Archive for May, 2012

They Mortared the Ballyard?

May 30, 2012

Times change

I’m taking a short break from the Triple Crown posts to talk about way back when I got one of those all-expense paid trips to sunny Southeast Asia. I even got paid to take it. In fact the US Army decided I would have so much fun they let me stay an entire year in Viet Nam under their Fun, Travel, Adventure (FTA) program.

I spent a few months as a grunt (infantryman) then managed to pick up a transfer to an intelligence unit (Don’t say it. I’ve heard every joke there is about Army and intelligence.). As a grunt you have some free time, but not a lot. In intelligence you had more, but it tended to come in spurts. Some days there was just nothing to do, other days you worked your backside off. When we had time off one of the things we did was play ball at a field some engineers had constructed in the middle of the post. There was a backstop, a couple of benches, and a little shed where they kept the bases and the chalk to line the base paths. That was all there was, but it was good enough for us (What? You were expecting Yankee Stadium in the Nam?).

Enter the 1968 Tet Offensive. We got hit hard. The Viet Cong launched an attack on the base that turned out very badly for them (8′ guns will do that to you). Preliminary to that we were mortared heavily. It was about 1 in the morning when the rounds started falling and we were all in bed. Everyone made it safely to the nearest bunker where we waited out the mortar attack. Try envisioning a half-dozen men, some of them kids trying to be men, sitting around in a sandbagged dirt bunker in nothing but their t-shirts, undies, boots (no socks), and steel hats holding onto an M-16 and a clip or two of ammunition and you get the drift of what it was like. With the mortar rounds done and the attack repelled, we ended up back in tents where we normally slept. The tent where I slept (with 5 other guys) was shredded. I had shrapnel on my bunk, inside my spare boots, on top of my footlocker. One guy’s locker was trashed but his baseball glove survived. In fact there was a big piece of shrapnel nestled in the pocket. Trust me, a ball looks better in there.

The next morning we wandered around trying to assess damage and a bunch of us ended up at the ball field. It had been hit too, the shed was ripped to shreds, the chalk blowing out onto the field. There was a big hole at third base where a mortar round was “safe” on a close play. The outfield boasted a couple of holes, the backstop had a piece of shrapnel hanging on it. All this led one of the guys with me to ask ,”They mortared the ballyard?”

Of course they mortared the ballyard, you idiot. Hell, they mortared the whole damned post, including my bunk. But somehow it was more awful that they’d hit the ball field. Me? I’m a legit target, but the ballyard?

Turns out that we captured one of the mortarmen a few days later. I got to sit in on the interrogation (and, no, we didn’t waterboard). We had a good translator and midway through the interview he started laughing. Well, that threw everybody else. Want to let us in on the gag, slick? According to the prisoner they had managed to mortar the base so effectively because one of the members of his unit knew that the distance between bases in baseball was 90 feet and they were able to gauge the distance between points on post by comparing it to the baseball diamond (apparently they had pictures).

So there we were enjoying ourselves in a happy ball game and all the time we were assisting the Viet Cong in setting their mortar ranges. Mortar the ballyard? Of course you mortar the ballyard. Damned traitor of a ballyard.

One Heck of a Guy

May 29, 2012

Guy Hecker in 1882

When I started this project of looking into the lives and careers of the 19th Century men who won either the hitting or pitching Triple Crown I have to admit that Guy Hecker was a total unknown. Frankly, I’d never heard of him. But as I’ve looked into his life and his career I’ve decided he’s interesting, and he’s also worth the atrocious play-on-words that makes up the title of this post.

Guy Hecker with born in 1856 in Pennsylvania oil country. His dad was street superintendent for Oil Town, Pa and his son was adept at both pitching and hitting. His first professional experience was in Springfield, Ohio (where someone I know lives) in 1877. After a season in Ohio he moved back to Oil Town, got married, went to work (I’ve been unable to find out what he did), and joined the local semi-pro team. There he met Tony Mullane who would go on to post a winning record in the Major Leagues. Mullane was impressed enough to recommend Hecker to the Louisville team in the fledgling American Association in 1882. They signed him as a first baseman and backup pitcher.

One common thread among these 19th Century players is how few of them were instant successes. Hecker went 6-6 with a 1.30 ERA in his rookie campaign. He did manage to hit .276 with three home runs in 78 games, most at first. He did show one bright spot. On 19 September he tossed the second no-hitter in Association history. The next season he appeared in 81 games, 10 at first, 23 in the outfield, and 53 on the mound. He hit .271 with one home run, but his pitching improved. He ended the season 28-23 with an ERA of 3.34 (ERA+ of 89) and a little more than two strikeouts for every walk. Louisville managed to finish fifth.

The next season he struck pay dirt. He hit .296, slugged .443, had four home runs, and 42 RBIs. But of course he was now the Eclipse’s primary pitcher and he was sterling. He won 52 games, losing 20. He led the Association with a 1.80 ERA (ERA+ of 171), had 385 strike outs, pitched 671 innings, and gave up 526 hits. All those led the Association and made him a Triple Crown winner. Unfortunately, over in the National League, Charles Radbourn won 59 (or 60 depending on who you believe) and pitched his team to the first postseason series (they won). Hecker’s 52 wins is still third in Major League history (John Clarkson had 53 just a couple of years later).

In 1885 he developed arm trouble (the exact problem is disputed), went 20-23, saw his ERA jump above two, and saw his strikeouts diminish by 175. The next year, 1886, was even worse. He was 26-23 and saw his strike outs drop by almost another 100. He did manage to put in a few games at first and in the outfield. That gave him enough at bats to win the Association batting title in 1886 at .341. Hecker never knew it. He was officially considered second until the statistics were reviewed in the 1960s and it was determined he had won the title (shades of Paul Hines who was profiled a couple of posts back). He is the only man to win both the pitching Triple Crown and a batting title.

His pitching continued to decline and his hitting fell back also (but he still managed to hit .300 in 1887). By 1890 he was in Pittsburgh in the National League as a player-manager. He hit .226 and went 2-9 on the mound with an ERA north of five. The Alleghenys finished last. His Major League career, both as a player and a manager was over. 

He stayed in baseball as a player-manager in the Western League and Indiana-Illinois League, then ran the semipro team in Oil Town after he returned to his hometown. He spent time in the oil business, then moved to Wooster, Ohio, where I also know someone (Isn’t it funny how much baseball touches our lives in even trivial ways?). He ran a grocery store and died there on 3 December 1938. I asked the person I know who lives in Wooster. She tells me there is no monument to him.

For his career, Hecker was 175-146 with a 2.93 ERA (ERA+ of 113). He struck out 1110 men, walked 492, gave up 2922 hits, and 951 earned runs in 2924 innings. As a hitter he batted .282 with 812 hits, 504 runs scored, and 1080 total bases. He won the single batting title and his only pitching Triple Crown titles were the ones he won in 1884.

Hecker only played nine season, so he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Even if you waive the ten-year rule, he’s still not, at least to me, Hall of Fame quality. He had one great year, one other good one, and a lot of years that don’t really stand out. Having said all that, he’s still worth remembering, if for no other reason than his winning both a pitching Triple Crown and a batting title. That’s something that will never be duplicated at the big league level.

The Woodstock Wonder

May 25, 2012

Tip O’Neill in 1889 (2 years removed from his Triple Crown)

Canada is not really famous as a hotbed of baseball. It’s much more noted for hockey. But over the century and a half of Major League Baseball, there have been a number of quality players from Canada. Tip O’Neill was one of the best.

For Americans “Tip O’Neill” conjures up the political leader of the 1970s and 1980s. He was from Massachusetts and served as Speaker of the House. According to my research, his dad was a baseball fan and his nickname for his son Thomas was “Tip” in honor of the Woodstock Wonder.

James O’Neill (the ballplayer, not the politician) was born in 1858 in Springfield, Ontario, Canada which is near Woodstock (and let’s admit it, “Springfield Wonder” just doesn’t have the same ring). He was a natural and by 1878 was pitching for his local team, the Woodstock Actives (the family apparently had homes in both towns). He was good enough to get the attention of the New York Gothams, who signed him in 1883. He went 5-12 with a 4 ERA, walked more than he struck out, and hit all of a buck 97. Needless to say, he didn’t stick around.

The still struggling American Association (formed in 1882) was trying to establish itself as a true rival to the powerful National League in 1884. The team in St. Louis, the Browns (now the Cardinals), needed help and picked up O’Neill as both a pitcher and an outfielder. He went 11-4 as a pitcher, hit .276 (second on the team), and found himself becoming the regular left fielder. He blossomed during the next several seasons becoming one of the best players in the AA and helped lead his team to postseason play in 1885, ’86, ’87, and 1888. In 1886 he led the Association in RBIs. He was also adept at “tipping” balls for fouls until he got the pitch he wanted, leading to the “Tip” nickname.

His career year was 1887. He hit .435, had 14 home runs, and 123 RBIs to win the Association’s Triple Crown (the only Association player to win one). Additionally he led the league in doubles with 52, triples with 19, hits with 225, 357 total bases, and runs with 167. No other player in Major League history has ever led the league in all those categories in the same season. It was the first time someone had slugged 50 doubles. He also had 50 walks, which at the time were counted as hits, giving him an average of .492 (the .435 is without the walks and is now considered the official average for the season). His modern numbers included an OBP of .490, a slugging percentage of .691, an OPS of 1.180, and an OPS+ of 213. All led the league. He also hit for the cycle twice in the 1887 season.

He led the Association in both hits and average the next season, then continued to hit .300 or better for three more years. He never again had 50 doubles (his peak was 33). He  had double figure home runs (10) and triple digit RBIs (110) once more each.

In 1890 he jumped to the Player’s League where he hit .302 and led the league in games played. When the league folded after one season, O’Neill went back to St. Louis for one last decent season, then finished his career in Cincinnati in 1892. He hit .250 and retired. 

His numbers are good. For his career he hit .326, had an OBP of .392, slugged .458, for an OPS of .851 (OPS+ 144). He hit 52 home runs, 92 triples, and 222 doubles in 1385 hits (1947 total bases). He scored 879 runs and knocked in 757 in 1052 games. In postseason play he hit only .240, but had 5 home runs and 25 RBIs in a win, two losses, and a tied series.

After retirement, O’Neill stayed in baseball. He was President of the Western League and promoted baseball in Canada. He was killed in a streetcar accident 31 December 1915 in Quebec. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in the first class (1983) and the Hall’s award to the best Canadian ballplayer is named for O’Neill.

With the possible exception of Cy Young, every 19th Century player is obscure, especially Association players. Most fans don’t even know the American Association was ever a Major League. So O’Neill falls victim to the double problem of playing forever ago and playing for a league no one knows existed. Still he was a heck of a player and one I’d vote to send to Cooperstown (You know, you can make a pretty fair team out of non-Hall of Fame 19th Century players). He wouldn’t be my first choice (Deacon White would be) but he’d be way high up the food chain.

The Man Who Never Knew

May 23, 2012

The first hitter to win baseball’s Triple Crown was Paul Hines, today a truly obscure player. Part of the reason for his obscurity (besides that he played so far back people don’t even know baseball was played then) is that he never knew he’d won the Triple Crown. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that he was given credit for the feat. Some references still don’t give him credit. What happened, you ask? Glad you asked.

Hines was born in the nation’s capital in 1852. By 1872 (age 20) he was already a pro. He joined the Washington Nationals (not the team currently in DC) of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in that season. The team wasn’t very good and folded after an 0-11 start. Hines, the regular first baseman, hit all of .224 with 11 hits (one for extra bases-a double). The next season Washington tried again. The Blue Legs still weren’t anything special, but Hines, shifted to center field, hit .331, had 29 RBIs in 39 games, and found a career. He finished his National Association career with Chicago putting up good years in both 1874 and 1875. He played mostly center, but as was usual for the era, played other positions, notably second base.

With the demise of the Association and the founding of the National League, Hines stayed with his old team, the Chicago White Stockings (obviously one of the founding members of the NL). He remained there through 1877, leading the NL in doubles in the league’s inaugural year (1876) and helping Chicago to the first ever NL pennant. By this point he was becoming a fulltime center fielder.

The 1878 season saw Hines move to Providence where he stayed through 1885. The Grays won two pennants with Hines in center and participated in the first postseason championship in 1884 (they won). Hines hit .250 with three walks, two hits, and an RBI in this primitive version of the World Series. Here’s a shot of the 1882 team with Hines on the left of the back row. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

1882 Providence Grays (Hines at left of back row)

During the regular season at Providence Hines blossomed into a formidable hitter. He averaged .309 in eight years with Providence, had an OPB of .762, and an OPS+ of 143. In 1878 he won baseball’s first Triple Crown, except that he didn’t know it. His numbers stand at .358 for a BA, 4 home runs, and 50 RBIs. There were two problems. First RBIs weren’t kept as an official statistic in 1878, so it wasn’t until later that baseball found out Hines led the NL in 1878. Acknowledgement that he’d won the batting title also came later. Milwaukee outfielder Abner Dalrymple ended the season with a higher average and was awarded the batting crown. In 1968 someone realized that hits occurring in tie games were not counted among official stats in 1878. When they were added in, Dalrymple ended up at .354 and Hines was, posthumously, awarded the batting title and a Triple Crown. The next season he again won the batting title, but didn’t know about it because the award went to Cap Anson. Subsequent reasearch awarded Hines the title. So, as far as I can tell, Hines is the only player to win back-to-back batting titles and not know it.

With the folding of the Providence franchise following the 1885 season, Hines moved back to Washington, where he had two more good seasons. Then it was on to Indianapolis for two fine years with the Hoosiers. He split 1890 between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, then moved on to Boston in 1890. His final season was 1891 with the American Association’s Washington Statesmen (is that an oxymoron?). It was also the last year for the American Association.

After his retirement he stayed on in Washington, drinking heavily and picking up a number of jobs, including a turn working in the post office at the Department of Agriculture. In 1920 (or 1922 depending on who you believe) he was arrested for pickpocketing. He died in a nursing home in Maryland in 1935.

For his career he hit .301 in the NL (.311 in the NA). His career totals include 57 home runs, 855 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 131. He led the NL in hits, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS once each, and in doubles, batting average, and total bases twice each. As a fielder he normally finished in the middle of the pack in most statistics, but finished as high as second in fielding percentage three times. All that in 1658 games (never more than 133 in a season).

It’s tough to know how to rate Hines. He has the same problem a lot of 19th Century players have; he plays in seasons that are much shorter than modern seasons. So his raw numbers aren’t all that impressive, but his percentages hold up pretty well. Also it’s a very different game with the pitcher closer to the batter than currently, the strike and ball counts different, the lack of gloves, and the quality of the fields. But it seems that one thing hasn’t changed. A lot of ball players, ancient and modern, don’t seem to know what to do with themselves when their career ends. Hines is certainly one of those. Is he a Hall of Famer? I wouldn’t vote for him, but I note his Baseball Reference page sponsor thinks he should be enshrined. I have to admit being somewhat wistful about him because I wish he’d known about the batting titles and the Triple Crown.

BTW the 2010 book by Edward Achorn, “Fifty-Nine in ’84” , although primarily about Charles Radbourn, references Hines occasionally. They were teammates that season.

Down the Stretch

May 21, 2012

Secretariat winning the Belmont in 1973

We’re currently two-thirds of the way through horse racing’s Triple Crown with I’ll Have Another having a shot at winning it. Secretariat’s run in the Belmont is still the single greatest thing I ever saw in sport (sorry 1980 hockey team). There’s been a lot of lamenting about it being more than 30 years since a horse came “down the stretch” to win the Belmont and seal a Triple Crown. It’s been even longer than that since baseball had a hitting Triple Crown winner (1967). There hasn’t been one in the National League since 1937. Two men (Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams) have won two. In total it’s been done 16 times. Pitchers have been a little more successful, the last pitching Triple Crown winner occurring in 2011 in both leagues. The idea of winning the baseball Triple Crown is even rarer. This means a player led both leagues, not just his own, in all three Triple Crown categories. It’s happened five times among hitters with no repeats. In pitching it has occurred 12 times with Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Sandy Koufax doing it twice (Koufax did it three times).

Winning a Triple Crown goes back a long way. As early as 1877 a pitcher wins one and in 1878 the first hitter follows suit. In the next few posts I want to look at a handful of the men who have won a Triple Crown. Specifically I want to look at the men who accomplished the feat first, the 19th Century players. There are three hitters (Paul Hines, Tip O’Neil, Hugh Duffy) and six pitchers (Tommy Bond, Guy Hecker, Charles Radbourn, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson, Amos Rusie). I don’t promise to do all nine, but merely provide a sampling in order to give readers a look at the types of men who strode out onto baseball diamonds a century and a half ago.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About George Stovey

May 18, 2012

George Stovey about 1890 (best picture I could find)

1. He was born George Washington Stovey in 1866 in New York (or maybe Philadelphia) to an unknown father and a woman of “mixed race” which in 1860s American made both he and his mother black. There is some question whether his name was Stovey or Stover.

2. He grew up playing in integrated semi-pro leagues around Williamsport, Pennsylvania where he became a premier left-handed pitcher.

3.In 1886 he joined the Cuban Giants, one of the first significant black barnstorming teams.

4. In June of the same year he joined Jersey City of the Eastern League, a professional minor league. He became the league’s first black player.

5. The next year he pitched for Newark with Moses Fleetwood Walker as his battery mate. Fleet Walker was the first black player to join a Major League team (in 1884).

6. During the 1887 season the Eastern League, the International League, and other minor leagues voted to ban the signing of further black players to their leagues. Stovey, Walker, and a handful of other black players were allowed to finish the season with their teams.

7. For the next several seasons he played off and on with the Cuban Giants in the Mid-States League (which was still integrated). He jumped from team to team almost yearly, a common activity for a ballplayer, especially a black ballplayer, in the era.

8. He finished his career in 1897 with the X-Giants and retired to umpire.

9. He became, during the 1897 season, the second black man to umpire a game between two white teams (Jacob Francis was first). He umped off and on into his 50s.

10. Retired, he did a lot of things including help create youth league teams, run moonshine during Prohibition (which got him in trouble with the police), and work in the local sawmill.

11. He died of a heart attack in 1936.

12. By general agreement he is considered the finest black pitcher of the 19th Century, but statistics on his career are almost impossible to find. His stats for 1886, the only year for which they are at all complete (according to Baseball Reference), give him a record of 22-20 with an ERA of 1.44, 69 walks, 246 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.004. Various sources give him 60 to 100 total wins, but apparently only the 1886 season is verifiable.

Is it a Perfect Game if No Body Sees It?

May 16, 2012

our field didn’t look this good

I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas where the great quintet of life is God, guns, pickups, liquor, and football and the order depends on who’s on the other end of the conversation. It’s a place where churches cover the picture of doves in their stained glass windows during hunting season, and where high school football is king of sports. It doesn’t matter how bad your local team is, it’s king of the city. My hometown team was terrible. We won four games in my three years in the high school. Our basketball team won two state titles and no one noticed. The baseball team was sporadically good, the track team did OK in some events, lousy in others. None of it mattered because football was king. With a single touchdown and a missed extra point, the year after I graduated the team scored six points all season (Geez, I scored more often than that with the ladies and no one calls me Don Juan, then or now) and the team still outdrew all the other high school sports combined.

I wrote for the high school paper. Normally I did things like cover the student council or some teacher who did something, but no one else wanted to cover the baseball team, so I took the job. I brought along a score book, kept stats, and wrote up the story of each game for the paper. At least for each home game I did all that. For away games I had to rely on the coach to give me the info. The guy who covered the basketball team had the same problem. The guy who covered the football team had a seat reserved on the team bus. I got a seat in the home bleachers.

And there were plenty of seats to pick. You might have put a couple of hundred people in the bleachers that ran down both the first and third base lines if ever there were that many people. There were none behind home so parents could set up lawn chairs there to watch, except that there were no parents watching. The crowd averaged 10 or less (is 10 a crowd?). There was a little grass in the infield, but not a lot. The outfield was green and sometimes I wondered how much of that was paint. Of course there were no lights. The hgh school football stadium (and it was a stadium) seated a few thousand, had lights, and was kept up by a professional service in town.

Our coach had been there since Alexander Cartwright and knew there was only one way to play ball; you found a pitcher and eight big hulks that could hit the ball a mile but would lose to a slug in a race. Of course for a town that adored football, you tended to have a lot of big, slow guys who could and did play both sports. That meant you saw either a lot of home runs (which almost never happened) or the team played station-to-station ball which meant the games were low scoring. For low scoring games you needed a real pitcher.

His name was Harper and he was new in town. He was a senior, I a junior, and he’d just moved in from somewhere in Kansas. I interviewed him once for the paper. He loved baseball and thought football was silly, “any idiot can knock someone down.” He could also pitch.

About midway through the season, I got to the field to keep score and watch. Harper was pitching and there were about five people in the stands. He had this good fastball and a curve that Sandy Koufax might have noticed. And for seven innings (the regulation length of a high school game then) he was dominant. There are 21 outs in a seven inning game and he struck out 15. He didn’t walk a man and didn’t give his team much of a chance to screw it up for him by making an error. One opponent hit a little tapper back to the mound and another fouled out to the first baseman. That meant only four balls were hit even vaguely hard and only two of those got to the outfield where our big, slow left fielder was able to track both down. Harper had thrown a no-hitter, a perfect game, still the only one I’ve ever seen live. The coach was beaming, the team was proud, all five of us in the stands applauded. It was a great achievement and no one was there to note it.

The team won the conference title that year with Harper going something like 8-0 and the other two pitchers hovering around .500 or so. We won a district game (I still remember that Harper threw a three hitter), then got knocked out of the playoffs with consecutive losses (double elimination format) before he could get back to the mound.

He graduated in May, went off to college on some non-athletic scholarship. I never saw him again, but heard he took the low road and became a lawyer. I don’t know if he was successful, heck, I don’t even know if he’s still alive. But he was good, really good and no one ever saw him pitch. That’s a shame because for one day was the best damned pitcher I ever saw.

A Bad Century: Revival

May 15, 2012

Bob Dernier

After losing the 1945 World Series the Chicago Cubs went into a prolonged slump, a wander in the wilderness. It lasted 39 years (one less than Moses). For all that time, the Cubs were a team that produced really good players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams, but continuously failed to advance to any kind of postseason. They were in contention a couple of times, most notably 1969, but failed, as usual, to pull off a victory. That finally changed in 1984.

The Cubs of 1984 were sometimes called the “Phillies West” because of a  major trade with Philadelphia that gave them just over half their starting lineup. They picked up all three outfielders from Philadelphia: Bob Dernier, Gary Mathews, and Keith Moreland (both Mathews and Moreland were part of the 1980 World Championship team) as well as the middle infield combination of shortstop Larry Bowa and second baseman and MVP Ryne Sandberg. Third baseman Ron Cey had also arrived from another team, this time the Dodgers, as did former Cardinal Leon Durham who held down first base. Only catcher Jody Davis had spent his entire big league career in Chicago. The pitching staff was put together the same way. Rick Sutcliffe came over early in the year from Cleveland (much the same way Hank Borowy had done in 1945, except Borowy came from New York) and won the National League Cy Young Award that season. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, still a starter, was out of Boston, and Steve Trout had been across town with the White Sox. Warren Brusstar was part of the Phillies contingent and Scott Sanderson had been at Montreal. Even reliever Lee Smith was from St. Louis. But manager Jim Frey (also someone who’d come from another team, Kansas City) wielded all the trades and free agents and pick ups together so that they worked. The Cubs won 96 games, the NL East title and a had a date with the San Diego Padres for the NL crown. Even the first two games were in Wrigley Field. Things were so giddy that there was talk of activating Ernie Banks at the end of the season so he could sit in the dugout during the playoffs (they didn’t activate him, but he was allowed to sit in the dugout).

After two games it looked like the drought might be over. Chicago took game one 13-0 with Sutcliffe both pitching and contributing with one of five Cubs home runs. Game two ended 4-2 for Chicago, but the Cubs were in control from the beginning. All they had to do now was win one game in San Diego and the thirty-nine year World Series-less run would be over.

They lost game three 7-1, a game they’d led 1-0. Well, they still had two more chances. Then they made a major mistake; they decided to pitch to Steve Garvey. In a pivotal game four Garvey went 4 for 5 with five RBIs and a walk off home run as the Padres won 7-5. Which meant it all came down to game five.

Chicago got off to a three run lead when Durham popped a two-run home run in the first and Davis hit a solo shot in the second. San Diego got two of them back in the sixth on two singles, a walk to Garvey, and consecutive sacrifice flies. Then came the bottom of the seventh (the same inning as the later infamous “Bartman” game). With one out, Durham committed an error that tied up the game and from that point the pitching staff simply melted down (same as with the “Bartman” game). A single, a double, and an RBI hit by Garvey plated a total of four runs. The Cubs got two men on in the eighth and one in the ninth, but failed to score any of them. San Diego won 6-3 to secure a date with Detroit in the World Series, where the Tigers proceeded to dismantle them four games to one.

For Chicago it was a disappointment, but it was a critical turn around. After 39 years in the wilderness the Cubs had gotten to postseason. It’s now become a sporadic habit. After 39 non-playoff seasons, the Cubs have made the postseason with some frequency in the last 25 years. With the advent of a two-tier playoff system, they’ve even won a playoff series. It’s true they’ve never been back to the World Series and the Bad Century continues, but they’ve managed to move out of perpetual doldrums into occasional postseason play. For Chicago that’s a celebratory step up. And it’s the closest there is to a happy note on which to end this series.

A Bad Century: Crossing into Sinai

May 14, 2012

Phil Cavarretta

The Cubs failure in the 1929 World Series was repeated at three-year intervals through the 1930s. The lost championships in 1932, 1935, and 1938. With the dawn of the 1940s, the team failed to maintain their pattern and slid back into the National League pack. That all changed in 1945, when the roared to a pennant and took on old rival Detroit. The Cubs and Tigers had a history going back to 1907. Chicago won the World Series twice, both times against Detroit (1907 and 1908). In fact, Chicago has never won a World Series against any other team. In 1935 they met again, this time with Detroit prevailing. The 1945 Series would give them a chance to even their record against the Cubs.

The 1945 Cubs were a fine team. Former first baseman from the 1929 pennant winner, Charlie Grimm was the manager. He got an MVP performance from first baseman Phil Cavarretta and good work from the rest of the infield: 2nd baseman Don Johnson, shortstop Roy Hughes, and third baseman Stan Hack. Both Hack and Johnson managed .300 plus batting averages. The outfield consisted of left fielder Peanuts Lowery, 100 RBI man Andy Pafko in center, and Bill “Swish” Nicholson in right. Mickey Livingston backstopped a staff that included Hank Borowy, Claude Passeau, lefty Ray Prim, former Reds ace Paul Derringer, and current ace Hank Wyse. The “ace” is a little misleading. Borowy came over from the Yankees earlier in the season, put up an 11-2 record and by the Series was the main pitcher. None of them were great power pitchers, Passeau leading the team with 98 strikeouts, but most (all except Derringer) had more innings pitched than hits given up.

The first three games were in Detroit. Chicago jumped all over Tigers ace, Hall of Famer, and reigning MVP, Hal Newhouser, getting four runs in the first and three more in the third. They cruised to a 9-0 win with Borowy pitching a six hit shutout. It was to be the first of three Newhouser-Borowy confrontations. In game two Wyse had one bad inning, the fifth. With two outs, two on, and a run in, Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg lifted a three run shot that put Detroit ahead 4-1, the final score. Game three was a Claude Passeau masterpiece. He walked one, catcher Bob Swift in the sixth. Swift was out on a double play. Passeau  gave up one hit (a second inning single to Rudy York) and the Cubs won 3-0 to head to Chicago up two games to one.

The remaining games were all in Wrigley Field (wartime travel restrictions were just ending). Throughout their history, the Cubs had done well in postseason play on the road, but terribly in Wrigley (1906, 07, 08, and 10 were not in Wrigley). That was to hold true for games four and five. In game four Detroit bunched together two walks, (one intentional), a double, and three singles to plate four runs. Tigers pitcher Dizzy Trout gave up one unearned run, a walk, and five hits to even the Series at two games each. Game five saw the Newhouser-Borowy rematch. Newhouser gave up four runs, two walks, and seven hits, but struck out nine Cubs. Borowy gave up five runs in five innings, then the bullpen let Detroit tack on three more. Now the Tigers led the Series three games to two.

Game six turned out to be a classic. Having to win the game or lose the Series, Chicago dropped behind on a bases loaded walk, but answered with four in the fifth and a single run in the sixth. Detroit got a run back in the top of the seventh, but the Cubs got two more in the bottom of the inning to stay ahead. But 1945 was a World Series full of big innings and the Tigers had another in them, putting up four in the top of the eighth to tie up the game. It stayed there into the twelfth. Desperate to win, manager Grimm sent Borowy back to the mound with no days off. He was masterful, pitching four full innings and giving up neither a run nor a walk. In the bottom of the twelfth, Stan Hack doubled to bring home the Series tying run.

The next day there was no game, so Grimm decided to send Borowy back to the mound to face Newhouser one final time. He needed 27 outs to bring Chicago its first World Series triumph since 1908. He got none. The Tigers teed off on him scoring three earned runs and when the dust settled had scored five total runs in the first. The Cubs got one back in the bottom of the first, but Detroit responded with one of their own in the second, then kept piling on runs. The Cubs’ Roy Hughes singled to lead off the ninth, then with two outs, Stan Hack drove a grounder to short. A flip to second for the force and the Series was over. The final score was Detroit 9, Chicago 3 and Detroit was champion. They’d played Chicago four times in the World Series and each team had won twice.

It’s tough not to feel a little sorry for the Cubs. They hit .263 for the Series (Detroit managed only .223) and had more hits. But Detroit had scored in bunches and that made all the difference. Cavarretta hit .423 with the team’s only home run. Borowy was good in defeat. He ended up 2-2 with an ERA of 4.00, but he’d done well (especially in game six) until the final game when he was called on one time too many.

For the Cubs it was like crossing into Sinai. For the next 40 (actually 39) years they would wander in the wilderness. They fell back into the pack in 1946 and began their long sojourn as the “loveable losers”.  The 1945 World Series was their last, so let’s take a moment to commemorate Roy Hughes who got the last ever Cubs hit in a World Series (and made the last ever out), Stan Hack who was the last ever Cubs batter in a World Series, and Hank Wyse who threw the last ever pitch by a Cub in the Series (it resulted in a third to first ground out).

A lot of good players came through Chicago in the last half of the 1940s and in the 1950s. The same is true of the 1960s and 1970s, but the Cubs failed to make even a single postseason game for almost four decades. Finally, in 1984, they made it back to the playoffs.

A Bad Century: The Nadir (We Needed Eight Runs Saturday)

May 11, 2012

Pat Malone

In my last post I went into some detail about game 4 of the 1929 World Series, indicating I thought it was near the very bottom of the Cubs’ bad century. But with a Chicago win in game three, the fourth game didn’t actually end the Series. Only in Cubsland could you ask “Can it get worse than blowing and 8-0 lead with eight outs to go?” I’m not sure it got worse, but 14 October 1929 was darned close.

Game five of the 1929 World Series was played in Philadelphia. Down 3 games to one, Chicago had to win to keep the Series going. Manager Joe McCarthy sent ace Pat Malone to the mound. A’s manager Connie Mack countered with game one winner Howard Ehmke. Malone pitched well. He shut down a powerful Athletics lineup through the first three innings, allowing only one hit, an Al Simmons single that was erased on a double play. In the fourth Chicago got two runs on a double, a walk, and consecutive singles. Then Malone went back to the mound. He was masterful. He gave up one hit through the bottom of the eighth and allowed only one batter (Jimmie Foxx) as far as second. When the Cubs went down in order in the top of the ninth, they were three outs from getting back into the Series. According to one, probably fanciful, story an A’s coach (usually, but not always, identified as Eddie Collins) turned to Mack in the dugout and simply said “We need two runs bad.” Mack’s supposed to have replied, “We needed eight runs Saturday.”

With one out Max Bishop singled, and the wheels began to come off for Chicago. That brought up Mule Haas who slugged a pitch over the fence to tie the score at 2-2. Mickey Cochrane grounded to second for the second out, bringing up Al Simmons. Simmons doubled into the gap. Foxx was intentionally walked, giving Bing Miller the chance to be a hero. He was. Miller doubled to score Simmons and close the World Series with an Athletics win.

For the Cubs the loss was devastating and unexpected. They’d had exactly two bad innings in two days and now they were going home World Series losers. They would get back to the Series in 1932 (and be swept), then again in 1935 and 1938, but the cloud of 1929 lingered through the ensuing decade.