Spring training has become far more professional and predictable since its earliest days.
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
As another exhibition season approaches, revisit some of spring training's wilder times in the following piece, which originally ran as a "You Could Look it Up" column on March 6, 2004.
Teaching the meaning of the replacement level to old sportswriters and other children.
Integral to those numbers is something called WAR, which stands for wins above replacement. What replacement? A replacement player, of course, but he’s mythical.
Statistics zealots apparently love to deal with mythical or hypothetical players. The problem for those of us who prefer dealing with reality and actual human beings is we can’t buy into the idea of using mathematical formulas instead of real players.—Murray Chass, September 5, 2010.
I have considered WAR and VORP (“value over replacement player;” yes there’s that replacement guy again), and I have a basic problem with them. The replacement player isn’t real; he’s a myth, and I’ve never seen a myth play baseball. It’s like fantasy baseball. That stuff isn’t real either. —Chass, March 6, 2011
Before we begin, a disclaimer of sorts, or at least a plea for indulgence. I know we hit ol’ Murray quite recently, and at that time some of the comments suggested that we stop shooting at this fish and leave him in his Hall of Fame barrel. I’m sympathetic to that point of view to the extent that I suspect we in the sabermetric community are the only people paying the slightest attention, and unsympathetic because (a) the existence of retrograde thought offends me, (b) battling ignorance is part of my job description, and (c) attacking it is so darned fun.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Noting yet more changes in the Veterans' Committee and considering Lou Piniella's Hall of Fame case.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame's Board of Directors threw another changeup. One day after the Class of 2010 enjoyed its day in the sun, the board announced a restructuring of its procedures to consider managers, umpires, executives, and "long-retired players" for election to the Hall of Fame. In doing so, it buried the lead: the institution has put a pillow over the face of the Veterans Committee it radically expanded in 2001. In fact, the press release outlining the re-re-revamped procedures doesn't use the phrase "Veterans Committee" at all.
Throwing a World Series game for any reason may seem outlandish now, but that has not always been the case.
Among the many taunts offered by Phillies fans to visiting Yankees supporters during Monday's game was one that insinuated that the Steinbrenner family had ordered the Yankees to throw Game Five of the World Series so that they could reap the benefit of an extra day's gate receipts at Yankee Stadium. This is, of course, preposterous, but these kinds of rumors actually go back to the earliest days of the World Series.
Steven notes that the wages of confrontation in the clubhouse don't always pay.
Miller Huggins is little remembered today. When he does come up, the diminutive Yankees manager is often recalled as the helpless foil to Babe Ruth and a carousing cadre of drunken pinstripers. In truth, Huggins was as hard-nosed as anyone in the game, certainly more so than Ruth, who tended to fold up when confronted by authority. It's how Huggins was able to survive years of dealing with both his players and an ownership tandem that was divided against him. Huggins had been hired by one-half owner Jacob Ruppert when his partner Til Huston was out of the country doing the crazy dance that was then sweeping the globe, World War I. Huston took his revenge on Ruppert by undermining Huggins whenever possible, often by overturning Huggins' attempts at enforcing discipline.
The history of spring training is one of ongoing professionalization and standardization, which is a 13-syllable way of saying, "All eccentricities have been stomped out of it." In the early days of spring training, teams lacked set destinations. There were no permanent Florida or Arizona complexes, the Dodger installation at Vero Beach not coming until mid-century. Depending on the year and where the manager felt like spending his spring, teams trained in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Catalina Island, California, the Dominican Republic. Ernest Hemingway figures in a number of spring training stories because the hard-drinking Papa frequently crossed paths with the hard-drinking Dodgers when they trained in Cuba during the 1940s. Most of the stories revolve around Hemingway and closer Hugh Casey getting drunk and beating the heck out of each other. As Papa wrote in The Sun Also Rises: "Oh, Jake," Brett said, "we could have had such a damned good time together." "Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?" Today, teams have expensive stadiums waiting for them, some appendages of theme parks. There are no more holdouts, no Rickey Hendersons who report late because they can't be bothered to start on time. But for Dominicans with visa problems, punctuality is the rule. If the training season is used for anything more fun than training, it's kept on the down low.
In the early days of spring training, teams lacked set destinations. There were no permanent Florida or Arizona complexes, the Dodger installation at Vero Beach not coming until mid-century. Depending on the year and where the manager felt like spending his spring, teams trained in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Catalina Island, California, the Dominican Republic. Ernest Hemingway figures in a number of spring training stories because the hard-drinking Papa frequently crossed paths with the hard-drinking Dodgers when they trained in Cuba during the 1940s. Most of the stories revolve around Hemingway and closer Hugh Casey getting drunk and beating the heck out of each other. As Papa wrote in The Sun Also Rises: