One hundred years ago today, the lords of baseball decided to adopt a new statistic officially: earned run average.
Of all the traditional stats, this might be the best, or at least the most sabermetrically-friendly. In fact, there is solid evidence for that. In his 1987 Baseball Abstract, Bill James had a section ranking normal statistics by various criteria and determined that ERA was the most effective one out there.
Hitting also has its traditional rate stat, batting average, but it can’t hold a candle to ERA. Batting average looks at one element of what a batter is supposed to do—get hits—but also overlooks many others, such as draw walks, hit for power, or do something on the bases. That said, if you were to condense a pitcher’s job to just one thing, that would be preventing runs. And ERA generally tells us how good a job he does with it.
What’s also interesting about today’s centennial anniversary is how it puts things in perspective. Now, stats like ERA, RBIs, batting average, and even a pitcher’s win-loss record have been around so long it’s impossible to imagine baseball without them. You figured ERA may not be as old as the dinosaurs, but it’s at least as old as mammals.
No. Even the basic stats had to start somewhere. Even the most traditional stats once were revolutionary newcomers. Now, people who don’t like the new-school sabermetric revolution often look back to the days when stats were familiar and traditional. Yet those traditional stats had to start somewhere. I wonder what old-school sorts from 1911 thought of ERA? I wonder what old school sorts in 2111 will think of OPS+ or WAR?
Regardless, ERA turns 100 years old today.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversaries or “day-versaries” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to skim it.
3,000 days since Jesse Orosco plays his last game. It’s actually a memorable way to end his career, as he tosses a walk-off wild pitch in a game of some historic importance. Orosco’s Twins are playing the Detroit Tigers, who enter the game sitting on 119 losses entering the day. Minnesota takes an early 8-0 lead, but the Tigers storm back to avoid tying the 1962 Mets’ mark of 120 losses in a season.
3,000 days since Todd Hundley plays his final big league game.
3,000 days since Ryan Madison makes his big league debut.
6,000 days since Mickey Mantle makes his final public appearance. It’s to increase awareness for organ donation programs.
9,000 days since WPA’s favorite Rickey Henderson game. He goes 2-for-4 with a stolen base, walk, and pair of home runs. He scores three runs and has a WPA of 0.772.
1864 The National Association of Base Ball Players adopts a new rule. It’s an out only if a ball is caught on the fly, not if it’s caught after one bounce, as had been the case previously).
1882 The American Association becomes the first league to a hire full-time staff of permanent umpires.
1889 Lefty Tyler is born.
1894 The Cincinnati Reds sign future Hall of Famer Buck Ewing as a free agent.
1901 The NL selects Al Spalding as its president. However, a court decision two days later will void this election, and Spalding will decide to quit rather than fight it.
1925 Toothpick Sam Jones, pitcher, is born.
1927 Washington purchases George Sisler from the Browns for $25,000.
1932 Washington makes a pair of trades on the day. In one, they send Firpo Marberry and another player to the Tigers for starting pitcher Earl Whitehill. They also benefit from a St. Louis Browns fire sale, as Washington sends three players and $20,000 to St. Louis for Hall of Famer Goose Goslin and two other players.
1938 The NL allows the Reds to play their season opener one day before the rest of the other teams to honor the fictional 1939 centennial of baseball.
1944 Jouett Meekin, 1890s pitcher, dies.
1949 Bill Buckner is born.
1949 The Reds trades Harry Walker to the Cardinals.
1954 The Brooklyn Dodgers sign a left-handed fastball pitcher named Sandy Koufax as a bonus baby.
1960 The AL hosts its first expansion draft. Washington claim Bobby Shantz and Dale Long from the Yankees, Johnny Klippstein from the Indians, Tom Sturdivant from the Red Sox, Gene Woodling from the Orioles, and Dick Donovan from the White Sox. The Senators also land future Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance from the Orioles—but trade him to the Angels for Joe Hicks this same day.
As for the Angels, aside from landing ace-to-be Chance, they draft Baltimore’s Albie Pearson, Buck Rogers and Eddie Yost from Detroit, Boston’s Jim Fregosi, Chicago’s Ted Kluszewski, and Ned Garver from the A’s.
1965 Craig Biggio, member of the 3,000 hit club, is born.
1965 The White Sox hire Eddie Stanky as their manager to replace Hall of Famer Al Lopez.
1969 Scott Hatteberg, pickin’ machine, is born.
1970 Twenty-five-year-old Cardinals outfielder Herman Hill drowns in Caribbean Sea near Valencia, Venezuela.
1971 Seam Forman is born. At Baseball-Reference.com, he’s the founder/owner/operator/custodian.
1973 Los Angeles releases Wes Parker.
1974 Billy Koch is born.
1978 The Cubs trade second baseman Rodney Scott to the Expos.
1980 Elston Howard, the first black player in Yankees history, dies.
1985 Roger Maris, first player to belt 61 home runs in a season, dies.
1987 The Cubs sign free agent third baseman Vance Law.
1990 LA signs free agent Brett Butler.
1992 Baltimore signs little-regarded, soft-tossing 29-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer, who just spent the entire 1992 season in the minors. He’ll pitch surprisingly well in 1993, beginning his bizarre and lengthy second act of his career.
1994 Lee Smith signs with the Angels as a free agent.
1994 The Chicago White Sox trade Jack McDowell to the Yankees for two players.
1994 The National Labor Relations Board targets owners for withholding a $7.8 million payment to the players’ pension fund.
1995 Al Stump, the sportswriter portrayed by Robert Wuhl in the movie Cobb, dies at age 79. Stump co-wrote Cobb’s autobiography, and his experiences became the basis for that film.
1995 Cleveland signs free agent Jack McDowell.
1998 Oakland signs free agent Tony Phillips.
2000 Cubs sign free agent Tom Gordon.
2000 The Mets sign free agent starting pitcher Steve Trachsel.
2000 The Rangers trade shortstop Royce Clayton to the White Sox.
2004 California trades Ramon Ortiz.
2004 Florida signs closer Todd Jones as a free agent.
2004 The Washington, D.C. city council votes that half of the funding for the new Nationals stadium must come from the private sector.
2005 Detroit signs Ryan Ludwick as a free agent.
2006 Boston spends a fortune to purchase pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka from the Seibu Lions.
2010 Pittsburgh signs free agent Lyle Overbay.