Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dal Maxvill, 1970 St. Louis Cardinals

The surprisingly gaunt Maxvill (5’11, 160 lbs) is, to borrow a cliché, a St. Louis institution. A product of Washington University-St. Louis, this longtime Cardinals utility infielder (and short-time Athletics and Pirates stopgap) ground out 14 seasons in the show, accumulating 3898 plate appearances at a ridiculously low 57 OPS+. Whatever gains the excellent Gibson/Brock-era Cardinals believed they were getting from Maxvill’s glove were surely defaulted by virtue of what Jim Bouton might call his “cancer bat.” Maxvill was, for a full-time player, a historically bad hitter. He was worse (I’m guessing) than Mark Belanger (68 career OPS+), Neifi Perez (64 OPS+), and the other poor-hitting, slick fielding middle infielders we so enjoy mocking. In 1965, Maxvill accumulated an OPS+ of 11 in 98 plate appearances. Eleven. Think about it. As bad as that season was, however, Maxvill’s nadir surely came in 1970 when he was serving as the starting shortstop for a disappointing 76-86 Cardinals team that was just two years removed from a World Series appearance (the Cardinals lost to the Tigers in 7, of course, with Maxvill going a predictable 0 for 22 against a formidable Detroit staff). In 1970, Maxvill was also personally two years removed from “greatness” (of a sort), as he had won a Gold Glove and come 20th in MVP voting in ’68, finishing with a monster (for him) OPS+ of 91. Following this high point, though, Maxvill proved, beyond dispute, that he was a historically terrible hitter. Even in an extreme pitcher’s era, he was particularly bad at producing runs. In 1970, Dal proved his singular hitting badness by becoming the first player to accumulate fewer than 80 hits in over 150 games played. Maxvill racked up 466 plate appearances, exactly 80 hits, 5 doubles, 2 triples, and 0 home runs for an eye-popping .201/.287/.223 slash line…which was largely IN LINE WITH HIS CAREER NUMBERS! Yes, Maxvill was so bad a hitter that he set a record for hitting futility and it didn’t even result in a particularly “down” year. Given this amazing fact, one needn’t be surprised that, when Maxvill came up for Hall of Fame voting, he received exactly zero votes, finishing behind such luminaries as Jim Northup and Leo Cardenas (remember that name). Maxvill would have the last laugh, though, catching on as a coach with the A’s, Mets, Braves, and, of course, the Cardinals, before becoming the General Manager of the Cardinals between 1984 and 1994, delivering two World Series appearances (and two very narrow losses) to St. Louis in 1985 and 1987. Not bad for a cancer bat.

150+ G, 80- hits

Leo Cardenas, 1972 California Angels

While I’m sure they seemed wildly different at the time (one’s from Matanzas, Cuba while the other’s from the heart of America, Granite City, Illinois, dammit), Leo “Chico” Cardenas and Dal Maxvill seem remarkably similar in context. They were about the same size (Leo was reportedly one inch shorter, three pounds heavier), both received some MVP love (Dal finished 20th in 1968, Leo finished 21st twice and 12th once), both won Gold Gloves (as if I cared), and both were ludicrously bad hitters. Cardenas, a five-time All-Star who played the majority of his career in Cincinnati and Minnesota, was nicknamed “Mr. Automatic,” presumably based on the type of out he represented. To be fair to Mr. Cardenas, he did finish with an OPS+ of 100 or higher four times and, in 1971, the year before he set a largely unwanted offensive record, he swatted the ball at a 107 OPS+ for the Twinkies. This occasional offensive production is surely why Cardenas’s similarity scores show him to be a comparable player to occasionally-decent hitters like Greg Gagne and Mike Bordick, whereas Dal Maxvill – Leo’s natural foil in many ways – is most comparable to the likes of Hal Lanier (who possesses his own entry on this very blog), Dick Schoefield, and Rafael Belliard. But, I should note, that Chico’s occasionally decent offence was just that – occasional. In 1972, his offence went AWOL, never to return. Luckily, things got bad enough that Cardenas actually set a record that year, too. Getting a full season of playing time, presumably based on the strength of his 1971 season, Cardenas became the first player to appear in 150 games but score fewer than 30 runs. He collected 602 plate appearances but only crossed the plate 25 times. Such is the fate for players with .223/.272/.283 slash lines, though Leo’s 70 OPS+ still didn’t quite enter Maxvillian territory. Following his record-setting affair, Cardenas moved on to Cleveland (1973) and Texas (1974/5) before retiring and collecting 1 Hall of Fame vote in 1981, placing him exactly one spot ahead of – you guessed it – Dal Maxvill.

Note: Leo Cardenas – he of the 88 career OPS+ - is 74th all-time in intentional walks, having finished first in 1965 and 1966. This may be the most amazing fact about professional baseball you will ever read.

150+ G, 30- R

Walt Bond, 1962 Cleveland Indians

Walt Bond was a slugger in the mould of, I don’t know…Billy Ashley? J.R. Phillips? Well, lots of people. The difference is, when Bond got his opportunities, he made good (sort of). In 1960/61, Bond wracked up 209 undistinguished plate appearances with the Indians, who he had signed with as an undrafted free agent in 1957. In 1962, with the truly average Tito Francona entrenched at first base, Bond spent another year riding the pine for Cleveland, collecting only 54 plate appearances over 12 games. Those twelve games, though, allowed Bond to very briefly set the world afire. Bond collected 6 home runs, 3 doubles, and a .380/.426/.800 slash line to finish the year with a 226 OPS+. His season marked the first time in baseball history someone had collected 40 or more total bases (he had exactly 40) in 15 or fewer games. In the same way Mike Benjamin’s three game tear in June, 1995 got him another look around baseball, Bond suddenly piqued the interest of some GMs. In December, 1963 the Houston Colt .45s purchased Bond, who would serve as their new first sacker. Bond played this position adequately throughout the 1964 season, popping 20 homers in 597 plate appearances, good for a 108 OPS+. After slumping ever so slightly in 1965 (7 HR, 106 OPS+) and missing the entire next year, Houston traded Bond to Minnesota for the Ken Retzer (is there another one I don’t know about?) After 20 plate appearances with the ’67 Twins, Bond retired to his Houston home before succumbing to leukemia later that year. Bond’s illness cut short a career that, judging from his 162 game averages (18 HR, 79 RBI, 109 OPS+) would have made him an above-average big leaguer. While he spent a career playing like Mickey Brantley (similarity score: 962), he spent a dozen games as the greatest slugger this side of Barry Bonds.

40+ TB, 15- G

Bruce Campbell, 1931 Chicago White Sox

Bruce “Soupy” Campbell entered the 1931 season as a fresh-faced 21 year-old backup outfielder with just 11 career plate appearances under his belt. The Chicago-born youth could probably have helped the Sox out immediately if Pale Hose manager Donie Bush hadn’t felt so committed to his undistinguished outfield of Johnny Watwood, Lew Fonseca, and Carl Reynolds. As the team’s part-time fifth outfielder, stuck behind 33 year-old Bob Fothergill (85 OPS+), “Beef and Barley” Campbell made the most of his limited playing time. Collecting just 18 plate appearances, “Cream of Tomato” became the first (and only) player in Major League history to collect 15 or more total bases in five or fewer games (he played four). Playing one week’s worth of games, “Chicken Noodle” bashed out two home runs (good for a fourth-place tie on the team that year), two doubles, a .412/.444/.882 line, and an amazing 250 OPS+. This remarkable performance seemed only to agitate White Sox management, however. Following a 93-loss 1931 season, the team traded “Bisque” (too many?) to the Cleveland Indians for starting pitcher Bump Hadley, who the Sox would then flip for Luke Sewell and utility infielder Red Kress (Kress would accrue 528 undistinguished plate appearances for the team before being traded for someone named Bob Boken). “Jambalaya” [note: I’m so sorry] thrived after leaving Chicago. As the White Sox were suffering through a 49-102 season in 1932, a record made possible by the play of starting outfielder Liz Funk (78 OPS+), Soupy received 593 plate appearances with the hapless St. Louis Browns, collecting 268 total bases, knocking in 85 runs, and serving as one of the few bright spots on the 91-loss team. Campbell went on to have a substantial career, starting for Detroit in the 1940 World Series and accumulating 91 RBI. Over the course of his career, Campbell had a .290/.367/.455 slash line and a 109 OPS+ average per 162 games. Never a superstar, it’s still safe to say the Chisox did not properly respect the abilities of…ready for it?... "Gazpacho."

5- G, 15+ TB