Posts Tagged ‘Al Rosen’

“The Biggest Upset Since Harry Truman”

November 24, 2014
Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes

The death of Alvin Dark got me looking at the 1950s Giants. So I was reading an article on Willie Mays the other day. That article got me thinking about the 1954 World Series, so I started doing some research on it. In doing so, I ran across another article that made the claim that makes the title of this article (see how A leads to B leads to C, etc.). In 1948 Truman was supposed to lose to Thomas Dewey and didn’t. In 1954 the New York Giants were supposed to lose to the American League record-breaking Cleveland Indians.

The Indians won 111 games in 1954, a record since surpassed. They did it primarily by beating up on the AL also-rans, but it was still a formidable team. Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn were the mainstays of the mound. Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Feller was in the twilight of his career, but still put up 13 wins, while Mike Garcia had 19. In the bullpen Don Mossi, Ray Narleski, and Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser provided relief work. Second baseman Bobby Avila won a batting title, Larry Doby led the AL in home runs and RBIs, and Al Rosen was fourth in the league in slugging and OPS, fifth in OBP and home runs. For manager Al Lopez it was a formidable team.

Their opponent was the New York Giants, led my Leo Durocher. Although not as seeming invincible as the Indians, the Giants were also good. They won 97 games with Johnny Antonelli, Ruben Gomez, and Sal Maglie on the mound. Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm provided much of the relief work as the premier right hander out of the bullpen. Marv Grissom complimented him from the left side. Outfielder and Hall of Famer Willie Mays led the National League in batting, slugging, triples, OPS, and OPS+ (just your typical Mays year). Don Mueller hit over .300, while Monte Irvin coming off a down year completed the outfield. Hank Thompson and Al Dark both had 20 home runs, and pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes had 15.

Game one is primarily famous for Willie Mays making the great catch in center field to keep the game tied. Rhodes later won it with a home run in the tenth inning. Game two was also close with the Giants winning 3-1 and Rhodes again contributing a home run. Moving to Cleveland for game three, the Giants took control and won game three 6-2. They were already ahead by six runs when Cleveland finally scored their first run. Game four was something of a foregone conclusion. The Giants put up seven runs before Cleveland scored and coasted to a 7-4 victory to close out the Series.

This brings up two obvious questions: “What went wrong for the Indians?” and “What did the Giants do right?” They are, of course, two parts of a single question, “what the heck happened to cause the Indians to lose and the Giants to win?”

The Cleveland pitching staff had a terrible World Series. They had a 4.84 ERA, gave up 33 hits and 21 runs (19 earned) in 35.1 innings. Garcia started one game and ended up with an ERA of 5.40. He gave up three earned runs and four walks in five innings (he did manage to strike out four). Lemon was worse. In two games he gave up 16 hits, 10 earned runs, and eight walks in 13.1 innings (with 11 strikeouts). The bullpen (and Early Wynn) did much better, although Newhouser gave up a run, a hit, and a walk without getting anybody out.

The hitting wasn’t much better. Of the starters, only Vic Wertz (who hit the famous ball that Mays caught) hit above .250 (Rosen hit right on .250). He and Hank Majeski tied for the team lead with three RBIs, while Wertz and Al Smith were the only players with more than one run scored (each had two). Larry Doby struck out four times

The Giants pitching did better. It’s ERA was 1.46, giving up six total earned runs (and three unearned–the Giants had seven errors) and 26 hits in 37 innings. Maglie’s 2.57 ERA was the team high. Neither Grissom nor Wilhelm gave up a run out of the bullpen.

New York hitting beat Cleveland to death. Dark, Mueller, Rhodes, and Thompson all hit over .350 while both Mays and catcher Wes Westrum both topped .250. Rhodes had seven RBIs, Thompson scored six runs, and both Mays and Mueller scored four runs. Irvin (who had a bad Series) and Westrum led the team with three strikeouts, while Mays walked four times. Rhodes OPS was 2.381 (Wertz at 1.493 topped the Indians starters).

There was no Series MVP in 1954 (it began the next year), but most people presume Rhodes would have won it. Maybe, but the entire Giants team did well (except Irvin and Whitey Lockman).

It was, besides being a huge upset, a fluke World Series. Cleveland had not finished first since 1948 and wouldn’t do so again until 1995. For the Giants, it was their first since 1950 and they wouldn’t be back until 1962 when they were no longer the New York Giants, but had become the San Francisco Giants. The next year it would be back to the normal Yankees-Dodgers World Series.

The First Modern 3rd Baseman

May 18, 2010

Harlond Clift

As the post yesterday might have told you, I’ve been looking at third basemen recently. I’ve discovered a few things that I find interesting. You probably already know that there are less of them in the Hall of Fame than any other position (10 or 11 depending on where you put Paul Molitor). In 1924 Fred Lindstrom made his Major League debut. In 1943, George Kell made his. So? Well, no third baseman who began his career between those two dates is a Hall of Famer. Not a single one. That’s a 20 year gap. There’s no comparable gap at any other position. Were the third basemen of the era really that weak or did something else happen to change the nature of the position? It is, as you might suspect, a combination of things. All of which brings me to Harlond Clift.

Clift was from Oklahoma and arrived in the majors in 1934. He was a good enough player, but he had two strikes against him when he arrived: he played for the St. Louis Browns, and believe it or don’t he hit for power. The Browns were an awful team that ended the 1934 season in 6th place then went south, next getting back to 6th in 1940. In 1941 they made a run that put them in the first division, then slid back in 1942. In ’43 Clift developed mumps, saw it worsen, got traded to Washington, which did well in 1943, but his illness restricted Clift to eight games.  In 1944 they were dead last with Clift playing in only 31 games. He closed out his career in 1945 by helping the Senators to a second place finish, the highest his team ever stood when a season ended. The mumps, and injuries, derailed his career and he was through by age 32. He died in 1992.

For his career his home run totals are as follows: 14, 11, 20, 29, 34, 15, 20, 17, 7, 3, 3, 8 for a total of 178. OK, you say, not bad, but nothing special for the era. Agreed, except in one way they are special. Here’s the highest total of home runs in the American League for the same period (1934-1941, Clift’s productive years) by any third baseman not named Clift: 16 (Higgins), 23 (Higgins), 14 (Hale), 10 (Lewis), 26 (Keltner), 14 (Rolfe and Tabor), 21 (Tabor), and 23 (Keltner).  For the period, Clift is the only consistent power threat at third base. Others will have short periods where they will challenge him, but not will be there year after year. Ultimately none of them will surpass him in total home runs.    

What Clift did was to demonstrate that third base was not just a fielding position where if you hit for a decent average you were elite. He showed it could be a year-to-year power position. In that he is a precursor to the change at third base that allowed, in the 1950s, for a new kind of third baseman, one who hit for great power. He is the godfather of players like Bob Elliott, the first third baseman to win an MVP award. As you might guess, third base is  the last fielding position to have an MVP awarded. Al Rosen, Eddie Mathews, and Mike Schmidt, power hitting third basemen who could win MVPs, home run titles, and lead their teams to pennants are his linear descendents.

I’m not suggesting Clift is a Hall of Fame caliber player. I am suggesting he is the prototype of a new kind of player at his position. We ought to tip our cap to his memory when we watch the new generation of third basemen we see play today.

Power at Third

January 4, 2010

Way back in 1969, baseball celebrated a centennial. It was the 100th anniversary of the Cininnnati Red Stockings, the so-called first professional team. The majors produced two lists, the greatest living team (DiMaggio was chosen the greatest living player) and an all-time greatest team (with Ruth as the greatest player). The problem arose at Third Base when the all-time team chose Pie Traynor.

Now it’s not that Traynor was a bad choice, it was that he was a terrible choice. Traynor represented that third baseman who was a wonderful fielder, and OK hitter, and a man devoid of power. There had been a lot of them in baseball history and they were decent players. And if they were really, really good third basemen they might have saved their teams a dozen or so runs  season. The problem was that they weren’t producing a lot of runs themselves.

When the Traynor choice was made, it’s not like major league baseball didn’t have a handful of power hitting third basemen to choose from. Of course, maybe that was the problem. There were only a handful and it was tough to take them seriously because the long history of third basemen had been overwhelmingly of good fielders who, if they could hit for average, were potential Hall of Famers.

But third base produced a series of power hitters over the first 69 years of the 20th Century, there just weren’t very many of them. There was Home Run Baker who led the American League in home runs four times. It was the dead ball era and he never hit more than 12 in a season (and the “Home Run” nickname came from World Series play, not the regular season championships). There was Harlond Clift who managed to hit 178 home runs in the 1930s and early 40s. But he’d played in St. Louis for the Browns and in Washington, two of the most obscure places a 1930’s-40’s player could inhabit. Then came Al Rosen and Eddie Mathews. Both were legitimate power hitters who led their leagues in home runs, Rosen even winning an MVP. Rosen had a short career and Mathews was still playing. Of course there was Brooks Robinson who already had an MVP award, a lot of home runs, and was by 1969 already acknowledged as the finest fielding third baseman ever.

So why Traynor? Got me. My guess is that they wanted to honor an old-time player, wanted to stay away from current players like Robinson and Mathews (there was a living player category after all), and just couldn’t get over the old idea that third basemen weren’t supposed to be power hitters. I’m glad they didn’t do this list in 1989, because I’m afraid of what they would have done to Mike Schmidt and George Brett.