This has been a very busy year for me, so I haven’t been able to devote
much time to baseball, other than reading my daily e-mail update on how my
players are doing. The real Detroit Tigers are off to the worst
start in its 100+ year history, and the Hot Stove League Tigers are in a
similar funk, complacently nestled into the penultimate position.
What seems weird is that I have this sense that my team isn’t doing that
bad. A few of the flyers that I took are doing fine, (Myers, Lohse) and
some of the old guys are having decent comeback years (Juan Gonzalez, Javy
Lopez). I can’t even complain that I have been burned too bad by
shell game luck. Are the rest of you guys that good that I can’t
even compete anymore?
Loved Blongo’s music selection of “Feeling Blue” for
his guest column. In a similar vein, since I only have about an hour
to write this, I thought that “Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward and the
Dominoes was appropriate. Yes, you’ve heard it before in the movie “Bull
Durham,” a personal favorite.
THE NEW BILL JAMES
HISTORICAL BASEBALL ABSTRACT
I got the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract for my birthday,
and, as I have mentioned to a few of you, this is absolutely a must-have
book for baseball fans. It’s about a thousand pages of great
statistical analysis, player rankings, commentary, and great inside
stories that you’ll never get tired of reading. You can pick it up
for five minutes or an hour, and there is always something great to read,
including a reprint of the wonderful description of Lonnie Smith’s ability
to recover from defensive misplays.
w “Lonnie can
calculate with the instinctive astrophysics of a tennis player where a
ball will land when it skips off the heel of his glove, what the angle of
glide will be when he tips it off the webbing, what the spin will be when
the ball skids off the thumb of the mitt. Many players can kick a
ball behind them without ever knowing it; Lonnie can judge by the pitch of
the thud and the subtle pressure on his shoe in which direction and how
far he has projected the sphere. He knows exactly what to do when a
ball spins out of his hand and flies crazily into a void on the field,
when it is appropriate for him to scramble after the ball and when he
needs to back up the man who will have to recover it. He has
experience it these matters; when he retires he will be hired to come to
spring training and coach defensive recovery and cost containment.
This is his specialty, and he is good at it.”
w “Hughie Jennings
got a letter from a small town in Michigan, a letter from a pitcher who
claimed he could strike out Ty Cobb anytime on three pitches. The
guy said it would only cost $1.80 – his train fare to Detroit – for
Jennings to find out. Hughie figured, well, you never know, and sent
the dollar-eighty. The pitcher showed up – great, big, gangly kid,
6-foot-4 and all joints. They let him warm up and called out Cobb.
Cobb hit his first pitch against the right field wall. His second
pitch went over the right field wall. The third pitch went over the
center field wall. Cobb was thinking they ought to keep this guy
around to help him get in a groove.
“Well,” said Jennings. “What have you got to say?”
The pitcher stared hard at the batter in the batter’s box. “You know,” he
said, “I don’t believe that’s Ty Cobb in there.”
was the first matinee idol of the National League. A handsome man
with red hair and a long mustache, Kelly was regarded as a great defensive
outfielder, and as the greatest baserunner of his time. He was the
first baseball player followed on the streets. The fans loved
him so much they presented him with a glistening white horse and a
beautiful carriage so he could ride to the park in style. Kelly was
the highest-paid star in baseball for much of his career, but spent every
dime on wine, women, song and fancy clothes. When he died of
pneumonia in 1894, aged 36, he was reportedly destitute. . . . To tell the
true story of Mike Kelly is impossible, and even to summarize all of the
legends would require at least three books.
It is almost impossible to explain just how weird are
Kelly’s defensive statistics. Among all major league
outfielders playing 1000 games at the position, the highest rate of
baserunner kills (assists) per game is by Hall of Fame outfielder Tommy
McCarthy, who had 268 kills in 1,189 games, which is 36.5 kills per 162
games; all of the highest rates are by 19th century players. The
highest rate by a 20th-century player is 26.9, by Tris Speaker. Paul
Radford, who didn’t quite play 1,000 games, has a ratio a little higher
than McCarthy, 39.0 kills per 162 games.
And then there is King Kelly, whose kill rate is: 61.6.
He must be . . . I don’t know, ten standard deviations above the norm or
something. OK, I checked . . . taking all outfielders in history
playing 500 or more games, he is 7.5 standard deviations above the norm.
He has more than 50% more baserunner kills than the second-best guy.
It’s unbelievable. How can you do that?
wait a minute; I didn’t say he was a great outfielder; I said he was a
weird outfielder. All of his numbers are that odd. His error
rate is every bit as bad as his baserunner kill rate is good. His
career fielding percentage, in the outfield, was .820 – one error every
5.5 chances. Every other outfielder in history, playing 500 or more
games, had a career fielding percentage of at least .844. Kelly’s
error rate (.180) is 24 points higher than any other outfielder’s.
this possible? He was playing the position differently than anyone
else, I think. Kelly, at times when he was listed as an outfielder,
may actually have abandoned the outfield to play as a fifth infielder.
It is documented that at times, when he was expecting a bunt, he would
come in and play within a few feet of the batter. He may have done
this even when he was listed as an outfielder; I don’t know.
Kelly’s numbers as an outfielder are not a lot stranger
than his numbers as a catcher. As a catcher, he was charged with 368
errors and 417 passed balls, in 583 games. His rate of passed balls
is astronomical, his error rate easily the worst of all time, for a
catcher appearing in 500 or more games. Kelly fielded .892 as a
catcher; everybody else, even his contemporaries, is over .900. If
statistics can be larger than life, King Kelly’s numbers are larger than
There are many, many more anecdotes that are simply
great, and I particularly like the ones about the early days of baseball.
5 YEAR LEADERS
Going into the 2003 season, the following players were
the leaders for the last five years at these statistics:
Jeter 1005, V. Guerrero
984, Helton 947
Sosa 292, Bonds 239, A Rod
Sosa 705, M. Ramirez 674, A
Bagwell 639, A Rod 635,
L.Walker .350, Garciaparra
.337, Helton .335
R. Johnson 100, Glavine 89,
R. Johnson 1,746, P.
Martinez 1,250, Schilling 1,229
Hoffman 217, Nen 206, M.
Rivera 195, Percival 184
There are a bunch of these guys that are on the DL already this season.
Most notably, all four of the leaders for saves for the last 5 years are
on the shelf, including my first closer, Percival. The leading
closers are the same as last year, with Smoltz and Gagne off to scorching
starts, but both of these guys were starters until only a few years ago.
By the way, I am getting my kiester kicked in the closer department.
TERRORISM ALERT RAISED TO ORANGE
The Detroit Tigers have raised the warning level for suicide bombings to
orange after Bernie Williams and Troy Percival decided to douse themselves
in kerosene and apply blow-torches to the Tigers’ point totals last week.
Not content with just going on the DL, these terrorists contributed –7.5
points and –15.0 points for the week before going on their paid vacations.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY
I had my radio tuned to a “classic rock” station the
other day, when I heard one of those “This day in history” segments about
Peter Cetera of the rock group, Chicago. He is that weenie blonde
lead singer with the high voice. It seems that Cetera was at a Cubs
game in 1971, when three rednecks beat him up in the stands because they
didn’t like his long hair. Cetera got four teeth knocked out and was
in surgery for five hours. I like the group Chicago as much as the
next guy, and I don’t know why, but I kind of like that story. Now
if we could get those three guys to sit next to Jim Carey or Tom Hanks at
a Cubs game . . .
Many thanks to Linda for her yeoman work in preparing
From the Bullpen. If there are weekly statistics and player rankings
in this edition, they didn’t come from me. FYI, there are no Tigers
in the top 15 hitters or pitchers. Nice.
Have a great week.