Posts Tagged ‘Babe Ruth’

Making the Switch

August 29, 2015

Recently Precious Sanders over at The Baseball Attic did an article on Roger Bresnahan that reminded me he’d originally been a pitcher. Of course he’s now a Hall of Fame catcher. She and I commented back and forth about players who’d started as pitchers and ended up as everyday players (and everyday players who’d gone the other way). So all that led me to see if I could field a complete team (one man at each position plus 2 pitchers who’d originally been fielders) of players who had moved from the mound to the field. Here’s one:

1b George Sisler (Hall of Fame)

2b Jack Dunn

SS Monte Ward (Hall of Fame)

3b Nixie Callahan

OF Babe Ruth (Hall of Fame), Lefty O’Doul, Smokey Joe Wood

C Roger Bresnahan (Hall of Fame)

DH Rick Ankiel

P Bob Lemon (Hall of Fame) and Bucky Walters

I’m sure that a bit more searching around could produce a better team.  I purposefully left out Stan Musial who made the switch in the minors. Of note is that most of them occur in very early MLB history. It isn’t so common to make the switch at the Major League level anymore. Obviously in the case of the Hall of Famers, it worked out pretty well.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting and pass it along.

BTW if you get a chance, make sure you take a look at The Baseball Attic. Certainly worth a look.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: the last games in New York

July 21, 2015

With the Yankees up three games to two and needing only one win to clinch the 1926 World Series, the Series returned to Yankee Stadium. Needing two wins to capture the title, the St. Louis Cardinals went with their most experienced pitcher in game six and with a tried veteran for game seven.

Game 6

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Game six was a second start for Grover Cleveland Alexander. For New York, the Yankees sent Bob Shawkey to the mound. It was his first start, although he’d relieved in two previous games. He was in trouble from the beginning. It started with a single to Wattie Holm, playing center field for Taylor Douthit. A force at second put him out, but put Billy Southworth on first. A walk to Rogers Hornsby sent Southworth to second and a double by Jim Bottomley plated him. A followup single by Les Bell brought both Hornsby and Bottomley home.

It was all Alexander needed. The Yanks got a run in the fourth on a Bob Meusel triple and a Lou Gehrig grounder to first, but the Cardinals got it right back in the fifth on two singles sandwiched between a bunt sacrifice.

With the score already 4-1, the Cards exploded for five runs in the seventh. A couple of singles, a double, and a Bell two run home run made it 9-1. New York managed one in the bottom of the inning, but St. Louis tacked on one more in the ninth on a Southworth triple and a Hornsby grounder to make the final 10-2.

Alexander was superb, giving up two runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out six and scored a run. Flush with victory he, according to legend, went on something akin to a real bender that evening. He was, at least so he thought, finished with his World Series chores.

Game 7

Tommy Thevenow

Tommy Thevenow

Game seven of the 1926 World Series occurred 9 October. It featured pitchers Jesse Haines taking on Waite Hoyt. Both men had already won a game in the Series: Haines game three and Hoyt game four. It was to become famous for a single moment, one of the more well known and  most frequently written about moments in World Series lore.

Both teams started slow. Although there were a number of base runners, no one scored until the bottom of the third when Babe Ruth launched a shot into deep right field to put New York up 1-0. St. Louis struck back in the top of the fourth. With one out Jim Bottomley singled, then Les Bell reached first on an error by Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig. Chick Hafey singled to load the bases. Then Bob O’Farrell lifted a fly to left field that Yank outfield Bob Meusel dropped. Bottomley scored to tie up the game. That brought up eight hitter shortstop Tommy Thevenow. He singled to right, scoring both Bell and Hafey. A strikeout and grounder ended the inning with the score St. Louis 3, New York 1. That held up until the bottom of the sixth when, with two out, Joe Dugan singled and a Hank Severeid double plated Dugan with the second Yankees run. A ground out ended the inning.

In the top of the seventh, the Cards went in order. That brought up the Yanks in the bottom of the seventh and set the stage for one of the most famous of all World Series moments. Earle Combs led off the inning with a single and went to second on a bunt. An intentional walk put Ruth on first. A grounder to Bell led to a force of Ruth at second, but left runners on first and third with two outs. Haines then proceeded to walk Lou Gehrig.

At this point legend takes over and facts get a little obscured. One version of what happens next has Haines having to leave the game with a finger blister, forcing manager Hornsby to change pitchers. Another version has Hornsby deciding Haines was done and calling for a new pitcher without reference to Haines’ finger. Whichever is true, Haines was out and Hornsby called for Grover Cleveland Alexander from the bullpen.

And now another legend takes over. According to one version of what happened, Alexander was in the bullpen sleeping off a hangover when Hornsby called for him. Another version says he was sober, but unready to pitch because he presumed that having gone nine innings the day before he wouldn’t be pitching at all on 9 October. Yet a third version says he’d just begun to warm up. I don’t think anyone knows for sure which is true. The SABR version of the event states Alexander was sober.

Whichever is true, in came Alexander to face rookie Tony Lazzeri with two outs and the bases full of Yankees (Combs on first, Meusel on second, and Gehrig at first). The first pitch was a strike. The second was fouled off deep down the left field line just missing the foul pole. With two strikes, Lazzeri swung and missed the next pitch to record the final out of the inning. It is, arguably the most famous strikeout in baseball history.

St. Louis got a couple of men on in the eighth, but didn’t score. New York went down in order in the bottom of the eighth, as did the Cardinals in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth Alexander got Combs and Koenig on groundouts which brought up Ruth, who walked. With Meusel at bat and Gehrig on deck, Ruth tried to surprise the Cards by stealing second. O’Farrell threw to Hornsby, the tag was applied, and the St. Louis Cardinals won their first ever World Series.

It was a good Series, especially for the hitters. The Cardinals hit .272 as a team with Thevenow hitting .417. He joined Hornsby and Southworth by driving in four runs, but Bottomley topped all three with five and Les Bell led the team with six. Southworth led St. Louis with six runs scored and Thevenow was just behind with five. Thevenow, Southworth, Bell, and pitcher Haines each had one home run, while Bottomley had three doubles, and Southworth picked up the only triple as well as led the team with 10 total hits.

Although the Yanks hit only .242 as a team, Combs and Gehrig hit above .345 while Ruth hit an even .300 and Joe Dugan was at .333.. Ruth had five RBIs while Gehrig, in his rookie Series, had four. Ruth’s six runs scored easily led the team. He also hit all four of the team’s home runs, including three in one game. Combs led New York with 10 hits. He and Gehrig each had two doubles and Meusel got the only triple.

Among pitchers, Alexander was the big hero. He had two wins and the famous save in game seven. But Haines’ had an even better ERA (1.08 to 1.33) while picking up the other two wins. Bill Sherdel had two of the losses, but only a 2.12 ERA. Alexander led the team with 14 strikeouts. For New York Herb Pennock posted two wins with Hoyt getting the other. His 10 strikeouts led the team.

For both teams it was a beginning. For St. Louis it was their first 20th Century title. They would win again in 1928 (and end up losing to New York) and then win three times in the 1930s, four times in the 1940s, and still carry on a winning tradition into the 21st Century. The Yankees began a great period of consistent excellence in 1926, winning with great regularity into the 1960s and, like the Cardinals, continuing on into the 21st Century. That makes 1926 something of a watershed and makes it a Series worth remembering for more than just one strikeout.

 

 

 

 

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The St. Louis Games

July 9, 2015

With the 1926 World Series tied at one game each, the third through fifth games were held in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. If either team could sweep the games, the Series would end. Any kind of split would send the Series back to New York for up to two games. Game three was played 5 October.

Jesse Haines

Jesse Haines

For game three, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby decided to send Jesse Haines in to pitch. It turned out to be a good choice. Haines didn’t allow a man on base until the third inning, but got out of a mini-jam with a grounder to first. His opponent, Dutch Reuther, was doing almost as well. He’d allowed a couple more men on base, but no one scored.

In the fourth St. Louis finally broke through. A leadoff single to third sacker Les Bell, a bunt to advance him to second, and a walk to catcher Bob O’Farrell, brought up shortstop Tommy Thevenow. He rolled one to short, but the failure to complete a double played allowed Bell to score and kept the inning alive. Haines, who’d had one RBI all year, promptly hit a two-run homer to put the Cards up 3-0. They added one more in the fifth on consecutive singles and a ground out.

It was all Haines needed. He shutout Murderer’s Row on five hits and three walks. He struck out three. He’d also struck the biggest blow with his home run.

Game 4

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

In the 6 October game St. Louis made a huge blunder. They decided to pitch to Babe Ruth. Consequently, the game became the Babe Ruth show. Cardinals pitcher Flint Rhem, and later reliever Art Reinhart, was simply unable to cope with the Babe’s batting. In the first inning, Ruth hit a home run to right. Yankees hurler Waite Hoyt gave it right back on three consecutive singles by Taylor Douthit, Billy Southworth, and Hornesby. Hornesby’s hit driving in Douthit.

In the third inning, Ruth connected for his second consecutive home run, putting New York back in the lead. A walk and a double in the fourth made it 3-1, when St. Louis staged a big inning. With one out, Chick Hafey singled. An error by Mark Koenig, let Bob O’Farrell on. Then Thevenow doubled to scored Hafey. The second out, a long fly to left, scored O’Farrell, then a double by Douthit brought in Thevenow. It could have been worse, but Douthit was thrown out at home by Bob Meusel’s accurate throw. At the end of four it was 4-3 in favor of the Cardinals.

In manufacturing the three runs in the fourth. A pinch hitter took Rhem out of the game. Art Reinhart took his place. In the top of the fifth he walked Earle Combs. A Koenig double tied the score. Reinhart managed to keep Ruth from hitting a home run by walking him. Another walk to Meusel loaded the bases and Lou Gehrig picked up an RBI when Reinhart walked him. That was all for Reinhart, who’d managed to get no one out. Hi Bell replaced him and induced a long sacrifice fly that brought home Ruth. A ground out scored Meusel, then a balk and a walk reloaded the bases. Fortunately for St. Louis pitcher Hoyt didn’t hit much and ended the inning with a grounder to Hornsby at second. The score was 7-4.

But the Yanks, and Ruth, weren’t through. They tacked on two more in the sixth when Ruth hit his third home run of the game with Koenig on base and got one more in the seventh on a single, a bunt, and a double to make the score 10-4. In the eighth, Wild Bill Hallahan, now pitching for St. Louis, walked Ruth, but didn’t allow a run. The Cards got one more in the ninth on a two out single by Les Bell making 10-5 the final.

Ruth went three for three with two walks for the game. He had three home runs, scored four runs and had four RBIs. Art Reinhart, on the other hand got no one out, gave up four earned runs on four walks and one hit.

With the Yankees win, the Series was tied two games each. That ensured that there would be at least one more game in New York.

Game 5

Tony Lazzeri

Tony Lazzeri

Game five was played 7 October. The pitching matchup was a rehash of game one with Bill Sherdel taking on Herb Pennock. Both pitchers got through the first three innings without damage. In the bottom of the fourth, with one out, Jim Bottomley doubled and came home on a Les Bell single. It held up until the top of the sixth when Pennock doubled and was picked off second. Except that he wasn’t. Shortstop Thevenow dropped the ball and Pennock remained at second. A Mark Koenig single brought Pennock home with the tying run.

The Cards went back ahead on a double by Bell and a O’Farrell single to make the score 2-1. Sherdel went into the top of the ninth needing three outs to put St. Louis up three games to two. He was met with a Lou Gehrig double and a Tony Lazzeri single that put Gehrig on third. Pinch hitter Ben Paschal then singled to center to re-tie the game. Sherdel then settled down to get three groundouts to end the inning. Two pop ups and a grounder got Pennock out of the ninth and the game into extra innings.

In the tenth, Koenig singled, went to second on a wild pitch. Then a walk to Ruth brought up Meusel. His sacrifice bunt sent Koenig to third and Ruth to second. Sherdel walked Gehrig to set up a force. It didn’t do much good as Lazzeri drove a long fly to left that scored Koenig and recorded the second out. One out later, Pennock took the mound with a 3-2 lead. With one out, Thevenow singled but didn’t go anywhere when a pop up and a grounder ended the game.

The 1926 World Series was going back to New York. The Yanks needed one win to take their second title (1923) while the Cardinals had to win two in a row to take their first.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Opening Salvos

July 9, 2015

The opening games of the 1926 World Series were played in New York on 2 and 3 October. The Yankees were favorites over the St. Louis Cardinals, a team making their inaugural Series appearance. The format was two games in New York, three in St. Louis, and then a return to New York if the sixth and seventh game were necessary.

Game 1

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

For game one, the Yankees sent ace Herb Pennock to the mound against St. Louis stalwart Bill Sherdel. The Yanks made a minor change in their normal roster, starting backup catcher Hank Severeid over normal starter Pat Collins.

The game started out as if it was going to be a high scoring contest. The Cards’ leadoff hitter Taylor Douthit doubled to start the game, went to third on a ground out, then scored on a single. Pennock got out of it without further damage and the Yankees game to bat in the bottom of the first. Earle Combs led off the inning with a walk, then after an out, consecutive walks loaded the bases for New York first baseman Lou Gehrig. He hit one to short, but the Cardinals were unable to complete the double play and Combs scored to tie the game.

After that the two pitchers settled down to match shutout innings through the fifth. In the bottom of the sixth Babe Ruth singled, went to second on a bunt, and scored on a Gehrig single. It was all the run support Pennock needed. He shutout St. Louis for the remainder of the game, giving up only the one run, while allowing three hits, and striking out four (he also walked three). Sherdel did well enough, going seven innings, giving up the two runs, and allowing six hits with three walks and a single strikeout. The big hero was Gehrig who had both RBIs.

Game 2

Billy Southworth

Billy Southworth

The next day, the Yankees sent Urban Shocker to the mound to face St. Louis’ Grover Cleveland Alexander. Alexander was 39, considered over the hill and ready for retirement. In the second inning he looked it. A single to Bob Meusel, a move up grounder by Gehrig, and a single by rookie Tony Lazzeri plated the first run. A single sent him to third, then with two outs he attempted to steal home. He was safe when Alexander threw wildly to catcher Bob O’Farrell. So New York broke on top 2-0. But that would be all the damage Alexander allowed. He gave up four total hits, walked one (Combs), and struck out 10 (every starter except Combs and pitcher Shocker fanned twice). Meanwhile the Cardinals went to work. They got both runs back in the top of the third when back-to-back singles by Douthit and Billy Southworth put two men on. A sacrifice sent them to second and third, and a Jim Bottomley single tied the score.

It stayed tied through six innings, when the Cardinals erupted for three runs. With O’Farrell and Tommy Thevenow on base, Southworth clubbed a three run homer to right to put St. Louis up 5-2. In the ninth, Thevenow hit one deep into right field that eluded Ruth and Thevenow circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run. The final scored was 6-2 as Alexander shut the Yanks down in the ninth.

So the Series was tied 1-1 after the first two games in New York. After an all night train ride, the two teams would resume play on the 5th of October. What people knew was that there would be three games in St. Louis.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Yanks

July 7, 2015
'26 Yankees

’26 Yankees

The late 1920s New York Yankees were known as “Murderer’s Row”. The 1927 version is frequently cited as the greatest team ever (although other teams are also in the running). In a three-year run the team won three American League pennants, had a player establish a single season home run record, had another win the MVP, and generally run roughshod over Major League Baseball. The opening salvo was fired by the 1926 team.

Manager Miller Huggins’ team won 91 games in 1926, scoring 5.5 runs per game on average. As a team they hit .289 (third in the American League), slugged .437, had a OPS of 806, and racked up 2282 stolen bases. All those stats led the AL, hence the nickname. The pitching wasn’t quite as good, finished fourth in most league categories, although the team was second in strikeouts.

The infield was anchored by Hall of Fame first baseman Lou Gehrig. He hit .313, had 16 home runs, 109 RBIs, and 179 hits (all third on the team). He led the team with 20 triples. Unlike in later years, he hit fifth in the order rather than fourth. At 22, rookie, and fellow Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri played second (and hit sixth). He hit .275 with 18 home runs and 117 RBIs, both good for second on the team. The left side of the infield wasn’t as formidable. Mark Koenig played short, hit second in the lineup, had 167 hits, and scored 93 runs. Third sacker Joe Dugan was the old guy at age 29. He’d come over from Boston in 1924 and was considered one of the better defensive third baseman in the game. He hit .288 with only one home run, but struck out only 16 times.

The outfield consisted of three well established players. Bob Meusel usually held down left field, but occasionally played right. He had what is generally regarded as the best arm in the AL, so he tended to play the longer corner outfield position (in Yankee Stadium that was left field). He was 29, hit fourth, and was beginning to fade. He hit .315, but had only 12 home runs (fourth on the team), drove in 78 runs, and played only 108 games. Center Field was occupied by Hall of Famer Earle Combs. He hit .299 for the season. In the lead off spot he had 181 hits (second on the team), scored 113 runs (good for third on the team), and had an OBP of .352 (fifth among the starters). Babe Ruth was in right field. He led the AL in  home runs, RBIs, walks, OBP, Slugging, OPS, and total bases. Just your basic run of the mill Babe Ruth year. He also led the Yankees in hits (184) and batting average (.372–good for second in the AL).

Pat Collins, Benny Bengough, and Hank Severeid were the catchers. Collins did most of the work, hitting .286 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 123 (which was third among starters). Severeid got into 41 games, and hit .268, while Bengough was in 36 games. He hit .381 in 84 at bats.

The bench wasn’t particularly strong. Other than the catchers, only three players were in more than 30 games, with two others playing in at least 20. Ben Paschal did the most work (he replaced Meusel when the regular left fielder was out). He hit .287 with seven home runs and his 31 RBIs were easily the most off the bench. Ruth and Gehrig were the only everyday players whose WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) was above 3.0 (although Collins was at 3.0 exactly).

For the season, four men started over 20 games. Lefty Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock had the most with 33. He went 23-11 with an ERA of 362 (ERA+ of 107). He led the team in both wins and innings pitched. Urban Shocker (who ought to be at least considered for the Hall) pitched the next most innings (258) and managed a 19-11 record with an ERA of 3.38 (ERA+ of 114). His 71 walks led the team. Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt and Sam Jones were the other two main starters. Hoyt went 16-12 and led the Yanks in strikeouts (79) while Jones went 9-8, had an ERA north of 4.75 and led the team with five saves. Only Pennock (3.1) and Shocker (4.7) had a WAR above 3.0.

Lefty Garland Braxton led the bullpen with 37 appearances (one start), a 5-1 record, a 2.67 ERA and an ERA+ of 145. Myles Thomas and Walter Beall both pitched 20 games, as did team future manager Bob Shawkey.

It was a formidable team that won the AL pennant by only three games (over Cleveland). It’s hitting was great, it’s pitching middle of the road. It was a favorite to win the 1926 World Series.

Sale of the Century

December 26, 2014
The one and only

The one and only

Just a brief note today to remind you that today marks the anniversary of the greatest baseball bargain of the 20th Century. On 26 December 1919, the Boston Red Sox sold their combination pitcher/outfielder Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. It was both the sale of the Century the steal of the Century. New York won a pennant in 1921 while the Red Sox waited until 1946. The Yankees won the World Series in 1923 (and 26 more since) while Boston waited until the 21st Century.

The Arrival of a Legend

July 11, 2014
The Babe while still a Red Sox

The Babe while still a Red Sox

Today marks one of the most significant anniversaries in Major League baseball history. One hundred years ago on 11 July 1914 the Boston Red Sox gave the ball for the first time to a rookie pitcher nicknamed “Babe” Ruth. It was the start of the most legendary of all baseball careers.

For the day, Ruth pitched seven innings against the Cleveland Naps giving up three runs (two earned). Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) knocked in a run early and catcher Steve O’Neill knocked in two in the seventh for the Cleveland runs. Ruth struck out one and walked none to pick up the win. At bat he went 0-2 with a strikeout. Better hitting days were to come for the Babe.

Most everyone knows the name Babe Ruth, many without knowing what it was he did. If you do know what he did, odds are you know about the home runs and the hitting feats. But Ruth was also a heck of a pitcher. If you look at the left-handed hurlers of the decade between 1910 and 1920 you could make a pretty fair argument that Ruth was the best left-hander of the decade. You might look at Eddie Plank or Rube Marquard early in the decade, or at Hippo Vaughn later in the decade (and he and Ruth faced each other in the 1918 World Series with the Babe picking up a 1-0 win), but Ruth is equally in the argument.

Ruth’s conversion from pitcher to outfielder is key to his career. But if you look around, you’ll find that while it wasn’t common, it wasn’t unheard of in baseball. George Sisler did the same thing and went to the Hall of Fame. So did Lefty O’Doul (without the Hall of Fame being attached). A lot of years later Stan Musial hurt his arm in the minors and switched from the mound to the outfield and ended up in Cooperstown. Bob Lemon went the other way, from third base to pitcher and made the Hall. Bucky Walters also went from third to pitching and won an MVP. Darren Dreifort, while at Wichita State, served as the DH when he wasn’t pitching, but didn’t play in the field (although he did pinch hit) in the Majors. I’m sure that’s nowhere near a complete list.

For his Boston career, Ruth was 89-46, a .659 winning percentage, with a 1.142 WHIP, a 2.19 ERA, and a 122 ERA+. He had 17 shutouts, 483 strikeouts, and 425 walks for his Red Sox years (there were also a handful of games with the Yanks). Ruth’s pitching WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 20.6.  His World Series record is equally good. He was 3-0 with a shutout and eight strikeouts. He did, however, walk 10. His consecutive scoreless streak in the Series was a record until Whitey Ford finally passed him in the 1960s.

I know over the years that a lot of people have tried to tell us that someone else (Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, etc.) was better than Ruth. And maybe as a hitter they were (although I wouldn’t bet on that in Vegas), but ultimately you have to decide that Ruth was the overall superior player because he could also pitch very well. Aaron was Aaron, Williams was Williams, and Bonds was Bonds, but Ruth was a combination of any of them and Walter Johnson. Top that crew.

 

The Iron Horse

July 9, 2014
Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

While doing the previous look at Bob Meusel, it dawned on me that I’d never actually done a post dedicated to Lou Gehrig. I’m not quite sure why that’s true. I’ve been a  big fan of his since I can remember. But it’s time to remedy that oversight.

I suppose that most anybody reading this has a basic understanding of who Gehrig was, so I don’t want to do one of my standard  short baseball bios of him. Instead I want to concentrate on some of the things that jump out to me when I look at his career.

One of the first things I note about Gehrig is how good he was early. His first year with more than 30 at bats was 1925. He was 22, hit .295, had 20 home runs, and 68 RBIs. The home run total was fifth in the American League. The 1925 season would also mark the last time he had less than 100 RBIs until his final season in 1939.

It’s amazing how much of an RBI machine Gehrig became over his career. I know a lot of people downgrade RBIs as a “target of opportunity” (you can’t drive him in if he isn’t on base), but I’ll remind you that a player still has to hit the “target” and Gehrig did it an inordinate amount of time and while we’re at it unless you steal home or hit a home run, a run is also a “target of opportunity” (the other guys have to hit the ball when you’re on base). In 2164 games he had 1995 RBIs, an average of 149 per 162 games. After all these years he’s still fifth ever and the man in fourth place (Barry Bonds) is only one ahead of him. Back a long time ago (May of 2010) I came up with something of a joke stat called RBI-NS (runs batted in–not self) which was simply RBI-HR. It was designed to see how many of a player’s RBIs were earned by plating himself with a home run rather than knocking in another player. I did all the players with 475 or more home runs (as of 2010) and found that Gehrig was second in the stat with 75% of his RBIs being another player (Stan Musial was first with 76%). That means to me that not only did Gehrig have a lot of opportunity to knock in runs, but that he managed to do so with great frequency. That’s a measure of how much he dominated in his  era.

There has been for years some argument about the 1927 MVP race. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and Gehrig was chosen MVP. A couple of things ought to be pointed out. First, Ruth won an MVP earlier and for years there was an official rule that you couldn’t win two. By 1927 it was more or less tradition although the prohibition was gone. I’m sure that hurt Ruth some but if you look at the season it’s not like Gehrig was a slouch either. Gehrig led the team in hits, doubles, RBIs (of course he did), and average. Baseball Reference.com’s version of WAR even has him better than Ruth.

Gehrig also holds the AL record for RBIs in a single season with 185 in 1931. The only number higher is in the National League and comes in the juiced ball season of 1930. His triple crown season of 1934 provided his only batting title, but was his second (of three) home run title, and his fifth (and final) RBI title. He also led the league in hits once, in runs four times, and in triples once. The last of those stunned me when I noticed it. No one thinks of Gehrig as particularly fast, but he averaged 12 triples per 162 games. His one MVP award was in 1936, a decent year (and his last home run title) but certainly not his best.

Over the years Lou Gehrig the ballplayer has gotten lost behind Lou Gehrig the man. His disease, his class in handling it (especially on this the 75th anniversary of the most famous speech in baseball history), and his tragedy all have subsumed his playing career (not to mention the movie). This is a small attempt to remind you of just how good he was as a ballplayer. In 2000 SABR did a membership poll asking who was the greatest 20th Century baseball player. Unsurprisingly, Babe Ruth won. Second was Gehrig. They make a good case for it.

Gehrig's final resting place

Gehrig’s final resting place

The Other Guy in Murderer’s Row

July 7, 2014
Bob Meusel

Bob Meusel

The 1920s Yankees, known as Murderer’s Row, are one of the most famous of all teams. But in many ways it’s selectively famous. People know Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Diehard fans know Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri. Pitching freaks know Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt. But the rest of the team is pretty anonymous. That’s a shame because one of the better members of the team batted right in the middle of the lineup and is now largely forgotten. That’s Bob Meusel.

Meusel was born in California in 1896, three years after his brother Emil, who played a number of years for the Giants. Bob Meusel was spotted while still playing high school baseball. He spent the years 1917-1919 in the West Coast minors, except for a stint in the US Navy during World War I. He did well and in 1920 got the call from the New York Yankees. He was 23.

He was an immediate starter, playing 119 games, most at the corner outfield positions. From the beginning he showed the best outfield arm in either league. By general consensus of the articles of the day (and with a lot of stats agreeing) he was an exceptional outfielder, especially the arm. He got the nickname “Long Bob” almost immediately and there are a couple of versions as to why. One says he was 6’3″ and thin, the other than he had a long arm. You can pick your favorite. In his rookie campaign he hit .328 with 11 home runs, the latter number being seventh in the American League.

He was even better the next season, hitting .318 and slugging 24 home runs with 135 RBIs. The home run number was second in the AL and the RBI total third. He also hit for the cycle against Walter Johnson. It would be the first of three cycles, a Major League record. His team won its first ever pennant with Meusel hitting clean up behind Babe Ruth. The team lost a best of nine series in eight games (to the Giants) with Meusel hitting .200 with three RBIs and no home runs. He did manage to steal home in game two (a game the Yanks won). He would do so again in 1928 to become the only man to successfully steal home twice in the World Series.

Meusel was suspended for barnstorming after the 1921 World Series (so was Ruth), but managed to get into 122 games in 1922. New York won again and again failed to beat the Giants and big brother Emil (called Irish for reasons that make no sense, the family was German in its background). This time Bob Meusel hit .300 but managed only two RBIs, two runs, and no home runs. Back in the Series in 1923 (and still facing his brother’s Giants) Meusel hit only .269 but drove in eight runs with seven hits (two triples and a double included). This time his team took home its first World’s Championship.

Although the Yankees failed to win in either 1924 or 1925 (largely because of Ruth’s woes) Meusel had good years. In ’24 he hit .325, then in ’25 led the AL in home runs with 33 and RBIs with 138. Those would be the only time he would lead the league in a major offensive category.

In 1926, Murderer’s Row was back in the World Series. Meusel .315, but with only 12 home runs. He still maintained his clean up spot although new first baseman Lou Gehrig was challenging him from the five hole. Meusel had a terrible Series hitting .238 with no home runs or RBIs and scoring only three runs. In the famous seventh inning of game seven when Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Lazzeri with the bases loaded, Meusel was on second. He was also at bat when Ruth tried to steal second, was thrown out, and the Series ended in a St. Louis victory.

In 1927 and 1928 New York won back-to-back World Series’ with Meusel contributing little. He had his only home run in the 1928 Series (along with the steal of home mentioned above), but only had three RBIs (and only one in 1927). He did manage to score five runs in ’28 (to only one in 1927).

At the end of 1928 he was 32 and mostly through. His 1929 was down. He hit .261 (a career low) with only 57 RBIs. He was waived and picked up by Cincinnati for the 1930 season. Despite the juiced ball, he only hit .289 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs and was done. He hung on in the minors for a couple of years, but retired after the 1932 season. In retirement he did a bit of movie work, mostly cameos in baseball flicks, and worked as a security guard at a Navy base. He died in California in 1977.

For his career his triple slash line is .309/.356/.497/.852 with an OPS+ of 118. He had 1693 hits, scored 826 runs, and knocked in 1064 runners. He had 268 doubles, 95 triples, and 156 home runs for 2719 total bases. His WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 27.6.  In the field he was considered one of the premier outfielders of his day, known especially for the strength and accuracy of his arm (but never led the AL in outfield assists).

Bob Meusel was a very good ballplayer, one of the better players of the 1920s. At times he could be considered the second best player on the Yankees (and in 1925 arguably their best) and at other times third (behind Ruth and Gehrig). It’s not a bad legacy to say you’re the best player on a team excepting those two.

Meusel's grave in California

Meusel’s grave in California

 

 

 

You Gotta Score to Win

May 15, 2014

In my wanderings through 19th Century baseball in conjunction with my Hall of Fame research, I’ve come across a really interesting stat. It’s very unusual and probably only possible in the confines of the 19th Century. Did you know that a handful of players have actually scored more runs than they have played games?

As the most important thing you do in a ball game is score runs, if you can put up more runs than games played you’ve automatically been terribly successful. I’ve found a handful of players who’ve done so. Most of them are guys who played a handful of games, scored a fistful of runs then disappeared, but two did it for a long period of games.

Much the more obscure is Harry Stovey. I did a long post on him back a few months, but this is just a short note about him. He played 1468 games between 1880 and 1893, most of them for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association (not the current team in Oakland). In those games he managed to score 1492 runs, or 1.02 runs per game. In 1889 in 137 games he crossed the plate 152 times (1.11 runs per game). For what it’s worth, all those runs managed to get Philly exactly one pennant (1883). In the 1890 Players League he scored 142 runs in 118 games (1.20 per game). He also won a pennant with Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox) in 1891, but had fewer runs than games played.

The more prominent player (and the man I was researching when I noticed this) is Hall of Fame outfielder Slidin’ Billy Hamilton. Hamilton played from 1888 through 1901, mostly with the Phillies and the  Beaneaters (now the Braves). He hit .344 for a career, but more to the point of this post he played 1594 games and scored 1697 runs (1.06 runs per game played). As far as I can tell, that’s the record for runs per game among any player with significant games played. His team won pennants in 1897 and 1898 with him scoring 152 runs in 127 games (1.2 per game) in 1897 and scoring 110 runs in 110 games in 1898. I’ll bet it was harder to do that than score the 152 in 127. In 1894 (remember that’s only a couple of years after the invention of the 60’6″ pitching distance) he played in 132 games and scored 198 runs (one and a half runs a game). The 198 is a record. It’s 21 above the total in second place (177 by Tom Brown in 1891 and by Babe Ruth in 1921). In comparison to Ruth, Hamilton only had four home runs.

I love to find stats like this. Not only are they interesting in themselves, but they tell us so much about how different the game was in the 19th Century. If you look at the top 10 (actually 11 with ties), seven of the highest runs scored totals are in the 19th Century (three of which are in 1894, Hamilton’s big year). The other four belong two each to Ruth and Lou Gehrig. It was a very different game and here’s a stat to reinforce that premise.

 


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