Still MLB’s Strikeout King – 129 Years Later

When you think of strikeout artists, a lot of names come to mind –  Ryan, Koufax, Johnson, Feller.  The major league single season strikeout leader, however, is seldom on that list – despite the fact that he whiffed so many hitters, baseball actually experimented with a four-strike rule the season after he set the record.

Matt Kilroy - 513 strikeouts in a single season.

Matt Kilroy – 513 strikeouts in a single season.

The player was Matt Kilroy, the year was 1886, the team was the Baltimore Orioles and the southpaw’s record of 513 whiffs in a single season has stood for more than 125 years. Even more surprising, Kilroy set the record in his rookie season (which began two months shy of his twentieth birthday.).    

Kilroy – a 5-foot 9-inch, 175-pound southpaw – broke into the American Association (considered a major league) on April 17, 1886 (Opening Day) – pitching for the Baltimore Orioles and picking up a 4-1 victory.   Victories, however, would prove hard to come by for the rookie hurler, as the Orioles would end up finishing dead last, with a 48-83 record.   For the season, Kilroy would win 29 games, while leading the league with 34 losses. Overall, he started 68 of the Orioles’ 131 games, tossing 66 complete games, posting a 3.37 ERA and striking out a STILL major league record of 513 hitters in 583 innings.

The rules were a bit different back then. There was no mound and no pitching rubber, but rather a flat, pitcher’s box (rectangle) the front line of which was 50-feet from home plate. (The current pitching distance, from the mound and pitching rubber to home plate, is 60-feet, six inches.)  It also took six balls to walk, but hitters could call for a high or low pitch.

BBRT note:  The modern record for strikeouts in a seasons is 383 by the Angels’ Nolan Ryan in 1973 (21-16, 2.87 with 383 whiffs in 326 innings); while the rookie record is 276 by the Mets’ Dwight Gooden in 1984 (17-9, 2.60, 276 strikeouts in 218 innings). In his MLB career, by the way, Ryan led the league in strikeouts 11 times, walks eight times and wild pitches six times – three times leading the league in all three categories in the same season.

After Kilroy’s remarkable 1866 strikeout totals, which earned him the moniker “The Phenomenal Kid,”  the American Association experimented (for the 1887 season) with a four-strike strikeout rule.  Kilroy’s strikeout total dropped to 217, but he was still effective, leading the American Association in wins (46 versus 19 losses), games started (69), complete games (66), shutouts (6) and innings pitched (589 1/3).  Kilroy’s 46 wins remains the single-season MLB record for a left-handed pitcher.

Here’s a little background on this MLB record holder.

Matthew Aloysius (Matt) Kilroy was born on June 21, 1866, in Philadelphia. He was the seventh of 13 siblings.  He dropped out of school is in his teen years to help support the family, yet still found time to build a reputation as an outstanding amateur pitcher.

Kilroy got his first taste of professional baseball in 1885, with the Augusta Browns of the Southern League, where he went 29-22, with a 0.97 ERA, 49 complete games in 52 starts and 363 strikeouts in 447 innings pitched.  His performance did not go unnoticed, and made his major league debut – and major league history – with the Orioles the next season

Despite winning 75 games in his first two seasons, you will not find Kilroy’s name among the top MLB winners.  Late in the 1887 season, he suffered a shoulder injury in an on-field collision.  The effects of that injury carried over into the following season (1888), when Kilroy went 17-21, 4.04 and dropped to 40 starts (35 complete games – not bad for a sore-armed pitcher and a reflection of how the game has changed). In 1889, he rebounded to a 29-25, 2.85 stat line – matching his 217 strikeout total of his 46-win season of 1887.  Whether it was overwork or the earlier shoulder injury, Kilroy’s arm problems grew progressively worse and in six more major league campaigns, he went 20-34 – ending with a career mark of 141-133, 3.47 – and, as was the expectation of the times, 264 complete games in 292 starts.

Still, 117 years after he threw his last MLB pitch (1898), Matt Kilroy holds the single-season strikeout record for all of MLB – as well as the single-season victory record for southpaws.

Phenomenal Kid, indeed.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

A Reader Chimes In – Guest Post From A Fan of the National Pastime

Why I Love Baseball

We Have Passed the Baseball EquinoxBaseball engenders a child-like attachment through all stages of one’s existence. Most of us have loved baseball for as long as we have had any memories at all, and it will remain accessible to all five of our senses until our final breath. How many things can we say that about?  Not even a sunset or a beautiful wine can reveal as many new characteristics each and every day.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Tom Cuggino

 

Baseball Roundtable loves to hear from readers, especially when it’s clear their passion for the national pastime reflects BBRT’s tag line of Baseball is like life – only better.

Tom Cuggino, who provided the quote above for BBRT’s “Why I Love Baseball” page, is one of those individuals. In this post, BBRT would like to share Tom’s comments on his love for the game – and some of his favorite ballpark memories.  But first, a little background on this Tom .  Tom is in his mid-forties, a life-long baseball fan, a family man and a Financial Controller for Cisco Systems. He’s been to games at twenty of the current MLB ballparks, as well as a several of the now “lost” ballparks, including Old Comiskey, Shea Stadium, Candlestick Park, County Stadium and Jack Murphy Stadium.  Here, slightly edited (and with a BBRT comment here and there) are the comments from this welcome guest poster.

 

Baseball memories from Tom Cuggino

I’m originally from the NYC area (Yonkers/Westchester County) and my family, like many in that part of the region, saw several generations residing in the Bronx after arriving from Italy around the turn of the 20th Century.  So, my first love is the Yankees.

My family moved to Chicago when I was in grade school, and I adopted the Cubs as my National League team.  That leaves me with a most unique and blessed perspective as a fan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

BBRT note: A perspective shaped by the Yankees, with their 40 World Series appearances and 27 World Championships on one hand – and the Cubs with just ten World Series appearances (none since 1945) and two World Championships (none since 1908) on the other.  That seems to cover all the ground between delight and disappointment.

The only book I ever read until about junior high was the Baseball Encyclopedia. I spent countless days of backyard Wiffle (R) Ball with my friends, leveraging full MLB lineups (all results were null and void without a legitimate attempt at the players’ batting stances).  I also fondly recall simulated baseball dice games that we invented – in which each roll produced a different pitch outcome – occupying us for hours on rainy days.

Some of my favorite stadium memories include:

  • Tom Seaver - who went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets' cap - won his 300th game with the White Sox.

    Tom Seaver – who went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets’ cap – won his 300th game with the White Sox.

    Tom Seaver’s 300th win at Yankee Stadium. Seaver was pitching for the visiting White Sox, and it came on Phil Rizzuto Day (8/4/85). Phil was presented with a “Holy Cow” during the pre-game ceremony, and promptly tripped over it and fell down.  I’ll also never forget how many Mets fans were on hand to cheer on Tom Terrific.  My grandfather and I sat in the upper deck by the left field foul pole and Don Baylor flied out to Ron Kittle right in front of us for the final out. Seaver pitched a complete game as a 40-year old that day.

BBRT note: The 40-year-old Seaver tossed a complete game that day, holding a tough Yankee lineup (Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey St., Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Willie Randolph) to one run on six-hits (all singles) and one walk – while fanning seven. For trivia buffs, Seaver was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992 – being named on 98.8 percent of the ballots, the highest percentage in HOF balloting history.

 

  • Fred Lynn’s grand slam at the 50th All-Star game at the old Comiskey Park (7/6/83). It came in the third inning off a lefty, Atlee Hammaker, and remains the only grand slam in All-Star game history.

BBRT note: The AL pummeled the NL 13-3 in that contest, the league’s first ASG victory since 1971. Lynn started in CF and went one-for-three in the contest. Lynn’s third –inning grand slam (with Manny Trillo, Rod Carew and Robin Yount on base) earned him ASG MVP honors. Trivia note: Lynn is one of only two (and the first) players to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards in the same season (Lynn with the Red Sox in 1975, Ichiro Suzuki with the Mariners in 2001).

 

  • GoodenThe Cubs’ throttling of Dwight Gooden in their 1984 home opener, 11-2 (4/13/84). It was Gooden’s second major league start (his MLB debut had come a few days earlier in Houston), and he wore #61 (later reversed to his familiar #16). Both teams had been awful for many years, so no one could imagine the exciting summer they would both bring us that year as they rose from the ashes. While the Cubs fended off a repeat of their ’69 divisional collapse at the hands of the Mets, they famously blew the NLCS to the Padres after gaining a commanding 2-0 series lead.

BBRT note: Gooden finished the year at 17-9, 2.60 with a NL-leading 276 strikeouts (still the modern-era rookie record); winning the Rookie of the Year Award.  In that April 13th game, Gooden lasted just 3 1/3 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits and three walks. By the way, Tom’s prose led BBRT to look deeper into rookie records – to find that the all-time rookie strikeout record belongs to Matt Kilroy (513 for the 1996 Baltimore Orioles). Kilroy will be the subject for BBRT’s next post.  Thanks, Tom, for spurring that research.

 

  • Game Four of the 1980 World Series in Kansas City. Willie Mays Aikens hit two towering home runs in a losing effort.

BBRT note:  Aikens had a strong series, hitting .400, with four home runs and a triple (among eight this), eight RBI and five runs scored as the Royals lost to the Phillies in six games.

 

  •  Game Two of the 1989 World Series in Oakland. The game immediately preceded the famous Loma Prieta earthquake that delayed Game Three, and oddly (given the natural disaster) featured both of the local Bay Area (Oakland and San Francisco) teams.

BBRT note:  The 1989 World Series may hold the record for nicknames: The Bay Bridge Series; The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Series’ and the Earthquake Series. The A’s won the Series four games to none, outscoring the Giants 32-14.  Pitcher Dave Stewart, who won two games – giving up just three earned runs in 16 innings of work – was the MVP.  Ricky Henderson had nine hits (five singles, one double, two triples and one home run) and three stolen bases in the four games.

 

  • MunsonOn a sadder note, two of my earliest baseball memories were a pair of Yankee games that I attended … sandwiched within two weeks of Thurman Munson’s tragic death in 1979. Thurman was a first favorite player of mine, and was much of the reason I became a catcher for most of my baseball playing life. The first of the two games was actually his final game (8/1/79), against the White Sox in Chicago. Oddly, he played 1B that game. The second (8/13/79) was against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium, and I’ll never forget how surreal it felt to see Brad Gulden behind the plate that night.  It was of little consolation that the Yanks won both contests.

BBRT note:  In that final game, Munson came to the plate twice – he was replaced at first base by Jim Spencer in the third inning with the Yankees up 3-0 – and did not put the ball in play (walk in the first, strikeout in the third).  The following day (August 2, 1979), Munson was killed in a plane crash while practicing take offs and landings in his private jet.  Munson, just 32-years-old when he died, played eleven MLB seasons, was a seven-time All Star, AL Rookie of the Year (1970), AL MVP (1967) and a three-time Gold Glove winner (1973-74-75). A .292 career hitter, he averaged .357 in 30 post season games.  A trivia note – Munson is the only player to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and an MVP Award in a Yankee uniform. The following

BBRT says thanks to Tom – and looks forward to seeing his prose on this page again in the future.

For look at BBRT’s take on “Why I love baseball” – click here. 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

 

 

photo by:

Clark Griffith – Tracing Minnesota’s Major League Baseball Heritage

With the annual TwinsFest in full swing and Spring Training just around the corner, BBRT would like to take a look at the rich family heritage that is the foundation of the Minnesota Twins MLB franchise.

 

THE FOUNDATION OF THE TWINS – It all goes back to Hall of Famer Clark Griffith (center).

 

When Calvin Griffith moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota in 1961, he brought with him more than a ball club.  He brought a family history with deep roots in our national pastime.  Those roots go back to Baseball Hall of Famer Clark Griffith – the only person ever to serve at least twenty years as a player, as a manager and as an owner. Griffith is also the only Hall of Famer ever to have saddled Jesse James’ horse (more on that later). 

Baseball is rich in statistics, so before getting into the life and times of Clark Calvin Griffith, here are a few meaningful statistics and facts:

  • In twenty major seasons (between 1891 and 1914) as a right-handed pitcher, Griffith went 237-146, with a 3.31 ERA.
  • Griffith was a twenty-game winner seven times, with a high of 26 wins (14 losses) for the 1895 Chicago Colts/Orphans (the franchise that eventually became the Cubs). He was a 20-game winner for Chicago in six consecutive seasons (1894-99).
  • Griffith led the NL in ERA once, complete games once and shutouts once. He also led the AL in winning percentage once and shutouts once.
  • Griffith’s major league playing career included stints with the St. Louis Browns, Boston Reds, Chicago Colts/Orphans, New York Highlanders, Cincinnati Reds, and Washington Senators
  • As a manager, Griffith ran up a 1,491-1,367 record over 20 seasons.
  • In 1901, Griffith managed the Chicago White Stockings to the first-ever American League Pennant. Serving as player-manager, he also went 24-7 on the mound.
  • In 1903, Baltimore’s AL franchise moved to New York – to become the Highlanders and, eventually, the Yankees. Griffith was the Yankee franchise’s first manager in New York.
  • Griffith’s managerial career included stints with the Chicago White Stockings (Sox), New York Highlanders (Yankees), Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators.
  • Ban Johnson, Charles Comiskey and Griffith are credited with being the driving forces behind the successful establishment of the American League – with Griffith playing a key role in getting a significant number of National League players to make the “jump” to the new league.
  • As an owner, Griffith brought the World Series to Washington D.C. in 1924, 1925 and 1933 (World Series Champions in 1925=4).

So, how did this baseball journey begin – and how did the Senators’ franchise end up in Minnesota?  It’s a story of perseverance in the face of difficult times and tough odds, passion for the national pastime and a deep sense of family.  It is – for the most part – the Clark Griffith story.  And, despite taking place primarily in Missouri, Illinois and Washington D.C., it’s a story that  helped shape the future of baseball in Minnesota.

Clark Griffith was born November 20, 1869 on a farm in Clear Creek, Missouri.  The family – his father, mother and four siblings – who had moved to Missouri from Illinois were as close to “dirt poor” as you could get.  Things only got worse when Clark was two-years-old and his father was mistakenly shot and killed by a deer hunter. Clark’s mother Sarah Anne Griffith was left alone with five children and one on the way.  The family struggled to keep the farm going – and worried about the ongoing health of frail young Clark.  As he grew older, Clark – suffering what was later diagnosed as malarial fever – developed an interest for baseball, as a spectator and water boy for a local team.

Jesse James and Clark Griffith

After his father’s death, Clark Griffith’s mother would pick up a little extra – and much–needed money – by putting travelers up overnight in their large farm house. One of those traveling groups was made up of Jesse and Frank James and two of the Younger brothers.  On the morning of their departure, Jesse asked young Clark to saddle up the horses and bring them from the barn to the house. It was meeting Clark never forgot, and a story he liked to tell.

As Griffith reached his teen years, his mother – looking for a better life – moved the family to Normal, Illinois and opened a boarding house.  Clark maintained his passion for baseball, but being small for his age, did not play organized ball (not even for his high school team). He did, however, manage to work his way into a variety of pickup games, where the 5-foot six-inch, 156-pound right-hander began building a reputation as a pitcher.

In 1887, the now 18-year-old Griffith made it into organized ball, pitching for the Bloomington (IL) Reds of the Central Inter-State League.  It was there that he got his first big break. During Bloomington’s 1988 season, Griffith was called upon to pitch an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers team from the much more prestigious Western Association. Griffith performed well and came away with a $225 per month Milwaukee contract.  What followed were stops in: Milwaukee of the Western Association (1988-89); St. Louis and Boston of the American Association (1891); Tacoma of the Pacific Northwestern League (1892); and Oakland of the California League (1893).  Griffith’s season with the Oakland Colonels –  when he won 30 games (17 losses), with a, 2.30 ERA and  47 complete games in 48 starts – earned him a late season move to the National League Chicago Colts (Cubs) and, in 1894, he began his National League streak of six consecutive 20-plus win seasons.

Not an overpowering pitcher, Griffith earned the nickname “The Old Fox” for his ability to get hitters out with a combination of sharp breaking pitches, changes of speed and even psychological warfare.

The Old Fox Outfoxes the Competition

“Griff wasn’t very big or very strong and he didn’t have enough of a fastball to knock your hat off, but he knew how to pitch – and he had the nerve of a burglar … The hitters in the national league called him The Old Fox, because they couldn’t figure out how such a slow-balling pitcher could beat them without resorting to tricks.  While the batters fumed, Griff, at all times the picture of poise and confidence, struck them out by stalling until they were nervous wrecks, quick-pitching them when they weren’t ready, by scraping the ball against his spikes and taking advantage of the odd twists that could be achieved with a lacerated cover, and by needling the batters with as glib and caustic a tongue as the game has ever known.

               Ed Fitzgerald, May 1954 Sport (magazine) …  “Clark Griffith – the Old Fox”

The Old Fox was a twenty-game winner seven times.

The Old Fox was a twenty-game winner seven times.

While building a Hall of Fame career as a player, Griffith had also developed a keen interest in – and did all he could to learn about – the business side of the game. He saw baseball as his long-term future – wanting to be a manager, and someday even a team owner. Things took a step in that direction as the new century came around and Ban Johnson and Charley Comiskey consulted with Griffith on plans for the establishment of a second major league – with Griffith assuring Johnson and Comiskey that, if team owners and finances could be recruited, he could bring a significant number of current National League players into the fold.   In a move involving demands from  the Ballplayers Protective Association (of which Griffith was vice-president) and the National League’s apparent unwillingness to negotiate (the players wanted, among other things, to increase the salary limit from $2,400 a season to $3.000), Griffith paved the way for players to move to the new American League. Later, as he looked back on his baseball career, Griffith always listed getting the American League off the ground as one of his proudest accomplishments.  And, eventually, the Twins would play in the American League.

At least partially in recognition of Griffith’s role in that making the American League  a reality, Comiskey gave Griffith his chance to manage – as player-manager of the Comiskey-owned Chicago White Stockings.  And, as noted earlier, Griffith delivered 24 wins from the pitching rubber and the AL’s first pennant from the manager’s seat. Griffith went on to manage the White Sox, New York Highlanders and Cincinnati Reds between 1901-1911.

In 1912, the managerial post with the Washington Senators opened and Griffith, who had managed the Cincinnati Reds for the previous three seasons, saw a two-edged opportunity – to get back to the American League and to pursue the ownership position he had long desired.  He took the job – on the condition that he be allowed to purchase 10 percent ownership in the franchise.  He financed the purchase with $7,500 in savings and $20,000 loan secured by his ranch (bought with his earnings as a player) in Helena, Montana.

Griffith would maintain an ownership position in the franchise (that, in 1961 became the Twins) until his death in 1955 – but I’m getting ahead of myself.  To condense the ownership part of the Clark Griffith story, he was both an owner and manager through the 1920 season.  However, in 1919, he partnered with grain broker William M. Richardson to acquire approximately 80 percent ownership of the team and, after the 1920 season, he devoted himself solely to his executive/ownership duties.  As an owner. Griffith became known for his dedication to the game, recognition of baseball talent, business sense and frugality, commitment to family and (this possibility related to frugality) pioneering role in signing Cuban ballplayers.  Remember these traits; we’ll see them again (in Minnesota).

Coincidentally, just as Clark Calvin Griffith was pursuing an ownership position in the American League’s Washington club, his sister-in-law (Jane Robertson) gave birth to the second of her seven children – Calvin Robertson, born December 1, 1911 in Montreal, Quebec.  Times were hard for the Robertson’s. Money was tight and Calvin’s father James Robertson had issues with alcohol.  As more children arrived – there were a total of seven youngsters in the family by 1921 – life became more difficult.  It reached a point where Clark Griffith and his wife Addie (who were childless) agreed to take in two of the youngsters – 11-year-old Calvin and his nine-year-old sister Thelma. Although not officially adopted, the pair did legally change their names to Griffith.  In 1923, Calvin’s father died (at age 42) and the rest of the family was taken under Clark Griffith’s wing in Washington D.C. Being the first to join the Griffiths in the nation’s Capital would prove a stroke of luck for Calvin and Thelma – and perhaps Minnesota (more on that later).

Calvin Griffith shared (perhaps was influenced by)his uncle  Clark Griffith’s love of the game and and served as bat boy for the Washington team from 1922 to 1925.  Calvin later attended Staunton Military Academy and George Washington University, where he studied and played baseball (pitcher and catcher).

In 1935, he took his first official position in the Senators’ organization – working as secretary-treasurer for the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Washington farm club.  He eventually headed the operations at Chattanooga and then at Charlotte (Hornets) before joining his uncle Clark in the Washington front office in 1941. Over the years, under Clark’s tutelage, Calvin took on more and more responsibility for the team’s operations.

When Clark Griffith passed away in 1955 Calvin and his Sister Thelma Griffith inherited 52 percent ownership of the club and Calvin was elected its president. At that time, the family nature of the baseball business was clearly established – not only were Calvin and Thelma and integral part of the team’s front office (with Thelma playing a key role in the teams finances), their brothers Sherry, Billy and Jimmy also were part of the leadership team.

And the family’s baseball ties went even deeper.  Before joining the franchise’s front office (and eventually heading up the farm system), Sherry Robertson played ten seasons in the major leagues (between 1940 and 1952) as a utility player (OF, 2B, 3B. SS) – primarily with Clark Griffith’s Washington club. His best year was 1949, when he hit .251 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI in 110 games.  In addition, Thelma’s husband Joe Haynes (a veteran of 14 major league seasons as a player) was appointed a roving minor league pitching instructor.  Sister Mildred Robertson served for a time as Clark Griffith’s personal secretary and married future Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Cronin.  Cronin was clearly a good fit for the Griffith/Robertson baseball family.  Consider his ultimate MLB resume: seven-time All Star in a 20-year playing career with the Pirates, Senators and Red Sox; managed the Senators (1933-34) and Red Sox (1935-45); served as treasurer, general manager and president of the Red Sox; and was president of American League from 1959 to 1973.)

Once he took control of the team, Calvin contused his late uncle’s commitment to baseball, business and family – and when the league approved the Senators move to Minnesota for the 1961 season, Calvin brought his team, his executive (family) team and all that he had learned from is uncle Clark Griffith to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Given the family’s established dedication to the business of baseball, the move to Minnesota made perfect sense.  The Washington club had finished below the league average for seventeen consecutive seasons (topping one million in attendance only once) prior to the move.  The Twins finished above the league attendance average and topped one million fans in each of their first Minnesota seasons. 

So, following in Clark Griffith’s footsteps – and maybe stretching the stride even a bit longer – Calvin Griffith brought major league baseball to Minnesota in 1961.

In his time at the helm in Minnesota – until he sold the team to Carl Pohlad in 1984 – Calvin was known for his dedication to the game, recognition of baseball talent, business sense and frugality, commitment to family and success in discovering and signing Cuban ballplayers. Sound familiar – the influence of Uncle Clark was clearly long-lasting.   What has all this meant for Minnesota fans?   Over the years, we have seen:

  • big league baseball in three stadiums (Metropolitan Stadium, The HHH Metrodome, Target Field);
  • three World Series – with one World Championship;
  • ten division titles;
  • six American League championships;
  • three All Star games;
  • Five Hall of Famers in Twins’ uniforms – Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and even Steve Carlton;
  • five MVP seasons – Zoilo Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer;
  • three Cy Young Award winners – Johan Santana (twice), Frank Viola, Jim Perry;
  • 14 batting titles – Rod Carew (7), Tony Oliva (3), Joe Mauer (3), Kirby Puckett;
  • five home run titles – all by Harmon Killebrew;
  • 16 20-game winning seasons – Camilo Pascual (twice), Jim Perry (twice), Jim Kaat, Mudcat Grant, Dean Chance, Bert Blyleven, Dave Boswell, Dave Goltz, Jerry Koosman, Frank Viola, Scott Erickson, Brad Radke, Johan Santana;
  • Homer Hankies, bobble heads, Bat Day, Hat Day, Stocking Cap Day (even Fishing Lure Day), Dollar Dog Day (I do love a bargain), Nickel Beer Night (won’t see that again), walleye fingers (this is Minnesota, after all), Harmon Killebrew Day (1974), the Thunderdome decibel readings;
  • and much, much more

In short, it’s been a great – and continuing ride.  And, it all started with the Hall of Famer to which this post is dedicated:  Clark Griffith -baseball man, businessman, family man.

Note:  Throughout this post, the Washington franchise is referred to as the Senators.  However, the franchise that became the Twins, was known as both the Nationals and the Senators in its history – sometimes as both at the same time. And, it was reported that Clark Griffith actually preferred the Nationals moniker. Sportecyclopedia.com reports that, in 1956, “After more than 50 years of insisting the team was officially called the Nationals, the team finally changes its name to the more commonly called  Senators.  We’ll save that controversey for another post. 

 

Calvin Griffith and My Family

July 4, 1976 - Me, Calvin Griffith and my dad outside Metrpolitan Staidum

July 4, 1976 – Me, Calvin Griffith and my dad outside Metrpolitan Staidum

I always enjoyed Calvin – and found him to be a fan-friendly owner, with little pretense, lots of passion for the national pastime and a genuine affection for the fans of the upper Midwest.

On July 4, 1976, for example, I celebrated the birthday of my father George Karpinski and my softball team’s shortstop Bill Morlock (yes, they were both Independence Day babies, just about 30 years apart) by tailgating beyond the left centerfield fence at the old Metropolitan Stadium (followed by the game, of course).

Who should show up to join our gathering?  Twins owner Calvin Griffith and former player, manager and then broadcaster Frank Quilici.  We spent considerable time discussing baseball, the Twins and the importance of hot dogs, over a cold brew or two (at least on my part).  The Twins, by the way, won 9-4 on a grand slam by Rod Carew.

Just over a year later, I celebrated my 30th birthday (with my friends and family) in a private box at the old Met.  Back then, a private box was an enclosed area above the second deck, with a formica table top and plastic chairs –  and you could bring in your own food and beverage if you wanted.  Calvin sent an employee – in a bow tie and gold vest – with a special birthday note.  And, during the game, the Twins-O-Gram displayed “Happy Birthday Super Fan Dave Karpinski.” – at no charge.  (Note:  Actually, at first it read “Happy Birthday Super Fan Dave Krapinski” – but that was corrected, after I got my picture.

 

I tweet baseball @#DavidBBRT

Chuck Connors – He Lived The Dream(s)

When Kevin Joseph Connors was growing up in Brooklyn he dreamed of someday taking the field for his hometown Dodgers. If he was like most boys at the time, he also probably dreamed of being a cowboy.  Little did Kevin know that he would live both dreams – and then some.

In his lifetime, Connors would take to:

  • the court under the tutelage of Basketball Hall of Famer John Russell;
  • the diamond alongside Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda; and
  • the movie set across from Academy Award winner Spencer Tracy.

If you are old enough to be aware of Kevin Connors, you may know him better by his nickname “Chuck” – or as star of the successful TV western series The Rifleman.  You may also recall him in such classic movies as Old Yeller or for his appearances in television presentations like Roots (which earned Connors an Emmy nomination).

connersBut this is a baseball blog, so why all this attention to an actor?  To answer that, we need to go back to Connors’ boyhood dream of playing for his beloved Dodgers. Connors made that dream come true – if only for a single pinch-hitting appearance. (And, what would most baseball fans give for even just one at bat with our favorite team – and one line in the Baseball Encyclopedia?)

Connors also went on to play first base for the Chicago Cubs, forward and center for the Boston Celtics, be drafted by the Chicago Bears and earn his way into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame – now the Western Performers Hall of Fame of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

The most compelling reason BBRT is taking a look at Chuck Connors, however,  is that (as NBA Hoops Online notes) Connors is one of only twelve players to play in both the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball – and BBRT has a significant interest in multi-sport athletes.

For a look at BBRT’s favorite multi-sport athletes click here.  You’ll read about:

- Deion Sanders – the only player to hit a major league home run and score an NFL touchdown in the same week;

- Gene Conley – the only player to play on a World Series winner and an NBA champion;

- Bo Jackson – selected as an MLB All Star and NFL Pro Bowler in the same year;

- Carroll Hardy – who pinch hit for Ted Williams, Roger Maris and Carl Yastrzemski and scored four NFL touchdowns as a receiver; and 

- 17 more multi-sport achievers.

Connors signed with his beloved Dodgers in 1940, right out of high school. After a one-for-eleven start for the Class D Newport Dodgers, Connors decided accepting a baseball scholarship to Seton Hall University might be a wiser course of action.  At Seton Hall, the six-foot five-inch Connors played baseball and basketball and, in what would later prove extremely important to his future, got hooked on the performing arts.

Connors went back to the professional ranks in 1942, signing with the Yankees and playing one season for the Class B Norfolk Tars. Later that same year, he enlisted in the Army and served stateside until early 1946 (playing semi-pro basketball in his free time). After his discharge from the Army, Connors joined the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League, playing in 14 games before returning to the Yankees, who put him on waivers during 1946 Spring Training.  To Connors’delight, his hometown Dodgers picked up his waivers and sent him to Newport News, where he emerged as a power-hitting first-base prospect – leading the Class B Piedmont League with 17 home runs.  In the fall of that year, Connors added to his athletic resume by signing with the Boston Celtics of the Basketball Association of America (soon to merge with the NBL to form the today’s National Basketball Association). He played just two seasons with the Celtics – averaging 4.5 points per game.

Between 1946 and 1949, Connors moved up the minor league baseball ladder – from the B level Newport News Dodgers (1946) to the AA Mobile Bears (1947) to the AAA Montreal Royals (1948-1949). Notably, Connors proved a decent player – and somewhat of a good luck charm. Each of the teams he played on from 1946 to 1949 ended up as league playoff champions. Over those four minor seasons, Connors played in 544 games, compiling a .293 average with 69 home runs.

Connors’ dream of playing for the Dodgers came true at Ebbets Field on May 1, 1949 – when he was called off the bench to pinch hit for Brooklyn right fielder Carl Furillo (who would go on to hit .322 with 18 homers and 106 RBI that season). With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Gil Hodges on first and the Dodgers trailing the Phillies 4-2, Connors hit into a pitcher-to short-to-first double play to end the game.

It wasn’t long afterwards, that Connors found himself back in Montreal, where he finished the season hitting .290, with six home runs, 68 RBI and a surprising 14 stolen bases.  Despite his love for the Dodgers, Connors realized Gil Hodges was firmly entrenched at first base and requested a trade. The Dodgers complied and dispatched him to the Cubs.  The Cubs sent Connors to their Pacific Coast League farm club, the Los Angeles Angels, where a strong start to the 1951 season (.321 with 22 home runs, 77 RBI and eight steals) made him a fan favorite – and earned him a mid-season call-up to Chicago, where he hit just .239 with two home runs and 18 RBI in 66 games.

Through all of his athletic endeavors, Connors was a showman (or in some people’s eyes a showboat).  In a May 1951 Sport Life magazine article, Connors was described as “part-comedian, part-time first baseman and all character.”  He was also known as a hotel lobby magician and a great banquet speaker  renowned for his dramatic recital of “Casey at the Bat”).

Connors’ flair for the dramatic – on and off the field – did not go unnoticed by the show business crowd that often attended Angels games.  In fact, in the fall of 1951, one of Connors’ Los Angeles fans tapped the good-looking first baseman for another kind of performance.  Bill Grady, an executive with Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, asked Connors to do a screen test for a small part in the film Pat and Mike (starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy). Connors got the part and a new career was born.  In an acting career that stretched into the 1990s, Connors – probably most remembered for his role as Lucas McCain in the popular Rifleman television series – appeared in more than 40 movies and a host of television series and specials.

Connors made his preference for the Pacific Coast League known in a July 1952 Sport magazine article,

Connors made his preference for the Pacific Coast League known in a July 1952 Sport magazine article,

Connors recognized his good fortune and always maintained his greatest break as a ballplayer came in 1951, when the Cubs sent him to Los Angeles – putting him “right out in the middle of the movie business.”  He saw significant enough potential in acting that when he agreed to his 1952 baseball contract, he signed a then available clause that allowed minor leaguers to waive the opportunity to be drafted by a major league club.  In an article for Sport Magazine, he extolled the west coast earnings opportunities, the weather, and the Pacific Coast League’s salaries, playing conditions and travel accommodations. In the closing paragraphs of that article, Connors said, “I live in my own home in the San Fernando Valley the year round.  I can play golf and go fishing everyday if I want to. I’m two hours from ski country, 20 minutes from good swimming, two-and-a-half hours from a bull fight. I’m near many lucrative income sources.  Do I want to be drafted away from all this … Not me.”

As anyone reading or watching might have predicted, Connors left baseball in 1953 to pursue his acting career – and the rest is history.

The Rifleman - 1958-63 - was one of televisions most popular westerns.

The Rifleman – 1958-63 – was one of televisions most popular westerns.

A few Connors’ tidbits:

– In 1959, Connors won a Golden Globe Award (Best Television Performers) for his work in The Rifleman.

– Connors starred in four television series: The Rifleman; Arrest and Trial; Branded; and Cowboy in Africa.

– In 1984, Connors was honored with a “star” on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

– In a four-season span at AAA (1948-51), Connors’ batting averages were: .307; .319; .290 and .321.

– In 1966, Connors brought his baseball past and his Hollywood present together, serving as an intermediary credited with ending the much-publicized holdout of Dodgers’ star pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

– Connors was known to turn cartwheels while circling the bases after a home run.

– Connors made guest appearances on television shows ranging from Gunsmoke to Spenser for Hire to the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.

– Connors’ movie credits include such films as Pat and Mike; Old Yeller; Geronimo, Flipper; The Big Country; Solyent Green; and Airplane II.

– Connors is credited with shattering the first glass backboard ever, during a November 1946 Celtics’ pregame warm-up.

One final Connors story, this one shared on the “Our Chuck Connors” website … ourchuckconnors.com  

After a 1946 appearance – reciting Casey at the Bat – representing the Celtics at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, Connors was approached by Ted Williams who told him: “Kid, I don’t know what kind of basketball player you are, but you ought to give it up and be an actor.”

Teddy Ballgame always did have a good eye.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Baseball Hall of Fame “95 Percent” Club

Randy Johnson - Big Unit scored on 97 percent of HOF ballots.

Randy Johnson – Big Unit scored on 97 percent of HOF ballots.

The Baseball Writers Association of America’s (BBWAA) Hall of Fame Ballots are in – and so are Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.  Johnson, named on 97.27 percent of the ballots, joined some elite company.  His percentage was the eighth-highest ever in the official BBWAA balloting – and he became one of only 14 players to receive at least 95 percent support since the first election back in 1936. No playernot even the likes of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron or Christy Mathewson – has ever received unanimous support. (Cy Young, with his record 511 mound wins, was elected in 1937 with 76.12 percent of the vote.) The all-high in balloting is 98.84 percent, achieved by Tom Seaver. (We’ll take a quick look at “resumes” of the fourteen members of the 95 percent club later in this post.)

Over the years, 118 players have been elected to the HOF through the regular balloting; with just 11.86 percent of those reaching the 95 percent support threshold.  Ten of those fourteen have come since 1989, three (Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner) were in the first-ever HOF class, and just one honoree achieved 95 percent support between 1936 and 1989 (Hank Aaron, 1982).

Here’s a breakdown of  “95-percenters” in ten-year increments:

1936-45           3

1946-55           0

1956-65           0

1966-75           0

1976-85           1

1986-95           3

1996-2005       3

2006-15           4

 

Now, a look at the Hall of Fame’s all-time top vote getters.

 1. Tom Seaver (RHP) – 98.84% – 1992       Nickname – Tom Terrific

Tom Seaver won 311 games (205 losses) in a 20-year MLB career (1967-86). He won 20 or more games in five seasons; leading his league in victories three times, ERA three times and strikeouts five times. Seaver finished his career with a 2.86 ERA and 3,640 strikeouts. He was the National League Rookie of the Year with the Mets in 1967, a 12-time All Star, and won the Cy Young Award three times (1969, 1973, 1975).  He threw one no-hitter.  Seaver pitched for the Mets (1967-77, 1983); Reds (1977-82); White Sox (1984-86); and Red Sox (1986).

Tom Seaver fact: On April 22, 1970, in beating the Padres 2-1 at Shea Stadium, Seaver set the MLB record for consecutive strikeouts in a game – fanning the last ten hitters of the contest (five looking/five swinging). In the complete game win, Seaver allowed one run on two hits, walked two and fanned 19.

2. Nolan Ryan (RHP) – 98.79% – 1999         Nickname – The Ryan Express

Nolan Ryan won 324 games in 27 MLB seasons (292 losses, a 3.19 ERA) and holds the All Time MLB strikeout record (5,714). Ryan was an eight-time All Star and a two-time twenty-game winner.  He led his league in strikeouts eleven times (topping 300 whiffs in a season six times) and recorded a league-low ERA twice. He also threw an MLB-record seven no-hitters. Ryan pitched for the Mets (1966, 1968-71); Angels (1972-79); Astros (1980-88); and Rangers (1989-93).

Nolan Ryan fact: Despite his Hall of Fame career, Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young Award.

3. Cal Ripken Jr. (SS/3B) – 98.53% – 2007            Nickname – Iron Man

Cal Ripken will likely be most remembered for his all-time MLB record of 2,632 consecutive games played.  He will also be remembered for playing them well.  In a 21-season MLB career, Ripken was an All Star 19 times. He was also the AL Rookie of the Year in 1982 and twice was the league’s Most Valuable Player (1983, 1991). He collected 3,184 hits (.276 lifetime average), 431 home runs, 1,695 RBI and 1,647 runs scored. He won eight Silver Slugger Awards (as the best offensive player at his position) and two Gold Gloves (as the best defensive player at his position). Ripken played his entire career (1981-2001) with the Orioles.

Cal Ripken fact:  In 1991, Cal Ripken Jr. won the All Star Game Home Run Derby (and was the AS Game MVP).

4. Ty Cobb (OF) – 98.23% – 1936                     Nickname – The Georgia Peach

A member of the HOF’s inaugural class, Ty Cobb holds MLB’s highest career batting average (among qualified players) at .366, is second all-time in hits (4,189) and runs scored (2,246). Cobb won an MLB-record 12 batting titles (including nine in a row from 1907 to 1915). He hit over .400 three times (1911, 1912, 1922). In addition to his batting titles, Cobb led the league in hits eight times, runs five times, doubles three times, triples four times, home runs once, RBI four times and stolen bases six times.  Cobb played for the Tigers (1905-26) and the Athletics (1927-28).

Ty Cobb fact: Ty Cobb stole home an MLB-record 54 times.

5.  George Brett (3B) – 98.18% – 1999                   Nickname – Mullet

A .305 lifetime hitter (21 seasons), George Brett collected 3,105 hits and three batting crowns – including a high of .390 in 1980.  Brett was a thirteen-time All Star and the 1980 AL Most Valuable Player.  In addition to his three batting titles, Brett led the league in hits three times, doubles twice, triples three times.  He finished with 317 home runs, 1,596 RBI and 1,583 runs scored.  Brett played his entire MLB career (1973-93) for the Royals.

George Brett fact:  George Brett is the only MLBer to win a batting title in three different decades (1976, 1980, 1990).

6. Hank Aaron (OF) – 97.83% – 1982        Nickname(s) – The Hammer, Hamerin’ Hank

Hank Aaron stands number-two on the all-time home run list with 755 round trippers, and number-one in RBI (2,297), extra base hits (1,477) and total bases (6,856).  He was an All Star in 21 of his 23 seasons and the 1957 NL Most Valuable Player.  Aaron led his league in batting average twice, home runs four times, RBI four times, doubles four times, hits twice, runs scored three times and total bases eight times.  He also earned three Gold Glove Awards.  Aaron is one of only two players with 500 home runs (755), 3,000 hits (3,771) and a .300 batting average (.305). (The other is Willie Mays.) Aaron played for the Braves (1954-74) and Brewers (1975-76).

Hank Aaron fact:  Hank Aaron and fellow Brave and HOFer Eddie Mathews hit more home runs while teammates (863) than any other duo – edging out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (859).

7. Tony Gwynn (OF) – 97.61% – 2007                  Nickname(s) – Mr. Padre, Captain Video

Tony Gwynn was fifteen-time All Star in his 20-season career.  A lifetime .338 hitter, Gwynn was an eight-time batting champion, as well as a five-time Gold Glover. He led the NL in hits seven times (topping 200 in five seasons) and runs once.  He hit 135 home runs, scored 1,383 runs and drove in 1,138. He collected 3,141 hits – all for the Padres (1982-2001).

Tony Gwynn fact:  Tony Gwynn put the bat on the ball, striking out only 434 times in 20 seasons (10,232 plate appearances). In his career, he only struck out more than once in a game 34 times.

8.  Randy Johnson (LHP) – 97.26% – 2015                     Nickname – The Big Unit

The 6’ 10”  Randy Johnson won 303 games (166 losses), with a 3.29 ERA, over 22 seasons.  He finished his career second all-time in strikeouts (4,875) and led his league in whiffs nine times (topping 300 in a season six times). He was a 20-game winner twice, leading the NL with 24 wins in 2002. Johnson won the Cy Young Award five times, including four consecutive seasons (1999-2002). He also led his league in winning percentage four times, ERA four times, complete games five times and shutouts twice.   The ten-time All Star threw two no-hitters (one a perfect game).  Johnson pitched for the Expos (1988-99); Mariners (1989-98); Astros (1998); Diamondbacks (1999-2004, 2007-08); Yankees (2005-06); and Giants (2009).

Randy Johnson fact:   Randy Johnson is one of only three pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in both the American and National League (Pedro Martinez and Gaylord Perry are the others).

9.  Greg Maddux (RHP) – 97.20% – 2014           Nickname(s) – Mad Dog, The Professor

Greg Maddux won 355 games (227) losses, with a 3.16 ERA over 23 MLB seasons.  He was an eight-time All Star and won four consecutive Cy Young Awards (1992-95). He also won more Gold Glove Awards than any other player in MLB history (18). He led his league in wins three times, winning percentage twice, ERA four times, games started seven times, complete games three times and shutouts five times. Maddux pitched for the Cubs (1986-92, 2004-2006); Braves (1993-2003); Dodgers 2006, 2008); and Padres (2008).

Greg Maddux fact:   While Maddux finished with 3,371 regular season strikeouts, he only reached 200 whiffs in a season once.

10.  Mike Schmidt (3B) – 96.52% – 1995              Nickname – Schmitty

Mike Schmidt pounded out 548 home runs in 18 big league seasons – and also earned ten Gold Gloves at third base. The twelve-time All Star was the NL Most Valuable Player three times (1980, 1981, 1986).  He led the NL in home runs eight times and RBI four times. A career .267 hitter, Schmidt finished with 548 home runs, 1,595 RBI and 1,506 runs scored. Schmidt played his entire MLB career (1972-89) for the Phillies.

Mike Schmidt fact:   On April 17, 1976, Schmidt tied an MLB record by hitting four home runs in a single game – driving in eight runs as the Phillies topped the Cubs 18-16 in ten innings at Wrigley Field.

11.  Johnny Bench (C) – 96.42% – 1989               Nickname – Little General

In his 17-season MLB career, Johnny Bench was an All Star 14 times, was twice the NL MVP (1970, 1972) and was the World Series MVP in 1976.  He was also the NL rookie of the Year in 1968, when (as a 20-year old), he hit .275, with 15 home runs and 82 RBI – while also earning a Gold Glove at catcher.  Bench went on to hit 389 home runs (leading the NL twice) and earn a total of ten Gold Gloves.  He finished his career with a .267 average, 1,091 runs scored and 1,376 RBI (leading the league in that category three times). Bench played his entire career (1967-83) with the Reds.

Johnny Bench fact:  Johnny Bench was the first catcher to win a Rookie of the Year Award and the first rookie catcher to win a Gold Glove.

12.  Steve Carlton (LHP) – 95.82% – 1994                         Nickname – Lefty

Steve Carlton won 329 games (244 losses), with a 3.22 ERA over a 24-year MLB career.  He was a ten-time All Star and won a total of four Cy Young Awards (1972, 1977, 1980, 1982). Carlton led the NL in wins four times, winning percentage once, ERA once, complete games three times and strikeouts five times (a high of 310 in 1972). He is one of only four pitchers to surpass 4,000 strike outs (4,136). Carlton pitched for the Cardinals (1965-71); Phillies (1972-86); Giants (1986); White Sox (1986); Indians (1987); and Twins (1987-88).

Steve Carlton fact:  In 1972, Steve Carlton won an MLB-record 46 percent of his team’s games – going 27-10, 1.97 for a last-place Phillies’ team that finished at 59-97.  That season, Carlton led the NL in wins, ERA, games started (41), complete games (30), innings pitched (346 1/3), and strikeouts (310).

13.  Babe Ruth (OF/P) – 95.13% – 1936                 Nickname(s) – Babe, The Bambino, The sultan of Swat

Babe Ruth made his mark first as a pitcher and then as the game’s first true power hitter.  As a pitcher, Ruth went 94-46, with a 2.28 ERA in 163 games (147 starts) – including two twenty-plus victory seasons (23-12 in 1916 and 24-13 in 1917 for the Red Sox).  In 1916, he led the AL in ERA (1.75), games started (40) and shutouts (9) – with 23 complete games and 323 2/3 innings pitched.  He threw 300+ innings again the following season (326 1/3) and led the league in complete games (35).  He also ran up a 3-0 post season (World Series) record, giving up just three runs in 31 post-seasons innings (1.06 ERA.)

At the plate, converting to the outfield full-time, Ruth proved even more powerful than he was on the mound.  In a twenty-two season MLB career, Ruth hit .342, with 714 home runs, 2,214 RBI and 2,174 runs scored. Ruth led the AL in home runs twelve times, runs scored eight times, RBI six times and batting average once.  In 41 World Series games, he hit .326, with 15 home runs and 33 RBI.   Ruth played for the Red Sox (1914-19); Yankees (1920-34); and Braves (1935).

Babe Ruth fact:  Among pitchers with at least twenty decisions against the Yankees, Babe Ruth has the top winning percentage at .773 (17-5) – all while with the Red Sox.

14.  Honus Wagner (SS) – 95.13% – 1936                 Nickname – The Flying Dutchman

In his 21-season MLB career, Honus Wagner captured eight batting titles (tied for the most in the NL with Tony Gwynn).  He also led the NL in RBI five times, runs scored twice, hits twice, stolen bases five times, doubles seven times, triples three times and total bases six times. Overall, Wagner collected 3,320 hits (a .328 career average), 101 home runs, 1,733 RBI, 1,739 runs scored, 643 doubles, 252 triples and 722 (or 723 depending on the source) stolen bases. Wagner played for the Louisville Colonels (1897-99) and Pirates (1900-17).

Honus Wagner fact:  While primarily a shortstop, Honus Wagner – a gifted and versatile athlete – played every position except catcher during his career.

So, there’s a look at the Hall of Fames “95-percenters.”   Now, if you are into the rounding of percentages, there are three more players who would have made the cut – all outfielders and all elected in a year ending in “nine”:  Ricky Henderson (94.81 percent, 2009); Willie Mays (94.68%, 1979); and Carl Yastrzemski (94.67 percent 1989).

 

A side note: BBRT’s HOF predictions (made by in early December – see the BBRT Hall of Fame Post here.) were pretty close.  BBRT predicted Johnson, Martinez, Biggio and Smoltz would be elected by the writers – and that they would finish 1-2-3-4 as listed.  The quartet was elected, but they finished 1-2-4-3. BBRT also projected Mike Piazza would gain some traction, but finish fifth in the voting and fall short of election (with 66-68 percent of the votes.) Piazza finished fifth at 69.9 percent.

 

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Baseball Bloggers Alliance Announces Its HOF Recommendations

BaseballBloggersAlliance-thumb-200x155-12545As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), I am pleased to share the BBA’s announcement that seven players from this year’s Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) Hall of Fame ballot were recommended for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBA membership – with Randy Johnson the only unanimous recommendation. (The BBA is an organization of more than 200 baseball bloggers.)

In the official release regarding the BBA balloting, it is noted that –  given the backlog of quality players on the ballot – the BBA adopted the “binary ballot” process suggested by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Derrick Goold. Each player on the ballot was given a “yes” or “no” vote by BBA voters and those receiving over 75 percent were then recommended for induction. (There was no ten-vote maximum as in the official BBWAA balloting.) Using this method, only 13 percent of BBA members turned in a ballot with less than ten names selected, while 40 percent turned in a ballot with 15 or more names selected.  Note:  BBRT is highly supportive of the adoption of binary balloting by the BBWAA.)

Within this format, the following player received the necessary support from Baseball Bloggers Alliance members:

Randy Johnson (LHP, 1988-2009) – Unanimous BBA support

The Big Unit should be headed for the Hall of Fame.

The Big Unit – BBA’s unanimous HOF recommendation.

Randy Johnson notched 303 wins (166 losses) and 4,875 strikeouts (second all-time) in 4,135 innings pitched.  Johnson’s 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings ranks number-one among qualifying starting pitchers.  Johnson, who held hitters to a .221 average (eighth lowest all-time), was a ten-time All-Star and five-time Cy Young Award winner (second only to Roger Clemens). He led his league in strikeouts nine times, ERA four times, complete games four times, winning percentage four times and victories once.  He earned four straight NL Cy Young Awards (1999-2002) and threw two no-hitters (one a perfect game.) He was also the 2001 World Series MVP – going 3-0. 1.04 in three starts (striking out 19 in 17 1/3 innings).

Johnson itched for the Montreal Expos (1988-89); Seattle Mariners (1989-98); Houston Astros (1998); Arizona Diamondbacks (1999-2004, 2007-08); New York Yankees (2005-2006); and San Francisco Giants (2009).

Pedro Martinez (RHP, 1992-2009) – 95 percent

Pedro Martnez brought an arsenal of "plus" pitches and elite control to the mound.

Pedro Martnez brought an arsenal of “plus” pitches and elite control to the mound.

Martinez ran up a 219-100 record, a 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strikeouts in 18 seasons.  Among qualifying starting pitchers, only Randy Johnson recorded more strikeouts per nine innings than Martinez’ 10.04. He captured three Cy Young Awards (1997, 1999, 2000) and was an eight-time All Star.  He notched a league-low ERA in five seasons, and a league-high in strikeouts three times.  Martinez is one of only four pitchers to log 3,000+ strikeouts with fewer than 1,000 walks. His .687 winning percentage is the third-highest all-time; second-highest in the modern era (behind Whitey Ford’s .690; 238-106).

Martinez pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1992-93); Montreal Expos (1994-97); Boston Red Sox (1998-2004); New York Mets (2005-08); and Philadelphia Phillies (2009).

Craig Biggio (2B/C/OF, 1988-2007) – 90 percent

Craig Biggio getting his bat on the ball for 3,000+ hits should be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Craig Biggio getting his bat on the ball for 3,000+ hits should be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Biggio recorded 3,060 base hits (20th all time), 1,884 runs (154h all time), hit 291 home runs and stole 414 bases.  He was a seven-time All Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner. He led the NL in runs twice, doubles three times, stolen bases once and hit-by-pitch five times.  His 668 doubles are the most ever by a right-handed hitter (and fifth all time). He holds the NL record for home runs to lead off a game (53) and for hit-by-pitch (285).

Biggio played his entire 18-year MLB career with the Houston Astros.

 

John Smoltz (RHP, 1988-2009) – 89 percent

Smoltz delivered as a starter and reliever.

Smoltz delivered as a starter and reliever.

Smoltz is the only MLB hurler to notch 200+ wins (213) and 150+ saves (154) in his career – and one of only two pitchers to have a 20-win season and a 50-save season.  In 1996, he went 24-8 as a starter for the Braves, leading the NL in wins, winning percentage (24-6, .750), strikeouts( 276)  and innings pitched (253 2/3). Five seasons later, after Tommy John surgery, Smoltz led the NL in saves with 55. Smoltz was an eight-time All Star, who won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996 and was the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year in 2005. He led the NL in wins twice, winning percentage twice, strikeouts twice, innings pitched twice and saves once.  He finished his career at 213-155, 3.33, with 154 saves and 3,084 strikeouts in 3,473 innings pitched.

Smoltz pitched for the Atlanta Braves (19988-99, 2001-08); St. Louis Cardinals (2009); and Boston Red Sox (2009).

Mike Piazza (C, 1992-2007) – 85 percent

Mike Piazza - above the HOF bubble in BBA voting.

Mike Piazza – above the HOF bubble in BBA voting.

Mike Piazza’s achieved a .308 career average, 427 home runs (a MLB-record 396 as a catcher), a Rookie of the Year Award, 12 All Star Selections and ten Silver Slugger Awards as the best hitter at his position. He collected 2,127 hits, 1,335 RBI and scored 1,048 runs. Piazza played for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1992-98); Florida Marlins (1998); New York Mets (1998-2005); San Diego Padres (2006); and Oakland A’s 2007.

 

 

Jeff Bagwell (1B, 1991-2005) – 77 percent

Jeff Bagwell’s 15-year career MLB-career included 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 202 stolen bases and a .297 average – along with a Rookie of the Year Award, a Most Valuable Player Award, one Gold Glove and four All Star selections.  He also twice recorded seasons of 40 or more homers and 30 or more steals. Bagwell played his entire MLB career with the Houston Astros,

Tim Raines (OF, 1979-2001) – 77 percent

Tim Raines hit .294 over his 23-season MLB career, collecting 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs scored, 170 home runs, 980 RBI and 808 stolen bases (#5 all time).  Raines was successful on 83.5 percent of his career steal attempts. He was a seven-time All Star, led the NL in stolen bases four consecutive years (1981-84), had a streak of six seasons with at least 70 steals, won the NL batting title in 1986 with a .334 average, led the league in runs scored twice and doubles once. Raines played for the Montreal Expos (1979-90, 2001)); Chicago White Sox (1991-95); New York Yankees (1996-98); Oakland A’s (1999); Baltimore Orioles (2001); and Florida Marlins (2002).

All seven of these players received BBRT’s HOF support – as did Lee Smith, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina.  For more details on the BBA recommended candidates and BBRT’s ballot, click here to go to my December 3, 2014 Hall of Fame Post.

The rest of the BBA voting was as follows:

Edgar Martinez  71%

Curt Schilling 68%

Mike Mussina 67%

Barry Bonds 65%

Roger Clemens 63%

Alan Trammell 53%

Jeff Kent 44%

Gary Sheffield 38%

Larry Walker 37%

Fred McGriff 33%

Mark McGwire 33%

Don Mattingly 31%

Lee Smith 31%

Sammy Sosa 23%

Carlos Delgado 19%

Nomar Garciaparra 13%

Cliff Floyd 4%

Brian Giles 4%

Rich Aurilia 3%

Darin Erstad 3%

Troy Percival 3%

Aaron Boone 1%

Jason Schmidt 1%

Jermaine Dye 0%

Tom Gordon 0%

Eddie Guardado 0%

The official website of the BBA is located at baseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com. The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba. For more information, contact Niko Goutakolis at baseballbloggersalliance@gmail.com.

 

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Baseball Hall of Fame – Golden Era Voting – BBRT’s Take

baseball_hall_of_fame-300x225We are just days away (Monday, December 8) from the announcement of the Golden Era candidates (if any) who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.  In this post, I will share how BBRT’s ballot would look (if I had one), as well as my predictions as to who the committee will chose to send on to the Hall of Fame.

Selecting from among the Golden Era candidates proved more challenging then working my way through BBRT’s predictions and preferences for the regular Baseball Writers Association of American Hall of Fame voting.  (For BBRT’s regular Hall of Fame Ballot predictions, click here.) There were several reasons for that:

  • Since the Golden Era candidates were prescreened by an Historical Overview Committee, they all had some very deserving achievements and attributes;
  • Since I grew up in the Golden Era, I was able to see all the nominated players on the field – and find my choices mixing emotion with reason;
  • You can only vote for five of ten candidates, no matter how deserving you feel six or seven may be; and
  • Predicting how the Committee will vote is complicated by the fact that its membership changes so much from election to election (only four of the 16 members of the previous Golden Era Committee are back this year).

 

By way of background, the Hall of Fame Eras Committees consider candidates passed over for election to the HOF in the annual Baseball Writers Association of America – BBWAA –  balloting. The committees, which meet on a rotating basis (each committee meeting once every three years), are the: Pre-Integration ERA (prior to 1946); Golden Era (1947-72); and Expansion Era (1973 forward). Players to appear on each year’s ballot are selected by an Historical Overview Committee and candidates must receive 75 percent support from Era Committee members to achieve election.  Era Committee members may vote for or up to five candidates.   Candidates whose careers overlap eras are considered on the basis of the time frame in which they made their most significant contributions to the national pastime.

There are ten candidates on this year’s Golden Era ballot and, unlike the regular Hall of Fame election, their fate is not in the hands of the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Instead, their election depends on garnering 75 percent of the votes from a16-member panel that, this election cycle, includes:

  • Already enshrined Hall of Famers: Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick (executive), Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton
  • Baseball executives: Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson
  • Historian: Steve Hirdt
  • Media representatives: Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby

The returning members from 2011 are Gillick, Kaline, Hemond and Kaegel.

Note:  The last time the Golden Era Committee convened (2011), only former Cubs’ third baseman Ron Santo received the required 75 percent of the vote.

2014 Golden Era Baseball Hall of Fame Voting (for 2015 induction)

Candidates – Those returning from the 2011 voting are in bold face, with voting percentages for the top vote-getters noted.

Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges (56.3%), Bob Howsam (executive),  Jim Kaat (62.5%), Minnie Minoso (56.3%), Tony Oliva (50.0%), Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

 

How BBRT would use its five votes – if I had a ballot.

When considering players, it’s difficult to put sentiment aside.  Being born in the initial year of the Golden Era, I grew up watching all of these players.  I can find a reasons – beyond basic statistics – to vote for every one.

Beyond overall statistics (more on those later), here are just a few of the candidates’ unique achievements:

  • Maury Wills, Ken Boyer and Dick Allen have all won league MVP Awards
  • Jim Kaat shares the MLB record for consecutive Gold Gloves won (16) with Brooks Robinson
  • Gil Hodges is one of only 16 MLB players to hit four home runs in one game
  • Tony Oliva is the only player to win his league batting title in his rookie and sophomore seasons
  • Maury Wills, in 1962, not only became the first player to steal 100 bases in a season (104), he topped the next highest player’s total by 72 – and the Dodger shortstop actually stole more bases than every other MLB team
  • Minnie Minoso led the AL in hit by pitch an MLB record 10 times
  • In 1962, Billy Pierce (traded to the San Francisco Giants in the off season), proved to really like home cooking – going 11-0 in eleven Candlestick starts, with  his overall 15-6 record helping the Giants tie the rival Dodgers for the pennant. Pierce started Game One of the three-game playoff and ran his 1962 home record to 12-0 (beating Sandy Koufax, tossing a three-hit shutout in an 8-0 win).
  • Dick Allen is one of only 39 players since 1900 to hit two inside-the-park homers in a one game. Since Allen hit his two inside-the-park HRs on May 31, 1972, the feat has been equaled only once in MLB – by the Twins’ Greg Gagne in 1986. (Three inside-the-park homers in a game has been achieved only once, by Tom McCreery of Louisville of the NL in 1897.)

The uniqueness of this class of candidates goes beyond the numbers. Consider:

  • Tony Oliva’s knees bent-in stance – and ability to hit pretty much any pitch (in or out of the strike zone)
  • Luis Tiant’s twisting (and deceptive) delivery
  • Minnie Minoso’s groundbreaking efforts on behalf of Latin American players
  • Dick Allen’s fierce presence and personality on and off the field

I could go on and on, but the point is – each of these players offers up good (and diverse) reasons to secure the votes of the Golden Era Committee (and BBRT).  Still, the Committee members are limited to five votes, so I decided to follow the same rules for BBRT’s “ballot.”   I did my best to focus on exceptional performance in relation to their Golden Era peers – league leadership in key categories, All Star selections, individual awards (Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, MVP, etc.)  I recognize that my selections, which I will present in priority order, may make me look like a bit of a “homer.” (I’m from Minnesota and two of my selections are former Twins.) I do, however, think my reasoning will stand up to evaluation.

 

1. Minnie Minoso (OF/3B, 1949-1964*)

*Minoso also made brief publicity-focused appearances for the White Sox in 1976 and 1980 – which allowed him to appear in MLB in five different decades.

GEMinosoIn his first full MLB season (split between the Indians and the White Sox), Minoso hit .326, leading the AL in triples (14), stolen bases (31) and hit by pitch (16) – finishing second to Yankees’ infielder  Gil McDougald in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

BBRT note: Minoso’s statistics for the year – 146 games, 530 at bats, 173 hits, 34 doubles, 14 triples, 10 home runs, 76 RBI, 31 steals and a .326 average – topped McDougald in every category except home runs.

Minoso went on to a 17-season MLB career in which he made seven All Star squads, earned three Gold Gloves, led the AL in hits once, doubles once, triples three times, stolen bases three times, total bases once and hit by pitch an MLB-record ten times. He finished with 1,963 hits and a .298 average (topping .300 eight times), 186 home runs (hitting 20+ in a season four times), 1,136 runs (scoring more than 100 runs in a season four times), 1,023 RBI (besting 100 four times) and 205 stolen bases. In addition to those offensive marks, Minoso also led AL leftfielders in assists six times, putouts four times and double plays four times.  Minoso was well into his career when the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were established in 1957; yet he still earned a Gold Glove in left field in 1957, 1959 and 1960.

Adding to Minoso’s Hall of Fame resume is the fact that he was a groundbreaking “Black Latino” in major league baseball.  He was the first player of color for the Chicago White Sox, the first Black Cuban to play in the major leagues and the first Cuban to play in the major league All Star game.  His baseball legacy is further enhanced by the fact that he played (and starred) not only in the major leagues, but in the Negro Leagues (where he played in the East West All Star Games of 1947 and 1948) and Cuban League – and is a member of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame, the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Heritage Hall of Fame.

All of this puts Minoso at the top of the BBRT Golden Era ballot – plus I’d like to see his full name Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso on that HOF plaque.

Minnie Minoso played for: Cleveland Indians (1949, 1951, 1958-59); Chicago White Sox (1951-57, 1961, 1964, 1976, 1980); Saint Louis Cardinals (1962); Washington Senators (1963).

Minnie Minoso’s best season:  1954 Chicago White Sox … 153 games, .320 average, 182 hits, 29 doubles, 18 triples (league-leading), 19 home runs, 119 runs scored, 116 RBI, 18 stolen bases.

 

2. Jim Kaat (LHP, 1959-83)

GEKaatJim Kaat – 283 wins, 3oth all-time.  That might say enough right there.  Kaat, however, also is among MLB’s top 35 hurlers in games started (625, 17th), innings pitched (4,530 1/3, 25th) and strikeouts (2,461, 34th). One of the criticisms of Kaat raised during regular BBWAA balloting was that he his win total was inflated by the length of his career (Kaat average 11.3 wins per season over 25 seasons).  From a different perspective, BBRT believes the fact the Kaat had the skills and determination to compete on the major league level from age 20 to age 44 contributes to his Hall of Fame credentials.

Overall, Kaat went 283-237, 3.45.  He was a three-time All Star, and won 20 or more games three times. He led his league in games started twice and wins, complete games and shutouts once each. Then, of course, there are those sixteen (consecutive) Gold Gloves.  Kaat finished second (with 62.5 percent of the vote) in the previous Golden Era balloting.  This should be his year.

Jim Kaat played for the: Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (1959-73); Chicago White Sox (1973-75); Philadelphia Phillies (1976-79); New York Yankees (1979-1980); Saint Louis Cardinals (1980-83).

Jim Kaat’s best season: 1966 Twins … A league-leading 25 wins (13 losses), with a 2.75 ERA. That season, Kaat also led the AL in starts (41) and complete games (19). Kaat might have that all-important Cy Young Award on his HOF resume, except for the fact that MLB gave out only one CYA in 1966 (the move to a CYA for each league came the following year) and it went to National Leaguer Sandy Koufax (27-9, 1.73 for the Dodgers).

 

3. (Tie) Tony Oliva (OF-DH, 1962)

GEOlivaOkay, having two former Twins on my ballot may make me look like a “homer,” but hear me out.  First, it’s ironic that Jim Kaat’s HOF qualifications have been criticized in the past because his career was too long (283 wins over 25 seasons), while Oliva’s HOF credentials have been criticized because – due to injury – his productive career was too short (only 11 seasons in which he played at least 125 games, only seven of 140 games or more).

Oliva gets BBRT’s vote because when he played he was simply one of the best. In his first eight seasons full seasons (1964-71), he made the All Star team every year.  During that span he produced an annual average of 182 hits (.313 batting average), 22 home runs, 89 runs scored, 90 RBI and ten stolen bases.

Oliva won three batting titles (and the 1964  Rookie of the Year Award) – and is the only player to win the batting crown in both his rookie and sophomore seasons.  He also led the AL in base hits five times, doubles four times, and topped the AL one time each in runs scored, slugging percentage, total bases and intentional walks.   Tony-O also showed speed on the bases, finishing in double-digit in steals six times, with a high of 19 in 1965.

Oliva also was a “’plus” defender with a rifle arm in right field, capturing a Gold Glove in 1966. Even after knee issues forced to serve primarily as a DH (1972-76), he continued to be a feared hitter.  Oliva played in 15 major league seasons, retiring with a .304 career average, 1,917 hits, 220 home runs, 870 runs scored and 947 RBI.

Tony Oliva played for:  Minnesota Twins (1962-76)

Tony Oliva’s best season:  1964 Twins … In his rookie year, Oliva led the AL in batting average (.232), hits (217), doubles (43), total bases (374) and runs scored (109). He threw in 32 home runs, 94 RBI and 12 stolen bases for good measure.  Oliva did not fall prey to the “sophomore jinx.” The following season, he again led the AL in hits and batting average.

 3. (Tie) Dick Allen (1B/3B, 1963-77)

GEAllenDick Allen’s traditional HOF candidacy suffered from a combination of career-shortening injuries and career-complicating (often racially motivated) controversy.  The fact is Allen had a fierce presence both on and off the field.  It is on-the-field performance – specifically his at-the-plate performance – that earns Allen BBRT’s Golden Era vote.  It is generally agreed that none of his peers hit the ball as consistently hard (and far) as Allen did in the pitching-dominated 1960s.

Allen came on with a bang in his first full season, leading the NL in runs scored (125), triples (13) and total bases (352), while hitting .318 with 29 home runs and 91 RBI.  His performance earned him the Rookie of the Year Award.  He went on to a 15-year career during which he was a seven-time All Star and collected 1,848 hits, 351 home runs and 1,119 RBI.  His career batting average was .292, and he topped .300 seven times.  He led the NL in home runs twice (hitting 30+ HRs six times), RBI once (besting 100 three times), walks once, on base percentage twice, slugging percentage three times and total bases once.

Dick Allen played for: Philadelphia Phillies (1963-1969; 1975-76); Los Angeles Dodgers (1971); Chicago White Sox (1972-74); Oakland A’s (1977).

Dick Allen’ best season:  1972 Chicago White Sox … Played in 148 games, hitting .308, while leading the AL in home runs (37), RBI (113), walks (99), on base percentage (.420) and slugging percentage (.603).  Won the AL MVP Award.

 

5. Gil Hodges (1B, 1943-63 – military service 1944-45)

GEHodgesGil Hodges was a slick-fielding first baseman. (Rawlings launched the Gold Glove Award in 1957 and Hodges, already in his 12th MLB season at age 33, began a streak of three consecutive Gold Gloves at first base.) Hodges was also a potent offensive force – an RBI machine.  For the seven seasons from 1949 to 1955, he topped 100 RBI every year – averaging 112 runs driven in per campaign.   He also logged 11 consecutive seasons of 20+ home runs (1949-59), with a high of 42 in 1954.

In 18 MLB seasons, Hodges was selected for eight All-Star teams, and helped his Dodgers capture seven NL pennants and two World Series championships.  In post season play, he is best remembered his 21 hitless at bats in 1952, but in his other six World Series he hit .318, with five home runs and 21 RBI in 32 games.

Hodges’ put up a career average of .273, with 370 home runs, 1,274 RBI and 1,105 runs scored.  Without losing those two years to military service, he may well have exceeded the 400 home run, 1,500 RBI marks. After his playing days, he also managed the Washington Senators (1963-67) and New York Mets (1968-71), leading the “Miracle Mets” to the World Championship in 1969.

Gil Hodges played for: Brooklyn/LosAngeles Dodgers (1943-61); the New York Mets (1962-63).

Gil Hodges’ best season:  1954 Dodgers … Hodges played in all 154 games that season, providing sparkling defense along with a .304 average, 42 home runs, 130 RBI and 106 runs scored.

Note: Hodges finished third in the previous Golden Era voting, with 56.5 percent.

 

So, there’s the BBRT Golden Era ballot.  But I can’t resist taking just a little liberty.  If I only had one more vote, it would go to:

 

Ken Boyer (3B/1B/CF … 1955-69)

GEBoyerKen Boyer was a Gold Glove fielder at third base.  In fact, he won five Gold Gloves in a six-season span (1958 to 1963).  He led all NL third baseman in assists twice, putouts once and double plays five times. And I guess he was able to console himself for losing the 1964 Gold Glove to the Cubs’ Ron Santo with the fact that Boyer was voted the NL MVP that season.

You may have heard about (or witnessed) Boyer’s defensive skills at the hot corner, but did you know his MLB career also included time in centerfield (111 games), as well as at first base (65 games) and shortstop (31 games)? In fact, in 1957 – with the Cardinals wanting to develop infield prospect Eddie Kasko and facing a gap in centerfield – Boyer agreed to move to the center of the outfield. In 105 games there, he made just one error and led NL outfielders with a .993 fielding average.

Note: A combination of an injury to Kasko and the Cardinals acquisition of outfielder Curt Flood sent Boyer back to third base in 1958 (and he began a streak of four consecutive Gold Gloves).

In his fifteen-year MLB career, Boyer became known not just as a fine defensive player, but also as a consistent, quality hitter. He retired with 2,143 hits, a .287 average, 282 home runs, 1,104 runs scored and 1,141 RBI – topping .300 five times (with a high of .329 in 1961), hitting 20 or more home runs eight times (with a high of 32 in 1960), driving in 90 or more runs eight times (with a league-leading high of 119 in 1964) and scoring 90 or more runs five times (with a high of 109 in 1961).  The quality of Boyer’s play – in the field and at the plate – earned him seven All Star selections.

 

WHAT WILL THE GOLDEN ERA COMMITTEE DO?

With only four of the sixteen members from the previous Golden Era Committee (which elected on Ron Santo) returning, this becomes a tough call. Given the make-up of the 2014 committee, I expect they will be a little more generous in the balloting.

Likely to be elected:  I expect Jim Kaat (who came so close in 2011) and Minnie Minoso to receive the necessary support.

Dark horse candidates:  I also think Tony Oliva (thanks to Rod Carew’s presence on the panel) and Gil Hodges (who got 56.3 percent last time around) have a chance – but I am less confident they will garner three-quarters of the votes.

So, in order of likelihood, Kaat, Minoso, Oliva, Hodges.

 

BBRT invites your comments on the Golden Era ballot.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

The Babe Ruth of the Minors – Buzz Arlett

Buzz Arlett - the minor league's greatest player - during his time with the Minneapolis Millers.

Buzz Arlett – the minor league’s greatest player – during his time with the Minneapolis Millers.

Russell Loris “Buzz” Arlett made his major league debut (for the Phillies) on Opening Day (April 14) 1931 – and he made the most of it.  A 32-year-old rookie, with 13 minor league seasons (the first five as a pitcher) under his belt, Arlett started in right field, batting sixth.  He went two-for-four, with a double and a run scored.  He went on to play in 121 games (RF/1B) that season, hitting .313, with 18 home runs (fourth in the NL) and 72 RBI.  Despite showing this promise, Arlett was back in the minor leagues in 1932, where he remained for six more seasons before leaving the professional ranks.

So, why did I choose to dedicate this BBRT post to Buzz Arlett? The decision was based on his minor league accomplishments, but also influenced by my current geography.

First, his minor league accomplishments.  While Arlett made a pretty good “splash” in his lone MLB season, he was a big fish in a small pond in the minor leagues – as a pitcher and a hitter. In fact, baseball pundits (including sabermetrics guru Bill James) have labeled Arlett the Babe Ruth of the minor leagues.

As a pitcher, Buzz Arlett picked up 106 minor league wins – and, while at the top of his game (1919-1922), he went 95-71 for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. His best PCL season on the mound was 1920, when he pitched a league-leading 427 1/3 innings, won a league-high 29 games (17 losses), and notched a 2.86 ERA. When Arlett’s strong right arm succumbed to overwork, he switched to the outfield/first base. In his first season as primarily an OF/1B, Arlett hit .330, with 19 home runs and 101 RBI. He went on to hit .341, with 432 home runs and 1,786 RBIs in his minor league career. His 432 home runs are still the U.S. minor league record (second only in the minors to Hector Espino, who hit 484 home runs in the Mexican leagues).

In 1984, the Society for American Baseball Research named Arlett (already a member of the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame) the “All-Time Greatest Minor League Player.” 

Then, there is the influence of geography. BBRT calls Minnesota home and Arlett’s Minnesota-ties piqued my interest.  Arlett spent three seasons at the end of his playing career with the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers – hitting .334, with 81 home runs and 285 RBI in 312 games. Arlett joined the Millers in late May of 1934, coming over from the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association, yet still managed to league the American Association in home runs with 41, while hitting .319 with 132 RBI in 166 games. The following season, at the age of 36, he hit .360, with 25 home runs and 101 RBI in 122 games for the Minneapolis squad.

After retiring from professional baseball,  Arlett (who served as a minor league manager and major league scout after his playing days) settled in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/Saint Paul) and operated a successful restaurant and bar (Arlett’s Place, near Nicolett Park, where he had played for the Millers.) His final resting place is Lakewood Cemetery (Minneapolis) about 45 miles from my hometown of Cannon Falls.

And the impact of geography goes further. As I noted in my most recent post, I am on a family road trip from Cannon Falls to Davis, California.  As I write this I am in Davis – about 2,000 miles from home, but just 18 miles from Arlett’s Elmhurst, California birthplace and 70 miles from Oakland, where Arlett played most of his minor league career.  Seems like serendipity to me.

So, here’s a look at Buzz Arlett’s baseball story.

Russell Loris Arlett was born January 3, 1989 in Elmhurst, California – a Sacramento suburb, which also happened to be about 85 miles from the home of the Oakland Oaks Pacific Coast League (PCL) baseball team.    Russell had three brothers and the boys were known to be avid and talented baseball players.  His oldest brother Al – eight years Russell’s senior – began playing professionally in 1911, primarily in the Pacific Coast League. In 1918, Al “Pop” Arlett, was playing for the Oakland Oaks and the Arlett family, including 18-year-old Russell, decided to make a family trip and join Al at Spring Training.  By this time, the youngest of the Arlett brothers had grown to a strapping (for the times) 6’3”, 185-pounds – and had shown some amateur pitching prowess (his nickname “Buzz” came from his ability to cut through opposing lineups like a buzz saw).

During spring training that year, the Oaks were hit hard by injuries and found themselves short of players for an intra-squad game. Buzz Arlett boldly offered to fill the gap and  Oaks” manager Del Howard decided to give the youngster an unplanned chance to pitch. The kid showed good stuff – earning a few more opportunities spring training and, eventually, a spot on the team.

With Arlett’s signing a PCL legend was about to be born, but it didn’t look that way at first, as Arlett won four and lost nine that first season.  In 1919, however, Arlett mastered a devastating spitball (to complement a solid fastball and curve) and came into his own as a pitcher. His record over those four seasons was 95-71, 3.20.  Here’s a look at Arlett’s four best seasons as a hurler:

  • 1919 … 22-17, 3.00 ERA
  • 1920 … 29-17, 2.89
  • 1921 … 19-18, 4.37
  • 25-19, 2.77

More important, Arlett tossed 1,468 1/3 innings in 212 games over those four seasons – an average of 367 innings per year.  By 1923, his right arm was pretty much worn out, and that season he took the mound in only 28 games, duplicating the 4-9 record of his rookie campaign. Not content to sit on the bench and wait for his arm to recover, Arlett, who had been used as a pinch hitter over the previous five seasons, begged his way into the everyday lineup as an outfielder. Still favoring his lame right arm, the natural right-handed hitter also spent hours in the batting cage developing left-handed hitting skills.  (Arlett is considered to be one of – if not the first – power-hitting switch hitters.) In his first primarily  “offensive” season, Arlett hit .330, with 19 homers and 101 RBI.  That was just the beginning. Consider these offensive stats.  As a minor leaguer (19 seasons), Buzz Arlett:

  • Hit over .300 twelve times, with a high of .382 for the Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks in 1926.
  • Topped 30 home runs eight times (including two seasons of forty-plus homers and a high of 54 for Baltimore of the International League in 1932).
  • Drove in more than 100 runs in a season twelve times, with a high of 189 for the PCL Oakland Oaks in 1929.
  • Recorded a 1929 Oakland Oaks’ season of 200 games played, 270 hits, a .374 average, 39 home runs, 189 RBI, 146 runs, 70 doubles and 22 stolen bases.
  • Playing for the International League Baltimore Orioles in 1932, Arlett hit four home runs in a single game twice in one season (June 1, July 4). Each game featured three left-handed and one right-handed blast from Arlett’s 44-ounce bat.
  • In a July 4, 1932 double header, Arlett hit home runs in the last four at bats of game one (see above bullet) and another in his first plate appearance of game two – giving him home runs in five consecutive at bats.

So, why did a player with all this talent spend so little time in the major leagues?

Arlett was unfortunate enough to play at time when there was no draft and minor league teams controlled their own players.  Further, the Pacific Coast League (PCL) was considered one of the top – if not the top – regional minor leagues.  Quality players, solid attendance figures and a weather-aided long season (sometimes more than 200 games) enabled the PCL to pay major league-level salaries and offer major league playing conditions.  Teams demanded high compensation for top players (who not only won games, but put fans in the seats) and the Oaks were reportedly asking the princely sum (at the time) of $100,000 for Arlett.  While Arlett garnered some interest as a pitcher, the fact that he relied heavily on the spitball (banned at the ML level in 1920) diminished his value.  Further, as interest from ML teams began to rise, Arlett’s arm problems were also on the rise.  Later, Oakland’s high asking price kept the power-hitting Arlett in the minors until – facing a changing major league draft policy,  and an aging (and now up to a conservatively estimated 230 pounds) and somewhat injury prone Arlett – the Oaks sold Arlett to the Phillies before the 1931 season.

Why did Arlett last only one year in the big leagues?

Again, age and injury were taking their toll.  That, coupled with the now “larger” Arlett’s reputation (correct or not) as a less than adequate fielder, resulted in his release by the Phillies.  The fact that, after being released, Arlett played six more minor league seasons (actually five, in his final season – for Syracuse of the International League – he logged just four at bats) and hit .337, with 177 home runs and 598 RBI (in 657 games) indicates MLB gave up on Arlett when there was still plenty of lightening left in his bat.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Kershaw in Good Company – 22 Pitchers have Won MVPs

Clayton Kershaw - 22nd hurlr to win a league MVP Award.

Clayton Kershaw – 22nd hurlr to win a league MVP Award.

In Baseball we count everything, so – with Clayton Kershaw’s recent MVP recognition –  it’s appropriate to note that Kershaw set a new mark for the fewest games appeared in by a league MVP at 27. The previous mark was 30 games – by the Yankees’ Spud Chandler in 1943.  Like Kershaw, Chandler led his league in victories, earned run average, won/lost percentage and complete games.  (Chandler also led in shutouts.)

As always, there was some controversy over a pitcher winning the MVP – particularly a pitcher that (due to injury) started only 27 games.  There is however, plenty of precedence for a pitcher to be recognized as a league’s Most Valuable Player.  Kershaw, in fact, is the twenty-second pitcher to capture a league Most Valuable Player Award (denoted at different times as the MVP Award, League Award or Chalmers Award). With Walter Johnson (1913, 1924), Carl Hubbell (1933, 1936) and Hal Newhouser (1944, 1945) each winning the MVP award twice, a total of 25 MVP Awards have gone pitchers.

A complete list of pitchers earning the MVP follows, but here’s a few tidbits of info about pitchers and MVP Awards.

  • Of the 25 MVP awards won by pitchers, only four went to relievers: Jim Konstanty (Phillies, 1950); Rollie Fingers (Brewers, 1981); Willie Hernandez (Tigers, 1984); Dennis Eckersley (A’s, 1992).
  • The MVP has been awarded to a pitcher in the AL fourteen times and the NL eleven.
  • Sixteen of the twenty-five MVP winning seasons have been put up by right handers.
  • Nine of the 22 pitchers with MVP Awards are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Wins seem the most critical factors in a pitcher’s ability to capture an MVP Award. Nineteen of the award-winning seasons saw the honored hurler leading the league in victories. Factor out the four MVP Awards that went to relievers and 90 percent of the “starter-winners” led their league in victories. Next was ERA leadership (16), followed by strikeouts and winning percentage (both at 11).
  • The Tigers’ Hal Newhouser is the only pitcher to win consecutive MVP Awards (1944, 1945). His combined record for the two seasons was 54-18, with a 2.01 ERA, 54 complete games and fourteen shutouts. Over the two seasons, he appeared in 87 games (70 starts), pitched 625 2/3 innings and even threw in four saves.
  • The MVP winners in both leagues were pitchers in two seasons: 1924 (Walter Johnson, Senators and Dazzy Vance, Dodgers) and 1968 (Denny McLain, Tigers and Bob Gibson, Cardinals).
  • Pitchers captured at least one league MVP in four consecutive seasons from 1942-45.
  • The fewest appearances (as noted earlier) by a pitcher MVP winner is 27 (Clayton Kershaw, 2014). The most is 80 (The Tigers’ Willie Hernandez, 1984).

Pitchers winning the BBWAA MVP Award (presented 1931-present)

*Denotes relief pitcher

2014 - Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers

21-3/1.77 ERA … Led NL in wins (21), ERA (1.77), W/L percentage (.875), complete games (6).

2011 – Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers

24-5/2.40 ERA … Led AL in wins (24), W/L percentage (.828), ERA (2.40), games started (34), innings pitched (251), strikeouts (250).

1992 – Dennis Eckersley, RHP*, Athletics

7-1/51 saves/1.91 ERA … Led AL in saves (51). Allowed six walks versus 93 strikeouts in 80 innings.

1986 - Roger Clemens, RHP, Red Sox

24-4/2.48 ERA …. Led AL in wins (24), W/L percentage (.857), ERA (2.48).

1984 - Willie Hernandez, RHP*, Tigers

9-3/32 saves/1.92 ERA … Led AL in games pitched (80). Allowed eight walks versus 112 strikeouts in 140 1/3 innings.

1981 – Rollie Fingers, RHP*, Brewers

6-3/28 saves/1.04 ERA … Led AL in saves (28). Allowed five walks versus 61 strikeouts in 78 innings.

1971 – Vida Blue, LHP, Athletics

24-8/1.82 ERA … Led AL in ERA (1.82), shutouts (8).

1968

Denny McLain, RHP, Tigers

31-6, 1.96 ERA … Led AL in wins (31), starts (41), complete games (28), innings pitched (336).

Bob Gibson, RHP, Cardinals

22-9/1.12 ERA … Led NL in ERA (1.12), shutouts (13), strikeouts 268.

1963 – Sandy Koufax, LHP, Dodgers

25-5/1.88 ERA … Led NL in wins (25), ERA (1.88), shutouts (11), strikeouts (306).

1956 – Don Newcombe, RHP, Dodgers

27-7/3.06 … Led NL in wins (27), W/L percentage (.794).

1952 – Bobby Shantz, LHP, Athletics

24-7/2.48 ERA … Led AL in wins (24), W/L percentage (.774).

1950 – Jim Konstanty, RHP*, Phillies

16-7/2.66 ERA … Led NL in games (74), saves (22).

1945 – Hal Newhouser, LHP, Tigers

25-9/1.81 ERA … Led AL in wins (25), ERA (1.81), starts (36), complete games (29) shutouts (8), innings pitched 313 1/3, strikeouts (212).

1944 – Hal Newhouser, LHP, Tigers

29-9/2.22 ERA … Led AL in wins (29), strikeouts (187).

1943 - Spud Chandler, RHP, Yankees

20-4/1.64 ERA … Led AL in wins (20), W/L percentage (.833), ERA (1.64), complete games (20), shutouts (5).

1942 – Mort Cooper, RHP, Cardinals

22-7/1.78 ERA … Led NL in wins (22), ERA (1.78), shutouts (10).

1939 – Bucky Walters, RHP, Reds

27-11/2.29 ERA … Led NL in wins (27), ERA (2.29), starts (36), complete games (31), innings pitched (319), strikeouts (137).

1936 – Carl Hubbell, LHP, Giants

26-6/2.31 ERA … Led NL in wins (26), ERA (2.31), W/L percentage (.813).

1934 – Dizzy Dean, RHP, Cardinals

30-7/2.66 ERA… Led the NL in wins (30), W/L percentage (.811), strikeouts (195).

1933 - Carl Hubbell, LHP, Giants

23-12/1.66 ERA … Led the NL in wins (23), ERA (1.66), shutouts (10), innings pitched (308 2/3).

1931 – Lefty Grove, LHP, Athletics

31-4/2.06 ERA … Led AL in wins (31), ERA (2.06), W/L percentage (.886), complete games (27), shutouts (4), strikeouts (175).

League Award (presented 1922-29)

1924

Dazzy Vance, RHP, Dodgers

28-6/2.16 ERA … Led NL in (wins 28), ERA (2.16), complete games (30), strikeouts (262).

Walter Johnson, RHP, Senators

23-7/2.72 ERA … Led AL in wins (23), ERA (2.72), W/L percentage (.767), starts (38), shutouts (6), strikeouts (158).

 

Chalmers Award (presented1911-14)

1913 - Walter Johnson, RHP, Senators

36-7/1.14 ERA … Led the AL in wins (36), ERA (1.14), W/L percentage (.837), complete games (29), shutouts (11), innings pitched (346), strikeouts (243).

 

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More World Series’ Marks to Consider as the 2014 Fall Classic Opens

In my previous post, BBRT looked at some single-game World Series’ records that may be on players’ radar as the 2014 World Series gets under way click here for that post.  As promised, In this post, we’ll look at some overall World Series records.

 

Bobby Richardson - added a surprising bat to a polished glove in the post season.

Bobby Richardson – added a surprising bat to a polished glove in the post season.

We’ll start with the hitting marks.  As BBRT looked at the Fall Classic’s top accomplishments at the plate, one name really jumped out – Yankees’ 2B Bobby Richardson. Richardson drove in a World Series’ record 12 runs in 1960 (seven games).  This is particularly surprising in light of the fact that Richardson drove in only 26 runs in the entire 1960 regular season and never reached 60 RBI in a season in his career. Richardson also showed his post-season mettle in 1964, when the career .266 hitter (with a .267 average in 1964) banged out a record 13 World Series hits (later tied), averaging .406 for the seven games.

Here’s a look at some World Series hitting records.

 

 

Batting Average

Four-Game Series

.750 – Reds’ CF Bill Hatcher (1990, 9-for-12).

Five-Game Series

.529 – Tigers’ 1B/DH Sean Casey (2006, 9-for-17).

Six-Game Series

.688 – Red Sox’ 1B/DH David Ortiz (2013, 11-for-16).

Seven-Game Series

.500 – Cardinals’ CF Pepper Martin (1931, 12-for-24).

.500 – Pirates’ 2B Phil Garner (1979, 12-for-24).

 

Base Hits

Four-Game Series

10 – Yankees’ LF Babe Ruth (1928).

Five-Game Series

9 – by many players, only Phillies’ 3B Frank Baker notched two nine-hit, five-game Series (1910, 1913).

Six-Game Series

12 – Accomplished four times: First by Yankees’ 2B Billy Martin (1953).  Forty years later (1993), two players on the same team tied the six-game Series hits record: Blue Jays’ 2B Roberto Alomar and DH/3B/1B Paul Molitor. In 1996, Braves’ CF Marquis Grissom also enjoyed a six-game, 12-hit World Series.

Seven-Game Series

13 – Three players have managed 13 hits in a seven-game World Series: Yankees 2B Bobby Richardson (1964); Cardinals’ LF Lou Brock (1968); Red Sox’ 2B Marty Barrett (1986).

 

Home Runs

Four-Game Series

4 – Yankees’ 1B Lou Gehrig (1928).

Five-Game Series

3 – Mets’ 1B Donn Clendenon (1969).

Six-Game Series

5 – Yankees’ RF Reggie Jackson (1977); Phillies’ 2B Chase Utley (2009).

Seven-Game Series

4 – Achieved six times. Dodgers’ CF Duke Snider is the only player to reach four homers in a seven-game World Series twice (1952, 1955). Others on this list: Yankees’ LF/RF Babe Ruth (1926); Yankees’ RF Hank Bauer (1958); Athletics’ C/1B Gene Tenace (1972); Giants’ LF Barry Bonds (2002).

 

RBI

Four-Game Series

9 – Yankees’ 1B Lou Gehrig (1928).

Five-Game Series

8 – Athletics’ RF Danny Murphy (1910); Reds’ 1B Lee May (1970).

Six-Game Series

10 – White Sox’ 1B Ted Kluszewski (1959).

Seven-Game Series

12 – Yankees’ 2B Bobby Richardson (1960).

 

Runs Scored

Four-Game Series

9 – Yankees’ RF/LF Babe Ruth (1928); Yankees’ 1B Lou Gehrig (1932).

Five-Game Series

6 – Accomplished eight times.

Six-Game Series

10 – Blue Jays’ DH/1B/3B Paul Molitor (1993); Yankees’ RF Reggie Jackson (1977).

Seven-Game Series

8 – Accomplished eleven times.  Only Yankees’ CF Mickey Mantle had two eight-run, seven-game World Series (1960, 1964).

 

Total Bases

Four-Game Series

22 – Yankees’  RF/LF Babe Ruth (1928).

Five-Game Series

19 – Yankees’ SS Derek Jeter (2000).

Six-Game Series

25 – Yankees’ RF Reggie Jackson (1977).

Seven-Game Series

25 – Pirates’ 1B Willie Stargell  (1979).

 

Walks

Four-Game Series

7 – Giants’ 3B Hank Thompson (1954).

Five-Game Series

7 – Cubs’ LF Jimmy Sheckard (1910); Athletics’ C Mickey Cochrane (1929); Yankees’ 2B Joe Gordon (1941).

Six-Game Series

9 – Yankees’ 2B Willie Randolph (1981).

Seven-Game Series

13 – Giants’ LF Barry Bonds (2002).

A few others records of note: Phillies’ 1B Ryan Howard holds the record for strikeouts in a World Series (of any length), with 13 whiffs in 2009; Pirates’ CF Max Carey holds the World Series’ (any length) record for being hit by pitches at three (1925); and, while the record for triples in a 4-, 5- or 6-game Series is two, two players have hit three triples in a seven-game World Series (Yankees’ 3B Billy Johnson in 1947 and Braves’ 2B Mark Lemke in 1991). Lemke, by the way, did not play in Game One of that 1991 World Series

 

PITCHING RECORDS

The pitching records listed do not include the 1903 best-of-nine World Series between Boston and Pittsburgh (which went eight games).  In that match-up, Pittsburgh’s Deacon Phillipes set records for a World Series of any length in games pitched (5); innings pitched (44); hits allowed (38); and runs allowed (19) – while winning three, losing two and putting up a 2.86 ERA.

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As BBRT looked at pitching records, Braves’ right-hander Lew Burdette’s (photo above) numbers (good and bad) stood out.  In the 1957 World Series (against the favored Yankees), Burdette tied the single World Series mark for games won (3) and complete-game shutouts (2) – tossing three complete games and giving up just two runs (for a 0.67 ERA) and one home run.  The very next World Series (1958), against a nearly identical Yankee squad, Burdette set the World Series’ records for runs allowed (17) and home runs allowed (5) – going 1-2, 5.64 in three starts.

 

Here’s a look at a few World Series pitching records.

 

Games Pitched

Four-Game Series

4 – Yankees’ Jeff Nelson (1999); Red Sox’ Keith Foulke (2004).

Five-Game Series

5 – Dodgers’ Mike Marshall (1974).

Six-Game Series

6 – Royals’ Dan Quisenberry (1980).

Seven-Game Series

7 – Athletics’ Darold Knowles (1973).

 

Games Won

Four-Game Series

2 – Many times.

Five-Game Series

3 – Athletics’ Jack Combs (1910); Giants’ Christy Mathewson (1905).

Six-Game Series

3 – White Sox’ Red Faber (1917).

Seven-Game Series

3 – Pirates’ Babe Adams (1909); Indians’ Stan Coveleski (1920); Cardinals’ Harry Brecheen (1946); Braves’ Lew Burdette (1957); Cardinals’ Bob Gibson (1967); Tigers’ Mickey Lolich (1968); Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson (2001).

 

Innings Pitched

Four-Game Series

18 – Braves’ Dick Rudolph (1914); Yankees’ Waite Hoyt (1928); Yankees’ Red Ruffing (1938); Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax (1963).

Five-Game Series

27 – Giants’ Christy Mathewson (1905); Athletics’ Jack Coombs (1910).

Six-Game Series

27 – Giants’ Christy Mathewson (1911); White Sox’ Red Faber (1917); Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn (1918).

Seven-Game Series

32 – Tigers’ George Mullin (1909).

 

Strikeouts

Four-Game Series

23 – Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax (1963).

Five-Game Series

18 – Giants’ Christy Mathewson (1905).

Six-Game Series

20 – Athletics’ Chief Bender (1911).

Seven-Game Series

35 – Cardinals’ Bob Gibson (1968).

 

Walks

Four-Game Series

8 – Indians’ Bob Lemon (1954).

Five-Game Series

14 – Athletics’ Jack Coombs (1910).

Six-Game Series

11 – Cubs’ Lefty Tyler (1918); Yankees’ Lefty Gomez (1936); Yankees’ Allie Reynolds (1951).

Seven-Game Series

11 – Senators’ Walter Johnson (1924); Yankees’ Bill Bevens (1947).

Other records of note : The record for hit batters in a World Series (any length) is three by the Tigers’ Wild Bill Donovan (1907) and the  Pirates’ Bruce Kison (1971); the Giants’ Christy Mathewson threw a single World Series’ record three complete-game shutouts in 1905 –  pitchers with two complete game shutouts in a single World Series include the Red Sox’ Bill Dineen (1903); Braves’ Lew Burdette (1957); Yankees’ Whitey Ford (1960); Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax (1965); Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser (1988); and Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson (2001).

 

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