The Original “Death to Flying Things”

May 5, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

Old time player Bob Ferguson is frequently known by the nickname “Death to Flying Things.” It indicates an ability to track down and catch fly balls extraordinarily well. But before Ferguson there was another player with the same nickname. Let me take a moment to introduce you to John Curtis Chapman  (not to be confused with John Chapman of “Johnny Appleseed” fame).

Jack Chapman (the man at bottom left in the picture above) was born in Brooklyn in 1843. By 1860 he was already a well-known local player. He hooked up with the Putnams in ’60, moved to the Enterprise in ’61, and finally found a home with the Atlantic in 1862. He settled in to right field where he became known as an outstanding fielder (hence the nickname). He remained with the Atlantic through the 1866 season, then spent 1867 with the Quaker Cities of Philadelphia. He moved back to the Atlantic in 1868 (there is some speculation that money changed hands) and helped them to another National Association of Base Ball Players championship. He stayed through 1870, participating, as the left fielder, in the famous victory over the Cincinnati Red Stockings (as did Dickey Pearce mentioned in a previous post).

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. The Atlantic chose not to join and Chapman left the team for the Eckfords, another team that didn’t join the new league (I’m not sure why). He remained there until 1874 when the Atlantic finally joined the Association. Rejoining his old team, he played right field hitting .264.  The next year he was with St. Louis, and when the Association folded after the 1875 season he played one year, 1876, in the National League.

He took over as player-manager for the Louisville National League team in 1876. He did more managing than playing, getting into only 17 games. As manager he was in charge of the team the next season when it became involved in the first NL scandal. The team was suspected of throwing games late in the season. It turned out the allegations were true, but there was no evidence that Chapman knew of the plot to lose games, but he lost his job anyway.

He got back to the big league as a manager in 1878 in Milwaukee, finished sixth, and started looking for another job. By 1882 he was at Worcester, then moved to Detroit and Buffalo, before returning to Louisville, now in the American Association, in 1889. In 1890 he won the AA pennant with the Colonels, playing Brooklyn in a postseason series. The series ended three games to three with a tie. The two teams were supposed to finish the series to open the next season, but the Association was in deep financial trouble and the NL, in an attempt to destroy its rival, refused to replay the tie or to sanction a series for the 1891 season. Louisville finished eighth and the AA collapsed at the end of the season. Louisville was one of four AA teams chosen to play in the now 12-team NL. Chapman managed 54 games before being fired. It was his last managerial job in the majors. He finished with a record of 351-502 and the 1890 AA pennant. He did make one notable find in 1891 when he signed Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings to his first contract.

In retirement he ran a liquor store and died in Brooklyn in 1916. He’s buried in Greenwood Cemetery along with a number of baseball’s pioneering players. With this post I’ve covered three of the nine member of the Atlantic pictured above (interestingly enough one from each line): Joe Start earlier, Dickey Pearce recently, and Chapman. Six to go.

Chapman's grave from Find a Grave

Chapman’s grave from Find a Grave

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1927

May 3, 2016

The year 1927 was a big deal in baseball. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, Lou Gehrig became a star. Walter Johnson retired. Into all that I drop my Hall of Fame inductees for the year.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

A leading shortstop in the 1890s, Hughie Jennings helped lead the Baltimore Orioles to National League pennants in 1894, 1895, and 1896 along with Temple Cup victories in 1896 and 1897. After the founding of the American League he led the Detroit Tigers to consecutive World Series appearances in 1907, 1908, and 1909.

Cal McVey

Cal McVey

A stalwart of the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869 and 1870 he transitioned to the National Association helping the Boston team to championships in 1872, 1874, and 1875. In 1873 he managed Baltimore to a third place finish. With the forming of the National League, he joined the team in Chicago and helped lead it to the first National League title.

Now the commentary:

1. Jennings is one of those people who isn’t a Hall of Famer based on either his playing, his coaching, or his managing. But put them all together and you’ve got someone who made a legitimately large contribution to baseball. There used to be a joke that Jennings was in the Hall of Fame because while Detroit manager he was able to keep Ty Cobb from killing a teammate, or another Tiger from killing Cobb. You could make a case for that.

2. McVey is more problematic. He was one of the first really good players who had a substantial career in the National Association, with the pre-Association teams (Cincinnati), and went on to a couple of good years in the NL. By 1927 he was largely forgotten, but he died in 1926 and there were a spate of articles I found mentioning the passing of an era and all that kind of thing. McVey wouldn’t be the first player who got in on a sympathy vote after he died (or was at death’s door), so I took the chance to add him based on that sympathy vote. Having said all that, if I had a vote at the real Hall of Fame, I’m not at all sure I’d vote for McVey (just so you know).

3. And having said that, McVey becomes what is most probably the last of the really old-time players to make this little Hall of Fame. Essentially 19th Century players are forgotten by 1927 almost to a man. I still have a couple on my holdover list, but that’s more for my information than it is a belief that they could be inducted. Guys like Lip Pike for instance still show. But by 1927 Pike had been dead for 25 years and I find no evidence of an impending baseball nostalgia craze about to occur. I reserve the right to change my mind if I find things pointing to a revival in interest in 19th Century baseball. The retirement of someone like John McGraw might trigger it. Will let you know.

4. There’s one really good choice coming up in 1928 and then in a couple of years a large group of Negro League players start showing up (guys like Rube Foster, Louis Santop, Spottswood Poles, etc.), I plan to use a system which does not allow for more than one Negro League person a year (I have enough trouble seeing one get in, let alone more than one) and making sure he is always accompanied by a white player (or exec). I can’t imagine any 1920s Hall of Fame honoring a black man without a white counterpart. I just can’t feature a ceremony inducting only black players. The image of a black man standing on a Hall of Fame stage alone is simply something I doubt the US was ready for in 1928, or 1929, or anytime else in the run of my Hall (through 1934). It is going to make for a couple of odd pairings, but I can see no other way around it.

5. Here’s the list of everyday players on the list for 1928: Frank Baker, Jack Barry, Cupid Childs, Harry Davis, Mike Donlan, Jack Doyle, Art Fletcher, Bill Lange, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Clyde Milan, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Ct Seymour, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George Van Haltren.

6. The pitchers: Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White, Smokey Joe Wood

7. And the contributors: umpires Bob Emslie, Hank O’Day, Tim Hurst (with Hurst serving a short stint as NL President); owners Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann, Ben Shibe, Connie Mack (who did a little managing); manager George Stallings; NL President Henry C. Pulliam; pioneers Lip Pike, William R. Wheaton; and Negro Leaguer Home Run Johnson.

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Game 7 and the Realm of Legend

April 29, 2016

All this work on the 1991 World Series ultimately had to come to game seven. It was, admittedly, a great game, one of the truly finest World Series games ever. By this point it’s entered the realm of Legend and Mythology.

Jack Morris

Jack Morris

Game 7

On 27 October 1991 Atlanta and Minnesota squared off in the final game of the World Series. The Twins started game one pitcher Jack Morris while the Braves had John Smoltz on the mound. They proceeded to engage in one of the great pitching duels in World Series history.

Over the first five innings Morris gave up five hits and a walk with one batter reaching third and not scoring. Smoltz was as good giving up four hits and hitting a batter. As with Morris, he allowed only one man to reach third and that man stayed there.

The sixth and seventh followed in the pattern of the first five innings. In many ways the key moment came in the top of the eighth. Lonnie Smith singled. Terry Pendleton doubled sending Smith to third. Almost everyone agreed Smith should have scored, but a decoy play by Minnesota middle infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Gagne kept him at third. A grounder to first recorded the first out without Smith being able to score. An intentional walk loaded the bases. That brought up Sid Bream who hit one right at Twins first sacker Kent Hrbek. Hrbek fired the ball to catcher Brian Harper for the second out and Harper fired it back to Hrbek for a three-two-three double play that ended the inning and may have been, Kirby Puckett’s great catch in game six not withstanding, the defensive play of the Series.

In the bottom of the eighth a pair of singles and a fly gave Minnesota two on and one out when the Braves pulled Smoltz. His line for the night was no runs, six hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. In came Mike Stanton, who’d pitched well so far. An intentional walk loaded the bases, then a double play liner to second ended the Twins threat.

Morris set down the Braves in order in the ninth. A pair of singles in the bottom of the ninth led to Stanton’s removal and the arrival of closer Alejandro Pena. He got out of it with a double play and a strikeout. After Morris repeated his ninth inning performance in the tenth, Minnesota came to bat in the bottom of the tenth.

Dan Gladden greeted Pena with a bloop hit to left center. When it fell between the fielders, Gladden, who had speed, took off for second and was safe. Knoblauch sacrificed him to third. That brought up Kirby Puckett who was walked intentionally to set up a double play. A second intentional walk to Hrbek loaded the bases and set up a force at home. The Twins then sent up pinch hitter Gene Larkin. With the Atlanta outfield playing shallow, Larkin lifted a fly to left center than plated Gladden with both the game and the Series winning run.

Larkin singles

Larkin singles

It was an absolutely terrific Series. Five games were won by the winning team in their last at bat. Three games went into extra innings. Only two games were won by more than one run. The Twins had eight home runs and four triples while hitting .232 (.398 slugging) and scored 24 runs. The Braves also had eight home runs and four triples, but hit higher at .253 (.422 slugging) and scored 29 runs (almost half in the 14-5 blowout that was game five). Minnesota’s ERA was 3.74, again much of it because of game five, while walking 26 and striking out 39. Atlanta’s staff was even better, showing signs of the dominant staff of later years. Their ERA was 2.89 with 21 walks and 48 strikeouts. Morris took the MVP award.

Normally I would wrap up one of these looks at a World Series at this point, but I’d like to take a few lines and comment on the way game 7 in 1991 has moved beyond normal World Series hype to take on a bit of cultural legend and myth. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it was a heck of a game. It was well-played, it was dramatic, it went into extra innings, it went into extra innings as a double shutout. There was the decoy play; there was the three-two-three double play. Like I said, a heck of a game. Second, it occurred just before the strike and was seen as baseball at its purest (never mind it used a DH and was played indoors on artificial turf). Thirdly, for three years the Twins stood as the last American team to win the World Series and they’d done it in a terrific game. Don’t forget that Toronto won the next two World Series’ and that 1994 was the lost Series (You know, you could make a pretty good TV show outta something called “The Lost Series”). Next, it was a great ending to an overall great World Series. And it has, over the intervening years become much of the lynchpin for Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame campaign. That’s kind of a shame. Morris won a lot of games, had a ton of strikeouts, pitched a no-hitter, had three rings. All of that is as important as game 7 in making the case for or against including him in the Hall of Fame. It’s like making Sandy Koufax’s case rest on game 7 in 1965 (also against the Twins, by the way) or resting Carlton Fisk’s case on game six in 1975. Whether you think either or both belong in the Hall of Fame or not, you have to make your case based on the totality of their career. The same holds true for Morris.

It think that without the legend and the mythology game 7 stands as a great game. I’m not sure it was actually better than game 6 of the same Series, but it was game 7, the ultimate deciding game. Was it the greatest game ever played? Probably not, but it easily stands in the top half-dozen or so even without the mythology that goes with it. Back a few years ago MLB.com did a series trying to identify the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years. Game 7, 1991 placed second to game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Having watched both I think game 6 of 1975 is overrated, but then I prefer great pitching to hitting. My choice for greatest game of my lifetime has to be Larsen’s game 5 performance in the 1956 World Series (I got home from school early enough to see the last couple of innings.).

 

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Blowout and the Puckett Show

April 27, 2016

With the World Series tied two games each in 1991, the baseball season came down to a best of three set of games with Minnesota holding home field. But before the teams could return to Minneapolis, there was one game left in Atlanta.

Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine

Game 5

The game of 24 October became the only blowout of the Series. The Braves lit up Twins starter Kevin Tapani for four runs in four innings (has kind of a nice symmetry doesn’t it?). He’d pitched well enough through three innings (one hit, one walk) before Atlanta unloaded in the fourth. Dave Justice hit a two run home run. A walk, a single and an interference call put a man on for Mark Lemke who tripled to score the run. Rafael Belliard followed with a double to make the score 4-0. The Braves got another on a pair of singles and a force out in the fifth to up the tally to 5-0.

Braves starter Tom Glavine was pitching well (three hits and no walks) going into the top of the sixth. He never got to the seventh. He walked four men in the sixth and gave up a single. That, plus a ground out, gave Minnesota three runs and sent Glavine to the showers.

With the score 5-3 fans were getting what was, for this Series, a fairly typical game. But for this contest, no one was finished scoring. In the seventh and eighth Atlanta exploded for nine runs (six in the seventh, three in the eighth) including home runs by Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter and triples by Mark Lemke and Ron Gant. The Twins got single runs in both the eighth and ninth that included triples by Al Newman and Dan Gladden. The final score was 14-5 and Atlanta now led the Series three games to two. For the game the two teams combined for five triples.

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Game 6

With Atlanta ahead three games to two, the 1991 World Series moved to Minnesota for the final two games. Although down by a game and facing elimination, the Twins had one significant advantage, they’d never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome (6-0). They got another advantage when the Braves made the mistake of pitching to Kirby Puckett.

The Twins started Scott Erickson in game six while the Braves countered with Steve Avery. In the very first inning Puckett struck. With Chuck Knoblauch on, Puckett tripled (another triple for the Series) to score the game’s first run. He later scored the second run on a Shane Mack single.

In the top of the third Erickson hit a batter, then a force moved him to second. Up came Ron Gant, who smashed a drive into deep left center. Unfortunately for the Braves and Gant, Puckett played center. By 1991 Kirby Puckett was no longer slender (I’m not sure he was ever actually slender). He was, not to put too fine a point on it, overweight, especially in the hindquarters. But people forget that when he came up he was a leadoff hitter with decent speed. He raced across center, leaped at the fence and caught the ball as it was about to hit the Plexiglas and bounce around for God knows how many bases. The runner didn’t score and Erickson got the third out on a weak tapper to first.

Puckett's catch

Puckett’s catch

In the top of the fifth the Braves tied the score when Rafael Belliard singled and Terry Pendleton homered. But Puckett was due up in the bottom of the fifth. Dan Gladden singled, stole second, went to third on a fly. All that brought up Puckett who lifted a long fly that scored Gladden on a sacrifice and put the Twins ahead 3-2. In the seventh, Atlanta got a run to tie the game at 3-3.

And it stayed that way for the rest of regulation. Puckett singled in the eighth, stole second, but didn’t score. Atlanta had to consider that a minor victory. In the top of the eleventh a caught stealing and two pop ups set the Braves down in order. To start the bottom of the eleventh, they brought in Charlie Liebrandt to pitch. He drew Puckett leading off. Liebrandt threw four pitches. Puckett parked the last one in the stands for a 4-3 Twins victory and a necessary game seven. And the Twins had still never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome.

Over the years Puckett’s performance in game six has been lost behind the mythology that became game seven. That’s a great shame. Between the hitting and the run saving, and possibly game saving, grab in left center Kirby Puckett had one of the great World Series performances ever.

 

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Two Games in Atlanta

April 25, 2016

Down two games to none, the Atlanta Braves picked up home field advantage for the next three games of the 1991 World Series. The games in Atlanta would produce, in its first two games, two nail-biters.

David Justice

David Justice

Game 3

The third game of the World Series was held 22 October 1991. Twins 20 game winner Scott Erickson faced Braves lefty Steve Avery. Avery started off rocky by giving up a triple to Minnesota leadoff man Dan Gladden. A Chuck Knoblauch fly plated him, but Atlanta got out of the inning without further damage. The Braves got the run back in the bottom of the second with a two out walk to catcher Greg Olson followed by consecutive singles to bring him home.

In the bottom of the fourth, Dave Justice, whose error in game two cost Atlanta a run, smacked a homer to put the Braves ahead 2-1. In the bottom of the fifth they added another run on a Lonnie Smith home run. Up 3-1,  Terry Pendleton Walked and went to second on a wild pitch. An error sent him to third and sent Erickson to the bench in favor of David West, who proceeded to walk the bases full. A further walk scored Pendleton and brought in Terry Leach, who finally got the third out.

Down 4-1, the Twins fought back in the seventh and eighth innings. A Kirby Puckett home run leading off the seventh made the scored 4-2, then in the top of the eighth catcher Brian Harper reached on an error and came home on a two run homer by Chili Davis that knotted the score.

And it stayed that way through the ninth, through the tenth, through the eleventh. Men were on base, but no one came home. In the twelfth the Twins loaded the bases, but had depleted their bench. They sent relief ace Rick Aguilera to bat with two outs. He lined out to center. In the bottom of the inning Justice singled with one out and stole second. A walk brought up Mark Lemke, who singled home the winning run.

Atlanta won 5-4 in twelve innings to halve the Twins lead in games. Despite two errors (Minnesota had one), they’d hung in to finally show they could win a game. Twins manager Tom Kelly played his entire bench and was later criticized for having to bat Aguilera in the last inning.

Mark Lemke

Mark Lemke

Game 4

On 23 October 1991, Minnesota and Atlanta squared off in game four of the World Series. The Twins sent game one winner Jack Morris back to the mound, while the Braves countered with John Smoltz, starting his first Series game.

Again, the Twins broke on top. A Brian Harper double and a Mike Pagliarulo single plated the first run of the game in the second inning. It held up until the bottom of the third when Terry Pendleton launched a homer to tie the game.

There things stayed through the sixth. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Pagliarulo hit a home run. An out later the Twins pulled Morris for pinch hitter Gene Larkin. He grounded out to end the inning. In came reliever Carl Willis to take over for Morris. He got two outs before Lonnie Smith tied the game with another home run, making three total for the game.

And there it stayed into the bottom of the ninth. With one out Mark Lemke tripled to put the winning run 90 feet from pay dirt. An intentional walk set up a potential double play which pinch hitter Jerry Willard promptly made moot by sending a sacrifice fly to right that scored Lemke with the winning run and tied up the World Series two games each. Lost in the shuffle was a great hitting performance by Pagliarulo in a losing cause and a fine two inning shutdown in the eighth and ninth by Braves reliever Mike Stanton, who took the win.

Game five was scheduled for the following day.

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Opening Round in Minnesota

April 21, 2016

After a short detour, it’s time to get back to 1991.

The first two games of the 1991 World Series were scheduled for Minneapolis in the Metrodome. It was a place of quirks with a “baggie” in the outfield, Plexiglas in the outfield, and an inflatable roof. It was also the place that saw two excellent games and one controversial play.

Greg Gagne

Greg Gagne

Game 1

The first game was played 19 October with Twins pitcher Jack Morris facing Charlie Leibrandt. Both hurlers got through the first two innings giving up a couple of hits, but allowing no runs. That changed in the bottom of the third when Dan Gladden singled with two outs. He stole second and came home on a Chuck Knoblaugh single for the Series’ first run. That was all until the bottom of the fifth. A Kent Hrbek double and a Scott Leius single put runners on first and third for nine hitter Greg Gagne. He’d hit eight home runs all season, but grabbed a Leibrandt pitch and drove it to left field to put Minnesota up 4-1 and send Leibrandt to the showers.

It was all Morris would need. He gave up single runs in both the sixth and the eighth, while Hrbek contributed another Twins run with a home run in the bottom of the sixth. It made the final score 5-2 and put Minnesota up one game to none. For his career, Gagne managed four home runs in 12 postseason games for the Twins (the 1991 homer was his last postseason home run) while averaging only 10 a season for his career. For Morris it was a typical outing. He gave up two runs on six hits, and four walks while striking out three. All six hits were singles.

For the Series it was to be the only game of the first four decided by more than one run. It set the stage for an excellent game two, a game that led to one of the Series’ most controversial plays.

Wrestlemania

WrestleMania

Game 2

On 20 October, Minnesota hosted game two of the World Series. The hometown Twins sent Kevin Tapani to the mound in hops of taking a 2-0 lead in games, while Atlanta countered with Tom Glavine, whose job was to help tie up the Series.

Glavine was in trouble from the first. He managed to coax a fly from Minnesota leadoff hitter Dan Gladden, but right fielder Dave Justice misplayed it into a double. Then Glavine walked Chuck Knoblauch. Kirby Puckett grounded to third. Terry Pendleton got the ball, stepped on third, tossed to first, and picked up a double play that left Knoblauch alone on second. With two outs, Kent Hrbek smashed a two-run homer to left center to put the Twins up 2-0.

In the top of the second, Justice helped make up for his error with a single. He went to third on a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Hunter. That put the Braves a run closer. It stayed that way into the top of the third when one of the most controversial plays in World Series history occurred.

With one out, Lonnie Smith reached first on an error. A second out brought up Ron Gant. Gant singled to left field and rounded first wide. Gladden, the left fielder, threw to Tapani, cutting off on the mound. Seeing Gant turn wide, Tapani threw to first baseman Hrbek covering the bag. Gant dashed back and collided with Hrbek. In the process Hrbek lifted Gant off the base while holding the ball. The umpires ruled Gant out to end the inning. Atlanta argued that Hrbek had intentionally pulled Gant off the bag and thus Gant was safe at first while Smith was on third. Ultimately the umps conferred and agreed that Hrbek had been unable to maintain balance in the collision and had not purposefully pulled Gant off the bag. That made for three out and the inning was over.

It did matter. In the top of the fifth, the Braves picked up a tying run on a double, ground out, and sacrifice. That tied the score and left Braves fans wondering what might have happened had Gant been safe with Smith on third.

The score remained tied into the bottom of the eighth. Scott Leius, Twins third baseman, whose error had put Smith on in the third inning, led off. He drove a home run to left center to put Minnesota ahead with one inning to play. Twins reliever Rick Aguilera entered the game in the ninth. He struck out one, allowed a single, then struck out the final two Braves to end the game and leave Atlanta fans wondering what would have been had “WrestleMania” not broken out at a baseball game.

The Twins were ahead two games to none with the Series moving to Atlanta. The Braves now had three consecutive home games to tie up the Series or go ahead.

 

The Ad Man

April 19, 2016
Albert D. Lasker

Albert D. Lasker

I’m going to interrupt my set on the 1991 World Series to stick this post in. Found this information and wanted to share it now. Back to the ’91 Series in a short while.

Born in Freiburg, Germany in 1880 (his parents were visiting Germany), Albert Davis Lasker grew up in Galveston, Texas, the son of a banker. After trying his hand at journalism and in politics, he moved to Chicago to work in advertising. He became in many ways the father of modern advertising.

Working for Lord and Thomas he began to create ad campaigns that were both revolutionary and modern. His first campaign was for a hearing aid company and featured the following newspaper ad:

Lasker's Wilson's Ear Drums ad

Lasker’s Wilson’s Ear Drums ad

It’s nothing special today, but in 1899 it was revolutionary.

He continued with successful ad campaigns until 1903 when he became a partner. By 1912 (aged 32) he owned the firm. And he continued making successful ad campaign after ad campaign. He made Lucky Strike America’s number one cigarette. He made Palmolive soap a household necessity, He made feminine hygiene products something that could be discretely advertised. And of course he made a lot of money. In 1908 he took over the Sunkist Growers account and made a small fruit company into a national institution. And for good or ill he conceived the idea of making a short (15 minute) continuing radio drama that aired daily and sponsored by a soap company. It became a staple of radio and then moved to television. We call them “soap operas.”

In 1920 he became, along with Will Hays (later of the Hollywood Hays Commission), an advisor to Republican Presidential candidate Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding (there seems to be no truth to the idea he invented the saying “A return to normalcy”), When Harding won, he appointed Lasker to the United States Shipping Board, a position he held for two years (resigning on his own and not being involved in any of the Harding Administration scandals). He went back to advertising, remained President of Lord and Thomas, and retired in 1942. He became a major philanthropist, giving money especially to the National Institutes of Health. He also founded the Lasker Awards, which recognize individuals who make significant contributions to science.

“OK, he sounds like a gem of a guy, but what,” you ask, “does he have to do with our favorite sport?” Glad you asked.

Lasker made a lot of money and he was a baseball fan. In 1916 (one hundred years ago this season), he bought an interest in the Chicago Cubs. He held that interest to 1925 when he sold his part of the Cubs (he was the owner with the second most stock) to William Wrigley, Jr. thus beginning the Wrigley family association with the Cubs. But he’s most important for an idea he had that, although subsequently changed, revolutionized baseball.

In 1920 baseball was in trouble. The Black Sox scandal was exploding and baseball seemed unable to figure out how to handle it. The National Commission, the body that ran baseball, was short a member, August Herrmann having just resigned. Traditionally, the Commission consisted of the National League President (John Heydler in 1920), the American League President (Ban Johnson in 1920) and the owner of one of the teams (Herrmann owned the Reds). With or without Herrmann, the Commission was unable to deal with the scandal because of the personal and financial interest of all the members and replacing Herrmann with another owner merely kept the problem going. Lasker came up with a plan (cleverly called “The Lasker Plan”) for a new National Commission. This Commission would retain the two league Presidents, but the third member would be an outsider with no ties to Major League Baseball. In this circumstance it became obvious that this Commission member (a “Commissioner”) would, in many cases, be the deciding vote in running baseball and the Commission would have “unreviewable authority” to run baseball, meaning the owners couldn’t stage a vote and overrule the Commission. They didn’t adopt the entire plan, but Major League Baseball, for the first time, seems to have recognized the advantage of having a non-owner and non-league man run the show. Ultimately, they dumped the two league Presidents (and a later change that would have created a board of three independent commissioners) and decided on a single commissioner. Lasker’s first choice for that job was General John J. Pershing, who didn’t want it. His second choice was a Chicago federal judge named Kennesaw Mountain Landis (In fairness, a number of owners also wanted Landis).

So the modern baseball Commissioner system comes from an idea by a non-traditional baseball man. Lasker is, in a sort of sidelong way, responsible for the Commissioner. Lasker died in 1952, more famous for his advertising genius than for his role in creating the Commissioner of Baseball. He is buried in the family mausoleum in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Lasker mausoleum from Find a Grave

Lasker mausoleum from Find a Grave

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Atlanta

April 18, 2016
Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta

Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta

By 1991, the Atlanta Braves were largely irrelevant for 20 years. They’d made a playoff or two and lost quickly, and Hank Aaron had hit his 715th homer while in Braves uniform, but that was about it. Their owner, Ted Turner, may have been more well-known than the Braves. That changed in 1991, when they, like the Twins went from last place to a pennant.

Manager Bobby Cox was over from a stint as manager and general manager at Toronto (and he’s never really gotten proper credit for that). He led a team that went 92-70 and beat Pittsburgh for the National League pennant. They were second in the NL in runs, doubles, average, and OBP. They were third or fourth in slugging, OPS, hits, and homers. The staff was third in ERA, saves, and runs given up while being first in hits allowed (meaning they gave up the fewest hits in the league).

The staff was, in some ways, the heart of the team, although it was not yet the staff that dominated most of the 1990s (Greg Maddux wasn’t there). Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, and Charlie Leibrandt were all lefties and accounted for three-quarters of the main staff. Glavine had 20 wins, Avery 18, and Leibrandt had 15. Glavine’s ERA was 2.55 and easily led the starters. John Smoltz was the right-hander. He went 14-13 and had a starter high 3.80 ERA. Between them they started 141 games. Glavine led the team with 192 strikeouts and Avery’s ERA+ of 116 led the starters. Galvine, Avery, and Smoltz all produced WAR above 5 with Glavine leading the team at 9.3. All that got Glavine his first Cy Young Award. Juan Berenguer had a 2.24 ERA and 17 saves while Mike Stanton appeared in 74 games with an ERA of 2.88. By late in the season Dodgers reliever Alejandro Pena had taken over the closer role racking up 11 saves in 14 appearances with an ERA of 1.40.

Greg Olson did most of the catching. He was 30, hit .241 with no power, and allowed stolen bases at a rate above the league average. Mike Heath was his backup. He was 36, hit even worse, and wasn’t any better behind the plate. Playoff hero Francisco Cabrera got into 31 games, only a handful as catcher.

Six men shared outfield duty. David Justice, former Rookie of the Year, was in right field. He was third on the team with 21 home runs, hit .275, had 87 RBIs (good for second on the team) and managed all of 1.6 WAR. Otis Nixon and Ron Gant shared time in center. Nixon was fast, leading the team with 72 stolen bases and walked more than he struck out. Gant provided the power. He led the team with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs. His WAR was 1.4 while Nixon checked in at 2.2, Left field saw Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter split duty. Smith wasn’t much of an outfielder (the called him “Skates” for a reason), but he could still hit going .275 for the season. Hunter was new. He played a lot at first and was another player in the lineup primarily for his bat. His 12 home runs were fourth on the team. Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders got into 54 games for Atlanta, primarily in the outfield. He hit .191 and had 11 stolen bases.

The infield was stable at the corners and in flux up the middle. MVP Terry Pendleton, over from St. Louis, hit .319 with 22 home runs, 86 RBIs, and a 6.1 WAR, tops among non-pitchers. Sid Bream was across the diamond at first. He was notoriously slow (which is part of what makes his “dash” in the playoffs so famous), but could hit and fielded his position well. He had 11 home runs in 91 games (Hunter did most of the first base work in Bream’s absence.). Jeff Treadway, Rafael Belliard, Jeff Blauser, and Mark Lemke worked the middle of the diamond. Treadway hit .320, Blauser popped 11 home runs, neither Belliard nor Lemke hit .250, but both were good defensemen.

The Braves, like the Twins, were surprise winners. They had a nice mix of veterans and fairly new guys and a pitching staff that was rounding into form. With Glavine winning the Cy Young and Pendleton the MVP they were capable of winning the whole thing.

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Minnesota

April 17, 2016
Inside the Metrodome, Minneapolis

Inside the Metrodome, Minneapolis

My World Series memories go back into the 1950s. Some of them are pretty vague, but they’re still locked away somewhere in my brain and come back every so often. So I missed some of the great World Series’ of the 1910s and the 1920s and even the ’30s and ’40s. Some of those may have been the greatest World Series ever played, but I missed them. For my money in my lifetime the best I ever saw was in 1991. It’s been overshadowed by its own game seven and the controversy over Jack Morris’ qualifications for the Hall of Fame, but 1991 was more than Morris and game seven.

The 1990 Minnesota Twins finished dead last. They recovered and won the American League West in 1991, then ran past the Blue Jays to win the pennant. Manager Tom Kelly’s gang won 95 games by leading the AL in average, OBP, and hits while coming in second in slugging, OPS, and total bases. They were third in triples, fourth in runs, and sixth in home runs. The staff was second in ERA and in saves, third in runs allowed and fourth in shutouts.

The infield consisted of long-time Twin Kent Hrbek, rookie (and later Rookie of the Year) Chuck Knoblauch, Greg Gagne, and a platoon system at third. Hrbek was an underrated first baseman whose 20 home runs were second on the team. His 89 RBIs also tied for second and, in a rarity for modern hitters, walked more (67) times than he struck out (48). Knoblauch filled a hole Minnesota had for a while by playing a decent second (he’d not yet forgotten how to throw to first). He also walked more than he struck out (59-40) and led the team with 25 stolen bases. Gagne made only nine errors all season at short, hit .265, and was tied for fourth in stolen bases. Mike Pagliarulo was the left handed hitting part of the third base platoon. He’d come over from the Yankees and hit .279 in 365 at bats. Scott Leius was the righty and third. He hit .286. Between them they gave the team 11 home runs and 56 RBIs. Al Newman and Gene Larkin did much of the backup work in the infield. Newman was noted more has a pinch runner than either a hitter or fielder but had been caught more often (five times) than he’d been successful (four times) in stealing a base. Larkin hit .286, Newman a buck-91. Both also walked more than they struck out. Hrbek, Knoblauch, and Larkin had OPS+ numbers of 100 or better (Knoblauch’s 125 was high) and Knoblauch’s 2.8 WAR barely topped Hrbek’s 2.7 to lead the infield.

The outfield was, from left around to right, patrolled by Dan Gladden, Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, and Shane Mack. Gladden, a San Francisco refugee, led off and was dead last of the starters with a .306 OBP and his .356 slugging percentage was second lowest among starters (ahead of only Knoblauch). He wasn’t a bad outfielder and had some speed on the bases. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team, but he was a strange choice as a leadoff hitter (although in defense of Tom Kelly it worked). Puckett hit .319 with 15 home runs, 89 RBIs, and 195 hits. All were either first or second on the team. As usual he didn’t walk much (my son used to say he never met a pitch he didn’t like) and he was a competent center fielder who, despite his weight, could run some. In game six he would prove to be a spectacular fielder. Mack was in the game for his bat. It’s not like he was an awful outfielder, but his .977 fielding percentage wasn’t all that good for a big leaguer. He made up for it by hitting .310, putting up 74 RBIs, and leading the position players with a 140 OPS+ and a 5.0 WAR. Randy Bush and Pedro Munoz did most of the outfield backup. Between them they had 13 home runs, 49 RBIs, and Bush hit .303.

Chili Davis, another Giants cast off, was the designated hitter. He led the team with both 93 RBIs and 29 home runs. He also led the team with 34 doubles and his 141 OPS+ was a point higher than Mack’s, although his WAR was only 3.3.

Brain Harper did the catching. He was another player in the game for his bat. He was third in errors and second in stolen bases allowed, but he hit .311, second to Puckett on the team. There were 10 home runs, 69 RBIs, and a 111 OPS+ to help make up for his lack of glove.

The staff was new. Of the team that won the 1987 World Series, none of the main pitchers remained. The primary starters were led by Jack Morris, who has by now become famous for nothing except his game 7 performance. He was a star in the era, with a no hitter and a World Series ring from 1984. He was also famous for having more pitching wins than any other pitcher in the 1980s. In 1991 he was 36 and went 18-12 with a team leading 163 strikeouts. Kevin Tapani was 16-9 and had the only ERA under 3.00 (he was 2.99). His 135 strikeouts were second on the team to Morris and his 6.8 WAR led the team. Scott Erickson was a 20 game winner (20-8) over 204 innings. His ERA was 3.18, but had been going up as the season wound down. Allan Anderson was 5-11, the only lefty among the starters, and the only other pitcher to start 20 games. Rick Aguilera was the stopper. He’d managed 42 saves and a 2.35 ERA over 69 innings. He had a 1.072 WHIP. Steve Bedrosian managed six saves, and Mark Guthrie had started 12 games in a sport starter role.

The Twins had fallen a long way from their 1987 championship, but rebounded in 1991. In some quarters they were favored, in other they were underdogs. Few people bothered to point out that they had a secret weapon. They would play four games in the Metrodome. In the history of the Twins, they were 0-6 on the road in the World Series, 7-1 at home.

 

Making Shortstop

April 14, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

It appears that when baseball first began it didn’t use nine players. The position of shortstop didn’t exist until later. There are several stories about its creation. The most common one is that the 1840s and 1850s baseballs were too soft to throw in from the outfield unless you were a giant like Henry Polhemus. So a short fielder (much like the 10th man in a slow pitch softball game) was invented to act as a primitive cutoff man. According to tradition the Knickerbockers invented the position with Daniel “Doc” Adams being the man who took the role. Some sources credit Adams with inventing the job, but I can find no contemporary evidence to collaborate that. Whether he did or didn’t invent the position, Adams played it pretty much as described above. It was Dickey Pearce who receives most of the credit for making the modern position.

Pearce, the man in the middle of the top row in the picture above, was born in Brooklyn in 1836 and took to sports quickly. By age 20 he was recognized as a coming cricket player. The Atlantic, formed in 1855, picked him up and sent him to center field. The move from cricket to baseball was fairly common in the era (Harry Wright being an early example). By 1857 he’d taken over the short fielder (shortstop) position. By 1857 the short fielder was mobile, covering both the second-third gap and the first-second gap, taking short flies, and doing cutoff duties. Pearce began stationing himself primarily in the second-third gap in order to stop the most common path a baseball took to the outfield. As far as I can tell he’s credited with being the first to move from the outfield to the infield when plugging that gap (but don’t bet the farm on that being true). He was quick enough to continue the cutoff duties and to handle most of the short flies between second and third and cover a few just to the first base side of second. Other teams noticed and the short fielder quickly became the shortstop stationed between second and third.

As with most players of the era, Pearce played multiple positions. He took turns in the outfield and also behind the plate, where he was noted as a particularly agile catcher. He is credited with being the first (but probably was merely among the first) to use catcher’s signals for the pitcher. And he was a star. He captained the Atlantic, a much more important position in 1860 than today. The Atlantic ran off championships in the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players in 1859, 1860, and 1861.

He missed the Civil War, staying with the Atlantic through the conflict. By this time he was getting paid to play. A couple of sources indicate that he, Jim Creighton, and Al Reach were the first professionals, although that’s probably impossible to prove. As the teams were supposed to be composed strictly of amateurs, he got his money under the table so amounts are unknown.

By 1864 the Atlantic were back on top of the Association with Pearce still as captain. They maintained their run through 1865 and 1866. Pearce jumped the team in late ’66 (going to Creighton’s old team, the Excelsiors), but returned by the end of the season. It cost him his captaincy, but the team won another pennant. During this period he’s supposed to have been the first player to utilize the bunt.

He remained with the Atlantic, adding another pennant, through 1870. In that year he participated in the game than ended the Cincinnati Red Stockings undefeated run at 89 games. The next season the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (the first professional league) was formed. The Atlantic decided not to participate and Pearce moved to the New York Mutual. He was 35 and on the downside of his career. He didn’t do particularly well in either ’71 or ’72 with the Mutual and went back to the Atlantic (now a part of the Association) for 1873 and 1874. He had one last decent year in ’74, then moved on to St. Louis. He stayed there through the founding of the National League and finally left the team at age 41 in 1877.

He played a little minor league ball, umpired a bit, did some semi-pro work, and managed. Frankly he wasn’t very successful at any of them. He was roundly criticized for his umpiring skills, frequently by both teams (At least he was fair in his awfulness). He clerked for the Brooklyn water board, worked at the Polo Grounds, and finally became a farmer in Massachusetts. He died of heart disease at his farm in 1908. As he has only two seasons in the National League and the National Association is not recognized as a “major league,” he is not eligible for the Hall of Fame except as some pre-professional league pioneer.

Pearce's grave at Find a Grave

Pearce’s grave at Find a Grave


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