Monday, August 19, 2013

It's Time

Ok, you got me. I've been derelict in my duties as an editor and haven't sent an update in a long while. Forgive me, but the latest news in recent weeks with PEDs has soured my outlook. I will be leaving on a sabbatical from this blog, hoping things turn around in the near future. TTFN

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Baseball's Most Mediocre Managers

Eric Wedge, decidedly mid-level manager.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Brian Goff, Contributor, 5/30/2013

Last week I listed the best managers over the past 40 years in MLB.  These estimates flow out of  each manager’s impact on winning percentage after taking into account the GM, owner, performance prior to the manager, and population.  Here, I’m looking at the flip side of the same coin – the ten worst managers over 1970-2011.  That’s not exactly right – it’s the worst ten who managed at least 7 years.

An oddity in sports management, and, for that matter, any management setting is the mediocre or bad manager who keeps landing good jobs.  I’ve labeled it the “Kevin Loughery Syndrome” after the former NBA coach who parlayed 3 successful ABA seasons into a 5-team NBA career with an overall winning percentage of 0.417 – a number well below his closest coaching peer.  Somehow, employing a coach with experience, even bad experiences, seem to carry the day for various general managers and owners.

The MLB manager’s on my list don’t come close to approaching that kind of futility.  In fact, while all of the “worst” of these long tenured managers on my list had a net negative contribution to winning, the size of the negative impact is very small.  In this respect, a better title is most mediocre long-tenured MLB managers. The number of seasons includes partial seasons.
  1. Darrell Johnson (3 teams, 8 seasons)
  2. Phil Garner (3 teams, 15 seasons)
  3. Buddy Bell (3 teams, 9 seasons)
  4. Jim Riggleman (4 teams, 12 seasons)
  5. Jim Fregosi (4 teams; 15 seasons)
  6. Tom Kelly (1 teams, 16 seasons)
  7. Rene Lacheman (4 teams, 10 seasons)
  8. Ralph Houk (3 teams, 21 seasons)
  9. Eric Wedge (2 teams, 10 seasons)
  10. Pat Corrales (3 teams, 10 seasons)
In some cases, such as Ralph Houk or Eric Wedge, the individual managed part of their tenure prior to or after to my period of analysis.  In the case of Houk, the exclusion may influence his inclusion in the list since he won two World Series with the Yankees in his first two seasons.  The case of a manager such as Tom Kelly is a unique and interesting case.  While most of the others on the list experienced consistent mediocrity, Kelly’s Minnesota twins won two World Series over his 16 seasons, which helps explain his long tenure with the team in spite of an overall uninspiring record.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

MLB's Best Managers And GMs

ATLANTA - OCTOBER 11,2010: Manager Bobby Cox #6 of
the Atlanta Braves against the San Francisco Giants during
Game Four of the NLDS of the 2010 MLB Playoffs at
Turner Field on October 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Brian Goff, Contributor, 5/22/2013

Over the past 40 years, who are the best MLB managers and general managers?   I recently explored this question in an academic piece published in Managerial and Decision Economics.  Of course, one could just take winning percentage or championships won, but where managers have taken over successful teams, continuing that success is not as impressive as turning a team around.  In addition,  some franchises, such as the Yankees, are located in large metropolitan areas and given league revenue sharing practices, can turn this population base into a big financial advantage.  Finally, managerial relationships are hierarchical — the owner answers for everybody, the general managers, typically, makes roster decisions with managers making on-the-field decisions.  The methods that I employed took account of all of these issues using data from 1970-2011.

Interestingly, in comparing managers with GMs, the latter didn’t matter much prior to the 1990s.  Or, at least, very little difference existed between GMs so that one was just as valuable as another.  In the 1990s onward in the “Moneyball” era with much more attention paid to predictive characteristics of performance by some GMs rather than simply how players look in their uniform or the most obvious physical attributes, the general manager role exceeded that of managers in terms of explaining winning and losing.
      Top 10 Managers:
  1. Bobby Cox (Toronto, Atlanta)
  2. Danny Murtaugh (Pittsburgh)
  3. Walter Alston (Los Angeles)
  4. Earl Weaver (Baltimore)
  5. Danny Ozark (Philadelphia, San Francisco)
  6. Tony LaRussa (Chicago AL, Oakland, St. Louis)
  7. Davey Johnson (Cincinnati, Baltimore, New York NL, Los Angeles, Nationals)
  8. Sparky Anderson (Cincinnati, Detroit)
  9. Joe Torre (Atlanta, New York AL, Los Angeles)
  10. Jerry Manual (Chicago AL, New York NL)
Honorable Mention: Ron Gardenhire, Dick Williams, Terry Francona, Dusty Baker
With the recent retirement of Tony LaRussa, none of the Top 10 are still active.  Among the active managers, Gardenhire, Fancona, and Baker head the list.        

      Top 10 General Managers 
  1. Brian Cashman (New York AL)
  2. Bob Howsam (Cincinnati)
  3. John Schuerholz (Atlanta)
  4. Theo Epstein (Boston)
  5. Joe Burke (Kansas City)
  6. Joe Brown (Pittsburgh)
  7. Paul Owens (Philadelphia)
  8. Walt Jocketty (St. Louis)
  9. Al Campanis (Los Angeles)
  10. Haywood Sullivan (Boston)
Honorable Mention: Dan Duquette, Ron Schueler, Joe Gariagiola, Pat Gillick
A natural reaction to this list might be “Cashman has all the money to spend — no wonder he’s on top.  However, his individual contribution and ranking already takes account of the size of the Yankees’ market as well as taking over a team already enjoying a degree of success.  On the other hand, given that Theo Epstein is still active and his new team, the Cubs, are not faring so well, at least so far, his ranking would likely fall with expanded data.

Here is a link to a draft version of the article on which these results are based.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

20 best baseball quotes of all time

Photo: Early poster for baseball: "Cheer up - show your colors"

by Vance Garnett
Washington Times
May 1, 2013

Baseball is the most talked and written about of all sports. Below are 20 of my favorite quotes of all time. Some might be from before your time, but they are all gems.

1. "Hit 'em where they ain't." That was "Wee Willie" Keeler explaining the secret of his hitting prowess after setting a record in 1896, for his 45 game hitting streak, which stood until 1941, when the record was broken by "Joltin' Joe" DiMaggio.

2. "I should of stood in bed," complained boxing manager Joe Jacobs about the bitter cold weather for the opening game of the 1934 World Series between the Saint Louis Cardinals "Gashouse Gang" and the Detroit Tigers.

3. "I'd rather be lucky than good," said Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez about the "breaks of the game" on any given day.

4. "A ballplayer should quit when it starts to feel like all the baselines run uphill," said Babe Ruth as he neared the end of his career.

5. "Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League," wrote sports editor Charlie Dryden in the San Francisco Examiner, in 1909.

6. "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken feathers," lamented Joe Kuhel upon being fired as manager of the bottom-dwelling Washington Senators, in 1949.

7. "Young man, if that bat comes down, you're out of the game," yelled umpire Bill Klem when an angry batter tossed his bat 20 feet in the air upon being called out on strikes.

8. "I ought to break this trophy into 32 pieces," graciously said number 42, Jackie Robinson, upon receiving the award for outstanding play in 1947.

9. "The Hell with Babe Ruth!" shouted Japanese soldiers on Guadalcanal during WWII, in retort to the American G.Is insulting their Emperor.

10. "I had a better year," Babe Ruth told a reporter who asked why his salary was higher than that of the president of the United States.

11. "He would be the league's best pitcher if the plate was high and wide," wrote Bob Cooke, sportswriter for the Herald Tribune, about the wildness of a Dodgers pitcher.

12. Asked how he enjoyed rooming with Babe Ruth, "I room with his suitcase" answered Ping Bodie, whose real name was Franceto Sanguenitta Pizzola.

13. "A hotdog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz," said legendary film star Humphrey Bogart.

14. An anonymous taxi driver in Manhattan gets credit for this one. Being told by a passenger who hopped into his cab that the Dodgers had three men on base, he asked, "Which one?" This was because the
previous day (Aug. 15, 1926), two "Bums" had been called out when three players tried to occupy third base at the same time.

15. "The doctors x-rayed my head and found nothing." So said Dizzy Dean the day after being hit in the head by a pitched ball in the1934 World Series.

16. Asked to make a comment upon the death of his long-time teammate Joe DiMaggio, baseball's premier philosopher, Yogi Berra, said: "He was the best living player I ever saw."

17. "I always had to be right in any argument I was in," Ty Cobb said, "and I wanted to be first in everything."

18. "A bad call in baseball is one that goes against you," read a TV Guide article.

19. "I've never left a game before it ended," said Richard Nixon. "You never know when there could be a big turnaround in the game."

20. "Some day I'm going to have to stand before God," said Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, "and if He asks me why I didn't let that Robinson fellow play ball, I don't think saying 'because of the color of his skin' would be a good enough answer."

These, then, are some of my favorite baseball quotes. Watch for an upcoming column called, "20 More Favorite Baseball Quotes." Meanwhile, feel free to let me know some of yours favorites. Until then see you in the bleachers.

Monday, April 22, 2013

How Sam Lacy helped integrate Major League Baseball

The movie "42" omits the story of the Baltimore sportswriter, but Robinson himself understood the influence of the black press

Sam Lacy, The First Black Sports Writer
By Charlie Vascellaro
Baltimore Sun
April 22, 2013

Like most films depicting historic accounts of real-life events, the bio-epic "42" carries the immediate disclaimer that it is based on a true story, leaving room for interpretive analysis and creative license. Consequently, dramatic interpretations are by their nature subject to scrutiny and debate.

While the film sticks close to the well-chronicled historic record regarding Jackie Robinson's unique place in time as the first African American to play in the major leagues, its sins are mostly of omission. Focusing tightly on the milestone season of 1947, the movie hurries through the arduous process by which Robinson and other African American players who followed him got to the big leagues. No recognition for Robinson's breakthrough given to anyone other than Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey.

Of great influence in lobbying for the integration of major league baseball was the battle waged by members of the black press, among them Sam Lacy, who began his professional career as a sports writer for the Washington Tribune in 1926, moving on to become assistant national editor for the Chicago Defender and later the long-time sports editor and columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American.

Born on Oct. 23, 1903, in Mystic, Conn., Lacy was on the cutting edge of the development of black athletes in professional sports. His career as a professional journalist spanned over eight decades. He died in 2003 at the age of 99. In his 1998 memoir, Lacy recalled his and other writers' efforts to push for integration of professional sports.

"In the mid-1930s, black sportswriters kept tabs on what was going on in their own communities and in national sports involving blacks; at the same time, we tried to keep the heat on that period's racial segregation in sports," recalled Lacy, who made repeated unsuccessful attempts to meet with baseball commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis.

Despite Lacy's ongoing efforts through the 1930s and early 1940s, it remained evident that there was no movement toward integration coming from baseball's policy makers. This became even more apparent during the early years of World War II when blacks fought side-by-side with their white countrymen overseas but couldn't break through, even though major league rosters were depleted by the military draft.

Some of the game's best and most celebrated players were beginning or continuing tours of military duty that would keep them off the ball fields for as many as four years. By 1944 the major league terrain was so dramatically altered that the previously unimaginable occurred: a World Series pairing of the perennially lowly St. Louis Browns, pennant winner for the first time in the team's 43-year existence, with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sam Lacy continued his attempts at meeting with Landis throughout and after the 1944 season, offering his availability at any time and place, but Landis died that November. While Landis' death certainly came as good news to integrationists at first, the appointment of Landis' replacement, Senator A.B. "Happy" Chandler of Kentucky, appeared to be a serious setback to the movement. Upon hearing the news, Lacy filed his column from out of town, writing: "It appears that his choice was the most logical one to suit the bigoted major league operators, of which there is a heavy majority on hand."

However, it was under Chandler's stewardship that the breakthrough would eventually come. Surprisingly enough, in a statement issued from the commissioner's office shortly after his being named to the post, the new commissioner said, "I don't believe in barring Negroes from baseball just because they are Negroes."

After writing a letter to each of the 16 major league team owners urging that a committee to examine the desegregation issue be formed, Lacy was invited to speak to the group in Detroit on April 24, 1945.

Lacy presented his proposal, which resulted in the formation of an integration committee consisting of Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey, Yankees general manager Larry MacPhail, Lacy himself, and Philadelphia magistrate Joseph H. Rainey.

For perhaps the first time, major league baseball was responding to outside pressure, including incidents such as a picket by African-Americans on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, where protesters carried placards with war time references reading: "If we are able to stop bullets, why not balls?"

Branch Rickey used the occasion to make the first public disclosure that he was planning to sign an African-American player.

"No matter the thinking of baseball owners at that 1945 meeting, the tide was turning against them. Rickey's decision was the beginning of what would become both a social revolution and a boon to the big business of professional sports," Lacy later recalled.

Lacy met on at least two separate occasions with Rickey at the Dodgers' offices in Brooklyn.

"In my meetings with Rickey, I observed him going through some difficult times because of the historic change he set in motion; one had to admire him. We spoke of many things, including Rickey's thoughts about a Brown Dodgers team. Writer Wendell Smith [who does appear in the film 42] had brought Jackie Robinson to the attention of Rickey, and he was one of the numerous black players whose names came up," Lacy said.

Smith was a friend and contemporary of Lacy's, and they would later become the first two African-American members of the writer's wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

On Smith's recommendation, Rickey continued to pursue Robinson while Lacy and Smith banged away at their typewriters, hammering their message home in the form of newspaper columns and letters to the powers that be.

Meanwhile, the most effective campaign for Major League integration was staged by Robinson himself, who hit an astounding .387 during his one and only Negro league season with the Kansas City Monarchs. Late in the season Dodgers scout Clyde Sukeforth was in Chicago to visit Robinson, where the Monarchs were playing the American Giants at Comiskey Park. He asked if Robinson would be able to meet with Rickey in Brooklyn. The meeting that took place between Robinson, Rickey and Sukeforth on August 29, 1945 has become permanently engraved in baseball annals. During this conference, Rickey tested Robinson's mettle with a barrage of racial epithets that he would be subject to as a pioneering African-American player on the all-white teams in the all-white leagues he would be working in. After hours of this type of badgering, Robinson delivered his historic inquiry, "Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who's afraid to fight back?"

To which Rickey responded, "I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."

Two months later, on October 23, Rickey signed Robinson to a minor league contract with the Dodgers AAA affiliate, Montreal Royals of the International League.

Lacy covered Robinson's spring training games with the Royals in Daytona Beach, Fla., and became emotionally invested in the story he was covering.

"I felt a lump in my throat each time a ball was hit in his direction. I experienced a sort of emptiness in the bottom of my stomach whenever he took a swing in batting practice. I was constantly in fear of his muffing an easy roller. … And I uttered a silent prayer of thanks, as with closed eyes, I heard the whack of Robinson's bat against the ball," Lacy wrote for the Baltimore Afro-American.

Both Lacy and Robinson were subject to segregationist policies and nasty bouts of overt racism throughout the 1946 International League season. Lacy was with Robinson in segregated living quarters, away from the rest of the Dodgers during spring training, when members of the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of their rooming house.

Here in Baltimore, Robinson was hazed and heckled mercilessly by race-baiting fans at old Municipal Stadium every time the Royals came to town during the 1946 season. Robinson's wife Rachel said Baltimore fans unleashed the worst kind of name calling attacks on Jackie that she'd ever had to sit through.

In Louisville, Ky., Lacy wrote that his press pass entitled him "to a spot, smack dab against the right field wall … located at the extreme end of the covered stands … which are reserved for colored."

By the time Robinson made his big league debut with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, Lacy was traveling with the team and the two were occasionally roommates when the team was on the road. That period is commemorated in a permanent exhibit on Lacy's role in the integration of baseball at the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore.

The pair shared the collective experience of integrating baseball together, and at the time of his signing with the Dodgers, Robinson acknowledged the influence of the writers like Lacy. Speaking with Lacy's Afro-American newspaper, Robinson said, "I know that my position was obtained only through the constant pressure of my people and their press. I owe this to the colored people who helped make it possible, and I hope I shall always have their goodwill.

"I realize the responsibility — not so much to myself as to my people, and I won't let them down. I'll start swinging as soon as I get to bat."

While Lacy's exclusion from the film 42 may have been an oversight, his role in baseball's integration process had a tremendous and lasting influence on the Major League institution and the African American community.

Charlie Vascellaro is a freelance baseball and travel writer from Baltimore and author of a biography of Hank Aaron published by Greenwood Press in 2005. His email is