Starting IX Newsletter: A forgotten Negro Leagues legend, Cy Young twirls a historic one-hitter, Casting an MLB movie, and much more
All right, last week I laid out what to expect from this new journey, so if you missed that, here’s a link. I’ve mixed up the order of the sections slightly after some excellent feedback, but otherwise, let’s dive right in!
“One Final Imagination of the Baseball Hall of Fame” Pre-excerpt: Spot Poles and Baseball What If’s
To lead off, I want to highlight an awesome and lesser known Negro Leagues legend, giving you some background on his style and game, and then spinning off into some of the best alternate universe baseball questions. (FYI, “Top-floor” is used as an adjective throughout this book to signify elite.)
Spot Poles: First of all, top-floor name. A frequent Ty Cobb comparison in his time, Poles is the perfect Negro Leagues What If. If you were to poll (or maybe, pole) baseball fans, you’d be hard pressed to find one who didn’t know the name Cobb. On the other hand, you’d be hard pressed to find many who even knew the name Poles, let alone could tell you one distinguishing fact about him. (Poles hit a recorded .487 in 1914 and was notorious for saving his best play against white teams, with an “Edgar Martinez vs. Mariano Rivera” type relationship to Pete Alexander, the best pitcher of the segregated MLB at the time).
For Poles, the What If is simple: What if baseball had been integrated with the inception of the American League in 1901? Poles served his country in WWI, an ideology that helped to eventually integrate MLB some two and a half decades later. If baseball were integrated in Poles’ era, there’s a very good chance he’d be a household name today. His game was built on a high batting average — the statistic which was most glamorized in that era. With a fun name and an ability to play his best in the big moments, that’s a pure recipe for modern cult hero status. His story can certainly stand on its own, it just takes a little more research and sharing to get there.
In Poles’ honor — and since we are on the third floor, after all — here are the top floor Baseball What If’s:
- What if Commissioner Selig hadn’t nixed A-Rod’s trade to the Red Sox?
- What if Ted Williams’ career wasn’t interrupted two different times for military service?
- What if Babe Ruth played his whole career with Boston? What if he stayed a pitcher?
- What if the owners had listened to Charles Finley and implemented total free agency instead of arbitration?
- What if baseball had its roots in the south rather than in the north?
- What if the Cardinals had traded Albert Pujols instead of Ben Johnson back in 2000? (Check out Derrick Goold’s piece at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for the full story.)
- In fact, what about any of these notorious just-miss deals: Tony Perez for George Brett (1974); Tim Raines for Tom Glavine (1990); Mariano Rivera to Seattle (1996); Pedro for Colon (1997); David Wright to Toronto (2002); Carlos Beltran for Kevin Youkilis (2004); Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson to the Marlins (2005); and the King Fisher of all near-deals: Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio in 1947
- What if Mickey Mantle didn’t severely injure himself his rookie year? What if he didn’t live his life as recklessly as he did because of his family history? (I’ll quip on this one: I honestly think he’d be the best player of all time.)
- From r/Mehworth on Reddit: “What if Tony [Conigliaro] had ducked?”
- What if it was the Federal League rather than the American League that lasted?
- What if Shoeless Joe never took that money? Would he be the all-time batting average champion? (For skeptics, don’t forget the massive boom in offensive numbers for the years immediately following his banishment.)
- What if the Marlins had the resources and want to keep their championship teams together?
- What if steroids never took root in the game? What if the players who used were never caught? What if all steroids were legal?
It does have to be noted that Poles’ hometown of Winchester, Virginia honored Poles in a ceremony that many of Poles’ Negro League contemporaries are deserving of in their own hometowns. Good on Winchester for honoring a man who served his country in WWI (fighting for the famous Harlem Hellfighters) and entertained thousands with his play on the diamond.
OOTP Year-by-Year Re-Simulation: 1901
All right moving from actual baseball history to alternate universe baseball history. This is the first year in the long-term project to re-simulate each season in baseball history using Out of the Park Baseball 21. And oh baby, the first-ever iteration of this exercise was a good one!
MVP: Jesse Tannehill and Nap Lajoie
Cy Young: Jesse Tannehill and Cy Young
Neither of these awards actually existed in 1901, but the game does us the favor of selecting these winners based on the criteria that is now used to hand out these awards. Lajoie and Young you almost certainly know, but Tannehill is an interesting case. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer who would have had a better case had his arm held up with modern medicine. In his eight-year prime, he averaged 4.7 rWAR per season, on some pretty prominent teams in Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York. (For modern comparison, Cliff Lee averaged 4.5 rWAR per season in his nine-year prime.) Like many other pitchers in his time, he was also a strong hitter, and he’s the exact type of guy that digging into these re-simulations will help myself and hopefully you, the readers, have more of an appreciation for.
* Jimmy Williams 150 RBI for Baltimore
* John McGraw .508 on-base percentage for Baltimore
* Nap Lajoie 10.0 WAR for Philadelphia
* Jesse Tannehill 1.45 ERA and 14.8 rWAR for Pittsburgh
* Noodles Hahn 11.6 fWAR for Cincinnati
Remember that 1901 was the first year that the American League came into existence, meaning that Williams and McGraw were setting quite a high bar for future record chasers to clear. Lajoie was the only position player to reach double-digit WAR, while seven starting pitchers reached that plateau, thanks to a much heavier workload during this era, of course. In the “real” 1901, only Cy Young was able to reach 10+ WAR.
On to the team wrap-up.
American League pennant winners: Boston Americans
National League pennant winners: Pittsburgh Pirates
World Series: Americans 4, Pirates 3
The two best words in sports: Game 7! In our first re-simulation of baseball history, the Boston Americans (now the Boston Red Sox) defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates to take the first-ever World Series. No such series existed in the reality version of 1901, but the Pirates did indeed finish atop all of baseball with a .647 winning percentage.
There were plenty of big names powering these two teams, highlighted by Cy Young and Jimmy Collins on the Boston side of things, and Honus Wagner and Rube Waddell on the Pittsburgh side of the ledger.
It was those two aces: Young and Waddell, who met up in Game 7 of the faux World Series, with Young tossing a one-hitter in what would instantly become the standard against which all Game 7 pitching performances would be henceforth measured. Waddell didn’t do too bad himself, allowing just two runs, both unearned in a complete game of his own. Unfortunately, it was a Honus Wagner error that doomed the Pirates in the fourth inning.
“Starting IX” Excerpt: Don Money (Casting an MLB Movie)
Ok moving on from re-simming baseball history to our first excerpt from Starting IX, my first book and the one that has actually been released. Throughout the book, I write “Starting IX’s” which are really just lists under a (not very clever) name. Some of them go position-by-position, some are just more like a Top 9 list. This list is based on which names in baseball history would make the best Hollywood characters.
3B Don Money (1973–1983): As far as actual baseball was concerned, Money was a solid, but never elite, player. He was a man described by Dan Okrent as playing baseball “with surpassing professionalism. He was a great sign-stealer, a still-powerful hitter, a useful, if slow-footed, man afield,” in Nine Innings, an excellent account of a Brewers-Orioles game late in Money’s career that was an excellent source for this Brewers chapter.
Money’s cumulative numbers are lower than their actual value because of the era in which he played. He made four All-Star games while being a power hitter who never topped 90 runs or RBI in a season. Due to the era in which he played, his style of play, and his above average defense, he is one of the players whom WAR favors the most over raw numbers in the book.
Money’s name came up on Opening Day 2013, when Bryce Harper broke his record as the youngest player to hit multiple home runs on the first day of the baseball season. Money had been two months shy of 21 when he accomplished the feat in 1969, and Harper beat that by over a year on Opening Day 2013. Interestingly enough, Money hit those home runs off of another man in this book, Fergie Jenkins. Money also holds the record for fewest errors in a season by a third baseman, having committed just five in 1974 for Milwaukee.
Finally, Money was blessed with a name straight out of The Godfather, and he served as the inspiration behind (but not the starting third baseman for) easily one of the most fun Starting IXs to compile — the Starting IX of baseball names that sound like movie character names, along with their character description, and the actor that would play them. These are based on the player’s name, not their real-life personalities (for the most part):
C) King Kelly: The protagonist of any great silent film, he wouldn’t even have to act, seeing as his life was basically a movie (a lot more on him at the Cubs utility spot).
Played by: Goosebumps Walkaway.
1B) Harry Heilmann: The bad guy in an Indiana Jones movie, or a season of 24.
Played by: Mads Mikkelsen (better known as the guy with the cool eye in Casino Royale, or Caecilius in Dr. Strange).
2B) Cupid Childs: The short, pudgy, suspiciously-powerful man in a bad romantic comedy.
Played by: Jack Black.
3B) Deacon White: The religious man whose sermons are more bluster than anything else.
Played by: Isiah Whitlock Jr. (better known as the “Ah sheeeeeet” guy from The Wire).
SS) Rabbit Maranville: Another who wouldn’t have to act, but if he did could easily fill a character with his name alone. He could be the person who leads our group of misfits through the forest with his outdoor skills and witty banter.
Played by: Tim Blake Nelson.
LF) Chet Lemon: He would fit into a 1980s buddy cop movie on the merits of his name, as well as his style and look.
Played by: Richard Pryor.
CF) Duke Snider: He would be a jazz saxophone player in a film noir flick. The type of guy who knew everything about the seedy underground of the city.
Played by: Denzel Washington once — sorry, if — he ever ages.
RF) Dixie Walker: We need a female lead in what is a sausage fest so far, so we’ll give it to Dixie Walker on the basis of name. She would be a southern belle, and the love interest for all.
Played by: Jennifer Lawrence (because what can’t she do?).
DH) JD Drew: Toby from The Office.
Played by: Paul Lieberstein (Toby from The Office).
SP1) Pud Gavin: The pudgy kid next door in a Stand By Me coming-of-age movie.
Played by: Young Sean Astin.
SP2) Burleigh Grimes: Oil man àla Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.
Played by: Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.
SP3) Silver King: Monarch in a mystic, far-off land in a Never-Ending-Story-type in-your-face parable.
Played by: David Bowie.
SP4/LHP1) Kenny Rogers: Based on name recognition alone, Rogers has to be a southern cowboy/card shark.
Played by: A John Wayne-type. Or, if we’re going a little more outside the box, Brad Pitt. I could see it working.
SP5) Ned Garver: Pud’s annoying dad, the type who always goes out to get the mail in his boxers.
Played by: Stephen Tobolowsky.
Long relief) Dizzy Trout: An extra on the Deliverance set.
Played by: The older brother of Billy Redden (the Banjo Kid).
Middle relief) Smoky Joe Wood: The wise old man in the neighborhood, who spends time on his patio giving life lessons to the youngsters.
Played by: Morgan Freeman, of course.
CP) Joakim Soria: While it’s true that Soria hates the nickname “The Mexicutioner” — and it is indeed insensitive, behind the times, and certainly not a politically correct nickname — Hollywood has more discreet racism than any other institution in America, so it’ll fit right in.
Played by: If we’re going with the questionable selection of “The Mexicutioner,” might as well go fully questionable and assign Danny Trejo to play him.
I’d watch the hell out of that movie.
Fun Stat of the Week
Since the first few sections have run long this week, we’ll just go with a tweet here:
Shouts to Jeremy Frank, he’ll appear here often. Here’s a link to the full tweet with the presidents for the first half of the 20th century included. If you somehow don’t follow MLBRandomStats, go do it.
Who Is This Player?
Answer at the end of the newsletter (I’m debating formats here, so feedback on how easy/difficult this section is would be appreciated)
Weekly Best Reads
Jared Diamond writing for the Wall Street Journal ($$) about how the pipeline from the catcher position to the managerial seat has been shut off for Black players.
Long-form Corner: It wouldn’t be a baseball history newsletter if I didn’t link to Joe Posnanski at some point, so here’s a link to one of his amazing Top 100 series that he did a little while ago for The Athletic. This link is for Adrian Beltre, one of my all-time favorite players, but if you haven’t tackled the series, you really should at the very minimum seek out your favorite players on the list. It’s an incredibly entertaining and informative and unique series of player bios.
(I do recognize that three of the four links here today require subscriptions, I will try to balance better in the future.)
Article Idea I’m Too Lazy to Write
Who will finally create a sufficient statistical measure to account for a manager’s impact on the game?
Pop Culture Recommendation of the Week
As I noted in the introduction to this series, sometimes this will be an in-the-moment rec, and sometimes it will not at all be. For the first recommendation of this newsletter, I’ll bridge the divide with a show that is still on the air, but also has a nice back catalog to binge through: Superstore.
Now, Ben Lindbergh beat me to the punch on this front just last week (I had pre-made this selection, and decided that Ben’s backing only furthered my confidence in a recommendation), so in lieu of a lengthy write-up, here is instead a super-quick ranking of the characters on the show, from best to slightly-less-best because basically everyone on the show is great. Prepare for some hot takes that I’d love to have debated in the comments.
- Jeff (dead last by a mile and the only character in this baker’s dozen that I actively find annoying)
Keep You On Your Toes
This is going to be a brutal winter for Covid and Covid-affected areas, and (sadly not surprisingly) Indigenous populations have been hit among the hardest. Yee Ha’olnii Doo is one organization that has started a Go Fund Me for a Navajo and Hopi Covid relief fund, which you can donate to here.
The answer to this week’s trivia question is 2020 ALCS MVP, Randy Arozarena! As a Rays fan still flying high on the second pennant in franchise history, Randy had to get in the first newsletter somehow or another.
Remember to follow along here on Medium for the first few months before I move to the actual email newsletter format.
Feel free to reach out to Jim.Turvey21@gmail.com for any feedback or inquiries.