Don Zimmer (1931-2014) and the secret of futility infielders


Don Zimmer was the ultimate futility infielder, though it wasn’t supposed to happen that way. He was a star in the making until a 1953 beaning put him in a coma for nearly two weeks — he was even administered last rites – and left him with four holes in his head, later filled by the rare metal tantalum. Coming through a well-stocked Dodger system, he was blocked by future Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese anyway, so he was forced to bounce around the infield to find playing time, and while he remained fearless at the plate, his offensive game never flourished.

As a player, Zimmer became a disposable commodity, a replacement-level scrub long before the words “replacement level” had ever been uttered. He bounced around the majors for 12 years with the Dodgers, Cubs, Mets (he was their inaugural third baseman but went 4-for-52 before being mercifully traded), Reds, Dodgers (again) and Senators, hitting a grand .235/290/.372 in the Show, winning a pair of World Series rings, making one All-Star team, and suffering yet another beaning that broke his cheekbone. About that, from a 1999 Sports Illustrated bit:

“After Jeffcoat hit me in the face,” he says, “doctors examined my skull and said, ‘What have you got in there?’” I told them, but somehow reports came out about a steel plate.” Why not correct the tale, which made his head the butt of countless jokes? “Aw, it’s like when people say they saw me play in Montreal,” says the Yankees’ interim manager. “I say, ‘Thanks, I enjoyed it,’ but I never played there. When somebody brought up the steel plate, I just said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ ” Steel or no steel, he’s one of the game’s magnetic personalities.

After a year in Japan, Zimmer went back to the minors to manage in the Reds’ chain, and he spent he better part of the next half-century imparting his baseball wisdom and his stories. In the minors, he oversaw Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. In the majors, at the tail end of his first managerial job wearing a shit-brown Padres uniform, he greeted a rookie Dave Winfield. He skippered four major league teams and coached a total of eight, not counting his multiple stints with the Yankees. He presided over one of the worst collapses in Red Sox history, took the Cubs to a rare playoff appearance, and was Joe Torre’s sidekick through a pinstriped dynasty that included four world championships and six pennants, not to mention a few times of telling George Steinbrenner how far to shove it.

Disposable perhaps, but also indispensable. That’s the true secret of the tribe of futility infielders. While limited in talent relative to the stars at the highest levels, they find ways to carve out full lives in the game, passing on both the fundamentals and the lore. They’re nothing less than the laces that hold the ol’ leather together, the very soul of baseball. Zimmer clocked an amazing 66 years in the game, never drawing a paycheck outside of it.

Zimmer’s tenure as the Yankees’ bench coach came during the time that I turned from a modestly successful career in graphic design to starting a humble blog that sent me down the road to becoming a professional baseball writer and occasional TV talking head. With his bulging jowls and near-spherical shape, he cut an odd but memorable figure in pinstripes; you could put his silhouette in the MLB logo and it would be instantly recognizable. Thanks to a history that included meeting Babe Ruth, playing with Jackie Robinson and under Casey Stengel, managing against Bucky Fucking Dent and coaching Derek Jeter — who used to rub his head for good luck — he become a common reference point for baseball discussion among friends. The army helmet he donned during the 1999 postseason after getting drilled by a Chuck Knoblauch foul ball — could a fucking baseball avoid that poor, battered noggin just once? — turned him into an icon. He may have been loathed in Boston for presiding over the 1978 collapse, but he became beloved in New York.

On Wednesday night, I was in the Yankee Stadium press box trying to find an angle on Yanks-A’s as part of my night duty for the Sports Illustrated Strike Zone blog, where I’ve spent the past two years at the expense of this old space. When the news of Zimmer’s passing at age 83 came across Twitter, I got choked up, remembering all the laughs from that pinstriped era when my friends and I had so much time to drink beer, shoot the shit, and soak up baseball together at the ballpark while the Yankees kicked ass. Instinctively, I knew that the job of summarizing Zimmer’s career for would fall to me, and I began typing: “Baseball lost one of its lifers on Wednesday…” I capped my 2,000-word piece with quotes from a teary Joe Girardi, who played under him in Chicago, Colorado and New York, as well as Jeter, who did the press contingent the rare service of quickly showing up to his locker after a loss to deliver his brief soundbites on the thoughts of Zimmer’s passing.

I’m too much of a latecomer to have dealt with the Zim in a professional capacity, so I’ll have to fall back on the great 2001 Scott Raab profile from Esquire, the must-read words from Boston’s Leigh Montville, the on-air tribute by the incomparable Vin Scully, and SI colleague Tom Verducci‘s story of one time when Zimmer stood up to the Boss:

In the 1990s, when the New York Yankees won more than anybody else but not enough for owner George Steinbrenner, after one particular loss the owner ordered every member of the coaching and training staffs and manager Joe Torre upstairs to his office at Yankee Stadium. As many as two dozen people sat and stood around the room, their heads drooped, knowing the lashing that was about to come. Steinbrenner didn’t disappoint them with his fury.

“We have to do better,” Steinbrenner said. “All of us. If there is anybody in this room who thinks they are doing everything they can to help the Yankees win, you can leave right now.”

Don Zimmer got up out of his chair and walked out on Steinbrenner. The rest of the room managed to suppress both gasps and laughter.

Zimmer’s wife, Soot, who had been waiting in the lobby and was expecting the usual lengthy Steinbrenner summit, knew it meant only one thing to see her husband get off the elevator so soon after the meeting began.

“You’ve been fired!”


A great Sports Illlustrated photo archive of Zimmer is here. Number 6, with Jim Leyland, is a personal favorite, and number 7, of him with the army helmet, the most iconic.

He was The Zim, exemplar of the Futility Infielder species, and he will be greatly missed.

Adventures in Chattering, Part II

As Opening Day nears, a young man’s fancy turns to baseball previews, and I’ve had no shortage of opportunities lately. On Sunday night, I was a guest on WNYW’s Fox Sports Extra, discussing the Mets and Yankees — Johan Santana, David Wright, Jason Bay, Michael Pineda, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter in particular — with host Duke Castiglione, who gave the latest BP products some prime placement:

On Tuesday, I had the honor of participating in the last full Clubhouse Confidential of the preseason. The first-of-its-kind show offering a sabermetric take will spend the season subsumed by the MLB Network’s more straight-ahead coverage, with Clubhouse segments appearing two or three times a week within their MLB Tonight program, and yours truly hopefully in the rotation for the occasional segment. While we had planned for the show to be a more preseason-oriented take on the game, the news of the massive contract extensions of the Giants’ Matt Cain and the Reds’ Joey Votto prompted host Brian Kenny to shift the show’s first half to a macroeconomic picture of the game. His “High Heat” segment on the state of the game’s TV-driven finances was one of his best, and from there, we — Kenny, SABR president Vince Gennaro, FanGraphs writer Bill Petti and I — undertook a roundtable discussion of the ramifications of the new wave of nine-figure contracts:

In the second segment, we offered some predictions for awards, surprise teams, and breakout performers:

The third segment was one of Kenny’s “Rogue Commissioner” spots, in which he dons a judge’s robe (à la first commissioner, Judge Landis, but without the racism) for a special comment on the game. Kenny wanted to weigh in on the slight punishment handed down to Indians hurler Ubaldo Jimenez, who two days earlier had begun a game by drilling former teammate Troy Tulowitzki — the game’s most valuable player, according to CHC’s recockoning — on the elbow, with chests thumped and benches cleared. The umpires didn’t see fit to eject Jimenez, but the ongoing war of words hinted at the bad blood. In any event, our panel went rogue on the Rogue Commish, largely disagreeing with him:

As always, the show — my 10th appearance of the season — was a ton of fun, and I thank the producers for having me on. Travel limited my opportunities for appearances over its final month; the last time I was on was on March 5, for a spot previewing the NL West with Kenny’s understudy, Paul Severino. Due to live baseball, that spot didn’t run until the wee hours the following morning, so the guess here is that you’ve never seen it:

I was also on the show on March 15, for the long-lost spot “Cooperstown Justice” on under-the-radar Hall of Fame candidates (building from a two-part series, “The Keltner All-Stars,” that I had run at BP); the show was taped on February 16, but was shelved temporarily due to the MLB Network’s coverage of Hall of Famer Gary Carter’s passing. Based upon JAWS, I talked up the cases of four players snubbed by voters, namely Dick Allen, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, and Bobby Bonds:

Moving away from the television set and into the realms of podcasts, I also previewed the AL East for the Baseball Prospectus “Up and In” podcast, talked up the Yankees for the Over the Monster AL East preview series, yakked about spring training storylines with Yahoo! Sports Radio and New Zealand’s LiveSport Radio and St. Louis’ venerable KMOX. Nobody ever said I was shy with a microphone in front of my face and baseball on the agenda.

Adventures in Chattering, Part I

It’s been a busy five weeks since I checked in here due to travel on the Baseball Prospectus 2012 book tour and the SABR Analytics Conference, immersion in the annual spring update series for the venerable Fantasy Baseball Index, and my willingness to answer just about every media request that comes my way, particularly from anyone who wants to call me a “Stats Wiz.” I’ve got a handful of video clips to post dating back to my last ride through here, but as I’m still cooking those up, I’ll stick to some proactive notes.

First, I’ll be appearing on Clubhouse Confidential on Tuesday, April 3, for a preseason roundtable. I’m told that Vince Gennaro and Bill Petti will be on board as well with host Brian Kenny. That airs at 5:30 Eastern on MLB Network. Due to the crowd of spring training games, I don’t think it repeats, so set your recorders!

Also this week, I’ll also be reading at the Gelf Magazine Varsity Letters series along with Steve Goldman in conjunction with the release of Extra Innings on Thursday, April 5. Details on the appearance are here, and there will be an interview of me posted at the Varsity Letters site shortly.

Edited by Steve, Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers from the Team at Baseball Prospectus — as it is formally titled — officially hits the streets this week. I’m particularly proud of this one, as I’ve got three chapters which all told cover about 20 percent of its 460 pages. The first two — the first two chapters of the book, even — cover the most controversial topic in the game’s recent history and take up well over 60 pages: “What Really Happened in the Juiced Era?” and “How Should the Hall of Fame Respond to the Steroid Era?” The third hits a fairly controversial topic as well: “Is Jack Morris a Hall of Famer?” I’m excited and nervous about the reception the steroids stuff will receive; a couple weeks back, I was at the SABR conference in Arizona, where Gary Gillette told me, “You wouldn’t be the first person to wander into the pasture of steroids and step into a cow patty,” which didn’t exactly put my stomach at ease, but did make me laugh. Here’s hoping my attempts at bringing rational thought to some arguments that tend to fall into emotional territory stirs things up.

You can see the book’s Table of Contents here, and read excerpts from Christina Kahrl and Colin Wyers about strikeouts and reliever usage, respectively.

I was a panelist at the inaugural SABR Analytics Conference, held in Mesa, Arizona from March 15-17, and designed to bring statheads and the baseball industry together; I padded my trip by a couple of days on either side and got to see a bit of baseball (Clayton Kershaw versus the Cincinnati Reds) and hang out with some great people — from BP colleagues to Twitter correspondents — in and around the event to boot. I was invited to appear on the Clubhouse Confidential panel with SB Nation’s Rob Neyer, FanGraphs’ David Cameron, and SABR president Vince Gennaro; the audio for that is here. I had even more fun bending elbows with some of the pioneers in sabermetrics, including MLB official historian John Thorn, STATS Inc. founder Richard Cramer, and Baseball Info Solutions owner John Dewan. I tried to capture my experience in Arizona in a two-part series at Baseball Prospectus containing photos, notes and links to audio for some of the other panels and presentations. If I could recommend one to check out, it would be the Thorn/Gillette/Cramer “Retrospective Look at Baseball Analysis” panel, which you can hear here; here is what I wrote at BP:

Thorn discussed working on The Hidden Game of Baseball and the encyclopedic Total Baseball with co-author Pete Palmer, not in attendance but certainly worthy of a seat alongside this trio. “OPS is the Masonic handshake,” said Thorn of the gateway to moving beyond the old-guard stats such as batting average and RBI; the stat was first introduced in Hidden Game (on his blog, Thorn republished Palmer’s landmark 1973 Baseball Research Journal article, “On Base Average for Players”). He shone a light on Cramer, whose 1980 Journal article, “Average Batting Skill Through Major League History,” represented a milestone in terms of an attempt to measure league strength, and how it improved over time. He posted that article as well, along with David Shoebotham’s 1976 Journal article “Relative Batting Average,” a pioneering effort to normalize batting statistics. Cramer discussed his EDGE 1.000 software, the first baseball analytics program to be used inside front offices (future GMs Doug Melvin and Dan Evans were among those on the cutting, um, edge). Gillette spoke of Thorn’s efforts to debunk the myth of baseball’s origins: “Abner Doubleday is the father of baseball like Santa Claus is the father of Christmas,” and of importance of bringing the spirit of sabermetrics—honest intellectual inquiry—to pursuits beyond the numbers. I could have listened to this trio talk about this stuff for another hour, easily.

Thanks to everyone who made my trip so special. Back later with some vids for you kids.

Straight Out of Left Field

The Clubhouse Confidential producers have been calling my number again. Last Thursday, I taped a “Cooperstown Justice” spot, a recurring feature that’s right in my wheelhouse. Drawing from my recent two-part Keltner All-Stars series — which highlights the best players at each position not in the Hall according to JAWS — I talked up the cases of four players snubbed by voters, namely Dick Allen, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, and Bobby Bonds.

Alas, news of Hall of Famer Gary Carter’s passing broke in the short window of time between taping and airing, and MLB Network chose to pre-empt the show and cover that instead, so who knows when it will air. Ironically, I had mentioned Carter in the context of Simmons’ case; the Seventies and Eighties produced three Hall of Fame catchers in Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Carter, but Simmons would be a worthy fourth to add to that bunch. I penned my own Carter tribute for Friday’s lead at BP. He was never my favorite player — I rooted against him pretty vehemently, at times — but when the time came to review his Hall of Fame case, I gave him a full endorsement in this space:

I was never a fan of Gary Carter. For some reason, I always found him annoying, though I can’t really put my finger on why. It probably had something to do with his earnest, gung-ho attitude combined with the fact that I rooted against the ‘86 and ‘88 Mets as hard as any teams I ever rooted against. That said, I am absolutely convinced that Gary Carter is a Hall of Famer. I had an unshakeable feeling of watching a Hall of Famer in the prime of his career when I watched him, and I’ll wager that was a consensus perception among those of you reading this right now. If you thought about the question of who was the best catcher in the National League after Johnny Bench declined, there simply wasn’t any other credible answer besides Gary Carter.

I was invited back to Tuesday’s Clubhouse show and got to record two segments, both of which are up at The first, which builds upon Monday’s column at BP, discusses the wave of declining production among left fielders, a position that should rank among the game’s offensive heavyweights based upon Bill James’ defensive spectrum. My working theory was that the White Sox winning the 2005 World Series with light-hitting Scott Podsednik in left field set an example that other teams followed, but in fact, left field production was already on the wane. Also contributing to the trend, in my theory, is the fact that once Moneyball exposed the market inefficiency in on-base percentage, A’s general manager Billy Beane turned towards defense and others followed in his wake. Here’s that segment:

For the other segment, a Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside spot in which we kicked around the issues of the day, I debated Al Leiter, who spent parts of 19 seasons in the majors, including seven full ones with the Mets and four partial ones with the Yankees that bookended his career. Off camera, after I introduced myself to Leiter, he joked, “Don’t take this the wrong way but you look like a ’70s porn star!” referring to my infamous mustache. Cracked everybody up.

Once the laughter had died down and we were on set with host/moderator Brian Kenny, we discussed which team had the best offseason and why, whether it was a good idea for the Rays to put rookie phenom Matt Moore on an innings limit, whether the A’s signing of twice-suspended slugger Manny Ramirez was a good move, what A.J. Burnett’s season stats with the Pirates would look like, and whether the Nationals should start the year with Bryce Harper on the major league roster. The spot was somewhat less rousing than my previous tête-à-tête with Larry Bowa. I struggled to get a word in edgewise against Leiter — who can talk and talk and talk — and Kenny; there was one point where I was flailing as I tried to make my point. Still, good times:

The 411 on Me and Ties

The good folks at MLB keep calling my number, and I keep calling up Tie-a-Tie to pull together a competent Half-Windsor knot. Last Tuesday, Clubhouse Confidential invited me back for not one but two segments. The first one marked uncharted territory for me, participating in their “Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside” segment, in which a member of the analytic community debates a former player on a handful of questions pitched by host Brian Kenny. As fate would have it, I was matched up against Larry Bowa, whom I watched as a player in the late ’70s, railed at as a manager in the early ’00s (I was not a fan), and grew to appreciate as the third-base coach of the Yankees and the Dodgers later in the decade. As it turned out, despite coming at the questions from very different angles, the two of us saw eye-to-eye on several of them, much to the amused bewilderment of Kenny. I wrote all about that surreal experience and embedded the video here.

My second segment of the epsisode was a look at a few of the players on the 2011 Replacement-Level Killers, my annual turkey shoot of underperformers who did their worst to harm their teams’ playoff hopes (published in two parts that week). It wasn’t quite as entertaining as the first, but it had its moments:

Elsewhere within the MLB empire, I was invited to try out for Fantasy 411, a first-of-its-kind TV show/podcast devoted to the fantasy baseball angle, one with a devoted cult following and its own vocabulary. I don’t write about fantasy much in the course of the season, particularly at Baseball Prospectus, but I do of course grind out 300+ pitcher capsules for Fantasy Baseball Index and track both pitchers and hitters for their spring update, so it’s not as though this is coming entirely from left field. I spent around 18 minutes on the hot seat with hosts Jeremy Brisiel and Cory Schwartz as we discussed Edwin Jackson, Jeremy Guthrie, Ryan Braun, Carl Crawford, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Gardner, Logan Morrison and some lesser lights. In what turned out to be a “producer’s challenge,” I had to come up with coherent points about Jeff Keppinger, Juan Pierre, and Casey Kotchman in a fantasy context, and the general consensus was that I did, thanks to some serious homework.

You can download the whole 17:36 segment here (that’s a 204 MB file, so beware), subscribe to the podcast feed here, and check out a three-minute excerpt on Jackson below:

I had a lot of fun doing the show, particularly in bantering on-camera with Cory, with whom I’ve knocked back a few beers over the years, and it looks as though I’ll have the chance to further my involvement in the show once the season approaches. Hopefully, this is only the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Farewell, Hip Hip Jorge

Hip Hulk Posada's game-tying double in the 2003 ALCS Game Seven was my favorite moment of his career.

Jorge Posada officially announced his retirement today, in an emotional ceremony at Yankee Stadium, the second member of the so-called “Core Four” — Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera being the others — to walk into the sunset. A fiery competitor, a tenacious hitter, and a passionate leader — if not a great receiver, he did at least chaperone David Wells’ perfect game — he was a vital part of six pennant winners and four world champions.

Posada produced more than his share of great memories over the course of his 15 years and change. Three of them stand out to me as particularly special. The first was at Game Three of the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks. President George W. Bush was on hand to throw out the first pitch, and because of that, a security clusterfuck that had stopped the 4 train at 149th Street prevented me from getting into Yankee Stadium in time for the start of the game. Handed a miniature American flag as I finally gained entry, I climbed to the upper reaches of the ballpark behind home plate and reached my nosebleed seat just in time to watch Posada put the game’s first run on the board via a solo homer off Diamondbacks starter Brian Anderson. I hadn’t even sat down, and here I was, part of a standing ovation of 55,820 fans as the stadium erupted with chants of “Hip Hip JORGE!” Behind Roger Clemens, the Yankees would go on to win 2-1, enabling themselves to claw their way back in a series in which they trailed 2-0.

My absolute favorite came in the postseason two years later, namely Posada’s game-tying two-run double off Pedro Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. It was a soft flare into center field that plated Bernie Williams (who windmilled his arm as he scored) and Hideki Matsui (who seemed to leap about six feet in the air after sliding into home) and culminated with Posada’s “Incredible Hulk” flex and roar, which capped a three-run eighth inning rally and chased Martinez to the showers at least one pitch too late. Posada’s burst of emotion was a cathartic moment shared by Yankee fans everywhere, creating an indelible memory that might just eclipse the game-winning homer Aaron Boone hit a couple of hours later. Perhaps that was because Boone was a transient Yankee, and Posada a lifer, or perhaps I had just downed a few too many beers by the point of the latter moment to produce pictures that retain the same vividness in my mind’s eye.

The other moment was one I didn’t actually lay eyes upon. Visiting Salt Lake City in September 2004, I found myself following the late innings of a game against the Orioles on ESPN’s GameDay service, watching pixels record every pitch of the game situation. With the score tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees loaded the bases against Orioles closer Jorge Julio, via a Derek Jeter walk, a wild pitch, a Bernie Williams sacrifice bunt, and then intentional walks of Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez. That brought Posada to the plate, and I turned to my brother and said, “Watch this, he’s going to draw a walk.”

I felt certain about this this because I had watched Posada draw walkoff walks in both 2002 and 2003, knew that his keen batting eye and excellent plate discipline made him an ideal hitter for the task at hand, one unlikely to force the issue by chasing a bad pitch. Posada fell behind 1-2, but as sure as God made little green apples, he waited for Julio to throw him a strike, and it never came. I had no idea if the pitch was high or low, inside or outside, but Posada was disciplined enough to avoid chasing and he brought home Jeter with the winning run. During his career with the Yankees, only four other players produced walkoff walks, none more than once.

As a fan, I saw Posada at his highest points. As a reporter, I saw him at one of his lowest, the day after he pulled himself from the lineup against the Red Sox last May and was left to apologize. The 39-year-old ex-catcher was mired in a slump at that point, hitting just .165/.272/.249 and failing to take to the designated hitter role after being forced from behind the plate due to concussion scares. The drama was ridiculous that day, but when Posada came to the plate as a pinch-hitter, he drew a lengthy ovation, one of many he would enjoy during his last lap around the baseball season.

From that point onward, Posada salvaged some respectability, hitting .268/.336/.421 the rest of the way, and even better against righties (more on that momentarily). He produced some memorable moments in the field, too — one in which he made his major league debut at his original position of second base, and sealed a 22-9 blowout win with a horrible throw that one-hopped and nearly pulled Nick Swisher off the bag, and the other in which he made a final cameo behind the plate when the Yankee catching corps was depleted, and nailed the first runner that tried to steal on him.

One highlight of Posada's 2011 was a cameo at second base, his original position when the Yankees first signed him.

I was in Yankee Stadium press box for Posada’s final game, a dispiriting Game Five loss to the Tigers in the 2011 AL Division Series. Throughout that series, he showed he still had life in his bat, hitting .429/.529/.571 in the series, and he collected two hits that night, including one with men on first and second where a less-than-mint Alex Rodriguez rounded third base but held up, and never scored. Though no fault of Posada’s, that unplated run loomed large, and the Yankees lost 3-2. As intent as I was on capturing Jim Leyland’s postgame quotes — I got a doozy when I asked him a question that moved him to tears — I never made it into the Yankee clubhouse, and so missed Posada himself tearing up at the though that he was done. I’m not all that sorry I missed that moment, as I had already seen him at his most vulnerable back in May, and I didn’t feel that much like wallowing in the morgue of an eliminated team, or risking losing control of my own emotions (I had a close call when Jeter collected his 3,000th hit).

Even though Posada had already announced his intention to retire, I made the case for his return last Friday at Baseball Prospectus, in a look at the Yankees’ DH options in the wake of the Jesus Montero trade:

The Long Goodbye Long Half of a Platoon To Be Named Later: Jorge Posada

The 40-year-old Posada recently stated his intention to retire, but that was before Montero was traded. While his overall numbers last year weren’t so hot (.235/.315/.398, for a .251 True Average), Posada did hit .269/.348/.466 with 14 homers in 316 PA against righties, and .294/.371/.474 after the Big Sitdown. If the desire to remain a Yankee were still there, he’d obviously have to accept a salary considerably less than the $13.1 million he made in each of the past four years. It makes a certain amount of sense, but Posada has since reiterated that he’s not coming back.

Now that he’s heading off into the sunset, the question is whether Posada is Cooperstown-bound. As a fan, I’d be delighted to see it, for I always thought Posada was tremendously underrated, a player who should have placed higher in the 2003 and 2007 MVP voting and earned down-ballot consideration in several other years. Of course, I’ve been tracking his Hall of Fame case for years. Back in February 2004, before JAWS had even been named (I had just debuted it at BP in January), I brought it up in a guest piece for Bronx Banter that also compared his place among Yankee catchers and contemporary Yankees. From time to time the subject has come up in the context of my BP columns and chats, of course, and I’ve addressed it here as well. Back in 2009, Jonah Keri, a former BP colleague and a big JAWS fan, essentially invited me into the discussion, and I responded thusly, with further correspondence from Jonah and Rob Neyer.

Though the underlying WARP metric has undergone considerable change since 2009, Posada’s position relative to the Hall standards at catcher hasn’t changed, which is to say that I fear he’s going to come up short, largely because of playing time. Though he played in parts of 17 seasons, he was a late bloomer whose 7,150 career plate appearances are far less than any of the post-World War II catchers in the Hall: Carlton Fisk (9,853), Gary Carter (9,019), Johnny Bench (8,669) and Yogi Berra (8,364), with Roy Campanella (4,816) an obvious exception due to the time he spent in the Negro Leagues. As such, Posada’s 275 homers and 1,664 hits don’t look like particularly impressive totals in the minds of the most reductionist voters, and he comes up a bit short in terms of JAWS. On that subject, I wrote a bit a couple of weeks ago:

Speaking of Willliams, the value of post-season performance, and the Yankee dynasty, over the weekend we learned that Jorge Posada will announce his retirement soon rather than search for a new team. Where Williams got a reasonably early start as a regular at 24, but was done as an effective player at age 33, Posada was a late bloomer who didn’t make the team as a backup until age 25, and didn’t start until age 26. He was still a marvelously productive hitter in his late 30s, hitting a combined .266/.360/.488 with 40 homers in 2009-2010. Among catchers with at least 7,000 plate appearances, he ranks fourth in OBP (.374) and sixth in SLG (.474), but that’s partly a function of era and ballpark. His .290 True Average is essentially on par with the average among Hall catchers (.292), a figure that’s as likely to come down due to Ivan Rodriguez (.265) as it is to rise due to Mike Piazza (.313) before Posada is too far along in his candidacy.

Posada (46.6/33.8/40.2) is closer to the JAWS standard at catcher (51.7/33.9/42.6) than Williams is in center, but his post-season line (.248/.358/.387 with 11 homers in 492 PA) isn’t uniformly great; he had some stellar series (.296/.367/.556 in the 2003 ALCS) and some poor ones (.158/.333/.211 in that year’s World Series). He finished higher in the MVP voting than Williams ever did—third in 2003, and sixth in 2007—and while he didn’t have Bernie’s Gold Gloves, FRAA doesn’t ding him particularly hard for defense (-0.1 by my spreadsheet, nine runs below the average Hall of Fame backstop). But catcher defense is difficult to measure, and it’s entirely possible that number will decrease between now and when he reaches the ballot if stuff like Mike Fast’s groundbreaking work is incorporated into WARP. However, one really can’t use it to make historical comparisons against players whose careers entirely predated PITCHf/x. As I’ve said several times over the years, Posada’s shot at Cooperstown depended upon him remaining productive throughout his contract and perhaps playing past 40, and alas, he did not. But like the similarly patient and tenacious Williams, the advantages he provided as a potent up-the-middle talent were significant, and they’re a reason so many world championship banners wave in the Bronx.

It would be nice if the BBWAA voters were to validate Posada’s career with a berth in Cooperstown, but those of us who watched him play know just how much he meant to the Yankees and their fans. Hip Hip Jorge will be greatly missed.

Wait ‘Till Next Year: the 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot

Yup, another Clubhouse Confidential appearance, from Tuesday, January 10, this following my three-hour chat on the day the results were released and my evaluation of the voting results. This time, I discussed the top candidates who will debut on the 2013 ballot, a slate that’s as controversial as it is stacked, with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, and Craig Biggio all eligible for the first time. The first four of those players have connections to PED use, a topic I explored at length in the forthcoming Extra Innings: More Baseball Prospectus Between the Numbers. Host Brian Kenny and I discussed the impact those PED allegations might have on the receptions of the candidates, what JAWS says about them if you put all of that aside, and what the flood of new candidates might mean for top 2012 holdovers Jack Morris (66.7 percent) and Jeff Bagwell (56.0 percent). See it here:

I had a blast at the MLB studio on this particular day, starting with a chance to shake hands with newly-elected Hall of Famer Barry Larkin and ending with the chance to do same with Peter Gammons. I was in the studio watching a bit of Larkin’s interview with Harold Reynolds and Greg Amsinger — both of whom I also met; Harold even liked my tie — for Hot Stove, and stayed to watch Gammons tape his CHC segments as well. All in all, pretty cool. Now that the Hall of Fame circus is leaving town I don’t expect to have my number called quite as often by CHC, but I’m hopeful I’ll continue to be a presence on the show.

The Ballot Battle

Another day, another TV appearance… Okay, it really isn’t that routine, but twice in one week? From the same show? Somebody up there must like me. Even before I’d gotten to appear on last Wednesday’s Clubhouse Confidential with my own JAWS take on the ballot, host Brian Kenny and company had booked me to participate in a Friday free-for-all roundtable with former Baseball Prospectus colleague and fellow Clubhouse Consultant Joe Sheehan as well as BBWAA voter Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and MLB Network.

Our panel kicked around the candidates for over 15 minutes, with each of us taking the lead making the case for several of them; mine were Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith. In the process, we produced our fair share of disagreements. Heyman, who has been hostile to the notion of using sabermetrics in the past — “[T]he day I consider VORP is the day I get out of the business,” he wrote back in 2007 — stuck with the party line on Jack Morris, noting opening day starts and waving off the high ERA while sprinkling the conversation with plenty of I-saw-him-plays, as though the rest of us were hiding under the bed during Morris 18-year career. He also refused to consider the notion that anybody should be re-evaluating anything in a sabermetric light (such as the value of Alan Trammell’s defense) 20 years after the fact. That’s obviously a position I’m not buying, even if it did come at the expense of withdrawing my support for a longtime pet candidate, albeit one who’s going nowhere on the ballot.

But it’s not like the rest of us were marching in lockstep all the way; much as I love Bernie Williams as a player, I’m less open to the idea that he’s a Hall of Famer than either Heyman or Sheehan are. We didn’t all see eye-to-eye on the notion of what to do about candidates who may have used performance-enhancing drugs, but that’s no surprise in this day and age. Our debate produced its share of sparks, but I don’t think we became disagreeable in the course of our disagreements, and none wound up using our chairs as weapons. Ah, well.

Here’s Part I:

And Part II:

The voting results will be announced at 3 PM Eastern. I’ll be chatting at BP starting at 1 PM and running through the announcement, with a recap up at BP tomorrow. I’ll also be on Clubhouse Confidential again tomorrow looking ahead to the 2013 ballot, which offers a bumper crop of strong candidates — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, and Curt Schilling, for starters — and promises a fair bit of fireworks when it comes to PED-related issues.

Haul of Fame 2012

It’s Hall of Fame season, and I’ve been a busy man, not only publishing my annual JAWS series, but talking about the Hall of Fame with anyone who will listen. Most notably, I was invited to run down the top candidates on the ballot at Clubhouse Confidential. On Wednesday, I did a short segment in which I discussed the merits of Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines and Lee Smith with host Brian Kenny:

It was probably the most fun I’ve had in a segment yet, in that I not only smiled but let loose a genuine belly laugh. Maybe it was because they finally let me do a segment with my jacket unbuttoned, or maybe it’s because I was finally able to tie a decent Half Windsor knot (apparently, I had been working with something called a Four In Hand knot all these years). Anyway, n Friday (January 6), I’ll be back on the show for a ballot roundtable with Brian and former BP colleague Joe Sheehan, possibly joined by a BBWAA voter to be named later. I’m told there will be folding metal chairs so things can get really out of hand.

If you missed any of my JAWS series at Baseball Prospectus — my ninth ballot go-round at that venue — here are the links:

• The Golden Era ballot and Ron Santo’s election

• Resetting the Standards

• Middle Infielders: Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Eric Young, Tony Womack

• Third Basemen: Edgar Martinez (and the thorny DH problem), Phil Nevin, Bill Mueller, Vinny Castilla

• First Basemen: Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, and a fun discussion of PEDs and the ballot.

Pitchers: Jack Morris and Lee Smith

• Outfielders, Part I: Bernie Williams, Larry Walker, and Juan Gonzalez

• The Catch-All, with Outfielders, Part II (Tim Raines, Tim Salmon, Brian Jordan, Ruben Sierra, and Jeromy Burnitz) and Catcher Javy Lopez.

Because I’m hard to shut up at this time of year, I’ll be hosting a chat at BP on Monday, January 9 at 1 PM Eastern, an hour before the voting results are announced by the Hall of Fame. Prepare for me to be outraged that Raines, Bagwell, and Martinez fell short yet again — I’m hopeful all three can climb to at least 50 percent because it’s a strong precedent towards eventual election, and if the Bert Blyleven election taught me anything, it’s that these things don’t happen overnight.

The Best of Baseball Prospectus (1996-2011)

“15,200 ARTICLES ENTER. 152 ARTICLES LEAVE. WE ARE THE 1%.”actual sales pitch

In a project that’s been long in the works, Baseball Prospectus is publishing a two-volume set covering the best work that’s run on the site in its long history — over 900 pages in all. I’m pleased to report that I’ve got no less than seven pieces in the first volume, not including an all-new introduction to the Offense section, which you can download in PDF form to see as a sample. I’ve got three more in the second volume, so don’t feel as though you can skimp on my account, bub. Other contributors include BP co-founders Clay Davenport, Gary Huckabay, Rany Jazayerli, Christina Kahrl, and Joe Sheehan, alumni such as Russell Carleton, Will Carroll, James Click, Dan Fox, Jonah Keri, David Laurila, Marc Normandin, Nate Silver, Michael Wolverton, and Keith Woolner, and current columnists Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein, Steven Goldman, Ben Lindbergh, Jason Parks, and Colin Wyers.

You can buy both in paperback at Amazon for $16.95 apiece, or as PDFs at BP for $7.95. Kindle/e-book versions are forthcoming as well, if that’s how you roll.

This is just one of three BP book projects I’ve had my hands in over the past several months. Another is Baseball Prospectus 2012, which you can already order if so inclined; it will be available sometime in mid-Feburary or so. A third is our sequel to Baseball Between the Numbers, the original of which I had very little to do with but which was popular anyway. This time around I’ve got over 30,000 words on steroids, the Hall of Fame, and steroids and the Hall of Fame; as to whether it took performance-enhancers to achieve that, all I can say is, “No comment.” That book will be available come springtime, and you can bet I’ll have links when it does.