Archive for September, 2015

Wrapping up the Excelsiors

September 29, 2015
Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

“Hold it. Haven’t we seen this picture before? Recently? A lot?” you ask. Well, honestly, yes you have. Over the years I’ve tried to give readers a short look at each of the men in the picture of the 1860 Excelsiors. I have one to go and then I want to make a few general comments about the players on one of the more famous of the pre-Civil War era teams.

The final player I want to tell you about is Edwin Russell. He’s the man fourth from the right. He’s one of the two men holding a bat. Of the two men holding bats, he’s the one to the right. There’s not much available on him. He was born in Britain (location undetermined) in 1829 and at some point emigrated to the US with his family. In 1855 he shows up in the New York state census still living with his parents (so the kid still living at home in his mid-20s isn’t new). He became interested in baseball at some point, probably through an earlier interest in cricket, a common thread among a lot of early pioneers from the British Isles (guys like Harry Wright and Henry Chadwick). By 1858 he’d caught on with the Excelsiors as a pitcher and left fielder. With the arrival of Jim Creighton he spent most of his time in left, with only an occasional foray to the middle of the diamond. He left the Excelsiors after the 1862 season and I lose track of him at that point. I don’t know whether he joined the Union Army or not. A later reference to him indicates he became a hardware merchant and died 21 February 1881 at age 52.

So that’s all nine of the 1860 Excelsiors. If you take time and look at their lives (at least of all but shortstop Thomas Reynolds who simply seems to have disappeared), they represent a fairly common cross-section of American male lives in the late 19th Century. Here’s a few things we can say about the eight men we know enough about to draw conclusions.

1 One of them (Creighton) died very young (21). Early death by young men was not uncommon among 19th Century Americans, although the nature of Creighton’s injury (rupturing something while batting) was unusual. I say this discounting the effects of the Mexican War and the American Civil War (two days at Shiloh can really skew death statistics among young men–especially if you’re both sides of the fight). It seems, from the only evidence we have (a note in 1887 saying he “died years ago”) that Reynolds may have also died young.

2. Two of them were civil servants. Joseph Leggett worked for the city of Brooklyn, and George Flanly worked for the Brooklyn Police Department’s Telegraph Department. Andrew Pearsall in late life spent time as a county coroner, making him also a civil servant; but it was not his normal career.

3. One of them, Leggett, turned out to be a criminal and may have died in prison.

4. Three were businessmen. Henry Polhemus ran a cloth making business, John Campbell Whiting was an investment broker, and Russell was in hardware. Asa Brainard, also late in life, ran a hotel pool room (his wife’s family owned the hotel). Like Pearsall it was not his primary profession for most of his productive years.

5. Of those, Polhemus became a multi-millionaire.

6. One player, Pearsall, became a medical doctor and as mentioned above,  late in life, a county coroner.

7. Brainard, became a celebrated baseball player (with the Cincinnati Red Stockings) and played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (1871-75). He also became an alcoholic.

8. Several served in the Union Army during the Civil War and Pearsall was in the Confederate Army.

9. Both Leggett and Brainard had multiple marriages, an oddity for the era. I didn’t spend much time telling you about the player’s home life, but they seem to be the only ones with more than one wife (and Creighton never married). For a couple I found no information about marriage one way or the other.

So there they are, the 1860 Execelsior of Brooklyn. I’m sure that there is more information available on the players, but this should give anyone interested a place to start if they want to learn about the men. They were champions once, formidable for a few years, and one of the great teams of the era. They also were, all in all, a group of fairly typical men.


WAR, One Pitcher, and Winning it All

September 24, 2015
Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

They tell me that the guys with the best WAR are the best players. They also tell me that a great pitcher will win for you. OK, I’ll give them both of those (sorta). But one thing I’ve noticed is that they’re certainly no predictor of a championship. It’s the nature of the game that this would be true. You simply can’t let your ace pitcher (the one with the best WAR) pitch every inning and you can’t let your best hitter (again the one with the best WAR) come up for every at bat. It’s particularly true that you can’t take the guys with the best ever pitching WAR and find a lot of World Series championships.

I’ve been particularly critical of pitching WAR (but not as much critical of offensive WAR) ever since I saw the numbers and read the ever-changing formulae. But let’s accept that it’s a good measure of pitching excellence. It still isn’t much of a predictor of how a team will do. I Went down the BBREF list of yearly WAR (which uses BBREF’s version of WAR) looking only for pitchers. I excluded all pitchers who showed up before the advent of the 20th Century. In other words I ignored the pre-American League championship games  (1884-1891). I did this because there is great disagreement about how seriously they were taken by the teams and players and how much they were treated as mere exhibitions. I also ignored the Temple Cup Series. Then I looked to find the top 10 WAR seasons for a pitcher in the American League era (1901-present). Of course I ran into Walter Johnson who had three of the top five and four of the top 12. So I changed the way I went at it. I began looking for a new name until I found 10 different pitchers. That took me all the way to 52nd on the list. Of course many of the 52 (and ties) were pre-1901 pitchers (including the first seven) and some were hitters (Ruth four times, Barry Bonds twice, and Gehrig, Yastrzemski and Hornsby once each). Here’s the list I ended up with: Walter Johnson in 1913 (16.0 WAR), Johnson in 1912 (14.6), Dwight Gooden in 1985 (13.2), Johnson in 1914 (13.0), Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920 (12.8), Cy Young in 1901 (12.6), Steve Carlton in 1972 (12.5), Roger Clemens in 1997 (12.2), Johnson in 1915 (12.1), Fergie Jenkins in 1971 (12.0), Hal Newhouser in 1945 (12.0), Bob Gibson in 1968 (11.9), Alexander in 1916, Pedro Martinez in 2000, and Smokey Joe Wood in 1912 (all at 11.7). So the individual pitchers are Johnson, Gooden, Alexander, Young, Carlton, Clemens, Jenkins, Newhouser, Gibson, Martinez, and Wood (a total of 11).

Let’s notice a couple of things about this list. First, Walter Johnson’s 1912-1915 is, by WAR, the greatest pitching performance by a single pitcher over a  period of years in the last 115 years (and people still debate how good he was). Second, there are a couple of one shot wonders in the list, specifically Gooden and Wood. The remainder are quality pitchers having their peak year.

But for my purpose, the most interesting thing is that only two of the pitchers were with teams that won the World Series: Newhouser and Wood. Gibson got to the Series but the Cardinals lost in seven games (Gibson himself taking the loss in game seven). In 1901 there was no Series, but Young’s Boston team finished second.

This isn’t a knock on pitching WAR, but merely an acknowledgement that it can’t predict pennants. And one great pitcher isn’t a predictor either. It does help if the number two pitcher on your team has a pretty good year also.

RIP Yogi

September 23, 2015

Just saw that Yogi Berra died at age 90. One of the great heroes of my youth (although he did play for the hated Yankees). When I was a kid there were Yogi and Campy and everybody else when it came to catchers and now both are gone.

Over the years Yogi Berra has become known more for his mangling of the English language than for his baseball skills. I guess that’s OK, because it kept him in the limelight and made him some money, but his career in baseball should not be forgotten. He was a wonderful hitter, a great catcher, a pretty fair manager.

With all due respect to Mr. Bench, to me there will always be Yogi and Campy and everybody else. RIP Yogi, and I see you finally came to a fork in the road and took it.

The Ball Maker and the Telegrapher

September 22, 2015
Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

Continuing on with my brief looks at the men who composed the 1860 Excelsiors, I’ve found the information available is getting sketchier and sketchier. Up to this point I’ve looked at five men as individuals. To do that now would make this post very short. So I’m going to combine two players here in one biographic post (with a short note at the end about another).

The Ball Maker

In the picture above John Campbell Whiting is the second man from the left. He has on a bow tie and stands just to the right of Jim Creighton, the man holding the ball. Whiting was born in either 1841 or 1842 in Erie County, New York. He was one of five brothers who ended up playing baseball in the 1850s and 1860s (with older brother Charles appearing to be the best). By 1858 John Whiting was playing ball with the local team, the Niagaras. He was the third baseman and one of the three best players on the team (Creighton and George Flanly, addressed below, were the others). The Stars, a Brooklyn team grabbed all of them and brought them to the New York metropolitan area, where they all three jumped to the Excelsiors almost immediately. Whiting played third with the Excelsiors and participated in the big “playoff” game with the Atlantic in 1860. He retired in 1861 (when he was roughly 20) and began manufacturing baseballs. He was, seemingly, successful but the American Civil War got in the way. By 1862 he can be found in the 31st New York Infantry and in June of 1863 made Lieutenant. After the war he remained in New York and became an investment broker (I don’t know if he still made baseballs as a side enterprise or not). Apparently he was pretty good at it because he moved (according to the 1880 census) to a pretty expensive neighborhood. He was visiting his daughter in Lanesboro, Massachusetts when he died on 26 September 1929. As far as I can tell, he was the last of the Excelsiors.

The Telegrapher

The man on the far right of the picture above is George H. Flanly. He was the normal center fielder for the Excelsiors in 1860. He was born in either 1833 or 1834 and by age 14 was considered one of the best ball players around. By the late 1850s he’s moved into the lineup of the Niagaras (of Buffalo, NY) and become reasonably famous for his fielding skills. In 1858 he moved to Brooklyn and hooked up with the Excelsiors. There is some evidence that both he and Creighton were being paid to play ball, which, if true, makes him the first man paid for his glove (although there were no gloves in 1859) rather than his bat. He hung on in baseball as late as 1869 when he is found playing for the Mutuals (of New York, not Brooklyn). For at least a while in 1866 he can be found umpiring games. Whether he was paid to play or not, it wasn’t enough to keep him from being required to hold another job. In 1858 he joined the Brooklyn police force as a member of their Telegraph section. He remained with the Brooklyn Police Telegraph Department into 1884. By 1872 he was Superintendent of the Department and when he retired in 1884 he received a yearly pension of $1000, a large sum in the era. I have been unable to find out when he died.

I’m now down to two men on the 1860 Excelsiors that I haven’t told you about. One of them is Thomas Reynolds. He’s the man on the far left of the picture above. He played shortstop for the team and that, other than an 1887 article that states he died “years ago”, is all I can find about him. That leaves one man to explore, which I’ll do later. I also want to make some general observations about the players at that time.


A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Sherry Magee

September 17, 2015
Sherry Magee with the Phillies

Sherry Magee with the Phillies

  1. Sherwood “Sherry” Magee was born in Clarendon, Pennsylvania in 1884.
  2. He was good at baseball, football, and basketball as a student. He also excelled as a bowler.
  3. While playing for the local semipro team at age 19, he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1904.
  4. He played 95 games in 1904, getting 101 hits, 12 of them for triples which led the team.
  5. In 1905 he stole 55 bases, good for second in the National League and the Philadelphia record. The record lasted until 1984.
  6. In 1907, 1910, 1914, and 1918 he led the National League in RBIs.
  7. His career year was 1910 when he led the NL in runs, RBIs, total bases, batting average, OBP, Slugging, OPS, and OPS+, was second in WAR among everyday players, second in doubles, and second in triples. He was also third in hits and fifth in home runs with six.
  8. In 1911 he was called out on strikes, argued with the umpire and was thrown out of the game. He responded by slugging the ump (drawing blood and rendering the umpire unconscious). After playing only 121 games, Magee was banned for the remainder of the season.
  9. After leading the NL in hits, RBIs, doubles, total bases, and slugging in 1914 he was traded to Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox). He’d been passed over for manager and asked for a trade. Despite not playing for the team since 1914, he still holds the Phils team record for triples and stolen bases.
  10. Injured in training camp in 1915, his career slipped and in 1917 and he was waived. Cincinnati picked him up.
  11. In 1919 he got into his only World Series, going one for two as a pinch hitter for the victorious Reds. It was his last season.
  12. He spent a few seasons in the minors, then became an umpire, serving in the NL in 1928.
  13. Sherry Magee contracted pneumonia in March 1929 and died on 13 March 1929. He’s never gotten much consideration for the Hall of Fame. In 2003 he was chosen for the Phillies Wall of Fame (the team’s version of a Hall of Fame).
Magee's grave from Find a Grave

Magee’s grave from Find a Grave

The Thief

September 15, 2015
Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you recognize the picture above. It’s of the 1860 Excelsiors. They were the toast of Brooklyn, winning the “World’s Championship” in an era when winning 20 games, all in and around Brooklyn and New York (separate towns in the era), made you the champ.

Over the years I’ve done my short biography of four of the men in the picture. Jim Creighton (the man holding the ball) was the first great baseball god. He’s supposed to have invented something like the fastball and died at 21 after injuring himself on the ball field. My look at him is on 12 January 2011. The tall man to Creighton’s left is Henry Polhemus. Polhemus was the first great power hitter and ended up a millionaire by selling tents to the Union Army during the American Civil War. My look at him is on 26 August 2013. Two days later (28 August 2013) I looked at the man in the middle of the picture (the man to Polhemus’ left) Andrew Pearsall. He joined the Confederate Army and served as a regimental surgeon during the Civil War. The other man I looked at is Asa Brainard (30 October 2010), the man holding the cap second from the right. He became the primary pitcher for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the so-called first professional team. It’s time now to look at a fifth player on this extraordinary team. He’s the man with the big side-whiskers to Brainard’s right (making him third from the right). His name is Joseph Bowne Leggett and he was apparently one heck of at catcher. He was also, apparently, a pretty fair thief.

Leggett was born in either Albany or Saratoga Springs, New York. The sources vary, but they agree he was born 14 January 1828. He first began playing at the highest level in 1857 and was almost immediately wooed by the Excelsiors to become their catcher. He was good. He was so good he was chosen as the Brooklyn catcher for a three game series of All Star games played between Brooklyn and New York in 1858 (New York won two of the three games). With the Excelsiors he was chosen team captain, which meant much more than the more or less honorary position it means today, and served at various times as club President and Vice President. He was known primarily as Creighton’s catcher and was behind the plate for Creighton’s greatest feats. Creighton is supposed to have thrown both the first no-hitter and the first shutout in baseball with Leggett as his catcher and mentor. Apparently we are talking about two separate games (so the shutout would have to be first) and by the mid-1860s the Creighton legend was so great that it’s difficult to determine if he was really first. Whether he was or not, Leggett was his catcher.

Joe Leggett was also a very good hitter. Although Polhemus was the main power hitter, Leggett was generally considered the team’s best average hitter (depending on what you believe about Creighton’s hitting) and was supposed to be at his very peak in the 1860 season. Then came the Civil War. Leggett joined the 13th New York Infantry, a 90 day unit, and served his term. He managed to play some ball in both 1862 and 1863 despite returning briefly to the army and rising to the rank of major. Between the 1863 and 1864 seasons he broke his leg (I’ve been unable to find out either how or which leg) and his career suffered greatly. He hung on into 1867 before permanently retiring.

But Leggett was a ball player and had no particular off-season skills. In financial trouble, he was hired by the city of Brooklyn to work in the Excise Clerk’s office (the city office that collected taxes). By 1876 he’d become chief clerk of the office. But there was a problem. The books didn’t balance. In 1877 he was charged with embezzling money from the city. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Joe Leggett got wind of the investigation and the charges and simply disappeared.

There are a couple of references to him over the next few years, but nothing concrete enough to determine his movements and what he did with the money. Modern evidence indicates he died in Dickinson, Texas (now part of Houston) 25 July 1894. It’s difficult to tell if he was in prison at the time. I’ve been unable to track down where he’s buried.

So what do we do with a guy like Leggett? He’s a great ballplayer for his era, he’s also a thief and embezzler. You decide for yourselves, team.

Cooking the Stats

September 13, 2015

Let me start by offering congratulations to David Ortiz for his 500th home run. It’s quite an achievement. In the history of Major League Baseball 26 other men have done it out of the thousands who’ve played. Last night ESPN kept running a note across the bottom of the screen reminding us he’d done it. They also kept telling us that he joined Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson as the only 500 home run hitters with three World Series championships. And it’s that I want to deconstruct.

It’s true as far as it goes, but it’s another case of ESPN cherry-picking stats. Others do it too (heck, I’ve done it) but ESPN seems to take great delight in doing it. I got an idea, ESPN, let’s change just one number, just a little. How’s about guys with 500 home runs and four championships? Geez, that leaves Ruth, Mantle, and Jackson, doesn’t it? Better idea, how about guys with 500 home runs and five championships? Same list as four, right? Want to stretch it out to six? That leaves out Reggie. And seven? How about eight? At eight we lose everybody because both Ruth and Mantle have seven.

Or we could move the home run number a little. How about 525? That leaves out Ortiz. 550? Now we’re down to Ruth and Jackson. 600? Just the Babe. And if we add another qualifier, say batting .300, then again it’s just the Babe.

My point is that Ortiz has just accomplished a great feat and to me it gets somewhat diluted by making these kinds of artificial comparisons. Celebrate the feat, guys. Congrats, Papi.

The End of a Dynasty: Games 3 and 4 (Dodger Stadium)

September 10, 2015

Up two games to none in the World Series, the 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers came home in early October halfway to a victory over the New York Yankees. They played the Yanks a number of times before, only winning once (1955). If they could win two of three In LA, they would double that total.

Game 3 (5 October)

Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

For the third game, Los Angeles led with the reigning Cy Young Award winner, Don Drysdale. For the season he’d been overshadowed by mound mate Sandy Koufax, but he was still a formidable pitcher. He drew 21 game winner Jim Bouton as his pitching opponent.

Drysdale got through the first inning without a problem. Then the Dodgers, as they’d done before in the Series, struck early. With one out in the bottom of the first, Jim Gilliam walked. A lineout and a wild pitch sent him to second. National League batting champion Tommy Davis then lined a single scoring Gilliam with the first run of the game. A foul to the catcher ended the inning with the Dodgers ahead 1-0.

It was all Drysdale needed. He pitched a magnificent nine inning shutout. In the second and the sixth, runners got as far as third, and died on the bag. He was in most trouble in the second when a single, a hit batsman, and an intentional walk with two outs loaded the bases. Drysdale then struck out the opposing pitcher to end the threat. For the game he hit the one man (Drysdale always seemed to hit a lot of batters), allowed the one intentional walk, and gave up only three hits, all singles (and never more than one an inning), and picked off a batter. He struck out nine.

After giving up the run in the first, Bouton was almost as good. He gave up four hits, struck out four, and gave up the one run. He did walk five, one the critical walk to Gilliam in the first. It was a good performance, not good enough.

Drysdale pitched the game of the Series (Koufax’s 15 strikeout performance in game one not withstanding) and gave Los Angeles a three games to none lead. They needed one more win in four tries to claim their second title (the other was in 1959) since arriving in LA. With Koufax on the mound in game four, the odds looked good.

Game 4 (6 October)

Jim Gilliam

Jim Gilliam

To begin game four both teams did what they needed to do, they started their aces: Sandy Koufax for the Dodgers and Whitey Ford for the Yanks. Both men were on that day. Through four innings, no one scored. In fact no one got beyond second base. In the bottom of the fifth, LA finally broke through when big Frank Howard crushed one to deep left to put the Dodgers up 1-0. It held up until the seventh, when Mickey Mantle connected for a long drive to left that knotted the game 1-1. It was a historic home run because it tied Mantle with Babe Ruth for the most home runs by any player in World Series history (15).

In the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers struck again and as was usual for this Series, Jim Gilliam was in the middle of it. He led off the inning with a roller to third. New York third baseman Clete Boyer picked it up and fired to Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone. In 1963 most male baseball fans still wore white shirts to public events. It was a warm enough day for most of them to shuck their jackets and Pepitone swore he lost the ball in the sea of white shirts. Whether he did or not, he missed the ball and by the time it was retrieved Gilliam was safe at third. Willie Davis followed with a long sacrifice fly that gave the LA a 2-1 lead.

The Yanks tried to rally in the eighth. With one out, Phil Linz singled, but was erased on a double play. The Dodgers failed to dint the scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth, leaving them ahead by one run with three outs needed to clinch the World Series. Bobby Richardson led off the inning with a single, then Koufax struck out two Yanks to put the Dodgers within one out of a championship. An error put runners on first and second and brought up Hector Lopez. He rolled a grounder to short and a throw to first made the Dodgers champs. For his two complete game victories, Koufax was named Series MVP.

It’s very difficult to call a four game sweep a great Series, but 1963 was certainly a very good World Series. Three games (all but the first) were very close and New York had a lot of chances to tie or win games. It was also, as is appropriate for a 1960s World Series, dominated by pitching. The Dodgers pitchers had a collective ERA of 1.00. They gave up four total runs, all earned, walked five, struck out 37, and gave up 22 hits. The Yankees weren’t much worse. Their ERA was 2.91 with 12 earned runs (one unearned), with 11 walks, 25 strikeouts, and only 25 hits given up.

But in fairness to the hitters, they didn’t do all that badly either. LA hit all of .214 for the Series, but had thee doubles, two triples, and three home runs (of 25 total hits). New York hit only .171 with five extra base hits. Jim Gilliam was an unsung hero for the Dodgers. He hit only .154, but scored three runs on two hits and three walks. Willie Davis and John Roseboro had three RBIs, as did Yankees castoff Moose Skowron. No New Yorker scored more than one run and only Tom Tresh had more than one RBI (he had two–both on his home run), but Mickey Mantle did tie Babe Ruth for total World Series home runs.

For New York it was the first World Series loss in three tries under Ralph Houk. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankee dynasty that had dominated baseball for four decades. They would get to another Series in 1964, but lose it also. Then there would be a long dry spell until 1976 (which they also lost) and 1977 when they were able to win another World Series (and get revenge on LA). For the Dodgers it was the first of three pennants in four years and the first of two championships (the other was 1965).


The End of a Dynasty: Games 1 and 2 (Yankee Stadium)

September 8, 2015

After a brief hiatus to look at my ongoing Hall of Fame project, it’s back to the 1963 World Series. It’s very difficult to say an ordinary World Series is decided in the first two innings of the first game, but in 1963 it’s possible that’s true. Between the pitching of Los Angeles’ ace and the Dodgers hitting the tone was set for the entire Series.

Game One (2 October 1963)

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

For game one, the New York Yankees sent ace Whitey Ford to the mound against the Dodgers. Los Angeles countered with their own ace, Sandy Koufax. With the twin aces toeing the rubber, most people expected a pitcher’s duel. In the top of the first, Ford set down Los Angeles on two strikeouts and a grounder. Koufax was even better striking out Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, and Tom Tresh in order. In the top of the second with one out Frank Howard doubled to center. Ex-Yankee Moose Skowron, playing first, singled to score Howard. Another single by light hitting Dick Tracewski sent Skowron to second, then catcher John Roseboro slugged a three run home run to right field. A fly and a strikeout got Ford out of the inning. Then Koufax went back to doing what he’d done in the first inning. He struck out Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris for five consecutive strikeouts to open the game. Elston Howard finally hit the ball, a foul to the catcher, as the Yanks went down in order.

In the third, Jim Gilliam led off with a single, was erased on a fielder’s choice that left Willie Davis on first. A single by Tommy Davis sent Willie Davis to third. An out later, Skowron singled again to plate Willie Davis with the fifth run. In the bottom of the third Koufax must have tired or something because he recorded only one strikeout. The other two outs were recorded on a grounder to second and another foul. Ford got out of the fourth without giving up a run, then Koufax, who’d made one of the outs in the top of the fourth, went back to the mound and struck out three more Yankees.

The fifth was critical. Ford got out of a jam and New York finally got a hit off Koufax. after a strikeout (what else?) and another foul out (again, what else?), the Yanks put together three consecutive singles to load the bases. Koufax then proceeded to strikeout pinch hitter Hector Lopez (hitting for Ford) to end the threat. In the sixth reliever Stan Williams set Los Angeles down in order, then Koufax did the unthinkable, he went through an inning without striking out a man. He gave up two walks but twin pop outs, one to second, the other to third, got him out of the inning. In the seventh he added one more strikeout.

The Yanks finally broke through in the eighth. Needing six outs for a shutout, Koufax struck out one, gave up a single to Kubek, struck out another, then gave up a two run blast to Tresh to make the score 5-2. Los Angeles went in order in the top of the ninth. A line out, a single, and a fly brought up pinch hitter Harry Bright. Koufax proceeded to strike him out (of course he did) to complete the victory.

It was Sandy Koufax’s game. He gave up two runs, on six hits, walked three, and struck out 15. The strikeouts were a World Series record (replacing former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine). But it’s important to recall Moose Skowron’s two singles which plated two runs and set up Roseboro’s big home run. As a former Yankee who’d been let go from a World Series champion, it must have been a true joy to help bring down the team that let him go.

Game 2 (3 October 1963)

the Moose with some guy named Musial

the Moose with some guy named Musial

The second game of the 1963 World Series saw a contrast on the mound. New York started rookie Al Downing, famous as a flamethrower. Los Angeles sent 1955 Series MVP Johnny Podres to toe the rubber. Podres’ rookie campaign was 1953 and it had been a while since anyone described him as a “flamethrower.”

Flames or not, Downing was in trouble from the beginning. The Dodgers put up two runs in typical Los Angeles fashion in the top of the first. Maury Wills led off with a single, then stole second. Jim Gilliam followed with a single that sent Wills to third. Yankees right fielder threw the ball to home in order to keep Wills from scoring. Gilliam took the chance and advanced to second. Willie Davis then doubled to right to score both runners. Downing then settled down to pick up the three outs without Davis scoring.

Podres also let a man on in the first, but he didn’t get beyond first. Then for the next two innings the teams matched zeroes. In the top of the fourth, Dodgers first baseman Bill “Moose” Skowron led off. He’d played nine years for the Yanks, but was let go at the end of the 1962 season. Signed by LA, he’d gotten into 89 games, hit .203 with four home runs, and 19 RBIs (all career lows). Looking for something like payback, he smashed a Downing offering deep into the right field seats to make the score 3-0.

Through the next three and a half innings, the pitchers dominated the game. There were a few runners, but only one man reached second (on an error). In the top of the eighth, the Dodgers picked up one more run on a Willie Davis double and a Tommy Davis triple. Podres got through the bottom of the eighth without significant damage (he gave up a single), then LA went out in order in the top of the ninth. The Dodgers needed three outs to take a 2-0 lead in games.

Mickey Mantle led off with a long fly to left that Tommy Davis corralled for out one, then Hector Lopez smashed a ground rule double to put a man on second. For the first (and only) time in the Series, the Dodgers made a pitching change. Out went Podres, in came relief ace Ron Perranoski. He immediately gave up an Elston Howard single to plate a run for the Yankees. Then a fielder’s choice recorded the second out. That brought up Clete Boyer who fanned to end the game with a 4-1 score and give the Dodgers their 2-0 lead in games.

Podres had pitched well. He gave up the one run on six hits and one walk. Lopez’s double was the only extra base hit he allowed. He also struck out four. Downing went five innings, gave up three runs, on seven hits (one each double, triple, and home run) and one walk. He struck out six and took the loss. Wills’ leadoff single, stolen base, and advance to third followed by Gilliam taking the extra base on a throw home and the single by Willie Davis (who had two RBIs and one run scored in the game) was typical for how the power strapped Dodgers scored. They may have been the winning runs, but Skowron’s blast was decisive (and much more Yankee-like).

The Series took a day off as the teams flew to Los Angeles. The Yanks need a pair of wins to send the Series back to New York. Los Angeles needed to go 2-1 to end the World Series at home.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1919

September 3, 2015

By 1919 World War I was over. The Treaty of Versailles was signed; but the United States refused to ratify it, causing a huge split in the government. There were race riots in the streets as a combination of black Americans moving into the North and rising expectations by blacks because of their support of the war effort (both at home and in France) bumping up against an economic downturn fueled by racism led to clashes in a number of towns. A lot of Americans just wanted a “return to normalcy” as future President Warren G. Harding put it. Into all of this I drop My Own Little Hall of Fame‘s class of 1919 (with commentary to follow).

Frank Leland

Frank Leland

After spending time as a player in late 19th Century Negro baseball, Frank Leland became an entrepreneur and formidable force in Negro baseball. His Leland Giants were one of the strongest teams in Chicago and helped set the standard for competition among black teams. He worked tirelessly to form a Negro league that could last and could showcase Negro baseball at the highest level.

Al Reach

Al Reach

After leading his team to the first American Association pennant, Albert Reach became the founder of a major sporting goods company. Later he owned the Philadelphia National League team and became a major power among the league owners. His Reach Guide is a primary source for baseball statistics and information.

Vic Willis

Vic Willis

Star pitcher for several National League teams, Vic Willis amassed 249 wins over a 13 year career, gaining over 20 wins on six occasions. He led the National League in strikeouts once, and helped is team to a World’s Championship in 1909.

And now the commentary:

  1. When and where I grew up, all public accommodations came in pairs, one marked “white” and the other “colored”. I’ve always been offended by the “colored” label, but until now have used it because it seems that it was the most common word of the day. By 1919 the word “Negro” appears to supplant it a lot. Although “negro” has its own negative connotations, it seems the newly acceptable word of the day, so I will now use it in comments on Negro League players and executives. Frankly, I’m much more comfortable with it than with “colored” and am glad to make the move.
  2. Willis has taken a while to get into the mythical 1901 Hall of Fame. His numbers aren’t bad, but the big numbers of the day (wins, strikeouts) aren’t as high as other pitchers and as mentioned in a previous article I think his loss total, especially the 2 years he led the NL in losses, would hurt him. I think that would have made it difficult for him to show up in a Deadball Era Hall of Fame. Additionally, he led the NL in losses twice and that, combined with the lack of 250 wins would have, in my opinion, hurt his chances. BTW, the 249 isn’t written in stone yet in 1919, but it appears to be taking hold as a consensus.
  3. Al Reach is, in my opinion, one of the more overlooked people in Neolithic baseball. He was a good player, not a great one. He was a successful owner, although the Phils never won while he owned them (which is true of most Phillies teams without regard to owner). His business was successful and for years he provided official baseballs. Finally the Reach Guide was the premier baseball guide for half a century (more or less). The Guide was Reach’s baby, but he didn’t actually write it (Henry Chadwick was a primary mover in the earliest years of the Guide). Nonetheless, Reach’s sponsorship of the Guide helped his case for this mythical Hall of Fame.
  4. Leland? In an era of increasing racial tension, the election of a black man to a baseball Hall of Fame is utterly unlikely. But I also think 1919 is probably the last chance to put in a leader in Negro League baseball for the next several years. There’s really no chance he gets in in a 1919 Hall of Fame, but as I’ve stipulated I’ll be willing to elect Negro League players and executives, I’m letting him in, knowing that the next time there’s even a chance of it would be about 1924 or 1925 (give or take). And as for him as a Hall of Famer, I’m quite comfortable suggesting he should be in Cooperstown (where he isn’t).
  5. Two execs and just one player? Right now a Hall of Fame in the era is in something of a trough. There’s a long lull that lasts through 1921 when the quality of players retiring, quite frankly, isn’t all that great. In 1920 Frank Chance becomes eligible, in 1921 there’s Fred Clarke, Danny Murphy, and Roger Bresnahan. Among pitchers only Clark Griffith shows up. Griffith is perhaps better looked at as a manager and owner. Bresnahan and Chance are at best people I’m going to think long and hard about. Clarke is probably a keeper and Murphy should have no chance. That’s basically it until 1922 when we find peoples with names like Mathewson, Brown, and LaJoie. So this year (and the next two) is an opportunity for me clear out some holdovers and a number of contributors. As mentioned above, I’m quite comfortable with adding Leland (despite the obvious truth that a black man wasn’t going to get into a real Hall of Fame) and Reach.
  6. The quality of the statistics available is getting better. The 1920s see the beginning of something like a consensus about which stats were important and what specific numbers specific players put up. Remember this set of statistics is the old one that most of us grew up using, not the newer information that has become available only recently. It’s important to recall that even the so called “traditional” statistics took a while to be accepted and standardized. So don’t be surprised at the opposition to the more modern ones.

And now back to the 1963 Series.