Archive for August, 2010

1910: Senators Postmortem

August 31, 2010

By the first of September, the Washington Senators were hanging on to sixth place and were on the verge of elimination from the pennant chase. Under manager Jimmy McAleer they would ultimately finish seventh, 36.5 games out of first. Their record was 66-85.

The team averages of .236 and .289 slugging weren’t absolute bottom of the barrel in the American League, but they were close. But the team finished fourth in walks, so their on base percentage wasn’t as bad as you might expect from a seventh place team. Center fielder Clyde Milan finished fifth in stolen bases, led the team with 71 walks (good for second in the AL), and was fourth in the league in runs scored. Another positive for Washington was that Milan was the youngest of the starting position players (24). The rest of the starters provided three men with .250 plus batting averages, no one with more than 19 doubles, and only two men other than Milan with more than 50 runs scored. 

One of the running themes of the teams that finish in the bottom half of each league is that they have awful benches. The Senators were no exception. Of the seven bench players with 20 or more games played, three hit above .250, but three were under the Mendoza line (one hitting .149). They mustered one home run and Wid Conroy, who played the most games (105) of any bench player, led in RBIs with all of 27. He also got the home run.

The pitching was a mixed bag. Walter Johnson was Walter Johnson. He led the league in starts, games, complete games, strikeouts, and was second in shutouts. His record was 25-17 with an ERA of 1.35. For the first time he put up more than 300 strikeouts, 313, more than 50 ahead of Ed Walsh in second place. In doing so he became only the second man (Rube Waddell) to lead the AL with 300 or more strikeouts. Unfortunately the rest of the staff wasn’t Walter Johnson. Combined the non-Johnson staff went 41-68 with 362 strikeouts (only 49 more than Johnson alone).  Dixie Walker (obviously not the 1940s outfielder) went 11-11 for the second best record among the starters. All the rest had losing records. Again on the positive side, each had more innings pitched than hits allowed and more strikeouts than walks.

So Washington looks like a team that isn’t very good, but could improve. Milan is doing well and should have several years left (He would play until 1922 and steal 495 bases). Johnson is beginning the run that will make him arguably the greatest of all pitchers. The rest of the staff has potential, but isn’t any great shakes. As for the rest of the hitting, well maybe. Or maybe not.

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RIP Cal McLish

August 30, 2010

Cal McLish (from Life Magazine)

I saw a squib in the newspaper the other day announcing the death of Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma (Cal) McLish. He was a Major League pitcher during the 1940s through 1960s and then coached and scouted. His career was that of a fairly typical journeyman. He went 92-92 with an ERA of 4.01 over 352 games, 209 of them starts. He lost time to World War II and had only one really good year. In 1959, with Cleveland he went 19-8, had an ERA of 3.64, and made his only All Star appearance. His final year was 1964 when he was part of that Phillies team that had the spectacular collapse with two weeks left in the season. McLish pitched only two games that year, so wasn’t involved in the collapse.

So why mention a journeyman with one good year? Well, I met him once briefly. My son and I went to a card show or something like that and McLish was one of the guests. There were several ex-players there who signed stuff and moved on to the next person. McLish signed a piece of paper for my son, smiled at him, and talked to him briefly.  I’m sure he was paid for the appearance, but he seemed to go out of his way to engage my son about baseball and how he hoped my son enjoyed the game. None of the rest did anything even vaguely like that.  McLish appeared to be a nice man and we’re all poorer for his exit. Rest in Peace, Cal.

1910: Doves Postmortem

August 28, 2010

I know a lot of American Indians don’t like the nickname “Braves” (What, only Indians can be Brave?).  And I can understand their concern, but be honest, would you rather root for a team called the “Braves” or the “Doves’? Thought so.

The 1910 Boston Doves (who are now in Atlanta) finished the season 53-100, 50.5 games out of first. It got manager Fred Lake fired. He never managed in the Major Leagues again.

Most of it wasn’t his fault. The Doves were a miserable team. They finished seventh (in an eight team league) in hitting and slugging, last in runs, and sixth in hits. They had one real star, or at least semi-star, Fred Beck. Beck hit .275, slugged .415, led the National League in home runs with 10, and led the team with 64 RBIs. The rest of the team gave him little support. Three other starters hit above .250 (and one was right on .250), but with weak slugging percentages and only shortstop Bill Sweeney had more than 50 walks.

The bench wasn’t anything special either. Outfielder Wilbur Good got into 23 games and managed to hit .337 but struck out more than he walked. No one else who played 20 or more games hit .250 and the entire bench gave the team two home runs and 64 RBIs (the same number of RBIs as Beck alone).

It would be comforting to say the pitching was better. It wasn’t. Twenty year old Billy Burke went 1-0 and was the only pitcher with both a win and a winning record (There were two guys who went 0-0 and another posted a 1-1 record). “Ace” Al Mattern was 16-19 with a 2.98 ERA (big in 1910) in over 300 innings. He had more walks than strikeouts, as did two of the other four starters). The team ERA of 3.22 was seventh in the league and the Doves pitchers were dead last with 699 walks. The NL leading Pittsburgh, by contrast, had only 392 bases on balls.

Again, there’s just not a lot to like here. Beck’s OK, so of course the Doves sent him to Cincinnati the next season. Of the eight primary position players, only three would start the bulk of the team’s games in 1911, and many of the new men were retreads from other teams.  Although the team actually got a year younger going from 28 to 27 on average, most of that was because of an influx of rookies. There was no pitcher to look forward to as a potential ace.

If I told you this team was going to win the World Series in four years you’d probably laugh, unless of course you know your baseball history. But then the 1914 “Miracle Braves” team bears almost no resemblance to the 1910 team (even the name changed). Only pitcher Buster Brown (9-23 in 1910) from the Doves remained on the roster in training camp and he died before pitching a single game during the season. Somebody in Boston finally figured out what they were doing. They just didn’t figure it out in time to save the 1910 team.

1910: White Sox Postmortem

August 27, 2010

By the end of August 1910 the Chicago White Sox were out of pennant contention in the American League. Depending on exactly how many ties needed to be made up they were eliminated on 29 August or about a week later. When the season was over they finished 68-85, 35.5 games out of first.

You can’t say the Sox weren’t trying to fix the problem. Manager Hugh Duffy used 25 position players (and pitcher Doc White put in 14 games in the outfield), an AL leading number. The problem was that most of them weren’t all that great. Of the bench players who got into 20 or more games (12 of them), only five hit above .200. Harry Lord, who took over as shortstop after coming over in a trade, had the best year hitting .297 (20 points better than the next bench player), stealing 17 bases, and showing a .370 slugging percentage.

The starters weren’t any better. Outfielder Patsy Dougherty led the starters with a .248 batting average and 43 RBIs, while center fielder Paul Meloin led in slugging with .324. Second baseman Rollie Zeider stole 49 bases to go with 62 walks. The problem was that first baseman Chick Gandil (yes, that Chick Gandil), starting shortstop Lena Blackburn (of baseball mud fame), and right fielder Shano Collins all hit under the Mendoza line. Obviously it wasn’t much of a hitting team finishing last in average, slugging, and hits. There were a couple of hopeful signs. Only Dougherty was over 30 (33) and rookie Collins had 10 doubles and 10 stolen bases in only 62 hits.

The hope lay in the pitching staff. With all that weak hitting, the pitching was going to have to carry the team and some of it actually held up. Doc White still had a few wins in him going 15-13 with more innings pitched than hits allowed and more strikeouts than walks. Frank Lange pitched in 23 games, 15 of them starts. He managed 9-4 and also had more innings than hits and more strikeouts than walks. Then there was Hall of Famer Ed Walsh. Walsh went 18-20 over 46 games (36 of them starts and 33 of them complete games). In 370 innings (second in the league to Walter Johnson) he gave up only 242 hits. He walked 61 and struck out 258 men (again second to Johnson). He led the league with a 1.27 ERA. He was also only 29, so barring arm injuries he had a long career ahead of him at the end of 1910 (his injury came in 1913).

As a brief aside, stats like Walsh’s always fascinate me. He led the AL in ERA and had a losing record. That’s happened a few times. I remember Nolan Ryan doing it while at Houston. It shows how unrelated those two stats are even though they are frequently linked.

Unlike the Browns, there are a few promising things about the White Sox. Walsh is good, Collins looks promising, and Lord just might pan out (He went to third in 1911 and had a few good years). So it least there was a little something to build on in Chicago.

Slidin’ Billy

August 25, 2010

Slidin' Billy Hamilton with Boston

One reason I always liked Lou Brock was because he was smarter than the writers and pundits knew. When he was getting ready to establish the all-time stolen base record, most people were talking about how he’d run ahead of Ty Cobb. It seems Brock knew Cobb wasn’t the record holder. Because Brock kept playing until he picked up 938 stolen bases, one more than Slidin’ Billy Hamilton.

Hamilton was born in Newark, N ew Jersey in 1866 (does that make him a Civil War Baby Boomer?). He was a left-handed hitting outfielder who got to the Big Leagues in 1888 with the Kansas City Cowboys of the American Association (a Major League in 1888). They finished last with Hamilton playing 35 games, hitting .264, and stealing 19 bases. In 1889, The Cowboys got to seventh (in an eight team league) with Hamilton taking over as the regular right fielder. He hit .301, stole 111 bases, and scored 144 runs in 137 games.  In the shake up that led to the formation of the Player’s League in 1890, Hamilton went to Philadelphia in the National League, where he stayed through 1895.

This is as good a point as any to take on this stolen base record stuff. After all 111 stolen bases is a lot. Back when Hamilton was playing, stolen bases were figured differently than they are now. A single was assumed to advance a runner one base, so a man going from first to third on a single was credited with a stolen base. A double was assumed to advance a runner two bases, so a man scoring from first on a double was credited with a stolen base (Apparently it wasn’t home, because he didn’t get credit for stealing home. You figure it out.). Also I can find no evidence that “defensive indifference” was called in the period. So a lot of Hamilton’s stolen bases aren’t what you and I would consider stolen bases, but were noted as such in his own era. The rule was changed to the modern method of determining a stolen base after 1897, so almost all of Hamilton’s stolen bases are under the old definition and no one seems to be able to accurately determine how many of his stolen bases would fit the modern definition.  To give you some idea how much this rule change effected stats, Ed Delahanty (for one example) had 58 steals to lead the NL in 1898. In 1897 that would have been eighth.

Hamilton had great years at Philadelphia. He led the league in runs three times, in hits once, in walks three times, in on base percentage yet again three times, won a batting title in 1891, and of course he led in stolen bases four times. In 1894 he was part of an all .400 hitting outfield when he hit .403. In that season, he set the record for runs scored with 192 (or 198 depending on the source) and also stole seven bases in a games, a record by any definition. In 1896 he went to Boston (now the Atlanta Braves) and helped lead them to NL pennants in 1897 and 1898. He remained in Boston until his retirement in 1901. With Boston he led the league in runs once, walks twice, and on base percentage twice.

For his career Hamilton hit .344, had an OBP of .455, had 2154 hits, scored 1697 runs, and played in 1594 games. He died in 1940 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1961. I have no idea why it took so long except that he played a long time ago.

Hamilton has a lot of interesting numbers. My favorite pair is 1594 games played and 1697 runs scored, or 1.06 runs scored per game played. That’s one of those 19th Century numbers that astound me. Take a look at more modern players. To stick with great base stealers, Lou Brock played 2616 games and scored 1610 runs (0.62 runs per game) and Rickey Henderson played 3081 games and scored 2295 runs (0.74 runs per game). Even the greatest base stealers ever can’t match Hamilton’s ability to score runs. It’s good that Lou Brock knew at least a little baseball history. It allowed him to pass Hamilton in stolen bases (whatever the definition) because he wasn’t going to catch him in runs per game.

1910: Browns Postmortem

August 23, 2010

By the end of August 1910, the St. Louis Browns were on the verge of elimination in the American League pennant race. If you ignored ties that might or might not be replayed, they were eliminated on 22 August. If you count the ones that were replayed, then they managed to hang on another week.

For the season the Browns went 47-107 (a .305 winning percentage). In an eight team league they finished 7th in hits, runs, and doubles; 6th in triples, walks,  and slugging: and dead last in hitting, stolen bases, and RBIs. They did manage 4th in home runs with all of 12. The pitching was as bad. They finished 7th in complete games (a bigger deal in 1910 than it is now) and hits allowed. They were dead last again with the most walks, highest ERA , and least strikeouts in the American League.

Individually, only Hall of Fame shortstop Bobby Wallace (.258) and outfielder George Stone (.256) managed to hit .250. Wallace and sub Art Griggs led the team in doubles with 19 and 22, while Stone led with 12 triples, 40 RBIs, and 144 hits. A real problem was that of all the bench players with 30 or more at bats, only Griggs managed to hit above .200 (.236), so there was no one to go to if one of the starters slumped (With this team I’m not sure how you determined if someone was slumping.). Another real problem for the team was that Stone and Wallace, their best position players were, at 36 and 33, the oldest position players on the team (pitcher Jack Powell was 35).

The pitching ace (if there is an “ace”) was Joe Lake who went 11-18 with a 2.21 ERA, which is third highest in the AL among “aces”. He’s the only pitcher to pick up double figure wins. Lefty Bill Bailey went 3-18 with more walks than strikeouts. Only Roy Mitchell at 4-2 (over six games), Rube Waddell 3-1 (10 games and only two starts), and Dode Criss 2-1 (six games, all in relief) had winning records (Bill Crouch and Harry Howell both went 0-0, which at least isn’t a losing record).

All this got first year manager Jack O’Connor fired. Shortstop Wallace was picked to replace him. Wallace would make in 39 games into 1912 before being shown the door. O’Connor never managed again in the big leagues.

I’d like to say something good about this team, but just can’t find anything positive to say. It’s not like a young George Sisler came up at the end of the year and showed possibilities or anything.  This team is a typical Browns team of the era. There’s a reason the Browns made exactly one World Series (1944) before transferring to Baltimore (where they are now the Orioles). Too many teams like this is the reason.

Over the next month or so, I intend to do one of these for each team that failed to win the 1910 pennant. I want to see what went wrong and what went right. It may take a while, because I’m not going to slavishly do it each time until all are done.

Jack Barry, Six-Time Winner

August 20, 2010

Jack Barry in 1913

You know one of the strange things you find out when you study baseball history is that no matter how good a particular player is, he usually, but not always, ends of on a  team that puts up a regular season losing record at some point. Babe Ruth did it in 1935, Mickey Mantle did it in the last couple of years of his career. Deadball player Jack Barry never did.

Barry was born in Connecticut in 1887. He played ball locally, then transferred his talents to Holy Cross. Connie Mack found him in 1908 and signed him to play with the Philadelphia Athletics. He became the shortstop of the “$100,000 infield” (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Barry, Frank Baker first to third), the premier infield of the day. The $100,000 had to do with what the infield was worth, not what they were paid. He became part of the first Athletics dynasty that won the World Series in 1910, 1911, and 1913, then lost the Series in 1914. He stayed with the A’s into 1915, then found himself sold to the Boston Red Sox for $8000. The A’s ended up with a terrible record. The Sox went to the World Series.

With Barry at shortstop (longtime shortstop Larry Gardner went to third base), the Red Sox won the World Series in five games over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Red Sox promptly went out and won the 1916 World Series too, although Barry, by now a second baseman, missed the Series.  So in consecutive years from 1910 through 1916 Barry was on five World Series winners, one World Series loser, and saw his team miss the Series exactly once (1912). Not bad, right? Well, it was the end of the streak. In 1917, Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan retired from the dugout. Barry replaced him and led the BoSox to second place. It was his only year as manager,  Ed Barrow taking over in 1918.

Barry left the managerial job not because he wasn’t any good at it, but because the United States entered World War I. Barry joined the military and missed the entire 1918 season. Under Barrow, the Red Sox went back to, and won, the World Series. So there was no managerial job waiting for Barry when he returned  in 1919. He played in 31 games in 1919, then was sold back to the Athletics. Rather than report, he retired.

Over his career, Barry hit .243, slugged .303, had on OBP of .321 (for an OPS of .624), stole 153 bases, had 1009 hits, 532 runs, and 429 RBIs. His fielding was consistently among the league leaders, but he was never the most accomplished shortstop (or second baseman) in the AL. His World Series number mirror his regular season play very well. In 25 World Series games he hit .241, slugged .345, and had on OBP of .272 (for an OPS of .617), all very close to his career percentages. His managerial record was 90-62.

Barry was through with the Major Leagues, but not with baseball. In 1921 he took over coaching duties at Holy Cross and remained there the rest of his life. His career .806 winning percentage is a college record.

But the title says “six-time winner” and you’ve only counted five, right? Well, in 1952 he took Holy Cross to Omaha where they won the College World Series. Still coaching the team, he died in April 1961. Of the $100,000 infield, only Frank Baker outlived him. In 1966 he was one of the initial inductees to the College Baseball Hall of Fame. Not a bad outcome for a .243 hitter.

Rickey and Robinson’s Third Man

August 18, 2010

Jackie Robinson and Clyde Sukeforth

 In 1945 Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson set the sports world on its ear (and on edge) by joining together in integrate the Major Leagues. When they sat down in a room in Brooklyn to do so, there was a third man in that room who was almost as important as either. His name wasn’t Orson Welles or Joseph Cotten or Anton Karas or even Alida Valli. It was Clyde Sukeforth.

Sukeforth was born in Maine in 1901, spent two years in college (Georgetown), played for Nashua and Manchester in the New England League, then was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1926. He was a catcher. He had some good years, but was never a star. He played 10 years hitting .264 with a peak of .354 in 84 games in 1929. He managed all of two home runs, one in 1929 and the other in the juiced ball year of 1930. In 1931 he played in more than 100 games for the only time in his career. In the off-season he went hunting and took a shotgun pellet in his right eye. Needless to say his career tanked. In March 1932 he was traded to Brooklyn (one of the players involved was future Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi) where he was a part-time catcher through 1934. He also played in 18 games in 1945 to fill out a wartime roster. He could still hit a little, going .294 for the 18 games.

After leaving the majors he coached in the Dodgers minor league system until 1943, when Brooklyn brought him back to the majors as a coach and, more importantly, as a scout. When Rickey decided to integrate the Dodgers, he turned to Sukeforth to scout the Negro Leagues.  It seems that Sukeforth was the only person on the Dodgers staff that Rickey confided in when it came to integration. Others were told the franchise was contemplating a “Black Dodgers” team for the Negro Leagues. Although Rickey apparently had already focused on Robinson, he needed Sukeforth to scout both Robinson and other players who might also be available.

Sukeforth’s recommendation was for Robinson. Rickey agreed and called Robinson in for a meeting. As mentioned above, Sukeforth had the distinction of being the third man in the room when Rickey pitched integrating the Major Leagues to Robinson.

In 1946, Sukeforth was sent to Nashua (where he had once played) to form a class B minor league team. The team was to include both Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. Sukeforth is credited with easing the integration of the league and making sure the town accepted the black players. By 1947 he was back with the Dodgers,serving as a coach and confidant for Robinson. The Dodgers manager, Leo Durocher, was suspended at the start of the 1947 campaign and Sukeforth chosen as his temporary replacement, thus becoming the manager during Robinson’s first game. He managed only two games before returning to coaching. He was still around in 1951 and is considered responsible, in some circles, for sending Ralph Branca in to game three of the National League playoff. I don’t buy that. He wasn’t the manager and if the manager let the bullpen coach (Sukeforth) make the decision, then the manager needed to be fired. The upshot, of course, is that it was Sukeforth who was fired.

He went to Pittsburgh in 1952 as a coach and scout where he was instrumental in the Pirates’ drafting Roberto Clemente in 1954. He stayed with Pittsburgh through 1957, then retired. He was brought back periodically through 1962 as both a scout and minor league manager, then moved to a scouting position with the Braves until he finally retired. He died at age 98 in 2000. According to Wikipedia a fresh baseball “can be found on his gravesite at all times.”

I’ve always thought that Sukeforth never gets enough credit for his role in integrating baseball. I agree that the principles, Rickey and Robinson, deserve the most credit, but I think Sukeforth is significant in that he ultimately recommended Robinson, became a confidant to Robinson during the most troublesome period of the integration, and then served as mentor to other Dodgers black players, while also becoming a leading proponent of bringing in Latin players like Clemente. We all owe Clyde Sukeforth a debt. Hopefully this pays back a small part of it.

The Fortunes of War

August 16, 2010

The other day I was talking with my son the genius (everyone agrees he gets it from his mother). He suggested looking at the guys World War II made into stars. We talked for a while ironing out exactly what he meant and this is the result (so if you think this is a bust, blame him). 

There were three categories of people involved in our discussion (Pete Gray is in a category by himself). First is those who were rising stars when the war broke out, continued to play well, and had at least a few good years after the war. People like Bill Nicholson, Spud Chandler, and especially Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser fit into this category. Second, those people who were retired or failed players who got back to the Major Leagues and had one last fling. These include guys like Tony Cuccinello who retired in 1941, then came back and almost won a batting title in 1945 and Johnny Dickshot who had played four undistinguished years in the National League (the last being in 1939), then came back to the Majors with the White Sox and had a great 1945. Finally, there were those guys who were either new or almost new,  had been nothing special, became stars during the war years, then disappeared as impact players almost immediately afterward. It’s that last group that we decided were worth a look. I picked two Yankees players as good examples of this type player. 

Nick Etten

NIck Etten got to the Major Leagues in late 1938 as a 27-year-old first baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics. He stayed on as a marginal player into June 1939, then was sent to Baltimore where he stayed until 1941. The Philadelphia Phillies picked him up and he stayed there through 1942. He hit .300 in 1941 and managed a total of 22 home runs and 120 RBIs in his stint with the Phils. So far not much of a career. 

Then in 1943 he made it to the New York Yankees. With the war in full swing and many of the better players gone Etten blossomed. He hit .271, had 14 home runs (tied for his career best), and 107 RBIs. His OPS was 775 and he had 245 total bases. The Yanks got to the World Series, winning it in five games. In 19 at bats, he got two hits (both singles), but did drive in two runs. 

He flourished in 1944 and 1945. In ’44 he won the AL home run title with 22 and also led the league in walks with 97 while putting up a 865 OPS.. The next year he hit only 18 homers but had a league leading 111 RBIs. with 90 walks, an OPS of 824, and made the All-Star Game. By 1946 the war was over and the pre-war regulars were back. Etten hit .232 with only nine home runs and 79 RBIs in 108 games. By 1947 he was back with the Phillies where he got into 14 games, hit .232 and had one home run. In May the Phils sent him back to New York and the Yanks failed to activate him. His career was over. He hit .277 (.283 during the war), with 89 home runs (54 during the war), and 526 RBIs (309 during the war). He died in 1990. 

Snuffy Stirnweiss

 Snuffy Stirnweiss is, to me, the quintessential World War II era player. He was born in 1918 and got to the big leagues in 1943 as a second baseman, replacing Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. He had a rough time in 1943, hitting .219 with no power and 11 stolen bases. He got into one game in the ’43 World Series and scored a run. He was a star for the next two years leading the AL in runs, hits, triples, and stolen bases both years and winning the batting title in 1945. He also led the league in OPS and slugging in 1945. 

With the return of the regulars, he became a run of the mill role player never hitting above .256. His postwar highest hit total was 146, he managed a high of 18 stolen bases, and his slugging percentage dropped (although he still had a decent OBP). He remained the Yankees primary second baseman through 1948 (remaining with the team into 1950), making the World Series in both 1947 and 1949. He hit .259 with a triple and three RBIs in the 1947 series and appeared in one game of the 1949 series without batting. 

The Yanks sent him to the St. Louis Browns in June 1950. He’d played all of seven games for New York. He had 50 games for Cleveland in 1951 and appeared in a single game for the Indians the next season. He was killed in a train wreck in 1958. 

For his career he hit .268 (.301 for the war) with 604 runs (266 for the war), and 989 hits (460 during the war). His longer career gives him a smaller ratio of hits and runs during the war than Etten, but his war years are huge compared to his postwar career. And before anyone asks, I have no idea where “Snuffy” comes from. 

There were a number of guys like this, but these two strike me as the best of the lot. They remind me of the NFL “replacement” players of  several years back, but they are significant in the history of the game. At least both Etten and Stirnweiss played for winners.

The Way to Win: Observations

August 13, 2010

This is the final post in the series. I want to make a few observations about what the series is and isn’t. Let me begin by saying what prompted it.

I noted the comments about the Yankees “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, Rivera in alphabetical order). I thought it was catchy, but immediately decided it was incorrect. The “Core Four” should be the core about eight or nine. Because the late 1990’s dynasty that ended in Phoenix in 2001 (the 2003 team is not, in my opinion part of that dynasty) had more than those four as significant members of the dynasy. There was Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Chuck Knoblauch, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Joe Girardi, and of course manager Joe Torre who were significant contributers to those winning teams. When I sat down and listed all the significant parts I decided to compare them with the other great Yankees dynasties of the past (1920s, 1930s, 1950s, 1970s). I simply wrote down the major players from the 1996-2001 team, then listed beside them the same position players for the other teams. It became fairly obvious that all the teams were a lot alike. They were all built very much the same. So I wondered if that worked for other dynasties as well.  As I’m spending a lot of time this year looking at the 1910 season, I especially wondered about the A’s team of that year. I decided to find out. I looked at a number of other teams (72-74 A’s, 29-31 A’s, 10-14 A’s, 57-59 Braves, 06-10 Cubs, 01-03 Pirates, 62-66 Dodgers). Turns out all of them had the same broad characteristics as the Yankees.

Let me emphasize these are broad characteristics and do not look at the details of the teams. In other words, I wasn’t looking at the stats so much as the quality of the players involved. This is, if you will, a macro look at the teams, not a micro look. Let me also emphasize that this is not a rigid formula to win. I don’t think there really is a good one of those (except maybe to keep your best players healthy). Back about 20 years or so I looked for the baseball stat that was the best predictor of getting to a World Series. I found it to be opponent’s runs. That was the stat the World Series contenders most frequently led their league in on a yearly basis. Don’t know if that’s still true (and there are new stats that weren’t available to check then). This current overview of mine is not meant to be something you can hang your hat on and say this is the winner this season.

Having said all that, I’ve begun to realize that a properly constituted team of stars, good players, and role players has a good chance of winning. Teams of all-stars don’t do it (Except, in the 20th Century,  for the 1930s Negro League Crawfords, and even they had role players.). It also helps to have a fluke; what I call the “one year wonder” rule. You can never account ahead of time for a Shane Spencer (of the 1990s Yankees) to have a short run that will help the team to victory or a Hurricane Hazle (of the Braves) to put you over the top. But they do happen and good teams take advantage of them.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the series and will look at teams a little differently now.