By In Stuff

Inside the Mind of Bill

A couple of weeks ago, I saw my great friend Bill James. Well, I can tell you the exact day — May 1. I know this because it was the day after Anthony Rendon had 10 RBIs in a game against the Mets.

Bill and I LOVE when stuff like that happens. You probably do too. Even people who say that they are overwhelmed by baseball’s advanced numbers and the maze of information out there and just want to get back to the basis of the game will get a real kick out of a game where a guy gets 10 RBIs.

“You know,” Bill said at one point, “I’ll bet George Brett probably didn’t have 10 RBIs in a WHOLE SERIES more than a couple of times.”

It was an interesting point, and we talked about it for a few seconds, and then we moved on to other things. To be honest, I kind of forgot we even had that conversation.

But today — exactly two weeks later — I got an email from Bill. It turns out, purely by coincidence, that today is also George Brett’s 64th birthday. But, really, that is a coincidence, just as it was a coincidence that Bill used George Brett in his original comparison. He could have just easily said Mike Schmidt or Joe Morgan or Al Kaline or anyone else. He probably used Brett because we both love the guy.

In any case, he looked it up. Because … Bill James.

I finally got around to checking,” he said, as if he was apologizing for taking so long to do something I had no earthly idea he was going to do. “It was actually only once. Brett had only one time in his career when he drove in 10 runs in three consecutive games, whether against one team or different teams, but it did happen to happen in a 3-game series against Toronto when he was on that incredible hot streak in August 1980.”

Yep. It happened from August 15-17, 1980. Those of you who are Brett-aholics probably sense something familiar about those dates. The’re kind of famous.

Brett was in the midst of a crazy, almost unprecedented hot streak. There was a record-setting heat wave hitting the Midwest then, and Brett LOVED hitting in that crazy hot weather. From May 25 to August 13 — 49 games while Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan campaigned for President — Brett hit .462 with 34 extra hits in 49 games. He was absolutely ridiculous.

It was during that crazy stretch that Brett was playing golf with his lifelong buddy, Baltimore’s Scott McGregor. At one point, Brett had driven the golf  cart ahead when McGregor hit his shot. McGregor realized, with horror, that the ball was headed right for his pal.

“FOUR!” McGregor yelled.

At which point, Brett stepped out of his cart, pulled out a club, waited for the ball, swung — and hit it right back to McGregor, who would call it the greatest athletic feat he’d ever seen.

In any case, Brett went into that weekend series with Toronto hitting .391. He went just 1-4 on Friday night, dropping his average to .389, but his one hit was memorable — a three-run inside-the-park home run off Jesse Jefferson. So those are the first three RBIs.

On Saturday, Brett went three for four with two more RBIs. That moved his average up to .394.

And the Sunday, well, that’s one of the most famous baseball days in Kansas City history. Brett went four for four with two doubles, the second one a three-run double off Mike Barlow. That pushed his average to .401.

That shot of George Brett standing at second base — arms in the air, batting helmet in one hand, .401 showing on the scoreboard behind — is probably the most famous snapshot of Brett’s awesome career (either that or him kissing home plate in his late game).

Well, in addition to going over .400, Brett had five RBIs in the Sunday game. So, three RBIs on Friday, two more on Saturday, five on Sunday — there it is, the only series in George Brett’s career where he had as many RBIs as Anthony Rendon had on April 30 against the Mets.

“To me,” Bill writes, “that is just incredible. . .that Anthony Rendon drove in as many runs in ONE game as George Brett ever drove in in a three-game set.”

People often call Bill a numbers guy, a statistician, a baseball geek or whatever. And it has long seemed to me that they miss the point. Bill doesn’t care about numbers. He is uninterested in statistics as a concept or the numbers of other things. He cares about what baseball statistics can open up about the game. He longs to search the numbers to get beyond the platitudes and BS that people say just because it sort of sounds sort of right to them.

And, yeah, sometimes after Anthony Rendon has 10 RBIs in a game, he is just curious if George Brett ever did that in a series. Bill doesn’t like the RBI stat particularly. He isn’t trying to prove any point about Rendon or Brett. It’s just fun. That’s the point. Fun.

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19 Responses to Inside the Mind of Bill

  1. invitro says:

    I checked out Schmitty. You know his famous 4 HR game in Wrigley, on April 17, 1976, that the Phils won 18-16 in 10 innings… he had 8 RBI in that one. He got two more RBI on April 18 in Wrigley, for ten. (This was only a two-game series, but he did get at least one RBI in his next four games.)

    In 1979, the Phils hosted the Giants for a 4-game series from July 6-9. He got 3 RBI in the first game, 5 in the 2nd, 2 in the 3rd, and 3 in the capper, for a whopping 13 RBI in the series. I bet not even Anthony Rendon has done that! This was right smack in the middle of a long Phils homestand, and a very successful one, as they went 11-3.

  2. invitro says:

    Saying Bill James loves numbers and statistics is like saying Picasso loved easels and paintbrushes…?

  3. Quoth The Vin, too many use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than for illumination.

    • SDG says:

      Where did Vin Scully ever say that? I’ve seen that quote attributed to him a ton but I’ve never seen the source. It would surprise me if he did because as far as I know Scully never expressed his opinion on advanced stats, stayed out of the whole Moneyball “controversy” and, in fact, never commented on contentious issues in general.

      • Michael Green says:

        SDG, I do not know when he first said it, but it has been quoted for much longer than Moneyball has been around–in other words, he wasn’t criticizing the newer statistics or their use, but referring to simply reciting too many statistics that don’t necessarily tell us anything when fans would rather hear about the people they are following.

      • invitro says:

        Wikipedia attributes it to a Scottish fellow named Andrew Lang, in 1910: “Politicians use statistics in the same way that a drunk uses lamp-posts—for support rather than illumination.” —

        • SDG says:

          Yeah I figured. Attributing it to Vin Scully makes as much sense (given Scully’s actual public life) like all those “We should enjoy a sunset” quotes bizarrely attributed to George Carlin (which apparently, he hated). Picking the one baseball figure everyone in the sport thinks highly of it a way to imply your personal beliefs are also as respected as Scully himself.

  4. MikeN says:

    I would guess that any player you picked this would be a safe bet. When Mark Whiten had his big game, it was reported as a record for RBI in a series.

  5. E.H. says:

    Man Brett played all out baseball. A friend of mine commented on how many games Brett missed because he played so hard, saying he could have had another 500 hits or more if he stayed healthy. Then he corrected himself saying “George Brett wouldn’t have been George Brett if he played the game any different.”

  6. john says:

    “At which point, Brett stepped out of his cart, pulled out a club, waited for the ball, swung — and hit it right back to McGregor, who would call it the greatest athletic feat he’d ever seen.”

    I mean.. there is a 0% chance that this is a thing that happened.

    • E.H. says:

      Here’s the real facts: George Brett wasn’t in a golf cart he was in a wheelchair on the disabled list again for the umpteenth time. He also had one arm in a sling and was blindfolded. Yes, no eyed Brett hit the ball right back to McGregor..who promptly hit the ball into the water hazard, never to be seen again.

  7. Tom says:

    I have respect and admiration for George Brett’s career. But I firmly believe that the most iconic photo of him would be while charging the umpire during the pine tar incident. But Joe, it would be very interesting to have a conversation about various players and the signature photograph(s) of them.

    • Butch says:

      Absolutely that’s the first photo I think of when I think of George Brett.

      I think that’d be an awesome idea, but in this day of the moving image I don’t know how many modern players have a single image associated with them.

      • E.H. says:

        There was a great documentary on HBO about 10-15 years ago about iconic sports photos. It was called “Picture Perfect” and it was narrated by Liev Schreiber.

      • Tom says:

        Yeah, maybe it should be a signature image or video. Either way for George Brett it should be the pine tar incident.

    • invitro says:

      “But Joe, it would be very interesting to have a conversation about various players and the signature photograph(s) of them.” — This is a really neat idea!

  8. Bryan says:

    3 players had 4 game streaks of 3+ RBI in the 2000s:
    Chris Davis Apr 2-5, 2013: 3, 4, 4, 5
    Frank Catalanotto Sep 28-Oct 1, 2005: 3, 3, 3, 3
    Gabe Kapler Sep 14-17, 2000: 3, 4, 3, 3
    Raul Ibanez with 3, Jay Bruce, Jeff Kent, Mark Reynolds and Victor Martinez with 2 each and 64 other players with one 3 game streak of 3+ RBI in the 2000s. 26 of the 3 game streaks and Catalanotto top out at 9 RBI in 3 games, leaving 46 streaks or just under 3 per year with minimum 10 RBI without even considering any 3 game streak of 10+ RBI which includes a game with 0-2 RBI.
    Jim Thome, Raul Ibanez, Cody Ross and Albert Belle get 14 RBI in 3 games, the most in 3 games among the 73 streaks but not necessarily the most in a 3 game stretch during the 2000s. While Anthony Rendon had 10 RBI in any 3 game stretch which includes his 10 RBI day.
    In first 522 games of career (Rendon’s entire career through May 15th, 2017):
    George Brett: 305/349/430, 107 Doubles, 24 HR, 139 BB, 139 K
    Anthony Rendon: 274/347/434, 122 Doubles, 58 HR, 210 BB, 386 K
    For George it’s mostly his Age 21-23 seasons which includes finishing 2nd and 11th in MVP.
    For Anthony it includes full seasons at Age 24 and 26 and finishing 5th in MVP.
    Information provided by Play Index.

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