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Friday Rewind: Two Heavyweights, Trading Punches
So, hey, I wrote a couple of days ago about how I miss good, old-fashioned pennant races. And I do. But on Thursday night I was reminded again that this National League MVP race might just be as exciting as any pennant race.
The Dodgers played the Braves, so all four of the top MVP candidates were there.
Matt Olson, who basically has checked out of the race, went 0-for-5.
Freddie Freeman went 1 for 3 with two walks, but did not add to his 51 doubles on the season.
And then … there were the heavyweights, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mookie Betts. In the second inning, with the score tied, Acuña threw a haymaker by hitting a grand slam off Lance Lynn. It was his 30th home run of the season, making him the first player in baseball history to hit 30 home runs and steal 60 bases in the same season.
That FELT like an MVP-clinching shot. I tweeted/x’d as much.
The Braves built up a 7-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth inning. And then, in that bottom of the fifth, well, you know what happened: The Dodgers got a couple of runners on against the incredible and ridiculous Spencer Strider and, yep, Mookie came to the plate with two outs. I’ll give you Mookie’s final and impossible August numbers in a minute. For now, I’ll just tell you that he punched an opposite-field home run RIGHT OVER THE GLOVE of Ronald Acuña Jr.
It was basically Mookie saying, “Oh, hey, Ronald, um, I’m still here.”
Next inning, Atlanta up by three runs, the Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts, intentionally walked Acuña with a runner on second and two outs, which totally stinks, but Michael Harris II followed with a single to score another run.
In the seventh, with the score 8-5, Betts came up again. And this time he blasted a high and majestic home run to leftfield. Incredible. Well, in some ways it’s not incredible at all; Mookie has a knack for multi-homer games. Since 2015, only Manny Machado and Aaron Judge have had more multi-homer games than Mookie (29). And in three-homer games, Mookie stands alone with 6.
That made it 8-6. A Max Muncy homer made it 8-7. In the top of the ninth, Acuña led off with a single and then stole his 62nd base of the season. In the bottom of the ninth, Betts came up and poked a long fly ball to rightfield, I mean, he JUST missed it, and Acuña caught it in front of the warning track, and the Braves held on for the epic victory.
In all, Acuña went 3 for 4 with a home run, a stolen base and 4 RBIs.
In all, Betts went 2 for 4 with a walk, 3 runs and 4 RBIs.
Man, oh man, oh man, this is good stuff. And we have a whole weekend of this stuff! I mean, WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL? Yeah, it’s why we love baseball.
Mookie’s final numbers in August? OK, this is over 28 games — the Dodgers won 23 of those, by the way — and are you even ready for this?
.455/.516/.839, 10 doubles, 11 homers, 3 steals, 35 runs, 30 RBIs.
Mookie created 50 runs in August, which makes it the 34th most productive month in baseball history, behind a bunch of Babe Ruths and Barry Bonds and so on.
Acuña, incidentally, merely hit .353/.432/.574 with 5 doubles, 2 triples, 6 homers, 27 runs, 22 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. What a slacker.
Hey, if you feel like it, I’d love if you’d share this post with your friends!
Bill James Online’s Final Days
So, I think everybody here knows how much I love and admire my friend Bill James. Nobody has had a greater influence on me as a baseball writer; whenever Bill writes anything, it totally gets my mind racing.
Well, sometime around mid-September — in fact, right around Sept. 16, when I’ll be chatting with him at the Kansas Book Festival — Bill will be shutting down Bill James Online to focus on other projects. I’m sad because I love Bill James Online, and I’m happy because I think the site became more of a burden than a joy for Bill, and this will let him do the sort of writing he wants to do.
But in its final days, Bill did what he always does: He wrote a little something about the Hall of Fame, maybe even a throwaway for him, that has my mind racing.
… the real problem with the Hall of Fame is not that it has no higher level, but rather, that it has no LOWER level. It is this problem--the lack of a lower level of recognition--that contributes to almost all of the problems with the selections.
As always, Bill has captured something here that I’ve only thought about in vague and imprecise ways. What he’s saying is that when a player retires — this is true of all players but especially good players — there’s only a binary choice: You are either a Hall of Famer or you are not. No other options. Yes, there is Shawn Anderson’s delightful Hall of Very Good and other similar efforts, but they are scattered and, more to the point, they only scratch at the itch.
I’ve SORT OF thought about that, but not really. This line from Bill really resonated with me:
But once he retires … he’s a Hall of Famer, or he doesn’t count. THAT is what forces people to make irrational arguments for half-qualified people like Thurman Munson or Dave Stieb.
YES! THIS! I have felt this feeling intensely and never fully realized it. I love Dave Stieb, and so I make Hall of Fame arguments for him. But, if I’m being totally honest with myself, I don’t think he really belongs in the all-capital letters HALL OF FAME. He was a terrific player, and he should have won multiple Cy Youngs, I feel,* but if we look at the Hall of Fame as a place reserved only for the greatest of the greats, and we do, we know that he wasn’t Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson etc.
Sure, we can say: “Yeah, but he was better than Jack Morris or Catfish Hunter or Bob Lemon or any number of other people in the Hall,” and it’s true, but by doing that, we’re really saying that those guys DO NOT belong in the Hall of Fame at least as much as we’re saying that Stieb is a Hall of Famer.
*I mean, I invented the Cy Stiebs in his honor.
Bill is right. We— and I’m very much one of these people — make bloated, overheated and even irrational Hall of Fame arguments for some players, and I think the reason we do is because we love them and want those people honored SOMEHOW. And there’s only one honor out there for them.
I think Dale Murphy belongs in the Hall of Fame, lowercase. But it’s awfully hard for me to say he belongs in the HALL OF FAME, upper case. He wasn’t Aaron or Mays or Pujols or Mantle or Morgan or Junior or Ripken or Schmidt or either Frank or Jackie (and he would never claim that he was).
But he certainly holds his own with Jim Rice and Andre Dawson and Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez and Fred McGriff and Harold Baines and Tony Oliva and any number of others who are in the Hall. So when I argue for Dale Murphy, what I’m arguing is that he should get to sneak in, the way those others did.
So what’s to be done? Bill recommends a 10-point system where basically every big leaguer starts at 1 and it goes up from there. One out of every three 1s earns his way to 2. One out of every three 2s becomes a 3. And so on, up until 10.
How would this work? Well, it’s actually quite remarkable — math is amazing. Let’s focus just on the American and National Leagues. Since the dawn of professional baseball, there have been about 20,000 players. Watch what happens in Bill’s system:
Level 1: 20,000
Level 2: 6,666
Level 3: 2,222
Level 4: 741
Level 5: 247
Level 6: 82
Level 7: 27
Level 8: 9
Level 9: 3
Level 10: 1
I mean, how incredible is that? Basically, when you keep cutting by three, you end up with ONE PLAYER, one Willie Mays, as a Level 10. Here is sort of a general way it might look (I’m doing this off the top of my head to show as an example; so don’t scream at me yet):
Level 10: Willie Mays.
Level 9: Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron
Level 8: Honus Wagner, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Oscar Charleston, Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige …
Level 7: Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Roger Clemens, Josh Gibson …
Level 6: Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Justin Verlander …
Level 5: Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Robert Alomar, Craig Biggio, Joey Votto, Harmon Killebrew, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Evans, Dick Allen …
(This is about where the Hall of Fame currently ends).
Level 4: Jerry Koosman, Billy Pierce, Dave Stieb, Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Curtis Granderson, Rocky Colavito, Catfish Hunter, Dave Parker, Maury Wills, Harold Baines, Juan Gonzalez, Jose Cruz …
Level 3: Jack McDowell, Cesar Tovar, Don Baylor, Jay Buhner, David DeJesus, Bake McBride, Mookie Wilson, Nick Swisher, Raul Ibañez, Jose Cruz Jr.
And so on. As you can see, Level 3 players are still REALLY good. And Level 4 players are fantastic And there’s a super-fun argument to have about each level, should a Level 3 player like Jack McDowell actually be a Level 4? Should a Level 4 player like Jim Rice actually be a Level 5? All the way up the charts.
I don’t know if Bill is planning on expanding on this 10-level idea (which does have some similarities to Bill Simmons’ famed Hall of Fame pyramid, though on a much bigger scale), but I hope he does. I’d like to play around more with it myself. It’s typical Bill brilliance.
Happy Friday! The Rewind is free so everyone can enjoy it. Just a reminder that Joe Blogs is a reader-supported newsletter, and I’d love and appreciate your support.
WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL Update
We’ll make this one short since I’m running around like a crazy person today, plus I did a full-length look at my upcoming tour yesterday, but since we’re four days from book launch (finally!) I did want to offer a couple of bits:
— Four days left means four days left to preorder the book and get the super-fun bonus essays that were cut from the book. Preorder the book from anywhere, and then fill out this form. The essays will be delivered to your email on launch day, Sept. 5.
— Thank you AARP for a fun little book recommendation!
— Wanted to share a few fun Instagram posts that the marvelous Talia has been putting up at whywelovebaseball50:
The Potato Play!
Women in baseball!
I’d love for you to follow Talia’s work; she’s just doing an amazing job.
Also, there’s this video from my time at Rainy Day Books:
OK, so, I’ve got to run now — racing up to Wake Forest to see our younger daughter Katie before the book tour madness truly begins. So excited for what’s coming and I hope I see you out there on the road. We’ll close with….
JoeBlogs Week in Review
Tuesday: Introducing the Willie Stargell Award.
Wednesday: Checking in on the MLB playoff races.
Thursday: We break down the epic battle for NL MVP.