Ron Fineman, RIP: The Year of Death continues apace with the passing of local TV news critic Ron Fineman, who had battled colon cancer for years. He was only 54.
Ron and I had crossed paths, shared a few e-mail laughs, sat on panels together and crossed the occasional sword over the years. His was one of the few media-crit sites around in L.A. when I came here in 1998, and it always made up for its atrocious design sense (this coming from me!) and near-hysterical attacks on broadcasters who speak accented English with its heartfelt and energetic passion for something as seemingly oxymoronic and irrelevant as local TV journalism ethics. This led him to quite a few scoops, and a consistently interesting site for those interested in such things (and even for those who aren't). We worked hard on an investigative Op-Ed piece he wrote for the Times, and I regret we weren't ever able to get it just right. Nice guy, real self-deprecating sense of humor, and a hopeless love for a possibly doomed cause. He'll be missed.
(Link from L.A. Observed, which has a suitably gruesome roundup of its 2006 death notices.)
Sorry for the cutoff at the end. If you like the dancing and '60 technicolor, there's always Popcorn:
Remember that time when James Brown was playing that one song, and he pulled Michael Jackson up on stage to dance and sing, then he pulled Prince up to play guitar and do a striptease? You don't? I don't either! But it happened:
And this has got to be one of the best crazy celebrity interviews ever:
"B-R" is Baseball-Reference.com, or basically what the old Baseball Encyclopedia used to be for kids like me -- the why-would-you-even-think-about-looking-anywhere-else home for easy-to-digest baseball statistics. Except for that it's 400 times better & certainly a lot lighter to carry. Now, this offseason, it has added all kinds of neato new features, like career and season-by-season splits for pitchers and hitters (look! Yaz was basically a platoon player!); daily lineups used by long-ago managers (Gene Mauch in 1982, for instance), game logs, and so on. But the new drug, pure crack as far as I'm concerned (having never actually, you know, smoked crack), is a little tool you'll find on player pages called "Neutralize Stats." With one click of a button you can, in a sense, erase the three biggest sources of distortion in player statistics -- ballpark, era, and length of season. Now you can take a guy who played in pitcher's parks in low-scoring eras (Rusty Staub, say) and reasonably compare him to a guy who played the same position at Coors Field (Todd Helton). Instead of a Staub's decent .279/.362/.431 vs. Helton's stunning .333/.430/.593, you soon discover that Rusty's pretty close-- .300/.385/.460 over 23 seasons vs. Helton's .306/.401/.545 over 10.
I've been saying for years that hitters who played in the modern dead-ball era, from 1963 to 1992, and especially '63-76, are almost criminally underrated, especially when compared to those from the inflationary '20s and '30s, or 1890s. Position after position you'll find the Hall of Fame nearly empty of hitters from the productive years of the Rolling Stones' career. In the offensively robust season of 1926 there were five Hall of Fame second basemen playing full-time on the 16 major league teams -- Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer, and Tony Lazzeri, yet in 1976-77, 1981-82 and 1985-86 there was just one for the 26 teams (Joe Morgan, then Ryne Sandberg); and for the rest of the time between 1971-92, there was never more than two HoFers playing 2B regularly in any given year. Saying this, and maybe looking at some semi-exotic context-leveling tool like Win Shares, is one thing; expressing the difference in traditional, easy-to-understand stats is something else.
The best or second-best 2Bman in baseball during that 1976-86 drought was my favorite player, Mr. Bobby Grich, the most deserving eligible pivot man currently not in the Hall of Fame. You can summarize the case against Grich very simply -- A lifetime batting average of .266 just ain't high enough for the Hall. So what does "Neutralize stats" say about that?
Second-worst in batting average and hits, yes, but also 2nd in homers and walks, 4th in OBP, 7th in slugging. Now, let's see what happens when you neutralize everyone's stats; allowing Johnny Evers to play 162 games a year, Doerr and Gehringer to lose some of their home-field advantage of playing in hitters parks, and so on. Suddenly, the '70s kids go straight to the front of the line:
If Bobby Grich hit .287 with 260 homers, 2000+ hits and a .395 OBP, would you vote for him? Hell yes, you would -- don't forget that he was one of the five best defensive second basemen to ever play the game (I'd argue he ranks just behind Mazeroski). Well, these stats reflect not what he would have done, but rather what his offensive contributions were actually worth at the time, comparatively. He was basically Ryne Sandberg or Bobby Doerr, but with 50% more walks. His offense, on a percentage basis, was more valuable than Charlie Gehringer's (this is something that I would not have ever fully accepted before). He played in pitchers parks, had his best season (1981) in a strike year, three of his four best seasons ('81, '76 and '72) in offensive drought years, and he missed most of the expansion-fueled offensive mini-boom of 1977 with a wrenching back injury. The only time league runs/game even crossed the 4.63 threshold (the level at which everyone's stats are translated to in this exercise) was 1979, and he .294 with 30 homers and 101 RBIs. Neutralize his stats, and he hit .300 five times (instead of once), scores 100 runs four times (instead of never), drives in 100 three times (instead of once).
Grich's other main problem, one that his candidacy probably won't recover from, is that we have a new Hall of Fame generation of '90s-fattened second basemen coming down the pike - - Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent. Still, this tool is just incredible -- look at how much Biddy McPhee actually couldn't hit! Check out how much Lazzeri still could, even after adjusting for '20s-'30s inflation. And my oh my just look at that Rod Carew!