How Well Do Phenoms Turn Out?

I’ve heard it said that the best MLB players often make their mark at a very early age, in some cases before they turn 20. I thought I’d test that by looking at how the before-20 statistical leaders did in their careers. Here, via Baseball-reference.com, is a list of the top 10 position players in career games played before turning 20.

1. Phil Cavarretta 277
2. Robin Yount 254
3. Mel Ott 241
4. Ed Kranepool 208
5. Sibby Sisti 186
6. Al Kaline 168
7. Cass Michaels 158
8. Bob Kennedy 157
9. Freddie Lindstrom 156
10. Buddy Lewis 151

And a list of the top 10 for most times on base before turning 20:

1. Phil Cavarretta 360
2. Robin Yount 282
3. Mel Ott 277
4. Buddy Lewis 229
5. Ed Kranepool 218
6. Sibby Sisti 216
7. Bryce Harper 202
8. Bob Kennedy 197
9. George Davis 196
10. Ty Cobb 181

The first list has four Hall of Famers, the second list has three; we do not know what Bryce Harper will do.

As for pitchers, here is the top 10 list for most innings pitched in a career before age 20:

1. Monte Ward 921.0
2. Tommy Bond 849.0
3. Jim Britt 816.7
4. Larry McKeon 802.0
5. Willie McGill 801.3
6. Amos Rusie 773.7
7. Kid Carsey 732.7
8. Nat Hudson 634.3
9. Mike Smith 520.0
10. Bob Feller 488.3

And the same list, for most strikeouts before 20:

1. Bob Feller 466
2. Amos Rusie 450
3. Larry McKeon 425
4. Monte Ward 355
5. Willie McGill 345
6. Dwight Gooden 276
7. Kid Carsey 250
8. Egyptian Healy 245
Nat Hudson 245
10. Adonis Terry 230

Both lists are filled with pitchers from the 1800s whom few have heard of. In those years, it was pretty common for teams to have very young players, and it seems a lot of pitchers before 1900 had at most a few good years before blowing out an arm, switching positions, leaving baseball–or something else happened to make them stop being superb pitchers. I’m pretty sure both lists have three Hall of Famers. Although I don’t recognize all the players on the two batting lists, it’s clear that the batting phenoms have had better careers than the pitching phenoms.

Published in: Uncategorized on June 15, 2014 at 12:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 1964 Yankees Come to Richmond for an Exhibition Game

Ike Futch, who played in the Yankees’ minor league system as, primarily, a second baseman, from 1959 through 1964 (check his stats), recently left a comment on a post on this blog about Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. When I wrote an email back to him, he told me about an exhibition game he had played for the Richmond Virginians (they were the Yankees’ AAA affiliate) at the end of 1964 spring training. Ike sent along files of the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s coverage of the game, played on Sunday, April 12, 1964, at Richmond’s Parker Field.

Here is some of the coverage; to begin, Ike sliding into second under Phil Linz’s tag to steal the base; he would score the winning run a couple minutes later on a Horace Clarke single.

linzfutch
The box score:
richmondbox
Part of the game account:
richmondlead
And a few game notes, featuring an item on Mickey Mantle and his health:
richmondmantle

I believe that of all the Richmond Virginians, Mel Stottlemyre, who pitched in this game, went on to have the best MLB career. Also, I have interviewed Ike Futch about his minor league career, especially his years in the Yankees organization.

Published in: on June 5, 2014 at 8:53 am  Comments (1)  
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Who Have Been the Best MLB Players in Their 20s?

Here is a look at some lists of the top 10 players before age 30 (not by advanced stats). Here, via Baseball-reference.com, is a list of the top 10 position players in career games played before turning 30.
1. Mel Ott 1739
2. Robin Yount 1671
3. Andruw Jones 1607
4. Edgar Renteria 1598
5. Al Kaline 1595
6. Alex Rodriguez 1592
7. Bill Mazeroski 1574
8. Adrian Beltre 1570
9. Vada Pinson 1565
10. Jimmie Foxx 1561

And the leaders in times on base before 30:
1. Mel Ott 3011
2. Jimmie Foxx 2846
3. Mickey Mantle 2839
4. Ty Cobb 2792
5. Alex Rodriguez 2729
6. Albert Pujols 2597
7. Miguel Cabrera 2553
8. Rogers Hornsby 2539
9. Ken Griffey Jr. 2536
10. Arky Vaughan 2527

The first list has five Hall of Famers, the second list has six.

The leaders in career innings pitched before 30:
1. Mickey Welch 4344.7
2. Pud Galvin 4132.7
3. Kid Nichols 3996.7
4. Jim McCormick 3953.3
5. Amos Rusie 3756.7
6. John Clarkson 3701.7
7. Tommy Bond 3628.7
8. Gus Weyhing 3526.3
9. Walter Johnson 3474.3
10. Christy Mathewson 3293.0

The leaders in strikeouts before 30:
1. Walter Johnson 2305
2. Sam McDowell 2281
3. Bert Blyleven 2250
4. Don Drysdale 2111
5. Nolan Ryan 2085
6. Sandy Koufax 2079
7. Bob Feller 2000
8. Christy Mathewson 1983
9. Pedro Martinez 1981
10. Amos Rusie 1944

The first list has seven Hall of Famers, the second list has eight. It’s no surprise to see all four lists filled with great players, but they also have some surprising names. I don’t think Renteria or Andruw Jones will be easily recognized by fans a few decades from now. And seeing so many 1800s pitchers on the innings pitched list is a reminder of how young and how hard-worked pitchers were in those decades.

Published in: Uncategorized on May 26, 2014 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

The DiMaggio Baseball Brothers and Money

Richard Ben Cramer’s Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life depicts DiMaggio, especially in the last 10 or 15 years of his life, as a man consumed by his desire to make money. This usually took the form of appearance fees at memorabilia shows and other events, and special autograph deals to sign a certain number of cards, bats, and balls for a given company. The Mr. Coffee and Bowery Savings Bank commercials of the ’70s and ’80s were replaced by a more direct effort by Joe to cash in on his legend.

You get the sense, reading Cramer’s book, that Joe’s uncompromising attitude toward money-getting it and keeping it and avoiding spending it-derived in some sense from his childhood. Father Giuseppi was, if we believe Cramer, a close-mouthed Sicilian, wary of outsiders, hesitant to take risks, pessimistic, and, given his nine children, always aware of the difficulty of making ends meet. (On this note: in his book, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Fernand Braudel writes, “A double constraint has always been at the heart of Mediterranean history: poverty and uncertainty of the morrow. This is perhaps the cause of the carefulness, frugality, and industry of the people.”)

As Cramer describes it, when Vince leaves home to play baseball in Northern California and then in Arizona, Giuseppi can’t comprehend the value of playing the game, and considers Vince worthless. But, when Vince comes back from Arizona with $1500 cash, Giuseppi changes his mind about baseball.

Giuseppi’s attitude was apparently inherited by Joe and his brother Dominic, but in greatly amplified, savvier and much more ambitious form. There are a lot of places where you can read about Joe DiMaggio’s attitude toward money, but it’s worth noting that Dom was also very wealthy in his later life. A biography of Dom on the SABR site says:

Dominic found success after baseball, as well. In 1953, after he retired from baseball, he founded the American Latex Fiber Corporation along with two partners in Lawrence, Massachusetts. They produced padding for ammunitions packaging, boxcar insulation, and furniture and mattress padding. Dom later bought out his partners and began producing seat padding for the automotive industry. In 1961, he purchased a fire-ravaged company in Pennsylvania and merged the companies to form a new corporation: the Delaware Valley Corporation, and expanded production to include innovative products for the medical, construction, marine and RV industries. The company is still operated by a Dom DiMaggio, although now it is in the hands of eldest son Dominic, Jr.

After Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey died in 1976, DiMaggio headed a group of New England businessmen who put together an offer to purchase the Red Sox. The trust set up to handle the disposition of the ballclub rebuffed a number of offers, in which prospective applicants had invested considerable time and money, leaving a sense that the Haywood Sullivan group had had the inside track all along, resulting a sense of estrangement that lasted for a number of years.

Among other commercial ventures, Dom was involved in the operation of DiMaggio’s Restaurant on famed Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco, and in real estate on both coasts. He was co-founder of the Boston Patriots football franchise, and he has actively supported numerous charities.

An obituary of Dom following his death in May 2009 added: “Later in his life, Dominic used another talent – as a lover of mathematics – to help him in a successful business career. “The stock market was his passion,” his son, Dominic Paul, told the Associated Press. “He’d watch the stock ticker all day and the Red Sox all night.”

A poster on the Red Sox fan site, Sons of Sam Horn, remembered one contact with Dom, writing:

I babysat for Dom’s grandson. His name is Andrew – he goes by DiMaggio Gates – and he’s going to be attending UVM this Fall for a PhD in politics.

Anyway, he was visiting his grandparents for a day. They lived somewhere down on the South Shore/Cape area. I can’t remember. One of you might know, actually. Anyway, Andrew gets done at his grandparents’ boat club, so we go back to their house. Dom is INCREDIBLY friendly – almost frighteningly so. He says Andrew’s mother has said a bunch of nice things about me, he asks me about college, stuff like that. At the time, he was set up with an ice tea in his living room watching CNBC or Bloomberg. He explained that he had made the vast majority of his money AFTER his playing days, and that he and some other players had taken after looking for older ballplayers who hadn’t saved for their later years. We talked about baseball and the stock market for fifteen or twenty minutes.

And, a recent article on the DiMaggio brothers says of Dom“His integrity was unquestioned, and he volunteered as the A.L. representative working on the players’ behalf before their union was formed. Dom was ahead of his time when he declared himself a free agent after his military service. The panicked Boston front office persuaded him to sign a contract before the 1946 season by giving him a percentage of the gate at Fenway Park, the same arrangement it had secretly made with Williams.

“After he retired, Dom became a successful textile manufacturer who gave a lot of time to raise millions of dollars for charities in the Boston area. Although smaller than Joe in stature and in the baseball record books, Dom cast quite a long shadow himself.”

In his book, Cramer describes Dom and Joe as being somewhat estranged for much of their lives, but along with the parallels between their financial lives, they also both lived in Florida. Dominic DiMaggio died on May 8, 2009, at the age of 92, at his home in Marion, Massachusetts, but he maintained a second home in Florida, where he wintered. Joe DiMaggio had died in Hollywood, Florida, on March 8, 1999, and spent a great deal of time in Florida and Southern California following the end of his baseball career.

And given that, it’s also worth noting that the oldest of the DiMaggio baseball brothers, Vince, died in North Hollywood, CA, of cancer of the colon, on October 3, 1986. All three brothers used baseball as a chance to move to warm, tourist settings and, in Vince and Joe’s case, to live among Hollywood celebrities. According to his L.A. Times obituary, Vince was a salesman in a variety of fields after his baseball career, and he had been married to wife Madeline for almost 54 years at the time of his death. In this, he was like Dom, who at his death had been married to wife Emily for 61 years, not like Joe.

Published in: Uncategorized on May 15, 2014 at 8:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Principal Owners of MLB’s 30 Teams and How They Got Their Fortunes

This list of the principal owners in MLB comes from Wikipedia, with two changes by me where Wikipedia was outdated:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Ken Kendrick
Atlanta Braves: Liberty Media
Baltimore Orioles: Peter Angelos
Boston Red Sox: John W. Henry
Chicago Cubs: Thomas S. Ricketts
Chicago White Sox: Jerry Reinsdorf
Cincinnati Reds: Robert Castellini
Cleveland Indians: Larry Dolan
Colorado Rockies: Charlie Monfort
Detroit Tigers: Mike Ilitch
Houston Astros: Jim Crane
Kansas City Royals: David Glass
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Arturo Moreno
Los Angeles Dodgers: Mark Walter
Miami Marlins: Jeffrey Loria
Milwaukee Brewers: Mark Attanasio
Minnesota Twins: Jim Pohlad
New York Mets: Fred Wilpon
New York Yankees: Hal Steinbrenner
Oakland Athletics: Lewis Wolff
Philadelphia Phillies: David Montgomery
Pittsburgh Pirates: Robert Nutting
San Diego Padres: Ron Fowler
San Francisco Giants: Charles Bartlett Johnson
Seattle Mariners: Nintendo
St. Louis Cardinals: William DeWitt, Jr.
Tampa Bay Rays: Stuart Sternberg
Texas Rangers: Bob R. Simpson and Ray Davis
Toronto Blue Jays: Rogers Communications
Washington Nationals: Lerner Enterprises

Here is a breakdown of how these owners made their fortunes:

Four in media/entertainment: Liberty Media, Rogers Communications, Robert Nutting, Nintendo

Six in finance, that is, Wall Street, bonds/stocks, and banking: John Henry, Thomas Ricketts, Mark Walter, Mark Attanasio, Charles Bartlett Johnson, Stuart Sternberg

Four in real estate: Jerry Reinsdorf, Fred Wilpon, Lewis Wolff, Lerner Enterprises

10 in business enterprises of one sort or another, frequently in several enterprises: Ken Kendrick, Robert Castellini, Charlie Monfort, Mike Ilitch, Jim Crane, David Glass, Arturo Moreno, Jeffrey Loria, William DeWitt, Jr., Bob R. Simpson and Ray Davis

3 in the law: Peter Angelos, Larry Dolan, Ron Fowler

2 inherited fortunes: Jim Pohlad, Hal Steinbrenner (Pohlad’s earned in banking and a variety of companies, Steinbrenner’s in shipbuilding and the growth of the Yankees)

1 from within baseball: David Montgomery, who began working for the Phillies in the early ’70s

The figures provided by Wikipedia show that 29 of the MLB franchises were bought for $7.63 billion, plus the $2 billion recently paid for the Dodgers, which makes a total of $9.63 billion paid for 30 franchises. Four of the 30 were bought before the ’90s.

There has been growing talk of the U.S. going through a second Gilded Age as the gap between the rich and everyone else gets bigger. In light of that, it’s worth noting the increasing prices paid for MLB franchises. The last somewhat normal person, financially speaking, that I remember with a majority stake in a franchise was Marge Schott, the Reds owner in the ’80s and ’90s.

Also, finance, real estate, and media/entertainment, which have emerged as three of the dominant U.S. industries in the past few decades, as the economy moves away from manufacturing and toward the service sector, account for 14 of the 30 ownerships in MLB. “Technology”-that is, the Internet, software, smart phones, social media, etc.-account for none of the 30.

Published in: Uncategorized on May 6, 2014 at 7:36 pm  Comments (2)  

Thoughts on Bill Veeck’s Death in 1986

Here are some reminisces of Bill Veeck from Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Dave Kindred and others in response to Veeck’s death at not quite 72, at the start of 1986. First Kindred:

To sit with Bill Veeck was to enjoy man at his fullest. He was bright and brave, laughing and conniving, in love with life. In the summer of 1977, when Veeck last ran the White Sox, he sat in the dim light of a ballpark saloon. . . .

“Baseball is the least changed thing in our society,” Veeck said in that saloon. He had a beer in hand, and another waited its turn. “In a confused and confusing world in which the underpinnings are less stable than shifting sand, baseball is an island of stability.”

By then, at 63, Veeck was deaf in one ear and wore a hearing aid in the other. Sometimes he spoke at a roar because he wanted to hear what he said; most times it was out of passion. He had no interest in being polite. He considered politeness an absence of passion. He smoked four packs a day, he drank a case of beer, he read both Shakespeare and sportswriters (“I am a dispos-all for the written word”) – and he worked at baseball with a passion alien to most men.

“These [other MLB owners] are not career baseball operators,” said Veeck, a lifer whose stiff-collared father ran the Cubs from 1917 to ’33. “These are successful businessmen from other fields who get into baseball for personal publicity, to buff and burnish their egos.”

Veeck’s off-center smile rearranged the folds and crevices of his sage’s wasted face. “Of course, no one at this table has an overwhelming desire to put a high sheen on his ego. Or on his wooden leg.”

“We lost a lot in losing Bill Veeck,” said Jimmy Gallios, an owner of Miller’s Pub, 23 W. Adams, and a friend of Veeck for 40 years. “It was something great to see him walking in. Every day was a great day with him. He was just a tiger of a man.

“He never got down about all the problems he had with his leg. No, no, no, no. As a matter of fact, he was an inspiration to a couple of customers we had who had lost a leg, always trying to get them off crutches. And joking, telling them, ‘Listen, maybe we should buy one pair of shoes together and save some money.’ “

Studs Terkel, who interviewed Veeck often on radio and for his book The American Dream said: “His life was not baseball alone. I think what he was searching for was delight.

“In talking about his scoreboard (it was Veeck who introduced the exploding scoreboard to baseball), he told me he was thinking of the scene in ‘The Time of Your Life,’ where the loser who always plays the pinball machine in the bar one day hits the jackpot and it explodes.

“That’s what he meant with his scoreboard. Even losers can have their day. There should be delight in the game.”

Larry Doby, whom Veeck signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1947 as the first black player in the American League, called Veeck’s death “a shock.”

“It was like losing a father,” he said. “I thought the world of him. I lost my father when I was eight and I adopted Mr. Veeck.

“What I remember best is his response to people. When I went to Cleveland to sign my contract, I was nervous when I walked into his office. I said, ‘Glad to meet you, Mr. Veeck.’ He said, ‘Call me Bill.’ He then called me Lawrence.”

“Players loved to play for him,” said [Lou] Boudreau. “He got credit as an entertainer, but his knowledge of the game was tremendous.

“He never came into the [Indians] clubhouse. But we had a meeting every morning. We’d talk things over and he wanted to know why you did certain things. He wanted you to argue with him. He wanted you to prove that you were right.

“Bill Veeck deserves credit for where baseball is today. Because when it was in a dull period, he brought it back.”

And some more quotes:
“(Veeck) was not one of, but the finest man that I ever met in the field of sports. Baseball will miss him without a question. I enjoyed being in baseball with him while he owned the White Sox and I owned the A’s and I learned very, very much from him. Bill did so much for the game, all I can say is I’ll miss him.”
–Former Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley

“(Veeck promised) he’d go eat crow at (the downtown intersection of) State and Lake if I could win the pennant with that team. The following year he went down to State and Lake and ate crow or pheasant or something. I don’t know if it was crow, but he ate something. He was a wonderful man but a wonderful baseball man as well. He will be missed.”
–Al Lopez, who managed the Sox to the 1959 pennant

“He loved the game of baseball but he never forgot . . . the game is for the fans. It’s not for you the manager, it’s not for the players to make money. He loved to talk about the game of baseball. He really had a complete understanding of it. He took a chance on me when a lot of other men wouldn’t. We stayed in touch through the years. He would always let me know if I wasn’t doing something right, but he never came down on the field and told me what to do.”
–White Sox manager Tony LaRussa

“He was the spirit of Chicago, powerful, a lot of gusto and verve and vigor, an emancipated man, who had a mission in life. That was to bring joy and happiness to people, an intellect, you know, in a sweatshirt.”
–Chicago Mayor Harold Washington

Published in: Uncategorized on April 26, 2014 at 10:41 am  Comments (1)  
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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)  
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