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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

BPP: An interview with Robert Creamer

Creamer: His Life and Times. Terrific interview with Womack. (answers shortened here to save site/brain from exploding)

Who’s the greatest baseball player you covered?

Willie Mays. Period.

I seem to remember that Bill James, using his fabulous, desiccated statistics, demonstrated that Mickey Mantle, who was Willie’s almost exact contemporary, was actually the better player, and I’m not equipped to argue with Bill, although I’ll try. And there are DiMaggio, Williams, Musial, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez – no, wait. I didn’t cover DiMaggio, who retired after the 1951 season — I didn’t start with Sports Illustrated until 1954. But that’s still a pretty impressive collection of players to put Willie on top of.

You’ve written biographies on Casey Stengel and Babe Ruth. If steroids had been a part of the game when Stengel and Ruth were players, do you think they would have used?

Sure. Yes. Absolutely. Hell, for decades before the big scandal about steroids in baseball, clubhouses used to have plates or dishes filled with little candy-like pills players gulped or chewed on routinely. My mind is gone – I forget what they were called.. Uppers? Bennies? I can’t recall. But that was standard. Athletes are always looking for an edge and that was a way to get them fired up. I have never been as upset by steroid use as the moralistic holier-than-thou baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Fame. What a bunch of self-important phonies!

I mean, you’d think all an ordinary player would have to do is take steroids to hit 70 home runs or bat .350. But I think McGwire was telling the truth — he took steroids to hold back distress, to make him physically able to play the game. Steroids don’t make a player good. Think of the hundreds, even thousands of players who have been in and out of the major leagues and who may have dabbled in steroids and think how few have hit 50, let alone 60 or 70 homers.

Repoz Posted: January 17, 2012 at 05:41 AM | 59 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame, history, media, steroids

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   1. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: January 17, 2012 at 08:57 AM (#4038484)
Athletes are always looking for an edge and that was a way to get them fired up. I have never been as upset by steroid use as the moralistic holier-than-thou baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Fame. What a bunch of self-important phonies!


QFT.

Mays vs. Mantle is one of those great debates that have no wrong answer and tell more about the arguers than the subjects. As a Giant fan I, of course, know that Mays was the better and don't need none of those fancy number things.

Good article.
   2. TerpNats Posted: January 17, 2012 at 09:15 AM (#4038494)
James' argument was that at his peak, which I take to be 1956-57, Mantle was a better player than Mays, something I probably wouldn't argue with. However, Mays had better career value, as injuries took their toll on Mantle throughout the sixties.
   3. Run Joe Run Posted: January 17, 2012 at 09:37 AM (#4038505)
Lots of good stuff in there. Highly recommend reading the whole thing. Here's my favorite part about his discussion of Mays:

Maybe these aren’t good arguments for Mays as the greatest, but, oh, if you could have seen him play, feel the exuberance, see the quick, brilliant baseball mind at work, see the things he could do.


I know we often rail on the BBWAA for this type of argument - but there is something completely wonderful about this. Reminds me that passion for the game and love of your favorite player doesn't need to be logical.
   4. Rancischley Leweschquens (Tim Wallach was my Hero) Posted: January 17, 2012 at 10:00 AM (#4038518)
I really enjoyed RTA. He's really lucid. And he has a lot to share.

One of my favorite parts (beside those already quoted) is when he was asked if baseball was still America's pastime and he answered:

No. It’s our spectator sport and I think possibly still our biggest spectator sport, and we love to read about it and talk about it and watch it on TV but nobody PLAYS baseball anymore. Softball, yes,but today everybody plays basketball or touch football whereas a century ago EVERYBODY played baseball.
   5. Loren F. Posted: January 17, 2012 at 10:07 AM (#4038524)
I also urge people to read the entire interview. Lovely article, very down-to-earth. And some great stuff in there about writing.
   6. Rally Posted: January 17, 2012 at 10:35 AM (#4038547)
Mays had such a long career that his name normally doesn't come up when war credit is discussed. But if not for the Korean war, Mays probably would have broken Ruth's HR record a year before Aaron passed them both.
   7. Rally Posted: January 17, 2012 at 10:43 AM (#4038554)
On Mantle vs. Mays, obviously Willie wins on career value. On peak, there are enough variables to make the question impossible to definitively answer.

1. How much better was the NL than the AL during this time?
2. How great was Mays' advantage on defense?
3. How do you define peak anyway? If you look at their two best years it works to Mantle's advantage, but the longer definition of peak you look at swings it to Mays. Willie might have been at his best in 1964-65, at the end of which he was 34 years old. In those two years, he hit 99 homers, led the league in OPS+ twice, set his career OPS+ high at 184, missed all of 10 games, added 11 baserunning runs, and was still +32 TZ runs in the field while winning #8 and 9 of his 12 consecutive gold gloves.

But Willie Mays pretty much just as great every year from 1954 to 1965. Not that Mickey was any slouch. We have not seen the equal of either in CF since then.
   8. BDC Posted: January 17, 2012 at 11:11 AM (#4038570)
love of your favorite player doesn't need to be logical

And at that, Creamer's point isn't all sentimentality. I love to see a player run out ground balls, take first base on a dropped third strike, tag and go to third on a long fly, other little, alert things that players like Willie Mays (or Pete Rose or Joe Morgan, among later players) excelled at. They don't add up to a significant amount of measurable value, perhaps, but there's no reason not to do them right, and the "game of inches" aspect of any sport rewards them.
   9. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 17, 2012 at 11:39 AM (#4038599)
I first became intensely aware of big league baseball in the summer of 1931, when I was nine. My big brother, who was six years older than I, took me to my first major league game, or games — it was a doubleheader between the old New York Giants and the old Brooklyn Dodgers in the old Polo Grounds on the banks of the Harlem River in New York, below the steep hillside known as Coogan’s Bluff. John McGraw was still managing the Giants and Wilbert Robinson the Dodgers, who were generally known as the Robins. Headlines would sometimes refer to the Robins as “the Flock, as in flock of birds. I’m not sure if team nicknames were technically formal at that time. If not they soon were. Both McGraw and Robinson ended their managerial careers in 1932, and the Robins nickname soon disappeared as “Dodgers” returned. The new manager was Max Carey, whose real name was, I believe, “Canarius.” One sportswriter, Tom Meany, bowing to Max, suggested the team’s new nickname be the Canaries, but it didn’t take.


I first saw Mickey Mantle in person before he was even old enough to vote, but reading passages like the above almost makes me wish I were 87 and not 67. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.)
   10. Bourbon Samurai, what price fettucine? Posted: January 17, 2012 at 11:46 AM (#4038606)
TFA is wonderful.
   11. Rancischley Leweschquens (Tim Wallach was my Hero) Posted: January 17, 2012 at 12:01 PM (#4038620)
the Dodgers, who were generally known as the Robins

Random thoughts:

-I had forgotten that they were still called the Robins in 1931. I thought that the nickname had died years before.

-I also seemed to remember they were called the "Troley Dodgers" for a while, but can't find info about this on B-Ref.

-"Superbas" was an ugly nickname (in Quebec French, my mother tongue, it actually means "extremely low"...).

-Were they really nicknamed the "bridegrooms" and the "Grooms" in the 1890s? Yikes. It's a good thing they did not keep that name and adopted a teal uniform in the early 1990s. Actually, thinking about it, it would have been awesome.

[edit: From Wikipedia. I should have looked earlier:]
Other team names used by the franchise which would finally be called the Dodgers were the Grays, the Grooms, the Bridegrooms, the Superbas and the Robins. All of these nicknames were used by fans and sportswriters to describe the team, but not in any official capacity. The team's legal name was the Brooklyn Base Ball Club. However, the Trolley Dodger nickname was used throughout this period, along with these other nicknames, by fans and sportswriters of the day. The team did not use the name in any formal sense until 1932, when the word "Dodgers" appeared on jerseys for the team. The "conclusive shift" came in 1933, when both home and road jerseys for the team bore the name "Dodgers".


   12. Greg K Posted: January 17, 2012 at 12:08 PM (#4038629)
No. It’s our spectator sport and I think possibly still our biggest spectator sport, and we love to read about it and talk about it and watch it on TV but nobody PLAYS baseball anymore. Softball, yes,but today everybody plays basketball or touch football whereas a century ago EVERYBODY played baseball.

And it's a real shame. I played baseball all throughout my childhood. Then from age 18-26 I probably played 5 or 6 baseball games, and maybe catch with a friend a couple times a year. In the last couple years I've joined a club and started playing again and I honestly have no idea how I was living life without it. We play games roughly twice a month and practice twice a week for all 12 months of the year. I went home for Christmas and so went a month without any baseball whatsoever and I think I was actually getting depressed about it. I don't know how I forgot for those 8-10 years where I was a huge fan but didn't play...but playing baseball is ####### awesome!
   13. asinwreck Posted: January 17, 2012 at 12:13 PM (#4038631)
An excellent interview. Creamer's not only lucid (and, when discussing Jimmy Cannon, very funny), but provides cogent historical perspective on today's game.

I want Creamer to go on Clubhouse Confidential and discuss the Hall with Brian Kenny. This passage ought to be grist for a lengthy debate:

One other thing that ought to engage the moralists, some of whom still bleed tears for poor old Shoeless Joe Jackson and feisty Pete Rose. Jackson took money to throw ball games. That’s a fact. Whether he actually threw a game or not is beside the point. He AGREED to play badly for money. Rose brought betting on games into the clubhouse, which is horrible, despite all the warnings against doing so, despite the evidence that gambling corrupts sport. I think both of them should be in the Hall of Fame — tell the truth about them on their plaques: they were superb players but moral midgets — but both should continue to be banned from active participation in the game, either posthumously or not.

But the terrible sinners who took steroids were doing what? They were trying to get better, trying to improve themselves (foolishly), trying to win. They were wrong but their motives in a way were admirable.
   14. SoSH U at work Posted: January 17, 2012 at 12:36 PM (#4038647)
I don't know how I forgot for those 8-10 years where I was a huge fan but didn't play...but playing baseball is ####### awesome!


My youngest boy (the only of the Unaccceptable offspring to embrace the sport), has reached an age where he and I can have a meaningful, air-it-out kind of catch. I had forgotten what a wonderful experience it is.

   15. -- Posted: January 17, 2012 at 12:38 PM (#4038650)
I think both of them should be in the Hall of Fame — tell the truth about them on their plaques: they were superb players but moral midgets — but both should continue to be banned from active participation in the game, either posthumously or not.

Pete Rose undeniably should be in the Hall of Fame and I'm indifferent as to whether he should be barred from the game.

I would not vote for someone who agreed to throw games, so I can't agree on Shoeless Joe.

But the terrible sinners who took steroids were doing what? They were trying to get better, trying to improve themselves (foolishly), trying to win. They were wrong but their motives in a way were admirable.

Maybe, maybe not, but their intent is beside the real point, which is that their steroid use impacted the statistics they generated. One can't seriously evaluate their Hall of Fame case without accounting for that. Steroid use, alone, should not disqualify because of lack of "integrity" or "character." Creamer's quite right about that.
   16. -- Posted: January 17, 2012 at 12:48 PM (#4038655)
I love to see a player run out ground balls, take first base on a dropped third strike, tag and go to third on a long fly, other little, alert things that players like Willie Mays (or Pete Rose or Joe Morgan, among later players) excelled at. They don't add up to a significant amount of measurable value, perhaps, but there's no reason not to do them right, and the "game of inches" aspect of any sport rewards them.

And conversely, I hate to see people not doing it because those things (allegedly) don't add up to a significant amount of measurable value. Loafing probably evinces a lack of "integrity" and "character" more pronounced than steroid use. Posing for SportsCenter on a "homerun" and winding up at first base in an elimination game, as Manny did in Game 5 2007 in Cleveland, plainly shows a lack of integrity and character.
   17. Mark Armour Posted: January 17, 2012 at 01:02 PM (#4038662)
When Hanley Ramirez had his famous jog down the left field line retrieving a foul ball, causing a blowup in Miami, Joe Sheehan wrote essentially that talent is more important and that the team needed Hanley on the field regardless of how hard he tries.

The problem with this take is that there is causation between repeated non-hustle and turning in the kind of season that he just turned in. If he doesn't give a #### on the field, he is not going to have a long successful career. So you must deal with it, even if it hurts your team in the short term.
   18. -- Posted: January 17, 2012 at 01:06 PM (#4038665)
When Hanley Ramirez had his famous jog down the left field line retrieving a foul ball, causing a blowup in Miami, Joe Sheehan wrote essentially that talent is more important and that the team needed Hanley on the field regardless of how hard he tries.

That kind of drivel is a blight on the professional analytical community, and is impossible to take seriously.
   19. valuearbitrageur Posted: January 17, 2012 at 01:32 PM (#4038689)
Maybe, maybe not, but their intent is beside the real point, which is that their steroid use impacted the statistics they generated. One can't seriously evaluate their Hall of Fame case without accounting for that.


That's not an argument at all.

Greenies impacted the statistics they generated.

Corked bats and spitters impacted the statistics they generated.

Ballpark size impacted the statistics they generated.

Thinner bat handles have impacted the statistics they generated.

The prohibition against black and latino players impacted the statistics they generated.

Every player can only measured against the competition he faced, which is why we use park and league adjusted stats when making these comparisons. And Mark McGwire is the 12th best hitter of all time by OPS+ and wRC+.

   20. valuearbitrageur Posted: January 17, 2012 at 01:51 PM (#4038713)
I think both of them should be in the Hall of Fame — tell the truth about them on their plaques: they were superb players but moral midgets — but both should continue to be banned from active participation in the game, either posthumously or not.


BTW I agree with this. I think the history of the game should include all the best and worst, the good and the bad, and admission to the HOF should not be across a line of censorship. Let the fans decide if they want to cheer or hiss, but on field accomplishments should not be denied.

I say this despite the fact I despise Pete Rose, and have never before argued for anything other than his permanent ban from baseball and the HOF, but Bob Creamer's clarity of thought made me realize that while Pete should have permanently lost the opportunity to actively participate in baseball, we can't deny his on field exploits, nor should we hide from both the good and bad he did.
   21. -- Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:08 PM (#4038733)
Every player can only measured against the competition he faced, which is why we use park and league adjusted stats when making these comparisons. And Mark McGwire is the 12th best hitter of all time by OPS+ and wRC+.

That's internally inconsistent. If "every player can only be measured against the competition he faced," where he ranks "all time" in anything is a vapid conclusion, of no moment. If steroids impacted the inputs to OPS+ and wRC+, and players in other eras didn't use them, the cross-era comparison needs to adjust for steroids.
   22. Steve Treder Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:15 PM (#4038749)
I had the great pleasure of meeting and talking with Creamer when he attended the Nine conference a few years ago. He is an absolute gem.
   23. Walt Davis Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:16 PM (#4038751)
And McGwire is the 276th "best" hitter by PA and the 131st "best" player by WAR.

That latter number puts him behind Kenny Lofton and Rick Reuschel. :-)

You can't make a "xth best" or HoF case on rate stats alone.

McGwire isn't even the 12th best hitter by OPS+. McGwire's career OPS+ is 162. Stan Musial's is 159. McGwire had 7660 PA. In the first 7444 PA of his career, Musial had a 172 OPS+. It should surprise nobody that Musial was a better hitter than McGwire.

Through the first 7505 PAs of his career, Frank Thomas had a 163. That includes his poor age 33-34 seasons, he was a much better hitter from ages 35-39 so if you took the best 7600 PAs of his career, he'd beat McGwire more easily.

From ages 25-37, Aaron had 8525 PA with a 164.

From ages 23-34, Mays had 7969 PA with a 167.

From ages 24-35, Robinson had 7307 PA with a 164.

Then you still have guys like Mike Schmidt. Schmidt does lose to McGwire on OPS+ over the same number of PAs but Mac led the league in OPS+ 4 times while Schmidt did it 6 times, including 5 straight seasons. In McGwire's era, it was more common to put up extreme OPS+ numbers. OPS+ makes no adjustment for higher variation in OBP and SLG in some eras compared to others, it only adjusts for differences in means.
   24. dlf Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:18 PM (#4038757)
I love that Creamer has been watching baseball since the days of Babe Ruth and yet describes himself as growing anxious while watching an otherwise meaningless Mets game. After all this time, he hasn't grown cynical and still watches through the eyes of a fan. That is beautiful and something I wish more of our present day writers could share.
   25. Mark Armour Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:19 PM (#4038759)
The best part of Creamer at Nine, was that he seemed just as interested in what we thought as what he thought. When I told him I also believed Mays to baseball's best player, he lit up but also asked me to elaborate. Why did I believe that, what did I have to add to the discussion?

He stayed for the entire conference, listened to every speaker, and asked questions of several of them. I hope he lives forever.
   26. Steve Treder Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:20 PM (#4038761)
He stayed for the entire conference, listened to every speaker, and asked questions of several of them. I hope he lives forever.

Absolutely right. I'd hang with that guy anytime, anywhere.
   27. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:22 PM (#4038763)
My youngest boy (the only of the Unaccceptable offspring to embrace the sport), has reached an age where he and I can have a meaningful, air-it-out kind of catch. I had forgotten what a wonderful experience it is.

Yes.
I haven't played baseball in a long time, but play softball on several teams, year-round.
I'm always the one who wants to throw and throw, often warming up 2 or 3 people before a game.
   28. -- Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:32 PM (#4038775)
Creamer gets the "excruciating" excitement of the game and the almost unbearable anticipation exactly right. A close, important playoff game, particularly a decider where you have a rooting interest, becomes almost impossible to watch.(**) No other sport, with the possible exception of a team trying to hold a one-goal lead in the final minute of a playoff hockey game, comes even close. And in hockey, you don't have baked into the tension things like inchoate rage at a manager's decision you didn't like and the fear that it may blow up.

(**) Though hardly alone, these are utterly compelling sporting events in a way that only baseball can generate:

Tigers/Twins, Game 163, 2009
Tigers/Yankees, Game 5, 2011
Giants/Phillies, Game 6, 2010
Twins/Braves, Game 7, 1991
Pirates/Braves, Game 7, 1992
   29. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:36 PM (#4038780)
Bill James had a good line in the first Historical Abstract in referencing Stan Musial getting hurt while working out on a trampoline in the offseason on how players who get hurt in those conditions typically have long careers while guys who get hurt playing the game in June do not.

Same applies to the guys who for whatever reason cannot bring themselves to hustle. If you condition your body to not hustle then when you DO ask something of it that something will catch your body unprepared and ergo, likely a chance to get hurt.

PLayers who hustle are in essence conditioning the body to hustle.

We are simple creatures. Ask us to do something once and we forget how the next time. Ask us to do the same thing reperatedly and we get it and do it.
   30. Greg K Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:41 PM (#4038784)
Same applies to the guys who for whatever reason cannot bring themselves to hustle. If you condition your body to not hustle then when you DO ask something of it that something will catch your body unprepared and ergo, likely a chance to get hurt.

Not that it's really evidence supporting this position, but this happened to me last winter.
I was playing indoor softball (don't ask) and got a solid single to LF. As I was casually sauntering to first I noticed the LF was trying to throw me out, so I turned on the "jets" and blew out my hamstring.

Lessons I learned were
1) Stop lollygagging
2) Stretching can be helpful
3) Indoor Softball? Really?!?!?

EDIT: FYI, I WAS safe, though I was forced out at second the next at bat due to poor crawling speed.
   31. vortex of dissipation Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:46 PM (#4038790)
I mean, I saw Babe Ruth hit home runs.


Wow. Just, wow...
   32. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:48 PM (#4038792)
I started coaching little league last year with a group of 10-12 year olds. Like SoSH's boy they are good enough to let 'er rip and just the simple act of playing catch was one of the surprisingly enjoyable aspects of the experience.
   33. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: January 17, 2012 at 02:54 PM (#4038805)
Creamer gets the "excruciating" excitement of the game and the almost unbearable anticipation exactly right. A close, important playoff game, particularly a decider where you have a rooting interest, becomes almost impossible to watch.(**) No other sport, with the possible exception of a team trying to hold a one-goal lead in the final minute of a playoff hockey game, comes even close. And in hockey, you don't have baked into the tension things like inchoate rage at a manager's decision you didn't like and the fear that it may blow up.


I'll agree with you about the tension of a baseball game but an overtime, playoff hockey game is unbearable like no other sport. Sudden death where within ten seconds either team could score the decisive goal,...I could barely blink during Game Seven of the Bruin/Canadien series last year.

With baseball I think the aspect that there is a moment in the game where nothing good can happen is what makes it so "excrutiating" (absolutely the right word). A tie game when you are in the field...all you can do there is survive.
   34. Greg K Posted: January 17, 2012 at 03:05 PM (#4038817)
I'll agree with you about the tension of a baseball game but an overtime, playoff hockey game is unbearable like no other sport. Sudden death where within ten seconds either team could score the decisive goal,...I could barely blink during Game Seven of the Bruin/Canadien series last year.

I remember watching game six of the Flames/Canucks series in 03/04. If I recall correctly the Flames went down 4-0, then came back to tie it, then lost in triple over-time. I was watching it in a dorm common room with about an equal mix of Flames and Canucks fans. One of my friends who is a die-hard Flames fan and hadn't seen his team win anything in over a decade later said that he had gone back to his room before each OT period to throw up. Now THAT was unbearable tension.
   35. -- Posted: January 17, 2012 at 03:13 PM (#4038825)
I remember watching game six of the Flames/Canucks series in 03/04. If I recall correctly the Flames went down 4-0, then came back to tie it, then lost in triple over-time. I was watching it in a dorm common room with about an equal mix of Flames and Canucks fans. One of my friends who is a die-hard Flames fan and hadn't seen his team win anything in over a decade later said that he had gone back to his room before each OT period to throw up. Now THAT was unbearable tension.

It's a very close call. Hockey's unbearable, too, but it doesn't have the waiting and the buildup that each pitch in playoff baseball has. Your mind has less to do during overtime hockey -- beyond suffering, of course.

But, yeah, sudden death OT in Game 7 -- at worst a very, very close second and quite possibly first. Nothing else compares.
   36. stig-tossled, hornswoggled gef the typing mongoose Posted: January 17, 2012 at 03:23 PM (#4038835)
He AGREED to play badly for money.


Jayson Werth, Gary Matthews Jr., Adam Dunn & any number of other highly paid pieces of crap say hi.
   37. Greg K Posted: January 17, 2012 at 03:26 PM (#4038836)
The comparison for me is two distinct kinds of suffering.

Game Seven OT suffering is eyes glued, every muscle tensed, silent waiting for death for 20 minutes at a time.

Ninth Inning is moments like the above punctuated by intervals of pacing, hair-pulling, and "conversations" that are essentially just a series of unanswerable questions ("how could he throw a fastball down the middle in that count?" "he HAS to take him out now, right?" "why is he letting him face a lefty?")

I'd be hard pressed to decide which is more soul-crushing, though I agree I've never really had moments like that while watching football or soccer.
   38. Greg K Posted: January 17, 2012 at 03:33 PM (#4038842)
Jayson Werth, Gary Matthews Jr., Adam Dunn & any number of other highly paid pieces of crap say hi.

I think they took up the mantle of sucking on their own initiative, and should be admired in their own right for that.
   39. dlf Posted: January 17, 2012 at 03:43 PM (#4038852)
Without trying to take anything away from the excruciating tension of an end of season matchup, I find the much slower pace of the quiet summer afternoon in the bleachers with nothing much at stake brings me at least as much joy. And reading Creamer's answers seems to suggest that he feels a lot the same. I like the way he writes about being a kid going to Coogan's Bluff or how he valued the interaction with Monte Irvin, Rocky Bridges, or Wally Moon more than the "great stars."
   40. SOLockwood Posted: January 17, 2012 at 03:45 PM (#4038853)
Jayson Werth, Gary Matthews Jr., Adam Dunn & any number of other highly paid pieces of crap say hi.


No! The difference is that those guys were not deliberately sucking. Playing to lose is fundamentally different than playing not good enough to win.
   41. valuearbitrageur Posted: January 17, 2012 at 04:12 PM (#4038877)
That's internally inconsistent. If "every player can only be measured against the competition he faced," where he ranks "all time" in anything is a vapid conclusion, of no moment. If steroids impacted the inputs to OPS+ and wRC+, and players in other eras didn't use them, the cross-era comparison needs to adjust for steroids.


And for not facing pitchers on steroids, and for not competing with blacks and latins, etc, etc.

You can only measure how dominant players were in their era. period.


And McGwire is the 276th "best" hitter by PA and the 131st "best" player by WAR.

That latter number puts him behind Kenny Lofton and Rick Reuschel. :-)


And top 30 in WAR per game.

You can't make a "xth best" or HoF case on rate stats alone.


You sure can make the "xth best" case, if an incomplete one. Who was making a HOF case?

McGwire isn't even the 12th best hitter by OPS+. McGwire's career OPS+ is 162. Stan Musial's is 159. McGwire had 7660 PA. In the first 7444 PA of his career, Musial had a 172 OPS+. It should surprise nobody that Musial was a better hitter than McGwire.

Through the first 7505 PAs of his career, Frank Thomas had a 163. That includes his poor age 33-34 seasons, he was a much better hitter from ages 35-39 so if you took the best 7600 PAs of his career, he'd beat McGwire more easily.

From ages 25-37, Aaron had 8525 PA with a 164.

From ages 23-34, Mays had 7969 PA with a 167.

From ages 24-35, Robinson had 7307 PA with a 164.


From ages 28-37 McGwire had 4,140 PA with a 188 OPS+. If he didn't have multiple heel surgeries and be forced to have part of his heel removed during the middle of that span, he finishes his career 10th in OPS+ close to Ty Cobb's 168.

In McGwire's era, it was more common to put up extreme OPS+ numbers. OPS+ makes no adjustment for higher variation in OBP and SLG in some eras compared to others, it only adjusts for differences in means.


Nope.

The highest variation era was clearly 1919-1934, 15 out of 16 years the OPS+ leader was at 200+, with the lowest year being Babe Ruth in 1929 (193).

The peak OPS+ period during the steroids era ran from 1992 to 2004, and clocks in at a piddling 8 out of 13 years at 200+. It contained 4 years under 190, including McGwires 1999 season at a bare 176.

And BTW, a 5 foot 8 inch second baseman name Fred Dunlap once put up a 258, which Ruth never could beat.
   42. Morty Causa Posted: January 17, 2012 at 04:18 PM (#4038882)
I did see Mantle and Mays and Aaron--and Williams in 1958-60. The player I would liked to have seen, and the playing I would like to see, is Ty Cobb and his brand of baseball. . I think he, and the type of playing he represented was qualitatively and categorically distinctive. Players and their playing since since him and Speaker and Wagner are not of that type. We know how Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, Williams, Musial, DiMaggio, Mays, Mantle, etc., played the game. It's still being played that way. Not so for Cobb. It's lost in history. We don't even have film. It was a much more daring game in Cobb's time, and Cobb was the daringest. Players like Henderson show some traits of it, but, still, Rickey never took the chances on the bases that Cobb must have in that low-scoring era. When you play a 22-inning game in--what was it?--two and a half hours, that means the game back then was rocketing.
   43. -- Posted: January 17, 2012 at 04:24 PM (#4038887)
You can only measure how dominant players were in their era. period.

Then why are you citing all-time rank in various categories?

McGwire compared favorably against his peers in some measurements, but had a drug advantage over ca. 50% of them. Hitters in other eras didn't have comparably significant advantages over their peers. The cross-era peer-to-peer comparisons completely fall apart unless you factor this in.

And McGwire's drug advantage was merely a subset of what also appears to have been an era of high variance in OPS and SLG, which favors players of his type. (Citing merely the number of the OPS leader in a particular year/era doesn't tell you much, if anything, about variance.)
   44. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: January 17, 2012 at 04:56 PM (#4038908)
If you want daring then Alfredo Griffin was a vague resemblance

Griffin was NUTS when he managed to get on base
   45. valuearbitrageur Posted: January 17, 2012 at 04:59 PM (#4038910)
And McGwire's drug advantage was merely a subset of what also appears to have been an era of high variance in OPS and SLG, which favors players of his type. (Citing merely the number of the OPS leader in a particular year/era doesn't tell you much, if anything, about variance.)


It's a fact that tells us much more than naked assertions do. Going further down the list shows us again, that variance was higher in Babe Ruth's era.

From 1919 to 1934 the 6th best OPS+ in the majors (16 teams) varied between 145-169.

From 1992-2004 the 10th best OPS+ in the majors (28-30 teams) varied between 147-160.

The difference of course, is that we are comparing a static period with a group of 16 teams to a dynamic period with expanding group that had just added 2 teams to reach 28 before the period starts and then another 2 teams midway between through it. Because of expansion you would expect variance to increase. Also, because of the DH you would expect variance in OPS+ to be higher. But it isn't. At best you can say Ruth's era was similar when expansion and the DH should dictate Ruth's era be lower variance. But even then Babe Ruth's era had more dominant OPS leaders, which in itself are examples of higher variance.

Then why are you citing all-time rank in various categories?


Because clearly when the variance during his era wasn't significantly greater than many historical periods in the categories I referenced, his dominance over his peers in those key categories is as pertinent as any other players from any other era.
   46. Morty Causa Posted: January 17, 2012 at 05:21 PM (#4038915)
#44:

It's not enough just to be crazy. You got to be crazy good.
   47. -- Posted: January 17, 2012 at 05:58 PM (#4038930)
It's a fact that tells us much more than naked assertions do. Going further down the list shows us again, that variance was higher in Babe Ruth's era.

Of course. The talent pool in Ruth's era was denuded of some of its finest talent. You'd fully expect bigger spreads in talent and production, and superstars to look better against their average/median "peers."

The better comparison is eras post-integration, pre-Steroid Era.

   48. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: January 17, 2012 at 06:52 PM (#4038957)
Morty

You and your standards
   49. Cooper Nielson Posted: January 17, 2012 at 10:36 PM (#4039050)
Whoa. I love this guy. How fun would it be to sit and watch a baseball game (even on TV) with Bob Creamer?Thanks so much for the interview, B:PaP.

This was actually very inspiring. I actually want to devote more of my time this year to talking to elderly people.
   50. Morty Causa Posted: January 17, 2012 at 11:06 PM (#4039066)
48:

My crazy standards.

Part of the joy (I think) of watching Ty Cobb would be watching Ty Cobb baseball everywhere. Everyone played like Ty Cobb. They just weren't as good as he was. It would be an alien, even exotic, experience. That would be part of the thrill.
   51. Howie Menckel Posted: January 18, 2012 at 12:02 AM (#4039093)
"I actually want to devote more of my time this year to talking to elderly people."

Even the media has no idea how fascinating they can be (especially now that memories can more easily be checked via facts).

My father, a career NYC fireman, told me in the weeks after 9-11 that it wasn't the first time a plane had hit a building in Manhattan. I said, of course, that small plane hit the Empire State Building in the 1940s.

He said, "No, this was a different one" that he was assigned to as a rookie, first on the scene, in that era. Only fatalities were a couple of people in the plane that hit the building, which barely budged.

Looked it up, and it's true. Was a Wall St. building.
His memories of the scene were spot-on, more than 60 years later.
   52. Morty Causa Posted: January 18, 2012 at 12:09 AM (#4039097)
Neat.
   53. valuearbitrageur Posted: January 18, 2012 at 12:16 AM (#4039100)

Of course. The talent pool in Ruth's era was denuded of some of its finest talent. You'd fully expect bigger spreads in talent and production, and superstars to look better against their average/median "peers."

The better comparison is eras post-integration, pre-Steroid Era.


Try again. The tenth place OPS+ line has barely budged over history, despite substantially smaller player pools. In 1951 ten hitters had an OPS+ of 147 or better, despite almost half the number of teams and players, no DH, and a flood of new talent.

You may want to believe the steroid era has more variance, but clearly the facts disagree.
   54. Downtown Bookie Posted: January 18, 2012 at 12:28 AM (#4039105)
Just wanted to echo what so many have posted above, that this is truly a great article.

DB
   55. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 18, 2012 at 01:07 AM (#4039114)
I got to see Mantle and Williams many times in person in the 50's and 60's, and two games in particular stand out, both in Washington. The first was a game in August of 1953 where Williams homered just a few weeks after returning from Korea, in the midst of hitting .407 for the last two months of the season. And on Opening Day in 1956, Mantle hit two of his longest HRs ever, both into a tree behind the high CF wall in Griffith Stadium. Those two homers represented 40% of the total number of balls hit into that tree in the 51 year history of Griffith Stadium. Williams hit the last one on Opening Day 1960, and all three of those dingers were off Camilo Pascual.

Only saw Mays and Aaron in the two All-Star games in Washington (1956 and 1962), but in that first game there were four home runs: By Mays, Musial, Williams and Mantle. I've still got the fully scored program from that game, food stains and all, which took place 3 days before my 12th birthday.

I did see Mantle and Mays and Aaron--and Williams in 1958-60. The player I would liked to have seen, and the playing I would like to see, is Ty Cobb and his brand of baseball. . I think he, and the type of playing he represented was qualitatively and categorically distinctive. Players and their playing since since him and Speaker and Wagner are not of that type. We know how Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, Williams, Musial, DiMaggio, Mays, Mantle, etc., played the game. It's still being played that way. Not so for Cobb. It's lost in history. We don't even have film. It was a much more daring game in Cobb's time, and Cobb was the daringest. Players like Henderson show some traits of it, but, still, Rickey never took the chances on the bases that Cobb must have in that low-scoring era. When you play a 22-inning game in--what was it?--two and a half hours, that means the game back then was rocketing.

I completely agree. I'd much rather watch the entire 1908 or 1912 seasons than any season in the lively ball era, not only for the style of baseball but also for the far more intimate nature of the ballpark experience: Smaller parks, upper decks much closer to the action, and routine sights in big games such as overflow crowds sitting down the foul lines or roped in between the outfield wall and the outfielders. That practice carried over into the lively ball era, but it was far more common before 1920.
   56. vortex of dissipation Posted: January 18, 2012 at 01:27 AM (#4039117)
I said, of course, that small plane hit the Empire State Building in the 1940s.


A B-25 Mitchell is hardly a small plane...
   57. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: January 18, 2012 at 01:29 AM (#4039118)
No! The difference is that those guys were not deliberately sucking.


Yeah, the guy was making a funny.
   58. OCF Posted: January 18, 2012 at 01:42 AM (#4039120)
I first saw Mickey Mantle in person before he was even old enough to vote, but reading passages like the above almost makes me wish I were 87 and not 67. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.)

My father may have seen Mantle in person younger than you did, and in the cozy setting of a small ballpark. I think I remember him saying something about seeing Mantle in one or several minor league games in Oklahoma. But since my father didn't live to see Mantle retire from the majors, it's not exactly something I could check up on.
   59. base ball chick Posted: January 19, 2012 at 03:38 PM (#4040557)
how did i miss this first time around?

what a totally KEWL guy. i am sorry the interview ended. i would like to hear more.

i worked in an old folks home and if you listen, some people got a lot of interesting things to say. and some are just worn from releating the same things they said at age 22 the same way a zillion times without once stopping to look around and think about anything

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