Opening Up Weeghman Park (Wrigley Field) in 1914

The Chicago Federals were the home team on April 23, 1914, when Weeghman Park hosted its first game. Where were the Cubs? At West Side Park, playing the Cincinnati Reds–they didn’t move over to Weeghman until mid-1916. And Weeghman didn’t become known as Wrigley until 1926. It was called Cubs Park from 1920 through 1925. Anyway, on April 23, the Federals (a Federal League team, of course, who were later named the Whales), were playing against the Kansas City Packers. The Feds had opened the season by losing five of their first seven games.

Here’s some of how the Chicago Tribune described opening day:

“Chicago took the Federal League to its bosom yesterday and claimed it as a mother would claim a long lost child. With more more frills and enthusiasm than had prevailed at a baseball opening here Joe Tinker and his Chifeds made their debut before a throng of fans that filled the new north side park to capacity, and the Chicago Feds trounced George Stovall’s Kansas City team, 9 to 1. All Chicago cheered and the north side was maddened with delight.

“It may not have been the largest crowd that ever saw an opening game in Chicago, but conservative estimators placed the attendance at about 21,000. The new park is said to have a seating capacity of 18,000. . . . every seat in the place was taken, a great many were standing up in the back of the grandstand, and more than 2,000 were on the field in the circus seats placed there for the occasion.

“The windows and roofs of flat buildings across the way from the park were crowded with spectators. The surface and elevated trains leading to the north side were overhanging with people in the early afternoon and three or four separate and distinct automobile parades unloaded several thousand gaily decked rooters at the gates. Owners Weeghman and Walker of the north side club and President Gilmore of the new league were so overjoyed with the spectacle that they almost wept, and there is little doubt that it was an epochal day in the history of the national game.

“The weather was far from suited to the occasion, too. A chilling wind was coming off the lake and one needed winter furs to be comfortable. . . . Although it was the first game for the new Chicago club, the progress was executed with admirable precision and dispatch, largely due to the efforts of the experienced business manager, Charles G. Williams, who served more than twenty-five years with the local National League club.

“The North Side Boosters’ club, numbering more than a thousand, held a parade. The Bravo el Toro club, numbering about 100, came leading a fatted steer from the stockyards, and the members intended to put on a burlesque bullfight on the field. The fatted steer refused to get mad and the bullfight was a fizzle. There were the Charley Williams Boosters, who came out in hordes. Before the game a squad of women from the Ladies of the G.A.R [that is, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, from the Civil War] marched upon the field bearing large American flag. Led by a band and followed by the members of both ball clubs, the women carried the national color to the flag pole in far center field. Rockets and bombs [a 21-gun salute, that is] were fired as they approached it. . . .

“With the flag pole ceremonies over, the band led the paraders to the home plate, where there were several cart loads of flowers in the form of horseshoes and bundles of American beauties. Most of them were for Manager Tinker.

“The game itself was too one sided to be intense, but the fact that the home team was on the long end of the score made everybody happy. However, before the game had gone into the third inning organized ball stepped in with the hand of the law and yanked one of the “outlaws” from the ranks. Chief Johnson, who started as pitcher for Kansas City, was served with legal papers at the close of the second inning, enjoining him temporarily from playing ball with the Federal league. Manager Stovall of the visitors rushed another hurler to the slab and the game went on just as if nothing had happened.”

Claude Hendrix, a spitballer, got the win with a five-hitter, though he allowed a solo homer by Ted Easterly in the eighth. Dutch or “Little Aleck” Zwilling hit the first double (he may have had the first hit too), and scored the first run. Here’s the Tribune’s box score:

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A picture of the G.A.R. ladies carrying the flag to center field, and a shot of Artie “Home-Run” Wilson, who hit Wrigley’s first two homers in this game:

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A play at the plate in the third:

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And Chifeds manager Joe Tinker, better known as the start of the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance Cubs double-play trio:

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A sidebar in the Tribune added:

“The significant part of the affair to the new owners was the large number of women present. It was not a long jump from De Paul field, where the lowly Feds played last year, to their modern home at Addison avenue, but a glance at the wonderful setting for yesterday’s combat brought the thought that some one must have rubbed Aladdin’s lamp to effect such a magical transformation. The brand new grandstand, packed to the limit with fans wearing Chifeds caps of all shades and colors, looked like a huge floral horseshoe. . . . The stand was a blaze of color. Thousands of spectators donned the little caps distributed by the local management, while others waved Chifed pennants. Forming a centerpiece to this decoration were nearly 3,000 members of the Bravo el Toro club, whose gold and red sashes blended well with the mass of coloring on each side of the field.”

Albert Pujols in High School (and Junior College)

In the aftermath of an awful lot of hype about the 2009 MLB amateur draft, I decided to take a look at Albert Pujol’s early career to see if this famous 13th-round pick could shed some light on the whole draft process.

In 1997 and 1998, USA Today gave Pujols, a shortstop at Fort Osage High School in Independence, Missouri, honorable mention in its All-USA baseball team rankings. Before that, on March 27, 1997, the Kansas City Star reported:

The future of Fort Osage High School baseball is on hold.

The outlook is unclear because of Scott Hanna’s status. Hanna is the Indians’ senior Missouri Class 4A all-state pitcher who has yet to recover completely from a broken leg he suffered the third week of the football season.

“I’m not sure if I’ll get anything out of him all season,” Coach Dave Fry said. “He wants to be out there, but the doctors keep telling him to wait. He’s been to practice, but his activity is limited. ” If Fort Osage hoped for a repeat performance of 1996, it needs Hanna. . . .

“We’ve got a lot of holes to fill,” Fry said. “We’re giving everybody a shot. We’ve got to find some more pitching and try to fit all the pieces together. ” With plenty of new faces and questions to be answered, somebody to watch will be junior Albert Pujols, who comes from the Dominican Republic by way of New York City. He collected two hits Monday.

Late that November, the Examiner of Independence, MO reported:

Fort Osage baseball coach Dave Fry has another thing to be thankful for today. He just found out that all-state shortstop Albert Pujols, who helped the Indians win the Class 4A state championship last season, has been given an extra year of eligibility. That means that Pujols will be just a junior this season and has two years of baseball eligibility remaining.

“Albert came to me and said that he wanted to get a good education,” Fort Osage principal Steve Scott said. “When he moved here last year, he was able to get his school work done, but he had so much trouble with the language that it really posed some problems.” So Scott and Fort Osage activities director Bill Gray petitioned the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) to see if he could be given another year of eligibility, thus making him a junior this year. He was listed as a junior last year.

“We talked to his ESL (English as a Secondary Language) teacher and we found out he just wasn`t grasping the language,” Gray said. “Plus, he didn’t have the credits to graduate.” The original petition was rejected by MSHSAA executive director Becky Oakes, so Scott and Gray appealed the ruling. They then went before a seven-man panel with an appeal. The panel approved the appeal, giving Pujols another year of eligibility.

Pujols, a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to the Fort Osage school district last season and took the area by storm. He likely would have been a high pick in the 1998 Major League Baseball amateur draft next June. “That’s what impresses me about the situation,” Scott said. “Albert could have gotten a general diploma and been drafted and probably made a lot of money, but he chose to spend the extra time in school to get a quality education.”

In July 1998, with Pujols playing American Legion ball, the Examiner reported:

Albert Pujols was a one man wrecking crew.

But the entire Oak Grove Post 379/Hi-Style lineup was a murderer’s row.

And because of their respective offensive heroics, Pujols’ Hi-Boy Drive In/Post 340 and Hi-Style enter Saturday’s action in the American Legion Fifth District Tournament on a winning note.

Pujols, who already smashed his single-season home run mark of 29, hit his 34th in a 10-0 victory over Raytown Post 71 Friday afternoon at Hidden Valley Park.

He also drove home three runs to break his single-season mark of 119 RBIs. He now has 121 this season in just 60 games.

“He’s an amazing player,” Hi-Boy manager Gary Stone said of his slugging shortstop. “We did all right today. We played like we’re capable of playing.”

In January 1999, Pujols left Fort Osage for Maple Woods Community College. He said: “I am excited to play in college. I just want to get more experience. College is different than high school.”

Maple Woods athletic director Richard Guymon said: “I think he will get a lot more scouts to look at him and some scouts will see him that have not seen him before, both collegiate and big league. This will give him a much higher pick than if he just came out of high school. I would probably think [he'll attend for] just a semester. But that’s his decision.”

Pujols declined any talk about plans, just saying: “I don’t have (the draft) in my mind, or where I get drafted. I am just thinking about playing baseball.”

At the time, the Examiner noted: “Pujols played a key factor on Fort Osage’s 1997 Class 4A championship team and shattered the American Legion home run record with 35 last summer. He batted a stellar .593 and drove in 124 runs.”

That June, the Examiner wrote: “One college player expected to go high in the draft is former Fort Osage High School slugger Albert Pujols, who played this spring at Maple Woods Community College. The Dominican Republic native, who broke several Examiner area records in high school and American Legion baseball, is expected to be selected in the top three rounds.”

It didn’t happen, of course, and I don’t know why a guy who was so celebrated in the local media slipped so far. But the Kansas City Star reported on July 15, 1999:

Albert Pujols, a baseball player at Maple Woods Community College, recently was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the first-year free-agent draft.

Pujols, 19 and a former player at Fort Osage High School, might return to Maple Woods in the fall if the Cardinals don’t sweeten their initial contract offer.

“I was really excited about getting drafted. It all depends on what the Cardinals want to do.”

Pujols is playing this summer in the Jayhawk League in Hays, Kan.

Pujols made the NJCAA all-region team as a shortstop last spring and led the Centaurs to within one game of a return trip to the NJCAA World Series.

In 2003, with Pujols already established as a major star, Sports Illustrated’s Mike Fish took a look at him. He quoted Maple Woods baseball coach Marty Kilgore saying this about Pujols:

“They don’t know what the hell they’re doing here in the Midwest as far as drafting. There are some idiots here that think they know the game. It is damn ridiculous — 13th round. This guy’s not getting paid money that some got that haven’t even stepped on the damn [major league] field yet.

“I had scouts come to me the next year after the draft and tell me they didn’t turn him in [as a guy worth drafting]. You got damn poor scouting, that is how you explain it. You have 100 guys who do their job and know what they’re doing and another 200 scouting each other.”

[You can read an expansion upon this post in an article on Pujols as an amateur that I wrote for Hardball Times. Also, check this page to see what Pujols did in 2000 after joining the Cardinals organization, with three different farm teams in so far his only year playing in the minors.]

Some More About Baseball, Computers and Sabermetrics in the ’80s

A couple years ago (and again a month ago) I spent some time on this blog looking at the early days of baseball and sabermetrics, during the 1980s. This post goes back to that decade one more time, for excerpts from a story by USA Today’s Chuck Johnson during the 1988 World Series:

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser is using a personal computer to become the best in baseball.

“It’s just a new way to store information and get it back quicker, and it’s really helped me,” he said. “It’s like a baseball diary on an electronic device.

“I use it every time I pitch. Or, if in between starts I do something or find an adjustment that I want to talk about to myself, I’ll put it in there.”

Hershiser won’t reveal the brand name of the PC he uses, “because the advertising deal hasn’t been signed yet,” he said.

“I have some people who want to talk to me (about doing a television commercial). I think it would be a pretty good scenario to see me standing on the mound about to deliver a pitch and then turning around and going back to a computer and pumping something in, and then throwing a pitch and getting a guy out.”

Hershiser said the idea of using a PC “came from wanting to be computer-friendly when I get out of baseball.

“If I try to get a job after baseball, I’d have some knowledge about computers. Two things I might want to get into after baseball are the securities market and real estate and in both you have to deal with computers a lot.”

Sandy Alderson, the Oakland Athletics general manager, takes a hindsight view.

Though the Athletics regularly used computers to track pitchers’ and hitters’ tendencies during the 1983 and ’84 seasons, the club went back to basics in molding a winner.

“We were building a technological animal, not a baseball team,” said Alderson. “It started to bother the player that we were a push-button team. The tail was wagging the dog.”

A videotape recorder – something all teams use – is about as high-tech as the Athletics go these days.

It’s not surprising, really, that Hershiser would have looked at computers in that way, given his accountant image. But you’d expect the A’s to have been a bit more technological, given the image of Alderson and Tony La Russa, and the team being next to Silicon Valley.

My impression is that in the 1970s, Earl Weaver on the managerial side and Davey Johnson on the playing side were the only two major leaguers to use sabermetric approaches to analyzing the game. I don’t know that Weaver was using computers; it sounds like Johnson was, and if that’s the case, he may have been the first player or manager in MLB to do so. Branch Rickey is the only guy I know of from before the ’70s who used something similar to what would be called sabermetrics to analyze players. Although, it would be wrong to think that before the ’70s no one other than Rickey focused on on-base percentage and hitting charts (think of the Ted Williams shift) and other “advanced” analytics.

Published in: Uncategorized on April 12, 2014 at 10:31 am  Comments (2)  

A Timeline of the Sabermetrics Revolution

This is from a sidebar to a Hartford Courant feature on April 5, 2004, when the Courant set out a timeline of some key events in the annals of baseball statistics and sabermetrics. Some of the items are already familiar to you, but others are not well known, including that a military staffer led the formation of SABR. Here’s the timeline:

1845: The first box score appeared in The New York Herald on Oct. 25, as the New York Ball Club beat the Brooklyn Ball Club, 37-19.

1850s: Box score continued to appear in New York newspapers. By the end of the decade, sportswriter Henry Chadwick revolutionized the box score, basing it on the statistics of cricket. Why cricket? Because Chadwick was British.

1860-1900: Chadwick, who published the first rulebook in 1858, continuously invented statistics and altered rules to better judge the contribution of a player. He devised a formula for ERA and batting average, he came up with such concepts as the error, the sacrifice fly and infield fly rule.

1914: Boston’s “Miracle Braves” win the World Series, thanks to the platoon system used by manager George Stallings, considered the first manager to base decisions on numbers.

1947: The first known stats expert to work for a team is hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers, as Allan Roth joined Branch Rickey. Roth was one of the first proponents of on-base percentage and slugging percentage, numbers Rickey also embraced. Roth stays with the Dodgers until 1964.

1964: Stat-minded fans find a guru in Earnshaw Cook, a Johns Hopkins engineering professor who questions conventional baseball wisdom in his book “Percentage Baseball.” After compiling piles of data, Cook brought his ideas to baseball executives. He was rebuffed, so he wrote the book that influenced a generation, including Bill James.

1971: The Society for American Baseball Research is formed in Cooperstown by 16 like-minded baseball fans and historians. The group’s founder is Department of Defense employee Bob David. SABR quickly becomes a haven for statistical analysis.

1970s: Earl Weaver becomes one of the first managers to embrace stats in his decision-making. As manager of the Orioles, Weaver studies index cards that contained statistics about matchups and tendencies. Weaver loved to platoon, didn’t like to bunt, and relied on matchup numbers for bullpen decisions.

1977: While passing time working at Stokely Van Camp’s, Bill James begins poring over statistics before producing his first “Baseball Abstract.” James turned out witty prose while turning the game upside down in his analysis. He created stats (such as runs created) and built a cult following by advertising in The Sporting News. By the early 1980s, “Baseball Abstract” was a national bestseller.

1981: The Texas Rangers hire Craig Wright for his statistical analysis, making him a trailblazer. Wright spent almost 20 years as a consultant with other teams, most notably the Dodgers. He also wrote “The Diamond Appraised” with former Rangers pitching coach Tom House and continues to write from his California home.

1984: Pete Palmer, a member of SABR since 1973, co-authors (with John Thorn) “The Hidden Game of Baseball.” Palmer, who invented on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), also published “Total Baseball” with Thorn in 1989.

1985: Mets manager Davey Johnson, who played for Weaver, keeps a copy of “The Hidden Game of Baseball” near his desk and he references Earnshaw Cook when discussing strategy.

1986: The Orioles hire Baltimore native and economist Eddie Epstein as director of baseball research and statistics. Larry Lucchino, who hired Epstein, later brought him to San Diego. Epstein is now a consultant for several teams.

1980s: While his team was among the best and deepest in baseball, Oakland GM Sandy Alderson is studying the work of sabermetricians and consulting with an analyst named Eric Walker. By the time the A’s are cutting salary in the 1990s, Alderson is implementing many of Walker’s ideas — such as valuing on-base percentage — throughout his organization.

1993: Billy Beane, a former fringe big leaguer, joins the A’s front office and is indoctrinated into the James/Walker thinking by Alderson. Beane eventually replaces Alderson as GM and continues to follow the path of statistical analysis.

2002: Billionaire financier John Henry, who sold the Florida Marlins and purchased the Red Sox a year before, becomes the first major league owner to hire James to a full-time position. Henry, a long-time fan of James, says his organization will rely on both statistical analysis and conventional scouting.

Published in: Uncategorized on March 27, 2014 at 5:23 pm  Comments (1)  

Do You Enjoy Baseball as Much as You Used to?

This question is aimed at people who started following major league baseball before the late ‘90s, that is, before the Internet became a big deal, before every game of a season was televised, and before the home run boom really got going. Was MLB more enjoyable in the earlier years? If it was, did that result from you being younger, or from changes in MLB and how it’s presented by legacy media and on the Web?

I think if you remain a baseball fan after the transition from adolescence to adulthood, you inevitably realize that many, maybe most of the players in MLB have few exceptional qualities beyond their ability to play baseball. Certainly they are not, in any moral sense, better than the ordinary human being. This produces a more skeptical attitude toward MLB: the raw emotional attachment to teams and players goes away, and so you enjoy the games less than you used to.

For example: I read Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life, and its detailing of how DiMaggio’s very lucrative baseball card and memorabilia signing deals in the ‘80s and ‘90s were done. The details are not pretty, and I couldn’t come away from that education with anything other than the sense that the card and memorabilia industry was, and presumably still is, filled with shady, hard-driving accountants and business school graduates with very, very little sentimental attachment to baseball. They saw a chance when the industry boomed in the ‘80s, got in, and, if they were smart and lucky, got out before the industry tumbled in the ‘90s. Once you get that impression, you can’t look at a 1988 Donruss David Wells rookie card the same way you used to.

Published in: Uncategorized on March 16, 2014 at 5:41 pm  Comments (10)  

Fantasy Baseball and Sabermetrics in 1986

This is most of an article by Don Oldenburg of the Washington Post from early September, 1986. It is a nice look at the state of computerized fantasy baseball and gaming at the time:

On a subfreezing February day in Bayside, N.Y., Alan Lefton called timeout on the ball field. With runners on base and two outs, he sent his manager to the pitcher’s mound to yank his starter and bring in the relief ace. A fastball or curve? Lefton signaled his decision . . . the windup . . . the pitch . . . strike three.

The game is baseball. The team: the New York Mets. And Lefton? A 33-year-old computer manager for a New York City accounting firm who, just maybe, has confused Walter Mitty with Casey at the Bat once too often.

“I played seven or eight games that day – 10 to 12 hours straight,” says Lefton, who describes himself as “a borderline fanatic” about the great American pastime – both computerized and the real thing. “My car was snowed in, nothing was on TV . . . so I sat at my PC and played.”

A fervent Mets fan since 1971, Lefton says he knew he was hooked on Micro League Baseball’s simulation software two years ago when, minutes after booting up the game for the first time, a tiny electronic Willie Mays stepped up to home plate and smashed a triple off the right-field wall. Since then, Lefton has managed his microchip Mets in “hundreds of games.” He spent more than three hours a day every day for 10 weeks playing the Mets’ entire 162-game 1984 schedule.

Consistently in Top 10 software ratings since its debut in 1984, Micro League Baseball combines entertaining if not lifelike graphics with serious baseball strategy and an accurate statistical base that influences the outcome of each managerial decision.

“You have to use your managerial moves to win,” says Paul Kelly, the 29-year-old vice president of Micro League Sports Association, the Newark, Del., publishing house that developed and markets the $36 program. “If Fernando Valenzuela is pitching against Rickey Henderson, accurate stats for those two produce the event on the screen.”

“Enlarging the market” is a phrase heard from every programming expert who sees high use ability, high play ability software as the key to reviving sputtering home- computer sales. Among the growing field of competitors are industry heavy hitters betting on a bigger strike zone for the simulated sports-software market. . . .

Electronic Arts (EA), a San Mateo, Calif., company known for innovation is now developing baseball and football software, and plans to release an America’s Cup sailing game before Thanksgiving. That is in addition to its new World Tour Golf game, to be available to the public by the end of this month.

Buddy Diamond, the 30-year-old founder of XOR Corp. in Minneapolis, which last year produced NFL Challenge, says, “More and more people are seeing it’s OK to buy simulations . . . being a football coach or managing a baseball team. It shows people what a computer can do in a way that isn’t hostile.”

Slick packaging and a $99.95 price tag aren’t the only features that separate NFL Challenge from other sports software. Although visually a “chalkboard” version with Xs and Os carrying out plays, this game’s strategy and statistics dazzle. Players can match any two NFL teams, and either or both can be human or computer coached. The offense is called from 49 actual football plays and the opposition counters with one of 26 defenses. But the action on the screen is determined by team and individual statistics for the NFL 1984 season (which can be updated).

“We wanted to assemble a team to build a state of the art, high-technology program,” says Diamond of the million-dollar software, which required “12 1/2 man years” to develop. But despite sales “in seven figures” its first year, Diamond echoes an industrywide complaint that dealers would rather stock high-ticket business software costing hundreds of dollars than inexpensive sports software.

Meanwhile, larger software companies talk of technological advances eventually taking on the home entertainment champs such as television and VCRs. “By 1990, you will have in your home . . . a computing system that will play back CD audio, videotape and laser-oriented ROM computer software that will convey on the screen something almost as real as images on TV and movies – except you will control what goes on inside of them.”

A few months earlier, Lee Walburn of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote this in mid-July, 1986-it shows how MLB teams, especially the Braves, were using computerized imagery and analysis:

Baseball is to athletics what creationism is to religion. Everything is literal and not to be challenged or changed without an authentic discovery of another stone tablet. Yet, periodically, some heretical claim comes along that gives momentary hope for life after mediocrity, and the infidels break from the fundamentalists and line up for a shot at something that is supposed to give them the edge.

Exer-Genie was such a device. Merely by anchoring it’s shiny casing into the ground or floor and tugging at its sliding ropes, pitchers were to be protected from sore arms, gain a couple of miles per hour on fast balls, and hitters were to develop wrists and shoulders of supple steel.

“Funny thing about that Exer-Genie,” Atlanta Braves manager, Chuck Tanner was saying recently, “It made a great pitcher out of Warren Spahn and a great hitter out of Henry Aaron, but it didn’t seem to help the ordinary mortals one bit.”

What Tanner was saying was just another variation on the most venerable baseball axiom of them all, “If he can play, he can play. If he can’t, he can’t.” Only in Walt Disney movies does a scientist develop an exlixir that renders baseballs unhittable or turns bespectacled math majors into jet-propelled shortstops with 70-homerun potential.N evertheless, science keeps pecking away. Despite Tanner’s traditional response, as 1986 spring training began to bloom, a former college catcher named Jim Guadagno could be found hunched over a computer terminal at Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach, Florida. Working with him was a consultant from Price Waterhouse as the Braves attempted to gain through electronics that elusive edge.

For several years now, baseball teams have begun to turn to computers to spit out information on the opposition. It is talked about by veterans with hand over the mouth in self-conscious mumbled monotone. For the most part, it is nothing that managers such as Tanner haven’t been doing for a long time by hand, but is a grudging admission that computers offer a deeper repository of intelligence more handily recalled than in the past.

Some of the younger managers, such as Dave Johnson of the Mets, threaten to turn the dugouts into the College Bowl as they plot strategy on the one-eyed monster. Erstwhile Oakland A’s manager, Steve Boros, recently appointed boss of the San Diego Padres, can quote chapter and verse on the times he thinks his handy PC has helped him outwit the opposition.

On the other hand, the Chicago White Sox computer in 1982 told them that 50 of 83 fly balls hit to the Comiskey Park warning track were struck by White Sox players. The next year the fences were moved eight feet closer to home plate on the theory that Chicago would increase its home run output. The team hit eight fewer homers than the year before.W hat the Braves are attempting to do, with less lofty expectations than either Boros or the Sox, is to transform the statistics into color graph ics that will be more quickly assimilated than numbers by managers and coaches, and perhaps affect decisions in a positive way both before and during a game.

Similar charts are already laboriously produced by hand and assist mainly in the deployment of defensive players against hitters with obvious tendencies such as to pull the ball or hit to the opposite field against certain pitchers. The Dodgers have gained some degree of attention for their Spy in the Sky – a coach who sits in the press box with his charts and signals to the dugout where fielders should play against certain hitters.

“Tom Lasorda stole the Spy in the Sky from me,” says Tanner of his good friend. “I’ve been doing that for years.”

The Braves hold no illusions about what they are doing, but since other teams are exploring computer baseball, they feel compelled to conduct their own research and development.

“We didn’t use computers in Toronto last year and we did okay,” says Braves manager Bobby Cox, who won the Eastern Division championship of the American League with the Toronto Blue Jays. “Without good players, stuff like that isn’t worth a flip. But computers may help in ways we aren’t familiar with yet and we are going to experiment with them. Chuck has kept a lot of charts through the years and we are feeding all that into the machine.”

“I don’t consider myself to be working on the Bible,” says Guadagno. “If anything, my work will amount to having an extra coach.”

Since a computer is an apparatus to handle huge volumes of information that humans already know but have trouble sorting through, the farm department is a lot more enthusiastic about its applications than is big-league management.

The scouting combine that supplies information on prospects for each major-league team is completely computerized, and the Braves utilize Guadagno and Bobbie Cranford to program all their organization data.

“For instance, there will come a time when we can go to the computer and ask for all third basemen with superior power and their ranking as prospects,” says Paul Snyder, director of scouting. “This will be great in making trades by uncovering young talent in other organizations, great for monitoring their progress as they mature as players.

“We did a little of that before the last Winter Meetings. We rated all players from all the other organizations. As a result of that work, most of it by hand, we picked up pitcher Pete Smith from the Phillies in the trade that sent Steve Bedrosian and Milt Thompson to Philadelphia for catcher Ozzie Virgil. We think he is a terrific prospect and we were able to get him included in the deal. Computerized information will help even more.”

Published in: Uncategorized on March 6, 2014 at 8:45 am  Comments (2)  

The Five Worst MLB Teams in the Last Decade (2004-2013)

I present this list, worst to best, with no commentary.

Royals: 681 wins
Pirates: 705 wins
Mariners: 718 wins
Orioles: 736 wins
Expos (they left Montreal/Puerto Rico after 2004)/Nationals: 743 wins

Published in: Uncategorized on February 20, 2014 at 9:38 am  Comments (3)  

The Least Successful MLB Franchise

I recently asked a question on this blog: Which MLB franchise do you most respect? Following on and contrasting with that thought is the question: Which MLB franchise do you think is the least successful? I think “success” pretty simply translates to wins, so on the surface this is an easier question. But how do you compare the Cubs’ century-plus without a World Series title to the futility of the Mariners, Padres, and other expansion teams? The Phillies still only have two World Series titles, the Pirates and Royals have their remarkably woeful stretches, which 2013 didn’t really erase for either squad. The Indians were one of the worst MLB teams for a long time, and still have just two titles. How should you weigh the different kinds of not winning?

I would have asked: Which MLB franchise do you least admire? But, I suppose most people would say the Marlins, and those who didn’t would name the team that’s the biggest rival of the team they like the most.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Vladimir Guerrero Was Intentionally Walked 250 Times?

Here are a few surprising names on the list of top 50 batters for career intentional walks, a stat that was recorded starting in 1955 (names listed from most to fewest intentional walks):
Vladimir Guerrero, Rusty Staub, Chili Davis, Ted Simmons, Ichiro, Rod Carew, Garry Templeton, Mo Vaughn

Published in: Uncategorized on January 24, 2014 at 8:24 pm  Comments (3)  

Which is Your Favorite MLB Season?

Is there a particular year in MLB that you’ve identified as your favorite? Mine is 1989, not because it was a good year for baseball, but because of the variety of stories that unfolded that year: the Pete Rose vs. Bart Giamatti struggle highlighting the several scandals of ’89, which included Wade Boggs’ sex scandals and Steve Garvey’s sex scandals. Donnie Moore’s mid-summer suicide minutes after nearly killing his wife and the Loma Prieta earthquake overshadowed those scandals with their raw, life-and-death violence. Jim Abbott and Dave Dravecky were two memorably inspiring figures that year, Bo Jackson and Kevin Mitchell did remarkable things, Rickey Henderson led the A’s into an ultimately melancholy cross-Bay World Series with the Giants.

Rather than give more details, I’ll quote Samuel Johnson: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” This quote applies very well to MLB in 1989: it was not “fun,” but it was memorably diverse, giving fans all that baseball can afford.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 12, 2014 at 8:34 am  Comments (1)  

Rick Monday and the Flag-Burning Incident in 1976

Here is the start of the Los Angeles Times’ story covering this Cubs-Dodgers game in Los Angeles, on April 25, 1976:
mondayflagcover

Further down, after noting that Dodgers third baseman Ron Cey singled in Ted Sizemore in the bottom of the 10th to win the game, the Times wrote:

Monday’s outfield “play” drew the warmest—and maybe loudest—ovation of the afternoon, however. William Errol Thomas, 37, unemployed, of Eldon, Mo., had come out of the left-field pavilion with a youngster identified by police as his son, and was attempting to set fire to a Flag when Monday, running from center field, intervened. Thomas, who had sprinkled lighter fluid on the Flag, threw the can at Monday as he fled with the Flag.

“He got down on his knees and I could tell he wasn’t throwing holy water on it,” Monday [a Cub at the time] said. “If he’s going to burn a Flag, he better do it in front of somebody who doesn’t appreciate it. I’ve visited enough veterans’ hospitals and seen enough guys with their legs blown off defending the Flag.”

Monday did not feel the standing ovation was his. “The way people reacted was fantastic,” he said, “but I felt they were cheering for what the Flag meant.”

Police said Thomas was arrested for trespassing and taken to Parker Center. So was Joe Shaver, 30, Santa Monica, who police said attempted to get into the dugout to shake Monday’s hand. The youngster with Thomas reportedly was taken to juvenile hall.

Monday sent a note to the Dodgers asking for the Flag, but was told it had to be impounded, at least temporarily, as evidence.

So Rick Monday captured one Flag and the Dodgers hit and fielded like they are going to have to hit and field if they expect to get the one they are after.

Note that the Times capitalized it as “Flag”: apparently that was the paper’s editorial policy, but I don’t know if “Flag” instead of “flag” was common practice at other papers in the mid-’70s.

A couple days later, this follow-on story from the Times gave Thomas’ reason, at least the one he gave at the time, for trying to burn the flag:
mondayflag

As a little piece of context for Monday’s flag rescue, here is the Times’ box score for the 5-4 Dodgers win:
mondaybox

Finally, here, in two parts, is a feature story from Ross Newhan of the Times in late April of ’76, profiling Monday and the response to the flag rescue. Monday was a Santa Monica native, which may have played some part in his action in Dodgers Stadium and the aftermath of his flag rescue, although of course this was not a parochial Southern California story. The Times mentions that the Dodgers were pursuing Monday at the time: they got him, in a trade for the Dodgers’ Bill Buckner in early ’77, and Monday spent the last eight years of his career with the Dodgers, winning three pennants and a World Series (check his stats).
mondayfollow1
mondayfollow

Published in: on January 8, 2014 at 9:59 am  Comments (2)  
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Hank Aaron vs. Willie Mays

I think of Mays and Aaron as the most tightly coupled of any of the top two dozen players in MLB history: Mays played from 1951 to 1973 (22 years, subtracting his Korean War stint in 1953), Aaron played from 1954 to 1976, 23 years. They were the last two great players to emerge from the Negro Leagues, they both came back to their original MLB city for the last two years of their career. Mays and Aaron each won 1 World Series, and their career offensive numbers are not absolutely parallel, but are very similar, especially if we add in the stats Mays didn’t compile due to missing all of 1953 and most of 1952. Mays was in the top 5 on the MVP ballot in nine seasons; Aaron made that level eight times.

Here are a few stats to note from their careers: Aaron’s batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage: .305, .374, .555. Mays’: .302, .384, .557.

Mays’ homers per plate appearance rate: 5.28%. Aaron’s: 5.415%. Applying Mays’ homer percentage rate to Aaron’s 13,941 plate appearances gives you 736 projected homers for Mays; applying Aaron’s homer percentage rate to Mays’ 12,496 plate appearances gives you 677 projected homers for Aaron.

The low-high swing for Mays’ homers total in a season from his debut in 1951 through 1971 (not counting his 4 homers in 1952) was 13 to 52. (Mays had 14 homers in his last two seasons.) Aaron’s range was 13 to 47, also excluding his last two seasons (when he had 22). Aaron had 8 years in the 40s for homers; Mays had 4 in the 40s and two in the 50s. Mays’ peak steals tallies were 40 and 38 in 1956 and 1957; Aaron got to 31 steals in 1963 and 28 in 1968. Mays’ best five-season homer tally was 226 from 1961 through 1965; Aaron’s best five-season homer tally was 203 from 1969 through 1973.

Aaron’s walk rate was 10%; Mays’ was 11.72%. Mays had five seasons of at least 10 triples, one of them with 20, and Aaron had three seasons of at least 10 triples. Aaron’s OPS+, as measured by Baseball-Reference, was 156; Mays’ was 155. Mays has 13 sacrifice hits on his record, five of them in 1972 and 1973; Aaron has 21, 18 of them in 1954-1956, when he hit a total of 66 homers. Mays was intentionally walked 192 times; Aaron 293 times. (It’s helpful to remember here that Barry Bonds had 688 intentional walks, including 120 in 2004.) As for fielding, leaving other measures aside, Mays won 12 Gold Gloves in a row, 1957-1968, and Aaron won 3 Gold Gloves in a row, 1958-1960. Neither won a Gold Glove outside of those streaks.

Rather than go on, I’ll just say that you can do some more comparisons for yourself by checking Mays’ career stats against Aaron’s career stats.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 28, 2013 at 6:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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