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Saturday, February 20, 2021

The extraordinary, unsung career of Al Smith

Smith had his first of three All-Star years in Cleveland in 1955—leading the American League in runs (123), while posting 22 homers and 77 RBIs. In 1958, he was traded to the White Sox for beloved White Sox player Minnie Miñoso. Fans were angry and took that anger out on Smith, booing him at every turn. He struggled.

Bill Veeck, former owner of the Indians and now owner of the White Sox, had a brilliant idea: He staged an “Al Smith Night.” Anybody named Smith, Smythe, Schmidt or Smithe could get in for free, but had to wear a button that read, “I’m a Smith and I’m for Al.” Smith ended up going 1-for-4 and making an error, but Veeck proclaimed that it turned his year around. Smith hit six homers during the last four weeks of the season—including one in Chicago’s pennant-clinching 4-2 victory over the Indians. Smith raved of Veeck’s kindness and understanding toward players, especially Black players, during his time in baseball. From “When the Cheering Stops:”

“In my early years there were a lot of places I couldn’t stay,” he explained. “Even in Chicago and Baltimore, and in Florida during spring training. But guys like Hank Greenberg and Bill Veeck did a lot to change that. They would tell the guys who owned the hotels that if everyone couldn’t stay there, they would move the entire ballclub.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 20, 2021 at 02:25 PM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: al smith

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   1. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: February 20, 2021 at 02:46 PM (#6006007)
A pretty good governor of New York who helped build the Empire State Building, but all anyone remembers is that he got clobbered by Hoover in 1928.

What? Oh.

Never mind.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: February 20, 2021 at 03:45 PM (#6006018)
The article makes the timeline weird. Smith arrived in 58 but the Sox won the pennant in 59. Did Veeck wait for almost 2 full seasons before this brilliant idea?

FWIW, Smith 58-59 is pretty much an exact match for 57. In 1960 at 32, he bouced back to prime production for a few years. After the trade Smith put up 10 WAR and Minoso 15. Can't blame Sox fans as Minoso was still a 5-WAR player at the time. But the Sox also got Early Wynn who had 10 WAR left and was quite good in 59. Smith was later part of the trade of Aparicio for Wilhelm and Hansen.
   3. sunday silence (again) Posted: February 20, 2021 at 06:02 PM (#6006034)
Smith and Minoso both play corner OF positions mainly (Smith some 2b as well) but the TZ metric used to evaluate their defense likely diminishes the difference in their defensive abilities, see for instance *. Here we have a perfect storm of sorts because Minoso is rated somewhat above average fielding by TZ and Smith somewhat below average by TZ. At the time of the trade Minoso is rated about 5 runs above average for a number of years, bookended by spectacular ratings at age 28 and 33. Smith has some odd outliers at age 29/31 but aside from those, he's about 5 or 6 runs to the bad.

BUt this is by the limited TZ metric. I dont think its unreasonable to think Minoso is more like +10 and Smith -10. SO possibly 10 runs more difference on def. then suggested by TZ. It would be interesting to see what contemporary observers made of this part of the trade.

* The best critique of Rally's system is probably here:

http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/best_worst_wowy_since_1993_through_age_34/

under post 16 (by Guy): "What I think is happening is that TZ artificially pushes all fielders too close to the mean, by reducing the imputed opportunities to bad fielders and increasing opportunities for good fielders..."

A good illustration (of how much greater DRS numbers are) using current player and numbers is here:

https://www.athleticsnation.com/2018/7/27/17624076/matt-chapman-defense-oakland-as-gold-glove-please

which summarizes 4 different defensive methods in regards to Matt CHapman and other top defenders. Not a lot of methodology but a bunch of data pts for different players/methods to chew on.

   4. asinwreck Posted: February 21, 2021 at 10:25 AM (#6006066)
Beloved member of the one White Sox team to make a World Series appearance between 1919 and 2005. After his career ended, Smith managed the Chicago Parks District's baseball operations for many years.
   5. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: February 21, 2021 at 10:34 AM (#6006067)
A pretty good governor of New York who helped build the Empire State Building, but all anyone remembers is that he got clobbered by Hoover in 1928.

Also the only governor Robert Moses addressed as Governor, iirc.
   6. bjhanke Posted: February 22, 2021 at 02:16 AM (#6006175)
Smith's high school career is just as weird as his Major League career. As the article says, Smith went to high school and played sports for "Webster Groves Douglass High." Douglass High is in a suburb of St. Louis called Webster Groves. I lived there, about 3 whole blocks from Douglass High. I didn't go to Douglass because it was in "North Webster." That wasn't an official place or anything, but everyone knew what it meant. It meant that part of Webster Groves where black people lived. Al Smith didn't live in North Webster, or Webster Groves at all. He lived in the next suburb west, called Kirkwood. Kirkwood had its own black ghetto, called "Meacham (sp?) Park." And Kirkwood High School didn't admit black students. So all the Meacham Park high school kids had to go to Douglass. It's about a five mile trip. I'm not at all sure that they had busses. And yet, Al Smith was able not only to get there to go to school, but was able to find a way to get home after sports practices and games. It must have been a weird, weird experience.
   7. Howie Menckel Posted: February 22, 2021 at 09:29 AM (#6006194)
Al Smith SABR bio

Smith originally signed with the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues, managed by HOMer Quincy Trouppe. Smith integrated teams, and even leagues, in his early days.
   8. BDC Posted: February 22, 2021 at 10:33 AM (#6006204)
That is interesting about his high school. Maybe he had an aunt or grandparent or other family member who lived near the school. Not uncommon for schools to work something out informally to get a top athlete on their teams via fudging residency.
   9. sunday silence (again) Posted: February 22, 2021 at 12:54 PM (#6006218)
But BJ says all the students from Meacham had to go to Douglass so they wouldnt have to pull any strings. Unless I am misunderstanding.
   10. BDC Posted: February 22, 2021 at 01:33 PM (#6006220)
I guess my idea is that he couldn't have gone to the white HS, but maybe could have gotten into the neighboring black HS if some coach had had influence. Sheer guess, of course.
   11. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili (TeddyF.Ballgame) Posted: February 22, 2021 at 08:19 PM (#6006287)
There was no neighboring high school, although I'm not sure how clear that is from bjhanke's comment. If you were a Black kid in that area, Douglass was your only option.
   12. Rally Posted: February 23, 2021 at 10:52 AM (#6006342)
A good illustration (of how much greater DRS numbers are) using current player and numbers is here:


I think you mean greater as in the range of values. TotalZone is generally in the middle of these estimates, looking at variation among fielders.

Something like TangoTiger's WOWY shows the best and worst fielders somewhere between +/- 30 to 50 runs per season.

DRS has less variation than that.

Total Zone is probably about the same as UZR, and less than DRS

Fielding Win Shares shows much less variation than any of them.

How much actual variation is there between best and worst fielders? Statcast outs above average should be the place people look for answers. Then ask yourself which system comes closest to showing the actual distribution, for seasons where we don't have Statcast.
   13. Rally Posted: February 23, 2021 at 11:04 AM (#6006345)
I didn't know much about Al Smith, who had a very good career. Sure, it was over before I was born but usually I know something about significant players from the 50s and 60s. Too bad I wasn't around in 1959, I would have gotten into a game for free and saved $1.50 or whatever tickets went for then.

Looking at Smith's Totalzone breakdowns, here is the story I get:

1. He was a good left fielder.
2. He was fine in right as far as range goes, but didn't have enough arm for the position (his -19 TZ in right is due to -15 arm rating).
3. He didn't have the range for center.
4. Third base? Is that the one over there? Well, I'll give it a try.
   14. Ron J Posted: February 23, 2021 at 11:23 AM (#6006350)
#13 I know I've mentioned it before, but this was a weird time when it came to trying people at third. All sorts of teams tried to stuff an extra bat into the lineup. Basically if you could hit, threw right handed and had a decent arm there was a very good chance that you'd get tried at third.
   15. gef, talking mongoose & suburban housewife Posted: February 23, 2021 at 11:38 AM (#6006355)
Shorter version: Third baseman Harmon Killebrew.

(My first favorite player, as it happens.)
   16. Ron J Posted: February 23, 2021 at 11:50 AM (#6006358)
#15 Or Jim Ray Hart. Or Dick Allen (who was thrown in cold at the major league level) Or Orlando Cepeda (experiment did not last long. Four games to confirm it was a bad idea).

No idea why it became such a widespread idea that "anybody can play third"
   17. Rally Posted: February 23, 2021 at 12:42 PM (#6006368)
Angels gave Mark Trumbo a try there. He was the starting first baseman in 2011, but by 2012 they had signed Pujols and had Kendrys Morales healthy enough to play again after missing a year and half from a walk-off celebration gone wrong.

They had a full outfield too - Peter Bourjos, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells who was still making a fortune, and before the end of the year Kole Calhoun debuted. Oh yeah, they also had the greatest ever season by a 20 year old in Mike Trout.

The Trumbo 3B experiment didn't last long, 8 games. Results were disastrous, he had almost as many errors (4) as assists (5). Fielding percentage under .900? Trumbo barely topped .700 - .714.

Somehow they did find enough playing time between right, left, first, and DH to get Trumbo to the plate 586 times, and he was good - 32 homers and a 124 OPS+.

   18. BDC Posted: February 23, 2021 at 12:53 PM (#6006373)
There was no neighboring high school, although I'm not sure how clear that is from bjhanke's comment. If you were a Black kid in that area, Douglass was your only option

OK, got it now. I misunderstood. So a single black high school served a much wider area than the white high schools. Yes, that was a hardship of segregation. The weird thing was everybody taking it for granted :(
   19. sunday silence (again) Posted: February 23, 2021 at 03:26 PM (#6006409)
I think you mean greater as in the range of values.


yes of course. Sorry if I didnt make that clear.

Something like TangoTiger's WOWY shows the best and worst fielders somewhere between +/- 30 to 50 runs per season.


could you explain briefly how that system works? Ive got so many of these bookmarked and I just get lost trying to parse through them all. thanks.


How much actual variation is there between best and worst fielders?


Rally do you have any gut feel on whether the bell curve of best and worst should be higher at one end or the other? or should they both be symmetrical with the extreme positive defender about the same amount above as the worst defender is below. Would there be any way to prove that in theory? I mean anecdotally we have Jeter with some systems showing him 30 runs below average, and we have Chapman at 3b and Mookie Betts have +30. But I guess in theory you could have even worse defending whereas we have to be hitting the upper limit for good defense.
   20. McCoy Posted: February 23, 2021 at 04:07 PM (#6006419)
It's literally with or without you. So they compare a player's team performance when they are on the field vs when they are not.
   21. Rally Posted: February 23, 2021 at 04:46 PM (#6006424)
On a season level, most of the data I see looks like a bell curve. On the career level, you have many more guys who are +100, or +200 than -100 or -200. Because the good ones get to keep playing. The bad ones fall into 3 categories:

1. Bad fielder and not a good hitter - loses job
2. Bad fielder and good hitter - moves to an easier position to hide his glove
3. Derek Jeter
   22. Howie Menckel Posted: February 23, 2021 at 05:35 PM (#6006434)
a single black high school served a much wider area than the white high schools. Yes, that was a hardship of segregation. The weird thing was everybody taking it for granted :(

I have posted before that my parents got married in Brooklyn - my father was a native - in 1946. each of their parents came over to the US with nothing, and my parents grew up in The Great Depression.

my Mom once mentioned: "We didn't have anything - certainly not any power. So when they said Blacks couldn't play with the white ballplayers, everybody just accepted it. then Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers [in 1947], and we just accepted that, too."

neither a laudatory nor a condemnatory story; just a little context.
   23. Walt Davis Posted: February 23, 2021 at 07:35 PM (#6006446)
On distributions, it's important to keep straight what "population" we're talking about and whether we are looking at a rate/"true talent" distribution or a count distribution. In the clearest case, the talent distribution for C defense is clearly not bell-shaped -- the vast majority of even MLB players would be atrocious Cs. So clearly we are talking about the population of, say, Cs on 40-man rosters, NRIs and some prospects. That population has already been pretty well screened to get rid of the -30 Cs and any C who might hit well enough to overcome a -30 on defense will just get moved.

Similarly with rate vs count. A -20/150 games player will usually lose playing time limiting him to -10 or -15. There are the Jeter, Griffey, Bernie exceptions and maybe there are enough of those to keep the count distribution fairly balanced.

Anyway, with the possible exception of Chapman, there aren't any +20 SS who are playing another position. There are a lot of guys who would be -20 or worse SS playing other positions.
   24. baxter Posted: February 23, 2021 at 10:19 PM (#6006463)
My introduction to Al Smith happened through "Sports Challenge," a local LA TV show (maybe was syndicated also) hosted by Dick Enberg; it would pit two teams of 3 sports figures answering sports trivia questions. Film clips would precede the questions.

There was one clip of the 59 series in LA, when Smith was on the Chisox, he tries to catch a ball that goes for a HR. To add insult to injury, as he is looking up for the ball, he got a beer dumped right in his face. If I remember, the beer was resting on the OF wall and a fan knocked over the cup while trying to get the ball. Hopefully, I am remembering correctly, that it was unintentional.
   25. sunday silence (again) Posted: February 24, 2021 at 06:23 PM (#6006620)
you are correct. It was unintentional. Smith said he thought it was deliberate (God knows what sort of indignities he had to endure) but then someone came up to tell him it was an accident. The guy who knocked it over was a corporate executive and kept a low profile for the rest of his days. He was invited onto "Ive got a Secret" which sounds awesome but he declined.
   26. sunday silence (again) Posted: February 24, 2021 at 06:27 PM (#6006622)
There are a lot of guys who would be -20 or worse SS playing other positions.


well yeah one would think. But there must be some sort of lower boundary, yes? And dont you think it would be useful to understand what that is? I mean if the lower boundary is -30 say, then couldn't a team get away with playing Luzinski or Dick Allen or someone there?

Or if you think its more than -30 then doesnt that cut into your other notion that the upper boundary is somewhere around +20? (as per Rally's suggestion that the distribution appears symmetrical) Not sure what you're current thinking is on this, but the last time out, I think you were willing to admit to +20 runs on def.

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