Welcome to the party, trivia fans. It’s the 25th anniversary of my annual baseball quiz. Who knew it would last this long? What sort of sick person would subject his readers to this sort of mental torture for fully a quarter century?
A lot happens in 25 years, especially in the shifting universe of baseball statistics. The game has changed dramatically during that time. When I wrote my first quiz in 1990, the average major league salary was $579,000. Today, it’s $4 million. At least baseball has a thriving middle class.
Back in 1990, there were still four divisions. There were no wild cards, no division series. The Rockies, Marlins, Rays and Diamondbacks didn’t exist. Buffalo was still thought to be in the running for a big-league franchise.
When I started the quiz, Roger Maris still held the record for home runs in a season with 61. Hank Aaron had the career mark with 755. In 1990, Lou Brock still had the career stolen base record. Nolan Ryan led the league in strikeouts for the last time. Bobby Thigpen became the first pitcher to save 50 games.
Greg Maddux was a Cub, Barry Bonds a Pirate, Stump Merrill the Yankee manager. Alvaro Espinoza was the Yankees’ shortstop. Derek Jeter was a high school star in Kalamazoo, Mich. The Braves were 30 games under .500 the day my first quiz ran. Who knew Atlanta would go on to win 14 division titles in the next 15 seasons?
The first-ever question was my all-time favorite. At that time, there were nine players who had won back-to-back MVP awards, one for every position including three outfielders: Yogi Berra, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Morgan, Ernie Banks, Mike Schmidt, Hal Newhouser, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Dale Murphy.
Since then, four players have won consecutive MVPs: Bonds, Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. That removed the singular charm of a trivia question with one player from every position in the answer.
But that’s how it goes with baseball trivia. The obsession evolves, like the national pastime itself. Some day, I might go back though all 500-odd questions from the quizzes to see how many have changed over the years.
Some great questions never change, like who was the third baseman on the Tinker-to-Evers-to Chance team (Harry Steinfeldt), or who was pinch running at third when Bobby Thomson hit his famous homer (Clint Hartung), or who caught no-hitters for both Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan (Jeff Torborg).
Good trivia is designed to stretch the baseball lover’s mind, to identify connections between players from different eras. The possibilities are infinite. Every time I watch a baseball game, I see something new. I also come upon some new bit of trivia.
So I don’t see stopping anytime soon. Maybe when I’m through with sports writing, I’ll put together trivia columns for a living. It never gets old. If you’re a baseball trivia buff, you understand. If not, it’s a wonder you got this far.
Anyway, it’s time for the silver anniversary trivia quiz. I wish I had some kind of physical award for the participants, like the Silver Sluggers they give out every year to the best hitter at every position.
I wonder how Nate Silver, the famed statistician, baseball analyst and author of the FiveThirtyEight blog, would fare? I once sent a quiz to President George W. Bush, a baseball trivia nut, but he never got back to me.
This year’s effort is a doozy. It has quite a few easy questions, but some that will have you cursing me under your breath. I’m biased, but I think it’s one of my best. There are 99 possible answers, so party like you’re going to get all 99.
As always, statistics are only from the post-1900 era. This does discriminate against Cy Young, who had nearly half his 511 wins while pitching in the 1890s for the Cleveland Spiders. Too bad, Cy.
1. Everyone remembers Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the fifth game of the 1956 World Series. Few recall that a side-arming 24-year-old New York right-hander pitched a three-hit shutout in the seventh game of that series. He went 18-9 in ’56, but was only 54-56 for his career.
2. Speaking of 1956, three of the top four finishers for NL MVP that year were pitchers. The winner lost Game Seven. The MVP runner-up was a Western New York native who was the losing pitcher in Larsen’s perfect game. The fourth-place guy is also from WNY and is in the Hall of Fame.
3. This veteran is second among active pitchers in strikeouts and closing in on 2,500 Ks. He has led the AL in strikeouts and pitched a no-hitter. He has struck out 200 batters for three different teams. Yet, until this season, he had never made an All-Star team or finished in the top five in the Cy Young voting. Last year, he led the NL in losses, walks and games started.
4. Miguel Cabrera recently hit his 400th career home run, making him the sixth player in history with 400 homers and a career .320 batting average. Name the other five. A pretty impressive list, as you might imagine.
5. Name the seven pitchers who had 100 career victories for two different teams.
6. Alphabet Trivia I: Name the top five career home run hitters whose last name begins with the letter “A.” I’d say one is fairly obvious.
7. Last season, Johnny Cueto became the first Cincinnati right-hander to win 20 games since 1965, when two Reds righties did it. Who were they?
8. Who are the only three players to hit 40 home runs in a season with three different teams?
9. Who is the only pitcher to win 200 career games and finish with a losing record? Remember, statistics are post-1900.
10. Name the only current major league team that has never had a player hit 40 home runs in a season. A double bonus: Which two teams haven’t had a 40-homer player in more than 40 years?
11. Who was the last position player to win MVP without hitting 10 home runs? How about the last Cy Young winner without 20 wins or 200 strikeouts?
12. Name the five sets of brothers with 100 wins in both leagues.
13. He was a two-time AL batting champion and seven-time all-star who finished with 2,495 career hits. Like Ted Williams, he played from 1939-60 and briefly managed the Senators after retiring. He played his final game one day before Williams hit his famous homer in his final at-bat. Who is he?
14. Name the four pitchers who won 50 games for both the Red Sox and Yankees. While you’re at it, who is the only player with 50 homers and 50 stolen bases for the Red Sox and Yanks? The only pitcher with 50 saves for both?
15. This former Boston Brave was MVP of the NL in 1947, Jackie Robinson’s rookie year, becoming the first third baseman to win an MVP. He led the major leagues in RBIs in the 1940s. A toughie, but a must-get for any trivia maven.
16. Only three players have 400 doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers and 400 stolen bases. One is active. One retired two years ago. One is in the Hall of Fame.
17. This one courtesy of ace bartender Kevin Godzich: Since World War II, who are the four men with 1,000 wins as a manager and 2,000 hits as a player?
18. Madison Bumgarner pitched the Giants to the Series title last year. He also won the Silver Slugger award for pitchers after hitting four homers and driving in 15 runs. Bumgarner now has 75 career wins and eight homers. Can you name the seven pitchers who have won 200 games and smacked 20 home runs?
19. Who has the most career home runs of anyone who never led either league? As Jack Gray reminds me, he also has the most hits of any eligible player not in the Hall of Fame. Keep in mind the word “eligible.”
20. Alphabet Trivia II: There are 15 players with four or fewer letters in their last name who have hit 40 homers in a season. Five have done it at least five times. One did it last year.
21. Two eligible players have a career .310 batting average, 300 homers and 2,000 hits and are not in the Hall of Fame. They finished 12th and 17th, respectively, in this year’s vote.
22. Here’s one from 1990, the inaugural year of my quiz. This former LeMoyne lefty led the Reds with 15 wins that season and won Game Three in their World Series sweep of the A’s. Need help? He pitched a perfect game in 1988.
23. Who are the seven switch-hitters who have hit 40 home runs in a season? The obvious one is in the Hall of Fame. The other six all did it in 1996 or later.
24. Short-term memory check: Who hit a walk-off, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win the NLCS for the Giants last season? Who served it up?
25. This is a 10-part question, an anniversary doozer all its own. It’s amazing how many great players have come from Venezuela. It includes: A) The only lefty to win two AL Cy Young awards; B) The only man to save 60 games in a season: C) A Triple Crown winner; D) The 2012 World Series MVP; E) The 1-2 finishers in last year’s AL batting race; F) A two-time AL home run champ in the 1980s; G) A guy who had 40 homers and 140 RBIs in consecutive years in the 1990s; H) A Cy Young winner who has thrown a perfect game; I) The man who hit .363 to win the 2007 AL batting title; J) A Hall of Famer who won nine straight stolen base titles.
(Answers to quiz appear on BuffaloNews.com.)