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Academy Awards (plus others) for Baseball Movies

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(Editor’s note: another article that I essentially wrote in Feb of 2011 but never got around to publishing; this has been a good couple of weeks of cleaning out the drafts).

Right around the time of the Academy Awards in 2011, Jim Caple wrote a fun pre-2011 Oscar review of historical baseball movies from an Academy Award perspective (where he picked the 6 major Academy Awards for baseball movies).  Caple’s awards for the “major” Oscar nominations were:

  • Best Picture: “Bull Durham
  • Best Director: Barry Levinson for “The Natural
  • Best Actor: Walter Matthau from “Bad News Bears
  • Best Actress: Susan Sarandon from “Bull Durham
  • Best Supporting Actor: Vic Morrow from “Bad News Bears
  • Best Supporting Actress: Madonna from “A League of their Own

(Other interesting movie links related to baseball I’ve stored over the years: Caple subsequently wrote a Moneyball review in September of 2012, and SBNation posted a list of the Greatest Baseball Movie Lines in history around the same time.  Here’s a recent link 50 Fun facts about sports movies that includes some Baseball trivia, and here’s a list of the Top Grossing Baseball movies of all time; the leader isn’t that surprising).

Being a fan of baseball movies myself, I’d quibble with some of Caple’s winners ( you have to see his list of “nominations” to really argue) but the article is a great read.  And it got me thinking: what other “Award Categories” for Baseball movies make sense to debate?

Here’s my Categories, and here’s a great list of baseball-themed movies to choose from.  Its a bit dated but gets most of the major films you need.   I fully admit that I have not seen every single baseball-related movie in the history of Hollywood, so feel free to debate the nominees that I’ve selected below.


Best Baseball Action Depicted

Nominations: Bull Durham, Major League, The Natural, Eight Men Out, 61*

Discussion: Eight Men Out was a fantastic period piece and did a great job.  Major League was a baseball movie for sure, but wasn’t nearly as good in terms of action as Bull DurhamBilly Crystal‘s pet project 61* did a great job as well.  I loved The Natural, its old-time baseball stadium shots, and the old school uniforms.  This is a tough call, but the winner goes to the one movie among all of these that was actually directed by a former minor league ball player. Winner: Bull Durham.  (Note: I considered and didn’t use Moneyball because of the actual footage intermixed in, and the general lack of baseball action in the movie).


Best Actor as a passable Baseball Player

Nominations: Kevin Costner (any of his several baseball movies), Robert Redford (The Natural), Randy Quaid (The Rookie), Thomas Jane (61*), Charlie Sheen (Major League), Dennis Haysburt (Major League), Jon Cusack (Eight Men Out), Ray Liotta (Field of Dreams).

Discussion: I nominate Liotta only because of the fact that Shoeless Joe Jackson batted lefty and Liotta spent months learning how to hit lefty for the role, only to have the director discard his abilities.   Similarly, Jon Cusack learned how to hit lefty and several of the baseball action scenes depict him swinging and hitting baseballs for long drives.  Quaid did an admirable job as Jim Morris and is quite an athlete, but did a far superior job as a quarterback in “Any Given Sunday.”

Dennis Haysburt deserves special mention by creating his iconic character, Pedro Ceranno.  He looked realistic at the plate and running the bases.  Redford was clearly a player, talking in the past of how he fashioned his game after fellow San Diego native Ted Williams, and his baseball scenes both hitting and pitching in the Natural are fantastic.  He comes in a close third.

The award comes down to Costner and Sheen.  Sheen (per his IMDB page) was a baseball pitcher in high school and could throw mid-80s naturally.  He looks great on the mound.  But for me, the fact that Costner could legitimately switch hit, played a convincing catcher throughout Bull Durham and a pitcher in For the Love of the Game give him the award.  Winner: Kevin Costner.


Worst Actor attempting to pass as a Baseball Player

Nominations: Tommy Lee Jones (Cobb), Tom Berenger (Major League), Tom Selleck (Mr. Baseball), Gary Cooper (Lou Gehrig), Tim Robbins (Bull Durham), John Goodman (The Babe), Brendan Frasor (The Scout).  Wesley Snipes (The Fan or Major League).

Discussion: Apparently actors love to do sports movies, because they all think they can, you know, play sports well.  Every guy who used to play pick up basketball thinks they can do “White Men Can’t Jump” and every guy who played little league thinks they can be in “Bull Durham.” I list a number of guys here, all of whom struggled in some way or another to appear athletic in a baseball movie.  In all fairness, most of these guys did decently well.  Berenger was in a tough spot, appearing as a catcher who threw like a girl.  Robbins did a pretty good job and was athletic enough to pass.  But the winner is most likely Gary Cooper, who apparently was so un-athletic that they gave up having him appear to be lefty, let alone make him look like Lou Gehrig.  This topic recently appeared again in some popular baseball blogs, with the researcher doing some pretty in-depth analysis to determine if this is actually a hollywood myth.  In any case, the Winner is Gary Cooper.


Best Movie Coach/Manager

Nominations: James Gammon (Lou from “Major League“), Tom Hanks (Jimmy Dugan from “A League of their Own“), Trey Wilson (Joe Riggens from “Bull Durham“), Wilford Brimley (Pop Fisher from “The Natural“), Walter Matthau (Bad News Bears), Philip Seymore Hoffman (Art Howe in “Moneyball”).

Discussion: A great set of character actors and performances here.  Lou from Major League has some memorable lines but wasn’t much of an acting job.  From a purely acting/role preparation perspective its hard to argue with Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the legendary Jimmie Foxx.  Pop Fisher was a good ole grandfather but didn’t exactly test the range of Wilford Brimely.  Hoffman is a fantastic actor in his own right, but by all accounts Art Howe isn’t even remotely like the character he played.

Walter Matthau probably put in the best pure acting job.  But the late Trey Wilson’s fantastic portrayal of the manager of the Durham Bulls, including his interaction with Crash Davis, his shower scene speech and his fighting with the umpires were legendary.  Winner: Trey Wilson.


Best Biopic of a player

Nominations: Cobb, Pride of the Yankees, Hustle, The Babe, The Rookie

Discussion: Honestly I didn’t really care for any of these movies that much.  The most recent of them (The Rookie) was interesting but not really that well done frankly.  Dennis Quaid was just a hair too old for the role and isn’t that good of an actor.  The Babe and Cobb were the two best shots, but both were such bad movies that one cannot pick them as the winner.  I think sentimentality dictates the winner here.  Winner: Pride of the Yankees.


Best Representation of Actual Baseball Events

Nominations: Eight Men Out, Soul of the Game, 61*, The Perfect Game

Winner: Eight Men Out. Doesn’t romanticize the events, presents them relatively slant-free.  I liked 61* in this respect, but Billy Crystal didn’t have the budget he really needed to compete with the excellent period piece about the Black Sox scandal.


Best Baseball Movie to trick your Wife into seeing

Nominations: How Do You Know, Fever Pitch, Summer Catch

Winner: Fever Pitch, but do you really want to see any of these movies?


Best Baseball Movie to take your kids to see

Nominations: Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield, Little Big League, Air Bud: 7th Inning Fetch, The Sandlot

Winner: Air Bud 7th Inning Fetch.  Any movie where a dog gets to play baseball is a winner in my book.


Creepiest Baseball Movie to see

Nominations: The Bad News Bears, The Fan

Discussion: I put in the “Bad News Bears” as slightly “creepy” since our ideals of parenting, racial relations and what-not have changed so much since this movie was made.  So there are many parts that will make you cringe.

Winner: The Fan:  Robert DeNiro plays an obsessed fan of SF Giants outfielder Wesley Snipes.  This wins almost by default, since I can think of no other thriller/suspense baseball films.


Worst Baseball Movie

Nominations: Major League III Back to the Minors, Hustle, The Benchwarmers, Hardball

Discussion: There’s some pretty bad movies in here.  But nothing was as insufferable as the third edition of the Major League franchise.  It was bad enough that they made the second edition, with Omar Epps badly attempting to recreate Wesley Snipes‘ character.  But it went downhill in the third; the writing was bad, and all the leading stars from the first two installments declined to participate, leaving Corbin Bernsen and Dennis Haysbert as the last remaining characters from the original.  Winner: Major League III.


Best Drama

Nominations: The Natural, Bang the Drum Slowly, Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, Moneyball

Discussion: Moneyball is the late entry here, garnering several Academy Award nominations and getting major Academy street cred by virtue of being written by Aaron Sorkin. I’m a sucker for old school tear-jerkers like the rest of them, meaning that Bang The Drum Slowly gets a nod.  Field of Dreams doesn’t hold up as much for me (though I fully admit I cannot watch the last scene without crying).  Up until Moneyball’s release, the winner for me was the excellent The Natural, despite its modified ending from the classic novel of the same name.  Winner: Moneyball.


Best Comedy

Nominations: Major League, Bull Durham, A League of their Own, Mr. 3000, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings

Discussion: There’s three very quality finalists here, if I may immediately cut the Bernie Mac vehecile Mr. 3000 and the obscure Bingo movie.  Lets talk about them one by one.

A League of their Own depended on the slapstick sexual references from Madonna for its comedy most of the time, with thinly-veiled references to her nude portrait book or the fact that “most of america has seen her naked.”  Major League was a great comedy and had a great setup.  But for me nothing matches the subtleties and quality of the writing in Bull Durham.  Winner: Bull Durham


I KNOW this will generate discussion and disagreement.  Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Boswell Chat 10/24/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Hall of Famer? Yes. Best hitter ever? Almost. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/24 after a week off; in-between taking questions about the death of the Redskins, he managed to fit in some baseball and Nats questions.  Here’s how i’d have answered them…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Is there any question at this point that Pujols has joined Ted Williams and Babe as the three best hitters ever?

A: (side note; this is just AFTER Pujols‘ 3-homer performance in game 3 of the World Series, just the third time that’s ever been done).  If Pujols retired tomorrow here’s what his career lines would look like: 455 homers, .328 career hitter, 170 career OPS+, 3 MVPs and another six times in the top 5 candidates (four times coming in 2nd place).  That by itself is Hall of Fame worthy, no doubt.

By the time he retires?  I think clearly he’ll be mentioned as either the best or 2nd best right-handed hitter of all time (Willie Mays) and in a small grouping with Mays, Ruth and Williams as the best all-around hitters to ever play the game.  Absolutely.  I don’t think Pujols needed a 3-homer World Series game to cement that status either.    Boswell agrees, saying that Pujols joins the list just behind Ruth.

Q: Thanks for pointing out he did all his damage after the Cards were ahead in Game 3. We’re so quick to pronounce “best ever…” these days that it was good to get some context.

A:Very fair comment.  Pujols may have a 3-homer game, but it doesn’t nearly have the significance of Reggie Jackson‘s 3-homer game.  Also fair about pronouncing current stars “the best ever” without much context to those that came before.  Ruth’s domination of baseball and the country at large is so difficult to understate that we’ll never really be able to draw a modern comparison.  Boswell agrees, at least with the first part.

Q: Game 5 prediction (on the night of this chat)?

A: I’d pick Carpenter and the Cardinals.  I don’t trust CJ Wilson and don’t think he’s nearly the pitcher that Carpenter is.  I stick with my St Louis in 6 predictionBoswell goes against logic and says that Wilson will outpitch Carpenter.

Q: Do Lefties with high-heat give a significant advantage over right-handers with comparable velocities?

A: Absolutely.  Lefties are already rare enough and effective enough that any left hander with velocity in the upper 80s can usually find work in this league.  There’s a reason for that.  Add a few more mph and the cache of left-handers who can reach the mid 90s in this league can be counted on one hand.  They are special, and they are valuable.  Boswell doesn’t have a good explanation.

Q: With all the issues in Boston, should the Nats be calling the Red Sox to see who they might get in trade?

A: Sure.  But the Red Sox are prospect hounds and will want our farm system depth in return.  The guys they’re probably willing to trade are probably not going to be the guys we want anyway.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question but mentioned that Ellsbury will be a FA after 2013 … gee, only 3 years too late for the leadoff/CF that we need!

Q: Boswell had previously described baseball Managers as one of four types: Little Napoleon, the Peerless Leader, the Tall Tactician, and the Uncle Robbie.  Who are the best four examples of each type now in the modern game?

A: Interesting question.  Here’s a list of 2011’s baseball managers to choose from.  I’ll guess that Ozzie Guillen is the Napoleon manager, Tony LaRussa is the peerless leader, Ron Roenicke is the Tall Tactician, and Joe Madden is little Robbie.  Boswell’s answers werent’ close to mine; perhaps because its his manager classifications to begin with.

Q: Was the strike zone in game 4 inconsistent?

A: I thought it was; in the bottom of the first a strike 3 was called on Elvus Andrus that had been a ball earlier in the count.  And that wide zone continued throughout.  Its no wonder Holland looked so unhittable.  Boswell blames the TV strike tracker as being misleading.

Q: Could Albert Pujols go to the Rangers?

A: I guess he could … but that doesn’t seem to be the way he’s going.  He seems set to stay in the NL and stay in the mid-west.  I think he’s either staying in St Louis or going to save the Cubs.  Texas might as well light Michael Young on fire if they got Pujols and, for the 3rd or 4th season in a row, asked their franchise leader to move positions for incoming talent.  Boswell predicts Pujols stays in StLouis.

Q: Should Texas have pulled Holland after the 7th to retain him for the 7th game?

A: Nope.  Texas’ bullpen was shredded and its much more important to have a fresh Feliz than a starter on 2 days rest.  Of course, Washington USED Felix in a non-save situation to finish off the game.  Waste.  At least the rest of the bullpen got a night off.  Boswell disagrees with me, saying the team should have pulled him in the 7th to have him in game 7.

Q: What are the odds of the following players returning next season: Livan Hernandez, Ivan Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel?

A: Livan: 10%.  Ivan 1%.  Wang 80%.  Gomes: 25%.  Nix: 40%.  Ankiel 40%.  Boswell didn’t offer percentages, just saying that he thinks Wang will be back and that Johnson loves guys like Gomes and Nix on the bench.

Q: How long does it take Theo Epstein to turn around the Cubs?

A: I’ll say most of the 5 years he’s signed up for right now.  His starting pitching is a MESS, he’s got an aging, expensive team with big contracts and little wiggle room, and he’s got very little in terms of young players.  He needs all his bad contracts to age off, he needs to scout and draft better, and he needs time.  Boswell punted.

Boswell Chat 10/3/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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The Nats season may be over, and the Redskins may be 3-1 (thus implying that 98% of local sports radio be devoted to the minutae of the team), but i’m hoping Tom Boswell takes some baseball questions still during his normal monday morning chat.

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Was the last day of the 2011 baseball season the greatest day in baseball history?

A: Well, considering that baseball’s been played for 150+ years, and we’ve only lived to see and judge 25-30 years of it, and we’ve only had baseball readily available on TV to the extent where we could truly appreciate a night like what happened … its tough to say its the best ever.  Yes absolutely though it was the best in recent memory.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Thoughts on the Red Sox’s parting ways with Franconia and possibly Epstein?

A: The Red Sox spent an awful lot of money … and ended up with an awful lot of injuries to those well-paid players, especially in the rotation.  In September they were basically without 3/5ths at one point of the opening day roster.  No team can survive that, especially one that has traded so many of its prospects lately to acquire the hitting talent it has.  Terry Franconia has been there a while and, while its probably not his fault the team plummeted as it did, he’ll take the fall.  Theo Epstein: I’d think he’d want to stay and try to get one more WS win out of this team.  Unfortunately it probably isn’t happening any time soon: his team still has a bunch of under-performers under contract for 2012 and looks to be stuck with a bloated payroll without many impact players, again.  Boswell thinks Franconia got the short end of the stick, and that any firing of Epstein would be a major over-reaction.  Agreed.

Q: Did the Orioles “over-celebrate” by beating the Red Sox on the last day?

A: Maybe so.  But its hard to fault the team for playing and winning a playoff-caliber game.  Boswell didn’t answer this part, but did talk about Matt Moore and how good he’s looked.  Moore was the subject of an analysis post I did over the weekend.  He looked fantastic and could be a secret weapon for Tampa Bay this playoffs.

Q: Will the Red Sox find someone to manage their club as good as Franconia?

A: Probably not; there’s a ton of good candidates out there but in all likelihood we won’t see a major discipline guy taking over.  Odds are that we’ll see a bench coach or someone within the organization.  Boswell says if Valentine goes, expect even more drama.

Q: (Great Question): should a team’s success factor into the Cy Young and MVP voting?

A: Cy Young: no.  It shouldn’t matter how the team does.  If a guy is the best pitcher in the league, he’s the best pitcher.  Yes “Wins” are a flawed statistic, giving credit to a pitcher for only half the battle in winning a ball game.  But mostly pitching is an individual, mano-y-mano embarkment.   MVP?  Yes I believe the team’s position in the standings has an effect.  Simple question; how can you be the Most Valuable Player in the league for a team that is 20 games under .500?  I just don’t think you can be.  If you’re not leading a team to the playoffs, or playing meaningful games 100% of the time, then it doesn’t matter how valuable you are to your own team, let alone the rest of the league.  Boswell posits an argument i’ve never heard; batters get 650-700 plate appearances but starting pitchers face > 1000 batters.  Good argument; still not enough to get me to consider pitchers for MVP awards.

Q: How did a supposedly great analysis team like the Red Sox err so badly in the Carl Crawford contract?

A: Carl Crawford was a nice player in Tampa, but it was always going to be a risk putting someone who wasn’t used to the pressure cooker of baseball in Boston or New York who wasn’t used to it.  The Red Sox vastly overpaid for Crawford, feeling as if they had to pay him more than the Jayson Werth contract, and they ended up with a lesser player.  Boswell points out some interesting observations; Crawford’s power is to right, he never pulls the ball and his asset in defense is speed.  All three of those points are completely negated by playing in Fenway.  Could get ugly in Boston.

Q: When are the Nats going to re-sign Ryan Zimmerman?

A: I’d guess after NEXT season.  Despite the supposed pressure to get him re-upped on a big contract, he already IS on a big contract.  And that contract runs through 2013.  So he’s still got two years on it, so no point in talking about it or worrying about it.   Boswell says the team should push this, but guesses Zimmerman waits until he has a good start to 2012 to negotiate from strength, not from the weakness following a sub-par year as he had in 2011.

Q: Did Davey Johnson have a bad road split?  Is he going to be the 2012 manager?

A: Just did some quick analysis: the team had 38 road games after Johnson took over and went 18-20 in them.  That’s actually better than their overall 36-45 record on the road all season.  I don’t know why there’s stories about a manager search; why wouldn’t he come back to manage in 2012?  Boswell notes he went 40-40 after the initial 3-game series loss to the Angels.

Q: Thoughts on Jose Reyes’ sitting down to protect his average?

A: Bush league.  Ted Williams, he is not.  If your manager takes you out to give the home crowd a chance to give you one last cheer, that’s acceptable.  To ask out of a game after bunting for a hit is akin to an NBA player purposely missing a shot to get an extra rebound so as to get a triple-double.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Do the Nats need to get a high priced FA starting pitcher?

A: Well.  Lets answer the question this way.  Yes, they need another FA pitcher, but there’s not one available this year that will be worth the money.  This season’s crop of FA starters is weak and the two big money teams both desperately need starting pitching and will be driving prices WAY up on guys like CJ Wilson and Edwin Jackson, far over what they’re worth.  I think the team needs to stay out of these feeding frenzies.  2013’s crop is far better, and we also have enough pitching depth to possibly work a trade.  Boswell says its a tough call then reminds everyone we went after Greinke hard and couldn’t believe the deal was turned down.

Q: What do the Nats do with the leadoff position for 2012?

A: Amazingly, they go into this off-season with pretty much the same issue they had LAST off season.  They need a reliable lead-off hitter, and they need a reliable center fielder.  They’d love to get one guy who can do both jobs.  Personally, I think a trade is happening this off season, with the team going after BJ Upton again, pitching Tampa Bay to save the $6-$7M they’re going to have to pay him in his last arbitration year.  There’s a couple of FA center fielders of note, but they’re under performers or injury risks (David DeJesus, Grady Sizemore being the two names i’d think about).  Might as well roll the dice with one more year of Rick Ankiel. Boswell notes that Goodwin and Rendon could be hitting 1-2 in a couple years.  Not exactly the question that was asked.

Q: Have the Nats considered moving Desmond to CF, and sliding Espinosa to SS and playing Lombardozzi at 2B?

A: Hmmmm.  I havn’t seen this particular formation postulated.  I’d say this is a no-go because Lombardozzi looked 110% overmatched in his September call-up and may have a ceiling of utility guy.   But its an interesting question.  What about Lombardozzi in center?  The question is; can he hit leadoff?  Boswell doesn’t think Desmond can ever be a good enough leadoff hitter.

Q: Do the Nats make a run at Terry Franconia?

A: No way.  Johnson is just as good a manager.  You stick with what you have.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is CJ Wilson worth giving up our first round pick in free agency?  What about Pujols or Fielder?

A: Yes …. but he’s not going to be worth the sky-high salary that he’ll be offered by the Yankees to come in and help restore their pitching staff.  Both Pujols/Fielder would be great in the short term but would likely be albatross contracts before they’re said and done (as A-Rod’s already looks, and as Ryan Howards looks like it will be).  Boswell says he likes our current arms more than Wilson, and says Morse at $4M is better value than Pujols at $25M.  True.

Q:  What do you make of the way the Nats finished the season?

A: Very promising … with some caution.  Beware September success, since your young guys often times are playing other team’s younger guys.   The only meaningful games we really played in September were against teams in playoff races (Atlanta).  I will say that the big take away from this finish was just how poorly the team fared by giving starts to Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis.  Once those guys were removed from the rotation and replaced with our upper end prospects, the team won and won frequently.  Boswell agrees, pointing out that this team got to 80 wins, only one of which was by Strasburg!

Q: Were the 80 wins ahead of your expectations?

A: Absolutely.  I can’t find any proof of this, but I think 72-75 wins was considered a great goal for 2011.  80 wins, a 10 game improvement over 2010 (itself a 10 game improvement over 2009) is a huge win for this team.  Another 10-game improvement suddenly puts this team squarely into Wild Card competition, and another 10-game improvement in 2013 puts us as World Series contenders.  I think this is a great path and a great goal.    Boswell predicted 72 at start, bumped to 77 mid-season.

Q: What does the Nats focus on in the offseason? SP or CF/Leadoff guy?

A: I always classify off-season priorities as follows: Fantasy, Reality and Less Likely.  I’ll post a more detailed post about this after the WS is over, but Fantasy for me is Pujols or a frontline Starter, Reality includes attempting to find a center fielder and then filling in some holes in the bullpen and on the bench.  Boswell didn’t address.

Q: Who do you think is on the trading block for the Nats? Lannan has been getting a lot of play lately? Would BJ Upton be the best option for us?

A: The Nats clearly have pitching depth, and have more major league ready starters than they have spots for.  Lannan is an underrated starter and could be a good #3 or #4 starter for a contender.  Problem is, the Rays have zero need for a starter like John Lannan and it would probably cost the Nats a much better prospect to pry loose someone like BJ Upton.  I’d like to have Upton but don’t want to burn a high-end prospect like Norris or Rendon to get him.  Boswell correctly points out that Lannan is undervalued by other teams besides us, who don’t see his improvements and every day accomplishments.  Upton is a wild card for sure.

Q: Could the Nats go after an “Impact” bat, like Michael Cuddyer?

A:  Cuddyer isn’t really an impact bat in the same vein as Pujols or Fielder.  I don’t see a spot for Cuddyer, who can play a bunch of positions but everything he can play is a position we’re ably filling right now (RF, 2B, 3B, 1B).   Boswell thinks our hitters are scheduled for a rebound.

Q: Are the Phillies vulnerable?  Can the Brewers make a run?

A: Phillies don’t *seem* vulnerable, not with 3 shutdown arms and a 4th who would be most team’s best hurler.  The Brewers look like they could go far, with a good balance of pitching and hitting.  Boswell says that the Card’s 3 potent hitters could make things dicey for Philly.

Q: What is the best WS match up for TV?  What’s the best matchup for the true fan?

A: TV: the two biggest markest clearly (NYY vs Philly).   For the fans?  It’d be nice to see two long-suffering franchises go at it (Detroit-Milwaukee).  I’d like to see big money versus little money (Philly-Tampa), which would also match the two best pitching staffs.  For offense-minded teams it’d probably be Texas (or NY) versus St. Louis.  NYY-St. Louis is great for traditionalists; these are the two teams with the most WS victories.  Boswell likes it when non-traditional powers get into the series.

Wow, that was a lot of baseball talk.

The best “5-tool” player of all time? (updated)

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The 400 homer/10 gold glove club question (see post on August 10th 2010 here) spurred a different question into my mind.  Who is baseball’s greatest 5-tool player?  For those of you who don’t know what the 5 tools are:

  • Speed; indicated by stolen bases statistically.
  • Fielding/Defense: indicated by gold gloves somewhat, even though the Gold Glove voting process is known to be bad.
  • Arm: no real statistical measure, just rumors and observations.
  • Hitting for average: career batting average
  • Hitting for power: career homers

My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays.  And I have a hard time disagreeing with him.   He was fast (338 career SBs), he was a fantastic center fielder (12 straight gold gloves), he was known to have a cannon for an arm, he hit a career .302 with 3283 hits and belted 660 homers.

Who else might be in the conversation?  Lets take a look at some of the candidates:

  • Barry Bonds: Career batting .298, 762 homers, 2935 hits and 514 steals.  8 gold gloves, ending a streak suddenly in 1999.  Which is also probably when he started juicing (his homers per season jumped from 34 to 49 to 73 in 1999-2001).   The only thing Mays had on Bonds was his arm.  Bonds always played left field, where you can “hide” poorer outfielders who don’t necessarily need the range of a center fielder or the cannon arm of a right fielder (to prevent first to third base runners).  But Bonds had significantly more steals and homers (whether or not you discount them).
  • Ken Griffey Jr.: Definitely up there in the argument.  Clearly he was fantastic defensively (10 straight gold gloves) and had a great arm.  Great power (630 career homers).  Only 184 career steals and a lifetime .284 BA with 2781 hits dings him in comparison to Mays.

Here’s some names that have multiple of the tools, but are missing one or two key ones:

  • Babe Ruth: Great power and average combo, he obviously had a good arm starting as a pitcher, but he had zero speed and ate himself so large that he could barely play the outfield.
  • Ted Williams is always an interesting test case for the “What could have been?” question.  He hit .344 with 521 homers and a really good argument that had he not lost 3 full seasons in his absolute prime to WWII (plus most of two others to Korea in his mid 30s) that he’d be closer to 700 homers for his career.  But he was known to be a defensive liability and had only 24 sbs for his career.
  • Mickey Mantle: famously said that “if 40/40 was so impressive, I’d have done it every year.”  And its hard not to doubt him.  Playing in a time when there wasn’t much of a need for him to steal bases, he still ended up with 153 on the career and routinely had 15-20 each season.  He retired with 500+ homers, a career ba of .298, a legendary reputation for roaming centerfield in Yankee stadium and an even more legendary reputation for drinking himself out of baseball prematurely at the age of 36.
  • Joe DiMaggio: one of the best pure hitters of the 20th century.  Career .325 BA, 361 homers.  Lost 3 years in his absolute prime to the WWII and retired incredibly early at 36.  Played a great center-field (his time predates gold gloves).  but very very few stolen bases.
  • Stan Musial: one of the “lost players” of the 20th century, in that it is easy to forget his name when talking of the all time greats.  3600 career hits, 475 homers, career .331 BA.  Great hitter.  Played center field for 20-some years for St. Louis.  But as with DiMaggio, very few SBs.
  • Bobby Bonds: nearly a 40/40 man one year but strikeout rate is so excessive.

How about some more modern players?

  • Paul Molitor another guy to think about.  504 career SBs, .306 BA, only 234 homers but not much on the defensive side, having been mostly a DH for the last half of his career.
  • Alfonso Soriano: his 40/40 season was legendary (there was preliminary talk of him doing a 50/50 season, which hasn’t even been approached), and he’s currently got 309 career homers and 271 career SBs.  A scatter brained hitter though,  defense so bad that he’s barely holding on in left field, and zero arm.
  • Jose Canseco: another 40/40 guy.  462 career homers and 200 career Sbs.  .266  hitter though.  Good arm in right but never a good fielder (remember the infamous ball bouncing off his head over the fence for a homer?).
  • Vladimir Guerrero: another near 40/40 guy.  Probably worth of further consideration; retired with 449 homers, 181 SBs, a career .319 hitter.  But was literally one of the worst baserunners of all time and was poor defensively despite a strong arm.
  • Carlos Beltran: injuries have just killed him; a former speed/power hitter and one of the first mega contract guys.
  • Brady Anderson: most people regard his 50 homer season either a fluke or (more likely) the result of early PEDs.  But the fact remains that only he and Barry Bonds have ever put up seasons which had both 50 homers and 50 sbs.
  • Craig Biggio: 414 sbs, 291 homers, .281 career BA, 4 gold gloves at 2nd base.   2nd baseman though, presumably b/c he never had the arm for Short.
  • Rickey Henderson: obviously fast as the career leader in SBs.  .279 career BA.  He twice hit 28 homers while leading the league in SBs.  One gold glove and two silver sluggers, and a liability as a left fielder.  Maybe not.

here’s a couple “what if” guys, as in what if they hadn’t been injured or otherwise sullied their careers:

  • Bo Jackson: A hip injury picked up while playing his hobby football ended his career basically at the age of 28.  But he was electric.  Who can forget his legendary all star homer, a bomb to dead center that went 448 feet.  Bo never won a gold glove but he played a premium defensive position in Center and certainly had the arm to play right.  He just missed a series of 30/30 seasons, maxing out with 32 homers and 27 steals).  He did not hit for average though, not at all.  Best full season BA was a paltry .272.
  • Josh Hamilton: After well documented troubles with drugs and the law, this former 1-1 draft pick currently is leading the Majors in batting average (.356), has 26 homers, and plays a very very good center field.  He could hit 96 on the gun in high school.  His failing is SBs; only a handful on the year.  But in a league that so often chews up and spits out flash in the pan players, it is refreshing to see Hamilton succeed.  Visual Baseball though discounts both his speed and his range.
  • Daryl Strawberry: had a 39 homer, 36 sb year.
  • Eric Davis: career year in 1987, hitting 37 homers and stealing 50 sbs.  His first 2 full seasons produced a .286/.389/.560 with 64 HR and 130 SB in 147 attempts.  Decent average, great power, great speed, with some clear capabilities in the outfield.

In January 2010, Visual Baseball introduced some really neat visualizations that graphically show each player’s strengths and weaknesses.  I’d love to see a tool that allows people to plug in individual players, but in their analysis two 2010 players popped up as being very close to the perfect 5-tool player:

  • Ben Zobrist: based on his 2009 stats he hit for average (.297) and power (27 homers).  He had 17 steals.  He showed pretty amazing flexibility by playing every outfield position besides pitcher and catcher at some point.  Unfortunately, he’s take a pretty significant step backwards in 2010, sligging nearly 200 points less.  Odd.
  • Carl Crawford: He’s already lead the league 4 times in SBs and has been hitting an average of 13-15 homers a season.  Not nearly Mays-esque stancards but very solid.  .305 Batting average with healthy slugging percentages.  Left fielder though, but his Visual Baseball graph shows significant range and arm.

And finally, something to think about:

  • Alex Rodriguez: 600 career homers, .303 career BA.  300 career steals, a couple of Gold Gloves, and a pretty good arm while playing short.  Posted probably the best ever 40/40 season in 1998 (42 homers, 46 sbs).  Too bad he had to go and juice it up so that his career is forever sullied.

In the end, I’d have to still put Mays, with a shameful shrug of the shoulders when considering both Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.


 

2017 Post-publishing update: this post was initially done in 2010.  There’s several up-and-coming players who are putting their names into this discussion.

Here’s two additional links to consider that were done after this post was published in 2011 at Baseball America.

http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/majors/news/2011/2612208.html

http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/majors/best-tools/2011/2612185.html

My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays.  And I have a hard time

Top 10 Unbreakable Baseball records (per si)

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Screwing around at cnnsi.com while eating, here’s their list of top 10 most unbreakable baseball records:

1. Cy Young’s 511 career victories
2. Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak
3. Ty Cobb’s career .366 batting average
4. Rickey Henderson’s season SB record of 130
5. Babe Ruth’s career .690 slugging pct
6. Barry Bonds’ season record for walks: 232.
7. Nolan Ryan’s career Ks of 5,714.
8. Jack Chesbro’s season record for complete games: 48.
9. Ted William’s lifetime OBP of .482
10. Hank Aaron’s 25 career all-star games (somewhat aided by multiple games for several years, but he still played in an all star game in 21 of his 23 seasons).

Most of these I tend to agree with … but there are certainly other records out there that are in a similar vein to Cy Young’s career victory record.  Single season wins, single
season innings pitched, starts, complete games, etc all are basically obsolete benchmarks.  Hell, I’d be willing to wager against someone ever winning 30 games in a season ever again.

Not sure i’d say that a 56-game hitting streak is unassailable.  Yes it’s been a while since it happened, but it routinely gets approached.  You see 30, 35, 40 game streaks
with some frequency.
Plus, i think the stolen base is coming back into vogue.  Maybe not close to 118 or 130 in a season, but i think its just a matter of time before we start seeing higher totals.
There seems to be a dearth of quality defensive catchers these days.
anyway, random thoughts.

Written by Todd Boss

June 26th, 2010 at 9:00 am