Short Takes - Part Two

Cliff Lee (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Time to play some numbers games as we compare a couple free agents to see who is the best available. Plus, if Cliff Lee worth more than Roy Halladay? And notes on some baseball reading and how you can help out young baseball fans.

Some observations, while waiting for the announcement of the American League Cy Young Award winner (the only award with any degree of suspense or controversy)…

Which Would You Rather Have?

If given the choice between these two outfielders, which one would you rather have?

Player A – 2010

AB       R          H         2          3          HR       RBI      SB        CS        W         K

554       106       164       46         2          27         85         13         3          82         147

Player B – 2010

AB       R          H         2          3          HR       RBI      SB        CS        W         K

600       110       184       30         13         19         90         47         10         46         104

"A" had more power and better plate discipline, producing the following line, .296/.388/.532, and an Adjusted OPS of 145. "B" had more speed, and this batting line, .307/.356/.495, with an Adjusted OPS of 134. Overall, an edge to "A."

What about their career lines? Taken on a basis per 162 games played, they look like this…

Player A – Career

AB       R          H         2          3          HR       RBI      SB        CS        W         K

527       91         143       29         3          25         85         16         2          75         152

Player B - Career

AB       R          H         2          3          HR       RBI      SB        CS        W         K

655       100       194       28         14         14         78         54         12         38         101

For his career, "A" has a batting line of .272/.367/.481 and an OPS+ of 121. For "B" it's .296/.337/.444 and 107. Once again, unless you're in love with the running game (and A's career stolen base percentage is 88.9%, B's is 81.8%), there's an edge to "A" who, although he may strike out more (50% more than "B"), also walks a lot more (twice as much, or 100% more, than "B").

Finally, "A" is a right fielder who can play center, and he's two years older than "B" who is strictly a leftfielder. (In other words, "A" is a better fielder.)

Although "A" will turn 32 during the 2011 season, and "B" will turn 30 a couple of months later, there's no other substantive reason, unless you're swayed by a lot of stolen bases (and maybe batting average), to think that "B" is a better player than "A." So why in the name of Henry Cotto does there seem to be a general consensus that Carl Crawford (he's "B") is the best free agent outfielder on the market this year? While it is the policy of this column to never agree with anything Scott Boras says, this time he's right. Jayson Werth (he's "A") is the best outfielder on the market.

Who Would You Pay More For?

Here's a similar exercise, this time with pitchers. Which of these two hurlers is worth more money?

Pitcher "A" – Career (He turns 33 in August 2011)

W-L     PCT     ERA     GS        CG       ERA+   WHIP  SO/W

102-61  .626      3.85      218       20         112       1.256    3.10

Pitcher "B" – Career (He turns 34 in May 2011)

W-L     PCT     ERA     GS        CG       ERA+   WHIP  SO/W

169-86  .663      3.32      320       58         136       1.181    3.53

Hmmm… not much doubt, is there? Without even mentioning that "B" has three 20-win seasons to one for "A," it's clear that, although both are top pitchers, "B" is better. This valuation also holds true if you look at their 2010 seasons…

Pitcher "A" – 2010

W-L     PCT     ERA     GS        CG       ERA+   WHIP  SO/W

12-9      .571      3.18      28         7          130       1.003    10.28

Pitcher "B" – 2010

W-L     PCT     ERA     GS        CG       ERA+   WHIP  SO/W

21-10    .677      2.44      33         9          165       1.041    7.30

Although "A" led his league in complete games, WHIP, walks per nine innings and set a major league single season record for SO/W ratio, it's sort of hard to go against "B," who also led his league in wins, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, walks per nine innings and SO/W ratio… in addition to throwing a perfect game in the regular season and a no-hitter in the postseason.

If you've been paying attention, it's pretty easy to guess that "A" is Cliff Lee, and "B" is Roy Halladay. So why is it that Lee is expected to get a free agent contract in excess of, or at least equal to, Halladay's $20 million a year deal? It is obvious, a no-brainer, that, as fine a pitcher as Cliff Lee is, he's not as good as Halladay. So, why might he well be making as much as Halladay? In one word, "Yankees." This isn't a matter of a rational business decision, it's a matter of the Yankees' belief that they have some divine right to whomever they can co-opt with their unlimited resources and total lack of scruples for the game of baseball. The Divine Right of Kings had nothing on the Steinbrenner Clan, as also indicated by the move to have its late patriarch canonized (at least in the baseball sense) by the Hall of Fame next month. It's not a matter of Lee not being worth $20 million a year (although he's extremely valuable, and a proven winner in the postseason), or not being a good "deal" for $20 million a year. He's not, and it's not. Value has nothing to do with the pursuit of Cliff Lee… at least not as far as the Yankees are concerned. Hopefully for baseball, Lee will turn down their filthy lucre and sign elsewhere.

Book Review: "My 66 Years in the Big Leagues"

With a title like that, this book could only be the product of one man – Connie Mack. Except, it's not… not written by Connie Mack, that is.

Let's take a step back and review Connie Mack bios. There are basically three worth talking about… Fred Lieb's "Connie Mack, Grand Old Man of Baseball," which was published in 1945… the volume under discussion, supposedly written by Mack himself in 1950… and Norman Macht's on-going multi-part series, the first volume of which has been previously reviewed herein and found to be one of the very best baseball biographies ever written by anyone, anywhere, at any time. However, we're not talking Macht here, we're not even talking Lieb, whose Mack bio was printed as part of the Putnam series (I'm fortunate enough to have an original copy). While Lieb is notorious for not letting the facts get in the way of a good story, his Mack bio is still the better of the two written during the Tall Tactician's lifetime.

As for "66 Years," except for browsing through a copy in the National Baseball Library in the mid-80s, I hadn't had a chance to really check it out until my friend and triviameister Bruce Brown sent me a re-print of the book that was brought out last year by Dover Publications of Mineola, NY ($12.95; ISBN-13: 978-0-486-47184-6 and ISBN-10: 0-486-47184-5). Having finally had a chance to read "66 Years," I found it a remarkable and fascinating book, certainly one worth owning (particularly at a bargain price)… just not a story that I would take to the bank for historical accuracy.

In that regard, the new introduction for the Dover edition, written by Philadelphia sportswriter/author Rich Westcott, bears close scrutiny. Although Westcott has had a dozen books on Philadelphia baseball published over the years, his credentials as an historian take a beating herein. Incredibly, his introduction doesn't mention the most obvious historical fact of the book… that Connie Mack did not write it. To state it another way, there's no way on heaven or earth that Connie Mack actually wrote this book. Despite that, Westcott not only doesn't mention it, but he writes, "Sometimes writing philosophically, Mack, who died in 1956, discussed the game as it was when he was a major part of it."

Uh, no Rich. Connie Mack didn't write this book. The best guess is that Francis Trevelyan Miller, a pretty well-known historian/author of that era (though he wrote mostly military history books), who was credited for the introduction to the original edition, probably also ghost wrote the whole book after talking with Mack at some length.

Let's look at the facts. This book came out in 1950, when Mack was 88 years old. Although Fred Lieb did indeed write his own memoirs at age 88, he was a professional writer (and there are a lot of historical inaccuracies in "Baseball As I Have Known It," although it is a marvelous story) and the number of 88 year-olds who could undertake such a task are remarkably few. More importantly, it's been documented many, many times in many, many sources (too many to list), that, mentally, Mack had long since lost a step going to first base (that's how the joke about his sons becoming senile before he did came about) by 1950. I mean, in his last couple of years as manager he was calling on Harry Davis and Jimmy Foxx to go in and pinch-hit.

Maybe this is nit-picking, but, the emperor has no clothes, and Westcott really should have said so. Since he didn't, as a service in the cause of history, I will. And, in general, the careful reader will observe much of what is presented in "66 Years" as "history" with a gimlet eye.

Nonetheless, this book is a fascinating look inside the memories of Connie Mack, and most likely the source for many of the stories ABOUT Mack, including the one that he preferred to finish second, since it cost less in player salaries… although it is interesting to note that whoever wrote "66 Years" pins this tale originally on the Phillies' pinch-penny owner of the 1890s, John Rogers. (And it makes a lot more sense in that case, considering Rogers ' background.)

Of course, memories are funny things, especially when you're 88 years old. Miller, or whomever wrote the book, clearly has added in a few thoughts on this own, especially in those sections where Mack is supposedly writing authoritatively about events that happened when he was a child, or even earlier. The chapter titled "Historic Events" obviously bears the imprint of an historian (Miller?), since it deals with baseball history, much of it long before Mack's time. For instance, Jim Creighton died before Mack was born… maybe that's why "66 Years" incorrectly states that the cause of his death was a heart attack while batting. (Still, Jim Creighton was, one would imagine, virtually unknown by most baseball historians 60 years ago.)

Yes, it's possible that Mack himself may have done some historical research himself on the Knickerbockers and the like, but that seems kind of unlikely, don't you think? The one reference I know of regarding Mack as an historian was after he retired to St. Petersburg, when he showed up on Fred Lieb's doorstep (Lieb tells this story in "Baseball As I Have Known It") and asked him to arrange to have some recordings made of his voice. And even that gesture had been suggested to the old gentleman by someone else.

Setting aside the historian's viewpoint, "66 Years" has some interesting points on a wide variety of baseball subjects – recollections of great players, the game in the 90s, the Hall of Fame, umpires, the press, the contribution of colleges to the game (recalling that Mack was famous for bringing in college kids to play for the A's, some of whom, like Eddie Collins, were pretty good), Mack's All-Stars, records, a time line of famous firsts (the author, whoever he was, essentially has BOTH Abner Doubleday AND Alexander Cartwright inventing the game), and some great pictures. As long as you don't take it all too seriously, it's an enjoyable read.

Lend a Hand to Mercy Vocational's Baseball Team

Those of you in the Philadelphia area, or even not in the Philadelphia area, who are interested in the future of baseball, here's a chance to help out.

Jared Wheeler (besides being a "19 to 21" subscriber, a former Temple player, and a baseball historian) is the head baseball coach at Mercy Vocational High School Baseball in Philadelphia . On Dec. 28, 2010, Wheeler and many of his players will be running a free baseball clinic (inside, obviously) in the community (aka Roxborough and North Philly) for youth to teach them the fundamentals of baseball. 

As part of the event, Mercy Vocational would like to provide each participant with some sort of baseball-related gift or possibly a gift bag. Ideally, they'd like to see if they can get new gloves for each child donated, but the gifts could be as simple as a baseball, a pack of cards and a t-shirt.

The baseball team is currently holding several fundraisers to help raise money for the event. One of the fundraising events is a chance drive with donations from local businesses and stores. If the above request doesn't work, then maybe a donation or two that can be raffled off would help in reaching their goal.

Any support that you could give Mercy Vocational to help reach the goal of providing gifts for the kids would be appreciated.

You can contact Wheeler at (215) 694-4363 or at 507 Acorn St. , Philadelphia , PA 19128 , or by email at 507.wheeler@gmail.com


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