December 6, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Friday, October 26, 2012
“The Walking Man” sounds like it might have been a prequel to The Running Man, the 1987 cult film that featured a devious Richard Dawson as a sadistic game show host. In this case, The Walking Man refers to former major league third baseman Eddie Yost, who died earlier this month at the age of 86.
Yost first came into my consciousness in the 1970s, when he was a perennial member of the Mets’ coaching staffs. Regardless of the manager, the Mets always seemed to have Yost, Joe Pignatano, and Rube Walker in their employ as coaches. (It was common for coaches to stay with teams for long stretches back then, even with changes of managers.) I did not know much about Yost at the time, other than figuring he was a loyal company man who could work for any manager. Well, there was more to Yost than met the eye.
Eddie Yost is proof positive that if you can control the strike zone then you can prosper in the major leagues, even if your other skills are only average. Yost was not a particularly slick defensive third baseman; in fact he was likely average to below-average. He hit with some power, but his home run totals were compressed by the pitcher-friendly dimensions of Griffith Stadium in Washington. His lifetime batting average was a mediocre .254. Nor was he was an accomplished basestealer. Yet, he lasted for 18 seasons in large part because of his ability to draw walks and reach base as the leadoff man for the Washington Senators. In so doing, The Walking Man found a unique way to contribute as an above-average major league player.
Originally signed by the Senators in 1944, Yost bypassed the minor leagues completely and made his major league debut that August. (It helped him that the Senators were not a good team and that many of the major leagues’ best players had already been called to military service.) Then the reality of World War II hit Yost himself, forcing him to give up all of his 1945 season. He returned from the Navy to play briefly in 1946, before receiving a regular shot at playing time. But for the rest of the 1940s, he struggled, failing to gain traction as a hitter. Perhaps only Washington’s status as a second-division club kept Yost in the lineup, or in the major leagues at all.
Still only 24 years of age, Yost found his way in 1950. He hit a career-best .295. He reached double figures in home runs. And his walk numbers exploded. After drawing a plentiful 91 walks in 1949, he pumped that figure up to a league leading 141 in 1950. He became a master of the strike zone, able to recognize pitches and whether they fell within the confines of the zone, or faded just outside of its perimeter. He also became a master of fouling off pitches, particularly with two strikes. With an on-base percentage of .440, Yost had arrived as an offensive force and a pest to opposing pitchers.
That summer marked the beginning of a stretch of seven seasons in which Yost accumulated at least 123 walks six times and led the league in bases on balls four times. He was also amazingly durable during that stretch, as he played in 152 or more games six times. He also made his lone All-Star team during that span of seasons, as he was selected by Casey Stengel despite being in the midst of a .233 season.
Stengel and the Yankees coveted Yost for much of the early 1950s. They felt that Yost would help them immensely at third base. They initiated trade talks with the Senators on several occasions, but could never finalize a deal for The Walking Man.
Yost’s numbers, along with his durability, fell off in 1957 and ‘58. With Harmon Killebrew projected as the team’s future third baseman, the Senators traded Yost and colorful infielder Rocky Bridges to the Tigers for a package that included outfielder Jim Delsing. Yost enjoyed a revival with the Tigers. In two seasons with Detroit, he led the league in walks and on-base percentage each time, and also took advantage of the dimensions at Tiger Stadium. Yost’s 21 home runs in 1959 were by far his best output. (While playing in Washington, Yost had played at a distinct disadvantage; the left field dimensions at Griffith Stadium made it a nightmare for right-handed hitters. From 1944 to 1953, Yost had hit only three home runs in Washington’s cavernous bone yard.)
The Tigers would have liked to keep Yost, but he was now 33, so they left him exposed in the expansion draft. The Los Angles Angels selected him, made him their leadoff man, and watched him become the first batter in the history of the franchise.
Unfortunately, Yost’s skills left him by the time he joined the Haloes. With his hitting and power completely diminished, and with pitchers challenging him more often, Yost’s ability to draw walks was all that remained. That was not enough to keep him in the lineup, nor in the major leagues. After the 1962 season, Yost called it quits.
If not for his walking, Yost would not have had nearly the career that he did. His lifetime on-base percentage was better than several Hall of Fame hitting masters, including Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, Frank Robinson and Willie Mays. Of all players who are not Hall of Famers and are eligible for election, Yost stands as the career leader in walks. On the all-time list, he currently ranks 11th in bases on balls.
As someone who controlled and studied the strike zone, Yost was regarded as an intelligent player. He was also bright enough to become the American League’s player representative. So it was no surprise when he became a coach, first with the Angels, and then with the Senators, Mets and Red Sox. He also managed the Senators for one game.
When Gil Hodges left the Senators and became the manager of the Mets in 1968, he brought Yost with him from the Washington staff and made him his third base coach. After the Mets stunned the universe by winning the World Championship, rumors surfaced that the Twins would hire Yost as Billy Martin’s replacement. But it never happened, so Yost returned to New York.
After Hodges’ death in the spring of 1972, Yost remained on the Mets’ staff, working first for Yogi Berra and then for Roy McMillan. He continued as third base coach until 1976, when the Mets hired a new manager in Joe Frazier, who decided to cut Yost loose. The Red Sox snapped up Yost as third base coach, keeping him there until 1984. By the time he retired, Yost had accumulated 22 seasons as a third base coach.
Twenty-two seasons of coaching, along with 18 seasons of playing. That’s a pretty good career for a player whose major strength was his ability to take a walk. There should be a lesson in there: learn the strike zone, boys and girls, and you might have a chance to do what Eddie Yost did.
Ten years ago today is probably the greatest moment in Angels history. Well, Angels fans might consider tomorrow the anniversary of their greatest moment, but clearly the better game took place on Oct. 26.
On Oct. 26, 2002, the Angels faced the Giants in Game Six of the World Series and they needed a win badly. The Giants led three games to two and the Angels would either win or have their season end on this night.
Early on all signs pointed to a sad season finale for the Angels. Anaheim didn’t get a single hit until the fourth inning and failed to get a runner to second base until the bottom of the sixth.
By that time, the Giants had a lead. Though Angels starting pitcher Kevin Appier got off to a nice start with a series of scoreless innings, in the fifth the Giants tagged him. Shawon Dunston belted a two-run homer off Appier. When Appier continued to struggle, manager Mike Scioscia immediately yanked him. With the season on the brink this was no time to give his pitcher much leeway.
Unfortunately, Anaheim’s normally first-class bullpen had a bad night. Young stud Francisco Rodriguez allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch for a 3-0 lead. In the next inning Barry Bonds smacked a homer off Rodriguez for a 4-0 advantage. In the top of the seventh, Rodriguez—still in the game—surrendered an RBI single to former MVP Jeff Kent.
When the seventh inning stretch came, the Angels trailed 5-0. No team playing a must-win game had ever come back from such a large deficit—and the Angels had just nine outs left to play with. That’s what’s called looking bleak, kids.
But Anaheim refused to give up. In the bottom of the seventh, they quickly had back-to-back singles. That was enough for Giants manager Dusty Baker to yank starter Russ Ortiz. Though Ortiz hadn’t allowed any runs, he’d never been dominating and now he was tiring. In came Felix Rodriguez, a middling reliever in 2002, though a great one the year before.
The first batter he faced was infielder Scott Spiezio, who fought him hard. Spieizio fouled off three pitches in a row at one point and worked Rodriguez to a full count. On the eighth pitch of the duel, Spieizio got a pitch he liked—and he knocked it out of the park.
That’s just what the Angels needed. Now it was 5-3. Eventually the innings came to an end without any more runs scoring. The Giants still had a nice advantage, and with now just six outs left.
In the eighth, the Giants had Tim Worrell on the mound, and he had a career year in 2002, posting a 2.25 ERA over 80 outings.
But he didn’t have it. Darin Erstad led off the inning with a solo home run. Now it’s just 5-4. Then Tim Salmon singled to put the tying run on. Garret Anderson then blasted another Worrell offering into left, and thanks to a misplay by Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, runners ended up on second and third.
Now things had changed rather dramatically. The Angels had the winning run in scoring position and the tying run on third—all with no outs.
Well, this would be a good time for a new reliever, don’t you think? Yeah. It was time for the relief ace—Robb Nen came onto the field. Nen posted a 2.20 ERA while saving 43 games in 2002 and had been an effective closer for years.
But not today. He’d been placed in a dangerous situation, but he surrendered a double to the first batter he faced, third baseman Troy Glaus, and now for the first time all night the Angels had the lead.
They didn’t score again, but they didn’t need to. In the ninth, Troy Percival pitched a nice 1-2-3 inning, and that was it. The Angels had forced a Game Seven, and the Angels would win that, too.
Oh, and that turned out to be the last game for two key Giants players in that game. Shawon Dunston, he of the home run early in this game, would not appear in Game Seven and be unable to land a contract for 2003. More notably, that ended the career or Robb Nen. He didn’t appear in Game Seven and needed surgery in the offseason, surgery that ended his career.
Their careers ended in a great game, a great game that took place 10 years ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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Game Two of the World Series, and the season is one game closer to its end. Enjoy this while you can, folks: it's a hundred umpteen days to pitchers and catchers.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Tigers 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Giants 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 X 2 (Giants lead series 2-0) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Tigers 4 13 5 15 6 10 20 11 6 Giants 4 23 5 5 6 10 31 11 X WPS Base: 186.0 Best Plays: 31.6 Last Play: 0.9 Grand Total: 218.5
This one was better than San Francisco's last five games, but still not close to the median index of 300. Why did a tight game produce a low score? Two reasons. One, like those five games before it, the first team to score never relinquished the lead, never even fell back to a tie. The first run may as well have been the last. Two, the pitchers' duel between Madison Bumgarner and Doug Fister was a little too good. They rarely gave the opponents even a chance to score in an inning. Inevitability, even the appearance thereof, is the enemy of excitement.
One of those few early moments of danger came in the Tigers' second, when with none away, Prince Fielder tried to score from first on Delmon Young's double down the left-field line. A good relay by Marco Scutaro and a nifty tag by Buster Posey halted the runaway cement mixer a foot shy of glory. Beyond Fielder's widely-known unfamiliarity with the high end of the speedometer, it was a dubious situation to send a runner. Using Run Expectancy numbers for the 2012 season (from Baseball Prospectus), I calculate that sending the runner has to succeed 87.2 percent of the time to be a break-even play. A green light here was probably a bad idea.
It must be said that this play, and two others like it, squeezed through a loophole in the WPS system to appear less exciting than they were. When base advancement and an out combine in one play, the positive and negative elements cancel, and you're left with a much reduced score. The Fielder play was one example. Two others were the plays where the Giants scored their two runs. Hunter Pence scored in the seventh on a 4-6-3 double play by Brandon Crawford, and Angel Pagan came home in the eighth on Pence's sacrifice fly.
The game may have been decided by the varying quality of the shutout work the starting pitchers were doing. Madison Bumgarner threw just 72 pitches through six innings. Doug Fister had to throw 108 to get through six, and he was pulled after yielding a leadoff walk in the seventh. The Tigers bullpen, called on earlier, showed itself weaker. The first two Detroit relievers walked the first man they faced, contributing markedly to the Giants' runs in the seventh and eighth. Bumgarner, pulled only for a pinch hitter, was backed up by perfection from Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo.
(By the way, Romo was truly impressive in filling air-time during his dugout interview with Buck and McCarver in the fourth inning. The man has a lot to say, and says it fast. The interview also confirmed that he's a bit of a nut, but this is fairly standard for relief pitchers, and he's probably still No. 2 in the pen behind Brian Wilson.)
Maybe I've started tuning out the announcers, because my Tim-ism file is not too thick. One he did produce was his amazement at Miguel Cabrera's pitch-by-pitch recall of an at-bat in the 2003 World Series where he homered off Roger Clemens, waxing rhapsodic over his incredible memory. Cabrera may have a great memory, but really. If I hit a home run off Rocket in the World Series, it'd be something I'd be reliving often, by myself and with others asking about it. That memory would be kept fresh with repeated recall, plus maybe the occasional look at the video. Let's see him remember an anonymous May 2007 game against the Devil Rays, and then I will be amazed.
I've noticed that, before the bottom of the first in each game this postseason, the PA at AT&T Park has been playing "Eye of the Tiger." I would suggest that the public address staff check the opponents' jerseys ... but really, can you say it's been hurting the home team here?
And finally, our Marlins fan was back in his appointed spot, and it does turn out that he is a Marlins fan, not a Giants backer who threw on the first orange shirt in reach. SB Nation actually interviewed the man, and Laurence Leavy sounds like a pretty good guy, so I gladly withdraw any slights on his character I may have made, suggested, or implied yesterday.
But I stand by calling the Marlins' new logo something out of Lovecraft. I mean, look how fast it drove Ozzie Guillen mad.
We reconvene on Saturday in Detroit. The Tigers, and the WPS Index, could use a nice jolt there.