Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Of Cabbages and Kings and Second-Sackers, Pt. 1

It seems of late, in this dreariest of all postseasons, that the conversation has turned to second basemen, past and present.

Eighty-sixing the Toe is the JuJu equivalent of a war crime, and we will pay heavily for it.  Bringing back the Jogging Man would be almost as bad.

But John M. had an interesting query about Yankees second basemen of the more distant past, so I thought I would speak to that, in part to defend my avatar, Horace Clarke.

Okay, for starters, who do these lifetime hitting stats belong to?

5,780 PA  .266/.299/.335/.634  73 SB 48 CS, 34 HR, 390 RBI, 643 Runs, 262 BB 243 SO

5,242 PA  .256/.308/.313/.621 151 SB 58 CS, 27 HR, 304 RBI, 548 Runs, 357 BB 356 SO

The first guy is Bobby Richardson, beloved Gold Glove second baseman on many a Yankees championship team.

The second one is Horace Clarke, punch line for the Yankees of the bad old CBS days.

As you can see, they are nearly the same player when it comes to hitting.  Richardson had a little more power, Clarke was better at getting on base.

All in all, though, in the context of their eras, Clarke was really the better player on "offense."

Baseball reference gives Hoss a lifetime 14.0 OWAR, as opposed to just 8.3 for Bobby.

Richardson did hit over .300 twice, which always impresses sportswriters, and he led the AL in hits with 209, in 1962, his finest season at the plate.  Besides being a singles machine, as usual, Bobby had 38 doubles, 5 triples, and 8 homers that year.

Incredibly, though, despite spending almost his entire career hitting ahead of the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Moose Skowron in their best years—and a still able Yogi Berra—Richardson NEVER scored as many as 100 runs in a season.

His top total was 99 runs, in that same 1962 season.  In 1961, hitting first in a lineup that belted a major-league record 240 homers, he somehow managed to score only 80 times.

How was that possible?

Well, walks, mostly—or the lack thereof.  Richardson never managed more than 37 in a season—something that used to frustrate the hell out of Casey Stengel, who delayed making him a full-time player for that very reason.  (Ralph Houk, on the other hand, never had any problem batting him first, which should tell you something about the two men as managers.)

Clarke, on the other hand, managed to score a high of 82 runs, in 1969, hitting ahead of the likes of Jerry Kenney and Jake Gibbs.

As a leadoff hitter, Clarke also failed to walk nearly as much as we would like today, but he did manage a career-high of 64 in 1971.  If you'll notice, Horace had nearly 100 more walks than Bobby, in some 500 fewer plate appearances.

Sure, Horace never hit over .285—but he was playing in the most pitcher-friendly years since the "live ball era" came in in 1920.

And when he reached base, Clarke knew what to do.  He was a much better base stealer than Richardson, particularly when you throw in the fact that Richardson stole 26 of 29 bases in 1963-64;.  Outside of those two years, he was almost even money to be caught, whereas Hoss succeeded in stealing at an almost 75 percent rate.

But hey, never mind.

Bobby Richardson's big, big advantage is in the field, right?  Where he was the five-time Gold Glove winner over poor, clumsy Horace?


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