Friday, April 18th, 2014

The Science of Baseball: From Ted Williams to Stephen Strasburg

A number of years back, Ted Williams, along with John Underwood published a book called The Science of Hitting.  It is still referenced today as ”The Bible” in instructing people to accomplish what many believe to be  the most difficult thing to do in all of sports– to hit a thrown baseball.  One of the concepts that Williams stressed was to hit your pitch.  In other words, only swing at balls in areas of the strike zone where you have had good success (“wheelhouse”). Conversely, lay off pitches in areas of the strike zone where, historically, you haven’t been successful.

Fundamental to that concept is the illustration at right which shows Williams’ average at different areas of the strike zone.

In the Washington Post, there have been several articles involving the science of baseball focusing on Nationals’ rookie Stephen Strasburg. In one interactive graph, Stephen Strasburg’s success rate, as measured by opponents’ batting averages is shown in a 3×3 matrix.  The box at top (in red) allows you to select all his games or just one game in particular while the box on the left side of the picture (in blue) allows you to further filter his results by situation (e.g. Lefty or Righty, men of base or not, etc.)

Strasburg’s overall opponent BA is .194 whereas the league average is .259.  He has exactly a 5-1 K-Walk ratio.

Try the interactve graph yourself…

Finally, the Washington Post graphically lays out the mechanics of Strasburg’s delivery to help divine his success.  Most pundits and baseball analysts agree that Strasburg’s mechanics, his repeatable motion, are things that set Strasburg apart from other phenoms. (click image to enlarge then back button to return)

Source: Glenn Fleisig, research director at American Sports Medicine Institute; “The Physics of Baseball,” by Robert K. Adair | Alberto Cuadra/The Washington Post – July 27, 2010.

The chart above was credited, in part, to Robert Adair.  Adair has written the definitive book on the subject of the science of baseball — Physics of Baseball.

Blending scientific fact and sports trivia, Robert Adair examines what a baseball or player in motion does-and why. How fast can a batted ball go? What effect do stitch patterns have on wind resistance? How far does a curve ball break? Who reaches first base faster after a bunt, a right- or left-handed batter? The answers are often surprising — and always illuminating.

This newly revised third edition considers recent developments in the science of sport such as the neurophysiology of batting, bat vibration, and the character of the “sweet spot.” Faster pitchers, longer hitters, and enclosed stadiums also get a good, hard scientific look to determine their effects on the game.

Filled with anecdotes about famous players and incidents, The Physics of Baseball provides fans with fascinating insights into America’s favorite pastime.

Robert Adair is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Physics at Yale University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His research has largely been concerned with the properties of the elementary particles and forces of the universe.


No-Hitter Flashback: Virgil Trucks

Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays has just thrown Major League Baseball’s fifth no-hitter of the 2010 season.  That’s actually six no-hitters this year, at least in the State of Michigan.  Three of them have involved the Rays, twice as victim and now, finally, as victor.

All this brings to mind that old Baseball Digest favorite, the story of Virgil Trucks and his two no-hitters in the 1952 campaign.

Virgil, nicknamed “Fire” as in fire truck, of course was not the only pitcher to hurl two no-no’s in a single year; Allie Reynolds and Nolan Ryan have also done it, as did Johnny VanderMeer (in consecutive starts!).

What makes Virgil’s 1952 season remarkable is that he did it at the age of 35, for a last-place Detroit Tigers team that went 50-104 for the season, while compiling a personal won-lost record of 5-19!

Baseball Digest has profiled this achievement countless times.  Their June 2004 issue features an interview with a then-86 year-old Trucks, whch not only includes full game details of both no-hitters, but also includes several fascinating historical footnotes:

“When I was called up to the Tigers at the end of the 1941 season, it was the first time I had ever crossed the Mason-Dixon line or even seen a major league game,” said Trucks, a native Alabamian who now lives in Pelham, Alabama.  “Just to walk into the locker room and see players like Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Rudy York was quite a thrill.”

For a man who didn’t cross the Mason-Dixon line until age 24, Trucks’ career took him to some remarkable places:

But he won 20 games in 1953 while pitching for the Browns and Chicago White Sox, and he won 19 the next season at Chicago.  Before ending his 17-year career with the Yankees in 1958, Trucks also pitched for the Athletics and in 1956, the Tigers again.  He later barnstormed one year out West with Satchel Paige and a team of Cuban ballplayers, coached in the early 1960s with the Pirates and worked as a scout for the Tigers until 1990.

From a statistical standpoint, Trucks’ career perhaps should be better remembered.  In spite of his tough-luck 5-19 record in ’52, Trucks excelled in the statistical categories that measure long-term success.  He averaged nearly 5.9 strikeouts per 9 innings that year, third best in the league; he placed top-ten in that category ten times in a fourteen year span between 1942 and 1955.  In that same time span he also was in the top ten in strikeout-to-walk ratio ten times.  Virgil was also in the top ten in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) six times, and top-ten in ERA four times.  He still ranks high on the career wins list (158th all-time) and strikeouts list (159th all-time).

Being one of the top 200 pitchers ever, even after having retired 50-plus years ago, surely merits one more long look at his career, which was noteworthy for much more than just the two no-hitters in a single 5-19 season.

Here are the Retrosheet box-scores for the twin no-hitters:

May 15th vs. the Senators

August 25th vs. the (soon-to-be World Champion) Yankees

Virgil is still alive today, and in a fun interview with a Birmingham paper just a few months ago (in December 2009), responded to an interesting question:

Q: Should you be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

A: Yes. If I played my entire career with the Yankees, I’d be in there already.

In 2004, Trucks, along with Ronnie Joyner and Bill Bozman wrote an autobiography, Throwing Heat:  The Life and Times of Virgil “Fire” Trucks

 

 

Additional Artcles on Virgil Trucks

 

Virgil Trucks obvisously is one player who signs autographs for today’s fans


Interview with The Baseball Undertaker: Part I

July 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Author Profile, Baseball Writing

When Sandy Koufax threw his last Major League pitch, in the 1966 World Series, he was still only 30 years old.  Sandy remained in the public eye for several years after his retirement as a broadcaster.  On the other hand, Sandy’s ’66 Dodgers teammate, Nick Willhite, was done with Major League baseball at the age of 26 — he pitched in a combined 14 games for the Angels and Mets in 1967 and that was it.

We know pretty much where Sandy Koufax is even 44 years after his exit from the Dodgers.  But whatever happened to Nick Willhite?  It seems really young to be retired from Major League Baseball at age 26.  He died in late 2008.  That means he lived for over 40 years after his major league career was over.

Thanks to a man named Bill Lee, who calls himself “The Baseball Undertaker”, the answer to the question, “Whatever happened to Nick Willhite?”,  is available in a matter of seconds.  Willhite’s story is, simply put, fascinating.

Signing a bonus out of high school, he was the classic story of a promising baseball career wasted by the ravages of alcohol abuse. After pitching in the minors for a few years he threw batting practice for Kansas City for a short while and bounced around as a roving pitching instructor for multiple organizations, never sticking anywhere very long. In the 1990s, with help from the Baseball Assistance Team, he went through rehab and slowly rebuilt his life. After struggling with alcoholism over the years he ultimately became a Utah-based alcohol counselor and a coach at a youth baseball program at Brigham Young University.

As a matter of respect to baseball’s history, one person is chronicling what happens to players after their careers are over. There’s a movie to be made out of this, somehow, somewhere.  But, if not for the Baseball Undertaker, or similar projects, this story might only be known to a select few in Provo.

The man who calls himself The Baseball Undertaker maintains two principal websites.  One pertains to his reference book, The Baseball Necrology, published in 2003.

Necrology — [1] A list of people who have died, especially in the recent past or during a specific period or [2] The science of the collection, classification, and interpretation of mortality statistics.

As described on the official website:

This exhaustive reference work presents information that has never before been available in one source. It briefly details the after-baseball lives of some 7600 major leaguers, owners, managers, administrators, umpires, sportswriters, Negro Leaguers, announcers and broadcasters who are now deceased. Each entry tells the date and place of the player’s birth, the number of seasons he spent in the majors, the primary position he played, the number of seasons he spent as a manager in the majors (if applicable), his after-baseball career and activities, date and cause of his death, and his final resting place.

In the introduction to the Necrology, Mr. Lee described his motivation for compiling the book:

Sometime between age 25 and age 45, usually in the early 30′s, the ballplayer is through as a performer, but he still has twenty to forty useful years ahead of him.  What did the ballplayers of the past do with those twenty to forty years?  The Baseball Necrology addresses this subject on more than 7600 now deceased baseball players, as well as other personalities in the game of baseball, giving their cause of death and the location of their final resting place.

All too many former ballplayers (and executives and broadcasters) have passed away since 2003.  Mr. Lee therefore maintains a second website,  The Baseball Necrology Live, which provides similar information about those who have died in the intervening years.

Earlier this month, Mr. Lee sat down for an interview with Books on Baseball.  In addition to the Necrology, Mr. Lee turned out to have an encyclopedic memory of both Major and Minor League players and stadiums.  A subsequent post will explore those memories.  Below is a transcript of the portions of the interview covering Mr. Lee’s roots as the Baseball Undertaker and his involvement with the Necrology project.

Jason Miller for Books on Baseball: Was there any specific player whose death inspired you to start The Baseball Necrology?

Bill Lee, the Baseball Undertaker: It was more of an accumulation over time. Even going back to the 1950s and ’60s, I often wondered what happened to these guys after they got out of the limelight. One may see their baseball accomplishments in any number of places. But what about after baseball? Unfortunately, the only place you can find out about that is the obituaries after they’re dead.

JM: Your website calls you the Baseball Undertaker rather than the Baseball Necrologist. How did that come about?

BL: There was a fellow that did a review of my book. He said I should be called the “Baseball Undertaker”, and I grabbed on to that and have been running with it ever since. My first website, baseballundertaker.com, was set up primarily to sell the book. I was going to call it baseballnecrology.com, but someone said, “No one will be able to spell Necrology.” I had already been dubbed the Baseball Undertaker, so I went with baseballundertaker.com.

I also have another website which is TheBBNLive.com, which is also a play on words. TheBBN for an abbreviation of the title of the book, The BaseBall Necrology and Live, because it’s relatively current and up-to-date. I call it a corrected, expanded and up-to-date version of the printed book. All a person has to do is select a player’s name from a dropdown list, and everything that’s in the book, plus more, will appear in a matter of seconds. I’m in the process of adding gravesite photos to the site, plus grave locations and GPS coordinates. Much of the latter is provided to me by a whole army of “baseball necrologists” who have evolved since the book itself was published in 2003.

JM: How often do you update the live website?

BL: It depends on how often some baseball personality dies. I’ve already updated it to include Clint Hartung – he was a player who died the other day – George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard, who just died this week – they are in there. Sometimes a half-dozen or so will die in a week’s time. And other times it may be several weeks with none. However, I’m always looking for additional information on those already on file.

 [Editor's Note: Ralph Houk died a few days after this interview, and The BBN Live has already been updated accordingly] 

JM: How much time do you spend updating the sites?

BL: I spend probably an average of an hour a day. Sometimes it’s all day, and some days not at all. I’m always looking for information about what ballplayers did after their career, cause of death, place of burial, as well as little known pieces of baseball trivia that is not easy to find elsewhere, so I spend some time expanding the information in the book on to The BBN Live website. I have other projects that have taken a back seat to The Baseball Necrology for a good many years. I’m now able to get back to working on those.

JM: I actually have to thank you for those gravesite photos. I live in Brooklyn, New York. There’s a big cemetery at the end of my street but I didn’t know until researching your site that Henry Chadwick, who invented the box score and many other statistics, is buried right down the street from me (see photo at left).

BL: There are a lot of ballplayers buried in your area. Jackie Robinson is buried at Cypress Hill in Brooklyn (see picture at right). Bob Sheppard was just buried in the Long Island National Cemetery [in Farmingdale]. There are 20 or more ball players at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside [in Queens]. From the freeway that looks like a really interesting cemetery – one that I have not visited, but have seen from the freeway.

 

JM: Are you actively looking for more baseball gravesites?

BL: My wife and will be going on a six-week trip for other reasons in September into October and part of that time we’re going to be traipsing through cemeteries getting pictures and GPS coordinates. That seems to be the big thing right now; I just got my GPS the other day and it’ll take me within two to three feet of those graves I have the coordinates for.

JM: Do you have a “wish list” of baseball graves you’d like to visit?

BL: Not especially, it’s not something I’m going to go way out of my way to do. If I’m in the neighborhood I’ll stop and snap a picture that will eventually find its way onto my website. I have quite a few photos of my own now on the website, plus others that some of my grave hunting friends have sent me to use. We necrologists are a sharing bunch, so you’re likely to find the same thing in a number of places, but generally speaking, that’s true of the Internet.

JM: When did you start gathering the information that became The Baseball Necrology?

BL: My wife and I started in 1996 and it was published in 2003. That last year was mostly spent finishing the manuscript and looking for a publisher, so we worked gathering information for the book about six years.

JM: Do you remember the very first player you looked up?

BL: I don’t remember the first player I tracked down. But I can tell you why and when I got onto this. Up until 1996 my wife, LaVonne, who is an integral part of all my projects, had spent several years doing on-site courthouse research of family names and genealogy for other folks. Over the years we have darkened the doors of over 800 county courthouses. We had an RV and would spend six to eight months a year traveling from courthouse to courthouse. We would do this in the summer when the roads were passable, then spend our winters in our office analyzing and compiling the data we had gathered during the previous summer. During the winter of 1995-1996 LaVonne fell in our office and broke a hip. If you’ve done any work in county courthouses you know it is hazardous duty. They’re old, they’re clumsy, they have big old ladders that you have to climb up and down to get to the records that are kept in trays, boxes and folders. Anyway, we were on our summer trip in 1996, doing research in some rural courthouse in southeastern Colorado, and LaVonne was going up one of those ladders looking for some record that no one had looked at in over a 100 years. I saw her, and said, “Hey! It is time to change direction.” That was the end of our onsite courthouse research. On the other hand, newspapers, where you get obituaries, are in a fairly central location for each state, usually in libraries, not in courthouse environments. They’re not bothered by you being there looking for records. One can sit down and spend the day at a microfilm reader, which isn’t exciting duty, but I didn’t want LaVonne climbing around courthouses anymore. The baseball thing was something I had in the back of my mind for a few years, and that was our new project.

JM: Did you find a lot of interest in The Baseball Necrology from publishers?

BL: I found it relatively easy finding a publisher. I got a directory of publishers that listed their field of interests and sent some letters and got on the phone. I got a lot of no-responses and no’s. There didn’t seem to be much interest, but then I called Steve Geitschier at Sporting News in St. Louis, which I understand is now defunct after being the Bible of Baseball for so many years [Editor's note: The News continues on a reduced, biweekly schedule]. Steve told me there was nothing he could do for me, but suggested that I call McFarland. I talked to Steve Wilson at McFarland, and it was a go. McFarland is a publisher located up in the foothills of North Carolina (great place) that does a lot of baseball stuff, as well as a wide variety of non-fiction/research type books.

JM: When did you start converting the information from the Baseball Necrology book onto the Baseball Undertaker and BBN Live websites?

BL: During the collection of the material I put it on a 3.3 DOS computer that gave McFarland some fits in the conversion to their computer. I kept the DOS files updated until about four years ago when I converted that over to Windows XP and an Access Data Base. Over the last year the Access data base has been converted to SQL and I went live (please excuse the play on words) with The BBN Live last October. Like I said earlier, The Baseball Undertaker website was strictly a sales tool. That website has been up for about six years now. By the way, I still have a few new, hard cover books available at a bargain price.

The Baseball Necrology is still available for purchase at Mr. Lee’s website.

Part II of this interview, detailing Mr. Lee’s memories of California baseball both pre- and post-the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, will appear shortly.


Hall of Fame 2010

Today, in Cooperstown, NY, Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog, and Doug Harvey, will be enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame.   Since June 1939, as part of the celebration of Baseball’s Centennial, fans and baseball immortals alike have descended on this sleepy NY hamlet to paid homage to its newly elected members.

The Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) has been electing members since 1936 when its inaugural class was announced including Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wager. The 1939 ceremony included the inductees, several posthumously, from 1936-1939 and was led by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

You can see coverage of the ceremony today beginning at 12:30 EST on the MLB Network.

From MLB.com

Andre Dawson – Dawson was nicknamed “The Hawk” when he was 9 years old and will go into the Hall wearing the cap of the Montreal Expos. He will be honored in Washington before a game against the Marlins on Aug. 10, at which time his No. 10 is tentatively planned to be retired. The Expos moved to Washington after the 2004 season and were renamed the Nationals.

See “The Hawk” touring Cooperstown

Whitey Herzog – Herzog, nicknamed “the Rat” as a Minor League player, will have his No. 24 retired in St. Louis on July 31 before a game against the Pirates. He’ll go into the Hall wearing a Cardinals cap. “This has been very emotional for me,” Herzog said. “I went to a Cardinal function last night, and Mr. [Bill] DeWitt [the team's owner] told me that they were going to retire my number on July 31. And it really hit me because I didn’t know that was going to happen. I really think that’s a heck of an honor. I broke down a little bit.”

Doug Harvey – Harvey, who was nicknamed “God” by the late sportswriter Jerome Holtzman, will return to his home in California after reaping the accolades of becoming the ninth umpire to be inducted into the Hall.  Harvey was asked about the expansion of instant replay on Saturday. As an arbiter who called 4,673 National League games in 18 years from 1962-92, he said it wouldn’t be necessary to even have replay if he was still umpiring. Right now, replay is used only to adjudicate home run calls — in or out, fair or foul. “It never bothered me,” Harvey said. “Managers used to come out and complain about calls. They’d say, ‘Well, I’m going to go look at the replay and if you’re wrong I’m coming back.’ And they haven’t come back yet. So I’m better than any replay machine they’ve got or ever will have. I was always confident of doing the job.”

Other awardees — During the 2010 ceremony,  Jon Miller will be awarded the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence and Bill Madden will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for journalists.  In addition, musician John Fogarty will receive an award for his baseball song Centerfield.

Check out all the inductees across the years at this link..

2011 Potential Inductee Class

Next year’s potential inductee class has two incumbents who will receive serious consideration–Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar.  Both received over 70% of the 2010 votes falling just below the required 75%.  In addition, the 2011 candidate class will add several newly-eligible candidates including Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmiero.  See the full list at this link…

Books on Hall of Fame

Below are two books I highly recommend for additional reading about the Hall of Fame.

Bert Sugar’s Baseball Hall of Fame: A Living History of America’s Greatest Game  – This striking volume takes readers deep into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as never before. Since opening its doors in 1939, the Museum has welcomed more than 14 million wide-eyed baseball fans through its hallowed halls to experience the rich history of America’s Pastime. Now, with more than 500 color and black-and-white original and archival photographs—along with engaging and informative commentary by a celebrated sports raconteur—Bert Sugar’s Baseball Hall of Fame: A Living History of America’s Greatest Game offers a quintessential take-home of the timeless experience of baseball’s spiritual home.

With sequential exhibit photographs complemented by dramatic close-up images of the most fascinating artifacts on display in the Hall—including artifacts used by legends like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and many more—the Hall of Fame experience is captured in this 320-page commemorative work.

National Hall of Fame and Museum 2010 Yearbook –   Commemorate the Class of 2010 with this 2010 Baseball Hall of Fame Yearbook. This must have keepsake features highlights from the careers of Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey in addition to bios of the other 286 Hall of Famers.  Has articles on the Doubleday Myth, Tom Seaver as well as chapters devoted to each of this year’s inductees.

See link for other books on Baseball’s Hall of Fame…..

See video on the National Baseball Hall of Fame


Baseball Memorabilia: What do you collect?

July 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Baseball Collectibles

I will admit it.  I am a memorabilia junkie. I collect all sorts of memorabilia related to the Washington Senators.  T206 cards, World Series ticket stubs and programs, old banners, stadium seats, bobbleheads, etc..   “Why the Senators?”  you ask.  It’s simple. I grew up in the DC area and that was the team with which I came to love baseball. 

Couldn’t shake my “Senator-itis” it even if I wanted to.

I recently picked up this ball signed by a number of Hall of Fame members including 3 that played for the Senators — Joe Cronin, Sam Rice and Heinie Manush although only Rice was enshrined as a Senator.  The ball was only in fair condition as indicated by the description below…

Signers include Lefty Grove, Max Carey, Zack Wheat, Pie Traynor, Bill Dickey, Luke Appling, Red Ruffing, Casey Stengel, Bill Terry, Sam Rice, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, Joe Cronin, Edd Roush, Heinie Manush, Ken Smith, and John McHale. Signatures rate 7 out of 10 on average with a few lesser or better. Ball is moderately toned and has light clear coat. The surface exhibits some cracking and areas of loss:

From a signature standpoint, I now have Rice, Manush, Cronin, Goslin, Bucky Harris, and Ossie Bluege.  Still searching for “The Signature”–the Big Train Walter Johnson…but I will probably have to wait and pine away admiring my Johnson portrait PSA-1 T206 card.

What type of memorabilia do you collect? 

What’s your favorite item?


Trade Retrospective: Curt Schilling to the Red Sox

July 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Baseball History, Miscellaneous

On November 28, 2003, the Red Sox acquired SP Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks for pitchers Jorge de la RosaCasey FossumBrandon Lyon, and minor leaguer Michael Goss.

The Background

The Red Sox were in need of a starting pitcher after one of 2003′s main starting pitchers, John Burkett, retired. While Burkett was not an amazing starting pitcher for the Red Sox, he still was a useful innings eater (181 innings in 2003), and the Red Sox were clearly going to need to replace the numbers.

The Diamondbacks were coming off of an 84-78 season, but had finished in 3rd place in the NL West and were 16 games back. Schilling would be a free agent after the 2004 season, and the Diamondbacks were hoping to cut their payroll for the following season.

The Moving Pieces

In Boston, Schilling agreed to a contract extension prior to approving the trade, and he was slotted into an already high end rotation led by Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

Arizona received 4 reasonable players, with both Casey Fossum and Brandon Lyonboth having spent time with the Red Sox in each of the previous 3 seasons. Here’s what Jim Callis of Baseball America had to say about some of the prospects back in 2004:

Q: Kevin from Springfield, MA asks:
Where would some of the prospects that got traded have ranked, Sanchez, Dumatrait, Pelland, De La Rosa and Goss?
A: Jim Callis: Another good question from Kevin, who got many in early.Freddy Sanchez would be No. 2, ahead of Shoppach. Jorge de la Rosa would be right behind Shoppach, so that would make him No. 4 if Sanchez was in the mix. Phil Dumatrait would be in my mix of three lefties toward the end of the top 10, and I’d probably slot him in behind Alvarez, which would make him No. 10. Tyler Pelland would be in the 11-15 mix, while Mike Gosswouldn’t have made the Top 30.

What Happened Next

Schilling was ecstatic to be going to pitch with the Red Sox.

“I want to be a part of bringing the first World Series in modern history to Boston,” Schilling said. “And hopefully more than one over the next four years.”

And clearly, the goal was accomplished with the Red Sox winning their first world championship in 86 years in 2004.

In Arizona, Casey Fossum was slotted into the Diamondbacks rotation and Brandon Lyon was sent to the bullpen, eventually closing out games for the Diamondbacks in 2004. Jorge de la Rosa was only a Diamondback for less than a week, as he was sent to the Brewers in a trade that netted the Diamondbacks power hitting 1B Richie Sexson. Michael Goss was sent to Single-A South Bend in the Midwest League

The Net Moves

Red Sox – First Level

  • Curt Schilling went 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 2004, helping to lead the Red Sox to the 2004 World Championship. He was with the team through 2007, posting a 53-29 record with a 3.95 ERA, and helped to lead the Red Sox to 2 World Championships in that time. He retired after the 2007 season.

Diamondbacks – First Level

  • Casey Fossum went 4-15 in 2004 with the Diamondbacks, and was unceremoniously traded to the Devil Rays in early February 2005 for Jose CruzJr.
  • Brandon Lyon spent the 2004-2008 seasons with the Diamondbacks, working entirely the bullpen. He posted an 11-15 record with 42 saves and a 4.03 ERA in 234 appearances. He left via free agency after the 2008 season, and the Diamondbacks received a compensation draft pick for losing him to the Tigers. The Diamondbacks used this pick to select Michael Belfiore.
  • Jorge de la Rosa was traded on December 1st, 2003 as a part of the Richie Sexson trade. The trade acquired Richie Sexson and Shane Nance from the Brewers.
  • Michael Goss never spent a day in the Majors, spending the 2004 season with the Diamondbacks before ending up in Independent ball for the next 4 seasons.

Diamondbacks – Second Level

  • Jose Cruz Jr. spent 64 games with the Diamondbacks, hitting .213 with 12 homeruns before being traded to the Red Sox on 7/30/2005 for minor leaguersKenny Perez and Kyle Bono.
  • Michael Belfiore is currently with the Diamondbacks.
  • Richie Sexson spent the 2004 season with the Diamondbacks, but spent most of the season hurt. He played in only 23 games, hitting .233 with 9 homeruns in his brief time there. He left via free agency after the 2004 season, but earned the Diamondbacks two compensation draft picks. They used these picks on Matthew Torra and Micah Owings.
  • Shane Nance made 19 appearances for the Diamondbacks in 2004, posting a 1-1 record with a 5.84 ERA. He was released by the Diamondbacks during the 2005 season, and never appeared in another Major League game.

Diamondbacks – Third Level 

  • Kenny Perez spent the rest of the 2005 season and all of the 2006 season with the Diamondbacks in the minors, but did not make any appearances with them or any other organization in the Majors.
  • Kyle Bono spent the remainder of the 2005 season and the 2006 season with the Diamondbacks, and also did not make any Major League appearances.
  • Matthew Torra is still with the Diamondbacks organization to this day, but has never progressed past AAA, where he currently is. He may not get a good shot at this point, as he is now 26 years old.
  • Micah Owings was with the Diamondbacks through part of the 2008 season. He posted a 14-17 record with the team as a starting pitcher, but was known more for his hitting skills. He hit .313 with 5 home runs in 112 at bats over the two seasons he was with Arizona. He was included in the trade that netted the Diamondbacks Adam Dunn in August 2008.
  • Adam Dunn spent the remainder of the 2008 season with the Diamondbacks, hitting 8 homeruns down the stretch for them. I also there being a lot of surprise as the Diamondbacks did not offer him arbitration, which made them ineligible to get draft pick compensation.

Overall Reactions

Clearly, the Red Sox got exactly what they were hoping for and more. Schilling helped to anchor the rotation both in 2004 and in 2007, including the “Bloody Sock”. He helped them to get the first 2 World Championships in nearly 90 years, and the image of the “losers in Boston” has been extinguished forever. The Diamondbacks had a lot of potential from the moves that they made surrounding this trade, but unfortunately it was almost like the players that came back were cursed of their own accord. Fossum wasn’t really a high quality starting pitcher at any point, but was particularly bad in Arizona. Lyon was probably the best return they got out of anyone in these trades, as he was a valuable bullpen piece for 4 seasons. I think I would have to give the Red Sox the advantage on this one, as flags fly forever.


Jason Hunt is a new contributor to Books on Baseball.

Jason Hunt was raised in the East Bay near Oakland and is a diehard Athletics fan. Jason is married to a Cubs fan, and both his parents and his in-laws are diehard Cubs fans.

Jason is a huge fan of baseball in general and writes about a number of topics over at his blog, Jason’s Baseball Blog. In addition, Jason is also a contributor to the fantasy sports blog for SBNation & FakeTeams.


Lou Piniella: The Early Years

July 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Baseball History, Baseball Writing

To be with his ailing mother, Lou Piniella has announced his retirement, effective immediately.  He’s been involved in Major League Baseball for nearly 50 years and has done it all: long minor league career; even longer Major League career; player/coach; manager; general manager; manager again; broadcaster; manager again.  He won the World Series on his first try, but has had a remarkable lack of playoff success over the last decade.  His name is synonymous with baseball terms like “professional hitter”, “firebrand”, “argumentative” and “gutsy”.

The eulogies that have been written by top sportswriters mostly reflect on Lou’s managerial career, such as this one by Yahoo! Sport’s Jeff Passan.  Others, such as this one by Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago,  focus on the disappointment in his final tenure in Chicago.  His recent and bizarre public spat with broadcaster Steve Stone made Lou look out of his element, past his prime.

What impresses me the most, however, is that when you go back to the words written about Lou in the 1960s, before made his name, how much all of his baseball acumen and physical talent shines through.

Well, not in every source.   The April 1963 issue of Baseball Digest , in a feature on “How Big Leaguers Pronounce Names”, proudly informs us that it’s pronounced  “pin-YELLA”.  Not a great opening act.

But check out the scouting report on Lou in the March 1964 Baseball Digest  That is, check it out if you’re not too busy checking out the fabulous early ’60s team logos, or the then-fascination with the ethnic origin of each rookie prospect (Scotch-Irish, Spanish, French-German, and “Negro”… and that’s just on page 107 alone!).

Second in total bases with 255 in the Car[olina Class] A loop.  Hit .310-143g for Peninsula.  77-RB[I].  Second pro year.  Drafted from Cleveland crop [a] year ago.  [...] Has everything — arm, bat, running.  Best prospect in Carolina League.  Got good bonus.  A comer.

What gets me most about this is not how well the scout nailed Piniella’s talent even at 19.  No… what gets me is that this scouting report, written during the 1963-1964 offseason, was for the Washington Senators.  But by the time the 1964 season was in the books, Lou was no longer a Senator — he was an Oriole.  The “best prospect” in Class A who had “everything” couldn’t even stay in the Senators farm system.  Washington traded him to Baltimore for the immortal Buster Narum, who lost 15 games in ’64 and whose own MLB career was over long before Lou debuted in the Show.

Actually the Senators’ outfield in 1964 was pretty solid by league standards: Chuck Hinton, Don Lock, Jim King, who hit 57 homers between them.  But the fourth outfielder that year was Fred Valentine (.226 BA), about whom the same issue of Baseball Digest said: “On the way down.  Only a [Triple-A] player”.  Lou couldn’t beat him out for a job?

These are Lou’s career minor league stats.  His minor league career was longer than the major league careers of some All-Stars.  After the glowing review in early ’64 he played only 20 games for Baltimore’s single-A affiliate, likely due to some sort of injury.  But he made Double-A in ’65 and then spent three full years in the Indians’ AAA system.  In 1967 he hit .308 with a .424 slugging percentage for Portland in the Pacific Coast League.  In March 1968, Baseball Digest  said that Lou “Needs at least a year’s experience but his power at bat is worth looking into.”

By March ’69, the scouts said “Can put wood to the ball” but “Must improve fielding”.  This was written with Lou as a Seattle Pilot — his fourth franchise before even getting his first big league hit (he was hitless in very brief cups of coffee with the O’s in ’64 and the Tribe in ’68).

As we know from Jim Bouton’s seminal Ball Four, however, Lou didn’t remain with the Pilots very long.  He made too much noise in spring training, but he made a definite impression on Bouton, no shrinking violet himself.

In a passage about his reluctance to join in a potential players’ strike in the ’69 preseason, Bouton wrote:

I reached Lou in Florida and he said that his impulse was to report, that he was scared it would count against him if he didn’t, that he was just a rookie looking to make the big leagues and didn’t want anybody to get angry at him.  But also that he’d thought it over carefully and decided that he should support the other players and the strike.  So he was not reporting.

That impressed the hell out of me.  Here’s a kid with a lot more at stake than I, a kid risking a once-in-a-lifetime shot.  And suddenly I felt a moral obligation to the players.  I decided not to go down.

Here we see Piniella here as a still-young minor league lifer, whose sense of intelligence and clarity had a real effect on Bouton, a 30 year-old big league vet who was fighting to come back after injuries derailed his own stardom.

Later in Ball Four we get a hint of how Lou’s temper perhaps kept him in the minor leagues longer than he should have been, when the Fred Valentines of the world were taking up valuable roster space.

I overheard Lou Piniella having a heated discussion with [Pilots manager] Joe Schultz and, nosy as I am, I asked him what it was about.  Piniella said that a couple of players had heard Joe tell a sportswriter yesterday that if Piniella couldn’t throw any better than he was throwing he wouldn’t make the club.  Lou said his arm had bothered him last year and he just wanted to nurse it this spring.  I can understand why he was upset.  He’s only been here two weeks and that’s not enough time to get your arm ready or for them to decide that someone could make the club or not make it.  It’s ridiculous, particularly since Lou hit .300 last year with a Triple-A club and he was one of their $175,000 draftees.  Sounds like somebody up there wants to unload Lou Piniella.

Bouton for one knew it was a mistake for the Pilots to unload Piniella, and he was right as Piniella wound up American League Rookie of the Year that year.  Seattle, without Lou, wound up moving to Milwaukee.

Like we all knew Piniella would be canned and it happened today.  He was traded to Kansas City for Steve Whitaker and John Gelnar, a pitcher.  It was a giveaway.  Bound to happen, though.  Lou wasn’t their style.

Seattle was wrong.  For another 40 years after the Pilots dumped him, Lou was pretty much everybody’s style.

Books on Pinella

Sweet Lou: Lou Piniella a Life in Baseball by Melissa Isaacson – Chicago Tribune reporter Melissa Isaacson explores Piniella’s background, his parents, friends, and roots in Tampa that explain his famous hot-headedness and reveal a down-to-earth family man. Along the way, she chronicles Piniella’s ascension to become the beloved skipper of the Chicago Cubs who immediately set his sights on his sixth pennant and the possibility of leading the Cubs to a world championship. Isaacson also examines Piniella’s life outside of baseball, revealing a multifaceted and highly active businessman. A chapter devoted to the famous temper relives some of the stories that have made him the bane of umpires around both leagues. Sweet Lou is a riveting and enjoyable portrayal of a consummate competitor and controversial larger-than-life baseball personality whose full impact on the game has yet to be measured.

Sweet Lou and the Cubs: A Year Inside the Dugout by George Castle — [Amazon Book Review] “Sweet Lou and the Cubs: A Year Inside the Dugout” is a great way to greet the new 2009 baseball season. George Castle goes back in history and follows Lou Piniella from his playing days up to the end of the 2008 Cubs season, and along the way we get an insight into both the man and the sport he loves. There are also some great stories that feature several Cubs players, and a look at a season that had so much promise but ended with so much heartache. This is a great read for those of us who love baseball, love the Cubbies, and love the characters that make it great, like Piniella.

Living the Dream: An Inside Account of the 2008 Cubs Season by Jim McArdel — [Amazon Book Review] wrote this book from a unique point of view–he worked for the Cubs for 12 years, and quit his job in order to write this book–yet he remained friends with many players and staffers at the Cubs, and had great access behind the scenes. However, where the book really shines is not behind the scenes, but out in the bleachers, in the neighborhood, and on the rooftops. McArdle tells the stories of many Cubs fans, including himself, one by one, making human characters out of many of the bleacher regulars and other faithful fans. In addition, this is one of the best books about the Wrigleyville neighborhood, telling the recent history of each building on Waveland and Sheffield. It’s great stuff. Tim Wiles, Cooperstown, NY


Books on Baseball: State of the Union

July 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous

It is hard to believe that it was only about 4 months ago when the first article was published.  The article itself is clumsy and non-descript, but the importart part was that I had started.  You see, I kept kvetching to my wife about doing a blog to the point where she finally said stop talking and start writing.  So I did…

Within this short window of time, the amount of fine-tuning and learning that has occurred could fill volumes.  The support of the BoB readers, both here on the website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter has been fantastic and much appreciated.

[If you are reading this and have Twitter, click on this link immediately and follow BoB.  Thx]

During our brief run in the blogosphere, here are some of “our” accomplishments:

  • Published over 100 articles on the website, about 450 posts on Facebook
  • Have been linked to from several large popular on-line columnists,
  • Have added our first contributing writer — Jason Miller, with plans to add several more soon.
  • Have picked up over 3,000 friends on Facebook!
    • Included among the FB friends are a number of celebrated authors and past and present MLB players
    • Gathered friends from over 20 countries, including Jordan, Croatia, and Egypt,
    • FB audience is about 80% men and 20% women.
    • The older FB cohorts (geezers like me) interact on the site at the highest rate (a counter-intuitive finding, I think) ~ 3x the rate relative to their population.  Youngest members have the least interaction, inversely at about 1/3 their rate in the population.
    • Women and men interact at about the same rate.
    • Achieved a 4 out of 5 star rating on FB relative to the amount of interactions per post.

None of the above would be possible without your kind words and continued support, both on the website and Facebook.  Thank you.

BoB’s goal is to use the Books on Baseball website and Facebook Page synergystically to create a multi-layered experience.  The primary entry point for most people has been Facebook where we use FB posts to provoke dialogue around a current event or some other “quick” topic.  The website articles are longer, containing pictures, videos, and sound where possible.   However, we always also post the website articles on Facebook as well.

So, if  your entry point is FB, you can link to the BoB website content. On the other hand, if your entry point is the website, you can click a button to the right to go to the FB page.

Within the next couple of weeks, we will be putting out a survey link to solicit your ideas for improving the website and Facebook page. 

However, in the meantime, if you have any feedback or suggestions, you would like to give, good or bad, you can email me at BoB@booksonbaseball.com

Thanks again,

Mark Ahrens  BoB@booksonbaseball.com


Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball

July 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Book Review, Your Turn

Barbara Gregorich, a Books on Baseball friend and author, has been kind enough to allow us to use a book review she recently completed – Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball.  Your Turn is a regular feature of Books on Baseball that spotlights our BoB friends as guest book reviewers.  Thanks Barb!

Barb’s Review — I grew up a baseball fan and as such was always interested in the players. I knew or cared little about managers, and nothing at all about general managers or league presidents. And while I knew about players from baseball’s earliest days, somehow the name of Joe Cronin escaped my attention. Upon reading Mark Armour’s Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball, I am astonished not only that Cronin escaped my attention, but that I can actually admit this. 

This fact-filled book traces Joe Cronin from his San Francisco beginnings (he was born several months after the 1906 earthquake) as a player in the city’s playground baseball programs, to his highest peak, President of the American League. And in recounting Cronin’s career, from his 1925 signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates to his American League presidency of the 1960s, Armour covers a lot of baseball territory in a very informative way — player contracts and trades, player-managers, general managers, owners, the first All-Star game, and the War years. 

Particularly informative are the chapters on how Cronin and the Red Sox failed to embrace the influx of African-American players from the Negro Leagues — a self-imposed barrier that kept the Sox organization from signing talented players and fielding the best possible nine. As Armour puts it: “The strongest evidence against the Red Sox, and against Cronin, is circumstantial yet undeniable — the Red Sox very obviously did not have any black players. This fact, whether due to policy or simply incompetence, did untold damage to the Red Sox of the 1950s and beyond.” 

[At Left: Player-Manager Cronin of the Wash Senators on 1933 Goudey Card]

I found every chapter of this book interesting and informative. In the final chapters we see the emergence of the modern era: expansion west, north, and southward; Charles O. Finley’s challenges; the birth and growth of the Major League Players Association; the DH rule; and the ascendancy of the American League. 

Joe Cronin is a baseball man worth know about, and Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball, is a book very worth reading.

Link to Q&A with Mark Armour by Baseball Prospectus…

Link to Podcast with Mark Armour from Cover The Bases…

Author Bio: Mark Armour

Mark Armour, heads up SABR’s Biography Project and is a regular contributor to Society of American Baseball Research journals. Armour is the coauthor of Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way and editor of Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest.

Your Turn Bio: Barbara Gregorich

Barbara Gregorich has lived in Cleveland, Boston, and Chicago and at one time believed that neither the Indians nor the Red Sox nor the White Sox nor the Cubs would ever again win a World Series.  She has been proven wrong twice in the past decade: she yearns to be proven wrong twice more. 

Barbara is the author of the 1987 novel, She’s on First, which was published in hardback, paperback, Kindle e-book, and in Japanese translation.  She’s on First received excellent reviews and is now available in reprint. Several years after the publication of her novel, Barbara wrote the nonfiction Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball,which earned the SABR-MacMillan Award.


Negro League Strat-O-Matic Cards: MVP Willie Wells

July 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Baseball History

I recently ordered the new Strat-O-Matic Baseball Negro League All-Stars set.  This set assembled 108 of the great Negro Leagues players of all time and, thanks to backbreaking research, collected their statistics for league games over each player’s “peak” period (i.e. their top five to seven years). 
 
These stats are adjusted for length of schedule; most Negro League teams played 70 or 80 league games a year, with a lot more barnstorming or non-league games in the schedule.  Similarly the stats are adjusted for ballpark effects, as the various Negro Leagues were played in a succession of stadiums large and small, new and very old, with some players like Josh Gibson spending most of their career, for example, in cavernous Griffith Stadium. 
 
A fellow baseball blogger Scott Simkus spearheaded the research that made the production of this set possible.  He also wrote the biographical pamphlet that is included if you order the actual card version of the game (as opposed to just the computer edition).Each player is then given one Strat-O-Matic card, projected over a single MLB-style 154-game season, so that they can square off evenly against their Major League contemporaries in any format you see fit to create.
 
My Barnstorming Tourney — Negro League All Stars vs 1934 All Stars
 
For my first set of games with these cards, I set up a barnstorming tournament of Negro Leagues stars who were at their career peaks in 1934, including Gibson, Martin Dihigo and someone with the evocative name of Turkey Stearnes. Opposing this team I used the 1934 National League All-Star team, as augmented by four American League pitchers: Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing and Mel Harder (who played in the All-Star Game that year), and Schoolboy Rowe (the ace of the 1934 AL champion Detroit Tigers pitching staff).  I gave each team exactly 25 players.
 
My tournament lasted 24 games, three in each National League ballpark.  I set my schedule to begin two days after the World Series ended, allowing for no off-days.  I arranged the schedule in geographical order, starting in Boston and then working south and west to St. Louis, where the final game concluded on November 3, 1934.  I was expecting someone like or Josh Gibson (see above left) to dominate the series offensively; I was expecting Dizzy Dean and Satchel Paige (actual barnstorming veterans who I named as managers of their respective squads) to win 4-5 games apiece.
 
I was wrong.
 
The tournament taught me a lot about some Negro Leagues players I’d never heard of before, and also a lot more about baseball circa 1934.  Most of the NL stadiums that year were minuscule.  As a result, the games I played in the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field featured much higher scores than those I located in the larger, more pitcher-friendly Braves and Forbes Fields.  Paige struck out 12 NL stars in a complete-game win at Forbes but didn’t fair well overall.  Dean met his Waterloo in Sportsman’s Park (his real-life home park), allowing 10 runs in his final start of the tournament.
 
Willie Wells – Barnstorming MVP
 
Who surprised me the most by contending for MVP of this series?  A man I’d never heard of before ordering the Strat-O-Matic set.  A Negro Leagues shortstop who first caught my attention with a walk-off home run off Lefty Gomez in the Polo Grounds in the fourth game I played.  He played in all 24 games for me, hit an eye-popping .398, with 6 homers and 28 RBI — nearly winning the barnstorming Triple Crown.
 
His name?  Willie “Devil” Wells. Turns out Wells played in organized ball all over North America in four different decades.  He pioneered the use of a batting helmet and taught Jackie Robinson how to play second base.  His biography, as set forth on the Negro League Baseball Players Association website, is simply extraordinary, and we’ll reprint it in full:
 
Willie (Devil) Wells, baseball player in the Negro Leagues, was once called “the greatest living player not in thebaseball Hall of Fame,” though he was elected to the hall posthumously. He was born in Austin on October 10, 1905. Wells was a talented shortstop who was discovered on the Texas sandlots in 1925 and joined the St. Louis Stars of the first Negro National League. He established an outstanding reputation with a lifetime batting average of .358 in games for which there are confirmed records. In the Negro Leagues he played for the Stars, the Chicago American Giants, the Newark Eagles, and other teams. Wells had a reputation as a fierce competitor. At a time when batting helmets were very unusual, he chose to play for the Newark Eagles after suffering a concussion, but he put on a construction helmet for added protection. He was a clutch hitter and an extraordinary fielder called the “Shakespeare of Shortstops.” His glove was known for a hole in its middle, which Wells claimed made his fielding easier. In 1929 Wells went to Cuba and played in the integrated Cuban league, where he competed and excelled against Cuban players and white major leaguers. In 1929 he was the most valuable player in the Cuban league. Wells was selected eight times for the East-West Classic, the Negro Leagues’ all-star game, including the first game in 1933 and the 1945 game, in which he played second base for the East and Jackie Robinson, then of the Kansas City Monarchs, played shortstop for the West. When Robinson joined the major leagues, Wells worked with him on his second base position.

Wells was a player-manager for the Chicago American Giants in the early 1930s and became famous as the player-manager of the Newark Eagles in the 1940s, at which time they were one of the very best black teams. He took particular pride in the success of Newark players Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, and Don Newcombe in the major leagues. In the 1940s Wells played in the Mexican league, where he again excelled and demonstrated that he was an outstanding player against the white major leaguers, who also played in the Mexican league. In 1941-42 he played in Puerto Rico. Wells was well known for his play in the California winter league, where a team of stars from the Negro Leagues competed. He also played frequently on the Satchel Paige All-Star team, a group of players selected by Satchel Paige to barnstorm against white major league players after the World Series. When his playing career ended he worked in New York for a number of years before returning to Austin. He had two children, one of whom, Willie Wells, Jr., also played briefly in the Negro Leagues, including one year with his father. Wells died of heart failure in Austin on January 22, 1989. His obituary was carried in the New York Times. In 1997 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, by the hall’s Committee on Baseball Veterans.

Learn more about Willie Wells

Willie Wells: ‘El Diablo’ of the Negro Leagues by Bob Luke, Willie Wells was arguably the best shortstop of his generation. As Monte Irvin, a teammate and fellow Hall of Fame player, writes in his foreword, “Wells really could do it all. He was one of the slickest fielding shortstops ever to come along. He had speed on the bases. He hit with power and consistency. He was among the most durable players I’ve ever known.” Yet few people have heard of the feisty ballplayer nicknamed “El Diablo.” Willie Wells was black, and he played long before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Bob Luke has sifted through the spotty statistics, interviewed Negro League players and historians, and combed the yellowed letters and newspaper accounts of Wells’s life to draw the most complete portrait yet of an important baseball player. Wells’s baseball career lasted thirty years and included seasons in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada. He played against white all-stars as well as Negro League greats Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck O’Neill, among others. He was beaned so many times that he became the first modern player to wear a batting helmet. As an older player and coach, he mentored some of the first black major leaguers, including Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe. Willie Wells truly deserved his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Bob Luke details how the lingering effects of segregation hindered black players, including those better known than Wells, long after the policy officially ended. Fortunately, Willie Wells had the talent and tenacity to take on anything–from segregation to inside fastballs–life threw at him. No wonder he needed a helmet. (from product description)

Dandy, Day, and the Devil, by James Rile.  Based on exhaustive research and personal interviews, this seemingly out-of-print publication is a trilogy examining the lives and careers of Negro League stars of Ray Dandridge, Leon Day and Willie Wells. Forward by Hall of Famer and former Negro League and Major League star Monte Irvin. I hasn’t yet tracked down this book, but I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t turn out to be one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read.  With a title like that, and based on interviews with those three men, who must have had extraordinary stories to tell, I really can’t wait to find a copy. 

Again, many thanks to Scott Simkus and Strat-O-Matic for putting together this great card set.  BoB will be profiling other Negro League players of note.


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