Scott Rolen

Scott Rolen just won election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Playing third for the Phillies and Cardinals (with end of career stints with the Blue Jays and Reds), he made seven All Star teams and won eight Gold Glove awards for his fielding excellence over his seventeen seasons. He earned a World Series title with the Cardinals in 2006, but other than being named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1997, there’s not much else in the way of trophies.

His career numbers are unremarkable. A .281 batting average and 316 home runs is good, but not really exceptional. And you won’t find him leading the league in any offensive stats over the course of his career.

So what makes him a Hall of Famer?

Defense.

Those eight Gold Glove awards are fourth all time for third basemen. Add that to his solid offense, and he comes in with a career Wins Above Replacement of 70.1 – which compares well with the average of 68.3 for the fifteen third basemen already in Cooperstown.

Compared to other positions, third base isn’t a position where defense can really stand out. You don’t see much of the range and “flash” of a shortstop or second baseman; nor does the speed and grace of an outfielder come to the fore. On tough plays at third, a fan’s attention quickly shifts to the first baseman, to see if the out is made. You have to pay attention to the “Hot Corner” to find exceptional glovework.

And Rolen had it in spades.

More than good enough for the bronze plaque in Cooperstown.

“I told him once, my happiest day would be if there’s a game where 27 ground balls get to third base. The way he plays that position, the way he runs the bases, the way he takes his at-bats, he is a complete player.” – Manager Tony LaRussa

Fred McGriff

The “Whatever They’re Calling it This Year” Committee at the Hall of Fame has selected Fred McGriff for induction.

There’s a very good chance you’ve not heard of him and are wondering what the heck he did that makes him so great. Turns out there are two things that hurt his candidacy – both of which were pretty much beyond his control.

The first was the 1994-95 Strike. It happened right in the middle of his career, when he was at his most productive. Some seventy games were erased from the schedule. Given McGriff’s pace those two years (34 home runs in 113 games in 1994, 27 home runs in 144 games in 1995), it’s a good bet he’d have slugged another ten home runs in those games. As it is, he finished his career with 493 home runs. Those extras would have put him over the “milestone” number of 500.

It interesting and useful in McGriff’s case to see who is in the “500 Club”, and see who is NOT in the Hall of Fame. There’s Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, who are not yet eligible. Gary Sheffield is still on the ballot (though he hasn’t managed to get more than 50% of the vote). That leaves Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero, and Manny Ramirez as the ones on the outside. What is a common thread connecting those players? Right! PED allegations, and serious ones at that. McGriff has never been accused of taking PEDs.

For the record, McGriff has more home runs than Hall of Fame sluggers like Willie Stargell, Vladimir Guerrero, and Chipper Jones.

The other thing that hurt his candidacy was related to the Strike. Afterwards, there was a serious – if not stated outright – effort by MLB to win back the fans. It seems they settled on playing up home runs. The ball may have been “juiced”, ballparks were designed to increase the frequency of home runs, and both MLB and the media “looked the other way” when players started taking PEDs. McGriff stayed clean and continued to hit the long ball, but he couldn’t compete with the likes of Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa. And as his career wound down in the early 2000’s, he bounced around from team to team while Bonds and Alex Rodriguez were racking up the home runs, so no one was going to give his “quest for 500” much attention.

You can argue that since he never won any major award, rarely led the league in any hitting category, and only made five All Star teams, he shouldn’t really be a Hall of Famer. But there’s still plenty of room in Cooperstown for the players who show a quiet, sustained excellence.

 

The 2023 Hall of Fame Ballot

It’s that time again! The Baseball Hall of Fame has announced the candidates on the main ballot. It’s a pretty “meh” group; all the superstars have come off (for one reason or another). The biggest names on the ballot are Scott Rolen and Todd Helton. Great players, but not the sort that scream out “Hall of Famer”. When you have to dig into the “advanced stats” because no one really looks like they belong, well….

There are fourteen newcomers to the ballot; let’s give them all their due.

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On the 2022 World Series

Well, that was a set of games. At least, in the opinion of this writer, the “proper” result was achieved. I really don’t think it would have been “right” for the team with the worst regular season record of all the playoff teams – one that could only finish third in their division – to have won the Championship. Yes, the Phillies showed that they can compete with the best. But does that make them The Best?

One of the things that annoyed me quite a bit about the coverage was the very frequent mention that this was the Phillies’ first World Series appearance in thirteen years, as if that was somehow a huge “drought”.

Well, you know which teams are in a longer “drought”? Here they are, with the last time they appeared in a World Series:

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Book Review: The Baseball 100

The Baseball 100
Joe Posnanski
Avid Reader Press
Copyright 2021 by the author

It started out as a project on his personal blog. Essays on who longtime baseball writer Joe Posnanski felt were the 100 greatest baseball players of all time. He never got around to finishing it. Then, when he moved over to The Athletic, he started the list again. This time, presumably because he the site was paying for his contributions, he finished it. Along the way, commenter after commenter begged him to collect them all into a book. Many said they’d buy it whatever the price.

A little hesitant, Posnanski wasn’t sure people a book that merely collected his online essays would sell. He gave in, and a publisher was found. Another writer and baseball fan, George F. Will, heard about the book and demanded to write the introduction.

The book was an instant success, rocketing to the top of the charts.

How could a simple collection of biographical essays (with minimal photographs and about as plain a cover as you can imagine) on great baseball players become a best seller? Continue reading

The New Playoff Format

On the off chance that you, as a baseball fan, haven’t been paying attention, Major League Baseball is going with an expanded playoff format this year. Six teams from each league will be fighting it out; the two division winners in each league with the best records will sit out the first round of playoffs while the other four battle it out in best-of-three series for the opportunity to face them in the second round.

Here’s how the “seeding” works:

1st seed: Division winner with the best overall record.
2nd seed: Division winner with the next best record.
3rd seed: Division winner with the third best record.
4th, 5th, and 6th seeds: Non-division winners with the three best overall records.

There are a bunch of rules in place to prevent the need for tiebreaking games.

In the first round, the third and sixth seeds play each other, as do the fourth and fifth seeds. In the next round, the winner in that first series (3 vs 6) will play the second seed; the winner in the other series (4 vs 5) will play the first seed.

Pretty complicated, isn’t it. It will get worse should MLB decide to expand the playoffs to seven teams per league, as some are speculating.

Anyway, it is always useful when there’s a format change like this to hop back in time and see what the playoffs would have looked like if these rules were in place at the time…

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On the 2022 All Star Game

Well, that was BORING. All the excitement happened in the first few innings.

I know you can’t expect much from an exhibition game, or even a regular game in an era when pitching is so dominant. But seeing so little going on had me flipping the channel to the Cartoon Network quite often.

FOX did itself no favors. Nor Baseball, for that matter. It can be fun to have players wearing microphones so you can chat with them during the game, but it should never take precedence over the game itself – especially when you’re going to ask the same stupid question (“What’s it like being here?”) every time. The absolute worst instance was when they had David Ortiz goofing around in the AL dugout while ALL TIME GREAT Miguel Cabrera was at bat for his only appearance in the game. If the purpose of the game is to promote the game’s best players, then PROMOTE THE PLAYERS. Tell us when a new player comes into the game; tell us something about them and what they did to earn the spot on the roster….

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A Modest All-Star Game Proposal

Despite being the “Midsummer Classic” and featuring the best players in the game, baseball’s All-Star Game has been rather dull of late. In addition to the “very little action happens” that the game as a whole is suffering, the game itself is structured so that the superstar players – the ones baseball wants to showcase – leave the game after a few innings and aren’t around in the later innings when the game is on the line. They’re both fine players, but who really wants to see Josh Hader face Ty France (for example) when the game is tied in the 8th inning?

Needless to say, I’ve got an idea. Continue reading

Before the Cy Young Award – 5

Well, what have we learned from this not-so-little exercise?

First, let’s check out the multiple winners, according to me:

Eight: Lefty Grove

Five: Walter Johnson

Four: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Dazzy Vance

Three: Bob Feller, Carl Hubbel, Sandy Koufax, Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser, Bucky Walters

Two: Jim Bunning, Ed Cicotte, Mort Cooper, Stan Coveleski, Dizzy Dean, Red Faber, Lefty Gomez, Christy Mathewson, Billy Pierce, George Uhle, Hippo Vaughn

Casual fans would surely recognize a lot of those names. More serious fans would recognize pitchers like Lefty Gomez and Bob Lemon. But Hippo Vaughn? Mort Cooper? A major part of the fun of doing a project like this is finding all the overlooked stars. Or stars like Lefty Grove whose greatness is rarely acknowledged. He utterly dominated his era – but it also happened to be an era when offense was supreme, so his career Earned Run Average is noticeably higher than it is for other all-time greats. So he’s left out of such “GOAT” discussions.

I note that Feller and Johnson could have easily picked up one or two more awards. Christy Mathewson would have earned more if the award started earlier. I also note that the best pitchers tended to be among those with the most wins. If really good pitchers win a lot of games, shouldn’t the converse be true – that pitchers who win a lot of games are really good?

One should also note that the Twins in the 1960s were really good! Two “Cy Young” Award winners – and they could have easily had a third. Plus Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva on offense…. The Cardinals in the early 1940s are another “dynasty” worthy of some respect – four pennants and three World Series wins in five years….

I’m sure if I did this again, I’d change my mind on more than a few winners. I’m also sure you’ll disagree with me. Who would you pick instead?

Before the Cy Young – 4

Almost immediately after the death of Cy Young, MLB Commissioner Ford Frick was able to convince everyone that there needed to be an award for the best pitcher in baseball – one that was named in his honor.

They only gave out one, though. So I get to pick a winner for the other league.

And no, I’m not going to discuss the actual winners. You can read about them yourself.

1956

AL: There are three contenders this year: Whitey Ford (19-6, 2.47 ERA (leading the majors)), and the Indians’ Herb Score (20-9, 2.53 ERA) and Early Wynn (20-9, 2.72 ERA). Score gets my vote with 263 Ks (9.5 per 9 innings) to lead the majors.

NL: Don Newcombe won the NL MVP award, too.

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