SI.com's Jacob Luft takes a poke at answering a few baseball questions.
Where does Rafael Palmeiro rank among today's sluggers?
Rafael Palmeiro has more than 500 home runs on his mind.
Otto Greule/Getty Images
Rafael Palmeiro has put together the quietest Hall of Fame-type career this side of Eddie Murray.
He's never won an MVP award. He's made only four All-Star teams. Despite his current streak of eight consecutive seasons with at least 35 home runs, he never has led the league in either homers or batting average. He's never played in a World Series. You could argue he's never been the best player on his own team.
But now Palmeiro is the 19th member of the 500-Home Run Club. In and of itself, that would not guarantee him a spot in Cooperstown. After all, the club soon will be expanding faster than Kirby Puckett's waist line. Sammy Sosa is in, and behind Palmeiro are Fred McGriff (483) and Ken "Mr. Glass" Griffey Jr. (469).
What sets Palmeiro apart is an all-around batting skill that has brought him within hailing distance of another magical milestone -- 3,000 hits. He's only 330 hits away from joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only sluggers in both the 500-HR and 3,000-hit clubs. And he's done it while drawing almost the same number of walks (1,160) as strikeouts (1,183) and playing a strong first base (three Gold Gloves).
A key question for any great player is how he compares with his contemporaries, and Palmeiro does so favorably despite playing in an offense-friendly era.
In his book Win Shares, hardball historian Bill James uses a complicated formula to rank the best players of all time. He credits Palmeiro with 334 "win shares" through the 2001 season, ranking him in a tie for 108th with Nolan Ryan. The only hitters ahead of him who can be considered contemporaries (i.e., played well into the 1990s) are Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Murray, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio and Mark McGwire. And that was before Palmeiro belted 43 more home runs in 2002.
For historical perspective, the Web site baseball-reference.com uses another formula to list the "most similar" batters to Palmeiro as McGriff, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Harold Baines, Andre Dawson, Dwight Evans, Dave Parker, Al Kaline and Ernie Banks. Five of those players -- Williams, Stargell, McCovey, Kaline and Banks -- are in the Hall.
How did Jeff Torborg ruin Robb Nen's arm?
The way Torborg has been skewered lately, you would think he is guilty of everything from A.J. Burnett's blown-out elbow to the breakup of Joe Millionaire's Evan Marriot and Zora. So it wouldn't be surprising if somebody came up with a theory on how a manager of the Marlins overused the arm of the Giants' closer.
Columnists and armchair trainers have ripped Torborg for allowing Burnett to throw so many pitches at such a young age,
and as SI's Tom Verducci pointed out in Tuesday's column, the evidence is damning. Now Expos ace Javier Vazquez tells the Montreal Gazette that he was overworked in 2000 under Torborg when he threw 135, 119, 128, 132 and 124 pitches in his final five starts.
A better question might be: How does Torborg even have a job? In 10 seasons as a major league manager, he's finished fourth or lower eight times and never won a division title. His obsession with the stolen base -- the Marlins lead the world with 52 thefts -- may make his club a winner in the dead-ball era, but doesn't do much to win games nowadays. His friendship with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria appears to be the top line on his resume.
Did the Mets fire the wrong guy in the offseason?
Maybe it wasn't Bobby Valentine's fault after all. The Mets made him their scapegoat after a disappointing 2002, and kept GM Steve Phillips for another go-round. Well, they are still losing, and there isn't a manager alive or dead who could mold a contender out of this $120 million roto team. Simply put, they can't hit (tied for last in average) and they can't catch (15th in fielding percentage). With apologies to the 1992 Mets, this could be the worst team money could buy. Say what you will about Valentine's bizarre methods, but his circus act in a media circus town gave his players an extra spark they are missing under the serene Art Howe.
Can Mike Cameron only hit against the White Sox?
The White Sox might be thinking they should have held on to Mike Cameron, if for no other reason than to keep from having to face him. The Mariners' center fielder, who was traded from Chicago to Cincinnati for Paul Konerko after the 1998 season, hadn't done much of anything at the plate until last weekend at Cellular Field.
In three games against the White Sox, Cameron hit two home runs to double his total for the season, and his eight RBIs nearly matched the 11 he had going into the series. In 2002, Cameron hit .333 (11-33) with five home runs against the White Sox, including a record-tying four-homer night on May 2. He hit .232 with 20 homers against the rest of the AL.
What has been the most controversial baseball book this season?
David Wells created a stir with Perfect I'm Not, in which he claimed to have pitched a perfect game while nursing a Manhattan-sized hangover. Now comes Money Ball, a look at how Oakland's Billy Beane has built his small-budget wonder boys by snookering fellow general managers in trades.
Apparently, most of the laughs come at the expense of the Mets' Phillips and the White Sox's Kenny Williams, who have made their share of bad deals with everybody, not just Beane (Jay Payton and Todd Ritchie ring a bell?). The book portrays Phillips as a sucker for taking former A's skipper Art Howe off of Beane's hands, and makes Williams look bad for dealing Keith Foulke, who is thriving, for Billy Koch, who has imploded. The punch lines aren't amused by the book, with Phillips threatening to never speak with Beane again and Williams looking for an explanation as the A's play the Sox in a midweek series.