Archive for May, 2019

RIP Bill Buckner

May 28, 2019

Bill Buckner with the Cubs

Its been a tough week. First, Bart Starr, one of the heroes of my coming of age era dies, and now I note the passing of Bill Buckner at age 69. He is, of course, known for one play; or rather, is known for not making one play. That’s a great shame. He had good years with the Dodgers, coming up as an outfielder/first baseman and moving almost entirely to the outfield to accommodate Steve Garvey.

Traded to the Cubs, he won a batting title (1980), made his only All-Star team the following season, and moved on to Boston in 1984, just as the Cubs finally won a pennant. He remained in Boston into 1987, appearing in the 1986 World Series, and making one of the more famous errors in baseball history. It was his second Series (1974). He finished up with the Angels and Royals, before going back to Boston for a final 22 games in 1990.

For his career his triple slash line read 289/321/408/729 (OPS+ of 100) with 2715 hits, 1077 runs scored, 498 doubles, 174 home runs, 1208 RBIs, 3833 total bases, and 15.1 WAR; a nice solid career. He got a couple of votes for the Hall of Fame in 1996.

Apparently he was fighting dementia in his final years and died yesterday. RIP Bill Buckner.

The Demons Within Us

May 23, 2019

“Eddie” Waitkus in 1941

Eddie Waitkus was a first baseman in the 1940s and 1950s for, first, the Chicago Cubs, then the Phillies and Orioles. He had a nice little career hitting .285 with 24 home runs, 373 RBIs, and 12.9 WAR. He’s of course known more for being shot than for playing ball.

It seems he had a fan named Ruth Ann Steinhagen who had an entire array of internal demons. In 1949 she shot him in a hotel room in Chicago. He survived and she spent some time in Kankakee State Hospital.

Maybe all of this sounds familiar. It should be. It is the opening basis for both the book and the movie The Natural. They occasionally have things in common, like the name of the main character, but essentially they differ thematically. The movie tells us that after a mistake, there is redemption. The book tells us that after a mistake, we don’t really learn anything and our demons persist.

Baseball is a sport involving the demons within us; and we all have them. Ty Cobb channeled his internal demons into a ferocity the made him a great player, a miserable human being, and someone neither fans nor teammates particularly liked. Babe Ruth had his own demons within him. They drove him to a lifestyle that might have killed him if he hadn’t gotten the help he needed to control them. Some internal demon drove Leo Durocher to be a martinet that ended up losing his players, his owners, his coaches. The racial demons that all of us seem to have lurking within just below the surface of civility allowed people to relegate players like Martin DiHigo and Josh Gibson to something other than the Major Leagues.

They are a mixed bag, these demons of ours. Without them DiHigo and Gibson might have been among the foremost Major Leaguers of the 1930s and 1940s. But without them Cobb might not have ruled Deadball baseball as he did and Ruth would surely have become merely another fine player without becoming a legend.

I try to keep away from politics around here, but this all came up because I hate what’s going on in American politics. Without reference to who’s President or Speaker of the House or Chief Justice, we currently are unleashing our demons in a way not seen in 150 years. That unleashing led to people shooting each other at places with names like Shiloh and Antietam.

I have hope. I watch a game and see those demons on display frequently. They disturb me, but I also recognize that there is at least something constructive going on at a ball game. You think the politicians might want to pay attention?

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Chet Laabs

May 8, 2019

Chet Laabs

Here’s a quick look at 1930s and 1940s outfielder Chet Laabs:

1. Chester Peter Laabs was born 330 April 1912 in Milwaukee. His father ran a tavern.

2. At 15 he joined a semi-pro team in Milwaukee. In 1934 he joined the Milwaukee Brewers, a minor league team at the time. By 1936 he was a hot property and was sold to the Detroit Tigers.

3. The Tigers sent him back to Milwaukee and asked he be made into an outfielder (he’d played second base for most of the 1934 and 1935 seasons). His play helped the Brewers to the “Little World Series,” a series of games between the pennant winners of the International League and the American Association (the Brewers were AA champs) minor league teams. The Brewers won in five games.

4. In 1937 Laabs began play in the big leagues with Detroit. He hit .240 in 72 games with eight home runs and 31 runs scored.

5. In 1938, Chet Laabs was sent back to the minors (he was hitting .237). He returned to Detroit in 1939, but was traded early in the season to the St. Louis Browns. He hit .300 with 10 homers and 52 runs scored with St. Louis.

6. In July 1941 he set an American League record with 13 total bases in a regular season games (9 innings).

7. In 1942 he had 27 home runs, good for second in the American League behind Ted Williams.

8. By 1944 he was involved in a war work-ball playing situation. He worked in the day at a plant that built pipes for the war and played ball at nights and on weekends. He hit all of .234, but he hit two home runs on the last day of the season to clinch the Browns only American League pennant.

9. He hit .200 in the World Series with six strikeouts, a double, a triple, two walks, and he scored the last run the Browns ever scored in the Series in game six. The Browns lost to the Cardinals in six games.

10. He remained with the Browns through 1946, then played one last season for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1947. He retired with a triple slash line of 262/346/452/798, 813 hits, 467 runs scored, 117 home runs, 509 RBIs, and OPS+ of 113, and 10.8 WAR.

11. He played minor league ball through 1950, then worked for a Detroit paper and a trophy company.

12. Chet Laabs died of a heart attack in January 1983. He is buried in St. Clement cemetery in Center Line, Michigan.

Laabs grave from Find a Grave