There were a couple of old school baseball fans hanging out at the bar during the Boston Red Sox/Tampa Bay Rays marathon on ESPN last night. I’m not sure how they got into this conversation but I found it too good to ignore. The gentlemen were talking general baseball, reminiscing on the players they watched when they were kids. One of the men said he was 56 years old so for argument sake, he was a kid living in New York City during the 1960’s. After throwing around a bunch of names like Stargell, Clemente, Mantle and Williams they landed on the name of Yogi Berra.
The discussion was based around how many rings Yogi won during his major league career. One man said he had 10, the other said he had 15. The men deferred to me to be the mediator and researcher of the statistics and I was able to do so with my trusty iTouch. In total, Berra had won 13 rings during his time in the Major Leagues. He won 10 as a player and 3 as a coach. Satisfied with the answer I gave them, they moved on to another Yogi Berra statistic that I really couldn’t ignore.
The discussion changed to the fact that one of the men had heard that Yogi Berra had struck out a total of 414 times in his entire career. One of the men had said that he heard it being discussed on some telecast and the announcer who mentioned it said that he saw the statistic and though it was “a misprint”. Again, the men defer to me to be the voice of reason in their discussion and off I go to research whether or not Yogi Berra in fact only had 414 strikeouts for his career.
After checking out the Baseball Statistics app on my iTouch, lo and behold Yogi Berra did indeed have only 414 strikeouts. WOW!!!! To better flesh out how impressive this was I decided to look at all of his stats. Berra played for a total of 19 seasons (1948-1963, 1965) in which he had a career batting average of .285. In 7555 at-bats, Berra had 2150 hits (321 2B, 49 3B, 358 HR) with 1430 RBI. He had a career .830 OPS (.348OBP/.482 SLG) with 704 Walks and the aforementioned 414 strikeouts. That averages out to roughly 22 strikeouts per season. Per season! Now I know this is not a fair comparison but look at Mark Reynolds of the Baltimore Orioles. Reynolds has led the league the last three seasons in strikeouts with combined 638 strikeouts. But has the mentality of making contact changed that much from then to now?
I decided to compare Berra to other Hall of Fame catchers from within the years that he played ad found something interesting. The players I looked at were Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey and Gabby Hartnett. All three players were phenomenal players from behind the plate.
Mickey Cochrane played for 13 seasons (1925-1937) and he compiled a .320 batting average with 1652 hits (333 2B, 64 3B, 119 HR) and 832 RBI in 5169 at-bats. His OPS was .897 (.419 OBP/.478 SLG) with 857 Walks, and 217 strikeouts. His highest of 26 strikeouts came in 1934 and his lowest of 8 came in 1929.
Bill Dickey played for 17 seasons (1928-1943, 1946) and he compiled a .313 batting average with 1969 hits (343 2B, 72 3B, 202 HR) and 1209 RBI in 6300 at-bats. His OPS was .868 (.382 OBP/.486 SLG) with 678 Walks and 289 strikeouts. His highest of 39 strikeouts came in 1939 and his lowest of 11 came in 1935.
Gabby Hartnett played for 20 seasons (1922-1941) and he compiled a .297 batting average with 1912 hits (396 2B, 64 3B, 236 HR) and 1179 RBI in 6432 at-bats. His OPS was .859 (.370 OBP/.489 SLG) with 703 Walks and 697 strikeouts. His highest of 77 strikeouts came in 1925 and his lowest of 19 came in 1937.
Why was it that these players strikeout to at-bat ratios was so miniscule compared to today’s players. Was it better plate discipline? Consider that Berra averaged 22 strikeouts per season with his highest being in 1959 with 38 strikeouts and his lowest being in 1950 with 12. Adding to that is the fact that during the what is known as New York City’s Golden Era of Baseball (1949-1957), Berra placed in the top ten of MVP voting seven times winning the AL MVP award three times and this is on a team with players like Mickey Mantle. Truly amazing.
Is there a simple explanation past that players like Berra, Cochrane, Dickey and Hartnett were extraordinary players and truly Hall of Famers? What do you think. Any sabermetricians want to add to this is? Let me know.