June 29, 2016
One Entire Season Of Baseball From the 1970s
Manny Sanguillen had more intentional than unintentional walks in 1970, 1971 and 1972. In '71, he drew 13 IBBs against just six UIBBs. If I could retain all of the technological advantages of 2016, I would dearly like to experience one entire season of baseball from the mid-1970s. It was almost an entirely different game.
--Joe Sheehan Newsletter, June 15, 2016
If baseball were different, how different would it be? Would it be slightly different or very different?
---Effectively Wild podcast, February 28, 2014
The current laws of physics make transporting BP alum Joe Sheehan to the 1970s an impossibility, sadly. However, given what we know about baseball in 1971, the year Manny Sanguillen drew six unintentional walks in 559 plate appearances, we can change the tense of the Effectively Wild question from subjunctive to past simple. We can evaluate how different baseball was in 1971, and in so doing, both answer Joe’s question and fulfill my personal goal of using the word subjunctive in an article about baseball.
1971: The Big Picture
Richard Nixon was in the White House, war raged in Vietnam (and Cambodia and Laos) 42 people died in the Attica prison riot, All in the Family debuted and The Ed Sullivan Show ended; and the Supreme Court overturned Muhammad Ali’s conviction for draft evasion.
In baseball, Satchel Paige became the first player elected to the Hall of Fame based on his Negro League career, the American League won the All-Star Game in Detroit 6-4 (the AL’s only win between 1962 and 1983), highlighted by a moonshot by Reggie Jackson off a transformer on the roof of Tiger Stadium. Nobody got elected to the Hall of Fame (Yogi Berra and Early Wynn came close), and both the Society for American Baseball Research and Pedro Martinez were born.
Rather than just list a bunch of numbers (lookit all of them complete games!), let’s cite, FiveThirtyEight.com’s Significant Digits-style, an illustrative figure for each team, division by division:
American League East
Baltimore Orioles, 101-57: 1 and 1.
Winning their division for the third straight year, the Orioles were dominant, leading the league in both scoring and run prevention. They underperformed their Pythagorean won-lost by two games. They scored 4.70 runs per game, 0.37 more than second-ranked Detroit, and allowed 3.35 per game, 0.15 fewer than second-ranked Oakland.
Frame of reference: The only teams since the 1971 Orioles to lead their league in both runs scored and allowed are the 1976 Yankees, 1978 Dodgers, 1984 Tigers, 1988 Mets, 1995 Indians, 1998 Yankees, 2001 Mariners, and 2004 Cardinals. The 1984 Tigers and 1998 Yankees are the only two of those nine teams to win the World Series.
Detroit Tigers, 91-71: 45%.
The Tigers won the World Series in 1968 but finished second in the division in 1969 and slumped to fourth, 79-83, in 1970. The team fired manager Mayo Smith and replaced him with Billy Martin. Martin had managed the Twins in 1969, leading them to a divisional title. The Twins fired him after the season, though, primarily for acting like Billy Martin. (The Tigers would do the same 134 games into the 1973 season.) The Tigers did two very Billy Martin things in his first year as manager: First, the pitchers’ complete games rocketed by 61 percent, from 33 to 53. Mickey Lolich led the majors with 45 starts and 376 innings pitched, one of 44 pitchers with more innings pitched than Clayton Kershaw’s leading 232 2/3 last year. Second, the team’s stolen bases increased 21 percent, from 29 to 35. Unfortunately, Detroit attempted 59 swipes, resulting in a 45 percent stolen base success rate. Frame of reference: The last team to succeed in fewer than half of its stolen base attempts in a non-strike-shortened season was the 1992 Red Sox. Overall, teams in 1971 attempted, on average, as many steals (116 per team) as in 2015 (119 per team), but were successful only 63 percent of the time, compared to 70 percent last year.
Boston Red Sox, 85-77: .269.
That’s the on-base percentage of Red Sox leadoff hitters in 1971, the lowest in the majors. Boston was fourth in the league in runs, with a .322 team on-base percentage, so they had other options for the leadoff position. In fact, leadoff hitters had the lowest on-base percentage of all Boston’s batting positions, including ninth (.279; this was before the DH). It’s not like teams were unaware of the importance of getting leadoff hitters on; most clubs had an above-average OBP from their leadoff hitters. Just not the Red Sox. Frame of reference: The Angels had the lowest leadoff hitter OBP last year, .280, with an offense that scored 30 fewer runs than Boston did in 1971.
New York Yankees, 82-80: 12.
The Yankees had only 12 saves all year. The team leaders were Lindy McDaniel and Jack Aker, with four each. Four. How does a team with 82 wins have only 12 saves? Here’s how: Of the 82 wins, 12 ended with saves. In two games, a reliever came on, blew the save, but the Yankees came back, and a reliever got the win. In four games the starter didn’t finish five innings so the reliever won. There were nine other games in which a reliever got a win but there was no save. For example, on May 2, Fritz Peterson left the game after six innings, tied 4-4. Aker pitched the last three innings and got a win when the Yankees went ahead in the seventh. Or July 7: Peterson left after six innings tied 3-3 and Mike Kekich got the win with five relief innings. The Yankees also won on September 30 when, trailing the Senators 7-5 in the last game played in Washington (the team became the Rangers in 1972), fans stormed the field and New York won by forfeit. That’s 28 games. The other 54 victories? All complete game victories by the starter. The Yankees’ 67 overall complete games didn’t even lead the league, as the Orioles had 71. Frame of reference: In 2015 every team had at least 28 saves. There were 80 complete game wins, total, among 30 major-league teams. No team had more than six.
Washington Senators, 63-96: 316.
The Senators were a surprising 86-76 in 1969, Ted Williams’ first year as manager. They slipped to 70-92 in 1970 and 63-96 in 1971. They would slide further, to 54-100, in 1972, the team’s first year in Texas and Williams’ last at the helm. The Senators had the league’s fourth-highest ERA (3.70) and second-highest FIP (3.76), DRA (4.31), and starter DRA (4.35). As a result, Williams had to go to his bullpen 316 times, nearly twice per game, second only the Cleveland, and well above the league average of 240. Frame of reference: The White Sox, with 414 relief appearances, had the fewest in the majors last year. The average team used 504 relievers, more than three per game.
Cleveland Indians, 60-102: 770.
The Indians gave up 4.61 runs per game, nearly half a run per game more than the next-worse Twins. They had a persistent problem with pitches that were just a bit outside, walking 770 batters, 4.8 per nine innings and 161 more than any other team in the league. Sam McDowell walked 153 in 214 2/3 innings (6.4 BB/9), Steve Dunning 109 in 184 (5.3), Alan Foster 82 in 181 2/3 (4.1), and closer Phil Hennigan 51 in 82 (5.6). Frame of reference: The Rockies led the majors with 579 walks last year, or 3.7 per nine innings. There were 20 pitchers last year with 50 or more innings pitched who walked at least 10 percent of the batters they faced. The 1971 Indians had 10.
Bonus: Cleveland’s Gomer Hodge, in his only big-league season, led the majors with 74 appearances as a pinch-hitter. He hit .235/.284/.324 as a pinch-hitter, which is pretty good compared to his .067/.125/.067 line in 15 other plate appearances. In his first four appearances, he had two singles and two doubles, driving in four runs, including two with two on and two out in the last of the ninth to beat the Red Sox 3-2 on April 8. After the fourth hit, he was quoted as saying, “Golly, fellas, I’m hitting 4.000.” He started only three games all year. It’s not that his 74 appearances are all that unusual; the average team in 1971 used 215 pinch-hitters, fewer than the 262 average in the National League last year. Skip Schumaker pinch-hit 81 times in 2015, Reed Johnson 77 in 2014, Mark Kotsay 74 times in 2013. So it’s not the 74 appearances. It’s just… Gomer Hodge.
American League West
Oakland A’s, 101-60: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1.
Those are Vida Blue’s American League rank in ERA (1.82), FIP (2.11), DRA (2.32), and MVP and Cy Young voting. He led the league in WHIP (0.95), and K/9 (8.7) as well. He was pulled from his first start of the year in the second inning after yielding three hits and four walks in 1 2/3 innings, then won his next eight straight starts, finishing the year at 24-8. He pitched the first 11 innings of a 20-inning 1-0 win over the Angels, striking out 17. He finished the year with 39 starts and 312 innings. And, on July 28, he turned 22.
Frame of reference: Since 2009, 10 pitchers (including four who did it twice) have thrown 80 or more innings in their Age 21 season or younger. In 1971, 11 did.
Kansas City Royals, 85-76: 109.
Strikeouts by Dick Drago (in 241 1/3 innings), the lowest total to lead a team. He barely topped teammate Jim York, a relief pitcher with 93 1/3 innings pitched, who had 103. The team’s overall average of 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings was fourth-lowest in the majors, ahead of the Senators (4.8), Reds (4.7) and Yankees (4.4) and just behind the World Series combatants Baltimore and Pittsburgh (5.0 each). Frame of reference: Where to start…How’s this: Dellin Betances (in 84 innings) and Aroldis Chapman (in 66) had more strikeouts last year than Dick Drago in 1971. So did 75 of 78 ERA qualifiers last year. (Thanks for playing, Mike Pelfrey, Mark Buehrle, and Aaron Harang!) So have six pitchers so far in 2016, a season’s that’s not even half over. In 1971, the Mets paced the majors with 7.1 K/9. This year, every team but the Reds and Rangers are ahead of that. Batters are striking out in 21.1 percent of plate appearances this year, a rate that, if it holds, would set an all-time record. The rate in 1971 was 14.3 percent. There are basically three strikeouts today for every two in 1971.
Chicago White Sox, 79-83: 10,295.
The White Sox drew 833,891 fans to White Sox Park, an average of 10,295 per game, barely over half that of the Cubs (20,407). That wasn’t the lowest total in the majors, as the Padres drew 557,713, the Indians 591,361, the Senators 655,156, and the Brewers 731,531. (The Padres and Brewers, née Pilots, were 1969 expansion teams; the bloom came off those roses quickly.) But those teams lost 92-102 games each, while the Sox were two games under .500. The top draws in baseball were the Mets (2.27 million) and Dodgers (2.06 million). The Red Sox (1.7 million) led the American League. Frame of reference: The worst-drawing team last year was Tampa Bay, 1.3 million. That’s 15,322 per game, nearly 50 percent more than the 1971 White Sox. Nineteen teams topped the 1971 Mets’ 2.27 million figure, and five teams (Cardinals, Giants, Yankees, and both Los Angeles teams) drew over 3 million.
Bonus: Third baseman Bill Melton led the league with 33 home runs. There were just under 1.5 home runs hit per game in 1971. There were just over 2.0 in 2015.
California Angels, 76-86: 7, .319, .621.
Home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS for Angels no. 3 hitters, the worst in the majors. (San Diego and Cleveland managed lower batting averages and on-base percentages.) The team’s third-place hitter was supposed to be Alex Johnson, defending American League batting champion (.329, .302 TAv) and eighth in the 1970 MVP voting. He hit .260/.308/.318 in 65 games in 1971, his last of two seasons in Anaheim, following two-year stints with the Phillies, Cardinals, and Reds. The Angels traded him to the Indians after the season, and he added the Rangers, Yankees, and Tigers to his resume over his career, playing his last game in 1976.
Frame of reference: There have always been unpopular players, but Johnson was kind of a piece of work. During the season, he complained to the press that when he won the batting title the previous year and he was congratulated by his teammates, “some guys didn’t want me to win and they gave me the weakest handshakes I’ve ever felt.” He also complained that Angels pitchers didn’t throw him strikes during batting practice. The Angels suspended him “for failure to give his best efforts for the winning of games.” He was accused of dogging it on defense and not trying on offense; his decline in FRAA from +3.9 in 156 games in 1970 to -10.7 in 65 games in 1971 provides circumstantial evidence. He was sort of an anti-Bonds: Gregarious with the press, outgoing with fans, pain in the rear on the field.
Minnesota Twins, 74-86: 2:36.
Martin’s Tigers played the longest games in the league, averaging 2:42 per start, but Martin’s former team, the Twins, were close behind at 2:36. (The Giants were the slowpokes of the National League, averaging 2:38). Frame of reference: About 11.5 percent of games this year have taken 2:36 or less.
Bonus: Salary records from 1971 are extremely spotty, but of the 10 teams with reported payrolls, the Twins led with $657,600. Total. For the whole team. That’s equal to $3.9 million in 2016 dollars. The 2016 Twins have nine players earning more than $3.9 million.
Milwaukee Brewers, 69-92: 138.
The Brewers scored the second-fewest runs in the league, 3.32 per game. The team attempted 138 sacrifices, most in the league. Of their 107 successful bunts, 65 were by position players (out of 76 attempts). Second baseman Ron Theobald, arguably the team’s fourth best hitter (.276/.342/.325—yes, a player with a .325 slugging percentage was one of the team’s best hitters; the team’s catchers, shortstops, and third basemen all slugged below .300) led the majors with 19 position player sacrifices. Frame of reference: The Phillies had the most sacrifice attempts last year, 97, and the Marlins the most successful sacrifices, 71. The Indians attempted the most position player bunts last year, 45, and Francisco Lindor had the most position player sacrifices, 13. Alcides Escobar, with 11, was the only other position player with more than 10 bunts. The National League (i.e., non-DH) team with the most position player sacrifice attempts was the Padres, 27.
To expand on that, teams averaged 102 bunt attempts and 75 successful bunts in 1971. Last year, teams averaged 60 attempts and succeeded 40 times. The split was 74 attempts and 50 sacrifices per team in the NL and 45 attempts and 30 sacrifices in the AL. Breaking that down further, in 1971, pitchers attempted 53 sacrifices per team and position players 49. In the National League last year, pitchers attempted 55 sacrifices per team and position players 19. Pitcher bunting is no different than it ever was, but position player sacrifices are down nearly 60 percent. Position player sacrifice attempts are down about 50 percent in the American League as well. And it’s also a matter of who was bunting. In 1971, Atlanta’s Ralph Garr batted .343 with an .813 OPS. He had 18 sacrifices. Oakland’s Sal Bando had 24 homers and 94 RBI and finished second in the MVP vote. He had six. So did Boston shortstop Rico Petrocelli, who hit 28 homers. Two Earl Weaver Orioles, right fielder Merv Rettenmund (.870 OPS) and second baseman Davey Johnson (.794 OPS) had four sacrifices. In all, six players in 1971 with a park-adjusted OPS 25 percent better than average had four or more sacrifices. Nobody’s done that since 2013.
National League East
Pittsburgh Pirates, 97-65: 1 through 9.
Pittsburgh’s lineup on September 1:
1. Rennie Stennett, 2B
2. Gene Clines, CF
3. Roberto Clemente, RF
4. Willie Stargell, LF
5. Manny Sanguillen, C
6. Dave Cash, 3B
7. Al Oliver, 1B
8. Jackie Hernandez, SS
9. Dock Ellis, P
Stennett and Sanguillen were born in Panama, Clemente in Puerto Rico, and Hernandez in Cuba. Clines, Stargell, Cash, Oliver, and Ellis are African-Americans. The Pirates’ lineup that day—they beat the Phillies, 10-7, and African-American pitcher Bob Veale got a hold—is believed to be the first that was all-minority.
Frame of reference: It took 24 years after Jackie Robinson, I doubt we’ve seen a similar lineup in years, and perhaps it’s a sign of progress that nobody’s counting anymore.
St. Louis Cardinals, 90-72: 21.
Errors by third baseman Joe Torre, the National League MVP, resulting in a worst-in-the-majors -24.5 FRAA. Torre, liberated from catching duties by 21-year-old Ted Simmons, had his best season with the bat, first in the league with a .363 batting average, second with a .421 on-base percentage, third with a .555 slugging percentage. But he trailed Hank Aaron and Willie Stargell in OPS, neither of whom was notably bad on defense. Torre’s glove is why he was seventh in BWARP, trailing Stargell, Clemente, Aaron, Rusty Staub, Pete Rose, and Bobby Bonds. His MVP was virtually a lock given his major league-leading 137 RBI, though. Frame of reference: Chase Headley had 23 errors last year, and Todd Frazier had 19, so Torre’s 21 errors don’t stand out. But giving an iron-gloved third basemen with a lot of RBI the MVP, well, it somehow rings a bell.
Chicago Cubs, 83-79: 13.
Phil Regan was tied for second in the league with 13 intentional walks. The catch: Regan was a relief pitcher. He pitched only 73 innings. On a cursory glance, he had a bad walk rate, handing a free pass to 10.1 percent of the batters he faced. But his intentional walk rate was 4.0 percent. His teammate, Ferguson Jenkins, had a lower unintentional walk rate. The Cubs issued 53 free passes, below the major-league average of 58. The Cardinals intentionally walked 91.
Frame of reference: National League teams (the correct contemporary comparison for the pre-DH era) averaged 47 intentional walks per team last year. No pitcher intentionally walked more than eight.
New York Mets, 83-79: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1.
Tom Seaver’s rank in ERA, FIP, DRA, WHIP, and SO/9 in the National League. But he finished second to Chicago’s Ferguson Jenkins in the Cy Young vote, probably because Jenkins had 24 wins and Seaver 20. Jenkins wasn’t a bad choice—he was first in K/BB, second in DRA, third in FIP and WHIP, fourth in K/9, and ninth in ERA—but the voters liked to see the Ws. Frame of reference: Well, the Cy Young winners in both leagues last season also led their leagues in wins, and 1971 wasn’t an egregious case; Jenkins led in PWARP.
Montreal Expos, 71-90: -6, +1, 12.
The Expos pitching staff was led by three durable right-handers: Bill Stoneman started 39 games, Steve Renko 37, and Carl Morton 35. Stoneman had a good year, finishing ninth in National League PWARP. Renko pitched 275 2/3 innings, striking out six fewer batters (129) than he walked (135). Morton pitched 213 2/3 innings, striking out only one more batter (84) than he walked (83). Overall, the Expos struck out only 2.7 percent more batters than they walked. Their 13.3 percent strikeout rate was the fourth lowest in the league, and the 10.6 percent walk rate was the highest. Yet over the course of the season, Montreal used only 12 pitchers, the fewest in the majors, one of whom, rookie Mike Torrez, pitched in only one game. Frame of reference: Sheehan’s point about walks is right for the trees, but not for the forest. Players like Sanguillen hardly ever walked, but pitchers walked 8.6 percent of the batters they faced; the walk rate last year was 7.7 percent. As for using 12 pitchers over the course of the season, every team’s used more already in 2016, and in 2015, each team used at least 21 over the full year.
Philadelphia Phillies, 67-95: 6.38.
Phillies starters averaged 6.38 innings per start, just a whisker ahead of the Reds’ 6.35 innings for the shortest average in the league. (The shortest average in the majors, by nearly a third of the inning, was Cleveland, 5.74.) The last-place team’s best player, arguably, was pitcher Rick Wise (17-14, 2.88 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 3.72 DRA) but the rest of the rotation was a mess, as Ken Reynolds, Chris Short, and Barry Lersch had the third-, ninth- and 10th-highest ERAs in the league and Jim Bunning, in his last season, was 5-12 with a 5.48 ERA in 110 innings. On the other extreme, the Orioles (7.42 innings per start), Cubs (7.28), and Yankees (7.19) were the only teams to average over seven innings per pitcher start. Frame of reference: The average starter went 6.64 innings in 1971. Last year, the average was 5.81, ranging from the Rockies’ 5.29 to the White Sox’ 6.24. So starters today pitch nearly an inning less than in 1971, with the longest average team outing today about equal to the shortest 45 years ago. Part of that’s complete games; 28 percent of starters went the distance in 1971 compared to 2 percent in 2015. But it’s not just the complete games: Starters who didn’t go the distance pitched seven or fewer innings in 77 percent of games in 1971 and 91% in 2015.
National League West
San Francisco Giants, 90-72: 3:44, 3:27.
The Giants played the two longest nine-inning games of 1971. On July 4, they beat the Dodgers, 14-4, in a game that took 3:44 to complete. On July 19, they beat the Braves, 11-8, in a game that took 3:37. Frame of reference: Paging Commissioner Manfred: There have already been 50 nine-inning games that lasted more than 3:44 this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers, 89-73: .332.
In his only season as a Dodger, Dick Allen had a .332 TAv, ranking fifth in the National League. At age 29, he was the only player in the top five younger than 30.
Frame of reference: Despite the presence of golden oldies Hank Aaron (age 37, .381 TAv), Stargell (31, .371), Torre (30, .355), and Willie Mays (40, .337), all with higher TAvs than Allen, baseball in 1971 was a younger man’s game than it is today. In 1971, players 25 or younger accounted for 33 percent of plate appearances, compiling 24 percent of BWARP. They accounted for 27 percent of plate appearances in 2015, albeit with much more success: 33 percent of BWARP. Pitchers 25 or younger faced 36 percent of batters in 1971, accounting for 32 percent of total PWARP, and 26 percent of batters, accounting for 24 percent of PWARP, in 2015.
Atlanta Braves, 82-80: 1.85.
Braves relievers averaged 1.85 innings per appearance, third most in the majors, fractionally behind the Dodgers (1.86) and Mets (1.88). The major-league average was 1.56, the minimum was 1.31 innings by the Cubs. Eight of closer Cecil Upshaw’s 17 saves were longer than an inning; five were two innings or longer. Frame of reference: The average relief stint last year was 1.01 innings. The Orioles, at 1.14, were the only team to average more than 1.10 innings per relief appearance. There were 27 saves last season, total, of two or more innings.
Cincinnati Reds, 79-83: 27.
In his second year at the helm in Cincinnati, Sparky Anderson began establishing his Captain Hook moniker, taking the ball from Reds starting pitchers 135 times. The Reds’ 27 complete games were the fewest in the National League, as they and the Phillies were the only teams with fewer than 40 CGs. Frame of reference: Cleveland led the majors in complete games with 11 last year. The last team to have 27 was the 1997 Expos.
Houston Astros, 79-83: 19.3%, 40.
The Astros, playing in the cavernous Astrodome, scored 19.3 percent of their runs on homers (aka the Guillen Number, Joe’s second contribution to this article). Joe Morgan (13), Doug Rader (12), and Cesar Cedeno (10) were the only Astros with double-digit homers. Cedeno, however, led the majors in doubles, with 40. Frame of reference: The last team to have a Guillen Number lower than 20 percent was the 2006 Dodgers. Last year’s Guillen Number trailer was the Braves at 26 percent. There are a lot more doubles today; Cedeno was the only player with more than 37 in 1971. There were 17 players with 38 or more last year.
San Diego Padres, 61-100: 34%.
That’s the percentage of Padre plate appearances that occurred with a platoon advantage, by far the lowest in the majors. The next lowest was the Reds with 43 percent. Only seven teams had a platoon advantage less than half the time. The Yankees were at 73 percent, the Dodgers 72 percent. Frame of reference: Surprisingly, given benches depleted by growing pitching staffs, the percentage of plate appearances with a platoon advantage has fallen only from 54.5 percent in 1971 to 53.5 percent in 2015.
So how different was baseball in 1971? Ten features stand out to me:
1. There were a lot fewer strikeouts.
2. Starting pitchers went deeper into games, and there were way more complete games. They also pitched more frequently—32 percent of starts were on three or fewer days of rest and 72 percent of four or fewer in 1971, compared to 1.3 percent and 48 percent, respectively, in 2015—resulting in far more innings pitched. Yet the times-through-the-order penalty was intact: starting pitchers allowed an OPS the third time through the order that was 50 points higher than the first in 1971, compared to 55 points in 2015.
3. Relief pitchers typically lasted longer, so there were fewer pitching changes. The average game in 1971 featured five pitchers, while the average game last year had eight. (As a corollary, even though starters in general pitched longer in 1971, there were more short outings as well, since relievers could go more than an inning at a time. In 1971, 9.6 percent of starts lasted three innings or less, compared to 5.9 percent in 2015.)
4. There were fewer home runs (1.5 per game in 1971, 2.0 in 2015) and doubles (2.5 per game in 1971, 3.4 in 2015) and, as a result, less scoring (7.8 runs per game in 1971, 8.5 in 2015) even though there were more singles (12.4 per game in 1971, 11.5 in 2015).
5. There were more walks and intentional walks, though the differences aren’t very large on a per-game basis.
6. There were a lot more position player bunts, though still less than one per game (0.61 for 1971, 0.23 in 2015 NL games).
7. There were more young batters, though they weren’t as accomplished as today’s young hitters. There were more young pitchers, no qualification.
8. With fewer starters and longer relief appearances, over the course of the season, there was much less turnover of the pitching staff.
9. The games were a lot shorter, and it was much easier to get a ticket.
10. Gomer Hodge.
Rob Mains is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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