Thursday, May 27, 2010

Random Thursday: 1921 and Austin McHenry

Sometimes, on select Thursdays, randomness happens. This is one of those Thursdays. From Happy Foreman, the last subject of Random Thursday, The Common Man used the random feature of Baseball to jump to a neutralized batting register from 1921. The list itself wasn’t terribly interesting or revealing. It confirmed some things we already knew, that Rogers Hornsby, Harry Heilmann, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Babe Ruth were pretty awesome. Frankie Frisch was one of the most valuable 22 year olds ever (playing 153 games, hitting .341 with a 128 OPS+, and leading the NL with 49 SB).

But one name did pop out high on the leader boards. He was 7th in batting average (.339) and slugging percentage (.513). His 894 neutralized OPS was 8th in the majors. His real stats on the year, the unneutralized ones, are even more impressive. He played 152 games and registered 201 hits. He had 37 doubles, 8 triples, and 17 homeruns. He scored 92 runs and drove in 102. He hit .350/.393/.531 for a 145 OPS+. He was just 25 years old. And The Common Man had never heard of him. His name was Austin McHenry.

Alas, McHenry’s career would end less than a year after his breakthrough campaign. McHenry struggled out of the gate in 1922, eventually alarming Cardinals’ manager Branch Rickey because he was having a hard time with fly balls in leftfield. McHenry reportedly told his manager, “I feel alright, but I can’t see. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m going blind.” Rickey ordered McHenry home to recuperate in late June. McHenry tried to come back a month later, but was simply not right. Rickey told reporters,

“He was pitiful. We were leading, 2-1, in the seventh inning when the Giants put two on with two out. Kelly hit a fly towards left field. Mac had only about 10 feet to cover. He put out his hands, but the ball was over his head by 15 feet. Coming in to the bench Mac put his head on my knees and cried….I sent him out the next day because I didn’t want to check his confidence….At the plate he swung at balls over his head. With almost a blind swing he touched two. When he misjudged a fly in that game I was convinced that he had not recovered.”

McHenry was essentially done as a major leaguer. His vision problems were caused by a fast-moving and aggressive brain tumor that proved to be inoperable. The malignancy was pressing on his optic nerve and was, indeed, causing him to go blind. McHenry died of his tumor on November 27 of 1922 at just 27 years old, leaving behind a wife and daughter. Mike Lynch has written a terrific biography of McHenry for that The Common Man heartily recommends.

In retrospect, it’s unclear whether McHenry really was poised to be a superstar in the National League. His 1921 season aside, McHenry was a relatively pedestrian leftfielder. He was an above average hitter, but probably was only passable at best as a defensive outfielder. The only season in which he finished with more than 2.0 WAR was his epic 1921, which, at 4.9 wins above replacement, was good but in no way historic. A good comparison might be Darin Erstad, whose excellent 2000 earned him a reputation as a great hitter, despite never reaching similar heights again. Erstad was able to parlay that season into a huge contract and several more years in the game, and was even haunting the Houston Astros bench as recently as last year.

Nevertheless, McHenry was beloved by St. Louis fans, who mourned his passing. His replacements for the Cardinals were simply not adequate in a high offense era. None could match McHenry’s power. Max Flack and Joe Schulz, the primary beneficiaries of extra playing time, hit .300 but could barely get the ball out of the infield. In 1923, Rickey dealt 1B Jack Fournier to Brooklyn for Hi Meyers, who proved a bust. The club would essentially play an outfielder short until Chick Hafey blossomed in 1925, and the club sputtered to the middle of the pack in the National League.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beer Leaguers: Staggering Elk Lager and Pedro Feliz

This weekend, The Common Man and The Uncommon Wife were helping a friend, watching her tween son and daughter while she was out of town. The Boy loved having a temporary brother and sister, and we enjoyed their efforts to keep him busy. Upon coming back from the store with TUW, the kids brought The Common Man an assortment of beers to bolster the mind and spirit. Some were excellent (TCM’s looking at you, White Rascal Belgian-Style Wheat Ale...mmm). Some…not so much.

Staggering Elk Lager, from the Estes Park Brewery in Colorado, is one such disappointment. The Common Man doesn’t know much about Estes Park, except that it apparently is too busy brewing to actually put up a website of its offerings; instead, it offers this amateurish mea culpa. (Yeah, there’s so much to do, Estes Park. How about you hire a decent web writer for a couple thousand bucks to put up even the smallest reference to what beers you make, where to find them, and something about your restaurant? No? OK, you just continue to suck then.) Even the label is ugly and uninspired. The beer itself is incredibly underwhelming. There is almost no carbonation, leaving a very small head that quickly disappears after you pour it. The lack of carbonation severely affects the taste of the lager, making it flat and stale.

Flat and stale almost perfectly describes one of the Astros’ big free agent signings this offseason, Pedro Feliz. Feliz was inked to a one year, $4.5 million contract by GM Ed Wade to bump Geoff Blum off of 3B and into a utility role in 2010. Feliz has never been much of a hitter, (.252/.291/.418, 82 OPS+ for his career) and has been especially poor this year (.210/.235/.301, 42 OPS+). And his defense, admittedly his biggest asset, has been in decline since 2007 (according to UZR), and has collapsed so far this year (UZR suggests that Feliz has cost the Astros almost three and a half runs in the field). At 35 years old, Feliz shouldn’t have been seen as a solution to anybody’s problem. For a team that should have been rebuilding, like the Astros, Feliz’s presence only underscores how misguided the team’s priorities have been, filling its roster with known names, rather than productive players. Things are so bad in Houston that Feliz has batted 3rd 8 times this year, and 5th 7 times. And he’s playing so poorly that, even if the club decides to rebuild by trading away Roy Oswalt (who has requested a trade) and Lance Berkman (who is open to one), Feliz will have no value.

Meanwhile, Chris Johnson is 25 years old and is blowing away the Pacific Coast League in his third go-round in AAA, to the tune of .389/.433/.722 with 3 homers and 7 doubles in 60 plate appearances. Johnson may not wind up being a long term solution at 3B, as he has hit just .280/.321/.455 in 579 plate appearances overall for Round Rock, but he’s clearly learned everything he needs to in the minors and now needs an extended exposure to major league pitching to see what he has. At present, he’s only had 55 major league at bats, and has started three consecutive games just once in his career, before he strained his oblique and was put on the DL. Now healthy, he’s stuck in AAA until the Astros wise up.

That stale and flat taste in your mouth is the Pedro Feliz era in Houston. The team has the worst record in the National League and is already 10.5 games out of 1st. Forty-four games in, they’ve already been outscored by more than 70 runs, and have scored exactly 3 runs per game. Five members of their eight-man starting lineup have an OBP below .300 (in addition to Feliz: Quintero .250, Manzella .259, Lee .236, and Pence .268). The highest slugging percentage on the team (.462) belongs to a pitcher (Felipe Paulino). The highest among real players is Lance Berkman’s .437. The Astros are last in the National League in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, hits (by 33), and walks (by 45, they are the only NL team under 100 walks). As a result of their free swinging ways, they have almost 100 fewer plate appearances than the next closest team. Hilariously, yesterday David Coleman of Crawfish Boxes actually listed the 10 Dumbest Yet Plausible Moves the Astros may yet make in 2010, so by no means is the horror show likely to abate.

And frankly, ugly and uninspired is another great way to describe these Astros. Like the label of Staggering Elk, no one should be forced to look at this team. Scuffy Moehler? Bud Norris? The since jettisoned Kaz Matsui? Carlos Lee? Houston has become the place where bad ballplayers go to die. Indeed, as Pedro Feliz flails his way across the diamond like a honest-to-god staggering elk, remember that the most humane thing may, ultimately, be to put it down so it doesn’t take resources from younger and stronger members of the herd.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beer Leaguers: Capital Supper Club and Roy Halladay

The Common Man was doing chores yesterday evening, while taking in the Twins win over the awesomely-named Blue Jays. He was surprised when the usually efficient Kevin Slowey, despite walking none and striking out only two, had thrown 99 pitches through five innings, and was removed. As Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer pointed out, Slowey has gone six innings or more just once in eight starts this year. This is new for Slowey. In his first 16 starts last year, before getting hurt, Slowey went six or more innings 10 times, while topping 100 pitches only on three occasions. Slowey is decidedly a product of this era, in which pitchers tend to be monitored closely for fatigue and removed before throwing too many bullets. Indeed, in four seasons, Slowey has never been allowed to throw 110 pitches.

All of this was relatively academic, of course, as the Twins won and there was much rejoicing. As the Twins recorded the final out, The Common Man took a deep pull off of his sharp Capital Supper Club beer, and was satisfied. Brewed in Madison, Wisconsin, Supper Club is a relatively new release for a celebrated local brewery that boasts on the bottle that it’s “not bad.” Capital’s website explains that their latest creation is, "Harking back to an era where Supper Clubs were In Vogue and Wisconsin had numerous regional breweries making their version of American Style Lagers. You know, back when these types of beers exhibited regional soul. And many of these beers were enjoyed during an evening spent at a local Supper Club, visiting with friends and family and having a good dinner. Supper Club is an eminently drinkable version of a true American Lager. Featuring a greater depth of refreshing malt character than the mass marketed versions of the style, Supper Club is clean yet satisfying. Classic Wisconsin Lager at it's[sic] finest."

And, indeed, it does harken back to an earlier era. An era of Schlitz, Blatz, Schmidt’s, Stroh’s, Hamm’s and Pabst. An era where regional delicacies were common, and men pledged allegiance to their local brewery almost as much as they did to the flag. It’s an era where Kevin Slowey would not be comfortable, because it’s an era where pitchers were expected to finish what they started.

Roy Halladay, however, would feel right at home. Halladay, of course, has led the league in complete games five times in his career, including once in a season where he started only 19 games (2005), and each of the last three years. He already has three complete games this year for the Phillies in eight starts, and is leading the league in innings pitched. He’s also got a 6-1 record and a 1.59 ERA, so he’s obviously taken a shine to the National League.

He has thrown 52 complete games in his career, which is just four more than rubber-armed Livan Hernandez, but 20 more than the #3 men on the list, Tim Wakefield and Jamie Moyer, who are 10 and 14 years Halladay’s senior, respectively. In fact, only 27 pitchers in baseball today have more than 10 complete games, none of whom is younger than 28 (Dontrelle Willis, who has 15). Only CC Sabathia, who has 30 CG through age 29, has a remote chance of catching up to Halladay, but would have to average more than five CG per year to match Doc’s pace. Halladay is an amazing specimen reminiscent of the bad old days when Juan Marichal completed 30 of 38 (1968).

Often, today, you hear these old days of supper clubs and complete games referred to with great fondness and nostalgia, leading you to believe that it was a better time. A simpler time. But The Common Man doesn’t necessarily think that’s true. Yes, it’s fun to see Halladay and Sabathia work deep into games, anachronisms on display every five days. But there’s a reason these players seem so out of time and place: most pitchers simply cannot handle that kind of strain.

In 1976, despite his team finishing 25 games out of first place, the Tigers let Mark Fidrych throw 25 complete games in 29 starts. Sandy Koufax threw 54 complete games and 658.2 innings in his last two seasons. Billy Martin made Mike Norris complete 36 games in 56 starts from 1980-81. This, essentially, shredded their arms and ended their careers. Koufax was done at 30, stricken with crippling arthritis in his left arm. Marichal became league-average after 1969, and was washed-up at age 35. Fergie Jenkens was a totally different pitcher after 1971, when he completed 30 games. Catfish Hunter signed with the Yankees, completed 30 games, and promptly nosedived. He was no longer an effective pitcher at the age of 30. Whitey Ford was used sparingly in the ‘50s, but had his workload ramped up once Casey Stengel was fired (he jumped by more than 90 innings from 1960 to 1961) and was basically done at 36.

Is that really what you want? Pitchers flaming out left and right? Do you really want a world of Fernando Valenzuelas and Orel Hershisers, whose effectiveness is stripped from them before they turn 25 or 30, respectively. Today’s pitchers may be babied, but the rate of catastrophic arm injuries seems to have fallen. Part of that, of course, is due to better medicine, but part of that is due to more manageable workloads, and a better sense of how valuable those right and left arms can be. Yes, an occasional Nolan Ryan or Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton can bust through and be a workhorse for 15 years or more. But along the way, you’re going to ruin the arms of a lot of Ramon Martinezes, Dave Boswells, Dean Chances, and Kerry Woods. And The Common Man doesn’t think that’s worth the price. A variety of great pitchers is far more interesting than 3-4 top guns.

Likewise, do you really want a world full of 10,000 generic American Style Lagers, when some of the most fun and exciting beers today are coming out of micro-breweries, larger local breweries like Capital? Do you really want another Budweiser clone, when you can have an IPA, Chocolate Porter, Oatmeal Stout, or Maibock? The variety available today due to increased specialization and competition among the micros and greater shipping capacity totally blows away the drudgery of the supper club era. The American Style Lager is generally a great beer. Supper Club is light, but crisp, with a mellow and clean aftertaste that invites you back for more. It’s terrific. But you don’t want to be trapped in a world of Supper Clubs. It’s a nice treat when it comes around in the rotation. Just like Roy Halladay.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nickname Review: New York Yankees

Thank God the Twins finally beat the Yankees yesterday, snapping their nine game losing streak to the bombers, and salvaging The Common Man’s weekend. Before yesterday, The Common Man was starting to think irrational thoughts about the Yankees being in the Twins’ heads and was starting to buy the notion of the Yankee mystique. Now, he feels much better about the world and the Twins’ place in it.

In honor of his return to rationality, The Common Man thought this would be an opportune time to objectively review the Yankees’ nickname. After all, TCM isn’t mad or upset anymore and feels like he can give it a fair appraisal. So what do we know?

Basic Stats:
Name: New York
Nickname: Yankees
NicknameTypology: Human
Definition: American
Characteristics: unclear, that’s pretty vague. It's a big country.

Best thing about being a Yankee: U-S-A! U-S-A! Seriously, the team is basically called the New York Americans (in fact, that’s how it was popularly referred to while they shared the city with the Giants (who were the New York Nationals). As “Yank” was a popular shortening of “American” at the turn of the century, New York papers adopted it. As an American, The Common Man assures you that it’s pretty cool.

Worst thing about being a Yankee: Arrogance. Look, the United States is basically the most remarkable country in the history of the world, and TCM is mighty glad he lives there. That said, there are many legitimate (and many illegitimate) reasons that some people don’t like it and us. One of those reasons is the extreme arrogance of America and Americans abroad. TCM isn’t saying that America doesn’t have a reason to be arrogant, but he’s also traveled in non-English speaking countries with Americans who get upset when citizens of the country they are visiting have the gall to not speak English well or at all. Likewise, The Common Man has been horribly embarrassed by Americans at other tables who complain about the food or culture of the places they are choosing to visit.

In 2008, The Common Man visited Egypt with The Uncommon Wife. Cairo is a massive city of almost 18 million people. There, the lack of enforceable building codes has led to several problems. People build homes and simply keep adding levels to them when their family outgrows the one they are on. The streets are forced to wind through old neighborhoods, and are jammed with more cars than they were designed to accommodate. City sanitation cannot pick up all of the garbage and waste, as many dwellings are erected without a permit, and do not exist on a city registry. People build apartments atop mausoleums in cemeteries. It’s a mess. But if he had a nickel for every time someone on their tour (seriously, don’t go unless you’re with a reputable tour) complained that the city was laid out poorly and that the population just needs to “get serious” or “get smarter”, The Common Man would have bought several more pashminas for The Uncommon Wife. Dudes, this city predates the concept of urban planning. It’s laid out like Boston, if Boston had been around for 1800 years before someone decided to build highways. Plus, you can’t go two feet without tripping over a landmark or an archaeological dig of immense importance. Try constructing a city around that, The Common Man dares you.

Seriously, try and find a fanbase who feels more obnoxiously entitled than the Yankees'. If they aren't in the playoffs every damn year, it's a travesty. Heads need to roll. If a pitcher has a bad game, or a hitter is slumping, scorn comes raining down from the stands. It's like they expect the team to go 162-0, and sweep through the playoffs. Plus, they openly covet other teams' players and bray about how certain players "deserve" to be Yankees. That Yankees simply are better (though it's nice to know that some of you feel differently).

More good news: Baseball is the American Pastime and, by definition, the Yankees are America’s team, in many ways they are baseball. America has the highest gross domestic product in the world, so it’s the richest country out there. Obviously, that comes in handy when free agent season rolls around. Plus, Americans have proved to be among the most industrious, ingenious, and innovative people in the history of civilization, which is mirrored in the intelligence of the club's front office and in much of the non-obnoxious wing of the team's fanbase. Americans also still boast the strongest, best trained, and most well-equipped fighting force of all time making them a formidable opponent. Indeed, that's a good group to have around, if you need to go into battle 162 times a year.

On the other hand: America may have invented Jazz, but it also has spawned Ke$ha. Karma sucks, people. Also, while the Polio vaccine rocks, the atomic bomb has proven troublesome. Finally, the concept of the "Yankee" is pretty vague. What, after all, is an American? There are more than 300 million of them, of various ethnicities, political allegiances, and socio-economic statuses. Hell, some of them don't even like baseball (what the hell is wrong with them?). So when you call a team "the Yankees," it's impossible to really divine what that refers to. It's a definition without a lot of actual substance behind it.

Final analysis:
The Common Man is inclined to give the Yankees a good grade. After all, he thinks that being an American kicks all kinds of ass. That said, you would probably get a similar answer from Russians, Germans, Indians, Japanese, South Africans, and Venezuelans; by and large, people seem predisposed to internalize nationalism. Also, the vagueness of the term is troubling. What is a Yankee? And how do we resolve that with the fact that many members of the team (Robinson Cano, Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Chan Ho Park) are not technically Yankees. That seems like an internal contradiction. And then, of course, comes the baggage associated with being a Yankee. You are hated and reviled by many. Envied by others. You may sew a Canadian flag to your backpack, and just pretend to be a Blue Jay to avoid trouble. But ultimately, most Yankees accept this criticism, and still associate with the name proudly. After all, America is a pretty great place, warts and all, and its people deserve all the credit they can get for giving the world the light bulb, the motion picture industry, the ice cream cone, and, yes, baseball (suck it, England). A-

(Other nickname reviews are up for the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Mets, and Diamondbacks.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What the End of the Road Looks Like

On Tuesday, The Common Man asked Rob Neyer about Ken Griffey’s nap session and the apparent end of the road for Junior that seems to be coming up fast. Rob didn’t answer the question, really, but he did pose an interesting question, “You know what would be a "fun" project? Making a list of the greatest players, then rating (or ranking) their career endings. Right now I have to think Junior's would rate pretty low (even with style points for finishing with M's).” Eager beaver The Captain’s Blog responded to the challenge in his way, and did a strong job at identifying the best performances at the end of a career. And Lar at Wezenball looked at a number of sad endings to Hall of Fame careers. The Common Man wants to go a little further though, and be a little more comprehensive. So The Common Man looked at the career end for every Hall of Fame hitter who got in as a player, as well as some notables who are either not yet eligible for enshrinement (Bonds, Rose, Thomas, Sosa, Sheffield, Piazza), or haven’t made it in yet but are considered legitimate candidates (Larkin, Alomar, Edgar, McGriff, McGwire). There are probably some guys The Common Man is missed, and he’ll accept your admonishments in the comments.

First, the challenges. The Captain’s Blog set a somewhat arbitrary cutoff at 75 plate appearances. This is useful in one sense, as it eliminates the challenges posed by Frank Chance, Fred Clarke, Hugh Duffy, and others who gave themselves random at bats in meaningless or one-sided games. The Common Man has chosen to ignore these ends, as they don’t represent the true end of the Hall of Famer’s playing career. That said, many Hall of Famers ended their careers in short stints where it was apparent they didn’t have anything left in the tank. TCM has tried to include these in the analysis. It’s patchwork and subjective, much like many of these kinds of lists. The Common Man is also using WAR, rather than The Captain’s OPS+, as it captures position adjustments that make a huge difference. Ernie Banks was approximately a league average hitter at the end of his run, but as a first baseman he was a tremendous liability. Finally, TCM is breaking down the list into categories. In all, there are 155 hitters considered, so it’s best to take them in chunks.

Went out “The Right Way”
Honestly, it was very surprising how many Hall of Fame caliber players left the game with their ability to hit still relatively intact. According to Sean Smith’s WAR database, here are all the players who have gone out with a WAR above 2.0:

1 Joe Jackson 7.4
2 Jackie Robinson 4.6
3 Robrto Clemente 4.4
4 Fred Clarke 4.3
5 Mickey Mantle 3.6
6 Barry Bonds 3.3
7 Hank Greenberg 3.1
8 Ted Williams 2.9
Jesse Burkett 2.9
10 Joe DiMaggio 2.8
11 Billy Hamilton 2.6
12 Kirby Puckett 2.5
13 Bobby Doerr 2.4
Monte Irvin 2.4
15 Luis Aparicio 2.3
Robin Yount 2.3
Kenny Lofton 2.3
16 Eddie Collins 2.1

By far, TCM thinks the most interesting name on this list is Mickey Mantle. We’ve been led to believe that Mantle finished his career hobbling around 1B for a bunch of bad Yankee teams. And that’s true. But he was hardly a shell of his former self. Despite playing a premium offensive position, Mantle was still worth more than three and a half wins more than a replacement level 1B. But the end of Mantle’s career tucks neatly into the height of the greatest era for pitchers in baseball history. Indeed, while Mantle was definitely slowing down, his .237/.385/.398 was still good for a 142 OPS+. What would be an interesting exercise, and perhaps a future project here, is to look specifically at players whose careers ended too soon, because their offensive era made it appear as though they were declining. Likewise, one could look at players who hung on because the offensive era masked their declining skills relative to the players around them.

Of the other players on this list: Joe Jackson, because of his involvement in the Black Sox Scandal was banned from baseball at the height of his career, which explains his dominance of this list. And there are a couple other players who were prematurely forced out because of injury (Puckett’s glaucoma) or death (Clemente). Barry Bonds became persona non grata after 2007, because of his presumed steroid use and standoffish behavior. Nobody really remembers how awesome Fred Clarke was, and that’s a shame. Eddie Collins got 37 PAs as a player-coach for Connie Mack’s A’s in 1928, 9 in ’29, and 2 in ’30, which TCM has chosen not to acknowledge here.

Thanks for the Effort
In all, 40 players finished their final season with more than 1 win above replacement. In addition to the players above, they include:

19 Joe Gordon 1.7
Joe Sewell 1.7
Ross Youngs 1.7
Ty Cobb 1.7
Bobby Grich 1.7
24 Joe Morgan 1.5
Ozzie Smith 1.5
Yogi Berra 1.5
27 Lou Whitaker 1.4
Lou Boudreau 1.4
29 Barry Larkin 1.3
Bill Terry 1.3
George Kell 1.3
Richie Ashburn 1.3
Jeff Kent 1.3
34 Mickey Cochrane 1.2
Stan Musial 1.2
36 Frank Chance 1.1
Harry Hooper 1.1
38 Gabby Hartnett 1
Kiki Cuyler 1
Willie Keeler 1

The standout here seems to be Lou Whitaker, who absolutely raked (.293/.372/.518) in part time duty in 1995. Cochrane, Hartnett, Terry, and Chance all rank here because of playing time issues. They performed excellently in their final go-around.

Players Who Gave It All They Had Left
The following list of players finished with more than zero wins above replacement:

41 Chick Hafey 0.9
Ed Delahanty 0.9
Johnny Bench 0.9
Roy Campanella 0.9
Johnny Evers 0.9
46 Earle Combs 0.8
Hack Wilson 0.8
Home Run Baker 0.8
Roger Bresnahan 0.8
50 Tony Lazzari 0.7
Rick Ferrell 0.7
Ryne Sandberg 0.7
53 Al Kaline 0.6
Paul Waner 0.6
Tony Gwynn 0.6
56 Arky Vaughn 0.5
Bill Dickey 0.5
Jimmie Foxx 0.5
Rafael Palmeiro 0.5
Rod Carew 0.5
Jeff Bagwell 0.5
62 Ernie Lombardi 0.4
Hank Aaron 0.4
Eddie Matthews 0.4
Mark McGwire 0.4
66 Willie Stargell 0.3
Bill Dahlen 0.3
Tris Speaker 0.3
Dick Allen 0.3
Gary Carter 0.3
71 Frank Robinson 0.2
Rickey Hendrson 0.2
Pee Wee Reese 0.2
Hugh Duffy 0.2
Joe Cronin 0.2
Zack Wheat 0.2
Babe Ruth 0.2
78 Billie Williams 0.1
Johnny Mize 0.1
Rogers Hornsby 0.1
Paul Molitor 0.1
Sam Rice 0.1
Willie Mays 0.1
Elmer Flick 0.1

Ed Delahanty appears because, after being put off a train for disruptive (drunken) behavior, Delahanty tried to walk across a bridge above Niagra Falls, presumably fell in, washed over the Falls, and was found dead several days later. One of Rob’s chatters mentioned thinking Robinson was a shell of his former self in ’76, when he used himself as a pinch hitter as player-manager, but he managed a .2 WARP in just 78 PAs, despite only spending 21 innings in the field. Again, Robinson’s decline was partially accelerated by a tough era for hitters. Joe Cronin and Rogers Hornsby never stopped hitting, but did stop playing defense. They would insert themselves into the lineup every now and then. Babe Ruth’s brief stint with the Braves manages to be above replacement level. His OPS+ was 118 in 1935. Willie Mays’s final season has been described as one of the saddest ever to watch. Let’s see if we can top it.

Thanks for nothin’

85 Frank Thomas 0
Hughie Jennings 0
Nellie Fox 0

Thomas was trying to DH for Toronto and Oakland; Jennings had 19 ineffective plate appearances for Brooklyn in 1903, and Nellie Fox was a player-coach for the Houston Colt 45s.

One and Done
The following players endured one season where they were below replacement level, and wisely called it a career:

88 Ralph Kiner -0.1
Tim Raines -0.1
Phil Rizzuto -0.1
Harry Heilman -0.1
Joe Medwick -0.1
Luke Appling -0.1
Joe Tinker -0.1
95 Billy Herman -0.2
Tony Perez -0.2
97 Gary Sheffield -0.3
Wade Boggs -0.3
George Davis -0.3
Lou Gehrig -0.3
Mike Piazza -0.3
102 Carl Yastr'mski -0.4
Fred Lindstrom -0.4
George Brett -0.4
Honus Wagner -0.4
106 Cal Ripken -0.5
Mike Schmidt -0.5
108 Duke Snider -0.6
Enos Slaughter -0.6
Fred McGriff -0.6
Jimmie Collins -0.6
Reggie Jackson -0.6
113 Edgar Martinez -0.7
Orlando Cepeda -0.7
Willie McCovey -0.7
116 Ed Roush -0.8
Jim Rice -0.8
Sam Crawford -0.8
119 Jake Beckley -0.9
120 Larry Doby -1
Pete Rose -1
122 Dave Winfield -1.1
Craig Biggio -1.4
124 Travis Jackson -1.6
125 Ron Santo -2.1

When it was clear they were no longer able to carry their share, these players got out of the way. Though for some, it was easier to see than others. Gary Sheffield still hit a ton, but shouldn’t have been allowed near a glove. Lou Gehrig’s sad end came after just 33 plate appearances. Jim Rice was not the most feared hitter in the American League in 1986, when he .234/.276/.344. Fred McGriff’s chase of 500 homers was cut short in Tampa because he couldn’t hit a fastball anymore. Likewise, Pete Rose finally hung ‘em up after propping his chase of Ty Cobb up for several years as a player-manager. Dave Winfield was so bad in ’95, he only needed 130 plate appearances to have a WAR of -1.1. Of course, watching Craig Biggio’s Bataan Death March toward 3000 hits made all of Houston weep for what once was. Ron Santo’s quick decline has kept him out of the Hall of Fame so far. His 1974 (at just 34) must have been painful to watch. .221/.293/.299

Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt
The rest of the list is somewhat subjective. These are players who allowed their collapse to extend beyond one season. These players could not let go; you’d have to pry the bat from their cold dead hands. In a way, it’s inspiring. In another, more visceral, way, it is just sad. This just seems like a group of player who couldn’t see how badly their skills had diminished.

126 Ray Schalk '23-'29 1.1
127 Frankie Frisch '35-'37 0.1
128 Nap Lajoie '14-'16 0
129 Charlie Gehrngr '41-'42 -0.1
Goose Goslin '37-'38 -0.1
Heine Manush '35-'39 -0.1
Red Schoendist 1959-1963 -0.1
133 Bill Mazeroski '70-'72 -0.2
Max Carey '26-'29 -0.2
Pie Traynor '35-'37 -0.2
Robbie Alomar '02-'04 -0.2
137 Carlton Fisk '92-'93 -0.3
138 Harm Killebrew '73-'75 -0.5
Bernie Williams '05-'06 -0.5
140 Dave Bancroft '27-'30 -0.6
Alan Trammell '94-'96 -0.6
142 Sammy Sosa '05-'07 -0.7
143 Lloyd Waner '39-'45 -0.8
144 Earl Averill '40-'41 -0.9
145 Ken Griffey '08-'10 -1.1
Brooks Robinson '76-'77 -1.1
Al Simmons '40-'44 -1.1
Mel Ott '46-'47 -1.1
George Sisler '29-'30 -1.1
150 Ernie Banks '69-'70 -1.4
151 Chuck Klein '40-'44 -1.6
152 Eddie Murray '96-'97 -1.9
153 Jim Bottomley '35-'37 -2.2
Rabbit Marnvlle '32-'35 -2.2
155 Lou Brock '77-'79 -2.4

Ray Schalk and Frankie Frisch should probably be listed above where they're at, but Schalk surrounded two decent years with four seasons (two on each side) where he finished with a negative WAR, and Frisch never should have been playing, except that he was also managing. George Sisler was still hitting .300 at the end, but so was the rest of the National League. Chuck Klein’s end took five years, and he was below replacement level in all five. The Common Man wonders what would have happened in the Hall of Fame voting if Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker had both retired after ’95. Griffey has been below replacement level in ’08 (-.1) and ’09 (-.4), and has taken sucking to a whole new level in 2010. According to Fangraphs, he’s already cost the Mariners -.6 wins in just 88 plate appearances. The longer Griffey stays with the Mariners this year, the further he is going to fall down this list, putting him in danger of surpassing Banks and Klein, and perhaps even Murray. As none of us were lucky enough to watch Bottomley and Maranville play, it looks as though Griffey and Brock are poised to be the modern faces of hanging on too long. At least Brock had a milestone he was pursuing. What’s Junior’s excuse?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Murray Chass thinks that Zack Greinke and his 16 wins shouldn't have won the AL Cy Young last year. Greinke's 0-4 start are causing Chass a great deal of delight, as he thinks this makes "stat freaks" look ridiculous. The Common Man thinks Murray Chass is an antiquated douchebag who is proud of his own ignorance. Thus, The Common Man has a new post up over at It's About the Money, Stupid. Check it out.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Perfect Odds and Ends

The Common Man visited the new ballpark in Minnesota this weekend, and had a brilliant time. Much has been written about the new park, but TCM will post his pictures and share his impressions tomorrow. Today though? Today’s all about The Perfect Game. The Common Man’s got all you want to know about perfectos.

Obviously, Braden’s perfect game is impressive. It’s a feat that has only been accomplished 19 times in league history, and just 17 times since 1900. Braden is in exclusive company that includes Hall of Famers John Ward, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, and (eventually) Randy Johnson. But the truth of the matter is that the rate of perfect games has increased since the 1980s. Indeed, between Joss’s gem and Charlie Robertson’s in 1922, 14 years past. After Robertson, it would be until 1956 before Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the World Series, a 34 year layoff. Then there was an eight year lull until Bunning and Koufax did it in back-to-back years. After Koufax, there was a 16 year break. Since 1981, when Len Barker secured his immortality, the rate of perfect games has been relatively steady, with a new one coming every 3-5 years. 1981, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009, 2010. Look at the following chart to get a sense of the dramatic increase:

Still, Braden’s gem is pretty impressive, particularly against a good club like the Rays. Of course, we don’t know where the Rays will finish the season, but they’re likely to finish in contention. Counter-intuitively, of the 17 perfect games since 1900, nine have come against clubs with a winning record. You’d think, of course, that teams who get utterly dominated in this way would tend to be poor overall. The overall winning percentage of teams getting blanked is .494 (1,225-1256) thanks to an epically bad Mets team that went 53-109 and got shut down by Koufax. Two of the opposing clubs ended up in the World Series. Obviously, one of these is the Dodgers club of 1956 who Don Larsen victimized in the World Series. The other, the 1988 Dodgers who were stopped by Tom Browning, also made it to the series, and won.

The Dodgers are the current record holder for most times being blanked in a perfect game, as they were victims in the aforementioned ’56 and ’88 games, and also in 1991 against Dennis Martinez. The Rays join the Dodgers and the Twins as the only teams to have laid down for 27 straight batters more than once, since they were also shut down last year by Mark Buehrle.

Of course, there were several players in the Rays lineup who played in both perfect games. BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, and Gabe Kapler each played all of both games, getting six trips to the plate each. That said, they are not the first players to be shut down twice. Catcher Ossee Schreckengost played in both of the first two perfect games in the 20th century, getting five at bats (and being pinch hit for in the second game). Not surprisingly, Ossie wasn’t much of a hitter and had a .199 and .247 OBP in ’04 and ’08 respectively. But none of these players is close to touching the record for most at bats in a perfect game for a losing team. That honor is held by one of the great all field-no hit shortstops of all time. Alfredo Griffin actually got into three perfect games on the losing end, including twice as a leadoff hitter (Griffin had a career .285 OBP, and had just a 59% stolen base percentage across 18 seasons. The low point was 1980, when he stole 18 bases, but was caught 23 times.). Griffin had eight at bats in these three games, but was mercifully lifted in the 9th for pinch hitter Stan Javier in 1991.

Griffin was part of, by far, the easiest American League team to no hit. His 1981 Blue Jays (who finished just 37-69) were an abysmal offensive club, as they broke in a number of young players. Lloyd Moseby (.278 OBP) and George Bell (.256), both in the lineup, were just 21, Danny Ainge (.258) was 22. Damaso Garcia (.277) and Willie Upshaw (.252) were both 24. Aside from 1B John Mayberry (.360), no one else in the starting lineup had an OBP above .290. Griffin (who was 23 years old) was by far the worst offender, with a .243 OBP on the year. That particular lineup had a .282 OBP for the year, and should have had a .277 OBP in the game. Len Barker had a relatively easy time that day, in comparison to his peers.

While their lineup’s OBP was considerably higher (.324), the ’64 Cubs offered probably the easiest lineup that allowed perfection. While Billy Williams and Ron Santo pumped up the overall performance of the group over the course of the season, the Cubs started two players who did not get on base in 1964 (OF Byron Browne and P Bob Hendley) and one player (OF Don Young) who got on base just twice in 36 plate appearances. These three offensive sink holes got 8 of the 27 at bats in the contest. As such, their expected OBP in that game was around .230. Koufax easily mowed them down.

The toughest lineup to pitch a perfect game against was undoubtedly the ’22 Tigers, who rookie Charlie Robertson (making just his 3rd big league start) blanked for one of his 49 career victories. The Tigers boasted Ty Cobb (.462 OBP, easily the highest OBP of any player who was shut down in a perfect game), Harry Heilman (.432), Lu Blue (.422), Topper Rigney (.380) and Bobby Veach (.377). When their pitcher (Herman Pillette) was due up in the 9th, the Tigers sent Johnny Bassler (.422) up to the plate. The lineup’s OBP for the year was .383, and should have had a .363 mark in the game. By a wide mark, the Tigers were the best lineup to ever be set down in order. Still, they couldn’t match Robertson.

For what it’s worth, any suggestion that teams should not be using every method at their disposal to get on base is ridiculous. In the past, The Common Man has heard criticism when managers send up pinch hitters or try to bunt for a hit in a no hitter. There’s some ridiculous notion that that’s part of an “unwritten” rulebook. That’s ridiculous. For 90 years, from Cy Young’s perfect game against the A’s in 1904 until Kenny Rogers’ perfecto against the Angels, teams had used pinch hitters in perfect games, and not just for the pitcher. The White Sox used three pinch hitters against Joss in 1908. The Mets also used three against Jim Bunning in ’64 (fat lot of good it did them). In the DH era, the Blue Jays still pinch hit for their 3B and C against Len Barker. The Expos used two pinch hitters against David Cone and the Yankees in ’99, despite playing in an AL park. Of the 17 post-1900 perfect games, only four times did managers not go to their bench. Only Marcel Lachemann (’94), Tom Kelly (’98), and Joe Maddon (’09-’10) played it straight, and likely did so either for platoon advantage or because their bench was weak.

Braden may not end up being as good as the other pitchers on this list. He’s still 39 career wins behind Robertson to get out of last place on the list of 20th and 21st century pitchers who have pitched perfect games. But with his short stature, his screwball, and his attitude, he’s going to be a fun pitcher to root for. And The Common Man will be sure to be watching on Friday, when he gets a chance to go Johnny VanderMeer on the Angels. Congratulations to him and to his family, who sound like nice people who don't have a bad thing to say about anybody.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fisking the Fast Starts

As Aaron Gleeman notes this morning, Wilson Ramos is off to a ridiculous start with seven hits in his first two games. Of course, it’s just two games (10 at bats) and ultimately not very meaningful. But it’s fun to dream on what Ramos might become, given his talent and his hot bat. Gleeman goes on to note that Ramos is in some elite company (Joe DiMaggio and Enos Slaughter), good company (Preston Wilson), and forgettable company (Hub Walker, Guy Sturdy, Charlie Bates, and Coaker Triplett).

Other than pure randomness, how do we account for that kind of early success, particularly for players who had no hope of sustaining their early success? How were these youngsters able to pull off this incredible feat? Let’s look at each of these cases chronologically.

Charlie Bates, 1927

On September 22, the Philadelphia A’s squared off at home against the Cleveland Indians for a doubleheader. The A’s would finish with 91 wins in 1927, but still finished 19 games behind the legendary ’27 Yankees, generally considered one of the greatest clubs of all time. So by September 22, the A’s weren’t playing for much, especially given they would finish 6 games ahead of the Senators for 2nd place in the American League. Plus, Cleveland did not exactly represent a challenge for the A’s. The Tribe would finish with 87 losses and in 6th place in the AL. So Connie Mack decided to let the kids play a little. Into his regular lineup, Mack inserted two 19 year olds, Bates (who would start in RF) and Jimmie Foxx (who, by then, was in his 3rd season as a backup 1B and C). Mack also tried to give Mickey Cochrane the day off against a lefty pitcher (Jake Miller), putting Cy Perkins into the lineup behind the plate. It was not a quick game. Miller and Rube Walberg battled to a standstill for 8 innings, when Walberg gave way to the A’s bullpen. Cleveland stuck with Miller, who may well have been the team’s best pitcher that year, for all 12.1 innings. Bates would go 3 for 5 with a walk, and three runs scored. Foxx would go just 1 for 6, but would drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 13th.

After such a hot start, Mack couldn’t very well sit Bates down in Game 2. So again he started in RF for the A’s (and Foxx started at 1B) while the Indians trotted 20-year old Hal McKain (McKain had won 20 games for Waterloo that year, and was probably considered a real prospect) out to the mound for his major league debut. McKain had a lot of trouble, giving up 13 hits in 7 innings, along with 3 walks and 5 runs. Bates again excelled, going 3 for 4 with a double, triple, run scored, 2 RBI, 2 stolen bases, and a caught stealing. Incidentally, Jimmie Foxx went 1 for 4 with an RBI.

So what happened to Charlie Bates? Evidently Cleveland caught on fast. The teams played a second doubleheader on the 24th, and Joe Schaute and Garland Buckeye combined to make Bates 0 for 7 (despite Schaute allowing 12 hits). Then Bates took an 0 for 5 collar against the Yankees. After his auspicious start, Bates played in 7 games and went 3 for 29 with two walks. He never played another major league game after 1927, bouncing around the minor leagues until 1946.

Guy Sturdy, 1927

Amazingly, the wonderfully named Guy Sturdy collected his six hits against the same ’27 Indians club that Bates did. Again, Sturdy did it in a double header, this one taking place on September 30. As bad as Cleveland was in ’27, Sturdy’s Browns were worse, losing 94 games and finishing in 7th in an 8 team league. So again, there could have been an effort underway to get a look at younger players. That said, Sturdy wasn’t particularly young. At 27, Sturdy had apparently built a reputation as a slugger for Tulsa, for whom he hit 49 homers in 1926, and had batted .374 in 1927. But St. Louis may have been fishing for a replacement for incumbent 1B George Sisler. Even at 34, Sisler was one of the better 1B in the American League, but Sisler commanded a relatively high salary and the Browns were a pretty cheap organization. So Sturdy would get a chance to prove his mettle against Indians’ ace Willis Hudlin. Hudlin would win and go all 9 innings, giving up 10 hits, but Sturdy got 3 of them in 4 at bats, drove in 2 runs, and had a stolen base.

In game 2, the Browns faced 22 year old rookie Willie Underhill. Underhill was making his fourth appearance (he actually relieved McKain in the A’s game above). It did not go well. The Browns tallied eight hits, earned 6 walks, and scored 8 runs off of Underhill in just 4 innings, before he gave way to the aforementioned McKain, who gave up 5 hits and a run in four innings. Sturdy collected 3 singles in 5 trips, with 2 runs scored and 2 driven in.

Sturdy would remain the Browns’ 1B for the team’s final 3 games as well, and would collect another 3 hits. That offseason, Sisler was sold to the Washington Senators. However, instead of handing 1B over to Sturdy, the Browns traded for the also-wonderfully-named Lu Blue from the Tigers. Sturdy spent most of the season on the Browns’ roster, but was strictly a pinch hitter in 54 games (amazing, 54 games, 54 plate appearances). He would hit .222/.340/.311 on the year and the Browns improved to 82-72 and took 3rd place in the AL. Sturdy would never play in the Majors again, and kicked around the minors until 1940, never matching his gaudy Tulsa numbers (what was up with that ballpark, TCM wonders).

Hub Walker, 1931

Hub Walker broke camp in 1931 with a very bad Tigers team, in what may have been a gimmick. Hub batted lefty and his brother, Gee, batted righty, and the two were essentially platooned in CF for much of the season. In Hub’s first game, he faced off against the normally reliable Sam Gray of the Browns. Alas, Brown was going through a rough stretch that had seen him go 4-15 with a 6.28 ERA in 1930, and would lead to an 11-24 record with a 5.09 ERA in ’31. But Gray had a decent day. Despite giving up 14 hits, he gave up just 4 runs and went all 9 innings. Walker’s day wasn’t bad either. Leading off for Detroit, Hub went 3 for 5 and scored a run.

Walker came back the next day and managed 3 hits (including a 2B) in six trips as part of a 12 inning game. He didn’t score, but did drive in a run, as the Tigers topped a fairly effective pitching troika of George Blaeholder, Chad Kimsey, and Dick Coffman.

Walker lasted the full season and hit .286/.355/.345, but the Tigers didn’t renew the brother tandem for 1932. Gee was retained and would have a good career with more than 7200 plate appearances. Hub, who had less power than his brother, was returned to the International League until 1935, when he earned his recall. He would get work as a part-time player for Cincinnati in ’36 and ’37, and played 28 games as a wartime replacement in 1945 (after he had gotten out of the service himself), and helped Detroit win the World Series. After being discarded by the Reds, he became a mainstay for the Minneapolis Millers for four seasons.

Joe DiMaggio, 1936

The Great DiMaggio, for some reason that TCM doesn’t know, didn’t debut with the Yankees until May of ’36, but he would quickly take the league by storm at just 21 year old. DiMaggio batted 3rd in his debut against the St. Louis Browns and joined in the party as the club jumped up and down all over Browns pitchers. Jack Knott lasted just a third of an inning, giving up 2 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs. Earl Caldwell and Chief Hogsett, who followed, didn’t do any better, each giving up 5 runs. DiMaggio tallied 3 hits in 6 trips, one of which was a triple (he would lead the league with 15 in his rookie year). He scored three times, and drove in a run. The Yankees, as a team, had 17 hits and scored 14 runs (and the Browns scored 5). For what it’s worth, the game was over in less than 3 hours.

Two days later, the Yankees stomped on the Browns again, getting 15 hits and 8 runs. DiMaggio again batted 3rd and played LF. He had 3 singles in 5 at bats, with 2 runs and 2 RBI. After that, of course, Joe disappeared back into the minors never to be heard from again. Or, alternatively, he became a 3 time MVP, 9 time World Champion, 13 time All Star, with 361 homers, 2214 hits, a .325/.398/.575 line with a career 155 OPS+, played exceptional defense, and became a universally well-regarded example of class and dignity and the consummate Yankee.

Coaker Triplett, 1938

The Cubs had high hopes in 1938, and were lead by Gabby Hartnett and a formidable pitching staff. But they were short in the outfield. Frank Demaree was a very good player and held down RF, and Augie Galan had proven to be a decent option in both LF and CF. But what to do about the other spot? So the Cubs broke camp with 26-year old rookie, and minor league sensation Coaker Triplett in LF. Triplett had hit .356 for Memphis in 1937, with 28 doubles, and 23 triples. Facing the Cubs in the opener, for some reason Reds manager Bill McKechnie chose to start 24 year old Gene Schott over established star Paul Derringer and young phenom Johnny VanderMeer. Triplett took advantage, going 3 for 5 with two doubles, a run and an RBI against Schott, and relievers Peaches Davis and Al Hollingsworth.

The next day, McKetchnie again didn’t start Derringer, going instead with Lee Grissom (who, it should be said, had a good ’37). Grissom lasted a little over an inning, giving up 6 hits and 6 runs against a blistering Cubs attack. Red Barrett pitched 7 innings of relief, giving up 8 hits and 3 runs, while Ted Kleinhans also gave up 2 hits in an inning of work. Triplett again dominated, going 4 for 5 with a triple, 3 runs scored, and an RBI.

Triplett managed two more hits in game 3 against (finally) Derringer (who won, by the way). Through three games, he was hitting .643/.643/.929. But that was it. In 9 more games, Coaker Triplett got 22 trips to the plate, and was 0 for 22 (with a strikeout). He simply, literally, stopped hitting. Flummoxed, the Cubs released their former phenom, and installed former White Sox star Carl Reynolds in CF. The move worked, as Reynolds would hit .302 for the year and help propel the Cubs to the World Series (where they would be promptly slaughtered by the Yankees). Triplett would make it back to the Bigs in 1941 with the Cardinals, and was a pretty good hitter for a few years for them and the Phillies while the War was on. He finished with a .256/.320/.375. After the War, he was a mainstay for Buffalo in the International League for six years, for whom he hit .327, and finally retired in 1952.

Enos Slaughter, 1938

Again, we have two debuts that match up fairly well, in the cases of Triplett and Slaughter. While Triplett was creating unreal expectations in Chicago, Slaughter was busy helping St. Louis fans feel better about what would end up being a pretty bad ballclub. The Gas House Gang of the early ‘30s was winding down. Leo Durocher was dealt to Brooklyn just after the season ended. Frankie Frisch retired as a player. Pepper Martin was transitioning to a part time role. And just before the season started, Dizzy Dean was shipped to the Cubs for three players (two of whom would contribute mightily to the club’s resurgence in 1939) and $185,000. The Cardinals were going young as Branch Rickey’s farm system paid dividends. All of their regulars were 26 or younger. Slaughter was a no doubt addition to the club. At 21, he had hit .382 and slugged .609 at Columbus in the American Association, with 245 hits in 154 games. He had 42 doubles, 13 triples and 26 homers. He was absolutely dominating the high minors. So manager Frisch installed him in RF and made him the #3 hitter in the team’s opener against Pittsburgh. St. Louis knocked around Pirates starter Cy Blanton, chasing him before the end of the 5th. But the Cards could not put together a sustained attack, and wound up losing 4-3. Slaughter went 3 for 5 with a double, but didn’t figure in any of the scoring. The next day, Jim Tobin spun for the Pirates and scattered 14 hits over nine innings. Three of those hits came from Slaughter, who also launched his first homerun.

The Cardinals went nowhere in ’38, but Slaughter proved to be an above average hitter at 22 in his first exposure around the league. His career would take off after that, as he became steadily better through 1942, before he went to War. Returning in ’46, at 30, Slaughter never regained the height of his prowess, but remained an excellent hitter through his late 30s. He batted .300/.382/.453 for his career with 2383 hits and 169 homers, and was thought to be one of the faster players in the game. He won four World Series (two each with the Cardinals and the Yankees), and hit .291/.406//468 in 96 plate appearances, and scored an iconic moment with his supposed “Mad Dash” in the ’46 Series, where he scored from first on a single.

Preston Wilson, 1998

There were 60 years before the next player broke the 3 hit barrier in his first two games, after 6 players did it in 11 years. In 1998, the Mets were fighting for the NL Wild Card, and were a couple outfielders short to start the season. Bernard Gilkey was hurt and ineffective. Butch Huskey was inadequate. Tony Phillips was 39, Lenny Harris was useless and…wait, why the hell did Todd Hundley play 34 games in LF??? Did he lose a bet? Anyway, the Mets were hurting for outfielders who could play baseball in 1998, and turned to one of their big prospects in early May. Preston Wilson was a Mets legacy, the stepson of Mookie, and the #9 overall pick in 1992. The Mets brought him up to face St. Louis on May 7. The Mets had a lot of trouble against Donovan Osborne that day, and got just 7 total hits. Wilson had 3 of those in 4 trips, drove in a run, and stole a base. The next day, the Mets abused Cliff Politte and Mike Busby to the tune of 12 hits and 9 runs. Again, Wilson got 3 of those, including 2 doubles, scored 3 runs and had an RBI.

Like Triplett above, Wilson didn’t have another hit for the Mets and ended his tenure in New York on an 0 for 12 streak. But Wilson was quickly shipped to the Marlins with two other players for Mike Piazza. Wilson was quickly assigned to AAA, performed well, and earned a Sepember callup (during which he hit .065/.194/.161 in 38 plate appearances). But Wilson quickly became a solid contributor in Florida, holding down CF and hitting well for the next four years, before he was shipped to Colorado. Wilson hung up his spikes in 2007, hitting .264/.329/.468 for his career and hit 189 homers in 4436 plate appearances.

Are there any commonalities here. Many of the players in question faced decent pitchers. Indeed, only Bates and Sturdy really fattened themselves against bad pitching. But, then, Ramos didn't really face great pitching in David Huff and Max Schrezer, and a host of relievers. Mostly, frankly, these look like random freak games by totally random players; it's kind of a shame that there is no real predictive ability here. Still, the journey is interesting.

So where will Ramos end up on that continuum? Obviously, it’s hard to say at this point, but if The Common Man were a betting man (and you know that he is), he’d bet Ramos ends up being one of the three best players on that list before it’s all said and done.