The Last of the 1865 Atlantic

May 26, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

If you’ve been following along, you may be very happy to read that title. I’ve done a lot of stuff on them recently. Now it’s time to look at the last playing member of the team and make some general observations.

Sidney Churchill Smith is the man in the lower right of the team picture above. He played right field and is almost totally obscure. He was born 6 January 1842 in New York and spent some time with the Star, one of the minor teams in Brooklyn, before catching on with the Atlantic in 1864. He remained through 1866, the year he married. I have no idea if marriage caused him to leave baseball, but he does not appear on any future roster I can find. He managed to hook on with the Kings County Tax Office while playing with the Atlantic. In the 1860 census he is living with a Lucius Smith in Brooklyn. He is 18 and no occupation is listed for him. In the 1870 census he shows up living with the same Lucius Smith who is in wholesale dry goods. Lucius Smith is old enough to be Sidney’s father, but the census info in neither census confirms that (although his Find A Grave info says it’s true). Sidney is listed as being born in New York  and is a “dry goods clerk.” So it may be he’s working for his father’s dry good business. Certainly he’s left the Kings County Tax Office. In 1900 he’s living with his son-in-law, Theodore Richrath and his (Smith’s) wife whose name is Sophie in Brooklyn. No occupation is listed and he’s 58 so it’s possible he is retired. So he’s had at least one child, a daughter named Lillie. Other information indicates a second daughter who died early. For what it’s worth, his wife is originally Sophie Pike and is the sister of former Atlantic great Lip Pike. In 1905 he and his wife are living in a boarding house in Brooklyn His death certificate indicates he died in Kings County  7 February 1908 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn (in the picture below, Leonora and Lillie shown on the grave marker are daughters). He is the only member of the 1865 Atlantic to never play in either the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players or in the National League.

Smith's grave from Find a Grave

Smith’s grave from Find a Grave

And a few miscellaneous notes:

1. A few months ago I did something similar to this series on the 1860 Excelsior. The Atlantic are only five years later, but while only one (Asa Brainard) member of the Excelsior make a professional team, all but one of the Atlantic make a professional team.

2. Again, as with the Excelsior, there are an inordinate number of the Atlantic who end up with jobs with the City of Brooklyn or Kings County. It was one of several ways teams, not just the Atlantic, got around amateurism rules.

3. In many ways they are a cross section of American society in the era. One becomes a millionaire. One has a nervous breakdown. Most live fairly simple lives as working stiffs who hold down a job, get married, and have kids.

4. None of the others have the big league success of Joe Start, but two (Dickey Pierce and John Chapman) go on to have serious baseball careers (and a couple of others do some umpire work). Pierce plays into the National League era and Chapman is a big league manager.

5. It seems the baseball community could be close knit. One of the players, Sydney Smith, married the sister of another player, Lip Pike. Although Pike wasn’t with the Atlantic in 1865, he did play for them later. I’ve found a couple of references to other players who are related by marriage (for instance Folkert Boerum and Jack Remsen–Remsen married Boerum’s sister). If you think about it, that makes sense. The men knew each other, worked closely together, and surely met each other’s families.

The 1865 Brooklyn Atlantic were a great team in that era when baseball is transitioning from a gentleman’s club to a professional team. The men were extraordinary ball players. They were also fairly normal men of their day.

 

Chadwick’s Neighbor

May 23, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

Frederick William Hotchkiss Crane was born 4 November 1840 in Saybrook, Connecticut. In the picture above, he’s the man on the right of the top row. Of the 1865 Atlantic, he had one of the longest careers and one of the most interesting neighbors.,

The son of a minister, Fred Crane was, by 1860 known as one of the better young players in the northeast. Whether his father’s connections with a “higher power” helped or not is unknown. He came to the attention of the Enterprise, one of the junior teams in the New York area and was signed as a second baseman. He played with them in both 1860 and 1861. He was good enough that the top-tier teams in Brooklyn wanted him. Ultimately, that meant the Atlantic, the Eckford, and the Excelsior. He was lured in 1862 to the Atlantic, where he stayed through 1865. He was a good enough hitter, but was primarily famous as a good fielding second baseman. Remember, this is an era when players were near the bag and had no gloves, so “good fielding” doesn’t mean exactly the same then as it means now.  His numbers are no where near complete, but a newspaper source indicates that in one 18 game stretch in 1865 he scored 71 runs, which is a lot even for that era.

He was good enough that the Athletic, the premier team in Philadelphia, wanted his services. In 1866 he jumped to them. There seems to be no information on what inducements were offered so there is no actual evidence that he was being paid. But whatever made him go to Philadelphia, it wasn’t enough to make him happy. By August 1866 he was back with the Atlantic and still considered a prime second sacker.

With the formation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871, Crane remained in Brooklyn with an Atlantic team that did not join the new league. By 1873 he was ready to move on. He played one game in the Association for the Elizabeth Resolutes of New Jersey going one for four (a single) in four at bats. He picked up an RBI and held down his usual second base. He went back to the Atlantic and in 1875 was with them when they finally joined the Association. He played 21 games, moving from first base to shortstop to the outfield over the 21 games. He managed 81 at bats, 17 hits. One was a double. He scored seven runs, had four RBIs, and struck out four times. It was the end, as far as I can determine, of his baseball career.

Unlike some players, Crane had outside interests. He sang in a Brooklyn city choir (no info on whether he was a bass or baritone) and went into manufacturing. He specialized in machinery, setting up a factory in New York City (not Brooklyn). He made good money and was able to buy a substantial home in Brooklyn.

The house was on the same block as Hall of Fame writer and statistician Henry Chadwick’s house. The two men liked each other and became friends. Frankly, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall listening to some of their conversations about early baseball.

Fred Crane died 7 April 1925 in Brooklyn. He, along with many of the early pioneers to Brooklyn baseball, buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

 

The Sewer Inspector and 100 Runs

May 19, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

The amount of information available on members of the 1865 Atlantic is getting thin. There are still four players to write about, and enough information on only one of them for a worthwhile stand alone effort. So I’m going to combine two of them into one post.

The Sewer Inspector

The man in the upper left of the picture above is John A. Galvin, shortstop for the 1865 Atlantic. He was born 1 August 1842 in New York. Very little information is available until he shows up in 1860 playing for the Osceola, a junior team in Brooklyn. In 1861 he was playing for the Exercise of Brooklyn, one of the weaker teams in the area. He jumped to the Powhatan club during the season. Powhatan was another of the junior clubs in Brooklyn. In September he volunteered for duty in the 51st New York Infantry Regiment and remained until October. The 1862 season saw him playing again for Exercise. By 1863 he’d moved over to the Atlantic and become their regular shortstop. He remained there through 1867 when he went across the river to Manhattan and joined the Mutual.

By 1871 he was 31 and no longer a premier shortstop. The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in that year and left out the Atlantic. In 1872 the Atlantic joined and called on Galvin to play a game at second base. He batted four times, made four outs, and made four errors in five total chances. It was his last throw in baseball.

While playing ball, he’d hooked on to a job with the City of Brooklyn, which was, in the 1860s, an independent city. Finding city jobs was a common way of paying players without them becoming professionals. Galvin got a job with the city Works Department and became a city sewer inspector and remained at that job for several years. He spent at least one year as the main man at the truant’s home. By 1887 he’d moved up from both the sewers and the truant’s home to become supervisor in charge of setting the foundation for the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad, a position of some prominence. He remained in Brooklyn until he died on 20 April 1904.

The Man Who Scored a Hundred Runs

Charles J. Smith is the man on the left of the middle row in the picture above. In 1865 he was the primary third baseman for the Atlantic. He is credited with being the first man to score 100 runs in the National Association of Base Ball Players, the premier baseball league of the 1860s.

Smith was born 11 December 1840 in Brooklyn and by 1858 was already recognized as a good baseball player. He hooked on with the Enterprise of Brooklyn as their third baseman and by the end of the season had been coaxed into joining the Atlantic. He remained there to October 1870. His great season was 1864 when he set a record by becoming the first man to score 100 runs at the highest league level. He’s supposed to have done it in 19 games.

Let me take a moment and comment on that last sentence (You knew another one of these “wait a minute” comments was coming, didn’t you?). One hundred runs in 19 games comes to over five runs a game. You do that today they’re going to put you (and probably whoever’s hitting behind you and racking up a ton of RBIs) into the Hall of Fame without a five-year wait. In fact they’ll probably do it while you’re still playing. But you have to remember the game in 1864 was basically a hitter’s game and pitchers were there primarily to toss the ball and start the play. Additionally fielders had no gloves, didn’t yet routinely cover the holes (especially the one between first and second), so teams ended up frequently scoring a lot of runs (30 runs in a single game by the winning team was not unheard of). Still, it’s quite a feat to score 100 runs in 19 games. I’ve found no play-by-play or box score evidence to back up the claim, so you are advised to be careful when telling your friends you know who scored 100 runs in a baseball season for the first time.

When the Atlantic failed to join the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871, Smith, along with several other Atlantic players, jumped to the Mutual of New York who did join the first professional league. Playing both second base and third base, Smith got into 14 games, had 72 at bats, got 19 hits, scored 15 runs (note that again that works out to more than one run per game played), had two doubles and one triple, five RBIs, and one each walk and strikeout. It was the last professional season for him.

At this point he almost disappears from the record. There are a couple of stories saying he suffered a nervous breakdown, but no date is given. He ended up in a house in Great Neck, New York. He died there 15 November 1897.

This leaves me with two players still to cover. By this point the information is getting less and less. You’ve probably noted by now that almost all of it has to do with the man’s baseball career and personal information is getting harder to find. There are two more Atlantic to go. I’ll add some comments about the players as a group when I do a post on the last player remaining, the right fielder.

 

 

 

 

The Betrayal: A Review

May 17, 2016
The Betrayal cover

The Betrayal cover

There are a multitude of books concerning various aspects of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal. Asinof’s Eight Men Out is probably the most famous. By now it’s dated, new information is available, and frankly some of the stuff is made up. One of the better attempts at understanding the scandal is The Betrayal by Charles Fountain.

Fountain is a professor of journalism at Northeastern and has written other baseball books, notably a work on Grantland Rice. He turns his attention in his new work (published in 2016) to 1919 and the World Series. He begins by reminding us that much of what actually happened is unknowable and thus much of what we accept as received wisdom and truth is actually mere speculation. Because that’s true, Fountain does not worry about the exactitude of detail in explaining the scandal.

He looks, rather, at the way the era unfolded in baseball. He sees it as an era of rampant corruption within the sport with gamblers having an inordinate amount of influence on the game. There’s an entire chapter on Hal Chase using him as an example of how easy and commonplace throwing a ball game had become. Fountain points out that owners, writers, and even many fans knew about Chase and that none of them did anything to stop either him or the other players involved in gambling.

There’s another chapter on Judge Landis explaining why he was chosen as Commissioner as well as how the entire idea of a Commissioner came into being. The Charles Comiskey-Ban Johnson feud takes center stage for much of the book, as does the inability of the National Commission to stop the corruption. As an aside, I’m generally a fan of August Herrmann, President of the Reds and head of the Commission, but he comes off terribly in the book. And Fountain’s arguments are persuasive enough to make me reconsider my view of Herrmann. Fountain also dwells in some detail on how much influence Ban Johnson had on baseball and how much the owners, particularly the National League owners and a minority of the American League owners (led by Comiskey) wanted to curtail his role.

Fountain does not spare the baseball writers of the era either. He finds them complicit in the corruption. Most knew what was happening but for a variety of reasons (fear of firing, fear of losing access to the players and parks, etc.) failed to write about it. The few that did, found their stories suppressed by editors who didn’t want to anger the owners. Because it is the owners, along with the gamblers, who come off worst in the book. The author does not single out Comiskey in particular, but indicts the group as venal, uncaring, and concerned with image so much that they are unwilling utterly to rock the baseball boat. But Fountain doesn’t let the players off entirely. They knew what they were doing and willingly went along with the fix.

All in all this is an excellent study of the Black Sox Scandal. The book is worth the read by students of the sport, the scandal, and even the era in America. It’s available a number of places. I got my copy at Barnes and Noble for $27.95.

 

The First Pinch Hitter

May 12, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

It’s 5 May 1871. Catcher Doug Allison has just been injured. Someone needs to replace him in the lineup. The Washington Olympics call on Frank Prescott Norton (the man in the middle of the picture above) to take Allison’s place. When he steps to the plate, Norton becomes the first ever pinch hitter in the history of a professional baseball league. He struck out in what turned out to be his only plate appearance in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional baseball league.

None of that means Norton was the first ever pinch hitter in the history of baseball. There’s evidence that pinch-hitting, usually in case of injury, occurred prior to 1871. But Norton is the first to do it in a professional game.

Frank Norton was born in Port Jefferson, New York  9 June 1845. He got his start in baseball with the Brooklyn Stars, one of the weaker teams in the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1863. He stayed through 1864 earning a reputation as a good center fielder who could also catch. In 1865 he joined the Atlantic helping them to the Association championship. It was his only season with the champs. In 1866 he played with the Excelsior and in ’67 started the season in Boston with the Tri-Mountains. The team wasn’t good enough and the pay wasn’t great in Boston (I’ve been unable to determine where he worked), so he moved south to Washington where a job in Federal government (Interior Department) and a place on the Nationals as a second baseman, shortstop, and catcher awaited. He stayed with the Nationals through at least 1868 (and one place indicates he was there in 1869 also). The job paid well and he retired. He got his one shot in 1871 because he attended a game and was called on in an emergency.

He moved, after 1871, to New York where he became a contractor. He made a lot of money and inherited more (about $500,000 in 1875). After time as an insurance agent and realtor, he retired, apparently as a millionaire, and began splitting time between homes in South Carolina and Greenwich, Connecticut. While at Greenwich on 1 August 1920 he died. He is buried in Suffolk County, New York in the cemetery of the Setauket Presbyterian Church.

Next time you’re watching a game and they call on a pinch hitter. Think kindly of Frank Prescott Norton. He deserves it.

The First Lefty

May 9, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

The man in the middle of the bottom row is Thomas Jefferson Pratt. He was the primary pitcher for the 1865 Atlantic. He seems to be unique in baseball in that he is the first ever left-handed pitcher.

Before I give you any information on Tom Pratt I need to comment on the sentence just above with another one of my caveats. At least twice I found reference to Pratt being left-handed. Both times the quote appears to be taken from another source that is not referenced in any type note so I’m not sure from whence comes the idea he was left-handed. His Baseball Reference.com page says he threw right-handed. Someone is wrong, but I don’t know who. But I’m not sure how much it matters in 1860s baseball. It is an era when pitchers stood 45 feet away and tossed underhanded without snapping their wrist. It’s obvious, from things you read about the era, that some pitchers had figured out how to get around the restrictions with speed (Jim Creighton) and movement (Candy Cummings) already becoming part of the hurler’s technique. The comments on both Creighton and Cummings indicate how unusual they were so it seems that most pitchers merely tossed the ball toward home and relied on the batter missing it or the fielders catching and throwing it, things which both righty and lefty pitchers can do about equally well. All of which is meant to tell you that it may not have mattered Pratt was left-handed (although there is some evidence he’d figured out a curve). All of that is meant to tell you that the title of this article may be wrong. Be advised.

Tom Pratt was born 24 January 1844 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He was, as with a number of his contemporaries, a cricketer who moved from cricket to baseball. As with most other players he moved from position to position and team to team with some regularity. Starting in Philadelphia with the Athletic, the premier team in the city, he hooked on with the Atlantic in the early 1863 and settled in as their primary pitcher. He was good enough to lead them to a number of pennants, including the one in 1865 which led to the picture above. He wasn’t exactly a professional, but got a job with the City of Brooklyn that paid relatively well for the era, didn’t include much actual work, and left plenty of time to play ball. The job for playing concept was very common for the era and helped keep many players amateurs in the strictest sense of the word (and professionals in a true sense). He seems to have “worked” in the city Works Department, but I’ve been unable to determine his exact job (which makes the pay for play concept even more likely).

In 1864 he went 18-0 for the Atlantic, 13-0 in 1865. These are National Association of Base Ball Players games. He won many more playing outside the official Association. In 1866 he went to the Athletic (his original team) for the beginning of the season, but ended up back with the Atlantic for the latter part of the season. In 1867 he tried it in Philadelphia again, this time with the Quaker City team. The 1868 season saw him back with the Atlantic. It’s evident he’s moving a lot, but it’s also clear that he’s getting a higher paying job with the city when he does so.

In 1870 he moved to Philadelphia and began play for the Athletic. He remained there for the season. When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, he got into one game for the Athletic. He played first and got six at bats in his one game. The six at bats in a single game is still a record, although it’s since been tied. He went two for six, both singles, scored two runs, and had an RBI. It was his only professional game. He had three errors in 14 chances at first. It was the end of his playing career. Best estimates give him a 80-19 win-loss record as a pitcher.

He then moved to umpiring and remained an ump for a number of years (into at least 1886) before retiring from baseball. He made money as an umpire, as a player, as a city worker. It seems he kept much of it. He helped establish Pratt Brothers, a paint and whitewash business that did well. He also married into some money. In 1884 he had enough money to invest in the Union Association, a venture that ultimately failed. His Keystones, the UA team in Philly, did poorly, he lost a lot of money, but his business remained a success, as did a skating rink he opened, and he was able to continue living comfortably.

Tom Pratt died 28 September 1908 in Philadelphia.

Pratt's grave from "Find a Grave"

Pratt’s grave from “Find a Grave”

 

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.

 

 

 


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