King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Playoff rainout policy is one more way baseball sticks it to the fans. Plus: Jeff Kent? Rogers freakin' Hornsby! And: Babe Ruth's eyes, NFL Week 5.


Salon Staff
October 6, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

Baseball's War on Fans continued this week, the latest skirmish involving a frontal assault on Yankees fans.

I know, hard to sympathize for a lot of us, but politics makes strange bedfellows, and war is politics with bloodshed, right? Although fortunately in this kind of war, the only thing bleeding is fans' wallets.

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When Major League Baseball called Wednesday night's Tigers-Yankees Game 2 on account of anticipated rain, it announced that fans holding tickets could use them for the rescheduled game Thursday afternoon or they could take advantage of MLB's convenient stick 'em where the sun don't shine plan.

I paraphrase.

No refunds, no exchanging them for tickets to later games. All teams offer such policies for rainouts, but in the postseason it's MLB, not the home team, that runs things. MLB's motto: "Dear fans, drop dead. This is a recording."

Fans who had come to the ballpark and sat for two hours in the anticipated rain -- the 8 p.m. game, it turns out, could have been played, as the heavy rain didn't start falling until about 11:30 -- now had about 12 hours, including the eight hours or so when just about everyone's asleep, to unload their tickets if they couldn't make it back Thursday afternoon.

The decision to call the game was, I think, honestly reached. Baseball officials said they didn't want to have the game start, then have to stop it, possibly wasting the starts by pitchers Justin Verlander and Mike Mussina and throwing both teams' pitching situation into chaos. Fair enough.

The call can be debated, and perhaps baseball was too conservative, too trusting of sophisticated weather-tracking technology that might not be any better at predicting whether it's going to rain on these few acres at this precise time than Aunt Sally's rheumatic knee. But I think MLB did the best it could with the information it had.

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Then it turned to the people who had made the trek to the stadium, paid exorbitant prices for parking and concessions, not to mention tickets, and said to them, "Hope you can skip work tomorrow, but if not, screw you."

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Tough day for Rajah [PERMALINK]

Thursday must have been Rogers Hornsby's worst day since he was managing the St. Louis Browns. Maybe the worst day he ever had without going to the track. He was dissed, or at least forgotten, on national TV by two different playoff announcers.

The worst insult, and you're going to think I'm overreacting but I think it was just unfathomable, came during Fox's broadcast of Game 2 of the Dodgers-Mets series Thursday night. Announcer Thom Brennaman was rattling off some of Jeff Kent's impressive statistics and he summed it up in that cadence of his: "Arguably the GRRRREATest offensive second baseman in the HISSSSSTory of the game."

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I don't mean to insult Kent, who's a fine player, a borderline Hall of Famer if he retired today, but that's one of the most preposterous statements I've ever heard a sports announcer make on national television, and that's saying something.

Saying that Kent is arguably the greatest offensive second baseman in the history of the game is like saying Detroit is arguably the largest city in the United States. It's like saying Echo and the Bunnymen are arguably the biggest-selling band in the hissssstory of Liverpool. Never mind arguable. It's not even close to being anything like approximately true. I'm foaming at the mouth here.

Rogers Hornsby, folks. Rogers H. Christ Hornsby. How can a professional baseball announcer argue that Jeff Kent is a greater offensive player than Rogers Hornsby was? Rogers Hornsby was arguably a better hitter than Henry Aaron. Pretty good argument too. Jeff Kent is arguably a better hitter than Bobby Grich. That's not an insult but it ain't Rogers Hornsby either.

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Rogers Hornsby!

I could give you a thousand statistics to prove this point, I really could. But let me just give you one. Adjusted OPS-plus compares a player's OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) with the league average. It's adjusted to account for ballpark effects. It's a pretty good rough measure of just how good an offensive player someone is.

According to Baseball Reference, Hornsby led the National League in adjusted OPS-plus 12 times. Not just all second basemen, but the whole league. But let's be fair. The first two times he led the league, he was playing shortstop, so as a second baseman he was the best hitter in the league 10 times. Kent has never come close to leading the league in adjusted OPS-plus. He was fifth in the N.L. in 2000, 10th in 2002.

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Now, Kent plays in a larger league, so there's more competition. He has spent his career in 14- and, mostly, 16-team leagues, while Hornsby played in eight-team leagues. But, conveniently, there were 16 teams in the majors in Hornsby's day, and he led the majors in adjusted OPS-plus three times. He was also second four times -- behind Babe Ruth each time.

In other words, if not for Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby would have been the best hitter in baseball seven times. And he was third in the majors once and fourth twice as a second baseman.

Hornsby played in segregated times. Oscar Charleston, a contemporary Negro Leagues outfielder, may have knocked Hornsby a spot down the list in some of those years had he been in the majors. Still. To review: Kent was never higher than fifth.

Joe Morgan, Eddie Collins and Nap Lajoie were also, I think, inarguably better hitters than Kent. The "argument" for Kent is RBIs. He's knocked in 100 runs or more eight times, which is three more times than Hornsby did it.

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But RBIs are dependent on context. Kent has spent his entire career in a supercharged scoring era while Hornsby spent only about 10 of his 14 effective years in such an era. I'm not counting his rookie cup of coffee or the long stretch at the end when he was a player-manager and didn't play much. Hornsby spent his first four full years in the dead-ball age.

But more important, Kent just played more games. Even counting Hornsby's long period of part-time duty, which reached to his age-41 season, he drove in more runs per game played than Kent has.

I'm rambling on. I need to be sedated, I know. I just can't believe that someone like Brennaman, who has been a major league play-by-play radio guy for 17 years and a national TV play-by-play guy for seven, and who grew up around the game since his dad is the longtime Reds announcer, would say such a thing.

He has that annoying way of talking and he doesn't know that you don't judge a player solely on raw RBI totals? Good grief, I need to lie down.

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But first, I'll tell you about the earlier, lesser insult to poor Rajah. That one came from Jon Miller, who merely attributed a Hornsby trait to Ruth. Miller, sort of the anti-Brennaman in terms of being knowledgeable, entertaining and pleasant to listen to, was doing the Tigers-Yankees game on ESPN with Morgan, who was a better offensive second baseman than Jeff Kent!

Sorry. Miller told a story about how Ruth always avoided playing the sun field.

So at Yankee Stadium, Miller said, where the afternoon sun's in the left fielder's eyes, he'd play right field and Bob Meusel would play left, but at Fenway Park, where right field is the sun field, Ruth played left and made Meusel play right.

"The Babe thought, 'Well that's going to injure my eyes, I have to stand out there squinting up into the sun all day,'" Miller said.

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Babe Ruth in left field? I've never heard of such a thing. I've always heard and read about him as a right fielder. So I looked it up and you know what? Miller was right. Of course he was. Miller's not a guy you should doubt. Ruth played almost as much left field as he did right field throughout his career with the Yankees. It couldn't have just been at Fenway where he played left. Learn something new every day.

Then Miller said, "They say Babe Ruth would not go to the movies either, thought that would not be good for his eyes."

Wait a minute. That one I'm doubting.

That was Hornsby, not Ruth. I felt pretty sure of that, but since I'd also been pretty sure Ruth was a right fielder, I asked Yankees chronicler Steven Goldman, author of the Pinstriped Bible blog, about Miller's whole rap on Ruth protecting his eyes.

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"The story about Ruth is correct in its broad outlines," he wrote in an e-mail. "He wouldn't play the sun field. I don't know if it was about protecting his eyes. I got the impression that he just didn't like the difficulty of it and didn't want to be embarrassed."

As for the movies, Goldman agreed that story is always applied to Hornsby, not Ruth, for whom it would have been out of character.

"If Ruth worried about his eyes," Goldman wrote, "that was the only part of his anatomy that he worried about. Well, he did worry about one other part. Towards the end of his career he confided that the thing he hated about being so fat was that he could no longer see his male organs. I paraphrase."

And that's arguably the GRRRREATest paraphrase in the HISSSSSTory of today's column.

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NFL Week 5 [PERMALINK]

It's a tradition around this column to dial down the weekly NFL preview to two sentences per game during the baseball postseason. This year this column is in last place in the Panel o' Experts standings with a 30-30 record. The less said about the NFL the better, because clearly someone around here doesn't know what he's talking about.

This time, one sentence per game. I figure how wrong can a person be in one sentence? Then again, "Arguably the GRRRREATest offensive second baseman in the HISSSSSTory of the game" made my eyes bleed and it's not even a complete sentence.

As a consolation for missing out on 14 stellar sentences, I'll give you the pick of my son, Buster, coin-flippinest 3-year-old in eastern Missouri, which is information that at least three readers have requested. Or it may have been one reader three times. Remember that Buster takes all favorites of six points or more, by USA Today's estimation as of Thursday night, and flips a coin for the rest of the games.

Winners in victory caps.

Sunday early games

Buffalo (2-2) at CHICAGO (4-0): I can't figure out the Bills but the Bears look like a juggernaut so far. Buster's coin says: Bears (favored by 10 and a half)

Washington (2-2) at N.Y. GIANTS (1-2): OK, Giants, remember, the game starts in the first quarter, not the fourth. Buster's coin says: Giants

TENNESSEE (0-4) at Indianapolis (4-0): What the Heck™ Pick of the week, featuring the official What the Heck™ team of the NFL. Buster's coin says: Colts (favored by 18 and a half)

Tampa Bay (0-3) at NEW ORLEANS (3-1): Former Toledo Rocket Bruce Gradkowski takes over at quarterback for the Bucs, giving the Saints a good chance to go 4-1, which I didn't expect and I bet you didn't either. Buster's coin says: Saints (favored by six)

ST. LOUIS (3-1) at Green Bay (1-3): The Rams' schedule is about to get a lot tougher, but if they beat Brett Favre and company, as they should, they'll be 4-1, which I didn't expect and I bet you didn't either. Buster's coin says: Rams

Miami (1-3) at NEW ENGLAND (3-1): This isn't working out so far for Daunte Culpepper. Buster's coin says: Patriots (favored by nine and a half)

Detroit (0-4) at MINNESOTA (2-2): The Lions look like they're starting to move in the right direction, but I don't think they can go into the Metrodome and get a win just yet. Buster's coin says: Vikings (favored by six and a half)

Cleveland (1-3) at CAROLINA (2-2): Steve Smith should be able to torch a banged-up Browns secondary. Buster's coin says: Panthers (favored by eight)

Sunday late games

Oakland (0-3) at SAN FRANCISCO (1-3): If the Raiders ever play somebody with a winning record, I'll make 'em a What the Heck™ Pick just to give the Titans a break. Buster's coin says: Raiders

N.Y. Jets (2-2) at JACKSONVILLE (2-2): Both teams are coming off tough losses, and if the Jets are going to turn into a pumpkin, this might be the game. Buster's coin says: Jaguars (favored by seven)

KANSAS CITY (1-2) at Arizona (1-3): Matt Leinart takes over from Kurt Warner at quarterback, but the question is whether anybody on the Cardinals can tackle Larry Johnson. Buster's coin says: They can! Cardinals

Dallas (2-1) at PHILADELPHIA (3-1): Have you heard that this will be Terrell Owens' first game against his former team? Buster's coin says: Cowboys

Sunday night game

PITTSBURGH (1-2) at San Diego (2-1): Could be a long night for Philip Rivers. Buster's coin says: Chargers

Monday night game

Baltimore (4-0) at DENVER (2-1): Still don't trust that Ravens offense. Buster's coin says: Ravens

Season record: A feeble 30-30
Last week: A pitiful 7-7
What the Heck™ Picks: A woeful 0-4
Number of remaining apt synonyms for "pathetic" that I haven't yet used to describe my performance, just among those that are listed at Thesaurus.com: 20

Previous column: J.D. Drew and aggressiveness

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