Archive for October, 2014

1914: The Big, Bad A’s

October 8, 2014
The Athletics

The Athletics

One hundred years ago this month one of the greatest upsets in World Series history occurred, the Philadelphia Athletics lost to the Boston Braves. No one expected to the Braves to win the National League pennant, let alone win the World Series. They were a bunch of cast-offs and losers who’d been put together from out of the trashcan, but they’d won the whole thing. They are, to this day, known as the “Miracle Braves.” I want to take a look at both the teams and the Series (and BTW Kevin at Baseball Revisited has just completed running a simulation of the Series on his site–see Blogroll at right) over the next few days. Because they lost, let’s start with the team that gets very little press in the entire endeavor, the big, bad Philadelphia A’s.

Connie Mack’s Athletics were defending world champions. In fact, they’d won three of the last four World Series (losing out to the Red Sox in 1912). To this point it was the most consistent of American League teams winning pennants in 1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, and the current pennant. They won 99 games in 1914 taking the pennant by 8.5 games over the Red Sox. If you look at their positional wins above average, they were above average in all positions except right field. They led the AL in runs, hits, homers, average, slugging, OBP, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. The hitters consisted of the $100,00 infield of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker from first around the horn to third. Collins led the league in runs scored, while Baker was the home run champion. McInnis was second in RBIs with 95 (it’s a league with Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker so you’re not going to lead the AL in much with them around). The outfield consisted of Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, and Eddie Murphy (obviously not the comedian). All hit between .277 and .272 and were decent fielders for the era. Wally Schang was now Mack’s primary catcher. He hit .287 with a 137 OPS+ and managed to catch 45% of opponents base stealers, which was dead on league average.

The pitching was beginning to wither a bit. The team finished first in no major category (except wins, obviously) but was second in shutouts and strikeouts. It was fourth in hits and third in runs allowed (fourth in earned runs). Stalwarts Eddie Plank and Chief Bender were aging (Plank was 38), Jack Coombs was gone, and an entire group of younger pitchers were trying to make their mark. Bob Shawkey, Bullet Joe Bush, Weldon Wycoffe, and Herb Pennock were all in their early 20s (Pennock was 20) and Rube Bressler was only 19. Bush and Bender were technically the aces with 17 wins each. If the A’s had a problem it was with the staff.

They were overwhelming favorites to win. The National League hadn’t won a World Series since Honus Wagner’s Pirates in 1909 and the Braves were an absolute fluke. No one expected what was coming, except maybe the Braves.

 

 

 

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RIP Another Boy of Summer

October 6, 2014
George Shuba and Jackie Robinson, 1946

George Shuba and Jackie Robinson, 1946

Glen sent me a notice that George Shuba died. I’d missed that in the paper and on the internet, so thanks, Glen. Shuba was one of the players featured in Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer, and thus became one of the more famous Brooklyn Dodgers players. With his death, only Carl Erskine remains of the players Kahn interviewed for his book (although there are other 1950s Dodgers still alive).

Shuba was essentially the fourth outfielder on the team. With Carl Furillo in right and Duke Snider in center, the Dodgers rotated through a series of left fielders from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Shuba didn’t do a lot of starting but became the team’s premier pinch hitter.

He came up in 1948 and stayed through 1955 (missing 1951 and getting only one at bat in 1949). He played 355 games, but only 216 in the field. He hit .259 with 24 home runs, 106 runs scored, and 125 RBIs. His OPS+ is actually 104 but his Baseball Reference.com WAR is only 3 (you see how the modern stats sometimes confuse as much as the clarify). Not a bad career, but nothing special.

Of course he became very special for one moment. In 1946, Jackie Robinson hit his first ever home run for Montreal. As he touched home, the next batter, Shuba, reached out to shake his hand. It was a simple, a normal, an off-hand gesture, but it meant a new world in American race relations. White guy Shuba was shaking hands with black guy Robinson as if it was simply the most normal thing he ever did. Shuba later explained that he never considered not doing it. It was how you treated a teammate and the color of the teammate’s face or hand didn’t matter. They got a picture of it and in 1946 that shot became a sensation. Now it’s normal.

So we all owe Shuba just a little bit, some as a ball player, more as a man. Thanks, George, and rest in peace.

 

Shutting ’em Out in Game 7: Apex

October 3, 2014
Zoilo Versalles

Zoilo Versalles

 

The 1965 Minnesota Twins were on the verge of winning the first World Series in Minnesota history. The team, which just a few years ago were the Washington Senators, had never taken an American League pennant since moving to Minneapolis. The last time the team tasted postseason was 1933, when they’d lost to the Giants. The only time they’d ever won it all was 1924. So for the team this was new territory. They were home to play game seven against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Standing in their way was Sandy Koufax.

The Twins lineup for 14 October had Don Mincher at first, Frank Quilici at second, MVP Zoilo Versalles at short, and Hall of Fame third baseman Harmon Killebrew. The outfield was Cuban refugee Tony Oliva in right, Joe Nossek in center, and Bobby Allison in left. Earl Battey was catching 18 game winner Jim Kaat. Al Worthington and Jim Perry (Gaylord’s brother) were available in the bullpen. Killebrew, Mincher, and Allison all contributed 20 or more homers to the team with Versalles slugging 19. Oliva was two-time batting champion and led the AL in hits. Despite a couple of exceptions (Quilici and Nossek both hit less than .220) it was a reasonably formidable lineup.

And it had to face the most formidable pitcher in 1965 baseball. Koufax was 26-8 with a National League leading ERA, eight shutouts, and a record-setting 382 strikeouts. He was also coming off a perfect game in September. Unfortunately for the Dodgers he was also pitching on two day’s rest, rather than his normal rest. He had around him a team that was dead last in the NL in home runs. They were also in the bottom half of the league in average, slugging, OBP, OPS, doubles, triples, and hits. They did lead the NL in stolen bases and didn’t strike out a lot. The lineup for game seven saw Wes Parker at first, Dick Tracewski at second, Maury Wills at short, with utility man Jim Gilliam at third. If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ll remember Gilliam was critical in game seven of 1955. The outfield was Lou Johnson, Willie Davis, and Ron Fairly from left around to right, and John Roseboro did the catching.

The Dodgers put a man on in the first, but failed to score. In the bottom of the first, Koufax got out of the inning by striking out two after having walked two. In the second he struck out two more, then gave up his first hit in the third, a single to Versalles. Then he struck out two more to end any threat. In the top of the fourth, Lou Johnson led off with a home run. Fairly followed with a double, then came home on a Parker single. That took Kaat out of the game and brought in Worthington who got out of the inning without further damage.

The score was still 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth, when Quilici doubled (Koufax’s second hit allowed), and pinch hitter Rich Rollins walked.  A pair of grounders got him out of it. The Dodgers had a couple more scoring chances but failed to touch home. Koufax pitched well into the bottom of the ninth. Oliva led off the inning with a groundout, then Killebrew singled. Koufax proceeded to strike out both Battey and Allison to end the game and the Series. On two days rest, Koufax had pitched a three hit shutout with 10 strikeouts. He’d also allowed three walks, but only one after the first inning. He was named World Series MVP (for the second time–1963).

For both teams the 1965 World Series was an apex. The Twins managed to win a couple of more division titles after divisional play began in 1969 but didn’t get back to the World Series until 1987. They won that one and the one in 1991. In both cases they won all four home games and lost all three road games. For their history the Twins are 0-9 on the road and 11-1 at home. Game seven of 1965 is the only home loss by a Twins World Series team.

For the Dodgers it was also an ending. They won a pennant in 1966, but lost the Series to Baltimore. They won a couple of more pennants later, but didn’t notch another World Series championship until 1981. They’ve won once since (1988).

It was also the apex for Koufax. Over the years the 1965 Series has become his defining moment, and game seven his defining game. Other games, like his perfecto or his 15 strikeouts in game one of the 1963 World Series, are somewhat well-known, but it is the seventh game of 1965, along with his Yom Kippur stand (also in the 1965 World Series) that have become his trademark moments. He had one more great year in 1966 then retired. He made the Hall of Fame on his first try.

 

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1908

October 1, 2014

Taking time away from my look at World Series game 7 shutouts, here’s this month’s installment of My Own Little Hall of Fame.

Pebbly Jack Glasscock

Pebbly Jack Glasscock

John Wesley “Pebbly Jack” Glasscock was a premier shortstop for several National League teams between 1879 and 1895. He won the National League batting title in 1890 and hit over .350 on one occasion. An exceptional shortstop he led his league in fielding percentage, assists, putouts, and double plays numerous times.

Ned Hanlon

Ned Hanlon

Edward Hugh “Ned” Hanlon played outfield from 1880 through 1892, including the 1887 Detroit world champions. He began managing as early as 1889 and took the reins of the Baltimore Orioles in 1892. With three National League pennants and two second place finishes he led the Orioles through 1898. In 1899 he moved to Brooklyn and led the Superbas to championships in both 1899 and 1900 before retiring after the 1907 season.

Jim McCormick

Jim McCormick

James McCormick won 265 games pitching between 1878 and 1887, including 40 or more twice and 30 or more two other times. His 1885 and 1886 campaigns helped Chicago to postseason play. Along the way he led the National League in wins twice and in ERA once.

Now the commentary and answers to questions:

1. Who the heck is Jack Glasscock? Bet a lot of you are asking that. Glasscock is one of the best shortstops of the 19th Century and he’s been utterly overlooked (a lot like George Davis was until a few years ago–but Davis was better). He hit well enough but was, considering the era, an excellent fielder. He ended up hitting .290 and ended up with surprisingly good SABR numbers (baseball reference version of WAR at 61.9 and 22.3 on defensive WAR which is really good for the 1880s and ’90s plus he had an OPS+ of 112). I’m not allowed to use those numbers because they weren’t available in 1908, but it’s good to look at them after I’ve decided on whom I’m picking and find they agree with me.

2. Hanlon managed the most famous, if not the best, team of the 1890s. The Orioles are arguably one of the most famous of all teams. Their manager was an obvious option for this Hall. Additionally, when the main Baltimore players (minus McGraw) went to Brooklyn, Hanlon went with them and continued winning.

3. I thought long and hard about McCormick, but he had the best old-fashioned (as opposed to SABR) numbers available. His teams never won until late in his career but he managed to keep a couple of pretty mediocre teams in contention when he was at Cleveland. He also played in the Union Association and did well, but I’ve been unable to find out if the UA was considered a Major League in 1908, so I discounted his numbers. Again, after having chosen him I looked at his modern stats and discovered I had chosen pretty well (75.5 WAR from baseball reference, ERA+ of 118, and a decent WHIP).

4. Again I’m finding I have a list of very good players backlogged and some very good players that became eligible in 1908, but they’re just that, very good players, not true greats. Wilbert Robinson became eligible this time and I decided he failed to make a great enough impact as a player to make my Hall. We’ll see about his managerial credits later.

5. I’ve noticed that the stats are beginning to become more standardized. By that I mean I’m finally starting to get the same stats showing up each year. Much of the randomness of the numbers seems to be disappearing, but there’s still nothing even vaguely close to the completeness we have today. Also we’re beginning to see agreement on exactly who played back in the early part of the era. As a simple example, I’ve found a couple of team rosters which list all the players with one or two not having first names. Apparently they were so obscure that the records of the day didn’t know their first names. That’s a good way to explain what I mean when I say the nature of what is known is sometimes sparse, but it is getting better.