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April 6, 2010

You Can Blog It Up

Dead Player of the Day and Other Notes #7

by Steven Goldman

DEAD PLAYER OF THE DAY

In which I pick a page from the encyclopedia at random and riff on what I find.

Ival Goodman OF 1935-1944 (1908-1984)

The Reds had good teams from the late 1930s and into the early 40s under manager Bill McKechnie. Right fielder Goodman was one of the big bats on a team that was better known for its pitching and defense. Unfortunately for Ival, when the Reds went 100-53 and won the World Series in 1940, he was all but useless, hitting just .258/.335/.389 (2.1 WARP—he was still a good fielder). His best season came with the 1938 Reds, a fourth place team; he hit .292/.368/.533 with 10 triples, 30 home runs, and a league-leading 15 hit-by-pitches. Goodman led the league in this category three times and in triples twice. He had a short career; he had been locked up in the Cardinals system until Larry MacPhail, radically rebuilding the Reds after five straight years of 90-plus losses, purchased him in November, 1934 (for $20,000 or $25,000 depending on the source), then, having slipped into part-time player after ’40, suffered a career-ending injury in 1944 when he ran into a wall in St. Louis. Parenthetically, Sammy Byrd, one of last week’s DPOTD, was another player dragged in by MacPhail’s net. He, Goodman, and Babe Herman made up the 1935 Reds’ outfield; the next year it was Goodman, Herman, and Kiki Cuyler.

Anyone want to argue that Goodman was juicing in 1938? He jumped from 12 home runs to 30, then dropped back down to seven in 1939. Of course, until the 1990s, players never had unexplained power surges. Never.

Oddly enough, though Goodman was a fine fielder on an exemplary fielding team, the two most famous plays of his career were misplays. In Game 1 of the 1939 World Series of the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the two teams went to the bottom of the ninth tied 1-1. With one out in the frame and no one on, Charlie Keller hit a deep fly into the gap in right center. Center fielder Harry Craft and Goodman took off after it. As the ball neared the concrete fence, Craft and Goodman, perhaps fearing a collision with the wall or each other, pulled up short. Goodman lunged, but the ball ticked off his mitt and dropped for a triple. McKechnie ordered Joe DiMaggio intentionally walked to set up the double-play, but Bill Dickey soured the strategy by dropping a single into center field. In Game 4, Goodman figured in the play that became known as “Lombardi’s Snooze.” Goodman actually made the first error on the play, letting DiMaggio’s single roll away from him. This allowed Charlie Keller to score and clip Lombardi (in the head or groin or somewhere) in the process as he went to field the belated relay, stunning him and allowing DiMaggio to circle the bases.

Booing Milton Bradley at Oakland

Can a player be booed out of the league? It has happened, probably more than once. Not everyone is equipped to deflect the opprobrium of 40,000 of their fellow humans at a shot. In researching yesterday's entry on Paul Strand, I read about Duster Mails, a 1920s pitcher who died a few days after Strand. Mails, a product of the Pacific Coast League, was a hero of the Indians' World Series-winning team of 1920. Coming up late in the season, he went 7-0 with a 1.85 ERA down the stretch, throwing six complete games and two shutouts, then dominated the Dodgers in the Series, throwing 15.2 scoreless innings. He wasn't that good; no one is. Mails was simply an effective pitcher who got hot at the right time, but despite his physical ability to stick in the majors, he couldn't stay. Supposedly it was a bad arm that sent him back to the PCL, but at least one former teammate thought it was because he couldn't stand the bench/crowd jockeying in the majors and would pitch with cotton in his ears. This seems to imply that crowds in the PCL, where Mails pitched for 15 seasons, were somehow more genteel, but let's leave that aside for a moment. The point is that a player can be distracted out of a career if he can't keep his emotions in check, and Bradley was visibly bothered by the reception he got from A's partisans last night.

As I wrote in last week's chat, Bradley is soon going to reach his 32nd birthday. His baseball career is almost over, and it's going to go into the books as a tremendous waste. As Bradley gets older, no one will be more aware of this than him, and the rest of his life will play out slowly and painfully. This truly is a case of Mickey Rivers' version of mind over matter--if you don't mind, it don't matter. This is easier said than done, of course, and the ability eludes some altogether. Bradley, who was sensitive to the cheap, possibly racist attacks of Chicago fans, would seem to be one who is incapable of screening out the taunts. Booing is cheap, anonymous epithets even cheaper (if you've ever shouted something from the stands that you wouldn't have the guts to say to a player face to face, congratulations, you're a coward), and whatever Bradley's character flaws, he needs to recognize that allowing the noise that follows players to defeat him would be handing a victory to the lowest element in the stands. Somewhere out there, a coach, manager, or teammate is waiting to get through to him in this regard, to say that the best revenge is living well, but it remains to be seen if Bradley can receive the message or if he's doomed to go the way of Duster Mails.

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Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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