Smells Like Teen Spirit

August 25, 2018
In tribute to the fine season that the Washington Nationals’ young sensation, Juan Soto, is having as a nineteen-year old, this article is all about teens that have made an impact in the Majors. But first, before we get to the baseball part of the article, here’s a brief, musical interlude to allow that part of my brain come out to play in the sandbox for a little bit.   
 
About the Title
 
One of my favorite parts of writing an article is trying to select a worthy title, usually some kind of play on words related to the topic at hand.   For this article, I considered "Teen Titans Go!" and "Teen Idols". I settled on "Smells Like Teen Spirit", because it gave me a chance to reflect on that iconic song that is now 27 years old (can’t believe it’s been that long)…..
 
I believe that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has unique place in popular music. I believe that, more than any other song I can think of, it represents a clear consensus as the "song of the decade" in which it was released.   This is not just some idle pondering….if you peruse various rankings on the internet of the "top songs" of various decades, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is the overwhelming choice for the song of the ‘90’s, even though it never hit #1.   But, those types of rankings aren’t necessarily about what was the most popular at the time, but what songs captured the essence of the times? What songs leap to people’s minds when thinking of the decade?
 
Consider the 1960’s, for example……there are so many potential candidates, it’s hard for just one to emerge. 
 
Think of Dylan alone: "Like a Rolling Stone", "The Times They are a Changin’", "Blowing in the Wind". Any of those would qualify. 
 
Think of the Beatles: "Yesterday", "A Day in the Life", "Hey Jude", just for starters among their deep playlist. 
 
Think of the Stones: "I Can’t Get No Satisfaction", "Gimme Shelter". 
 
Think of Aretha, with "Respect". And we haven’t even touched on the various hits of Simon & Garfunkel or The Supremes or The Beach Boys, or…..well, you get the idea.
 
How about the 1970’s? You could make an argument for "Stairway to Heaven". When I was growing up and listening to music on the radio, any time there would be a countdown of the greatest hits of all time, invariably "Stairway to Heaven" took the top spot, so much so that everyone eventually got sick of the damn thing. When you look at various rankings of the ‘70’s now, you certainly still see that song named near the top…but you also see songs like "Imagine", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "American Pie", "Let it Be", or "What’s Going On" vying for the top spot.
 
The 1980’s? Hell, you got me. "Billie Jean"? "Livin’ on a Prayer"? "When Doves Cry"? Perhaps something by Milli Vanilli? I don’t think there’s any clear-cut song that really captures the decade.
 
The point, is, it’s hard to get a consensus of one song that clearly sticks out above the others as representative of a decade. Everyone’s got his or her favorite. When you examine various rankings of the 1990’s, however, invariably "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is listed at the top of the rankings. I mean, I must have looked at a dozen various rankings, and it was at the top of all but one, and even that one had it very near the top.
 
Maybe part of it is the lack of viable options? What else are you going to pick from that decade….."My Heart Will Go On"? Let’s see….."Near…..far…wherever you are". OK - I choose "far"….as far away as possible. 
 
How about "I Will Always Love You"? Or, wait….isn’t that the same song as "My Heart Will Go On"? I think they have to eliminate each other from consideration.
 
It’s interesting to me because, well…."Smells Like Teen Spirit" doesn’t really stand out to me as a great song.   It’s got a nice sound and all, but part of the fascination with the song is reminiscent of "Louie, Louie" by The Kingsmen (1963) in that no one really quite knew what the words were, causing a great deal of speculation about the lyrics in both cases. In "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Kurt Cobain alternately mumbles and then screams the lyrics, and since they didn’t publish the lyrics with the album, it’s extremely hard to understand what he’s saying. Ironically, this is probably part of its appeal. It’s raw, and largely incoherent. It’s about the sound, the feel, the attitude.
 
I had never bothered to look up the complete lyrics until I was preparing for this article. So, here they are, in all their glory:
 
Load up on guns, bring your friends
It's fun to lose and to pretend
She's over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word
 
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello
 
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey
 
I'm worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end
 
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello
 
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey
 
And I forget just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it's hard to find
Oh well, whatever, never mind
 
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello
 
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido
A denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial
A denial, a denial, a denial, a denial
 
Hmmm….not exactly Edgar Allan Poe, is it? Rather than "Quoth the Raven, Nevermore", we were offered up "Oh well, whatever, never mind". Although, I guess that does kind of capture the decade….the most popular TV show, after all, was the "show about nothing" ("Seinfeld")….and so, you might as well have decade’s most notable song be about nothing either. "A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido". Indeed, my friend….well said, indeed.
 
Oh well….it’s still a pretty cool song to listen to.
 
Back to baseball……
 
(Not So) Soto Voce
 
The Washington Nationals’ rookie sensation Juan Soto is making quite a first impression. The 19-year old left fielder has been one of the top prospects in the game for a couple of years (he has a .362 career minor league batting average), and he’s been tearing the cover off the ball since debuting in the Majors earlier this season (although he’s currently in a bit of slump)
 
Here is a quick glimpse at his batting record (as of this writing), courtesy of baseball-reference.com, including how his numbers would project over a 162 game context:
 
 
G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
OPS+
2018
83
349
289
58
83
18
1
15
45
2
59
69
.287
.408
.512
.920
140
Proj to 162
162
681
564
113
162
35
2
29
88
4
115
135
.287
.408
.512
.920
140
 
Pretty impressive. Soto is also currently sitting first or second in several of the "through 19" leaderboards on baseball-reference.com (they use a player’s "age" as of June 30th of each season:

Name
OBP
PA's
 
Name
Slug %
PA's
Juan Soto
.408
349
 
Tony Conigliaro
.530
444
Mel Ott
.382
741
 
Juan Soto
.512
323
Edgar Renteria
.358
471
 
Mel Ott
.479
741
John McGraw
.356
455
 
Bryce Harper
.477
597
Tony Conigliaro
.354
444
 
Cesar Cedeno
.451
377
Willie McGill
.351
379
 
Mickey Mantle
.443
386
Jimmy Sheckard
.350
514
 
Ken Griffey Jr.
.420
506
Mickey Mantle
.349
386
 
Jimmy Sheckard
.416
514
Merito Acosta
.349
315
 
Sherry Magee
.409
387
Bryce Harper
.340
597
 
Freddie Lindstrom
.409
473
 
Name
OPS
PA's
 
Name
OPS+
PA's
Juan Soto
.920
349
 
Juan Soto
140
349
Tony Conigliaro
.883
444
 
Tony Conigliaro
137
444
Mel Ott
.860
741
 
Mel Ott
126
741
Bryce Harper
.817
597
 
Sherry Magee
122
387
Mickey Mantle
.792
386
 
Ty Cobb
119
558
Cesar Cedeno
.790
377
 
Johnny Lush
119
427
Jimmy Sheckard
.766
514
 
Bryce Harper
118
597
Edgar Renteria
.757
471
 
Jimmy Sheckard
118
514
Ken Griffey Jr.
.748
506
 
Mickey Mantle
117
386
Freddie Lindstrom
.738
473
 
Cesar Cedeno
114
377
 
Soto is also 7th in batting average, 6th in home runs, and 4th in walks. Since the Nationals still have more than a month left in the season, Soto could still move up those leaderboards, although, of course, he could simultaneously slide down in the categories listed earlier, although he’s got a nice cushion in both OBP and OPS.
 
He could end up challenging for the top spot in home runs (Tony Conigliaro had 24, while Soto’s teammate, Bryce Harper, is second with 22), although I think he’ll probably come up a little short.  He might reach the top spot in walks (Willie McGill, a pitcher from the 1890’s who played in 4 teen seasons, managed to accumulate 75 walks over those years). The highest walk figure among position players is Mel Ott, with 66, and Soto stands an excellent chance to surpass that.
 
So, in honor of Juan Soto, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the "Teen Titans" in MLB history by going around the diamond and reviewing the top candidates at each position.
 
The Approach
 
Ground rules:
 
  1. We’re looking at cumulative performance, not just someone’s best single season. So, whether someone played 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 teen seasons, they all count. Of course, many candidates will only have a single teen season.

  2. I’m using rWAR as the primary measuring stick to help identify candidates, but I’m not going strictly by that. I’ll even use basic stats like games played and plate appearances to help make decisions. Since we’re narrowing the selection period to just the teen years, the sample sizes will be very small, and I think in some cases, compiling a lot of playing time may be at least as impressive as the kind of quantitative value they generated, especially since many of these players being compared will have generated less than 2.0 rWAR, so the differences are often quite small.
 
  1. Most of the top teen performers, especially if we use rWAR as a measuring stick, tend to be pitchers from the late 1800’s, as many players in that era were able to accumulate a lot of innings, which tends to translate into high rWAR figures. So, I’ll be using 1901 as a starting point to make the lists a little more meaningful.
 
  1. At each position, I’ll list the top candidates, and I’ll also include an "stranger to the party" selection of a player that you might not have expected to show up at that position.
 
  1. I’ll be using the normal convention determining a player’s age for a given season by using his age as of June 30th for each year.
 
To elaborate on point #3 above…..the highest rWAR total accumulated by a player in his teen years is 14.1 by Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward in 1878-1879, mostly as a pitcher (with a little bit of third base and the outfield). He accumulated over 900 innings in those 2 seasons with the Providence Grays, as he was the starting pitcher in about two-thirds of their games, with nearly every start resulting in a complete game, very indicative of the way many pitchers were used then.
 
As you head down the list, you see other similar performances by pitchers from that era. Among the top 20 teen totals, the following names appear:
 
Rank
Player
Years
rWAR
IP
2
Tommy Bond
1874 – 1875
12.2
849.0
3
Mike Smith
1886 – 1887
10.8
520.0
5
Willie McGill
1890 – 1893
9.0
817.1
6
Amos Rusie
1889 – 1890
8.2
773.2
7
Nat Hudson
1886 – 1888
7.3
634.1
11
Silver King
1886 – 1887
5.1
429.0
12
Larry McKeon
1884 – 1885
4.4
802.0
17
Kid Madden
1887
4.0
321.0
 
So, in other words, about half of the top totals by teens are by players who were primarily pitchers (although some of those pitchers did also play other positions) in the 1870’s through the 1890’s, and a great deal of their value was attributable to the large innings pitched totals that were typical of the way the game was played in that era. So, for the purposes of this review, I decided not to include them, and used 1901 as the starting point for consideration.
 
A Few Notes
 
Some basic numbers before we dive in:
 
  • The Hall of Fame contains 226 former Major League Players. 51 of those (about 23%) had at least one teen season in the Majors.

    3 Hall of Famers (Mel Ott, Bob Feller, Jimmie Foxx) had 3 teen seasons, and 12 others had two teen seasons

  • Baseball-reference.com indicates that there have been 19,368 players in the Major Leagues. 226 (about 1.1%) are in the Hall of Fame.
 
  • In using a query on Seamheads.com/The Baseball Gauge, it looks like 950 players have at least one teen season.

    Combining all that data indicates that the incidence of Hall of Famers among teenagers is 51 out of 950, or about 5.4%, or nearly 5 times the rate of Hall of Famers among the whole MLB population. Of course, it also means 95% of teens don’t make the Hall of Fame. 
 
Looking further at the top teen year performers, ranked by total rWAR during those years:
 
  • Among the top 10 rWAR performers, 3 are in the Hall of Fame
  • In the #11-20 group, 4 more are in the Hall of Fame
  • In the #21-30 group, 3 more are in the Hall of Fame
  • In the #31-40 group, 3 more are in the Hall of Fame
 
In other words, so far, about 1/3 of the top teen performers were eventually enshrined in the Hall. If you see a teen playing well, it’s worth taking note.
 
Going around the diamond now…..
 
Catchers
 
Top candidates:
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Ivan Rodriguez
0.7
1991
1991
88
288
280
24
74
3
27
5
0
.264
.276
.354
Harry Chiti
0.6
1950
1952
44
157
150
15
44
5
18
7
0
.293
.325
.440
Darrell Porter
0.5
1971
1971
22
80
70
4
15
2
9
9
2
.214
.300
.329
Del Crandall
0.5
1949
1949
67
239
228
21
60
4
34
9
2
.263
.291
.368
Ray Schalk
0.4
1912
1912
23
73
63
7
18
0
8
3
2
.286
.357
.317
 
A tough position for a teenager to make his mark, as none of the candidates even got in what would amount to a full season as a teen.
 
Chiti played with the Cubs in the early 1950’s in his age 17, 18, and 19 seasons before serving in the military for a couple of seasons. He competed for time with players like Mickey Owen, Smoky Burgess, Bruce Edwards, Rube Walker, and Toby Atwell. He performed pretty well in his limited opportunities.
 
I think this position really comes down to Crandall or Rodriguez. Crandall hit .263 in 67 games for the Boston Braves in 1949 and finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting. Rodriguez hit .264 in 88 games with the Rangers in 1991 and finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting. They were both regarded as excellent defensive catchers. There’s very little to separate them as teenagers.
 
Each went on to win multiple Gold Gloves and participate in many All-Star Games, although Rodriguez had a lot more of each honor and was recently elected to the Hall of Fame. Crandall wasn’t at that same level, of course, but I’d say he’s still comfortably in the top 30-40 catchers in MLB history.
 
It’s a close call, but I’ll lean towards Rodriguez as catcher on the all-teen team.
 
Stranger to the party:
Mike Ivie, who was the #1 selection in the amateur draft in 1970, came up briefly with the Padres in 1971 as an 18-year old catcher, and he acquitted himself quite well, going 8-for-17 in 6 games. However, he didn’t stick for good until 1975, by which time he had essentially given up the tools of ignorance (except for a few subsequent token appearances), and ended up playing most of his career at first base, with some third base and outfield.
 
Other notes:
Johnny Bench debuted as a 19-year old in 1967, but he struggled at the plate, hitting .163 with 1 HR Johnny Bench over 86 AB’s. He started to hit his stride the following year at age 20, making his first of 13 All Star Game appearances.
 
Hall of Fame catchers who played in their teens in the Majors include Johnny Bench, Ivan Rodriguez, Ray Schalk, and Roger Bresnahan, although Bresnahan started out in his teens as a pitcher.
 
First Base
 
Top candidates:
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Jimmie Foxx
1.2
1925
1927
97
191
171
33
58
3
25
15
3
.339
.396
.515
Phil Cavarretta
0.9
1934
1936
277
1,145
1,068
145
295
18
144
58
13
.276
.318
.396
Rusty Staub
0.6
1963
1963
150
585
513
43
115
6
45
59
-
.224
.309
.308
Dick Hoblitzell
0.6
1908
1908
32
126
114
8
29
-
8
7
2
.254
.309
.316
Johnny Lush
0.3
1904
1905
112
427
385
42
107
2
43
28
12
.278
.338
.366
Ed Kranepool
-0.2
1962
1964
208
761
699
69
166
12
59
50
4
.237
.288
.352
 
Interesing candidates here. Cavaretta had by far the most teen plate appearances at the position, and Kranepool is #2, which is why I included him even though he posted a negative rWAR.
 
Even though others had far more appearances than he did, Foxx posted the highest rWAR of the group. However, even though Foxx’s average was pretty impressive, Cavarretta towers well above everyone in most of the counting stats. I have to go with Cavaretta here.
 
Stranger to the party:
Greg Luzinski got in a few games at first base his age 19 season with the Phillies. Not sure if that qualifies as strange or not. I guess I could go with Johnny Lush as the stranger to the party…..62 of his 64 career games at first base occurred in his teen years, and most of his subsequent time in the Majors was spent as a pitcher.
 
Other notes:
Hall of Fame first basemen who made appearances as a teen include Jimmie Foxx, George Kelly, and Harmon Killebrew (although Killebrew only appeared at 2B and 3B as a teen).
 
Second Base
 
Top candidates:
Player
WAR/pos
From
To
G
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Rod Gilbreath
0.4
1972
1972
18
41
38
2
9
0
1
2
1
.237
.293
.263
Joe Cronin
0.4
1926
1926
38
92
83
9
22
0
11
6
0
.265
.315
.337
Lou Klimchock
0.3
1958
1959
19
78
76
12
20
5
14
1
0
.263
.273
.474
Bill Mazeroski
0.2
1956
1956
81
277
255
30
62
3
14
18
0
.243
.293
.318
Kid Butler
0.2
1907
1907
20
63
59
4
13
0
6
2
1
.220
.246
.254
 
No, that’s not a typo. Joe Cronin, Hall of Fame shortstop, is listed among the teen leaders at second base.
 
Really, it’s pretty slim pickings at this position. There really aren’t any impact teen second basemen.   Mazeroski’s 277 plate appearances are the most for any of the players listed as teen second basemen. Klimchock had the most HR’s with 5.  
 
Not much to see here. I’ll have to go with Maz.
 
Strangers to the party:
Certainly Joe Cronin looks a little odd showing up here. Also, Clete Boyer, one of the greatest defensive third basemen ever, logged more than 60 games as a teen second baseman.
 
Other notes:
Hall of Fame second basemen who appeared as teens include Joe Morgan, Bill Mazeroski, Bobby Doerr, and Nellie Fox. Also, Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby, although they played more at shortstop in their teens.
 
Third Base
 
Top candidates:
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Manny Machado
1.6
2012
2012
51
202
191
24
50
7
26
9
2
.262
.294
.445
Buddy Lewis
1.6
1935
1936
151
685
629
100
178
6
69
47
6
.283
.337
.386
Aurelio Rodriguez
0.8
1967
1967
29
133
130
14
31
1
8
2
1
.238
.250
.300
Freddie Lindstrom
0.5
1924
1925
156
473
435
62
122
4
37
28
8
.280
.328
.409
Sibby Sisti
0.3
1939
1940
186
739
674
92
164
7
45
48
8
.243
.298
.331
 
Sibby Sisti led the players classified as third basemen in teen-year plate appearances with over 700, but he split his time among third, second, and short.
 
Lindstrom was decent, hitting .280 over 2 teen seasons that basically amount to one-season’s worth of games (156), and Rodriguez impressed with the glove in his short stint.
 
Machado and Lewis tied with 1.6 rWAR as teens. Machado was a little more impressive in the time he played, hitting 7 home runs in less than 200 at bats, but Lewis got in the equivalent of a full-time season over 2 years with the Senators in the mid-30’s, scoring 100 runs over 151 games played.
 
I’ll go with Lewis.
 
Stranger to the party:
 Gil Hodges made a brief appearance in 1943 with the Dodgers as a 19-year old third baseman. It would be another 14 years before he played the position again in the Majors. Curt Flood also has some brief teenage appearances at third base.
 
Other notes:
Hall of Fame third basemen who appeared as teens in the Majors include Fred Lindstrom and Brooks Robinson. Adrian Beltre, who one would think will end up in the Hall of Fame, also appeared in his teens.
 
Shortstop
 
Top candidates:
 
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Edgar Renteria
3.2
1996
1996
106
471
431
68
133
5
31
33
16
.309
.358
.399
Robin Yount
2.0
1974
1975
254
971
902
115
235
11
78
45
19
.261
.295
.359
Travis Jackson
1.9
1922
1923
99
359
335
46
90
4
37
22
3
.269
.314
.382
 
Three really good candidates here who all went on to really good careers – 2 Hall of Famers in Yount and Jackson, and Renteria is 13th all-time in defensive games at shortstop.
 
As a quick sidebar….Renteria strikes me as the type of player who very well could have ended up as a decent Hall of Fame candidate with some tweaks to his career (granted, you can say that about a lot of players). As noted above, he is 13th in games at shortstop. 6 of the ones ahead of him are in the Hall (Aparicio, Smith, Ripken, Appling, Maranville, and Trammell), and one will go in as soon as he’s eligible (Jeter). The other 5 are Omar Vizquel (who received pretty solid support in his debut on the ballot), Jimmy Rollins (not yet eligible, probably won’t get much support, but maybe he’ll surprise me), Larry Bowa, Dave Concepcion (who seems to be up for consideration every few years on a Veterans Committee ballot), and old-timer Bill Dahlen, who damn near was elected by the 2013 Veterans Committee, and remains a viable dark horse candidate.  
 
Playing a lot of games at shortstop tends to be a nice feather in one’s cap. In addition, Renteria only played 5 games in his career at other positions – 4 at second base, and one at first base. That’s usually a good indicator of one’s ability to play shortstop, that he didn’t get shifted to 3B or 2B as he aged. Of course, if he had hung around longer than age 34, he may have started to experience that shift.
 
I’m not trying to put Renteria in the Hall. He has a pretty mediocre career rWAR (32.3), and he’s 63rd in the popular JAWS ranking. He wasn’t really thought of as an elite SS during his era (1996-2011). Most of the big names (A-Rod, Jeter, Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, Vizquel) were in the AL, although Renteria was also, to a lesser extent, overshadowed at various parts of his career by NL shortstops like Barry Larkin, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, and Rafael Furcal. I don’t think he was ever really thought of as the best or even near-best shortstop at any time, and that certainly hurts in a Hall of Fame case.
 
However….he did make 5 All Star teams, won a couple of Gold Gloves, and was a key contributor to 2 World Series champions near both the beginning and the end of his career – at age 20 with the Marlins in 1997, and at age 33 in 2010 with the Giants. He had big moments in both World Series – he delivered the game-winning hit in game 7 to win the ’97 World Series, and in 2010 he hit what would be the game-winning home run in game 5, making him the fourth player in history to end up with the game winning hit in two different series (the others being Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, and Lou Gehrig), and he was named the MVP of that series. Certainly, he had his notable moments on the big stage.
 
His Hall of Fame Monitor score is a pretty solid 109…in the range where you have a "good possibility". Again, not trying to put him in….but he has some intriguing points on his resume. His career ended at age 34, and if he had managed to hang on long enough to become an "elder statesman", maybe reaching some additional milestones….well, who knows?
 
Anyway, back to the position…….
 
I think the discussion of best teen shortstop comes down to Renteria vs. Yount. I’m torn….. Yount has the clear edge in playing time, as he played fairly regularly in both his age 18 and age 19 seasons, but Renteria’s one season was pretty darn good, and his rWAR in just the one season is 60% higher than Yount’s 2 seasons combined. That’s hard for me to ignore.
 
I’ll go with Renteria.
 
Stranger to the party:
Stuffy McInnis, who was most well known for being the smooth-fielding, solid-hitting first baseman of the Philadelphia Athletics’ $100,000 infield, played over 30 games as a teen shortstop in 1909-1910.
 
Another name that shows up is Bobby Murcer, who first came up in 1965 as a 19-year old shortstop for the Yankees before eventually switching to the outfield.
 
Other notes:
Hall of Fame shortstops who appeared as teens in the Majors include Yount, Jackson, George Davis (who started as a center fielder), Joe Cronin (started at second base) and Alan Trammell.   Also, you could include Monte Ward at this position (as well as a pitcher).
 
Left Field
 
Top candidates:
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Juan Soto
2.0
2018
2018
83
349
289
58
83
15
45
59
2
.287
.408
.512
Tony Conigliaro
1.6
1964
1964
111
444
404
69
117
24
52
35
2
.290
.354
.530
Claudell Washington
1.3
1974
1974
73
237
221
16
63
0
19
13
6
.285
.326
.376
Johnny Callison
0.6
1958
1958
18
71
64
10
19
1
12
6
1
.297
.352
.469
 
It looks odd seeing Conigliaro, Washington, and Callison all listed as left fielders, as all 3 played significantly more games in right field during their careers. But, what matters is where they played as teenagers, and for all 3, that was primarily left field.
 
This really comes down to Soto vs. Tony C. Claudell Washington had a pretty nice debut with the A’s while they were still a powerhouse team, but I’d put him below the other 2.
 
The name of Tony Conigliaro still elicits thoughts of "what might have been", maybe as much as anyone who ever played the game. Conigliaro seemed too good to be true for Red Sox fans, a young, good-looking, local boy who was a star out of the gate until his fateful beaning in 1967.
 
One example – Here are the career HR leaders through their age 21 season (which would have been the year before Tony C was beaned):
Name
HR
PA's
Mel Ott
86
2,064
Tony Conigliaro
84
1,657
Eddie Mathews
72
1,274
Frank Robinson
67
1,344
Alex Rodriguez
64
1,523
Mike Trout
62
1,490
Ken Griffey Jr.
60
1,805
Al Kaline
59
1,939
Mickey Mantle
57
1,552
Bob Horner
56
874
 
A helluva group, for sure.
 
Among the left fielders, I’d go with Conigliaro as the "leader in the clubhouse". However, by the time 2018 is over, I think Soto’s age 19 season might be even a little better.
 
Stranger to the party:
Ed Kirkpatrick is listed among the teen left fielders. Kirkpatrick was certainly an interesting player…..he played more outfield than anything, but if you count right field, center field, and left field separately, he actually played more at catcher than any one of the outfield positions. He also put in time at first base, a few games at third base, and even one game at second. He was on the Los Angeles Angels 1962 (their second year of existence), and was also on the first-ever Kansas City Royal team (1969), on which he just might have been the best player, even though he really didn’t have a regular positon.
 
Other notes:
Hall of Fame left fielder Joe Kelley appeared as a teen in the Majors.
 
Center Field
Top candidates:
 
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Bryce Harper
5.2
2012
2012
139
597
533
98
144
22
59
56
18
.270
.340
.477
Ken Griffey Jr.
3.3
1989
1989
127
506
455
61
120
16
61
44
16
.264
.329
.420
Ty Cobb
2.7
1905
1906
139
558
508
64
149
2
56
29
25
.293
.335
.366
Cesar Cedeno
1.8
1970
1970
90
377
355
46
110
7
42
15
17
.310
.340
.451
 
Center field looks like the glamour position when it comes to teen titans. All 4 of these players had solid performances in their teen years.
 
rWAR sees it as a solid advantage for Harper. Harper played more center field than right field in that first year, although of course he’s known more as a right fielder now.
 
Cobb got in 2 partial years as a teen, hitting .240 in his inaugural season before raising that to .316 as a sophomore. His age-20 season marked the first of 9 consecutive (and 12 out of 13) batting crowns.
 
Cedeno is hurt a bit in this comparison because he didn’t get in a full season in 1970. He was called up in late June and was a little slow out of the gate, but was red hot from August on, hitting .350 over that span. Even with the abbreviated season, he was 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting
 
I think I’d have to go with Harper, but Junior is a tempting choice as well.
 
Stranger to the party:
Whitey Lockman eventually was known more as a first baseman/left fielder, but he actually had a pretty nice debut in 1945 as an 18-year old center fielder for the Giants, hitting .341 in 129 AB’s. Harry Heilmann would also fit the bill here as a 19-year old center fielder for the Tigers who eventually was much better known as a Hall of Fame right fielder (with some first base too).
 
Other notes:
Griffey Jr. and Cobb are 2 teen center fielders who went on to the Hall of Fame. Mickey Mantle and Tris Speaker are 2 more, but they are classified as right fielders in their teen years.
 
Right Field
 
Top candidates:
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
Mel Ott
4.1
1926
1928
241
741
658
99
209
19
100
66
.318
.382
.479
Mickey Mantle
1.5
1951
1951
96
386
341
61
91
13
65
43
.267
.349
.443
Sherry Magee
1.3
1904
1904
95
387
364
51
101
3
57
14
.277
.308
.409
Al Kaline
0.8
1953
1954
168
565
532
52
146
5
45
23
.274
.305
.348
 
OK….maybe this is the teen glamour position…3 Hall of Famers, plus another (Magee) who is often included when the subject of overlooked players from long ago are discussed. Although, the performances aren’t quite as impressive as those of the center fielders.
 
I think Ott is the clear choice here, in part because he benefitted from having 3 different seasons as a teen, where as the others only had 1 each.   Only one of Ott’s seasons was full-time, but he also contributed something in the other 2. I think he’s the clear choice here.
 
Stranger to the party:
Andruw Jones appears on the list of teenage right fielders, as he played a little more RF than CF in that first year (the Braves’ starting center fielder was Marquis Grissom, who was having a pretty good year).
 
Other Notes:
Kaline and Ott reached the Hall of Fame, as did Sam Crawford and Harry Heilmann, although Crawford and Heilmann are listed as center fielders in their teens. Also, there was some guy named Babe Ruth, who as a teenager was still messing around with pitching.
 
Starting Pitchers
 
Top candidates:
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
W
L
%
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
ERA+
Bob Feller
9.9
1936
1938
79
31
21
.596
488.1
393
361
466
3.78
123
Gary Nolan
6.3
1967
1967
33
14
8
.636
226.2
193
62
206
2.58
147
Dwight Gooden
5.5
1984
1984
31
17
9
.654
218.0
161
73
276
2.60
137
Larry Dierker
4.6
1964
1966
58
17
17
.500
342.2
315
85
222
3.28
103
Chief Bender
4.3
1903
1903
36
17
14
.548
270.0
239
65
127
3.07
100
Pete Schneider
3.4
1914
1915
77
19
32
.373
420.0
397
160
170
2.59
112
Wally Bunker
3.2
1963
1964
30
19
6
.760
218.0
171
65
97
2.89
125
Felix Hernandez
2.8
2005
2005
12
4
4
.500
84.1
61
23
77
2.67
158
Smoky Joe Wood
2.7
1908
1909
30
12
8
.600
183.1
135
59
99
2.21
114
 
I think it basically comes down to the top 3 – Feller, Nolan, and Gooden. Nolan and Gooden each had just the one teen year while Feller had 3, and while the single season for both Nolan and Gooden was probably better than any of Feller’s individual teen seasons, I would select Feller as the greatest teen pitcher over the other two due to the cumulative weight of his 3 years.
 
Since pitchers are so prominent among outstanding teens, let’s take a moment to look at single-seasons by teen pitchers. Here are the top 10 by rWAR:
 
Rk
Player
rWAR
Year
Age
W
L
%
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
ERA+
1
Gary Nolan
6.3
1967
19
14
8
.636
226.2
193
62
206
2.58
147
2
Dwight Gooden
5.5
1984
19
17
9
.654
218.0
161
73
276
2.60
137
3
Bob Feller
5.1
1938
19
17
11
.607
277.2
225
208
240
4.08
113
4
Chief Bender
4.3
1903
19
17
14
.548
270.0
239
65
127
3.07
100
5
Rube Bressler
3.5
1914
19
10
4
.714
147.2
112
56
96
1.77
148
6
Wally Bunker
3.4
1964
19
19
5
.792
214.0
161
62
96
2.69
134
7
Bob Feller
3.4
1937
18
9
7
.563
148.2
116
106
150
3.39
133
8
Larry Dierker
3.3
1966
19
10
8
.556
187.0
173
45
108
3.18
108
9
Smoky Joe Wood
2.9
1909
19
11
7
.611
160.2
121
43
88
2.18
116
10
Felix Hernandez
2.8
2005
19
4
4
.500
84.1
61
23
77
2.67
158
 
Feller has 2 of the top 10 seasons, a pretty notable achievement, and part of why I’m choosing him as the greatest teen starting pitcher.
 
Wally Bunker’s season might just the most famous of any teen pitcher, although that’s certainly subjective. I remember hearing a lot about it when I was growing up, probably because he very nearly won 20 games.
 
I think rWAR has it right. I believe the 2 best teen seasons by a starting pitcher are by Gary Nolan of the Reds and Dwight Gooden of the Mets. Which one was better? I think it’s a tough call. Here are a few other statistical nuggets to chew on
 
Player
Year
BA-Against
OBP-Against
SLG-Against
OPS-Against
OPS+-Against
K/9
BB/9
K/BB
Gary Nolan
1967
.228
.282
.335
.617
74
8.2
2.5
3.3
Dwight Gooden
1984
.202
.269
.275
.545
59
11.4
3.0
3.8
 
Those stats would seem to favor Gooden. 
 
If forced to pick one, I guess I’d go with Gooden over Nolan for the greatest single teen pitching season, even though Nolan’s rWAR was a little higher. Gooden’s 11.4 K/9 figure was, at the time, the highest in history, breaking Sam McDowell’s 10.7 figure from 1965. It’s a sign of the times that Gooden’s figure is now only the 25th highest (although 5 of the figures above his are from 2018, which means they may not stay at those levels by the time the season’s over).  
 
Stranger to the party
#7 on the teen rWAR list is Pete Schneider. Schneider debuted with the Reds in the mid-1910’s, and had some decent seasons, posting a little better than league average ERA during his brief career. He debuted at age 18, but was done by 23.
 
However, readers of The Bill James New Historical Abstract might find that the name does ring a bell, as Schneider enjoyed a game in the Pacific Coast League (a few years after his final Major League game) where he belted 5 home runs (and just barely missed a sixth) and drove in 14 runs. Schneider’s tale is found on page 108 of the Historical Abstract.
 
Relief Pitchers
I’m limiting this category to those pitchers who were primarily relief pitchers in their teens. There are several that essentially had dual roles where they were part starter/part reliever, and I will cover those under the "hybrid" category. The ones listed here were quite clearly relievers, at least as teens.
 
Top candidates:
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
GS
W
L
W-L%
SV
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
ERA+
Don Gullett
2.4
1970
1970
44
2
5
2
.714
6
77.2
54
44
76
2.43
172
Billy McCool
2.1
1964
1964
40
3
6
5
.545
7
89.1
66
29
87
2.42
150
Bob Miller
1.5
1953
1955
52
5
4
4
.500
1
131.1
131
59
47
3.43
113
Fernando Valenzuela
0.9
1980
1980
10
0
2
0
1.000
1
17.2
8
5
16
0.00
 
Dick Calmus
0.6
1963
1963
21
1
3
1
.750
0
44.0
32
16
25
2.66
114
Walter Anderson
0.6
1917
1917
14
2
0
0
 
0
38.2
32
21
10
3.03
91
Terry Forster
0.5
1971
1971
45
3
2
3
.400
1
49.2
46
23
48
3.99
91
 
By the way, the "Bob Miller" on this list….it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of.
 
There’s a Bob Miller who threw right-handed and pitched for 10 different franchises from 1957-1974, pitching 694 games and saving 52 games, and participating on World Series champions with the Dodgers in ’65 and the Pirates in ’71. 
 
This is not that guy.
 
There’s a Bob Miller who threw right-handed and pitched mostly in the 1950’s for the Phillies, and finished 2nd in the Rookie of the year voting in 1950.
 
Um….this is not that guy, either.
 
No, this Bob Miller was a lefty who pitched from 1953-1962 with the Tigers, Reds, and Mets. He debuted at age 17, and got in 3 teen years, 2 of which resulted in sub-2.50 ERA’s. He served in the military in 1957, and then returned but spent 4 years in the minors before reappearing in the Majors in 1962, his final season.
 
A special call-out to Valenzuela, who, a year before his Cy Young award winning season in 1981, came up late in the year and dazzled hitters across 17 2/3 innings without allowing a run.
 
I think, though, the teenage relief crown comes down to the 2 lefty-throwing Reds – Billy McCool and Don Gullett. They’re pretty similar seasons.
 
The ’64 Reds split saves among Sammy Ellis (14), McCool (7), Bill Henry (6), Joey Jay (2), Joe Nuxhall (2), John Tsitouris (2), Bob Purkey (1), and Ryne Duren (1). The last 4 on that list also each started 20-25 games that year.
 
The ’70 Reds had a primary closer, Wayne Granger, who saved 35 games (which was a major league record at that time), but the Reds as a team saved 60 that year, so there were plenty of other opportunities, most of which were collected by Clay Carroll (16) and Gullett (6).
 
I think it’s a real coin flip. I think I’ll give Gullett a slight edge because he was also pretty impressive in the 1970 postseason, pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Pirates in the NLCS and picking up 2 saves, and then pitching 6 2/3 innings across 3 appearances against the Orioles in the World Series, giving up just 1 earned run.
 
Stranger to the party:
Madison Bumgarner debuted as a 19-year old in 2009, pitching 3 of his 4 games in relief. Since then, he has made zero relief appearances…..in the regular season, that is. He has made 2 relief appearances in the postseason, including probably the most famous save in World Series history.
 
Hybrid Pitchers
I’m including pitchers in this category who really didn’t seem to fit cleanly as either starting pitchers or relief pitchers. These pitchers had between 50-80% of their appearances during the year(s) in question in relief.
 
Top candidates:
Player
rWAR
From
To
G
GS
W
L
W-L%
SV
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
ERA+
Rube Bressler
3.5
1914
1914
29
10
10
4
.714
2
147.2
112
56
96
1.77
148
Jack Bentley
2.3
1913
1914
33
12
6
7
.462
5
136.1
115
55
60
2.18
131
Carmen Hill
1.9
1915
1915
8
3
2
1
.667
0
47.0
42
13
24
1.15
237
Don Drysdale
1.8
1956
1956
25
12
5
5
.500
0
99.0
95
31
55
2.64
152
Jim Brillheart
1.3
1922
1923
43
10
4
7
.364
1
137.2
147
84
55
4.05
96
Ralph Branca
1.3
1944
1945
37
16
5
8
.385
2
154.1
119
111
85
4.20
88
Johnny Antonelli
0.9
1948
1949
26
10
3
7
.300
1
100.0
101
45
48
3.51
109
Sandy Koufax
0.9
1955
1955
12
5
2
2
.500
0
41.2
33
28
30
3.02
136
Stan Baumgartner
0.8
1914
1914
15
4
2
2
.500
0
60.1
60
16
24
3.28
89
 
Again, kind of an interesting group. You have the 2 Dodger Hall of Famers in Drysdale and Koufax that debuted within a year of each other as teens, and they both pitched well out of the gate, each starting about half of their games and relieving in about half.
 
At the top of the list, though, are 3 peers – Bressler, Bentley, and Hill, all of whom came onto the scene in the mid-teens. Baumgartner, a little further down that list, is also from that same era.
 
Bressler, a left thrower, was part of the 1914 Philadelphia Athletics team that was swept 4-0 by the Miracle Braves in the World Series. That Athletics team had a starting rotation led by Bob Shawkey, Bullet Joe Bush, Eddie Plank, and Chief Bender, not to mention a young (20) Herb Pennock. Basically everyone on the staff both started and relieved, although Bressler was the only one of the top 7 pitchers on that staff that pitched more games in relief than he started. Still, you could argue that Bressler was probably the second most valuable pither on that staff (behind Bender). Ultimately, Bressler converted to be more of a hitter, and ended up playing most of his career as an outfielder and first baseman, finishing with a .301 average in nearly 4,500 plate appearances.
 
Bentley (also a lefty thrower) you probably know something about too….he had a little bit of the same path as Bressler (though not to the same degree)….he started as a pitcher for the Senators, had some success with some good New York Giants teams in the 1920’s, and ended up his career as a first baseman.
 
Hill stayed a pitcher his whole career, and he never pitched in more than 8 games in a season until age 31, when he broke through with a 22-11 record for the 1927 NL champion Pirates.
 
I’d go with Bressler here.
 
Other Notes on Pitchers:
Hall of Fame hurlers who started in their teens include: Monte Ward, Bob Feller, Amos Rusie, Chief Bender, Walter Johnson, Bert Blyleven, Don Drysdale, Hal Newhouser, Waite Hoyt, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Pud Galvin, Red Ruffing, Nolan Ryan, Early Wynn, Jim Palmer, Christy Mathewson, and Herb Pennock.
 
So, the final "All Teen Team" looks like this:
C – Ivan Rodriguez
1B – Phil Cavarretta
2B – Bill Mazeroski
3B – Buddy Lewis
SS – Edgar Renteria
LF – Tony Conigliaro
CF – Bryce Harper
RF – Mel Ott
SP – Bob Feller
RP – Don Gullett
Hybrid – Rube Bressler
 
A Final Observation – Waving a White Flag at the Red(s) Flag
 
  • White Flag – a symbol of surrender
  • Red Flag - a warning of danger or a problem.
 
In this case, you might even call it a Reds flag……the rather glaring track record (or lack thereof) of the Cincinnati Reds over their long history to come up with a stud starting pitcher who was able to become a Hall of Fame-type star.
 
As I’ve mentioned many times before, I am a child of the Big Red Machine era. As I was reviewing the candidates for this article, I couldn’t help but notice that 2 of my favorite pitchers of my youth were prominent among the top teen performers: Gary Nolan and Don Gullett. And, it reminded me of something I’ve pondered before.
 
There’s an obvious connection between the 2 of them aside from the impressive performances that they posted as teens. Nolan was 3 years older (and debuted 3 years prior), but they spent most of their careers as teammates with the Reds. Nolan pitched in 10 seasons, Gullett in 9, and they were teammates for 6, and it would be 7 if you include the 1974 season that Nolan missed due to injury. From 1970 through 1976, they were generally battling as to who was the staff ace, although in 1973 Jack Billingham probably had the best year on the staff, and in 1976 it was probably rookie Pat Zachry. But, Nolan and Gullett were generally the 2 best pitchers on what was a bit of an underrated pitching staff during those years.
 
Some commonalities between the 2 that I find interesting:
 
  • Gullett was a first round draft choice (14th overall)
    Nolan was a first round draft choice (13th overall)

  • They both were hard throwers out of the gate, but didn’t build in that regard as their careers unfolded.:

    Gullett’s best K/9 season was 8.8 in his age 19 year.   He never even achieved 7.0 in any of his other seasons, and ended his career at 6.0 K’s per 9 innings.

    Nolan’s best K/9 season was 8.2 in his age 19 year.   He never even achieved 7.0 in any of his other seasons, eventually becoming a low-strikeout, control specialist (in his last 2 full seasons, he was averaging about 1 walk per 9 innings). He finished his career at 5.6 K/9.

  • Gullett pitched 9 seasons, went 109-50, 3.11 ERA, 113 ERA+
    Nolan pitched 10 seasons, went 110-70, 3.08 ERA, 117 ERA+

  • Nolan is the #2 similarity score comp on Gullett’s top 10 comp list, and Gullett is #3 on Nolan’s. They have a high similarity score of 933.

  • Their Hall of Fame Monitor scores are very close (Gullet is at 45, #316 all-time among pitchers, and Nolan is at 43, #327)

  • Due to injuries, (shoulder & rotator cuff for Gullett, arm & shoulder for Nolan) they both hung up their spikes before age 30.

  • And, perhaps most importantly……Gullett was born in Lynn, Kentucky, and Nolan’s middle name is Lynn.
 
As a broader topic, though……is there something in the water in Cincinnati when it comes to starting pitchers? Or, rather, the lack thereof? Maybe it’s related to the strange local desire to have chocolate as a key ingredient in chili?
 
Here’s what has always been frustrating to me as a lifelong Reds fan. The Reds’ franchise dates back to pre-1900, just about as long as any other continuous franchise (On baseball-reference.com’s franchise page, the Cubs and Braves are listed as few years longer, dating back to 1876, with the Cardinals and Pirates the next oldest along with the Reds, starting at 1882). Do you know how many Reds pitchers have been elected to the Hall of Fame? 
 
One.   
 
Eppa Rixey….that’s it. He’s our only guy. And no, Reds fans, Tom Seaver doesn’t count. He had 6 pretty good years with the Reds, but we have no claim to him…he’s a Met all the way. Outside of Rixey, a Veteran’s Committee selection in 1963, there are no Reds pitchers in the Hall of Fame.
 
I mean, look at the Braves. They’ve been around about the same number of years as the Reds. They’ve had 3 pitchers elected this decade alone (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz), and before that you had Phil Niekro, Warren Spahn, Vic Willis, John Clarkson, and Kid Nichols. That’s 8.
 
The Giants? Mathewson, Hubbell, Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Rusie, Mickey Welch, Keefe, Marquard, McGinnity. That’s 9.
 
Among the other long-time NL franchises…..the Cardinals have Gibson, Dean, and Haines. The Phillies have Alexander, Roberts, and Carlton. The Dodgers have Koufax, Drysdale, Sutton, Grimes, and Vance. Even the Cubs have Jenkins, Brown, and Griffith (plus a reliever, Bruce Sutter).
 
How about the 8 AL franchises that trace back to 1901? 
  • The Yankees have Ford, Ruffing, Hoyt, Chesbro, and Pennock, plus Gossage as a reliever.
  • The Indians have Feller, Lemon, Wynn, Coveleski, and Joss. 
  • The Tigers have Morris, Bunning, and Newhouser. 
  • The Red Sox have Young and Pedro (also Clemens, who is clearly Hall of Fame quality)
  • The A’s are loaded with Grove, Waddell, Bender, Plank, and Hunter, plus two relievers (Fingers & Eckersley).
  • The Senators/Twins have Walter Johnson and Blyleven. 
  • The White Sox have Walsh, Faber, Lyons, and reliever Hoyt Wilhelm. 
  • The Browns/Orioles have just Jim Palmer, although he will probably be joined shortly by Mussina (who’s a little more Oriole than Yankee).
 
OK…you may have noticed I didn’t mention the Pirates. Turns out they don’t have any, unless you want to consider Chesbro or Willis a Pirate, which I don’t think you reasonably can, so they actually outdo the Reds in their "misery". 
 
As a quick side note, and I’ve probably mentioned it before….one of my favorite Similarity Score observations is that 5 pitchers that were prominent on the Pirates of the early 1900’s (Sam Leever, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Babe Adams, and Jack Chesbro) are essentially all on each other’s top 10 Similarity Score lists. You look at their career records, and they’re pretty indistinguishable:
 
Players
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
G
H
BB
K
Deacon Phillippe
2,607
2.59
189
109
.634
372
2,518
363
929
Sam Leever
2,660
2.47
194
100
.660
388
2,449
587
847
Jesse Tannehill
2,750
2.79
197
116
.629
358
2,787
477
940
Babe Adams
2,995
2.76
194
140
.581
482
2,841
430
1,036
Jack Chesbro
2,896
2.68
198
132
.600
392
2,642
690
1,265
 
Anyway, the Reds have one stinking Hall of Fame pitcher to show for more than 130 years. And it’s not like we haven’t had some promising starters. In addition to Nolan and Gullett, consider these other similar tales of Reds pitchers that were outstanding for a brief time: Jose Rijo, Mario Soto, Jim Maloney, Johnny Cueto, Joey Jay, and Jim O’Toole. They appear to be very "intertwined" in the Similarity Scores universe:

  • Johnny Cueto is #7 on Jose Rijo’s top 10 comp list, and Rijo is #4 on Cueto’s (similarity score of 938, and Cueto (#6) and Jose Rijo (#8) are both on Jim Maloney’s top 10 list.

  • Joey Jay is #2 on Mario Soto’s top 10 comp list (954 score), and Jim O’Toole is #7, while Soto and O’Toole are both on Jay’s top 10.
 
  • All 8 of the pitchers listed here made between 1 and 3 All Star teams except for Gullett (who never made one).
 
  • All of these pitchers debuted at a pretty early age (not necessarily with the Reds), with Cueto the oldest at 22. Nolan, Gullett, Jay, and Rijo all debuted in their teens, Maloney and Soto were up by 20, and O’Toole was 21.
 
  • Most of these pitchers were done by 30 except for Cueto, who’s 32 and still active, although he’s done for this season and likely most of the next season as he just underwent Tommy John surgery, so we’ll have to see where that leaves him. Rijo finally retired at 37, but he sat out his age 31-35 seasons due to injury before staging his comeback….but he was essentially done by 30.
 
Career records:
Joey Jay               99-91,3.77
Jim O’Toole        98-84, 3.57
Jim Maloney      134-84, 3.19
Gary Nolan         110-70, 3.08
Don Gullett         109-50, 3.11
Mario Soto          100-92, 3.47
Jose Rijo              116-91, 3.24
Johnny Cueto    125-85, 3.33
 
By the way, all of these pitchers (except for Cueto, who’s still active) are members of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. For fun, here’s the complete list of starting pitchers who have been elected to the Reds’ Hall of Fame:
 
Jack Billingham
Ewell Blackwell
Tom Browning
Paul Derringer
Pete Donohue
Bob Ewing
Don Gullett
Noodles Hahn
Joey Jay
Brooks Lawrence
Red Lucas
Dolf Luque
Jim Maloney
Tony Mullane
Gary Nolan
Fred Norman (newly elected in 2018)
Joe Nuxhall (broadcaster)
Jim O’Toole
Bob Purkey
Jose Rijo
Eppa Rixey
Tom Seaver
Mario Soto
Johnny Vander Meer
Bucky Walters
Will White
 
So, in examining the 8 pitchers named earlier, we’re covering about one-third of the Reds Hall of Fame pitcher roster (and some of the other names will come up later).
 
Now, not the 8 pitchers highlighted don’t all quite have the same situation. Jay and Rijo were not original Reds prospects….they came over in big deals – Jay at age 25 was traded with Juan Pizarro from the Milwaukee Braves for Roy McMillan, and Rijo (who was originally a Yankee and went to the A’s in the Rickey Henderson deal) was traded at age 23 with Tim Birtsas to the Reds for Dave Parker. And certainly not all would have spent the rest of their careers with the Reds, as Gullett was a big free agent signing in 1977 with the Yankees, and Cueto was traded to the Royals a few years ago, primarily for financial reasons.
 
Still, there seems a certain similarity to their cases…..all had success with the Reds in their early to mid 20’s. However, Jay’s last good year as a starting pither was at age 28, O’Toole at 27, Maloney at 29, Nolan at 28, Gullett at 26, Soto at 28, Rijo at 29. Cueto….I guess we’ll see. He did have a good year at age 30 with the Giants.
 
Now, I’m sure you can compile similar lists for franchises. Promising pitchers that have a degree of success for a while and then hit an abrupt end are fairly common. Cleveland fans would probably rattle off Sam McDowell, Herb Score, Gene Bearden, and others off the top of their heads, and the Cubs would no doubt mention Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, among others. But, I definitely think there were some real gems here that had some real success, only to have it fade quickly:
 
  • Jim Maloney was a no-hit machine, with 2 complete game no-hitters, another game in which he threw 10 no-hit innings and then lost it in the 11th, and 2 other games where he had no-hitters into the 7th inning and had to come out due to injuries. When you think of hard throwers from the 1960’s, Maloney deserves to be included among the likes of Gibson, Koufax, Drysdale, McDowell, and Veale.  Maloney’s peak was roughly 1963-1969 (he went 117-60, 2.90, 125 ERA+), and while Koufax, Gibson, and Marichal are the best pitchers over that time frame, I think it’s reasonable to consider Maloney as perhaps the best pitcher in the next tier down, along with the likes of Sam McDowell, Dean Chance, and Jim Bunning.
 
  • Jose Rijo had his peak years during 1988-1994. I’d put him third behind Clemens and Maddux over that time frame. It’s noteworthy that, during this time, even though Maddux won 2 ERA titles and 3 Cy Youngs, and Clemens won 3 ERA titles and a Cy Young, Rijo still possessed the lowest ERA in baseball over that span with a 2.63 mark while going 87-53. Maddux and Clemens were certainly better and carried bigger workloads, but I’d put Rijo third over that time span (other possibilities would include the likes of David Cone, Bret Saberhagen, Mark Langston, and Frank Viola, but I would go with Rijo).
 
  • Mario Soto was somewhat similar to Rijo in that, over his peak years (1980-1984), when he went 71-50 with a 3.05 ERA for a team that was 36 games under .500 over that span, he was probably the 3rd best pitcher in the game (I would say he’s a solid third behind Steve Carlton and Dave Stieb). Unfortunately, pitching for some pretty dreadful Reds’ teams masked to some degree just how good he was, although he did impress enough to finish in the top 10 in Cy Young balloting 4 times in those 5 years, peaking with a runner-up finish to John Denny in 1983.
 
And on it goes. And you know, the Reds have had their share of notable pitching achievements.
 
  • Johnny Vander Meer and his famous back-to-back no-hitters in 1938. 
  • 9 years later, Ewell Blackwell came within an inning of matching that accomplishment. 
  • Fred Toney pitching in the double no-hit game (with Hippo Vaughn of the Cubs). 
  • Bucky Walters winning an MVP award. 
  • Tom Browning as the last rookie pitcher to win 20 games (and the only one in the last 64 years). 
  • Dolph Luque had one of the great "fluke" seasons ever in 1923 (27-8, with a 1.93 ERA that was nearly a run better than the next best mark). 
  • In the early 1900’s, Noodles Hahn won his 100th game 2 months after he turned 24….since the pitching distance moved permanently to 60’6", he is the second youngest to achieve that feat (only Bob Feller was younger)
 
So, achievements, they got. What the Reds are lacking is a true, stud pitcher (which I don’t think Rixey qualifies as) that spent the bulk of his career with the team and ended his journey in Cooperstown. We’ve been teased many times with young arms, only to see them burn out way too early. 
 
We may be getting teased again with flamethrower Hunter Greene, who just turned that magical age of 19, and is striking out around 12 per 9 innings at A ball here in Dayton.   He’s still pretty raw (pretty "Greene", if you will) and I think a few years away from the Majors, but I feel like there needs to be one of those haunted voices advising him to "GET OUT!!!!! Get out while you still can!"
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Dan 
 
 

COMMENTS (17 Comments, most recent shown first)

evanecurb
Among high school students in my town, of which I were one, the top two songs of the early to mid seventies were Layla and Stairway to Heaven.
8:43 AM Sep 1st
 
matt_okeefe
60s: Hey Jude
70s: Hotel California (the hangover from Hey Jude)
80s: 1999 (nuclear paranoia)
90s: Smells Like Teen Spirit
00s: Crazy, by Gnarls Barkley (nothing is real anymore, foreshadowing our current moment)
12:43 PM Aug 28th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Bruce,

I agree about Blackwelll....but he's basically just another example along the lines of Maloney, Soto, and Rijo. From age 23-28 (1946-1951) he was terrific, 3rd in rWAR behind Spahn and Newhouser, tied for 5th with ERA+ of 128 over that span. But, by age 29, there was no crack left in that "Whip". He was basically done.

To me, same story, different name :)

Thanks!
Dan
11:43 PM Aug 27th
 
evanecurb
I enjoyed the article about Reds starting pitchers. I think you may not have given Ewell Blackwell his due. He was one of the top pitchers in the National League during his six year peak (1946-1951). During those six seasons, he posted an ERA+ of 128 and made six all-star teams. In 1947, he led the league in wins (22), complete games (23),
fewest HR per 9 IP (0.3), and strikeouts per 9 IP (6.4).
7:44 PM Aug 27th
 
MWeddell
I guess I'm out of the cultural mainstream: I've never heard of Smells Like Teen Spirit before this article.
5:38 PM Aug 27th
 
DMBBHF
W.T.Mons,

Yep, LaRussa's a good suggestion.

Thanks,
Dan
8:25 PM Aug 26th
 
bertrecords
1960s winner: Good Vibrations
8:23 PM Aug 26th
 
DMBBHF
Don,

Gotcha...correction noted re: "Born in the USA" vs. "Born to Run".

Too many "Born" songs after all...."Born Free", "Born to be Wild", "Born this Way", "Born on the Bayou"....

I think "Born in the USA" ultimately was most notable in the was it was misappropriated by some politicians as being a very patriotic song, when it's actually nothing of the sort.

Thanks,
Dan


8:22 PM Aug 26th
 
W.T.Mons10
At SS, I nominate for Stranger at the Position another Hall of Famer who was a teen SS: Tony LaRussa.

Good article.
8:21 PM Aug 26th
 
W.T.Mons10
At third base, I think Fred Lindstrom should get extra credit for his performance in the 1924 World Series (at least at bat).
7:53 PM Aug 26th
 
doncoffin
I should proof-read...I meant "Born in the USA"...
6:31 PM Aug 26th
 
DMBBHF
Don,

Re: "Born to Run" - Well, that would be a decent suggestion.....except it was released in the '70's :)

FrankD - Yeah, the CCR songbook is pretty impressive, but I can't think of a particular single that I would consider a strong selection for a "song of the decade".

Gary - If you never had any trouble deciphering the lyrics, well, you're a better man than I am Gunga Din :)

Manush - Yeah, "Johnny B Goode" is a good option for the '50's....but, again, there are so many, it's hard for one to stand out.

Thanks,
Dan


2:59 PM Aug 26th
 
doncoffin
"The 1980’s? Hell, you got me. "Billie Jean"? "Livin’ on a Prayer"? "When Doves Cry"? Perhaps something by Milli Vanilli? I don’t think there’s any clear-cut song that really captures the decade."



Um..."Born To Run"?
1:35 PM Aug 26th
 
FrankD
For music evoking a certain era you have to include Creedance Clearwater Revival... is there any vignette concerning Viet Nam War in movies made after 1975 that doesn't use a CCR song?
1:34 PM Aug 26th
 
Gfletch
Can't help but be amused that I wrote that the lyrics were both...and then listed three things.
1:28 PM Aug 26th
 
Gfletch
I never had any trouble deciphering the lyrics to Teen Spirit. I also think the lyrics are both sly, amusing and highly evocative of a state of mind that left a mark on me that has lasted right up the current second. Also, like Heart Shaped Box, it was clearly written to be performed and understood with emphasis.

No disagreement with you, Dan. Art is always an interactive partnership between the artist(s) and the beholder. Our experiences may be similar, or not, but I doubt they are "wrong."
11:55 AM Aug 26th
 
Manushfan
That's pretty cool. 50's tune would be either 'Johnny Be Good' or 'Don't Be Cruel' as a guess.
9:46 PM Aug 25th
 
 
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