Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Old Home Boys

As a follow-up to this post, I thought it'd be fun to look at who played the most games for each of today's current franchises when they played under different polity names. In this case, there are two that were so short-lived they had none. Let's see who they were:

FranchisePlayerGames
Philadelphia AthleticsJimmy Dykes1702
California AngelsBrian Downing1661
Boston BravesJohn Morrill1219
St. Louis BrownsJack Tobin1133
New York GiantsFrankie Frisch1000
Florida MarlinsCharles Johnson587
Brooklyn DodgersWillie Keeler566
Washington Senators (I)Charles Moran160
Baltimore Orioles (I)Bill Keister115
Kansas City AthleticsJohn O'Donoghue80
Milwaukee BravesBob Uecker46
Washington Senators (II)Johnny Klippstein42
Montreal ExposDenis Boucher15
Milwaukee Brewers (I)George McBride3
Anaheim Angelsnone0
Seattle Pilotsnone0

Would've been cool if the Pilots or Anaheim Angels could've participated, but no such luck.

It's amazing that the Milwaukee teams have had so few players born in the city. If you recall the other list, the Brewers' leader is Paul Wagner with 15. It looks like there's a good reason Bob Uecker has such a long-standing relationship with the Brewers: He's Milwaukee's all-time leading native son to play in the majors with a Milwaukee team. 46 whole games!


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

2019 Predictions

It's a little late, I know, but I thought I'd chime in with my 2019 predictions, which I guarantee will be wrong. But what's baseball without some speculation? I'm going with my gut on these, so these predictions will be a testament to my gut's value.

Regular Season Standings:

AL West

Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels
Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners

AL Central

Cleveland Indians
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals

AL East

New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox*
Tampa Bay Rays*
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs*
Milwaukee Brewers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Cincinnati Reds

NL East

Atlanta Braves
Washington Nationals*
Philadelphia Phillies
New York Mets
Miami Marlins


Playoffs:

Wild Card games:

Nationals over Cubs
Red Sox over Rays

Division Series:

Dodgers over Nationals
Cardinals over Braves
Astros over Red Sox
Yankees over Indians

League Championship Series:

Cardinals over Dodgers
Yankees over Astros

World Series: 

Yankees over Cardinals


Come on, you really think we're going to get out of this decade without getting stuck seeing the Yankees in the World Series? It's been 100 years since the Yankees completed a calendar decade without a World Series appearance, so the odds are good that this is the year the current crew finally gets their coronation. Borderline Hall of Famer CC Sabathia will get to ride into the sunset a champion, former small-market star Troy Tulowitzki will show the world that that the big city is where it's really at if you want a ring, and hot young stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres will be seen as the building blocks of a new Yankee dynasty, all of whom are destined to have their numbers retired. And losing with class will be the National League's grandest franchise, the St. Louis Cardinals, who do everything the right way, including applauding their opponents as they lose to them. The media will talk about how baseball richly deserved such a beautiful ending to the 2010s. Oh, it'll be sickening.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Home Boys

Sometimes a player is simply a perfect fit for the team he plays for. Sometimes it's because he embodies the city's personality, sometimes his skill set fits the team's plan to a a T, and sometimes he was born in the very city where he now wears the uniform. As always, I started wondering. Of the current 30 MLB franchises, who is each one's all-time leader in games played having been born in the polity they represent?

Most of the rules should be straightforward. For a team that represents a city, such as the St. Louis Cardinals, we're looking for the player born in St. Louis who played the most games as a Cardinal. For a team that represents, a state, such the Minnesota Twins, the player only has to have been born in Minnesota, not necessarily the city the Twins play in.

For franchises that have changed polity names, we only count games played under the current polity name. The Los Angeles Angels, for example, were inaugurated under that name, before changing to the California Angels, then to the Anaheim Angels, then back to Los Angeles again. We're looking for an Angeleno player who played with the franchise during the years 1961-65 and 2005-present. Any games played for the Angels under the California or Anaheim names don't count.

For New York, I only went by New York City, since I don't believe either the Yankees or Mets franchise is supposed to represent the state as a whole. I counted the various boroughs, although the leaders for both franchises have their birthplaces listed as "New York, NY" in the records.

The only one that was tricky was the Rays, since Tampa Bay is a geographical feature, not a political entity. I decided to count anyone born in the Tampa Bay metro area, mainly the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, plus whatever smaller towns in the area I could find.

So with that said, let's take a look at the list:


FranchisePlayerGames
Cincinnati RedsPete Rose2722
New York YankeesLou Gehrig2164
Chicago CubsPhil Cavarretta1953
Minnesota TwinsJoe Mauer1858
New York MetsEd Kranepool1853
Detroit TigersBill Freehan1774
Philadelphia PhilliesDel Ennis1630
Cleveland IndiansBill Bradley1231
Houston AstrosCraig Reynolds1170
Los Angeles DodgersWillie Crawford989
Chicago White SoxJohnny Mostil972
Pittsburgh PiratesFrank Thomas925
St. Louis CardinalsMike Shannon882
Texas RangersDavid Murphy826
San Diego PadresAdrian Gonzalez799
Atlanta BravesJeff Francoeur730
Seattle MarinersJohn Olerud702
Tampa Bay RaysMatthew Joyce633
Los Angeles AngelsGarret Anderson536
Oakland AthleticsDennis Eckersley525
San Francisco GiantsWillie McGee444
Boston Red SoxManny Delcarmen289
Kansas City RoyalsSteve Mingori264
Arizona DiamondbacksShea Hillenbrand233
Toronto Blue JaysRob Ducey188
Baltimore OriolesTom Phoebus134
Colorado RockiesKyle Freeland68
Miami MarlinsGaby Sanchez55
Milwaukee BrewersPaul Wagner15
Washington NationalsEmmanuel Burriss5

Some of these records are very impressive. For the guys at the top of the list, it's easy to see why they're so beloved by the hometown fans.

The bottom of the list is much more curious. I'm surprised that San Francisco, Boston, Baltimore, and Milwaukee have all been around for so long without more impressive representatives than the ones they have. Perhaps the city proper doesn't have a lot of little league activity in their cases.

For Rockie fans, they're blessed that after only two seasons in the bigs, Kyle Freeland is already their all-time leader in games among players born in the Centennial State. May he have many more, and not fall prey to Coors Field.

A shame that Emmanuel Burriss is the best National born in the capital city. If we were doing this by franchise, Maury Wills, Clay Kirby, and Curtis Pride are all guys who'd have him beat.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The First of His First Name

Baby names see their popularity come and go. Some names at this point are only associated with people of a certain generation, and no doubt many of today's popular names will go down in history the same way.

Being the kind of thinker I am, I started to wonder who the first Major League ballplayers were who had certain names. After all, many names common among today's young men were rare in the old days. Since it often takes a while for a name to become seen as "common," I thought I'd look at the most popular boy's baby names for 1984. Boys born in 1984 are turning 35 this year, and it means their names have probably been a part of the MLB landscape long enough to feel commonplace.

The Social Security database for baby names allows you to sort by sex, by number of births, by year, and even view the change in popularity over time. For 1984, the Top 25 were:

1984 Boys
1Michael
2Christopher
3Matthew
4Joshua
5David
6Daniel
7James
8John
9Robert
10Joseph
11Jason
12Ryan
13Justin
14Andrew
15Brandon
16William
17Brian
18Adam
19Jonathan
20Nicholas
21Anthony
22Eric
23Steven
24Kevin
25Thomas

Some of these names have a long history, while others wouldn't have been heard of in decades past. I decided to look at the names which at some point between 1900 and 1984 were not in the Top 100 boys' names, and use Baseball-Reference to determine the first MLBer with that first name. Let's see who pioneered these monikers.

Christopher

This name didn't crack the Top 100 until 1949, and it really picked up popularity in the 1960s. However, it wasn't so uncommon that no one in the old days had it. The first Christopher in MLB was Chris McFarland, who played three games for the Union Association's Baltimore Monumentals, debuting on April 19, 1884.

Matthew

While this name didn't crack the Top 100 until 1956, it's still a good Biblical name that was usually in the Top 200. The first guy in MLB to use this name was another three-gamer in the Union Association, Matthew Porter. Porter played for the Kansas City Cowboys and made his debut on June 27, 1884. Interestingly enough, Porter apparently went by both his given name and his middle name "Sheldon" throughout his life, so it's possible he didn't play under the name "Matthew" during his brief baseball career. If you want to read about the mysterious Matthew Porter, the SABR Biographical Research Committee has a nice article about him in the December 2011 newsletter.

Porter, incidentally, beat out a more noteworthy Matthew by a couple of years: Matt Kilroy.

Joshua

It wasn't a terribly uncommon name in the old days, as there were five Joshuas who played in the 19th Century. The first among them was Josh Snyder, who debuted on May 18, 1872 for the National Association's Brooklyn Eckfords. As for the name itself, it's possible it was more common during the 19th Century, as in the early 20th Century, it dips pretty low on the popularity list, and doesn't start picking up again until the 1960s.

Jason

Here's one that didn't appear until the 1970s, and it came in the form of three-time All-Star first baseman Jason Thompson, who debuted on April 23, 1976. Thompson was born in 1954, when the name "Jason" was the 411th most popular boy's name in America. Going to guess he didn't know many other Jasons growing up, as this is another name that didn't start gaining significant popularity until the 1960s. There wasn't a second Jason until Jason Grimsley came along in 1989.

Ryan

This name was almost unheard of as a given name for many years. As a family name, sure, especially in baseball with its significant Irish contingent. In America, it didn't crack the Top 200 until 1966, possibly due to the popularity of Ryan O'Neal on Peyton Place. MLB's first boy named "Ryan" was the Hawaiian pitcher Ryan Kurosaki, who debuted on May 20, 1975, and whose brief career consisted of seven games with the Cardinals.

Justin

This is another name that makes me wonder, as it's extremely low in popularity until the late 1960s, yet there are a few Major Leaguers from the old days who have it as a given or middle name. I'd like to see some 19th Century records. The first to have it as a given name was Pug Bennett, who debuted on April 12, 1906 and played two seasons with the Cardinals, although he apparently went by a nickname. The earliest player who BBRef has using it as his playing name is Justin Stein, who played in 1938.

Brandon

This one didn't crack the Top 100 until 1971, and it's also got the latest debut date on the list. The first Brandon in the big leagues was Brandon Kolb, who debuted on May 12, 2000. He narrowly beat out Brandon Villafuerte, who came along less than two weeks later.

A footnote should be given to an outfielder who played for the Pirates in 1952 and '53 named Brandy Davis. His full name was Robert Brandon Davis, and the "Brandy" is presumably derived from his middle name. You coulda been a pioneer, but instead, you chose to play under a girl's name!

Brian

I sort of assumed this name was more popular over the years due to people like Brian Dennehy (born 1938), Brian Wilson (born 1942), and so on. It appears that the name was gaining popularity when those guys were born, but still outside the Top 100, which it didn't reach until 1947, and it didn't reach the Top 50 until 1954. Believe it or not, the first Brian to reach the majors was the Incredible Hulk, Brian Downing, who debuted on May 31, 1973.

However, I know what some of you are thinking: What about "Bryan," with a Y? There actually is a Bryan who played earlier, that being pitcher Bryan Stephens, who played in 1947 and 1948. This less common spelling of the name ascended in popularity alongside its "I" counterpart, but always trailed behind it.

Adam

This one didn't reach the Top 100 until 1970, but there actually is an Adam from the olden days. We're going all the way back to the National Association and the Philadelphia Athletics, where Adam Rocap began his 16-game career on May 5, 1875.

Jonathan

This one didn't reach the Top 100 until 1962, which is surprising, given that it seems to have been a not-uncommon name in early America, and there were famous people like Jonathan Winters. There seemed to be about one Jonathan per decade for a while, and the earliest was Jon Morrison, who debuted on August 1, 1884. The first Major League player who went by the name "Jonathan" as opposed to "Jon" or a nickname was Jonathan Hurst, who debuted in 1992.

Nicholas

This name stayed in the 100-200 range during the 20th Century, until it reached #99 in 1972 and continued to rise. No ballplayer has ever gone by the full name "Nicholas," but there have been plenty who went by "Nick." The first was Nick Wise, a one-game wonder from June 20, 1888.

Eric

This one didn't find its way to the Top 100 until 1950, but there was a Swedish-born pitcher named Eric Erickson who debuted on October 6, 1914. Figures that it took an actual Scandinavian to get this name into the Majors.

The alternate spelling "Erik" is less common, and the first to have it was Ollie Sax, who played in 1928 under his middle name. The first to use it as his regular playing name was Erik Hanson in 1988.

Steven

Perhaps I should start by noting that the spelling "Stephen" used to be the more popular one, hovering around the lower reaches of the Top 100 in the early part of the 20th Century. I guess that makes sense, given that that's the Biblical spelling. There were two guys named "Steve" (both Stephens) who debuted on May 9, 1871, those being Steve Bellan and Steve King.

The first Steven, however, was Steve Sundra, who debuted on April 17, 1936, five years before the name with that spelling reached the Top 100.

Kevin

The first man with the first name "Kevin" was none other than "the Rifleman," Chuck Connors, whose real name was Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors. He made his Major League debut on May 1, 1949. The first player to go by the name "Kevin" was Kevin Collins, who came along in 1965.

Just as these guys were mostly outliers in terms of their name's popularity at the time of their birth, with the current crop of popular baby names, we'll be looking back at some of today's players as the first of their kind. The top boy's name for 2017 was "Liam," and as of right now, the only Liam in MLB history is Liam Hendriks, who was born in Australia. Give it a few decades or so, and ballplayers named "Liam" will be as commonplace as ones named "Brandon" are now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Thoughts on the 2019 Hall of Fame class

This year's inductees to Cooperstown are a tale of two electoral bodies. While I hate the media, I'll give the BBWAA credit for getting this year's election right: Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Roy Halladay are all, in my mind, worthy of induction, so congratulations to them. It was well deserved.

The Veterans Committee, on the other hand, laid a giant egg. Harold Baines and Lee Smith were both fine players, but neither one reached the heights I would expect from a legitimate Hall of Famer.

I suppose you could make the argument that Lee Smith was one of the most dominant relievers in the game in the '80s, but once the '90s came around, he became a consistent-but-not-dominant one-inning closer. To me, that makes him nothing but a guy who had a good career. By the time I started following baseball in the '90s, I don't recall anyone talking about him as though he were a legend. He was most notable for being the all-time saves leader for a while, but then, so was Jeff Reardon. Granted, it's not as though a great player can't slip below the radar, but in this case, I think the general perception is about right.

Baines is another guy who got a lot of talk but ultimately no induction from the writers. He was a beloved player on Chicago's South Side during the '80s, and in the '90s he made a good career out of being a veteran bat for potential contenders to round out their lineup with. Like the word "feared" with Jim Rice, the label Baines acquired was "professional hitter." It suited him well, as he was primarily a DH from 1987 on, and he was pretty consistent year after year. He was never, however, a serious MVP candidate, nor did he ever hit more than 29 homers in a season. According to Baseball Reference, his 162 Game Average is 22 homers, 93 RBI, and a .289/.356/.465 batting line. Not bad, but when the only reason you have a job is to wield the lumber, you need to do much better than that if you want to be considered an immortal. Really disappointed in this choice, even more so than Smith.

The Hall of Fame voters have made a lot of blunders over the years, and the more they make in this era of better data, it gets harder for me to take induction all that seriously. Still, it's nice to see the truly great players get recognized, so my hat is off to them.

The Hall of Famers' First Major League Home Runs post has been appropriately updated.