December 11, 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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Saturday, March 30, 2013
It’s easy to overlook how fine a player Gus Triandos was during the 1950s. After all, he wasn’t a Hall of Famer, and never received the promotional boost that comes with performing in the postseason. His prime seasons occurred for some non-contending Orioles teams, and that will always prevent him from receiving his full due. But Triandos, who died on Thursday at the age of 82, could play the game.
Triandos came up with the Yankees in the early 1950s; that was the wrong franchise for a catcher, given the perennial All-Star presence of Yogi Berra. To make matters worse, Triandos had to spend two years in the military during the Korean War, further delaying his rise to the majors. With nowhere to go but down in the Yankees’ organization, Triandos became trade bait. In November of 1954, the Yankees sent him to the Orioles as part of the blockbuster 16-man trade that brought Don Larsen and Bob Turley to New York.
It was not only the largest trade in major league history, but it was also the transaction that liberated Triandos, freeing him up to play fulltime in the major leagues. The Orioles installed Triandos as their No. 1 catcher in the spring of 1955. He responded by hitting a respectable .277 with an on-base percentage of .333 and 12 home runs. He would hold on to the catching job for seven seasons.
From 1955 to 1961, Triandos was a very good player, making three All-Star teams and receiving MVP votes four times. As a catcher, the most physically demanding position on the diamond, he drew some walks and hit with power, topping out with a 30-home run season in 1959, a record for American League catchers at the time. That season, he placed 11th in the league’s MVP race.
Yet, Triandos did more than just hit home runs and take walks. He also possessed a strong arm, which allowed him to throw out 45 per cent of opposition base stealers over his career. He was a better defensive catcher than his reputation might have indicated, largely because of the high number of passed balls he allowed. Those passed balls, 138 in total, weren’t all his fault. Many of them were caused by the fluttering of Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball. Triandos simply hated having to chase the knuckler, even during Wilhelm’s memorable no-hitter in 1958.
Late in 1962, with Triandos on the wrong side of 30, the Orioles decided to part ways with him. Despite his popularity with Baltimore fans, and with his teammates, who loved his good-natured ways, the Orioles traded him and outfielder Whitey Herzog (yes, that Whitey) to Detroit for catcher Dick Brown. Triandos held down the catching position for the Tigers until they deemed a young Bill Freehan ready for action.
After Triandos' single season in Detroit, the Tigers handed the position to Freehan and dealt Triandos and Hall of Fame right-hander Jim Bunning to the Phillies for pitcher Jack Hamilton and outfielder Don Demeter. Triandos put up a good season in Philadelphia, but a bad start to the 1965 season resulted in him being traded to the Astros. A 24-game stint in Houston ended with his unconditional release in November. At that point, Triandos called it a career.
His post-playing days were good ones, at least until a terrifying car accident in the mid-1990s. Triandos suffered a broken neck, but he eventually made a full recovery. Shortly thereafter, he began to suffer congestive heart failure, which plagued him for 10 years before it finally took his life on Thursday.
So how should we evaluate Triandos as a player? Let’s try to place his career in context by offering a comparison to two players of more recent vintage. Two catchers who approximate him on similarity scores are Jody Davis, a standout power hitter for the Cubs in the 1980s, and Mike MacFarlane, the onetime defensive stalwart for the Royals. That’s pretty good company.
One final footnote about Triandos involves his base running ability, which was legendary. He was so slow that he attempted only one stolen base in his career, and remarkably, he made it. (He also hit an inside-the-park home run at Memorial Stadium, a feat that defies explanation.) I've heard a number of stories about Triandos’ lack of footspeed; he has to make the top five list for slowest baserunners of all time. So I’ll put him up there (or down there) with Ernie Lombardi, Rich Gedman, Steve Balboni, and Bengie Molina, though I’m sure I’m missing some other plodders along the way.
But that’s one of baseball’s greatest attributes. You don’t have to be an Olympic sprinter or run the hurdles to be a productive player. The slow-footed, power-hitting catcher also has a role in the game, just like Gus Triandos did. And for much of the 1950s, he performed that role very well.
Twenty years ago, the impossible happened. The most legendarily bad team’s most hapless player won a game, and the eternal goat had his moment in the sun as a hero.
On March 30, 1993, Charlie Brown hit a game-winning home run. Yeah, that Charlie Brown, the fictional one. The guy from the comic strip who always said “Good grief.” Him.
In Charles Schultz’s world-renowned comic strip “Peanuts,” Charlie Brown is the pitcher and head honcho of a Little League team that is consistently horrible. They seemingly always lose, and it generally ain’t close. They’ll give up dozens of runs per game—or even inning. As the pitcher, Charlie Brown was known for giving up line drives up the middle that were so fast they knocked his clothes off.
The team did occasionally win games, but rarely (if ever) thanks to Charlie Brown. The team apparently won 10 games in the history of Peanuts, usually when Charlie Brown wasn’t there. A few times they even won by forfeit.
But on March 30, 1993, it was different. Batting against Roxanne Hobbs, the great-granddaughter of Roy Hobbs (the fictional star from The Natural), Brown hits a walk-off home run that wins the game for his team. For the first time in decades, they won the game because of Charlie Brown. No reason to cry “WAHHH!” this time.
Schultz said he started with the panel of Brown ecstatically doing cartwheels saying that he was the hero and then worked backwards from there. After decades of futility, Brown had his moment.
In fact, Brown had another moment, too. Three months later, on June 29, Brown did it again, belting a walk-off homer, and again it was off Roxanne Hobbs. This time, however, there was a catch. She admitted she let him hit the homers intentionally. But when you’re Charlie Brown, you take what you can get. He didn’t care, he’d had his moments of glory.
(Actually, it’s rather surprising that he was 2-for-2 in grooved pitches anyway. Who knew Brown had that much hand-eye coordination to hit it that accurately, or that he had so much strength to knock the sucker out of the park? Or maybe I’m just overthinking it.)
At any rate, Brown did have his moment, and that moment was 20 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today have their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
Click for more...
Friday, March 29, 2013
In my last year's article about Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, I said:
...I kept thinking to myself, "If you have a 96-98 mph heater but can't reliably command it, do you really have it at all?" It's to his credit that he has the intelligence and humbleness to understand when he can't throw his best bolt where he needs it, but that's a trait you want to see from the fringe guys who have to maximize their stuff, not necessarily big-time prospects.
Well, take a look at his 2012 stats vs. his 2013 stats so far:
2012: 2.56 ERA, 0.22 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9, 9.51 K/9
2013: 1.18 ERA, 0.24 HR/9, 1.66 BB/9, 12.79 K/9
Though Pac-12 play is still in the early stages, Stanford's schedule has not been a cakewalk. As of March 29, it ranks 78th in all of Division-I.
I've been watching Stanford games on the Internet, and the only mechanical difference between 2013 and 2012 is that Appel is a little faster to the plate and has a bit better rhythm. That would dovetail nicely with the reports I hear from pro scouts about his average velocity being up a tick, more like 94-96 rather than 92-94 with your occasional bolt. I've heard that he's been throwing his four-seam fastball on a more downward plane instead of relying on his two-seam/sinker to get groundball outs, and that could be a big reason that his strikeout rate has jumped.
He still has fastball command issues: When he unleashes his best at 97-98, it is likely to miss up and to the arm side. He doesn't command his best bolt very well and doesn't seem to be able to reliably throw it for strikes, which was the case when I saw him against Washington in 2012. The big difference is that he won't abandon this pitch anymore; he'll just shave off a bit and still aggressively attack the zone with it.
Prior to 2013, I wasn't buying the first pick, first round hype on Appel. But now that I've seen his changed approach and the increasingly ridiculous statistics (remember, he got shelled in his first start against Rice), I've got one leg solidly on the bandwagon of Mark Appel going 1-1 in the draft to the Houston Astros.
40 years ago today, a very different kind of baseball game was played. Well, the game itself was the same—but the baseball itself was rather distinctive. 40 years ago today, the sport of baseball tried something different—playing a game with orange baseballs.
The idea was the brainchild of maverick Oakland A’s owner Charles O. Finley. He was never one to care much for tradition. In fact, at one point he suggested changing the four-ball, three-strike count to three balls and two strikes. It would save on time and make the game go faster, he argued. That was too radical a change and so never happened. But changing the color of the ball isn’t as big a deal.
Finley thought using white baseballs was for the birds. He figured, hey, orange baseballs might be more popular with the fans and thus good for the game. After all, orange stands out better and if it stands out better, then hitters might be able to see it clearer. If they see it clearer, more runs might follow. And if baseball history teaches us anything, it’s that fans like offense.
As it happens, in early 1973 Finley had enough pull in the game to allow for the experiment. Though never the easiest person to get along with or the most popular man with his fellow owners, in 1972 his A’s did win the world title, and being world champion owner gave him the clout he needed for baseball to try it.
Baseball traditionalist owners might have minded, but they could be placated by the fact that it was just a preseason exhibition game, not a real contest.
And so it came to pass on March 29, 1973. The game featured Finley’s A’s (of course) taking on the sad sack Indians, who finished last in the AL East in 1972. Sadly for Finley, the experiment was not a success. However easy it might be to see an orange ball against a green background, there was one way the new ball was distinctly worse for offense. Hitters complained that they couldn’t make out the spin of the red seems on the ball, and so had more difficulty figuring out what was coming. For their part, pitchers complained that the ball was slippery.
Also, there was no explosion in offense. The orange balls were used for two games, and then Finley agreed to end the experiment. Heck, for Finley half the point of trying something different was just to try and see what happened.
It became part of his legacy, though. A few years later when Time but Finley on their cover, the accompanying article on him featured his orange balls. Orange balls became part of his legacy 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball event today have their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones is bold if you’d rather skim.
Click for more...
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Twenty-five years ago today, one of the most well-regarded managers in baseball decided to call it a career: Gene Mauch, a man who had managed nearly nonstop in the big leagues for over 25 years.
Normally, managers don’t retire in early March, not if they are employed anyway, and Mauch was employed as the Angels' skipper. But the situation was beyond Mauch’s control. At 62 years old, his health was beginning to fail him. He’d taken a medical leave of absence on March 11, hoping he could recover, but by the end of the month it was clear he wouldn’t be able to continue working. He wasn’t dying or anything drastic. In fact, Mauch would live nearly 20 more years. But the job is a day-in, day-out grind for six months, and it was now beyond his capabilities.
Mauch is (in)famous for being the longest-tenured manager in baseball history never to claim a pennant. Despite not one, he was always a very highly regarded manager, a fact made clear by his continued ability to get hired somewhere. Mauche worked in the dugout for 23 straight seasons, from 1960-82, one of the longest managerial stretches in history. He missed just two years and then came back in 1985 to the team he’d last worked with in 1982, the Angels.
The Angels were the fourth team he’d worked for. The first was the Phillies. When Mauch took over in Philadelphia, they were in sorry shape. Traditionally an also-ran, the Phillies had won just two pennants in their nearly 80 years of play when he arrived in 1960.
Mauch soon gained a boy wonder status. In 1961, Philly lost 107 games—including a record 23-game losing streak—but the next year bounced all the way to an over-.500 record. (Barely over .500 at 81-80, but over .500 nevertheless). Mauch won plaudits as a master of in-game tactical maneuvers, and even his critics admitted he had a brilliant head for the game.
The first mark against Mauch came in 1964. Under his watch, the Phillies seemed to be cruising to a pennant. With two weeks left, they had such a comfortable lead that only a historic choke would cost them.
Well, they had their historic choke, dropping 10 straight contests. Mauch came in for his share of criticism, as people accused him of over-managing, acting as if he had to win every game and pressing too much, causing his team to choke. It’s maybe the most analyzed losing streak in baseball history.
(I have a friend from SABR named Mike McCullough who once made an interesting observation. The criticism of Mauch for 1964 always struck him as somehow bizarre, and he finally figured it out. People went into great detail on the minutia of his decisions in order to criticize Mauch for getting too lost in the details and looking at the minutia instead of the big picture.)
After 1964, the Phillies moment faded with the Dodgers and Cardinals improving and his core declining. The Phillies let him go after 1968, and he became manager of the Expos. Unfortunately for him, Montreal was an expansion team. He got them up to mediocrity, but after seven years the team fired him—and promptly got much worse the year after removing him.
Mauch immediately landed on his feet in Minnesota in 1976. The Twins were good but not great. Once again, Mauch lacked the horses to run to October. Minnesota fired him in mid-1980, and Mauch landed with the Angels in early 1981.
In 1982, it looked like Mauch finally would get his pennant. His Angels won the AL West and then took the first two games of the best-of-five ALCS over the Brewers. Unfortunately for him, the Brewers stormed back to win out and take the pennant. Distraught, Mauch resigned and missed the next two years.
Clearl,y the Angels didn’t blame Mauch for their 1982 postseason problems because they brought him back in 1985. In 1986, it looked like Mauch finally would have his big chance. He won the AL West again, and his team won three of the first four games of the ALCS. If this had been nearly any other ALCS in history, that would have given him the pennant. But in 1985, the LCS had expanded to a best-of-seven.
Mauch’s Angels needed to win one more, but they came up short. Most famously, Donnie Moore allowed a homer to Dave Henderson in Game Five, and Boston cruised in the next two games.
That proved to be Mauch’s last chance. In 1987, the Angels worsened, and in 1988 so did Mauch’s health. Still, he had 1,902 wins, eighth most all-time when he retired. (Okay, so he had over 2,000 losses, too, but it takes quite a manager to lose that many games and still get hired.) Mauch had an impressive career, one that officially ended 25 years ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to skim.
Click for more...