Archive for August 2013

Good for Brian Wilson; and Joe Mauer’s Future

August 22, 2013

Brian Wilson pitched in the Show for the first time since April 2012 in today’s 6-0 win by the Dodgers over the Marlins, and he was pretty good.  He pitched one scoreless inning, allowing a double but striking out two.

While I don’t like any former Giants’ favorite jumping to the Dodgers, I can’t help but find myself hoping he is reasonably successful in Dodger blue.  Wilson was a good Giant, a real San Francisco character, and while he really wasn’t that great a closer, except for 2010, when, of course, the Giants won the World Series for the first time in their history in the City by the Bay, he was a fun player to watch and root for, even if he did regularly cause heart palpitations with his 9th inning wildness.

I’m a little surprised to see Wilson still sporting his overly bushy and unnaturally black beard.  With a new team and new arm, it seems to me like a good time for a new look.  Still, the beard has been a great marketing gimmick for Wilson.

Meanwhile, I also saw that Joe Mauer has been placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list after taking at least one foul ball off of his catcher’s mask on Monday.  I’ve been writing for years that the Twins are killing the golden goose by playing him too many games behind the plate each season.  See here for example.

The Twins have done better the last three seasons with Mauer, getting him significant playing time at 1B and DH.  Even so, he still plays the catching position too much for a player with his batting talents and his physical size.  With Justin Morneau‘s contract finally expiring, 2014 is time to make Mauer the Twins’ every-day 1Bman and in any event limiting him to a maximum of 40-60 games behind the dish per season.

The Twins have long shown well more than typical MLB loyalty to former team stars like Morneau, which had its advantages when the Twins were a smaller market team than they are now.  With the Twins’ great new stadium and its new revenue streams they need to do more to put a winning team on the field every year than Morneau has given them since he got hurt in July 2010.

It’s time for the Twins and Morneau to part ways.  Playing mostly at 1B and DH, I expect that Mauer, given his age and abilities, will add considerably more power than he’s hit with in any year other than 2009.

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The Worst of the Best, Part V: More Wins

August 21, 2013

Fewest Career Wins by a Three-Time League Leader since 1893Sandy Koufax: 25 NL 1963, 26 NL 1965, 27 NL 1966; 165 career wins.  It took a while for Koufax, a bonus baby in the 1950’s to find his command, and then when once he found it extremely heavy workloads forced him to retire shortly before his 31st birthday because of the pain and damage to his pitching arm.  At his peak, Koufax was arguably the best ever.

Honorable Mention.  Bucky Walters: 27 NL 1939, 22 NL 1940, 23 NL 1944; 198 career wins.  Not well remembered today, except perhaps in Cincinnati where he was one of the best pitchers in Reds’ history, Walters led the Senior Circuit in wins and ERA in consecutive seasons, the only two years between 1920 and 1960 in which the Reds won the pennant.  His two wins in the 1940 Series were key to the Reds’ championship over the Tigers.

Walters started his professional and major league career as a 3Bman, which delayed his development as a pitcher.  As such, he didn’t become a full-time pitcher until age 26.  Because of his advancing age, he was able to continuing pitching in the majors through the war years, leading the NL in wins again in 1944.  However, he fell just short of winning 200 career games.

Fewest Career Wins by a Four-Time League Leader since 1893Hal Newhouser: 29 AL 1944, 25 AL 1945, 26 AL 1946 and 21 AL 1948.  A promising but wild young pitcher before WWII, during the war Newhouser, who was classified as 4-F (least likely to be drafted) because of a leaky heart valve, became virtually unhittable.  During the last two years of the war and the first year after, Newhouser led the Junior Circuit in wins three consecutive seasons, in ERA and strikeouts twice each, and posted sub-2.00 ERAs in consecutive seasons 1945 and 1946.  He lead the AL in wins one more time in 1948, but by age 30, there wasn’t much left in Prince Hal’s arm after years of heavy workloads.

Fewest Career Wins by a Five-Time League Leader since 1893. “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity: 28 NL 1899, 28 NL 1900, 31 NL 1903, 35 NL 1904 and 27 NL 1906; 246 career wins. In his early 20’s McGinnity looked like a mediocre minor league hurler who would never amount to anything.  After a couple of undistinguished seasons for Montgomery of the Southern Association and Kansas City of the Western League in 1893 and 1894, McGinnity left professional baseball and returned to his home state of Illinois, where in Springfield he ran a saloon and worked as his own bouncer.

McGinnity continued to play semi-pro ball and it was during this period he developed “Old Sal” an underhand curveball that would become his bread-and-butter pitch (McGinnity also threw overhand and side-arm to give opposing hitters different looks).  His major league career started with the original Baltimore Orioles of the National League in 1899 at age 28.

McGinnity was the “iron man” with the rubber arm.  He pitched an astounding 3,441.1 innings in his ten year major league career and then pitched another 14 seasons in the minor leagues (with some gaps) pitching professionally until he was 54 years old, while contending that his arm never really hurt.  McGinnity won at least 485 major and minor league games, behind only to Cy Young and Kid Nichols, as far as I have been able to determine.

Fewest Career Wins by a Six-Time League LeaderBob Feller: 24 AL 1939, 27 AL 1940, 25 AL 1941, 26 AL 1946, 20 AL 1947, and 22 AL 1951; 266 career wins.  Of course, the reason Rapid Robert failed to win 300 games is almost certainly because he lost nearly four years of his career to military service during WWII.  However, it is worth noting that Feller’s numbers dropped off sharply once he reached age 30.  Had he pitched from 1942 through 1945 and led the league in innings pitched as he did from 1939-1941 and 1946-1947, would his career have ended that much earlier?  We’ll never know.

The Worst of the Best, Part IV: Wins

August 20, 2013

Continuing on with my series about players with the lowest career totals in major statistical categories in which they once led their league, in this installment we’ll look at pitching wins.  You can find Parts I, II and III of this series, here, here and here.

Fewest Career Wins by a One-Time League Leader since 1893Chuck Estrada: 18 AL 1960; 50 career wins.  Estrada was born in San Luis Obispo, near the central coast of California.  He went 18-11 as a 22 year old rookie for the Baltimore Orioles and won 33 games over his first two major league seasons.  However, he led the Junior Circuit in losses with a 9-17 record in 1962, although he actually pitched nearly as well as he had the prior two seasons.

Estrada appears to have had good stuff, but he was wild and threw a lot of pitches over his first three major league seasons.  The upshot was that he blew out his pitching elbow early in the 1963 season and was never the same thereafter.

Honorable mention.  George McConnell: 25 Federal League 1915; 41 career wins.  “Slats” McConnell was a long-time minor league and presumably industrial league star, whose first record of pitching “professionally” was for the 1908 Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League (not the current Eastern League, but the one that was later renamed the International League, one of the top minor league circuits and still in existence today) at the advanced age of 30.

It was not at all uncommon in that era up until at least the end of 1920’s for great players to play for railroad, steel mill and other industrial teams rather than signing professional baseball contracts.  Big corporate teams provided year ’round jobs that paid better than what players could make spending only their summers playing in the lower minor leagues.  To this day in Japan, industrial leagues serve the function of the lower minor leagues, since NPB teams have only one minor league club each.  Junichi Tazawa, for example, was signed directly out of a Japanese Industrial League by the Boston Red Sox at age 22 after going undrafted by any NPB team out of high school.  Another possibility is that Slats McConnell pitched for a successful barn-storming semi-pro team.

At any rate, McConnell at some point developed a terrific spitball which he used to go 30-8 at age 33 for the Rochester Broncos of the Eastern (International) League in 1911.  The New York Giants then acquired him, but McConnell went a combined 12-27 with unimpressive ERAs for the dead-ball/dirty-ball period in 1912 and 1913, and the Giants sent him back to Buffalo’s the Eastern League franchise in 1914 (the new Federal League also fielded a team in Buffalo that season).  McConnell went 14-10 for the Bisons and also won a single start for the Chicago Cubs, probably late in the 1914 season.

The Federal Chicago Whales signed McConnell before the 1915 season, and he responded with a 25-10 season.  When the Federal League then promptly collapsed and the Cubs acquired all of the Whales’ assets including their ballpark, now known as Wrigley Field, the Cubs also acquired McConnell.  McConnell went 4-12 for the 1916 Cubs at age 38 and never pitched in the majors again.

I have elected not to consider Slats McConnell as the all-time leader in this category simply because the Federal League was a marginal major league which didn’t last long enough for many of its stars to have significant “major league” careers.

Ron Bryant: 24 NL 1973; 57 career wins.  Ron Bryant went 14-7 in 1972 and 24-10 in 1973.  However, he was as bad in 1974 (3-15, 5.61 ERA) as he was good in 1973.  Wikipedia says he hurt himself in a “swimming pool accident” during Spring Training in ’74 (which another website says resulted in a back injury), but Bryant’s heavy workload in ’73 probably also had a lot to do with his quick demise as a major league pitcher.

Four pitchers — Jumbo Elliott (19 NL 1931: 63 career), Elmer Riddle (21 NL 1943; 65 career), Heinie Meine (19 NL 1931; 66 career) and Red Barrett (23 NL 1945; 69 career) — all managed to lead the National League in wins at some time between 1931 and 1945 while winning fewer than 70 games during their respective major league careers.  Needless to say, Jumbo Elliott was the heaviest player of his day.

Fewest Career Wins by a Two-Time League Leader.  Brandon Webb: 16 NL 2006, 22 NL 2008; 87 career wins.  I’m sure you remember how good Webb was the three seasons between 2006 and 2008.  After winning 22 in 2008, he never won another game due to a series of shoulder injuries that didn’t respond to two rotator cuff surgeries.

Honorable mention.  LaMarr Hoyt:19 AL 1982, 24 AL 1983; 98 career wins.  Drug arrests, not arm problems, were the main culprit in the untimely demise of LaMarr Hoyt’s major league career, although there are certainly reasons to think his arm wouldn’t have held out much longer after the heavy workloads he handled from 1982 through 1985 — his strikeout rates were dropping fast.

Hoyt was arrested twice for drug possession before the start of the 1986 season, which caused him to miss most of Spring Training.  He was arrested again after the 1986 season, served 45 days in jail, and was suspended by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth for the entire 1987 season.  An arbitrator later reduced the suspension to 60 days, but Hoyt didn’t pitch at all that season.  The White Sox briefly re-signed him, but then released after a fourth drug arrest following the 1987 season.  If nothing else, this sad saga reminds us of the problem MLB had with cocaine in the early-mid-1980’s.

Hoyt’s story has a happy ending, however.  He eventually got off drugs and returned to the White Sox organization as a roving pitching instructor in 2004.

The Worst of the Best, Part III: RBIs

August 20, 2013

Continuing on with my series on players with the lowest career totals in major offensive categories in which they led their league on or more times, the category in this post is RBIs.  You can find Part I of the series here, and Part II here.

Fewest Career RBIs by a One-Time League LeaderJoe Nealon: 83 NL 1906; 130 career RBIs.  Nealon’s league leading figure is low even for the dead-ball/dirty-ball era, but the reason he didn’t put up bigger career numbers is that illness ended his career and then his life very young.

A Northern California product, Nealon not surprisingly started his professional career playing for teams in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose in the California State League.  A big year for the San Francisco Seals of the higher level Pacific Coast League in 1905 (Nealon had 208 hits, 64 for extra bases, fine numbers for the aught years of the 20th century), and the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired the young 1Bman’s rights at the tender age of 21.

Nealon rewarded the Pirates with a fine rookie season.  While he batted only .255 with a .679 OPS in 1906, the league averages were .244 and .620.  He finished tied for third in triples (12), tied for tenth in HRs (3), eleventh in doubles (21) and eight in total bases (196).  With the league’s best hitter Honus Wagner batting earlier in the Pirates’ line-up, Nealon had plenty of RBI opportunities, and he finished tied with the Cubs’ Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead. [Steinfeltdt is best remembered today as the answer the to the trivia question “who played third base for the Cubs when Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was the Cubs’ famous double play trio?”]

It is worth noting that RBIs did not become an official major league statistic until 1920 — Nealon’s and Steinfeldt’s league-leading figures were calculated years after the fact and they received no acclaim at the time they actually accomplished their league-leading feats.  Nevertheless, the Pirates had to be thrilled with the promise of their slugging young 1Bman.

Nealon didn’t hit with quite the same power in 1907, but he was still above the league averages in batting and OPS.  However, his season ended early when he developed tuberculosis.  This ended his major league career, but Nealon was able to recover and resume his professional career back home in Sacramento for the town’s California League franchise in the second half of the 1908 season.  He batted .362 in 62 games and played a full season for the California League’s Oakland franchise the next summer.  Still only 24 years old, it looked like Nealon might work his way back to the majors or at least become a Pacific Coast League star.

Instead, Nealon contracted typhoid pneumonia in the late winter or early spring of 1910 and died on April 2nd at the age of 25.  Nealon isn’t remembered at all today, but he serves as a reminder of just how fragile life can be.

Honorable mention.  Dutch Zwilling: 94 Federal League 1915; 202 career RBIs.  One of the Federal League’s top sluggers, Zwilling retroactively led the Feds in RBIs in 1915 after finishing tied for third the year before.  A career high minor leaguer who played 12 seasons in the American Association and the Western League, Zwilling failed in brief trials for the 1910 White Sox and the 1916 Cubs but blossomed for the Chicago Whales during the Feds’ two year existence.  If you don’t already know, the Cubs’ current ballpark Wrigley Field was originally built by the Whales and sold to the Cubs when the Federal League collapsed.

Ken “Hawk” Harrelson: 109 AL 1968; 421 career RBIs.  The lively-ball/clean-ball record holder in this category, Ken Harrelson was a man ahead of his time.  He hit for power and drew a lot of walks but his career batting average was very low.  1968, the year he led the league, was far and away his best season as a major leaguer.  Harrelson is currently a long-time broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox.

Fewest Career RBIs by a Two-Time League LeaderBuck Freeman: 121 AL 1902, 104 AL 1903; 713 career RBIs.  One of the great home run hitters of the dead-ball era, Freeman belted 64 round-trippers during the six seasons from 1899 through 1904, including 25 in 1899 alone.  Freeman’s ability to slug ’em long wasn’t fully appreciated in his day and thus didn’t establish himself as a major league player until age 27.  His hitting also fell off dramatically after age 32, although he had one final hurrah at the age of 35 for the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers in 1907.

Honorable mention.  Al Rosen: 105 AL 1952, 145 AL 1953; 717 career RBIs.  Al Rosen appeared in Part I of this series as a result of leading the Junior Circuit in home runs in 1950 and 1953, while slugging only 192 in his career.  Rosen was a tremendous player for a short period of time.

Gavvy Cravath: 128 NL 1913, 115 NL 1915; 719 career RBIs.  Cactus Gavvy also appeared in Part I of this series for his record-setting home run excellence.  As I said in Part I, he would have been a Hall of Famer if born 20 years later.  However, even as it was, he had a pretty good life, spending 36 years as a Laguna Beach, California judge after his playing days were over.

Fewest Career RBIs by a Three-Time League LeaderJackie Jensen: 116 AL 1955, 122 AL 1958, 112 AL 1959; 929 career RBIs.  Born in San Francisco, Jensen attended Oakland Technical High School and UC Berkeley, where he starred in football and baseball, before his professional career began — he was the first and only player to play in the Rose Bowl, the College World Series, the World Series and an MLB All-Star game.

Jensen started his professional career with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and was sold, along with fellow East Bay product Billy Martin, to the Yankees before the 1950 season.  The Yankees of that era were so overloaded with talent, however, that Jensen couldn’t break into the starting line-up despite his obvious talents.  In May of 1952, the Yankees traded Jensen to the Washington Senators in a six-player deal with Irv Noren as the main piece going to the Bombers.

The Senators’ Griffith Park was an extremely bad park for home run hitters, and while Jensen showed promise, he hit only 20 HRs for the Senators over two seasons (four at home, but 16 on the road).  Jensen’s physical talents (he was a true five-tool player) were enormous and after the 1953 season, the Red Sox traded pitcher Mickey McDermott, who was coming off an 18-10 season for the Crimson Hose and was not yet 25 years old, and their starting center fielder as a 23 year old rookie Tom Umphlett for the soon to be 27 year old Jensen. It turned out to be a much better deal for the Sox.

Jensen was fantastic for the Red Sox for the next six seasons, driving in more than 100 runs five times and 97 in the other year.  However, at the young age of 32, he announced his retirement from baseball in January 1960, both because he had a fear of flying (air travel had become a fact of MLB life by this time as teams moved to Kansas City in 1955 and Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1958 and the American League’s further expansion in 1961 was anticipated) and also because he wanted to spend more time with his wife and young children.  Jensen came back from retirement in 1961, but his fear of air travel had not dissipated, and he retired for good after the 1961 season.

Fewest Career RBIs by a Four-Time League LeaderSherry Magee: 85 NL 1907, 123 NL 1910, 103 NL 1914 and 76 NL 1918; 1,176 career RBIs.  Another great player you may never have heard of, Magee was the best player on the Philadelphia Phillies for most of the period from 1904 through 1914 at least until Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander joined the team in 1911.  Magee went straight to the Phillies from semi-pro ball at the age of 19, which was extremely rare even in those days, and he quickly became a star as a corner outfielder.

Magee also quickly developed a reputation as a hot-head and a guy who “crabbed” at teammates when they made mistakes.  Veteran player and future Black Sox manager Kid Gleason kept a leather belt in his locker which he administered to wayward young players on occasion, and Gleason took the belt to Magee more than once in the latter’s first few years with the club.  In 1911, Magee was suspended for 29 games after he knocked out umpire Bill Finneran with a short left after Finneran threw Magee out of the game for throwing his bat after a third strike call Magee didn’t agree with.

After 11 seasons as a Phillie, Magee was traded to the defending World Series champion Boston Braves in December 1914.  The Phillies promptly won the pennant in 1915 for the only time between 1900 and 1949.  However, Magee finally got to play in a World Series in the last year of his major league career with the Reds in 1919.  Although he had skipped the minor leagues on the way up, when his major league career ended, Magee spent seven years playing in the high minors.  He then briefly became a National League umpire in 1928, an irony given his reputation as an umpire-baiter during his playing days.  However, he developed pneumonia in the late winter of 1929 and died on March 13, 1929 at the relatively young age of 44.

Aside from the fact that he died young, Sherry Magee also has the misfortune of having a name very similar to Lee Magee, another player of the same era, who was banned for life from organized baseball after the 1919 season because of his involvement in game fixing.  I know that I have a habit of confusing the two, and I’m sure I’m not the only baseball fan who has done so.

Astros to Sign Mexican League’s Japhet Amador and Leonardo Heras

August 18, 2013

The Astros today announced their intention to sign two of the Mexican League’s young stars Japhet Amador and Leonardo Heras.

Japhet Amador first crossed my radar in a serious way about two months ago when I wrote a piece on the Mexican League.  He is clearly the best young hitter (under age 27) in that league, which had me wondering why no major league organization had signed him.  There are apparently a few reasons why not.

First, it can be somewhat difficult to sign young Mexican League stars because their teams want as much as they can get for them. MLB teams have made inquiries about Amador but haven’t been willing to pay what the Mexican Red Devils want for him until now.   However, given the relative revenue streams of major league organizations compared to Mexican League ones, a major league organization can usually acquire a young Mexican League star if they really want him.

Here’s a scouting report from a purported professional scout which starts out by saying Amador’s “numbers are better than his tools” and also that he “lacks athleticism.”  In this scout’s opinion, Amador has been able to feast on the slow throwing control pitchers of the Mexican League but that he’d be exposed playing against the harder throwers at the major league level.

I think that the now 26 year old Amador is an extremely impressive hitter, although his numbers are in fact exaggerated playing in the hit-happy Mexican League.  His .368 batting average is only 8th best in the league this year, and his 1.111 OPS is only good enough for third.  Even so, Amador was in the top five in both batting average and OPS in 2010 and 2011, before having a poor year in 2012.

The biggest problem with Amador in my mind is his conditioning.  He’s currently listed at 6’4″ and 315 lbs.  Unless he loses about 60 pounds, it’s hard to imagine him being able to do anything but DH at the major league level.

I suspect that Amador as a hitter is very comparable to Dae Ho “Big Boy” Lee, the star Korean slugger who has very successfully made the transition from South Korea’s KBO to Japan’s NPB the last season and a half.  Lee is listed as 6’4″ and 286 lbs on NPB’s website, and he is actually in better shape now than he was when he was setting home run records in the KBO a few years ago.

I don’t think Lee would be a valuable player in MLB, and given Amador’s age and conditioning, I don’t think Amador will be either.  However, I think Amador would have a good shot to succeed in NPB.  It’s also worth noting that Cuban Michel Abreu, who was the Mexican League’s top slugger in 2012 is having an excellent rookie year in NPB this year — more than 100 games into the season, Abreu is eighth in NPB’s Pacific League in hitting and second in HRs.  There’s a lot more money to be made playing in Japan than there is playing in Mexico if the player has what it takes.

Leonardo Heras isn’t nearly the hitter that Amador is, but he may be a better major league prospect simply due to the fact that at age 23 he’s three years younger.  He’s fast enough to play center field, at least in Mexico, and he has good alley power.  He finished 16th in OPS in a sixteen team league in 2012 and 18th in batting average in 2011.

[P.S. This is Burly’s Baseball Musing’s 1000th post.  Thanks to my two dozen or so regular readers who have this blog a marginal success!]

The Worst of the Best, Part II: Hits and Runs Scored

August 18, 2013

This is part II of my series on players with the lowest career totals in major statistical categories in which they led their league at least one time.  This time the stats are hits and runs scored.  You can find part I of the series here.

Hits

Fewest Career Hits by a One-Time Hits LeaderDoc Miller: 192 NL 1911, 507 career hits.  As we’ve seen is not uncommon for this era, Miller was a player who didn’t reach the major leagues until age 27, although his professional career in the minor leagues began at age 20.  The next year at age 28, Miller had his league leading season.  He also finished second in batting, only one basis point behind the immortal Honus Wagner, as well as finishing sixth in total bases and fifth in RBIs.  He never reached 400 at-bats in a season again and was apparently out of professional baseball for good less than three years later.

Honorable mention.  Dick Wakefield: 200 AL 1943; 625 career hits.  In 1943, the first year in which most of the best players were in military service, Wakefield had a terrific rookie season at age 22.  He got off to an even better start in 1944, but was called up roughly half way through the season.  When he returned in 1946 with most of the other top players, he wasn’t the same player.

Wakefield was baseball’s first “bonus baby” signing a then enormous $52,000 signing bonus with the Detroit Tigers in 1941, which was more than the combined salaries of the entire starting line-ups of a few of the poorer teams in MLB at that time.  The money apparently went to his head, because he developed a reputation for flaunting his money and not working as hard as the other players, although he also got a lot of bad press simply because his signing bonus was also many times what the sportswriters made in an era when the average major league sportswriter made roughtly the same annual salary as the average major league player, around $8,000.

Fewest Career Hits by a Two-Time Hits LeaderSnuffy Stirnweiss: 205 AL 1944, 195 AL 1945; 989 career hits.  Snuffy appeared in part I of this series as the player with the lowest career batting average ever to lead his league in batting average.

Honorable mention.  Lenny Dykstra: 192 NL 1990, 194 NL 1993, 1,298 career hits.  Named in the Mitchell Report as an early steroids user, presumably later in his career, Dykstra always had a lot of injury problems as well.  Except for his two league leading seasons, he never had more than 127 hits in a season during his twelve year career.

Fewest Career Hits by a Three-Time Hits LeaderJohnny Pesky: 205 AL 1942, 208 AL 1946, 207 AL 1947; 1,455 career hits.  After leading the Junior Circuit in hits as a 23 year old rookie in 1942, Pesky (born Paveskovich) lost three years to WWII, but came back right where he left off in 1946.  Once he was past age 30, however, he just couldn’t stay healthy.  The player most similar to Pesky in baseball history is obviously Nomar Garciaparra, another great, young Red Sox shortstop who couldn’t stay healthy once he passed age 30.

Fewest Career Hits by a Four-Time Hits LeaderGinger Beaumont: 193 NL 1902, 209 NL 1903, 185 NL 1904, 187 NL 1907; 1,759 career hits.  One of the best players you may never have heard of, he was the center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates during much of the first decade of the 20th century.  Like teammate Honus Wagner, Beaumont was stocky yet fast.  His one enduring claim to fame is that he was the first batter in the first modern World Series in 1903.  Knee problems ended his professional career at the relatively early age of 34 — Beaumont’s major league career ended at age 33, which was not particularly uncommon even for high caliber players in his era, but he played only one subsequent season in the minor leagues before he was forced to retire.

Fewest Career Hits by a Five-Time Hits LeaderTony Oliva: 217 AL 1964, 185 AL 1965, 191 AL 1966, 197 AL 1969, and 204 AL 1970; 1,917 career hits.  One of the very best hitters of the twenty year period beginning in 1963 when the strike zone was lengthened and batting averages plummeted, Tony O also led the AL in batting three times, in doubles four times, in slugging percentage once and hit 30+ HRs once (in a different season than the one in which he led the league in slugging).

Oliva, a black Cuban, wasn’t signed to a minor league contract until age 22 and didn’t reach the majors for good until age 25.  Like Ginger Beaumont, chronic knee problems prevented Oliva from putting up career numbers that would have made him a cinch for the Hall of Fame.

Runs Scored

Fewest Career Runs Scored by a One-Time Runs LeaderDave Fultz: 109 AL 1902, 369 career runs scored. A two-sport All American (football and baseball) at Brown University, his professional baseball career ended in 1905, the same year he passed the New York bar exam after studying law at Columbia University.  He made the right career choice, as his performance declined sharply after his league-leading 1902 campaign, due mostly to accumulated leg and knee injuries from playing football.

Fultz was not the first major league star to earn a law degree at Columbia University.  John Montgomery Ward more famously became the first pro baseball player to do so in 1885.  Also like Monte Ward before him, Fultz was heavily involved in efforts by players to organize to oppose the reserve clause, although like Ward without lasting success.

Honorable mention.  Spike Shannon: 104 NL 1907; 383 career runs scored.  A 26 year old rookie left fielder in 1904, Shannon had four solid seasons culminating in the year he led the Senior Circuit in runs scored.  However, he had a poor season in 1908 and was sold down to the minors.  He played a few more years, mostly for Kansas City in the American Association, but he never regained his batting stroke.

Solly Hemus: 105 NL 1952; 459 career runs scored.  Another player who apparently got a late start to his professional career due to WWII service, Hemus has the lowest career total for any player to lead his league in runs scored after 1920.  Hemus is best remembered today, if at all, as the St. Louis Cardinals’ player/manager in 1959 for whom Jim Brosnan expressed little respect in his classic baseball diary The Long Season.

Fewest Career Runs Scored by a Two-Time League LeaderSnuffy Stirnweiss: 125 AL 1944, 107 AL 1945; 604 career runs scored.  Appearing for the third time in this series, Snuffy was a great player the last two years of the Second World War, but not so much once the war had ended.

Honorable mention.  Patsy Dougherty: 107 AL 1903, 113 AL 1904; 678 career runs scored.  A star of the American League’s first decade, Patsy played regularly for both the 1903 and 1906 World Series champions.  Dougherty’s outfield defense was terrible and he feuded with the Red Sox’s new owner John I. Taylor when he demanded a big raise before his third season, after leading the league in both hits and runs scored and the World Champion Red Sox in both batting average and stolen bases.  As a result, Dougherty was traded to the New York Highlanders (Yankees) only two months into the 1904 season.

Dougherty’s Highlanders nearly stole the 1904 pennant from Boston, but Patsy slumped badly in 1905 and got into a fist fight with manager Clark Griffith (contemporary accounts blamed both player and manager equally for the fight).  As a result, he was again traded in June of 1906, this time to the Chicago White Sox, whom Patsy again helped dramatically, as the ChiSox not only won the pennant but also beat the Cubs, the team with the best regular season record in modern baseball history, in the World Series.

The White Sox’s South Side Park was a terrible place to hit in an era that had the least offense in baseball history.  Dougherty led Pale Hose regulars in batting ever year from 1907 through 1910, while hitting only .270, .278, .285 and .248.  However, Dougherty missed roughly 20 games of the 1910 season to what were described at the time as “malarial attacks” (this was entirely possible as malaria wasn’t fully eradicated in the U.S. until 1951).  Patsy hit .289 in 1911 but similar health problems limited him to 76 games, and he retired after that season.

Fewest Career Runs Scored by a Three-Time League LeaderArky Vaughan: 122 NL 1936, 113 NL 1940, 115 NL 1943: 1,173 career runs scored.  A great hitting shortstop who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee in 1985, Vaughan lost three years late in his career when he temporarily retired after a dispute with Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher.

On July 10, 1943, Durocher suspended Dodger pitcher Bobo Newsom for insubordination and then made numerous accusations against Newsom to the press.  When Vaughan read the accusations in a newspaper, which accusations he thought false, he gave Durocher his balled-up uniform and told the Lip to shove it up his ass.  The rest of the Dodger players sided with Vaughan, who was generally a quiet man and well respected in the clubhouse, and the team nearly sat out the next game.  Durocher and Dodger general manager Branch Rickey convinced the team, except for Vaughan, to play, and Rickey convinced Vaughan to suit up and rejoin the team on the bench before that game was over.

However, Vaughan voluntarily retired after the 1943 season and did not return until Branch Rickey coaxed him back in 1947, a year during which Durocher had been suspended by MLB for the duration for associating with known gamblers.  Vaughan, who was born in Arkansas but grew up in California, provided a calming, veteran presence in the Dodger clubhouse and also went out his way to be nice to Jackie Robinson during the latter’s rookie season, as the Dodgers went on to win the pennant.

Fewest Career Runs Scored by a Four-Time or More League LeaderGeorge Burns: 100 NL 1914, 105 NL 1916, 103 NL 1917, 86 NL 1919 and 115 NL 1920.  One of baseball’s best lead-off men at the tail end of the dead-ball/dirty-ball era, Burns played in three World Series for the New York Giants.  He also led the NL in walks five times, in stolen bases twice and had a .287 career batting average.  The recent player most like Burns is probably Brett Butler, a great lead-off for the Braves, Indians, Giants and Dodgers in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Too Much Instant Replay?

August 15, 2013

MLB announced that there will be a dramatic expansion in the use of instant replay next year if a proposal currently under consideration is approved by the owners.  Under this proposal a vastly greater number of calls will be reviewable (MLB says approximately 89% of calls will be reviewable) and each team will receive three review opportunities per game, one during the first six innings of the game and two during the last three innings, with the team retaining each challenge that is successful.

While baseball definitely needs vastly more instant replay review than it now uses, I can see at least one big problem with the system MLB is proposing to implement.  If teams get three replay reviews per game, they will use them and there will be additional long delays in every game.

According to this article from espn.com, replay challenges currently take “just over three minutes” on average and the commissioner’s office hopes to get the time down to 1 minute and 15 seconds.  I strongly doubt they’ll get the challenges completed this quickly.

The replays I’ve seen on TV have taken a lot longer than three minutes for the umpires to go wherever they go when a challenge is made on a home run call to review the replay footage and then return to the field to announce their call.  I will admit, though, that I haven’t seen a replay challenge all that recently, and the umpires may be getting faster at it.

Even assuming that new systems are put in place to speed up the review process, I very much doubt it will ever take less than 3 or 4 minutes of dead time for umpires to fully review replay footage.

The games are already long enough with all the pitching changes in today’s game and three minute breaks between half innings for television commercials.  Giving teams three replay reviews per game probably means at least 10 more minutes of dead time during a baseball game on average.

If teams have three replay challenge opportunities per game, I have no doubt that they will use all three just about every game, because the proposed system’s only penalty for incorrectly using a replay challenge is not getting yet another replay challenge.  Particularly in the late innings of a game, why would you fail to use a replay challenge if there was any possibility you might get the call on the field overturned?

Also bear in mind that at the major league level most plays on the bases are close.  How often does a stolen base attempt result in a bang-bang play at second?  Almost all of them.  If the batter is fast and hits a weak ground ball, how often is the play at first close?  Almost every time.

What I think would make a lot more sense, which I’ve proposed before, is to give each team a fixed number of replay challenge opportunities per season, say somewhere between 40 and 100.  If a team uses a replay opportunity and the play is not overturned, they lose that replay opportunity.  If the play is overturned, the team does not lose a replay opportunity. In other words, if a team had 60 replays per season, they would be able to make 60 unsuccessful challenges before they run out of challenges.

The seasonal number of replay opportunities should be such that teams do not elect to challenge calls on the field every single game, but instead save their replays for truly key plays when they really have a reasonable shot at getting the play overturned.  Doing so would increase strategy by forcing managers to decide whether they should challenge a particular call on the field.  Teams that make fewer challenges early in the season would have more at their disposal late in the season.

With the right number of challenges, a majority of games would have no challenges at all, but managers would have enough challenges at their disposal if the umpires blow multiple calls in any one game.