This past December, the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox almost pulled off a swap of Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, with assorted lesser players and suitcases of cash also reportedly involved. While this was going on, there were countless media references to this deal being “the biggest trade in baseball history.” This is a pretty bold statement, obviously, but these are some pretty big names so you didn’t hear a lot of protest or debate about the claim.
Teams have been trading baseball players for 140 years or so, and many of these trades have involved 10 or more players changing sides. Of course, that is not what makes the A-Rod/Manny trade “big”; its bigness rests with its star power, with both principles being among the best players in the game and somewhere near mid-career. Setting aside Ramirez for a moment, how often is a player of the caliber of Alex Rodriguez traded at all? Not bloody often, obviously, since there have not been very many players as good as Rodriguez, traded or not.
This article will attempt to identify these rare deals, where a team has a superstar talent and decides to trade it away. For our purposes a “trade” requires one or more players to move in each direction. Babe Ruth was not traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees, he was sold. Eddie Collins and Frank Baker were sold by the Athletics. What’s more, we are not interested in deals where money was an overriding component of the transaction. In 1935, Jimmie Foxx was dealt from the Athletics to the Red Sox in a two-for-two trade, but a check for $150,000 came the other way. The players the A’s received were of little import–Connie Mack wanted the 150 grand. This codicil similarly eliminates deals involving such superstars as Tris Speaker, Joe Jackson, Pete Alexander, Lefty Grove, and Johnny Mize.
There has never been a season when Barry Bonds was obviously the league’s best player that he did not win the MVP award. Were he to lose the award this season (he is currently leading in VORP by 17 runs over Albert Pujols) it would be his first real injustice. If Bonds has not been mistreated by MVP voters though, several stars of the past have been. Although it has been 80 years since anyone has hit like Bonds has the past few years, there have been occasions when a player has dominated his league for several years and been ill-served by the voters. The rest of this article briefly discusses a few of the more famous cases. Ted Williams’ problem was that he played in a time when it was difficult to win the award without winning the pennant, and his team finished second every year. From 1941 through 1954, Williams led the league in VORP every season that he wasn’t either in the military (five years) or hurt (1950). He won two awards: 1946, when the Red Sox finished first, and 1949, when they finished one game behind. Let’s run through a few of the more interesting losses:
In a recent article, Derek Zumsteg recounted how bothersome it is to hear constant complaining about the Yankees dominating the game, especially because, well, they aren’t dominating the game. As Derek points out, the recent collective bargaining agreement requires that the Yankees pay their competitors for the privilege of employing Aaron Boone or, for that matter, Jose Contreras. Although the CBA does not mention the Yankees by name, much of the revenue sharing provisions will likely not affect anyone but them, and no one was really fooled by what the goal was. The recent CBA is not the first attempt to stack the deck against the Bronx Bombers.
As mentioned in yesterday’s Prospectus Triple Play, the Red Sox’ offense is chugging along rather well; at the half-way mark–they played their 81st game last night–they are on a pace to score 1030 runs, the highest total since the 1936 Yankees. The team is also chasing several other historic numbers. The Red Sox are not doing it via the home run, although their 99 dingers is fourth in the AL and seventh in the majors. And the offense is not being carried by a few monster seasons, only Nomar Garciaparra is having a year worth MVP consideration. They are simply crushing the ball–home runs, triples, and especially doubles–and getting contributions up and down the lineup. With the understanding that the Red Sox are playing in a high-offensive era, that they are playing with a designated hitter, and that a lot of things could happen in the remaining half-season, I thought we could take a look at how their offense stacks up with the better ones in history.
As one might expect, the success of Michael Lewis’s great new book, Moneyball, has led to a number criticisms of Oakland Athletics’ GM Billy Beane, his staff, and their entire organizational philosophy. These criticisms should not have come as a surprise: Lewis presents Beane as a brilliant visionary operating in an antiquated system peopled, for the most part, with morons. There may be a great deal of truth to this, but the idea that some of Beane’s competitors would be defensive is understandable.
The most interesting criticism of the Athletics’ success is that as impressive as their regular season results have been, their style of play cannot succeed in the playoffs against quality competition. Sure, the Athletics win 100 games every year with one of the lowest payrolls in the game, but if they can’t win in the post-season, what good is it? This turns out to be a convenient critique since the A’s have lost in the first round of the playoffs for the past three seasons.
This criticism is not new, of course. Joe Morgan has been saying similar things for the last year or so: The A’s offense, which has relied mainly on reaching base and hitting home runs, is not effective in the post-season facing quality pitching. A team needs to be able to “manufacture runs”–steal bases, bunt, hit behind the runner, etc. The A’s do not, or cannot, do these things, so they are doomed to fall short in the playoffs. Or so the argument goes.
I recently wrote an article on teams that have improved by 20 or more Equivalent Wins (EQW) in a single year, EQW being wins adjusted to a 162-game season. In modern non-strike seasons, EQW and wins are generally equivalent, but this simple measure allows us to compare shorter seasons more equitably. If you want to better understand the concept, just read the first few paragraphs of the
In a recent article about the 1967 Boston Red Sox, I wrote that the team’s 20-win improvement was not particularly unusual. I had spent a few minutes convincing myself that there were a few other teams in neighboring seasons that accomplished the feat, but made no attempt to determine how common it was, or whether the 1960s were particularly unique in this regard. This article delves into the topic quite a bit further, presenting an historical survey of the phenomenon, while contemplating patterns that might help us figure out who is most likely to leap forward this year.
Growing up in New England, it was an article of faith that the 1967 Red Sox won the American League pennant with the help of divine intervention–that it was an “Impossible Dream.” With the passage of time, this depiction has become less satisfying, if for no other reasons than that it gives short shrift to the people who actually built the team. Ken Coleman and Dan Valenti, in 1987’s otherwise enjoyable “The Impossible Dream Remembered,” wrote: “The real miracle of 1967 is that it happened, not as the conscious effort applied to a preconceived plan, but in spite of just about everything.” Notwithstanding this supposed lack of either effort or a plan, Dick O’Connell, the team’s architect, won the Sporting News Executive of the Year award.
Suffice it to say that no one saw it coming. Perusing several 1967 preseason publications, most of them envisioned the Red Sox finishing either ninth (as they had in 1966) or 10th in the 10-team American League. Sports Illustrated came the closest to expressing optimism, saying: “If [manager Dick Williams] can find some pitching, too, the 1967 Sox may revive baseball in Boston.”
It was classic McLain: charming, cocky, arrogant, reckless. A rebel or a punk, take your pick, and your choice likely depended on your age and your politics. Just 24 years old, McLain had played by his own rules his whole life, and as the first 30-game winner in baseball in 34 years, he could get away with just about anything.
Each year, players in their third year of service wait anxiously after the season. Their hope is that they will land in the top 1/6 of players in their year of service for time spent on the major league roster. If they do, they are rewarded with arbitration rights. Indeed, this past winter Mark Grudzielanek,…