Archive for September, 2010

1910: Ray Jansen, Superstar

September 30, 2010

 

One hundred years ago today Ray Jansen went four for five (all singles) in a losing effort for the St. Louis Browns. He never played another game in the Major Leagues. His .800 batting average is one of the highest for a player who showed up for only one game.

According to the info I can find on him, Jansen was a St. Louis local who was signed by the Browns to play third base for a game. He hit well, but made several errors (3) and never got back into a game. He played a couple of years in the minor leagues, then drifted out of baseball and died in 1934.

All this begs a question. Why did the Browns not give Jansen another chance? Anybody who goes four for five ought to have another chance to show what he can do. If he can’t play third base, then shift him to the outfield. In 1910 the minors were not attached to particular teams in the “farm system”, so it’s not that the Browns sent him to their minor league farm team where he failed. I remember Joe Garagiola once commenting that you could shake a tree and out would fall a glove, but a bat was hard to find. I suppose Jansen is an example of why the Browns were awful for most of their history.

Jansen is also an example of a type of player that you see more frequently than you might suppose. It’s the player that gets to a team, gets one chance, does OK (or even really good), then never gets another chance. There are a bunch of those and I’m not about to try listing all of them. Go through any baseball encyclopedia and you’ll run across them. I’m not talking here about the guy who gets up, gets hurt, and never recovers, but the guy who gets up, plays well, then falls into oblivion. I wonder why that happens. I also wonder why some guys who don’t do all that well keep getting more chances.

I went through a couple of baseball encyclopedias and found several of both types, but let me just take one example for you. Both these guys played on the same team at the same time. Both played for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1990.

Carlos Diaz was a 14th round draft choice who was a 25-year-old catcher in 1990. He played in nine games, all behind the plate. His fielding was OK with an error or two, no passed balls, and he allowed one stolen base and gunned down a second base runner trying to steal. He batted four times, sacrificing once. His average was .333 as he went one for three (a single). He scored a run and struck out twice. So he’s not Ray Jansen (and who is?), but one for three ain’t bad and he was a good enough backstop. As far as I can tell he wasn’t injured,but he never played in the big leagues again. You’d think he’d get another try, wouldn’t you?

On this same team was Tom Quinlan. Quinlan was a third baseman who got into one game in 1990, went one for two ( a single and a strikeout), and scored no runs. He didn’t get back to the Blue Jays in 1991, but was there in 1992 where he got into 13 games, hitting .067. In 1993 he was in the minors, in 1994 he surfaced at Philadelphia where in 24 games he hit .200 with a home run. Back in the minors in 1995, he made one last big league stop in Minnesota in 1996 where he went oh-fer in four games. Other than seeming to be available only in even-numbered years, it’s a nothing career. He hits (drum roll, please) .155 with a home run and 26 strikeouts. You’d think Diaz coulda done that.

Not being a Toronto fan, I’m not sure what was going on here, but I find it interesting that two players have essentially the same rookie season, albeit a short ones and one never got another chance, whereas the second player was given three more chances. I realize that five total at bats (1-3 for Diaz and 1-2 for Quinlan) don’t make for much of a sample size, but I can’t help wondering what was going on that led to the totally different outcomes.

Like Diaz ,I think Jansen deserved another shot. He didn’t get it, but he at least got to the big leagues. I nominate 30 September as Ray Jansen day for all baseball fans. Go, Ray!!!

Doing my Scarlett O’Hara Impression

September 20, 2010

For the next week I’m going to be Gone with the Wind. Will be seeing our son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren so won’t be around here for a while.

Don’t screw up the place too bad without me, OK?

1910: The Absolute Worst Managerial Choice Ever Made

September 20, 2010

Hal Chase

That’s a strong statement in the title, isn’t it? Sounds extreme, right? The absolute worst choice ever made, really? Actually, it’s not even close. On this date one hundred years ago the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) fired manager George Stallings and installed Hal Chase as the new field general. No one’s ever done a worse job of picking a manager. 

It’s not like Chase was a bad choice. Chase was a disastrous choice. You want your manager to do a lot of things, and one of the most important is to make decisions that will enhance your team’s opportunity to win. Chase often made decisions that enhanced the Highlanders’ opportunity to lose. And he did them on purpose. You see, Chase was a crook. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. Chase probably holds the record for most games “fixed” in Major League history and the powers that be in New York just handed him the reigns to the team. Incredible. You want to bet on the Highlanders to lose? Well, just flip Chase a few bills and the pitching rotation will change. A few more bills, and the starting left fielder hitting .350 will suddenly be on the bench. Give him enough money and Chase will throw the game himself if necessary. 

Now I’ve heard defenses of Chase that basically say he was underpaid and was simply trying to make ends meet. Hey, Hal, so am I and I promise that if I could ever get to the Major Leagues, I wouldn’t throw a game. My son can testify that when our  little league team was eliminated from the pennant race, I didn’t start letting just anybody pitch. Even at that level you don’t throw games. I am the first to say I understand and sympathize with the salary plight of players in the Deadball Era. What the owners did to them economically was awful, but it doesn’t absolve them from knowing what’s right and what isn’t. I supposed somewhere in Chase’s warped mind there was a justification for “laying down” on the team. Tell, it to the fans, Hal. They put out good money see a real ballgame, not a fixed affair. And most of those fans made less money than Chase. 

You can, if you want, compare Chase to Pete Rose. I don’t consider them at all comparable. Rose was a manager with a gambling problem. Chase was a manager with a total lack of moral compass. I’m no expert on the Rose situation, but as I understand it Rose’s great sin was to bet on his team to win. That’s a lot different from the manager at New York putting down money on his team to lose. I don’t mean to imply that Rose was right in his gambling, but it’s not the same as Chase’s fixing games.I don’t like Rose, but I despise Chase. I’m not sure if I believe in a kind, loving, benevolent God who cares about all of us all the time, but I spent enough time in combat in Viet Nam to know that I certainly believe in a Devil and his hell. As far as I’m concerned, both men can visit him for all time and eternity. 

On top of it all, Chase wasn’t a particularly good manager. In the 14 games he managed in 1910, the Highlanders went 10-4 (maybe he hadn’t gotten enough cash out to the other players yet). After that the team went south fast. In 1911 they dropped to sixth with a 76-76 record. It cost him his managerial job. He stayed on at first for the Highlanders hitting well, fielding well, handing out cash well, and the team dropped to last in 1912. In 1913 he was traded to the White Sox. The Highlanders rose to seventh, the Sox dropped from fourth to fifth. He went to Buffalo of the Federal League in mid-1914.The team finished fourth. He stayed there in 1915 and the team dropped to fifth. Notice a pattern here?

He finished his career playing for Cincinnati from 1916-1918 and with the Giants for 1919, after which he is banned for life. Cincy actually got better after Chase’s arrival, but much of that is laid at the feet of new manager Christy Mathewson, who immediately clashed with Chase. As with New York manager Stallings earlier, Mathewson complained to ownership about Chase and “laying down” for games. Finally in 1918, Chase was suspended. I don’t believe in too many coincidences, so I’ll simply point out that the year after the Reds got rid of the cancer that was Hal Chase, they won the National League pennant, then won the World Series, although that was tainted by the “Black Sox” scandal. 

I know this isn’t one of my better written posts. It’s more of a polemic. But I admit that it’s difficult to be at all dispassionate about Chase. He’s a scoundrel, a thug, and a thief. I’m better for having gotten this off my chest, and we’re all better off Chase was banned.

1910: The Slugging Hurler

September 17, 2010

Ed Summers

On this date in 1910, the Detroit Tigers pitcher Ed Summers hit two home runs in the same game. It was unusual because in his entire career, Summers hit exactly two home runs, these two. The Tigers defeated the Philadelphia Athletics that day 10-3, Summers picking up the win. It didn’t help a lot, the A’s still won the pennant, but for one day it slowed them down. 

Oran Edgar Summers was born in 1884 in Indiana. He was another college man, attending Wabash College before joining the Tigers in 1908. He went 24-12 with an ERA of 1.64 in 40 games (32 starts). He pitched 301 innings (a career high), gave up 271 hits, walked 55 and struck out 103. On 25 September 1908, he pitched both ends of a double-header recording two wins. The Tigers made the World Series, Summers relieving in game one and starting game four. He took the loss in both games, giving up 18 hits in 14.2 innings. Wikipedia says he and Justin Verlander are the only two Tigers rookies to start a World Series game. 

In 1909 he was 19-9 in 282 innings, posting a career high in strikeouts with 107. The Tigers got back to the World series, and again Summers got into two games (both starts) and lost both. He gave up 13 hits in 7.1 innings and had a huge 8.60 ERA. 

By 1910 he was showing signs of arm trouble (he ended up with rheumatism) and began slowing down. He was 13-12 in 1910 (including his big day 100 years ago today) and 11-11 in 1911. He  was finished in 1912 managing to go 1-1 in three games. For his career he ended up 68-45 with 999 innings pitched over 138 games. He struck out 362 and walked 221 with nine shutouts. In World series play he was 0-4.  He died at age in 1953 at age 68. 

Summers is one of those Stone Age players you never hear about. He’s strictly background noise for the big names. On his own team that means Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. He’s another one of those pitchers who arrive with a great season, then flame out early. A couple of weeks ago I did a post of Jack Coombs, a better pitcher, but one whose career follows the same trajectory of success followed by rapid collapse (Coombs, did however, have a long period of toiling before he made it big in the American League) Baseball history is littered with players like Summers and Coombs. For all that, for one day, Summers at least was a fearsome slugger.

The Player-Manager

September 15, 2010

 

Solly Hemus

Baseball changes all the time. Some of the changes are immediate and noticable, like changing the pitching distance in 1893. Some are more subtle. No one seems to have realized what changing the strike zone in the 1960s would do to offense. Other things just seem to drop out of use without much fanfare. Player-Managers are like that. Once upon a time there were lots of them. Now there hasn’t been one since Pete Rose hung up his glove in 1986.

It actually makes since that there should be a lot of Player-Manager’s in the early days of baseball. Small rosters, limited talent pools, poor conditions make for having one man responsible for running the team and holding down a position. Harry Wright played center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. He also managed the team. So the tradition goes back a ways and carries on through players like Cap Anson and Charles Comiskey who both held down first base and managed in the 1880s.

Further, the expansion of Major League baseball from eight to 16 teams in 1901 meant that more managers were needed and the talent pool was small. So what better way to pick up a manager than to assign one of the players the managerial job (and toss in a couple hundred bucks for his troubles)? In 1901, four of the eight American League managers were player-managers. In the more established National Leage three of eight managers were player-managers. This trend continued for most of the Deadball Era (although not in those proportions). If you look at just the World Series, player-managers rule for much of the Deadball Era, especially early. Between 1901 and 1912 at least one team was managed by an active player in each Series except two. In both of those, 1905 and 1911, John McGraw faced off against Connie Mack. But in 1903 player-manager Jimmie Collins won. In ’06 it was Fielder Jones; in ’07 and ’08 it’s Frank Chance. In 1909 Fred Clarke played left field and managed Pittsburgh, in 1912 it was Jake Stahl as both first baseman and manager for Boston.

The rest of the Deadball Era saw a continued use of player-managers, but they were being less successful. Between 1913 and 1920, only Bill Carrigan at Boston in both 1915 and 1916 (44 games played in ’15, 33 in ’16), and Tris Speaker in 1920 were player-managers who led their team to the World Series (each happened to win). In the 1920s Rogers Hornsby in 1926 and Bucky Harris in 1924 were successful player-managers. In the 1930s you get something  of a rebirth with Bill Terry, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Grimm, Joe Cronin, and Gabby Hartnett all winning pennants (although Grimm, Cronin, and Hartnett’s teams all lose). The 1940s, a time that, because of a lack of players, should have produced mostly managers who were done with playing in the field gave us only Leo Durocher and Lou Boudreau as successful player-managers. It it should be noted that both had their greatest success on either side of the war. Boudreau became the last player-manager to win the World Series. The trend away from player-managers continued into the 1950s. Solly Hemus was at St. Louis in 1959 (he got into around 30 games), and appears (I may have missed one or two) to have ended the tradition until Pete Rose shows up in the 1980s.

So why did the tradition end? I’ll be honest, I’m not certain. I have some guesses, and that’s all they are.

1. As teams got more professional, a full-time manager was necessary.

2. Expanding rosters made it difficult for part-time managers to spend the time necessary to address the needs of individual players, especially bench players.

3. Once you get beyond 1910, full-time “professional” managers are almost always more successful than player-managers.

4. It’s easier for a full-time manager to act as a buffer between players and press than it is for a player-manager.

5. Full-time managers don’t have to worry about their individual stats, other than win/loss record.

I’m sure there are others. Feel free to add your own to the list.

1910: Highlanders Postmortem

September 13, 2010

For the first time since 1904, the New York Highlanders were significant contenders for the American League pennant. Ultimately they failed to win, finishing at 88-63, 14.5 games back in second place. They were the only team in either league to change managers during the season, going from George Stallings to Hal Chase. That occurred in late September 1910 and will be the subject of a later post.

The Highlanders (now the Yankees) hit well. They led the league in stolen bases and walks, were third in runs, fifth in hits (but made up for it in OBP with all those walks), and third in slugging. Shortstop Jack Knight was the only regular to hit .300, but first baseman Hal Chase, second baseman Frank La Porte, and outfielders Harry Wolter and Birdie Cree all hit above .260. Only third base man Jimmy Austin and catcher Ed Sweeney hit below .220. Chase led the team in RBIs, runs, and hits. More about him in the manager post.

The bench had six players participate in 20 or more games. One of them, backup outfielder Bert Daniels, led the team in stolen bases, hit .253, and was fourth on the team in walks. The other major  bench players hit below .250, with two hitting below .200 (and one below .150).

The Highlanders used only 10 pitchers all season, five of them starting 15 or more games. They did pretty well. Russ Ford was 26-6 with an ERA under two. Jack Quinn (who would pitch into his 40s and win a World Series as late as 1930) was 18-12, and 22-year-old lefty James “Hippo” Vaughn went 13-11 with a 1.83 ERA. Every pitcher had more strikeouts than walks, and all but one, Tom Hughes, had more innings pitched than hits.  At 7-9, Hughes was also the only major starter with a losing record.

For the Highlanders, the future looked bright. The pitching staff was good, the starting position players were good to adequate, depending on the position. What they lacked was a solid bench, but then so did everyone else. In 1911 they slipped back to fifth and finished at .500. What happened? Well, that manager change certainly didn’t help. Hal Chase wasn’t the best choice to lead a team, any team.

1910: Tigers Postmortem

September 11, 2010

At the beginning of the 1910 baseball season Detroit was the three-time reigning American League champion. True, Hughie Jennings’ Tigers had lost three consecutive World Series match ups, but still they were champion. In 1910 they finished third at 86-68, 18 games out of first.

The team finished second in batting, walks,  home runs, and slugging; first in runs and RBIs. Across the board they hit well. The big stars Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford had good years, Cobb leading the AL in slugging, runs scored, and winning (or losing) a disputed batting title to Nap LaJoie. Crawford led the league in RBIs and triples. Every starter except catcher Oscar Stanage hit above .250 and had double figure stolen bases. Except for Stanage and third outfielder Davy Jones, everyone had more than ten doubles.

As usual for the era, the bench wasn’t much. Only back up catcher Boss Schmidt hit .250, but of the six players appearing in 20 or more games, only one hit below .200. Both Schmidt and backup outfielder Matty McIntyre had over 20 RBIs. It seems as if almost no one in the era had much of a bench.

It was the pitching that created the fall off for Detroit. In some ways Tigers pitching had always been a reflection of the team’s hitting prowess. Although most of the pitchers who started more than 10 games had winning records (topped by George Mullin’s 21-12 record) all had high ERA’s for the Deadball age and had low walks to strikeout ratios (Mullin actually walked more men than he struck out). Each did pitch more innings than they allowed hits.  At 27, they were tied with a number of other teams for the second oldest staff in the league (behind Chicago).

And in some ways that’s part of the problem. The Tigers are aging. Four of their starting position players are already 30 or older, as is McIntyre the backup outfielder. Backup catcher Schmidt is 29 (but on the other hand, Cobb is only 23). To someone my age that doesn’t sound old, but for ball players in the 1910 era they are getting on in years. Without some good replacements available to spell or replace the aging players the team could be in trouble in the future. Looking at the bench, those replacements aren’t available.

1910: Phillies Postmortem

September 10, 2010

I’m not sure what to say about the Fightin’ Phils. They finished fourth, but probably should have been higher. They hit well in spots and abysmally in others. Their pitching was a mixed bag. I guess that means I shouldn’t be surprised they ended up fourth in the National League. But somehow they just look better on paper.

Outfielder Sherry Magee was the star. He won the batting and slugging titles, ending Honus Wagner’s stranglehold on hitting in the NL, and led the league in both runs and RBIs. The Chalmers Award, the first MVP Award, began in 1911, but had it started in 1910, Magee might have won it. He had that good a year.

The rest of the hitting wasn’t nearly as good. Center fielder Johnny Bates hit .300 and three other starters hit above .250, but the other starters, including catcher/manager Red Dooin, hit below that mark. Philly finished fifth in average, fourth in slugging, and first in doubles. They scored 674 runs, third in the league.

As with most teams of the era, the bench wasn’t much. Of six players showing up in 20 or more games, one hit .250 and four were under the Mendoza Line. The one was 24-year-old Fred Luderus, who got into 21 games after a 24 game stint with the Cubs. He would anchor the right side of the infield for the Phils through 1920 and help lead them to a World Series appearance in 1915.

The pitching is as mixed a bag as the hitting. Thirty year old Ed Moore led the team with 22 wins against 15 losses. He led the NL in both strikeouts (185) and shutouts (6). George McQuillan led the league in ERA at 1.60, but had a record of only 9-6. The rest of the starters had mediocre years with winning percentages between .533 and .461.

So Philadelphia going into 1911 looked like a run-of-the-mill team with some potential. If Magee had another great year (he got hurt) and Bates continued playing well (he was traded to Cincinnati) then they might contend. The pitching had to improve. On 1 September 1910, the Phillies went a long way toward doing that. They drafted Grover Cleveland Alexander from minor league Syracuse, planning to bring him to Philadelphia in 1911. That worked.

1910:Red Sox Postmortem

September 9, 2010

In 1909 Fred Lake left the managerial job with the Red Sox to go across leagues to the Doves. The team was awful and Lake was fired, never returning to manage in the Major Leagues. His replacement, Patsy Donovan, had better luck. The Red Sox finished fourth in 1910, at 81-72, 22.5 games out of first. That was down from a third place finish in 1909.

It wasn’t the hitting that was the problem. Every Sox starter except catcher Bill Carrigan hit over .250 (and Carrigan hit .249). The team was third in batting average, runs scored, and RBIs. They were second in slugging and first in home runs with first baseman Jake Stahl leading the American League with ten. In stolen bases they finished fourth. Tris Speaker hit .340, good for third in league.

The bench wasn’t anything special. Four players managed 20 or more games, two hitting under .200. But backup infielder Clyde Engle hit .264, stole 12 bases, and ended up with more hits than regular third baseman Harry Lord.

The weakness was the pitching. Eddie Cicotte (of 1919 Black Sox infamy) led the team with a 15-11 record. And his record is typical for the staff. Of the seven men who started double figures games, four had winning percentages of .550 or less, the definition of a mediocre staff. On the positive side all of them had more innings pitched than hits allowed and more strikeouts than walks, except for Frank Arellanes, who started 13 of 26 games. At 26, it was the second youngest staff in the AL (behind New York) so there was time for improvement.

All in all the BoSox are not a bad team. In 1911 they will fall back a spot,costing Donovan his job, but will win the AL pennant and the World Series in two years. You can see that coming if you look at the hitting. Speaker, Larry Gardner, Duffy Lewis, and Harry Hooper are all there.  As for the pitching, it needed work. It got it. By 1912, only three of the 1910 major starters would still be around.

1910:Reds Postmortem

September 8, 2010

This marks the final post on teams that finished in the second division in 1910. As with the rest of them, Cincinnati had a poor year. They finished 75-79, 28 games out of first. That was two gamesworse than in 1909.

Manager Clark Griffith’s Red hit pretty well. They were fourth in average, slugging, and hits; third in runs; and led the National League in stolen bases with 310. Mid-season pickup Tommy McMillan at shortstop hit .185 and fellow middle infielder Dick Egan hit .245, but the rest of the starters hit .250 or above. Outfielder Mike Mitchell led the Nl in triples, while left fielder Bob Bescher led in stolen bases with 70.

As with the other second division teams, the bench was a distinct weakness. The Reds used 17 men on the bench during the course of the season, but only six played in  20 or more games. None of them hit particularly well, with backup catcher Ward Miller being the best of the lot with a .278 average and a .404 slugging percentage.

The Reds major problem was the pitching. George Suggs was the ace, going 19-11 with an ERA of 2.40 and 91 strikeouts. The other starters were a mixed bag, two of the four having more walks than strikeouts and one, “Sleepy” Bill Burns of 1919 Black Sox fame, having both more walks than strikeouts and more hits than innings pitched. His ERA was a Deadball Era busting 3.48. Overall the team ERA was sixth in the NL and the Reds were sixth in hits allowed and second in most walks awarded.

All in all the Reds played roughly as they had played in 1909. One thing the Reds had going for them was their age. They were one of the youngest teams in the NL. Unfortunately, the talent level wasn’t all that great. There were some good players available, just not many of them. Besher and Mitchell were both potential stars, but the rest of the team was mediocre at best. The outlook for 1911 wasn’t significantly better than in 1910.