Archive for December, 2016

Good Bye to 2016

December 29, 2016
Hopefully I won't have to be this old before the Dodgers win

Hopefully I won’t have to be this old before the Dodgers win

Another baseball season is over. The winners are crowned, the loser mourned. The postseason awards are announced, the winter meetings are through, and the Veteran’s Committee has spoken. Here, in my usual nine things for nine innings format, are a few random thoughts on what we saw (and didn’t see) in 2016.

1. The Cubs finally won. It hadn’t happened in 108 years and the Cubs fans are joyous. But I wonder if some of the mystique that surrounded the Cubs wasn’t harmed. The “loveable loser” moniker is gone, as is the “sit in the sun, drink beer, and don’t worry about the score” motif of Cubsdom is over. Will it hurt the overall fan base, or not. I have no idea.

2. Can the Angels find a pitcher? They have Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the Major Leagues in a long time. They have Albert Pujols, a shadow of what he was at St. Louis, but still a formidable player (He had 119 RBIs and needs nine homers for 600). C. J. Cron is 26 and Kole Calhoun is 29. And they still can’t win. Maybe the problem is the staff, maybe it’s the coaching staff (Scioscia hasn’t led them very far in a while), but they just don’t win.

3. Sticking with the West Coast, but moving to Chavez Ravine, we say good-bye to Vin Scully who, for 67 years, graced us with his voice, his wit, his stories. I liked Jack Buck and Dizzy Dean. I liked Bob Prince and Russ Hodges, but there was only one Vin. Maybe he’ll be the first broadcaster elected to the Hall of Fame itself, not just to the broadcasters niche. And the Dodgers answered the question, “who needs an ace?” by rattling off a ton of wins with Clayton Kershaw injured.

4. I loved that Royals team that won in 2014 and 2015, but injuries and free agency have taken their toll. I’d love to see them back in the mix again, but I’m afraid it will have to be with a very different set of players. That’s a shame; they were fun to watch.

5. Then there’s Cleveland. They now have the longest streak of not having won the World Series (since 1948). It’s a good team with a very good manager and I’d like to see them break their streak (but not at the expense of my Dodgers). And sticking with the Indians, I hope the Terry Francona method of using his relievers in key situations, not just the ninth inning, catches on.

6. So Bud Selig is now a Hall of Famer. OK, I guess. There have been better choices and there have been worse choices. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza also made it. They were better, and easier, choices.

7. We lost W.P. Kinsella this year. He gave us the book Shoeless Joe, which in turn gave us the movie Field of Dreams. We also lost Hall of Famer Monte Irvin and broadcast legend Joe Garagiola, and  current pitcher Felix Fernandez, among others.

8. Dan Duquette is an honest man. He told us that the Orioles weren’t interested in Jose Bautista because the fans didn’t like him. OK, I guess. It’s honest, but I don’t know how much baseball sense it makes. Thoughts, Bloggess?

9. Buck Showalter is getting another year. He’s a fine manager, but he’s gotta know when to bring in his relief ace.

And finally it’s time for my annual Dodgers rallying cry “Wait ’til next year.” Why change the cry now; it’s been good for 28 years.

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Jim Bunning

December 27, 2016
Jim Bunning with Philadelphia

Jim Bunning with Philadelphia

Sticking with the theme of combining sport and politics, here’s some things you should know about Jim Bunning.

1. James Bunning was born in Southgate, Kentucky in 1931.

2. He was both a good ball player and a good student. He graduated from Xavier University (Norwood, Ohio) with a degree in economics.

3. He went to the minors as a Tigers prospect in 1950 as a D League right-handed pitcher. By 1955 he’d earned a stint in the big leagues with Detroit. He went 3-5 with an ERA north of six, and went back to the minors.

4. In 1956 he made the Tigers roster late in the season, went 5-1 with an ERA of 3.71, and remained in the Major Leagues through 1971.

5. He stayed with Detroit through the 1963 season, winning 20 games once (and 19 one other time), leading the American League in strikeouts twice, becoming a five time All Star and amassing 118 wins, 1406 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.45 (ERA+ of 116), a no-hitter, and 29.5 WAR.

6. After the ’63 season he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he  became the first man to throw a perfect game in the regular season (Don Larsen had thrown one in the 1956 World Series) since 1922 (first by a Phillies pitcher since 1906).

7. During the 1964 season he won 19 games, was an All-Star, and teamed with lefty Chris Short as twin aces for the 1964 Phillies who infamously faded in the last two weeks of the season to lose the National League pennant on the last day of the season.

8. He remained with the Phils through 1967, winning 89 games, picking up another strikeout title (1967), two shutout titles (1966 and ’67), posting a 2.93 ERA (ERA+ of 122), went to two All Star Games, and produced 31.4 WAR.

9. In 1969 he split time between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, then went back to Philadelphia for 1970 and a career ending 1971. He finished his career 224-184 with an ERA of 3.27 (115 ERA+), 2855 strikeouts, and even 1000 walks, 40 shutouts, and 60.3 WAR.

10. After leaving baseball, Bunning entered politics. He was elected to the Fort Thomas, Kentucky city council in 1977, then to the Kentucky state senate, becoming minority leader. He ran for Governor of Kentucky in 1983 and lost.

11. In 1986 he was elected to the US House of Representatives and then to the US Senate in 1998. He served in the Senate through 2010 (two terms). He was considered one of the Senate’s most conservative members.

12. In 1996, while a sitting member of the House of Representatives, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. To date he is the only Hall of Famer to serve in the US Senate.

 

The Rep

December 22, 2016
"Vinegar Bend" Mizell

“Vinegar Bend” Mizell

One of the great sage pieces of advice my grandfather gave me when I was growing up stuck with me into my adulthood and probably will stay with me through my dotage. It’s simply that people never talk politics, religion, or sports. They argue them, so stay away from them. And putting any two together is down right crazy. Well, the very act of doing this blog violates the sport part, but now I’m going to put two of them together. It’s up to you to decided just how crazy that is.

Baseball is full of people who mixed the sport with politics. Way back the first President of the National League became a US Senator. Later on John Tener was Senator, Governor, and President of the National League. The Britton brothers who ran the Cleveland Spiders and later the St. Louis Cardinals dabbled in politics. Those are all owners and executives, but players have also been involved. Walter Johnson ran, unsuccessfully, for office, Mickey Owen was sheriff (an elective office where he lived) in his home county. One of the more prominent was a pitcher who made it to the US House of Representatives.

Wilmer Mizell was born in Alabama in 1930. The nearest town was Vinegar Bend and it served as his nickname, surely one of the great baseball nicknames, through his career. He grew up in Mississippi and was good enough at baseball that he made the low minors in 1949. He stayed there until 1952 when he went to St. Louis as a southpaw pitcher. Other than a stint in the Army during the 1950s, he remained in the big leagues through 1961. In 1962 he split time between the minors and the big leagues.

For the Cards he was mostly a starter (185 starts out of 199 games pitched) who was one game under .500 (69-70) with an ERA in the mid-threes with more innings pitched than hits allowed and more strikeouts than walks (WHIP of 1.377). In 1959 he made the National League All Star team.

In 1960 the Cardinals sent him to Pittsburgh. The Pirates were assembling a pennant winning team that year and Mizell was one of the pitching parts. He went 13-5 with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.201 WHIP, and 2.5 WAR. He pitched in two World Series games, starting and losing game three and going a couple of innings in the game six blowout loss. It was his only ring.

In 1961 he had a losing record and an ERA over five. His last year was 1962. He was done at 31. For his career he was 90-88 with an ERA of 3.85 (ERA+ of 104) with 680 walks, 918 strikeouts, a 1.383 WHIP, and 17.7 WAR. Not a bad career, but not a great one either. He did have the one World Series championship to his credit.

So what do you do after a life in baseball? Mizell went to work for Pepsi going into sales and later public relations. In 1966 he moved into politics, running for and winning a seat on the Davidson County, North Carolina board of commissioners. He held the job two years then ran for Congress from the Fifth District of North Carolina. He was a Republican, it was 1968, and the South was changing. He won the seat with just under 53% of the vote. He remained in Congress through the 1974 election when he, like many Republicans in the wake of Watergate, lost his seat. In partial compensation he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and held the job until Jimmy Carter became President. With the arrival of Ronald Reagan, Mizell was appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Governmental and Public Affairs and later moved to the Assistant Secretary slot at the Intergovernmental Affairs branch of the Department of Agriculture. President George H.W. Bush made him head of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

He retired after Bill Clinton took office and died in February 1999. Today he’s probably most remembered as the primary Republican pitcher in the Congressional baseball game. He’s got a ring. He served his country for twenty years. All in all, that’s not a bad legacy.

Mizell's grave from Find a Grave

Mizell’s grave from Find a Grave

 

2017 Spink and Frick Awards Announced

December 20, 2016

It dawned on me that I’d never mentioned the winners of two more Hall of Fame awards for the coming year. Along with player, manager, executive, and contributor enshrinement, the Hall of Fame has three other awards it gives out. The Buck O’Neill Award isn’t annual, but the other two are.

 

Claire Smith

Claire Smith

The winner of the 2017 J. G. Taylor Spink Award is Claire Smith. Ms. Smith is the first female winner of the award. The Spink Award is for print (and now digital) writers. She currently writes of ESPN, but previously was employed by the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Bulletin, Hartford Courant. She joins Effa Manley as the only women honored by the Hall of Fame.

Bill King in the booth

Bill King in the booth

The winner of the Ford Frick Award is the late Bill King (he died in 2005). The Frick Award is given to a broadcaster. King spent years as the primary voice of the Oakland Athletics.

Congratulations to both Ms. Smith and to Mr. King’s family.

My Own Little Hall of Fame Recap: II

December 15, 2016

Last post (Recap I) I listed the people making My Own Little Hall of Fame and commented how it compared to the one in Cooperstown. This time I want to look at what I learned (and didn’t) during the project.

1. I found it was harder than I thought. I expected to be able to read a few newspapers, check out some old baseball guides, and happily go about my business. It turns out that if you can find it, there’s quite a lot more information available than I thought. It can be hard to find, but mostly it’s spotty. Info on some teams is pretty easy, others are much more obscure.

2. I knew the statistics weren’t uniform. I was stunned how much they wandered all over the place. As time went on they tended to stabilize, but the wandering numbers continued throughout the project.

3. I knew some statistics were new, others ancient (by baseball standards). What I didn’t know was how few were generally accepted early on. RBIs, a staple of modern stats, was fairly new. So was the compilation of both walks and strikeouts. Pitcher walks and strikeout numbers weren’t too bad, but trying to find out exactly who they struck out was much more difficult. I had to resist using volumes like Nemec’s works on the 19th Century because those compilations were unavailable.

4. For years I was critical of the Hall of Fame for not inducting at least one player (or manager, or executive) every year. I felt they owed it to the fans. So I required my Hall to elect at least one every time. Then I got to the era of about 1920 and ran into a number of years where I was stretching it to elect someone. So there are, even after all the work, people in my hall that I’m not sure ought to be there really.

5. I knew to expect minimal information on 19th Century players, especially players from the American Association. I was struck by how little information actually existed. I admit to looking at more modern things to find some sense of which players I should be looking for when it came to the 1860s and the American Association of the 1880s.

Having said all those things, it was, I think, a worthwhile project, especially the decision to add Negro League players. I enjoyed trying to remember all those research skills I’d learn way back in graduate school. How accurate I am, is another story. Because there was no Hall of Fame in 1901 we can never know how close I am to what a 1901 Hall would look like. That may be good for my results.

 

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame Recap: I

December 13, 2016

With the end of this three-year project I’m going to do some recapitulation work on it. This post simply gives you the list of the people who got in. You can go back month by month and get a list, but it seems simple to put them all in one post. This way you don’t have to go through 34 months, but can in one place decide for each individual “Yay”, “Yuck”, or “Who?”
Just a quick comment before I do. The list is by position. Each player is put in the position most commonly associated with them. Particularly in the 19th Century, players regularly played multiple positions. Knowing that, I chose one for each player knowing that Deacon White, for example was also a catcher as well as a third baseman, which is where I put him. A couple of people are listed primarily as “contributors” because it was hard to pigeon-hole them. Also I did not separate the outfielders by left, center, and right as a number of the early players held down all three positions with some frequency. Having typed all that, here’s the list.

First Base–Cap Anson, Jake Beckley, Dan Brouthers, Frank Chance, Roger Connor, Dave Orr, Joe Start (7)

Second Base–Ross Barnes, Nap LaJoie, Bid McPhee (3)

Third Base–Frank Baker, Jimmie Collins, Deacon White (3)

Shortstop–Bill Dahlen, George Davis, Jack Glasscock, Joe Tinker, Honus Wagner, George Wright (6)

Outfield–King Kelly, Jim O’Rourke, Tip O’Neill, Harry Stovey, Pete Browning, Billy Hamilton, Ed Delahanty, Jesse Burkett, Sam Thompson, Hugh Duffy, Joe Kelley, Paul Hines, Willie Keeler, Elmer Flick, Fred Clarke, Sam Crawford, Sherry Magee, Harry Hooper, Bobby Veach, Zack Wheat, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker (22)

Catcher–Roger Bresnahan, Buck Ewing, Cal McVey (3)

Pitcher–John Clarkson, Tim Keefe, Charles Radbourn, Mickey Welch, Pud Galvin, Tommy Bond, Amos Rusie, Jim McCormick, Addie Joss, Kid Nichols, Joe McGinnity, Rube Waddell, Cy Young, Vic Willis, Mordecai Brown, Christy Mathewson, Eddie Plank, Ed Walsh, Walter Johnson, Urban Shocker (20)

Managers–Harry Wright, Jim Mutrie, Frank Selee, Ned Hanlon, John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Connie Mack, Miller Huggins (8)

Umpire–Hank O’Day (1)

Executives–William Hulbert, Albert Spaulding, Charles Comiskey, Al Reach, Clark Griffith, Ban Johnson, Barney Dreyfuss (7)

Contributors–Daniel “Doc” Adams, Henry Chadwick, John Montgomery Ward (3)

Negro League–Rube Foster, Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, Frank Leland, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, George Stovey, Sol White, Christobel Torriente (9)

A total of 92 people. In a real world only 83 would have a chance at enshrinement because the nine Negro League players and executives would surely be excluded. In the actual Hall 115 people were added in the first 34 years, the same number of years I used in this project. Although I consider myself a “big hall” person it seems I’m actually more conservative than the real Hall of Fame. I would have never guessed that was true. By the way, only two of the true Hall’s 115 were black (Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella). Of my 83, seventeen are not in both Halls (20%).

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1934

December 8, 2016

After a couple of years I bring this project to a conclusion. How successful it was is up to the people who read it. Be kind, team. Here it is the final class. A few trumpets and drums please (OK, a lot of trumpets and drums).

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb is Major League Baseball’s all time leader in average, hits, stolen bases, and runs. He is second in both doubles and triples. While with Detroit he won 12 batting titles, four RBI titles, and a home run title. He led his team to three consecutive American League pennants and won the 1911 Chalmers Award.

Urban Shocker

Urban Shocker

Stalwart pitcher of two pennant contenders, Urban Shocker first led the St. Louis American League team to respectability, then led the New York Yankees to two pennants and a World Series title before his untimely death.

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker played center field for both Boston and Cleveland in the American League. With Boston he won the 1912 Chalmers Award while leading his team to a World Series Championship. He won a second championship with Boston then as player-manager of Cleveland won the 1920 World Series. He is the all time leader in doubles and second in total hits.

Christobal Torriente

Christobal Torriente

Negro League outfielder Christobal Torriente played 15 years for both Cuban and American teams. While with the American Giants his team won three Negro National League pennants.

The commentary:

1. I don’t suppose I need to say much about either Cobb or Speaker. They are the kinds of players that a Hall of Fame is made to showcase. A couple of quick comments are in order. First, the records of the time show Cobb winning the 1912 batting title so I went with that rather than the newer information that indicates Nap LaJoie might be the true winner. Also the stolen base number is a little shaky, but everyone is in agreement that Cobb has the most since the change of definition in the late 1890s. I don’t think Speaker gets enough credit for his managerial stint, so I wanted to make a point of mentioning it.

2. Shocker is something of a stretch, but he was generally regarded as a first line pitcher and there was a lot of ink about his dying early (the same sort of thing that happened with Addie Joss). Frankly, I think he should be in Cooperstown, so I took the opportunity to add him.

3. Which brings me to Torriente. There is some question about his last season. He is well documented (at least for a Negro League player) through a 1928 retirement. Then he comes back for a short spell in 1932. I decided that as Negro League careers were much more in flux than white players, that I would ignore the 1932 period and let him in as the first and only Cuban everyday player.

4. If this project went on into 1935, these would be the names showing up among everyday players: George Burns, Max Carey, Cupid Childs, Jake Daubert, Johnny Evers, Jack Fornier, Larry Gardner, Heinie Groh, Baby Doll Jacobson, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Stuffy McInnis, Clyde Milan, Johnny Mostil, Ray Schalk, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Billy Southworth, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren, Ken Williams, Ross Youngs.

5. With the same proviso, the pitchers: Babe Adams, Chief Bender, Jack Chesbro, Wilbur Cooper, Stan Coveleski, Sam Leever, Rube Marquard, Carl Mays, Art Nehf, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White.

6. With the same proviso, the contributors: umpires-Bob Emslie, Tim Hurst; owners-Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann; Negro Leagues-Pete Hill, Oliver Marcell, Dobie Moore, Spottswood Poles, Ben Taylor; and pioneer William R. Wheaton.

7. I’m not doing 1935, but my best guess is that Max Carey, who had the record for most stolen bases in the National League (modern definition) in 1935 would make it. I’m not sure about any other everyday players. Among pitchers Coveleski would be, and I’m guessing here, the one with the best change of getting in. And I’d guess Oliver Marcell as the top choice among contributors. The only one I’d bet on would be Carey.

8. I’m going to do a wrap up later that will address questions some of you probably have, some I certainly have, and look at what I found out in doing this project.

9. I am sorry that I’m going to miss guys like Babe Ruth and John Henry Lloyd, but it’s up to Cooperstown to fix that when they vote in 1936. I’m banking on Ruth making it quickly, but don’t hold your breath over Lloyd.

 

 

 

Veteran’s Committee Picks Two

December 5, 2016

The current iteration of the Veteran’s Committee just completed its vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of 10 people on the ballot, two were elected. Neither of them was a player.

Chosen for the Hall were former Commissioner Bud Selig and General Manager John Schuerholz were elected. Selig garnered 16 of 16 votes while Schuerholz received 15 of 16 votes. Selig was appointed temporary Commissioner after Fay Vincent was ousted and later became permanent Commissioner. He served longer than anyone other than Judge Landis and was responsible for expansion, inter-league play, putting a lot of money in the coffers, making the All Star game matter for World Series purposes, helping to bring labor peace after the disastrous 1994 strike (which he helped bring on). Some of those are good, some bad, and I didn’t mention them all.

Schuerholz became the first GM to win the World Series in both leagues, leading Kansas City and Atlanta to victories ten years apart in the 1980s and 1990s. He is President of the Braves and has had a number of assistants move to GM duties with other teams.

Of the other people on the ballot, Lou Piniella received seven votes (12 needed for election) while no one else received more than five. So congratulations to Selig and Schuerholz on joining the Hall of Fame. Next up is the BBWAA vote in January.

Narrowing my Options

December 1, 2016

As I’ve mentioned before I used to be one up on the Hall of Fame. For years I spouted on and on that the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame was Deacon White. I was right. I was sure I was right. And I was sure the Hall of Fame committees were a bunch of idiots (maybe I’m still right about that one). Then the damned Hall elected the Deacon and there I was without a best player of the 19th Century not in the Hall of Fame.

So I’ve been on a multi-year quest to find the current best 19th Century player not enshrined in Cooperstown. I’ve periodically kept you up on this trip through that far gone time. And now it’s time to do so again. I’ve gotten it down to two players. But first, I want to discuss a possible third candidate for the job.

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler is easily, at least in my opinion, the best Negro League player of the 19th Century not in Cooperstown. I use the words “Negro League” but I am referring to the segregated teams and leagues that flourished (or didn’t) in the 19th Century, not the more familiar “Negro Leagues” of the 20th. There are other contenders like George Stovey, Fleet Walker, and others (Frank Grant is the only 19th Century black player currently in the Hall of Fame), but Fowler seems to be the best. As with all black ball players of the era there is almost no information of a statistical nature available to compare him to his contemporaries, either white or black. So his record is unknown, and probably unknowable. Is he the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame? The answer is “possibly.” But I can’t prove it. It requires an amount of intuition I’m not willing to use to state “yes,” so he remains the great unknown for me in dealing with this project.

Now, the final two contenders, in alphabetical order:

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes was one of the finest players in the era of the National Association (1871-75) and for a couple of years in the National League. It’s easy to argue that Albert Spaulding was the finest of all NA players, but Barnes was only a small notch below him. Along with guys like Andy Leonard and Cal McVey, Barnes ranked as the best hitter in the NA. His career prior to 1871 is a bit foggy, but it is evident that he was a good player and his NA stats are excellent. He flames out after a couple of NL years (the reason is somewhat murky and is ascribed to a couple different causes), but what stats we have show he was not done when the NA collapsed. Because almost all his great seasons are with the NA and the powers-that-be in baseball don’t want to recognize the Association as a big league, he’s gotten scant support for the Hall. Hopefully the new Vets Committee that now begins in 1871 will change that at least a little.

Joe Start

Joe Start

Joe Start both predates Barnes and plays long after Barnes is gone. If Barnes’ stats are foggy, Start’s are absolutely pitch black. He begins his career in the 1860s with the Atlantic of Brooklyn, helps lead them to championships in the era of the American Civil War, then joins the National Association with the Mutuals, and finishes with the Providence Grays in 1886 at age 43. He stays in baseball at the highest level from prior to the Civil War through the first of the 19th Century’s playoff series’ in 1884. His NA stats are good, his NL stats even better. What’s missing are his pre-1871 stats. There is general agreement that he was one the best players the Atlantics had in the 1860s, but there’s no information to indicate just how good he was in the period. The team won a lot, but Start wasn’t their only good player and exactly how much influence he had on the team’s ability to win is debatable. Of course we also have to deal with the problem that the Atlantic played fewer than 50 games a season.

So that’s where I am now. Hopefully, I can make a final call at some point, but I wanted to keep you advised on an issue I’m certain you were just dying to know how it was going. I’ll get back to you when/if I know more. You may feel free to disagree (and be wrong).