Archive for March, 2017

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The First Three Games

March 23, 2017

The 1941 World Series began a rivalry that was among the most fierce and passionate in baseball: the Dodgers and the Yankees. Now that it’s cross country, it’s a little less passionate, but nonetheless the intensity is still there. The first games in that rivalry were in Yankee Stadium.

Game 1: 1 October 1941

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon

Game one saw the Yankees start Hall of Fame right-hander Red Ruffing against Curt Davis. New York struck first with a Joe Gordon home run in the bottom of the second. The 1-0 score lasted until the bottom of the fourth when, Joe DiMaggio drove a long fly to left. Joe Medwick, grabbed the top of the fence, hoisted himself up, and snagged the ball going out of the field of play (sort of like the more famous Al Gionfriddo catch of 1947). That gave New York two outs. But then Charlie Keller walked. Bill Dickey promptly doubled to score Keller and run the score to 2-0.

The Dodgers got the run right back in the top of the fifth, again with two outs. PeeWee Reese singled and scored on a follow up triple by catcher Mickey Owen. The score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the sixth when, this time with only one out, Davis again walked Keller. A Dickey single sent Keller to third and a Gordon (who went 2 for 2 in the game with a walk) single brought home Keller with the third New York run. It also sent Davis to the bench and brought in ace reliever Hugh Casey, who got out of the inning with consecutive flies.

Brooklyn again got the run right back in the top of the sixth. Cookie Lavagetto reached first on a throwing error by Yanks shortstop Phil Rizzuto. A Reese single sent Lavagetto to second and Lew Riggs pinch hit for Owen. Riggs singled to plate Lavagetto, but a double play and a ground out ended the inning with the score 3-2. It stayed that way through the eighth when Ruffing gave up two singles sandwiched around a foul. That brought up Dodgers catcher Herman Franks (who was in the game because Riggs had pinch hit for Owen). He hit one to Gordon, who flipped to Rizzuto who threw on to first to end the inning and the game on a nifty double play.

The big stars were for the Dodgers, Medwick, who’s great catch saved a run and for the Yankees, Ruffing who pitched a complete game and Gordon who drove in two runs and scored one. The game gave New York a 1-0 Series lead.

Game 2, 2 October 1941

Mickey Owen about 1940

Game 2 saw New York trot out Spud Chandler to face Brooklyn ace Whit Wyatt. At the beginning of the game, Chandler seemed more the ace than Wyatt. The Dodgers gave up runs in both the second and third innings. It could have been worse. With two outs and Charlie Keller on third and Joe Gordon on second, Chandler singled to score Keller, but an alert play by Dolph Camilli, Dodgers first baseman, gunned Gordon down at the plate to end the inning. In the third, Tommy Henrich doubled and after an out, came home on a Keller single.

After that Wyatt settled down. He gave up a couple of walks and a handful of hits, but no Yankee scored. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finally got to Chandler in the fifth. Walks to Camilli and Cookie Lavagetto were bookends to a Joe Medwick double that loaded the bases and brought up Brooklyn shortstop PeeWee Reese. Reese grounded to his counterpart, Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto flipped to Gordon to get Lavagetto, but Reese beat the relay and Camilli scored while Medwick went to third. That brought up Mickey Owen, who singled home Medwick to tie the score.

In the top of the sixth, Dixie Walker reached first on a Gordon throwing error and went to third on a Billy Herman single. That gave Chandler an appointment with the showers and brought in Yankees relief ace Johnny Murphy. Camilli singled to untie the game and the Dodgers held on to win 3-2. Wyatt ended up with a complete game victory while Chandler took the loss.

Game 3, 4 October 1941

Marius Russo

After a day off and with the Series tied one game each, the teams moved to Ebbets Field for game three. It was the first postseason game played in Ebbets Field since 1920. The Dodgers gave the ball to Fred Fitzsimmons. The Yanks countered with Marius Russo.

For seven innings it was a great pitchers duel. No on scored. Only one man on each team (Joe Gordon and Pete Reiser) made it as far as third. By the eighth, Fitzsimmons was almost out of gas. Then he got hit on the foot by a batted ball. He’d given up four hits and walked three, while striking out one, but he just couldn’t go on with the foot hurting. So Leo Durocher decided he had to go to his bullpen. In came Hugh Casey, the Dodgers counterpart to Johnny Murphy. He got the first out, then consecutive singles by Red Rolfe and Tommy Henrich brought Joe DiMaggio to the plate. He singled to left scoring Rolfe and sending Henrich to third. Charlie Keller was next and singled scoring Henrich. That was all for Casey. Larry French replaced him and recorded the final out of the inning.

Leading 2-0 Russo started the bottom of the eighth by giving up a Dixie Walker double. One out later French was removed for a pinch hitter, who struck out. That brought PeeWee Reese to the plate. He singled scoring Walker before Russo got a popup to end the inning. He sailed through the ninth to record a Yankees 2-1 win and put New York up 2 games to 1. Game four was Sunday and would become the most famous, of infamous depending on your point of view of the entire Series.

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: Leo’s Lads

March 20, 2017
Leo "the Lip" while with the Yankees. Durocher's on the left, the other guy is unknown.

Leo “the Lip” while with the Yankees. Durocher’s on the left, the other guy I don’t recognize.

The other half of the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry was Brooklyn. Unlike the Yanks, the Dodgers hadn’t been overly successful, especially during the “Daffiness Boys” Days of the 1930s. By 1941 that had all changed.

Leo Durocher was now the manager. He’d come over from St. Louis as a shortstop, had become the player-manager of the late 1930s, and was still doing a little field time in 1941. He’d led the team to 100 wins and its first pennant since 1920 (a World Series loss to Cleveland). The hitters dominated the National League ending up first in runs, hits, doubles, triples, total bases, home runs, average and almost everything else (they were next-to-last in stolen bases). The staff wasn’t quite as good, only leading the NL in hits and ERA. But they were second in runs allowed and shutouts, running third in both walks and strikeouts.

It was a veteran staff. Of the primary starters, only Kirby Higbe was under 30 (he was 26). He tied for the team lead with 22 wins, had an ERA just over three (ERA+ of 118), a 1.262 WHIP, walked more men than he struck out, and put up 3.4 WAR. The other team ace was Whit Wyatt (who was 33). He also had 22 wins, but his ERA was 2.34, with a team leading ERA+ of 159 (among pitchers with 15 or more starts). He led the team with 7.6 WAR, a 1.058 WHIP, and managed to strikeout about two men for every one he walked. Curt Davis’ 13 wins were the most by any other starter. His ERA was under three (2.97) while fourth starter Luke Hamlin had an ERA north of four. Fred Fitzsimmons was only in 13 games in 1941, was 39, and overweight. He parlayed all that into a 6-1 record with a 2.07 ERA and a 180 ERA+. Also under thirty (at 27) was Hugh Casey, the primary man out of the bullpen. He was in 45 games, started 18, pitched 162 innings and was almost dead even in walks to strikeout ratio (57 to 61). Of the rest of the staff, no one won more than three games, or pitched 60 innings (Johnny Allen had 57 innings).

From first around to third, the infield consisted of an MVP, two Hall of Famers, and a player later famous for a single hit. The MVP was first baseman Dolph Camilli. He’d come over from the Phillies and proceed to lead the team in home runs (34), RBIs (120), walks, and strikeouts. His OPS+ came in at 164 with an infield high of 6.8 WAR. Billy Herman was at second (and the first of the Hall of Fame duo). He’d come over from Chicago and led the infield with 156 hits and put up 3.6 WAR. PeeWee Reese was both the shortstop and the other infielder to make the Hall of Fame. He hit only .229 and had 2.0 WAR. He led National League shortstops in both putouts and errors. Cookie Lavagetto held down third. He hit .277, drove in 78 runs, had 2.7 WAR, and was still six years from his most famous hit (a double in the 1947 World Series to break up a no-hitter). Lew Riggs, Alex Kampouris, and Pete Coscarart were the main backups. Both Riggs and Kampouris hit above .300 and Riggs led the subs with five home runs. Manager Leo Durocher got into 18 games, 13 in the middle of the infield.

The outfield was Pete Reiser, Dixie Walker, and Ducky Joe Medwick. Medwick was a recent pickup from St. Louis and four years from his Triple Crown. He still hit well, .318 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs. There’s an argument that his home run total was suppressed by Ebbets Field. That may be true, but it had been dropping for a couple of years. He showed 141 OPS+ and 4.6 WAR over 133 games. Reiser had some claim to being both the team and league MVP (although Camilli won the league award). He hit an NL high .343 with a .558 slugging percentage and .964 OPS, an OPS+ of 164 and 299 total bases. All led the league. His WAR was 7.4 (it would be his career high) in 137 games. For a player known for his speed, he stole only four bases (tied for third on the team). Walker was not yet the figure of scorn that later fans heaped on him for his opposition to Jackie Robinson. He hit .311, with nine homers (fourth on the team) and 71 RBIs (good for fifth on the team). The primary backup men were Jimmy Wasdell and Joe Vosmik. Wasdell had four home runs and hit .298. Future Hall of Famer Paul Waner, at the end of his career, appeared in 11 games and hit a buck-71.

All of which brings me to the catchers: Mickey Owen and Herman Franks. Owen was the primary catcher with Franks spelling him. Although he’d been up since 1937, Owen was new with the Dodgers. In his first year with the team he’d been an All-Star, hitting only .231 with a single homer. But he was considered a terrific catcher, showing a .995 fielding percentage, a 52% caught stealing percentage, and allowing only two passed balls all year. Franks, who would later make a name for himself as a manager, hit only .201 and wasn’t as good behind the plate as Owen.

The Dodgers, the new kids on the block, were decided underdogs in 1941, but they brought an energy to baseball that had been missing for several years. They weren’t expected to win, but they were expected to bring joy to Hilda Chester and her bell along with the Sym-Phony band.

 

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The Bombers

March 16, 2017
Marse Joe

Marse Joe

There are a number of great rivalries in baseball: Cards-Cubs, Dodgers-Giants, Yanks-Red Sox, and others. In postseason baseball there is nothing quite like the rivalry between the Yankees and the Dodgers. They’ve played each other more than any other World Series combination (with the Yankees usually winning). This is a look at the World Series that started that rivalry, the 1941 World Series.

Joe McCarthy, since the early 1930s managed to lead the New York Yankees to World Series triumphs five times, the last win coming in 1939. His offense finished high in almost every major American League category. They were second in runs, slugging, OPS, total bases; first in home runs; third in walks, batting average, OBP; and fourth in triples. Only in doubles were they down the list at seventh. The staff was equally as effective. They finished first in hits, runs, and saves (although the stat wasn’t around yet). They were second in ERA and shutouts while finishing third in strikeouts.

The infield, two years removed from the tragic loss of Lou Gehrig, consisted of Johnny Sturm at first, Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto up the middle, and Red Rolfe at third. Rizzuto’s .307 led the infield in average while Gordon led in both homers (24) and RBIs (24). His 5.2 WAR also led the infield and was third on the team. Rizzuto’s WAR was at 4.5. Rolfe’s WAR stood at 1.1 while Sturm was at a minus two. The backups were two middle infielders: Jerry Priddy and Frankie Crosetti. Both managed a single home run while Priddy had more RBIs and Crossetti a slightly higher batting average.

There is a school of thought that states this Yankees outfield was, across the board, the best Yankees outfield ever. Charlie Keller was in left. He hit .298 with 33 home runs, 122 RBIs, and OPS+ of 162 for 6.6 WAR. Tommy Henrich was in right. He hit .277 with 31 home runs, 85 RBIs, a 136 OPS+, and 4.6 WAR. Of course the center fielder was Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. The Clipper hit .357, had 30 homers, 125 RBIs, only 13 strikeouts in 541 at bats (read that closely), had an OPS+ of 184, and 9.1 WAR, all to go along with the 56 game hitting streak and an MVP Award. The backups were George Selkirk and Frenchy Bordagaray. Frenchy hit .260, “Twinkletoes” Selkirk had six home runs and 25 RBIs. They combined for a -0.1 WAR (Selkirk’s was at least a positive number).

Hall of Famer Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar did almost all the catching. In many ways their season mirrored each other. Dickey hit .284, Rosar .287. Dickey’s OPS+ was 109, Rosar’s was 101. Dickey’s 2.6 WAR exactly doubled Rosar’s 1.3. Dickey had seven home runs and 71 RBIs while striking out only 17 times in 348 at bats. Rosar played many less games, but had 10 strikeouts in 209 at bats. Ken Silvestri was the third catcher. He got into 17 games and hit .250.

Although there were a couple of stars involved, the staff really worked as a “staff.” Marius Russo led the team with 27 starts while Red Ruffing, Spud Chandler, Lefty Gomez, and Atley Donald all started at least 20 games. Marty Breuer and Ernie “Tiny” Bonham had 18 and 14 starts while no one else had more than eight. Ruffing and Gomez, the two members of the Hall of Fame, each put up 15 wins while Russo had 14. Chandler had 10 and both Donald and Bonham, as well has Breuer had nine. Russo’s WAR was 3.0, Bonham managed 2.6, and Ruffing 2.0. The reliever was Johnny Murphy. His ERA was 1.98 in 77 innings pitched, all in relief. He had 15 saves but managed to walk 40 opponents while striking out only 29. His ERA+ was a team leading 200.

Although they’d lost to Detroit in 1940, the Yankees of 1941 were still very much the same team that had won consecutive World Series crowns in 1936, ’37, ’38, and ’39. In the coming World Series they would face an upstart team that hadn’t been to a championship since 1920 and hadn’t won one since Iron Man Joe McGinnity and the turn of the century.

 

 

Mack’s Cartoons, final set

March 14, 2017
Gene Mack looks at Forbes Field

Gene Mack looks at Forbes Field

Having spent the last several of these showing you Gene Mack’s 1940s cartoons of the existing Major League ballparks of the era, here’s the last four of the set, beginning with Forbes Field (above) and the other National League park (Crosley Field) below.

Crosley Field, Cincinnati, according to Mack

Crosley Field, Cincinnati, according to Mack

That leaves two final parks, the one in Cleveland

Cleveland

Cleveland

and finally the one in Detroit with its obligatory picture of Ty Cobb.

Briggs Stadium, Detroit

Briggs Stadium, Detroit

I trust you have enjoyed seeing these. Remember you can click on each to enlarge it enough to read. They are available at a number of places online. They are one of the true baseball treasures of the 1940s.

Mack Cartoons, part 3

March 9, 2017
Gene Mack's view of Yankee Stadium

Gene Mack’s view of Yankee Stadium

Time for the third installment of the Gene Mack cartoons from the 1940s. Today the three parks in New York, starting with Yankee Stadium above and the Polo Grounds below.

The Mack view of the Polo Grounds

The Mack view of the Polo Grounds

Then followed by the home field of the Brooklyn Dodgers

Ebbets Field

Ebbets Field

and a side trip down the coast to the house that Walter built.

Griffith Park, Washington

Griffith Park, Washington

Mack Cartoons, part 2

March 7, 2017
Mack's view of Fenway Park, Boston

Mack’s view of Fenway Park, Boston

Here’s the next four of the 1940s Gene Mack ballpark cartoon series. This time the cities with two ballyards in the same town. Fenway above and Braves Field Boston below.

Braves Field, Boston

Braves Field, Boston

And also for your enjoyment, the two parks in Chicago. First Comiskey

Comiskey Park, Chicago

Comiskey Park, Chicago

and then Wrigley Field.

Mack rendition of Wrigley Field, Chicago

Mack rendition of Wrigley Field, Chicago

Again you can click on each to enlarge. Enjoy.

Mack Cartoons

March 2, 2017
Gene Mack's view of Shibe Park, Philadelphia

Gene Mack’s view of Shibe Park, Philadelphia

Back in the 1940s Gene Mack was a sports cartoonist working in Boston. He was particularly famous for his baseball cartoons. In 1946 and 1947 he did a series of cartoons showing the ballparks of the era. Each of them gave a view of the park outside in one corner, then showed the park interior with lots of little bits about what it was like in the park and what famous (or infamous) things happened in each. Above is one example.

Overall there are 14 of the cartoons. Baseball in the era consisted of 16 teams, but two of them (the teams in Philadelphia and St. Louis) used the same parks, so there was only need for 14 cartoons. Over the next several of these I’m going to show you each of the cartoons. You can click on each to enlarge it. They can be found a lot of places on line if you’re interested. I trust you’ll enjoy them. This time it’s the cartoons showing the stadia in Philly and St. Louis.

Gene Mack's view of Sportsman's Park, St. Louis