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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Markusen: Seinfeld, Sabermetrics and Ken Phelps

Bruce, Bill James made me love Phelps also, but c’mon, they already had Don Mattingly and Jack Clark, it was never gonna work.

this year marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld, arguably the most successful sitcom in the history of American television. This month (August) also marks the 60th birthday of Ken Phelps, one of the poster children for Bill James’ Sabermetric movement of the 1980s…

Phelps had had drawn the Yankees’ interest since 1985, when Billy Martin had instructed the front office to do whatever it took to get him. Three years later, Phelps finally arrived, too late for Martin but just in time for new manager Lou Piniella. Here was the plan. Phelps would DH against right-handers, allowing the Yankees to alternate days off for Jack Clark, who was 32 years old, and Dave Winfield, who was 36. To make the trade even more favorable for New York, scouts had their doubts about Buhner, the primary ingredient the Yankees sent to the Mariners. Buhner, a onetime prospect with the Pirates, had several holes in his uppercut swing, struck out at an alarming rate, and appeared ill-suited for Death Valley at the old Yankee Stadium.

So on all fronts, trading Buhner for Phelps made me happy. Unfortunately, Piniella, who was early in his career as a field boss, couldn’t figure out how to get Phelps into the lineup more regularly. (In fairness to Piniella, the injury-prone Clark complained about having to move back to the outfield to make room for Phelps, making life more difficult for Sweet Lou.) ...

Although Phelps’ Yankee career will never amount to a Yankeeography, he is far from forgotten. Quite the contrary, he has become a popular culture icon, thanks to the efforts of Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza, and the mythical George Steinbrenner (voiced by the brilliant Larry David)... Much like Larry David did in voicing the role of George Steinbrenner, I found myself saying “Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps” a lot in 1988, to the point that his name became an obsession with me. I thought he would become the next big thing in New York. It never happened. But I understood where George Steinbrenner was coming from. And if you were a Mariners fan in the mid-1980s, you probably did, too.

The District Attorney Posted: August 28, 2014 at 02:36 PM | 8 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bill james, ken phelps, mariners, sabermetrics, television, yankees

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   1. toratoratora Posted: August 28, 2014 at 05:47 PM (#4781144)
And if you were a Mariners fan in the mid-1980s, you probably did, too.

If you were a Strat fan you knew this too. He had some fun fun cards in the day. All Boom and walk with nice OBP.
The defense, not so hot.
   2. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili(Teddy F. Ballgame) Posted: August 28, 2014 at 05:55 PM (#4781149)
Are we talking now about Phelps or Buhner?
   3. tfbg9 Posted: August 28, 2014 at 07:29 PM (#4781207)
Phelps got a ring with the '89 A's. He actually got into a couple of postseason games for them.
   4. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: August 28, 2014 at 08:23 PM (#4781230)
Ok, so I can see why Steinbrenner traded Jay Buhner, but how could he give $12 million to Hideki Irabu?
   5. Bruce Markusen Posted: August 29, 2014 at 08:59 AM (#4781486)
Good evening, Mr. Phelps.
   6. Ron J2 Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:46 AM (#4781527)
they already had Don Mattingly and Jack Clark, it was never gonna work


And that's true of a fair number of Phelpser. Roberto Petagine was almost certainly a good major league hitter in his prime, but he either got trapped behind an established player at least as good or got hurt until he ended up in Japan.
   7. Batman Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:56 AM (#4781544)
I liked Ken Phelps because he looked goofy on his baseball cards.
   8. John Northey Posted: August 29, 2014 at 11:22 AM (#4781652)
That is the challenge for Ken Phelps types. Guys with no position, or just 1B, have just 15 ML jobs available (DH in AL) and clubs tend to like to use it as a rotation spot unless they have a Big Papi or something. Also something people forget is most players decline rapidly once they hit 32 as a rule. Phelps at 29 had his first real full shot (101 games, previous high was 50) and from 29 to 33 hit for a 149 OPS+ via OPS+'s of 149-120-152-147-162. He was sent to NY during that 162 season (hit for a 147 as a Yankee that year) but then collapsed at 34 to a 103, then a 37 and was done.

The Jays are dealing with that type of headache right now with Lind being stuck at 1B/DH (ideally DH) and Encarnacion who should be at DH as well. Makes life difficult for a manager as you want the bat but get scared on defense. Meanwhile in the OF we have a butcher in Cabrera and Bautista really should shift to 1B/DH soon as well. Then you get backups like Francisco who hit well before August and should be a DH but plays at 3B. Guys like that are nice, but boy is it hard to figure out where to play them.

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