Going To WAR For The MVP

'16 Betts Trib

Are you aware that each year’s MVP winners receive an award called the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award? As the Baseball Writer’s Association has never really defined “most valuable”, would the results have been different over the years if it was just called the “Landis Plaque” and went to the most outstanding player in each league. In other words, do fans think in terms of most valuable player or player of the year? And, do you agree that the MVP is for position players and the Cy Young Award is for pitchers?


While there have been some examples over the years of MVP winners on losing teams like Ernie Banks of the Cubs in ’58 & ’59, the general consensus is that the award should go to a player on a contending team. Ted Williams won the Triple Crown (HR, RBI’s & Batting Average) in both 1942 & 1947 but didn’t win the MVP Award in either year. In both seasons, he also led the AL in Runs, Walks, On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. The winner in ’42 was Yankee 2B Joe Gordon and in ’47, it was Joe DiMaggio. The Red Sox finished nine games behind the Yanks in 2nd place in ’42 and 14 games behind in 3rd place in ’47. If there were more than just two teams going to the post-season in the 1940’s, maybe the results would have been different.


Now that just about any team at .500 or better still has a chance for the playoffs at the end of August, will the voters expand the list of players considered for MVP? And, if “most valuable” is really the criteria, how is that defined? It seems that there is some logic in value being related to teams winning games, so maybe WAR (Wins Above Replacement) can help us determine the real contenders. After all, being a difference-maker in team wins certainly equates to a player’s true value. As a reminder, WAR represents a statistical analysis of how many wins a player is worth to his team over that of a replacement level player (think AAA or AAAA). As you’ll see in the ratings, WAR isn’t just about hitting stats for position players, it also includes advanced defensive metrics.


“Old School” baseball fans will be disappointed to know that advanced statistics have already had a major impact on how this award is viewed. Columnist Joe Posnanski has pointed out that since 2008, every MVP winner has finished top five (5) in WAR. That is about the time that this new-age statistic became somewhat mainstream. As recently as 2006, Justin Morneau won the MVP with a WAR number of 4.3. Not only were there twenty players better than that, he finished third on his own team behind Johan Santana & Joe Mauer. Juan Gonzalez won two MVP’s in the 90’s without being in the top 15 while Don Baylor (1979), Willie Stargell (1979) and Jeff Burroughs (1974) weren’t in the top 20. Those days of writers voting without doing thorough research are gone.


Stats are as of Sunday, September 16th and the WAR numbers are from Baseball-Reference.com





> Mookie Betts (10.0) of the Red Sox leads the way and his team is the best in baseball for 2018. He’s leading the league with a .338 BA and has an OPS of 1.054. Factor in 29 HR’s & 28 SB’s along with stellar defense in the OF and the number makes perfect sense. Some feel his teammate J.D. Martinez deserves consideration but he’s much more of a one dimensional player and his WAR of 5.8 is significantly lower.


> Mike Trout (9.4) of the Angels had the best WAR in baseball in both 2012 & 2013 but didn’t win the MVP either season. He captured the award in both 2014 & 2016 and his 2018 performance just might be his best ever. He leads the league in OBP (.466) and OPS (1.091) while also being an outstanding CF. Do we really understand how great this player has become? He just turned 27!


> Matt Chapman (8.2) of the over-achieving Athletics flies under the radar for most fans. He will almost certainly win the Gold Glove at 3B and in his first full season has produced a .363 OBP with 23 HR’s.


> Jose Ramirez (7.8) is the #1 contributor to the Indians success. 38 HR’s & 32 SB’s with over 100 RBI’s is MVP caliber in any season.


> Francisco Lindor (7.4) is another great young player on the Tribe and with 35 HR’s and 120 Runs, the stats are amazing for a 24 year-old. He finished 5th in the MVP voting last year.





> This league’s WAR stats are dominated by Pitchers. Max Scherzer (9.3) of the Nats is having another great season and has a chance to win his 4th Cy Young Award. He has 17 Wins while leading in both IP and K’s.


> Right behind is Aaron Nola (9.0) of the Phillies who has emerged as a true “Ace” for this young team with a record of 16-5.


> The Mets Jacob deGrom (8.8) is an unusual case, as his team has floundered and given him very little offensive support. Despite his league-leading 1.71 ERA, will the writers vote for someone with a record of 8-9?


> Seeing Kyle Freeland (7.3) on this list might be the biggest surprise. The Rockies are in the race and this young left-hander is a big reason why. Despite pitching half the time in Denver’s altitude, he’s 15-7 with a 2.96 ERA.


> Where do we find a position player to put on our ballot? The top candidates are Lorenzo Cain (6.7), Paul Goldschmidt (5.8), Javier Baez (5.7), Christian Yelich (5.4), Nolan Arenado (5.3) & Matt Carpenter (5.0).


> If you had a vote, would it be Betts & Cain? Or maybe Trout & Baez?


Just for the record, in 1942 Ted Williams led all of baseball with a WAR figure of 10.6. MVP winner Gordon had an impressive number of 8.2. In ’47, Teddy Ballgame once again led the majors at 9.9 while DiMaggio wasn’t even close to the top ten at 4.8.


If you ever drop by the Duck Pond, you’re welcome to view the extensive collection of Williams memorabilia….but you probably already figured that out.



Heinie Manush & Hy Tech

'54 Manush

Henry Emmett “Heinie” Manush first crept into my consciousness in 1954, when he was a Coach for the Washington Senators and his baseball card (#187) was part of the Topps set. He was 53 years-old at the time, but the man on the card appeared to be at least 70. The back of the card said that he was “One of the best hitters of his day, batting over .300 in 11 of his 15 major league seasons.” For a youngster just learning about the history of the game, this was where information was found and the unusual name always stuck in a far corner of my brain as part of old school baseball.


Today, of course, a quick click at baseball-reference.com will tell you that Heinie made his major league debut at age 21 with the Detroit Tigers in 1923. He led the AL with a .378 Batting Average in 1926 and hit .378 again in 1928, finishing 2nd to Mickey Cochrane in the MVP voting. With over 2,500 hits and a lifetime BA of .330, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964 by the Veteran’s Committee.


One of my closest friends is a technology geek. He loves having all the gadgets but somehow can’t get them to function properly. Invariably, his smart phone, laptop, iPad or wi-fi connection isn’t working and he diligently labors to fix them himself. During one recent baseball season, his e-mail system wasn’t delivering the messages from his Fantasy League’s Commissioner and the only way he could figure out who was on the waiver wire was to have the Commish send updates to his three different e-mail addresses and hope that one of them would work. Based on this history, he’s been nicknamed “Hy Tech”.


As baseball evolves into the technological age and discussions among friends lead to disagreements between old-school fans and stat heads, you can’t help but wonder how the change in the game would be embraced by the likes of Heinie & Hy.


Starting in 2015, MLB added state-of-the-art video technology (called Statcast) to every ballpark. If you watch the MLB Network, these numbers get rolled out to the viewers on a regular basis. Included in the process is data about Pitching, Hitting, Baserunning & Fielding. They are even able to review “route efficiency” of Outfielders.  Route efficiency is defined as “Divide the distance covered by the fielder by a straight-line distance between the player’s position at batted ball contact and where the ball was fielded.” In other words, more conclusive data for Gold Glove voters.


While some of the statistics are still proprietary, MLB.com does provide a glimpse into what we have in store. Here are some category leaders through September 8th…


> Only eight batters have hit a home run this season that went at least 475 feet…Trevor Story (505), Franchy Cordero (489), Avisal Garcia (481), Javier Baez (481), Marcell Ozuna (479), Christian Walker (479), Franmil Reyes (477) & Matt Olson (475). The last two Home Run Derby winners are close behind with Bryce Harper at 473 and Aaron Judge at 471.


> Over the years, we’ve heard scores of broadcasters say, “the ball sounds different coming off his bat.” For stat geeks, this translates to “Exit Velocity”, the speed that the ball comes off the bat. Not surprisingly, Giancarlo Stanton has 8 of the top 10 balls exceeding 119 mph (including the #1 ranking at 121.7 mph). The only other hitters in this tier are Gary Sanchez (121.1) & Aaron Judge (119.9)…and Sanchez made an out!


> Judge and Stanton also lead the way in “average exit velocity” with 96 & 95.4 respectively. Some of the other guys with exceptional contact might peak your interest. #3 is future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera at 95.3 mph, followed by Joey Gallo at 95.2 mph. Then there’s veteran Nelson Cruz at 95 and youngster Matt Olson at 94.8. Players having big seasons are also near the top with Khris Davis, J.D. Martinez and Shohei Ohtani all above 93 mph.


> In one of the strangest statistical tables you’ll ever see, Statcast lists the fastest individual pitches of 2018…all of the top ten (104-105 mph) were delivered by Aroldis Chapman & Jordan Hicks


> How about average pitch velocity with a four-seam fastball? If you took a wild guess and said Hicks would lead the way, give yourself a gold star. He’s the only major league hurler to average better than 100 mph (100.3). Chapman is close behind at 99, but some others on the list might be a surprise. #3 is Marlins reliever Tayron Guerrero at 98.8 followed by the Rays Diego Castillo at 98.1. Others at the 98 mph level are Joe Kelly, Seranthony Dominguez and Ryan Stanek. Of course, relievers only need to pitch in short stints, so the 97.6 mph averages of starting pitchers Luis Severino & Noah Syndergaard are very impressive.


All this is just an introductory lesson. As time goes on, you’ll be hearing about the “arm strength” of fielders (wonder what Shawon Dunston’s velocity was from SS), the “acceleration” of baserunners and the “spin rate” of a pitch. Not sure how Heinie would react to all of this, but Hy is chomping at the bit.



Baseball Cliches – Good & Bad

Nuke card

In the 1987 baseball movie “Bull Durham”, grizzled veteran Crash Davis schools young phenom Nuke LaLoosh on how to use clichés during interviews with sportswriters. Eventually, Nuke figures it out and after getting called up to the major leagues, he says,


“Y’now, I’m just happy to be here and hope to help the ballclub.

I just want to give it my best shot and good Lord willing, things’ll work out.

Gotta play ’em one day at a time, Y’now”


The fact that this writer snuck “grizzled veteran” & “young phenom” into the first paragraph tells you how clichés permeate our favorite sport. If you think Crash’s advice 30+ years ago has been forgotten, this 2015 quote is from A’s rookie Mark Canha after he went 3-for-5 with 4 RBI’S in his first major league game…


“”I’m just trying to help the ball club and give it my best shot. Good Lord willing…things will work out.”


The following day, Canha admitted to mlb.com…


“I mean, I’ve been waiting to pull that one out. I just think there’s some good advice in that movie, so I went ahead and took old Crash’s advice.”


Last week, the Washington Post published a study of nearly 7,000 interviews over the past 20 years and compiled a comprehensive list. Included are “we gotta play ’em one day at a time” (485 times), “to be honest with you” (638 times) and “tip your cap” (over 300 times).


An informal survey sent to a few dozens baseball buddies asked for their most (or least) favorite cliché. Here are some of the responses…


> I hate Harrelson’s obnoxious “grab some bench”


> The worst is “this team never quits”


> “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”


> “He’s seeing the ball well” – he better be


> “Rub some dirt on it”


> Least favorite is when the Cardinals make an error and Hrabosky says, “No one feels worse than (player name) right now”


> “In between hop” – aren’t all ground balls fielded in between hops?


> Favorite is “Cement Mixer”, describing a slider that doesn’t have enough action to avoid being crushed.


> “They’re down to their final strike” – I know it’s coming too


> “It’s a beautiful day for baseball”


> “A breath of fresh air” – If I wanted a breath of fresh air, I won’t live in most of the cities hosting MLB teams. (From my friend in Canada)


> “He’s a professional hitter”


> “Around the horn”


> Favorite is “Just a bit outside”…least favorite is “Good pitching stops good hitting”


> “Going, going, gone”


> Favorite is “You can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder”…Least favorite is “Yankees Win! Theeeeee Yankees Win”


> Favorite is “Ducks on the pond”…least favorite is “There’s no tomorrow…backs against the wall”


Of course, we could also have a discussion on the difference between “Texas Leaguer”, “Can of Corn”, “Dying Quail” & “Soft Fly Ball”. Visually, aren’t they essentially the same thing? Except two are hits and two are outs.


Fantasy Baseball players probably have their own good and bad clichés.  We certainly hate to hear that the Manager has decided to “give his Closer some work”. Or, that a Pitcher needs to “take one for the team” and gets left in a one-sided game.


The uniqueness of baseball jargon also creeps into clichés…


> “He uncorked a wild pitch” – Unless you’re a sommelier, have you ever used the word “uncorked” in normal conversion.


> “He’s got 35 homers on the year” – What kind of grammar is that?


> “He’s been relegated to the bullpen” – Have you ever been “relegated” anywhere?


> “There’s the insurance run” –  A cushion yes, insurance no.


> “The tying run is 90 feet away” – You mean on 3rd base?


> “He squared that one up” – Round bat & round ball equals a square?


Or, how about clichés about the same subject (home runs)…


> “Kiss that one goodbye…it’s outta here”


> “He sent that one into orbit”


> “He crushed it”


> “Touch ’em all”


> “He tattooed that one”


> It’s a Grand Salami”


> “He got all of that one”


> “He hit a rocket”


Or, when your team is in trouble…


> “He’s trying to pitch out of a jam”


> “They got to him early and often”


> “He’s getting shelled”


> “He’s been roughed up in his last few outings”


> “He hasn’t been getting any run support”


> “He’s in a slump and he’s pressing”


> “You can’t steal first base”


> “He was caught napping”


> “They have to manufacture some runs”


> “He chased a bad pitch”


> “This one could be trouble”


As for me, I’m going to cook up a “Baltimore Chop”, put a little “Chin Music” on the stereo and remember that life is “A Marathon, Not A Sprint” In other words, “Stick A Fork In Me, I’m Done”






Chasing Plate Discipline

'01 Pujols Gallery

In the irresistible baseball movie “A League of Their Own”, Geena Davis’ character Dottie chastises her younger Sister Kit (played by Lori Petty) by saying “Lay off the high ones!” The Sister, like thousands of Little League players of the last six decades, responds by saying, “I like the high ones!” If we went through a time portal and the girls were having this conversation in 2018 instead of 1945, Dottie would be a SABR member and her critique of Kit’s hitting style would be more like, “You have lousy plate discipline and your chase percentage is much too high.”


One of the best players of this generation is also a case study in plate discipline. Albert Pujols played nine seasons with the Cardinals and is now in his 7th campaign with the Angels. Intuitively, fans have figured out by merely watching Pujols since he joined the Angels, that his plate discipline was significantly worse than during his Cardinal days. However, with today’s advanced metrics, we now have actual evidence of how often any individual hitter swings at a pitch out of the strike zone. Fangraphs.com calls it “O-Swing Percentage” (O representing out of the zone), but we’ll use chase percentage because even the most old school fan understands what it means to “chase” a bad pitch. In Pujols’ first seven years, he never had a chase percentage higher than 22.6%. In 2010, it crept up to 26.8% and in 2011 jumped considerably to 31%. That is when the Angels made the long-term commitment that has, to some extent, burdened their franchise. His percentage has been above that 31% figure every year he’s been in an Angel uniform with an average rate of 33.6%…this season it is 36.4%!


The Old Duck had the privilege of seeing both Yogi Berra & Valdimir Guerrero play and they were certainly two of the greatest “bad ball” hitters in the history of the game. The real issue, however, is that for every hitter like Yogi or Vlad, there are hundreds who never succeed with that approach. Ted Williams once said, “the only thing dumber than a pitcher is two pitchers” but a genius IQ isn’t needed to figure out that if a hitter swings at pitches that aren’t strikes, you don’t need to throw strikes to get him out. Pitching is dominating the game at the moment and one reason could be today’s information age. In the 50’s, the adage was that once a hitter got around the league, pitchers would figure out his weakness. Today, video of every at-bat from every MLB game is at the fingertips of pitchers and coaching staffs.


Another interesting factor that improves modern pitching is that teams are much more careful with their investments and the game now embraces pitch counts and innings limits. This also leads to fresher arms being in the game in the 7th, 8th & 9th inning. Veteran fans point out great hurlers from their youth who pitched every 4th day and accumulated 300 IP in a season, but for every Robin Roberts or Jim Palmer, there are hundreds who had their careers ruined by over-use. Think about these two examples…1) In a 2015 SI piece about the Mets and their staff, Tom Verducci told the story of pitching coach Dan Warthen. He reached the major leagues at age 22 with Gene Mauch’s Expos in 1975 and in mid-July with the team already 15 games out of 1st place, Mauch allowed Warthen to throw 142 pitches in 10 innings. Two days later, Warthen was brought to pitch in relief in a game the Expos were losing…his arm never felt the same. Over the next six weeks, Warthen exceeded 130 pitches four times including once where he threw 164 pitches in 11 innings. By age 26, he was out of the majors and by age 29, he was out of baseball. 2)  Current MLB staff member John D’Acquisto was the Giants 1st-round pick at age 18 in the 1970 draft. In his first full minor league campaign (1971), he compiled 233 IP with 14 complete games in the Midwest League. The following year, it was 209 IP and 17 complete games in the California League and then in ’73, 212 IP and 14 complete games in the PCL. 700+ IP by the time he was 21! In his rookie season with the Giants (1974), he made 36 starts and pitched 215 innings and, essentially, was never the same. His lifetime record was 34-51 with 15 Saves. Fortunately for today’s young pitchers, the 1970’s are just baseball history and not a blueprint for success.


With that as our backdrop, let’s look at today’s hitters and see which ones have the poorest plate discipline…or if you’re being optimistic, which ones are most aggressive. Through games of August 25th, here’s the bottom ten in relation to swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.


1) Salvador Perez, Royals C – 49.5%

2) Javier Baez, Cubs 2B – 48.3%

3) Corey Dickerson, Pirates OF – 45.3%

4) Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays OF – 42.8%

5) Jonathan Scoop, Brewers 2B – 42.6%

6) Eddie Rosario, Twins OF – 42.4%

7) Yangervis Solarte, Blue Jays IF – 41.1%

8) Tim Anderson, White Sox SS – 41%

9) Dee Gordon, Mariners 2B/OF – 41%

10) Adam Jones, Orioles OF – 40.6%


That group probably includes some players you expected to see and others who are surprises. Very few are power hitters the only real outlier in terms of success is Baez. Another interesting component to this analysis is that all free swingers aren’t created equal. It isn’t just swinging at bad pitches that matters, it’s how often you swing and miss. For example, Solarte has the best contact rate on bad pitches at 75% while Scoop is the worst at 58%.


On the flip side, let’s look at the most disciplined hitters this season…


1) Joey Votto, Reds 1B – 16.3%

2) Cesar Hernandez, Phillies 2B – 18.9%

3) Andrew McCutchen, Giants OF – 19.7%

4) Mookie Betts, Red Sox OF – 20.1%

5) Alex Bregman, Astros 3B – 20.1%

6) Joe Mauer, Twins 1B – 20.2%

7) Brett Gardner, Yankees OF – 20.7%

8) Brandon Nimmo, Mets OF – 20.8%

9) Aaron Hicks, Yankees OF – 20.9%

10) Mike Trout, Angels OF – 21.6%


Your baseball experience would lead you to think that the second list would be made up of lead-off hitters, line-drive hitters and slap hitters. Looking at the list, Hernandez, Gardner & Nimmo might fit that criteria but certainly not Votto, Betts & Trout. Possibly the most impressive stat from the research is that even when Votto & Bregman  occasionally swing at a ball outside the zone, they make contact over 87% of the time.


Not surprisingly, Matt Carpenter, Rhys Hoskins & Jose Ramirez are in the top 15 and having very productive seasons.


A very curious case study is White Sox 2B Yoan Moncada. The #1 prospect in baseball a few years back, his 2018 season is certainly disappointing with a .220 BA and a league-leading 179 K’s. Our “chase” stats show that he is a top twenty performer in plate discipline at 23.3% but when he swings at those pitches, his contact rate is only 48%. Imagine the progress if he lays off those pitches? Or doesn’t try to hit them 400 feet?


In the modern age, there are no longer any secrets in baseball.




This Ethan Allen Made Memories, Not Furniture

All Star Baseball 1959

In the last few years, the Old Duck has made presentations to a number of groups (including SABR) about Fantasy Baseball. As many of the attendees are from the Baby Boomer generation, they need to be reminded that young baseball fans have always played some sort of game that simulated our national pastime.


In ancient times before personal computers and the Internet, board games were an important part of American culture. As youngsters in the 50’s & 60’s, we had a number of choices when it came to baseball-themed games and each one has its aficionados. American Professional Baseball Association (APBA) was first introduced in 1951. Created by Dick Seitz, it was played with dice and player cards representing both hitting and pitching statistics. The game caught on immediately and allowed fans to pass time during the off-season. As Seitz refined the game, it continued to gain popularity and is still sold today. And now, the game is offered in baseball, football, golf, hockey & soccer.


During the same era, Hal Richman was also developing a baseball simulation game and Strat-O-Matic was introduced in 1961. While it took a little longer to catch on (Richman had to borrow money from his Father in the 3rd year), the game survived and now has a cult following and is updated each year with current players.


The game that took me and my friends away from our homework was called All-Star Baseball and it has a long and interesting history. First distributed in 1941, it was never as intricate as APBA or Strat-O-Matic and didn’t include pitching stats, but for the target audience of 9-12 year-old boys, it was the most fun we could have while also learning the history of the game.


Ethan Allen was a major league outfielder from 1926-1938 and had a lifetime batting average of .300. He later was the head baseball coach for Yale University, winning five Ivy League championships in his 23 years at the school. For Allen, however, all of these accomplishments pale in comparison to his creation of this famous board game. The key to the game were player disks where the individual player’s statistics were represented. Power hitters would have a larger home run area while contact hitters were more likely to hit singles, so when you placed the disk in the game’s slot and spun the dial, the outcome of each at bat would be based in reality. Youngsters would put teams together and then by making up a batting order of the disks, play out a nine-inning game to determine the winner. Results of each play are recorded on the field using plastic pegs for base runners, while runs and outs are posted on a rotating scoreboard.


To understand the genesis of the game, here’s Allen’s recollection in a 1983 interview with The Sporting News – “I had this idea, even when I was playing, that you could put a man’s playing record on a disk. While I was with the Cubs in 1936, I went to various manufacturers with the hope of selling the idea to them as a game, only to have most of them practically kick me out of their offices.”


The moment of truth happened when Allen approached a Chicago company called Cadaco-Ellis in 1940. Donald Mazer was the principal owner and had marketed other sports board games such as “Elmer Layden’s Scientific Football”, “Touchdown” and “All-American Football’. Mazer made a quick decision to add All-Star Baseball to the company’s products and 40 star players of the day were included in the 1941 edition. The following year, 19 of them returned and the rest were replaced by other stars…that’s the way it worked for the next 50 years.


For an old codger, the memories of playing this wonderful game as an 11 year-old come rushing back. Other than the recollection of putting a band-aid on my index finger to alleviate the pain from hours of hitting the metal spinner, the clearest memory is the disks and the players they represented. By the 50’s, the game had evolved and not only had disks of current stars like Ted Williams, Duke Snider & Hank Aaron, it also had added legendary Hall-of-Famers. We didn’t need a baseball encyclopedia when we could look at the disk and understand the player’s statistical attributes. Some of the players who would occasionally be in the line-up included Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Pie Traynor & Honus Wagner.


You see, some of us were playing Fantasy Baseball before Fantasy Baseball was cool.

Boston Strong


One of the few drawbacks of being a Fantasy Baseball player is the difficult task of setting aside your childhood team loyalty. If you’re a true baseball fan and grew up watching the game, separating player analysis from your rooting interest is never easy. If you find yourself drafting too many Yankees (or Twins or Dodgers) each Spring, this concept is crystal clear.


While there are suffering fans of numerous franchises that haven’t appeared in the World Series for over 30 years such as the Pirates, Brewers & Orioles, my personal history had a 50-year drought with the Red Sox. Growing up in a suburb of Boston in the 1950’s, Fenway Park was only a nickel street-car ride and a $1 bleacher seat away for an afternoon game. And then there were those special times when my Uncle would invite me to sit with him in the box seats a few rows behind the Sox dugout. From either vantage point, there was the unique opportunity to see the Yankees beat the crap out of my beloved team on a regular basis.


Even after moving to California in the early 60’s, I still suffered when they lost in seven games to the Cardinals in ’67, then lost again in seven games to Reds in ’75 and finally, the brutal heartbreak of the ’86 loss to the Mets. Of course, they made the post-season a number of time in the 80’s & 90’s but it seemed like their destiny was always sealed. In 2003, when Aaron “Frickin” Boone joined Bucky “Frickin” Dent in the annals of the rivalry, it just added to the pain.


Watching the Yankees take a 3-0 lead in the 2004 ALCS by scoring 19 runs off six Sox pitchers in game three, it seemed like another chapter in the same sad book. Then it happened! The sun came out from behind the clouds, the birds began to sing, the bloody sock wasn’t washed and the BoSox beat the Yankees four consecutive times to move on to the Fall Classic. When the Red Sox swept the Cardinals in the World Series, not only did they remove the “Curse of the Bambino”, they also eliminated the 50-year “Drought of the Drook”. Now, with three titles in the last fourteen years and a great team this season, fans can hold their heads high and no longer wallow in their own grief.


So with your indulgence, we’ll take a look back at those Red Sox of my childhood and put together a collection of rookie cards to commemorate their futile efforts. Every year’s baseball team has unique stories and we’ll focus on the rosters for 1955 – 1957. These three squads were 40 games over .500 but never finished better than 3rd in the AL behind the pennant-winning Yankees.


> Ted Williams, LF – The story never gets old…a young man from an impoverished background becomes the greatest hitter in the history of the game, misses five seasons in the prime of his career serving the country in war and hits a Home Run in his final at-bat. His rookie card is from 1939 Play Ball (#92) and in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition, has a value of $2,200.


> Jim Piersall, CF – One of the most colorful players of the era, he was a Gold Glove outfielder. Overcame emotional issues early in his career to become a 17-year major leaguer. His biography, “Fear Strikes Out” was made into a 1957 movie starring Anthony Perkins as Piersall and Karl Malden as his Father. His 1951 Bowman card (#306) in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition books for $130.


> Jackie Jensen, RF – An All-American Running Back at the University of California in 1948, he left college after his Junior year to play professional baseball. A power-hitting right-handed batter, he led the AL in RBI’s three times in the 1950’s and won the ’58 AL MVP, but never overcame his fear of flying. He retired prior to the 1960 season, then came back and played in ’61 before retiring again. His rookie card is also from the 1951 Bowman set (#254) and is valued at $120 in “NM” condition.


> Billy Goodman, 2B – This lanky infielder was a lifetime .300 hitter over 16 years and won the AL Batting Title in 1950 with a .354 average. His rookie card is a shortprint in the 1948 Leaf set (#30) and one in “EX” condition will set you back $350.


> Harry Agganis, 1B – In today’s Internet and 24-hour sports age, this would be a famous story but only New Englanders of a certain age know the tragic tale. Known as the “Golden Greek”, Agganis was a local boy who became the first All-American football player at Boston University in 1952. He passed up a chance to play for the NFL Cleveland Browns to pursue professional baseball with the hometown Red Sox. After a solid rookie season in ’54, he was one of the most popular players on the team. In early June of ’55, he was hospitalized with pneumonia, but probably returned to the line-up too soon and played only two more games before becoming ill again. On June 27th, he suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism at age 26. To understand the impact on the community, ten thousand mourners attended the wake. His only baseball card is from the 1955 Topps set (#152) and a “NM” version is valued at $125.


> Frank Malzone, 3B – He served two years in the military before starting his professional baseball career in 1954. Had over 100 RBI’s in his 1957 rookie season and finished 2nd to Tony Kubek in the Rookie of the Year balloting. A wizard at the hot corner, he won the Gold Glove in ’57, ’58 & ’59 in addition to being a six-time All Star. His 1955 Bowman card (#302) is worth $45 in “NM” condition.


In my mind’s eye, I can still see these players trotting out to their positions while the mustard from my “Fenway Frank” drips on my shirt. Along with Pitchers like Tom Brewer, Frank Sullivan, Mel Parnell, Ike Delock & Ellis Kinder, they will always be a part of my childhood. Hope you have the same affection for your team.


Top Ten Baseball Cards Of The 90’s


'93 Jeter SP

The baseball card industry was in full blown over-production mode by the start of the 90’s. There were at least 7-8 companies in the marketplace and collectors were reaching the point of frustration. How could you collect everything? And, if not, how did you choose the product to collect? In retrospect, it is easy to see why many people left the hobby…but to quote James Earl Jones, “Baseball is the constant” and many great players made their debuts in this decade. As with our visit to the 80’s, each of these choices represent the rookie card of the player and included in the description is the current price of the collectible in Near Mint + condition.


#1) 1993 SP Derek Jeter (#279, $150) – There are at least half a dozen rookie cards of the Yankee Captain and you can still find some in the $15 range. SP was an upscale product produced by the Upper Deck company and the rookies in the set had a “foil” coating that was easily damaged but looked great.


#2) 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera (#302, $30) – One of the few products in this era with a limited production run, Bowman had the first true rookie card of this pitching legend three years before he made his actual major league debut.


#3) 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza (#92, $30) – The rookie card of the greatest hitting Catcher in history, this was in a boxed set with a limited run…from regular issues, his ’92 Bowman card ($15) is a good alternative.


#4) 1994 SP Alex Rodriguez (#15, $20) – Once again, there are many rookie cards of “ARod” in the $5-$10 range but this foil issue is in higher demand. With that being said, his admitted use of PED’s has negatively affected the value of his cards.


#5) 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas (#300, $15) – This was the first year of the modern Leaf brand and its high-quality photography, as well as somewhat limited production, had collectors clamoring for the rookie card of “The Big Hurt”. Other rookies in the set included Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, David Justice & John Olerud.


#6) 1997 Fleer Ultra David Arias-Ortiz (#518, $35) – The Red Sox slugger known as “Big Papi” actually came up with the Twins and his name was David Arias…later changed to Ortiz. So, if you come across a David Arias rookie card in a bin of penny cards, you’ve made a find.


#7) 1992 Bowman Trevor Hoffman (#11, $15) – Imagine the only two Pitchers with 600+ Saves having their rookie cards in the same set? He is actually pictured in a Reds uniform but never appeared in a game for them before being taken by the Marlins in the November 1992 expansion draft.


#8) 1991 Topps Desert Shield Chipper Jones (#333, $400) – A limited production set made during the first Iraq war, it includes the rookie card of the great Braves switch-hitting 3B…a very tough card to find. His regular issue cards from ’91 Bowman & Topps are about $5.


#9) 1995 Bowman’s Best Vladimir Guerrero (#B2, $25) – Just inducted into Cooperstown, this popular slugger is the first player to have the Angels cap on his HOF plaque. In 16 seasons, he produced a .931 OPS.


#10) 1997 Bowman Chrome Adrian Beltre (#182, $15) – Still getting it done in his 21st big league campaign, he passed the 3,000 hit mark in 2017. Along with five Gold Gloves at 3B, he’ll be a Hall of Famer when first eligible.



The decade also produced many other outstanding players on their first card including Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Pedro Martinez, Jeff Kent, Roy Halladay, Lance Berkman, C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Josh Hamilton & Matt Holliday.


If you desire Ichiro Suzuki’s actual Rookie Card, it is from the 1993 BBM (Japan) set and books for $120.