Years back, I wrote a tale about a mystical baseball league, which inspired the name of this newsletter. Most of my crafted folklore and articles center around the universal truth that magic happens in small places. Take the following settings in my books:
- Seedy ice cream joints
- Olympic swimming pools with cracked concrete at the Y
- Abandoned factories
- And, of course, baseball parks in middle America
Baseball resides in the very nexus of sports. It’s the only game where everyone is standing on a playing field right now—no matter where you live. Take the outfield fence away, and the foul lines extend to infinity. An endless Geometry problem. There is a line in Knights of Legend where one of the players whispers, _We can beat them here. Here the Gods play baseball._Well, I wrote another scene extending the lore where the Yankees rolled into town to hunt deer, or the team bus broke down. In the 70s and 80s, this was more common than you might think. And so, the major leaguers took a bet the locals couldn’t best them in a pickup game.
But guess what?
Anything can happen at Knight Field. To this day, I receive hate mail that the mighty Bronx Bombers couldn’t lose to misfits in America’s Heartland. So this tweet made me chuckle. I omitted the name to protect the innocent. However, I doubt they care too much.
The fact that you think Scott Rolen is better than Don Mattingly shows that you are a brainwashed moron. The only reason Rolen got in is that people like you kept advertising his saber metrical stats. Ridiculous!
Being objective, I wanted to understand how Donnie Baseball beats one of the MV3 (a nod to Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen’s 2004 season). I mean, he does play for the efffing Yankees. So, that has to be enough. Right?
If you ever watch a tee ball or little league game, the critical positions are pitcher, catcher, and first base. This is where the action happens. And Don Mattingly’s signature appeared on most kids’ gloves during his heyday. But as these kids move into pony league, high school, traveling teams, legion ball, and college, yes, the game changes. Every position becomes an art. I remember playing the hot corner, and it didn’t last long before the coach pulled me. Life comes at you fast there. Reaction time is vital.
This is why it’s essential to compare these players moving into the hall against their peers. So, I pulled the stats of all Hall of Famers by position, ran a quick and dirty average, and then stared at the standard deviation (give Google Sheets credit, the tool cleans up the data with a simple cut and paste from baseball reference sites). Note there are far fewer playing third base in Cooperstown. For example, Rolen is the 18th player inducted compared to the 26th and counting at the opposite end of the diamond.
Grant, data isn’t everything. Intangibles matter too. What the statistics say is Rolen beats the average of his peers in almost every category outside of hits and stolen bases—he wasn’t a speedster but surpassed the 2,000-hit milestone. His bat was comparable or better; however, he doesn’t stand next to Schmidt, Chipper, Matthews, and Brett.
But let’s not forget Rolen’s cannon for an arm. I’ll take him at the corner over all four of these greats. He was scary at that end of the diamond.
For Mattingly, the data is more of a mixed bag. He’s under the standard deviation across the big stat lines—RUNS, RBIs, HR, HITS, SLG, OBP, and BA. Basically, The Hit Man is competing against a robust set of legendary bats. Thomas. Thome. Murray. Gehrig. The list goes on.
Yes, many consider Don Mattingly the greatest New York Yankees player to never appear in the World Series. In 1984, he led the American League with a . 343 batting average, and in 1985, he earned the Most Valuable Player award. That being said, there is meaning in winning a title. And he played on some poor teams.
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On the other hand, Rolen was a critical piece of some incredible runs—winning a hundred plus multiple times. No, he didn’t break a hundred years-plus drought of wondering around in the wilderness (looking at you Cub fans), but the Cardinals went from 1982 to 2006 before breaking through against the Tigers. And it was a painful streak. Grant, I could argue the team won in 1985 against the Royals. But, sigh, one never forgets that chilling call. Still, that 2006 championship is meaningful, and, yes, the team remains the worst to win it all in history. Eckstein and Miles up the middle? Yikes. I’ll call it karma.
Again, I loved Big Don (he has some of the best nicknames). His highest tally came in his first year on the ballot with 28.2% of the vote, but the momentum never grew over the next 15 years. This is surprising to me, considering he won 9 Gold Gloves. You’d think his name on all of the those little league pieces of plastic would have carried some sentimental value. There is also the intangibles.
But maybe, we have too many Yankee names on plaques. Who knows? But let’s not throw Rolen to the curb, he deserves the place in Cooperstown.
- Highlights from the hot corner.
- Cards vs Yankees, headline photo taken a long time ago at Busch Stadium.