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Travel Day: Brendan Ryan in Seattle (in Arizona), Marty Marion

I'm on my way back to Colorado after a visit to Arizona, so today's post is designed specifically to fit into several three ounce bottles inside a single one quart ziploc bag. I only saw one Spring Training game while I was there, and it just so happened that Brendan Ryan was playing in it. Some notes:

  • His body language would've gotten him dumped on in an unnamed-sources bulletin on the Post-Dispatch round midnight. He bobbled his first chance pretty badly but made some nice plays the rest of the night. 
  • He remains, so far as I can tell, a part of the Maikel Cleto trade.
  • Shoulder licking remains A Thing. 

Obviously nobody would have fumed quite so badly about the trade if it weren't for Brendan Ryan, hilarious public figure and acrobatic, aesthetically pleasing defensive shortstop, but it remains frustrating to know a team that has to find somebody to replace Nick Punto, that is about to give a job to Miguel Batista,  thinks it can throw a win or two off of the bench to satisfy the parochial matters of the unnamed section of the clubhouse. After the jump, a video of Brendan Ryan grounding into a double play! And some notes on the late Marty Marion, another tall, athletic shortstop whose career in St. Louis was a little less tense. 

One thing that always surprised me when it came up: Marty Marion was two inches taller than Stan Musial. This is a personal bias, but I tend to imagine every outstanding shortstop as a photoshopped version of Ozzie Smith, skittering across the infield and making hyperactive Ozzie Smith plays. But a guy nicknamed "Slats" and "The Octopus" obviously had a different way of doing things, and in the AP photo before the jump it's easier to imagine him as... well, as a photoshopped version of Brendan Ryan, getting to ground balls almost by surprise and making throws he has no business making. 

When I began reading the sabermetricians around 2002 Marion's MVP in 1944 was one of the most-cited examples of the baseball press's inability to understand baseball, and given the year Musial had—a .347, 54 doubles, 14 triples, 94 RBI, to stick to numbers the baseball press would have seen, but also 90 walks against 28 strikeouts—it was certainly a mistake. But as defensive statistics have matured Marion's season has left that particular spotlight; Baseball-Reference gives him credit for 22 runs saved as a shortstop, for a perfectly cromulent 4.0 wins above replacement. I'm glad that Slats's last trip through the newspapers has come after those of us who weren't watching the Cardinals during World War II were given the chance to understand the extent of his excellence.

Recently John Thorn, baseball's preeminent historian and one of the authors of the seminal Total Baseball sabermetric encyclopedia, wrote a piece subtitled "Baseball Needs More Story, Less Sabermetrics", and to be honest the distinction is lost on me. Today's advanced statistics are useful for tomorrow's baseball decisions, and yesterday's advanced statistics are great as checks on our own eyes. But Billy Beane doesn't have anybody crunching Marty Marion's defensive numbers, or Ozzie Smith's; behind, say, 2009, Baseball Reference, for all its rows and columns, is nothing but story. (Gary Daley's 2008 line remains as evocative as any baseball novel I've ever read.)

Without the numbers, in 2011, the career of Marty Marion tells a much different story, and a less rewarding one. It's fascinating to know Marion was so tall for a shortstop they called him The Octopus, and the stats make it more fascinating, not less. 


Ignore the low-budget-horror-movie camerawork and the guy, directly behind me, who sounds strikingly like Rodney Dangerfield.