the impact he made every time he stepped onto the field.
"I think you know that Cooperstown is like a second home to me. Spent all my summers there, etc. My Dad was having lunch at the Otesaga one day (with Ed Stack, the Director of the HoF at the time) when he saw Casey Stengel eating lunch at a table. Knowing I was a huge Met fan, Dad asked Ed if they could get Casey's autograph for me. They went over and asked him and he graciously signed the Otesaga lunch menu for me: 'To David, Best of Luck, Casey Stengel' That is my most prized baseball possession."
TangoTiger: "Tim Raines. The little guy on the team (like me), great speed. The game would often revolve around him.
"To the extent that I believe in clutch hitting, Tim Raines was the clutchest player of all time. Well, my lifetime anyway. He was forced to sit out until May, and I was watching his first game back, against the Mets, on the Game of the Week. And he took over the game. At bat after at bat, he was getting better and better, to cap the game with a grand slam in extra innings. Vin Scully was in awe at the end of the broadcast, the way he sounded with Kirk Gibson in the World Series in '88.
"And Raines just kept going that week. In his first four games, he came to bat 20 times, got on base 11 times, with 3 HR, 8 runs, 7 ribbies, and just two steals. And, of course, that great All-star game, won by Raines. He ended that year with 26 IBB, even though he missed one month. Late in the season, I remember how teams would constantly give him the 'unintentional intentional' walk.
"He was to me what Barry Bonds is to today's fans. A guy so feared by other teams, but who other teams did not want to admit their fear so blatantly, that they would throw pitches a foot outside, even though they knew this guy was the smartest hitter around and would not be fooled. I'm sure I can't prove any of this clutch stuff -- and that most of my research tries to separate (though recognize) the human element from the results -- but in the case of Raines, I don't care. My bias on Raines has been shaped growing up in Montreal as a teenager, and that's the way I like to keep it."
Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated: "Tom Seaver. I had the same first name, I was a big Mets fan and he could flat-out deal on the mound.
"I remember the famous drop-and-drive pitching motion, which came to be mimicked often in whiffle ball games."
When I asked Tom if he had ever come into contact with Seaver, he responded, "Several times. First, I met him outside the Mets clubhouse after a game around 1969. Later, as a baseball writer, I saw him at the 1986 World Series when he was with the Red Sox, some time later when he made a brief comeback try with the Mets, and now in his role as a broadcaster.
"The poster that hung in my room is long gone. I have several Seaver baseball cards, but that's because I've kept all the cards I collected as a kid."
Darren Viola, Baseball Primer: "My favorite player throwing up was. . .Mickey Mantle, of course! Why? Ahhh. . .the calming symmetry of the double initials, from my deep fascination of Superman's involvement with Lori Lemaris, Lois Lane, Lightning Lad, Lyla Lerrol, Lex Luthor, Light Lass and Lana Lang. . .which eventually led into this whole Roger Repoz craze.
"One of the first packs of Topps Baseball Cards I can remember opening (from Herman the Germans' Grocery Store circa '59-'60), I pulled a Mantle card. It was the only name I sort of recognized, seeing that I wasn't hep to the underground coolness vibe of a Vito Valentinetti just yet, so I showed it to my pop and asked him about this Mickey Mantle. My Red Sox lovin' dad said, 'Haa! Mickey Mental. He's no Ted Williams!'
I'll let Darren, the man known to Primates as Repoz, tell us if he ever came into contact with Mantle. "A few times at the Yankee Stadium's penal institution holding cell -- known as The Kinney Parking Lot. His good looks in bad clothes, the command in his voice as he shooed us away, the swiftness in which he rolled up his window on us kids, the deftness in which he avoided the gravity adjusted beehive hairdo jabs of his wife Merlyn, the manly handling of his flashy Cadillac as it screeched into the unlit Bronx with kids hanging on like strung-out wedding cans -- it all added to his mystique.
"I used to have a full-length Mantle poster on my closet door in the early '60s, until my evil brother (Marvel over DC, Pepsi over Coke, Beatles over Stones, Curly over Shemp, Sonny Fox over Chuck McCann, Boys over Girls, Education over Beer, Collecting Tropical Fish over Baseball Cards) saw fit to tear it up one summer day. Did you know that an orange Elston Howard batting donut will cause an attached plastic guppy hatchery to completely sink!! Neither did I!!
"But I still have my 'Deep Well, Action Anchored Web, The Finest in the Field,' Mickey Mantle Rawlings MM5 glove from 1961! Of course, it is now held together by staples, shoelaces, Wonder Bread tie twisters, a 24-gauge wire running through it -- and undying faith. It has now taken on all the allure of my 6th grade honey, 'Face-Braces' Sherri Ann Peterski -- wadda sight!"
Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts: "My favorite player was Pedro Guerrero for the most part, with a nod to R.J. Reynolds and a wink at Manny Mota.
"Pedro was perhaps the first real prospect I was aware of rooting for before the major leagues, and then actually coming up and making it, and making it big. And boy, could he hit. I didn't care that he couldn't field, because he could just mash. And he never really got the respect that he deserved, I don't think -- except from Bill James."
As far as memories go, Jon recalls "lots of things. I can still remember a picture of him in the paper as a rookie at second base, of all places. He had a great World Series in 1981, which James explained should have earned him the World Series MVP by himself. I vividly remember the excitement of his 15-homer month in June 1985. I can remember him wrenching his back in the process of hitting a home run, and taking so long to struggle around the bases that Vin Scully speculated in the middle of his cringing home-run trot whether they would bring in a pinch-runner.
"I can remember the little finger-wiggle he would do for his wife in the stands after he crossed home plate following a homer. He was generally a happy guy on the field in my memory. I remember how devastated I was when he broke his ankle in Spring Training '86. He had one more great year after that, but then got traded for John Tudor in the middle of the Dodgers' 1988 season, before the World Series.
"The whole thing with his drug arrest and then getting off because of his low IQ -- it was depressing, and I had trouble believing it, or at least didn't want to."
Jon hasn't had any contact with Guerrero, but he has something to remember him by. "The Dodgers put out a commemorative poster in late 1985 to celebrate his 15-homer month, which I believe was then a record but no longer. I believe the poster is rolled up and in a tube somewhere in a closet with other posters from my youth."
Ahh, rolled up posters. I bet all of us have at least one of those lying around a closet or up on a shelf or in a box in the garage. Let's face it, nobody wants to dismiss their childhood heroes and memories. Favorite player growing up? Hmmm. Have any of us really grown up yet?
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Day Two: "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?"
Part Two of a Three-Part Series
All of us had a favorite player when we were growing up. It is as natural to a young kid as Carl Yastrzemski's batting stance was unnatural. In Part One, our man Yaz took home MFP (Most Favored Player) honors, capturing the hearts of three of the ten respondents. Although his batting average among yesterday's guests was better than his .285 lifetime average, it's more the exception than the norm that numbers play a big part of who we choose as our favorite player.
Yesterday's article drew nearly 200 responses from readers at The Baseball Think Factory's Baseball Primer discussion. In addition, it was the inspiration behind a column written by Fred Claire, who is also one of today's guests, and published at MLB.com and Sportsticker Baseball Notebook at Yahoo! Sports.
The following questions were asked of each of our participants in the three-part series:
1. Who was your favorite player when you were growing up?
3. What do you most remember about that player?
4. Did you ever come into contact with him?
5. Do you have any special memorabilia (baseball card, autograph, etc.)?
As was the case in Part One, the cast of star-studded respondents will be provided in alphabetical order. With that, it's now time to listen to our guests as they stroll down memory lane.
Claire, Executive Vice-President and General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers (1969 until 1998): "My favorite player as a youngster was Vern Stephens, shortstop for the Red Sox. I think I became a Red Sox fan because my brother Doug was a big fan of the Cardinals and Stan Musial. I started following the Red Sox in the late 1940s because they could match up with the Cardinals and Ted Williams was a match for Musial. But it was Stephens who soon caught my attention and became my favorite player. He was a shortstop with power; and big time power.
"I never had a chance to see Stephens play and didn't make my way to Fenway Park until 1968 when I joined the Long Beach newspaper. Your father was covering the Dodgers at the time. When we went to Boston on that first series we were met by two or three days of rain, but I took a walk to Fenway and saw Bobby Doerr entering the park. All of the Red Sox of the late 1940's and early 1950's were great with Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, Al Zarillia, Williams, Walt Dropo, Mel Parnell, Ellis Kinder, Williams, etc. . .but it was Stephens who was my favorite.
"I never met Stephens but I was working the desk at the Long Beach paper one night when word arrived that Vern had passed away. I was assigned the task of writing his obituary. I have no special memorabilia of Vern Stephens but memories of a favorite player as a youngster growing up in Jamestown, Ohio. I later wrote a column about the Red Sox and received a nice message from a member of Vern's family. When we love baseball, many paths seem to cross."
Jon Daly, Baseball Think Factory: "Carl Yazstremski. I discovered baseball in 1975. My dad was a Red Sox fan and Yaz was still the name player on that team. Plus he was Polish (I am 75% Polish.)
"Yastrzemski was already legendary among Sox fans by the time I caught up with him. I think the fact that he was almost as old as my Dad and still playing stuck in my head." Jon never came into contact with his favorite player admits to "sadly" not having any special memorabilia of Yaz. "My brother won an autographed ball for guessing the date of either his 3000th hit or 400th home run, but I don't know what happened to it."
Walt Davis, Baseball Think Factory: "Don Kessinger. That great dash into the hole, jump, spin, throw move. Plus I couldn't hit either, so I liked the defensive players."
The reason Walt liked Kessinger so much is the same he gave in response to what he remembers most of his favorite player. Davis never met the Chicago shortstop and doesn't claim to have a piece of memorabilia that stands out.
"I'm sure I had his baseball card at one point but have never been into autographs and such and the cards are long gone now. My only remaining piece of memorabilia is the game ticket and pin from Barry Bonds's 600th HR game (boy did I take a trip to SF on the right day). Of course with all this 'roids stuff, they're probably worthless now."
Sean Forman, Baseball-Reference.com: "Wade Boggs and Rickey Henderson. I loved trying to get on base by any means necessary and I also loved the havoc that Henderson made on the bases.
Sean remembers "Rickey's stance and all the doubles Boggs hit" more than anything else. He never came into contact with either player, "but I was at the game where Henderson walked and scored a run. I wished that he had stolen a base, so I could say that I saw the walks, stolen bases, and runs scored record all be set on the same day."
Peter Gammons, ESPN: "My favorite player was Jackie Jensen. I think it was because he was so good in every manner playing for a bad Red Sox team in the fifties. He could hit, hit for power, was a great baserunner (former Cal running back), played right field almost as well as Dwight Evans, and in an eight-year period led the league in RBIs. Unfortunately, I never met him before he died, young. I had baseball cards, but nothing special from him.
"My other favorite was Herb Score, Sandy Koufax before his time. Even though I was righthanded, I would emulate his delivery for hours against a wall. Yes, I was listening the night he got hit in the eye, and my house was on Score watch for days. Naturally, I did get to know him as a broadcaster for the Indians, ever the gentleman. In 1991, I asked Ted Williams to name the best lefthanded pitcher he ever faced. 'Herb Score,' he answered."
Brian Gunn, Redbird Nation: "John Tudor. Because he was the only guy on the field who looked like he was getting as knotted-up about the outcome of the game as I was."
What Gunn remembers most about Tudor was "during Game 7 of the 1985 Series, Tudor had just gotten hammered for five runs and would eventually end up the game's losing pitcher. He stormed into the clubhouse, punched an electric fan, sliced open his hand, and had to be taken to the hospital. It was a sad end to an otherwise great season in which he went 20-1 with a 1.37 ERA and 10 shutouts after June 1st. Those shutouts were something else -- the most in baseball by any pitcher since Bob Gibson in '68. It was really a sight to behold -- game after game he'd get that big loopy changeup over for strikes.
"I also vividly remember Tudor's performances against the Mets that year. He had a 0.93 ERA in six starts against the Cards' arch rivals, including two games down the stretch where he gave up no runs in 10 innings. The first one was in Shea, won by Tudor and the Cardinals, 1-0 over Dwight Gooden. The next was in Busch, won by the Mets when Darryl Strawberry hit a gargantuan laser off the stadium scoreboard in the 11th inning -- a blast so ferocious that it stopped the clock at 10:44.
"I heard him on KMOX radio last year during the broadcast of a Cardinals game, and he sounded as pleasant as could be. Part of me wanted him to be more like J.D. Salinger -- a cypher living in the woods of New Hampshire, burdened by Calvinist guilt or something."
What about a piece of special memorabilia? "I've got his Topps baseball card from 1985 right next to my desk."
You've got to love that. So simple, yet so special.
Jay Jaffe, Futility Infielder: "Fernando Valenzuela. Fernando came up as a chunky, mysterious 19-year-old (or so they said) reliever who spoke no English. In the heat of a tight race, he pitched 17 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run, a portend of things to come the next year, when he was just phenomenal, with five shutouts and only four runs allowed in his first eight starts, all complete games.
"That look skyward at the top of his pitching motion is what I remember most about Valenzuela, that infectious smile, the gritty 150-something pitch complete game in the '81 Series, and of course, Fernandomania!"
Jaffe never met Valenzuela but "wrote Ron Cey a letter as a classroom project in '81. I did get to take a picture of Fernando at Spring Training '89. I've got several cards of them all, but it's Fernando who takes the memorabilia prize and probably the overall crown as well. I have his bobblehead and this past winter I bought a customized Dodger jersey with his name and #34 on it. I did get it in my size, so there's no need to put on the extra pounds to fill it out.
"During his rookie season, I had a scrapbook of sorts for Fernando. I cut out the box scores and taped them into a notebook, adding up his cumulative stats. I'm not sure I made it through the whole season doing that, and haven't seen the thing in over 20 years."
Bill James, Senior Baseball Operations Advisor of the Boston Red Sox: "Well, it changes from time to time. My son Reuben, who is 11, has gone through Mark McGwire, Mike Sweeney and Juan Pierre before settling on Manny Ramirez. But my best answer is Minnie Minoso.
"Minnie played the game with vast enthusiasm and a childish disregard for caution. Ball bounced away from the catcher with Minnie on third, Minnie was coming home. He might be out, he might be safe, but he wasn't staying on third and watching. . .
Asked what Bill remembers most about Minoso, "Well, gosh. . .among a million things, I remember discovering that he was really good. I 'adopted' him based on his smile and his headlong manner. It was later, when I got into baseball cards, that I realized that he was actually good."
Did you ever come into contact with him? A one-word answer does the trick. "Nope." Special memorabilia? "I have a lot of junk."
Jonah Keri, Baseball Prospectus: "Tim Raines. Just a bundle of energy, generated excitement every time he made contact and starting flying out of the box, and every time he took a big lead off first.
"I remember, on a general level, his amazing speed. But more than that, the fact that he never got caught. If he got on base in the late innings with the Expos down one, you knew you'd soon have a runner in scoring position. You knew.
"As for specific memories, the game that stands out for me is this one. Because of collusion, Raines couldn't get a sniff on the free agent market. So he became the rare elite player forced to sit out the first month of the season. His first game back, May 2, 1987, he put on one of the most dominating performances I've ever seen. In six trips up he reached base five times, with a walk, two singles, a triple and a home run. The home run? A game-winning GRAND SLAM in the 10th inning off Jesse Orosco to win it 11-7. I was 12 years old at the time, and just remember jumping around my grandparents' living room, where I watched so many games growing up. I still remember that game vividly.
Jonah hasn't met Raines. "Although I became a sports writer of sorts -- including a brief stint in the sports department of the local paper (Montreal Gazette), I never covered the Expos in an official capacity. Actually I did one time, in an exhibition game in Washington, D.C. vs. the Cardinals, but I mostly just hung out in the press box and sneered at Bill Collins and the rest of the cold-hearted bastards who wanted to move the team to the D.C. area, out of Montreal.
"Never been a huge memorabilia guy, so nothing that stands out. My biggest souvenirs are literally souvenirs -- the memories of all the great games I was lucky enough to see over all those years in Montreal."
Mitchel Lichtman, Special Consultant to the St. Louis Cardinals: "Rusty Staub. I was a huge Met fan. He seemed like a regular kind of guy and smart and he was a good hitter of course. It was also unusual to see a red-headed baseball player for some reason.
"I loved to play baseball when I was a kid and I had (unrealistic of course) dreams of being a big-leaguer. Even though I was a pretty good athlete and baseball player, I couldn't relate to most of the "jock types." Staub was someone I could relate to. He didn't look like the classic ballplayer, with his red hair and cherubic, freckly face. Like I said, he appeared to be a cerebral player, which gave me something else to relate to. Plus, my mother has red hair!
Doug Miller, MLB.com: "Dave Winfield. I was a big Yankee fan growing up. I admired his athleticism, his hustle, and his big right-handed swing. He hit the ball harder than anyone I've ever seen, ran like a gazelle, and made one of the greatest catches ever against Doug DeCinces.
"I don't know what ever happened to him. I vaguely recall that he opened up a restaurant a long time ago. Other than that, although he seemed like he could be manager material, after he retired, I never heard a thing about him. If I recall correctly, he was a pretty darn good hitter, at least for a while in his career, although I never have looked at his career stats with my now highly trained and skilled sabermetric eye!"
"I met him at the winter meetings in Anaheim last year. I shook his hand and told him I was his biggest fan in New York. He seemed pretty cool with that despite all the crap Steinbrenner gave him when he was there.
Eric Neel, ESPN Page 2: "Davey Lopes. He wasn't part of the Dodgers' big four (Garvey, Cey, Baker, and Smith), which was cool with me because I've always been more interested in the so-called "minor" figures in any drama. I liked that he did a little of everything well. I loved that he stole bases (right up until he was 40 years old). He didn't say much and he wasn't spectacular, but he had pop, in his bat, in his feet, in the way he bounced up off the dirt after fielding a ball.
"I never got an autograph from him directly, but a buddy of mine saw him years ago in Washington D.C. at the Capitol Building and had Winfield sign a D.C. map for me. I still have that. I have a bunch of his cards, too."
"I don't know why you like a guy, really. Some of it's performance and circumstance (he had good years when I was 10 and my baseball head and heart were really coming alive then), and some of it's a feeling. I had a feeling for him, that's all I can tell you."
Regarding what Eric remembers most about Lopes, "You mean after the mustache? Give me Game One of the 1978 Series, when he hit two out and drove in five.
"I never met Davey as a kid, but I did get to talk with him while working on a Khalil Greene story last spring. He was funny and gracious, I was a giggling, awestruck kid. It was perfect." As far as special memorabilia goes, "I've got my eye on a retro jersey even as we speak."
Retro jerseys, Retrosheet, and don't forget, Rico Retrocelli.
Rob Neyer, ESPN: "Depends on what you mean by growing up, I guess. But until I was ten or eleven, my favorite player was Rod Carew.
"I spent a few of my childhood years in Minnesota and North Dakota. I didn't care much about the Twins, probably because they weren't all that good. But Carew was one of the more famous players in the game, so it was easy to latch onto him.
"I remember reading an article about him, in which he talked about using some sort of weird tobacco/gum combination to make sure his right eye stayed wide open."
Rob has never come into contact with his boyhood idol. "When I was eight or nine, though, I did send him a letter asking for an autograph, and some months later I did receive a signed photo (though if actually signed by Carew, I don't have the slightest idea). I still have that photo, somewhere.
"I have a few things, collected over the years even though I don't really think of myself as a collector (yeah, they all say that). There's only one thing I really care about, though: a late-1940s National League baseball, signed by Stan Musial and Whitey Kurowski for my grandfather during a hospital visit. If my house is burning up, I grab my computer and my Stan Musial ball."
Jeff Peek, Traverse City (Michigan) Record-Eagle: "The defensive side of baseball obviously caught my eye more than the offensive side because my favorite player growing up as a Tigers fan in the 1970s was Aurelio Rodriguez. I loved his name, loved the old beat-up black glove he used for years, loved his bazooka arm -- and always wished (hoped? prayed?) that he would hit a little better.
"I remember when my dad bought me my first Tiger yearbook in 1972, there was a black and white photo inside of Rodriguez and his new bride, Maria. I didn't want to rip the page out, so I used an old instamatic camera and took a picture of that picture, and taped it to the wall beside my bed. Years later, in 1999, I covered the final game at Tiger Stadium, and Rodriguez was one of the ex-players who came back for the affair. I sought out Rodriguez, who attended the game with his teenage son. I told him I used to keep his wedding photo beside my bed. Speaking over the laughter of his son, I asked him, 'Is Maria still beautiful?' I thought his son was going to pass out. Aurelio said he couldn't wait to get home and tell Maria that she had a fan (or a stalker).
"That was the last time I ever saw him. Less than a year later, while he was in Detroit for a memorabilia show, Rodriguez was struck by a car and killed while walking with a friend. I remember seeing the bulletin come across the Associated Press wire and feeling like I'd just lost a family member.
"About eight years ago, I won an auction for a cracked bat that Rodriguez used as member of the Yankees late in his career. I eventually sent it away to a memoriabilia show where Rodriguiez was a guest, and he signed it for me. When the bat came back I noticed a difference in the way Rodriguez wrote the "A" in his first name -- from a rounded "A" in the autograph he sent when I was a kid, to a pointed "A" on the bat. I asked him about that when I met him at Tiger Stadium, and he said he couldn't remember when his signature changed -- but he seemed impressed that I even noticed. As I was leaving he gave me his address and asked me to drop him a line sometime. I felt like a kid again. Unfortunately, the only time I used that address was to send condolences to Maria.
"I've heard (and repeated) many times that you don't want to meet your heroes bacause they will disappoint you. But I won't ever forget the day I met Aurelio Rodriguez. To many baseball fans, he is just another name in the Baseball Encyclopedia, but he will always be a legend to me."
And isn't that what a favorite player is all about?
Dayn Perry, FOXSports.com: "Ozzie Smith. On the pitching end, probably John Tudor, but Ozzie overall. When I was young, my favorite thing to see was a spectacular defensive play. Ozzie, of course, made those by the bushel. He was slightly built, too, which somehow made him seem more human to me.
"The backflips before each game, which, for me, set the tone as 'let's have some fun today.' His left-handed home run off Niedenfuer in the Game 5 of the '85 NLCS was, for me, probably the happiest moment of an otherwise miserable 7th grade year. We also once took in a stray cat, and I named her after him.
"Never had the honor of meeting him, although I did once eat at his largely forgettable restaurant in suburban St. Louis.
"I have a few of his Topps cards, and I have an 8x12 glossy of him that they gave out before a Cardinal game one time. I insisted that my mom frame it for me, and it still hangs on the wall in my room back home."
David Pinto, Baseball Musings: "Probably Thurman Munson. When I started watching the Yankees in 1969, they weren't very good. Munson came up at the end of that season and showed the promise to be another great Yankees catcher and lead the team back to championships.
"I liked the way he blocked the plate, especailly compared to Carlton Fisk. Munson would use his whole body to take on runners trying to score. Fisk would stick his leg out and get it broken.
"When we played strat-o-matic with the 1979 cards, we had a special rule that allowed Munson to die. I had him on my team anyway, and I still have his 1979 strat-o-matic card."
Not even death do us part.
Tomorrow (Part Three): Joe Posnanski, Ron Rapoport, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, Christian Ruzich, Alan Schwarz, Joe Sheehan, Bill Simmons, Bryan Smith, Studes, TangoTiger, Tom Verducci, Darren Viola, and Jon Weisman.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
"Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?"
Part One of a Three-Part Series
The first of my favorite players when I was growing up was a relatively obscure player by the name of Bob Lillis. My attraction with Lillis began in 1960 or 1961 when I set eyes upon his Bell Brand potato chip baseball card. It was from a regional set featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers. The card itself was very colorful, especially for that era.
The photo was taken at spring training in Vero Beach the previous year. I can still picture Lillis straddling second base, holding his glove out awaiting a throw with a beautiful blue background that is as vivid today in my mind as it was 45 years ago. I loved the card so much that the two of us became inseparable. Me and my Bob Lillis card. Well, that's the way things were at least for a while.
You see, I lost that very card waving it outside the backseat window of the family car while my Mom was driving us to and fro. When I let out a cry, my Mom looked back and asked me what was the matter. I told her that the wind blew the card out of my hand. Like the good Mom she was (and still is), she pulled the car over to the side of the road so that we could retrieve it. However, the card was never to be found again. Well, maybe it was but not by a member of the Lederer clan.
My liking Lillis only deepened after he was traded by the Dodgers to the St. Louis Cardinals and then selected by the Houston Colt .45s in the 1961 expansion draft. Why? Knowing how much Lillis meant to me, my Dad took me into the visitors' locker room to meet the player who became the team's Most Valuable Player in its inaugural season in 1962. The handsome shortstop shook my hand, introduced me to several other players, and gave me a tour of the clubhouse.
Lillis sent me birthday cards and autographed photos with handwritten greetings on the back the next two years. Although I went on to favor Tommy Davis and Sandy Koufax during the mid-1960s, I always had a soft spot in my heart for the man whose baseball card I once latched onto and then lost.
When I interviewed Joe Posnanski (Kansas City Star) last month and learned that his favorite player growing up was another relatively inept infielder (Duane Kuiper), I began to wonder if it was more the rule than the exception to favor lesser-known players as opposed to stars. Who better to ask than a group of my favorite baseball writers?
Fifteen of the 38 respondents told me their favorite player growing up was someone who went on to become a Hall of Famer. One of those players was listed five times. Willie Mays? No. Mickey Mantle? Nope. Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench, or Mike Schmidt? Not a single vote for any of them. The winner of the "Who was your favorite player growing up?" award is none other than Carl Yastrzemski. Dave Albee (Marin Independent Journal), Jim Baker (Baseball Prospectus), Jim Callis (Baseball America), Jon Daly (Baseball Think Factory), and Alan Schwarz (Baseball America) each named Yaz as their favorite player growing up.
I asked a talented group of writers, analysts, and baseball executives the following questions:
1. Who was your favorite player when you were growing up?
3. What do you most remember about that player?
4. Did you ever come into contact with him?
5. Do you have any special memorabilia (baseball card, autograph, etc.)?
Today, in the first of a three-part special, I am going to provide the responses in alphabetical order -- starting from the top with the letter "A" as in Albee.
Albee: "Grew up in Maine. Huge Red Sox fan. Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple crown in 1967. Red Sox fans still romanticize about that season. Yaz probably had the greatest September of anyone ever to win MVP. Lived about a 6-hour drive from Fenway so I never went to a game that season but everyone listened to games on radio. You could walk down a street and hear the game without missing a beat.
"I finally met him in 1981 when I was a sportswriter for the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star and I went to a Red Sox-Brewers game in Milwaukee. I was so excited at the prospect of meeting him that I hardly slept the night before. I was 27 years old at the the time. Well, I approached him right after batting practice on the field at County Stadium and asked if I could speak with him -- and he walked right past me. Blew me off. Said he had to go inside and get ready for the game. I was crushed. That was my first introduction to big-time athlete looking down on small-time sportswriter. I didn't hate him for it. But I got a quick lesson in understanding how my business works.
"Don't have any baseball cards of him. All my cards wound up with clothespins being pinned to the spokes of my bike. Oh, well. They smelled good and they sounded good but they ultimately wound up in a landfill in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine."
Baker: "Carl Yastrzemski. My mother's friend was the executive secretary for Robert Lehman of Lehman Brothers and famous people were always walking past her desk. This would sometimes have benefits for me. For instance, she got me Eddie Rickenbacker's autograph. Rickenbacker's name doesn't resonate today but there was a time when he was probably one of the five most-famous Americans alive. Another autograph she got me was Carl Yastrzemski's. His business manager or something knew Lehman. It was on a paper placemat from a Boston Restaurant called "The Fens" if I'm not mistaken. It was personalized, so you can imagine the impact that had on a seven year-old. It made me a Red Sox fan.
"My first trip to Yankee Stadium was also courtesy of my mother's friend. She hooked us up with the Lehman box, which, as you can imagine, was very close to the field. So, she got me the autograph and then, the following season, put me in a seat about 20 feet from the Red Sox on-deck circle where I could see him up close. It's possible I would have ended up loving baseball just as much if these things hadn't happened, but you have to wonder. That was very powerful, formative stuff for someone that age."
Baker remembers Yaz's batting stance the most. "He would hold the bat up very high like Craig Counsell does only Yaz would get results. As I recall, several teammates emulated him: Reggie Smith and Joe Lahoud -- at least for a while. I didn't grow up in New England, but I would bet you there were countless Little Leaguers there who tried that stance and were chided for it by their coaches."
Jim never came into contact with his favorite player nor does he have any special memorabilia of him. "I have lots of collections of things but, after seeing pictures of Barry Halper's collection, decided that it was absolutely futile to even consider collecting baseball stuff."
Alex Belth, Bronx Banter: "My favorite player growing up was Reggie Jackson. He was so dramatic. There was such an element of excitement each time he came to bat, the feeling was almost tangible. He gave me the feeling that magic could happen with one swing of the bat. It was either ultimate success or fantastic failure -- as he lunged after strike three, twisting himself into a pretzel."
Belth remembers "the controversy" surrounding Reggie the most. "I remember feeling a strong need to defend him all of the time. I was really too young to remember the three home-run game in the '77 series, but I do vividly recall his return to the Stadium as an Angel. Ron Guidry was pitching for the Yanks, and I think Jackson had singled and grounded out in his first two at bats before smacking a dinger off Guidry. The entire stadium rocked, chanting, 'Steinbrenner sucks.' I was watching on our 10-inch Sony Trinitron at home, running around the apartment like it was the best thing that had ever happened."
Alex never came in contact with his man. "My mom took my friends and me to the bleachers for a day game one year for my birthday. My friend Michael wrote a nasty placard about Jackson. He kept yelling at Reggie during warm-ups, and Jackson finally looked up, acknowledged the sign and adjusted his cup. That's as close as I've ever come. A dubious encounter indeed.
"I have some of Reggie's cards, none in decent shape. I have a baseball with Reggie, Dave Winfield and Bucky Dent's autographs that I won at a camp raffle one year. My favorite book as a kid was 'The Reggie Jackson Scrapbook.' It's long gone now, but one of those things that I keep on the lookout for when I'm in used bookstores. That was probably my most prized book of my childhood."
Tyler Bleszinski, Athletics Nation: "I'm not just saying it because he's been in the news, but it was Jose Canseco. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that now, but what does a teenager know about steroid use and domestic violence? He hit mammoth, massive home runs. His swing was violent, his speed was remarkable, and he was a dynamic athlete in a sport that isn't always renowned for athleticism. Sadly, we all know why those home runs were so mammoth now. It makes me feel like I worshipped a false god or something."
Blez would like to remember "the home run he mashed that almost made it out of the Skydome or his 40/40 season" the most but realizes "it will probably be steroid use now. Or the headbutt home run. He perfected that move."
Tyler never met Canseco. "Probably a good thing. He might've asked me to juice in the bathroom." Blez doesn't have any memorabilia of Canseco, but he has "a ton of Athletics memorabilia, from autographed baseballs to pretty much every stadium giveaway bobblehead they've had."
Craig Burley, Batter's Box: "My favorite player when I was growing up was Tim Raines. Three things stick out in my first memories of him -- he came up to the Expos in a significant way when I was eight, in 1981, during my first season as a fan. The first was that he was an otherworldly base-stealer (71 in 88 games) and just phenomenally fast. Andre Dawson, who played next to him in the outfield, was very fast, but Raines had about two gears above him and yet another one that he used to get his incredibly quick starts between first and second.
"The second was that he was a bundle of energy in the field and at the plate. He was a very hyper player and seemed much more athletic than some of the other Expos. The last reason, maybe the most important, was that Raines was a very small man. I was a small kid,
usually one of the shortest in my class, and Raines' success meant a lot to me. As time went on, and I stayed relatively small, it meant all the more, especially as he became one of the game's more feared hitters.
"I never really understood the drugs things until much later (I was a fairly naive kid in some ways). By the time I did understand what had happened, I was old enough -- and it was far enough in the past -- that I was able to forgive him. I have never met Tim Raines -- though one day I still hope to -- to tell him what he meant to me as a kid growing up. As for mementos, I have a few favoured baseball cards (especially his first "Rock Raines" card) and a little folded poster that came in a pack of O-Pee-Chee trading cards. But nothing else; I'm not a collector of anything except memories, I guess."
Callis: "Carl Yastrzemski. I was a Red Sox fan, and I remember getting a Kellogg's card of him in the mid-1970s, and the type was real small because he had played for so long. That fascinated me. I was also fascinated by him winning the Triple Crown and his 1967 performance and, of course, his unique batting stance."
As far as whether Jim ever had contact with Yaz, he recalls having "interviewed him once when I was doing a story on Red Sox prospect Jeff McNeely, and Yaz was a guest instructor in spring training." Callis has no special memorabilia "though I still have all my baseball cards from when I was a kid (unless my mom has thrown them out)."
Three for six so far for Yaz. Sounds like 1967 all over again.
Jim Caple, ESPN Page 2: "Willie Mays." As far as why, "Like you need a reason to root for Willie Mays? Well, because he played for the Giants, who were my favorite team and he was the best player in the game."
Jim remembers Willie's "basket catch" the most. "And this amazing catch he had against the Reds on Game of the Week when he crashed into Bobby Bonds. And how he homered in each of the first four games of the 1971 season. And how sad I was when the Giants traded him.
"I've often heard he's a miserable old man so I've limited my exposure. I've done some group interviews with him. I remember seeing him in the Giants clubhouse last spring or the spring before in Scottsdale and he was in such a foul mood that he gave an absolutely unapproachable aura. I remember thinking, how could this man I idolized possibly feel so miserable?
"My best friend gave me a baseball that Mays and Willie McCovey signed for him decades ago. It's one of the few baseballs I have signed by any player. But it wasn't signed for me, it was signed for someone else."
Will Carroll, Baseball Prospectus: "Ryne Sandberg. He was new to the Cubs the year I first started watching them on cable and something just 'clicked.' He was having a nice season and was always solid and steady, even then. Ryne always showed up and played consistently. He was quiet and even aloof, but when he was on the field, his bat and glove did all the talking.
"I was standing on the field with Jon Sciambi, Len Kasper, and Al Leiter at Game 6 of the '03 NLCS (The Bartman Game) when someone walked up next to me. I did the little 'Oh, who's this' glance and it was Sandberg. Sciambi says I went white as a ghost and I know I didn't say anything."
Regarding special memorabilia, Will has "some cards, a jersey, and home run ball #201, signed."
Alex Ciepley, The Cub Reporter: "I cycled through several players when I was young. Bill Buckner, Leon Durham, Danny Tartabull. All these players fell by the wayside, though, when the unlikeliest of guys was called up from the Cubs farm system. Damon Berryhill! I have little idea why, but he instantly became my favorite player. I just thought Damon was the coolest.
As far as memories go, Alex asks, "Damon Berryhill? Did he have many great moments? I guess he had a good at-bat in some random playoff game with the Braves, but otherwise nothing stands out. I do remember his stance, though. He had a fat ass.
"I didn't come into contact with him in person but through letters. I wrote a bit about it in a blog entry a long time ago. In summary: I sent him a few hand-drawn portraits to have signed (I was generally too cheap to send cards), and he always sent them back with an autograph. Once he included a nice note, which was one of the highlights of my youth. My favorite pic of him was actually a three-portrait card I drew with Mark Grace and Rafael Palmeiro on the same page. One of these days I hope to track down Palmeiro and get his signature to finish the card."
From the obscure (Berryhill and Lillis) to the famous (Mays and Yastrzemski) to the controversial (Canseco and Jackson), when it comes to your favorite player, there is a place for them all.
Who was your favorite player growing up?
Tomorrow (Part Two): Fred Claire, Jon Daly, Walt Davis, Sean Forman, Peter Gammons, Brian Gunn, Jay Jaffe, Bill James, Jonah Keri, Mitchel Lichtman, Doug Miller, Eric Neel, Rob Neyer, Jeff Peek, Dayn Perry, and David Pinto.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Welcome to the Baseball Analysts
Richard Lederer and Bryan Smith have joined forces and created Baseball Analysts (http://www.baseballanalysts.com), an online site devoted to examining the game's past, present, and future. The Baseball Analysts will fully integrate Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat and Wait Til Next Year. The new site will feature full-length articles, interviews, and roundtable discussions daily, plus guest columnists weekly.
Lederer will write his columns under the name Baseball Beat, while Smith will use WTNY. The topics of discussion will include college, minor league, and major league baseball. Lederer and Smith will generally write individual columns as in the past, but they will also collaborate on articles and with others on several new features to offer a unique online magazine.
Tuesday's launch includes a column, "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?" This is the first of a three-part special, featuring 38 well-known baseball writers, analysts, and baseball executives. Next week will feature a multi-part series, entitled "Breakfast With Bill James." Lederer spent two hours with James at the Winter Meetings in December and this exclusive interview is the culmination of Rich's "Abstracts From The Abstracts" series.
Be sure to bookmark Baseball Analysts, update your sidebars, and remember to visit us daily.
Five and Ten Story
Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times gets Jeff Weaver's take on the ongoing negotiations (or lack thereof) between his brother and the Angels.
Dodger pitcher Jeff Weaver said Friday that his younger brother, Jered, the Angels' first-round pick in the 2004 draft, was growing impatient with negotiations that have dragged on for more than eight months.
"We had similarities, but I had a different approach - I went back to school," said Jeff Weaver, who spurned a $750,000 offer from the Chicago White Sox in 1997 to return for his senior season at Fresno State and eventually signed with Detroit in 1998. "I know what it's like to wait it out. My brother doesn't want to wait."
Jered Weaver is seeking a package in the $10-million range; the Angels would prefer to pay something closer to $5 million.
Asked if Jered could just tell agent Scott Boras that he wanted to sign, Jeff Weaver said, "Absolutely. Your agent works for you � not the opposite."
The Angels' hardball tactics are obviously beginning to wear Jered down. He wants to sign and, in fact, was hopeful of doing so prior to the start of spring training. Despite previous comments to the contrary, the former Long Beach State ace is anxious to get on with his professional career.
Brother Jeff's comments are not a revelation to me. Three weeks ago, my source was told by a former player with ties to the Angels that Jeff had indicated to him that Jered was about to sign "any day."
Jeff could be doing his brother a big disservice by going public with his comments unless, of course, Jered is no longer interested in holding out for a contract much larger than what the Angels have been offering. Let's face it, if the Angels sense that the Weavers are growing impatient with Scott Boras and his $10 million asking price, they will stay firm at or near the $5 million area in the hope that Jered gets so frustrated with the proceedings that he winds up caving in to their low-ball bid.
Look, I still say there could and should be a middle ground here. Jered, either you can be had or I can be had as a mediator or an agent. I'm here to help.
Mediator for Hire
This morning's Los Angeles Times article (Team, Weaver Are Still Far From Agreement) makes the Weaver signing more a matter of if rather than when.
Mike DiGiovanna quotes owner Arte Moreno as being "cautiously optimistic" about the chances of the Angels signing Weaver. However, it appears that the two sides are still millions apart. The Angels are stuck on the contracts inked by fellow first-rounders Justin Verlander, Philip Humber, and Jeff Niemann -- the second, third, and fourth picks in the June 2004 draft. Scott Boras, on the other hand, is set on getting a deal closer to the one signed by Mark Prior three years ago.
Boras made it clear before last June's draft what it would take to sign Weaver, a pitcher Boras has compared to Chicago Cub standout Mark Prior, who received a $10.5-million signing package out of USC. That's why so many teams with high picks shied away from Weaver, considered the top college pitcher in the draft.
(The Angels) would prefer to sign Weaver for something closer to $5 million, which is roughly what Rice University pitchers Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann, the third and fourth picks in the draft, received.
The Angels are at fault here given that "Angel General Manager Bill Stoneman called Boras shortly before the draft and asked what it would take to sign Weaver. After being told it would take something in the Prior range, the Angels used the 12th pick to select Weaver." As DiGiovanna asks, "Why did the Angels pick Weaver when they weren't ready to meet his asking price?"
Even Moreno can't answer that question.
"We had an opportunity to draft him, and Bill and Eddie [Bane, Angel scouting director] felt we could sign him," Moreno said. "He's a local kid, his brother pitches for the Dodgers, it was a great opportunity for him to pitch in his hometown � we focused on that."
As mentioned in my Weaver Update last weekend, "I don�t see where these negotiations should be as difficult as they have been. Given Boras� admission as well as the framework provided by the signings of Justin Verlander, Philip Humber, and Jeff Niemann, a contract somewhere between the one that Mark Prior signed and those inked by the above trio should be agreeable to both sides."
The failure on the part of Stoneman and Boras to reach such an agreement is troublesome, but I will be the first to admit that I am more upset with the Angels than Weaver's camp. As Scott told me at the Winter Meetings, the Angels have been "disingenuous" and, you know what, I agree. They never should have taken him in the first place -- at least not in the first round -- if they weren't willing to pay the asking price or something close to it.
I mean, if you listed your house for $500,000 and someone came along and offered $250,000, how would that make you feel? How would you feel if nobody else could even bid on your house for a whole year and you were left to negotiate a deal with that one "buyer"? Do you think that would be fair?
Offering half the asking price is insulting and a poor way to handle the negotiations for the most talented and major-league ready player in the draft. In the spirit of trying to get both sides to see the light, I will once again do my civic duty and volunteer the following two proposals:
- $3.5 million signing bonus. $6 million minimum. $10 million maximum.
- $3.5 million signing bonus. $8.5 million.
I want to know now -- which of you is not agreeable to one of those two deals? Whichever side is unwilling to meet in the middle on this matter should be named so we all realize just who is being stubborn here.
Memo to Arte, Bill, Scott, and Jered: I am available this weekend.
Only a Matter of When, Not If
Thanks to Repoz at Baseball Primer for sending me an email to tip me off to an article written by Doug Miller at MLB.com. The headline reads:
Notes: 'Confident' about Weaver
Negotiations still going on between team, Boras
Angels owner Arte Moreno said negotiations are going on and that he was "confident" something would get done soon. Weaver, who starred at Long Beach State, is believed to be asking for a comparable deal to that of Cubs pitcher Mark Prior, who got over $10 million when he signed in 2001.
"Bill Stoneman and Boras need to see if we can close the gap," Moreno said. "... We're real optimistic about it happening."
Moreno said he had a good working relationship with Boras, who works in Orange County and has season tickets behind home plate at Angel Stadium.
That sounds pretty good to me. Like I've said all along, I don't doubt that they will reach an agreement. The Weaver camp has been quite optimistic for, gosh, nearly three weeks now. But the important takeaway here is that the deal is going to get done. I promise that. In fact, I'll bet Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT on it. When it's all said and done, that may not be much of a wager. Stay tuned!
Update: Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 fame beat me to the punch by 45 minutes.
Back in the Swing of Things
Hello friends, I deeply apologize for my recent absence. I blame real life completely, that and some lack of motivation with baseball at a lull for just a few more days. I'm back, and while my posting schedule is going to be a bit irregular with a lot of work hitting me hard, I shouldn't be too far removed from normal. I promise to finish the rest of my rookies report soon, and get those depth charts out to those of you that e-mailed me. Don't forget, you're all saved in my Yahoo address book, I just plan on getting all those e-mails out together. Be patient with me, guys.
So, I thought I'd catch everybody up on what happened since we last spoke.
- First and foremost, let me point out to the other minor league outlets on the web. First of all, tons of congrats are in order for former ESPN writer John Sickels, who now has his own blog over at minorleagueball.com. It has been up for just a few days and looks like it will be a fantastic community, and hopefully I can catch up with John at some point. Also worth noting is Baseball Prospectus, who have begun hinting at who will be in their top 50.
- Brad Dowdy, WTNY favorite and the skilled writer of No Pepper is expanding his horizons, and will be writing about the minors over at Rotojunkie. Congrats Brad! And finally, if you missed the Baseball America top tens, they are now complete. BA is definitely the best, and without their voice starting me on this topic, I wouldn't be here.
- The largest story of the past couple weeks have been injuries to a few pitchers in my top 75. First there was Cole Hamels, who pulled a mixture of Kevin Brown and Matt Bush, getting into a fight and breaking his hand. He'll be out for a couple months as the bone heals, and this coupled with a reportedly weak work ethic has really lost Hamels some points in this organization. He's still an unbelievable talent, and this injury won't do anything in the long run, but now we see why immaturity has docked him down in the past.
- It appears that this spring will have a curse to all disgruntled southpaw prospects, as next was Greg Miller going down. Jon Weisman attacked this issue over at Dodger Thoughts, where we heard why the shoulder surgery might be a good thing, and a timetable for his return. In retrospect I was probably a little too bullish on Miller in my rankings, and would likely slide him far closer to Chuck Tiffany in retrospect.
- And our final southpaw to go down, with the story being broke by Dave Cameron, is Travis Blackley. I loved Travis as a prospect before the 2004 season, but there isn't a person in the country who has not soured on him by now. He was great at the beginning of the season, then he was called up to the Majors, and everything went downhill from there. Labrums aren't an end-all injury anymore, but Will has pointed out that the success rate is not in favor of Blackley's left shoulder. Knock on wood for Travis today.
- Correct me if I�m wrong, but I think that's it for prospect injuries in recent weeks. Moving on to a more positive story, but unfortunately one that I lost the link for, the Braves have decided to end their Andy Marte to the outfield experiment before it starts. It could still happen from what I've heard, but we can now place Andy in Richmond at season�s beginning. For more Braves stuff, check out this article from Rome, their low-A affiliate, which talks about honorable mention Jarrod Saltalmacchia not getting moved up to high-A. What?!?
That's all for now guys. I still owe you a second rookie report and another piece on the '04 draft, and that will happen in good time. Thanks for staying patient.
Clemens Rocketing Up the All-Time Charts
Lee Sinins, in an Around The Majors report late last month, suggested that Roger Clemens has a chance to set the modern-day record for career Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA).
The Rocket is 23 RSAA behind Lefty Grove. How many is 23? Well, Clemens has had 23 or more in 14 of the 18 seasons in which he has pitched 162 or more innings. As such, one would think that Roger has a pretty good shot at surpassing Grove during the 2005 season.
RUNS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE, 1900-2004
1 Lefty Grove 668
2 Roger Clemens 645
3 Walter Johnson 643
4 Greg Maddux 553
5 Grover C Alexander 524
6 Randy Johnson 511
7 Pedro Martinez 477
8 Christy Mathewson 405
9 Tom Seaver 404
10 Carl Hubbell 355
Clemens is fourth all-time (including the 19th century), behind Cy Young (813), Kid Nichols (678), and Lefty Grove (668). The top 16 pitchers in RSAA are all in the Hall of Fame. I won't mention who ranks 17th. OK, I will. Bert Blyleven.
In any event, it just so happened that Lee also reported that Clemens had 645 RSAA in 640 games. That made me wonder how many pitchers had averaged at least one RSAA per game. Using the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, I sorted all the pitchers (including those from the 19th century) with 200 or more games to determine just who and how many qualified for this feat.
TOP TEN ALL-TIME, RSAA/GAME
Pitcher RSAA GAMES RSAA/G
1 Pedro Martinez 477 388 1.23
2 Kid Nichols 678 620 1.09
3 Lefty Grove 668 616 1.08
4 Randy Johnson 511 489 1.04
5 Roger Clemens 645 640 1.01
6 John Clarkson 508 531 0.96
7 Greg Maddux 553 608 0.91
8 Cy Young 813 906 0.90
9 Walter Johnson 643 802 0.80
10 Amos Rusie 370 462 0.80
The answer is five. As shown, Clemens ranks fifth -- behind Pedro Martinez, Nichols, Grove, and Randy Johnson.
* * * * *
Speaking of Sinins' ATM reports, Lee also reported last week when Carlos Zambrano signed with the Chicago Cubs that the big right-hander ranked 12th in RSAA through the age of 23 over the past half century.
CAREER RSAA, AGE <= 23
1 Bert Blyleven 137
2 Don Drysdale 122
3 Dwight Gooden 110
4 Frank Tanana 96
5 Bret Saberhagen 78
6 Gary Nolan 74
7 Herb Score 72
8 Dennis Eckersley 70
9 Dean Chance 68
10 Mark Buehrle 65
11 Dave Rozema 64
12 Carlos Zambrano 63
13 John Candelaria 61
14 Roger Clemens 59
15 Mark Prior 58
Damn, there's that Blyleven guy again. This list would suggest that young Bert was the best pitcher in the post-World War II era through the age of 23. And therein lies one of his problems when it comes to the Hall of Fame. I believe it is human nature for voters to discount a player's record from the early years of his career and place too large a premium on the tail end of one's career. (Fred McGriff will be hurt and Rafael Palmeiro will be helped by this phenomenon, in my opinion.)
* * * * *
And while we're on the subject of ATM reports and Blyleven, how about Lee's latest RSAA table? When reporting Johan Santana had signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the Minnesota Twins, Lee pointed out that the Cy Young Award winner ranked fourth on the Senators/Twins single season RSAA list.
SENATORS/TWINS, SINGLE-SEASON RSAA LEADERS
1 Walter Johnson 1913 75
2 Walter Johnson 1912 74
3 Walter Johnson 1918 56
4 Johan Santana 2004 54
5 Bert Blyleven 1973 53
6 Walter Johnson 1919 52
T7 Walter Johnson 1910 49
T7 Walter Johnson 1911 49
T7 Walter Johnson 1915 49
10 Frank Viola 1988 45
I find it amazing that Johnson, as great as he was, only had three years in which he had more RSAA than Blyleven had in 1973 in what was and still remains one of the most underappreciated seasons ever. Bert, in fact, finished second in the A.L. in RSAA that year (one behind Jim Palmer), yet he placed seventh in the Cy Young voting.
As I explained in Answering the Naysayers, Blyleven "might have been the best pitcher in all of baseball that year. He led the A.L. in K/BB (3.85), SHO (9), ERA+ (158), and -- for 'cybergeeks' like me -- neutral wins* (26); was 2nd in ERA (2.52), K (258), WHIP (1.12), and RSAA (53); 3rd in CG (25); 4th in IP (325); and 7th in W (20)."
*a projection of the number of wins the pitcher would have been credited with if he was given average run support.
Blyleven's 1973 season was essentially on par with Santana's 2004 campaign. However, the modern-day Twin was a unanimous Cy Young Award winner whereas Bert garnered one third-place vote out of 24 ballots.
I apologize, folks. I didn't mean for this to be an article about Blyleven. But, gosh, it's just difficult writing about the best pitchers in the history of baseball without running across Blyleven's name more often than not.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Saturday in the Park
...People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream...
--Chicago, Chicago V (1972)
I went to the USC-Long Beach State game at Blair Field on Saturday afternoon. I graduated from USC but was born and raised and still live in Long Beach. Therefore, when the Trojans and 49ers get together, I figure I can't lose. Well, now that I think about it, I guess I win and lose. Oh well, I'll take being .500. Or to put it another way, let's just say I go to these games to have fun.
Did I have fun yesterday? Let me count the ways:
1. The nearly 2,000 fans in attendance were privileged to watch two of the best college pitchers -- USC's Ian Kennedy and Long Beach's Cesar Ramos -- go head-to-head. Kennedy and Ramos played for Team USA last summer and were preseason All-America selections.
Saturday was my second opportunity to watch Kennedy in person. I was there last February when he made his college debut against the Dirtbags in the same ballpark. Kennedy had the ill-timed task of taking on the number one pitcher in the country last year -- a fellow by the name of Jered Weaver. The freshman acquitted himself well in that game, allowing only two hits and one run in five innings while striking out eight and walking three. He just couldn't match Weaver, who struck out the first ten Trojans he faced (including four in the third inning) and 14 overall in a seven-inning, two-hit, one-walk, one-run performance.
Kennedy's fastball sits in the low-90s, while Ramos works in the upper-80s. I like the young righthander's mechanics and how he hides the ball. His physique reminds me of Tim Hudson and Roy Oswalt, and he mimics Mike Mussina when he pitches out of the stretch. Only a sophomore, Kennedy seems like a good bet to be among the top players chosen in the 2006 draft.
There were two other players in uniform -- Jeff Clement and Troy Tulowitzki -- who also played for Team USA. Unfortunately, Tulowitzki missed his second consecutive game with an injury to his left hand and may be out of action until the league conference begins on April 1. The Trojan catcher and Dirtbag shortstop have been projected by Baseball America as first-round draft picks in the June 2005 draft.
The left-hand hitting Clement struck out twice against the southpaw who was his batterymate last summer. He is listed at 6'1", 210 pounds but looks stockier than that. Jeff has a slightly open stance and takes a wicked hack at pitches he likes. Clement has supposedly improved his defense but colleague Bryan Smith is concerned that the all-time high school home run king may be nothing more than former Trojan catcher and current Minnesota Twins third baseman Eric Munson reincarnated.
2. I sat in the stands behind home plate with my older brother. Sitting and talking to your brother at the ballpark is a pretty good way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Tom graduated from Long Beach State and wore his black baseball cap with the interlocking white "LB" logo. He is a quiet and unassuming type. Heck, nobody would know just how good Tom was in high school if it was left up to him. But, hey, it's my blog and I'm the one in control of the keyboard so let me be the one to brag on his behalf.
Just how good was Tom? Well, he was a first-team all-CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) pitcher in 1970. Fred Lynn (El Monte High School) was on the second team. Tom had a record of 10-0 with an ERA of 1.53. He pitched for Lakewood High School and was the winning pitcher in the CIF Championship game at Anaheim Stadium. I will never forget the final out of that game. Tom spun around and picked off the tying run at second base in a timing play with his second baseman, Kim Hannaford, who went on to play at Stanford University. Four years earlier, Tom and Kim were two of the star players on the Lakewood Pony League All-Star team that went to the World Series in Ralston, Nebraska.
Tom pitched for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in the summer following his high school graduation. He was the youngest player on a team that featured the 1976 National League Cy Young Award winner Randy Jones (Chapman University), the 1978 N.L. ERA leader Craig Swan (Arizona State University), and future major leaguers Jim Crawford (Arizona State) and Bruce Bochte (Santa Clara University), as well as current Long Beach State coach Mike Weathers (Chapman), who played as high as "AAA" for the Oakland A's. Tom even led the team in hitting with a .500 batting average (OK, he was 1-for-2).
3. I also sat next to Joe Reed, who played baseball at Long Beach State in 1955 and went on to become a high school, college, and minor league umpire. Joe was the best umpire in the greater Long Beach area during the 1960s-1980s. I remember Joe working games when I played in junior high, high school, American Legion, and later on as an adult playing fast-pitch softball. Joe is a retired stockbroker who now works as an observer for the Pac-10.
4. We sat in front of Tom Patterson, a local attorney who knows more about the rich history of Long Beach baseball than anyone I know. He has at least one baseball card of virtually every minor or major league baseball player to come out of Long Beach, going back to the turn of the last century.
5. Rob McMillin and his wife, Helen, sat two rows behind us at the opposite end of the same aisle. They were each wearing their black Long Beach State hats as well. Rob and Helen stopped by to say hello during the game, and we spoke for more than a half-hour afterwards. I met them for the first time last July when Jon Weisman invited us to a Dodgers game. Rob and I also hooked up at the Winter Meetings in December. Although there weren't any 6-4-2 double plays, there was a 7-4-5 DP in the top half of the fifth for guys like Rob and me to note on our scorecards.
Rob and Helen are alumni -- or should I say alumni and alumnae? -- of Cal State Long Beach (that's how the university is known outside the sports world). They met on Thanksgiving Day in 1988. Helen, on her way to visit family friends in Phoenix, changed her mind after spending an hour or so not moving on the 91 freeway and decided to take Rob's Mom (whom she knew because both were taking classes at CSULB) up on an offer to join the McMillins for Thanksgiving dinner. And, as they say, the rest is history. Ahh, the romance of bumper-to-bumper traffic in Southern California.
Oh, did I mention that USC won the game, 4-3? (USC recap. Long Beach State story. Box Score. Play-by-Play.) Sorry, the outcome didn't matter all that much to me.
Can you dig it, yes I can
And I've been waiting such a long time
The Orange County Register has a somewhat more pessimistic outlook on the negotiations between Jered Weaver and the Angels than the Los Angeles Times. According to the headline, "Weaver will wait until deal is right" and is prepared "to hold out if the Angels don't offer him what he and his agent, Scott Boras, are seeking."
"It would be a great experience, something I've always wanted to do. But if it doesn't get done, it doesn't get done," Weaver said. "I don't really know what else to say. I hope to have the experience, whether it's this year or next year."
Boras and the Angels have exchanged offers and counteroffers during the past two weeks in the first serious attempt to work out a deal since Weaver was drafted eight months ago. However, a signing does not appear to be as imminent as I was led to believe when I reported that Weaver and the Angels could tie the knot "any day now."
With Boras admitting that they are "not seeking to make Jered the highest-paid college pitcher ever," he is acknowledging that Weaver can be had for less than $10.5 million. "We're seeking something under that. We're seeking a bonus that places Jered in the upper echelon of talent. He's one of the best pitchers in the history of college baseball."
"The greater the talent, the later they seem to sign. Everyone knew going into the draft that Jered Weaver was heads-and-shoulders above any other college pitcher. The other talents were not comparable."
I don't see where these negotiations should be as difficult as they have been. Given Boras' admission as well as the framework provided by the signings of Justin Verlander, Philip Humber, and Jeff Niemann, a contract somewhere between the one that Mark Prior signed and those inked by the above trio should be agreeable to both sides.
For background purposes, let's review what each of these players received. As I reported in Weaver-Prior Revisited last June, Mark Prior signed a five-year contract with the Chicago Cubs for $10.5 million in August 2001, which included a $4 million signing bonus and the following annual salaries:
2002: $ 250,000
2003: $ 650,000
Verlander, Humber, and Niemann agreed to the following terms:
Player Team Bonus Min-Max
Verlander Tigers $3.12m $4.5-$5.6m
Humber Mets $3.00m $4.2-$5.116m
Niemann Devil Rays $3.20m $5.2m
OK, less than Prior would mean a signing bonus under $4 million and a total package below $10.5 million. More than Verlander, Humber, and Niemann would suggest a signing bonus in excess of $3.2 million, a minimum value north of $5.2 million, and a total value greater than $5.6 million.
Although I should get a fee for brokering this deal should it come to pass, I will do my civic duty and volunteer the following two proposals:
$3.5 million signing bonus. $6 million minimum. $10 million maximum.
$3.5 million signing bonus. $8.5 million.
In Seriously Speaking, I used the same $6 million and $10 million bookends and suggested that the Angels -- in the spirit of the Houston Astros-Roger Clemens compromise -- "agree to give in a little to let the player win and, bingo, you�ve got yourself a deal at or near $8.5 million." I said it back then and I will say it again, "that is a number that should work for both sides."
C'mon, guys. This isn't rocket science. Weaver gets more than any player from the 2004 draft. The Angels get the most polished and major-league ready pitcher with the 12th pick and save face by not having to pop for a Prior-like contract. Although the total value would be outside the "slot" money assigned by the Commissioner's Office, even Frank Coonelly (Chief Labor Counsel, MLB) would have a difficult time not endorsing this deal given the extenuating circumstances surrounding it.
However, if Arte Moreno, Bill Stoneman, and Eddie Bane are more interested in keeping Coonelly happy than Weaver, then they need to recognize that the winner of every major award in college baseball last year is willing to go back in the draft if the Angels don't meet his demands.
"I've waited eight months. What's another three? It's a big game. You never know when things are going to get going, but it's definitely been tough. I just kind of laugh at it at this point. You don't expect something like this, especially after what I did last year.
"I just want a team to want me. Whatever that team may be, I'm going to give my all to prove what I'm all about."
Unfortunately, Stoneman seems to have a take it or leave it attitude about the proceedings. "It's up to him (Weaver) to decide when he's going to get going."
No, Bill, it is up to you to offer a contract that is commensurate with Weaver's stats and scouting report. The Angels are either in denial if they don't think he is the best amateur pitcher this side of Prior or are simply playing hardball with the man who may be good enough to pitch in Anaheim as early as this summer and certainly no later than the beginning of 2006.
In the meantime, should Stoneman and Boras wish for me to mediate their negotiations in time for Weaver to report to spring training with the pitchers and catchers on Wednesday, they know where I can be reached.
Counting Down the Days
Tip of the cap to Jeffrey Agnew, the proprietor of DirtbagsBaseball.com, a blog "dedicated to fans of Long Beach State Dirtbags baseball," for pointing me toward a couple of paragraphs in the "Angel Report" in today's Los Angeles Times.
Negotiations between the Angels and the representative for first-round draft pick Jered Weaver are ongoing, and although a deal does not appear imminent, the sides seem to be making progress. Weaver, the former Long Beach State ace who was the 12th overall pick, is seeking a signing package in the $10-million range.
"We're still in the initial negotiating process, talking about the market, having dialogue, exchanging proposals," agent Scott Boras said. "Everyone wants to get this resolved. Certainly, we're trying to move this forward, but you have to understand, Jered is not your typical draft pick. He's major league ready."
I forget, did I say "any day now" or "any week now"? Oh well, I still believe that Jered Weaver will sign with the Angels prior (bad choice of words?) to spring training. It's simply in the best interests of both sides.
Pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday, February 16. Yes, that is one week from today. There's nothing like a deadline when it comes to completing a task. Now that Scott Boras has the Magglio Ordonez fleecing behind him, he can focus his time and attention on getting Weaver signed, sealed, and delivered.
A.M. Race (Vol. 1)
This June, for the first time since the draft's implementation in 1965, the draft order will be decided by the finish in the 2004 standings, worst to first. This leaves the Arizona Diamondbacks on the board with all the options, notably the presumed top choice Justin Upton. In previous years the pick would have gone to the Kansas City Royals, the worst American League team, because the National League received the top overall choice last draft.
What this does is make the race to the bottom of the standings a little more important. While the draft isn't a notable enough event for this to get a lot of recognition, but giving the Majors' worst city something to hold their hat on isn't a bad idea. This idea is one of the reasons the NFL claims to have more parity than Major League Baseball. We still have those $200 million payrolls to worry about, but it's a baby step nonetheless.
Anyway, in tune with the title of this site, I want to begin looking at the 2006 draft. In this piece we'll look at the teams that should 'battle' for top (bottom?) spot, or what I'll call the 'Andrew Miller race.' But first, you�ll meet (or if you subscribe to Baseball America, be re-introduced to) the man behind the name.
My presumed top pick in 2006, Andrew Miller is a sophomore this year at the University of North Carolina. At 6-6, Miller possesses what his school calls a '94+ mph fastball� and his teammate detailed as 'one of the nastiest sliders in college baseball.' Despite near-promises of attending college prior to the 2003 draft, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays spent their third-round pick on Miller, hoping to land Florida's top high school prospect with a big offer. They didn't, and the southpaw would later be named by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Cape Cod League, on the second-team Freshman All-American team, and the preseason ACC Freshman of the Year.
In a close race with his teammate, Miller would lose out the official ACC Freshman of the Year to Daniel Bard. While his right-handed counterpart was the Friday pitcher for the team and won two more games, I really believe that Miller should have won the award. Miller's ERA was lower (2.93 to 3.88), he had far more strikeouts (88 to 68) and thirty less hits allowed (64 to 94) in just six less innings (89 to 95). The only peripheral number that Bard was clearly superior was in the walks category, where he issued thirty-one to Andrew's 48.
That final number represents the Achilles heel of Miller's game: control. In the Cape Cod League, which he dominated, Miller would lead the league with 26 walks in 40 innings. The stuff is there, the refinement is lacking. He would show his upside in seven of his eighteen appearances, allowing a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings. So if he puts it together - watch out.
Another problem that has been associated with Miller is consistency, whether it's the big inning or start-to-start. The latter appeared to be healed as the season went on, as the two halves of his seasons were quite different. In his first nine appearances, Miller had a 3.64 ERA (5.57 RA!), 7.50 H/9, 5.36 W/9 and 8.36 K/9. Things then infinitely improved in his final nine appearances, where his ERA lowered 37% to 2.30 (2.68 RA), the H/9 down 26% to 5.55, the K/9 up to 9.38, and his BB/9 encouragingly went down to 4.40. Should his 2005 season be this good, expect Miller to take the 'Friday Night Pitcher' status from Bard during their junior seasons.
But while Miller was sensational in the Cape Cod League, his half split there was geared towards a great first half. He began the season with a twelve strikeout masterpiece, and only allowed four earned runs in his first four starts, spanning 27.1 innings. He walked eleven, struck out 29, and allowed only ten hits. The wheels fell off the truck in his final three games, with a catastrophic 15 walks in just 12.2 innings. I wouldn't worry too much about this though, Miller will likely benefit from the six months and come back with better control.
I'm not sure if Miller is capable of the sophomore season that Jeff Niemann had in 2003, but I wouldn't put it past him. He doesn't have the polish that a lot of college pitchers do, but he has more upside than any in recent memory. At this point, only an arm injury will prevent Miller from one day contributing to the Major League scene. With this resume all before he turns twenty, I expect Andrew to be the first pick of the 2006 draft.
Now the question is, who will have this pick? While most preseason predictions will cover division winners as well as the playoffs, I think it's appropriate for me to keep track of the 'Andrew Miller race.' For now, the main contenders, ranked in order of who I deem most likely to win:
Kansas City Royals: Preseason, this is the worst team in baseball. The club has one hitter that will contribute any power (Sweeney), and is preventing a second (Pickering) from entering the lineup. The rotation is made of misfits other than Zack Greinke, and the bullpen could be anywhere between serviceable and awful. And, there really isn't a lot stopping Allard Baird from trading it all at the deadline.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Another team lacking a lot of upside. The Reds and Brewers are both improved teams, and the Pirates are now far worse than anyone else in the division. I don't expect Kip Wells, a viable second starter, to last long with the team, leaving them just with Oliver Perez. The offense will be quite poor, though I guess Craig Wilson is everything (and more?) that Mike Sweeney is at this point. The bullpen should be fine and the rest of the rotation good enough to present them from losing 100 games, but not 90.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Lou Piniella always has this team make some little, 'we're for real' run in the early going, and then they slowly trot back towards mediocrity. They might never leave that title this year, as the team starts more and more to build towards the future. If things break right I could see them leaving the cellar, but that would take a lot of crossed fingers. A goal of 70 wins is just not the right way to run a franchise, nor is doing anything to prevent full-out rebuilding mode. Fire Chuck Lamar!
Second-Tier Long shots: Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers
An interesting spin could be if Miller asks for a lot of money, and the Royals, Pirates and D-Rays are all scared away. Then the long shots really will have a big difference in this race. Kansas City's choice in the two-hole this year (Gordon or Pelfrey are the best options, IMO) will tell us a lot on whether they would forego Miller, likely the best talent of that draft, for a cheaper option.
But that�s just another flaw of the Major League draft. Maybe the next 'Free ___' movement can be geared at the draft? For now, I'll just take the revised draft order, and wait 'til next year on Andrew Miller. At least the players give us optimism.
Note: An unexpected weekend trip delayed my second depth charts installment, which I hope to be up some time this week. And for all those who e-mailed asking to see all the depth charts, I believe you misunderstood me. I'm happy to share team-specific requests, just not everything. Thanks for your understanding.
Viva Las Vegas
I was in Las Vegas on Thursday and Friday on business and wanted to share a few baseball stories from my trip.
As my wife and I were walking down Las Vegas Boulevard on Thursday afternoon, we were approached by a salesman (for the lack of a better word) who asked if we were interested in getting Pete Rose's autograph while pointing in the direction of a pathetic man sitting behind a desk with not a soul in sight. Not that I had any interest but I asked him, "How much?" (I was more curious than anything else.) He said, "Fifty dollars." I shook my head and muttered, "I don't think Pete should have to pay me that much."
We laughed and began to walk away when the man hawking Rose's signature took a few steps in our direction, offering a bonus. "You can even get your photo taken with him." My wife beat me to the punch. "That assumes you like him." I felt as if I was watching one of those ads on cable-TV. "Limited supply. Call now and you will receive. . ."
I looked back over my shoulder and took one more look at the former player, thinking to myself that the nickname "Charlie Hustle" was more appropriate today than ever. After checking out the MGM for a bit, we walked past Rose on our way back and noticed once again not a single person in line awaiting his signature. I think he should have named his latest book, "My Prison Without Adoring Fans."
Talk of Rose allows a nice segue into the odds to win the 2005 World Series posted by three casinos. The Mirage and MGM are both owned by. . .drumroll, please. . .MGM Mirage -- pretty creative, ehh? -- and, as such, have identical lines. Paris Las Vegas is owned by Caesars Entertainment (soon to be part of Harrah's) and, for the most part, had a different set of odds.
MGM/Mirage Paris Las Vegas
Team ALCS WS ALCS WS
New York Yankees Even 2/1 13/10 2/1
Boston Red Sox 3/2 5/2 2/1 4/1
Anaheim Angels 4/1 7/1 3/1 6/1
Minnesota Twins 8/1 15/1 7/1 15/1
Chicago White Sox 10/1 20/1 12/1 30/1
Texas Rangers 15/1 30/1 15/1 30/1
Cleveland Indians 15/1 30/1 15/1 35/1
Baltimore Orioles 15/1 30/1 18/1 35/1
Seattle Mariners 25/1 40/1 12/1 28/1
Oakland A's 25/1 40/1 30/1 60/1
Detroit Tigers 30/1 60/1 20/1 40/1
Toronto Blue Jays 50/1 100/1 50/1 100/1
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 75/1 150/1 100/1 200/1
Kansas City Royals 150/1 400/1 85/1 175/1
MGM/Mirage Paris Las Vegas
Team NLCS WS NLCS WS
Chicago Cubs 5/2 6/1 5/2 5/1
St. Louis Cardinals 3/1 7/1 2/1 9/2
Atlanta Braves 4/1 7/1 6/1 12/1
San Francisco Giants 5/1 15/1 6/1 12/1
Florida Marlins 10/1 20/1 6/1 12/1
New York Mets 5/1 12/1 6/1 12/1
San Diego Padres 10/1 20/1 10/1 20/1
Philadelphia Phillies 8/1 15/1 10/1 22/1
Los Angeles Dodgers 12/1 25/1 12/1 28/1
Houston Astros 5/1 10/1 12/1 25/1
Arizona Diamondbacks 60/1 100/1 25/1 50/1
Cincinnati Reds 50/1 100/1 40/1 85/1
Pittsburgh Pirates 100/1 200/1 60/1 125/1
Milwaukee Brewers 75/1 150/1 85/1 175/1
Colorado Rockies 50/1 100/1 125/1 200/1
Washington Nationals 125/1 250/1 75/1 200/1
If you like the Red Sox, then you should place your bet at Paris Las Vegas rather than MGM or The Mirage. On the other hand, if you wanted to put something down on the Cardinals, then you should head over to MGM or The Mirage.
The New York Mets had the biggest reduction from the opening three months ago (60/1) to the current odds (12/1). Can you say Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran? Conversely, the Oakland A's had the biggest increase (from 18/1 to 60/1). I guess the bettors liked Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder more than the Dans (Meyer and Haren).
Interestingly, Paris had a higher line on the Colorado Rockies to win the NLCS (125/1) than the MGM/The Mirage did to win the World Series (100/1). It's too bad you couldn't bet the middle on the Houston Astros by going long at the Paris' odds (25/1) and shorting MGM's line (10/1). A man could retire arbitraging such bets.
Why do such disparities exist in the first place? My guess in this case is that MGM has a lot of exposure on Houston and simply doesn't want any more action on the Astros.
The Race & Sports Books in Vegas know what they are doing. If the casinos were able to balance their takes, they would stand to make about a 65% profit on the ALCS and NLCS propositions and approximately 80% on the World Series. These outlandish margins on futures compare to the more normal vigorish of 10% on standard bets (such as which team is going to win a particular game).
I got a kick out of the disclaimer on the sheets listing the odds. "All bets are action regardless of team change in name or site." (The Anaheim Angels was their description, not mine.) Similarly, the Paris sheet was the only one of the three to concede the following: "If any team is eliminated by Major League Baseball, all wagers on that team will be refunded." That must make Florida Marlins or Minnesota Twins fans breath a little bit easier, at least while Bud Selig is still in office.
MGM/Mirage even offered a proposition on the number of John Smoltz wins during the 2005 regular season. The over/under was 14 1/2. Either way, you lay $120 to win $100. Smoltz must start 25 games "regardless of what team he plays for" or there is no action.
Speaking of odds, what are the chances of having a tire blow-out on a rental car? I gotta think they are longer than those on the Kansas City Royals winning it all this year. I had driven a total of 12 miles when the front right tire of the Lincoln Town Car I was driving literally tore apart. I was close enough to the hotel that I was able to nurse the car back to the parking garage. I called Hertz for roadside assistance and scheduled a time later that evening for a tow truck to replace the tire.
In the meantime, my wife and I took a taxi to The Mirage where we watched Danny Gans, comedian-impersonator-singer extraordinaire, put on an entertaining show in -- of all places -- The Danny Gans Theatre. Gans, in fact, was drafted by three major-league baseball teams, turning down the Royals and the Chicago White Sox before signing with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers. His baseball career ended prematurely when he severed his Achilles tendon in a collision with another player at first base in 1980. Gans went on to play shortstop Deke Rivers in Bull Durham before hitting the big-time in Vegas.
We took a taxi back to the hotel after the show and waited at the car for roadside assistance. The tow-truck operator replaced the flat tire with one of those miniature spares and pointed to a bubble forming on the rear right tire. Not wanting to risk a problem the following morning on my drive to a scheduled appointment in North Las Vegas, we decided to drive back to the rental lot to exchange cars.
When the Hertz representative presented me with the keys to a Lincoln LS, I felt as if I had traded down much in the same way as Jim Hendry when he exchanged a Sammy Sosa model for a Jeromy Burnitz while being stuck with the former tab. However, it was now midnight and I was more interested in getting back to the hotel to sleep than in fighting with the Hertz rep.
Life isn't all that bad though. The Danny Gans Show was sold out, yet we were lucky enough to get two tickets center aisle in the seventh row of a 1200-seat theatre just two hours before the performance began. The tickets had been returned moments earlier. The moral of the story? You win some, you lose some. Especially in Vegas.
Put a Tank in Your Tigers?
In the 1960s, Exxon (between its Esso and ExxonMobil days) launched one of the most successful advertising campaigns of the decade with the catch phrase, "Put a tiger in your tank". Well, with today's news that Detroit signed Magglio Ordonez, I might say, "Put a tank in your Tigers."
The Tigers and Ordonez have apparently agreed to a five-year contract for $75 million in a deal that could be worth up to $105 million over seven seasons. However, "Detroit would have the right to void the contract after the 2005 season if Ordonez has a reoccurrence of the left knee injury that hampered his production with the Chicago White Sox for most of last year and the reoccurrence lands him on the disabled list for 25 days or more."
According to the article, Magglio is guaranteed a $6 million signing bonus and a $6 million salary in 2005. As a result, the Tigers' exposure is said to be $12 million. But, oh my, it is much more than that. Detroit's minimum exposure is $12 million. However, the organization can't just cut him loose if they are unhappy with his play or if he suffers another injury. In fact, Mags could land on the DL with the exact same knee problem for up to 24 days and the Tigers would have no recourse (other than being forced to pay Ordonez another $63 million for the following four years).
When healthy, Ordonez is a very good player. But is he really worth $75 million over the next five seasons when he will range in age from 31 to 35 years old? Given his status, I don't see how he could command much more than a one-year Nomar Garciaparra-type contract ($8 million with performance bonuses that could add another $3 million).
This deal feels a lot more like Carlos Beltran than Nomar Garciaparra. Granted, there is an escape clause in the contract but it is limited to a specific injury and for a specific time period. I mean, aren't the Tigers showing a lot of faith in Ordonez just by guaranteeing the 31-year-old corner outfielder $12 million this season? Didn't Magglio undergo two operations last year? Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't believe he has played in a single game since he went on the disabled list on July 22 with bone marrow edema.
I may not be a medical doctor, but I'm also not a fool. Call me dumbfounded. Again.
Poz: An Interview With a Kansas City Star
Joe Posnanski has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 1996. Prior to joining The Star, Posnanski was a columnist in Cincinnati and Augusta, Georgia. He was named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors in 2003 and has won numerous awards for his outstanding writing over the years.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Joe had the misfortune of following some of the worst professional sports teams in the country as a youngster. He moved to Charlotte, North Carolina when he was 15 and later got his start in the business as a general assignment writer for the local newspaper. Joe and his wife, Margo, live in Kansas City with their young daughter, Elizabeth, and their not-so-young dog, Hilton.
Poz, as he is known in the biz, is one of my favorite columnists. Joe's best work has been collected and published in book format in The Good Stuff. He is outgoing, funny, and extremely knowledgeable on just about every sports topic imaginable. I'm confident that you will find his comments interesting and entertaining so pull up a chair and listen in.
RL: You just turned 38 and, according to one of your recent columns, you still feel like a kid. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
JP: Probably both. It's good for my job, that's for sure. There are probably times, though, that my wife Margo would say I could be more of a grownup.
RL: You and Margo are expecting your second child in about a week. Congratulations from a father of two.
JP: Thank you, it's exciting. I've had friends say that the second child is the tough one because now instead of playing zone you have to go to a man-to-man defense. You know what the first couple of months is like. You sleep about three hours per week. I remember about two weeks after we had Elizabeth, a friend called and asked how I was doing and they swear to this day I said, "Oh, you know, hungry diaper, sleepy diaper, hungry diaper, sleepy diaper," again and again, like some sort of deranged Howard Hughes. Still, it's going to be great.
RL: I know you were hoping to have a son so you could name him after your favorite ballplayer, Duane Kuiper.
JP: Yeah, we're having another girl, which means I won't have a light-hitting Duane to carry the torch. Actually, Margo is a baseball fan, and she was willing to go as far as naming a son Joshua Aaron to get the two great home run hitters covered. But with a girl, we're thinking about Allison Ruth, which is still 970 home runs.
RL: My favorite player growing up was Joe Namath. My son's name? Joseph William or Joe Willie for short.
JP: Perfect. You know the great Namath stat that he never beat a single team with a winning record after Super Bowl III? I don't know if that's true - I've never actually researched it - but it's one of my favorite trivia questions anyway. Why let facts affect great trivia?
RL: Getting back to Kuiper, when I look at his record, I can't see past the fact that he hit one home run in his entire career and was thrown out stealing 37% more often than he was successful.
JP: You say that like those are bad things. (wink)
RL: In the 1982 Baseball Abstract, Bill James wondered how "a player this bad could be given 3000 at bats in the major leagues."
JP: All right, yes, I know, I know. Bill and I already have had some fine discussions about Duane Kuiper (a player I love so much that "Kuiper" is in my Microsoft Word dictionary). What I told Bill was that, looking back, it was Kuiper's remarkable staying power that made me love him. Look, the guy couldn't hit, couldn't run, banged one home run in his entire career (wind-blown shot off of Steve Stone, who was from my hometown of South Euclid). And yet, he was always out there, year after year. I mean, if this guy could play second base for the Cleveland Indians, then I knew I could, too.
Also, he always had his uniform dirty. No player has ever dived for more balls than Duane Kuiper. A grounder could be hit right at him, and he would dive for it. He was the first guy I ever saw do that neat trick where he scoops a ball with his glove and flips it to first in one motion. Man, I loved that guy. Still do.
RL: Now that I've beaten your childhood hero into submission, you're probably reluctant to share with me your second favorite player of all time.
JP: You know, Kuiper was far and away my No. 1, and then there were a bunch of players who were up there at No. 2: Buddy Bell (I could be wrong here, but I think Bill proved that Buddy is actually the worst base stealer in baseball history with Kuiper second). Jim Kern, Charlie Spikes, Andre Thornton and, of course, Joe Charboneau. Oh, the list goes on and on. Rick Manning. Len Barker. Jim Norris. Johnny Grubb. I didn't know you were allowed to root for players from other teams back then.
Later, when I first became a sportswriter, I started liking the players who were nice to me: Tom Glavine, Reggie Sanders, Bret Boone, guys like that. And there was a guy who played for the old Charlotte O's, big slugger, Tom Dodd. He had no position, but he could swat. I really liked that guy.
RL: How difficult was it to root for the Indians while you were growing up in Cleveland in the 1970s and 1980s?
JP: What's funny is, I didn't know that I had an option. I honestly wish someone had told me in 1973, when I went to see my first game (and Gaylord Perry was pitching), that I was allowed to pick another team. That would have saved a lot of pain, a lot of wasted Chris Bando hope, and a lot of arguments with my father, who every spring would say "Oh brother, the Indians are going to stink again," leading me to say angrily "What? Are you kidding? You know this is the year Rick Waits breaks out."
RL: That's good stuff, Joe. You were in high school when Bert Blyleven pitched for the Tribe. What are your recollections of him?
JP: I actually have a funny story about that. I moved to Charlotte in 1982, and I became best friends with a guy named Robert Sadoff. The first time I went over to Robert's house, he showed me his enormous baseball card collection. Man, I'd never seen a real baseball card collection before -- we all had cards, but Robert had them in these great plastic sheets, divided by player, he explained the whole rookie card concept to me. It was a whole new world.
Anyway, I'm looking through his cards, and suddenly there is page after page of Bert Blyleven rookie cards -- 1971, black border, I can still see them. I said, "Hey, I'm an Indians fan, but what's the deal with all the Blyleven cards? I mean he's a good pitcher and all. . ."
And he said: "Oh, they're going to be worth something. He's going to the Hall of Fame."
Man, I thought he had snapped his cap. Bert Blyleven -- Hall of Fame? I mean, sure, at that time I knew players like Dave Parker, Fred Lynn, Graig Nettles, Jim Rice, Steve Garvey, yeah, those guys were Hall of Famers. But Bert Blyleven? So Robert shows me his stats -- I seem to recall he had like 170 wins and 2300 strikeouts, and he was what? Thirty? I couldn't believe it. This guy was going to strike out 3,000 and win 300 games. He was going to the Hall of Fame.
And from then on I started collecting cards, and whenever I was in a baseball card shop, I looked for Bert Blyleven rookie cards. I probably had 20 of them 15 years ago when I decided it was time to grow up and sold all my cards.
I will point out that Robert was not always dead on. He also got me into the not-so-lucrative Rich Dotson and Jose DeLeon markets.
RL: I wonder if Robert would be willing to take a bunch of Clint Hurdle and Phil Plantier rookie cards off my hands?
JP: I doubt it. I tried to dump my 239 Cory Snyder rookie cards on him at one point.
RL: You cast your first Hall of Fame ballot this past year and I was glad to see that you voted for Blyleven. What is it that we see in him that others don't?
JP: I'll tell you, it's baffling. Absolutely baffling. I mean, you know this better than anybody. But let's go over it again. He's fifth all-time in strikeouts. He's ninth all-time in shutouts. His ERA+ is better than every single pitcher voted in since he retired. He threw a no-hitter and, what, five one-hitters? He was great in the postseason. He had, according to my friend Rany Jazayerli, 33 games between 1971-77 when he pitched great -- seven innings or more, two runs or less -- and either lost or received a no decision. Win half those, he's a 300-game winner.
He isn't just a Hall of Famer, he's an absolute, slam-dunk, first-ballot guy. It's absurd.
RL: I don't get it. What do you think it is that the voters see that we don't see?
JP: Oh, I think it's all perception -- just like my first reaction when I was a kid. People simply do not perceive Blyleven as a Hall of Famer. I can only guess why that is -- he played for small market teams most of his career, he only won 20 games once, he never won the Cy Young, his pitch was the curveball instead of the fastball and so on. But all of it is insanity: Two of those small-market teams won the World Series, he won 17 or more seven times, he easily could have won the Cy Young (he was the best starter in 1984 but finished behind two relievers, he had 26 neutral wins in 1973, which is how many Denny McLain had the year he won 30), and his curveball rates as one of the great pitches in baseball history.
RL: Neutral wins? What are you, a cyber geek or something?
JP: Yeah, I got that Sabermetric Encyclopedia and now I can't help myself.
RL: Are you a fan of sabermetrics?
JP: I am. I'm a SABR member. I mean, I'm not smart enough to keep up with a lot of it. But I do love to see numbers broken down to the point where they offer real insight. I remember reading Voros McCracken's ideas about pitching -- hit percentages and all that -- and I thought it was some of the greatest stuff I'd seen. It gave me a whole new way to look at baseball. I'm always looking for that. I don't know why people would be resistant to it.
Now, I will say that sometimes it seems like people just move the numbers around in some sort of shell game, and it just doesn't speak to me. But, I mean, people still living in the batting average, home run, RBI world are simply missing the game. It's good to see on-base and slugging and OPS and a few others make it into mainstream.
RL: Which advanced stats do you like the best?
JP: Well, of course, I like Bill's win shares even if I have no idea how he does it. That's one I just take on faith. I'm a big fan of ERA+ -- to me, that's brilliant, looking at an ERA in context. Plus, it makes my man Dan Quisenberry look good. For that same reason, I like OPS+. Rany's done great stuff with pitcher abuse. I like neutral wins. And I try to like some of these stats that predict the next year like PECOTA, but I have to admit I'm a bit baffled by those.
RL: Which ones do you dislike?
JP: Hmmm, I tend to just ignore the ones that don't do anything for me. I do know as a sportswriter, it's not easy to use new statistics because you have to explain them, and often the explanation either: (a) takes up too much space or (b) is so involved that it halts the story. I know this is an even bigger problem for full-time baseball writers.
So for me, a statistic has to really enlighten. Take neutral wins. To me, the fact that when you consider pitchers getting average support, Jack Morris loses 21 wins and Bert Blyleven gains 26 wins. Well, that right there tells me a whole story. I could write a whole column about that one thing. But then, as you could probably tell, I'm pretty long-winded.
RL: Regarding the Hall of Fame, by your own admission, you are "obsessed" with it.
JP: Yeah, it's actually quite frightening. It's been that way for years. This year was my first vote, and I must have called 50 people to ask for advice. It was absurd -- I called players, scouts, managers, writers, you name it. Then I put together this giant Hall of Fame spreadsheet and compared every player on the ballot with every player in the Hall of Fame -- it was frightening. Margo thought I had lost my mind.
RL: We see almost eye-to-eye on the HOF ballot. We were both happy to see Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg get elected. We're both big Blyleven supporters. We also believe Rich Gossage and Alan Trammell are worthy. I go back and forth on Dale Murphy. I think he is more deserving than any of the other outfielders on the ballot though.
JP: Yeah, probably the only time I went off the board was with Murphy, and I admit there was probably more than just a little bit of personal feeling there. He was just such a class person, and it says very specifically on the ballot that you should consider a player's character on and off the field. I thought Murphy had a good case anyway because for six years he was arguably the best player in baseball. I usually don't like the word "arguably" because you could argue anything. But in this case, you'd be arguing with Mike Schmidt fans, and that's pretty fair company.
I have Gossage right behind Blyleven on my list. He's another guy that in my mind should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer (not that I buy the first-ballot stuff -- a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer). I remember Goose as the most dominant pitching force in the game when I was growing up -- and his numbers hold up. Trammell was my last choice, but I really felt good about voting for him. Four Gold Gloves, good offensive numbers, great in the World Series, he's a Hall of Famer to me.
Of the people I left off, I've heard from more Andre Dawson fans than anyone else (Jim Rice is a close second). It hurt me to leave Dawson off -- great player, good career numbers, class act. But I can't get by that .323 on-base percentage. To me, that's like voting in a .255 hitter.
RL: It's hard to believe Dawson never walked more than 44 times in any season.
JP: The funny one was Jack Morris. I absolutely, positively was not going to vote for Morris. And then Bill James sent me an e-mail where he made a well-reasoned and interesting case for Morris, built mostly around his incredible Game 7 in the 1991 World Series. Like I didn't have enough problems making my choices (Bill didn't say he would vote for Morris. I think he was just being contrary. He did say he would vote for Murphy, however).
Anyway, in the end, I didn't vote for Morris and didn't lose any sleep over it. I really don't see his Hall of Fame case. He had a 3.90 ERA -- which would be the highest in the Hall. To me, if I'm going to vote for someone with that kind of ERA, he better have a very, very, very convincing argument. I don't see it with Morris. Three hundred wins? No. Three thousand strikeouts? No. Remarkable winning percentage? It's good, but below Bob Welch. Cy Youngs? No. ERA titles? No. One season with an ERA under 3.00? No. Brilliant control? No, he was top 10 in walks nine times and he's eighth all-time in wild pitches. Is he better than his numbers might indicate? No, actually worse -- his neutral wins (233 -- 21 fewer than actual wins) show that, more than any top 50 pitcher except Herb Pennock, Morris has relied on great run support.
Brilliant in big games? Yes, certainly, both in '84 and '91 and there are regular season examples, too. Although it's worth pointing out that one year after his 1991 heroics, he went 0-2 with a 8.44 ERA in the '92 World Series. I recall as a kid in high school thinking he was not as good as two of my favorites -- Dave Stieb and Ron Guidry. And I was right.
I told you I'm obsessed.
RL: Like me, you would also like to see Ron Santo get his due. Do you think the Veterans' Committee will vote him in this spring?
JP: Wow, I sure hope so. He is by far the most deserving candidate on the Veterans list (although how can you not like Smokey Joe Wood?). I did not see Santo play -- he's before my time. But based on numbers and all the people I've talked to about him, it's a complete mystery how he has been left out.
RL: Speaking of the Veterans' Committee, as a citizen of Kansas City, you have a soft spot in your heart for Buck O'Neil.
JP: More than just a soft spot, I love the man. He is one of the greatest people I know. He's in a different category from all the other people mentioned, but in his own way Buck O'Neil is as deserving of the Hall of Fame as anyone -- player, manager, coach, trailblazer, scout, spokesman, it's hard to imagine anyone who has given more to baseball. We've talked forever about getting together writing a book; I really need to do that.
RL: You met with Willie Mays, the man you called the "greatest living ballplayer" on Saturday.
JP: Yes, I didn't get to spend much time with him. I sensed a lot of sadness in Mays. Maybe I was just misreading him, I don't know. He's had quite a few health issues. Still, it was great to meet him, now I can say I have talked to most of the great players who were alive in my lifetime: Mantle, DiMaggio, Williams, Mays, Musial, Aaron. I didn't exactly have extensive conversations with them -- the only one I spent any real time with was Musial and Aaron (and Pete Rose, if that counts). I'd love to talk to Koufax someday.
One thing that's interesting is that since I wrote that I've gotten numerous e-mails from people questioning whether Mays really is the greatest living player. I called him that a couple of times but I really wasn't trying to make a judgment there -- I was referring to him that way because I figure that's how most people see him. I do think it would make an interesting argument -- Mays, Aaron or Musial. And, of course, the greatest living ballplayer is probably Bonds anyway.
RL: Not that Carlos Beltran is Willie Mays but how painful is it to lose a player like him?
JP: For this town, it's very painful. I'll tell you what hurts most: Everybody knew it was coming. I think when the Royals felt forced to trade Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, there was this anger in Kansas City, fans felt like the Royals should have been able to keep those guys (and then, the fact the Royals got Neifi Perez in the Dye deal didn't help). But with Beltran, while there were a few holdouts, it seems like most fans accepted three years ago that time was running out on Beltran in Kansas City. It's hard to convince fans to be passionate when they no longer believe that the team can compete for even its own players.
As far as the team goes, while obviously it hurts to lose a player who can do so many things and is so thrilling to watch, the Royals did get their everyday catcher, their soon-to-be everyday third baseman and a serviceable pitcher. I think that's probably a fair haul for a half-season of Carlos Beltran, especially with the team already out of the race.
RL: Do you think the Royals will ever produce and retain a Hall of Fame player for his entire career like they did with George Brett?
JP: No, I don't, but then I don't think that makes them different than most teams. Who are the sure Hall of Famers these days? Bonds -- two teams. Clemens -- four teams. Maddux -- two teams. Randy Johnson -- five teams. Griffey -- two teams.
You start looking around: Palmeiro? Three teams (two of them twice). Pedro? Three teams. Manny? Two teams. Piazza? Three teams. Pudge? Three teams. Alomar? Five teams.
I'm glad that Larkin won't play for another team, if indeed that works out. There are other potential Hall of Famers who have so far stayed with one team -- Frank Thomas, maybe? Derek Jeter, maybe? Todd Helton? I'm sure I'm missing someone obvious.
In any case, it will be harder obviously for the Royals to keep a great player. But I will say this: They did manage to keep Mike Sweeney, and while he is not exactly hammering his way to Cooperstown at the moment, he was putting up George Brett offensive numbers for a while there. In Kansas City, people and players hear so much about George -- and, of course, he's still so prominent here -- that there is a certain appeal to being "like George Brett," and staying in KC. Players do talk about it.
I will also say this: George Brett has told me more than once that if he was playing today there is no chance he would stay his whole career in Kansas City. There's too much money to be had.
RL: Is Zack Greinke the second coming of Bret Saberhagen?
JP: Whew, I'm a big fan. This is one of the big disagreements I have with Bill James. He doesn't see too much in Greinke -- thinks his stuff has topped out, thinks he's not a strikeout guy, etc. I hate to be on the other side of Bill -- usually that means I'm wrong -- but I disagree. I think Greinke's stuff will get better, it got better as last year went along. And his stuff is pretty good now. He can get his fastball into mid-90s, he's got a decent slider, a plus changeup, a curve that's been clocked at 49 and he's fooled around with a knuckler. He's already got astonishing command. He doesn't walk anybody. He's a little bit off-center, which is good for pitchers. I think he's like some sort of pitching savant -- hard to know who to compare him to. Saberhagen's not a bad comparison. But, as always, I could be wrong.
RL: What is your take on Mark Teahen, the Royals so-called third baseman of the future?
JP: Like comedian Ron White says: I like him. I don't love him. I like him. I haven't seen much, but from what I have seen I think he's above average defensively, he'll hit .280-.300, he'll provide a little power as he gets older, I think he's a lot like a young Joe Randa, which isn't a bad thing to be. He does strike out an awful lot, and I wouldn't mind seeing a few more walks either. I mean he does come out of the Oakland organization.
RL: While we're on the subject of Kansas City, you and Chiefs running back Priest Holmes have been known to play a game or two of chess. Who has uttered the words "check mate" the most often?
JP: Oh, he's won many, many more games than I have. In fact, he was at a speaking engagement once, and someone asked him about our games, and he said, "Joe's a good player, but he chokes." Great to hear those words from a superstar running back. I will say though that a little while ago, I went to do a column on him in San Antonio, and he wanted to play some chess at, of all places, a Hooter's near his house. Maybe he thought it would distract me, I don't know, but whatever the case I beat him three straight games, and we have not played since.
RL: Your friend Rany Jazayerli says you "see the world through a different shade of glasses than most people do." Are you an optimist by nature?
JP: Oh yeah. Especially around sports. I remember when I went to my first Olympics, 1996 in Atlanta. Man, there was all this grumbling -- the buses are late, the accommodations are bad, the traffic is terrible, the restaurants suck, on and on. And all the while I'm thinking: This is great! I'm at the Olympics! I will never forget this: They gave us these little cards which we could put into any Coca-Cola machine in Atlanta and get a free Coke. It was the greatest thing. So I see this journalist put in his card, get his free Coke, he holds it up and shouts angrily, "Ugh! Warm!"
Right then, I promised myself I would never be like that. You've probably heard the old joke: How many sportswriters does it take to change a light bulb? None, they just sit in the dark and complain. I think it's bad for us to have that reputation. Lots of sportswriters do appreciate and love what they do. Lots of them know what a great lift this is -- shoot, we write about sports. Sure, there are lousy parts of the job, and we do write about drugs and crime and DUIs, and sometimes the teams do suck, and sometimes the players are jerks and all those things. But I figure 99.97 percent of the time, this is the greatest gig on earth. I was sitting next to John Lowe during last year's playoffs, he writes for the Detroit Free Press, and we were watching Carlos Beltran, and he said, "Isn't baseball a great game?"
I liked that a lot.
RL: You have also been described by others as a sentimentalist and I noticed that you like to write human interest stories.
JP: I do like a good story. I probably am a sentimentalist, although I don't cry at movies. There's an old line that column writing is like pitching -- gotta mix in fastballs and curves and changeups and maybe an occasional screwball. I'm always working on that mix.
RL: You have covered much more than just baseball over the years, including the Olympics, Super Bowls, Final Fours, and every major golf championship. Which one event stands out the most?
JP: One event? Hmm. Probably Tiger Woods winning the Masters in '97. I was a columnist in Augusta for three years before that, so I could appreciate what an extraordinary moment that was. Then, I would say being in Yankee Stadium after Derek Jeter hit the home run to win that World Series game so soon after 9/11 -- with the crowd staying and singing "New York, New York" over and over again, that was incredible. Then I was in Australia when Rulon Gardner beat the unbeatable Russian -- that has to be the greatest sports moment I will ever witness when I had absolutely no idea what was happening. That's three events, but oh well.
RL: What is your favorite baseball book of all time?
JP: My first instinct is to say "The Boys of Summer" because that was the one that made me want to be a sportswriter (along with Frank Deford's "The World's Tallest Midget"). I love my "Bill James Historical Abstract," of course. I'm a huge Phillip Roth fan and "The Great American Novel" is on my list. And, you know what? I liked "Moneyball", too.
RL: Which sportswriter or columnist do you most admire?
JP: Jim Murray was the sun and the moon -- I was more nervous meeting him than Mantle or Mays. But, since you probably mean living sportswriters, I'd need to pick someone I don't know well or I'll tick off somebody. I mean, I think the world of Mike Vaccaro at the New York Post and the L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke, among many others, but I'd consider them friends. I don't want to upset any of my buddies, so I'll give you two non-newspaper guys that I don't know at all but love reading: The New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell, who is not technically a sportswriter but I find his writing relates beautifully to sports, and ESPN's Sports Guy, who I think is hysterically funny and has also said nice things about me. And as far as admiration goes, I think Nick Hornby is utterly brilliant -- "Fever Pitch" is one of the five best sports books ever written.
RL: Do you think it is possible that bloggers and others whose primary forum is the Internet could one day become members of the Baseball Writers Association of America?
JP: I wonder about that. There would be a lot to overcome -- the Baseball Writers Association isn't necessarily the most open group in the world. A little old-fashioned. All right, more than just a little old-fashioned. I think of the line we used to use about Augusta National: "Come to the Augusta National gift shop, your confederate money is still good here." I don't think it's too swift or forward-thinking to ignore the Internet. Then, I think Bill James should go to the Baseball Hall of Fame and I'm not exactly sure how that could happen either.
RL: James belongs in the Hall of Fame, for sure. I mean, c'mon. He's even met the test for Black Ink, he has a World Series ring, and he's done so much more. In fact, I recently argued that Bill has had as much impact in terms of how we think about the game as anyone.
JP: There is no doubt about it. Shoot, if only because he helped people to realize that batting average tells a very small part of the story and players don't really peak at 32, he should be in the Hall. Bill's the greatest.
RL: You have been known to keep tabs on what's happening over at Baseball Primer.
JP: Oh, absolutely. I check there all the time. They find great stories. And I think a lot of the comments are inspired. I try to never read comments about my own stories though -- no good to do that. Most of the people who post there are much smarter than me, and I don't want to read what I screwed up.
RL: Darren Viola, also known as Repoz, is undoubtedly one of the most culturally complete and wittiest guys in the baseball blogosphere.
JP: He's great. He e-mailed me a while back, and I told him that his lead-ins to the stories are brilliant -- they're better than most sports writing in America.
RL: I'm not going to try to compete with Repoz on lead-ins. But maybe I can come up with a fitting ending to our interview. . .How 'bout we take a Poz here but only if you will agree to have another Cup O' Joe with me down the road?
JP: I'd work on the lead-ins. But we'll have that coffee anytime you like.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]