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
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: