Sunday Notes: José Cruz Sr. is in The Hall of Very Good (and Throws a Great BP)

José Cruz Sr. had an outstanding career. Playing for three teams — most notably the Houston Astros — from 1970-1988, the Puerto Rico-born outfielder logged 2,251 hits while putting up a 119 wRC+ and 50.8 WAR. As his grandson, Detroit Tigers infield prospect Trei Cruz put it, the family patriarch may not be a Hall of Famer, but he is in “The Hall of Very Good.”

Moreover, the father of 1997-2008 big-leaguer José Cruz Jr. is a 74-year-old in a younger man’s body.

“He has more energy than anybody I’ve ever met in my life,” explained Trei, who calls Houston home and is No. 14 on our 2022 Tigers Top Prospect list. “I actually work with him, every single day. He throws BP for hours, and it’s some of the best left-handed BP you’ll ever see. He’s got a lot of life in his arm — he’ll really chuck it in there — and along with gas he’ll mix in sliders and changeups. Guys actually come to hit with me, because his BP is so good. He’s amazing, man. I don’t know how he does it.”

The smooth left-handed-stroke that produced 650 extra-base hits is still there, as well. The septuagenarian may not be able to catch up to mid-90s heat anymore, but he hasn’t forgotten what to do with a bat in his hands. According to Trei, his abuelo isn’t shy about standing in the box when the situation calls for it.

“If a guy is hitting and he sees something he doesn’t like, he’ll get in there and show him how he wants it done,” said the 2020 third-round pick out of Rice University. “He’ll line balls through the middle. Every time. He basically hits it where he wants to hit it. His set-up, his finish, his leg kick; they’re the exact same from when he played. It’s funny, and at the same time, impressive. He’s still young, in his mind especially.”

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Rhett Wiseman was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and the 27-year-old free agent was refreshingly frank when discussing, among other things, the longstanding challenges that come with playing in the minor leagues. Originally featured here at FanGraphs in 2012 when he was a high school senior preparing for that year’s amateur draft, Wiseman earned a business degree at Vanderbilt University before signing with the Washington Nations in 2015.

“For guys that sign in the first couple of rounds [and] get signing bonuses that are good, that doesn’t matter as much,” Wiseman said on the podcast. “But for the guys who are later-round signs, middle-round signs, and then are making $1,500 a month, I mean, that’s criminal. How is that possible? How are we in a situation where we’re at the field for literally 10 hours a day, and [when] you break that down hourly, it’s dollars an hour? It’s insane. You have no leverage. You can’t get out of the contract. Name me another profession, another job, where you’re signed into a contract for seven years, with no pay escalation, where you can’t leave. You have virtually no rights.”

Wiseman went on to laud the work being done by groups like Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which is led by executive director Harry Marino and has Cory Gearrin and Collin McHugh on its 10-member board. But even though the needle has begun moving in the right direction, “change is happening at a snail’s pace.”

I asked the business-savvy, and unabashedly outspoken, outfielder if he foresees the MLBPA working harder to support players in the minor leagues.

“I definitely believe that they should, but let’s call a spade a spade,” responded Wiseman. “The reality is, they don’t care; they don’t care about minor leaguers. Look, the big leagues are in a lockout right now right. They have so much on their plate as it is. Players in the major leagues are being taken advantage of by owners right now. I don’t blame the Players Association for not having a larger role in minor league rights, because the reality is, as bad as minor league players get screwed, there are some serious issues with with the major leagues, too.

“As great as it would be for the [MLBPA] to really stick their neck out for the minor league guys, the reality is, the minor league players need a union,” continued Wiseman. “Minor league rights will never be more important to a major league union than major league rights… The only way that will ever change is if Minor League Baseball has its own players’ union.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Peanuts Lowrey went 4 for 9 against Bubba Church.

José Iglesias is 7 for 12 against Marco Gonzales.

Harry Lord went 9 for 18 against Kid Speer.

Jesus Alou went 24 for 55 against Steve Carlton.

Dave Pope went 6 for 10 against Early Wynn.

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Who was the better hitter, Jason Giambi or Todd Helton? To the majority of people who weighed in on my recent Twitter poll, the answer was Helton. The sweet-swinging former Colorado Rockies first baseman received 75.7% of the vote, while Giambi garnered just 24.3%.

Was Helton — currently tracking at 57.4% in known Hall of Fame ballots — indeed a better hitter than Giambi, who was summarily bounced off the ballot two years ago in his lone year of eligibility? If you factor PEDs into the equation, which BBWAA voters certainly did, the answer is clearly Helton. But what if you don’t? Going solely by the numbers, was Giambi actually more productive?

Let’s take a snapshot look, keeping in mind that Giambi played 2,260 games, Helton in 2,247 games.

Giambi: .394 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 2,010 hits, 440 home runs.
Helton: .405 wOBA, 132 wRC+, 2,519 hits, 369 home runs.

Giambi was a bona fide slugger with a .399 OBP. Helton was an all-around hitter — yes, he also had pop — who hit for a higher average and put up a .414 OBP.

As Jay Jaffe wrote in January 2020, Giambi is a former MVP with a higher JAWS peak score than Hall of Fame first basemen Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Bill Terry, and Jim Thome. That’s pretty darn impressive (Giambi’s BALCO connection, not so much).

My inclination is to say that Helton, who got my Hall of Fame vote this year, was the better hitter. Even so, sans steroid stains it’s a fairly close call.

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There was no poll, but this comp might raise a few eyebrows. If nothing else, it serves as a great lesson in what-might-have-been.

Tim Lincecum: 110-89, 3.74 ERA, 1,682 innings, 27.5 WAR.
Alex Fernandez: 107-87, 3.74 ERA, 1,760 innings, 28.5 WAR.

Lincecum, who made four All-Star teams and won back-to-back Cy Young Awards with the San Francisco Giants, has received a smattering of votes in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility. He’ll likely fall off the ballot, which is at once disappointing and understandable. As electric as Lincecum was, his candle shone brightly for but a short period of time.

Fernandez received no votes in his lone year on the ballot, and not only did the erstwhile Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins right-hander never win a major award, he was never named an All-Star. He did win a World Series ring with his hometown Marlins, but even that was less than it could have been. Fernandez led the team in wins that year, but wasn’t able to pitch in the Fall Classic due to a torn rotator cuff. A shooting star through age 27, he was never the same after the injury.

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A quiz:

Five of the seven players to have recorded 250 or more hits in a single big-league season are in the Hall of Fame. Ichiro Suzuki, a likely future inductee, is one of the two who is not in the Hall of Fame. Who is the other?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Longtime Milwaukee Brewers beat reporter Tom Haudricourt announced this week that he’ll be retiring prior to the start of the 2022 season. Haudricourt has covered the Brewers for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel since 1985.

John Stuper announced that he will return for a 30th and final season as the head baseball coach at Yale University. The 64-year-old former St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds right-hander is the winningest coach in Bulldogs history.

Royce Ring has joined the KBO’s Lotte Giants as a pitching coordinator. The 41-year-old southpaw appeared in 99 games for four MLB teams from 2005-2010 before going to coach in the New York Mets system.

Cholly Naranjo, whose MLB career comprised 17 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956, died earlier this month at age 87. Born Lázaro Ramon Gonzalo Naranjo in La Habana, Cuba, the right-hander went 1-2 with a 4.46 ERA, his lone win coming in an eight-and-two-thirds-innings relief outing against the Philadelphia Phillies.

George Gerberman, whose MLB career comprised one game with the Chicago Cubs in 1962, died earlier this month at age 79. A right-hander from El Campo, Texas, Gerberman ceded a lone run in five-and-a-third innings against the New York Mets. He got a no-decision.

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The answer to the quiz is Lefty O’Doul, who had 254 hits with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1929.

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An interview with 23-year-old right-hander Ryne Nelson augmented our 2022 Texas Rangers Top Prospects list earlier this week. Left on the cutting room floor from my conversation with the club’s highest-rated pitching prospect were his thoughts on the top position-player prospect in the Texas Rangers system. Asked about the toughest hitters he faced this season, Nelson name-checked Josh Jung.

“He’s a big dude,” Nelson said of the 23-year-old third baseman, whom Texas drafted eighth-overall in 2019 out of Texas Tech. “But he’s not trying to hit a bomb off of you every time. Those guys can be pretty easy to pick apart and find holes, but Jung isn’t like that. He’s a very consistent, solid hitter who can hit off-speed just as good as he can hit fas balls. He doesn’t really have a whole lot of holes. If you beat him, he’s probably hitting a single off of you.”

Jung will be featured in our Talks Hitting series in the near future.

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This week’s passing of Michael Lee Aday, a.k.a. Meat Loaf, was newsworthy for baseball fans as well as music fans. As most people reading this column probably know, Meat Loaf’s 1977 hit single “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” not only featured baseball-themed double entendre, it included play-by-play by New York Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto.

An all-time-great baseball song was penned by another big-league broadcaster. Ernie Harwell co-wrote Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry) which featured Detroit Tigers pitcher Bill Slayback on vocals, and was released as a single in 1973. Slayback is credited with writing the music, Harwell the lyrics.

Inexplicably not on Youtube, Slayback’s song includes the line “Move over Babe, Hank’s hit another; he’ll break that 714.” If you can find a recording, it’s well worth the listen.

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Perusing the roster of the 1972 Detroit Tigers on Thursday night (this is a good example of how I entertain myself), I encountered a handful of names that barely rang a bell. Checking out their careers, I subsequently discovered that at least four of the players never appeared in a big-league game in any other season. That got me wondering: which modern-era team had the largest number of that-season-only players?

I posed the question on Twitter, and shortly thereafter I received an answer. According to the always-insightful @PMoehringer, half a dozen teams have had six, while the 1951 St. Louis Browns one-upped that sextet with seven. And then there were the 1915 Philadelphia Athletics. As Moehringer informed me, that year’s Connie Mack-led club employed a full 20 players who were one-season wonders. All told, the A’s used 56 players, a record that would stand for eight decades. They finished 43-109.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At CBS Sports, Dayn Perry wrote about how 1972 stands out as one of the most important years in MLB’s history, both on and off the field.

At The Athletic (subscription required), Ken Rosenthal wrote about how vaccination decisions are impacting the coaching careers of Brian Butterfield and Tom Goodwin.

Why did the Rays’ Montreal plan get rejected? Marc Topkin answered that question at The Tampa Bay Times.

Charley O’Leary was two weeks shy of his 59th birthday when he swatted a pinch-hit single for the St. Louis Browns in 1934. Matt Monagan filled us in on the how and the why at MLB.com.

Our Esquina’s Jośe de Jesus Ortiz wrote about how MLK inspired Roberto Clemente.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Brooks Robinson (Baltimore Orioles) and Carl Yastrzemski (Boston Red Sox) played for their respective teams for 23 seasons. Edwin Jackson has played for 14 teams over 17 big-league seasons.

Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker played together for 19 seasons, the most years for two teammates in MLB history.

Nine Detroit Tigers were together for 10 seasons. Gates Brown, Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich, Dick McAuliffe, Jim Northrup, and Mickey Stanley all wore the Olde English D from 1964-1973.

Paul Molitor reached base 4,460 times in 12,167 plate appearances. Rafael Palmeiro reached base 4,460 times in 12,046 plate appearances. Molitor had 250 more strikeouts than walks. Palmeiro had five more walks than strikeouts.

Derek Jeter had a .310 BA, a .360 wOBA, and a 119 wRC+.
Jim Thome had a .276 BA, a .406 wOBA, and a 145 wRC+.

Erv Brame went 17-8 with a 4.70 ERA and an NL-best 22 complete games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1930. At the plate, Brame slashed .353/.359/.474 with three home runs in 116 at bats. The Big Rock, Tennessee native went 35-for-100 as a pitcher, and 6-for-16 as a pinch-hitter.

In 1946, Boston Braves right-hander Johnny Sain went 20-14 with a 157 ERA+. In 1950, Sain went 20-13 with a 98 ERA+.

Players born on today’s date include Sam Jethroe, who at age 33 captured National League Rookie of the Year honors with the Boston Braves. An outfielder who had starred for the Negro American League’s Cleveland Buckeyes, Jethroe totaled 18 home runs and an NL-best 35 stolen bases in each of his first two MLB seasons.

Also born on today’s date was King Lear, who went 7-12 with a 3.02 ERA over 57 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 1914-1915. Born Charles Bernard Lear in Greencastle, PA, the right-hander is one of 31 players in MLB history to matriculate at Princeton University.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

33 Comments
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sadtrombonemember
3 months ago

I’m sorry, he went by KING LEAR? Did nobody know how the story ends? Or even how he’s doing in the middle of the story?

MikeSmember
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I hope he didn’t have three daughters.

JoeyVottoIsGodmember
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

King Lear was on the Reds? The last thing this fanbase needs is yet another tragedy.

sadtrombonemember
3 months ago
Reply to  JoeyVottoIsGod

The good news is that this isn’t a “Curse of the Bambino” situation, since the Reds literally won all of their championships since he left in 1915. If you want to point the finger at a curse, point it at bad juju left over from Marge Schott. All this King Lear did was throw knuckleballs and have an incredibly unfortunate nickname.

Left of Centerfield
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Oddly his Wikipedia bio says he died after being hit by a car while his SABR bio says he died after a lengthy illness. Weird that they have two completely different accounts of his death.

dl80member
3 months ago

The Wikipedia article has no reference for their info about his death. And while the SABR bio doesn’t specifically mention where that info comes from, the author clearly researched meticulously, even using lots of newspaper articles from the 1910s. I would be inclined to trust the SABR article on that basis.

Also, he was 85, and while that doesn’t preclude being hit by a car, a natural illness seems much more likely.

sadtrombonemember
3 months ago

Could be worse. Could die of a broken heart after having two of your children betray you and watching your youngest daughter be sentenced to death.