RIP Billy the Kid

July 31, 2015
Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce

Just saw that Billy Pierce, a lefty ace for the Chicago White Sox of the 1950s died today. He was 88. Pierce played a couple of years in Detroit, before becoming a bigtime pitcher for the ChiSox in 1949. He ended up with the Giants in the early 1960s and got into the 1962 World Series. For his career he went 211-169 with a3.27 ERA.

RIP, Billy the Kid.

Burning the Deadwood

July 30, 2015

So I see that the Hall of Fame leadership is again “fixing” the Hall voting. This time they’re calling out those writers who have no contact with baseball writing in the last 10 years and telling them they can’t vote in the next Hall of Fame election. Of course they’re not really banning them, because if the about-to-be-banned guy (or gal) can show some work that is baseball related they can get back in the good graces of the Hall and continue to vote. Apparently this would entail writing a piece for your local semi-weekly rag that says “The Hall of Fame is a great place. Go visit, people.”

This is the second change in as many elections. The first cut the number of years a player could be on the writer’s ballot from 15 years to 10 years, with guys (read Tim Raines here) already over 10 but not yet at 15 being grandfathered on. It’s supposed to cut the backlog on the ballot.

OK, I guess I applaud the Hall for the changes. I’ve argued that a lot of people voting for the Hall aren’t currently up to date on the sport and probably shouldn’t vote. I’ve also argued that if you can’t get in the Hall in 10 years you probably shouldn’t be elected by the writers. So hooray, I think.

Why is it I have a problem with all this? Maybe it’s because the “fix” is kind of smoke and mirrors. If a writer is about to lose their Hall of Fame vote, they can do something to get back into good graces. I know the Hall specified it had to be more than lip service, but guess who gets to determine what lip service means? Give you a hint–the place is located in Cooperstown. No hard, fast rule that says exactly what allows a writer thrown out of voting back into the fold. That strikes me as a problem.

Going from 15 to 10 years? As I said before, I’m all for it. But then there’s the little matter of the Veteran’s Committee taking up the players. I guess all this means that the Vet’s Committee gets to start looking at a particular player five years earlier. I realize that allows the writers to kick the steroid guys down the road quicker and thus was their hands of the entire issue and era, but it’s going to come up again, team.

So “Yippee” for the Hall, I guess. I just can’t get all that excited about the changes and that’s kind of sad because they were changes I advocated. Am I just too hard to please?

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Dale Alexander

July 28, 2015
Dale Alexander while with Detroit

Dale Alexander while with Detroit

1. David Dale Alexander was born in Tennessee in 1903.

2. His father was a local baseball player and tobacco farmer. The son did not immediately follow in his Dad’s footsteps, but attended and graduated from Milligan College. He played baseball there and at Tusculum College in Greenville, his hometown. Frankly I’ve been unable to find out how the managed that. There is no evidence he went to Tusculum after graduating from Milligan.

3. In 1924 the Tigers picked him up and sent him to Class D baseball in his hometown.

4. He moved around a lot in the minors, staying through 1928. He won a Triple Crown for Toronto in 1928.

5. Alexander was an instant star, hitting .343 and leading the American League in hits with 215 in his rookie campaign. He ended up with 137 RBIs, a then rookie record (it was surpassed by Ted Williams).

6. In 1931 he had 47 doubles, second to Earl Webb’s record 67 (and still the record), but his home run totals dropped from 25 and 20 to three.

7. He started slowly in 1932 and ended up being traded to the Boston Red Sox (interestingly enough for Webb). It seemed to rejuvenate him and he ended up hitting .372 for Boston. His aggregate average was .367 and he won the 1932 AL batting title.

8. In August, his fourth inning single proved to be the only hit off Wes Ferrell and spoiled Ferrell’s no hit bid.

9. On 30 May 1933 Alexander was injured sliding into home. His injured leg was left too long in a new heat treatment and was badly burned. He never recovered. For his five-year career his triple slash line is .331/.394/.497/.891 with an OPS+ of 129. He hit 61 home runs (45 of them in his first two years) in 811 hits, scored 369 runs, and had 459 RBIs. His Baseball Reference.com WAR is 15.6.

10. Between 1934 and 1942 he spent time in the minor leagues both playing and managing. His leg made it impossible for him to perform at Major League level, but he did well at AA level and lower.

11. In 1949 he became a scout for the New York Giants. He remained there through the 1950s and is the scout who discovered Willie McCovey.

12. He died in 1979.

Alexander's grave (from Find a Grave website)

Alexander’s grave (from Find a Grave website)

This Seems Worthwhile

July 23, 2015
Restored grave of pioneer Jim Creighton

Restored grave of pioneer Jim Creighton

As a SABR member, I get SABR notes in my email every Friday. Some of the notes are of general interest to fans, other notes are of such a specialized nature that they matter only to a select few.

According to my most recent note, SABR is launching The 19th Century Graves Marker Project. Many of the founders, pioneers, and early players of the game were buried without headstones. Others have their headstones in great disrepair. The project is designed to remedy that situation by refurbishing existing headstones or purchasing ones where none exist. It is similar to the Negro Leagues Graves Marker Project about which I’ve written before. I’ll be contributing.

Let me take a moment and ask you to consider lending at least moral support for this project. If you have knowledge or expertise you can also help. The men who began this great game deserve at least to be remembered in their final resting place.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: the last games in New York

July 21, 2015

With the Yankees up three games to two and needing only one win to clinch the 1926 World Series, the Series returned to Yankee Stadium. Needing two wins to capture the title, the St. Louis Cardinals went with their most experienced pitcher in game six and with a tried veteran for game seven.

Game 6

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Game six was a second start for Grover Cleveland Alexander. For New York, the Yankees sent Bob Shawkey to the mound. It was his first start, although he’d relieved in two previous games. He was in trouble from the beginning. It started with a single to Wattie Holm, playing center field for Taylor Douthit. A force at second put him out, but put Billy Southworth on first. A walk to Rogers Hornsby sent Southworth to second and a double by Jim Bottomley plated him. A followup single by Les Bell brought both Hornsby and Bottomley home.

It was all Alexander needed. The Yanks got a run in the fourth on a Bob Meusel triple and a Lou Gehrig grounder to first, but the Cardinals got it right back in the fifth on two singles sandwiched between a bunt sacrifice.

With the score already 4-1, the Cards exploded for five runs in the seventh. A couple of singles, a double, and a Bell two run home run made it 9-1. New York managed one in the bottom of the inning, but St. Louis tacked on one more in the ninth on a Southworth triple and a Hornsby grounder to make the final 10-2.

Alexander was superb, giving up two runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out six and scored a run. Flush with victory he, according to legend, went on something akin to a real bender that evening. He was, at least so he thought, finished with his World Series chores.

Game 7

Tommy Thevenow

Tommy Thevenow

Game seven of the 1926 World Series occurred 9 October. It featured pitchers Jesse Haines taking on Waite Hoyt. Both men had already won a game in the Series: Haines game three and Hoyt game four. It was to become famous for a single moment, one of the more well known and  most frequently written about moments in World Series lore.

Both teams started slow. Although there were a number of base runners, no one scored until the bottom of the third when Babe Ruth launched a shot into deep right field to put New York up 1-0. St. Louis struck back in the top of the fourth. With one out Jim Bottomley singled, then Les Bell reached first on an error by Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig. Chick Hafey singled to load the bases. Then Bob O’Farrell lifted a fly to left field that Yank outfield Bob Meusel dropped. Bottomley scored to tie up the game. That brought up eight hitter shortstop Tommy Thevenow. He singled to right, scoring both Bell and Hafey. A strikeout and grounder ended the inning with the score St. Louis 3, New York 1. That held up until the bottom of the sixth when, with two out, Joe Dugan singled and a Hank Severeid double plated Dugan with the second Yankees run. A ground out ended the inning.

In the top of the seventh, the Cards went in order. That brought up the Yanks in the bottom of the seventh and set the stage for one of the most famous of all World Series moments. Earle Combs led off the inning with a single and went to second on a bunt. An intentional walk put Ruth on first. A grounder to Bell led to a force of Ruth at second, but left runners on first and third with two outs. Haines then proceeded to walk Lou Gehrig.

At this point legend takes over and facts get a little obscured. One version of what happens next has Haines having to leave the game with a finger blister, forcing manager Hornsby to change pitchers. Another version has Hornsby deciding Haines was done and calling for a new pitcher without reference to Haines’ finger. Whichever is true, Haines was out and Hornsby called for Grover Cleveland Alexander from the bullpen.

And now another legend takes over. According to one version of what happened, Alexander was in the bullpen sleeping off a hangover when Hornsby called for him. Another version says he was sober, but unready to pitch because he presumed that having gone nine innings the day before he wouldn’t be pitching at all on 9 October. Yet a third version says he’d just begun to warm up. I don’t think anyone knows for sure which is true. The SABR version of the event states Alexander was sober.

Whichever is true, in came Alexander to face rookie Tony Lazzeri with two outs and the bases full of Yankees (Combs on first, Meusel on second, and Gehrig at first). The first pitch was a strike. The second was fouled off deep down the left field line just missing the foul pole. With two strikes, Lazzeri swung and missed the next pitch to record the final out of the inning. It is, arguably the most famous strikeout in baseball history.

St. Louis got a couple of men on in the eighth, but didn’t score. New York went down in order in the bottom of the eighth, as did the Cardinals in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth Alexander got Combs and Koenig on groundouts which brought up Ruth, who walked. With Meusel at bat and Gehrig on deck, Ruth tried to surprise the Cards by stealing second. O’Farrell threw to Hornsby, the tag was applied, and the St. Louis Cardinals won their first ever World Series.

It was a good Series, especially for the hitters. The Cardinals hit .272 as a team with Thevenow hitting .417. He joined Hornsby and Southworth by driving in four runs, but Bottomley topped all three with five and Les Bell led the team with six. Southworth led St. Louis with six runs scored and Thevenow was just behind with five. Thevenow, Southworth, Bell, and pitcher Haines each had one home run, while Bottomley had three doubles, and Southworth picked up the only triple as well as led the team with 10 total hits.

Although the Yanks hit only .242 as a team, Combs and Gehrig hit above .345 while Ruth hit an even .300 and Joe Dugan was at .333.. Ruth had five RBIs while Gehrig, in his rookie Series, had four. Ruth’s six runs scored easily led the team. He also hit all four of the team’s home runs, including three in one game. Combs led New York with 10 hits. He and Gehrig each had two doubles and Meusel got the only triple.

Among pitchers, Alexander was the big hero. He had two wins and the famous save in game seven. But Haines’ had an even better ERA (1.08 to 1.33) while picking up the other two wins. Bill Sherdel had two of the losses, but only a 2.12 ERA. Alexander led the team with 14 strikeouts. For New York Herb Pennock posted two wins with Hoyt getting the other. His 10 strikeouts led the team.

For both teams it was a beginning. For St. Louis it was their first 20th Century title. They would win again in 1928 (and end up losing to New York) and then win three times in the 1930s, four times in the 1940s, and still carry on a winning tradition into the 21st Century. The Yankees began a great period of consistent excellence in 1926, winning with great regularity into the 1960s and, like the Cardinals, continuing on into the 21st Century. That makes 1926 something of a watershed and makes it a Series worth remembering for more than just one strikeout.

 

 

 

 

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The St. Louis Games

July 9, 2015

With the 1926 World Series tied at one game each, the third through fifth games were held in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. If either team could sweep the games, the Series would end. Any kind of split would send the Series back to New York for up to two games. Game three was played 5 October.

Jesse Haines

Jesse Haines

For game three, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby decided to send Jesse Haines in to pitch. It turned out to be a good choice. Haines didn’t allow a man on base until the third inning, but got out of a mini-jam with a grounder to first. His opponent, Dutch Reuther, was doing almost as well. He’d allowed a couple more men on base, but no one scored.

In the fourth St. Louis finally broke through. A leadoff single to third sacker Les Bell, a bunt to advance him to second, and a walk to catcher Bob O’Farrell, brought up shortstop Tommy Thevenow. He rolled one to short, but the failure to complete a double played allowed Bell to score and kept the inning alive. Haines, who’d had one RBI all year, promptly hit a two-run homer to put the Cards up 3-0. They added one more in the fifth on consecutive singles and a ground out.

It was all Haines needed. He shutout Murderer’s Row on five hits and three walks. He struck out three. He’d also struck the biggest blow with his home run.

Game 4

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

In the 6 October game St. Louis made a huge blunder. They decided to pitch to Babe Ruth. Consequently, the game became the Babe Ruth show. Cardinals pitcher Flint Rhem, and later reliever Art Reinhart, was simply unable to cope with the Babe’s batting. In the first inning, Ruth hit a home run to right. Yankees hurler Waite Hoyt gave it right back on three consecutive singles by Taylor Douthit, Billy Southworth, and Hornesby. Hornesby’s hit driving in Douthit.

In the third inning, Ruth connected for his second consecutive home run, putting New York back in the lead. A walk and a double in the fourth made it 3-1, when St. Louis staged a big inning. With one out, Chick Hafey singled. An error by Mark Koenig, let Bob O’Farrell on. Then Thevenow doubled to scored Hafey. The second out, a long fly to left, scored O’Farrell, then a double by Douthit brought in Thevenow. It could have been worse, but Douthit was thrown out at home by Bob Meusel’s accurate throw. At the end of four it was 4-3 in favor of the Cardinals.

In manufacturing the three runs in the fourth. A pinch hitter took Rhem out of the game. Art Reinhart took his place. In the top of the fifth he walked Earle Combs. A Koenig double tied the score. Reinhart managed to keep Ruth from hitting a home run by walking him. Another walk to Meusel loaded the bases and Lou Gehrig picked up an RBI when Reinhart walked him. That was all for Reinhart, who’d managed to get no one out. Hi Bell replaced him and induced a long sacrifice fly that brought home Ruth. A ground out scored Meusel, then a balk and a walk reloaded the bases. Fortunately for St. Louis pitcher Hoyt didn’t hit much and ended the inning with a grounder to Hornsby at second. The score was 7-4.

But the Yanks, and Ruth, weren’t through. They tacked on two more in the sixth when Ruth hit his third home run of the game with Koenig on base and got one more in the seventh on a single, a bunt, and a double to make the score 10-4. In the eighth, Wild Bill Hallahan, now pitching for St. Louis, walked Ruth, but didn’t allow a run. The Cards got one more in the ninth on a two out single by Les Bell making 10-5 the final.

Ruth went three for three with two walks for the game. He had three home runs, scored four runs and had four RBIs. Art Reinhart, on the other hand got no one out, gave up four earned runs on four walks and one hit.

With the Yankees win, the Series was tied two games each. That ensured that there would be at least one more game in New York.

Game 5

Tony Lazzeri

Tony Lazzeri

Game five was played 7 October. The pitching matchup was a rehash of game one with Bill Sherdel taking on Herb Pennock. Both pitchers got through the first three innings without damage. In the bottom of the fourth, with one out, Jim Bottomley doubled and came home on a Les Bell single. It held up until the top of the sixth when Pennock doubled and was picked off second. Except that he wasn’t. Shortstop Thevenow dropped the ball and Pennock remained at second. A Mark Koenig single brought Pennock home with the tying run.

The Cards went back ahead on a double by Bell and a O’Farrell single to make the score 2-1. Sherdel went into the top of the ninth needing three outs to put St. Louis up three games to two. He was met with a Lou Gehrig double and a Tony Lazzeri single that put Gehrig on third. Pinch hitter Ben Paschal then singled to center to re-tie the game. Sherdel then settled down to get three groundouts to end the inning. Two pop ups and a grounder got Pennock out of the ninth and the game into extra innings.

In the tenth, Koenig singled, went to second on a wild pitch. Then a walk to Ruth brought up Meusel. His sacrifice bunt sent Koenig to third and Ruth to second. Sherdel walked Gehrig to set up a force. It didn’t do much good as Lazzeri drove a long fly to left that scored Koenig and recorded the second out. One out later, Pennock took the mound with a 3-2 lead. With one out, Thevenow singled but didn’t go anywhere when a pop up and a grounder ended the game.

The 1926 World Series was going back to New York. The Yanks needed one win to take their second title (1923) while the Cardinals had to win two in a row to take their first.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Opening Salvos

July 9, 2015

The opening games of the 1926 World Series were played in New York on 2 and 3 October. The Yankees were favorites over the St. Louis Cardinals, a team making their inaugural Series appearance. The format was two games in New York, three in St. Louis, and then a return to New York if the sixth and seventh game were necessary.

Game 1

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

For game one, the Yankees sent ace Herb Pennock to the mound against St. Louis stalwart Bill Sherdel. The Yanks made a minor change in their normal roster, starting backup catcher Hank Severeid over normal starter Pat Collins.

The game started out as if it was going to be a high scoring contest. The Cards’ leadoff hitter Taylor Douthit doubled to start the game, went to third on a ground out, then scored on a single. Pennock got out of it without further damage and the Yankees game to bat in the bottom of the first. Earle Combs led off the inning with a walk, then after an out, consecutive walks loaded the bases for New York first baseman Lou Gehrig. He hit one to short, but the Cardinals were unable to complete the double play and Combs scored to tie the game.

After that the two pitchers settled down to match shutout innings through the fifth. In the bottom of the sixth Babe Ruth singled, went to second on a bunt, and scored on a Gehrig single. It was all the run support Pennock needed. He shutout St. Louis for the remainder of the game, giving up only the one run, while allowing three hits, and striking out four (he also walked three). Sherdel did well enough, going seven innings, giving up the two runs, and allowing six hits with three walks and a single strikeout. The big hero was Gehrig who had both RBIs.

Game 2

Billy Southworth

Billy Southworth

The next day, the Yankees sent Urban Shocker to the mound to face St. Louis’ Grover Cleveland Alexander. Alexander was 39, considered over the hill and ready for retirement. In the second inning he looked it. A single to Bob Meusel, a move up grounder by Gehrig, and a single by rookie Tony Lazzeri plated the first run. A single sent him to third, then with two outs he attempted to steal home. He was safe when Alexander threw wildly to catcher Bob O’Farrell. So New York broke on top 2-0. But that would be all the damage Alexander allowed. He gave up four total hits, walked one (Combs), and struck out 10 (every starter except Combs and pitcher Shocker fanned twice). Meanwhile the Cardinals went to work. They got both runs back in the top of the third when back-to-back singles by Douthit and Billy Southworth put two men on. A sacrifice sent them to second and third, and a Jim Bottomley single tied the score.

It stayed tied through six innings, when the Cardinals erupted for three runs. With O’Farrell and Tommy Thevenow on base, Southworth clubbed a three run homer to right to put St. Louis up 5-2. In the ninth, Thevenow hit one deep into right field that eluded Ruth and Thevenow circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run. The final scored was 6-2 as Alexander shut the Yanks down in the ninth.

So the Series was tied 1-1 after the first two games in New York. After an all night train ride, the two teams would resume play on the 5th of October. What people knew was that there would be three games in St. Louis.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Cards

July 9, 2015
1926 St. Louis Cardinals

1926 St. Louis Cardinals

In the 1880s, the St. Louis team, then called the Browns, were a powerhouse in the American Association. In the 1890s they moved to the National League and became a doormat. By 1926 every National League team existing in the 20th Century had won at least one pennant, except for St. Louis, now called the Cardinals. That changed when the Cards won the 1926 NL pennant.

St. Louis won the pennant by two games over Cincinnati. With 89 wins, they featured a good hitting team with mid-range power. They led the NL in hits, runs, home runs, walks, slugging, and OPS while finishing second in average, OBP, and doubles. As a rule, their numbers weren’t as spectacular as the Yankees numbers.  Their pitching staff, like that of New York, finished in the middle of the pack in many categories.

The infield consisted of two Hall of Fame players, a third baseman having a career year, and a 22-year-old shortstop. Jim Bottomley played first, hit .293 with 19 home runs, nine triples, a team leading 120 RBIs, 144 hits, and an OPS of .804. Player-manager Rogers Hornsby held down second. Coming of several consecutive great seasons, Hornsby’s numbers were down in 1926. He was 30, but the assumption was that his managerial duties were hurting his statistics. He still managed to hit .317 with 11 home runs, 167 hits, an OPS of .851, and 93 RBIs. At 22, shortstop Tommy Thevenow was in his third season. He didn’t hit all that much (.256), but was a good shortstop and led the NL in putouts and assists, and was second in double plays turned at short. Les Bell had a career year. He hit a career high .325 (he never hit .300 in any other season), had another career high in home runs with 17 and in RBIs with an even 100. His 85 runs and 189 hits were also career highs. His Baseball Reference.com WAR for 1926 was 4.4 (second to Hornsby). He never had another year of more than 1.8 WAR. Specs Toporcer and Jake Flowers were the primary infield subs. Toporcer hit .250 and Flowers .270, but Flowers also had three home runs in 40 games.

Five men did the outfield work. Billy Southworth started 99 games in right field. He’d come over from the Giants during the season and hit .317 with 11 home runs. He would later manage the Cards to two pennants and a World Series championship. He made the Hall of Fame in 2008. Taylor Douthit was the speedy center fielder. He hit .308, stole 23 bases (third in the league) and led the league in putouts and assists for a center fielder. Ray Blades was in left. He hit .305 and scored 81 runs. The backups were Hall of Fame member Chick Hafey and Heinie Muller. Hafey hit .271, had four homers. Muller hit .267 and had three home runs.

Bob O’Farrell did almost all the catching. In 140 games he hit .293, had an OPS of .804, seven home runs, and 213 total bases. All that got him the NL MVP award for 1926. His backups were Ernie Vick and Bill Warwick. Warwick hit .357 in nine games, and in 24 games Vick hit .196.

For the season six pitchers started 10 or more games. Bill Sherdel and Art Reinhart were the sole lefties. Sherdel started 29 games, won 16 of them, gave up more hits than he had innings pitched, and put up an ERA of 3.49. Reinhart had a 10-5 record in 11 starts and 27 games. His ERA was north of four and he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched and also walked more than he struck out. Flint Rhem had the most wins with 20. His ERA was 3.21. Unlike the southpaws he had more innings pitched than hits allowed, but like Reinhart he walked more than he struck out (75 to 72). Vic Keen started 22 games, went 10-9, over 26 games (21 starts) and joined Reinhart in both giving up more hits than innings pitched and walking more than he struck out. His ERA was 4.56. Hall of Famers Jesse Haines and Grover Cleveland Alexander were the staff geezers. Haines, aged 32, posted a 13-4 record in 20 starts (33 total games) and tied for the team lead with two saves. He had a nice ERA (3.25) but continued the pattern of more walks and hits than strikeouts and innings pitched. At 39, Alexander was considered through by a lot of people. He started the year with the Cubs, was released after a 3-3 start and was picked up by the Cardinals. He went 9-7 at St. Louis, but posted a team low ERA of 2.91 (OK, Duster Mails had a 0.00 ERA but only pitched one inning). Unlike the rest of the staff, he’s struck out more than he walked and had fewer hits given up than innings pitched.  He also had two saves (he’d get one more).

Hi Bell was the main bullpen man with only eight starts in 27 games. His ERA was 3.18 and he had the team’s other two saves. For a change he had more innings pitched and strikeouts than otherwise. Syl Johnson, lefty Bill Hallahan, and southpaw Allan Sothoron rounded out the men who pitched in 10 or more games.

The Cardinals were underdogs. The Murderer’s Row Yankees were considered superior at almost every position except maybe second where Hornsby was an all-time great. Much of that has to do with the American League being considered the superior league. Because St. Louis statistics aren’t especially weaker than New York numbers, a fact a lot of pundits seem to have overlooked. The World Series began in New York on 2 October.

 

 

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Yanks

July 7, 2015
'26 Yankees

’26 Yankees

The late 1920s New York Yankees were known as “Murderer’s Row”. The 1927 version is frequently cited as the greatest team ever (although other teams are also in the running). In a three-year run the team won three American League pennants, had a player establish a single season home run record, had another win the MVP, and generally run roughshod over Major League Baseball. The opening salvo was fired by the 1926 team.

Manager Miller Huggins’ team won 91 games in 1926, scoring 5.5 runs per game on average. As a team they hit .289 (third in the American League), slugged .437, had a OPS of 806, and racked up 2282 stolen bases. All those stats led the AL, hence the nickname. The pitching wasn’t quite as good, finished fourth in most league categories, although the team was second in strikeouts.

The infield was anchored by Hall of Fame first baseman Lou Gehrig. He hit .313, had 16 home runs, 109 RBIs, and 179 hits (all third on the team). He led the team with 20 triples. Unlike in later years, he hit fifth in the order rather than fourth. At 22, rookie, and fellow Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri played second (and hit sixth). He hit .275 with 18 home runs and 117 RBIs, both good for second on the team. The left side of the infield wasn’t as formidable. Mark Koenig played short, hit second in the lineup, had 167 hits, and scored 93 runs. Third sacker Joe Dugan was the old guy at age 29. He’d come over from Boston in 1924 and was considered one of the better defensive third baseman in the game. He hit .288 with only one home run, but struck out only 16 times.

The outfield consisted of three well established players. Bob Meusel usually held down left field, but occasionally played right. He had what is generally regarded as the best arm in the AL, so he tended to play the longer corner outfield position (in Yankee Stadium that was left field). He was 29, hit fourth, and was beginning to fade. He hit .315, but had only 12 home runs (fourth on the team), drove in 78 runs, and played only 108 games. Center Field was occupied by Hall of Famer Earle Combs. He hit .299 for the season. In the lead off spot he had 181 hits (second on the team), scored 113 runs (good for third on the team), and had an OBP of .352 (fifth among the starters). Babe Ruth was in right field. He led the AL in  home runs, RBIs, walks, OBP, Slugging, OPS, and total bases. Just your basic run of the mill Babe Ruth year. He also led the Yankees in hits (184) and batting average (.372–good for second in the AL).

Pat Collins, Benny Bengough, and Hank Severeid were the catchers. Collins did most of the work, hitting .286 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 123 (which was third among starters). Severeid got into 41 games, and hit .268, while Bengough was in 36 games. He hit .381 in 84 at bats.

The bench wasn’t particularly strong. Other than the catchers, only three players were in more than 30 games, with two others playing in at least 20. Ben Paschal did the most work (he replaced Meusel when the regular left fielder was out). He hit .287 with seven home runs and his 31 RBIs were easily the most off the bench. Ruth and Gehrig were the only everyday players whose WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) was above 3.0 (although Collins was at 3.0 exactly).

For the season, four men started over 20 games. Lefty Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock had the most with 33. He went 23-11 with an ERA of 362 (ERA+ of 107). He led the team in both wins and innings pitched. Urban Shocker (who ought to be at least considered for the Hall) pitched the next most innings (258) and managed a 19-11 record with an ERA of 3.38 (ERA+ of 114). His 71 walks led the team. Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt and Sam Jones were the other two main starters. Hoyt went 16-12 and led the Yanks in strikeouts (79) while Jones went 9-8, had an ERA north of 4.75 and led the team with five saves. Only Pennock (3.1) and Shocker (4.7) had a WAR above 3.0.

Lefty Garland Braxton led the bullpen with 37 appearances (one start), a 5-1 record, a 2.67 ERA and an ERA+ of 145. Myles Thomas and Walter Beall both pitched 20 games, as did team future manager Bob Shawkey.

It was a formidable team that won the AL pennant by only three games (over Cleveland). It’s hitting was great, it’s pitching middle of the road. It was a favorite to win the 1926 World Series.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Midway

July 3, 2015

The selection of the Class of 1917 marks the mid-point of the My Own Little Hall of Fame project. I began it last year in March and intend to go through this year and finish in December next year with the 1934 class. Here’s a summary of some of the things I’ve discovered.

1. I have a much greater appreciation of how hard it is to be a Hall of Fame voter. I fully expected I would be able to simply look through some newspapers, a few journals, the contemporary guides, and come up with a quite obvious Hall. Oops. It actually takes a lot to make the determinations necessary to elect a Hall of Fame. If you do it right, or at least attempt to do it right (which is all I’ll admit to) it gets complicated fast. What stats are available? Which matter? Why? I’ve been very critical of the Hall of Fame voters on a number of occasions. I’ve discovered that it’s harder than it looks (which doesn’t mean the actual voters haven’t made mistakes). I have a new respect for those voters who are trying to get it right (which is different from all voters).

2. So far I’ve elected 52 members, or about 3 a year. By contrast the real Hall of Fame elected 62 members in its first 17 years (about 3.6 per year). So I’m actually being a bit more conservative than the real Hall voters. That kind of surprises me. I thought I’d probably end up adding more than the real Hall.

3. The number of people added each year has dropped. That makes sense. Any newly established institution like the Hall of Fame is going to begin with a backlog of quality candidates for membership. It takes a few years to clear that backlog, but once it’s gone, then the number of newly eligible quality candidates should, in most years, be considerably fewer. In my case that’s been absolutely true.

4. I’ve made it a point of  doing two things that the real Hall doesn’t do. First, I elect at least one for each class. There is no requirement the real Hall do so. Second, I’ve added three Negro League players already (Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, and George Stovey). I know that probably wouldn’t happen in 1917 and with the rise of racial tensions after World War I  it certainly wouldn’t happen between 1920 and 1934. However, I still intend to buck that and add Negro League players as I feel appropriate. It just seems like the right thing to do.

5. I was initially concerned with the number of “Contributors” I was adding. These are people added because of something they did for baseball other than play the game (William Hulbert, founder of the National League, is an example). Then I got to looking over the real Hall’s inductees in the first several years and noted they also added quite a number of “contributors” early. The number of contributors elected by Cooperstown has decreased in the last 40 or so years (although there are still several). As I look at my preliminary list of contributors going out to 1934, I note that I’ll probably be electing fewer also because the first couple of generations of contributors will be pretty much gone and the new group is, as a whole, less impressive (which does figure).

6. It’s interesting, and frankly obvious, how uneven the quality of players available in a given year becomes. Some years there are an entire list of quality candidates, not all of which will make it, but all of which will deserve study. Other years I simply want to say, “Yuck.” Of course that was destined to be true, because all the good players don’t retire at once and not every year has a bunch of good players leave the game. It does help to clear some of the backlog, but I’ve found it too tempting to simply add someone because he’s the best available guy not because he’s truly a Hall of Fame caliber player. I’m sure I’ve slipped up a time or two and let someone in based on that, but I try to watch it closely.

7. I knew that statistics were going to vary, but, frankly, was surprised by how much. From a preliminary look forward, that seems to start changing in the 1920s, especially with the Elias Sports Bureau’s arrival (maybe I should look at Al Munro Elias a bit more closely as a Hall of Famer). It does make it difficult to determine exactly who should get in my Hall because every time I look to hang my hat on a particular stat it changes. For instance, RBIs aren’t yet an official statistic and what I find concerning RBIs changes. I have to admit I sometimes go to Baseball Reference.com to determine which number is the one I should use. It’s not quite fair, but it does make it easier for me. When I do, I have to resist the temptation to look at the newer stats (OPS+, WAR, etc.). They weren’t even thought of yet and I don’t want to be influenced by them.

8. It has been an education for me to do this. I’ve had to read stuff I didn’t know existed, had to sort through things that sometimes were contradictory, had to almost flip a coin occasionally as to what do I believe. And it’s astounding how quickly the pioneers (pre-1876) guys have disappeared.

9. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve had to determine how much “fame” mattered over “greatness”. I’m still not sure I know the answer to that last. Go back a couple of months and look at my comments on John McGraw and you’ll get a feel for the structure of the question itself. It first manifested itself in trying to determine why Bill Lange, a 19th Century outfielder with Chicago, was so utterly famous (he’s now very obscure). I looked at his numbers and they were good (I even fiddled around with his newer SABR-style numbers, which aren’t bad–123 OPS+, five years of 3.5 or more WAR in a seven year career) and he came off as a very good player, but I wasn’t sure he was great. It began to dawn on me that the two things (famous and greatness) were not interchangeable and that came to a head in the John McGraw problem. That may be the most profound observation I’ve discovered on this project (and profundity from this site should scare you to death). If I ever figure out the complete answer, I’ll have a book (and a number of you telling me I got it wrong).


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