Sunday, September 17, 2006


We're going to attempt a revival here, for anyone interested. Postings will probably only be once or twice a month, so do not look for something every week.

One focus is going to be on the 'little stars' of the game. Those players who were good but perhaps not Hall of Fame caliber; players with above average skills who helped make the 'big stars' look good.

More later.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


By Stockton

The Most Valuable Player Award is perhaps the most prestigious annual award in Baseball. The award is presented by the Baseball Writers Association of America to the player who is "most valuable". The term "most valuable" is a term of art. There is no formula to determine value or which player possess the most value in any given year. The award has been given to immortals (Gehrig, Foxx, DiMaggio, Berra, Williams, Mays) and mortals (Burroughs, Versalles, Baylor) alike.

Sometimes the award goes to the person with the most impressive statistics, other times to a very good player on a team that finishes in first place. The voting is conducted before the post season so playoff and World Series performance do not influence the outcome. Until Barry Bonds, no player had won more than three MVPs. There appears to have been an unwritten rule prohibiting a fourth MVP. You might ask: "Did anyone before Bonds deserve a fourth MVP?" I believe the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Red Sox rightfielder Jackie Jensen was the American League MVP in 1958. Jensen received nine first-place votes. Jensen had a great year for the Red Sox.*

G - 154
AB - 548
R - 83
H - 157
2B - 31 (5)
HR - 35 (5)
RBI - 122 (1)
SB - 9 (9)
CS - 4
BB - 99 (2)
K - 65
BA - .286
OB% - .396 (5)
SLG - .535 (6)
TB - 293 (5)
RC - 116 (3)
PA - 655
Outs - 413

* bold = league leader
parenthesis= rank if in top ten

Mickey Mantle also put in a fine performance in the '58 campaign.

G - 150
AB - 519
R - 127 (1)
H - 158 (10)
2B - 21
HR - 42 (1)
RBI - 97 (5)
SB - 18 (4)
CS - 3
BB - 129 (1)
K - 120
BA - .304 (7)
OB% - .443 (2)
SLG - .592 (3)
TB - 307 (1)
RC - 136 (1)
PA - 654
Outs - 379

Mantle received no first place votes.

The nice thing about comparing MVP candidates is that you're looking at two players in the same league, in the same year. This simplifies the comparisons because outside of their home field, the same conditions exist for both players. Here, Jensen and Mantle were kind enough to also have almost the exact same number of plate appearances. Thus, they had the same number of opportunities.

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Mickey Mantle, a fourth MVP?

Mantle exceeds Jensen in almost every positive category with the exceptions of doubles and Runs Batted In. Since Mantle beats Jensen in Total Bases, I won't worry about the doubles.

Jensen had 25 more RBI's than Mantle. That is significant. One job of a power hitter is to drive in runs. Mantle, and that year Jensen, were power hitters. However, Jensen played half his games in Fenway Park, a hitters park. Mantle played half his games in a pitchers park.

In 1958 the Yankees won 92 games and captured the pennant with ten games to spare. If you look at Mantle's team that year, he was the offensive force. Mantle lead the Yankees in every offensive category except doubles (he was second with 21, Skowron and Bauer had 22).

Mantle also played in 150 games. The Yankees must have been plagued with injuries that year because no starting player played in more than 138 games other than Mantle. Other than Berra (and Mantle of course), no Yankee had more than 73 RBI's. Only Norm Siebern hit over .300 and four starters hit under .270. It was not a great offensive year for the Yankees. It's safe to say, without Mantle, the Yankees would not have won 92 games. They may not have won the pennant.

Using the simple Runs Created formula, Mantle created 20 more runs than Jensen while Jensen made 34 more outs. Mantle hit into fewer doubleplays, stole twice as many bases and was thrown out less than Jensen. Mantle's On Base percentage was .443, .47 points greater than Jensen's.

Jensen was a fine player, a good hitter, fast runner and excellent fielder. I don't want to take anything away from him, except the '58 MVP. Mantle was easily the best player on the best team. He was also a very good defensive player and one of the fastest players in baseball. Boston finished third that year, thirteen games out of first. Jensen did not lead his team to victory.

Ask yourself this: How much would Jensen have helped the Yankees in 1958? How much would Mantle have helped any team in 1958?

How does the best player, on the best team, fail to win the MVP. Well, I suppose a team could be so nicely balanced that it is filled with good players, with no particular player rising much above his teammates. Clearly, that is not the 1958 Yankees.

I think the answer is simple and says more about human nature than it does about baseball. The Yankees had dominated the MVP award up until 1958:

1950 - Rizzuto
1951 - Berra
1954 - Berra
1955 - Berra
1956 - Mantle
1957 - Mantle

I think the Baseball Writers Association of America was simply tired of giving the award to a Yankee. They certainly didn't want one particular Yankee winning three years in a row. The gave the award to a good player with the most RBI's. As an aside, Jensen's career was cut short because he was deathly afraid of flying. Rather than fly, he quit baseball.

I'll let you in on a little secret: Mantle was probably the best player in 1955 as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


By Stockton

This is Part II of an article on the 1906 Chicago Cubs. Part I can be found here.

Who were the players that made the 1906 Chicago Cubs one of the greatest teams ever? We'll start with their infield and their leader.


Frank Chance, the Peerless Leader, was the player- manager of the Cubs. He was, by all accounts, an excellent defensive player, a fast, smart baserunner, a good hitter and a fiery competitor. In 1906, Chance played in 136 games, the most ever in his career. He was in the top ten in every major offensive category (ranking for the year in parenthesis).

H - 151 (10)
R - 103 (1)
2B- 24 (6)
3B- 10 (7)
HR- 3 (8)
RBI - 71 (5)
BB - 70 (7)
SB - 57 (1)
AVG - .319 (5)
OB% - .419 (3)

On top of an outstanding performance, Chance managed a sometimes volatile team to the best winning percentage ever in Major League Baseball.

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"Chance was born to battle on the baseball field"
- Johnny Evers


Nicknamed The Human Crab, Evers is almost always described as "a bundle of nerves" and "smart". The Cubs second baseman was a scrappy, volatile player who enjoyed fighting on the field with opposing players and his own teammates. Evers even stopped talking to shortstop Joe Tinker for years in a dispute over cab fare.

Chance thought Evers was a great player but wished he played the outfield so he wouldn't have to listen to him. Aside from that, Evers was a very good player for a very long time. He was an excellent defensive player, fast and as smart a player as you were likely to find.

H - 136
R - 65
2B - 17
3B - 6
HR - 1
RBI - 51
BB - 36
SB - 49 (5)
AVG - .255
OB% - .305

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"A bundle of nerves and the smartest
brain in baseball" - Hugh Fullerton


Tinker was a very good defensive shortstop. His offensive numbers are not eye-popping but he did contribute, being ninth in Runs Batted In. His best offensive years were still ahead of him.

Tinker's later years were not kind to him. His wife committed suicide on Christmas Day, 1923. Tinker later became rich in the Florida land-boom but lost most of that money in 1929. Later, he suffered from diabetes which resulted in a leg amputation.

H - 122
R - 75
2B - 18
3B - 4
HR - 1
RBI - 64 (9)
SB - 30
BB- 43
AVG - .233
OB% - .293

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Joe Tinker


Steinfeldt was not fast, but he did have a good glove and a strong arm. While in Cincinnati, he gained a reputation as a difficult player. Chance convinced management to grab Steinfeldt in order to complete an already good infield. Chance had played with Steinfeldt in winter ball and believed his reputation was not deserved.

Chance proved right. Steinfeldt had a better offensive year than the famous Hall-of-Fame trio, Tinkers, Evers, Chance. Before starting his baseball career, Steinfeld worked for a traveling minstrel show.

H - 176 (1)
R - 81 (tied for 4th)
2B - 27 (tied for 4th)
3B - 10 (tied for 4th)
HR - 3 (8th)
RBI - 83 (tied for 1st)
SB - 29
BB - 47
AVG - .327 (2)
OB% - .395 (6)

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Kling was a fine defensive catcher with a very good arm. In the 1907 World Series Ty Cobb failed to get a stolen base against Kling and was thrown out twice. Kling's Runs, RBI's and Hits numbers look weak, but he compiled those numbers while playing in only 107 games.

H - 107
R - 45
2B - 15
3B - 8
HR - 2
RBI - 46
SB - 14
BB - 23
AVG - .312 (6)
OB% - .357

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Catcher Johnny Kling

This wraps up Part II. Next time we'll look at the outfield.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


How many times have you heard your fellow fan say that "so-and-so was underrated." Since there is only one informal rating system (The Hall of Fame), the comment is inaccurate. We still know what they're saying. They're saying, "So-and-so doesn't get the recognition he deserves. The Simmons-Fisk article below is one example.

Here's a player I feel is "underrated." He may belong in the Hall, he may not. The point is, he was a fine player for a long time and his contribution to the game should not fade into obscurity. We'll compare him with two contemporaries. It is not meant to be an exhaustive, Jamesian-like study, merely an overview of their careers and rankings.


The first candidate has impressive credentials at any level. Whether the talk has turned to those who should be enshrined or just very good players that should be remembered. See if you know who I'm talking about before hitting the Baseball Encyclopedia.

His career credentials;

In the top 50 (more than 2,700)for hits;
Top 50 for doubles;
Top 30 for Homeruns;
Top 30 for Runs Batted In.

Add to that, 300+ Stolen Bases, Gold Gloves, an MVP and a Rookie of the Year Award. His weaknesses? He didn't walk much. He didn't strike out too much for a power hitter, but he didn't draw many base on balls. Also, he routinely missed 20+ games a year for injuries. He played 17 full seasons.


Player A is an impressive player. As a comparison, lets look at a contemporary. We'll call him Player B. Player B played in 19 full seasons. Player B was an excellent player for many years. His career rankings are:

Top 20 for hits (over 3,000):
Top 25 for doubles;
Top 25 for Homeruns;
Top 15 for RBI's;

Add to that, Gold Gloves and more than 200 Stolen Bases. Player B also struckout more than he walked, but Player B walked a bit more than Player A. Obviously, Player B's career rankings are better than Player A. Still, out of anyone who has ever played the game, Player A is in the top 50 or better in some important categories.

Player A and B played the same position and their careers overlapped. Player B is talked about as a great player (deservedly so). Player A is not discussed much at all.

I should add all of these players conducted themselves on and off the field like true gentlemen.


Finally, we come to Player C. Player C is also a contemporary of A and B, although he played a different position. Player C surpasses A and B in one offense category, stolen bases. Player C has:

300+ fewer hits than Player A;
100 fewer doubles;
Half as many RBI's;
400 fewer Homeruns;
A lower batting average.

Player C set the defensive gold standard for his position. Player A was an excellent fielder and no matter how good C was defensively, he was no offensive threat.

Player B and Player C are in the Hall of Fame.

Player A is.....

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Andre Dawson

Player B is....

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Dave Winfield

Player C is....

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Ozzie Smith

I'm not arguing that Dawson was as good as Winfield. I am arguing that if you can stand toe-to-toe with a contemporary (righthanded hitter, five category player, rightfielder...) who is in the Hall of Fame, and still look good, you're one hell of a ball player. Dawson deserves mention when great players of the 70's and 80's are discussed.

I am also not running down Smith. Smith was unparalleled with the glove and, when older, he contributed offensively. His job, unlike Dawson and Winfield, was not to drive in runs as such and I am not penalizing him for his lack of power. It's just that taken as a whole, Dawson was a five category player who did everything quite well. Outside of defense, Ozzie's main contribution was speed and Dawson was no slouch on the basepaths.

Dawson's name rarely comes up when talking about players of his era. That's a shame. He was an excellent ballplayer for many years.

I think Dawson suffers from what many five-category players suffer from: he did everything well, but did not excel at one particular thing. He was never a 40+ homerun threat (only one year, and then he played in Chicago) but he consistently hit 20 to 30 homeruns. He never stole 50 bases, but was a consistent threat on the basepaths. He never hit .335, but hit over .290 on many occasions.

Sports writers can go into ecstasies about Mo Vaughn in his prime because of Vaughn's power. I'd take Dawson without a thought. I don't think I'd regret the decision.


Stockton & Tweed took a short break from Church of Baseball due to an over-extended schedule. We'll be back soon to write about the greatest game ever invented and the men who've played that game. Come back in a few weeks.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


By Stockton

Who'd be on your All-Star Team? That's the question I'd like to address in this entry. If I had to win a series or a season, what players would I want on my team. Not, "who are my favorite players" but the players I deem best. For this exercise, the team will include only those players I actually saw play while at their peek. Thus, while Johnny Bench was a great catcher, I remember him at the very end of his career. He would not be a candidate. Also, I am thinking of these players in terms of their peak value: their talent at their highest level of play.

So here they are: the team I think would consist of the best players from recent history, with some commentary. Feel free to comment upon the selections. Alternates are in parenthesis.


Ivan Rodriguez

That's a tough call. I've seen Fisk, Munson, Boone and Carter. My memories of Fisk, Bench and Munson are sketchy at best. Pudge, with his arm, agility and bat can stand toe-to-toe with anyone in recent history. Piazza is a great hitter, not a great catcher. (Fisk)


Don Mattingly

This is a no brainer for me. I clearly remember Mattingly at his best. With the bat, with the glove, no one was better. Some had equal talent, but for three or four years, no one was better. Mattingly's only weakness was speed. I could live without that skill if I could have Mattingly. My back-up, or contenders would be Will Clark and Mark Grace. I'd take Clark over Hernandez but Hernandez over Grace. (Will Clark)


Ryne Sandberg

Sanberg's abilities speak for themselves. What other second baseman in the 1980's gave you speed, power, defense, a decent walks to strikeout ratio and a good average? Not many. (Lou Whittaker)


Derek Jeter

Initially, I was thinking Ozzie Smith or Alex Rodriquez. However, Jeter is a clutch player who can impact a game like few I have ever seen. In the field or at the plate, I want Jeter in a close ball game. Yes, more than Ripkin, Rodriquez or Smith. He's similar to Sandberg in many ways, but I could do without so many strikeouts. (Smith)


Mike Schmidt

Any questions? (George Brett)


Barry Bonds

I don't want to analyze the steroids issue for my purpose here. Bonds may or may not use steroids. Ignoring that issue for now, Bonds is the best all-around player I have ever seen. Rickey Henderson is a no-brainer for my second choice.


Ken Griffey

It's tough, setting aside men like Puckett, Lynn and Bernie Williams, but for awhile, Griffey had it all: speed, power, average and defense. I hope he eventually comes back. (Fred Lynn)


Dave Winfield

A five category player, today Winfield would have 40-40 capabilities. Combine that with his average and Gold Gloves and he's the guy that's in right field. (Tony Gwynn)


Ron Guidry
Randy Johnson
Greg Maddux
Roger Clemens


Dennis Eckersley (Mariano Rivera)

People may disagree with some or all of my choices, but I think this team might win a few ball games

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


By Stockton

"Say they made a great ball club and let it go at that.
Say it all once, a score of long years after.
Then, let it go at that..."

When baseball fanatics congregate, it takes about five minutes before the topic turns to, "Which team was the greatest?" Every true baseball fan has his or her nominee, though the list of nominees is not endless. In fact, it's rather short. Candidates include the vaunted '27 Yankees, a Yankee team from the '30's (Gehrig, DiMaggio, Dickey), or perhaps a Brooklyn team from the 1950's. Then, we have The Big Red Machine from the mid-1970's, the Athletics from the early '30's or the early '70's. Of course, there are the Yankees of the '50's and early '60's and perhaps you have your own dark horse or two.

One team is largely forgotten in this time-honored parlor game. It is a team, I will argue, that deserves to rank right up there with those '27 Yankees or '76 Reds.

It is sometimes difficult to compare teams from different eras. Today, when the batting crown goes to a .375 hitter, or the homerun laurels to a man who smacks 70 homeruns, statistics from other eras pale. It is sometimes difficult to see that Yaz's .305 average in 1968 led the league when today it will merely assure you a place on the team. No era suffers from this as much as the "Dead Ball Era". Those rough and tumble years before the Great War, before Ruth clobbered his 60 dingers.

There exists a team from the Dead Ball Era that deserves our recognition, our praise, our respect. Why?

Because it attained the best winning percentage ever; because on July 24th it had a record of 61 - 28; because by September 16th that record was 104 - 32 (that's right, just four losses in a month and a half); then, only four more losses the rest of the season. They ended with a 116-36 record, a winning percentage of .763.

They amassed this impressive record in a good league. And although the Pennant Race became something of a farce (the 2nd place team finished 20 games out of first place), two other teams finished with a winning percentage above .600.

And no, they didn't feed exclusively off the league's carrion. They built a 15-7 record against the second place team (who had a better record than the American League champion) and a 16-5 record against the third place team.

I am talking about, as any amateur baseball historian knows, the 1906 Chicago Cubs.

The Dead-Ball Era

First, some background on the Dead-Ball Era. Just how dead was the Dead-Ball Era? Pretty damn dead. I won't bore you with a ton of numbers, just a few.

In 1906, the National League hit .244. By way of comparison, in 1938, the National League hit .267. In 1906, all eight N.L. teams combined for a total of 126 home runs. In 1938, the New York Giants hit 125 home runs.

Still, what it lacked in the long ball and batting average it made up for in speed. The stolen base was part and parcel of the era's offensive tools. In 1906, the New York Giants led the league, swiping 288 bases. The Cubs rated second, with 283. In 1938, the entire National League stole 355 bases. The Dodgers led the league with 66.

Perhaps a better illustration of just how little hitting went on in the early years of the century are the pitching statistics. The Chicago Cubs pitching staff boasted a league-leading 1.76 ERA. Cubs pitchers allowed less than 2 runs per game: and they still lost 36 games. Brooklyn had the league's worst team ERA, 3.13. Contrast that with the N.L. of 1938. The lowest ERA was 3.37 (Chicago) and the worst ERA was 4.93 (Philadelphia).

So, in 1906, you have a game that relied heavily on singles, doubles and the stolen base. It must have been a rough and tumble game, especially for middle infielders.

The 1906 Chicago Cubs were an offensive and defensive monster. They led the league in batting average, hitting .266. They led the league in runs, with 705 (the number two team in runs scored 625). They were second in doubles, first in triples and second in home runs. They finished first in slugging average and second in stolen bases.

On the mound, they were equally, or maybe more, impressive. They boasted a league leading 1.76 ERA. They led the league in strikeouts. The pitching staff threw 125 Complete Games (unbelievably it was good enough for only third best) and led the league with 31 Shutouts.

Defensively, they committed the fewest errors in Major League baseball. And it wasn't even close. The Cubs committed 194 errors. The next best record was 228 errors, by the New York Giants. In the American League, Cleveland committed 216 errors, for the Junior League's best record.

Who were the 1906 Chicago Cubs?

1B-Frank Chance
2B-Johnny Evers
SS-Joe Tinker
3B-Harry Steinfeldt
C-Johnny Kling
RF-Frank Schulte
CF-Jimmy Sheckard
LF-Jimmy Slagle

P-Mordecai Brown
P-Eddie Reulbach
P-Jack Pfiester
P-Carl Lundgren
P-Jack Taylor
P-Orval Overall

The only photograph I could find of the
1906 National League Champions

The team played their home games at Chicago's West Side Grounds. The stadium held approximately 16,000 people. It was located about two miles west of downtown Chicago near present day South Wood Street, West Polk Street, South Lincoln Avenue and West Taylor Street.

West Side Grounds

In Part II, we'll discuss these players in more detail, the season they put together and some of their exploits on and off the field.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


By Stockton

I ascribe to the Bill James theory of who should and who should not be in the Hall of Fame; I have no idea who should be in or out. As James states: "The Hall of Fame is a self-defining institution that has manifestly failed to define itself."

Still, I remain intrigued when I find two players, from the same era, with similar statistics, one of whom was considered a shoe-in and the other largely forgotten.

Player A

Player A played his first full season in 1972. He played his last full season in 1991. He spent his entire career in one league and finished with impressive numbers.

Hits - 2350+
Runs - 1250+
Doubles - 400+
Homeruns - 350+
RBI's - 1300+
Average - .265+

Player A hit .280 or better in ten seasons. He hit over .300 twice, scored 100+ runs once and had two 100+ RBI seasons. Player A won one Gold Glove and was in the top ten MVP voting four times. Player A was not a frequent name on the leader boards. He went to one World Series and his team lost. He was on eleven All-Star teams.

Player B

Player B played his first full year in 1971 and his last full year in 1985. He played predominately in one league. He too amassed impressive numbers.

Hits - 2450+
Runs - 1000+
Doubles - 450+
Homeruns - 200+
RBI's - 1350+
Average - .280+

Player B hit .300+ seven times. He had three 100+ RBI seasons. When he didn't drive in 100 runs, he drove in 90+ five times. Player B was in the top ten in MVP voting three times. He was frequently on the leader boards for batting average, doubles and RBI's. He was an eight time All-Star. He went to one World Series and his team lost.

Player A struck out more than he walked. Player B walked more than he struck out. Neither was blessed with speed but Player A was faster. Player A was the better defensive player. Both were catchers, although Player A almost exclusively caught while Player B did play other positions. Player A is in the Hall of Fame. Player B is not.

Player A is...

Carlton Fisk

Player B is...

Ted Simmons

Since the Hall of Fame refuses to tell us why a player is selected to join, I have no idea if Fisk or Simmons should be in the Hall. My gut tells me that Fisk would have a place in my Hall of Fame. Simmons? Maybe. The point is, Simmons deserves a closer look from the Old-Timer's Committee.

I can make the argument that Fisk should be in the Hall and was a better player than Simmons. Fisk played a grueling position for a much longer time than Simmons. Fisk won a Gold Glove and was a Rookie of the Year. Fisk was a fiery competitor and a team leader. In the 1975 World Series, Fisk provided baseball fans with one of the most memorable hits ever. Fisk's record can be found here.

Still, is that enough? Fisk provided his impressive numbers over the course of a 24 year career. Simmons provided his more impressive numbers over the course of 21 years (really 19 years, Simmons played a total of seven games in his first two seasons). In five fewer years, Simmons collected what I consider more impressive offensive numbers.

In a ten year stretch ('71 - '80) Simmons hit; .304, .303, .310, .272, .332, .291, .318, .287, .283, .303. No small accomplishment in the 1970's National League. During the course of his career, Simmons hit 22 points above the league average. By comparison, Fisk hit 3 points above the league average.

Simmons didn't just hit for average. Between 1972 and 1983, Simmons was in the top ten for RBI's six times. Simmons played in only 123 games in 1979. Still, he managed to drive in 87 runs. During his peak years, Simmons walked almost twice as much as he struck out. Unlike Fisk, Simmons played 195 games at 1B and 279 as a Designated Hitter for Milwaukee.

In the end, maybe Fisk belongs and Simmons doesn't. I just want to know how and why the Hall made that determination.

Perhaps a player can elevate himself above his statistical equals with one dramatic moment. Certainly Fisk's homerun in Game 6 of the '75 World Series qualifies as one of the most dramatic moments in baseball. Perhaps Fisk would not be in the Hall but for that homerun. Perhaps Fisk was merely a good player with one terrific, nationally televised homerun. Perhaps.

But, aren't those dramatic moments really what baseball is all about? Thomson's Miracle at Coogan's Bluff, Mays' catch off of Vic Wertz, Bill Mazeroski's series wining homer, Kirk Gibson's dramatics in 1988; those are the moments remembered forever, long after anyone can remember who won the 1966 World Series. Those moments create heroes and legends and if a hero and legend doesn't belong in the Hall, who does?