Edition No. 3
February 5, 2004
Just a short little Bullpen to try to help break up this sucky winter weather a bit, and to pass along a few thoughts and comments.
First of all, many thanks to Brother Underbelly, who finally knuckled under after repeated e-mail entreaties to provide us with last week’s fine issue of The Bellyflop. It is always, and I repeat, always, entertaining to learn what zany thoughts are zigging and zagging throughout U-Bob’s ample gray matter. His is a unique perspective that most of us do not regularly have in our lives, so viva la U-Bob, and long live his snowblower.
Got to have something to look forward to during the low point of winter, post-Super Bowl and pre-Spring Training. Since I’m not a hockey fan and since I loathe NBA basketball, and with the Husker hoopsters the Big 12 whipping boy again, there isn’t jack for sports to watch in the month of February. Which means it would be a great month for a Hot Stove League winter tribute party for Tricko, eh, Possum?
I fully realize that winged swine will be flying overhead and that BIF will be posting sector-leading returns before Possum ever actually lines up a party for our group of twelve thugs at his Fairacres mansion, but isn’t it fun sometimes to dream? What really bites is his half-donkeyed attempt to skirt the issue by lining up the ill-fated meeting at Ameristar last Saturday night. Weak with a capital W.
Anyway, Possum, in the event that you are tuning in, my social calendar is free for a Tricko Tribute at your place on any Friday or Saturday in February. See if you can’t work this in, won’t you?
Let’s see, what else do we have up here in the old spice rack. The old Itchmeister has a birthday this month (February 3), as does Tirebiter (February 11). That proximity is reason enough for these two to volunteer to orchestrate our 2004 League Trip. Hey, what a good idea. If Jim Ed is one of the planners, he probably has to actually go, and if Itchie is in on the planning, he will presumably direct all of his fretting, fussing, whining and fuming at himself and at his co-chair, and leave me the L alone.
Oops, just a minute. I totally forgot that Possum is lining up our Trip this year to San Diego. Look for details just as soon as the Winter Meeting invites get out in the mail.
On another note, no one has joined in on my outrage over Bonds getting the NL MVP over my man Pujols. Am I that far off base on this, or are the rest of you just this apathetic? Never mind, I’ve answered my own question.
Nobody could be surprised that Paul Molitor was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association, since he was a member of the 3,000 hit club, had the 39-game hitting streak, and ended up, what, like 8th on the All-Time Hit List? Eckersley too did not come as a surprise, since his lifetime achievement of 390 saves to go along with his 197 career wins is simply unparalleled in the annals of major league baseball.
But other than Molly and Eck, nobody else was really all that close. Ryne Sandberg garnered a total of 309 votes, 61.1% of those cast, but was well short of the 380 votes needed to win election. Bruce Sutter had the fourth highest total with 301 votes, 59.5% of the total. After Sutter, it was Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Goose Gossage, Lee Smith, and Bert Blyleven, all terrific baseball players, but all unlikely to ever get enough votes from the BBWAA to gain admittance.
It is also interesting to look at the players who will drop off of the HOF ballot next year, because they did not receive the requisite 26 votes (a player must be named on 5% of the ballots to make it onto the ballot the next year). This year’s list of drop-offs includes Keith Hernandez, Joe Carter, Fernando Valenzuela, Dennis Martinez, Dave Stieb, Jim Eisenreich, Jimmy Key, Doug Drabek, Kevin Mitchell, Juan “The Jazz Player” Samuel, Cecil Fielder, Randy Myers and Terry Pendleton. As talented as all of these last-listed players were — and many of them had long and distinguished major league careers — it truly underscores the difficulty of getting into the Hall of Fame, and the significance of this honor.
Let’s go to Cooperstown.
On Friday last, just as Big Guy reached me on my cell phone to ask me if I was going to make it to the Saturday night hullabaloo, I was touring the Negro League Baseball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, a short and definitely worthwhile diversion on my drive home from Columbia, Missouri, where business took me on Thursday. For those of you who have not been to this museum, go. It is extremely well curated (just showing off my cultural breadth), has many terrific baseball exhibits, and is well worth visiting if you are a baseball fan, no matter your creed or color. True, it makes one sad and ashamed to read about the exclusion of the African American player from the major leagues until Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. Frankly, as you read about it, and think about it, you can hardly even believe that our great democratic nation allowed this to happen. It really just doesn’t make any sense at all, looking back on it.
But enough of my bleeding heart pontificating. The museum contains a wonderful indoor “ballpark,” with statues of all of the great Negro League players located at each of the positions: Josh Gibson at catcher; Satchel Paige on the pitcher’s mound; Buck Leonard at first base; Judy Johnson at shortstop; and so forth and so on. Among the many fascinating factoids that I learned during this visit were:
So there you go. The next time you are in downtown Kansas City, head on over to 18th & Vine for some baseball history. You owe it to yourself.
Other than the trip to the Negro HOF Museum, my car trip to Columbia was fairly uneventful. I left on Thursday night after supper and made it as far as Higginsville — about an hour east of Kansas City — before I became too tired to drive and had to find a hotel. My only choices at that late hour were the Camelot (NOT!) Inn and the beautiful Super 8, of which I chose the latter. The Super 8 was an obvious favorite of the truck driving community, and on Friday morning at breakfast I was lucky enough to overhear two of these over-the-roaders comparing notes on their generalized disdain for their ex-spouses and their unvarnished hatred for the patently unfair legal system which would actually require them to provide financial support for their own children. A couple of real winners. Just as I was getting ready to leave, one of their trucking brethren came stumbling into the breakfast area, hair all akimbo and naked from the waist up. Just a little too much trouble to get that shirt on before coming down for coffee with the public, I guess. It was a sight to see, believe me.
Don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m positively thrilled that Clemens is going to pitch for another season, and for the first time in his career, wearing a National League uniform. He has pitched so well over the last couple of years, and seems to be in such good physical shape, that I am hopeful that he has enough gas in the tank for a couple more 12-18 win seasons. There’s certainly something to be said about going out at the top of your game, and I hope that he can still do this, but this is the risk he takes in signing on for one more year.
Clemens is now 17th on the all-time win list with 310 victories. With a solid year, he could crack the top 10. If he gets nine wins this season, Clemens will pass up Phil Niekro and move into 14th-best all time. If he gets fifteen wins, he passes up Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan (tied with 324 career wins), and occupies the 12th spot on the list. If he has a banner year and wins nineteen, he moves into the 10th spot on the overall list, supplanting John Clarkson.
In looking at the all-time pitching win list, it is in my view somewhat tainted by all of the cheap wins that some of the old-timers got in the 19th century. Cy Young actually got most of his wins in the 20th century, and since his name is interchangeable with “Pitching God,” I’ll leave him alone. But do Pud Galvin (No. 5 on the all-time list with 364 wins), Tim Keefe (No. 8 with 342), and John Clarkson (No. 10 with 328) really deserve to be on the all-time win list? Consider that Galvin (born Christmas Day in 1856 in St. Louis, as James Francis Galvin, a/k/a “Pud,” “Gentle Jeems,” and “The Little Steam Engine”) won 37 games as a rookie with the NL Buffalo Bison in 1879, and 46 games in 1883 and in 1884. He won a total of 360 games in his career, lost 308, and pitched a total of 639 complete games. Doubtful that Pud would have fared quite as well in the 20th century.
Keefe is another case in point. “Sir Timothy” pitched all of his fourteen seasons in the 19th century, between 1880 and 1893, mostly for the New York Giants of the National League. He won 41 games in 1883, 37 in 1884, 42 in 1886, 35 in 1887, and 35 in 1888. He pitched a total of 554 complete games. John Clarkson was a product of the same era, playing for several different National League clubs between 1882 and 1894, and winning 53 games in 1885, 38 in 1887 and 49 in 1889.
Great pitchers all, but one has to seriously question whether their careers merit placement in the top ten all-time. Perhaps it’s a radical idea, but maybe these career marks should be based upon players who played at least the majority of their careers during the so-called “modern era” from 1903 forward, when there were two leagues and everybody was playing by the same rules.
And by the way, will Greg Maddux ever sign with anyone and get his own chance to enter the 300 win club? He currently sits at No. 23 on the all-time list with 289 wins, with Bobby Mathews (how many of you have heard of him?) next up the list with 290, then Early Wynn ahead of him at 300. Hopefully, somebody will give Maddux a shot at breaking into the top echelon of hurlers.
I follow baseball fairly closely, more so than the average fan. You would all give me that. I read almost all of the box scores, almost every day, either on line or in the morning paper, and have done so — some might say religiously — since 1985, coincident with the formation of this great Hot Stove League. None of you would question this. So you would think I would be pretty familiar with a pitcher who between 1992 and 2003 appeared in 679 games, logging 641 innings (an equivalent of 71 2/9 complete games), and who made $3 million last year. You would think.
Enter Wedsel Gary “Buddy” Groom, Jr. Until this week, when I came upon his bio while surfing one of my favorite baseball websites (baseball-reference.com), you could have put a gun to my head and I could not have told you much of anything about this major league pitcher, except that I might have been able to generally identify him as a ’90s era middle reliever. Maybe. And, if it was a good day from a cerebral function standpoint -- that is, if the synapses were really crackling that day — I might even have recalled that Groom once pitched for the Oakland Athletics for a few years. Maybe, maybe not. But I definitely could not have told you that he (so far):
Or that he made a cool $3 million bucks last year.
So what’s my point? I do, in fact, have one. Actually two. My first point is that a middle reliever, particularly a left-handed specialist, can pitch in the majors for years, appearing in nearly half of a team’s games, making millions of dollars per year, and still stay almost completely beneath the radar screen. Buddy Groom is the case in point. I don’t think that Buddy has ever been on one of our HSL rosters in the twelve seasons that he has been eligible (although somebody could prove me wrong on this), and I could not have even told you that Buddy pitched at all last year for the Orioles, much less in 60 of their games, or in 70 of their games in 2002, 70 in 2001, 70 in 2000, or in 76 games for Oakland in 1999, 75 in 1998, 78 in 1997, etc. In fact, Buddy’s 78 games pitched in 1997 ties him for 80th on the all-time list for most appearances in one season by a pitcher, with Ted Abernathy and thirty other pitchers.
My other point is that a totally mediocre relief pitcher (26 and 30 won-loss record, career ERA of 4.62) can hang around the bigs for a long time and make BooKoo money doing it, if he is a good soldier and gets along with his teammates and manager. And that’s all I really wanted to say about Buddy.
But allow me one more interesting point about Buddy. As hereinabove stated, through the end of the 2003 season, he has appeared in 679 games, which puts him at 77th all-time in game appearances by a pitcher. Given the long and storied history of our great game, you would think that someone who is 77th all-time in any statistical category would be a pretty famous guy, and not someone as forgettable — to the average fan — as Buddy Groom. For example, the everyday player who is No. 77 on the all-time list of games played is Nellie Fox, well known to all of us. No. 77 in at-bats is Chili Davis. Ditto. Joe Morgan is No. 77 in career hits. Lou Whitaker is 77th on the all-time list for runs scored. George Sisler is No. 77 in total bases. Gary Gaetti is No. 77 in doubles. Joe Cronin ranks 77th in bases on balls. Joe Adcock is 77th in career home runs. In other words, Buddy Groom as a No. 77 career leader is in pretty famous company, even if you didn’t know that he was a left-handed middle reliever who is in fact still playing in the majors.
As Peter Falk (Columbo) might say, “Just one more thing.” Buddy Groom’s 2002 season was a total anomaly compared to the rest of his big league career. That season, at age 36, Buddy pitched 62.0 innings and gave up only 44 hits, a marked departure from his career numbers of 641.0 IP and 707 H (a 1.13 ratio of hits-to-innings-pitched); had a sterling ERA of 1.60, compared to a career ERA of 4.62 and a next-best season of 3.55 (2001); and had a 4-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio compared to a career K to BB ratio of less than 2 to 1 (442 Ks to 232 BBs). Huh? Why was Buddy such a buzz saw in 2002 after being so mediocre for the first ten years of his career? A mystery for our time. I should point out that Buddy did experience a Possumetric Reversion to the Mean in 2003, giving up 58 hits in 45 1/3 innings and posting a corpulent ERA of 5.36.
For those of you whose eyes have now glazed over completely, we return you to our regular programming.
That will have to do it for this week, boys. If anyone wants to volunteer to help us break up the February monotony with a special edition of your very own newsletter, please be sure to let me know.
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