Archive for March, 2016

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Johnny Mize

March 31, 2016
Johnny Mize while with the Giants

Johnny Mize while with the Giants

1. John R. Mize was born in Georgia in 1913. He was a cousin of Ty Cobb and his second cousin Clare married Babe Ruth.

2. In 1928 he joined the Piedmont College baseball team. At the time he was 15 and still attending High School (obviously eligibility rules were different then). He was good enough to catch the attention of Frank Rickey, Branch Rickey’s brother. After watching Mize play one semipro game in Taccoa Frank Rickey signed him to play for the Cardinals. In case you’re wondering where you know the name “Taccoa,” it’s the name of the town made famous in the TV series “Band of Brothers.” The original members of Easy Company trained there.

3. He joined the Cardinals farm system in 1930 and moved steadily up the chain. In 1932 St. Louis switched him from the outfield to first base because he was considered too slow to track down ball in the outfield.

4. In 1935 he was traded to Cincinnati, but because of a previous groin injury he failed his physical and was returned to the Cards.

5. He made the Cardinals roster in 1936 and remained with St. Louis through 1941. While with the Cards he won a batting title (1939), two home run titles (1939 and 1940), the 1940 RBI title, and picked up a triples title in 1938. In 1938 he had 16 triples and no stolen bases.

6. In 1942 he was traded to the New York Giants for $50,000 and three players: Bill Lohrman, Ken O’Dea, and John McCarthy. He led the NL in slugging and RBIs that season.

7. He lost 1943 through 1945 to World War II while in the Navy. His main Naval job was to play ball.

8. He returned to New York in 1946 and hit .337. In 1947 he led the league in runs and RBIs. He also led the league with 51 home runs. He struck out only 42 times, the only player to hit 50 home runs without striking out 50 times.

9. He won another home run title in 1948 and was traded late in 1949 across town and leagues to the Yankees. That got him to his first World Series.

10. He stayed with the Yanks through 1953. He initially played first base, but by the end of his career was doing a lot of pinch hitting. As a rule he did well enough in the World Series but in 1952 he was great. Mize hit .400, had three home runs and one double in six hits and drove in six runs.

11. He was done after 1953. He did some coaching, but spent most of his time making a living in real estate and running a liquor store. He was chosen for the Hall of Fame in 1981.

12. He died in Georgia in 1993.

Mize's grave from Find a Grave

Mize’s grave from Find a Grave

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Slugging Percentage vs. the Grenade

March 28, 2016
A fairly typical Army post in Germany (not mine)

A fairly typical Army post in Germany (not mine)

Back in the 1970s I got to spend some time in Germany (West Germany at the time) playing Army. I was pretty good at the playing part; not so great at the Army part. My wife was with me and we were able to travel and see more of Europe than we ever thought we’d see. The food was good (You did notice I started with the food, right?), the sights were amazing. But some of the people? They could be another story.

It was the era of the Red Army Faction, Baader-Meinhof Group and other assorted wing nuts from the left. There were also wing nuts from the right, but it was the wing nuts on the left that were most dangerous to we Americans. They did such things as shoot people, blow up stuff, and in general create mayhem. Eventually they were caught or killed and Germany went on its way with a new assortment of left and right-wing nuts. But for a short while the left-wing German nut cases, the US Army, and baseball all intersected.

One evening there was an attack on an American base (nowhere near mine) by a small group of terrorists. Or maybe it was a bunch of GIs out on the street (I forget which after all this time). Either way they didn’t do much damage, but they scared the high command in Europe and so the various bases were told to increase security. Our base had two units on it, a Headquarters Company (an administrative unit that ran an entire division) and an Adjutant General Company (they did the paperwork). Me? I’d had all the infantry and security work I could stand, so by this point I was a proud paper pusher in the Adjutant General (AG) Company. It was decided that each unit would supply a two-man patrol to walk around the inside of the base perimeter. Each company got half the perimeter, ours getting the side closest to a side street and the back of the post. The Headquarters unit got the other side street and the front of the post. The entire post was surrounded by a brick wall about 10 feet high and we had to walk around the inside base of the wall for a couple of hours then someone else would take our place. When the sun came up the regular Military Police took over the job.

Now you have to understand that an AG company is not the most militant of Army units. I was one of about three guys that had combat experience while most of the unit (male and female) had learned more or less which end of the rifle to point which way. When we were on “Alert,” which meant we’d been called in the middle of the night and told to prepare to repel the enemy (to use a Biblical phrase) “hip and thigh” out here on the “Frontiers of Freedom” as the “Tip of the Spear,” (they actually talked that way) the unit had to walk around carrying their rifles. This would go on for several hours, long enough for my wife occasionally to show up on post while the Alert was still ongoing. She would remind me frequently “Why is it I’m more afraid of your unit with guns than I am the Russians?” She had a point. She also wondered if someone had confused the tip of the spear with the blunt end. Although there were no bullets issued at those times, some of the idiots in my unit were more dangerous than Barney Fife with his one bullet (you could look him up if you don’t know who that is). And about equally smart. We used to kid that the unit song was the old World War I ditty “We’re here because we’re here.” (which just repeats over and over “we’re here because, we’re here because, we’re here because, we’re here” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.)

As luck would have it I got the very first patrol. As luck would also have it the company commander was as smart as my wife. No rifles were issued. Instead one of the two guards was handed a wooden baseball bat as both weapon and protection. The other guy got nothing but a prayer and a helmet. In my case, they handed the bat to the other guy. I was senior, so we figured the plan was for me to give brilliant orders while the other guy smashed about with the bat at whatever evil minion of either Satan or Communism it was we encountered. By this point you’re probably as worried about me giving orders, brilliant or otherwise, as both he and I were at the time.

So off we went, two guys, two helmets, one bat, and half a base to cover. All of which led to a conversation that went something like this:

Him: “When’s the last time you played ball?”

Me: “I was on the post baseball team a couple of years ago.”

Him: “Here,” as he handed me the bat.

Me taking it: “Why me?”

Him: “I haven’t played ball since Little League. You’ve played it since.”

Me: “So?”

Him: “So you have a better chance of knocking a grenade back over the wall.”

The scenario was supposed to be some terrorist would toss a grenade over the wall just as we waltzed by. I’d spot it and with one majestic swing knock the damned thing back over the wall so it would blow up the jerk who threw it rather than us. That probably sounds as stupid to you as it did to me.

“Are you serious?”

He shrugged, “I don’t know. I can’t think of any other reason why they gave us a ball bat. It’s useless against a gun or a bomb, but maybe the genius in charge thought one of us was Babe Ruth.” I resisted the urge to speculate that they might have been more afraid of us with a gun than they were of a terrorist with anything.

So off we went wandering both the well-lit byways and the not-so-well-lit backyards of an Army post in Germany. Along the way, back in a far corner where there was almost no light and absolutely no buildings; the exact kind of place where a left (or right) wing nut would try to infiltrate the base, we ran across the other two guards. One was flipping rocks toward the other guy who was banging them, with some success, with his bat.

“What the heck are you guys doing?”

“Practicing.”

“For what?”

“So we can knock the grenade back over the wall. Remember, your slugging percentage has to be a thousand.”

It seems great minds think alike (and so, apparently, did ours).

“Are you serious?”

“About the grenade? No, but I do play for the company baseball team and I could use the practice.”

So we joined them, taking turns tossing and swinging. I actually got one over the wall. After two hours of batting practice, mindless wanderings, and no grenades we were back at the company building and turned in the bat now covered with a bunch of dings, chips, and scratches where wood met rock much to the detriment of wood. The CQ (Charge of Quarters–that’s the guy manning the phones after normal hours in case the Commies come across the border or some drunk has to be picked up at the local Provost Marshall’s stockade) grinned at the much dinged up bat but didn’t say anything.

This went on for a couple of months before the powers that be decided we were safe from the resident wing nuts and cancelled the guard patrol. No one ever got to knock a grenade over the wall, which was kind of a shame. But the company baseball team ended up having to pick up a new bat.

 

 

A League of Their Own: A Review

March 25, 2016
A League of Their Own DVD

A League of Their Own DVD

Admit it, you know the line “There’s no crying in baseball.” It’s a good line; it’s become famous. In case you didn’t know, it comes from the movie “A League of Their Own.”

Back in the 1940s, with a number of the major players gone off to war, baseball was looking for a way to increase attendance. One option was to create a female professional league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. It did OK for a while, but never really caught on nationally. It limped to an end in the early 1950s, but left us the legacy of a fun baseball movie, the 1992 flick “A League of Their Own.”

The flick follows the recruiting of players for the initial season for the AAGPBL and then centers on the first year of the team in Rockford, Illinois (the Peaches). The central character is played by Academy Award winner Geena Davis. The Davis character is fictional, but based on a real player. She reluctantly joins the league along with her younger sister. They end up with the Peaches and go on to glory led by a drunken lout of a manager based on the real life Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx and played by Tom Hanks, another Academy Award winner. The acceptance of the women as players and as women is central to the movie, but so is the relationship between Davis and Hanks. Equally important is the relationship between the two sisters. Lori Petty is terrific as the younger sister trying to break out from the shadow of her older sibling. The singer Madonna does a wonderful turn as the amoral and amorous centerfielder “All the Way” Mae.

Historically the movie isn’t particularly accurate. For example the 1943 championship is shown as a showdown between Peaches and Racine Belles, the Belles winning. The Belles did win the 1943 championship, but the Peaches didn’t make the playoffs (Kenosha was the Racine opponent).

Despite the historical inaccuracies, the movie is worth a look. In many ways the best parts are the interaction between the women trying to balance ball playing with a personal life and the rivalry between the two sisters, one a superior ball player and the other determined to show she can play also. Check it out.

As an aside, when the American Film Institute did its list of “greatest film quotes of all time”, the “There’s no crying in baseball” line was rated number 54 (losing to “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” from “Gone With the Wind).

RIP Joe Garagiola

March 23, 2016

Just saw that Joe Garagiola died at age 90. He played for St. Louis in the 1940s, making the 1946 World Series team, then bounced around with teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the Giants. He last played in 1954.

Never a particularly great player he made his name as one of those broadcasters who came out of St. Louis in the 1950s (Jay Randolph, Jack Buck, Dizzy Dean were others). He was on national television broadcasting several World Series’ for NBC. He also did a stint on the “Today” show and hosted a handful of game shows. In 1991 he won the Frick Award for broadcasting, giving him an entrée into the Hall of Fame (he’s not actually a member but the award winners are recognized at the same time as the inductees). Additionally, his son Joe Junior became general manager of the Diamondbacks and serves as VP for on-field operations of MLB.

Garagiola was also famous for his books on baseball and for his after dinner speeches at various functions. Many of the stories about Yogi Berra and many of Berra’s more famous quotes came from Garagiola speeches. He’s someone who definitely deserved the title “lifelong baseball man.”

RIP, Joe.

The Old and the New: Game 5

March 22, 2016

Game five of the 1942 World Series was played in New York with the Yankees down three games to one. To pick up the ’42 championship they would have to win three consecutive games.

Whitey Kurowski

Whitey Kurowski

Game 5

The game was played 5 October in the Bronx. To keep their hopes alive, the Yanks turned to game one victor Red Ruffing. St. Louis needing one win to clinch the Series countered with game two winner Johnny Beazley. As in game four, the Yankees scored early when Phil Rizzuto led off the bottom of the first with a home run. It held up until the top of the fourth when Enos Slaughter led off that half inning with a home run. Not to be outdone, New York replied in the bottom of the fourth. This time, rather than a home run, they used a Red Rolfe single, a botched pickoff, a sacrifice fly, and a Joe DiMaggio single to retake the lead 2-1.

Things stayed that way until the top of the sixth. Consecutive singles by Terry Moore and Slaughter put runners on first and third. A Stan Musial popup brought up Walker Cooper. His long fly to right plated Moore with the tying run, but a Johnny Hopp fly out stranded the go ahead run on the bases.

From the bottom of the sixth through the end of the eighth inning the pitchers ruled. Only one man, Rizzuto for the Yankees and Jimmy Brown for the Cardinals, got on base for either team. With it looking like extra innings, Walker Cooper led off the top of the ninth with a single. A bunt sent him to second and brought up Cards third baseman Whitey Kurowski. He proceeded to drive a pitch deep into the left field stands and put the Cardinals ahead 4-2 with three outs to go. Joe Gordon led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, the seventh hit given up by Beazley. Brown managed to boot a Bill Dickey grounder to put men on first and second with no outs. St. Louis shortstop Marty Marion then slipped behind Gordon at second and a snap throw from catcher Cooper caught Gordon off the base for out one. A pop-up to Brown brought the second out. Then a grounder went straight to Brown who flipped to first for the final out of the Series. St. Louis won the game 4-2 and the Series in five games.

For a short World Series it was a good Series. The Yankees actually outhit the Cardinals .247 to .239 and had more extra base hits (nine to eight), and more total hits (44 to 39). They even had fewer errors (5 to 10). But St. Louis scored more runs 23 to 18, more walks (17 to 8), and less strikeouts (19 to 22). Brown’s .300 led all St. Louis hitters while Kurowski’s five RBIs, including the Series winning one, paced the Cardinals. Four players, including Kurowski, scored three runs. Musial’s .222 average wasn’t much, but he scored two runs and drove in another pair while walking a team leading four times. For New York, Rizzuto hit .381, while Keller, who hit only .200, led the team with five RBIs and two home runs. MVP Gordon hit only .095 and was picked off in a critical situation.

It was the St. Louis pitching that made much of the difference. Their ERA was 2.60 as opposed to the New York ERA of 4.50. They gave up five more hits, but five fewer runs (how’s that for symmetry?). While the Yanks walked 17, the Cards walked only eight. In strikeouts the Cardinals had a small edge of 22 over the Yankees 19. Beazley won two games with an ERA of 2.50 while Ernie White had a complete game shutout. For New York only Red Ruffing claimed a win, but he also took a loss.

For both teams there would be the rematch of 1943, which New York would win by the same four games to one margin. Then New York would fall off, only to revive in 1947 and then have another great run from 1949 all the way to 1964. For Yankees manager Joe McCarthy it would be the only blot on his New York World Series resume. The Series would become known in some places as “the one the Yankees lost.” For St. Louis it was the beginning of an impressive run. During the 1940s the Cardinals would win four championships (’42, ’43, ’44, and ’46) and win three world titles (all but ’43). It was one of the truly best, and by now most overlooked, teams in National League history. It is still the last National League team to win three consecutive pennants (1942, ’43, and ’44). In the 1950s the Cards would fall off, but in a twist of great irony it was the 1964 Cardinals that would finally end the great Yankees run of the 1950s and early 1960s.

 

 

The Old and the New: Games 3 and 4

March 17, 2016

With the World Series tied one game to one in 1942, the championship opened a three game set in Yankee Stadium.

Ernie White

Ernie White

Game 3

The first game in New York occurred 3 October. The hometown Yankees sent Spud Chandler to the mound. St. Louis responded with seven game winner Ernie White. The game ended up being a real pitcher’s duel.

Chandler was perfect for two innings but walked Whitey Kurowski to lead off the top of the third. A Marty Marion single put runner on first and second. White followed with a bunt that moved each base runner up one. Then a Jimmy Brown ground out second to first allowed Kurowski to score.

And that was it through the eighth inning. White was great, walking none and giving up only five hits, all singles. Except for giving up the run, Chandler was even better. He gave up three hits and walked only one in eight innings. But he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth, bringing Marv Breuer into the game for New York. A single, an error by Breuer, and another single gave St. Louis a second run and sent Breuer to the showers without recording an out. In the bottom of the ninth White gave up a final single but a Charlie Keller fly to right ended the threat and put the Cardinals up two games to one in the Series.

White was the big hero, he’d pitched a complete game shutout and even delivered a sacrifice bunt that helped lead to the Cardinals first (and winning) run. For Chandler it was a great game also, he just had the bad luck to give up one run (on a ground out). Now New York needed to win the next game to tie up the Series.

Max Lanier

Max Lanier

Game 4

On Sunday 4 October the hometown Yankees sent Hank Borowy to the mound to oppose game one loser Mort Cooper. Today Borowy is primarily famous for starting the last ever Chicago Cubs World Series game (game 7 of 1945) but in 1942 he was a significant member of the New York staff. And he started out well while Cooper struggled. In the bottom of the first a Red Rolfe double and a Roy Cullenbine single scored the first run of the game. Over the first three innings Borowy walked one and allowed a couple of hits, but no runs. That changed in the top of the fourth when St. Louis tallied six runs. Singles by Stan Musial and Walker Cooper (Mort’s brother) put two men on. Then Borowy walked Johnny Hopp. That brought up Whitey Kurowski. He singled scoring both Musial and Walker Cooper and sent Hopp to third. Marty Marion then walked. Pitcher Mort Cooper singled to let in both Hopp and Kurowski, and send Borowy to the bench replaced by Atley Donald. He got an out, then a Terry Moore single plated Marion. An out later Musial’s second hit of the inning, this one a double, scored Mort Cooper to give St. Louis a 6-1 lead.

It lasted to the bottom of the sixth when New York lit up Mort Cooper and tied the game. A Phil Rizzuto single led off the inning. Then Rolfe walked. A Cullenbine single scored the Scooter. After an out Charlie Keller smashed a three run home run and sent Cooper to the showers. An error put Joe Gordon on base, a grounder sent him to second, and a double scored Gordon to knot the game at six each.

Walks to Enos Slaughter and Musial put two men on base to open the seventh inning. Walker Cooper’s single scored Slaughter. An out and a walk later Marion hit a long fly to center that scored Musial and the Cards were back on top 8-6.

The Cards sent Max Lanier to the mound to hold the Yanks in check. He worked around an opening single to keep St. Louis ahead, then got around both a hit and a walk to keep the score 8-6 going into the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Hopp led off with a single, went to second on a bunt, and scored on a Lanier single. Lanier gave up one more single in the ninth, but again no one scored and the Cardinals won the game 9-6.

It was the highest scoring game of the Series. Both teams did most of their scoring in one big inning (six runs for St Louis and five for New York). Musial and Walker Cooper both scored two runs and drove in one. Kurowski and Mort Cooper both had two RBIs. Charlie Keller provided the big blow for New York with his three run home run.

Down three games to one, New York was in an unusual situation. Winner of eight straight World Series, stretching back to 1927 (’27, ’28, ’32,’ 36-’39, ’41) they’d seldom been in a hole. They had one last game at home to crawl closer and send the Series back to St. Louis.

 

 

 

The Old and the New: games at Sportsman’s Park

March 14, 2016

The 1942 World Series began in St. Louis with two games. After those two, the Series would move to New York for games three through five. The final games, if necessary, would be back in St. Louis.

Red Ruffing

Red Ruffing

Game 1

The first game in Sportsman’s Park was played 30 September. St. Louis sent National League MVP Mort Cooper to the mound. New York countered with long time stalwart Red Ruffing. Both pitchers were on for three innings. In the top of the fourth Joe DiMaggio singled.  Consecutive pop ups got two outs, then Bill Dickey walked moving DiMaggio to second. A Buddy Hassett double down the left field line scored DiMaggio and sent Dickey to third. A grounder by pitcher Ruffing got Cooper out of the jam with only one run scoring. But the Yanks went back to work in the top of the fifth. With one out a Red Rolfe single and Roy Cullenbine double put runners on second and third. A Joe DiMaggio roller to third got Cullenbine trying to advance, but Rolfe scored the second New York run.

In the eighth inning, the wheels came off for Cooper. With two outs and DiMaggio on first, Dickey singled. A Hassett single scored the Yankee Clipper and sent Dickey to third. Then Ruffing lifted a fly to right field which Cardinals outfielder Enos Slaughter misplayed allowing both Dickey and Hassett to score. That put New York up 5-0. New York tacked on two more in the ninth when Rolfe singled and Cullenbine hit a little tapper back to Max Lanier, who’d relieved to start the ninth. Lanier threw it away allowing Rolfe to score and Cullenbine to go to third. A second out brought up Charlie Keller who walked. A Lanier pick-off attempt went wide and Cullenbine scored the seventh New York run.

Up 7-0 Ruffing started the bottom of the ninth. Considering what was to happen in the remainder of the Series, it was a harbinger of what was to come. Stan Musial fouled out, then Walker Cooper singled. Another out brought up pinch hitter Ray Sanders who walked. A Marty Marion triple scored both runners. Pinch hitter Ken O’Dea singled scoring Marion. Another single brought Terry Moore to the plate. His single scored the fourth run of the inning. A Slaughter single brought up Musial with two outs. He’d made the first out of the inning and proceeded to ground to the first baseman. A flip to the pitcher ended the game, the inning, and made Musial one of the few men to make two outs in one inning in the World Series.

The Yankees won 7-4, but the St. Louis rally in the bottom of the ninth was indicative of what the Cardinals were capable of doing. New York had gotten good production out of much of its lineup and Ruffing had been sterling for eight innings. Both teams did well, but New York led the Series 1 game to none.

The Man

The Man

Game 2

The second game was played 1 October. For the Cardinals Johnny Beazley took the mound. The Yankees response was Ernie Bonham. From the beginning Bonham was in trouble. He gave up a leadoff walk to Jimmy Brown. Terry Moore bunted Brown to second and beat out the throw. Two outs later Walker Cooper doubled home both runs to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

Both pitchers pitched well from there. They gave up a lot of hits but there weren’t many walks and no one scored. The Cards tacked on a run in the seventh on a Johnny Hopp single and a Whitey Kurowski triple, but failed to score Kurowski. That was to cost the Cards because the Yanks came storming back in the top of the eighth. With two outs, Roy Cullenbine singled, then stole second. Joe DiMaggio singled to bring home Cullenbine and scored himself when Charlie Keller slugged a two-run home run to right field that tied the game at 3-3.

In the bottom of the eighth, tied and in danger or possibly going down two games to none, St. Louis took a pair of quick outs. That brought up Enos Slaughter who doubled to right. Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto let the throw in from right get away and Slaughter dashed to third. Up came Stan Musial who had made two outs in one inning the day before, including the final out of the game. But it was Musial and he singled to score Slaughter and put the Cardinals ahead 4-3. The score stayed that way despite consecutive singles to lead off the top of the ninth. Neither man scored, the first being cut down at third on a great throw from Slaughter. A fly and a groundout finished off New York and the Cardinals had tied the Series one game apiece.

Beazley had one bad inning, but managed to win. He was in trouble a lot, giving up 10 hits and walking two, but New York’s scoring was confined to one inning. Bonham had given up only six hits and walked just one, but he’d spread four runs over the game and lost. Slaughter was a big hero scoring the decisive run and gunning down a key runner in the ninth, but it was Musial who drove in the game winner.

Several years ago I did a series of posts in which I gave my candidate for the best ever World Series by game (i.e. the best all time game 1, the best all time game 2, etc.). At the time I chose the 1942 Series game 2 as the finest game 2 in World Series history. It’s been several years since (and thus a number of game 2’s since) so I might now change my mind. But whether I would or not, it was still a great game.

After a day off for travel, the World Series would resume in New York with three games. With the Series tied, a split of any kind would bring the games back to St. Louis. A sweep would end the season.

 

 

 

The Old and the New: the ’42 Cardinals

March 10, 2016
Billy Southworth in 1940

Billy Southworth in 1940

If the Yankees represented the old guard of 1940s baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals were the new guys. They’d been bad to terrible in the first 25 years of the 20th Century, then had a nice run for 10 years from 1926 through 1935, but hadn’t won since the 1934 “Gas House Gang.” By 1942 they were again competitive enough to win.
Three years into his second stint with the Cards, Hall of Fame manager Billy Southworth (a St. Louis stalwart during the 1920s run) had a young team. It finished first in the National League in runs, hits, doubles, triples, average, total bases, slugging, OBP while coming in second in stolen bases, third in walks, and sixth (of eight) in home runs. The pitching was first in runs, hits, strikeouts, ERA, and shutouts. It was second in walks and sixth in homers. In fielding they were solidly in the middle of the pack.

From first around to third the infield consisted of Johnny Hopp, Jimmy Brown, Marty Marion, and Whitey Kurowski. None were household names. Hopp, a transplanted outfielder, led the team with 14 stolen bases while Brown’s 71 RBIs were third on the team (only one RBI out of second place). Marion led the infield in average at .276 and was considered one of the absolutely finest shortstops of his era. Kurowski who was famous for clutch hitting had nine home runs, good for third on the team. In one of those bits of trivia that only baseball can give you, three of the four (Hopp, Marion, and Kurowski) had an identical OPS+ number of 103 (Brown’s was 80). Marion’s 4.7 WAR was tops in the infield and fourth on the team. At 1.9, Kurowski was the only other infielder to have a WAR in the team’s top 10. The backups were Creepy Crespi, who spelled Brown a lot at second and Ray Sanders who took over at first when Hopp sat out. Sanders’ five home runs and .252 average were both better than Crespi. Erv Dusak was a multipurpose player who did some outfield work and took over on occasion for Kurowski. He hit under .200 with no power.

The outfield was better. It consisted of two Hall of Famers and Terry Moore. Moore, along with Brown, was the only starter above 29 (he was 30 and Brown 32). He’d been the regular center fielder for a few years and had established himself as a decent fielder who hit in the .280s with little power. In 1942 he hit .288 with six home runs and 10 stolen bases. The stolen base total was second to Hopp on the team. His OPS+ was 114 and his WAR was 2.6. Enos Slaughter was the Hall of Fame right fielder.  His 13 home runs and 98 RBIs led the team. He also led the team in both hits and runs scored, walks, average (.318), and all the other triple slash stats. His OPS+ was a team leading 156 and his 6.2 WAR was first among hitter. The left fielder was a 21-year-old rookie named Stan Musial (“The Man” nickname would come later). He hit .315, had 72 RBIs, 10 triples, 10 homers, a 151 OPS+, and 5.3 WAR. Everybody agreed he was good. No one yet quite knew that he was Hall of Fame material. Harry “the Hat” Walker and Coaker Triplett were the backups. Walker (who would later win a batting title) hit .314. Triplett hit .273 and had the only home run between them. He led the pair in RBIs, while Walker took the lead in runs scored.

Walker Cooper was 27 and Ken O’Dea was 29. Between them they did most of the catching. Cooper was the primary catcher hitting .281 with seven home runs and seven triples. His 65 RBIs were fourth on the team. His OPS+ topped out at 115 and he produced 2.4 WAR. O’Dea hit .234 with five home runs, only an OPS+ of 85 and 0.5 WAR.

They caught a fairly typical Cardinals staff. Through the 20th Century the Cardinals seldom produced a great pitcher who lasted very long (see Dizzy Dean as an example). What they did produce (Bob Gibson being the greatest exception) was a series of solid pitchers who gave the team several good years and frequently one or two outstanding years. There was the occasional Harry Breechen or Bob Forsch who stayed around for a long while, but generally St. Louis relied on a “staff” rather than one pitcher. In 1942 they had “one pitcher,” sort of. Mort Cooper (Walker’s older brother) was the staff ace. He won 22 games and an MVP. His 8.4 WAR easily led the team. The 1942 season was the beginning of a three-year run for him which faltered quickly. The rest of the staff was made up of solid pitchers who fit very much into the Cardinals mold. Max Lanier and Johnny Beazley both won in double figures (Beazley had 21 wins), had ERA’s under 3.00, and struck out more men than they walked. Lanier’s WAR was 4.4, Beazley’s was 4.2. Ernie White and Harry Gumbert were the only other two pitchers to start 15 or more games. Gumbert doubled as the main stopper out of the bullpen (that meant all of five saves in 1942).

The 1942 Cardinals were a better team than most people seemed to believe. New York was, understandably, the favorite. But the Cards were good and promised to make the World Series competitive.

 

 

The Old and the New: the ’42 Yankees

March 7, 2016
Marse Joe

Marse Joe

The 1942 baseball season was the first played while the US was involved in the Second World War. It changed a lot of things. One thing it didn’t change was the New York Yankees stranglehold on the American League. For the sixth time in seven years, New York won the AL pennant. Joe McCarthy’s gang won the league championship by nine games and were primed to win their ninth World Series since 1927.

Yankee hitters finished first in runs and home runs and second in almost everything else, finishing third in stolen bases and triples and fourth in doubles. The pitching was even better. New York hurlers led the AL in every major category except strikeouts (they were second) and in home runs. All that got them 103 wins and earned second baseman Joe Gordon an MVP award.

It wasn’t one of the more famous Yankee staffs, but New York pitchers were excellent. Ernie Bonham, Spud Chandler, Hank Borowy, Atley Donald, and Marv Breuer all started at least 19 games. Hall of Famer Red Ruffing had a 3.21 ERA which was last among the starters. His .667 winning percentage (14-7) was next-to-last. Johnny Murphy and Johnny Lindell did most of the damage out of the bullpen, while former ace Lefty Gomez was restricted to 13 games.

At 35, Bill Dickey was still a premier catcher. He hit .295 for the season with an OPS of .732 (POS+ of 108) and 1.6 WAR. His power was gone (two homers)but neither Buddy Rosar or Rollie Hemsley, his backups, had more.

The infield was formidable up the middle and weaker at the edges. Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto played either side of the keystone bag. Gordon, as mentioned above, won the MVP hitting .322 with a .900 OPS and a 154 OPS+. His WAR was a team high 8.2. He contributed 103 RBIs, 88 runs, and 18 home runs (all third on the team). Shortstop Rizzuto added a .284 average, a .718 OPS, a 103 OPS+, and 5.7 WAR. He had 157 hits, 68 RBIs, and flashed good leather. Buddy Hassett held down first. He wasn’t Lou Gehrig, managing only a .284 average, 0.4 WAR, and a below average OPS+ of 95. Frankie Crosetti and Red Rolfe shared time at third. Neither hit.250 (Crosetti’s .242 easily outpacing Rolfe’s .219). Rolfe’s eight home runs doubled Crosetti’s four and between them they had 48 RBIs. Jerry Priddy and Ed Levy provided most of the bench work (infielders with more than 40 at bats).  Levy hit a buck-22, but Priddy hit .280 with a couple of home runs.

The 1942 team provided one of the best Yankee outfields. There was no Ruth or Mantle, but across the field from left to right the three main players might have given New York the best trio of outfielders it produced at one time. Joe DiMaggio was in center. His 6.1 WAR was third on the team. He hit .305 with 21 home runs (good for second on the team) while leading the team with 114 RBIs and 186 hits. Charlie Keller played left. He hit .292, led the team with 26 homers and a .930 OPS (163 OPS+) and posted 6.7 WAR (good for second on the team). Tommy Henrich hit .267 with 13 home runs, 129 hits, a team leading 30 doubles, an OPS+ of 121, and 2.7 WAR. Roy Cullenbine and George Selkirk were the other outfielders. Cullenbine hit .364 and led the team with an OPS+ of 188 (1.4 WAR) and had the only two home runs by the backup outfielders. Selkirk hit .192.

The Yanks were defending champions. They were seasoned, formidable, and ready to repeat. Standing in their way was the upstart team from St. Louis.

First in St. Louis

March 3, 2016
Johnny Mize with the Cardinals

Johnny Mize with the Cardinals

Did you ever notice how certain teams breed players at particular positions? The Yankees do it at Second Base, in Center Field, and Catching. The Red Sox produce great left fielders. The Dodgers and Giants come up with superior pitchers. St. Louis is one of those. As the title of this little excursion should alert you, for the Cards it’s First Base.

The Cardinals began business in the 1880s as part of the fledgling American Association. They were then called the Browns and were immediately successful and began with an excellent first baseman. Charles Comiskey started at first for the Browns for most of the 1880s. He wasn’t that great a hitter, but he was considered a good fielder (for his era), an innovator in first base play, and spent much of the decade as the team manager. The team won four pennants with him as player-manager.

The team moved to the National League in 1892 and slipped back toward the bottom of the field. They got very little out of their first baseman until Jake Beckley joined the team in 1904. He had one great season, winning a number of league titles, but wasn’t much beyond that. He was followed by Ed Konetchy and Dots Miller as first basemen for the rest of the Deadball Era. They weren’t bad (Konetchy hit over .300 a couple of times), but weren’t particularly notable either and the Cards floundered.

That changed in the 1920s. St. Louis began a long drive toward the top of the standing that culminated in the 1926 National League pennant. Most of the glory had to go to Rogers Hornsby, but the Cards found a pretty fair first baseman to help the Rajah along. He was Jim Bottomley and he was good enough to enter the Hall of Fame, although some think he’s one of those guys who shouldn’t be there. Bottomley won a home run crown and a couple of RBI titles. He lasted through the championship seasons of 1926, 1928, 1930, and 1931 before being replaced by Rip Collins. Collins was a power hitter who fit in quite nicely with the raucous Cardinals team of the 1930s. He hit well, won a home run title, drove in a lot of runs, and became a mainstay of the “Gas House Gang.”

But by 1936 St. Louis had found another power hitting first baseman. His name was Johnny Mize and he became the dominant first baseman in the NL for several years. (I’ve never done anything on him and I need to remedy that). He won a batting title, and RBI title, and a couple of home run titles before being traded to the Giants. He did well there and later helped the Yankees to a couple of championships. But he left just as the Cardinals found the promised land again. The 1942 through 1946 Cards won three championships and four pennants. Ray Sanders did most of the work at first (with Johnny Hopp holding down first in 1942). He was no Mize, but he played well enough. His departure led to a long series of Cardinal first basemen that didn’t last long nor did they provide a lot of thrills. But in some ways it didn’t matter. If all else failed, St. Louis could always bring Stan Musial in from the outfield to play first. He did it a lot and no one cared if he could field or not. He was pretty good with the glove, but his forte was the use of the bat.

Things got back to normal for St. Louis at first with the arrival of Bill White in 1957. He would hold down the position through 1965 and become a major factor in the Cardinals championship run of 1964. He was good with the bat, good with the leather. He was one of the men who constituted an all-St. Louis infield in the All Star game of 1963 (Julian Javier, Dick Groat, and Ken Boyer were the others). White hung around until replaced in 1966 by Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda had been, with Willie McCovey, part of a terrible fielding left field combination at San Francisco. One of them could go to first, but the other would have to stay in left and leak runs or be traded. McCovey was younger, so he got to go to first and Cepeda was traded. The trade was to St. Louis where he ended up at first also. It worked. He won an MVP in 1967 and was part of two pennant winning teams in 1967 and 1968, the ’67 team winning the World Series.

But Cha Cha was getting old and was never much at first, so by 1969 the team was looking for a new first baseman. They tried a couple of different options, but finally settled on ex-catcher, ex-third baseman Joe Torre. He lasted a couple of years before moving on for Keith Hernandez.

Hernandez was the great fielding first sacker of his day. He was universally touted for his defensive skills, so much so that people forgot he could also hit. He won an MVP in 1979 (a tie with Willie Stargell of Pittsburgh), then joined in a championship season in 1982, before moving on to the Mets. And that was it for a while for St. Louis at first base. True they had Jack Clark for a while (and picked up a couple of pennants with him at first) and Pedro Guerrero but neither was a satisfactory answer to their woes at first. That changed with the arrival of Mark McGwire in 1992.

McGwire was the power hitting machine that eventually set a single season home run title. We’ve come to see that record as dubious because of the steroid issue, but for St. Louis it provided a boost in attendance and in winning. By 2001, after a couple of playoff appearances, injuries, questions about steroids, and age took McGwire to the showers. But St. Louis had one throw left at first.

Albert Pujols came to the Cards in 2001. He was rookie of the year and a heck of a hitter. But he had no set position. They tried him in the outfield, then at third. Finally they decided to move him to first. He wasn’t very good at first, at least not for a while. But he got better with the leather and there was never anything wrong with the way he swung the lumber. The team won a pennant, then two World Series’ with Pujols at first. He picked up a ton of hardware including three MVP awards. In 2012 he left for Southern California. St. Louis has yet to replace him.

Although there have been periods when St. Louis first basemen were pedestrian, it’s not all that common. Throughout most of their history they’ve managed to find excellent, if not truly great, first basemen. There’s no Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle handoff nor a Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski baton pass, but over a century and a half, the Cardinals have produced an excellent first base tree.