Archive for January, 2015

Trying for Two: the Second Round in Cincinnati

January 29, 2015

After five games of the 1940 World Series, the Detroit Tigers were ahead three games to two. With only two games left, they needed one victory to clinch their first championship since 1935. Unfortunately, the two games were in Cincinnati and the Reds two best pitchers were set up to throw the remaining games. There were no days off during the Series (it was, unlike the current format, played on consecutive days). That created something of a problem for Detroit. If there was a game seven, their ace, Bobo Newsom, would pitch it on very short rest.

Game 6

Bucky Walters

Bucky Walters

Game 6 was 7 October and featured game two winner Bucky Walters pitching for the Reds matching up against game two loser Schoolboy Rowe. Cincinnati needed the same result as game two; the Tigers looked for Rowe to rebound. They didn’t get it. Bill Werber led off Cincinnati’s half of the first with a double, then went to third on a sacrifice bunt. An Ival Goodman single brought Werber home with the first run. Another single by NL MVP Frank McCormick sent Goodman to second, and a Jimmy Ripple single sent Goodman home and Rowe to the showers. Johnny Gorsica took over for Detroit and got out of the inning with a strikeout and a ground out. The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the sixth when consecutive singles and a walk loaded the bases. A force out at home kept them loaded for a Walters bleeder to third. The throw home was late and the score went 3-0, Walters getting the RBI. A double play then ended the inning. With Fred Hutchinson now pitching for the Tigers, Walters connected on a solo home run in the eighth to complete the scoring for the Reds. Detroit managed to get two runners on in the ninth, but a double play and a fly to center completed the shutout. The Reds had won 4-0. The big hero was Walters. He’d pitched nine shutout innings, given up only five hits and two walks, while striking out two. He’d contributed to the scoring with a home run and two RBIs. Rowe failed to get out of the first inning. So there would be a game seven.

Game 7

Frank McCormick

Frank McCormick

Game seven was 8 October and featured Cincy ace Paul Derringer against Detroit ace Bobo Newsom. Tigers manager Del Baker was taking a chance with Newsom who was pitching on a single day’s rest (they don’t do that much anymore). The game turned out to be a classic.

For two innings no one got beyond second base as each team managed one single. In the top of the third Billy Sullivan led off with a single, then went to second on a Newsom sacrifice bunt. A pop fly retired Dick Bartell, then Barney McCosky walked. The next batter, Charlie Gehringer, hit one to third. Werber threw it away letting Sullivan score an unearned run. Hank Greenberg struck out to end the inning. The game stayed 1-0 through the fifth. Both pitchers did well. In the top of the sixth, Greenberg singled and, after an out, went to second on a walk. A ground out sent him to third, then another ground out ended the inning. Greenberg was the only Detroit player to reach third after the Tigers scored their run. In the bottom of the seventh, failing to score Greenberg came back to haunt Detroit. Frank McCormick led off with a double and Ripple followed with another double to tie the game at 1-1. A bunt sent Ripple to third. The Reds sent up injured catcher Ernie Lombardi to hit. Newsom intentionally walked him to set up a double play. Billy Myers batted next and slammed a long fly to center that scored Ripple. A grounder ended the inning, but Cincinnati took the lead 2-1. Derringer needed six outs to end the Series. Gehringer led off the eighth with a single, but a liner to short and consecutive flies to the outfield ended the inning without a run. The Reds managed a single in the bottom of the eighth, but failed to score, leaving it 2-1 going to the top of the ninth. Consecutive ground outs brought up Hall of Famer Earl Averill to pinch hit for Newsom. He rolled one to second and the Series ended on the flip to first baseman McCormick. Cincinnati had won its second World Series. Derringer gave up one unearned run, seven hits, and three walks. He stuck out one. Newsom was great in defeat. He gave up only seven hits, one walk, and struck out six, but the two runs in the seventh doomed him.

It had been a very good Series. Detroit actually outscored Cincinnati with 28 runs to the Reds’ 22 (all that coming in the 8-0 fifth game blowout). For the Series Cincy hit .250, Detroit .246.  The Reds had 58 hits, the Tigers 56. Both teams had 30 strikeouts. Detroit had four home runs, Cincinnati two. The pitching numbers were just as close. The Reds pitchers had a 3.69 ERA, the Tigers pitchers came in at 3.00. The only significant difference saw the Tigers take 30 walks to Cincy’s 15. Stats-wise it was a great Series.

Individually, the Reds twin aces, Walters and Derringer did well, together going 4-1 with ERAs well under 3.00. Reliever Whitey Moore had an ERA of 3.24, but the rest of the bullpen, minus Elmer Riddle who only pitched one inning, didn’t do as well. For the Tigers Newsom was superb, finally losing in the seventh inning of the seventh game on one day’s rest. His 17 strikeouts led all pitchers on either team and his 1.38 ERA was first among both team’s starters. Schoolboy Rowe, however, was clobbered. Gorsica did well in relief, and Tommy Bridges won the Tigers other victory.

Among hitters Jimmy Ripple, a midseason pickup, led Cincinnati with six RBIs while Goodman had five. Goodman and Werber led the team with five runs scored while Ripple scored three times. Five hitters who played six or more games hit over .300 while Goodman clocked in with a .276. Even pitcher Walters chipped in a .286 average and a homer. For Detroit Greenberg had a great Series hitting .357 with a home run, a triple, two doubles, 10 hits (the most by any player on either team), six RBIs and five runs scored. Pinky Higgins had eight hits, including three doubles, a triple, and a home run, while driving in six. McCosky scored five runs and Bruce Campbell also had four hits and five RBIs. Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer had a miserable Series hitting .214 with one RBI, three runs scored, and no extra base hits.

For Cincinnati the death of Willard Hershberger hung over the Series. But having dedicated the Series to him, they’d won. The lingering questions about 1919 could be put to rest for a while. There was nothing tainted about the 1940 win. It was, for them, the end of the line. Their next pennant would come in 1961, their next championship would have to wait all the way to 1975.

For Detroit it was a bitter loss. They were now 1-5 in World Series play (a win in 1935, losses in 1907, ’08, ’09, 1934, and 1940). They would not, however, have to wait as long as Cincinnati to claim their next, and second, championship. They would get back to the World Series in 1945 on the arm of Hal Newhouser (who did not pitch in the 1940 Series) and the bat of Greenberg. It would take seven games but they would defeat the Cubs to finally win their second World Series.

 

 

Trying for Two: The Round in Detroit

January 26, 2015

With the 1940 World Series tied 1-1, the teams moved to Detroit for the next three game. A sweep by either would end the Series. A split would mean the two teams would return to Cincinnati for at least one game.

Game 3

Pinky Higgins

Pinky Higgins

Detroit sent Tommy Bridges to the mound for game three on 4 October 1940. Bridges was a 10 year veteran with six All Star appearances who was 3-1 in two previous World Series’ (1934 and 1935). But Cincy got to him immediately. Bill Werber led off with a double and with one out, Ival Goodman singled him home. Bridges got out of the inning without further damage and the run stood up until the bottom of the fourth. Barney McCosky led off for the Tigers with a single, went to second on a Charlie Gehringer single, and scored when Hank Greenberg hit into a 5-3-4 double play. Although Bridges got into trouble in the sixth, neither team scored again until the bottom of the seventh. With one on, Rudy York hit a two-run homer to put Detroit ahead. Billy Campbell followed the home run with a single, then Pinky Higgins slugged another two-run shot to put the Tigers up 5-1. That brought manager Bill McKechnie to the mound to take Reds pitcher Jim Turner out of the game. He was replaced by Whitey Moore, who proceeded to give up a couple of hits but kept Detroit from doing more damage. In the top of the eighth with one on Lou Riggs, pinch-hitting for Moore, hit into a force out, but consecutive singles plated him with the Reds’ second run. The bottom of the eighth saw two singles score a run for the Tigers, then a Higgins double drove in one final score for Detroit. Cincinnati tried to come back in the ninth against a tiring Bridges. Two singles and an error scored one run, then with two outs a single brought in a final run. Bridges managed a strikeout to end the inning and assure a 7-4 Detroit win. Higgins was the big hitting star with two hits, a home run, and four RBIs, while Bridges pitched a complete game giving up 10 hits, one walk, and three earned runs, while striking out five.

Game 4

Paul Derringer

Paul Derringer

Game four was held the next day, 5 October, with Detroit sending Dizzy Trout (who’d started only 10 games all season) to pitch. The Reds responded by sending game one loser Paul Derringer back to the mound. Cincinnati wasted no time in teeing off on Trout. Leadoff hitter Werber walked and was forced at second. Mike McCormick, on base replacing Werber, scored when Goodman doubled to left. A ground out put Goodman on third. A sharp grounder to Higgins was muffed allowing Goodman to score with the second run. In the third inning singles by Goodman and Frank McCormick were followed by a Jimmy Ripple double that scored Goodman. That brought Clay Smith in to replace Trout. Smith got out of the inning with no more damage. In the bottom of the inning, Detroit got a run back on a walk, a ground out, and a Greenberg double. The Reds got it right back with a walk to Werber, a double by Mike McCormick, and a sacrifice fly to right field. With the score at 4-1, runs came to a halt for a few innings. In the bottom of the sixth, a Bruce Campbell single and a Higgins triple made the score 4-2. In the eighth two singles sandwiched around a wild pitch, allowed Cincinnati to tack on another run, producing a 5-2 final score. The game was something of a redemption for Derringer. He’d managed to tie up the Series 2-2 while giving up five hits and six walks. He struck out four. Goodman scored two runs and drove in two more while getting two doubles to lead the Reds hitters, while Higgins got two more hits, including the triple, to lead Detroit hitting. Trout was beaten up badly with six hits, three runs, and a walk in two innings. The Series was now a best two of three with Cincinnati having home field advantage.

Game 5

 

Bobo Newsom

Bobo Newsom

On 4 October word came that Bobo Newsom’s father had died (a heart attack after seeing his son win game one). Newsom was scheduled to pitch game five. Despite the loss, he took the mound on 6 October (no days off during the Series). He would face Gene Thompson. Thompson got through two innings before disaster struck. He  gave up back to back singles to McCosky and Gehringer then grooved one to Greenberg who drove a home run to left field. In the bottom of the fourth a walk to Billy Sullivan, a sacrifice bunt by Newsom, and a Dick Bartell double scored one run. Then a passed ball sent Bartell to third. A walk to McCosky sent Thompson to the showers. In came Moore who walked Gehringer to send McCosky to second and load the bases. Another Greenberg fly to left, this one shorter than the home run, brought in Bartell. Rudy York walked to reload the bases. A Campbell single scored both McCosky and Gehringer. Higgins, designated rally killer for the day, then grounded to short to end the inning. The Tigers got one more in the eighth on a wild pitch. Final score? 8-0. Newsom was magnificent. He walked two and allowed only three hits in a complete game shutout. He struck out seven and no batter reached third. He was in trouble only once, and then only vaguely. In the fourth a single and ground out put Mike McCormick on second. Consecutive foul pops ended any threat. In the entire game, McCormick was the only Reds player to reach second.

With the Tigers up 3-2, the Series returned to Cincinnati for the final game (or two). Detroit needed one win, the Reds two. Fortunately for Cincy, they had both aces (Walters and Derringer) ready for the final two games.

 

 

RIP Ernie Banks

January 23, 2015

ESPN reports that two time MVP and Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks died today at age 83.

RIP, Ernie

Trying for Two: The First Round in Cincinnati

January 22, 2015

The 1940 World Series began 2 October in Cincinnati. The hometown Reds sent 20 game winner Paul Derringer to the mound to face Detroit ace Bobo Newsom. With three regulars out, the Reds were very dependent on their pitching holding up.

Game 1

Louis "Bobo" Newsom

Louis “Bobo” Newsom

Derringer was in trouble from the beginning. He got out of the first without a run scoring, but ran into trouble in the second. Hank Greenberg led off the top of the inning with a  single, went to second on a Rudy York single, then an error put him on third. A Pinky Higgins single scored both Greenberg and York, then a walk reloaded the bases. A force at home brought up Dick Bartell who singled, bringing home Higgins with the third run and Billy Sullivan with a fourth. Barney McCosky’s single brought in a fifth run and sent Derringer to the showers. Whitey Moore took over Cincy pitching duties and managed to get out of the inning without more damage. In the bottom of the fourth, Ival Goodman doubled and came home on Jimmy Ripple’s single, shorting the score to 5-1. The Tigers got it right back, along with another run, the next inning when York tripled and Bruce Campbell homered to right center making it 7-1. The Reds got one final run in the eighth on a Bill Werber double and a single. The final score was 7-2. Newsom pitched a complete game allowing the two earned runs on eight hits and a walk. He struck out four. Derringer gave up five runs, four earned, and Moore gave up two. They, along with Elmer Riddle, who pitched the ninth, gave up 10 hits, walked five, and struck out 10. For Cincinnati both Goodman and Eddie Joost had two hits, while Campbell, Higgins, and Bartell all had two RBIs for Detroit.

Game 2

 

Jimmy Ripple

Jimmy Ripple

Game two was played the following day, 3 October. Cincinnati sent out its other ace Bucky Walters, while Detroit countered with stalwart Schoolboy Rowe. It was a much closer game.

Walters was initially wild. He walked Bartell and McCosky to start the game. A Charlie Gehringer single scored Bartell and sent McCosky to third. Greenberg grounded into a double play that allowed McCosky to plate the second run. With two out, Walters struck out York to end the inning. The runs stood up until the bottom of the second. Two singles and a popup put two men on for the Reds. Consecutive singles by Joost and Billy Myers tied the game. In the bottom of the third, Cincinnati went ahead when Goodman bunted for a base hit and Jimmy Ripple slugged a two-run home run. In the bottom of the fourth, the Reds struck for one more run on doubles by pitcher Walters (who, remember, was a converted third baseman and could hit a little) and Werber. Having seen Rowe give up runs in three consecutive innings, Detroit manager Del Baker brought in Johnny Gorsica to shut down the Reds. It worked when Gorsica was able to get the final two outs of the inning. The score remained 5-2 until the sixth. In the top of the sixth, Walters walked McCosky. Gehringer forced McCosky at second, but Greenberg doubled to left scoring Gehringer. It was the last hit for the Tigers. Walters shut them down in order over the last three innings to notch a 5-3 victory and tie the Series at one game each. Walters pitched a complete game giving up only three hits and striking out four. He had, however, also given up four walks (two in the first inning). Rowe was shelled, but Gorsica, coming into the game in the fourth, pitched four and two-thirds scoreless innings giving up only one hit and striking out one.

With the Series moving to Detroit, the Tigers were in good shape. They’d proved they could beat one of the Cincinnati aces (Derringer). In a 2-3-2 World Series format, they had to win at least one game in Cincinnati. They’d done that. The Reds, on the other hand, had won a game and now needed to win only one to send the Series back home. With no day off, game three was 4 October.

 

 

 

Trying for Two: the Reds

January 20, 2015
Ival Goodman

Ival Goodman

If, in 1940, it was five years between pennants for Detroit, it was much longer for Cincinnati. The Reds hadn’t won since 1919, and that was the most tarnished of all World Series victories. For Cincy, it would be both a chance for a second title and for redemption from the fiasco of 1919.

For much of the 19th Century Cincinnati was a hotbed for baseball. They’d had the famous Red Stockings team of 1869, they’d been a charter member of the National League, they’d won the first ever American Association pennant. But the 20th Century turned the Reds into an afterthought. In 1919, they’d won their first NL pennant and promptly won the World Series. Of course it was the Black Sox World Series, noted primarily for Chicago throwing the Series to Cincinnati in eight games. The Reds argued they would have won anyway, but no one would ever know. In 1939 they’d won the NL pennant, and been destroyed in four games by the Yankees. The 1940 Series offered them the chance to finally prove they could be in true winner, particularly in the wake of tragedy.

In early August, backup catcher Willard Hershberger killed himself in a hotel room in Boston. Apparently he blamed himself for causing multiple losses to both the Giants and the Bees (now the Atlanta Braves). The team dedicated the remainder of the season to Hershberger and used his death as a  spur when they got to the Series. They also retired his number (5) but unretired it later and then gave it to Johnny Bench.

Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, who had a World Series title already as manager of the 1925 Pirates, but was primarily known as Babe Ruth’s last manager, took over the Reds in 1938. They finished fourth. He maneuvered them to pennants each of the next two years by emphasizing pitching, good defense, and timely hitting (obviously he didn’t invent that formula).

His infield consisted of NL MVP Frank McCormick at first, Lonny Frey at second, Billy Myers at short, and Bill Werber at third. McCormick led the NL in hits and doubles, played a solid first base, led the team with 19 home runs, and hit .309. He also led the league in grounding into double plays. Frey hit .266 for the season, but led the NL in stolen bases with 22. He’d come to the big leagues as a shortstop, was lousy at it, and ended up at second, where he was at least a little better. He played little in the Series because of an injury to his toe. Myers was at the end of his career (1941 was his last season). He hit .202 for the year, but was a good enough fielder his glove kept him in the lineup. Werber was, at 32, the geezer of the group (all the others were 29). He hit .277 and his 12 home runs were tied for third on the team.

The outfield contained two new kids and one veteran. The vet was right fielder Ival Goodman. He hit .258, was tied with Werber for third in home runs, was third on the team with 63 RBIs, and played an excellent right field. The new guys were left fielder Mike McCormick (apparently not related to Frank) and center fielder Harry Craft (who later did a lot of managing). McCormick was a rookie who hit .300 but without power. Craft hit .244,  played center well, and by the Series was replaced by Jimmy Ripple, who hit better.

The catcher was Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi. Lombardi was famous for two things: hitting the ball hard and being the slowest man on earth. For the year he’d hit .319 with 14 home runs and 74 RBIs. But he was hurt (his hand) and was limited in his performance during the Series.

With Frey and Lombardi hurt and Craft not hitting, the bench was essential for Cincinnati. Ripple, a mid-season acquisition from Brooklyn, filled in for Craft. He hit .307 in 32 games. For catcher, McKechnie picked part-time player, part-time coach Jimmie Wilson, age 39, to sub for Lombardi. He hit .243 for the year, caught 16 games (mostly after Hershberger’s death and after Lombardi’s injury), and was considered well over-the-hill. Frey’s replacement was 24-year old Eddie Joost.

McKechnie’s pitching staff was well front loaded. Twin aces Paul Derringer and converted third baseman Bucky Walters each won 20 games. Walters won the 1939 NL MVP and was third in 1940 voting. He led the NL in ERA and innings pitched, had an ERA+ of 154 and a league leading WHIP of 1.092. Derringer was almost as good, finishing fourth in MVP voting. His ERA 3.06 with an ERA+ of 124. Gene Thompson and Jim Turner also started 20 games and had a combined record of 30-16. Turner had given up as many hits as he had innings pitched. Whitey Moore was the only other pitcher to start more than 10 games. Double no hit Johnny VanderMeer was 3-1 in only 10 games. Only VanderMeer was left-handed. The main bullpen man was Joe Beggs who went 12-3 in 37 games (only starting one).

It was a good team. Except for Mike McCormick much the same team that had won the NL pennant the year before. It was for the Reds a chance to erase the questions of 1919 and to honor a fallen player. The Series started in Cincinnati.

 

 

Trying for Two: The Tigers

January 16, 2015
Charlie Gehringer

Charlie Gehringer

The 1940 World Series was sort of the odd man out Series of the era. Between 1936 and 1943 it was the only one in which the Yankees didn’t represent the American League. The Detroit Tigers won 90 games and made a temporary dent in the New York run. The Tigers weren’t new to World Series play, they’d been in five previously, but had won only once, in 1935 (Detroit had a championship from the 1880s, but that was a different team). So for Detroit, it was a chance to win a second title.

Manager Del Baker was a former catcher, who’d had a number of stints as a fill-in manager for the Tigers. He’d finally gotten the job fulltime with about 60 games left in 1938 and by 1940 had formed a team that hit well, fielded well, and pitched well enough to cop a pennant.

His infield consisted of one Hall of Famer and three very good players. The Hall of Famer was Charlie Gehringer. He was the resident gray-beard at 37. He was on the downside of a stellar career that included the 1937 AL MVP award. He hit .313 (OPS+ of 119) with 10 home runs and played a fine second base. At first, the Tigers had Rudy York. York was in his mid 20’s, and was noted for his inability to play in the field. Baker decided York would do less damage at first that anywhere else, so a Hall of Fame first baseman was sent to the outfield. York responded with a .316 average (OPS+ of 145) and 33 home runs. Pinky Higgins held down third. Higgins was one of the handful of third basemen who could honestly be considered the best AL third sacker of the era (along with Harold Clift, Ken Keltner, Red Rolfe). He was a capable enough fielder but his hitting made him something of a  star. In 1940 he managed .271 (a 92 OPS+), and 13 home runs. “Rowdy” Dick Bartell was the new guy at short. He’d come over from the National League and had World Series experience with the Giants. He was considered one of the finer shortstops of his day, but his hitting wasn’t much (As a testament to his fielding, he finished 12th in the MVP voting with a .233 average and seven home runs.)

The outfield consisted of a transplanted first baseman, a new guy, and one old hand. The transplant was Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. With York unable to play the outfield, Greenberg agreed to make the move to left field in ’40. He wasn’t great (his dWAR for 1940 is -0.8 in Baseball Reference.com’s version) but his hitting was still superb. He hit .340, led the AL in doubles, home runs, RBIs, total bases, and slugging and copped the MVP award (his second). The new guy was second year player Barney McCosky, age 23. He, like Greenberg, hit .340 (OPS+124) but with only four home runs. He did lead the AL in hits and triples and played an acceptable center field (he was fifth in the league in assists). The old hand was right fielder Pete Fox. He’d been around long enough to have played in both the 1934 and 1935 World Series (Detroit winning the latter and losing the former). He hit .289 with little power.

The Tigers bench wasn’t overly strong. Backup outfielder Bruce Campbell had eight home runs. For the Series he would get the bulk of the play in right field. Hall of Famer Earl Averill hit .280 while playing out the string in Detroit.  Backup catcher Billy Sullivan hit .309 with 41 RBIs. Come Series time he would replace the regular catcher for most of the games.

Primary catcher Birdy Tebbetts hit just under .300 with no power and handled a staff with four starters pitching at least 20 games. All but one were right-handed. Lefty Hal Newhouser was only 19 and still four years from the numbers that would put him in the Hall of Fame. The righty starters were 21 game winner and ace Louis “Bobo” Newsom, 1934-5 stalwart Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe, Tommy Bridges, Johnny Gorsica, and later managing legend Fred Hutchinson who got into less than 20 games. Only Newsom had an ERA under 3.00, although all but Hutchinson and Newhouser had ERA+ numbers over 100 (Newsom’s was 168). But only Newsom and Bridges had given up fewer hits than they had innings pitched. Al Benton did most of the relief work, but had an ERA of almost four and a half.

It was a very different team from the 1934-35 versions who’d won a World Series. The pitching was about the same, but most people agreed it had somewhat better hitting and the defense, particularly up the middle was better. Detroit was a slight favorite to defeat the National League’s Cincinnati Reds.

 

 

The John McGraw Problem

January 14, 2015
John McGraw with the Giants

John McGraw with the Giants

I’ve mentioned before that I’m having a problem with John J. McGraw (as did a lot of his contemporaries). He is eligible for my personal Hall of Fame that I’m noting on this blog but I’m not quite sure how to deal with him. Let me take some time and explain the problem in more detail.

My next class of  My Own Little Hall of Fame will be the class of 1912. It’s the first one that McGraw is eligible to enter. He would enter it as a player, not as a manager (he has 20 years of managing left). His playing career is stellar, but flawed. McGraw’s career begins in 1891 and continues for 10 years. After 1901 he plays a handful of games (peaking at 55 in 1902 and not more than 12 in any season after that) through 1906. Those years he is primarily a manager who inserts himself into the lineup occasionally, so the heart of his career is 1891-1901, most of it with the Baltimore National League team. He’s a third baseman who hits pretty well and is a decent fielder for his era.

I’m giving you here his numbers as shown on Baseball Reference.com. They include modern stats that were unavailable to voters in a 1912 Hall of Fame election, but they should help explain the problem. His triple slash line is .334/.446/.410/.876 with an OPS+ of 135 and a Baseball Reference.com version of WAR at 45.6. He has 436 stolen bases, most under the old rules of stolen bases (taking an extra base on a single was counted as a stolen base) 836 walks, 155 strikeouts, 462 RBIs, 1309 hits, 1024 runs, 121 doubles, 70 triples, 13 homers, 1609 stolen bases. All this is 3924 at bats. His defensive WAR is 3.1 (again BB Reference.com version). Not bad, right? It’s certainly enough to insure that McGraw was an excellent player, probably the second best third baseman of the 19th Century (behind Deacon White).

But McGraw has two problems, one of which is reasonably common, the other almost unique to him. First, to put up the stats above he plays all of 1099 games. That’s not a lot, even for the shorter careers and somewhat shorter seasons of the era. In the 11 years that make up the heart of his career (1891-1901) he plays 100 or more games only five times and is in the 90s twice. He averages (1891-1901) 92.7 games a season. If you look at his numbers that means he’s doing really well, but it’s such a small sample size that you begin to wonder just how good he was as a player. He’s essentially done as a player at 28, which is young even for the turn of the 20th Century era. It’s difficult to see him as more than a good player who can’t stay in the lineup. Does that make a Hall of Fame player? Frankly, I don’t think so.

But now we deal with the second problem, what I call “The John McGraw Problem.” In 1912, McGraw is probably one of the three most famous baseball personalities in the sport. Only Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson rival him in press coverage and popularity. Walter Johnson is just coming into his own, Cy Young is retired, even Honus Wagner doesn’t seem to garner the press that McGraw gets. Much of that is because McGraw is in New York, the media capital of the US in 1912. Even writers who don’t particularly like him, admire him. He, in many ways is the face of baseball in the era. He even does a movie (actually two). That’s not unusual, a lot of players did that, but most played ball players. McGraw, in 1914, plays a detective (see the IMDB for info if you’re interested–I’ve never been able to track down a copy of the flick.).  And that’s the problem with him. He’s so famous as a manager that his playing time doesn’t seem to matter at all. My concern is that voters of the age, seeing his name on a ballot, might vote for him because he’s John “By God” McGraw and John “By God” McGraw ought to be in the Hall of Fame.

What do you do with that? Right now I’m not sure. I know I have the ability to wait until the 1930s and add him in when he retires, but I also know that I’m not doing due diligence if I do that just because I’m aware I can. I’m going to have to take a flyer here.

This isn’t a plea for your advice or aid, I’ve gotten myself into this quandary and need to get out of it by myself. I just wanted to let you know what’s going on with McGraw. As with a lot of his contemporaries, I’m finding myself muttering, “Curse you, John McGraw.”

My Son the Twins Fan

January 12, 2015
Twins shirt like the one my son wore

Twins shirt like the one my son wore

We’re a little odd around here (and I hear those snickers saying “we had that figured already”). But I’m a Dodgers fan, my wife tends to root for the Cardinals, and my son, well, he’s the oddest of all, a Minnesota Twins fan.

Back in 1987 my son was still small and was beginning to show a real interest in baseball. He’d get the Sunday sports page and find the baseball stats page and look them over very seriously. He couldn’t read yet, but he knew that it was important and he was determined to decipher those long lines of numbers. And to top it all off, some of his friends had a few baseball cards, which were wonderfully mystic pieces of cardboard. Well, I also had a few, including a couple of spares.

It was obvious from the look on his face and the hints that he wanted his own baseball card. So I looked around and sort of absently discovered I had those spares. Without any serious thought, I picked up one and handed it to him as his own first ever baseball card. His smile was worth it and I’ve never regretted giving it to him. I have come to question his reaction.

He was not just happy, he became a prophet. We’ve never had a lot of those in the family. We’ve tended to believe in the old Churchill comment that “It is always easier to prophesy after the event.” But my son was struck by a moment of divine inspiration (I’ve never had one of those so I don’t know how it feels).

The card was a Roy Smalley card in Minnesota Twins uniform. You might remember Smalley. He was Roy Smalley III and his dad had been a Major Leaguer in the 1950s. His uncle was Gene Mauch. He came up with Texas in 1975 as a 22-year-old middle infielder (more time at short than second), didn’t do much, and was sent to the Twins. He developed into an All Star shortstop (1979), then ended up with the Yankees back when they were trying to keep alive the 1976-1981 run. He didn’t do much in New York, went to Chicago (the White Sox, not the Cubs), then finished up in 1985-1987 with the Twins.

So the next day, this would be about the All Star break, my son (who slept with his Smalley card) walked into the living room and announced that the Twins would win the World Series and that Smalley, by then a part-time player, would be a hero. OK, kid, sure thing. My wife and I both nodded knowingly, agreeing with him, and he left the room.

“Are the Twins any good?” my wife asked.

They were in second place, percentage points behind the Royals (I just checked), but no one was picking them to knock off KC, so I told her, “They’re OK, but nothing special.”

You know what happened don’t you? Of course he was right. The Twins stumbled through July and August, then went 16-11 in September and won the American League West by two games. They stunned most everyone by knocking off the favored Tigers 4 games to 1. Then, with home field for the World Series, they won all four home games, while dropping all three road games to St. Louis. My son was right, the Twins were world champions.

And Smalley? He hit .275 in 110 games with 32 runs scored and 34 RBIs. So he certainly helped his team to the playoffs. Then he sat out the AL championship series. So far, nice, but no big deal. They used him four times as a pinch hitter in the World Series. He had two walks and a hit (a double). The double was in game two and didn’t lead to a run. The other play was in the game four loss. An error put him on second and he advanced to third but didn’t score. The first walk was in game five and he got as far as second without scoring. In the Series clincher he walked in the sixth with the scored tied 2-2. It kept an inning alive and the Twins took the lead two batters later on a Greg Gagne single. So was he a “hero”? Not sure, but he did help his team.

We were all stunned, except my son of course (had it all the time, Pop). It led to general rejoicing in the home, although the Cards loss was a small downer. And it made my son a Twins fan for life. He was overjoyed at the 1991 Series (which was a great Series regardless of rooting interest) and died a little when Kirby Puckett retired (When Smalley retired, Puckett became the new favorite.). We had a youth baseball team that I coached. He insisted it be called the Twins. I still have his old jersey with 34 (Puckett) on the back. I’m going to give it to his son when he gets old enough to wear it.

Oh, and the power of prophesy? I asked him who’d win the Super Bowl in 1987 (the 1988 Super Bowl). He immediately picked the Redskins. They won (42-10 over Denver). On a roll, I asked about the Kentucky Derby. He hashed it. Apparently the power of prophesy had run its course. Real shame. I had a lot more bets to get down. BTW, there went your college fund, kid.

ESPN Updates Their Hall of 100

January 7, 2015

With the conclusion of the Hall of Fame voting, ESPN has updated its annual “Hall of 100”. This is their list of the 100 greatest ball players ever (with 25 honorable mentions thrown in for a total of 125 listed players). Here’s a list of the best team you can make based on their list. We’ll go one player per position with the first duplicate position providing the DH and with five starting pitchers, one of which must be a lefty and one of which must be right-handed, and a closer. The player’s rank on the list is in parens.

1B: Stan Musial (8 and listed as OF/1B–the first pure first baseman is Gehrig at 11)

2B: Rogers Hornsby (15)

SS: Honus Wagner (10)

3B: Mike Schmidt (16)

LF: Barry Bonds (3)

CF: Willie Mays (2)

RF: Babe Ruth (1)

C: Johnny Bench (26)

DH: Ted Williams (4 and the 2nd listed left fielder)

SP: Roger Clemens (7), Walter Johnson (12), Greg Maddux (13), Cy Young (17), Randy Johnson (21)

Rel: Mariano Rivera (52)

The highest rated active player is Albert Pujols at 29 or Alex Rodriguez at 23 (depending on whether he plays or not). The newest player is Felix Hernandez at 114 (on the Honorable Mention list). The highest player not listed on the team above is Hank Aaron at 5.

The list is available at ESPN’s website and is currently toward the bottom in a small box on the left hand side. No idea how long it will stay there. If you disagree with them, take it up with ESPN.

Thoughts on the Class of 2015

January 7, 2015

Yesterday the Hall of Fame chose Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz for enshrinement. It’s being touted as the largest class chosen by the writers since 1955 and one of the largest ever. Here are some thoughts on the election.

1. Nothing in the world wrong with the four candidates elected. All have solid cases for enshrinement and I’m glad to see each get in.

2. Mike Piazza was the candidate who came closest to election without getting a plaque. I’m not quite sure what to do with Piazza. I personally think he’s Hall worthy, but I understand that many of the writers are worried about PED issues. Apparently less are worried each year and less are worried than are worried about either Clemens or Bonds. Writers seem not to know what to do about catchers. Of all catchers currently in the Hall only Johnny Bench is a first vote member. That means that Yogi Berra, Yogi Berra for God’s sake, isn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer. Neither is Roy Campanella, nor is Carlton Fisk, nor Gary Carter. And I suppose I can probably push that out all the way to Joe Mauer (who I think will make it). I’m not certain why this is true. My guess is that catchers put up smaller numbers than players at other positions and no one’s quite sure how you quantify catching stats, so there’s a certain reluctance to add them to the Hall of Fame. That’s also a guess on my part.

3. Staying with Piazza a moment, it looks like he will become the test case for PEDs. If he gets in, and so far his trajectory is toward election, then we’re going to have to face the issue head on. Because if he says, after he’s in (not after he’s elected, but after the ceremony makes it official) that “Yeah, I used the stuff,” then they can’t throw him out and they can’t say “No PED users in the Hall” because they’ve already got one. That will force the door open for the others. In all that I don’t mean to imply that I know or believe that Piazza was a PED user, merely that there is doubt in some minds.

4. I don’t understand the Bonds/Clemens votes. If you think PED use is not a disqualifier for the Hall of Fame, surely you believe they have the numbers for election. If you think PED use is a  disqualifier surely you don’t vote for either. I’m not quite sure why they ended up with different vote totals (206 for Clemens and 202 for Bonds). Did four voters actually think Clemens should get in and Bonds not? I guess so. And I further guess that the BBWAA is very unpredictable. BTW, I note that my “strategic voting” idea from last year (“How the heck did someone not vote for Maddux?”) is now being gloried in by some of the voters. I take full credit. 🙂

5. On a personal level in my post on my ballot I voted for 10. Seven of them ended up being the top seven vote getters. The other three all received enough votes to remain on the ballot.

6. That’s not quite true. It was the 15th and last chance for Don Mattingly. He didn’t get in and now must wait for the Vet’s Committee. Alan Trammell (who I chose) faces the same situation next year with Lee Smith and Mark McGwire (who I didn’t select) one year later. Smith has benefit of the 15 year rule, while McGwire does not.

7. Of the first timers on the ballot, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra were the only one’s who got enough votes to stay alive for next year (and Garciaparra did it by only 0.5% of the vote). It doesn’t bode well for either in subsequent years, but I’m glad each stayed alive so we can take another year to review their cases for election. Right now I’m inclined to pass on Sheffield and I frankly don’t know what to do with Garciaparra.

8. Now on to 2016 and the arrival of Ken Griffey on the ballot. Also available next year will be Trevor Hoffman, Jim Edmonds, Mike Lowell, and David Eckstein. I don’t expect much support for either Lowell or Eckstein, but will be most interested to see how Edmonds does.

9. Finally, again congratulations to this year’s new Hall of Famers. Enjoy the moment, guys.