The film ends with a now legally blind 93 year old Hano celebrating his birthday, how else, by reminiscing about the great New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell and throwing a few screwballs, his and Hubbell's favorite pitch, to Leonoudakis. Leonoudakis crouches like a catcher, with his fielder's glove on his right hand, as both he and Hano, like the great Carl Hubbell are lefties, to receive the pitches. As the ball travels across about 30 feet, as far as Hano can throw now, it also travels across almost all of baseball history. The history contained in the arc of Hano's screwball is that of the personal stories, favorite players, beloved teams and memories of days in the bleachers that exists inside of all real baseball fans, even those of us who, unlike Hano, never saw the Babe, Don Larsen or Willie Mays.
Bonds had a nine year peak where he hit .305/.438/.600 for an OPS+ of 181. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting eight of those years while winning eight gold gloves and stealing 300 bases. Those are extraordinary numbers, but they are even more impressive because those years 1990-98, were not only a time when Bonds was not taking steroids, but, at least for the last few years of that period, a time when many others were. During those years, Bonds accumulated 76.2 WAR, the most in a nine year period since Willie Mays in his prime. Lost in the noise about Bonds and PEDs is that a clean Barry Bonds dominated the early steroid era in a way not seen in a generation. During those years, Bonds was also a remarkable player to watch. He was a complete player who could run, hit for power, steal bases and exhibit an extraordinary batting eye.
The Rodriguez storyline is that one of baseball's greatest players ever is now a shell of himself racked by injuries and the hangover from steroid abuse. While the full story of Rodriguez's steroid abuse remains unknown, and he has lost a lot of time in recent years to injury, this storyline obscures a major point. To a great extent, Rodriguez is simply guilty of getting old and declining accordingly. The decline that Rodriguez will experience in the next few years is inevitable and largely due to aging. Since 1900 there have only been 26 seasons where second baseman, shortstop or third baseman over the age of 36 has managed an OPS+ of 110 or better. Given that, when he was healthy last year, Rodriguez was quite good for his age. There have only been 14 seasons where a player in that category posted an OPS+ of 120, suggesting that for infielders over 37 staying healthy and being an impact offensive player is very unusual.
Robinson played in his last game well over 50 years ago, and died over 40 years ago. Thus many baseball fans never saw Robinson play, and have only read about him or seen old footage of his playing days. Over time, not surprisingly, the story of Jackie Robinson, has surpassed the memory of Jackie Robinson as a player. Robinson was, however, a great player, and an unusual one. Looking more closely at what Jackie Robinson did on the field helps fill in the picture of who he was.
The combinations of expansion, prioritizing power and patience and, yes steroids, creates problems for how sluggers are compared across eras and, of course, for the Hall of Fame as well, but this problems is exacerbated by a voting system that is unwieldy and flawed. This year no players were elected to the Hall of Fame. The merits of that decision can be debated, but the impact it will have on future elections will be clear. In short, by 2014, there will be so many deserving players on the ballot that it is likely that a player with numbers that were good enough for the Hall of Fame a generation ago, and perhaps no demonstrated link to steroids, will be dropped from the ballot after one or two appearances after next year. Next year there will be five 8000/140 players on the ballot as well as a number of other standouts like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Tim Raines.
For longtime Giants fans, this means rethinking our identity as fans. We are no longer rooting for a forgotten team searching for a championship, a team that for a period of close to half a century were either mediocre or found a way to lose championships in dramatic, and occasionally strange, ways. Fans of other teams have experienced similar things. Any thoughtful Red Sox fan would have to rethink the narrative of being cursed and long suffering that was part of what being a fan of that team meant for more than eight decades, but after 2004 and 2007 can no longer be taken seriously. Similarly, a fan of the Orioles from 1966-1983 would have thought of that team as always contending, having stellar pitching and usually being in or around the playoffs while occasionally winning a championship, but over the last 30 years, the Orioles have evolved into being a very different, and less successful, franchise.
Fifty years after that tough defeat, and more importantly two years after finally getting their World Series victory, Giants fans can look at that 1962 team more charitably. They can recognize the impressive talent and interesting baseball stories that were brought together on that team. It is still possible, but not likely, that that great World Series will be commemorated by a 50th anniversary rematch. Even if this does not occur, it is worth taking a few minutes this October to remember this extraordinary team that came up just a foot or so short of a championship.
Posey, only about fifteen months removed from a horrific injury which caused him to miss most of 2011, is hitting .329/.394/.541 for an OPS+ of 167. It is unlikely he can continue that pace, but he will not need to do that to accumulate 1.6 more WAR and break Breshnahan’s record. Posey is likely to record the greatest season ever by a Giants catcher, to some degree because catcher has been a weak position for the Giants throughout most of their history. Posey is, despite that context, still having a great season for a catcher. If he continues at this pace, he will have 6.6 WAR by the end of the season, good enough for a tie for 17th best season for a catcher and eighth best ever for a catcher under 26 years old.
Jeter’s talent, ability to stay healthy and unique place in modern Yankee history have all contributed to his record of most games at shortstop for any one team, and the third most at any position for any team, but the Yankee management also should get some credit, not for giving in to the pressure from fans and media to keep playing Jeter at shortstop, but for recognizing that this may have been the best way to use this exceptional player, despite his shortcomings
Abreu is the kind of player who will be easily forgotten by most fans. His post-season footprint was not large for a player in the wild card era who amassed well over 9,000 regular season plate appearances. He underperformed in black ink and awards voting; and had a personality that rarely drew a great deal of attention. However, he was also a player with both an unusual skill set and career path who managed to put up numbers that would not look out of place in Cooperstown.
Major awards are frequently won by candidates who are not the most deserving, but 1979 was significant because it effected the narrative of Lynn and his teammate Rice. This narrative in turn had a strong impact on Hall of fame voting decades later. For fans of baseball in the 1970s, Lynn and Rice are linked as they were rookies together in 1975 and carried their Red Sox team to the World Series that year. Lynn won the MVP and Rookie of the Year honors that year. Three years later, in 1978 Rice emerged as the leagues best slugger and won the MVP.
Last week in a relatively minor move, the New York Yankees resigned veteran outfielder Andruw Jones to a one year contract. This is a good move for the Yankees, who will continue to use Jones as a fourth outfielder and right-handed bat as needed. It is also probably a good move for Jones, who will be slotted into a role for which he is a good fit on a team that has a decent chance of making the playoffs. Jones’ career has had an interesting trajectory. He made his debut as a 19 year old phenom for the the Atlanta Braves in 1996. He capped off that by homering in his first two World Series at bats. By the age of 20, Jones was the starting center fielder on a playoff bound team. For about a decade after that Jones was an elite player, know largely for his outstanding defense in centerfield.
The arguments against Williams are clear. He was not great defensively, was never one of the best hitters in the game, was surrounded by better players and did not play much past his prime. The arguments in favor of Williams candidacy are less obvious, but also very powerful. Williams was a very good hitter who had a very long prime. Between 1995-2002, a period of eight years, he hit .321/.406/.531, good for an OPS+ of 142. He did this while playing a key defensive position decently. Although he retired at age 37, thus truncating the decline phase of his career, he remained a useful player until the end hitting .281/.332/.436 during his last year with the Yankees.
Should Posada move on to another team next year, one of the great Yankee careers will have come to an end. Inevitably, the baseball media and blogosphere in New York, will begin questioning Posada’s credentials as a “true Yankee.” Putting aside the legitimacy of questioning the credentials of a player who played a key role in four Yankee World Series winning teams, delivering numerous big seasons and clutch hits along the way, this also draws attention to the absurdity of this term.
In all elections, whether for awards, political office or All Star Games, the election system has a big impact. This will continue to be the case for the baseball Hall of Fame and it will add another dimension to an already complex and sometimes irrational process over the next few year
No matter how badly this trial goes for Bonds, how many former baseball players testify that Bonds was involved in steroid use or how much more damage this does to Bonds’ already extremely tarnished image, it will do nothing to address the largely irrevocable damage steroids have done to baseball Nor will it approach bringing any meaningful closure to this sad period in baseball history. The Bonds trial is a legal issue, but it is also another opportunity for baseball’s leadership, and even some fans and journalists to wrongly suggest that by punishing Bonds, baseball can move beyond the steroids scandal. Blaming Bonds is easy because of his personality, but also because of how dominant the steroid using Bonds was, but blaming Bonds is ultimately just another attempt by baseball to look away from steroid abuse, just as it did in 1998.
The tail end of the period when Mays, Mantle and Snider dominated baseball and center field, saw the rise of another four players who would all play the same position for over a decade and all rank among the greatest ever at that position. Between 1956 and 1970, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline and Frank Robinson all starred in right field and were among the best players in the game. Aaraon and Robinson are among the five greatest right fielders ever, while Clemente and Kaline are probably still among the top ten.
Henry Aaron turned 77 on Saturday. Somehow it seemed appropriate that Aaron’s birthday, as might be expected, was overshadowed by the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth. Aaron’s birthday receiving almost no attention demonstrates how the he remains bewilderingly underrated in his retirement, just as he was during his career. Aaron retired as the all time leader in home runs and RBIs and among the top three in hits. His career numbers of .305/.374/.555 were good for a career OPS+ of 155 which, while not in the same ballpark as Babe Ruth or Ted Williams, are still very good. These numbers are even more impressive because Aaron accumulated them over 23 seasons and 13,940 plate appearances. This latter number is the third most ever, but was good enough for first at the time Aaron retired. However, Aaron, who was overshadowed by Willie Mays for most of his career, is still oddly underrated by most casual students of baseball’s past.
There is a small minority of fans who seem to fetishize prospects, and would like their teams to essentially never play for the present, but to accumulate as many prospects or draft picks as possible. These fans are the baseball equivalent ofShel Silverstein’s Lester who used all his wished for more wishes and ended up dead surrounded by his wishes. Fans that always want to trade away players for prospects because the prospect or the draft pick might hold something better are like the guy at the party who is constantly looking over the shoulder of whoever he is talking to looking for somebody more attractive. The team that is run that way will never win anything, just as the guy at the party will always go home alone.
The Giants have won the World Series bringing the championship to San Francisco for the first time ever! When Buster Posey caught the third strike on Nelson Cruz, a journey which began with my mother dropping off me, my brother and our friend Charles, who back then was known as Tony, on the corner of Clay and Van Ness in San Francisco sometime in the mid 1970s, ended in a hotel room in Tbilisi, Georgia more than 30 years later. Those spring and summer mornings, my mother would give each of us seven dollars-three for a ticket in the upper reserved section of old Candlestick Park, the remainder was for bus fare and food. When the bus driver was in a good mood and only charged fifty cents for the ballpark express, there was plenty left over for hot dogs, soda, popcorn and ice cream, but if the driver charged two dollars or more, it made for a hungry day at the ‘Stick.