Archive for March, 2014

Opening Day, 1914: National League

March 30, 2014
George Stallings, "The Miracle Man"

George Stallings, “The Miracle Man”

The National League opened play in 1914 in mid-April, but with opening day starting earlier now, it seems like a good time to finish my look at how things stacked up in 1914. It’s important to remember it’s a different world in 1914. Black Americans couldn’t vote or play in the Major Leagues, most Americans still lived in rural settings (but that would change by 1920), the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was still alive (his death in June would spark World War I), the Braves were still in Boston and they were supposed to be bad.

The New York Giants were three-time defending NL champions and expected to repeat in 1914. They were led by Hall of Fame pitchers Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard with Hall of Fame manager John McGraw at the helm. It was decent, but not great lineup with soon to be war casualty Eddie Grant available as a sub. By way of  compensation, third pitcher Jeff Tesreau  would have a career year.

Philadelphia finished second in 1913 and looked set for another run at a pennant in 1914. Grover Cleveland Alexander was the ace and would have more wins and strikeouts than any other NL pitcher. But the rest of the staff, minus Erskine Meyer, would have a down year. Gavvy Cravath would lead the league in home runs with 19  (he also led in OPS and OPS+, but those stats weren’t around in 1914), and Sherry Magee won the RBI total with a miniscule 103. But other than Beals Becker’s .325 average the rest of the team didn’t do much.

The Cubs and Pirates finished third and fourth in 1913. Cubs pitching, even with Three-Finger Brown moved to the Federal League was still good, but the hitting wasn’t even vaguely on par with the pitching. The Pirates were aging. Honus Wagner, their best player, had his first bad year and without him, Pittsburgh had no one to step up.

The Braves finished fifth in 1913. They were 69-82, which was best among teams with a losing record, but still fifth. But there had been a revolution in Boston. Of the 1913 infield, only Rabbit Maranville, the shortstop, remained with the team. The catcher was new, as was one outfielder. the new players included Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers (who would win the NL’s 1914 Chalmers Award–the 1914 version of the MVP) and a clutch of players brought over during the season who would turn the team around. The pitching also came around. By the fourth of July they were still out of the running (last place), but that would change as manager George Stallings’ (I still try to call him “Gene Stallings” some times) platoon system, judicious use of pitchers, a great (for the era) fielding team, and timely hitting brought them all the way to first as the “Miracle Braves.”

Nothing much was expected of Brooklyn, St. Louis, or Cincinnati, but Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert won the batting title and the Cardinals Bill Doak took the ERA title. Doak’s pitching helped St. Louis more than Daubert’s hitting helped Brooklyn with the Card’s coming in third and Brooklyn fifth.

It was not a great year for rookies in the NL. In May 1914, the Braves brought Dolf Luque to the team. He got into two games, lost one of them, and ended up being a non-factor in the Braves’ sprint for the championship. He would make his mark a few years later.

Boston was a big underdog in the 1914 World Series, but ended up sweeping the Athletics away in four games. They hit .244 while Philly had an average of only .172. Boston’s ERA was 1.15 versus the A’s 3.41. They scored 16 runs (14 earned) while giving up only six (five earned).

It was a “one year wonder” team. Boston faded in 1915, finishing second, then proceeding downhill, finishing sixth by the time the United States joined World War I in 1917. You gotta admit, it was one heck of a year for them in 1914.

 

 

Opening Day 1914: American League

March 27, 2014
Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Next week marks what most of us consider the real Opening Day for MLB. So it’s time for a look at what was going on Opening Day 100 years ago. As the American League contained the World Champion Athletics, I think I’ll start with them (having done the “outlaw” Federal League already).

The champion A’s were much the same team as the 1913 version with the $100,000 Infield in place (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Baker). The outfield was still decent and in Wally Schang the A’s had a good catcher. They led the AL in hits, runs, home runs, RBIs, and average. The Athletics used a dominant pitching staff to rule the A for five years, but it was beginning to fray. Jack Coombs was gone (he pitched only 2 games), Eddie Plank was 38 and not aging well. Herb Pennock had five starts over the previous two years, while Bullet Joe Bush had all of 17. As a consequence, the A’s would have 24 shutouts, but lead the league in no other category. They were fourth in ERA and hits allowed.

Two teams would give them a run for their money. One was Washington. The Senators finished 19 games back, but they had Walter Johnson who led the AL in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts.

The greater challenge came from Boston. the Red Sox still had Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, ad Harry Hooper as their outfield. Speaker led the league in hits and doubles. Pitcher Dutch Leonard went 19-5 with an all-time low ERA of 1.00 (try losing five games with that ERA). But the most important news at Boston and for baseball in general was the arrival on 11 July of a rookie pitcher from Baltimore with the nickname of “Babe” Ruth. He would go 2-1 over four games (three starts), but it was the beginning of the most famous of all Major League careers.

Around the rest of the AL, Ty Cobb again won a batting title (.368) and the slugging crown (.513). His teammate Sam Crawford led the league in RBIs and triples. Fritz Maisel, a third baseman for the Highlanders, won the stolen base title with 74 and Baker with the A’s copped the home run title with nine. In April future Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber made his debut for the White Sox, while Fred McMullin, one of the 1919 Black Sox (and Faber teammate) played his first big league game with Detroit in August. The 1920s stalwarts Everett Scott and Jack Tobin also first show up in 1914. Finally, 1914 is the rookie campaign for Bill Wambsganss, famous for the only unassisted triple play in World Series history (1920).

In the World Series, Philadelphia would be mauled by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston. It would be the end of Connie Mack’s A’s dynasty (he’d put together another in 1929) and the arrival of Ruth would signal the start of a new dynasty. This one in Fenway Park.

 

The International Man of Mystery

March 25, 2014
Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Some really good players have short, intense careers. Others have long careers that were never sterling. Then there’s Jack Quinn, who had a long career with sterling moments and a lot of questions about his initial years.

Jack Quinn was born somewhere under some name and that’s about all historians can agree upon. A number of sites have him born in Stevfurov, Austria (now Slovakia). Others have him born in Jeanesville, Pennsylvania or Mahoney City, Pa. Another bunch show his birthplace as Wilkes Barre, Pa. Still others pick St. Clair, Pennsylvania. The year varies between 1883 and 1885. Finally, there’s the question of his name. He shows up as Jan Pajkos, as John Quinn Picas, and as John Picas Quinn. His Wikipedia page picks the Slovakia site and 1883 as does Baseball Reference.com. His SABR biography accepts Slovakia and 1883 but chances his birthdate from 1 July to 5 July. It also indicates that the first four editions of Baseball Encyclopedia give four difference places and four different dates. So I’ll start by saying I have no idea when or where he was born, but 1883 in Slovakia seems to be the building consensus, so it works for me. For what it’s worth, he was elected, in 2006, to the Polish-American Hall of Fame, which might do a job on “Quinn” as his original last name, but who knows.

Where ever he was born and when ever, he came out of the Pennsylvania coal country a pitcher on local semi-pro teams. By 1907 he was in the minors as a spit-balling pitcher with good control, an excellent spitter, and a good enough fastball to pick up interest among the big league scouts. In 1909 he made his debut with the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees), winning the game and going 9-5 for the season. The next year he was 18-12, then fell off for the 1911 and 1912 seasons. He spent 1913 with the Braves then went to the Federal League for both 1914 and 1915. With the Baltimore Terrapins he went 26-14 and then 9-22, the 22 leading the Feds in losses for 1915.

With the folding of the Federal League, Quinn went back to the minors for 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he went back to the Majors, settling in with the White Sox where he went 5-1 over six games. But there was a question as to who retained his rights. New York claimed that although Quinn pitched for the Federal League, his American League rights were retained by his last “real Major League” team, them. League President Ban Johnson agreed and Quinn went back to the Yankees for 1919. He remained there though 1921. He did well in 1919 and 1920, but by 1922 he was 37 (more or less) and spent much of that season in the bullpen. He got into the 1921 World Series, taking the loss in relief in-game three. After the Series he was traded to the Red Sox for a couple of younger arms.

He stayed with Boston into 1925, serving about equal time as a starter and a reliever. He went 45-54 with 14 saves. Midway through the season he was sold to the Athletics for the waiver price and remained in Philadelphia through 1930. He was now 41 (give or take). He had good years with the A’s going 18-7 in 1928 at age 45 (again more or less). In 1929 he got into his second World Series, starting game four. He was 46 (we think), the oldest man to start a World Series game. He was shelled, but the A’s won when the team  scored 10 runs in the seventh inning to pull out a 10-8 victory. He spent 1930 mostly as a reliever and  pitched only two innings in Philly’s World Series victory. Now at 47 (I guess)  he became the oldest man to ever relieve in a World Series game. For what it’s worth, Jim Kaat was 43 when he relieved in the 1982 World Series. Some believe that, because Quinn’s age is in dispute, he (Kaat) is the oldest man to pitch in a World Series.

Released at the end of the Series, Quinn caught on with the Dodgers in 1931. He stayed two years working almost entirely as a reliever (he started one game). He led the National League in saves in both 1931 and 1932 (as the save statistic wasn’t invented until much later, he never knew that). His 1931 total of 15 was an NL record that lasted until 1948. He was released after the 1932 season and signed with Cincinnati. He got into 14 games then was let go. He was 49 (give or take) and through. At his retirement, he had 57 saves, second to Firpo Marberry. He pitched a little in the minors as late as 1935. He was (depending on who you believe) 51. He died in April 1946.

Over a career lasting 23 years (at least we agree on the number of years he pitched) Quinn went 247-218 (a .531 winning percentage), struck out 1329, walked 860, gave up 4238 hits and 1837 runs in 3920 innings pitched. His ERA is an unexceptional 3.29, but his ERA+ is 114. In World Series play he is 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA. As a hitter, his average is all of a buck-84, but he did have eight home runs and 113 RBIs. His Baseball Reference.com version of pitching WAR is 59.

Quinn is one of the more unusual players ever. Not only did he pitch for 23 years, a major feat in itself, he was never a particularly great pitcher. In an era when wins were the most important statistic, he had 20 once (26 in 1914) and that in a marginal upstart league. He had 18 wins twice (eight years apart) and eight years with a losing record (although one of those years he went 0-1). Does that sound like a man who would have a 23 year career? He was, however, a pretty fair reliever (just over half his games pitched are relief appearances), but that wasn’t the same as it is today in the age of the “closer”. Is he someone the Hall of Fame has overlooked? Not in my opinion, but I supposed someone could make a case for him.

 

Opening Day, 1914: The Feds

March 21, 2014
Benny Kauff

Benny Kauff

With opening day scheduled for God knows what time in Australia on Saturday, it’s time to look at what the Major League landscape looked like 100 years ago. For the first time since 1890, there were three big leagues: the National League, the American League, and the Federal League. The Feds started their season first (13 April Buffalo at Baltimore), so it seems like a good idea to begin with the upstarts.

The Feds put eight teams in the field in 1914. Many of the players were over-the-hill types like Three-Finger Brown who were hanging on for one last fling. Others like Benny Kauff were new guys trying to make it in the big leagues. Most teams had something of a mixture of both kinds. There were teams in Chicago, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, all well established Major League cities. But the Federal League also ran teams in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Buffalo, and Kansas City, towns that didn’t normally see Major League quality play.

With no previously established rosters, it’s hard to say that any team was favored on opening day 1914. Indianapolis would eventually take the pennant by a game and a half over Chicago with Baltimore and Buffalo rounding out the first division. The Hoosiers won 88 games and featured six of their starting eight position players hitting over .300. The big name was Kauff who led the FL in runs, hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting, OPB OPS and total bases. He also played a decent center field. Bill McKechnie, future Hall of Fame manager, played third and hit .304. He was in the middle of what had been, so far, a mediocre career. Thirty-four year old Cy Falkenberg was the ace, going 25-16 and leading the league in shutouts and strikeouts. But the biggest name to come out of the team was a 21-year-old fourth outfielder with only nine games Major League experience. His name was Edd Roush and he would go on to win National League batting titles, a World Series with the 1919 Cincinnati Reds, and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1962.Despite finishing first Indianapolis had no postseason play as neither the National nor American League acknowledged their existence as a Major League.

Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Tinker, at the end of his career, managed Chicago to second, while Baltimore featured long time pitcher Jack Quinn who, at 30 was still only mid-career. A few other notables did well for the Feds. John Montgomery Ward, long retired from playing and running the Brotherhood union was involved with the Brooklyn team as their business manager. As mentioned, Three-finger Brown split time between Brooklyn and St. Louis going a combined 14-11 and serving for a time as manager in St. Louis. The Terriers (St. Louis) finished dead last but did feature both Fielder Jones, winning manager from the 1906 World Series, as their second manager and 22-year-old Jack Tobin hit .270. He would go on to be one of the stalwarts in the Browns outfield of the 1920s.

In many ways 1914 was a success for the Feds simply because the survived. There was a major overhaul for 1915, champion Indianapolis being dropped for one. That didn’t bode well for the continued existence of the league. Never able to garner first-rate players and having major problems drawing in most of their cities, they hung on for only one more opening day. There have not been three Major Leagues since.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1901

March 19, 2014

If I knew how to add ’em in I’d put all sorts of bells and whistles into this post  to announce the inaugural class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. But I don’t so you’re just going to have to put up with typed words on-screen. Knowing you just can’t wait, here’s the list first (alphabetically) followed by commentary. With only one vote, all winners are unanimous (ain’t that great?).

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes is the finest hitter in the National Association. In the five years of its existence, Barnes hit .391, scored 459 runs in 265 games (1.73 a game), had 532 hits, 101 doubles and 30 triples. He won two batting titles, led the NA in runs scored and in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in triples once plus a lot of other stats that no one in 1901 would have known (I’m not even sure they would have known all the stats I just listed). With the formation of the National League he won the first batting title, and led the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, and walks (I could find no contemporary info that indicated anyone knew that Barnes led the NL in walks).

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson won more games in the National League than any other pitcher in the 19th Century. His 328 wins were mostly bunched between 1885 and 1892 when the pitching distance was fifty feet and there was no mound. He led the NL in wins three times, including the second highest total ever with 53 in 1885. A workhorse, he led the NL in innings pitched four times, peaking at 623 in 1885. He also won the strikeout title three times, including in 1889 when he won the pitching triple crown. In both 1885 and 1889 he led the NL in shutouts (I’m not sure they knew that in 1901). He led his team to three postseason clashes and retired soon after the move to a mound and 60’6″ for pitchers.

William Hulbert

William Hulbert

The driving force behind the founding of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs in 1876, Hulbert was a grocery and coal magnate who owned the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). With the folding of the National Association, Hulbert spearheaded the move to form a new league, this one headed by team owners rather than players. His team won the first NL pennant and in 1877 became President of the NL, a position he held until his death in 1882. During the 19th Century his league became the only professional league to survive more than 10 years. (And he gets this great grave site).

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

the teams listed on the ball in the picture above are those teams existing in the NL in 1882, the date of Hulbert’s death.

Tim Keefe

Tim Keefe

Keefe pitched from 1880 through 1893, winning 342 games. He spent time with both New York teams, the Mutual of the American Association and the Giants of the National League. In 1888 he won the pitching triple crown. He led his league in both wins and strikeouts twice, in ERA three times, and in shutouts once (again, not sure they would have known the shutout total in 1901). He participated in three postseason series helping his team to wins in the latter two, going 4-1 in them. He spent most of his career throwing sidearm from less than 60’6″.

George Wright

George Wright

Wright, younger brother of manager Harry Wright, was the first great shortstop in professional baseball. He played for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings hitting .633 with 49 home runs. Later he anchored the infield of four pennant winning Boston teams in the National Association, then helped the Boston franchise of the National League win pennants in 1877 and 1878. In 1879, as manager of the Providence team he led it to its first NL pennant.

So there it is, the first class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. First a couple of comments, then I’d like to answer a few questions prior to them being asked. I initially, when I thought up this project, presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and Clarkson. Then I discovered that only Clarkson was retired five years prior to 1901. That, frankly, surprised me a little. I guess I knew that, but as I almost always associate all four of the hitters with the 1880s, I’d forgotten they played as late as the mid-1890s. That meant I had to find four more candidates for the first class. There are a lot of decent candidates available and these are the five I picked.

Now to answer a few questions.

1. Why Hulbert over any of the Knickerbockers? Actually it was pretty easy to pick Hulbert. First he invented a system of control that made professional baseball both profitable and stable. Well, stable if a team could stay on his good side. In other words he came up with a formula that worked and in inventing the first modern professional league he set the format for not just baseball but for football and basketball also. But why not one of the Knickerbockers? First, it’s difficult to really accept that the Knickerbocker rules are the first rules, especially as William Wheaton, one of the members of the Knickerbocker rules committee, stated he had assisted in forming a set of rules for the Gothams in 1837, a decade before the Knickerbocker rules. Now I’ll admit that a voter in 1901 might not know that, but as neither the Alexander Cartwright story or the Abner Doubleday myth were current fodder for voters I don’t know that any Knickerbocker would be seen as the obvious candidate to represent the founding team. And I can’t see electing the “Knickerbocker Rules Committee” (5 members) as a whole. And as for Wheaton, he does not, in the interview I read, claim that his rules were the first.

2. Why Keefe over Pud Galvin? This is kind of complicated, but it seems from what I can find, that Keefe was a lot more well-known than Galvin in 1901. Among other things, Keefe was still alive and had done some coaching in college. Galvin was also still alive (he died in 1902) but appears to have fallen almost totally out of the public eye. Additionally, Keefe pitched for both New York teams while Galvin toiled in Pittsburgh and Buffalo for teams that never won a thing. As I’m trying to do this the way it might have been done in 1901, I’m actually quite comfortable guessing that Keefe would have made the Hall of Fame before Galvin (as he did in the real Hall).

3. Ross Barnes? When the decision was made to count playing time in the National Association as Major League time, Barnes became the obvious candidate. He was easily the finest hitter in the NA. the waiving of the 10 year rule also made it possible to insert him into my Hall (he played 9 years in both the NA and NL). The two rules were not designed especially for Barnes or guys like Cal McVey (who I’m not sure is going to get invited to my Hall) but was designed to help players from an era when careers were shorter, the NL was not the juggernaut it became, and some players (Lip Pike, Joe Start) were already established players prior to 1871 and thus older and prone to leave the game before having 10 years NL service.

4. George Wright over Harry Wright? Well, George was the better player and I’d already decided on Hulbert as my contributor for this group. Harry probably makes it next time (but don’t hold me to that).

5. Running into problems doing it this way? Yes, two in particular. First, it’s very hard to determine exactly what a prospective 1901 voter would know. What sort of stats are available and what newspapers are accessible are two questions that are proving difficult to answer. There are Reach Guides available but their stats vary and include such things as sacrifices and times reaching first, but some stats like RBIs are missing. That’s why in the summaries above I didn’t put in a player’s RBI total. The second problem is that I’m so aware of the new stats (WAR, Peace, JAWS, Paws, WHIP, Chains, OPS+, NOPES-, etc.) that it’s tough to ignore them when I’m looking over a player. I’m trying to ignore them, but I can’t help but notice.

A cursory look at the class of 1902 looks interesting with only one sure to be elected player. I have to be careful and avoid putting in five each time just to pump up the numbers. The class will show up here in April.

My Own Little Hall of Fame

March 16, 2014

Ever notice how everybody and his uncle has his own personal Hall of Fame? They’re all sure that they could do a better job than the people who really do vote for Cooperstown. Some of them are right. The guys at The Hall of Miller and Eric (you can find it on Google) have a pretty good one and I suggest you look it over. Some others not so much. Well, it’s time for me to go out on a limb and create “My Own Little Hall of Fame” just so my readers can get a good laugh every so often.

First a few comments. I’m going to start my HoF as if it was created in 1901 not in the 1930s.(I am shamelessly ripping that date off from Miller and Eric, but not making up the neat plaques they create.) So there’s no Babe Ruth in the first class. He hasn’t even started his Big League career in 1901 (Heck, he’s only six). I want to point out that a Hall of Fame formed in 1901 or 1911 or 1921 would be very different from the original Hall. If you form it in 1901, none of the first five members are enshrined. Only Honus Wagner had played significant time and Christy Mathewson was a rookie. Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, and Ruth weren’t up yet. Nap LaJoie is still playing and Cap Anson hasn’t been retired five years (His last season was 1897). The home run record was Roger Connor’s and he had only been retired a few years. So guys who would make a Hall of Fame formed in 1901 would be very different from the original class. Keep that in mind when making your own picks. Go the other way and ask yourself what happens with a Hall formed in 1960. Do Gehrig and DiMaggio make the first Hall over some of the original five or not?

Over the years, the real Hall has made some, at best, questionable choices. But not all of those were “bad” choices. Part of what I want to do with this project, is to show people that putting certain people in the real Hall is a product of the time in which they were added and may not have looked quite so bad when it was done.  When Warren Spahn became the winningest left handed pitcher in National League history someone asked , “Who’d he beat?” Turns out the answer was Eppa Rixey and shortly thereafter Rixey went into Cooperstown. Today Rixey looks like a worse choice than he did in 1963. On the other hand, the times can help a worthy candidate who was overlooked. When Henry Aaron took the home run title from Babe Ruth, people asked “Who did Ruth pass?” The answer was Roger Connor and in 1976, two years after Aaron’s feat, Connor made it to Cooperstown. If you look at his home run totals, Connor doesn’t look like a particularly good choice but there’s little wrong with most of his stats.

Now some ground rules for this process. First, a player must be retired for five years for election, except for extraordinary circumstances (see Roberto Clemente and Lou Gehrig for example) . So for 1901, the last year a man can play is 1895. Once a player makes the Hall he can play later. This is designed to take care of players like Dan Brouthers who retired in 1896, then played a couple of games for the 1904 Giants (John McGraw did that kind of thing for a handful of old players). Next, the 10 year rule is waived for 19th Century players (and special circumstances such as Addie Joss dying with only nine years service). The game was so different in that the National League was, in its infancy, not significantly better than other leagues and some players were deserting it for leagues that paid more or paid about the same and were closer to home. Cal McVey is the type of player assisted by this kind of rule. The National Association is considered a Major League for purposes of this, helping guys like Ross Barnes and Al Spaulding. If I don’t then I’m going to have to leave out some of the great pioneering players. Only five men can be elected in one set. I know I’ve been critical of the 10 man rule, but this is a single voter and frankly if I keep it at five I can keep this going for longer. Not more than two of the five may be non-players (executive, manager, founder, contributor, umpire, etc.). There is no requirement that a non-player be selected. There is no preliminary ballot for you to look over and decide ahead of time who I should pick. You don’t like who I pick do your own research and tell me I’m wrong, Players banned by the real HoF are also banned by my Hall (sorry Pete and Shoeless Joe). Steroids? I don’t have to worry about that for a while. No manager or umpire may be elected until after his retirement (so McGraw can’t come in until the 1930s and Mack in the 1950s) unless their playing record might indicate they could be elected as a player (McGraw might fit in here). These types may be elected in the year following their retirement as a manager (or ump, or whatever). Next, I will try to add players based on the stats available at the time (no WAR or OPS or OPS+ or WHIP for 1901 guys). I figure that true voting in an earlier era would have focused strictly on what stats were currently available. That will be harder for very early guys where even fundamental stats like walks and strikeouts are tough to prove. In fact, I believe my most difficult task will be to determine what information was available in 1901 as opposed to 2001. Next, enshrinement will be once each month (meaning I’ll make 1910 by the end of the year) and the five is a maximum not a requirement. And finally, in true Hall of Fame fashion, all these rules are somewhat flexible if I get in a bind.

And now about the Negro Leagues. I have no problem including them; however, they do create a few difficulties. First, it’s a little hard to find out exactly when some of these guys retired, so some of them may end up being admitted to “My Own Little Hall of Fame” earlier than they should and others later than they should. For those in the real Hall, I will use the dates given by Hall for their years of service. Second, I know that no Hall of Fame established in 1901 is going to let black players inside in 1901 (some aren’t going to let them in even as paying customers). Heck, the real Hall took into the 1970s. Well, it’s “My Own Little Hall of Fame” and I’ll put them in when I think appropriate (so there).  Third, stats are incredibly hard to find, particularly for the earliest players. Finally, there is no rigid rule on how many have to be put in at any time. They will be part of the five normally chosen and not be a sixth name thrown in from time to time. An exception to this may occur around 1950 when the Negro Leagues collapse and a lot of the older players never make it to the Major Leagues.

This should be fun. It will mean I have to do some serious research, which certainly should help me keep the Alzheimer’s at bay. Hope you will have a good time with it and won’t be laughing too awfully hard.

The Bigot

March 13, 2014
Ben Chapman

Ben Chapman

By now I presume most of you have seen the movie “42” about the arrival of Jackie Robinson in the Major Leagues. One of the better performances in the flick is Alan Tudyk’s turn as Phillies manager Ben Chapman. For the purposes of the movie, Chapman becomes the symbol of all the hatred among players and managers aimed at Robinson and Tudyk’s wonderful job makes Chapman particularly odious. Of course Chapman wasn’t the only person who tossed slurs at Robinson, but he’s become, over the years, the ultimate symbol of racial bigotry in the Major Leagues, with only Cap Anson getting anything like equal billing.

Alan Tudyk as Chapman in "42"

Alan Tudyk as Chapman in “42”

William Benjamin Chapman was born in Tennessee on Christmas day in 1908. He was good at baseball and caught the eye of professional scouts. He spent 1928 and 1929 in the minors, then arrived in New York in 1930 as a backup third baseman and part-time second baseman for the Yankees. He hit .316 with 10 home runs, stole 14 bases, and 74 runs (it’s 1930, remember?). That got him a fulltime job, but not as an infielder. He moved to the outfield, splitting time between right field and left field (essentially playing whichever Babe Ruth wasn’t playing that day). He continued to hit well, leading the American League in stolen bases three times (and also leading in caught stealing four times). He was part of the 1932 Yankees World Series winning team, hitting .294 (his season average was .299) with a run, six RBIs, and an OPS of .780. He remained with New York through 1935 continuing to hit around .300 (.289 in 1935 was his low) and playing a decent, but not spectacular outfield. He led the AL in errors twice, but sources attribute that to his ability to get to balls slower men couldn’t even pretend to catch. He made three All Star teams (1933, ’34,’ and ’35) By 1934 and 1935 he was spending more time in center than either of the corner outfield slots. The next season the Yanks brought up Joe DiMaggio and Chapman was traded.

He ended up in Washington after 36 games in New York. He was still good enough to make another All Star team. In 1937 he was traded to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) and led the AL one more time with 35 stolen bases.  He hit well enough in Boston but with diminishing speed and little power, he was traded to Cleveland in 1939. Now over 30, his numbers were slipping and he saw himself traded one more time. He went back to Washington in 1941, lasted 28 games, and was sent on to the White Sox.

He spent 1942 managing in the minors. In 1943 he was suspended for the season after slugging an umpire, then returned to minor league managing in 1944. He turned his career around by becoming a pitcher and resurfaced in the Majors in late 1944 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yep, that’s Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers; the irony is stunning.  He went 5-3 mostly as a starter, then after going 3-3 in early 1945, he was sent to Philadelphia. He played a few games in the outfield in this last stage of his career, but he remained primarily a pitcher. He got into one final game with Philadelphia in 1946 and ended his big league playing career (he got into a few games for Gadsden in 1949).

By this point he was managing the Phils, having taken over about midway through the 1945 season. Philadelphia finished eighth. He got them to fifth in 1946, then back to eighth in 1947. Seventy-nine games into 1948, with Philadelphia in eighth place, Chapman was fired. Many sources blame his reaction to Robinson for his firing, and that may be true. But it’s also true his teams weren’t winning and the universal fate of losing managers is firing. His comments to Robinson may simply have been the final blow. In partial defense of Chapman as a manager, it’s not like the Phils were the 1927 Yankees or anything. They weren’t very good. Even John McGraw would have had trouble making this team a contender. Having said that, you can see the beginning of the 1950 “Whiz Kids” pennant winner starting to come together under Chapman. Del Ennis is there, Dick Sisler shows up, and finally in 1948 both Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts show up. He simply doesn’t win with them.

After retirement, Chapman sold insurance in Alabama, worked with high school baseball teams, and sat through a series of interviews, most of which wanted to talk about Robinson. He died largely forgotten in 1993.

For his career his triple slash line is .302/.383/.440/.823 with an OPS+ of 114. He had 1958 hits, scored 1144 runs, and had 977 RBIs. He hit 287 home runs, stole 287 bases (try doing that on purpose), but had a huge number of caught stealing. He ended up with 2849 total bases, and was 8-6 as a pitcher. All in all it’s not a bad career. His Baseball Reference.com WAR is 41.4. And his managerial record is 196-276. Baseball Reference.com has a similarity chart at the bottom of each player page. This tells you what other player this person is most like statistically. Interesting for Chapman, it’s Dixie Walker, the guy who started the petition to keep Robinson off the Dodgers. Funny how that works.

But of course Chapman is known for one thing, his virulent opposition to Jackie Robinson. And it has become simply the sole thing anyone knows about him. When I first saw Tudyk’s portrayal of Chapman I was stunned. Stunned not so much at the words he used on the field, but at the words he used to justify his actions. I’d heard them all my life from people I knew. “They don’t mind it. They know it’s just good-natured ribbing. They do it to us. All of us do it to each other and no body cares.” I found an interview with Chapman done in the 1970s where he still spouts the same thing. He’s also simply astounded and still shaken that no one seems to understand. In fact he never seemed to understand himself why people were repelled by his comments and actions. To me, that’s really the great tragedy of Chapman’s life and career. He never seemed to understand why he was seen as a jerk. (Or just possibly he’s fooled us all and knew exactly what he was doing and understood that his one chance for redemption was to act like he was a fool.) One of the best parts of Tudyk’s interpretation of Chapman is his ability to convey just how totally clueless Chapman was as to why he was being hounded. If Chapman had thought for even a minute about it he may have seen just how much his hounding of Robinson was much like what he himself was going through. But that presupposes a depth of self-perception that Chapman lacked.

Chapman's grave in Birmingham

Chapman’s grave in Birmingham

Wally Schang, Mack’s other Catcher

March 10, 2014
Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

As I mentioned in the post just below, the Philadelphia Athletics used three catchers during their 1910-1914 dynasty. The other post looked briefly at Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas. This one looks at Wally Schang,easily the best of the three.

Walter Schang was born in South Wales, New York, a town just south of Buffalo, in 1889. His dad caught for the local town team and two of his brothers also played ball, Bobby making it to the Majors (1914 and 1915 with the Pirates and Giants and again in 1927 with the Cardinals). In 1912, Wally caught on with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League (managed by George Stallings, later manager of his opponent in the 1914 World Series). In 1913 he made the Majors with the A’s. He got into 79 games with Philadelphia, then played four games against the Giants in the World Series. He hit .357 in the Series with a home run after hitting just.266 in the regular season.

By 1914, he’d become the Athletics primary catcher. He led all American League catchers with a .287 average and with 45 RBIs. He did terribly in the 1914 World Series (as did the A’s as a team), slumped in 1915, then had a great year (for him) in 1916. The 1916 A’s were one of the worst teams in AL history going 36-117. Schang, switched to the outfield in 1916 (he played a few outfield games in 1915 and again later in his career) led the team with seven home runs, two coming on 8 September when he became the first switch hitter to slug a homer from each side of the plate. By 1917, the A’s, already desperate for money, became even more desperate and Mack traded him to the Red Sox to start the 1918 season.

Schang was with Boston for the 1918 World Series. He hit .444 with an OPS of 990. He remained in Boston through the 1920 season when he was part of the continued dismantling of the Red Sox. Like Babe Ruth (who was traded a year earlier), Schang was traded to the Yankees. For the next four years he served as New York’s primary catcher, playing in three World Series’, including the Yanks first championship in 1923 (He hit .318 with seven hits in the victory). He slumped badly in 1925 and was sent to the St. Louis Browns for 1926.

He stayed at St. Louis four seasons, hitting over .300 twice and setting a career high with eight home runs in 1926. He went back to Philadelphia for 1930 as a backup to Mickey Cochrane. He picked up another ring at the end of the season, but did not play in the Series. His final season was 1931 when he got into 30 games with Detroit. He hit all of  a buck eighty-four and was through at 41.

He played and managed in the minors through 1935, then Cleveland hired him as a coach. His primary job was to teach Bob Feller how to pitch instead of throw. He remained in baseball until he was 52, when he finally retired. He died in Missouri in 1965. He was 75.

For his career Schang’s triple slash line is .284/.393/.401/.794 with an OPS+ of 117 (Baseball Reference.com’s version of WAR gives him 41). He had 1506 hits, 264 for doubles, 90 triples, and 59 home runs for 2127 total bases. He had 711 RBIs and stole 121 bases. He was considered one of the better fielding catchers of his era but he led the AL in passed balls (the Boston staff of 1919 will do that to you) and in errors (1914) once each. He appeared in six World Series’, helping his team to three wins. As mentioned above he was also on the 1930 A’s but did not play in the championship games.

Wally Schang was unquestionably the best of Connie Mack’s catchers prior to Mickey Cochrane. He hit well, fielded well, and helped his team win. He occasionally pops up on lists of players overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I don’t think he belongs, but I can see why he makes those lists.

Schang's grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

Schang’s grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

RIP Frank Jobe

March 7, 2014

Just saw on NBC News website that Dr. Frank Jobe died yesterday at age 88. He invented “Tommy John” surgery, thus saving the career of countless pitchers. Back in 1974 he tried the procedure on Dodgers pitcher Tommy John and John went on to 14 more years in the Major Leagues. As one of the single most impactful baseball men of my lifetime, he should be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. RIP, Dr. Jobe.

Mack’s Catchers

March 6, 2014
Jack Lapp

Jack Lapp

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the final season of Connie Mack’s first great dynasty. The Philadelphia Athletics of 1910-1914 won four pennants (all but 1912) and three World Series’ (1910, 1911, and 1913). Over the life of this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time with this team. I’ve looked at the pitchers. I’ve looked at the outfielders. I’ve gone over the so-called “$100,000 infield”. I’ve even looked at a couple of bench players. However, I’ve never spent much time checking out the catchers. Here’s an attempt to rectify that.

For most of the period, Mack used two catchers more or less interchangeably. By that I mean no catcher played a lot of games in the field but there was no obvious platoon system. Although one hit from the left side (Jack Lapp) and the other from the right (Ira Thomas), Thomas got way too many at bats for there to be a platoon system going on.  Being a former catcher himself, Mack seems to have understood how tough the job was, how wearing it was on the body, so he gave his catchers a lot of rest. At least I think that’s what’s going on. I can find no absolute confirmation of that, but I can find no other obvious reason for how he uses his catchers. That being the case, he got pretty good work out of a pair of really obscure players.

For most of the period, the A’s relied on both Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas for catching duties. There were a number of other men who squatted behind the plate for the A’s, men like Paddy Livingston, and late in the period Wally Schang (who more or less replaced Thomas), but Lapp and Thomas did the bulk of the work for the 1910-1914 dynasty.

Ira Thomas (note the chest protector)

Ira Thomas (note the chest protector)

Both men were decent catchers, generally finishing in the upper half of the fielding stats for the American League (an eight team league in their era). Both were generally considered good handlers of pitchers, but I can find no evidence that either was specifically a “personal catcher” to any of the pitchers (the way McCarver was for Carlton, for example). As hitters, neither was anything to write home to mom about. Neither hit much. Lapp ended up at .263 with five homers and 166 RBIs (but an OPS+ of 104) and Thomas .242 with three home runs and 155 RBIs (and an OPS+ of 82). Most of Lapp’s OPS+ came in three seasons, only one of which (1915) he played 100 games.

Lapp played in all four World Series’ getting into five total games. He had four hits (all singles), scored a run and drove in another, hitting .235. Thomas played in only the first two, hitting .214 with four hits, three runs, and three RBIs. As mention above, Wally Schang replaced him as the second primary catcher in the final two Series’.

After leaving the Majors, Lapp in 1917 and Thomas in 1916, neither man ever managed in the Majors. Thomas coached at Williams College, then joined the A’s as a coach. Later he scouted for Mack. Thomas died in 1958 and Lapp went down with pneumonia in 1920.

Both men are pretty nameless today. They were never stars nor even major players. They did contribute to the A’s winning three World Series’ in four tries and establishing the first successful American League dynasty.