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34-Year-Old Catchers: How good is Ivan Rodriguez? Besides being one of my all-time favorite players, and hitting that that monster home run the other day to right-center field over a 20-foot wall during a night game in Oakland, I-Rod is notable for having arguably the third-best season ever by a 34-year-old catcher.

You think I talk crazy? Catching kills your body and degrades your defense. By 34, even Hall of Fame defenders like Johnny Bench were moved out from behind the plate, and guys like Bresnahan, Schalk and Cochrane were all over but the shouting. Even the Hall of Famers who were still regular catchers at 34 were often terrible -- Gary Carter hit .242/.301/.358, Roy Campenella .219/.333/.394.

Ivan Rodriguez, on the other hand, hit .300/.332/.437, caught 123 games, and most impressively, was arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball, throwing out an absurd 51% of runners trying to steal, and helping a young pitching staff mature into dominance. The combination of defense and offense gave him 25 Win Shares, second-most by a catcher this year (behind batting champion Joe Mauer). As best as I can quickly reckon, here are the top seasons by 34-year-old catchers:

NM YEAR G   AB   R    H  HR RBI BB   BA   OBP   SLG  OPS+ WS
EH 1963 135 487 75 140 28 85 35 .287 .342 .528 141 28
GH 1935 116 413 67 142 13 91 41 .344 .404 .545 151 26
IR 2006 136 547 74 164 13 69 26 .300 .332 .437 98 25
YB 1959 131 472 64 134 19 69 43 .284 .347 .462 124 24
LP 1990 133 470 54 126 24 70 46 .268 .338 .451 122 24
JP 2006 143 465 65 129 23 93 64 .277 .377 .492 127 24
SL 1959 140 505 63 134 22 84 55 .265 .345 .451 118 24
CZ 1895 88 315 60 107 5 56 33 .340 .417 .467 122 21
CF 1982 135 476 66 127 14 65 46 .267 .336 .403 103 19
EL 1942 105 308 32 102 11 46 37 .330 .403 .482 161 18
BD 1941 109 348 35 99 7 71 45 .284 .371 .417 109 18
TS 1996 145 514 79 140 35 100 49 .272 .342 .529 120 18
PL 2006 124 512 80 163 5 49 24 .318 .355 .428 105 17

Win Shares adjusted to 162-game seasons. In order, that's Elston Howard, Gabby Hartnett, I-Rod, Yogi Berra, the Angels' Lance Parrish, Jorge Posada, Sherm Lollar, Chief Zimmer, Carlton Fisk, Ernie Lombardi, Bill Dickey, Terry Steinbach, and Paul LoDuca. If I'm missing anyone, please tell me.

So of the 13 best 34-year-old catchers that's five Hall of Famers and a future HoFer (Pudge II). The top three guys (assuming the Tigers win another game) went to the World Series that year, as did Lollar and Dickey and maybe LoDuca.

But most intriguing of all is the fact that three of these seasons came in 2006. And they might have been joined by Jason Varitek, if he hadn't been injured this year (though such an "if" is iffy when it comes to thirty-something catchers). Mike Lieberthal is also 34. Hell, two-time All Star Charles Johnson is 34, though mercifully retired. Without a doubt, I think, the crop of catchers born between midsummer 1971 and midsummer 1972 is the best in the history of baseball.

Why? I'd guess three reasons -- Chance, advances in arthroscopic surgery, and Johnny Bench. Of all the favorite players among kids when I was growing up, Johnny Bench was always in the top five. Since Carlton Fisk was pretty cool, too, that might have helped Little League recruitment ... though Gary Carter probably soured the position on a whole generation of youngsters.

If we expand that clutch of just-younger-than-Matt catchers, from, say, Mike Piazza (born in September 1968) to Jason Kendall (June 1974), is that the best crop of catchers in history? You'd have two of the top 10 catchers in career Win Shares (Piazza's 6th, I-Rod's 10th); five of the top 30 (Kendall's 27th, Posada 29th, and Javy Lopez 30th) ... even the 53rd-most, in Brad Ausmus.

The main competition would be the gang born between April 1903 and April 1908 -- Bill Dickey (9th), Mickey Cochrane (12th), Ernie Lombardi (19th), Rick Ferrell (23rd), and Spud Davis (56th). And Gabby Hartnett, who ranks 5th in career Win Shares by a catcher, was born in December 1900. There were also a bunch of top-50 catchers born in the early 1890s, though no real frontline Hall of Famer types.

All of which to say is, I-Rod's rad, and we're watching something special.

10/14/2006 01:10 PM  |  Comment (1)

Did You Know That the L.A. Times Has a "Manhattan Project"?: I sure didn't, until reading this morning's New York Times. Now maybe we'll finally be able to beat the Nazis!

Anyhoo, I invite one & all to mosey on over to our Opinion L.A. blog, and perhaps leave a comment about what you'd like our modern day Oppenheimers to think about....

10/12/2006 07:47 PM  | 

The English Language -- Still Pleasurable! Today's example courtesy of Colby Cosh's pain:

As a kid I never suffered the recurring otitis that seemed to nag and developmentally delay of about 20% of my classmates; in general, considering the amount of time I spent running in bare feet on unpaved roads and skipping rocks off of our town's stagnant, evil-smelling "lake", I must have had an immune system that could have warded off Exocet missiles. Now, for no particular reason I'm aware of, I'm half-deaf and stuck scarfing aspirin, pouring Cipro and cortisone into my head, and reading about exotic complications of simple earache that involve facial paralysis and the slow transformation of the skull into Brie.
At least, young Cosh, you didn't have said earrache in Prague, circa 1994 or so, because what they would have done is strap your chin & neck into a vice-like contraption -- without telling you why, or what they were going to do -- and then slam a 13-inch needle straight through your left eardrum, to "release the fluid." And without even giving you a stick to bite through. Imagine all that terrible ear pain, then add a permanent gaping hole in the membrane, followed by roughly three trillion man-hours in close proximity to this fella.

10/10/2006 09:29 PM  |  Comment (2)

My Favorite Reactions to the Fact That the L.A. Times Publisher, Who Openly Defied His Bosses in the Pages of the New York Times, Got Fired By Them: There's so many it's hard to choose, but here's a shortlist (all italics will be mine, for fun):

Ken Reich:

While at the Justice Department in the Reagan Administration, [new Publisher David Hiller] worked with Ken Starr, later the persecutor of President Clinton, and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts, who in his first term at the high court sank to being as much to the right as Justices Scalia and Thomas.

This is not a man who is qualified to become publisher of the L.A. Times, even if he had not, as publisher of the Chicago Tribune, talked of making that paper a tabloid.

Good God … not the physical size of the newspaper! Noooooo!! Reich -- who worked at the Times longer than I've been alive -- also summed up recent honkings of protest within Spring Street thusly: "Is all this making an impression in Chicago? Perhaps not more than Mahatma Gandhi's letter to Adolf Hitler did in 1939."

Well, perhaps not! Next up, well, Ken Reich!

Hiller should be made to feel as unwelcome in Los Angeles as the Nazis were in Norway after they occupied the country on April 9, 1940. […]

No wonder [some guy who said Johnson's firing was understandable] is a professor at a business school, when we all know that businessmen are mostly highly unethical jackasses, without a care in the world for anything but making money. They have given up every value they may have had as children and become ethically contemptible.

Let's see, who's next? How about our pals over at Crooks and Liars !
the big bombshell is the guy who worked with Justice Roberts and the discredited partisan conservative operative Kenneth Starr, today, was named publisher of one of the largest newspaper in the United States of America - the Los Angeles Times–exactly thirty days before one of the most important elections we've had. He fired publisher Jeffrey Johnson and took over last night to the stunned silence of everyone at the Times who met him in a aborted Q&A Meet and Greet that didn't go well according to today's front page story in the Times.

This is a stunning development for the so-called "liberal media". [...]

The LA Times may well become the Moonie Times of the west.

May well! I also "may well" grow devil horns on my forehead and begin speaking fluent Hungarian! You just never know! Also -- and forgive me for being serious for a moment -- newspaper publishers aren't hired because of their ability to influence elections.

Next up, a nugget from the Santa Barbara Star Free Press, one of many blogs inspired by the whole News-Press fiasco up there (of which I have something interesting to write one of these months):

Instead, capitalize on the fact you are a newspaper. And get back into the biz of being a newspaper. The Los Angeles Times does this very well already. Increasing the writing/graphic content is only going to make things better and bigger aka circulation. The web is an adjunct for the 20-something set. First you have to teach them how to read, though, and you will do this by hooking them electronically with all the splashy, graphic stuff they are used to.
If only the class of '97 could read! Next, some counterpoint, from The Real Ugly American:
Trust me Liberal or conservative in the end if you aren't making money, or worse yet losing it hand over fist like the LA Times, people are going to lose their jobs
The L.A. Times makes money at a higher rate (per expenditure) than probably 90% of the Fortune 500. Maybe 95%. Whatever!

Here's some poetry, from Easy Writer:

So long, Hollywood. Sayonora, Mr. Smith. Toodle-oo, Mr. Johnson. Good bye to the idealism of movies that have shaped our outlook for too long in L.A. Like the wind that blasts over Lake Michigan and freezes it at an angle, The Tribune has appointed a media executive, hand picked from the their own midwestern crops. David Hiller was the publisher of the Chicago Tribune. At one point in his history as a suit with the Trib, he was head of the 'the Interactive Unit." Be that what it may, I always thought it sounded like Tinker Toys.
And finally, Brady Westwater:
it is possible that what happened today is the best possible thing that could have happened to the Los Angeles Times.

10/09/2006 10:22 PM  |  Comment (9)

"It's like seeing Lincoln's stovepipe hat, except Lincoln's hat was never worn by a freakin' ASTRONAUT"

10/08/2006 10:02 PM  |  Comment (1)

Would You Like To Be Her Fetus? Havrilesky contemplates the coming explosion.

10/08/2006 07:21 PM  | 

Jeff Johnson? Nice guy. Good, self-deprecating sense of humor, especially over the past four weeks. Showed genuine interest in journalism, and Southern California. Since the Opinion Page has been under the publisher for the past year, he (and now his successor) can sit in on the Editorial Board meetings at his pleasure, and did so maybe eight times during my tenure. He was usually pretty quiet at these things, except for one, in which he cross-examined a visiting dignitary (I forget who ... Schwarzenegger?) with some pretty good questions. I think he'd make a pretty good business reporter. Of course, he'll never have to be.

10/08/2006 07:07 PM  |  Comment (3)

And What Did I Do Yesterday? Nothing, of course.

10/08/2006 06:52 PM  | 

Hi! What are you doing down here?

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