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Gary Cooper Did NOT Wear A Backwards Yankee Uniform

In what is easily the best piece of baseball research – and possibly motion picture research – this year,  Senior Curator Tom Shieber of the Baseball Hall of Fame dispels one of the most enduring myths of both fields: That the right-handed Gary Cooper donned a backwards-lettered Yankees uniform and ran the wrong way around the bases to enable  filmmakers to flip the negative and make him look like the left-handed Lou Gehrig in “The Pride Of The Yankees”:

GaryCooperI’ll let Tom Shieber take you step-by-step, with a kind of gentle meticulousness that even I could understand, through the evidence that:

A) Proves the shot of Cooper above is not a reversed image and he didn’t hit the ball and then run down the third base line;

B) Proves that such movie-making sleight-of-hand would not have been necessary;

C) Proves the one instance – in a pre-Yankee scene from the Gehrig biopic – in which they really did let Cooper do things righty and then flipped the image to make him look lefty;

D) Nails the explanation of how this one instance was blown out of all proportion and turned in to the backward film legend by a very venerated but very overrated sportswriter;

E) Proves the involvement in the making of the film by two of the game’s great characters, Babe Herman and Lefty O’Doul.

F) Notes and explains why the rightfielder in some of the shots appears to be playing about 20 feet behind the first baseman.

Gary Cooper, real

Gary Cooper, real

It is, as I say, terrific research terrifically explained.

I can add only one detail to it – something that had always bothered me about the ‘then he ran down the third base line’ legend. The human face is not symmetrical. We know this so intuitively that we don’t usually even think about it. But you know when a picture of you has been reversed, or you’re looking in a double mirror.

On the top is Gary Cooper as Gehrig, in a still frame that Shieber has determined is an original, unflipped image. Below is Gary Cooper as Gehrig, in a still frame that Shieber can prove has been flipped. Look carefully at the features of his face – they’re not in the same places in each shot. It takes a little work, but it’s worth it.

This is not as exact a science as Shieber’s analysis of stadium backgrounds and fly buttons and all the rest, but it’s of supportive value. And except in this one scene, Gary Cooper looks like one Gary Cooper all the way through the film. As

Gary Cooper, reversed

Gary Cooper, reversed

‘another’ Gary, Garry Shandling, used to say, ‘no flipping.’

Then in this one scene at first base comes this bizarre image of a guy who looks enough like the Cooper we’ve seen throughout the flick to be his twin – but it is not an exact match. The nose breaks in the opposite direction (just a little bit). The veins on one side of the neck now match the ones on the other side of the neck. It’s all subtle, but it’s all the photographic equivalent of circumstantial evidence.

And it puts a little P.S. on some superb detective work. Bravo, Tom Shieber

 

 

These Questions Are Easier Than They Seem

Nothing makes simple questions needlessly complex more quickly than a lot of people needing to fill a lot of time and space. So. Let’s knock these off quickly.

Can The Yankees Void Alex Rodriguez’s Contract?

Highly unlikely. When Rodriguez admitted to past PED use four years ago, the team had a window in which it could’ve claimed he had misled them so seriously that it amounted to fraud or more likely breach of contract. It could’ve cut off his paycheck and invited him – or the Players’ Association – to sue them.

But Rodriguez could’ve just as easily responded by saying ‘thanks.’ He was coming off a 35/103/.302/.392/.573 season, the ever-willingly gullible fan base bought his line about having merely “experimented” and stopped years before, and he would’ve found somebody to pay him – and maybe even pay him more.  The Yankees still had dreams of making additional tens of millions in marketing money as Alex Rodriguez – the clean home run hitter – expunged Barry Bonds from the record book. They didn’t want to fire him.

One of the problems with breach of contract is that if you feel you’re the victim of it, if you don’t respond legally, you are – in a passive-aggressive fashion – forgiving whatever action you think constituted the possible breach. The time frame before your window to try to void a contract expires is not set in stone, but it sure as heck is less than four years.

But Isn’t The New Allegation A Whole Different Breach?

It sure would be – if Rodriguez admitted it. But he’s denying it, outright. Unless there’s another positive test out there, there isn’t a fraud/breach way out of his contract.

By the way, no, I’m not a lawyer. Don’t ask me why I’m so familiar with this topic right now. Trust me, I just am.

So Couldn’t The Yankees Buy Him Out Of His Contract?

There are several variations, but the best estimate is that the Yankees owe Rodriguez another $114,000,000. Exactly what would your motivation be to accept something less?

If he retires, he gets less. If he has to retire because of injury, the Yankees can put in a claim on their insurance on the contract. But if he keeps showing up to work, either willing to play or trying to rehabilitate himself, the club owes him the full amount.

Ask Don Gullett. The Yankees signed him the same winter they signed Reggie Jackson. Everybody knew he had a risky delivery and a cranky arm, but they still gave him a six-year contract. He pitched exactly 30 times for them, the last game coming in July, 1978. He was still showing up at Yankee Stadium and throwing stiffly on the sidelines as late as the summer of 1980. He was a non-roster invitee in 1981. His endless arm miseries produced one of the great jokes in the history of television sportscasting. Deep into one winter, Jerry Girard of WPIX-TV in New York interrupted reading the NBA scoreboard and announced there was breaking news. “This just in,” he said as the director killed the graphics of the scores and put him on camera. “There has been a Don Gullett sighting!”

Why On Earth Did The Diamondbacks Trade Justin Upton?

This is the revised version of the question “Why On Earth Would The Diamondbacks Trade Justin Upton?” The two questions have been asked 47,552 times* this off-season on radio, tv, and the internet.

Answer: In what is now a five-and-a-half season sample size, Justin Upton is a career .250 hitter with a .325 on base percentage and a .406 slug, and an average of 18 homers and 63 RBI. That’s what he’s done lifetime away from Phoenix (the homers and RBI are normalized to a 162-game season). He drove in exactly 20 runs on the road last year.

He is a supremely talented prospect who has thus far shown he doesn’t travel well.

The Braves can take some hope from the fact that sometimes disastrous home-road splits are not entirely-park related but at least somewhat comfort-related. If he’s just as good at home in Atlanta as he was in Arizona, the trade won’t be a disaster (and he still won’t be a superstar). They can still also be optimistic about a smaller sample: 1/8/.293/.388/.483 – in 58 career at bats in Atlanta.

*-I made that number up.

Why Hasn’t Michael Bourn Signed Yet?

He hit .238 after July 1st of last year.

That’s why you trade for Ben Revere instead.

Which Hall Of Famer Is This?

From The Baseball Hall Of Fame Photo Archive

From The Baseball Hall Of Fame Photo Archive

This one is not easier than it seems. HOF President Jeff Idelson tweeted that shot out today, with this enticing hint:

This brilliant lefty’s pickoff move was deemed great by Earl Weaver. He’s in the HOF, but not as a player. Who is he?

An additional hint was later provided – that he was on USC’s national college champs of 1958.

The photo provides an approximate date. That thing at the top left is the famed curved roof of the Orioles’ old spring training home, Miami Stadium, and the bagginess of the uniform suggests 1960 or 1961 at the latest.

Since Jeff has already tweeted the answer, I’m going to give it again, below. It ain’t Steve Dalkowski and it ain’t Frank Bertaina.

 

 

 

This brilliant lefty is Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick

 

Photo Nerdgasm: UPDATED

I know, I know, Morse trade, WBC, Manti Te’o’s Invisible Girlfriend…I have something important to discuss here: Who are these guys? These are two shots taken at the Yankees’ old spring training facility at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the 1978-85 range. The negatives were never printed and never identified by the photographer, and they aren’t obvious to anybody. And I speak as an anybody whose proudest moment was going into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Photo Archive three years ago and having the privilege to be shown their “unidentified” file – and to reel off seven or eight consecutive IDs in the first photos I saw. I was just beginning to draw a crowd when the muse left me. I think I had one tentative name guess for the remaining hundred in the pile.

Anyway, all we know is that they were Yankees, that we think they were non-roster invitees, and that we have three meh possibilities. Want to play?

Who are these guys?

Who Am I, Number One?

Who Am I, Number One?

Who Am I, Number Two?

Who Am I, Number Two?

As I said, there are a couple of possibilities. Number One looks vaguely – very vaguely – like Keith Smith, who played exactly 20 innings at short for the Yankees in ’84 and ’85. Let’s look at Number One and Smith, side by side…

I AM P. Keith Smith

I AM P. Keith Smith

Am I P. Keith Smith?

Am I P. Keith Smith?

Face shape looks pretty good. The eyebrows are close and any deviation can be attributed to a common eyebrow issue for us Keiths – trimming. The head tilt as part of the attitude toward the camera is one of those subtle things that often tell you more than facial features. But maybe you recognize him and it’s somebody else?

As to the other, I’m not nearly as confident:

I'm Brian Fisher

I’m Brian Fisher

I'm Kelly Scott

I’m Kelly Scott

Kelly Scott? Brian Fisher?

Kelly Scott? Brian Fisher?

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our Mysterious Yankee #2 is neither Kelly Scott – a pitcher who was in camp several times in the ’80s – nor Brian Fisher, a very highly rated reliever the Yankees had gotten from Atlanta and later peddled to Pittsburgh. There are a few bad color photos of Scott in which his hair looks very much like our guy. The similarities to Fisher are obvious – the mouth, ear shape, etc. – but doesn’t the unidentified Yankee look significantly older than Fisher? It’s not like these photos could’ve been years apart: Fisher was in the Yank camp just two years, ’85 and ’86.

In any event, if you want to play sleuth, feel free to use the comments. If you have photos or links to support your thoughts, lemme know. Thanks!

MantleDetailUPDATE: One of your kind comments reminds me that we have a few clues besides the faces of the unknown Yanks. Over #2’s right shoulder, for instance, is a very familiar figure.

The Number 7 is on the one and only Mickey Mantle, who served as a Yankee spring training instructor from the year after his retirement until his health failed in the ’90s – with a couple of exceptions. Mantle was barred from baseball in February, 1983, for having gone to work for an Atlantic City casino, and wasn’t reinstated until March, 1985. Therefore you wouldn’t see a Yankee spring training photo from 1983, 1984, or a shot from early spring training 1985 (most of the fringe guys would’ve been long gone before Mantle’s earliest possible return, on March 18th).

This dates the photo to 1982 or earlier, and 1986 or later. The negatives were supposed to have originated from the late ’70s or early ’80s.

Just as importantly, you can plainly see the memorial armband on Mantle’s left sleeve. The Yankees wore those a lot, and would’ve had them during spring training in 1980 (for the late Thurman Munson), in 1981 (for the late Elston Howard), and in 1986 (for the late Roger Maris).

The images were shot on the same day – they’re on the same negative strip. So they are likely dated to 1980-81 (a smaller chance that they date to 1986). Although then, as now, minor leaguers occasionally would be seen in big league camp even if they weren’t on the roster and they weren’t formally ‘non-roster invitees,’ their likelihood of being photographed was very small (they could and were photographed separately, in minor league camp).

Thus the field of who these two men could be really shrinks to all the guys in Spring Training for the Yankees in 1980 and 1981 who I don’t recognize on sight (and in those two seasons I went from Radio Network sportscaster and reporter, and part-time photographer, to CNN sports correspondent). And that field is:

1980:  Pitchers Jim Lewis, Brian Ryder, and Jamie Werly; catchers Scott Benedict, Pat Callahan, and Dan Plante.

1981: Pitchers Curt Kauffman, Lewis, and Ryder; catchers Callahan and Kevin Shannon.

For the record there a couple of other obscure guys in the field that I’ve eliminated because they don’t look like either of these guys: pitchers Paul Boris, Greg Cochran, Tom Filer, Roger Slagle, and Chris Welsh (that’s right: that Chris Welsh, now the Reds’ announcer and then a Yankee lefthand pitching prospect). Speaking of the Reds, neither is either of them another 1981 non-roster invitee named Don Gullett,  who was still – five seasons later – trying to spend one healthy season in a New York uniform after having signed a huge free agent contract in the winter of 1976-77.

But I’m digressing. Let’s put together a rogue’s gallery of the remaining possibilities:

Jim Lewis, 1980

Jim Lewis, 1980

Jamie Werly, 1981

Jamie Werly, 1981

Brian Ryder, 1982

Brian Ryder, 1982

Curt Kaufman, 1982

Curt Kaufman, 1982

Scott Benedict, 1981

Scott Benedict, 1981

Pat Callahan, 1979

Pat Callahan, 1979

As you see, it’s an incomplete gallery. Nothing turned up for two of those catchers – Dan Plante and Kevin Shannon.

I think most of these guys are obviously neither of our unidentified Yankees. One bears a remote resemblance – I’d suggest Scott Benedict, later a renowned high school coach in Florida, might just be Yankee #1, but the chest hair and the chin in the identified shot suggests otherwise. But do you see that shot of Brian Ryder with the then-Reds farm team, the Indianapolis Indians, from 1982. We may have a winner.

Let’s look at a couple more shots of Ryder, and put them alongside our Yankee #2:

Ryder, 1981

Ryder, 1981

Ryder, 1980

Ryder, 1980

Ryder?

Ryder?

I like the 1981 black and white especially – the profile shot – as a match, but it’s pointed out below that the complexion looks more like those two shots of Jamie Werly.

Ryder was the 26th overall pick in the 1978 draft and produced 15-victory seasons in his first two full years in the minors. But after a so-so year at AAA in 1981 the Yankees packaged him and another minor league pitcher named Fredie Toliver to the Reds, for Ken Griffey Sr (it is almost impossible to recall that we used to just call him “Ken Griffey.”) Ryder and Werly never made the majors – but the latter did put together a solid seven years in the

Jamie Werly

Jamie Werly

high minors, including a season as the top pitcher in the Southern League in 1981. In a recent photo he looks a lot like Yankee #1. I think it’s one of them, shown just a few springs ago, with Mickey Mantle over their shoulder…

If anybody has any ideas on the others, feel free to post a Comment – especially if you’ve got a shot of Dan Plante or Kevin Shannon.

UPDATED AGAIN!

Finally it struck me. “Number 1″ here has been annoying me for awhile. Looked familiar, but in a disguised way. Is it possible I’m seeing a guy I knew with long, even bushy hair, and a mustache, without either?

Dennis Werth

Dennis Werth

Could I be...

Could I be…

Dennis Werth? Jayson Werth’s step-Dad?

Nobody Elected to HOF: We Deserve It (Revised)

Well, this is it. Kindly pay your piper. Welcome those chickens coming home to roost. Please enjoy your Hall of Fame Day of Reckoning.

The anecdotal accounts – and an invaluable “exit poll” – foresaw that the Baseball Writers Association of America would elect nobody as part of the class of 2013, and though I grieve for Dale Murphy and Craig Biggio and several others, there is a certain poetic justice to it.

We all knew. The players who used, the players who didn’t, the owners who enabled it, we reporters who covered it, we fans who bought tickets and cheered anyway. Some of us didn’t want to admit we knew until they went after Bonds and Clemens, or until Canseco’s book, or until McGwire’s temporal displacement in front of Congress, or until that container of Andro showed up in his locker in ’98.

But we knew.

We saw utility infielders popping opposite field home runs and part time guys slapping 20 homers and superstars hitting drives that would have set distance records in golf. We saw before and after photos of the Cansecos and the Bondses and we suspended our disbelief.

We all deserve nobody going into the Hall this year save for Hank O’Day and Jake Ruppert and Deacon White. Only O’Day – in his post-pitching career as an umpire – and the bespectacled White were ever accused even of myopia, let alone actual PED-use.

I am not casting stones from inside the glass house. I’m guilty, too. It was the day they gave the 1986 A.L. Rookie of the Year award to Canseco (whose moral standing in this mess has gradually gone from last place to about 4th from the top because he alone was utterly, if mercenarily, honest). One of the runners-up told me off-the-record “you do know that Canseco uses those drugs they give to the East German Women Swimmers, right?”

He didn’t even know they were called steroids.

I did what digging I could, and kept an ear to the ground, but how many sources were enough to tell that story?But in 1988, just after Ben Johnson was thrown out of the Seoul Olympics for a positive steroid test, I got a series of four sources – including some of her opponents – who told me that Florence Griffith-Joyner was just as steeped in scandal as was Johnson. I promptly went out and butchered the story. I was trying to write a revelation that should have sounded like “other Olympic runners say this” and included a recitation of the math that she was now breaking records so profoundly and so quickly that if the pace continued, by the year 2188, a runner would actually finish a race before she started it. Instead, I turned it into something that sounded like “I think she’s on them drug things.” She and her crew threatened suit, I retracted the story, and not long after Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post had the same experience with his “Canseco Cocktail” story. As well-meaning as we each were in trying to expose the putrid mess, we both set back its revelation by some (presumably small) degree. I’m sorry.

About two months after she got back from Seoul, Flo-Jo, who had promised to sue me and CBS and Carl Lewis (who had made the same charge at a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, on videotape, and then claimed it was off the record), and who had promised to keep running until she won Gold in her “home” Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, abruptly retired. We never heard from their lawyers again. She died in 1998, more than a year shy of her 40th birthday. For the record, I think she too either didn’t know – or willingly disbelieved – that there was anything more than perseverance to her unprecedented series of record-breaking performances. I think she suddenly found out, which is where the retirement – and the legal silence – came in. But it’s just a guess.

In any event, the next time I tripped over something substantial, I kept it to myself.  A pro sports team orthopedist remarked on the sudden devastating, nearly career-ending, bizarre injury to a star baseball player. He said that there were only three ways to accomplish what the guy had done to himself: a hereditary circulatory problem or the repeated injection of anabolic steroids into the same place in the body or a horrific car accident (“By that I mean,” he told me, “having a car dropped on top of you from about 25 feet.”) Having burned myself on the Flo-Jo thing I was not prepared to repeat the process. And now I knew that there was one baseball star on steroids and maybe another one had just had his career virtually ended by steroids and there were not enough sources to mine and certainly nobody to pool notes with.

And then the bottle of “andro” showed up in McGwire’s locker. I can remember that week hearing the late baseball writer Leonard Koppett tell me on my show that nobody cared, that it wasn’t cheating, that it was nothing worse than vitamins or maybe, maybe, “greenies.” To his eternal credit, the author and former pitcher Jim Bouton not only disagreed, but got it exactly right. Some day, he says in the interview, baseball will have to reckon with years and years of records that will be artificially inflated, distorted beyond all measure, by the effects of a drug that lets you keep working out when the guys next to you – or before you, chronologically – have to drop the barbell. It was Bouton, after all, who had written in the eternal Ball Four that if a pitcher could take a pill that guaranteed him a) 20 wins and b) that he’d die five years sooner, he would’ve swallowed it before you finished that “b)” part.

So I pushed the Andro story – wrote a piece for Playboy in 1999 in which I picked up both Bouton’s point and the fact that baseball was going to lose the breathless charm of “chasing the home run record.” I pushed that story and every little hint of the truth dropped over the years, by the late Ken Caminiti, by Canseco, by Curt Schilling. But by then, almost nobody cared. I stood atop the right field corner at Fenway at the Home Run Hitting Contest the night before the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway and ooed and ahhed with the rest of you as McGwire hit 650-foot blasts beyond the wall at the other side of the ballpark. And I knew it was mostly the drugs and while I could still preserve enough of my own disbelief to know it wasn’t real, I could see how the results of the PEDs could be as addictive to the fans and the owners’ bottom lines, as the drugs themselves could be the players.

By 2002 I was carrying a printed list of the players I had been told by various sources were “using.” Printed out and folded up inside my scorebook. I’d show it to colleagues and team executives and even other players and get confirmations or denials or additions. But I never even emailed it to, nor copied it for, anybody. With delicious irony, the legal rules protected the rule-breakers.

My conscience is relatively clean. I’ve been yelling about the Emporers’ Clothes for more than fourteen years. Yet it literally still keeps me up at night. Did so last night before today’s announcement. Biggio will probably get in later, and I think the Veterans’ Committee will soon note that Dale Murphy has the same OPS+ as Jim Rice, and was at worst the second or third best hitter of the era that matched his days as a starting player, and the collateral damage to them and the other deserving clean players will be transient. I do think there’s something delicious about the fact that the Baseball Writers have never even been consistent about what merits election to Cooperstown, and this time they all had to figure it out at the most complex moment in voting history, and that because none of them was likely to reach the same conclusion, for everybody who voted Bagwell but not Bonds, there was somebody who voted Bonds but not Bagwell, and none of them got in.

But they all deserve that kind of self-abnegating communal shame. As do we. They did it. We watched it. Those of us who didn’t care, and those of us who cared but couldn’t reveal or stop it, deserve similar if not identical fates.

The path to Steroid Hell was indeed paved with good intentions. And Jim Bouton’s pills. And the drugs that he didn’t know the name of that the guy told me about 26 years ago that they also gave the East German Women Swimmers. And the stuff we saw with our lying eyes and just pretended wasn’t real.

1983

1983

1988

1988

Not Convicted? Not The Point (Updated)

This is the first time in my life – and this wish began when I was nine or ten – that I’m glad Santa never answered my request that he bring me a Hall of Fame ballot.

Watching the handwringing by the voters has been entertaining and curiously satisfying (you ignored Dale Murphy for ten years? Great – you deserve Bonds and Clemens). But one part mystifies me: The argument, repeated again and again in various fashions, that one somehow has to vote for Bonds or Clemens or anybody else because these players were never found guilty of steroid use and are legally just the victims of accusation.

Ever heard of Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver?

They were the only-slightly-lesser figures behind Shoeless Joe Jackson in the 1919 World Series scandal, numbers two and three in the skills chart among the infamous “Eight Men Out.”  And like Jackson, they were convicted of nothing. Not of taking bribes, not of deliberately losing the Series to the Reds – nothing. Acquittals all the way around.

Now they were likely helped in this by the disappearance of tearful confessions to the prosecutors and the Grand Jury (although technically we must call them “reputed confessions” since, conveniently or not, they did vanish before the trial). Nevertheless, all three of them (plus Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Lefty Williams, and the unfortunate eavesdropping utility man Fred McMullin) were banned from baseball for life without the possibility of appeal by brand-new Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and his unilateral decision has been the rationale for keeping them out of Cooperstown.

I’ll add some numbers later to flesh this out but I think at least Jackson and Cicotte are Hall-of-Famers and I support forgiving them and electing them (and, yes, Pete Rose for that matter). Had Jackson been hit by a bus and not by a ban in 1920 he would’ve been part of the first Cooperstown class of 1936. Cicotte might have needed a couple more strong seasons to get in, but he had just crossed the 200-win plateau and the parallels to the career of R.A. Dickey are unmistakable (to say nothing of the easy comparison to Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes – though Cicotte’s “Shine Ball” may have been illusory and he may have been nothing more than a hard-knuckleball pitcher who had finally ‘gotten it’ around 1917).

Weaver’s qualifications appear to have needed the testimony of witnesses to elevate it to Hall of Fame status. He could’ve used another five years which Landis denied him. Most relevantly he alone among the expelled players adamantly maintained his complete innocence.

From a Hall of Fame perspective, of course, it doesn’t matter. They were convicted of nothing and at the very worst it appears Weaver was guilty of not snitching. They’re not in the Hall and they’re never going to be. And for better or worse, that’s the precedent for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa – and Bagwell and Piazza, for that matter. To quote the movie nominally about Shoeless Joe, “There are rules here? There are no rules here!”

Parenthetically I don’t think any of them, Bagwell and Piazza included, get elected. There are a lot of voters and this is way too complicated for many of them to reach the same conclusions about which players get the benefit of the doubt and which don’t. The highest percentage any of these guys get will be around 51 (75 is needed). And somewhere Cicotte and Weaver and Shoeless Joe will shake their ghostly heads and say that letting mortals judge immortality is bad enough without letting them do the judging without any real rules to guide them.

Statistical Postscript

The Baseball Reference version of WAR gives Cicotte a whopping career number of 54.5, and that’s for only thirteen seasons. He is cradled neatly on the all-time list between Hall of Famers Joe McGinnity and Whitey Ford, and ahead of the likes of Three-Finger Brown, Eppa Rixey, the aforementioned Burleigh Grimes, and Mariano Rivera. His last four seasons produced WARs of 11.2, 3.0, 9.2 and 4.7, and it should be pointed out that this is a case where the old and new methodology concur. Cicotte (and if you’re wondering, it was pronounced ‘See-Cot’ with an even emphasis on both syllables) was 28-12, 1.53 in the 11.2 season and 29.7, 1.82 in the 9.2 season.

Weaver fares less well – a WAR of 18.2 (for only nine seasons) but his OPS was only .692 and his OPS+ 92. What is tantalizing is that his last season – ended when the scandal broke and the White Sox suspended them all on September 28, 1920 – was far and away his best. A man who had hit .300 exactly once (and exactly .300 at that) was now hitting .331 and slugging .420 a month after his 30th birthday. He had been getting better each year since 1917 and was wrapping up a break-out season.

Interestingly, Joe Jackson’s WAR was only 59.6 (Home Run Baker territory) but he too had really only played nine full seasons and 1920 might have been his best (12-121-.382 when his past career highs had been 7-96-.408). He hit .356 lifetime and was only 33 and his park/league adjusted OPS, 170, is tied for the seventh best all-time.

Marvin Miller, The Man Who Reinvented Baseball

Last season, $10,000 would have bought you eight front-row tickets to one regular season game at Yankee Stadium.

In 1966, $10,000 was the average salary of a Major League Baseball Player.

1966 was not one of the years of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Inflation since then has not been 7500 percent.  Reggie Jackson and Johnny Bench and Nolan Ryan were on the cusp of the majors, the Mets had just gotten the right to sign Tom Seaver, three-year old Jamie Moyer had already thrown a baseball, and Peter Gammons had just begun to write sports for The North Carolina Daily Tar Heel.

1966 is not ancient history. And as Marvin Miller became the head of the nascent Major League Players Association that season, Sandy Koufax was pitching his last campaign for the Dodgers. To get Walter O’Malley Dodgers to pay Koufax just $125,000, Koufax and Don Drysdale had to threaten to sit out the season. Along side them on the Dodgers’ pitching staff, a rookie named Don Sutton was being paid $6,000. Sutton was hoping to soon reach the income of the average major leaguer. Ten Grand didn’t exactly leave you homeless, but if you didn’t also have a regular working stiff’s job in the off-season, it wasn’t enough to raise a family on.

And Marvin Miller changed that.

You can argue that the pendulum Marvin unleashed from its artificial restraint has swung too far to the other side (and you’d be wrong – who is about to sign a six billion dollar contract? The new Dodgers owners, or Evan Longoria?) You can argue that what Marvin wrought has destroyed competitive balance and especially the small markets (and you’d be wrong – in the 18 seasons before his ascent, the Yankees had won 15 pennants and the Dodgers had won nine, and the team then in Kansas City had finished last or in the bottom four 13 times). You can argue that the freedom Marvin enabled has destroyed the continuity of players and made the one-team player nearly extinct (and you’d be wrong – there are 41 Hall of Famers who played for only one team, and a disproportionate number, 11, are from the Free Agent era. The only thing that’s changed is that the players can now initiate their own jarring relocation, not just the owners).

You can also argue that free agency and everything else Marvin Miller accomplished has created that bill for $10,000 for eight tickets at Yankee Stadium, and you’d be wrong yet again. As someone long ago observed, this assumption requires the secondary one that the owners would never have raised prices if there hadn’t been free agency. That assumption ignores the fundaments of business, to say nothing of the reality of baseball pre-Marvin Miller, in which the owners managed to quadruple ticket prices while barely doubling player salaries. As the realities of the new economics of the game unfolded in the ’70s and ’80s it became obvious that for years, for decades, for generations, the owners had been keeping 70, 80, or maybe 90 percent of all revenues, and that even as society grew more affluent and the definitions of disposable income and luxury almost switched places, the owners kept hitting the players over the head with the economic hammer just because they could.

One thing you can not argue is that Marvin Miller hurt the owners. This used to be the first response to the Major League Baseball Players Association that he built: that the man that Braves’ Vice President Paul Richards called a “mustachioed four-flusher” was a communist or a socialist or anarchist who would destroy the game, its owners, and their God-given right to profit. It was an act of faith for owners and Commissioners and even a huge percentage of players (Stockholm Syndrome) that without the Reserve Clause that Miller and Curt Flood and Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally and Peter Seitz brought down, teams would go bankrupt, or at best the small markets would never compete nor last (in the 19 years ending in 1972, 10 franchises moved. In the 40 years since, one moved).

As the first wave of Free Agents mourn him, and all the players since give distant thanks, the owners ought to build statues to Marvin Miller. According to an anecdote told by their then-VPs Buzzy Bavasi and Fresco Thompson, the Dodgers profited six million dollars in 1963 and four million in 1964 (and thus owner Walter O’Malley complained that he’d “lost” two million). That the Dodgers – and everybody else – went from those then-dizzying figures to tens of millions, then hundreds, then to signing multi-billion dollar tv deals – is directly attributable to the new economics that Miller unleashed.

He, personally, put the word “billion” into baseball. Into all sports, for that matter. And via the miracle of imitation, probably into other forms of entertainment.

Marvin once admitted to me that he did not foresee the intangibles that the liberated player would create. Who could have known that player contract negotiations and the covering of them and the kibitzing about them would become an industry that would rival coverage of the game on the field itself? Baseball’s off-seasons used to have occasional trade rumors, an invigorating flurry of deals at the all-too-brief Winter Meetings, and the searing experience of the release of veteran former stars late in Spring Training.

And then suddenly you could spend weeks wondering where Reggie Jackson would go – and the Free Agent Season was born. And suddenly fans, battered by decades of owner disloyalty and now confused by the added mobility of the players, decided they could create their own teams – and Fantasy Baseball was born. And then teams began to offload unsignable players and the drama of the Trade Deadline took on new form and dimensions. And then the idea of trying to scientifically put the proverbial dollar sign on the muscle replaced the “Sign Wayne Garland – he won 20!” methodology, and SABRmetrics began to gain a head of steam that is years away from culmination.

In that he utterly reshaped the way the game was played on the field, Babe Ruth probably reigns supreme on the list of those who changed baseball most. In that they reshaped its color (and our nation’s attitude – and laws), Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson probably share second place. But only they can even be considered above Marvin Miller as men who had greater influence on the history of baseball. As an aside, I do not slight Curt Flood here. I revered him, and was honored to have met him. Conceivably he sacrificed a Hall of Fame career to try to gain for himself and his colleagues the freedom Miller and the arbitrator Seitz and some lunkheaded owners, and Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith finally gave them. But remember that Marvin Miller tried to talk Flood out of suing, and warned him that he was not operating from a position of strength, and that the players did not yet understand why they needed to support him, and that he would probably lose his case. As always, Marvin was – tragically – right. Curt Flood is just behind Miller on this list.

My first personal exposure to Marvin Miller came while covering the second wave of the union’s struggles, in the 1980’s. By 1981 the owners still didn’t see what gifts he had bestowed upon them, and they stubbornly tried to force him to take them back. The players had no choice but to strike, and for 50 days I got to cover Marvin’s profound sighs. I found myself fascinated watching him conduct himself with such an even keel, such aplomb, amid chaos and confusion and anger and fools who would not suffer him, gladly or otherwise. It was an unintentional education, and I later got to tell him so. I’d love to be as good at it some day as he was on his worst day.

Update 4:00 PM EDT: I was just re-watching Hot Stove’s coverage of Marvin’s passing and I thought this was a fitting picture to freeze from the ‘b-roll':

File footage from MLB Network 11/27/12

Marvin Miller, before or during the 1981 baseball strike negotiations. The guy in the mustache and the all-too-thin tie, back left, is a 22-year old radio reporter who would get his first tv shot because CNN’s strike correspondent took two weeks off after the strike was settled.

The original post resumes here:

Even in 1983 the union had its own internecine growing pains. One night I was coming home from CNN and walking up Third Avenue when I saw his unmistakably dapper figure walking down it, towards me. I was going to say hello, but even at a distance I could read that there was something even more focused than usual, even more purposeful, even more burdened, about the look on his face. I thought the least I could do as thanks for all his cooperation with me was to leave him alone.

Later that night I was bowled over to discover that the Union, the direction of which he had turned over to the mediator who had worked the 1981 strike, had rebelled against and unseated his successor. When I passed him on the street Marvin had been on his way to the meeting at which he would help the players rid themselves of the new director, and himself semi-reluctantly came out of semi-retirement to help Don Fehr get on his feet as the new chief.

I mentioned that to him when we spoke two Fridays ago. “I remember,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I was fortunate that that damn fool kid reporter didn’t recognize me!” The conversation did not dwell on the embarrassment that is his absence from the Hall of Fame, nor his complete repainting of the baseball landscape, nor the strikes and other tortures of his 17 years giving birth to his union. It was mostly about his fears for the loss of individual freedom in the American society that would so soon be without him.

Fitting, that, because whatever happened after he achieved it, Marvin Miller’s original goal as the head of the players’ union was freedom – to eliminate the nonsensical conclusion (improbably upheld by the Supreme Court) that because baseball players “played,” their bosses were not truly running interstate commerce. And thus, a 17-year old kid who signed a one-year contract with, say, the Philadelphia Phillies, was actually signing a 25-year contract. Each “one-year” agreement had a proviso allowing the owners to “renew” the contract for another year. And in the renewal year, the proviso re-set, and the contract could be “renewed” again.

It wasn’t actually slavery, but it sure as hell wasn’t freedom.

And that one word was what Marvin Miller was all about.

The Non-SABRmetric Argument Against Miguel Cabrera

It was my privilege to be part of this morning’s MLB Network Hot Stove roundtable on the real election of 2012 – Cabrera v. Trout (reairs at 4 PM ET if you’re reading this before then).

If you noticed the index cards in my hand, you’ll know that I offered a lot of data – not about VORP or WARP or BABIP or any of the new analytics – but essential hardcore boxscore stuff that undercuts the second biggest argument for Miguel Cabrera as American League MVP: That preference has to be given to the guy on the winning team, and that Cabrera ‘carried the Tigers on his back into the playoffs.

Firstly, the Tigers finished with only the seventh best record in the American League. That’s seventh out of fourteen. In the pre-division days they used to call that The Second Division – and it was a sign of shame. As it applies to this topic, there is also this embarrassing reality:

Angels (Trout’s team)           89 wins, 73 losses

Tigers (Cabrera’s team)        88 wins, 74 losses

The Angels, playing in a far tougher division, won more games than the Tigers did – yet any MVP doubt is supposed to fall on Cabrera’s side because he was on “the winner?”

It doesn’t make sense – it’s a remnant of the days when only one team per league made the “post-season” – and it wasn’t Cabrera who won the AL Central, it was Cabrera and the rest of the Detroit team -but I’ll just concede it to Cabrera’s supporters.

What I will not concede is this assumption that Cabrera deserves the MVP over Trout because, since the Tigers made the playoffs, he was necessarily more valuable – especially as the Tigers managed to sneak past the collapsing White Sox ‘down the stretch.’ One of the cards I didn’t get to fully reveal on the show suggests Cabrera was hardly repeating the Carl Yastrzemski feat of 1967 over the last two weeks of the season.

After the games of September 18, the Tigers were two games behind Chicago. The remainder of the season gives us a small but insight-filled sample of what Cabrera did – and what he didn’t do – over the last 15 games.

CABRERA, AFTER 9/18/12:

Games:                                 15

Average:            .291 (16/55)

Homers:                                4

RBI:                                      10

BB:                                          3

It should be noted that three of Cabrera’s RBI came in one game – on September 29 – and two others came on October 2. So he drove in runs in seven of the Tigers’ 15 stretch games.

And there’s a fascinating statistic from those games. The Tigers only won four of them. In other words, they were 4-and-3 when Cabrera drove in runs in a game…and 6-and-2 when he didn’t.

More confusing to the Cabrera “Pennant-Winner” meme, is Detroit’s record when other Tigers drove in runs in those final fifteen games:

TIGERS RECORD WITH RBI BY…

Prince Fielder                  6-1

Alex Avila                         4-0

Jhonny Peralta               4-0

Austin Jackson               4-1

Delmon Young                4-1

Andy Dirks                       3-1

Miguel Cabrera               4-3

But…those RBI in those four games won those games, right? The MVP surely did something essential in the most essential of simple stats, down the stretch, right?

Not really, no.

This is from a card I was in the middle of reading when Chris Russo cut me off. He had reason to do so.

CABRERA RBI AFTER 9/18/12, DETAILS:

1. 9/19: Tigers leading 4-0 in 7th when Cabrera hits solo HR (6-2 win)

2. 9/22: Tigers leading 7-0 in 4th when Cabrera hits solo HR (8-0 win)

3. 9/23 (1st Game): Scoreless in 4th: Cabrera RBI 2B produces 1-0 lead (10-4 loss)

4. 9/23 (2nd Game): Scoreless in 1st: Cabrera RBI 2B produces 1-0 lead (2-1 loss)

5, 6, 7. 9/29: Tigers leading 2-0 in 7th when Cabrera hits three-run HR (6-4 win)

8. 10/1: Tigers leading 1-0 in 6th when Cabrera hits solo HR (6-3 win)

9, 10. 10/2: Tigers losing 1-0 in 3rd when Cabrera 2-RBI 2B produces 2-1 lead (4-2 loss)

I’d grade the actual game situations in which Cabrera produced as ‘tepid.’ Two of his RBI (and half of his homers) were clearly unnecessary tack-on runs. His three-run blast on September 29th would prove necessary when the Tiger bullpen melted down; the solo job on October 1st might have been necessary – hindsight can’t give us a clear answer. On the other hand, the drove in the first run in both games on September 23rd, and his double wiped out a one-run deficit on October 2nd – and that the Tigers blew all three of those games should not subtract from the clutchness (clutchiness?) of those hits.

My point in here is not to dismiss what Cabrera did for the Tigers as the White Sox plummeted past them. There are countless fielding plays, runner advancements, and just his presence in the lineup to consider as “clutch” contributions. But the RBI-by-RBI examination proves conclusively that Miguel Cabrera did not carry the Tigers on his back down the stretch. He was not the slam-dunk MVP of his own team at the team it mattered the most. Without fine-toothed comb examinations of each game it’s hard to say who was, though the superficial data suggests it was Fielder.

I’ve already gone on at length about why I don’t think the Triple Crown matters in MVP voting (it’s outdated analytics, as dangerously misleading as if we based the voting on the first set of statistics that were so popular pre-1871, which was a ratio of Runs Scored to Outs Made). But I added one bit of research that underscores Rob Neyer’s point that if you have a Triple Crown, it usually means that a lower-than-normal average or homer or RBI total has proved to lead the league in what can only be described as a happy anomaly:

LOWEST AVERAGES TO LEAD AMERICAN LEAGUE SINCE THE INTRODUCTION OF THE DESIGNATED HITTER IN 1973:

.326   Bill Mueller, Boston, 2003

.328   Joe Mauer, Minnesota, 2008

.329   George Brett, Kansas City, 1990

.330  Miguel Cabrera, Detroit, 2012

.331   Michael Young, Texas, 2005

Cabrera won the Triple Crown – in part – because batting average was way lower than usual, and he produced the fourth lowest average among the last 40 A.L. batting champions during a year in which he had terrific homer and RBI numbers.

So you don’t have to go to WARP or VORP or VOR-WARP to deflate the Cabrera MVP qualifications. Good old-fashioned numbers and easy to read details can do it for you.

Oh, by the way, about clutch? During that same post-9/18 time, Trout went 16/52 (.308) with three homers, six RBI, and ten walks. Moreover, after August 19th, as the rest of the Angels made their feeble attempt to stay alive in the West, they were unbeaten…in games in which Mike Trout drove in runs.

The Marlins: A Modest Proposal

So. Time to take Marlins Park and: A) Disassemble it; B) Crate it; C) Sell It; D) Ship it to San Jose (or Oakland, or Portland, or San Bernardino, Austin/San Antonio/Round Rock, or – wherever).

Now that the Miami experiment is over (as forecast here a year ago next week, and reiterated here last June) and Hanley Ramirez, Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and the merely arbitration-eligible Emilio Bonifacio have either been offloaded in A Going-Out-Of-Business-Sale (or are about to be), the Marlins are officially the Montreal Expos of the 2010’s and baseball is unofficially dead in Florida.

Notice I did not write South Florida. All of it. Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg was already less than sanguine about getting significant scratch from the state and local governments for a new ballpark that is absolutely essential to his survival in Tampa/St. Petersburg. If he had any hopes left after the disastrously low crowds for the free ballpark the good burghers of Florida gave Jeffrey Loria, they have to be gone now and he has to be looking elsewhere.

There are all sorts of other implications if the Reyes/Buehrle/Johnson deal to Toronto is completed as advertised. Obviously, this revivifies a Toronto franchise that was already showing signs of being on the upswing last year and as far back as 2010-11. It sure knocks the price down for whoever is the Jays’ first choice for the manager’s job. It might make John Farrell a little remorseful. And it buries the Yankees in the American League East; there would now be at least three other teams in the division with more talent than New York. The prospects of Alex Rodriguez going to the lame duck Miami franchise (first reported blah blah blah here and blah blah blah ) might actually have increased, on the premise that Loria and MLB have to do something to make it at least look like they’re trying to field a product worthy of 2013 big league ticket prices).

But the biggest long-term implications are fairly simple: the franchise carousel, all but quiet since the upheaval of the 1953-72 era, will begin to spin again.

Miami has a slight chance of survival (that stadium is standing, and a mess of prospects can suddenly win a division – ask the Oakland A’s about that) but Tampa Bay is gone. One would assume that at the latest the season of 2020 opens without a Florida team in the majors.

Where do the Rays (and probably the Marlins) move?

Here are the top U.S. Metropolitan Areas without MLB teams ranked by population, on 2011 estimates drawn from the Official 2010 United States Census:

12. Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario CA          4,304,997

23. Portland OR/Vancouver WA                            2,262,605

24. San Antonio/New Braunfels TX                      2,194,927

25. Sacramento/Roseville CA                                  2,176,235

26. Orlando/Daytona Beach FL                             2,171,360

30. Las Vegas                                                               1,969,975

31. San Jose                                                                  1,865,450

32. Columbus OH                                                        1,858,464

33. Charlotte/Gastonia NC                                       1,795,472

34. Austin/Round Rock TX                                      1,783,519

35. Indianapolis                                                          1,778,568

36. Virginia Beach/Norfolk                                     1,679,894

37. Nashville                                                                 1,617,142

Nashville you say? Virginia Beach? Hahahahahahaha?

Not so fast. Every metropolitan area on this list is larger than Milwaukee and Riverside, Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento are bigger than Cincinnati. There are certain practacalities here. All of Southern California is Dodger/Angel territory and the Magic Johnson group that just spent Eleventy Billion on the Dodgers isn’t going to give up claim on anything. Though Texas is a big place don’t tell that to the Rangers and Astros, who claim both the San Antonio and Austin zones. Columbus is Cleveland’s territory (unless it’s Cincinnati’s), Orlando would have at least some of the same problems as Tampa/St. Pete, and the Giants and Athletics are in their fifth different decade of arguing over San Jose.

So the Rays go to Portland and the Marlins to Sacramento? Not so fast.

You know who’d be 15th on the list – right between Phoenix and Seattle – if we made it of not American metropolitan areas but North American?

Right.

15. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Regional population: 3,824,221.

But wait, didn’t things go very badly in Montreal before? They certainly did, but not because of the city nor its love of baseball. Corrupt government and underfunded ownership and a betrayed fan base – all of them saddled with the greatest white elephant in the history of North American sports construction, Olympic Stadium. In every full season between 1979 and 1983 – even in that XXL Airplane Hangar – Les Expos drew at least 2,102,173 fans a year.

The peak total – 2,320,651 in 1983 – edged out the Cardinals for second place in National League attendance, and was just about a million more than the Mets drew in New York. It was about then that stuff started falling from the roof of the tribute to provincial graft, and star players started falling off the Expos’ roster. But make no mistake about it: Montreal supported baseball. As late as 1997 the Expos still brought in a million-and-a-half fans (more than the Mets or the Giants).

If all that could not be done in the ’90s and ’00s could be put together – a downtown stadium with government support, plus a well-run franchise making a long-term commitment – baseball’s second try in Montreal could be a triumph. And consider if it were the Rays fleeing north. Not only would Montreal get that well-run franchise, but it would suddenly find itself in a division with rivals from hated cities like Boston and New York…

…and Toronto.

Montreal and Toronto in the same division. Genius, I tells ya. Genius.

It’s a win-win. Unless you’re one of those few Florida baseball fans.

Oh yeah, I left out a fifth thing to do about the Marlins and Marlins Park: E) Ship Giancarlo Stanton separately. And while you’re at it, you might as well start wrapping uber-prospect Christian Yelich too.

 

World Series Forecast

Here are the forecaster’s problems.

The Detroit Tigers’ pitching dominance over the New York Yankees – the .144 OBA over four gruesome games – is not the indicator that you might think. The Yankees have been aging rapidly for three seasons, and they had just barely scratched out a victory over a Baltimore team without line-up depth or a dominant starting pitcher. Joe Girardi made a fateful remark in mid-series, about how his hitters had to “adjust” – manager-speak for telling them they had to stop going up there expecting the room service fastballs they would get from 60% of the pitchers they faced during the regular season. Yes, the Tiger pitching was superb. Yes, we all spent too much time talking about the Yanks’ demise. But between the two extremes it is almost impossible to get a good gauge on just how good the survivors are.

The Giants’ comebacks against the Reds and Cardinals were historic and epic. And they are also not the indicators you might think. Both losing teams have a lot of talent but neither was a juggernaut and the fact is that San Francisco’s valiant efforts have deranged their own rotation. It is stand-up-and-cheer heart-warming to see Marco Scutaro and Barry Zito finally make a World Series but it is imperative to remember that they are not going to win the World Series by themselves. 2012 was the second time in his career that the 36-year old Scutaro has batted better than .282 in a major league season and the third time he has hit more than one homer in a major league season.

As to Zito, the Giants could not have done it without him but his 15 wins divided up as follows:

Zito Vs. Playoff Teams (4-2)

Vs. Atlanta Braves     2-0

Vs. Oakland A’s         1-0

Vs. St. Lou. Cards      1-0

Vs. Tex. Rangers       0-1

Vs. Cin. Reds              0-1

Zito Vs. Non-Playoff Teams (11-6)

Vs. Az D-Backs          4-0

Vs. LA Dodgers          3-2

Vs. Col. Rockies         2-0

Vs. Chi. Cubs              1-0

Vs. Pitt. Pirates          1-0

Vs. Mil. Brewers        0-1

Vs. L.A. Angels         0-1

Vs. Hou. Astros         0-1

Vs. N.Y. Mets             0-1

These are the simplest of analytics here but they are offered simply to imply one fact about the World Series: drop the story lines of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and judge the Classic on who has the better, sounder team.

The Tigers have a confused bullpen, which reduces it to the level of the Giants when Santiago Casilla failed – and the Giants fixed that situation within hours with Sergio Romo. The Giants have a confused rotation, and you can’t straighten that out in anything less than a week. The Tigers have the kind of offense that is not seen by National League pitchers and its most potent bats (Cabrera and Fielder) live to butcher off-speed left-hand pitching like Zito.

There is also Justin Verlander in this equation and if the Giants can’t stop him at least once, the  Fister/Sanchez/Scherzer trio have only to produce two solid starts.

I’m thinking the Tigers could do this in five. If the Giants stage an upset – especially if they come from behind to do it – they will earn (and I will happily crown them) the single-season comeback kings of the game’s modern history. Unless one of the troubled starters (Lincecum? Bumgarner? turns in an MVP-level performance, I just don’t think they have a path to do it this time.

So, Are We Sure About These Tigers Scrimmages?

Ever seen this singular photo before?

It is one of the few remaining documentations of the day a bright idea by the Boston Red Sox that wound up – in all likelihood – costing them the 1946 World Series:

Photo Courtesy Boston Red Sox

On the left, Red Sox centerfielder Dom DiMaggio. In the center, pitcher Tex Hughson. On the right, in the Sox road gray: Joe DiMaggio – who didn’t have his regular uniform with him for one of the fateful games Boston played 66 years ago.

The Detroit Tigers’ idea to address their five day layoff between finishing sweeping the Yankees and facing the Cards or Giants in the Series by playing a pair of exhibition games is not new. The Red Sox did the same thing in 1946.

And it killed them.

We forget this now, but the Red Sox were prohibitive favorites to win a Series remembered for “Slaughter’s Mad Dash” and the disastrous 5-for-25 performance of Ted Williams. Boston had clinched the American League pennant with a 1-0 win on September 13th (courtesy of a Williams homer, naturally). They won by 12 games over a defending champion Tiger team that nearly played .600 ball, and a tidy 17 over the third place Yankees who imploded and went through three managers. Williams supplied a slash line of 38/123/.342 and had an OPS of 1.164 (and four other guys in the line-up were at .799 or better). The Red Sox were the team to beat.

But the National League race was back-and-forth between the Dodgers and Cardinals and with an N.L. first-place tie – and a Series-delaying three-game playoff looming – Sox Manager Joe Cronin and General Manager Eddie Collins thought they needed something to keep their Heroes alert and awake while the N.L. decided which of its teams was going to be its sacrifice to the mighty Boston maw.

They scheduled three exhibition games for the Red Sox…versus American League All-Stars. It was a helluva plan – in theory. The Red Sox got such luminaries as Hank Greenberg and Luke Appling and Joe DiMaggio (hence that crazy picture) to travel to Fenway and put the Champs through their paces.

They also brought in Mickey Haefner.

Haefner had just completed a 14-and-11, 2.85 season for a Washington Senators squad that only the year before had finished a buck-and-a-half behind the A.L. Champion Tigers, so he belonged among the All-Stars doing their part for the greater glory of the American League. But there was only one problem with letting Haefner throw towards your hitters, even in an exhibition setting.

He was a knuckleballer.

On October 1st – which would’ve been the eve of Game 1 of the World Series, had the N.L. only made up its mind in 154 games – Haefner was pitching for the All-Stars against the Red Sox at Fenway. And one of his knucklers – and he threw it in the Niekro/Dickey range of hardness, not the Wakefield range – hit Ted Williams in the elbow.

Got him exactly right. There is no idea how hard the pitch was thrown but the pain was sufficiently excruciating to send Williams to the hospital for X-Rays. While those few who saw the injury held their breath (and presumably Collins and Cronin tried to figure out how they could each blame the other), the tests came back negative. That’s the way it was in those days: broken or not broken. Nothing about deep bone bruises or inflamed ligaments or anything else. It hurt? It ain’t broken. Put some ice on it and play.

Williams played. 5-for-25, .200. It would be decades before Ted acknowledged that the elbow pain never really subsided through the subsequent Series. The only post-season appearance of his career produced five measly singles. And when reporters concluded Williams had not risen to the occasion, or had been psyched out by what was even then a rare but not unique infield defensive shift, Williams let them blame him. Despite the apparent justification for such a claim, he never blamed his ’46 World Series nightmare on the Haefner Hit-By-Pitch.

That the Sox lost the Series was not the end of the story. The pall of that loss lingered for generations. Boston would slide into the second division, then the basement, and would not emerge until the year after Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame. That his performance in the 1946 Classic was the low point of Williams’ career goes without saying. He eventually admitted it was the low point of his life.

Talk about the Curse of the Bambino? Bolshoi! The Curse of Mickey Haefner, more like!

If you check history – especially internet history – you might see passing mention that Williams hurt his elbow when hit by a pitch “in an exhibition game just before the World Series.” But what you do not see is the disturbing truth that is of particular relevance tonight: Williams hurt his elbow when hit by a pitch in an exhibition game just before the World Series that had been arranged by his own bosses to try to keep the Red Sox sharp FOR THE WORLD SERIES.

Today, of course, Collins or Cronin would’ve been fired or at minimum vilified by history for their gross stupidity. Didn’t happen that way. Cronin succeeded Collins as General Manager, then became American League President in 1959. Both of them are in the Hall of Fame and Cronin has his retired number 4 right up there with Teddy Ballgame’s.

The Tigers are not asking any of their vanquished foes to help them fill the competition gap by playing these exhibitions (the term they used was “scrimmages”) on Sunday and Monday. They have flown up the minor league kids like pitchers Hudson Randall and Joe Rogers from the Florida Fall Instructional League  to fill the role played by the A.L. All-Stars in the last ill-fated attempt to keep the rust from growing while the National League tries to figure out its champion (Cards or somebody else).

Presumably the Tigers will take every precaution against the obvious things: sliding (no!), diving for fly balls (don’t!), line drives back at pitchers (use the Batting Practice screen!). But unless Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski are aware of the 1946 Red Sox disaster and the saga of Mickey Haefner, they cannot possibly be prepared for the inadvertent pitch that just…gets away.

What do they do if Miguel Cabrera gets hit in the elbow? Or the knee? Or the head? Or while at third base takes a one-hopper off his bean, as he did in Spring Training?

Hudson Randall and Joe Rogers, you say? Neither of them is a knuckleball pitcher, right?

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