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Sports notes: Are you trying?

Monday 2/28/22

Celtics lost yesterday to a weak Pacers team. Struggled against the Pistons again, too, over the weekend, but pulled it out this time. A soft team of egotists. You think maybe they've figured out their situation, and then it's like no, ha, fooled you.

Bruce Sutter finished in the top ten in MVP voting five times. I'm not certain, because these are my unofficial researches, but I believe this is the most ever for a relief pitcher. Eckersley, Rivera, and Gossage didn't do it. I think they'd be the ones you most expect. I wrote about Sutter in these pages before, how he probably wouldn't have made the Hall of Fame if he hadn't come back for a final stint when he was lousy, and gotten enough saves to finish at exactly 300. And yet, there is the MVP voting record.

Easy way to fix baseball: pitch clock, regulate the shift. Pitcher needs to be on the rubber, getting the signs, within twenty seconds of receiving the ball from the catcher. Pitching should be a cardiac undertaking. It should require fitness. If you're not fit, you should be out of breath maintaining the pace of pitching that works best for the game. Guys hold the ball now in part because of recovery time. Taking longer between pitches adds velocity to your next pitch. Yeah--get rid of that. I think the most disappointing--or anti-climatic--play in baseball right now is when a batter smashes a liner or grounder up the middle. Immediately you think, "Base hit!" That's how baseball works. But nope--it's to a fielder standing in this weird spot that isn't normally a position who doesn't even budge. There should have to be two fielders on each side of second base, and no infielder on the outfield grass. And you should have to start a certain number of feet away from second base--call it fifteen feet. Old timers want hitters to adjust and hit the other way. How do you want that to happen when the guy is throwing ninety-nine mph, and he's pitching you inside so that you hit it to the guy he wants you to hit it towards? And when you have to deal with two or three other pitches? That's hard. It's not the same as 1948. Or 1973.

Don Drysdale had 209 career wins; of these wins, 49 were shutouts. So nearly a quarter of his career victories were shutouts. That's mind-boggling. Luis Tiant wasn't at quite that percentage, but his is most surprising as well.

Boston College was badly outshot and outplayed by BU in the first period last night, but managed to win the game. Had to have been their best game of the year by their goalie. The program feels like it has lost some luster, despite being ranked #1 for much of last year, and having a team that could have done really tournament damage the season before, if COVID hadn't cancelled the postseason. I don't know. A feeling. Part of it is the shifting balance of power, and the rise of other schools. The best players leave BC, too, it seems, rather than stick around. I remember my freshman year, the kids in the room next to mine--who were hockey players--were already twenty-one. BC wasn't strong at the time. Jerry York had just arrived. BU was the dominant program. BC got good, and the best players would leave early, whereas other schools will have kids who are twenty-four in the line-up. I don't like that excuse, though. Not if you want to be one of the best, if not the best, programs. You should be able to restock. Maybe I'll go to the Garden for some of the Hockey East playoffs. I didn't attend the Beanpot this year. I haven't been attending much of anything.

I think J.C. Jackson is overvaluing himself. He's a strong #2 corner; I don't think he's this lockdown monster, though. And when someone starts calling himself Mr. Int, that worries me. Interceptions happen for all sorts of reasons. Some of the best corners don't get a lot because the ball isn't coming their way. I think the Patriots produce these kinds of pretty good corners who are good for a few years, but sort of become too big for their britches and overvalue themselves. Samuel, Butler. I think that's Jackson. I know his stats put him in the top five in all of these categories, but I guess I'm saying those stats don't really align with the guy I watch. They're real stats. But eyes still matter.

Ichiro Suzuki had a career OPS+ of 107. The average is 100. That means he was 7% above average by this metric in the course of his career. He had no home run power, which is one thing--but he also had no doubles power. Low doubles totals always--which is surprising considering his speed. You'd expect him to have turned more shallow-gappers into doubles. So what you had was a singles hitter who didn't walk much. Being a singles hitter who doesn't walk much isn't particularly valuable. So yes, he had a Hall of Fame career, but most of that is in his batting average. Value is light when it's average-based. Or when average is your main thing. Or your only thing. A lot of people don't understand this, especially the older crowd. They just think it's new-fangled metrics. But it's not. I mean, some of the stats themselves are new, but those stats are quantifying what has always made the best hitters the best hitters. And it's not batting average, which is what many generations believe. Pete Rose also had little power, but the reason Pete Rose--who was not a great hitter by any stretch, but a quality hitter who played a long time and was effective over a long time--was a lot better than Suzuki was because Rose was a doubles stud. A lot of Pete Rose's value was in those doubles. But even still, his career OPS+ was 118. To give some context, Carlton Fisk's was 117, and obviously he was a catcher, which isn't a position we associate with elite offensive talent. Average is great. But power and walks drive production. The best hitters in baseball history--as a general rule, though there are exceptions--have power and walked a lot. They were the best ever, so they also hit for high averages. But the best thing about Ruth, Williams, Mantle, Aaron, Mays, Gehrig, wasn't their average.

There’s a hilarious part in Sparky Lyle’s The Bronx Zoo when Thurman Munson goes out to the mound for a meeting. He says he doesn’t want to offend Lyle but can he ask him a question. Lyle says sure. Munson asks, “Are you even trying?” I often feel like asking people this in life.

Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin--whose mother was Mexican--would never run out of bounds, unlike most quarterbacks. He'd deliver a hit instead. When asked why he did this, Van Brocklin replied, "Running out of bounds is for gringos." He didn't mean gringos as in white people. He meant pussies. I really enjoy that quote. I am completely on board with that sentiment.

Josh Gibson died aged thirty-five, which even most baseball historians tend not to know. He’s striking a pose here that catchers at the time often would. I have no idea why. It’s not a natural pose—with the throwing hand and mitt like that—but you see it again and again.

Lastly, here's a photograph I consider one of the best sports photographs. It's 4/30/52, and Ted Williams Day at Fenway Park, because this was Williams' last game before he left for a second tour of duty, this time to fly combat missions in Korea. In other words, before what could have been his death. That's Dom DiMaggio on Williams' left, a player I think belongs in the Hall of Fame. Perspective. God knows this world needs more of it.


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