Saturday, January 22, 2005

January 22th, 1992

Bill Bean Released By Angels

That's not Billy Beane, who is now the A's GM, although you could be forgiven for mixing them up. Bill Bean ended his career with a line of .226/.266/.308 over the course of 478 at-bats, while Billy Beane ended his career with a line .219/.246/.296 over the course of 301 at-bats. Had each of their lives ended the same day as their playing career, the best hope for immorality would have been being selected to be the picture next to Fifth Outfielder if that term ever made it to the OED. Instead, both are now recognizable in the baseball world, and outside of it. Billy Beane's sucess as general manager of the OaklandA's is well-known and chronicled in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Three years after his retirement, Bill Bean came out and wrote a book of his own, Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life in and Out of Major League Baseball. I imagine that neither Bill or Billy had as their life goal to be famous for anything besides playing baseball. It does go to show however, that success can often be found where one least expects it.

Friday, January 21, 2005

January 21th, 1969

Stan Musial Elected to Hall of Fame

Continuing the theme from yesterday of underappreciated figures in baseball history, we come to Stan Musial. Stan Musial, is without question, the most criminally overlooked and underappreciated player in all of baseball history. That sounds like hyperbole, but really, its not. Musial is one of the best players of all-time, a member of the quartet of all-time great left fielders (along with Williams, Henderson and Bonds) and yet in the MasterCard All-Century Team vote Musial actually received fewer votes than Ozzie Smith, Roberto Clemente or Pete Rose. Smith is a shortstop, the tragic nature of Clemente's death probably influenced many (although, and not to take anything away from the man, he was thirty-seven at the time of his death and unlikely to improve his career numbers significantly) so let's compare Musial to Pete Rose, who received more than 50,000 votes more than “The Man”

Rose, of course, ended his career with the most hits ever: 4,256 a record unlikely to be topped. Musial finished with 3,630 or 626 less than Rose. That is Rose's advantage. Musial's advantage is nearly everything else. Although Musial has fewer hits than Rose, he sports a higher career batting average .331 (that's 30th all-time) to Rose's .303, an advantage of twenty-eight points. Musial also got on base 42% more often for his career than did Rose, and still holds the 22nd best on-base percentage of all-time.

To truly see the difference between Rose and Musial however, a slightly more advanced metric is needed. OPS is a measure of on-base percentage (how often one gets on base) and slugging percentage (what kind of power one has) added together. OPS+ is a measure of OPS adjusted for the league average. Thus, posting an OPS+ of 125 means a player had an OPS 25% better than the league average. This allows relatively easy comparison of players across different eras. The version I use is also adjusted for park. Musial led his league in OPS+ six times. For his whole career, up to age 42, Musial never once had a season where he was below league average. In contrast, Rose never led his league in OPS+, and finished in the top ten just three times. His career OPS+ is just 118 and he was below league average seven times. Perhaps the most striking statistic is this: In Rose's best season he posted an OPS+ of 158. Over the course of his career, Stan Musial posted an OPS+ of 159. Musial's average season was better than Rose's best.

This is not just to dump on Pete Rose (if I was going to dump on Pete Rose, I wouldn't start with his playing career anyway) but to demonstrate the greatness of Stan Musial. Despite the offensive explosion of the 1990s, Musial is still in the top ten all-time in runs, hits, total bases, doubles, RBIs, extra base hits and times on base. He won more than 93% of the vote when he was elected (on the first ballot) to the Hall of Fame, is a three time MVP and a twenty-four time All-Star. Long retired and a relatively modest figure, Musial is unlikely to be "discovered" and declared brilliant. But he deserves far, far more credit than he receives.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

January 20th, 1997

Curt Flood Dies

Curt Flood too often ends up a footnote in baseball history, the man who "failed" in challenging the reserve clause where Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally succeeded. This is a great shame, as Flood deserves far better. A lifetime .293 hitter, Flood was also widely regarded as an exceptional center fielder, winning seven Gold Gloves. Following the 1969 season, Flood was traded (along with others) to Philadelphia. Flood was unhappy at being traded from the Cardinals, with whom he had won two World Series and three pennants to the generally mediocre Phillies, and more to the point, to being traded to Philadelphia, a city he viewed as racist. Flood also objected to the notion that players were mere property who could be moved around without their consent or input.

Flood sent a letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn asking Kuhn to declare him a free agent. When Kuhn (predictably) declined, Flood flied suit. The suit alleged baseball's Reserve Clause (which bound a player to a team until he was traded or released) was unconstitutional. Flood's action marked the effective end of his career, although the suit would not be resolved until the Supreme Court ruled against him in Flood v. Kuhn in 1972, Flood sacrificed his $100,000 salary for 1970 and would play just 13 games after 1969. Flood spent much of the rest of his life (when he died was just fifty-nine) in
Europe although he did publish an autobiography The Way It Is. Despite Flood's failure, many observers, both in the legal and sports community believe he demonstrated the inherent flaws of the Reserve Clause. In 1975, less than three years after Flood lost his case, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally: the Reserve Clause was dead and free agency born in its wake. Messersmith, McNally and Marvin Miller all deserve praise for their role in ending the reserve clause, but no one more than Curt Flood, who ended his career to stand up for what he believed in.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

January 19th, 1900

Marty Bergen Dies

You could also make a movie out of the life of Marty Bergen, but it would lack the uplifting sprit of The Rookie. Bergen was a catcher for the Boston Beaneaters (the franchise that would become, after much movement, the Atlanta Braves) in the 1890s. In the 1899 Bergen suffered from various fits, at one point leaving the team claiming cruel treatment from his manager and fellow players. He also suffered what some believed to be a career ending hip injury. Furthermore, in October of 1899, family members began to express concern that Bergen was going insane. (One of family was surely brother Bill Bergen, who played from 1901-11 and is probably the worst hitter of any long-tenured Major Leaguer.)

On the morning of January 19th, their fears were horrifyingly confirmed.
Bergen's father entered the house and saw the bodies of Bergen's wife and his two children, ages six and a half and three. All were dead from multiple blows from an axe, which lay near the bodies. Upon further examination, Bergen's body was found in an adjoining room. Bergen had slit his throat with razor, doing so with such force that he nearly decapitated himself. The police ruled the incident a murder-suicide, with the common knowledge that something had gone terribly wrong in Bergen's brain and caused him to murder his family.

January 19th, 1964

Jim Morris Born

Wow! Drafted in the early 80s, out of baseball for years then makes a remarkable comeback inspired by the play of the high school baseball team he coaches. You could make a movie out of a story like that!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

January 18th, 1934

Dizzy Dean Predicts St. Louis Cardinals will win pennant

Dean--who incidentally was born on January 16th--actually went even farther than a pennant prediction. He predicted he would win 20 to 25 games and that his brother Paul would win 18 to 20. Dizzy was two out of three, the Cardinals did win the pennant (and the World Series, over Detroit in seven games with Dizzy throwing a shut out in Game 7) and Paul Dean won 19 games. Dizzy was either conservative or modest, he won 30 games, rather than the 20-25 he predicted for himself. Despite the passing of more than seventy years, Dean's 30-7 record remains the last thirty game winner in the National League (the last in MLB belongs to Denny McLain in 1968).

Dean was something of an outspoken figure; his pennant prediction is not out of line with the rest of quotable career. Dean is thought to have been the man who coined the phrase "It ain't bragging if you can back it up" and also noted that "anybody who's ever had the privilege of seeing me play knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world." Dean's career ended relatively suddenly, while pitching in the 1937 All-Star Game, Earl Averill lined a ball off Dean's foot. The ball broke Dean's toe, and in compensating for the injury, Dean hurt his arm. After averaging 287 IP the first six seasons of his career, Dean would throw just 230 in the last five, including four innings in a 1947 "comeback" with the St. Louis Browns.

January 18th, 1964

Brady Anderson Born

Brady Anderson is remembered for two things: His distinctive sideburns and his fantastically fluky 1996 season. Anderson's sideburns as can be seen clearly here or here, were quite something and made the long-time Oriole centerfield a memorable sight. Even more memorable however, was Anderson's 1996 season. To say that it was wildly divergent from the rest of his career doesn't quite do the season justice. It represented Anderson's career high in every important offensive statistic except stolen bases and on-base percentage. Anderson's 50 home runs in 1996 are exactly 20% of his career 210 home runs and his 110 RBIs represent almost 15% of his career RBI. For some historical perspective, if Hank Aaron had 20% of his home runs and 15% of his RBIs in one season, he would've hit 151 HRs and 330 RBIs. The next season Anderson suffered the second largest drop in home runs in the history of the game, going from 50 to just 18. Anderson retired after the 2002 season, never coming close to matching the totals. Big sideburns and a brief period of inexplicable success...hmm, who does that remind me of?

Monday, January 17, 2005

January 17th, 2002

Jermaine Dye Re-Signs with Oakland A's

Dye had been acquired in a three-team trade with Kansas City and Colorado, which at the time seemed a comical fleecing on the part of Billy Beane of his counterpart in Kansas City, Allard Baird. In exchange for Dye, who was hitting .272/.333/.417 for Kansas City and represented a serious upgrade over the Terrance Long/Jeremy Giambi team that had been playing there, Beane gave three prospects to the Rockies, who in turn passed onto Kansas City shortstop Neifi Perez. At the time of the trade, Baird was quoted as saying "The shortstop position is a premium position, so obviously we are excited about acquiring a young, accomplished player like Neifi Perez." There's nothing wrong with the first half of Baird's statement, but the second bit is laughable, not only was Perez not an "accomplished" player and he was, in fact, a year older than Dye!

The trade initially paid off in spades with the A's as Dye hit almost .300 the rest of the season and helped the A's take a 2-0 lead against the Yankees in the ALDS. The A's would drop Game 3 at home (which featured the now famous "Jeter Flip" to retire a non-sliding Jeremy Giambi) and in Game 4 with the Yankees already leading 4-0 and momentum seemingly have shifted, Dye fouled an Orlando Hernandez pitch off his leg. The impact shattered Dye's left tibia and knocked him out for the rest of
Oakland's season, which as it happened was only the remainder of Game 4 and Game 5.

Despite the injury, Billy Beane signed Dye to a three year extension worth more than thirty million over the life of the deal. The deal represented one of only two truly large missteps by Beane during his tenure as A's GM (the other being the signing of Arthur Rhodes as the team's closer for the 2004 season). Dye represented over 20% of the Oakland payroll for the three years of his contract, yet played in less than 70% of their games over that span, including a pitiful 2003 where he failed to lift his average over .200, played in just sixty-five games, and had to be pinch-hit for in the ninth inning of Game 5 against Boston.
Oakland was finally liberated from his contract after this past season. Shortly thereafter, Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox signed Dye for two years, 10.15 million, thus proving that there will always be people with more money than sense.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

January 16th, 1957

Steve Balboni Born

If Steve Balboni could do nothing else, he could hit the long ball. Unfortunately for Steve, he could do nothing else. He couldn’t hit for average (lifetime .229) couldn’t draw a walk (lifetime on-base percentage of .293), couldn’t steal a base (lifetime three attempts, one sucess), couldn’t play anywhere but first (lifetime 630 games at 1B, 0 elsewhere) and couldn’t even play first that well (lifetime .989 fielding percentage). Steve played parts of eleventh majors seasons however, because he hit home runs at a pace comparable to Aaron and Mays. There’s something reassuring—almost inspirational—in his success, knowing that a man with just one skill can spend eleven years at the highest level of his profession.

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