Falling for the WBC and everything that comes with it.
I’m an extremely new devotee of the World Baseball Classic. I didn’t like it in 2006, didn’t watch it in 2009, and was a jackass about it on Twitter in 2013. As recently as a few months ago, when there were reports that the tournament might be doomed if it didn’t yield higher attendance and more profit this year than in the past, I was all for simply letting it die.
Ian loves two things. These are those two things, as one thing.
Everyone who has seen Brian Wilson pitch has had two different, concurrent reactions. The first is to recoil in horror at the black alien life-form consuming his face; the second is to make a Beach Boys joke.
What most people don’t do, however, is take the next step: wonder if they could field a baseball team composed entirely of rock-star namesakes. But I am not most people; I am a weird baseball-slash-music obsessive. I took the names of rock and roll legends and scoured Baseball Reference to find players by the same (or nearly the same) name. This was both more stupid and more fun than you might have imagined.
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A look at how the trade of Willie Mays from the Giants to the Mets actually happened.
Earlier this week, the Seattle Mariners traded their aging superstar Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees for a couple of prospects. There had been talk throughout the season about what the Mariners might do with their increasingly expensive and increasingly old future Hall of Famer, but the news of his trade to the Yankees still came as quite a surprise. There wasn't even the hint of a leak of the news before the announcement came out and Ichiro walked across Safeco Field and into New York's clubhouse on Monday.
As one of those baseball fans who loves Ichiro and hates the Yankees—Tobias Funke would be happy to know that there are more than merely "dozens of us"—I find it hard to process Ichiro in pinstripes. How long will he play for the Yankees? What role will he fill? When we think back on his career, are we even going to remember his time in the Bronx? Will the trade re-invigorate his career? There are too many questions to list, but what the trade has really made me think about is something that happened 40 years ago: the time Willie Mays was traded to the New York Mets.
An email about the Baseball Prospectus event in Kansas City inspires the Professor to plan an encounter with a legend.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Joe Hamrahi, our beloved leader and spiritual advisor at Baseball Prospectus, in which he outlined the details of the All-Star event in Kansas City that I was scheduled to attend. As usual, I read the email like a hyperactive kid who had just snorted a baby arm of FunDip, which is to say I opened it and recognized a few words and immediately started dreaming of a better life, when I happened upon the name of Willie Mays and the word “brunch.” Apparently, the Baseball Prospectus gathering would be taking place at the theater across the street from the Negro Leagues museum, which had scheduled an event involving all seven living Negro League players who had become major-league all-stars. A private brunch was to be held that morning with the distinguished guests. At the top of the guest list was Willie Howard Mays, Jr.
Instead of spending quality time with the email and forming a relationship with the proper context, I drifted off into a romantic fantasy in which my Sunday morning would be spent with Willie Mays, sharing stories and slamming mimosas. We would fast become tethered by an unbreakable bond; our friendship dance would be aesthetically pleasing to the blind. The Futures Game had previously occupied the role of apple of my eye, but I no longer cared about minor-league baseball or the participants in such an event. Two weeks ago, my heart belonged to Willie Mays and the brunch we would consume in a shared space. As per normal, I scripted the event to the letter and the line, and I felt comforted by the familiarity of the teleprompter I placed a few feet from my scene. I entered my own head and started spelunking for the memories I would no doubt come to appreciate after they matured into adulthood. It all started with an iPhone alarm puffing out its chest at 8:02 AM on Sunday, July 7th.
Due to reader response, the annotated list continues with 21st through 31st best seasons of all time, featuring Mike Piazza, Ernie Banks, and more third basemen of the 1970s.
Our collection of BP-flavored single-season WARP scores currently goes back to 1950. Now that we’ve added fielding runs to the sortable choices, you can easily see the combination of offense and defense that made the top players during this period so valuable, and in some cases dragged them down from even higher perches.
On Monday, I used the newly revised list to take a look at the top 20 seasons of the last 60 years. Due to reader enthusiasm and the fact that I find this kind of thing to be tremendous fun, I’ve expanded the scope to include the top 50, continuing today with the player-seasons that rank 21 through 31.
21. Frank Robinson, OF, 1966: 11.0
Robinson, newly arrived with the Baltimore Orioles after the Reds called him “an old 30,” won the triple crown, joining Mickey Mantle ’56 and Carl Yastrzemski ’67 in the top 50. He picked up a unanimous MVP award, Given how much grief the voters have deservedly taken over the years, it’s reassuring to see how many of these great seasons have won. Of the top 11, the voters rewarded all but three, and one of those was Sammy Sosa's ’01, who the voters passed over in favor of Barry Bonds' ’01, which was even better. Here are the other occasions to this point in the rankings where the voters failed to reward one of the 20 best seasons in history:
A trip through our new 1950-and-up leaderboard, including a close look at our new-formula fielding runs.
Our collection of BP-flavored single-season WARP scores currently goes back to 1950. Now that we’ve added fielding runs to the sortable choices, you can easily see the combination of offense and defense that made the top players during this period so valuable, and in some cases dragged them down from even higher perches. Herein we traipse quickly through the 20 best players of the Truman-Eisenhower years and onward.
The fielding runs featured here are the product of our new revised formula developed by Colin Wyers. As Colin says, “The difficult part of any defensive metric is estimating the batted-ball distribution among fielders. Old FRAA used season-level data about things like pitcher handedness to figure out the distribution on a seasonal level, and prorated it out to individual fielders. Now, FRAA uses play-by-play data, which allows us to use more variables (like whether or not a fielder has to hold on a runner) and to assign responsibility to each fielder based on the games he actually played in.”
This version of FRAA avoids the pitfall of subjectivity inherent in zone-based ratings. “In contrast to other popular metrics, FRAA does not use any stringer-recorded observational data,” Colin explains. “Serious discrepancies have been noted between data providers, and research has shown that in larger samples use of that sort of batted-ball data introduces severe distortions in the metrics that impede accuracy. Without evidence that the batted-ball data has redeeming value in the short term, it seems imprudent to use that sort of data in our evaluation of player defense.”
Finding a novel way to measure Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.
With Duke Snider's passing this weekend, there's been a lot of discussion of the three great New York centerfielders of the 1950s - the famous "Willie, Mickey, and the Duke" trio. And with good cause: Snider was a great player who, for better or worse, will always be tied to those two all-time greats. The fact that he wasn't the equal of Mays or Mantle is no blemish on his fine career.
There is at least one other metric that we can use to compare the three centerfielders that I think many have neglected. We'll call it the "Charlie Brown Coefficient."
The Hall of Fame center fielder made defensive plays that still defy description.
I got a text the other day from my friend, Bryant McCarthy, who spends his life living in some kind of fantasy land that includes the Red Sox, Tom Brady, and Ken Griffey Jr. He questioned whether Griffey Jr. was the greatest defensive center fielder of all time. Putting the generational gap aside, with young Mr. McCarthy actually believing that I reported on Tris Speaker, it made for an interesting internal discussion, for surely Griffey would rank among the legends, but whether he was the best of all-time is certainly debatable.
In talking about the greatest to ever patrol the outfield's middle pasture, you must not only discuss range and arm and baseball smarts, but also the mind's TiVo that runs those players' greatest moments. In this SportsCenter, TiVo, and YouTube age, Griffey and Jim Edmonds dominated the mental landscape because their top plays are captured on video, whereas those of Speaker, Dom DiMaggio, Paul Blair, Jimmy Piersall, and Willie Mays went unrecorded.
The author and museum curator discusses the history of the Giants and his thoughts on the 2010 team.
Richard A. Johnson knows baseball history, and as a lifelong fan of the team that calls AT&T Park home, he certainly knows San Francisco Giants history. The longtime curator of the Sports Museum in Boston, Johnson is the author or co-author of numerous books.