Archive for January, 2017

The Best Team Never to Win (1948 playoff)

January 31, 2017
Vern Stephens (Boston) and Lou Boudreau (Cleveland) at Fenway Park 1948

Vern Stephens (Boston) and Lou Boudreau (Cleveland) at Fenway Park 1948

If the 1948-50 Boston Red Sox were the best team to never win a pennant, the 1948 team came close. At the end of the regular season, they emerged tied for first with the Cleveland Indians. At the time, each league had its own rules about breaking end of season ties. The National League ran a best of three series to determine a pennant winner. The American League had a one game winner-take-all playoff to determine their pennant winner. The AL was founded in 1901. Prior to 1948 there had never been a tie, so the 1948 game was a first in league history. The game was played 4 October in Fenway Park, Boston.

The pennant race came down to the final day so neither team was able to start their ace. Boston manager Joe Mc Carthy sent 8-7 Denny Galehouse to the mound, while Cleveland player-manager Lou Boudreau countered with 19 game winner Gene Bearden. Bearden in particular was working on short rest. Here’s a look at the starting lineups:

Cleveland: Dale Mitchell (lf), Allie Clark (1b), Lou Boudreau (SS and Hall of Fame), Joe Gordon (2b, and Hall of Fame), Ken Keltner (3b), Larry Doby (cf and Hall of Fame), Bob Kennedy (rf), Jim Hegan (c), Bearden.

Boston: Dom DiMaggio (cf), Johnny Pesky (3b), Ted Williams (lf and Hall of Fame), Vern Stephens (SS), Bobby Doerr (2b and Hall of Fame), Stan Spence (rf), Billy Goodman (1b), Birdie Tebbetts (c), Galehouse.

Things began with a bang. With two outs, Boudreau caught up with a Galehouse pitch and drove it over the fences for a 1-0 Cleveland lead. That lasted exactly two outs. With an out, Pesky doubled, then, following another out, came home on a Stephens single to left. Then the pitchers settled down. Over the next two innings, Galehouse walked one and gave up a single while striking out one. Bearden walked two, one of which was erased on a double play, while giving up no hits.

Then came the top of the fourth. Consecutive singles by Boudreau and Gordon brought up Keltner. He blasted a three run homer that sent Galehouse to the showers and brought in reliever Ellis Kinder who managed to get out of the inning without further damage. Bearden sailed through the fourth, then Boudreau hit his second homer, this one off Kinder, to make the score 6-1 half way through the game.

After an uneventful bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, Boston struck, again with two outs. With a single out, Williams reached base on an error by Gordon and scored ahead of Doerr when the latter connected with a home run. A Spence strikeout ended the inning with the score 6-3.

It stayed that way into the eighth when Cleveland picked up an unearned run on an error. They tacked on another when a double play with the bases loaded allowed an eighth run. With the score 8-3, Bearden returned to the mound for the bottom of the ninth. A grounder back to the pitcher made Doer the first out. Bearden then walked pinch hitter Billy Hitchcock. Goodman struck out for the second out of the inning. Then Tebbetts grounded to third baseman Keltner, who tossed to first for the final out and Cleveland was champ 8-3.

Boudreau was great (he won the MVP that year), going four for four with three runs scored, two RBIs and two homers. Keltner had provided another homer, this one worth three runs. Doby also managed a couple of hits, both doubles. Bearden threw a complete game giving up one earned run (the first one) while striking out six. He gave up five hits and five walks, but only three men scored.

For the Red Sox, Doerr had a homer and two of the RBIs (Stephens got the other). No one had more than one hit and Pesky had the only extra base hit (a double) other than Doerr’s home run. Galehouse gave up five hits and four runs over three-plus innings, while walking one and striking out another one. Kinder also gave up four runs (three earned) over six innings while giving up eight hits, striking out two and walking three.

Cleveland would go on to win the World Series that year; their last to date. Boston would have two more tries at the ring. As this series of posts has pointed out, they never grasped it. Next time some thoughts on why they failed.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Best Team Never to Win (2)

January 26, 2017

Mel Parnell

Having decided the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox are the best team to never win a pennant, I spent the last post detailing some of the players. In this one I want to look at more of the roster. I have the battery and the bench left.

Almost all the catching was done by two men: Birdie Tebbetts and Mike Batts. Tebbetts was the primary catcher for the entire period. He’d been around for a while (1936) and 1952 would be his last season. He started with Detroit and participated in the 1940 World Series (the Tigers lost). He’d missed the 1945 Series win because of military service. He came to Boston in 1947 and remained through 1950. His triple slash line for 1950 was ..310/.377/.444/.821. It was easily his best season in Boston, but it needs to be noted he only played in 79 games that year. He had 18 home runs over the period. His 68 RBIs in 1948 was easily his highest total. He had 3.2 total WAR for the three seasons. He’d been an excellent catcher while in Detroit, but age and injury diminished his skills by 1948. Mike Batts was the primary backup. His best year was 1948 when his triple slash line looked like this: .314/.391/.441/.832 in 46 games (his high in games played was 75 in 1950. He managed eight total home runs and topped out at 34 RBIs in 1950. As a catcher he was nothing special. His total WAR for the three seasons was 1.2.

As usual, the bench saw much change over three seasons. The following were the primary bench players in 1948: Sam Mele and Wally Moses in the outfield, and infielders Billy Hitchcock and Jake Jones (all the bench players with more than four games played). Hitchcock hit .298, both Mele and Moses had two homers, and Moses led the bench with 29 RBIs and five steals. Together they had -1.3 WAR. In 1949 Hitchcock and Mele were back. Tommy O’Brien replaced Moses and Walt Dropo replaced Jones and new guy Lou Stringer joined the team as the members of the bench with 40 or more at bats. Dropo, who only got into 11 games, I dealt with in the last post. The others saw Stringer hit .268 and O’Brien have three homers and 10 RBIs. Between them they came up with -2 WAR. In 1950, except for Billy Goodman who showed up in the last post, no backup infielder played in more than 25 games. The main bench consisted of O’Brien, Clyde Vollmer, and Tom Wright in the outfield (where Williams was injured for part of the season), along with Buddy Roser who was the third catcher. Wright hit .318 and Vollmer had seven home runs and 37 RBIs. Vollmer’s 0.3 was the only WAR in positive numbers. The above makes it plain that the bench wasn’t a major team strength.

You can get away with a weak bench, but you can’t get away with a weak staff. As you should expect, over a period of three years there were major changes in the pitching staff as well as stalwarts who were there all three seasons. In the brief look at the various pitchers which is going to follow this paragraph, I am noting all hurlers who started double figure games along with the top two or three men in the bullpen.

In 1948, six men started double figure games: Joe Dobson, Mel Parnell, Jack Kramer, Ellis Kinder, Mickey Harris, and Denny Galehouse. Parnell and Harris were the lefties. Kramer led the team with 18 wins while Parnell’s 3.14 set the ERA pace. Only Harris, at 7-10 put up a losing record. Kramer, Galehouse, and Harris all gave up more hits than innings pitched, while Dobson’s 1.341 WHIP led the starters. Parnell, Kinder, Galehouse, and Harris all walked more men than they struck out. Parnell’s 139 was the top ERA+ and only Dobson (at 3.6) and Parnell (at 3.4) had pitching WAR above 2.0. Earl Johnson, Dave Ferriss, and Tex Hughson were the only other pitchers to appear in 10 or more games. Johnson’s 4.53 was the only ERA under five and all of them gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Hughson’s 1.448 was the best WHIP and Hughson’s 0.0 WAR was best of the three.

The next season, 1949, saw Kramer, Parnell, Kinder, and Dobson remain from 1948. They were joined by Chuck Stobbs and Mickey McDermott, both lefties. Parnell and Kinder had great seasons. Parnell won 25 games, Kinder 23. Parnell’s ERA was 2.77, but he still walked more men than he struck out (1.327). His 8.2 WAR was second on the team to Ted Williams, while Kinder had 4.3 WAR. Of the others, only Kramer had a losing record, but only Dobson had an ERA under four. Additionally Kramer gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Together they produced 2.1 WAR. The bullpen featured Hughson and Johnson, while adding Walt Masterson. Only Masterson had an ERA under 5.25. All three gave up more hits than they had innings pitched, Hughson’s 1.584 was the top WHIP, and together they managed all of 10.4 WAR.

By 1950 only Parnell and Dobson were left from the 1948 starters. Stobbs, who’d come in 1949 was still there, and Willard Nixon had come aboard as a new right hander. Among the bullpen men, Masterson and McDermott did the bulk of the work. The big change was that Kinder was now doing half of his work out of the bullpen (23 starts in 48 games pitched). Parnell (at 5.6) and Dobson (at 3.9) led the team in WAR and produced winning seasons with 18-10 and 15-10 records (Parnell listed first). Parnell’s ERA was 3.61 and Dobson’s was 4.18. Both Stobbs and Nixon had ERA’s north of five while Dobson and Nixon continued the trend of giving up more hits than they had innings pitched. Kinder did the same, but at 1.401 had the best WHIP. All the starters, except Kinder walked more men than they struck out. Both McDermott and Masterson put up ERA’s over five and both walked more opponents than they struck out (at least McDermott gave up fewer hits than he had innings pitched). Kinder’s WAR was a respectable 3.5, but Stobbs, Nixon, McDermott, and Masterson together totaled -0.3.

So there’s the team that played in Boston in the American League between 1948 and 1950 inclusive. They didn’t win, although they did come close, especially in 1948. Next time some thoughts on what went wrong.

 

 

The Best Team Never to Win

January 24, 2017
Marse Joe while with the Yanks

Marse Joe while with the Yanks

The Cubs have, over the last 60 years, been historically bad. Most years they weren’t in contention by the end of the first couple of days and went downhill from there. But there are a lot of other teams that didn’t win much, so I decided to look for what I considered the best team that never won.

Let me take a minute to define my terms. I’m looking for the team that was good, really good, but never won a pennant. As we move toward the modern era we get more teams making the postseason, so I decided that teams making a playoff could count, but they weren’t allowed to win even one round during the postseason. I did not sit down and laboriously go through stat after stat trying to find the team with the most runs, or the highest team WAR, or WHIP. I looked primarily at overall record and I decided that teams that were good, but unsuccessful, over a period of years were more what I was looking for than some one year wonder of a team. A team like the 1988 Mets didn’t win, but with essentially the same team, they’d won the World Series in 1986, so they weren’t eligible for this project. Several teams made the initial couple of cuts, but I found myself coming back over and over to a team that was very, very good, had an MVP performance, a Hall of Fame manager and a couple of Hall of Famers and still just couldn’t quite get over the top: the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox.

Before getting into the specifics of the team, let me give you a brief look at the people involved. The primary manager was Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy. He’d won a pennant with the Cubs in 1928 then led the Yankees through most of the 1930s and into the 1940s, when he resigned in 1946. He remained out of the dugout until 1948 when he took over Boston. He remained at the helm until June 1950 when he left managing for good. His replacement was Steve O’Neill. O’Neill managed the Detroit Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship (over McCarthy’s old team, the Cubs), then was let go after falling off by 1948. He remained with Boston through 1951.

In what’s about to follow, I want to point out the statistics I quote will not be yearly, but will note the best number in the three year run. For example if Joe Klutz has his best batting average in 1948, his best OBP in 1949, and his highest slugging percentage and OPS in 1950 then his triple slash line will look something like this (year substituted for actual number): 1948/1949/1950/1950. His home run number might be 1950 and his RBI number from 1948. I’m doing this to give you some flavor of how good the players were over a period of years rather than going through each individual yearly. On the other hand cumulative stats will be for the three-year span. Hopefully, I’ll do this well enough to make sure I distinguish which stat type is which (confused?). I think it’s more in line with the length of time involved with this team.

The infield was essentially five guys. Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr held down second for the entire period. His triple slash line (again, the best number in the three years, not necessarily from the same year) was .309/.393/.519/.891. He hit 72 total home runs, his highest RBI number was 120 (1950), and he led the American League in triples with 11 in 1950. His highest hit total was 172 and he totaled 14.1 WAR over the period. He was also generally first or second in most of the major fielding statistics. Johnny Pesky and Vern Stephens held down the left side of the infield. Pesky spent ’48 and ’49 as the primary third baseman and moved to short in ’50. Stephens obviously went the other way. His triple slash line reads .312/.437/.388/.825 (all from 1950 in this case). He totaled six home runs, his highest RBI total was 69 and he managed a high of eight stolen bases over the period. He scored 347 total runs, had 185 hits in 1949, and totaled 10.7 WAR in the three-year stretch. Although his fielding numbers aren’t as good as Doerr’s, Pesky still shows up as a very good defensive player. Stephens wasn’t exactly a bad fielder, but his primary job was to wield the lumber. His triple slash line for the period peaks at .295/.391/.539/.930 with 98 home runs. He led the AL in RBIs in both 1949 and 1950 with his 159 in 1949 being the highest number. In 1948 he also managed to lead the AL in grounding into double plays. His WAR for the period was 15.1.

The other two guys were at first. Billy Goodman did more work at first than anyone else, but he wasn’t really a first baseman. He also spent a lot of time at second, third, and in the outfield (ultimately he played more games at second than at any other position). He hit well, winning the 1950 AL batting title. His best triple slash numbers were .354/.427/.455/.882 (all from 1950, a year he played no games at first). He hit five total homers in the period, had 68 RBIs in 1950, scored 91 runs (also in 1950–obviously his career year), and managed 5.2 total WAR. His replacement at first was Walt Dropo. He didn’t play at all in 1948 and had a cup of coffee in ’49. In 1950 he took over as the everyday first baseman. He led the AL in RBIs with 144, won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, had a triple slash line of .322/.378/.583/.961, led the league in total bases with 326, and posted 2.6 WAR. He also hit 34 home runs, had 180 hits, and scored 101 runs. All those were to be career highs. For his career he would put up 3.2 WAR, 2.6 of that in 1950.

The outfield belonged to four men: Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Al Zarilla, and Stan Spence. If you’re reading this you probably have a sense of Williams. He’s one of the dozen or so greatest players ever and he was excellent in the three years around 1950. His best triple slash line for the three years reads .369/,497/.650/1,141. He hit 96 home runs in the period, won the RBI title in 1949 with a career high 159, led the AL in runs, doubles, total bases at various times during the three year run. His WAR totals 21.5. He was injured for much of 1950, or his number might have been higher. He won the MVP Award in 1949. Stan Spence, on the other hand, is fairly obscure. He played both right field and first base in 1948, then was traded seven games into 1949. In 1948 he hit .235/,368/.391/.759 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs. Zarilla was his replacement. He was with Boston in both ’49 and 1950 and had a better year in ’50. His triple slash line for 1950 is .325/.423/.493/.915. He had nine home runs both years, 145 total RBIs, had 32 doubles each year, and 4.6 total WAR. He was a decent outfielder, but is today probably most famous as the principal in the famous Dizzy Dean line “Zarilla slud into third.” Which leaves Dom DiMaggio, the center fielder. His triple slash numbers read .328/.4.14/.452/.866 (all are from 1950). He led the AL in stolen bases (15), triples (11), and runs 131) in 1950 (his best year) and put up 24 home runs, 384 runs, and 11.1 WAR over the period. His fielding stats show him as one of the best center fielders of the era.

Next time I want to look at the battery (both catchers and pitchers) as well as the bench. It’s a fine team. So I also want to look at what went wrong causing them to never reach the World Series.

 

 

 

 

 

The Class of 2017: Some Thoughts

January 19, 2017

So we now know who is and who isn’t in the Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Here’s a few notes on the results. As usual, in honor of a nine inning game, there are nine of them.

1. Congratulations to all five winners. My list might have been different, but this is a solid slate of inductees.

2. I feel a little sorry for both Trevor Hoffman and Vlad Guerrero. Both managed to pick up 70% plus in the voting (Hoffman missed the class by four votes) but failed election. It must be tough to get that close and not make it. But it bodes well for both next year.

3. The steroid boys ended up a mixed bag. Both Clemens and Bonds are rising. Neither Sheffield nor Sosa are doing well. Ramirez did not debut particularly high (apparently “Manny being Manny” wasn’t a big enough draw). It seems that the writers still haven’t made up their mind about the issue, although it’s possible that the pre-steroid careers of Clemens and Bonds have more weight than do the pre-steroid careers of the others. All this mimics “conventional wisdom” about if and when the five of them started using the stuff, not my own opinion (which is strictly my own).

4. I’m surprised Jorge Posada dropped off the list after one vote. He was, after all, part of the “Core Four,” the greatest single combination of baseball talent together on one field since Abner Doubleday (or maybe not). Seriously, I thought he’d do better because of the positive press he and his team had gotten over the years. He was an important member of the multi-pennant winning team that played in New York and that got him a lot of recognition. I never expected he’d make a run on the first ballot, but I didn’t expect him to fall off entirely. Shows what I know.

5. There are a lot of allegations about PED use by Ivan Rodriguez. His election, along with Bud Selig’s, now makes it easier for others to reach Cooperstown. Again, I make no comment on whether the allegations are true.

6. They tell me that the openness of the balloting this year, and the publishing of the complete balloting next year is changing the vote. OK, maybe. But I see no actual proof of that. It’s possible that removing the “dead weight” after last year’s voting may be making more changes than the new “openness.” We’ll see in a year or so.

7. Edgar Martinez made a big move. Hooray. Come on, people, DH is a position like first base is a position. So they’re played differently. First base and second base are played differently. So are second and shortstop. At some point baseball is going to have to deal with the DH being a position that is no longer merely the refuge of old guys who can’t run the bases anymore. The Hall came close with Paul Molitor, so now it’s time to deal with it with Martinez.

8. Mike Mussina is doing better. Curt Shilling isn’t. I have no idea how much Shilling’s politics is involved in that trend. It shouldn’t be at all.

9. It seems the gap between traditional stats and the newer ones is narrowing when it comes to election to the Hall of Fame. I have no idea it that’s good, bad, or indifferent.

The Class of 2017

January 18, 2017

According to MLB.com the BBWAA has elected Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez to the Hall of Fame. They will enter the Hall along with Bud Selig and John Schuerholz as the Class of 2017. Trevor Hoffman and Vlad Guerrero came closest to election without making it.  Comments to follow.

The Impossible Dream: Back to Boston

January 16, 2017

With the St. Louis Cardinals leading the 1967 World Series 3 games to 2, the Series shifted to Boston for the final two games. The Cards needed to win only one to be champions and had Bob Gibson waiting for an if necessary game seven. For the Red Sox they would have to win both games either without ace Jim Lonborg or with Lonborg going on short rest.

Game 6

Rico Petrocelli

Rico Petrocelli

Game 6 was 11 October with the home team sending Gary Waslewski to the mound. Waslewski had pitched well in his previous relief appearance in the Series. He was opposed by 16 game winner Dick Hughes. Neither man would figure in the decision.

Boston struck first on a second inning Rico Petrocelli home run. The Cardinals would get it back in the third on a Julian Javier double and a Lou Brock single. Brock then stole second and St. Louis took a 2-1 lead with a Curt Flood single plating Brock.

That score lasted until the bottom of the fourth. Carl Yastrzemski led off with a home run followed by two outs. Then back-to-back homers by Reggie Smith and Petrocelli put the Bosox up 4-2 and sent Hughes to the showers.  Things stayed that way to the seventh.

In the top of the seventh, St. Louis tied the game on a two run shot by Brock. In the bottom of the seventh, the Cards brought in Jack Lamabe to pitch. He got an out, then pinch hitter (for pitcher John Wyatt) Dalton Jones singled and Joe Foy doubled. Jones took off from first and scored. The throw home missed Jones and allowed Foy to move to third and come home on a Mike Andrews single. A Yastrzemski single sent Andrews to third and a Jerry Adair sacrifice fly scored him. Consecutive singles by George Scott and Smith brought Yastrzemski home with the fourth run of the inning. Ahead 8-4 the Red Sox brought in starter Gary Bell to finish the game. He gave up three hits and walked one, but no St. Louis player scored and the Sox tied up the Series three games each.

Game 7

Photo File

Game 7 of the World Series was 12 October. The Bosox were faced with an immediate problem. Jim Lonborg, the season long ace, was available to start only if he started on short rest. Manager Dick Williams, deciding to go with his best, sent Lonborg out to start the game. The bullpen was ready to jump in if Lonborg was ineffective on the short rest. Facing them was a fully rested Bob Gibson.

For two innings both pitchers were on. Lonborg gave up two hits, but neither runner scored. Gibson walked one man and struck out three. In the top of the third light hitting shortstop Dal Maxvill tripled. Lonborg bore down and got the next two men out without allowing Maxvill to score. That brought up Curt Flood who singled Maxvill home. A Roger Maris single sent Flood to third and with Orlando Cepeda at the plate, Lonborg uncorked a wild pitch that plated Flood. With two strikeouts to his credit, Gibson set Boston down in order in the bottom of the third leaving the score 2-0.

In the fourth no one reached base for either team and Gibson struck out two more. That brought the teams to the top of the fifth. With one out, Gibson came to the plate and hit a home run. It opened the flood gates a crack. Lou Brock singled and stole second. Flood walked and Brock stole third. Roger Maris’ sacrifice fly sent Brock home and made the score 4-0. Cepeda flew out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox got one back on a George Scott drive to center. Scott tore around second trying to stretch it to a triple. Julian Javier fielded the throw from Flood and tried to nail Scott at third. The throw was wild and Scott scampered home with the first Boston run.

If the flood gates opened a crack for St. Louis in the fifth, they broke wide open in the sixth. Tim McCarver led the inning off with a double. An error by the third baseman left Mike Shannon safe at first and brought up Javier, whose error in the fifth had led to Boston’s first run. He made up for it with a three-run homer to left that made the score 7-1. Despite giving up another hit, Lonborg got through the inning without giving up another run. Due to lead off the bottom of the sixth, he was pulled for a pinch hitter. Manager Dick Williams’ gamble of starting Lonborg had worked for four innings, but he’d been gotten to in both the fifth and sixth. He ended up giving up seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits, a walk, and struck out three.

For Gibson it was a lead he could hold easily. In the sixth and seventh innings he gave up no hits and only one walk. In the eighth he gave up a double to Rico Petrocelli, then wild pitched Petrocelli to third. He walked the next batter, then relief pitcher Norm Siebern grounded to second. A force out provided one out, but Petrocelli scored to make it 7-2. Consecutive grounders ended the inning. In the ninth Gibson gave up a leadoff single to Carl Yastrzemski, but he was erased on a double play. Gibson then struck out Scott to end the inning, the game, and the Series. St. Louis had won the 1967 World Series four games to three. Gibson was voted the MVP.

Before the Series began, there were a lot of questions being asked by fans and reporters. One was “can the Cardinals stop Carl Yastrzemski?” The answer turned out to be “no.” Yaz hit .400, slugged .840, and put up an OPS of 1.340 (of the Cards, only Lou Brock was close to those numbers). He scored four runs, drove in five, had three home runs, and made no errors in the field. The question that no one asked was “can the Cardinals stop everyone but Yaz?” The answer there turned out to be mostly “yes.” No other Red Sox player came close to Yastrzemski’s numbers. Andrews and Dalton Jones, neither of which played in all seven games, were the only other players to hit .300 and neither had an extra base hit. Petrocelli and Reggie Smith both had two home runs, but neither hit above .250. Smith and Scott had six doubles but both only scored three times. For the Series the Red Sox hit .216 with 21 runs, 19 RBIs, 17 walks, and 49 strikeouts.

The Sox pitching was somewhat better. Their ERA was 3.39, while giving up 25 runs and 17 walks. They struck out 30. Of pitchers going more than two innings, Gary Waslewski’s 2.16 ERA (over eight innings) was the only ERA under five.

For St. Louis Brock, Javier, and Maris all hit over .350 and Maris’ seven RBIs easily led the team (the next highest number was four). Brock scored eight runs and five different Cards had one home run each. The team hit .223, scored 25 runs.

Another question being asked was “With Gibson only able to pitch three games, could any other Cards pitcher beat the Red Sox?” Again the answer was “yes.” Nelson Briles won his only start and Gibson took the other three wins. Of pitchers throwing more than six innings, they were the only two with ERA’s under five (Carlton gave up no earned runs in six innings, but an unearned run gave him a loss).

It was Gibson’s series. He was 3-0 in three complete games. He allowed three runs, walked five, and allowed 14 hits in 27 innings. He set a World Series record with 31 strikeouts in 1964 (besting Sandy Koufax). In 1967 he came close to topping it with 26.

For the Red Sox it was a fluke. They would not get back to a playoff until 1975, when they would again make the Series and again lose in seven games. For the Cardinals, it was the next-to-last fling. They would make the Series in 1968 and lose to Detroit in seven games, then be out of the playoff mix for a full decade before a revival in the 1980s.

Back years ago I did a post titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car” (25 October 2010–if you want to read it) about the 1967 Series. I was in Viet Nam when the Series was played and almost everyone I knew was rooting for Boston. I put money on the Cards and picked up enough to help me buy a nice used car when I got back to the States; so the Series has always had a special place in my heart. Thanks, Bob.

 

 

The Impossible Dream: the games in St. Louis

January 12, 2017

With the 1967 World Series tied at one game each, the Series moved to St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park for the next three games. If one team could sweep, the Series would end. A 2-1 split would send the games back to Boston for the finale.

Game 3

Mike Shannon

. BMike Shannon

Game 3 was played 7 October. Knowing that Bob Gibson could only pitch three games in the Series, St. Louis depended on someone else, anyone else, to win one game. In game 3 they went with Nelson Briles. Boston countered with Gary Bell on the mound. Bell was in trouble from the start. The Cardinals jumped on him in the first when leadoff hitter Lou Brock tripled, then scored on a Curt Flood single. In the second, Tim McCarver singled and rode home on Mike Shannon’s home run to make the score 3-0. Bell was due to bat in the third, so he stayed in for the entire second inning then was lifted for a pinch hitter in the third. Gary Waslewski, the reliever, did a fine job keeping the Cards off the scoreboard over three hitless inning.

In the sixth, the Red Sox finally got to Briles. Mike Andrews, pinch-hitting for Waslewski, singled, was bunted to second, and came home on a single. But with Waslewski out of the game the Cards struck back against Lee Stange in the bottom of the sixth. Lou Brock singled, then went to third on a failed pick off (Stange threw it away), and came home on Roger Maris’ single.

A Reggie Smith homer in the seventh made the score 4-2, but a Roger Maris single and an Orlando Cepeda double gave the Cardinals one more run and a 5-2 final margin of victory. The big star was Briles who gave up two runs on seven hits, no walks, and struck out four.

Game 4

Tim McCarver

Tim McCarver

Game 4 in 1967 was, is frequently the case, pivotal. In an era that tended to use three-man rotations in the World Series, the game one starters, Jose Santiago for Boston and Bob Gibson for St. Louis, were back on the mound. Boston was looking to even the Series. What they got was a second dose of Gibson’s pitching.

The game effectively ended in the first inning. Back to back singles by Lou Brock and Curt Flood brought Roger Maris to the plate. His double scored both runs. A fly to right recorded both the first out and sent Maris to third. Tim McCarver’s single brought home Maris for the third run. An out and consecutive singles brought home McCarver and sent Santiago to the showers. Reliever Gary Bell (the game three starter and loser) got the last out, but the score stood 4-0 at the end of a single inning.

It was all Gibson needed. He went the full nine innings walking one (Smith in the seventh with one out), giving up five hits, only one (a leadoff ninth inning double by Carl Yastrzemski) for extra bases, and struck out six. Yastrzemski was the only runner to reach second during the game. When getting to third on a fly out, Yastrzemski was the only Bosox to advance to third in the game.

While Gibson was shutting down the Red Sox, the Cards were adding on two more runs in the third. Orlando Cepeda led off the inning with a double, went to third on a wild pitch, and came home on a McCarver fly. A subsequent walk to Mike Shannon and a double by Julian Javier plated the final Cards run.

Down three games to one, the “Impossible Dream” was in deep trouble. Boston would have to run the table or suffer a second consecutive World Series loss to St. Louis (1946).

Game 5

Jim Lonborg

Jim Lonborg

Down to having to win all three games, the Boston Red Sox, on 9 October 1967, turned to ace Jim Lonborg to keep the World Series alive and send the games back to Boston. The Cardinals countered with future Hall of Fame hurler Steve Carlton. It was Carlton’s first appearance on the mound during the Series. It turned out to be a first rate pitching duel.

Both pitchers matched zeroes until the top of the third when, with one out Joe Foy singled. Mike Andrews then laid down a bunt to third which Mike Shannon, a converted outfielder, mishandled allowing Foy to make second and Andrews to be safe at first. A Ken Harrelson single scored Foy for the first run of the game.

And it held up all the way to the ninth. Lonborg was masterful through eight walking none, allowing two singles, and striking out four. Carlton was lifted after six but gave up only the one unearned run while giving up three hits, walking two, and striking out five. Ray Washburn relieved Carlton and in two innings gave up a lone hit and struck out two.

Going into the ninth, the Cards brought Ron Willis into pitch. He walked George Scott, gave up a double to Reggie Smith, then intentionally walked Rico Petrocelli, before being lifted for Jack Lamabe. The new pitcher was greeted by an Elston Howard single that scored both Scott and Smith. A strikeout and a double play ended the inning.

Needing three outs to send the Series back to Boston, Lonborg got consecutive ground outs before Roger Maris drove a ball over the right field fence to score St. Louis’ first run. Another ground out ensured it would be their only run. Boston won 3-1. Although Carlton had pitched well, the day belonged to Lonborg who’d showed everyone just how important he was to the Bosox.

So the World Series would go back to Boston for game six and an if necessary game seven. Not only did the Red Sox have to win both games, they would have to do it without Lonborg or use him on short rest.

 

 

 

 

The Impossible Dream: 2 games in Boston

January 10, 2017

The 1967 World Series began in Boston 4 October. With no additional rounds of playoffs in the era, the Series could start much earlier than it does today. The Red Sox were sentimental favorites.

Game 1

Lou Brock

Lou Brock

The first game saw the Bosox start out in something of a hole. Jim Lonborg, the ace, was unavailable to pitch. Boston won the American League pennant at the last-minute and Lonborg had pitched late enough that he needed the extra rest. That put Jose Santiago on the mound for the Red Sox. St. Louis countered with Bob Gibson.

It was something of a standard mid-1960s game; a low scoring pitchers duel. The Cardinals struck first by putting up a run in the top of the third inning. Lou Brock led off with a single and went to third on a Curt Flood double. Roger Maris then hit a roller to first. First baseman George Scott’s only play was to record the out at first while Brock raced home from third. It was a fairly typical Cardinals run, showcasing speed, timely hitting, and hitting to the right with a man on third.

The Red Sox got the run right back when, with one out, pitcher Santiago slugged a home run to knot the game. And there the score stood for three more innings. Both pitchers did well. A handful of runners got on base, and Julian Javier was thrown out at home to end the fourth, but the game was showcasing the pitchers as frequently happened in the semi-Deadball Era of the mid-1960s.

In the seventh, Brock singled, then stole second. Flood, hitting behind the runner, rolled one to first for the out while Brock went on to third. That brought up Maris again. This time it was a roller to second that brought home Brock. And that was all Gibson needed. He allowed two hits and a walk in the final three frames, but no one got beyond second and the Cardinals took game one by a 2-1 score.

Gibson was great. He struck out 10, walked the one, allowed six hits, only two for extra bases (a double by Scott to go along with Santiago’s homer), and gave up one run. Santiago took the loss, but had pitched well. He went seven innings, gave up the two runs, walked three, but struck out five while giving up 10 hits. St. Louis had won by playing the kind of ball they’d played all year (stolen bases, timely hitting) to win. Game two was the next day and Lonborg was ready to pitch for Boston.

Game 2

Yaz

Yaz

Game 2 occurred 5 October and showed non-Boston fans exactly why Jim Lonborg was so important for the Red Sox. He shut out St. Louis on one hit, an eighth inning two out double by Julian Javier (who died on second when a grounder ended the inning), and a single walk ( to Curt Flood with one out in the seventh). He also struck out four on the way to a complete game shutout.

While Lonborg was shutting out the Cardinals, the St. Louis pitching staff made a major mistake, they decided to pitch to Carl Yastrzemski. After walking Yaz in the first, they threw one over the plate to lead off the fourth. He promptly hit it out for a home run and a 1-0 score. He made another out, then a three run homer in the seventh made the score 5-0 (the Bosox picked up a run in the sixth on a Rico Petrocelli sacrifice fly). In the eighth Yastrzemski managed another single to go three for four with four RBIs, two runs scored, two homers, and a walk.

Game two managed to tie the World Series at one game apiece. The Series moved to St. Louis for games three, four, and five of what was now a best of five series.

 

The Impossible Dream: the Cards

January 5, 2017
Red Schoendienst

Red Schoendienst

In 1967 the baseball world was enamored of the Boston Red Sox. Their season was known, after the Broadway hit, “The Impossible Dream.” The National League pennant winning St. Louis Cardinals were, on the other hand, a team that had shown more recent success. From the 1920s through 1946 (coincidentally against the Red Sox) the Cards were consistent winners. They’d fallen on hard times in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s but had won as recently as 1964. Now a new team (with several holdovers from ’64 still around) was going to challenge Boston in the World Series.

Hall of Fame Manager Red Schoendienst in his third years with St. Louis headed a solid team with four future Hall of Famers. In hitting the team led the NL in stolen bases and placed second in all the triple slash categories (BA/OPB.SLG/OPS) and second in runs, hits, and total bases. They were fourth in home runs and third in doubles. The pitching was also second in most categories (ERA, hits, shutouts, runs) while being third in walks and sixth in strikeouts. The team was fourth in fielding percentage, but sixth in errors.

As with the Red Sox, the Cardinals infield was set. From first around to third it consisted of Orlando Cepeda, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill, and Mike Shannon. Hall of Famer Cepeda led the team in WAR, home runs, RBIs, OPS and OPS+ on his way to the NL MVP Award. Shannon was a converted outfielder who sometimes played like it. He was getting better in the field, but was never going to make anyone forget Brooks Robinson. He hit .245 with 23 home runs and 0 WAR (making him the epitome of an average player). Both Javier and Maxvill were in the lineup for their gloves and both did well enough in the field. Javier, additionally, could hit. He managed .281 with 14 home runs (good for third on the team) and 2.6 WAR. Maxvill hit .227 with one homer. The backups were Ed Spiezio and Phil Gagliano. Neither hit .225.

There was no Carl Yazstremski in the outfield, but it was still solid across the grass. Hall of Famer Lou Brock was in left field. He wasn’t as bad an outfielder as he’s sometimes considered, but he was in the game to hit and run. He went .299 with 21 home runs (second on the team), 76 RBIs, 52 stolen bases, 325 total bases, and 5.6 WAR (third on the team). Center Fielder Curt Flood hadn’t yet become the player’s champion but was, nevertheless, a sterling ball player. He hit a team leading .335 to go with 5.3 WAR. In right field, Roger Maris was 32 and well beyond his home run hitting years as a Yankees stalwart. He hit .261 with nine home runs, 55 RBIs, and 3.6 WAR. The replacements were Bobby Tolan (later of the “Big Red Machine”) and future batting champ Alex Johnson. Tolan had six home runs while Johnson was, at .223, still learning to hit.

If the Red Sox catching situation was a mess, the Cardinals had stability there in the person of Tim McCarver. Not yet a household name because of his years as the color guy on national broadcasts, McCarver was a solid catcher who was having something like a career year. He hit .295, had 14 home runs, 69 RBIs, eight stolen bases, more walks than strikeouts, and 6.0 WAR, good for second on the team. His backups were Dave Ricketts, who hit .273, and John Romano who didn’t come close.

With a couple of exceptions, the Cardinals pitching wasn’t in any better shape than the Bosox. Seven men started 10 or more games during the season. Much of that had to do with a key injury. In July Cards ace Bob Gibson was hit by a batted ball. He made a throw to first, then managed one pitch before collapsing with a broken leg (not many people can do that). He was back by the World Series, but had only gone 13-7 with an ERA of 2.98 (ERA+ 110) and only 2.7 WAR. Dick Hughes and youngster Steve Carlton took up most of the slack. Hughes went 16-6 with a 2.67 ERA, 161 strikeouts, and 3.9 WAR. Future Hall of Famer Carlton led the team with 168 strikeouts in 193 innings, won 14 games, had an ERA of 2.98, and put up 2.9 WAR. Ray Washburn had 10 wins and an ERA north of three fifty. Nelson Briles who started 11 of 49 games had 3.6 WAR. Joe Hoerner led the bullpen with 14 saves followed by Ron Willis who had 10.

All in all the 1967 Cardinals was a fine team. With Gibson back healthy they could be formidable. The first game of the World Series was in Boston.

 

The Impossible Dream: The Bosox

January 3, 2017
Dick Williams

Dick Williams

Fifty years ago (1967) the world was a lot different. I was in Viet Nam doing my bit. The anti-war people were screaming. Martin Luther King was still alive. The big hit on Broadway was a musical titled Man of La Mancha. It’s most famous song was “The Quest” which was better known as “The Impossible Dream.” And in baseball the Boston Red Sox were an afterthought. That changed when they ran off enough wins to grab the American League pennant and go to the World Series for the first time since 1946. The team caught the imagination of a lot of people and the season became known as “The Impossible Dream” season.

The Bosox were led by Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams. He hadn’t been much of a player, but he had an eye for talent and led Boston to only its second pennant since Babe Ruth played for the team in 1918. The Sox hitters led the American League in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, home runs, total bases, slugging and OPS. They were third in stolen bases (all of 68), fourth in triples, and toward the bottom in fielding. Their pitchers were less impressive, finishing in the middle of the pack in most categories.

The infield consisted of four players averaging 24 years old. George Scott held down first. He had 19 home runs (third on the team) and 82 RBIs (good for second). Mike Andrews, who’d become famous (or infamous depending on your view of the matter) with the Athletics hit .263 with 2.9 WAR and was a decent second baseman. Rico Petrocelli, who in many ways became the face of the infield (he got a lot more press than the other three) played short, hit 17 home runs, had 4.1 WAR, and made the All Star team. Joe Foy was at third with 16 home runs, but only 2.6 WAR. Dalton Jones and Jerry Adair were the primary infield backups. Both hit about .290 with three homers apiece and 51 total RBIs.

Although the outfield was set at the beginning of the season, tragedy caused a major problem for the Red Sox as the season progressed. Tony Conigliaro was 22 and having a great year. He had 20 home runs, 67 RBIs, was hitting .287, with 3.7 WAR when he was hit in the eye with a pitched ball. Needing a replacement, Boston went with Jose Tartabull. “The Bull” hit only .223 with no power, only 53 OPS+, six stolen bases, and -1.8 WAR. It was a noticeable drop off. Fortunately for the team, the other two outfielders were much better. Reggie Smith played center and led the team with 16 stolen bases. He hit .246 but had 15 home runs and 61 RBIs for 3.4 WAR. But the star was Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. It was his Triple Crown year. He hit .326, had 44 homers, 121 RBIs, a 1.040 OPS (193 OPS+), and 12.4 WAR. For comparison, Ted Williams highest WAR was 10.9 in 1946. All that garnered Yaz the AL MVP Award. Later famed announcer Ken Harrelson and old-time Dodgers player Don Demeter were the other outfielders.

If both the infield and outfield were settled, the catching situation was a mess. Mike Ryan did more catching than anyone else in Boston in 1967 and he was above league average in the caught stealing statistic, but he hit only a buck .99 with no power and -0.6 WAR. Russ Gibson wasn’t much better. He was, like Ryan, above average in gunning down base runners, but he hit only .203 with a single home run. The solution was to bring in 38 year old Elston Howard from New York. Unfortunately for the Bosox, Howard was through. He hit .147 with 11 RBIs, a below average caught stealing percentage, and -0.8 WAR. For the World Series, Howard would be the primary backstop.

The pitching staff was also unsettled. Jim Lonborg was the unquestioned ace. He went 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA (ERA+ of 112), 246 strikeouts to go with 83 walks (a 1.138 WHIP), and 4.1 WAR. For the first time, MLB gave out two Cy Young Awards, one in each league (previously there had been a single award). Lonborg won it. Lee Stange and Gary Bell were the other pitchers who started 20 or more games. Stange was 8-10 with a 2.77 ERA while Bell went 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA. The fourth starter (in an era where most teams started four, not five pitchers) was almost as unsettled as the catcher. Bucky Brandon, Dennis Bennett, and Jose Santiago all started double figure games, with Santiago going 12-4 in fifty games (11 starts) to take the fourth spot in the Series. John Wyatt led the team in saves with 20, but 11 other players had at least one save.

It had been 30 years since Boston won the AL pennant. The “Impossible Dream” team of 1967 was an unexpected winner. They were something of a sentimental favorite nationwide. Standing in their way were the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson.