13 strange but true facts found while browsing Baseball Reference – SportingNews.com
In a parable that includes the baseball gods, the game of creation gave baseball nerds their holy grail. In the ninth inning, the baseball gods said, “Let there be a database equal parts time-sink and indispensable resource.”
And there was Baseball-Reference.com. And it was good.
The roots of Baseball Reference run deep, leading to bountiful stats and facts from the simple (Who’s leading the league in home runs? Nelson Cruz) to the bizarre (How many guys primarily named Boob played pro baseball? One — Boob Fowler). Sporting News decided to take a strange trip through the site and report 13 of the strangest findings, from statistical oddities to an alcoholic baseballer that may or may not have had a single sip of booze in his life.
1. Hunter getting his
Baseball-Reference features a leaderboard of all-time salaries — and the list packs some surprises. Chief among them: Torii Hunter — rarely ballyhooed among the game’s overpaid players — has earned more money than all but nine players in MLB history. His $171 million and counting puts him above the likes of Mariano Rivera, Adrian Beltre, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Howard and Johan Santana, who all scored some major contracts.
Hunter’s secret? He headed westward. Joining the Angels as a 32-year-old didn’t stop Hunter from getting his, as his salary peaked at $18.5 million. All told, the 19-year veteran with nine Gold Gloves on his resume got a golden wallet with the two Ls: longevity and Los Angeles.
2. They called him what?!
If you’ve never spent hours scrolling through Baseball-Reference’s nickname database, you’ve neglected the greatest reminder that teammates, parents and Internet memory are cruel mistresses. From “Batty” Abbaticchio to “Sheik of Seth” Zontini, absurdity flows in abundance. But one, on this trip, stood out for its ambiguity.
Tracy Souter Barrett, aka Dick, aka “Kewpie Dick.” Term of endearment or locker room laugher? Here’s one of many creepy kewpie dolls for reference. You decide.
Either way, ol’ Kewpie Dick had a rough go as a journeyman pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Braves, Cubs and Phillies. He retired with a career 35-58 record and 4.28 ERA — below average for the era. In his final season, he led the league in losses and wild pitches, which for some reason, in a missed opportunity, we failed to forever coin as “Kewpie Dick moves.”
3. State stats
Baseball has become a global game, but within the borders of the United States, it turns out that geographic diversity isn’t its strongsuit. Baseball-Reference breaks down player origin dating back to 1851, and the results reveal that in baseball’s history, states’ rights to playing time differ drastically. More than 18,500 players have played in the major leagues in that time span; more than half of them come from abroad or one of six states: California, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Texas.
At the bottom of baseball’s favorite states to scout: Alaska, which has only produced 11 MLB players born within its borders (aka .06 percent of players in baseball history). One of them is Curt Schilling, so at least they’re in the news, but compared to California’s 2,142 contributions, it’s an incredible number.
4. Baseball and Beer
One of Baseball-Reference’s greatest mysteries apparently went 7-9 for the Ohio State League’s Lancaster Lanks in 1910. You know — the most legendary of Lanks teams.
The pitcher’s name, according to Baseball-Reference: Beer. Just Beer. They don’t even know what hand he threw with. Hell, he might have actually been a beer can with no arms; perhaps the mere temptation of beer led to seven wins and nine defeats for the lecherous Lanks. Their 1910 roster is filled with fan favorites (I assume) and great names, such as player-manager Heinie Peitz and a hitter just named … Just.
No one on the team batted better than .300, but otherwise and understandably, it seems little is known about the Lanks. But Beer? Buzz will always surround him.
(h/t to colleague Steve Petrella )
5. Old Hoss really was a Hoss
“These stat nerds, they always want to put down an athlete’s experience. But I’ve seen things. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orio
— Old Hoss Radbourn (@OldHossRadbourn) August 24, 2015
For baseball’s young fans — you know, everyone born post-WWII — Old Hoss Radbourn represents the snarkiest of Luddite Twitter accounts . A great follow if you ever wondered what your great grandfather would tweet.
But a journey to his Baseball-Reference page reminds you why his posthumous persona often succumbs to machismo. Dude was a man. Despite his 5’9, 168 pound frame — and ignoring that his 19th century fastball probably made Tim Wakefield look like a flamethrower — Radbourn had marathon endurance and stats we’ll never see again.
Most notable: His 1884 season, raging alongside Grover Cleveland’s successful presidential bid. Radbourn’s record that season: 59-12. His ERA: 1.38. He started 73 games and completed all of them, piling up a piddly 678 2/3 innings and 441 strikeouts. Do that, Clayton Kershaw, and we’ll call you elite.
6. October babies with boom
If you’ve ever wondered which baseball players you share a birthday with, Baseball-Reference has you covered. For every day of the year, you can see statistical leaders that slid safely from the birth canal to home on that date. For example, Fred McGriff leads all Halloween babies in home runs, outpacing second-place Mike Napoli by 292 home runs. Spooky.
7. The not-so-common commoner
Names that stand alone: Babe Ruth, Buddy Biancalana, Roy Campanella. Monikers revered but never repeated in the annals of baseball history — never common on the kindergarten class roster. On the opposite end of that spectrum: a name like Bob Smith.
But where have you gone Bob Smith? On Baseball-Reference, you can find every Bob Smith in baseball history. It’s a surprisingly short list (six Bobs), and a list with an expiration date. Major League Baseball has not seen a Bob Smith since 2002, when a Tampa Bay Devil Ray utility infielder held that torch and watched it extinguish. He hit .175 in 18 games that season; he spent four more seasons in the minors before the dream of Bob Smiths everywhere died a little.
8. Is it Chicken or is it canine?
We miss you, Jessica Simpson. Rivaling our friend Beer for best name on Baseball Reference is my fellow Kentuckian Chicken Wolf. A name both predator and prey. A name both fowl and feral. And honestly, his real name — William Van Winkle Wolf — might be even better. Bless his parents.
Ol’ Chicken Wolf seemingly almost never left Louisville. He was born there; he played there for the Colonels and Eclipse; he died there in 1903. Only his three game stint with the St. Louis Browns ruins the narrative. Playing nearly every position on the diamond, Wolf hit .290/.327/.388 with an above average OPS+. His best season came in 1890, when he hit .363 and led the American Association in hits.
When he retired, rumor has it Kentucky cried, “Chicken!” … I’ll see myself out.
(h/t to colleague Steve Petrella )
9. A stylish cup of coffee
For the definition of 15 minutes of fame, you can browse Baseball-Reference’s Cups of Coffee database, featuring all players who only got one game of service time in the majors. The list includes 996 position players and 530 pitchers; it’s basically baseball’s version of “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex — one-hit wonders, and when you hear of them years later, you can’t help but feel a little sad.
10. Small-time schools with big-time, big league stars
If you need some school pride, chances are you can find a fellow alum with MLB player pedigree on Baseball-Reference’s breakdown of players by school . Hell, if my alma mater made the list, yours should. But unlike football and basketball, schools often not associated with big-time athletics have produced a lot of big league talent.
Case in point: South Alabama, which currently has an enrollment of less than 12,000, has produced 22 major league players . That’s more than some notably bigger schools such as UConn, Central Florida, South Florida, Iowa State and Nevada. South Alabama alumni include 2001 World Series hero Luis Gonzalez, Adam Lind, David Freese and Jon Lieber. Good for the Jaguars.
11. Captain Quirk
The best quirk on Baseball-Reference? Jamie Quirk. The first-round pick hit .240 during his 18-year career, but bonus points for going to Whittier College, home of the poets, a president and a mascot once voted the sexiest mascot in sports by a panel I assembled.
12. In the Biff
Pocoroba, born Biff Benedict Pocoroba, made the All-Star Game as a catcher in 1978 — a season in which he hit .242/.312/.332 in 92 games. A season in which Baseball-Reference rates him as a net-negative on defense. Despite playing for a team that finished sixth in the NL West and went 69-93, Pocoroba didn’t even break the top 12 on the team’s WAR leaderboard. But great name, Biff. An All-Star name, Biff.
13. Stay in your Lane
Here’s a trivia question that even baffled Baseball-Reference surfer dude and Sporting News MLB editor Justin McGuire: Name the position player with the most innings pitched in the Wild Card Era.
The answer: outfielder Jason Lane, a career .241 hitter with an 0.87 ERA in 10.1 innings. He even started a game for the Padres last season. That’s so Padres.
The list could go on in perpetuity. Baseball-Reference is a godsend for seamheads, an endless trove of trivia that goes beyond the box score. But it wouldn’t be any fun if I found you every fun fact on the site; nor do I have the time. That’s the beauty of it. Explore.