Thursday, February 2, 2012

I figured Jay Bell was better than Babe Ruth in this case

I've been researching an early minor league and it makes me laugh to see the number of games where a player has hit a home run AND had a sacrifice hit in the same game. Granted, the league I'm researching played during the Deadball Era but I think to myself, "What sort of manager asks a guy with home run power to bunt. This isn't Mr. Baseball".

So I took a look. I figured this must be an antiquated practice. Turns out I'm wrong. 40 times last season a player had a home run and a sac bunt in the same game. Some of those who did it were good hitting pitchers - Cliff Lee, Dontrelle Willis, Kevin Millwood. That makes sense. They're guys mostly asked to bunt but have the potential to hit a home run if they don't have to bunt.

Some of the other names, though, surprised me. Howie Kendrick did it twice, for instance. Almost all of the players to accomplish the feat batted 1st, 8th or 9th. Kendrick batted second in one game and third in the other. It surprised me, too, that more American League players did it (22) than National (18).

Then I looked some more. Brandon Phillips is the last cleanup hitter to accomplish the feat, back in 2009. Dave Kingman, who had only 16 sac hits in his career, twice hit a homer and had a sac bunt out of the cleanup spot.

By this time I was wondering who the career leader was. I figured Jay Bell must be since he's the only player in history to have 30 home runs in a season and 30 sacrifice hits in another season. I was wrong. Bell is tied for fifth with 14 games. The all-time leader in games with both a home run and a sacrifice bunt is Babe Ruth. 28 games Ruth gave up an out to advance a batter, twice the number of Bell. And in case you're interested, Lou Gehrig is right behind Bell with 13. Who knew that Murderer's Row liked to give themselves up to move the runner up?

Looking at the numbers, it becomes clear that Jay Bell should be in the Hall of Fame. Check out the top dozen on this list:

Ruth (Hall of Famer) 28
Rogers Hornsby (Hall of Famer) 18
Ken Williams (the former Brown, not the White Sox GM) 17
Jim Bottomley (Hall of Famer) 16
Al Simmons (Hall of Famer) 14
Harry Heilmann (Hall of Famer) 14
George Grantham 14
Bill Terry (Hall of Famer) 13
Chuck Klein (Hall of Famer) 13
Lou Gehrig (Hall of Famer) 13
Roberto Alomar (Hall of Famer) 13

Nine of the top 12 are in the Hall. Seems like a no brainer to me. Jay Bell should have a plaque in Cooperstown.

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