Jun 18, 2017

Five Players of Their Time: A Random Card Perspective

Baseball players and their actions and accomplishments on the field are products of their own time. That is to say, that everything they have done and do have a context and fit within the interwoven narrative of that particular timeframe of baseball history.  With the study out there that the the ball may be juiced, player performances and their relative value can really only be compared within the present day.  How players are viewed through the lens of baseball history has to do with how they either rise above or are overshadowed by their peers.  Historical comparisons across eras and decades are difficult because the playing field of baseball is constantly shifting.

Let's examine some random players.
For some reason, I tend to get the careers of Don Hoak (depicted here on his 1963 Topps card) and Dick Groat mixed up.  I think the confusion stems from the fact that they both spent some of their final years with the Phillies in the '60s and also played together on the champion 1960 Pirates in the infield.  During that 1960 season, they finished 1-2 in MVP voting.  A breakdown of their stats shows:

Hoak-3rd baseman-.282/.366/.445 (120 OPS+) with 16 HR, 79 RBI, 97 Runs, 5.4 WAR, 2nd place
Groat-shortstop-.325 (league-leading)/.371/.394 (110 OPS+) with 2 HR, 50 RBI, 85 Runs, 6.2 WAR, 1st place.

It's interesting that even though the WAR stat didn't exist, the one with higher WAR still won. I wonder if it was an argument of intangibles during that time?  Shortstops have won a lot of MVP awards.
Tony Conigliaro (pictured here on his 1969 Topps card) is probably most remembered for getting hit in the eye with a pitch during the Red Sox "Impossible Dream" season of 1967 at the age of 22.  He was on his way to  a spectacular career until that injury.  He has the most home runs recorded before the age of 20 and the 4th most before the age of 23 (behind Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews, and Alex Rodriguez).  He did hit 36 home runs  3 years after the injury, but his eyesight became permanently impaired and had to retire by the age of 30.
I feel that Sal Bando (pictured here in his 1973 Topps card) is a historically under-appreciated player.  He was three time World Series champion and was an integral part of those teams, finishing top 5 in MVP voting 3 times.  He had 7 seasons in the top ten in WAR, 5 seasons in the top 10 in RBI, and 8 seasons in the top 10 in BB.  If one was to name members of those Athletic teams, most people wouldn't name Bando as the top 3 names off the top of their head (my guess is Jackson, Campaneris, Hunter, Blue, Fingers in some order would be first).  That's what I mean by under-appreciated.

Frank Robinson (pictured in a 2010 Topps variation card), on the other hand, was a star.  His triple crown in 1966 looms large in the baseball history consciousness.  He is also overlooked because he had the misfortune of being peers with other stars such as Mays, Mantle, Aaron, and Clemente.  Twelve all-star seasons seems small for a player of his caliber and longevity.  His 586 HRs are also overlooked since they came at the same time as Aaron and Mays record-setting paces for the time.  Sometimes it's not enough to be historically great if there are even greater ones playing as your peers.
And finally, Frank "Home Run" Baker (pictured here in a 1961 Fleer card), managed to have that nickname while leading the league in home runs four times (with a high of 12 in a season in 1913.  It was really given because of his postseason home run prowess in 1911 and 1913.   An impressive postseason player, he averaged over 1.050 OPS over three consecutive World Series appearances. He is rightly viewed as a superstar of the 1910s.  He also sat out a season due to a contract dispute, something that only happened during that time ( due to the rise of the Federal League).

1 comment:

Fuji said...

The 70's Athletics had a lot of under-appreciated names on their rosters. Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, and Ken Holtzman were all guys who played in the shadows of Reggie, Fingers, Blue, and Hunter. Sometimes I even feel that Campy doesn't get the respect he deserves.