Archive for May, 2018

1908: The End of May

May 31, 2018

Continuing on with something like a detailed look at the 1908 Major League season, here’s a few notes on where things stood at the end of May.

Honus Wagner

The National League

By the close of May, 1908, the National League began to settle down into those teams that were going to do well and the have-nots. Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh had winning records. Boston, Brooklyn, and St. Louis didn’t. The Cubs were in first, 3.5 games ahead of New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. The Pirates were a bit further back at four games.

It was Honus Wagner’s year. In 1908 he would put together the greatest year by WAR of any hitter prior to the arrival of Babe Ruth in New York. By the end of May Wagner was at .311 (.840 OPS) with nine steals. He’d end the year at .354/.957 and 53 steals. He obviously got better as the season when on.

The American League

T Cobb (see, he could smile)

The American League

The junior circuit saw huge changes in May. At the end of April, Detroit, the defending AL champs, were in last place. By the end of May the Tigers had clawed their way into second place, percentage points behind New York. The Browns, Athletics, and Naps (Cleveland) were all over .500 and fifth place Cleveland was only 1.5 games out of first. The White Sox had a losing record (17-19), but were only three games back, with seventh place Washington only a half game further back. Only the Red Sox were more than five games out of the lead (they were 6.5 back).

Much of Detroit’s turn around was attributed to Ty Cobb, who’d gotten his average back over .300 (.302). Of further note, Washington was holding close despite Walter Johnson not yet having pitched. His first game was 11 June.

Next month there are a couple of specifics I want to get into, but this should give you some sense of what’s going on 110 years ago.

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Gunther Decides He Can Pitch

May 24, 2018

Main Square Kassel, Germany

Way back in 1970 the US Army decided I could help save the world if they sent me to a little base not far from Kassel, Germany. It was a nice enough place, the duty wasn’t hard, the beer was good and so was the fellowship.

There was a baseball diamond on post, but the place also had a ball team so the peons weren’t supposed to use the diamond, and thus mess it up, during ball season, so we had to find another place to play. The solution was in downtown Kassel. We’d head over to the place they stored the sports equipment, draw out a set of rubberized bases, a set of catchers equipment, some bats and balls, and pile into a couple of cars the guys had (I didn’t have a car) and drive down to Kassel. The town was a nice enough place with several parks. One of them was divided into two sections. One section had trees and paths and benches and small open areas where people could walk and sit and talk and kids could run and play and just do all the things that families and couples and singles do when they’re out and about (that enough usage of “and” for ya?). The other side was a long open stretch of grass used for sports. There were a couple of soccer goals, one area where a basketball half-court was set up, and then a big open area where there was nothing but grass. It just called out for a makeshift baseball diamond.

We would get there early, usually on a Saturday, and throw out a diamond and start playing. Generally there were six or seven of us, so we’d just switch off guys hitting and pitching with everyone else shagging flies or scooping grounders. You’ve probably done this too. It was fun and of course there was no score (heck, there was no base running).

And of course we began to attract the locals. Guys would wander over to see what the “Crazy Americans” were doing. Commentary would follow in German. Most of us knew at least a little German (certainly enough to order a beer or start a conversation with a girl) and a couple of us knew it quite well, so we could tell the Germans were interested in what was going on, but couldn’t figure out how it all worked. A lot would head back over to the soccer field while the rest would continue checking out what you could do if you used the hands God gave you to play sports. Eventually this led to inviting them to join us and we’d try to teach them the game. It was great for us because we suddenly had 12 or 13 or 14 guys so we could actually play something like a game instead of just bat the ball around. We’d try to divide teams so that there were roughly an equal number of Americans and Germans on a team. It more or less worked. Eventually most of the German guys could catch some (we’d trade around gloves), could throw it in the right direction, could even swing the bat and make some contact. What they couldn’t do, was pitch.

One of the biggest loudmouths among the Germans was Gunther (he made sure we pronounced it Goon-tur, not Gun-thur). He was in his early 20s, a student at the local university, tall, lanky, and absolutely sure he’d figured out the game. He wasn’t bad, but Joe DiMaggio was in no danger of losing his place in the pantheon of American sport.  But Gunther decided he wanted to be Bob Gibson. So one day the Germans essentially announced they weren’t going to play if Gunther didn’t get to pitch (always wondered what he’d bribed them with).

It turned out that I hit second that day, so one of the other guys got first taste of Gunther on the mound (“Gunther on the Mound.” You could make a flick about something with that title, couldn’t you?).  He tried to mimic a windup, he tried to throw it hard, he tried to get it near the plate. Well, he got the first one pretty close, the second one he achieved, the third one became “God knows” baseball (God knows where the ball is going). He was wild, he was awful. We tried to convince him that no matter how hard you threw it, if it didn’t get anywhere near the plate it was still ball one, ball two, ball three, ball four, take your base. We didn’t have an umpire to actually call that, but after a handful of pitches we decided that it was a walk and the guy should go find the appropriate rubberized base.

That brought me up. The first pitch was high, but close to the plate. The second one actually bounced over the plate (we had to explain it still wasn’t a strike). Gunter was getting closer. The third pitch finally found a part of the plate and I hit the thing. It went right up the middle toward Gunther who had no chance of either catching it or ducking. Caught him right in the breadbasket. I ended up on first, the other guy hoofed it all the way to third while everyone just kind of stood there watching to see what would happen. Gunther went down in a heap, the ball rolled away, and we stopped play.

Gunther was alright, sore, but alright. We suggested he ought to maybe take an outfield spot until he felt better and let one of the other guys (an American) pitch. He agreed.

We finished the game, gathered up the equipment, stowed it in one of the cars, then wandered over to a local biergarten (beer garden), drank a few, had a few laughs, many at Gunther’s expense (he took it well), and headed back to our normal lives. The next Saturday we showed up again, laid out the field, had the Germans come over, and started a new game. Gunther was there as usual. He volunteered to play center field.

 

1933, the obscure World Series: Mel

May 22, 2018

Game 5, 7 October 1933

Mel Ott

Game five of the 1933 World Series was the final game in Washington, DC. With the Giants leading three games to one, the Senators had to win in order to keep the Series going. They sent game two starter, and loser, Alvin “General” Crowder to the mound. New York responded with their own game two starter, and winner, Hal Schumacher.

And for six innings it didn’t appear that Washington had any chance of sending the Series back to the Polo Grounds. In the top of the second a Travis Jackson single, a walk to Gus Mancuso, and another bunt sacrifice put runners on second and third with one out. That brought up pitcher Schumacher who promptly singled to plate both runs. In the top of the sixth the Giants tacked on another run with a Kiddo Davis double, a Jackson bunt sacrifice, and a Mancuso double to make the score 3-0 with 12 outs to go.

Schumacher got two of them before Heinie Manush singled. He was followed by a Joe Cronin single that sent Manush to third. Up came Fred Schulte who parked a three run home run into the left field stands to tie the game and give Washington hope. Two more singles put runners on and sent Schumacher to the showers. In came Dolf Luque. At 42, Luque was the oldest Giant by four years and the oldest Giant pitcher by seven years. Only Sam Rice of the Senators was older (43) on either team and Rice was, by 1933, a substitute. The old man responded to the pressure by inducing a grounder to end the threat.

For the rest of the regulation game the teams matched zeroes. There were a handful of hits and a walk, but no one got beyond first base. In the tenth the Giants took two quick outs. That brought up Mel Ott. Into the 1960s, Ott was the all time leader in home runs among National League players (and third all time behind Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx). So he did what he did so well. He parked a ball in the center field seats to put New York ahead 4-3. A grounder back to the pitcher ended the inning and brought up the Senators for one last shot at sending the World Series back to Giants territory.

Luque got two quick outs, then gave up a single and walked Joe Cronin to put two men on with two outs. Up stepped Joe Kuhel. Luque struck him out to end the game and the Series. In relief, Dolf Luque, the first Cuban player to win a World Series game pitching struck out five, walked two, and gave up only two hits in 4.1 innings of relief. Unfortunately his effort was largely lost behind Ott’s game winning homer.

For a five game Series, it had been a good playoff. Two games, the last two, went into extra innings. A third game was 4-2. In an era known for its power hitting, the key blows in the final game were home runs: one by Schulte, the other by Ott. But there were an extraordinary number of runs scored that involved the Deadball Era standard of the bunt sacrifice.

The Giants hitting was fine, finishing with a .267 average 16 runs, three homers, and 47 hits, but the New York pitching had dominated the Series. The team ERA was 1.53 with only 11 runs allowed, and only eight of those earned. They staff struck out 25 with Carl Hubbell going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and Luque matching the 0.00 in the biggest relief outing of the Series.

For the Senators, Earl Whitehill won their only game by giving the Series its only complete game shutout. But Lefty Stewart and Crowder both had ERA’s north of seven, and the staff as a group had given up 10 more hits than the Giants staff. The team hit only .214 with Schulte’s four RBIs leading the team (three on the game five home run).

For the Giants it was the beginning of a decent run in the 1930s. They’d get back to two more World Series’ in the decade (losing both to the Yankees). For the Senators it was the end of their playoffs. The next time Washington made the World Series was 1965. By then they were relocated to Minnesota and called the Twins.

 

 

1933, the obscure World Series: on to DC

May 17, 2018

With the New York Giants ahead two games to none, the World Series shifted locations to Washington, DC.

Game 3, 5 October

Earl Whitehill

For game three, the Senators sent ace Earl Whitehill to the mound against the Giants three pitcher Fred Fitzsimmons. For Washington it was a great choice as Whitehill pitched, arguably, the best game of the entire Series.

The Senators hit Fitzsimmons early. A single, a double, and a pop-up brought up Washington player-manager Joe Cronin with one out in the bottom of the first. His grounder back to the pitcher exchanged an out for the first Washington run. A Fred Schulte double plated a second run to make it 2-0. Washington then tacked on runs in the second and seventh with a pair of doubles (the second inning run) and two singles sandwiched around a stolen base (the seventh inning run).

The initial run in the first was all Whitehill needed. The threw the Series’ only complete game shutout. In nine innings he allowed five hits, walked two, and struck out a pair. Four of the hits were singles (Travis Jackson had a double). Only in the eighth inning did a Giants player reach third, and that with two outs.

So now the Senators were down two games to one. Game four was the next day.

Game 4, 6 October

Bill Terry

Game four saw game one starter Carl Hubbell back on the mound for the Giants. Washington countered with Monte Weaver. Both men pitched well, although Hubbell wasn’t quite up to his game one standard.

For three innings the teams matched zeroes. In the top of the fourth player-manager Bill Terry slugged a home run to center field to put New York ahead 1-0. although Hubbell gave up his first hit in the bottom of the fourth, a single to Goose Goslin, the Senators were unable to take advantage of it. They did take advantage of a Hubbell error, a bunt sacrifice and a Luke Sewell single to score Joe Kuhel in the seventh to tie up the game.

And then it stayed tied. Both teams put men on base and both pitchers got out of it through the eighth, the ninth, the tenth. In the top of the 11th, a Travis Jackson single, a bunt sacrifice, and a Blondy Ryan single gave the Giants a second run.

Hubbell needed three outs to put the Giants ahead three games to one. Two singles and another bunt sacrifice put Senators on second and third with one out. An intentional walk loaded the bases for pinch hitter Cliff Bolton. He rapped one to short and a short-second-first double play ended the game with New York winning 2-1 in extra innings.

Weaver went into the 11th inning before being pulled. He gave up 11 hits, but only two runs, while walking four and striking out three. Hubbell completed the game for his second Series victory. He’d given up only one unearned run (although the error was his), with eight hits four walks, and five strikeouts.

Game five was the next day and became known over the years as a classic.

 

1933, the obscure World Series: the Polo Grounds

May 15, 2018

The 1933 World Series began with two games in New York.

Game 1, 3 October

Carl Hubbell

For the first game, the Giants sent ace Carl Hubbell to the mound to face Washington southpaw Lefty Stewart. It quickly became the Hubbell show. In the first inning, New York jumped on Stewart for two runs. Leadoff hitter Jo-Jo Moore reached on an error by second baseman Buddy Myer and two outs later Mel Ott drove a pitch into the right field stands. Two innings later consecutive singles by Hughie Critz, Bill Terry, and Ott scored Critz with the third run and sent Stewart to the showers. One out later Travis Jackson’s little roller to first brought home the fourth run.

Hubbell allowed one hit through the first three innings. In the top of the fourth, Myer singled, reached third on a groundout and an error and scored on a Joe Cronin force play. That made the score 4-1 and the pitchers took over.

The 4-1 score held up until the top of the ninth when a New York error and bunched singles put a runner on third. A Joe Kuhel single added a second Washington run, but Hubbell then struck out Ossie Bluege for the second out and got a grounder to third that finished both the inning and the game.

It wasn’t a particularly well-played game. There were five errors (three by the Senators), but Hubbell had been terrific. He gave up two unearned runs, walked two, allowed five hits (all singles), and struck out 10 to give the Giants a 1-0 Series lead.

Game 2, October 4

Lefty O’Doul with the Giants

In game 2, Hal Schumacher took the mound for New York with Alvin “General” Crowder facing him for Washington. Both men pitched well through five innings. Schumacher had one small blip in the third when he grooved a pitch that Goose Goslin drove over the right field wall for a home run. It was the only run either team scored into the bottom of the sixth.

That was the crucial half inning for the game. A single, a force at second, and a double put runners on second and third with one out. an intentional walk loaded the bases for pinch hitter Lefty O’Doul. It was his first, and ultimately only, at bat in post season play. He used it well, smashing a single that scored two runs and put the Giants ahead. Two more singles scored two more runs, then a strikeout provided the second out. But two men were still on base, and two more singles, one by pitcher Schumacher, brought home two more runs and made the score 6-1.

It stayed that way for the rest of the game as Schumacher allowed two more hits, one erased on a double play to give the Giants a 2-0 lead in the Series. He’d thrown a complete game allowing five hits and walking four, but giving up only the homer to Goslin. Apparently some of the nervousness wore off from game one as there were no errors by either team in game two (as opposed to five in game one).

Game three was the next day in Washington. The Senators would need to win at least two to bring the Series back to New York.

 

 

1933, the obscure World Series: The Senators

May 10, 2018

Sam Rice

In 1933, the Giants drew the Washington Senators in the World Series. In the mid-1920s (1924 and 1925) the Senators were a formidable team winning a championship with Walter Johnson on the mound. By 1933 Johnson was gone as was most of the pennant winning team (a few remained).

The Senators offense was first in the American League in hits, triples, and batting average; third in runs, walks, and total bases; and fourth in doubles, home runs, and stolen bases. The team contained a nice mix of younger players (Cecil Travis was 19) and veterans (Sam Rice was 43) who tended to bunch in the stats. Six of the eight everyday players hit above .295 and the other two were in the .260s. A couple of bench players hit above .300 and a total of five were above .260. Only two men had double figure home runs (11 and 10) and except for one position (third base) every starter had between 29 and 45 doubles. Every primary starter managed to have more walks than strikeouts.

The infield from first around to third consisted of Joe Kuhel, Buddy Myer, Joe Cronin, and Ossie Bluege. Cronin, who would make the Hall of Fame, was also the manager, making the 1933 World Series odd by having two player-managers (Bill Terry). Cronin hit .309, led the team with both 118 RBIs and 87 walks. He was a solid shortstop and gave his team 7.2 WAR. All that got him second in the MVP voting. Myer, Cronin’s keystone crony, had 4.4 WAR, good for second on the team among position players. First baseman Joe Kuhel led the team with both 17 stolen bases and 11 home runs, had 107 RBIs (good for second on the team), and also led in OPS (.851) and was second on the Senators with 281 total bases. Ossie Bluege (his Baseball Reference page says it’s pronounced Blue-Jee—-I’ll take their word for it) was, at 32, the senior citizen of the infield. He’d been around for the 1920s pennant run and was still productive. He hit .261 with six home runs, good for third in Washington.  The backups included Cecil Travis who hit .302 in 43 games and Bob Boken who hit .278.

The outfield consisted of two Hall of Famers and Fred Schulte. Schulte hit .295 with 87 RBIs and was second on the team with 10 stolen bases.. The Hall of Famers were Goose Goslin and Heinie Manush. Manush, one of the more obscure Hall of Fame members, led the team with a .336 average, 115 runs scored, and had 4.1 WAR. The other outfielder was Goose Goslin. By the time the 1933 Series ended, Goslin would become the only man to play in all 19 Washington Senators World Series games (Bluege missed two in 1925 and Sam Rice was a part-time player by 1933). For the season his triple slash line read .297/.348/.452/.800 with 10 home runs, 10 triples (try that on purpose), 35 doubles, a 112 OPs+, and 3.2 WAR. Dave Harris and Sam Rice did most of the substitute work in the outfield. Harris had five home runs and hit .260. Rice, who logged 39 games in the outfield at age 43, hit .294, had -0.5 WAR, and would play one more season before retiring with 2987 hits.

Luke Sewell, brother of Yankees third baseman Joe, did the bulk of the catching. He hit .264 with no power and is today probably best known, if he’s known at all, as the manager of the 1944 St. Louis Browns, the only Browns team to win a pennant. Moe Berg, who is also better known for something other than catching (he was a “spy” during the pre-World War II period) hit .185 as the primary backup.

They caught a staff that didn’t have a Walter Johnson anywhere on the roster. General (Alvin) Crowder and Monte Weaver were the primary right handers on a staff that was second in the American League in ERA and runs. The primary lefties were Earl Whitehill and Walter “Lefty” Stewart. All had ERA’s in the three’s and both Crowder and Whitehill gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Whitehill and Weaver both walked more men than they struck out. Stewart’s 1.244 WHIP was best on the team and Whitehill’s 4.9 WAR led all pitchers. The primary man out of the bullpen was Jack Russell (as far as I know he didn’t have a terrier). His ERA was 2.69 and led the AL with 13 saves. It gave him a 3.5 WAR.

The Senators could hit with the Giants. The question was simply could their pitching keep up with the likes of Carl Hubbell and company. The World Series began 3 October.

 

 

 

1933, the obscure World Series: The Giants

May 8, 2018

Lefty O’Doul with the Giants

Several years ago I ran a little informal poll on a sports website. I asked people to name the teams, winner first, in the 1933 World Series. They had to promise not to look it up first. Out of about 30 responses, 2 got it right (and 1 admitted to looking it up). It’s a terribly obscure World Series, falling between Babe Ruth’s last series in 1932 and the Gas House Gang Cardinals of 1934. It needs to be resurrected. You’ve probably figured by now that I’m about to do just that. First, the National League champs. And for what it’s worth, the most common answers to my poll were the Yankees and the Cardinals. Not bad choices for the era.

In 1932 John McGraw laid down the reins of the New York Giants. They hadn’t won since 1923, McGraw was old, he was tired, he was done. The next year the “new” Giants won the National League pennant by five games. They were fourth in runs scored, fourth in hits, led the NL in home runs, were fifth in average, and last in doubles. What all that should tell you is that they pitched really well. They were first in ERA, shutouts, runs, hits, second in strikeouts, and otherwise simply dominated on the mound.

The infield consisted of player-manager Bill Terry at first and three guys who are fairly obscure. Terry hit .322, had an OPS+ of 128. The .322 led the team and the OPS+ was second. He managed 3.8 WAR. Hughie Critz played second, hit .246 but produced 3.5 WAR. His middle infield mate was Blondy Ryan whose average was even lower and whose WAR was all of 1.9 (still good for 10th on the team). Johnny Vergez was the third baseman. He hit .271 and was second on the team in both homers and RBIs with 16 home runs and 72 RBIs. His WAR was 3.5. By the time the World Series began, Vergez was laid up with acute appendicitis and couldn’t play. His replacement was Hall of Famer Travis Jackson, who by this point in his career was splitting time between shortstop and third. He hit all of .246 with no power and 0.2 WAR. Sam Leslie and Bernie James were the other infield backups. Leslie hit .321 while James hit in the .240s.

The outfield was considerably better. George “Kiddo” Davis played center, hit .258, led the team with 10 stolen bases, made only three errors all season, and got 1.0 WAR. “Jo-Jo” Moore (his name was Joe) flanked him in left. He hit .292, second (to Terry) among starters, had 1.1 WAR, and like Davis, had only three errors. Flanking Davis to the right was Hall of Famer Mel Ott. He hit .283, led the team with 23 home runs and 103 RBIs, and led the entire NL with 75 walks. His WAR of 5.5 led the team’s position players. During the season, the Giants made a trade that brought the team a major piece of their pennant run, Lefty O’Doul. He hit .306, had nine home runs, 35 RBIs, 146 OPS+, and 2.1 WAR in 78 games, 63 of them in the field.

Gus Mancuso and Paul Richards did almost all the catching. Mancuso was behind the plate for 142 games hitting .264 with six home runs and 1.9 WAR. Richards got into 36 games as part of the battery and hit a buck-95. He (and sometime third baseman Chuck Dressen) would later become famous as managers.

The heart of the team was the staff, specifically three men: Carl Hubbell, Hal Schumacher, and Fred Fitzsimmons. “King Carl” was at his best in 1933. He went 23-12, had an ERA of 1.66 (ERA+ of 193), struck out 156, had 10 shutouts (the ERA and shutouts both led the NL), and produced a team leading 9.1 WAR to go along with a 0.982 WHIP. All that got him the 1933 NL MVP Award. “Prince Hal” wasn’t as good, but he was close. His ERA was 2.16 (ERA+149) with 96 strikeouts, and 5.4 WAR. “Fat Freddie” went 16-11 with a 2.90 ERA (111 ERA+), and more walks than strikeouts. Roy Parmelee is largely forgotten today, but he was second on the team with 132 strikeouts and had, at 3.17 the only ERA over three among the starters. Hi Bell and 42-year-old Dolf Luque were the main men out of the bullpen.

If you look it over closely, you can still see the influence of McGraw. The team was pitching heavy, relied on solid defense, and didn’t worry overly much about the long ball.

1908: The End of April

May 3, 2018

Orval Overall

In my continuing look at the 1908 season (110 years ago), here’s a quick summary of how things stood going into the month of May. By the end of April of the 1908 season, every team had at least 11 games in the bank (with a couple at 15). There were a handful of surprises.

In the American League, 1907 pennant winner Detroit stood at 3-9, the worst record in either league. Ed Summers had two of the team wins with Ed Killian logging the other. Both Ty Cobb and infielder Germany Schaefer were hitting well, but Sam Crawford was at .239 and leadoff man Matty McIntyre was at 1.82. Two of their three wins were extra inning affairs (both went 10 innings). They were dead last in runs scored (48-tied with Washington) and their staff had given up more runs than any team in either league (76). By contrast, the Highlanders (now the Yankees) were in first place with an 8-5 record, followed closely by the Browns at 9-6.

The National League was following form more closely than the AL. Defending champ Chicago was in first, followed closely by Pittsburgh and the New York Giants. As expected, the Cardinals were in last place 3-10 having scored just 29 runs. Orval Overall led the Cubs with three wins (at this point Three-Finger Brown had yet to rack up a win). Chick Fraser had also posted three wins. Fraser would end the season 11-9 while Overall settled for 15-11. Brown did have a save in game one. He would lead the NL with five in 1908 and end up 29-9. Harry Steinfeldt was hitting .310 and Frank Chance was only at .206 (and Joe Tinker was hitting .143 and Johnny Evers .242).

This was to be Honus Wagner’s greatest year, leading the league in almost every major category (and a few not so major categories also). By the end of April, 1908 he was hitting all of .233. He would get better.

So that’s how it stood at the end of April in 1908. The biggest surprise had to be the Tigers in last place, with the Highlanders leading the AL a close second.