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December 07, 2005

Age & Ancestry Working Against Bernie?

So, today appears to be Bernie Williams Decision Day. Now, I've always liked Bernie. But, I do think it's time for him to retire.

Regardless of what I think, what should the Yankees do with Bernie - since Williams still wants to play?

Well, Bernie's coming off a terrible year with the bat. And, in the two seasons prior to that, he was just league average offensively. But, the important thing here to keep an eye on is Bernie's age next year and perhaps - and I cringe as I type this because people are going to flame me for it - to consider that he's a native of Puerto Rico.

I don't know why, but, baseball stars from Puerto Rico seem to get old, in a hurry, once they pass age 36. Roberto Alomar is the most recent case of this. But, if you want numbers, see these sorts via the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia:

First, "best" seasons from a Puerto Rico native ages 37 or older:


Next, "best" career totals for Puerto Rico natives from age 37 on:


Jose Cruz and Roberto Clemente are the only two Puerto Rico natives to do anything positive with the bat at age 37 or older.

I know, I know, saying that baseball players from Puerto Rico, after age 36, are done in terms of offensive effectiveness is flat out stereotyping in the eyes of many. But, the numbers are the numbers, no?

Sometimes, stereotypes start because there's a lot of evidence to support them. I remember, years and years ago, reading Kevin Kerrane's excellent book, Dollar Sign on the Muscle, and there was a line in there about scouts being wary of High School prospects who came from Italian families - because those kids had the tendency to gain a lot of weight later in life. As someone from an Italian background, I was upset about that thought process - until I thought about it some more, looked around, and realized that it was not an outrageous claim.

Somewhat related, twenty-something years ago, I went to a psychic with a girl that I was dating - who came from an Italian family. He asked her if she had an Aunt Rose. She said yes. He asked if this aunt had a weight problem. She said yes again.

When we got back to her house that night, she told her father (about the psychic) "He was great. He knew that I had an aunt named Rose and that she had a weight problem." Her father looked back at her and said "Come on, name one Italian family that doesn't have an Aunt Rose in it with a weight problem."

And, to borrow from him, I'll say "Name three baseball players from Puerto Rico who were effective batters at age 37 or older." Maybe Bernie can be the next one after Cruz and Clemente? But, the odds are that he will not be - and the Yankees should pass on him now.

Maybe the facts here are not very "PC" to point out - but, since they exist they seem to warrant some analysis here. Note I am not saying "why" the case is that the numbers shake out this way - because I have no idea why and I would never attempt to guess. It just seems wrong to say that the theory has no teeth when the numbers seem to back it up.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at December 7, 2005 10:23 AM


Very interesting points, Steve - I can't argue with you as I too am of Italian descent and have an Aunt Rose (though everyone calls her "Rosie") who did indeed have a weight problem.

One thought - if you look at all baseball players age 37 or older, regardless of where they were born, how many except the very great actually have good seasons at 37+? And sometimes not even the very great do! (Note that both the Mick and Joe D retired after their sub-standard (for them) age-36 seasons.)

Posted by: Shaun P. [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2005 11:39 AM

If you use 300 PA as a cutoff, of all batters (ever) ages 37 or older, there have been many who were good - Ruth, Bonds, Aaron, Yaz, Ty Cobb, Brian Downing, Fisk, Chili Davis, Darrell Evans, Davey Lopes, Enos Slaughter, Enos Slaughter, Tris Speaker, Edgar Martinez - who was born in NYC, Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Fred McGriff, Harold Baines, Honus Wagner, Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Willie Mays, Willie Stargell - among others.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2005 11:49 AM

Many of those Puerto Rican players you listed weren't really all that good to begin with. Benito Santiago spent most of his career less than average. Reuben Sierra has had two seasons in the last 10 where he had a positive RCAA.

And it's an awful small list to work with.

That said, I'd rather have Bernie coming off the bench, or DH'ing than Reuben Sierra.

Bernie did get old quick, didn't he?

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2005 12:34 PM

There have been great players from PR - Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, etc. And, there have been good players from PR - Danny Tartabull, Sixto Lezcano, Ivan Calderon, Ruben Sierra, Jose Cruz, Candy Maldonado, Vic Power, etc.

But, again, other than Cruz and Clemente, none were any good with the stick at 37 and beyond.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2005 12:45 PM