Beginning a Dynasty: the 1923 Giants

Polo Grounds

Polo Grounds

By 1923 the New York Giants were winners on consecutive World Series’. Except for 1917, they’d been also-runs for most of the 19-teens. They’d roared back in 1921 to defeat the crosstown Yankees in the Series, then done it again the next year. It was, as Giants pennant winners went, a very different team from the normal champs.

Baseballwise, the New York of the early 1920s was the bailiwick of John J. McGraw and the Giants. They’d won consecutive titles, and McGraw was an institution dating back to the turn of the century. More even than Babe Ruth, McGraw was “Mr. Baseball” in New York. That would begin changing with this World Series. The ’23 Giants weren’t a typical McGraw team, a team heavy in pitching and speed. McGraw had adjusted to the “lively ball” era very well and produced a team that led the National League in runs, hits, average, normal “deadball” stats. But it also led the NL in slugging, OBP, OPS, and total bases. They were third in home runs, stolen bases, and doubles, while posting a second in triples. The staff, unlike pre-1920 Giants teams was sixth in ERA, but higher in strikeouts, hits, and runs allowed while being third in shutouts.

The infield consisted of three Hall of Famers. George “Highpockets” Kelly held down first. He hit .307 with 16 home runs and 103 RBIs. The homers were second on the team, while the RBIs were third. His WAR was 2.5. Frankie Frisch at second was a star. He led the team with a 7.1 WAR and was second in runs scored and RBIs while his .348 average paced the regulars. Dave Bancroft also hit .300, but was beginning the downside of his career. He had 46 errors at short and was beginning to be pushed by 19-year-old Travis Jackson, another future Hall of Famer, he was second on the team with 3.7 WAR.. Heinie Groh was the non-Hall of Famer and, at 33, the oldest of the starters. He hit .290 with no power and posted an even 3.0 WAR. Fred Maguire, along with Jackson, was the primary infielder on the bench, although future star, Hall of Famer, and Giants manager Bill Terry got into three games.

Five men did the bulk of the outfield work. Hall of Famer Ross Youngs was in right. He hit .336, led the team with 200 hits and with 121 runs scored, producing an OPS+ of 125 and a 3.6 WAR. The other corner outfielder was Emil “Irish” Meusel, brother of Yankees left fielder Bob Meusel. It’s the first time brothers playing the same position faced each other in a World Series. “Irish” led the team in RBIs with 125, in homers with 19, in triples with 14 and was considered an excellent outfielder, although the general consensus was that his brother had the better arm. All that got him 2.2 WAR. Jimmy O’Connell got into 87 games, most in center field. He hit .250 with six home runs, good for fourth on the team. Bill Cunningham and 32-year-old Charles “Casey” Stengel (another Hall of Famer, but in a different context). were the other two outfielders. Cunningham saw action in 79 games, while Stengel got into 75. Stengel hit .335 and both men had five home runs, good for a fifth place tie on the team. Twenty-three year old future Hall of Fame inductee Hack Wilson got into three games late in the season.

Frank Snyder did most of the catching, getting into 120 games. He was a good defensive backstop but his backup Hank Gowdy hit better. Gowdy, a hero of the 1914 Series, was 33 and not able to catch as often as previously. Alex Gaston and Earl Smith got into just over 20 games each.

The pitching staff was a long ride from the Mathewson, McGinnity, Marquard, Ames staffs of the early century. While those pitchers are still reasonably well known (except maybe Red Ames), the ’23 Giants staff wasn’t filled with household names. Hugh McQuillan, Mule Watson, and Jack Scott were the right handers. McQuillan and Watson both had ERA’s of 3.41 while Scott’s was 3.89. All three had given up more hits than they had innings pitched. McQuillan’s 3.3 WAR was easily highest among the staff. Lefties Art Nehf and Jack Bentley both had ERAs north of four and continued the trend of giving up more hits than having innings pitched. The Bullpen featured spot starter Rosy Ryan who went 16-5 and Claud Jonnard. Both had ERAs in the mid-threes and Jonnard joined the pack that gave up more hits than had innings pitched. Ryan missed making it unanimous by less than four innings.

So it was a good hitting team that could make up for a mediocre pitching staff. Facing the American League pennant winner, mediocre might just not be good enough.

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2 Responses to “Beginning a Dynasty: the 1923 Giants”

  1. wkkortas Says:

    In reference to the throwing abilities of the Meusel brothers, Bill James tells a story about how poorly Irish threw. The story goes (and I’m paraphrasing here) that McGraw and Meusel were approached by a panhandler who had lost an arm. When he asked the pair if they couldn’t help out a wretched, one-armed soul, McGraw said “Go away! Irish doesn’t have your arm!”

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