The Hall, And The Meaning Of Stats

Don’t look it up. Try (at least first) to figure it out. I’ll answer it at the end of this first part of the post – and I’m doing it this way to underscore why a malleable attitude towards statistics and Cooperstown is mandatory.

Here goes: Who led the American League in home runs in the 1980’s?
Somewhere else on the web, somebody dismissed my support (and that of the 400 BBWAA electors who voted for him) of Bert Blyleven by claiming you can’t put a pitcher in the Hall of Fame who averaged only 13 wins a season.

Pitcher                                             Wins Per Season

Bob Gibson                                             14.76

Gaylord Perry                                          14.27

Allie Reynolds*                                        14.00

Tom Glavine*                                           13.86

Sandy Koufax                                          13.75

Steve Carlton                                           13.70

Chief Bender                                            13.25

Early Wynn                                              13.04

Bert Blyleven*                                          13.00

Dizzy Dean                                               12.50

Dazzy Vance                                            12.30

NOLAN RYAN                                           12.00

         * not in Hall of Fame

You can make a million different arguments about what this statistic means – and then move on to whether or not it really means anything in terms of the Hall. But the Blyleven (exactly 13 wins a year) versus Ryan (exactly 12 wins a year) comparison certainly is startling.
A much fairer, and slightly more subjective, view of the issue is provided by what we might call “Adjusted Wins Per Season.” It’s not a complicated formula. You just assess a pitcher’s “incomplete seasons” – only half a year in the majors, or less, or the last year when they were released on May 15th, or, particular to Koufax, the first two seasons of his career in which he was forced to stay on the major league roster (but was seldom used) because of a then-extant rule requiring such treatment for any free agent signed to a ******** bonus. You then throw out these “rump years” (and any scattered wins gathered in them) and re-divide.
Let’s do this for the same mix of a dozen pitchers, HOF and NON-HOF, as above:

Pitcher                     Adjusted Wins Per Season        “Rump” Seasons

Dizzy Dean                               16.50                                 Three

Sandy Koufax                           15.9                                   Two

Steve Carlton                            15.52                                 Three

Bob Gibson                              15.50                                 One

Allie Reynolds*                         15.17                                 One

Tom Glavine*                            15.05                                 Two

Dazzy Vance                             14.92                                 Three

Gaylord Perry                            14.27                                 One

Early Wynn                               14.19                                  Two

Chief Bender                             14.13                                 One

Bert Blyleven*                           13.00                                 None

NOLAN RYAN                            12.76                                  Two

         *not in
Hall of Fame

As usual when you research something – however trivial it might be – unsought data turns up. In this case it would include the suggestion that the voters need to reexamine the candidacy of Allie Reynolds. Somebody else interesting turns up in that “adjusted” category – Ron Guidry, at 15.27.

But the most fascinating is the comparison it provides for Blyleven and Ryan. Their ERA’s are similar, their 20-win seasons are similar (and unimpressive: Ryan, 2; Blyleven, 1), their average seasonal win totals are similar (adjusted or not). The differences are the no-hitters and strikeouts, and while I would agree they are enough to have made Ryan the first-ballot Hall of Famer he was, I don’t see how their absence has left Blyleven to decades of also-ran status.
By the way, the answer to the trivia question at the top: Mike Schmidt led baseball (and obviously, the National League) in homers in the ’80s with 313. Dale Murphy was second with 308. Eddie Murray was third overall with 274 and thus led those who played in each league during that decade. But your American League top homer man of the ’80s, and fourth overall in the game, was Dwight Evans with 256. I happen to think Evans deserves serious consideration for Cooperstown – but surely not for that stat.

Fell victim to myself – and was contacted by a bunch of other suckers – to an eBay scam that, while clearly focused to rip off specialists in a very small branch of baseball memorabilia collecting – serves as a reminder to think carefully about the ingenuity people can muster while pursuing the proverbial ill-gotten gains.
To eBay’s credit, in my case at least, it and PayPal refunded my money, even as the seller claimed he was the victim, and smeared, and all the like. The ID was “tarheels17032” and the man, a Randy Howard operating out of a post office box in suburban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, put up for bid a “box” of vintage 1971 O-Pee-Chee baseball cards (the Canadian version of Topps). The illustration showed the retail box, and in it, 36 seemingly unopened packs in good shape. Upon arrival, I couldn’t resist opening a pack.
I was surprised, initially, as to how easy that was. The packages were barely sealed. As a kid, I actually opened packages of these cards when they originally came out, and they were stuck together for the long haul. But the biggest surprise awaited inside. The cards had clearly not spent the last 39 years in those packages. Some had creases and seriously stubbed corners, others didn’t. At least two cards that were not directly facing the gum in the packs, nevertheless had damage from having had gum stuck to them. The packages were in better condition than the cards – a physical impossibility if the packs had been unopened.
Unless we were dealing with cards granted the ability of locomotion, which had escaped their packs and managed to somehow injure themselves, then return home like salmon swimming back to spawn, there was something seriously amiss here.
Mr. Howard at first agreed to “take a look” at the cards if I wanted to return them to him. He then refused delivery at the post office in Dauphin, Pa. When I filed a complaint with eBay, he wrote: “First of all, please re-read my description. No where do I EVER describe in any of my auctions that something is ‘unopened.’ I’m not the original owner nor do I profess to be. I specifically state in my auctions to ask any questions prior to end of auction. I also state that all items are sold as is…”
As the complaint moved through eBay, he later posted that I had tampered with the packages. Needless to say, the eBay folks did not exactly buy that (since I had a registered mail receipt marked “refused” – he could not have seen the packages). Nor did they buy the ‘I never explicitly said these were unopened packs’ defense.
My travails with memorabilia sellers are not your concern. But when several other collectors advised me that there were several instances of this exact kind of rip-off involving supposedly unopened packs, I thought it merited mention here. The story as I understand it is that either two people working in cahoots, or one using two different eBay ID’s, buy up old empty card boxes, and empty wrappers that match the boxes. Lord knows where they get the gum, but they fill the “packs” with off-condition common cards, seal them just closed enough, then stick them in the empty box, and make big money selling not vintage unopened packs or boxes, but garbage.
Once eBay returned my money I thought it would be fascinating to open up Mr. Howard’s packs to see what was inside. Not one of the packs didn’t include something impossible. Several packs included not 1971 O-Pee-Chee cards (yellow backs), but ordinary 1971 Topps (green backs). The O-Pee-Chee cards were issued in series that year, so all the cards in each pack should have been restricted to Series One, Series Two, or Series Three, etc. But many were intermixed between the series. Topps and O-Pee-Chee made their money on making sure kids had to keep buying to get a full set, so they had state-of-the-art “randomizing” processes to be certain there were lots of doubles in a box and never anything like a run of cards in numerical sequence in a given pack. Nevertheless, nearly all the packs came out that way (one produced numbers 234, 235, 238, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244). And virtually every card in the box was a “common” – no stars, no rare cards.
But the piece de resistance was the fact that the battered cards in that first tentatively-opened pack proved to be just the start, in terms of damage and bad condition. You do not have to be a collector nor a detective to doubt that this card had always be in that pack:



  1. njbaseball

    WOW. That’s amazing about the O-Pee-Chee cards. Not that there are dishonest sellers on eBay, but that this one would be so careless and think he could get away with it. Glad it worked out in your favor. Now I feel lucky that my mid-80s boxes of Topps (the height of my collecting; also not nearly as valuable) were intact.


    Wow is right. What I’ve found is that there are an amazing number of scammers out there. I almost got hit by one myself – a variation on the Nigerian email scheme, involving (of all things) a roommates website. A woman wrote to me from overseas, saying that her company would be sending her to a college in my area, and she wanted to rent the room I had available. She asked me to please hold it for her, and she would send a check right away. But the red flags went up when she told me that I needed to cash the check, and then send some of it back to her for her plane ticket, because her boss would only cut her the one check. Turns out the check would have been bogus, and I would have been on the hook for it. When I got two more similar bites from overseas “students” I contacted the roommates website, and they posted a notice about the scam. Amazing what people will do, and how much work they’ll do just to avoid having to do legitimate work – it makes no sense to me. As to the Baseball Hall of Fame stats, I think I have that figured out. If you want to understand them, you have to enter all the names into a secure database, encode them into ancient Egyptian, then re-encode them into Assyrian – and then stand on one foot with both eyes closed to read the results. Easy enough, right? 🙂 By the way – Happy Birthday early! I hope you have a spectacular birthday – in the best sense possible. You’ve definitely earned it. Hugs to you and your father!


    That card you scanned…good Lord, I’ve seen cards in better shape at rummage sales!

    If you haven’t done so already, Keith, I implore you to leave negative feedback for this seller. I checked this guy’s feedback profile, and apparently he’s still a registered user, with only four negs against him. If enough people leave negs and register complaints, eBay will finally have to revoke his privileges (on one or both of his user names). Then he’d have to start from a feedback rating of zero, with a new user name, which isn’t easy, because so many people distrust newbies on eBay.

    One other thing, to all you folks reading this…if you have a good experience on eBay, please be sure to leave positive feedback for the seller. Sellers depend on positive feedback, to reassure buyers that they do business fairly. 🙂


    @unpaka27, good point. I’m on eBay, although I haven’t bought or sold anything in quite a while… but feedback can make or break a seller. And in some cases, certain sellers either need to be banned or rated negatively to protect the others who might fall prey to them. Plus, you have to watch out for stolen goods on eBay… interestingly enough, I think it was a documentary on MSNBC that told of a mother and son selling stolen goods that they had gotten from Target. People are something else, aren’t they??

  5. 20nymets

    I enjoy your posts. I’m glad it worked out for you with you getting your money back. I have a complete 1971 topps baseball card set and my Rojas doesn’t have his hand written stats on it! Would you be willing to trade it to me? Also, who is the mystery Yankee sliding into second? The bullpen in the background sure looks relaxed! Some of the ’71 topps cards are just plain goofy! Card #554 Lowell Palmer always makes me laugh! Did he actually pitch with those cool shades on? Keep up the good work and remember that pitchers and catchers will be reporting soon!


    Scammers like one one mentioned are betting people never opening the packs. They are preying on collectors who are picking this up as an investment instead of someone like Mr. Olbermann who collects for pleasure. (The two are NOT mutually exclusive mind you. This is not meant as a slame against collectors.)

    The 4 negative feedbacks are from people who opened the cards and had discovered what was really included.

    The good feedback comes from people who received the boxes, and promptly placed them in storeage. The boxes arrived and that was all those particular collectors want.

    Unfortunately, at some point in the future, someone will actually open these boxes to vast dissapointment.

  7. jomigo

    I couldn’t agree more about Bert Blyleven. He is one of history’s more dominant pitchers. Excellent curve ball and winner of two World Series rings (one with Pittsburgh in 1979 and one with Minnesota in 1987).
    Caveat emptor is right about your purchase. I usually get cards at a store that I trust myself, but that’s me.
    By the way, Keith, I read the book “The Big Show” and your Olbermann 100. Some good stuff, some typos. It’s Biz Mackey, not Bizz Mackey. He eventually made the Hall in 2006, by the way. Also, it’s Tony Oliva, not Tony Olivia. He won’t make it in to Cooperstown with under 2000 hits. Maybe he would have if he hadn’t averaged .285 in his last three full years or maybe if he hadn’t played altogether after his knee gave out, he MIGHT have made it. After all,
    Kirby Puckett was lost due to glacoma.
    E-mail for my reply to the Olbermann 100 for who I think should be in, who shouldn’t, who already is, and who might make it…like Bert Blyleven.

    P.S. Norm Cash won his batting title with a corked bat in 1961 and he promptly hit an empty .243 in 1962…with the very same bat. Cash doesn’t belong in Cooperstown.

  8. jomigo

    By the way, what do you think about Andre “the Hawk” Dawson? I think he deserved to be in long before now.

  9. jomigo

    By the way, what do you think about Andre “the Hawk” Dawson? I think he deserved to be in long before now.

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