Who’s smarter than Bobby Valentine? Voice readers. And Brian Calandra of Astoria, in particular. After tabulating 7,142,246 votes (or thereabouts) with Arthur Andersen-like precision, we declare Calandra the grand prize winner of the Voice’s first Annual Cryogenic Baseball Quiz.
He got all the answers right—so did dozens of others—but it was the fourth paragraph of his essay question touting Henry Aaron as the greatest living ballplayer that clinched it for Mr. C. “My nostalgia GLB is legendary Yank phenom Dan Pasqua, whose two-run homer off Dan Quisenberry rapturously ended my first visit to Yankee Stadium and inspired me to wear his “21” throughout Little League. But I’d forget that tomorrow if any player’s heroics got me laid, and that hasn’t happened yet (sex, yes; baseball-inspired sex, no), although both a Shane Spencer-inspired home run and Hideki Irabu win (problems with my pitches, not his) came close.” Words to live by, indeed. Calandra wins a copy of Richard Tofel’s A Legend in the Making, a copy of Allen Barra’s Clearing the Bases, and a Voice ball cap, which will surely help him get laid.
Our second prize goes to Desmond Devlin of Jackson Heights, who submitted the very last entry we received, touting Albert Belle in the kind of 13-point argument that makes sense only in the wee hours: “(1) He overcame substance abuse to become an inspirational figure to all Americans, just like President Bush. . . . (4) When Saint Cal ended his streak, Belle became the active player with the most consecutive games played, which pissed everyone off. . . . (13) He’ll never get the chance to make the shortest Hall of Fame speech ever: ‘No comment.'” Devlin gets a Barra-filled prize package of Clearing the Bases and That’s Not the Way It Was, as well as an open invitation to come trick-or-treating at my house anytime.
Rounding out our top five—each will receive a cap, a book, and a year’s worth of gloating rights—are Chris Brame of Bishop, Georgia, who gave it up for Roger Clemens; Eric Chaikin of Hollywood, California, who made a short but sweet argument for a certain Red Sox reliever (“I was a teenage Mets fan in New England for the sixth game of the 1986 World Series and can therefore state from personal experience that the greatest living ballplayer is Calvin Schiraldi”); and Owen King of Brooklyn, who would immortalize “the idea of Willie Mays.”
Receiving honorable mentions—and one cap each—for their essays, despite stumbling on a question or two, are Glenn Slavin of Brooklyn, who reminded us about the great Sadaharu Oh; Joel Rhymer of Freedom, New Hampshire, who cited the wit and wisdom of Bill Lee; and Ed Heinemann of Chicago, who cast Mark Fidrych as baseball’s Bartleby. (“When the Bird talked to the Ball, we were reminded that control is a performance, an act of will, or just an illusion, not unlike the illusion that allows us to be fans, muttering to the TV, shouting from the stands, feeling intensely our effect on the action even as we know it doesn’t exist, living in that hope for those who die unhoping.”)
But enough bookkeeping. So who is the greatest living ballplayer? According to our team of crack, Florida-based election judges, it’s Willie Mays, who tallied 44 percent of the vote. Second was Hank Aaron (15 percent), followed by Barry Bonds (10 percent), and Stan Musial (6 percent). A wide variety of suspects split the remaining chads, ranging from Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson to Mookie Wilson and Willie McGee.
The average score by our entrants was a very impressive 12.84 out of a possible 14 (not including the essay). The hardest question was No. 5, a quasi-trick question on baseball deaths. All the incidents were true, but Bernard Malamud fans should remember that Eddie Waitkus survived being shot by the deranged female fan.
Props to all the seamheads who entered, but pay attention, because next year you’ll have to be smarter than Joe Torre.
1. About which current major leaguer did Bill James recently write, “Somebody asked me did I think [ X ] was a Hall of Famer. I told him, ‘If you could split him in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.’ ”
Rickey Henderson, in the New Historical Baseball Abstract.
2. Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, whose errant throw probably cost the Yankees the 2001 World Series, was charged with two errors in the first half of the 2002 season. How many regular-season errors did he have entering the 2002 season?
Rivera had committed one regular-season error (on July 24, 2001) in his
career entering the 2002 season.
3. Who am I? As a hitter, I’m a virtual clone of Jason Giambi. Entering this season, my career slugging percentage was one point higher than his, my career on-base percentage was one point lower. Even though I’m only six months older, I’ve hit almost a hundred more home runs, and played in 11 postseason series to Giambi’s two.
Jim Thome, although there was a typo in
the question—it should have read “my career slugging percentage is 10 points
higher.” However, this did not affect the results of the quiz because no one got
only this question wrong.
4. In the 1972 Flood v. Kuhn decision that temporarily upheld baseball’s reserve clause, Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun pontificated about the “many names, celebrated for one reason or another, that have sparked the diamond and its environs and that have provided tinder for recaptured thrills, for reminiscence and anticipation in-season and off-season.” He then listed more than 80 of the game’s greats and not-so-greats. Which of the following was not included in the list?
a) Heinie Groh
b) Branch Rickey
c) Stuffy McInnis
d) Kenesaw Mountain Landis
e) Cap Anson
d. Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Among the others
snubbed were Casey Stengel, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.
5. Cardinal pitcher Darryl Kile’s death was not only shocking but unusual because it was a result of natural causes. Which of these was not an actual cause of death for a big league player?
a) A drunken player was ordered off a train by a conductor. As the train sped away, the slugger ran after it, but tripped and fell through the tracks and over Niagara Falls.
b) A pitcher was stabbed in the chest during a fight at a fish fry given in his honor the night before he was to leave for spring training.
c) After biting a fellow passenger during a midflight brawl in a plane he himself chartered, an outfielder was hit over the head with a fire extinguisher by the pilot.
d) When a first baseman returned to his hotel room, he was shot in the chest with a .22-caliber rifle by a deranged female fan.
e) Despondent over his pitch-calling in a one-run loss, a catcher sliced his throat.
The correct answer was d), Eddie Waitkus of the Phillies, in 1949. a) was Ed Delahanty of the Washington Senators; b) was Red Sox pitcher Ed Morris; c) was Len Koenecke of the Dodgers; d) was Waitkus; and e) was Willard Hershberger of the Reds.
But Waitkus didn’t die of his gunshot injuries. He recovered, married his nurse, and came back the next season to resume a productive, if not Roy Hobbsian career. Waitkus, whose saga inspired Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, died in 1972.
6. Name three records held by Babe Ruth that were broken last season.
Career walks, by Rickey Henderson; single-season walks, by Barry Bonds; and
single-season slugging percentage, by Barry Bonds.
7. As he will be happy to tell you, earlier this year Bobby Valentine became only the second Met manager to notch 500 wins. Who was the first?
8. Tony Gwynn retired at the end of last season with a .338 career average, good for 20th all time. Who became the active leader in batting average (entering the 2002 season with a minimum of 3000 plate appearances)?
Mike Piazza, with a .325 career average. Derek Jeter of the Yankees led American Leaguers with a .320 career average. Ichiro Suzuki had a .350 career batting average entering the season, but fell well short of 3000 plate appearances. Nomar Garciaparra, who currently has a .328 career average, didn’t record his 3000th plate appearance until this season.
9. In that supposed model of competitive balance, the NFL, 18 teams have played in the Super Bowl since the 1978 season. During that same period, 21 teams have appeared in the World Series. Name the teams that haven’t appeared in the fall classic since ’78.
The Angels, Cubs, and White Sox (all representing cities in the top three TV markets); the Rockies (which set the single-season attendance record); the Expos (which had the best record in the majors in 1994); the Rangers, Astros, and Mariners (who among them made 11 playoff appearances since 1995); and the inexcusable Devil Rays.
10. The late, freeze-dried Ted Williams is the career leader in on-base percentage with an astonishing .481. Who is the active career leader (entering the 2002 season, with a minimum of 3000 plate appearances)?
Frank Thomas, with .438. Good for sixth all-time.
11. Free-swinging Alfonso Soriano is a midseason favorite for the American League MVP award. Who was the last person to win the National League MVP award while playing in New York?
Don Newcombe, who won the 1956 award while playing for the Dodgers. Some thought this was a trick question and answered Willie Mays for the Giants in 1954, but the last we heard, Brooklyn was part of New York.
12. Since 9-11, that seventh-inning-stretch staple, the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has been supplanted or supplemented by “God Bless America.” Give us the first verse of Jack Norworth’s original 1908 lyrics, which were written on a scrap of paper on a New York subway.
Katie Casey was base ball mad. Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew, Ev’ry sou Katie blew. On a Saturday, her young beau called to see if she’d like to go,
To see a show but Miss Kate said,
“No, I’ll tell you what you can do.”
13. Why don’t major league teams move anymore? Maybe because the last time it happened, the team was forced to forfeit its final home game while leading 7-5 because fans streamed onto the field during the ninth inning. What was the team? And when and to where did it relocate?
The Washington Senators, who relocated to Texas for the 1972 season.
They forfeited their last game, at RFK Stadium, on September 30, 1971, to the Yankees when fans streamed onto the field with two out in the ninth inning with the Senators leading, 7-5.
14. Marlin infielder Luis Castillo’s 35-game hitting streak this season was the longest since 1987. Who held the record for the longest hitting streak before Joe DiMaggio’s streak, and how long did that prior streak last?
Wee Willie Keeler, who recorded a 44-game hitting streak in 1897, a record that would last for 44 years.
15. Essay question: In 200 words or less, who is the greatest living baseball player, and why?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 6, 2002