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“Playing for a Winner” explains the media’s effect on players’ Hall of Fame chances

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A book came out recently — I just got my copy this week — that does something no other baseball book that I am aware of has ever done: it seeks to quantify the way in which media coverage impacts a player’s fame and, in turn, his Hall of Fame chances.

The book is called “Playing for a Winner” and it was written by Brandon Isleib. Brandon is a baseball scholar and writer I’ve known for several years — we both used to contribute to The Hardball Times — and he first told me about the idea for it in 2015. I was so taken with the idea that, after Brandon showed me early drafts of his work, I agreed to write the Foreword to it. I don’t get a dime for this, though. I’m recommending it because it’s a fascinating new way to look at players’ legacies that is in 100% keeping with the sorts of things we talk about here. Indeed, Brandon says in the book that part of the inspiration for it came from this dang article.

Hmm. Why am I not getting a dime for this again? Anyway:

playing-for-a-winnerWhat Brandon does here is to quantify the “spotlight” in which a given player played. Meaning, figuring out how long and how strongly a player’s team contended for the pennant in any given year, with the understanding that the stronger the team and more competitive the team is in a race, the more spotlight will be shone on the team. In turn, the players who play the best for that team will get more ink too and their accomplishments will be more well known and appreciated.

This explains a lot of weirdness in the Hall of Fame results for a lot of players. But it doesn’t just explain why guys who played for winners are more appreciated than guys who played for losers. For example, Dwight Evans and Jim Rice played for the same Red Sox teams and, in the aggregate, Evans was the better player. So why is Rice in the Hall of Fame and Evans not? Mostly because Rice’s best seasons came in seasons when the Red Sox won or challenged for pennants and Evans’ came in less successful Sox years. More attention was paid to a peak Jim Rice and less to a peak Dewey. Rice was simply in the spotlight more.

Isleib does not leave it to such summary explanations, however. He has quantified the “spotlight” factor and applies it exactingly. Rather than merely look at team records at the end of the season, he looks at each season as it unfolded. A team that was in a dogfight, day after day, in August and September, was going to be in the spotlight more and its best players highlighted more. A team which wrapped up its business for all practical purposes by the All-Star break was going to fade from the headlines.

Isleib’s book looks at something completely new and, even if you are skeptical of its premise, its season-by-season journey through history is massively rewarding for baseball history buffs. While a lot of people can tell you about, say, the 1969 pennant races, even the most hardcore baseball fans likely couldn’t tell you what was going on, specifically, each week and month of the second half. This book gives us that sort of thing and in doing so talks about players you either forgot about or never heard about at all.

“Playing for a Winner” is more academic and scholarly than a lot of baseball books on the market, but don’t let that scare you. It’s a fresh and rewarding look at baseball history which sheds light onto some of the historical conundrums we still argue about today. And its framework and approach, looking forward, will make you smarter when the inevitable arguments about a player’s Hall of Fame case comes up in the future.

Mets activate Travis d’Arnaud, place Tommy Milone on disabled list

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The Mets announced on Wednesday that catcher Travis d'Arnaud has been activated from the 10-day disabled list and pitcher Tommy Milone has been placed on the 10-day DL.

d’Arnaud, 28, was placed on the DL on May 5 (retroactive to May 3) with a bone bruise on his right wrist. The Mets’ backstop appeared to have suffered the injury in mid-April when he accidentally hit his hand on the bat of the opposing hitter when he was making a throw. d’Arnaud resumes with a .203/.288/.475 triple-slash line with four home runs and 16 RBI in 66 plate appearances.

Milone, 30, made three mostly forgettable starts for the Mets, yielding 15 runs (14 earned) on 19 hits and seven walks with 12 strikeouts in 12 innings. Newsday’s Marc Carig says that, with Milone out, either Rafael Montero or Josh Smoker will start on Saturday with Smoker being more likely to get the nod.

Report: John Farrell may be on the hot seat

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The Red Sox, who won the AL East last season with a 93-69 record, have under-performed so far this season, entering Wednesday’s action with just two more wins than losses at 23-21. The club hasn’t had a winning streak of more than two games since April 15-18. As a result, manager John Farrell may be on the hot seat, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Tuesday.

Beyond the mediocre record, Rosenthal cites two incidents that happened this season that caused Farrell’s stock to drop. The first was the brouhaha with the Orioles when Manny Machado slid into Dustin Pedroia at second base, causing Pedroia to suffer an injury. When reliever Matt Barnes intentionally threw a fastball at Machado, Pedroia was seen telling Machado, “It wasn’t me. It’s them.” The word “them,” of course, would ostensibly be referring to Barnes and Farrell.

The second incident happened last week when pitcher Drew Pomeranz challenged Farrell in the dugout after being removed with a pitch count of 97. Rosenthal suggests that some of Farrell’s players aren’t on the same page as the skipper.

Rosenthal also mentions that Farrell didn’t have the entire backing of the Red Sox clubhouse in 2013, when the club won the World Series. So the issues this year may not be unique; they may be part of a larger trend.

The biggest impediment in making a managerial change for the Red Sox is having a good candidate. After letting Torey Lovullo leave after last season to manage the Diamondbacks, the team’s two most likely interim candidates would be bench coach Gary DiSarcina and third base coach Brian Butterfield. DiSarcina has one year of managing experience above Single-A (Triple-A Pawtucket in 2013). Butterfield hasn’t managed in 15 years.