The Class of 2017: Some Thoughts

January 19, 2017

So we now know who is and who isn’t in the Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Here’s a few notes on the results. As usual, in honor of a nine inning game, there are nine of them.

1. Congratulations to all five winners. My list might have been different, but this is a solid slate of inductees.

2. I feel a little sorry for both Trevor Hoffman and Vlad Guerrero. Both managed to pick up 70% plus in the voting (Hoffman missed the class by four votes) but failed election. It must be tough to get that close and not make it. But it bodes well for both next year.

3. The steroid boys ended up a mixed bag. Both Clemens and Bonds are rising. Neither Sheffield nor Sosa are doing well. Ramirez did not debut particularly high (apparently “Manny being Manny” wasn’t a big enough draw). It seems that the writers still haven’t made up their mind about the issue, although it’s possible that the pre-steroid careers of Clemens and Bonds have more weight than do the pre-steroid careers of the others. All this mimics “conventional wisdom” about if and when the five of them started using the stuff, not my own opinion (which is strictly my own).

4. I’m surprised Jorge Posada dropped off the list after one vote. He was, after all, part of the “Core Four,” the greatest single combination of baseball talent together on one field since Abner Doubleday (or maybe not). Seriously, I thought he’d do better because of the positive press he and his team had gotten over the years. He was an important member of the multi-pennant winning team that played in New York and that got him a lot of recognition. I never expected he’d make a run on the first ballot, but I didn’t expect him to fall off entirely. Shows what I know.

5. There are a lot of allegations about PED use by Ivan Rodriguez. His election, along with Bud Selig’s, now makes it easier for others to reach Cooperstown. Again, I make no comment on whether the allegations are true.

6. They tell me that the openness of the balloting this year, and the publishing of the complete balloting next year is changing the vote. OK, maybe. But I see no actual proof of that. It’s possible that removing the “dead weight” after last year’s voting may be making more changes than the new “openness.” We’ll see in a year or so.

7. Edgar Martinez made a big move. Hooray. Come on, people, DH is a position like first base is a position. So they’re played differently. First base and second base are played differently. So are second and shortstop. At some point baseball is going to have to deal with the DH being a position that is no longer merely the refuge of old guys who can’t run the bases anymore. The Hall came close with Paul Molitor, so now it’s time to deal with it with Martinez.

8. Mike Mussina is doing better. Curt Shilling isn’t. I have no idea how much Shilling’s politics is involved in that trend. It shouldn’t be at all.

9. It seems the gap between traditional stats and the newer ones is narrowing when it comes to election to the Hall of Fame. I have no idea it that’s good, bad, or indifferent.

The Class of 2017

January 18, 2017

According to MLB.com the BBWAA has elected Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez to the Hall of Fame. They will enter the Hall along with Bud Selig and John Schuerholz as the Class of 2017. Trevor Hoffman and Vlad Guerrero came closest to election without making it.  Comments to follow.

The Impossible Dream: Back to Boston

January 16, 2017

With the St. Louis Cardinals leading the 1967 World Series 3 games to 2, the Series shifted to Boston for the final two games. The Cards needed to win only one to be champions and had Bob Gibson waiting for an if necessary game seven. For the Red Sox they would have to win both games either without ace Jim Lonborg or with Lonborg going on short rest.

Game 6

Rico Petrocelli

Rico Petrocelli

Game 6 was 11 October with the home team sending Gary Waslewski to the mound. Waslewski had pitched well in his previous relief appearance in the Series. He was opposed by 16 game winner Dick Hughes. Neither man would figure in the decision.

Boston struck first on a second inning Rico Petrocelli home run. The Cardinals would get it back in the third on a Julian Javier double and a Lou Brock single. Brock then stole second and St. Louis took a 2-1 lead with a Curt Flood single plating Brock.

That score lasted until the bottom of the fourth. Carl Yastrzemski led off with a home run followed by two outs. Then back-to-back homers by Reggie Smith and Petrocelli put the Bosox up 4-2 and sent Hughes to the showers.  Things stayed that way to the seventh.

In the top of the seventh, St. Louis tied the game on a two run shot by Brock. In the bottom of the seventh, the Cards brought in Jack Lamabe to pitch. He got an out, then pinch hitter (for pitcher John Wyatt) Dalton Jones singled and Joe Foy doubled. Jones took off from first and scored. The throw home missed Jones and allowed Foy to move to third and come home on a Mike Andrews single. A Yastrzemski single sent Andrews to third and a Jerry Adair sacrifice fly scored him. Consecutive singles by George Scott and Smith brought Yastrzemski home with the fourth run of the inning. Ahead 8-4 the Red Sox brought in starter Gary Bell to finish the game. He gave up three hits and walked one, but no St. Louis player scored and the Sox tied up the Series three games each.

Game 7

Photo File

Game 7 of the World Series was 12 October. The Bosox were faced with an immediate problem. Jim Lonborg, the season long ace, was available to start only if he started on short rest. Manager Dick Williams, deciding to go with his best, sent Lonborg out to start the game. The bullpen was ready to jump in if Lonborg was ineffective on the short rest. Facing them was a fully rested Bob Gibson.

For two innings both pitchers were on. Lonborg gave up two hits, but neither runner scored. Gibson walked one man and struck out three. In the top of the third light hitting shortstop Dal Maxvill tripled. Lonborg bore down and got the next two men out without allowing Maxvill to score. That brought up Curt Flood who singled Maxvill home. A Roger Maris single sent Flood to third and with Orlando Cepeda at the plate, Lonborg uncorked a wild pitch that plated Flood. With two strikeouts to his credit, Gibson set Boston down in order in the bottom of the third leaving the score 2-0.

In the fourth no one reached base for either team and Gibson struck out two more. That brought the teams to the top of the fifth. With one out, Gibson came to the plate and hit a home run. It opened the flood gates a crack. Lou Brock singled and stole second. Flood walked and Brock stole third. Roger Maris’ sacrifice fly sent Brock home and made the score 4-0. Cepeda flew out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox got one back on a George Scott drive to center. Scott tore around second trying to stretch it to a triple. Julian Javier fielded the throw from Flood and tried to nail Scott at third. The throw was wild and Scott scampered home with the first Boston run.

If the flood gates opened a crack for St. Louis in the fifth, they broke wide open in the sixth. Tim McCarver led the inning off with a double. An error by the third baseman left Mike Shannon safe at first and brought up Javier, whose error in the fifth had led to Boston’s first run. He made up for it with a three-run homer to left that made the score 7-1. Despite giving up another hit, Lonborg got through the inning without giving up another run. Due to lead off the bottom of the sixth, he was pulled for a pinch hitter. Manager Dick Williams’ gamble of starting Lonborg had worked for four innings, but he’d been gotten to in both the fifth and sixth. He ended up giving up seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits, a walk, and struck out three.

For Gibson it was a lead he could hold easily. In the sixth and seventh innings he gave up no hits and only one walk. In the eighth he gave up a double to Rico Petrocelli, then wild pitched Petrocelli to third. He walked the next batter, then relief pitcher Norm Siebern grounded to second. A force out provided one out, but Petrocelli scored to make it 7-2. Consecutive grounders ended the inning. In the ninth Gibson gave up a leadoff single to Carl Yastrzemski, but he was erased on a double play. Gibson then struck out Scott to end the inning, the game, and the Series. St. Louis had won the 1967 World Series four games to three. Gibson was voted the MVP.

Before the Series began, there were a lot of questions being asked by fans and reporters. One was “can the Cardinals stop Carl Yastrzemski?” The answer turned out to be “no.” Yaz hit .400, slugged .840, and put up an OPS of 1.340 (of the Cards, only Lou Brock was close to those numbers). He scored four runs, drove in five, had three home runs, and made no errors in the field. The question that no one asked was “can the Cardinals stop everyone but Yaz?” The answer there turned out to be mostly “yes.” No other Red Sox player came close to Yastrzemski’s numbers. Andrews and Dalton Jones, neither of which played in all seven games, were the only other players to hit .300 and neither had an extra base hit. Petrocelli and Reggie Smith both had two home runs, but neither hit above .250. Smith and Scott had six doubles but both only scored three times. For the Series the Red Sox hit .216 with 21 runs, 19 RBIs, 17 walks, and 49 strikeouts.

The Sox pitching was somewhat better. Their ERA was 3.39, while giving up 25 runs and 17 walks. They struck out 30. Of pitchers going more than two innings, Gary Waslewski’s 2.16 ERA (over eight innings) was the only ERA under five.

For St. Louis Brock, Javier, and Maris all hit over .350 and Maris’ seven RBIs easily led the team (the next highest number was four). Brock scored eight runs and five different Cards had one home run each. The team hit .223, scored 25 runs.

Another question being asked was “With Gibson only able to pitch three games, could any other Cards pitcher beat the Red Sox?” Again the answer was “yes.” Nelson Briles won his only start and Gibson took the other three wins. Of pitchers throwing more than six innings, they were the only two with ERA’s under five (Carlton gave up no earned runs in six innings, but an unearned run gave him a loss).

It was Gibson’s series. He was 3-0 in three complete games. He allowed three runs, walked five, and allowed 14 hits in 27 innings. He set a World Series record with 31 strikeouts in 1964 (besting Sandy Koufax). In 1967 he came close to topping it with 26.

For the Red Sox it was a fluke. They would not get back to a playoff until 1975, when they would again make the Series and again lose in seven games. For the Cardinals, it was the next-to-last fling. They would make the Series in 1968 and lose to Detroit in seven games, then be out of the playoff mix for a full decade before a revival in the 1980s.

Back years ago I did a post titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car” (25 October 2010–if you want to read it) about the 1967 Series. I was in Viet Nam when the Series was played and almost everyone I knew was rooting for Boston. I put money on the Cards and picked up enough to help me buy a nice used car when I got back to the States; so the Series has always had a special place in my heart. Thanks, Bob.

 

 

The Impossible Dream: the games in St. Louis

January 12, 2017

With the 1967 World Series tied at one game each, the Series moved to St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park for the next three games. If one team could sweep, the Series would end. A 2-1 split would send the games back to Boston for the finale.

Game 3

Mike Shannon

. BMike Shannon

Game 3 was played 7 October. Knowing that Bob Gibson could only pitch three games in the Series, St. Louis depended on someone else, anyone else, to win one game. In game 3 they went with Nelson Briles. Boston countered with Gary Bell on the mound. Bell was in trouble from the start. The Cardinals jumped on him in the first when leadoff hitter Lou Brock tripled, then scored on a Curt Flood single. In the second, Tim McCarver singled and rode home on Mike Shannon’s home run to make the score 3-0. Bell was due to bat in the third, so he stayed in for the entire second inning then was lifted for a pinch hitter in the third. Gary Waslewski, the reliever, did a fine job keeping the Cards off the scoreboard over three hitless inning.

In the sixth, the Red Sox finally got to Briles. Mike Andrews, pinch-hitting for Waslewski, singled, was bunted to second, and came home on a single. But with Waslewski out of the game the Cards struck back against Lee Stange in the bottom of the sixth. Lou Brock singled, then went to third on a failed pick off (Stange threw it away), and came home on Roger Maris’ single.

A Reggie Smith homer in the seventh made the score 4-2, but a Roger Maris single and an Orlando Cepeda double gave the Cardinals one more run and a 5-2 final margin of victory. The big star was Briles who gave up two runs on seven hits, no walks, and struck out four.

Game 4

Tim McCarver

Tim McCarver

Game 4 in 1967 was, is frequently the case, pivotal. In an era that tended to use three-man rotations in the World Series, the game one starters, Jose Santiago for Boston and Bob Gibson for St. Louis, were back on the mound. Boston was looking to even the Series. What they got was a second dose of Gibson’s pitching.

The game effectively ended in the first inning. Back to back singles by Lou Brock and Curt Flood brought Roger Maris to the plate. His double scored both runs. A fly to right recorded both the first out and sent Maris to third. Tim McCarver’s single brought home Maris for the third run. An out and consecutive singles brought home McCarver and sent Santiago to the showers. Reliever Gary Bell (the game three starter and loser) got the last out, but the score stood 4-0 at the end of a single inning.

It was all Gibson needed. He went the full nine innings walking one (Smith in the seventh with one out), giving up five hits, only one (a leadoff ninth inning double by Carl Yastrzemski) for extra bases, and struck out six. Yastrzemski was the only runner to reach second during the game. When getting to third on a fly out, Yastrzemski was the only Bosox to advance to third in the game.

While Gibson was shutting down the Red Sox, the Cards were adding on two more runs in the third. Orlando Cepeda led off the inning with a double, went to third on a wild pitch, and came home on a McCarver fly. A subsequent walk to Mike Shannon and a double by Julian Javier plated the final Cards run.

Down three games to one, the “Impossible Dream” was in deep trouble. Boston would have to run the table or suffer a second consecutive World Series loss to St. Louis (1946).

Game 5

Jim Lonborg

Jim Lonborg

Down to having to win all three games, the Boston Red Sox, on 9 October 1967, turned to ace Jim Lonborg to keep the World Series alive and send the games back to Boston. The Cardinals countered with future Hall of Fame hurler Steve Carlton. It was Carlton’s first appearance on the mound during the Series. It turned out to be a first rate pitching duel.

Both pitchers matched zeroes until the top of the third when, with one out Joe Foy singled. Mike Andrews then laid down a bunt to third which Mike Shannon, a converted outfielder, mishandled allowing Foy to make second and Andrews to be safe at first. A Ken Harrelson single scored Foy for the first run of the game.

And it held up all the way to the ninth. Lonborg was masterful through eight walking none, allowing two singles, and striking out four. Carlton was lifted after six but gave up only the one unearned run while giving up three hits, walking two, and striking out five. Ray Washburn relieved Carlton and in two innings gave up a lone hit and struck out two.

Going into the ninth, the Cards brought Ron Willis into pitch. He walked George Scott, gave up a double to Reggie Smith, then intentionally walked Rico Petrocelli, before being lifted for Jack Lamabe. The new pitcher was greeted by an Elston Howard single that scored both Scott and Smith. A strikeout and a double play ended the inning.

Needing three outs to send the Series back to Boston, Lonborg got consecutive ground outs before Roger Maris drove a ball over the right field fence to score St. Louis’ first run. Another ground out ensured it would be their only run. Boston won 3-1. Although Carlton had pitched well, the day belonged to Lonborg who’d showed everyone just how important he was to the Bosox.

So the World Series would go back to Boston for game six and an if necessary game seven. Not only did the Red Sox have to win both games, they would have to do it without Lonborg or use him on short rest.

 

 

 

 

The Impossible Dream: 2 games in Boston

January 10, 2017

The 1967 World Series began in Boston 4 October. With no additional rounds of playoffs in the era, the Series could start much earlier than it does today. The Red Sox were sentimental favorites.

Game 1

Lou Brock

Lou Brock

The first game saw the Bosox start out in something of a hole. Jim Lonborg, the ace, was unavailable to pitch. Boston won the American League pennant at the last-minute and Lonborg had pitched late enough that he needed the extra rest. That put Jose Santiago on the mound for the Red Sox. St. Louis countered with Bob Gibson.

It was something of a standard mid-1960s game; a low scoring pitchers duel. The Cardinals struck first by putting up a run in the top of the third inning. Lou Brock led off with a single and went to third on a Curt Flood double. Roger Maris then hit a roller to first. First baseman George Scott’s only play was to record the out at first while Brock raced home from third. It was a fairly typical Cardinals run, showcasing speed, timely hitting, and hitting to the right with a man on third.

The Red Sox got the run right back when, with one out, pitcher Santiago slugged a home run to knot the game. And there the score stood for three more innings. Both pitchers did well. A handful of runners got on base, and Julian Javier was thrown out at home to end the fourth, but the game was showcasing the pitchers as frequently happened in the semi-Deadball Era of the mid-1960s.

In the seventh, Brock singled, then stole second. Flood, hitting behind the runner, rolled one to first for the out while Brock went on to third. That brought up Maris again. This time it was a roller to second that brought home Brock. And that was all Gibson needed. He allowed two hits and a walk in the final three frames, but no one got beyond second and the Cardinals took game one by a 2-1 score.

Gibson was great. He struck out 10, walked the one, allowed six hits, only two for extra bases (a double by Scott to go along with Santiago’s homer), and gave up one run. Santiago took the loss, but had pitched well. He went seven innings, gave up the two runs, walked three, but struck out five while giving up 10 hits. St. Louis had won by playing the kind of ball they’d played all year (stolen bases, timely hitting) to win. Game two was the next day and Lonborg was ready to pitch for Boston.

Game 2

Yaz

Yaz

Game 2 occurred 5 October and showed non-Boston fans exactly why Jim Lonborg was so important for the Red Sox. He shut out St. Louis on one hit, an eighth inning two out double by Julian Javier (who died on second when a grounder ended the inning), and a single walk ( to Curt Flood with one out in the seventh). He also struck out four on the way to a complete game shutout.

While Lonborg was shutting out the Cardinals, the St. Louis pitching staff made a major mistake, they decided to pitch to Carl Yastrzemski. After walking Yaz in the first, they threw one over the plate to lead off the fourth. He promptly hit it out for a home run and a 1-0 score. He made another out, then a three run homer in the seventh made the score 5-0 (the Bosox picked up a run in the sixth on a Rico Petrocelli sacrifice fly). In the eighth Yastrzemski managed another single to go three for four with four RBIs, two runs scored, two homers, and a walk.

Game two managed to tie the World Series at one game apiece. The Series moved to St. Louis for games three, four, and five of what was now a best of five series.

 

The Impossible Dream: the Cards

January 5, 2017
Red Schoendienst

Red Schoendienst

In 1967 the baseball world was enamored of the Boston Red Sox. Their season was known, after the Broadway hit, “The Impossible Dream.” The National League pennant winning St. Louis Cardinals were, on the other hand, a team that had shown more recent success. From the 1920s through 1946 (coincidentally against the Red Sox) the Cards were consistent winners. They’d fallen on hard times in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s but had won as recently as 1964. Now a new team (with several holdovers from ’64 still around) was going to challenge Boston in the World Series.

Hall of Fame Manager Red Schoendienst in his third years with St. Louis headed a solid team with four future Hall of Famers. In hitting the team led the NL in stolen bases and placed second in all the triple slash categories (BA/OPB.SLG/OPS) and second in runs, hits, and total bases. They were fourth in home runs and third in doubles. The pitching was also second in most categories (ERA, hits, shutouts, runs) while being third in walks and sixth in strikeouts. The team was fourth in fielding percentage, but sixth in errors.

As with the Red Sox, the Cardinals infield was set. From first around to third it consisted of Orlando Cepeda, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill, and Mike Shannon. Hall of Famer Cepeda led the team in WAR, home runs, RBIs, OPS and OPS+ on his way to the NL MVP Award. Shannon was a converted outfielder who sometimes played like it. He was getting better in the field, but was never going to make anyone forget Brooks Robinson. He hit .245 with 23 home runs and 0 WAR (making him the epitome of an average player). Both Javier and Maxvill were in the lineup for their gloves and both did well enough in the field. Javier, additionally, could hit. He managed .281 with 14 home runs (good for third on the team) and 2.6 WAR. Maxvill hit .227 with one homer. The backups were Ed Spiezio and Phil Gagliano. Neither hit .225.

There was no Carl Yazstremski in the outfield, but it was still solid across the grass. Hall of Famer Lou Brock was in left field. He wasn’t as bad an outfielder as he’s sometimes considered, but he was in the game to hit and run. He went .299 with 21 home runs (second on the team), 76 RBIs, 52 stolen bases, 325 total bases, and 5.6 WAR (third on the team). Center Fielder Curt Flood hadn’t yet become the player’s champion but was, nevertheless, a sterling ball player. He hit a team leading .335 to go with 5.3 WAR. In right field, Roger Maris was 32 and well beyond his home run hitting years as a Yankees stalwart. He hit .261 with nine home runs, 55 RBIs, and 3.6 WAR. The replacements were Bobby Tolan (later of the “Big Red Machine”) and future batting champ Alex Johnson. Tolan had six home runs while Johnson was, at .223, still learning to hit.

If the Red Sox catching situation was a mess, the Cardinals had stability there in the person of Tim McCarver. Not yet a household name because of his years as the color guy on national broadcasts, McCarver was a solid catcher who was having something like a career year. He hit .295, had 14 home runs, 69 RBIs, eight stolen bases, more walks than strikeouts, and 6.0 WAR, good for second on the team. His backups were Dave Ricketts, who hit .273, and John Romano who didn’t come close.

With a couple of exceptions, the Cardinals pitching wasn’t in any better shape than the Bosox. Seven men started 10 or more games during the season. Much of that had to do with a key injury. In July Cards ace Bob Gibson was hit by a batted ball. He made a throw to first, then managed one pitch before collapsing with a broken leg (not many people can do that). He was back by the World Series, but had only gone 13-7 with an ERA of 2.98 (ERA+ 110) and only 2.7 WAR. Dick Hughes and youngster Steve Carlton took up most of the slack. Hughes went 16-6 with a 2.67 ERA, 161 strikeouts, and 3.9 WAR. Future Hall of Famer Carlton led the team with 168 strikeouts in 193 innings, won 14 games, had an ERA of 2.98, and put up 2.9 WAR. Ray Washburn had 10 wins and an ERA north of three fifty. Nelson Briles who started 11 of 49 games had 3.6 WAR. Joe Hoerner led the bullpen with 14 saves followed by Ron Willis who had 10.

All in all the 1967 Cardinals was a fine team. With Gibson back healthy they could be formidable. The first game of the World Series was in Boston.

 

The Impossible Dream: The Bosox

January 3, 2017
Dick Williams

Dick Williams

Fifty years ago (1967) the world was a lot different. I was in Viet Nam doing my bit. The anti-war people were screaming. Martin Luther King was still alive. The big hit on Broadway was a musical titled Man of La Mancha. It’s most famous song was “The Quest” which was better known as “The Impossible Dream.” And in baseball the Boston Red Sox were an afterthought. That changed when they ran off enough wins to grab the American League pennant and go to the World Series for the first time since 1946. The team caught the imagination of a lot of people and the season became known as “The Impossible Dream” season.

The Bosox were led by Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams. He hadn’t been much of a player, but he had an eye for talent and led Boston to only its second pennant since Babe Ruth played for the team in 1918. The Sox hitters led the American League in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, home runs, total bases, slugging and OPS. They were third in stolen bases (all of 68), fourth in triples, and toward the bottom in fielding. Their pitchers were less impressive, finishing in the middle of the pack in most categories.

The infield consisted of four players averaging 24 years old. George Scott held down first. He had 19 home runs (third on the team) and 82 RBIs (good for second). Mike Andrews, who’d become famous (or infamous depending on your view of the matter) with the Athletics hit .263 with 2.9 WAR and was a decent second baseman. Rico Petrocelli, who in many ways became the face of the infield (he got a lot more press than the other three) played short, hit 17 home runs, had 4.1 WAR, and made the All Star team. Joe Foy was at third with 16 home runs, but only 2.6 WAR. Dalton Jones and Jerry Adair were the primary infield backups. Both hit about .290 with three homers apiece and 51 total RBIs.

Although the outfield was set at the beginning of the season, tragedy caused a major problem for the Red Sox as the season progressed. Tony Conigliaro was 22 and having a great year. He had 20 home runs, 67 RBIs, was hitting .287, with 3.7 WAR when he was hit in the eye with a pitched ball. Needing a replacement, Boston went with Jose Tartabull. “The Bull” hit only .223 with no power, only 53 OPS+, six stolen bases, and -1.8 WAR. It was a noticeable drop off. Fortunately for the team, the other two outfielders were much better. Reggie Smith played center and led the team with 16 stolen bases. He hit .246 but had 15 home runs and 61 RBIs for 3.4 WAR. But the star was Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. It was his Triple Crown year. He hit .326, had 44 homers, 121 RBIs, a 1.040 OPS (193 OPS+), and 12.4 WAR. For comparison, Ted Williams highest WAR was 10.9 in 1946. All that garnered Yaz the AL MVP Award. Later famed announcer Ken Harrelson and old-time Dodgers player Don Demeter were the other outfielders.

If both the infield and outfield were settled, the catching situation was a mess. Mike Ryan did more catching than anyone else in Boston in 1967 and he was above league average in the caught stealing statistic, but he hit only a buck .99 with no power and -0.6 WAR. Russ Gibson wasn’t much better. He was, like Ryan, above average in gunning down base runners, but he hit only .203 with a single home run. The solution was to bring in 38 year old Elston Howard from New York. Unfortunately for the Bosox, Howard was through. He hit .147 with 11 RBIs, a below average caught stealing percentage, and -0.8 WAR. For the World Series, Howard would be the primary backstop.

The pitching staff was also unsettled. Jim Lonborg was the unquestioned ace. He went 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA (ERA+ of 112), 246 strikeouts to go with 83 walks (a 1.138 WHIP), and 4.1 WAR. For the first time, MLB gave out two Cy Young Awards, one in each league (previously there had been a single award). Lonborg won it. Lee Stange and Gary Bell were the other pitchers who started 20 or more games. Stange was 8-10 with a 2.77 ERA while Bell went 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA. The fourth starter (in an era where most teams started four, not five pitchers) was almost as unsettled as the catcher. Bucky Brandon, Dennis Bennett, and Jose Santiago all started double figure games, with Santiago going 12-4 in fifty games (11 starts) to take the fourth spot in the Series. John Wyatt led the team in saves with 20, but 11 other players had at least one save.

It had been 30 years since Boston won the AL pennant. The “Impossible Dream” team of 1967 was an unexpected winner. They were something of a sentimental favorite nationwide. Standing in their way were the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson.

 

 

 

 

Good Bye to 2016

December 29, 2016
Hopefully I won't have to be this old before the Dodgers win

Hopefully I won’t have to be this old before the Dodgers win

Another baseball season is over. The winners are crowned, the loser mourned. The postseason awards are announced, the winter meetings are through, and the Veteran’s Committee has spoken. Here, in my usual nine things for nine innings format, are a few random thoughts on what we saw (and didn’t see) in 2016.

1. The Cubs finally won. It hadn’t happened in 108 years and the Cubs fans are joyous. But I wonder if some of the mystique that surrounded the Cubs wasn’t harmed. The “loveable loser” moniker is gone, as is the “sit in the sun, drink beer, and don’t worry about the score” motif of Cubsdom is over. Will it hurt the overall fan base, or not. I have no idea.

2. Can the Angels find a pitcher? They have Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the Major Leagues in a long time. They have Albert Pujols, a shadow of what he was at St. Louis, but still a formidable player (He had 119 RBIs and needs nine homers for 600). C. J. Cron is 26 and Kole Calhoun is 29. And they still can’t win. Maybe the problem is the staff, maybe it’s the coaching staff (Scioscia hasn’t led them very far in a while), but they just don’t win.

3. Sticking with the West Coast, but moving to Chavez Ravine, we say good-bye to Vin Scully who, for 67 years, graced us with his voice, his wit, his stories. I liked Jack Buck and Dizzy Dean. I liked Bob Prince and Russ Hodges, but there was only one Vin. Maybe he’ll be the first broadcaster elected to the Hall of Fame itself, not just to the broadcasters niche. And the Dodgers answered the question, “who needs an ace?” by rattling off a ton of wins with Clayton Kershaw injured.

4. I loved that Royals team that won in 2014 and 2015, but injuries and free agency have taken their toll. I’d love to see them back in the mix again, but I’m afraid it will have to be with a very different set of players. That’s a shame; they were fun to watch.

5. Then there’s Cleveland. They now have the longest streak of not having won the World Series (since 1948). It’s a good team with a very good manager and I’d like to see them break their streak (but not at the expense of my Dodgers). And sticking with the Indians, I hope the Terry Francona method of using his relievers in key situations, not just the ninth inning, catches on.

6. So Bud Selig is now a Hall of Famer. OK, I guess. There have been better choices and there have been worse choices. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza also made it. They were better, and easier, choices.

7. We lost W.P. Kinsella this year. He gave us the book Shoeless Joe, which in turn gave us the movie Field of Dreams. We also lost Hall of Famer Monte Irvin and broadcast legend Joe Garagiola, and  current pitcher Felix Fernandez, among others.

8. Dan Duquette is an honest man. He told us that the Orioles weren’t interested in Jose Bautista because the fans didn’t like him. OK, I guess. It’s honest, but I don’t know how much baseball sense it makes. Thoughts, Bloggess?

9. Buck Showalter is getting another year. He’s a fine manager, but he’s gotta know when to bring in his relief ace.

And finally it’s time for my annual Dodgers rallying cry “Wait ’til next year.” Why change the cry now; it’s been good for 28 years.

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Jim Bunning

December 27, 2016
Jim Bunning with Philadelphia

Jim Bunning with Philadelphia

Sticking with the theme of combining sport and politics, here’s some things you should know about Jim Bunning.

1. James Bunning was born in Southgate, Kentucky in 1931.

2. He was both a good ball player and a good student. He graduated from Xavier University (Norwood, Ohio) with a degree in economics.

3. He went to the minors as a Tigers prospect in 1950 as a D League right-handed pitcher. By 1955 he’d earned a stint in the big leagues with Detroit. He went 3-5 with an ERA north of six, and went back to the minors.

4. In 1956 he made the Tigers roster late in the season, went 5-1 with an ERA of 3.71, and remained in the Major Leagues through 1971.

5. He stayed with Detroit through the 1963 season, winning 20 games once (and 19 one other time), leading the American League in strikeouts twice, becoming a five time All Star and amassing 118 wins, 1406 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.45 (ERA+ of 116), a no-hitter, and 29.5 WAR.

6. After the ’63 season he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he  became the first man to throw a perfect game in the regular season (Don Larsen had thrown one in the 1956 World Series) since 1922 (first by a Phillies pitcher since 1906).

7. During the 1964 season he won 19 games, was an All-Star, and teamed with lefty Chris Short as twin aces for the 1964 Phillies who infamously faded in the last two weeks of the season to lose the National League pennant on the last day of the season.

8. He remained with the Phils through 1967, winning 89 games, picking up another strikeout title (1967), two shutout titles (1966 and ’67), posting a 2.93 ERA (ERA+ of 122), went to two All Star Games, and produced 31.4 WAR.

9. In 1969 he split time between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, then went back to Philadelphia for 1970 and a career ending 1971. He finished his career 224-184 with an ERA of 3.27 (115 ERA+), 2855 strikeouts, and even 1000 walks, 40 shutouts, and 60.3 WAR.

10. After leaving baseball, Bunning entered politics. He was elected to the Fort Thomas, Kentucky city council in 1977, then to the Kentucky state senate, becoming minority leader. He ran for Governor of Kentucky in 1983 and lost.

11. In 1986 he was elected to the US House of Representatives and then to the US Senate in 1998. He served in the Senate through 2010 (two terms). He was considered one of the Senate’s most conservative members.

12. In 1996, while a sitting member of the House of Representatives, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. To date he is the only Hall of Famer to serve in the US Senate.

 

The Rep

December 22, 2016
"Vinegar Bend" Mizell

“Vinegar Bend” Mizell

One of the great sage pieces of advice my grandfather gave me when I was growing up stuck with me into my adulthood and probably will stay with me through my dotage. It’s simply that people never talk politics, religion, or sports. They argue them, so stay away from them. And putting any two together is down right crazy. Well, the very act of doing this blog violates the sport part, but now I’m going to put two of them together. It’s up to you to decided just how crazy that is.

Baseball is full of people who mixed the sport with politics. Way back the first President of the National League became a US Senator. Later on John Tener was Senator, Governor, and President of the National League. The Britton brothers who ran the Cleveland Spiders and later the St. Louis Cardinals dabbled in politics. Those are all owners and executives, but players have also been involved. Walter Johnson ran, unsuccessfully, for office, Mickey Owen was sheriff (an elective office where he lived) in his home county. One of the more prominent was a pitcher who made it to the US House of Representatives.

Wilmer Mizell was born in Alabama in 1930. The nearest town was Vinegar Bend and it served as his nickname, surely one of the great baseball nicknames, through his career. He grew up in Mississippi and was good enough at baseball that he made the low minors in 1949. He stayed there until 1952 when he went to St. Louis as a southpaw pitcher. Other than a stint in the Army during the 1950s, he remained in the big leagues through 1961. In 1962 he split time between the minors and the big leagues.

For the Cards he was mostly a starter (185 starts out of 199 games pitched) who was one game under .500 (69-70) with an ERA in the mid-threes with more innings pitched than hits allowed and more strikeouts than walks (WHIP of 1.377). In 1959 he made the National League All Star team.

In 1960 the Cardinals sent him to Pittsburgh. The Pirates were assembling a pennant winning team that year and Mizell was one of the pitching parts. He went 13-5 with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.201 WHIP, and 2.5 WAR. He pitched in two World Series games, starting and losing game three and going a couple of innings in the game six blowout loss. It was his only ring.

In 1961 he had a losing record and an ERA over five. His last year was 1962. He was done at 31. For his career he was 90-88 with an ERA of 3.85 (ERA+ of 104) with 680 walks, 918 strikeouts, a 1.383 WHIP, and 17.7 WAR. Not a bad career, but not a great one either. He did have the one World Series championship to his credit.

So what do you do after a life in baseball? Mizell went to work for Pepsi going into sales and later public relations. In 1966 he moved into politics, running for and winning a seat on the Davidson County, North Carolina board of commissioners. He held the job two years then ran for Congress from the Fifth District of North Carolina. He was a Republican, it was 1968, and the South was changing. He won the seat with just under 53% of the vote. He remained in Congress through the 1974 election when he, like many Republicans in the wake of Watergate, lost his seat. In partial compensation he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and held the job until Jimmy Carter became President. With the arrival of Ronald Reagan, Mizell was appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Governmental and Public Affairs and later moved to the Assistant Secretary slot at the Intergovernmental Affairs branch of the Department of Agriculture. President George H.W. Bush made him head of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

He retired after Bill Clinton took office and died in February 1999. Today he’s probably most remembered as the primary Republican pitcher in the Congressional baseball game. He’s got a ring. He served his country for twenty years. All in all, that’s not a bad legacy.

Mizell's grave from Find a Grave

Mizell’s grave from Find a Grave