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What are the three most wonderful letters in the English alphabet?

F-J-M. That’s what.

mike_schmidt(Mike) Schmidt is the best ever.

Seriously?

No, Seriously.

Like, ever?

Ever.

OK. You’ve got our attention. Make your case, Allen Barra.

In 2002 I wrote a book called Clearing the Bases, a collection of arguments about various baseball players, one of which was that Mike Schmidt was, quite possibly, the greatest baseball player of all time.

OK. Now we’ve got your credentials. And we are impressed. But slow down. Our brain can’t handle this much information. Now when you say “greatest”…

That is to say that if all players in baseball history lined up to play against the same competition at the same time and under the same circumstances, there was a very good chance that Schmidt would emerge as the best ever.

Gotcha.

In 2006, Mike Schmidt got his revenge…

On you? For what?  For that time you wrote a book calling him the greatest player ever? Yeah, he must have been dreaming of a chance to get back at you for that one.

…coauthoring a book also titled Clearing the Bases without once acknowledging that he stole his title from me.

Is this an article about Mike Schmidt or an article about how you wrote a book about Mike Schmidt? When do we get to the good stuff?

(Actually, as I found out later, someone else had used the title several years before both of us.)

So you do believe in coincidences. And that potentially, not everyone is clamoring to steal your ideas (says the man stealing from FJM).

My book was better than Schmidt’s…

All right, I can’t take this crap anymore and we’re only five sentences into this freaking article. I DON’T CARE ABOUT ALLEN BARRA. GET TO THE FREAKING ARGUMENT.

…in part because I made the argument that Mike Schmidt might have been the best player ever, and Schmidt, in his own book, did not.

So because Mike Schmidt wasn’t the pompous ass that you are, his book is lesser? Glad we cleared that one up there, champ.

Schmidt, however, did make an important point that I missed

Finally. You’re going to give me some interesting insight.

- I’ll get to that in a moment.

My balls are blue.

First, let me give you a brief synopsis of my case for Schmidt, supplemented with what I’ve learned in the eight years since I first made it. I weight the argument heavily in favor of players who entered the big leagues after 1950, when the game became fully integrated.

The game was fully integrated in 1950? I suppose that’s true, if you discount the fact that a couple of teams – like, the Yankees, White Sox, Red Sox, Athletics, Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Senators, Phillies, Tigers, and Cardinals – were yet to have any African-Americans play for them in 1950. But as long as 5 out of 16 teams had at least one, that counts! Hooray for equality!

I’m not saying that Babe Ruth or Josh Gibson weren’t the best players of their or any other time, but I don’t feel that we’ll ever really know because they didn’t play against each other.

But you can, apparently, compare Mike Schmidt to Eddie Matthews even though they didn’t play against each other. Yeah, that sounds fair.

Mike Schmidt2The era when competition was keenest, I believe, was about 1970 to around 1990…

Dude, just come out and say it. You know damned well whose career fits neatly in that arbitrary time frame. It’s Schmidt’s. He played from 1972-1989. You know who played in the decade before then that you’re conveniently leaving out? Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, etc, etc. God, I hope you’re going to give me a good reason why you chose this time over any other…

…before millions of black kids became alienated from baseball and millions more white kids discovered video games.

Ho-lee Fawk. Video games? That’s what you’re going with? Video games. Well, it’s then my contention that the greatest era of baseball players must have been pre-1957, after which millions of children’s minds and pelvises were co-opted by the hula hoop. Their swings would never be the same.

I believe that in the future, when someone takes time to make such an analysis, they’ll find that the talent level was higher in that period because there were more kids competing for big-league jobs – native Latin as well as American.

I believe that in the future, when someone takes time to make such an analysis, they’ll find that there will be more Europeans, East Asians, South Asians, Middle Easterners, Australians, Africans, and Inuit competing for big-league jobs because that’s just the way the world works.

Mike Schmidt was the best ballplayer of that era.

You mean the arbitrary era that you created and are the only one to recognize just to make your argument appear to have some sense of validity? OK, I’ll bite. How about Joe Morgan? Rickey Henderson? Johnny Bench?

He played perhaps the toughest position.

No, he most certainly did not.

On what evidence do I make that claim?

I haven’t a clue.

The Hall of Fame – there are fewer third basemen in Cooperstown than any other position, even catcher…

Or, how about, “most people understand that positions like catcher, shortstop, centerfield, second base, and pitcher are more demanding positions on the field and thus ought to be recognized for their accomplishments moreso than third basemen”?

…and Mike Schmidt played a great third base while leading the National League eight times in home runs in just 16 full seasons (i.e., more than 100 games).

This is true. Schmidt was a great player. No arguments there. But he played in Veterans Stadium, one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in the game at that time. Besides, there’s more to baseball than homeruns, you know?

To be honest, although I followed Schmidt’s career very closely, I saw him play more than 100 times in person, but didn’t realize that Schmidt had won eight home run titles.

Then you did not follow his career very closely.

I mean that’s positively, well, Ruthian. The Babe won 12 home run titles in 17 full seasons, but some of those came before most players began swinging for homers. (I’m counting 1918, when he played just 95 games but led the league in home runs, and 1925, when he played 98 games, as full seasons.)

So you decide to  give statistical evidence of why Babe Ruth was a far more dominant hitter than Schmidt was to assert that Schmidt was the greatest? I’m afraid I can’t quite follow.

For Schmidt to lead eight times in an era when the competition was so much better, is, I think, the greater achievement.

First off, Schmidt’s competition was not “so much better”. His main rivals for the NL HR crown were the likes of George Foster, Dave Kingman, and Dale Murphy. Good power hitters, to be sure. But they’re not Hall of Famers.  So how can you state that his competition was “so much better”?

How good a power hitter was Schmidt? Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, the consensus best players in the two decades before Schmidt, played more than 100 games in a combined 35 seasons. In 16 100-plus game seasons, Schmidt won as many home run titles as Mantle and Mays combined.

Doesn’t this say more about the high level of competition during Mays and Mantle’s time than it does about Mike Schmidt’s greatness?  I mean, you’re hiding the fact that out of those eight HR titles Schmidt won, he hit 40+HRs (in a hitter’s park, mind you) only two of those years. Mantle hit 54 in 1961 and didn’t win the title.

But, it would be argued by many… that Schmidt was only a .267 hitter who topped .300 just once during his career. Yes, but smart sportswriters understand today what many did not 30 years ago – the ability to reach base consistently as measured by on base average is more important than batting average.

Then you should know that among players who played in at least 1000 games during your arbitrary time frame Mike Schmidt’s .380 OBP is 13th behind the likes of Mike Hargrove, Gene Tenace, Ken Singleton, Bernie Carbo, and Pedro Guerrero (and for the record, another third baseman, Wade Boggs, is first on this list with a .443 OBP).

Schmidt led the league in OBA three times, which is as many times as Mantle led his. Mays’ career batting average was 35 points higher than Schmidt’s. Hank Aaron’s was 38 points higher. Yet Schmidt, in 16 full seasons, led the National League in OBA more than Aaron and Mays combined.

That’s because the National League sucked during this time. As a reference, over the last 30 years, only two National Leaguers led the league in OBP despite finishing the year below the .400 mark. And yes, Mike Schmidt is one of these people.

In the field, Mike Schmidt was outstanding, winning 10 Gold Gloves at third base. I didn’t realize exactly how good he was until I examined his stats in detail.

Again. Then you didn’t follow his career closely.

Schmidt and BrettSchmidt’s career range factor is 28 points higher than the league average for players at his position over the same period.

Again, no one’s going to argue that Schmidt wasn’t a great fielder. But you should also know that Schmidt’s career Ranger Factor per game is 3.0. George Brett’s? 3.0. Juan Castino, Graig Nettles and Darrell Evans? All 3.0. Buddy Bell? 3.1. You can’t just use comparisons when it suits your case there, Allen.

So, am I really saying that Mike Schmidt was the greatest player of all time?

Well, you said that in the article’s title. And in the first sentence. And in the second… So, yeah. You are.

Not really…

WHAT??? ARE YOU TURDING ME (I have to think about the children, folks)??? You mean you just spent the last 866 words bloviating all over the place for no frickin’ reason??? Do you know how stupid I feel right now? Do you know how stupid YOU should feel right now??? What is the point of this article???

I think many Phillies fans, myself included, underrated him because of his batting average and the fact that he struck out so much (more than 100 a season 12 times).

Well, you didn’t know any better, I suppose…

We forgot, or didn’t notice, that he hit into double plays with a lower frequency than Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mays, Aaron, Reggie Jackson, or even Pete Rose.

Uhh… That’s your big finale? That he didn’t hit into a lot of double plays? Well… yeah. If you strike out more, you make contact less frequently, which will probably result in fewer double plays… DiMaggio struck out like, what? 30 times a year?

And he did it all, as he did not hesitate to remind us in his book, before the age of chemical enhancement.

But well into the age of hula hoops.

Look, this is not to say that Mike Schmidt wasn’t one of the All-time greats. Clearly, he was. He may very well be the greatest third basemen to ever play the game. I don’t think he was the best player ever, but I’m sure somebody could probably make a compelling argument that he was. Barra’s argument, however, is so nonsensical and contains so many contradictions that it does Schmidt a disservice.

8 Responses to “Allen Barra Shows You How Not To State an Argument Over the Greatness of Mike Schmidt”

  1. BravesFan says:

    Nice job Paul. I read Barra’s article and was so infuriated that I had to shut down my computer. Unsubstantiated claim after unsubstantiated claim…and his ‘evidence’ was entirely nonsensical. Thanks for taking the time to rebut nearly everything that he wrote.

  2. Hahahahahaha.

    “BLACK KIDS ARE NOW ALIENATED FROM BASEBALL AND WHITE KIDS DON’T CARE BECAUSE THEY WANT TO PLAY CALL OF DUTY 4!

    I MEAN, HOW ELSE CAN YOU EXPLAIN ALL THESE F-ING ASIANS IN THE LEAGUE NOW?!?!?!”

    Holy mother of f*%k.

  3. Nice effort. Glad to see you keeping the spirit of FJM alive.

  4. Allen Barra says:

    To Paul Moro, whoever you are.

    A friend of mine at the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out your response to my piece in the Inquirer about Mike Schmidt’s credentials as the best player ever. Since your piece consists almost entirely of misquotes and false assumptions, I’m happy to take the time to straighten you out.

    First of all, you pretend not to be able to find the beginning of my argument. This seems to be because you waste several hundred words trying to be a smart ass. Let me spell it out for you: Mike Schmidt was one of the greatest power hitters in baseball history and one of the greatest fielders at a key defensive position. That should be simple enough even for you.

    You write, in response to my argument about when baseball became fully integrated: “The game was fully integrated in 1950? … As long as 5 out of 16 teams had at least one,” – black players, I assume you mean – “that counts! Hooray for equality!” BUT I DIDN’T SAY THE GAME WAS FULLY INTEGRATED IN 1950, ASSHOLE. I WROTE “I WEIGHT THE ARGUMENT HEAVILY IN FAVOR OF PLAYERS WHO ENTERED THE BIG LEAGUES AFTER 1950 …”

    I wrote “I’m not saying that Babe Ruth or Josh Gibson weren’t the best players of their or any other time, but I don’t feel that well ever really know because they didn’t play against each other.” Your response is “But you can, apparently, compare Mike Schmidt to Eddie Matthews even though the didn’t play against each other.”

    Could you possibly have missed my point, that Ruth and Gibson didn’t play against each other because the game was SEGREGATED?

    You write “Dude, just come out and say it. You know damned well whose career fits neatly into that arbitrary time frame. It’s Schmidt’s …. Yu know who played in the decade before then that you’re conveniently leaving out? Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, etc. etc.

    First, Dude, my time frame is anything but arbitrary, as I carefully explained. Second, I didn’t leave out those players. In fact, I compared Schmidt to the best players in that era – Mays, Aaron, and Mantle – or do you honestly think that Harmon Killebrew was the best player of that time?

    I made my argument for 1970-1990 on a quite rational basis. Little League participation was far higher back then, there were far more African-American athletes and loads of Hispanics competing for big league jobs. Since then, Little League enrollment has dropped and there are fewer African Americans in the game than any time over the last 60 years. Yes, there are East Asians, south Asians, Middle Easterners, Australians, and Africans playing baseball around the world, but as yet we don’t know whether there are enough of them to fill the rosters of 30 major league teams. Perhaps you can let us all know when you think there are.

    I say Mike Schmidt was the best ballplayer of his era. You reply “How about Joe Morgan? Rickey Henderson? Johnny Bench?” Yes, I am saying Schmidt was better than them. He was a better power hitter and at least as good and probably a better fielder at his position than they were at theirs.

    I write that “Mike Schmidt played a great third base while leading the National League 8 times in home runs in just 16 full seasons.” And “To be honest, although I followed Schmidt’s career very closely …. I didn’t realize that he won 8 home run titles.” You reply “Then you did not follow his career very closely.” Well, I seem to have followed his career a bit more closely than you did because you write “He played in veterans stadium, one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in the game at that time.”

    If you had take the time to do our homework, you might not have made a public ass of yourself. In fact, Schmidt not only didn’t have an advantage form hitting in Veterans Stadium, it worked against him: he hit 265 home runs at home during his career, and 283 on the road. Schmidt led the league just 6 times in home runs at home AND 7 TIMES ON THE ROAD.

    You write, “Besides, you know there’s more to baseball than home runs, you know.” Yeah, Dude, I know. Did you read the rest of the piece about fielding? Or are you trying to tell us that Babe Ruth was a great fielder?

    I wrote; “How good a power hitter was Schmidt? … Schmidt won as many home run titles as Mantle and Mays combined.” You write, “Doesn’t this say more about the high level of competition during Mays and Mantle’s time than it does about Mike Schmidt’s greatness? I mean … mantle hit 54 in 1961 and didn’t win the title.”

    I don’t know, what does it say about those levels of competition? Where is your argument, your analysis? You picked a lousy example in Mickey Mantle in 1961. That was an expansion season when the pitching was watered down, and it was a year when the strike zone favored hitters.

    I write that “The ability to reach base consistently as measured by on-base average is more important than batting average.” You respond, “Then you should know .. that Schmidt’s .380 OBP is 13th behind the likes of Mike Hargrove, Gene Tenace, Ken Singleton, Bernie Carbo, Pedro Guerrero, and Wade Boggs.” Okay, but what’s your point? All that means is those hitters were very good at reaching base. Whoever said they weren’t? None of them was Schmidt’s equal as a power hitter. My point, which you blithely overlook. is that Schmidt’s relatively low career batting average was not a black mark against him because he was good at getting on base.

    I write, “Schmidt, in 16 full seasons, led the National League in OBA more than Aaron and Mays combined. “ You respond “That’s because the National League sucked during this time.” Oh, really? There’s a fine bit of analysis. And why is this so? Because you say it’s so?

    I write, “In the field, Mike Schmidt was outstanding, winning 10 Gold Gloves at third base. I didn’t realize exactly how good he was until I examined his stats in detail.” You reply, “Again, you didn’t follow his career very closely … You should also know that Schmidt’s Career Range Factor per game is 3.0. George Brett’s 3.0, Juan Castino, Graig Nettles, and Darryll Evans all 3.0? Buddy Bell? 3.1. You just can’t use comparisons when it suits your case there, Allen.”

    But I didn’t make those comparisons, Paul. You did. And it’s you that didn’t follow Schmidt’s career very closely. First of all, I was comparing Schmidt to Brooks Robinson, generally regarded as the best defensive third baseman in baseball history. Second, to your list of names, so what? All of those people were fine fielders – who said they weren’t? Many thing Nettles and Evans should be in the Hall of Fame; many think Buddy Bell was the best fielder in the American League during his time. How does that make Schmidt any less of a fielder? It’s you who are making irrelevant comparisons.

    Oh, and by the way, I was talking about Schmidt’s range factor “In relation to the other fielders in his league in his own time.” The difference between Schmidt’s range factor and the league’s IS HIGHER THAN ANYONE ON YOUR LIST EXCEPT CASTINO, WHO PLAYED JUST 416 GAMES AT THIRD BASE.

    I write “We forgot, or didn’t notice, that Schmidt hit into double plays with a lower frequency than Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mays, Aaron, Reggie Jackson, or even Pete Rose. You reply: “ … that’s your big finale? That he didn’t hit into a lot of double plays? Well … yeah, if you strike out more, you make contact less frequently, which will probably result in fewer double plays.”

    To which I reply, Uh, Dude, when you strike out you make one out, and when you hit into a double play, you make TWO OUTS as well as eliminating an extra base runner. That, us, is like, why, it’s better to strike out that hit into a double play. Dude.

    Part of me is sorry that I had to kick your sorry ass as hard as I did in public, but you’re one of those internet loudmouths who thinks an attitude makes up for shoddy research and lazy thinking, which your post on my piece is riddled with. Now, if you want to discuss any of this in detail, lets go ahead, one item at a time.

    Like Kurt Russell says to Billy Bob Thornton in Tombstone, are you going to do something or just stand there and bleed?

    All the best,
    Allen Barra

  5. robert tyson says:

    It looks like Barra by TKO.

  6. Paul Moro says:

    Dear Allen Barra,

    Firstly, Paul Moro is a baseball fan who will be the first to admit that he is a smartass and occasional asshole.

    And while I may have misinterpreted some of your arguments, I never, ever, misquoted you. Hell, I copied and pasted everything from the article itself.

    For instance, that bit about the game being “fully integrated” in 1950 – you wrote “I weight the argument heavily in favor of players who entered the big leagues after 1950, when the game became fully integrated.” I took this to mean, as you know, that 1950 is a good cut off point because from that moment on, the game was fully integrated. Which isn’t true. Based on your explanation in the comments, I understand now what you were trying to get at. However, that’s just not the way the sentence in your article reads. So I never misquoted you. The sentence just needed to be explained further so misunderstandings don’t occur.

    As for the rest, I don’t know where to start. Some of your points are valid – there are certainly instances in the post above where I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. That much, I do admit. I write purely for fun and it was fun writing this post.

    But I do want to point out that while he did hit more HRs on the road than at the Vet, his OBP and SLG were much better at home. And for his career, Schmidt had 200 fewer PAs at home than away, making the 18 HR gap not a big deal at all. Besides, even if Schmidt wasn’t able to take full advantage of the Vet as a hitter’s park, his numbers are still inflated as a result of it. In a neutral environment, you’d have to assume that Schmidt’s home numbers would have been worse.

    When I read your massive response, I was slightly taken aback, and admittedly, a bit intimidated by the knowledge that you actually care what I think. This definitely put me on the defensive. But then you quoted Kurt Russell. And I can’t entirely dislike anyone who can quote Kurt Russell.

    So damn you, Allen Barra.

    All the best,
    Paul Moro (who still can’t believe you read through this)

  7. Allen, if I had to pick one thing from your article that I found particularly iffy, I’d say it was the statement, “(Schmidt) played perhaps the toughest position. On what evidence do I make that claim? The Hall of Fame – there are fewer third basemen in Cooperstown than any other position, even catcher….”

    That’s quite a leap. I’d like to hear a little bit more about how you equate “fewest hall-of-famers” with “toughest position.”

  8. Allen Barra says:

    Paul,

    Since we’ve become so intimate, there’s no need to refer to me as “Dear.” If you insist that you did not misquote me, let’s us say then “misrepresented.” But so long as we understand that “after 1950” does not mean 1950, I’ll agree to move on.

    Regarding the Vet as a hitter’s park, the point has never really been proved. It’s largely assumed, but there is little evidence. In 1976 and 1977, for instance, baseballreference.com lists the Vet as a 3 and 2, respectively. From 1978-1985, it’s so close that it’s difficult to call – in fact, for four years, 1980-82, and then in 1985, it’s neutral.

    Regarding Schmidt’s performance at the Vet, yes, it’s true, he did hit much better there, But it’s not clear that he did so because he had an easy park to hit in – let’s say like Ted Williams for most of his career at Fenway. Or more to the point, Jim Rice at Fenway – he hit a ton there but so did everyone else. Schmidt did hit well, in fact better, at the Vet, but most players hit better in their home parks and it’s not clear from the available stats that he had any kind of automatic advantage.

    In an event, that part of the discussion was about home runs, and, yes, while it’s true that the 18 home run advantage Schmidt had in other NL parks doesn’t amount to much, it does do one thing: it kills the idea that he had any kind of home run advantage at Veterans Stadium. Nothing like Ernie Banks had at Wrigley (290 home runs to 222 on the road.)

    Finally, if you’re really a Kurt Russell fan, then you need to see the director’s cut of Tombstone –a movie which he actually directed most of, though he isn’t credited. (I wrote a book about Wyatt Earp, largely inspired by the success of the movie.)

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