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March 22, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Potpourri for $100

by Jim Baker

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The heck with the diamond...who rules cyberspace?

As anyone who is anyone these days will tell you, it's not how much money you have, but how many references your Google search turns up. With that in mind, let's put aside matters of career batting averages and home run totals and find out which players register most where in counts: on the 'Net.

Let's start with the position players. Here are 20 or so men, drawn somewhat at random:

9.0 million: Pete Rose
5.8 million: Ted Williams
3.9 million: Mike Schmidt
3.2 million: Jackie Robinson
2.6 million: Joe Morgan
2.6 million: Johnny Bench
2.4 million: Hank Aaron (includes Henry Aaron)
1.5 million: George Brett
1.4 million: Babe Ruth (includes George Herman Ruth)
1.2 million: Barry Bonds
1.1 million: Alex Rodriguez
593,000: Sammy Sosa
560,000: Willie Mays
492,000: Hank Greenberg
445,000: Lou Gehrig
380,000: Jose Canseco
364,000: Yogi Berra
330,000: Mickey Mantle
311,000: Cal Ripken
309,000: Ty Cobb
285,000: Joe DiMaggio (another 412,000 adding the references that put a space in his name)

Now, obviously, this is nothing like scientific. Players get credit for every hit, regardless of whether it's legit or not. In other words, if a website contains the following, it's going to count for someone like Pete Rose:

"…my third husband was named Pete and he was an inventor who once blew up our garage trying to build a time machine. It destroyed my prize-winning rose bush…"
We simply don't have time to check each and every one. Know that a player like Rose--whose last name is a real live word you can use on a Scrabble board--is going to have some extra hits. Of course, in his case, it also helps to have been naughty and to have generated more ink than the First and Second World Wars, the Charles and Di wedding and the school board elections in Decatur, Illinois put together.

If we look at the pitchers list, we find the Johnson boys at the very top:

4.6 million: Walter Johnson
4.3 million: Randy Johnson
1.8 million: Cy Young
1.7 million: Don Larsen
935,000: Pedro Martinez
766,000: Steve Carlton
723,000: Nolan Ryan
634,000: Roger Clemens
396,000: Curt Schilling
382,000: Dizzy Dean
186,000: Tom Seaver
176,000: Bob Feller
75,000: Christy Mathewson

To an extent, this is a case of the top two guys getting credit for a lot of Johnson references that don't necessarily involve them. Ted Williams is also helped by this. It's also interesting to wonder how many of Cy Young's references are directed at him for his playing or are just mentions of the award named in his honor. I would venture that it's about nine to one in favor of the award.

Does this list really give us an indication of who's who in the consciousness of the world's baseball fans? I think it's a decent indication. Contemporary players, obviously, have the advantage of generating news on the fly, while most references to pre-Internet players exist because somebody took the time to recall them. The players of 100 years ago suffer pretty badly on their Google searches. Honus Wagner, still considered one of the greats of all time, only generates 79,100 hits. Cap Anson betters him by just 10,000. These men are long dead and cannot generate any more news. Nap Lajoie logs just 17,700 hits. One relatively low count belongs to Stan Musial, at one time considered the premier hitter in the National League. He can be found just 131,000 times.

What these fellows need are good press agents so that they can begin crawling their way up the Google-hit heap.

Alomar or Clemente?

On the occasion of the Expos first regular-season games in Puerto Rico early in the 2003 season, I wrote an article suggesting that Roberto Alomar could well soon pass Roberto Clemente as the best Puerto Rican-born player in major-league history. In spite of the fact that this was immediately following Alomar's disastrous first season with the Mets, I reasoned that, even if he never regained the prowess of his prime, he only had to cruise for a few years to eclipse Clemente.

As it turns out, I had too much confidence in his durability. After two more disastrous years, Alomar has retired.

Putting matters of persona aside (Clemente's most famous act was to overload a plane full of relief supplies, Alomar's was spitting in an umpire's face), it still ends up as a pretty close race:

Adjusted career EqA

Clemente: .300
Alomar: .295

WARP3

Clemente: 119.9
Alomar: 126.3

Had Alomar been able to close things out with a three- or four-year run at a total of 10 or so games above replacement level, I believe he would have aced Clemente. Now, the verdict is very much in doubt. This is an argument focusing upon the entire length of their careers (which were almost opposites in that Clemente was extremely mediocre when he broke in while Alomar hit the ground running and tailed off later). Believe one thing or not: Alomar at his best was better than Clemente at his best. This shows their top five seasons expressed in WARP3:


Alomar        Clemente

Year  WARP3   Year WARP3
2001: 12.2    1967: 11.0
1996: 11.5    1966: 10.6
1999: 11.1    1964: 10.3
1993: 10.8    1961:  9.4
1992:  9.3    1965:  8.9
As you can see, Alomar's best trumps Clemente's all the way down the line.

Saves Only, Please

At least we know why the Braves wanted former Brewers closer Danny Kolb. So used to not having their closer get any decisions other than saves, they found the best available reliever who was also so predisposed. Over the past two years, John Smoltz has saved nearly 90 games without getting a single victory and while taking the loss in just three contests. In this arcane and highly-compartmentalized stat, Smoltz's 2003-2004 seasons rank as the first- and third-highest ever. Kolb clocks in at fourth:


YEAR NAME                    G     IP  SV   W-L

2001 Kazuhiro Sasaki        69   66.2  45   0-4
2003 John Smoltz            62   64.1  45   0-2
2004 John Smoltz            73   81.2  44   0-1
2004 Danny Kolb             64   57.1  39   0-4
1998 John Franco            61   64.2  38   0-8
1995 Lee Smith              52   49.1  37   0-5
1996 Troy Percival          62   74.0  36   0-2
2003 Jorge Julio            64   61.2  36   0-7
1996 Rod Beck               63   62.0  35   0-9
1987 Tom Henke              72   94.0  34   0-6
Kolb made the top ten with great economy, throwing fewer innings than all but Lee Smith did in a strike-shortened season. Tom Henke is the real pioneer here. He's the first man to notch more than 22 saves without logging a win. It will be interesting to see if the Braves continue to use their closer under the strict guidelines laid out in the Smoltz era.

City of Lost Angels

What have the Angels lost--aside from their sanity--when it comes to the redesignation of their home city? Why nothing short of alphabetical primacy, of course! Anaheim was always going to be first in any listing of major-league clubs and there's something to be said for that. No longer will they be the first team listed in the American League listings in the BP annuals. Now they're a middle-of-the-pack team with Kansas City and Minnesota. They used to be alpha dog, now they're in the alphabet slog.

I wonder if they considered this? I'm thinking not.

Related Content:  Roberto Clemente,  The Who

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