Cooperstown Has Unsavory Characters
ALSO: ON TODAY'S SABR DAY, MEMBERS HAVE PLENTY TO CELEBRATE
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Help Pick the Winners of the 2022 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards
The finalists have been announced for the 2022 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards, which will recognize baseball researchers who have completed the best work of original analysis or commentary during the preceding calendar year.
Nominations were solicited by representatives from SABR, Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and your very own IBWAA. Here are the finalists for the 2022 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards:
Contemporary Baseball Analysis
Rob Arthur, “Better Defense Is Costing MLB Thousands of Hits,” Baseball Prospectus, June 4, 2021.
Ben Clemens, “Goldilocks and the Three Bunts,” FanGraphs, June 7, 2021.
Karen Gallagher, Scott N. Brooks, Ra Lofton, Luke Brenneman, Field Studies: MLB Manager Hiring Criteria and Career Pathways from 2010-19. Global Sport Institute, October 5, 2021.
Cameron Grove, “Some Games are Harder to Umpire Than Others,” Baseball Prospectus, September 17, 2021.
Eno Sarris, “What is ‘seam-shifted wake’ and which pitchers benefit most from it?,” The Athletic, January 21, 2021.
Contemporary Baseball Commentary
Michael Ajeto, “Major League Baseball Has an Assimilation Problem,” Baseball Prospectus, October 22, 2021.
Stephanie Apstein and Alex Prewitt, “This Should Be the Biggest Scandal in Sports,” Sports Illustrated, June 4, 2021.
Brittany Ghiroli, “Cockroaches, car camping, poverty wages: Why are minor-leaguers living in squalor?,” The Athletic, August 5, 2021.
Craig Goldstein and Patrick Dubuque, “We Need a Restrictor Plate for Pitching,” Baseball Prospectus, May 25, 2021.
Robert O’Connell, “Minor League Baseball is Designed to Exploit,” Defector, September 8, 2021.
Historical Baseball Analysis/Commentary
Bruce Allardice, “Runs, Runs, and More Runs: Pre-Professional Baseball, By the Numbers,” SABR Baseball Research Journal, Fall 2021.
Emma Baccellieri, “Deadening the Baseball? MLB’s Done It Before,” Sports Illustrated, February 9, 2021.
RJ McDaniel, “Baseball on the Radio, 100 Years Later,” FanGraphs, March 10, 2021.
Lou Moore, “Major League Baseball Had a Chance to Stop the Drain of Black Players From Baseball. It Didn’t.” Global Sport Institute, October 6, 2021.
Andrea Williams, “ ‘We Have No Right to Destroy Them’,” New York Times, April 14, 2021.
Details and criteria for each category can be found here. Only one work per author was considered as a finalist.
Voting for the winners will be conducted online beginning next week at IBWAA.com, as well as SABR.org, BaseballProspectus.com, FanGraphs.com, with results weighted equally at 25 per cent.
Take some time to read up on the finalists’ submissions and be prepared to cast your vote!
Did you know…
The 1930 New York Giants hit a record .319 as a team . . .
There have been three triple-headers in baseball history but none since 1920 . . .
The 2020 Atlanta Braves scored more runs in a game (29) than any other NL team since 1900 . . .
Pitcher-turned-dentist Jim Lonborg was a fan of classical music . . .
When owners were choosing a new commissioner to succeed Ford Frick in 1965, they started with a list of 150 candidates . . .
Yogi Berra hit a home run after he retired – connecting with two men on in an Old Timers Game in Cleveland on July 18, 1965.
Be Careful What You Wish For
We might like it to be otherwise, but Cooperstown was never free of suspect characters
By Jeff Kallman
Hall of Fame elections provide two pleasures, celebrating and second-guessing. We celebrate those we know or believe worthy; we second-guess those we know or believe unworthy. Now and then, we also put up with those telling us we have no business second-guessing once someone’s in—while being unable to explain why, then, books such as The Politics of Glory (Bill James) and The Cooperstown Casebook (Jay Jaffe) find publishers.
With David Ortiz’s election to Cooperstown almost a fortnight ago, we got a fair volume of celebrating and a glandular volume of second-guessing, mostly with indignation. There were too many who thought the pleasure in Big Papi’s election was traveling a pair of parallel and opposite-running trains of moral indignation.
One train carried those believing “cheaters” actual and alleged should instead be in the Hall of Shame, Ortiz included. The other train carried those believing “character” is long a moot point, a) because enough of suspect character have been in the Hall of Fame for eons; and, b) enough suspected of indulging actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances (whether steroids or otherwise) have slithered in over the years.
Thanks to their ten-year ballot limit expiring without their Hall elections, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have fallen from the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. They remain PED-suspect despite having Hall of Fame credentials to burn, never having flunked drug tests, and each beating one or another legal case tied to the issue.
Former commissioner Fay Vincent paid attention to all that this time around, too. Vincent thinks the “hopelessly vague” character clause in the BBWAA’s Hall voting guidelines should go the way of the Edsel, the VCR, and the dial-up Internet. He also thinks Bonds and Clemens will make it to the Hall of Fame by way of an Eras Committee vote—the “courts of appeals,” as he cited broadcaster Bob Costas calling them.
“By trying to inject nobility into its election standards,” Vincent wrote in The Wall Street Journal last week, “the Hall of Fame aimed to maintain the old-fashioned view that honors should accrue to the honorable.” This will not satisfy the morally indignant, of course, but the old-fashioned view looked the other way often enough.
Vincent cited Cap Anson as a prime example of less than sterling character yet reposing in Cooperstown. If you’re going to block the less-than-sterling character from the Hall of Fame anymore, shouldn’t you first ask whether you’re ready to purge the racist Anson and many more among those already enshrined? Be very afraid. You’d have a very long roll of suspects.
Ty Cobb wasn’t even close to the absolute monster he was long portrayed to be, but he wasn’t exactly a saint, either. Babe Ruth would be gone in a heartbeat, unless you think sterling character includes palling around with gangsters and hookers and trysting with women not named Mrs. Ruth. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner, was also the man whose de facto enforcement of the professional baseball segregation Anson helped instigate kept Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and only too many more Hall of Famers from playing baseball other than in the Negro Leagues.
Leo Durocher was elected posthumously and he was anything but a role model. Speaking of whom, if you’re also going to move to keep “cheaters” out of the Hall of Fame, you’d better be ready to think about purging a considerable pile of those who cheated or those who aided, abetted, or applauded cheaters. That would loosen the Lip from Cooperstown, too, for masterminding the off-field-based telescopic sign-stealing plot that helped the Giants steal the pennant in 1951.
More among the cheaters? Connie Mack’s 1910-1914 Philadelphia Athletics posted someone on a roof beyond the ballpark to swipe signs telescopically and relay them to hitters by moving a flag one way or the other. Bob Feller’s little souvenir brought home from World War II was a hand-held spyglass with which his Cleveland Indians stole signs through scoreboards down the 1948 stretch—en route the franchise’s last World Series win. Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg would be gone, too: their 1940 pennant-winning Detroit Tigers used the scope of pitcher Tommy Bridges’s hunting rifle to steal signs from the outfield seats. Greenberg eventually owned up in his memoir. “I loved that. I was the greatest hitter in the world when I knew what was coming,” Hammerin’ Hank admitted. Oops.
Rogers Hornsby published an article in True in early 1962 defending sign-stealing through scoreboards—and opened by denouncing then-Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Al Worthington, after Worthington quit the team rather than abide by its scoreboard sign-stealing scheme. "In my book," wrote Hornsby, "he was a baseball misfit—he didn't like cheating . . . I've been in pro baseball since 1914 and I've cheated or watched someone on my team cheat. You've got to cheat."
Since a lot of the morally indignant also feast upon guilt by association, that would purge Richie Ashburn, who may or may not have suggested Shibe Park groundskeepers sculpt the third base line into a kind of ridge, the better to keep his deft little bunts from rolling foul before he could beat them out for base hits. Purge time for Mr. Putt Putt?
Under an Ashburn Rule of guilt by association, Earl Weaver would be ejected from the Hall of Fame the way he was so often by umpires. ("That little [expletive] called me names that would get a man killed in other places, and that was on days I didn’t throw him out"—Steve Palermo.) Weaver once went to the mound to talk to his pitcher Ross (Skuzz) Grimsley in the middle of a jam. “If you can cheat,” Weaver told Grimsley, “now’s the time.” Uh-oh.
Under the same Ashburn Rule, Monte Irvin and Willie Mays would be clipped and stripped. Irvin rejected taking the Durocher-instigated stolen signs down that 1951 stretch (Durocher thought Irvin was out of his mind), and Mays probably did, too, since he considered Irvin a big brother figure even more than he felt beholden to “Mister Leo.” Tough thumbtacks.
The Ashburn Rule would also dump Casey Stengel, for saying as his biographer Robert W. Creamer quoted him of a World Series contest between suspect pitchers Eddie (Slow, Slower, Slowest) Lopat and Preacher Roe: Those two fellas certainly make baseball look like a simple game, don't they? It makes you wonder. You pay all that money to great big fellas with a lot of muscles and straight stomachs who go up there and start swinging. And [Lopat and Roe] give 'em a little of this and a little of that and swindle ‘em. Can’t have the Ol’ Perfesser condoning crime, can we?
By the way, if you can’t bring yourself to purge Ruth from Cooperstown on character grounds, you might think about it on cheating grounds. In 1983, spotting a Ruth bat among the artifacts in a Hillerich & Bradsby traveling exhibit, then-Seattle Mariners outfielder Dave Henderson noticed something: the end of the bat was coloured differently than the barrel. Henderson knew immediately. “That’s a plug! This bat is corked,” he shrieked.
“As I see it, nothing could be more typical of Ruth than to use a corked bat if he could get by with it,” wrote Bill James in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. “Ruth tested the limits of the rules constantly; this was what made him who he was. He refused to be ordinary; he refused to accept that the rules applied to him, until it was clear that they did.”
That’s also without mentioning such known or suspected scofflaws as Whitey (Lord of the Ring) Ford, Gaylord (It’s a Hard Slider!) Perry, and Don (Black & Decker) Sutton.
And we haven’t even begun to talk about all the players who got to Cooperstown from the era when amphetamines—whether pills (“greenies,” “reds,” others) or liquid (you’ve heard and seen the stories about Mays’s little bottle of green Kickapoo Joy Juice, haven’t you?)—were as common in their clubhouses as whirlpool machines.
When the late Jim Bouton wrote and published Ball Four, the outrage over the book had far more to do with revelations of sexual randiness and lopsided reserve-era contract negotiations than it did with Bouton concurrently blowing the whistle on how widespread amphetamines were around the game during his playing days.
There’s been no movement to purge Mays and his fellow such Hall of Famers for their joy juices and mothers’ little helpers that I know of. But suppose there should become such a movement to target those using or merely suspected of actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances, as well as those who cheated or abetted and encouraged it?
“Messrs. Bonds and Clemens may not have been saints,” Vincent wrote, “but they were great players. Pretending anything else matters is hypocrisy.” The Hall of Fame is liable to have a sudden spiking echo from the large volume plaques stripped from the walls under orders of today’s morally indignant.
IBWAA life member Jeff Kallman writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research plus The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has been, alas, a Met fan since the day they were born.
SABR Has Established Itself As ‘The Conscience of the Game’
By Dan Schlossberg
Today is SABR Day — a day set aside for individual chapters to meet, talk, debate, and enjoy the American national pastime.
Many of its members are writers, historians, or both. Quite a few are professors or educators. But most are just rabid fans who enjoy the company and contacts of like-minded individuals.
For years, baseball historians believed Ty Cobb won nine straight batting crowns, Walter Johnson won 416 games, and Hack Wilson held the single-season RBI mark with 190 in 1930.
That was before a small but dedicated group of baseball enthusiasts researched records of the pre-computer age and found enough mistakes to challenge long-accepted beliefs.
The Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR for short, will draw more than 600 delegates to the four-day convention that starts August 17 at the Hyatt Baltimore Inner Harbor.
They will attend seminars and player panels, visit local baseball sites, stump each other with trivia, peruse publishing opportunities in a special vendors room, see the Orioles play at Camden Yards, and share their love of the game with fellow zealots.
A wide variety of 20-minute research presentations will dominate the daily schedule, along with meetings of the many SABR committees. One of those, the records committee, has helped change baseball – or at least tried.
SABR researchers reached back to 1901, the American League’s first season, to boost Napoleon Lajoie’s batting average from .422, best in AL history, to .426 – two points better than Rogers Hornsby’s long-accepted standard. Finding nine hits not credited to Lajoie helped.
In 1910, Lajoie and Cobb waged a year-long race for the batting crown, which was awarded to Cobb by a single point (.385 to .384). Eighty years later, however, researcher Pete Palmer found that a game in which Cobb went 2-for-3 had been entered twice in the official records of the time. The error was found because Cobb teammate Sam Crawford had 14 games listed for a 13-game homestand; the discrepancy involved a doubleheader nightcap recorded incorrectly. The American League realized the error but allegedly covered it up in order to quell the controversy.
When SABR asked Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to set the record straight in 1981, he declined, citing the passage of time. “Since a variety of questions have been rasied through the years about the accuracy of statistics of that period,” he said, “the only way to make changes with confidence would be for a complete and thorough review of all team and individual statistics. That is not practical.”
Total Baseball, under John Thorn’s direction, did not agree. It suggested eliminating Cobb’s two extra hits, changing his batting average and lifetime hits totals, but leaving his batting title intact because Lajoie collected a series of final-day bunt hits in an effort to beat the unpopular Cobb.
According to Thorn, a long-time SABR member who is now the official historian of Major League Baseball, “It was this singular event in baseball history that supplied a model for how Total Baseball and Major League Baseball developed a policy for incorporating new research finds into the historical record without revoking long-held personal championships. Player records may be changed upon the evidence of historical error but league awards and titles are forever.”
That decision left Cobb with a string of nine straight batting crowns, although he would not have won titles in either 1910 or 1914 under current rules because he lacked the proper number of plate appearances.
Years after his demise, Walter Johnson also got a boost from SABR research. Member Frank Williams discovered that Johnson was deprived of a victory on August 5, 1912 even though he pitched the last two-and-a-third innings of an 8-7 Washington win at Chicago and knocked in the go-ahead run! A clerical error had credited Carl Cashion with the win but both the official scorer and American League president Ban Johnson (no relation) certified The Big Train, keeping his 16-game winning streak intact and changing his win totals to 33 for that year and 417 lifetime.
According to the late David Vincent, a SABR member who wrote Home Run: the Definitive History of Baseball’s Ultimate Weapon, Babe Ruth lost a home run when he hit the ball over the fence on July 8, 1918 with a man on base in the bottom of the ninth. What would now be considered a walk-off home run was then a triple because the winning run had scored and Ruth’s run was meaningless. That rule was changed a year later.
Vincent said Ruth never deserved or received credit for “bounce” home runs, which became ground-rule doubles in 1931, but Yankees teammate Lou Gehrig gained two.
Hack Wilson, a squat slugger who played in the National League, also gained a boost from SABR research. Thanks to a charge led by Cliff Kachline, a founding member, his record RBI total for 1930 incrased by one to 191 – the title of a hardcover on the Wilson achievement.
It was Kachline who found that faulty record-keeping gave Hack Wilson an additional run batted in (from 190 to 191) during his RBI-record season of 1930. Four other Hall of Famers – Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser, George Kell, and Al Kaline – had changes in their runs scored after the Elias Sports Bureau, official statisticians for Major League Baseball, accepted the findings of SABR’s Baseball Research Journal.
That doesn’t always happen, however; the bureau does not always incorporate SABR-recommended changes in The Elias Book of Baseball Records. Elias has yet to change Greenberg’s 1937 RBI total from 183 to 184 even though Retrosheet, a highly-respected online source manned mainly by SABR researchers, has adopted the change.
According to Tom Hufford, one of the original 16 members, “SABR has the best set of statistics and records, both statistically and biographically. There is an official statistician for MLB but the stats they have often differ from what SABR has put together.
“When you examine the old records and averages that were taken as official, sometimes the total number of hits made by players in year don’t equal the numbers of hits given up by pitchers that year. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with correcting mistakes. We want to establish an accurate historical record of baseball.
“I look at SABR as the conscience of baseball. We try to do things we think should be done but no one else is doing.”
A former SABR board member from the Atlanta-based Magnolia chapter, Hufford was also involved in the Cobb-Lajoie controversy.
Long before the computer age, early baseball records were kept by hand on ledger sheets similar to those used by accountants. Official scorers sent those sheets to league offices where primitive methods were used to tabulate them. Mistakes were common.
Referring to the 1910 season alone, Hufford said he found double entries, items entered into the wrong column, and players receiving credit for more hits than at-bats. “Those things went into the official records that year but everyone knew they were wrong,” said Hufford, one of the founding 16 who gathered in Cooperstown during the summer of 1971 at the behest of Bob Davids, then a federal employee from Washington, and Kachline, a former Sporting News writer who became the Hall of Fame’s historian.
“Cliff wrote a two-paragraph article for The Sporting News about the formation of SABR and included a mailing address,” Hufford said. “We had more than 100 members by end of the first year.
“I’ve been pleased over the years to see how many members we’ve reached. But I was not pleased to realize how many people we still run across who are very interested in baseball and do their own research. They would be perfect SABR members but never heard of the organization.”
That’s changing. The group has completed a licensing deal with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, got involved with MLB Network and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, and started working closely with the Office of the Commissioner. Major League Baseball helped sponsor the annual SABR Analytics Conference and the summer convention. Individual teams — especially those that train Arizona, where SABR is now located — are also involved with the organization.
According to former president Marc Appelman, “Everyone in SABR has a similar interest: the love of the game.”
Vince Gennaro, president from 2011-2018, agrees. “The largest percentage of our members are baseball generalists who love the game from all angles,” he said. “There are far more history buffs in SABR than statistical analysts.
“Through our early association with (author) Bill James, we benefited from our association with sabermetrics and statistics. But in reality, only a small percentage of our members are statistically-minded.
“A group of our members contributes to the body of research in baseball and others are more consumers of that research. We welcome both. Thousands of members love our publications and come to our events, which are growing in number. We have a very active organization.”
SABR has hosted panels at the All-Star Game festivities and has a booth at the industry-only trade show at the Baseball Winter Meetings in December.
At their original one-day meeting, SABR’s Sweet 16 estimated that they might find 50 like-minded people to join them. But twice as many joined after the first year and membership eventually climbed as high as 7,100 – many of them baseball professionals.
Although most members are men, female interest is growing. In fact, women have headed chapters in New York (Evelyn Begley), San Francisco (Marlene Vogelsang), and Cleveland (Stephanie Liscio), and Boston (co-chair Joanne Hulbert). The “Women in Baseball” committee is growing in size and influence.
In addition to SABR’s digital newsletter, the group also produces several research journals per year plus original books through the SABR Digital Library. Members have access to SABR.org, the Baseball Index, and the SABR Lending Library, and qualify for discounts to several different conferences.
Chief executive officer Scott Bush has been in office since 2018. The current SABR president is Mark Armour with Leslie Heaphy as vice president.
An active SABR member since 1981, former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and Ball Nine. His latest book, the 2021 World Series edition of When the Braves Ruled the Diamond, will be published on 2-22-22. E.mail him at email@example.com.
Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, when asked what he did during the baseball off-season, said, “I look out the window and wait for spring.”
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The Braves were the first team to win a Series with four position players who were on other rosters when the season started . . .
Charlie Morton got three outs against Houston with a broken leg.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.