Friday, February 29, 2008

sunshine superman

chuck tanner
Chuck Tanner from Baseball Almanac

Charles "Chuck" William Tanner was born on July 4, 1929 in New Castle, and he is a true Pittsburgh bred Yankee Doodle Dandy if ever there was one.

A left-handed batter and thrower, Tanner played eight seasons (1955 - 1962) for four different teams - the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Braves and Cleveland Indians.

In 1955, he broke in with the Braves and captured the club's top rookie award. Tanner became the third pinch hitter in history to homer on the first major league pitch he saw, tagging the Reds' Gerry Staley. He played in 396 games during his injury cursed career and batted .261 with 21 home runs.

In 1963 he began managing in the Angels' minor league system. After eight years in the bushes and a AAA championship, he received his first major league managing job in 1970 with the Chicago White Sox.

His most successful season with the Sox came in 1972, when he they were runner ups in the AL West to the eventual World Series champion Oakland Athletics. Tanner managed the Sox until 1975, when he was axed and replaced by Paul Richards.

In 1976, Charley O. Finley hired Tanner to manage the Oakland A's. With burners like Bert "Campy" Campaneris, Bill North, and Don Baylor, Tanner made the Athletics into a running team, stealing a major league record 341 bases. The A's, however, lost out in the division race to the Kansas City Royals. It went downhill from there.

Before the 1977 season, the A's began dismantling their core of stars from the great team that won three straight World Series championships from 1972-74. Part of that salary dump was the trading of Tanner to the Pirates for an over the hill Manny Sanguillen and $100,000. Technically, this is the only instance in MLB history where a manager has been part of a baseball trade. (The others were player-managers.)

He reached the pinnacle of his managerial career in 1979 as the skipper of the World Champion "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates. Tanner was famous for always looking for the silver lining, and it rubbed off on his teams. The Pirates won in 1979 after falling behind three games to one in the World Series and despite the death of Tanner's greatest supporter, his mom.

He told The Baseball Digest that after talking to his dad, he decided to remain in the dugout. "My dad said, 'You're going to stay and manage. That's what your mom would have wanted.'" Tanner recounted.

There was a lot of emotion flowing through the Pirate skipper's veins. "Mom had promised me she would be there for every game," said Tanner.

"Now Dave Parker was her favorite player and I remember saying to myself 'If you're so hot, let Parker hit one over that Cardinals' sign," Tanner recalled. Parker then proceeded to smash an RBI double in the seventh inning, right at the spot where the St. Louis logo was painted on the outfield wall at Three Rivers Stadium.

Tanner then began to feel that a special force was at work. "I got goose-bumps all over my body after that one," he confessed. And the goose bumps would remain as his Buc's roared back to stun the Orioles. It was obvious Mama Tanner was still in the house.

Tanner left Pittsburgh after nine years at the helm in 1985 and finished his managing days with the Atlanta Braves. They were terrible, and he was done coaching in 1988. He ended his field boss career with a 1,352 - 1,381 record. Tanner's only pennant winner was the '79 Bucs.

"I don't think a manager should be judged by whether he wins the pennant, but by whether he gets the most out of the twenty-five men he's been given," he says. And Tanner did get to work for a pair of baseball's more colorful owners, Charley Finley and Ted Turner.

He surely never used the same book that other managers swear by. Tanner was never afraid to use unorthodox moves to shake things up, like pinch-hitting left-handed hitting John Milner (for righty Steve Nicosia) against southpaw screwballer Tug McGraw. He hit a grand slam. He let Ed Ott hit against him, too. Same result.

After spending five seasons as a special assistant of the Cleveland Indians, Tanner, 78 years young, was named a senior advisor to new Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington in the autumn of 2007. It was a great move by the Pirates, dipping into their tradition and coming out with a great guy to work with the troops. Tanner's seen the best and worst of times and knows how to deal with them.

Tanner was invited to be a coach in Pittsburgh's 2006 All Star game by NL manager Phil Garner, who played for the Pirates during Tanner's tenure. It was a classy and appreciated move by Scrap Iron. The icing on the cake was when Tanner got the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

He is the father of former major league pitcher and coach Bruce Tanner (he's with Jim Leyland at Detroit now.) He lost his wife of 56 years, Babs, in 2006 after she fought a decade-long battle with a variety of health issues. Their house on E. Maitland Lane, where Tanner has lived since 1959, is a lot quieter than it used to be. But he's coping, putting all his energy into baseball.

"I've had the greatest life in the world," he told the Post Gazette. "How many guys can say they won a World Series in their back yard? How can that happen to a kid from Shenango?" But that's as it should be. Chuck Tanner has always been a star in Pittsburgh's book.

"The greatest thing in the world is winning a major league game. The second greatest thing in the world is to lose a major league game." - Chuck Tanner

(Our contribution to spring training will be highlighting the careers of the old Bucs in camp who are trying to pass on the torch to today's squad. Up next - Number Nine.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

pirate no hitters part 2

piarte logo 1997

OK, part two of the no hit games, from 1970 on:

June 12, 1970: Dock Ellis vs. the San Diego Padres at San Diego Stadium; score 2-0. He was throwing the ball all over the place - he walked 8 and hit 1. Ellis explained that he pitched a no hitter because his ball had so much movement that day. But in his autobiography, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, Ellis claimed that he pitched his no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. Only the flamboyant Dock knows for sure. He got all the runs he needed compliments of two Willie Stargell blasts.

Ellis went on to play for the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, and Texas Rangers, ending his career back in Pittsburgh. He finished with a lifetime record of 138-119 and an ERA of 3.46, and won 4 NLCS games and a World Series game for Pittsburgh during his dozen years in the big leagues. He retired to Victorville, California in 1980 and a started a second career as a drug counselor. What goes around...

dock ellis
Dock Ellis from Baseball Almanac

August 9, 1976: John Candelaria vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers at TRS; score 2-0. The Candy Man got out of a bases loaded jam in the 3rd inning to preserve his no-no and shutout. He walked but one batter, although the Bucs booted a couple of balls behind him. He struck out 8 and was in complete control of the boys from LaLa land.

The 6'7" 205 lb. lefty helped Pittsburgh win the NL East as a rookie in 1975 and set a NLCS record with 14 strikeouts in Game 3. In 1977 he became the first NL pitcher since Sandy Koufax in 1965 to win 20 games while having the top ERA (2.34) and winning percentage (.800, 20-5). He was Pirate's first 20-game winner since Vern Law in 1960 and their first lefthander to win 20 since Wilbur Cooper in 1924. He led the 1979 World Championship squad with 14 wins and pitched shutout ball in the crucial sixth game of the World Series.

Considered one of baseball's best money pitchers, Candelaria's toughest opponent was injury. From 1975 to 1988, he had only one losing season. But plagued by chronic back problems, he was playing hurt in 1981 and again from 1987-'89 spending considerable time on the DL. Candelaria responded by developing into an effective reliever for the final years of his career.

In his 19 years in the show, Candelaria had a 177-122 record with a 3.33 ERA pitching for 8 teams. Oddly, his only All-Star year was the monster season of 1977.

Another oddity was that the Candy Man ended up a Pirate instead of a Knick. Candelaria was a tremendous hooper in his youth. Prior to joining the Pirates, he played center for the Quebradillas Pirates in Puerto Rico. When he announced he was leaving the Quebradillas basketball "Pirates" for the Pittsburgh Pirates many thought he picked the wrong sport.

The local newspaper featured him pitching a basketball in the front page of the sports section. The NYC native had attended La Salle Academy in lower Manhattan and gained fame as a basketball center, leading his team to the high school championship in 1971. But the NBA's loss was MLB - and Pittsburgh's - gain.

john candelaria
John Candelaria from MLB Shop

francisco cordova
Francisco Cordova from Baseball Almanac

July 12, 1997: Francisco Cordova/Ricardo Rincon vs. the Houston Astros at TRS; score 3-0, 10 innings. Cordova pitched 9 innings of no-hit ball (10 K's, 2 BBs, 1 HBP) and Rincon earned the win with a scoreless inning of relief, walking one. Mark Smith hit a 3 run homer with 2 outs in the 10th to seal the deal. A sell-out crowd of 44,119 was on hand for the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut and a Zambelli fireworks show. They got more than they bargained for that night, and it was one of the rare sellouts that actually produced a Pirate moment for the fans.

Cordova spent 5 years (1996-2000) with Pittsburgh before arm woes ended his major league career (although he still pitches some in his native Mexico.) His lifetime stats are 42-47 with a 3.96 ERA.

The lefty Rincon may be best remembered as the dude we traded to Cleveland to land Brian Giles. In 10 major league seasons, he had a 21-24 record with 21 saves (18 in his two years with Pittsburgh) and an ERA of 3.58. At last look, he was toiling in the Met's minor league system. He's 48 years old and not a very hot prospect anymore.

ricardo rincon
Ricardo Rincon from Check Out My Cards

Notice a dearth of no hitters in Pittsburgh? The main culprit was the vast outfield and rockpile infield of Forbes Field. In its' 62 seasons (1909-1970), The Grand Dame of Joncaire Street never yielded a no hit game to any pitcher, Pirate or not. Who came the closest? In June 1968, Pirate rookie Bob Moose went 7 2/3 innings before surrendering a hit to the Houston Astros.

pirate no hitters, part 1

piarte logo 1997

After seeing all the hubbub from Bradenton about who's gonna start opening day from a rotation made up in February, I thought it was time to take a look at the pitchers who delivered at least one shining moment for the Bucs - a no hitter. This part includes the guys who tossed their way into the history books before 1970.
Today's pitchers are Nick Maddox, Cliff Chambers and Bob Moose. I had to include Harvey Haddix's gem too, although the MLB nabobs erased it from the no-hit annals.

September 20, 1907: Nick Maddox vs. the Brooklyn Superbas at Exposition Park; score 2-1. Not only was it the Pirate's first no hitter, but Maddox was a rookie. The righty made his major league debut the week before on September 13th. He is also the youngest pitcher to ever hurl a no-hitter, doing it at the age of 20 years 10 months 11 days.

Through 1907 to 1908, Maddox won 20 of his 30 starts, making him the fastest pitcher to ever reach 20 victories. This mark would be equaled by three other pitchers, but never topped. Maddox won the third game of the 1909 World Series over Detroit, but was released after the next season when he won just two games.
Maddox was in the majors for 4 seasons, all with Pittsburgh, and had a career 43-20 record and 2.29 ERA.

nick maddox
Nick Maddox from Wikipedia
("Nationals" doesn't refer to the team nickname, but rather the league "Pittsburg" played in.)

May 6, 1951: Cliff Chambers vs. the Boston Braves at Braves Field; score 3-0. The journeyman Chambers walked eight and threw one wild pitch, and also drove in the final run in the 8th inning. For Chambers, this would be his last victory in a Pirates uniform. The flame throwing lefty spent 6 years in the majors with three teams, compiling a 48-53 record with a 4.29 ERA.

cliff chambers
Cliff Chambers from Baseball Almanac

May 26, 1959: Harvey Haddix vs. the Milwaukee Braves at County Stadium; score 0-1. Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings, eventually giving up one hit (a homer that was ruled a single) and losing in the 13th inning. The Sporting News ranked it one of the fifty greatest moments in baseball history. It's not actually considered a no hitter, but hey... See The Night the Kitten Roared.

harvey haddix
Harvey Haddix from Wikipedia

September 20, 1969: Bob Moose vs. the New York Mets at Shea Stadium; score 4-0. Roberto Clemente saved the day with a leaping, one-handed grab of Wayne Garrett's line drive to the right field wall in the sixth inning & Moose took care of the rest, striking out 6 and walking 3. The team that the hard throwing Moose shut down was destiny's darlings, the Miracle Mets that bottled lightning in a jar that season.

He was 14-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 1969, working as a spot starter and out of the bullpen. Moose later moved into a full time relief role after his rib was removed in 1974 because of circulation problems. In 1976 he led the Pirates in saves with 10.
Moose died in an auto accident while on the way to his 29th birthday party in Martins Ferry, Ohio during the 1976 off season. The Pride of Export PA spent all of his 10 big league years in Pittsburgh, finishing with a 76-71 slate and 3.50 ERA.

bob moose
Bob Moose from Wikipedia

Part 2 tomorrow: Dock Ellis, The Candy Man, and Francisco Cordova/Ricardo Rincon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

baddest 'burgh backstop

catchers mask
Catcher's mask image from USCSPC

We may have run on some tough times as Pittsburgh baseball fans lately, but one sweet thing we have lived through is the golden age of Pirate catchers. Manny Sanguillen, Tony Pena, and Jason Kendall are at the head of the Bucco list in backstop stats (and no, I'm not willing to throw in any of the platooned Spanky/Slaught, Ott/Dyer or Burgess/Smith tagteams into the mix, though they were pretty solid pairings.)

Sanguillen can rightfully be called the first great Pirate catcher. The good natured Panamanian with the wide smile came to Pittsburgh in 1967. Except for a season in Oakland, when he was the bait for us to get Chuck Tanner in 1978, he was with us through the 1980 season. The Bucs sent Miguel Delone, Mike Edwards and Elias Sosa to the A's to get him back.

Sangy was around for five pennant winners and earned two Series crowns during that time, and was elected to three All-Star berths, which wasn't easy in the Johnny Bench era. He was behind the dish for over 1,000 games while in Pittsburgh. For a while, he was even appointed the successor to the great Roberto Clemente in right field, although sanity was quickly restored and Manny once again strapped on the tools of ignorance.

He left after 1980 for good, traded with Bert Blyleven to the Cleveland Indians for Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Rafael Vasquez, and Bob Owchinko. And you thought Littlefield was the only one that made lousy deals? Actually, Sanguillen was at the end of the line and retired as an active player after 1981, but Blyleven threw that hellacious curve for another dozen years and won 140+ more games. Oh well.

manny sanguillen
Manny Sanguillen from Baseball Almanac

Tony Pena followed in 1980. He caught 800 games for Pittsburgh, made the All-Star squad four times and earned another four Golden Gloves. Pena's unorthodox catching stance, with his leg stuck straight out, might have looked funny, but no one caught a ball as well as he did. His fielding range matrix is out of sight - it was 12% higher than the league average.

Pittsburgh sent Pena to the Cards after the 1986 season for Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere, and Mike Dunne, so the Pirates got a very nice return on him when they dealt him. Pena managed KC for 4 seasons and today is the first base coach for the Yankees.

tony pena and junior
Tony Pena and Junior from MLB News

Jason Kendall, one of the few bright spots of recent Pirate history, joined the show in 1996. He hustled his way into three All-Star appearances and with Brian Giles gave us at least a couple of guys that could put the ball in play. Kendall has been behind the plate more times than any other Bucco - 1,205 games.

He was shipped to Oakland to save the McClatchy clan a few bucks for Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes after the 2004 season. Now he's back to haunt us, signing with the Brew Crew as a free agent this year.

jason kendall
Jason Kendall from Kendall Web Ring

There's one other name to throw into the pot too - Josh Gibson. The black Sultan of Swat played 17 years for the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. It's said he hit over 800 HR's in all play, but that includes exhibitions, three different leagues (Negro majors, Cuban, and Mexican) and against any nine that his gang could barnstorm against.

His glovework was supposed to be just so-so, although his arm was allegedly a rifle, but we don't have any stats to prove or disprove his fielding ability. He only caught 500 games officially because the Negro National League, where his stats came from, usually only scheduled 40-50 games per year. They had to leave the teams enough open dates to book exhibitions, their lifeblood financially.

He was born too soon to match his bat against major league pitching, playing from 1930-'46. It was said in the late 1930s that both Pittsburgh and Washington tried him out but were afraid to sign him. The story goes that the Pirates actually did get his name on a contract in 1943, but then commissioner Judge Kenneshaw "Mountain" Landis voided it. In spite of that, Gibson's the only Pittsburgh catcher in the Hall of Fame.

Gibson died in 1947. The doctors said it was from a stroke, but his friends claimed it was from a broken heart brought about because he never got a shot at the majors.

josh gibson
Josh Gibson from MLB

player avg obp slug rs rbi hr f-% range

Kendall .306 .387 .418 706 471 67 .988 7%
Pena .286 .327 .411 307 340 63 .987 12%
Sanguillen .301 .333 .408 507 509 56 .986 5%
Gibson .351 .436 .687 467 432 115 n/a n/a

(The stats are for time in Pittsburgh. Gibson's fielding stats are unavailable. I didn't include the stolen base success rate because Kendall's are fairly complete, Pena's nearly non-existant, and none are available for Sanguillen or Gibson that I could find via my humble Google resources. The fielding range shows the percentage above the league norm. All three of the catchers graded out as superior to the league average during their time in Pittsburgh.)

So who's the best? Well, we'll leave that up to you. Since so many of the factors are subjective, we decided to rate the catchers by poll. Vote early and often on top of the sidebar. It's the American way.

bradenton note

spring training 2008
Spring Training from Escape to Sarasota

I like what I'm reading from spring training.

Manny Sanguillen, 63 years young with knee brace and all, pushing Ronnie Paulino aside to show him how to take a throw at the plate. Maz keeping an eye on the middle infielders. Steve Blass talking about Pirate pride. Billy Virdon back in center field, Teke with the pitchers. Gary Varsho taking Nyjer Morgan to task for not sliding the right way. Fielders being made to yell "I got it" three times on a pop up. Chuck Tanner, who's forgotten more baseball than most of the current Bucs know, sharing lessons and outlook with the players from his always sunny side of the street.

Every education starts with the ABC's. Hustle and the basics can never be taken for granted, even, or maybe especially, at the major league level. And it's really nice to see the Pirates embrace their history for a change. The team should be aware of the legacy that's been passed on to them.

Yah, I know it sounds more like the first week of little league practice than the show. But it's a start. Pride and professionalism have been sorely lacking for awhile with these guys. It may not translate into wins in the short term, but it's a needed ingredient if they're ever to become successful. Even if the roster hasn't changed much, maybe the attitude will. It has to.

Every journey begins with a single step.

If you'd like to see Sangy at work , the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has a video clip shot by Peter Diana at camp that you might enjoy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

the baron of the bullpen

elroy face
Elroy Face from Wikipedia

Elroy Leon Face was born on Monday, February 20, 1928, in Stephentown, New York. The diminutive righty (he was only 5'8") was originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as an amateur free agent in 1949. Face was then twice drafted by Branch Rickey, first for the Brooklyn Dodgers before the 1951 season and again in 1952 for Pittsburgh. Rickey knew greatness when he saw it.

Face was 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 16, 1953 with Pittsburgh. He started to come into his own in 1956 when he set a modern Pirate's record for appearances (68), leading the league in games and breaking the club mark of 59 set by Bill Werle in 1951.

In 1957 he saved 10 games, reaching double figures for the first time. The team finished in second place in 1958, the first time in his career that they finished above seventh. Face led the NL with 20 saves and an ERA of 2.89 that year. Danny Murtaugh, an innovator at orchestrating a team, had his finisher.

His special season came in 1959, when he posted an 18-1 record, including 17 victories in a row to begin the year (actually, the streak was 22 - he won his last five games in 1958.) Charlie Neal of the pennant winning Dodgers did him in on September 11th, driving in the winning run of a 5-4 LA victory.

He didn't yield a run during a span that stretched from June 11 to July 12. Face was named the Player of the Month for June after posting a 5-0 record with four saves and a 0.38 ERA. He ended the year with an ERA of 2.70 and finished eighth in the MVP race.

His 18 relief wins remains the major league record. That was the era of the come from behind Bucs, and in fact the 1960 Pirates won 28 games that they were losing after 6 innings. Some people suggested, half facetiously, that Face would give up the tying run because he was so confident that his team would rally to get him the win. His response is that he wished he were that good to plan it that way. Face's 18-1, .947 winning percentage set yet another MLB record.

Face got an added side benefit from his win streak, too. He would park at a gas station near Forbes Field for a buck per day before games (hey, parking was tough in Oakland!) Early in the 1959 season, after Face had won a handful of games without a loss, the lot owner told him he could park for free until he lost. He didn't have to pay for parking again until September.

In 1960 he had his second 20 save season, closing out two dozen Bucco victories. Helping the Pirates to their first pennant since 1927, Face led the league in games once again, tying his own team record of 68. The mark would stand until teammate Pete Mikkelsen appeared in 71 games in 1966.

In the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees, Face was swatted around a bit by the Bronx Bombers but still became the first pitcher to save three games in a single Series. That record has since been matched by Kent Tekulve, Mariano Rivera, and Troy Percival. John Wetteland, the spoilsport, saved four.

Selected to the All-Star squad from 1959-61, Face again led the NL with 17 saves in 1961. In 1962 he broke Lindy McDaniel's NL record with a career-high 28 saves (one short of Luis Arroyo's then major league mark set the previous year) while posting a 1.88 ERA. That record would last until 1965 when Ted Abernathy would set a new standard with 31 saves. Face had three 20-save seasons at a time when no other pitcher had more than one.

Also in 1962, Face passed Clem Labine to take over the NL record with 95 career saves, and then broke Johnny Murphy's major league mark of 107. In 1963 he earned 16 saves.

The magic left his arm during the next two seasons. He picked up just 4 saves in 1964 with an ERA over 5.00 and recorded no saves in 1965 although halving his ERA. In 1964, Hoyt Wilhelm took the major league career saves record from him.

But Face returned to form to save 18 games in 1966 and 17 more in 1967, finishing second in the NL both years. In 1967 he passed Warren Spahn's mark of 750 games pitched to become the NL's all-time leader in appearances. His record would stand until Tekulve moved ahead of him in 1986. Teke ended his career with 1,013 games to Face's 802 in a Pirate uniform.

A pioneer of modern relief pitching, he was the archetype of a closer. Face was the National League's greatest reliever of the sixties and it would take another decade or more beyond that to break the several league records he established during his career.

He and Wilhelm defined the closer's role for future generations of game icing specialists. Both had an unflappable mentality and an unhittable pitch - Face the forkball, Wilhelm the knuckler. And both worked as a combo set-up man and closer, often coming in to finish a game in the 7th or 8th inning. These guys were no one inning wonders.

He held the NL record for career games pitched (846) from 1967 to 1986 and the league record for career saves (193) from 1962 to 1982. Face still holds the NL record for career wins in relief with 96, and is fifth all-time. He held the league mark for career innings pitched in relief (1,211⅓) until 1983. Face was one of the ten best relievers of all time according to The Relief Pitcher, being recognized as the most dominant fireman of his era.

He achieved his success almost exclusively with the forkball, which he had learned from Yankee's reliever Joe Page. Today it's called the splitter. Face described it its' movement thus: "It would come in hard and break anyway it wanted to, sometimes in, sometimes out, mostly down."

But don't think he didn't know where it was going. Face would throw his bread and butter pitch no matter what the count or situation. That's how much confidence he had in his forkball.

Face prided himself on his pick-off move almost as much as his forkball. He recalled one game in Cincinnati where he inherited a jam with runners on 1st and 2nd and nobody out. Face picked off the Red at second and then picked off the other at first before ever throwing a pitch to the batter. Talk about squelching a rally!

He ranked third in major league history in pitching appearances, behind only Hoyt Wilhelm and Cy Young and second in saves behind Wilhelm when he hung his spikes up for the last time in 1969 as a member of the Expos (he was a Tiger briefly before that.)
Face still holds the Pirate's franchise record for career saves with 188 and for games finished, 547. He won 104 games with a 3.48 ERA during his 16 year career. Face was selected to play in six All-Star games and has a World Series ring on his finger.

After he retired from baseball, Face traded in his forkball for a toolbox and became a carpenter. He lives in North Versailles and now that his working days are behind him, he can be spotted around town anywhere there's a golf outing.

The Baron of the Bullpen is now the Baron of Birdies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jack Splat versus the field

jack wilson
Jumpin' Jack Wilson from Wikipedia

We took a look at Gene Alley yesterday, and as we were tossing the BS around while gulping down the morning's first coffee at work, my hot stove buds debated how Jack Wilson would stack up against the other tenured Pirate shortstops. So we put together what we considered the top half dozen shortstops to wear the Buc uniform. They spent 63 years and 8,380 games representing this town. Here's a chart we came up with of some selected stats to see how these long time Bucco SS's compared:

player yrs games avg obp rs rbi rp field l-avg dp

Wagner 18 2433 .328 .387 88 82 165 .946 +13 49
Vaughan 10 1411 .324 .409 94 76 162 .950 +2 79
Groat 9 1258 .290 .325 62 50 109 .962 +1 97
Alley 11 1195 .254 .310 40 31 65 .970 +6 64
Bell 8 1106 .269 .339 78 53 121 .976 +1 79
Wilson 7 997 .269 .312 65 48 105 .977 +4 102

(The stats are for years as a Pirate, broken down to season average. rp is runs produced = rs+rbi-hr. l-avg is how many percentage points above the league average the player fielded over his career. The fielding stats are for SS only. We didn't show home runs because of the different eras involved, but Jay Bell was the group's top slugger, averaging 10 dingers/year. No A-Rods in this bunch.)

So what's it tell us? Well, we can start with the obvious - Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan were head and shoulders above the crowd when it came to hitting a baseball. Jay Bell was a pretty good run producer, and in fact fares better overall than we thought he might. Dick Groat was a good stick, but his run production wasn't that great.

The fielding was a surprise, though. The later the era, the better the fielding percentage, with Jack Wilson being the top gloveman and Wagner the worst. That probably has quite a bit to do with the conditions of the fields they played on, and in Wagner's case, the quality of second basemen he played with - he's also dead last in DP's, and it takes two to turn one.

To normalize that, we took the league average and compared it to the individual fielding percentage (l-avg comparison). When we compare apples to apples, Wagner vaults from dead last in fielding to first, finishing his career a whopping 13 points higher in fielding percentage than the league average during his years.

Wagner and Alley also have somewhat deceiving stats because they played for Pittsburgh as their baseball days wound down while everyone else was in their prime as a Pirate. So their numbers may be a bit devalued overall.

To make a long analysis short, we totaled the obp, rp, l-avg fielding comparison and dp's, 1 point for the best, 6 points for the worst. Hopefully this simple formula gives equal weight to glove and bat. Like golf, the lowest score wins. The best of the Bucco's shortstops according to the Green Weenie are *tada*:

Honus Wagner (9)
Arky Vaughan (10)
Jay Bell & Jack Wilson (14)
Dick Groat (15)
Gene Alley (17)

No matter how you slice it, Wagner and Vaughan are the best we've ever had at short. But Bell, Wilson and Groat are so tightly bunched that you can't separate them with a gnat's eyelash. Alley's glove was one of the Buc's better ones, but his bat drops him down to the bottom of the heap.

And to answer the original question, Wilson more than holds his own in some pretty fast company.

Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't throw one Jumping Jack Flash factoid into the post. When he was a teenager and playing on a summer travel team, Wilson's roommate was his future Pirates teammate Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez played shortstop while Wilson manned second base. Funny how the more things change, the more they say the same. It just took a couple of decades to get them back together and in their right positions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Alley Oop

Gene Alley
Gene Alley's card from Baseball Dugout

When people talk about Pirate shortstops, Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan and Dick Groat are always on the tip of their tongues. But for pure artistry in the field, Gene Alley rates among them. Over his career, he played more games at short (977) for the Bucs than anyone except Wagner, Vaughan, Groat, and Jay Bell (Jack Wilson is breathing down his neck with 974 games at SS and should pass him in April.)

Born in Richmond, Va., Leonard Eugene Alley spent his entire pro career in the Pittsburgh system. Signed in 1959, he buttoned up his Bucco flannels five years later when he was called up in 1964. Alley played in 81 games that year for the Pirates and hit .211. The next season Alley settled in at the plate, batting .252.

In the majors, Alley wasn’t counted on to be a stick man. The Pirates had Stargell, Clemente and the rest of the Lumber Company to provide the ooomph. His value to the team was with his glove. But Alley found a way to be productive at the plate with the help of manager Harry Walker, who managed the Pirates from 1965 to ’67.

“I wasn’t the greatest hitter,” Alley admitted. “When Harry Walker took over the Pirates, he worked with me a lot on trying to hit the ball to right field and waiting on the pitch. We worked on the hit-and-run and he liked to get the runners over."

In 1966, Alley had perhaps his finest all around season. He hit a career-high .299 with seven home runs, 43 RBI, 88 runs scored, and 173 hits in 147 games. He drilled a career-high 28 doubles. Alley added 10 triples to the mix, and his 20 sacrifice bunts were second in the National League.

More importantly, he teamed with second baseman Bill Mazeroski to turn a NL record 215 double plays. The pair joined a select list of eight shortstop-second baseman to each win a Gold Glove the same season while playing together twice, in 1967 and '68.

“I knew after playing with (Mazeroski) for a while and watching other second baseman around the league that he was the best in making the double play,” said Alley, who himself had a then-club record 128 double plays in ’66 (just beaten by Jack Wilson last season, when he turned 129). “He was great and he could turn the double play better than anyone I ever saw. You just tried to give him a good throw and that was it - he was going to turn it. You left the rest to him.”

Alley had play he and Maz cooked up for balls hit up the middle. If Maz snagged a grounder going away from first base, he'd flip to Alley to relay to first. Twice Alley had the runners thrown out on that play, but the first baseman dropped the ball. Maz and Alley finally got a runner out in Atlanta with that tactic. The third time's the charm. (Story from Glenn's Pirate Near Greats.)

Alley won first of his two Gold Glove awards in 1966. He finished 11th in voting for the MVP award, thanks to his leather.

In 1967 Alley made his first trip to the All Star game, hitting .287 with six homers, 55 RBI, 25 doubles, 59 runs scored, and 158 hits in 152 games. He also earned his second straight Gold Glove.

He started at shortstop for the NL. But Alley played with a sore right arm in that game, an injury that would bother him the rest of his career. He first felt the ache before a game at Cincinnati while warming up in the outfield.

“It happened a few days before the All-Star Game,“ Alley said. “I was shagging balls during batting practice in the outfield. I caught one and threw it in and felt a sharp pain in my shoulder. I got another one and threw it and it was the same thing. The pain just wouldn’t go away. It stayed like that for a while.”

He thinks the cumulative effect of thousands of throws in practice and during games over the course of his career finally took their toll. "I just made too many throws, I guess. It was just wear and tear.”

Alley played through the pain. In 1968, he was named to his second straight All-Star squad while hitting .245. In ‘69, he hit .246 with eight homers in 82 games and spent 29 days on the disabled list. Despite limited playing time, Alley continued to shine with his glove. He also had a 21-game hitting streak.

It began on Aug. 13 at San Francisco, when he went 2-for-5 with a home run off the Giants’ Mike McCormick during a 10-5 win. The balls kept falling until Sept. 9 when he went hitless in four at-bats against Montreal’s Steve Renko.

Alley hit .366 during the streak (30-for-82) with eight homers, 21 RBI, and 15 runs scored. When it began, he was hitting .218. By the time it had ended, Alley had raised his average to .266.

In 1970, Alley smacked an inside-the-park grand slam home run against the Montreal Expos on Sept. 2 at Jarry Park. With the bases loaded and one out against pitcher Carl Morton, Alley sent a line drive toward center fielder Boots Day. Boots let it get by him, (aptly named OF'er, hey?) and was off to the races.

Alley helped the Pirates win the National League East in 1970, hitting .244 and gloving everything in sight. In 1971, Alley hit .227 during the Bucs’ world championship season. In 1972, the Pirates won their third consecutive division title as Alley hit .248 in 119 games.

But Alley hit just .203 in 76 games the next season and called it quits. His knee was shot along with his shoulder, and he didn't have enough moving parts left to be effective anymore. There were no steroids or HGH then to cure your aches and pains. We can only wonder what kind of career he'd have had if there was a good ortho doc to scope him back in the day.

For his 11-year career, Alley hit .254 with 55 homers, 342 RBI, 442 runs scored, 140 doubles, and 44 triples in 1,195 games. He had 999 lifetime hits. His fielding percentage was a sterling .970 at shortstop.

When Alley was playing, he found work as a sales rep during the off season and stepped into the job full time before retiring a few years ago. Now he spends his time playing golf or hanging out with his buddies. He rarely misses a chance to get together with his old teammates. Laissez les bon temps roulez.

(Many thanks to Todd Newville who wrote up "Dead End Alley" in Baseball Dugout. I took a lot of the info and quotes from his story.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

back home again

expo park 3
Expostion Park III from Ballparks of Baseball

The Pirates spent 61 years, half of their existence, playing ball in the green cathedral of Forbes Field in Oakland. Since 1970 they've called the North Shore home, hosting their opponents at TRS and PNC Park. It was a return to their roots.

In 1876, Pittsburgh teams were playing at Union Park (the alter ego of Recreation Park in Manchester, then a part of Allegheny City), and the Alleghenies played their first game there against a local amateur nine known as the Xanthus. The next season it became their home park when they joined the International League, a minor league outfit. It folded the following year.

They picked it up again in 1882, hooking up with the fledgling American Association and becoming Pittsburgh's first representative in professional major league baseball. They took over Exposition Park, a field built for various events like horse racing and circuses (it even hosted a Wild West show) connected with Exposition Hall, the hub of the 1875 Allegheny Exposition.

It was the entertainment heart of the Pittsburgh region. Unfortunately, it was also located on the flood plains of the Allegheny River, right about where the current stadium is, several decades before flood control projects tamed the annual raging springtime torrents.

After a water soaked first season, they moved from Expo I to an adjoining upriver field, dubbed Expo II. However, the "upper" field, although on somewhat higher ground, was actually nearer to the river (I guess engineering wasn't a very exact science back in the day.)

Both fields were wooden structures and lacked a grandstand. The fans paid a quarter and got to stand behind a roped off area to watch the game. They also got to practice their aquatics. The Alleghenies weren't very good at anything but treading water in either flood prone field.

It didn't help matters any that they had a beef over $250 in rent and the split of the gate with the Exhibition Society, owners of the Park. The Society declared the lease null and void, although they reconsidered when Expo Hall burned down and they needed a draw. But it was too little, too late.

Tired of the hassles, the team trooped off to Recreation Park, where the Mexican War Streets are now situated. It was tucked between Galveston (then Grant), North, and Pennsylvania Avenues and could seat 2,000. The Union Association Stogies, a White Sox minor league team, played there in 1884 with the Alleghenies. Their league went belly up the next year, and the Alleghenies were the only game in town in 1885, sharing the field with Pitt football for a couple of seasons.

They had a couple of memorable moments there, although the brand of baseball played wasn't generally one of them. Their highlight was the Allegheny's National League opener in 1887, when they drubbed Chicago 6-2. It would be one of the few shining moments at Recreation Park.

Later that year, catcher Fred Carroll's pet monkey died. Not only was the chimp Fred's boon companion, but served as a team mascot (and you mock the Pirate Parrot!) The Alleghenies had a pregame ceremony for the dearly deceased primate, and buried it with honors beneath home plate.

In 1890, they set a record that will hopefully never be approached - they had a paid attendance of 6 against Cleveland. The total crowd was 18. (I suppose a dozen neer-do-wells sneaked in and saved a quarter.) Later in the year, they managed to lose all three games of a triple-header at Recreation Park, finishing the season with a woebegone 23-113 record. Maybe those 6 guys deserved a refund.

It was also the first venue to see them sporting "Pittsburg" jerseys, when in 1890 they officially made the switch from Allegheny. They would become the Pirates in 1891, so we can trace the transition to the modern Bucs back to then. During their Allegheny years, they never had an official team nickname.

1890 was their last year at Recreation Park. It was converted into a bicycle track, the rage at the turn of the century, and dubbed the Coliseum. The Pittsburgh Athletic Association, a local club, bought some of property later, and today it's a maze of storefronts, apartments and warehouses. There's not a remnant of the old ballyard left.

The Player's Association had a Pittsburgh team in 1890 and built a spanking new Exposition Park. They gave up the ghost after a season but left a spiffy field - Expo III - for the Pirates to commandeer. It had double decker grandstands, twin spires, and could hold 10,000 fans. The park was a pitcher's dream. The lines were 400' and center field stretched 450'. It was claimed that only 11 home runs were ever hit out of Expo III, all to right field.

This park didn't fare much better than the others. There were still water problems. One memorable flood event happened on July 4th, 1902. The Pirates were playing a twin bill against Brooklyn when the Allegheny overflowed its' banks. Much of the outfield was covered in water, which was a foot deep in some places and came within 20' of reaching the infield. And they still played ball, with a special ground rule for the day - any balls that splashed down and died in the outfield morass were singles.

And until Barney Dreyfuss came aboard, the baseball was still generally appalling. But Expo Park did lay its' claim to fame under his reign. It became the first National League Park to host a World Series game in 1903 when the Boston Pilgrims came to town.

That would be the only pennant won there. The Pirates played their last game at Exposition Park on June 29th, 1909 (fittingly, Charles Zeig, a Northsider known as the Commodore, blew Taps on his trumpet as Cubbie Jimmy Archer went down on strikes for the last out.) The Bucs would clinch the flag and host the World Series at brand new Forbes Field.

Besides the water, Dreyfuss had another reason for leaving - the North Side rowdies. The Post Gazette wrote that he said "The better class of citizens, especially when accompanied by their womenfolk, were loathe to go there (Exposition Park.)" Ouch!

The Baltimore & Ohio RR eventually bought the site. The Federal League's Pittsburgh Rebels used it for a couple of seasons in 1914-15, but by the 1920's it had become part of a massive railroad yard as the Point and North Shore became an urban industrial park.

Pittsburgh's renaissance eventually cleared away the smokestacks, and the new stadiums found a home on the North Shore as the Bucs returned to the future, virtually on top of their birthplace. The ghost of Honus Wagner and all the other Bucs that plied their trade on the Allegheny's shore should be proud.

One last bit of history. You may notice the plaque by PNC Park marking the spot where Expo Park stood. It's there thanks to the work of baseball nuts Dan Bonk, Dennis & Jeanne DeValeria and Denis Repp, members of the Society for American Baseball Research. Using yellowing drawings, they replicated the old parks' position and every year Repp came by and spray painted the bases of Expo Park on the asphalt and stone that covered its' bones. The state finally recognized their efforts by placing a marker at the site.

expo marker
Exposition Park marker from Ballpark Review

I tip my baseball cap to them for their hard work and sleuthing skills. Baseball is a game of tradition, and when you lose its' connection to the past, you lose its' soul. Thanks, guys.

Friday, February 15, 2008

and around and around we go...

andrew mccutcheon
The center fielder of the future, Andrew McCutcheon
from MLB Center

Quick - what do all these guys have in common: Midre Cummings, Jacob Brumfield, Jermaine Allensworth, Adrian Brown, Emil Brown, Chad Hermansen, Tike Redman, Gary Matthews Jr., JJ Davis, Tony Alvarez, Chris Duffy, Nate McClouth, Rajai Davis and Nyjer Morgan? That's right. They were all, at one time or another in the past dozen years, the Pirate's center fielder of the future.

The truth is since Andy Van Slyke was dealt away in 1995, the Pirates haven't had a day in, day out centerfielder to pencil into the lineup (except for the Kenny Lofton season.) But boy, did they try as the merry-go-round started. Midre Cummings got first crack at the job. He was the lynchpin of the Denny Neagle deal, but spent only four years as a Pirate (1993-97) when he was sent to the Phils in 1997. In eleven seasons, he hit .257.

Jacob Brumfield came over from the Reds to hold the fort for a year in 1995. He lasted the season, and early in 1996 he and his .257 average were dealt to Toronto for a minor leaguer. Mike Kingery was a veteran stopgap signed from the Rockies as a free agent. He hit .246 for the Bucs in 1996, his final big league season. They gave Jermaine Allensworth a couple of years to win the spot, but in 1998 they let him and his .260 lifetime average go.

Emil and Adrian Brown were brought up in 1997. Adrian (.258) left town in 2002 and last played for Texas in 2006. Emil (.262) was given his walking papers in 2001, and just signed as a free agent with the A's, putting nine solid seasons in the bigs so far. It was Chad Hermansen's turn next, but the much hyped oufielder lasted only from 1999-2002 with the Bucs. He and his .195 batting average were last seen in 2004 on Toronto's bench.

Tike Redman came on the scene in 2000. He put in four seasons with Pittsburgh and is now fighting for a reserve spot with the O's. Redman had the best stick of the bunch, compiling a .281 average over his seven year career to date. In 2001, Gary Matthews Jr. gave us a few weeks in center, enough to impress the fans but not the ownership. He was sold to the Mets at the end of the season, and since 2003 has became a pretty solid CF'er for the Padres and Rangers. We'll see if his big contract with the Angels will pan out.

2002 saw the emergence of Tony Alvarez, who put in two years with the Bucs, hitting .250, and JJ Davis. In his four major league years, he hit .179. Both are out of baseball. Heck, we got Jose Bautista in 2004 and threw him in center for awhile. The poor guy's done everything but chalk the lines for the Pirates.

We've had a new collection of burners trying to nail down the spot since 2005. That's when Chris Duffy and Nate McClouth first put on the Pirate double knits. Duffy, in an injury ridden career, has batted .269. McClouth had a big finish last year, but his lifetime average is still only .249. Duffy will likely rehab in AAA to start the year while McClouth will battle for a starting role in camp.

Rajai Davis had a cup of coffee with us in 2006 and showed a decent bat in 2007, hitting .270 overall in his short career. But he was deemed dispensable and was sent to the Giants for Matt Morris. The other current candidate for center is Nyjer Morgan of the fleet feet and circuitous routes.

He batted .299 at the top of the order in a limited showing last year and will try to impress John Russell enough in the next two months to get the nod in center. If not, maybe he can go back to the Regina Pats and try to jumpstart his hockey career. He spent 4 years playing junior hockey before deciding his teeth had a longer lifespan in baseball.

Fielding wise, we may be getting lucky. Most of these guys have been below average with the glove based on the fielding range matrix, but two of the three that rated above average are on the roster now, Morgan and Duffy (Redman was the other.) McClouth is pretty far below the league average, but he doesn't have much work to base the stat on yet (and the same can be said of Morgan.) Still, he looks better in right.

Of course, it may all be academic. We all know the real McCoy for our center fielder of the future is Andrew McCutcheon...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kiner's Korner

ralph kiner
Ralph Kiner from Wikipedia

Signed by the Pirates for an $8,000 bonus in 1941, Ralph Kiner hit 27 home runs in two minor league seasons before the war. Following a stint in the military service, he became Pittsburgh's starting left fielder in 1946. Despite starting slowly, Kiner hit 23 homers to lead the NL and became the Pirates' first home run champion since 1906.

In 1947 he hit 51 home runs. Not a bad start, hey? Many of Kiner's homers were hit into a short left field porch at Forbes Field, first doctored up for Hank Greenberg and dubbed "Greenberg Gardens". It quickly became "Kiner's Korner". Kiner would later use that name as the title of his post-game TV show in New York.

In 1949 Kiner topped his 1947 total with 54 home runs, falling just two short of Hack Wilson's then NL record. His string of league leading home runs reached seven in 1952, when he popped 37 dingers. It also marked a record six consecutive seasons in which he led MLB in home runs.

Home attendance rose to its highest level since the pennant year of 1927 even though the team was near the bottom of the NL pack just because of him. Fans would stay in the stands until Kiner took his final at-bat and then stampede for the exits. More than five million fans paid to watch horrid Pirate teams from 1947 to 1950 thanks largely to Kiner's charisma.

He was selected to the All-Star team six straight years, from 1948 to 1953. Kiner holds the major league record of 8 home runs hit in four consecutive multi-homer games, set in September, 1947. He was The Sporting News Player of the Year in 1950. Hey, Kiner's Korner or no, the dude could ship a baseball a long way.

On June 4, 1953, Kiner was sent to the Chicago Cubs as part of a ten player trade. He was shipped with Joe Garagiola, Catfish Metkovich, and Howie Pollet to the Cubbies for Toby Atwell, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, George Freese, Bob Addis, Gene Hermanski, and $150,000 (the salary dump was a Pirate tradition even back in the day.) Pirate GM Branch Rickey famously told Kiner, "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you."

He played the rest of the 1953 season and all of 1954 with the Cubs, and finished his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1955 when a back injury forced him out of baseball at age 33. During his ten year career, Kiner mashed 369 home runs and drove in 1,015 RBIs to go with a career .279 batting average.

His lifetime ratio of homers to at-bats (14.1) was exceeded only by Babe Ruth. His slugging prowess was immortalized on the silver screen when Kiner was shown hitting a homer in Forbes Field in the 1952 movie "Angels In The Outfield."

In 1961, Kiner stepped into the broadcast booth with the Chicago White Sox. The next year, Kiner, along with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy, started announcing the games of the expansion New York Mets on WOR-TV in New York. His traditional home-run call -- "that ball is gone, goodbye" -- is a signature phrase in baseball. He's still an occasional analyst on NY's Sports Net channel.

Kiner was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975, and the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1984. The Pirates retired his #4 in 1987. The Sporting News placed him at number 90 on its 1999 list of "The 100 Greatest Baseball Players," and he was one of the 100 finalists for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team that same year. The Mets honored him with a "Ralph Kiner Night" at Shea Stadium.

"Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords" said Ralph Kiner. So true, so true.

Monday, February 11, 2008

lucky sevens

Rennie Stennett card from Glenn's Pirate Pages

Along with Omar Moreno and Manny Sanguillen, Rennie Stennett was one of the Panamanian stars that Pittsburgh scouts had found and fostered back in the Lumber Company days when Latino players flocked to the team. (Maybe the Pirates should build another academy in Panama too, Mr. Huntington?)

Renaldo Antonio Stennett was signed in 1969 and tore up the minors. He was called up in July of 1971 and hit .353 in 50 games with the big club. His play was duly noted, and he was well on his way to becoming the Pirate second baseman of the future. Stennett hit .286 and .242 the next two seasons while playing 2B, SS, and the OF. His time was quickly approaching.

Bill Mazeroski had been the Pirates second baseman since 1956, and Dave Cash had been groomed to replace Maz. But after watching Stennett bloom, especially in the field, the Pirates unloaded Cash following the 1973 season. Stennett became the Pirates everyday second baseman in 1974 and hit .291. He'd get his name in the history books the following season.

On September 16, 1975, the Pirates were in Chicago, facing Rick Reuschel. He was knocked out early. Stennett led off for the Pirates and lashed a double. Using Sanguillen's heavier bat that day (sorry, don't know why - give me a yell if you do), he was just warming up. Later in the inning, he singled off of Tom Dettore, who was rushed in from the bullpen after Reuschel had been swatted around by the Buccos. Stennett would add a single in the third and a double in the fifth with TD on the mound.

Pittsburgh batted around in the fifth, and Stennett singled in his second at bat of the inning, off Oscar Zamora this time. Buddy Schultz served up another single to him in the seventh. Stennett closed out his day with a triple against Reuschel's brother Paul in the eighth, and Danny Murtaugh gave him a breather, sending in Willie Randolph to pinch run. The Bucs won 22-0.

It was the first 7-for-7 nine-inning hitting show put on since Baltimore O's catcher Wilbert Robinson originally did it - in 1892! And it only took Stennett eight innings to match it. Cesar Gutierrez of the Tigers also went 7-for-7 in 1970, but it took him 12 innings to complete his perfect day.

Stennett ended the year hitting .286. He hit just .257 in 1976 but was having an All Star season in 1977, hitting .336 when he broke his leg in August. He was done for the year, but still finished second in the National League in batting behind teammate Dave Parker's .338 average (though short of the necessary number of at-bats.)

His leg would heal, but his batting eye never came back. Stennett wouldn't hit above .244 after that and was replaced by Phil Garner in 1979 after the Bill Madlock deal. His career ended after the 1981 season as a San Francisco Giant. He signed a big free agent contract with them in 1980, but Joe Morgan beat him out of a job the next year.

His lifetime batting average was .274 over 11 years. The rangy Panamanian, always known as a great gloveman, played over 1,000 games at second with a .978 fielding average, and his career fielding range stat finished way above the league average (5.4 to 4.7). He once handled 410 chances consecutively before committing an error.

He was so highly thought of by Pirate management in the mid 1970s that Dave Cash was shipped to Philly and Willie Randolph to the Yanks, and they were a pretty fair pair of second sackers. Stennett played for division winners in 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, and 1979. He was the second baseman when Murtaugh sent out the first all black team in major league history in 1971. Rennie Stennett ended his Buc stint in style during the 1979 Series when he got a pinch-hit single in his only appearance.

Not a bad little career for a kid from Colon, Panama.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

the greatest deal ever made

1903 world series
1903 World Series program from BR Bullpen

Barney Dreyfuss must give Kevin McClatchy nightmares. The turn of the century Buc owner took a team that had finished fewer than 12 games out of first only once in their professional life and turned them into immediate pennant contenders with just one deal. He's now in the HOF for his many contributions to early baseball, but the move he pulled off in 1899 should have guaranteed him a bronze plaque in Cooperstown by itself. It was simply the greatest trade ever made.

In 1899, Dreyfuss owned the Louisville Colonels of the National League. They had a lackluster year, finishing ninth with a 75-77 record though they had some serious talent on the squad. But the NL, hurting financially, decided to contract the league from a dozen teams to eight, and Louisville was told not to let the door hit it in the butt. Dreyfuss' options were to sell or trade his roster. Otherwise the league would assign the players for him.

Dreyfuss was ambitious and had no intentions of leaving the National League, the 800 pound gorilla of professional baseball. So he worked out a little deal with the Pirates. He sent them a dozen players for Jack Chesbro, a HOF pitcher, and three other guys who would be out of baseball in 1900. He then sold off the rest of the players, building himself a tidy little nest egg.

barney dreyfuss
Barney Dreyfuss from Jewish Sports

He used his newly acquired cash to buy a piece of the Pirates, making sure to assign Chesbro back to the Bucs. Of the dozen players he sent to his new team, two were cut, two were sold, and another served as a back up catcher for awhile.

The other seven all became Pirate regulars. 3B Tommy Leach, C Chief Zimmer, 2B Claude Ritchey and P Deacon Phillippe were proven veteran players. Phillippe, in fact, had career stats equal to Waddell and Chesbro, and won three World Series games in 1903. The other three - P Rube Waddell, OF Fred Clarke and SS Honus Wagner - would all be elected to the HOF. P Chesbro, who Dreyfuss returned to Pittsburgh, was also voted into the Hall.

The Pirates came in second in 1900, and for the following three seasons, they completely dominated the National League. They played in the first modern World Series in 1903, losing to the Boston Pilgrims with an injury depleted squad. With largely the same core of players, the Pirates would continue to be a contending team over the next decade, and took their first World Series title in 1909, winning 110 regular season games before defeating Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers.

Pittsburgh was finally on the baseball map, thanks to Barney Dreyfuss. He built a franchise singlehandedly by trading his players to himself. (And you wonder why the Player's Association always harps about ownership collusion!) Those players started the Pirates on a roll of 12 consecutive winning seasons, four pennants, and two World Series appearances.

I challenge anyone to find a trade that netted a team two front of the rotation pitchers, five position starters and three HOF'ers for a player it got back a few weeks later at no cost. It has to be the greatest deal the Pirates ever made.

Many thanks to my bud, Pirate die hard and all around good dude Tom DiNuno, for suggesting this post.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

the lumber company

1971 world series
Blass and the boys celebrate
from Pittsburgh Pirates

The Lumber Company rolled to the NL East title in 1971, outdistancing the Cards by 7 games. They were led at the plate by Willie Stargell (48-125 .295), Roberto Clemente (13-86 .341), Manny Sanguillen (7-81 .319) and Bob Robertson (26-72 .271). The Bucs hammered out 788 runs on their way to 97 wins.

The pitching was solid too, although it was considered by many to be a "no name" collection of arms. Steve Blass (15-8 2.85) and Dock Ellis (19-9 3.06) picked up the bulk of the starting work while Dave Guisti (30 saves) and Mudcat Grant (7 saves) provided the righty-lefty combo that closed the deal.

They also became "the team that changed baseball" when Danny Murtaugh started the first all black major league lineup - Rennie Stennett (2B), Gene Clines (CF), Roberto Clemente (RF), Willie Stargell (LF), Manny Sanguillen (C), Dave Cash (3B), Al Oliver (1B), Jackie Hernandez (SS), and Dock Ellis (P) - on September 1 against Woody Fryman and the Phils. The players weren't even sure of its' significance at first.

Clines believed that the Pirates had used an all-black lineup several years earlier. Stargell corrected him. “No, this is the first time,” he explained. “Back in 1967, in Philadelphia, Harry Walker started eight of us, but the pitcher, Denny Ribant, was white.”

Having gotten that bit of history written, the Bucs turned the page and their attention to the NLCS against the Giants. They had edged the Dodgers by a game to win the West. The G-Men took the first game 5-4 at Candlestick, beating Blass. The Bucs swept them the rest of the way, winning 9-4, then 2-1 when Bob Johnson outdueled Juan Marichal at TRS and clinching it by a 9-5 tally.

The Giants had scored all their runs by the second inning of game #4 when Bruce Kison came in and shut them down, an omen of things to come. The series turned into a slugfest, with the two teams combining for 11 homers, 2 each by Richie Hebner, Bob Robertson, and Willie McCovey.

It was off to Memorial Stadium to meet Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles. The O's four starting pitchers, Pat Dobson, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Jim Palmer, all won 20 games. That hasn't been matched since, and with today's five man rotations, it may never happen again. They had some big sticks with Boog Powell, Frank Robinson and Davey Johnson.

The Birds posted a 101-61 record to win their 3rd straight AL East title. It was also the third consecutive year that it represented the AL in the World Series. In 1970 they had dispatched the Cincinnati Reds in five games and were primed to defend their championship after sweeping Charley Finley's Oakland A's.

They were heavy favorites to repeat. Weaver dismissed the Bucs, heaping piles of uncalled for abuse on SS Jackie Hernandez, saying in effect any team with him at short was destined to lose. It sure looked that way after the first game. The Bucs sprinted out of the box to claim a 3-0 lead in the second thanks to some sloppy play by Baltimore. But the O's jumped on Dock Ellis, and three home runs later had won the opener 5-3. McNally only allowed two more hits over the last 7 innings.

It got worse in the second game as the Orioles romped 11-3, pounding out 14 hits against a half dozen Pirate hurlers.

But the resilient Bucs swept the next three games at TRS. Blass shut down the O's on 3 hits and rode Bob Robertson's three run homer to a 5-1 win. Robertson's homer came on a pitch he was supposed to bunt. The sign was flashed to him twice but he managed to miss it both times. (He had never bunted during the season and probably didn't even know what the sign was.) On second base, Clemente saw the confusion and tried to call time by frantically waving his arms. Fortunately for the Pirates it was too late.

Cuellar was already in his windup. In came a screwball, a few inches outside, and out it went, into the seats in right center. Only when Robertson touched home plate and Stargell congratulated him by saying "That's the way to bunt the ball!" did he figure out what had happened. "Guess I missed a sign," he said when he reached the dugout. "Possibly," replied Murtaugh with a smile on his craggy Irish puss. Blass was sitting next to Murtaugh in the dugout when Big Red blasted the ball, and said "If you fine him (for missing the bunt sign), I'll pay." Murtaugh didn't take him up on his offer.

The next win was the Bruce Kison showcase. Murtaugh elected to start Luke Walker (he had doubts about Dock Ellis' sore arm), but Walker lasted only 22 pitches into the first before he was yanked for the combative righthander. The Bucs were down 3-0 before they came to bat, but behind the brilliant performance of Kison - he gave up one hit in 6-1/3 innings - the Pirates pulled out a 4-3 victory.

The Pirates roared back in their half of the first, plating a pair on back-to-back doubles by Stargell and Oliver. Scoops tied the game with a single in the third, and rookie backstop Milt May came off the bench to hit for Kison in the seventh and delivered a two out RBI single that proved to be the game winner. Guisti pitched the last two innings to ice the game.

It was the first night game in world series history, and Kison made the most of it. He earned the scorn of the Orioles by plunking a trio of them, still a series record. He also created a memorable scene when he crashed his scrawny body full tilt into Davey Johnson instead of sliding into second. When the dust cleared from the collision, the dazed and confused Kison picked up Johnson's Oriole cap, put it on and staggered back towards the dugout.

Murtaugh wanted to save Blass and Ellis for the last two games in Baltimore, so he trotted Nelson Briles out to face the O's in game #5. Good move. The Bucs pecked away early at McNally and won 4-0 behind Brile's masterful two-hit, complete game shutout. It was back to Baltimore, up 3 games to 2.

The Orioles prevailed in game #6, a ten inning nail biter, by the score of 3-2 when Frank Robinson beat Oliver's throw home by a gnat's eyelash after a short fly into center. Bob Moose started for the Pirates with Ellis still on the shelf. Both teams had taken full advantage of home cooking through six games, and it was up to Steve Blass to reverse the trend in game 7.

He was up to the task. Blass won by pitching a four hit complete game gem, followed by his well publicized leap into Robertson's arms after cutting down the O's 1-2-3 in the ninth. The Bucs did their damage with a Clemente home run in the fourth inning and a Jose Pagan RBI double in the eighth, an insurance run they would need when Don Buford's bouncer drove in the O's only run in the bottom of the frame.

You can only imagine the sweet feeling that swept over Jose Hernandez when he gloved Merv Rettenmund's grounder to short with two outs in the ninth and tossed it to first to complete the Buc's win. He and the Pirates had proven Weaver wrong.

It was also a validation for the NL's brand of small ball. Weaver was an advocate of playing for the three run homer (not that Murtaugh was opposed to it, as we've seen, but he didn't count on it as part of his book), and the Buc's aggressive baserunning forced the O's into several uncharacteristic mistakes in the field. Baltimore committed nine errors in the series to the Buc's three, and Pittsburgh stole 5 bases to the O's one.

Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen, and Bob Robertson all had a strong series. Willie Stargell, oddly enough, was pretty much a non factor. The O's walked him 7 times, and he ended up hitting .208. He'd get his revenge a few years down the road.

It was Roberto Clemente that again proved himself to be the shining star of the Bucs. He extended his World Series hitting streak to 14 straight games, stroked a dozen hits while batting .414 and dazzled the O's with his glove and arm. Clemente was honored by being named the first Latino World Series MVP, a fitting conclusion to another great year. He would only have one more left.

Friday, February 8, 2008

mckechnie field, bradenton florida

McKechnie Field from Baseball Pilgrimages

Ah, Valentine's Day, when every man's fancy turns! On February 14, the Buc's pitchers and catchers report for their physicals at Pirate City and the clock on another season starts to tick.

On February 27, the Bucs open against their traditional rival, the Manatee Community College Lancers, and the next day the Grapefruit League begins in earnest against the Phils. Ever since 1969, they've been playing spring ball at McKechnie Field in Bradenton.

The old ballyard was built in 1923 and is named after former Bucco skipper, Hall of Famer, and Bradenton native son Bill McKechnie. He first managed the Newark Pepper of the Federation League, and was the Pirate leader from 1922-26, winning the World Series in 1925. He went on to coach the St. Louis Browns, Boston Braves and Cincinnati Redlegs during a 25 year career that saw him win nearly 1,900 games and another series with Cincy in 1940. His ticket to the HOF was punched in 1962.

McKechnie left the Bucs after clashing with former manager Fred Clarke, another Hall of Famer, who was an assistant GM and also served as a bench coach in 1926. Some of the players thought Clarke was undercutting McKechnie and wanted him removed. Did the Pirate's bend under the pressure and return Clarke to the pressbox? Heck, no.

Barney Dreyfuss canned McKechnie and three player ringleaders, Babe Adams, Carson Bigbee and Max Carey, in what became known as the ABC incident. They were all vets that were on the downside of their careers (Carey would end up in the HOF and hang on 4 more years with the Brooklyn Robins, while Adams and Bigbee found themselves out of baseball the following season), so Dreyfuss made his point without hurting the team very much. But back to Bradenton...

McKechnie's namesake stadium is a charming little place in a Ponce De Leon kinda way, seating 6,600 in its' stucco Alamo-looking confines, surrounded by palm trees. It's a mile from downtown, smack in the middle of a gritty neighborhood, much like Forbes Field was in Oakland. And like Oakland, there's no real parking there, but for a five or ten spot, the locals will gladly find a spot for you to safely leave your car.

The tickets cost $16 for a box seat, $15 for reserved seats (and neither of the green monsters was designed with the comfort of a wide bootie in mind) and metal bleachers along right and left field that go for $9 a pop. The Bucs also tack on a surcharge of a buck or two when they play the primo draws, this year the Yanks, Red Sox, and Tigers.

But it's still priced below most Florida ballparks. And you're virtually guaranteed a seat. The record for attendance was set in 2006, when it averaged 4,950 fans per game. Though it's come close a couple of times, McKechnie Field has never sold out for a game.

The staff may be the friendliest bunch of galoots you'll find in Florida. Since 1979, the Bradenton Boosters have volunteered as ticket takers, security, ushers, press box attendants and concessionaires for the field. They are knowledgeable and glad to be there, two traits often found wanting in major league park employee profiles. They even fund raise!

There are some little quirks about McKechnie, too. The dugouts are so small that the manager and coaches sit on benches outside it. The outfield flags are color coded white, gold and black for years the Bucs won the division, the NL, and the World Series. And the atmosphere is so relaxed that a couple of dozen players who weren't scheduled to suit up against Manatee CC pulled up lawn chairs and plopped themselves on the warning track to catch the game and some rays.

It's used almost exclusively for the 15 or 20 home games on the Grapefruit League schedule. Even the GCL Pirates play at Pirate City, five miles away (which is newly renovated, too, just getting the finishing touches added on this year.)

In the early 2000s, the Pirates made some noise like they might move on. Pirate City, as you may recall, had to be torn down because of a mold problem in the buildings. But the state came through with a $20M grant (it had been held up before because it was attached to a bill to give the Marlins a new stadium, and that piece of legislation wasn't going anywhere.) So now the Bucs, committed to Bradenton through 2037, have a spiffy new Pirate City complex and lights at McKechnie. Boy, how the mosquitoes and other flying critters will love it when those babies come on!

They left lucky Fort Myers in 1968 after a 14 year stay to come to Bradenton. Lucky because every team that trained there won a World Series during their stay - the Philadelphia A's, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox. But we won a couple of championships coming out of Bradenton, too, so it seems like a fair enough trade.

Do you wonder where they hung out in the spring before settling on those two vacation havens? Well, hold your breath - here's the list from 1900 - 1954: Selma, Thomasville, Hot Springs, Dawson Springs, Jacksonville, Birmingham, Paso Robies, San Bernardino, San Antonio, Muncie, Miami Beach, Hollywood, Havana, and Fort Pierce. Some they used more than once - San Bernardino leads the list with four different visits covering 12 years. And you thought being travel secretary was an easy job!

Ah Bradenton, where hope springs eternal...

McKechnie Field seating from Baseball Pilgrimages

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

the birth of the pirates

loe bierbauer
Lou Bierbauer from Wikipedia

Pittsburgh professional baseball can trace its' roots to 1882, when the Alleghenies joined the American Association. It was called the "Beer and Whiskey" league by the snooty National League because its' owners and sponsors were mostly breweries and distilleries.

The AA wasn't destined to last long, with its' teams and players being siphoned off by the stronger National League. The Alleghenies, one of the AA's original teams, switched to the NL in 1887. But the tale of the Pirates begins in 1890, when some of the AA players revolted.

Growing tension between the ballplayers and team owners led to the formation of the Brotherhood, or Players, League, and several AA players jumped ship. But the Brotherhood League couldn't compete with the other leagues and was out of business after one season.

When it folded, Pittsburgh signed the Brotherhood's Louis Bierbauer, a second baseman. He had been on the roster of the competing American Association's now defunct Philadelphia A's franchise before he switched leagues, and he was supposed to return to his previous club.

But Bierbauer hadn't been placed on the reserved list by the AA through a clerical error and his old team didn't exist any longer, so arbitrators declared him a free agent. (The same was true of OF Harry Stover who inked a deal with the Boston Reds. But since it was an AA team at the time, no hue and cry was ever raised about him.)

Free agency had been one of the sticking points with ownership that caused the players to bolt the AA to form the Brotherhood League. The reserve clause existed even in the 19th century and would last until 1975 when Curt Flood's challenge finally bore fruit. It may be hard to believe now, but Pittsburgh made the first big splash in the free agent market over a century ago.

Signing Bierbauer was considered an "act of piracy" by some, especially in the AA, and the Pittsburgh franchise was branded forever as being "Pirates." The new moniker was embraced by club president J. Palmer O'Neill (he had tried the name "Innocents" the year before and the "Burghers" unofficially before that without gaining much public traction) as he moved his team to the new Exposition Park. The media and fans also took to it, and it became official by the time the first pitch was thrown at Expo Park in 1891.

Bierbauer was the Pirate second baseman until 1897 when he was sold to the St. Louis Browns. He had some solid years with the team, and finished his 13 year career with a .273 batting average.

Steal one player and it stays with you forever.

freddie sanchez inks his deal

Freddy Sanchez from MLB
(photo by Dave Arrigo)

It's about time the Pirates did something worthwhile this offseason. I'm glad that Huntington hung on to his core players if the price wasn't right after suffering through the fire sales of Littlefield. And I'm more glad the middle of our infield is together. I don't believe in dealing away players without having someone ready to step into their spikes.

Jack Wilson is signed until 2009 with a team option for 2010, and now Freddy's inked the same way for the same span. And that's good news, because all we have on the farm is Brian Bixler, who by all published reports isn't ready for prime time yet. He didn't even get a September call up, which mystified me.

But a lot of what McClatchy and Littlefield did was beyond my comprehension. My reading of the tea leaves is that Huntington won't let a player go without a replacement somewhere on the horizon. Instead of blowing the team up, he's looking to strengthen it a piece at a time. At least my guess is that they don't intend to fill one hole by creating another. We'll find out soon enough.

Freddie's deal is this: $4 million in base pay this season, plus a $300,000 signing bonus. He'll make $6.1 million in 2009. In 2010, the Pirates can exercise a club option of $8 million and up to $500,000 in bonuses, or send him on his merry way with a $600,000 buyout to stick in his pocket on the way to free agency.

That option will be vested if Sanchez makes 635 plate appearances in 2009, or he has 600 plate appearances and lands a spot on the All Star team. And based on past experience, if he stays healthy in 2009, he'll meet the trigger. Freddy had 587 plate appearances in 2005 when he was glued to the bench before the Joker, Joe Randa, went down. He collected 625 appearances in 2006 and 645 last year. Sanchez has also been an All-Star the past two seasons. If Russell continues to use him in the two-three hole, he should be able to reach the targets.

$18.9M over three years seems to be a reasonable wage. These new front office guys seem to have a finger on a player's value. The baseball rags I read thought he was worth $15-20M over three years, with most somewhere in the $18M range. It seems both sides are getting a fair shake on the contract.

Freddy earned $2.75M last year, and with his new contract, he's guaranteed another $10.4M for the next two seasons, so that's $13M+ over three arbitration years. Not A-Rod money, but not too bad.

I was one that was squeamish about his move to second last year, and the first few weeks at the position only deepened my suspicions after he missed spring camp with a bum knee and looked out of place there early on. But he came around and finished the year as Steady Freddy at second, not showing great range but snagging everything he could reach.

Freddy's shaky pivot work improved during the course of the season, and hopefully a 100% knee and shoulder will improve it more. His fielding range stat was a tick above the league average, and that's OK. A couple of bouncers will elude him, and a couple more will drop into short right. But all the other balls are outs, and that's a big advantage over the up and down Castillo. Sanchez only booted nine balls last season.

And while he's not a slugger, he's hit .294, .344, and .304 in the past three years (.310 career) and won a batting crown while averaging 83 RBI over the past two seasons. That's a sweet bat for a second baseman.

Second base has been a swinging gate for us this decade. We had Warren Morris in 2000, Pat Meares and Abraham Nunez in 2001, Pokey Reese in 2002, Jeff Reboulet and Nunez in 2003, and then the Castillo years. It'll be good to have some stability up the middle, especially with question marks in center and behind the plate and a starting pitching staff that gives up a ton of ground balls when they're on their game.

I'm happy to see a good guy and a good ballplayer be rewarded for staying the course, especially one that seems genuinely pleased to be in Pittsburgh. Do you remember the raucous ovation Freddy got during the All-Star game introductions at PNC Park in 2006? I think Pittsburgh fans are genuinely pleased to have him here, too.

Monday, February 4, 2008

the bonus babies

obrien twins
Eddie and Johnny O'Brien
from Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine

For most of the 1950s, the Pittsburgh Pirates were doormats in the NL. From 1949-1957 they strung together nothing but losing records, and lost 100 or more games three consecutive years, from 1952 to 1954 - and it was a lot tougher to reach those depths playing a 154 game schedule than it is today. They desperately needed some help. But the system was rigged against the cash poor Bucs (sound familiar?), with amateur ballplayers being free to sign with the highest bidder.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, teams had found themselves in bidding wars for young blood. These battles ended when a real war, World War II, broke out. But when the shooting overseas ended, the competition for new talent resumed even more fiercely.

This feeding frenzy resulted in skyrocketing signing bonuses. In 1947, baseball implemented the Bonus Rule. The rule prevented the wealthier teams from signing the lion's share of the better players and stashing them in their farm systems by setting a limit on signing bonuses, generally around $4,000. If a team exceeded the bonus limit, the player had to go on the major league roster, much like Rule 5 players today. But the haves challenged it, and in 1950 it was dumped.

Branch Rickey, who had taken over the reins as the Pirate GM in 1950, pushed for a revival of the "bonus baby" rule. His goal was to keep the well heeled Yankees (yes, they were the evil empire even back then), Dodgers, Cardinals, and others from stockpiling minor league talent by opening their wallets wide, and hopefully level the playing field a bit for the rest of the teams.

He rammed "Bonus Baby the Sequel" through in late 1952, to take effect the next season. The Pirates became the biggest player in the Bonus Baby battle. Until it was again dropped in 1957, the Bucs signed 8 players that went straight from school ball to the major leagues, the most in baseball. So this influx of talent shot the Pirates right to the top, right? Well, no.

Who'd we sign? One noted player was Vic Janowicz, All-America halfback from Ohio State. He and Pittsburgh would have both been better served if he had signed with the Steelers instead. The 1950 Heismann Trophy winner hit .214 in his two years with the Bucs before deciding he was more suited to shoulder pads than the tools of ignorance.

Pitcher Paul Martin only lasted a year, ringing up an awe inspiring 14.14 ERA. Infielder Billy Pritchard also spent but one season in baseball, hitting .091. Pitcher Red Swanson was on the Pirate roster for 3 years, compiling a 4-4 record and 4.90 ERA. Another pitcher, Laurin Pepper, toiled off the mound for four years, ending his career at 2-8 with a 7.06 ERA. Catcher Nick Koback appeared in 16 games over three years, batting .121. None of them played MLB after the Pirates cut them loose.

Oh, they did sign a couple of major league players, the O'Brien twins. They were terrific basketball players at Seattle University, even though they were 5'9" (they were known as the "Shrimps of Seattle," although Johhny could supposedly dunk a ball.) Eddie played shortstop for a couple of seasons, batting .236, and then was converted to a pitcher. He didn't get much work but was 1-0 with a 3.31 ERA before he hung up the spikes in 1958 after 5 years as a Buc. Johnny was the only one of the eight bonus babies to play ball outside of Pittsburgh when he went to St. Louis in 1958-59. He spent 6 years in the bigs as a reserve infielder, hitting .250. Oddly enough, he pitched in 25 games while in the majors, going 1-3 with a 5.61 ERA. The Pirates tried to convert him, too.

The O'Briens did reach a couple of milestones, though. They were the first twin combination to play for the same team. They were also one of only four brother combos to play the middle of the infield for the same team in a game. Cal and Billy Ripken were the last pair back in the 1980s.

One famed bonus baby wasn't one by definition, having signed while the bonus rules were on hiatus, but he sure fit the description. The Pirates inked Paul Pettit, a big lefty, in 1950 for the lordly sum of $100,000. In two years, he won 1 game and had an ERA of 7.34. He also blew his arm out. He went on to spend several solid seasons as an outfielder in the minors and Mexican League, showing some good power, but not quite enough to get another shot in the bigs.

One terrific signing was made in the 1952 dead period, though. Rickey inked Dick Groat two days after the Wilkinsburg native, an All-America hoopster, graduated from Duke, giving him a $25,000 bonus. He joined the Bucs in June and hit .284 before marching off to the Army. He came back to form a lethal DP combo with Maz and earn a MVP, batting title, and five All-Star nods during his 14 year career. So the Bucs collected 10 bonus babies, and Groat was the only keeper in the bunch.

Did the bonus rules help level the playing field? It took some promising talent that could and should have spent time in the minors honing their craft and in effect ran them out of the league by rushing them into play rather than polishing their skills (the O'Brien twins come to mind.) The other players resented them, too, because of the big money they were making without having proven themselves. The teams with better scouting systems still won at the talent game, bonuses or not. And like baseball in the 1950s, the system was terribly biased - not one black or Latino player ever became a bonus baby, partially because of prejudice and partially because of their economic background.

But it did help teams that could scout well enough to build up their minor league teams. Even the Pirates made out on that deal, with several of their 1960 players like Maz being brought up through their farm system. By guaranteeing that the entry level minor league contracts would be somewhat equitable, other teams were able to garner their fair share of players rather than having them all gravitate to a handful of big spending franchises. And though the bonus rules made yet another comeback, they were finally scrapped in 1965 and the amateur draft took its' place.

Still, the more things are different, the more they end up the same.