The Hardball Times Annual is just about off to the printer—got to finish the cover because we’re self-publishing this year—but I thought I’d give you a heads up. This year, Brad Johnson handles our postseason coverage in bravura fashion and it’s included in the book—unlike previous years, when you had to download the PDF after buying the book.
This year, we’ve taken that thing we called Champ WPA in the past and simplified both the math and the label. It will now be called Championships Added. The math is simply the WPA of each play of the game multiplied times the importance of the game, relative to the ultimate World Series championship. The seventh game of the World Series is worth one full championship, because the winner wins it all, the loser doesn’t. On the other hand, the seventh game of each league championship series is worth half a world championship, because the winner gets a 50 percent chance of winning it all in the World Series. Et. cetera.
Buy the Annual and you’ll see who led the 2012 postseason in Championships Added. In the meantime, though, you might want to know something about past Championships Added. You may even wonder “What was the biggest hit in postseason history?” I like the way you think.
The biggest hit in the entire history of major league postseasons occurred in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. That was the wild series in which the Yankees outscored the Pirates by 55 to 27, yet lost in seven games when Bill Mazeroski homered in the bottom of the ninth of the last game.
Mazeroski didn’t deliver the biggest hit of the game, however. That distinction belongs to Hal Smith, a catcher/third baseman who played for five different teams in his 10-year career. Smith was a late-game substitute for regular catcher Smoky Burgess when he came to bat in the bottom of the eighth of that seventh game. The Pirates had trailed by three runs (7-4) at the start of the half-inning, but they scraped together several singles and a bunt to close the score to 7-6 with two out and runners on first and third. The tension was, as they say, palpable when the journeyman catcher came to the plate.
On a 2-2 count, Smith stroked a pitch from Jim Coates into the left field stands, giving the Pirates an incredible 9-7 lead with just the ninth inning to go. That hit was worth 0.6 Championships all by itself. Before the hit, the Pirates had just a 30 percent probability of winning; after the hit, their probability was over 90 percent.
Things didn’t end there. Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra both drove in runs for the Yankees in the top of the ninth to tie the game. The final blow was left to Mazeroski, who led off the bottom of the ninth with another home run to left.
Still, Smith’s hit was more important. The Pirates were trailing when he came to bat; two men were already out. The clock was ticking loudly. Mazeroski’s homer, though more memorable, came with none out in a tie game just one inning later. When you think about it, Smith really deserves to be recognized for having stroked the biggest hit in the entire history of baseball.
Don’t feel bad for Mazeroski, however. His home run ranks as the fourth-biggest of all time.