Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Music #1: Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle - Perils from the Sea

In 2003, in the series of posts that kicked off this blog's existence, one of my top-rated albums was by an artist who was a new discovery for me.

I knew of Red House Painters, and would later become a fan of most everything by Mark Kozelek, but it was Sun Kil Moon's debut, Ghosts of the Great Highway, that was my starting point. 

That record is still the finest Sun Kil Moon's ever released, and perhaps is a better album than the two I ranked higher, but ten years later, Kozelek has finally made something worthy of the anticipation Ghosts stirred in me. 

Earlier this year, I referred to this collaboration between Kozelek and The Album Leaf's Jimmy LaValle as Postal Service for the older music fan. I think I really meant to call it Postal Service for those who like somber music. 

Perhaps that odd comparison only pertains to a few songs, but I think it does a pretty good job of describing the combination of Kozelek's sometimes dark, and always introspective, folksiness and LaValle's understated brand of electro-pop.

I've seen this album on only one critical year-end list (and one friend's list), so you might not be able to trust my unique opinion that this is the best album of the year, but if "Somehow the Wonder of Life Prevails" doesn't make you want to listen to the rest, then you're dead inside this probably isn't your thing. 

Either way, thanks again for reading, for helping me mark my 10th anniversary, and for being a part of another yearalbeit my least prolific in quite some timeof paying attention to what I have to say.

I hope your 2013 was as good as Mark Kozelek's was professionally (two different collaborations in my top 11), and mine was personally. 

Happy New Year and best of luck in 2014.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Year in Music #2:
The National - Trouble Will Find Me

We all deal with our favorite artists making album after album in a similar vein in a different way.

Some of us are left a little dissatisfied and wanting more, not necessarily for them to reinvent themselvesalthough there are some who seem to want this, namely the most snobbish of music criticsbut are probably looking for them to progress in some way. 

Others just want their favorites to remain true to their formula for success, even if it means each album sounds pretty much the same as those that came before it. 

I'm definitely closer to the former camp than the latter. I'm generally looking for something that distinguishes each album as its own entity, but if they're truly one of my favorite artists, my interest won't wane very quickly regardless. 

The National doesn't do anything here they haven't done before, but the thing is, they do it better

That statement is sure to be a bit controversial. I'm not trying to say this is their best albumI'd still probably award that honor to Boxerbut it delivers their best set of plaintive and contemplative songs to date, including the gut-wrenching "Pink Rabbits," an account of seeing an ex-lover that results in the protagonist realizing he's not as over her as he thought, and is perhaps my favorite song of the year of less than ten minutes.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Year in Music #3:
Jason Isbell - Southeastern

Jason Isbell was briefly one of the three main songwriters in the Drive-By Truckers, but just like Mike Cooley, Isbell has never occupied the lofty status in my mind that Patterson Hood does. Until now.

Hood has always been at his best when he's telling a story, and it's Isbell's emergence as a storyteller that has resulted in an album that's as good as the best records in the Truckers' catalog.

There are at least a half dozen gems here, but two of them really stand out. "Elephant" is a tale of one friend's support for another who's dying of cancer, all the while avoiding any discussion of the obvious subject. "Songs That She Sang in the Shower" is the year's second best song about yearning for an ex-lover.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Year in Music #4:
Local Natives - Hummingbird

It's pretty rare that an album gets better and better with each subsequent listen, but that about explains my experience with Local Natives' sophomore effort this year. When I wrote about Hummingbird in my last Frequent Spins entry, I acknowledged that I wasn't completely sold on it.

But grow on me it did...and then some. This record's combination of progressively uptempo tracks such as "Breakers," "Black Balloons" and "Wooly Mammoth," and quiet and poignant songs like "Three Months" and "Colombia" make it almost an instant classic, and make Local Natives my favorite musical discovery of 2013.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Music #5:
Yo La Tengo - Fade

This January release was the year's earliest contender for the top spot. It remained there for about three months, but was eventually overtaken by four albums, three of which just as easily could've been #1. But, we'll get to that later.

Yo La Tengo is one of those bands I've always had a great deal of respect for, and whose music I've appreciated, but by whom there's never been an album I've loved until now. 

Earlier this year, I called this record Yo La Tengo's Luna phase, while the less accessible parts of their back catalog was their Galaxie 500 period. I'm standing by that assessment, and here's the best evidence. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Year in Music #6:
Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium

Since much of this year's countdown is a celebration of the blog's 10 years of existence, I don't mind repeating myself by saying Okkervil River's latest is excellent, but it's no Black Sheep Boy.

I'm pretty sure I've said that for every Okkervil album since 2005. But, then again, judging by how I felt about that album, it's pretty safe to say they'll never match it.

Okkervil River is one of two bands in this year's  top ten who have been here before. Actually, there are also three singersVolcano Choir's Justin Vernon being onewho have appeared in my top ten before, but with other bands.

The Silver Gymnasium is a nostalgic record, and oh do you know how I love nostalgia. On this effort, I particularly love when Will Sheff waxes "Tell me about the greatest show, or the greatest movie you know, or the greatest song that you taped off the radio. Play it again and again, it cuts off at the ending, though" on the album's best track "Down Down the Deep River."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Year in Music #7:
Volcano Choir - Repave

Despite seeming to be a side project of Bon Iver front-man Justin Vernon, the formation of Volcano Choir actually predates the former. But, it was Bon Iver's success that brought attention to this band, and certainly is the reason it even found its way on my radar.

Volcano Choir is a fitting name, as the album alternates between quiet, understated moments and sprawling, muscular hook-laden parts. The latter qualities are perhaps intended to represent eruptions, but to me, they're what separates this project from Vernon's main gig, although his folky but soulful voice still unmistakably links the two bands he's most known for.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Year in Music #8:
The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow's modern take on Americanaor "Brooklyn country music," as the band likes to call it, even if they're all transplanted southernersdelivers the year's highest ranking debut album.

Ever since alt-country's heyday in the late '90s (OK, maybe for me it lasted until the early '00s), I've found it takes something really special from the genre to make a big enough impact on me. 

Needless to say, this is a pretty special album. Most of the songs were written while lead singer Zach Williams' wife was recovering from a car accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. 

Perhaps that explains songs with titles such as "Two Sides of Lonely," "You Never Need Nobody" and "You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional." But, one of my personal favorites, "Bleeding Out," seems to be more about making it in the big city. Even still, there's at least a hint of the pain and hope for redemption that define the rest of the album.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Year in Music #9:
Haim - Days Are Gone

Yes, two consecutive sister acts to kick off my top ten. Given that Haim are a trio, and Tegan and Sara just a duo, if you can think of a band which includes four sisters, you've got a pretty good guess as to who #8 is.

I've read quite a few comparisons of this band to Wilson Phillips, and while these songs are lot less cheesy than "Hold On," there's definitely an '80s-'90s girl-group thing going on here.

Of course, since this is my #9 album of the year, I don't mean that in a bad way at all. Even if the idea of a modern and kind of hip interpretation of that genre doesn't sound interesting to you, I dare you to listen to songs like "Falling," "Honey and I," "Running if You Call My Name" and "The Wire" (below) and tell me they're not infectious.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Year in Music #10:
Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

10 years ago today, in this blog's first entry, I wrote about the fact that Ryan Adams didn't appear in my top ten for the second year in a row. Of course, this was only notable because Adams (solo and with Whiskeytown) had charted two #1s and a #2 the previous five years. But, the detail that really linked that post to this one was my reference to Adams as a "former alt-country poser/heartthrob."

On that note, I'll begin this 10-day celebration of the blog's tenth anniversary by referencing a good friend's philosophy about guilty pleasures. She doesn't believe in them, because she feels people should embrace the things they love, without reservation. Sorry, I can't find the exact quote, but that about sums it up.

I might otherwise have included Heartthrob in that category. I mean, it's hardly The Best of England Dan & John Ford Coley, but considering it's their first album on which they plunge full-force into the pop mainstream, and the first that really made an impression on me, I really have to remain true to my convictions to include in my top ten.

And let me make one thing clear. By pop mainstream, we're talking Adele and Katy Perry territory here—actually, I know so little about the genre, I'm not really sure if this is the right comparison point—as opposed to Beatles-inspired pop rock.

Rock snobs absolutely hate this album. Well, at least one rock snob—who happens to be my other half in AfroDan Progressive Brewers—I know does. Some folks just don't have it in them to embrace what I might otherwise have called a guilty pleasure.

But, of course, you can decide for yourself by checking out one of my favorite songs of the year:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013: The Year in Music

After extensive discussions with one of my Twitter pals, I've decided to go with a different title from what I've used in the past for this year-end countdown of my favorite albums.

Although I've always gone out of my way to make clear this is not a critical list, but rather a recounting of my personal favorites, I don't think calling it "Best Music of 2013" does justice to my real motivation here. Sure, I'm hoping some friends and readers (not that these terms are mutually exclusive) will find a few recommendations that work for them, but ultimately my purpose is to share the music that made an impact on me, and in some cases, defined my year. 

As you know if you visited last month, December 22 marks the 10th anniversary of this blog. To celebrate the occasion, that will also be the day my top ten countdown begins, just as it did in 2003.

That was almost five years before I met KJ and nearly eight years prior to the day LC was born. Needless to say, my life has changed considerably for the better in the meantime. I like to think this blog helped me get through some times I was less happy than I am now, so if you've been a reader here, you're at least a small part of that. Thank you. 

OK then...let's move on, since I'm sure you clicked this link to read about music anyway. 

As I said previously, this year the emphasis is on the top ten, and since it's not yet December 22, you'll have to wait a few more days for that. But, there were more than ten albums I really enjoyed this year, so without further ado, here's the rest of the list:

21. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

20. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

19. Night Beds - Country Sleep

18. Califone - Stitches

17. Phosphorescent - Muchacho

16. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe

15. Eleanor Friedberger - Personal Record

14. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

13. Matt Pond - The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand

12. Holopaw - Academy Songs, Volume 1

11. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore - s/t

Why a top #21, you ask? The answer is simply that last year I decided not to worry about round numbers, but instead to recognize the number of albums that I really enjoyed. After that, we start to venture into "pretty good" territory, and that's just not what this list is all about.

Stay tuned for the top ten.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Back to Black Friday (aka "An Ode to the Record Store")

Next Friday (November 29) is, of course, Black Friday. Personally, I've never set foot anywhere near a shopping mall on that day, but judging by the hordes of people who descend on major stores to fight over fantastic deals, I guess I'm in the minority. Still, for those of you like me, here's an alternate way to spend Black Friday.

If you followed that link, you know it took you to a news item regarding a special "Record Store Day" Black Friday promotion. While we're on the subject, I thought I'd re-run the most viewed post in this blog's history (below, or click here to add to the aforementioned post's hit count).

An Ode to the Record Store

My first favorite record store was Record World in the South Hills Mall in Poughkeepsie, New York. As a young teenager, I also sometimes purchased records at department stores such as Caldor, but Record World definitely had the best combination of price and selection around.

It was at Record World that I'd flip through the discographies of bands like Blue Öyster Cult, Rainbow and Judas Priest, trying to determine which of their older albums were worth taking a chance on.

It was at Record World that I would purchase a mediocre EP by a band called Cintron, after seeing them as an opening act at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center. But, of course, purchasing records that didn't live up to your expectations was all part of the process back in the pre-Internet days.

It was also at Record World that I hemmed and hawed over paying $8 for a full-length LP, rather than a more reasonable price of $5 to $7.

Record World is now a pet store, or something like that. It hasn't been in the South Hills Mall for years...actually, decades. In fact, the South Hills Mall has basically been rendered obsolete by the nearby mega-mall, the Poughkeepsie Galleria.

I've moved around a lot since those days, and I've had plenty of new favorite record stores, and eventually those record stores became CD stores, but I've continued to call them record stores.

Even long after I stopped buying new records—I'm not one of those music collectors who's remained a vinyl junkie, although I admire those folks—I still maintained a relationship with old-fashioned record stores.

First, I went through a phase where I scoured countless used record stores—fairly successfully, I might add—in search of every record that Neil Young never released on CD. Then, these stores became my destination for the purchase of albums so that I could frame and hang the covers on my wall. I suspect I own at least a dozen records that have, in fact, never been listened to by my ears.

But, over the years, there's only one record store I've held in as high esteem as Record World. That destination would be a place called Rock Bottom Records in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I lived in New Hampshire for only one year—from spring of 1996 to spring of 1997—but after moving to Boston, it still remained a frequented destination when I was in the area or just passing through.

Long before music stores came up with the idea of in-store listening stations, Rock Bottom had an area with racks of hundreds of used CDs and a few portable CD players with headphones that patrons could use to preview albums.

I remember vividly in April of 1997 when both Son Volt's Straightaways—their eagerly anticipated followup to Trace—and The Jayhawks' Sound of Lies—their first album of the post-Mark Olson era—came out on the same day. I previewed and purchased both of them at Rock Bottom, and, for some reason, hearing them in the record store for the first time was a goose-bump-inducing moment.

On another occasion, I was going about my business, listening to various used CDs there, when the album playing on the in-house stereo system caught my ear and really grabbed my attention. I asked the store clerk what it was, and he responded with such enthusiasm that it was the solo record by Smashing Pumpkins' guitarist James Iha. Let it Come Down may never have become my favorite guilty pleasure album if not for Rock Bottom Records.

Another night, as I was leaving the store, I was overhearing a discussion between the store clerk and another customer, as he tried to explain who England, Dan & John Ford Coley were. He was trying to identify their most recognizable song, showing a little frustration as he admitted he was drawing a blank. As I opened the door to the street, I turned in his direction and said, "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight." After a several second double-take, he realized I was identifying the song rather than asking him out.

Unfortunately, Rock Bottom Records has been out of business for quite some time. Other than Newbury Comics, a regional chain of stores that remains a model of success in a fading industry, I haven't had a favorite record store since.

And, as that previous sentence reminds me, I really hope this post is more than just an ode to a dying breed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Handicapping the Expansion Era Ballot

Last week, the Hall of Fame's Expansion Era Committee announced the 12 candidates (whose greatest contributions to baseball were from 1973 to present) who they'll consider for induction this year.

The list of names includes several who were passed over in 2010–when the committee last considered candidates–as well as some prominent newbies. 

The newbies include three managers who are virtual locks to get in: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre, the latter of whom's case is buoyed by a playing career that, at worst, was borderline Hall-worthy. 

In fact, thanks to these three, it's hard to imagine anyone else has much of a chance. Let's do the math. 

The committee consists of 16 members, each of whom can vote for up to five candidates. Assuming everyone uses up their full allotment (which is no guarantee), that's 80 votes to go around. It takes 12 for election, so that means a perfect storm of virtual consensus would result in a maximum of six successful candidates. 

But, of course, that's not going to happen. I could be wrong about this, but it's hard to imagine any more than 2-3 voters each not getting behind this trio of managers. That leaves approximately 40 for the remaining nine candidates. 

Assuming there's some support for each candidate–they wouldn't be on the ballot otherwise–at least two or three votes for each of the remaining nine seems likely. That brings the available votes down to low-20s at most, meaning two more could conceivably garner the extra 9-10 needed to be elected. 

That's a little far-fetched, though, but I'll back off my original contention and say there's an outside chance a fourth could get in. I doubt it, but it's not impossible. 

So, who has the best chance to be that potential fourth selection? 

Marvin Miller and Dave Concepcion both did fairly well in the last Expansion Era election in 2010–receiving 11 and 8 out of a possible 16 votes, respectively–so they're the most obvious candidates. Personally, I think Miller has the best shot, and is much more deserving than Concepcion, who I would rank as slightly more Hall-worthy than Mark Belanger, slightly less than Bert Campaneris and considerably less qualified than Alan Trammell, among his contemporaries at shortstop.

The remainder of the candidates I see as having little to no chance of getting in.

The committee must have been trying to stick it to Billy Martin by pitting him against Cox, LaRussa and Torre.

George Steinbrenner will probably make the Hall of Fame someday, but not this year.

Steve Garvey is a lost cause, and rightfully so. With so many years of hindsight, why anyone thinks he's a better candidate than Keith Hernandez is beyond me. 

Tommy John is just below the borderline to me. I don't think there's much hope for him, but he's a better candidate than all the players on this ballot except one. 

Dave Parker doesn't stand much of a chance either. I'm not sure why the selection committee thinks he does. I would have much rather seen Dwight Evans get a shot in his place. 

I really want to be able to make a case for Dan Quisenberry, and I think there's one to be made. He's arguably as Hall-worthy as Bruce Sutter and maybe even more so than Rollie Fingers. But, I just can't find enough there to make the case that any of these players and their peers–with Goose Gossage being the exception–deserve the honor. 

Ted Simmons, of course, is the most worthy candidate beyond the three aforementioned managers, but I don't give him much of a chance either. 

In fact, there are a lot of players I would have rather seen than most of these guys: Bobby Grich, Graig Nettles, Thurman Munson, in addition to Evans and Hernandez, just to name a handful.

If I had a vote, I'd go with Torre, Cox, LaRussa, Simmons and Miller.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

It's November Already

November means a lot of things to this blog.

Of course, it signals the end of baseball season, which is the start of a difficult period of five months without any meaningful baseball games. 

On the other hand, the offseason also brings with it Hall of Fame season, the time period which culminates with the announcement of next year's Hall of Fame inductees in early January. Obviously, the ridiculousness of last year's writers' ballot, in particular, and the realization that the entire process is deeply flawed, in general, has made these announcements a little bittersweet, but it still remains one of my favorite baseball subjects to obsess over. 

November also is the calendar year's penultimate month, not that you needed me to tell you that. So, for the past 18 years it has meant the beginning of the time that I try to get my thoughts together regarding my top albums of the year. 

Frequent Spins appears to have gone by the wayside this year, but that doesn't mean I don't have my usual dedication towards the annual best-music-of-the-year countdown. It still remains to be seen what I'll do regarding the outdated CD compilation I've had less dedication to in recent years, but the albums-of-the-year list lives on. 

Last, but certainly not least, November is my son's birthday month. Little Chuck will be two this year, which brings me to my main point for writing this. 

This year has proven to be a bigger challenge than last year, in terms of finding time for my writing hobby. I'm not exactly sure why. I don't necessarily think the second year provides a tougher parenting challenge than the first. 

In some ways I think it's gotten easier, while in other ways, it's been harder. But, I think witnessing LC enter the stage where he's starting to express his own individuality has reinforced my own identity to some extent. That is, I'm simply putting less emphasis on making time for writing and more on my responsibilities as the patriarch of the family, so to speak.

That's not to say I'm phasing out the blog and/or the writing hobby. However, my goal for 2014 will be to decide how better to prioritize my time so I can continue to enjoy this part-time endeavor.

Speaking of which, next month–December 22, to be precise–actually marks the 10th anniversary of this blog.

Part of this refocusing of effort will be an attempt to recapture what it is I love about writing in general and this blog in particular. To that end, given that the blog's first entries were a countdown of my top ten albums of 2003, I'll be celebrating the tenth anniversary by returning to the blog's roots. 

Beginning on December 22, I'll be devoting one entry per day to one of my top ten albums of 2013, starting with #10, of course, and working my way down to #1 on New Year's Eve. 

It's not a major departure from what I've done in past years, I realize. The difference is the emphasis on the top ten, which is what the list was all about when this annual tradition began in 1996, and continued that way until 2004. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Clay Buchholz is Slow, But He's Not Violating the Rules

There was discussion on Twitter Saturday night about Clay Buchholz's slowness of pace on the mound. Predictably, some amateur rule interpreters got into the act, but the only thing they proved was their lack of reading comprehension. Namely:

Of course, I should cut him some slack, as Morris is far from the first person to make this mistake when citing rule 8.04:

8.04 When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”

So, if Buchholz was taking 6-10 seconds longer than this, that's a pretty clear rule violation, right?

Well, not necessarily. Rule 8.04 continues:

The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.

That "alert to the pitcher" part is pretty important. It typically takes longer than 6-10 seconds for the pitcher to get back on the rubber and for the batter to get set in the box and focus his eyes on the pitcher. That's when the timing starts, not the instant the pitcher receives the ball back from the catcher or umpire.

In fact, I timed a dozen or so of Buchholz's pitches after the hullabaloo started and he consistently delivered to the plate within 7-10 seconds.

Furthermore, since the batter will typically step out and ask for time if the pitcher takes as many as, say, eight seconds to start his delivery, this rule is pretty much a moot point. That is, it's unenforced because it's virtually unenforceable.

Hey, I find Buchholz's pace as painstakingly lethargic as the next guy, and–after watching another four-hour Red Sox game–I understand the desire to speed things up, but rule 8.04–as it is currently written–is not the means to this end.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

High Heat Stats: Let's Talk About Carlos Beltran

Following Carlos Beltran’s heroics Friday night–which continued his history of tremendous postseason results (save one forgettable at bat in the 2006 NLCS)–I wrote a little something over on High Heat Stats discussing his Hall of Fame candidacy. Please check it out.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Personal Hall of Fame, Part 6: Modern Era

This is the sixth in a series of six posts where I'm revealing my personal Hall of Fame one era at a time.

I've determined era based on when each player's star shined the brightest—although in marginal cases, I've assigned some players based on where they fit best due to the all-era teams format—but their entire careers provide the basis for selection, rather than just time spent in a specific era.

My personal Hall consists exclusively of players (no managers, executives, pioneers or umpires) based on their careers in Major League Baseball only.

For a more complete explanation of this series, and for my 19th Century inductees, please see Part 1. For my Deadball era inductees, please see Part 2. For my Live Ball era inductees, check out Part 3. For my Post-Integration and Designated Hitter era inductees, respectively, see Part 4 and Part 5.

An * denotes an actual Hall of Famer.

Modern Era Personal Hall Inductees (1994- )

C - Mike Piazza* (1992-2007)
1B - Jeff Bagwell* (1991-2005)
1B - Mark McGwire (1986-2001)
1B - Rafael Palmeiro (1986-2005)
2B - Roberto Alomar* (1988-2004)
2B - Craig Biggio* (1988-2007)
SS - Barry Larkin* (1986-2004)
LF - Barry Bonds (1986-2007)
CF - Kenny Lofton (1991-2007)
RF - Larry Walker (1989-2005)
RF - Sammy Sosa (1989-2005, 2007)
DH/1B - Frank Thomas* (1990-2008)
DH - Edgar Martinez (1987-2004)
SP - Roger Clemens (1984-2007)
SP - Greg Maddux* (1986-2008)
SP - Curt Schilling (1988-2007)
SP - Mike Mussina (1991-2008)
SP - Tom Glavine* (1987-2008)
SP - Kevin Brown (1986, 1988-2005)

Obviously, this era is far from complete. I haven't decided if I'll keep updating here as new players become eligible and are added to my personal Hall. As of right now, I'd say that's my intention. 

The non-Hall of Famers I'm inducting here essentially fall into three categories: those who will eventually be inducted into the real Hall of Fame (Piazza, Bagwell, Biggio, Schilling); those who would otherwise be Hall of Famers if not for steroid allegations (McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, Sosa, Clemens); and those who truly fall into the underrated category, at least in my opinion. 

There's some overlapPiazza and Bagwell are also kind of in the second categoryand some gray areathere are those who suggest McGwire, Palmeiro and Sosa are not slam-dunk Hall of Famers, but take a look at their numbers and ask yourself who those folks are kidding—but those three categories cover all the angles. 

I'm going to talk about the guys in the latter category. 

Kenny Lofton compares more favorably to Tim Raines than I bet a lot of people realize. He wasn't as good a hitter and doesn't quite have Raines' career base-stealing prowess, but his defensive advantage essentially elevates him to virtually Rock's equal. That makes him Hall of Fame worthy in my book. 

I'm not sure what Larry Walker needed to do to compensate for the fact he played a lot of games in the friendly confines of Coors Field to satisfy the voters. His 141 OPS+ and 73 WAR in 16 seasons (not including a cup of coffee as a 22-year old) shows his career was way more than a home-ballpark aided mirage. 

If Edgar Martinez had played the field for most of his career, it probably would've cost him a little career value, but no more than some of the Hall's most one-dimensional players, such as Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell. Like those guys, Martinez's offense more than made up for his lack of a defensive resume. It's ludicrous to say he was any less of a complete player because his team decided the role that best suited him was designated hitter. 

Kevin Brown wasn't very well-liked. He played for a bunch of different teams. His brief time on the big stage in New York didn't end well, especially in the ALCS (although his prior postseason performance was solid overall). He was named in the Mitchell Report. Perhaps that's why a guy who compares pretty favorably to Schilling (not that he's received overwhelming Hall support himself), except without the tremendous postseason resume, fell off the ballot after one year. 

I'm also making a few adjustments to my previous selections, adding Clark Griffith, Joe Tinker and Luis Aparicio (all actual Hall of Famers, although Griffith is in as an executive), bringing my personal Hall to 215 players. That's seven more than the actual institution, but it's still a much more select group, in my opinion.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Personal Hall of Fame, Part 5: Designated Hitter Era

This is the fifth in a series of six posts where I'm revealing my personal Hall of Fame one era at a time.

I've determined era based on when each player's star shined the brightest—although in marginal cases, I've assigned some players based on where they fit best due to the all-era teams format—but their entire careers provide the basis for selection, rather than just time spent in a  specific era.

My personal Hall consists exclusively of players (no managers, executives, pioneers or umpires) based on their careers in Major League Baseball only.

For a more complete explanation of this series, and for my 19th Century inductees, please see Part 1. For my Deadball era inductees, please see Part 2. For my Live Ball era inductees, check out Part 3. For my Post-Integration era inductees, Part 4.

An * denotes an actual Hall of Famer.

All-Designated Hitter Era Team/Personal Hall Inductees


C - Johnny Bench* (1967-1983)
1B (2B) - Rod Carew* (1967-1985)
2B - Joe Morgan* (1963-1984)
SS - Cal Ripken* (1981-2001)
3B - Mike Schmidt* (1972-1989)
LF - Rickey Henderson* (1979-2003)
CF (RF) - Andre Dawson* (1976-1996)
RF - Reggie Jackson* (1967-1987)
DH (3B/2B) - Paul Molitor* (1978-1998)
SP - Tom Seaver* (1967-1986)
SP - Steve Carlton* (1965-1988)
SP - Phil Niekro* (1964-1987)
SP - Bert Blyleven* (1970-1990, 1992)
SP - Jim Palmer* (1965-1967, 1969-1984)

C - Gary Carter* (1974-1992)
C - Carlton Fisk* (1969, 1971-1993)
C - Ted Simmons (1968-1988)
C - Thurman Munson (1969-1979)
1B - Eddie Murray* (1977-1997)
1B - Keith Hernandez (1974-1990)
2B - Ryne Sandberg* (1981-1994, 1996-1997)
2B - Bobby Grich (1970-1986)
2B - Lou Whitaker (1977-1995)
SS - Ozzie Smith* (1978-1996)
SS/CF - Robin Yount* (1974-1993)
SS - Alan Trammell (1977-1996)
3B - Wade Boggs* (1982-1999)
3B - George Brett* (1973-1993)
3B - Graig Nettles (1967-1988)
3B - Buddy Bell (1972-1989)
LF/1B - Willie Stargell* (1962-1982)
LF - Tim Raines (1979-1999, 2001-2002)
CF - Kirby Puckett* (1984-1995)
RF/CF - Reggie Smith (1966-1982)
RF - Tony Gwynn* (1982-2001)
RF - Dave Winfield* (1973-1995)
RF - Dwight Evans (1972-1991)
SP - Nolan Ryan* (1966, 1968-1993) 78/20
SP - Don Sutton* (1966-1998)
SP - Rick Reuschel (1972-1981, 1983-1991)
SP - David Cone (1986-2001, 2003)
SP - Luis Tiant (1964-1982)
SP - Bret Saberhagen (1984-1995, 1997-1999, 2001)
SP - Dave Stieb (1979-1993, 1998)
SP/RP - Dennis Eckersley* (1975-1998)
RP - Rich Gossage* (1972-1989, 1991-1994)

Continuing the trend that integrated eras are more highly represented, the 46 players here from a period spanning 21 years (2.19/year) is the highest concentration so far. 

Also of note, there are 15 non-Hall of Famers added to my personal Hall here, almost doubling the previous high for an era. My best guess as to why is voters have failed to properly adjust for the game's continuously evolving playing environment and continue to hold players to standards established in the game's so-called heyday. This is especially true with pitchers. 

Either that or I've chosen too many players. 

Among the 15, I'll add Ted Simmons and Thurman Munson to the list of catchers underrated by Hall voters. 

Simmons' defensive skills were never highly rated, so I suppose his status as one of his era's best offensive catchers wasn't considered enough. It is for me, though, not to mention his rank as the 11th best catcher of all-time according to Hall Rating. 

Munson's career ended prematurely and tragically, of course. I've always assumed talk of his skills declining at a young age is the reason he never received the Kirby Puckett treatment. Just as we can't project his would-have-been statistics in a positive way, we can't be certain a brief downward trend would have continued. Despite the shortened career, only six catchers produced more 4-WAR seasons than Munson did (min. 75% games caught per season): Johnny Bench, Mickey Cochrane, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter, Yogi Berra.

With apologies to Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez was the greatest defensive first baseman of all-time. Although it's a position where defense is relatively unimportant, rating as the best certainly helps Hernandez's case. His offense was also tremendously underrated since he didn't hit a lot of homers and fell short of the magic .300 lifetime batting average. However, thanks to a .384 career OBP and a lot of doubles, Hernandez's 128 OPS+ is better than I suspect most folks realize, and is comparable to Jim Rice, a player from this era who's in the Hall entirely for his offensive ability. 

A lot has been written about the voting travesty that allowed Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker to fall off the ballot after only one year. They're perhaps two of the most underrated players of all-time. They should be Hall of Famers. It's just that simple. 

Ditto for Alan Trammell, who's still on the ballot but stands little chance of getting inducted in his remaining three years. 

My dad would argue Clete Boyer just as I'm going to say Graig Nettles is maybe the second best defensive third baseman in history. I know there's some personal bias there, but so be it. Nettles also hit 390 home runs and is ranked 9th all-time at the position based on Hall Rating, but didn't get much consideration because of a .248 career batting average. 

As evidence not supporting one of my previous statements, Buddy Bell actually won several Gold Gloves at third over Nettles. Accepting that Bell is arguably in Nettles' class as a third basemen, their offensive resumes are comparable as well, although Bell didn't have Nettles' power. Both are deserving of the Hall at one of its most under-represented positions. 

It should be no secret how I feel about Tim Raines, so I'll just add this:

Only eight players in history
have reached base 4000 times, scored 1500 runs, stolen 500 bases and were worth more than 60 wins above replacement for their careers. Five of them (Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner) are first-ballot Hall of Famers; one (Eddie Collins), while not being elected on the first ballot, was among the first 16 player inductees in the Hall's history; and the remaining two are Barry Bonds and Tim Raines.

Rice came of age during my childhood, and he definitely falls into the category of a player I thought of as a future Hall of Famer back then. But his offensive peak wasn't as impressive as I thought as a kid, and it didn't last long enough to overcome his deficiencies. I'll always remember his flashes of greatness, but he falls short to me.

However, two other former Red Sox outfielders step in in his place: Reggie Smith, who left the team before Rice arrived and who frightened the hell out of me while playing for the Dodgers in the 1977 and 1978 World Series against the Yankees; and Rice's unsung teammate Dwight Evans, whose 127 OPS+ was nearly identical to Rice's 128 while playing Gold Glove defense in right field over a career that lasted four years and 1500 plate appearances longer. 

I really think modernish starting pitchers have been short-changed by Hall voters who simply don't realize how rare consistency and longevity has become at the position. Sure, there's a new wave of pitchers about to descend on the Hall who measure up to the Lefty Groves, Warren Spahns and Tom Seavers. But, of the last 28 MLB players elected to the Hall, only two of them were starting pitchers, and one of those is Dennis Eckersley. 

I'm making up for that unattainable standard by extending the list of this era's greatest starters to include Rick Reuschel, Luis Tiant, David Cone, Dave Stieb and Bret Saberhagen.

As you may have already noticed, I'm being lazy and linking to articles supporting the Hall of Fame cases of some of these players (most provided by friends of the blog). Here's a good one that covers Cone, Saberhagen and Stieb. I'll use another familiar source to present Reuschel's case, but I'll handle Tiant myself.

There was some inconsistency to Tiant's career, just as with the other guys. But, I've already made the point that we've long since reached an era where that's simply the nature of starting pitchers. A few mediocre seasons over the course of a career should not disqualify a player from the Hall of Fame. At least, not in my book. El Tiante's rough stretch was from 1969-1971, although 1969 wasn't nearly as bad a year as his 9-20 W-L record would indicate. But, from 1964-1968 and 1972-1979, he was 200-126 with a 122 ERA+ and 62 WAR over just 13 seasons. If we leave those three seasons in, we're talking 66 WAR in 16 years, which easily passes my personal Hall of Fame litmus test.

The list of actual Hall of Famers who didn't make my personal Hall (in descending order by Hall Rating) is a short one: Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers.

Next Up: Part 6 - Modern Era

Monday, September 16, 2013

Happy Tim Raines Day

Today is Tim Raines' 54th birthday. To mark the occasion, I'll link to an interview I did with Justin McGuire, MLB editor for The Sporting News for an article he did about Twitter accounts advocating on behalf of players' Hall of Fame candidacies.

As is often the case with these things, not all of my responses to his questions were included in the article. So, here's the entire Q&A, in case you're interested:

  1. Briefly describe who you are and why you are a fan of Tim Raines.

    My name is Dan McCloskey, and I’m an amateur baseball writer who has written for various sites, including my personal blog Left Field. I don’t really have a conventional reason for being a huge supporter of Raines. I was a fan of his during his playing days because I’m a fan of the game first and he was a great player, but my admiration of is not due to being a fan of the teams he played for. I simply came to realize he’s one of the best players outside the Hall of Fame who still has a legitimate chance at induction.

  2. When did you start the Twitter account? How did you get the idea?

    I started @RockInTheHall in early 2012, just after that year's Hall of Fame voting announcement. At least part of the inspiration for the idea came from Bert Blyleven's recent election and the grassroots nature of the campaign that helped get him elected.

  3. What are you hoping to accomplish with the account?

    Originally, I wasn't expecting much except to have some fun doing it, but in the back of my mind my goal was, and still is, that I somehow could play a small role in helping Raines get his Hall of Fame due. Perhaps some additional motivation comes from a desire to draw some attention to my baseball writing aspirations.

  4. What kind of response have you received so far?

    The response has been pretty good. The account has over 500 followers, including quite a few who are really devoted to Raines' cause. In fact, rarely do I tweet some factual information about Raines that doesn't get retweeted at least a couple times. That's more than I can say for my primary Twitter account (@_LeftField), which has more followers, but nowhere near as dedicated the following.

  5. What other efforts are you making (online or otherwise) to make the case for Raines?
    I’ve written about Raines various times for my blog, including identifying him as the greatest eligible left fielder not in the Hall of Fame and showing that he compares more than favorably to first-ballot Hall of Famer Lou Brock. I also recently made a two-minute argument for Raines on the High Heat Stats podcast, but otherwise most of my efforts of late are via the Twitter account.

  6. Give me your best argument of Raines in one paragraph.

    Only eight players in history have reached base 4000 times, scored 1500 runs, stolen 500 bases and were worth more than 60 wins above replacement for their careers. Five of them (Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner) are first-ballot Hall of Famers; one (Eddie Collins), while not being elected on the first ballot, was among the first 16 player inductees in the Hall's history; and the remaining two are Barry Bonds and Tim Raines. If you prefer an approach that's not based entirely on statistics, I give you the fact that ESPN's Hall of 100 named Raines the 96th greatest player of all-time, which would rank him among the top 50% of a Hall of Fame that consists of 208 members inducted as players. Tim Raines clearly belongs in this exclusive club.

  7. Anything else I should know?

    I just want to say thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my efforts on behalf of the Hall of Fame candidacy of Tim Raines.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Personal Hall of Fame, Part 4: Post-Integration Era

This is the fourth in a series of six posts where I'm revealing my personal Hall of Fame one era at a time.

I've determined era based on when each player's star shined the brightest—although in marginal cases, I've assigned some players based on where they fit best due to the all-era teams format—but their entire careers provide the basis for selection, rather than just time spent in a specific era.

My personal Hall consists exclusively of players (no managers, executives, pioneers or umpires) based on their careers in Major League Baseball only.

For a more complete explanation of this series, and for my 19th Century inductees, please see Part 1. For my Deadball era inductees, please see Part 2. For my Live Ball era inductees, check out Part 3.

An * denotes an actual Hall of Famer.

All-Post-Integration Era Team/Personal Hall Inductees

C - Yogi Berra* (1946-1963, 1965)
1B (RF/LF) - Stan Musial(1941-1944, 1946-1963)
2B - Jackie Robinson(1947-1956)
SS (1B) - Ernie Banks* (1953-1971)
3B - Eddie Mathews* (1952-1968)
LF - Ted Williams* (1939-1942, 1946-1960)
CF - Willie Mays* (1951-1952, 1954-1973)
RF - Hank Aaron* (1954-1976)
SP - Warren Spahn* (1942, 1946-1965)
SP - Bob Gibson* (1959-1975)
SP - Gaylord Perry* (1962-1983)
SP - Fergie Jenkins* (1965-1983)
SP - Robin Roberts* (1948-1966)

C - Roy Campanella* (1948-1957)
C/1B/3B - Joe Torre (1960-1977)
C - Bill Freehan (1961, 1963-1976)
1B - Willie McCovey* (1959-1980)
1B/3B - Dick Allen (1963-1977)
1B/3B - Harmon Killebrew* (1954-1975)
2B - Bobby Doerr* (1937-1944, 1946-1951)
2B - Nellie Fox* (1947-1965)
SS - Pee Wee Reese* (1940-1942, 1946-1958)
SS - Luis Aparicio* (1956-1973)
3B - Brooks Robinson* (1955-1977)
3B - Ron Santo* (1960-1974)
3B - Ken Boyer (1955-1969)
3B - Sal Bando (1966-1981)
LF/1B - Carl Yastrzemski* (1961-1983)
LF/RF/3B/2B/1B - Pete Rose (1963-1986)
LF - Billy Williams* (1959-1976)
LF - Ralph Kiner* (1946-1955)
LF - Minnie Miñoso (1949, 1951-1964, 1976, 1980)
CF - Mickey Mantle* (1951-1968)
CF - Duke Snider* (1947-1964)
CF - Richie Ashburn* (1948-1962)
CF - Larry Doby* (1947-1959)
CF - Jim Wynn (1963-1977)
RF - Frank Robinson* (1956-1976)
RF - Roberto Clemente* (1955-1972)
RF - Al Kaline* (1953-1974)
RF - Enos Slaughter* (1938-1942, 1946-1959)
SP - Sandy Koufax* (1955-1966)
SP - Juan Marichal* (1960-1975)
SP - Jim Bunning* (1955-1971)
SP - Don Drysdale* (1956-1969)
SP - Whitey Ford* (1950, 1953-1967)
SP - Early Wynn* (1939, 1941-1944, 1946-1963)
RP - Hoyt Wilhelm* (1952-1972)

Catcher and Third Base are easily the most under-represented positions in the real Hall of Fame, with only 13 inductees each (this counts Paul Molitor at 3B and doesn't include Negro Leaguers). By comparison, there are 21 first basemen and 23 right fielders. 

Classifying each player at one specific position can be a little misleading, since there are quite a few who don't fit so nicely into these categories. For instance, Ernie Banks is considered a first baseman by the Hall, but it was clearly his time as a shortstop that earned him the honor. Also, I don't feel as though each position needs to be evenly represented, but my Hall has a little more balance and it's definitely not by accident.

For this era, my Hall adds two deserving catchersJoe Torre who, coincidentally also spent significant time at third; and Bill Freehanplus two more third basemenKen Boyer and Sal Bandoin addition to Dick Allen, who easily could be classified as either a first or a third baseman, and outfielders Minnie Miñoso and Jim Wynn. 

While Torre played less than half his career games behind the plate, he provided exceptional offense (129 OPS+) for the position—and quite good for any other—over a career that spanned 8802 plate appearances. Only a few players with Hall Ratings higher than Torre's 112 are not in my personal Hall, and none of them were catchers. 

Freehan was probably the best defensive catcher of this era—well, perhaps Johnny Bench was, but we'll see him later, of courseand he was no slouch at the plate either (112 OPS+). I don't love using all-star selections as an argument, mainly because it's a mid-year award but also because subjective honors can be hit-or-miss. But, I don't completely ignore subjectivity and Freehan's 10 consecutive all-star appearances (and 11 of 12) are backed up by objective measures, so he's in.

Boyer and Bando are nearly identical in overall value (118 Hall Rating), but arrive at it in different ways. Boyer was a great glove man (5 Gold Gloves, 73 fielding runs) whose 116 OPS+ gets a bigger boost from batting average and power than patience at the plate. 

Bando was a good glove man, but wasn't going to win any Gold Gloves playing in an American League that included Brooks Robinson, Graig Nettles and Buddy Bell. However, he was an under-rated offensive performer in a pitchers' era, to the tune of a 119 OPS+ that tells us more than his triple slash of .254/.352/.408. 

Without perspective, the arguments for Bando and Boyer aren't overwhelmingly convincing, but perhaps this list of the 118 greatest position players of all-time (min. 5000 PA) in terms of WAR as a percentage of plate appearances will do a better job. Boyer is at #71 and Bando #78, but more importantly, they're surrounded by some pretty serious Hall of Fame caliber company. Neither of them are at the short-career end of the spectrum either. 

There are a few possible theories as to why Dick Allen isn't in the Hall of Fame. He peaked early and flamed out at a fairly young age, so his career is a little on the short side. That peak occurred in a pitchers' era, so his counting numbers take an additional hit, and some voters have never been able to reconcile era adjustments in their narrow minds. Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, he was very unpopular

I don't care about the latter, and I'm luckier than the voters of 15-30 years ago in that advanced metrics help considerably with era adjustments. Finally, and definitely most importantly, his OPS+ of 156 ranks 19th all-time, and here he is surrounded by Hall of Fame caliber playersChet Lemon notwithstanding, although he's closer than you thinkon this list of guys with 7000 to 8000 career plate appearances and 50 or more WAR.

For my all-time White Sox post, I wrote that I considered Minnie Miñoso a borderline candidate for the Hall. I've since decided he's on the yes side of that line, mainly because of his excellent peak (50 WAR from 1951-1960) and the fact that, although his post-peak years didn't add much to his case, segregation deprived him of the chance to make up for it in his pre-peak years.

The additions of Miñoso and Wynn make this the first era with six players at a particular position. In fact, I bumped Bobby Doerr from the Live Ball era to avoid a similar situation. Both of them are late additions, but I feel comfortable that the eras which come after the game was integrated are more highly represented. With 47 inductees for an era that spans 26 years (1.8 per year), that tops the previous two eras, which were both in the 1.55-1.6 range. 

Actually, I had Wynn in, then I was going to leave him out and then I was talked back into it. He had so many factors working against him during his career that it's no wonder he's one of the most under-rated players of all-time. He played in a pitcher's era and played his home games (and quite a few of his away games, since he almost exclusively played for NL West teams) in the Astrodome and Chavez Ravine, two of the most well-known pitcher-friendly ballparks. He also walked a lot, a skill that most under-appreciated hitters have in common.

Also, my justification is Wynn's straddling eras more than the other guys, with only Mays and Mantle still relevant as of the start of his career. Quite arguably, he was the best center fielder in the game during the period where this era overlaps with the next. 

Last, but certainly not least, among non-Hall of Famers I'm inducting is Pete Rose. As with Joe Jackson, there's really not much justification necessary except to reiterate I'm ignoring eligibility restrictions. Plus, as punishments go, it's pretty safe to say Rose has paid his due. 

The list of Hall of Famers from this era who didn't make my cut (listed in descending order by Hall Rating) is much shorter than the previous era: Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Phil Rizzuto, Bob Lemon, Lou Brock, George Kell, Red Schoendienst, Catfish Hunter, and Bill Mazeroski