Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Before the Sox Turned Black: Games 1 and 2

June 22, 2017

The first two games of the 1917 World Series were played in Comiskey Park. The local White Sox had broken through to win their first pennant since 1906. They faced the New York Giants who were back in the Series for the first time since 1912.

Game 1, 6 October 1917

Eddie Cicotte

For the opening game, the Chisox sent ace Eddie Cicotte to the mound to face John McGraw’s Giants. New York countered with Slim Sallee. The game turned into a great pitchers duel.

Although a few men reached base, no one scored for the first two and a half inning. The White Sox broke through in the bottom of the frame that began with an out. Pitcher Cicotte singled, then was erased trying to go to third on a Shano Collins single. A great throw by Giants right fielder Dave Robertson nailed him, but it allowed Collins to move up to second. A Fred McMullin double plated Collins with the first run of the Series. In the bottom of the fourth Chicago tacked on another run on a Happy Felsch home run.

Down 2-0 New York struck in the top of the fifth. Lew McCarthy led off the inning with a triple. Pitcher Sallee then singled to bring him home with the Giants initial run of the Series. A double play and strikeout got Cicotte out of the inning without further damage.

And that ended the scoring. Both pitchers continued to record out after out through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. There were a couple of hits but no one motored beyond second. In the ninth the Giants went down in order and Chicago went up one game in the Series by a 2-1 score.

Both pitchers were stellar. For the win Cicotte gave up seven hits, a walk, and the single run. Sallee was almost as good. He gave up seven hits also, but didn’t walk anyone. The difference was the Felsch homer.


Game 2, 7 October 1917

Red Faber

If game one was a well pitched duel, game 2 wasn’t. The Sox sent future Hall of Famer Red Faber to the mound. The Giants countered with Ferdie Schupp.

Both pitchers had trouble initially. In the top of the second consecutive singles by Dave Robertson and Walter Holke put men on first and second with one out. A Lew McCarthy single to left scored both runs.

Chicago replied in the bottom of the second with four singles in a row.  Joe Jackson led off the inning with a single, Happy Felsch moved him to second, and Chick Gandil brought him home with the third single. Another single by Buck Weaver scored Felsch and evened the score at 2-2. A Ray Schalk bunt was unsuccessful with Gandil being out at third, but Schupp then walked Faber to reload the bases. That brought out McGraw for a pitching change. Fred Anderson, the new pitcher, picked up a strikeout, then saw a grounder to short get New York out of the jam.

It was the highpoint for Anderson. In the fourth the White Sox took his measure and put up four runs. Two singles, an out, and two more singles brought in two more runs and ran Anderson. McGraw brought in Pol Perritt to pitch. He was met by singles by Eddie Collins and Jackson that sent three more runners across home plate to make the score 7-2.

Meanwhile, Faber had settled down after the second inning and was setting down the Giants. For the game he gave up eight hits and walked one (the walk came in the eighth). After the second inning, no Giant got beyond second. By the end, Faber had his complete game victory and the White Sox were up two games to none in the Series.



Before the Sox Turned Black: the Chisox

June 20, 2017

“Pants” Rowland

A lot of people who know about the 1919 Black Sox and throwing the World Series don’t know that it wasn’t the first Chisox pennant winner. They’d won the very first American League pennant in 1901 and followed that up with a World Series victory in 1906. More to the point of the Black Sox, they’d also won a pennant in 1917, two years before infamy, and 100 seasons ago this year.

Manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland was a former minor league catcher who’d managed long enough to get the attention of the White Sox. For those curious, the nickname came from his childhood when he wore his father’s trousers while playing ball. He took the reins of the Chicago American League team in 1915 and stayed through 1918 (he was fired in a disagreement with ownership). He led his team to 100 wins. They led the AL in runs scored, triples, stolen bases, OBP; were second in both walks and slugging; and third in batting average, home runs, and hits. The staff was first in ERA, shutouts, and allowed the fewest walks; second in runs allowed; and third in strikeouts.

The infield consisted of Chick Gandil at first, Hall of Famer Eddie Collins at second, Buck Weaver at third, and Swede Risberg at short. If they sound familiar, they’re the same four that were the primary infield in 1919. Collins led the group with a .289 average, one of only a handful of times he hit under .300. He also led the infield in most other offensive categories (doubles, triples, runs, even RBIs). His 128 OPS+ was third among all starters and his 5.0 WAR was second among non-pitchers. And of course, being Collins, he led the team in stolen bases. Gandil and Weaver both hit above .270 and Weaver’s OPS+ was 110. His WAR was 2.9, while Gandil checked in at 1.2. Risberg was only 22 and new to the big leagues. He wasn’t a particularly great shortstop, even with the lower fielding numbers of the era, and managed to hit all of .203 with only a 76 OPS+ and -0.3 WAR. Fred McMullin was the only backup infielder to play more than 20 games. He primarily substituted for Weaver at third and for Risberg at short. He hit .237 with 14 RBIs.

The primary outfield consisted of four men playing three position. Right field was a platoon situation between right-handed hitting Shano Collins (no relation to Eddie) and lefty Nemo Lebold. Leobold hit .236 while Collins hit .234 and had the only home run. Between them they had 41 RBIs, 25 doubles, 160 hits, and 206 total bases. Leobold’s WAR was 1.2 and Collins was absolutely average with 0.0. Center fielder Happy Felsch led the team in hitting at .308 with an OPS of .755 (OPS+ of 128), had 4.7 WAR, and was considered a superior outfielder. So was left fielder Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”). He hit .301, had five home runs (Felsch had six) and 82 RBIs (to Felsch’s 99) had an .805 OPS, an OPS+ of 143, and led the hitters with 5.8 WAR. Backup outfielder Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian) got into 53 games, hit .314, had a 135 OPS+, and produced 0.3 WAR.

Ray Schalk and Bird Lynn did almost all the catching. Hall of Famer Schalk hit .226, had both home runs, all five triples, and 12 of the 14 doubles. Lynn hit .222. Schalk produced 3.0 WAR but only had an OPS+ of 89. Schalk was a fine backstop. In a league where the caught stealing rate was 45%, he was at 54%, having caught 101 of 186 base stealers.

They caught a small, but competent staff. Dave Danforth was one of the first pitchers designated for use as a reliever. He’d played some before, but by 1917 was a main cog in Chicago’s pitching. He had a 2.65 ERA over 50 games (nine starts) and 173 innings (obviously not a modern closer). He struck out 79 (but walked 74), gave up 155 hits, 51 earned runs (one homer), and had nine saves (retroactively figured). It was one of the first big relief seasons. Four men started 20 or more games. The ace was Eddie Cicotte (of 1919 infamy). He was 28-12 with an ERA of 1.53 (ERA+ of 174) with seven shutouts, 150 strikeouts, and a team leading 11.5 WAR. Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber was 16-13 with 84 strikeouts and 85 walks over 248 innings. His ERA was 1.92 with an ERA+ of 139 and 2.6 WAR. Reb Russell was also under 2.00 in ERA (1.95) with 54 strikeouts in 185 innings and 4.2 WAR to go with a 15-5 record. Twenty-four year old Claude “Lefty” Williams (also of 1919 infamy) was the youngest hurler. He was 17-8 with an ERA of 2.97 and 1.5 WAR over 230 innings.

The Chisox managed, in 1917, to break the Boston stranglehold on the AL pennant. They would face the New York Giants in the World Series (I did something on the Giants a week or so ago, so look down the page for them.). Because of American League domination in the recent Series’ Chicago was favored to win.



Old Timer’s Games

June 15, 2017

Newk, oh, so many years ago

I got to watch the Old Timer’s Game the Dodgers did recently. It was a fairly standard type of these games. They went two innings, no body cared who won, no body played very well, and everybody seemed to have fun. It was interesting as far as it went.

They’ve had these a long time. I remember them from back in the 1950s when they’d show them just before beginning the Game of the Week on TV and it was always fascinating to see what some of these guys that my Grandfather talked about actually looked like. I’d never seen them play so it was a close as I could get to watching them perform, even if it wasn’t at the highest level anymore.

But as I watched the old Dodgers play I began to realize I’m of two minds about these kinds of games (and most people have trouble dealing with me having one mind). On the one hand it’s nice to see some of the guys you remember. But on the other hand, they’re a shadow, baseball-wise, of what they’d been. I remember them as great athletes who could hit, run, pitch, throw, do all the things ball players do. Now they couldn’t do that anymore. They’d joined me as gray (or bald) and overweight and needing glasses in order to find the bag at first base. Don Newcombe was there. He’s 90 and looks it (he turned 91 yesterday, but was 90 when I saw him). I remember him as a great hurler who was a stalwart of the teams I rooted for in the 1950s and it almost hurt to see him look old (and of course he didn’t play).

So this is just a short note about my reactions to the recent Old Timer’s Game in Dodger Stadium. I’m glad they have them. I’m equally sorry they have them.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Bob Ferguson

June 13, 2017

Bob Ferguson is the man in the center of the middle row

When looking at the Atlantic players who participated in the 14 June 1870 game against the Red Stockings, Bob Ferguson is the last.

1. Robert Vavasour Ferguson was born in Brooklyn in 1845. His family was immigrants.

2. Ferguson seems to have missed the Civil War but began playing baseball for the Frontier, a junior team in Brooklyn as early as 1863.

3. In 1865 he joined the Enterprise, a major team in Brooklyn and in 1866 jumped to the Atlantic, the premier team of the era. His sister was the wife of Tomas Tassie, one of the more significant members of the Atlantic.

4. He played a number of positions (that was common in the era), but starred at third base. He was known as particularly adept at snagging fly balls. This earned him the nickname “Death to Flying Things.” It was a nickname that had already been applied to John Curtis Chapman, a left fielder for the Atlantic.

5. He scored the winning run in the 11th inning of the 14 June 1870 game; the game that ended the Cincinnati Red Stockings 80 game winning streak.

6. With the forming of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871 and the failure of the Atlantic to join, Ferguson moved  to the Mutual of New York. That same year he opened a saloon in Brooklyn. He was a teetotaler.

7. In 1872 he was elected President of the National Association and held the job for two years.

8. He played through 1884, serving as both manager and team captain on occasion. He was considered a tyrant by his players and not well liked. There is some conjecture that players were willing to lose in order to make him look bad. There is no actual evidence that any games were thrown.

9. For his career his triple slash line is .265/.292/.313/.604 with 544 runs scored in 823 games with 357 RBIs. He led the league once. That was in walks in 1880 when he had 24.

10. He is credited with inventing defensive shifts in 1877, playing outfielders deep or shallow depending on the hitter and moving the center fielder to one side or the other again depending on the hitter. There is nothing to indicate he did anything like this with his infield.

11. During both his playing days and afterward, he did a lot of umpiring. I’m not sure how that worked while he was active, but apparently he was well-respected (but not particularly well-liked) and noted for his impartiality.

12. Bob Ferguson died of “apoplexy” (accounts of the day make it appear it was likely either a stroke or heart attack) in 1894 (he was 49) and is buried in Brooklyn.

Ferguson’s grave from Find a Grave. It is part of a larger complex of family graves.

Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century: A Review

June 8, 2017

Cover of Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century

I haven’t done a book review in a while. It’s time to change that.

Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century is, as the title suggests, a compendium of major league uniforms in the 20th Century. Written by Marc Okkonen, the book was published in 1991, so the title is a bit deceiving. It covers uniforms from 1901 through 1991, but has to ignore the subsequent changes in uniforms from 1992 through 2000. Having said that, the book is good at what it does.

After a short section on uniforms in general, there are more short sections. These provide quick looks at both current and former teams’ (like the Washington Senators) uniforms. You get a handful of pictures noting significant changes, such as when the two birds first show up on a bat for the Cardinals or when the Yankees go to the interlocking NY for their logo. Then the heart of the book is a pictorial depiction of each team uniform yearly starting in 1901. The teams are alphabetical by league (the American League first) and you can see how uniforms contrast among teams in a given year or can trace the evolution of a particular look (like the interlocking NY) through time. Both home and road uniforms are shown, as are any special uniforms used (like a “World Champions” logo for the Giants in 1906).

If you’re interested in team uniforms or uniform history this book is worth the cost ($19.99 at Amazon for the hardbound version). For trivia fans it can provide interesting information. The book is readily available on-line.

McGraw’s Best Job

June 6, 2017

John McGraw with the Giants

Think about John McGraw. Go ahead, take a minute and conjure up your mental images of John J.. McGraw. I’ll wait. Done? Good. Now I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that not one of those images revolved around winning the 1917 National League pennant. That’s because the Giants pennant winning team is one of the more obscure NL winners and almost no one associates it with the great Giants teams under McGraw. But it may be his finest managing effort.

McGraw teams were always built on speed, good defense, and great pitching. This team was really no different, but it was a team that had no truly great player to anchor any of those things around. Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Rube Marquard, the name pitchers who had dominated all those winning teams from 1904 through 1913 were all gone. You can say what you want about the new guys, but they weren’t nearly the quality of those starters. Here’s the list of every pitcher who started 10 or more games: Ferdie Schupp, Slim Sallee, Rube Benton, Pol Perritt, Jeff Tesreau, Al Demaree, Fred Anderson. Ever hear of any of them? If so, maybe you remember Sallee because he was part of the 1919 Reds that won the infamous Black Sox World Series. Tesreau might strike a bell because he was a holdover from the last Giants pennant winner in 1913. So were Demaree and Schupp (although Schupp only pitched 12 innings). None of them were stars and none were the kind of pitchers great teams hang their hat on. But as a group they pitched well in 1917. They led the NL in ERA, fewest runs allowed, fewest hits allowed, were second in walks, and third in shutouts.

How about the rest of the battery? The main catcher was Bill Rariden with Lew McCarty and George Gibson as his backups. It was Rariden’s career year (if you exclude a stint in the Federal League). He hit .271, 34 points above his career average, and had 2.3 WAR, his non-Federal League high. McCarthy hit .247 and the 36-year-old Gibson a buck-.71. None were bad catchers, but only Gibson came close to the league average in throwing out runners (he tied the average at 44%).

The outfield was, perhaps, a bit better known. Benny Kauff was a refugee from the Federal League, who’d been a star with the Feds. With the Giants he was good, but not great. He hit .308 to lead the team and his 30 stolen bases were second on the team. George Burns was the other corner outfielder. He was over .300 and led the team in stolen bases and OPS while leading the NL in walks. Dave Robertson played center, hit .259 and led the team with 12 home runs. In in un-McGraw-like fashion he had 47 strikeouts and only 10 walks. Joe Wilhoit and Olympic champion Jim Thorpe were the backups. Wilhoit hit .340 in 34 games while Thorpe hit .193 in 26 games, and, for a player noted for his speed, had only one stolen base. Twenty year old Ross Youngs, a future Hall of Famer, got into seven games during the season, hitting .346 with five runs scored.

If there was a proven element on the team, it was the infield. They were, from first around the horn to third, Walter Holke, Buck Herzog, Art Fletcher, and Heinie Zimmerman. Zimmerman was a bona fide star of the era. He won the triple crown in 1912, won an RBI title in 1916, and repeated that title in 1917 (he’d later be banned in the fallout from the Black Sox affair). Both Herzog and Fletcher were favorites of McGraw. Both had been with him since 1909. Herzog actually game up in 1908 and had seen short stints with Cincinnati and the Braves. Fletcher had a fine year, leading the team in WAR, while Herzog was getting over-the-hill. Holke was a rookie (he’d had a few at bats earlier) who hung around at first through 1918 then went to the Braves. He hit .277 with 1.0 WAR.

As a team the Giants led the NL runs, home runs, stolen bases, OBP, was second in average and hits, and  showed up fourth in doubles. In the field the team made the least errors in the NL and was first in fielding percentage. All in all a good, not spectacular team. In many ways it was a typical McGraw team: it pitched well, it ran the bases well, and it was good on defense. What it lacked, and what McGraw had to make up for, was a top-notch pitcher. It is a great credit to him that he managed the team well enough to make up for that things. He would take the team to the World Series, where it would lose to the White Sox.

“We Got Ball Players Here”

June 1, 2017

Standard jungle fatigue shirt

In August 50 years ago I first sat foot on the tarmac of Tan Son Nhut airfield in Vet Nam to begin a year-long exploration of a small part of sunny Southeast Asia. I guess that’s made me think a bit more than usual about what happened to me all those years ago. So I’m going to delve into the strange world that occasionally saw the confluence of war and baseball. Bear with me.

Before I tell you this story, there are some things you need to know. First, there were only two places in the entire universe for someone in Viet Nam. There was “in country” and “the world.” “In country” was Viet Nam, and occasionally small bits of Cambodia and Laos (I was never in Laos). It was where you faced whatever it was you faced that day and you learned to live with that. “The world” was everywhere else. It was as if Viet Nam existed somewhere totally disassociated with the rest of the planet and if you could find someway out, you would get back to “the world” and something that at least appeared to be normal. That’s important to know because it gives you some sense of the relative isolation we felt from the rest of humanity (and it’s vastly unfair to Viet Nam and the Vietnamese) .

Raquel Welch

Second, we were very ambivalent about the USO and its tours. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t mind the people coming over from “the world” to entertain us, especially the pretty girls, but we always knew they were doing it for what we lovingly called “enlightened self-interest.” That meant that it might be good for us, but it was going to be terrific for them. Sure Raquel Welch was nice to look at and we were glad to hear her sing (but of course you couldn’t get near enough to actually touch) but we also knew that she was gobbling up a lot of positive press that was going to enhance her career (and I don’t mean to pick on her, we felt that way about most of the people who came over to visit). There were exceptions like Sebastian Cabot, the overweight, bearded actor who came over to read Shakespeare to us. As he pointed out to us when he visited our place “No one wants to see me in a bikini” and he was already on the downside of a nice enough career so we thought maybe he did just want to make us feel better. And besides, it never hurt to hear Shakespeare and, yes, he did quote the Agincourt speech from Henry V (You probably know it better as the “band of brothers” speech). Even Bob Hope wasn’t immune. We knew he’d get lots of money for one of his “visiting the troops” specials.

Sebastian Cabot

All this is by way to letting you know what was going on internally in a lot of guys when we went to lunch sometime in late November or early December (it was after Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember the day). Lunch wasn’t bad, actually the food was pretty good except for reconstituted milk and frequently reconstituted potatoes (and “rubber” eggs–powered eggs). So most of the company was chowing down when the CO (that’s the commanding officer for you civilians) showed up trailed by three guys in new jungle fatigues. Mine hadn’t been that green in a month (OD–olive drab–fades).

“We got ball players here,” I remember he announced it (funny how you remember certain phrases, isn’t it?) It turns out the USO had gotten three Major Leaguers to come to Nam on a goodwill tour. They travelled from post to post, signed autographs, talked baseball, and told stories about the big leagues to us. The stories were, all in all, pretty good and they could talk baseball so well that it put all us armchair “experts” to shame.

Well, they wandered around from table to table, shaking hands and just talking to the troops, building morale one mess hall table at a time. I got to shake all three hands, got a couple of autographs which I ended up leaving in Viet Nam when I left, and to this day couldn’t tell you who any of them were (Again, funny what you can remember and what you can’t.). None of them was from the Dodgers or Cardinals (I’d remember that) but I couldn’t tell you much else about them. They were all white guys, so Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell weren’t there. They were nice enough guys and most of us enjoyed shaking hands with them and engaging them in conversation. For instance, I learned why you never try to steal home with a left-handed batter at the plate (the catcher has an unobstructed view of what’s happening down the third base line).

They left after an hour or so happy that they’d done their bit for God, Country, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the morale of the troops. What, of course, they never heard was the comments of a lot of guys sitting in one simple wooden mess hall in the Mekong Delta who were ultimately utterly ambivalent about what had just happened to them. It was part of returning “in country” from a small touch of “the world.”

“You suppose they think this will help their batting average?” (All comments translated from GI English, which is much heavier on 4-letter words than normal English).

“You see how good a shape those jerks were in? How’s come they’re not over here with the rest of us?”

“Wonder how quick they can duck when they hear ‘Incoming’?”

“How much you wanna bet at least one of them is 4-F? He can play ball but he’s 4-F. You watch.”

“Wonder if they get a raise for coming over here and seeing us?”

“Hey, Top, you think we can change places with some of them?”

The first sergeant in an infantry unit is the “top sergeant” and he’s frequently called “Top” by the guys. Ours was an old guy (he was in his late 30s) from back water Georgia who’d been around since Korea and was by now a first rate cynic about war, women, politicians, and people in general. He’d remained in the mess hall after the officers and dignitaries left for the air conditioned comfort of the local officer’s club.

“You can’t hit a Cong with your damned rifle. What makes you think you can hit a ball? Now shuddup and eat you’re damned chow.”

“Sure thing, Top.”

Welcome back “in country.”




Charming George

May 30, 2017

Hartford Dark Blues (Zettlein is number 7)


Another RIP

May 27, 2017

Just saw that Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning died today. He was 85.

Bunning’s Hall of Fame plaque

Bunning pitched primarily in the 1950s and 1960s winning 224 games, including a perfect game. He was part of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies team that infamously squandered a big lead in the last two weeks of the season to cede the pennant to St. Louis. After baseball, he went into politics serving a couple of terms as U.S. Senator from Kentucky. He was a Republican and was known as one of the more conservative members of the body. In 1996 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.


The Greatest Game Ever Played

May 25, 2017

The Atlantic and the Red Stockings, 1870

Way back on 14 June 1870 the Cincinnati Red Stockings, winners of over 80 consecutive games rolled into Brooklyn to play the champion Atlantic. When the game ended the Atlantic had broken the streak 8-7 and the game had gone 11 innings. It seems to be the first recorded example of “extra innings” (but it’s possible such had occurred before, we just don’t know). Henry Chadwick was in attendance and proclaimed the game the greatest. Over the years it’s gotten lost due to time and distance and most of us would probably pick some other game as the greatest ever (like Larsen’s perfect game in the ’56 world Series, for instance).

Box scores of the game are available and that means we can determine the players in this famous game. For the Atlantic the team consisted of a battery of George Zettelein in the box (today it would be a mound) and Bob Ferguson behind the plate. The infield was, from first over to third Joe Start, Lip Pike, Dickie Pearce, and Charles Smith. The outfield was John Chapman in left, center fielder George Hall, and Jack McDonald in right.

Over the years around here I’ve done posts on six of the nine (Start, Pike, Pearce, Smith, Chapman, and Hall). So I thought it was time to introduce you to the other three members of the winning team in one of the most famous of all games. They were members also of the great juggernaut of 1860s baseball, the Atlantic, and deserve at least a little recognition as some of the founders of our favorite game. So over the next little while, I want to do some of my normal short baseball bios of Zettelein, Ferguson, and McDonald. Hope you will find them interesting.

Easily the most obscure is Jack McDonald. His name was Daniel McDonald and I’ve been unable to ascertain why he was called “Jack.” The most likely reason is a middle name of Jack or John, but I can’t assure you that’s true. Occasionally he shows up in box scores as “Dan McDonald,” but the “Jack McDonald” is much more common. He seems to have served in the Civil War and, after a short stint with the McClellan’s, a junior team in the Brooklyn hearchy, joined the Atlantic in 1866. He remained as their more or less permanent right fielder through 1872. In the famous 14 June game he got one hit.

When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, the Atlantic opted out and McDonald stayed with the team. Both joined the Association the next season, with McDonald playing four games in right for the Atlantic, then transferring to the Eckford for a single game, followed by an 11 game return to the Atlantic (I have no idea what happened there). He hit .242 with nine runs scored, four RBIs, three doubles, a triple, no walks, and a strikeout. He also committed 11 errors in the 16 games, four of them in the single game with the Eckford. That may explain why it was his only professional league year.

He never played again at the Association level and died in November 1880 (making him 38). I’ve been unable to determine the cause of death. And that, team, is all I have on McDonald. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who knows more. I hate to leave any player at this level, but there’s almost nothing available.