El Diamante Negro

February 23, 2017
Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

Recently there’s been a real rash of Caribbean players making their mark in the Major Leagues. With the political troubles the US and Cuba have been through in the last 50 years, few Cubans have made their mark. Back 75 years ago if you were a “white” Cuban you could make your mark in the Majors. If you were a “black” Cuban you couldn’t. Dolf Luque, a pretty fair pitcher managed to pitch in a World Series. For El Diamante Negro (the Black Diamond) there was no chance. So Jose Mendez made his mark in the Negro Leagues.

Mendez was born in Cardenas, Cuba (about 100 miles from Havana) in 1887. By 1907 he was a pitcher for the Almendares team. Seamheads shows him 8-0 in 13 games as his team won the Cuban League pennant. He remained in Cuba through 1916 pitching winter ball there while moving to the US to pitch during the summers. Between 1909 and 1911 he pitched for the Cuban Stars going 15-2 in documented games with an ERA under 1.50.

By 1913 he’d found the team with which he was destined to make his greatest mark. The All Nations was a barnstorming team that traveled around the upper Midwest playing pretty much all comers. It had initially been one of the few integrated teams in the country, but as the long arm of Jim Crow tightened on the US it became more and more a black team. By 1913 it was completely segregated. Well, not completely. The owner, Hall of Famer J.L. Wilkinson, was white. He’d founded the All Nations to show that integrated baseball was possible. He also had contacts in the Major League community, particularly a minor outfielder named Casey Stengel. Guys like Stengel led white barnstorming teams across the US and frequently played black teams. Wilkinson’s contacts with teams like Stengel’s gave him an insight into the best black teams and best black players available. One of those was Mendez, and the All Nations picked him up.

He had a decent year with Wilkinson’s club but developed arm trouble in 1914. He moved to shortstop and continued playing. By 1919 his arm was well and he returned to the mound. The formation of the Negro National League in 1920 gave him a new place to play and he signed with Wilkinson’s team, now renamed the Kansas City Monarchs.

Along with the American Giants, the Monarchs were one of the dominant teams of the NNL. With Mendez and “Bullet Joe” Rogan pitching, Newt Allen and Dobie Moore on the infield Oscar (“Heavy”) Johnson patrolling the outfield they won pennants in 1923, 1924, and 1925. In the latter two years, the team played in the first two Colored World Series (both against Hilldale). With Mendez picking up two wins, including the clincher, they won the first of the two in 1924, dropping the ’25 struggle. Mid-1923 saw Mendez take over the managerial reins for the team. He held the job through the final pennant year of 1925.

Mendez retired after the 1926 season and died in Cuba in 1928 of bronchopneumonia. He still holds the Cuban League record for winning percentage among pitchers. In 2006 he was elected to the Hall of Fame. The Cuban Hall of Fame called him in 1939.

As with other Negro League players of the era, his statistics are all over the place. Baseball Reference.com shows him with 27 wins and 13 loses, all with the Monarchs. Seamheads gives him a 135-58 record over a career from 1907 through 1925. The BR.com ERA is 3.52, while Seamheads has it at 2.16. Either set of numbers shows Mendez as a superior pitcher who was a star in both Cuba and the US Negro Leagues.

 

 

 

 

 

The Monarchs vs the Daisies

February 21, 2017
ticket to the 1925 Colored World Series

ticket to the 1925 Colored World Series

Back in the 1920s there were two significant Negro Leagues: the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League. As a rule the NNL represented Midwestern teams and the ECL covered the East Coast. They were, like the National League and the American League, enemies early in their existence. Eventually intelligence emerged and in 1924 the got together to play the first ever Colored World Series (official title although sometimes called the Negro World Series). The NNL Kansas City Monarchs won it by knocking off the Hilldale Daisies (Daisies was an unofficial nickname). In 1925 it was decided to hold a second postseason series. The same two teams won their league titles so a rematch was in order.

The defending champion Monarchs fielded a team consisting of Lemuel Hawkins, Newt Allen, Dobie Moore, and Newt Joseph in the infield with Dink Mothell, Wade Johnston, Hurley McNair in the outfield, and Frank Duncan as the catcher. The pitching staff consisted of Hall of Famer Jose Mendez, who also managed the team, fellow Hall of Famer “Bullet Joe” Rogan, William Bell, Nelson Dean, and Bill Drake. Rogan was unavailable for the Series. His son had accidentally stabbed him with a needle in his knee and he had to sit out the Series (and you thought freak accidents were new, did you?).

Hilldale responded with an infield of George “Tank”  Carr, Frank Warfield (who also managed the team), Jake Stephens, and Hall of Famer Judy Johnson. The outfield was Clint Thomas, Otto Briggs, and George Johnson. Hall of Fame catcher Biz Mackey did most of the back stopping, but fellow Hall of Fame catcher Louis Santop (in his final season) was available off the bench. The staff centered around Nip Winters, Reuben Currie, and Phil Cockrill, all of which were healthy enough to pitch (apparently none of them let their kids near needles).

The Series was a best of nine. Unlike many Negro League World Series’ all the games would be played in the home parks of the teams. Frequently these series turned into something like a barnstorming session with the games being played in a number of cities (but that was also more common in the 1940s series than in the 1920s). Game one was 1 October 1925 in Kansas City.

It was a pitching duel between Drake and Currie. Both teams scored one run in regulation and another in the 11th inning. In the 13th, George Johnson was hit by a Drake pitch, then Warfield singled. A Judy Johnson triple put the Daisies ahead with Johnson later scoring to make the final 5-2.

Game two saw a reversal of the score as the Monarchs won 5-3 with a three run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning, Dean getting the win and Cockrill taking the loss. But game three then proceeded to go extra innings for the second time in three games. With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the 10th, Mendez relieved Bell. Judy Johnson got to him with a single followed by a Washington double to give Hilldale the win and a 2 games to 1 lead.

Game four was the final game in Kansas City. The final score made it look like a blowout, but the game was close, Hilldale leading 3-2, until the ninth. The Daisies put up four runs to take a commanding lead. KC got one back, but Daisies ace Winters got out of it to win the game 7-3 and send the Series to Philadelphia with Hilldale up three games to one.

With games in Baker Bowl, the Colored World Series resumed on 8 October (the ticket pictured above is for this game). In the fourth inning Tank Carr hit a home run, the first of the Series, off Bell to put Hilldale ahead 1-0. In the same inning Mackey doubled and came home on a misplay (type unspecified in the source). Now up 2-0, Hilldale coasted to a win 2-1 with Currie pitching a complete game and giving the Daisies a 4-1 lead in game.

Game six was 10 October, also in Philly. Mackey went three of five with a homer and Hilldale wrapped up the Series five games to one with Cockrill getting his first win. It was a reversal of the 1924 results and gave Hilldale its first ever championship. It turned out to be their only one.

1925 Hilldale Club

1925 Hilldale Club

Before getting on with a Series wrap up, a note about the picture above. You’ll note the picture refers to the team as the Hilldale “Giants” and I’ve used “Daisies” throughout this post. As noted above “Daisies” was an unofficial team nickname. By the time the team folded during the Great Depression, it had become the most common nickname associated with the team. Because that’s true, I’ve used it throughout.

Although specific inning by inning information on the 1925 Series is scant, the guys at Seamheads have, again, provided us with some solid research to indicate how the individual players did during the Series. If you’re interested in the Negro Leagues, it’s a great place to find information and I recommend it highly.

For the Monarchs Dobie Moore led the team with a .364 average, almost 100 points above Hurley McNair’s .279, which was second on the team. Moore’s four RBIs doubled anyone else on the team, while the two Newts, Allen and Joseph, led Kansas City with three runs scored each. For the staff, Dean picked up the only win and his 1.54 ERA was second to Bell’s 1.15. Drake took two losses.

Mackey, Carr, and outfielder Otto Briggs were the hitting stars for Hilldale. Both Mackey and Carr hit a single home run and Briggs hit .404 for the Series. Briggs’ 12 hits led both teams. Mackey was, over the course of the six games, the only player to hit for the cycle (Carr had no triple). Carr and manager Frank Warfield led the team in RBIs with Carr getting six to Warfield’s five. Curry picked up two wins from the mound with Cockrill, Winters, and Red Ryan getting the other three. Cockrill had the only loss. Both he and Curry racked up 10 strikeouts while Winters and Lee had eight each. Curry’s 1.29 ERA led the team.

I was unable to find the winning and losing shares for the Series.

 

 

The Lincolns

February 16, 2017
Lincoln Giants jersey from 1910

Lincoln Giants jersey from 1910

When we think of Negro League teams, most think of the later Negro League teams such as the Crawfords, the Grays, or the Eagles. But way back before the founding of the first of the famous Negro Leagues, the Negro National League of the 1920s, there were other leagues and other teams. One of the more dominant of the early 20th Century teams was the Lincoln Giants of New York.

There is a bit of question about their origins. Their Wikipedia page indicates that an ancestry can be traced back to Nebraska in the 1890s, but doesn’t indicate how they got to New York. More conventional sources indicate that Jess McMahon (of the current WWE wrestling McMahon’s) was a prominent sports promoter in New York with extensive interests in Harlem. In 1911 he joined with Sol White to form the Lincoln Giants. It was a formidable team that immediately began to dominate black baseball in New York. With Hall of Famers John Henry Lloyd, Louis Santop, Smokey Joe Williams, and the likes of Spottswood Poles, Bill Pettus, and Cannonball Dick Redding (God, I love old-time nicknames) they dominated Eastern black baseball into 1914. In 1913 they played an unofficial black championship against the pride of the Midwestern black leagues, the Chicago American Giants, led by Rube Foster. The exact number of games and wins in the series is in some question, but there is agreement that the Lincolns won the series.

the 1911 Lincoln Giants

the 1911 Lincoln Giants

By 1914, McMahon was in financial trouble. He sold the Lincoln Giants, but retained the contracts of several of the big stars. He formed a new team, the Lincoln Stars, and competed directly with his old team. The Stars lasted to 1917, folded, and most of the remaining former Giants went back to their old club.

According to the Seamheads website, the Lincoln Giants were still doing well in the 1914-17 period, but fell off some due to the loss of many of their stars. By this point Smokey Joe Williams was doubling as ace pitcher and manager. It was the height of his Hall of Fame career. But the team ran up against a formidable foe off the diamond. Nat Strong (see my post “The Schedule Man” of 20 August 2015) controlled scheduling for black baseball in New York at the time and the Lincolns wanted to play more games than Strong was willing to schedule. They attempted to schedule some games without going through Strong, and were thrown out of the existing league structure in New York. Barnstorming followed.

With the founding Foster’s Negro National League, the eastern teams found it to their advantage to form their own league, the Eastern Colored League, in 1923. The Lincolns were a significant member of the league. They never won a league championship, finishing as high as third in 1924. By 1928 the ECL was on life support. A changing economy, weak teams, chaos at the top of the league (again another story for another time), and the dominance of Foster’s NNL, caused it to collapse.

The remnants of the ECL formed a new league, the American Negro League in 1929. It lasted one year. The Lincoln Giants held on one more year in a declining economy and finally folded after the 1930 season.

During their existence, the New York Lincoln Giants were dominant in the East. They won unofficial championships most of the decade of the 19-teens and led Strong’s New York league most years (which is why they thought they could challenge him). They provided Eastern black baseball with some of the greatest players of the era in Lloyd, Wood, Santop, Redding, and later Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes. Not a bad legacy.

the 1911 version of the Lincoln Giants cap

the 1911 version of the Lincoln Giants cap

Spot

February 14, 2017
Spottswood Poles

Spottswood Poles

If you ask most people what they know about the Negro Leagues, you’ll probably get, presuming you get anything other than a blank stare, something about the leagues or the teams of the 1930s and 1940s. And if you get that, you’ll probably hear something like “they ran a lot.” That’s true as far as it goes. They also hit for power and pitched and did all the other things baseball players do, but for some reason the speed game has become a centerpiece of Negro League baseball. That’s true back well beyond the 1930s. One of the first great speedsters played in the Deadball Era. He was Spottswood Poles.

Poles was born in Winchester, Virginia (another in Bloggess’ tour of Virginia people) in 1887. It was the height of “Jim Crow” and Poles, who could play baseball well, went North catching on with the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Colored Giants in 1906. Sol White, owner and manager of the Philadelphia Giants saw him and brought him to the more prestigious Philly team in 1909 (age 22). He was an immediate success. He played the outfield (center) and frequently led off games. He was fast, according to legend, he stole 41 bases in 60 games in 1911 (obviously not all of those can be verified).

He stayed with Philadelphia through 1910 then shifted to the Lincoln Giants (of New York) in 1911. As with most Negro League stars of the day, he did a stint in Cuba during the winters. Between 1910 and 1915 he starred for Fe (“faith”) in Cuba. Info available at Baseball Reference.com shows him hitting ,369 with 21 stolen bases in 25 games with Fe in 1910 (the only season statistics are available). There are references to him hitting .364 in 1912, but I could find no collaboration of that figure. His Wikipedia page credits him with an overall average of .319 in Cuba. The Seamheads site lists the average as .314.

With the Lincoln Giants he became a star. With a short side trip to the Lincoln Stars (an offshoot of the Giants–a story for another time), Spot Poles stayed with the Lincoln Giants until 1917. His numbers vary, but it is obvious he was one of the finer players of the era. Batting averages like .440 and .487 pop up, but Baseball Reference.com’s best number is .382 in 1914 (over 38 games). Seamheads shows a .375 over 17 games in 1912. All are great numbers but they indicate how difficult it is to pin down Negro League statistics.

With the US entering World War I in 1917, Poles joined the Army. He was part of the 369th Infantry (sometimes known as the “Harlem Hellfighters”) and served in France. His unit, a segregated regiment was attached to the French Army during 1918 and served conspicuously. Poles himself earned a Purple Heart during his service.

Back in the Negro Leagues in 1919 he played with Hilldale (Philadelphia), the Bacharachs (Atlantic City), and again with the Lincoln Giants, remaining a player into 1923. In retirement he ran a taxi service, then worked at an air base. He died in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1962. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Remember, he was a veteran of World War I.

These are his numbers from the research by Seamheads: in 290 documented games his triple slash line reads .307/.385/.380/.765 with  60 stolen bases, 228 runs scored, 350 hits, 51 doubles, four home runs, and 114 RBIs. Not at all bad numbers. In contrast, Baseball Reference.com gives the following stats: in 165 documented games a triple slash line of .318/.386/.389/.775, 56 stolen bases, 159 runs scored, 245 hits, 35 doubles, two homers, and 61 RBIs. Either set you pick, you have a great ballplayer.

It’s obvious, if you notice the differing stats listed here, that Poles (one of whose nicknames was the equally obvious “Bean”) is a great case of how difficult it is to get a true handle on Negro League players. It’s certain he was good. It’s almost impossible to tell just how good. When I mentioned on an earlier post about my fantasy league team and how it showed me just how much we were only “glimpsing” the Negro League players, Poles (who is on my team) is one of the players I meant.

In 2006 the Hall of Fame formed a committee to look over and choose Negro League players for Hall enshrinement. Poles was one of the players on the list. He made it through the first round and to the final cut, but did not make it into the Hall of Fame. It will be interesting to see if the new Veteran’s Committee tasked with looking at pre-integration players takes another look at either him or other Negro League players.

Poles grave in Arlington

Poles grave in Arlington

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Pete Hill

February 9, 2017
Pete Hill batting about 1911

Pete Hill batting about 1911

1. John Preston Hill was born in 1882 in Culpeper County, Virginia. There is some evidence that his family was owned during slavery by the family of later Confederate General A. P. Hill. The family lived in Culpeper County. Even that basic statistical information is in dispute. Although the information in the first sentence is the most commonly accepted information, some sources indicate his name was Joseph Preston Hill and he was born in Pittsburgh in 1880. All sources seem to agree his birthday was 12 October.

2, By 1899 he was playing outfield for the Pittsburgh Keystones. The 1900 US Census shows him living in Pittsburgh which is possibly where the confusion about his birthplace occurs.

3. He spent most of the first half of the first decade of the 20th Century playing center field for the Philadelphia Giants (led by Hall of Famer Sol White) and the Cuban X-Giants (which weren’t Cuban but worked out of Trenton). He did spend much of the same period playing winter ball in Cuba, leading the league in hitting in the winter of 1910-11.

4. He joined the Leland Giants in 1908 and teamed with Rube Foster to dominate teams in the Chicago area.

5. When Foster formed the American Giants (also of Chicago) in 1911, Hill became both his primary offensive weapon and the team field captain. He is supposed to have gotten at least one hit in 115 games in 1911. The team played 116 games. The feat is not well documented and may be apocryphal. What little statistical information available shows batting averages of .400 and .357 for 1911 and 1912. Again those numbers are in dispute.

6. In 1919, Hill joined the Detroit Stars as player-manager. In his last year with Detroit, 1921, he hit .388 at age 39.

7. He remained a player and a player-manager through 1925 when he retired.

8. In retirement he ran the Buffalo, NY Red Caps and also worked for Ford Motors.

9. Pete Hill died in Buffalo in 1951.

10. Incomplete numbers at Baseball Reference.com show Hill with a .328 batting average, a .481 slugging percentage, 818 hits in 692 documented games, 513 runs scored, 47 triples, 48 home runs, and 455 RBIs. For 1911 and 1912 the information at Baseball Reference.com gives him batting averages of .365 and .399 as opposed to the numbers listed in point five above. Of the 116 games played in 1911 (of which he’s supposed to have gotten a hit in 115) only 26 are documented (and show 35 hits).

11. In 2006, Pete Hill was elected to the Hall of Fame.

12. For years Hill’s grave was unmarked. The Negro Leagues Grave Marker Project has discovered the site.

Marker from Find a Grave memorial

Marker from Find a Grave memorial

 

A Glimpse at Reality Through Fantasy

February 7, 2017
John Henry Lloyd in Cuba

John Henry Lloyd in Cuba

February is Black History Month in the US and I generally spend the entire month looking at black baseball. This month I wanted to finish the posts on the 1948-50 Boston Red Sox, so I’m starting this year’s look just a little late.

I’m in a Fantasy Baseball league. Kevin, our commissioner, wanted to add in Negro League players (we’re replaying the 1911 season) and because the statistics were really sparse, he had to jury rig a system that would allow the black players to function within the rules of the league but not tip play balance either for against them. As neither he nor I (nor anyone else for that matter) knew if what he’d done would work, I ended up with an experimental all black team. The idea was to find out how well each player functioned without teams (other than mine) having to figure out how to work with experimental statistical information. So far I’m in first place with about a dozen games to play which says a lot more about the quality of the work our commissioner did and the quality of the players than it does about my managerial and general managerial abilities.

I’m telling you this because it reinforces one of the primary problems when dealing with black baseball before 1950. The statistical information is spotty. In the case of my fantasy team John Henry Lloyd only has enough information available to get him into about 50 games of a 154 game season. Pete Hill gets about 75 games. Louis Santop can make about 100 games. All three are Hall of Famers. And some of the statistics are quite simply a best guess (or at least close to it–Kevin did a great job figuring out how to add the player’s information in to the existing system). And this brings up one of the greatest problems with trying to deal with the black leagues of the era.

Exactly how good were these guys? Frankly I don’t know and neither does anyone else. I, and everyone else, can make educated guesses and the working around of stats in something as unimportant in the grand scheme of things like a fantasy league can provide a glimpse of what almost all of our parents and grandparents missed. But ultimately, it is only a glimpse.

And that’s what I can provide here; a mere glimpse. I hope you’ll enjoy this year’s glimpses (many of which are short biographies of players on my fantasy team).

The Best Team Never to Win (What went wrong?)

February 2, 2017
Fenway Park

Fenway Park

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time detailing the players and the one playoff game that composed the three-year period that was the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox. They finished second twice (’48 and ’49) then slipped to third in 1950. Look over the roster (including the manager) and you can’t help but wonder why they never took a pennant. This is a musing on some of the things that went wrong for the team.

The easiest, and most obvious, answer to what went wrong is that the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians were formidable teams also. New York won both the pennant and the World Series in 1949 and repeated again in 1950. Consider some of the names on the Yankees roster: Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Johnny Mize, Allie Reynolds, and in 1950 Whitey Ford. Earlier in 1948 it was Cleveland that took both the pennant and the World Series title. And now consider some of the names on the Indians roster: Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Joe Gordon, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Ken Keltner. In ’48 the Red Sox had a winning record against every team except one (they were 14-8 against the Yanks): Cleveland. They finished the season 11-11 against Cleveland, then lost the one game playoff described below. For what it’s worth, Cleveland had a winning record against everyone except Boston and New York (10-12), but did better against the second division teams. In both 1949 and 1950 the Red Sox couldn’t beat the Yankees. In 1949 they finished one game back of New York but went 9-13 in head-to-head games. They also had a losing season against Cleveland (8-14). New York, on the other hand had a winning record against every team except Detroit, a team they played .500 ball against (11-11). In 1950 both Cleveland and New York handled the Red Sox, and this time Detroit joined the crowd with a 12-10 record against Boston.

In 1950 there was another problem in Boston. Ted Williams was hurt for much of the season (an elbow) and his replacement, Clyde Vollmer, was OK, but he wasn’t Ted Williams. The Bosox slipped to third in 1950.

Additionally, a look at the team statistics shows that the Red Sox pitching wasn’t all that great. Although the hitting consistently finished in the top two or three in most categories the hurlers tended to finish just slightly lower (3 to 4 in an 8 team league). It’s not that an individual pitcher, like a Mel Parnell, wasn’t good, but the overall quality of the staff didn’t hold up to Cleveland (Bob Feller and Bob Lemon) or to the Yanks. In 1949 Parnell finished second on the team (to Williams–who else?) in WAR and in 1950 he actually led the team (remember Williams was hurt). But the staff had a bad habit of putting a lot of men on base and too many of those men scored. In all three years an inordinate number of pitchers allowed more hits than they had innings pitched and walked more men than they struck out. Those aren’t recipes for winning pennants (especially if Cleveland has guys like Feller and Lemon).

It’s tough not to like this team. It was a genuinely terrific team, but at the same time you almost can’t help but feel sorry for it. It should have won more and it’s kind of a shame it didn’t.

The Best Team Never to Win (1948 playoff)

January 31, 2017
Vern Stephens (Boston) and Lou Boudreau (Cleveland) at Fenway Park 1948

Vern Stephens (Boston) and Lou Boudreau (Cleveland) at Fenway Park 1948

If the 1948-50 Boston Red Sox were the best team to never win a pennant, the 1948 team came close. At the end of the regular season, they emerged tied for first with the Cleveland Indians. At the time, each league had its own rules about breaking end of season ties. The National League ran a best of three series to determine a pennant winner. The American League had a one game winner-take-all playoff to determine their pennant winner. The AL was founded in 1901. Prior to 1948 there had never been a tie, so the 1948 game was a first in league history. The game was played 4 October in Fenway Park, Boston.

The pennant race came down to the final day so neither team was able to start their ace. Boston manager Joe Mc Carthy sent 8-7 Denny Galehouse to the mound, while Cleveland player-manager Lou Boudreau countered with 19 game winner Gene Bearden. Bearden in particular was working on short rest. Here’s a look at the starting lineups:

Cleveland: Dale Mitchell (lf), Allie Clark (1b), Lou Boudreau (SS and Hall of Fame), Joe Gordon (2b, and Hall of Fame), Ken Keltner (3b), Larry Doby (cf and Hall of Fame), Bob Kennedy (rf), Jim Hegan (c), Bearden.

Boston: Dom DiMaggio (cf), Johnny Pesky (3b), Ted Williams (lf and Hall of Fame), Vern Stephens (SS), Bobby Doerr (2b and Hall of Fame), Stan Spence (rf), Billy Goodman (1b), Birdie Tebbetts (c), Galehouse.

Things began with a bang. With two outs, Boudreau caught up with a Galehouse pitch and drove it over the fences for a 1-0 Cleveland lead. That lasted exactly two outs. With an out, Pesky doubled, then, following another out, came home on a Stephens single to left. Then the pitchers settled down. Over the next two innings, Galehouse walked one and gave up a single while striking out one. Bearden walked two, one of which was erased on a double play, while giving up no hits.

Then came the top of the fourth. Consecutive singles by Boudreau and Gordon brought up Keltner. He blasted a three run homer that sent Galehouse to the showers and brought in reliever Ellis Kinder who managed to get out of the inning without further damage. Bearden sailed through the fourth, then Boudreau hit his second homer, this one off Kinder, to make the score 6-1 half way through the game.

After an uneventful bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, Boston struck, again with two outs. With a single out, Williams reached base on an error by Gordon and scored ahead of Doerr when the latter connected with a home run. A Spence strikeout ended the inning with the score 6-3.

It stayed that way into the eighth when Cleveland picked up an unearned run on an error. They tacked on another when a double play with the bases loaded allowed an eighth run. With the score 8-3, Bearden returned to the mound for the bottom of the ninth. A grounder back to the pitcher made Doer the first out. Bearden then walked pinch hitter Billy Hitchcock. Goodman struck out for the second out of the inning. Then Tebbetts grounded to third baseman Keltner, who tossed to first for the final out and Cleveland was champ 8-3.

Boudreau was great (he won the MVP that year), going four for four with three runs scored, two RBIs and two homers. Keltner had provided another homer, this one worth three runs. Doby also managed a couple of hits, both doubles. Bearden threw a complete game giving up one earned run (the first one) while striking out six. He gave up five hits and five walks, but only three men scored.

For the Red Sox, Doerr had a homer and two of the RBIs (Stephens got the other). No one had more than one hit and Pesky had the only extra base hit (a double) other than Doerr’s home run. Galehouse gave up five hits and four runs over three-plus innings, while walking one and striking out another one. Kinder also gave up four runs (three earned) over six innings while giving up eight hits, striking out two and walking three.

Cleveland would go on to win the World Series that year; their last to date. Boston would have two more tries at the ring. As this series of posts has pointed out, they never grasped it. Next time some thoughts on why they failed.

 

 

 

The Best Team Never to Win (2)

January 26, 2017

Mel Parnell

Having decided the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox are the best team to never win a pennant, I spent the last post detailing some of the players. In this one I want to look at more of the roster. I have the battery and the bench left.

Almost all the catching was done by two men: Birdie Tebbetts and Mike Batts. Tebbetts was the primary catcher for the entire period. He’d been around for a while (1936) and 1952 would be his last season. He started with Detroit and participated in the 1940 World Series (the Tigers lost). He’d missed the 1945 Series win because of military service. He came to Boston in 1947 and remained through 1950. His triple slash line for 1950 was ..310/.377/.444/.821. It was easily his best season in Boston, but it needs to be noted he only played in 79 games that year. He had 18 home runs over the period. His 68 RBIs in 1948 was easily his highest total. He had 3.2 total WAR for the three seasons. He’d been an excellent catcher while in Detroit, but age and injury diminished his skills by 1948. Mike Batts was the primary backup. His best year was 1948 when his triple slash line looked like this: .314/.391/.441/.832 in 46 games (his high in games played was 75 in 1950. He managed eight total home runs and topped out at 34 RBIs in 1950. As a catcher he was nothing special. His total WAR for the three seasons was 1.2.

As usual, the bench saw much change over three seasons. The following were the primary bench players in 1948: Sam Mele and Wally Moses in the outfield, and infielders Billy Hitchcock and Jake Jones (all the bench players with more than four games played). Hitchcock hit .298, both Mele and Moses had two homers, and Moses led the bench with 29 RBIs and five steals. Together they had -1.3 WAR. In 1949 Hitchcock and Mele were back. Tommy O’Brien replaced Moses and Walt Dropo replaced Jones and new guy Lou Stringer joined the team as the members of the bench with 40 or more at bats. Dropo, who only got into 11 games, I dealt with in the last post. The others saw Stringer hit .268 and O’Brien have three homers and 10 RBIs. Between them they came up with -2 WAR. In 1950, except for Billy Goodman who showed up in the last post, no backup infielder played in more than 25 games. The main bench consisted of O’Brien, Clyde Vollmer, and Tom Wright in the outfield (where Williams was injured for part of the season), along with Buddy Roser who was the third catcher. Wright hit .318 and Vollmer had seven home runs and 37 RBIs. Vollmer’s 0.3 was the only WAR in positive numbers. The above makes it plain that the bench wasn’t a major team strength.

You can get away with a weak bench, but you can’t get away with a weak staff. As you should expect, over a period of three years there were major changes in the pitching staff as well as stalwarts who were there all three seasons. In the brief look at the various pitchers which is going to follow this paragraph, I am noting all hurlers who started double figure games along with the top two or three men in the bullpen.

In 1948, six men started double figure games: Joe Dobson, Mel Parnell, Jack Kramer, Ellis Kinder, Mickey Harris, and Denny Galehouse. Parnell and Harris were the lefties. Kramer led the team with 18 wins while Parnell’s 3.14 set the ERA pace. Only Harris, at 7-10 put up a losing record. Kramer, Galehouse, and Harris all gave up more hits than innings pitched, while Dobson’s 1.341 WHIP led the starters. Parnell, Kinder, Galehouse, and Harris all walked more men than they struck out. Parnell’s 139 was the top ERA+ and only Dobson (at 3.6) and Parnell (at 3.4) had pitching WAR above 2.0. Earl Johnson, Dave Ferriss, and Tex Hughson were the only other pitchers to appear in 10 or more games. Johnson’s 4.53 was the only ERA under five and all of them gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Hughson’s 1.448 was the best WHIP and Hughson’s 0.0 WAR was best of the three.

The next season, 1949, saw Kramer, Parnell, Kinder, and Dobson remain from 1948. They were joined by Chuck Stobbs and Mickey McDermott, both lefties. Parnell and Kinder had great seasons. Parnell won 25 games, Kinder 23. Parnell’s ERA was 2.77, but he still walked more men than he struck out (1.327). His 8.2 WAR was second on the team to Ted Williams, while Kinder had 4.3 WAR. Of the others, only Kramer had a losing record, but only Dobson had an ERA under four. Additionally Kramer gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Together they produced 2.1 WAR. The bullpen featured Hughson and Johnson, while adding Walt Masterson. Only Masterson had an ERA under 5.25. All three gave up more hits than they had innings pitched, Hughson’s 1.584 was the top WHIP, and together they managed all of 10.4 WAR.

By 1950 only Parnell and Dobson were left from the 1948 starters. Stobbs, who’d come in 1949 was still there, and Willard Nixon had come aboard as a new right hander. Among the bullpen men, Masterson and McDermott did the bulk of the work. The big change was that Kinder was now doing half of his work out of the bullpen (23 starts in 48 games pitched). Parnell (at 5.6) and Dobson (at 3.9) led the team in WAR and produced winning seasons with 18-10 and 15-10 records (Parnell listed first). Parnell’s ERA was 3.61 and Dobson’s was 4.18. Both Stobbs and Nixon had ERA’s north of five while Dobson and Nixon continued the trend of giving up more hits than they had innings pitched. Kinder did the same, but at 1.401 had the best WHIP. All the starters, except Kinder walked more men than they struck out. Both McDermott and Masterson put up ERA’s over five and both walked more opponents than they struck out (at least McDermott gave up fewer hits than he had innings pitched). Kinder’s WAR was a respectable 3.5, but Stobbs, Nixon, McDermott, and Masterson together totaled -0.3.

So there’s the team that played in Boston in the American League between 1948 and 1950 inclusive. They didn’t win, although they did come close, especially in 1948. Next time some thoughts on what went wrong.

 

 

The Best Team Never to Win

January 24, 2017
Marse Joe while with the Yanks

Marse Joe while with the Yanks

The Cubs have, over the last 60 years, been historically bad. Most years they weren’t in contention by the end of the first couple of days and went downhill from there. But there are a lot of other teams that didn’t win much, so I decided to look for what I considered the best team that never won.

Let me take a minute to define my terms. I’m looking for the team that was good, really good, but never won a pennant. As we move toward the modern era we get more teams making the postseason, so I decided that teams making a playoff could count, but they weren’t allowed to win even one round during the postseason. I did not sit down and laboriously go through stat after stat trying to find the team with the most runs, or the highest team WAR, or WHIP. I looked primarily at overall record and I decided that teams that were good, but unsuccessful, over a period of years were more what I was looking for than some one year wonder of a team. A team like the 1988 Mets didn’t win, but with essentially the same team, they’d won the World Series in 1986, so they weren’t eligible for this project. Several teams made the initial couple of cuts, but I found myself coming back over and over to a team that was very, very good, had an MVP performance, a Hall of Fame manager and a couple of Hall of Famers and still just couldn’t quite get over the top: the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox.

Before getting into the specifics of the team, let me give you a brief look at the people involved. The primary manager was Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy. He’d won a pennant with the Cubs in 1928 then led the Yankees through most of the 1930s and into the 1940s, when he resigned in 1946. He remained out of the dugout until 1948 when he took over Boston. He remained at the helm until June 1950 when he left managing for good. His replacement was Steve O’Neill. O’Neill managed the Detroit Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship (over McCarthy’s old team, the Cubs), then was let go after falling off by 1948. He remained with Boston through 1951.

In what’s about to follow, I want to point out the statistics I quote will not be yearly, but will note the best number in the three year run. For example if Joe Klutz has his best batting average in 1948, his best OBP in 1949, and his highest slugging percentage and OPS in 1950 then his triple slash line will look something like this (year substituted for actual number): 1948/1949/1950/1950. His home run number might be 1950 and his RBI number from 1948. I’m doing this to give you some flavor of how good the players were over a period of years rather than going through each individual yearly. On the other hand cumulative stats will be for the three-year span. Hopefully, I’ll do this well enough to make sure I distinguish which stat type is which (confused?). I think it’s more in line with the length of time involved with this team.

The infield was essentially five guys. Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr held down second for the entire period. His triple slash line (again, the best number in the three years, not necessarily from the same year) was .309/.393/.519/.891. He hit 72 total home runs, his highest RBI number was 120 (1950), and he led the American League in triples with 11 in 1950. His highest hit total was 172 and he totaled 14.1 WAR over the period. He was also generally first or second in most of the major fielding statistics. Johnny Pesky and Vern Stephens held down the left side of the infield. Pesky spent ’48 and ’49 as the primary third baseman and moved to short in ’50. Stephens obviously went the other way. His triple slash line reads .312/.437/.388/.825 (all from 1950 in this case). He totaled six home runs, his highest RBI total was 69 and he managed a high of eight stolen bases over the period. He scored 347 total runs, had 185 hits in 1949, and totaled 10.7 WAR in the three-year stretch. Although his fielding numbers aren’t as good as Doerr’s, Pesky still shows up as a very good defensive player. Stephens wasn’t exactly a bad fielder, but his primary job was to wield the lumber. His triple slash line for the period peaks at .295/.391/.539/.930 with 98 home runs. He led the AL in RBIs in both 1949 and 1950 with his 159 in 1949 being the highest number. In 1948 he also managed to lead the AL in grounding into double plays. His WAR for the period was 15.1.

The other two guys were at first. Billy Goodman did more work at first than anyone else, but he wasn’t really a first baseman. He also spent a lot of time at second, third, and in the outfield (ultimately he played more games at second than at any other position). He hit well, winning the 1950 AL batting title. His best triple slash numbers were .354/.427/.455/.882 (all from 1950, a year he played no games at first). He hit five total homers in the period, had 68 RBIs in 1950, scored 91 runs (also in 1950–obviously his career year), and managed 5.2 total WAR. His replacement at first was Walt Dropo. He didn’t play at all in 1948 and had a cup of coffee in ’49. In 1950 he took over as the everyday first baseman. He led the AL in RBIs with 144, won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, had a triple slash line of .322/.378/.583/.961, led the league in total bases with 326, and posted 2.6 WAR. He also hit 34 home runs, had 180 hits, and scored 101 runs. All those were to be career highs. For his career he would put up 3.2 WAR, 2.6 of that in 1950.

The outfield belonged to four men: Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Al Zarilla, and Stan Spence. If you’re reading this you probably have a sense of Williams. He’s one of the dozen or so greatest players ever and he was excellent in the three years around 1950. His best triple slash line for the three years reads .369/,497/.650/1,141. He hit 96 home runs in the period, won the RBI title in 1949 with a career high 159, led the AL in runs, doubles, total bases at various times during the three year run. His WAR totals 21.5. He was injured for much of 1950, or his number might have been higher. He won the MVP Award in 1949. Stan Spence, on the other hand, is fairly obscure. He played both right field and first base in 1948, then was traded seven games into 1949. In 1948 he hit .235/,368/.391/.759 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs. Zarilla was his replacement. He was with Boston in both ’49 and 1950 and had a better year in ’50. His triple slash line for 1950 is .325/.423/.493/.915. He had nine home runs both years, 145 total RBIs, had 32 doubles each year, and 4.6 total WAR. He was a decent outfielder, but is today probably most famous as the principal in the famous Dizzy Dean line “Zarilla slud into third.” Which leaves Dom DiMaggio, the center fielder. His triple slash numbers read .328/.4.14/.452/.866 (all are from 1950). He led the AL in stolen bases (15), triples (11), and runs 131) in 1950 (his best year) and put up 24 home runs, 384 runs, and 11.1 WAR over the period. His fielding stats show him as one of the best center fielders of the era.

Next time I want to look at the battery (both catchers and pitchers) as well as the bench. It’s a fine team. So I also want to look at what went wrong causing them to never reach the World Series.