Posts Tagged ‘Babe Ruth’

Beat Down: the 1927 Yankees

January 12, 2016
"Jumpin'" Joe Dugan

“Jumpin'” Joe Dugan

For a lot of people for a long time, the 1927 New York Yankees are the gold standard of Major League teams. They won 109 games, road roughshod over the American League, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, and they swept the World Series. It’s that World Series that I want to look at over the next several posts. There’s a quite a bit of misinformation about it and I want to dwell on the Series in some detail. First, we need to look at both teams on the eve of the Series; winners first.

Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins had a juggernaut in 1927. His Yanks led the AL in batting, OBP, slugging, OPS, total bases, hits, runs, triples, home runs, walks, and fan. They were second in doubles. The pitching wasn’t quite as good, but they still managed to finish first in hits given up, runs, walks, and ERA. They managed to finish second in complete games, home runs allowed, and were third in strikeouts. With all that, Huggins’ chief job was to make sure the team got to the stadium on time.

The infield was better on the right side than on the left. Lou Gehrig held down first. His triple slash line read .373/.474/.765/1.240 with an OPS+ of 220 and 11.8 WAR (BBREF version). He had 447 total bases (read that number closely), 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, 173 RBIs, 218 hits, and scored 149 runs. All that got him the 1927 League Award (an early version of the current MVP). Some argued that Ruth had a better year but whether he did or didn’t, the rules didn’t allow a player to win two League Awards (that was a carryover from the old Chalmers Award where the winner got a car and no one wanted to give Ty Cobb a half-dozen cars). Ruth won the award in 1923. Tony Lazzeri, who struck out in the most famous moment of the previous World Series, played second. He wasn’t Gehrig, but he was pretty good. His triple slash line read .309/.383/.482/.866. He hit 29 doubles and 18 home runs to go with 102 RBIs and 92 runs scored for 6.3 WAR. Both men would make the Hall of Fame. The left side of the infield consisted of Mark Koenig at short and Joe Dugan at third. Koenig hit .285 with 11 triples and 69 walks, good for third on the team (behind Ruth and Gehrig). Dugan hit all of .269 with only two home runs, but was considered one of the better third sackers of his day. Mike Gazella, Ray Morehart, and Julie Wera were the backups. Both Wera and Morehart had a home run, while Gazella led the group with a .278 average. Morehart’s 20 RBIs led the three.

The outfield consisted of two Hall of Famers and another guy. The other guy was Bob Meusel. He was on the downside of his career at age 30 but still darned good. His triple slash line was .337/.393/.510/.902 with an OPS+ of 135 (4.2 WAR). He’d won a home run title a few years earlier, but had only eight in 1927. He did contribute 75 runs and 103 RBIs to the team. He also had what was universally agreed was the best outfield arm in either league. Earle Combs held down center field. His triple slash line was .356/.414/.511/.925 with an OPS+ of 141 (6.8 WAR). He led off and played center well. He scored 137 runs (third behind Ruth and Gehrig), had 36 doubles, 23 triples, 311 total bases (again behind only Ruth and Gehrig), and contributed 64 RBIs. And of course there was the Babe. This was his 60 home run year, but his other numbers were equally good. His triple slash line read .356/.486/.772/1.258 with an OPS+ of 225 (12.4 WAR), 417 total bases, 165 RBIs, 158 runs scored, 192 hits, and 29 doubles. Those three were backed up by Ben Paschal and Cedric Durst. Paschal hit .317 with two homers and saw a lot of time in the Series. Durst contributed 25 RBIs.

New York used three catchers during the season. Pat Collins did most of the work with 92 games played (89 behind the plate). He hit .275 with seven home runs, but in 311 plate appearances, he walked 54 times, good for fifth on the team. John Grabowski was his main backup. he managed .277 with 25 RBIs and 29 runs, while secondary backup Ben Bengough hit .247 in 31 games.

Five men started 20 or more games; two of them made the Hall of Fame. Lefty Herb Pennock was 19-8 with and even 3.00 ERA (3.1 WAR) and a 1.302 WHIP (he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched). Waite Hoyt was the ace. He went 22-7 with an ERA of 2.63 (5.8 WAR) and a 1.155 WHIP. His 86 strikeouts led the team. Underappreciated Urban Shocker was 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA (3.1 WAR) and 1.240 WHIP. He managed to both give up more hits than he had innings pitched and also walk more men than he struck out. Dutch Reuther did the same thing while going 13-6 with an ERA of 3.38. His WHIP ballooned to 1.380 with only 0.6 WAR. George Pipgras was the other starter. He was 10-3 with an ERA north of four, but managed to pitch more innings than he gave up hits and to also strikeout more batters than he walked. His WHIP was 1.353 with a 0.2 WAR. Wilcy Moore pitched in 50 games, but only started 12. That got him a 19-7 record with 13 saves (not yet a stat in 1927) and a 2.28 ERA (4.7 WAR). His 75 strikeouts were good for third on the team. Myles Thomas pitched in 21 games, starting nine, while Bob Shawkey earned the distinction of having, at 2-3, the only losing record on the team. He compensated by having a 2.89 ERA and striking out 23 in 43 innings and picking up four saves.

There are people who consider the ’27 Yankees as the greatest of all baseball teams. Maybe so, maybe not. Whatever you think you have to admit they were formidable. They were also, in 1927, overwhelming favorites to win the World Series.

 

 

 

 

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Nine Thoughts on the 2016 Hall of Fame Class

January 7, 2016

As baseball uses nine men in the field and nine men in the batting order, here’s nine random thoughts on the just concluded Hall of Fame voting:
1. First and foremost, congratulations to both Ken Griffey, Jr, the second best player from Donora, Pennsylvania (behind Stan Musial) and Mike Piazza on election to Cooperstown.

2. Three people didn’t vote for Griffey, but his 99% of the vote is the highest percentage ever. I read a lot of stuff saying Griffey could be the first unanimous selection. Come on, team, Babe Ruth wasn’t unanimous and neither Joe DiMaggio nor Yogi Berra made it on the first ballot so who could possibly believe that anyone was going to be unanimous? It renews my faith in the writers. I’ve said for years that they’re a poor group to pick the Hall of Fame and the three guys proved me right again.

3. Piazza is by far the more interesting choice. There are the steroid rumors around him that are just that, rumors. But there is the possibility that they are true. If, in his induction speech Piazza were to say “Yeah, I used the stuff,” then it becomes much more difficult for voters to keep out players who acknowledge they used stuff (McGwire) or are accused (Clemens, Bonds), or who flunked a test (Palmeiro). It will be interesting to see where this goes. None of this is meant to imply that I believe Piazza used anything but coffee while playing.

4. The culling of the deadweight among the voters allowed for some interesting results. Major jumps by Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Mike Mussina, Curt Shilling, and Edgar Martinez are unthinkable without a change in the voters. It may be a signal that all are on the road to Cooperstown (or maybe not).

5. The loss of the “old guard” type voters helped both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but not a lot. Neither went up as much as 10% and now we have six years left to see if they can continue gaining ground and how much of that ground they’ll gain. I was certain, until this vote, that the writers were going to kick them down the road to the Vets Committee and let them (the Vets Committee) make the hard choices. Maybe that’s changed. Next year will tell us much about how that’s going to work.

6. Jim Edmonds is not a Hall of Famer, the voters said so. OK, maybe he isn’t, but he’s better than 2% of the vote, a lot better. It’s a shame he won’t get another chance until the Veteran’s Committee has its say. Alan Trammell is not a Hall of Famer. At least he had 15 years and got 40% of the vote. I think they’re wrong, but now we get to see what the Veteran’s Committee says. And Mark McGwire is not a Hall of Famer although he had only 10 years to make his case. It appears he will be the test case for my kick it down the road to the Vets Committee theory (Geez, I’m writing about the Vets Committee a lot, aren’t I?).

7. Trevor Hoffman didn’t get in but got enough votes to appear a viable candidate for enshrinement on a later ballot. I think he needed that because I’m not sure he could sustain a long, gradual rise before getting over the 75% threshold. The problem is Mariano Rivera. When Rivera becomes eligible he should get in easily and Hoffman can no longer say he has the most saves of anyone eligible (and saves do seem to matter a lot to the voters). I was stunned Billy Wagner didn’t do better. At least he stayed on the ballot.

8. Next year adds Vlad Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Manny Ramirez (among others) to the ballot, making it again a large ballot. I do wish they’d dump the 10 vote rule. I wonder how much that hurt players like Edmonds?

9. All in all, with the exception of what happened to Edmonds and Trammell, I’m pleased with the results. Two worthy candidates got in, a handful of other candidates made major strides toward possible election. That’s not bad. Again congrats to Griffey and Piazza. Now I wonder which cap Piazza will wear on his plaque.

Cooking the Stats

September 13, 2015

Let me start by offering congratulations to David Ortiz for his 500th home run. It’s quite an achievement. In the history of Major League Baseball 26 other men have done it out of the thousands who’ve played. Last night ESPN kept running a note across the bottom of the screen reminding us he’d done it. They also kept telling us that he joined Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson as the only 500 home run hitters with three World Series championships. And it’s that I want to deconstruct.

It’s true as far as it goes, but it’s another case of ESPN cherry-picking stats. Others do it too (heck, I’ve done it) but ESPN seems to take great delight in doing it. I got an idea, ESPN, let’s change just one number, just a little. How’s about guys with 500 home runs and four championships? Geez, that leaves Ruth, Mantle, and Jackson, doesn’t it? Better idea, how about guys with 500 home runs and five championships? Same list as four, right? Want to stretch it out to six? That leaves out Reggie. And seven? How about eight? At eight we lose everybody because both Ruth and Mantle have seven.

Or we could move the home run number a little. How about 525? That leaves out Ortiz. 550? Now we’re down to Ruth and Jackson. 600? Just the Babe. And if we add another qualifier, say batting .300, then again it’s just the Babe.

My point is that Ortiz has just accomplished a great feat and to me it gets somewhat diluted by making these kinds of artificial comparisons. Celebrate the feat, guys. Congrats, Papi.

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 total 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.