Archive for the ‘Lou Brock’ Category


Lou Brock, ’77 Record-Breaker in . . . (Yet Another) Nagging Question

January 14, 2009

For you youngsters out there, here’s a checklist you can use to gain quick, enthusiastic entry into the baseball Hall of Fame:

  • Surpass one or more of the long-established career statistical benchmarks equated with greatness
  • Have a pleasing, compelling, uncomplicated narrative component to your career

If you have the first item checked off but have neglected to ensure the achievement of the second, you will not be greeted with open arms by Immortality. Consider Don Sutton, who had to wait through a few years of rejection by voters before getting into the Hall even though he had surpassed the magic number of 300 wins, his problem being a lack of a story with a hook (beyond, perhaps, his underreported status as a brave pioneer in the eroding of baseball’s unsaid yet staunch and enduring no-perm policy). Or, to address the “uncomplicated” element in the second checklist item, consider Mark McGwire, whose statistics are festooned with garish statistical baubles that would seem to put him on par with the greatest sluggers in the history of the game, yet who has gotten very scarce support from voters because the perception of his story is that it is covered in lurid, nauseating back acne, the kind of thing that most people instinctively turn away from and try to pretend they never saw.

If you have the second item checked off but not the first, you might still be able to sail in on the first vote, but you probably have to be named Jackie Robinson or Sandy Koufax or have a similarly spectacular supernova-bright presence in your relatively short time in the spotlight.

So really it’s safest to have both items checked off, which the man pictured here did with a paradoxical combination of relentlessness and quiet grace. He amassed over 3,000 hits to check off the first item on the above list and checked off the second item primarily by (as noted in this special 1978 baseball card) establishing himself as The Greatest Base Stealer of All Time. (He also deepened the hues of Greatness in his story by performing spectacularly well in World Series play.)

A couple days ago Rickey Henderson, who supplanted Brock as The Greatest Base Stealer of All Time, also sauntered into the Hall on his first try, and many of the stories about his easy election mentioned his status as The Greatest Leadoff Man of All Time. I don’t know if Brock was also given that distinction upon his election, but I suspect that it at least came up in some retrospective reporting about his career. The prevailing perception of Brock was that he was one of the greatest of the greats (Bill James points out while compiling his own top 100 that Brock had a composite ranking of 63rd best player of all-time on the lists he consulted—The Sporting News; SABR poll; Total Baseball; Maury Allen; Honig and Ritter; and Faber), so it stands to reason that many would have ranked him as the Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time until the coming of the long and storied career of Rickey Henderson.

With this in mind, I thought I’d play around with a few simple numbers of the guys that sprung to my mind as being among baseball’s greatest leadoff hitters. Be warned: None of the lists below account for era and park factors, and the lists, since they are based on statistical records, also exclude any leadoff hitters from the Negro Leagues (Cool Papa Bell probably foremost among them). Please don’t hesitate to be the first to bring up the name of some should-have-been-obvious guy I left off the list. (Some all-time greats, such as Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Joe Morgan, who would seem to be perfectly suited for the leadoff role, were excluded from the lists because they were more often—or in Morgan’s case at least throughout his prime—used as middle-of-the-lineup hitters.) Consider the following then as just a bit of superficial numbers-related playtime, perhaps its only merit being that it happened to stumble into further illustrating how high Rickey Henderson towers over other leadoff-hitting greats.

With Henderson’s spot at the top as a given, then, and with the numbers below as mildly relevant party favors, I offer today’s nagging question:

Who was the second-greatest leadoff hitter of all time?

Games (The most underrated of all counting stats, in my opinion)
1. Pete Rose 3562
2. Rickey Henderson 3081
3. Craig Biggio 2850
4. Eddie Collins 2826
5. Paul Molitor 2683
6. Lou Brock 2616
7. Tim Raines 2502
8. Richie Ashburn 2189
9. Billy Hamilton 1591
10. Jackie Robinson 1382

Runs (What it all boils down to for a leadoff guy)
1. Henderson 2295
2. Rose 2165
3. Biggio 1844
4. Collins 1821
5. Molitor 1782
6. Hamilton 1690
7. Brock 1610
8. Raines 1571
9. Ashburn 1322
10. Robinson 947

Runs/game (A chance for short-timers such as Hamilton and Robinson to make up ground)
1. Hamilton 1.1
2. Henderson .74
3. Robinson .69
4. Molitor .66
5. Biggio .65
6. Collins .64
7. Raines .63
8. Brock .62
9. Rose .61
10. Ashburn .60

OBP (The list that might have benefited the most from adjustment for era)
1. Hamilton .455
2. Collins .424
3. Robinson .409
4. Henderson .401
5. Ashburn .396
6. Rose .375
7. Raines .385
8. Molitor .369
9. Biggio .363
10. Brock .343

Stolen bases (The leadoff-man list with all the bells and whistles)
1. Henderson 1406
2. Brock 938
3. Hamilton 912
4. Raines 808
5. Collins 744
6. Molitor 504
7. Biggio 414
8. Ashburn 234
9. Rose 198
10. Robinson 197

Stolen base percentage (And here’s where the great Tim Raines makes his move. Also, players with incomplete caught-stealing numbers were ranked by estimated place on the list; the deadball guys are near the bottom, cushioned only by the relentless out-maker, Rose, because I think anecdotal evidence points to high caught-stealing rates during those olden days.)
1. Raines 85%
2. Henderson 81%
3. Molitor 79%
4. Biggio 77%
5. Robinson ? (76% in ’51–’56)
5. Brock 75%
7. Ashburn ? (66% in ’51–’62)
8. Collins ?
9. Hamilton ?
10. Rose 57%

Stolen base titles (I don’t know, I added this category thinking it might benefit guys from low-stolen-base eras, such as Robinson and Ashburn. It didn’t end up doing this, but I kept it in here so as to throw the likable Lou Brock a bone. . . . Believe me, I understand how far this whole exercise is from actual useful analysis.)
1. Henderson 12
2. Brock 8
3. Hamilton 5
4. Collins 4
4. Raines 4
6. Robinson 2
7. Biggio 1
7. Ashburn 1
9. Molitor 0
9. Rose 0

Total score (This is the sum of the rankings, low score first; as alluded to before, I like how the biggest gap between any of the players is between Rickey and his closest pursuer. I think Jackie Robinson gets majorly shafted by my little game; because of his excellent OBP, plus his reputation as a ferocious competitor and smart, fast, and disruptive baserunner, I’m tempted to pick Robinson as the second-best leadoff man of all time. It’s a tough call, though, because his career was so short. And speaking of short careers, I really don’t know much about Billy Hamilton, but I think he’s getting a distorted boost here by virtue of the relatively high OBP and steal numbers of his era. Eddie Collins also comes off well here, as the guy Bill James ranks as the 18th best player of all-time should, but you could argue that his numbers benefit from the fact that he played during an era diluted by segregation. Next on the list is a two-man tie including Craig Biggio, but Biggio’s OBP and runs scored numbers were recorded during a long league-wide offensive explosion. With all that in mind, I think I’m still leaning toward the guy I was rooting for all along to finish second to Rickey in this exercise, Tim Raines, a man apparently lacking both of the checklist items mentioned at the top of this post, and the only man on the list who isn’t in the Hall of Fame, or ensured of someday being in the Hall of Fame, or currently banned from entering the Hall of Fame.)
1. Henderson 13
2. Hamilton 32
3. Collins 33
4. Biggio 38
4. Raines 38
6. Brock 41
7. Molitor 45
8. Rose 46
9. Robinson 47
10. Ashburn 54