Did Madlock Sit in Pursuit of Batting Titles?

This was published a couple of years ago on the old Buried Treasure website on MVN. Reposting it now in its original form.
Bill Madlock won four batting titles and finished second one time. On two other occasions he finished in the top five in hitting but was well behind the leader.
Madlock was an intriguing guy. He was suspended for shoving his glove into the face of an ump (my brother made a painting of that for a school project when that happened back in 1980. Probably a better painting than what I could do, but it is safe to assume that my sister got every last ounce of artistic talent in my family). He fought opponents, sometimes teammates and sometimes management. Though he won four batting titles, he never once collected 200 hits in a season and barely reached 2,000 hits for his career.
I have read two sources that claimed that Madlock would pick his spots down the stretch – sitting out against tough pitchers – in order to improve his chances of winning the silver bat. Bill James, in his most recent Historical Baseball Abstract, openly mocks Madlock stating that there was a running pool in the press box in September on whether Madlock would be sitting out or playing. Joe Morgan, in his autobiography, claimed Madlock sat out games in 1976 in order to wrestle the batting title from Ken Griffey.
Is that true? In my anal retentive, the truth must be known, baseball obsessed mind, it is worth finding out.
Here’s the methodology, thanks to the amazing Retrosheet, I can determine which games in September Madlock chose not to play in. So, I’ll examine which pitcher’s he didn’t face. I’ll also look at the batting averages of Madlock in comparison with his closest competition at the beginning of September and also at the end of the season. Additionally, I’ll check the limited sources of biographical information on Madlock that I have or that are available on line.
The seasons in question are 1975, 1976, 1981, 1982 and 1983.

Madlock missed twelve games in September. He entered September hitting .365. His closest competition was Ted Simmons, who was hitting .335. The table of games missed and the opposing team’s starter:

Date Opponent Pitcher Record ERA
Sept. 10 St. Louis Eric Rasmussen 5-5 3.78
Sept. 11 St. Louis Bob Forsch 15-10 2.86
Sept. 13 Philadelphia Tom Underwood 14-13 4.14
Sept. 14 Philadelphia Steve Carlton 15-14 3.56
Sept. 15 Pittsburgh Jerry Reuss 18-11 2.54
Sept. 15 Pittsburgh Jim Rooker 13-11 2.97
Sept. 16 Pittsburgh John Candelaria 8-6 2.76
Sept. 17 New York Craig Swan 1-3 6.39
Sept. 18 New York Hank Webb 7-6 4.07
Sept. 19 Montreal Steve Rogers 11-12 3.29
Sept. 20 Montreal Don Carrithers 5-3 3.30
Sept. 23 New York Craig Swan 1-3 6.39

Madlock was hit on the hand by Bruce Kison on September 9. The injury was deemed as an incomplete fracture of his right hand, according to Baseball Library. He did appear as a pinch hitter on September 21 and collected a base hit in his lone AB.
Madlock’s final BA was .354. His average hadn’t been that low since mid-August. Simmons finished at .332. His peak average in September was .342 on September 14.
Madlock definitely wasn’t ducking anybody in 1975. He had a 30 point lead heading into the month and then legitimately sat out with an injury.
Madlock missed ten games in September and October and appeared as a pinch hitter (on September 6) in another. He entered September hitting .338. His closest competition was Ken Griffey, who was hitting .330. Madlock and Griffey alternated sitting out and Madlock collected four hits on the final day of the season to win the title. The table:

Date Opponent Pitcher Record ERA
Sept. 3 St. Louis Bob Forsch 8-10 3.94
Sept. 4 St. Louis Lynn McGlothlin 13-15 3.91
Sept. 5 St. Louis John Denny 11-9 2.52
Sept. 6 New York Jerry Koosman 21-10 2.69
Sept. 7 New York Jon Matlack 17-10 2.95
Sept. 18 Philadelphia Steve Carlton 20-7 3.13
Sept. 24 New York Tom Seaver 14-11 2.59
Sept. 25 New York Craig Swan 6-9 3.54
Sept. 26 New York Jerry Koosman 21-10 2.69
Sept. 28 Pittsburgh Doc Medich 8-11 3.52
Sept. 29 Pittsburgh Larry Demery 10-7 3.17

(Seeing Larry Demery’s name always takes me back. One of my first memories is of Easter 1975. I had turned four the month before. I vividly recall getting packs of baseball cards in my Easter basket and the top card on one of those packs was Demery. It’s crazy what the mind takes in.)
I don’t think there is much doubt that Madlock sat down trying to protect a lead. Once Griffey overtook him, Griffey also sat. Madlock was hitting .336 compared to Griffey’s .332 on 9/23 and then Madlock didn’t play in the next five games. Griffey passed him, forcing him to play catch up, which he successfully did. Here’s a table of where the two players stood during the final two weeks of the season:

Date Madlock Griffey
Sept. 20 Cubs Off 0.332
Sept. 21 0.337 0.332
Sept. 22 0.337 DNP
Sept. 23 0.336 Reds Off
Sept. 24 DNP 0.335
Sept. 25 DNP 0.336
Sept. 26 DNP 0.339
Sept. 27 Cubs Off 0.339
Sept. 28 DNP DNP
Sept. 29 DNP DNP
Sept. 30 Cubs Off Reds Off
Oct. 1 0.335 0.339
Oct. 2 0.333 0.338
Oct. 3 0.339 0.336

Had Griffey not gone hitless in his last four ABs, Griffey would’ve won by hitting 0.3387 compared to Madlock’s 0.3385. I imagine history would regard Griffey more highly had he won a batting title. Much like Bobby Bonds, Ken Griffey Sr. was an above average ball player whose feats were overshadowed dramatically by his son’s efforts.
The verdict is an obvious one: Madlock sat.
Two trades, a few controversies and one World Series Championship later, Madlock was in Pittsburgh and in the hunt for his third batting title. He came into September hitting 0.346, eleven points ahead of Pete Rose, already a multi-title holder.
Madlock missed eight games in September and October and appeared as either a pinch runner or pinch hitter in three other contests (9/21, 9/30, and 10/3). Table time:

Date Opponent Pitcher Record ERA
Sept. 19 Philadelphia Dan Larson 3-0 1.48
Sept. 20 Philadelphia Mike Proly 2-1 3.86
Sept. 21 New York Greg Harris 3-5 4.46
Sept. 22 New York Mike Scott 5-10 3.90
Sept. 23 Montreal Scott Sanderson 9-7 2.95
Sept. 28 Chicago Dave Geisel 2-0 0.56
Sept. 30 Montreal Bill Gullickson 7-9 2.80
Oct. 1 Montreal Ray Burris 9-7 3.05
Oct. 2 St. Louis Dave LaPoint 1-0 4.22
Oct. 3 St. Louis John Martin 8-5 3.42
Oct. 4 St. Louis Bob Shirley 6-4 4.08

(It’s strange to remember that Mike Scott was subpar before he learned how to scuff the, I mean before he learned how to throw a split fingered fastball. Scuffing the ball was the pitchers’ version of steroids in the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of velocity, they cheated to get movement. Ray Burris threw a complete game shutout against LA in the 1981 NLCS. I’d have to look it up, but I’m sure there haven’t been many African American pitchers who have thrown post-season shutouts. Off the top of my head I come up with Bob Gibson, Blue Moon Odom, Vida Blue, Mike Norris and Dave Stewart. There might be more.)
Madlock was hitting 0.341 compared to Rose’s 0.327 on September 18. Madlock got just two more plate appearances the rest of the season (both in a pinch hitting role) to finish at 0.341. Rose was at 0.325 at the end of the season. It looks like Madlock sat. It also looks like it was unnecessary.
Al Oliver, one of my all-time favorite players, had his best season ever in 1982. He finished tied for third in the MVP voting behind Dale Murphy and Lonnie Smith. He tied Pedro Guerrero. Oliver bested Madlock for the batting title, hitting 0.331 compared to Madlock’s 0.319. They entered September with Oliver squarely ahead 0.332 to 0.317.
Madlock sat out five games in September and was used only as a pinch hitter on four occasions (9/26, 9/28, 10/1 and 10/2). Table:

Date Opponent Pitcher Record ERA
Sept. 25 Montreal Scott Sanderson 12-12 3.46
Sept. 26 Montreal Charlie Lea 12-10 3.24
Sept. 27 New York Scott Holman 2-1 3.46
Sept. 28 New York Ed Lynch 4-8 3.55
Sept. 29 St. Louis John Stuper 9-7 3.36
Sept. 30 St. Louis Steve Mura 12-11 4.05
Oct.1 Montreal Charlie Lea 12-10 3.24
Oct. 2 Montreal Bill Gullickson 12-14 3.57
Oct. 3 Montreal Steve Rogers 19-8 2.40

Madlock was trailing 0.336 to 0.319 when he began sitting out. I have no explanation for his lack of playing time other than him sitting out and hoping Oliver would slump.
This was a weird one. Madlock beat out Lonnie Smith 0.323 to 0.321. On September 1, Madlock was hitting 0.323 and Smith was 12 points back. By September 27, Madlock was up 0.326 to Smith’s 0.322.
Madlock and the Pirates were in the pennant race. On September 13th, the Pirates were one game out of first. Two weeks later, on 9/27, the spread was 4.5 games. What happened? First, The Baseball Page states that Madlock tore a calf muscle running out a double in the 9th inning of the second game of a DH vs. St. Louis on 9/5. Retrosheet lists Ron Wotus as pinch running for Madlock in the 9th of that game. Madlock played sparingly, missing games on the 6th, 7th, 10th and 11th and appearing as a pinch hitter on the 9th. He played on the 12th and 13th and then made just two pinch hitting appearances in the next two weeks as the Pirates fell out of the race. The Pirates played pretty well in his absence, but the Phillies caught fire and pulled away.
With the pennant all but decided, Madlock got just five plate appearances in the final five games of the season. The table:

Date Opponent Pitcher Record ERA
Sept. 28 New York Ron Darling 1-3 2.80
Sept. 29 New York Scott Holman 1-7 3.74
Sept. 30 Philadelphia John Denny 19-6 2.37
Oct.1 Philadelphia Kevin Gross 4-6 3.56
Oct. 2 Philadelphia Charles Hudson 8-8 3.35

Madlock started the contests on 9/28, 9/29, 9/30 and 10/1, but left after getting one, one, two and one plate appearances, respectively. No question about hit, he sat again.
1975 – sat out due to injury. Had a huge lead and didn’t need to sit out if he had been healthy
1976 – sat out.
1981 – sat out and probably didn’t need to
1982 – sat out to no avail
1983 – sat out the final week of the season to hold onto his lead. Missed time earlier due to injury
So, in four out of five years, Madlock sat out. However, his sitting never took place while the team was in the pennant race (injuries excluded). He also wasn’t picking and choosing his spots. He sat out against Hall of Famers and guys who have long since been forgotten.

One Response to “Did Madlock Sit in Pursuit of Batting Titles?”

  1. rob in stl Says:

    I really can’t say whether Madlock sat out games to enhance his batting title chances. I do know that Griffey had a sizeable lead going to the 1976 season finale. Griffey sat knowing Madlock needed to go 5 for 5 to wrest the title from him. Sure enough, Madock did indeed go 5 for 5 and won the 1976 batting title.

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