Results tagged ‘ Andres Galarraga ’

The Perfect Game Swarm: The Contrarian’s View

Last night, Matt Cain threw the first major league perfect game in nearly two months!

He threw the first individual no-hit game in nearly two weeks!

He threw the first no-hitter of any kind in five days!

He did throw the only no-hit game of the night, though R.A. Dickey didn’t get one in St. Petersburg only because of a dubious scorer’s decision that might yet be reversed, and Felix Doubront carried one through two out in the sixth.

There’s something wrong with this picture.

Look, I yearn to witness a perfect game, still kick myself for skipping one one year because it was too cold (David Wells, 1998) and another the next because it was too hot (David Cone, 1999) like some baseball fan version of Goldilocks. And there is no offense meant to Matt Cain, or Phil Humber, or Roy Halladay, or Dallas Braden, or Mark Buehrle, or for the man whoshouldalso be on this list, Armando Galarraga.

But as of the morning of July 23, 2009 – less than three full years ago – there had been exactly 17 perfect games in the 139 seasons of organized big league baseball. In the 34 months since there have been five of them (really, six). In the game’s first 139 seasons we had had one year in which there were two thrown. In the last three seasons, we have had one year in which there weren’t two thrown.

Five of the last fifteen individual no-hitters have been perfect games.

There have been so many of them now that Ted Barrett has now been the home plate umpire in two of them, and his colleague Brian Runge has worked two of them this year (he was at 3B last night, and behind the plate for Humber’s, and, oh by the way, he was also behind the plate for the Mariners’ combined no-no last Friday).

Cain’s was the 22nd of all-time (the total should be 24: Galarraga should’ve gotten his, and Harvey Haddix’s flawed 13-inning gem should be counted somehow even though it isn’t). If the frequency at which they’ve occurred over the last three years had applied to all of baseball history, we wouldn’t have had 22 perfectos, we would have 91 of them.

I understand there are historical anomalies in the game. One of my favorite factoids is the mind-numbing truth that an enterprising fan in the northeast could’ve seen Lee Richmond throw the first one in big league history on Saturday June 12, 1880 for Worcester of the National League, and then could’ve turned up just five days later in Buffalo to watch Johnny Ward throw the second one for Providence of the N.L. But if our hypothetical spectator had wanted to make a hat trick out of it and see thethirdperfect game ever pitched in the National League, he’d have had to chill for 84 years because the next one wouldn’t be pitched until June 21, 1964, by Jim Bunning at Shea Stadium.

Bizarre statistical thunderstorms occur. We had two batting Triple Crowns in 1933 and five out of a potential ten in the five-year span ending in 1937. The American League had one (by Frank Robinson) in 1966 and another (by Carl Yastrzemski – with a tie in the homer category) the next year. Not only has nobody performed the trick since but the seven I’ve just mentioned account for sixteen of all of them dating back to the first by Paul Hines in 1878.

But just as ‘these things sometimes happen,’ they also sometimes indicate a severe skewing of the sport. If a lot of guys accomplishing a very rare feat is a good and totally explicable thing, then pitching reached its modern pinnacle in 1968. Seven different pitchers recorded ERAs of less than 2.00. Twelve were at 2.15 or under. Twenty came in below 2.50. And there’s something relevant to the perfect game swarm. The top eleven ERA finishers were as follows:

1.12 Bob Gibson

1.60 Luis Tiant

1.81 Sam McDowell

1.95 Dave McNally

1.96 Denny McLain

1.98 Tommy John

1.99 Bob Bolin

2.05 Stan Bahnsen

2.05 Bob Veale

2.08 Jerry Koosman

2.12 Steve Blass

See my point? I have argued here for two more of the men on this list to be in Cooperstown but in point of fact only one of them (Gibson) is. A derangement of the pitching-hitting balance will make some fair pitchers good, some good pitchers great, and some great pitchers immortal (remember, 1968 was also the only time since 1934 that anybody – in this case McLain – has won as many as 30 games in a season). And it applies to hitting, too. We like to forget the fact that an incredible percentage of fans and an almost equal number of credulous reporters saw nothing at all wrong with the idea that all six of the seasons in which somebody hit more than 61 homers occurred between 1998 and 2001. I can remember clear as a bell the late, great Leonard Koppett trying to convince me and Jim Bouton on my tv show that the discovery of androstenedione in Mark McGwire’s locker had absolutely nothing to do with anything and wouldn’t be remembered by anybody.

I’m not saying the pitchers are juiced and I’m not saying there will be a mental asterisk placed some day on Cain’s perfect game, or Humber’s, or anybody else’s. I’m not even saying that I’m fully invested in the most obvious theory of what’s going on: that the subtraction of Performance Enhancing Drugs has left a generation of hitters who have known nothing but to swing from their heels with no gas in their tank (although Cain’s victims, the Astros, have now struck out 505 times in 62 games – that’s 8.2 per game – and have averaged nearly 12 per game this month, meaning from their perspective, their 14 K’s against Cain last night was only a little worse than usual).

What I am saying is that to respond to Matt Cain’s perfect game by simply jumping up and down and buying souvenir merchandise is to miss a bigger picture, one that isn’t exactly clear yet. But when you get five (six?) perfect games in three calendar years, and you get 37-year old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey suddenly launching into territory in which he has struck out 50 and walked 5 in his last 47 innings, and he’s 10-1 and former middle reliever Lance Lynn is 10-2 and Chris Capuano – with one previous winning season since 2003 – is 8-and-2, some kind of tipping point has been reached and maybe all the pitching is just as incongruous as was all the hitting in 1998-2001.

Scorebook page from the first perfect game ever, Lee Richmond’s, June 12, 1880

 

 

Hall of Famers and Numbers Without Wings

They don’t give me a vote.
I was once gratified to read somebody argue that they should, but if I remember correctly this was written by somebody else who also didn’t get a vote, but probably should. 
The logic behind that assertion will presumably decrease as time goes by. But it is staggering to consider that for decades, writers elected – or prevented the election of – dozens of players who they literally never saw play in a game that mattered. By the time Ron Santo was first seen by future Hall of Fame voters working in Baltimore, Boston, and all the other American League cities save for Chicago, L.A., and New York, he was a worn-out 34-year old part-time second baseman who had already hit 337 of the 342 homers he would ever hit. Seeing them on television has been the actual qualification for some large number of voter-nominee interactions since television began.
But I digress. Capsule summaries of the candidacies of those on the new ballot just released Friday:
Roberto Alomar: No, just barely. I don’t think he was as good as Sandberg and I always said Sandberg shouldn’t go in before Joe Gordon. I’m not judging Alomar on the spitting incident, I’m judging him on the fact that for whatever reason, at age 34 he not only turned from a superstar into a fringe major leaguer, but he also turned into a millstone around the neck of a franchise. The bad taste may fade with time, but right now I couldn’t vote for him.
Harold Baines: Yes, just barely. He’s hurt by the 2,866 hits – he’s in that Buckner zone. Everybody else who got to Buckner’s level of hits (2,763) has gotten in, or will, or is Pete Rose.
Bert Blyleven: Definitely. Fifth all-time in strikeouts now (passed by Clemens), by any measure one of the game’s great curveballers, and 287 wins. And by the way, those 3,701 strikeouts? They came with only 1,322 walks. 

Andre Dawson: Yes. Farcical he has had to wait.
Andres Galarraga: I just don’t see it. 399 homers in the power era just doesn’t get there.

Barry Larkin: A great player and one of my favorites, but I don’t recall ever during his playing career having had even that Alomarian sense that this could be a Hall-of-Famer. If we’re looking to put a Reds shortstop in Cooperstown, it should be David Concepcion.
Edgar Martinez: The first test of how the DH-as-position will resonate through history. I can see electing pure DH’s but to me the batting bar is a little higher for them than other batsmen who field. Two batting championships and a RBI title is not sufficient. Ferris Fain won two batting championships, too, and I don’t see a big argument for him in Cooperstown (and he did it in consecutive years, too).
Don Mattingly: Sigh, no. I wish. The back injury killed his chances – he dropped from superior to slightly-above-average. For competitive fire, diligence, class, yes. But we don’t do it that way.
Fred McGriff: Amazingly, yes. Here is the silver lining to the steroid era. Suddenly his 493 homers and ten 30-home run seasons look surprising, even refreshing, considering the worst thing he was ever accused of taking were Boring Pills. No offense, but when the Yankees had to bribe Toronto to take Dave Collins off their hands in the winter of 1982-83 and the Jays said “OK, but you have to take Dale Murray off our hands – and we want this kid McGriff,” the Yanks would have been better off saying “take Mattingly.”
Mark McGwire: Hall of Fame? For what? For pretending to Congress that nothing happened before that steroid hearing? Fine. You got your wish. Nothing happened. Your lifetime numbers are 0-0-.000. And by the way, why is it ok for him to just waltz back in as batting coach of the Cardinals? Would we let Bonds come back in? This is unacceptable, and it gives credence to the very disturbing claim that race is at play when it comes to the punishment of steroid cheats. Mark McGwire is a steroid cheater.
Jack Morris: Another beneficiary of a little perspective. I used to flinch at that 3.90 ERA. There seems very little doubt that Tom Glavine will go in on the first ballot at 3.54. I’m looking more at the 254 wins and the clutch performances. Aye.
Dale Murphy: Yes. Preposterous that he’s had to wait. Two-time MVP, thought he was tailing off at the end of one season so he went to the Instructional League that fall to work on his hitting, turned himself from a defensive disaster to a star centerfielder, and was cooperative with every fan, reporter, and vendor. During his era as an every-day starter, 1978 through 1991, he was baseball’s leading home-run hitter, and he’s not in because he hit 398 homers and not 400? And we’re seriously considering Edgar Martinez before him?
Dave Parker: To be fair, something of a victim of expectations. But when he came up he was thought to have been the best all-around talent to ascend to the majors perhaps since Mays. 339-1493-.290 with 147 steals, two batting titles, and no homer crowns, isn’t very much, I’m afraid.
Tim Raines: No. It is very close. Maybe the steals should earn him a spot. The rest of the offensive production just doesn’t.
Lee Smith: Here’s a startling question: who led his league in saves more often during his career? Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, or Trevor Hoffman? The answer is Smith (four), though Rivera (three), and Hoffman (two) can still do something about it. But doesn’t it at least suggest Smith’s 478 saves should be taken seriously, too? I vote yes.
Alan Trammell: No. I wish it were otherwise.
I do want to see how many guys vote for Shayne Reynolds.
THE UNEXPECTED BENEFIT OF WATCHING MLB NET’S ‘ALL-TIME GAMES’:
There are at least two big heavy fascinating books devoted to no less a topic than the attempt to record all of the uniform numbers worn by big leaguers. It may not fascinate you, but it fascinated two guys, including the eminent researcher Mark Stang, to take the time to do the research, and two publishers to pay the costs.
That’s why an odd vigne
tte from an odd MLB Network choice for one of its “All-Time Games” is fascinating – to a few, anyway. It’s a black-and-white video of the Montreal Expos outlasting the Pittsburgh Pirates at Jarry Park in Montreal on September 2, 1970. And at mid-game, rookie announcer Don Drysdale starts commenting to his partner Hal Kelly about the odd spectacle he’s seeing in the visitors’ bullpen. 
This – and forgive the photographed screen grab – is the spectacle:
IMG_2007.JPG
COURTESY MLB NETWORK

The righthander in mid-pitch is John Lamb (of the Pirates’ odd Lamb/Moose/Veale pitching staff). The lefty awaiting the throw is George Brunet, and he is not an outfielder loosening up his arm to replace Roberto Clemente. He’s a lefthanded pitcher – one who pitched fifteen seasons for nine different teams, plus thirteen more in the American minors, plus teams in Mexico up until nearly the day he died in 1991 – whom the Bucs had obtained from the Washington Senators three days earlier.
And he is wearing uniform number 4. Drysdale says to Kelly that Brunet is going to change the number as soon as possible because: a) pitchers just don’t wear “low numbers” like that, and b) Brunet has told him so. Left unspoken is the fact that Brunet, listed at 6’1″, 195, was probably closer to 220 by the time he got to Pittsburgh, and they probably gave him number 4 because, in that first year in which double-knit unis were ever used in the majors, it was likely the only shirt they had that fit him.
Both those big heavy uniform books show Brunet wearing only 22 for Pittsburgh. Yet, there he is, a few moments later, years ahead of Toronto’s Number 7 Josh Towers, actually getting into his second game as a Pirate, wearing the number they would eventually get around to retiring in honor of Ralph Kiner.
IMG_2008.JPG
COURTESY MLB NETWORK

As an utter sidebar, I loved watching this game until I realized that the second of my two trips to Montreal as a kid to explore unbeatable, electric (and frigid in August with aluminum seats)  Parc Jarry, was exactly one week before this game was played. Alors! This game is newer than the last time I actually saw that old field!

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