Enlivening the Mid-1970s: Part Two

Last time, we introduced our suspicion that the baseball in use from 1974 through 1976 was less lively than normal, and thus depressed power hitting by a factor of about 20%. We presented our methodology of adjusting the numbers to simulate a more typical hitting environment, and took a look at the resulting stat lines (presented in blue) of many of the more prominent batters. This time we’ll focus on the game’s most elite stars.

A Trio of Top-Notch Center Fielders

Rick Monday

While not quite as good, Monday was a remarkably similar player to Jim Edmonds: a lefty batter and thrower, a big, athletic, graceful center fielder, a patient power hitter who was prone to striking out, and prone to getting hurt.

There’s a tendency among some modern fans to assume that all leadoff hitters of the 1960s and 1970s were slap-hitting speedsters with dubious OBP skills. It is true that there were several prominent such guys, in particular Luis Aparicio, Maury Wills, and Bert Campaneris. But it wasn’t at all true that such was the only manner of leadoff hitter around: Monday usually led off for the Cubs, and other power-hitting, high-strikeout leadoff men of the period included Bobby Bonds, Tommie Agee, and Tommy Harper.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  27   554    93   148    24     5    26    56    92   124  .267  .372  .469   .841
  1974  28   541    88   161    20     7    24    61    69    95  .298  .377  .498   .875
  1975  29   493    93   133    31     4    21    63    82    96  .270  .374  .477   .851
  1976  30   537   112   148    22     5    39    81    59   126  .275  .347  .554   .901
  1977  31   392    47    90    13     1    15    48    60   109  .230  .330  .383   .713
  1978  32   342    54    87    14     1    19    57    49   100  .254  .348  .468   .816
  1979  33    33     2    10     0     0     0     2     5     6  .303  .395  .303   .698

Cesar Cedeño

In 1973 it was only a question of how deeply within the Hall of Fame’s inner circle Cedeño would land, yet by 1979 he was playing first base and hitting rather like a middle infielder. His rapid injury-plagued deterioration has always raised the question in my mind of Cedeño’s true age, but even if he actually was two or three or even five years older than purported, that was still quite a descent.

Tremendous as the hitting and base running of the (however) young Cedeño were, the most impressive thing about him was his center field defense: he covered the vast green of the Astrodome as though it were the size of a pool table, and his arm was a shoulder-fired missile launcher.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  22   525    86   168    35     2    25    70    41    79  .320  .376  .537   .913
  1974  23   613   100   167    31     5    32   107    63   104  .273  .340  .496   .836
  1975  24   503    98   147    33     3    16    66    61    52  .292  .368  .466   .834
  1976  25   578    93   174    28     5    22    87    54    51  .301  .361  .482   .843
  1977  26   530    92   148    36     8    14    71    47    50  .279  .346  .457   .803
  1978  27   192    31    54     8     2     7    23    15    24  .281  .333  .453   .786
  1979  28   470    57   123    27     4     6    54    64    52  .262  .348  .374   .722

Amos Otis

He was a bit fragile, but beyond that Otis was, as old Royals’ fan Bill James loved to observe, a plus player in every department.

So just how good would Joe Foy have had to turn out to be in order to make the Mets’ Otis-for-Foy trade come out even? Let’s not even consider Bob Johnson, the other guy the Mets included in the deal, whom the Royals were able to turn around and convert into Freddie Patek. Let’s ignore that part and just consider how well Foy would have had to play to be the equal of Otis.

Foy was just 26 when the Mets acquired him, and certainly they anticipated he would plug their third base hole for years to come. Otis, playing center field for the Royals, would earn between 17 and 29 Win Shares every season from 1970 through 1979, an average of 23.7 per year. How typical is it for a third baseman to have a run like that?

Graig Nettles was the best third baseman over the complete decade of the 1970s. Over the seasons 1970 through ’79—the best 10-year run of Nettles’ career—he never had a year with as many as 29 Win Shares, and earned an average of 22.2. Ron Cey, another terrific third baseman of the period, also never had a 29-Win Share season, and earned an average of 22.1 per year over his best 10 seasons.

Ken Boyer, the outstanding all-around third baseman for the Cardinals of the ’50s and ’60s, a seven-time All-Star and an MVP winner, earned 23.1 in his best 10 years. Bob Elliott, another power-hitting MVP winner, comes in at 23.0. Pie Traynor, the line-drive-hitting defensive wizard of the 1920s, puts up a 22.5. Jimmy Collins, the Hall of Famer generally regarded as the first great modern third baseman, clocks in at 23.0.

There have been, of course, a few third basemen who’ve put up better decade-long Win Share totals than Otis did as a center fielder. But the point is you have to get into the truly all-time elite to find them: Eddie Mathews (32.6), Ron Santo (27.5), Mike Schmidt (33.0), George Brett (27.0), and Wade Boggs (28.6). (Brooks Robinson comes in only slightly ahead of Otis, at 23.9.) That’s a telling measure of how remarkably well Otis did, and what kind of a tall order Foy faced to match it.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  26   583    89   175    21     4    26    93    63    47  .300  .368  .484   .852
  1974  27   555    91   160    33    10    15    77    57    68  .288  .355  .462   .817
  1975  28   472    91   118    28     6    11    48    65    48  .250  .341  .406   .747
  1976  29   595    98   168    43     2    22    90    54   101  .282  .342  .473   .815
  1977  30   478    85   120    20     8    17    78    71    88  .251  .342  .433   .775
  1978  31   486    74   145    30     7    22    96    66    54  .298  .380  .525   .905
  1979  32   577   100   170    28     2    18    90    68    92  .295  .369  .444   .813
A Quartet of Capital Catchers

Thurman Munson

Munson’s place in the popular consciousness is intriguing. When he was playing, Munson was a huge star, capturing an MVP (which in retrospect seems of questionable worthiness) and being universally respected (though not much liked) as a fearless, fiercely tough winner. His tragic mid-season death, which eliminated a decline-phase perspective from his career, might have ensured that Munson would become a larger-than-life figure in memory, deified by the Big Apple media into an unforgettable All-Time Great.

But somehow that’s never really happened. Munson today seems somewhat forgotten: dismissed by experts as having been overrated, and having been eclipsed in the Yankee Pantheon by Donnie Baseball in the 1980s, and the array of celebrated Bronx stars of the 1990s and 2000s.

Munson wasn’t as great a player as his reputation in the 1970s had it, but neither should he be overlooked. He was a fine-hitting catcher, solid defensively and amazingly durable, and his on-field presence truly did transcend his numerical contribution. He was a genuinely memorable player.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  26   519    80   156    29     4    20    74    48    64  .301  .362  .487   .849
  1974  27   520    67   138    20     2    16    63    43    67  .265  .321  .404   .725
  1975  28   601    87   194    26     3    15   107    44    52  .322  .369  .449   .818
  1976  29   619    83   189    29     1    21   110    29    38  .306  .336  .457   .793
  1977  30   595    85   183    28     5    18   100    39    55  .308  .351  .462   .813
  1978  31   617    73   183    27     1     6    71    35    70  .297  .332  .373   .705
  1979  32   382    42   110    18     3     3    39    32    37  .288  .340  .374   .714

Ted Simmons

Simba, on the other hand, seems somehow better regarded today than he generally was when he played. At the time, he was considered a pretty poor defensive catcher, and his rather goofy, fun-loving personality seemed to define his reputation more than his amazing bat. But from today’s vantage point we see more clearly just what a remarkable hitter Simmons was.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  23   619    62   192    36     2    13    91    61    47  .310  .370  .438   .808
  1974  24   602    69   166    36     6    24   108    46    35  .276  .327  .478   .805
  1975  25   585    84   197    34     3    22   105    62    35  .336  .400  .519   .919
  1976  26   549    63   162    38     3     6    79    72    35  .295  .377  .409   .785
  1977  27   516    82   164    25     3    21    95    79    37  .318  .408  .500   .908
  1978  28   516    71   148    40     5    22    80    77    39  .287  .377  .512   .889
  1979  29   448    68   127    22     0    26    87    61    34  .283  .369  .507   .876

Carlton Fisk

Pudge in the 1970s was considered a potential superstar whose career was being severely marred by injuries. The Ageless Iron Man chapter he would write in Chicago was unimaginable at the time.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  25   508    65   125    21     0    26    71    37    99  .246  .309  .441   .750
  1974  26   188    38    57    13     1    13    27    24    23  .303  .381  .598   .979
  1975  27   265    49    89    15     4    12    55    27    32  .335  .396  .562   .958
  1976  28   489    80   126    18     5    21    61    55    72  .258  .333  .445   .778
  1977  29   536   106   169    26     3    26   102    75    85  .315  .402  .521   .923
  1978  30   571    94   162    39     5    20    88    71    83  .284  .366  .475   .841
  1979  31   320    49    87    23     2    10    42    10    38  .272  .304  .450   .754

Johnny Bench

Most everyone in the mid-1970s did appreciate how extraordinary it was to have such a group of terrific catchers in their primes, and Bench was unquestionably (and properly) regarded as the greatest among them. The rather rapid physical breakdown he would encounter in his 30s, and the unsuccessful conversion to third base (which we discussed here), were as yet unknown, and Bench through this period was held in near-awe.

Bench was the best-throwing catcher I have yet seen; the strength and accuracy of his arm was simply astounding. As a hitter, he could be pitched to: he attempted to pull everything, and thus saw a steady diet of low-and-away off-speed stuff that often resulted in topped grounders. But Bench was just so strong. His brawny shoulders, thick arms, and immense hands allowed him to wield a long heavy bat as though it were a hollow plastic Wiffle Ball model, and without over-swinging Bench calmly produced rockets that, if they didn’t clear the left field wall, seemed ready to pierce it.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  25   557    83   141    17     3    25   104    83    83  .253  .345  .429   .774
  1974  26   624   113   177    41     2    40   135    79    91  .284  .364  .550   .914
  1975  27   533    87   153    42     1    34   115    64   109  .287  .363  .562   .925
  1976  28   467    65   111    26     1    20    78    80    96  .238  .349  .423   .772
  1977  29   494    67   136    34     2    31   109    58    95  .275  .348  .540   .888
  1978  30   393    52   102    17     1    23    73    50    83  .260  .340  .483   .823
  1979  31   464    73   128    19     0    22    80    67    73  .276  .364  .459   .823
Some Old Lions

Dick Allen

Okay, Allen wasn’t really very old at this point, but he was certainly in the process of physically falling apart, and he retired at least once in here. When healthy, and when willing, Allen swung one of the most potent bats that anyone has ever swung.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  31   250    39    79    20     3    16    41    33    51  .316  .394  .612  1.006
  1974  32   465    88   142    25     1    39    92    56    90  .305  .380  .615   .995
  1975  33   418    57    99    23     3    15    65    57   110  .237  .328  .411   .739
  1976  34   299    55    81    17     1    18    51    36    63  .272  .351  .520   .871
  1977  35   171    19    41     4     0     5    31    24    36  .240  .330  .351   .681

Carl Yastrzemski

Like Allen, Yastrzemski was a gifted natural athlete, probably capable of excelling at the professional level in any number of sports. It’s easy to picture Allen as a light-heavyweight boxer, or as a free safety for the Eagles, and it’s easy to picture Yaz on the pro tennis tour, or as a defenseman for the Bruins.

But that’s where the similarities end. Allen was garrulous, and craved attention of any kind, while Yaz was kind of cranky, and never seemed comfortable in the spotlight. Allen’s attention to fielding was spotty and careless, while Yaz was intensely engaged in the defensive challenge, seeming to relish fielding more than hitting. And Allen’s approach to training involved mostly cigarettes and beer, while Yaz was a conditioning fanatic, devoting himself to weightlifting long before the practice was widely accepted in baseball.

The latter distinction between the two players plays out vividly in the shape their respective careers took in their 30s. While Allen became overweight and chronically hurt, Yaz was trim and durable, seeming to show no signs of age at all, remaining a consistent and productive regular right through the decade.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  33   540    82   160    25     4    19    95   105    58  .296  .407  .463   .870
  1974  34   518    98   158    27     2    18    83   102    48  .305  .420  .471   .891
  1975  35   546    95   149    32     1    17    63    79    68  .273  .364  .430   .794
  1976  36   549    74   149    25     2    26   107    86    68  .271  .369  .464   .834
  1977  37   558    99   165    27     3    28   102    73    40  .296  .372  .505   .877
  1978  38   523    70   145    21     2    17    81    76    44  .277  .367  .423   .790
  1979  39   518    69   140    28     1    21    87    62    46  .270  .346  .450   .796

Willie Stargell

The most “Similar Batter” to Stargell on baseball-reference.com is McCovey, and their similarities extend well beyond their left-handed slugging exploits. Both were extraordinarily warm personalities, genuinely beloved by their teammates. The towering leadership stature of “Pops” Stargell amid the “We Are Famalee” Pirates of 1979 gained him a co-MVP award at the age of 39 despite not playing enough to qualify for the league batting crowns (he would have tied for fifth in slugging).

This exercise adds 15 home runs to Stargell’s career total, giving him 490.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  33   522   106   156    43     3    44   119    80   129  .299  .392  .646  1.038
  1974  34   511    94   156    40     4    31   101    86   107  .305  .405  .579   .984
  1975  35   464    74   139    34     2    27    94    57   110  .299  .376  .556   .932
  1976  36   430    57   112    22     3    24    68    49   102  .261  .336  .496   .832
  1977  37   186    29    51    12     0    13    35    31    55  .274  .383  .548   .931
  1978  38   390    60   115    18     2    28    97    50    93  .295  .382  .567   .949
  1979  39   424    60   119    19     0    32    82    47   105  .281  .352  .552   .904

Willie McCovey

“Stretch” McCovey became so revered in the Giants’ organization that since his retirement, the players on the club vote annually for the Willie Mac Award, presented to the one among them who most lives up to McCovey’s model of selflessness and dedication.

McCovey’s comeback season of 1977, at 39 years old and with both knees beyond shot, was quite a story. Though he appeared to be completely washed up, McCovey approached the Giants and convinced them to give him a chance in spring training on a minor league contract; the ball club consented as a courtesy, probably expecting it would amount to little more than a PR stunt. McCovey proceeded not only to make the team, but to win the starting first base job, and finish 20th in the league’s MVP vote; his 86 RBIs that season were the most he’d produced since 1970.

McCovey’s arthritic knees were so bad that since about 1990, he has been completely unable to walk. Yet, in a wheelchair he remains an ever-popular fixture at the Giants’ downtown ballpark, and the finger of the San Francisco Bay into which splash the most prodigious home run blasts by left-handed sluggers will forever be known as McCovey Cove.

McCovey here would have achieved a lifetime total of 533 home runs, surpassing Ted Willams and falling just short of Jimmie Foxx.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  35   383    52   102    14     3    29    75   105    78  .266  .420  .546   .966
  1974  36   346    56    89    20     1    27    66    94    77  .256  .416  .555   .971
  1975  37   415    45   106    18     0    28    71    56    81  .255  .344  .503   .847
  1976  38   227    21    47    10     0     9    38    24    43  .207  .281  .362   .644
  1977  39   478    54   134    21     0    28    86    67   106  .280  .367  .500   .867
  1978  40   351    32    80    19     2    12    64    36    57  .228  .298  .396   .694
  1979  41   353    34    88     9     0    15    57    36    70  .249  .318  .402   .720

Hank Aaron

In Aaron’s two victory-lap seasons with the Brewers, he didn’t have much left. But in his run toward Babe Ruth’s record, with the Braves at ages 35 through 40, Bad Henry was a relentless long ball machine.

This exercise has him winding up with 764 … would that be within Barry’s reach?

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  39   392    84   118    12     1    40    96    68    51  .301  .402  .643  1.045
  1974  40   342    49    93    17     0    24    72    38    29  .271  .345  .536   .881
  1975  41   467    47   111    17     2    15    63    69    51  .238  .336  .378   .714
  1976  42   272    23    63     9     0    12    37    34    38  .232  .318  .398   .717
And Some Young Lions

Fred Lynn

Even in his early career, Lynn was prone to injury, and maddeningly inconsistent. But when he was at his best, few have ever been much better.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1974  22    43     5    18     2     2     2    10     6     6  .419  .490  .698  1.188
  1975  23   531   108   178    51     7    26   110    61    91  .336  .404  .604  1.008
  1976  24   510    80   162    34     8    12    68    47    68  .318  .375  .490   .866
  1977  25   497    81   129    29     5    18    76    51    63  .260  .327  .447   .774
  1978  26   541    75   161    33     3    22    82    75    50  .298  .380  .492   .872
  1979  27   531   116   177    42     1    39   122    82    79  .333  .423  .637  1.060

Jim Rice

Like Lynn, Rice’s raw stats were significantly boosted by the Fenway Park effect, but like Lynn, raw stats that good are still hugely impressive. From the vantage point of 1979, both appeared to be on the inside track to Cooperstown, but for both, that would be the high point.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1974  21    67     6    18     2     1     1    14     4    12  .269  .312  .390   .703
  1975  22   567    97   177    31     4    27   107    35   123  .312  .353  .525   .878
  1976  23   584    79   167    27     8    31    89    28   124  .286  .318  .518   .836
  1977  24   644   104   206    29    15    39   114    53   120  .320  .376  .593   .969
  1978  25   677   121   213    25    15    46   139    58   126  .315  .370  .600   .970
  1979  26   619   117   201    39     6    39   130    57    97  .325  .381  .596   .977

Dave Parker

Speaking of tremendous young players who took a wrong turn on the way to Cooperstown … Parker would soon hang a u-turn straight into a ditch, from which it would take him several years to emerge.

Following this year’s Home Run Contest telecast the evening before the All-Star Game, did you leave the TV on, and watch the celebrity/retired-All-Star softball game? Against my better judgment, I did, and it was pretty much the predictable waste of time. However, one moment redeemed it: since Parker and Gary Carter were both taking part in the softball game, they intercut a replay of the throw Parker made during the 1979 All-Star Game, which Carter received to put the tag on Brian Downing. Parker’s clothesline on-the-fly strike from medium-deep right field was, to this day, the single greatest throw I have ever witnessed.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  22   139    17    40     9     1     4    14     2    27  .288  .308  .453   .761
  1974  23   221    28    63    11     3     5    30    10    53  .286  .316  .429   .745
  1975  24   561    79   175    38    11    31   106    37    90  .312  .355  .580   .936
  1976  25   540    86   171    30    11    16    94    30    81  .317  .352  .500   .852
  1977  26   637   107   215    44     8    21    88    58   107  .338  .397  .531   .928
  1978  27   581   102   194    32    12    30   117    57    92  .334  .394  .585   .979
  1979  28   622   109   193    45     7    25    94    67   101  .310  .380  .526   .906

George Foster

Foster’s career took an odd shape: he struggled for quite a while before getting it going, and he faded quickly after reaching his peak. But what a peak it was. The impossibly slim-waisted Foster generated spectacular power for a few years.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  24    39     6    11     3     0     4     9     4     7  .282  .349  .667  1.016
  1974  25   277    33    74    19     0     9    43    30    52  .268  .338  .431   .769
  1975  26   466    74   142    26     4    28    82    39    74  .304  .358  .559   .917
  1976  27   565    90   175    23    10    35   127    51    90  .310  .367  .572   .939
  1977  28   615   124   197    31     2    52   149    61   107  .320  .382  .631  1.013
  1978  29   604    97   170    26     7    40   120    70   138  .281  .360  .546   .906
  1979  30   440    68   133    18     3    30    98    59   105  .302  .386  .561   .947

Dave Winfield

Winfield, an amazingly talented all-around athlete, was also somewhat slow to develop after skipping over the minor leagues altogether. He never would scale quite the offensive heights of any of these others, but once he reached his peak Winfield just sort of held it forever, far outlasting all the rest of these guys, and breezing into the Hall of Fame.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  21   141     9    39     4     1     3    12    12    19  .277  .331  .383   .714
  1974  22   500    60   134    19     4    24    79    39    97  .269  .322  .471   .793
  1975  23   512    78   139    22     2    18    80    68    83  .271  .356  .429   .785
  1976  24   495    85   142    28     4    16    72    64    79  .286  .368  .456   .824
  1977  25   615   104   169    29     7    25    92    58    75  .275  .335  .467   .802
  1978  26   587    88   181    30     5    24    97    55    81  .308  .367  .499   .866
  1979  27   597    97   184    27    10    34   118    85    71  .308  .395  .558   .953
Three Emerging High-Average Specialists

In addition to their remarkable base hit production, a characteristic these three shared was baserunning ferocity: you did not want to be a middle infielder trying to turn a double play in the face of one of these charging rhinos.

Bill Madlock

Looking at Madlock’s major league stats, including breaking in with that .351 September call-up at the age of 22, you’d think he was one of those guys who were hitting line drives right out of the womb. But the fact is Madlock hadn’t hit especially well in the minors before that year: he hit .269 in Class A in 1970, .234 in Double-A in 1971, and then .292 in 192 at-bats in combined Double-A and Triple-A in ’72. Then suddenly in 1973, with Spokane in the Pacific Coast League, things clicked: Madlock hit .338 (second in the league) with 22 homers (fifth) in 491 at-bats before the late-season promotion to the majors. He would basically stay hot for the next decade or so.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  22    77    16    27     5     3     1     5     7     9  .351  .412  .532   .944
  1974  23   456    68   145    23     5    11    57    41    39  .317  .374  .463   .837
  1975  24   517    81   185    31     7     9    67    41    34  .358  .406  .497   .903
  1976  25   517    71   177    39     1    18    88    55    27  .343  .406  .528   .934
  1977  26   533    70   161    28     1    12    46    43    33  .302  .360  .426   .786
  1978  27   447    76   138    26     3    15    44    48    39  .309  .378  .481   .859
  1979  28   560    85   167    26     5    14    85    52    41  .298  .355  .438   .793

Hal McRae

McRae’s late-20s transformation from a pull-oriented fly ball hitter (and a utility man) into an all-fields line drive hitter (and a star), under the tutelage of batting guru Charley Lau, was simply astonishing. Few such frog-into-a-prince stories unfold at the major league level.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  27   338    36    79    18     3     9    50    34    38  .234  .312  .385   .697
  1974  28   542    74   170    39     4    18    92    53    69  .314  .375  .502   .877
  1975  29   483    61   150    41     6     6    74    46    47  .310  .370  .459   .830
  1976  30   530    79   178    37     5    10    77    63    43  .336  .407  .481   .887
  1977  31   641   104   191    54    11    21    92    59    43  .298  .366  .515   .881
  1978  32   623    90   170    39     5    16    72    51    62  .273  .329  .429   .758
  1979  33   393    55   113    32     4    10    74    38    46  .288  .351  .466   .817

George Brett

Lau’s other celebrated pupil in Kansas City was so immensely talented that he’d have likely been a star no matter who was his batting coach. But the particular contact-oriented, gap-to-gap approach Lau instilled in Brett produced a wonderfully fun hitter to watch. Those of us who were too young to have witnessed Stan Musial got to see the next-best thing here.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  20    40     2     5     2     0     0     0     0     5  .125  .125  .175   .300
  1974  21   459    51   131    23     5     2    49    21    38  .286  .317  .374   .691
  1975  22   638    88   199    38    14    13    93    45    49  .312  .357  .477   .834
  1976  23   649    99   219    37    15     9    70    48    36  .337  .383  .479   .862
  1977  24   564   105   176    32    13    22    88    55    24  .312  .373  .532   .905
  1978  25   510    79   150    45     8     9    62    39    35  .294  .342  .467   .809
  1979  26   645   119   212    42    20    23   107    51    36  .329  .376  .563   .939
The High Priests of High Average

Pete Rose

We elaborated here on what a pure joy it was to watch Rose play ball.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  32   680   115   230    36     8     5    64    65    42  .338  .401  .437   .838
  1974  33   655   115   188    48     7     4    54   104    54  .288  .385  .401   .786
  1975  34   666   118   214    51     4     9    78    88    50  .321  .400  .449   .849
  1976  35   669   136   219    45     6    12    66    85    54  .327  .403  .469   .872
  1977  36   655    95   204    38     7     9    64    66    42  .311  .377  .432   .809
  1978  37   655   103   198    51     3     7    52    62    30  .302  .362  .421   .783
  1979  38   628    90   208    40     5     4    59    95    32  .331  .418  .430   .848

Rod Carew

Rose and Carew had a lot in common. Both were young second basemen who blew through the minor leagues in three seasons, leapfrogging Triple-A altogether. Both then burst onto the major league scene with runaway Rookie of the Year performances. Both were adequate defensively at second, though not outstanding, but both were moved off the position after a few years more as an injury-prevention measure than as a function of fielding inadequacy: both were considered just too valuable at the plate to be left exposed to rolling blocks in the field.

Both Rose and Carew were essentially singles hitters, but both in mid-career developed the capacity to deliver the more-than-occasional home run, and both lost that power as they aged. Both were rather impatient hitters when young, but both gradually developed an outstanding capacity to draw walks.

Yet for all their similarities, as personalities Rose and Carew could hardly have been more different: Rose was ebullient and pugnacious, while Carew was laconic and imperturbable. And in the batter’s box they were near-opposites as well: while both hit from a pronounced crouch, Rose, beefily muscular, intensely squeezed his bat and was a tightly coiled spring, pure energy lusting for release, while Carew, angular and long-limbed, seemed relaxed at the plate to the point of drowsiness, resembling nothing so much as a housecat casually perched on a windowsill, languidly contemplating the afternoon scene.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  27   580    98   203    30    11     6    62    62    55  .350  .411  .471   .882
  1974  28   603    90   222    32     5     4    58    73    49  .368  .436  .458   .894
  1975  29   539    93   196    26     4    17    84    63    40  .363  .430  .522   .952
  1976  30   609   102   204    31    13    11    94    66    52  .335  .400  .482   .882
  1977  31   616   128   239    38    16    14   100    69    55  .388  .449  .570  1.019
  1978  32   564    85   188    26    10     5    70    78    62  .333  .411  .441   .852
  1979  33   409    78   130    15     3     3    44    73    46  .318  .419  .391   .810
A Great Slugger

Reggie Jackson

Even though he was an MVP winner and a 14-time All-Star, to a great extent Jackson was perceived at the time, and has been remembered since, as a personality more than as a player. That’s a measure of just how forceful (one might even say obnoxious) Jackson’s personality was and is, because this guy was one tremendous player.

Jackson hit 563 homers despite never playing in a great home run park, and despite spending the vast bulk of his long career in one of modern history’s least home run-conducive eras. He hit 563 homers despite having only two 40-homer seasons, one coming when he was just 23 and the other when he was 34. With a home run-centric skill profile, Jackson was particularly hurt by having the Dead Ball ’70s period hit him right in the heart of his career, at ages 28 through 30. This exercise demonstrates that it cost Jackson a third 40-tater season, and this version of Mr. October winds up with a career total of 583.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  27   539    99   158    28     2    32   117    76   111  .293  .383  .531   .914
  1974  28   509    94   149    27     1    35    98    85   106  .292  .393  .558   .952
  1975  29   596    95   153    42     3    44   109    66   134  .256  .331  .559   .890
  1976  30   501    88   141    29     2    33    95    53   109  .281  .350  .545   .895
  1977  31   525    93   150    39     2    32   110    74   129  .286  .375  .550   .925
  1978  32   511    82   140    13     5    27    97    58   133  .274  .356  .477   .833
  1979  33   465    78   138    24     2    29    89    65   107  .297  .382  .544   .926
A Greater Slugger

Mike Schmidt

One home run among the many I saw Schmidt hit remains particularly vivid in memory. It was at Candlestick Park, sometime in the early 1980s. Schmidt didn’t even appear to swing hard, he seemed to be trying to poke one up the middle, and with a piercing crack a high liner was far over the fence in half a heartbeat—to right-center field. Along with being impressed, one felt something approaching despair: this just wasn’t fair. This guy belonged in some higher classification than the mere major leagues.

Schmidt’s and Jackson’s batting styles were strikingly different. Jackson joyously screwed himself into the ground trying to hit every pitch 700 feet, while Schmidt somehow never seemed quite at ease at the plate, obviously thinking hard, focusing on keeping himself balanced and not over-swinging. Yet they generated similar results in that neither was much of a pull hitter, both regularly launching their towering cannonballs to dead center.

As the most prolific home run slugger of the mid-1970s, Schmidt lost the most value of any player to the 1974-76 Dead Ball. His actual career total of 548 homers is boosted to 572 here, as he goes from three 40-dinger seasons to six.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  23   367    43    72    11     0    18    52    62   136  .196  .324  .373   .697
  1974  24   571   113   163    30     7    44   122   104   139  .285  .396  .595   .991
  1975  25   565    98   143    37     3    46   100    99   181  .253  .364  .575   .940
  1976  26   587   118   156    33     4    46   112    98   150  .266  .371  .574   .945
  1977  27   544   114   149    27    11    38   101   104   122  .274  .393  .574   .967
  1978  28   513    93   129    27     2    21    78    91   103  .251  .364  .435   .799
  1979  29   541   109   137    25     4    45   114   120   115  .253  .386  .564   .950
The Greatest Player in Baseball

Joe Morgan

In the mid-1970s, Morgan was just about as spectacular a baseball player as it’s possible to imagine anyone ever being: here was a perennial Gold Glove-winning middle infielder, stealing 60 bases a year at a success rate of well over 80%, drawing far over 100 walks a year while rarely striking out, and, for good measure, hitting well over .300 with terrific power. Some exceptional players don’t have a weakness; this was a guy who didn’t have anything but elite-caliber strengths.

He was just a little fellow, of course, 5-foot-7 on his tippy toes and 165 pounds with his pockets full of rocks. Yet Morgan didn’t tend to handle the bat in a typical little guy’s fashion. His natural stroke was a huge, full, sweeping, dead-pull uppercut; Morgan swinging was the spitting image of a Roger Maris or a Ted Williams, only pint-sized. For much of his time with the Astros, the organization attempted to get Morgan to modify his cut, to slap the ball the other way—the way little guys are supposed to. The problem was that Morgan wasn’t especially good at that; despite his incredible pitch recognition talent, such an approach from Morgan was prone to produce little more than harmless hoppers to shortstop. So Little Joe kept reverting to his natural, big swing, which would irritate Houston management into insisting that he’d never fulfill his potential doing that, and the frustrating cycle would start all over again.

In Cincinnati, manager Sparky Anderson was wise enough to just write Morgan’s name on the lineup card and leave it at that. Letting it rip, Morgan generated a relentless stream of wicked liners and towering flies, almost never hitting the ball to left field: a pattern of production typically seen in lefty sluggers at least half a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier. Morgan’s peak was so Himalayan that within a few years, as age finally caught up with him and he was dogged by chronic minor injuries, he lost his capacity to hit for average, and lost most of his speed as well—and yet remained an exceptionally good all-around second baseman until he was 40.

  Year Age    AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
  1973  29   576   116   167    35     2    26    82   111    61  .290  .406  .493   .899
  1974  30   515   112   153    33     3    27    70   118    70  .297  .428  .531   .959
  1975  31   501   112   166    29     6    21    99   130    52  .331  .469  .539  1.008
  1976  32   475   119   154    32     5    33   116   112    41  .324  .453  .623  1.076
  1977  33   521   113   150    21     6    22    78   117    58  .288  .417  .478   .895
  1978  34   441    68   104    27     0    13    75    79    40  .236  .347  .385   .732
  1979  35   436    70   109    26     1     9    32    93    45  .250  .379  .376   .755

References & Resources

Methodology

We take the seasons immediately surrounding 1974-76 (we use 1973 and 1977, ’78, and ’79; we don’t use 1971-72 because the lack of the Designated Hitter in the American League in those seasons makes the comparison overly problematic), and compute the aggregate rates of offensive production: runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, walks, and strikeouts. Then the stats of each batter for the seasons of 1974, 1975, and 1976 (presented in blue) are adjusted such that the aggregate averages of those seasons is equal to the aggregate total of 1973-77-78-79.

The multipliers are:

Runs: 1.0493
Hits: 1.0187
Doubles: 1.0774
Triples: 1.0572
Home Runs: 1.2221
Walks: 0.9834
Strikeouts: 1.0078

An impact of a greater rate of hits is an increase in at-bats, of course. I use a simple method to increase at-bats: every batter’s at-bats are increased by his number of increased hits. Outs are constant, of course, and I assume as well a constant rate of double plays and baserunning outs—probably not exactly proper assumptions, but close enough for our purposes.

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Google+0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone
« Previous: THT Daily: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Next: THT Daily: The Circle of Baseball »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *