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An excellent take on old timers saying they knew better back in their day

Sep 9, 2013, 1:36 PM EDT

Seaver Mets

A week or two ago Tom Seaver talked about how pitchers are babied now and how back in his day they threw more and thus were less-injury prone.  At the time I and others talked about how Seaver was deluded by survivorship bias (i.e. he remembers those who didn’t get hurt and forgot the many more who did).

This dynamic happens everywhere, not just in baseball. Think about furniture. You look at pieces of antique furniture and you might think that furniture was built so much better back in the day, but the truth is that only the good stuff survived. Same with houses. Art. You name it.

Today Joe Sheehan expands on that phenomenon in epic style, talking about some of the furniture that didn’t survive:

“‘Take a look at all of them, Marichal, Jenkins, Spahn, what do you think made them successful?’ asked Seaver. ‘They conditioned their arms by pitching more, not less, starting from when they signed their first contract.’ Oddly, that didn’t work for Wally Bunker. Bunker made his pro debut in 1963 with Stockton in the Cal League. He threw 99 innings in 14 starts, and while we don’t have strikeout totals, we do know he walked 53 men, indicating he wasn’t breezing through those starts. At 19, Bunker threw 214 innings, with 12 complete games, for the Orioles. By 22, he was back in the minors; by 26, his MLB career was over …

Joe cites many more examples and talks about why Seaver and others who lament today’s relative babying of pitchers, to use their term, have it all wrong. Joe’s best point is about risk-assessment and who now is in trouble if pitchers get hurt.  As with so many things, it’s driven by money.

One caveat: you can’t read all of that without subscribing to Joe’s newsletter (you can do that here). But if you pay for any baseball content at all, you should pay for the newsletter. It’s fantastic and enlightening and it just shows up in your inbox with this kind of stuff all the time.

Even better: when Joe ticks you off on Twitter about other stuff, remembering that he wrote those 11 cool things in the past week helps calm you down.

  1. someguyinva - Sep 9, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    You have a different take on antique furniture than I. I’ve always believed that the reason that antique furniture survived is because it was uncomfortable to sit on, and so no one ever used it.

    • cohnjusack - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      Interesting fact: For years my former brother-in-law made a living making and selling antique furniture.

      …read that sentence again, and yes, this is true. And no, he is not 150 years old. He was born in 1973.

      • paperlions - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:47 PM

        So….he made stuff small and uncomfortable on purpose? For the home owner that likes to entertain, but also likes their guests to leave early.

      • badintent - Sep 10, 2013 at 3:05 AM

        everyone made aliving selling furniture on Ebay until both Canada Post and US. Mail jacked their shipping rates 40 % two years ago. Screw it up for us. But at least no more postal workers shooting half of their office staffs in many years.

    • chumthumper - Sep 10, 2013 at 9:26 AM

      I know a guy who has a chair that goes back to Louis XIV. But, heck, that’s nothing, I have a whole bedroom set that goes back to Sears the 12th.

  2. dl3mk3 - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    great example: bombers that made it back in WW2 would have huge holes throughout them, commanders pointed to the holes as areas that required reinforcement from enemy shells. What they really should have realized (and it took a stats guy to show them) was that the planes withstood the hits there and made it back. The planes that never made it back were hit in other locations-those were the areas to reinforce.

    • shawndc04 - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:09 PM

      But if the planes never made it back, how does one know where they were hit? Secondly it is quite possible that some of the planes that were hit in the same area did not make it back.

      • Liam - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:23 PM

        I’ve read this anecdote before, and IIRC there was some empirical evidence to back it up, planes were coming back at a higher rate with damage to the now reinforced area.

        And, a second recommendation of Sheehan’s newsletter. I’ve bee subscribing for two years and it’s easily the best way I’ve found to follow the other twenty-nine teams in baseball.

      • cur68 - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:44 PM

        Well, look at it from a human body stand point. Zero guys come back from the battle to be in hospital without their heads. Since all you do see after the battle are guys in the hospital with arm and leg wounds, you might (if one were quite simplistic, that is) be fooled into thinking “we need arm and leg armour”. Right away you can see the problem, right?

        So logically, if struck at points AB&C on your body and you do not die, continue to fight, and return for repairs, then YOU DO NOT NEED armour there. Armour the other areas because NO ONE struck there is returning.

      • badintent - Sep 10, 2013 at 3:15 AM

        Bombers carried Oxygen tanks due to open windows and 20,000 feet altitudes.A Couple of 20 millimeters cannon shells from a 109 could cause an explosion and fire anyway on the plane.Later in 1944 , more film was shot from bomber command to show what other problems were causing bombers to drop out of the ski above targets.. Overall, flak was the biggest problem during 1944-45 as the German moved anti-aircraft guns from cities that the Allies were no longer bombing to active targeted cities.My Dad said you could wake on the all the flak in some targets from his B-24 bomber

    • grumpyoleman - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:25 PM

      Eye test guy could have done it quicker.

    • clydeserra - Sep 9, 2013 at 6:49 PM

      http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/

  3. happytwinsfan - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    my guess is that pitcher injuries seem to be going up while their innings go down, because the level of competion is going up. just to survie pitchers are having to more and more do what steve stone did in 1980 – who, deliberately going for the one big year, threw over 50% curveballs, had a cy young award season in an otherwise very average career. after that year he was pretty much done.

  4. Marty McKee - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    Is there any evidence Wally Bunker’s career was over by 26 because his pitching coaches didn’t baby his arm?

    If not, the Sheehan article sounds like a waste of time.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:48 PM

      It’s a waste of time because a lot of his writing is awful, and the “observations” he makes on twitter are as well. However, many of us cited numerous pitchers who burned out/became injured after throwing tons of innings. No need to pay to reread our work, which was done for free.

      • NatsLady - Sep 9, 2013 at 10:51 PM

        I tried the newsletter and paid for it because it was highly touted. Canceled it when the first renewal came up. It was genuinely terrible. Can’t listen to the “Rany and Joe” podcast, either. For every one minor insight there are a hundred self-congratulatory giggles.

  5. tfbuckfutter - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    Nah. People are just weaker today because we give them everything.

    Thanks Obama!

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      Only Monday and we have the most inane comment of the week. People are weaker today? Really? We give them “everything”? What the hell does that even mean? And your hatred of our re-elected president is so intense you suggest he is to blame for arm problems of men in their 20s? I respectfully suggest you reduce your intake of such powerful hallucinogens.

      • stlouis1baseball - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:16 PM

        Umm…he is joking 123. Total sarcasm.

        Christie/Cruz/Rubio/Ryan 2016!

    • cohnjusack - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:15 PM

      Yep, Obama gives people everything!

      …ignoring the fact that we have the lowest spending on Welfare in the entire western world…and the 2nd highest poverty rate.

      Also ignoring the fact that it is much harder to recieve welfare benefits under Obama and recipients recieve less than they did under Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon and Johnson.

      It’s fine to hate welfare all you want, but please stop pretending like America today hands out more than ever to the poor, when the exact opposite is true.

      • stlouis1baseball - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:18 PM

        I am gonna’ guess we always have the lowest Welfare spending and the 2nd highest poverty rate. If not the highest. Again though…just a guess.

      • tfbuckfutter - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:29 PM

        I’m not ignoring those facts.

        I didn’t know them.

        I don’t really like politics. I find the subject very divisive. I prefer less charged subjects like sports, abortion and religion.

      • lawson1974 - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:48 PM

        Oh come on. It’s true that during the second term of Clinton a strict welfare reform was passed bipartisanly that had a great impact on transferring people from welfare to work, but Obama has spent his 5 years trying to subvert that legislation. If our welfare spending isn’t up to the pre-reform levels yet, it isn’t for lack of trying.

      • American of African Descent - Sep 9, 2013 at 11:19 PM

        He was talking about the corporate welfare that’s supposed to trickle down to the rabble.

  6. largebill - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    One real beef with any of these discussions they tend to breakdown into an either or proposition. I think it is very important to monitor pitchers until they’ve built up arm strength and endurance each year in pro ball. I also think some people ignore (or forget) the strain of long starts and short rest frequently seen in college ball. That 163 pitch outing in a College World Series qualifier somehow doesn’t count because it isn’t found on the back of the baseball card. Seaver and others may feel pitcher X was hurt after being “babied” when truth may be that the damage was done before signing first pro-contract. These elbow or shoulder injuries hardly ever go from perfectly healthy to go see Dr. Andrews from one day to the next. Strains progressively worsen until it goes from a minor twinge of tendinitis to a level of pain that prohibits throwing properly. Now having said all that and being a proponent of watching number of pitches and innings pitched (particularly stressful game on the line pitching) and slowly increasing IP year over year, I am also a strong proponent of throwing more growing up. Throwing more, not necessarily pitching more. Less stressful pitching and more free and easy tossing the ball. Going from relatively close to getting further apart until you’re doing long toss. Also, don’t completely shut it down between seasons. Rest a month or so after season ends and then do some tossing at least every other week.

  7. gosport474 - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    Sheehan really knows his baseball and has some good perspectives, but as Craig alluded, he can really be the south end of a north end horse.

    • gosport474 - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:28 PM

      north bound horse

    • paperlions - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:51 PM

      Is a north end horse like a west end girl?

      • stlouis1baseball - Sep 9, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Wow Paper. How old are you? I am guessing mid 40′s. Cause’ that an 80′s reference like no other.

      • paperlions - Sep 9, 2013 at 4:22 PM

        Yep, you nailed it.

        I’m a bit ashamed that it immediately occurred to me….but, you know…you can’t run or hide from when or where you grew up.

      • Francisco (FC) - Sep 9, 2013 at 4:10 PM

        how about an uptown girl?

      • gosport474 - Sep 9, 2013 at 5:11 PM

        Sometimes you’re better off dead…

      • paperlions - Sep 9, 2013 at 5:12 PM

        I want my $2

      • Reflex - Sep 9, 2013 at 5:16 PM

        Don’t be ashamed. There is always room for 80′s references. When I worked as a DJ I specialized in 80′s pop. Best era of pop ever.

        Also….BRING BACK WHAM! ;)

  8. lawson1974 - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    So , he points out a Wally Bunker. So what? Pitchers got hurt in the 90′s, the 1890′s all the way until today. All that proves is that all this babying hasn’t helped.
    All its done is hurt the game.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 9, 2013 at 4:49 PM

      All that proves is that all this babying hasn’t helped.

      How do you get that conclusion from what Sheehan wrote?

  9. pike573 - Sep 9, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    I don’t know that you take down old timer anecdotal views of pitchers not blowing their arms up with anecdotal stories of those who did…

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