Of the 16,000 or so people that have played baseball at the major league level, there have been only 26 players that have managed a career batting average of .333 or better, and four of those ended their playing days before 1900. The others are all in the Hall of Fame, with the exception of Shoeless Joe Jackson and Lefty O’Doul (a pitcher/outfielder who really only had five full seasons).
In other words, if you get a hit once out of every three tries, you are in the elite company of the greatest to ever play the game, better than 99.85% of the rest.
The really weird thing is that to attain this level of greatness, you have to be only 7% better than average, as the aggregate batting average of all the players who ever played is .262. That’s how hard it is to be “great” hitting a baseball.
But, over the years, the statisticians here at GOML have noticed that there is a shortcut to greatness if you are above average, but not the whole 7% above. What you have to do is get traded to the New York Yankees, where good players are regarded as great, and great players are regarded as Gods, or at least Saints. Expectations are high in New York and so is the pay.
Dave Winfield is a pretty good example of this. He was a very good player in San Diego for eight years, a .284 hitter there with decent power. George Steinbrenner brought him to the Yankees in 1980 and made him the highest paid player in the game. Once in New York, the expectations for him were sky high, but paying a .284 hitter all the money in the world doesn’t make him a .333 hitter. Steinbrenner was disappointed with his new toy right away (even though Winfield actually did hit .290 over nine seasons in New York) and tried all manner of trickery to discredit him to escape the contract. It led to Steinbrenner being banned from baseball.
The New York effect can work against you as well, particularly if you’re already “great” and perform only at the “great” level but no more. Then you can go from God to goat pretty quickly. Just ask Randy Johnson. The Yankees paid him more than he’d ever made, but he managed only two close-to-great years there. The spotlight was too bright, and the privacy-loving Johnson was at war with the media for two years. Getting the extra attention didn’t really matter to someone who already was headed for the Hall of Fame.
Very good players like, say, Don Mattingly or Thurman Munson, were accorded super-star treatment in New York, though they were “just” very good.
Which brings me to the subject of Robinson Cano, a very, very good player with New York (hitting .309 over nine years there). Cano never led the league in any category whatsoever, though he made the All- Star team five times and won the Silver Slugger award (best offensive player at his position) four times. But, of course, this was enough for the “God” treatment in New York, and his market value was raised considerably.
Cano became a free agent in 2014 and signed a huge contract with the Seattle Mariners, $24 million a year for 10 years! The most he made in New York was $15 million. Of course, no one is worth this much money, no matter how they were viewed in New York, and Cano has been not quite the player for Seattle that he had been in NY (hitting .296 in his four years there). It’s good but not great, and it’s Seattle not New York, so you have not heard the name Robinson Cano in four years.
I had forgotten completely about him and wasn’t even sure he was still in the game. Until Tuesday night, that is.
Cano was the hero of the All-Star game, hitting a home run in the 10th inning to give the Americans the win. Even though Cano has not been in New York for four years, the Yankees still own the Hyperbole Rights on him, so the headline of the story was:
For those of you who don’t pay attention to such things, Aaron Judge is the Yankee rookie phenom who won the All-Star Home Run contest, so this was going to be about New York with or without Cano.
Cano’s been a Mariner for four years, but if he does something “great”, he is an “ex-Yankee” first, and a whatever-else second.
I ♥ NY