Sunday, April 19, 2020

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2020: the year without a baseball season?


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2020 (the year without a baseball season?)

“All the world is sad and dreary
Everywhere I go...”
--Stephen Foster

Here is a salute to our friends and members of our World Family who are being taken from us.

It’s a troubling time and it seems almost insulting to rue the lack of a baseball season. But baseball is a symbol of America and to lose it and all the other sports and restaurants and movie theaters and bar bands and dances and every other recreational outlet we’ve always taken for granted is shocking and just brings home what a blow this little microbe has struck us.

I hope you are all safe at home and finding your way through. Here are a few stories to distract you and maybe make you remember our national pastime until it comes back to us.

Walter Johnson came up to the Senators in 1907 and was an immediate sensation. Nobody in memory had ever thrown as hard as The Big Train. He threw sidearm and just whipped the ball with his big frame and long arms. He was one of the rare pitchers who didn’t much bother with off-speed pitches. Nobody could catch up with his fastball so why complicate things? In 1908 Young Walter started against the Yankees on a Friday and shut them out on 6 hits. The next day, he started again and shut them out on 4 hits. No game on Sunday but on Monday Johnson started the game again and shut the Yankees out again! This time he only allowed 2 hits! 3 shut outs in 4 days and only gave up 12 hits! Mercy!!

But Walter was a sweet-natured, affable farm boy from Kansas and was afraid of hitting people with that fastball and maybe killing somebody someday. So he didn’t like to pitch inside. No matter...he still threw 110 shutouts in his big league career!

Ty Cobb, the dominant player of the American League, had trouble with Johnson just like everybody else, but he’d noticed how Walter would shy away from any kind of chin music. So Ty started crowding the plate on Walter and just to rattle him, would talk trash to the big galute, calling him names and giving him the usual Cobb routine of abuse. And it worked. Cobb hit over .360 against Johnson . Walter would work on the outside of the plate to avoid hitting Cobb and southpaw Ty would slap singles to left.

So Walter didn’t like Ty Cobb much, even though both men are on record praising the other’s talent. Cobb said Johnson had the best arm he ever saw on a ball field.

Like a lot of pitchers (curiously), Walter took pride in his hitting. (He hit .433 in 1925 in about a hundred at bats!) One of Cobb’s teammates was Sam Crawford, a great hitter and Hall of Famer. Sam was from Wahoo, Nebraska, and he and Walter became casual friends, being fellow Midwestern farm boys and all. Johnson admired Crawford’s bats and he’d borrow one to hit with when the Senators would play the Tigers.

So, in payment for Sam Crawford’s generosity with bat lending, whenever the game wasn’t in the balance and Crawford was coming up, the Senator’s catcher would whisper to the Tiger hitter, “Hey Sam...Walter likes you today.” That meant Johnson was coming in fat with a medium fastball and Sam should get ready. So “Wahoo” Sam would be hitting triples off the right field wall while Cobb was pecking little singles into the short field. Drove Ty Cobb absolutely crazy.

There are so many stories about Satchel Paige. Who knows how many are true and how many have been...let’s say...elaborated upon?
One way or another, Old Satch was a legendary pitcher and character and one of the most popular sports figures in history. His first major league start at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1948 set an attendance record. He was a (supposed) 42 year old rookie. (It may have been closer to 50!) Other interesting facts about Satchel:

*He learned to pitch as a 13-year old in an Alabama reform school where he did time for shoplifting.

*He attributed his longevity to a secret potion that was given to him by Sioux Indians when Paige was playing semi-pro baseball in North Dakota. It was some horrible stinky concoction that included gunpowder and rattlesnake venom but Satch insisted it kept his arm loose. (Something had to...he pitched an estimated 2500 games in his career!)

He liked to call in his fielders to sit behind the mound in the last inning of games while he struck out the side.

*Also, something very close to this might have actually happened, according to Negro League manager and Baseball Saint Buck O’Neal:

Satchel’s Team, the Kansas City Monarchs, was playing the Homestead Grays in the Negro League World Series of 1942. The big hype was that Satchel would be facing the equally legendary hitter Josh Gibson. Satchel arranged a stunt when Josh first came to the plate to face him. He had another player put on a white doctor’s smock and come out to the plate with a stethoscope to check Gibson’s heartbeat.

Pitching in relief in a close game in the last inning Satchel gave up a hit. He called his manager O’Neal over from first and announced that the fans had paid to see a confrontation between him and Josh Gibson and he couldn’t disappoint them. There were two outs and two batters due before Gibson so Satch stated that he was going to walk the next two hitters to get to Gibson with the bases loaded. O’Neal couldn’t talk him out of it, so Paige proceeded to do just that.

With the fans going crazy Satchel struck Gibson out on three straight fastballs. Now that’s showmanship, folks!

Some little bits of baseball information for you:
*Jud Castro, a second baseman from Medellin, Columbia, was the first Latin American to appear in the major leagues, playing 42 games for the Philadelphia Athletics of 1902. He hit .245 with 1 home run.

*in 1886, Guy Hecker of Louisville had the greatest hitting performance of any pitcher in history when he went 6 for 6 with 3 home runs. He scored 7 runs in that game, which is still the all time record for any player. It has never even been tied. Hecker hit a league leading .341 that season as a hitter, and won 26 games as a pitcher. In 1884 he had won 52 games and lost 20.

*Eddie Collins, the Hall of Fame second baseman who played 25 years with the old Athletics and White Sox, played a game on Sept. 11, 1912 in which he stole 6 bases for Philly against the Tigers. That was a record. But just to emphasize the point, Collins stole another 6 in a game against the St. Louis Browns 11 days later!

*The Giants once had a deaf and mute pitcher named Dummy Taylor (they were so kind and politically correct in those days). Despite these challenges, Taylor had a perfect way of expressing his dissatisfaction with the decision of an umpire. He used to hold his nose.

* Ninth inning, one run game, Giants behind, runner on third, one out. Manager John McGraw sends Sammy Strang up to pinch hit with orders to bunt. Pitcher comes in with a fat pitch that Sammy can’t resist. He takes a full swing and slams a homer over the right field fence. As he crosses home plate with the winning run McGraw snarls at him “That homer will cost you $50. When I say bunt, I mean bunt!”
You don’t mess with McGraw.

*Joe Tinker of the famous Tinker to Evers to Chance double play combo of the old Cubs married a young lady who knew nothing about baseball. So he takes her to her first game and gets her a box seat. Tinker is having a spectacular day, fielding superbly, slamming the ball and running like a demon. Late in the game he stretches a single into a double with a head first slide into second. Then on the next pitch he takes off and steals third with another great slide. At the end of the game Joe walks over to the box where his radiant bride awaits and asks her “how’d you like the game, Dear.”
Oh, it was fascinating ” she gushes. “But really, Joe, you ought to be more careful. You fell down twice running around the bases!”

MLB Network and Draft Kings are presenting a tournament of All-Time teams with 16 AL teams and 16 NL teams playing 7 game simulated (with some unexplained computer program) series in a round of 32, 16, 8, 4, 2 and the big championship between leagues in the Final 2. In order to round out the sides into an even 16 teams on each side, they’ve added a Negro League All Star team to the AL side and an under-25 young player squad for the NL.

Since I love making up All Time teams and arguing with myself about them I have studied the rosters and the rules and have these comments that might either help you place your bets or just make you mad. (the tournament starts on Monday April 20 and a lot of the games are streaming or on the MLB channels and radio stations.)

First of all, a player may appear on more than one team simultaneously. You get the Angels version of Nolan Ryan and also the Astros version and the Rangers version. (What, no Mets Nolan?)
This is ludicrous. Roberto Alomar is on the Orioles, the Blue Jays and the Indians. Babe Ruth is a pitcher on the Red Sox and also plays for the Yankees. That means he can face himself if the Yankees play the Red Sox.

Just choose the team the player had his biggest success with or played the most years with or something. The only really tough calls are Frank Robinson (Reds or Orioles?), Eddie Collins (Athletics or White Sox?) Alomar and a few more. I mean, Jimmy Foxx had his biggest success with the Athletics and just a few good years for the Red Sox. Making Foxx the starting first baseman of the Red Sox just gets in the way of Yaz, Ortiz, Mo Vaughn, Jim Rice and others having playing time.

The next blindingly illogical decision is to then base performance on the player’s 3 best years. So why does Joel Zumaya get to play for the Tigers? He only played one year with the injuries. Does he get to use the stat projections of that one good year, one year with fragments of injury-ridden years or what? They’ve got players who never even played 3 years on rosters. The under 25 team has players who have yet to play their first major League game! (catcher Adley Rutschman) What stats are they going to use for those players? Is somebody going to just predict what kind of player they’ll be?

There is no explanation of what the ballpark effects are to be. Neutral site? Some computerized make believe house of digital perfection? Wrigley Field and Fenway Park? Home and away? After all, Babe Ruth in Yankee Stadium is a different proposition from Ruth in , say, Forbes Field. Just what are the playing parameters? It kind of matters, O Hallowed Draft King Geniuses.

My fourth great reservation is the inclusion of the very worst steroid abusers of the recent Dark Ages of enhanced baseball. That’s an insult to the game. Why not just go ahead and project what some of the great players of past eras WOULD have performed like if they’d been given the juice? Sure, why not? Roll up your sleeve Mick! Let’s see what an augmented Mantle would have done with a little horse piss in him to even things out with McGwire! Hey...Rogers Hornsby hit .424 playing clean and won two triple crowns. What he needs is some simulated testosterone. What will he hit now? (Answer: .465, 62 home runs, 207 RBI’s) The whole comparison thing is skewed badly if you get what I mean.

Number 5 in my list of bitches is how are they factoring in defense? And who manages the team...a homer happy Earl Weaver or bunting frenzy John McGraw? Kind of matters if you have Sparky going to the bullpen or Casey platooning his ass off. None of this is explained because of course we civilians can’t be expected to think...let’s just have another home run contest!

So I will studiously avoid my general disappointment with the basic tenets of this online distraction but will try to enjoy it as it is presented out of sheer baseball deficiency and house-bound boredom.

The teams are seeded based on World Series victories, pennants won, playoff appearances and regular season records over the whole history of baseball. ( I don’t think they are including pre-1900 but I’m not sure. They have a few players from that era but nobody who played the majority of their career pre 1900 except Cy Young.) All well and good. The Negro League All Stars and the Under 25 Young ‘Uns are both seeded 8th. Also understandably fair. Every roster is 11 pitchers and 15 everyday players.

Here are the first round matchups and my evaluations and predictions : (note**the starting lineups are set by the geniuses, so when I present them to you I’m just reporting THEIR decisions...I criticize as I go along.)

AL BRACKET:
Game 1: NY Yanks (#1 AL seed) vs. Seattle Mariners (#16): The Yanks are loaded with power, as you would no doubt expect. Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio...Reggie at DH and He Who Must Not Be Named at third base. Fuhget-About-It! The Yanks will bludgeon their way through this series. They are lacking only that one dominant pitcher. They have Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry and if Guidry had 3 years like 1978 on his resume it might be different. New York’s killer bullpen (Rivera and Gossage) might make up for it.

The Mariners have Randy Johnson to beat the Yanks a couple of times, but nobody else except maybe Felix Hernandez at his peak. Bad bullpen relatively. The starting lineup has Edgar Martinez at third and Nelson Cruz at DH. That’s wrong. Adrian Beltre should be on third (if defense counts for anything in this extravaganza) with Edgar at DH and mix Cruz into the outfield. And oh yeah.. He Who Must Not Be Named is playing shortstop for the Mariners!

Prediction: Yanks get beat twice by the Big Unit but prevail 4 games to 2.

Game 2: Athletics (#2) vs. Rays (#15): I agree that the Athletics should be rated this high. They have a very balanced lineup of Jimmy Foxx, Eddie Collins, Sal Bando and Bert Campaneris around the infield with Mickey Cochrane at catcher (one of the best) and Rickey Henderson, Al Simmons and Reggie in the outfield. That’s Grade A speed plus big power. My only quibbles are that Jason Giambi shouldn’t get to be DH. But, the alternatives on the bench are Canseco and McGwire so how you gonna be a purist? Also, Frank “Home Run” Baker is a good leftie hitter over Sal Bando at third.

The A’s have that Super Pitcher in Lefty Grove (his ERA was 2 runs below everybody else pitching in the best hitting environment ever (the late 20s and early 30s)...for about 6 years in a row) Eddie Plank, Catfish, Vida Blue and relievers Fingers and Eckersley back him up. (Where is Chief Bender? Where is Rube Waddell?) Definite threat to win it all.

The Rays are an admirable team of over achievers but it’s mostly a roster of guys they traded once they got good. They have Longoria, Carl Crawford and a few pitchers. No chance.

A’s sweep!

Game #3: Red Sox vs. Rangers (#14): The Sox have the unhappy situation of too many great players having to sit because there is not a spot for them. Foxx, Pedroia, Boggs and Nomar on the infield, Fisk catching and Williams, Betts and Evans from left to right. Ortiz is DH. Having Foxx play for two teams means Yaz is sitting? Betts has had at least 3 great years and I love him but are you saying Yaz doesn’t top that with about ten awesome years? I put Williams at DH (he’d love it), Yaz in left where he shines and Ortiz at first. I’d also use Evans off the bench as a defensive replacement and pinch hitter and play Jim Rice as a booming right handed bat to balance Williams and Ortiz and Yaz. Add Fred Lynn to the roster. And maybe Mo Vaughn too. Too many stars! Strong starters in Pedro, Clemens, Cy Young, Tiant, Lester, Babe Ruth and Lefty Grove (the later version). Much better than the Yankees rotation. The Red Sox have a very good shot.

The Strangers have a bunch of players who could never win anything and that’s why they’re seeded so low. They are also a schizophrenic team with good citizens like Michael Young, Toby Harrah, Jim Sundberg, Adrian Beltre, Rusty Greer and Ian Kinsler on the same field with Juan Gonzalez, Ruben Sierra, He Who Must Not etc at short and Rafael (“I never took steroids except for those nine years”) Palmeiro. Except for Old Nolan and nasty Kevin Brown no pitching. And where is Josh Hamilton? Fodder for the Big Boys.

Red Sox in 5.

Game #4:Tigers (#4) vs. Angels (#13): The Tigres are a strong Dark Horse in this tournament. They have Cobb, Greenberg, Gehringer, and Miggy Cabrera so that’s four all timers to get them started. They have Hank Greenberg starting in left field so Miggy can play first but I would put Miggy at third instead of George Kell and have Greenberg at his natural position of first with Kirk Gibson in left field. Harry Heilmann has to be the DH over Willie Horton. (Heilmann batted over .390 four times! With mucho RBIs!)By the way, Al Kaline is the right fielder for all time on the Tigers. RIP Al! You were one of the Truebloods. And by the way, Wahoo Sam Crawford has to be on this club! Especially after I featured him in my funny story about Walter and him.
The rotation is way good: Verlander, Newhouser, Scherzer, McClain, Lolich, Jack Morris and Jim Bunning. Yikes! Only the two lefties in Newhouser and Lolich but some major firepower. I’d make Bunning the closer. And couldn’t we have Mark “The Bird” Fidrych just for the genuine heart warming thrill of it? Instead of Joel Zumaya?

The Angels are a little short. (What’s new?) Only 4 real HOFers in Ryan, Carew (also on the Twins) DH Vlad Guerrero and future inductee Mike Trout. Guys like Tim Salmon and Bobby Grich are excellent players but look who you are comparing them to.

Tigers in 5! (No lower seed upsets yet!)

Game #5: Orioles (#5) vs. Astros (#12): Major screw up by the sophomoric, so-called baseball experts who designed these all-time teams. The Orioles used to be the St. Louis Browns years before they moved to Baltimore in the early fifties. The jelly-wigglers who came up with this roster just missed the whole EXISTENCE of that Browns team. That means who cares if Hall of Famers like George Sisler (he hit over .400 twice and was considered the best first baseman in the game pre-Lou Gehrig) and Bobby Wallace, the great shortstop of yore don’t even get mentioned. How about Ken Williams who led the AL in home runs one year when Babe Ruth had a belly ache and was the first 30-30 player ever? (that’s homers and steals) How about Harland Clift the good hitting third baseman? And pitcher Urban Shocker? All of these St. Louis Browns should be on this roster. Yes, the Brownies were an historically inept team, but they won a pennant and went to a World Series. (1944….the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1953) A stupid, unforgivable oversight to forget these players. The Twins roster remembers the old Washington Senators who moved to the Twin Cities. They remembered that the Nationals were once the Montreal Expos. But they forgot the franchise-move from St. Louis to Baltimore of the Browns/Orioles and also the old Boston Braves who became Milwaukee and then Atlanta. I’ll damn their eyes for that insult later! Nincompoops! (Sorry Cal Ripken and Brooks Robinson, but not even good guys like you can make me further evaluate your team!)

The Houston Astros were once a gritty team that could never win. Then they cheated their asses off and prevailed. A sorry legacy.
Infield of Bagwell, Biggio, Bregman and Correa...catcher Ausmus... Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno and Berkman in the outfield. They put Jose Altuve at DH but that’s a no-go for me. I say Jimmy (“Toy Cannon”) Wynn has to be in the outfield or DH, Altuve at second and move Biggio around from DH to second to outfield and even catcher.
Rotation of Ryan, J.R.Richards, Mike Scott and Roy Oswald. Closer Billy Wagner to neutralize all the big left-handed hitters in this league.

Upset Special! Astros in 5!

Game #6: Twins/Senators (#6) vs. Blue Jays (#11): I guess the Twins rate this high because they remembered all the stars that played for all the old Washington Senators. (Don’t worry, I won’t let up.) Middle of the road team led by Carew, Killebrew, shortstop Joe Cronin, Goose Goslin, Kirby Puckett and Joe Mauer. That’s not the Yankees or the Red Sox but it’s pretty good. Starters are Johnson, Blyleven, Johann Santana and Jim Kaat. Weak bullpen and weak bench. If one of those pitchers behind Walter Johnson gets hot they could surprise.

So sorry Blue Jays but you don’t have a long enough history as an expansion team to have enough Hall of Famers to compete in a tournament of this kind. Roy Halladay will win a game or two and..

It’s Twins/Senators in 6!

Game #7: White Sox (#7) vs. K.C. Royals (#10): The White Sox are a sleeper team. Long odds against but they have a real shot. This is because they are balanced and have some superstars in the right places and some very strong pitching. Infield is Frank Thomas, Nellie Fox (very underrated), Robin Ventura and Luke Appling (underrated). Catcher is Carlton Fisk. Outfield is Magglio Ordonez, Minnie Minoso(along with Mantle, the top player in the league throughout the 50s, according to Ted Williams) and Harold Baines with Konerko as DH. Problem: you have Eddie Collins and Shoeless Joe Jackson on the bench. If you’re going to let them be on your team despite cloning multiple team players and reinstating banished gambling transgressors you have to play them. Collins is an all-timer. Jackson one of the ten best hitters ever. (He hit over .400 and Ruth copied his swing.) Let Fox play second but put Collins at third or short when a right hand pitcher is on the mound. Let Jackson play all the time and platoon Ordonez and Baines. Thomas should DH...not Konerko who is the better fielder. That gives you potentially 8 Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame level players at one time in your lineup. Look at this: Collins(5), Fox(4), Minoso(8), Jackson(9) Thomas(DH), Konerko(3), Baines(7), Appling(6), Fisk(2).

The pitching is also very good with Buehrle, Sale, Billy Pierce and Red Faber with 3 specialist swing men...Wilbur Wood, Ed Walsh and Hoyt Wilhelm. Wood is a knuckleballer who pitched both ends of double headers in the 70s. Hoyt Wilhelm was THE knuckleballer who taught Wood how to. Ted Williams couldn’t hit Hoyt and admitted it. Ed Walsh was an early century spitballer who won over 40 games once and pitched in relief all the time as well. So the Sox have some tricky lefty pitchers and three junkballers who will give the other teams fits. I say they are a threat...a big one.

The Royals have George Brett. Who else? Freddy Patek? Amos Otis? Bo Jackson? Bret Saberhagen and David Cone can pitch. How did they get seeded this high?

White Sox in 5.

Game #8:Negro League All-Stars (#8) vs. Indians (#9): Now this is interesting! How do you evaluate the All Stars with sketchy stats and word of mouth opinions of how great they were? And there is very little doubt that these Negro League stars were legendary talents.

Satchel Paige taught Bob Feller how to pitch. That’s Feller himself giving credit to Satch. They used to tour the country in the off season playing each other’s all stars.
Smoky Joe Williams, Bullet Rogan, Leon Day, Chet Brewer and Hilton Smith were almost as good. So was Martin Dihigo who was a scary hitter as well.

Their lineup? Buck Leonard at first...the black Lou Gehrig.
Josh Gibson at catcher...the black Babe Ruth...maybe the greatest right handed power hitter in history.
Oscar Charleston in the outfield. McGraw called him the greatest ball player he ever saw.
Pop Lloyd at short...as good as Honus they said.
Martin Dihigo...when Johnny Mize was playing in Cuba on the same team, other teams were walking Dihigo in order to pitch to Mize who had led the majors in homers several times and had hit in the .350s. They have Dihigo on the bench!
Cool Papa Bell, Ray Dandridge, Turkey Stearns, Mule Suttles. For some reason the computer Geeks didn’t include Willie Wells, the shortstop, and Cristobal Torriente and ten other all time players.
I don’t know what the ratings system will spit out for evaluation stats, but I would risk a hefty bet that the Negro League All Stars will win it all.

The Indians are no slouches. They have Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker as leaders and all time superstars who dominated the game in their day. Stars of the 40s and 50s like Al Rosen and Lou Boudreau. 90s hitters like Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle. I would play Francisco Lindor at short over Boudreau and add Omar Vizquel to the roster for late inning defense at one infield position or another. Rocky Colavito should be on the team over Travis Hafner. The bench is strong with Earl Averill, Roberto Alomar (He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!)and Larry Doby. Kenny Lofton is a speed threat as a pinch runner and outfield asset. Starters Feller, Kluber, Coveleski, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Sudden Sam McDowell as leftie K artist. I think the Indians would be an even bet with any other team in the AL except the ones they are facing in the first round.

Negro League All Stars in 5!

My AL bracket:

first round:

Yankees over Mariners
Athletics over Rays
Red Sox over Rangers
Tigers over Angels
Astros over Orioles
Twins over Blue Jays
White Sox over Royals
Negro League AS over Indians

second round:

Negro League All Stars over Yankees in 7
Tigers over Astros in 7
Red Sox over Twins in 6
A’s over White Sox in 7

semis:

Negro League All Stars over Tigers in 6
A’s over Red Sox in 7

AL Finals:

Negro League All Stars over A’s in 7

Time out while I pump up for the NL.

NL BRACKET:

Game #1: Cardinals (#1) vs. Rockies (#16)
The Cardinals are historically the second most successful team of all time...after the Yankees...but I think they will have some trouble in this tournament. Compared to the Giants, the Dodgers, and even the Phillies and the Braves their pitching is a little thin. The contenders in this tournament all have 3 or more all time stoppers. I’m talking Koufax, Hershiser, Kershaw/Dodgers...Marichal, Mathewson, Hubbell, Bumgarner/Giants...Alexander, Carlton, Halladay, Schilling, Robin Roberts and Cliff Lee/Phillies. Plus you need a bullpen and some pretty good hold-the-fort type middle relief to go up against stacked power lineups. The Cards have Bob Gibson and Dizzy Dean...both great, but those are the only two Hall of Fame Starters, and two is light in this company.. They have two studs in the bullpen in Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter. It all depends on how pitchers like Wainwright, Carpenter, Brecheen and Mort Cooper do when Diz and Gibby have to rest.

The every day player roster of the Cards is superb, however. One of the best of all time, easily. The gurus have it Pujols, Hornsby, Rolen, Smith in the infield...Molina catching...Medwick, Edmunds and Musial in the outfield with Mark McGwire DH. I could improve on this by banishing McGwire to the Hall of PEDS and putting Hornsby (a lousy defensive player) at DH. Then you’d have a Hall of Fame leadoff man at second when you remember MVP Frankie Frisch. Also, Pujols came up as a third baseman. Why not start him there so you can have HOF Johnny Mize play first? Mize is too good to sit and he missed his natural prime by fighting for his country for 3 years. And you could occasionally move Stan the Man to first to get Lou Brock into the lineup. (Of course, neither Frisch nor Mize is even on the roster. The Geniuses couldn’t see passed Willie McGee.)

I wish the Rockies had a chance but historically...they just have never had any pitchers. But you want offense? How does Larry Walker, Tulo, Arenado, Helton, Galarraga, Bichette, Cargo, Blackmon, LeMahieu, Holliday and Story look to you?

Cardinals in 6!

Game #2: Giants (#2) vs. Brewers (#15): I would favor the Giants over the Cardinals in this simulation because the Giants are allowed to have Barry Bonds and his mutant stats on their team along with Mays, McCovey, Mel Ott and the scary rotation I mentioned above.

The Brewers have a good core with Molitor, Yount and Christian Yelich. But Josh Hader is their best pitcher and even he can only go about 2 innings a game.

Giants Sweep!

Game #3: Dodgers ((#3) vs. Padres (#14): The Bluebloods have been told by the Geniuses to start Roy Campanella over Mike Piazza, and Cody Bellinger over Pedro Guerrero. I would shuffle Sheffield, Snider, Hodges, Garvey, Pedro and Cody around a little between outfield, first and DH and go with platoon matchups. Kind of like how the current Dodgers do it with everybody moving around the field defensively. Catch Campy with the old timer pitchers and Piazza with the Moderns. You have to have Guerrero’s and Piazza’s bats in there. Along with Snider, that’s the power-meat of the order.
Good pitching! Koufax , Kershaw and Hershiser just could be enough. And if they can pitch Koufax 3 games in a 7 game series…
(Big Dodger Boo-Boo...not including Dazzy Vance on the staff. He pitched in the 20s and won 3 ERA titles, 6 KO titles, had 2 10+WAR seasons and won an MVP. This in an era where the league as a whole hit around .300.) .

Poor Padres! They get stomped by the Dodgers in the real world and now they’ll get stomped in the virtual world. Oh well, they have the number 4 clone of Roberto Alomar to make them feel better!

Dodgers Sweep!

Game #4: Reds (#4) vs. Nationals/Expos (#13): This is a very good matchup. Last year’s Champs augmented with some great Expo players of the past like Vlad, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines against The Big Red Augmented Machine.

The Reds lineup is Votto, Morgan, Rose and Larkin on the infield, Bench catching and George Foster, Eric Davis and Frank Robinson in the outfield. (Isn’t it weird that you say “IN” the outfield but you say “ON” the infield? At least that’s how I learned it in Baseball Syntax School.) That’s almost a perfect mix of speed, hitting for average, on base percentage, terrific defense and with Ted Kluszewski as DH...long ball power. Backups like Adam Dunn, Tony Perez and Jay Bruce bring more power if you want it. Vada Pinson and Dave Concepcion bring more speed. 5 certified superstars and some secret weapons like catcher Ernie Lombardi who would make an ideal DH against leftie pitching. He was a line drive hitting machine who won batting titles even though he was the slowest runner in the game. Also, Edd Roush was an all-timer outfield talent, team leader and batting champ in the 20s. I wonder if the Geniuses even noticed.

The surprise is that you never think about great pitching with the Reds. But this All Star has Tom Seaver, Mario Soto and Jim Maloney to start and a super bullpen with the Nasty Boys plus John Franco and Aroldis Chapman! This team could upset the world.
(Psst! You forgot to put the great left handed pitcher Eppa Rixey and right handed starter Bucky Walters on the staff instead of Jose Rijo and Don Gullet.)

The Nats/Expos are last year’s Heroes plus the outfield of the old Expos mentioned above. Bryce Harper and Juan Soto can’t even break into the lineup unless its at DH. But the pitching on this team you don’t want to see in your 7 game series: Steve Rogers, Scherzer, Strassburg, and the Martinezes Dennis and Pedro! That should get your attention.

The Reds are almost perfectly balanced and have the best catcher in the tournament. I like ‘em in 7.

Game #5: Pirates (#5) vs. Dbacks (#12): The Pirates have never produced that superstar pitching Ace until Garret Cole, and they up and traded him before he opted out. And now they can’t even get him on their All Time roster even though he had several get years with the Pirates. You’re telling me he wasn’t better than Bob Friend? Dave Giusti? The Buccos have nowhere to turn unless it’s to relief fork ball specialist Elroy Face.

It’s their everyday player lineup that has them ranked this high. Infield: Stargell, Mazeroski, Traynor, Honus Wagner. Catcher: Jason Kendall. Outfield: Paul Waner, Max Carey, Roberto Clemente

Now I love Bill Mazeroski’s defense...he’s widely considered the best second sacker ever... based on just defense. But his On-Base % was in the .290s. Start Arky Vaughn on second and bring Maz in when you have a lead. Arky hit a ton and won a batting title and an MVP. Max Carey can be a late inning replacement in the outfield and pinch runner with his superlative steal percentage. Start Dave Parker in center. Put Ralph Kiner at DH. His combo of lots of walks and homers is a proven force. The Pirates version of Barry Bonds can jump around the outfield and DH.

The Dbacks are a respectable club but unless they pitch Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling every other day they aren’t going to beat the Braves or anybody else. Randy and Schilling and then take a drilling.

Pirates in 7. If the Dbacks hit.

Game #6: Braves (#6) vs. Marlins (#11): Braves have Chipper Jones at third, but he could play some shortstop. That would get Eddie Mathews over to third and let somebody like Joe Adcock or Rico Carty DH. The Braves have thump with Aaron, Mathews, McGriff, Jones (Chipper and Andruw) . If the Geniuses hadn’t forgotten that the Boston Braves were the direct blood ancestors of these Milwaukee and Atlanta version they could have had players like Kid Nichols (pitcher) and Wally Berger (outfield power) and Rabbit Maranville. He could play some shortstop.
The pitching is tough with the Tres Amigos Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz teaming up with Warren Spahn and knuckleballer Phil Niekro.
The bottom of the NL bracket has been soft so far, but the Marlins are dangerous because of Stanton, Yelich, Sheffield and pre-Tiger Cabrera. They have a strong arm in catcher Realmutto to control all those NL teams that like to run. I don’t like their pitching (Beckett, Jose Fernandez and Anibel Sanchez) against the Braves lineup and starters.

Bravos in 6!

Game #7: Cubs (#7) vs. Mets (#10): Lots of power here for the Cubbies up and down the lineup with Rizzo, Sandberg, Santo, Banks, Hartnett, Billy Williams, Hack Wilson, Sammy Sosa and Andre Dawson all having super productive seasons with the Chicago team. You’ll want to play Dawson in center instead of Hack Wilson, who was born to DH. Mordecai Brown is the Ace of aces but he has help with Maddux, Kerry Wood, Jake Arrietta and Fergie Jenkins. Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter in the bullpen, same as the Cardinals.

Should be a blood feud between these two teams. The Mets have good power in Alonso, Piazza, Strawberry and Beltran and 3 aces in Seaver, Gooden and DeGrom.

Got to go with the Mets in 7. I have to respect those starters. Might be the best matchup of the tourney.

Game #8: Under 25s (#8) vs. Phillies (#9): the Phillies lucked out with this draw. Let’s see what these Young whippersnappers can do against Carlton, Alexander, Halladay and Lee (and Schilling again and Robin Roberts!) This will be ugly because the Phils also can hit with Schmidt, Chuck Klein and Dick Allen.

I love all the young position players for the Unders and I think they will acquit themselves well, but I fear for the rookie pitchers against this Phils lineup and starters. The Phillies have the deepest pitching in the whole tournament except for maybe the Negro League All Stars. These young uns will send Shane Beiber, Mike Soroka, Walker Buehler and Shohei Ohtani out there. Maybe some of these guys will be up where those Phillies men are some day...but not yet.

Phils in 5.

round 1:
Cardinals beat Rockies
Giants beat Brewers
Dodgers beat Padres
Reds beat Nationals
Pirates beat Dbacks...though Dbacks have a shot with the Unit.
Mets beat Cubs...only expansion team to triumph over one of the original 8 NL teams.
Braves beat Marlins
Phillies beat Under 25s...like a drum.

round 2:

Phillies upset the Cardinals and remove the #1 seed.
Reds over the Pirates easily
Dodgers beat the Braves
Giants beat Mets

semis:

Reds squeak it out over Phillies
Giants beat Dodgers...real close... Koufax will win 2 but so will Bumgarner.

NL final:

Giants beat the Reds...who finally run into a team with better pitching and an equally ferocious offense.

And the tournament winner between the Giants and the Negro League All Stars is...the Negro Leagues are the Giants Daddies!

---more later
Stay Safe

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2020: Greatest of All Time


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2020: GREATEST OF ALL TIME?

I am NOT going to talk about the Houston Disastros or the 2020 “Garbage Can Commemorative Bloodbath-Bang” Tour they are about to endure this coming season. My lips are sealed! (Collective sigh of relief from you readers, I am sure.)

I am NOT going to talk about the trade of Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Furball - Gaggers to the Los Angeles Tinsel Towners. ( Collective exclamation of “Thank God” from same.)

No...let’s crawl back in our hole and find a happy place and suck our thumbs and nourish ourselves with the warm milk of appreciation of baseball heroes present and past. Leave those bad boogies in the closet where they can scare you but not demand your immediate attention. (Except you Dodger Fans who I am sure are pre-celebrating your 2020 World Championship. Party On Dudes!)

It’s Spring Training and we need Solace.

So, for this exercise in distraction, let us take up the case of Mike Trout. Is he indeed the Greatest of All-Time (G.O.A.T.) of all baseball….past, present and future?

This is the poetically proposed and pulsatingly pounded premise being prepared by Pundits of the Press...presently.

I simply ask the question...WHY ARE THEY WRONG?

Not that I have anything against Mike Trout. The guy is a Prince as far as I can tell. He’s the best face-of-baseball we’ve had since Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter roamed the infield and gave us reason to BELIEVE again after various drug eras and strike-cancelled World Series poisoned the Well.

But he’s not the GOAT….not yet. He may get there if he has as good a second half to his career as his first half was, but there is a mountain to climb.

For the purpose of this exercise we will used the much debated judging stat called WAR.

WAR is a criticized but commonly used measuring stick for overall value and level of talent in baseball. Very briefly, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. That is, if you had to replace any given player with an acceptable replacement, how many games would the team be expected to win or lose over or under the wins provided by said player.

The good thing about WAR is that it incorporates offense, defense (including adjustments for importance of position), park effects and the prevailing performance climate of the game so you can compare players from different eras and have it make some sort of sense.

Examples: how does New York Giants outfielder Mel Ott, playing in the hitter’s era of the 20’s and 30’s in his home park of the Polo Grounds with its right field wall only 258 feet from the plate but with a 483 foot trek to centerfield stand up against George Brett, the slick third baseman of the hitting- deficient 1970’s and 80’s playing for the Kansas City Royals on the astroturf of cavernous Kaufmann Stadium? (ANSWER: strangely similar level of all around excellence. Ott hit more homers but Brett had higher averages. That’s mostly park effects...Brett would have had much higher hom run totals in another home park. But the astroturf helped his average a lot with those speedy bounces through the infield. They both walked a lot more than they struck out, but Brett did it in a higher strike out era. They were both excellent defenders but Brett played well at a more important position. Brett had a few more seasons playing at a super-star level but Ott had many more at an overall All Star caliber mark. They are both Gold Plated Hall of Famers without doubt.)

Example 2: Pedro Martinez of the hit-happy steroid 1990’s versus Sandy Koufax of the feeble-hitting 60’s? (ANSWER: They each had 5 of the all- time most dominant MVP-worthy seasons ever recorded by a pitcher but Pedro had another 7 seasons pitching at an All Star level. Koufax pitched in one of the worst park for hitters off a high mound in a league that couldn’t score. Martinez did his work in a great offensive climate mostly in one of the best hitter’s parks of all time. Nolo Contendre….it’s Pedro by a Mile. Koufax was awe inspiring...it’s just that Martinez laps him. He was that good and he lasted longer.

WAR has its problems for sure. For one thing, there is some question about how defensive performance is evaluated in light of the fact that some teams have a pitching staff that mostly gives up ground balls and another features high strikeouts and fly balls. How much of that defensive evaluation should be credited to the fielder and how much is just a coincidence of different pitching tendencies? How do you evaluate and assign a WAR number to a catcher who calls a great game and frames pitches like a magician ...like Yadier Molina? Catchers in WAR wind up being quantified mostly on the basis of hitting and runners thrown out and passed balls given up. That’s pretty sketchy and not at all indicative of why a catcher is so valuable. At least WAR assigns a positional value (in some barely decipherable formulaic way) of +12.5 to catchers as opposed to -7.5 to left or right fielders.

Well, there’s no absolutely all-encompassing foolproof stat. Let’s work with the tools available. Here’s a table that gives an approximation of what the numbers mean: (below zero scores occur but players who can’t break 0 rarely last very long at the major league level) There is barely a difference between players 1 point difference, but an easily recognizable level change between players 2 or more points separate.

WAR 0-1: basic level of a scrub
WAR 1-2: role player
WAR 2-3: solid starter
WAR 3-4: good player
WAR 4-5: All Star
WAR 5-6: Super Star
WAR 6+: MVP level player
WAR 8+: persistent MVP and Hall of Fame level player

Players like the above referenced Ott and Brett had top seasons of 9s, 10s and 11s and a bunch of 6’s to 8’s.
Pitchers like Pedro and Sandy K. had a couple of 10-11 years and another bunch of 6 to 9’s. (Pedro had many more of the latter)

Anything over 10 is at the top level of the game. The all time high for an offensive player is Babe Ruth’s 14.1 in 1923. (The Babe had 5 of the top ten WAR seasons of all time...6 out of ten if you kick out Barry Bonds...like I am.)

Mike Trout is tied for 31st highest WAR of all time at 10.5 in 2 seasons...2012 and 2016.

Players with multiple seasons with a WAR of 10.5 or higher:
Ruth: 6
Mays: 6
Williams: 3
Mantle: 3
Cobb: 3
Musial: 2
Hornsby: 2
Yastrzemski: 2

Trout is hardly the best of all time by the measure of highest WAR seasons.

Let’s look at a certain level of greatness, because there is no doubt that Trout is one of the best of all time by this measure. I have picked an arbitrary number of WAR 8+ to measure the worth of an undeniable superstar- Hall of Famer- perennially- MVP- qualified player.

WAR 8 is a level reached by an offensive player only 296 times in all baseball since 1900. (The game was just too different with the 45 foot pitching distance, shorter seasons, too dead balls or too lively balls etc. to include nineteenth century stats) This level is almost exclusively reserved for Hall of Famers. You’ll get the occasional freak year by an Eddie Stanky (WAR 8 in 1950... he walked a whole lot), but for the most part it’s a roster of consensus greatest - of- all- time kinds of players. Each of these seasons represents a year in which the achieving player would be a very strong contender for the MVP (which didn’t exist for a lot of years before the 1930s.)

Mike Trout has reached the WAR 8 mark or above 6 times already in his career. And he’s only 27 so he’s definitely on pace to be a GOAT contender by this measure if he stays healthy.

Other 6+ time WAR 8+ offensive players:
Ruth: 12 times
Mays: 11
Hornsby: 9
Aaron: 8
Gehrig: 7
Williams: 7
Musial: 7
Wagner: 7
Cobb: 7
Speaker: 6
Eddie Collins: 6
Pujols: 6

*Mickey Mantle and Nap Lajoie were very close with 5 each.

**notice the achievements of the dead ball era hitters Speaker, Cobb, Wagner and Collins. These guys achieved their WAR totals without benefit of the many home runs that would be hit by players of later eras. They boosted their scores with stolen bases and good defense.

***I disqualified Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. So sue me. (They are at 10 and 8 respectively)

**** Ted Williams missed most of 5 seasons fighting for his country in WWII and the Korean “Conflict”. I don’t think it’s fair to deny him at least 4 seasons of WAR 8+ considering that he scored above 10 in several seasons both before and after his adventures as a fighter pilot. Nobody gets credit for injury time, but those wars were different.

Stan Musial missed 1 full season during WWII as well and Willie Mays missed almost 2 full seasons while in the army early in his career. It’s probably fair to credit both with 1 additional WAR 8 season.

Players like Hank Greenberg and Johnny Mize also missed 3-4 seasons with war service in the hearts of their careers and would have likely put up WAR 8 seasons playing in their prime. Joe Dimaggio had 3 WAR 8 seasons and missed 3 full years during WWII during the peak of his career. These men and their reputations as exceptional players shouldn’t be forgotten in light of their service to their country. Well done!

As far as our Mike Trout comparisons:

On the basis of number of MVP type seasons attained, Mike is right up there with the best. I think it’s likely he’ll sail on passed everybody but Ted Williams (7 seasons of 8+ WAR and a probable 11 if he hadn’t fought in the wars), Willie Mays (11 and a probable 12 if he hadn’t been drafted) and Babe Ruth.

If he puts up another 6 WAR 8+ seasons he’ll tie The Babe for all time leader.

That’s all projection of course, and who knows Fate? As far as the general prevailing assumption of history, Trout is a great all-around player who is on track to being close to the best of all time. Let’s do the 5 tool comparisons...hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding, throwing.

Cobb was a better (certainly more statistically dangerous) base stealer and better hitter for average. Trout has more power than Cobb, even if you adjust like crazy for Cobb’s dead ball era. Let’s call them even as defensive players.

Tris Speaker was one of the best defensive outfielders of all time. Give him the nod in throwing and fielding and probably hitting. Trout takes running and power.

Gehrig could have been a better power hitter and was probably a better hitter overall. He wasn’t close in the other three categories.

Musial was a better hitter. Trout has him otherwise.

Hornsby got rich hitting in small NL ballparks of the 20’s. He was not on Mike’s level as a fielder, thrower or runner.

Mike Trout is a much better all around player than Ted Williams was. There, I’ve said it. Williams lost a lot of WAR points with penalties for weak fielding and running. But he was one of the two best hitters...ever.

We’ll have to see if Mike Trout can reach the stratosphere of Hank Aaron as an all-timer. Aaron is one of the most respected stars of baseball history and he played so consistently and largely injury free.
Trout plays a more important defensive position and plays it well. Throwing even. Running even. Henry Aaron was an insane hitting machine and power hitter. Trout has more raw power but Henry hit it over the fence just as often. Aaron didn’t strike out nearly as much. It all depends on how Mike holds up for the next decade. I’m not prepared to say that Mike Trout is better than Henry Aaron.

He’s not any better than Mickey Mantle either, even though Trout already has more 8+ WAR seasons at age 27. That’s largely a factor of Mantle’s many injuries, but it still counts. Trout reached those heights of value while Mick was on the pine healing a lot. But at their best, Mickey Mantle was a better thrower and hitter . I’ll say Trout is a slightly better fielder. He couldn’t stand with Mantle as a raw power hitter. Mantle hit some of the longest home runs ever seen. Mantle was also one of the fastest base runners of all time...at the beginning of his career. Remember that Mickey had 3 seasons with higher WARs than Trout has achieved. It’s just the injuries that separate them so far.

Willie Mays had 6 seasons of WAR 10.5 or higher. After he got out of the army at age 23 Willie played 13 consecutive seasons of at least 152 games played. Willie played in a cold, windy Candlestick Park that dampened offense to say the least. If he had played his home games in any other park of his day except maybe Chavez Ravine and not missed those early seasons when he got drafted, Willie would have broken Ruth’s home run record before Aaron. He still wound up with 660!

Power: Willie. Over 35 homers 10 times (Trout 4 so far) and 2 seasons over 50 (Trout zero...and remember he is hitting in the all time best home run hitting era).
Hitting for average: Willie...especially since he played most of his career in the 60’s when pitching was dominant.
Running: Willie led the NL in steals 4 times. (Trout 1 so far.) He was one of the best base runners anybody ever saw.
Defense: Willie is widely considered the best center fielder of all time. Remember Durocher’s quote: “If Jesus Christ came down from heaven and played center field, I’d still look you in the eye and tell you Willie was better.”
Throwing: Willie’s arm was the stuff of legend...much stronger than Trout’s.

Mike may have more MVPs than Willie, but there is no way Mike Trout is greater than Willie Mays in any 5-tool category.

Ditto that for Honus Wagner. Although it is really hard to see through the mists of time and evaluate the old guys like Honus, the best baseball eye-witnesses of the day called him the GOAT. Just remember that even though he played in the deadest of dead ball eras where home runs hit over some (usually non-existent) fence were a mere rumor, Wagner led the league in slugging many times and led in doubles and triples often. He was considered the most powerful bat of his day. He led the league in steals 5 times, average 7 times, OPS 8 times. I mean the guy dominated his league offensively. Not only that but he played shortstop and was the best. And his arm was legendary...they used to move him into the outfield when a sac fly would beat them because nobody could score from third on his arm! Only Babe Ruth ever dominated his league like Honus Wagner did. With the possible exception of power hitting, Honus rules over Mike Trout in 5 tool categories.

That leaves Babe Ruth. Poor old Babe! Everybody sees those old films of a fat guy mincing around the bases waving his hat and think he was a joke. Yeah...he was joke all right. I won’t even bother to list stats with him. I already mentioned above that he has 6 of the TOP TEN WARs of ALL TIME. Just think of what that really means. And one further small detail...besides the 12 years of WAR 8+ as an offensive player, the Babe gets one more for a WAR 8.8 as a pitcher in 1916! Trout is definitely a better runner and fielder than the “Caliph of Clout” ever was. It don’t matter none, as they say. Ruth dominated baseball with his bat and his arm and nobody else ever came close to doing that.

Thanks for the attention and drop me an email if you want to register your thoughts.

Next time: THE ALL-TIME ALL STAR PITCHING STAFF