Goldman: The gift of Bowie Kuhn

From SABR member Steven Goldman at Baseball Prospectus on November 20, 2012:

Bud Selig took six days to review the 12-player Marlins-Blue Jays trade before allowing it to stand. However, there is some precedent for a commissioner having the power to overturn trades, as Steven Goldman explained in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a “You Could Look it Up” column on April 24, 2006.

When Sean Casey‘s back broke, it highlighted the difficulties the Pirates franchise has had getting even mediocre production from the first base position, which is theoretically the easiest position to fill. Help Wanted, the ad would read, Big guy with bat. Need not be too mobile. Experience preferred. This is, after all, the franchise that brought baseball Dick Stuart, the original “Dr. Strangeglove,” and even won a World Series with him as the regular first baseman, so if the club has any idea of its own history, they should know that you can win with the worst defensive first baseman ever as long as he hits enough home runs.

Of course, the Pirates don’t know their own history–witness the decision not to protect Chris Shelton back in 2003. Witness Kevin YoungSid BreamDaryle Ward, and Randall Simon, all players who had no business playing first base. They even paid serious money to some of them.

The Pirates’ team record for games played at first base hasn’t changed in 67 years. Since 1939, it has been held by Gus Suhr. Suhr had more in common with Sid Bream than Dick Stuart, enjoying only one truly outstanding season for the Pirates. They haven’t done much with the position since, or before, or ever. With the exception of Willie Stargell, who was a left fielder for three-quarters of his career and only moved to first when age and weight cut his range to that of a garden gnome, there have been no Hall of Fame seasons from Buccos first basemen.

They’ve tried–future Cooperstown residents Honus Wagner and Hank Greenberg logged time at first for the Pirates at the tail end of their careers, but in over a century of trying, the best season by a Pirates first baseman was had by Jason Thompson in 1982. If not for a series of bizarre decisions by then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the Pirates wouldn’t even have had that.

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Originally published: November 20, 2012. Last Updated: November 20, 2012.