Converting Baby Boomers To Analytics

'12 Morgan Ring

On a previous visit, the effort was made to convince fans who were youngsters in the 50’s & 60’s that advanced metrics are really more telling than just the stats on the back of a baseball card. A good friend of mine, who was born in the 40’s and might be the world’s most avid Willie Mays fan, isn’t quite ready to convert. However, after realizing that WAR (Wins Above Replacement) showed the “Say Hey Kid” as one of the top five players in the game for 13 consecutive seasons, he said, “Willie for sure got screwed out of the MVP Award several times”.

 

So, now it’s time for the Baby Boomers who found their heroes in and around the 1970’s to feel better or worse about their favorites. To set the table, “Wins Above Replacement” is an attempt by the SABRmetric community to summarize a player’s total contribution to their team in one statistic. The value is expressed in a wins format, so we could determine that player “A” is worth 5 wins to the team over the course of a season. 8+ is usually MVP quality while 5+ is All-Star quality. Mike Trout has led all of baseball in three of his first five seasons. We’ll use the top five WAR players from baseball-reference.com for each applicable year.

 

> 1969 – Bob Gibson 11.3, Rico Petrocelli 10.0, Reggie Jackson 9.2, Larry Dierker 8.4 and Sal Bando 8.3

 

“Gibby” was the best player in baseball the previous season and after MLB lowered the mound by 5 inches to improve offense, he was the best player again with 20 Wins and 28 complete games…Petrocelli hit 40 HR’s as a Shortstop batting clean-up and finished 7th in the MVP balloting (Harmon Killebrew won)…Jackson had an OPS of 1.018 with 47 HR’s and finished 5th in the MVP…Dierker won 20 games and pitched over 300 innings for a .500 team…Bando had 31 HR’s & 113 RBI’s. Willie McCovey had the 6th best WAR with 8.1 and won the NL MVP.

 

> 1970 – Bob Gibson 10.1, Carl Yastrzemski 9.5, Sam McDowell 7.9, Jim Fregosi 7.7 and Johnny Bench 7.4

 

Gibson went 23-7 for his 3rd consecutive WAR title…”Yaz” had 40 HR’s and a league-leading 1.044 OPS…McDowell won 20 games and led the AL in strikeouts for the 5th time in 6 seasons…Fregosi was a power-hitting shortstop in his prime, but a year later was traded for Nolan Ryan…Bench had 45 HR’s & 148 RBI’s earning him the NL MVP. Boog Powell won the AL MVP but his WAR was only 5.1.

 

> 1971 – Fergie Jenkins 12.0, Tom Seaver 10.9, Wilbur Wood 10.9, Mickey Lolich 8.7 and Vida Blue 8.6

 

Jenkins won 24 games for the Cubs in 325 innings and won the Cy Young…Seaver was the CY Young runner-up in the NL with 20 Wins and a 1.76 ERA…Wood’s knuckleball produced 22 wins and a 1.91 ERA for the White Sox…Lolich had 25 wins and pitched 376 innings but it was only good for 2nd in the AL Cy Young voting…at age 21, Blue posted 24 wins with an ERA of 1.82 and won both the Cy Young and AL MVP. The best offensive player was Willie Stargell at 7.9 but Joe Torre won the NL MVP, as he led the league in BA & RBI’s.

 

> 1972 – Steve Carlton 12.5, Gaylord Perry 11.2, Wilbur Wood 10.3, Joe Morgan 9.3 and Johnny Bench / Dick Allen 8.6

 

This was Carlton’s legendary season with 27 Wins and a 1.97 ERA for a Phillies team that won only 59 games…Perry won 24 games and joined Carlton as Cy Young winners for the year…Wood also won 24 games and pitched 376 innings to finish right behind Perry in the voting…Morgan led the NL in Runs & OBP…Bench won the NL MVP with 40 HR’s & 125 RBI’s…Allen won the AL MVP by leading the league in HR’s, RBI’s, OBP & OPS.

 

1973 – Tom Seaver 11.0, Bert Blyleven 9.9, Joe Morgan 9.2, Dwight Evans 9.0 and Bobby Grich / Pete Rose 8.3

 

Seaver won the NL Cy Young with 19 wins and a 2.08 ERA…Blyleven was the best pitcher in the AL and finished 7th in the Cy Young voting (Jim Palmer won with a WAR of 6.3)…Morgan had another amazing season which included 67 SB’s and a Gold Glove…Evans & Grich never got their due, as they were both better than AL MVP winner Reggie Jackson, while Rose captured the NL MVP.

 

> 1974 – Mike Schmidt 9.7, Jon Matlack 8.7, Joe Morgan 8.6, Gaylord Perry 8.6 and Phil Niekro 8.0

 

One of those inexplicable seasons where neither Cy Young winner or MVP was in the top ten in WAR…Schmidt led the NL in HR’s & Slugging Percentage but finished 6th behind Steve Garvey for the MVP…Matlack had a losing record but pitched 7 shutouts for a Mets team that was 71-91…Morgan had another stellar season and led the NL in OBP…Perry won 21 games at age 35…Niekro led the NL with 20 wins and 300+ innings. The AL MVP was Jeff Burroughs while the Cy Young plaques went to Mike Marshall & Catfish Hunter.

 

> 1975 – Joe Morgan 11.0, Jim Palmer 8.5, Goose Gossage 8.3, Tom Seaver 8.2 and Catfish Hunter 8.1

 

Morgan won the NL MVP by playing a different game than anyone else with a .466 OBP, .974 OPS and a Gold Glove…Palmer’s 2nd Cy Young season included 23 wins and 10 shutouts…before the era of 9th-inning closers, Gossage had 9 wins & 26 saves in 141+ innings…Seaver won his 3rd NL Cy Young with 22 wins…in his first season as a Yankee, Hunter has 23 wins and 30 complete games in 328 innings. Fred Lynn won the AL MVP & ROY with a WAR of 7.3, which was just outside the top ten.

 

1976 – Joe Morgan 9.6, Mark Fidrych 9.6, Mike Schmidt 8.0, Craig Nettles 8.0 and Vida Blue 7.7

 

Morgan was clearly the best position player in the game and won another MVP…Fidrych won the AL ROY and finished 2nd to Palmer in the CY Young vote with 19 wins, 24 complete games and a league-leading 2.34 ERA…Schmidt hit 38 HR’s and won the Gold Glove…Nettles had his best season which included leading the AL in HR’s but he finished 16th in the MVP vote, which was captured by his teammate Thurman Munson…Blue won 18 games for the A’s. The NL Cy Young went to Randy Jones with 22 victories for the Padres.

 

1977 – Rod Carew 9.7, Rick Reuschel 9.6, Mike Schmidt 8.8, Tom Seaver 8.5 and Phil Niekro / George Foster 8.4

 

Carew hit .388 with a 1.019 OPS to win the AL MVP…Reuschel won 20 games for the Cubs but Carlton got the Cy Young…Schmidt hit 38 HR’s (again) and won the Gold Glove (again)…Seaver was 7-3 with the Mets and then 14-3 with the Reds after being traded…Niekro went 16-20 in 330+ innings for a Braves team that won only 61 games…Foster’s 52 HR’s & 149 RBI’s got him the NL MVP. Frank Tanana and Nolan Ryan were both in the top ten but the AL Cy Young went to Sparky Lyle.

 

1978 – Phil Niekro 10.4, Ron Guidry 9.6, Mike Caldwell 8.1, Jim Rice 7.5 and Amos Otis 7.4

 

Niekro’s “Rodney Dangerfield” act continued at age 39 with 19 wins, a 2.88 ERA and 22 complete games for a team that was 24 games under .500 – he finished 6th in the CY Young voting to Gaylord Perry…Guidry won the AL Cy Young with a record of 25-3…Caldwell finished 2nd to Guidry in the voting with 22 wins and 23 complete games…Rice ran away with the AL MVP as he led the league in HR’s, RBI’s, Triples, Hits and OPS…Otis had 22 HR’s, 96 RBI’s & 32 SB’s. Dave Parker was 7th on the list at 7.0 and won the NL MVP.

 

1979 – Fred Lynn 8.8, George Brett 8.6, Dave Winfield 8.3, Phil Niekro 8.0 and Mike Schmidt 7.9

 

Lynn’s season was even better than ’75, as he led the AL with a .333 BA and a 1.059 OPS while adding 39 HR’s, 122 RBI’s and a Gold Glove in CF – it got him 4th place in the MVP voting…Brett finished just ahead of him with a .329 BA and 20 Triples…Winfield led the NL in RBI’s & Total Bases while winning a Gold Glove…Niekro won 21 games and pitched 342 innings at age 40…Schmidt hit 45 HR’s, walked 120 times and won the Gold Glove but finished 13th on the MVP ballot. Keith Hernandez had a WAR of 7.6 and split the MVP award with Willie Stargell who had a WAR of only 2.5 in less than 500 AB’s. The AL MVP went to Don Baylor, who did lead the league in RBI’s but had a WAR of only 3.7 playing 40% of his games as a DH. Darrell Porter (7.6) and Buddy Bell (6.9) were both in the top ten but finished 9th & 10th in the MVP race. The Cy Young winners were Bruce Sutter & Mike Flanagan but WAR says Dennis Eckersley (7.3) and Jerry Koosman (7.2) had better years. ¬†There were a lot of drugs in our society during this time and it seems that some of them were being consumed by baseball writers while they filled out their ballots.

 

So, Boomers, did your favorites show up positively in the WAR analysis? Or, are you now more sure than ever that your guy never got his due?

Converting The Old-School Fan

'54 Mays Bow 5

 

Back in the day, baseball writers who voted for the MVP award used their eyes but not very much statistical analysis. This same stubbornness exists with baseball fans of the 1950’s & 60’s when you talk to them about advanced metrics determining the value of a player. They still cling to the stats on the back of baseball cards and have a hard time with OPB (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base + Slugging) WHIP (Walks + Hits divided by Innings Pitched) and especially WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

 

In an effort to somewhat convert a few of these old-school fans, let’s look at WAR in the era from 1954 (when most major stars of the time had become major leaguers) to 1968 (the year prior to the mound being lowered and divisional play being added). “Wins Above Replacement” is an attempt by the Sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contribution to their team in one statistic. It asks the question, “If this player got injured and had to be replaced by a minor leaguer or bench player, how much value would the team be losing?” The value is expressed in a wins format, so we could determine that player “A” is worth 5 wins to the team over the course of the season. WAR stats are available at two websites: FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference and their results are only slightly different. For this exercise, we’ll use the top five WAR players from the latter site for each applicable year.

 

> 1954 – Willie Mays 10.6, Robin Roberts 8.7, Duke Snider 8.4, Minnie Minoso 8.2 & Ted Kluszewski 7.9

 

Mays lead the league with a .345 BA, hit 41 HR’s and won the MVP…Roberts won 23 games and pitched 336 innings…Snider hit .341 with 40 HR’s & 130 RBI’s…Minoso hit .320 and led the AL in Triples & Total Bases…”Klu” led the NL with 49 HR’s & 141 RBI’s while finishing 2nd to Mays in the MVP voting. Yogi Berra won the AL MVP but wasn’t even in the top ten in WAR.

 

> 1955 – Mickey Mantle 9.5, Willie Mays 9.0, Duke Snider 8.6, Al Kaline 8.2 & Ernie Banks 8.1

 

Mantle only finished 5th in the MVP voting but his OBP (.431) & OPS (1.042) were off the charts and he also led the AL with 37 HR’s…Mays hit 51 HR’s and led the NL with a 1.059 OPS but finished 4th on the MVP ballot…Snider was almost as good with a league-leading 136 RBI’s and a 1.046 OPS while coming in 2nd to teammate Roy Campanella in the MVP race…Kaline also finished 2nd in MVP voting (Yogi won again) while leading the AL with a .340 BA…Banks had 44 HR’s & 117 RBI’s. Billy Pierce was he best pitcher, finishing¬† 8th with 6.9.

 

> 1956 – Mickey Mantle 11.2, Early Wynn 8.3, Duke Snider 7.6, Willie Mays 7.6 & Herb Score 7.5

 

Mantle’s greatest season as he won the Triple Crown with 52 HR’s, 130 RBI’s, a .353 BA and an OPS of 1.169…Wynn won 20 games with an ERA of 2.72 in 277+ innings…Snider had another underappreciated season where he led the NL with 43 HR’s, a .399 OBP and .598 Slugging Percentage…Mays was just as good with 36 HR’s & a league-leading 40 SB’s…Score followed up his ’55 Rookie of the Year campaign with 20 Wins, a 2.53 ERA and 263 K’s.

 

> 1957 – Mickey Mantle 11.3, Ted Williams 9.7, Willie Mays 8.3, Hank Aaron 8.0 & Nellie Fox 7.9

 

Mantle won his second consecutive MVP with .365 BA and a .512 OBP…Williams hit .388 at age 38 with an OBP of .526 and OPS of 1.257…Mays led the NL in Triples and Stolen Bases while winning the Gold Glove…Aaron won the NL MVP by leading the league in HR’s with 44 and RBI’s with 132…Fox hit .317, led the AL with 196 Hits and won the Gold Glove at 2B. Jim Bunning was the top hurler, finishing 7th with a WAR of 7.0.

 

> 1958 – Willie Mays 10.2, Ernie Banks 9.4, Mickey Mantle 8.7, Hank Aaron 7.3 & Richie Ashburn 7.1

 

Mays continued his amazing run by leading the NL with 121 Runs, 31 SB’s and a 1.002 OPS…Banks captured his first of two consecutive MVP Awards with 47 HR’s & 129 RBI’s…Mantle led the AL with 127 Runs, 42 HR’s and 129 Walks…Aaron won a Gold Glove and hit 30 HR’s…Ashburn had his best season by topping NL batters with 215 Hits, 97 Walks, a .350 BA and .440 OBP. Tigers Pitcher Frank Lary finished 6th with a 6.7 WAR while Jackie Jensen of the Red Sox won the AL MVP despite a WAR of only 4.9.

 

> 1959 – Ernie Banks 10.2, Hank Aaron 8.6, Camilo Pasqual 8.6, Eddie Mathews 8.2 & Willie Mays 7.8

 

Banks had another spectacular year with 45 HR’s & 143 RBI’s…Aaron led the NL in hitting with a .355 BA while powering 39 HR’s…Pascual had one of the most “under the radar” seasons in baseball history with 17 Wins, 17 Complete Games, 6 Shutouts and a 2.64 ERA for the last-place Senators who won only 63 games…Mathews had three 6th place finishes earlier in the decade but his league-leading 46 HR’s got him into the top five…Mays had another boring season with 34 HR’s, 104 RBI’s and a league-leading 31 SB’s. Nellie Fox won the AL MVP as the leader of the pennant-winning White Sox, but his WAR was out of the top ten at 6.0.

 

1960 – Willie Mays 9.5, Hank Aaron 8.0, Ernie Banks 7.8, Ernie Broglio 7.7 & Roger Maris 7.5

 

Mays was clearly the best player hitting .319 with 110+ RBI’s but Dick Groat of the pennant-winning Pirates got the MVP even though his WAR was just out of the top ten at 6.0…Aaron had 40 HR’s & 126 RBI’s…Banks had 41 HR’s & 117 RBI’s…Four years before being traded for Lou Brock, Broglio led the NL with 21 Wins…Maris won the AL MVP by hitting 39 HR’s and leading the AL with 112 RBI’s and a .581 Slugging Percentage.

 

1961 – Mickey Mantle 10.5, Hank Aaron 9.4, Norm Cash 9.2, Willie Mays 8.7 & Al Kaline 8.4

 

Despite some late-season injuries, Mantle was dominant once again with 54 HR’s, 128 RBI’s and a .317 BA…Aaron hit .327 with 34 HR’s & 120 RBI’s…Cash had a career year for the Tigers and led the AL in BA with .361 and an OBP of .487…Mays had 40 HR’s & 123 RBI’s…Kaline hit .324, led the AL with 41 Doubles and won a Gold Glove. Frank Robinson won the NL MVP with the 7th best WAR of 7.7, while Maris and his 61 HR’s won the AL MVP, but his WAR of 6.9 was just outside the top ten. The best Pitcher was Cy Young Award winner Whitey Ford who won 25 games for the Yankees.

 

1962 – Willie Mays 10.5, Frank Robinson 8.7, Hank Aaron 8.5, Turk Farrell 7.3 & Bob Purkey 7.1

 

With the expansion of four teams in ’61 & ’62, you can see the beginning of a trend in player value. The great hitters were feasting on diluted pitching staffs, but pitchers were facing many players who were in AAA a year or two earlier. Six of the top ten WAR figures belonged to Pitchers. Mays was clearly the best player again with 49 HR’s & 141 RBI’s but lost the NL MVP to Maury Wills and his 104 SB’s, Gold Glove defense and 6.1 WAR…Robinson led the NL in Runs, OBP & Slugging Percentage…Aaron had 45 HR’s & 128 RBI’s…Farrell pitched 241+ innings with a 3.02 ERA for an expansion team that won only 64 games…Purkey was 23-5 with a 2.81 ERA for the Reds. Mickey Mantle won the AL MVP despite playing in only 123 games and putting up a WAR of 6.0.

 

1963 – Willie Mays 10.6, Dick Ellsworth 9.9, Sandy Koufax 9.9, Hank Aaron 9.1 & Juan Marichal 8.1

 

Mays finished 5th in the MVP voting despite a .314 BA, 38 HR’s, 103 RBI’s and a Gold Glove…Ellsworth had one of the most overlooked seasons for a starting pitcher with 22 Wins and a 2.11 ERA in 290+ innings…Koufax won the Cy Young Award (there was only one at the time) and NL MVP with 25 Wins and a 1.88 ERA in 311 innings with 306 K’s…Aaron led the NL in Runs, HR’s RBI’s and OPS…Marichal won 25 games for the Giants and pitched 321+ innings. Elston Howard won the AL MVP, but his WAR was only 5.1.

 

1964 – Willie Mays 11.0, Ron Santo 8.9, Dick Allen 8.8, Dean Chance 8.6 & Don Drysdale 8.4

 

Mays outclassed the field and finished 6th in the NL MVP vote, won by Ken Boyer and his 6.1 WAR…Santo won a Gold Glove and led the NL with a .398 OBP…Allen was Rookie of the Year and led the NL in Runs and Triples…Chance won the singular Cy Young Award with 20 Wins and a 1.65 ERA in 278+ innings…Drysdale had 18 Wins and an ERA of 2.18 in 321+ innings. The AL MVP went to Brooks Robinson and he was the highest rated AL offense player with a WAR of 8.0.

 

1965 – Willie Mays 11.2, Juan Marichal 10.5, Jim Maloney 9.0, Sandy Koufax 8.6 & Jim Bunning 8.4

 

It took 11 years for Mays to win his 2nd MVP and all he had to do was hit 52 HR’s, win the Gold Glove and lead the league in OBP & OPS…Marichal had 22 Wins, a 2.13 ERA and 10 Shutouts…Maloney won 20 games with a 2.54 ERA for the Reds…Koufax won another CY Young Award by going 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA and 27 complete games…Bunning was 19-9 with a 2.60 ERA for the Phils. Zoilo Versalles was the best offensive player in the AL with a 7.2 WAR and he won the AL MVP thanks to leading the league in Runs, Doubles, Triples and Total Bases.

 

1966 – Sandy Koufax 9.8, Juan Marichal 9.8, Willie Mays 9.0, Ron Santo 8.9 & Jim Bunning 8.9

 

In the final year of his career, Koufax won his 3rd Cy Young Award in four years by going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA…Marichal was right there with 25-6 and a 2.23 ERA…Mays was once again the best all-around player with 37 HR’s, 103 RBI’s and another Gold Glove…Santo led the NL with a .412 OBP and won the Gold Glove but finished 12th in the MVP voting…Bunning was outstanding again with 19 Wins and a 2.41 ERA. Roberto Clemente was close behind with a WAR of 8.2 and won the NL MVP. Frank Robinson was the highest-rated AL position player at 7.7 WAR and his league-leading 49 HR’s & 122 RBI’s got him the MVP.

 

1967 – Carl Yastrzemski 12.4, Ron Santo 9.8, Roberto Clemente 8.9, Hank Aaron 8.5 & Jim Bunning 8.0

 

“Yaz” had one the great seasons in history as he won the AL triple Crown and led the Red Sox to the pennant in a pitching-dominant era with 44 HR’s, 121 RBI’s and a .326 BA…Santo contributed another huge season and had his best MVP showing, finishing 4th…Clemente led the NL with a .357 BA and 209 hits…Aaron kept plugging along, leading the NL in Runs, Home Runs & Total Bases…this was the 3rd straight season that Bunning had a WAR of 8 or better and his 17 Wins and a 2.29 ERA equaled a 2nd place finish in the CY Young voting. The NL Cy Young went to Mike McCormick and his 22 Wins for the Giants, but his WAR was only 4.4. Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox captured the AL Cy Young with 22 Wins for the pennant-winners and his WAR was 4.1. Orlando Cepeda had the 4th best WAR for NL position players at 6.8, but won the MVP.

 

1968 – Bob Gibson 11.9, Carl Yastrzemski 10.5, Brooks Robinson 8.4, Roberto Clemente 8.1 & Luis Tiant 7.8

 

Gibson’s magical season included mind-boggling stats like a 1.12 ERA and 13 Shutouts that catapulted him to both the Cy Young & MVP Awards…Yastrzemski led the AL in both BA & OBP but finished 9th in the MVP vote…Robinson won his 9th straight Gold Glove…Clemente won his 8th straight Gold Glove…Tiant won 21 games for the Indians with an ERA of 1.60 and 9 Shutouts. The AL Cy Young & MVP went Denny McClain and his 31 Wins while finishing 6th in overall WAR with 7.3.

 

Now that you old-timers understand how good (or bad) your favorite player really was, we’ll pick on some younger “Baby Boomers” in a future visit and discover the results of WAR through the 1970’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Pafko And The Cardboard Heroes

'52 Pafko

When former Major League Outfielder Andy Pafko passed away a few years ago at age 92, the wire service story cited many highlights of his career. He was a four-time All-Star, played on the last Chicago Cubs team to reach the World Series before 2016 (in 1945) and also played in three additional Fall Classics with the Dodgers and the Braves. Also, for trivia fans, he was Brooklyn’s left-fielder in the 1951 playoff game when Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” home run sailed over his head.

 

What the casual fan or younger-than-50 sportswriter doesn’t know is the impact Andy Pafko has had on card collectors for over two generations. Not every baseball card of significant value belongs to a Hall-of-Famer or star player. Sometimes circumstance and timing create a legendary story about an everyday ballplayer. This is the joy and wonderment of card collecting and why it continues to be a passion for Baby Boomers everywhere.

 

In 1952, the Topps Company issued their first full set of baseball cards. Even though Bowman produced cards in the late 40’s and early 50’s, this was the first “modern set” with 407 cards in four series sold in packs with bubble gum. To this day, the “holy grail” of modern cards is the Mickey Mantle issue from this set. It was the first card in the last series (#311), which meant that it had a scarcity value in addition to the popularity of the player. Today, if you owned this card in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition, it would be worth over $50,000! The set also includes Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra. The value of those four cards, however, pales in comparison to that of the card of Andy Pafko.

 

In the 1950’s, when youngsters opened their packs of baseball cards, the standard practice was to put them in order by the card number on the back, then stack them into an empty shoe box. In order to keep them neat and upright, rubber bands were used on groups of cards. Sometimes 50, sometimes 100 or even an entire group that wasn’t yet a complete set. This method seemed logical at the time because the condition of the cards wasn’t really an issue the kids cared about. After all, some duplicates ended up in the spokes of bicycle tires. Over the years, as card collecting became a real hobby, it became obvious that the top and bottom card from all these rubber-banded stacks took the most abuse. And the top card of every stack was #1 – Andy Pafko! Today, a “Near Mint” 1952 Topps Andy Pafko card is worth $10,000!

 

At the National Sports Collectibles Show in Anaheim about 20 years ago, one of the dealers had posters for sale. The picture was of an elderly woman in a housedress with her grey hair in a bun. She was standing next to a metal barrel that had flames coming out and she was tossing baseball cards into the fire. The title at the bottom said, “The Great American Tragedy”. For me and countless other kids of the 50’s & 60’s, this caused us to laugh and cry at almost the same moment. My Mom threw away my card collection sometime between our move from New England to California and I was well into my 30’s before the thought of card collecting crept into my brain once again.

 

The original goal for creating a new collection was very modest. Nostalgia was the motivation and I set out to collect all the Red Sox cards of the 50’s and all the Dodger cards of the 60’s. Of course, it was obvious that the cardboards of Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax wouldn’t come cheap, but with condition not being a priority, it seemed that the goal was achievable. In the days before the Internet, the best resource for this quest was a small publication called “Baseball Card Checklists”. It listed each year of Topps baseball cards and categorized the players by team and number. With my trusty book, I set out to Southern California cards shows and hobby shops to search through stacks of cards that included common players like Don Buddin & Jim Lefebvre while occasionally splurging on Maury Wills or Jimmy Piersall.

 

At some point, the realization was clear that not every card was going to be easy to find. The one that seemed most difficult was the 1963 rookie card of Dodgers 3B Ken McMullen (#537). He was modestly successful as a player, but his .248 lifetime batting average over 16 seasons wouldn’t really make anyone take notice. However, in every visit, I came up empty on the McMullen card – not even finding one in lousy condition. In retrospect, it becomes obvious that my knowledge of baseball cards was limited and the project I had created was a fool’s game. You see, in 1963, Topps decided to put four Rookie players on a card and so McMullen shared #537 with Pedro Gonzalez, Al Weis & Pete Rose. That’s right, I was looking through bargain bins for a Pete Rose rookie card! Today, a Ken McMullen Rookie Card in “Near Mint” condition will cost you over $1,500!

 

These two stories are not unique, as there as numerous examples of cards of ordinary players that will surprise you with their value. In the same ’63 set, fans of Tom Tresh would have to pay over $100 for card #173 because he shares it with Mickey Mantle. If you’re the world’s #1 fan of Jim Gosger, be prepared to pay $200+ for the ’63 rookie card he shares with Willie Stargell. Did you just love Jerry Koosman? His rookie card from 1968 (#177) will only set you back a little over $1,000 because the other young hurler on the cardboard is Nolan Ryan.

 

It is part of the charm of being a collector and keeps you from getting too carried away with yourself as an expert. As for me, I’m looking for that 1967 rookie card of Bill Denehy (#581). The last dealer wanted $900 because there’s also a guy named Seaver on the card, but I’ve never heard of him.

 

Good hunting.

 

 

In A Vintage State Of Mind

'53 Connelly

The four beautiful golf courses in my community have a set of tees slightly shorter in distance than the regular (white) tees. They are gold in color (maybe referring to the golden years?) and are called the “Vintage” tees. At this stage of my life, I’m proud to play from those tees and the name seems much more palatable than “Senior” tees.

 

Another reason for my positive attitude is the fact that I’m a collector and fan of vintage baseball cards. There is some difference of opinion as to where the line is drawn between vintage and modern (maybe around 1975) but there’s no question that cards from the 50’s & 60’s fall into the vintage category. Each time I purchase a collection with cards from this era, it brings a flood of baseball memories that go back to my childhood.

 

Last week, a collection came across my desk that included 100+ cards from the 1953 Topps set. They weren’t in great condition (then again, neither am I) but nostalgia isn’t based on a card being pristine. Even though the first Topps set in 1952 is more famous, there may not be a more beautiful card format than the ’53’s. Instead of photographs, the players are depicted by a beautiful line drawing in full color that makes every card a work of art. The set includes many famous players like Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays but also 272 other players who made their mark on the game. If you’re a vintage fan, the names will be familiar…if you’re a younger fan, consider it a history lesson. Let’s look at who we found in this magic box.

 

> Monte Irvin (#62), Giants OF – Played with the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues from 1938-1948 before joining the Giants in ’49. Led the NL with 121 RBI’s in ’51 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973.

 

> Dick Williams (#125), Dodgers OF – Managed for 21 seasons and won two World Series titles with the A’s in the early 70’s.

 

> Allie Reynolds (#141), Yankees P – Nicknamed “The Chief” due to his Native American heritage, he was a mainstay of the Yanks rotation in the 50’s.

 

> Satchel Paige (#220), Browns P – Arguably the most famous player in the Negro Leagues, he didn’t get to the majors until 1948 at age 41.

 

> John Podres (#263), Dodgers P – This is the rookie card of the man who beat the Yankees in the 7th game of the 1955 World Series.

 

> Joe Nuxhall (#105), Reds P – The youngest player to ever appear in a major league game, he was a 15 year-old High School phenom who pitched in one game in 1944. Eventually became the Reds long-time broadcaster with the nickname of the “Ol’ Lefthander”.

 

> Vic Wertz (#142), Browns OF – One year later, he hit the ball that Willie Mays tracked down in the ’54 Series.

 

> Ferris Fain (#24), Athletics 1B – Was the AL batting champion in both 1951 (.344) & 1952 (.327).

 

> John Sain (#119), Yankees P – When he and Warren Spahn each won 21 games for the Braves in 1947 (and no other pitcher won more than 11), the fans said, “Spahn & Sain and pray for rain”.

 

> Pete Runnels (#219), Senators SS – Won two AL batting titles with the Red Sox in 1960 (.320) & 1962 (.326).

 

> Willie Jones (#88), Phillies 3B – Most remembered for his nickname…”Puddin’ Head”.

 

> Sibby Sisti (#124), Braves IF – His given name was Sebastian and he played 13 seasons as a utility player with the Braves in Boston & Milwaukee. The next time you watch “The Natural” and see the Pirates Manager go the mound, that is Sibby Sisti.

 

> Mike Garcia (#75), Indians P – A member of that great Tribe rotation in the 50’s that included Early Wynn, Bob Lemon & Bob Feller.

 

How about some of the great nicknames of that era…

 

> Virgil “Fire” Trucks

> “Rip” Repulski

> Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell

> Harry “Peanuts” Lowery

> “Jungle” Jim Rivera

> Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell

> Harry “Suitcase” Simpson

> “Sad” Sam Jones

> “Dixie” Howell

 

They’re all in the box along with a bunch of players you’ve never heard of…

 

> Gus Niarhos

> Don Kolloway

> Art Schult

> Earl Harrist

> Cliff Fannin

> Connie Marrero

> Keith Thomas

> Bill Connelly

> Tommy Glaviano

> Dave Madison

 

It never gets old having baseball history in your hands.

 

Say What?

Harper Clown

There is little doubt that there are more golf jokes than in any other sport. After all, even the throw-away lines are funny because when you ask a golfer how he’s been playing lately and he replies, “My game has improved dramatically since I had my ball retriever re-gripped”, you can’t help but laugh.

 

When it comes to quotes however, baseball will always be at the pinnacle. Maybe it has to do with over 150 years of history or the fact that every American youth is exposed to the sport at an early age and understands the basics of the game. For us die-hard fans, we’d probably like to think that it’s the result of the great characters who have captured our imagination over a lifetime. So, for today’s visit, we’ll look at some of the great quotes of the game and hope they bring a smile, cause an outright guffaw or put a quizzical look on your face.

 

> On hearing that Reggie Jackson was reported to have an IQ of 165, Yankee teammate Mickey Rivers snidely replied, “Out of what – a thousand?”

 

> “He’s got power enough to hit home runs in any park, including Yellowstone.” – Sparky Anderson on Willie Stargell

 

> “I gave (pitcher) Mike Cuellar more chances than I gave my first wife.” – Earl Weaver

 

> “Hating the Yankees is as American as apple pie, unwed mothers and cheating on your income tax.” – Mike Royko, Chicago newspaper columnist

 

> “Ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection.” – Red Smith, sportswriter

 

> “There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them work.” – Charlie Lau, hitting coach

 

> “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra

 

> “For the parents of a Little Leaguer, a baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings.” – Earl Wilson, former pitcher

 

> “Good pitching will beat good hitting anytime, and vice versa.” – Bob Veale, former pitcher

 

> “The designated hitter rule is like letting someone else take Wilt Chamberlain’s free throws.” – Rick Wise, former pitcher

 

> “Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster.” – Curt Simmons, former pitcher

 

> “In a way, an umpire is like a woman. He makes quick decisions, never reverses them, and doesn’t think you’re safe when you’re out.” – Larry Goetz, former umpire

 

> “You never save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain.” – Leo Durocher

 

> “A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores.” – Klinger (from M*A*S*H*)

 

> “I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I toss one that ain’t never been seen by this generation.” – Satchel Paige

 

> “Baseball is like a poker game, nobody wants to quit when he’s losing: nobody wants you to quit when you’re ahead.” – Jackie Robinson

 

> “The difference between the old ballplayer and the new ballplayer is the jersey. The old ballplayer cared about the name on the front. The new ballplayer cares about the name on the back.” – Steve Garvey

 

> “Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools who run it.” – Bill Terry

 

> “Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else but to be better than someone else. This is the nature of man and the name of the game.” – Ted Williams

 

> “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry, humorist

 

“You can’t sweep a series if you don’t win the first game, and it’s tougher to win two out of three if you lose the first one.” – Todd Helton

 

> “Willie Mays’ glove is where triples go to die.” – Jim Murray, newspaper columnist

 

> “The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.” – Casey Stengel

 

> “The way to make coaches think you’re in shape in the Spring is to get a tan.” – Whitey Ford

 

> “I watch a lot of baseball on radio.” – Gerald Ford

 

> “I never took the game home with me. I always left it in some bar.” – Bob Lemon

 

> “All I remember about my wedding day in 1967 is that the Cubs lost a doubleheader.” – George Will, author

 

> “A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz.” – Humphrey Bogart

 

> “He looks like a greyhound but he runs like a bus.” – George Brett on teammate Jamie Quirk

 

> “If Mike Scioscia was in a race with a pregnant woman, he’d finish third.” – Tommy Lasorda

 

> Asked what it feels like to be the shortest player in the major leagues, 5′ 4″ Freddie Patek replied, “A heckuva lot better than being the shortest player in the minor leagues.”

 

> “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day…Aren’t we all?” – Vin Scully

 

> “He once asked me if Beirut was named after that famous baseball player who hit home runs.” – High School Teacher

 

> Veteran Pitcher Roger McDowell on taking a rookie under his wing – “I have to go to all the places he can’t, to make sure he isn’t there.”

 

> In 1995, during the strike, a replacement pitcher who hadn’t pitched professionally in nine years had a terrible outing. Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass said, “He should have been better, pitching on 3,195 days’ rest.”

 

> “Aw, c’mon, how could he lose a ball in the sun? He’s from Mexico.” – Harry Carey

 

Needless to say, we’ve just touched the surface of this glorious topic and if you’re wondering if we’ll revisit it in the future, think of the Bryce Harper quote – “That’s a clown question, bro”.

 

 

The Dual Collection

Connors '52

The recent passing of Gene Conley at age 86, brought to mind that the era of dual-sport baseball players has essentially come to an end. In today’s society, young athletes begin to be groomed as soon as their talent is discovered and every resource is utilized to mold them into a professional making millions of dollars. No longer does the best player on the High School baseball team also play basketball & football…he’s concentrating on one sport year-round with travel teams, personal trainers and the beginnings of an entourage.

 

Today’s challenge will be to put together a collection of baseball rookie cards from the modern era showcasing those dual-sport stars that were sprinkled throughout the landscape of professional sports starting in the 1950’s. As a tribute, we’ll begin with the big guy who was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1930.

 

> Gene Conley – This 6’8″ right-hander made his debut with the Braves in 1952 and was named to three All-Star teams in that decade. During the same era, he was also a Power Forward in the NBA and won three championship rings with the Boston Celtics. His RC is from the ’53 Topps set and books for $15.

 

> Dick Groat – An outstanding SS in the major leagues for 14 seasons, he won the NL MVP in 1960 for the World Series champion Pirates. An All-American, 5′ 11″ Point Guard at Duke, he also played one year in the NBA with the Ft. Wayne Pistons. His RC is from the high-numbered run of the iconic ’52 Topps set is priced at $350.

 

> Dick Ricketts – Played three seasons in the NBA as a Power Forward before switching over the baseball and spending one season with the Cardinals in 1959. His Brother Dave was a major league Catcher in the 60’s. The baseball RC is in the ’59 Topps set with a value $3 but his basketball RC from ’57 Topps will set you back $20.

 

> Steve Hamilton – A 6’6” left-hander, he pitched in the show for 12 years with a lifetime ERA of 3.05. Before that, he played two seasons as a Small Forward for the Minneapolis Lakers just before they moved to L.A. $2 will get you his RC from the ’63 Topps set.

 

> Dave DeBusschere – Pitched for the White Sox in ’62 & ’63 but his real fame came on the basketball court. In 13 NBA seasons as a 6’6” Forward, he averaged over 16 points per game…he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. His RC in the ’63 Topps set books for $3. The basketball RC from ’69 Topps is worth $15.

 

> Ron Reed – Pitched for 19 seasons (1966-84) and won 146 games including 18 for the Braves in ’69. At 6’6′, this Notre Dame product also played Forward with the Detroit Pistons for two years in the mid-60’s. The RC from ’68 Topps will only cost you $2.

 

> Danny Ainge – Another athlete who had more success at basketball, he played three seasons with the Blue Jays with a lifetime BA of .220. At 6’4″, he became a valuable member of the Celtics during their great championship runs in the 80’s and today, he is the team’s highly-respected General Manager. $2 will purchase the RC from ’81 Topps.

 

> Bo Jackson – Arguably, the best all-around player in this category, it was a “must watch” moment every time he stepped on the field. Won the Heisman Trophy as a running back at Auburn and took those skills to the NFL for an amazing four-year run with the Raiders before a hip injury ended it all. On the baseball diamond, he displayed similar skills and led off the 1989 All-Star Game with a mammoth home run. An ’86 Topps RC is only $2.

 

> Deion Sanders – One of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, people sometimes forget that he played in the major leagues for nine seasons, leading the NL with 14 Triples in 1992 and stealing 38 bases in 1994. The ’89 RC’s have very little value due to the overproduction of that time, but the football RC from ’89 Score is about $5.

 

> Brian Jordan – Had a very solid 15-year major league career from 1992-2006 with 184 HR’s and a .282 lifetime BA. Also played defensive back for the Falcons from 1989-1991. The ’92 Bowman set has his RC and the price is $1.

 

> Chuck Connors – This name may sound familiar if you’re a fan of vintage TV Westerns, as he was the star of “The Rifleman” from 1958-63. What most people don’t know is that he’s a member of this exclusive club. He got one AB with the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers and then played 66 games with the ’51 Cubs hitting .238 with two HR’s. Just prior to that, he played two seasons for the Celtics in the infancy of the NBA. While he never had a major league baseball card, you may be able to find a 1952 AAA card produced by Mother’s Cookies showing the lanky 6’5″ 1B in a L.A. Angels uniform. Due to his celebrity status, it will probably cost hundreds of dollars.

 

There are many interesting tidbits in this category including former big league Pitcher John Burkett bowling on the PBA tour and Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Gibson spending one season with the Harlem Globetrotters. And if you expand the group to college stars, you’ll have to include Darin Erstad, Steve Garvey, Kirk Gibson, Tony Gwynn (drafted by the Clippers & Padres on the same day), Frank Howard, Jackie Jensen, Jackie Robinson, Jeff Samardzija and others.

 

And, let’s not forget those of you who can watch sports and consume mass quantities at the same time.

Analyzing the DIPS

'17 Samard

For all long as kids have looked at the back of baseball cards, they’ve had a general understanding of ERA (Earned Run Average). If you look up the definition, the general consensus is “A measure of a pitcher’s performance by dividing the total earned runs allowed by the total of innings pitched and multiplying by nine”. My baseball education taught that it was earned runs multiplied by nine, divided by innings pitched but the numbers come out the same. The premise of the statistic was to not burden a pitcher with runs that had been enabled by errors or passed balls. In other words, eliminating from the calculation events that were out of his control.

 

If you’ve watched enough baseball to give the definition a personal “eye test”, you already know that numerous runs score in a game that don’t necessarily fit the criteria. If a pitcher leaves the game with the bases loaded (through hits & walks) and the relief pitcher gives up a triple, the original hurler just gave up three earned runs while he was sitting in the dugout. If there are runners on 2B & 3B with two outs and a weak groundball trickles under the glove of the shortstop into left field, two earned runs score whether the fielder in question was Ozzie Smith or Dale Berra. Outcomes like these are what motivate the development of advanced baseball statistics.

 

In an attempt to move beyond ERA, we now have a stat called DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching). The essential theory is that pitchers can only really control strikeouts, walks, hit batters and home runs allowed. To that end, analysts have come up with a formula to build pitching statistics that isolate pitcher performance. Once that number is calculated, they tie it to MLB’s run scoring environment so that it aligns with ERA.

 

The question for those of us playing Fantasy Baseball is if the DIPS numbers can assist in determining the value and predictability of pitchers. Many a team has been torpedoed by a couple of starting pitchers that didn’t perform to expectations and we’re always looking for an edge. As a 20+ year fantasy veteran has said many times, “I hate Pitchers”. Just taking a superficial look at DIPS results for the first half of the 2017 season reveals the following tidbits (stats through 7/1).

 

> In the AL this season, 8 of the top 10 starting pitchers on the DIPS list are also on the top ten ERA list. Looking somewhat deeper, however, we find that ERA leader Jason Vargas (at 2.22) is 7th on the DIPS chart with 3.56. The second half may show some regression for the Royals ace. (Note – This was written before his blow-up on Wednesday)

 

> Two AL starters seem be having some bad luck in the first half. Chris Archer of the Rays is 6th in DIPS at 3.09 but has a 3.92 ERA. Even more significant is the differential for reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. He’s 10th in DIPS at 3.84 but has an ERA of 5.06!

 

> On the flip side in the AL are two over-achievers. Marcus Stroman of the Jays is 9th in ERA at 3.41 but his DIPS figure of 3.94 is more than half a run higher. The Twins Ervin Santana has been even more fortunate with a #5 ERA ranking of 3.07 but a DIPS number of 4.70.

 

> In the NL, six of the top ten ERA leaders also show up on the top ten DIPS list. Max Scherzer of the Nats is first on both lists with Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers close behind with the #2 ERA and #3 DIPS. The numbers also confirm that the D’Backs’ Zack Greinke’s return to form is for real with the #7 ERA and #4 DIPS.

 

> Tough luck NL starters include Stephen Strasburg of the Nats with a 3.51 ERA and a 3.01 DIPS while Jeff Samardzija of the Giants wins the “don’t buy a lottery ticket today” award with the 7th best DIPS figure in the league at 3.30 compared to his 4.63 ERA.

 

> NL Pitchers who can thank their lucky stars so far are Gio Gonzalez of the Nats with the 3rd best ERA of 2.77 but a DIPS of 4.10 along with Mike Leake of the Cards, Robbie Ray of the D’Backs and Ivan Nova of the Bucs. Those last three all have ERA’s more than a half run lower than their DIPS number.

 

> Some pundits seem to think that Carlos Martinez of the Redbirds is a disappointment because he’s 6-6. The truth is that he’s penalized by expectations and his 2.88 ERA (4th) and 3.27 DIPS (5th) tell the real story.

 

As always, Fantasy success comes from balance, both on your team and in your scouting, so maybe DIPS has a place in your toolbox. The numbers are easily found on ESPN.com under “Sabermetric Pitching Stats”. So, the next time one of your baseball buddies asks how you are, you can reply, “I’m feeling much better now that I’m monitoring my DIPS”.