The Pursuit Of Trivia

Do you have any idea how much baseball information there is in your brain? For even casual fans, numbers like 60 & 61, 714 & 715, 56 & .406 in ’41, 300 & 3,000 are forever part of the sport’s landscape. Statistics are what separates baseball from every other sport. Even avid followers of basketball can’t recite the all-time scoring numbers and football fans are stuck with over 50% of the positions having no real stats at all. Beyond all the famous history, baseball also leads the world in trivial information. Many a bar bet has been won or lost on the answer to a baseball quiz, as in “Which Pitcher threw a no-hitter and didn’t lower his ERA”? The answer, of course, is Bob Feller who hurled a no-hitter on opening day in 1940.

 

So, to have some fun as we wait for a possible 2020 season to begin, here’s a look at stats you don’t know. In other words, useless information that does you no good at all but might make you smile when you see a familiar name from the record books.

 

> Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Al Kaline & Robin Yount all reached 1,000 hits before they turned 25. Cobb is the only player to reach 2,000 hits before the age of 30.

 

> Ted Williams has the highest lifetime On-Base Percentage at .482…Babe Ruth is 2nd.

 

Former Senators & Tigers SS Ed Brinkman had over 6,000 major league AB’s and hit .224.

Brinkman RD

 

Ron Herbel has the lowest batting average by a Pitcher at 0.29 (6-for-206).

Herbel RD

 

> Harold Baines had 113 RBI’s in 1985 but didn’t have another 100 RBI season (103) until 1999…a 14 year gap.

 

> Padres OF Phil Plantier had 100 RBI’s in 1993 but only had 292 RBI’s in his entire career.

 

> Mike Potter had 23 career AB’s in 1976-77 with the Cardinals and never got a major league hit.

 

> Rob Deer was the easiest batter to strike out (1K every 2.5 AB).

 

> Craig Biggio was hit by pitches 285 times…it is the all-time record.

 

> Rickey Henderson hit leadoff home runs in both games of a doubleheader for the A’s in 1993…Brady Anderson did it for the Orioles in 1999.

 

> Stan Musial & Nate Colbert each hit five HR’s in a Doubleheader.

 

> Hank Aaron & Eddie Mathews hit home runs as teammates in the same game 75 times.

 

> Al Rosen, Jim Gentile & Davey Johnson all hit 40+ HR’s in a season but fewer that 200 in their career.

 

> Ron Fairly hit 215 career HR’s but never hit 20 in a season.

 

> While with the Dodgers, Tommy Davis hit a home run three times to give Sandy Koufax a 1-0 win…including a walk-off against Bob Gibson in 1962.

 

> Cardinals Pitcher Adam Wainwright hit a home run on the first major league pitch he ever faced (2006).

 

> In April of 2000,  the Angels Mo Vaughn, Tim Salmon & Troy Glaus all homered in the same inning twice.

 

> In April of 1986, Padres Pitcher Craig Lefferts hit a walk-off HR in the 12th inning to beat the Giants…it was the only home run of his 12-year career.

 

> In April of 1999, the Cardinals Fernando Tatis hit two Grand-Slams in the same inning against the Dodgers.

 

> In 1948, Ted Williams had three plate appearances in the same inning against three different pitchers.

 

In 1953, Gene Stephens had three hits in one inning.

Stephens RD

 

> In 1962, the Mets Frank Thomas was hit by the pitch twice in the same inning.

 

> In 2004, Ichiro Suzuki had 264 hits and 225 of them were Singles.

 

> In 1961, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s HR record by hitting 61, he had zero intentional walks.

 

> In 1962, Harmon Killebrew hit .243 and led the AL in RBI’s with 126.

 

> In 2003, the Tigers Ramon Santiago finished last in the AL in BA, HR & RBI’s thus winning the Triple Crown Loser Award…Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith did the same for the Padres in 1979.

 

> In 1963, Red Sox OF Carl Yastrzemski led the AL in both Hits & Walks.

 

> In 1977, the Twins Rod Carew won the AL batting title by 52 points (.388) over the Angels Lyman Bostock (.336).

 

> Between 1969 and 1978, Bobby Bonds had 30-30 (HR & SB) seasons five times and played for five different teams.

 

> In 1978, Pirates SS Frank Taveras had 654 AB’s with 0 (zero) home runs.

 

> In 1995, Rockies OF Dante Bichette hit 40 HR’s and only walked 22 times.

 

In 1960, the Tigers Charlie Maxwell hit five (5) extra-inning home runs.

Maxwell RD

 

> In 1948, Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner of the Pirates hit 31 HR’s at home and only 9 on the road.

 

> Babe Ruth broke the season home run record in 1919 (29), then again in 1920 (54) and 1921 (59).

 

> During his major league career, Todd Zeile hit home runs for 11 different teams.

 

> Ray Boone and his son Bob combined for 256 lifetime home runs…Ray and his grandson Bret combined for 403.

 

> Hall of Fame Catcher Carlton Fisk hit 72 home runs after the age of 40…and his uniform number was 72!

 

> In three consecutive seasons, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson hit .408, .395 & .373 but didn’t win the batting title in any of the three (1911, 1912 & 1913).

 

In 1947, Braves Pitcher Johnny Sain won 21 games and hit .346 (37-for-107).

'48 Sain

 

In a future visit, we’ll share some oddities from pitching stats. Don’t forget to send along the Old Duck’s commission on those bar bets.

The 1952 Topps Baseball Card Set

Almost any conversation about baseball cards eventually gets around to the 1952 Topps set. Even though the Bowman company produced cards in the late 40’s & early 50’s, the iconic ’52 issue from the Topps company is considered the beginning of the modern baseball card era. At 407 cards, it was the largest ever produced and included an amazing array of legendary stars. Due to the less-than-perfect quality control of the time, it is also a collector’s dream (or nightmare) filled with scarcities, rarities, errors and variations.

 

The set was issued in six separate series and the story of the last run (#’s 311-407) is part of the mystique. Production of the final series is believed to have been short-printed and distribution was limited because retailers expected a drop in demand with football season (and school) already starting. Rumor has it that Topps still had 300-500 cases of the high number series in their warehouse that were never sold and in the late 50’s, they hired a garbage boat to take the surplus cards from the Brooklyn headquarters and dump them into the Atlantic Ocean.

 

The cards themselves were beautiful with a 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4″ format, a color photo of the player, the team logo and a facsimile autograph in a frame on the bottom. And, there were some famous players missing from the set – Ted Williams and Whitey Ford were both in the military at the time and Stan Musial had an exclusive contract with Bowman.

 

With that backdrop, let’s look at the Hall of Famers in this remarkable set. For this exercise, the current valuations are based on a card in “Excellent” (EX) condition, which is graded 5 on a scale of 1-10.

 

> #11 Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS ($175) – “The Scooter” was the Minor League Player of the Year in 1940, served three years in the Navy and won the AL MVP in 1950. He later became a legendary broadcaster and yelled “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit #61 in ’61.

 

> #26 Monte Irvin, Giants OF ($60) – A veteran of the Negro Leagues, he didn’t get to the majors until age 30 in 1949. He was coming off his best season in ’51, when he led the NL with 121 RBI’s.

 

> #33 Warren Spahn, Braves P ($120) – At this point in his career, “Spahnny” had 108 Wins at age 30. By the time he retired, he was the winningest lefthander in history with 363 victories.

 

> #37 Duke Snider, Dodgers OF ($150) – “The Duke of Flatbush” was one of the three great centerfielders on the New York teams of the 50’s.

 

> #59 Robin Roberts, Phillies P ($75) – The workhorse of the Philadelphia rotation, he won 20+ games for six consecutive seasons beginning in 1950 and pitched over 300 innings in each of those campaigns.

 

> #65 Enos Slaughter, Cardinals OF ($75) – “Country” was his nickname and he was the Cards Captain, having broken in with the team in 1938.

 

> #88 Bob Feller, Indians P ($110) – Another all-time great who gave up three years in his prime to serve in the Navy, he was coming off a 22-8 record in ’51.

 

> #91 Al Schoendienst, Cardinals 2B ($55) – “Red” played 57 games and handled 320 chances without an error in 1950. That broke the record…that he set in 1948!

 

> #129 Johnny Mize, Yankees 1B ($60) – “The Big Cat” broke into the majors in 1936 and despite losing three years in his prime to military service, his 351 home runs were the most by any active player at the end of the ’51 season.

 

#191 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($300) – Not much you can say about this incredible character of the game that hasn’t already been said, he was coming off a MVP season in ’51.

'52 Berra PSA 5

 

> #216 Richie Ashburn, Phillies OF ($90) – A great lead-off hitter and outstanding outfielder, he led the NL in hits and putouts in 1951.

 

> #243 Larry Doby, Indians OF ($50) – The man who broke the color barrier in the American League in 1947, he was a consistently good power hitter in the Tribe’s line-up.

 

> #246 George Kell, Tigers 3B ($50) – A solid contributor for Detroit, he won the AL Batting Championship in ’49, finished 2nd in ’50 and 3rd in ’51.

 

#261 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($3,000) – “The Say Hey Kid” won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in ’51 at the age of 20 and went into the Army by the time this set hit the shelves. After missing almost two full years, he came back to win the NL MVP in 1954.

'52 Mays PSA 5

 

> #268 Bob Lemon, Indians P ($55) – Part of that great Cleveland rotation of the 50’s, he won over 20 games seven times.

 

> #277 Early Wynn, Indians P ($55) – It was said that he’d brush back his grandmother if she dug in at the batter’s box. 300 wins later, she still didn’t have a single hit.

 

#311 Mickey Mantle, Yankees OF ($40,000) – Through some twist of fate, this legendary player was on the first card of the scarce high-number series. Even though “The Mick” had his actual rookie card in the ’51 Bowman set, this card is the “holy grail” for collectors of modern baseball cards. When the card was issued, he was taking over in centerfield for Joe DiMaggio, who retired following the ’51 season. And, no, the price is not a typo.

'52 Mantle PSA 5

 

> #312 Jackie Robinson, Dodgers 2B ($2,650) – After five seasons,

this pioneer was already established as one of the best in the game. He was coming off a ’51 campaign where he hit .338 and set a National league fielding record.

 

> #314 Roy Campanella, Dodgers C ($950) – “Campy” was the NL MVP in ’51 when he hit .325 with 33 HR’s & 108 RBI’s.

 

> #315 Leo Durocher, Giants Manager ($215) – “Leo the Lip” was one of the most colorful skippers to ever post a line-up card.

 

> #333 Pee Wee Reese, Dodgers SS ($500) – The Captain of the famous “Boys of Summer”, he had been the team’s regular shortstop since 1940, except for three years in the service. Harold’s nickname was hung on him as a boy when he was a marble champ.

 

> #392 Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants P ($375) – Wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, this knuckleballer ended up pitching in over 1,000 major league games.

 

> #394 Billy Herman, Dodgers Coach ($200) – His playing career extended from 1928 to 1950 and he was chosen to every NL All-Star team from ’31 to ’41.

 

> #396 Dick Williams, Dodgers OF ($250) – This was his rookie card as a player, but his Hall of Fame credentials include over 1,500 wins and two World series titles as a Manager.

 

> #400 Bill Dickey, Yankees Coach ($450) – As a Catcher, this durable backstop hit over .300 in 11 of the 16 years he was a Yankee.

 

> #407 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($5,000) – The value of this particular card is driven by three factors…1) it is the rookie card of a Hall of Fame player…2) it is from the scarce high series in the set…3) as the last card in the set, it was susceptible to significant damage when kids like me wrapped our card collection with rubber bands.

 

If you’re motivated to add a ’52 Topps set to your collection, you might want to start saving soon. In the condition described, it will take around $80,000.

The Last Card

Baseball Card collections are only limited by the imagination of the fan. Some concentrate on their favorite player. Others build complete sets of a particular year (like the year they were born).  Others focus on their home-town team from childhood, while the last twenty years has motivated collections of autograph cards. And, of course, there are those who are drawn to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.

 

With very few exceptions, the first card of a Hall of Famer is the most valuable. Collectors pride themselves in having these “Rookie Cards” whether it’s Nolan Ryan from 1968 or Mike Trout from 2011. Thanks to a collector who shared his passion on a baseball card website, we have another interesting approach to Hall of Fame players. Topps has been producing complete baseball cards sets since 1952 and the research tells us that 116 Hall of Famers have their last card in a Topps set. From Yogi Berra in 1965 to Wade Boggs in 2000, they are all there in their glory. So, he went on a quest to complete a collection of all “The Last Cards” and it was certainly a challenge.

 

As an old-school fan, what drew me to the collection was the fact that over a dozen of these legends had their final cardboard appearance in the 1950’s when Topps was just getting started.  Interestingly, some years (like ’52 & ’54) didn’t have a single Hall of Famer with his last card while others years had as many as four. Let’s look back at the first dozen of these beautiful collectibles…

 

!953 Johnny Mize #77

'53 Mize

 

 

The big 1B played from 1936-53 and missed three prime seasons serving in World WAR II. He had 359 lifetime HR’s and made ten All-Star teams.

 

> 1953 Ralph Kiner #191 – He had a relatively short (1946-55) but spectacular career, leading the NL in HR’s for seven consecutive seasons.

 

1953 Satchell Paige #220

'53 Paige

 

 

The best Pitcher in the Negro Leagues, he didn’t get to the majors until 1948 at age 41. He began pitching professionally in 1927.

 

> 1955 Hal Newhouser # 24 – Many of the game’s stars were serving in the War, but this Tiger Pitcher was 4-F due to a heart valve issue. From 1944-46, he won 80 games in three seasons with two AL MVP Awards.

 

1956 Jackie Robinson # 30

'56 Robinson 4 Tom

 

 

The player who broke the color barrier in 1947, his legend still grows today.

 

> 1956 Phil Rizzuto # 113 – The scrappy Shortstop of the Yankees, he won the AL MVP in 1950.

 

> 1956 Monte Irvin #194 – This Outfielder was another Negro League star and he was a mainstay in the Giants line-up during the 50’s.

 

1956 Bob Feller #200

'56 Feller

 

 

This Iowa farm-boy was one of the best Pitchers in baseball for 20 years after beginning his career in 1936 at age 17.

 

1957 Topps Roy Campanella #210

'57 Campanella MG

 

 

A three-time MVP winner in the 50’s, this Catcher was involved in a tragic automobile accident after the ’57 season and his injuries prevented him from ever playing for the Dodgers once they moved to Los Angeles.

 

> 1958 Topps Bob Lemon #17 – The leader of the Indians dominant rotation in the 50’s, this Pitcher won 20 or more games in six seasons.

 

> 1958 Topps George Kell #40 – This outstanding 3B had over 2,000 lifetime hits and made ten All-Star teams.

 

> 1958 Topps Pee Wee Reese #375 – The Shortstop and Captain of the Dodger teams known as “The Boys Of Summer”.

 

!958 Topps Ted Williams #1 & #485

'58 Williams AS0001

 

 

“Teddy Ballgame” had both a regular card and All-Star card in this set. Although he played in ’59 & ’60, Topps no longer had him under contract.

 

There’s a “Baker’s Dozen” of great Hall of Fame players who left the diamond in the first decade of Topps.

 

Baseball Card Quacktoids

'89 Ripken, B

Your first inquiry is, “What is a Quacktoid?”. The answer is quite simple – it is an insignificant or trivial fact presented by a Duck. For this visit, we’ll ramble on about related and unrelated baseball card facts that will probably cause you to say, “Why am I reading this?”

 

Spending multiple days each week at a baseball card shop as the resident “expert”, customer questions about collections always challenge my knowledge and expertise. Each day brings new information that is always of interest to baseball fans. After all, the Old Duck must live up to his nicknames…OG (original Google), Muffin Man (the staff loves muffins), Rotisserie Duck (the Fantasy Baseball connection) and Don Cardleone (who will make you an offer you can’t refuse).

 

Collectors get involved with the hobby for diverse reasons. Some collect their favorite player or team. Others cherish having a complete set from a particular year. Or maybe, they only concentrate on “Rookie Cards” or just Hall-of-Famers. For those of us who become so-called experts, the amount of interesting information is never-ending.

 

Award-winning baseball writer Joe Posnanski once wrote a lengthy column reminiscing about the numbering system of Topps cards when he was growing up in the 1970’s. He reminded all of us that the more famous players seemed to always get the memorable numbers on the back of their cards. In 1975, for example, Brooks Robinson was #50, Fergie Jenkins #60, Mike Schmidt #70, Carlton Fisk #80 & Willie Stargell #100. And that’s just in the first 100 cards of a 660-card set. In case you think it was a fluke, Reggie Jackson was #300 and Nolan Ryan #500. Sherlock Holmes would call this investigating by using “deducktive” logic.

 

Being slightly older than Joe, my recollection goes back to the 50’s and it seems that Topps started this system in 1957. Of course, you must remember that Topps designed their product based on the current status of a player, so you’ll almost never find a valuable rookie card falling into this category. The ’57 set had Willie Mays as #10, Hank Aaron #20, Pee Wee Reese #30, Gil Hodges #80, Warren Spahn #90 & Eddie Mathews #250. Just to be contrary, however, Mickey Mantle was #95? And, of course, Ted Williams was #1.

 

Each year that followed had much of the same, but never any pattern you could analyze. Mantle, however, wasn’t represented by a crooked number again for the next ten years. He was #50 twice, #150 twice and #200 three times during that span.

 

Of course, scarcity creates a value in itself and with card companies having less than perfect production values, there are many error cards that had to be corrected in particular sets. Sometimes these cards are also known as variations and one of the most famous examples is the Billy Ripken card from the 1989 Fleer set that mistakenly came out with a profanity on the bat knob in the picture. Fleer made four different attempts at re-printing the card and today, the first re-print is actually more valuable ($175) than the original card.

 

Real scarcity comes from a card that was produced and then pulled from production. Even people who aren’t sports fans have heard about the 1910 T (Tobacco)-206 card of Honus Wagner. One of the best players in the game during that era, Wagner threatened to sue because he was opposed to the use of tobacco and only a few remained in the market. Today, the most recent example of that card sold in October for $1.35 Million.

 

A similar tale took place in the 50’s as Ted Williams had appeared in Bowman sets during the early part of the decade. In 1954, Topps persuaded “Teddy Ballgame” to sign with them and he was so iconic at the time, they made his cards the first and last in the set. Bowman was struggling with the stiff competition from Topps and decided to put a Williams card in their ’54 set despite the lack of an agreement. Certainly with the backing of Topps, Williams had his lawyer send Bowman a “cease & desist” letter and they caved in immediately. Even though Red Sox Outfielder Jimmy Piersall was already #210 in the set, they produced a second Piersall card numbered #66 to replace the Williams cardboard. Other than “The Splendid Splinter’s” rookie card from 1939, the ’54 Bowman is the toughest card to find. In Near Mint (NM 7) condition, it books for $2,500.

 

 

Of course, there are also interesting methods of increasing value that have nothing to do with card manufacturer’s mistakes or bad decisions…

 

> In 1984, Fleer was trying to compete with Topps and issued an “Update” set that sort of paralleled the Topps Traded sets of the early 80’s. The set included rookies who weren’t in the standard issue along with players that were traded during the season. A modest little set of 132 cards, it sold for $4. It also happened to include the first cards of Roger Clemens, Kirby Puckett & Dwight Gooden. Even with the Rocket’s fall from grace, those three cards are worth $235 today.

 

> In 1991, Topps showed their patriotism by issuing a parallel set to their regular run that was titled Desert Shield and had a gold military shield on the surface of the card. Only a minimal amount were produced and they weren’t very popular at the time. In retrospect, we learn that the set contained the Rookie Card of future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones. His card from the regular set is now worth $3, while the “DS” version is at $500.

 

> In 1997, Fleer issued a rookie card of a Twins prospect named David Arias. Shortly after that, Arias changed his professional name to Ortiz and you may now know him as “Big Papi”. Admittedly, I’ve found a few of these rookie cards (worth around $40) in bargain bins over the years because people just didn’t do their homework.

 

Thanks for reading, I’ll keep the Quacktoids coming.

 

 

What’s A Bonus Baby?

'55 Qualters

For baseball fans under the age of 50, there’s never been a time without baseball’s Amateur Draft. For Fantasy Baseball players in deep leagues, the identity of three young players named Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr. & Andrew Vaughn is certainly no secret. Back in the covered-wagon days of the 1950’s however, acquiring the top young talent in the land was a totally different process.

 

In the days before the World War II, major league organizations would scour the country looking for players and then try to sign them on the spot, often getting into bidding contests with other teams. In that era, College Baseball wasn’t the factor it is today and teenagers would welcome the chance to become professional ballplayers. Starting in 1947, baseball began an attempt to curtail this process with a succession of procedures linked to signing bonuses. The idea was to block the ability of the richest franchises to buy up the best young players and then hide them in the cupboard known as their minor-league system. Remember, this was long before the days of free agency and players were employees without rights.

 

The first process only lasted from 1947-1950 before being rescinded, but the problem was still there for the majority of the teams. Prior to the 1953 season, a committee chaired by Branch Rickey developed a “Bonus Baby” rule that ended up being part of the major league landscape for five years. The basic premise wasn’t to establish a cap on signing bonuses, but to require that a player signed above a certain dollar figure must remain on the major league roster for two seasons without being “farmed out” to the minor leagues. That meant teams would have to use up one (or more) of their 25 roster spots on a player who might not be able to contribute to the team’s success.

 

Over 50 players fell into the “Bonus Baby” category between 1953 and 1957 and the success rate was abysmal. With that being said, however, three of these individuals ended up in the Hall of Fame, but took very different paths that were affected by the rule…

 

> Al Kaline was signed by the Tigers out of High School in June of 1953. He immediately made his major league debut on June 25th at age 18. While Kaline only had 30 AB’s during that first season, by 1954 he was an everyday player and finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting. His career lasted until 1974 without spending a single day in the minor leagues.

 

> Harmon Killebrew signed in June of 1954 and was six days shy of his 18th birthday when he made his major league debut on June 23rd. “Killer” had only 13 AB’s that season and then 80 AB’s while he spent the entire 1955 campaign at the big league level. After meeting the two-year obligation, he spent most of the next three years learning his craft in the minors and didn’t became a regular until 1959, when he led the AL with 42 HR’s.

 

> Sandy Koufax signed his contract with the Dodgers in December of 1954, spent the next two seasons in Brooklyn and only made 15 starts with a record of 4-6 with an ERA of 4.14. As with Kaline, he never spent a day in the minor leagues but it wasn’t until 1961 that became a star.

 

Let’s look at some of the others names that fell under this umbrella during the 50’s. By the way, if you look up any of them on baseball-refernce.com, it will say “bonus baby” in parenthesis next to their name.

 

> The Pirates signed the most bonus babies (8) and a famous name was Vic Janowicz. Unfortunately, his fame came primarily from football, as he won the Heisman Trophy in 1950 while playing at Ohio State. His only two seasons in baseball were the obligatory ones of 1953 & 1954 and he hit a combined .214 in 196 AB’s. Interestingly, he also played Halfback for the NFL Washington franchise in ’54 & ’55.

 

> Seven youngsters were signed by the Orioles including Pitcher Bill O’Dell. He actually lost three years as the two required seasons were wrapped around military service in 1955, but he ended up with 105 major league victories in a 13-year career.

 

> In addition to Kaline, the Tigers also signed two players you might remember from baseball cards named Reno Bertoia & Steve Boros.

 

> Pitcher Joey Jay of the Braves overcame three years of relative inactivity to become a two-time 20-game winner for the Reds in the early 60’s.

 

> SS Dick Schofield of the Cardinals had a 19-year major league career and has to be included on this list because his nickname was “Ducky”. And yes, his Son (also named Dick) played 14 seasons in the 80’s & 90’s.

 

> Moe Drabowsky was a 1956 signee and won 13 games for the Cubs in ’57.

 

> The Giants made a good decision by signing 17 year-old Pitcher Mike McCormick in 1956…he won 22 games and the Cy Young Award in 1967.

 

> One very shady episode during this era was the A’s signing of 18 year-old 3B Clete Boyer in May of 1955. He only had 208 AB’s in his first two seasons and then, as soon as the 24-month requirement was met, the A’s traded him to the Yankees as “the player to be named later” in a previous deal. American League teams, already convinced that the two teams had an under-the-table relationship, complained that the A’s had just used their roster to hide a player the Yankees coveted. However, the trade was allowed and Boyer became the Bronx Bombers’ regular 3B during the 1960’s.

 

> Speaking of the Yankees, one of their choices shines a light on the underside of the consequences to this rule. In 1953, they signed High School 1B Frank Leja. A 6′ 4″ left-handed power hitter, he seemed like the perfect fit for their ballpark. Unfortunately for the kid, the Yankees of the 50’s were a juggernaut filled with talented players and he ended up getting only 7 AB’s (and one hit) in two seasons. He bounced around the minor leagues for the next half-dozen years, even hitting 20+ HR’s a number of times but it was 1962 before he wore a major league uniform again. He went 0-for-16 for the expansion Angels in early ’62 and retired the following year.

 

> Another sad tale is that of the Phillies Tom Qualters. This 18 year-old Pitcher only got into one game in 1953, pitched 1/3 of an inning, allowed 6 Earned Runs and ended up with a ERA of 162.00. In 1954, he spent the entire season on the roster and never pitched at all. His career numbers show 34 appearances without ever winning a game. His teammates nicknamed him “Money Bags”.

 

As all fans know, baseball history has its shameful side…from the Black Sox scandal to the color line. This five year period doesn’t get the same scrutiny, but a closer examination tells an ugly story. None of the 50+ players that fell into the “Bonus Baby” category were players of color. Even though most major league teams had broken the color barrier by this time, they certainly didn’t think it was necessary to bid against each other for youngsters from a poor background who had no leverage. So, even though Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey & Billy Williams were all signed during this timeframe, none of them received a bonus above the threshold. The bright side is that today, they are all in the Hall of Fame.

Where Were You In ’82?

XFL Guerrero

Back in 2002, Fantasy Baseball legend Ron Shandler decided to start the first industry experts keeper league. Called the XFL (Xperts Fantasy League), it was developed with many unique characteristics…a 12-team 5×5 mixed Rotisserie style league (replacing BA with OBP) that included both an auction phase with no notes, lists or computers (in November) for the initial 23-man roster and a supplemental snake portion (in March 2003) to fill the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster. It also had some elements of a dynasty-type league with rookies having their annual salaries increasing at a lesser rate than veterans. While most of the franchises were manned by industry stalwarts, it was determined that a couple of home-league players would also be invited. We were kindly referred to as “Challengers”, which was somewhat nicer than calling us what we were…”Amateur Hacks”.

 

As a quick refresher, many of the owner’s names are familiar to those who have viewed the landscape of fantasy sports over the years. These brilliant guys produce websites, magazines, newsletters and blogs that help guide you in becoming a better player in your league. The league expanded to 15 teams in 2005, which means that 600 players populate the rosters during any given season. Donald’s Dux (my squad) has been fortunate enough to capture four championships and holds the top overall performance record encompassing all 17 seasons of the league…. but none of that will matter when we gather for our new experiment to help us through the lean times of April.

 

Into the void of baseball emptiness stepped our fearless leader, Ron Shandler. Proving that his ideas still percolate after all these years, he suggested that we try the concept of a “Retro Draft”. In other words, let’s pick a baseball season from the past and draft our teams from that player pool. He cited three major benefits…

 

> 1) We all love to draft – pick any year, go for it

> 2) We all love immediate gratification (a winner can be crowned right away)

> 3) We’re still talking baseball and fantasy roster construction.

 

12 members of the league were able to commit to the project and we chose the 1982 baseball season. Due to logistics and time constraints, the draft would be of the snake variety, as opposed to our league’s auction format. Regular readers know how much I hate snake drafts, but who am I to spoil the party?

 

The format is a standard 5 x 5 category Rotisserie league with a 23-man roster (9 Pitchers). While you may think it isn’t a challenge when you already know the individual player stats, consider how different the game is today compared to 1982. Two glaring examples are on offense – there wasn’t a player in ’82 with 40 HR’s and 34 players had at least 25 SB’s. On the Pitching side, only 4 starters had over 200 K’s but the top 33 winning hurlers all pitched over 200 innings.

 

With little time and no statistical expertise in converting 38 year-old numbers to some sort of valuation, I turned to an old friend to help with research. This space has utilized a new-age stat in numerous discussions, so why not rank the 1982 players by their WAR (Wins Above Replacement)? While the stat doesn’t dovetail directly to Rotisserie categories (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB / W, SV, ERA, WHIP, K’s), it would certainly help determine the most productive players in a given season. Let’s look at the top dozen position players…

 

1) Robin Yount, SS – The AL MVP had an amazing season that included a .331 BA with over 100 Runs & 100 RBI’s…he was far and away the best player in the game and played a premium position.

 

2) Toby Harrah, 3B – A forgotten member of the hot corner fraternity (along with #7), he contributes in all five categories.

 

3) Pedro Guerrero, OF – 32 HR’s, 22 SB’s and a .304 BA.

 

4) Gary Carter, C – Another star at a scarce position, he had 29 HR’s & 97 RBI’s.

 

5) Mike Schmidt, 3B – 108 Runs with 35 HR’s…he even swiped 14 bases.

 

6) Paul Molitor, 3B – 19 HR’s, 41 SB’s and a .302 BA.

 

7) Doug DeCinces, 3B – Underrated then and now, he produced 30 HR’s, 97 RBI’s and a .301 BA.

 

8) Dwight Evans, OF – Scored 122 Runs with 32 HR’s and 98 RBI’s.

 

9) Al Oliver, 1B – Hit .331 with 22 HR’s & 109 RBI’s.

 

10) Andre Dawson, OF – 23 HR’s, 39 SB’s and a .301 BA.

 

11) Dale Murphy, OF – NL MVP winner with 36 HR’s, 109 RBI’s & 23 SB.

 

12) Rickey Henderson, OF – As Yogi would say, this is where fantasy and reality take different forks in the road. Rickey’s record setting season of 130 SB’s overshadows all his other stats (including a .267 BA and only 10 HR’s). He will most certainly be the #1 pick, won’t he?

 

Switching the focus to pitching, here’s the top ten…

 

1) Steve Rogers – 19 Wins and a 2.40 ERA.

 

2) Dave Stieb – 17 Wins in 288+ IP.

 

3) Mario Soto – His record was deceiving at 14-13, but the ERA was 2.79 and he accumulated 274 K’s.

 

4) Joe Niekro – 17 Wins and a 2.47 ERA in 270 IP. Brother Phil also had 17 Wins in ’82.

 

5) Joaquin Andujar – 15 game-winner with a 2.47 ERA.

 

6) Rick Sutcliffe – Won 14 games with an ERA of 2.96.

 

7) Steve Carlton – The NL Cy Young winner at age 37, he will go much higher in a fantasy format. Had the most Wins (23) and the most K’s (286) in baseball.

 

8) Greg Minton – The best reliever on this list, he contributed 10 Wins & 30 Saves.

 

9) Luis Leal – I don’t remember him either, but he started 38 games for the Blue Jays and had 12 Wins.

 

10) Fernando Valenzuela – 19 Wins with a 2.87 ERA in 285 Innings.

 

AL Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich ranked 55th but did have 18 Wins.

 

Can’t say that this is much of a strategy, but as with all Fantasy drafts, adjustments to prioritize categories will tell the tale. The Dux have drawn the 6th spot in the 12-team process. All these comments were written prior to the actual draft, so now let’s see how it all turned out.

 

The first thing we learned is that when you have 12 knowledgeable participants, parity will be the result. Only 23 points separated the last place team (54) from the winner (77). In fact 4th place (68) was less than 10 points better than 11th place (58.5). The Dux finished a disappointing 9th with 59.5 and there were a plethora of reasons.

 

Let’s look at the 1st round and see how it played out 38 years later…

 

#1 – Carlton

#2 – Yount

# 3 – Murphy

#4 – Soto

#5 – Henderson

#6 – Guerrero (Dux)

#7 – Molitor

#8 – Rogers

#9 – Lonnie Smith

#10 – Cecil Cooper

#11 – Valezuela

# 12 – Andujar

 

Amazingly, the Dux fate was already obvious after the first 12 picks. As opposed to current day Fantasy strategy, Pitching was held in much higher regard. Whether that was intuitive or a result of draft software (the Dux stuck to paper & pencil) isn’t known but the result was clear. Notice that all five SP’s in Round 1 were from the National Legaue where the ERA (3.60 / 4.07) and WHIP (1.314 / 1.372) were significantly lower due to the absence of the DH. This is a strategy the Dux generally utilize in the auction format, but it all happened before I could adjust. The end result was too many AL SP’s on my squad leading to 11th place in ERA and 12th place in WHIP. And the die was cast after only 12 players were chosen.

 

5 of the first six picks in front of me in Round 2 were also SP’s…three from the NL. That left me with no option but to take the best SP left and it was Floyd Bannister of the Mariners. He won 12 games with a 3.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 209 K’s. Decent numbers but was he worth giving up Mike Schmidt, who went with the next pick?

 

At this point, the Dux were akin to the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland…running as fast as you can to stay right where you are. Here’s the remainder of the squad…

 

Round 3 – Harrah, 3B

 

Round 4 – Gene Garber, P…6 of the 8 picks in front of me were RP’s, so the run was on. The next three after this pick were also RP’s.

 

Round 5 – Lou Whitaker, 2B

 

Round 6 – Carlton Fisk, C…the run on Catchers started in Round 5

 

Round 7 – Keith Hernandez, 1B

 

Round 8 – Jim Clancy, SP

 

Round 9 – Rafael Ramirez, SS

 

Round 10 – Greg Luzinski, U

 

Other familiar names included Buddy Bell, Chet Lemon, Vida Blue and the aforementioned Vuckovich.

 

The squad’s best categories were 10 points in BA (.2819) and K’s (1,046) with 9 Points in Wins (109). In all, a very dreary performance. The good news is that we all got to think about baseball for 3+ hours.

 

The Color Of Baseball

'48 Robinson0003

Earlier this week, we celebrated the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Each year, that remembrance takes me back to my youth and thoughts about prejudice, intolerance and the innocence of childhood.

 

As a kid growing up in Boston, the Red Sox and Ted Williams were my passion. I knew every player, their stats and their uniform numbers. One of the things I didn’t really notice was that all the members of the team were white. Once my parents gifted me with a transistor radio and I was able to pick up the Dodger broadcasts from Brooklyn, it was easy for the “Bums” to become my favorite National League team. It also opened my thoughts to the society around me because the Dodgers had numerous players of color who had followed Robinson to Brooklyn. The Red Sox were the last team to roster a Black player (Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green) and it happened in 1959, a full 12 years after Robinson’s debut. Tom Yawkey owned the team from 1933 until his passing in 1976 and even today, his legacy is tainted by this lack of inclusion by the franchise.

 

It was my first real understanding of bigotry and Jackie Robinson’s #42 being worn by all Major Leaguers every April 15th sparks my love of that Dodger team.

 

In the late 1950’s, a Brooklyn Dodger fan was asked, “If you were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and Walter O’Malley and there were only two bullets in your gun, who would you shoot”? He replied, “I’d shoot O’Malley twice”. Such was the passion of the post-World War II Dodger faithful and the hatred they felt for the man who took their team away.

 

As immortalized in Roger Kahn’s 1972 book, “The Boys of Summer” and chronicled in the 2007 HBO documentary, “The Ghosts of Flatbush”, the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1947-57 created the modern template of how fans feel about their team. Joy, disappointment, loyalty, reverence, sorrow and elation are just some of the emotions that a true fan feels about baseball and we can never quite explain it properly to someone who has never had the experience.

 

This visit will combine baseball cards and SABRmetrics, as we’ll find the rookie cards of the legendary members of the Dodgers and also review each one’s contribution to the team through the use of “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR), the statistic developed to determine the true value of a player. The card values are based on cardboard in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition.

 

> 1B Gil Hodges, 1949 Bowman #100 ($110) – Played his first full season in 1948 and was an All-Star every year from 1949-1955…even had a couple of productive seasons in the late 50’s after the team moved to Los Angeles…his lifetime WAR of 44 isn’t quite Hall of Famer caliber, but he was one of the most beloved players on the team.

 

> 2B Jackie Robinson, 1948 Leaf #79 ($6,500) – He was already 28 years old by the time he joined the Dodgers and still played ten magical seasons at Ebbets Field, which included six NL pennants. Accumulated an impressive WAR of 62 in his relatively short career. As a side note, he was already retired when Pumpsie Green was first in the Red Sox line-up.

 

> 3B Billy Cox, 1949 Bowman #73 ($25) – The interesting back-story is that Cox was traded to the Dodgers from the Pirates after the ’47 season in a deal that sent Dixie Walker to the Bucs…Walker was one of the players from the South who made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t happy about having a Black teammate…Cox played with the club for eight seasons and retired after the ’55 Championship campaign with a lifetime WAR of 10.

 

> SS Harold “Pee Wee’ Reese, 1941 Play Ball #54 ($425) – Played for the Dodgers in the early 1940’s before spending three years in the military during the war…came back to be the Captain of the legendary team and was an All-Star for nine consecutive seasons beginning in ’46…inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, he had an impressive lifetime WAR of 68.

 

> OF Jim “Junior” Gilliam, 1953 Topps #258 ($135) – Primarily a 2B, Robinson moved to the OF to accommodate Gilliam’s Rookie of the Year arrival…at Dodger Stadium, his number 19 is retired along with numerous Hall of Famers…a fixture in the line-up for 14 seasons, his lifetime WAR is 41.

 

> OF Duke Snider, 1949 Bowman #226 ($775) – Patrolled centerfield and was invariably compared to his contemporaries Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays…was on every All-Star team for the first 7 years of the 50’s and played for 18 seasons…inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980, his lifetime WAR is 66.

 

> OF Carl Furillo, 1949 Bowman #70 ($55) – While not considered a star compared to some teammates, he was an integral part of the team during the 50’s and led the NL in ’53 with a batting average of .344…has a lifetime WAR of 35.

 

> C Roy Campanella, 1949 Bowman #84 ($300) – “Campy” was the child of an Italian Father and Black Mother, who arrived in the majors the year after Robinson…played only ten seasons before being paralyzed in an off-season automobile accident in 1958, he  won 3 NL MVP awards in the 50’s…elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, he accumulated a WAR of 36 in his relatively short career.

 

> P Don Newcombe, 1950 Bowman #23 ($90) – Another star of the Negro Leagues, he broke in with the Dodgers in 1949 and proceeded to win 56 games in his first three seasons…after two years in the military during the Korean War, he came back to win 56 more the next three campaigns and won the MVP & Cy Young awards in ’56…his WAR was 38 in ten seasons.

 

> P Preacher Roe, 1949 Bowman #162 ($65) – Also acquired in the 1948 Dixie Walker trade, he was a mainstay of the Brooklyn rotation from 1948-53 and made four All-Star teams…his 12 seasons produced a lifetime WAR of 30.

 

> P Carl Erskine, 1951 Bowman #260 ($50) – Helped the “Bums” to five pennants during his eight seasons in the rotation including a 20-6 record in ’53…his lifetime WAR is 14.

 

Those 11 cards would sure look nice on a shelf in your den, wouldn’t they? Of course, we’ve saved you some money because even though Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale joined the team while it was still in Brooklyn, their stardom materialized after the move to L.A. Was one of your favorites left off the list? Maybe Andy Pafko, Sandy Amoros, Don Zimmer, Clem Labine, Don Hoak or Ralph Branca? In that case, you’re a real fan.

 

One of my favorite stops for lunch is salad/soup/sandwich place where you order at the counter, take a spot at a numbered table and wait for a member of the staff to bring your food. I always choose table number 42.