Archive for April, 2018

Leftovers

April 26, 2018

Urban Shocker as a Yankee

Every so often the Hall of Fame decides to revamp the Veteran’s Committee. Currently there are four of them and I wouldn’t hold my breath if they moved that to five or to three between now and the next meeting later this year. That alone should tell you how difficult it is to determine exactly what the parameters are for electing members of the Hall.

One of those committees, which is supposed to meet only once in 10 years, is the really old timers committee that looks at players prior to the advent of Jackie Robinson in the big leagues. You might name it for me, the Geezer Committee. But the very fact that it is meeting only once in 10 years is to me a hopeful sign that the Hall has finally determined that they have, more or less, all the people from the pre-Korean War period that should be enshrined in Cooperstown. But of course, you know the committee is still going to meet and we also know that the Hall of Fame gives the committee a ballot (almost always with 10 names on it) to vote on. So I began to wonder what that list might look like. Yeah, I know I have too much time on my hands, but having just dodged the end of the world (or missed the rapture) I’m free again to take that time to think about such things as the veteran’s committee, Geezer edition. Here’s something of a semi-educated guess that may or may not have much to do with what the real ballot will look like (Is that wishy-washy enough for you?). This is strictly a guess and you may feel free to snicker at it, laugh aloud, curse it, or comment on my sanity as appropriate. In this I make no comment on whether the person should be or should not be in the Hall of Fame. In no particular order:

1. Daniel “Doc” Adams-is one of he founders of the sport and seems to be the most well-known. Duncan Curry, William Rufus Wheaton, and a host of others could be here as representing the people who codified the game, but Adams is probably the best know and hence most likely to be on such a ballot.

2. Bud Fowler-is probably the best 10th Century black player currently not in the Hall of Fame.

3. or maybe it’s George Stovey. Fowler was an infielder, Stovey a pitcher.

4. As the committee is now allowed to look at the period beginning in 1871 rather than 1876, it opens up the list for Ross Barnes. Barnes was a terrific hitter in the old National Association and for a few years in the new National League.

5. Joe Start played for the Atlantic in the 1860s (they were the Yankees of their day) and was one of their stars. He moved to the Association, then to the NL and continued playing into his 40s and into the 1880s. Helped Providence to a pair of pennants and to a victory in the first ever postseason series against the American Association in 1884. It was sort of an early version of the World Series. Very few players can say they gave quality play for three decades.

6. Sam Breadon owned the Cardinals from 1920 through 1947. When he took over they hadn’t won a championship in the 20th Century. By the time he retired, they were the dominant franchise in the NL.

7. Wes Ferrell is probably not in the Hall of Fame because he has a huge ERA. But the new fangled stats make it easier to see that he was a very good pitcher in a hitting era (and he could hit a little too).

8. Bucky Walters was one of those guys who started at one position (third base) and transitioned into a quality player at another position (pitcher). He won an MVP, a World Series, and, like Ferrell, could hit a little.

9. Urban Shocker may be the most overlooked pitcher of the late 19-teen and the 1920s. He pitched well enough in the Deadball Era, then moved successfully into the hitting era of the 1920s (and he played for the ’27 Yankees who have everybody else except the batboy in the Hall).

10. Candy Jim Taylor was a superb player, then became a manager and ultimately took over the reins of the Negro League Homestead Grays during their most successful period in the 1940s. Obviously he should not be confused with Jim Taylor, the fullback for the Vince Lombardi Packers of the 1960s.

So there it is, a solid guess at what the really Old-Timers Veteran’s Committee list will look like when it’s published a couple of years from now (and the least likely players to actually show up are probably the Negro League guys). By then, this should be well hidden on this blog and most of you will have forgotten you ever saw it. That may be for the best.

Advertisements

Ah, Heck

April 23, 2018

Do you suppose the end will look like this?

In case you didn’t know it, today is the end of the world. Some genius got out his Bible, version unstated, but I’m guessing King James, and did some fast calculations (see, computers are great for something like calculating the end of the world) and determined that 23 April 2018 is the fulfilment of prophesy and today is the end of the world or the “rapture”. First we survive Y2K, then the Mayan Apocalypse, and now this one. I swear, one of these is going to be right.

So I decided to ask myself, “Self, what do you do on the day the world ends?” Well, Self answered, “Take in a ball game.” Sounded like a good way to finish off an otherwise middling day on a middling planet. Then it turns out the local minor league team is out-of-town for a game. The Rangers are in town, but it’s a long drive to Dallas. So I guess I’ll set back, find a game on TV and watch until everything goes blank. And sometime today I’m going to sit down and read Ray Bradbury’s wonderful The Last Night of the World.

Been nice knowing all of you. Oh, and one piece of advice. Just in case they’re wrong, don’t charge your credit card to the hilt.

Pinky

April 20, 2018

Pinky Higgins

When I was a kid I had one of those baseball board games that had a spinner and some cards representing real players. You spun the spinner (it wasn’t as awkward as that combination of words) then consulted the player card to get a result. It was a step up from normal spinner games in that it tried, by use of the card, to get something closer to a real player’s result (Babe Ruth would hit more homers, Ty Cobb would have more singles). All the players were historical and I’d heard of all of them except one: Pinky Higgins. What follows is not simply my normal look at the playing career of Higgins, but some thoughts on other parts of his career.

Michael Frank Higgins was born in Red Oak, Texas in 1909. At the time it was a small East Texas town. Now it’s part of the Dallas suburbs. The “Pinky” nickname came from his childhood and he seems to have hated it. He made the big leagues in 1930 as a third baseman for the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s won the World Series, but Higgins didn’t play in the Series. He was back in the minors in 1931 and 1932, then resurfaced with the A’s in 1933. He stayed there through 1936, then shifted to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) where he remained through 1938. From Boston it was on to Detroit, where he got into the 1940 World Series.  In 1945 he was off to World War II, then came back for one final season in 1946, splitting time between Detroit and Boston. He finished his career in the 1946 World Series. For his career he hit .292 with a slugging percentage of .428, 140 home runs, 1075 RBIs, a 107 OPS+ and 27.5 WAR.  He also managed to hit for the cycle in August 1933. All in all, not a bad career.

After retirement from the game he managed in the Red Sox minor league system, then in 1955 became manager of the BoSox. He remained into 1959, then took over again in 1960, remaining to 1962. During the latter stint as manager he was also in charge of player personnel, making him a de facto general manager. He remained there until 1965, when he was fired. The Astros picked him up as a special scout.

Higgins drank, and he drank a lot. In 1968, while driving drunk in Louisiana he hit a highway worker. The worker died and Higgins was sentenced to five years in prison, one year deferred. He served a few months and was released with heart problems. He died in 1969, less than two days after his release.

But Higgins became, both during his tenure with the Red Sox and after his death, the center of a raging controversy about baseball and race. Although there are a few ex-players and staff who disagreed, almost everyone who knew Higgins agreed he was an extreme racist. Some have gone so far as to blame him for the failure of the Red Sox to integrate prior to 1959.

Now I grew up in Oklahoma and in West Texas. I’ve met my share of East Texas bigots (and to be fair about it, bigots from a lot of other places) and it wouldn’t surprise me that Higgins, growing up when and where he did, had his fair share of racial prejudice. But it seems silly somehow to blame him for the Boston race problem. He never owned the team. Tom Yawkey did. Yawkey never pushed to integrate the Red Sox (and for what it’s worth, Yawkey was from Detroit, a distinctly non-Southern town). Between the time Brooklyn brought up Jackie Robinson in 1947 through the arrival of Pumpsie Green in Boston in 1959, the following men served as General Manager of the BoSox: Eddie Collins (through 1947), Joe Cronin (through 1958). Neither man moved to employ black ball players at the Major League level (Cronin had several black players in the minors, but never promoted any of them). As far as I can tell, neither ever went to the owner with a plea “Mr. Yawkey, we’re losing and we can right the ship if we add a couple of black players.” Maybe they knew Yawkey would tell them “No.” As manager Higgins never pushed for integration either. I’m quite certain that Higgins was no friend to Black Americans, but it’s unfair to attribute the late arrival of a black player to Boston to him. He may have agreed, but he had a lot of others who nodded along with him.

 

Another One of Those ESPN Lists

April 18, 2018

It’s time again for another one of those periodic lists that ESPN puts out touting something they consider important. This time it’s their annual list of the 100 best players in Major League Baseball. Obviously, I’m not going to go through the entire list for you. You can go to ESPN, click on their MLB section, and see the entire list. But here’s a couple of comments on the list:

First, if you want to put together a complete team with an infielder at each position and one each of all three outfield positions (in other words, one left fielder, a right fielder, and a center fielder, rather than a center fielder and two right fielders), a catcher, four starters (including at least one lefty and at least one right-hander), a closer, and a Designated Hitter (the first duplicate position player takes the DH slot–in this case he’s a first baseman), you get a lineup that looks like this, with the number following the name the position on the overall list:

1b Joe Votto-9th

2b Jose Altuve-3rd

ss-Carlos Correa-10th

3b-Nolan Arenado-7th

rf-Bryce Harper-5th

cf-Mike Trout-1st

lf-Christian Yelich-41st

c-Buster Posey-22nd

p-Clayton Kershaw-2nd

p-Max Scherzer-4th

p-Corey Kluber-6th

p-Chris Sale-8th

reliever-Kenley Jansen-28

DH-Paul Goldschmidt-11th

A couple of comments on this lineup. Note how many of the top players are infielders. Back when the big names were outfielders (Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Reggie Jackson), now you’re seeing more and more of the better players on the infield. There are several right fielders and center fielders on the list before Yelich shows up as the top left fielder. And finally Ohtani shows up on the list (52nd). I don’t care how much of a phenom he is or is going to be, he ain’t in the top 100 players after less than 20 games played. Even Babe Ruth wouldn’t be that good.

So take a look and if you have complaints, voice them here or where ever you feel like, but make sure you blame ESPN and not the messenger (that would be me.)

Opening Day 1908

April 12, 2018

Jack Coombs

Continuing with the ongoing look at 1908, 14 April was opening day. That’s a Saturday this year, and I don’t post normally on a Saturday. So here’s an early look at the first day of the 1908 season.

There were seven total games opening the 1908 season, three in the National League, four in the American League. The defending champion Cubs opened on the road against Cincinnati. Chicago won 6-5. There are a couple of interesting points about the game. First Orval Overall started the opener, not Mordecai Brown (Brown relieved). Second, the Reds got all five runs in the first inning (only one was earned) then were shutout for the remainder of the game. Third, Hans Lobert, a pretty fair third baseman, started the game in left field. For the season he played 21 games in left and 99 at third. Finally, the hitting star was Johnny Evers. He went three for three with a double, three runs scored, an RBI, and a walk.

The Giants beat the Phillies 3-1 with Christy Mathewson throwing a four hit gem. He struck out seven, walked one, and saw a shutout lost in the ninth inning. In the other NL game, the Doves (Boston) knocked off the Superbas (Brooklyn) 9-3. Brooklyn first baseman Tim Jordan hit the NL’s first home run in the losing effort.

In the American League, Cy Young picked up a win leading the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory over the Senators. The one Washington run was a home run by Jim Delahanty. The Browns (St. Louis) knocked off the Naps (Cleveland) 2-1 with Hall of Famer Addie Joss taking the loss. Fellow Hall of Famer Nap LaJoie, for whom the team was named, went one for four with a double. The New York Highlanders (now Yankees) beat Connie Mack’s Athletics 1-0 in 12 innings. All 12 innings took two hours and 25 minutes to play. In another oddity, later star pitcher Jack Coombs started the game in right field for Philadelphia. He went two for five. The two hits led the team. For the season he played 47 games in the outfield and pitched 26.

The defending AL champion Detroit Tigers were in a slugfest with the Chicago White Sox. The final was 15-8 for the ChiSox with Doc White picking up the win. Every Chicago starter, including White, scored at least one run. For Detroit, both Hall of Famers Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb did well. Crawford was two for five with a double and two runs scored, while Cobb went two runs scored, a double, and a home run.

That was opening day 1908.

 

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Jack Fournier

April 10, 2018

 

Jack Fournier with Brooklyn

1. John Frank Fournier was born in September 1889 in Au Sable, Michigan. His father worked in the lumber mills in the area. His family moved to Aberdeen, Washington when he was three. The family was of French-Canadian extraction. Some sources list his first name as “Jacques.”

2. As a child, Fournier worked in a livery stable and as a railway messenger. The town baseball team found out he could hit and paid him $5.00 to be the team catcher.

3. In 1905, now in Tacoma, Washington, Fournier played for his high school baseball team. He was good enough to be signed by first, Seattle, then by his former hometown of Aberdeen.

4. He wandered through the minor leagues until 1912, when the Boston Red Sox spotted him. They invited him to training camp, but he didn’t come (no reason I can find is cited in any source). Eventually he did sign with the Chicago White Sox.

5. He played through 1917 with the ChiSox, splitting time between the outfield and first base. There is general agreement that he wasn’t much of a fielder at any of the positions.

6. In 1914, he turned down an offer to play in the Federal League. At Chicago he finally hit over .300 (.311), had six home runs, and produced 3.8 WAR. In 1915, he led the American League in slugging percentage.

7. In 1917 he was sent to the minors (Chicago had acquired Chick Gandil to play first). He remained in the minors through the remainder of the season, then replaced Wally Pipp (who was off to World War I) at first for the Yankees in 1918. With Pipp back, and Fournier being no Lou Gehrig, Fournier returned to the minors in 1919.

8. The St. Louis Cardinals of the National League picked him up for 1920. He remained there through 1922 before being traded to Brooklyn.

9. With the Robins (now Dodgers) he hit .350 or better twice, led the NL in walks in 1925, and led the league in home runs in 1924 with 27. In 1926, he hit three home runs in one game. He had 11 for the season.

10. At the end of the 1926 season he was released. He signed for one more year (1927) with the Boston Braves. He did well, but was 37 and retired at the end of the season. In 1928 he played a year of minor league ball at Newark.

11. He sold insurance, did a little acting (he’s in a movie called “Death on a Diamond.” As far as I can tell, he’s neither the victim nor the villain), then spent most of 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s moving between minor league managing, coaching the UCLA baseball team, and big league scouting. He retired from baseball in 1962 and died in Tacoma in 1973.

12. For his career, his triple slash line is .313/.392/483/.875 with 1631 hits, 252 doubles, 113 triples, 136 home runs (for 2517 total bases), and 859 RBIs. His OPS+ is 142 with 41.2 WAR.

The Worst Job in the World

April 4, 2018

Fifty years ago this year I was stationed in Viet Nam doing my bit for God, Country, and whatever else it was I was supposed to be doing it for. I guess that’s brought on a lot of nostalgia (I’m not sure that’s the right word) and reminded me of this story.

I made it through ‘Nam more or less in one piece, except for a shoulder problem (see a post titled “The Doctor Was a Giants Fan” from 12 February 2016), and forty-nine yeas ago I ended up at a small base in Virginia where I was doing my primary job, and the Army being the Army, a host of subsidiary jobs. One of those was to help in what we all called “The Worst Job in the World.”

One of the things the enlisted men on post had to do was drive high-ranking officers and dignitaries around the post. It was kind of stupid; most of them could drive themselves. But once you were on the roster, you were eligible to be called at a moment’s notice to go get a car at the motor pool, make sure it was gassed up, and meet the officer at wherever was designated. It wasn’t actually a hard job, but it could be boring and you had to get on your shiniest shoes and make sure your gig line was straight. There were a lot of these kinds of driving things and you dealt with them with something of a simple resignation knowing that “this too shall pass.” Except for one specific driving detail.

I was getting ready to head over to the mess hall for breakfast one October morning in 1969 when one of the company clerks showed up with instructions, “Top needs to see you.” “Top” was the unit First Sergeant (or “top sergeant”). Well, that meant either I’d done something awful or he had a job for me. So I wandered downstairs to the office and reported in.

“Get your Class A’s on (that’s the dress green uniform that is used for fancy occasions) and report to the motor pool,” were the instructions. “Make sure it’s gassed up and go over to the headquarters building. Ask for Captain (and I have no idea after all these year’s the Captain’s name). He’s today’s Casualty Assistance Officer. And take a book, you could be sitting a while.”

I knew that meant that I got to assist in “The Worst Job in the World.” My job was to drive this Captain to some address and then wait outside while he went in and informed some wife or parent that their husband or son had made the “ultimate sacrifice” in ‘Nam. At least I only had to drive. I didn’t have to go inside and inform, console, comfort the widow (this time it was a wife). But driving was tough enough because you knew what you were going to do.

The unit had a small library in the day room (it’s sort of a big rec room for the company) and I looked it over for something sort of mindless. I didn’t want anything too heavy because I knew I’d only be vaguely reading it anyway. There was one of those 1950s junior high/high school baseball biographies on the shelf (you’ve probably read something like it). It was Stan Musial and I’d heard enough about him from my Grandfather that I was sure I wouldn’t be too deeply involved in the book. So I grabbed it, changed into my best, went to the motor pool, tossed the book into the glove compartment, and headed to the post headquarters.

I don’t remember much about the Captain. I’d never seen him before and I don’t recall ever seeing him again. He was taller than me and looked absolutely awful (Casualty Assistance Officer will do that to you). As bad as my job was, his was “the Worst Job in the World” and he knew it. I saluted, we got in the car and drove off toward the nearest town (he had directions). We’d just barely cleared post when he decided to stuff some of his papers in the glove compartment. Out fell the Musial book and the ensuing conversation went something like this.

“You a big Musial fan?”

“My Grandfather loved him. Big Cardinal fan, Sir.”

” So you’re a Cards fan?”

“Dodgers, Sir. You?”

“Cubs.”

“I’m sorry.” It was 1969 and the Cubs had just run up against the Miracle Mets and lost the pennant.

“They had a good run.” I remember he liked Billy Williams, thought Ernie Banks was overrated, and adored Ron Santo.

“Who’s your favorite?”

“Big Koufax fan before he retired, Sir.”

“Good choice. I think Jenkins (Fergie) may be as good.”

“Could be, Sir.”

We talked baseball all the way to the address. It was mindless, it was trivial, but it kept both our minds off the impending job. Sometimes the greatness of sport is that it takes you away from the awfulness of what’s happening in your world to this wonderful, but ultimately trivial, world where your mind can ignore the bad things in life.

Finally we got to the address. I pulled up in front (I remember there was a sidewalk and a walkway to the front door.), got out, opened the door for the Captain. He gathered his papers and told me this might take a while. He went to the door, rang the bell. Someone opened the door (I never saw them) and he raised his hand in a salute. It was that long, slow salute you see at military funerals. I never saw the woman, but I heard the shriek. I stood by the car for a while waiting. It didn’t take long for people to come out and stare at the house. Not all of them, but some. They seemed to know what a waiting Army car meant and just stood around whispering to each other.

It’s easy, in that circumstance, to become self-conscious and I did. So I got back in the car, started reading the book, and tried, not very successfully to ignore why I was there.  A couple of people approached the car and the house, but never actually came up to either. I recall one woman was in tears.

I have no idea how long it took, but I was most of the way through the book when the Captain came back out. He saluted the widow, started down the walkway. I got out, opened the door for him. He was tired and terribly sad. We didn’t say much on the way back to the post.

“You drive one of these before?”

“No, Sir. First time.”

“Me too.”

“Sir?”

“First time doing the worst job in the world. I don’t think I can do it again.’

“No, Sir.”

I dropped him at the post headquarters, turned in the car, reported back to the First Sergeant that the job was done, and stuck the book back in the library shelf. I didn’t eat much for dinner, but I remember getting drunk that night.

I’ve been to the Viet Nam Memorial since and I can pick out, more or less, the right panel. But to this day I can’t remember the name of the casualty. I suppose that’s for the best.