Archive for July, 2016

Let’s Change the Veteran’s Committe Again

July 29, 2016

Just saw that the Hall of Fame has announced that it is again changing the shape of the Veteran’s Committee. It’s something they do every couple of years, apparently because they can. Here’s the newest version.

There will now be four Veteran’s Committees (there were three):

1. Early Baseball. This Committee will cover the period 1871-1949. It will vote once every 10 years. The information (from a Sports Illustrated article and from the Hall of Fame website) indicates this Committee will vote in 2020 and then again in 2030.

2. Golden Days. This Committee will cover the period 1950-1969. It will vote once every five years. The information (from the same article and website) indicates this Committee will vote in 2020 and 2025. This does mean that there will be two Committees voting in 2020 (and I presume also in 2030).

3. Modern Baseball. This Committee will cover the period 1970-1987. It will vote twice in five years. The information (same article and website yet again) indicates this Committee will vote in 2017, 2019, 2022 and 2024.

4. Today’s Game. This Committee will cover everything beginning in 1988. It will also vote twice in five years. The information (yep, same article and website) indicates this Committee will vote in 2016, 2018, 2021, and 2023.

So what do we make of all this? Let’s start by acknowledging that the Hall has no idea what to do with the Veteran’s Committees. They change it every time I turn around (I turn very slowly at my age). If they knew what they wanted to do with the Committees they would surely pick a system and stick with it. Of course much of the problem is with the Committees themselves. In the years since they went to the three committee system they’ve done a pretty fair job of electing managers, owners, and umpires, but have elected only two actual players, Deacon White and Ron Santo. And neither was living at their election, which would have been difficult in White’s case. But it was certainly possible to elect Santo while he still lived.

Secondly, the Early Baseball Committee has the hopeful plan of beginning now in 1871 rather than 1876, thus officially including the National Association (Hello Ross Barnes). I do wish they’d take it back into the 1850s as more information becomes available (Could we hear an AMEN for Joe Start?). Also by doing this Committee every 10 years the Hall seems to be finally acknowledging that they’ve pretty much mined the era for all the people they are going to get out of it. I also find that hopeful. For certain we have enough players from the latter part of that era that we can slow down the number of times we look at the era for the Hall.

I’m not quite sure why they break the era in 1949 rather than 1947 when everybody gets to play (and what difference will this once in 10 years plan make in electing further Negro League players?). There’s nothing particularly monumental in baseball history in 1949 except the arrival of Casey Stengel in New York, and I can’t find anything overly special about 1950 except the Phillies finally win a pennant (first since 1915) and Whitey Ford showed up in New York. I doubt that’s why they picked the year. I guess 1950 must be somebody’s birth year.

The other Committees have much the same problem. What’s so great about 1970, unless you’re an Orioles fan? The year 1969 sees the first expansion since 1901 (other than the Federal League) so why not make the change there? It’s also the beginning of divisional play. And again what’s so great about 1988, unless this time you’re a Dodgers fan? My son the Twins fan might argue that 1987 would be a better year. And why isn’t it all the way to 1989 so it’s a 20 year period? Are they trying to establish 1988 and the rise of the Athletics as the beginning of the steroid era?

Anyway there’s the information I found. Take it however you want. And I wouldn’t hold my breath on any of the dates above. This new Committee system probably won’t last long enough to cover all the dates.

ESPN Drafts Another Top 100 List

July 27, 2016

Over the last few days, in preparation for the induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, ESPN has released a new Top 100 list. This one is the top 100 Major League players ever. You can go to ESPN’s website, click on the MLB part, and the list is available to check out. Let me save you a little bit of time by listing their top 20.

In order, the top 10 are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and Stan Musial.

The next 10 are, also in order, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Honus Wagner, Ken Griffey Junior, Joe DiMaggio, Sandy Koufax, Cy Young, Roberto Clemente, Roger Clemens, and Bob Gibson.

There are a handful of current players on their list. The five highest rated are Alex Rodriguez (21), Clayton Kershaw (26), Albert Pujols (31), Miguel Cabrera (39), and Mike Trout (40).

If you wanted to put together a starting lineup of one player at each position with the highest rated player at a duplicate position as your DH, four starters for a World Series run, and a reliever, you get a team that looks like this (number in parens is the position on the list):

1B Lou Gehrig (7)

2B Rogers Hornsby (25)

SS Honus Wagner (13)

3B Alex Rodriguez (21)

OF Babe Ruth (1), Willie Mays (2), Hank Aaron (3)

C Johnny Bench (29)

DH Ted Williams (4)

Starters Walter Johnson (8), Pedro Martinez (11), Greg Maddux (12), Sandy Koufax (16)

Reliever Mariano Rivera (49)

For what it’s worth, Josh Gibson checks in at 35 for the highest rated Negro League star (Jackie Robinson is 30).

So go take a look when you get a chance. If you have problems with the list (and I have several), take it up with ESPN, not me (although it’s OK to vent here). Enjoy?

 

 

Hammerin’ Hank vs the Mick: Back to the Bronx

July 25, 2016

With New York down 3 games to 2, the 1957 World Series returned to Yankee Stadium for games six and seven. The defending champs needed to win both games to defend their title. The Braves needed to win one to claim their first title since 1914 and their first in Milwaukee.

Hank Bauer

Hank Bauer

Game 6

On 9 October 1957 the Braves sent Bob Buhl to the mound to close out the Series. Trying to stay alive, the Yanks responded with Bob Turley. Again, Buhl couldn’t get out of the early innings. In the third he walked Enos Slaughter then watched as Yogi Berra drove a ball into the right field stands to put New York up 2-0. Out went Buhl. In came reliever Ernie Johnson.

Milwaukee got one back in the top of the fifth on a Frank Torre home run and tied it up in the top of the seventh with a Hank Aaron home run. After the seventh inning stretch Johnson got Turley on a foul bunted third strike which brought up New York right fielder Hank Bauer. He parked one in left field to put the Yankees back up 3-2. Turley got out of the eighth after walking one and went into the ninth nursing the one run lead. Eddie Mathews led off the inning with a walk. Aaron struck out for the first out. That brought up Wes Covington who grounded to Turley. A flip to short to get Mathews and a relay to first ended the game.

The Series was tied three games each. For the third year in a row there would be a game seven. New York was in each.

Lew Burdette

Lew Burdette

Game 7

It was 10 October when the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves squared off in game seven of the 1957 World Series. The Yanks went back to game 3 winner Don Larsen to close out the Braves. Milwaukee countered with the winner of games two and five, Lew Burdette.

The key inning was the third. In the top of the third with one out Bob Hazle singled. An error by third sacker Tony Kubek on a Johnny Logan grounder put men on first and second and brought up Eddie Mathews. He stroked a double to plate both Hazle and Logan. A follow-up single by Hank Aaron scored Mathews. A Wes Covington single sent Aaron to third where he scored when the Yanks couldn’t complete a double play on a slow roller by Frank Torre. When the inning concluded, the Braves led 3-0.

Burdette sailed through the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings allowing only three hits, all singles. In the top of the eighth, Braves catcher Del Crandall added to Milwaukee’s lead by parking a ball in the left field stands. Needing six outs Burdette set New York down in order in the eighth. The Braves went in order in the top of the ninth. Burdette got the first out of the bottom of the ninth on a pop-up, then a single put a man on. A fly got the second out. Consecutive singles loaded the bases for Moose Skowron who’d entered the game earlier as a pinch hitter. He slapped a grounder to Mathews at third. Mathews gloved it, stepped on third and Milwaukee won its first ever World Series. Burdette was named Series MVP.

The 1957 World Series was both an upset and a good Series. The Yankees actually outhit the Braves .248 to .209. Milwaukee put up one more home run (8 to 7) than New York while the Yanks countered by scoring two more runs. Hank Aaron had a great World Series hitting .393 with five runs, seven RBIs, and three homers. Eddie Mathews was second with four RBIs and five runs scored. He had only one home run, but it won game four. Hank Bauer led New York with six RBIs and two homers. Tony Kubek matched the two home runs, but had a critical error.

By a couple of measures even the New York pitching was superior. Their ERA was lower (2.89 to 3.48) and the allowed fewer runs (23 to 25). But the difference was Burdette. He was 3-0 in three complete games, two of them shutouts. His ERA was 0.67. With that record the Braves only needed to find a pitcher who could win one game. They found him in Warren Spahn, who won the 10 inning fourth game (the one involving Nippy Jones’ shoe and Mathews’ home run).

For Milwaukee it was their peak. In 1958 they would get back to the World Series and lose a rematch with New York in seven games. In 1959 there would be a regular season tie and a loss of a three game playoff to Los Angeles. Then they would fall further back, eventually moving to Atlanta. For New York it was a blip, but a harbinger of things to come. They would win in 1958, fail to capture a pennant in 1959, lose the Series in 1960, and see Casey Stengel put out to pasture. They would, however, go on to win four more pennants in the early 1960s.

Hammerin’ Hank vs. the Mick: The Shoe Shine

July 21, 2016

With the World Series tied one game apiece, the 1957 championship shifted to Milwaukee for three games. A two-one split either way would send the Series back to New York for the deciding game or games. A sweep would crown a champion.

Game 3

Tony Kubek

Tony Kubek

Game 3 on 5 October became the only blowout in the Series. Interestingly enough neither starting pitcher got out of the second inning. The Yankees jumped on Milwaukee starter Bob Buhl in the first inning, racking up three runs on a Tony Kubek home run, consecutive walks to Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, a Gil McDougald sacrifice that scored Mantle and a “Suitcase” Harry Simpson single that plated Berra. The single was Buhl’s last pitch. When the Braves got one back in the bottom of the second on a walk to Bob “Hurricane” Hazle, a single, a wild pitch, and a Red Schoendienst single, Yankees manager Casey Stengel took out starter Bob Turley and brought in 1956 World Series hero Don Larsen who got out of the inning.

Larsen stayed for the rest of the game giving up two more runs in the fifth inning on a two run home run to Hank Aaron, but the Braves began a long parade of five more hurlers to the mound, none lasting more than two innings. The Yanks got to Milwaukee pitching and scored 12 runs on nine hits and 11 walks. Kubek had a second home run and ended up going three for five with four RBIs and three runs scored. Mantle added one home run. Larsen took the win by going 7.1 innings and giving up the home run to Aaron, five hits, four walks, and striking out four.

Game 4

Nippy Jones

Nippy Jones

Game four was played 6 October and featured both the most famous game of the Series and one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history.

Milwaukee began with game one loser Warren Spahn on the mound. He gave up an early run to New York on two singles, a fielders choice, and a walk that brought Mickey Mantle home with the game’s first run. That held up until the bottom of the fourth when Yankees starter Tom Sturdivant got into trouble. He walked Johnny Logan, gave up an Eddie Mathews double to move Logan to third, then made the mistake of leaving one over the plate for Hank Aaron who smashed a three run homer to give Milwaukee the lead. One out later he gave up another home run to first baseman Joe Adcock to put the Braves up 4-1.

And that held up into the top of the ninth, when New York struck for three runs. With Yogi Berra on second and Gil McDougald on first, Elston Howard answered Aaron’s three run blast with his own three run homer to tie the score at 4-4. When the Braves didn’t score in the bottom of the ninth, the game went into extra innings.

New York got a run in the top of the tenth when, with two outs, Spahn (still pitching into the 10th) gave up a double to Tony Kubek and a triple to Hank Bauer that put New York up 5-4 with three outs to go.

Milwaukee led off the bottom of the tenth with pinch hitter Nippy Jones (he was subbing for Spahn). Jones was the third string first baseman and a pinch hitter. He’d hit .266 for the season with two homers, three walks, and five runs scored. But he believed in looking spiffy on the field, so he shined his shoes. The first pitch was low for ball one and Jones complained saying he’d been hit on the foot by the ball. The umpire, Augie Donatelli, disagreed. Jones grabbed the ball, showed Donatelli a black scuff mark on the ball, and argued it was proof he’d been hit. Donatelli believed him and despite Yankee protests awarded Jones first base.

Jones heads to first (courtesy getty images)

Jones heads to first (courtesy getty images)

Milwaukee sent in Felix Mantilla to run for Jones (there is no truth to the rumor that the team gave Jones a shoe brush as part of his World Series share). A Red Schoendienst sacrifice sent Mantilla to second and a Johnny Logan double tied the game. That brought up Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews who promptly sent the ball over the fence in deep right to win the game for Milwaukee.

Jones became a big hero, almost bigger than Mathews, whose home run had actually won the game. Aaron’s three run shot and Logan’s clutch hits in two different innings, including the 10th, were forgotten. They shouldn’t be because they were also significant. And for those interested, it was Jones’ last plate appearance in the big leagues.

Over the years the Jones play took on mythic proportions. It was certainly one of the strangest of all World Series moments, not likely to be duplicated ever. Except that in 1969 the same thing happened to Cleon Jones (what is it with guys named Jones and shoe polish?) during the “Miracle Mets” run to the championship. So far there hasn’t been another case of it in the Series but I admit that every time a player named Jones (like Chipper or Andruw for instance) comes to the plate in the World Series I try to get a look at their shoes.

Game 5

Eddie Mathews

Eddie Mathews

If games three and four were dominated by hitters, game five became a pitcher’s duel. The Yanks sent ace Whitey Ford to the mound while the Brave responded with game two winner Lew Burdette. Four five and a half innings they matched zeroes. Ford gave up three hits and a walk, while striking out one. No Milwaukee hitter got beyond second base. Burdette was every bit as good. He gave up five hits an no walks with no runner getting beyond second.

In the bottom of the sixth, Ford got the first two men out then gave up a single to Eddie Mathews, whose homer the day before won the game for the Braves. Hank Aaron followed with another single sending Mathews to third. A final single by Joe Adcock brought Mathews home with the first run of the game. Then a grounder ended the inning leaving the score 1-0.

It was all Burdette needed. He set the Yankees down in order in the seventh. In the eighth he gave up a single, but a caught stealing got him out of the inning. In the ninth it was two quick outs before a single by Gil McDougald brought up Yogi Berra. He popped to third to end the inning and the game. Burdette had a seven hit shutout without giving up a walk. It put Milwaukee on the cusp of a championship going to New York to finish the Series.

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The Mick: Games at the Stadium

July 18, 2016

The 1957 World Series saw the New York Yankees, winners of multiple World Series championships take on, for the first time, the Milwaukee Braves, winners of exactly one World Series championship (1914).

Whitey Ford

Whitey Ford

Game 1

Played 2 October 1957 in Yankee Stadium, game one featured the two team aces, Whitey Ford for New York and Warren Spahn for Milwaukee, square off. Four and a half innings into the game it was still scoreless. The Yanks had two men reach third, but no one scored. That changed in the bottom of the fifth with a Jerry Coleman single and a Hank Bauer double sandwiched around consecutive groundouts producing the Series’ first run. They tacked on two more in the sixth by way of an Elston Howard single, a walk to Yogi Berra, an Andy Carey single that scored Howard and sent Berra to third, and a Coleman squeeze bunt that scored Berra. Milwaukee got on the scoreboard in the seventh with a Wes Covington double and a Red Schoendienst single that brought Covington home. That was it for the Braves as Ford set them down in order to end the game.

It was a well pitched game with Ford giving up only the one run on five hits, only Covington’s double going for extra bases, and four walks to go with five strikeouts. Spahn was good for five innings, but was lifted during the sixth inning Yankees uprising. The three Braves pitchers gave up a combined nine hits and only two walks. They struck out four, none by Spahn. So far the battle of the aces belonged to Ford.

Johnny Logan

Johnny Logan

Game 2

Game two was 3 October. Aiming to get even for the Series, Milwaukee sent Lew Burdette, who’d begun his career with the Yanks, to the mound. Aiming equally hard to go ahead two games to none, New York responded with Bobby Shantz, a former Rookie of the Year with the Athletics.

Neither pitcher was as effective as the previous starters. Milwaukee got a run in the second on a Hank Aaron triple and a Joe Adcock single. New York countered in the bottom of the second with a walk to Enos Slaughter, a Tony Kubek single that sent Slaughter to third, and a Jerry Coleman single that plated Slaughter. So in the top of the third, the Braves kept the scoring going with a Johnny Logan home run. Not to be outdone, Hank Bauer tied the game at 2-2 with his own home run in the bottom of the third.

It looked like each team was going to score every inning for a while when the Braves struck again in the top of the fourth. Three straight singles by Adcock, Andy Pakfo, and Wes Covington scored both Adcock and Pakfo. The latter scored on an error by Yanks third baseman Kubek.

Getting the second run in an inning seems to have broken the spell, because that ended the scoring for the game. Burdette was masterful from that point on. He allowed two more singles and gave up two more walks, but the Yanks never scored. Shantz left the game in the two run fourth and relievers Art Ditmar and Bob Grim each allowed only one hit (and no walks).

There was an off day for travel before the Series resumed in Milwaukee. It was now a best of five with the Braves having home field advantage.

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The MIck: Milwaukee

July 14, 2016

The 1957 season marked ten years since the Braves won a pennant. In 1948 they lost to Cleveland and were still in Boston. They moved in the early 1950s to Milwaukee and built a powerhouse. In 1957 they finally reached first place in the National League. It was their third championship of the century (1914 and 1948).

Fred Haney

Fred Haney

The Braves were led by Fred Haney who had a short playing career in the 1920s, then went into coaching. He’d been a not particularly successful manager never finishing higher than sixth when, in 1956, he took over the Milwaukee team. He led them to second place and broke through the next year  with 95 wins. The Braves led the NL in runs, triples, home runs, total bases, and slugging. They were second in hits, average, and OPS; third in OBP. In an eight team league they were next to last in stolen bases. The staff gave up the least home runs in the league while finishing second in hits and ERA. They were second in run scarcity, but they were next to last in walks.

The Braves infield changed during the season. The most important change was the addition of second base Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst from the Giants. He solidified the middle of the infield, added veteran leadership to the team, and gave Milwaukee a top part of the order hitter (he did a lot of leading off). He hit .310 with an OBP of .348, tops behind the big power hitters. His 3.9 WAR was fourth among everyday players. Johnny Logan was his middle infield mate. Logan hit .273 with 10 home runs and 135 hits. He was a competent shortstop whose 4.1 WAR was third among the hitters. Second among the hitters at 7.4 WAR was Hall of Fame third sacker Eddie Mathews. He hit .292, had 94 RBIs, 32 home runs, 167 hits, and scored 109 runs. First base was supposed to be a platoon position with Joe Adcock being the big slugger and hitting right-handed while Frank Torre (Joe’s brother) hit lefty and was a much better fielder. The problem was that Adcock broke his leg and was reduced to playing in only 65 games. He hit .287 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs. Torre, forced to do most of the work at first hit .272, but with only five home runs and 40 RBIs in almost exactly twice as many games. The bench wasn’t particularly strong. Danny O’Connell (who Schoendienst replaced as the starter) and Felix Mantilla both hit in the .230s and had five home runs between them. At first, the Braves had Nippy Jones to replace Adcock he hit .266 and, much to the Yankees regret, had a penchant for shining his shoes.

When the season started, the outfield was supposed to be set. It turned out it wasn’t. Right field was secure in Henry Aaron. The Hall of Famer hit .322, had 44 home runs, 132 RBIs, a .600 slugging percentage, and led the team in WAR at 8.0. That earned him the National League MVP Award for 1957. The problem was the other two spots. Billy Bruton was supposed to be the regular center fielder and the leadoff man, but he banged up his knee and only got into 79 games. He still managed to lead the team with 11 stolen bases. Needing a new outfielder, the Braves shifted Aaron to center and brought up a career minor leaguer named Bob “Hurricane” Hazle. He became one of the greatest (and most famous) “90 day wonders” ever. In 41 games he hit .403 with seven home runs, 27 RBIs, 26 runs scored, 87 total bases, an OPS of 1.129, an OPS+ of 209, and 1.9 WAR (which is pretty good over only 41 games). The other problem was left field. Bobby Thomson of “The Giants Win the Pennant” fame and Andy Pafko of “The Boys of Summer” fame were sharing time. Together they had 12 home runs, 50 RBIs, and hit around .250. Haney decided to go with second year man Wes Covington to solve his left field problem. Covington responded with a .284 average, 21 home runs, 65 RBIs, and 2.6 WAR. In addition to these six, the Braves got 28 games and six RBIs out of 28-year-old Chuck Tanner. He went on to lead the “We Are Family” Pirates to the 1979 World Series as manager.

Three men did most of the catching. The regular was Del Crandall. He hit only .253, but had 15 home runs, 46 RBIs, a .718 OPS, and 1.6 WAR. The backups were Carl Sawatski and Del Rice (making the Braves probably the only team ever to have two catchers named Del–I didn’t check). Between them they equaled Crandall’s 15 home runs (with Rice having nine of the 15), but only 37 RBIs.

They caught a staff that used five men to make a four man rotation. The star and ace was all-time winningest left-hander and Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. He pitched 39 games (35 starts), went 21-11, had an ERA of 2.69, had a 1.177 WHIP, an ERA+ of 130, and 4.6 WAR. Sort of your standard every season Spahn year. Lew Burdette was the second pitcher amassing a 17-9 record with a 3.72 ERA with only 78 strikeouts. Bob Buhl was the third starter. His record was 18-7 with an ERA of 2.74 and 2.9 WAR. To cover the fourth hole the Braves used Gene Conley and Bob Trowbridge. They pitched a total of 67 games, starting 34 (about half). Conley was, at the time, about equally famous as one of the last two sport stars because he played for the Boston Celtics basketball team when not on the mound. He was 9-9 while Trowbridge was 7-5 (a combined 16-14, not an untypical record for a fourth pitcher). The Closer was Don McMahon. He was, with 47 innings over 32 games, something like a modern Closer (which wasn’t that typical in the era). His ERA was 1.54, he had 46 strikeouts in the 47 innings, and produced 1.7 WAR. Later Reds stalwart Joey Jay, at age 21, got into one game for Milwaukee. He got a save.

The Yankees may have been favored, but the Braves were a formidable team. Aaron was a rising star, Mathews already a star, and Spahn an icon. As an aside, I considered, when I was much younger, the Braves the best team up and down the roster that I ever saw (I go back to the early 1950s). Not sure that’s true any longer, but they were one of the teams that had both hitting and pitching to go along with good fielding and a bench.

 

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The Mick: The Yankees

July 12, 2016
The "Old Perfessor" about 1953

The “Old Perfessor” about 1953

No team was ever as successful as the 1950s New York Yankees. The won the World Series in the first four years of the decade, lost a pennant to Cleveland, lost a World Series to Brooklyn, then won a fifth championship in 1956. But in all the winning they’d done since 1923, their first championship, they’d never played the Braves. They beaten every other National League team at least once. But the Braves, either the Boston team or the Milwaukee version, had never won a pennant in the same year that the Yankees won an American League pennant. That changed finally in 1957.

Manager Casey Stengel’s charges won 98 games and took the AL pennant by eight games over Chicago. They led the league in runs, hits triples, batting average, slugging, and OPS. They were third in home runs, fifth in doubles, and third again in stolen bases with all of 49. The staff led the AL in ERA, in strikeouts, gave up the least hits and runs.

The infield was still in transition. Gone were the stalwarts of the early ’50s, Billy Martin (although Martin played in 43 games) and Phil Rizzuto. The new guys up the middle were 21-year-old Bobby Richardson and long time jack-of-all-trades Gil McDougald. Richardson hit .256 with no power, no speed, and he didn’t walk much. McDougald hit .289 with 13 home runs, good for fifth on the team. He was second on the team with 156 hits and 5.8 WAR. Bill “Moose” Skowron held down first. His .304 average was second among the starters. He had 17 home runs, 88 RBIs, and 3.1 WAR to go with it. Andy Carey had more games at third than anyone else, although McDougald had done some work there also. Carey hit .255 with 0.8 WAR. As mentioned above Martin started the year in New York but was traded to Kansas City (now Oakland). He was joined on the bench by former starters Joe Collins and Jerry Coleman. Coleman’s .268 led the bench infielders.

Five men did most of the outfield work. The key was center fielder Mickey Mantle. He hit a team leading .365 with 34 home runs (also the team lead). He had 94 RBIs, 173 hits, scored 121 runs, had 11.3 WAR, ad 221 OPS+. All led the team. All that got him his second consecutive MVP Award. Hank Bauer flanked him in right. His average wasn’t much, but he had 18 home runs and was a good outfielder. Elston Howard did most of the left field work, but also served as the backup catcher. He was the Yankees’ first black player and still a long way from the MVP Award he’d win in the early 1960s. Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter was the primary backup outfielder. If Howard was a long way from reaching his prime, Slaughter was a long way beyond his. He hit .254 with no power and had lost what speed he had while with St. Louis. Tony Kubek was new. He was used very much in a utility role dong work in left, center, and at all the infield positions except first. He hit .297 and showed 2.5 WAR. They also had “Suitcase” Harry Simpson (one of the great nicknames in baseball). He hit three triples for the Yankees (after coming over from Kansas City), but tied for the league lead with nine. He tied with Bauer and McDougald.

The man behind the mask was Yogi Berra. He was beyond his MVP years, but still formidable. He hit .251 but with 24 home runs (and 24 strikeouts) and 82 RBIs. His WAR was 3.0. Howard, as mentioned above, was his primary backup Darrell Johnson got into 21 games, hitting .217 with a home run.

It was a pitching staff without a true ace. In most years Whitey Ford would hold that position but in 1957 because of a shoulder problem he appeared in only 24 games (17 starts). He managed only 129 innings and an 11-5 record. His 1.8 WAR was fifth on the staff. Tom Sturdivant’s 16 wins topped the team while former Rookie of the Year Bobbie Shantz had the lowest ERA at 2.45. Bob Turley’s 152 strikeouts led the Yanks while Johnny Kucks and Don Larsen had ERAs over three.  Bob Grim and Art Ditmar did most of the bullpen work while former started Tommy Byrne gave the pen it’s lefty.

New York was defending champion. They’d won seven of the last eight AL pennants and six of the last eight World Series. They were favored to repeat.

 

Level Playing Fields: A Review

July 7, 2016
Cover of Level Playing Fields

Cover of Level Playing Fields

I tend to read strange things sometimes. I look around, see something that interests me, and tend to pick it up. That just happened to me recently when I found a used copy of Level Playing Fields: How the Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball by Peter Morris.

This is a book about baseball fields, not stadia, not players, but fields. Through a look at the life of two of the first groundskeepers, John and Thomas Murphy, Morris takes us into the entire idea of how a baseball field is maintained and why it matters. John Murphy, the older brother, was head groundskeeper (and for a while the only groundskeeper) at the Polo Grounds during the entire period of the New York Giants 1904-1913 run (Murphy died in 1913). Thomas Murphy, the younger of the brothers, took command of the old 1890s Baltimore Orioles field. Both men helped shape the dynasties that followed.

Tom Murphy tailored the field in Baltimore to the specifications of the Orioles. He tilted the foul lines, he made the area just in front of home especially hard for the famous “Baltimore Chop.” He solved drainage problems by making right field so low that the catcher could barely see the cap of the right fielder. John Murphy set out to create a field that was less tailored to his team, although he did make the base paths quick for John McGraw’s runners. With parks located in less than desirable places, the two men had to deal with fields that were uneven and had poor drainage. They attacked and solved each problem, but with varying success. Both of them helped make the modern baseball field.

But the book uses the Murphy brothers more as examples of why it matters what a field looks like. Morris argues that the leveling of the field (literally) made the game more fair, made the crowds more willing to come to a game they felt was somehow “democratic” in its outcome. He uses a number of examples. One of the best deals with club houses rather than the field itself. He points out that early visiting teams had to dress in their hotels, then walk or ride to the park. It might let fans know there was a game, but it looked cheap and frequently the uniforms got dirty on the way (mud and dust and things thrown by fans of the home team) and were certainly dirty on the return trip. It made the game look unkempt, cheap, and lower class. The advent of a visitors club hours changed that and when added to a clean, level field without quirks in the dirt or the outfield itself did much to make baseball acceptable to the middle class, which made it profitable.

One of his more interesting assertions involves baseball versus cricket. He argues that field size helped make baseball a preferred sport in crowded cities. The field for cricket requires a lot of room, including behind the wickets and off to the side. Baseball, on the other hand, makes those spaces foul territory and they can be reduced to minimal size, making the field itself a factor in baseball’s success. I have to admit I’d never considered that idea.

The book is worth a read simply because it deals with an area of baseball almost entirely overlooked by fans. It also provides something of a social history of the era, especially as it pertains to baseball. Although I found my copy used I did check and the book is available through Amazon.com. It was published in 2007 by the University of Nebraska.

And BTW take a look at the cover above. The man in the center of the picture (the man with jacket and tie) is Thomas Murphy. He is surrounded by four members of the Baltimore Orioles who are also Hall of Famers. From left to right they are Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley, and John McGraw. Not bad company for the groundskeeper.

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1929

July 5, 2016

Time once again for my foray into what a 1901-1934 era Hall of Fame might look like if there was one. This time two worthy inductees.

Connie Mack

Connie Mack

Connie Mack owned and managed the Philadelphia Athletics beginning with their creation in 1901. His teams have won seven American League championships and four World Series. A fine baseball mind both tactically and strategically, he is also known for his ability to find talent.

 

Hank O'Day

Hank O’Day

Pitcher, manager, and umpire Henry “Hank” O’Day has been around baseball since he 1880s. Between 1884 and 1890 he was a Major League pitcher with five teams. Beginning in 1895 he started a successful career as a National League umpire that lasted through 1927 with a short break to serve a field manager of the 1912 Cincinnati Reds and then as manager of the 1913 Chicago Cubs, finishing fourth both seasons. As an umpire he worked in 10 World Series. After retirement he served as a scout searching for qualified umpires for Major League service.

And now the commentary:

1. Why Mack this time instead of earlier? I’ve not been certain when to put in Mack. He’s still managing as late as 1950 but the real Hall of Fame put him in very early. I always assume these classes are chosen in December of the stated year (December 1929 in this case). In other words I’ve done it in conjunction with the modern Veteran’s Committee vote. After falling off in 1915, the Athletics got back to the World Series and won it in 1929. Seemed like a good point to add Mack. BTW I love the picture of Mack that’s above. Three balls to reference World Series wins in 1910, 1911, and 1913 and then the white elephant emblem.

2. So you finally figured out what to do with umps, did you? Yeah, kinda, sorta, maybe. Hank O’Day is such a unique baseball man that it seemed like a good idea to add him. He’s a pitcher, although not particularly successful. He’s a manager, and probably best described as mediocre. His team finishes at the bottom of the first division both years he’s in charge, which is pretty much a definition of mediocre. He’s universally regarded as a fine umpire. I figure that umping in 10 World Series is evidence of an overall competence. After retirement he starts scouting around looking for new umpires. He’s doing it officially, not on his own, indicating a level of trust in him by MLB. I didn’t mention above that he also served on the rules committee. I couldn’t find the exact dates, so I left it out. I seems to have been a substantial number of years. All of that should tell you that O’Day is in partially because he’s a very good umpire, but mostly because of the variety in his career. He’s one of a number of people who, if viewed simply as one-dimensional with regard to baseball probably shouldn’t be in a Hall of Fame. But if you look at the broad nature of their career, they are incredibly impactful (Guys like Clark Griffith, Charles Comiskey, Hughie Jennings, etc.).

3. Next time brings me squarely up against the Negro League issue. Here I mean the Negro Leagues that most of us know about, not the leagues of the 19th Century. Several famous (and not so famous) players and executives are going to show up over the remainder of this project. Let me remind you my rules allow not more than one Negro League type each year and he must be accompanied by an inductee that isn’t black. I know that putting one in is ridiculous for the era, but I wanted to make some sort of reference to the Negro Leagues, so I’m adding them anyway. But I can’t imagine that there would be a situation where a black man would be allowed to stand on the stage alone for induction, so the rule, and it would be unofficial sort of “gentleman’s agreement” by the Hall (I’m not quite sure how this makes people “gentlemen” but that’s the term used), is at least one other guy has to be there.

4. Here’s the carryover for 1930 including new guys for the everyday players: Jack Barry, Cupid Childs, Jake Daubert, Harry Davis, Mike Donlan, Jack Doyle, Art Fletcher, Larry Gardner, Charlie Hollocher, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Clyde Milan, Del Pratt, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Burt Shotton, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George van Haltren, Tillie Walker. That’s 24 and I have a limit of 20 on the carryover list. So four have to either go or make it to the Hall.

5. The same list for the pitchers: Jim Bagby, Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Tony Mullane, Jeff Pfeffer, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White, Joe Wood. That’s 11 and the carryover total here is 10. So one is in or one is off.

6. And the same list for the contributors: Umps–Bob Emslie, Tim Hurst (who was also NL President); Managers–Miller Huggins, George Stallings; Owners–Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann, Ben Shibe; Negro Leagues–Rube Foster, Spottswood Poles, Candy Jim Taylor; NL President Henry C. Pulliam; pre-Civil War pioneer William R. Wheaton. A total of 12 and the carryover list is 10. So two have to go or make it. Don’t be too surprised if Rube Foster gets as serious look.