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Lee May

January 9, 2009
 Untitled 
According to the back of this card, Lee May drove in 195 runs for the Houston Astros in 1973, more RBI than anyone has ever produced in a single major league season. More than Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Hank Greenberg, etc. Name a slugger, any slugger. Lee May topped him, according to the back of this card.

But it’s a mistake, right? If it’s not, I can’t think of a more subtly shattering blow to my sanity than the sudden knowledge that for all these years, my whole conscious life, the subject I know most about includes a glaring absence of knowledge about the all-time single-season RBI champ. It would be like a guy who spent every spare hour birdwatching and reading about birds and studying birdcalls suddenly finding out that there was a bird known as the bald eagle.

“Good lord, what is that?” he’d remark to his fellow birders as he stared through binoculars at the familiar patriotic icon perched on a high branch. By the time he lowered his binoculars to investigate the silence greeting his exclamation, his fellow birders would have realized he wasn’t joking, but shaky grins would remain frozen on all their faces. No one would be making any eye contact.

But that’s too unfathomable to think about. I’d rather identify the 195 RBI as a typo. I’d rather envision some Topps temp concentrating on her glazed donut while thudding the 9 key instead of the 0 key on a typewriter, then later in the process the proofreader rationalizing his half-assed half-asleep effort by telling himself that he wouldn’t even care that much if he got canned. Thus, with these two parenting mediocrities—the key-entry functionary and the quality assurance functionary—a mistake is born.

I should know. I work as a proofreader, which means all day long I search for mistakes. Sometimes my mind wanders and mistakes slip through. I think about this phenomenon a lot. It’s my window into one of the rare certainties about human life: mistakes will be made. Sometimes the mistakes won’t matter much, but other times they might. Someone’s mind wanders when they’re inspecting an airplane. Someone’s mind wanders when they’re checking a chest x-ray. Someone’s mind wanders when they’re speeding down the highway. Last night my wife told me about what she saw on her long drive home. One of the cars in a crash had been crushed to the size of a juke box. Years ago, on a road trip, we’d been on that same highway and had seen the aftermath of a crash involving eight or nine cars all crumpled and intertwined in an awful metallic conga line, complete with sirens and revolving red lights. One mistake had been made. One little mistake.

It’s the kind of thing that can make you want to never leave your house, or to pack yourself in a thick coating of bubble wrap for so much as a short walk to the corner to buy Q-Tips. So for the sake of my continuing ability to barely function in society, maybe what I need to do is once again entertain the idea that the info on the back of Lee May’s card isn’t a mistake. Maybe every other source on the subject is wrong, and this one card is right. Maybe Lee May just had one magical season where he could do no wrong.

I never had such a season (and judging by Lee May’s expression on the front of the card, I think it’s safe to assume that he never had such a season, either), but I did at least have one long summer afternoon. I was nine or ten and I went to stay overnight at my friend Mike’s house. Mike lived in town, while I lived far out in the country, where there weren’t very many other kids around, so it was amazing to me when Mike and I took a few steps out of his house and found a bunch of kids already gathering in a big open grassy lot that happened to be next a cemetary. Teams were formed, a baseball diamond laid out using rocks and pieces of clothing for bases. For some reason we used a tennis ball instead of a baseball. It was a good choice. Everyone was a slugger, thocking the fuzzy yellow ball into the far reaches of the field, the farthest clouts bounding all the way into the newest rows of graves.

By this time I had fallen in love with the statistics on the backs of baseball cards, so as the slugfest went on and the runners kept whirling around the bases and home I started getting giddy about my own stats for the game. Let’s see. Four doubles, a couple triples, three home runs, fourteen RBIs. Or is it fifteen? I was, I decided, an RBI machine.

I don’t remember how outs were even made, but somehow they were once every half-dozen runs, because the beautiful thing was that everyone on both teams got easy chance after easy chance to be a record-breaking slugger. I guess if I had the opportunity to play that kind of a game every day I might have grown bored with it, but since I so rarely got to play with a huge group of other kids I loved it. As I remember it, the game didn’t end with anyone losing but with the slow soft arrival of dusk, the beaten tennis ball a dimming yellow glow floating toward the batter then flaring in a sizzling shooting star arc deep into the outfield. Finally someone drove the ball into the granite stubs and slabs at the far border of the field and it was too dark to find it, though we all looked for a while, every player on both teams, everyone a cheerful chattering superstar slaloming fearlessly through the graves.

***

OK, I’ve already droned on enough for one day, but before finally shutting up I did want to pass along to any fellow Stooges fans a link to an LA Times interview with Mike Watt in which the legendary bass player pays moving tribute to his fallen idol and bandmate, Ron Asheton.

56 comments

  1. 1.  He was before my time but (I got curious & looked up his #’s) apparently he was a feard hitter in his day… he kind of reminded me of Kirby Puckett [http://www.baseball-reference.com/m/mayle01.shtml]

    Kirby’s OB%, BA, & OPS+ was much better though.
    ___

    you paint such a great picture with your writing Josh (does that make sense?)


  2. 2.  1 : May was a good old-fashioned slugger, very consistent in his ability to drive in runs. Didn’t walk much, but walks were undervalued back then, which enabled the Reds to use May as the key piece in a multiplayer deal to steal Joe Morgan from the Astros. I bet at the time of the trade Morgan and May were viewed by most as fairly equal in value. Later, May fit in well with the Orioles in providing power, if not on-base capabilities, for Earl Weaver’s “wait around for the three-run homer” approach.


  3. 3.  1 And thanks for the picture-painting compliment! My mom and grandmother are/were painters, so it’s nice to hear that despite my color-blindness and inability to draw a straight line I may have inherited some of their abilities somehow.


  4. 4.  Didn’t know “Little Doll” was influenced by the great Pharoah Sanders.

    Thanks for that link, Josh.


  5. 5.  I had a friend in college, a big Orioles fan, who had a love/hate relationship with May because of his streakiness and fielding. He often said, “you never know with Lee May.” Not just when we were watching baseball, mind you, but anytime. Say, in the cafeteria:

    “I wonder what this meat is?”
    “You never know with Lee May.”


  6. 6.  Painting is a great way to describe the rhythmic writing that kicks so much ass.

    Is there a more obscure member of the top 75 home run hitters of all time? In time, I imagine Gary Gaetti might be just as obscure, but that guy at least has an ALCS MVP to bring him into discussions. Maybe Norm Cash? No, because he’s the answer to the ‘Who won the ’61 AL batting Title’ trivia question. Matt Williams? ’94 NL HR champ. So, it remains, is Lee May the most obscure member of the top 75 HR hitters of all time? :)


  7. 7.  I still get Dave May and Lee May confused, not to mention Lee May and Lee Maye, who remind me of Leon Lee and Leron Lee. Leon Lee is the father of Derrick Lee, who I still confuse with Derrick May, son of Dave May.


  8. 8.  5 : That’s hilarious.

    6 : You might be right, I guess, though it’s hard for me to think of him as obscure, but then again I basically live perpetually in Lee May’s era. Surely he’ll stand taller in history than Greg Vaughn, won’t he?


  9. 9.  7 : Yes, and there’s always Milt May on the periphery of that whole May-morass, and once he’s involved then Ed Ott gets mixed up into it and forget about doing anything else the rest of the day. (And we haven’t even mentioned Carlos May, Lee’s actual thumb-mangled brother.)


  10. 10.  May’s expression must look a lot like mine when my wife gives me a home maintenance task during the weekend.


  11. 11.  I had one of those fine days too. A friend who was much cooler than me brought me into a game with his slicker set. The host kid had a homemade but well-executed field next to his family’s strawberry patch, perfectly scaled for a ragball game, with a low wooden backstop and bases.

    The best ballplayers in our smallish town were at the game, it was like a Little League All-Star contest (I was a good player in those days, so I was only out of my league socially speaking). God knows the result but the atmosphere, the sense of anarchic youthful organization and fine weather, I’ll never forget.


  12. 12.  My confusion went right to Rudy May. I saw Lee’s card and thought, Ah yes, he later pitched for the Yanks…. wait a minute…


  13. 13.  5 You Never Know with Lee May should be a show on the MLB Network, hosted by May, about the wonderful oddities of baseball.

    Also this: in high school, I had a friend named May Lee.


  14. 14.  an RBI machine

    Another wonderful post Josh.

    You put me right back there again – with my coach and his old dusty mitt.

    You are the man.


  15. 15.  I can assure you that Lee May was a very, very popular and respected member of the first Big Red Machine, the pre-Joe Morgan one that cruised to the NL pennant in 1970 behind the slugging of Bench, Perez, Rose, and May. When he was traded to Houston in the Morgan deal — along with the also-popular Tommy Helms — Reds fans in my neck of the woods were plenty pissed off. They got over it pretty quickly, though. :-)


  16. 16.  some of the best times i had playing baseball are the pickup games in the neighborhood.

    i remember breaking my friend’s forearm with a line drive one time. while i felt bad about it, i did think to myself, “wow i really crushed that ball!”


  17. 17.  What a fantastic description of pick-up games, Josh. The feelings you evoked made me think I was there. I WAS there, on a different field in a different town. You really hit the nail on the head.


  18. 18.  With the closest park a couple miles and a couple hill climbs away, we played our tennis-ball baseball games in the street. When we felt daring we used those rubber-covered “baseballs” that took those crazy alternating hops – long, short, long, short – as the cover bit the pavement with each bounce and reversed the spin of the ball. Playing in the street sure teaches you how to hit up the middle!

    You took me right back. Those were great times man. Thanks (again) Josh.


  19. 19.  Great post, as always. It brought back lots of memories, including memories of my childhood friend, Ward. He lived up the street from me, at the top of a hill. The street curved around his grassy backyard, which made it look like a real baseball field. I don’t think I have ever seen another backyard in Southern California quite like it. For an eight-year old wiffle ball player, it had the perfect dimensions: a spacious playing field with a curved retaining wall that looked (to me) like the outfield fence at Dodger Stadium. The fence was close enough for any of us to hit an occasional homerun, but also far enough to keep it a challenge. I moved from that street when I was nine and a few years later I saw that the owners of the house had put a pool where we used to play ball. It was fun while it lasted. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


  20. 20.  I remember that typo on the back of Lee May’s 1976 card. I was convinced that he drove in 195 runs one year and I insisted to all my friends that he had the all time RBI record over Hack Wilson. I just assumed that Topps never made this kind of mistake.


  21. 21.  As for the day of the pic, had to be the July weekend the O’s went to Oakland in ’75, as they played no day games on their May trip there. I like to think it was the Sunday game, July 13th, as opposed to the Saturday game, because Sunday, Lee came right out in his first at bat and knocked in a run, though the A’s would eventually prevail.

    Funny (if you’re a baseball nerd like me) story: Retrosheet lists the Sunday game as a night game. Didn’t seem right, as there was no reason to play Sunday night games then (and all Oakland’s other Sunday games were afternoon affairs), unless you’re the Texas Rangers and it’s summer. I went through old news articles, and though one said “today” when describing the game, that still could’ve meant a night game. So I gave up. Then, I continued what will now be my endless perusing of old Baseball Digests thanks to Josh’s link, and I saw “American League Schedules.” Since, by random chance, I was already in a 1975 issue, I checked Oakland’s schedule, and that game was indeed scheduled as a day game! So I think that proves it. I will write to retrosheet so they can set everything right with the world–err, correct this minor mistake. (And in case you’re thinking maybe the game was delayed and became a night game, well, there’s no delay mentioned in the play by play, and the Farmer’s Almanac online shows fog reported at Alameda NAS that day, but no precipitation.)


  22. 22.  I’m enjoying the pickup game memories.

    21 : Nice work, Holmes. One thing I don’t understand is that he seems to be wearing the home whites.


  23. 23.  Here’s a pickup game memory. We would play ground rules baseball in my suburban driveway and use the house across the street for the ground rules! We used a tennis ball, by the way, but real baseball bats. If we hit the house on a fly ball, it was a double. Over the house or the tall pine trees adjacent to the house, it was a home run. Anything past the pitcher on one hop was a single. Usually there was a kid standing on the neighbor’s lawn, which was center field, of course. The telephone pole and a very large tree in front of my house were the foul poles. My father painted a real home plate at the other end of the driveway against our garage, which was the backstop.

    The man across the street was particularly surly and he hated our pickup games, especially when we had to rummage through his bushes looking for the ball or generally ran across his lawn to catch fly balls or retrieve doubles and home runs.

    One day, my next-door neighbor was at the plate and he launched one of my fastballs right through the picture window across the street. (The batter went on to become a corrections officer, I hear). The outfielder (who I just friended on Facebook after 25 years) disappeared, and I was left standing on the “pitcher’s mound” (actually the edge of my driveway) when the victim came running out of his house. He demanded to see the hitter. I went next door to get him but his sister (who went on to become a lawyer, I hear) told me that he wasn’t home. A bold-faced lie, since it all happened 15 seconds earlier and I saw him disappear into the house. That was when I realized at a young age that it was every man for himself in this cruel world.


  24. 24.  The Orioles’ home and road unis had the same logo, so the only difference was white vs gray, which is only slightly darker than white. These are the grays, which would be easier to tell if you had a white next to it. (Either that or they overexposed it or whatever.)

    Here’s Memorial Stadium, note it doesn’t have the three full decks: http://www.ballparksofbaseball.com/past/mem08900.jpg

    In the card, it’s Oakland’s Coliseum.


  25. 25.  “As for the day of the pic, had to be the July weekend the O’s went to Oakland in ’75, as they played no day games on their May trip there.”

    I figured that it was Oakland even though he was wearing a home uniform. It was the day before the All Star break but he wasn’t an All Star that year. FWIW, the 7/13/1975 Hartford Courant lists the start time of that day’s Oak-Balt game at 4:30 Eastern Time.


  26. 26.  Response I got from Retrosheet: “We have checked our sources for that game and the Sporting News. Although there is some possible ambiguity, we agree with your thinking that it had to be a day game. We are changing our database to reflect that, and it will appear the next time we update those pages, which may not be until this summer.”

    Woohoo! Credit goes to Wilker…


  27. 27.  Also, if you look at some of the other ’76 Orioles cards, they’re from the same day in Oakland, and you can better tell the uni they’re wearing is gray. Especially with DeCinces and Tommy Davis. (Though on Torrez, they whitened his up a lot. Figures he’d eff up.) Another way to tell is to compare the uni color to the white panel on the hat and you should see a slight difference.


  28. 28.  24 – I had assumed that it was a Memorial given the whites, but that third deck told me it wasn’t. Thanks for clearing that up.


  29. 29.  I’ve become very good at recognizing the Oakland stadium immediately with its fairly unique upper deck, just because Topps seemed to take a lot of pics there, and because I read this site a lot and therefore keep seeing it. But I have to admit, when Josh said it looked like a home uni, I thought, “Oh shit, did I do all that research for nothing?” But, yeah, it’s Oakland. Memorial’s upper deck also has no overhang, but it’s a different look.


  30. 30.  26 : An impact on the awesome world of Retrosheet. That’s great.

    I deserve no credit, of course, but I do find it interesting that a post about a mistake led to the fixing of a different mistake.


  31. 31.  Yeah, woulda been funny if I’d also pushed for a change in Lee May’s RBI total.


  32. 32.  Great post Josh, brings back many long dusty summer afternoons in California. I remember adopting the Ricky Henderson on base stance – legs wide, bent over at the waist, wishing I had a gold chain to dangle from my neck.

    Interesting to see that Lee May’s son, Lee May Jr. (what’s with the propensity for baseball players to name their sons the same thing?), was a Mets 1st round pick in 1986. Didn’t come to much unfortunately, but interesting to see how it runs in the family.


  33. I loved those rubber-coated basesballs.


  34. Lee May was the most underrated player of the 1970s. He would have had much gaudier stats if he didn’t have to play mostly in two ballparks that were death for right-handed power hitters: Houston’s Astrodome (before the remodeling) and Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

    He was also my all-time favorite baseball player. I was fortunate enough to watch him hit a home run in person. It was August 1977 at the Kingdome in Seattle. Lee actually hit the game winner and only me and a couple of Oriole fans stood up to cheer. I am a Mariner fan but this is one of my favorite sports highlights.


  35. markustt: Thanks for sharing that memory. I think Lee May’s historical standing has diminished (rightly or wrongly) as the years have gone by. His trade from Cincy to Houston was before I was old enough to pay attention, but he must have been held in pretty high regard at the time to be the main piece in the trade that brought Joe Morgan to the Reds.


  36. markustt,

    I don’t see any evidence that Lee May was/is an underrated player let alone “the most underrated player of the ’70′s”.

    He was pretty much a one-dimensional player who could hit for power but couldn’t field, had no speed, couldn’t hit for average or get On Base. His lifetime .267/.313/.459, 116ops+ for a slow poor fielding first-basemen isn’t that great. He struck out way too much and didn’t walk enough.

    Yes he did spend much of his career in the Astrodome and Memorial Stadium but that was from the ages of 29-37. You didn’t mention that he spent the early portion of his career at Crosley field which was a great hitter’s park.

    He had a career 22.7 War which doesn’t even rank among the top 500 players of all time.

    As a comparison player I would say he matches up with player like Dan Driessen, .267/.356/.411, 113 ops+. May was better but not by much. He had more power but Driessen had better on-base ability.

    As far as the most under-rated position players from the 70′s I would put my top ten something like this: Grich, Reggie Smith, Ted Simmons, Darrell Evans, Dwight Evans, Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles, Sal Bando, Ron Cey, Gene Tenace.


  37. Josh: I’m sorry you didn’t get to see May back when he was a member of the original Big Red Machine. That 1970 club was a lot of fun.

    Johnq11: Dan Driessen? You’ve got to be kidding. Driessen didn’t strike fear in any pitcher. The only thing you can compare May with Driessen is that they had same career batting average. May has nearly double the numbers of all the power stats. Driessen is probably best known for being the first player to hit with a skinny dark brown bat.

    Lee May wasn’t necessarily a gold glove fielder but he was solid at first base. He only became a DH when the Orioles brought up this kid named Eddie Murray.

    May didn’t walk enough? Did you even watch baseball in the 70s? This is pre-Bill James and Moneyball. Walks were not as loved as they are today. Of course the pitching was a lot better back then so you didn’t rely on pitchers with +5.00 ERAs bailing you out with walks all the time.

    My point about May playing in those stadiums is that he would have easily had over 400 homers if he played in at least in a somewhat hitters ballpark. And he only had a few of his early years at Crosley.

    Of course I am biased about May being underrated but I still would put in him near the top of list. Gene Tenace underrated? That guy made a ton of money thanks to his limited postseason heroics. He was way overrated. His numbers are not anywhere near May’s. He was a marginal power hitter and his best year, batting average-wise was .263, which is four points below May’s career average. Craig Nettles was a Yankee and Yankees are never underrated. I do agree with Reggie Smith. He never got the ink of Garvey.


  38. markusst,

    As far as Lee May and Dan Driessen, here are there lifetime numbers:

    May: .267/.313/.459-.772-ops, 116 ops+
    Driessen: .267/.356/.411-.767-ops, 113 ops+

    They’re very comparable players. May hit .48 points better in slugging percentage but Driessen was .43 points better in on base percentage. May was a better player but not by much.

    As far as striking “fear” into pitchers, who knows about something like that, how can you measure “fear”. It’s a subjective term that most of the time it’s a b.s. phrase that sports writers would use. And at the rate that May would strike-out and wouldn’t walk, I bet a lot of pitcher enjoyed facing May.

    He wasn’t a horrible fielder but he was a below average defensive first basemen.

    I was born in ’66 so I’m very familiar with 70′s baseball. Whether walks were loved or not back in the ’70′s isn’t the point. The point is that May made a lot of outs per plate appearances back then which is displayed in his low on-base percentage especially for a player playing an offensive position like first base.

    May as a player from 1977-1982 was basically at replacement level.
    On the Orioles from 1977-1979, May posted on-base percentages of:

    1977: .296
    1978: .286
    1979: .297

    That’s horrible for a full time first basemen getting 490-629 plate appearances. What’s ironic is the Orioles were one of the few teams who understood on base percentage back then. If the Orioles have a decent first basemen in 1977, they win the A.L. Eastern Division.

    As far as his HR, he had more than a few in Crosley/Riverfront, he had 147 hr in Cincinnati. I agree that he would have had 400+ hr had he stayed in Cincinnati but what does that mean? Dave Kingman had 400+ hr, it doesn’t mean he’s a great player.

    Tenace was a much better player than May, not even close. Tenace had a lifetime 136ops+ playing 60% of his career as a CATCHER. Even though he spent almost his entire career in two of the worst hitter’s parks in baseball he still posted a .241/.388/.429.

    Nettles is the rare exception of a Yankee being underrated. He’s one of the top (12) 3b of all time, he was one of the best fielding 3b in baseball history hit 390 HR, saved the Yankees ’78 WS, Yankees lost the ’81 series because he got hurt, probably should have won the ’76 MVP, either he or Brett.


  39. Gene Tenace better than Lee May? At what? Look at all the significant offensive career stats objectively:

    HRs May 354 Tenace 201
    RBIs May 1244 Tenace 674
    BA May .267 Tenace .241
    Hits May 2031 Tenace 1060
    Runs May 959 Tenace 653
    2B May 340 Tenace 179
    SLG May .459 Tenace .429
    OBP May .313 Tenace .388
    OPS May .772 Tenace .817
    OPS+May 116 Tenace 136
    TB May 3495 Tenace 1882

    Lee May has far better numbers in 8 of the 11 categories. Lee May once led the league in a major power stat (RBIs). The only thing Tenace ever lead the league was walks (which was almost pointless since he wasn’t a leadoff hitter and didn’t steal bases). So you’re right, it’s not even close. Lee May was the superior player. If they were competing for the MVP, do you think the sportswriters would pick the player with the most home runs, RBIs, hits, and batting average or the guy with a better OBP? It is always the former.


  40. Tenace was a lot better at getting on base, and that’s a good skill to have no matter what era you’re playing in or where you’re batting in the lineup (see: the runs scored numbers for Babe Ruth, the slower version of Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, etc.). I’d probably go with him over May if I was picking players in a draft, because of that OBP ability and his ability to play catcher. But I don’t think I (or anyone) should pile on your guy, May. The dude did what was asked of him: drive in runs. And besides, he was your favorite player, and on this site that trumps all arguments as far as I’m concerned.


  41. Josh, I appreciate your comments.


  42. I always had a soft spot for Lee May, crappy OBP aside. However, he was certainly not underrated. He was a big guy who hit home runs and didn’t do much else.


  43. I have nothing against May personally, I was just responding to the post that claimed he was “the most underrated player of the 70′s”. If anything he was slightly overrated.

    Markustt,

    You have to put all of those numbers in proper context. One player spent 60% of his career as a CATCHER and the other player spent most of his career as a poor fielding first basemen.

    Tenace had 5525 plate appearances mainly because he was catcher. May had 8219 plate appearances so it’s logical that he would do better in the counting stats.

    92% of Tenace’s career was stuck in 2 of the worst hitter’s parks in the majors.

    Tenace’s ops+ of 136 ranks second in the history of baseball among players who played at least 50% of their career at Catcher. If he had played about 7000 plate appearances he would be a solid HOF candidate.

    Tenace’s WAR of 48.6 ranks 178th all time in major league history. Lee May’s 22.7 War doesn’t even rank in the top 500.

    Tenace’s WAR per 100 plate appearance was .87/100PA
    Many’s WAR per 100 plate appearance was .27/100PA

    Tenace had 231 win shares
    May had 225 win shares

    Tenace WS per 100 plate appearance was 4.18/100PA
    May WS per 100 plate appearance was 2.73/100PA


  44. I still say May was underrated because he was solid player who was overshadowed by a number of Hall of Fame first baseman (Willie Stargell, Tony Perez, Willie McCovey). And he did more than just hit home runs. Two thousand hits answers that question.

    I followed baseball closely in the 70s and I remember Tenace became a star because he had a great World Series in 1972. However, he signed a fat (at that time) contract with the Padres and wasn’t much more than an average catcher. A good friend of mine who is a huge Padre fan thought Tenace was one of the biggest free agent busts in team history and that’s saying something considering San Diego’s spotty history. No one ever called Lee May a bust.


  45. Well, the reason those other players overshadowed him is that they were much better than he was. That doesn’t make him underrated.

    That said – if he was your favorite, he was your favorite. I’m certainly not trying to take that away from you.


  46. For what it’s worth, Bill James ranked May as the 47th best first baseman of all-time. Not too shabby. (He ranked Tenace as the 23rd best catcher.)


  47. Markustt,

    Like I said I have nothing against Lee May and I’m not bashing him for the sake of bashing him, I’m just trying to be objective. We have more measurements now that can measure players from the 70′s more objectively.

    Lee May was a good/very good player up until 1976. From 1977-1982 he was pretty much shot as a productive every day player yet he still received about 2000 plate appearances.

    The Orioles gave him 1710 Plate appearances from 1977-1979 primarily at DH and 1B and he had a 98ops+, that’s awful, that’s Dan Meyer/Larry Biittner territory. If they had a league average 1B in 1977 they win the division. A league average 1B/Dh in 1978 and they seriously compete for the division.

    As far as Tenace goes, I could see people perceiving him as a bust back in the 70′s because people over-valued things like Batting average and RBI’s, they still do and then they undervalued On base percentage and people still do. Plus there was no way to measure the effects of park factors of Jack Murphy but Tenace was a great signing.

    From 1977-1979 Tennace had an Ops+ of 136. That ranked 14th! (around George Brett territory) among all position players with at least 1500 P.A. He ranked 2nd among catchers who caught at least 50% of the time. He was putting up a .410 on base percentages in Jack Murphy stadium while catching in 1977.


  48. No one has answered my questions. Throwing Bill James out there doesn’t validate your arguments. Gene Tenace? Overvaluing batting average and RBIs? What the hell is going on here? It’s baseball for God’s sakes. Next thing I will hear is that Ichiro is not Hall of Fame worthy because he doesn’t walk enough and that Ron Hunt deserves to be in the Hall because he got hit so much his OBS was high.


  49. I will say one more thing: I probably overstated Lee May as being the most underrated player of the 70s. There are probably others worthy of that title. However, a writer or an artist is much more likely to mention Lee May than Gene Tenace or George Scott or Willie Horton or any of a number of players that fell short. Recently May was actually mentioned positively in a recent NFL book. I doubt Tenace has that.


  50. I should have stayed out of this one, I guess. The mention of Bill James was from me and not used to win an argument point, but more a note to people who respect James’ incisive analysis that May was no slouch.


  51. Well, this argument is going nowhere. Markustt doesn’t want to look at objective data, so be it. What the significance of being mentioned in an NFL book is, I have no idea. Josh, seemed plain to me you were trying to say something nice about May with your Bill James mention. Oh well. Anyway, I think we can all agree that Lee May had a couple of really nice seasons (for the Reds, mainly).

    Now DAVE May – look at those numbers. That guy had one great year surrounded by crap. How did that happen?


  52. Josh, I totally respect you and my mention of James was not towards you. I just think certain stats are thrown in to validate some argument when we really need to look at the soul of baseball.


  53. A proofreader writes “cemetary?” Shame… ;)

    (Sorry, couldn’t help myself!)


  54. Better: “next a cemetary”… :)


  55. Aaah. I suck.


  56. Oh, don’t be hard on yourself. As the father of two myself, I kinda know your attention span isn’t at its peak. (BTW, I have pretty much all the cards you’ve pictured, at least the ones from about ’74 to ’81, and I love seeing them again. And I named my daughter after Brooks Robinson, so this isn’t a passing fancy…)



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