About the Numbers

Eric Davis

Eric Davis in his 1996 comeback (James A. Finley/AP).

For me, baseball has always been about the numbers. In fact, I think
the numbers of the game made me a fan just as much as the sights and
sounds at the ballpark. Whether it was scanning the “Strat-O-Matic”
player card for 1985 Rickey Henderson, staring at .390 in bold on the
back of George Brett’s baseball card, or reading down the Sunday
paper’s list of the league’s hitters in order of batting average, stats
had me at hello. Stats help define the player just as much as a sweet
swing or a whistling fastball, commanding respect for anyone who boasts
a .300 lifetime batting average or 300 lifetime wins. Some of
baseball’s greatest moments have been defined by a number that says it


Enough said.

Today stats are more readily available than ever before.
Websites are updated pitch by pitch as game action occurs, and career
numbers are refreshed every time another game is in the books. Long
gone are the days waiting for the official season stats printed in
“Baseball Digest” that was released in, what was it, December? Ok,
maybe I don’t miss that, but I do miss the MacMillan Baseball
Encyclopedia. It made stats breathe, giving them life with every thump
as you turned a handful of its 2800 pages. I loved how the book would
seemingly auto bookmark in places you perused the most often – sliding
automatically to the page of Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams or Eric Davis.
Don’t you remember turning to Babe Ruth (always auto bookmarked in
everyone’s encyclopedia) and marveling at all the black bolded ink that
marked his league-leading numbers? And no matter what edition, Hank
Aaron was always listed first. Before I owned my own copy, my dad used
to go to the library and copy down some stats for me to use for “Micro
League Baseball” (which just happens to be the greatest game ever
invented). “Here you go, here’s ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. You think Boggs
can hit? Well, Joe hit .408 in 1911.” Little by little, I learned about
players of the past and their dumbfounding statistical achievements,
like Sliding Billy Hamilton, who once hit .404 and stole 98 bases in a
season where he scored 192 runs. Rube Waddell once struck out 349
batters in a season long before Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan or Sandy Koufax
ever did. Babe Herman once hit .393 with 48 doubles, 11 triples, 35
homeruns, 130 RBI, and garnered zero MVP votes that season. And don’t
get me started on “Old Hoss” Radbourn. It was the numbers that
introduced me to these players before I ever read a bio or saw a photo,
opening up baseball’s glorious past to me in the process. So when guys
like Nap Lajoie and Ed Delahanty started lighting up Charlie Lea and
Sid Fernandez on “Micro”, I continued to unearth new ringers for my
uber-club, and was forever hooked on how baseball can be defined by the
statistics produced. More than anything, this is what led me to the
honor of presenting “This Week in Baseball” to you every Saturday.

Today in the era of “Moneyball” and Bill James holding an
advisory position for the Red Sox, not only are stats more readily
available and more advanced, MLB clubs are basing their evaluation of
talent on them as much as a scout’s eye. Now OPS (on base percentage +
slugging percentage) is not only standard but pretty basic, while 20
years ago on base percentage wasn’t even listed in the encyclopedia. On
“This Week in Baseball”, we try our best to balance use of modern stats
with the classic ones, but we hope our audience is progressing with
these advancements. Each week in this blog, I’ll take a look some
numbers that jump out – whether it’s comparing the stars of today to
the greats of the past, pondering statistical giants in the fantasy
baseball realm, or just getting down and dirty with a random page in
that Macmillan Encyclopedia, we’ll have some fun with some raw numbers.
People need to know who Smokey Joe Wood was, and Dizzy Dean, and Ryne
Sandberg, and whether you know a lot about these guys or not, hopefully
you’ll enjoy hearing about them, and keep the discussion going in the

At the end of the blog, I’ll hit you with a little “Triple
Crown TWIBia”. I’ll list 10 unnamed triple crown stats from a single
season of a ballplayer from history. I encourage you to fill in your
guesses for the players and year and email me at twib@mlb.com.
I’ll list the answers next week, explain why I chose those players and
seasons, and also give props to anyone who was able to go 10 for 10. So
now, here’s the first addition of:

Triple Crown TWIBia

1) .363 AVG, 49 HR, 165 RBI
2) .301 AVG, 23 HR, 74 RBI
3) .320 AVG, 52 HR, 149 RBI
4) .354 AVG, 10 HR, 109 RBI
5) .401 AVG, 42 HR, 152 RBI
6) .345 AVG, 41 HR, 110 RBI
7) .398 AVG, 32 HR, 122 RBI
8) .362 AVG, 40 HR, 124 RBI
9) .313 AVG, 47 HR, 129 RBI
10) .391 AVG, 1 HR, 33 RBI

Good luck, have fun with it, and see you next week.

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