Thanks to the great work of Tom Shieber, a more definitive date has been determined for Babe Ruth’s home run in the classic film Speedy (see here for video). In a post over four years ago, I declared the mystery solved, having deduced that Harold Lloyd filmed Babe Ruth’s 54th home run in the second game of a double header against the Chicago White Sox on September 18, 1927. However, Shieber has made a more convincing argument that Lloyd never filmed the Bambino at all (or at least didn’t use his own footage of Ruth in Speedy). Rather, Ruth’s trip around the bases almost assuredly seems to be stock footage from the 1926 World Series. You can read below for why I had assumed Lloyd had filmed Ruth at the end of 1927, but perhaps I should have paid more attention to the significant filming delays that Lloyd encountered due to rain. This might have necessitated a short cut, and, thus the need to use stock footage. If so, it stands to reason that only World Series film would be available. For more details about Shieber’s deduction, click the link above.

Although the Ruth home run in Speedy has been identified, that still leaves one more mystery…from when is the footage of Ruth striking out? At the risk of making the same mistake twice, if we assume this event was actually filmed by Lloyd (Ruth’s only strike out at home in the 1926 World Series occurred with the bases empty, so it doesn’t seem likely Lloyd would have access to film of another home strikeout if he didn’t shoot it himself), there’s only one possibility: August 31 vs. the Red Sox. In the first inning of that game, Ruth struck out with Earle Combs on third and Mark Koenig on first. I won’t say mystery solved this time, but the events of August 31 fit the fact pattern.


Original Post on February 25, 2011 Follows Below

Larry Granillo’s (Baseball Prospectus and Wezen-Ball) recent forensic investigation into Ferris Buehler’s whereabouts on his now infamous day off made for one of the more creative and entertaining blog posts in quite some time. For those who missed the piece, Granillo attempted (and succeeded) to determine the date of the game that Buehler attended with his fellow truants by analyzing the footage from WGN that was used in the movie.

In addition to being greatly amused by Granillo’s investigation, it got me to thinking about how many other unsolved baseball mysteries remain cloaked in movie clips from years gone by? The list of unidentified baseball references on the silver screen are probably too numerous to count, so let’s start at the beginning by examining one of the first movies to incorporate live baseball action into its script.

The movie in question is called Speedy (which will be featured at this year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival in August). Created by renowned silent-era funny man Harold Lloyd, the comedy tells the tale of hapless Harold “Speedy” Swift, whose addiction to the Yankees constantly interferes with his ability to remain employed. During the course of the movie, this compulsion causes Speedy to lose several jobs, including one as a taxi cab driver, but not before having the chance to chauffeur Babe Ruth in a harrowing ride from Manhattan to Yankee Stadium.

Speedy was Lloyd’s last silent film and resulted in his only Academy Award nomination, but more than anything, it is best remembered today for the spectacular footage filmed in 1927-era New York City. The extensive on-location filming pushed the movie’s price tag toward $1 million, an unheard of figure for the era, but  Lloyd’s expense immediately paid off thanks to the buzz his month-long stay in New York created.

Over the years, the movie’s archival footage has made it even more valuable as a historical reference. As Speedy whirls around the town, we get detailed glimpses of a city brimming with motor cars, horse-drawn carriages, trolleys, and elevated trains. The movie also includes vivid images of Luna Park in Coney Island, Columbus Circle, the Brooklyn Bridge, Penn Station, the Battery, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, and most importantly to baseball fans, Yankee Stadium, which is where the real point of this exercise begins.

The first glimpse of Yankee Stadium occurs early on in the movie (4:32 in the first clip). Unfortunately, the lack of clarity and detail prevents the date of the game from being indentified…at least to this point. In the meantime, we’re treated to several amusing scenes as Speedy endeavors to perform his duties while keeping tabs on the ongoing game via telephone calls to Yankee Stadium and a visit to a public scoreboard outside the local sporting goods store (which we’ll examine later).

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After Alex Rodriguez belted three home runs in Saturday’s game against the Twins, he credited Joe Girardi with aiding his resurgence. How did the Yankees’ manager thank Arod for those kind words? By benching him the next day.

No irony or sarcasm was intended above. Although Arod’s praise was based on Girardi’s support during the winter, he could just as easily have been referring to the prudent way the Yankees’ manager has handled his workload during the season. Over the team’s first 98 games, Girardi has used scheduled off days, interleague play, and well-timed breaks to get his DH much needed rest. In total, Arod has sat out an entire game seven times and had one pinch hit appearance in five others, which, combined with days off built into the schedule, have helped keep the Yankees’ 40-year old slugger healthy and fresh.

Not only has Girardi’s management of Arod’s playing time kept his number-three hitter in the lineup, but it has also paid immediate dividends in terms of production. In games following a day off (either full or partial), Rodriguez has responded with a robust line of .333/.444/.628, which easily trumps his albeit still impressive season totals. Perhaps this immediate impact is a coincidence, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

Give It a Rest: Arod’s Performance After Rest
Arod Rest
Source: baseball-reference.com data and proprietary calculations

If the Yankees maintain their healthy lead in the A.L. East, it will be easy for Girardi to continue his regiment of rest for not only Arod, but other team veterans as well. But, even if the pennant race should tighten, Girardi’s discretion could be just as important as his players’ valor. Without health, the Yankees will have little chance of success, both down the stretch and in the postseason, so, the next time Arod, or any of the Yankees’ key veterans are not in the lineup, disappointment should be tempered and expectations raised for the next game.

With Johnny Cueto headed to Kansas City, and the Tigers reportedly reticent to trade David Price, contenders around the league figure to be lining up for Cole Hamels. And yet, as general managers from around the league kick the tires on Hamels, should they also be kicking themselves for not signing Max Scherzer? That could all depend on the package required to obtain the Phillies’ lefty, but, with demand high, and several teams interested, it sure seems as if the best time to add an ace was during the winter.

On the surface, Hamels seems like a much cheaper alternative to the $210 million/7-year contract Scherzer signed during the off season, but if you look a little closer, the relative costs narrow considerably. For starters, Scherzer’s contract is actually valued at “only” $191 million in terms of present value. As a result, on an annual go-forward basis, the residual value of Scherzer’s contract would be $164 million over six years. In comparison, Hamels is potentially owed $95 million over the next four years (assuming his 2019 option vests). At an additional $70 million for two more years, when Scherzer will be pitching in his age-35 and age-36 seasons, it once again seems like Hamels is the more palatable deal. However, there are more factors to consider.

In addition to looking ahead, comparing Hamels now to Scherzer in the offseason requires consideration of the past, specifically the first four months of the right hander’s fantastic season. According to fangraphs,com, Scherzer has already provided $38 million in value; if pro-rated over the rest of the year, that equates to a $36 million surplus over his $27 million average present value salary. Carrying the surplus forward, the financial gulf between the two pitchers drops to $34 million over two years, and that doesn’t include the financial benefits of having the ace right hander make 20 starts (i.e., higher attendance and a more assured path to the post season), nor the potential value of an effective Scherzer at the end of his deal.

Narrowing the Gap: Relative Cost of Max Scherzer and Cole Hamels
Max v Cole
Note: Scherzer’s annual salary is based on present value of contract. Scherzer’s 2015 surplus based on pro-rated frangraph’s valuation compared to annual present value salary. Hamels 2019 salary becomes guaranteed if he pitches at least 400 innings in 2017-2018, including 200 in 2018 and provided he does not have an arm injury in that season Otherwise, 2019 converts to a $20 million team option with a $6 million buyout.
Source: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com Continue Reading »

The Yankees approach the trade deadline in the paradoxical position of being comfortably in first place, but with two glaring holes to fill. Although the team has prospered despite an inconsistent rotation and lack of offense up the middle, shoring up at least one of these two deficiencies could go a long way toward solidifying the Yankees’ hold on the A.L. East and strengthening their chances of winning another championship.

Middle Infield Production: wRC+ and fWAR
MI Prod

Source: fangraphs.com

There aren’t many productive middle infielders on the trade market, and, those limited options have attracted a long line of suitors. Ben Zobrist would be an ideal candidate to fill the Yankees’ void, but the versatile switch hitter suits just about every other contender’s needs. With bats at a premium, the Oakland Athletics are sure to get a significant return for Zobrist, making it likely that he’ll be acquired by a team more desperate than the Yankees. It also means the Bronx Bombers are probably better off pursuing a pitcher. Continue Reading »

With two walk off wins, the Bronx Bombers provided plenty of fireworks this holiday weekend, but the team’s results off the field were not as impressive. On July 1, the Yankees released an unaudited statement of 2014 cash receipts that showed a decline in ticket sales and suite licenses. According to the report, the Bronx Bombers took in $16 million less from these two revenue streams, a 5% decline from the previous year.

Yankees’ Ticket Sales and Suite License Revenue
ticket revenueNote: Does not include post season refunds issued from 2009-2012.
Source: Unaudited statements from MRB filings pursuant to continuing disclosure requirements. Continue Reading »

The Bronx Bombers are back, but only at Yankee Stadium. Most teams hit better at home, but this year, the Yankees have taken their splits to the extreme. Not only do they have one of the largest home/road disparities in the league, in terms of both OPS and runs scored per game, but the current gap is easily the largest in franchise history. The Yankees have always been tailored to take advantage of the short porch at the Stadium, but never before has the offense performed so much better wearing pinstripes instead of road grays.

MLB Home vs. Road Splits: OPS and R/G, 2015
mlb 2015 splits
Note: Positive figures represent better performance at home. Data as of June 24, 2015.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Yankees Historical Home vs. Road Splits: OPS and R/G, 1914-2015
Yankees Split
Note: Positive figures represent better performance at home. Data for 2015 as of June 24, 2015.
Source: baseball-reference.com
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The only thing more difficult than watching CC Sabathia pitch these days is seeing the pained expression on his face when he addresses the media after each game. Yankee fans have grown so accustomed to the big lefty being in command, both on the field and off, so the sight of Sabathia slumping on the mound, and then again by his locker, has been somewhat disconcerting.

For the most part, Sabathia’s struggles have been handled well by Yankee fans, at least those with a long memory. Sure, there was a smattering of boos when the lefty walked off the mound after last night’s clunker, but for the most part, the reaction has been polite applause. Sabathia’s earned that level of patience and respect from the fans. But, should the organization be as abiding?

You can’t exaggerate how poorly CC Sabathia has pitched this season. The left hander has posted an ERA+ of 70 in his 15 starts, which puts him on pace for one of worst seasons by a Yankees’ pitcher. And yet, the Yankees seemingly have no plans to remove him from the rotation. After last night’s game, Joe Girardi was peppered with questions about Sabathia’s status in the rotation. Ever loyal (or is it stubborn?), the Yankees’ manager never waivered. “He’s a starter for us. That’s what he is,” Girardi told the throng. But, for how much longer?

Worst ERA+ by a Yankees Pitcher, 1901-2015

Player Age ERA+ IP Year GS ERA
Bill Stafford 23 59 89.2 1963 14 6.02
Ray Fisher 24 62 90.1 1912 13 5.88
Jack Quinn 28 63 102.2 1912 11 5.79
Tim Leary 32 64 120.2 1991 18 6.49
Russ Van Atta 28 65 88 1934 9 6.34
Bill Monbouquette 31 65 89.1 1968 11 4.43
Wade Taylor 25 66 116.1 1991 22 6.27
Danny MacFayden 28 67 90.1 1933 6 5.88
Ambrose Puttmann 24 69 86.1 1905 9 4.27
Rollie Sheldon 25 69 118 1962 16 5.49
Dave LaPoint 29 69 113.2 1989 20 5.62
Jeff Johnson 24 70 127 1991 23 5.95
David Cone 37 70 155 2000 29 6.91
CC Sabathia 34 70 87.2 2015 15 5.65
Atley Donald 32 70 119.1 1943 15 4.60

Note: Minimum 85 innings.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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