Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ 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


Lou Brock

January 13, 2009
Years ago, back when I lived in Brooklyn, I was staring at the ceiling, listening to the radio, and wondering if it was too early in the day to masturbate. The usual. It must have been a slow news day, because the radio hosts, a short-lived pairing of Suzyn Waldman and Jody MacDonald, started comparing current players to players from the past. I was roused from my torpor by the claim, made by Waldman, that Bernie Williams could hold his own in a comparison to Carl Yastrzemski. Enraged, I dialed the number that had been ingrained into me from years of lying around and staring at the ceiling and listening to the Fan. Unfortunately, the line was busy. I tried back a couple times. Each time my desire to actually get through waned a little more. Eventually my anger dissipated so much that all I needed to do to spend the remainder of it was to turn the radio off, which I did. Then I lay back down and stared at the ceiling, listening to the traffic out on Metropolitan Avenue.

But then yesterday, I made my second try to join the sprawling, neverending facsimile of a conversation. I turned on the radio to hear the announcement of the new inductees into the Hall of Fame, and after pumping my fist for Jim Rice and whooping a little, I kept the radio on for the rest of the afternoon, tuned to the XM all-baseball station, attempting to bask in the moment as long as possible. Ironically, I first started thinking about calling into the afternoon show (hosted by Rob Dibble and the very same Jody MacDonald from years earlier) when I found myself disagreeing with the hosts’ comparison of Jim Rice to Reggie Jackson. When I was a kid, I hated Reggie Jackson as much as I loved Jim Rice, but when either Dibble or MacDonald (I forget which one, but they were in agreement on the subject) pointed out as an argumentative trump card that Jim Rice’s career slugging average was ten points higher than Reggie Jackson’s, I sort of wanted to punch the wall. How can you make your living talking about baseball and not be compelled to add when offering this stat that Rice benefited from playing in a great hitter’s park while Reggie toiled for years in Oakland, one of the worst hitter’s parks in the league?

But I didn’t seriously consider calling in on that subject, because the last thing I wanted to do on a happy day for a childhood hero was to start using him as ballast in an attack on the hosts. Besides, I’m a non-confrontational guy. But something about the way the two hosts were talking throughout the afternoon made me want to put in my two cents. Basically, they both had the familiar “I know a Hall of Famer when I see one” attitude coursing through all their comments. As you may know, this attitude always comes with a statement along the lines of “statistics are fine up to a point, but ‘basement-dwelling number crunchers’ [an actual phrase from today’s vintage offering from Dan Shaughnessy] go way too far.” What the holders of this attitude are saying is that they will accept the stats that they understand, but when you start going beyond batting average and hits and RBI, you are the kind of guy who lies around all day staring at the ceiling, wondering if it’s too early in the day to masturbate. While they happen to be right about at least one of us, I still find myself upset by their arrogance and ignorance. They are like guys with a magnifying glass deriding the arrival on the scene of a guy with a microscope. Instead of being curious about the microscope, they mock the duct tape on the microscope-weilder’s glasses and give him a swirly. Or worse, they use their platform (a column, a radio show) to reduce the microscope-wielder to insignificance, to the size of an ant, and then of course they try to use their outdated tool to melt the ant. (For a less feverishly metaphor-driven rant about this general subject, see King Kaufman’s recent column.)

But since I am not a confrontational guy, I wanted to shoehorn some apparently unconventional thinking into the conversation in a positive manner, so I decided for my call-in subject I would pick the guy in yesterday’s vote who I thought was most criminally underrepresented in the voting and make a case for him. I consulted, wrote down some numbers that though verging on a microscope were still firmly in the realm of a magnifying glass, and I made the call. Unlike years earlier, I actually got through to a producer, who asked me my name and where I lived, then asked me why I was calling. This turned out to be as far as I ever got. But for a while there, I thought I was going to have my say. I had numbers that showed my guy as the equal to recent “no-brainer” inductee Tony Gwynn, and as substantially superior to the guy, shown at the top of this post, who prior to yesterday’s induction of Rickey Henderson was generally thought to be the standard bearer for leadoff men in the Hall of Fame. Oh, what a case I was going to make! But after fielding calls for a while the hosts then turned to a long interview with a sportswriter, and I gave up and went back to my life in the basement (note: I actually live on the second floor). However, I imagine that even though I didn’t get through, I was still for a brief time a small part of the show, a possibility, a someone, a glowing line on the hosts’ computer screen: Josh from Chicago. Wants to talk about Tim Raines.


(Love versus Hate update: Lou Brock’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)


Ted Simmons

November 12, 2008

Last week on the bus a guy in a Cubs hat sitting near me eyeballed my Red Sox hat and we started talking baseball. It’s a pretty long ride, and after a while we ran out of things to say. I waited a few minutes to turn to the book I’d had on my lap, and not long after that the bus emptied enough for him to move a couple seats away and spread out and stare out a window. He was big guy with a mustache. He wore a windbreaker of a championship 16″ softball team (the kind of softball I’d never seen until I moved to Chicago). I’d thought he was a little older than me, but he was probably the same age. From our conversation I’d learned that he’d grown up loving baseball players from the 1970s.

There’s something malevolent about Ted Simmons in this 1976 baseball card. It’s his long, lank hair, his narrow eyes and vaguely Cro-Magnon jaw and bunched shoulders. He reminds me of the older guys in my high school who drove loud cars and got in fistfights with each other over thin pale girls who smoked cigarettes and wore tight jeans and perpetual sneers.

After the baseball conversation on the bus ended, I read my book for a while, a novel by a great Australian writer named Tim Winton. I put the book away as I neared my stop, and I looked around. Only two other people remained in the back area of the bus besides me and the Cubs fan. One was a middle-aged Hispanic man mouthing the words in a book entitled Ingles facil para todos. The other was a young slender guy staring at a book called Now, Discover Your Hidden Strengths. Everyone wants to be better than they are. I looked to the Cubs fan just as he was pulling a half-pint of liquor from the pocket of his championship windbreaker. He stared out at the nondescript corporate office buildings of Golf Road and took a swig. When I got up for my stop a couple minutes later he said, “Be good.” I could smell the booze. It was a little after nine in the morning.

What’s hidden in your pockets? At the time the guy in the Cubs hat was slipping the half-pint back into the pocket of his championship windbreaker I had a few baseball cards in the front pocket of my knapsack, including this Ted Simmons card. They are the cards I’m trying to get reacquainted with, so I can write about them. But I also carry them around as something to lean on, something to take a swig of when I think no one is looking. I like the odd cards, the cards of the forgotten players, but sometimes the only thing that’ll calm me down is a pull on the hard stuff of a real player, a star, like Ted Simmons. On the back of this card, even though Ted Simmons is still a young man, just starting out, there are numbers that ease the pain. A .332 average in the season just completed. Already two 100-RBI seasons. A lifetime .298 average. What other catchers from my childhood had a batting average that high? Ted Simmons stood alone in that regard, and yet he was also something of a secret, a superstar who wasn’t considered a superstar. In the American League there was Fisk and Munson. In the National League there was only room for one catcher, Bench.

“I got a friend, an older guy, said he’d seen Berra play and that he was the best catcher of all time, but I told him, hey, I saw Bench.”

I nodded. This was early in my conversation on the bus with the Cubs fan with the flask of liquor in his pocket.

From there we started talking about the Hall of Fame. The All Time Greats. I said Ron Santo deserved to be in the Hall of Fame.

“December 10,” he said. (I think that’s the date he mentioned.)

“That’s when they vote?” I asked. (“They” are a committee of Hall of Fame inductees who may or may not finally agree to let Ron Santo join their ranks.)

He nodded.

We bitched about Joe Morgan for a little while, singling him out for blame in keeping Santo on the outside looking in, then the guy started telling me about the posters in his room. I’ve ridden a lot of buses, but no one has ever told me about the posters in their room.

“I’ve got three. Robin Yount. Pete Rose. Thurman Munson. They played the game the way it was supposed to be played.”

The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee chooses whether to induct former players into the baseball Hall of Fame once every couple of years. Ted Simmons will get his first chance at entering the realm of immortality through this doorway in 2011. My guess is that he won’t get in, at least not on that try. The numbers shown on the back of this 1976 card expanded into similar numbers for years afterward, and Simmons became one of the greatest hitting catchers in baseball history. As pointed out by Bill James, who ranks Simmons 10th among all catchers in his Historical Abstract, Simmons’ oft-maligned defense was actually OK, at least in the earlier stages of his career. But he doesn’t have that indefinable (and at least partially bullshit) “aura” of greatness about him. No one rides buses proclaiming to strangers that Ted Simmons played the game the way it was meant to be played. No one has a poster of him on the wall of his room, helping him get out of bed in the morning to face the day.


John Curtis

September 8, 2008
The Two Freaks
(continued from Ken McMullen)

Chapter Two

The Two Freaks roamed the land. No one remembers them now. How could they? Even when they were around very few ever noticed them, and then only in fleeting glimpses that could easily be dismissed as a trick of the eye, a second glance always finding them gone. They stuck to the shadows, the margins, the fringes. Occasionally they showed up at gatherings, but only the sparsely-attended ones and only for a moment. There are no records that they ever existed, but if you ask me there are traces. Here, there, and everywhere: traces. Through all the years of my 1970s childhood, the Two Freaks roamed the land.

They showed themselves to John Curtis just moments before this picture was snapped, though by the time his own less-elusive image was captured they were gone, leaving the bespectacled journeyman hurler to wonder if they’d ever been there at all. He’d been taking a pregame nap in the bullpen when summoned by the baseball card people, and while still half asleep, stumbling through the bullpen gate, he’d heard the thin flat tooting of a wooden wind instrument and saw whirling longhaired figures rushing by him, close.

“Security!” someone had yelled.

John Curtis had staggered backward, blinking, and when he’d regained his balance the blurry figures had disappeared.

He continued walking until the photographer told him to stop, then performed his guarded, flat-smiling pose, the slight wince underlaying his facial expression hinting of his growing doubts about the whole strange encounter.

“Say cheese,” the Topps photographer said.

“Just a synapse misfiring,” reasoned the college-educated lefty to himself as he pretended to be ready, glove-up, to field a screaming liner through the box.

“Got it. Beautiful. Couldn’t have been better,” the Topps photographer intoned, distractedly. He was already scanning his clipboard for the next forgettable 1976 Cardinal.

“Just a trick of the mind,” thought Curtis, meandering away.

But as John Curtis moved back toward the bullpen to await a situation hopeless enough for his long-relieving services to be necessary, he noticed that what he’d already decided was a dream had somehow left some tangible residue. The sky clouded over and it started to rain, and John Curtis went to stick his pitching hand into his back pocket and jog for cover, but as he did so he found that a big red umbrella was jutting from the rear left compartment in his pants. He hadn’t put it there. Why would he? It had to have come to him from the Two Freaks.

He pulled the umbrella from his pocket and opened it. The sudden shower beat down, making everyone else on the field scatter. John Curtis just stood there, laughing, temporarily invincible beneath the small yet inarguable miracle of shelter.

(to be continued)


Ken Reitz

July 23, 2008
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by what I thought was the nickname of the man shown here making one of his frequent outs (this particular out perhaps stemming from his failure to don the batting glove sticking out of his back pocket, or perhaps due to a batting grip seemingly modeled on a tableside waiter grinding a pepper mill):

I remember Ken Reitz’s nickname as being The Big Zamboni.

I don’t know where I got that idea. Maybe it’s on the back of another of my Ken Reitz baseball cards. More likely I made it up by somehow combining the actual nickname for Reitz listed on, Zamboni, with the nickname of the song-and-dance-prone Laverne and Shirley character, Carmine “The Big Ragu” Ragusa, whose name sounds like the ace of the post-Tatum O’Neal Bad News Bears, Carmen Ronzonni, whose last name sort of sounds like Zamboni. I’m pretty sure that when I did get it in my head that Ken Reitz was The Big Zamboni I didn’t know what a Zamboni was, but even though a Zamboni is a pretty colorful thing to be named after I think my version made Ken Reitz seem even more colorful than he would have seemed if I’d known he was named after a steamroller that smoothed ice. Sometimes things that don’t really mean anything mean more than things that mean something specific. A little magic is lost whenever something gets unequivocally defined. So I imagined The Big Zamboni as a booming friendly guy liked by everyone, the kind of guy who burst into rooms loudly, causing everyone to turn and smile and call his name. Hey, look who it is! The Big Zamboni!

From perusing the internet for more info about Reitz, specifically trying and failing to find an article I once read about a famously demon-haunted minor league team in the mid-1980s stocked with former major leaguers trying to climb back up from rock bottom, including Reitz and Steve Howe, I have gotten the idea that Reitz was something like what I’d imagined him to be when I was a kid and knew only his baseball cards and my version of his nickname. I can’t cite any reliable sources on this, so I hope people more knowledgeable on the subject will confirm or deny the sketch I got of Reitz from various message board comments floating in the cyber-ether, but from what I can gather Reitz was a life-of-the-party kind of guy during his time with his primary team, the Cardinals, and the fans loved him and he loved them back, and furthermore loved playing for the Cardinals.

For their part, the Cardinals seemed to have trouble making up their mind about Reitz. They traded him away twice, the first time only in effect loaning him to the Giants for a year, the second time packing him off for good along with Leon Durham to snatch Bruce Sutter from the Cubs. He’d been an All-Star a few months before the trade, but Whitey Herzog had decided that he didn’t fit in with plans for the team of speed-burners that would win pennants in 1982, 1985, and 1987. As Herzog put it (quoted by Joe Posnanski), “I used to shave before games. And once Reitz was up at the plate, and he hit the ball, and by the time he got to first base I had to shave again. That’s when I told him he wasn’t going to play.”

Herzog, for his part, was known as The White Rat. What nicknames! I’ve never really had a nickname. In boarding school for a little while some people called me Beaker, a hated nickname based on my weakling build and general bug-eyed look of terror. Earlier, at basketball camp, I briefly was known as “I’m Out,” a nickname based on my habit of meek capitulation in the nightly poker games. That’s about it. I’m not the kind of guy who barges into rooms with loud, charismatic jollity. Homeless dudes invariably address me as “Big Guy” before asking me for money. Does that count?


Reggie Smith in . . . The Nagging Question

March 3, 2008

A few weeks ago on this site, during the conversations about the best everyday player of the 1970s (see Pete Rose for the posing of the question and Joe Morgan for the consensus answer), there was some pondering about who was the most underrated player of that decade. Among the players mentioned were Ken Singleton, Bobby Murcer, Ted Simmons, and Reggie Smith. Bobby Grich and Darrell Evans also probably deserve to be part of the discussion, though a significant part of their quietly effective work was done in the 1980s. 

My own opinion on who was the most underrated player of the 1970s may seem to be telegraphed by the card featured today. The truth is, I’m not sure. (I almost went with the card of Ted Simmons, who I believe—mainly because of the position he played—has a stronger Hall of Fame argument than Singleton, Smith, or Murcer.) Of course, “underrated” is a shadowy concept, as it not only judges performance but also judges recognition of that performance. With that in mind, here’s my case for Reggie Smith:

1. He was a great player.

  1. He was an outstanding hitter. He hit for power and average and drew a lot of walks, posting lifetime batting/on-base/slugging averages of .287/.366/.489, strong numbers that are even stronger when you consider that he spent the prime of his career in pitcher’s ballparks, and all of his career during a pitcher-friendly era. His lifetime OPS+ was 137, better than the career marks not only of Singleton, Simmons, and Murcer, but also of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and Carl Yastrzemski, to name four Hall of Famers from Reggie Smith’s era.
  2. He was an outstanding fielder. Murcer also gets points in this area, and though Simmons wasn’t considered a strong defensive catcher he rates special mention for manning that demanding and vital defensive position while still anchoring his team’s offense. The slow-footed Singleton, on the other hand, could not compare to Smith as a fielder. Smith was a Gold Glove-winning centerfielder early in his career, and was an excellent rightfielder throughout his prime. Singleton is very close to Smith as a hitter, and you could argue that he has an edge in offensive contribution to his team simply because he was able to appear in more of his team’s games than Smith, who often struggled with injuries. But Smith’s fielding, in my mind, at least brings him even with Singleton as a player.

2. He is an underrated player.

  1. He was always in the shadows, even on his own teams. When he first came up to the majors, with the Red Sox, he was in Carl Yastrzemski’s shadow, and during his prime on the Dodgers I don’t think he was ever considered the star of the team. I know when I was a kid I would have named Steve Garvey and Ron Cey ahead of him, Garvey because he was among the four or five biggest stars in the game, and Cey because he had a gigantic April one year that was featured in Sports Illustrated. Plus he had that nickname, The Penguin. Reggie Smith’s only nickname, as far as I knew, was “The Other Reggie.”
  2. My guess is that, unless you are a Cardinals fan, you may have been a little surprised by the card featured today, either not knowing or forgetting that Reggie Smith was ever on the Cardinals. In fact, he played well for them for more than two seasons (the only time he ever drove in 100 runs in a season was with the Cardinals). I guess my point is that recognized superstars don’t generally have forgotten stops in the middle of their careers.
  3. His own general managers didn’t really recognize his worth. He was traded twice in his career. The first trade was by the Red Sox, who sent him and a cooked Ken Tatum to the Cardinals for Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo. It wasn’t a terrible trade—Wise was a decent starting pitcher, and Bernie Carbo offered a facsimile of Smith’s offensive output, at least against righthanders—but it doesn’t reflect that Smith was a player with elite skills. The second trade was worse: the Cardinals handed Smith to the Dodgers for decent catcher Joe Ferguson and two career minor leaguers named Bob Detherage and Fred Tisdale.
  4. He was the “Other Reggie.” I know I’ve already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. No matter what he did, he could never become more than a whisper beside the constant neon scream that was the guy simply known as Reggie. I believe you could make a case that the Two Reggies were close to equal as players, and that there were facets of the game in which The Other Reggie was clearly superior, but I know that when I was a kid, i.e., when I was immediately and passionately involved with the baseball era in question, I would have ranked The Other Reggie far below Reggie in the hierarchy of baseball stars. I saw him as an echo of the real thing.
  5. His page on is not sponsored. This is not the case with any of the other players mentioned above. 

I wonder if this last part is due in part to the fact that he moved around during his career. Maybe he never quite belonged to any particular fan base, so no one is around to sing his praises. So I’m singing his praises. Whose praises would you like to sing? In other words, the Nagging Question:

Who is the most underrated player of the 1970s?


John Urrea

December 21, 2007

Have you ever experienced or are you now experiencing one or more of the following symptoms?

—Slumping posture

—Declining performance

—A feeling that the world around you is growing blurrier

—Wincing, grimacing, or any other facial affect seeming to reflect a sense of disgust and/or regret, as if you are still breathing in the fumes of a turd you just heaved to Steve Swisher, or as if you are bracing for Steve Swisher to hurl the turd back at you, or, worse, as if you no longer have the likes of even so much as Steve Swisher around and are instead staring from your demoted location into nothing but the blurred, uncertain future

—A persistent burning sensation

—A tendency to drift, passively, i.e., not by choice, i.e., as if you are constantly getting put on a bus and shipped to a realm of ever-lowering expectations

—A sense that your mounting failures are being recorded and will, ironically enough, be used to explain your imminent removal from the ranks of those whose efforts are worthy of being recorded

—A sense of being haunted by the promise of the past, as if you were drafted in the first round five years ago, or as if you led the Florida League in wins four years ago, or even as if you were your franchise’s Farm Team Pitcher of the Month three years ago, but now you are no longer rising but at best are treading water, but more likely you are sinking, and this haunts you, because it wasn’t supposed to be like this, you and Steve Swisher staring at one another at the edge of the abyss, the residue of turd on your hand, or even worse, Steve Swisher and the hurled turd itself a fading memory of better times as you and your decaying posture and persistent burning sensation and sense of accruing losses watch the blurred world outside your bus window scroll past like the hiccuping loop of anonymous landscape in a cheap cartoon

—An increasing feeling of needing to go

If you find any or all of these symptoms familiar, you may be suffering from Urrea.