Valentine’s Day is about spending time with that special someone in your life. You express your love with gifts, flowers, candies, a nice meal, or simply spending time together. Winning builds love in baseball, it solves every team’s problems. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner hated losing, “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.” So what creates more love, winning, in baseball? WAR.
WAR, Wins Above Replacement, measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position. The higher a player’s WAR the more they help the team.
The highest career WAR for any Major Leaguer born on Valentine’s Day belongs to Charles “Pretzels” Getzien. Born in Germany on February 14, 1864, Getzien played for five teams during his nine seasons in the National League. Nicknamed Pretzels for throwing a double curve ball, Getzien’s career 18.1 WAR far outpaces his closest competitor Arthur Irwin’s career 15.2 WAR. Even Candy LaChance’s career 11.1 WAR was no match for Getzien.
Charles “Pretzels” Getzien while with the Detroit Wolverines. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)
Baseball in the 1880’s and early 1890’s was not the same game played today. Getzien, a starting pitcher, was expected to pitch every few days; teams did not use the modern five man rotation. Starters were expected to pitch the entire game; pitch counts did not matter. Bullpen matchups in high leverage situations were never a thought. In 1884, Getzien’s first season in the National League, it took six balls to walk a batter, not the modern four. There were other rule changes along the way.
1886 was Pretzels Getzien’s best season. He started 43 games for the Detroit Wolverines, pitching 42 Complete Games, and 1 Shutout. His 30-11 record included a 3.03 ERA and 1.223 WHIP. Getzien pitched 386.2 innings, allowing 388 Hits, 203 Runs, just 130 Earned Runs, 6 Home Runs, striking out 172, walking 85, and throwing 19 Wild Pitches. At the plate, he hit .176 in 165 At Bats, collecting 29 Hits, 3 Doubles, 3 Triples, 19 RBI, 3 Stolen Bases, scoring 14 Runs, 6 walks, 46 strikeouts, for an .205 On-Base Percentage, Slugging .230, and .435 OPS. Getzien’s 1886 season was the first of five consecutive seasons with at least 40 starts.
More rule changes occurred before the 1887 season. Batters could no longer call for high or low pitches. Five balls were required to walk a batter, not six. Striking out a batter required four strikes. Bats could have one flat side. While the rules changed Getzien’s success remained. He was the only Wolverine starter to make more than 24 starts, starting 42 with 41 Complete Games. Riding Getzien’s right arm, Detroit won the National League Pennant. They faced the American Association champion St. Louis Browns in the World Series. Pretzels Getzien went 4-2, throwing 6 Complete Games, 58 innings, with a 2.48 ERA and 1.310 WHIP. He allowed 61 Hits, 23 Runs, 16 Earned Runs, walked 15, and struck out 17. Getzien was a threat at the plate too. He hit .300 in 20 At Bats, collecting 6 hits, including 2 Doubles, 1 stolen base, scoring 5 Runs, 2 RBI, 3 walks, and 6 strikeouts. He boasted a .391 On-Base Percentage, .400 Slugging, and .791 OPS. The Wolverines won the series 10 games to five.
The 1887 World Series Champions, Detroit Wolverines. (www.detroitathletic.com)
In 1888, Getzien started 46 games throwing 45 Complete Games. The Wolverines pitching staff also had Pete Conway, 45 starts, and Henry Gruber, 25 starts. Despite the team’s success Detroit owner Frederick Stearns disbanded the Wolverines after the season due to financial woes. Getzien joined the Indianapolis Hoosiers for the 1889 season. Prior to the season, the National League adopted the modern four balls for a walk and three strikes for a strikeout rule. Getzien started 44 games, throwing 36 Complete Games. After one season with the Hoosiers, Getzien spent 1890, his last great season, pitching for the Boston Beaneaters. He made 40 starts, throwing 39 Complete Games alongside future Hall of Famers Kid Nichols and John Clarkson. Nichols, a rookie, threw a Complete Game in all 47 of his starts. Clarkson made 44 starts with 43 Complete Games. Getzien’s pitching career began to decline after 1890.
Getzien started nine games for Boston in 1891 before he was released. He would sign with the Cleveland Spiders and pitch just one game. Getzien finished his career with the St. Louis Browns in 1892. It was the only season of his career where batters were forced to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely; bats could no longer have a flat side.
In 1893, Getzien’s first season out of professional baseball, saw the pitching distance moved from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches. The rules governing baseball in the 1800’s shed light on the games’ differences in its infancy and today. In 1901, almost a decade after Pretzels Getzien last pitched, the National League would count foul balls as strikes. Previously if a batter fouled off seven consecutive pitches to begin an at bat the count remained no balls and no strikes. Striking out a batter required a swing and miss or a called strike.
Pretzels Getzien as a member of the Detroit Wolverines in 1888. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)
Getzien compiled a career record of 145-139, 1 Save, 3.46 ERA, and 1.288 WHIP. He started 296 games, throwing 277 Complete Games, and 11 shutouts. In 2,539.2 innings, Getzien allowed 2,670 hits, 1,555 runs, 976 Earned Runs, struck out 1,070, walked 602, hit 28 batters, and threw 111 Wild Pitches. He is the all-time leader in Wins, Loses, Complete Games, Shutouts, Innings Pitched, Hits Allowed, Runs, Earned Runs, Wild Pitches, and Batters Faced for German born Major Leaguers. Getzien led the National League in Home Runs allowed in 1887 and 1889, with 24 and 27 respectively. In an era of few home runs Getzien allowed more Home Runs than many modern day pitchers. He allowed 6.2% of the 383 Home Runs hit in 1887 and 7.2% of the 371 hit in 1889. In 2018, Tyler Anderson of the Rockies and Chase Anderson of the Brewers led the National League with 30 Home Runs allowed. They both allowed 1.1% of the 2,685 Home Runs hit.
Offensively, Getzien had 1,140 Plate Appearances, 1,056 At Bats, collecting 209 Hits, 27 Doubles, 15 Triples, 8 Home Runs, 109 RBI, 17 Stolen Bases, 78 Walks, 247 Strike Outs, .198 Batting Average, .257 On-Base Percentage, .275 Slugging, and .532 OPS. His pitching, not hitting, abilities made him dangerous on the diamond.
Pretzels Getzien is most remembered for his odd nickname. On his 155th Birthday, let us remember him as the career WAR leader for Major Leaguers born on Valentine’s Day. So in his honor, may the love of your life be kind like the warm sunshine and green grass of the coming baseball season. Happy Valentine’s Day, WAR can create love.
The New York Yankees signed Chase Headley to a 4 year contract worth $52 million. This solidifies the Yankees at third through 2018. When the deal was announced, ESPN’s Buster Olney made the observation that this meant the Yankees did not have an everyday role for Alex Rodriguez. The 2015 Yankees would have a lineup of CF Jacoby Ellsbury, LF Brett Gardner, 2B Martin Prado, 3B Chase Headley, DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, RF Chris Young, SS Didi Gregorius.
Notice anyone missing from the Yankee lineup? What about Alex Rodriguez? Where will Rodriguez fit into the Yankees plans for 2015 and beyond? At this point in his career, Rodriguez has three options as far as playing. He can continue at third, move to first, or be the DH.
At third, Rodriguez will most likely serve as the backup for Headley. As a switch hitter, Headley will not yield at bats to Rodriguez based upon match ups. However, even if Headley were to get hurt or needs a day off, the Yankees could have moved Prado from second to third to keep the defense in the infield solid and give some time at second to young Jose Pirela. Prado’s trade to the Marlins means Pirela or Brendan Ryan will be at second. I believe the Yankees should put Pirela at second and have Ryan as the infield back up. The Yankees need some sort of youth movement if they are to continue playing competitively moving forward. Honestly, as Rodriguez approaches his 40-year-old season, after a year away from the game, and the preceding year cut short by yet another hip injury, it is doubtful Rodriguez still has the range to play an average third base defensively. Third seems does not look like a home, even temporarily, for Rodriguez.
At first base, Rodriguez would either be the backup to Mark Teixeira or platoon with him. I would vote to avoid the platoon. When healthy, Teixeira is a major asset to the Yankees and their success. A potential hindrance for Rodriguez at first could be if the Yankees try to begin transitioning Brian McCann from behind the plate to first, which they should. Teixeira only has two years remaining on his contract, so the Yankees will have to begin the process of finding his replacement either from their system, through trade or free agency, or from their roster. The Yankees need the most from their investment in McCann and continuing to catch will reduce his playing time and effectiveness. As a lefty, McCann’s power to the right field porch should give him an edge over Rodriguez. Again, Rodriguez’s hips and age, plus the move to a new position could greatly hinder his ability to play an average first base defensively.
As the DH, Rodriguez is facing some stiff competition. Carlos Beltran seems to be the preferred DH for the Yankees. Beltran is a switch hitter, this he will not be pinch hit for due to matchups late in games. Even when Beltran plays the outfield to give Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Chris Young a day off this does not mean there is an opening at DH. Any of these outfielders could be the DH instead of Beltran. Additionally, when Beltran needs a day off, McCann could DH, so could Teixeira, and Headley. Rodriguez has to six players to jump over to claim at bats as the DH. Strangely, this is his best option for at bats.
These three positions do not leave Rodriguez many opportunities to play every day. At this point in his career the likelihood of Rodriguez’s health allows him to play every day are growing smaller and smaller. He has essentially missed the past two seasons; it may be difficult for Rodriguez to rebound. He played 44 games in 2013 due to injury and served a suspension for all of the 2014 season. In addition to the aches and pains of entering his 40-year-old season, Rodriguez has undergone multiple hip surgeries. This has hampered his speed, range, and his ability to stay on the field. Rodriguez is showing his age and the impact of 20 seasons in Major League Baseball.
Rodriguez is not the same player he once was before his troubles with his hip, a PED suspension, and his popularity taking a nosedive. He has not hit above .276 since 2009. Rodriguez has played an average of 110 games a season since 2008, without playing more than 138 in any season, excluding his suspension for all of 2014. During his last three seasons played (2011-2013), Rodriguez has no more than 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in a season. His Offensive WAR has gone down every year since 2007, from a high of 9.5 to 0.8. Only once since 2005 has Rodriguez been above a 1.0 Defensive WAR, with four of those seasons being in the negative. He has only been over a 2.0 Defensive WAR once, in 2000 at 2.3. Clearly, his skills have deteriorated.
Alex Rodriguez was once one of the best players in all of Major League Baseball. However, growing older, injuries, PED use and suspension, and becoming the face of what is wrong with the game have left Rodriguez as a tired act. He is in the swan song of his career, and he has becoming the most polarizing figure in the game. Rodriguez is approaching some of the most hallowed numbers in the sport, which should create a buzz about the 2015 season. Instead, his march into history pains those who love this game. He sits 61 hits shy of 3,000. He is 6 home runs away from tying Willie Mays, 60 away from Babe Ruth, and 101 away from Hank Aaron. He currently has a career batting average of .299, if he has one more good year at the plate he could assure himself a .300 career batting average. He is 81 runs short of scoring 2,000 for his career. He is 31 RBI short of 2,000 for his career. All of these statistics place Rodriguez in the upper echelon of baseball history, but primarily through his own doing, many in baseball simply want him to go away.
Alex Rodriguez has served his time. Regardless if you think he should have gotten more or less time, or wish he had received a permanent ban from the game, Rodriguez will not be the last player to cut corners to gain an advantage over his competition. Hopefully, Rodriguez will be the final chapter of the Steroid era on the field. Rodriguez is a sad figure, much in the same way Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have become. These players had Hall of Fame caliber talent, but they tried to hang on to their skills through various forms of cheating, and in so doing so they have ruined their legacies. Alex Rodriguez has earned more than $356 million, and unless he and the Yankees can reach an agreement to part ways, his earnings will surpass $400 million, which is the most career earnings in baseball history. Derek Jeter earned $265 million, the second highest career earnings in baseball history, the difference in the legacies of Rodriguez and Jeter are night and day. Will the extra $100 to $150 million Rodriguez will earn be worth it?
The return of Alex Rodriguez will soon be upon us, whether we like it or not. There does not seem to be many at bats awaiting him with the Yankees as he attempts to chase down some of the biggest names in baseball history. Does Rodriguez belong in the same conversation as the greats like Mays, Ruth, Aaron, Clemente, Gehrig, Williams? Statistically yes. On the field he has proven for 20 seasons he has Hall of Fame caliber skills and can do it all with the bat. No player ever accidentally amasses the sort of numbers he has collected.
Does Rodriguez belong alongside these Hall of Famers in terms of class? Not even close. He has cheated multiple times, and continues to play the victim. You can argue he is no better than Mays and his reported use of amphetamines, but what makes Rodriguez different is the amphetamines do not alter your abilities, steroids do. He admitted to using PEDs from 2001 through 2003. While we can debate whether one believes that after 2003 Rodriguez discontinued his use of PEDs, what is not up for debate is his admission to using them during these three seasons. These also, consequently were the most prolific three year span of his career. In 2010, Rodriguez was connected to Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who at best has a checkered past with the law enforcement for providing and administering PEDs to elite athletes. The latest run in for Rodriguez has been through his association with Biogenesis and Anthony Bosch. While Rodriguez never failed a drug test, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rodriguez for 211 games, later reduced to the 2014 season. Major League Baseball suspended Rodriguez:
“for use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances…over the course of multiple years” and “for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”
The crime gets you in trouble; the cover up is what tears you down. Rodriguez later admitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration that he had indeed used PEDs. Rodriguez has a pattern of cheating, even after the installation of the Major League Baseball Drug Policy. Everyone makes mistakes, however Rodriguez does not seem to have learned from his mistakes.
It seems three strikes does not mean Alex Rodriguez is out. He has three seasons remaining on his contract with the Yankees. He has become so toxic within baseball, and outside of baseball, that after the 2017 season his career with baseball as a whole is almost certainly over. Unless the Yankees can work out a deal with Rodriguez to buy out the remainder of his contract, or his hips force his retirement, it is unlikely he will leave before his contract is up. Alex Rodriguez is a survivor, through it all he continues to come back for more. What a shame that this sort of resiliency is wasted on Rodriguez. There are so many great people in and around baseball; unfortunately, Rodriguez has the ability to survive regardless of the damage he does to the game. He takes the headline away from the people and events, which make baseball the great sport it is.
In the wedge of India between Bangladesh and Myanmar sits Manipur. This tucked away state of India is home to a seemingly unlikely baseball hotbed. The local community has had baseball on the brain thanks to the influence of an American air base there during World War II. While World War II and the Americans have left Manipur, unfortunately the violence and conflict have not. Baseball therefore is not providing an escape from the daily stresses of life. In Manipur, baseball is providing an escape from war. The people are caught between the government and the various rebel groups which operate in the region. This leaves the people vulnerable to extortion and worse. The ongoing conflict does not receive the same attention as the Indian and Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, but Manipur is in just a great of need of peace.
Sports have the power to bring out the best in people and society. It is no different in Manipur, as chronicled in the film, The Only Real Game. The smiles and laughter are abundant as the people escape the harsh realities for a few hours. The ongoing conflict has impacted the people in unimaginable ways. They never know if they will survive another day or be forced to pay a tax to one or several of the rebel groups which vie for control of the region. The Indian government has maintained martial law in Manipur since it became a union territory in the early 1960’s because of the conflict between the government and the rebels. The lack of real governance in the region has left the state underdeveloped with the economy and people struggling to survive. Despite all of these obstacles, baseball has remained one of the few constants throughout the last several decades. The pure joy of playing gives individuals a sense of self-worth and belonging as they are neither part of the rebellion, nor are they fully accepted by the Indian government. The people of Manipur are caught in between these warring groups with no viable options for escape. Developing baseball gives in Manipur This effort is being aided by Major League Baseball and First Pitch. Working to develop the skills of the players while bringing together people is giving peace a chance to grow in this much beleaguered region.
Baseball cannot bring peace alone, it needs help from all corners of society, and in Manipur there are more dark corners than people able to support peace. Living in the perpetual state of limbo, with few viable options for personal and societal development has created another major problem within Manipur. HIV/AIDS rates in Manipur are among the highest, if not the highest among all the states in India. The lack of health education, coupled with Manipur’s proximity to the Golden Triangle has made addiction to drugs like heroin increasingly prevalent. The demand internationally for these drugs is ever increasing, and thus the drug traffickers are ruthless against those who seek to disrupt their manufacturing or selling of their product. Some of the rebels are the drug traffickers and will not allow anyone to come between them and the illicit fortunes. The easy access and abundant supply of heroin has created a society in Manipur littered with addicts. These addicts are willing to take undo risks through the sharing of needles to get their fix. The use and sharing of intravenous needles to inject heroin is the single largest contributor to the spreading of HIV/AIDS in Manipur. The organized international drug trade combined with the political instability makes the people of Manipur vulnerable and has left the society to live on the edge of survival.
The Only Real Game sets the story of the people of Manipur against the backdrop of their love for baseball. Director Mirra Bank does an excellent job of drawing the audience in with their love of baseball and the idea that the game is being played in this remove region of the world. However, once the audience has become invested in the story, the focus shifts away from baseball and to the ongoing conflict which has consumed Manipur for decades. The personal stories and struggles of the people in the film break the conflict down from being between the government against rebels. It shows the people who are caught in the middle. They face the brunt of the repercussions of the conflict. Their lives have been interrupted and may never be made whole again. Baseball provides an escape from the danger and the stress of surviving from day to day, while surrounded by chaos and conflict. This has become a way of life for the people of Manipur.
Baseball is the game I love. I want to know more about the history, the players, the strategy, and the statistics every day. Ultimately though, baseball is just a game, and my life does not change whether my favorite team wins or loses. On the other hand, there is much suffering around the world, little of which ever makes the news or is never brought to the attention of those who have the ability to make a difference. Sadly, the struggles of Manipur is an example of such suffering. There people continue to struggle to get by every day. Warring parties fight for control and leave the people caught in the middle, nearly defenseless. Today there are at minimum 10 major conflicts occurring throughout the world, with at least 1,000 deaths per year. There are also more than 30 minor conflicts. While I use the word minor only to denote less than 1,000 deaths per year, the people who live through these conflicts would not suggest there is anything minor about these conflicts. Low death toll does not necessarily mean low violence rates. Baseball is a game. Everyone should be able to live in peace. The Only Real Game draws attention to the plight of the people who have for decades lived through the horrors of war in Manipur, as others have elsewhere in the world.
Conflict will continue to rage so long as people are able to dehumanize one another. If you can convince yourself that the other person is less than human, you become able to do inhuman things to them. Sports, including baseball, allow us to meet on the field and to compete while also humanizing the opponent. The fans of the Red Sox and the Yankees will often profess their hatred for the opposing team’s players, but it is only because they are trying to win a game, not because they believe they are superior to the individual. The gap between “hating” an opponent because they beat you and dehumanizing an opponent is huge. However, dehumanizing an individual occurs a little at a time. This reduction of people to something that is worthless and should be struck down has happened before and if we as humans are not vigilant. People are capable of some incredible achievements, but they are also capable of unspeakable horrors. The dehumanizing of another person or of a group of people has happened in part because no one was willing to believe it could happen. It can happen again and does still happen. We must all, as human, seek to prevent these horrifying acts from continuing, because to turn away from these tragedies is to in some way condone them.