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The “Class” of 2007

The neighborhood around Cooperstown, New York was upgraded considerably in 2007 when two particular men, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, were enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  To say that these guys represented the “Class” of 2007 is true in any number of dimensions.

I moved to the Baltimore/Washington area in 1983, which is right about the time both Ripken and Gwynn came on the MLB scene.  Ripken of course, soon became a minor deity in Baltimore.   Growing up in the Midwest and later living on the east coast, I did not much follow the San Diego Padres.  They might as well have been the Pluto Padres as far as I was concerned.   What I did know about them, however, was codified in the persona of Tony Gwynn.

No tribute to Tony Gwynn is complete without that hilarious commercial he and Bip Roberts did for MLB about twenty years ago.  Bip mistook the value of Robin Roberts’ rookie card for his own, until Gwynn corrected him.  As a baseball card collector, I could not stop laughing.  Besides, I had a Bip Roberts rookie card, but not a 1949 Bowman Robin Roberts one, unfortunately.

Watch, remember, and enjoy.  RIP Tony.


What’s in a Name? MLB All-Star Analysis Part 1

The MLB All-Star game is coming up soon, so I thought I’d toss a few random analyses your way to commemorate the occasion.  Here’s one…


So you want to be an All-Star, do ya?  Then change your name to Rodriguez or Robinson.  Here are the surnames of the top 250 All-Stars, by number of All-Star game selections, going back to the dawn of the All-Star game, in 1933 Chicago.  Unfortunately, notable baseball fan Al Capone was probably not in attendance, since he had other commitments at the time in the Big House.  But I digress.  The bigger and bolder the name, the more someone with that name appeared in an All-Star uniform.   This fine graphic represents the intersection of baseball and big data. For example, Robinson refers to the Orioles’ immortal third baseman, Brooks Robinson (18 career All-Star games), Frank Robinson, player-manager for my beloved Tribe despite those gawd-awful red uniforms (14 career selections), Eddie Robinson, who represented the White Sox and Twins in 4 contests, and of course Jackie Robinson, with 6 games as a Brooklyn Dodger. Frank Robinson was an All-Star selection for 3 of the 4 teams he played for in his career–Cincinnati, Baltimore, and LA. He never made it to the All-Star game as an Indian. Of course. All of the Robinsons on this list are in Cooperstown. Rodriguez is attached to Alex, Ivan, Ellie, Francisco, and Henry.

The word cloud was created using the R wordcloud, tm, and rColorBrewer packages.  The simple R script and data file can be found at

Like all of this and my upcoming All-Star analysis, a huge shout-out goes to the data geniuses at Baseball Reference.  More baseball statistics than are fit for human consumption.   This blog has been cross-posted to the most excellent R-bloggers site as well.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

I have a proposition for you.  It’s like one of my heroes said, it’s an offer you can’t refuse.

You stand next to a 17-inch wide rubber platter, holding a 36-inch long cylinder of ash or maple in your hands.  Another, much more athletic individual stands precisely 60 feet and 6 inches away from you, and throws a baseball in your general direction as hard as he can.  When it crosses that 17” plate, the baseball will be traveling between 85 and 100 miles per hour.  The ball may or may not hit you.  You will almost certainly not hit the ball.  (A major league hitter can connect with it one time out of three if he’s very good; what makes you think you can do better than that?) Don’t worry, it will be over in about 2.3 seconds.

For your troubles, I will now award you $11,628.  Before taxes, of course.  What a deal!  You get 11-large to stand there and get a baseball thrown at you. Once.  And for every additional time you stand there and have that ball thrown at you, I’ll give you another $11,628.  How long would you stand there?  How many pitches would you confront for that money?Image

Well, if your name happens to be Miguel Cabrera, and my name happens to be the Detroit Tigers, you will come to the plate 675 times, and stand there look
ing at 2,500 pitches between now and October. At $11,628 per pitch, I will give you $29 million dollars. And to sweeten the deal, we will do this, you and I, for the next 10 years. Deal?

You’d smile too.

This is not a fantasy, except for the part that you are not the one collecting that cash, and I am not the one doling it out.  This is simply one way to view the $292,000,000, 10-year contract the Tigers “inflicted” on Miguel Cabrera this week.  Here are a few other fun ways to look at this princely sum.

  • A typical ball game lasts 3 hours.  Miggy shows up to work: he has played in an average of 157 of the 162 games in a season since he came to the American League from the Miami (nee Florida) Marlins in 2008.  So he makes $61,571.13 per hour.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  You, on the other hand, would have to work 8,500 hours to earn what Miggy does in a single hour.  That’s 4 years, chum.
  • Cabrera is a third-baseman, mostly.  He averages having 1,026 balls hit at him every year.  Do the math: that’s $28,265 per fielding chance.  He also makes 8 errors per year.  He would probably refund the Tigers the $226,000 he got for those particular misplayed chances, but the union contract won’t let him.  So you places yer bets and you takes yer chances.
  • The Detroit Tigers drew 3,083,397 fans to Comerica Park in 2013 to see their Central Division winning team.  And, Cabrera’s 2014 salary of $29,000,000 represents an $8,000,000 raise from 2013.  So each fan needs to pony up another $2.59 to cover the additional labor cost.  Put another way, the Tigers need to sell a million more $8.00 beers. Shouldn’t be too hard when you think of it that way.

“Professional baseball is on the wane. Salaries must come down or the interest
of the 
public must be increased in some way. If one or the other does not
happen, bankruptcy stares every team in the face.”  

— Chicago White Stockings owner Albert Spalding, 1881. 

The more things change, the more they say the same.


1986 Topps Baseball

In the expansive world of collectible baseball cards, 1986 Topps Baseball comes cheap. In the base set, there are no classic rookie cards worth extorting people over. Barry Bonds’ rookie card came in the 1986 Topps Traded & Rookies set, which is not at all part of the base set, as it is a supplement released after the season. I bet you didn’t know that. That Bonds card used to be valuable, prior to the ‘roid rage era.

It’s been about 12 years now, but Tim—my stepson and partner in baseball card overspending crime—and I came across the opportunity to grab a vending box case of those cards for $75.  Vending boxes are literally that…in those days, distributors would go around stuffing baseball card vending machines with these.  That case held 15,000 cards, if I recollect. 15,000 essentially worthless cards, stuck in dozens of individual vending boxes containing about 500 each, totally at random.  Cards with a big black banner, a weird all-caps font.  Bad ‘80’s haircuts.  Minuscule statistics on the back.  780-something of the damn things in a set. What to do with them?  For starters, let’s have a collating party. That’s right, sort those bad boys into complete sets.  Tim was unceremoniously pressed into indentured servitude on this one.  I sent a set to my nephew in Texas, who happened to be born in 1986, figuring he might appreciate it someday…a snapshot of the professional baseball scene from the time of his birth.  I wish someone would have given me a set of 1960 Topps Baseball back in the day, but if wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets, as the saying goes. So I had reduced my extensive 1986 Topps Baseball holdings down to 14,220.  We made another complete set, and undertook a mission: get them signed by each of the 780+ players.  All of them.  Well, at least the ones who were 1) still alive, 2) able to write their name legibly in cursive, and C) willing to do it for the princely sum of free. This little mission went on for many years, in fits and starts.  We were able to accumulate a couple hundred of those autographs.  Some of the highlights of this journey:

  • Pete Rose wanted something like $50 to sign his card.  For that price, I’d rather have had him sign a betting slip from Caesar’s Palace.  I passed.
  • Cecil Fielder—papa to Prince—was the first one to send his autographed card back.  He wins the prize.
  • Cecil Cooper (another Cecil) from the Brewers wins the “You Are Now Forever Cool” award, as he signed the card to “Dino” personally.
  • At one point, a fellow collector who knew about my quest said he was planning to attend a game in which the minor league Winston-Salem Warthogs (look it up) were a contestant.  The man with the all-time coolest name in the history of major league baseball—who was the manager of the Warthogs—signed his card in person.  My connection said that the Warthog players witnessing this signing event could not stop laughing at the player’s hairdo on the card.  That manager was Razor Shines.

Razor  Shines Anybody want some 1986 Topps Baseball Cards?  Let’s make a deal!  Only a few thousand left…