Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Cy Young was the Real Deal Back in the Day

March 2, 2019

Cy Young

Cy Young. ~ His name is synonymous with so many things larger than life about pitching in the big leagues.

…. “Pitcher of the Year!” ~ What are the only two words we think of for the best two single pitchers of the season in each league on an annual basis? ~ They aren’t simply words. They’re a name. ~ “Cy Young” ~ short for “Cy Young Award” ~ the formal name that’s been given that isn’t even needed in full expression to convey the meaning of the following question as it passes between two baseball fans each late August. ~ “Whose taking the Cy Young this year?”

…. Cy Young was a member of the original 13-inductee 1937 first class of players chosen for the 1939 grand opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. ~ And why not? ~ His reasons for inclusion were far greater than a one-column synopsis could possibly cover. You may as well just go to Cy’s stat page at Baseball Reference .com and scope out all the data titles embossed in black to denote his all time leadership. The Cy Young page looks as though someone spilled a pepper shaker bottle on it as you were examining Cy Young’s deep and enduring list of great accomplishment.

…. Young’s 511 wins and 315 losses are both all time records, the kind that no one else is likely ever to break because of the way the game has so dramatically changed in a little over one century’s time. The wins are clearly attributable to Cy Young’s greatness during an era in which most winning pitchers completed more than half the games they started. The losses were just there as a bi-product tail of Young’s greatness as a winner.

…. Cy completed 749 of the 815 games he started. ~ both are career MLB records. He also pitched in relief in 91 games to bring his total games pitched to 906, but that is not the record in pitching appearances. Reliever Jesse Orosco holds the all-time game appearance mark with 1,252.

…. Mr. Young gave up 2,147 earned runs and 7,092 hits in 7,356.0 innings pitched ~ all for MLB career records ~ but he only surrendered 138 dead ball era home runs in 22 years and did finish with a career 2.63 ERA.

…. How’s this one for a busy afternoon thought? Cy Young also holds the MLB career record for most batters faced at a whopping total of 29,565. ~ Now that’s a lot of men with wood in their hands and malice in their hearts toward the long and short-haul of a pitcher’s best interests.

That’s OK. ~ Old Cy could give as well as he took. In 22 seasons, he won, at least, 20 games per season on 16 different occasions. It was mostly up from 20 when Cy went over that line ~ with a 5-season climb above 30 wins for the cyclonic wonder!

Nobody’s ever forgotten you, Cy Young, nor ever should they. Few also know too that during that first 20th century 1903 World Series contest between your Boston American league club and the Pittsburgh Nationals that you also helped out in the Bean Town ball park ticket booth during one of the games you were not scheduled to pitch.

And why not? Whether it was during the actual first World Series or at some other big attendance game during the regular season, you were helping your club out where you were needed that day, ~ were you not? ~ And that sometimes included handling the fans’ need for access to the ball park for the best available seats or places to stand among the overflowing throng of excited early era baseball supporters.

Bryce Harper

Wow! ~ What are the chances that Bryce Harper will ever help the Phillies punch tickets at the turnstiles a single time over the next 13 year-run of his gazillion dollar playing  contract? ~ Yes, we do know. It’s a different world today.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

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What I Loved About The Sporting News

February 28, 2019

THE SPORTING NEWS
Wearing the Face of Its Glory Years

 

We didn’t have anything like ESPN ~ or the Internet ~ or even like the future Pecan Park Eagle when I was a kid, growing up in Post World War II Houston, but ~ if we were lucky, we had a grandmother like Elizabeth McCurdy, down in Beeville, Texas ~ west of Victoria and east of Laredo ~ and north of Corpus Christi and south of San Antonio.

I never had a chance to meet my writer/newspaper man grandfather, William O. McCurdy, the originator, publisher and editor of a little South Texas buzz newspaper called The Beeville Bee because he had died a little more than 24 years prior to my 1937 birth, but I had grown up with Grandmother McCurdy ~ and she had accurately done the early call on my interest in reading, writing and baseball from my earliest of times in her company. And that led her to give me a birthday gift one year that grew into one of those gifts that keeps on giving over the years ~ even to this day.

On my 12th birthday, December 31, 1949, Grandmother sent me a card that said from now on, I would be receiving a once a week mail delivery of The Sporting News out of St. Louis, Missouri.

It was news that was only slightly more exciting to me than the news of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the surface of the moon ~ nearly 20 years later ~ in 1969. Back then, TSN came weekly in newspaper print and page sufficiency that would have been bulky enough to pass for a small city’s Sunday edition take on all the news in the world ~ and TSN was a baseball topic rag back then ~ for 12 months a year. Everything about the big leagues and minors ~ down to all that good and gooey statistical minutiae ~ it was always there to gleam one’s hungry eyes away ~ as, indeed, I invariably did ~ until social change ~ many years later ~ turned TSN into something I no longer cared to support.

None of that eventual demise matters now. Now one can see it again as it was in its time of baseball glory. And its pretty broadly available through an Internet source site called “Newspaper Archives” that is available to subscribers.

Here’s a link to a page on the Texas League from the August 1, 1951 edition:

https://newspaperarchive.com/st-louis-sporting-news-aug-01-1951-p-29/

(My apologies if the newspaperarchive.com home site does anything that blocks your access.)

Some tidbits from Page 29 …

Low Run Totals/Fast Game Pace. A sidebar story shows how the 8 Texas League teams played 4 full games on July 20, 1951 and only scored a grand total of 11 runs in the process. ~ Two of the games resulted in shutouts and none of the four contests required more than one hour and fifty-five minutes to complete. ~ No one had to be concerned about the speed of play and clock solutions back in 1951. ~ So what has happened over the years since that time? ~ Did television commercials and the human ego’s need for attention ~ when they know the game camera is upon them ~ do all that damage to the pace of our beautiful game?

Harry Craft was the manager of the Beaumont Exporters in 1951. He’s only eleven years away from his historic role as Houston’s first major league manager of the 1962 Houston Colt .45s.

The 1951 Houston Buffs (70-43, .619) have an 8-game lead over the Beaumont Exporters (61-50, .550) for first place in the Texas League race. The Buffs will finish first and win the playoffs for the 1951 Texas League pennant, but they will go on to lose the Dixie Series to the Birmingham Barons.

Buff Pitchers Looking Good. Through July 25, 1951, Buff Reliever DIck Bokelmann (9-1, .900) sports the best winning percentage record in the ’51 TL season. Buff Starter Octavio Rubert (13-4, .765) ranks 5th and Buff Starter Al Papai (15-8, .652) ranks 8th as the race heads into the stretch.

Buff Hitters? Not So Much. Over the same stat period, the Houston Buffs don’t have a single .300 hitter. Buff Third Baseman Eddie Kazak is the 1951 TL’s 20th best percentage hitter (71 for 249) at .285.

Kudos to 1951 San Antonio Missions 3rd Baseman Jim Dyck for his July 22nd contribution to a 9-run 8th inning his club had against the Shreveport Sports in their 16-1 runaway win. Dyck blasted 2 home runs in the big inning. In the same sidebar, TSN notes that back on August 3, 1930, Gene Rye of Waco set the TL record for most HR in one inning by a single batter when he crunched 3 round-trippers in the 8th inning of a game against Beaumont. ~ Almost, almost unbelievable!

That’s it~ But only because other duties call. ~ I could sit on this single page and churn out stuff like you see here for the next 24 hours and still be scrambling when you called to remind me that time was up.

Anyway, good luck on the page access. If that does not work for you as a non-member, simply visit the site and take advantage of their look-see free opportunity to check out the place for yourself.

If you get in, all I can add is ~ Welcome to the history playground! ~ Allow leisure fun time to begin by turning your search options open to your own imagination.

What a way to spend the day!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

Indoor Baseball, Chicago Style, From 1887

February 27, 2019

This 1897 image is the earliest known photo of an indoor baseball team.
**********
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

There’s a very interesting article by a fellow named Jeff Nichols in the January 30, 2019 Chicago Reader about the origins of a baseball derivative sport they called “indoor baseball” on the south side of Chicago back in 1887. It is, so far, the best description I’ve ever found on the root causes of the game’s invention and how the regular game of baseball had to be modified to work indoors – in spaces that were never designed to handle the zoom-and-go flight of an actual baseball ~ even in the deadball era.

I already knew that my birthplace home town of Beeville ~ along with several other small South Texas cities ~ had played a game they called “indoor baseball” for a brief time in the early 20th century. I just could not discover or envision how they could have played anything close in resemblance to the real game of baseball in the kinds of very small and limited spaces available to them at the Bee County Fairgrounds.

Nichols’ article answers any serious questions I may have harbored. It was more like stick ball, if the game were being played out in the lobby of a very small hotel.

It’s still a good read ~ and interesting to learn that a very young George Halas, the NFL icon founder and longtime coach of the Chicago Bears ~ along with his older brother, Walter Halas, ~ were two of the south side boys who also helped get indoor baseball off to a somewhat less roaring start.

https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-surprising-chicago-origins-of-indoor-baseball/Content?oid=67100853

The three photos from the article make it seem so much more real as something that actually happened. The first photo at the top features the oldest known photo of an indoor team. The next photo below features the Halas boys. The the last photo below speaks for itself on why indoor baseball never started a wildfire fan base.

 

The 1910 Crane High School team; the glum kid holding the ball in the front row is George Halas, the founder of the Chicago Bears. Above George is his older brother Walter, the captain of the team.
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SDN-008471, CHICAGO HISTORY MUSEUM, CHICAGO DAILY NEWS PHOTO COLLECTION

 

Young women playing indoor baseball in Pilsen
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BHNC_0044_0290_026, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO LIBRARY, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

 

Indoor baseball had a few brief runs in Texas during the early 20th century, but it lit no flames in the hearts and minds of Texans either until 1965 ~ when Judge Roy Hofheinz, the Houston Astros, and the Houston Astrodome came along and showed the world what had to be in place for the game of baseball to go viral in its support for the true indoor version.

If you want indoor baseball, you have to play the game in a place that feels like “The Eighth Wonder of the World!”

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

Take Me Out To The Whatchamacallit

February 26, 2019

Turn of the Century songwriter Jack Norworth was supposedly inspired by a sign he saw while riding a subway back in 1908 that said “Baseball Today – Polo Grounds” to write the lyrics to “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” ~ a poem that became a song when tune writer Albert Von Tilzer put a melody to it that allowed the little piece to rapidly soar into high regard as the unofficial anthem of baseball ~ an estimation of the piece hat continues strongly through this day. Funny thing is ~ neither Norworth nor Tilzer had ever seen a baseball game in person until after they wrote the song that made their efforts famous.

Makes you wonder. What if Norworth had seen a sign outside the subway that advertised “Horse Racing Today ~ Belmont” ~ or maybe even “Boxing Tonight ~ Madison Square Garden?”

Those two might have come close to fitting into the same Tilzer tune and become the anthems of two sucker bet sports.

Take Me Out To The Horse Track

Secretariat, 1973
Going for the Triple Crown

Take Me Out To The Horse Track!

Belmont’s the name of the game!

Buy me a tote sheet and paper to win!

I wouldn’t mind if you put up the fin!

 

We’ll get rich, so rich, at the horse track!

Some will lose ~ and ain’t that a shame!

But we’ll WIN, PLACE, SHOW~ RAKE IT IN

With our FAST ~ HORSE ~ FRIENDS!

 

 

Take Me Out To The Garden

Gentleman Jim Corbett

 

Take Me Out To The Garden!

Madison Square is its name!

Buy me a ringside for Corbett-McCoy!

Gentle Jim nails Kid in 5 ~ beef ahoy!

 

We’ll come back ~ to view all the others,

Spilling brains, guts, nuts, butts and druthers,

In the ring of those Garden fight mothers,

When unconscious was the aim of the game ~ and still is.

 

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Have a nice day, everybody, and remember to look out the window every now and then. You never know where or when you may catch the fire of inspiration or invitation or both ~ looking straight back into your eyes and aiming directly at you alone. ~ Why is that important? ~ It’s because some of those opportunities are a one-time only open door. And don’t worry. All of us miss some of them. ~ You just don’t want to miss all of them.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

Softballer Hits for Beyond Rare HR Cycle

February 25, 2019

Danielle Gibson
Arkansas Razorbacks
Hit for Rare HR Cycle
Saturday, February 23, 2019

 

Writer Dave Kovaleski put it this way: “In her team’s 15-3 win over Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, (Arkansas) Razorbacks sophomore (Danielle) Gibson became the first player in NCAA Division I softball history to hit for a rare type of cycle — the home run cycle — according to the Razorbacks’ athletics website. That means she hit solo, 2-run and 3-run blasts, plus a grand slam, in the same game.”

Rare? Beyond rare is more like it. In fact “unheard of” is the phrase that best frames it on the phenom-stage. As a college softball event, it’s never happened before in a single game, although we are now johnny-come-lately aware of the fact that it has happened once to another female college softball player, but that girl needed both games of a DH to get it done on the same day. Gibson’s heroics were hardly stretched. She got it done ~ one homer per inning each in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frames for the 4 homers and its 10 RBIs.

This kind of very special HR cycle has never occurred in big league baseball, according to my phenom-swarm expert authorities.

Flying off the bat of Danielle Gibson
There Goes One of the Four Taking Flight,

In Danielle Gibson’s case, she hit a 2-run homer in the 1st; a 3-run homer in the 2nd; a Grand Slam homer in the 3rd; and then finished the circuit job with a solo homer in the 4th. ~ Maybe next time she’ll get it in perfect solo, 2, 3. and 4 runs order in alignment over the first four innings.

Check out these two links on the event with your own eyes.

https://www.westernjournal.com/wc/watch-college-sophomore-makes-history-hits-hr-cycle/

https://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2019/2/24/18238703/arkansas-softball-danielle-gibson-home-run-cycle-video

Rounding 3rd,
Heading for Home,
She’ll Hit Three More,
For a Full House Roam!

 

And thank you, Mike McCroskey, for being the first to call this rather formidable accomplishment to my attention.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

A First Pitch, One-Pitch Soap Opera

February 23, 2019
justin-verlander

Justin Verlander

A First Pitch, One-Pitch Soap Opera

 

By Bill McCurdy

 

As a pitcher he was better

And a sure-fire win go-getter

Over twenty years of tasting

Victory’s glow.

 

Now he faced another righty

Young and foolish, but so mighty

That he’d have to give each pitch

His baseball Joe.

 

Looking in at all before him

He saw nothing by decorum

That would change his mind

On that first cat-mouse throw.

 

It came roaring with great power

Going a hundred miles an hour

Firing inside-headed-outside

Spoke-to-Toke.

 

And the batter sort of trembled

As his fingers all unnimbled

And he leaned across the plate

To swing at smoke.

 

But the batter had not counted

On the way the ball was mounted

As it broke and came inside

Around the plate.

 

“Back-off, don’t-swing” were fantasy

No time or space ~ oh, can’t you see?

To miss and look so awfully bad

Were doomed to be ~ his first pitch fate. *

 

* But only on the first pitch of the game.

Please Note: This is not a lecture; it’s just a note. The little poem is just about one-way of watching the game, but only one, unless you have the eyes of a real eagle and a good seat with a view of how the ball is moving toward the plate from a pitcher-catcher perspective, or as you may be watching it on TV. It helps if you have had some kind of pitching or observer experience on what kinds of movements on a baseball are possible. And it really helps if you have some knowledge of a particular pitcher’s range of pitch options is ~ and have some knowledge of the batter’s tendencies going into this particular encounter.

Most baseball fans in this age of great distraction have not had this kind of experience and aren’t likely to get it in the future either.

If you do study the game, and you choose to watch it pitch by pitch ~ instead of your cell phone ~ there’s a lot more to come in these classics encounters ~ and they are all classics in their own rights, even when the match ups feature a hanging-on veteran pitcher versus a barely-hanging-on roster hitter.

The game of baseball keeps coming up with ways to attract fan attention to the game and, who knows, maybe some really inner game knowledgeable people will someday put together an inner-game educational program to keep the fans invested in the great pitcher vs. batter drama that is going on pretty much all the time.

Today’s Good Baseball Sign. The Astros play their first 2019 spring training game today. ~ That’s a pretty good sign that the regular baseball season is not too far away.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

How Much is that Strikeout in the Window?

February 22, 2019

John Smoltz: His strikeouts didn’t come cheap!

 

Nolan Ryan Strikeouts

QUERY: A reader in the Greater Sugar Land area wants to know ~ How much did Nolan Ryan’s career record 5,714 strikeouts each cost his various contract ownerships over the course of his 27-year (1966-1993) $25,725,150 MLB PLAYER compensation career?

ANSWER: $4,502.13 was the cost per each of Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 K’s.

Determining formula is provided by (Career MLB Income/Career K Total = Career Cost per K.

John Smoltz Strikeouts

It could have been much worse on ownership’s pocketbook, had Ryan pitched most of his time in the economic payment era that followed his own. For example, another Hall of Famer, John Smoltz, began his 21-year MLB pitching career in the twilight years of the Ryan period and worked almost all the way through the first decade of the 21st century (1988-2009).

Smoltz’s career MLB income of $135,657,946 was almost $110,000 more than Ryan’s, but he struck out only 3,084 men ~ a little more than half the Ryan K total for a whopping average Smoltz cost each of $43,987.66 per K.

WOW! ~ And “OUCH!” too!

Closing Question for Further Thought: Will the baseball market for always increasing player salaries ever reach a point in which the heart of the game’s fan support simply replies to the new ticket prices generated by these always expanding increases by staying home?

Apparently, some in baseball think that there’s no limit to the average fan’s wad of expendable cash. Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep asking for more as agents, taking more as players, and raising ticket prices as clubs.

Loyalty in baseball is a two-way street. We fans have to be loyal to the real needs of our players ~ and appreciatively loyal to our local club in their efforts to bring us a winner. ~ But players and clubs need to express their loyalty to the fans who make it all possible by doing everything within their abilities to keep their product affordable to the income base that represents any normal fan base.

Lose sight of the probability that the demands of players and clubs for more money each year will increase much faster than the average season ticket and spot game ticket buyers disposable income supply can ever hope to climb at those same rates and we are looking at a brand new ball game that really turns out to be one we’ve seen over time. That’s the one in which the big market clubs from the east and west coasts regain their dynastic control of the World Series as most others either just hang in there as well-paid foes, with some who will scrape up enough cash for a one-season run at the Series once in a blue moon.

In the name of our shared loyalty to the game, let’s hope that we can find a way to keep the beautiful game of baseball from out-pricing the loyal fans who have supported its greatest period of growth until they had to give up buying the  groceries their families needed because that expense got in the way of paying for season tickets.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

RIP, Don Newcombe

February 21, 2019

Don Newcombe
1926~2019

The great Don Newcombe is gone. Dead at age 92, the baseball world has once more surrendered, one more time, one of the last great figures of that 1946-57 period in which the Brooklyn Dodgers, more than any other MLB club, steamed over the color line that barred identified blacks ~ or negroid coloreds ~ from playing professional baseball with so-called identified whites.

Jackie Robinson, of course, broke the professional white baseball color line in 1946 as a Dodger prospect and player for their farm club, the Montreal Royals. He then broke it again at the major league level for the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Then came guys like catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe to make the Dodger commitment to superior pay for superior talent ~ regardless of color ~ the bell of fairness that would ring for everyone over ignorance, prejudice, and racist hate.

Don Newcombe also was one of my special heroes for the way he could just take over a game whenever he started out by just blowing away the first three batters he faced. As a 15-year-old, I even got to see him do his magic in person one time ~ and even if it happened in a not too serious game ~ I shall treasure the memory and thank my dad for it ~ forever.

Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, who was in the military at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio in 1953, was spending a lot of his time pitching for the site’s semi-pro level baseball team. I was 15 when my one chance to see Newcombe pitch came up. We lived in Houston, of course, but this opportunity was about to arise in the most unlikely place I could think of, given the added fact that it was not going to be in our big city home town.

It happened like this:

One day, dad read in his US Mail subscription to the Beeville Bee-Picayune (That’s the newspaper started by his father and my grandfather) that the Brooke Field San Antonio club was coming down to our original home town with plans to pitch Newcombe against the Beeville Blue Jays at the Bee County Fair Grounds Park on the following Sunday.

To make it short, that set us in motion on a family trip to Grandmother McCurdy’s house on the 180-miles one-way trip to Beeville, driving southwest from Houston to Beeville for the game down US Highway 59. Dad, my 11 year old brother John and I went to see the game on Sunday afternoon. Mom and our nearly 2-year old baby sister, Margie, stayed with Grandmother McCurdy while we were busy with baseball stuff.

As for the game, it was more like a keg party that only once-in-a-while broke into some kind of serious baseball game. And it was always Newk’s team that supplied the “serious” part of any offensive explosion. The more the game wore on that day under the simmering hot South Texas sun, the more players on both sides started beer-quenching their thirsts and best abilities for the game of baseball.

By the middle innings, Brooke Medical held a commanding double digit lead over Beeville’s double-aught nothing-doing total in runs or hits scored. In the four or five innings that Newcombe worked from the mound, I cannot remember the Blue Jays so much as coming up with a loud foul off “Newk”. A couple of Beeville boys took some hard rib plunks ~ and maybe one walked. The rest of them haplessly struck out.  ~ Then mid-way into the game, Newk took himself out of “the game”, but he remained in the lineup in right field ~ just in case.

The final score escapes memory. Brooke had close to 20 runs; Beeville had a couple of 8th or 9th inning “mercy” runs off somebody not named Newcombe. And the separate two-team beer party joined together as one happy-in-shared dehydration mob. The younger Beeville players seemed to gather around Don Newcombe post-game like little ducks ~ just soaking up advice too from the big league giant as he laughed and pointed out things to each of them as they did a post-game “shoot-the-shot” with each other ~ (or something like that.)

Don Newcombe could have destroyed a lot of Beeville baseball hopefuls that day, but he chose not to do so. I left there at game’s end with more respect for him than ever. I was too young to see whatever problems he might later have with alcohol, but that’s how addictions work. ~ I don’t think Newk saw them coming his way either, but that seems to be the way substance addictions take control. By the time you realize you have an addiction, it already has you.

Fortunately for the great Don Newcombe, his eventual recovery from his later problems with alcohol would be a gift that passed him on to those he also mentored as something like a “life crisis lessons teacher” ~ and his actions in the world in this regard stood taller as a triumph ~ and far greater than all the good stuff he ever did on the mound as one of the great hard ball throwing pitchers in baseball history.

Rest in Love and Peace, Don Newcombe!

Here’s the obituary link, plus another link about his time in San Antonio:

https://www.sbsun.com/2019/02/19/dodgers-great-don-newcombe-dies-at-92/

https://www.expressnews.com/150years/military-sports/article/Breaking-racial-barriers-in-S-A-6285452.php

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Really Led to the DH?

February 20, 2019

Shane Reynolds

As one who has grown to appreciate and prefer the DH addition to baseball, I only became fully aware of how that major change in the rules for all, but the NL, came to be until last night ~ and it wasn’t really served up on a spoon. It came seeping into my old noggin from the peripheral answers I was getting to another direct question I had asked of two very sharp former Astros pitchers who spoke at the February 18, 2019 meeting of our Larry Dierker Houston SABR Chapter.

 

 

 

Those two former Astros pitchers were Shane Reynolds and Chris Sampson.

After hearing both speak separately on how closely they worked with different catchers. I asked both of them through Shane Reynolds for their thoughts on why catchers, who learn so much about the strike zone from their constant work with it on defense, could not also use that experience to be better hitters themselves. Both sort of shook their heads and smiled.

Reynolds got us past the “good question” leaning-in phase of this inquiry by offering his belief that the physical wear-and-tear of a catcher’s work, with all its labor on every defensive pitch and the heavy sweat-laden equipment that just got heavier as the game moved on ~ these things ~ simply wore the guys down from the primary efforts they were expected put in on the defensive demands of their position.

As I now later recall, Sampson pretty much gave a non-verbal wave of support to Reynolds’ wear-and-tear opinions. ~ i.e., even if a guy has talent for becoming better as a hitter, he gives all his major energy to the side of his job that his club needs him to serve on defense. Few hitters have enough talent to overcome the defensive demands of catcher. Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Roy Campanella, Carlton Fisk, and Johnny Bench jump to mind, but, as you know, those guys also are all members of the Hall of Fame.

Former Astros President and General Manager Tal Smith was in the SABR crowd. It was Tal Smith’s offering that MLB clubs historically were most often willing to give up a poor hitting catcher to the bottom of the lineup for the sake of his superior defensive skills. Chris Sampson followed Smith’s remarks with one of baseball’s oldest bromides of justification for the focus on defense: “Defensively, a club has to be strong up the middle.”

Even our 1950 Pecan Park Eagles remembered the “be strong up the middle” caveat, but our challenge was even more basic. It meant we had to have five guys show up early enough to pitch, catch, and play second, short, and center.

The Real Reason for the DH

Then it hit me. The answer to my unasked question at SABR Monday night has been dangling before my eyes all this time that the DH has been in place. I simply didn’t see it in its full glory. And I don’t think I’ve been alone in this missed deduction.

The DH didn’t take root in baseball simply because the pitcher alone could not hit. ~ It was generated by the notorious presence of usually three guys at the 7th, 8th, and 9th place bottom spots in the batting order who couldn’t hit a fly with a flit gun.

Chris Sampson

The DH was there to break up the three-man bottom of the batting order ~ the pitcher, the catcher, and one other player down the strong defensive middle who could usually sneak into another starter role as a defensive man ~ and this fellow was very often the “good field/no hit” shortstop. ~ The DH would take out the 9th batting pitcher and that improvement would promote the goal of building a batting order in which there also would be no 8th or 7th holes left to kill the offensive threat at the bottom of the lineup. Our 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros did a great job of doing exactly that ~ building a hitters’ lineup in which there was no place for opposing pitchers to relax.

The DH lives today as the key goal for every club’s primary bonus offensive aspiration ~ whenever possible ~ and that is to have a nine-man hitting lineup in which each player listed is capable of reaching base on an average to better-than-average percentage of the time.

We Also May Need to Re-Think the Way We Use Catchers

Maybe we need to re-think how we use catchers as another position in which their regular rotation, as it does with pitchers, helps their season performance level. After all, catchers are throwing the ball hard every game almost every pitch they return to the pitcher, plus a few others they throw on out plays ~ or other attempted steal plays. Why should we take a starting pitcher out after 100 pitches ~ and then leave catchers in the game for 200 pitches daily for as long as he says he can go in all the days that follow? It seems pretty clear that the ongoing exhaustion derived from the defensive chores of their job keep most catchers from developing as even average hitters.

If catcher hitting could improve with time off between starts, as we do with starting pitchers, how much time would he need ~ and how many catchers would be needed to create a situation in which a catcher went into most games with enough physical recovery time to maybe help them improve their hitting too. Again, the whole thing turns upon whether or not we believe that an ongoing state of exhaustion is the major culprit behind the priority the game places on catcher defense as the two major reasons why most catchers do not hit better than they do.

What do you think?

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

They’re Only Pretty Good to Old Nap

February 18, 2019

Nap Lajoie
Baseball Hall of Famer

 

They’re Only Pretty Good to Old Nap

The other day I ran into this brief space filler story of the sports pages of the 1928 Port Arthur News. It bore the same title as this Eagle column and it was really little more than something we continue to see from some older great players when they are asked to assess the comparative greatness of contemporary front-runners from the leaders of their own eras.

Some late 1920s writer apparently had just sparked the opinion of future Hall of Fame first class inductee Napoleon Lajoie on what he thought of the 1928 New York Yankees as he now watched them play from the grandstand.

Here’s how it went:

NEW YORK.  April 12. ~ The New York Yankees may be the greatest ball club in the world to some people, but to Larry Lajoie, famous second baseman of other days, they are just a pretty good ball club. 

“Of course, you could see a lot of loafing going on,” says Lajoie, but if that club is the greatest of all times, you just know that we had a lot of clubs in my time who were world champions and didn’t know it.”

~ Port Arthur (TX) News, April 12, 1928, Page 26 of 34.

Poor Larry Lajoie. He just couldn’t see that what appeared to him as loafing was really nothing more nor less than the simple luxury that descends upon players who make better money. ~ The 1928 Yankees could afford to pay somebody else to go pick up their pay checks. The 1908 Cleveland Naps ~ in the first of Lajoie’s three-year run at his top annual salary of $12,000 ~ could not ~ and that limitation extended to the mighty Nap himself.

Interesting too though, even with the differences opening up in the salaries of the home run breakout era of the 1920s and the low ball pay of the dead ball era of the first two 20th century decades, that only Ruth had any real performance and persona power to drive his annual take up near the six digit figure range. Only Ruth could pull in 80K a year ~ a figure that today couldn’t buy a club a raw rookie for more than a short-time in spring training ~ if that much.

It is fun ~ and I do write those three words with a smile ~ to play with the best career data we have now, courtesy of Baseball Reference.com ~ and check out the cost of each career home run by ~ let’s say ~ Babe Ruth and Nap Lajoie.

Be advised ~ if necessary ~ that we are playing with rough approximation on the career incomes of any two men who ever played the game of baseball ~ and especially during the early years of the low pay modern 20th century era.

The formula for this overly simple figured data is this: We divide each player’s gross career income totals by the number of home runs each man hit during his career. ~ The answer gives us the raw cost to ownership in total for each man:

Babe Ruth earned $856,850 during an MLB career in which he hit 714 career regular season home runs.

BR HR COST = ($856,850 / 714 HR) = $ 1,200.07 = The per unit cost of each Babe Ruth home run.

Nap Lajoie earned $88,100 during an MLB career in which he hit 82 career regular season home runs.

NL HR COST = ($88,100 / 82 HR) = $ 1,O74.39) = The per unit cost of each Nap Lajoie home run.

OK, before we get carried away with errant conclusion about Nap Lajoie’s relatively comparable HR cost efficiency in his comparison with Babe Ruth, let’s examine one more player to confirm why “money can’t buy you love” ~ when love is measured in home run totals.

Hunter Pence ~ now signed to a minor league contract by the Texas Rangers ~ has spent his 11 seasons in the big leagues (2008-2018) collecting a total of $125,435,000 in salary. During this time, Pence has smashed a career regular season total of 224 HR.

Using our same formula for determining the cost of each home run, Hunter Pence’s cost per HR is $559,977.68.

OUCH! Hunter Pence’s homers better be the very red and very sweet and unsqueezed king brand for that kid of money. All it serves us is to stand as a blink toward serious “cost of the game” research of how the cost of everything today is now driven by the players’ power to drive salaries and benefits through the roof for catches that bring down the ceiling of the business universe with a few incidental planet captures also made by chance and pure good luck on the way down.

Hey! With a gross income from baseball of about $125,435,000 going into our mid to late 30s, most of us could also have settled for a minor league paper with Texas in 2019. ~ And ~ if it didn’t work out, what the heck, it just didn’t work out!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher