From 2002–2010 Gabriel Schechter was a researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. His first book, Victory Faust, published in 2000, was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) prestigious Seymour Medal Award. He is also a dedicated blogger and the author of Unhittable! Baseball’s Greatest Pitching Seasons, as well as This Bad Day in Yankees History. Gabe also wrote the captions for collections of Neil Leifer’s baseball and football photos as well as photographs from the lens of baseball photographer Charles Conlon.
Memory is a perplexing combination of convergence and divergence. Somewhat related events coalesce in our brains into a single narrative that becomes more vivid each time we relate it. At the same time, even without the embellishment that is second nature to storytellers, that narrative veers further away from literal fact.
You may not have noticed that a common occurrence was missing from the Major League landscape in 2013: for only the third time since 1986, nobody achieved a 30-30 season. It also didn’t happen in 2010 and in 1994, when a strike curtailed the accumulation of statistics before the season was three-quarters done.
Until his death in 2012 at age 93, Johnny Pesky was a beloved figure at Fenway Park. He had seemingly been there forever, debuting as a shortstop with the Red Sox in 1942 and sticking around for decades after his playing career ended, serving as a manager and coach. His perpetual presence reassured young ballplayers coming up and endeared him to fans who had followed the team all their lives.
As we enter baseball’s “Replay Era,” it is worth emphasizing that the essence of using “instant replay” is the desire to see exactly what the heck just happened. From watching replays on television, we have learned that even though baseball action is slow compared to “continuous action” sports like hockey and basketball, it still often moves too quickly for even the closest observers to follow.
In the tangled history of Hall of Famers immortalized by the Veterans Committee, there are many examples of deserving candidates who were denied election until after their deaths. The most recent example is Ron Santo, whose prolonged campaign on his own behalf was abetted by many historians and innumerable Cubs fans, but who was not elected until a year after his death late in 2010.
I had a wide range of major league baseball heroes when I was growing up in the wilds of the New Jersey suburbs, less than 10 miles from Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds. I came of age as a fan in 1961, when I was 10, as our Cincinnati Reds won the pennant. I’m a Reds fan because my father was from Cincinnati; it’s a congenital defect. His favorite Reds player as a kid was Edd Roush, and he attended the 1919 World Series. Mine was Vada Pinson, followed by Frank Robinson and replaced by Pete Rose, with Jim Maloney heading my pitching staff.
The basic story is familiar in baseball history: A hulking, strong-armed young pitcher overwhelms hitters for a few years, winning nearly 100 games before moving to the outfield. There he becomes an astounding slugger, the most feared hitter in the league for the rest of the decade, setting records for career home runs and RBI that most likely will never be broken.
Alexander Schacht’s pretensions to greatness came naturally since he was born in 1892, the son of Russian immigrants, on the future site of left field at Yankee Stadium. As a kid, he sneaked into morning practice at the nearby Polo Grounds to hang around the players and became Christy Mathewson’s favorite fetcher of sandwiches.
Today’s age of Sabermetrics is bringing us a stream of more and more complicated statistics that measure more and more intricate aspects of baseball. In the wake of “Moneyball,” on-base percentage became the favored stat for estimating a player’s actual worth, but we’re moving toward OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted for home field and other factors) as the “best” stat for evaluating hitters. It’s easy to forget a much simpler time populated by bare stats untrammeled by analysis. But those bare stats can tell us all we need to know about certain players.