The Rotisserie Baseball Time Machine

Gwynn '84 Donruss

If you didn’t play Fantasy Baseball before the Internet, the historical concept of 1980’s Rotisserie Baseball might be slightly hazy. For the Old Duck, it is an era filled with the best memories one could imagine

 

In March of 1981, I read an article in Inside Sports magazine titled “The Year George Foster Wasn’t Worth $36”. It was written by Dan Okrent and was one of the first references to “Rotisserie” (Fantasy) Baseball. By 1984, the originators of the game (including Okrent and Glen Waggoner) published the first edition of “Rotisserie League Baseball”. Upon seeing the book, the ’81 article came to mind and I couldn’t wait to consume the details of this fascinating hobby. After reading the entire book in one sitting, I got on the phone and called numerous baseball-loving friends with the following challenge – “Go buy this book and tell me if you’re in”. Within 48 hours, the “Bowling League of Rotisserie Baseball” was born. Why bowling? Well, almost everyone in the group (including me) worked in the bowling industry…owners, executives, managers, sales reps and the like. We used a coin flip to decide which league we’d utilize and the NL won out.

 

So there we sat in the Spring of ’84, ten guys who were baseball fans but didn’t have a clue about this new game other than the minimal strategies talked about in the book. No Internet, no Fantasy magazines, no Sabrmetrics and no Rotisserie Gurus. Our main resource was the Sporting News and its Baseball Register publication. I chose Donald’s Ducks for my team name and we went boldly where no fan had gone before.

 

As we prepare for the 37th annual auction Draft on March 28th (I’m still the Commissioner), it might be fun to look back at that 1984 Draft and critique my team. Yes, our squads were comprised of 14 offensive players and 9 pitchers with a budget of $260. Here are the members of the Ducks in the order they were chosen…

 

#1 – Lonnie Smith, OF, $28 – In 1983, he provided an outstanding season with a .321 BA and 43 SB’s and even though he dropped to .250 in ’84, his 50 SB’s helped the team finish 2nd in that category.

 

#2 – Dale Berra, SS, $17 – The first of many bad decisions, he hit .222 with 9 HR’s.

 

#3 – Gary Carter, C, $40 – We all seemed to figure out the scarcity of this position and paid through the nose for backstops. Carter had 106 RBI’s and won the Silver Slugger award. Other notable Catchers on Draft day included Jody Davis ($37), Terry Kennedy ($33) & Tony Pena ($32).

 

#4 – Leon Durham, 1B, $16 – 23 HR’s, 96 RBI’s & 16 SB’s…not bad.

 

#5 – Ken Oberkfell, 2B, $11 – Traded by the Cardinals to the Braves, he played just 100 games and hit only 1 HR.

 

#6 – Mike Madden, P, $7 – Started 7 games for the Astros with a 5.53 ERA.

 

#7 – Steve Carlton, P, $13 – The Hall-of-Famer was past his prime at age 39, but posted 13 Wins with a 3.58 ERA…and pitched 229 innings.

 

#8 – Mike Marshall, 1B, $15 – We were based in Southern California, so this was somewhat of a “home town” Dodger pick. He did hit 21 HR’s and made the All-Star team. He also dated Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s, but there wasn’t a stat category for that.

 

#9 – Tim Wallach, 3B, $12 – Became the Expos All-Star representative with a productive season that included 18 HR’s & 72 RBI’s.

 

#10 – David Green, OF, $15 – Seemed like a good sleeper pick, as he swiped 34 bases in ’83 as a 22 year-old. Dipped to 17 SB’s in ’84 and was out of the majors by 1986.

 

#11 – Dave Concepcion, SS, $5 – Didn’t have much left at age 36….245 BA with 4 HR’s.

 

#12 – Alan Ashby, C, $9 – The back-up Catcher for the Astros, his 4 HR’s & 27 RBI’s didn’t help much.

 

#13 – Doug Frobel, OF, $4 – ’84 was his best season, but that isn’t saying much….203 BA, 12 HR’s & 28 RBI’s for the Pirates.

 

# 14 – Lee Smith, P, $21 – We figured out that Closers were essential in a 4×4 format, he gave the Ducks 9 Wins & 33 Saves.

 

#15 -Jerry Mumphrey, OF, $4 – His best season, as he represented the Astros at the All-Star Game. .290, 9 HR’s, 83 RBI’s & 15 SB’s

 

#16 – Terry Francona, 1B, $3 – The future skipper was on the DL more times than seemed humanly possible…had 214 AB’s for the Expos with a .346 BA.

 

#17 – Tony Gwynn, OF, $5 – Very seldom do you have the good fortune to get a future Hall of Famer in the end-game of the Draft. He played 86 games for the Padres in ’83 and hit .309, but no one expected him to lead the league in ’84 with a .351 BA. Finished 3rd in the MVP voting.

 

#18 – Mike Krukow, P, $7 – The lanky RH won 11 Games for the Giants, but had an ERA of 4.78 and led the NL in hits allowed.

 

#19 – Cecilio Guante, P, $2 – 2 Wins & 2 Saves with a 2.61 ERA, but only pitched 41 innings.

 

#20 – Charles Hudson, P, $3 – Had 9 Wins and a 4.04 ERA in 30 starts for the Phillies.

 

#21 – Bill Scherrer, P, $3 – Traded during the season, he only pitched 71 innings and had 2 Wins.

 

#22 – Lee Tunnell, P, $2 – Was 11-6 in ’83 for the Bucs…went 1-7 with a 5.27 ERA for the Ducks.

 

#23 – Bryn Smith, P, $2 – Maybe the best of this hodge-podge group of end-game hurlers, he started 28 games, won 11 and contributed a 3.32 ERA.

 

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why this wasn’t a championship squad. The most glaring mistake (and one that all Fantasy players have made), was leaving $16 on the table. In other words, the Ducks had the most money toward the end, but no decent players to spend it on. To a large extent, this was due to waiting so long to roster pitching. The last six picks were Pitchers and the good ones were long gone.

 

In addition to the wasted $16, the Ducks did a lousy job of money management. Only 25% of the expenditures went for pitching and that led to finishing last in both ERA & RATIO. Amazingly, the team finished in 3rd place overall, but is was 1987 before the franchise actually captured a championship.

 

For you long-timers, other recognizable names who filtered in and out of the Ducks roster (via trades, waiver claims & FAAB) included John Candelaria, Jeff Reardon, Ed Whitson, Von Hayes, Jerry Royster & Steve Sax.

 

Memories are made of this.

 

The Best Hitters Of 2020

'18 Alvarez Auto

50 years ago, if a baseball fan was asked who the best hitters were, the only significant resource would have been the sports section of the Sunday newspaper. Somewhere in the back pages, there was a long, slender list in very small type showing all current major league players. And those players were ranked by their BA (Batting Average) because that had historically been the benchmark for position players.

 

Looking back at 1970, we find that the top five BA’s belonged to Rico Carty (.366), Alex Johnson (.329), Carl Yastrzemski (.329), Joe Torre (.325) & Manny Sanguillen (.325). Fine players all, but were they the five best hitters in baseball? Not when you consider that the two MVP winners (Johnny Bench and Boog Powell) didn’t even hit .300. Sanguillen, for example, had only 7 HR’s & 61 RBI’s.

 

As modern baseball analytics have evolved, one of the most accepted statistics has become OPS (On-Base % + Slugging %). Not only does it prioritize getting on base, it also adds the concept of moving more runners around the bases. After all, Slugging Percentage is defined as Total Bases /At Bats. Old school fans might question the veracity of the stat but baseball history tells the tale. The five highest lifetime OPS numbers belong to Babe Ruth (1.16), Ted Williams (1.12), Lou Gehrig (1.08), Barry Bonds (1.05) & Jimmie Foxx (1.04). There are only two other hitters with a number over 1.00… Hank Greenberg and Rogers Hornsby. Mike Trout is at #8 with .999.

 

With Spring Training around the corner, here’s one Duck’s opinion on the hitters for 2020 that could be the top ten this season…based on the projections from a highly respected Fantasy website.

 

1) Mike Trout, Angels OF, 1.034 OPS – 20 years from now, people will be describing his career as “once in a generation”. His consistency and still youthful age (28) makes him the consensus #1 hitter in the game. This type of performance would put over the 1.000 mark for his career.

 

2) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF, 1.030 OPS – Also 28, he reached 1.100 in 2019.

 

3) Cody Bellinger, Dodger 1B/OF, .958 OPS – The NL MVP also won a Gold Glove and he’s only 24.

 

4) J.D. Martinez, Red Sox DH, .957 OPS – 2019 was viewed as an off year, but really only in comparison to 2018. His OPS was .939 with 105 RBI’s.

 

5T) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B, .950 OPS – His consistency causes him to be somewhat underrated. 38 HR’s & 121 RBI’s in 2019 shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

5T) Juan Soto, Nationals OF, .950 OPS – Has 56 HR’s entering his age 21 season!!

 

7) Alex Bregman, Astros 3B, .939 OPS – Bang your trash can if you’re not rooting for him.

 

8) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF, .929 OPS – Even with those troublesome injuries the last two years, his 4-year OPS is .952.

 

9) Yordan Alvarez, Astros DH, .924 OPS – The AL ROY had astonishing numbers for a first-season player including a 1.067 OPS…he’s 22 years old.

 

10) Nelson Cruz, Twins DH, .922 OPS – Amazing production at age 39.

 

Did your favorite player get left off the list? The next five are all over .900…Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper & Anthony Rendon.  Or maybe some youngsters take the next step? We’ll all be watching.

 

As for 1970, the four players who exceeded 1.000 OPS were McCovey, Yastrzemski, Carty & Jim Hickman.

 

Horsehide Humble Pie

Cicotte Auto

Those of us who have a lifetime passion for the game of baseball have a tendency to think we’re more knowledgeable about the game than the next guy. And, after penning 400+ columns on the subject, I’m no exception to the rule.

 

Well, I’m here to tell you that it is time for your scribe to eat some humble pie…and the main ingredient will be horsehide! In other words, as you’ve probably already guessed, there’s a lot about baseball I don’t know.

 

Being from the first class of Baby Boomers, my knowledge of post World War II baseball is pretty extensive. There aren’t many players from that era who have a name that isn’t familiar to me. Along with the recognition, there are hundreds of small stories that are still clinging to my gray matter…Eddie Waitkus was the real Roy Hobbs, Tony Conigliaro got beaned by Jack Hamilton, Mike Kekich & Fritz Peterson swapped wives during Spring Training…and so many more. Yet, even I’m taken by surprise on occasion… just the other day, a customer at the baseball card shop stumped me with, “What Yankee player wore #3 after Babe Ruth and #7 before Mickey Mantle?”

 

As for the first half-century of baseball, most fans know the famous – and infamous – stars of the era…Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and the like. The real question is, however, which great stars of the time have names that are essentially unrecognizable to even avid baseball fans? That question has come home to roost for your humble blogger, as I’ve been asked to curate and market a collection of over 1,000 sports autographs for the estate of a long-time sports fan. In a November visit, I detailed the project, but here’s the short summary…

 

In the late 1940’s, a young sports fan decided to build an autograph collection. The process was simple, but effective, as he would send a self-addressed post card in an envelope with a note to the player (or team) asking them to sign the postcard and mail it back. In the days before eBay, auction houses and the marketing of autographs, athletes were happy to fill the request. The youngster would cut out the signature portion of the returned post card and tape it an album along with pictures and articles of the players. As he grew up, the collection began to include many signatures acquired in person at games and other events. The end result was a collection that included thousands of autographs from ballplayers of multiple generations.

 

Almost 200 autographs have been chosen so far and they have been (or will be) authenticated by PSA, a third party company that specializes in sports memorabilia. Here are some of the players included up to this point. A few of the names might be familiar, but do you really know their story?

 

> Zack Wheat – An OF for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he played from 1909-1927 and had 2,884 Hits with a lifetime BA of .317. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959.

 

> Paul Waner – The career of “Big Poison” stretched from 1926-1945 and he hit .333 with 3,152 Hits…#19 on the all-time list. Hall of Fame entry was in 1952.

 

> Eddie Cicotte – If you have seen “Eight Men Out”, you may know that he was the star Pitcher of the 1919 White Sox and one of the players who conspired to throw the World Series.

 

> Harry Heilman – This Tiger OF had a lifetime BA of .342 (12th all-time) and played from 1914-1932. Went into Cooperstown in 1952.

 

> Sam Crawford – “Wahoo” Sam made his debut in 1899 and played through 1917. He has the most Triples (309) in major league history. Voted into the HOF in 1957.

 

> Chief Bender – Pitched from 1903-1917 and won 212 games. The nickname came from his Native American heritage and he gained HOF induction in 1953.

 

> Jim Bottomley – A 16-year career (1922-1937) as a 1B produced a .310 lifetime BA. Won the NL MVP in 1927 and his HOF induction was in 1974.

 

> Monty Stratton – A Pitcher for the White Sox from 1934-1938, he lost his leg due to a hunting accident prior to the 1939 season. Worked with the team for the next two years as a Coach and batting practice pitcher (using a prosthetic leg). He actually pitched in the minor leagues after World War II and was immortalized in the 1949 film “The Stratton Story” in which he was portrayed by Jimmy Stewart.

 

> Earle Combs – Another Hall of Famer (1970), he was the CF for the Yankee dynasty of the 1920’s.

 

> William “Baby Doll” Jacobson – An AL OF from 1915-1927, his lifetime BA was .311. While in the minor leagues at Mobile in 1912, he was the lead-off hitter in the first game of the season. The band played “Oh, you beautiful doll” as he walked to the plate and he hit a Home Run on the first pitch…the nickname stuck.

 

> Ed Walsh – A dominating Pitcher from 1904-1917, he has the lowest lifetime ERA in baseball history at 1.82. In 1908, he won 40 games and pitched 464 innings. Joined the HOF in 1946.

 

> J. Franklin Baker – This one had me stumped for a while. Turns out it is the Frank Baker who became known as “Home Run Baker”. Played in the “dead ball era” starting in 1908 and led the AL in HR’s for three consecutive seasons (1911-1913). His leading totals were 11, 10 & 12. HOF entry was in 1955.

 

> Hugh Duffy – A productive OF from 1888-1906, he had a lifetime BA of .326 and also managed for eight seasons. Inducted into Cooperstown in 1945.

 

> Kid Nichols – Started his career with the Boston Beaneaters in 1890 and ended up winning 362 games. In the 1890’s, he won 30 or more games in seven separate seasons. 1949 was the year of his entry into the HOF.

 

This project has taught me a lot…how about you?

 

Oh, the Yankee player who is the answer to the Ruth/Mantle question is Cliff Mapes. In 1948, he wore #3 but Babe Ruth passed away that year and the Yankees retired the number. He wore #7 for the next 2 1/2 seasons, but Mantle (who originally wore #6) took the number when Mapes was traded in 1951.

 

 

 

Clyde McPhatter & Barrett Strong

McPhatter Money

For those of you under a certain age, the answer is no, these aren’t two sleeper prospects for your 2020 Fantasy Baseball roster. In 1953, Clyde McPhatter was the lead singer of the Drifters when they recorded “Money Honey” (later covered by Elvis Presley). Not to be confused with the Lady Gaga song, it’s lyrics include…

 

Well, I learned my lesson and now I know–

 

The sun may shine and the wind may blow–

 

Women may come, and the women may go,

 

But before I say I love ’em so,

 

I want–money, honey!

 

Money, honey

 

Money, honey,

 

If you wanna get along with me.

 

The fledgling Motown Records was provided with important capital when Barrett Strong hit the charts in 1960 with “Money, That’s What I Want” (later covered by the Beatles).

 

The best things in life are free–

 

But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees,

Now give me money, (that’s what I want), that’s what I want.

 

As this off-season has been much more fruitful for free agent signings, a look at the landscape tells you that clubs don’t seem as  wary of long-term deals as in the recent past.  So, let’s give you an opportunity to once again be a General Manager. Based on some minimal research, it appears that there are over 20 current major league players who are already under contract to make at least $20 Million for the 2023 season. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to determine which of these players you would really want on your roster in 2023 at these prices. The figures may not always represent the average salary of a long-term deal, as some contracts are back-loaded. The player’s age for that season is listed to help with your analysis. As you read the names and think, “This guy is on the downside of his career”, remember that three more full seasons need to be played before these salaries come due. And when you wonder if the 2020 market decisions will pay off, make believe you have to write the check.

 

 

> Anthony Rendon, age 32, $38.5 Million

 

> Mike Trout, age 31, $37 Million

 

> Gerrit Cole, age 32, $36 Million

 

> Nolan Arenado, age 31, $35 Million

 

> Stephen Strasburg, age 34, $35 Million

 

> Miguel Cabrera, age 39, $32 Million

 

> Giancarlo Stanton, age 33, $32 Million

 

> Manny Machado, age 30, $32 Million

 

> Jacob deGrom, age 34, $30.5 Million

 

> Alex Bregman, age 28, $30 Million

 

> Jose Altuve, age 32, $29 Million

 

> Bryce Harper, age 30, $27.5 Million

 

> Chris Sale, age 33, $27.5 Million

 

> Paul Goldschmidt, age 35, $26 Million

 

> Joey Votto, age 39, $25 Million

 

> Zack Wheeler, age 32, $24.5 Million

 

> Jason Heyward, age 33, $24.5 Million

 

> Patrick Corbin, age 33, $24.4 Million

 

> Robinson Cano, age 40, $24 Million

 

> Madison Bumgarner, age 33, $23 Million

 

> Josh Doanldson, age 37, $21 Million

 

> Hyun-Jin Ryu, age 35, $20 Million

 

OK, GM…how many of these paupers are on your team in 2023? More than five? Of course, it’s an easier commitment when you don’t have to write the check.

 

Wow, this is almost as difficult as owning a Fantasy team. My dilemma in March is deciding how many contract years to extend Shane Bieber.

 

Baseball’s History Of Cheating

#1

Have you ever cheated? Of course you have. We cheat on school tests, on income tax returns and on partners. We do it to gain an advantage, to reap some monetary benefit and to experience pleasure. The level of cheating is usually in direct proportion to our fear of getting caught.

 

Now that we all agree on society’s general approach to honesty, let’s talk about baseball’s biggest story…electronic sign-stealing by the Houston Astros. There is no doubt that they did it, but it seems like every fan has a different take on the situation. Some say it is horrible and the punishment should be severe. Others say that cheating has always been part of the game and this is just an extension of that philosophy. Wherever you are on that landscape, let’s at least understand that there is a unique difference between cheating and breaking the rules. That difference is simple…did the indiscretion give the player an unfair advantage on the field? Albert Belle corking his bat was cheating, George Brett having too much pine tar on his bat was breaking the rules.

 

What follows are random thoughts on the current controversy. Feel free to break into small groups later and discuss the topics yourselves.

 

> As with most places in our day-to-day life, technology has run rampant and leadership must always be diligent in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve (pun intended). Rob Manfred has the unenviable task of monitoring this issue. He must address it in two ways…1) punishment to deter organizations and 2) rules to minimize opportunities. Was the punishment to Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch and the team fair? A highly respected baseball website offered a poll to its readers and over 27,000 people voted…48.4% felt it was “too light”, 42.9% felt it was “on the mark” and 8.7% felt it was “too heavy”.

 

> With regard to minimizing opportunities, the logic seems to be that video equipment needs to be removed from any area close to the dugout. As a fan, I’ve always felt that the Manager challenge for replay review slows down the game while some unknown employee reviews the play and communicates the results to a coach, who then has to signal the Manager. Let the Manager make an instant decision (five or ten seconds) on the challenge and let the game move on. Or have a 5th umpire in the press box and let him fix obvious mistakes.

 

> Luhnow claims he didn’t have direct knowledge of the sign-stealing process. Sorry, you’re the boss and what happens on your watch is your responsibility.

 

> Hinch claims he wasn’t part of it but hesitated to pull the plug on the cheating. Sorry, if you get another job someday, bring ethics to the table.

 

> Alex Cora lost one of the best jobs in baseball, but evidence just might show that he was complicit in two separate cheating incidents.

 

> Some people seem to feel sorry for Carlos Beltran. Sorry, he was the ring-leader among the players and admitted it in his apology after losing the Mets job. The Mets are trying to change the culture in their organization and couldn’t have this man leading the players onto the field. If anything, they waited too long to pull the plug. Just for the record, Beltran earned over $200 Million as a player…his unemployment doesn’t create much sympathy.

 

> This is nothing new, as sign-stealing was the impetus for the what might be the most famous cheating scandal in the history of the game. The 1951 New York Giants had Herman Franks sit in an office behind the center field wall and use a telescope to watch the Catcher’s signs and then signal the pitch to the dugout. Arguably, the most famous Home Run in history was the one hit by Bobby Thomson when he knew Ralph Branca would throw a fastball.

 

> Should the new team name be the Houston Asterisks?

 

> Was Gaylord Perry’s spitball cheating, breaking the rules, or both?

 

> Was Joe Niekro’s emery board in his back pocket cheating, breaking the rules or both?

 

> Whitey Ford planted mud pies around the pitcher’s mound and used them to load the ball. Was that cheating, breaking the rules or both?

 

> When Maury Wills managed the Mariners, he had the groundskeepers make the batter’s box a foot longer…which was a foot closer to the Pitcher. Of course, when Wills was a player, the San Francisco Giants grounds crew would excessively water the area around 1st base, so Wills wouldn’t have the needed traction to steal 2nd base.

 

> How about steroids (PED’s), their use was obviously cheating but for a time, it wasn’t against the rules.

 

> ARod accomplished the baseball version of the trifecta…1) he cheated with PED’s…2) he broke rules such as trying to knock the ball loose from a defender’s glove…3) he broke “unwritten” rules by yelling at a fielder while the ball was in the air. If we still had encyclopedias, you’d find his picture under “Bush League”. JLo is dead to me.

 

> One of the most interesting outcomes of current political discourse is the attitude toward “whistleblowers”. Those individuals essentially expose corruption and illegal acts to the betterment of the population in general. In 2020, it seems like they’ve become the bad guys. Sorry, Mike Fiers has more intestinal fortitude than any most of us.

 

> Unless there’s evidence that one of the Astros had placed bets on home games while the system was in place, please don’t compare any of this to Pete Rose.

 

> Figuring out that a Pitcher is “tipping” his pitches is akin to a poker player seeing another player’s “tell”…neither are cheating. If you’re not acquainted with the poker reference, watch John Malkovich play the character “Teddy KGB” in “Rounders” (1990).

 

> How about “pitch framing”? Is that cheating or an art form? It will eventually be eliminated by technology.

 

> For as long as the game has been played, fielders have caught a ball on a short-hop (trapped) and then proudly showed it to the umpire as if they actually caught it on the fly. Cheating or breaking the rules?

 

> If some of the smug Astros (like Altuve & Bregman) start getting plunked in the ribs come April, are you OK with that? And if they bark at the Pitcher, should he respond by saying, “Oh, I thought you knew I was going to throw an inside fastball”.

 

OK, there are your talking points. Put some pine tar on your forearm, get a good grip on the baseball and have at it.

 

1956 Topps Baseball Card Set

56 Williams

If you are a baseball fan of a certain age, there is a baseball card set that is your favorite. For some, the appeal is the format and style. For others, it is the memory of opening packs when you were ten years old and finding the star player from your hometown team. And, for many of us, it is the recurring nightmare of that moment when your Mother decided to throw your cards away.

 

As I had the good fortune this past weekend to acquire a small collection of 60+ year-old cards in unusually nice condition, it brought back a flood of memories about my favorite all-time set.

 

For the Old Duck, the 1956 Topps set combines all the attributes that make baseball card collecting such a great hobby. This 340-card set used a horizontal format with beautiful photography and a dual image of each player. On the back, you’ll find previous year and lifetime stats along with a three-panel story highlighting moments from the player’s career. If that wasn’t enough, over 30 of the individuals pictured on cards in this set are in the Hall of Fame.

 

For this visit, we’ll focus on the Hall-of-Famers and the values listed are for cards in Excellent (EX 5) condition. A complete set in this condition books for $6,000.

 

> #’s 1 & 2 League Presidents ($35 & $25) – Will Harridge of the AL and Warren Giles of the NL are pictured on these one-of-a-kind cards.

 

> #5 Ted Williams, Red Sox OF ($180) – The third most valuable card in the set, the Hall of Famer was still a few years away from hanging up his cleats.

 

> #8 Walter Alston, Dodgers Manager ($20) – The skipper of the ’55 World Champs, he was entering the 3rd of 23 years leading the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles…and he never had more than a one-year contract.

 

> #10 Warren Spahn, Braves P ($40) – The winningest left-hander in baseball history with 363 victories.

 

> #15 Ernie Banks, Cubs SS ($55) – “Mr. Cub” hit 44 HR’s in ’55 and was well on his way to becoming the most popular player in the history of the franchise.

 

> #20 Al Kaline, Tigers OF ($40) – Hit .340 in ’55 with over 100 RBI’s…played all 22 years of his career with the Bengals.

 

> #30 Jackie Robinson, Dodgers 3B ($175) – This legendary figure was entering his last season with the Brooklyn franchise.

 

> #31 Hank Aaron, Braves OF ($135) – ’55 was his second season in the majors and the signs of his potential were already there…27 HR’s & 106 RBI’s.

 

> #33 Roberto Clemente, Pirates OF ($225) – ’55 was his rookie season and he would go on to accumulate 3,000 hits before his tragic death on New Year’s Eve 1972.

 

> #79 Sandy Koufax, Dodgers P ($150) – Another ’55 rookie, it would take until the early 60’s in Los Angeles before he became the best pitcher in the game…led the NL in ERA the last five years of his career.

 

> #101 Roy Campanella, Dodgers C ($60) – “Campy” won his 3rd MVP award in ’55, leading the Dodgers to their World Series title.

 

> #107 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($35) – Hit 41 HR’s in ’55 on his way to 512 lifetime “dingers”.

 

> #109 Enos Slaughter, A’s OF ($15) – In the twilight of his career at this point, “Country” will always be remembered for the 1946 World Series when he scored the winning run in game 7 for the Cardinals.

 

> #110 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($75) – Better known in his later years for his commercials and “Yogi-isms”, this legendary player won three AL MVP awards in the 50’s and was one of the cornerstones of the Yankee Dynasty…and he always cut his pizza into six slices because he couldn’t eat eight slices.

 

> #113 Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS ($50) – The “Scooter” was one of the most popular players of the era…later a Yankee broadcaster, he was in the booth and screamed “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit his 61st HR in 1961.

 

> #118 Nellie Fox, White Sox 2B ($25) – Only 5′ 8″, he led the AL in hits four times on his way to the Hall of Fame.

 

> #120 Richie Ashburn, Phillies OF ($25) – Led the NL in hits three times and was one of the fastest baserunners of the era.

 

> #130 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($130) – The “Say Hey Kid”…there was never a better all-around player.

 

> #135 Mickey Mantle, Yankees OF ($925) – This card was the prelude to what was one of the most impressive offensive statistical seasons of all time…he won the Triple Crown with 52 HR’s, 130 RBI’s and a .353 BA.

 

> #150 Duke Snider, Dodgers OF ($50) – The third member of the great CF debate during the 50’s…can you sing, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke”?

 

> #164 Harmon Killebrew, Senators IF ($50) – A 1950’s “Bonus Baby”, he languished on the bench for the better part of five seasons before breaking out with 42 HR’s in 1959.

 

> #165 Red Schoendienst, Cardinals 2B ($20) – Ten All-Star teams and the roommate of Stan Musial.

 

> #180 Robin Roberts, Phillies P ($25) – Won 23 games in ’55, his sixth consecutive season with 20+ victories.

 

> #187 Early Wynn, Indians P ($20) – Played from the 30’s to the 60’s and had exactly 300 Wins.

 

> #194 Monte Irvin, Cubs OF ($20) – One of the first black players signed after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947…in 1940, he hit .422 for the season in the Negro League.

 

> #195 George Kell, White Sox 3B ($20) – Ten All-Star appearances and a lifetime BA of .306.

 

> #200 Bob Feller, Indians P ($50) – Came off an Iowa farm at age 17 in 1936 to become one of the most intimidating pitchers ever…missed almost four seasons while serving in World War II and still led the AL in strikeouts six times.

 

> #240 Whitey Ford, Yankees P ($55) – The “Chairman of the Board” before Sinatra, he has the highest winning percentage (.690) of any pitcher in the modern era.

 

> #250 Larry Doby, White Sox OF ($20) – The first player to cross the color barrier in the AL…only three months after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers.

 

> #255 Bob Lemon, Indians P ($15) – The stalwart of those great Cleveland staffs of the late 40’s & early 50’s, he won over 20 games in six seasons.

 

> #260 Pee Wee Reese, Dodgers SS ($55) – Harold Reese, the diminutive leader of the “Boys of Summer”. The nickname wasn’t due to his height (5′ 9″), but for winning the national “Pee Wee” marbles championship as a youngster.

 

> #292 Luis Aparicio, White Sox SS, ($60) – The rookie card of “Little Louie”, who won multiple Gold Gloves and amassed over 2,600 hits.

 

> #307 Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants P ($20) – Possibly the greatest Knuckleball pitcher in baseball history, he didn’t get to the Majors until age 29 and pitched for 21 years.

 

Quite an impressive group, wouldn’t you say? In a future visit, we’ll look at other famous and infamous players included in this beautiful set.

Statistical Evolution

'60 Robinson, F. VG

Baseball fans from the “Baby Boomer” generation learned all they knew about statistics from the backs of Topps baseball cards. If someone said “SABR”, it was really the word “saber”, referring to a swashbuckling movie starring Burt Lancaster or Stewart Granger. With the advent of Fantasy Baseball, the Internet and advanced metrics for the sport, everything has changed. The real question is, are you still judging player performance by those same stats that were on the baseball cards?

 

Looking at the back of a 1960 Topps baseball card gives us a starting point for this analysis. Obviously, the stats are from the ’59 season and tell you the most basic information. For hitters, you find BA, HR, RBI, Runs, Games Played and a few other categories but not even SB. For Pitchers, it gives you IP, W & L, Strikeouts, BB & ERA. In order to bring the performance up-to-date, let’s see how the new age categories play out, as we review the best of 2019.

 

> OBP (On-Base %) – Mike Trout led the majors with .438 followed closely by Christian Yelich with .429…in ’60, it was HOF Richie Ashburn with .415 followed by Eddie Yost of the Tigers at .414.

 

> SLG (Slugging %, determined by Total Bases / At Bats) – Yelich led the way with .671 followed by Trout and Nelson Cruz…Frank Robinson was the best in ’60 with .595 followed by AL MVP Roger Maris at .581.

 

> OPS (OBP & SLG)) – Maybe the most telling of the new numbers, as it explains how many bases a hitter has accumulated for his team…six big leaguers exceeded at least 1.000 in 2019 with Yelich on top at 1.100. Frank Robinson was the only player in that category for ’60 with 1.002 but look at the names filing out the top five…Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Eddie Mathews & Willie Mays

 

> OPS+ (Adjusted to the ballpark factors with a mean of 100) – Trout was #1 at 185 and Frank Robinson’s 169 led the way in ’60. Two names in the top ten all those decades ago that might surprise you were Roy Sievers & Ken Boyer.

 

> WAR (Wins Above Replacement) – A single number that estimates the number of Wins a player was worth to his team above the level of a replacement player…four players achieved a number of at least 8 last season with Cody Bellinger’s 9.0 outpacing Alex Bregman (8.4), Trout (8.3) & Marcus Semien (8.1). 60 years ago, Mays led  the category with 9.5 followed by Hank Aaron’s 8.0.

 

> Offense Winning % (The percentage of games a team with nine of this player batting would win. Assumes average pitching & defense) – Yelich and Trout were the only two over 80% in 2019 while F. Robinson was #1 in ’60 at 77.3%.

 

> WHIP (Walks & Hits /IP) – This stat had its genesis from Fantasy Baseball and has now become mainstream. It essentially calculates how many base runners a Pitcher allows per inning pitched…two teammates were the best for ’19 with Justin Verlander at 0.803 and Gerrit Cole at 0.895. The top three in 1960 were Don Drysdale (1.063), Hal Brown and Jim Bunning.

 

> Strikeouts per 9 IP – This stat tells you about pitching dominance in the modern era and the modern hitter’s reluctance to put the ball in play instead of swinging for the fences…last season’s leader was Cole at 13.8 while Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray & Verlander also exceeded 12…1960 was certainly a different environment as Sandy Koufax led the way with 10.13 and Don Drysdale was the only other hurler above 8.

 

> ERA+ (Once again, adjusted to ballpark factors) – Cole, Verlander and Hyun-Jin Ryu were the only three over 175…Ernie Broglio was the NL’s best in ’60 at 148 and Frank Baumann of the White Sox topped the AL with 144.

 

> Fielding Independent Pitching (similar to ERA but eliminates fielding from the equation) – Scherzer, Cole & Jacob deGrom were the best in 19…Bob Friend and Gene Conley were the top two in ’60.

 

Looking through the numbers, you can clearly see that analytics have improved the ability to value players. Frank Robinson’s name had come up multiple times and you’d think he would have been a top contender for NL MVP. After all, he hit.297 with 31 HR’s and led the NL in Slugging, OPS and OPS+. That all contributed to his WAR number of 6.2 for the Reds. So, where did he finish in the MVP voting? The answer is 20th!!! The award went to the Pirates Dick Groat who had the exact same 6.2 WAR number. How did that happen? The easy conclusion is that the Pirates won the pennant and the Reds were 20 games under .500. What we know today however, is that Willie Mays outperformed everyone with his 9.5 WAR and finished 3rd. Who else finished ahead of Robby on the ballot? Names like Del Crandall, Norm Larker, Joe Adcock and Smoky Burgess. Even the great Stan Musial, who had an injury-plagued season with a .275 BA, 17 HR’s and a 1.9 WAR finished 16th. Sorry old-schoolers, the numbers tell the tale.

 

That’s probably more than enough for your introductory lesson…if you can’t wait for more, try baseball-reference.com