Judge vs. the Babe

July 18, 2017

Well, it took long enough, but I finally heard it. Someone the other day on national television compared Aaron Judge to Babe Ruth. I wanted to cry.

Judge

Aaron Judge is a heck of a player–so far. Let’s face it, the kid is a rookie and there have been a ton of rookies who had one great year, the first one. A number of them even won the Rookie of the Year Award then faded into obscurity. I have no idea what will happen to Judge during his career but I do know it is vastly unfair to compare him to the Babe.

The Babe with someone named Gehrig in 1927

Let’s start with a simple question, how good a pitcher is Judge? I could simply leave it at that (but you know I won’t, don’t you?) but I want to remind you that Ruth was possibly the best left-handed pitcher of the 19-teens. Of course in the late teens and in the 1920s he became a hitter and a national phenomena. He maintained a high level of excellence, with a few dips here and there, for almost two decades; first with his arm, then with his bat.

I hate these kinds of comparisons. They almost always hurt the new guy, because he can never, or at least almost never, live up to the hype. So could we simply sit back, enjoy Aaron Judge for what he gives us and also remember Babe Ruth for what he meant to both the country and the sport? It would be better for both Judge and the rest of us.

Jackie Robinson and Me put one over on the Methodists

July 13, 2017

Churches in my town were a step or 2 above this one

As I’ve said before, I’m feeling nostalgic a lot recently. Next month marks 50 years since I went to Viet Nam, so maybe that’s got me thinking a lot about my youth (which I lost on one morning in ‘Nam). But to go along with the picnic story, here’s another recollection that proves I could be something of an obnoxious kid.

The friend of mine who I mentioned in the church picnic story was on his church softball team in the local Church League. They had him at second base so that left a hole in center field where he might normally play. So he contacted me with an offer to join the team. There were two quick objections I raised:

“I’ve never played softball.”

“Just think of it as baseball with a bigger ball and tape on the bat.”

“I have a taped bat, but it’s because the thing is broken.”

” Well, these come with tape, broken or otherwise. What’s the second problem?”
“Don’t I have to be a member of your church?”

“Nope. There are a lot of little churches in town and a bunch of them can’t field a team.”

“Why don’t they field joint teams?”

“The theological ramifications of that would be impossible to explain, Dimbulb.”

“OK.”

“So as long as you know someone in the church, you can play. You know me.”

Solved that problem.

So I showed up at the first practice and they let me bat. The pitcher slung one in and I clobbered it. I mean I caught it right on the fat part of the ball and the sweet spot of the bat. I hit it so hard that in Little League or American Legion Ball or Junior High it was long, long gone. It made it most of the way to second base and I was out by several steps. It seemed you didn’t hit a softball like you hit a baseball. And three practices in I figured out I was never going to be able to drive the ball out of the infield. Well, there was always the bunt. That worked. In fact it worked really well and is the crux of this tale. BTW, I should be clear this is softball, not slow pitch softball where bunting isn’t allowed.

The church I was playing for had this guy who was terrible, but loved the game. So they made him a “spy.” They didn’t call him that, but his job was to go around and watch the other teams practice and see what he could find out. I had a job for him.

“Find out whatever you can on the third baseman.”

“Like what?”

” Can he come in on an infield grounder? Can he go to his left? Is he overweight?”

“Come again?”

“Old and overweight guys don’t move too well and are easier to bunt on.”

“Gotcha.”

The scourge of the local Church League was a small independent Methodist Church that had won the league trophy four years in a row. It was fairly small with a lot of working class families in it. It was staunchly fundamentalist and conservative and was sure God’s three greatest contributions to the human race were Jesus of Nazareth, chicken fried steak, and John Wesley. And depending on how close you were to dinner (or Sunday) the order could vary. But they were a terrific softball team. Their pitcher was pretty good, they hit well, and for a Church League Softball team they fielded reasonably well. Of course their third baseman was in his late 30s, overweight, couldn’t move (especially to his left), and had a decent arm (he was a third baseman after all). And we drew them for game one.

I hit lead off, my buddy Dave (he’s the guy in center in the church picnic story) hit second, the assistant pastor hit third, and “Tiny” Henderson of the picnic story hit cleanup. We could hit OK, but neither Dave nor I had any power at all. So of course I led off by dropping a bunt to the left of the third baseman. He stood there for a while not quite sure what to do. I’m not sure he’d ever seen a bunt. I am sure he didn’t have any idea how to field one. He finally huffed and puffed over to the ball, grabbed it and had enough sense to eat it rather than throw it away (overweight guys like me understand eating).

Now softball had (still has, I think) these strange rules about base running. You can’t lead off and you can’t take off until a pitched ball crosses home plate. Because of that most players plant one foot on the base  and they (and the foot) then face toward second so they can move quickly toward the next base. I took a standard baseball stance. One foot was just touching first and all of me was looking at home (except my eyes, which were on the pitcher). It was evident I wasn’t planning on stealing. Heck, I wasn’t facing the right direction.

The pitcher tossed the ball, Dave took ball one (at least I think it was a ball–I don’t remember after all these years) and the catcher cocked back to throw the ball to the pitcher. That’s when I took off. Being already in motion, the catcher couldn’t adjust his throw to get the ball all the way to second and the ball ended up in no man’s land somewhere near the pitchers circle. I was safe on second and the  Methodist’s erupted. They were screaming I’d left too early (how that was possible when the catcher had the ball was unclear). OK, Ump, then he wasn’t on the bag properly (my foot was facing the wrong direction). The catcher, the pitcher, the ball, and the Methodists manager were at first screaming at the ump. Me? I just wandered over to third, stepped on it, and reminded the third base umpire that no one had asked for time. He concurred. That set off another screaming fit, but at least this time someone asked for time.

And Dave was still at the plate. We were both old enough to remember Jackie Robinson and were both enamored of a play he used frequently. A slow roller (or a bunt) went to the third baseman and Robinson would trail along just behind the fielder. If the fielder threw to first, Robinson ran home. If the fielder turned to run Robinson back to third, the batter was safe on first. With an overweight, out of shape, Church League third baseman, the play was a no brainer.

Dave looked down at me, mouthed “Jackie,” and squared to bunt. It was a great bunt. The third baseman got to it finally, I was about two feet behind him. He stood, cocked his arm, and I raced by him. He saw me and, like the catcher, couldn’t stop his arm. All he could do was chuck the ball into that same area between first and the mound where the catcher had lobbed the ball and both Dave and I were safe. That led to the third baseman unleashing a string of words, most with four letters, that I didn’t know Methodists used.

It opened the flood gates. The assistant pastor doubled off a clearly rattled pitcher and “Tiny” Henderson put one so high and out of sight a couple of people decided it achieved orbit. The team put up five runs that inning and several more later (I forget the final score) and the Methodist spell was broken.

I’d like to say we won the league trophy that year, but we finished fourth, just ahead of the Methodists who never recovered from the opening loss. Mostly the team considered that a signal victory. I left for the Army before the next season, but Dave (who was a year younger) told me that they used the play again and the Methodist third baseman called him a whole bunch of things he’d not been called before, at least by a Methodist.

 

 

All Star Games

July 11, 2017

Do you really care about the All Star Game? I used to; I really did. I looked forward to the annual clash of National League titans against American League titans. On the same field you could see (or hear when we only had a radio) Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Ted Williams. In the 1960s you could watch Harmon Killebrew or Roger Maris or maybe Al Kaline stand in against Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax or Juan Marichal. It was wonderful, but something changed.

It’s not like the players aren’t worth watching anymore. In the last dozen or so years I’ve gotten to turn on the television and watch Albert Pujols and Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw and a host of other worthies. And they are as good as the players I saw 50 years ago. But something has changed. Maybe I’ve just gotten older and no longer see the players as heroes. That at least is true; I no longer see them as heroes (that died sometime in the 1960s) and I’ve certainly gotten older and more jaded in my view of people and the world.

Part of what’s wrong is that the game has gotten lost in the “events” that precede it. I really don’t care to watch a bunch of guys stand around and take batting practice just to see who can hit how many balls how far. Another part is that with teams in the National League now regularly playing teams in the American League it’s no longer special to see the confrontations. Way back when Mantle only faced Koufax in either the World Series or the All Star game. Today Trout can face Kershaw with some frequency on a Thursday night in May.

And I don’t think the game is taken as seriously. I know it’s supposed to have counted for home field in the World Series, but that didn’t make for significant difference in Series winners (or else Cleveland would be celebrating and Chicago would be waiting one more year). But when I watch it doesn’t seem that either the players or the managers take the game seriously. Maybe that’s because of cross league play or maybe it’s just the new generation of players and managers. Look how many players opt to miss the game.

The rosters are bigger so a lot of people are “All Stars” who probably shouldn’t be anywhere near an All Star game. With every team being required to send one player you have to expand rosters but 30 teams worth of players is a lot of players who weren’t going to be facing the other league’s big guns when there were only 16 teams. As a quick aside, maybe only the home team should be required to furnish a player. I mean if the last place Numbnuts are going to lose 100 games, tell me again why they should have an “All Star”?

Anyway that’s my rant for the day. I’ll be skipping the All Star game again, as I have for several years. It just doesn’t seem to matter any more.

Another Top of the Line (?) ESPN List

July 6, 2017

Well, being ESPN they’ve put out another one of their lists. This promises to tell us the current top 100 players in Major League Baseball. As usual, it’s a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. I’m certainly not going to give you the entire list here, but I’ll do my standard job on it. I’ll give you the top player at each position (his spot in the list 1-100 will be the number in parenthesis) plus five pitchers (one of which has to be a lefty and one has to be a right-hander), a reliever, and the first player whose position is already taken will be the DH. Got all that? Good. So here we go.

1b Paul Goldschmidt (4)

2b Jose Altuve (10)

ss Carlos Correa (9)

3b Kris Bryant (6)

rf Bryce Harper (3)

cf Mike Trout (1)

lf Michael Conforto (42)

c Buster Posey (19)

P Clayton Kershaw (2), Chris Sale (5), Max Scherzer (7), Stephen Strasberg (20), Dallas Keuchel (22)

reliever Andrew Miller (36)

DH Nolan Arenado (8 and the second third baseman listed)

Francisco Lindor at number 11 is the highest rated player not to make the team. There are a lot of right and center fielders ahead of Conforto, but I wanted one guy in each position. The list also has a lot more infielders than outfielders high on the chart.

The list is on ESPN where you can check it out. If you don’t like it, take it up with ESPN.

 

Struck Down by a Baseball

July 4, 2017

A friend of mine tells this story. I won’t promise it’s accurate, but knowing him, I’ll bet it is true (at least mostly).

A brush arbor (a pretty fancy one)

Yearly when he was a kid (he’s about my age so this is probably the early to mid-1960s) his church celebrated the Fourth of July by having a big picnic. It was a decent sized congregation (I think he’s Southern Baptist, but am not sure which particular type of Baptist he is) and one of the members owned something of a ranch outside town a few miles.

Now in my part of West Texas there are some pretty fair-sized ranches. Considering how many acres it takes to sustain a cattle unit (that’s one cow and one calf for you big city Eastern types) you need a lot of land. Of course a lot of it is flat so it’s ideal for assembling a bunch of people. This place also had a river. “River” in the Texas Panhandle doesn’t mean quite the same thing that it means a lot of other places. There it defines an area where water occasionally trickles through a stream bed between the sandbars. The name of the river was the Ouachita (which is usually spelled Washita) which the local joke said was a Comanche word meaning “Sandbar.” (We use that same joke where I live now using Cherokee and Cimarron). But it did have trees along the banks, so you could have a shaded area to set up the food tables and, more importantly set up lawn chairs and create a “brush arbor (see the picture above), which is a shaded outdoor church with tree limbs for a roof (and usually no seats like the picture above shows). The brush arbor served as a place to hold a short end of picnic service to thank the Good Lord for a good time, a good day, good food, and a good country.

Of course all these picnics were alike. The group got together about 10 or 11 and set up tables, made the brush arbor, set out lawn chairs. The ladies of the church brought out their finest, mostly fried chicken, potato salad, beans, rolls, corn on the cob (you get the idea). His mom brought something called “coke salad” (I didn’t want to know). And the minister said a prayer then everybody dug in and pigged out until there was almost nothing left.

After taking some time to digest and talk about whatever it was that came up, the congregation broke into various groups. The younger kids went about playing whatever they wanted to play, the older folk continued to sit and talk. The younger adult women found an area where they could lay out a diamond and played softball. The men played baseball.

The men divided up into 2 teams with a couple of deacons as umpires (you do trust your deacon board to umpire, don’t you?). My friend was a pretty fair player so he played center field for one of the teams and led off. The pitchers weren’t very good, most of the fielders were overweight and out of shape, so scores tended to get out of hand (when they were kept, which seems to have been only periodically). But there were a couple of people who actually could play.

One was “Tiny” Henderson. I knew Henderson. He was one of those guys that was 6’6″ and 250 pounds. Guys like that are always called “Tiny.” And he could hit the ball a mile. He usually batted clean up for whichever team he was on and this time he was on the other team. So my friend started backing up when he saw the batter. His gag is Tiny was in one county and he was in another.

And of course Tiny got hold of one. It went back, my buddy went back, the ball went back, so did my buddy. Out beyond the area where the ball field was (there were no fences) a bunch of the older gentlemen of the church were having their annual Fourth of July confab talking about God, their war experiences, local politics, and other assorted items. I’d throw in talking about women but there were a lot of Baptist deacons involved, as was the minister.

As fate (or the Good Lord) would have it, the minister was standing with his back to the field and the ball caught him square in the back. He went down, the deacons gasped, Tiny stopped dead in his track, and my friend, being a serious ball player grabbed the ball and started to hurl it back toward the infield when he noticed that everyone, especially Tiny Henderson, was rushing to the minister. So he  held the ball, reached out and tagged Tiny and announced he was out. Ain’t it great that someone has his baseball act together?

But no one noticed. Everyone was crowding around the minister making sure he was alright. It seems he was. He got up and looked around. Tiny was crying and apologizing, the other players were trying to tell him it was an accident, and my friend was proclaiming Tiny Henderson was out (you gotta have your priorities right). It took a second, but the minister finally said something.

“Well, it’s better be struck down by a baseball than by the Hand of God.”

Mostly everybody agreed with him. But my buddy still proclaimed that Tiny was out and the run didn’t count. They decided to call the game (no one was keeping score) and go immediately to the evening service so the minister could go home and soak his aching back.

At least that’s the way my buddy tells it. And he still insists that Tiny Henderson was out.

 

Before the Sox Turned Black: Return to New York

June 30, 2017

There are very few plays from a World Series of the Deadball Era that are still famous. The Merkle Game of 1908 was a regular season affair and no one can tell you what Mathewson did in each of his three consecutive shutouts in the 1905 World Series other than no Philadelphia player scored. Cy Young pitched game one of the first Series, but almost no one knows he lost the game.

There are exceptions. There’s the Snodgrass Muff in 1912 that helped lead the Red Sox to the title. Most people don’t know that Frank Baker became “Home Run” Baker by hitting key homers in the 1911 World Series, but in the era fans did. The 1917 World Series produced one play that became instantly famous and is still known to die-hard baseball freaks. It occurred in game six.

Game 6, 15 October 1917

Eddie Collins

With the White Sox up three games to two, the Giants sent game three winner Rube Benton back to the mound. He’d thrown a shutout in game three and hopes were that he could do it again. Chicago countered with Red Faber who’d already won two games.

For three innings the game was an even match. Both pitchers gave up two hits, but no one scored. In the top of the fourth Eddie Collins led off with a ball hit to third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. An error made Collins safe and a second error put him on third and Joe Jackson on first. Then came the play that fans talked about for years.

Heinie Zimmerman

The next batter was Happy Felsch. He hit a tapper back to Benton who whirled and flipped to Zimmerman at third, catching Collins off the bag. But things went wrong immediately. Collins was in no man’s land and Zimmerman had the ball at third. Catcher Bill Rariden was down the line close to Collins. Zimmerman threw to Rariden, Collins turned back toward third, Rariden moved up the line and tossed the ball back to Zimmerman. Rariden was, by this point too close to both Collins and third.  Collins took off for home passing Rariden immediately. First baseman Walter Holke was still at first in case Benton had thrown to first to nail Felsch. Benton stood on the mound observing everything. All that, Rariden way up the third base line, Holke at first, Benton still on the mound, meant that no one was covering home except the umpire. Off Collins raced with Zimmerman, having no one to throw to chasing after him. For his career Zimmerman stole 175 bases, Collins stole 741. Collins was an acknowledged speedster in the era, Zimmerman on the other hand, wasn’t exactly slow but no one was going to confuse him with Man O’ War. Collins dashed home, slid into the plate, Zimmerman still behind had to leap over him to keep from falling down and Eddie Collins scored the first run of the game. Below is a picture of the play at home. Collins is on the ground with Zimmerman in the air (the other player is Rariden).

Collins is safe

While this was happening, Jackson moved on to third and Felsch to second. Now with both runners in scoring position Chick Gandil singled to score both runners and make the score 3-0. It was to be the decisive inning.

The Giants would manage two runs in the fifth and the Sox would get another in the ninth to show a final score of 4-2, but the fourth inning and Collins’ dash were the difference. Chicago claimed its first World’s Championship since 1906, Red Faber had won three games, and John McGraw had lost another Series. Zimmerman was the goat in most people’s eyes (and there is speculation that his treatment by fans led him to the gambling woes that ended up with his banishment in the 1920s–although there is no proof of that). McGraw never blamed Zimmerman. “Who was he supposed to throw the ball to, the ump?” McGraw is alleged to have said. He may have said it but it was probably in more “colorful” language. It is McGraw we’re talking about.

There was no MVP in the Series that far back but both Faber, with three wins, and Collins who hit .409, scored four runs, and drove in two might have been the favorites. Felsch had the only White Sox homer, Gandil led the team with five RBIs, and Jackson tied Collins with four runs scored. For the Giants Dave Robertson hit .500 (11 for 22) and scored three runs (as did George Burns). Benny Kauff led with five RBIs and led both teams with two home runs.

It is perhaps a more important World Series than it is a good Series. There were a lot of errors and both the hitting and pitching were spotty. But it did show what the White Sox were capable of doing when they tried. Two years later essentially the same team, minus Faber, would be accused of not trying.

 

 

 

Before the Sox Turned Black: back in Chicago

June 28, 2017

With the World Series tied two games each, the Series returned to Chicago for game five. If the two games in New York were shutouts and pitching dominated, game five was a shootout.

Game 5, 13 October 1917

Eddie Collins

Game five saw Reb Russell take the mound for Chicago. George Burns led off the game with a walk then went to third on a Buck Herzog single. Then Benny Kauff doubled to score Burns. And that was all for Russell. He’d pitched to three men and all had reached base, two by hits and a walk. The ChiSox brought in Eddie Cicotte to replace him. A fielder’s choice cut down Herzog at the plate for the first out of the inning. Another fielder’s choice cut down Kauff at home, but a Dave Robertson hit brought in a second run before Cicotte ended the inning.

Now ahead 2-0 the Giants sent Slim Sallee to the mound to hold the lead. He gave up a run in the third on an Eddie Collins walk and a Happy Felsch double, but the Giants got that run back, plus another in the fourth. Catcher Bill Rariden singled and went to second on a bunt. Burns singled and an error by right fielder Shano Collins let Rariden score. Two more errors brought Burns home to make the score 4-1.

Chicago got a second run in the sixth on three consecutive singles to make it 4-2, but New York responded in the top of the seventh with a run on an Art Fletcher double and a Rariden single. Going into the bottom of the seventh, the score stood 5-2 with Sallee cruising. With one out, Joe Jackson singled and Happy Felsch followed with another single. Chick Gandil then doubled to bring home both men.  An out moved him to third and a walk put Ray Schalk on first. Schalk took off for second and Herzog dropped the throw making Schalk safe and allowing Gandil to score to tie the game 5-5. A strikeout ended the inning.

Red Faber took over on the mound for Chicago in the eighth and sat down the Giants in order. In the bottom of the eighth Shano Collins singled and moved up on a bunt and scored on an Eddie Collins single. A Jackson single sent Eddie Collins to third. A Kauff throw failed to nip Eddie Collins, but New York third baseman Heinie Zimmerman thought he could catch Jackson going to second. His throw was wild and Eddie Collins scored while Jackson went on to third. A Felsch single scored Jackson but that ended the scoring.

With the score now 8-5, Faber went back to the mound. Two ground outs and a fly to left later, Chicago led the Series three games to two. So far all the games had been won by the home team. With game six back in the Polo Grounds there would be a game seven if that held.

 

Before the Sox Turned Black: Games 3 & 4

June 26, 2017

With the 1917 World Series two games to none in favor of the White Sox, the teams left Chicago. They headed by train across the upper Midwest to New York. Games 3 and 4 would be played in the Polo Grounds.

Game 3, 10 October 1917

Rube Benton

For game three, the ChiSox sent game one winner Eddie Cicotte to the mound. The Giants countered with Rube Benton. It was a pitchers duel. Benton gave up five hits and didn’t walk anyone. Other than a Buck Weaver double in the eighth inning, all the hits were singles.

Cicotte was almost as good. Like Benton, he didn’t walk anyone, but gave up eight hits, two of them for extra bases (a double and a triple). Both extra base hits came in the fourth inning. Dave Robertson led off with the triple and Walter Holke’s double scored the first run of the game. With two outs George Burns singled Holke home from third. It was the last run by either team.

Benton’s complete game shutout came in his initial appearance in a World Series game. For Cicotte he was now 1-1 in the Series. A win the next day by New York would tie up the Series.

Game 4, 11 October 1917

Benny Kauff

For game four, also in the Polo Grounds, New York trotted out Ferdie Schupp while Chicago sent Red Faber back to the mound. The last meeting between the two resulted in a White Sox win. This time Schupp and the Giants turned the tables. Schupp went nine innings with a walk and seven hits. All except a fourth inning double by Eddie Collins were singles and Collins was subsequently picked off second by Schupp.

Meanwhile the Giants managed to score off Faber. In the fourth Benny Kauff hit a gapper that he turned into an inside-the-park home run because of his speed. It put the Giants up 1-0, a lead they would not relinquish. They got a second run in the fifth with Schupp driving it in. They tacked on a third run in the seventh on a single, a wild pitch, and a double play that plated Art Fletcher.

In the top of the eighth Faber was lifted for a pinch hitter. New pitcher Dave Danforth wasn’t the answer either. In the bottom of the eighth with one on Kauff drilled a home run to provide the final score of 5-0.

In two games in the Polo Grounds the Giants had evened the Series at two games apiece. Chicago had come to New York ahead and failed to score in either game. The World Series would head back to Chicago tied with one game there and a game six back in New York.

 

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.