Archive for August, 2010

The Way to Win: The Antithesis of Murder’s Row

August 11, 2010

Walter Alson while the team was in Brooklyn

In the 1960s baseball changed, going back to something like the Deadball Era. Now the home run didn’t disappear, but it went from being the primary element of the game to a supporting role. The starring role went to Deadball staples speed and pitching. No team epitomized that more than the 1962-1966 Los Angeles Dodgers. 

I admit to being a Dodgers fan, but I also acknowledge that this team, particularly the 1965 version was one of the weaker teams to ever dominate an era. The ’65 Dodgers were dead last in home runs with 78 and seventh (in a 10 team league) in hitting. Of course they could pitch and run. They also played defense pretty well. They were the antithesis of the great Yankees dynasties, but they were built, personnelwise, very much like those Bronx teams. In the period they won two World Series’, lost one, lost a three game playoff and finished sixth (1964). 

Walter Alston was the manager. He’d gotten into one game for the Cardinals back in the 1930s, then took up managing. He joined the Dodgers when they were in Brooklyn and was the manager when they won their first World Series in 1955. He went with them to Los Angeles and led them to another Series win in 1959. By the 1960s he was well established, considered knowledgable, and was well liked my most of the clubhouse. The “most” is key. Apparently there was some question about how well he’d handled integrating the team as more and more black players arrived in the late 1950s an early 1960s (he came on board well after 1947 so was not there for the initial arrival of black players). There’s no evidence of overt racism that I can find, but a number of black players didn’t like him. And he didn’t particularly like Sandy Koufax (bad move, Jack) although he recognized the talent. 

The team had two stars, both, as you would expect, pitchers. Don Drysdale won the 1962 Cy Young award and Sandy Koufax won the same award in 1963, 1965, and 1966.  Back then there was only one Cy Young awarded (not one in both leagues) which should tell you just how dominant the two Dodgers stars were. BTW Koufax is still the only pitcher to win three Cy Young’s unanimously (with Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Drysdale in the same league no less). He also won the 1963 MVP award. 

The Dodgers had some really good players to go along with their stars. Maury Wills led off, played shortstop, led the league in stolen bases, won the 1962 MVP, and gets sporadic support for the Hall of Fame (although not from this quarter). Willie Davis was a good fielding (except for one inning in 1966-ouch) center fielder, Tommy Davis won back-to-back batting titles (before getting hurt), and Frank Howard was a monster who provided what little power the Dodgers had. After going to Washington he won a couple of home run titles. 

The team went through a number of role players in the five-year period. Johnny Roseboro was an excellent catcher who hit a little, Ron Fairly could handle both first base and the outfield (after Howard went to Washington), Lou Johnson took Howard’s place as the power hitter (such as it was), Jim Lefebrve won the 1965 Rookie of the Year Award, and Wes Parker was a slick fielding first baseman who took Fairly’s place. The third pitcher was originally Johnny Podres, who had by this time become something of a role player. Claude Osteen replaced him late in the run, and Don Sutton was a rookie in 1966 going 12-12 at the start of a Hall of Fame career. Then there was Jim Gilliam, maybe the ultimate role player. Put him at second, put him at third, stick him in the outfield. It didn’t matter, he performed well in each. 

There was a one-year wonder also. Phil Regan replaced Ron Perranoski as the closer in 1966. He went 14-1 with 21 saves. He never had another year even vaguely approaching that season. Perranoski is sort of a one-year wonder. His 1963 was by far his greatest year, but his other years weren’t the drop off that I associate with one-year wonders. 

On the surface this team is absolutely unlike the great Yankees dynasties. If you look at the types of players, even they look different. But if you look at a more generalized view of the team, you find it’s made up in the same style as the other teams mentioned in previous posts. I’ll wrap this up in the next post.

The Way to Win: The Bronx Bombers

August 9, 2010

Joe McCarthy

The second great Yankees dynasty took the field between 1936 and 1943. The team won seven pennants (1936-39, 1941-1943) and six World Series’ (all but 1942). Over that period of time, the roster changed significantly, but not the types of players available. The manager remained stable as did a handful of the players.

Manager Joe McCarthy was slightly different from the other Yankees dynasty managers. He never got to the Major Leagues and he was a successful manager prior to joining the Yankees. He took the 1929 Chicago Cubs to the World Series where they lost in five games. He got to New York in time to see the 1932 World’s Championship and the final years of Babe Ruth. Like Miller Huggins, he knew how to run a team, how to utilize his talent and how to mesh players. He also had a drinking problem. This would hurt him later when, after retiring from New York, he took up the managerial job in Boston.

The great stars off this team were Lou Gehrig. still around from the 1920s team, Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, and Bill Dickey. Gehrig was through by 1939 and dead a couple of years later, but the others remained for the entire period except for games lost to World War II.

A number of truly good players came and went during the 1936-1943 period. Tony Lazzeri was still around in both ’36 and ’37 (although it might be fair to place him in the role player category by this point in his career). Lefty Gomez joined Ruffing as a pitching mainstay. Outfielder Tommy Henrich showed up in 1937, second baseman Joe Gordon the next year, and Charlie Keller in 1939. In 1941 Phil Rizzuto joined the team.

The number of role players varies depending very much on the war. There are several players who step up during the war (guys like Stuffy Stirnweiss and Nick Etten) along with already established players like Red Rolfe, George Selkirk, and Frankie Crosetti. On the mound, Spud Chandler replaced Gomez and Johnny Murphy became one of the better early relief specialists.

There were even the one-year wonders. Pitcher Steve Sundra went 11-1 for the Yankees in 1939. For the rest of his career he’s 45-40. Babe Dahlgren, and otherwise undistinguished player, stepped in for Gehrig and clubbed 15 home runs (Gehrig had 29 in 1938).

The Yankees put together a long pennant streak, winning every year except 1940 when Detroit took the pennant and 1942 when Stan Musial’s Cardinals defeated them in five games. Again they won with a strong manager and a mix of great players, role players, solid starters, and a few flukes. This will happen again in the 1950s under Casey Stengel and also in the 1990s with Joe Torre. But next I want to turn to a team that helps bring one of those dynasties to a close and on the surface looks radically different.

The Way to Win: Deadball

August 6, 2010

Connie Mack

In the previous post I talked about how the Yankees dynasty teams were all built pretty much the same way with a solid manager, star players, good players, role players, and one-year wonders. I found this a good way to look at a “big picture”, as opposed to a stat-filled view of winners. It’s not just the Yankees who’ve done it that way. Consider the Deadball Era’s Philadelphia Athletics if you will. Although they win differently than the bashing Murder’s Row Yankees of the 1920s, the A’s are put together the same way.

Connie Mack was both manager and owner (which makes for really great job security for the manager). He’d been a 19th Century catcher who’d never been a great player, but he understood the importance of team unity, of pitching, of defense, and timely hitting. He put together a team that between 1910 and 1914 won the World Series three times, lost it once,  and finished third in 1912.

The hitting stars were second baseman Eddie Collins and third baseman Frank Baker. Both made the Hall of Fame and both hit extremely well. Collins provided speed to go with Baker’s power (power in Deadball Era terms). Additionally, Eddie Plank was a star pitcher, eventually racking up over 300 wins (he’s still third among lefties).

As mentioned earlier, you don’t win with just stars. You need a lot of good players around the stars. Mack had them. Stuffy McInnis, started the era as a role players, but quickly became a very good player at first base. On the mound Chief Bender overcame the racial prejudice of his era (he was an American Indian) and rose to Hall of Fame status as a solid pitcher and Mack’s favorite. Two other very good players came through the A’s dynasty for part of the period. Danny Murphy, a converted second baseman, was an outfielder in 1910-11 and Wally Schang took over the catching job late. Then there was Jack Coombs. Coombs had great years in 1910, 11, and 12, then got sick and his career faded. For those three years though, he may have been the best pitcher on the A’s , if not in all of baseball.

The team had a lot of role players who were able to step into holes or step up in games to provide the kind of solid play a team needs to win. Jack Barry was the shortstop for the entire period. He was a decent, without being truly great, shortstop who hit some. The outfield, other than Danny Murphy, consisted of Bris Lord, Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk,  Topsy Hartsell,  and Eddie Murphy. Not all of them started the entire time, but each contributed for at least a year or two. None were household names during the era (nor are they now). On the other hand, Harry Davis was something of a household name in the era. He’d led the AL in both doubles and home runs earlier in his career, but by 1910 was reduced to pretty much a role player (and in 1911 lost his first base job to McInnis).  Both Bob Shawkey and Herb Pennock came up late in run and both went on to stellar careers (Pennock making the Hall of Fame), but at this point in their lives they were role players.

The one-year wonders? Well, there was Harry Krause who went 11-8 on the mound in 1911 and 25-18 for the rest of his career and fellow pitcher Rube Bressler who went 10-3 in 1914 and 16-28 for the rest of his career . Mack seemed able to find guys like this frequently. Maybe his being an ex-catcher helped.

The Deadball A’s were put together very much like te Murder’s Row Yankees. They won differently by emphasizing pitching, timely hitting, speed, and power (as defined by Deadball Era stats) as opposed to raw power and effective pitching. Both worked well. As mentioned earlier the two teams look very different in the method they used to accomplish their job, but both are put together the same way. I want to look next week at two more squads to emphasize how many teams work like this over both different eras and different methods of winning.

The Way to Win: Murder’s Row

August 4, 2010

Miller Huggins in 1927

Let me start with a disclaimer: I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a Yankees fan. Having said that, I acknowledge they are the most successful franchise in Major League baseball. That statement lends itself to an obvious question. How do they do it? You can argue it’s money, but it wasn’t just money in 1923 when they won their first title. I’ve begun to look at the great Yankees dynasties (1926-28, 1936-43, 1949-64, 1976-1981, and 1996-2001) and discovered those teams are actually a lot alike. 

All the great Yankees dynasties have the following things in common: 1) they have a good manager, 2) there are a few true greats on the team, 3) there are some really quality players in other positions, 4) there are a number of role players, 5) there are some one year wonders. You can look at other teams throughout baseball history and find the same thing (and you can add in things like a deep bench and good relief pitching for the more modern teams), so it’s not just the Yankees system of winning, but they do it best. It seems these traits, not the stockpiling of stars, are essential to winning. 

To provide a quick example, here’s a look at one of those Yankees teams. 

The 1926-1928 Murder’s Row Yankees were skippered by Miller Huggins. He was an ex-middle infielder who had a decent, but not spectacular career. He won a couple of walks titles in the first few years of the 20th Century and managed the Cardinals without much success prior to taking over at New York in 1918. He provided a steady hand and a calming influence on a team that could be wild. 

The Murder’s Row Yankees had two all-time greats on the team: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Both were simply great in 1927 and 1928 and 1926 was Gehrig’s coming out party. Behind them the Yankees fielded a number of really good players who could step up on days the two stars were not doing well. Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, and Waite Hoyt all made the Hall of Fame and Urban Shocker could do so someday (if somebody will just look at his numbers). 

Bob Meusel had been in the “really good” category in the early 1920s, but by 1926-28 had slipped to a role player. Mark Koenig, Joe Dugan, and the various catchers (Pat Collins, Hank Severeid, Johnny Grabowski) all fill the bill.  The one-year wonders are Wilcy Moore in 1927 and George Pipgras in 1928 (although Pipgras also had a decent 1929). 

I want to do follow-up posts on the other dynasties to show it’s not just the “Yankees way” of winning. I’m also certain I’m not the first person to determine what it takes to win, but I find this instructive (but not predictive of the next dynasty). Feel free to add your own criteria to the list.

Old Sites, New Stuff

August 2, 2010

I’ve done shout outs here before and want to do another one today. I’ve also done both these sites before, but want to redo them because both are doing really good stuff that you may have missed.

Kevin at “DMB Historic World Series Replay” (see blogroll at right) is currently redoing the 1906 World Series. This is, for my money, the greatest World Series upset ever. The Cubs won 116 games in 1906, the White Sox were lucky to hit .200. The Sox won in six. Check out both his review of the original series and the replay.

Bill at “The On Deck Circle” (also see blogroll at right) is running a series on the best overlooked seasons by players on various teams. This looks at a team, and tries to find out who had the best season that no one remembers. Good idea that brings back an image of a largely forgotten player. He just did Kansas City (yes, KC really did have good teams with good players) and reminded me about  pitcher Dennis Leonard who had a heck of a year back in 1977. Worth checking out even if you think he should have taken someone else because it will remind you just how good some otherwise forgotten players really were when they played.

Check both out. Worth the time and effort.