Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Baseball Trivia: Speed Never Slumps, Until The BBWAA Is Voting

In the Expansion Era (1961 to the present), only one batter has had a game with five or more stolen bases and three-plus hits including a home run. We’ll come back to this game in a few.

A centerfielder for 99.85% of all games he started during his 17-year career (1991-2007). This speedster led the American League in his first five full seasons and led all of baseball in four of those years, accumulating 325 thefts in that span. Drafted by the Houston Astros in the 17th round of the 1988 Amateur Draft out of the University of Arizona, this Wildcat ended his career with 62.4 fWAR/68.4 bWAR. By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, he is slightly behind on all three averages for a Hall of Fame centerfielder; just short by 2.9 career WAR, 1.3 on 7-year peak, and 2.1 JAWS. However, his career numbers put him 10th all-time amongst all centerfielders, Hall or no.

For a contemporary, he outscores Kirby Puckett on all three aspects of the JAWS metric. Granted, his collection of personal and postseason hardware takes the second chair to Puckett’s. Our mystery man was a six-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glover, and never finished above 11th in an MVP vote. Puckett was a 10-time All-Star, won six Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, a batting title, was MVP of the 1991 ALCS, and has two World Series rings.

A two-sport star, he also played for the Wildcats hoops team, including replacing an injured Steve Kerr during his sophomore season, but was normally the sixth man. That includes an integral sixth-man season as a junior when the Wildcats made the Final Four. In fact, once he played in a World Series, he became one of two people ever to play in both a World Series and Final Four. The craziest part is that they both attended Washington High School (Chicago), which no longer exists; the other is relief pitcher Tim Stoddard.

One more Hall of Famer comparison, and not just for kicks. Also during the Expansion Era, our cryptic centerfielder is the only player to match Lou Brock. “The Rocket” and our guy are the only two in that stretch to have 130-plus homers, 380 or more doubles, at least 115 triples, 600-plus stolen bases, and an OPS under .800. I want to be careful, but fair, pointing out that this centerfielder has 23.0 more bWAR than Brock (Hall of Famer). Brock’s numbers here place him at 37th amongst all left fielders and 18th of 20 Hall of Fame left fielders. Eras cast different contexts, as do the changing membership of the BBWAA, and winning championships also shades voters’ decision-making, but there seems to be quite a disparity here. Brock was voted in his first year at 79.7% and Puckett in his first year as well with 82.1%, yet the answer to today’s trivia fell off the ballot in his initial year of eligibility with a paltry 3.2%.

Back to that unique game, just so we can admire it for a minute. Below is the log for his eight plate appearances that late summer Sunday afternoon at Jacobs Field.

Photo Credit: Author/Baseball Reference

Also of note, he made poor Brook Fordyce look like his arm was made of pasta noodles, since he thieved all five bags – second base four times and on a swipe of third – against the journeyman catcher.

Any idea who Steve Kerr’s college teammate is?


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