Bill Buckner: Underrated, Underappreciated!
The sports world lost another memorable athlete this week when former major leaguer Bill Buckner died on Monday of dementia at age 69. Buckner may not have been the iconic sports personality that was Bart Starr, who preceded him in passing just a few days earlier, but Buckner is certainly attached to one of sports’ most unforgettable moments.
Buckner enjoyed a 22-year career (1969-90) in baseball and had 2,715 hits, a career batting average of .289 with 174 home runs, and he tallied 1,077 runs scored and 1,208 RBI. He was an all-star and a batting champ (in 1980 as a member of the Chicago Cubs). The sad thing is that Buckner is one of those rare athletes who is probably more infamous than famous because of what happened in one game.
As a member of the Boston Red Sox, first baseman Buckner had a Mookie Wilson (New York Mets) groundball go through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that led to a Mets walk-off victory in that game. The Mets went on to win Game 7 and the Red Sox (at that time) were still waiting for their first World Series title since 1918. Buckner’s error, at that time, made him somewhat of a scapegoat for the Game 6 loss, the World Series defeat, and the Red Sox Nation continued woes.
Buckner’s career, however, should not be defined by his fielding gaffe in the ’86 World Series. A 22-year MLB career, .289 average and 2,717 career hits are certainly stats that generate discussion about whether or not Buckner deserves to be in the Hall of Fame… for the record, he appeared on the ballot in 1996 and received only 10 votes.
But I contend that Buckner was a much underrated and underappreciated player. I’m not ready to say he should be in the Hall, but in my mind he was a “hitter’s hitter.” He rarely struck out, rarely walked, and was probably the best example of what youth coaches preach to their young players: “Put the ball in play and see what can happen.”
There are a few stats in Buckner’s stat-line that illustrate this point:
- Buckner had 15 seasons where he had 400 or more plate appearances and less than 40 strikeouts. That ranks tied for sixth most in baseball history. Tris Speaker tops the list with 18 such seasons.
- Buckner had 14 seasons where he had 400 or more plate appearances and less than 40 walks. That ranks tied for fifth most in baseball history. Ivan Rodriguez and Tommy Corcoran top the list with 16 such seasons each.
- If we combine the two stats above, Buckner had 14 seasons where he had 400 or more plate appearances and less than 40 strikeouts and less than 40 walks in that season. That ranks tied for second most in MLB history. Lave Cross tops the list with 15 such seasons.
- Buckner’s 2,715 career hits ranks him 66th on the all-time list. Of those 66 players with 2,715 or more career hits, Buckner’s 453 career strikeouts ranks as the second fewest of the group and his 450 career walks ranks also ranks as the second fewest among the 66 players.
- How about this stat… of the players who have more than 10,000 career plate appearances, Buckner is one of only 11 players in history to have less than 500 career strikeouts. The others: Charlie Gehringer, Tony Gwynn, Tris Speaker, Paul Waner, Frankie Frisch, Cap Anson, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Sam Rice and Nellie Fox. Of these 11 players, only three, Gywnn, Fox and Buckner ended their careers after the 1960’s. Here’s the real eye-opening part of this stat… of the 11, all but Buckner are in the Hall of Fame.
Buckner was a unique hitter. If a pitch was in the strike zone, chances are he was swinging and there was a good chance he was making contact and putting the ball in play. He seemed like an “old school” player and one that probably was born later than he should have been… his game seemed to fit more appropriately with those players from the first half of the century, especially when you consider that most of his batting stats with low strikeouts and low walk totals are shared with players from that earlier era.
Here are three more stats that I found interesting about Buckner’s career:
- He hit 174 home runs. His last home was an inside-the-park HR. It was also the only inside-the-park home run of his career.
- He had seven seasons where he played in 100 or more games and batted over .300. He is one of 151 players in MLB history to do that.
- Fifty-one of the 65 players ahead of Buckner on the all-time hits list are in the Hall of Fame.
Bill Buckner, Hall of Famer? The voters certainly did not think so as he appeared only once on the HOF ballot in 1996 (because he did not receive at least 5% of the vote that year, he was taken off the ballot for future consideration). But I think Bill Buckner will one day find his way into the Hall as a future selection of the Veteran Committee. He was clearly one of the most unique and successful hitters of all-time.
Follow Jerry on Twitter @StatsonTapp
Six stats you may not know about Bart Starr the draft choice
NFL and Green Bay Packers icon/legend Bart Starr passed away on May 26 at the age of 85.
Starr’s passing has brought about a slew of articles, Facebook postings and remembrances from across the country. He was universally loved and admired. It seems that everyone has a Bart Starr story; mine goes back more than 50 years when as a youngster I heard him speak at a local high school. His message was one that extoled the virtues of putting God first in your life followed by family, friends and then self. Like many others in the audience that day, I shook his hand after the event and got an autograph. He was the first “celebrity” I ever met. He never disappointed me… even when he took over as head coach of the Packers and they were, shall we say, “less than successful.”
But I want to deal with one aspect of Starr’s career; he was an eighth round selection, the 200th pick of the Packers in the 1956 NFL Draft. Players picked that low don’t usually have NFL careers let alone become a star and a Hall of Famer. Here are a few stats you may not know about Bart Starr the draft pick and how that translated to his illustrious career.
- There have been a handful of NFL players who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame that were not drafted. In addition, there have been eight of the 279 Hall of Famers, like Starr, who were drafted lower than 200th in the draft. They are: Bart Starr (#200), Richard Dent (#203), Art Donovan (#204), Ken Houston (#214), Andy Robustelli (#228), Raymond Berry (#232), Lou Creekmur (#243) Chris Hanburger (#245) and Rosey Brown (#321). Starr is the lowest QB drafted to make the Hall; when Tom Brady is elected five years after his retirement, he will take a spot behind Starr… he was the #199 player drafted in the 2000 draft.
- There were 360 players drafted in the ’56 draft. Of those 360, only four went on to eventually make the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lenny Moore (the #9 pick that year), Forrest Gregg (the 20th pick that year), Sam Huff (the 30th pick that year), and Starr (the 200th selection).
- Of the players taken in the ’56 draft, Starr is second on the list with most NFL games played with 196. The only player taken in the 1956 NFL Draft with more career NFL games is fellow QB Earl Morrall who was the second pick in the first round of that draft. He p;layed 255 career games in the league.
- There were 19 quarterbacks selected in that 1956 draft. Starr was the ninth QB selected.
- The Packers chose 29 players in that draft. As the 200th pick, Starr was the 16th player drafted by the Pack that year. Of those 29 picks by the Packers, only seven went on to have careers in the NFL and only four played 100 or more games in the league: Starr (196), tackle Forrest Gregg (193), tackle Bob Skoronski (146) and defensive back Hank Gremminger (131). The Pack’s #1 pick that year was halfback Jack Losch from Miami whose NFL career included only the 12 games he played with Green Bay in the 1956 NFL season.
- Starr was one of six University of Alabama players chosen in the ’56 draft. Of the six, Starr was the only one ever to play a game in the NFL.
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Does sweeping an NBA conference final equal an NBA title?
While the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors will determine the Eastern Conference champs by playing at least a six-game series (and maybe a seven-game series), the Golden State Warriors will have 10 days of rest before their first game in the NBA Finals because they swept the Portland Trailblazers in four games in the Western Conference Finals.
One benefit for the Warriors, as mentioned above, is a full 10 days rest before Game One of the NBA Finals. That will help Golden State as they hope that extended period will allow Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins to get healthy and be able to play in the title series. But with their four-game sweep in the conference finals, the obvious questions is… historically speaking, is sweeping a conference finals series a good omen for the finals?
First, the Warriors became the 18th team in NBA history to sweep a conference finals series 4-0 since the format was changed to a best-of-seven series in 1958. Of the previous 17 times when a team won a conference series 4-0, they went on to win the NBA Finals nine times (and lost in the NBA Finals eight times). Of the 18 times that a team has swept an opponent in the conference finals, 13 times it happened in the Western Conference, five times in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It’s interesting to note that of the 17 times that a team advanced to the NBA Finals after a four-game sweep in the conference finals, not once has that team also swept their opponent in four games straight in the NBA Finals. In 1989, however, the Los Angeles Lakers won the Western Conference Finals in a four-game sweep of Phoenix and then were the victims of a sweep in four games by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.
Here’s a quick look at the nine teams that won an NBA championship after a four-game sweep in the conference finals, and the eight teams that after a four-game sweep in the conference finals then lost the next series in the NBA Finals.
Won NBA title after a four-game sweep in the conference finals: 1977-Portland, 1982-L.A. Lakers, 1986-Boston, 1987-L.A. Lakers, 1991-Chicago, 1996-Chicago, 1999-San Antonio, 2001-L.A. Lakers, 2017-Golden State.
Lost in the NBA Finals after a four-game sweep in the conference finals: 1968-L.A. Lakers, 1970-L.A. Lakers, 1974-L.A. Lakers, 1989-L.A. Lakers, 1998-Utah, 2003-N.J. Nets, 2013-San Antonio, 2015-Cleveland.
Will the 2019 Golden State Warriors repeat what they did in 2017 with an NBA Finals series win after sweeping in the conference finals? Could they become the first team to win an NBA title by sweeping their opponents in the conference finals and the NBA Finals?
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Most starts by a Brewers pitcher without a complete game
It’s pretty obvious that complete games are a dying breed in baseball. It is rare that a starting pitcher goes nine innings and gets credited with a complete game,
The Brewers are certainly one of those teams that use their bullpen quite a bit during the season. Through games of May 20, the Brewers are one of 17 teams this year that does not have a complete game by one of its pitchers. (In fact, the Brewers last complete game by a pitcher happened in 2017.) There have been only 15 complete games so far in the majors; in 2018, the Cleveland Indians led the majors with five complete games. There were nine of the 30 teams that did not have a complete game in 2018.
Zach Davies, who has been the Brewers most effective pitcher this season with a 5-0 record and a 1.54 ERA, has started 89 games for the Brewers in his career and has yet to have a complete game. This year on May 5 he pitched into the eighth inning in a game against the Mets and finished with 7.2 innings pitched. His career long start is eight innings back on June 1, 2016 in a contest versus the Cardinals, a game that he was the winner.
Davies’ 89 starts for the Brewers without a complete game are the most in team history. Fellow starter this season, Chase Anderson, is close behind with 88 starts for Milwaukee without a complete game.
Here are the nine pitchers in Brewers history who (through games of May 20) have 50 or more career starts with the team without a complete game.
62- Chris Narveson
If we expand this list to all MLB pitchers, there is a distinct Brewers flavor on the list. You noticed that Marco Estrada had 70 starts without a complete game during his career with the Brewers. Well, he actually (currently) holds the record for most starts without a complete game in MLB history with 194 in his career. Following are the MLB pitchers with 150 or more career starts without a complete game.
Chase Anderson is actually 10th of this list with a total of 136 starts without a complete game (88 coming in a Brewers uniform).
Of course, a complete game in the future by any of these pitchers listed above will eliminate them from the list. But for now… it’s interesting to see who is still looking for that elusive complete game. The problem is, however, that complete games are pretty rare these days.
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Home Court Advantage is working in this year’s NBA playoffs
With wins in Game 1 of their respective conference finals, the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, both #1 seeds, took advantage of the home court to start with a 1-0 lead in their series against conference opponents the Portland Trailblazers and Toronto Raptors.
It’s pretty common to hear broadcasters and analysts discuss Home Court Advantage (HCA) in the playoffs. So let’s ask the question: How important is the Home Court Advantage in the NBA playoffs?
Consider this: Of the 12 playoff series that have been held so far, 11 of the 12 (91.7%) were won by the team that had the HCA in the series. (As a matter of reference, the team with the HCA won 10 of the 15 playoff series in 2018… 66.7%).
The only team without the HCA to win a playoff series this year were the 3rd seeded Portland Trailblazers when they defeated the #2 seeded Denver Nuggets. (By the way, if the HCA continues to be a factor in the conference finals series, that’s good news for the Warriors and the Bucks advancing to the NBA Finals this year.)
But that’s this year. Let’s expand the search and see how the HCA numbers have played out in the past 10 NBA playoffs. From 2009-18, there were 150 playoff series in the NBA. The team with the HCA won 110 of those series (73.3%). Let’s break it down by each round of the playoffs…
- Teams with the HCA in the first round of the NBA playoffs from 2009-18 won the series in 60 of the 80 series (75%).
- Teams with the HCA in the second round (Conference Semi-finals) of the NBA playoffs from 2009-18 won the series in 32 of the 40 series (80%).
- Teams with the HCA in the third round (Eastern Conference and Western Conference finals) from 2009-18 won the series in 11 of the 20 series (55%).
- Teams with the HCA in the NBA Finals from 2009-18 won the series seven of the 10 series (70%).
Based on the above stats from the past 10 years, the HCA numbers were definitely higher this year in 2019 than the cumulative stats from the last 10 years. It also should give cause for keeping a close eye on the conference finals this season since about half of the conference finals in the last 10 years has seen a team with the HCA lose in the conference finals. If that is the case, will it be the Bucks or the Warriors?
Follow Jerry on Twitter @StatsonTapp