Effectively Wild Episode 2154: Sliding Doors and Sliding Home

EWFI
Amid a wave of pitcher injuries, Ben Lindbergh talks to Dr. Rich Nye (4:20), a former major leaguer whose career-ending injury became a career-beginning injury when he decided to become an exotic-animal veterinarian (among other occupations). Then (1:07:09) Ben talks to prolific TV creators/writers/producers Tom Fontana and Julie Martin about what might have been for Baseball Wives, a long-lost HBO baseball drama that was canceled after its pilot episode was produced in 2002. Lastly (1:43:25), Ben brings on Frequent Stat Blast Correspondent Ryan Nelson to deliver eight Stat Blasts, plus (2:23:13) follow-ups.

Audio intro: Daniel Leckie “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio outro: Alex Ferrin, “Effectively Wild Theme

Link to MLB.com on Freeland
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Link to Bellinger on Boras
Link to Boras facility brag
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Sunday Notes: Logan O’Hoppe Bought a Bleacher Ticket

When I interviewed him 12 months ago, Logan O’Hoppe told me that he keeps two journals. One is for baseball. The other is for life. As the then-rookie catcher explained, “It’s tough to stay in a consistent headspace day to day,” and writing down his thoughts helps keep him centered.

One year later, he’s not only taking his game to a new level — O’Hoppe has a 137 wRC+ over 70 plate appearances — he’s also upping his journal input. I learned as much when I asked the LA backstop if he ever writes about the ballparks he visits. Moreover, I learned those visits are atypical of most major leaguers’.

“I’ve got three different ones now,” O’Hoppe explained when the Angels played at Fenway Park earlier this month. “One is for the game-planning stuff with the pitcher, and another is for hitting; those are obviously all baseball. With the third one, yes, I write a lot about the ballparks. It keeps my perspective in line. Early on last year, when I was really new to [the big leagues], I tended to think that this was the end all be all, and that the results were everything. I’m trying to realign my perspective and understand the results for what they are. I feel like it’s really helped me to come to different ballparks like this one, and sit alone in stadiums that I was at growing up.”

Adam Wainwright did something similar toward the end of his career, visiting various locales in ballparks, such as press boxes and concourses, prior to games. O’Hoppe is doing something similar, only on the front end of his career. Read the rest of this entry »


Whitey Herzog Defined an Era, but He Was Ahead of His Time

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

No manager defined the era of baseball marked by artificial turf and distant outfield fences as Whitey Herzog did. As the manager of the Royals (1975–79) and Cardinals (1980, ’81–90) — and for a short but impactful period, the latter club’s general manager as well — he assembled and led teams built around pitching, speed, and defense to six division titles, three pennants, and a world championship using an aggressive and exciting brand of baseball: Whiteyball. Gruff but not irascible, Herzog found ways to get the most out of players whose limitations had often prevented them from establishing themselves elsewhere.

“The three things you need to be a good manager,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Ron Fimrite in 1981, “are players, a sense of humor and, most important, a good bullpen. If I’ve got those three things, I assure you I’ll get along with the press and I guarantee you I’ll make the Hall of Fame.”

Herzog was finally elected to the Hall in 2010, an honor long overdue given that he was 20 years removed from the dugout and had never been on a ballot. He passed away on Monday in St. Louis at the age of 92.

Herzog’s career in baseball spanned 45 years, from 1949 until ’94, and included eight years as a major league outfielder (1956–63) plus 13 full seasons and five partial ones as a manager (1973–90) as well as time as a scout, coach, director of player development, and GM — a résumé whose depth spoke to the levels of insight that he brought to the game. He had a keen eye for talent, and one undersold aspect of his career was his pivotal role in building the Mets’ 1969 champions and ’73 pennant winners as their director of player development from 1967–72. If not for an ill-timed remark, he might have succeeded Gil Hodges as Mets manager.

“Whitey was the boldest man in baseball,” wrote Bill James in his essential Guide to Baseball Managers, within which he noted Herzog’s penchant for platoons and odd defenses, reliance upon his benches and bullpens, and his appreciation for speed as an asset on both sides of the ball. James later summarized Herzog’s aggressive approach: “Let’s take charge of this game, let’s make this game as hard as possible for the other team, let’s force the action, put pressure on them, and make them lose.”

Calling him “Our Casey” — in reference to Stengel, who mentored Herzog when he was an outfielder in the Yankees’ chain — in an oft-reprinted 1990 profile, the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell wrote, “Everybody in baseball says the same three things about Whitey Herzog: He’s the best manager in baseball or else the first name mentioned on a very short list. He’s the most abrasively self-confident and outspoken executive in the sport. And, whether he’s in the middle of a controversy or a pennant race, he seems to have a better time than everybody else.”

Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog was born on November 9, 1931, in New Athens, Illinois, a village about 30 miles southeast of St. Louis. He was the second of three boys born to Edgar and Lietta Herzog; his father worked at the the Mound City Brewery, while his mother worked in a shoe factory. As a youngster, Herzog would sometimes skip school and hitchhike to Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis to watch the Cardinals or the Browns, and to collect batting practice balls to sell or play with. “Relly” — his nickname at the time — played baseball and basketball at New Athens High School; as a left-handed pitcher, first baseman, and outfielder, he earned second-team all-state honors and helped New Athens to the state championship game.

Though he drew interest from nearby colleges, Herzog instead signed with the Yankees in 1949, the same year as Mickey Mantle. He played for five years in the Yankees’ system, interrupted by a 1952-54 stint in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he got his first taste of managing, piloting the base’s team to the Fifth Army championship and once beating a Fort Carson, Colorado team managed by Billy Martin.

Though Herzog never played a regular season game for the Yankees, Stengel took a shine to him during the team’s spring rookie camp. During his Hall of Fame induction speech, Herzog attributed the manager’s interest to a belief that he was the grandson of infielder Buck Herzog, a contemporary during Stengel’s playing days. “Casey and I used to sit in the press room during spring training and every night we would have a few pops and talk baseball, amongst other things… For some reason he knew that I was going to be a big-league manager.”

In that speech, Herzog recounted Stengel’s advice for how to deal with the media while managing a bad ballclub:

“You feed them and you drink with them and you stay up all night with them having a few pops. Put them to bed about 4:30 and by the time their deadline comes, they won’t even put the score of the game in.”

Herzog absorbed Stengel’s lessons on strategy as well. “I’ll bet Casey Stengel walked me down the third-base line 75 times a day teaching me that good base running boils down to anticipation and knowledge of the defense… You can steal a lot of runs,” he told the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir in 2010.

During his time in the Yankees’ organization, the towheaded Herzog acquired an indelible nickname based on his resemblance to Yankees pitcher Bob Kuzava, known as “The White Rat.” Various sources credit the observation to a local sportscaster covering the McAlester Rockets, the Class D affiliate with which Herzog started his professional career, and to Johnny Pesky, who coached Herzog with the Denver Bears in 1955.

Stocked in the outfield, in April 1956, the Yankees sent Herzog to the Washington Senators as the player to be named later, completing a seven-player deal centered around pitcher Mickey McDermott and giving the 24-year-old his big league shot. As the regular center fielder for a team that lost 95 games, he hit .245/.302/.337, then spent much of 1957 back in Triple-A, and in early ’58 was sold to the Kansas City A’s. He evolved into a useful platoon outfielder, hitting .268/.383/.384 (109 OPS+) in parts of three seasons for Kansas City and performing similarly in two seasons with the Orioles after being included in a six-player deal in January 1961. Slowed by an inner ear virus in 1963, Herzog played sparingly for the Tigers, then retired as a player. He finished his career with a .257/.354/.365 (97 OPS+) line, 25 homers, and 2.5 bWAR in 634 games.

In 1964, A’s farm director Hank Peters offered Herzog a scouting job at $7,500 a year. “I signed 12 players for $120,000 and seven of them eventually made the major league roster,” Herzog told Sports Illustrated’s Steve Wulf in 1982. “The best was Chuck Dobson, the pitcher. I could have had Don Sutton for $16,000, but Charlie Finley wouldn’t give me the money.”

After serving as a coach in 1965 under managers Mel McGaha and Haywood Sullivan, Herzog quit when Finley wouldn’t offer him more money, either. “You can take your damn mule and make him your coach,” he told the notoriously miserly owner.

Thanks to a recommendation from former Cardinals GM Bing Devine, who knew Herzog from the St. Louis area, he spent 1966 as the Mets’ third base coach under manager Wes Westrum. While his own contemporary estimate of the position’s value was comically inflated (“A good third-base coach can win 16 or 17 games a season for his club,” he told the New York Times in 1966), he had distilled Stengel’s advice, explaining, “When a base runner has a chance to score, you’ve got to remember that the percentage is with him. It’s like being a gambler — you’ll force the other side to make either a perfect play or a damaging mistake.”

A year later, Herzog was promoted, becoming the director of player development. While in that capacity, the team drafted a couple of key contributors to the 1973 pennant winners in Jon Matlack (the 1972 NL Rookie of the Year) and John Milner, and Herzog helped advance the careers of players such as Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, and Wayne Garrett, all of whom contributed to the ’69 champions, plus Amos Otis and Ken Singleton, both of whom would attain stardom after being traded away. He even managed several of those players on the Mets’ 1967 Florida Instructional League team. During the Mets’ 1969 victory party, Hodges thanked Herzog, telling him, “For three years, whenever I called you for what I needed, you got me the right players.”

Herzog was viewed as the heir apparent to Hodges, but after the sudden death of the Mets manager from a heart attack on April 2, 1972, things didn’t unfold as expected. Mets chairman M. Donald Grant — whose name would later become mud in Queens for trading Tom Seaver — not only bypassed Herzog in favor of Yogi Berra, but also ordered him not to attend Hodges’ funeral “just so there wouldn’t be speculation that I’d be hired as the new manager,” Herzog told author Peter Golenbock. The chairman bore a grudge after word had gotten back that Herzog had once said, “M. Donald Grant doesn’t know beans about baseball!”

Herzog soon received his first major league managerial posting by resigning from the Mets in November 1972 to accept a three-year contract to manage the Rangers, replacing Ted Williams, who had advised Herzog of his pending retirement and suggested he throw his hat in the ring. The 40-year-old Herzog took over a team that had gone 54-100 in the strike-shortened season, its first since moving from Washington, D.C. to Arlington, Texas. Immediately tapping his reserve of humor, he suggested at his introductory press conference that he might also coach third base, “But if they hit like they did last year, I won’t have anything to do over there.”

As chronicled in Mike Shropshire’s hilarious account of the mid-1970s Rangers, Seasons in Hell, Herzog had to draw from that wellspring to endure the frustrations of a team in transition from veterans to youngsters — and one with a meddlesome owner, Bob Short. After drafting Houston high school pitcher David Clyde with the first pick in 1973, Short insisted that the 18-year-old lefty begin his professional career in the majors in order milk his potential as a gate attraction. The move took place over Herzog’s objections, and while it initially worked — Clyde won his debut despite walking seven in five innings — he wore out in August and finished with a 5.01 ERA.

By that point, he was no longer Herzog’s problem. Short coveted Martin, who by then had managed both the Twins and Tigers to division titles and was still on the job in Detroit; at one point he told Herzog, “I’d fire my grandmother to hire Billy Martin.” When the Tigers fired Martin on September 2, allegedly for ordering his pitchers to throw loaded-up pitches at Cleveland in protest of the umpires not ejecting Gaylord Perry for doing the same thing, Short made his move, firing Herzog, whose team was 47-91, and hiring Martin. “I thought I was hired to build more for next year than to win this year,” said Herzog at his exit interview. “I guessed wrong and I got fired.”

Declining a job in player development with the Rangers, Herzog spent most of 1974 as the Angels’ third base coach, serving as interim manager for four games between the firing of Bobby Winkles and the hiring of Dick Williams. He remained on staff into the 1975 season, until Royals GM Joe Burke reached out in late July, needing a manager after firing Jack McKeon, who had guided the 1969 expansion team to 88 wins in ’73 and had them at 50-46 thus far in ’75. As GM in Texas, Burke had hired Herzog, then resigned when he was fired; here he hired him again.

The Royals had drafted and developed an impressive core of young players centered around 22-year-old third baseman George Brett, 24-year-old righty Dennis Leonard, and 25-year-old righty Steve Busby, with astute acquisitions from elsewhere such as the 28-year-old Otis, a center fielder, 26-year-old first baseman John Mayberry, and 29-year-old left fielder Hal McRae. Within a few weeks, Herzog moved Brett from sixth to third in the batting order and replaced aging second baseman Cookie Rojas with 24-year-old Frank White, a light hitter but a slick fielder and a speedster who emerged as an exemplar of Whiteyball. The team went 41-25 on Herzog’s watch, finishing second in the AL West, then won three straight division titles — the franchise’s first taste of success — from 1976–78 by going 90-72, 102-60, and 92-70. With Herzog emphasizing a speed-and-defense style of play well suited to Kauffman Stadium’s artificial turf, Brett won his first of three batting titles (edging out McRae) and made his first of 13 All-Star teams in 1976; White won his first of eight gold Gloves in ’77 and made his first of five All-Star appearances in ’78; McRae became one of the first star designated hitters; and Leonard developed into a Cy Young contender and staff workhorse. (Busby, alas, was never the same after becoming the first active pitcher to undergo rotator cuff surgery in 1976.)

Unfortunately, the Royals lost three straight ALCS to the Yankees, the first two of which took place with Martin — who got himself fired in Texas so as to make himself available to the Yankees — at the helm and were decided in the ninth inning of winner-take-all Game 5s. They lost in 1976 when closer Mark Littell served up a walk-off home run to Chris Chambliss, and in ’77 after Herzog benched Mayberry, who had shown up late and in no condition to play, then dropped a pop-up that led to an unearned run in a Game 4 defeat. “The man couldn’t even talk, and I knew what was wrong… It must have been a hell of a party,” Herzog wrote in The White Rat, his 1987 memoir. In Game 5, Herzog started John Wathan at first base over the protests of other players, who believed Mayberry still gave the team the best chance to win; Wathan and reserve Pete LaCock went hitless, and then a faltering Leonard, Larry Gura, and Littell surrendered three runs in the ninth in Game 5, turning a 3-2 lead into a 5-3 defeat.

Blaming Mayberry — who after finishing as runner-up in the 1975 AL MVP voting had turned in two below-average seasons — for the defeat, that winter Herzog demanded the first baseman be traded. He was eventually sold to the Blue Jays just before the 1978 season opened in order to make room for phenom Clint Hurdle. With Hurdle and fellow rookies Willie Wilson, a left fielder, and shortstop U L Washington getting regular play, the Royals outlasted the Angels and Rangers in a three-way race, but fell to the Yankees in a four-game ALCS.

The Royals declined to 85 wins in 1979 as Herzog clashed with Burke over personnel moves and owner Ewing Kauffman over never having been offered more than a one-year contract. Meanwhile, some veterans resented Herzog’s handling of the Mayberry situation. Fired after the season ended, Herzog criticized Burke for not doing so sooner as a means of sparking the team.

Herzog started the 1980 season at home. At one point he was rumored to be replacing Red Sox manager Don Zimmer, but no call came until the 18-33 Cardinals fired manager Ken Boyer on June 8. Herzog signed a contract through 1982 and said at his introductory presser, “I’m gonna take this dang team and run it like I think it should be run.” The Cardinals went 38-35 on his watch before Herzog was promoted to GM, replacing John Claiborne, with Red Schoendienst stepping into the dugout on an interim basis. “I can do more for the Cardinals as GM than as field manager,” said Herzog of the promotion.

Though they had the league’s most potent offense in 1980, the Cardinals were awful at run prevention, and not fast enough for Herzog’s tastes given Busch Stadium’s turf and cavernous dimensions (414 feet to center field, 330 down the lines). In his two winters as GM, he would reshape the roster to suit his preferences, and thereafter push the team’s GMs in that direction. His clubs weren’t always successful, particularly on the pitching side (they were perennially near the bottom in strikeout rate), but his offenses were dynamic and entertaining — and, as Joe Sheehan pointed out in his newsletter tribute to Herzog, driven by high on-base percentages, which weren’t appreciated in that era the way they are today.

Cardinals NL Rankings 1980–90
Year W L Finish RS/G RA/G HR SB BA OBP SLG OPS+ Def Eff
1980* 74 88 4 1 11 8 9 1 1 1 2 5
1981 59 43 1 2 6 10 7 3 2 3 4 4
1982 92 70 1 5 1 12 1 2 1 8 6 2
1983 79 83 4 5 10 12 1 2 2 4 2 7
1984 84 78 3 6 6 12 1 8 6 11 8 7
1985 101 61 1 1 2 11 1 1 1 6 3 1
1986 79 82 3 12 3 12 1 12 12 12 12 2
1987 95 67 1 2 4 12 1 6 1 9 10 8
1988 76 86 5 11 9 12 1 4 6 12 11 9
1989 86 76 3 10 4 12 3 2 1 7 8 2
1990** 70 92 6 11 8 12 2 7 8 11 11 9
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Yellow = won NL East title. * = Herzog managed 73 games. ** = Herzog managed 90 games.

Also underappreciated was Herzog’s successful pursuit of the platoon advantage. He generally had at least four switch-hitters in the lineup, with five in 1985 and sometimes six in ’87. Via Baseball Reference, his offenses (including the Royals and Rangers) had the platoon advantage 68.7% of the time during his career, the highest of anybody with at least 600 games managed during the 1973–90 window (Gene Mauch and Davey Johnson both had about 65%). The major league average over that span was 58.7%, putting Herzog at 119 in Platoon%+ — a stat B-Ref’s Adam Darowski and Kenny Jackelen helped to realize for this nugget (thanks, gents).

At the December 1980 Winter Meetings, Herzog went on a legendary spree. On December 7, he signed free agent catcher Darrell Porter, who had bolstered the Royals during his Kansas City tenure by making two All-Star teams (plus a third in 1980). On December 8, he and McKeon — “Trader Jack,” now the Padres’ GM — swung an 11-player deal in which the Cardinals acquired ace reliever Rollie Fingers and catcher/first baseman Gene Tenace. On December 9, he traded Leon Durham, Ken Reitz, and a player to be named later to the Cubs in exchange for another ace reliever, Bruce Sutter. Dealing from strength, he flipped Fingers to the Brewers along with pitcher Pete Vuckovich and catcher Ted Simmons in exchange for a four-player package that included pitcher Dave LaPoint. He’d clashed with Simmons, believing he could no longer control the running game and would serve the team better at first base, though that would have meant moving three-time Gold Glove winner Keith Hernandez to the outfield.

Not all of those deals panned out; the Milwaukee one gave the Brewers both the 1981 and ’82 AL Cy Young winners in Fingers and Vuckovich, with LaPoint the only one of the four newcomers whose long-term contribution with St. Louis was substantial. But the Cardinals were a better team for his efforts. With Herzog returning to the dugout in a dual manager/GM role, they compiled the NL East’s best record in 1981 at 59-43, but in the strike-torn season missed the playoffs by finishing second in both the pre- and post-strike halves. Despite a 7-2 closing run in the second half, they wound up half a game (yes) behind the Expos.

Herzog not only remained active that offseason but had even more success with his trades. In October he dealt reliever Bob Sykes to the Yankees for switch-hitting minor league outfielder Willie McGee. Sykes never pitched in the majors again while McGee would go on to win two batting titles and an MVP award for St. Louis. In November Herzog traded away pitchers Silvio Martinez and Lary Sorensen (from the Brewers trade) in a three-team deal that yielded outfielder Lonnie Smith. At the Winter Meetings, he traded outfielder Sixto Lezcano (another from the Brewers deal) and two-time All-Star shortstop Garry Templeton to McKeon’s Padres as part of a six-player deal that brought All-Star shortstop Ozzie Smith to the Cardinals. Though still just 25 years old, Templeton had worn out his welcome in St. Louis; Herzog suspended him without pay for three weeks after he gave hometown fans the finger and grabbed his crotch after they booed him for not running out a dropped third strike. Earlier, Templeton had complained about being too tired to play day games after night games. The suspension was lifted after Templeton agreed to see a psychiatrist, was diagnosed with depression, and was given medication, but the bridge was burnt. “Templeton doesn’t want to play in St. Louis, he doesn’t want to play on artificial turf, he doesn’t want to play in Montreal, he doesn’t want to play in Houston, he doesn’t want to play in the rain,” Herzog said. “The other 80 games, he’s all right.” Templeton made one more All-Star team in a career that lasted another decade, while Smith made 14 as a Cardinal, becoming a St. Louis icon and a Hall of Famer.

Herzog stepped down as GM just as the 1982 season began, but the team he built flourished, winning 92 games and the NL East, their first success since the advent of division play in 1969. The offense’s 67 homers ranked last in the NL, with only Porter and George Hendrick reaching double digits, but their 200 steals led the league; eight players reached double digits, with Lonnie Smith’s 68 propelling him to a second-place finish in the NL MVP voting. Ozzie Smith made his second All-Star team, McGee finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year race, and Sutter third in the NL Cy Young race. In their first playoff appearance since 1968, the team swept the Braves in the NLCS, then beat the Brewers — featuring Vuckovich and Simmons (Fingers was injured and missed the series) — in a seven-game World Series. Porter became the second player to win both LCS and World Series MVP honors in the same season.

The Cardinals receded to 79 wins in 1983. On June 15, GM Joe McDonald traded Hernandez to the Mets for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. As a baseball move, this one was lopsided in favor of New York, but Herzog and Hernandez hadn’t gotten along, and the manager was already aware of the first baseman’s cocaine usage. During the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials, Hernandez confessed that he used cocaine with teammates Joaquin Andujar, Lonnie Smith (who voluntarily entered rehab in mid-1983), and Sorenson. That year, Herzog estimated that 11 of his Cardinals players were “heavy users” in the early ’80s and said he believed cocaine had cost him a championship with the Royals.

After a mediocre 1984, the Cardinals won 101 games in ’85 despite having just one player reach 20 homers: first baseman Jack Clark, acquired from the Giants in February in exchange for LaPoint, outfielder David Green (another player from the Brewers deal), and two other players. The team’s 87 homers ranked second to last in the NL, but St. Louis again led with 314 steals, with rookie left fielder Vince Coleman stealing an NL-high 110; the Cardinals led in scoring as well while ranking second in run prevention. McGee won the NL batting title and MVP honors, hitting .353/.384/.503 (147 OPS+) with 18 triples and 56 steals, while Andujar and newly acquired lefty John Tudor each notched 21 wins and respectively placed fourth and second in the Cy Young voting behind Dwight Gooden.

The 1985 season marked the first in which the two championship series were expanded from best-of-five to best-of-seven. Facing the Dodgers, the Cardinals lost the first two games in Los Angeles, and lost Coleman to a fractured left leg in a bizarre mishap with Busch Stadium’s automatic tarp. St. Louis nonetheless stormed back to win in six thanks to some late-inning heroics. In Game 5, switch-hitting Ozzie Smith — who to that point had never homered off a righty in over 3,000 career plate appearances — hit a walk-off solo homer off Dodgers closer Tom Niedenfuer to push the Cardinals to a three-games-to-two lead. In Game 6 back in L.A., the Dodgers carried a 5-4 lead into the ninth, but the Cardinals put two on base against Niedenfuer. With two outs and runners on second and third, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda bypassed the opportunity to intentionally walk the right-handed Clark (.281/.393/.502, 149 OPS+ that year) and summon a lefty to face lefty Andy Van Slyke (.259/.335/.439, 116 OPS+) or force Herzog to go to his bench to gain the platoon advantage. Instead, Niedenfuer faced Clark, who drilled his first pitch for a three-run homer that proved decisive.

The so-called “I-70” World Series pitted the Cardinals against the Royals, now managed by Dick Howser and still featuring Brett, White, Wilson, McRae, and Dan Quisenberry in prominent roles as well as young starters Bret Saberhagen and Danny Jackson. The Cardinals won the first two games on the road, and after losing Game 3, took Game 4 as well, with Tudor notching his second victory of the series. Jackson’s five-hitter in Game 5 staved off elimination and sent the series back to Kansas City. With the Cardinals’ Danny Cox and the Royals’ Charlie Leibrandt both pitching masterfully, Game 6 remained scoreless until the eighth, when St. Louis scratched out a run on two singles and a walk. The Cardinals took that lead into the bottom of the ninth when all hell broke loose.

Pinch-hitter Jorge Orta led off by hitting a slow bouncer to the right side of the infield, where a charging Clark fielded the ball cleanly and threw to pitcher Todd Worrell covering first. The throw beat Orta, who tripped over the base, but umpire Don Denkinger called him safe. Replays showed he was out, but with no challenge system in place, Herzog argued to no avail.

Another single, a forceout at third, a passed ball, and an intentional walk loaded the bases, and then ex-Cardinal Dane Iorg singled home pinch-runner Onix Concepcion with the winning run, sending the series to Game 7. Realizing Denkinger would work the plate in the final game, Herzog sounded beaten already, saying beforehand, “We got about as much chance of winning as a monkey.” Pitching on three days of rest for the fourth time that month, Tudor was chased in the third inning after allowing five runs, and both Herzog and Andujar were ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Saberhagen went the distance for a five-hit shutout and an 11-0 win.

Disliking the abuse Denkinger took for missing the call, Herzog later made his peace with the umpire. In 2005, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Cardinals’ pennant, he invited Denkinger to speak at a fundraiser benefitting his charitable foundation.

With Clark limited to 65 games due to a torn ligament in his right thumb, the Cardinals slipped to 79-82 in 1986 thanks to an offense that was the NL’s worst. Both he and the team came back strong in 1987 as he hit 35 homers and led the NL in walks, OBP, SLG, and OPS+, but he severely sprained his right ankle on September 9 and was limited to a few pinch-hitting appearances thereafter. The Cardinals won 95 games and the NL East, then overcame a three-games-to-two deficit to defeat the Giants in a seven-game NLCS, but Clark pinch-hit once and was left off the roster for the World Series against the Twins.

Under Tom Kelly in his first full season as manager, the Twins had gone just 85-77 before upsetting the 98-win Tigers in the ALCS, but in addition to not having to face Clark, the Twins had one other advantage: the Metrodome, where they had gone 56-25 as their fans’ high-decibel cheering unnerved opponents, and where they would play four of the series’ seven games, since home field advantage alternated between leagues rather than depending upon won-loss records. The home team won every game of the series, with the Twins outscoring the Cardinals 33-12 at the Metrodome — and only Game 7 was close. After the Cardinals scored two runs off Frank Viola in the second inning, the Twins chipped away, going ahead for good in the sixth and winning 4-2.

That was the Cardinals’ last gasp at greatness under Herzog. For the third time during his tenure, they followed a pennant with a sub-.500 season, this time 76-86 and a fifth-place finish, their worst since 1978. They rebounded to 86 wins in 1989, but when the team started the ’90 season 33-47, a disgusted Herzog resigned.

He never managed again. Long friendly with Angels owners Gene and Jackie Autry, he returned to Anaheim as senior vice president and director of player personnel in September 1991. But while he thought he’d have complete control of baseball operations, he instead wound up in a power struggle with Dan O’Brien, the senior VP of baseball operations. It was an odd situation, particularly with Herzog given license to work primarily from his home in suburban St. Louis. The Angels went 72-90 in 1992, then 71-91 in ’93. In mid-September 1993, Herzog convinced the Autrys to fire O’Brien, thus consolidating his authority. But while his ability to spot talent remained intact — mainly in the form of not trading away the likes of Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, and other youngsters the Angels were developing — he was constrained by a budget cut, and had fallen behind the times in his dealing with his players and their agents, alienating them with his abrasive negotiating tactics. He resigned in mid-January 1994.

Following the 1996 season, Herzog rejected an offer to manage the Red Sox; the team instead turned to Jimy Williams.

Herzog finished his managerial career with a 1281-1125 record and a .532 winning percentage. He ranked 25th in managerial wins when he retired, which may help to explain why he wasn’t considered for Cooperstown until the 2010 Veterans Committee Managers and Umpires ballot. Up for election alongside contemporaries Johnson, Kelly, Martin, and Mauch as well as older candidates, and with both Lasorda and Dick Williams sitting on the committee, he received 14 of 16 votes. Umpire Doug Harvey, who received 15, was elected as well.

In the end, Herzog’s legacy went well beyond wins and losses. In the era of big hair and plastic grass, his teams were of their time, but like Stengel and contemporary Earl Weaver, he was well ahead of the curve, masterful in assimilating information and deploying it to his advantage. Long before the age of analytics, his hand-colored defensive charts were the stuff of legend. He understood his players’ strengths and how to place them in positions to succeed, the most timeless of qualities when it comes to managing a ballclub.


It’s Time for the Pirates To Call up Paul Skenes

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Pitching for Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday, Paul Skenes extended his streak of scoreless innings to 12 2/3 to start the season. In his fourth start, Skenes whiffed eight of the 14 batters he faced against the St. Paul Saints, Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate.

Skenes is the best pitching prospect according to our prospect rankings, so I doubt I have to use too much of this space to convince you that Skenes is an impressive talent. Across nine professional starts since being the first pick in the 2023 draft, he has struck out an eye-popping 37 batters in 19 1/3 innings, just under half of all batters he’s faced. In addition to those strikeouts, he’s allowed just four walks – this is not a case of a flamethrower with only a casual acquaintance with the strike zone – and has yet to allow a professional homer. He ranked only fifth among pitching prospects in the ZiPS Top 100, which may not sound quite as electrifying, but given that ZiPS is designed to be suspicious of players with almost no professional experience, it was high praise to consider him that highly after he’d recorded only 6 2/3 innings as a professional before 2024.

Skenes throws hard, and entering Thursday’s game, he had the highest average fastball velocity of any Triple-A pitcher.

Triple-A Fastball Velocity Leaders, Entering 4/18
Player Average Fastball (mph)
1 Paul Skenes 100.1
2 Justin Martinez 100.1
3 Michel Otanez 98.4
4 Trevor Megill 98.1
5 Ricky Karcher 97.7
6 McKinley Moore 97.7
7 Jordan Holloway 97.5
8 Adrian Morejon 97.5
9 Orion Kerkering 97.1
10 Edward Cabrera 96.9
11 Daniel Palencia 96.8
12 Tony Santillan 96.8
13 Elvis Alvarado 96.7
14 Steven Cruz 96.6
15 Jeremiah Estrada 96.5
16 Connor Phillips 96.4
17 Manuel Rodríguez 96.4
18 Randy Rodríguez 96.4
19 Yerry Rodríguez 96.3
20 Brett de Geus 96.2

Suffice it to say, Thursday didn’t do anything to change where Skenes lands on this ever-so-slightly dated ranking, as his 41 fastballs against St. Paul averaged 100.5 mph. His slowest fastball traveled at 99.1 mph, enough that it would be the offering of a lifetime for many pitchers. Adding in his most recent start, his contact rate on those fastballs is the third lowest in Triple-A (min. 30 fastballs), behind only Edwin Uceta and Mason Englert.

Velocity, of course, doesn’t mean much if your secondary pitches aren’t good. But Skenes is no slouch here, either.

Triple-A Contact Leaders, Non-Fastballs
Pitcher Whiffs Swings Contact Launch Angle
1 Riley Thompson 18 30 40.0% 23.8
2 Spencer Arrighetti 19 33 42.4% 10.3
3 Paul Skenes 24 44 45.5% -5.7
4 Grant Holmes 20 37 45.9% 9.0
5 Touki Toussaint 17 33 48.5% -5.4
6 Carson Whisenhunt 22 43 48.8% 15.1
7 Brooks Kriske 25 50 50.0% 17.6
8 Keider Montero 22 44 50.0% 14.1
9 Konnor Pilkington 19 38 50.0% 11.4
10 Dom Hamel 19 38 50.0% 11.9
11 Jesus Tinoco 16 32 50.0% 24.6
12 Josh Walker 17 35 51.4% 3.4
13 Nick Nastrini 20 42 52.4% 5.0
14 Walter Pennington 26 55 52.7% 6.4
15 Allan Winans 17 36 52.8% 15.7
16 Mason Englert 23 49 53.1% 10.9
17 Beau Brieske 14 30 53.3% 8.0
18 Dakota Chalmers 14 30 53.3% 15.6
19 Hans Crouse 14 30 53.3% 8.6
20 Ken Giles 14 30 53.3% 23.7

The table above includes his seven whiffs on the 10 secondary pitches he threw Thursday. Clearly, Skenes isn’t a pitcher using velocity to try to make up for lackluster secondary offerings. He knows how to miss bats just as well with chicanery as he does with brute force. He’s so thoroughly dominated hitters that he’s been heavily using just his fastball, changeup, and slider; he’s thrown one curveball in total over his last two starts (against Toledo on April 12), and on Thursday, he threw his “splinker” (splitter-sinker) twice against St. Paul. When Skenes isn’t leaving batters futilely swinging at gaseous oxygen and nitrogen, they’ve generally been hitting those pitches into the ground, not the stands.

Back before the season, ZiPS already saw Skenes as a league-average starter in 2024 despite almost no professional experience. For his four starts in 2024, ZiPS translates those numbers as one homer, three walks, and 20 strikeouts in 12 innings, for an ERA of 2.72. Add in that and the Statcast numbers that stabilize very quickly and Skenes’ ZiPS projections are now aligned with his Steamer ones.

ZiPS Projection – Paul Skenes
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2024 5 6 3.94 28 28 130.3 116 57 15 46 138 108 2.3
2025 5 6 3.82 29 29 134.3 117 57 15 43 139 111 2.5
2026 6 5 3.75 30 30 144.0 124 60 15 43 145 113 2.7
2027 6 6 3.72 32 32 147.7 126 61 15 41 145 114 2.8
2028 6 6 3.78 32 32 150.0 129 63 16 40 144 112 2.9
2029 6 6 3.80 33 33 156.3 135 66 17 41 148 111 2.9

In terms of run prevention, Skenes’ projection for the rest of this season is better than the three top members of Pittsburgh’s rotation, Martín Pérez, Mitch Keller, and Jared Jones. And that sunny optimism comes from a mean ol’ projection system, which doesn’t have the ability to get a shiver down its transistors when it sees Skenes exile batters like they’re Bruce Banner walking away to sad piano music.

Now, even without looking at this through the cynical lens of service time shenanigans, you can understand why the Pirates are being conservative with Skenes, though you certainly don’t have to agree with what they’re doing. As noted, Skenes doesn’t have a lot of professional experience and they are trying to keep his workload down. He throws the ball ridiculously hard, and extreme velocity does come with the risk of elbow damage and, therefore, Tommy John surgery. But that risk will be there at whatever level he’s throwing, and the whole purpose of giving a pitcher minor league experience is for him to learn how to get big league hitters out. I’m a believer in the idea that you have to challenge a prospect, and the only players who can challenge Skenes at this point are in the majors.

Besides, the Pirates can still manage Skenes’ workload in the majors. They can continue to give him three-inning appearances and ramp him up gradually with some creativity. Let him start and throw those three-inning specials or tandem starts or just have him pitch three or four innings in relief when the opportunity arises. Even if they’re not confident enough in his durability to start him, Skenes can certainly throw quality bullpen innings and reduce the workload of the rest of the ‘pen. Earl Weaver, my favorite manager ever both for objective and subjective reasons (hey, I’m from Baltimore), was certainly quite happy to break starters in as relievers for a while. Jim Palmer, Doyle Alexander, Scott McGregor, Dennis Martinez, and Mike Flanagan all spent good chunks of time as relievers before Weaver put them into the rotation.

[Note: As my colleague Jay Jaffe just reminded me, Weaver wasn’t manager until ’68, so Palmer was Hank Bauer, not Weaver -DS]

This becomes even more of an imperative when you consider where the Pirates are in the standings. If they were playing like the White Sox, maybe calling up Skenes in a furious attempt to avoid losing 110 games wouldn’t be worth upsetting the apple cart. The Pirates may have cooled down since their torrid start, but at 11-8, they are just a game out of first place in the NL Central. ZiPS currently projects the Pirates to have a 10.3% chance of winning the division and a 23.3% chance of making the postseason. If Skenes throws 100 innings in the majors this year, rather than the 60 that ZiPS currently projects when doing its season simulations, Pittsburgh’s odds to win the division climb to 14.2% and its probability to snag a playoff berth jumps to 28.9%. In a tight NL Central race, with all five teams having a plausible shot at winning the division, every game truly matters.

For years, the Pirates have been sacrificing the present to build for the future, so they shouldn’t sacrifice that future to play for a premature present. That said, because Skenes is clearly ready to face big league hitters, there’s no point in keeping him in the minors. It’s time for the Pirates to promote him and make their future the present.


If You Want To Throw Heat, Get it Out of the Kitchen

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Reid Detmers, right?

On Wednesday evening, the Angels’ 24-year-old lefty had arguably his worst start of the season so far: 5 1/3 innings against the Rays, with seven hits and two runs (one earned) allowed, and only four strikeouts. Worst start of the season so far. One earned run.

After Wednesday night’s action, Detmers led all qualified major league starters in FIP, at 1.61, and shared the lead in pitching WAR. His 1.19 ERA was seventh in the majors. And his success has come against reasonable competition; in four starts, all Angels wins, he’s faced the Rays, the Red Sox (twice), and the Orioles. That first start in Baltimore came in Game 3 of the Angels’ season; in Games 1 and 2, Baltimore had smeared Patrick Sandoval and Griffin Canning all over the park like mosquito viscera on a truck driver’s windshield. Detmers held the Orioles hatchlings to a single run over five innings. Read the rest of this entry »


Five Things I Liked (Or Didn’t Like) This Week, April 19

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another edition of Five Things, where I highlight some strange and amusing happenings from the last week. We’re getting into the rhythm of the season now; 20 games in, you start to get a feel for how watching your team will feel this year. Are they going to be exasperating? Do they look like a fun group? Have a few new players completely changed the vibe from last year? Are they hitting so many homers that they had to make a new dong bong homer hose?

That’s part of the fun of watching baseball, in my opinion. Playoff odds are one thing, but how you feel watching your guys get from point A to point B matters a lot more in the long run. If you’re reading this article, I’m willing to bet that you’re watching dozens of hours of baseball throughout the year – perhaps even hundreds. The playoffs for your team might last 15 hours of game time. The little things are the point, and there were some great little things this week. As always, I’d like to thank Zach Lowe, whose basketball column inspired this one in both name and content. Let’s get going.
Read the rest of this entry »


Top of the Order: The Thin Twins Lineup Can’t Hit Righties

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

Three out of every four FanGraphs and RotoGraphs staff members picked the Twins to make the playoffs, with 18 of us predicting them to win the AL Central. (Yes, I was one of them.) And who could blame us? Sure, Minnesota lost Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda from last year’s division-winning team, but the Twins would also get a full season of Chris Paddack, a revamped and improved bullpen, and — hopefully — a full year of Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, and Royce Lewis anchoring what looked like a strong lineup.

So, naturally, those plans went awry almost right away. The bullpen has been ravaged by injuries, Lewis hurt himself on Opening Day and will be out for yet another extended stretch, and Correa, who was off to a strong start after recovering from his plantar fasciitis that bugged him all of last year, is now on the IL with a strained oblique. Not helping matters is that Buxton isn’t hitting, striking out 36.1% of the time with an anemic wRC+ of 51. The injuries to Lewis and Correa (not to mention Max Kepler, though his stay looks like it’ll be for the minimum 10 days) have eroded Minnesota’s depth, and Buxton’s poor performance is emblematic of the lack of production from the rest of the lineup.

Entering Thursday, the 6-11 Twins had the league’s third-worst wRC+, at 80, and that’s with Correa’s 165 wRC+ in 44 plate appearances. Young lefties Edouard Julien (99 wRC+) and Alex Kirilloff (151 wRC+) are doing their part, which may make you think (as I did when I started researching this column) that the Twins are awfully exposed against left-handed pitching. But they’re actually doing fine (95 wRC+) against southpaws, with both of those lefties beating up on same-handed pitching, albeit in small samples. Additionally, Buxton’s struggles have not carried over to his 13 plate appearances against lefties, and Ryan Jeffers and Manuel Margot are also hammering them.

You probably know where this is heading, then. The Twins are horrible against righties (76 wRC+). In fact, the bumbling White Sox (73 wRC+) are the only team that has been worse against righties than Minnesota. Buxton has a 31 wRC+ across 48 plate appearances vs. righties, and Willi Castro’s 50 wRC+ against righties would look good only in comparison to the marks of some of his teammates and because it is significantly better than his -24 wRC+ vs. lefties. Meanwhile, Margot, Christian Vázquez, and Kepler have all been essentially useless against righty pitching, with wRC+ numbers below zero.

So, what exactly can the Twins do? It’s an uninspiring answer, but not much. Correa and Lewis won’t be back anytime soon. Buxton is going to be given every chance to swing his way out of his slump, and as long as he stays healthy, the Twins should be cautiously optimistic that he’ll turn things around. Aside from that, their best hope is that Kepler will be much more productive when he returns from his knee contusion, which may well have affected his hitting. Matt Wallner was optioned to Triple-A after starting his season terribly (2-for-25 with 17 strikeouts), and surely there’s hope that he’ll come back looking more like the guy who had a 144 wRC+ in 254 plate appearances last year. Otherwise, there won’t really be any saviors rising up from within. Austin Martin is already up in the majors, and Brooks Lee hurt his back and has yet to play a minor league game this year. The Twins will have to make due with what they have until guys get healthy or they find a way to swing a trade or two sometime this summer. In the meantime, it’s not looking great.

Meet the Mets’ Breakout Reliever

Early season leaderboards are always fun, and in just about all cases they shouldn’t be viewed as indicative of what’s to come for the remaining 90% of the season. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take note of surprising players at or near the top of them. So, who leads all relievers in strikeout percentage? The resurgent Craig Kimbrel? The hellacious Mason Miller? Nope, atop the list is Reed Garrett, who didn’t even make the Mets’ Opening Day roster. He wasn’t even one of the last cuts; he was optioned on March 15, a full two weeks before the season started. But since getting the call on April 1 he’s been nearly unhittable, with a ridiculously low wOBA allowed of .177.

Garrett, 31, put up a 7.11 ERA in 44.1 MLB innings before this year, and there wasn’t really anything that we were publicly aware of that made anyone think a breakout was coming. But it’s not hard to see where Garrett’s success has come now that we’ve got the data. He’s deemphasizing his two fastballs, throwing his four-seamer and sinker a combined 26% of the time, with his sweeper, splitter, and slider giving hitters fits.

The splitter — which he’s nearly tripled in usage since 2022 — has been especially lethal, with two-thirds of swings against the pitch coming up empty. The radically different pitch mix makes for changes that look sticky and should allow Garrett to continue his rapid ascent up the bullpen hierarchy. Once viewed as an up-and-down pitcher by virtue of having an option remaining, he looks here to stay.

Leiter Gets Lit Up in Poor Debut

Well, not every MLB debut can go swimmingly. Jack Leiter’s first game as a Ranger started off well enough, with two strikeouts in a scoreless first. But the wheels came off soon after; he allowed four runs in the second and three more in the third and his day ended after just 11 outs.

To my eye, the stuff looked just fine, with his fastball up to 98 mph and averaging 96, but he just didn’t have feel for his offspeed pitches. Hitters really weren’t fooled overall. His 28% CSW rate was right at league average, but it was only 21% on his curveball, slider, and changeup, which made up 47 of his 85 pitches.

Whether Leiter sticks around in the rotation remains to be seen. The Rangers already have six healthy starters as it is, and Cody Bradford’s IL stay should be a short one. And let’s not forget that Tyler Mahle, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom are all lurking for returns later in the season as well.


How Many Times Have MLB Players Heard “Centerfield” by John Fogerty?

Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar

There are a couple records I love so much that I don’t actually listen to them very often. I know that sounds weird, but I’m afraid of losing what makes them special. I’ve gotten sick of records before, listened to them so often that they’ve completely lost their ability to surprise me and started feeling flat. Some music is too important to risk it. I don’t ever want to live in a world where I’m not completely dumbstruck by the opening chords of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. That would be an unimaginable loss. So I only listen to it a couple times a year. I’m not a hoarder in other aspects my life, but this particular calculus seems worthwhile to me.

I tend to think a lot about the lasting power of music. I spent Sunday in a recording studio in New Jersey. To nobody’s surprise, I was the member of the band who was slowing down the mixing process to ask whether we could throw some tremolo on the lead guitar track, or turn down the reverb on the vocals in “Rat Czar.” (Technically, the song is called “Rat Czar Czar,” and it takes the form of a job posting. I wrote it when New York City announced that it was hiring a Rat Czar to eradicate the rats. I figured that the rats must also be hiring a Rat Czar Czar, whose job was to eradicate the Rat Czar.) I understand that no song is going to be perfect, but I just didn’t want to wish I could change it every time I heard it. I love live music, but to me personally, records are just that: the official record of a song. They’re forever. For that reason, I was all over it when Eric Nusbaum tweeted a question: How many times do you think the average Major League Baseball player has heard the song “Centerfield” by John Fogerty? Eric is the editor-in-chief of Seattle Met and the author of the fantastic book Stealing Home. Like a vulture, I immediately swooped in and asked Eric if I could steal his idea. Like a busy editor-in-chief of a magazine, he very graciously let me have it.

“Centerfield” is ubiquitous in baseball, and its digital handclap intro is also a ballpark staple. John Fogerty is a musical legend, the lead singer and songwriter of the iconic Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song is the title track off of his comeback 1985 solo album, and it was an immediate hit. He’s played it in center field at Dodger Stadium, and at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown (on a baseball-shaped electric guitar that was very definitely plugged into absolutely nothing). I’ve heard it at big league ballparks, and I remember hearing it over the press box speakers during regionals when I was 9 years old. “Centerfield” has been able to stick around for so long because it walks a very fine line. It’s kitschy, but not tiresome. It’s catchy, but it’s not gouge-your-eyes-out-because-that’s-the-only-way-it’ll-ever-leave-your-head catchy. It’s too innocuous to reach the heights of CCR’s best work, but that also makes it very appropriate for a public setting. For the most part, people don’t groan when they hear it; if they notice it at all, they just get nostalgic for the ballpark.

Naturally, there’s no actual way to answer this question precisely. It’s a Fermi problem, which means that the best we can do is make a good estimate. As Caroline Chen wrote in The New York Times Magazine, “The goal here isn’t knowing the exact number but rather being able to estimate the right order of magnitude using nothing but common sense.” Now that I’ve stolen the question from Eric, it’s time to try solving it. As I was finishing this article up yesterday, I circled back with Eric and asked him if he had a guess: he went with 600. JJ Cooper, editor-in-chief of Baseball America, made an extremely thoughtful estimate and came up with 1,000, but that was only for American-born players.

My estimate is made up of a bunch of sub-estimates. I tried to approximate how many games the average player spent at each level of baseball, from little league up to the majors. Then I estimated what percentage of games the song was actually played in. I started with data from our major and minor league leaderboards and pulled in data from various sources along the way. I also consulted with some of my more knowledgeable colleagues in order to come up with estimates for how often the song is played at each level of baseball. What follows are just my best guesses. I encourage you to use the comments section at the bottom to quibble with my estimates, to make your own, or just to get in some savage burns about my musical taste, if that happens to be your thing.

Major Leagues

In 2023, 1,457 players saw time in the majors. According to my rough calculations, they had to that point averaged 4.83 big league seasons. The average team plays 28.13 spring training games, 162 regular season games, and 1.25 playoff games, for a total of 191.38. I’m not knocking off any games to account for the short 2020 season, because this is a theoretical exercise, and because I’m so sick of factoring that into all my non-theoretical research.

“Centerfield” is played before every game in both Seattle and Atlanta. That represents 6.67% of all regular season games, and it’s also the reason Eric thought to ask this question in the first place. He brought his kids to a Mariners game, and the song came on while the Guardians were taking batting practice. Although it’s not an every-game staple in the other 28 parks, it definitely gets played a fair amount of the time, whether during batting practice, between innings, or in other mid-game pauses. I’ll estimate that it’s played at 12% of all big league games.

4.83 seasons x 191.38 games x 12% of games = 110.9

Minor Leagues

I calculated 4.45 seasons in the minors for the average player. The length of the minor league seasons varies by level, but between spring training, the regular season, playoffs, and fall leagues, I estimate 80 games per player each year.

I also estimate that “Centerfield” gets played a lot more often in the minors than it does in the majors. By design, the minor league experience is sillier and kitschier than the major league experience. Eric Longenhagen told me, “There are definitely affiliates in the minors who play that song every night, and their guys hear it 80 times a year. It’s played in every game at Scottsdale Stadium during Fall League.” I’m going with 40% of the time. As Eric said, “All you need is a person of a certain age on the Aux cord.”

4.45 seasons x 85 game x 40% of games = 142.4

College

According to Spotrac’s MLB college tracker, there are 566 active players who attended college, so we’ll call that 39% of all players. Nearly all MLB players who went to college played there for three years, and last year’s College World Series participants averaged 56.5 total games. We’ll bump it up to 70, because MLB-bound players were probably good enough to get invited to play in summer leagues like the Cape Cod League.

I estimate that “Centerfield” is played at 42% of college games, slightly higher than in the minors. I was going to put it at 40%, but Michael Baumann, our resident college baseball expert, thought the number was likely a bit higher. Baumann also had a surprisingly generous opinion of the song. He acknowledged that he’s heard it too many times and that it’s one of Fogerty’s minor works — it ain’t no “Fortunate Son” — but it doesn’t drive him up the wall either. “Which is no small feat for a song about sports,” he said. “Given the choice between spending eternity in a hell in which ‘Centerfield’ is the only music and listening to ‘The Hockey Song’ by Stompin’ Tom Connors even once all the way through, I’d pick the former and not think twice.” I had actually never heard of “The Hockey Song” until Baumann mentioned it, and after I finish writing this sentence, I’m going to look it up on YouTube and give it a try.

And I’m back. Holy God. I made it 12 seconds before I had to stop.

39% of players x 3 seasons x 70 games x 42% of games = 34.4

International Players

From this point on, we’re in the realm of high school and little league ball. That means we need to start drawing a distinction between American-born players and international players. I just can’t imagine that kids in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela are hearing much John Fogerty. For the last several years, MLB.com has published the percentage of international players on opening day rosters. It has stayed right around 28.5%. We’ll assume those international players heard the song twice at some point or another before arriving in the states.

28.5% of players x 2 = 0.6

High School and Travel Ball

First, we’re starting with the 71.5% of American-born players. According to Baseball America’s rankings, the top 50 high school teams averaged 32.74 games in 2023. Presumably, players who were good enough to end up as big leaguers also attended some showcases and played travel or American Legion ball, so we’ll bump it up to 52 games. We’ll also estimate 3.5 varsity seasons. After all, these are future big leaguers; most of them were probably insufferably cool four-year starters in high school.

I’m estimating that “Centerfield” is only played at 10% of high school games. Eric Nusbaum’s high school played it before every game, but most high schools either don’t have a PA at their field, don’t play music at their games, or just specifically choose not to play novelty songs from the 1980s at their games. Some of us didn’t even have a baseball field in high school.

71.5% of players x 3.5 years x 52 games x 10% = 13.0

Little Leagues

For our purposes, little league runs from ages 9 to 15, as it’s unlikely there’s themed music playing during coach-pitch games of 8-year-olds. (Note: This is for all little leagues and not just Little League, because plenty of kids play in Cal Ripken or the various other youth leagues that are not affiliated with Little League International.) For those seven years, we’ll estimate 25 games played. That’s a long little league season, but consider the fact that most future-MLB players probably made it to the all-star tournaments that can extend the season for weeks.

I’m estimating that 8% of little league games featured “Centerfield.” I’m sure that some leagues play music all the time and that “Centerfield” is a staple for them. However, in general, most little league games don’t feature music until you get to those all-star tournaments.

71.5% of players x 7 years x 25 games x 8% = 10

Everywhere Else

There are plenty of other places a player could hear the song. Those who listen to classic rock or country could hear it on the radio somewhat regularly. Besides, among the 1,500 MLB players, hasn’t there got to be just one Fogerty superfan who finds “Centerfield” at the very top of his Spotify Wrapped every season? I say there is, and for facial hair reasons, I’ll go ahead and assume that it’s Andrew Chafin. However, there’s no way there’s more than one MLB player who’s listening to this song that frequently by choice. They just hear it too often at work.

The song has also been in plenty of movies and TV shows. Most recently, it soundtracked a particularly memorable scene in Ted Lasso. I estimate the average player has encountered the song in a non-baseball context 10 times.

Some American-born players probably heard it during practices and events. They certainly heard it when they were growing up and attending professional games as a fan. Combining all of these edge cases, I estimate they’ve heard it 32.9 times.

And that’s all our variables. Here’s one last table that adds up all our estimates.

The Final Tally
Level Years % of Players Games % of Games Total
MLB 4.83 100% 191.38 12% 110.9
Minor League 4.45 100% 75 40% 142.4
College 3 39% 56.5 42% 34.4
High School 3.5 72% 52 10% 13
Little Leagues 7 72% 25 8% 10.0
Games Attended as Fan 15 72% 2 20% 4.3
Various Practices and Events 72% 40 28.6
Other Media 100% 10
International Players 29% 2 0.6
Total 354.2

Well, there’s our answer. According to these estimates, the average major league player has heard “Centerfield” 354.2 times. If we just limit ourselves to American-born players, that number grows to 418.3.

I suspect that number will feel way too low for many people. If you grew up hearing this song at every single little league, high school, or big league game, your guess was probably closer to the 600 or 1,000 that Eric and JJ went with. I’m sure there are some big leaguers who have heard it that many times (not to mention Andrew Chafin, whose number might well be in the millions). But we also need to balance them out with the American-born players who rarely heard it and the international players who might not have heard it at all until they arrived in the United States.

Of course, there’s an even trickier question waiting for us: How many times do you think the average player has actively noticed that they were hearing this song? For those of us who go to the ballpark with any frequency at all, it quickly starts to blend in with the rest of the ballpark noise. For someone who spends their life at the ballpark, that probably happens much faster. I don’t even know how we would go about estimating the answer to that question, so we’re stuck with the first one. Regardless, however you feel about my estimate or about “Centerfield” itself, I’m sure we can agree on one thing: It’s a whole lot better than “The Hockey Song.”

Many thanks to Eric Nusbaum, without whom this article wouldn’t exist, and JJ Cooper, without whom it would be much worse.


Hey, These Padres Are Still Pretty Good

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Dating back to August 31, 2023, the Padres have the best record in baseball. They have the second-highest run differential in that time, trailing only the Brewers, against whom they just took two out of three on the road. To be clear, these are fun facts for the jumbotron rather than meaningful or predictive metrics. After all, the Padres of late 2023 look quite a bit different from the Padres of early 2024, and their performance from last September is doing most of the heavy lifting. Even so, it’s enough to make you stop and think, “Hey, these Padres are still pretty good!”

That’s not to say the Padres ever looked like a bad team. However, it would have been easy to write them off, at least subconsciously, after last year’s disappointing performance and the offseason that followed. The Padres ranked second in the NL in pitching WAR and third in position player WAR last season, yet they finished just 82-80. And although they were able to secure a winning record on the final day of the regular season, they certainly lost more than they gained over the winter. As their three biggest competitors in the NL West added six of our top nine free agents (and 10 of our top 21), the Padres lost their best hitter (Juan Soto), their closer (Josh Hader), their ace (Blake Snell), and three more capable arms from the rotation (Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, and Nick Martinez), all while slashing payroll by nearly $90 million. Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/18/24

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: TIMEFORADANCHAT AH CN ADAR OF EMIT

12:01
the person who asks the lunch question: what’s for lunch?

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Some stir-fried chicken I made on Tuesday.

12:01
v2micca: Braves appear to be testing their depth early.  Are their losses going to be enough to give Philly a reasonable window of opportunity to take the division?

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: I’m writing on this for tomorrow!

12:03
Angels firstbaseman: Nolan schanuel could obviously use some work at AAA but why don’t they call up a gold glove first base man named evan white to replace him?

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