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Curiosities of sports

Wednesday 5/17/23

Nolan Ryan and Pete Rose are the two baseball players that people overvalue the most and are the least rational regarding. Something about both of those two guys that cause people to lose whatever reason they may have possessed. And it's really those two guys way beyond any other players in the game's history.

For decades I've seen people talk about Rose as one of the five or six finest hitters. He was a non-power hitter whose greatest value, in my view, was his ability to hit doubles. One of the best doubles guys the sport has known. A while back I saw this person who made a list of who they thought was the best at each position over the course of baseball history. It was a strong list. Very little to quibble with--until you got to the starting pitcher: Nolan Ryan.

I decided to do a little exercise and come up with a list of pitchers who were better than Ryan. It was very easy to get to forty. That's with leaving out someone like Mike Mussina. Was he better than Ryan? I think so. But just to play it safe, I didn't include him. And it was still just guy after guy. I left out Whitey Ford. Was he better? Seems better.

I played hockey against three players who went on to have NHL careers. At the time, one of them was a lot better than I was. Not close. Another one of them was noticeably better, but I could hold my own, and they were a couple years older. The last player wasn't better--at the time. Kind of a key qualifier.

The middle guy had a so-so college career, and then had a few truncated seasons in the NHL, both as a low-scoring forward. The first guy had one decent-ish NHL year--though he played for a number of seasons--after a pretty good college career, and the last guy had a lengthy NHL career, won the Calder trophy, was a pretty good playoff performer, and is president of an NHL team right now.

It's interesting how different players develop at different times and in different ways. The first guy and the third guy ended up on the same youth hockey team. Which is pretty crazy.

No one really talks about the 1984 San Francisco Forty-Niners as possibly the best team in NFL history. Part of that has to do, I think, with the fact that the Forty-Niners didn't have Jerry Rice yet. But they went 15-1 during the regular season, with their only loss being by 3 points, and they obviously then went 3-0 in the playoffs.

Raymond Clayborne was a very strong player whose career spanned the years 1977 to 1991. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and had 36 career interceptions, which is pretty good--he's 118 on the all-time list. But he only returned one interception for a TD in his career (though he did score a few times returning kicks), which was during the 1985 season when the Patriots won the AFC before being throttled by the Bears, of course, in the Super Bowl.

I wonder if he really enjoyed that touchdown on defense when it was happening. Because it had been a while, and he must have known that it would maybe never happen again.

In a way it is surprising, and in a way it isn't, but in 1967, Carl Yastrzemski amassed more WAR in a single season than any other position player in baseball history who was not Babe Ruth. You could argue that it's the best non-Ruthian season of all-time.

There are these sorts of pockets in sport's history where there aren't many people who stand out at a certain position, just as the opposite may be true. For instance, regarding the latter, the 1980s were a hell of a time for centers--and defenseman, actually--in the NHL. Bad time for goalies. I love Bill Freehan as a catcher and believe he should be in the Hall of Fame, but the 1960s wasn't an outstanding period for back-stops. Freehan went to a lot of All-Star games, but then again, someone had to.

I look at the career of Cubs and Phillies second baseman Manny Trillo. It was a nice long career for a middle infielder, spanning most of the seventies and eighties. You look at this numbers and you don't think much. Over 162 games, Trillo averaged 6 home runs, 52 RBI, a .263 batting average, and had a career OPS+ of 81. Not so good, right? But if you were Manny Trillo, you could tell people that you won two Silver Sluggers, you were a four-time All-Star, you had three Gold Gloves, and you were a World Champion. You had a lot of hardware if you were Manny Trillo.

Sometimes I'm curious who was the worst at something. I don't think it's outrightly a bad thing to be the worst at something in professional sports. It's so hard and unlikely to make it to the Majors in baseball. You were awesome at baseball. You just might not have been an awesome Major Leaguer.

The late 1970 Toronto Blue Jays were pretty terrible. It was an expansion team, and I bet those big-hitting Red Sox teams of the time put up some massive numbers on those Jays a lot.

In 1978, Toronto's shortstop was Luis Gomez. He had 413 at-bats, scored 39 runs, had only 7 doubles, zero home runs, 32 RBI, and hit .223 with an OBP of .280 and a slugging percentage of .254 (it is hard to have your slugging percentage being lower than your own base percentage), for an OPS+ of 51. But myfavorite stat of his? He stole 2 bases that year, and was thrown out 10 times. So: not to be deterred!

Gomez played for eight seasons, and you know what? 1978 was his career year! For his career, he had an OPS+ of 40 and -4.4 WAR. But I still think he's pretty cool, and think how good you have to be just to make the Majors. Gomez played for three teams. So there were three teams who wanted him at some point or other.


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