In 1881 the future National League wanted to upgrade its image and target a more upscale fan base by doubling ticket prices, banning gambling, and outlawing alcohol sales. Several team owners who happened to be brewers refused to accept the new rules and banded together to form what would eventually become the American League. The National League attempted to discredit the new league by dubbing it the Beer and Whiskey League. This, of course only made the new league more popular. Duh!

Friday, August 27, 2004

Tom Verducci is a flippin a-hole and other random baseball observations

I know that we here at Beer and Whiskey have been known to be a bit on the surly side (what with our rampant use of words like annoying to describe just about everything under the sun that doesn’t fit neatly into our world view) but this just needs to be said (again): Tom Verducci is an a-hole or more precisely he’s a stupid a-hole idiot.

In a recent column for SportsIllustrated.Com (and why is it that the venerable magazine whose product is, in my opinion, far superior to ESPN: The Magazine can’t manage a web page nearly as entertaining and intelligent as the four-letter network), Verducci posited that Edgar Martinez should not be in the hall of fame because he was a DH. Specifically (or more precisely), a reader asked Verducci that if Piazza, a very mediocre defensive catcher, could make the Hall of Fame based on his offensive numbers then why not a DH. Verducci, in response, says:

I don't think Piazza is that awful defensively. Is his throwing terrible? Yes. But he blocks balls OK and calls a decent game. But ask yourself this: how much better would his numbers be if he never had to worry at all about playing defense? No wear and tear from catching. One hundred percent of his time devoted to hitting, including watching video or taking swings in an indoor cage in between at-bats during games. I will always consider DH a specialist's role, an easier job than playing the game the way it was designed to be played.

There are precisely three things about this statement that really pisses me off. Now, I shouldn’t totally vent out at Verducci because he’s only repeating the same incredibly inane and inaccurate observations that seem to run rampant in the world of “conventional” baseball thinking: that Edgar was a career DH, that it’s easier to play the game as a DH because of the wear and tear factor from playing defense, and that the DH somehow goes counter to the way the game was “designed to be played.”

The Right Way to Play the Game?

The latter point irks me the most so I’ll start there: WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS MEAN? Hey, Mr. Verducci, according to the first set of baseball rules written down by Alexander Cartwright in 1845 a ball hit out of the field of play was considered a foul. In other words, the homerun is not really a part of the game as “it was designed to be played” by the founding fathers of the game. So, should we just eliminate homeruns too so that we can remain faithful to the heart of the game? Oh yeah … and while we’re at it, why don’t we just get rid of this nine-inning bullshit since, again according to the original rules, you’re supposed to play the game until someone gets twenty-one runs.

Why stop there? Let’s also move the pitcher’s mound back to its original distance of 45 feet so that we don’t give these hitters an unfair advantage that would ruin the spirit of the game.

Look, I’m not some panglossian cheerleader that thinks all change is good. Part of the beauty of baseball is its rich history and that we can compare players from different eras with a greater degree of accuracy than other sports can. But to rely on some dumb-ass argument about the “way the game was supposed to be played” is just asinine. Baseball has always evolved and everytime it evolved there have been critics who have decried that baseball was losing its spirit: when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first team of paid professionals, when homeruns became an integral part of baseball, when teams began moving out to the west coast, when free agency became a reality, and, of course, when the DH came into existence.

Is DH a cush-job?

As for wear and tear, while Verducci certainly has a point when it comes Piazza (after all, it’s hard to deny that catcher is the most physically grueling position) but what about 1st base and, to a lesser extent, 3rd base? Outside of a few stellar gold-glovers like Olerud, 1st base is usually the domain of slow guys with not a lot of dexterity (a la Frank Thomas and Jim Thome). Does being a DH really offer someone the “advantage” of sitting around, resting, watching video, taking swings in a batting cage between innings, etc. that Verducci claims it does?

If it were truly more difficult on your body to hit while playing first than as a DH then why has Thomas hit almost 60 points higher as a first baseman? Yes, you heard that right: in 3485 at-bats while playing first, Thomas has a career .337/.453/.625 (avg/obp/slg) while in 3341 at-bats as a DH Thomas’s line is: .280//404/.510. That’s not an insignificant drop-off – heck that would be like trading in a Randy Winn for an Edgar Martinez.

Thomas isn’t alone, of course. Jim Thome did quite a bit of DHing while with the Tribe and although his sample size is obviously smaller has hit nearly thirty points lower as a DH than as either a first or third baseman (career totals: .260 as DH in 423 at bats, .289 as 3B in 1624 at bats, and .287 in 3551 at bats). I also ran the numbers for several other notable DHs around the league and guess what? All except David Ortiz hit better as position players than as DHs.

avg/obp/slg as DH (at bats)avg/obp/slg as non-DH (at bats)
David Ortiz.282/.358/.539 (1603).274/.358/.471 (731)
Jason Giambi.265/.396/.504 (896).312/.429/.569 (3135)
Rafael Palmeiro.280/.379/.549 (1438).291/.373/.517 (7714)
Reuben Sierra..256/.312/.439 (1491).272/.320/.448 (5748)

One could certainly make an argument that these stats do not mean anything because Edgar plays everyday as a DH and the other players platoon between the DH and their respective positions (first base for all except Sierra who has played both corner outfield positions) but I bring these stats up to point out one very simple fact: there is no evidence that playing as a DH is in any way easier than playing as a position player. One could certainly argue that being a part of the game, defensively, helps the player maintain a certain rhythm which makes hitting “easier.” So, before people like Verducci go out spouting stupid shit maybe they should take heed to the words of another annoying white guy, Fred Durst, and check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Oh, and regarding Verducci’s third assertion that Edgar Martinez is a pure DH, here are some stats people continually forget:

Edgar has 100 at-bats as a 1B (yes, small number) in which he hit .380/.453/.810
Edgar has 1943 at-bats as a 3B in which he hit .302/.391/.459
His DH numbers are 5007 at-bats hitting .316/.430/.535

So, while Edgar did play a huge chunk of his career of his career as a DH, nearly 30% (ok, 28%) of his at-bats came as a position player.

Alrighty, I was going to add some more stuff about the recent talk of Beltre and the downgrading of Ordonez as a free agent (hmmm … maybe the ChiSox will be able to keep him after all) as well as a little nostalgia trip about the mariners pre-Piniella but this ranting and raving has gone on for far too long so I’ll close off with one last link that you must absolutely visit: the lego-vision re-enactment of a Twins/BitchSox brawl. Worth many guffaws.