Sunday, February 27, 2011

Most Over-Rated Players in Baseball History

The title of this post may be a bit of an exaggeration. There's really no way for one person to make such a determination, especially having witnessed only a little more than one-fourth of the 140 years of baseball history this list is based on. Besides, it's extremely difficult to define over-rated, but I've got a pretty good idea what that term means to me.

Essentially, a player is over-rated if a majority of people think he's better than he really is. Pretty simple, right? Of course, this is all subjective, because the person claiming he's over-rated—in this case me—is actually in the minority. So, in theory, those who I think are over-rating a particular player could, in turn, be just as convinced that I'm under-rating him.

But, there are two distinct camps with regard to player valuation in baseball. Actually, it's not quite that simple, but essentially there are the old school "eye test" types, and the newfangled statistics-oriented folks. Not surprisingly, I fall into the latter category, but the former category use statistics too. They're just in denial of the fact that they emphasize the wrong statistics.

The ultimate baseball honor is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But, not surprisingly, there are players who are in the Hall who are not deserving, and, therefore, are somewhat over-rated. But, they're all good players at least, right? Well, not necessarily. You may or may not be surprised to know there are members of the Hall of Fame, elected as players, who were only of average ability.

Additionally, players elected on the first ballot—those who at least 75% of the voting body think are Hall of Famers without having to give them a second thought—are the most highly regarded of an already elite group. So, it follows that the weakest of the first-ballot inductees are at least a little over-rated as well.

But, what about first ballot inductees who don't even belong in the Hall of Fame? Do such players exist? Yes, they do.

These two groups—Hall of Famers of average ability and first-ballot inductees who really don't deserve the honor at all—are going to be the focus of my determination of the most over-rated players in baseball history.

I'm going to start with the former category, by looking at the Hall of Famers with the fewest career Wins Above Replacement (rWAR):
  • Satchel Paige -8.6
  • Tommy McCarthy - 18.1
  • Monte Irvin - 20.5
  • Ray Schalk - 22.6
  • Rick Ferrell - 22.9
  • Rube Marquard - 24.2
  • Lloyd Waner - 24.3
  • Rollie Fingers - 24.3
  • Bruce Sutter - 24.3
  • George Kelly - 24.6
  • Bill Mazeroski - 26.9
  • George Wright - 28.6
  • Freddie Lindstrom - 29.2
  • Chick Hafey - 29.5
Paige and Irvin, of course, are in the Hall of Fame because of their performances in the Negro Leagues prior to integration, so their WAR totals are only associated with their abbreviated major league careers.

McCarthy has become the poster boy in recent years for being the worst player in the Hall of Fame. So, if he was over-rated at the time of his election, he no longer is. Besides, he is often credited with inventing the hit and run. So, he gets a pass from this list.

Schalk, Ferrell and Mazeroski are highly regarded because of their defensive prowess, and while the WAR numbers only back up the case for Mazeroski, I'm not convinced that they accurately reflect the defensive abilities of Schalk and Ferrell. At least not to the extent that I'm willing to say they're not as good as people say they were.

Fingers and Sutter are among the greatest relief pitchers of all-time. There are some who think most relievers, particularly these two, don't belong in the Hall of Fame. If anything, those folks would claim their value is over-rated, but not necessarily their ability as players.

Wright and Hafey aren't necessarily Hall of Fame worthy, but each of them were considerably better than average offensive players, as evidenced by Wright's career OPS+ (park and league adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) of 125—25% better than average—and Hafey's 133 mark.

So, that leaves Marquard, Waner, Kelly and Lindstrom.

Rube Marquard was a deadball era pitcher who enjoyed four very good seasons: 1911 to 1913 and 1916. Even still, these seasons were far from Koufax-esque and his career ERA+ (park and league adjusted earned run average) of 103 indicates a slightly better than average pitcher. His career won-loss record of 201-177 and .532 winning percentage—for those who like to look at such numbers—are nothing to write home about either.

As far as I can tell, Lloyd Waner was elected to the Hall of Fame because he was "Little Poison" to his older brother Paul's "Big Poison," and because batting average was an over-rated statistic during his playing days. Big brother had a Hall of Fame caliber career, but Lloyd was basically an average offensive player whose .316 lifetime batting average masked his complete lack of power and relatively weak ability to reach base. His career OPS+ of 99 is indicative of the mediocre hitter that he was.

George "High Pockets" Kelly produced only six or seven above average seasons out of 16 in his career. Maybe three or four of them were All-Star caliber campaigns. None of them were worthy of MVP consideration, although he finished 3rd in 1925 and 6th in 1924. With a career OPS+ of 109, Kelly was a solid player, but not a Hall of Famer.

Freddie Lindstrom only had a marginally better career than Kelly and Waner. Similar to Kelly, his career OPS+ was only above average, although he had two MVP caliber seasons before retiring young, prior to his 31st birthday.

Among first-ballot Hall of Famers, the lowest in terms of career WAR are as follows:
  • Lou Brock - 39.1
  • Kirby Puckett - 44.8
  • Sandy Koufax - 48.7
  • Willie Stargell - 57.5
  • Dennis Eckersley - 58.3
  • Dave Winfield - 59.7
  • Jim Palmer - 63.1
  • Jackie Robinson - 63.2
  • Bob Feller - 63.3
  • Ernie Banks - 64.4
Koufax's entire body of work may be a little over-rated, but it's impossible to consider the brilliance of his peak years over-rated.

Eckersley is an interesting case. He had a pretty good career as a starter, but it flamed out early, until he transformed himself into a dominant reliever. The same applies to him as does to Fingers and Sutter. Even if his career worth is a little overvalued, he's not over-rated.

Winfield's WAR total is low because he rates -9.2 in career defensive WAR, despite seven Gold Gloves. His defensive skills may have been a little over-rated, but not to the extent that he was actually a below average outfielder. Personally, I don't think his first-ballot Hall of Fame election was unwarranted.

Robinson, of course, only played 10 years in the major leagues due to a late start resulting from pre-1947 segregation. Not that I needed to offer even the slightest defense of his place in baseball history and first-ballot Hall of Fame induction.

Stargell's a fairly typical example of a player who was a weak defender but a fantastic hitter. He's far from the only Hall of Famer who falls into that category.

The careers of Palmer, Feller and Banks may be a tad over-rated, but they were tremendous players who don't belong in this most over-rated in history discussion.

Brock and Puckett are another story.

Kirby Puckett had a short career, similar to that of Thurman Munson. The end of Puckett's career was not as tragic as Munson's, but it was non-baseball related nevertheless. Kirby only topped a 140 OPS+ twice in his 12 seasons, and his 124 career mark is not indicative of a strong enough peak to get a player with such a short career into the Hall of Fame, let alone on the first ballot.

Lou Brock is in the Hall of Fame because he reached the artificial milestone of 3000 hits and because he was the career stolen base leader for 13 years. However, the fact that he reached 3000 hits had a lot to do with his longevity, and his impressive stolen base total is tempered by his just barely acceptable 75.3% success rate. His 109 OPS+ shows that he was only an above average offensive player. This, however, only scratches at the surface of his over-rated status.

Brock was a pretty weak outfielder. He committed 10 or more errors in 11 consecutive seasons, from 1964-1974. As an outfielder. The fact that he didn't play center field, despite his tremendous speed and decent throwing arm, is testament to his sub-par defensive ability.

Lou Brock was not a first-ballot worthy Hall of Famer. In fact, he probably doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame at all. In my opinion, he is easily the most over-rated player of all-time.

After all that, I'm really only able to say that these five names make my short list of the most over-rated players of all-time:
  1. Lou Brock
  2. Lloyd Waner
  3. Rube Marquard
  4. Kirby Puckett
  5. George Kelly
Look, I don't have anything against any of these guys. In fact, three of them played their entire careers long before I was born, so obviously all I have are statistics to form the basis of my opinions of them. I cheered for Puckett when I attended his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2001, and Brock has always seemed like a class guy. But, some players were simply not as good as many would have you believe, and these players land squarely in that category.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Top 20 Left Fielders of All-Time

When I was writing my post about the All-Left Field Team, it occurred to me how many non-Hall of Famers I rank higher than those who are actual members of the Hall. So, I decided to produce a list of my top 20 all-time left fielders.

It turns out, the National Baseball Hall of Fame lists 20 left fielders among its membership. However, there are quite a few differences between that list and this one:
  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Ted Williams
  3. Stan Musial
  4. Rickey Henderson
  5. Carl Yastrzemski
  6. Ed Delahanty
  7. Fred Clarke
  8. Joe Jackson
  9. Jesse Burkett
  10. Al Simmons
  11. Manny Ramirez
  12. Goose Goslin
  13. Tim Raines
  14. Sherry Magee
  15. Billy Williams
  16. Willie Stargell
  17. Joe Medwick
  18. Joe Kelley
  19. Zack Wheat
  20. Minnie Minoso
The names in italics are not Hall of Famers. Of course, Bonds and Ramirez are not yet eligible, and Jackson is on the permanently ineligible list. But, Raines, Magee and Minoso are the most deserving left fielders who aren't in the Hall.

What Hall of Famers didn't make this list? Well, first of all, the Hall's web site lists Musial as a first baseman, so there are actually seven who are missing. Can you name them? I'll be writing more about at least one of them in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Frequent Spins (2011.1)

Gregg Allman - Low Country Blues
The former Allman Brothers lead singer's first solo effort in 14 years caught me by surprise, despite the fact that there's no real groundbreaking material here. It's just that, I didn't expect he was going to hop on the Robert Plant bandwagon of classic rock artists making comebacks in their 60s. Actually, Plant was just short of his 60th birthday when he teamed up with Alison Krauss on Raising Sand in 2007, but you get my point. Allman's latest is a little truer to the style he's known for than Plant's recent output. Regardless, this is a very pleasing no nonsense blues-rock album that reminds me that, not only did Allman influence the Drive-By Truckers, he probably also had a little positive effect on the sounds of The Black Keys.

The Decemberists - The King is Dead
After their forays into prog-rock that began with The Crane Wife, and continued in full force on The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists tone things down considerably on the rootsier The King is Dead. Three of the band's five members dipped their toes into the Americana genre last year, with Black Prairie's Feast of the Hunters' Moon, so this turn should come as little surprise to anyone. The King is Dead is nowhere near as dark as that effort, however, and Colin Meloy's decidedly non-countryish voice actually makes the album sound fresher than most in this genre. And then there's Gillian Welch, who, according to a Paste magazine review, "...(plays) Nicolette Larson to Meloy's Neil Young" on seven tracks. A better choice for accompaniment the Decemberists could not have made.

Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
I've read comparisons between Sam Beam's latest and Sufjan Stevens's effort from last year, but this album isn't quite as experimental as the latter. Still, it's a significant departure from his lo-fi beginnings, i.e. 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle. To me, it's also the first time that Iron & Wine has fully lived up to the lofty expectations I had for him following the release of the aforementioned debut almost a decade ago. Somewhat contrary to the "experimental" moniker, there have also been numerous comparisons to a '70s pop-rock sound. I'm not sure if it's what said reviewers had in mind, but I hear Traffic at certain points, and I'm definitely not complaining.

Smith Westerns - Dye it Blonde
I haven't really heard the description psychedelic power pop used all that often—I guess you could use it in reference to a band like MGMT—but that's what I'm calling this band of Chicago kids who have not yet reached legal drinking age. On Dye it Blonde, they churn out a pretty impressive array of Beatles-meet-T. Rex hooks, which are tempered slightly by vocals that remind me of a more upbeat version of the Skygreen Leopards. If that description confuses you—and I can't say that I blame you—all you have to do is click the little play button below for one-minute previews of each of the album's songs.

Abigail Washburn - City of Refuge
Béla Fleck is Abigail Washburn's husband, so I guess that makes her the second-best banjo player in the family, although she certainly holds her own in that regard. Clawhammer banjo is what Washburn is primarily known for, but it's her vocals that also stand out on this album, with the warmth of her voice sometimes reminding me of Rosanne Cash. That's a quality that might sound like it would be out of place on songs that mine the territory of neo-Appalachian folk, but that's not the case on City of Refuge. Add a few Andrew Bird-esque moody string arrangements, and you've got an extremely pleasing listen. But, don't take my word for it...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The All-Left Field Team

It's occurred to me for quite some time that my blog is called Left Field and I've yet to do a post about the greatest left fielders of all-time. It's something I've been meaning to do, but it just hasn't been able to get off the back burner.

Then, this idea came to me. Rather than just producing a simple list of the top ten left fielders to ever play the game, I've created the "All-Left Field Team." That is, a team of players whose primary position was left field, but who also played a significant number of games at a different position.

So, here are the criteria:
  1. Most importantly, to qualify for the team, a player's primary position must be left field. There are no exceptions to this rule.
  2. The player must have played at least 100 games at the position that he fills on the team. I had to make one exception to this rule. 
That's pretty much it. Otherwise, the players are evaluated for inclusion on the team based on the entirety of their career, rather than the time they spent at the position they're slotted in at.

Obviously, filling out a lineup of players who all primarily played the same position was not an easy task. But, I did manage to include the five guys who would be pretty clear-cut picks as the greatest left fielders ever. I also was able to find spots for my top six all-time at the position, although my #6 would not necessarily be a consensus pick.

In all, the ten players listed below include seven Hall of Famers and two who are considered by many to be borderline candidates who received much less support than they deserved. So, here they are, the members of the All-Left Field Team:

C - Jim O'Rourke (1872-93, 1904)
2639 H, 62 HR, 1208 RBI, 1729 R, 229 SB*, .310 BA, 133 OPS+, 53.9 WAR
* Stolen bases are incomplete since they're unavailable as a National League statistic from 1876-1885.

Orator Jim played his entire major league career in the 19th century, with the exception of a one-game comeback in 1904, at age 53. In fact, following his last major league appearance prior to 1904, O'Rourke kicked around in the minors for over ten years, so in reality, his baseball career lasted until well past his 50th birthday.

He caught 231 games in his 23 seasons in the majors, but it never was his regular position. Interestingly enough, 131 of those games came after the age of 35.

O'Rourke's career began prior to the inception of the National League. He was signed by the Boston Red Stockings in 1873, and when they joined the fledgling NL in 1876, he earned the distinction of getting the first hit in National League history. He then went on to accumulate the second-most games played, hits, runs, at bats, doubles and total bases over the period of 1876-1892.

O'Rourke was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by the Old Timers Committee, in 1945, joining an exclusive club that included only 26 players at the time.

1B - Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983)
3419 H, 452 HR, 1844 RBI, 1816 R, 168 SB, .285 BA, 129 OPS+, 88.7 WAR

Yaz would be #5 on my list of the all-time greatest left fielders. He played 23 seasons for the Boston Red Sox and was a positional regular for 22 of them: 11 in left field, five at first base, five as DH, and one in center field.

Following in the footsteps of an icon, Yastrzemski managed to produce a pretty legendary career himself, winning three batting titles, seven Gold Gloves and earning 18 all-star game selections. He is also the last player to win a Triple Crown, in 1967.

His tremendous accomplishments earned him a first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame in 1989, the third of 13 consecutive years (1987-1999) I attended the ceremony.

2B - Ed Delahanty (1888-1903)
2597 H, 101 HR, 1466 RBI, 1600 R, 455 SB, .346 BA, 152 OPS+, 74.7 WAR

One of the greatest players of the 19th century, Big Ed Delahanty was the first player ever to bat over .400 three times, accomplishing the feat in the span of just six years (1894-1899). He also ranks #6 on my list of the best left fielders of all-time.

He began his career as primarily an infielder, playing mostly second base in his rookie year, until eventually moving to left field, where he prospered. It total, he logged just 131 games as a second baseman, but that was enough to earn him that position on this team.

Delahanty was a classic five-tool player, long before the term came into existence. He hit for power and average, and was a good fielder with a strong arm and very good speed, even leading the league in stolen bases once, in 1898.

His career ended prematurely and tragically, however, at the age of 35. His personal life in a shambles, and battling a drinking problem, he abandoned his current team, the Washington Senators, while they were on the road in Detroit. He was headed for New York on a train, but was kicked off for unruliness in the vicinity of Niagara Falls.

Attempting to cross the International Bridge on foot, Delahanty fell off the bridge into the Niagara River. His body was found seven days later at the base of the falls. It's unclear whether his death was the result of a drunken accident or a suicide.

A career .346 hitter—fifth all-time—and the career RBI leader at the point of the untimely end of his career, Ed Delahanty was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945, the same year as Jim O'Rourke.

SS - Sherry Magee (1904-1919)
2169 H, 83 HR, 1176 RBI, 1112 R, 441 SB, .291 BA, 136 OPS+, 59.1 WAR

This is where I had to make an exception and choose someone who played less than 100 games at his position. In fact, Magee played 39 of his 40 games at short in one particular season: 1914. Obviously, there aren't very many left fielders who also played shortstop. Delahanty did as well, but finding a left fielder/second baseman was no easy task either, so the Delahanty-Magee keystone combination is what I'll go with.

Magee is one of three non-Hall of Famers on this team, receiving no better than 1% of the vote in eight separate appearances on the ballot. Despite this lack of support, to me he's a borderline candidate, although there are quite a few others who I would take up the torch for before him.

Magee played in the deadball era, so at first glance, his offensive numbers are not eye-popping, but he is the only non-Hall of Famer to lead the league in RBI four times. He also had a career adjusted OPS, or OPS+, of 136, a mark that ranks him better than the Hall of Fame median.

Unfortunately, Magee's career was marred by an on-field incident involving an assault on an umpire. He was suspended for the remainder of the 1911 season, a punishment that was lifted after 29 games served, for punching and knocking out the home plate umpire after being called out on strikes.

I'm not sure if that incident is the reason Magee received so little support in his candidacy for baseball immortality. In my opinion, he's more deserving than quite a few of the left fielders who are able to call themselves Hall of Famers.

3B - Minnie Minoso (1949, 1951-64, 1976, 1980)
1963 H, 186 HR, 1023 RBI, 1136 R, 205 SB, .298 BA, 130 OPS+, 52.8 WAR

Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso played his first professional baseball in the United States in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That year, Minnie signed with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. He was just 20 years old.

Three years later, Minoso broke into the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians, the team that, two years prior, had made Larry Doby the first black player in the American League. He only played in nine major league games that year, and none the following year, but in 1951 he returned to the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, this time to stay.

Early in his career, he played quite a bit of third base, in addition to left field, recording 116 games total at the hot corner.

A lot of people my age know Minnie more for his distinction of being one of only two players in history
Nick Altrock being the otherto play in five different decades. Brief appearances with the White Sox, in 1976 at age 50 and 1980 at age 54, helped him achieve that notoriety. But, Minoso did put together a near Hall of Fame career.

A lot of folks feel he should be enshrined in Cooperstown, and point to his late start in the majors due to the lack of integration as one of their arguments, but I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong. He's definitely a borderline case, but he did fully arrive in the majors at the age of 25, so I don't really think that affords him any special consideration. Still, as is the case with Magee, his career is more Hall-worthy than at least a few others at this position who are in.

LF - Ted Williams (1939-42, 1946-60)
2654 H, 521 HR, 1839 RBI, 1798 R, 24 SB, .344 BA, 190 OPS+, 125.3 WAR

Williams actually was the Red Sox right fielder during his rookie season of 1939. But, somebody has to play left field on this team, so why not Teddy Ballgame, arguably the greatest left fielder in baseball history? Actually, he's #2 on my list, and if I was actually filling out a lineup with the ten players featured here, Williams would be my DH. But, Williams never played that role, since the DH didn't exist when he was active, so that would break one of my rules.

As is the case with the three players to follow on this team, Williams's accomplishments and statistics pretty much speak for themselves. In addition to those listed above, his career .482 on-base percentage is the best of all-time. Be sure to click over to his page on, which is basically covered in black ink, a representation of the fact that he led the league in so many offensive categories throughout his career.

Williams missed almost five seasons due to military service, the entire 1943, 1944 and 1945 seasons (World War II) and most of the 1952 and 1953 seasons (Korean War). His exceptional accomplishments, despite missing this time during his prime years, has me wondering if I should actually rank him first.

Just as his predecessor in left field for the Red Sox was the last player to win the Triple Crown, Williams was the major leagues' last .400 hitter, batting .406 in 1941. Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966, on the first ballot, of course. He received 93.4% of the vote. I suppose I don't have to tell you that means 6.6% didn't vote for him. Hard to believe.

CF - Barry Bonds (1986-2007)
2935 H, 762 HR, 1996 RBI, 2227 R, 514 SB, .298 BA, 181 OPS+, 171.8 WAR

Bonds is the greatest left fielder of all-time, with or without the cloud that will forever be hanging over his head. But, if you want to argue Ted Williams over Bonds, based on the purity of his accomplishments, I can't say that I blame you. In fact, we'd have to just respectfully agree to disagree on that one.

Bonds was the Pirates' starting center fielder in his rookie season of 1986, but moved to left field when Pittsburgh traded for Andy Van Slyke the following year.

In addition to being the all-time home run leader, Bonds tops the career list in walks, and his seven MVP awards are more than twice that of any other player in history—nine different players have three. I think he'll eventually end up in the Hall of Fame. It's just really hard to say how the process will play out, and exactly when his day will come.

RF - Stan Musial (1941-44, 1946-63)
3630 H, 475 HR, 1951 RBI, 1949 R, 78 SB, .331 BA, 159 OPS+, 127.8 WAR

For some reason, I just want to be able to say that I think Stan Musial is better than Ted Williams, but I really can't. The thing is, though, Williams is only a tiny bit better, but you wouldn't know it based on the difference in notoriety that the two receive. As far as I know, nobody ever calls Musial the greatest anything, but Williams's name is certainly thrown into that discussion a lot.

Just as Williams lost time to World War II, so did Musial, but the latter lost only one year compared to the nearly five that Williams served. So, I guess that settles my personal Williams-Musial controversy. Stan the Man will have to settle for being the third best left fielder ever. 

Inducted in 1969, the 90-year old Musial isn't even the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame. Bobby Doerr (92) and Monte Irvin (turns 92 this month) are older.

DH - Rickey Henderson (1979-2003)
3055 H, 297 HR, 1115 RBI, 2295 R, 1406 SB, .279 BA, 127 OPS+, 113.1 WAR

If I was filling out a lineup card based on these players, I would probably have Bonds—arguably the best defensive left fielder of all-time—in left, Williams at DH, and Henderson in center, where he's more experienced than Bonds. Rickey was the Yankees' starting center fielder in 1985 and 1986, and played 446 games there in his career, to Bonds's 171. But, since that would break my own rules, Henderson will fill the final non-pitching role on this team.

Besides being the all-time leader in stolen bases, Rickey scored more runs than anyone else in baseball history. So, it should come as no surprise that he's my leadoff hitter. While we're on that subject, this team's batting order would go something like this:

Henderson DH
Magee SS
Bonds CF
Williams LF
Musial RF
Delahanty 2B
Yastrzemski 1B
O'Rourke C
Minoso 3B

Henderson, #4 on my all-time list of left fielders, was immortalized in Cooperstown in 2009, the 9th consecutive year in my second longest streak of attending the induction ceremony. That streak currently stands at 10 and counting.

P - Nixey Callahan (1894, 1897-1905, 1911-13)
901 H, 11 HR, 394 RBI, 442 R, 186 SB, .273 BA, 93 OPS+, 99-73 W-L, 3.39 ERA, 1603 IP, 109 ERA+, 21.8 WAR

James Joseph Callahan was a versatile player who logged 489 games in the outfield, 110 at third base, 62 at second base, 22 at shortstop, and also pitched 1603 innings in 195 games, mostly as a starter. But, he was primarily a left fielder, of course. However, he was arguably more successful as a pitcher than a hitter, as evidenced by his 109/93 ERA+/OPS+ comparison, and that's the role he fills on this team.

Callahan began his career with the Philadelphia Phillies and then the Chicago Colts/Orphans, the team that eventually would be named the Cubs. In 1901, he became one of the first players to switch to the upstart American League, moving to the south side of town to play for the White Sox. Two years later, he became the team's player/manager.

His playing career was interrupted by a five-year period (1906-10) in which he ran a successful Chicago-based semi-pro team, the Logan Squares. This venture essentially got him banned from the major leagues, but he was reinstated—after paying a $700 fine—in order to return to the White Sox in 1911, at age 37.

I've read that he didn't go by the name "Nixey" during his playing days. It was a childhood nickname that only newspaper reporters referred to him by as an adult. But, to make this team as the only non-Hall of Fame worthy player, you have to have a cool moniker. So, Nixey it is, rounding out this celebration of some of the greatest players who ever played Left Field.

Much of the biographical information and statistical data for this post comes from the SABR Bio Project and

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Left Field

Left Field is what I consider to be the first position I played regularly in organized baseball. In my first two years, in what was called the minor leagues in LaGrange Youth Baseball, in the little New York town where I grew up, I played a mix of mostly outfield and second base, but there wasn't much consistency. That is, from what I can remember, as I was only 8-9 years old.

But, at the age of 10, I made it to Little League, and I had a pretty good rookie season—batting .346—as the primary left fielder for a Carter Insurance team that won the LaGrange West division crown, but got smoked in the league championship, 13-1. Of course, this was Little League and everyone had to play, so I mostly shared time in left, but probably got about 60% of the playing time. But, that's not my point.

In later Little League years, I was the starting first baseman and then center fielder, and eventually ended up playing second base—due to my lack of size and unimpressive throwing arm—at more competitive levels of baseball, but left field was my first regular position.

That's not the reason this blog is called Left Field. In fact, other than for the reason that it seemed like a cool title for a blog written by a baseball fanatic, whose subject matter is in the neighborhood of 50% baseball, I don't really know why I decided to call it Left Field. What's really curious to me, as I try to remember the reasoning behind the naming of this blog, is that my first use of it was to countdown my top ten albums of 2003.

Anyway, my point is that I've been working on a post to be titled "The All-Left Field Team." It's an all-time team consisting of nothing but left fielders, an interesting twist on this type of post, at least in my humble opinion. Stay tuned for more on what that's all about.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Earl of Snohomish

In the late '70s, my next-door neighbor (and childhood best friend) and I discovered Strat-O-Matic, first football and then baseball. The football game, while somewhat strategically deficient, did have the element of trying to out-think your opponent that the baseball game was lacking. It provided hundreds of hours of entertainment for us—including our annual Thanksgiving day matchup between the '58 Colts and '58 Giants—but, ultimately, we decided the baseball game was better.

I'm not really sure why. As I already inferred, Strat-O-Matic Baseball was more about luck than was Strat-O-Matic Football. Case in point: Brian was the quarterback of our high school football team and simply had a knack for figuring out what I was thinking, to the point he probably won about 55% of the football games. This despite the fact you didn't have to have any in-depth knowledge of football strategy to understand the game. Now, when we played more complex football strategy games, he flat out kicked my butt.

So, the reason we liked Strat-O-Matic Baseball better was probably because Strat-O-Matic Football didn't satisfy Brian's desire for real football strategy, and because I was tired of him coaching inferior teams to victories over mine. Baseball was a much more level playing field. I was a little more knowledgeable, but it really didn't matter.

When the college years came along, Brian and I invented a drinking game associated with Strat-O-Matic Baseball that we played with the Hall of Famer set of cards. As evidenced by the fact he became my first home brewing partner around the same time, suffice it to say our interest in re-creating sports contests wasn't the only thing Brian and I had in common.

I'm not going to go into detail regarding the rules of the game, but I will say high scoring games resulted in inebriated managers. The game worked well with the Hall of Famer set because, when the odds are 50-50 the hitter's card will determine the outcome of an at bat, there is no such thing as strong pitching beating strong hitting.

Although Brian and I invented the game, my college buddy, Stein, and I perfected it during what we dubbed the Busch Drinking Series (BDS). The BDS was so named for the 16 oz. cans of the brand of beer we consumed while playing. OK, before you give me a hard time for drinking Budweiser's inferior—if that's even possible—cousin...yes, I had discovered home brewing, and had a bit of taste for what would later come to be known as craft beer, but I was still a college student, after all.

The Busch Drinking Series consisted of an entire 162-game series played between the same two teams, the 1956 Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds.

Why did we choose these two teams, you ask? Well, first of all, Strat-O-Matic had just begun to release entire sets of teams from past years, and 1956 was one of the first. I think my interest in purchasing one of these sets, which consisted of many players I wasn't at all familiar with, was just that. If I wanted to try to use these players unrealistically, it meant a lot less to me if a player I didn't know a lot about performed beyond his capabilities.

The reason we chose the Tigers and the Reds, in particular, was these two teams had potent offenses and not necessarily good pitching. The Reds led the National League in runs, home runs, and slugging percentage, and were second in batting average and on-base percentage (OBP). Their pitching staff was not terrible, but definitely below average, finishing fifth—out of eight teams—in team ERA and WHIP (base-runners allowed per inning), and second-to-last in strikeouts.

The Tigers led the American League in batting average, and finished second in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and third in home runs. On the pitching side, they were fourth in team ERA, and sixth in WHIP and home runs allowed.

The idea was a success, at least in terms of the incredible offensive displays put on by both teams. We kept statistics, of course, but when I came across them several years ago, they were incomplete. I did, however, find the mid-season statistics I had compiled for the Tigers, the team I managed. Through 80 games, five players had 50 or more RBI (Ray Boone, Bob Wilson, Al Kaline, Charlie Maxwell, Harvey Kuenn) and six had 50 or more runs scored (Earl Torgeson, Kuenn, Maxwell, Kaline, Wilson, Boone). At that point, my team had 95 home runs, 522 runs scored and a composite batting average of .307.

I'm pretty certain we didn't quite maintain that pace for the entire season, as we actually lost the series 86-76. I am pretty sure, though, only a few of the aforementioned players fell short in their bids for 100 runs and/or 100 RBI, so it was a potentially record-setting performance. As you can imagine, my opposition's numbers were equally as impressive, although you'd be somewhat surprised to hear we actually outscored them over the course of the 162 games. I guess that's at least a partial indictment of my ability as a manager.

Perhaps my favorite player on the 1956 Tigers was Earl Torgeson, my leadoff hitter and on-base machine. Torgeson's success reflects the fact my thinking was way ahead of my time, as I fell in love with players who didn't necessarily hit for a high average, but who walked a lot and had a little bit of power. In 1956, Torgeson batted .264 with 78 walks—for a .406 OBP—and 12 home runs in just 318 at bats. For his career, he was a .265 hitter with a .385 OBP.

At the time, I likened Torgeson to Mike Hargrove, who actually was a little better hitter for average (.290) with a little less power (.391 career slugging percentage to Torgeson's .417), but who also played first base and had a similar penchant for drawing walks (.396 career OBP).

Torgeson was born and raised in Snohomish, Washington, and is one of two former major league players from that town with the name of Earl, the other being Hall of Famer Earl Averill. Probably not coincidentally, both were nicknamed "The Earl of Snohomish."

Averill played from 1929 to 1941, and Torgeson from 1947 to 1961, so it's likely Torgeson was given the nickname in honor of Averill. Regardless, this post is a tribute to my favorite Earl of Snohomish, Clifford Earl Torgeson.

I got the chance to visit his home town over this past holiday season—my brother-in-law's family lives there—and it was everything I imagined it would be.