July 25, 2017

The Nexus Of The Baseball Universe

February 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

It was 1994.  Kurt Cobain and Richard Nixon died.  There was no World Series.  And Craig Fass and two of his buddies at Albright College in Pennsylvania invented a popular game about the actor Kevin Bacon. The object of the game was to start with an actor or actress and connect them with Bacon in the fewest links possible. People are linked if they appeared in the same movie. A “Bacon Number” was assigned to the actor based on the fewest links necessary to connect them with Kevin Bacon. For instance, Telly Savalas was in “Kelly’s Heroes” with Donald Sutherland. Sutherland appeared in “Animal House” (and “JFK”) with Bacon. Therefore Sutherland has a Bacon Number of 1 and Savalas has a Bacon Number of 2. In fact, the game has inspired the Oracle of Bacon website at the University of Virginia. The Oracle uses imdb.com as a database for its actor and movie data.  In any case, Bacon isn’t the best center of the Hollywood universe. Right now, Dennis Hopper is.  But the list keeps evolving.  A few years ago it was Rod Steiger.

This isn’t an entirely new concept. Since the 1960s, sociologists have suggested that every person is connected to every other person through an average of six acquaintances. Paul Erdos, a prolific Hungarian mathematician, invented the Erdos Number. Every academic who collaborated on a paper with Erdos was assigned an Erdos Number of 1. Every co-author of these collaborators has an Erdos Number of 2. And so on, and so on. The Erdos Number became the forerunner of the Bacon Number.

Nine years ago, I wrote an article at Baseball Primer (now Baseball Think Factory), suggesting that Mike Morgan was the center of the baseball universe. It turns out that I was wrong. I failed to account for the fact that Mike Morgan is a recent player. So, while he (or Rickey Henderson) may eventually become the center of the baseball universe, he ain’t there yet.  Sean Forman added an Oracle of Baseball section to his Baseball Reference website, and as of the end of the 2009 season, the most linkable baseball player is either Warren Spahn or Bobo Newsom.  It takes an average of 2.987 steps to connect Warren Spahn with any major league player through teammates. By this standard, Newsom is the 14th most linkable player.  But any baseball player can be linked to Bobo in five links or less, while there are 81 that require 6 links to get to Spahn.

I prefer the definition that has Newsom as the best baseball center.   Spahn is a Hall of Famer. He has his glory. Spare some for the journeymen of the world.  Newsom is only four steps from the beginning of the National Association.  Bobo Newsom played with Al Simmons for the 1944 Philadelphia Athletics.  Simmons played with Zack Wheat for the 1927 Philadelphia Athletics   Wheat played with Bill Dahlen for the 1911 Brooklyn Dodgers.  Dahlen played with Cap Anson for the 1892 Chicago Colts.  Anson played for Rockford in 1871.

Newsom is also only four steps from today’s game.  Here’s one path: Bobo Newsom played with Early Wynn for the 1943 Washington Senators.  Wynn played with Tommy John for the 1963 Cleveland Indians.  John played with Al Leiter for the 1989 New York Yankees.  Leiter played with Yorman Bazardo for the 2005 Florida Marlins.  Bazardo pitched for the Astros last year.

Let’s play the Bobo Newsom Game with a couple of Hall of Famers. Nolan Ryan played with Dick Stuart on the 1966 Mets.  Stuart was on the 1960 Pirates with Mickey Vernon.  Newsom and Vernon played together on the 1943 Senators.  The Ryan Express’s Bobo Number is 3.  Hank Aaron has a Bobo Number of 2. Aaron and Newsom both played with Bobby Thomson. Warren Spahn’s Bobo Number is also 2. Spahnnie and Newsom shared Yogi Berra as a teammate.

We can take this beyond baseball; Kevin Bacon’s Bobo Number is 4. Bacon was in The Big Picture with Yvonne Peattie. Peattie was in That Touch of Mink with Mickey Mantle. Mantle played with any number of teammates who were Yankees with Newsom in 1947.  Paul Erdos, arguably, has a Bobo Number of 3.  Erdos and Hank Aaron both received honorary degrees from Emory University the same year. There was a professor who owned a baseball autographed by both.  Larry Bird’s Bobo Number is 5.  The chain is Newsom to Berra to Bouton to Barry Bonnell to Danny Ainge to Bird.  (And Laimbeer just mugged him!)  Matt Stover kicked in this year’s Super Bowl.  His Bobo Number is 4; Newsom to Early Wynn to Tommy John to Deion Sanders to Stover.

So, is Bobo Newsom the nexus of the baseball universe? By this narrow definition he may be; unless you prefer Warren Spahn.  But there are other ways to connect people.  Connie Mack’s career started before the pitching mound was moved to 60’6” from the plate.  He managed Nellie Fox, who played for Houston when they moved to the Astrodome.

But I prefer more esoteric links between players.  Eddie Cicotte was one of the Black Sox portrayed in Eight Men Out. That was originally written by Eliot Asinof.

John Sayles adapted the book into a movie and he has a small part as Ring Lardner.   Lardner’s son was a screenwriter for four decades and adapted the book M*A*S*H for the big screen. Rober Altman directed it and Elliot Gould played Trapper John.  Gould and Altman teamed up again to film The Long Goodbye. Gould was the lead in this movie; playing Philip Marlowe. Marlowe had a close friend named Terry Lennox. Lennox was played by Jim Bouton.  Stuff like that.

Or we can look at Curt Flood.  Flood sued Bowie Kuhn after he was traded to Philadelphia.  Flood went to high school with Bill Russell.  Who played for the Boston Celtics and was coached by Red Auerbach.  Who coached at Roosevelt High in DC and tried to get Kuhn to come out for the basketball team.  If you enjoy reading about stuff like this, stay tuned for my upcoming pieces.

Jon Daly has been a SABR member since 2001.  He has written several biographies for SABR that have appeared online or in books, including ones on Billy Southworth and Jim Willoughby.  His writing has also appeared online at websites such as Baseball Think Factory and The Hardball Times.

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