Baseball has never been "pure"

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Bill Simmons has an interesting column up:

We’re going with a one-question mailbag this week, courtesy of Phil
D. from Montclair, N.J.: “What was the purest baseball era, from a
statistical perspective?”

Honestly, Phil? That’s like asking, “Who’s the purest actress in an
X-rated movie?” Every baseball era has been tainted to some degree. But
if there is no era, maybe we can find a window. A four- or five-year
stretch will do. Two years, even. Hell, I’ll settle for an All-Star
break. Okay, let’s begin.

He dismisses the 19th century for being too primitive and the dead ball
era for much the same reasons. The interwar period and the rest of the
40s are out because of segregation and WWII. The 50s and 60s are also
eliminated due to the gradual nature of integration (a point many
neglect, but a good one all the same — the game really wasn’t fully
integrated until the 60s) and the insanely pitching-friendly
environment. The 70s and early 80s start to look better, but AstroTurf,
odd pitcher usage and cocaine kill it for him, and of course the
1993-present era is out due to steroids. That causes him to settle on
the narrow time frame of 1988-1992 as the most “statistically pure”
period in baseball history.

And he may be right, even if the definition of “pure” is a bit
unclear and maybe not that useful. What is useful, however, is Simmons’
highlighting the fact that, at just about every single point in
baseball history, there was something, be it drugs, or rules, or racist
policies or whatever, that altered the statistical and competitive
landscape. Some of them — and I’m thinking segregation here — were
borne of even more malice than the cheating of the steroids era.

Simmons’ observation puts lie to the notion, so popular in recent
years, that the steroids era’s greatest evil was that it somehow
sullied a heretofore pure record book. There was nothing pure about it,
and certainly nothing consistent about it. Lefty Grove would have been
a Hall of Famer whenever he played, but there’s no escaping the fact
that a lot of the guys he got out wouldn’t have been able to sniff the
big leagues if black players had been allowed in the game. Bob Gibson
would likewise be celebrated, but his 1.12 ERA in 1968 would never have
happened if he was pitching from a modern mound in a modern retro-park.
We talk about baseball’s wonderful continuity all of the time, but
things have changed in radical ways over the years, and no one has ever
presented any evidence to convince me that steroids impacted things any
more radically than did high pitchers’ mounds, huge strike zones,
segregation and dead balls.

So, yes, let us continue to disapprove of and sanction those who
break the PED rules, but please, let’s put an end to the talk that
baseball has been irrevocably tainted, because it quite clearly has

Supreme Court rejects San Jose’s appeal in the A’s case

The judge's gavel is seen in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East
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The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the city of San Jose arising out of the failure of the city’s antitrust claims against Major League Baseball. The lower court losses which frustrated the city’s lawsuit will stay in place.

By way of background, San Jose sued Major League Baseball in June 2013 for conspiring to block the A’s relocation there on the basis of the San Francisco Giants’ territorial claim. The city said the territory rules violated federal antitrust laws. As I wrote at the time, it was a theoretically righteous argument in a very narrow sense, but that the City of San Jose likely did not have any sort of legal standing to assert the claim for various reasons and that its suit would be unsuccessful.

And now it is.


If there is ever to be a righteous legal challenge of the territorial system, it’ll almost certainly have to come from a club itself. Given the way in which MLB vets its new owners, however, and given how much money these guys rake in, in part, because of the territorial system, its unlikely that that will ever happen.

MVP or not, Mike Trout’s place in history is secure

Mike Trout
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Mike Trout may not win another MVP award, because Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays had a great season and voters seem to be leaning his way, but the Angels center fielder just completed his fourth MVP-caliber campaign in four full seasons as a major leaguer.

Trout has now either won the MVP or (presumably) finished runner-up at age 20, age 21, age 22, and age 23. And there were certainly cases to be made that he was deserving of all four MVP awards. It’s been an incredible start to a career. But how incredible?

Here are the all-time leaders in Wins Above Replacement through age 23:

37.6 – Mike Trout
36.0 – Ty Cobb
34.2 – Ted Williams
31.4 – Mel Ott
30.1 – Ken Griffey Jr.
29.7 – Mickey Mantle
27.7 – Alex Rodriguez
27.5 – Al Kaline
26.7 – Arky Vaughan
26.5 – Rogers Hornsby

I mean, just look at the 10 names on that list. Ridiculous, and Trout sits atop all of them.

Trout has been the subject of intense MVP-related debates in three of his four seasons, but regardless of which side of that coin you favor don’t let it obscure the fact that we’re witnessing something truly special here. There’s certainly room to quibble with the exact rankings–WAR is merely one prominent and easy way to do such things–but however you slice it Trout has been one of the best handful of players in the history of baseball through age 23.