The PCL and the negro leagues are a parallel universe of baseball history that most people don’t even know existed. I realized that we could tell that story and validate it through the authenticity of the garments. Those two leagues are the pillars that started this brand. And that’s still what we do.”
– Jerry Cohen, co-founder and owner of Ebbets Field Flannels
— Classfare (@classfare) October 5, 2015
I had a birthday last week, my fortieth. There are few events in your life that cause pause to face your own mortality like a milestone birthday. Forty. Forty years old. I, Paul Dylan, am forty years old. It doesn’t feel right, doesn’t make sense.
How did I get here?
Here is a list of the 10 best age-40 baseball seasons by hitters, using On-Base Plus Slugging:
1. Ty Cobb .921 1927
2. Harold Baines .919 1999
3. Moises Alou .916 2007
4. Willie Mays .907 1971
5. Edgar Martinez .895 2003
6. Rickey! .889 1999
7. Darrell Evans .880 1987
8. Dave Winfield .867 1992
9. Sam Rice .864 1930
10. Stan Musial .860 1961
It’s interesting to me that two of those performances came in the same year: Harold Baines and Rickey! Henderson were both 40 years old in 1999.
Coincidentally, the Pedro Martinez card that I chose as my champion also represents the 1999 season. When this coincidence came to my attention, it seemed apropos to use one of the two great age 40 cards to represent the vast nothingness of Death come to claim me.
If you missed the hypothetical question I asked here last week – the day before I turned 40 – the TL;DR version of it is this: If your fate was going to be decided by one at bat versus a randomly selected batter (batter gets on base you die, batter gets out you live), who would you choose to pitch for you? I chose Pedro Martinez, circa 1999.
Given that I’ve decided that the appropriate representative for Death would be the 1999 age 40 card of either Harold Baines or Rickey! Henderson, I’m going to use my dramatic license with this experiment and just select Rickey! as the batter. Rickey! versus Pedro is the matchup that would be the most fun.
I’m going to use Super-Advanced Strat-O-Matic rules, since I might as well try to create the most accurate simulation of this “what if” at-bat from 1999. If you’ll recall (I didn’t), Rickey! spent the entire 1999 season with the New York Mets and consequently did not face Pedro (who was still with the Boston Red Sox) that year. For his career, Rickey batted .200 (2 for 10) with 3 walks versus Pedro. That’s a .385 On-Base Percentage for those scoring at home.
One of the criteria of the hypothetical situation was that the pitcher has a league-average defense behind him. I spent way too much time figuring this out using Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average per 1200 innings, but, trust me, the players listed below were the “most average” at their position in all of baseball in 1999. You’ll immediately notice that Strat doesn’t always agree with the metric I used, but that’s ok with me. This feels like it would have been an average defensive team in real life, even if Strat thinks Jose Hernandez and Brent Mayne were below average for their positions that year.
If you’re unfamiliar with Strat-O-Matic, the fielding ratings are listed directly below the player’s name in the top left-hand corner of each card. Fielders are rated for range on a 1 – 5 scale (1 is Gold-Glove quality, 3 is average, 5 is emergency use only), and the “e” rating is, in simple-but-not-precisely-true terms, the number of errors a player would make at that position if used there for a whole season. Outfielders and catchers are rated for throwing ability, too, (those little +/- numbers in parentheses next to the range ratings) but those ratings won’t come into play here.
So I guess there’s nothing left to do here but get down to it. I’ve been dreading this moment for a week. As much as I consider myself a rational and sane individual, I’m inexplicably but undeniably very superstitious.
It really feels like testing fate to roll dice and pretend my life is on the line. I’ve gambled real money before, facing real consequences, and even though this isn’t exactly the same as sports betting at William Hill or going to Reno and putting everything on black, rolling these dice tonight with my life on the line (for pretend) gives me the same adrenaline rush. Now that I think about it, it really gives me the same feeling as standing in the bathroom in the dark saying “Bloody Mary” three times. You know it’s pretend. You know nothing is going to happen. But what if…
Here it is. The roll that determines whether I live or die.
(I’m FORTY years old. Self, is this my beautiful house? Is this my beautiful wife? How did I get here?)
Ok, here it is, for reals:
Same as it ever was. Thank you, Pedro.
There are a few baseball-related purchases that have become annual “must haves” for me. Sabr.org membership renewal, MLB.TV subscription, new Strat cards for the previous season, and a subscription to Joe Sheehan’s newsletter.
You might think that one of these things is not like the others, but there is no baseball writer today as prolific and who consistently turns out engaging, smart and unique day-to-day analysis as Joe Sheehan. If you’re addicted to baseball the way I am, finding that Sheehan newsletter in your email inbox (nearly) every day will be as gratifying as your first cup of coffee each morning.
In his newsletter on Friday, Joe Sheehan wrote: “[Kenley] Jansen’s cutter is, for my money, the best single pitch in the game. If I had to retire one batter for my life right now, I’d probably pick Jansen to do so.”
Which led me, of course, to try to think of who I’d pick in that situation. So here’s the scenario*:
Your life is on the line. The batter gets out, you live. He gets on base, you die. You have no idea who the batter is going to be. Maybe Mike Trout, maybe Bryce Harper, maybe Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, maybe Omar Infante or Mario Mendoza; the point is, you don’t know. Your defense is league average at every position. Your stadium is symmetrical and plays exactly league average in terms of all offense factors.
*This scenario differs from Sheehan’s in that his assumes you’re here right now, with 2015 pitchers facing 2015 batters. Since I don’t have cards for 2015 yet, I thought I’d go with an all-time greats scenario.
Which pitcher would you trust with your life?
I thought about this a lot before making my decision. Obviously, you want someone who is as close to unhittable as can be. Someone with overpowering stuff and nerves of steel.