NFL doesn't put MLB to shame
The MLB postseason shouldn't take a backseat to the NFL playoffs when factoring in competitive balance.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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)
Well, it isn't often that you see a team acquire two 40-gopherball men in the same season. In fact, it isn't ever -- according to the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR home run historian David Vincent. (The others, because we know you have to know: Jamie Moyer, Jose Lima and Brad Radke.)
The Sultan reports that only three previous teams have employed two different pitchers who once served up 40 homers. But none of them made a joint entrance. So this is true gopherball history. Here are those other duos:
Incidentally, we're awarding Jackson first place on a tiebreaker -- fewest innings pitched. Ryan's 10 slams came in 5,386 innings. Jackson gave up his 10 in 1,188 1/3 innings -- a slight difference (if you're calculating at home) of a mere 4,197 2/3 innings.
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.
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
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).
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
Pierre hit his four in 1,336 at-bats. Delgado, while all that was going on, hit four in one game (Sept. 25, 2003).
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):
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:
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.