For the Record
At one point, Labine retired future Hall of Famer Stan Musial 49 consecutive times.
Even though Tom Lasorda called Labine "one of the finest pitchers to ever play the game," I didn't think Gurnick's statement passed the smell test. As such, I checked Labine's pitching vs. batting record at Baseball-Reference.com. I scrolled down and learned that Musial was 1-for-13 with 4 BB vs. Labine. I clicked on Stan the Man's name and was directed to a more detailed page. I was reminded that the data only covered 1957-on (which is as far back as Retrosheet, the provider of this information, goes - at least at this point in time).
Given that Labine made his major-league debut in 1950, it was clear that the pitching vs. batting record was incomplete. I sent my friend Dave Smith, the creator of Retrosheet, an email with "Hyperbole?" in the subject title, asking if he could shed some light on this subject. Dave wrote back, "Hyperbole is way too polite a word. I first prepared this report in 1999 when I saw the story for the first time. Here are the numbers. I will contact the MLB site to explain how incorrect the claim is - he didn't even face him 49 times!"
Career results of Stan Musial vs Clem Labine:AB H 2B 3B HR BB HP SO SF RBI AVG OBP SLG 42 10 1 1 1 6 0 2 0 3 .238 .333 .381
A little investigative work later and the fable was removed from Gurnick's article.
Update: As it turns out, there are a number of sites guilty of perpetuating this myth.
- Rich Lederer, 3/2/07, 8:00 p.m. PST
- Rich Lederer, 3/2/07, 9:50 p.m. PST
Los Angeles Angels
- Rich Lederer, 3/3/07, 9:15 a.m. PST
- Jeff Albert, 3/3/07, 2:55 p.m. CST
When all else is equal, striking out infrequently is better than the alternative, but rarely is everything equal. I mention all of this in light of Mike Schmidt's recent comments about Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell, during which he referred to the pair as "mediocre" and cited their high number of strikeouts as the reason why.
Pat Burrell is not "mediocre." Adam Dunn is sure as hell not "mediocre." Both strike out a lot, but both also make outs of any kind more rarely than most of their peers. And yet here is what Dunn had to say regarding Schmidt's criticism. From a piece by Jayson Stark of ESPN.com:
"Well, that's a Hall of Fame opinion. I'm not proud of it, either. But I don't need somebody going around saying it when I already know it. I don't need to hear it from people. I think some of these guys forget how hard the game was."
It's nice that Dunn processes criticism and wants to get better but I am surprised that he does not seem to recognize just how good of a hitter he is. And I bet he is not alone in this regard. Perception becomes reality, even to the most accomplished players. I wonder if, say, Bobby Grich and Dwight Evans realize how good they were. Dunn may have struggled in 2006 for Cincinnati but still is a career .245/.380/.513 hitter, Hall of Fame neighborhood numbers if he can sustain them over a long career. There is a tendency by baseball fans, players and media - heck, by humans - to dwell on what an individual cannot do instead of appreciating all of the things a given person does well.
Dunn may strike out a lot and he arguably is falling a bit short of his potential, but he is a very good player. It would be nice if the next time someone points out all of the strikeouts Dunn racks up, that the critic would give equal play to Dunn's ability to draw bases on balls and his impressive yearly HR per AB numbers.