Sunday Notes: Snapshots from SABR 48 in Pittsburgh

A pair of PNC Park official scorers spoke at SABR’s 48th-annual national convention on Thursday, and both shared good stories. One came from Evan Pattak, who explained why beat writers are no longer hired into the position. The precipitating incident occurred on June 3, 1979.

Bruce Kison took a no-hitter in the late innings against San Diego,” recounted Pattak. “A Padre (Barry Evans) hit a ball down the third base line that the third baseman (Phil Garner) couldn’t handle. The official scorer was Dan Donovan of the Pittsburgh Press, and he ruled it a hit, ending the no-hitter. Everybody at the park agreed with the call except Kison.

“This created a very awkward situation for Dan, who had to go into the locker room after game. He asked Kison, ‘What did you think of the call?’ Bruce let him know, in no uncertain terms. At that point, the newspapers realized they were placing their beat writers in untenable situations. At the end of the 1979 season, they banned beat writers from scoring, a ban that exists to this day.”

Bob Webb told of a game between the Brewers and Pirates on August 31, 2008. In this case, he played the role of Donovan, albeit with a notably different dynamic.

“In the fifth inning, Andy LaRoche topped a ball towards the mound and CC Sabathia went to field it with his bare hand,” recalled Webb. “He was unable to come up with it, and I scored it a hit. As it turns out, it was only hit (Sabathia allowed). To say that the folks in Milwaukee had some slight disagreement with my call would be an understatement.

“It ended up being a national controversy. This was Labor Day weekend and my three adult sons, who were spread out around the country, all happened to be in taverns with television sets and the sound down. They look up and see their father’s picture on the television sets. They call home immediately and ask, ‘Is dad dead? Is dad indicted? Why is he on TV?’”

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Sticking with SABR 48, Pirates broadcaster Joe Block moderated the players’ panel and began by saying, ‘Let me introduce the winning pitchers of Game 6 and Game 7 of the 1979 World Series.’ Soon thereafter, the audience learned that John Candelaria and Grant Jackson are more than Pittsburgh post-season heroes, they’re also good storytellers. Candelaria told of a fracas with the Phillies, and another with an NL West rival.

“Kison liked to hit Mike Schmidt, just to say hello,” claimed Candelaria. “Schmidt got tired of it one year. So he drills Schmidt, and as Mike was going to first base he looked at Bruce and said, ‘Next time you hit me, I’m going to come on out there.’ Bruce threw his glove down and said, ‘Why wait?’ And then the fight started.”

“We (the Pirates and Phillies) didn’t like each other. But we respected each other. The Dodgers were the same way. We didn’t like them either. We had a fight with them in the tunnel, that people didn’t see. Both teams in the tunnel, in Three Rivers. The tunnel was full.”

Jackson told of low-bridging one of his former teammates a few weeks after being dealt from Pittsburgh to Montreal in September 1981.

“I came into a game against the Pirates,” recalled Jackson. “Just before the game I’d been over to the Pirates clubhouse bull jiving, talking to everybody, having a good time. Come the game, my first hitter was Dave Parker. OK, the first pitch I threw to Parker was right across the top of the hat. He said, ‘C’mon.’ I said, ‘You know how I work.’

“I think we beat them 1-0 or 2-1, or whatever the score was. It was a good time. But we’re going back 30 years and heck, right now I don’t remember what the hell I did yesterday.”

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Milwaukee’s bullpen has performed well, while others— Cleveland’s and Colorado’s to name two — have clearly underperformed expectations. I asked Brewers manager Craig Counsell about the volatile nature of constructing a relief corps, and received a have-fun-with-the-reporter response.

“I think you could say that about all areas of the game,” Counsell replied, as a smattering of other writers looked on. “I really do. As much as FanGraphs would like to tell us, we don’t have everything figured out.”

I responded in turn (amid laughter), saying “That was a dig.”

“That was a little dig,” Counsell concurred with a smile. “I know you can take it. But no, projections on players, and on winning and losing games… I do think there’s probably more (volatility) for the bullpen. They’re out there less. That leads to some of the difficulty in predicting correctly.”

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John Thorn co-led a SABR 48 presentation on Hank Greenberg, and he offered a sobering take on society when doing so. Major League Baseball’s official historian said the following in regard to the Hall of Famer, who along with being an iconic hitter was a hero to American Jews.

“Jews in the 1930s needed a Jewish hero in a way that (in recent times) we didn’t really need Ryan Braun to be a hero,” Thorn told a rapt audience. “No slight on Ryan Braun. The commentary is not on the quality of his play, or Greenberg’s play, but rather on the fact that Jews have become a part of the furniture in America. We barely stand out in the wallpaper.

“There was a time when Jews, and Irish, and Italians, and African-Americans — and Chinese, especially — were more or less equally condemned. The greatest mass lynching in the history of this country was 11 Italians, in Louisiana (in 1891). So we, as a nation, have a history of not merely equality, and liberty and justice for all, but we’re also equal-opportunity haters. We just change the object of our hate. If Greenberg gave Jews a break at a time when America was not, that was great.”

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Rick Renteria delved into the impact of social media when asked how Yoan Moncada is dealing with the scrutiny that comes with being a high-profile prospect in his first full MLB season.

“We talk about noise a lot, and that’s part of the noise — living up to the 24-7 cycle of information being provided to players,” said the White Sox skipper. “I think he’s handling it as well as anybody could. Like any young person living in today’s modern age of information and media awareness… they like their ‘likes’ and they want to know why someone dislikes them.

“Hopefully they learn as quickly as possible that there’s a perspective to keep in sight, so that they’re not consumed by all of it. Don’t not appreciate it. Handle it to the best of your ability. Handle the boos as well as you handle the applause.”

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Jumping back to SABR 48, Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass shared a couple of great stories from his playing days. One came via Mickey Mantle and was about a light-hitting Yankees backup.

“The Yankees had Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, and Johnny Blanchard was their third-string catcher,” said the always-entertaining Blass. “Blanchard never played — they had two great catchers in front of him — but he got that World Series ring and check every year. He lockered next to Mickey Mantle. Mantle comes into Yankee Stadium one day and Blanchard is sitting there with tears in his eyes. Mickey says, ‘John, what’s wrong?’ (Blanchard) said, ‘Mick, I just got traded to Kansas City.’ Mick said, ‘That’s great. You’ll get a chance to to play.’ (Blanchard) said, ‘Mick, that’s why I’m crying. You know I can’t play.’”

Blass also shared a story from his 1972 All-Star Game experience.

“Walking in the clubhouse is fabulous,” Blass said. “You’ve got the best of the best. You’ve got Seaver over here. You’ve got Aaron over there. All of that was dazzling. My locker was next to Johnny Bench. Back then we didn’t fraternize, so I didn’t know anything about Johnny Bench. All I knew is that he was a tough out and he hit me very well.

“I said, ‘Hey, John.’ He said, ‘I understand you’re pitching the third inning. What kind of signs do you want to use?’ I said, ‘Well John, every time I pitch against you, you seem to know what’s coming, so why have signs?’’

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Arizona has rebounded from an abysmal May (8-19), going 15-6 in the current month and taking over first place in the NL West. On Friday, I asked D-Backs broadcaster Mike Ferrin for a snapshot observation from the season so far.

“A couple of things stand out,” Ferrin told me. “One is that they’ve been outstanding defensively. They’ve been in a dead heat most of the year with Milwaukee, leading the majors in defensive runs saved. The outfield defense has been great. Chris Owings, who is now basically the fourth outfielder, is a converted infielder and he’s one of the top right fielders, defensively. Even when they were going through offensive struggles, which was really more than that 17-game stretch where they averaged less than two runs a game, they were saving a lot of games because of their defense.”

As of last night, the Diamondbacks led all teams with 53 defensive runs saved. The Brewers were second with 50, and no other team had more than 40.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Felipe Alou went 28 for 69 (.406) against Turk Farrell.

Matty Alou went 12 for 35 (.343) against Turk Farrell.

Jesus Alou went 9 for 26 (.346) against Turk Farrell.

Hank Aaron went 16 for 78 (.205) against Tom Seaver.

Tommie Aaron went 0 for 7 (.000) against Tom Seaver.

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George J. Burns, who played in the National League from 1911-1925, appeared in 1,853 games. He had 2,077 hits and a 114 adjusted OPS.

George H. Burns, who played in the American League from 1914-1929, appeared in 1,866 game. He had 2,018 hits and a 113 adjusted OPS.

Given their concurrent careers, George H. was nicknamed “Tioga George” to distinguish him from his National League namesake. He finished his career with 444 doubles, 72 triples, and 72 home runs.

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The subject of scripting pitches came up in a conversation with Kevin Cash earlier this season, and he certainly sounded like a proponent of the practice. When I suggested to the Tampa Bay Rays manager that the previous pitch will often influence the next, — how the hitter reacted to it, for instance — I expected him to concur. He didn’t.

“Pitch to pitch? Not necessarily,” said Cash. “If you have a game plan and go out there and execute it, one pitch shouldn’t derail and change your approach for that at bat, or how you’re going to attack a hitter. There’s a lot of information out there that just kind of points to throwing strikes and attack, attack.”

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Returning to SABR 48, author and historian Dan Levitt presented on the evolution of baseball innovation. Included in his talk were the efforts of Pat Gillick and Phil Wrigley.

“In the late 1970s, Eppy Guerrero was looking for about a $9,000 to establish what we now think of as a proto Dominican academy,” said Levitt. “The Blue Jays funded that, and their teams of the ‘80s, and their World Series teams in 1992 and 1993, were very dependent on international players. Clearly, Pat Gillick, who had been looking for another way to get players, was an original thinker.

“Phil Wrigley hired Coleman Griffith as sort of a statistician/psychologist in the 1930s. Phil Wrigley was kind of a goofy guy. He had hired a guy to put an evil eye on other teams. He was looking for original ideas, and obviously some made more sense than others. But the Cubs, in the late’30s, tracked… where each pitch went, where it was hit, what type of pitch it was. The Cubs were very much at the forefront of this.”

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NEWSY STUFF

Arizona left-hander TJ McFarland got his first career save on Friday night in his 190th appearance, all but three of which have come as a reliever.

Nick Senzel, the top prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization, will miss the rest of the season after tearing a tendon in his right index finger. He’s scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday. Senzel was slashing .310/.378/.509 at Triple-A Louisville.

Larry McCray, one of the foremost historians of baseball’s early origins, was announced as the winner of SABR’s Bob Davids Award. The award honors SABR members whose contributions to SABR and baseball reflect the ingenuity, integrity, and self-sacrifice of the founder and past president of SABR, L. Robert “Bob” Davids.

Our friends at Retrosheet announced that box scores for the 1907 season have been compiled and proofed. Retrosheet now has full box scores for the last 111 seasons.

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The charitable endeavors of MLB players have been championed in recent columns, and today we’ll hear from Paul Goldschmidt. I caught up to the Diamondbacks’ slugger earlier this week.

“My wife (Amy) and I have been volunteering at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, pretty much since I got called up to the big leagues in 2011,” Goldschmidt told me. “We go over there and spend time with the families and the kids. In the last couple of years we’ve done two charity events called Goldy’s Bowling Bash and raised approximately $180,000 at each one. That money has gone to the hospital. The first-year donation was to help build new Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders that opened up this year. This year will be the Child Life programs there.

“My wife has gone over there with other wives on the team and thrown birthday parties for kids in the hospital. We’ve done Diamondbacks-themed parties. Those families are going through some tough times, and while we’re not the doctors and nurses — we can’t solve what they’re going through — we can put a smile on their faces.”

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As Goose Gossage would gladly (and cantankerously) attest, back-end relievers who throw multiple innings are a rare breed in today’s game. That was the subject at hand when Ron Gardenhire segued into frequency of usage and, more specifically, Shane Greene.

“It’s not the way of the world anymore,” said the Detroit Tigers manager. “But there are still a few of those guys out there who could grab it and go every day. Our closer told me, ‘I could pitch in 162 games if you’s let me.’ And I kind of believe him. He said, ‘I’d pitch every day.’”

One week later, Gardenhire showed a willingness to use the eager reliever on four consecutive days. Greene logged a save each time.

As for the 162-game scenario, I suggested to the affable skipper that he’d probably get fired if one of his pitchers threw every game and got hurt.

“That’s a good point,” agreed Gardenhire.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Anchorage Daily News, Beth Bragg wrote about Alaska’s first baseball team, the Knock Down and Skin ‘Em Club of St. Paul Island, which was formed in 1868.

Writing for Forbes, Wallace Matthews told of how former Yankees pitching coach Billy Connors (who died earlier this week at age 76) had a huge appetite for life, and would truthfully say to pitchers during mound visits: ”What are you worried about? I had to follow John Holmes.”

MassLive’s Chris Smith talked to Red Sox slugger JD Martinez, who among other things opined that “anything you say (to reporters) can be flipped in any kind of way,”

Over at MiLB.com, Vince Lara-Cinisomo wrote about Astros prospect Randy Cesar breaking a Texas League record that stood for nearly five decades.

TJ Zuppe of The Athletic delved into how Jose Ramirez became one of the best players in baseball.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Seattle’s Nelson Cruz is the only player with 20 or more home runs in each of the last 10 seasons. Cruz hit numbers 19 and 20 on Friday in a 14-10 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. ha a .235 BABiP and a 35.3% hard-hit rate. Seattle’s Dee Gordon has a .336 BABiP and a 18.8% hard-hit rate.

Philadelphia Phillies rookie third baseman Mitch Walding has struck out seven times and walked once in eight MLB plate appearances.

Monk Sherlock batted .324 for the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies in his only big-league season. His brother, Vince “Baldy” Sherlock, batted .462 for the 1935 Brooklyn Dodgers in his only big-league season.

On this date in 1955, 18-year-old Harmon Killebrew hit the first of his 573 career home runs as the Senators lost to the Tigers 18-7 at Griffith Stadium.

On this date in 1968, Jim Northrup hit two grand slams as the Tigers beat the Indians 14-3 at Cleveland Stadium.

Joe Sewell, an infielder for the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees from 1920-1933, struck out 114 times in 8,333 plate appearances. Adam Dunn struck out 2,379 times in 8,328 plate appearances.

In 1920, Cleveland Indians infielder Larry Gardner was successful on three stolen base attempts and was caught stealing 20 times.

No batters struck out in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series when the Pirates beat the Yankees 10-9 on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run. The contest was played in a time of two hours and 36 minutes.

When “Subway Sam” Nahem made his MLB debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938, his catcher was Greek George and the first batter he faced was Gibby Brack. The home plate umpire was Ziggy Sears.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Snapshots from SABR 48 in Pittsburgh by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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No strikeouts on either team in that famous 7th game? That’s pretty amazing, and a nice piece of trivia!