Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sluggo's place in Pirate history

Another thing I may have learned from the new BP annual: the Pirates have not had many good catchers. Then I remembered this Stats Geek article from August 2004.

Catcher, unlike shortstop or right field, is not a position where Pirates have reached baseball immortality. The best catcher to wear a Pittsburgh uniform was undoubtedly Josh Gibson, "the Babe Ruth of the Negro Leagues," who played 13 seasons for the Homestead Grays and three for the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Gibson led the league in home runs nine times and in batting four times. None of the other 13 catchers in the Hall of Fame played for a Pittsburgh team.

But the Pirates had some very good ones. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract rates players' career performances through the 1999 season. [Forrest "Smoky"] Burgess, who played six seasons for the Pirates, was ranked the 28th-best catcher in history. Of the baker's dozen players who caught at least 400 games for the Pirates, seven more made James' list. Following [Smoky] Burgess were [Tony] Pena (34th), Al Lopez (41st), [Manny] Sanguillen (42nd), Don Slaught (67th), Doggie Miller (76th), Mike LaValliere (91st) and George Gibson (95th).

BP writes (page 401): "Don Slaught would probably make a list of the team's top-five all-time offensive catchers. For a franchise with a history going back to the nineteenth century, that's amazing."

Why is that amazing? Thirteen of the top 95--this is amazing? The Pirates' history of catchers strikes me as unremarkable.

So I don't get the joke. In the context, though, they appear to be smearing the great Sluggo. They can direct all the snark they have at ownership, general management, and the coaching staff, as far as I am concerned; they are the most on the hook for the current run of failure. The scattershot swipes at Pittsburghers, the team's history, the Monongahela's water quality, etc., don't strike me as fair. They are sophomoric.

I don't have a copy of the 1999 Abstract. Assuming Brian O'Neill quoted it fairly, James judged Slaught the 67th best catcher of all time, and the fifth-best catcher in Pirates history. Add Kendall and he's the sixth-best. His offensive record is not that impressive, but offense is only half the job of the catcher. Was Slaught's defense that good? Finoli and Ranier, who do not rank Slaught as one of the top 100 Pirates, write that his defense was not Gold Glove caliber but "more than adequate."

In the end, I think this is not something worth learning about the Pirates. But rather another example of how the BP "team of experts" get careless as they indulge their enthusiasm for ripping the Bucs. Someone vaguely remembered that Stats Geek article and tried to make a joke of it to fluff up the nothing they have to say about Humberto Cota.

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