Cocaine in Montreal

Before baseball had a problem with performance enhancing drugs, it had a problem with recreational drugs. This was highlighted by the “Pittsburgh Drug Trials” of 1985. During these trials, a number of baseball players took the stand to discuss cocaine use in baseball. One of those players was Keith Hernandez.

At the time of the trials, Hernandez was a member of the New York Mets, having been traded in 1983 for pennies on the dollar. While on the stand, he suggested that 40% of ballplayers were using cocaine. Shortly after, Whitey Herzog (Hernandez’s former manager with the Cardinals) publicly agreed with Hernandez, stating that there were 11 “heavy users” on their team in the early 1980’s.

Herzog continued to say this…

It got so bad that when we went to Montreal, which was where they all seemed to get it, I had to have us fly in on the day of the game. That way, I knew we`d play decent for one night, even though the rest of the trip might be a lost cause

I decided to take a look at how well the Cardinals fared in Montreal on the first game of a series versus the remainder of the series. Herzog managed the Cardinals for 73 games in 1980 before becoming the team’s general manager in August. At the end of the season, he would became the Cardinals full-time manager. I limited my search to Herzog’s tenure in 1980 until 1983. Since we don’t have the Cardinals travel logs and flight schedules, we have to assume that they actually did in fact arrive on the day of the first game in each series.

For the sake of record keeping, a one game series will be counted towards the “first day’s” record, even though there aren’t subsequent games in the series. Also, a couple of these series begin with doubleheaders. These will also be counted towards the “first day’s” record.

A few of the first games of the series began around 2PM, when the Cardinals were in St. Louis the previous day. A flight from St. Louis to Montreal takes approximately 4.5 hours while also losing an hour changing time zones. The team would have to leave St. Louis very early to make it to Montreal if you factor in trips to and from the airport. Realistically, it would be very difficult to have regular game day preparation (ie batting practice) with this travel schedule. But for the sake of Herzog’s theory, we’ll allow it.

1980

Date STL MON W/L
7/10/80
3
4
L
7/11/80
5
3
W
Date STL MON W/L
9/29/80
2
5
L
9/30/80
2
7
L
10/1/80
0
8
L


1981

Date STL MON W/L
5/25/81
3
5
L
5/26/81
3
4
L
5/27/81
1
4
L
Date STL MON W/L
8/14/81
3
1
W
Date STL MON W/L
9/15/81
3
2
W
9/15/81
3
4
L
9/16/81
7
1
W
9/16/81
3
4
L
9/17/81
7
4
W

*An interesting fact about the strike-shortened 1981 season is that the Cardinals finished with the best overall record in the National League East, but did not win the first or second half titles. The Expos would win the 2nd half title and advance to the postseason.


1982

Date STL MON W/L
6/7/82
2
3
L
6/8/82
5
4
W
6/9/82
1
5
L
Date STL MON W/L
7/29/82
3
4
L
7/30/82
4
5
L
7/31/82
10
1
W
8/1/82
4
5
L
Date STL MON W/L
9/27/82
4
2
W
9/28/82
4
5
L


1983

Date STL MON W/L
4/21/83
5
6
L
Date STL MON W/L
7/28/83
3
2
W
7/28/83
10
1
W
7/29/83
2
7
L
7/30/83
3
2
W
7/31/83
5
6
L
Date STL MON W/L
9/19/83
0
3
L
9/19/83
3
6
L
9/20/83
1
10
L


Final Tally

Day W L W% R RA Pyth
First Day
5
9
.357
47
48
.490
Remaining Days
6
12
.333
67
85
.394

The overall record (.357 win %) on the first day was slightly better than the record on the other days (.333 win %). But the Cardinals played significantly better when we look at their pythogorean record, which uses runs scored and runs allowed.

This is hardly enough games to be considered an adequate sample, and there are too many assumptions to make a definitive assessment. We don’t know for sure how many times they actually traveled on the day of the first game. My guess is that they did it for days where the first game was a night game, but I question if they did it for afternoon games.

The mere fact that a manager would even have to consider this type of travel schedule to keep their players clean is quite sad. Cocaine use was a major problem not only in baseball, but in many American cities. However, the Cardinals would win the World Series in 1982, so their quality of play wasn’t diminished too much.

For further reading on the Pittsburgh Drug Trials, consider reading The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven, by Aaron Skirboll.

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Multi-HR Games

Bryce Harper is on a tear, hitting multiple homeruns in consecutive games. At just 22 years old, he already has 7 career games with multiple homeruns. This got me stuck in a play index wormhole (If you aren’t using play index at Baseball-Reference.com, you are missing out). Here are some cool (my opinion, hopefully yours as well) lists I came up with.

*Note: These lists include stats from 1914-2015

Most Career HR without a Multi-HR Game:

Player HR
Lou Piniella
102
Grady Hatton
91
Dom DiMaggio
87
Del Unser
87
Johnny Edwards
81
Will Venable
78
Jason Kendall
75
Olmedo Saenz
73
Tom Brookens
71
Jerry Hairston Jr
70
Glenn Hubbard
70

Fewest Career HR with a 3-HR game:

Player HR
Merv Connors
8
Bill Glynn
10
Tuffy Rhodes
13
Jose Ortiz
14
Don Leppert
15
Jim Tobin
17
Del Wilber
19
Jim Pendleton
19
Manny Jimenez
26
Steve Boros
26

Most Career HR without a 3-HR game:

Player HR
Rafael Palmeiro
569
Gary Sheffield
509
Fred McGriff
493
David Ortiz
470
Vladamir Guerrero
449
Jim Edmonds
393
Graig Nettles
390
Dwight Evans
385
Frank Howard
382
Tony Perez
379

Most Career 3-HR Games:

Player HR
Sammy Sosa
6
Johnny Mize
6
Mark McGwire
5
Carlos Delgado
5
Dave Kingman
5
Joe Carter
5
Barry Bonds
4
Alex Rodriguez
4
Albert Pujols
4
Ernie Banks
4
Lou Gehrig
4
Willie Stargell
4
Aramis Ramirez
4
Ralph Kiner
4
Steve Finley
4
Lance Parrish
4

Most Career Multi-HR Games:

Player HR
Babe Ruth
72
Barry Bonds
71
Sammy Sosa
69
Mark McGwire
67
Willie Mays
63
Hank Aaron
62
Alex Rodriguez
61
Ken Griffey Jr
55
Jimmie Foxx
55
Frank Robinson

54

Manny Ramirez
54

Players with 2 Career HR (both in same game):

Player Year
Babe Birrer
1955
Jess Doyle
1925
Derrick Gibson
1999
Brandon Harper
2006
Sammy Holbrook
1935
Tim Hyers
1999
Jack Knight
1926
Derek Lilliquist
1990
Doug Loman
1984
Brian McCall
1962
Bobby Pfeil
1971
Glen Stewart
1943

Only Players with 3-HR Games for 3 Different Teams:

Player Teams
Johnny Mize STL/NYG/NYY
Mark Teixeira TEX/ATL/NYY
Dave Kingman NYM/CHC/OAK
Alex Rodriguez SEA/TEX/NYY

Players with Multi-HR Games for the Most Teams:

Player Teams
Mike Cameron
8
Jeromy Burnitz
7
Reggie Sanders
7
Gary Sheffield
6
Fred McGriff
6
Jose Canseco
6
Dave Kingman
6
Moises Alou
6
Ron Gant
6
Matt Stairs
6
Todd Zeile
6
Benito Santiago
6
Glenallen Hill
6
Ty Wigginton
6
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The New Baseball Gauge

My project over the winter was to overhaul the site. I believe it is a big improvement and I hope that you will feel the same way. Much of the previous version is included and I have made some pretty big additions.

New Metrics
The biggest addition to the new site are the metric selections. Previously, the user had the choice between WAR, Win Shares, and Win Shares Above Bench. Now there two versions of Wins Above Replacement: rWAR (Baseball-Reference) and gWAR (my calculation). In addition, I have included an “Above Average” (WAA) and “Above Greatness” (WAG) option. I am willing to add other versions of WAR, so long as they are available and updated on a daily basis during the season.

Customized Metrics
The user now has the ability to customize WAR, WAA & WAG. You can mix and match the batting, fielding, & pitching components from both Baseball-Reference and The Baseball Gauge’s version. Or you can just use the average of the two metrics.

Since both Baseball-Reference and The Baseball Gauge’s pitching metrics are based on runs allowed, there is also an option to use a Fielding Independent Pitching based version of pitching WAR.

Finally, there is an option to regress the fielding component to zero. This is for those who feel that fielding should have less of an impact on a player’s overall metric.

*To use customized metrics, it is required that you have cookies enabled in your browser options. They are usually enabled by default.

Pennant & Wild Card Win Expectancies
1964 National League
These are the expectancy that each team will win the division/league/wildcard based on their record that day and the remaining schedule. This is taken from the glossary:

On every day of every season, the remanining schedules are simulated 100,000 times. In the simulations, all teams are equal except for that the home team gets a home field advantage. This home field advantage is the record for all home team’s from five years before and five years after the current season.

For example, when simulating the 1978 season, the home field advantage used is 53.96%. This was the winning percentage for all home team’s from 1973-1983.

For the strike shortened years of 1981 (first half) and 1994, the original schedules were simulated. This is why no team finishes with 100% during those seasons.

100,000 simulations of the remaining schedules from every day in Major League Baseball history is no easy task. There were roughly 1.8 trillion games simulated from 1871-2014.

Bill James Favorite Toy
Jeter 3000 Favorite Toy
Bill James described these as “A method that takes into account a player’s age and performance level in predicted the probability that he will accumulate certain career stats.” They are included in each player’s page as well as each seasons page.

Similarity Scores
These are found in each player’s page. Similarity Scores gauge how similar two players are based on their statistics. The user can choose between career stats and stats up to a certain age.
Mike Trout’s Similarity Scores

Baseball Gauge Awards
The Baseball Gauge Awards are given to the top (or bottom) player in various statistical categories. The method for choosing winners is purely based on statistics, with no voting involved.

The stistical formulas are mostly made up of Components Above Average. To be the leader in a certain category, a player needs to excel in a combination of rate stats AND counting stats
2015 Baseball Gauge Awards (Batting)
2015 Baseball Gauge Awards (Pitching)

Player vs Player
Ted Williams vs Joe DiMaggio
This allows the user to select two players and compare their metrics. It accessed by going to a player’s page and selecting “Player vs Player” in the “Comparison” drop down menu.

JAWS Scores
Developed by Jay Jaffe in 2004 at Baseball Prospectus. It is meant to gauge a player’s Hall of Fame credentials by comparing them to Hall of Famers at the same position. JAWS is the average of a player’s career total Wins Above Replacement and the total of their seven best seasons (peak).

JAWS scores are included in player comparison pages, future hall of fame ballots, and Veterans Committee ballot pages.

Finally, Navigation has been improved. Table filtering will now automatically execute after a selection. There are other various additions and improvements throughout the site that would require to much time to highlight individually.

Enjoy!

Posted in Announcements, General, Site Additions | 3 Comments

Roger Angell on Luis Tiant

Luis Tiant turns 74 years old today. So I thought I’d share this description of his ability to kill time on the mound, by Roger Angell in Five Seasons.

Game then runs down, stops, dies, thanks to Luis Tiant, Bost. pitcher. Tiant, noted for odd pitching mannerisms, is also a famous mound dawdler. Stands on hill like sunstruck archeologist at Knossos. Regards ruins. Studies sun. Studies landscape. Looks at artifact in hand. Wonders: Keep this potsherd or throw it away? Does Smithsonian want it? Hmm. Prepares to throw it away. Pauses. Sudd. discovers writing on object. Hmm. Possible Linear B inscript.? Sighs. Decides. Throws. Wipes face. Repeats whole thing. Innings & hours creep by. Spectators clap, yawn, droop, expire. In stands, 57 disloc. jaws set new modern AL record, single game. Somebody wins game in end, can’t remember who.

The book covers the 1972-1976 seasons, and this particular description comes from a Red Sox/White Sox game on June 7, 1972. The actual game is of little importance to the quote above, but it should be noted that this 2-1 White Sox victory finished in just 2 hours and 42 minutes. Maybe because Tiant only pitched five innings.

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2012-2014 Red Sox

Just a quick post on how much of a roller coaster the Red Sox have been on over the past few years. The 2012 Red Sox had the lowest winning percentage of any team that would go on to win the World Series the following season.

Year Team W L W%
2012 BOS 69 93 0.426
1986 MIN 71 91 0.438
1987 LAN 73 89 0.451
1968 NYN 73 89 0.451
1953 NY1 70 84 0.455
1913 BSN 69 82 0.457
1990 MIN 74 88 0.457
1958 LAN 71 83 0.461
1989 CIN 75 87 0.463
2001 ANA 75 87 0.463

Not only that, but the 2014 Red Sox had the second lowest winning percentage of any defending World Series winner. Only the 1998 Marlins were worse and we all know that story.

Year Team W L W%
1998 FLO 54 108 0.333
2014 BOS 71 91 0.438
1991 CIN 74 88 0.457
1918 CHA 57 67 0.460
1932 SLN 72 82 0.468
1986 KCA 76 86 0.469
2013 SFN 76 86 0.469
1967 BAL 76 85 0.472
2003 ANA 77 85 0.475
1994 TOR 55 60 0.478

Not to mention the 2011 season, after being considered an all-time great team going into the season and then the epic collapse after being up 9 games in the wild card with less than a month to go. It truly has been a wild ride in Boston the past few seasons. With the reports of their willingness to spend money on free agents this offseason, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be a contender again in 2015.

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Hypothetical Extremes

Clayton Kershaw missed the entire month of April and will finish with fewer than 200 innings pitched for the season. But because he was so dominant during the other five months, he’s the easy choice for the National League Cy Young Award. Kershaw’s 198 IP is hardly the fewest of any Cy Young Award seeing that there have been 9 relievers to win the award since its inception in 1956. However, Kershaw will be the first starting pitcher to win the award with fewer than 200 IP in a non-strike shortened season. This got me to wonder what would be the least amount of playing time to win an award.

I decided to use Wins Above Replacement as a guide. Over the past 10 seasons, the league leaders in pitching WAR have finished with an average of 7.7 WAR. I’m going to use this as the number “required” to win the award, but I’ll try not to get too caught up in the exact number. The point of the exercise is to look at the stat line and decide if you would choose this player as the award winner.

As a quick note, I’ll be using 2014’s run environment (4.07 R/9) as well as replacement levels and wOBA weights. Each hypothetical player is assumed to play in a league average ballpark with league average teammates. Also, table headings are at the bottom.

14 GS, 14 CG/SHO, 7.7 WAR, 0.00 ERA, 378 K
The first hypothetical is a starting pitcher who strikes out every batter he faces while throwing complete game shutouts in every one of his starts. In order to reach 7.7 WAR, this player would require 14 starts at 126 innings pitched. Obviously, this player’s team would go 14-0. Since this pitcher strikes out every batter, the choice to use a FIP or RA/9 version of WAR is unimportant. As an award voter, I could see myself voting for this player.
Verdict: Yes

G IP WAR R/9 RAA RAR W% Exp WAA
14 126 7.9 0.00 59.1 69.8 1.000 1.51 7.0

90 G, 90 IP, 7.7 WAR, 0.00 ERA, 270 K
Now what if we did this for a Relief Pitcher? As mentioned earlier, 9 relievers have won the award, but each one has failed to even break 5 WAR. Our hypothetical reliever would be brought in during the highest leverage situations, regardless of whether or not it is a save situation. I’ll give this player an average leverage index of 2.0. For this player to reach 7.7 WAR, he would need to pitch in 90 games at 1 inning a piece. This is quite the work load and it emphasizes just how difficult it is for a reliever to match a starter in terms of production. During these 90 games, this player and his league average teammates would go 50-40. Would I vote for this player?
Verdict: YES

G IP WAR R/9 RAA RAR W% Exp WAA
90 90 7.7 0.00 37.6 45.2 .551 1.75 6.9

Over the last 10 seasons, the league leaders in overall WAR have finished with an average of 9.0 WAR. This is the number I will use while looking at position players and the MVP Award.

23 G, 98 PA, 98 HR, 9.0 WAR, 2.135 wOBA, 1397 wRC+
Our first hypothetical batter was called up late in the season and was limited to just 23 games. In that short time, he had 98 plate appearances and hit a home run EVERY SINGLE TIME (surprisingly, opposing pitchers never intentionally walked him). This player, along with his league average teammates, went 20-3 in the games he appeared. Even though he only played in 23 games, it would be very difficult to not give an MVP vote to a player with 98 home runs.
Verdict: Yes

G PA WAR wOBA wRAA RAR W% Exp WAA
23 98 9.0 2.135 137.3 140.6 .870 2.12 8.6

65 G, 65 PA, 65 HR, 9.0 WAR, 2.135 wOBA, 1397 wRC+
The second hypothetical position player is similar to the first. The difference is that he is solely a pinch hitter. He appeared in 65 games and hit a home run in each of those pinch hitting appearances. His team went 41-24 in the games in which he appeared. As a voter, I would find it very difficult to not vote for someone with 65 HR. Assuming that these teams play .500 baseball in the games where these players don’t appear, each of these hypothetical teams would end up going 90-72 over a full season. Lastly, I did not apply an adjustment for leverage for this player. But since his manager is able to insert him into any spot in the game, we can assume that his at bats were more valuable than average. Thus, it may actually require less than 65 HR & PA to reach 9.0 WAR.
Verdict: Yes

G PA WAR wOBA wRAA RAR W% Exp WAA
65 65 9.0 2.135 91.0 91.7 .635 1.90 8.8

I chose Yes for each of these four scenarios because they produced an incredible amount of value, even if it was such a short period of time. But what if we look at it from a different angle. What is the worst a pitcher can be while throwing every inning of every game for a team?

162 G, 1458 IP, 7.7 WAR, 90 ERA+, 4.52 R/9, 76-86 W/L
Not that the previous hypotheticals were easy to imagine, but having someone throw 1458 innings is tough to grasp. Not since Jim Devlin of the 1877 Louisville Grays has someone thrown every pitch in a team’s season. However, it was “just” 559 IP and it was the last year of his career because he was banned for gambling. But assuming this is possible and that there aren’t any PED questions, a player throwing 1458 innings and accumulating 7.7 WAR would have to allow 4.52 runs per 9 innings and they would finish with a 76-86 record (with league average teammates). I could not vote for a below average player, so I would not give my vote to him.
Verdict: No

G IP WAR R/9 RAA RAR W% Exp WAA
162 1458 7.7 4.52 -47.9 75.4 .469 1.86 -5.1

This last hypothetical may be proof that using wins above average may be a better metric in award voting. If we set the threshold for Cy Young award to be, say, 6.0 WAA, the pitcher throwing 1458 innings would instead go 87-75, have a 105 ERA+ and allow 3.89 R/9. For this player, I would feel much more comfortable giving a vote.

Table Headings
G: Games Played
IP: Innings Pitched
WAR: Wins Above Replacement
R/9: Runs allowed per 9 innings
RAA: Runs allowed better than average
RAR: Runs allowed better than replacement
W%: Team’s winning percentage in games in which the player appears
Exp: Pythagorean exponent using PythagenPat method
WAA: Wins Above Average

PA: Plate Appearances
wOBA: Weighted On Base Average
wRAA: Weighted Runs Above Average

Posted in General, Statistical Analysis | 1 Comment

Now Pitching for the Royals, Clayton Kershaw

Much has been said about Clayton Kershaw’s historic season. From his 41 inning scoreless streak to his 206 ERA+, he’s been compared to Sandy Koufax and many other all-time greats. He’s having the kind of season that we haven’t seen since Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, and Maddux were at their peaks.

Halfway across the country, the Kansas City Royals have a Clayton Kershaw of their own, and it comes in the form of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. These three righthanders have combined for a 1.27 ERA (318 ERA+) with a 32% K%. They are among the top 9 relief pitchers in all of baseball in WAR and have combined for 7.7 WAR in 169 2/3 innings. Compare that to Kershaw, who has 7.0 WAR in 161 1/3 innings. No other team this season has any combination of 2 or more pitchers with as high of a WAR/IP rate with nearly as many innings pitched.

But obviously the main difference between the KC trio and Kershaw is how these innings are distributed. Kershaw’s have come in 22 different appearances, average 7 1/3 innings per start. Holland, Davis, and Herrera have appeared in 92 of the Royals’ 135 games. Take your pick. You can have a starter come in every 5th day and completely dominate for most of the game or you can summon 1 of 3 guys in high leverage situations late in the game. Either way, your team’s chances of winning are greatly improved.

With a starting pitcher like Kershaw, the opposing manager has the option to stack their lineup with right handed hitters to take advantage of platoons. Consequently, 489 of 604 batters (81%) who have faced Kershaw have been right handed. But he has held them to .200/.233/.315 slash line, which speaks to just how truly great he has been.

Royals manager Ned Yost has the option to bring in these relievers in any situation. Because of this, the opposing manager is restricted to the lineup he has already set and the possibility of using pinch hitters. Because of this, opposing hitters have had the platoon advantage in just 54% of plate appearances. If you had the opportunity to make one of these three KC relivers a southpaw, you’d probably take it. However, they have limited left handed batters to just a .201/.285/.248 slash line.

Given the choice between the two, I’d chose Kershaw over Holland/Davis/Herrera, as I’d expect most people to as well. Mainly due to the (1) difficulty in finding a left handed pitcher of his caliber, (2) he only takes up one roster spot, and the fact the (3) he’s only making $4 million (Holland/Davis/Herrera are making just under $10 million combined). But regardless, the Royals bullpen has been utterly dominant and facing them in a 5 or 7-game series is a scary thought. With as many off days as the postseason schedule permits, these guys will be available in just about every contest.

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Book Review: The Last Best League

Every year, the top college baseball players gather about 70 miles southeast of Boston to hone their skills and showcase their talents in front of amateur scouts from all 30 Major League Baseball teams. This is the Cape Cod League, the most prestigious of all the college summer leagues, made of 10 teams that play 40-game schedules. In the summer of 2002, Jim Collins chronicled the season for the Chatham A’s of the Cape Cod League.

The A’s manager is John Schiffner, a high school teacher and baseball coach in Plainfield, CT for most of the year. His challenge is to recruit these 19-21 year old prospects by cultivating relationships with Head Coaches from schools all across the country to put together the best team possible. Once assembled, he has to ensure adequate playing time for each of his players in order to appease the head coaches from their respective schools.

In assembling his 2002 roster, Schiffner takes the risky path by recruiting a good number of players who were taken in the June draft. It is often in these players interest to play in the Cape Cod League against a high level of competition while increasing their bargaining leverage. But the downside is, once they sign a professional contract, they become ineligible to play for their Cape team. It’s a bold move since these drafted players are among the most talented, but they can be gone in an instant.

Jim Collins takes you through all that goes into one season in the Cape Cod League. From recruiting players throughout the year, to the volunteers who help procure uniforms, to the host families that take in the ballplayers during their time on the cape. It’s almost as if the entire community is involved in one way or another and they are rewarded with free baseball from the top college players in the country.

Collins also describes the day to day life of the Chatham A’s players. How they are required to find a day job during the season and the relationships they establish with their host families. You learn that while all these players have elite talent for their age, they also all have different motivations, goals, and expectations for their careers.

As a baseball fan, the beauty of reading a book from a decade ago was recognizing and following players that I’ve seen on top prospect lists and even the select few that have made a career in the Major Leagues. Even twelve years later, Tim Stauffer and Chris Ianetta, two Chatham A’s are still in the big leagues. Other future Major Leaguers from around the league are Anthony Gwynn, David Murphy, David Aardsma, and Jeff Niemann.

Brad Ziegler was even viewed as sort of an antagonist. As a member of the 2001 Chatham A’s, he made a comment in the local newspaper that rubbed some of his teammates the wrong way. He would return to the Cape in 2002, but this time with the Harwich Mariners and he would face off against his old team more than once along the way.

The most current release of The Last Best League is the “10th Anniversary Edition” (the book was originally released in 2004). This edition includes a chapter titled “10 Years Later”, which catches up with each of the ’02 Chatham A’s. All throughout the book, I had the urge to hop on the internet and check out how each player fared in professional baseball. Knowing that this chapter was included, I avoided doing any research until after I was finished. These players are still just in their early 30’s, but it’s surprising just how many of them are already out of professional baseball. Jim Collins continually refers to the baseball “pyramid”. By this he means that at every level, only the very best of the best will advance to play at the next level, all the way up to the “tip” of the pyramid, the Major Leagues. Ten years later, it’s easy to see that only a very few make it to the “tip”.

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Book Review: “Down to the Last Pitch”

The 1991 World Series was the first that I remember watching as a kid. My elementary school friend was rooting for the Twins, so naturally, I chose the Braves. While I was in awe of the spectacle and being able to watch the players that I knew from all of my trading cards, I knew very little of what was happening in terms of storylines and strategy. So when I was given a chance to review Tim Wendel’s new book “Down to the Last Pitch”, I jumped at the opportunity.

While the format is simple (one chapter for each game), the book is much more than just seven game recaps. In fact, actual play-by-play narrative only takes up a small percentage of the pages. Wendel goes in and out of the games with backstories on players and each of the clubs involved. While “Down to the Last Pitch” is advertised as a book about the 1991 World Series, it’s really about that AND the game of baseball during the late eighties and early nineties.

There were a couple of instances where the author got a little sidetracked, talking about a subject that had little to do with the rest of the story. For example, he went from Otis Nixon’s cocaine problems to Alan Wiggins and his complications with AIDS. He also spent time on Pete Rose and the Dowd Report, 19th century baseball player turned evangelist Billy Sunday, and kids playing multiple sports. Some of these stories certainly weren’t necessary to the telling of the 1991 World Series, but I enjoyed them and had no problem with their inclusion.

Just about every player who had a role in the series has at least a page or two dedicated to them and their story. Some of course, more than others. Kirby Puckett has almost the entire sixth chapter because Game Six was pretty much his, while John Smoltz and Jack Morris dominate Game Seven and its pages. One of my favorite stories was how Lonnie Smith once had a plot to kill John Schuerholz (his GM with the Royals) and how Schuerholz later became Smith’s GM once again in Atlanta.

This book is for anyone who wants to re-live one of the greatest World Series in history. Or if you are younger than thirty, you can live it for the first time. If you just want what happened on the field, buy the DVD or read the play-by-play on Baseball-Reference.com. But if you want much more than that, you’ll enjoy this book.

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Book Review: “1954”

“1954” is the latest book from J. G. Taylor Spink Award recipient Bill Madden. Madden has covered Baseball for the New York Daily News for over 30 years and his most recent book, Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, was a New York Times Bestseller.

As the title suggests, “1954” chronicles the 1954 Baseball Season. But the first time I read the book’s subtitle “The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever”, I was a little confused. As someone who spends a large amount of time researching and reading about Baseball History, I’ve never equated the year 1954 with this subtitle. Sure, it was Mays’ first full season that included an MVP and “The Catch”, the rookie seasons for Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks, and Larry Doby helped lead the Indians to an American League record 111 wins. However, in reading the story of the 1954 season, I was never truly convinced that this was the case. While there’s no denying the impact of African Americans during the 1954 season, I’m not sure that this was THE season that changed Baseball.

Aside from the minor issue with the subtitle, I thoroughly enjoyed “1954”. Madden chose a season from his childhood, one that includes a dominant team that finally overtook the Yankees and possibly the most famous play in Baseball history. He spends a lot of time introducing the many characters and giving their back stories (In fact, the season doesn’t even start until page 112). But this is necessary, because Baseball was undergoing a lot of changes in the decade after WWII. Changes such as franchises shifting to different cities for the first time in over a half century and most importantly, the integration of Major League Baseball. Integration certainly was not complete once Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby made their debuts, and Madden makes sure to detail the progress and show how some teams (like the Yankees) were reluctant to integrate.

There is a lot of focus on the three New York teams and their situations. Some readers might complain of “New York bias” by a New York writer since so much time is spent on the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers. But this is clearly not the case as all three teams and their stories are vital. You could not write this book without going into great detail on people like Leo Durocher, Casey Stengel, Jackie Robinson and Walter Alston. The astute Baseball fan can easily point out how these teams dominated the entire decade of the 1950’s.

A good number of Baseball books make the mistake of filling their pages with countless game and play by play accounts, to the point that they can become monotonous and start to run together. That’s certainly not an issue in “1954”. Madden chose the most important games and events (including the Giants and Indians World Series) and kept them interesting without losing focus.

I would have preferred that the book gave the reader a better sense of how life was during the 1950’s by touching on more non-Baseball events. It discusses Brown vs Board of Education, Hotel Desegregation, pop culture, and even a murder trial, but I personally wanted a little more. But this is nitpicking and ultimately it’s a Baseball book and that is certainly what you will get.

There’s a lot of information in the book. A lot of stories that Madden has gathered through interviews with former players and sources like the Hall of Fame Library and The New York Daily News Archives. No matter your level of Baseball knowledge, you’ll be sure to read a story that you haven’t read before.

“1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever” will be released on May 6th, 2014

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