Earl Weaver (1930-2013)

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Glenn Gulliver exemplifies what it was that made Earl Weaver different as a manager from his contemporaries. It wasn’t Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.—all Hall of Famers. Nor was it Ken Singleton, Boog Powell, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar—consistently top performers. It wasn’t Steve Stone or Wayne Garland—pitchers who had their best seasons under Weaver; it wasn’t Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein (an MVP-quality platoon) or role players Benny Ayala and Terry Crowley; it wasn’t even the one year Weaver had Reggie Jackson on his team and punctuated Jackson’s arrival by screaming in his face because Reggie wasn’t wearing a tie on the team plane. (Brooks Robinson found him one and explained how things worked in Baltimore—Earl’s way or…well, it was just Earl’s way. Reggie behaved that year.) It wasn’t the frequent ejections, the foul mouth, the chain-smoking, the public ripping of players, his longevity and consistency.

It was none of that.

It was a nondescript third baseman whom the Orioles purchased from the Indians prior to the 1982 season and who played in 73 big league games, 50 under Weaver. Gulliver, more than any other player, shows why Weaver was ahead of his time. If he were playing today, the two things Gulliver did well would’ve gotten him a multi-year contract as an in demand asset because he: A) walked a lot; and B) could catch the ball at third base.

Gulliver batted .200 in his 50 games under Weaver and walked so much that he had a .363 on base percentage. Weaver saw this, knew this, and could only wonder about the stupidity of those who questioned why Gulliver was playing at all with his low batting average.

Twenty years before Moneyball and everyone thinking they were a genius because they watched baseball for five minutes and knew how to read a stat sheet, Weaver was an actual genius and innovator by using a discarded player who other clubs had no clue was so valuable.

For all the talk of Weaver’s use of statistics, riding his starting pitchers, putting a premium on defense and battles with Palmer and Davey Johnson, the concept that Weaver was a dictator who didn’t know how to be flexible is only half-true. He was a ruthless dictator off the field, but on the field, he was willing to go to whatever lengths he needed in order to win.

Weaver’s teams were always near the top of the league in certain categories. They weren’t always the same. Many times, at the plate, it was on base percentage. On the mound, it was complete games and shutouts. Weaver was known not to be a fan of the riskiness of the stolen base, but as he looked at his transitioning club from 1973-1975 and realized he wouldn’t have the power to win, he let his players loose on the basepaths because he had no other alternative and during those years they were at or near the top of the American League in stolen bases.

If Weaver were managing today, that would be seen as “evolution,” or “adapting.” It wasn’t any of that. Often, the question has been asked how Weaver would function today if he were managing; if the old-school techniques of, “I’m the boss, shut up,” would fly with the multi-millionaire players who can get the manager fired if they choose to do so.

Like wondering why he was using Gulliver, it’s a stupid question. Because Weaver was so ahead of his time as a manager using statistics and that he adjusted and won regardless of his personnel, he would have won whenever he managed.

If a player had any talent to do anything at all, Weaver found it and exploited it for as long as he could, then he discarded them. He did so without apology.

Old-school managers who tear into the absence of the human element, increase of instant replay, and use of numbers are doing so because these techniques are marginalizing them and potentially taking their jobs away. Do you really believe that Weaver wouldn’t have wanted expanded instant replay? To have a better method to find tiny advantages over his opponents through numbers? The older managers who’ve subtly changed have hung around. The ones who couldn’t, haven’t.

On the other hand, Weaver wouldn’t have responded well to agents calling him and complaining over a pitcher’s workload; or to have a kid out of Harvard walking up to him and telling him he should bat X player in Y spot because of a reason that Weaver was probably already aware of and dismissed; or bloggers and the media constantly haranguing, second-guessing and criticizing managers and GMs endure today. But he always altered his strategy to the circumstances and he would’ve continued to do so if he managed in any era.

Interestingly, Weaver retired very young at age 52, then came back to manage a terrible team for a couple of more years before finally retiring for good at 56. In a day when Charlie Manuel, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre managed in their late-60s and early 70s, and Jack McKeon won a World Series at 74 and came back to manage again at 81, could Weaver had continued on? Could he have taken a couple of years off in his 50s and returned? Absolutely. He would’ve been well-compensated and just as successful as he was when he was in his 30s and 40s for one simple reason: he knew what he was doing. And that’s about as great a compliment that a manager can get.

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Marvin Miller—A Man Of Vision And Guts

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Marvin Miller’s death at 95 has spurred public expressions of appreciation and recognition of all he did for baseball, baseball players, and sports in general. But it’s also highlighting the remaining misplaced animosity towards him from the owners because he’s still not in baseball’s Hall of Fame. I’m reminded of the scene in Godfather 2 where, during his rant about Moe Greene, Hyman Roth tells Michael Corleone that in spite of everything Greene did and created with his idea for Las Vegas, there’s “isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost, or a statue of him,” to commemorate what he accomplished.

The scene is below.

You can say the same things about Miller. His obituary in the NY Times explains who he was and goes into detail of his rise to prominence, status as a hero to the players, and the vindictive loathing he still endures from the owners, but there was something more. Miller took over as the executive director of the MLB Players Association in 1966 during a time when the owners’ collective self-importance and belief that their political connections would supersede any true attempt by the players to effectively unionize and garner greater compensation for themselves.

Miller used that arrogance and greed against them and impressed upon the players what was possible if they stuck together and were willing to take the necessary steps to strike in the face of public scorn and threat to their livelihoods. Back then, but for a select few stars, baseball couldn’t justifiably be considered a “livelihood” since most players had off-season jobs to make ends meet and their baseball careers could end on a whim from the front office. The reserve clause had tethered players to their teams for the duration of their careers and the anti-trust exemption was brandished as a weapon to flog their indentured servants and hold them in check.

Miller wasn’t what the owners portrayed him as: a rabble-rouser who put it in the players’ heads that they deserved more of the financial pie and ruined their monopoly, thereby destroying the game. What he did benefited everyone. In fact, without Miller the owners who bought or owned clubs as a family hand-me-down would not be part of the still-established monopoly known as Major League Baseball with a built-in fanbase, guaranteed appreciation on their investment, massive television and advertising deals, as well as the clout from being an MLB owner. The most financially hindered franchises such as the Tampa Bay Rays have doubled in value over the past five years. Would that have been possible for the lower echelon teams of the 1960s before Miller came to prominence?

Miller took a chunk of the power from the owners and placed it in the hands of the players. No longer was the rich guy in the suit able to hammer the desperate worker with the lingering prospect of unemployment and no recourse; with the warning that not only would they be out of a job as a player, but they wouldn’t be able to get another job as a player for another team and definitely wouldn’t find work as a coach, scout, manager, ticket-taker or beer vendor. The idea of the “real world” was so horrifying that players wound up signing the contracts, enjoying the ride, cursing the situation, and hoping it wouldn’t end prematurely due to injury or by angering the wrong person.

The mindset of the player had to be altered to enlighten them that the owners weren’t doing them any favors; they weren’t friends; and if the players joined together en masse and demanded that they be treated more fairly, they would achieve concessions they never thought possible. When engaging in a negotiation, each side must have a stake in the outcome. There’s no need for animosity nor a suspicion of the other’s motives provided each side understands how the failure to reach an agreement will negatively affect both sides. The players and owners have made one another a lot of money because of Miller.

But former commissioner Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame and Miller isn’t.

Many players today wouldn’t know who Miller is or what he did for them. They would have no clue and presumably little interest that pre-Miller, the money wasn’t always what it is now; the players didn’t have the right to sell their unique set of skills to the highest bidder; and the generous perks including medical care and pensions would not be available had it not been for him.

But he’s still not in the Hall of Fame.

Had the players taken a stand demanding that Miller be inducted, there wouldn’t be this debate. Because they had an investment in their own futures, they stood with Miller when the owners held the players in their fists and utilized any and all tactics to keep them in line. Why haven’t they stood up for him and his Hall of Fame candidacy not with a sense of urgency, but a sense of justice?

The more eloquent and influential players like Tom Seaver can make a case; the Nolan Ryan and Frank Robinson type can intimidate and use their status as front office insiders to make something happen; Joe Torre can make voters offers they can’t refuse. Have they done everything they can? Since Miller is still on the outside looking in, the answer is clearly no.

He deserves that plaque; that signpost; that statue. In fact, he deserved it while he was alive to enjoy the moment. Hopefully, though, it will be realized—by the owners too—that Miller has earned his place in baseball history and they’ll give it to him even if it’s far too late.

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Triple Crown Winners and the MVP

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The reason the Triple Crown is getting such attention is that it’s so unknown to most everyone because it hasn’t happened since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski won it leading the Red Sox to their “Impossible Dream” pennant. But now, with Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera on the verge of winning the Triple Crown in the American League, there’s an increasingly contentious debate as to whether leading the home runs, RBI, and batting average will justify Cabrera taking the Most Valuable Player over Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout.

Trout has the accumulation of numbers including great defense and stolen bases to go along with power for a 10.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Cabrera’s WAR has been reduced significantly because he’s a poor defensive third baseman. Discounting defense, Trout is still ahead by .9 wins per game over Cabrera when calculating offensive WAR.

So how is it going to be decided? Will it be based on the player with the big power numbers? The one with the higher WAR and better all-around game? Will the word “value” be taken literally and used out of convenience by the voter to achieve his ends of picking Cabrera or Trout and use a floating, elusive, and adaptive principle to counter disagreement? Will there be the “clutch” stats factored into the equation? Difficulty of opponent? Will it go macro by dissecting when they did their damage and against whom and a myriad of other reasons to do what one would prefer to do? A motivated supporter of either Trout or Cabrera can find a reason to do it. It’s not hard.

I wrote about Trout vs Cabrera recently here, but what’s interesting is examining how players who had previously won the Triple Crown were treated by the MVP voters. Let’s take a look at the Triple Crown winners, some of whom didn’t win the MVP.

(The MVP was called the “league award” before it became the MVP in 1931.)

1925: Triple Crown Winner—Rogers Hornsby, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Hornsby won the Triple Crown with 39 homers, 143 RBI, and a .403 BA. He had a 10.1 WAR and won the National League MVP. He also led the league in every major offensive category. His Cardinals team finished at 77-76.

Pirates’ right fielder Kiki Cuyler came in second in the voting and it was far closer than it should’ve been with Hornsby getting 91% of the votes and Cuyler 76%. Cuyler stole 41 bases, had 26 triples, and led the majors with 144 runs scored. Obviously the Pirates winning the pennant with a 95-58 record and pennant helped Cuyler’s case with many of the voters.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Jimmie Foxx, 1B, Philadelphia Athletics; won the MVP

Foxx had 48 homers, 163 RBI, and batted .356. He also led the league in slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. He had a WAR of 9.0. Foxx won the award relatively easily with 91%. Next was Lou Gehrig at 69%. The only player who warranted consideration based on the way his team finished was third place finisher, left fielder Heinie Manush of the pennant winning Washington Senators, and his numbers weren’t MVP-quality. He led the league in hits and triples.

The Senators didn’t have one significant star who “made” their 99-53 record. They finished 19 ½ games ahead of the A’s, but Foxx won the MVP anyway.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Chuck Klein, RF, Philadelphia Phillies; did not win the MVP

Klein played for the Phillies who finished in last place in the National League with a record of 60-92. Klein led the league in every significant offensive category and had a 7.3 WAR. Klein had won the MVP in the National League in 1932, but finished in second place to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell (there was no Cy Young Award then). The Giants won the National League pennant that season, Hubbell went 23-12 with a 1.66 ERA and an 8.5 WAR. Hubbell deserved the award.

1934: Triple Crown Winner—Lou Gehrig, 1B, New York Yankees; did not win the MVP

The Yankees finished second to the Tigers by seven games in the American League. Gehrig led the AL in everything from homers, to RBI, to batting average, to on-base, slugging, and total bases. He had a 10.1 WAR. But Tigers’ catcher Mickey Cochrane won the MVP based on the Tigers winning the pennant. There could be no other reason. The voting was close…but it was close between Cochrane and his teammate Charlie Gehringer. Gehringer should’ve won it over Cochrane. Gehrig came in a ludicrous fifth. You could try to make the argument of Gehringer over Gehrig. You’d be wrong, but given Gehringer playing second base well and Gehrig playing first base poorly, along with the Tigers winning the pennant, you could make the argument.

1937: Triple Crown Winner—Joe Medwick, LF, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Looking at Medwick’s numbers, he reminds me of Don Mattingly. He was a hacker who never walked, but never struck out either. In addition to the Triple Crown numbers, he led the National League in hits, runs, doubles, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. His WAR was 8.1.

The Cardinals finished in fourth place in the National League far behind the pennant-winning Giants. Gabby Hartnett came in second in the MVP voting, but Medwick deserved it and won it.

1942: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

Williams led the AL in every offensive category by a lot. The Red Sox finished in second place in the AL behind the Yankees. Yankees’ second baseman Joe Gordon won the MVP. Williams’s WAR was 10.2 and Gordon’s was 7.8. The voting was close with Gordon accumulating 270 points to Williams’s 249. Of course Williams should’ve won. It’s doubtful anyone was paying attention to his shaky, uninterested defense back then, but the voters certainly knew that Williams had no use for the writers and perhaps that affected the voting more than Gordon’s Yankees winning the pennant with a far better team.

1947: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

The Red Sox finished in third place, 14 games behind the pennant winning Yankees, but the absurdity of this MVP voting was stark. Joe DiMaggio won it with mediocre (for him) numbers of 20 homers and a .315/.391/.522 split. His WAR was 4.5.

Williams led the American League in every major offensive category and was again playing for a far inferior team. DiMaggio won the award by 1 point when he should have come in third behind Williams and Lou Boudreau.

1956: Triple Crown Winner—Mickey Mantle, CF, New York Yankees; won the MVP

The Yankees won the pennant by 9 games, Mantle led the American League in every major offensive category; he won the award unanimously and deserved it.

1966: Triple Crown Winner—Frank Robinson, RF, Baltimore Orioles; won the MVP

The Orioles won the pennant that year and Robinson won the AL MVP unanimously and deserved it. The interesting part of the Robinson’s 1966 season was how he’d been traded by the Reds the year before because Reds’ owner Bill DeWitt called the 30-year-old Robinson “an old 30.”

Challenging someone as cantankerous as Robinson—even now at age 77—is not a good idea. In truth, this trade in which Robinson was dealt for pitchers Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson might’ve been something the self-proclaimed experts who think they can study a stat sheet and know the ins-and-outs of baseball would pull and, in theory, it wasn’t a horrible idea.

Pappas has had his name sullied because he was traded for Robinson, but he was a very good pitcher who won 209 big league games. Simpson was 21 and had a big year in Triple A for the Angels in 1965 with 24 homers and 29 stolen bases, a .301 BA and .380 OBP (he was traded to the Orioles a week before they traded him to the Reds). Baldschun had been a useful reliever for the Phillies in the preceding years.

The pride of a man like Robinson was ignored and the trade and comments about why they made it set Robinson off on a mission to prove DeWitt wrong. And he did.

1967: Triple Crown Winner—Carl Yastrzemski, LF, Boston Red Sox; won the MVP

The only thing preventing Yastrzemski from winning the AL MVP unanimously was someone, somewhere who decided to vote for Cesar Tovar. Tovar had led the league in games, plate appearances, and at-bats. He batted .267 with a .325 OBP, 6 homers and 19 stolen bases. He was average defensively. Tovar was apparently voted for the MVP because of his attendance record.

Yastrzemski led the Red Sox to the World Series. The race went down to the wire with the White Sox, Twins, Tigers, and Red Sox all fighting until the end. Yastrzemski hit 9 homers in Sept./Oct. and had a .417/.504/.760 split in that last month-plus when it counted most.

For the most part, the rightful MVP has tended to win. There are mitigating circumstances when humans who rely on various biases and criteria are making the decisions. Some will be starstruck from the Triple Crown because it’s something many probably haven’t seen before. Others will lodge a “protest” vote against the stat people who are rolling their eyes and trying to bully the objectors of Trout’s candidacy using WAR as an end-of-story hammer without taking other aspects into account. Still others will try to use either the Tigers or Angels making the playoffs (or not) as the context of voting for or against either Trout or Cabrera.

When baseball awards are selected, there’s no list of reasons to vote or not vote for a candidate. All that can be done is to make a case and hope others agree. But I don’t see people making a case either way. I just see fighting, and all fighting is going to do is cause the factions to dig in and ignore any list of reasons, regardless of how logical and sensible they are. Being a hardline old-schooler or a condescending and arrogant stat person isn’t going to sway people to either side. That much I can guarantee.

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