Archive for May, 2017

One Man’s Hero

May 23, 2017

Ted Breitenstein while with the Pelicans

As I’ve mentioned previously, my wife’s grandfather was a big St. Louis Browns fan. He was still young when they were formed and followed the new team in town. His father, however, was a diehard Cardinals fan and didn’t switch allegiances. Well, it’s good to have a favorite team and stick with it, but sometimes it blinds you to a player’s abilities. My wife’s grandfather once told me the following story about that.

Back in the 1890s the Browns, which were what the Cardinals were called then, had a new kid, a local, named Ted Breitenstein. He was a lefty pitcher who threw a no hitter in his first start. He’d relieved earlier in the season, but with the Cards (which is what I’m calling this team to keep down the confusion with the later Browns) out of the pennant race, he got the start on the last day of the season (4 October). He knocked off the Louisville Colonels (both teams were in the American Association in 1891) giving up a single walk.  Of course it made him the toast of the town. The Cardinals finished second that season and Breitenstein looked like a sure ace for years to come.

And my wife’s great grandfather loved him. He was certain that the team was going to flourish with Breitenstein, a local boy, leading the pack. Of course a couple of things changed in 1892. First the Association collapsed and St. Louis ended up in the newly expanded National League. Second, Ted Brietenstein had a bad year. He went 9-19 with an ERA north of 4.50 and walked more men than he struck out (his WAR was a career low -0.7). But apparently my wife’s grandfather’s dad was undeterred in his affection for good ole Ted.

But the Cards languished in their new league, and Teddy languished right with them. The move to a mound didn’t seem to do much for him one way of the other. He finally had a winning record in 1894 (27-23), won an ERA title in 1893 (3.18), and generally gave up more walks than strikeouts and tended to give up more hits than he had innings pitched.

He lost 30 games in 1895 and 26 more in 1896. It was finally too much for the Cards and he went on his way to Cincinnati (where he did get better for a while). But my wife’s great grandfather was crushed. St. Louis was throwing away their best pitcher, they were throwing away the pennant. Heck, they were throwing away the entire season. You might as well shut down the team. When Breitenstein fired another no hitter in 1898 (in April against Pittsburgh), my great grandfather-in-law was sure the team was done for.

So he continued to follow Breitenstein in the newspapers through 1900. By then Breitenstein had a career record of 160-167, in 2900 innings had given up 3100 hits, and about 300 walks ahead of his strikeout total. But he got one more chance. The Cards brought him back for 1901. And apparently great grandfather was in heaven. His hero was back, the Cardinals had a chance, and all was right (more or less) with the baseball world.

Except it wasn’t to be. Ted Breitenstein went 0-3, gave up 24 hits in 15 innings, walked 14 in the same 15 innings (while striking out three). His ERA went to 6.60. He was, frankly, through. He played several more years in the minors but he was done in St. Louis. He died in St. Louis in 1935 (and outlived my wife’s great grandfather by several years).

According to my grandfather-in-law his dad took a long time to recover, but eventually came around to going to the game again and rooting for the Cardinals. But to his dying day he always maintained that any new St. Louis pitcher he saw just “wasn’t as good as Breitenstein.” We all have heroes.

And We Have a Winner

May 18, 2017

Joe Start

Back in 2012 I was happily going along content to know that I had Deacon White pegged as the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. I’d been going along with that knowledge for years, then the Hall struck and in 2013 elected the good Deacon to the Hall. Well, that created a problem for me, I no longer had an acknowledged, at least by me, best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown. So I began to look for a replacement. I’ve been fairly public in my quest, occasionally letting readers in on how my search was going. I’ve narrowed the list down a couple of times right here on this site. And now it’s time to announce my newest pick.

The picture above should tell you I went with Joe Start. Ultimately my choice came down to a pick ’em between Start and Bud Fowler. Fowler was the first prominent black player. He played on several high level teams in the era when integration of baseball teams was still possible. It finally came down to the simple fact that his numbers are so hard to verify that I had to decide he simply couldn’t be my top choice. I’m reluctant to make that statement because I’m aware that I might just be wrong and Bud Fowler is indeed the best 19th Century player not elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s just that I can’t prove it.

Start has some of the same problems. He began his career with the Atlantic (Brooklyn) in 1862 and apparently wasn’t a rookie even then. He was born in 1842 and joined the Enterprise, one of the lesser Brooklyn teams in 1860. He remained with the Atlantic until the forming of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871. The Atlantic refused to join the league and Start jumped to the Mutual (New York) where he stayed through the rest of the Association’s years, then moved with the Mutual to the newly formed National League in 1876. With Hartford and Chicago in 1877 and 1878, he ended up with the Providence (Rhode Island) Grays in 1879 and helped them to two National League pennants (1879 and 1884) along with a victory in the 19th Century’s version of the World Series in 1884. Providence folded after 1885 and he spent his last year with Washington in 1886. He was 43 when he retired. He died in Providence in 1927.

The years with both the Enterprise and the Atlantic are not well documented. Anecdotal evidence indicate he was one of the premier players on a team that regularly won the National Association of Base Ball Players pennant in the 1860s, but exact numbers are unavailable. Once we get to the professional Association in 1871, better number are available for us. His NA numbers (all from Baseball Reference) include a triple slash line of .295/.302/.363/.665, an OPS+ of 110, 386 hits in 272 games, 262 runs scored, and 187 RBIs. In the NL his triple slash line comes in at .300/.330/.370/.699 with an OPS+ of 125, 1031 hits in 798 games, 590 runs scored, and 357 RBIs. His overall WAR is 32.2 with a peak of 4.1 in 1882 (82 games).

So there he is, my answer to the best non-Hall of Famer of the 19th Century. Start was a premier player as early as 1862 and remained a fine player through 1885 (his last year when he was 43 is the only year he shows a minus WAR of -0.1). Now I have to hope the Veteran’s Committee isn’t reading this.

 

Big Ed

May 16, 2017

Big Ed Walsh

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Ed Walsh’s retirement from the Major Leagues. It dawned on me that I’ve never actually done anything in particular on him. So I’ve decided to change that.

Most people know nothing about him. I suppose if pressed, they might know he’s in the Hall of Fame, but wouldn’t have any idea why. A few might know he won 40 games one season, but not many. Another group might know he has the lowest ERA of any major pitcher, and some of them might guess that’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame. They’d probably be right on that.

Walsh played a long time ago (1904-1917), mostly with a fairly obscure team (the Chicago White Sox–who are much more obscure than their crosstown rivals, the Cubs), and didn’t win anywhere near 300 games (195). He was a Deadball Era pitcher and his ERA (1.82) makes him, arguably the deadest of deadball pitchers. If you look at any season in which he pitches at least 100 innings, his highest ERA is 2.60, his rookie season. His low is 1.27 in 1910, a year he goes 18-20 over 370 innings (proving ERA and win-loss record do not necessarily correlate). His 40 wins come in 1908 when he leads the American League in wins, strikeouts, winning percentage, complete games, innings pitched, shutouts, and just about everything else a pitcher can lead in except, interestingly enough, ERA. His 1.42 is third behind Addie Joss and some guy named Cy Young.

In 1906 the “Hitless Wonder” White Sox managed to get to the World Series while being dead last in the AL in hits, homers, and batting average (and next-t0-last in a lot of other categories). That, you’ve already figured, means they had to pitch pretty well, right? True and Walsh was in the mix going 17-13 with a 1.88 ERA (his first ERA under two), and a league leading 10 shutouts. His WAR was 4.7 (his first WAR above 1). In the World Series, where the ChiSox upended the heavily favored Cubs in six games, Walsh won two games, one a complete game shutout and struck out 17 Cubs in 15 innings. There was no Series MVP in 1906, but he might have won it if it existed.

He hurt his arm in 1912. At the time his record stood at 182-118. He played five more years going 13-8 to finish 195-126 (.607 winning percentage). Both his 1.82 ERA and 2.02 FIP are all time records. His career WAR ended at 63.2. The Hall of Fame came in 1946. He died in 1959. His son played a few years in the Majors without much success.

Ed Walsh is, in some ways, the epitome of a Deadball Era pitcher. He has a low ERA, a lot of innings pitched, a lot of wins in a season, a ton of complete games, and a high winning percentage. He deserves to be remembered.

 

 

Shell Shock and Pitchers

May 11, 2017

A mortar. Simple looking isn’t it?

One of the more terrifying moments in Viet Nam was the mortar attack. They came without warning, usually at night, and rained shrapnel down on unsuspecting people and property with a deceptively innocent looking device. A mortar is essentially of long tube with a nail at the bottom. You drop a shell down it and the nail triggers the shell and sends it into the enemy to explode. They are more sophisticated than that, but that’s basically the way it works.

There were two ways the Viet Cong mortared our base. One was to simply start dropping shells on a target, which did a lot of damage to the target, but after the first couple of rounds didn’t do much damage to people, who could duck. The other way was to “walk” the shells to the target. This entailed dropping a round on a spot, then moving the next shell up 50 or so feet and dropping it, then another 50 feet or so until they hit the target. Then they’d pound on the target for a while before “walking” the shells back out. This could be done by either walking the shells on out the other side of the camp from where they started or they could simply “walk” the shells back the way they came. “Walking” tended to inflict more random damage, which made it more frightening, and could catch more people unaware.

We got hit one afternoon. For some reason they decided on an afternoon attack rather than the standard night attack. The first round hit well away from us and by the third round we were all safely in our bunkers. The fifth round (I think it was fifth) hit about 20 feet or so away from our bunker. This was a big pile of sandbags with metal sheets interspersed among them that provided pretty good protection, provided you could get to it.

Kinda like this, but without the windows

All of us were safe, but then we heard the sound you never wanted to hear in a mortar attack, screaming. The next shell was well on beyond us, so four of us went dashing out to see what had gone wrong. About 20 or so feet away three guys were laying on the ground screaming. We got to them as quick as we could. Two of them were bloody with obvious wounds. One had, I remember, a big jagged piece of metal shrapnel sticking out of his back. The third guy was down beside them whimpering but we couldn’t find anything wrong with him.

“Shell shock,” McDermott said to me. Mac was my best buddy in the unit.

Let me be blunt; today we call it PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I hate that. It sounds antiseptic, clean, clinical. Hell, it sounds like you’re having trouble finding a stamp. Shell shock may be less clinically correct, but it’s brutal, ugly, awful, and is just as terrible as it sounds. It’s the phrase I prefer, the phrase I still use, the phrase we all used in sunny Southeast Asia.

The base hospital was a couple of blocks away so we sent one guy to get help and the other three of us tried to aid the two wounded guys. Frankly, we blew off the shell shock guy. I remember Mac pulling out the big piece of shrapnel and applying a big bandage to the place. We all carried a bandage pack on our belts and we got yelled at by the medics for doing that (pulling out the shrapnel, not wearing a bandage pack), But in our defense, we were trying to help. We just didn’t know what we were doing.

A couple of medics showed up with a pair of stretchers. They loaded up the two wounded guys (after checking them out to see they could be moved and yelling at us for doing stupid things) and they and the two other guys from my unit lugged the wounded to the hospital (they made it safely I found out later). By this point the mortar was being “walked” back our way, so Mac and I grabbed the shell shock guy and ran as fast as we could drag him back to the bunker. Inside he, the two of us, and a handful of other guys in the unit waited out the attack. He whimpered the whole time and the rest of us sat more or less silent, not quite knowing how to calm him down.

After the rounds moved on back toward the tree line, Mac and I grabbed the guy again and pulled him to the hospital, one of us on the right with his arm around our shoulder and the other on the left doing the same thing at the same time. We had to cross a paved street and I remember looking down at his boots thinking the toes were going to be shredded by the dragging and the asphalt (strange what you think about in times like that). There were several casualties at the emergency entrance to the hospital when we got there, so we brought the guy around to the front entrance and went in.

There was a medic standing there and we sat the guy, still whimpering, down on a chair.

“Shell shock.”

The medic looked him over and nodded. He prodded a little, did one of those tests where they wave a hand in front of the eyes and see if there is a reaction. There wasn’t.

“He’s in shock. His eyes look like he’s just seen a Gibson (Bob) fastball thrown by him,” the medic told us.

“The Indians could use him.” It was the first coherent words the guy said.

We all stared.

“You an Indians fan?” the medic asked.

A weak nod. “Yeah.”

It was the break the medic needed. He helped the guy to his feet. “Never been a Cleveland fan. Like the Mets. You from Cleveland?”

“Erie, Pennsylvania,” he guy replied.

The medic started walking him slowly toward the back part of the hospital. Mac and I were more or less dismissed.

When we got back to the unit we told them what had happened. Most guys just nodded. One wag had to announce “Can’t stand the Indians.”

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About George Gibson

May 9, 2017

George Gibson (from his Wikipedia page) about 1910. Note the era catching gear

Here are some fast facts about one of the primary catcher’s on my fantasy team.

1.  George Gibson was born in London, Ontario, Canada in 1880. He worked with his father as a bricklayer and played catcher for a church league team in London.

2. He began playing professionally in 1903 and went to Buffalo where his manager was George Stallings (manager of the World Series winning 1914 Braves). He didn’t particularly like Stallings.

3. From Buffalo he went to Montreal where he played until the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him in 1905. He got into 46 games, hit a buck-78, but produced only nine errors.

4. Gibson was big (5’11”) for the era and adroit at blocking the plate. He also was considered strong armed (a trait attributed to his size) and able to throw out more runners than a regular catcher (most years his caught stealing percentage is slightly above the league norm).

5. In 1909 he set a record by catching 134 consecutive games and another record by catching in 150 total games (of 154). The first record lasted into the 1920s and the other to 1940.

6. The 1909 season saw his only postseason play. He played in all seven World Series games (a victory against Detroit), hit .240, had two doubles, scored two runs, had two RBIs, had six total hits.

7. He remained with Pittsburgh through 1916, was waived and claimed by the Giants. He refused to report.

8. Giants manager John McGraw made him a player-coach and he reported in 1917. New York won the National League pennant in 1917, but Gibson did not play in the World Series.

9. His last year was 1918. He played four games (and hit .500) and retired with a triple slash line of .236/.295/.312/.607 (OPS+ of 81), 15 home runs, 346 RBIs, 295 runs scored, and 15.1 WAR (BBRef version).

10. He coached in the International League, managed the Pirates twice and the Cubs once (with a .546 combined winner percentage), coached for both the Senators and the Cubs, and did scouting work for the Cubs.

11. In 1956 he was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. In 1987 he joined the Canadian Baseball Fall of Fame.

12. George Gibson died in his hometown of London, Ontario in January 1967.

 

Outside Waiting

May 4, 2017

“Cannonball” Dick Redding

Back in 2006 the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown decided to right a wrong. They’d already begun making strides towards that goal in the 1970s, but made a big splash in 2006. What did they do? They created a special Negro Leagues committee to look over all the information available and decide on a long list (about 100) of Negro League players, managers, and executives to be enshrined at Cooperstown. They had people comb through all the info they could find to prepare a set of statistics and other pertinent facts (and not a few legends) to lay before the select committee. They got, in Shade of Glory, a pretty fair book out of it too.

So the committee met, whittled the list down to about 30 and then made one final vote. Sixteen players, managers, executives, and whatnot got in. It was a heck of a list. It is, at least in my opinion, one of the best jobs the Hall of Fame has done over the years. And you know there’s a “but” coming. “But” they also announced, sort of announced (they never actually said it officially), that they were now through with the Negro Leagues. They done what they could. They’d found the best people (including Effa Manley, the only woman in the Hall), gotten the best available stats, gotten the best experts, so they could now say that the Hall had the Negro Leagues taken care of, period.

In the years since 2006, there has not been one player who was primarily a Negro Leaguer who has appeared on any ballot in any of the versions of the Veteran’s Committee. Not a single one. Minnie Minoso showed up, but he could be excused because he had an excellent (and possibly Hall of Fame) career, but he was being looked at as a Major Leaguer. For 10 years that standard has held.

And they are wrong. There are a number of good choices for enshrinement in Cooperstown among Negro Leagues who are currently outside waiting for their chance. Not a one has even been considered by a Veteran’s Committee. Maybe none of them are of the quality necessary for the honor, but they ought to at least be considered. Take a look at the pre-1950 players showing up on the recent ballots and tell me that no outside Negro Leaguer was better (or at least as good) as the people on the list. Frankly, I don’t think you can do it.

This is a plea for the Hall of Fame to begin again to consider Negro League players for inclusion on the early Veteran’s Committee ballot. Don’t say “we have all we need” or “we have all there is.” Look harder, people.

And to give you some sense of who’s left out, here’s a pretty fair team of Negro Leaguers who currently aren’t in the Hall of Fame:

Pitchers: “Cannonball” Dick Redding, Bill Gatewood, Rube Currie, Phil Cockrell, Nip Winters, Bill Holland

Infielders: Lemuel Hawkins, Frank Warfield, Bud Fowler, Newt Allen, Bingo DeMoss, John Beckwith, Dobie Moore

Outfield: Heavy Johnson, Steel Arm Davis, Spottswood Poles, Hurley McNair

Cacher: Bill Pettus, Bruce Petway, Double Duty Radcliffe

Manager: Buck O’Neill, “Candy” Jim Taylor

That’s 20 of a 25 man roster (plus the managers). I left a few holes for you to fill in with your own favorites that I left out (like a Dave Malarcher or a Terris McDuffy).

I’m not saying all of them are Hall of Fame quality. What I’m saying is that all of them deserve a look.

BTW got the above picture from a blog called “The Negro Leagues Up Close.” Definitely a site worth looking at if you’re interested in the Negro Leagues. Type it in on Google.

1934: Back to Navin

May 2, 2017

With the Tigers up three games to two, the World Series shifted back to Navin Field in Detroit. To win the Series, all the Tigers had to do was win one of two. Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, would have to sweep on the road to claim their third championship.

Game 6, 8 October 1934

Paul “Daffy” Dean

Detroit sent staff ace Schoolboy Rowe to the mound to clinch the Series. St. Louis responded with the younger Dean brother, Paul. The Cards got a run immediately. With one out, Jack Rothrock doubled. One out later, a Joe Medwick single scored Rothrock to put the Cardinals up 1-0.

It took a couple of innings, but the Tigers got the run back in the third on series of plays that started with a walk to JoJo White. White then stole second and went on to third when St. Louis second baseman, and manager, Frankie Frisch misplayed the ball. A single by Detroit catcher, and also manager, Mickey Cochrane gave the Tigers an unearned run and a tied ball game.

It stayed tied until the fifth when a Leo Durocher single and a Dean bunt put the go ahead run on second. Pepper Martin singled, scoring Durocher, and a bad throw by left fielder Goose Goslin who tried to nip Durocher at the plate got by Cochrane and put Martin on third. He stayed perched there for a couple of pitches before Rothrock rolled one to short. Martin scored as shortstop Billy Rogell got the out at first.

That held up until the sixth when White led off the inning with a walk and went to third on a Cochrane single. A Charlie Gehringer grounder back to the mound that Dean couldn’t handle scored White and advanced Cochrane. A Goslin bunt wasn’t far enough away from the catcher and St. Louis backstop Bill DeLancey gunned Cochrane down at third. A Rogell fly sent Gehringer to third and a Hank Greenberg single brought Gerhinger home with an unearned run that tied the game 3-3.

The tie lasted exactly three batters. With one out in the seventh, Durocher doubled, then came home on a single by pitcher Dean. He’d hurt himself with the misplay in the sixth, but made up for it with a single in the seventh. With St. Louis now up  4-3, he allowed singles in both the seventh and eighth innings (actually two in the eighth) but kept a run for scoring. In the ninth he set Detroit down in order to finish the game and tie the Series at three games each. The decisive game would be the next day.

Game 7, 9 October 1934

Joe Medwick

Game seven turned out to be one of the great blowouts in World Series history. It would be little remembered today except for one play and the fan reaction to it. It would make Joe Medwick a household name and require the Commissioner of Baseball to interfere in the World Series.

The game began with Eldon Auker on the mound for Detroit and Dizzy Dean pitching for St. Louis. For two innings nothing much happened. A handful of Cards got on base and Dean had a man reach on a error, but the score stayed 0-0. In the third with one out, Dean doubled. A Pepper Martin single sent him to third, then Martin stole second. A walk set up an out at any base and made a double play in order. The problem was that Cardinals second baseman Frankie Frisch hit the ball into the right field gap clearing the bases. A second out sent Frisch to third. A Rip Collins single and a Bill DeLancey double plated two runs, A walk and a single reloaded the bases. A Dean single brought in another run while leaving the bases loaded (and making Dean one of the few people to have two hits in one inning of a World Series game). A walk to Martin forced in another run. A Jack Rothrock grounder ended the inning, but the score now stood 7-0.

For Dean it became a walk in the park. Between the bottom of the third and the end of the fifth, he allowed a couple of men on base, but kept them clear of home. Then the Cards struck again in the sixth. Martin opened the frame with a single and came home on a Medwick triple. The play was close at third and Medwick slide in hard upsetting Marv Owen, the Detroit third baseman. Words were exchanged and some sources indicate that at least a few swings were taken. Ultimately Medwick was still safe and came home on a Rip Collins single, making the score 9-0.

But the play wasn’t over. Medwick went to his normal position in left field and the Detroit fans let him know what they thought of his roughhouse play. Medwick, being Medwick, didn’t care, but the fans continued to yell. Eventually various items of food, like oranges, and a sandwich or two, went flying out into left field. It went on long enough that play had to be stopped. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis was in attendance and umpires turned to him for help. With the game already out of hand, Landis ruled that Medwick was to be removed from the game (at 9-0 it was presumed his bat wouldn’t be missed) and play would continue with a new Cardinals left fielder and a thorough clearing of left field. The new left fielder was Chick Fullis.

Losing Medwick didn’t matter. Dean set the Tigers down in order in the sixth and St. Louis tacked on two more runs in the seventh on a triple, an error, and a double. Now up 11-0, the Cards coasted to a win and took the Series in seven games.

It’s tough to call it a terrific Series. Two of the games, including the last, were blowouts, but four were decided by three or less runs. It was punctuated by two famous plays: Dean’s beaning in game four, and Medwick’s confrontation with a fruit salad in game seven.

St. Louis hit .279 with only two home runs, but they had 14 doubles and five triples (along with two stolen bases, both by Martin). Jack Rothrock had six RBIs, Medwick had five, and both Martin and DeLancey had four. Martin, Medwick, and Collins each had 11 hits and Martin, the lead off man, scored eight runs.

Detroit hit only .224 with two homers, one by Greenberg and the other by Gehringer. But they only had one triple and 12 doubles. Greenberg’s seven RBIs easily led the team while lead off man JoJo White had six runs scored. Gehringer’s 11 hits paced the losers.

The Cardinals pitching was spotty. Both the Dean brothers were great. The each had two wins, and Paul’s 1.00 ERA led the starters. But Tex Carleton and Bill Walker had ERA’s over seven. As a team they walked 25 and struck out 43. The Tigers pitchers were equally spotty. Schoolboy Rowe’s ERA was under three, but Eldon Auker’s was over five. As a team they walked 11 and struck out 31.

For St. Louis it would mark the team apex until the coming of the 1940s and Stan Musial. Paul Dean would hurt his arm and Dizzy Dean his toe and both would be out of the game by 1940. Medwick had a great next few years, then went to Brooklyn. DeLancey developed tuberculosis and would die shortly.

For Detroit they would get one more chance to win their first championship. They would, with essentially the same team, win a pennant again in 1935. This time they would face Chicago. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I’ll remind you that the Cubs went 108 years between World Series wins in 1908 and 2016. You figure it out.