Friday, August 21, 2009

Dennis Hopper Is Warren Spahn

No, Hopper isn't going to be playing him in an upcoming movie about Spahn's time managing the Tulsa Oilers.

If you are the type who clicks though links on this site then you probably know, is where I go to get stats. Especially since they redesigned the site before the season started, it's great to work with for basic stats and even more complicated stuff like the Mariano Rivera post I did yesterday.

They also have some fun tools such as The Oracle of Baseball which allows you to play The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (which should currently be named for Dennis Hopper) with baseball players. (h/t to the comment thread on the B-R blog post on Tuesday that brought this up.) It makes sense that Bacon wouldn't actually be the most connected actor, since he's relatively young. He's not even close, actually, as he checks in at #507 on the most connected list. Towards the top are guys like Harvey Kietel, Donald Sutherland, David Carradine, Michael Caine and Martin Sheen, all of whom were born in the 1930's and started their acting careers in the 50's or 60's.

The difference between the acting and baseball version of the game however, is that actors have far longer careers and the top of that list consists (mostly) of people who are still alive and forging new connections. There isn't anyone in baseball's top 100 that's even close to active. In baseball, you need someone who came along in what is currently the middle of baseball history (when there were fewer teams and players) and can make quick steps to players from the 19th century as well as the 21st.

That's how Spahn, who got his first call up before WWII and threw his last pitch in 1965 ends up at the top of the heap. With that four game stint in 1942, Spahn was briefly teammates with guys like Ernie Lombardi, Paul Warner and Johnny Cooney on the Boston Braves, all players who were towards the end of long careers which began in the 1920's and weren't around when Spahn was called up in earnest in 1946.

The way Hooks' career ended was also beneficial because after playing with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964, he pitched for both the Mets and the Giants in 1965. On the Braves in '64, he played with a young Joe Torre, Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, Sandy Alomar, Eddie Matthews and pitched alongside Phil Neikro. With the Giants in '65, he shared the locker room with Matty and Jesus Alou, the Willies Mays and McCovey, Ken Henderson (who's career spanned 18 seasons and 7 franchises) and pitched with Gaylord Perry, Bob Shaw and Juan Marichal. He was with the Mets for Eddie Kranepool's only All-Star campaign, Yogi Berra's final season as a player and Tug McGraw's rookie year but missed Nolan Ryan's Major League debut by just 11 months.

It's hard to tell if Spahn will ever be replaced at the top of his list. He only had 359 teammates, which when compared to Kenny Lofton's 604 or Ron Villone's 595 is not that many, but those more recent guys are 9 steps away from some of the 17,088 players in MLB history while Spahn is 5 steps or fewer from all but 81. Early Wynn, who is second on the list played for longer than Spahn (1939-1963) and had more teammates (408) but comes up just short in terms of connectivity.

It looks like Spahn just had the right combination of longevity and coincidence that allowed him to barely touch different generations at both the beginning and end of his career. It's fitting that the winningest lefty of all time and pitcher in general outside of the Deadball Era would occupy this unique place in baseball history, connecting the past to the present.

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