By: Brian Mangan
As I write this, I am watching (for the 65231th time) the incredibly amazing baseball movie Major League. While watching, I was curious and wanted to see if anyone out there had taken a stab at projecting what these players – whose names we all know so well after years of watching this movie – actually did on the field in that legendary 1989 season. As far as I can tell, only John Sickels did any projections (Sickels is amazing, and it’s worth a read). ESPN also broke down the playoff game and awarded a fictional MVP award (and correctly, at that) to Willie Mays Hayes.
This project is completely unscientific and just for fun, so please leave your own projection and comments in the comments section below. My best guesses are based on the context of the American League in 1989, the stats given in the movie itself, and other context clues. Keep in mind that, although the Indians are presented as lovable losers for most of the movie, they DID end up winning 92 games. For that reason, the offense must have been pretty good, because aside from Ricky Vaughn, the only pitcher we really learn about in the movie is the ancient Eddie Harris, who is not presented as very good himself. Therefore, those 92 wins were not on the backs of their pitching staff, and the Indians must have scored a lot of runs.
In the real life American League in 1989, hitters posted a collective slash line of .261/.326/.384. Pitchers in the AL that year had an ERA of 4.29, a WHIP of 1.35, and 5.5 K/9. Hitters in the AL in 2012 batted a collective .255/.320/.411 and pitchers had a collective 4.08 ERA, a WHIP of 1.30 and a 7.4 K/9. Therefore, if you’d like to compare the numbers I end up projecting for our lovable Indians to the numbers you might see today, give all the batters a slight boost in slugging %, and give our man Ricky Vaughn an uptick in his K/9.
As for the real life 1989 Indians, we all already know that they did not have a good season. The Indians hit worse than league average, putting up a line of .245/.310/.365, although the pitchers acquitted themselves well with a 4.04 ERA and 1.29 WHIP despite their home park being slightly favorable to hitters. The real life MVP was the incredible Robin Yount, who posted a slash line of .318/.384/.511.
Now, back to the movie. We get most of our concrete information on the players from the final game of the season, in the playoff game between the Yankees and Indians for the AL East title. In it, they announce that Clu Haywood, the Yankee cleanup hitter and Indian-killer, is announced as the AL Triple Crown winner with a line of .341 average, 48 HR and 121 RBI. Those marks would have, in fact, narrowly won him all of those categories. (Puckett .339, McGriff 36 HR, Ruben Sierra 119 RBI).
On the pitching side, Duke Sierra, the Yankees closer, posted a line of 1.37 ERA, with 51 H and 48 BB in only 118 innings while being used as an Eckersley-type ace. We are also told he led the league in K/9, with 147 strikeouts over that span (11.2 K/9). So even if you love Vaughn, we can’t project him with more strikeouts than that.
On to the guesses (asterisks indicate statistics mentioned in the movie):
Jake Taylor – C – .245/.345/.325, 62 Runs, 5 HR, 52 RBI
The veteran catcher, slow of foot, showed no indications that he has a decent offensive season in 1989. They don’t give us much to go off, except that we know that he bats second, behind Willie Mays Hayes. I’m going to assume that he has a decent OBP, no power, and doesn’t strike out too much.
Ricky Vaughn – SP – 9-9, 114 IP, 89 BB, 129K, 3.79 ERA
After overcoming early season control problems, Vaughn really settles down and becomes one of the league’s elite. He makes the cover of Sports Illustrated and throws 101 MPH in the season’s final game. I imagine him to be a lot like a young Kerry Wood. It appears that he begins the season out of the pen, and works his way into the rotation.
Sickels projected Vaughn’s 1989 season as such: 9-9, 114 IP, 89 BB, 129K, 3.79 ERA with 41 games played and 19 starts. That’s close enough for me, although I think his ERA would be a little higher than that.
Willie “Mays” Hayes – CF – .291*/.361/.378, 115 Runs, 7 HR, 55 RBI
We see him in one scene nailing batting gloves to his wall. He had said earlier that he was going to have a pair for every base he stole. In this scene, which takes place right before the newspaper is shown, there are already approximately 50 pairs on the wall (the date on the newspaper is wrong, saying April). As such, I think we could project that he stole 70 bases, or even more. Rickey Henderson led the league with 77 stolen bases that year.
Pair the below batting line with what appeared to be Gold Glove caliber defense in center field, and you’ve got yourself a burgeoning young star and borderline MVP candidate. For comparison, the peerless Rickey Henderson hit .274/.411/.399 113 R, 57 RBI that year.
Roger Dorn – 3B – .272*/.362/.455, 85 Runs, 21 HR, 86 RBI*
They talk about Dorn in the movie like he is a stud, although he admits to loafing defensively in the first half of the season. His offensive stats were probably pretty sharp, and as he showed later in the season when it mattered, he was quite good defensively. I imagine that in a good year, the unlikeable Dorn would also be a borderline MVP candidate.
In real life, Robin Yount won the 1989 AL MVP with a remarkable line of .318/.384/.511, but the rest of the Top-10 vote getters having OPS’es around 800. I put Dorn in that general neighborhood, showing strongly among the runners-up. Fun fact: The 86 RBI that they say Dorn had in the movie would have placed him just outside the Top-10 in the AL that year.
Pedro Cerrano – RF – .256/.310/.495, 76 Runs, 35 HR, 105 RBI
Cerrano hits directly behind Dorn, and is known for prodigious power coupled with a propensity for strikeouts. With Dorn (and Hayes) hitting before him, I am sure that he had plenty of RBI opportunities.
Given his big power combined with his rawness, I optimistically gave Cerrano the exact the slash line that the one-and-only Bo Jackson put up that year.
So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed it, and please leave your projections below.
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Brian Mangan sometimes has a lot of time on his hands, and considers Major League to be one of the top 5 baseball movies of all time.
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