Growing up in New England, I had two sports heroes. One was Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball history and the other was Bill Russell, the winner of the most championships in the history of the NBA. For a youngster, watching them play was a privilege but at that age, I didn’t understand that being a hero is much more than just playing a game.
Williams grew up in a ramshackle house in San Diego with a Mother who gave her time to charity instead of her family and a Dad who was seldom there. Russell was born in segregated Louisiana in the 1930’s before the family moved to Oakland when he was eight years old. His Mom passed away when he was 12 and the family lived in public housing while his Dad held things together making a living as a janitor and then a steel worker. This was the history I never knew as a young sports fan.
Looking at the big picture, you have to wonder where these two young men achieved the character to become real heroes. But real heroes they were, as Williams gave up five years of his career to serve in two wars and was then the driving force in establishing the Jimmy Fund, the fund-raising arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Clinic, which saves the lives of children with cancer. Russell overcame the racism of the NBA to speak up for causes long before it was fashionable. He helped start the player’s union by threatening to boycott the All-Star game and then stood by Muhammad Ali at that famous press conference in 1967 to protest the war in Viet Nam.
All of these memories came flooding back to me last week with the passing of Hank Aaron. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of sports heroes to admire, “Hammerin’ Hank” would certainly be included. Born the same year as Russell in segregated Alabama during the great depression, the family (including seven siblings) didn’t have things like baseball gloves & bats and Aaron’s High School didn’t even have organized baseball. In today’s world of travel teams and personal coaches, can you even imagine the world he lived in?
If his baseball career didn’t make him enough of a hero, think about his life after baseball. Especially when he showed so much class in congratulating Barry Bonds and then going back to quietly putting his focus almost entirely on philanthropic efforts.
Your humble scribe won’t attempt to duplicate all the beautiful remembrances of his life, but maybe we can read the backs of some baseball cards from his 23-year career.
- 1954 (Rookie Card) – “Henry, in pro ball only two years, came up to the Braves after a sensational ’53 season at Jacksonville, where he won the Sally League’s MVP Award. He led the loop in six departments: Batting, RBI’s, Hits, Runs, Total Bases and Doubles. At Eau Claire in ’52, he hit .336 and was voted ROY in the Northern League.”
- 1957 – “Hammerin’ Hank was the top batter in the NL in ’56. He won the hitting crown by jumping into the league lead in July and staying there for the last two months. During one week early in the season, Hank got red hot and skyrocketed his average 42 points! A real speedster, he led the league in Hits, Doubles and finished 3rd in Slugging.”
- 1958 – “Hank was voted the NL MVP last year. And no wonder – he led the loop in HR’s, RBI’s and Runs scored. Hank’s performance was a big factor in the Braves championship drive”.
- 1960 – “Hank won his 2nd NL Batting Crown last season with a hot .355. His 39 Homers were below his high mark of 44 that he clubbed in ’57. Hank has a .385 mark for 5 All-Star Games and hit .363 in two World Series.”
- 1962 – “The star outfielder of the Milwaukee Braves has won two NL Batting titles since joining the club in 1954. Hank’s best season was in 1959 when batted .355 and clubbed in 123 RBI’s. Loaded with plenty of power, Hank led the NL with 44 HR’s in 1957.”
- 1967 – “When one speaks of superstars, Hank’s name is always mentioned. The fabulous veteran reached a milestone in his career on April 20, 1966 when he cracked out his 399th & 400th major league home runs against the Phillies.”
- 1968 – “The veteran slugging star continued his annual torrid hitting last season as he led the Braves in Batting, RBI’s, HR’s & Doubles. Hank’s 17 Stolen Bases topped Atlanta too.”
- 1971 – “Hank has led the NL in Total Bases 8 times, had 300 or more Total Bases 14 times, 100 or more Runs 15 times & 150 or more games 14 times, all major league records. Tied Babe Ruth with 16th straight 20-HR year in 1970
“Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.” – Joe Adcock
In 1959, Topps expanded their baseball card set to 572 cards and produced them in series. So when you purchased a pack early in the year, the cards would only be numbered 1-110 and as the year went on, other series would be offered for sale. At the time, it seemed logical, but for collectors of Topps cards from 1959-1973, it represented a challenge…and still does today. The later series were marketed late in the season when interest had waned and the cards became scarcer. So, when you hear a collector talk about “high numbers” being difficult to find, you understand the issue.
How this relates to “rookie cards” begins with that beautiful ’59 set. The best rookie card that year was future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and his card was in the high number series (#514)…making it a tough card to find, especially in nice condition. In addition, all the All-Star cards were also in the high number run, creating another difficult collecting challenge that included Mantle, Mays & Aaron. The current value for the “Gibby” RC is $700.
The values listed are for cards graded NM 7 (Near Mint).
As the calendar turned to the 60’s, many great players made their debut and their rookie cards were (and still are) in great demand. In 1960, there was Carl Yastrzemski ($350) & Willie McCovey ($275). 1961 had Juan Marichal ($100) & Billy Williams ($55)…and in ’62, it was Lou Brock ($275), Joe Torre ($125) & Gaylord Perry ($150).
The 1963 Topps set included a concept where many of the rookies were shown together on cards that had small, cropped photos of four different players…and they were in the high series. That is where you’ll find the rookie card of Pete Rose…shown with Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen & Al Weis. While not very visually appealing, it is still a valuable card indeed at a book price of $2,200. Willie Stargell’s rookie card ($265) is also in this category and includes three more obscure players.
The ’64 set has Phil Niekro ($100) and there are lots of Hall of Famers in ’65 with Steve Carlton ($200), “Catfish” Hunter ($80) & Tony Perez ($90). ’66 included three HOF hurlers with Jim Palmer ($95), Fergie Jenkins ($75) & Don Sutton ($65). Tom Seaver ($900) & Rod Carew ($375) both debuted in the high number series of the ’67 set.
The 1968 set features the rookie cards of two of the most popular players of the era…Nolan Ryan ($1,200) & Johnny Bench ($225). Once again, Topps included multiple rookies on certain cards, so Ryan shares his cardboard with Jerry Koosman, while Bench is shown with Ron Tomkins. Finishing off the decade, Reggie Jackson ($500) & Rollie Fingers ($45) grace the ’69 set with their rookie cards.
1970 had Thurman Munson’s RC ($100). The ’71 set (with black borders) is especially difficult to find in nice condition and has HOF members Bert Blyleven ($115) & Ted Simmons ($90) along with a card that features both Dusty Baker and Don Baylor ($80).
The end of the era featured Carlton Fisk in ’72 ($45) and Mike Schmidt ($275) in ’73.
Ironically, five of the Hall of Famers in this collection are among former major leaguers who passed away in 2020 and then we lost Sutton just this week.
The history of baseball is filled with “characters”. Looking back over 100+ years, these eccentric ballplayers brought a quality to the game that can’t be duplicated. Rube Waddell, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Satchel Paige, Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Bob Uecker, Mark Fidrych and so many others have added an indelible mental snapshot of this sport we love.
It seems, however, that “characters” have become somewhat of an endangered species in today’s game. Maybe it’s political correctness, maybe it’s an average salary of almost $4 Million or maybe it’s the fault of Crash Davis when he taught all those clichés to Nuke LaLoosh. Nuke may have been a character in Durham, but by the time he got to the “show”, he was saying, “We gotta play it one day at a time”.
We lost one of the great characters of the game last week when Tommy Lasorda passed away at age 93. His personality, presence and charisma may never be equaled again. You know much of the story in that he never won a major league game as a Pitcher but was a member of the Dodger organization for over 70 years including a 21-year stint as the team’s Manager from 1976-96 which yielded four pennants and two World Series championships.
Dozens of articles and retrospectives have been done in the last week and this humble scribe won’t attempt to compete with all that information. Instead, I’ll attempt to give a personal perspective as a baseball fan that lived in Los Angeles while Tommy was the skipper of the Dodgers. While he was a great guy with fans and the ultimate ambassador for the game, like most “characters”, he had other facets to his personality.
Tommy took over the reins of the Dodgers in late 1976, after managing in the Minor Leagues and serving as 3rd base coach under Walter Alston. In his first full season (1977), the team won 98 games with a roster that included many players who came up through the ranks like Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and others. He demanded loyalty (bleeding Dodger Blue) and regaled them with motivational stories that were of questionable authenticity. He also wasn’t hesitant to use criticism as a motivator…
- After losing a game in which Garvey struck out multiple times on pitches in the dirt, he told reporters in the clubhouse that “Garvey would make a great frickin’ Cricket player, trying to hit pitches on the first bounce”.
- One year at Spring Training, a reporter asked if he would try to make the team more aggressive on the base paths that season. He replied that if Mike Scioscia (the team’s Catcher) “was in a race with a pregnant woman, he’d finish third”.
If you were a SoCal sports fan during Tommy’s managerial era, you understand clearly that his legacy will always be intertwined with a radio broadcaster of the time named Jim Healy. His show was on the air every week night from 5:30 to 6:00 PM while all of us were working our way home on the dreaded L.A. freeways. His broadcast made the trip tolerable because there was nothing else like it anywhere. He used noise from a teletype machine, background music and a collection of audio tapes he’d acquired over the years. As sportswriter Bill Dwyre once said, “Healy threw them all together in a bouillabaisse of sports fun”.
In those days, writers & reporters had nothing more than a tape recorder to capture comments from players, coaches, mangers and executives and it seemed like anything funny, stupid or interesting ended up on Healy’s show. He had sources everywhere and most of them considered it a compliment to get these quotes fed to Healy. His studio had a sound board with all the clips and he’d insert them at his discretion during the show. Embarrassing comments would pop up from the likes of Howard Cosell, Richard Nixon and others but Tommy Lasorda’s tirades were the coin of the realm for Healy.
The first was from May of 1978 when the Dodgers lost an extra-inning game to the Cubs thanks to three Home Runs from Dave Kingman. A young reporter named Paul Olden (who is now the public address announcer for the Yankees) was at the post-game Q & A in the clubhouse and asked Tommy what he thought of Kingman’s performance? Tommy started slowly and built his way up to a crescendo of profanities that became legendary…”What the (expletive) do you think my opinion is of it? I think it was (expletive). What’s my opinion of his performance? (Expletive). He beat us with three (expletive) home runs. What the (expletive) do you mean? How can you ask me a question like that?”
If that tape was the appetizer, the one from 1982 was the entrée. Lasorda’s Dodgers and Dick Williams’ Padres got into a brawl after San Diego’s Joe Lefebrve was hit by a pitch thrown by Tom Niedenfuer. After the game, Kurt Bevacqua accused Lasorda (he called him the fat little Italian) of ordering the pitch. Here is Tommy’s response…
“I’ll tell you what I think about it. I think that it is very, very bad for that man to make an accusation like that. That is terrible. I have never, ever, since I managed, ever told a pitcher to throw at anybody, nor will I ever. And if I ever did, I certainly wouldn’t make him throw at a (expletive) .130 hitter like Lefebvre or (expletive) Bevacqua, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a (expletive) boat.”
“And I guaran-(expletive)-tee you this. When I pitched and I was going to pitch against a (expletive) team that had guys on it like Bevacqua, I sent a (expletive) limousine to get the (expletive) to make sure he was in the (expletive) line-up because I kicked that (expletive’s) (expletive) any day of the week.”
In today’s Internet age, a little searching will give you the opportunity to listen to both of these classic speeches. Two warnings, however…1) don’t have any liquid in your mouth and 2) make sure the youngsters are in another room.
None of this is meant as a criticism because Tommy Lasorda was an “old-school” ballplayer who lived by a code. He stood up for his players and expected nothing less from them. And, once the umpire said “Play Ball”, the guys in the other dugout were the enemy. So, we’ve seen a number of sides to this baseball “character”, let’s look at his heart through some quotes.
- “About the only problem with success is that it doesn’t teach you how to deal with failure”
- “Always give an autograph when somebody asks you”
- “80% of the people who hear your troubles don’t care and the other 20% are glad you’re having them”
- In respect to Fernando Valenzuela’s contract demands in 1981, “He wants Texas back”
- “I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it”
- “Listen, if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before long you’ll end up in the stands with them”
- “No, we don’t cheat. And even if we did, I’d never tell you”
- “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination”
- “When we win, I’m so happy I eat a lot. When we lose, I’m so depressed, I eat a lot. When we’re rained-out, I’m so disappointed I eat a lot”
- “Tommy Lasorda will eat anything, as long as you pay for it” (attributed to Joe Torre)
- “There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened”
- “I bleed Dodger Blue and when I die, I’m going to the big Dodger in the sky”
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 1971, we find that the top five BA’s belonged to Joe Torre (.363), Ralph Garr (.343), Glenn Beckert (.342), Roberto Clemente (.341) & Tony Oliva (.337). Fine players all, but were they the five best hitters in baseball? Torre won the NL MVP but three of the others didn’t finish in their league’s top five. Garr & Beckert had 44 & 42 RBI’s respectively.
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 less than two months away, here’s one Duck’s opinion on the hitters for 2021 that could be the top ten this season…based on the projections from a highly respected Fantasy website.
1) Mike Trout, Angels OF, 1.057 OPS – 20 years from now, people will be describing his career as “once in a generation”. His consistency and still youthful age (29) makes him the consensus #1 hitter in the game even though he seems to have put stolen bases in the rear-view mirror. This type of performance would put over the 1.000 mark for his career.
2) Juan Soto, Nationals OF, 1.007 OPS – Still in his early 20’s, his game seems complete.
3) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B/, .972 OPS – The NL MVP is in his prime.
4) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF, .938 OPS – At age 29, most fans & scribes seem to be giving him a “Mulligan” for 2020.
5) Anthony Rendon, Angels 3B, .935 OPS – His first campaign with the Halos produced a .915 OPS.
6) Mookie Betts, Dodgers OF, .931 OPS – Lived up to the hype and won a ring…he loves L.A.
7) Yordan Alvarez, Astros DH, .921 OPS – Lost the entire 2020 season with knee issues but the potential at age 23 is off the charts.
8) Cody Bellinger, Dodgers OF/1B, .917 OPS – Won ROY & MVP in his first three seasons…don’t let 2020 scare you off.
9) Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres SS, .912 OPS – Just turned 22 and in his first 558 MLB AB’s, has 39 HR’s & 27 SB’s.
10) Bryce Harper, Phillies Of, .909 OPS – Still only 28 with lots of experience, he had more Walks than Strikeouts in 2020.
Did your favorite player get left off the list? The next two are also over .900…Xander Bogaerts & Alex Bregman. Or maybe some youngsters take the next step? We’ll all be watching.
As for 1971, the two players who exceeded 1.000 OPS were Hank Aaron & Willie Stargell.
Are you a real baseball fan? A true baseball fan? Don’t reply too quickly because membership in this exclusive club requires certain criteria. Can you answer yes to most of the following questions…?
> Do you still have a vivid memory of that Home Run you hit in Little League?
> Does it take you back in time when you remember that first autograph from a major leaguer?
> Did you study statistics and do you still know the lifetime batting average of your favorite player?
> Is there at least one big league jersey hanging in your closet?
> Do you have a T-shirt that shows an outline of the state of Iowa and says, “Is This Heaven?
> Does a 3-2 count with the bases loaded still put you on the edge of your seat?
> Is there a Bill James publication somewhere on your bookshelf?
There are dozens more on the baseball SAT, but you get the idea. This marvelous sport we love is part of the fabric of our lives. If you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, the history of the game speaks to you and you’re always ready for a baseball-themed conversation…or debate. You can probably name most of the 32 players who have reached 3,000 hits but a football fan wouldn’t even know some of the 31 players with 10,000 career rushing yards if you gave them the names. If you doubt that, ask some of your Fantasy Football buddies about Thomas Jones or Corey Dillon.
So, as we celebrate the history of the game and try to overcome the disaster known as 2020, let’s take a look at who the sport lost in the past year…
> Tom Seaver, Mets P 1967-1986 – Incredibly, seven HOF players passed away during the year and “Tom Terrific” was possibly the most famous. He won 311 games in his amazing career and led the “Miracle Mets” to the World Series championship in 1969. That was the first of his three Cy Young seasons.
> Joe Morgan, Reds 2B 1963-1984 – Arguably, one the greatest all-around players in history, he won two MVP Awards, five Gold Gloves and swiped 689 bases.
> Al Kaline, Tigers OF 1953-1974 – One of the few players to never appear in the minor leagues, he joined the Bengals at age 18 and accumulated over 3,000 hits and won 10 Gold Gloves.
> Bob Gibson, Cardinals P 1959-1975 – One of the most intimidating hurlers of his time, batters didn’t dig in against “Gibby”. His 1.12 ERA in 1968 earned him the Cy Young Award and the MVP.
> Whitey Ford, Yankees P 1950-1967 – Posted a record of 236-106 as the ace of the Yankees dynasty. Won the Cy Young Award in ’61 with a mark of 25-4.
> Lou Brock, Cardinals OF 1961-1979 – Had over 3,000 hits and led the NL in SB’s eight times. Ironically, Ernie Broglio was on this list a year ago.
> Phil Niekro, Braves P 1964-1987 – A master of the knuckleball, he pitched until age 48. Won 318 games in his storied career and in 1979, he started 44 games (completing 23 of them) and had a record of 21-20.
> Dick Allen, Phillies 3B 1963-1977 – Somewhat controversial in his day, his prowess with the bat can’t be denied. ROY in ’64, MVP in ’72 and a lifetime OPS of .912.
> Jim Wynn, Astros OF 1953-1977 – “The Toy Cannon” stood less than six feet tall but hit 291 HR’s.
> Ron Perranoski, Dodgers P 1961-1973 – Won two World Series rings with L.A. in the mid-60’s and then led the AL in Saves in ’69 & ’70 with the Twins.
> Lindy McDaniel, Cardinals P 1955-1975 – How about 141 Wins and 174 Saves? Led the NL in Saves three times.
> Tony Fernandez, Blue Jays SS 1983-2001 – Won four consecutive Gold Gloves in the 80’s and had over 2,200 hits.
> Don Larsen, Yankees P 1953-1967 – Will there ever be another World Series moment like Game 5 in 1956?
Over 100 former big-leaguers died in 2020 and if you’re a real fan, you’ll remember many of the others. There were guys who played in the 40’s like Johnny Antonelli, Gil Coan, Ed Fitzgerald & Bob Miller, guys who played over 15 years like Mike McCormick, Tony Taylor, Claudell Washington & Bob Watson and guys who made us laugh like Jay Johnstone. And, a few more who played in only one season like Tom Yewcic, Hank Workman, Bob Stephenson, Bobby Prescott and Rich Hacker.
They’re all part of the history because they were all in the “Show”.
For those of us who have been playing Fantasy Baseball long enough to still call it “Rotisserie Baseball”, memories of baseball seasons gone bye and the people in our life circle bring back a flood of memories on a regular basis. I’d already been thinking about the truncated 2020 season and its correlation to the strike-shortened 1994 campaign when the sad news arrived that a long-time friend had passed away from Covid-19.
Of course, Terry Brutocao was much more than a friend. We first met in the 1970’s as two of the “young lions” of the Southern California bowling industry. He was a lawyer by trade but his family operated three very successful bowling centers and he became an integral part of that success as his Dad & Uncle grew older and withdrew from day-to-day operations. We seemed to become good friends from day one and had wonderful times at industry conventions, golf outings (his family had a Condo at Indian Wells), sports events and social gatherings. We also found time to give back and volunteered our time to the industry’s trade association and helped with charitable events that raised scholarship dollars for youth bowlers.
In 1984, when the original “Rotisserie League Baseball” book landed in book stores, Terry was one of my first phone calls and he quickly became a charter member of our league. He and his partner Paul were perfect Fantasy league members…competitive but clearly understanding that it was all about having fun. Each April at our Draft, they would present the “Big Flush” award to the team that had taken the biggest “dump” the previous season. It wasn’t a trophy, it was a toilet seat.
Terry played for 15 seasons and coincidently, his team (the T.P Express) won their first Championship in that 1994 season, outdistancing my Donald’s Ducks by 5 points. Of course, I told him that if there had been 162 games instead of 114, the standings would have been different. He just smiled…and then he won again in ’95.
So, as a symbolic tribute to my dear friend, here’s his championship squad from 1994…
1B) Eric Karros
2B) Roberto Mejia
SS) Kevin Stocker
3B) Arci Cianfrocco
C) Kelly Stinnett
C) Charlie O’Brien
1/3) Rickey Jordan
2/S) Rickey Guiterrez
OF) Deion Sanders
OF) Bernard Gilkey
OF) Larry Walker
OF) Moises Alou
OF) Raul Mondesi
U) Greg Colbrunn
P) Todd Worrell
P) Rheal Cormier
P) Greg Maddux
P) Jeff Fassero
P) John Burkett
P) Jeff Brantley
P) Norm Charlton
P) Orel Hershiser
P) Bobby Jones
The team led the league is SB’s (Sanders had 38) and three of the four pitching categories (Maddux won the Cy Young Award). Walker and Alou had spectacular campaigns and Mondesi won the ROY. Ironically, Burkett bowled on the PBA tour after his baseball career was over.
Sending my love to Ann and the family…and remembering my friend.
Real baseball fans love to discuss the game endlessly. As the old cliché (sort of) says, “Opinions are like posteriors…everybody has one”.
Ask your favorite baseball fanatics who would be the three Outfielders on their all-time team. One may say Ted Williams, Willie Mays & Babe Ruth. Another may question how the player with the highest lifetime Batting Average (Ty Cobb) could be left off. The third might ask about the player with the most popular baseball cards of the post-War era (Mickey Mantle). Then, we’d hear from a Pirate fan about Roberto Clemente. And, as we know, “chicks dig the long ball”, so Hank Aaron & Barry Bonds would get significant support.
This time of year always brings out opinions about the Hall of Fame balloting and no two fans seem to have the exact same list. This year is no exception with controversial players such as Curt Schilling, Bonds & Roger Clemens eligible. How about Omar Vizquel, Scott Rolen & Billy Wagner? Then there’s Gary Sheffield, Todd Helton & Jeff Kent. What about first-time guys…Tim Hudson & Mark Buehrle each won over 200 Games with WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers of 59 & 58. Would your ballot include one player, a few players or ten players?
Another really interesting discussion involves great baseball finishes. For many fans, the World Series comes to mind and the names that were captured by our mental snapshots…Bill Mazeroski, Bobby Richardson, Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, Luis Gonzalez and so many more. But, of course there were also seemingly unimportant games that provided memorable finishes…the last day of the 1941 season when Ted Williams went 6-for-8, the last day of the 1950 season when the Phillies captured the pennant, Harvey Haddix and his 12-inning “perfect game”. Or, maybe it’s a moment you actually witnessed like George Brett’s 3,000th hit or a Sandy Koufax no-hitter.
Now, there’s a way to enjoy this topic fully in a new book by my friend Howard Peretz. He has developed the BFI (Baseball Finish Index) and ranked each of the top finishes in a fan’s guide to “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Finishes”. It is a great read for both old-school fans and youngsters learning about the game. You will reminisce about many of the entries and also wonder about a few that might surprise you. To tease you a bit, #99 is about a College game, #93 took place in 1905, #79 is about a 15-inning game and #60 stars an 11 year-old.
Howard’s book also has great visuals, as there are over 100 beautiful images of baseball cards that dovetail with the game descriptions. If you’d like more information, the book is available at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Just use “peretz” or “saving baseball” in the search engine.
In 30+ years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 30 championships can make you feel like an “expert”. The real test, however, is when you compete in a league full of experts. That has been a yearly challenge for The Old Duck and it presented itself once again as the 15 owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) gathered on-line last week for their 19th annual draft. Our previous drafts were all done in-person but circumstances create changes.
As a quick refresher, the XFL is the only expert’s keeper league within the fantasy industry and 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 is a 5 X 5 format (with on-base percentage replacing batting average), a 23-player auction draft after the World Series with a $260 budget and a supplemental snake draft in late March to round out the 40-man rosters (23 players are active each week during the season). Donald’s Dux (my squad) has captured four championships and holds the top overall performance record encompassing all 18 seasons of the league.
The 2020 season didn’t look too promising as the projections had the squad near the bottom of the pack but the boys overachieved and finished a strong 4th after a slow start. Solid seasons from team members such as Jose Abreu, Ian Happ, Pete Alonso & Teoscar Hernandez helped overcome lots of pitching injuries to Milos Mikolas, Madison Bumgarner, Steven Matz and others.
So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2021 season, it appeared that the Dux had a much better starting point than last year.
Here’s the keeper list that was frozen on November 1st –
C – Willson Contreras $16
1B – Jose Abreu $22
3B – Yoan Moncada $13
1/3 – Pete Alonso $7
2B – Wilmer Flores $6
SS – Gleyber Torres $10
OF – Ian Happ $6
OF – Randy Arozarena $8
OF – Teoscar Hernandez $6
OF – Dylan Carlson $4
P – Kevin Gausman $6
P – Brandon Woodruff $16
P – James Karinchak $4
Farm – Royce Lewis
Farm – Christian Pache
Farm – Triston Casas
Here’s a quick review of the salary structure…
> November Draft – Player salaries are determined by the winning bid at the table and increase $5 each season. So, unless a team finds a break-out player in the end-game, there’s a reasonable chance that expensive veterans will only be on your team for one season.
> March Supplemental Draft (done in July for 2020) – A 17-round snake draft gets all the squads up to a 40-man roster from which you determine 23 active players each week. All players chosen in this phase have a $1 salary. For current major-leaguers, the increase each season is $5 so the annual keeper lists have a smattering of $6 players that were great choices the previous year. Examples this time around include Clint Frazier, Dominic Smith, Framber Valdez, Anthony Santander, Corbin Burnes, Trevor Rosenthal, Dylan Bundy and the four $6 players on the Dux roster. Minor-leaguers taken in this phase also have a $1 starting salary, but once they get to “the show”, their salary only goes up $3 per year. This is what might be described as the “dynasty” component in this particular league. An example would be Jose Abreu, who was taken as a free agent by my team in March of 2014 and now enters his 8th season on the roster at a salary of $22.
> In-Season Monthly Free Agent Selections (only in August for 2020) – Teams can choose free agents once a month and drop someone on their roster in a corresponding move. The salary is $5 with a $5 increase in subsequent seasons, so you’ll see a few of these players scattered on keeper rosters at $10 each year.
The 10 hitters on the Dux keeper list had a salary total of $98, while the three pitchers equaled $26 leaving $136 to buy 10 players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $71 for the four hitters and $65 for the six pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…
> 30 Catchers will be rostered in this league and a significant percentage of them have negative value. Only six were kept, so there will be feeding frenzy for backstops. J.T. Realmuto is available but he went for $33 last year and there’s no reason to think it will cost less this time around. The Dux will be willing to overpay for a second-tier Catcher like Travis d’Arnaud, Salvador Perez, Sean Murphy or Christian Vasquez but if that doesn’t work, taking Victor Caratini (Contreras’ back-up) for a single digit price will allow dollars to be shifted to another priority.
> Spend $20+ to fill the 2/S spot and prioritize speed if possible. The pool is weak with Didi Gregorius (unsigned at the moment), Marcus Semien (also a free agent), J.P. Crawford, Jean Segura & Cesar Hernandez heading the list.
> Allocate $25+ for a solid 5th OF…Michael Conforto, Charlie Blackmon, Kole Calhoun, Eddie Rosario, Brandon Nimmo, Nick Castellanos & Kyle Schwarber are all available.
> Look for one of those end-gamers in the Utility spot that could be productive…players like Manny Margot, Garrett Cooper, Leody Taveras, Victor Reyes & Ramiel Tapia would all fit the bill. It is always easier to find an end-game hitter than an end game pitcher.
> Four starting pitchers for about $50…Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer & Stephen Strasburg will all be too expensive. Hurlers like Zack Wheeler, Carlos Carrasco, Sandy Alcantara, Julio Urias & Joe Musgrove are on the radar.
> Spend $12-$15 on a 2nd Closer…the priority is just finding someone who will have the job in March. Rasiel Iglesias was a member of the team in ’20 and still has the skills.
> Look for skills in the last pitching spot for a minimal cost…Andrew Heaney, Tyler Mahle & Seth Lugo all fit the type.
> My advice to players has always been to not “chase” any particular player. Find a group of players that fit your need and focus on getting one of them. This was the biggest challenge because so many of MLB’s star players were already rostered.
Before reviewing the results of the draft, there’s one other important league rule for readers to understand. Even though the word “list” is being used in this discussion, the really unique aspect of the XFL is that team owners can bring nothing to the table…no lists, no projections, no research, no draft software, no laptops, no tablets and no smart phones. When you sit down at the table, major league depth charts are handed out with the names of keepers crossed off and that is your only reference material during the auction. Even the depth charts are as neutral as possible with players listed by position and alphabetically. You don’t get any help as the typical MLB team could have 12 relief pitchers on the sheet and you need to know which one might get (or be next in line for) Saves. With this year’s Draft being done remotely, we’re all on the honor system.
The actual approach at the draft table needed to be somewhat aggressive for the positions needed, so money could be shifted later in the process. And, of course, never forget the words of a world-class poker player who once told me, “If you sit down at the table and don’t spot the pigeon, it just might be you”.
Note – All of the previous paragraphs were written prior to our November 14th draft date. That original date was pushed back due to one of our owners being hospitalized by Covid-19. Thankfully, he is home and recovering well, so the draft took place on December 5th.
One of the keys in a keeper league environment is to determine what the inflation factor might be on player salaries. You can do the math prior to the Draft, but until you actually see the bids, you can’t really be sure. Every Fantasy league is basing their valuations on projections but when you’re bidding in December, knowing what a player actually “earned” the previous season can give some insight into inflation.
The first player nominated might tell us some of what we wanted to know. J.D. Martinez had a terrible 2020 at age 32, earning less than $10 in our statistical format. Was it an aberration or is he on the down-side of his career? Our experts strongly voiced their opinion as he went for $27.
The rest of the 1st round looked like this…
- Realmuto $28
- Hendriks $19
- Rizzo $25
- Kershaw $30
- Scherzer $33
- Sale $18
- Goldschmidt $30
- Carrasco $29
- Conforto $35
- Hand $15
- Vasquez $16
- Segura $11
- Strasburg $30
- Cruz $25
The Dux didn’t roster a player until the 4th spot in Round 2, when we added Marcus Semien for $24. At age 30, he’s only one year removed from a 3rd place MVP finish. Javier Baez went later in the round for $26, while Jose Altuve was $22 in round 3.
By the end of round 2, ten starting pitchers were already rostered, so it was time to act and Zack Wheeler was the choice at $25. Four picks later, the Dux got their Closer with a $16 bid on Iglesias. Young Pitchers are always somewhat of a crapshoot, but Cristian Javier seemed like a good addition. His $15 price was somewhat high but the skills look good and we were sticking to our aggressive posture.
At the end of round 3, it was time to address the Catcher position. Realmuto & Vasquez were already gone and when Sean Murphy was nominated, the Dux went the extra dollar(s) and paid $19. Getting a solid OBP performer (.364 in ’20) at a scarce position is an advantage.
At this point, the Dux had filled 2/S, C, SP (2) & Closer for a total of $99…about $10 more than the amount budgeted prior to the draft. It became clear that the last OF spot didn’t need to be a particular priority because there’s a reasonable chance that Farm player Cristian Pache could be in the Braves line-up on opening day. It seemed more important to get another quality SP, so Joe Musgrove joined the squad at $12. Even though he’s on a lousy team, the stuff is tantalizing.
With $25 remaining for four players, we added Brandon Nimmo, Tyler Mahle, Drew Pomeranz & Cesar Hernandez
The Dux spent $160 on offense (62% of budget) and $98 on pitching (38% of budget), which were close to the target numbers. We filled 2/S, C, OF, 4 SP’s and 1 ½ Closers with players who shouldn’t have too many question marks. The overall strategy was very different than my normal approach. My mindset was to avoid thinking about “bargains” or keepers for 2022. Of the ten players drafted, there’s a good chance none of them will be keepers a year from now. That is offset by the fact that almost all of this year’s ten keepers have a chance to be on the roster again in 2022.
Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…
> Reputations don’t matter as Adam Wainwright, Johnny Cueto, Miguel Cabrera, Jon Lester, Evan Longoria & Jake Arrieta weren’t drafted.
> Never ask the question, “Why did someone pay $28 for Joey Gallo” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $27.
> And, of course, the annual exercise of listing the players that weren’t even drafted. You can decide if the experts were right or wrong…Brad Keller, Spencer Turnbull, Danny Duffy, Adam Duvall, Diego Castillo, Mark Melancon, Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rick Porcello, Robbie Grossman, Jesus Aguilar, Robbie Ray, Nick Ahmed, Colin Moran, Brandon Crawford, Archie Bradley, Jonathan Scoop, Stephen Piscotty, Kevin Kiermaier & Orlando Arcia…among others.
You can review additional league information at fantasyxperts.com