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Sports history: overlooked baseball giant, 'Nique, punters, Sheffield and the HOF, triple doubles, Mick the OPS+ legend, possible best pitching season ever, all defenseman line

Friday 1/19/24

Outstanding baseball player who has never been talked about enough: Larry Doby.

Dominique Wilkins was my guy as a kid. I loved watching him. My favorite player. His 360-dunks were so exciting to me. And that 1988 dunk contest with Wilkins and Jordan! I pulled hard for the Human Highlight Reel. I used to go out in the snow and ice-covered driveway in January and February and work on my reverse lay-ups pretending I was 'Nique, even while wearing gloves because it was like 7 degrees. Less of a finger roll thing and more of a mitten hoist deal.

Kevin McHale never had a triple double. Robert Parish had two.

Ray Guy was the best punter ever--a punting weapon, because his field position influence over the course of a game was considerable--but if you just went by yard-per-punt--as too many do--you wouldn't think that. It was the hang time and also where he placed his punts. Also, long field goals weren't much attempted at the time--hitting a 40-yarder out was like a 50-yard field goal today. The Raiders would be on the 30 and out would come Guy to kick, and he'd have it sail out of bounds at the 3. He was beautiful to watch. Something poetic and balletic about his whole motion. Reggie Roby was also good, and for the Patriots I always enjoyed watching Rich Camarillo.

It's unlikely that Gary Sheffield will get into the Hall of Fame this year on his tenth and last time on the ballot. Why? It's cloudy. I had a conversation about him with someone on the radio once, and that person said he should be in, and I agree. Is it a steroid thing? The suspicion of steroids?

3000 hits now makes you more automatic than 500 homers, which is paradoxical, given that walks are currently viewed as such a big deal. The more you walk, the less hits you'll have. Ted Williams never had 200 hits in a season. Of course, he would have gone well past 3000 hits had he not served. There hasn't been a guy with 3000 hits in recent years who is not a slam dunk candidate, but it's hard to see such a person being kept out. Would have been interesting if Johnny Damon had gotten there.

But 500 home runs, even without steroid known steroid use? You can be denied entry. Sheffield has something like twenty percentage points to make up this year. My guess: he ends up somewhere around 70% of the vote. He could get in later via a committee, but I'm not sure how popular he is with committee types, and, unfortunately, that has a lot to do with it.

Mickey Mantle led the league in OPS+ eight times. That is a huge amount of times to lead the league in a stat like that which speaks to your offensive dominance. He finished second three other times. One of those times was to the aforementioned Larry Doby--stud--and the other two times to Mr. Williams. To the modern analytics person, Mantle is the jewel of his era. He was the Mike Trout out of the 1950s and early 1960s, but much, much, much better.

I saw where someone posed the question as to whether Dwight Gooden's 1985 season was the best pitching season in history or not. It's a worthwhile question. I'd take Gooden in 1985 over Bob Gibson in 1968 and Pedro Martinez in 2000. In 1968, it seemed like every pitcher dominated. Different league, yes, but Yaz won the batting title by hitting .301. As for Martinez, he wasn't out there enough. The more you're out there, the more value you have.

The answer, though, is Walter Johnson in 1913, but Gooden's 1985 might be second. In that same season, the Cardinals' John Tudor went 19-1 over his last twenty-five starts with a 1.32 ERA and ten shutouts. If you wanted to say that's the most impressive twenty-five start stretch in baseball history, you might be on to something. By the way, Gooden over his last twenty-five starts that year: 18-1, 1.39 ERA, six shutouts, and three more games in which he went nine innings and allowed no earned runs. So, pretty much tied.

Gooden is perhaps the baseball player whose career I would have been the most curious to see play out without being compromised. Gooden compromised it himself with his drug use. I really would have liked to know what his career would have been without it. The Gooden hook after the Gooden gas was lethal. You couldn't tell what was coming out of his hand. I'd also much liked to have seen Eric Davis's career had he been relatively injury free. Could have been a 500 home run, 500 steal guy, with eight Gold Gloves.

Saw where someone was asking if you had to have a line comprised only of defensemen from NHL history, who would those players be? They meant for everyone on the ice. I have the answer! Red Kelly at center, Phil Housley and Ray Bourque on the wings, Doug Harvey and Bobby Orr on defense. Kelly was a center at one point, and an excellent one. Housley spent a lot of time up on the wing early in his career, and Bourque played some forward, too. Harvey is your defensive maestro who also provides those forward-springing outlet passes. You want Orr on defense because his game and vision and skating ability worked best with open ice in front of him; when he was coming to the game--bringing himself to it, as it were--rather than just in the scrum of it. Orr coming out of his end was a grave danger. He put you back on your heels, and then you were screwed. If I had to pick a goalie, too, I'd go with Martin Brodeur, who could move the puck like a defenseman.


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