Archive for July, 2013

RIP George Scott

July 30, 2013
George "Boomer" Scott

George “Boomer” Scott

Saw that 1960s-70s slugged George Scott died. He was first baseman for the 1967 “Impossible Dream” Red Sox. Later at Milwaukee he led the American League in both home runs and RBIs. He played from 1966 through 1979, hit .268, had 1992 hits, 271 home runs, and 1051 RBIs. His nickname was “Boomer.” He was 69.

The very first Major League game I ever saw live was in Fenway Park in 1967. Scott was the first baseman. I don’t remember if he got a hit or not, but I have fond memories of the game (they played Detroit). RIP Boomer.

The Pride of the Association

July 29, 2013
Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

I’ve contended on this site that there are five true dynasties in the 19th Century: 1870s Boston Red Stockings, 1880s Chicago White Stockings, 1880s St. Louis Browns, 1890’s Boston Beaneaters, and 1890s Baltimore Orioles. Over the years I’ve done posts on four of them. It’s time to take a look at the last, the Browns.

First, to clarify something, this team has nothing to do with the American League St. Louis Browns who are now in Baltimore as the Orioles, which are also not the 1890s Orioles. The 1880s Browns played in the American Association, a league that no longer exists. The team is still around but it’s now the Cardinals (got all that?).

The American Association put a team in St. Louis in 1882. Owned by Chris von der Ahe, a local beer mogul, the team became a contender in 1883, finishing second. It slipped to fourth in 1884, then dominated the Association for the rest of the decade. With the small rosters of the era, much of the team remained consistent through the entire period.

Pat Deasley did the bulk of the catching in 1883 and 1884. In 1885 Doc Bushong took over as the primary backstop with Deasley going to the Giants. Bushong remained with the team through 1887, spending the first two years as the primary catcher and backing up Jack Boyle who remained the starter into the 1890 season. None of them were particularly distinguished, although Boyle did manage to crack 23 home runs over 13 years.

the infield corners consisted of Charlie Comiskey at first and Arlie Latham at third. Comiskey doubled as manager and was considered an above average fielder for is day. He wasn’t an especially good hitter. Latham led off, scored a lot of runs, stole a lot of bases (pre-1900 definition of stolen base), and was generally considered one of the more obnoxious players in the league by his opponents. For most of the era  Bill Gleason handled short. He led the Association in putouts and assists a couple of times, but also led in errors. By the end of the period (1888 and 1889) Bill White (obviously not the 1960s Cardinals first baseman) and Shorty Fuller replaced him. Neither are much remembered today and neither especially deserves to be recalled. Second base went through a series of players. George Strief, Joe Quest, and Sam Barkley all spent one season at second (1883-1885). In 1885 Yank Robinson  showed up as a utility infielder. By 1886 he had the second base job holding it to 1890. His average wasn’t all that great, but he walked a lot and scored over 100 runs four times (three with St. Louis).

There was great consistency in the outfield also. Hugh Nicol held down one corner spot from 1883 through 1886. He was another player whose average wasn’t all that high, but who scored a lot of runs and was considered a fine fielder by 1880s standards. He left for Cincinnati in 1887 and was replaced by first Bob Caruthers (see more on him in the pitcher section of this post), then by Hall of Fame outfielder Tommy McCarthy. The other corner slot was held down, after the 1883 season, by Tip O’Neill. O’Neill is one of the handful of players who can legitimately be called the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. He hit .326, won the triple crown in 1887 (.425 average, 14 home runs, 123 RBIs), led the Association in hits, average, and RBIs a couple of other times, and was deemed a so-so outfielder. The center fielder in 1883 was Fred Lewis, an early switch hitter who hit .296 for his career. He was replaced in 1885 by Curt Welch, who wasn’t as good at hitting, but was a better outfielder. Welch was gone by 1888, replaced by Harry Lyons in 1888. Lyons managed to hit all of a buck-94 and 1889 found Charlie Duffee in center. A rookie, Duffee managed to lead the Association in strike outs.

As usual with 1880s teams, the pitching staff showed a lot of turnover. Pitchers threw a lot of innings and many of them didn’t last all that long. The 1883 team featured Tony Mullane (who just appeared on the latest Veteran’s Committee Hall of Fame ballot). It was his only year with the team. Jumbo McGinnis Served as the two pitcher. McGinnis stood 5’10” and weighted 197 pounds, hardly a “Jumbo” by today’s standards, but a big man in 1883. He had good years in both ’83 and ’84, then his career came unglued. Dave Foutz joined the team in 1884, replacing Mullane. He remained through 1887 winning 114 games (told you these guys pitched a lot). In 1885 he was joined by Caruthers (see the outfield above). Caruthers remained through 1887 (he and Foutz both went to Brooklyn) winning 106 games, playing 86 games in the outfield (and 23 at first), and hitting .357 with eight home runs in 1887. In 1887 Silver King showed up, earning a spot in the rotation when Caruthers was in the outfield. He became the ace the next season and remained with the Browns through the 1880s. He won 203 total games, 113 with the Browns.

St. Louis finished second in 1883, fourth in 1884, then ran off four consecutive pennants, They finished second in 1889 and had two more good years, although the team changed in 1890 due to the Player’s League. The 1880s produced a proto-World Series and the Browns were involved in one each of the years they won pennants. In 1885 they faced the Chicago White Stockings. Foutz went 2-2, Caruthers 1-1, and the seventh game was a disputed tie. In an 1886 rematch, they defeated Chicago four games to two with O’Neill hitting .400 and blasting two home runs. In 1887 the Series consisted of 15 games with Detroit (a team that included newly elected Hall of Famer Deacon White) winning 10 games while St. Louis picked up only five wins (they played all 15 games, although Detroit got to eight wins quickly). Finally, in 1888 the Giants beat them six games to four. Giants pitcher Tim Keefe set a record by winning four games in postseason play.

Throughout its existence, the American Association was usually viewed as the weaker of the two professional major leagues (the National League being the other). that’s probably true. But that weaker league did produce one of the truly great teams of the 19th Century in the 1880s St. Louis Browns.

Vacating Awards

July 25, 2013

Now that Ryan Braun is officially a scumbag (now there’s a really scientific term) some people want to take away his MVP Award. I remember the same thing happening when Ken Caminiti came clean (OK, it’s a bad joke) about juicing and the same kind of thing happened. there seem to be three options running around. Some thoughts on each.

1. Take the award away and give it to the runner-up. Are you kidding? What makes anyone think the runner-up isn’t guilty of the same offense? Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. But in this age of PEDs, how exactly do you tell?

2. Vacate the award. This means you simply take away the award and don’t hand it out that year, which is kind of like saying that Gone With The Wind shows the KKK favorably and we can’t have that, so the Best Picture Award for 1939 goes to no one. The problem with this is that it completely downgrades the other players. “Sorry, no one but Joe Scumbag was good enough to win the award this year and he’s a jerk so he can’t win it.” Really?

3. Leave it alone. Thank you, rational people. Look, I think Braun and the other PED boys are first rate jerks, but you can’t just go around taking awards away because we decide they broke some sort of code. If you do that how far back do you go? Barry Bonds used steroids in his final four MVPs, therefore he’s a jerk. And we can’t have a jerk winning an MVP so we take away the other three he won back before we suspect he was juicing. That’s silly, isn’t it? Besides, where do you stop and what kind of offenses are to be included? Is Cobb to be stripped of his Chalmers (bet they won’t be able to find the car) because he was a racist and we think that’s just awful?

There’s an article on NBCnews.com that mentions some bigwig in Tulsa, Oklahoma who was a Klansman in the 19-teens and ’20s (when a whole lot of people were) and has a street and a couple of buildings named after him. Some want to take his name off those things (especially the street) because he was a Klansman. Others argue that it makes his KKK membership define him and that he was more than just a Klansman, he was a real civic leader. The article is worth reading even though it isn’t about sports. Don’t know what’s right there, but it does seem to me that baseball is in the same fix. We’ve decided that certain conduct (PED use) is offensive and players should be punished for doing it. Fine by me. But don’t be vacating or stripping awards. Don’t forget that some of them, like Caminiti’s, will be posthumous, and the guy has no chance to defend himself.

Obviously I favor leaving the awards alone but I understand those who don’t. Feel free to disagree.

Braun, Rodriguez, and a ray of hope

July 24, 2013

So Ryan Braun is gone for the season and Alex Rodriguez is next under the gun. Normally I’d be horrified at that. But after all the other stuff that’s come out about the steroids era, I’m almost too tired to be horrified. I do find one little ray of hope out of all this. It involves the Player’s Association.

Ever notice how the union has, in almost every case, done everything they can to help the offenders and hamper the commissioner’s office. OK, I know it’s the job of a union to protect its members, but it seems to me that the player’s association went overboard in throwing up roadblocks. As usual, they failed to consult the players who weren’t using steroids (or other PEDs) about the course of action. It reminds me of when MLB tried to suspend Albert Belle for almost killing Fernando Vina on the base paths. When MLB decided to do something, the union sided with Belle and left Vina high and dry.

This time it appears to be different. I’m hearing the player’s association beginning to soften its “our guys never do anything wrong” stand. They seem to be saying that “we’re listening to our other players and those players are saying ‘enough already’ to steroids.” That, to me, is a hopeful sign. Maybe it will go a long way toward stopping some of this mess if the offenders realize that their formerly most staunch supporters are no longer willing to stand side-by-side with them. (I won’t hold my breath).

BTW—name the royal baby Leroy.

Baseball and the Skid Row Bum

July 22, 2013

His name was Frank and he was a bum. There’s no way to varnish that. The man was a classic rendition of a skid row bum. He was alcoholic, generally dirty, just plain seedy. But he did a good turn for us.

Back when I was growing up, I lived in two towns. They were in adjoining states and each was different. The second one was larger and more prosperous. But like the first one, it had a Main Street Mission. Some of you may remember these. A few of them are still around, although they’ve changed locations and usually have newer, fancier names. Most were run by churches (ours by the local Methodists). They served the down and out of the community. Generally, the clientele could show up, get a hot meal, a warm bed, and a sermon. Frank once  told me he’d been “saved” six times and every one of them was worth the meal and the bed. He’d also memorized two verses of “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” I’m not sure how much religion the men, and they were all men where I lived, actually took in, but at least they were warm and fed.

One of the problems they had was a lack of employment and, frankly, a lack of employable skills. In my hometown, some genius came up with a solution that seemed to work. The local mission had joined with the local Optimist’s Club to find menial tasks for the men. It gave them a chance to do something meaningful, to get a few dollars, to keep them off the streets, and to help the mission meet some of its expenses. Some of them worked the ball fields. Frank was one.

The Optimist’s Club ran the local youth baseball (and football and basketball) programs. Most of the work was strictly volunteer and a lot of the Optimist’s didn’t have a lot of time to do a lot of actual work to help the local leagues. On the whole they were good people who would shell out money for uniforms and the players appreciated that, although I suppose it’s true that most of us never really thought about who paid for our uniforms. Or they would buy new equipment for the teams, but to actually go out and work on the fields to prep them for games, well, most of them didn’t do that. They claimed they didn’t have time, which was probably true, but many of us secretly anarchist ball players thought they just couldn’t be bothered with actual labor (Yeah, there was a Marxist streak in a few of us). So someone decided to enlist the aid of what we lovingly called “skid row bums” to work on the fields.

The Optimist’s Club would send a van down to the mission in the afternoons and a handful of men were brought out to the fields to get them ready for the evening’s games. They’d mow or use the roller to flatten the infield. They might repair a fence, paint a foul pole, or clean out the dugouts. It was simple work, but it had to be done. And by and large the “bums” did a pretty good job.

Frank was the roller man. I don’t believe I ever knew his last name. He had this big metal roller that looked a lot like a beer keg turned on its side. There were a couple of metal poles attached, one on either side, and a handle joined them (bet you’ve seen one at some point). I always wondered if the beer keg look caught Frank’s attention and he gravitated toward the roller job. He was good at it. The fields were level, the rocks and pebbles gone, the dirt smooth. As a first baseman, I really appreciated Frank’s work.

a ball field roller. Ours wasn't painted and didn't attach to a tractor.

a ball field roller. Ours wasn’t painted and didn’t attach to a tractor.

A handful of us, when we had nothing better to do with our time, hung out at the ball fields doing nothing at all special. That’s how I met Frank. We would watch him roll the fields then he’d stop for a drink of water in a thermos that the Optimist Club left for him (and the other guys out working on the fields). We’d wander over and he’d regale us with stories. Some of them were probably true. He’d been in World War II. He was Army and had been in the Pacific. There were no stories about him being a hero or anything, just things about how he’d gotten on and the people he’d known. He never blamed the military for his current condition. Somewhere along the line there’d been a girl, but apparently it had never amounted to much. He’d had a series of odd jobs, lost them (we figured from the drinking, but he never said), and ended up out on the fields with his roller. Occasionally, after a particularly good story, we’d put together a handful of quarters and give him some money for a meal. We knew he’d buy booze with it, but we couldn’t force him to use it for something other than a cheap bottle of Ripple.

When the games started, he’d stay around some times and watch the early game. He always sat alone. I don’t think any of the parents wanted to sit near him and certainly didn’t want their kids around him. I think they felt that alcoholism was catching. He never stayed for the late game. I guess he went back to the Mission or to the streets, whichever pleased him most that night.

After I was done with youth baseball I would see him sometimes on the street. I waved at him a couple of times, but I don’t think he ever waved back. I don’t know what happened to him after I left home for the Army and college. I haven’t visited the town in years and presume he’s dead now. I’d like to say he gave me some great insight into life, but he was a drunk and I was a dumb kid. He did make me a little more understanding of the wretched of the earth. You know, that’s not a bad legacy for a skid row “bum”.

The “Called Shot” Game

July 19, 2013
The Babe

The Babe

There are a handful of home runs that are so famous that almost any fan can tell you about them. There’s Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951. There’s Bill Mazeroski’s World Series ending homer in 1960. There’s Bucky “Bleepin'” Dent’s 1978 shot. Kirk Gibson’s 1988 homer is also famous. But equally famous and certainly more mythologized, is Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in 1932. Here’s a look at the game in which it occurred.

In 1932 the New York Yankees returned to World Series play for the first time since their thrashing of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928. Much of the team was the same, anchored by Ruth and by Lou Gehrig. Their opponents were the Chicago Cubs, back in the Series for the first time since they’d lost to Philadelphia in 1929. With Gabby Hartnett and Kiki Cuyler they also had a good team. New York won the first two games of the Series by scores of 13-6 and 5-2. That set up game three in Wrigley Field on 1 October.

The Yanks scored early when Earle Combs opened the game with a grounder to shortstop Billy Jurges, who proceeded to throw it away. A walk to Joe Sewell brought Ruth up to face Cubs starter Charlie Root. Ruth promptly crushed a three-run home run to put New York up 3-0. The Cubs got one back in the bottom of the third on a Billy Herman walk and a run scoring double by Cuyler. The Yanks got that one back when Gehrig hit a solo home run to lead off the third. Chicago again scored in the bottom of the inning. Cuyler slugged a homer and a single and long double made the score 4-3. The Cubs then tied the game up in the fourth on a Jurges hit and an error by New York second baseman Tony Lazzeri.

All of which led to the decisive, mythic, and still controversial top of the fifth. Sewell led off the inning grounding out to short. That brought up Ruth, who took strike one. Then he apparently did something with his hand. He pointed, he wagged it, he held up one finger indicating one strike, he gave the Cubs “the finger”, he pointed to center and called his shot. All are possible. Root dealt strike two and Ruth again gestured with his hand. There’s a picture that purports to be a shot of Ruth at the moment of his second gesture. It is too far away for these old eyes to tell exactly what he’s doing, but the arm is up. Root threw the third pitch and Ruth parked it in the deep center field bleachers for a 5-4 New York lead. The next man up was Gehrig, who also unloaded. This time the ball went to deep right and Root went to the showers. Both New York and Chicago picked up one more run in the ninth (the Cubs run coming on a Hartnett home run) to make the final score 7-5. The next day the Yankees won the Series  shellacked five Cubs pitchers for a 13-6 victory(Ruth went one for five and Gehrig went two for four).

The fifth inning of 1 October 1932 became, arguably, Ruth’s most famous at bat. Few people know it was the game winning hit (the Yanks never trailed after Ruth touched home). Fewer know that Gehrig hit a homer in the next at bat. What they know is Ruth’s “called shot”. Did he do it? Frankly, I don’t know. A study of Ruth leads me to believe that it wasn’t out of character for him to do so. It was also equally in character for him to flash his middle finger at the Cubs. I’d like to think he did call his shot, it would be utterly Ruthian (but so would the middle finger). I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself.

The White Stockings

July 17, 2013
1885 Chicago White Stockings (fourth of five pennant winners)

1885 Chicago White Stockings (fourth of five pennant winners)

All of you know the Cubs. They have a great reputation as losers. Wasn’t always so. They won, of course, in 1907 and 1908. But even before that the team won and they won a lot. There are arguably five great teams of the 19th Century professional leagues. The 1870s Red Stockings dominated the National Association. In the 1890s the Beaneaters and Orioles fought for dominance in the National League. In the 1880s the Browns ruled the American Association. The other team was the 1880s White Stockings. With a name change they are now the Cubs.

After winning the first ever National League pennant in 1876 (yes, team, the Cubs won the first pennant) Chicago slipped back into the pack for the rest of the 1870s. They were generally good, but someone else always walked away with the prize. That changed in 1880 when the White Stockings won the first of three consecutive pennants. After losses in 1883 and 1884, they picked up again winning championships in both 1885 and 1886. Although they didn’t win again for the rest of the 1880s, they remained a perennial power.

So what exactly happened in 1880 that set the Chicago team on the road to being one of the most dominant teams of the 19th Century? Well, a couple of things. Most notably, they picked up two new pitchers. In 1879 the team utilized two pitchers: Terry Larkin and Frank Hankinson. As with all of you, I asked myself, “who?”. Larkin was at the end of a career (his last season was 1880) that wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t particularly distinguished. Hankinson was essentially a third baseman that got a year in the box (no mound yet). In 1880, both men were replaced. The new guys were Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith. Both were major upgrades as pitchers. The everyday players (and in that era pitchers were close to being everyday players too) were pretty much the same as in 1879, so the change in pitchers was critical. Having said that, the everyday players saw a few significant changes also.

Those everyday players included an infield of (from first to third) Cap Anson, Joe Quest, Tom Burns, and Ned Williamson. Only Burns was new and he was a significant upgrade  over departed shortstop John Peters. The outfield remained the same in both left and center with Abner Dalrymple and George Gore continuing to hold down both positions. Gone was Orator Shafer, a decent enough hitter, but his replacement was Hall of Famer King Kelly. Silver Flint stayed on as catcher.

One of the good things about studying this era is that the small rosters make for few changes in the lineup over the years. The 1880 starting eight remained intact through 1882, changing only the second baseman in 1883 (Quest was replaced by Fred Pfeffer). There were a couple of major additions to the bench in the period with Billy Sunday  taking over the fourth outfielder duties in 1883, and John Clarkson joining the pitching staff in 1884. As Cochrane and Goldsmith both faded after 1884, Jim McCormick and later Jocko Flynn joined Clarkson as the pitching mainstays.

Chicago dominated the period in the National League winning pennants by as many as 15 games in 1880 and by as few as two in 1885, In the 1885 and 1886 they faced the American Association champion St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals) in the 1880s version of the World Series. In the first Series they played to a 3-3-1 tie with most newspapers indicating the White Stockings played better ball. In 1886, the Browns won the competition four games to two.

After 1886, the White Stockings never again won a pennant (by the next pennant they were the Cubs). They stayed close for a few years but as the players aged, were traded, or jumped to the Player’s League in 1890, Chicago fell back into the pack. But for the period of the 1880s they were a truly great team.

The Other Abner

July 15, 2013
Abner Dalrymple with Pittsburgh

Abner Dalrymple with Pittsburgh

Mention the name Abner and baseball together and I’ll bet most people will respond with “Doubleday.” It’s part of the old myth that Doubleday invented baseball. But the good general is not the only Abner to make a name for himself in the early era of the sport. There was Abner Dalrymple, and, considering the Doubleday story didn’t come out until the 20th Century, you can argue that Dalrymple was the first important Abner is baseball history.

Dalrymple was born in Wisconsin in 1857, but his family moved to Illinois during the Civil War. He was good at baseball early on and at age 14 was hired by the Illinois Central Railroad to serve as a brakeman. His real job was to play ball for the company team. He was good enough that in 1874 he started playing for local town teams in the Illinois-Wisconsin area. By 1875 he was in Milwaukee.

The year 1876 saw the formation of the National League. Two years later the NL expanded by putting a team in Milwaukee. The Grays (the team nickname) grabbed local player Dalrymple to be their left fielder. He was good, good enough to win the batting title, sort of. At the time the NL recognized Abner Dalrymple as the league batting champion. During the 1878 season, hits occurring in tie games were not counted in the official statistics. In 1968 someone noticed and when factoring them in Dalrymple lost the batting title to Paul Hines. By 1968 both men were dead, so neither ever knew.

With or without the batting title, Dalrymple had a heck of a year. Unfortunately Milwaukee had a terrible season and folded. Dalrymple ended up in Chicago as the starting left fielder and lead off hitter for one of the greatest 19th Century teams, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). In seven seasons the White Stockings won five pennants, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, and 1886. As lead off hitter, Dalrymple was a major factor in the team’s success. In 1880 he led the NL in both hits and runs, and was generally in the top five or ten in most major categories, twice leading in total bases. In 1885 he won a home run title. In 1883 he collected four doubles in a single game. In the 1884 season when Chicago had impossibly short fences, he managed 22 home runs, second on the team, and second all time until the 19-teens.

He is credited with one of the more infamous plays of the 19th Century. The Sox were in Buffalo (which had a NL team from 1879-1885) playing in smokey conditions. It was late, making it even more difficult to see, when a Bisons player hit a long fly with two outs and the bases loaded. Dalrymple went back to the fence, leaped, and came out of the haze with the ball to end the inning. Later he admitted the ball went over the fence and he’d hidden a ball in his shirt, pulled it out, and held it high, knowing no one would be able to tell what actually happened in the haze. Great story, right? There are several problems with it. There is no date given, no batter mentioned, the inning is left in doubt. So maybe it’s true (it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility in 19th Century ball), or maybe it’s not, but it’s still a fun story.

During Dalrymple’s time in Chicago the first “World Series” games were played. They were quite different from today’s Series, but some credit them as World Series games. Whatever you decide, they were certainly postseason games. Chicago was in both the 1885 and the 1886 postseason series. The first resulted in a disputed tie and they lost the second. Dalrymple didn’t do particularly well in either, although he had a home run in the first one.

By 1886 he was fading. He managed only 81 games that season. There was an injury, but the exact nature of it seems to be in doubt. He hit only .233 (a career low) and found himself traded to Pittsburgh. He continued to slide, but was among the middle of the pack players for the team (the Alleghenys finished sixth both seasons Dalrymple played for them). He was let go after the 1888 season. He played minor league ball in both Denver and Milwaukee. In 1891, the American Association, on its last legs and trying to expand its fan base, put a team in Milwaukee (the team in Cincinnati folded and Milwaukee was an August 1891 replacement). Dalrymple signed on as the Brewers’ left fielder. He had one last good season, becoming the only Brewers player to hit for the cycle (12 September). At the end of the season both the team and the league folded.

Dalrymple’s triple slash line reads .288/.323/.410/.732 with an OPS+ of 122. He had 1202 hits (in 951 games) for 1710 total bases (217 doubles, 81 triples, and 43 home runs). He scored 813 runs and drove in 407. His offensive WAR is 18.2. Not bad stats for a 19th Century player.

In 1883, the White Stockings scheduled an exhibition game against Toledo. When they arrived, they found Toledo was going to play catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker (generally know as Fleet Walker). Walker was black and Chicago had been led to believe Walker would not play in the game. This led White Stockings first baseman and manager Cap Anson to demand that either Walker not play or the game not be played. Eventually, the game was played (Chicago would lose a lot of money if it wasn’t) and led to Anson becoming the chief advocate for completely segregating the Major Leagues. It didn’t take long for him to get his way. I have been unable to determine Dalrymple’s stand on the matter. As far as I can tell he neither backed nor opposed Anson (at least publicly) during the controversy.

Following his big league days, Dalrymple went back to railroading, becoming a conductor for the Northern Pacific. He managed to get in minor league play during the summers of 1892-1895 when the railroad granted him 90 day leaves each year (nice of the UP, don’t you think?), then retired from professional baseball. He maintained an interest in the game, playing semipro ball as late as 1907 (age 50). He retired from the railroad in 1928 and died in Warren, Illinois in 1939.

Dalrymple grave; Warren, Illinois

Dalrymple grave; Warren, Illinois

Plaque in Dalrymple's honor in Warren, Illinois (note it gives him credit for the disputed batting title)

“What Passing Bells for Those Who Die…”

July 10, 2013

The quote above is from “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen. He is one of the more famous “War Poets” of the First World War. His poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is arguably the most famous of all war poems (other than the “Iliad” which is a whole different animal). When I was 12, I’d never heard of Wilfred Owen, but I had to face a death.

Death is one of those strange concepts that is almost unreal to a 12-year-old kid. I mean you could flip on TV and watch John Doucette (an old cowboy actor) get killed on “The Lone Ranger”, then a couple of weeks later “Cheyenne” would knock him off again, and finally if you waited for another month or so then he’d get bumped off on “The Rifleman.”

Death was one of those things that occurred when you were playing cowboys and indians or war. You went bang and the other guy did (or sometimes didn’t) fall down dead. Then mother’s would start calling for kids to come home and all the dead guys were magically resurrected and went home for dinner. So death had a certain element of fantasy to it.

I got to the ballyard one evening for a game. There were generally two games on each field per night and we had the early game. Coach was busy passing out black armbands for us to wear. Now I was smart enough to know what they were for. Someone had died. Turns out a kid named Bobby had gotten killed in a car wreck. It was back in the day when there were no airbags and seatbelts were a novelty. The kid was thrown through a windshield and died at the scene.

Even here there was a certain element of unreality to it. I kind of vaguely knew the kid. We went to different schools, lived in different parts of town. He played center field for the Cubs, my team was the Bears. So it wasn’t like I knew him, although what little I did know made him seem like a nice enough guy. It was more that I knew of him.

He was buried in his Cubs uniform and games were cancelled that day. I heard that some of the teams signed balls and added them to the coffin, but ours didn’t so I won’t swear that’s true. All the teams were to wear the black armbands for the rest of the season. Our league was divided into two division cleverly called the National League and the American League. You played every team in your division twice and the teams in the other division once. We were in the National League and the Cubs in the American. It didn’t  make sense having  the Cubs inthe American League, but then if it had to make sense there would have been no team called the Bears. We hadn’t yet played our game against the Cubs so there was some serious discussion among the players about throwing the game in Bobby’s honor. We decided that was a bad idea for a lot or reasons, not least of which is that the kid would be disappointed (and Coach would have killed us). I remember we beat them, but don’t recall the score.

Our league was set up so that the top two teams in each division played a postseason tournament. As luck would have it, both of us made the playoffs. Bobby’s Dad threw out the first pitch in the first game (which we were in). We won. The Cubs had the other game (and I never found out why Bobby’s Dad didn’t throw out the first pitch in that game instead of ours). We won, they lost; so we didn’t have to play each other. After the season ended there was a big picnic where trophies were given out and awards presented. There was a big trophy case in the local Optimist’s Club where the trophies were put on display (as far as I know they’re still there). They added a picture of Bobby to that season’s stack of trophies.

It was my first real confrontation with death. Because he was a peripheral person in my life it didn’t hit me really hard. That came later when family members died and when I lost friends in Viet Nam. But I still remember it.

“Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes/Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.”

Wilfred Owen, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”

Winning Late

July 8, 2013
Johnny Blanchard

Johnny Blanchard

The last post around here was about a team winning games by scoring early and shutting down the opponent for the rest of the game. I mentioned that there were other ways to win, including putting up runs late in the game. If the 1963 World Series was an example of scoring early and holding on, the 1961 World Series was an example of doing it the other way.

The New York Yankees were defending American League champs (having lost the previous Series). They were much the same team in 1961 with a major exception. Ralph Houk had replaced Casey Stengel as manager. The Yankees ownership said Stengel was too old to manage. The Ol’ Perfessor’s response was “That’s a mistake I’ll never make again.” It was a team designed to bash the opposition into submission. Roger Maris set the yearly home run record with 61 (and despite the steroid sluggers of recent vintage, still the record for some of us). Mickey Mantle had 54. Five other players, including backup catcher Johnny Blanchard, had more than 20 home runs.  The team led the AL in home runs, slugging, OPS, and total bases. The pitching staff consisted of Whitey Ford and a couple of players having career years.

The Cincinnati Reds were afterthoughts in 1961. They hadn’t won since 1940 and had finished sixth the year before. They were led by MVP Frank Robinson, center fielder Vada Pinson, and a young pitching staff (only Bob Purkey was 30). They led the National League in doubles, but finished second in slugging and OPS. The staff led the NL in shutouts and gave up fewer hits and runs than any other team.

As was usual for me back then, I would have to catch the first couple of innings on radio at school (and again I had teachers who let us listen), then miss an inning getting home. But then I could sit and listen to the rest of the Series and root for my favorites. Well, 1961 was one of those years I didn’t have a favorite. As a Dodgers fan you are never allowed to root for the Yankees, ever. I think it’s classified as a sin or something. And the Reds had no particular meaning for me, so I could just sit back and enjoy the Series without worrying too much who was going to win.

Game one started slow, as did most of the games (and if they didn’t there wouldn’t have been much reason for this entire post). The Yanks got a run in the fourth when Elston Howard homered off Jim O’Toole. In the sixth O’Toole gave up another homer, this one to Bill Skowron. It was all the Yankees needed. Ford gave up only two hits, both singles (one in the first, the other in the fifth), walked one, and struck out six. New York scored in the middle stages of the game to win it.

Game two was the lone Reds win. They put up six runs: two in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth, and two more in the eighth. The Yankees got two runs, both in the fourth (and both in typical fashion–a two-run homer by Yogi Berra).

Game three was on a Saturday, so I got the full game for a change. It may have been the best game. Cincinnati got an early run in the third on a single, a couple of outs, and a Frank Robinson single. New York stayed scoreless until the seventh when they scored their first run on something other than a homer. A single, a passed ball, and a Berra single plated the tying run. Cincy was back in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead with a double, an intentional walk, and another single. But in the eighth and ninth the Yankees reverted to form when one-run homers by Blanchard and Maris gave New York the win. Again, they, won by scoring later in the game (this time the final three innings).

The game seems to have broken the back of the Reds. On Sunday, they held New York scoreless into the fourth. Then the Yanks put up runs in each of the next four innings to put the game away, 7-0. This time they did it without benefit of the home run.

I was back to school for the fifth game on Monday. This time there would be no waiting for the middle and later innings to determine the winner. New York jumped on Cincy hurler Joey Jay for four runs (of five total) in the first inning, highlighted by a two-run home run by Blanchard and a Hector Lopez triple. They added another run in the second on a Maris double. The Reds gave it a go in the third when Robinson hit a three-run homer. But New York responded by plating five runs in the fourth. The inning was highlighted by an answering three-run homer, this one by Lopez. Again, the Reds tried to keep it close when they got two runs in the fifth on Wally Post’s two-run shot. But New York got the two runs back in the sixth to close the scoring. They won 13-5 to take both the game and the Series.

 The Series is usually seen as a Yankees beat down of the Reds. That’s true of the final two games, but the Reds win was 6-2 and the first two games were close. The Yanks won with homers and scored a lot of runs in the last half of the game. Whitey Ford was outstanding, winning the Series MVP. For Cincy the season was something of a fluke. They slipped back to third in 1962 and didn’t resurface with a pennant until the 1970s. The Yankees would go on to win both a pennant and the World Series in 1962, then pick up two more pennants in 1963 and ’64 (losing both to the pitching of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Bob Gibson) before they collapsed. After 1964 they would not win another pennant until 1976, when they would, ironically, face the Reds again.