Discover more from Lost in Left Field
The great John J. “Buck” O’Neil would have turned 112 on Monday. In honor of that, here’s the link to my story about the day he was so great to me and my son.
Globe Life Field is a well-done stadium, with tons of amenities, good food, easy to get to (for the DFW area), and plenty of things to see and do. But it just seemed like I was sitting in a mall the entire time, or an airplane hangar. I’m glad we went, and I’m happy for the Rangers and their fans for winning this year’s World Series, but I liked their last ballpark better.
This was Willie Hernandez’s 69th birthday. A pretty good reliever for many years with the Cubs and Tigers, he won both the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award in the American League in 1984. Those are two of the worst awards given in that wacky decade in which relievers suddenly starting winning honors they had no business receiving. There was simply no universe in which Hernandez was a better pitcher that year than Dave Stieb, Bert Blyleven, Doyle Alexander or Mike Boddicker. It’s arguable he was no better than Frank Viola, Jim Beattie, Mark Langston, and his teammates, Dan Petry and Jack Morris. Here’s where he finish in Fangraphs WAR among pitchers who threw at least 120 innings:
And don’t even get me started on the MVP award going to a relief specialist in the same year a shortstop (who was also the defending MVP) had 10.0 WAR. Just an abomination, and a likely Bad Decisions newsletter sometime in the future. Anyway, Happy Birthday Willie! I hoping you’re enjoying those early gifts you received.
Tuesday’s newsletter was dealt with the issue of “fame” in regard to Hall of Fame discussions, in particular the case of John Olerud. He was a wonderful player with a good but borderline case to make the Hall of Fame, but had virtually no “fame” during his actual playing career. Should that matter in the voting? Most typically I’d say no, but in cases like his I’ve started to shift my thinking a bit.
In Wednesday’s newsletter, I looked a bit at the infamous College of Coaches, the horrible decision by the Cubs in the early 1960s to get rid of the traditional manager role and have a group of coaches randomly rotate through a “head coach” position that left the player, fans, and other coaches confused. It’s essentially proof positive that Philip Wrigley was typical smart to stick to the gum business.
Wednesday the date upon which, in 1989, the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen won his second Cy Young Award. Just 25-years old at that point, he already had those two Cy Youngs, a record of 92-61, a total of 32.0 WAR, a Gold Glove, a World Series ring and a World Series MVP. He was basically on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, and if he’d had anything remotely like a normally healthy decline phase to his career, you wouldn’t be reading this, at least not this version of it, because he’d have a plaque in Cooperstown.
Alas, in addition to leading the league in wins, ERA, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, and K/BB ratio, there was one other league-leading number for Saberhagen that season that impacted his career even more: 262.1. That’s the number of innings he pitched that season, most in the league.
There are valid arguments to be made that teams now are too careful with starting pitchers, don’t develop their arms enough, and as a result really aren’t cutting down on injuries as much as they might. But it’s also pretty clear that 262 innings for a 25-year old, giving him over 1,300 in the first 6-years of his career, isn’t the greatest way to develop a young pitcher’s arm, either. Saberhagen only threw 135 innings the following year, and was slowed by injuries the rest of his career. He never again managed to stay healthy for even 200 innings in a season, and totaled fewer innings in the final 11 season of his career than he had compiled in his first six. It’s a damn shame, because he was a special talent when he was young and healthy.
This was the date in 1966 when Roberto Clemente was announced as the winner of the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Just a quick test, which of these seasons is his MVP-winning year?
Not much difference, is there? At this point in his career, Clemente was having remarkable seasons after remarkable season, any one of which could have been honored with the MVP. As it so happens, the first one is his 1966 MVP-winning season. The others are his next three season, 1967, 1968 and 1969. Just a remarkable run from a remarkable player.
It’s easy to write about superstars, or players with a remarkable story of some kind. It’s harder, to write about the kind of players who make up the majority of major league rosters. Utility infielders, or lefty relievers, maybe a backup catcher. They all play critical roles in a team’s success. Among them are the guys sometimes known as “professional hitters,” though that’s a bit too broad from my perspective. Most guys with that label are lineup regulars and semi-stars at least. What I mean is the guy who can come off the bench and get a hit, or the guy you just know is going to make contact. Or the guy who can’t hit lefties to save his life, but will wreck right-handed pitching and be a valuing member of a positional platoon arrangement. Guys like Johnny Grubb.
Finally, let’s all remember Johnny Davis, an outstanding outfielder for the Newark Eagles who passed away on this date in 1982 at the age of 65. He played eight seasons for Newark in the 1940s, and his average 162-game season would look like this:
663 Plate Appearances, 575 At-Bats, 94 Runs, 173 Hits, 30 Doubles, 7 Triples, 17 Homers, 108 RBI, 7 Steals, 75 Walks, 4.2 WAR, and a batting line of .301/.385/.468.
That’s remarkably similar to the 162-game averages posted by Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Cronin.
Granted, we have no idea what Davis would have done in a career as long as Cronin’s, or if he’d had to play shortstop line Cronin did, or managed like he did. We can’t say Davis was the equal of Cronin. At the same time, we have no idea what Cronin would have done riding busses between games, eating terrible food, playing doubleheaders most days, using dirty, scuffed baseballs, and having to sleep on the bus or in the stadium locker room many nights went no one would rent him a room because of the color of his skin.
Which means we also can’t say that Cronin was the equal of Johnny Davis.
Thanks for reading Lost in Left Field! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.