Starting IX Newsletter: Just a great group of guys
For those unfamiliar with the set-up — welcome! Here’s the scoop. Otherwise, let’s dive right in.
“One Final Imagination of the Baseball Hall of Fame” Pre-excerpts
This space has been filled with themed excerpts in the past, but let’s get back to what the heart of this book is: random thoughts about random players.
Smoky Joe Wood: A bit of a flash in the pan, but we’re not worried about stuff like that. We’re looking for quotes like Walter Johnson saying that no one, himself included, threw harder than Smoky Joe. We’re looking for stats like his 10.2 WAR in 1912 when he went 34–5 (including winning an AL record-tying 16 straight) with a 1.91 ERA and ten shutouts. And most of all, we’re wondering what would have happened if Wood pitched in the modern era, and the contract disputes and shoulder issues that ended his career after just 158 games started would have at least been mitigated to a certain extent.
Also, his name reminds me of the limited edition Smoky Joe sliders from White Castle, which is a big bonus for him of course.
Nick Markakis: My favorite Markakis anecdote was mentioned briefly in my first book, but it’s a top-floor baseball moment in my mind, so it bears repeating. It was Nick Markakis who was at the plate for the infamous “boob grab” NESN incident in which Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo giggled silently for almost a minute and then cracked up completely when they came back on the air to announce Markakis’ at bat. Poor Remy takes the entire at bat to compose himself. That description does the clip no justice, though. Just watch the clip.
It’s also worth noting that for a long time, he was a subjective piece of trivia as the best player in modern history to never make an All-Star Game or collect an MVP vote, as originally noticed by Sam Miller of ESPN. Of course, he “lost” that honor when he made his first Midsummer Classic in 2018 at the ripe age of 34 and proceeded to wear an amazing “Borat in pajamas” type outfit on the All-Star Red Carpet Show beforehand.
Lonnie Smith: There are times in this book where I will simply point readers to a certain story or video that I think accompanies what I have here, telling the reader they absolutely must check it out. I’m not naïve, I know that maybe one percent of you will actually follow up on that. So with that in mind, I would simply point you to Jon Bois’ Pretty Good Podcast episode on Lonnie Smith, but since I know that would man a good chunk of you would never get there, I simply have to give the highlights of Bois’ podcast so that no one reading this book can claim they don’t know the story:
- Smith attacking the Phillie Phanatic and spraining both the mascot’s ankles — and the Phanatic somehow kind of deserving it
- His rampant coke addiction (including one night in which he snorted four eight balls worth of cocaine)
- Smith being a victim of collusion
- The creation of the word “non-playingitis”
- A mid-career purchase of a pistol and a plan to murder Braves GM John Schuerholz
- A comeback from those lows to produce his incredible 8.8 WAR in 134 games at the age of 33 in the 1989 season (after only one other season above 3.5 WAR in his career up to that point)
- Smith becoming the second player in MLB history with homers in three straight World Series games
- Smith then becoming the goat in that exact same series
- Finally, his ultimate confrontation with the man he once planned on killing
Seriously, you just gotta go watch the video. It’s linked above, and it’s the length of the Parks and Rec episode you were going to watch tonight for the 15th time anyway.
Matty Alou: Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is credited with the phrase, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If we modify that phrase slightly to “You are the average of the two baseball players you are surrounded by in the outfield,” Alou has a couple excellent entries. First, in 1963, he and two of his brothers (Felipe and Jesus) all started together in the outfield, an MLB first. They also once all came up to bat in the same half inning, another MLB first. Two years later, while it likely didn’t matter to Matty as much, Alou was flanked by Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell in the Pirate outfield. Not bad company.
Tim McCarver: The Harvey Dent of baseball. During his playing days, he was among the most beloved Cardinals of all time, best friends with his battery mate, Bob Gibson, and had a 21-year playing career that touched four different decades. McCarver, a white man, spoke of his relationship with Gibson to Mike Lupica for Sports on Earth, “I think about our friendship now, and how race never built a wall between us, in the time when we were first becoming friends, in all the turbulence of the 1960s. It wasn’t just the Rev. King being shot. It was John Kennedy, too. Then it was Bobby Kennedy just a few months after the Rev. King. There was so much trying to drive people apart. But it never happened with Bob and me. The bond that was created in those times has now lasted a lifetime.”
McCarver is now most often thought of as the broadcaster who stayed around long enough to see himself become the villain (you were still confused about the Dent comp, right?). Or at least one of the most scorned and shat upon men in the booth. This reaction was never really fair to a baseball lifer who no less a baseball authority than Roger Angell dedicated an entire article to him when he left the main FOX broadcast (“Goodbye, Tim McCarver”). The dude is still calling games for St. Louis at age 79.
Jaime Moyer: Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past 25 years, you know Moyer is the epitome of THAT GUY. In case you were indeed neighbors with Patrick the Star the past quarter century, this little nugget from Deadspin sums him up well: During his age-49 season (yes, that’s right, age 49!), Moyer had faced 8.9 percent of all hitters in baseball history!
A poor man’s Roy Halladay, Hernandez was a throwback to another era. He threw mid-80s with his fastball, tossed well over 200 innings a season, and prioritized letting the batter beat himself. He was also the best player to ever wear the number 61, which led me to an excellent reddit thread started by a Mets fan with the username: Mazzocchi. According to his/her research (through 2016), there have been six numbers never used in MLB history (80, 86, 89, 90, 92, and 93) and five more that have been used only once (82, 87, 95, 96, 97, and 98); the most common number is 22; and 89 percent of jerseys are numbered 50 or lower.
Real quick, here are the top floor “weird number wearers” in MLB history:
Yasiel Puig — 66, Bronson Arroyo — 69 (of course), Carlton Fisk — 72, Barry Zito — 75, Ivan Rodriguez — 77, Prince Fielder — 84, Albert Belle — 88, and Manny Ramirez — 99.
Dusty Baker: In what I found to be shocking news, but some may know already, the high five only came into existence in 1977, and Baker himself played a role in its creation. There is an excellent 30 for 30 on the circumstances surrounding the event, and while the high five is reserved for the elderly at this point (I’m a bro hug, double back-tap combo kind of guy), it certainly has had its moment. In its honor, here are the top floor celebrations in all of sports history:
** Sam Cassell’s Big Balls dance
** Jimmy Valvano’s court wandering
** Prince Fielder’s bowling ball home run cele
** Allen Iverson stepping over Ty Lue
** Brandi Chastain’s shirt removal
** Jose Bautista’s bat flip
** Randy Moss mooning
** Dikembe Mutombo’s finger wag
** The Icky Shuffle
** That soccer reeling-in-the-fish celebration
** Alexander Ovechkin’s tommy gun
** Honestly all of Chad Ochocinco’s shenanigans
** Wade Boggs riding a police horse
You could easily fill a book with just the best sports celebrations. There were a lot of great ones left off here.
Sad Sam Jones: Despite the melancholy nickname (given to him basically on a whim by a reporter who observed him from afar in the press box), Jones enjoyed a long and successful career, playing 22 seasons and winning a World Series with both the Yankees and the Red Sox. There’s actually a longer list than I would have anticipated for players that fit that bill, with big names like Babe Ruth and Herb Pennock, but plenty of names from the upper-middle class of baseball history as well, such as Carl Mays, Wally Schang, Johnny Damon, and Eric Hinske. (OK, Hinske might be lower-middle class, but we like them more anyways.)
Ron Fairly: I teased that Fairly was known for a few clever quips in my first book, as he originally had the starting spot as the Washington Nationals’ franchise first baseman, only to be passed by Ryan Zimmerman by the time of publication. Fairly did indeed have a couple funny quotes, my two favorite being rather Yogi Berra-ish: “He fakes a bluff”; and “Last night I neglected to mention something that bears repeating.”
Fairly collected a fair number of these malapropisms throughout his post-playing days as an announcer.
OOTP Year-by-Year Re-Simulation: 1917
We continue our trek through re-simulating each season in baseball history using Out of the Park Baseball 21, the most realistic baseball simulation game on the market.
MVP: Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb
Cy Young: Frank Allen and Dutch Leonard
A bunch of fun names here, highlighted by a 21-year-old (!!) NL MVP, Rogers Hornsby. Now, the MVP award wasn’t around in Rogers’ day, but had the superstar second baseman actually collected this hardware in an alternate universe with the MVP in existence at this point, he would have established a record that would still exist by winning the MVP at the youngest age. In the real world, that honor belongs to Vida Blue, the Oakland southpaw who won the AL MVP at the ripe at of 22 in 1971. And in all likelihood, had the award existed, Hornsby truly would’ve won the award, as his 9.9 WAR in real life led the entire league, while his team went 82–70.
Our other three winners are all repeat winners in our re-sim, so let’s circle back to Hornsby real quick for one thing that I’m quite excited to track in this OOTP re-sim. In real life, narrative plays such a massive role in deciding these award winners, especially year over year. There’s a reason Willie Mays only has two MVPs despite leading his league in WAR ten times. (Well, there are two factors… if you know, you know.) Writers get tired of giving the award to the same player year after year, even if that player deserves it. In this re-sim, that’s not an issue, so we may get to see some nutty award totals. Right now, Honus Wagner leads the way with five MVPs, with Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, and Nap Lajoie all sitting on four of their respective awards.
In real life, the discrepancy is crazy, with Bonds’ seven MVPs towering above nine players tied for second with three each. It’s a little more balanced on the pitching side of things, with Clemens holding seven of his own, but Randy Johnson nipping at his heels with five, and Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton within shouting distance at four each. If I had to guess, I do think we’ll get someone (either Ruth or Mays) who reaches eight, but I don’t think anyone will reach double digits. But who knows! That’s part of the fun of this alternate universe.
American League pennant winners: Chicago White Sox
National League pennant winners: Boston Braves
World Series: Braves 4, White Sox 1
The wicked witch is dead! After eight straight World Series went to the Junior Circuit, the Senior Circuit has finally re-captured a ring. The Braves, led by an 11.7 WAR season from Rabbit Maranville and a pitching duo of Frank Allen and Art Nehf, dominated the regular season to the tune of 100 wins, a five-win edge over their counterparts from the Windy City. Speaking of those White Sox, they had a powerful pitching duo of their own in Reb Russell and Eddie Cicotte, while Eddie Collins, Shoeless Joe, and Ray Schalk led the way with the sticks. Of course, we are only two years away from the infamous ‘Black Sox’ World Series of 1919 (which I’m really curious to see how the game handles), so a lot of those Chicago names are better known for less than great reasons.
In this series, it certainly didn’t look as though the White Sox were trying to throw the series, it was just a great Braves team. Boston went on the road in Game 1 with Nehf outdueling Russell in a 2–1 pitcher’s duel. The White Sox made sure to at least grab one of their two home games the next day, with Cicotte locking in the 4–1 victory to even the series.
Boston took over from there, however. First it was a 5–3 win for Cy Young winner Frank Allen in Game 3. Then eventual Series MVP Art Nehf picked up his second win of the series in a 5–1 win in Game 4. And then, in Game 5, in the final game before they would have had to head back to Chicago, the Braves closed out the series in fashion.
The White Sox offense finally got going for the first time all series, knocking out Jesse Barnes in the fifth, with a 5–1 lead that looked to be plenty in a series as low scoring as this series had been.
However, a base-clearing double for Ed Konetchy in the sixth brought the game to 6–5 still in favor of Chiago, but then in the bottom of the eighth, Wally Rehg carved his name into history with a two-run single to deliver the Braves their first franchise World Series in this re-sim.
“Starting IX” Excerpt: The Most Fun Reliever of Them All
One of my all-time favorite players and hopefully by the end of this write-up, yours as well.
CP Dan Quisenberry
For what it’s worth (which is very little) Quisenberry takes the prize for my favorite player of the `80s.
[Since it’s not really baseball analysis we’ll relegate this list to a parenthetical, but here are my favorite players in each decade:
1870s: Any non-Cap Anson player
1880s: King Kelly
1890s: Ed Delahanty
1900s: Christy Mathewson
1910s: Walter Johnson
1920s: Mickey Cochrane
1930s: Jimmie Foxx
1940s: Stan Musial
1950s: Stan Musial
1960s: Warren Spahn (True, he was 39 in 1960, but I think his two no-hitters in the 1960s make him eligible)
1970s: Tom Seaver
1980s: Dan Quisenberry
1990s: Ken Griffey Jr.
2000s: Vladimir Guerrero
2010s: Andrew McCutchen
Last place in every single decade: Curt Schilling]
Back to Quisenberry: He was a dominant closer mixed with a self-proclaimed humorist. He looked like Wade Boggs mixed with Billy Mays, which only added to his extreme likeability. From an on-field perspective, once he established himself as the Royals closer, he led the league in saves five of his first six seasons in the role, and led the league in games finished four of those six seasons. In the five years he led the league in saves, he finished no worse than fifth in the Cy Young vote and 11th in the MVP vote. In 1983, his 45 saves set a major league record. He was also used in the ideal “reliever” role instead of current “closer” position. He pitched well over 100 innings each year he was healthy and totaled a much higher WAR total than today’s closers — because, well, he was worth a lot more than today’s closers. He was often brought in to pitch more than two innings, and he pitched up to four innings on five separate occasions during his 1980 campaign. His ERA+ for his ten years in Kansas City was 160, which would be good for second all-time to Mariano Rivera, and for his career as a whole it is 146, still good for eighth all-time. That figure tops such luminaries as Roger Clemens, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Greg Maddux (who are obviously starters, and faced with a far greater challenge than relief pitchers, but still). He had phenomenal control, and despite the fact that the rest of the write-up will look past his performance on the field, don’t walk away from this write-up thinking that Quisenberry was anything less than one of the five preeminent relief pitchers of all time.
Where “Q” really made his name, though, was with his personality. It was a personality which often times shone through most in his post-game interviews. Always willing to give a quote, and a funny one at that, he provided endless entertainment both off and on the field for his fans. Here are some of his top gems:
His quip when he saw the Minnesota Metrodome: “I don’t think there are any good uses for nuclear weapons, but then, this may be one.”
After one of his rare career at bats, which ended with a groundout, “I thought they were in a zone, but they were playing man-to-man.”
When asked what happens when his sinker isn’t working, “The batter still hits a grounder. But in this case the first bounce is 360 feet away.”
Now for a few great Quiz stories from the always great Baseball Anecdotes:
“In the bullpen, he would pass the time by playing teammate Renie Martin’s protuberant teeth as if they were xylophone keys while Martin sang about the game in process.”
“After he gave up a game-winning pinch-hit… someone asked if that was the worst possible way to lose a game. He proceeded to rattle off 20 worse ways, including balking a runner all the way from first and an earthquake causing the centerfielder to miss the last out.”
“Reporter: ‘Did you know your records this year are actually better than they were last year?’
Quisenberry: ‘How do you know? I’m into classical this year instead of pop.’”
And one more from Bill James Abstract for good measure,
“Quiz used to play a game with Denny Matthews, Royals broadcaster, which tells you something about him. ‘Your word for today is ‘homily’ he would tell Matthews, or ‘xenophobic’ or ‘divaricate.’ “Your word is ‘penumbra’” Matthews would respond, or ‘triumvirate,’ or something. Denny would have to figure out some way to work the word ‘homily’ into his broadcast without the listeners realizing anything was going on, and Quiz would have to figure out some way to work the word ‘penumbra’ into his post-game interview.”
When you think about it, it’s not really surprising that such a quirky dude would be in the bullpen. There have been numerous bullpen personalities over the years, ranging from the truly quirky (Mitch Williams) to the probably-faking-it (Brian Wilson), all of them entertaining in their own way (well, maybe not Wilson). This leads to the question of which came first the chicken or the egg? Do naturally quirky dudes flock to the bullpen as if it were a physical manifestation of a year-round Insane Clown Posse concert, or does the bullpen bring out the quirkiness of these normally average guys?
I think there are two factors here. First of all, even though the bullpen is not always thought of as an essential part of a team, most teams roster at least seven bullpen arms at a time, nearly a third of their active roster. That’s a lot of people to find one or two quirky guys on each team. Second, the ways they kill time in the bullpen is awesome, but definitely points to the fact that they often pitch less than 100 innings a year, meaning they are actively participating in their profession for approximately eleven hours in an entire season. (And I do realize that a ton more training, warm ups, etc. mean that relievers don’t “work” for only 11 hours in a year [Rough estimates: an average baseball game is 180 minutes, take away 40 minutes of commercials, divide the remaining 140 up into 18 half innings means each half inning is approximately 8 minutes, and a typical reliever will throw around 80 innings in a season, thus 640 minutes, or 10 hours and 40 minutes], I’m just saying there is a lot of dead time out there in the pen.) Some of the things relievers have been known to do: flick pumpkin seeds at targets such as fans or security guards, try to hit their chewed up gum onto the field or into the stands, make mini-airplanes out of gum wrappers. All these point towards a great time being had in the bullpen.
Finally, once a team gets one of these guys in the bullpen, the chemistry out there is such that all the relievers start to join in these quirky games, and suddenly everyone in the bullpen is doing this stuff. Eventually it just spills over from bullpen to bullpen as guys move around the league.
Who knows if any of these theories is correct, but all I know for sure is that if I had to live an alternate life, I would hope for it to be as a reliever in the Royals bullpen in the 1980s.
Of course, the Royals section has to be brought to conclusion by Mr. Bill James, though, so let’s let him describe Mr. Quisenberry: “He was a skinny man with a long nose and small teeth and a pencil mustache, and he was a beautiful man.” Aaaand scene.
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)
Pop Culture Recommendation of the Week
Throwback week again! With the excellent It’s a Sin airing on HBO right now, it re-invigorated my Angels in America interest, and let me tell you: It holds up. The whole cast is incredible, but in particular, the scenes between Mary-Louise Parker and Jeffrey Wright as the travel agent she envisions are borderline transcendent. In fact, Wright in the show as a whole is breathtaking. I’m very glad I went back to re-watch this masterpiece.
Keep You On Your Toes
We highlighted ways to support the Asian American population a few weeks ago, but obviously things have only gotten worse and more painful since. Here’s an excellent source for those feeling overwhelmed but wanting to take action.
That’s the player who there seems to be the biggest delta from how things went in real life and how OOTP sees a player: Frank Allen. As one can see, it’s a pretty pedestrian career for the 1910s southpaw, but the game seems to love him, giving him his second Cy Young of this re-sim above. Given how much I trust this game, it certainly makes me more interested in this early era What Could Have Been.
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.