Baseball has three different panels it uses for selecting people to the Hall of Fame — the Baseball Writers of America, the Veterans Committee (which votes in people who played 50+ years ago who were overlooked for the HofF and a new panel I never heard of before called the Expansion Committee, which looks at players overlooked by the writers after 1973.
Which ones do I think deserve to be in the Hall (and am surprised are not in the Hall?). I love these sorts of debates. They’re so fun:
1) Dave Parker. I think he’s a definite Hall of Famer and I’m surprised he didn’t get more attention from the writers. He was a .290 lifetime hitter, hit 339 home runs in a deadball era, drove in 1,493 runs, won two batting titles, won an MVP and came in second in the MVP race another year (and came in third in the MVP race two others times), had 2,712 total hits and had a solid career OPS of .810. He also made 7 All-Star teams. He also won two championships with Pittsburgh and Oakland. He was simply one of the most feared hitters of the 1970s.
2) Joe Torre. No brainer. A lot of people don’t realise that Torre was a borderline Hall of Famer as a player. He hit .297 for his career with 252 home runs, a batting title and an MVP — and 9 All-Star games. He then went on to win 2,326 games as a manager with 4 World Series titles and 6 AL pennants.
3) Tommy John. Tommy John I believe has the most wins as an eligible pitcher without being in the Hall of Fame — 288 (Ok, some guy in the 1800s has 297 and he isn’t in — can you figure out who, Steve Lardy?). He won 20 games three times, and twice finished second in the Cy Young voting and made the All-Star team four times. If you put Burt Blyleven in with 287 wins (and zero Cy Youngs and two measly All Star appearances), then Tommy John deserves to go in too. And he had a breakthrough surgery named for him.
4) Tony La Russa. Unlike Torre, La Russa was not an outstanding player. But, as a manager, he won 6 pennants and 3 World Series (with Oakland and St. Louis) and won 2,728 games, third all time.
I think these four are all no-brainers. The next few are a little tougher.
5) Bobby Cox. Bobby Cox won 2,504 games as a manager, fourth all-time behind La Russa. However, he didn’t have a lot of postseason success. In 30 years as a manager, he won 15 division titles, but only won 5 pennants and only 1 World Series. He made the postseason 16 times total but managed only one World Series title in those 16 opportunities, in other words. I guess he gets in based on the 2,504 wins, but it appears to me he got outmanaged quite a bit in postseason.
6) Steve Garvey. Garvey is very borderline. He hit .294, won an MVP, hit over .300 seven times and made 10 All-Star teams, hit 272 home runs and had just an OK OPS of .775. He basically had eight really good years from age 24-31, but after the age of 31, his numbers declined and he became a pretty mediocre player and he was done at 37. I don’t think 8 good years and 7 or 8 mediocre years quite gets you in the Hall of Fame. I think he comes up a bit short.
7) Dan Quisenberry. I personally have a bias against relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame. The only eligible relief pitchers I think belong in the Hall are Mariano Rivera and maybe Trevor Hoffman. It’s just such a specialised position, and saves are the most overrated statistic in baseball. Quisenberry led the American League in saves five times and four times finished in the top 3 for the Cy Young award. But, his career was short –12 years, and in only 10 of those years did he appear in more than 32 games or 40 innings. Again, not enough for the Hall of Fame, especially for a relief pitcher.
8) Dave Concepcion. I also have a bias against good players who got a lot of attention because they played on great teams. Concepcion’s offensive numbers are simply too mediocre — .267 batting average, 101 home runs, two full seasons hitting over .300, a horrid career OPS of .679. He did win 5 Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team 9 times. But, he didn’t win 13 Gold Gloves like Ozzie Smith. So, I think he is primarily on the list for playing most of his career on powerful Cincinnati Reds teams.
9) Ted Simmons. I have to be honest, I never heard of him before. I looked up his numbers and they were very solid — .285 lifetime hitter, 248 home runs. He did drive in 90 or more runs 8 times. But, the highest he ever finished in the MVP race was sixth and he never hit more than 26 home runs in a season. Not good enough for the Hall of Fame, IMO.
The rest) The rest of the eligible are non-players, Steinbrenner was a longtime owner of the Yankees, Billy Martin was an average player but is on the list for being a longtime manager and Marvin Miller is a longtime union leader. I don’t have any strong opinions about whether they belong in the Hall, other than Marvin Miller was a big architect of free agency and therefore changed the game dramatically. I don’t think owners should go in, personally.
It will be interesting to see how my picks match up against the Expansion panel, which is mostly made up of former players — so I guess their opinion matters more than mine.
We have a friend who is a huge Mariners’ fan who hated Ichiro Suzuki as a player. He kept telling us Ichiro was overrated and he was part of the reason the Mariners sucked offensively. His gripe was that for a guy with speed, Ichiro didn’t use his speed and was a very passive baserunner for a guy who stole 30+ bases a year, who often didn’t take an extra base when he maybe could’ve nor did he come home on shallow flies when he likely could have scored. And that Ichiro didn’t do a lot of the little things to help the Mariners win, like move guys over or hit sac flies, etc.
I decided to take a look at Ichiro’s stats, and I found out, he does put up some very weird (and even freakish in some ways) numbers. I don’t think I would use the word “overrated,” but “one dimensional.” Ichiro is a very good example of how batting average is a very overrated statistic. Ichiro started in MLB at the age of 27, but he will easily get to 3,000 hits. He has also won numerous Gold Gloves, steals a lot of bases, is the best Japanese-born player in the history of baseball and will easily and deservedly make the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, but he is also a very good example of how batting average isn’t the most important statistic. Ichiro is the anti-Moneyball.
Plainly put, Ichiro is a lifetime .322 hitter, but he doesn’t do nearly as much damage offensively, especially for a leadoff hitter (though he doesn’t bat leadoff anymore, but did bat leadoff for the bulk of his career), as you would think — for two reasons. 1) He doesn’t hit extra base hits and 2) he doesn’t walk. For a .322 hitter, his on-base percentage is an above-average but unspectacular .365.
For an example of how “meh” .365 is … that is ranked No. 348 all time in MLB history. Ichiro’s career on-base percentage is lower than guys like Steve Kemp, Mickey Tettleton, Phil Bradley, Jeff Cirillo, John Jaha and Brian Downing. It’s even lower than Adam Dunn’s on-base percentage. Yeah, that Adam Dunn, the guy that bats .200 every year.
In Ichiro’s rookie season in 2001, he was second in the AL in runs scored, but since then, he has never finished higher than 6th and has not been in the top 10 in runs scored since 2008. This is a guy who averages 670 at-bats a year and 215 hits a year hitting leadoff … never higher than 6th in in the AL in runs scored since 2001. That pedestrian on-base percentage is part of the reason. His preponderance of singles is the other.
The other odd thing is, Ichiro does have power. He averages just under 9 home runs a year, which is decent for a leadoff hitter. But, he doesn’t hit doubles hardly at all, and he doesn’t hit a lot of triples for a guy with so much speed (about 6.5 triples a year). He simply seems content to slap the ball through the infield for easy singles. It means he has a really high batting average, but he isn’t doing that much harm to the other team.
Let’s compare Ichiro to other Hall of Fame leadoff hitters. I should stress that these are SINGLES hitters. Guys that didn’t hit a lot of home runs. But you can see that other than one guy, Ichiro’s numbers are not as good, when you add on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (On base + slugging). Again, to reiterate, none of these players are home runs hitters and they batted leadoff for much of their careers.
. BA OBP SLG HR (career) OPS
Wade Boggs .328 .415 .443 118 .858
Tony Gwynn .338 .388 .459 135 .847
Rod Carew .328 .393 .429 92 .822
Pete Rose .303 .375 .409 160 .784
Ichiro .322 .365 .418 104 .783
Lou Brock .293 .343 .410 149 .753
Wade Boggs is the best of this bunch. An incredible hitter who walked more than 87 times 9 times in his career. He also hit more than 40 doubles eight times (playing in Fenway helped). Tony Gwynn didn’t walk that much, but hit more than 760 extra-base hits. Pete Rose hit 40 or more doubles 7 times and walked 86 or more times 6 times (and his OPS numbers declined dramatically his last five years in baseball because he hung around until his mid 40s trying to catch Ty Cobb’s hit total — Rose only hit 6 home runs in his final 7 seasons, which really hurt his overall career OPS.). Lou Brock played in a deadball era in the 60s and early 70s and didn’t have an especially great batting average (.293), 29 points lower than Ichiro’s.
Ichiro has never hit 40 doubles, in fact, he’s never once even hit 35. He average 25.6 doubles a year and 41 extra base hits a year (Ichiro will assuredly get to 3,000 hits, but will barely crack 400 doubles — Craig Biggio has more than 600 doubles and Pete Rose more than 700). This is from a guy who averages an astonishing 670 at bats a year (and that is a freakish number), so that means Ichiro is hitting an extra base hit (double, triple or home run) about once every 16 ABs. Roughly … twice a week. Ichiro also averages 43 walks a year and has only walked more than 51 times once in his career. This is a leadoff guy, whose job it is to get on base.
Let’s look at Ichiro’s numbers now compared to some other good leadoff hitters, some of whom didn’t hit for average. Guys that walked and hit with some power (ie, did a lot of damage offensively).
. AVG. OBP SLG HR OPS
Derek Jeter .313 .382 .448 255 .829
Rickey Henderson .279 .401 .419 297 .820
Paul Moliter .306 .369 .448 234 .817
Craig Biggio .281 .363 .433 291 .796
Ichiro .322 .365 .418 104 .783
Rickey Henderson wasn’t an especially great hitter (.279 career), but he walked an incredible amount (16 seasons 80 or more walks) and hit with power, and thus caused a lot more damage than Ichiro, as weird as he was as a player. Biggio for a .281 lifetime hitter scored an incredible number of runs (6 times 113 or more runs). Some of that was because of Jeff Bagwell hitting a ton or home runs behind him, but some of that was because Biggio hit more than 1,000 extra-base hits. By comparison, Ichiro has 492 extra-base hits.
Here’s Ichiro’s weaknesses illustrated. Look at these numbers. Difference between batting average and on-base percentage and percentage of hits that are singles. None of these players are even especially close to Ichiro.
. Batting average/On-base percentage % of hits singles
Craig Biggio .82 66.9%
Paul Moliter .63 71.2%
R. Henderson .122 71.4%
Lou Brock .50 74.3%
Derek Jeter .69 74.4%
Wade Boggs .87 74.9%
Pete Rose .72 75.3%
Tony Gwynn .50 75.7%
Rod Carew .65 78.7%
Ichiro .43 81.1%
Wow, a whopping 81.1 percent of the time Ichiro gets a hit, it’s a single. None of these other players are even close. Only 18.9 percent of his hits are a double, triple or home run.
So, our friend had a point. Ichiro was likely part of the reason the Mariners were not a good offensive team the last few years. He fits a style of baseball that appeared prevalent in the 1880s, and probably fit Japan well, but in modern American baseball, he seems out of place. What I would call Ichiro is the greatest singles hitter in Major League Baseball since maybe Wee Willy Keeler. But, I would take Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor or even Craig Biggio as my leadoff hitter over Ichiro any day.
Last year, I missed a couple of guys who could get to 300 wins
A few months ago, I wrote an article about four players who conceivably could get to 300 wins (after Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser said it was IMPOSSIBLE — IMPOSSIBLE — for any player today to get to 300 wins). The four I mentioned were CC Sabathia (191 wins, age 32), Justin Verlander (125 wins, age 29), Roy Halladay (199 wins, age 36) and Mark Beurhle (174 wins, age 34).
There were two guys I should have mentioned. I missed them because they both had way more wins than I realised.
The first is Tim Hudson. I can be forgiven for forgetting him, because he had a six-year stretch in which he only won 68 games. But, in the last three years, Hudson has won 49 games (16.3 wins a year) and sits at 197 wins at the age of 37, within range of 300. Hudson has won 16 or more games 8 times, so he is a workshorse. He would have to average about another 17 wins a year for the next six years (retiring at age 42) or he would have to average 14.8 wins for another seven years (retiring at age 43). He is a longshot to get to 300, but he is pitching for a good team in Atlanta and has been healthy for four years, so it is not impossible. In fact, I would say Hudson has a better chance than Halladay, who appears to be injured and breaking down.
The other pitcher I should have mentioned is Felix Hernandez. Hernandez is only 27 and has already won 99 games, which surprised me. He has only won more than 14 games in a season once (19 wins), but he is a workhorse and doesn’t have a lot of injuries and pitches a lot of innings.
I would say he has a legitimate shot, except Hernandez pitches for Seattle, which is one of the worst offensive teams in baseball. In fact, over the last five years, Hernandez’ ERA is under 2.90 and he has only won 68 games (13.6 wins a year), pitching for a bad team, and in particular a bad offensive team. In fact, the year Hernandez won the Cy Young, he only went 13-12, with an ERA of 2.27.
Honestly, I do not think Hernandez can possibly get to 300 continuing to pitch for the Mariners. Like I said, he has won more than 14 games once in his career and he would have to average 16.8 wins a year for the next 12 years to get to 300. He will simply lose too many 2-1 and 3-2 games pitching for that team. I was shocked he signed a seven-year extension to stay with them because they’re not going to be any good offensively any time soon, I don’t care if they moved the fences in 15 feet. (The dimensions of the park isn’t why the Mariners hit .234 as a team last year.)
Will Jeter catch Pete Rose?
When Jeter was one of the youngest players to 3,000 hits in 2011, a lot of people talked about him perhaps catching Pete Rose at 4,256. At the time, I thought it was impossible, but then Jeter had a great year last year, hitting 216 hits and putting him at 3,304 hits at the age of 38. I thought he had a valid chance of catching Rose.
However, Jeter badly broke his foot last October and will likely be out until May this year, perhaps even June. I think that puts a serious dent in him attempting to catch Rose, because who knows how well he will be able to play when he comes back?
Jeter needs about 950 hits to catch Pete Rose. To do that in five years (retiring at the age of 43), he’d have to average 190 hits a year. If he averaged about 155 games a year, he’d have to bat about .317 (190-for-600 average per year). I think that’s impossible, for a guy 41, 42 and 43 years old to average 600 at-bats a year and a .317 average. The 2013 season, I seriously doubt Jeter will reach 500 ABs.
To do it in 6 years (retiring at 44), Jeter would have to average just under 160 hits a year. If he averaged about 145 games a year, he’d have to bat about .286 (160-for-560 AB average per year). Again, that’d be pretty difficult. And this is all assuming that his ankle will be OK. I predict Jeter will reach 4,000 hits, but he will come up a couple of hundred hits short of Pete Rose.
To get to 4,000 hits, say Jeter plays another five years. He’d have to average about 140 hits a year, and perhaps a .280 average (averaging about 130 games a year and 500 AB a year). Very, very doable, I believe, if he is healthy.
Here comes the Scruffy Sox
I’ve been having fun making fun of the Scruffy Sox. Almost all of their players have beards and even though the Red Sox have a fairly big salary, their team seems to be full of scrappy underachievers. I’ve been told the beards and long hair thing is some tradition that goes back to Bill Lee.
No matter how well they do (and who knows, they’ve started 3-1, which is encouraging), they should be fun to watch this year at least, especially considering the miserable season they had in 2012 with bigmouth Bobby Valentine and having to dump bad attitude Josh Beckett. First of all, the Sox seem to have gotten rid of all their jerks. Lackey has a history of being a bit of a jerk, but maybe being a lousy pitcher for two years, then spending another year on the IR has humbled him.
I would like to see Jacoby Ellsbury stay with the Sox, but I suspect they will trade him. He and Sox haven’t liked each other for a while, ever since Jacoby broke his ribs in a collision with Adrian Beltre, then left the team to rehab. I’ll cheer for him no matter where he plays!
The Sox’s new guys are (and I love this name) Jackie Bradley Jr. It totally sounds like a made-up name. But, he was their best player in spring training and played himself right into the everyday line-up. Remember that name … Jackie Bradley Jr.
About a year ago, I was watching PTI and Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were talking about when the next 300-game winner in baseball would be… and the conclusion they reached is that there would be no more 300-game winners. There are no current pitchers anywhere near 300 wins and we had seen the last of the 300-game winners because teams use their bullpens more and pitchers don’t pitch as many games as they did in the old days, and thus don’t get as many decisions.
That talk always gets the gears in my brain cranking, so I looked into it, and discovered that they were right, there were no current pitchers (other than Jamie Moyer, who quickly retired this year) remotely near 300 wins.
But, there would NEVER be a 300-game winner again. NEVER? Because it’s impossible now, with pitchers starting fewer games, getting fewer decisions and bullpens being used more heavily.
Now, I look at some numbers, and I strongly disagree with the PTI guys. I simply don’t think you can say it will NEVER happen, in fact, there are three, maybe four active pitchers who have a shot at 300 wins … and in fact, one of them has a very, very solid shot at 300 wins. If anyone gets to 300 wins, it won’t happen for at least another 7 years.
Here are the four pitchers
. Age wins
CC Sabathia 31 191
Roy Halladay 35 199
Justin Verlander 29 124
Mark Buehrle 33 174
Now, compare that to these 300-game winners
. Age wins
Phil Niekro 29 31
(in fact, Niekro at age 34 still only had 110 wins)
Gaylord Perry 29 76
Early Wynn 29 83
Randy Johnson 32 104
Roger Clemens 33 192
Let’s look at each individual pitcher, first with the 300-game winners:
Niekro was a knuckleball pitcher who pitched into his late 40s, so this one is a bit of a cheat because knuckleballers don’t tend to decline in their 40s like regular pitchers. Still, he didn’t become a starter until the age of 25 and won over 200 games after the age of 35.
Perry won 191 games over a 10-year stretch after the age of 30. He pitched in an era (the 1960s and early 70s) in which starters got 35 to 40 starts and 35 decisions or more every year.
Like Perry, Wynn won a ton of games in his mid- to late-30s. He won 188 games over 10 years after the age of 30, and was making 35 to 40 starts a year (in the 1950s), with 30 or more decisions almost every season.
I included Clemens only because he pitched in an era in which pitchers started 30-35 games a year and almost always get fewer than 30 decisions a year, but still went well over 300 wins.
His career had begun to wind down at 33. Over the past four years, he had only won 40 games and had a middling 40-39 record. After the age of 34, he won 149 games over the next eight years. In not one of those 8 years, did he have more than 28 decisions. That’s important to remember.
Now, it’s fairly clear now Clemens had help from PED to regain his fastball late in his career and to stay healthy. I don’t care if he was acquitted of lying about it, the guy was a juicer, so he might not be the best example … a better example is …
Johnson’s career to me is the best barometer that you can NEVER say no one will EVER get to 300 wins again, PTI guys! Johnson only had 104 wins at the age of 32 and was coming off major, potentially career-ending back surgery. He went on to win 176 games over the next 10 years, in an era in which he was only starting 30-35 games a year. He never once had a year in which he had more than 30 decisions.
To be fair, Johnson, who was never implicated in juicing, did pitch in an ERA in which PED use was rampant, so you have to honest that PEDs may have played a role in his longevity. Today, players cannot get away with the same PED use due to testing.
Today’s candidates for 300 wins
Sabathia definitely has the best chance to get to 300 wins. In fact, PTI guys, I personally give him a 50-50 shot. He is only 31 and 109 wins short of 300. He plays for a big-money team (the Yankees) that scores a lot of runs, so he can tally double-digit win totals even when he has down years. This year, he won 15 games even though he spent some time on the DL.
If Sabathia stays healthy, and he does not have a history of injuries, all he has to do is average 13.6 wins a year for the next 8 years (pitching until he’s 39) to get to 300. That’s very, very doable. Sabathia has averaged nearly 16 wins a year over his 12-year career. Sabathia’s win pace is well ahead of Randy Johnson, Clemens, Wynn, Niekro and Perry. Seriously, I really think he has a very solid shot at 300 wins. You definitely cannot say he will NEVER get there.
Halladay’s chances took a hit this season because he was hurt and did not pitch particularly well. He only won 11 games and his ERA was around 4.50, but he still sits at 199 wins at the age of 35, which makes him a legitimate candidate for 300. He would have to win 101 games over the next 7 years (pitching until the age of 42), averaging 14.4 wins a year. Basically, he’d have to start 200 games over the next 7 years and win approximately 50 percent of his games. That’s doable; it’s certainly not impossible (look at Randy Johnson). But, I suspect it’s unlikely Halladay gets to 300. He has had a history of injuries and has lost two or three seasons as a result. He has to stay healthy to have a shot.
It’s still somewhat early in Verlander’s career, but at age 29, his win total (124) is well ahead of Wynn, Perry and Niekro and WAY ahead of Johnson. Verlander would have to stay healthy for a while. He would have to win 176 games over the next 12 years (pitching until age 41), for an average of 14.7 wins a year. Very doable considering he has averaged 15.5 wins a year in his career so far, but let’s check back in 5 years.
I was actually surprised he has 174 wins. I’ve barely heard anything about this guy other than he has pitched a perfect game. But since he’s still just 33, I felt I needed to mention him. I think it’s very, very unlikely Buehrle gets to 300 unless he revitalises his career. Buehrle won a lot of games early in his career — he had 85 wins by the age of 26, but he has only won 89 games over the last 7 years (12.7 wins a year), and has won 13 games every year for the past four years and has won more than 16 games only once in his career. He would have to pick it up to get to 300. He needs to win 126 games over the next 8 years — 15.8 wins a year — to get to 300.
There was an interesting and fun discussion last week on Current.com about Tim Tebow.Tebow is one of the most weirdly polarizing figures in the NFL. It’s weird, because he’s never been arrested, never gotten a DUI, never been accused of slapping a woman. He’s polarizing because he’s extremely religious (and belongs to a very conservative sect), and because his most rabid fans worship him as the second coming of Jesus (an exaggeration — but not by much).
Last week, I was actually shocked at the venom I heard on TV talk shows being directed at Tebow. It was some of the most scathing, withering invective I’ve ever heard flung at any athlete — I didn’t hear a couple of quarterbacks who murdered dogs and were accused of terrible acts in a bar bathroom catch the amount of flak Tebow was catching.
He had a terrible game against a team with a good defence — Detroit. He was ripped down one side and up the other; he was called awful, horrible, an embarrassment. Commentators said he had no business being in the NFL and worse . One commenter, a guy I usually despise named Skip Bayless, said the hatred toward Tebow was bordering on pathological. It might be the one and only time I ever agree with Skip Bayless. At a certain point, this doesn’t have anything to do with football anymore — it has to do with annoyance over his public displays of faith and annoyance with his rabid fans. (An interesting column about that here.)
Well, what I’m hearing is the haters appear to be JUST as rabid. They are simply feeding the frenzy that is Tebow by turning him into a martyr … and hard core conservative Christians absolutely LOVE martyrs. We live in Bronco territory and I’m still trying to find a Bronco fan that doesn’t literally despise Tebow. I mean literally HATE him. I haven’t found one yet!
What did Tebow do Sunday? He started terrible, but then finished 4-for-5 for 55 yards, threw 2 TDs, ran for 117 yards, had no INTs, and had 240 yards of total offence — and brought his team back from being down 17-7 to win 38-24 (It will be interesting what his haters have to say this week.). Tebow has started a total of six games and is 3-3 as a starter. Denver was 1-4 without him and is 2-1 with him and suddenly they’re in a playoff chase. In a weird way I find myself cheering for him, as much as I am uncomfortable with his conservative brand of religion (but, hey, it’s America, right? He can worship who he wants, however he wants.). I find myself more uncomfortable with the virulent level of hate toward him, hate that seems to be as much if not more about his personal faith than about his play of the field.
I just wonder sometimes if Tebow were a devout Muslim, how some people would feel about some of the vitriol being thrown at him.
Does his latest good game mean he is a good quarterback? No. Does it mean he will be a good quarterback someday? No. He may. He may not. It will probably take a couple of years to know for sure. Should he have been a first-round draft pick? Probably not, but that’s not his fault Denver drafted him too high. What it means is he is raw, inexperienced, has an eccentric throwing motion that may never fit the NFL, but he is not quite as bad as the vitriol being spewed about him. It means he is playing well enough to be given the opportunity to keep playing. How good was John Elway after six games? Steve Young? Michael Vick? Brett Favre?
The biggest sporting event in the world is probably the Olympics. The next biggest is the FIFA World Cup. The next biggest is something I bet most of you have never heard of. The Rugby World Cup. It is watched by a billion people worldwide.
The Rugby World Cup has only been around since 1987, but like the FIFA World Cup and Olympics, it comes around once every four years. 20 teams from around the world compete, including the United States and Canada, but the U.S. isn’t very good.
Tomorrow, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, the New Zealand All Blacks, are playing the No. 2 ranked team in the world, the Australian Wallabies, in the Rugby World Cup semifinals. The entire country will be watching that game. New Zealand is 5-0 in the World Cup this year and has outscored its opponents 273-59. The Wallabies have a very tough defence and beat the mighty Springboks in the quarterfinals.
The other semifinal is today — tiny Wales versus France, another rugby powerhouse. Wales is ranked No. 4 in the world, while Les Bleus, the 2007 World Cup champion, is ranked No. 5.
Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport. New Zealand is favoured to win the World Cup virtually every tournament and they have been ranked either No.1 or No. 2 every single year of the 21st century. But, they have only ever won it once, the first one in 1987. New Zealand has lost a series of heartbreakers ever since. The heavily favoured All Blacks lost in the World Cup finals in 1995 in a terrible heartbreaker to the South Africa Springboks. You might’ve seen a Clint Eastwood movie about it called “Invictus.”
New Zealand also lost in the semifinals in 1999 and 2003.
One of the reasons New Zealand is so powerful is the All Blacks always feature a number of Maori stars. Moaris like many Polynesian people are a very strong and powerful people (It’s the same reason there are so many Samoans in American football.) Before each match, the All Blacks perform a stirring Maori “Haka” war dance to try and intimidate their opponents. It is done with all due respect and the other team usually stands still and respectfully watches.
Rugby is very much like your American football, only no high-tech helmets and no forward passes. Imagine American football with a series of laterals and that is pretty close. It is a terrible brutal and violent sport, with a lot of blood and broken noses. We were made to play it in school, though we played “touch” or “rippa” rugby, which is not nearly as violent, but still resulted in our fair share of bloody noses and tears. I played rugby all the way into college. Of course, it was touch rugby, our insurance would have never covered tackle.
Despite its massive popularity around the world, it’s hard to catch some of the World Cup on American TV. It’s on some obscure network called Universal which has been showing the matches. We had to go a sports bar to watch one All Blacks match, but NBC is showing some of the matches. I believe NBC will be showing the finals.
Oh, how bizarre, we just saw this movie two days ago, about a poor baseball team attempting to compete against rich teams (in a league with no salary cap … helloooo … everyone else has one.).
Get this, the Red Sox didn’t even make the playoffs, and the Phillies and the Yankees don’t get out of the first round of the postseason — in short, they don’t get the slightest SNIFF of the World Series. These are the three fattest teams in Major League Baseball for payroll.
Combined, the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies had a payroll of $535 MILLION — or $178.3 million each.
Meanwhile, the teams that are still alive? The Brewers, Cardinals, Tigers and Rangers have a combined payroll of $387 million — or $96.75 million each, barely more than one-half of the three fattest teams.
Interestingly, here are other teams that have bigger payrolls than these four teams — the Cubs, Mets, Angels, Twins, Giants and White Sox, six teams that didn’t even make the postseason. In the case of the Cubs, Twins, Mets and White Sox, they didn’t even come close. The Tigers have the highest payroll remaining — 10th in Major League Baseball. The Brewers are 17th.
What does this mean? Yeah, baseball needs a salary cap and the rich teams still have unfair advantages, but you still have to build a smart team to win. The Red Sox and Yankees completely ignored their flawed pitching staffs while spending like drunken sailors, while the Phillies ignored their flawed offence while spending like a drunken sailor on pitching.
The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil and Legend”
Leigh Montville is a former sports columnist for the Boston Globe who has written books about American sports legends such as Ted Williams, Dare Earnhardt and Manute Bol. In his latest book, “Evel,” he tackles one of the most complicated American sports legends ever in Butte’s Evel Knievel. “He was from Butte, Montana, and his life was a grand, sloppy American saga.
“He was from Butte, Montana, and he traveled a long way, met a lot of famous people, made and spent a lot of money, kissed a lot of girls. He was from Butte, Montana, and he never left, no matter where he went,” Montville writes.
Montville uses this kind of breezy, conversational columnists’ style in relating anecdotes about Knievel’s wild and controversial life. He also does a good job of detailing the old days of Butte, still more or less a Wild West kind of town in the mid-20th century, and how this hardscrabble, alcohol-soaked blue collar city came to shape Knievel. “The charm of Butte always was the fact that there was no charm,” Montville writes.
He breaks up his narrative every few pages with “… a story,” about Butte, Knievel or one of Knievel’s friends. My favorite, “… a story,” was about Jean Sorenson, a foul-mouthed bar owner in Butte who shot down two former husbands and eventually went to prison when she shot a man dead in the 1970s — after she refused to serve a black soldier and he objected. She returned to Butte as the same bar fixture she had been when she was sent down the river. “This is the city where Robert Craig Knievel was born on Oct. 17, 1938,” Montville writes.
Part of what is entertaining and surprising in these early chapters is that former congressman Pat Williams was Knievel’s first cousin and grew up alongside him in Butte.
Knievel was a supremely confident fast talker, a con man, who always seemed to be working on an angle, or worse, a scheme. He was a thief, a bank robber and even an extortionist (he had a highly lucrative protection racket in Butte for a time), yet he always managed to avoid getting caught. His charm came to his rescue repeatedly. In this day and age, he likely would have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Knievel tried to go legit as an insurance salesman, but grew bored and burned bridges. He began racing motorcycles throughout the West, but was actually (surprisingly) a poor rider. Finally, in the early 60s, he came up with a harebrained scheme to jump a motorcycle over a pair of mountain lions and a box of rattlesnakes. It was a disaster, but he made money and found his calling.
Knievel truly hit the big time in 1968 and it was for a failure. However, it was a spectacular failure. His attempted jump over the Caeser’s Palace fountains is what made Knievel a household name, especially after an amazing slow-motion footage of his crash was released. Virtually everyone has seen this footage at one time or another.
One of the secrets Montville reveals is that it was widely believed Knievel was gravely injured in that crash and was in a coma for weeks. He suffered several broken bones, but Knievel and his people exaggerated the extent of his injuries simply to drum up publicity. He never was in a coma.
Knievel made more money jumping now, but he really hit the big time when he agreed to allow a toy company to make an Evel Knievel action figure. Another surprise. Most of Knievel’s wealth came from a toy, not his jumps.
As Knievel became a bigger attraction, his ego grew bigger and the events of his life became even more outrageous. Montville has great fun relating the details of the 70s hedonism and violence that swirled around Knievel’s failed Snake River Canyon jump.
During the Snake River period, Knievel’s personality turned darker. The sly con man’s charm wore thin. Montville finds numerous sources that absolutely hated Knievel and spoke of his increasingly large ego, his anti-Semitism and his abuse of the people around him, both verbal and physical.
The worst of Knievel’s abuse was directed at his wife, according to multiple sources. He not only beat her, but constantly boasted of his sexual conquests with other women, often times directly in front of her. Knievel, never one to turn down a party, also began to drink more and more heavily, and grew more erratic and unpredictable. Finally, his whole world came crashing down around him when he beat his former publicist with a baseball ban, breaking both his arms. He was sent to jail, but more devastatingly, lost his toy contract and his gravy train. When he came out of jail, he was radioactive … and before long, broke.
At this point, Montville’s book feels like a big, long hit piece on Knievel, but “Evel” takes an interesting turn at the end … a turn that is weirdly uplifting, yet slightly disappointing. What is disappointing is more attention isn’t given to Knievel’s apparent life transformation toward the end.
The last several years of his life, Knievel’s hard living came back to haunt him. He often needed a wheelchair from his multitude of injuries. He needed a liver transplant from his years of hard drinking. He became a diabetic. He developed a severe lung disease (Ironically, despite his hedonistic life, he never smoked.) which eventually killed him. And his wife, sick of the years of abuse, finally divorced him. He was alone and lived in constant pain, and it was that pain that changed the daredevil into a very regretful and frightened man at the end.
Knievel expressed remorse many times during his final years for his choices. The man who spit in death’s eye a hundred times finally had his preternatural confidence shattered by pain. A few months before he died in 2007, he appeared to sincerely and genuinely become a devout Christian.
Montville breezes through this long sunset period of Knievel’s life in just a few pages, when I found myself wanting to know much, MUCH more about these final years and the radical alteration in his life view. That is my only disappointment with of “Evel.” Perhaps Montville found it too painful or invasive, but I personally think much more drama is to be found by a person’s spiritual awakening than the debauchery at the Snake River Canyon.
I read yesterday that Duke Snider died. I had heard of the name of course and knew he was part of Ebbetts Field lore back in Brooklyn, and he helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1955 and 1959. I’m sort of a stats geek, so I looked up his stats, and holy cats, he was a lot better player than I realized. He is mentioned a lot in books I’ve recently read about Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
One thing I am really struck by in looking at the statistics of old-time ballyplayers is the off-times dramatic dropoff in their numbers in their early to mid 30s. Not 40s. 30s. Duke Snider stopped being a full-time ballplayer at the age of 32. His last decent season was at the age of 34. He retired at 37. He only had 1,200 at-bats after the age of 32. Back then, before the days of off-season conditioning and arthroscopic surgery, injuries caught up with athletes awfully young, so what happened to Snider was typical — Mickey Mantle’s last good year was at the age of 32. Still, Snider managed to hit 407 home runs and drive in 1,333 runs.
Can you imagine what kind of numbers he would have ended up with if he could have kept playing — and playing regularly — into his late 30s and early 40s? It makes you really appreciate guys like Henry Aaron, who hit 40 home runs at the age of 39, Willie Mays, who hit 52 home runs at the age of 34 and Ted Williams, who hit .388 with 38 home runs … at the age of 38.
Duke Snider had a remarkable 9-year run in which he hit .301, and averaged 34.5 home runs, 108.5 RBIs and 107 runs a year — in a 154-game schedule. This was before the days of steroids, remember. I didn’t realize he was so good.
On our refrigerator we have an autographed photo of Detroit Lions quarterback Shaun Hill. Pepe liked him when he played for the 49ers and he met someone on HP, I will keep his name private if he wishes, who actually knows Shaun. He was at Shaun’s wedding and coached him when he was in Little League.
Shaun Hill was a star quarterback in a little town in Kansas, and wasn’t recruited to many colleges, so he had to play at a junior college. He got his big chance at the University of Maryland. As a senior, he led his team to a 10-2 record and the Orange Bowl — and Maryland almost never plays in big bowl games. Not bad for a kid who wasn’t recruited much.
Then, he wasn’t drafted in the NFL. He made the Minnesota Vikings’ roster as a free agent, then moved on to the 49ers. He got a chance to play there, starting the last month of the season in 2007. He started nine games in 2008, putting up solid numbers (2,000 yards in a little more than half a season, 13 TDs and 8 interceptions, for a quarterback rating of 87.5, which is excellent.)
Despite his good year, the 49ers were committed to their No. 1 draft pick, Alex Smith, who had a big contract, while Shaun didn’t, and Smith ended up starting most of the games last year for the 49ers. Shaun played decently enough again, but that was the direction the 49ers went (Interestingly the coach who made that decision, Mike Singletary, several times this past season couldn’t decide if he preferred Alex Smith or Troy Smith, and he was ultimately fired, partly for his poor handling of the quarterback positions. Meanwhile, Alex Smith is expected to leave the team as a free agent.).
Shaun saw the handwriting on the wall and accepted a trade to Detroit in 2009. Again his tough luck continued. After starter Matthew Stafford got hurt, Shaun again played well, better than many first string quarterbacks, but had his arm broken on a tackle. He only missed about a month and came back and led the Detroit Lions to their best season in many years, leading them to wins in their last two games. The Lions won 6 games, the most they had won in three years. He passed for 2,600 yards, had 16 TDs, 12 INTs and a QB rating of 81.7.
And still, very few people have heard of him. He has always had to fight to get onto teams, first because he came from a small town in Kansas, then because he wasn’t that highly regarded in college, then because he’s never had a real chance in the NFL or played for a good team. But his career QB rating of 84.6 is better than a lot of “stars” such as Eli Manning or Mark Sanchez. His career record as a starter is 13-13, mostly playing for bad teams with poor defenses. He’s probably the best backup quarterback in football and could probably start for at least half a dozen teams.
What’s more than being a good football player, our friend tells us he is a good guy. Shaun suffered a terrible tragedy this week when his father fell off the roof while working on his barn and was killed. He was only 60 years old. Every bit of that toughness that Shaun showed to stick around the NFL when he was never highly regarded, and to come back and play a month after having surgery on a broken arm is kid stuff compared to losing a parent, especially in such a tragic way. We wish him well in his time of need and send him our condolences. And we will continue pulling for him to succeed.
And his photo remains in an exulted spot on our fridge.
One thing that annoys me is when people claims they hate hockey because it is getting more violent every year and there are more fights every year.
With a whole family that plays hockey that bothers me. Because it simply isn’t true. In fact, the opposite is true. The problem is ESPN and HP and Youtube that focus on nothing but hockey fights. When that’s all people see of hockey, they assume that’s all there is. HuffPost is TERRIBLE for doing this!
It really chapped my hide yesterday that I tried to make this point on HP yesterday, but for some reason, HP wouldn’t let me.
Here are the FACTS. In the 1970s, there was an average of more than 1 fight every hockey game (and yes, there actually are people who keep track of this stuff). This year, there is an average of 0.57 fights per game, so there is actually HALF as many fights in hockey today as there was 35 years ago.
A website called hockeyfights.com has actually been tracking fighting in hockey for 10 years. In the 2001-2002 season, there were 803 fights in the NHL, for an average of .65 fights a game. In 2003-2004, there were 789 fights, for an average of .64 fights per game. This year, the league is on pace for 693 fights, a decrease of 12 percent from seven years ago.
Moreover, the all-time single season leader in penalty minutes is Dave Schultz, part of the infamous Broad Street Bullies of Philadelphia. Schultz had 472 penalty minutes in 1974-75, which was really the low point for violence in the NHL. Since the 2000 season, the closest anyone has come to that is Peter Worrell, who had 354 penalty minutes in 2001-2002 … that puts him 21st all-time for most penalty minutes in a season. Last season, the league leader was Zenon Konopka of the New York Islanders, who had 265 penalty minutes, barely half what Dave Schultz accumulated in 1974-75.
What this means is that the era of the goons is fading out. The rules have been changed to give more emphasis on speed and skill. Sure, there’s some tough guys in the league, and the fighting will always play a role (honestly, there is a strategy to it. Don’t touch our stars or else you’ll pay, basically.) There are just more fighting highlights on round-the-clock sports TV and Internet. And because people can’t figure out that “Slap Shot” was satire (not only satire, but 35-year-old satire.). And honestly, if you pay attention, you notice players rarely get hurt fighting. They usually scrap for half a minute, then one of them falls down and a referee steps in and stops it. Most of the time, it’s FUNNY. It’s like slapstick. Most players get hurt when they crash into the boards or they get hit by an errant stick or puck.
Garr. I don’t know why HuffPost wouldn’t let me make this point yesterday.