Selling High? Check The BABIP

Frazier

Legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey once said, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late”. For the last 20+ years, Fantasy Baseball pundits have essentially said the same thing every time they tell us to “sell high and buy low” when it comes to players on our roster. My experience over that same timeframe, however, is that the vast majority of owners don’t accept this advice. It just seems that we’re blinded by an above average performance in a small sample size and don’t approach the situation logically. If a veteran player with a lifetime .275 batting average is hitting .330 in mid-June we can’t seem to conclude that the last 3 1/2 months of the season will create a regression to the mean for that player. Instead, we think that he’s found the magic bullet and will continue the onslaught on opposing pitchers.

 

On the flip side, you’d think Fantasy owners would also try to find proven players who haven’t performed well so far and target them in trades. In the AL-only keeper league I’ve played in for 25+ years, my team was having a lousy season in 2015. The analysis was easy, as the three most expensive hitters on the squad were Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury & Victor Martinez. It was clear that my team would end up in the second division and none of those three All-Star caliber players would be keepers in 2016, but not one contending team had approached me about a potential deal. Did they really think Cano would hit .240 for the rest of the year? He hit well over .300 in the 2nd half and ended up at .287…this season, he’s at .304, within 3 points of his lifetime average. Or that Martinez would continue to hit .216 when he came off the DL before the end of June? He ended the season at .245 and is hitting .318 with 16 HR’s this year. Eventually, one team did make a deal for Ellsbury and he gave them some SB’s down the stretch and he’s proving in 2016 that he’s not over-the-hill with 16 SB’s in half-a-season.

 

If you’re in the camp that believes selling high or buying low might help you win your league, one of the tools to utilize is “Batting Average For Balls In Play” (BABIP). This advanced baseball metric measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. It eliminates strikeouts, walks & home runs to only include balls put in play by the batter. Three main factors influence this statistic and they are 1) defense…2) luck…3) talent level. When analyzing an experienced player, luck is the key component we’re looking to find. It helps us determine if selling high on this player is a wise decision. Through games of July 4th, major league hitters have an average BABIP of .301, so let’s look at the top ten & bottom ten BABIP numbers for 2016 and see if they should be on the radar of Fantasy and real-world GM’s.

 

> #1  – Jonathan Villar .401 – He’s been a Fantasy darling this year, holding the Brewers SS spot for top prospect Orlando Arcia. Hitting almost .300 and leading the NL in SB’s, could this be a breakout or a mirage? The good news is that he’s the perfect age (26) and had a .360 BAPIP at Houston last year in a small sample size. The bad news is that a speedy lead-off hitter can’t sustain success striking out 27% of the time.

 

> #2 Starling Marte .400 – Selling high on this Bucco OF would be a fool’s move. At age 27, he’s just getting better each season. The BABIP is certainly higher than his lifetime mark of .360 but even a regression to that number still makes him a Fantasy All-Star.

 

> #3 Ian Desmond .393 – The Old Duck panned this player prior to the season and then beat himself up for drafting him in a AL-only format. His “walk year” in 2015 was a disaster, but he’s building enormous free agent value by hitting .317 with 15 HR’s & 14 SB’s in the first half of 2016. Be careful, as his BAPIP was .307 & .326 the prior two years.

 

> #3 Christian Yelich .391 – This 24 year-old Marlins OF finally seems to be overcoming the injury bug and has a career-best .872 OPS in 2016. Even this BAPIP number doesn’t seem lucky, as his figure last year was .370.

 

> #5 David Freese .389 – Couldn’t even find a job during the off-season and didn’t sign with the Pirates until after Spring Training started. Can he sustain the .289 BA & .822 OPS? His BAPIP in 2015 was .310…what do you think?

 

> #6 Xander Bogaerts .380 – Still only 23, this BoSox SS is the real deal. His BABIP last season was .372.

 

> #7 Jon Jay .379 – Currently on the DL, when it took the Padres a week to figure out he had a broken arm. A productive player but not a difference maker due to little HR RHRpower or SB speed, his lifetime BABIP is .340.

 

> #8 J.T. Realmuto .373 – Last year’s BABIP of .285 makes you wonder if this is a fluke. Or, at age 25, maybe it’s a breakout. In either case, a Fantasy Catcher who steals bases is golden.

 

> #9 Carlos Gonzalez .379 – Always one of the most talked about players this time of year, his 2016 numbers are certainly inflated. Should you (and the Rockies) consider selling high while he’s healthy? His BAPIP numbers the last two seasons were .283 & .284.

 

> #10 Freddie Freeman .368 – If you old-school fans are wondering how he’s having a productive year with no line-up protection, this could be the answer. This is the highest number of his career.

 

Now for the bottom of the barrel…

 

> #1 Todd Frazier . 205 – Pundits keep asking how he could have 23 HR’s with a .212 BA? This might be the answer. His lifetime BABIP is low at .279 but this seems downright unlucky.

 

> #2 Carlos Santana .236 – A “walking” statistical anomaly, his BABIP is always low (.267 lifetime) but his ability to get those base-on-balls gives him a .363 OBP.

 

> #3 Jose Bautista .239 – A player’s walk year isn’t a good time for bad luck and injuries but 2015’s BABIP was .237. Nobody wins when matched against Father Time.

 

> #4 Ryan Zimmerman .240 – Unfortunately, this seems to be a player who is old before his time (he’s only 31). Injuries have sapped much of the ability and this number isn’t that much worse than last year’s .268.

 

> #5 Derek Norris .241 – The last three seasons, he’s had a BABIP over .300…there appears to be some bad luck in his current .212 BA.

 

> #6 Prince Fielder .241 – A non-athletic player in his 30’s sometimes falls off the cliff. Last year’s BABIP of .323 gave no clue that 2016 would be a disaster.

 

> #7 Albert Pujols .243 – The future HOF still has productive power numbers, but his BABIP has regressed dramatically in the last few years…in 2015, it was .217!

 

> #8 Matt Holliday .249 – Another veteran slugger who has contributed decent production this year, this BABIP is out-of-character to his lifetime figure of .335.

 

> #9 Freddy Galvis .255 – Only holding the Phillies SS position for J.P. Crawford, he may have peaked in 2015 with a .309 BABIP & .263 BA.

 

> #10 Curtis Granderson .256 – Below his career line of .298 but don’t ever count on him to hit much more than .250.

 

OK…I’ll trade you Freese for Frazier.

 

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Statistical Evolution – Willie, Mickey & The Duke

'56 CF's 2

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?

 

In 1956, it could be argued that the three best players in baseball played the same position on the field in the same city. CF’s Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, Duke Snider of the Dodgers and Willie Mays of the Giants were the cream of the crop. These three Hall of Famers were in their prime with Mantle at age 24 in a Triple Crown & MVP season, Snider at age 29 leading the NL in HR’s & BB and Mays at age 25 with 36 HR’s and a league leading 40 SB. Looking at the back of their 1957 Topps cards  gives us a starting point for this analysis. Obviously, the stats are from the ’56 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 SB. There’s even some fielding information like assists and errors. In order to bring the performance up-to-date, let’s see how the new age categories play out for Willie, Mickey & The Duke as well as the current MLB leaders through late-June. We must acknowledge, however, that today’s hitting environment is much more difficult than it was for the legendary names of the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s. The key difference is relief pitching, where  a series of hard-throwers now hold opposing hitters to a batting average of .244. As a recent Sports Illustrated piece points out, during Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941, he hit .407 against relievers.

 

> OBP (On-Base %) – David Ortiz leads the majors with .433 and Paul Goldschmidt tops the NL with .431…Mantle had the second best figure in ’56 (behind Ted Williams) with .464, while Snider was at .399 and Mays at .369

 

> SLG (Slugging %, determined by Total Bases / At Bats) – Ortiz leads this category also with .678 and Matt Carpenter is the NL’s best at .592. Mantle’s figure was the best in the game at .705, while Snider & Mays finished with .598 & .557 respectively. All three were in the top seven for all hitters

 

> OPS (OBP & SLG)) – Maybe the most telling of the new numbers, as it explains how many bases a hitter has accumulated for his team…Ortiz & Carpenter lead this category also with 1.112 & 1.012. Mantle was #1 again with 1.169 and Snider came in at .997 with Mays at .926…all three inside the top ten.

 

> OPS+ (Adjusted to the ballpark factors with a mean of 100) – Only five 2016 players are over 160 led again by Ortiz at 188 and Carpenter at 168, joined by Mike Trout at 168, Jose Altuve with 165 & Anthony Rizzo’s 161. Mantle was over-the-top at .210 with Snider at .155 and Mays at .146 – again all in the top ten.

 

> 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…Clayton Kershaw is at 4.8 in less than half a season while Mike Trout leads the AL at 4.7. This stat tells the tale about our three CF’s, as they had the three best WAR numbers in baseball…11.2 for Mantle & 7.6 for both Snider and Mays.

 

> Offense Winning % (The percentage of games a team with nine of this player batting would win. Assumes average pitching & defense) – The current MLB leader is Ortiz at 81.4%. Mantle was again off-the-charts at 87.8% with Snider at 75.6% and Mays at 70.7%…Williams was the only other player above 80% (83.7) in ’56.

 

Of course, all around ability and a player’s value also includes defense. Another advanced statistic is “Range Factor”, which calculates Putouts & Assists / Innings Played. Currently, the Royals Lorenzo Cain leads the way for CF’s with a number of 2.90. Mays was the best of our three heroes at 2.81, with Mantle at 2.69 and Snider at 2.56. The CF’s with the best range in 1956? Richie Ashburn of the Phillies led the way with 3.37 while Jimmy Piersall led the AL at 3.06.

 

 

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

1953 Bowman Baseball Cards – Part Deux

Did you try the ultimate baseball card quiz of identifying players in the ’53 Bowman set by just looking at the color photo on the front of the card? On our previous visit, eight cards of major leaguers from that era were shown. Here’s the photo once more along with the answers.

 

Starting at the top left…

 

> Forrest “Smokey” Burgess #28, Phillies C – Only 26 at the time, this short & stocky backstop played 18 seasons, made six All-Star teams and had a lifetime BA of .295

 

>  Roy McMillan #26, Reds SS – At age 23, this defensive wizard had already completed his first full season. Played 16 seasons and won the Gold Glove three times.

 

> Bob Friend #16, Pirates P – Had a record of only 13-30 in his first two seasons but went on to become the Bucs ace in the late 50’s. Won 22 games in 1958 and another 18 in 1960, when the Pirates won it all. Pitched 16 years with 197 victories.

 

> Sam Jethroe #3, Braves OF – Played in the Negro Leagues during the 40’s and didn’t appear in the majors until 1950 at age 33. That season, he led the NL with 35 SB’s and was honored as the Rookie-of-the-Year. Although his skills deteriorated in his mid-30’s, he still played five productive seasons in the AAA International League (’54-’58) before retiring at age 41.

 

Moving to the bottom right…

 

> Chico Carrasquel #54, White Sox SS – One of the first successful Latin players, he was born in Venezuela and stepped right into the starting line-up in 1950 when he finished 3rd in the ROY balloting. Made four All-Star teams and played ten seasons in the majors.

 

> Mel Parnell #66, Red Sox P – One the first left-handers to be successful in Fenway Park, he was 25-7 in 1949 with a league leading 295 innings pitched. He won twenty games again (21-8) in ’53 and pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox in 1956. A 10 year-old fan was in the stands that day…you can probably guess his identity.

 

> Harry “Suitcase” Simpson #86, Indians OF – One of the most enduring nicknames in the history of the game, he played for six teams in eight seasons (including twice for the A’s). His signature year was ’56 when he made the All-Star team and led the AL with 11 Triples.

 

> Fred Hutchinson #132, Tigers P – He pitched ten productive seasons in the majors with a record of 95-71, but his legacy was a Manager for the Tigers, Cardinals & Reds..winning the pennant with Cincinnati in 1961. He was still the Reds Manager in ’64 when stricken with lung cancer and died at age 45. The “Hutch Award” is presented annually to an active player who “best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire” of Fred Hutchinson.

 

Hope you had fun with the quiz…there’s a great story attached to each card.

'53 Bowman 80009

1953 Bowman Baseball Card Quiz

'53 Bowman 80009

Even baseball fans without an interest in the hobby of card collecting have some knowledge of the famous 1952 Topps set. It was the product that created the modern era of baseball cards and includes the incredibly valuable “holy grail” card of Mickey Mantle. Just a few weeks ago, one of these in poor condition (graded 1 on a scale of 1-to-10) sold for $8,500 on eBay. One graded 2.5 sold a few weeks earlier for $25,000!

 

What the casual observer doesn’t know is that the Bowman company started producing baseball card sets in 1948 and were the only ones in the marketplace through 1951. Usually comprised of 250-300 cards, they were small and not very aesthetically pleasing. When Topps hit the market in ’52 with larger sized cards, great color photos and a set numbering over 400 players, Bowman was forced to take notice.

 

In 1953, Bowman produced a set of baseball cards that holds a special place in the history of the hobby. While it included only 160 cards, the format was unprecedented with beautiful color photography offering detail never before seen. Some of the great stars of the day are missing as Jackie Robinson & Willie Mays were under exclusive contracts to Topps and Ted Williams was flying fighter jets in Korea. The set did include Mantle, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and had a total of 20+ Hall of Fame members. In addition, Bowman pioneered the idea of having some cards with multiple players, which later became a staple of the Topps sets in the ’50’s. Card #44 in the ’53 set shows Yankee teammates Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra & Mickey Mantle during a casual moment in the dugout. This classic has become one of the most valuable pieces of cardboard in the set and books for $300 in decent (EX 5) condition. There’s also a “combo” card of Phil Rizzuto & Billy Martin, the double-play team of the Bronx Bombers.

 

Looking through vintage baseball cards brings back a torrent of memories for baseball fans of my generation. Just about every modern set gives you a head start on player recognition by having the name, team affiliation, facsimile signature or other designation on the card. The 1953 Bowman Color set is the exception to that rule. The fronts of the cards have beautiful full-color player photographs and nothing else. This is the one baseball card set that can test the knowledge of every fan who thinks they fall into the expert category.

 

A great challenge is to go through this iconic set and without looking at the back of the cards, attempt to identify as many players as possible. Of course, recognizing Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn or Bob Feller might be easy. But what about Gerry Staley, Gil Coan, Jim Wilson or Lou Krelow?

 

Here’s how you can participate in this little contest. Today’s article includes a photo showing eight (8) random cards from the set. None of these players are stars but they’re also not obscure “cup of coffee” players either. In fact, if you’re of a certain age, you will certainly recognize all eight names once they’re disclosed. There’s a couple of Infielders, a couple of Outfielders, at least one Catcher and a few Pitchers. Want to take a shot? Remember, no cheating!

 

Feel free to send back some guesses via e-mail and I’ll also post the answers on Monday.

 

 

From Bad To Worse To Just Plain Lousy

Oyler

A recent Sports Illustrated article chronicled the story of the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, arguably the worst major league team of all time. Of course, die-hard Mets fans will point to their first season in 1962, when Casey Stengel’s squad had 40 Wins and 120 Losses. In fact, they were a juggernaut compared to the A’s of Connie Mack, who posted a record of 36-117. Whitey Witt played Shortstop for the team and in 143 games, committed 78 errors. Of course, it was his rookie season. They had one Pitcher who had a record of 1-16 and another who was 1-20! I seem to remember drafting both of those hurlers on my 1916 Fantasy team.

 

Even though we can’t forget that just getting to the big leagues is a great accomplishment for a player, these kind of numbers can’t help make us wonder about the “worst of the worst”. With some help from SABR and baseballreference.com, let’s see who belongs on the wrong side of history since the end of the dead-ball era.

 

> Worst Batting Average (min. 1,000 AB’s)

 

1) Ray Oyler .175 – Played SS for the Tigers from 1965-70

 

2) Mike Ryan .193 – Catchers have always been looked at as defensive-minded players, so this backstop played for 11 seasons in the 60’s & 70’s.

 

3) Jim Mason .203 – Played nine years in the 70’s and hit 12 HR’s.

 

4) Jackie Hernandez .208 – Another player with nine campaigns on his resume, he was an infielder in the 60’s & 70’s.

 

5) Tom Prince .208 – Amazingly, this Catcher played parts of 17 seasons before retiring in 2003.

 

The really sad back-story to these stats is the case of Mario Mendoza. A major-league Shortstop from 1974-82, he has a rather dubious distinction. In those days, newspapers would publish big-league stats in the Sunday sports section and hitters were listed in order of their batting average. Other players ragged on each other if they were hitting below .200 on a given Sunday and would comment that they weren’t even at the “Mendoza Line”. That term is still part of the baseball lexicon today and it really isn’t fair to Mario because his lifetime BA of .215 is better than all five players on our list and above the lifetime marks of others like Dave Nicholson, Rusty Torres & Dick Tracewski. It’s probably too late to start a campaign for the “Oyler Line”.

 

> Worst Batting Average In A Season (min. 400 AB’s)

 

1T) Rob Deer .179, 1991 Tigers – Notorious for swings & misses, he led the AL with 175 K’s that year, but also hit 25 HR’s.

 

1T) Dan Uggla .179, 2013 Braves – What sets him apart is that he made $13 Million that season.

 

3) Eddie Joost .185, 1943 Braves – In a 17-year career, he didn’t hit much, but he sure could coax those base-on-balls, walking over 100 times in six consecutive seasons between 1947 & 1952. His lifetime BA was only .239 but his OPB (On-Base %) was .361.

 

4) Ed Brinkman .185, 1965 Senators – The classic smooth fielding SS who couldn’t hit, he played 15 years in the majors. in 1972, he won the Gold Glove while hitting .203.

 

Last year’s worst was Joc Pederson at .210…in 2014, it was Chris Davis with .196…Carlos Pena hit .197 in 2012 and  .196 in 2010.

 

Even though “old-school” baseball fans point to Madison Bumgarner and a few other Pitchers to justify their position against the DH, the reality is that there’s nothing more boring than watching a Pitcher hit. As to all that intricate NL strategy employed by Managers, a fan’s heart just flutters when the 8th place hitter is walked intentionally. Let’s not forget the worst-hitting Pitchers ever, as in the ones who NEVER got a hit during a full season…

 

> Bob Buhl, 1970…0-for-70 (lifetime BA of .089)

 

> Bill Wight, 1950…0-for-61 (lifetime BA of .083)

 

> Ron Herbel, 1964…0-for-47 (lifetime BA of .029)

 

> Karl Drews, 1949…0-for-46 (lifetime BA of .083)

 

There are at least 15 others who went 0-for-30+ including familiar names such as Joey Hamilton, Darryl Kile, Steve Stone & Ed Lynch. Of course Bartolo Colon (and his .093 lifetime BA) hit his first Home Run this year at age 43, so it must have been was worth the wait. If only Buhl hadn’t retired in 1968 at age 38.

 

 

Is That Who I Think It Is?

'04 Bush Bowman

There are many levels when it comes to baseball fans. You’ll find occasional, casual, serious, team loyalists, old-school and new-age analytical. However, fans who play Fantasy Baseball are a breed of their own. They know who backs-up a certain position on a team, who the 5th Starter might be on another team and, maybe more importantly, who the top prospects are in each organization.

 

Having played this wonderful game for over 30 years, there are hundreds of failed prospect names rattling around in my brain…especially the ones who were on my team. Names like Cameron Drew (16 lifetime MLB AB’s), Steve Hosey (58 MLB AB’s with 1 HR), Billy Ashley (.233 lifetime BA), Midre Cummings (22 HR’s in 11 seasons) & Chad Hermansen (.195 lifetime BA) all showed up on the Donald’s Ducks roster…and that was just in the 90’s!

 

At the end of March, a USA Today piece talked about a new Manager in the Padres organization who, at the young age of 31, would be in charge of the Tri-City Dust Devils in the short-season Northwest League. His name is Brandon Wood and the first thought of veteran Fantasy players was, “Is that who I think it is”. The answer, of course, is YES! A decade ago, Brandon Wood was arguably the best prospect in baseball. A power-hitting SS, he was compared to Cal Ripken Jr. and was labeled as “Can’t Miss”. In 2005, he hit 43 HR’s in the minor leagues and then followed up with 14 more in 29 games in the Arizona Fall League. 57 HR’s at age 20? As Tim Kurkjian would say, “Are you kidding me?” Today, we look at his major league stats and see that in parts of five seasons, he hit .186 with 218 strikeouts and only 32 walks in 700 AB’s. He was out of baseball before he turned 30!

 

Each Spring, as I sit behind home plate at Surprise Stadium, this same question comes up on a regular basis. Numerous failed prospects and aging veterans enter games as “non-roster invitees” and invariably, I’ll turn to my wingman (the Duke) and say, “Is that who I think it is?” One of those moments happened in mid-March when a Pitcher entered the game from the Rangers bullpen and was introduced as Matt Bush. Could it really be the same player I remembered from 2004?

 

Matt Bush was the first player taken in the 2004 Amateur Draft by the San Diego Padres. He was a local hero from Mission Bay High School as a Pitcher & SS and received a signing bonus in excess of $3 Million at age 18. Bush’s career was a tragic story of failure, both professionally and personally. He was suspended for being involved in a bar fight before he ever played a game and it just got worse from there. He was a failure as a SS in the minors and the Padres gave up on him in 2009 after another alcohol-driven incident. More strange behavior followed with the Blue Jays & Rays while he tried to re-invent himself as a Pitcher.

 

During Spring Training of 2012, Bush was involved in a drunken-driving incident and was eventually charged with numerous felonies including leaving the scene of an accident. In December of that year, he accepted a plea-bargain and was sentenced to 51 months in prison. After being released from prison in October of 2015, he signed a contract with the Rangers. Amazingly, his tryout with the club took place in the parking lot of a Golden Corral restaurant where he worked because his post-release restrictions only allowed him to travel back and forth to his job. On that March day in Surprise, Matt Bush took the mound as a 30 year-old reclamation project and proceeded to hit 100 mph on the radar gun….obviously, natural talent doesn’t disappear. I told the Duke that if the former phenom kept himself clean, he would be in the Rangers bullpen sometime in 2016. Starting the season at AA Frisco of the Texas League, he appeared in 12 games with 18 K’s and only 4 BB in 17 IP and on May 13th, he was called up by the Rangers and appeared in his first major league game, retiring the side in order. As of June 1st, he’s pitched in ten games accumulating ten innings with  nine K’s, only one BB and two earned runs. Maybe a future Closer for the Rangers? It doesn’t matter because after 12 years, he’s in the “Show”.

 

Yes, that is who I think it is.

Roberto, Not Bob

Clemente RC

Thought about Roberto Clemente the other day, as I sold a modern baseball card of his from 2001 on eBay that had a piece of game-used bat embedded in the card. It only sold for $27, but the memories were priceless.

 

While baseball historians have done a splendid job of chronicling Jackie Robinson and his contributions to the game, it seems like fans born after the mid-60’s don’t always have an appreciation of Clemente’s greatness and  legacy. The barriers in major league baseball for African-Americans in the early-to-mid 50’s were significant, but those same barriers applied to Latin American players and the culture of baseball took a long time to change.

 

Clemente started playing professional baseball in his native Puerto Rico at age 18 and a beautiful replica jersey of his hangs in my closet with the logo of the Cangrejeros de Santurce team that he played for in the Winter League of 1953-54. In 1954, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him to a contract, but instead of adding him to the major league roster (which was filled with star players), they attempted to slightly circumvent the rules of the day and sent him to their AAA team in Montreal. Can you even imagine a 19 year-old kid trying to acclimate to an environment where they spoke two languages he didn’t understand? And, Tommy Lasorda was one of his teammates, so a third language was probably also in play. The Dodgers tried to keep him under wraps and he only hit .257 in 148 AB’s, but the lowly Pirates had him on their radar. The Pirates were bad enough to have the first pick in the off-season Rule 5 Draft and Clemente was their choice on 11/22/54.

 

In Pittsburgh, Roberto was the starting RF from day one and played 18 seasons with Bucs making the NL All-Star team 12 times and winning 12 Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. On the last day of the 1972 season, Clemente got his 3,000th major league hit and then tragically lost his life on December 31, 1972 when the plane he was on crashed into the sea on its way to bring relief aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

 

As a youngster collecting baseball cards, I remember that Clemente’s early cards in the 50’s always listed him as “Roberto”. Later, after he became a star, the Topps Company issued many cards that “Americanized” his name to “Bob”. Even writers and broadcasters seemed to think that this reference (and even “Bobby”) was appropriate despite the fact that it was always was a point of contention with Clemente. Imagine what would happen today if someone referred to Pedro Martinez as “Pete”.

 

If you don’t consider yourself an expert on Clemente’s legacy, here are a few quotes from this talented and compassionate Hall of Famer…

 

> “I was born to play baseball.”

 

> “I am from the poor people; I represent the poor people. I like workers. I like people that suffer because these people have a different approach to life from the people that have everything and don’t know what suffering is.”

 

> “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.”

 

> If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on Earth.”

 

> “When I put on my uniform, I feel I am the proudest man on Earth.”

 

> “A nation without heroes is nothing.”

 

In the field of collectibles, it appears that Roberto is finally getting the level of respect that he deserves. His Rookie Card from the 1955 Topps has been steadily climbing in value. The current book price for one in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition is $6,750. Just recently, a Clemente RC in “Mint” (9) condition sold at auction for a record $478,000. Less than a year ago, one in that same condition brought $310,000. To give some insight into the scarcity component, the grading company has reviewed over 3,000 of these cards and only 11 have achieved a grade of “9”.

 

Better check that old shoe box in the attic. “Donaldo” will be waiting for your call.