posted on Aug, 27 2006 @ 05:19 AM
There are certain baseball players who become lightning rods for historical controversy, and about whom baseball historians argue forevermore. I will
give two examples: Roberto Clemente and Joe Morgan.
Clemente won numerous batting championships; had a very high career batting average, considering it was centered in the low-offense 60's; and, despite
a subaverage fielding average and ton of throwing errors, is widely regarded as the greatest RF ever. Serious baseball historians rate him as the 7th
to 12th greatest right fielder ever, but there are many fans who rate him more like the 7th to 12th greatest PLAYER ever.
Personally, I would not take him in my Top 80. His career on-base percentage was .359 because he would not walk, which tells you what those batting
titles were worth. He was not a good percentage base stealer, and even though Forbes Field cost him 60 HR's or so, he still was not a great, or even
very good, HR hitter.
Another lightning rod is Morgan. What's NOT debatable is that Morgan got crucified in the Astrodome for many of his athletically prime seasons, and
then was by far the greatest player in MLB from 1972-1976, winning the MVP both years the Reds won the Series, and having 2 other seasons just as
good. His career BA was mediocre, but he retired #3 on the walks list, stole a million bases, had a terrific SB %, was impossible to pick off, and
was, as Bill James says, "the greatest secondary skills player in baseball history." MOST historians say Rogers Hornsby was the greatest RH-hitter of
all time, and thus easily its greatest 2Bman, with either Collins or Morgan next.
I wouldn't have Hornsby on my team for anything, except to avoid an outbreak of leprosy, maybe. And I think Morgan's the #1 second baseman of all
time, a view which by no means are Bill James and I alone in holding. But for sure, Morgan, like Clemente, is someone who always will provoke very
heated debate among baseball historians.
SO IS RODRIGUEZ.
The argument in his favor usually begins with, "Well, he had a career batting average of .304 coming into this season." And that argument, even if
Rodriguez is the greatest catcher since Josh Gibson, is an unmitigated crock. Rodriguez is a horribly undisciplined hitter. He apparently thinks
there is something unmanly about taking walks. At the start of this season, he had 7,740 plate appearances... and all of 411 walks, an awful ratio.
For that reason, his seemingly impressive .304 career BA translates to a very mediocre .345 on-base percentage.
He is, in that regard, a poor man's version of the supposedly great George Sisler, who retired with a .340 batting average--and an inexcusable .379
on-base percentage, because unlike the true greats of his time--Cobb, Collins, Speaker, Hornsby, Ruth and Gehrig--Sisler apparently thought walks were
shameful and went out of his way to avoid them, costing his teams HUNDREDS of runs over the course of his career.
A walk puts a man on base, and often moves other runners up. Walks turn into lots of runs over time, as Casey Stengel famously observed. It's why
Nolan Ryan, the toughest pitcher ever to get hits off of, was not one of the 5 or 10 greatest pitchers ever.
A career OBP of .343 is NOTHING. The number of retired players with better OBP's and, say, 3000 career plate appearances is probably over 1,000.
So as a hitter, the only thing Pudge has is his extra-base hitting skill. Over a 15-year career, 12 of which were spent in that park in Arlington, I
would consider 445 doubles good for a catcher, but certainly nothing more than that. Balls carry well in Arlington, leading to cheap HR's and high
scores, but there are deep areas conducive to doubles and triples--and that is true in SPADES in that ballpark in Florida, where he also played.
As to triples, Pudge's 38 coming into this season are nothing, but one expects nothing of a catcher, so no big deal. His 264 HR's are fewer than 20
per year, which would have been very impressive in the 1980's, but in this day and age--and I'm leaving completely alone the rumors of his PED use,
because I'm aware of no evidence at all to back them up--20 HR's a year for a muscular catcher in a pro-HR park like Arlington is no big deal.
As for his defense, experts are all over the map. His fielding percentage is 11% below that of the average catcher for his era. But his range is
SIGNIFICANTLY greater than that of the average catcher, which is more important, and his arm must be considered very strong despite occasional errors,
just like Clemente's. I remember all of Clemente's career, and although I consider him the most overrated player of my lifetime, I can tell you that
everything you've heard about his phenomenal arm, and how many men it kept from trying to take an extra base, is true. Pudge's arm isn't THAT great,
but it's damned good.
So much of a catcher's worth is comprised of things the public never sees comprehendingly: positioning fielders well, calling pitches, and generally
"handling the pitchers well."
When Pudge left Texas, a lot of pitchers said he was terrible, very selfish in the way he handled them, wanting everything his way--sort of like a guy
who thinks he knows best, walks be damned, and he'll swing at whatever he likes.
Until Piazza's career ends, and giving Campanella credit for SIX years lost due to segregation (NOT years played from ages 15 to 19, but from 20-25),
my top 5 catchers are:
5. Piazza (only bad defensively in one area, and hitting counts for much more than fielding, though the position where this is least true is
catcher--then SS, then after that, it's a rout at any position)
Pudge Rodriguez, in my opinion, probably belongs with Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and somebody else in the Top 10, but no way in the Top 5.
If he makes my Top 10, it will be barely, and it SURE won't have anything to do with his batting average.
[Edited on 8/29/06 by BaseballHistoryNut]