RIP Monte Irvin

February 4, 2016
Monte Irvin with the Newark Eagles

Monte Irvin with the Newark Eagles

I realize that Monte Irvin died a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to save my few comments on him until Black History Month. Considering his pioneering position it seemed appropriate.

I remember Irvin slightly. I don’t recall his glory years in either the Negro Leagues (that was before my time) or while he starred with New York (the Giants, not the Yankees) but I remember seeing him on TV as his Giants career was closing and I remember the Cubs year. He was never a favorite of mine. I was more interested in Willie Mays and Al Dark, Sal Maglie and Johnny Antonelli on that 1950s Giants team than I was in Irvin. I don’t think I ever had an Irvin baseball card (but I did have all the others I mentioned).

As I got older and he was long retired I began to understand the tragedy of the segregated Negro League stars and guys like Irvin, guys who actually got to play in the white Major Leagues but did so after their greatness was diminished by age or by the catcalls and slights of the earliest integration period. I found out later that many people thought Irvin would be the man to finally break down the “color barrier” and integrate the Major Leagues. He supposedly had all the right qualifications. He was a good player, he was quiet, he didn’t showboat, but he was 26 in 1946 and people were beginning to think he’d missed his chance. Jackie Robinson was about a month older than Irvin, both born in 1919 (Robinson in January, Irvin in February). So it seems it came down to Branch Rickey’s preference for Robinson over Irvin and he never got to be “the one.”

He won a Negro World Series (1946) with the Newark Eagles while playing shortstop with Larry Doby at second and Hilton Smith pitching. All three, along with owner Effa Manley and manager Biz Mackey, made the Hall of Fame. When the Giants picked him up they didn’t need a shortstop (there was Al Dark), but they needed outfield help. Irvin went to the outfield and roamed it with Mays and with Don Mueller (in the 1954 squad). They lost a World Series in 1951, won another in 1954. He hit .293 in the regular season but was a .394 hitter in the Series. For his career he managed 99 home runs, peaking at 24 in 1951, led the National League in RBIs in the same year with 121 and every year of his career he walked more than he struck out (except his final season when he broke even with 41 of each). His OPS+ is 125 and he ended with 21.3 WAR.

He made the Hall of Fame in 1973 as a Negro League inductee. He only had eight years in the Major Leagues so it was the only way he could go in. In retirement he did some scouting for the Mets and became the man for public relations in the Commissioner’s Office in 1968. It made him the highest black officer in Major League Baseball. He retired in 1984 and died at 96.

We are, as fans, better off because Monte Irvin graced a baseball diamond. He gave us a lesson in class and in dignity. Rest in Peace, Monte.


My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1924

February 2, 2016

It’s time for this month’s addition of My Own Little Hall of Fame. As it’s also the beginning of black history month in the US, we’ll put the two things together while introducing the Class of 1924. I admit it’s a somewhat strange class.

George Davis

George Davis

Between 1890 and 1909, George Davis was a premier player. Moving between shortstop, the outfield, and third base he was considered an excellent defensive player. He led the National League in RBIs in 1897 while playing with the New York Giants. Later he joined the Chicago White Sox and helped lead them to a World’s Championship in 1906, hitting .306 in the World Series and driving in six runs.

Sol White

Sol White

King Solomon “Sol” White was a noted second baseman in 19th Century black baseball. Later he managed several teams in various segregated leagues and won a pennant in 1906 in the integrated International League. In 1907 he published History of Colored Base Ball the first compendium of black baseball in the United States.

Now the usual commentary:

1. What took so long with George Davis? As mentioned before, Davis was incredibly obscure in the period of the 1920s. It’s like he didn’t ever play ball. Even the guides don’t mention him except if it’s appropriate in a statistical list. After his retirement he spent several years coaching the Amherst College baseball team. In 1924 I found a reference indicating he’d been gone from Amherst for five years. I decided that this single reference was enough to bring his name back and I took the opportunity to add him to a Hall of Fame to which he clearly belongs. OK, it’s a stretch, a long stretch, a very long stretch, but I took it because I believe George Davis is a Hall of Famer. Because that’s true, I’ve broken one of my own rules. But, then, it’s my rule.

2. Sol White has the same problem every other Negro League player or executive has who I’ve added to my personal Hall of Fame, he’s black in an era where that wasn’t seen by most of the US as a good thing (to put it mildly). But when I set this Hall up I decided I would add black players despite the prevailing attitudes of the 1901-1934 era and White is certainly someone who should be a member. His book is the only major source for black professional baseball all the way to the 1960s. That alone gives him space. He could, in fact, have gone in earlier, but I wanted to hold him for black history month (February).

3. The 1925 class is going to be somewhat like this one. There are no just “have to” players (either everyday types or pitchers) coming up in 1925. I do have to look at someone who, the totality of his career being considered, is a person that may make it. At the same time that individual’s performance isn’t necessarily Hall-worthy if his playing or managing or contributions are looked at in isolation. There are three or four of those coming up and I’ll have to determine which, if any, are going into a 1925 era Hall of Fame and who isn’t.

4. Here’s the preliminary list of everyday players available in 1925: Jack Barry, Cupid Childs, Harry Davis, Mike Donlin, Jack Doyle, Hughie Jennings, Bill Lange, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Sherry Magee, Tommy McCarthy, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George Van Haltren.

5. The pitchers: Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White.

6. The contributors: Bob Emslie, Hank O’Day, and Tim Hurst (umpires and Hurst was a manager for a while); Hughie Jennings and George Stallings (managers); Cal McVey and Lip Pike (early players); Ben Shibe and Clark Griffith (owners); Henry C. Pulliam (NL President); William R. Wheaton (pre-Civil War pioneer).

7. And 1926 (April) is the year I have to make a final decision on the Black Sox players. Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, and Eddie Cicotte are the only three that I have to realistically consider. I don’t think any of the others (Felsch, McMillan, Gandil, Williams, Risberg) have any chance of making it.


A Street for Vin

January 30, 2016

For your interest and edification, I saw on ESPN that the Los Angeles City Council is going to debate changing a street name. Currently the street that leads to the main entrance of Dodger Stadium is named Elysian Park Avenue. The proposal is to change the name to Vin Scully Avenue. So far it’s just a proposal. Sounds reasonable to me.

Replacing Cy

January 28, 2016
Cy Young

Cy Young

I have a question for you. Just exactly how do you, as a Major League Baseball owner, replace a superstar? I ask because all the way back in 1901 the American League was formed and it took a lot of players away from the National League. One of those was Cy Young. You know Cy Young right? He’s the guy they named the pitching award after. So just how do you replace a guy like that? This is the story of one team’s attempt to do so.

In 1900 the St. Louis Cardinals were, to be candid about it, not very good. They finished 65-75, good for fifth in the NL. They did have Cy Young, however (and John McGraw). He was 33, went 19-19, had an ERA of exactly three, gave up more hits than he had innings pitched, walked all of 36 while striking out 115, put up 1.161 WHIP, had an ERA+ of  121, and had 7.3 WAR (tops on the team). Jim Hughey, Willie Sudhoff, Jack Powell, and Albert “Cowboy” Jones (the only lefty) made up the rest of the staff (those who pitched at least double figure games). Gus Weyhing, Tom Thomas, and Jack Harper were the other pitchers and got into a total of 13 games. All were right-handed.

This is the same staff in 1901: Powell, Harper, Sudhoff, Jones (again the only lefty), and new guy Ed Murphy (guys who pitched in double figure games). The rest of the staff was all new guys and topped out at five games (and 41 innings) pitched. So technically, I guess, Murphy is the guy who replaced Young (now with the Boston team in the AL). Murphy went 10-9 with an ERA of 4.20 (ERA+ 76), 36 more hits than innings pitched, 32 walks to 42 strikeouts, a 1.412 WHIP, and -1.3 WAR. Quite a comedown, right?

So how about the other new guys, the ones with less than 10 games pitched? They were a combined 5-6 in 96 innings. So there wasn’t much there either. Cy Young was, to be fairly blunt about it, tough to replace.

Interestingly enough, the Cards actually got better. They went 76-64 and finished fourth, a jump of 11 wins and one place in the standings. So maybe replacing Young actually worked, at least a little. The team ERA dropped (3.75 to 3.68), they gave up 40 fewer hits, struck out 120 more (Powell led the team with 133 and Harper had 128, both more than Young the year before), but walked 33 more men. Powell equalled Young’s 19-19 record (what do you supposed the chances of that are?) while Harper went 23-13. Both had good years and provided pitching that did manage to replace Young.

It was something of a fluke. The next time St. Louis was above .500 was in 1911. Neither Harper nor Powell sustained long periods of excellence while Young went on to the Hall of Fame. Replacing Cy Young worked for one year, then the team receded. In 1903 the Cards finished dead last while Young was instrumental in Boston winning the first ever World Series.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Miller Huggins

January 25, 2016
Miller Huggins

Miller Huggins

1. Miller John Huggins was born in Cincinnati in 1878. He took to baseball very early and while still young played under the name “Procter.” His father disapproved of baseball as a frivolous activity.

2. He played semi-pro ball until 1900, playing for a number of teams including one owned by the Fleischmann’s Yeast Company of Cincinnati.

3. In 1900 he began playing professional baseball in St. Paul. He remained there through 1903 playing middle infield. During the offseason he used his time and baseball salary to obtain a law degree from the University of Cincinnati (class of 1902)

4. In 1904 he began his Major League Baseball career with the National League Cincinnati Reds. While with the Reds he led the NL in walks twice and in stolen bases once.

5. After a down year in 1909 (he was hurt), he was traded to St. Louis (the Cardinals, not the Browns) where he again won two bases on balls titles, including a career high 116 in 1910.

6. In 1913 he became player-manager for the Cards. His teams finished as low as eighth (last) and as high as third. While St. Louis manager he convinced the Cardinals to sign Rogers Hornsby to a contract.

7. His last year as a player-manager was 1916. In 1917 he served strictly as manager of the Cardinals and in 1918 he was hired by the New York Yankees as manager. He remained there the rest of his life.

8. He was one of the people who urged the Yankees to buy Babe Ruth from Boston in 1920 (club business manager Ed Barrow was another). At the end of the season Huggins had a nervous breakdown (how much Ruth had to do with that is debated) but was back in decent health in 1921 before suffering another setback with blood poisoning.

9. In 1923 he led the New York Yankees to their first ever World’s Championship by defeating the NL’s New York Giants. He would win championships again in 1927 and 1928 and an American League pennant in 1926.

10. In 1925 he installed Lou Gehrig as his primary first baseman and fined Ruth $5000 for his various antics. The joint moves are frequently credited with making Ruth a team player (although Ruth’s wife Claire is also given credit for that) and turning the Yankees into the juggernaut of the next three seasons.

11. Never in good health, Huggins picked up an infection in 1929. Late in the season he was relieved on managerial duties so that he could work on his health. He died in September.

12. In 1964 he was elected to the Hall of Fame. In 1932 he received the first monument erected in center field at Yankee Stadium. It became the first memorial in what became Monument Park. When the new Yankee Stadium was build, the Huggins memorial was moved to the new stadium.

Huggins Monument

Huggins Monument

Beat Down: games 3 and 4

January 21, 2016

With Pittsburgh down two games to none, the World Series moved to New York. With three games in a row in the Bronx, the Pirates needed to win two of them to send the Series back to Forbes Field. The Yankees could afford to lose one and still win the Series at home.

Herb Pennock

Herb Pennock

Game 3, 7 October 1927

Game three saw New York start Hall of Fame lefty Herb Pennock against Pittsburgh’s Lee Meadows. The Yankees got two runs in the bottom of the first when Earle Combs led off with a single, followed by another single by Mark Koenig. A Babe Ruth pop to short give the Pirates their first out, but then Lou Gehrig tripled into the left field-center field gap scoring both Combs and Koenig. Attempting to stretch the triple into an inside-the-park home run, Gehrig was gunned down at home. Bob Meusel then struck out to end the inning.

It was all the help Pennock needed. He was masterful against the Pirates. For seven innings no Pittsburgh player reached first. He gave up no hits and no walks, while striking out one (catcher Johnny Gooch in the third). Meanwhile the Yankees maintained their 2-0 lead. Although Meadows pitched well after the first inning, he lost it in the bottom of the seventh. After a Tony Lazzeri single, Joe Dugan beat out a bunt to reach first safely. then a ground out sent both runners up a base and brought up Pennock. He lashed one to second that scored Lazzeri. Combs followed with a single that scored Dugan, then a Koenig double brought home Pennock. Finally Babe Ruth ended the scoring with a three run shot over the wall in right field.

The hit and exertion on the bases must have gotten to Pennock. After having let no one on base for seven innings he got one out in the eighth. Then Pittsburgh third sacker Pie Traynor singled. With the Pennock spell broken, Clyde Barnhart doubled to score Traynor. Consecutive ground outs stranded Barnhart at second. In the bottom of the ninth with one out, Lloyd Waner singled and ended up on second due to defensive indifference while Pennock coaxed two final flies to end the game 8-1 in favor of New York.

Although both Ruth (a homer) and Gehrig (a triple) flashed power, again the Yanks scored with singles, sacrifices, and bunts to go with the power. But the big story was Pennock. For seven innings he was perfect. He ended up taking the win without giving up a walk and allowing only three hits. Now New York needed only one win in four chances to bring home its second World Series title.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

Game 4, 8 October 1927

Needing to win game four in order to keep alive, the Pirates sent Carmen Hill to the mound. The Yankees countered with Wilcy Moore, who, although he’d started a handful of games during the year, was generally a reliever. At first in looked like a mistake. Lloyd Waner opened the game with a single and ended up on second after two grounders produced the first two Pittsburgh outs. But a Glenn Wright single scored Waner to give the Pirates only their second lead in the Series. It lasted exactly three batters. Consecutive singles to Earle Combs and Mark Koenig were followed by a Babe Ruth single that tied the score when Combs came home. Hill then settled down and struck out the next three batters to get out of the inning.

And that would be it until the bottom of the fifth. With Combs on, Ruth smacked his second home run of the Series to put New York up 3-1. It would hold up until the seventh when an error put a Pittsburgh runner on first. Another error and a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with Clyde Barnhart coming up. He singled to score one run, then Paul Waner hit a long sacrifice to center to tie the game at 3-3.

It stayed that way into the ninth. Two groundouts and a fly got Moore through the top of the inning. With Johnny Miljus now pitching the Pirates were three outs from taking the game to extra innings. Miljus led off the inning by walking Combs. A single sent him to second and a wild pitch sent him to third. An intentional walk to Ruth loaded the bases for Lou Gehrig who promptly stuck out. Bob Meusel followed with another strikeout, which brought up Tony Lazzeri with two outs and the bases loaded. He got no chance to tie the score. Miljus uncorked a second wild pitch and Combs dashed home with the game and Series winning run.

The Yankees were World’s Champs in a sweep. Ruth had two home runs, Gehrig two triples. Combs scored six runs and both he and Koenig had five hits. Ruth had seven RBIs. As a team New York hit .279 and slugged .397. they scored 23 runs (20 of them earned) on 38 hits, six of them doubles (but 28 of them singles). For the Pirates they hit .223 (slugged .285) with 29 hits 22 of them singles. There were six doubles, but no player had more than one and Lloyd Waner produced the only triple. He also led the team with six hits and five runs scored. He tied with Ruth for the Series lead with a .400 average.

Yankees pitching was good enough to win. Only four men pitched, all of them starting one game. Moore got both a win and a save while Pennock pitched the most impressive game. As a team they posted a 2.00 ERA, gave up 38 hits, 10 runs (eight earned), struck out seven, and walked only four. The Pirates used seven men and gave up 38 hits, 23 runs (20 earned), produced an ERA of 5.19, and 25 strikeouts while walking 13.

It was a complete victory for the Yankees, but take a look at how many of the runs were scored in what you and I might consider a non-Murderer’s Row way. It speaks well of the 1927 Yankees that they did not have to rely on power to win. They could win with Deadball tactics as well as power. That’s what I really wanted to show with this series of posts.




Beat Down: games 1 and 2

January 19, 2016

For most people the 1927 Yankees conjure up images of a power laden lineup that simply drove the ball over the fence or deep in the gaps and crushed the opposition with raw force. Keep that image in mind when you read through this account of the first two games of the 1927 World Series. Pay particular attention to the way New York takes advantage of various methods of putting runs on the board. I find it a valuable look at the team. It makes them, to me, an even better team because of the myriad ways they scored without using the home run.

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

Game 1, 5 October 1927

The World Series opened in Pittsburgh with Ray Kremer on the mound for the Pirates. He failed to get out of the first inning without giving up a run. With two outs, Babe Ruth singled and came home on a Lou Gehrig triple. Bob Meusel’s fly ended the inning. Yankees ace Waite Hoyt, starting for New York, didn’t have any better luck. He began the game by plunking Pirates leadoff man Lloyd Waner. With one out, Paul Waner, Lloyd’s older brother, doubled sending Lloyd to third. A sacrifice fly by Glenn Wright tied the game.

It stayed that way until a Yankees third inning explosion. With one out in the top of the third, Mark Koenig reached first on a Pirates error. Ruth singled, sending Koenig to third. A walk to Gehrig loaded the bases. Another walk to Meusel scored Koenig. A Tony Lazzeri roller forced Meusel and second while Ruth scored and Gehrig went to third. A throw to the catcher trying to nip Ruth got by Earl Smith allowing Gehrig to race home with the third run of the inning. New York scored three runs with only Ruth’s single leaving the infield. Pittsburgh got one back in the bottom of the third when pitcher Kremer doubled, went to third on a Meusel error and scored on Paul Waner’s single.

In the fifth, the teams again exchanged runs with New York getting one run on a Koenig double, a Ruth grounder that sent Koenig to third, and a Gehrig sacrifice fly. The Pirates got the run right back on a Lloyd Waner double and a Clyde Barnhart single. Pittsburgh picked up one more run in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Wright and Pie Traynor hit back-to-back singles that sent Hoyt to the showers. Reliever Wilcy Moore induced a grounder for the second out, but Wright went to third on the play. A Joe Harris single plated Wright to make the score 5-4. A grounder, liner, and another grounder in the bottom of the ninth finished the game with the 5-4 score holding.

Mark Koenig

Mark Koenig

Game 2, 6 October 1927

For game two, the Pirates sent Vic Aldridge to the mound. Unlike Kramer the day before, he managed to get through the first inning without giving up a run. On the other hand, Yankees starter George Pipgras gave up a run early. Lloyd Waner led off the Pittsburgh half of the first with a triple and scored on a sacrifice by Clyde Barnhart. It was Pittsburgh’s first lead of the Series. It lasted until the third inning when New York, duplicating the previous day, again exploded for three runs. Earle Combs singled and came home on a Mark Koenig single. With Koenig trying for second, center fielder Lloyd Waner threw the ball away allowing Koenig to scamper all the way to third. A Babe Ruth sacrifice fly brought home Koenig with the go ahead run. Lou Gehrig then singled and went to third on a Bob Meusel single, and scored on another sacrifice fly, this one by Tony Lazzeri.

That concluded the scoring through the seventh inning with no player advancing beyond second base. In the top of the eighth consecutive singles by Meusel and Lazzeri put runners on first and third. At that point Aldridge led loose a wild pitch that scored Meusel and sent Lazzeri to second. A fielder’s choice erased Lazzeri (and put Joe Dugan on), then back-to-back walks to catcher Ben Bengough and pitcher Pipgras loaded the bases. Out went Aldridge and in came reliever Mike Cvengros. He proceeded to throw gasoline on the fire by plunking Earle Combs to score Dugan and reload the bases. A Koenig single then scored Bengough to conclude the Yankees scoring.

Pittsburgh fought back in the bottom of the eighth. With one out Lloyd Waner singled, then went to third on a Barnhart single, and scored on a Paul Waner sacrifice fly. But a Glenn Wright grounder ended the Pirates threat. When Pipgras shut them down three in a row in the ninth, the Yanks had a 6-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the World Series. The Series would resume the next day in New York.




Beat Down: the 1927 Pirates

January 14, 2016
Paul Waner while with Pittsburgh

Paul Waner while with Pittsburgh

So if the Yankees of 1927 are all that great and won the World Series, who’d they beat? The answer is the 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates. They’re not as famous as their American League counterparts and are probably most famous for losing the ’27 World Series, but they were a legitimately good team that, because of what happened in the Series, are very underrated.

The manager was former Detroit Tigers shortstop Donie Bush, who’d played with Ty Cobb in a couple of World Series’. He had what was, for the mid-1920s, a fairly typical National League team. They hit for good average, had a lot of doubles and triples, but few home runs. Part of the reason the team had lots of doubles and triples and few home runs had to do with Forbes Field, their home park. It was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and 442 feet to dead center. The alley between left and center went all the way to 462 feet. That meant, no matter the power, hitters were going to lose a lot of home runs, but gap power could produce doubles and triples. The Pirates led the NL in runs, hits, batting average, and OBP. They were second in slugging, OPS, total bases, triples, and batter strikeouts while showing third in doubles. The pitching staff wasn’t as good. They were fifth in ERA, fourth in strikeouts and home runs (much of that attributed to the park), third in runs and walks, and second in hits.

Joe Harris, George Grantham, Glenn Wright, and Pie Traynor were the infield (first to third). Harris hit .326 with 27 doubles, nine triples, no power (2.8 WAR–BBREF version), but had World Series experience in 1925 for the Senators (against the Pirates). Grantham hit .305 with eight home runs, good for third on the team. His WAR was 3.5. Wright was a good hitting shortstop. He hit .281 and his nine home runs tied for the team lead. His 105 RBIs were third on the Pirates, as were his 96 runs. Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor hit .342 with 106 RBIs (3.9 WAR) and was considered the premier fielding third sacker of the era. It was, in other words, a good infield, but lacked either a Gehrig or Lazzeri. Hal Rhyne’s .274 and 17 RBIs were high among backup infielders who played 15 or more games. Two future stars, Hall of Famer Joe Cronin and shortstop Dick Bartell also played in a handful of games for the ’27 Pirates (one for Bartell, 12 for Cronin).

Despite having three Hall of Famers in it, the outfield was a problem for the Bucs. Paul Waner held down right field. His triple slash line read .380/.437/.549/..986 with an OPS+ of 154 (highest on the team) and a team leading 6.9 WAR. He had nine home runs, 18 triples, 42 doubles, 237 hits, 131 RBIs, and 342 total bases. All led the team and all those big numbers helped give him the NL League Award (an early version of the MVP) for 1927. His little brother Lloyd Waner patrolled center field. He was a good defensive outfielder who led off. He hit .355, scored a team high 133 runs, had 223 hits, 198 of them singles. His 14 stolen bases was second on the team. Hazen “Kiki” Cuyler was supposed to be the normal left fielder. He played 85 games, hit .309, had a team leading 20 stolen bases, and missed the entire World Series. He and manager Bush didn’t like each other (to be kind about it). There are differing stories about what happened between them, but Bush was so upset at Cuyler by Series time that he benched Cuyler for the entire World Series. Clyde Barnhart replaced him for the Series and for a lot of the season. Barnhart hit .319 but had neither power nor Cuyler’s speed. Backup outfielder Frank Brickell played in 32 games but had only 23 at bats. He hit .286. Adam Comorosky also got into 18 games, but batted 68 times. He hit all of .230.

Catching duties were split among three men: Johnny Gooch, Earl Smith, and Roy Spencer. None had 300 at bats, but Gooch had the most. He hit .258 with 17 doubles, and 48 RBIs, while Smith had five home runs, hit .270, and put up a .722 OPS. Spencer hit. 283 in 92 at bats.

They caught a staff that was decent, but today is mostly forgotten. Lee Meadows, Carmen Hill, Vic Aldridge, and Ray Kremer were the only men to start double figure games. All were right-handed and Hill and Aldridge gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Hill was 22-11 with a 3.24 ERA (4.7 WAR) and a 1.224 WHIP. Meadows was 19-10 with an ERA of 3.40 (4.6 WAR), and a 1.273 WHIP. Kremer’s ERA was 2.47 with a 19-8 record (6.5 WAR, good for second on the team to Paul Waner) and a WHIP of 1.143. Aldridge went 15-10, had an ERA of 4.25 (0.0 WAR–try doing that very often) and a WHIP of 1.345. Only four other men pitched in double figure games. Johnny Morrison had three saves, Johnny Miljus had an ERA of 1.90, and Mike Cvengros was the only lefty. The lack of a  lefty would hurt them in the Series.

Pittsburgh had a good, a solid team in 1927. They won the National League pennant by a game and a half (over St. Louis), but they were clearly outclassed by the Yankees. They were big underdogs in the Series.

Beat Down: the 1927 Yankees

January 12, 2016
"Jumpin'" Joe Dugan

“Jumpin'” Joe Dugan

For a lot of people for a long time, the 1927 New York Yankees are the gold standard of Major League teams. They won 109 games, road roughshod over the American League, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, and they swept the World Series. It’s that World Series that I want to look at over the next several posts. There’s a quite a bit of misinformation about it and I want to dwell on the Series in some detail. First, we need to look at both teams on the eve of the Series; winners first.

Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins had a juggernaut in 1927. His Yanks led the AL in batting, OBP, slugging, OPS, total bases, hits, runs, triples, home runs, walks, and fan. They were second in doubles. The pitching wasn’t quite as good, but they still managed to finish first in hits given up, runs, walks, and ERA. They managed to finish second in complete games, home runs allowed, and were third in strikeouts. With all that, Huggins’ chief job was to make sure the team got to the stadium on time.

The infield was better on the right side than on the left. Lou Gehrig held down first. His triple slash line read .373/.474/.765/1.240 with an OPS+ of 220 and 11.8 WAR (BBREF version). He had 447 total bases (read that number closely), 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, 173 RBIs, 218 hits, and scored 149 runs. All that got him the 1927 League Award (an early version of the current MVP). Some argued that Ruth had a better year but whether he did or didn’t, the rules didn’t allow a player to win two League Awards (that was a carryover from the old Chalmers Award where the winner got a car and no one wanted to give Ty Cobb a half-dozen cars). Ruth won the award in 1923. Tony Lazzeri, who struck out in the most famous moment of the previous World Series, played second. He wasn’t Gehrig, but he was pretty good. His triple slash line read .309/.383/.482/.866. He hit 29 doubles and 18 home runs to go with 102 RBIs and 92 runs scored for 6.3 WAR. Both men would make the Hall of Fame. The left side of the infield consisted of Mark Koenig at short and Joe Dugan at third. Koenig hit .285 with 11 triples and 69 walks, good for third on the team (behind Ruth and Gehrig). Dugan hit all of .269 with only two home runs, but was considered one of the better third sackers of his day. Mike Gazella, Ray Morehart, and Julie Wera were the backups. Both Wera and Morehart had a home run, while Gazella led the group with a .278 average. Morehart’s 20 RBIs led the three.

The outfield consisted of two Hall of Famers and another guy. The other guy was Bob Meusel. He was on the downside of his career at age 30 but still darned good. His triple slash line was .337/.393/.510/.902 with an OPS+ of 135 (4.2 WAR). He’d won a home run title a few years earlier, but had only eight in 1927. He did contribute 75 runs and 103 RBIs to the team. He also had what was universally agreed was the best outfield arm in either league. Earle Combs held down center field. His triple slash line was .356/.414/.511/.925 with an OPS+ of 141 (6.8 WAR). He led off and played center well. He scored 137 runs (third behind Ruth and Gehrig), had 36 doubles, 23 triples, 311 total bases (again behind only Ruth and Gehrig), and contributed 64 RBIs. And of course there was the Babe. This was his 60 home run year, but his other numbers were equally good. His triple slash line read .356/.486/.772/1.258 with an OPS+ of 225 (12.4 WAR), 417 total bases, 165 RBIs, 158 runs scored, 192 hits, and 29 doubles. Those three were backed up by Ben Paschal and Cedric Durst. Paschal hit .317 with two homers and saw a lot of time in the Series. Durst contributed 25 RBIs.

New York used three catchers during the season. Pat Collins did most of the work with 92 games played (89 behind the plate). He hit .275 with seven home runs, but in 311 plate appearances, he walked 54 times, good for fifth on the team. John Grabowski was his main backup. he managed .277 with 25 RBIs and 29 runs, while secondary backup Ben Bengough hit .247 in 31 games.

Five men started 20 or more games; two of them made the Hall of Fame. Lefty Herb Pennock was 19-8 with and even 3.00 ERA (3.1 WAR) and a 1.302 WHIP (he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched). Waite Hoyt was the ace. He went 22-7 with an ERA of 2.63 (5.8 WAR) and a 1.155 WHIP. His 86 strikeouts led the team. Underappreciated Urban Shocker was 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA (3.1 WAR) and 1.240 WHIP. He managed to both give up more hits than he had innings pitched and also walk more men than he struck out. Dutch Reuther did the same thing while going 13-6 with an ERA of 3.38. His WHIP ballooned to 1.380 with only 0.6 WAR. George Pipgras was the other starter. He was 10-3 with an ERA north of four, but managed to pitch more innings than he gave up hits and to also strikeout more batters than he walked. His WHIP was 1.353 with a 0.2 WAR. Wilcy Moore pitched in 50 games, but only started 12. That got him a 19-7 record with 13 saves (not yet a stat in 1927) and a 2.28 ERA (4.7 WAR). His 75 strikeouts were good for third on the team. Myles Thomas pitched in 21 games, starting nine, while Bob Shawkey earned the distinction of having, at 2-3, the only losing record on the team. He compensated by having a 2.89 ERA and striking out 23 in 43 innings and picking up four saves.

There are people who consider the ’27 Yankees as the greatest of all baseball teams. Maybe so, maybe not. Whatever you think you have to admit they were formidable. They were also, in 1927, overwhelming favorites to win the World Series.





Nine Thoughts on the 2016 Hall of Fame Class

January 7, 2016

As baseball uses nine men in the field and nine men in the batting order, here’s nine random thoughts on the just concluded Hall of Fame voting:
1. First and foremost, congratulations to both Ken Griffey, Jr, the second best player from Donora, Pennsylvania (behind Stan Musial) and Mike Piazza on election to Cooperstown.

2. Three people didn’t vote for Griffey, but his 99% of the vote is the highest percentage ever. I read a lot of stuff saying Griffey could be the first unanimous selection. Come on, team, Babe Ruth wasn’t unanimous and neither Joe DiMaggio nor Yogi Berra made it on the first ballot so who could possibly believe that anyone was going to be unanimous? It renews my faith in the writers. I’ve said for years that they’re a poor group to pick the Hall of Fame and the three guys proved me right again.

3. Piazza is by far the more interesting choice. There are the steroid rumors around him that are just that, rumors. But there is the possibility that they are true. If, in his induction speech Piazza were to say “Yeah, I used the stuff,” then it becomes much more difficult for voters to keep out players who acknowledge they used stuff (McGwire) or are accused (Clemens, Bonds), or who flunked a test (Palmeiro). It will be interesting to see where this goes. None of this is meant to imply that I believe Piazza used anything but coffee while playing.

4. The culling of the deadweight among the voters allowed for some interesting results. Major jumps by Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Mike Mussina, Curt Shilling, and Edgar Martinez are unthinkable without a change in the voters. It may be a signal that all are on the road to Cooperstown (or maybe not).

5. The loss of the “old guard” type voters helped both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but not a lot. Neither went up as much as 10% and now we have six years left to see if they can continue gaining ground and how much of that ground they’ll gain. I was certain, until this vote, that the writers were going to kick them down the road to the Vets Committee and let them (the Vets Committee) make the hard choices. Maybe that’s changed. Next year will tell us much about how that’s going to work.

6. Jim Edmonds is not a Hall of Famer, the voters said so. OK, maybe he isn’t, but he’s better than 2% of the vote, a lot better. It’s a shame he won’t get another chance until the Veteran’s Committee has its say. Alan Trammell is not a Hall of Famer. At least he had 15 years and got 40% of the vote. I think they’re wrong, but now we get to see what the Veteran’s Committee says. And Mark McGwire is not a Hall of Famer although he had only 10 years to make his case. It appears he will be the test case for my kick it down the road to the Vets Committee theory (Geez, I’m writing about the Vets Committee a lot, aren’t I?).

7. Trevor Hoffman didn’t get in but got enough votes to appear a viable candidate for enshrinement on a later ballot. I think he needed that because I’m not sure he could sustain a long, gradual rise before getting over the 75% threshold. The problem is Mariano Rivera. When Rivera becomes eligible he should get in easily and Hoffman can no longer say he has the most saves of anyone eligible (and saves do seem to matter a lot to the voters). I was stunned Billy Wagner didn’t do better. At least he stayed on the ballot.

8. Next year adds Vlad Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Manny Ramirez (among others) to the ballot, making it again a large ballot. I do wish they’d dump the 10 vote rule. I wonder how much that hurt players like Edmonds?

9. All in all, with the exception of what happened to Edmonds and Trammell, I’m pleased with the results. Two worthy candidates got in, a handful of other candidates made major strides toward possible election. That’s not bad. Again congrats to Griffey and Piazza. Now I wonder which cap Piazza will wear on his plaque.


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