About Jeff Kallman

Member, Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and the Society for American Baseball Research.

A sort of homegoing for Jacob deGrom

Jacob deGrom

In the end, Jacob deGrom wanted to be closer to home for five years. The Rangers gave him what he wanted with handsome dollars. But the second-best pitcher in Mets history will be missed in New York.

Of course it’ll be strange to think of and see Jacob deGrom in a Rangers uniform. And of course the social media universe, especially those whose baseball fealty belongs to the Mets, blew like a kitchen full of whistling tea kettles over the news that deGrom signed for five years, ages 35-39, and $185 million.

Assuming a return to health, and no such further rude interruptions along the way, deGrom gives the Rangers instant credibility and the Mets the accelerated need to fill a starting rotation hole about the size of Stonehenge. With deGrom off the free agency boards, Justin Verlander now looks more like a delicious Met target.

For the Rangers, of course, the question is whether deGrom’s health will allow him to pick up where he left off before the injury assault began in May 2021. The Mets seemed just leery enough of that question and its potential answer to hold the line at the three-year deal Craig Calcaterra—the former NBC Sports baseball analyst now journaling independently—says most assumed before the Rangers offered five.

As Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported the Mets’ last offer to deGrom was around three years and $120 million. I don’t get the sense that that was a final offer or that the Mets walked away or anything, though. It was likely just the case that Texas came in with five and deGrom grabbed it, likely knowing it wouldn’t be beat.

And why wouldn’t the Rangers go for it? Texas starters had a collective 4.63 ERA last season, which ranked 25th in the majors. With deGrom at the top of the marquee above supporting players Martín Perez, Jon Gray, Jake Odorizzi, and introducing Dane Dunning, things seem poised for an improvement. The big question, of course, is whether the Rangers are going to see the insanely dominant Jacob deGrom of 2018-21 during this deal.

Until that May 2021 side injury, followed by a shoulder and then elbow injury forcing his season’s end early that July, deGrom wasn’t just off the charts, he was somewhere in his own solar system on the mound. His right scapula stress reaction took him out this year until 2 August, after which he pitched like deGrom until the stretch—when he pitched well but not quite deGrominantly.

“Some of that,” Calcaterra reminds us, “might’ve been a function of stamina but one never knows. Obviously the Rangers have seen his medicals and wouldn’t have offered him this deal if there were red flags, but deGrom will turn 35 in the middle of the 2023 season and no pitcher lasts forever.”

Let’s get this out of the way once and for all. No baseball player asks for injuries while doing his job. (Those who get injured being foolish off the field are often another matter.) It wasn’t deGrom’s fault that his 2021 was derailed by three injuries; it wasn’t his fault that his right scapula elected to hand him five-sixths of the 2022 season off.

Neither is it the Mets’ fault that they were leery of giving deGrom the fourth and fifth years he wanted and that the Rangers were willing to risk. They had baseball’s arguable best pitcher in their silks but his body betrayed him often enough to give them pause. Even if their owner Steve Cohen bought the team as much from his lifelong Met fandom as for anything else, he didn’t become wealthy enough to buy it by acting from his heart alone.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

We’re beginning to learn a little more that not everything was entirely sweet between deGrom and the Mets. He never hinted publicly at discontent, and he had reason for discontent that few of his teammates did. Remember: this is the guy who’s still accused of not being a “winner” and not knowing how to “win” because, despite winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2018-2019, he “won” only 21 games over both seasons.

“Jacob deGrom’s issue wasn’t that he ‘didn’t know how to win’,” wrote MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, in A Fan’s Guide to Baseball Analytics. “It was that he didn’t know how to not be on the 2018 New York Mets.”

They put up 3.57 runs per deGrom start, the third-lowest support average for any qualified pitcher in the majors that season. In the end, deGrom, owner of the league’s best ERA (1.70), finished 2018 with the same number of wins as the White Sox’s Lucas Giolito, owner of the league’s worst ERA (6.13). As the great Jayson Stark wrote of deGrom’s Cy Young case in The Athletic late in the season, “So are you still asking why we’re ignoring wins? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Because there isn’t a single entry on the stat sheet that tells us less about how this man has pitched than the entry that most people used to check first. That’s why.

He had the same problem not knowing how not to be on the 2019 Mets, too. That team put up 4.1 runs per deGrom start—but gave him only 3.6 runs to work with while he was in the game. For those two Cy Young seasons, deGrom’s fielding-independent pitching (you can consider it a man’s ERA when the defenses behind him are removed from the equation) was a sterling 2.32—and his 1.98 FIP led the entire Show.

He could have sued his team plausibly for non-support, but to the public and even in his clubhouse deGrom was a chronic non-complainer. “Throughout deGrom’s career with the Mets,” writes ESPN’s Buster Olney, “he was a respected teammate, especially for how he handled a chronic lack of run support.”

But he also felt in some ways like an alienated man. deGrom may be a private young man but he’s not obscure. When he made known his intention to opt out of his Mets deal—which he had every right to do since the option to do it was in the deal—it was a sign that something between the pitcher and the organisation fell just enough out of whack to compel deGrom to think of continuing and finishing his career closer to home.

There isn’t a dollar amount on earth that can match that value in a man’s soul. Not that the Rangers aren’t trying.

It’s not unlikely that, giving him the fifth year he really wanted (plus an option for a sixth), deGrom’s average annual value of $37 million a year as a Ranger was still a bargain. Sometimes, the home town discount really means the man’s actual as opposed to baseball home town, or close enough thereto.

“[T]o some in the [Mets’] clubhouse,” Olney goes on to say, “he also became a little more distant from teammates over his years in the organization; he was a private person who seemed to become a little more private.”

It was a perception likely exacerbated by that time away from the field—391 days passed between his last start in 2021 to his first start in 2022. Some teammates . . . developed a relationship with Steve Cohen after Cohen bought the Mets the fall of 2020, but friends felt that deGrom wasn’t really interested in that.

deGrom also had reduced his interactions with the large contingent of media that descends upon the Mets’ clubhouse, regularly speaking to reporters after his starts but increasingly deflecting any other requests. Early in his career, deGrom had agreed to do in-game interviews in national broadcasts on the days he did not pitch. But as deGrom’s stature in the game grew, that practice ended.

Instead, deGrom preferred to just focus on pitching. He didn’t seem particularly interested in the pomp and circumstance that can come from playing baseball in New York, a sentiment conveyed to members of the Braves even before this offseason. Based on their conversations with deGrom, some Atlanta players felt certain that if given the chance, deGrom—who had grown up in Florida as a fan of the Braves—would prefer to sign with the team he rooted for as a kid.

Indeed the Braves put themselves in play for deGrom, but they, too, didn’t want to assume the risk of deGrom’s desired five years versus the chances of deGrom’s body betraying him (and them) yet again. The Rangers were not just willing, but they had a secret weapon when it came to landing deGrom: their new manager.

Bruce Bochy managed the 2015 National League All-Stars after winning the 2014 World Series with the Giants. deGrom was one of his pitchers, the league’s 2014 Rookie of the Year. Bochy, says Olney, was impressed by both deGrom’s humility and his sixth-inning performance of striking out the side with only ten pitches.

Freshly minted as the Rangers’ manager, Bochy now engaged deGrom on a Zoom call. “To Bochy,” Olney continues, “it was clear that deGrom’s focus was on family, on pitching, on competing. The Rangers continued to dig into deGrom’s background, his preparation; they learned that deGrom was already assessing the housing market in the Dallas area. Said one of deGrom’s friends from New York: ‘He’ll probably wind up on a ranch’.”

If the Rangers continue to reconstruct a team their newly-signed top pitcher can be proud to front on the mound, and if that newly-signed top pitcher can keep doing what he does without further injuries, things in the American League West will become more than merely interesting.

Having deGrom in Ranger silks isn’t exactly the ideal scenario or best interest for the ogres of the AL West, the world champion Astros. Their Cy Young Award-winning grand old man, Justin Verlander, is now a free agent. The Mets are now said to be all-in on making sure they can make Verlander a happy man for a season or maybe two, particularly re-uniting with his old Detroit teammate/rotation mate Max Scherzer.

“deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball when he’s healthy. There’s no replacement for his potential,” writes Smart Baseball author Keith Law in The Athletic.

There is, however, a way to replace his production, since he threw just 64 innings last year, and while they were, again, comically great innings–the man made eleven starts and walked eight guys, at least one of which was probably a clerical error–he was worth about two wins above replacement, and someone else had to make the 21 starts he didn’t make. The Mets could just throw $40 million at Justin Verlander for a year, tell him they give him as good a shot as anyone at getting him another 15-18 wins, after which he can go ply his trade for another team if they didn’t give him enough run support. If he really wants to get to 300 career wins, which would be fantastic to see, they’re a great choice.

The Astros don’t exactly lack for starting pitching; their rotation made a very distinct and vivid impression during the World Series and that’s without including Verlander in the picture. But losing Verlander to their fan base isn’t quite like losing deGrom is to the Mets’ fan base. Until he signed with the Rangers Friday night, the Mets’ long-anguishing, often-masochistic fan base thought and hoped deGrom would end up a Met for life.

They’ll have to settle for deGrom having been the second-best pitcher in Mets history, behind Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. (Jerry Koosman, you say? Dwight Gooden? Try again. As a Met, Koosman’s FIP is 3.26 and Gooden’s is 2.77. deGrom’s 2.62 as a Met beats them both. He’s also only five FIP points behind Seaver as a Met. He also has the best walks/hits per inning pitched as a Met of the four. Better not go further, lest we careen into heresy.)

They’ve had to settle for far worse. If you don’t believe them, they’ll be more than disgustingly happy to remind you—chapter and verse. At least until they see Justin Verlander shouldering into a Mets jersey at his introductory press conference, they may now dare to dream.

Gaylord Perry, RIP: Grease was the word

Gaylord Perry

What was Gaylord Perry (shown here in his earlier seasons with the Giants) using to live rent-free in the minds of hitters, managers, umpires? Really?

A bit over forty years ago, I was in Air Force basic training on San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base. Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry helped me survive that hot June and July. I couldn’t watch baseball games but I could use something for which he was, shall we say, somewhat notorious.

The heat stress factors at that time of year inspired airmen basic in drill formations to develop their own relief when granted brief rest on the drill pads. Since those rests weren’t much more than two minutes, it seemed, I would brush the bill of my hat with each hand’s fingertips, then the sides of my shaven hair, then down the front of my fatigue uniform shirt.

It took my mind off both the metastasising humid heat and my fears that I was just about the worst airman basic ever to pass through the Lackland arterials. It was also noticed by my training flight colleagues asking me where I found such a nutty looking routine. I had nothing to hide. It was Perry’s routine between pitches whenever he wanted a batter to think he was loading, lubing, oiling, waxing, gelling up for the next pitch.

My Air Force career turned out to be eighteen percent as long as Perry’s major league pitching career. I was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal for work during an exercise by the ancient Strategic Air Command. Perry won a pair of Cy Young Awards—the second at age forty. I went from the Air Force to regional journalism. Perry went to the Hall of Fame.

Longtime manager Gene Mauch notwithstanding, there isn’t a tube of K-Y jelly next to Perry’s plaque. What’s inscribed, instead, is this: “Playing mind games with hitters through array of rituals on mound was part of his arsenal.”

Perry died this morning of natural causes at 84. Maybe the only thing he loved about baseball more than pitching itself was living rent free in the heads of opposing hitters, managers, umpires, and anyone else looking to dope him on the mound and maybe rope him off it.

What the hell was it that Perry got when he went through that once-famous routine—brushing the bill of his hat with his fingertips, then his hair (what remained of it), his jersey, tapping his belt, assorted other little brushes—intended to renew his in-those-heads leases?

Was it K-Y? Was it pine tar? Vaseline? Fishing line wax? Mustache wax? 3-in-1 oil? Pennzoil? Lard? Don’t laugh: according to Thomas Boswell, outfielder-turned-Yankee broadcaster Bobby Murcer once sent Perry a gallon of lard as a gift. Maybe someone going through Perry’s personal effects and family heirlooms will discover the Gunk & Wagnall’s that sent him to Cooperstown, a pitcher who threw back to the era when anything went on the mound as well as in the batter’s box or on the bases.

Perry was an ordinary pitcher with the Giants until they acquired pitcher Bob Shaw from the latter’s fourth team, the Braves. Once a solid World Series pitcher (for the 1959 White Sox), Shaw would leave another, ahem, mark upon Perry during their first spring training together as Giants. Perry admired the way Shaw’s pitches slithered up to the plate. Admired and acquired.

Shaw discovered he had a devoted student and, according to Perry himself, taught him how to lube, grip, and deliver the newly greased sphere, not to mention how to hide the subterfuge from such prying eyes as umpires and even opposing executives. But he waited until 31 May 1964 to try a few of his new toys, in one of the most fabled games of all, the 23-inning marathon in game two of a doubleheader against the Mets in New York.

Perry worked ten shutout innings in that game—in relief. He got credit for the win thanks to an RBI double (Del Crandall, who joined the Giants in the Shaw trade) and a followup RBI single (Jesus Alou, whose older brother Felipé went to the Braves in the deal)–in the top of the 23rd. In due course Perry would write, in his memoir Me and the Spitter, that on that unique day he became an outlaw “in the strictest sense of the word—a man who lives outside the law, in this case the law of baseball.”

The spitball and other loaded and doctored pitches were outlawed in 1920. Incumbent pitchers who lived by them were allowed to continue throwing them; pitchers joining the Show afterward were not. Officially. Unofficially, of course, there were those who continued to discover new and more creative ways to turn baseballs into carpentry experiments.

Few of those post-1920 scofflaws were as unapologetic as the husky righthander from North Carolina who came from solid farming stock and plowed his own baseball yield. The younger brother of a successful enough major league pitcher named Jim, Perry wouldn’t settle for mere success, even if he did become the first to win a Cy Young Award in each league including one on the threshold of his fortieth birthday.

He wasn’t strictly a spitballer. He was actually known for throwing a fine forkball, though my saying so might inspire a few snickers and a few temperatures running up the scales. After he struck thirteen Angels out in a 1982 game, en route his 300th credited pitching win, said Angels weren’t necessarily amused.

“I only saw two pitches all night that were legal,” said outfielder Fred Lynn, once a Red Sox Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season but compromised since by injuries. “I have it on tape. He calls that thing a forkball. There ain’t a forkball alive that does what that pitch does.”

Lynn’s teammate Don Baylor didn’t think it was that terrible a deal. “I don’t take one thing away from him for winning three hundred with the spitter,” the future major league manager said. “There are loopholes in the rules and you get away with what you can get away with.”

Spoken about a man whose little daughter was interviewed with the family on television while Perry pitched a game in 1971. Asked whether Daddy was throwing a naughty pitch, little Allison Perry piped up, without skipping a beat, and insisted, “It’s a hard slider.”

Whether or not you think Perry’s brand of chicanery was engaging or enraging, beyond that maybe the worst thing you could have thought of him was that he had a reputation as a clubhouse lawyer and a clubhouse scold. He’d grown up tough on the farm and by his own admission suffered few fools gladly, especially after defensive miscues that might cost him a game.

“I’m hard on my teammates,” he admitted to Boswell. “I need a lot out of them to win and I drive ’em.” Some said he drove them crazy. Other might have thought he drove them toward fleeting but profound thoughts of murder.

Until he began approaching that 300th win and considered a little image refinement might be a fine thing, Perry was traded five times, released outright once, had a resume of seven teams plus more than a few nasty feelings left behind, including butting heads with groundbreaking Indians manager (and fellow Hall of Famer) Frank Robinson over the latter’s spring training conditioning rules.

Gaylord Perry

Perry’s statue outside the Giants’ home ballpark, known now as Oracle Park. There’s no tube of K-Y there, either.

Robinson insisted on foul line-to-foul line sprints. Perry had spent his career using the foul line-to-dead-center sprint. He fumed, “I’m not training for a marathon race, and I’m not about to let some superstar who never pitched a game in his life tell me how to get ready to pitch.” For his part, Robinson blamed Perry as a primary instigator that led to his firing. Ouch.

By the time Perry joined the Mariners in 1982, he learned how to behave just enough to survive. He’d also been a career-long game student who went to considerable lengths to enhance his pitching mind. He tried new pitches off the mound for about two years’ worth before using them in games. Experience plus attentiveness taught him just as it had growing up on and then working the offseasons on the farm.

“I threw my first screwball to [Hall of Famer] Willie Stargell,” Perry told Boswell. “He hit it over the center field fence. I never threw another one. I learned that you always try out a new pitch to a little guy.” That’s one way to pitch 22 seasons and send yourself to Cooperstown, whether or not you’ve greased your way there.

Seeing Perry on the Hall of Fame induction stages in the years following his own induction, I was struck often by the once-familiar face expressing both pleasure and winking mischief shaded by a trace of sorrow. Perry’s post-baseball life wasn’t always smooth. His beloved peanut farm went bankrupt three years after he retired from pitching. The following year, his wife was killed in a road accident.

He rebounded well enough. He worked as a representative for a snack company and then as the creator of a baseball program at a South Carolina college, remarried to a woman on that college’s board of trustees, and kept close to his children. (Tragically, his only son died of leukemia in 2005.) In time, the memorabilia boom provided Perry with a very comfortable living, perhaps above and beyond his best earning years as a pitcher.

To the end, wherever he went, he’d be asked what he applied, where he hid it, and how often he threw it. To the end, Perry’s answers came from the usual coy non-denying denial. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe he’d mastered the dark art of doctoring, maybe what he really did was commit psychological warfare. (It took until he was pushing 44 before he was tossed from any game over a suspect pitch.)

“Just planting the idea in the hitter’s mind is almost as good as having an illegal pitch,” said longtime pitching coach Ray Miller, himself a confessed scofflaw after his minor league pitching career ended. “I was misquoted . . . as saying that [Royals pitcher] Dennis Leonard had a good spitter. He came up to me this spring to chew me out and I said, ‘Dennis, you should thank me. Nobody can do a pitcher a bigger favour than saying they’ve got a hell of a spitter’.”

That was a favour off which Perry made his living for over two decades on the mound and, in time, a decade or two just being himself on the autograph circuit. I’m reasonably sure that he didn’t lay a tube of K-Y in front of him at any signing table.

“When the Perry plaque is put up in Cooperstown,” Boswell concluded in that 1982 observation, “it should not, as Mauch needles, have a tube of grease next to it, nor should Perry’s record have a spitball asterisk beside it.”

However, it might be a good idea to place Perry in a wing of the Hall near those nineteenth-century old-timers who won 300, like Kid Nichols, Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson, Mickey Welch, Eddie Plank and Ol’ Hoss Radbourne.

Many of them came off the farm, doctored the ball as they wished, glared at any manager who dared to take them out of a game, chewed out their teammates and knocked down hitters who got too comfortable at the plate. The game was hard then, short on manners and long on sweat. And so were they.

Gaylord Perry, who has always looked like he should be pitching in dungarees, not double-knits, would grace their company.

Imagine Elysian Fields confabs of those gentlemen plus such other actual or suspected greasers as Bo Belinsky, Jim Brosnan, Lew Burdette (Belinsky swore Burdette was his teacher), Dean Chance, Tony Cloninger, Don Drysdale (“I watched him pull at the belt so much I was sure it wasn’t just habit,” Perry once said of him), Whitey (Lord of the Ring Ball) Ford, George Hildebrand, Carl Mays, Preacher (Beech-Nut) Roe, Schoolboy Rowe, and Bullet Bob Turley.

It might be worth all the sacrificial lambs on the farms to be invited to listen and learn at even one such Salivation Army briefing.

2023 BBWAA HOF Ballot: Three return with cases and controversies

Manny Ramírez

“A savant in the batter’s box . . . an idiot everywhere else.”—Jay Jaffe, on Manny Ramírez.

But wait . . . there’s more! Namely, the rest of the Baseball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame ballot, the candidates returning for another go-round. They’re not going to Cooperstown. Three in particular have actual Hall cases but aren’t likely to go this time, and maybe not for a few more times—if at all—before their BBWAA ballot eligibility expires.

Two were murderers at the plate. One was a shortstop acrobat. Two were considered head cases while they played; the acrobat’s days since his career ended have fallen into deep enough disrepute. The murderers at the plate are Manny Ramírez (LF) and Gary Sheffield (RF); the acrobat at shortstop is Omar Vizquel.

There are ten left fielders, eleven right fielders, and ten shortstops in the Hall of Fame who played their careers all or mostly in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era. The following table shows Ramírez, Sheffield, and Vizquel according to my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric—total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances. The parenthetic numbers next to their names indicate their positioning among those Hall of Famers at their positions, if they do become Hall of Famers themselves:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Manny Ramírez (LF; 2) 9774 4826 1329 216 90 109 .672
Gary Sheffield (RF; 6) 10947 4737 1475 130 111 135 .602
Omar Vizquel (SS; 9) 12013 3727 1028 25 94 49 .409

Manny Being Manny

Manny Ramírez’s Hall of Fame case is entirely in his bat. He’s got the numbers at the plate for enshrinement. No questions asked. He also has the attitude history (Manny Being Manny) and issues that made him as big a pain in the butt to his own teams as he was to opposing pitchers.

First, we’ll address his defense. It all but didn’t exist. Ramírez wasn’t just below his league average for the traditional fielding percentage and range factors, his career finished with him being worth -109 defensive runs below his league average. He should have been a designated hitter. (And, was—for a mere fourteen percent of his 2,302 lifetime games.)

The best side of Ramírez was that, in Cleveland and Boston especially, he was known for a tremendous work ethic. He all but included that in his thinking when he said, so memorably, after winning the 2004 World Series MVP as those Red Sox swept the Cardinals to break the actual/alleged curse, “I don’t believe in curse, I believe you make your own destiny.”

That was the blessing. And, the big problem. Because Ramírez made his own destiny, all right, perhaps encapsulated best by The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe: “A savant in the batter’s box, Manny Ramírez could be an idiot just about everywhere else—sometimes amusingly, sometimes much less so.”

Any amusement factor in Manny Being Manny died long before his playing career finally did. You can hark back to all the times he seemed to want out of Boston, and the time the Red Sox put him on irrevocable waivers after the 2003 season only to find no takers—even knowing a claiming team would have to surrender no talent in return.

The Yankees could have had afforded the remaining five years/$104 million on his contract, Jaffe noted; they reached for Gary Sheffield, instead, and Sheffield was seen as his own kind of head case. The Angels could have had afforded him, too; they reached, instead, for Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, who became an Anaheim fan favourite his entire time there.

As Jaffe reminds us:

There was the time in 1997 that [Ramírez] “stole” first base, returning to the bag after a successful steal of second because he thought [Hall of Famer] Jim Thome had fouled off a pitch . . . the time in 2004 that he inexplicably cut off center fielder Johnny Damon’s relay throw from about thirty feet away, leading to an inside-the-park home run . . . the time in 2005 when he disappeared mid-inning to relieve himself inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster… the time in 2008 that he high-fived a fan mid-play between catching a fly ball and doubling a runner off first . . . and so much more.

. . . But there was also a darker side, one that, particularly after he left the Indians, went beyond the litany of late arrivals to spring training, questionable absences due to injury (particularly for the All-Star Game), and near-annual trade requests. Most notably, there was his shoving match with 64-year-old Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick in 2008, which prefigured Ramirez’s trade to the Dodgers that summer, and a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence/battery in 2011 after his wife told an emergency operator that her husband had slapped her face, causing her to hit her head against the headboard of the bed. (That domestic violence charge was later dropped after his wife refused to testify.) Interspersed with those two incidents were a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use, the second of which ran him out of the majors.

Those suspensions for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances were handed down to him after the so-called Wild West Era during which the rules were that there were no rules. They may also have handed down the final portion of his blockage from the Hall of Fame in the end.

But if you were to establish a Hall of Their Own Worst Enemies, Ramírez would likely be first ballot, unanimous. More’s the pity.

Sheffield of Dreams

Gary Sheffield

Gary Sheffield, a study in destruction at the plate whose defense undermines his Hall of Fame case drastically.

Strictly by his counting statistics, Gary Sheffield has a Hall of Fame case. His talent was as outsized as his reputation for self-centricity. He was a study in pending destruction at the plate and he had a concurrent one-for-one-and-all-for-Gary reputation. He also found himself mistrustful of team management after his first team, the Brewers, absolutely mishandled him starting with an injury first mis-detected.

Sheffield also had a very strange problem for a guy whose career came largely in a high-offense era and who could invoke terror with one swing: he played too much in home parks that didn’t really favour righthanded hitters. (His time in Dodger Stadium was an exception; he hit very well there.) That plus the nagging injuries he battled for much of his career land Sheffield in a strange position.

For all his home runs (509), for all that he sits in the top 25 for walks and runs created, his offensive winning percentage (.687) puts him just inside the top one hundred. A player that talented with his kind of stats should have pulled up a lot higher. Especially since he was far enough more difficult to strike out than to walk—lifetime, Sheffield walked exactly 300 times more than he struck out.

If you look at him according to wins above replacement-level player (WAR), Sheffield’s defensive deficiences slaughter him, fat worse than Ramírez’s do him. Sheffield had a fine throwing arm but his -195 fielding runs below league average left him the second lowest of all time. It’s the reason why his peak and career WAR are well below the Hall of Fame standard for right fielders.

In some ways Sheffield was a wronged man. When the Brewers sent him down early in his career after accusing him of faking an injury, he wanted out and badly. He tended to nuke more than burn bridges when he felt he was done wrong. He was also accused falsely of tanking plays with the Brewers after a hard wild throw in the minors caused a rift with a manager who subsequently apologised to him.

He got dinged by the BALCO case when it turned out he really might have been tricked into using an actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance. It’s also important to know that that occurred before baseball finally faced the issue and implemented testings and penalties, and Sheffield didn’t exactly make it his life’s indulgence.

Even the hardest-line writers against actual or alleged PEDs inclined to give Sheffield the benefit of the doubt, including and especially Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, a man not known to suffer actual or alleged PEDs and their users gladly:

Sheffield is the only star I know who, as an active player, without provocation admitted to using steroids; he did so in a 2004 SI story I wrote. Why would he make an admission? Because, he told me, he had testified under oath that he had been duped into using them.

Sheffield said he told the BALCO grand jury the previous year that [Barry] Bonds arranged for him to use “the cream,” “the clear” and “red beans,” which prosecutors identified as steroid pills from Mexico. Sheffield, however, said he was told the substances were legal arthritic balms or nutritional supplements . . . When he later learned that the BALCO products were steroids, he told me, “I was mad. I want everybody to be on an even playing field.”

That’s it; we have no evidence that ties Sheffield to steroids other than those several weeks before the 2002 season when Sheffield lived at Bonds’s home. Even during that 2002 season, when players were resisting the idea of steroid testing, Sheffield spoke out in favor of it [see here], saying, “I would like to see testing. I mean you see how much guys are using it. Unless you’ve got something to hide, you won’t mind testing, right?”

There are far more prickly men in the Hall of Fame than him. There are Hall of Famers who were their own worst enemies to a far greater extent. There are such players (see Ramírez, Manny, for one) who have been and will be kept out of Cooperstown. Sheffield may end up having to wait for the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee to send him there, but he wasn’t just a study in likely destruction at the plate. His terrible fielding undermines it far more, but he has a genuine Hall of Fame case.

If he makes it at last, Sheffield probably won’t be one hundredth as controversial a Hall of Famer as Harold Baines is (for his record, not his person) and Curt Schilling may yet become. (For his person, not his record, which is now before that Contemporary Era Committee.)

The Rubaiyat of Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel, a Hall-worthy candidate as a defensive shortstop, but whose domestic abuse and sexual harassment issues may block his entry.

Even if I believe the Hall of Fame should pay a lot more attention to run prevention, and I do, I’m not settled firmly on either side of yes or no regarding Vizquel. But that’s taken strictly on field terms. The in-depth revelation of domestic violence accusations, plus subsequent sexual harassment accusations while he managed in the White Sox system, affected his Hall vote last year, may yet obstruct his path entirely, and leaves me with a taste in my mouth that’s comparable to a castor oil martini.

I once sketched a rather elaborate take on why you should vote for Vizquel if you’re going to vote for him. It hooked mostly around the impression a) that he wasn’t as close to being the second coming of Ozzie Smith as people remember him being, though he looked that way; but, b) that he was the outstanding defensive shortstop of the 1990s. If you’re talking about players whose major or sole selling point is defense and enough of it, and have the highlight reels to back them up, Vizquel in the ’90s certainly looks like The One.

His acrobatics happened often enough to convince lots of Gold Glove voters in those years. But the bad news is that Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. was better with the glove in that decade . . . and he didn’t play the position past 1996 except for three games in 1998. Even playing less of that decade than Vizquel played at shortstop, Ripken was worth a lot more defensive runs above the league average.

Ripken wasn’t quite the acrobat Vizquel often was, but Ripken did the job in the field very well above league average. Vizquel was worth +128 fielding runs lifetime; Ripken was worth that just from 1990-96. If you want to put a defense-first lineup out there, take the shortstop worth +181 lifetime fielding runs (third in history behind Mark Belanger and Ozzie Smith) over the one worth +128.

Now think of the two-way lineup, the lineup full of men who’d be Hall of Famers on both sides of the ball. Who are you really going to choose at shortstop—the guy with the 112 OPS+ (Ripken) or the guy with the 82 OPS+ (Vizquel)?

Vizquel turned up a few hits shy of 3,000 in 22 seasons. (He also walked only 58 fewer times than he struck out.) But it isn’t just milestones or totals that make a Hall of Famer. His real other apparent selling point is his longevity, and I’ve bumped into only too many people around the baseball forums who want to put him in on the Harold Baines factor: that the Hall of Fame won’t be soiled if it’s the Hall of the Gold Watch.

Well, yes it will. And, yes it is. That argument doesn’t fly. Just because one Era Committee was foolish enough to elect Baines it doesn’t mean he should be any sort of Hall of Fame standard. It’s rare enough for a player to get two decades in the big leagues, of course, but by itself that isn’t and shouldn’t be enough for the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame is supposed to be about greatness, not time in service, other than the ten-season minimum for eligibility. Greatness, not mere acrobatics. (Anyone who thinks Brooks Robinson or Ozzie Smith got to Cooperstown merely by being acrobats on the left side of the infield doesn’t know their actual run-prevention records.) Greatness, not merely showing up for work every day. (Once and for all: there was a lot more to Cal Ripken, Jr. than just breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak.)

Vizquel shakes out as the number 42 shortstop of all-time. Ripken, in case you wondered, shakes out as number three. Álex Rodríguez shakes out as number two, but he’s there strictly because of his hitting—he wasn’t anywhere near Vizquel or Ripken defensively. (A-Rod, of course, has his own controversies shadowing his Hall candidacy.)

You don’t have to compare Vizquel to Ripken exclusively to try making his Hall of Fame case. I’m not entirely convinced that being just inside the top fifty by eight equals a Hall of Famer, either. Just off that alone, I could be persuaded one way or another. But his  domestic violence/sexual harassment issues (before you think about feeling terrible for him, you should feel more terrible for his victims) make his Hall entry less likely than they might have been before those came to sad light.

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Some of the foregoing has been published previously.

2023 BBWAA Hall ballot: The ballad of Billy the Kid, plus two

Today we look at three Hall of Fame candidates returning on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, all three of whom have real Hall of Fame cases.* We’ll begin with the relief pitcher who has a bona-fide Hall case even if you thought it only snuck up upon you.

Billy Wagner

Billy Wagner—he was way better out of the bullpen than a lot of people might remember . . . enough to earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame.

The Ballad of Billy the Kid

Billy Wagner—Maybe the most underrated relief pitcher of his and just about any time. He was as lights out as relief pitchers got and then some, even allowing that nobody yet has really figured out a final objective and definitive way to rate relief pitchers of any era.

Wagner yanked himself to a pinnacle following a childhood about which “hard scrabble” might be an understatement. (Too-frequent home changes; poverty so profound that peanut butter on a cracker equaled dinner often enough.) He was a small man who made himself into a lefthanded assassin. (Two right arm fractures during his impoverished childhood compelled him to go portside.)

Billy the Kid finished his fifteen-year career with a 0.99 walks/hits per inning pitched rate; and, when it comes to win probability added, Wagner has only five relievers ahead of him, Hall of Famers all: in ascending order, Trevor Hoffman, Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, and The Mariano. He was also on his own planet when it came to missing bats. In fifteen full major league seasons (he had a cup of coffee with the 1995 Astros), his strikeouts-per-nine innings rate fell below 10.0 only once; he retired with a lifetime 11.9 rate.

Nobody could hit this guy too often: the lifetime batting average against him is .187. Here’s how the hitters did against the other Hall of Fame relievers:

Lee Smith—.235.
Rollie Fingers—.232.
Bruce Sutter—.230.
Goose Gossage—.228.
Dennis Eckersley—.225.
Hoyt Wilhelm—.213.
Trevor Hoffman—.211.
Mariano Rivera—.211.

Would you like to be reminded whom among those men pitched in the most hitter-friendly times? That would be Smith (in the final third of his career), Hoffman, The Mariano, and Billy the Kid. It’s to wonder how much more stupefying the record might be if Wagner could have avoided assorted injuries including late-career Tommy John surgery.

Maybe his only flaw was a Sheffield-like tendency to nuke bridges once he left town, though for far different reasons. Wagner waged war against those he thought didn’t share his competitiveness and determination. But he finally admitted in his memoir, A Way Out, “I learned a lot about criticism and how not to be a leader when I was traded.”

When he walked away after 2010, he decided his family was a lot more important to him than whatever else he could accomplish as a pitcher. “There’s nothing left for me to do in baseball,” Wagner admitted after leaving the park one last time. “I’m not going to change anyone’s mind about whether I’m a Hall of Famer. People are either going to like me or hate me, and I can’t change their minds. Besides, life is about a lot more than this game.”

If you must, call Wagner the Bert Blyleven of relief pitchers, with a Hall case that kinda sorta sneaks up on you upon deeper analysis. But he does deserve the honour.

Last Time Around

Jeff Kent—Yes, Kent is the best-hitting second baseman of the expansion era so far. But despite his late settling-in (traded three times before he found a home with the Giants at 29), Kent was also product enough of a high-scoring era. For middle infielders, defense looms large enough, and Kent wasn’t a particularly great-fielding second baseman despite his deftness on the double play: -42 defensive runs below league average doesn’t bode well.

He was his own worst enemy with a personality often described as “prickly,” and he was caught in a few dubious incidents. The ones remembered most: 1) The notorious lie about falling while washing his truck, which turned out to be him trying to pop wheelies on his motorcycle; and, 2) the accusation that mercurial Milton Bradley dogged it on the bases as Kent swatted a double, before it came forth Bradley played through a balky knee—that turned into season-ending surgery after a hard slide into base.

A lot of Kent’s issues also came down to his own health. He incurred enough injuries later in his career that, married to his early-career mishandlings before reaching San Francisco, plus his below-average run prevention at second base, it puts him just outside the top twenty second basemen of all time. Still, his 351 home runs as a second baseman are the most for anyone playing that position. He has a fine postseason record overall, too.

The question becomes whether Kent’s once-notorious attitude problems remain enough to keep the writers from putting him in no matter the ballot crowd, and this time the lone big controversy is liable to be around Carlos Beltrán’s candidacy. Though Kent accommodated the baseball press during his playing days, he turned out to be one of those players who fit the longtime cliche about learning to say hello when it was time to say goodbye.

“I’ve learned to love and appreciate the fans, and I’ve learned to love and appreciate the Jeff Kent haters out there, too,” he said at a rather emotional retirement announcement.

I’m thankful for those people even more than the fans who gave me a hug every day, because those people motivate you . . . I leave this game proud that I have treated it with the utmost respect . . . I have tried to carry on a legacy of winning wherever I have gone. Any integrity that I have had in this game is something that I’m very, very proud of. I believe I played this game right, and I believe I’m leaving this game right.

I wasn’t exactly Kent’s biggest admirer myself for long enough, but he does deserve Hall election. If he doesn’t survive on this final BBWAA ballot, a future Contemporary Baseball Era Committee may give him a second and deeper look and elect him. May.

The Toddfather 

Todd Helton—Unlike Hall of Famer Larry Walker, the Toddfather never got the chance to show what he could do with a park other than Coors Field as his home park. Even with the width of his home/road splits, though, Helton hit respectably enough on the road that you’d have a hard time convincing anyone that he wasn’t as Hall of Fame as a first baseman gets.

Helton also crosses the average Hall of Famer’s batting threshold according to Bill James’s Monitor and Standards measures, and his peak value is a few points above the average Hall of Fame first baseman. He was a rare bird who walked more than he struck out, was an on-base machine (.414. lifetime on-base percentage), and he was actually deadlier at the plate with men in scoring position than he was with the bases empty.

His Hall case rests upon that peak value. At the plate, his 1998-2005 peak shows a 149 OPS+ and a .435 on-base percentage. His Real Batting Average (RBA) for that peak is a whopping .696. If you want to compare Helton to another Hall of Famer with a home/road split about as wide as his, be advised that Jim Rice’s peak RBA is .583.

He wasn’t the second coming of Keith Hernandez at first base, but he was a well above-average defender. But wait a minute: Maybe Helton wasn’t the obvious infield general Hernandez was—and believe me when I tell you Hernandez deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, too—but Helton was worth +107 defensive runs above his league average . . . second only to Hernandez (+120) himself.

Helton’s decline phase was accelerated by back and hip issues, but he was respected enough in the Rockies organisation to become the first player whose uniform number (17) was retired by the team. (Neat, that: Keith Hernandez also wore 17, with the Mets, who retired that number in his honour in 2022.)

“The mentality, the character, the work ethic of this team,” his one-time manager Jim Tracy once said of him, while he missed two months with an injury in a season, “it’s easy to have all that when the best player in the history of the franchise is the hardest worker on the team. It’s absolutely tearing him to pieces not to be involved with us, to not be the player we’ve known him to be.”

Helton’s complete package sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.

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* Some of the foregoing has been published previously.

2023 HOF BBWAA ballot: Two problematic newcomers . . .

Carlos Beltrán

Beltrán got to retire a World Series winner, returning to the Astros for 2017 . . . but he turned out a co-mastermind of Astrogate. Will that damage his Hall of Fame chances?

This is the dilemna: The one genuine, should-be Hall of Fame lock among the newcomers on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s 2023 ballot is also the first major figure from the Astrogate cheating scandal to arrive upon a such a ballot.

With Barry Bonds (actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances), Roger Clemens (see Bonds), and Curt Schilling (vile public commentaries since his retirement, despite his overwhelming Hall case) out of their BBWAA eligibility and now in the hands of the Contemporary Era Committee, it didn’t mean controversy left the BBWAA voters with those three. This new candidate by himself makes up for the loss, unfortunately.

There’s another new candidate among many on the ballot. This one might have had a Hall of Fame career if not for a series of injuries on the field that made him a very unfair pariah. His name is Jacoby Ellsbury. We’ll discuss him in due course, after first addressing . . .

The Newcomers: Carlos Beltrán

Before the exposure of the Astro Intelligence Agency’s illegal, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing operation of 2017-18, Carlos Beltrán figured to have ended his playing career (as the Astros’ 2017 designated hitter) looking forward to accepting a plaque in Cooperstown. That and managing in the major leagues.

The number-nine center fielder of all time (according to Baseball-Reference via Jay Jaffe) who’d been respected as a student of the game and managerial material in the making found himself having to yield the bridge of the Mets (for whom he’d once starred as a player)—before he had the chance even to manage a spring training exhibition.

Though Commissioner Rob Manfred handed all 2017-18 Astro players immunity from discipline in return for spilling AIA deets, Beltrán was the only player Manfred singled out by name in his Astrogate report. It was Beltrán who suggested the Astros needed to “upgrade” from mere replay room reconnaissance, prompting then-bench coach Alex Cora to arrange the long-infamous real-time camera feed to an extra clubhouse monitor for sign deciphering and the long-infamous trash can transmissions.

That was despite Manfred’s September 2017 warning against using replay room reconnaissance and other such off-field chicanery, after the Red Sox (eventually using their own Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance in 2018 regardless) and the Yankees were caught trying a few tricks from the dugouts.

Beltrán landed the Mets’ managing job twelve days before Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich (in The Athletic) dropped the first full Astrogate revelation in November 2019. Within 72 hours of Manfred’s January 2020 report, all three incumbent managers named in the Rosenthal-Drellich exposure—Beltrán, Cora (who managed the 2018 Red Sox to a World Series championship), and the Astros’ A.J. Hinch (who acted feebly at best when catching onto his AIA cheaters)—were out.

Hinch was fired by Astros owner Jim Crane in hand with general manager Jeff Luhnow, but after sitting out his Manfred-imposed season’s suspension and some very contrite interviews, he found new life on the Tigers’ bridge. Cora sat out his Manfred-imposed season’s suspension, gave a few interviews in which he expressed genuine remorse for his Astrogate role, and was brought back to manage the Red Sox.

Beltrán said little about his Astrogate culpability until he returned to baseball as an analyst for the Yankees’ YES cable television network in April. There, he owned up in an interview with YES colleague Michael Kay:

Looking back now—yes, we did cross the line. I made my statement about what happened in 2017, and I apologized . . . This happened in such an organic way for ourselves. We all did what we did. Looking back today, we were wrong. I wish I would have asked more questions about what we were doing, I wish the organization would have said to us, “What you guys are doing, we need to stop this.” Nobody really said anything—we’re winning.

Obviously, Beltrán either didn’t know or chose not to know that “the organisation” as headed by Luhnow was in it up to its kishkes, having deployed the Codebreaker sign-stealing algorithim despite its creator’s warning that it was legal to use only before or after games but not during.

Had Astrogate never happened, Beltrán would have been a very likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. He played twenty seasons, and his peak with the Royals, the Astros (the first time, helping them reach a postseason with his second-half term there), the Mets (helping them to the 2006 postseason), and the Cardinals (two postseasons) was All-Star caliber or better. (He was actually a nine-time All-Star.)

He earned 67.6 wins above replacement-level (WAR) from his first full Kansas City season through the second of two with the Cardinals. That was despite missing significant time due to injuries in his final Met seasons. And his value wasn’t strictly in his bat, though my Real Batting Average metric (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) shows him not far off the middle of the Hall of Fame center field pack that played in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era:

HOF CF PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Mickey Mantle 9907 4511 1733 148 47 13 .651
Willie Mays 12496 6066 1464 214 91 44 .631
Ken Griffey, Jr. 11304 5271 1312 246 102 81 .620
Duke Snider 8237 3865 971 154 54* 21 .615
Larry Doby 6299 2621 871 60 39* 38 .576
Carlos Beltrán 11031 4751 1084 104 110 51 .553
Andre Dawson 10769 4787 589 143 118 111 .534
Kirby Puckett 7831 3453 450 85 58 56 .524
Richie Ashburn 9736 3196 1198 40 30* 43 .463
HOF AVG .574

Now, however, marry it to Beltrán’s defensive prowess. He’s the number seven center fielder all-time for run prevention above his league average with +104. He was rangy, smart on the fielding lanes, and was a top of the line reader of batted balls from his position before Father Time finally began to exact a penalty.

Until Astrogate, of course, Beltrán had only one genuine black mark against him, especially so far as Met fans were concerned: frozen solid by an Adam Wainwright curve ball for strike three called—with the bases loaded, the Mets down two runs, and the pennant on the line in the bottom of the ninth, in Game Seven of the 2006 National League Championship Series.

You know something? It happens. Even to Hall of Famers. Beltrán wasn’t the first superstar to get himself tied up at the last minute of that critical a postseason set, and he won’t be the last. That’s not enough to damage a man’s Hall case. No eleventh-hour shortfall should have been. Not even for Babe Ruth.

You want to continue condeming Beltrán for that? How about The Big Fella getting himself caught stealing on a likely busted run-and-hit play to end the 1926 World Series in the Cardinals’ favour—with Bob Meusel at the plate and Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig on deck?

How about Willie McCovey—with second and third, two out, and the Giants down only 1-0—hitting a howitzer shot speared by Bobby Richardson to end the 1962 Series in the Yankees’ favour instead of sending the tying and maybe winning runs home?

How about Carl Yastrzemski fouling out with two out and the Red Sox down a single run to end the 1975 Series in the Reds’ favour?

How about Mariano Rivera surrendering a Series-losing base hit to Luis Gonzalez in 2001 or—after Dave Roberts stole second off a leadoff walk—an RBI single to Bill Mueller to tie the game at four when the Yankees were only three outs from a 2004 ALCS sweep?

None of those fatalities kept Ruth, McCovey, Yastrzemski, or The Mariano out of Cooperstown when their time eventually came. Getting frozen solid by a great pitch shouldn’t keep Beltrán out, either.

But it’s entirely realistic to suggest that, had Beltrán not gotten himself into the thick of the 21st Century’s worst major league cheating scandal, in his final season as a player, he’d probably be looking at unvarnished, uncontroversial first-ballot Hall of Fame election. Right now, we don’t know how many Hall-voting BBWAA writers will hold it against him enough to make him wait a ballot or three. Or more.

The Newcomers: The Saddest of them All

The rest of the newcomers had their moments but didn’t turn them into Cooperstown cases. A lot of them looked like potential Hall of Famers at first, too. Maybe the saddest of them all is . . .

Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)—Was there any 2010s sight sadder than Ellsbury—whose 2007 cup of coffee turned into shining in that Red Sox-winning World Series—taken down piece by piece by injuries? There was, in fact. It was the sight and sound of Yankee fans battering him mercilessly and witlessly over yet another injury doing nothing worse than playing the game.

The injuries compromised him in Boston and made him an unfair pariah in the Bronx. He had Hall of Fame talent: some power, above-average center field defense, and a knack for turning baserunning into guerrila warfare. Especially the day he scored on a wild pitch—from second base. Especially in Game Six of the 2013 World Series.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury toying with the Cardinals as he thwarts a rundown in Game Six of the 2013 World Series. He made them resemble a quartet of wolves outsmarted by a flea.

The first of Navajo descent (his mother) to play major league baseball, Ellsbury was treated unfairly by fans and perhaps a teammate or three on the grounds that his injuries, and his sensible enough need to recover fully before playing again, equaled a character flaw. They derided him unfairly as a fragile goldbrick. They tried to make him feel as though injuries incurred in honest competitioin equaled weakness.

It got bad enough that, when one of Ellsbury’s four children was born on the Fourth of July 2019, and the proud father announced it on Instagram, he was attacked mercilessly by the worst of the Twitter twits and other social media mongrels. The guy who helped the Red Sox win a pair of World Series rings before leaving as a free agent could have been in traction and the worst Yankee fans would have accused him of staging it.

Once upon a time, Ellsbury broke the Red Sox’s consecutive-game errorless streak record. He hit four doubles and stole a base in the ’07 Series and looked on the way to becoming one of the all-time Red Sox greats.

Then, in April 2010, he crashed into a human earth mover named Adrián Beltré (himself a future Hall of Famer) at third base. He suffered four hairline rib fractures on the play, came back too soon, saw a thoracic specialist who recommended more rest and rehab, rejoined the Red Sox that August . . . and re-injured the ribs on another play against the Rangers later the same month.

More injuries followed often enough. Then Ellsbury, fed up with whisperings that he took “too long” to recover from them, elected to walk as a free agent without so much as a quick glance back at the Red Sox. In Year One as a Yankee, he played the way Jacoby Ellsbury at his healthiest could play. (He led the American League with a 22.7 power-speed number.)

From an essay I wrote when the Yankees finally released him in 2019 (for using a rehab facility outside the organisation—without their permission, as if a man injured so often didn’t know himself what might be best for him) . . .

2015—Right knee sprain on 20 May; out two months, rest of the season nothing to brag about, unfortunately. 

2016—Uninjured but production falling further, including his lowest total stolen bases to that point during a healthy season.

2017—Smashed his head against the center field wall while making a highlight-reel catch. Concussion. Missed 29 games and lost his center field job to Aaron Hicks, but somehow managed to break Pete Rose’s career record for reaching base on catcher’s interference, doing it for the thirtieth time on 11 September, which also happened to be his 34th birthday.

2018—Strained his right oblique at spring training’s beginning. Turned up in April’s beginning with a torn hip labrum. Missed the entire season (and underwent surgery in August) because of it.

2019—Started the season on the injured list with a foot injury; also turned up with plantar fasciitis in the foot (the same injury plus knee issues that reduced Albert Pujols as an Angel to a barely replacement-level designated hitter) and another shoulder injury. Took until September for the Yankees to admit Ellsbury was lost for the year.

I repeat further what I wrote then: Not one of those injuries was caused by anything other than playing the game or performing other baseball-related activity. Remember that before you continue condemning Ellsbury the man or the Yankees as a team over him. 

“Some people give their bodies to science. I gave mine to baseball,” said long-ago Met (and Giant, Expo, and Cardinal) Ron Hunt. Ellsbury did likewise. It cheated him out of a Hall of Fame case, and it made too many fans believe he was no better than a gunsmith running weapons to Russia against Ukraine.

Ellsbury didn’t become a Yankee because he believed his previous injuries really began draining the talent that was once as electric as a generator. He didn’t wear the pinstripes believing he’d become an orthopedic experiment. He isn’t owed a plaque in Cooperstown,  either. But he’s certainly owed more than a handful of apologies.


* The sacrifice fly wasn’t made an official statistic until the 1954 season. Several of the Hall of Famers listed in the RBA table played a third or more of their seasons prior to the rule coming on line. How to overcome that hole?

I tinkered with a few ideas until I tripped over a best-case scenario. I took those players’ numbers of recorded sacrifice flies and divided them by the number of seasons they played under the rule. Then, I took that result and multiplied it by the number of Show seasons they actually played.

The formula is sacrifice flies (SF) divided by sacrifice fly-rule seasons (SRS), multiplied by total MLB seasons. It shows an estimate of the sacrifice flies they might have been expected to hit if the rule was in place their entire careers.