- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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You may have heard that there's some kind of big football game coming up. Well, here at Useless Info Central, we try to stay relevant. So we'll, uh, kick off this column with some football-related baseball notes:
Here's something to ponder: Football is the sport that's always praised for its spectacular competitive balance. But as loyal reader David Hallstrom reports, five different baseball teams have won the World Series over the last five years. Think that happens all the time in football? Think again.
In the NFL's 39-year Super Bowl era, there has been exactly one five-year period in which five different teams won a title -- 1984-88. And even if you include the pre-Supe era, that's the only five-year span in which the NFL can make that claim over its last 57 seasons.
Then there's this year's Super Bowl matchup -- which didn't exactly come out of nowhere. It matches one team going for its third title in four years (the Patriots) versus another team (the Eagles) that has made it to four straight conference finals.
In other words, for a sport that's supposed to be so wide open, there sure has been a lot of regularity to the NFL's postseason final four.
In fact, it turns out the NFL's final four teams actually have been more predictable over the last four years than baseball's final four. In baseball, 12 of the 30 franchises have made it to a League Championship Series over the past four seasons. In football, only 10 have been to a conference final.
Or let's take this back even more years. Over the last eight baseball postseasons, 16 of the 30 MLB franchises have been to at least one LCS (53.3 percent). That's virtually exactly the same percentage as the NFL (17 of 32, 53.1 percent). So it may be true that there's more parity in football. But it isn't true that it's tougher to predict which teams will still be standing at the end.
In other topics, it sure has been a fun year to be a New Englander. You might have noticed that even before we pointed it out. We've already seen the Patriots and Red Sox win championships in the same calendar year. And in the Super Bowl/division-play era of the NFL and MLB respectively, there haven't been many metropoli that have had that thrill. Here's the list:
1989: Bay Area (49ers and A's)
1979: Pittsburgh (Steelers and Pirates)
1969: New York (Jets and Mets)
Peter Angelos no doubt would want us to add 1983, when the Redskins and Orioles won. But we'll leave that in the hands of the jury.
OK, now suppose the Patriots win yet another Super Bowl. Throw in the Red Sox, and that would be three titles for New England in a span of about 12 months. So how often has that happened in the same era? Precisely twice:
January 1989-January 1990: Bay Area (49ers, A's, 49ers)
January 1979-January 1980: Pittsburgh (Steelers, Pirates, Steelers)
And even if you include the rest of the century, it occurred just one other time:
October 1938-October 1939: New York (Yankees, Giants, Yankees)
Here's yet another amazing New England phenomenon: The Patriots and Red Sox are both working on eight-game postseason winning streaks. What are the odds of that?
Look at it this way: There has been only one other period in the history of the two sports in which a football and baseball team had postseason winning streaks of eight games or longer going at the same time. That period lasted all of one day -- and didn't involve teams from the same metropolitan area.
The day in question was Oct. 11, 1969 -- when the Orioles beat the Mets in Game 1 of the 1969 World Series, for their eighth postseason win in a row (dating back to the 1966 World Series). Meanwhile, over in the NFL at the time, the Packers hadn't lost a postseason game since 1960. So they'd won nine straight.
The Packers' streak lasted until 1972 (when, after missing the playoffs four years in a row, they lost a first-round game to the Redskins). But the Orioles' streak survived just 24 hours, until Jerry Koosman beat Dave McNally, 2-1, in Game 2 of that World Series. At least this New England streak is guaranteed to last two weeks -- at least.
But the baseball-football note of the year has nothing to do with the Super Bowl. For that one, we turn to the Chicago Bears, who started Chad Hutchinson at quarterback in their final five games of the year.
And what does that have to do with baseball? Well, in a previous life, you might recall, Hutchinson was a pitcher for the Cardinals. With a career ERA of 24.75, we might add. Which is just slightly higher than the number of times he was sacked in those five starts for the Bears (23).
That led to loyal reader David Hallstrom's question: Is 23.75 the highest baseball ERA ever for an NFL quarterback?
Hmmm. That looks like a job for all you Useless Info-maniacs out in Reader Land because, hard as we've tried, we can't find any comprehensive list of men who played in both the NFL and the major leagues.
With the help of the Elias Sports Bureau's Ken Hirdt and The Baseball Encyclopedia's Pete Palmer, we have found two guys who played in the NFL and pitched in the big leagues:
-- Matt Kinzer: punter (for one game) for the 1987 Lions, pitcher for the 1989 Cardinals and 1990 Tigers (and owner of a 13.20 career ERA).
-- Ernie Nevers: fullback for the Duluth Eskimos and Chicago Bears (1926-31), pitcher for the 1926-28 Cardinals (and owner of a 4.64 ERA).
But neither of those men was a quarterback. So if you've been stashing away a secret list of pitcher-quarterbacks (NFL and MLB only), now's your chance to send it along to email@example.com.
Useless Roger Clemens Information
Had Roger Clemens not returned to pitch again this year, he would have been in the running for the honor of Greatest Final Season Ever. He went 18-4, you'll remember -- for a picturesque little .819 winning percentage.
Among pitchers who won 150 games in their careers, just two won more games than that in their final season. But both then quit only because they had to -- Sandy Koufax (27-9 in 1966) because his elbow needed to retire, and Eddie Cicotte (21-10 in 1920) because he got banned from baseball in the Black Sox fiasco.
No 300-game winner has ever won more than 11 games in his final season. (Current record-holder: Old Hoss Radbourn (11-13 in 1897).
But if we do this just by winning percentage, Roger would have moved up to No. 1 on the Greatest Final Season ever charts, even if we lower the career-win bar to include pitchers who merely got halfway up Mount 300.
Best winning percentage in their farewell season among pitchers with at least 150 wins (minimum: 15 decisions), according to the Elias Sports Bureau:
15-4, .789: Larry French, 1942
13-4, .765: Allie Reynolds, 1954
27-9, .759: Koufax, 1966
21-10, .677: Cicotte, 1920
12-6, .667: Hooks Dauss, 1926
That 18-4, .819 by Clemens would have blown them all away. But now he'll just have to do it again. And actually retire for good this time.
Useless Carlos Delgado Information
How much did the Marlins need a left-handed thumper like Carlos Delgado? Here's one way to look at it: All their left-handed hitters combined hit 27 homers over the last two seasons (20 last year, seven in 2003). Delgado hit that many all by himself in a mere 88 days in 2003.
Not only were those 27 homers by left-handed-hitting Marlins the fewest in the big leagues over these past two years, no one else was even in the same solar system. Here's the top (or bottom) five, courtesy of Elias:
Before Delgado showed up, all the left-handed hitters currently on the Marlins' 40-man roster had combined for exactly six home runs over the previous two seasons -- four by Juan Pierre, two by a pitcher (Dontrelle Willis).
Pierre hit his four in 1,336 at-bats. Delgado, while all that was going on, hit four in one game (Sept. 25, 2003).
Only one left-handed-hitting Marlin has ever hit more than 15 homers in a season (Cliff Floyd, who topped out at 22 twice and 31 once). Delgado, on the other hand, has hit 30 or more eight seasons in a row.
Who's the only active player currently working on a streak of eight straight 30-homer, 90-RBI seasons? Yep. Carlos Delgado. Here are the longest current streaks:
Meanwhile, how many first basemen have ever had more than eight straight 30-homer seasons? That would be two -- and you've heard of them: Jimmie Foxx (12) and Lou Gehrig (nine).
Here are the 10 longest streaks like that in history, according to Lee Sinins' new Sabermetric Encyclopedia CD-Rom:
Foxx (1929-40) 12
Gehrig (1929-37) 9
Delgado (1997-2004) 8
Jeff Bagwell (1996-2003) 8
Jim Thome (1997-04) 8
Our Last Reader Challenge
Back in August, after Doug Mientkiewicz and Nomar Garciaparra were involved in the same four-team trade, we asked you if any other trades in history involved two guys with a combined 23 letters in their last names.
Sadly, we never did reveal the results. But we have a new excuse to do that now -- since Mientkiewicz just got traded again, to the Mets, for the famed Ian Bladergroen. Which, once again, is 23 letters worth of transaction brilliance.
Pete Abraham, who covers the Mets for the Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., checked in to ask if those 23 letters represent a record. And we now know -- thanks to readers Nathaniel Lee, Jeff Lerner, Jim Tocco and a guy from Wales who calls himself Matt the Dragon -- that it ties a record held by five other deals (plus the original Mientkiewicz-Garciaparra extravaganza):
1984: Cardinals trade Paul Householder to Milwaukee in a five-player deal which brings St. Louis a package including Ron Koenigsfield.
1972: Angels trade Andy Messersmith to the Dodgers in a seven-player blockbuster in which the Angels get back Bill Grabarkewitz (not to mention Frank Robinson, Bill Singer and Bobby Valentine).
1956: Cardinals trade Red Schoendienst and Dick Littlefield to the Giants.
1950: Red Sox trade Littlefield to the White Sox in a five-player deal that sends Ray Scarborough to Boston.
1937: Indians trade Bill Knickerbocker and Oral Hildebrand to the Browns.
Good work, friends. Without you, Doug Mientkiewicz would have no idea what a historic figure he really is.
This Month's Reader Challenge
Judson Burch, one of the great behind-the-scene baseball minds at ESPN, has seized upon a tremendous opening-pitch-of-the-season trend. Here goes:
Opening day, 2004: The first pitch thrown at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park is thrown out of play -- because it's the first pitch in stadium history.
Opening day, 2005: The first pitch thrown at Citizens Bank Park again will be thrown out -- because it's the first pitch in a game played by the Washington Nationals.
So here's his question: Has there ever been a stadium which has had the first pitch of its season thrown out of play for historic reasons in consecutive years?
Your move. Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll fasten our seat belts.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The MLB postseason shouldn't take a backseat to the NFL playoffs when factoring in competitive balance.