Archive for June, 2015

Anybody Got $50,000?

June 30, 2015
1860 Brooklyn Atlantic

1860 Brooklyn Atlantic

Just saw that a great bit of baseball memorabilia is up for auction at Heritage Auctions in Chicago (you can go to their website and see the details).

Apparently this woman in Massachusetts has a copy of a carte de visite showing the about 1860 Brooklyn Atlantic team. It includes Joe Start and Dickey Pearce along with the rest of the team. They’re not quite sure the exact year of the picture because it seems everyone isn’t identified, but it’s presumed to be pre-Civil War. I put a copy of the picture from the auction house website above.

Anyway, they expect it to go for about $50,000. So far I’ve got a ten. A little help here, team.

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The Camera Eye

June 29, 2015
Max Bishop

Max Bishop

Back when I first became interested in studying baseball, rather than merely watching the game, I had (and still have to some extent) a love of the 1929-1931 Philadelphia Athletics. They were a great team that managed to sideline the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees for three seasons and were an interesting bunch in and of themselves. But I wondered about something. I couldn’t quite understand why, on a team full of excellent players, Max Bishop led off.

Bishop was born in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania in 1899. He was a good amateur player who moved to Baltimore at age 14 and caught the attention of the minor league Baltimore Orioles who signed him as a third baseman in 1918. While playing for the birds in the summer, he attended Baltimore City College in the fall and spring, playing second base for the college team. In 1919, the Orioles switched him to second also.

His play with Baltimore was good enough that both the A’s and the Boston Red Sox were interested in obtaining him. The Athletics landed him in late 1923 and he began the 1924 season as their primary second baseman. He developed rapidly a great batting eye (hence the nickname “Camera Eye”) and moved to lead off for Philadelphia, a position in the batting order he held for most of his career. He usually hit in the .270 to .250 range, once getting into the .300s and once dropping as low as .230. He had no power, little speed (his top stolen base total was 10 in 1928), but with the power hitters Connie Mack had behind him, he was never going to be asked to steal a lot of bases. He walked a lot, having more than 100 bases on balls in eight of 12 campaigns (and 80 or more two other times). He was a decent second baseman, never among the top fielding men in the American League, but a solid middle of the pack keystone player (although he did win three fielding percentage titles).

In the glory years of 1929-1931 he was a major contributor to the team, but hardly a star. He had 10 home runs in the inflated air of 1930, led the AL in walks in 1929, scored over 100 runs each year (and also in 1928), and had 150 or more total bases each year. In his three World Series appearances he hit only .182, but had 12 walks, and scored 11 runs. His World Series OBP was .316.

With the team floundering and cash running out, Mack sold Bishop to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) in 1934 (along with Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg). He played two final years in Boston, never getting into 100 games, and in 1936 moved to Portland to become player-manager of the Pacific Coast League team. He got hurt, couldn’t play second, and was fired in May. He played a few games with Baltimore, then became a scout, managed a little, then took over the baseball team at the Naval Academy. He stayed there 24 years, putting up winning season after winning season. He retired after the 1961 season and died in February 1962. He is buried in Baltimore.

For his career Bishop has the following triple slash line: .271/.423/.366/.789 (OPS+ of 103. In 1338 games he had 1216 hits, 236 doubles, 35 triples, 41 home runs, for 1645 total bases. He had 379 RBIs, 40 stolen bases (and was caught stealing 51 times), 1156 walks (about .86 per game), and only 452 strikeouts. He’s never gotten much support for the Hall of Fame, peaking at 1.9% of the vote in 1960.

Bishop, to answer my childhood question, led off because he got on base a lot.  He had a very good On Base Percentage, a statistic I’d never heard of at the time. Hidden in his lack of power, speed, and high average was the ability to draw a walk and get on base in front of the big guns of Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx hitting behind him. It was a successful formula that helped Philadelphia to three pennants and two World Series championships.

Bishop's tombstone

Bishop’s tombstone

Go Read This

June 25, 2015

Instead of writing something myself, I’m going to point each of you to Bill Miller’s On Deck Circle. His latest article is well worth the read and given a choice of reading something I’d write here or reading Bill’s latest, I strongly suggest you read Bill’s blog. You’ll find a link to his blog on the blogroll on the right hand side of this page. Check it out, Team.

Home on the Range with Lou Gehrig

June 22, 2015

Just found my own copy of this flick. Wanted to remind people it exists and can be found. Enjoy.

Verdun2's Blog

Occasionally I’ve commented on baseball’s relationship with Hollywood. This time I want to do my Roger Ebert impression and actually review a movie. It’s called Rawhide (not to be confused with the Clint Eastwood TV series of the 1960s) and it stars Lou Gehrig. Yep (and I do mean “yep”, Pardner) that Lou Gehrig.

In 1938 Gehrig made a movie. It’s a western released in April by Principal Productions. It runs 58 minutes and is a standard drug store cowboy/singing cowboy flick with Gehrig thrown in as the token ballplayer. The film is touted for having Gehrig in it, but he has the second role behind Smith Ballew. Ballew was a singing cowboy of the 1930s and 1940s who had a short career that never got above the drug store cowboy stage.  

Gehrig has decided to retire from baseball, so the plot informs us (not knowing that was to be tragically true…

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“Autumn Glory”: A Review

June 20, 2015
Cover of "Autumn Glory"

Cover of “Autumn Glory”

Haven’t reviewed a book in a while, so it’s time to do so again. This time I want to look at Louis P. Masur’s Autumn Glory: Baseball’s First World Series.

As the title implies, this is a look at the 1903 World Series between the established National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates and the newly formed American League’s Boston team. Masur goes through each of the eight games (it was a best five of nine series) providing narrative of the game itself and giving us a copy of the box score. The chapters on the games are straightforward with little analysis and more narrative.

In between the chapters on each game are other chapters chronicling baseball in the era. There’s a chapter on the founding of the American League and the subsequent war between the two leagues, a chapter on the way the league’s gained peace, and chapters on each team’s (Pittsburgh and Boston) 1903 season. Again, the chapters are more narrative than analytic, but read well. There are some pictures including shots of ballparks, players, owners, executives, and fans.

All in all it’s a good book for what it does. Don’t expect anything like a deep academic tome. This is a book for fans, not historians. It’s generally well written and explores the 1903 World Series, not American society in the era. I point this out because Masur is a history professor who apparently loves baseball and can leave his academic world to write for the general reader.

The book was published in 2003, in time for a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first World Series and is available online from several places. Enjoy.

The Koufax Aura

June 18, 2015
Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

Recently there’s been discussion on the greatest living player and on pitching in general. One of the more hotly debated people is Sandy Koufax. There are some who argue he was the greatest pitcher ever, others who say he was the greatest pitcher of the post-World War II era, others who say he was overrated. Take your pick, team.

But without question he is one of the most well-known, most respected players of his generation. His legend overwhelms almost all aspects of his career. He has what I call an “Aura”. The Koufax Aura moves him from the list of quality pitchers of his era into almost holy status. He goes from being Koufax to being KOUFAX!!! (said in James Earl Jones stentorian tones with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” being played in the background). I believe there are a number of reasons for this and want to point them out to you. Some are legitimate, others not so much, but they make up the KOUFAX!!! Aura and have to be dealt with.

1. First, he really was really very good. His six-year stretch from 1961 through 1966 is one of the better set of campaigns in baseball history.

2. He pitched in an era of great pitching and held his own with the likes of Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning, and Don Drysdale.

3. There are those three Cy Young Awards, all unanimous. First, in his era there was only one Cy Young Award, not one per league, and secondly no one else has ever won three unanimously.

4. There’s an MVP in both the regular season and the World Series (two in the Series). There are also two second place finishes in the regular season MVP race.

5. His Los Angeles team won three World Series and lost one (and went 1-1 when he was in Brooklyn–he didn’t pitch in either Brooklyn Series), giving him the glow of a winner. It is important here to note that the Dodgers won the first in 1959 when he was Koufax, not KOUFAX!!!

6. He played for the Dodgers, one of the more famous Major League teams.

7. He was the first great Los Angeles star in the sport most sports fans watched. Basketball was still a niche sport in the era, and dominated by the Celtics, while professional football, although making great strides, was still secondary to college football in ratings.

8. He had those three no hitters and the perfect game. That total of four was the most ever (until the coming of Nolan Ryan, a pitcher who was more like Koufax than a lot of people remember).

9. He held the all-time record for strikeouts in a single season when he retired (it’s since been broken by Ryan, by a total of one strikeout). He also held the record for most strikeouts in a single World Series game and for a complete World Series (also both since broken).

10. He retired at the top of his game. I think this one is key. I remember Willie Mays falling in the outfield in the World Series, I remember Tom Seaver (maybe the best pitcher I ever saw) when he was done. He was a shadow of the great pitcher of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I remember Greg Maddux as a great, great pitcher, but I also remember him as a middle of the rotation pitcher who wasn’t all that good at the end of his career. I remember Steve Carlton as a  reliever and trying to learn the split finger just so he could stay in the Majors. There are no memories like that of KOUFAX!!!. There are no memories of a curve ball that didn’t curve or of a fastball that was slow. Your lasting memories of the man are of greatness, not fallibility. That, I believe, colors all our thoughts of the man and the pitcher.

11. He got a great biography. Leavy’s 2002 biography is one of the better baseball biographies of the last 50 years.

12. His most famous games are moments of greatness. The perfect game stands out, as does the game seven shutout in the 1967 World Series, a game pitched on short rest.

13. The Yom Kippur moment showed us an athlete who stood for something other than his sport. Don’t see a lot of that in any sport.

14. He disappeared when he retired. He did a little broadcasting, and he coached a little, but basically he left the public eye. That means there were no drunken episodes, no “gee, look at that poor guy who used to be such a great ballplayer” moments. He didn’t do those things that keep an athlete in the public eye for all the wrong reasons.

I could add more, but I hope you get the idea. Was  he the greatest pitcher ever, or of his own era? Actually, it doesn’t matter. Will Clayton Kershaw be a better pitcher? Again, it doesn’t matter. As long as Koufax is KOUFAX!!! he will continue to have the Aura and continue to be the center of raging baseball debates.

The Greatest Living Players Issue

June 11, 2015
one of the greatest living players

one of the greatest living players

The post on Yogi Berra and the entire issue of “The Greatest Living Player” got me to thinking about it. I suppose it’s true that for any era you could put together a pretty fair team of “greatest living players”. For instance in the mid-1930s you could have Ruth and Cobb and Wagner and Gehrig and an entire host of other players to put together a team. But it seems to me that once you got beyond the initial lineup, the team roster would drop off pretty quickly.

Right now there is a depth of excellence in current and retired players that makes for a really great roster of “greatest living players” that easily fills out a full team. Here’s a just a quick look at one possibility (players listed alphabetically):

1b– Willie McCovey and Albert Pujols

2b–Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg

SS–Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith

3b–George Brett, Mike Schmidt

OF–Henry Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays, Dave Winfield, Carl Yaztremzski

C–Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra

SP–Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Seaver

Relievers–Goose Gossage, Mariano Rivera

DH–Paul Molitor

And in all this I left out Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, a bunch of other position players, all the steroid boys, and a ton of pitchers.

It’s a list of 24 (a roster is 25 but I left a space for you to add your favorite) and could certainly be tweaked to put together an even better list (adding in any of the players mentioned in the “left out” list plus others). All the above list, except Pujols, Rivera, and Griffey are currently in the Hall of Fame and I see no reason, at the current time, to believe any of them will be excluded when their time comes. I could have easily replaced Pujols with Rod Carew, Rivera with Rollie Fingers, and Griffey with Frank Robinson, but I wanted to show that the “greatest living player” list could include players still active and players not yet eligible for the Hall.

All in all I believe this shows the depth of great players in the last 50 years. The players 100 years ago may (or maybe not) have been greater, but there certainly weren’t as many of them. I think that speaks well for the future of the game.

A Medal for Yogi

June 9, 2015
Give this man a medal

Give this man a medal

Well, I did something I never do. I got involved in politics. Now I have a standing rule about staying away from politics if I can. There are too many lunkheads who are willing to take a swing at you if you happen to disagree with them on the subject. But I couldn’t help it this time. I added my name to the list to grant Yogi Berra the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the petition, but there’s a drive to have the President present Berra with the Medal of Freedom. A number of ball players (Ernie Banks and Stan Musial among them) have gotten it and now there’s a push for Yogi Berra to get one. He’s a vet, was a gunner on a naval vessel during World War II (including serving at D-Day), a great ballplayer, an oft quoted philosopher (hey, he makes as much sense as a lot of philosophers), and a humanitarian.

What he isn’t, apparently, is one of the four greatest living ball players. Have you seen MLB.com’s poll? They want to unveil at the All Star Game the four (why not five or three?) greatest players from each team, the four most significant pioneers, the four greatest Negro League stars, and the four greatest living players. They gave you a list to choose from and there was the possibility of a  write-in (those never work in things like this). The list of greatest living players showed the following eight: Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Willie Mays, and Tom Seaver. According to MLB.com the voting is over and a preliminary list of the four is out: Aaron, Mays, Koufax, and Seaver. Apparently there was voting after this, so the final tally may change.

What I noticed was who wasn’t there, and Yogi Berra is prominent on my “are you kidding me?” list. He made the Yankees team list, but not the final cut for greatest living player. That’s kind of a shame, because it means that Yogi the clown has replaced Yogi the ballplayer in a lot of minds. Shame isn’t it? Anyway, here’s hoping Berra gets his medal.

The Peacemaker

June 5, 2015
August Hermann in 1905

August Hermann in 1905

I want to take the time to introduce you to one of the most important men ever involved in baseball. His name was August Hermann; he owned the Cincinnati Reds. He also brought together the warring sides in 1903 and produced the peace that allowed for the two Major Leagues to work together, to sanction a postseason set of games, and to work out their contract issues. Although Barney Dreyfuss invented the World Series, Hermann is the man who made it annual.

August Hermann was born in 1859 in Cincinnati. He worked a series of odd jobs eventually going into printing. He began the Hamilton County Law Bulletin which got him into politics. He served as court clerk, a member of the Cincinnati school board, and chairman of the city Water Commission. All that made him both well-known and reasonably wealthy. He was also a baseball fan.

In 1902 he joined three other men in purchasing the Reds. He got the job of actually running the team. And it’s here that he began to make his mark on the sport. The Reds were in a dispute with the American League about who owned the rights to future Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Crawford. It was one small problem in a host of difficulties that were tearing up the Major Leagues in 1902. The newly formed American League was putting teams in towns that were National League cities, they were raiding NL rosters for the best quality players, and they were scheduling games opposite NL games that cut into profits for the existing league.

Hermann decided all this was destroying the sport and, as importantly, the profits available from it. So he began his tenure as owner of the Reds by giving up all claim to Crawford. That got the attention of AL President Ban Johnson. He and Hermann knew each other from Johnson’s days as a Cincinnati sports reporter, but were only casual acquaintances. Nevertheless, Johnson determined that he might have an ally in the NL and began corresponding with Hermann. The two men met, talked over the issues pressing baseball, and Hermann then agreed to host a meeting between Johnson, some of his allies, and the NL leadership.

The result was the National Agreement of 10 January 1903. The agreement established a “National Commission” to govern the sport and work out the problems that were currently creating difficulties. Both league presidents were members, but a third member was needed to break any ties. Johnson nominated Hermann as both a member and the President of the Commission and he was elected easily. For the next several years August Hermann, as both the President and the tie breaker on the Commission, was one of the single most significant people in baseball. He held the position into 1920.

One of his first moves was to support Barney Dreyfuss, Pittsburgh owner, in establishing a postseason series of games to be called the World Series between the NL and the AL. His support was critical for renewing the Series after it wasn’t played in 1904. He is sometimes known as “the father of the World Series.” Although Dreyfuss should probably be given more credit than Hermann for inventing the Series, Hermann was instrumental in making sure it continued.

There’s a lot more on Hermann. But I want this to concentrate on his role in establishing peace between the leagues and supporting the creation of a postseason series. He is one of the most overlooked of all the early owners and should be, in my opinion, seriously considered for the Hall of Fame.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Hank Bauer

June 3, 2015
Hank Bauer

Hank Bauer

1. Henry Bauer was born in East St. Louis, Illinois on 31 July 1922. He was a first generation American.

2. He was a quality high school baseball (and basketball) player and in 1941 had a tryout with the Oshkosh minor league team.

3. After Pearl Harbor he joined the US Marine Corps, serving through 1945. He was wounded twice, receiving two Purple Hearts, and also awarded two Bronze Stars for gallantry.

4. In 1946 he was signed to a contract with a Yankees farm team. His salary a mere $175 a month.

5. He made the Major Leagues in 1948.

6. By 1949 he was settling in as New York’s primary right fielder. He would remain there through 1959.

7. He participated in nine World Series’, winning seven. The seven wins ties him for third most World Series wins by a player (behind his teammates Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio).

8. He holds the record with a 17 game hitting streak in World Series play (1956, 1957, and 1958). During that streak he hit all seven of his postseason home runs, scored 12 of his 21 World Series runs, and had 17 of his 24 postseason RBIs.  His 17 game streak was tied by Derek Jeter, but not all of Jeter’s hitting streak occurred during World Series play.

9. During the early integration period in Major League baseball, Bauer was a stalwart defender of black ball players. He was reprimanded for trying to fight a fan who’d been hurling racial epithets at Elston Howard, and was involved in the Billy Martin-Sammy Davis, Jr incident at a nightclub (the Copacabana) in New York in 1957. One man was injured in a brawl and Bauer was thought to have thrown the punch (it was never proved).

10. In 1960 he was traded to Kansas City (the Athletics, not the Royals) for Roger Maris.

11. In 1961 he became the A’s player-manager. They didn’t do particularly well and he was fired in 1962.

12. In 1964 he became manager of the Baltimore Orioles and led them to the 1966 World Series championship (a four game sweep of the Dodgers). He remained manager into 1968 when he was replaced by Earl Weaver. He later managed Oakland in 1969.

13. He died in Kansas in 2007.

Bauer's final resting place

Bauer’s final resting place