Lockdown Dailies #12: Strangest Field You Ever Played On

Strangest Baseball Field You Ever Played On

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every field is different. Perhaps most famously is the Polo Grounds. 

Dimensions: Left Field: 279 ft, Left-Center: 450 ft, Center Field: 483 ft, Right-Center: 449 ft, Right Field: 258 ft.

LOL. I’ve seen those dimensions before but it is always so funny. The shortest home run in today’s game is 310 down the right field line at Fenway, which is FIFTY TWO FEET longer than the right field pole was at the Polo Grounds.

I bring this up because last week, 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy (real name: James O’BRIEN) asked Twitter followers for the funniest/dumbest local baseball fields. This one was my absolute favorite:

Center field is just opens up, with no fence, into a football field. Amazing. Like all great, quirky ball parks, they made the best with the space they had and created something so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it.

Looking at the Polo Grounds reminded me that Phil and I used to play softball at a field in SF (James P. LANG Field!) that has two softball fields at opposite corners of what is ostensibly a soccer or football field. 

It’s difficult to tell there how lopsided this field is, but I utilized Google Maps’ measuring tool and the dimensions are 385 to left, and 200 (yes, 200) to right. Given those dimensions, most teams stuck their worst defender in right, and shaded everyone toward center and left, because a ball getting by the outfielders in center and left would roll and roll, but a ball to right would hit that relatively short fence. 

Confession: I have never in my life hit a true home run. So, for two seasons, I eyed that short porch in right and decided to make a run at it, wanting to experience a home run trot. One night, I hit the ball so hard, I thought for sure it was gone off the bat. I watched that beauty fly and felt pure joy.

One thing you can’t tell from the overhead shot is that the right field wall is very tall. Here’s the best pic I could find. 

As you can kind of see in the top left of the photo, as you approach the fence, the grass heads steeply uphill. I’d say 6-7 feet (you can see in the photo the grass line is taller than a person standing out there). Then the fence is probably 12 feet high from there, so we are talking almost 20 feet.

As you probably guessed, I hit the ball high, I hit the ball deep…but I did not hit the ball high enough. The ball hit the goddamn very top of the wall. It was maybe a couple feet short of clearing it. I was crushed. And because I had been pimpin’ it, I had to scramble to eek out a double. Embarrassing.

What’s worse is this: (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil), Phil had not yet hit a dinger at that field either, despite being a lefty (something I had given him some ribbing about). Well, Phil was the next hitter up. And as I stood at second base, I got an absolutely spectacular view as Phil crushed a home run over that same wall I had barely failed to clear. Phil was cackling at me during his entire slow trot around the bases. Insult to injury. 

I never did get that dinger. I might need to get back into that league. I’ve got Dad-strength now, ya know. -TOB

PAL: That is correct, TOB. I had yet to hit a home run, despite the fact that we played ALL of our games on those two fields, and both favored the lefties big time. This is because I kinda suck at hitting softballs.

I’ve played on a lot of odd fields in my day, and – I agree with JOMBOY – it makes for a far more interesting game. That overhead shot of the Polo Grounds is crazy point of view. I also don’t think Pesky Pole down the right field line is anywhere near 310 feet from home. My brother-in-law, lifelong Red Sox fan and Mass. resident, can back me up on this: right field might not be even 300 feet. However, it juts almost straight back from there, so only a very small portion of right field is a short porch at Fenway.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the field, but I seem to remember playing a legion baseball game (16-18) where a ball over the right field fence was just a ground rule double because the fence was so short. Cretin’s field in St. Paul is perfectly manicured, but the left field fence is maybe 265, a fact few people seemed to remember when looking at season stats (OH MY GOD, so-and-so from Cretin has 12 home runs!)

The worst playing field I can remember was my freshman year in college. It was about 6 degrees out and we were trying like hell to get a conference game in before or after another snow storm in March. Somewhere in Sioux City, IA. I swear we played a college game on a Babe Ruth field that, in the most perfect conditions looked like the location of a meth deal from Breaking Bad. On the day we played there, it was unthawed with the snow shoveled off of it. It smelled like sulfur (because that entire town does). It was like playing on concrete in a howling wind. Miserable.

So, that’s my story of the strangest field I ever played on. How about you?


Video of the Day

We haven’t really been doing videos of the day on our dailies, but I loved this and wanted to share: Mike Yastrzemski mic’d up.


More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience
  11. Remove these songs from the sports canon

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Week of April 10, 2020

COVID-19 Hair.


This Week’s Best from Posnanski’s Top 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds could be an asshole, yes. But, like all of us, he is not monochromatic. He is complicated. When discussing Bonds’ reputation for being a jerk in the locker room, Posnanski writes the following:

*This personal thing must be said here: Barry Bonds was always nice to me. There was no apparent reason for it. He didn’t know me. He hadn’t read me. I feel sure he couldn’t have come up with my name if he was spotted all the letters except the “J.” But every time I needed to talk to him, probably a half-dozen times before 1998, a few times after, he was always accommodating, thoughtful — and could this be? — friendly. It was the strangest thing. It was like I reminded him of a childhood friend or something.

When I told other writers and people around baseball about this, they shook their heads and promptly told me their own Bonds horror stories. I kept waiting for mine. It hasn’t come yet. Maybe it will. But it would not be right or fair for me to discuss Bonds’ well-known media hatred without saying that he could be, when he wanted, an engaging, insightful and pleasant interview. He has a lot of charm. He dispenses it sparingly.

There are certainly times that all of us acted in a way we wouldn’t want written about; there are times we’ve been rude or mean or lashed out because we were hurt, and it doesn’t get played on loop, or written about 25 years later in an article discussing what a jerk you were when you were barely an adult. But from everything I’ve read about Bonds, he was not only a jerk. He was not a movie villain, hell-bent on ruining the day of everyone around him, every single day. As Posnanski says, he in fact could be polite and charming. That doesn’t excuse the times he was rude, or a jerk, or an asshole – but it must be said.

I think what makes me sad about Barry Bonds is that the people who do not like him dismiss that he seems to clearly suffer from deep insecurities stemming from a childhood and a life spent chasing the affection of a father who would not show it. As Posnanski puts it, Bonds wanted to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived. What Posnanski leaves unsaid is that Bonds felt that becoming the greatest baseball player who ever lived was the way to receive the love and admiration of his father, and of everyone else. And he never got it. He was deeply sensitive as a result. As his college coach put it:

“He wanted to be liked, tried so damn hard to have people like him,” Brock told Sports Illustrated. “Tried too hard. But then he’d say things he didn’t mean, wild statements. I tried to tell him that these guys, 20 years from now, would be electricians and plumbers, but he’d be making millions. … Still he’d be hurt. People don’t realize that he can be hurt — and is, fairly often.”

The tragedy of Bonds is that he was an incredible baseball player before steroids, and for some his numbers after 1998 are tainted. For some, his numbers before 1998 are tainted, because the steroids taint his integrity. I think that’s deeply unfair. It’s been written before, but Posnanski puts Bonds’ steroid use into the proper context of the time:

Then came 1998. Barry Bonds had an incredible year in 1998. I mean, no, it wasn’t incredible for him, but it was still so remarkable. He hit .303/.438/.609 with 44 doubles, seven triples, 37 homers, 120 runs scored and 122 RBIs. He won his eighth Gold Glove. He led the league in WAR for the seventh time. It was his seventh straight season with a 1.000 OPS.

And that year, he became the first player in baseball history to hit 400 home runs and steal 400 bases in a career. He was the player of his generation.

It should have been the year of Barry, one celebrated by all. It was, to say the least, not the year of Barry. No, 1998 was the year that people marveled at how far Mark McGwire could hit a baseball. No, 1998 was the year that people pounded their chests along with Sammy Sosa as he rounded the bases an astounding 66 times. No, 1998 was the year that Ken Griffey Jr. — so much more lovable — cracked 56 home runs and drove in 146 and won a Gold Glove (in center field!) and stretched the imagination.

And Bonds? Who? He was just this problematic outfielder who played for an also-ran Giants team and couldn’t hit in the playoffs. Yes, all his career, Bonds told people again and again that he didn’t care, he didn’t care, he didn’t care.

But 1998 was the year Barry Bonds discovered he did care very much.

Barry Bonds broke the game. That’s how good he was after 1998. The theory goes that Bonds saw how people celebrated McGwire and Sosa and others, and he knew they were using steroids, and he decided that it was time to go all in.

You can imagine Jack Nicholson’s line from “Batman” playing in his head: “Wait ‘til they get a load of me.”

There was no testing in baseball then. There was no outcry in baseball then. It was quite the opposite: The game was thriving! The home run was king! Nike reminded everybody that chicks dig the long ball! MLB even put out a comic book of baseball players with enormous muscles. Muscles were in!

So Barry Bonds got muscles. And he tilted baseball.

Remember: we knew. We all knew! In August 1998, a writer saw a bottle of androstenedione (which was banned in the NFL and the Olympics at the time, but not baseball) in McGwire’s locker and wrote about it. McGwire and Sosa looked like bodybuilders. No one cared. MORE DINGERS! MORE DINGERS! 

I don’t understand what an athlete in Bonds’ situation was realistically supposed to do. So many players were using steroids; certainly, not all of them. But so many. It was not being tested for; it was not against the rules. Most importantly, the players using steroids were being celebrated. What kind of message did that send to Barry, and the rest of baseball? Barry Bonds wanted nothing more than to be loved, and his incredible season was ignored because McGwire and Sosa and others were juiced and bashing baseballs out of the stadium at rates never before seen. He was supposed to just shrug his shoulders? That is deeply unfair.

I don’t understand the people who dislike him because he “broke the game.” Posanski touches on this, but it needs to be said: Bonds did not ruin baseball. He was not the first to take steroids. He was not the last. But even if he was, steroids didn’t ruin baseball. In fact, McGwire and Sosa’s 1998 season helped rescue baseball from the post-1994 strike doldrums. So many people made money because players used steroids. The game is more popular than ever, with attendance well above what it was before the 1990s. What gets lost is that baseball is entertainment. There’s no “sanctity of the game.” Bonds was entertaining, both before and after 1998. That’s what we pay money to see. If steroids helped him entertain more and entertain longer, so what?

But the thing I do not understand the most about Bonds, are the Bonds haters who take delight in his pain:

The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly caught up with Barry Bonds. He found a sad and haunted man. “I feel like a ghost,” Bonds said. “A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around.”

How you feel about that quote probably says everything about how you feel about him. Are you thrilled that he’s getting what he had coming? Do you feel sad that Bonds, who did so many incredible things, cannot find peace?

Or do you feel a little of both?

From his earliest memories, all Barry Bonds ever wanted was to become the greatest baseball player who ever lived. He paid every price. He ignored every doubt. He raged over every hurdle. He cut every corner. He shut himself off from everything else. He brushed aside every other concern. He made more enemies than friends.

And he became the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

And what was waiting for him at the end? Remember what he said way back at the start of his career: “If I’m supposed to wait for you guys to applaud me, I could be waiting a lifetime.”

Here’s what waited for him at the end: Silence.

He’s not a cartoon character. He’s a human being. Yes, Bonds made lots of money (career earnings: $188,245,322). But money isn’t everything. And what else does he have? He doesn’t even have adulation. He’s cheered in San Francisco, but that’s about it. How can someone read the stories about his father, not connect the dots to the person he was as a young man, and then think, “I don’t care, fuck that asshole.” I’m not saying he should be completely absolved of his sins. But if you can’t find it in your heart to feel for someone who was so obviously hurting, I don’t understand you. If you can’t find it in your heart to forgive someone for mistakes made 20 or 30 years ago, I don’t understand you. 

Bonds does not deserve your love, but he does deserve your understanding. -TOB

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)

PAL: As if we needed another reminder to be a good parent, eh? Bobby Bonds sounds like a real piece of work. 

Posnanski’s approach (two essays – one for Bonds fans and one for Bonds critics) was a cool tweak in this series. A lot in here, so I think I’ll just add my two cents to points TOB brings up. 

His greatness, especially at the plate, was something to see. And whether or not he has a bust in the Hall of Fame, I will tell my kids that I saw Barry Bonds play. It’s hard to even imagine someone being better than Bonds at his peak. It would have to be something entirely different, like Ohtani being a dominant starting pitcher for 5 years and putting up monster offensive numbers. 

I will measure the best players from future generations against Bonds. What higher compliment could there be?

I sat behind home plate, in line with the right field foul line, and saw him send a pitch into McCovey Cove. And whether or not you rooted for him, everyone was in awe. A home run every 6 at bats. I mean, what the hell? Posnanksi said it – Bonds broke the game. 

History will be very kind to Bonds. Whether or not he is elected into the Hall of Fame, his statistics will outlive the circumstances under which they came. The stats are too absurd. The highlights will live on. In twenty years, generations of fans will neither know nor care that Bonds was an asshole, just like we don’t care that Ty Cobb was an asshole. 

My biggest takeaway from this story is actually a reminder of a lesson I had to learn from Kirby Puckett, my boyhood hero. We don’t know these guys. We love one small, insignificant part of them. We choose when we care. Kirby Puckett was the short, keg of ballplayer that brought two titles to Minnesota. He did it all with a giggle and smile. Everyone’s hero. Turns out he was far from a hero when not in the public eye. By several accounts, he could be pretty gross and mean in ways that are far more important than being rude to a reporter. 

And yet, history has already been kind to Puckett, and he wasn’t half the player Bonds was. It might take a little longer, but the same is coming for Bonds. So Bonds was a selfish prick. Do you care what kind of friend Picasso was? Do you not appreciate For Whom The Bell Tolls because Hemingway was jerk drunk? There are pricks at every office, and some of them are very good at their jobs. Bonds’ personality had zero impact on my enjoyment when I watched him hit. Sure, he was annoying, and I think he always wanted it both ways (leave me alone, but appreciate how great I am), but if you think any of that came into play for anyone in a San Francisco bar during a real Bonds at-bat (not an intentional walk), you’re crazy. We were amazed, all of us.


Sports Need to Stay Shut Down

The sports world quickly shut down last month, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 just before the start of a game in Oklahoma City. Everyone applauded how quickly they put their health of the players, employees, and fans. Hurrah, the billionaires did the right thing!

Yeah, that lasted all of, oh, three weeks. What began as low rumbles almost immediately started gaining steam last week: leagues are exploring ways to finish or hold their season. Over last weekend, the reports about MLB, in particular, seemed to be gaining enough steam with reporters who are typically in-the-know that it seemed inevitable: MLB wants to host their season with all teams being housed in Arizona, playing games in empty stadiums, with players sitting spaced out in the bleachers instead of in the dugout.

This is so incredibly stupid. 

It’s stupid logistically. What about the staff? How do you keep players from infecting themselves on the field? A player could easily infect another player on a slide into second, or even touching a baseball touched by an infected player. Even if you put all players in hotels, how do you ensure they stay locked down? How do the players feel being away from their families that long? Same with the staff, including medical staff and other employees that make game days happen? I could go on and on.

It’s stupid on a moral level. This would require THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of tests – there are approximately 800 players on major league rosters every season. Add to that coaches and staff and we’re talking at least 1,200 people who would require regularly testing to ensure they are healthy and able to play. Even if you only tested them once a week, that’s approximately 30,000 tests in a 6-month season, at a time when testing is still scarce, and resources for processing tests are stretched thin with major back logs. How can they justify those testing resources going to baseball?

It’s stupid on an entertainment level. Make no mistake: they do not want to do this to lift the nation’s collective spirit. This is about money, pure and simple. I love baseball, and if you read this blog you probably know I miss it dearly. But I have serious doubts that I’d be tuning in to watch this. Baseball with no crowd? Buddy, that is batting practice. Are people really going to care? And if not, why are we risking people’s health and utilizing precious resources and subjecting players and staff to this insane plan? 

This plan is absolutely madness. And it has to stop. -TOB


Mike Gundy, a Complete Moron, Gets Torn to Shreds

You may remember Mike Gundy, the longtime football coach at Oklahoma State. He went viral in the 2000s for his, “I’m a man! I’m 40!” speech. His teams have been middling, and so he’s made a name for himself again by sporting a ridiculous mullet.

But this week, perhaps taking a cue from our Commander-in-Chief, Gundy offered some insanely idiotic, dangerous, self-important arguments about how Oklahoma State Football should not be shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Longtime college football writer Pat Forde was not having it. Here’s the lede:

I would like stock tips from Noted Expert Mike Gundy. Also, some cooking recipes. Could he offer best practices to our educators? How about weighing in on the Middle East?

I’m dying to be enlightened. Really.

Clearly, Noted Expert Mike Gundy knows far more than just football. Not that he’s been great in that regard lately—his Oklahoma State teams were 15–11 the past two seasons, 8–10 in the Big 12—especially given his $5 million a year salary. But it is now abundantly obvious that labeling him a mere football coach is too limiting. He is a Renaissance man, a visionary capable of seeing solutions where others see problems, a savant so cleverly disguised as a mullet-haired meathead.

Take, for example, the wisdom Noted Expert Mike Gundy dispensed upon the masses Tuesday in a media teleconference. When the only topic that matters in today’s world came up—the global COVID-19 pandemic—he flexed his intellectual prowess. He showcased his grasp of public health, economics, the workings of higher education, college athletics in general and other topics.

“The NCAA, the presidents of the universities, the Power 5 conference commissioners, the athletic directors need to be meeting right now and we need to start coming up with answers,” Noted Expert Mike Gundy said. “In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them. They’re all in good shape. They’re all 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22-year-olds. They’re healthy. A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and the build that they have. There’s some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then we sequester them. And people say that’s crazy. No, it’s not crazy because we need to continue and budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

Noted Expert Mike Gundy isn’t just talking the talk here. He is an omniscient observer with a plan. He wants to have his staff and support personnel, roughly 100 people, back to work in the Oklahoma State football facility May 1. Then the players after that.

Ooooh, fire. Forde was just getting started, though, and I highly recommend you read it. -TOB

Source: Mike Gundy’s Pandemic Plan Is Ridiculous,” Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated (04/07/2020)

PAL: Dan Patrick also lit into Gundy on this during his radio show. My favorite point: pro athletes, those who get paid to play, aren’t coming back, but let’s talk about bringing the student-athletes back. There are few things higher on the unintentional comedy scale than self-important college football coaches. 


The Spark

This morning, The Athletic posted a complete breakdown of the night when the Utah Jazz – Oklahoma City Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip-off when it was realized Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 the night of Wednesday, March 11. That positive test led to the suspension of the NBA season. NCAA, MLB, NHL were all to follow within 48-hours. Travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines were put in place for folks coming back from anywhere in the E.U., amongst other parts of the world. Shelter in place was issued for 6 Bay Area counties beginning the following Monday. In my mind, that positive test for Gobert was the spark that lit the fuse (even when there were some very alarming details coming out of the Seattle area before March 11.

A lot of us have felt the absence of sports over the past four weeks. Of course, it’s not that important, but I realized how many moments of my daily routine intersects with sports. Coffee, breakfast, check the scores. Lunch was a time scanning a handful of sports sites for interesting stories to write about for Fridays. Having the Twins game streaming audio while I go for a run. Having the Giants game on in the background while making dinner. Again, not that sports is anywhere close to a top priority, but the absence can’t be ignored. And that’s what happened on a very large scale when this Jazz-Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip: as a country, we couldn’t ignore the pandemic. I don’t think many of us could wrap our heads around how scary it was going to get over the next month, but we couldn’t ignore it because it came with the absence of sports, pretty much overnight. 

 

This story tracks the Jazz in the days and weeks leading up to the positive test. It’s an interesting look at how an organization handles crisis management. This story makes it seem like the team was actually a bit ahead of the curve in terms of educating employees and players about COVID-19. Some of that had to do with coach Quin Synder growing up 12 miles from the nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where the first epicenter of the U.S. outbreak took place, and his brother running a market in Pike’s Place. Snyder’s brother, Matt, is also friends with the Seattle-based band, Pearl Jam, which cancelled its world tour two days before the Jazz-Thunder game. So Snyder was following the story extremely closely and asking all sorts of questions early on. 

Another nugget from this story: Thunder’s Chris Paul being a good guy. Never liked Paul, but this was a nice gesture for the Jazz as they waited for next steps after the game in OKC was cancelled: 

Thanks to a generous and well-timed assist from Chris Paul, their moods were lifted approximately an hour after the game had been called when sources say a delivery of beer and wine arrived. Paul, the Thunder point guard who also serves as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, arranged for his longtime security guard Gene Escamilla to deliver the drinks as a way of helping them all pass the anxiety-ridden time.

Other crazy details from the story: 

  • The Jazz had a difficult time finding a hotel in OKC that would take the team after the positive test. 
  • Regardless of how wealthy one might be, it’s not easy to find a flight for someone who has COVID-19 – Charter flights aren’t safe. It had to be private, with additional precautions. 
  • It sounds like this ordeal has driven a wedge between Utah’s two best players (Mitchell and Gobert) – Mitchell is still upset about this, even though he’s been told that no one knows whether he gave it to Gobert or Gobert gave it to him.

A worthwhile read, but I get it if you need a break from pandemic news. – PAL 

Source: Behind the scenes with the Utah Jazz during the days that changed everything”, Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Tony Jones, The Athletic (4/10/20)


Video(s) of the Week

-These always crack me up.

Behind the scenes footage of Miller’s call as Ishikawa wins the 2014 NL pennant.

Bill Murray perfectly capturing the power of John Prine.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘Jesus, The Missing Years’

R.I.P., John Prine. While Dylan spoke loudest to me in my teens and twenties, Prine’s music resonates in me now more than ever. Every day, his stories get funnier, sadder, more caring, and more true.


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You couldn’t handle my undivided attention. 

-Dwight K. Schrute

Lockdown Dailies #11: Remove these songs from the sports canon

These songs, oftentimes played at sporting events, need to be removed from stadium/arena playlists when we go back to games.

  1. ‘Sweet Caroline’ – Neil Diamond. So over it. Every over-served person in America loves singing this song. Only became a Red Sox tradition in late 90s, and then this push for it to become ‘tradition’ across several teams is so lame. Also, there are so many better Diamond songs! ‘America’, “Forever In Blue Jeans’, ‘Kentucky Woman’ to name a few.
  2. ‘Centerfield’ – John Fogerty. Every pre-game mixtape, at every field, at every baseball game from Little League through college. That upbeat, bouncy melody is chiseled into my brain. I. Can’t. Stand. This. Song. No mas. 
  3. ‘All Star’ – Smash Mouth. I would think many of these songs on this list don’t actually need an explanation, and this would be one of them.
  4. ‘Let’s Get It Started’ – Black Eyed Peas. 
  5. ‘When The Lights Go Down’ – Journey.  SF’s answer to Sweet Caroline…and just as manufactured and forced. 
  6. ‘Cotton Eye Joe’. When did annoying = fun? 
  7. ‘Glory Days’ – Springsteen. He’s been given a pass on this. No one calls a fastball a speedball (as many have pointed out). Super catchy guitar riff, and a good concept for a song, but that line unforgivable. It’s actually a real flex on his part. You’re telling me NONE of his friends had the seeds to say, “Hey, Bruce. We need to talk. Dude, you can’t say speedball. You sound like an idiot.” Also, ‘fastball’ has the same amount of syllables and works within the rhythm of the lyric exactly the same as speedball.
  8. ‘Y.M.C.A.’ – Village People. I don’t want to do the wave, and I don’t want to do the YMCA. Next.
  9. ‘I Gotta A Feeling’ – B.E.P. The only group in this list twice…just sayin.
  10. ‘The Greatest’ – Kenny Rogers. A one-listen song. Once you hear the punch line, it’s done. No disrespect to the recently departed.

PAL

How about you? What songs got to go? What songs am I absolutely wrong about? 

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Lockdown Dailies #10: Ultimate Sports Experience

For the sake of entertainment, let’s assume the world was like it was a couple months ago and all sporting events were as they were before the pandemic.

The scenario: by some stroke of luck, good fortune, or mistake you fall into a large sum of money. Enough money so that all the real important things – the house, college for the kids, buying something real nice for your parents – are taken care of, but not enough money where you’re buying a professional sports franchise or building a family compound for you and all your siblings’ families in Monterey or something. Whatever that sum of money is, there’s enough for you to live out your ultimate sports experience. I’d call it bucket list, but this seems even a bit more out of reach than bucket list stuff. As an example, my sports bucket list includes maintaining a youth baseball field at some point in my life.

I think about my ultimate sports experience every time I drive west on the Bay Bridge, where Oracle (the SF Giants Stadium…so hard to keep up with stadium names these days) is just down and to the left. I can see most of the field from that vantage point, and every single time I drive by, and have the same thought: wouldn’t it be cool to rent out the stadium for a night and have 10 buddies out there hitting, taking grounders, turning double-plays, shagging fly balls? A cooler of beer on both baselines. A bucket of seeds. Hundreds of new pearls (rubbed up, of course). Good music* playing over the loudspeakers. 

That is my ultimate sports experience. And since we’re dreaming, I think this would have to take place at Fenway. Yes, Fenway over Wrigley, because the Monster is right there for righties, and it would be super fun to try to play balls off the wall. Plus, for us lefies, Pesky pole is less than 300-feet away. 

Maybe the night starts in the evening when the sun is still out, but we have the park for six hours, that way you get both the day and night feel. 

That’s my ultimate sport experience. What about you, TOB?

*New topic: songs that need to be removed from the ballpark canon. A teaser: “Centerfield” by John Fogerty needs to go away forever.

TOB: I like the Fenway idea. But I want Centerfield playing ON LOOP all night. That song is beyond reproach. How dare you.

How about you? What’s your ultimate sports experience? Floor seats at the NBA Finals? A college football road trip to all the rivalry games? Playing a round with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus? Think big. 

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Week of April 3, 2020

Sigh.


Make Amatriciana Again 

Wright Thompson is my favorite sports writer going, and it’s not close. I know this because I can’t wait to tell everyone whenever I read something from him. After reading this story, I told co-workers, siblings, friends, my mom. Natalie probably overheard me summarize the story 5 times this, our third week of shelter in place. 

He writes about the ritual of sport so well, and how both the best and worst of sport is strengthened through ritual. His story about the Cubs winning the world series had nothing to do with what happened in the game; it’s a feature on some fans going through their usual rituals in an incredibly unusual time. It’s Ted Williams ritualistic obsession with hitting and fishing, and how it terribly impacted his ability as a father (and how his mother’s rituals in San Diego made him feel ignored). The Ole Miss rituals (football and otherwise) and their role in race riots in the 60s. 

With that theme in mind – ritual – it’s no wonder he wrote a story on ESPN about food and sports in Italy. 

Before I go any further, I insist you read this story. Please, just click through to it now, because it will articulate that heavy weight hovering in that gap left now that we aren’t sharing space with one another in our cities and neighborhoods, and it will give you a recipe to feel really good for a few hours. 

Thompson’s story was published on 3/28. I mention that, because the world now seems to change drastically in days for a great deal more people than was the case a month ago. On 3/28, many people were starting to understand and see images of the nightmare playing out in Italy. Many years ago, Thompson lived in Florence, and as he learned of what was happening, he thought of his time there, what he loved about Florence: the Fiorentina soccer team and a restaurant in Rome called Matricianella.

“In Italy, as in many parts of the United States, sports and food are perhaps the two most important ways to celebrate your home.”

And later, Thompson writes:  “As an employee of ESPN, I am acutely aware of the lack of sports right now, which is especially worrisome to me mostly because sports provide one of the few acres of common ground in a country where we too often give in to what divides us.”

Sports and restaurants: they bring us together to be joyous. To celebrate. This country sure felt divided before the pandemic. And while I absolutely feel connected to our neighbors as we hunker down here, fear has sparked this recent sense of community. 

Thompson, missing sports and the ritual of eating a great meal at one of his three favorite restaurants in the world, looked up and made a traditional Roman dish with a bottle of nice red wine, a bottle “that normally would be saved for a special occasion–although I’d argue that imagining the world before the virus and being hopeful about the return of that world is as special an occasion as there is right now.”

And while the restaurant in Rome is closed until…God knows when, and while Gianni–Thompson’s waiter of choice–is home alone in Rome with a silence to it like “the silence before a snowfall,” we can still celebrate. Maybe we have to a little bit. 

At the end of an article for sports website, Wright Thompson shares the amatricianna recipe from Matricianella and encouraged folks to put on an old favorite game. 

I think I’ll make Amatriciana again. Instead of using the internet recipe, I got the genuine article from the owners of Matricianella in Rome. It’s printed below, so you can make it too. Maybe I’ll find some classic old Serie A game to watch once the pasta is done. I’m thinking Fiorentina-Inter, 1997, Batistuta versus Ronaldo. Maybe if you read this, and make the recipe, and find your own game to watch, this shared ritual will briefly connect us. 

I did my best. I had to substitute uncured bacon in for the pork jowl. I paired it with what turned to be a delicious pinot noir, and I watched Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. 

It was the most enjoyable night I’ve had since this covid-19 nightmare started. I urge you to do this same. You will feel connected, and you will feel more like yourself than you have in weeks. 

Wright Thompson is the man. – PAL

Source: A Letter From the Coronavirus Quarantine: Missing Serie A, Pasta and Friendship”, Wright Thompson, ESPN (03/28/20)


Today Should Have Been Giants Opening Day, and That Sucks. But…

Leave it to Kruk to make you smile, anyways. -TOB


This Week’s Best from Posnanski’s Top 100:

No. 5, Oscar Charleston:

Oscar Charleston former Negro league star with bat.

This seems impossible, because I had heard plenty about every other Negro League legend that Posnanski had listed here: Satchell Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and others. But before this week I had never, to my memory, heard the name Oscar Charleston. And Charleston is ranked No. 5 by Posnanski. He even says:

I want you to feel the fury of this ranking, feel it down deep. I want you to think, “Look, I’m sure he was terrific, but there’s no possible way that Oscar Charleston, who played in a struggling league 100 years ago, could possibly be the fifth greatest player of all time.”

Or I want you to think, “Fifth greatest? That’s ridiculous. He should be No. 1!”

Or I want you to think, “This is pure romanticism. We have almost no stats on Charleston. We have only a handful of quotes about him. You can’t rank someone this high on the list based on a few crusty legends and myths.”

Or I want you to think, “It’s such an infuriating tragedy that we as an entire nation never got to see the greatest player in the history of baseball.”

Or I want you to think, “How is it that I’ve never even heard of this guy?”

Or I want you to think some of those thoughts together, or even all of them at the same time. This ranking, unlike the rest, is a statement and, even more, it’s a challenge. Oscar Charleston is the fifth greatest player in baseball history? It is meant to make you think about what you think.

So, I was very interested in reading this one. And boy, does Posnanski knock the intro out of the park, about a recent visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with Buck O’Neil and Willie Mays:

There isn’t much in the little room. There are a few charts showing Negro Leagues migration, a couple of photos and a statue of Buck O’Neil. The highlight is that it overlooks the Field of Legends, a baseball diamond in the middle of the museum. Beyond the chicken wire, which separates the room and the field, there are 10 bronze statues standing at their baseball positions. The names of the players are familiar to some and, even now, mysterious to others.

Let me say something else about the chicken wire, which represents the segregation black fans endured at stadiums across the country. If you unfocus your eyes a bit and look through the chicken wire just so, with your imagination taking the lead, the statues seem to come to life.

Anyway, that’s what I thought the day Buck O’Neil and Negro Leagues president Bob Kendrick and I stayed back there with Willie Mays.

“I knew these guys,” Mays said as we all looked through the chicken wire and imagined the players as they once were. “Like that guy at third base, Ray Dandridge. I played with him in Minneapolis. He helped me become the ballplayer I became.”

Everybody else in our group had gone ahead into the museum. We had stayed behind because of Willie Mays’ eyes. Those eyes, which had once been able to differentiate between a fastball and slider simply because of the way the baseball’s laces moved, had grown terribly sensitive to light. Glaucoma. Even in that dark room, Mays wore sunglasses.

He also wore a thick San Francisco Giants coat, even though it was stuffy. He seemed to be sweating and shivering at once. He was in pain. He seemed exhausted … or perhaps more precisely, evaporated. Buck tried to get him to tell some stories, but Mays was not in the mood for stories. He just looked out on the field quietly.

“Willie,” Buck said in an effort to break through, “I saw the catch on television the other day.”

“You saw that?” Mays said. He smiled a little.

“Only one other guy I ever saw could have made that catch,” Buck said.

Seven days after Mays made that catch, the only other man — the statue standing in center field on the Field of Legends — died in a Philadelphia hospital. He was not quite 58 years old and he was almost entirely unknown. His obituary did not appear in the local newspapers.

“Oscar Charleston,” Mays said as he looked out on the field.

“He was you before you,” O’Neil said.

If that doesn’t make you want to read about Charleston, nothing I say will.

No. 6, Ted Williams:

Williams was famously given the option to sit that last day and let his batting average round up to .400. As you undoubtedly know, he didn’t take that option, something that has been celebrated throughout the years.

That part has been over-celebrated, to be honest. Of course he played. He wasn’t hitting .400. He was hitting .3995. Sure, it’s easy to say that rounds up now but nobody saw it that way then. After he went 1-for-4 the day before, headlines like “Ted Williams Drops Below .400 Level” and “Ted Williams Down To .399” and “Williams Slumps Below Magic Mark” appeared all over the country.

Now, he definitely could have sat down after cracking a single off Dick Fowler in the second inning, which pushed the average up to .4008, or .401 on the back of a baseball card. He was given the option to skip out at that point, but he felt great, and he knew that even if he failed to get a hit his next time up, he’d still be hitting .400. Well, the next time up he homered off Fowler to make the average a solid .402, and then he singled again, this time off Porter Vaughan.

And then he singled again off Vaughan, 4-for-4, and his average was .405. At that point, he knew that he could go zero for his next five and still be above the .400 line. So he stayed, even played the second game, and ended up 6-for-8 on the day with that magical .406 average — the last time anyone hit .400.

He famously didn’t win the MVP that year, despite hitting .400 and leading the league in homers, runs, slugging, on-base percentage and walks. That was the season DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games and the writers gave the award to DiMag. The writers always thought Joe was the better all-around player and leader.

DiMaggio during the streak: .408/.463/.717, 1.180 OPS.

Williams all of 1941: .406/.553/.735, 1.288 OPS.

In 1999, Ted Williams rode to home plate in a golf cart for the All-Star Game at Fenway Park. He had suffered two strokes and a broken hip in the previous months, but still he stood. The greatest living players — from Henry Aaron to Willie Mays, Bob Feller to Stan Musial, Ken Griffey to Cal Ripken and all the All-Stars of the day — surrounded him and hugged him. He tipped his cap, and the crowd cheered as loudly as they ever had, and as the papers said, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

 

“Hey McGwire,” Williams shouted out to Mark McGwire, the most prodigious slugger in the world then. “You ever smell the wood when you foul one off real hard? You ever notice how it smells like burning wood?”

 

“I’ve smelled it,” McGwire said. Maybe he had or maybe he was just saying so, but Ted Williams smiled and nodded and said it was the best bleeping smell in the whole world.

-TOB

Source: No. 5, Oscar Charleston,” “No. 6, Ted Williams,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/01/2020);

PAL:  I had bumped Williams all the way up to number 3 when predicting Posnanski’s top 7. The Kid came in at 6. As I mentioned above, I read Wright Thompson’s essay on Williams a few months back. That story focuses on the batshit crazy last few years of Williams’ life with his adult children, as well as how he was, well, not a great husband or father. In Thompson’s words, summarizing to Claudia Williams, “[M]ost people didn’t understand that the two famous acts of his life–ballplayer and fisherman–occurred only because he was hiding from the third and final act of his life: fatherhood…He hid in the hyperfocus required by baseball and fishing.”

One lesson I slowly learn as I grow older is that greatness in one aspect of life is very rare and is commonly to the detriment of every other aspect of life, including happiness. The rarest of all is someone who is both good and great. 

Williams was great at seemingly three things: hitting a baseball, flying a fighter jet, and fishing. We’ll leave the flying and fishing aside for this. 

Posnanski quotes, of all people, Teller of Penn and Teller, in describing Williams hitting: “Sometimes magic is just spending more time on something than anyone might reasonably expect.” 

The M.V.P. stuff TOB mentions above is astounding. Man, he sure must’ve hated the writers, eh? His season stats are better than DiMaggio’s during the streak, and Joe wins it. Then Williams wins two – TWO – triple crowns and doesn’t win the M.V.P. 

TOB: One last thing. In the Charleston essay, Posnanski comes clean about his rankings, and it’s very funny to me:

We are now close to the end of the Baseball 100, and all along I have made certain to almost never mention the rankings. There’s is a specific reason for this: the rankings are just a device. Someone once asked Orson Welles if Mr. Thompson, the man who goes in search of Rosebud in “Citizen Kane,” learned anything or grew at all throughout the movie. “He’s not a person,” Welles raged. “He’s a piece of machinery to lead you through.”

That’s what the rankings are … they are here to give this project shape and to spark a few feelings. Yes, they’re in the basic order of a formula I used, one based on five things in no particular order:

  1. Wins Above Replacement
  2. Peak Wins Above Replacement
  3. How multi-dimensional they were as players
  4. The era when they played
  5. Bonus value — This might include postseason performances, leadership, sportsmanship, impact on the game as a whole, if they lost prime years to the war and numerous other possibilities.

But I have no illusions about the formula. It is as flawed as anything so, whenever possible, I attached the player and a number that fits. So, for instance, Mariano Rivera is 91 for Psalm 91, the Psalm of Protection. Gary Carter is 86 for his role on the 1986 Mets. Joe DiMaggio is 56 for the hitting streak. Grover Cleveland Alexander is 26 because that was his magical year, 1926.

Bob GibsonTom SeaverJimmie FoxxGreg MadduxMike TroutJackie RobinsonFrank Robinson and Mike Schmidt, among others, were all given a ranking based on their uniform numbers. I would say at least two-thirds of the numbers have some sort of connection to the ballplayer.

I even skipped No. 19 because of the ’19 Black Sox, the biggest single-year scandal in baseball history.

That’s not to say that I couldn’t defend the individual rankings. I’m sure I could. But to do so would be to say negative things about various players’ talent, which goes against the very essence of this project. And anyway, fighting over the questions — Ted Williams over Ty CobbSteve Carlton over Sandy KoufaxCarl Yastrzemski over Ken Griffey? — is a big part of the fun.

I noticed the DiMaggio 56 thing. I knew that couldn’t be a coincidence. But none of the rest – not even that there wasn’t a 19.


Video of the Week:


Tweets of the Week:


Song of the Week: John Prine – “Flashback Blues”

Hang in there, John!


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

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A 30-year mortgage and Michael’s age essentially means that he’s buying a coffin. If I were buying my coffin, I would get one with thicker walls so you couldn’t hear other dead people.

-Dwight Schrute

Lockdown Dailies #9: Least Favorite Players By Decade

Topic 9, Inspired by Ryan Rowe: Least Favorite Players By Decade

Age 10 (1992)

MLB:

TOB: Either Jose Canseco or Sid Bream. I was SO mad about Bream beating out Bonds’ throw to win the 1992 NLCS. But even at 10, I knew Canseco was a big dumb idiot. 

PAL: Mark Lemke, 2B Atlanta Braves. This little double-flap, switch-hitting dude drove me nuts in the 1991 World Series. He suuuuuucked as a hitter throughout his career, then decides to go 10-24 in the World Series. Also, Terry Pendleton. Wanna-be Puckett. Never root for a MLB player who wears the double ear-flap helmet. I don’t care that you’re a switch-hitter. You’re in the bigs. Get two helmets, you turd. 

TOB: HAAAAA. I almost said Lemke, too. Funny. I was at the Giants/Braves 2010 NLDS Game 1. We were in line for food and a guy in a Braves hat walked by. He looked like a real doofus, and very much like Mark Lemke. I was feeling myself and told him he looked like Lemke. His retort: “So I look like a professional baseball player? Thanks.” Damn. He got me!

Mark Lemke: yet another example of the double ear-flap theory. 

NBA

TOB: Wow, hm. Probably Karl Malone. I just never, ever liked that guy. Oh! Or John Starks!

PAL: Dan Majerle. Maybe he didn’t have that bronze tan yet, but I didn’t get his thing…which, in retrospect, was to shoot the three ball a lot. Also, I think Will Ferrell could pass for Dan Majerle.  

NFL:

TOB: Emmit Smith. So overrated. He ran straight through holes the size of a major freeway. Barry Sanders was criminally underappreciated at the time, especially when compared to Emmit. 

PAL: Emmit is a good call. Don Beebe. Speaking for shorty guys everywhere, let me just say we’re sensitive to the Rudys out there among us. Don Beebe chasing down Leon Lett in a blowout Super Bowl qualified as a bit of a Rudy play. According to Beebe, after they got their asses kicked, the owner of the Bills came into the locker room, addressed Beebe as “son” (older people: don’t do this to adult men, please), and said the following: “You showed what the Buffalo Bills are all about today. I’m extremely proud of you. I just want to say thanks.” 

And now I understand why the Bills never won squat.

Karl, Karl, Karl – easy on the frills, buddy. 

Age 20 (2002)

MLB: 

TOB: Derek Jeter. So overrated. No range, singles power, and the media feted him like some sort of baseball god. No play in baseball history is more overrated than his interception of a throw home on the first base line and flip to the catcher to get Jeremy Giambi, except maybe the catch he made when he fell into the bleachers after taking six steps after the catch. 

PAL: I’m living at the Moontower in Sioux Falls with 5 other baseball players. Plastic bottles of chew spit litter the common areas, and the bay window may or may not have been busted out due to a ping pong paddle. We’ve got a loveseat on top of a table we “borrowed” from the dorms to create stadium seating, and I have to watch Adam Kennedy from the Angels hit three motherf*&%ing homeruns in game 5 to eliminate my Twins. Just noticing that my least favorite player is another 2B.

Honorable mention: A.J. Pierzynski…and he was a player on the Twins at that point, which says a lot. 

NBA:

TOB: Kobe, no question. HATED him.

PAL: Peja Stojakovic. We had a fellow catcher on the team from Sacramento (how the hell did he find his way to South Dakota?). He was the first flatbill I knew, and he loved the Kings, and he’d say “PAAAAAAAAAAAAja” every time Stojakovic touched the ball. It was so annoying to watch games with this guy. Not Stojakovic’s fault, but I couldn’t separate the player from the fan. 

TOB: Hah. Peja was almost my most loved in 2002. 

PAL: You would.

NFL:

TOB: Probably Peyton Manning. I was never a fan, and hated how much love he got.

PAL: Jeff Garcia. His entire aura drove me nuts.

Age 30 (2012)

MLB: 

TOB: Respected, sure, but god damn did I hate Clayton Kershaw, who was in the midst of three Cy Youngs in four seasons. However, I hated Matt Holliday more, for his dirty slide to take out our lord and savior Marco Scutaro in the 2012 NLCS. 

PAL: At this point, he’s a White Sox, so this is easy: A.J. Pierzynski

NBA:

TOB: Still Kobe.

PAL: I want to say Dwight Howard. The SuperMan thing he simply saw Shaq do and tried to take it. 

NFL:

TOB: Still Peyton.

PAL: Richard Sherman

Of course Jeff Garcia wore his hat like that.

Pushing 40 (2020): 

PAL: again with this 40 b.s….

MLB:

TOB: Gotta be Cody Bellinger. I’m sick of his goddamn smirk. 

PAL: Gerrit Cole. That post-world series interview was so lame…unless he was protesting the Astros cheating scandal and wanted to distance himself from them as soon as possible…eh? eh?

NBA:

TOB: This is a tough one. The league is pretty likable right now. Luka is a dark horse, because I’m so bitter the Kings didn’t draft him, so I wish him ill. But I really don’t hate anyone at this point.

PAL: Kyrie. His act drives me nuts. 

NFL:

TOB: I wish Brady would go away, but I don’t hate him. No one, really.

PAL: Russell Wilson. Can’t stand me some fake-ass Russell. 

TOB: Yeah, I screwed that one up. Russell.


How about you? Which players did you hate at different points in your life?

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Lockdown Dailies #8: Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7 Baseball Players of All-Time

Predicting Posnanski’s Top 7 Players of All-Time

Last Friday, Joe Posnanski published the then-latest in his series of the Top 100 players of all-time: #8, Ty Cobb. We have covered the countdown extensively. But I want to predict how the rest of this list will fall. I was able to figure out five of the remaining seven players off the top of my head easily. They are the biggest names in the history of the sport:

Ruth. Mays. Williams. Aaron. Bonds. That left two. After quickly looking at Baseball-Reference’s all-time career WAR list, I quickly picked up Walter Johnson, who is second on that list. But the final name in the Top 7 presently eludes me. I went through the Top 50 WAR, and couldn’t find anyone. So I’ll take it from 6, and will probably slap my forehead when I see who I missed.

7. ?

6. Walter Johnson.

I didn’t know what to do about the Big Train. I don’t know enough about him. He played so long ago. Comparing him to other pitchers on Posnasnki’s list, it’s hard to see why he’s so much higher than everyone else. For example, Cy Young comes in at 33rd on the list, and their numbers are very similar. While Cy played entirely during the Dead Ball Era, Johnson’s numbers trail off from their incredible heights in 1920, right as the Dead Ball Era ended. I could see Posnanski putting him as low as 7th or as high as 4th, but I think this is about right. 

(Note: Since I wrote this, Posnanski put Walter Johnson at 7. WHO IS THE MISSING GUY FROM MY LIST?)

5. Ted Williams.

In his intro to the series, Posnanski specifically calls out Williams for getting credit in his mind for the numbers he would have amassed when he served during WWII. He’s one of the greatest players of all-time. But we’re splitting hairs here: He only won two MVP awards, finishing 2nd four times. If you give him credit for the three years he missed, he’d have amassed approximately 630 home runs, still below every hitter above him on this list, including behind Mays at 660. Mays, of course, missed two years during the Korean War, himself. Glancing at their numbers, Williams was probably the better hitter: .344 career BA vs. .302 for Mays; OPS+ of 190 to 156; OPS of 1.116 to .941; .634 SLG to .557.

I’m almost talking myself out of this one. But defense counts, too. Mays amassed an additional 18.2 WAR in the field, playing the all-important centerfield. Meanwhile, Williams was a net-negative in left field, posting a -13.3 over his career. I think that is a big enough swing to put Mays over Williams.

4. Hank Aaron.

Personally, I’d have Hank behind Williams. But he’s more of a longevity/counting stats guy, and I think those counting stats will sway Posnanski (I think he may even put Aaron over Mays). 

Aaron’s claim to fame of course is home runs, where he is second behind Bonds (though he’s first in MLB history in RBI). But while he accumulated 755 home runs, he played 23 years and never hit over 45 in a season. He only led the majors twice. He only led the National League four times. That’s kinda surprising. Like Williams, he was a net-negative in left field – posting a -4.6 for his career. I think brilliance tops consistency, so that’s why I’ve got Hank behind the guys atop this list (and why I’d put him behind Williams).

3. Willie Mays.

See above. But also, Joe likes a story, and Willie’s love of baseball, and the greatest and most iconic photograph in baseball history, gives him the edge over Hank and Ted.

Over the weekend, my kids and I were watching Willie Mays clips on YouTube. It’s a great wormhole to get into, including the old Home Run Derby series. But one video caught my oldest’s eye

“Overrated? What’s that mean? Let’s watch it.”
“Nothing. What? No.”

I couldn’t let his mind be poisoned by hearing that Mays’ catch was overrated, so I needed to first see what the video concluded. That night, after he went to bed, I watched. Folks, I am happy to report that the video is a really fun, informative, and glowing review of The Catch. They use multiple camera angles to determine how far he ran in how long, and and than ran MLB Statcast on those numbers. Comparing it to a catch Lorenzo Cain made a few years ago with a 2% catch probability, but Mays had a much more difficult route to the ball, having to run straight back. This pleased me, and I can’t wait to let the boys watch it this weekend.

2. Barry Bonds

Bonds vs. Ruth is difficult. From a numbers standpoint, this is very close.

Bonds has the record for most home runs in a career (762) and a season (73). Ruth’s numbers are 714 and 60, respectively. Neither got to 3,000 hits (Bonds was very close). Bonds had 95 more doubles, but wildly, Ruth had 59 more triples. Bonds also stole almost 400 more bases than Ruth – 514 to 123. Bonds is the only member of the 500 homer, 500 steal club. For perspective, Bonds is also the only member of the 400 homer, 400 steal club. While Ruth’s batting average was significantly better at .342 to .298, Bonds nearly made it all back by walking 496 more times than Ruth – 2,558 to 2,062. Ultimately, Ruth edges Bonds on On Base Percentage by 3%: .474 to .444. Ruth also gets Bonds in slugging, at .690 to .607. One knock against Ruth is he had an insanely high .340 batting average on balls in play, compared to a relatively unlucky .285 for Bonds, which suggests fielders were not as good in Ruth’s day (and, it must be said: Ruth did not play against the all the best players in the world, because MLB was segregated during the entirety of his career).

But it’s not all about career totals. For one, Ruth had 8 fewer games per season. What about who was best at their best? Here’s each of Ruth and Bonds’ numbers at their 13-year peak (I chose this number not arbitrarily, but because they both seemed to have exactly 13-year peaks when looking at their numbers.

OPS+ is a great equalizer. It takes a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage and normalizes the number across the entire league for that season, accounting for factors like the stadium they play in, etc. It then normalizes the score, where 100 is league average, and each number above or below that is a percent above or below league average. Unsurprisingly, OPS+ has Ruth and Bonds as each better than twice as good as league average. Other than Bonds and Ruth, only 16 players ever had a single season OPS+ of at least 205. Only 8 players ever had a single season OPS+ of at least 215. Bonds holds the top three single seasons ever (268 in 2002, 263 in 2004, and 259 in 2001). Ruth has numbers 5, 6, and 7 (255 in 1920; 239 in 1923; 238 in 1921); together they have 9 of the top 13.

In thinking about this, it seems Bonds at his best was the best there ever was. His stretch from 2001 to 2004 is incomparable. In fact, it’s so far out in front of anyone else it’s unfathomable. But Ruth better for longer; plus he was a darn good pitcher early on. Bonds was the better player, but Ruth had the better career. When taking into consideration PEDs, I think Posnanski goes Ruth over Bonds. 

1. Babe Ruth

The Colossus of Clout. The Sultan of Swat. The GOAT. -TOB.

PAL:

7. I actually had Mike Trout up here (didn’t check list of players already mentioned). My thinking was that A) A little controversy is not a bad thing on list like this. B) There’s a delay to appreciating historically great players when they are still performing in their prime. Only after LeBron won the title with Cleveland were people putting him in the top 5 players conversation, even when his trajectory would say he was already damn near there. Also, Trout has had 8 full seasons already, and he’s been incredible right from the start.

6. Walter Johnson. Wouldn’t ever have guessed it outright. Almost thought Maddux. I got no feel for pitchers on this list.

5. Barry Bonds. So much better than any of his contemporaries. The gap between him at the plate the next best player seemed wide enough to drive a semi through.

4. Ted Williams. Not only is .400 (Williams hit .406 when he was 22) a magic number in baseball – one of the few that remain – the dude hit .344 over 19 years. He’s a player where the stats and the legend and the magic make him a folk hero much like Babe Ruth.

3. Hank Aaron. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty good for a very long time. Greatest in the form of consistency and longevity. Very impressive, but not so inspiring.

2. Willie Mays. The numbers, but also, the iconic highlight. The bi-coastal hero. It’s incredible to think we see him pretty regularly at ball games.

1. Babe Ruth. Bonds before Bonds. Made power a weapon, and was the face of the game that became the national pastime. I am always impressed by the fact that he hit more home runs than any other team twice in his career.

And then this one, per MLB.com, for the new-ish stats folks (which also makes my Trout selection seem even funnier).

“According to Baseball Reference, Ruth’s 183.7 career WAR is the highest all time, well ahead of Cy Young’s second-best 170.3 WAR. For reference, the highest mark among active players is Alex Rodriguez’s 118.9 career WAR. To further put that into perspective, even if Mike Trout — who has averaged a 9.3 WAR over his first four full seasons — maintains that level of production over each of the next 15 seasons, he would still have only a 177.6 career WAR.”

TOB: That last trivia is wild. Although it’s a little outdated. At this point, Trout has averaged 9.0 WAR per year for 8 years, for a total of 72.3. Ruth is almost as good as ARod PLUS Trout. WHAT. To catch Ruth, Trout would need to average 9.0 WAR for the next 13 seasons – until he’s 40 (and that’s if they play at all in 2020). Wow.


How about you? How do you think Posnanski’s list will finish? Who are your top 7 baseball players of all-time?

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against

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