Ugly & Historic – 1955 Bowman Baseball Cards

 

Morgan 9

Those of you under the age of 60 can’t possibly imagine the impact that Television had on America in the 1950’s. It changed our personal habits as well as the way business advertised their products, the movie industry (3D is nothing new) and how we viewed the world.

 

The Bowman Gum Company first issued baseball cards in 1948 and was the dominant player in the marketplace for a number of years, producing some of the most beautiful collectibles ever conceived. However, once Topps entered the fray in 1952, Bowman found the competitive environment changing dramatically. In the early 50’s, the two companies battled over player rights and court battles occurred between the two companies on a regular basis. In 1955, Bowman decided to capitalize on the cultural craze and issued their 320-card set with each player pictured on the screen of a color TV set. Looking back today, it was probably the death knell of the company. Compared to the products Bowman had issued in the past like the iconic 1953 “Color’ set, this was the ugly step-sister. While some collectors think the cards are attractive in a campy sort of way, others feel that the word “ugly” doesn’t even begin to describe the look. Whether you believe the cards didn’t market well due to the appearance or that Bowman just couldn’t survive the competition, the result was that Topps bought out the company in January of 1956 and the “TV” cards were their last product.

 

Of course, 50+ years later, the look doesn’t matter as much as the legendary players in the set and the scarcity of finding the cards in nice condition. A complete set of ’55 Bowman cards in near mint (NM 7) condition would be worth over $13,000 today. There are 24 Hall of Famers in this issue and, as with any baseball card set, every card has a unique story to tell. Let’s reminisce about some of those stories.

 

> #1 Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants P ($100) – This master of the knuckleball pitched in 1,070 games

 

> #4 Eddie Waitkus, Orioles 1B ($25) – The back of his card tells the story of how this obscure player was shot in the chest by a deranged female fan in June of 1949. He amazingly recovered well enough to play every game at 1B for the pennant-winning Phillies in 1950. In 1952, author Bernard Malamud fictionalized the story in his novel, “The Natural”…you may have seen the movie version with Robert Redford

 

> #10 Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS ($90) – The “Scooter” was ending his career at age 37 and had hit only .195 in ’54

 

> #22 Roy Campanella, Dodgers C ($125) – “Campy” would earn his 3rd NL MVP award in ’55

 

> #23 Al Kaline, Tigers OF ($115) – The legendary Bengal was just beginning his HOF career

 

> #33 Nellie Fox, White Sox 2B ($75) – One of the most consistent players of the era, he was an All-Star selection every year from 1951-1961

 

> #40 Vic Wertz, Indians 1B ($25) – The player who will always be remembered for hitting the ball when Willie Mays made “The Catch” in the ’54 World Series

 

> #59 Whitey Ford, Yankees P ($125) – Went 18-7 in ’55 with a 2.63 ERA and 18 complete games

 

 

 

> #65 Don Zimmer, Dodgers SS ($65) – This is the rookie card of one of the most legendary baseball characters in the game

 

> #89 Lou Boudreau, Athletics Manager ($55) – With all the current managers employing defensive adjustments, we’re reminded that as a Player-Manager in the 40’s, he invented the infield “Shift” against Ted Williams

 

> #97 Johnny Podres, Dodgers P ($60) – The Worlds Series hero of ’55 who pitched a shutout in Game 7 versus the Yankees to give Brooklyn their first title

 

> #102 Bobby Thomson, Braves OF ($35) – Hit the “Shot Heard Round The World” for the Giants in the 1951 Playoff against the Dodgers

 

> #103 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($100) – This Hall of Famer had just recently been the cover boy for the first issue of Sports Illustrated Magazine

 

> #134 Bob Feller, Indians P ($100) – Most modern baseball fans don’t realize that “Rapid Robert” lost four years to military service in the prime of his career and still won 266 games

 

> #168 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($140) – Won back-to-back AL MVP awards in ’54 & ’55 and was just learning to take the fork in the road

 

> #179 Hank Aaron, Braves OF ($350) – Hit 13 HR’s in his rookie year of ’54 and would more than double that in ’55 on his way to 755

 

> #184 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($350) – The “Say Hey Kid” was coming off his MVP season in ’54 when he put up 41 HR’s, 110 RBI’s and a .345 BA

 

> #202 Mickey Mantle, Yankees OF ($1,400) – Already a three-time All-Star, he would post his first of eight campaigns with a 1000+ OPS in ’55

 

> #242 Ernie Banks, Cubs SS ($450) – After a rookie season of 19 HR’s in ’54, “Mr. Cub” would hit 44 dingers in ’55 and establish himself as one of the greats of the era

 

> #303 Jocko Conlon, Umpire ($110) – Interestingly, Bowman included umpires in the set and he was one of four to make the Hall of Fame – the others were Al Barlick, Nestor Chylak & Cal Hubbard

 

> Many other outstanding players had their rookie cards in this set including Elston Howard ($95) and Charlie Neal ($80)

 

> Two of the greatest players in the history of the game are not in this set. Ted Williams signed an exclusive contract with Topps in ’54 and Stan Musial’s agreement with Bowman had expired and he didn’t sign with Topps until ’58

 

At this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention, the 1955 Bowman set was a hot topic of conversation. A dealer had acquired an unopened 20-card cello pack and sold spots to collectors who were hoping to get one of the HOF players on a card in “never been touched” condition. As the pack was opened and the cards slowly revealed one-by-one, some gems emerged including Junior Gilliam and Ernie Banks. Then, the 19th card was shown and the crowd roared with excitement. It was indeed the Mickey Mantle card in beautiful condition. The card was immediately taken to the booth of card-grading company PSA and they verified that it was in “MINT 9” condition…an unheard of find. According to people at the show, the new owner was offered as much as $50,000 for the card!

 

A friend of mine participated in the drawing and received a Yankee card that wasn’t Mantle. Card #100 is Pitcher Tom Morgan and it too was graded out as a “MINT 9”. With this type of card, no “book” value is valid. There have only been two other 9’s ever found and neither has been on the market in recent memory. Wonder what it will bring?

 

 

 

 

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Unexpected WAR

'12 Muncey

Baseball fans and Fantasy Baseball Managers love pleasant surprises. Those players who weren’t on the radar in March and then turned out to be a very productive asset to your team.

 

They could fall into a number of categories. There are prospects who exceeded their ranking in the organization. Then there are those acquired in some insignificant trade who emerge with their new team. Or a post-hype player who disappointed in his first season or two and then figured it out. Every season, these players make a difference in the success of MLB teams and 2018 is no exception. We’re not talking about established guys like Javier Baez or Aaron Nola who took their game to another level or top prospects such as Ronald Acuna Jr. or Juan Soto.

 

To identify the best of these, we’ll once again rely on “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) which is a statistic designed to answer the following question…if this player got injured and their team had to replace them with an available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing? The value is expressed in a wins format, so we can compare each player’s actual value.

 

According to the rankings provided by Fan Graphs, there were about 100 major leaguers who provided 3 Wins to their team with Mookie Betts leading the way at 10.4. In that top 100, we’ve identified 11 who would certainly qualify as a pleasant surprise. Let’s take a look at the list with their overall ranking and WAR contribution…

 

 

> #26 Max Muncy, Dodgers (5.2 WAR) – Originally drafted by the A’s in 2012, he had short stints with the big league club in 2015 & 2106, hitting .206 & .186. Released in March of 2017, he hooked on with the Dodger organization and played at AAA hitting .309 with 12 HR’s. This season (at age 27), he gave L.A. a big boost toward their pennant-winning campaign with 35 HR’s & 79 RBI’s.

 

> #29 German Marquez, Rockies (5.2 WAR) – Traded to Colorado from Tampa Bay in 2016, he had a decent rookie year in 2017 with a 11-7 record and a 4.39 ERA. No one gets too excited about Pitchers in a high-altitude home park, but 2018 was off the charts with 14 Wins, a 3.77 ERA and 230 K’s in 196 IP. Won’t be a free agent until 2023.

 

> #42 Milos Mikolas, Cardinals (4.6 WAR) – A 29 year-old hurler coming back from three seasons in Japan doesn’t create much of an expectation, but he was “lights out” with a record of 18-4 and a 2.83 ERA. The Redbirds paid him $15.5 Million for two years and now it looks like a bargain.

 

> #44 Brandon Nimmo, Mets (4.5 WAR) – Never as highly regarded as Michael Conforto and other prospects, he took advantage of injuries to get into the line-up and produced a .263 BA with 17 HR’s & 11 SB’s. Even an analytically challenged organization like the Mets should be able to recognize the value of a .404 OBP & .886 OPS.

 

> #46 Zack Wheeler, Mets (4.4 WAR) – A former top prospect, he came back from injuries in 2017 but seemed done with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts. This year, a record of 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA has made him relevant again at age 28.

 

> #55 Kyle Freeland, Rockies (4.0 WAR) – Another Colorado SP? Went from a .500 record with a 4.10 ERA to 17-7 with 2.85 and Cy Young Award consideration. Like Marquez, he’s not a free agent until 2023.

 

> #62 Joey Wendle, Rays (3.7 WAR) – Traded by the A’s last December for a Minor League Catcher, he turned 28 in April. The perfect example of a player on an over-achieving ball club, he hit .300 with 7 HR’s, 61 RBI’s & 16 SB’s. And, he also played 2B, 3B, SS & OF.

 

> #74 Harrison Bader, Cardinals (3.5 WAR) – The Cardinals paid Dexter Fowler over $80 Million to be their CF through 2021. Now it looks like this player may be the CF of the future. A 3rd round pick in 2015, he put up decent numbers at AAA in 2017 but was primarily thought of as a 4th OF. A .264 BA with 12 HR’s & 15 SB’s complimented impressive defense in 2018. Won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2021.

 

> #76 Marco Gonzalez, Mariners (3.5 WAR) – Seattle got him in middle of the 2017 season from the Cardinals for prospect Tyler O’Neill. Became a member of the rotation in 2018 and was 13-9 in 29 starts at age 26.

 

> #89 Johan Camargo, Braves (3.3) – Atlanta was rumored to be looking for a short-term 3B free agent to hold the spot for top prospect Austin Riley. Failing that, they turned to this 24 year-old who only had 4 HR’s in 241 AB’s in 2017. The result was 19 HR’s & 76 RBI’s for the division-winning Braves.

 

> #96 Jesus Aguilar, Brewers (3.1) – Hit 16 HR’s as a platoon option in 2017 but was never considered an everyday player at age 27. The Brew-Crew won the division this year thanks in part to his enormous production…35 HR’s, 108 RBI’s & .890 OPS.

 

If you had these 11 players on your Fantasy squad, congratulations on winning the championship.

Fields Of Dreams

AFL RD

OK, close your eyes and picture yourself sitting behind home plate at a beautiful ballpark, on a perfect day, surrounded by big league scouts, watching a game filled with prospects from ten different major league teams. Pretty nice dream, isn’t it? Well, without trying to rub it in, your fantasy is my reality because I’m fortunate enough to live in the Valley of the Sun.

 

An envelope arrived in the mail last week from the “Office of the Commissioner of Baseball”. No, it wasn’t my voting credential for the MVP & Cy Young Award…it was better! It was my annual  season pass for the Arizona Fall League.

 

The Arizona Fall League, which was the brainchild of Hall of Fame Baseball Executive Roland Hemond, brings together 180 players for six weeks every October and November. Utilizing six of the Spring Training ballparks in the Phoenix area for six weeks, local fans pay $8 (or less) to watch some of the top prospects in baseball compete against each other and attempt to impress scouts and team executives with their talent. Back in 2011, for example, Mike Trout & Bryce Harper patrolled the same outfield for the Scottsdale Scorpions. This Fall, at least ten of the MLB.com top 50 will be on rosters including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Brendan Rogers, Bo Bichette, Forrest Whitley, Taylor Trammell, Luis Robert & Keston Huira.

 

Today, we’ll take a retrospective look at the last decade of the league (2008-17) and some of the players who made it to “the show”.

 

> 2008

 

* Daniel Murphy hit .397 with a 1.106 OPS

 

* Tyler Flowers led the league with 12 Home Runs

 

* An unknown prospect named Justin Turner batted .337

 

* Max Scherzer made four starts with a 3.38 ERA

 

> 2009

 

* Starlin Castro hit .376 and swiped 9 bases

 

* Grant Desme led the league with 11 HR’s but eventually retired at age 23 to join the ministry

 

* Mike Moustakas cranked five HR’s in only 75 AB’s

 

* Mike Leake made five starts and posted a 1.37 ERA

 

> 2010

 

* Brandon Belt hit .372

 

* A.J. Pollock hit .317 with 7 SB’s

 

* Charlie Blackmon only hit .264 but with more walks than strikeouts, his OBP was .372…maybe he’ll make a good lead-off hitter someday

 

* Marc Rzecpzynski was 4-0 in six starts with a league-leading 1.26 ERA

 

> 2011

 

* Forget about Trout & Harper, the leading hitter was Jedd Gyorko with a .437 BA and a 1.204 OPS

 

* There was also another .400 hitter…Scooter Gennett at .411

 

* Nolan Arenado batted .388 with 33 RBI’s in 29 games

 

* Dallas Keuchel’s 5.08 ERA gave you no clue as to his future success

 

 

> 2012

 

* Billy Hamilton stole 10 bases but only hit .234…sound familiar?

 

* Christian Yelich batted .301 but had zero HR’s…think he’ll ever develop any power?

 

* George Springer hit .286 and his 13 walks got his OPS up to 1.012

 

* Chase Anderson went 3-1 with 25 K’s in 23+ IP

 

> 2013

 

* Kris Bryant hit 6 HR’s in only 77 AB’s and posted an OPS of 1.184

 

* C.J. Cron was the leading hitter with a .413 BA and 20 RBI’s

 

* Mitch Haniger led the league with 24 RBI’s

 

* Mike Montgomery had a 2.57 ERA…three years later he got the last out of the World Series

 

> 2014

 

* Jesse Winker was the leading hitter at .338

 

* Greg Bird & Hunter Renfroe each it 6 HR’s

 

* Roam Quinn swiped 14 bases in 24 games…wonder if he’s still fast?

 

* Zach Davies was 3-0 in seven starts with a 1.75 ERA

 

> 2015

 

* Gary Sanchez was the top slugger with 7 HR’s & 21 RBI’s

 

* Jeimer Candelario showed off his skills by hitting .329 with 5 HR’s

 

* Jeff McNeil’s .230 BA didn’t deter his progress to the big leagues in 2018

 

* Josh Hader’s miniscule 0.56 ERA was a forecast of things to come

 

> 2016

 

* Gleybar Torres was the batting champion at .403

 

* Cody Bellinger posted a .981 OPS

 

* Tim Tebow hit .194 and struck out 20 times in 62 AB’s

 

* Drew Steckenrider had three Saves…he had five for the Marlins this season

 

> 2017

 

* A few position players on last year’s rosters have already made “the show”…Ronald Acuna Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Francisco Mejia & Steven Duggar.

 

* Max Fried was 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA…in 2018, he had 42 K’s in 32+ IP for the Braves

 

The season begins on October 9th. Hope you can join us sometime at the ballpark in Arizona…you’ll recognize me as the one guy sitting behind home plate without a radar gun.

It Still Ain’t Over

56 Berra

Yogi Berra went 4-for-4 one night but when he looked at the box score in the newspaper the next morning, it showed him as 3-for-4. By the time Yogi arrived at the ballpark, he was significantly steamed and located the official scorer to complain. The scorer apologized and told him that it was a typographical error. Yogi’s response? “No, it wasn’t…it was a clean single up the middle.”

 

One of the few advantages of being a baseball fan of a certain age is that you have the memories of baseball tucked into a special compartment in your brain. This is especially true of players and games you actually witnessed in person and whenever a record is broken or a milestone is reached, you can bring up those mental snapshots from different decades and enjoy looking at them again. This photo album also emerges when a legendary player passes away and it reminds us to always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.

 

As a youngster who spent countless days and nights in the bleachers at Fenway Park, I admittedly hated the Yankees. My beloved Red Sox had Ted Williams and a few other decent players like Jimmy Piersall & Jackie Jensen, but the dreaded Bronx Bombers were a veritable All-Star team. Those old snapshots in my brain include Mickey Mantle hitting the hardest ball I’ve ever seen, Billy Martin getting his uniform dirty before the 2nd inning, Whitey Ford throwing a pitch that dropped three feet and Ryne Duren (wearing thick glasses) throwing his first warm-up pitch all the way to the backstop at 100 MPH. In the eight seasons from 1952-59, the Yankees won six AL pennants and four World Series titles. The Res Sox were also-rans and the crowds were sometimes thin because if people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.

 

The most unique Yankee player of the time was Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. The most interesting aspect for a kid watching the game was that he didn’t look like the other ballplayers. At 5′ 7″ and 185 pounds, he certainly couldn’t be described as athletic but the results of his efforts were always amazing. Even Napoleon had his Watergate, but this player never seemed to strike out or not come through in the clutch. He also didn’t look like a matinee idol but it didn’t matter if he was ugly, because I never saw anyone hit with their face.

 

Even the most casual of fans know about Ted Williams and his military service during two wars, but most don’t know that a 19-year old Yogi Berra was on a rocket boat approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day. At that moment, he might have thought that the future ain’t what is used to be, but if the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be. At that moment, his professional baseball experience consisted of 111 games with Norfolk of the Piedmont League where he had a batting average of .253. Once he made his major league debut on September 22nd, 1946, he was 21 and he had already figured out that you can’t think and hit at the same time. Ironically, he passed away exactly 69 years to the day after that first game.

 

Of course, this column could be filled with famous “Yogi-isms”, but you can use your search engine to find those. It would sort of be like Deja Vu all over again. Or you could call the local pizza parlor and tell them to cut your pizza into six slices instead of eight slices because you can’t eat eight slices. Or you could just take a two-hour nap from 1:00 to 4:00 before you decide not to answer that anonymous letter. For the rest of our visit, let’s pair up in threes and look at the two peripheral items we discuss in this space most often…baseball stats and baseball cards.

 

 

Six Yogi Stats

 

> In 1948 and 1962, Yogi made the AL All-Star team…he also made the team every year in between.

 

> Yogi won three AL MVP Awards (’51, ’54 & ’55)…he also finished 2nd twice (’53 & ’56).

 

> In a seven-year span (’50 to ’56), he accumulated WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers between 4.5 and 6.3…in those same seven seasons, his OPS was never lower than .819 and as high as .915.

 

> In 1950, this infamous bad-ball hitter had 28 HR’s and only struck out 12 times…his HR’s exceeded his strikeouts in four additional seasons during the 50’s. For his entire career, he only struck out in 5% of his plate appearances.

 

> Yogi was not a first ballot Hall of Famer. He received 67.2% of the votes in 1971 before getting 85.6% in 1972 (75% is necessary for election).

 

> His highest salary was $65,000 in 1957…he hit 24 HR’s and had 82 RBI’s but he was cut to $60,000 the following season.

 

Six Yogi Baseball Cards

 

> 1948 Bowman #6 – This tiny black & white card is Yogi’s Rookie Card. In Near Mint (NM) condition, it is currently worth $1,100.

 

> 1950 Bowman #46 – This time the tiny card is in color and shows him in his catching gear…it books for $515.

 

> 1952 Topps #191 – This iconic set was the beginning of modern baseball cards…Yogi’s entry is valued at $1,000.

 

> 1953 Bowman Color #121 – One of the simplest and most beautiful sets ever, the front has nothing but a spectacular color photograph of the player…it could belong to you for $850.

 

> 1953 Topps #104 – This set utilized artist’s renderings of the players and is unique to the hobby. It even makes Yogi look handsome and has a price tag of $385.

 

> 1956 Topps #110 – The second of Topps’ horizontal sets, it features dual images on the front. The one you see with this article is from my personal collection and books for $165.

 

Well, that’s about it for today. I’d like to visit my favorite restaurant for dinner, but nobody ever goes there anymore because it’s too crowded. No matter where I go, my dessert will pie ala mode, with ice cream.

 

 

 

 

Going To WAR For The MVP

'16 Betts Trib

Are you aware that each year’s MVP winners receive an award called the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award? As the Baseball Writer’s Association has never really defined “most valuable”, would the results have been different over the years if it was just called the “Landis Plaque” and went to the most outstanding player in each league. In other words, do fans think in terms of most valuable player or player of the year? And, do you agree that the MVP is for position players and the Cy Young Award is for pitchers?

 

While there have been some examples over the years of MVP winners on losing teams like Ernie Banks of the Cubs in ’58 & ’59, the general consensus is that the award should go to a player on a contending team. Ted Williams won the Triple Crown (HR, RBI’s & Batting Average) in both 1942 & 1947 but didn’t win the MVP Award in either year. In both seasons, he also led the AL in Runs, Walks, On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. The winner in ’42 was Yankee 2B Joe Gordon and in ’47, it was Joe DiMaggio. The Red Sox finished nine games behind the Yanks in 2nd place in ’42 and 14 games behind in 3rd place in ’47. If there were more than just two teams going to the post-season in the 1940’s, maybe the results would have been different.

 

Now that just about any team at .500 or better still has a chance for the playoffs at the end of August, will the voters expand the list of players considered for MVP? And, if “most valuable” is really the criteria, how is that defined? It seems that there is some logic in value being related to teams winning games, so maybe WAR (Wins Above Replacement) can help us determine the real contenders. After all, being a difference-maker in team wins certainly equates to a player’s true value. As a reminder, WAR represents a statistical analysis of how many wins a player is worth to his team over that of a replacement level player (think AAA or AAAA). As you’ll see in the ratings, WAR isn’t just about hitting stats for position players, it also includes advanced defensive metrics.

 

“Old School” baseball fans will be disappointed to know that advanced statistics have already had a major impact on how this award is viewed. Columnist Joe Posnanski has pointed out that since 2008, every MVP winner has finished top five (5) in WAR. That is about the time that this new-age statistic became somewhat mainstream. As recently as 2006, Justin Morneau won the MVP with a WAR number of 4.3. Not only were there twenty players better than that, he finished third on his own team behind Johan Santana & Joe Mauer. Juan Gonzalez won two MVP’s in the 90’s without being in the top 15 while Don Baylor (1979), Willie Stargell (1979) and Jeff Burroughs (1974) weren’t in the top 20. Those days of writers voting without doing thorough research are gone.

 

Stats are as of Sunday, September 16th and the WAR numbers are from Baseball-Reference.com

 

AL

 

 

> Mookie Betts (10.0) of the Red Sox leads the way and his team is the best in baseball for 2018. He’s leading the league with a .338 BA and has an OPS of 1.054. Factor in 29 HR’s & 28 SB’s along with stellar defense in the OF and the number makes perfect sense. Some feel his teammate J.D. Martinez deserves consideration but he’s much more of a one dimensional player and his WAR of 5.8 is significantly lower.

 

> Mike Trout (9.4) of the Angels had the best WAR in baseball in both 2012 & 2013 but didn’t win the MVP either season. He captured the award in both 2014 & 2016 and his 2018 performance just might be his best ever. He leads the league in OBP (.466) and OPS (1.091) while also being an outstanding CF. Do we really understand how great this player has become? He just turned 27!

 

> Matt Chapman (8.2) of the over-achieving Athletics flies under the radar for most fans. He will almost certainly win the Gold Glove at 3B and in his first full season has produced a .363 OBP with 23 HR’s.

 

> Jose Ramirez (7.8) is the #1 contributor to the Indians success. 38 HR’s & 32 SB’s with over 100 RBI’s is MVP caliber in any season.

 

> Francisco Lindor (7.4) is another great young player on the Tribe and with 35 HR’s and 120 Runs, the stats are amazing for a 24 year-old. He finished 5th in the MVP voting last year.

 

 

NL

 

> This league’s WAR stats are dominated by Pitchers. Max Scherzer (9.3) of the Nats is having another great season and has a chance to win his 4th Cy Young Award. He has 17 Wins while leading in both IP and K’s.

 

> Right behind is Aaron Nola (9.0) of the Phillies who has emerged as a true “Ace” for this young team with a record of 16-5.

 

> The Mets Jacob deGrom (8.8) is an unusual case, as his team has floundered and given him very little offensive support. Despite his league-leading 1.71 ERA, will the writers vote for someone with a record of 8-9?

 

> Seeing Kyle Freeland (7.3) on this list might be the biggest surprise. The Rockies are in the race and this young left-hander is a big reason why. Despite pitching half the time in Denver’s altitude, he’s 15-7 with a 2.96 ERA.

 

> Where do we find a position player to put on our ballot? The top candidates are Lorenzo Cain (6.7), Paul Goldschmidt (5.8), Javier Baez (5.7), Christian Yelich (5.4), Nolan Arenado (5.3) & Matt Carpenter (5.0).

 

> If you had a vote, would it be Betts & Cain? Or maybe Trout & Baez?

 

Just for the record, in 1942 Ted Williams led all of baseball with a WAR figure of 10.6. MVP winner Gordon had an impressive number of 8.2. In ’47, Teddy Ballgame once again led the majors at 9.9 while DiMaggio wasn’t even close to the top ten at 4.8.

 

If you ever drop by the Duck Pond, you’re welcome to view the extensive collection of Williams memorabilia….but you probably already figured that out.

 

Heinie Manush & Hy Tech

'54 Manush

Henry Emmett “Heinie” Manush first crept into my consciousness in 1954, when he was a Coach for the Washington Senators and his baseball card (#187) was part of the Topps set. He was 53 years-old at the time, but the man on the card appeared to be at least 70. The back of the card said that he was “One of the best hitters of his day, batting over .300 in 11 of his 15 major league seasons.” For a youngster just learning about the history of the game, this was where information was found and the unusual name always stuck in a far corner of my brain as part of old school baseball.

 

Today, of course, a quick click at baseball-reference.com will tell you that Heinie made his major league debut at age 21 with the Detroit Tigers in 1923. He led the AL with a .378 Batting Average in 1926 and hit .378 again in 1928, finishing 2nd to Mickey Cochrane in the MVP voting. With over 2,500 hits and a lifetime BA of .330, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964 by the Veteran’s Committee.

 

One of my closest friends is a technology geek. He loves having all the gadgets but somehow can’t get them to function properly. Invariably, his smart phone, laptop, iPad or wi-fi connection isn’t working and he diligently labors to fix them himself. During one recent baseball season, his e-mail system wasn’t delivering the messages from his Fantasy League’s Commissioner and the only way he could figure out who was on the waiver wire was to have the Commish send updates to his three different e-mail addresses and hope that one of them would work. Based on this history, he’s been nicknamed “Hy Tech”.

 

As baseball evolves into the technological age and discussions among friends lead to disagreements between old-school fans and stat heads, you can’t help but wonder how the change in the game would be embraced by the likes of Heinie & Hy.

 

Starting in 2015, MLB added state-of-the-art video technology (called Statcast) to every ballpark. If you watch the MLB Network, these numbers get rolled out to the viewers on a regular basis. Included in the process is data about Pitching, Hitting, Baserunning & Fielding. They are even able to review “route efficiency” of Outfielders.  Route efficiency is defined as “Divide the distance covered by the fielder by a straight-line distance between the player’s position at batted ball contact and where the ball was fielded.” In other words, more conclusive data for Gold Glove voters.

 

While some of the statistics are still proprietary, MLB.com does provide a glimpse into what we have in store. Here are some category leaders through September 8th…

 

> Only eight batters have hit a home run this season that went at least 475 feet…Trevor Story (505), Franchy Cordero (489), Avisal Garcia (481), Javier Baez (481), Marcell Ozuna (479), Christian Walker (479), Franmil Reyes (477) & Matt Olson (475). The last two Home Run Derby winners are close behind with Bryce Harper at 473 and Aaron Judge at 471.

 

> Over the years, we’ve heard scores of broadcasters say, “the ball sounds different coming off his bat.” For stat geeks, this translates to “Exit Velocity”, the speed that the ball comes off the bat. Not surprisingly, Giancarlo Stanton has 8 of the top 10 balls exceeding 119 mph (including the #1 ranking at 121.7 mph). The only other hitters in this tier are Gary Sanchez (121.1) & Aaron Judge (119.9)…and Sanchez made an out!

 

> Judge and Stanton also lead the way in “average exit velocity” with 96 & 95.4 respectively. Some of the other guys with exceptional contact might peak your interest. #3 is future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera at 95.3 mph, followed by Joey Gallo at 95.2 mph. Then there’s veteran Nelson Cruz at 95 and youngster Matt Olson at 94.8. Players having big seasons are also near the top with Khris Davis, J.D. Martinez and Shohei Ohtani all above 93 mph.

 

> In one of the strangest statistical tables you’ll ever see, Statcast lists the fastest individual pitches of 2018…all of the top ten (104-105 mph) were delivered by Aroldis Chapman & Jordan Hicks

 

> How about average pitch velocity with a four-seam fastball? If you took a wild guess and said Hicks would lead the way, give yourself a gold star. He’s the only major league hurler to average better than 100 mph (100.3). Chapman is close behind at 99, but some others on the list might be a surprise. #3 is Marlins reliever Tayron Guerrero at 98.8 followed by the Rays Diego Castillo at 98.1. Others at the 98 mph level are Joe Kelly, Seranthony Dominguez and Ryan Stanek. Of course, relievers only need to pitch in short stints, so the 97.6 mph averages of starting pitchers Luis Severino & Noah Syndergaard are very impressive.

 

All this is just an introductory lesson. As time goes on, you’ll be hearing about the “arm strength” of fielders (wonder what Shawon Dunston’s velocity was from SS), the “acceleration” of baserunners and the “spin rate” of a pitch. Not sure how Heinie would react to all of this, but Hy is chomping at the bit.

 

 

Baseball Cliches – Good & Bad

Nuke card

In the 1987 baseball movie “Bull Durham”, grizzled veteran Crash Davis schools young phenom Nuke LaLoosh on how to use clichés during interviews with sportswriters. Eventually, Nuke figures it out and after getting called up to the major leagues, he says,

 

“Y’now, I’m just happy to be here and hope to help the ballclub.

I just want to give it my best shot and good Lord willing, things’ll work out.

Gotta play ’em one day at a time, Y’now”

 

The fact that this writer snuck “grizzled veteran” & “young phenom” into the first paragraph tells you how clichés permeate our favorite sport. If you think Crash’s advice 30+ years ago has been forgotten, this 2015 quote is from A’s rookie Mark Canha after he went 3-for-5 with 4 RBI’S in his first major league game…

 

“”I’m just trying to help the ball club and give it my best shot. Good Lord willing…things will work out.”

 

The following day, Canha admitted to mlb.com…

 

“I mean, I’ve been waiting to pull that one out. I just think there’s some good advice in that movie, so I went ahead and took old Crash’s advice.”

 

Last week, the Washington Post published a study of nearly 7,000 interviews over the past 20 years and compiled a comprehensive list. Included are “we gotta play ’em one day at a time” (485 times), “to be honest with you” (638 times) and “tip your cap” (over 300 times).

 

An informal survey sent to a few dozens baseball buddies asked for their most (or least) favorite cliché. Here are some of the responses…

 

> I hate Harrelson’s obnoxious “grab some bench”

 

> The worst is “this team never quits”

 

> “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”

 

> “He’s seeing the ball well” – he better be

 

> “Rub some dirt on it”

 

> Least favorite is when the Cardinals make an error and Hrabosky says, “No one feels worse than (player name) right now”

 

> “In between hop” – aren’t all ground balls fielded in between hops?

 

> Favorite is “Cement Mixer”, describing a slider that doesn’t have enough action to avoid being crushed.

 

> “They’re down to their final strike” – I know it’s coming too

 

> “It’s a beautiful day for baseball”

 

> “A breath of fresh air” – If I wanted a breath of fresh air, I won’t live in most of the cities hosting MLB teams. (From my friend in Canada)

 

> “He’s a professional hitter”

 

> “Around the horn”

 

> Favorite is “Just a bit outside”…least favorite is “Good pitching stops good hitting”

 

> “Going, going, gone”

 

> Favorite is “You can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder”…Least favorite is “Yankees Win! Theeeeee Yankees Win”

 

> Favorite is “Ducks on the pond”…least favorite is “There’s no tomorrow…backs against the wall”

 

Of course, we could also have a discussion on the difference between “Texas Leaguer”, “Can of Corn”, “Dying Quail” & “Soft Fly Ball”. Visually, aren’t they essentially the same thing? Except two are hits and two are outs.

 

Fantasy Baseball players probably have their own good and bad clichés.  We certainly hate to hear that the Manager has decided to “give his Closer some work”. Or, that a Pitcher needs to “take one for the team” and gets left in a one-sided game.

 

The uniqueness of baseball jargon also creeps into clichés…

 

> “He uncorked a wild pitch” – Unless you’re a sommelier, have you ever used the word “uncorked” in normal conversion.

 

> “He’s got 35 homers on the year” – What kind of grammar is that?

 

> “He’s been relegated to the bullpen” – Have you ever been “relegated” anywhere?

 

> “There’s the insurance run” –  A cushion yes, insurance no.

 

> “The tying run is 90 feet away” – You mean on 3rd base?

 

> “He squared that one up” – Round bat & round ball equals a square?

 

Or, how about clichés about the same subject (home runs)…

 

> “Kiss that one goodbye…it’s outta here”

 

> “He sent that one into orbit”

 

> “He crushed it”

 

> “Touch ’em all”

 

> “He tattooed that one”

 

> It’s a Grand Salami”

 

> “He got all of that one”

 

> “He hit a rocket”

 

Or, when your team is in trouble…

 

> “He’s trying to pitch out of a jam”

 

> “They got to him early and often”

 

> “He’s getting shelled”

 

> “He’s been roughed up in his last few outings”

 

> “He hasn’t been getting any run support”

 

> “He’s in a slump and he’s pressing”

 

> “You can’t steal first base”

 

> “He was caught napping”

 

> “They have to manufacture some runs”

 

> “He chased a bad pitch”

 

> “This one could be trouble”

 

As for me, I’m going to cook up a “Baltimore Chop”, put a little “Chin Music” on the stereo and remember that life is “A Marathon, Not A Sprint” In other words, “Stick A Fork In Me, I’m Done”