Modern Era Ballot Announced

November 6, 2019

Lou Whitaker

The Hall of Fame has announced the nominees for the 2019 Modern Era Veteran’s Committee. The vote will be 8 December. Here’s the list:

Dwight Evans

Steve Garvey

Tommy John

Don Mattingly

Thuman Munson

Dale Murphy

Dave Parker

Ted Simmons

Lou Whitaker

and executive Marvin Miller

More later.

Nine Random Thoughts on the 2019 Season

October 31, 2019

Goose Goslin (the Nats can’t win in DC without him)

In honor of the nine innings in a game, here are nine thoughts about the 2019 season in no particular order:

1. Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on winning the World Series. It’s a first for them and the first victory for Washington since 1924. Walter Johnson got the win in game seven in 1924.

2. Although DC has now won a World Series since 1924, no Washington team has ever won a home game in the Series without Goose Goslin in the lineup. He died in 1971.

3. Further congratulations to the Houston Astros for a great World Series. I’d picked them in April and got within three innings of being right (which is pretty good for me).

4. There were a ton of home runs and strikeouts this season. I’d like to see considerably less of both in 2020.

5. I worry about Christian Yelich. There have been a number of really good ballplayers who’ve gotten hurt and became shadows of their former selves, never returning to the top rungs of the game. I hope he isn’t one of them.

6. Mike Trout proved he’s still the best player in the game. But he’s beginning to get hurt a lot. As with Yelich, I hope it doesn’t diminish his abilities. In Trout’s case, he needs to appear in one game next year to log 10 years and punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. By contrast, Yelich has only seven seasons in the big leagues.

7. Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols continues to move up on the all-time charts. He’s currently 17th in runs (one behind Frank Robinson), 15th in hits, fifth in total bases, seventh in doubles (four behind George Brett), sixth in home runs (four from Willie Mays), and tied with Cap Anson for fourth in RBIs. All stats from Baseball Reference.

8. In an era consumed by offensive stats, did you notice that the Giants had a team fielding percentage of .989? I know fielding percent isn’t the be all, end all of fielding stats, but Seattle’s .978 was the lowest in the majors. Fielding has really improved over the more than half century I’ve been watching (and listening to) the game. I consider that a good thing.

9. We have now had consecutive Hispanic background managers (Alex Cora and Dave Martinez) who’ve won the World Series. It’s partial proof of how much Hispanics mean to the game. As far as I know, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez are the first two Cubans to bat back-to-back in a lineup.

Now on to 2020.

Eddie and the Pitcher

October 24, 2019

“The Left Arm of God”

“Hey, Jewboy, what’s wrong with your guy?” Back in the mid-1960s you could hear lines like that in a Texas Panhandle high school. Frankly, maybe you still can. This time it was aimed at my buddy Eddie.

From everything I’ve read and seen, my high school was fairly typical. There were just under a thousand kids in three grades (9th grade was at the Junior High) and they acted pretty much like most high schoolers act. The rich kids had their own clique and the rest of us had our groups It seems that “clique” was reserved for the “in-crowd,” so the rest of us were assigned to the nebulous title “group. No body had “posse” or “crew” in their groupthink vocabulary yet. My group was pretty eclectic, particularly religiously. There were two Dave’s, one Baptist, the other Pentecostal. Jim was Baptist; Mike a Catholic; Kretz was Lutheran; Wilbur was a Nazarene; Jon was Episcopalian; Bill was trying to be an atheist (I lost touch with him and never did find out if he made it or not) and Eddie was Jewish. That last caused a bit of a stir because there was some obvious and some latent Anti-Semitism in the school (there were all of two Jewish kids in the entire school, both male) and it did create a certain amount of animosity toward our group.

In 1965 most of the kids in the school who paid attention to baseball (which was most of the boys and a significant number of the girls) were Cardinals fans. Most of the rest were Yankees fans, not so much because of any pull toward New York but because the Yanks were winners (I was guilty of that in football because I was, and still am, a Packers fan–and have still never been to Wisconsin). But when the 1965 World Series began no one much knew there was a team in Minnesota named the Twins so they became, by default, Dodgers fans. Which brings me to Eddie’s problem.

Sandy Koufax was the Dodgers best player, he was Jewish (I didn’t know that and I’m not sure if Eddie did), the first day of the World Series was the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, and Koufax refused to pitch on the holy day. To a number of people around the school his stand was close to openly throwing the Series and somehow Eddie was at fault.

“How dare this guy put his faith ahead of his sport.”  “What kind of heathen is he?” I actually heard cracks like that. All of those type comments from people who were utterly horrified that you could no longer pray in school or at the football game (Our team was lousy, so I’m reasonably sure a lot of unanswered prayers were uttered during the course of the game). No one seemed to catch the irony of that.

All that hurt Eddie a lot. He was aware of being what most of the school saw when they saw someone Jewish. He was, for all intents and purposes, the view much of the school had of Jewish people. It was a tough burden to bear.

And then the Dodgers lost game one (the game Koufax would not pitch), then game two (a game he did pitch). Then over the weekend the Dodgers won games three and four to even the Series. Game five was Monday and much of the school hung on the transistor radios kids (and teachers) brought to school. Koufax pitched a four hit shutout to put the Dodgers ahead three games to two. They lost game six and Koufax pitched game seven on two days rest. Another shutout, this time giving up only three hits, gave the Dodgers the championship and Koufax the Series MVP.

The next day was a Friday and everyone was talking about the Series and Koufax’s pitching performance. While we were wandering down the hall, one of the biggest loudmouths in school wandered over to us and slapped Eddie on the back.

“Hey, Jewboy, your guy did alright yesterday.” And he was off.

Eddie told us he thought it was a step in the right direction. A small step, but a step.

 

Something New Under the Sun

October 17, 2019

Goose Goslin (the Nats will have to win without him)

When the 2019 season started there were two teams who’d never punched a ticket to the World Series. That’s about to change with the Washington Nationals winning the National League pennant (the other team plays in Seattle). Whether in Montreal or Washington, the franchise always came up short.

The history of baseball in the nation’s capital is less than spectacular. In fact, it’s pretty awful. There were a handful of teams in the NL in the 1800s. None of them did much. With the arrival of the American League, a new team, the Senators, didn’t do any better. The last (and only) time the Washington team won a World Series was in 1924. Walter Johnson was on the mound when they won game seven. They lost in 1925 and again in 1933. The last time there was a World Series game in Washington, Mel Ott hit a 10th inning home run to win both game five and the Series for the New York Giants (who are now in San Francisco). The Senators were in so few World Series games that Hall of Famer Goose Goslin played in every World Series game in Washington history. Fellow Hall of Famer Sam Rice appeared in all three Series’ but only in one game in 1933.

In the late 1960s MLB got the bright idea of putting a team in Canada. For reasons unknown to me they picked Montreal over Toronto. The big Montreal Exposition had been scheduled (Expositions and World’s Fairs were a big deal back then) so they called them the Expos. They managed to get to the playoffs in the strike shortened split season of 1981, getting passed the Phillies. Then they ran into the Dodgers and lost the pennant to a Rick Monday home run (shades of Mel Ott). They managed to get back to first place in 1994, then the strike hit and there were no playoffs. I don’t know if they hoisted a banner saying they were NL East champs or not. The Expos went into a downward spiral and ended up moving to DC, where they’ve made the playoffs sporadically, never winning a pennant. All in all, not a terrifically successful franchise.

So now we’ll see how a Washington team does without Goose Goslin in their lineup. Good luck to them.

The Disaster that is the Dodgers

October 10, 2019

Dodgers logo

There is a silver lining to what happened to the Dodgers in this year’s playoffs. Between 1907 and 1909 the Detroit Tigers lost three consecutive World Series’. Between 1911 and 1913 the New York Giants did the same. With their loss last evening, the Dodgers can’t join that pair.

The Dodgers are a good team. Heck, I could probably win 50 games as manager of this team, and no one is ever going to confuse me with a big league manager. But this team can’t win. There are a lot of reasons for that. First, the Washington Nationals are a genuinely good team and should help make the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals a terrific series. That’s simply something beyond control of the team playing in Los Angeles.

But there are things the Dodgers can control. They are never going to win for a couple of reasons. One of those is that they can’t win with Dave Roberts as manager. The man goes too much by the book. I don’t care how well a player is pitching (or hitting) when the book says take him out, out the guy goes. And when Roberts decides to go against the book, a very rare occurrence, you get things like the garbage that happened in game five. In the 10th inning the pitcher puts three men on without an out being registered and is allowed to pitch to one more guy who proceeds to park it in the stands for a four run Washington lead. The response from Roberts? Let him pitch to more guys. He gets an out, but then gives up another hit. At this point the Dodgers closer is brought in (at least Jansen did his job right). I ask you, does that make sense?

Another reason the Dodgers aren’t going to win is that the continue to trust Clayton Kershaw in the postseason. How’d that work out? It’s not like it’s the first time he hashed a game, he’s been pretty good at it for the entire Dodgers postseason run over the last several seasons. My wife will tell you that I cringed when he came in last night. After he got the man out in the seventh she told me, “Well, he got the guy.”

“Uh huh, but they’ll send him out in the eighth and he’ll hash it then,” was my reply. There is a touch of Jeremiah in me.

The man is incapable of doing well in the postseason and yet, relying on his regular season reputation, which is justly earned, the Dodgers keep sending him out in critical situations. Hasn’t worked yet.

And while I’m at it, enough with this “Kershaw is the best pitcher the Dodgers ever had” nonsense. I give you the following stats for Clayton Kershaw in the World Series: ERA-5.40, Whip-1.163, walks-8, strikeouts-27. Now another set of World Series stats representing another Dodgers lefty whose last name begins with a “K”: ERA-0.95, Whip-0.825, walks-11, strikeouts-61. I used only World Series stats because the other rounds of playoffs didn’t exist when the other guy pitched. When Kershaw starts putting up stats close to the second set, then we can think about calling him the “best.”

 

MVP and finishing the season

October 9, 2019

Kirk Gibson’s 1988 MPV Award

There seems to be something of a debate going on about who should win both the National League and American League MVP award. Of course that’s always true, but this year there is a uniqueness about it. Two of the favorites, one in both leagues, are injured and ended up on the disabled list as the teams came down the stretch toward the playoffs. There are people who argue that both (or one) was good enough that to win the MVP award without finishing the entire season and other people who argue that missing as many games as both missed disqualifies them for the award. As you’ve probably figured by now, I have an opinion on the matter and I’m not about to not tell you what that opinion happens to be this season.

Obviously the two players involved are Christian Yelich in the NL and Mike Trout in the AL. And it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m split on the matter. If I had a vote in the AL MVP race it would go to Trout. Despite missing almost 30 games, Trout still led the AL in WAR, slugging, OBP, OPS, OPS+, was sixth in runs scored, second in home runs, ninth in RBIs, eighth in extra base hits, and second in walks. I keep hearing the announcers in the playoff games touting particular players and I look those guys up and Trout is still the best. I go with him.

With Yelich it’s a different story. He still has terrific numbers, but when he went down, his team was outside looking in at the playoffs. Without him, the team moved into playoff position. If that’s true, how valuable can he be (Trout’s team wasn’t in playoff position when he went down and never got there)? So my pick is Cody Bellinger. Yeah, I know, I’m a Dodgers fan and it’s something of a “hometown” pick even if I’m not from LA (been there once, on the way to Viet Nam), but he’s still my guy for the NL MVP award.

Feel free to disagree (and be wrong).

“The Outlaw League”: a Review

October 3, 2019

Cover of “The Outlaw League”

Haven’t put up a book review in a while (actually haven’t put up much of anything for a while) so I thought it was time to change that. Here’s a look at The Outlaw League and the Battle that Forged Modern Baseball by Daniel R. Levitt.

Levitt, a SABR stalwart, takes a look at the 1914-1915 Federal League in his book. It’s a book more about the back story of the league and the workings of the other established leagues than it is about the actual playing of games. He gives us a quick, but incisive view of the men (and they were all men) who planned and created the Federal League. They were all rich and all interested in making money through baseball. He also tells us about the people, and here there is one woman (Helene Robison Britton of the Cardinals), who ran the established leagues and how they went about attacking the new league. Ballplayers take second place to the owners in the book, but there are sections on significant players like Joe Tinker and a quick look at Dave Fultz and the Players Fraternity, something like a modern union, that came out of the dust up between the Feds and Organized Baseball.

Levitt shows us the money disparity between the existing leagues and the new Federal League (the other team owners had a lot more money), and points out that many Organized Baseball teams (both the National and American Leagues) were in towns that were larger than the Federal League teams and thus had access to more fans. He concludes that the existing leagues eventually won the war with the Feds for these reasons and because the NL and AL owners, led primarily by Ban Johnson, Gerry Herrmann, and Barney Dreyfuss, were more adept at the use of the courts and contracts, had an already established structure that worked, and the already mentioned advantages of both more money and a larger fan base.

The book is certainly worth the read if you are interested in either the baseball of the era, or the workings of big business in the period just prior to World War I. It was published in 2012 and is available in paperback for $18.95. I got my copy at Barnes & Noble, but it is also available on line.

Guinn Williams

September 19, 2019

Guinn Williams

If you look at the picture above, and you’re a fan of old Western Movies, you probably recognize the face of Guinn Williams. He was a star in B-Westerns and a comic sidekick in more well known Westerns. He also has a baseball connection.

Williams was born in Texas in 1899, son of a rancher who dabbled in politics (in Texas that’s a step down from ranching). He joined the US Army in World War I, becoming an officer. He apparently turned down an invitation to attend West Point for a job in a rodeo. There he caught the eye of Will Rogers, who was just turning his talents to the movies. Williams played a lot of “heavies” (that’s the villain) in silent movies. He was 6’2″ and burly so it was a natural.

After “the talkies” began, he became a star in a lot of “drug store cowboy” movies (but not a “singing cowboy” type–unlike John Wayne who was at one time a singing cowboy). With a certain amount of stardom from his cowboy roles, he moved into A-Pictures (those are the more important flicks), frequently as a comic sidekick. He teamed with Alan Hale, Sr (not the skipper in “Gilligan’s Island”-that’s Hale, Jr.) as the comic cowboys in “Santa Fe Trail”, one of the biggest hits of 1940. If you can find it, the movie is kind of fun, but utter garbage historically. His career continued into the early 1960s with roles in “The Alamo” and “The Comancheros”, both with John Wayne. He died in 1962.

“Fine,” I hear you say, “but you said he had something to do with baseball, didn’t you?” Yes, I did. During the period between the end of World War I and Williams’ discovery by Will Rogers, he’s supposed to have tried his hand at baseball. And that’s as far as it goes. There are some sources that indicate he played professional baseball, but obviously not at the Major League level. Other sources say he was in semi-pro ball. No on lists a team, or where the team played. BaseballReference.com doesn’t mention him in the minors and Retrosheet has no mention of him (and the Internet Movie Database is silent about baseball). That makes semi-pro more likely, but not certain. Frankly, I don’t know where he played, at what level, or at what position.

So part of the reason for doing this little number is to make a plea for anyone who might know anything about his baseball career to comment below. I’d love to find out the details. Until then, we will have to be satisfied knowing that a familiar movie face also has a baseball record somewhere.

 

The Warrant Officer and the Clerk

September 12, 2019

Army Personnel Records jacket

This is not a pretty story. It is a story of pettiness, arrogance, and revenge. It happened while I was in Viet Nam in 1967-1968, but I have changed the names because both of the men involved may still be alive.

Warrant Officer Brown was a jerk; everybody agreed on that. No one liked him (well, maybe his mother, but you could get a bet down on that). I never worked directly under him, but ran afoul of him once or twice so I knew the stories about him were probably true. He was loud, obnoxious, full of himself. He was harsh to his subordinates, known to scream at the enlisted men under his command for infractions that were so small that no one else even noticed. Worst of all he was a Yankees fan. It was 1968 and the Yankees were awful. They finished above .500, but were never really in contention (it was Mickey Mantle’s last year). But to Warrant Officer Brown they were still God’s greatest gift to creation. He would tear into anyone who said anything bad about them and downgrade the accomplishments of any other team that you happened to favor. Obviously no one talked baseball around him.

For some reason known only to him (or maybe for no reason at all) he particularly loathed Dawson, our company clerk, who, like me, was a lowly E4 (that’s a corporal for you non-military types). He would take time in the mess hall to walk over to Dawson’s table and rip into him for something like shined shoes (which no one in Viet Nam worried about) or his hair or anything he could bring to mind. It seemed to all of us that Warrant Officer Brown simply wanted to pick on Dawson any chance he got. Dawson was a Cubs fan (I think he was from downstate Illinois, but am not sure.)

The problem for Brown was that the company clerk had access to all your paperwork. All he had to do was walk over to the appropriate place and ask to see your files. Dawson was also “short.” In Nam talk that meant he had only a few days left “in country” (that means in Viet Nam) before returning to “the World” (which in this case meant the US, but generally meant anywhere other than Nam). Also Dawson left Viet Nam before Brown (and before me). And when he left he was being discharged, so he had something of a “screw it” attitude toward the military.

We were sitting in the enlisted “club.” It was the back half of a wooden building that housed the unit supply in the front half. Consisting of a couple of tables, a few chairs, and a fridge where we kept the beer, it wasn’t much of a club, but it was what we had. Dawson was getting ready to leave Viet Nam (I think he had two days left). There were three of us sitting with him giving him something like a good bye party when the following conversation took place (exact words approximated after more than 50 years and cleaned up from GI English–which has a lot of four letter words in it.)

“I’m gonna screw Warrant Officer Brown.”

That got our attention. “How?” someone asked.

“I just sent his records to hell and gone.”

“Huh?”

“I just sent his medical file to Thailand, his dental file to Korea, his finance files to Fort Carson, and his personnel file to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.”

A quick disclaimer here. I do remember where he sent the papers (Thailand, Korea, Fort Carson in Colorado, and Ramstein in Germany), but I don’t recall exactly which went where, so I made up the specifics.

It seems our favorite clerk had taken the company official briefcase over to the hospital and asked to check some medical and dental files; something he had the right to do under regulations. What he didn’t have the right to do was slip Warrant Officer Brown’s files into the briefcase without telling anyone. Then it was off to the division finance office where he did the same thing with Brown’s finance records (those are the records that tell everyone when you got paid, how much, and what sort of deduction were taken out of your check). Finally, he wandered into the post personnel office and purloined the personnel files of his least favorite Warrant Officer. Those files tell everyone when you came in the army, what sort of training you have, what medals, when you arrived in Viet Nam, when you left. All the important things people have to know so you can get what you should and get where you are supposed to go in the army are in those files. Then Dawson headed back to the company area, sat down at his desk, and began inserting the various files into official envelopes. He addressed them and sent them on their way through official channels to the locations above.

“What the heck for?” one of us asked.

“Because Brown leaves in about 10 days and he can’t go anywhere without his files.”

The light bulbs went on above all three of our heads. Dawson had just made it difficult for Warrant Officer Brown to get out of Viet Nam. Without being able to collect all his files, he couldn’t leave country and would have to sit around waiting for the Army to track them all down. It was a particularly evil kind of revenge because we all knew the Army ran on paperwork, but it wasn’t very good about finding stuff when it needed to find stuff.

Two days later a couple of us accompanied Dawson to the helipad when the chopper waited to take him (and others) to Saigon so they could leave country and return to “the World.” He’d given us his stateside address and as he was leaving he turned to us and said (and these words I remember) “Drop me a letter and let me know when that God damned Yankee-loving son of a bitch gets out of here.” And he was gone.

About a week later the word started seeping through the grapevine that Warrant Officer Brown was having trouble “out processing.” That’s the nonsense you have to go through to get out of a unit. It seemed no one could find his records; none of them. I saw him a time or two running around the company area in utter disarray. As I recall, they found whatever it was that went to Thailand, but nothing else. About a week later I left and returned to the States. When I got home I sent Dawson a note saying Brown was still around the company looking for his files. After a two week leave I headed for my new assignment, a small post in Virginia. I knew that Brown was also supposed to be there. He wasn’t. I sent Dawson another letter saying Brown still hadn’t arrived at his next assignment. I got back a one word note, “Great.”

I never saw either of them again. Dawson was out of the Army and headed off to college (I don’t recall where). As far as I know, Warrant Officer Brown is still wandering around Nam looking for his files. Or maybe he got out with the “boat people.”

 

 

 

A Remembrance of Richie Ashburn

June 13, 2019

Richie Ashburn

When I was a kid the baseball world was full of terrific center fielders. New York had Mays and Mantle and Snider. As a Dodgers fan I loved Snider but it was tough to give either Mays or Mantle their due. After all the Giants and Yankees were the great rivals of my team. But Richie Ashburn was different. His Phillies weren’t a direct threat to the Dodgers and he was a great outfielder.

The Phillies weren’t on television all that often and were on the radio only when they played the Cardinals (who were the closest team to us and all their games were on the radio). So I didn’t get to watch Ashburn all that often. When I did I was in awe. He was a terrific outfielder. I’d never heard of most fielding stats but I could tell he was good. He made it look easy in center. Willie Mays always had that element that made it look harder than it was, but Ashburn just went out and made the play. I discovered Ashburn is second among centerfielders in range factor per game, 10th in career assists, and third in putouts while playing center. None of those I knew in the 1950s (and probably had never heard of either). All of that confirms that I was right in believing he was a great outfielder.

He was different from the other big centerfielders of the day. Snider, Mays, Mantle all hit for power; Richie Ashburn was more like Bill Bruton of the Braves. Both led off and both could steal a base. Bruton won two stolen base titles in the National League to Ashburn’s one, but Ashburn stole 30 or more twice to Bruton’s once. It was an era without a lot of stolen bases as each team featured a big slugger who could clear the bases and no one wanted to run into an out trying to steal second. For the Phillies that was Del Ennis. He benefitted from Ashburn being on base a lot. Richie Ashburn led the NL in hits three times, walks four times, and triples twice. He won a batting title and led in OBP on four occasions (one of the OBP titles and one of the walks titles came with the Cubs late in his career). That gave Ennis, and other batters, a lot of chances to drive in runs.

In 1960 Philadelphia sent him to Chicago. He played two years with the Cubs having a good season in 1960 and a much weaker one in 1961. He ended up in New York in 1962 with the Mets. They were awful but his 2.1 WAR was second on the team (to outfielder Frank Thomas–not the Hall of Fame White Sox first baseman). He’s part of a great trivia question, “The 1962 Mets had two Hall of Famers in their dugout. Who were they?” The answer is of course Ashburn, and also manager Casey Stengel.

For his career Richie Ashburn’s triple slash line reads 308/396/382/778 with 1322 runs scored, 317 doubles, 109 triples, an OPS+ of 111 and 63.9 WAR. In 1995 he made the Hall of Fame. It’s always gratifying when one of your heroes makes the Hall. It kind of vindicates your view.