Friday, August 31, 2012

All-Time Teams #12: Kansas City Royals

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

I honestly think this was the easiest team to select so far. Seriously, other than maybe Mike Sweeney vs. John Mayberry at first base, are there any debatable decisions in the starting lineup? Well, Carlos Beltran technically only played three games in right field for the Royals. But, I think he needs to be in the starting lineup, we know he can handle the position, and it makes sense to move him rather than Otis, even though dWAR says otherwise.

The rotation is a little grayer, depending on whether you prefer wins or WAR. I'm obviously partial to the latter, but I do think being a team's all-time wins leader counts for something. In this case, it means Paul Splittorff gets a spot on the team, albeit not in the starting rotation.

We also see our first team with a DH here. The Royals have been in existence, and in the American League, since 1969. The DH has been around for all but four of their 44 years (this season included), so adding a DH to this team seems to make sense.

The reserves weren't as much of a slam-dunk as the starters, but they weren't as difficult as some previous teams. It's kind of a short bench because of the DH, but I've got all the positions covered with capable backups.

Franchise History
Kansas City Royals (1969- )

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Darrell Porter (1977-1980)
1B - John Mayberry (1972-1977)
2B - Frank White (1973-1990)
SS - Freddie Patek (1971-1979)
3B - George Brett* (1973-1993)
LF - Willie Wilson (1976-1990)
CF - Amos Otis (1970-1983)
RF - Carlos Beltran (1998-2004)
DH - Hal McRae (1973-1987)

Kevin Appier (1989-1999, 2003-2004)
Bret Saberhagen (1984-1991)
Mark Gubicza (1984-1996)
Zack Greinke (2004-2010)
Dennis Leonard (1974-1983, 1985-1986)

Dan Quisenberry (1979-1988)

1B/C - Mike Sweeney (1995-2007)
3B/1B - Kevin Seitzer (1986-1991)
IF - Jose Offerman (1996-1998)
LF/3B - Alex Gordon (2007- )
OF - Johnny Damon (1995-2000)

Jeff Montgomery (1988-1999)
Charlie Liebrandt (1984-1989)
Larry Gura (1976-1985)
Paul Splittorff (1970-1984)
Joakim Soria (2007- )

Dick Howser (1981-1986)

I could just as easily have turned the reigns of this team over to Whitey Herzog, but this time I decided skippering a team to their one and only World Series victory trumps everything else.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

As relatively easy as some of the position choices were here, deciding the Royals' greatest eligible non-Hall of Famer was pretty hard for a couple of reasons.

First, I really like Dan Quisenberry. I think he's probably as worthy of the Hall of Fame as Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers, maybe even more deserving than the latter. But, the Hall-worthiness of relievers is a difficult subject, one I'm still trying to wrap my head around. Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those folks who thinks none of them belong, but I'm leaning towards believing Hoyt Wilhelm, Goose Gossage and, in the future, Mariano Rivera are the only guys who should be in.

So, I really think Kevin Appier and Bret Saberhagen are better candidates for this distinction. Which brings me to the second reason this is such a dilemma. Appier would be the choice based solely on their respective Royals careers, but that's mainly because he pitched longer in Kansas City than Saberhagen did.

Bret Saberhagen
Bret Saberhagen
Saberhagen produced almost as much value for the Royals as Appier did, plus he had some success outside of Kansas City. The two Cy Young awards are a factor as well, so Bret Saberhagen is my choice as this team's best eligible non-member of baseball's most exclusive club.**

**I was going to say "baseball's most exclusive club that has also admitted the likes of Tommy McCarthy, Lloyd Waner, Rube Marquard, etc.," but I decided not to. Well, sort of.

As we try to break the shackles of our prior conceptions about Hall-worthiness, we realize Saberhagen came much closer to a Hall of Fame career than we previously thought.

Forget that he didn't win 200 games. Sandy Koufax didn't win 200 games. Neither did Dizzy Dean. And those are just the two most famous Hall of Fame pitchers with less than 200 wins. You can also add Jack Chesbro, Dazzy Vance, Ed Walsh, Rube Waddell, Lefty Gomez and Addie Joss to that list, among players inducted because of their starting pitching accomplishments. But, I want to talk about Koufax and Dean.

Now, before you start proclaiming that Saberhagen was no Koufax or Dean, let me just say that statement isn't as obvious as you'd assume.

Dean pitched just under 2000 innings in his abbreviated career, so I think it's fair to use that basis as the starting point for a comparison.

Through roughly the first 2000 IP of their careers:

Koufax: 138-78, 125 ERA+, 40.3 WAR, 2 CYA

Saberhagen: 134-94, 128 ERA+, 48 WAR, 2 CYA

Dean: 150-83, 131 ERA+, 41.3 WAR, 2 CYA***

***The Cy Young award didn't actually exist when Dean pitched, but he won one MVP and finished second twice. One of those second place finishes was to Carl Hubbell, so I'm giving the assumed Cy to Hubbell that year, but awarding it to Dean for his other second place finish, to Gabby Hartnett.

Do you see that big a difference between these guys, except for the fact Koufax and Dean are Hall of Famers, and Saberhagen dropped off the ballot after receiving just 1.3% of the vote in his first year of eligibility?

Koufax produced one more monster (10 WAR) season (probably the best of his career) then was forced to retire, and Saberhagen stuck around for 4+ additional injury-plagued seasons in which he produced when healthy (488 IP, 33-23, 118 ERA+, 8 WAR). Of course, Dean's career was over at that point.

Again, not really much separation between these careers. I made this particular comparison because Koufax and Dean are possibly the most notable Hall of Fame pitchers who got there on the strength of brilliant peaks rather than longevity, and because Saberhagen had kind of a similar career. I won't try to deny Koufax was clearly the best of the three, but not by as much as you'd think. And, I honestly wouldn't really say Dean was better at all.

Here's an interesting comparison of how remarkably similar Saberhagen's and Dean's primes were. Both pitchers peaked early and had tremendous five-year stretches before injuries got the best of them. Neither threw more than 200 innings in a year after their age-26 season.

Honestly, the main differences were that Dean was on a better team and more of a workhorse—although the latter can really be attributed to the difference in the eras they played in—and Saberhagen was able to come back from injury to enjoy some modest success in his 30s, a factor that could also be attributed to his era.

Saberhagen (1985-1989): 82-50, 130 ERA+, 1171 IP, 29.1 WAR, 2 CYA

Dean (1932-1936): 120-65, 130 ERA+, 1531 IP, 32.6 WAR, 2 CYA***

Should Saberhagen be a Hall of Famer? I'll admit I didn't use to think so, but my opinion is definitely evolving. I'll also admit my judgment used to be clouded by the not-necessarily-accurate subjective evaluations of players from the good 'ole days.

The philosophy that "I know a Hall of Famer when I see one" is still all too prevalent today. I'll concede, ever so slightly, to the folks who subscribe to this theory that maybe there should be a small measure of this in our present-day evaluations of players. But, when we think we can make comparisons to players we've never seen, we end up relying on what can best be described as a generational version of the telephone game that might go something like this:

Grandpa: "Dizzy Dean was the greatest pitcher I ever saw...for those three years in the mid-'30s there was no one better."

Son: "My dad said Dizzy Dean was the greatest pitcher he ever saw...and he saw Carl Hubbell and Lefty Grove pitch. He even saw Walter Johnson at the tail end of his career."

Grandson: "My grandfather saw Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson pitch, and he says Dizzy Dean was better than all of them."

I'm sure I'll be digging up this argument again when it comes time to consider Johan Santana's Hall of Fame credentials.

Next Up: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

So, About Those Orioles...

It's been a while since I've written about current baseball. I've certainly tweeted about it plenty, but I'm just not as interested in discussing the present as I am the past. When it comes to baseball, at least, although that observation might apply to my real life as well. I suppose I could have come up with a Jethro Tull influenced title to this post if I really wanted to.

But, that would have missed the point really.

One of the subjects I've commented about on Twitter from time to time is the 2012 Baltimore Orioles. In fact, it started before the season even began when I made a crack about a "poorly timed" wedding (I don't really mean this, of course) in Baltimore in October. The obvious joke was there was no way I was going to be able to work a baseball game into that trip as there was zero chance baseball would still be being played.*

*OK, forget that Washington is only an hour from Baltimore.

I'm pretty sure there weren't too many Orioles fans who would have taken exception with that crack. But, the Orioles, as they've done before, got off to a pretty good start and have managed to remain in playoff contention through the season's first five months so far.

But, like I said, they've teased their fan base before, by having good first halves only to completely collapse in the second half. Understandably, a lot of people (myself included) decided not to take them seriously. I even commented, on more than one occasion, that I wouldn't consider them a playoff contender until they'd actually clinched a postseason berth. I was slightly exaggerating, of course, but...yeah...only slightly.

Along the way there have been plenty of remarks about how lucky the Orioles have been and how they're not as good a team as their record indicates. Frequently referenced is the fact their run differential still sits at -39, despite their 71-57 record; that this is better than only three American League teams: Kansas City, Cleveland and Minnesota; and that their Pythagorean W-L record is 60-68.

But, there is barely a month left in the season (32-34 games, depending on the team) and the Orioles are sitting atop the AL Wild Card standings, tied with the A's, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Rays, 2 ahead of Detroit and 4 1/2 ahead of the Angels. Those last three teams, along with the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox, were, of course, expected to battle to see which one of the six would be the odd team out in the playoff hunt. If the season ended today, only two of those six preseason favorites would qualify, and it looks pretty likely that at least two of them won't make it.

But, more importantly, at least to me, this morning I checked to see if the Rays had won last night. Sometimes I do so simply by looking at the standings and watching the games back (from the Yankees, of course) column update. When the Rays number changed from 4.0 to 5.0, I was pleased, but also reminded that the Rays aren't in second place. Yesterday morning—or, actually the night before last—the O's snuck in there. And there they are, just 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

Maybe they're lucky. Maybe—or, more likely, probably—this year is just a fluke. Or perhaps there's a cliché that applies to this team. But—and I certainly didn't expect to be saying this prior to September—I think maybe it's actually time to perhaps start taking the 2012 Baltimore Orioles kinda seriously.

Friday, August 24, 2012

All-Time Teams #11: Houston Astros

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Somebody speak up and call me out if I'm getting too lax in my positional rules here. But, these were my options for one of the bigger decisions I had to make here:
  • Start Craig Biggio at second base and Alan Ashby at catcher, with Joe Morgan backing up at second and someone like Brad Ausmus as reserve catcher. This would make it difficult to keep Bill Doran at all, as two reserves who both essentially only play second base wouldn't make much sense.
  • Move Biggio behind the plate, start Morgan at second, slide Doran into the backup second base role and keep only one weak catcher on the team—Alan Ashby—as a backup.
The latter option just seemed to make for a much stronger team, and since Biggio was a catcher for the first 3 1/2 seasons of his career, this doesn't seem like a stretch to me. I realize, though, this probably means I should re-think my Chipper Jones decision, but I'll get to that. In fact, I plan on reviewing all the previous teams and making updates as I see fit.

The other difficult choices here were starters at shortstop and third base—mainly because there wasn't really much to choose from—and deciding between Bob Watson and Glenn Davis for the backup first base job.

The rotation wasn't as difficult as it might seem. I'm sure some folks would question the fact J.R. Richard didn't make the starting five, but honestly I think he's kind of overrated based on his brief brilliance and the fantasy of what might have been. I've said this before, but I don't give guys credit for what they might have done if not for a career-ending or career-limiting injury.

Joe Niekro is the team's all-time wins leader, but aside from one great and a couple pretty good years, he was really nothing more than a pitcher who provided a lot of value by throwing a lot of quality innings. That's good enough to make the team, but not the starting rotation. 

Franchise History
Houston Astros (1965- )
Houston Colt .45's (1962-1964)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Craig Biggio (1988-2007)
1B - Jeff Bagwell (1991-2005)
2B - Joe Morgan* (1963-1971, 1980)
SS - Dickie Thon (1981-1987)
3B - Ken Caminiti (1987-1994, 1999-2000)
LF - Jose Cruz (1975-1987)
CF - Cesar Cedeno (1970-1981)
RF - Lance Berkman (1999-2010)

Roy Oswalt (2001-2010)
Larry Dierker (1964-1976)
Don Wilson (1966-1974)
Mike Scott (1983-1991)
Nolan Ryan* (1980-1988)

Billy Wagner (1995-2003)

C - Alan Ashby (1979-1989)
1B/OF - Bob Watson (1966-1979)
2B - Bill Doran (1982-1990)
IF - Art Howe (1976-1982)
OF - Jim Wynn (1963-1973)
OF - Terry Puhl (1977-1990)

J.R. Richard (1971-1980)
Roger Clemens (2004-2006)
Joe Niekro (1975-1985)
Ken Forsch (1970-1980)
Dave Smith (1980-1990)

Bill Virdon (1975-1982)

Sure, Phil Garner guided the 2005 Astros to the only World Series appearance in their history, but I feel like Virdon took them from perennial also-ran to legitimate contender for the first time, and that's got to count for something.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

Do I need to spill even more virtual ink about Jeff Bagwell than has already been wasted. He deserves to be a Hall of Famer, period. In fact, I'm fairly confident he will eventually be elected by that stubborn group who think they're the gatekeepers of the "purity" of the institution.

Jeff Bagwell [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

Therefore, I think it's worth mentioning a couple other guys here. There are a lot of Hall of Nearly Great types in this franchise's half-century of history. When Bagwell finally gets in, assuming Craig Biggio hasn't been passed over at that point, the distinction of greatest Astro not in the Hall of Fame will come down to Jim Wynn (who also enjoyed a couple great years in Los Angeles), Cesar Cedeno or Jose Cruz. Depending on how long it takes for that to happen, Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman might enter the conversation as well.

In fact, this franchise has a really good chance of moving up on the all-time "Screwed by the Hall of Fame" list. That's saying something, considering they've existed less than half as long as each of the five teams who combine with them to make up the top six.

Next Up: Kansas City Royals

Friday, August 17, 2012

All-Time Team of Living Hall of Famers

A couple weeks ago on Twitter, a fellow baseball writer—actually, he's a published author and I'm not, so we're hardly peers—said he'd decided to replace Lou Gehrig with Stan Musial at 1B on his all-time team. He also explained his thought process, which, although I don't agree, is somewhat defensible. Well, parts of it are more defensible than others, but that's not really my point.

My point is it gave me an idea for an easy post that's a slight variation on this theme.

What also influenced this post is my recollection of Joe DiMaggio being referred to frequently as the greatest living ballplayer (while he was still alive, of course). I remember thinking to myself, despite Joe D's standing as my father's favorite player, that DiMaggio might not even be the greatest living Yankee center fielder (do I need to explain that Mickey Mantle was also still alive?), not to mention Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and maybe Musial were also in the equation.

Then, as I thought about the distinction while in Cooperstown for this year's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, it occurred to me Mays is pretty clearly the undisputed choice. Well, unless you want to bring Barry Bonds into the discussion.

But, I really want to avoid that subject right now, so that's why I settled on this all-time team of living Hall of Famers, which hopefully I'll update as changes are necessary. Realizing, of course, that last part sounds potentially a little morbid.

C - Johnny Bench
1B - Stan Musial
2B - Joe Morgan
SS - Cal Ripken
3B - Mike Schmidt
LF - Rickey Henderson
CF - Willie Mays
RF - Hank Aaron
RHP - Tom Seaver
LHP - Steve Carlton

There's really not much to discuss here. They're all inner circle Hall of Famers, in my estimation, and the consensus opinion agrees. Probably the only possible disputes are at left field and left-handed pitcher.

A lot of folks would take Sandy Koufax ahead of Carlton. But, I think those in that camp overrate and overemphasize Koufax's peak, which was short and occurred during a pitcher-dominated era. If injury hadn't derailed his career during his prime, this might be a different conversation. But, injuries happen and it would be ridiculous to give guys credit for what we think would have happened.

In left field, the other options are two-fold. One would be to put Musial out there and choose a different first baseman, most likely Rod Carew. I've always considered Musial a left fielder, probably because he played 1890 games in the outfield (about half of them in left) and 1016 games at first. But, first base is the position he played the most, so I think he could legitimately be considered at either position.

My other left field option would have been simply to take Frank Robinson over Henderson. Robinson ranked higher in the inner circle project I linked to above, and, although he played more games in right, he did man left field for 835 games.

But, I feel confident I made the right choices here. Who would be your all-time team of living Hall of Famers?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

All-Time Teams #10: Detroit Tigers

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

This team is loaded in the outfield, with four Hall of Famers who each played at least 15 years and earned 59 or more WAR in Detroit. Three of them played primarily in right, so one had to be shifted to left and one relegated to the bench.

Third base is definitely a weakness, especially in comparison to the rest of the starting lineup, which includes five Hall of Famers and two borderline cases.

Willie Horton's number is retired by the Tigers. I'm assuming this is due more to the fact he was a fan favorite and bravely attempted to calm the 1967 Detroit riots than because he was a great player. I was originally going to leave him off this roster in favor of Chet Lemon (the team needs a backup center fielder, after all), but then I had a change of heart.

I decided the 25th man on the roster would be a good place to honor a player who may fall a little short sabermetrically speaking, but who represents something to the franchise and its fans beyond what the advanced statistics tell you about his career.

Besides, Al Kaline is perfectly capable of serving as Ty Cobb's backup in center.

Franchise History
Detroit Tigers (1901- )

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Bill Freehan (1961, 1963-1976)
1B - Hank Greenberg* (1930, 1933-1941, 1945-1946)
2B - Charlie Gehringer* (1924-1942)
SS - Alan Trammell (1977-1996)
3B - Travis Fryman (1990-1997)
LF - Harry Heilmann* (1914, 1916-1929)
CF - Ty Cobb* (1905-1926)
RF - Al Kaline* (1953-1974)

Hal Newhouser* (1939-1953)
Tommy Bridges (1930-1943, 1945-1946)
Dizzy Trout (1939-1952)
Justin Verlander (2005- )
Mickey Lolich (1963-1975)

John Hiller (1965-1970, 1972-1980)

C - Lance Parrish (1977-1986)
1B - Norm Cash (1960-1974)
2B - Lou Whitaker (1977-1995)
IF - Dick McAuliffe (1960-1973)
OF - Sam Crawford* (1903-1917)
OF - Bobby Veach (1912-1923)
OF - Willie Horton (1963-1977)

Bill Donovan (1903-1912, 1918)
Jim Bunning* (1955-1963)
Frank Lary (1954-1964)
Jack Morris (1977-1990)

Hughie Jennings* (1907-1920)

This was a tough decision between Jennings and Sparky Anderson. For the first time in evaluating managers for this series, I decided to compare the team's won-loss record under each to their Pythagorean expected won-loss record during his years managing. Jennings was at +17 over 14 seasons, while Anderson came in at -6 during his 16 full seasons, meaning Jennings' teams overachieved by a little better than a win per year, and Anderson's teams slightly underperformed.

But mainly, I chose Jennings because he led the team to three straight AL pennants in his first three years as manager, following a period in which two third-place finishes were all they had to show for their first six years of existence. Of course, this also happened to coincide with Ty Cobb's first full season in the majors, so maybe that's the more relevant factor here, in which case I'll fall back on the fact Jennings' teams were 23 runs better relative to their Pythagorean expectation. I'm not really sure if I'm convinced by that argument, but it's kind of a tossup otherwise.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

This is really a tough call between Whitaker and Trammell. Seriously, is there one factor that really separates these guys? I'm tempted to go with Whitaker, since his total lack of support (i.e. one-and-done ballot status) seems almost irresponsible on the part of the voters. At least Trammell has received enough votes to remain on the ballot for 11 years and counting, with a peak of 36.8% this past year.

That number is actually a little more than twice his level of support from just three years earlier. If that pace continues, he'll be damn close to getting in in year 14. So, I'll stick with my support of Alan Trammell as this franchise's most deserving player on the outside looking in at the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Alan  Trammell
Alan Trammell [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

The traditional statistics don't really do Trammell justice: 1231 runs, 2365 hits, 185 HR, 1003 RBI, 236 SB, .285 BA. Nothing that really jumps off the page. I'll admit I didn't use to think of him as a Hall of Famer. Most people, myself included, have a tough time evaluating players who didn't do one thing historically great, but instead did a lot of things very well.

Why is this? The ultimate compliment when evaluating prospects is to refer to one as a five-tool player. Then why are there so many one-dimensional players in the Hall of Fame? How many "tools" did Harmon Killebrew possess? Or Willie McCovey, or even Reggie Jackson? And these guys aren't even the worst Hall of Famers. They're deserving, in my opinion, but other than hit home runs and walk pretty frequently, they really didn't do anything else well. Sure, Reggie had a strong arm, but it sure didn't translate to all that many outfield assists.

It seems no one really gets that a player could be very good at several things and actually be a better player than someone who had one phenomenal skill, but was average or worse in several other areas of his game. That is, until WAR, for those of us who are willing to look beyond the age old stats that only measure part of a player's game, and don't always do a very good job at that.

Trammell was one of those players who didn't have a real weakness in his game. He played shortstop at a time when it was primarily a defensive role—beginning his career a few years before Cal Ripken revolutionized the position—and certainly lived up to the defensive expectations of the position. His four Gold Gloves are backed up by his rank of 34th all-time in defensive WAR.

But, of course, defense wasn't entirely what Trammell was about. He hit for average (.300 or better seven times), he got on base (.370 or better OBP seven times), he added a little power (12 or more homers eight times) and a little speed (10 or more steals 13 times, and favorable WAR base running metrics). There wasn't a single aspect of his game that was lacking.

I guess the question is, does being good at everything add up to being great overall? I say it's certainly better than being great at one thing, average at two and below average at yet two more. Peruse some of your power-oriented Hall of Famers to see how many of them fit the latter description.

The clincher is that Trammell racked up 67.1 WAR over a career that spanned 20 seasons. But, he didn't get to 67 WAR because he stuck around 20 years. In fact, if we take away his age-19 season and his final three years, we get 68.2 WAR from 1978-1993, an average of 4.26 over 16 seasons. That, of course, passes, with flying colors, my 4 WAR/year for 15 years test.

Of course, expecting his vote total to double again in another three years is unrealistic, especially considering the pool of voters needing to be convinced is getting smaller. His increase over the past three years represents about 1/4 of those who voted no in 2009. If the same fraction of current no-voters changes their mind in the next three years, that will raise his total to a little over 50%. Given the spate of new candidates coming on the ballot in the next few years, I'd say even that's a little optimistic.

It's a shame, but I suspect Trammell—and Whitaker, but in his case I hope—will have to wait for the Veterans Committee to have a realistic chance of induction.

Next Up: Houston Astros

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Good Night, Captain

I returned home from school camp? (see comments below) on the afternoon of August 2, 1979 and immediately did what I would do every weekday at that time. I headed down the street to hang out with my friends. At this time of year, that would usually involve a two-on-two game of baseball—or maybe I should call it tennis ball—in the street.

On this particular day, I showed up at the home of my friend Victor, who broke the news to me Thurman Munson had just died in a plane crash. At first, I didn't believe him, for a couple of reasons. For one, he was not a Yankees fan, and secondly, this was the type of joke that was not beneath him to tell. I may have been considered an easy target as well, I'll admit.

I went inside his house to ask his mother and turn on the television. Both sources confirmed the devastating news. This was far from the saddest news I'd ever heard—both my grandmothers died when I was nine—but, as a 12-year old not wanting to cry in front of my friend, I struggled to hold back tears.

Just prior to the 1976 season, Munson was named the first captain of the Yankees since Lou Gehrig retired in 1939. As much as Derek Jeter currently embodies the qualities that make him stand out as one who is truly worthy of the honor, so did Munson. In fact, although a few of my favorite players—Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry—also held that role, in my opinion there are only four men in history worthy of the Yankee captaincy: Gehrig, Munson, Jeter and Don Mattingly.

In considering the previous statement, I asked my dad who would have been the most likely candidate to hold such a post between the Gehrig and Munson years. His feeling was either Yogi Berra or Phil Rizzuto would have been the top choices, but neither seemed to possess quite the leadership ability as the aforementioned four.

Until Darryl Kile died of a coronary blockage during the 2002 season, Munson remained the last active player to lose his life during the regular season, so the moving tributes paid to him in the games that followed still stand as indelible memories to me.

On August 3, in the first game following his death, the Yankees starters took the field to begin the game. All of them, except catcher Jerry Narron, that is. Following a prayer, a moment of silence, and Robert Merrill's rendition of "America the Beautiful," the Yankee Stadium crowd burst into a ten-minute standing ovation. Narron remained in the dugout for the entire time, as television cameras focused on his teammates' reactions, and his empty position—or, should I say, the spot vacated by Munson—behind home plate.

Three days later, the entire team attended Munson's funeral in Canton, Ohio, then flew back to New York to play in that night's game. Bobby Murcer, after delivering a eulogy that afternoon, drove in all five runs—including a three-run homer and walk-off two-run single in the 9th—in a 5-4 Yankees victory.

Coming off back-to-back World Series victories, the Yankees' 1979 performance had come back down to earth even prior to Munson's death, although at 58-48 (.547), the season was hardly a lost cause. It may be coincidence the team would have to wait until 1996—Jeter’s rookie season—to climb back atop the baseball world. But, then again, it might not be.

Regardless, 33 years later, Thurman is still deeply missed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Hall of Nearly Great

The Hall of Nearly Great is the fantastic eBook that inspired the Hall of Clearly Above Replacement But Not Quite Average project that I posted about earlier.

Writers involved in this much more high profile project than mine include Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer, Jeff Passan, Jonah Keri, Craig Calcaterra and Jay Jaffe. Plus 36 more who are nearly as great (get it?), but possibly not quite as well-known as those guys. That's right! 42 terrific writers covering 43 nearly Hall of Fame worthy players (well, in my opinion, several of them are Hall-worthy, but there are also a few who simply were good to very good).

Through an affiliate program with the book's creators, if you purchase the eBook using the link provided here [i.e. the cover image to the right], I get a commission. I'm not sure if that's any additional incentive, but you can't blame me for trying.

So, go ahead and slide that mouse just a little to the right and CLICK! You know you want to.

The Hall of Clearly Above Replacement But Not Quite Average

A silly comment I made on Twitter in response to an observation by Adam Darowski somehow springboarded (you see how I managed to get in an Olympic reference there) into a collaborative project involving five other writers in addition to me and Adam.

The gist of it is the seven of us profiled 43 players whose career value is considered at least eight Wins Above Replacement, but below average according to Baseball-Reference's version of these metrics. I covered 10 of these players, including Chris Chambliss, Mike Caldwell, Lee Mazzilli, Carlos May and, of course, the infamous Chet Laabs.

Please head on over to High Heat Stats and read about all 43.