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February 25, 2013

Overthinking It

The Best of Baseball's New Old Videos

by Ben Lindbergh

A little over four years ago, Shawn Hoffman wrote a piece at BP called "Opening Up MLB.com: How MLBAM Can Take Its Next Big Step." A couple key paragraphs:

MLB.com has been slow to open up, at least relative to the suddenly nimble major media companies. And really, that is the only thing that has stopped MLBAM from becoming a billion-dollar business. It sounds counter-intuitive, but by trying to wring out every dollar possible through downloads and subscriptions, MLB.com is actually leaving money on the table. Instead, they should be trying to flood the site with short clips (both new and old), and make them easy to share and embed on third-party sites (when you click 'Share' on an MLB.com video right now, it only lets you e-mail the URL to your friends).
...
So what steps can MLB.com make? To start with, they should open their massive video vault in New York City, and use their video-editing software to create as many clips as possible. Imagine being able to see any home run in World Series history (of those that are on tape, at least), on demand. Or the last inning of any televised no-hitter. The possibilities are endless.

It's taking longer than those of us—okay, all of us—who'd enjoy being able to access any play at any time would like, but we're gradually getting closer to Shawn's vision of internet baseball nirvana. Early in the 2011 season, MLBAM quietly made some of its videos of recent highlights embeddable. And right around the same time, just as quietly, it began to put some "classic" clips online.

As I write this, there are 996 viewable MLB.com clips tagged "classic". The first one, of Anibal Sanchez' 2006 no-hitter, was uploaded on April 23, 2011. After that, almost a month went by without anything new, presumably because the anti-embed forces at MLBAM were waiting to see if the world would end. It didn't, and nearly a month later, on May 19, Derek Jeter's 1,000th career hit joined the archive. You can quibble with how "classic" some of these clips are—the sixth clip added, out of all the options from decades and decades of baseball broadcast history, is of catcher Brent Mayne pitching a scoreless inning and getting a win against the Braves in August of 2000. The fifth is of Devon White tripling in the 1998 All-Star Game. In other words, MLBAM wasn't exactly giving away the store.

But the archive has gotten more interesting. Those 996 clips were added to the site over 672 days, a rate of roughly 1.5 per day. I'm writing this now because the pace seems to have accelerated: this year alone, the "classic" archive has grown by 148 clips, or roughly 2.8 per day. Granted, even at this rate, the expanding Sun might heat the Earth into oblivion in a billion years (if we haven't already done that ourselves) before every interesting baseball clip is available online. And it's still a weird mix of things you've seen many times before, like Mickey Mantle's 500th homer, and things you'd never want to see under any circumstances, like a June 1992 TV ad for a Rangers wristwatch giveaway that no one would ever wear. But it's progress. And to show MLBAM that it made the right decision by deciding to share, we should do all we can to spread the word, and the videos. It's free marketing for MLB, free fun for us. Everyone wins.

Jonah Keri drew the internet's attention to the newly available videos at Grantland on Friday; because he's Canadian, four of the six plays he picked took place in Canada. I'm only half-Canadian, so my video choices are much more American. Here, in no particular order are my 10 favorite "classic" clips added this year. This would make a great slideshow, if we made slideshows.

Darryl Strawberry homers off Al Nipper in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series

Four of the 148 "classic" videos added this year, or 2.7 percent, are of Darryl Strawberry hitting homers. That seems like a lot, given that Darryl Strawberry didn't hit 2.7 percent of all the homers hit in major-league history. But it's nice that Strawberry homers are overrepresented, since I'd rather watch him hit homers than almost anyone else. You have that love that long, looping swing—and when describing Strawberry's swing, you have to call it "long" and "looping". This actually isn't the highest or the farthest Strawberry home run added recently, but it's probably the prettiest.

Something else of note: this is one of the slowest home run trots I've ever seen. The slowest non-injury related trot tracked by the official Tater Trot Tracker was came courtesy of Bobby Abreu last September 28. It was clocked at 31.56 seconds. I'm not Larry Granillo, so this isn't an official reading, but I timed that Straw trot at 32.81. In that 500th homer clip, a banged-up, 35-year-old Mantle, whose bodyweight was probably 33 percent bandage, beats a 24-year-old Strawberry around the bases by at least 10 seconds.

The Royals win the 1980 AL Pennant

I like this one for three non-uniform-related reasons:

1. It's conclusive proof that the Royals have been a good baseball team. The Royals haven't appeared in a playoff game in my lifetime, so I appreciate the occasional reminder that they once won things.
2. Darrell Porter's glasses:

Imagine wearing those things under a catcher's mask. They almost are a catcher's mask.
3. That's Dan Quisenberry striking out Willie Randolph. Quisenberry struck out 7.0 percent of the batters he faced in 1980, and Randolph struck out in 7.0 percent of his plate appearances. At the time, this was one of the least-likely batter-pitcher matchups to result in a strikeout. In 24 career plate appearances against Quisenberry, Randolph struck out twice.

Albert Pujols' first major-league hit

You know how you'll often see a grainy video of a player's first hit or homer, and you'll hardly recognize him? He's super-skinny, his stance looks different, his swing isn't as smooth? He looks like he could one day become the player you know, but he isn't that player yet.

Not Albert Pujols.

The picture on the left is Pujols before his first hit, and the picture on the right is Pujols before his 2,246th hit. His stance might be a bit more open now, his bat held at a slightly steeper angle, but that's the same balanced crouch, the same wide stance, and the same solid frame. Albert Pujols arrived in the majors as a fully formed product, a .329/.403/.610-hitting nightmare for opposing pitchers. 

Mike Mussina one-hits the Rangers

In my chat last Tuesday, I was asked about my all-time favorite player to watch. I answered:

Mike Mussina is up there. So many pitches, such great control. Really was a pleasure to watch him work. Also just a generally well-groomed guy. Grooming is important. 

I hope what figures to be an endless debate about his Hall of Fame credentials doesn't tarnish those memories for me.

Even a Blyleven-esque* debate won't tarnish my memories of Mussina, as long as I can refresh them once in a while with clips like this one. That's from 1992, Mussina's first full season, when he was already showing near-perfect control, good fielding fundamentals, and a refined five-pitch mix with plus velo (not to mention the great grooming). He pitched 241 innings with a 2.54 ERA, walking 1.8 per nine innings and allowing 16 homers, and finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting. Dennis Eckersley saved 51 games and won the award.

Here's more classic Mussina, from the most exciting game I've ever attended.

Unfair, especially when mixed with 93-mph fastballs. That's a pitch that not even Jorge Posada's ugly receiving could ruin.

*Question about Blyleven: Would it have been easier to convince the doubters he was deserving if we could have sent them a clip of him throwing a filthy pitch to close out a complete game and win the Pirates the pennant on their way to a World Series title? Maybe

Tony Perez homers off Bill Lee in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series

When an eephus pitch works, it's wonderful. When it doesn't, it looks like the worst idea anyone has ever had on a baseball field.

Jeff Nelson fakes to third and throws to first

I might be the only person who would pick this as one of his top 10. In my fond farewell to the fake to third last year, I wrote:

Whenever a pitcher attempts an FTTTTP in a game for or against the Yankees, either Michael Kay or one of his broadcasters calls it "the ol' Jeff Nelson." Maybe every team has a player who's known for making this move, but in New York, Nelson did it most notably, and the Yankees' broadcast team has never forgotten it.
...
Jeff Nelson pitched in the major leagues for 15 seasons. He struck out more than a batter per inning, and he retired with a 133 ERA+. He has four World Series rings. He made an All-Star team. Yet there's going to be a generation of Yankees fans who never saw him pitch, don't know anything about his accomplishments, and will remember him forever as someone who sometimes used to fake to third before throwing to first back when the umpires weren't so strict and pitchers were free to make unconvincing attempts to deceive the runner. It's weird what guys get known for.

And now we can watch him faking and throwing forever. So what does Nelson think of the recent outlawing of this move? Shockingly, he doesn't like it.

Glenallen Hill Hits a Rooftop at Wrigley

Much of the "classic" clips archive consists of batters hitting homers that land in improbable places. Manny Ramirez hitting the fifth deck at the Skydome. Mark McGwire hitting the Budweiser sign in Cleveland and Mo Vaughn hitting the Budweiser sign at Shea. Adam Dunn hitting a ball so far in Cincinnati that we never see it land.

Hill's homer is my favorite one of the bunch. There used to be a version on YouTube so pixellated that you could hardly see the ball, and I'd still watch it over and over. Now I don't have to do that (which is good, because it's gone).

If the Mitchell Report is to be believed, Hill was using PEDs in 2000, when this homer was hit. Does it make me a bad person if this home run makes me miss the Steroid Era?

Rey Ordonez makes a throw from his knees

Fielding from his knees was Ordonez' signature move, and maybe it got to be that way because of this play, which he made in his first major-league game. Seven innings into Ordonez' career, Mets fans had seen him make Royce Clayton show the screen presence that earned him a part in Moneyball 15 years later

and heard Howie Rose's call: "He was on his knees, Fran! ... He was on his knees!" That was bound to make an impression.

According to Baseball-Reference's Total Zone stat, Ordonez' 1999 is tied with Brooks Robinson's 1968 for the 10th-best fielding season of all time. Again according to Total Zone, it was worth 33 runs, more than Ozzie Smith added with his glove in any single season. According to FRAA, that season—as well as Ordonez' career contribution on defense—was worth one run. I've always wondered whether Ordonez' signature knee play was like Jeter's jump throw, a flashy, distinctive maneuver that won him Gold Gloves and disguised the fact that he wasn't as good as we thought. Defensive metrics can't decide.

Bo Jackson runs up an outfield wall

This play inspired most of The Matrix:

In 1990, Bo Jackson struck out once every three at-bats and hit a homer once every 14. And at least once every 146 putouts in center, he'd run up an outfield wall, just because he could.

Bonds hits the first homer into McCovey Cove

 

 

Whoever selects which videos to add to this archive has a real soft spot for homers hit into McCovey Cove. No fewer than 45 videos tagged "classic" are also tagged "Giants Splash Hits". Most of them are by Barry Bonds, of course, but there's also J.T. Snow, A.J. Pierzynski, Michael Tucker, Jose Cruz, Randy Winn, Ryan Klesko, and two by Felipe Crespo, who hit 10 homers in his whole career.

But the first is the best, because Lou Seal liked it:

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Mlbam,  Higlights

14 comments have been left for this article.

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