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Off Base
Fun with Numbers

April 25, 2006

So, my friends, today’s treatise is entitled, “Fun with Numbers.” Or, if you prefer, “Remember When Steve Yeager Hit .400 in April on a Fairly Regular Basis.”

You don’t have to be a complete stats nerd to dig this kinda stuff. It helps, but it’s not required.

I make no bones about it; I check the baseball leaders section of the sports page every year around this time, trying to figure which guys will be there when it’s all said and done. I enjoy it. I think it’s fun. It’s my very own little personal e-ride.

I mean, c’mon, isn’t Nick Johnson’s batting average right up there with the price of gas on your list of most inflated and vital numbers to be considered? Aren’t you just screaming to yourself, “no bleeping way is Alex Rios hitting .396 in September!! .196 maybe, but 396?! And Casey Blake? Puh-leese!!!”

Food for thought. A methodical (OK, anal) scrutinizing of what the Los Angeles Times used to call the “Top Batters,” and before that, the “Top Ten,” turns up this ranking of the National League’s hitters on April 24, 1960:

Mays, .472
White, .424
Schoendienst, .400
Kirkland, .394
Groat, .368
Matthews, .367
Skinner, .361
Grammas, .357
Ashburn, .353
Bailey, .344

Only Dick Groat, who won the batting title at .325, and Mays at .319, were among the final leaders. Willie Kirkland hit .252, Alex Grammas .245 and Ed Bailey .261. Norm Larker (.323), Roberto Clemente (.314), Ken Boyer (.304), Wally Moon (.299), Joe Adcock (.298), Frank Robinson (.297), Orlando Cepeda (.297) and Maury Wills (.295) rounded out the eventual Top Ten.

On April 19, 1959 (and these are great names, aren’t they?) the NL leaders were as follows:

Aaron, .538
Demeter, .429
Zimmer, .375
Schmidt, .375
Cepeda, .371
Cimoli, .367
Banks, .357
Blasinghame, .355
Boyer, .333
Alou, .320

Aaron, with a league leading .355, Cepeda, third at .317, Boyer, eighth at .309, and Banks, tenth at .304, were Top Ten men at the end. Don Demeter finished at .256, Don Zimmer .165, Bob Schmidt .243, Gino Cimoli .279, Don Blasingame .289, and Felipe Alou .275. Replacing the slackers was Joe Cunningham (.345), Vada Pinson (.316), Mays (.313), Robinson (.311), Johnny Temple (.311) and Eddie Matthews (.306).

The AL (these are great names too) looked like this:

Strickland, .550
Howard, .500
Kaline, .467
Tasby, .417
Power, .409
Carey, .409
Runnels, .409
Bertoia, .391
Fox, .389
White, .381

Only Al Kaline at .327, Nellie Fox at .306 and Vic Power at .289 remained, as the curtain fell that September. George Strickland wound up hitting .238, Elston Howard .273, Willie Tasby .250, Andy Carey .257, Reno Bertoia .237 and Sammy White .284.

Harvey Kuenn, at .353, was the eventual batting titlist in 1959, with Pete Runnels (.314), Minnie Minoso (.302), Bobby Richardson (.301), Bill Tuttle (.300), Gene Woodling (.300) and Bob Cerv (.285) behind him.

On April 27, 1976, Lou Pinella at .485, lead Willie Horton, Fred Lynn, Buddy Bell and Fred Patek as five American Leaguers sported .400 averages. Toby Harrah, Dave Chalk, Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph and Jim Spencer rounded out the Top Batters, which at season’s end, looked like this: George Brett (.333), Hal McRae (.332), Rod Carew (.331), Lyman Bostock (.323), Ron LeFlore (.316), Lynn (.314), Mickey Rivers (.312), Rico Carty (.310), Thurman Munson (.302) and Ralph Garr (.300).

In the NL, John Milner, Pete Rose, Ted Kubiak and Doug Rader were above .400, and followed by Willie Stargell, Jay Johnstone, Ken Griffey, Jerry Grote, Bake McBride and Ken Henderson. Five months later, Bill Madlock was the batting champion at .339, with Griffey (.336), Garry Maddox (.330), Rose (.323), Joe Morgan (.320), Johnstone (.318), Steve Garvey (.317), Willie Montanez (.317), Dave Parker (.313) and Bob Watson (313) behind him.

Both Stargell and Rader finished at .257, and poor Ted Kubiak wound up at .236, and called it a career.

Today, the National League boasts eight guys between Brad Hawpe’s .348 and Nick Johnson’s .388. I’m thinking, Johnson’s due for a hundred point drop; Hawpe about 80, with Jose Vidro and Lance Berkman the best bets to be this year’s Boyer and Cepeda. Good luck to the rest of the guys.

In the AL, Miguel Tejada, Luis Castillo, Derek Jeter and Michael Young are bonafide, well-above .300 hitters. The others will be replaced by the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez and Ichrio Suzuki.

Now, wasn’t that fun?

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