Brett Saberhagen: Like an Enormous Yes

So this is what the off-season is like: the exciting but slightly insane free agent bonanza has been put to bed but we're still virtually eras away from pitchers and catchers reporting. Sure, there's the inevitable Hall of Fame posturing to look forward to later today, but thats a single news item, possibly about a four hour cycle of press release and reaction at best. Despite the strangely warm weather, it really is the dead of winter.

Nevertheless, if you're cruising this page on January 8th, you're either borderline insane or someone who knows no off-season. For goodness sakes, we've already left all semblence of Holiday-dome behind, leaving the Epiphany in the dust this weekend along with any faint vestige of "the New Year" with the finally, mercifully, completed Amateur Debating Society of America season (also known as "College Football").

So like a bored, painfully-awake passenger on some late 20th century bus ride from Vegas to Tucson, we've got nothing but time to kill.

We've entered the Desert Bus portion of the off-season.

How about a few words on Brett Saberhagen then?

Dick Kaegel did a good job profiling Sabes career over on the official site this week. Although its quite odd to think about, as Keith Woolner pointed out on BP UnFiltered this week, Saberhagen is basically the same age as the still-pitching Randy Johnson, a legitimately awe-inspiring tribute to the tall guy. Kaegel's piece essentially paint's Sabes as a laid-back, down-to-earth, appreciative guy:

Saberhagen feels that a heavy workload in his young days with the Royals -- he pitched 257 innings in 1987, 260 in '88 and 262 in '89 -- might have been a factor in his right shoulder problems later on.

Not that he has any regrets.

"I just feel fortunate to have played baseball," he said. "There are so many people who would have loved to have played the game and gone out there and put a uniform on day in and day out and never did."

Thats the verbal equivalent of crack-cocaine to the average fan: no bitching, awareness of how awesome his job was and the proverbial "respect for the game". The only possible way such sentiments could be improved would be to either mention the troops, steroids and to complain about ticket prices.

While there has been some discussion of Kaegel's objectivity on this site, I don't think you can paint this as a honey-dipped puff piece. Maybe Sabes is just a good guy. He certainly doesn't sound like a man who once threw a firecracker at a group of reporters, now does he? Nor does it sound like a guy who sprayed reporters with a water gun filled with bleach. I have no doubt that the media invented those stories to defend their horrible crimes against humanity and that Saberhagen loves the written word, loves blogs and will eventually become a reporter himself. This is the traditional career-path for many ex-athletes turned high school coaches after all. Well, at least for the one's that don't become poets.

At least the memories live on. As Longfellow said, "I find my lost youth again", here in photos from cnnsi, and in Sabes' own memories of bleach-clean reporters.

Checking Saberhagen's stats what jumps out to me are the ERA+s from his dominant years: 145 in '85, 178 in '89, 152 in '94 and even a 172 in 1999. Then theres the two Cy Youngs, 3 All-Star selections (oddly in different seasons than his Cys) and the dream-like 1985 Series -- an event that I candidly admit I have no recollection of -- above all else.

Of course, Saberhagen will always be linked with Mark Gubicza (profiled on RR here ), his fellow '84 rookie and Royal pitching legend. While Sabes was better, Gubes was the guy who stayed with the team, all the way through the bitter collapse of the '80s talent base. Despite the fact that Gubicza started 101 more games as a Royal, the Royals actually inducted Sabes into the team Hall of Fame first, an odd gesture likely either random or motivated by some long-running feud between sundry parties I've never met. (Take your pick.) I think there's also the Midwestern inferiority complex at work here, as Saberhagen didn't just leave the Royals, he went to the Mets and eventually the Red Sox, two utterly big-money, definitively east-coast teams. Considering Kansas City has an complex regarding a perceived cultural failing vis-a-vis St. Louis, you can imagine the attitude towards New York or the Hub.

To make matters worse, as a Met he was one of the highest-paid players in baseball, and he even went corporate as a Red Sock, cutting the semi-mullet off. More than one bitter Royal fan rooted against him during his Mets-era, especially during the famous 1993 "Worst Team Money Can Buy" season.

Ouch.

But the Royal legacy is there too, and given the pathetic state of the team's pitching staff since the mid-90s, it almost looms even larger. Saberhagen wasn't the first guy to get paid for his best seasons year's after having them and he won't be the last. Ditto for the aforementioned "pranks" on the scribes of Gotham. Plus, it was the early 90s, the Arsenio Hall Era if you will; we'd call that biological warfare now, but back then it was just being a jerk/funny. But returning to the matter at hand, here's Sabes rank in team history:

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Saberhagen's All-Time Royal Rankings:

Innings Pitched: 1660.1 (6th, 40 behind 5th place Larry Gura)
Games Started: 226 (5th, 49 behind 4th place Kevin Appier)
Wins: 110 (6th, 1 behind 5th place Larry Gura
Complete Games: 64 (3rd, 24 behind 2nd place Paul Splittorff)
Strikeouts: 1093 (4th, 230 behind 3rd place Dennis Leonard)
Balks: 8 (5th, one behind 4th place Jeff Montgomery)

Side note:I just had to throw the balks in there, since it makes about as much sense as looking at Wins or any kind of rate stat on these kind of lists. The franchise race in balks is actually now an eternal death-match between Charlie Leibrandt and Bud Black, who are tied at 14. Considering Black racked up his balks in 280 fewer innings (1257 to 977) I think he should probably get the nod. Leibrandt's 6-balk 1980 in Cincinatti was pretty impressive, but doesn't factor in our Royals-based universe however. Speaking of Saberhagen, his balkingest season was 1985, when he racked up three illegal hesitations en route to the Cy Young and World Series.

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By law, I'm required to pontificate upon Saberhagen's Hall of Fame candidacy now, preferably with the help of the following template:

"You can't tell this by looking at his stats, but [insert player] carried this team down the stretch/through the playoffs in [insert year]. His [insert character trait] had [insert completely unverifiable cause-effect relationship] upon the team, and there was no one in [insert city/region] who had any doubt that the [insert team] would prevail."

With humblest apologies, I don't have that card in me anymore. By any measure (Black Ink, Gray Ink, the Keltner List, etc.) he isn't a Hall of Famer, although he may indeed be an inner-circle member of the Hall of Very Good, or what Marc Normandin calls the Ray Lankford Wing of the Hall of Fame. Like Prussia, the Police or the British Office, Saberhagen had a short but memorable period of dominance which ended a little too soon. There are certainly worse fates, especially in light of the roughly $47,000,000 the man pulled in thrown a baseball around and wearing uncomfortable polyester pants.

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