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Some interesting baseball items for Opening Day

Thursday 3/30/23

Reggie Jackson never hit 30 home runs in back-to-back seasons.

Neither Jackson nor Mickey Mantle ever had 100 RBI in back-to-back seasons.

Question: In the final game of the 1977 World Series, if you were Charlie Hough and you had watched Reggie Jackson hit home runs on the first pitches of his last two at-bats, why on earth would you throw him a strike on the first pitch when he then came up to face you? What is the thinking there? "I will challenge this man!" Or is it confidence? "He can't beat my best!"

Jonathan Papelbon had a better year in 2006 than any year Mariano Rivera had in his career. Look at that ERA+!

Jim Palmer won three Cy Young awards but in two of those seasons he was not an All-Star.

The Red Sox--I don't see it this year. You never know with baseball. You truly don't. You have to wait and see. Guys can have career years. Everyone can be healthy and near their best at the same time. You have to wait with baseball more than any other sport. But the top two guys in the rotation were each last any good five years ago, there's a guy with a career ERA over 5, a couple relievers. My guess: in the 70s for wins or low 80s. More likely to be worse than that than better. A fast start will be required.

Mike Schmidt played shortstop in 24 games.

Hank Aaron played second base in 43 games. He played in 7 games at third.

Mike Trout will go down as the least remembered great player in the history of the game. That is because no baseball player has ever been as overrated as Trout. He walks. A lot. No one remembers anyone for walking. (I remember you, Ferris Fain.) Ted Williams was remembered for many things and walking was in there. It was part of the mystique of his approach and the legend of his batter's eye. Trout is also a weak fielder. Why is he so large? Is he in shape? Is that why he gets hurt? Trout will be like that boyfriend or girlfriend after the fact when someone else asks, "What did you see in him?" That's what future generations will ask--then again, people might be so dumb that they can't even talk by then--when someone tries to say that Trout is one of the all-time best.

Harmon Killebrew's rookie card is in the 1955 Topps set. Then he had a card the next year. But there is no 1957 Topps Killebrew card! Madness. Steve Carlton's rookie card is in the 1965 Topps set--he has no 1966 Topps card, but a beauty of a 1967 Topps card. Lovely set.

When I was in fourth grade, I learned a lot about Jim "Mudcat" Grant, who nearly took the 1965 Minnesota Twins to a World Series championship. He had that career year. But the Twins had to go against Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers in the World Series, and Koufax was at his best. Still, Grant made it very close. That was really Grant's only star-level year. But I recently discovered that he had a hell of a year--I didn't know this--in 1970. By then he was a relief pitcher in his mid-thirties. He split time with Oakland and Pittsburgh and got into 80 games! He was 8-3 with a 1.86 ERA, 24 saves (which was a lot back then), 135.1 innings pitched, and a nice WHIP of 1.064. So you never know. Learning this I thought, "Good for you, sir."

The Red Sox really used to have a thing for getting diminished sluggers near the end. For instance: Orlando Cepeda, Jack Clark, Jose Canseco, Tony Perez, Andre Dawson. Cepeda, Clark, and Perez all had a pretty good year with the Sox. Canseco, not quite. Dawson was just done. These were all right-handed batters. Was that why? Red Sox management thought, "These guys really can't do that much at this stage, but they can come into our ballpark and yank some home runs over our wall." I think that was probably how they looked at it.

The other day on a baseball history discussion group, I saw someone making a devoted case for Dave Kingman for the Hall of Fame! A reader of these very pages, perhaps? Did you know that there have been whispers that Kingman was colluded against and driven from the game of baseball because he was so hated that no one wanted to see him hit 500 home runs, which would have likely gotten him into Cooperstown? Remember, that's what 500 home runs used to do for you--automatic ticket punch to enshrinement! Kingman hit 30 home runs in each of his last three years. Find me someone else who did that! (Yes, yes--I know Ortiz did it in his last four.)

Now, one might not think Ron Kittle was all that great, outside of his cool rookie year of 1983, in which he had 35 home runs and 100 RBI for a White Sox squad that is among the best in baseball history not to win the World Series. He only had 4.7 career WAR, for those who care about that kind of thing. But Ron Kittle is 27th all-time in AB/HR at 15.39, ahead of Ken Griffey, Jr., Hank Greenberg, Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas, David Ortiz, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, and Hank Aaron, who is, by my reckoning, the fourth best baseball player there has ever been.

After the 1986 season, it looked like my man Carlton Fisk was all done. He hit .221. Worse, his OBP was .263. His OPS+ was 60. That's right--Carlton Fisk was 40% worse than the average American League hitter. He was thirty-eight-years-old and a catcher, though there had been a stupid attempt to make him a left fielder that year, which did not work at all. But Fisk said, "F--- you, haters"--well, I don't know what he said exactly--and came back and was very good in 1987, won the Silver Slugger in 1988, finished 15th in MVP voting in 1990, and was an All-Star--at catcher!--in 1991 in his age forty-three season.

It's baseball--you don't know until you know.


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