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We get mail ...

Dipping deep into ye olde mailbagge ...

Is Matt Herges out of baseball? He's a replacement player and I know he was with the Royals in spring training. Oh, yep. Just checked and he was pitching for their minor league club as of two days ago. Wonder if he'll be called up next month.

- Lynn (Ritzville, Wash.)

I doubt it, Lynn. Herges isn't on the Royals' 40-man roster, and it's hard to imagine them clearing a space in September for a 40-year-old relief pitcher with a 4.38 ERA.*

* By the way, when's the last time you heard of a 40-year-old relief pitcher in the minor leagues? Let alone a right-handed 40-year-old relief pitcher in the minor leagues? Either Herges is a fantastic guy in the clubhouse (and the bullpen) or somebody owed him a big favor. Still, there's something to be said for a guy who takes his profession so seriously.

Love the "eras" segments, Rob. But 1966-1973 after an every-fourth-day player (Fergie Jenkins) instead of arguably the greatest Cub of all time, Billy Williams? Even Ron Santo would have been a better selection, IMHO. Keep 'em coming anyway.

- Mike (Hicksville, N.Y.)

I struggled some with that one, Mike. But not because of Williams and Santo. I worried that most Cubs fans would think the Ernie Banks Era should extend all the way to his retirement, as he's so obviously the Cubs' most famous player, and even today is the face of the franchise. "Let's play two!" and all that.

But for me, Fergie Jenkins represents something important in the franchise's history. Before Jenkins, the Cubs were non-competitive even with Banks and Williams and Santo in the lineup. But with the arrival of Jenkins -- in a trade orchestrated by new manager Leo Durocher, one of the game's dominant personalities, ever -- suddenly the Cubs had the young ace they'd lacked for so many years, and almost as suddenly they were competitive for the first time in many years. I'm not suggesting that Jenkins was as famous as Banks or as valuable as Williams and Santo (though he might have been that); I'm suggesting that Jenkins, if you're telling the story of the Cubs in the late 1960s and early '70s, was the most important figure whose name wasn't Leo Durocher.

And as I've mentioned before, my goal in putting together these lists isn't to simply identify the best players; it's to identify the most important and representative players.*

* And having just said that, I must admit that I might have gotten it wrong with Bill Madlock, an excellent hitter who played for some pretty lousy teams after Jenkins was traded to the Rangers (for Madlock, in fact). I chose Madlock because he bridged the gap between Jenkins and Bruce Sutter, and because he was really good. But my first draft had those years labeled as "the Steve Swisher Era," and if I revise the list someday I might switch to Swisher or some similarly idiosyncratic (or idiotic, if you prefer) choice.

There have been articles and comments in the past by some who believe it is wrong to use modern statistics to look at past era ballplayers. This is clearly a silly argument. However, I have a somewhat related question.When arguing about things like HOF credentials, is it valid to use measures of performance that were not recognized at the time a player played?A simple example might be rbi. Today this is a much-maligned stat. However, it has a long history and still has a strong following. Whereas OBP is, of course, recognized as a premier stat. So, a player in an earlier era might have been more likely to swing at close pitches when there was an rbi opportunity than a player like JD Drew who would take a walk today.So, I guess the question is, should players be "penalized" for following the "conventional wisdom" of their time? I realize that the object of the stats is to find out what is important. But, does that mean you have to ignore the times when it comes to things like HOF?

- Tom (Norwalk, Conn.)

Tom, I prefer to focus on what a player actually did, rather than what we think he might have been trying to do. And trying to figure out what "the conventional wisdom" was in a particular era ... well, that's problematic at best. There certainly were managers 100 years ago who saw walks and on-base percentage -- even if that particular term wasn't used -- as valuable pieces of a hitting attack.

There's another big problem, which is that you sort of want to have it both ways. If we assume that players should get some sort of extra credit for eschewing walks in favor of RBI, then what do you do with Mickey Mantle? Mantle drove in 100 runs just four times in his career. That wasn't all his fault; sometimes the guys hitting ahead of him just didn't get on base much, and the pitchers had the upper hand during the latter stages of his career. But if Mantle hadn't been so selective at the plate -- he drew more than 100 walks 10 times -- he probably would have driven in more runs. Are you willing to knock his value down a peg because he didn't adjust his game to comport with the "conventional wisdom" that (theoretically) stressed the importance of RBI?

I'm guessing that you would not. I wouldn't, anyway.

There has always been a great deal of value in reaching base. John McGraw knew this, Joe McCarthy knew this, Casey Stengel knew this, and Earl Weaver knew this. I don't know if Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt knew this. But they did draw a lot of walks and reach base quite a lot. And as long as we're giving them credit for doing that, I don't see how we can logically turn a blind eye when players haven't done it.

Hey Rob, do you think it's about time to revisit your comment that Jose Bautista can't hit? You made that comment during a slump he was in, and you piled on with a sort of "I told you so," implying that his stats were just a fluke and he wouldn't keep it up. Well, maybe he'll do this again, maybe not, but you were clearly wrong about him not being able to hit. The stats in August define your statement as an error. Since you were so dismissive -- I mean, to say a guy can't do his job is pretty demeaning, like someone saying you can't write -- perhaps you have the integrity to revisit your error. Otherwise you come across as arrogant.

- Robert (Ventura, Cal.)

Arrogant? Moi? This is the first time in 14 years I've been excused of that.

Or not.

Look, I'm not saying I haven't done all these terrible things, Robert. In fairness, though, it's always easier for me to revisit my errors if you give me some actual proof of them. In this case, a single link would suffice. Next time, maybe.

For now, I will happily admit that Bautista's season has surprised me. I've also written -- granted, it was quite recently -- that Bautista's probably for real, in the sense that he does seem to have made a real adjustment that might lead to real power hitting in real future seasons.

As for saying that I can't write ... People say that every day. If it really bothered me, I would be paralyzed with insecurity and resentment every morning and wouldn't be able to continue writing (poorly or well, your choice). I don't suppose my writing bothers Jose Bautista much, either. Or maybe it does. If so, he's exceptionally good at coping with the mental anguish. Whatever he's having for breakfast, I want some.