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Hockey and baseball I.

Monday 11/20/23

Doubles are a very revealing baseball stat. The reason is because a player can hit a lot of singles and not really be an offensive difference-maker. A player can also hit a lot of home runs and not be a great offensive player. But it's unlikely for that to be so with someone who hits a lot of doubles. They have great value.

There are exceptions--Jody Reed hit a lot of doubles and wasn't a great offensive player, but that was because Fenway Park had a lot to do with those doubles. The bulk of Pete Roses's value as a hitter was in his ability to hit doubles. Pay attention to that doubles column in a player's stats--they'll tell you a lot.

Shohei Ohtani doesn't hit many. His value is the home run. People are going to look back on his career, I think, and not see a ton of value in the numbers over that career's duration. They're going to see novelty and narrative.

I know--what heresy! That might even be worse than saying Patrice Bergeron wasn't great.

You could contend that the 1984 semifinal game of the Canada Cup between Canada and the Soviet Union is the best hockey game ever played. I wouldn't say that--but I'd have it top five. That's the game where Paul Coffey broke up a two-on-one in overtime right before Mike Bossy scored the OT game winner.

But isn't it strange that Pete Peeters was the goalie for team Canada in what one could at least argue is the best hockey game ever played? You wouldn't really expect that to be a Pete Peeters thing. And yet, there it is, on his resume.

A couple baseball to hockey and hockey to baseball comparisons:

Joe Morgan was the best baseball player in the world from 1975 to 1976. A two-year reign. The complete game--well-balanced. You know who he reminds me of for a two-year reign in hockey? Doug Gilmour during the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons. Yes, I think Gilmour was the best player in the NHL then. Total package. He was dominant in all three zones. Played some beautiful hockey.

I'd written in Sports Illustrated some years ago about Brad Marchand's strange career arc. Marchand should make the Hall of Fame, but it's no guarantee. In baseball, I'd say that he's a lot like Dwight Evans, who may not ever make the Hall of Fame. Evans didn't have star swagger or a star reputation. Consider Jim Rice. He was like a living urban legend for a time, with these tales of his brute power. Jim Rice snapped a bat with a check swing! You heard things like that, and they were believable. Rice was viewed as fearsome, even scary.

Evans was a consummate pro, and it wasn't until the second half of his career that he became a fine offensive player. That strike year of 1981 really sent him on his way, but there are certain preconceptions for Hall of Fame players--they need to get it going pretty early. Their twenties must be formidable. If Evans had done what he did in his thirties in his twenties instead, and his twenties were his thirties, and he had a glitzier rep while that was happening, he'd be in the Hall of Fame now. The Red Sox had great outfielders--Yaz, Rice, Fred Lynn--who had better narratives to most baseball fans and people, so it was easy to think of Lynn as this dependable guy in fourth place or bringing up the rear. A good player, not a great one.


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