Posts Tagged ‘Babe Ruth’

A Chance for Revenge: Games in Detroit

August 15, 2017

The 1935 World Series began in Detroit. It was to be played in a format familiar to us. The first two games were in Detroit, the next three in Chicago, then a final pair, if necessary back in Detroit. There was one significant difference between those games and the modern version. Because of the proximity of the two towns, the games would be played on consecutive dates.

Lon Warneke

Game 1, 2 October 1935

For game one, both teams sent experienced pitchers to the mound, Schoolboy Rowe for the Tigers and Lon Warneke for Chicago. Both men pitched well, but a number of Detroit errors, a key one by Rowe himself, helped doom the Tigers.

And it began immediately for Detroit. Augie Galan led off the game for the Cubs with a double. Then Billy Herman tapped one back to the mound. Rowe turned, tossed it to first, and missed Hank Greenberg’s glove by several feet. Galan scored easily but Herman, running through the base, was unable to advance. A Fred Lindstrom bunt back to Rowe sent Herman to second (this time Rowe got the throw right). Gabby Hartnett followed with a single to score Galan. Rowe then settled down and got out of the inning down only 2-0.

It was more than enough for Warneke. He breezed through the game giving up only four hits and walking another four. It wasn’t until the fourth inning that Detroit got two men on base and managed to move one of them to third before the died there waiting for a hit. It was the only inning the Tigers put either two men on base or moved a man to third.

Meanwhile, Rowe, apparently getting over the error, matched Warneke with zeroes until the ninth. Frank Demaree led off the top of the ninth with the Series’ first home run to give the game its final score 3-0. For the game, Rowe had given up seven hits, struck out eight, walked none, and given up two earned runs. He’d also made the critical error.

Hank Greenberg (in the lumber business?)

Game 2, 3 October 1935

For game 2, the Tigers sent Tommy Bridges to the mound. He drew Charlie Root for a pitching opponent. Root has last seen World Series action in 1932 when he’d given up Babe Ruth’s “called shot” homer in game three. On this occasion he had the same amount of success, none.

After an uneventful top of the first, Detroit lit up Root in the bottom of the inning. Jo Jo White led off with a single. A Mickey Cochrane double scored him. Charlie Gehringer followed with a single scoring Cochrane. Then Hank Greenberg parked one in the left field stands for two runs and an early exit for Root.  Ray Henshaw replaced him with only slightly more success.

After surviving the second and third innings, Henshaw, with two outs in the fourth, plunked Marv Owen. A Bridges single sent Owen to third and a walk to White loaded the bases. Then Henshaw uncorked a wild pitch moving up all three runs and making it 5-0. He walked Cochrane to reload the bases, bringing up Gehringer. He singled to score Bridges and White. Out went Henshaw, in came Fabian Kowalik who managed to retire Greenberg to end the inning. The score stood 7-0. Chicago got a run back on an error, a ground out, and a single, then two more on a walk and consecutive singles, but it was too late.

Detroit came up in the bottom of the seventh ahead 7-3 when one of the key moments of the Series occurred. With two outs and two on, Pete Fox singled to right plating Gehringer. Following close behind, Greenberg tried to score also, but was thrown out at home. In the collision at home, he broke his wrist and was done for the Series. It changed the Tigers lineup for the remaining games by moving Owen to first and bringing in Flea Clifton to play third. At that point Greenberg had a home run and two RBIs. For the entire rest of the Series Owen would get one hit and Clifton went oh-fer.

But Detroit had evened the Series at one win apiece. The next three games would be in Chicago, where a sweep by either team would crown a champion. The 1935 World Series was now a best of five.

 

 

Fantasy and Morality

July 20, 2017

I’m in something of a philosophical mood today. Me doing my Kant/Wittengenstein impression might be a new internet low (which actually is tough considering some of the stuff on the internet), but here goes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in a fantasy league for the first time. We play Deadball Era ball and are currently doing the 1913 season. So far my team, which is decent but probably not a pennant contender is doing terribly. That creates a moral dilemma for me.  When the season is over, we draft for the new season in a fairly standard way. The bottom four teams go into a pot and are selected randomly by computer for their draft order, meaning the team with the fourth worst record could get the top draft pick, as could the third, second, or worst team. It’s a pretty fair way to keep a team from obviously “tanking” but it isn’t foolproof.

The problem is the 1914 draft includes a rookie pitcher named Babe Ruth. Heard of him? Bet you have.

So the question I ask myself is, “Self, do you want to ‘tank’ to pick up the Babe?” I’ve got a one in four chance (actually it’s weighted so the odds aren’t quite that cut and dried) of grabbing the best player ever and all I have to do is lose. That’s easy enough. My team isn’t that great (but it is pretty good and “tanking” would be fairly obvious).

Now remember, there’s no money involved, no trophy, and no real bragging rights (I wouldn’t know any of the other team managers if I saw them so I wouldn’t know when to brag), but, still, it is Babe Ruth.

I watch the TV show “NCIS” sometimes and there was an episode several years ago where the doctor on the show (played by David McCallum) was asked the difference between ethics and morality. His answer went like this (and I paraphrase): An ethical man knows he shouldn’t cheat on his wife. A moral man doesn’t cheat on his wife.

And so there I am in an ethical and moral dilemma. What to do? What not to do? Ah, the morass.

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.

Beginning a Dynasty: “Jumpin’ Joe” and the Babe again

June 27, 2016

With the 1923 World Series tied at two games each the season came down to a best two of three series with the Yankees hold home field advantage. The winner of game five would need to win just one more to claim the championship while the loser would have to win two in a row, something that hadn’t happened yet in this World Series.

"Jumpin'" Joe Dugan

“Jumpin'” Joe Dugan

Game 5

For game 5 the Yankee bats stayed alive. Although there was no six run inning, the Yanks again put up eight runs and took a three games to two lead in the 1923 World Series.

Gaints starter Jake Bentley didn’t get out of the first inning without being clobbered. With one out Joe Dugan singled and Babe Ruth walked. A Bob Meusel triple scored both runners. A Wally Pipp sacrifice fly brought home Meusel to make the score 3-0.

The Giants got one back in the top of the second on an Irish Meusel triple and a Casey Stengel (there he is again) grounder. That was all they got and unfortunately that meant the Yankees got to bat again. With one out pitcher Bullet Joe Bush singled and went to second when Bentley walked Whitey Witt. That brought up Joe Dugan, who’d singled the previous inning. The lashed a ball into the right center gap and raced all the way around with another inside-the-park home run that scored both Bush and Witt. An error put Ruth on and sent Bentley to the showers. The Yankees tacked on another run when a single and a fielder’s choice scored Ruth to make it 7-1. In the fourth Dugan, Ruth, and Bob Meusel all singled to plate Dugan with the eighth Yankee run.

Bullet Joe Bush coasted for most of the game. After giving up the one run in the second he shut the Giants down. For the game he gave up three hits and two walks while striking out three. But the big hero was Dugan who scored three runs and had three RBIs on four hits.

At this point the Yankees led the World Series three games to two. A victory in either of the remaining games would give them their first ever championship. The Giants were faced with winning two games in a row.

 

Babe Ruth doing his thing

Babe Ruth doing his thing

Game 6

Facing elimination in game 6, the Giants sent game 3 winner Art Nehf to the mound. He faced Herb Pennock who’d already tallied a win and a save. With lefty Pennock pitching, Casey Stengel again started the game on the bench.

The Yanks jumped out to a one run lead when Babe Ruth smashed a home run with two outs in the top of the first. The Giants countered in the bottom of the inning with three consecutive singles, the last by Ross Youngs that scored Heinie Groh to tie the game.

That was it for two and a half innings. Nehf gave up one walk and Pennock completely shut down the Giants. In the bottom of the fourth Frankie Frisch bunted his way onto first, then moved up on a groundout and came home on a Billy Cunningham (Stengel’s replacement) single. In the fifth, they tacked on another run with a Frank Snyder home run and in the sixth a Frisch triple and an Irish Meusel single gave the Giants a 4-1 lead.

Nehf got through the seventh and started the eighth with a three run lead. He got the first out then back-to-back singles and a walk loaded the bases. Then he walked pinch hitter Bullet Joe Bush (an opposing pitcher who pinch hit) to force in a run and make the score 4-2. That brought Rosy Ryan in to get the final five outs. He promptly walked Joe Dugan to make the score 4-3. He got Ruth on a strikeout which brought up Bob Meusel. A long single scored two and Dugan came around to score when Cunningham threw the ball away trying to get Dugan at third. With the Yanks now ahead 6-4 on a five run inning, Wally Pipp grounded to second to end the inning.

Pennock got a ground out, gave up a single, then got another ground out for the first two outs of the bottom of the eighth. Manager John McGraw sent up Stengel to pinch hit. For a change he didn’t come through, fouling out to Dugan to end the inning.

The Yanks went in order in the ninth, giving the Giants one more chance to tie the game. A Popfly and a ground out gave the Yankees two outs. A roller to second, a flip to first and the Yanks were world champs for the first time.

As a team, the Yankees hit .293 with five home runs (three by Ruth), four triples, and eight doubles. Dugan hit .280 but drove in five and scored five. Ruth had the three RBIs from his home runs, but scored eight runs. Bob Meusel had two triples and eight RBIs. The pitching came through with an ERA of 2.83 with 18 strikeouts and only 12 walks and 17 runs (all earned). Pennock had two wins (and a save) with Bush and Bob Shawkey picking up the other two wins.

The Giants hit .234 with five home runs (Stengel getting two of them). He hit .417 with the two homers, five hits, four RBIs and three runs while walking four times without a strikeout. One paper summed up the Series with a headline that said “Yankees 4, Stengel 2.” The pitching disappointed. The team ERA was 4,75 with 28 earned runs given up (of 30 total runs) and 20 walks to go with 22 strikeouts. Nehf and Rosy Ryan got the two wins.

Historically it was an important World Series. The Giants were toward the end of a great run by John McGraw. He managed one more pennant in 1924 (and lost the Series to Washington and Walter Johnson) then the team slid off and he never again finished first. For the Yankees it was the beginning of the greatest dynasty in baseball. It was the first of 27 championships.

 

 

Beginning a Dynasty: The “Ole Perfessor” Redux, and “Long Bob”

June 23, 2016

With the World Series tied a game each in 1923, the Series returned to Yankee Stadium for game three. The Yanks were, with up to five games remaining, assured of at least two more home games and possibly three. This time a nemesis from earlier in the Series would strike again, and a prelude to the “Bronx Bombers” of a few years later would show up.

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Game 3

On 12 October the two teams squared off for game 3 of the 1923 World Series in Yankee Stadium. The Giants sent Art Nehf to the mound. The Yankees countered with Sam Jones. John McGraw, Giants manager, made one change to his lineup. Game 2 saw left Herb Pennock on the mound for the Yankees, so part-time center fielder Casey Stengel had not gotten the start (he did pinch hit). With righty Jones on the mound Stengel was back in the lineup.

The two teams battled inning after inning without denting the scoreboard. Through six innings Nehf gave up two singles and two walks to go with three strikeouts. Only in the fourth had a man gotten to third. Jones was as good. Through six innings he’d given up only two hits while handing out a walk and two strikeouts. It was a true pitchers duel.

In the top of the seventh Irish Meusel led off with a liner to left caught by his brother Bob for out one. That brought up Stengel. He sent a fly to deep right field that cleared the fences for a more traditional home run than his inside-the-park homer of game one. It put the Giants ahead 1-0.

Nehf now needed nine outs to put the Giants up two games to one. He gave up a walk and a single but got out of the  bottom of the seventh without a run being scored. In the bottom of the eighth he gave up a leadoff single, but consecutive strikeouts made two outs and a grounder back to the mound led to the third out. With one inning to play, Stengel’s home run was holding up. In the bottom of the ninth a grounder to third, a strikeout, and another grounder to third ended the game and put the Giants up two games to one.

Nehf was a hero, so was Stengel. Nehf pitched a complete game shutout with only three walks and six hits. Stengel’s homer was the difference. The Giants had two wins, both courtesy of the “Ole Perfessor.”

"Long Bob" Meusel (right) in 1927 with Babe Ruth (center) and Earle Combs (left)

“Long Bob” Meusel (right) in 1927 with Babe Ruth (center) and Earle Combs (left)

Game 4

The game of 13 October 1923 saw the Yankee bats truly explode for the first time. In the second inning they teed off on Giants starter Jack Scott for six runs. Wally Pipp led off the second with a single. Aaron Ward followed with another. An easy by Wally Schang rolled back to the mound should have gotten at least one out, but Scott threw it away to load the bases. Everett Scott proceeded to single scoring both Pipp and Ward. At that point Scott was relieved by Rosy Ryan. He induced a fly by Yanks pitcher Bob Shawkey which brought both the first out and the third run when Schang crossed the plate. A double by Whitey Witt scored Scott to make the score 4-0. Joe Dugan hit one to third, which was snagged by Heinie Groh. Witt, for reasons known only to him, broke for third, but was tagged out by Groh for the second out. A walk to Babe Ruth put two men on. That brought up Bob Meusel who tripled home both Dugan and Ruth. That was all for Ryan. Hugh McQuillan took over the pitching duties and managed to get designated rally killer Pipp to fly out to center field. The wreckage left the Giants down 6-0.

The Yanks added a single run in the third when Witt doubled to score Ward. Then in the fourth Ruth walked and came home on a Ward single. That made the score 8-0 and the Yankees coasted from there.

The Giants finally managed to score three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Three consecutive singles, one by Casey Stengel, again in the middle of a Giants scoring chance, led to a run, then two groundouts each scored a single run. There was still a chance for the Giants going into the ninth when Ross Youngs led off with an inside-the-park home run to cut the score to 8-4. But Herb Pennock, in relief of Shawkey got a groundout, a strikeout, and a fly to center to finish the game.

The Series was now tied at two games each with the Yankees getting two games at home.

 

Beginning a Dynasty: The “Ole Perfessor” and the Babe

June 21, 2016

With both the Yankees and the Giants sharing the same hometown, the World Series was played on consecutive days in October 1923. The teams alternated parks with Yankee Stadium getting game one and the Polo Grounds holding game two. Two future Hall of Famers would step front and center in the first two games.

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Game 1

For game one on 10 October, the Yankees started Waite Hoyt on the mound. The Giants responded with Mule Watson. Bush was on the mark early in the game, but not Watson. He walked Joe Dugan with one out. Babe Ruth grounded to short, but the relay was late and he was safe at first with Dugan recording the second out of the inning at second. A Bob Meusel double sent Ruth all the way around for the game’s first run. In the next inning consecutive singles, two outs, and another single brought home both Wally Schang and Aaron Ward to put the Yankees up 3-0. That did it for Watson. He was scheduled to bat in the third and was pulled for a pinch hitter. Rosy Ryan relieved him.

But before Ryan could take the mound, the Giants erupted for four runs in the top of the third to take the lead. A single, a walk, another single brought up Dave Bancroft. A force at second scored one run and gave the Giants one out. After Bancroft stole second, Heinie Groh tripled to score two and send manager Miller Huggins to the mound to get Hoyt. Bullet Joe Bush took over and gave up a single to plate Groh making the score 4-3.

And there it stayed until the seventh inning stretch. Ryan pitched well, but in the bottom of the seventh he gave up a single to Bush, who was a very good hitting pitcher. An out by Whitey Witt brought up Dugan. He tripled driving in Bush to tie the game. Ruth then drove a sharp grounder to first. Dugan broke for home but was out at the plate. A Meusel fly ended the threat.

The Giants got a man on in the top of the eighth and the Yanks got two on, but no one scored. That brought the game to the top of the ninth. Two quick outs brought up center fielder Casey Stengel (who’d later manage the Yankees). He drove a ball to deep left center, the deepest part of the ballpark. Racing around the bases, he lost a shoe, but continued running. He beat the throw home and scored an inside-the-park home run to give the Giants a lead. One wit, likening Stengel to the race horse Man O’ War noted he’d thrown a shoe but still finished first by a head. Now in front, Ryan proceeded to set the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the ninth to close out the win for the Giants 5-4.

Stengel got most of the press, but Ryan had done well in very long relief. Groh had two RBIs and Bancroft contributed a key stolen base. Game two was the next day.

The Babe

The Babe

Game 2

The Giants hosted game two 11 October 1923 in the Polo Grounds. They had Hugh McQuillen pitching while the Yankees sent southpaw Herb Pennock out to tie up the Series.

Neither pitcher got through six outs before giving up a run. With one out in the top of the second Arron Ward slugged a homer for the Yankees. Giants left fielder Emil “Irish” Meusel matched the home run with one of his own in the bottom of the second to tie up the game 1-1.

Two innings later, Babe Ruth led off the top of the fourth with a home run to right. Later in the inning singles by Wally Pipp, Wally Schang, and Everett Scott scored Pipp to put the Yanks up 3-1. In the top of the fifth, Ruth added his second homer of the game when he drove a ball down the right field line to make the score 4-1.

The Giants mounted a comeback in the sixth. Heinie Groh and Frankie Frisch both singled. A Ross Youngs single plated Groh, but a force at second and a double play shut down the Giants rally leaving the score 4-2.

And it stayed that way. Pennock allowed three more hits the rest of the way, but no Giant advanced beyond second base. The Yankees win tied up the Series at one game apiece. The next day the Series would return to Yankee Stadium as a best of five series.

 

 

Beginning a Dynasty: the 1923 Yankees

June 13, 2016
Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium

Most fans know the Yankees have over the years produced the greatest dynasty in Major League Baseball. Ask most of them when it began and they’ll probably give you 1927. The ’27 Yankees are legendary and were a truly great team. But the dynasty actually started in the early 1920s. Between 1921 and 1923 inclusive, the Yankees took on the crosstown rival Giants in the first three “Subway Series.” This is a look at the third of those.

Manager Miller Huggins had a team that went 98-54 winning the pennant by 16 games (over Detroit). They finished first in slugging and home runs, second in triples and OPS, and were third in four categories: runs, hits, average, and OBP. They also lead the American League in total bases. Despite being known as a hitting team, the pitching was equally good. New York led the AL in ERA, hits, runs, and strikeouts. They were third in both shutouts and walks.

The underrated staff consisted of five men who started double figure games. The one lefty was Hall of Famer Herb Pennock. He went 19-6 with an ERA of 3.13, with a 1.271 WHIP and 5.9 WAR. The WAR was first among pitchers and second on the team. Waite Hoyt was 23 and also a Hall of Famer. He went 17-9 with a 3.02 ERA, more walks than strikeouts, and 4.0 WAR. The “ace” was Bullet Joe Bush who won 19 games in a team leading 30 starts. He led the team with 125 strikeouts and produced 5.5 WAR. Bob Shawkey and Sam Jones rounded out the starters. Between them they won 37 games with Jones leading the team with 21. His ERA was 3.63 and he had walked one more than he struck out. The bullpen’s leading man was Carl Mays, three years removed from the pitch that killed. His ERA was a monstrous 6.20 but he was the only other man to appear in more than eight games.

Wally Schang, Fred Hofmann, and Benny Bengough did the catching. Schang was the main starter. He hit .276 with no power. He was almost dead on the league average in throwing out base runners. Hofmann was the main backup. He hit better than Schang, but wasn’t considered as good on defense or in handling pitchers. Bengough, who’d become part of the Murderers Row Yankees of the later 1920’s was in only 19 games.

The infield was good, but not great. From first around to third the normal starters were Wally Pipp, Aaron Ward, Everett Scott, and Jumpin’ Joe Dugan (Dugan would still be around for the late 1920s). Pipp hit over .300, Scott less than .250. Ward had 10 home runs, good for second on the team, and Pipp was second on the team with 109 RBIs. Ward’s 4.4 WAR was second on the team among hitters. Mike McNally was the only backup infielder who got into 30 or more games. He hit .211 with no power. There was a 20 year old first baseman named Lou Gehrig who got into 13 games, hit .423 with a homer and eight RBIs. He’d later replace Pipp.

The outfield had two good players and it had Babe Ruth. Bob Meusel and Whitey Witt were the good players. Between the they had 15 home runs, while Meusel’s 91 RBIs were third on the team. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team (and you’ll never guess who was first). He had what was considered the finest throwing arm in either league and tended to play the long field (in Yankee Stadium that was left field) while Ruth took the short corner outfield spot (in Yankee Stadium that put him in right). Witt was the center fielder. His WAR was 3.1, Meusel’s was 1.7. Behind them stood Harvey Hendrick and Elmer Smith.

Then there was the Babe. He hit .393, led the team in stolen bases with 17 (told you that you’d never guess), had 41 home runs, 130 RBIs, 45 doubles, 205 hits, 399 total bases, and 170 walks. All but the doubles and average led the league (the doubles were third, the average was second). All that got him the 1923 League Award, the 1920s version of the modern MVP. His OPS+ was 239, second highest of his career, his WAR was a career high 14.1.

The Yanks were two-time defending AL champions and two-time losers in the World Series. In 1923 they would try to remedy the latter. In their way stood their two-time conquerors, the Giants.

 

Negro League Lessons, Seven Years On

February 25, 2016
The 1929 St. Louis Stars

The 1929 St. Louis Stars

Seven years ago (is it really that long?) I started taking part of February to look at Negro League history. A year or so later I made it a month-long project. I had a couple of goals in doing this. One was to learn what I could about the black players, teams, owners, and all those other things that make a baseball team work. The second was to chronicle that information so that others could learn something also. Of course I’ve had to correct some of the things I initially put down because new information became available, or I found a source I’d overlooked, or I was just plain wrong (which happened occasionally). Seven years down the road it seems like a good time to take stock of the project.

The first thing I learned was just exactly how much mythology surrounds the Negro Leagues. Of course that sort of thing occurs with Major League Baseball, the origins of the sport, and various other aspects  of the game. It seems baseball nurses mythology more than any other sport and revels in those myths. Negro League Baseball is no different. The early players take on heroic proportions. Babe Ruth is a giant among men who can slay all sorts of ogres with one swing of his mighty sword (or bat). It seems Josh Gibson is the same way. Lou Gehrig is the doomed youth who heroically faces his end. So does Dobie Moore. There’s trickster Dizzy Dean and there is trickster Satchel Paige. If you listen to the myths, Homer himself would be proud of some of them.

The reality is even more fascinating, because you end up with a particularly interesting set of men, men much like the white players that were gracing the Majors. Some were scoundrels, some were men of great compassion and of high character. Some you wouldn’t want your family or your friends to be around while others were “the salt of the earth.” All that’s equally true of white players. As a whole they are complicated men who are generally defined by their ability to play ball (something I usually stick to here) but most are much deeper, although there aren’t many profound thinkers in the lot (which is true of people in mass).

It was tough being a Major Leaguer in the era of the Negro Leagues. It was tougher being a Negro Leaguer. The pay was wretched. In the 1924 World Series, the winning Senators received a $5959.64. The Monarchs, winners of the Negro World Series of the same year, received a winner share of $307.96. The transportation was sometimes very basic, including old buses and occasionally individual automobiles. The hotels were of poor quality, assuming they could find a hotel that would take them. By compensation there were individual families in the frequented towns who would take them in. Most of them enjoyed the same off-season drudgeries and joys as their white counterparts. The fields were sometimes in terrible shape, sometimes they were Major League fields rented for an individual game or for a season.

As with the white players the Negro Leaguers could be the toast of the town, although it was the segregated “colored towns” of the era. They provided one of the few community wide black venues for entertainment in many towns and in some cities. It seems, and this is strictly an anecdotal observation, that they were even more important to the black communities than the Major League teams were to the white communities.

The owners were much like the white owners. Players were chattel or they were employees. Some were treated well by their teams, some not so much. The owners frequently came from what the “better element” of the white community would call “the shady side of life.” There were gamblers, pool hall owners, barmen, numbers touts, even a woman (Effa Manley). They also stole players under contract to other teams at an alarming rate. They are as a group, in some ways, more interesting than their white counterparts, most of which were moguls who found baseball much more of a side interest. Some of my favorite articles to research are the ones on team owners and executives because they are such interesting individuals.

One thing that is certainly evident is that they could play ball really, really well. They were certainly the equal of the white players of the era. They were not, despite the growing mythology of the Negro Leagues, better. Short rosters made some of them more versatile than their white counterparts, but not better. The best were on a par with the Gehrigs and Deans and Applings of the day and the worst were no worse than the hangers on who had, at best, a cup of coffee in the big leagues. In an evident attempt to establish their greatness a certain bit of nostalgic mythology has made them better than the white players. In the stark reality of short seasons and second-hand fields and poor equipment they did well. It is a testament to their playing ability that they can be considered on par with the Major Leagues. There is no necessity to compensate for the bad hand they were dealt merely because of the color of their skin by trying to assert they were better than they were.

They weren’t all Americans. I knew that, of course, but I did not know the extent of the Latin players involved or of American black player involvement in the Latin countries. And it’s here that race is at its worst. A Latin player who didn’t look “black” (and God alone knows how many ways different scouts, managers, and owner defined that word) could make the Major Leagues. A Latin player who did look “black” couldn’t. So Dolf Luque could play in a World Series and Martin DeHigo couldn’t. For Americans of mixed race it didn’t matter how “white” a player looked, he was “black” and that was that and that mentality sent players like Roy Campanella to the Baltimore Elite Giants rather than the New York Giants (and ultimately the Dodgers).

It’s interesting that most of the Negro League teams were housed in the North rather than the South, which had more Black Americans. As a former college instructor (Geez, that was a long time ago) I knew that intuitively, but it still jarred a bit. Jim Crow wasn’t restricted to the South, but the rules were looser enough to make it at least a little easier for a black team to function in the North. And of course the cities were larger, which made the crowds larger and the possibility of profit greater.

All that’s some of what I’ve learned over seven years of wandering through the world of Negro League baseball. It’s a strange and fascinating place to wander. I intend to keep it up as long as I can find something new to say.

Beat Down: games 3 and 4

January 21, 2016

With Pittsburgh down two games to none, the World Series moved to New York. With three games in a row in the Bronx, the Pirates needed to win two of them to send the Series back to Forbes Field. The Yankees could afford to lose one and still win the Series at home.

Herb Pennock

Herb Pennock

Game 3, 7 October 1927

Game three saw New York start Hall of Fame lefty Herb Pennock against Pittsburgh’s Lee Meadows. The Yankees got two runs in the bottom of the first when Earle Combs led off with a single, followed by another single by Mark Koenig. A Babe Ruth pop to short give the Pirates their first out, but then Lou Gehrig tripled into the left field-center field gap scoring both Combs and Koenig. Attempting to stretch the triple into an inside-the-park home run, Gehrig was gunned down at home. Bob Meusel then struck out to end the inning.

It was all the help Pennock needed. He was masterful against the Pirates. For seven innings no Pittsburgh player reached first. He gave up no hits and no walks, while striking out one (catcher Johnny Gooch in the third). Meanwhile the Yankees maintained their 2-0 lead. Although Meadows pitched well after the first inning, he lost it in the bottom of the seventh. After a Tony Lazzeri single, Joe Dugan beat out a bunt to reach first safely. then a ground out sent both runners up a base and brought up Pennock. He lashed one to second that scored Lazzeri. Combs followed with a single that scored Dugan, then a Koenig double brought home Pennock. Finally Babe Ruth ended the scoring with a three run shot over the wall in right field.

The hit and exertion on the bases must have gotten to Pennock. After having let no one on base for seven innings he got one out in the eighth. Then Pittsburgh third sacker Pie Traynor singled. With the Pennock spell broken, Clyde Barnhart doubled to score Traynor. Consecutive ground outs stranded Barnhart at second. In the bottom of the ninth with one out, Lloyd Waner singled and ended up on second due to defensive indifference while Pennock coaxed two final flies to end the game 8-1 in favor of New York.

Although both Ruth (a homer) and Gehrig (a triple) flashed power, again the Yanks scored with singles, sacrifices, and bunts to go with the power. But the big story was Pennock. For seven innings he was perfect. He ended up taking the win without giving up a walk and allowing only three hits. Now New York needed only one win in four chances to bring home its second World Series title.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

Game 4, 8 October 1927

Needing to win game four in order to keep alive, the Pirates sent Carmen Hill to the mound. The Yankees countered with Wilcy Moore, who, although he’d started a handful of games during the year, was generally a reliever. At first in looked like a mistake. Lloyd Waner opened the game with a single and ended up on second after two grounders produced the first two Pittsburgh outs. But a Glenn Wright single scored Waner to give the Pirates only their second lead in the Series. It lasted exactly three batters. Consecutive singles to Earle Combs and Mark Koenig were followed by a Babe Ruth single that tied the score when Combs came home. Hill then settled down and struck out the next three batters to get out of the inning.

And that would be it until the bottom of the fifth. With Combs on, Ruth smacked his second home run of the Series to put New York up 3-1. It would hold up until the seventh when an error put a Pittsburgh runner on first. Another error and a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with Clyde Barnhart coming up. He singled to score one run, then Paul Waner hit a long sacrifice to center to tie the game at 3-3.

It stayed that way into the ninth. Two groundouts and a fly got Moore through the top of the inning. With Johnny Miljus now pitching the Pirates were three outs from taking the game to extra innings. Miljus led off the inning by walking Combs. A single sent him to second and a wild pitch sent him to third. An intentional walk to Ruth loaded the bases for Lou Gehrig who promptly stuck out. Bob Meusel followed with another strikeout, which brought up Tony Lazzeri with two outs and the bases loaded. He got no chance to tie the score. Miljus uncorked a second wild pitch and Combs dashed home with the game and Series winning run.

The Yankees were World’s Champs in a sweep. Ruth had two home runs, Gehrig two triples. Combs scored six runs and both he and Koenig had five hits. Ruth had seven RBIs. As a team New York hit .279 and slugged .397. they scored 23 runs (20 of them earned) on 38 hits, six of them doubles (but 28 of them singles). For the Pirates they hit .223 (slugged .285) with 29 hits 22 of them singles. There were six doubles, but no player had more than one and Lloyd Waner produced the only triple. He also led the team with six hits and five runs scored. He tied with Ruth for the Series lead with a .400 average.

Yankees pitching was good enough to win. Only four men pitched, all of them starting one game. Moore got both a win and a save while Pennock pitched the most impressive game. As a team they posted a 2.00 ERA, gave up 38 hits, 10 runs (eight earned), struck out seven, and walked only four. The Pirates used seven men and gave up 38 hits, 23 runs (20 earned), produced an ERA of 5.19, and 25 strikeouts while walking 13.

It was a complete victory for the Yankees, but take a look at how many of the runs were scored in what you and I might consider a non-Murderer’s Row way. It speaks well of the 1927 Yankees that they did not have to rely on power to win. They could win with Deadball tactics as well as power. That’s what I really wanted to show with this series of posts.

 

 

 

Beat Down: games 1 and 2

January 19, 2016

For most people the 1927 Yankees conjure up images of a power laden lineup that simply drove the ball over the fence or deep in the gaps and crushed the opposition with raw force. Keep that image in mind when you read through this account of the first two games of the 1927 World Series. Pay particular attention to the way New York takes advantage of various methods of putting runs on the board. I find it a valuable look at the team. It makes them, to me, an even better team because of the myriad ways they scored without using the home run.

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

Game 1, 5 October 1927

The World Series opened in Pittsburgh with Ray Kremer on the mound for the Pirates. He failed to get out of the first inning without giving up a run. With two outs, Babe Ruth singled and came home on a Lou Gehrig triple. Bob Meusel’s fly ended the inning. Yankees ace Waite Hoyt, starting for New York, didn’t have any better luck. He began the game by plunking Pirates leadoff man Lloyd Waner. With one out, Paul Waner, Lloyd’s older brother, doubled sending Lloyd to third. A sacrifice fly by Glenn Wright tied the game.

It stayed that way until a Yankees third inning explosion. With one out in the top of the third, Mark Koenig reached first on a Pirates error. Ruth singled, sending Koenig to third. A walk to Gehrig loaded the bases. Another walk to Meusel scored Koenig. A Tony Lazzeri roller forced Meusel at second while Ruth scored and Gehrig went to third. A throw to the catcher trying to nip Ruth got by Earl Smith allowing Gehrig to race home with the third run of the inning. New York scored three runs with only Ruth’s single leaving the infield. Pittsburgh got one back in the bottom of the third when pitcher Kremer doubled, went to third on a Meusel error and scored on Paul Waner’s single.

In the fifth, the teams again exchanged runs with New York getting one run on a Koenig double, a Ruth grounder that sent Koenig to third, and a Gehrig sacrifice fly. The Pirates got the run right back on a Lloyd Waner double and a Clyde Barnhart single. Pittsburgh picked up one more run in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Wright and Pie Traynor hit back-to-back singles that sent Hoyt to the showers. Reliever Wilcy Moore induced a grounder for the second out, but Wright went to third on the play. A Joe Harris single plated Wright to make the score 5-4. A grounder, liner, and another grounder in the bottom of the ninth finished the game with the 5-4 score holding.

Mark Koenig

Mark Koenig

Game 2, 6 October 1927

For game two, the Pirates sent Vic Aldridge to the mound. Unlike Kramer the day before, he managed to get through the first inning without giving up a run. On the other hand, Yankees starter George Pipgras gave up a run early. Lloyd Waner led off the Pittsburgh half of the first with a triple and scored on a sacrifice by Clyde Barnhart. It was Pittsburgh’s first lead of the Series. It lasted until the third inning when New York, duplicating the previous day, again exploded for three runs. Earle Combs singled and came home on a Mark Koenig single. With Koenig trying for second, center fielder Lloyd Waner threw the ball away allowing Koenig to scamper all the way to third. A Babe Ruth sacrifice fly brought home Koenig with the go ahead run. Lou Gehrig then singled and went to third on a Bob Meusel single, and scored on another sacrifice fly, this one by Tony Lazzeri.

That concluded the scoring through the seventh inning with no player advancing beyond second base. In the top of the eighth consecutive singles by Meusel and Lazzeri put runners on first and third. At that point Aldridge let loose a wild pitch that scored Meusel and sent Lazzeri to second. A fielder’s choice erased Lazzeri (and put Joe Dugan on), then back-to-back walks to catcher Ben Bengough and pitcher Pipgras loaded the bases. Out went Aldridge and in came reliever Mike Cvengros. He proceeded to throw gasoline on the fire by plunking Earle Combs to score Dugan and reload the bases. A Koenig single then scored Bengough to conclude the Yankees scoring.

Pittsburgh fought back in the bottom of the eighth. With one out Lloyd Waner singled, then went to third on a Barnhart single, and scored on a Paul Waner sacrifice fly. But a Glenn Wright grounder ended the Pirates threat. When Pipgras shut them down three in a row in the ninth, the Yanks had a 6-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the World Series. The Series would resume the next day in New York.