Posts Tagged ‘Bill Mazeroski’

and the Deacon of Pittsburgh

June 12, 2014
Vern Law

Vern Law

One of the more improbable World Series winners was the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. Today almost the only thing anyone knows about them is that Bill Mazeroski hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven to give the Pirates a championship. A few people know Roberto Clemente played for Pittsburgh. Almost no one remembers Vern “Deacon” Law, the staff ace.

Vernon Law was born in Idaho in 1930. His family was of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) faith and he was ordained a church Deacon at age 12. His nickname derived from that fact. He was good at baseball and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1948. He spent ’48, 1949, and part of 1950 in the minors. His numbers weren’t bad, but they weren’t outstanding either. In 1950 he got his first taste of Major League ball going 7-9 in 27 games (17 starts). He was 6-9 in 1951, then went off to the military for the Korean War.

Back in 1954 he started 18 games then settled in as a combination starter and long man. Over the next three years he pitched in 113 games, starting 81. You don’t see modern pitchers doing that much anymore. By 1959 he was truly a starter going 18-9 with and ERA under three. His great year was 1960. He went 20-9, had a career high 120 strikeouts, and won the Cy Young Award. Back in 1960, there was only one Cy Young, not one for each league, so Law was being touted as the best pitcher in the Major Leagues.

The 1960 Pirates were a one time wonder. They were a solid team, but few really expected them to win (they’d finished second in 1958, but fallen back to fourth in 1959). But Law, Bob Friend, Harvey Haddix, Wilmer Mizell (later a US Congressman), and Elroy Face gave them a solid staff. Roberto Clemente was great in right field while Bill Mazeroski and Dick Groat provided good work around second (Groat won the NL batting title and was chosen MVP in 1960).

With Pittsburgh going to their first World Series since a 1927 shelling by the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees, Law was hurt. He’d injured an ankle celebrating the Pirates’ clinching the National League pennant. Despite that, he started three games in the Series. winning game one, game four, and starting the famous game seven (the one with Mazeroski’s home run). He managed a 3.44 ERA, struck out eight Yanks, and gave up seven runs, all earned.

He never really recovered from the injury (he changed his motion to stop foot pain, and screwed up his shoulder doing so). He got into 11 games in 1961, had a decent year in ’62, then another fine year in 1965, a year that saw him win the Lou Gehrig Award for his contributions to baseball and his community. He had one last decent year in 1966, then was 2-6 mostly as a reliever in 1967. He was 37 and it was the end of the road.

For his career Law was 162-147 (all with Pittsburgh) with an ERA of 3.77 (ERA+ of 101). In 2672 innings he gave up 2833 hits, 1274 runs, had 28 shutouts, struck out 1092, and walked 597.  All in all not a bad career. Personally, Law considered the Gehrig Award the highlight of his career.

In retirement he coached two years with Pittsburgh, then spent 10 years coaching at Brigham Young University. After that he spent two years coaching in Japan and in Denver (when it was still a minor league town). Following those assignments, he became an assistant under his son, Vance, as the pitching coach at a Provo, Utah high school. Following in his father’s footsteps, Vance Law played infield for 11 years in the Major Leagues. He played with five different teams, including Pittsburgh. He also coached at Brigham Young University. Vern Law finally retired from baseball at all levels in 2008.

Law had a solid career with one great and several good seasons. He was never the best pitcher in the Majors (except maybe in 1960, although a case could be made for Warren Spahn as 1960’s best pitcher) but was a solid rotation man. He helped his team win one World Series and his post Major League career is as impressive as his big league years.

 

 

Thoughts on Enshrining 3 Managers

December 10, 2013
Baseball's newest Hall of Famers (from MLB.com)

Baseball’s newest Hall of Famers (from MLB.com)

So the Veteran’s Committee has put Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre into the Hall of Fame. Although I stated earlier I wouldn’t vote for Cox myself, I have no problem with the three making it to Cooperstown (as if the Committee cares what I think). Here’s a few thoughts on the newest election.

Again, Marvin Miller failed to make the Hall of Fame. According to reports the three winners were unanimously elected and no other candidate received more than six votes (out of 18). I’m surprised that Miller got at most six votes. There were six players on the committee, but I have no idea if any or all of them voted for Miller. So Far I’m unable to find out exactly how many votes anyone other than the three managers received.

And it’s not at all strange that a player was not elected. I went back to 2000 (the entire 21st Century, depending on what you do with 2000) and looked at the Veteran’s Committee inductees. It’s an interesting group. First, I need to remind you that the Committee was, for a  while, not a yearly institution, so in some of those 15 years there was no Committee and thus no one had a chance of election. For the purposes of this comment, I’ve excluded the 17 Negro League players and executives elected in 2006 because they were elected by a separate committee set up specifically to enshrine Negro League members. Only four players have been elected. They are Bill Mazeroski, Ron Santo, Bid McPhee, and Deacon White. Two of the players span the 1960s, the other two play in the 1800s. On the other hand, the Committee has elected two Negro Leaguers (Turkey Stearnes and Hilton Smith), seven managers (including the three just chosen), and seven contributors (executives, commissioners, umpires, etc.). So recently, the Veteran’s Committee has been shorting players.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It may mean that we’ve almost gotten to the end of those players who genuinely deserve Hall of Fame status. It may mean that the selection committee will continue to put up players and the election committee will continue to turn down almost all of them. I want to see what the various ballots look like over the next dozen or so years (remember there are 3 committees, so a dozen years would be four of each). If the same people keep making the list and keep failing election it should indicate that the various Veteran’s Committees have determined that the era for which they vote is devoid of quality candidates for enshrinement. Of course evolving lists and new stat methods can change this very much. The problem is that the pressure to elect someone, anyone, can be great. After all if you go five years without electing someone, then people begin to ask “why do we have a Veteran’s Committee?” This could lead to more marginal players elected or, more likely from what we’ve seen lately, more managers, umpires, owners, and executives making the trek to Cooperstown for enshrinement. Although I admit that the contributors have a major role in baseball and should be commemorated in Cooperstown, let’s not get carried away and start putting in everybody who ever umped a game or owned a team.

I also found out something about the Veteran’s Committee rules. According to MLB.com the members of the committee are restricted to voting for not more than five candidates (like the writers and the 10 candidate rule). As with the writers ballot this tends to depress the election results, which may not be bad, but I really wish they’d let the committee members vote for as many as they want. After all, they can vote for as few as they want, including no one.

So congratulations to Cox, LaRussa, and Torre. Now we wait for the Spink and Frick Awards and the big ballot writer’s selections. Those should be interesting, particularly the latter.

The Case for Danny Murtaugh

November 20, 2013
Murtaugh with Roberto Clemente

Murtaugh with Roberto Clemente

When I finished my post on the 2014 Veterans Committee managers ballot, I commented I would let Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre appear on my ballot, but neither of the other two candidates. I received a handful of emails from friends questioning my assertion that I’d take Danny Murtaugh over Bobby Cox. They pointed out that Cox won more than Murtaugh if you considered division titles and that his winning percentage was higher than Murtaugh. So in answer to them, here’s my case for Danny Murtaugh.

First a brief aside to tell you a little about Murtaugh. He managed a long time ago and many of you won’t remember him. He got his start managing Pittsburgh (the only team he ever managed) in the last half of 1957. He replaced Bobby Bragan (who shows up in the recent movie “42” as the Alabama born catcher who changes his mind about being traded). Pittsburgh had a losing record (36-67) when Murtaugh took over. He went 26-25 for the rest of the season. It wasn’t much but it was a winning record. He got the Pirates to second the next season. losing to the Braves (later Cox’s team) by eight games. The team slipped back to fourth in 1959, but maintained a winning record. In 1960 they won the World Series, then slid pack into the pack through 1964 when Murtaugh retired because he was sick. He moved to the front office and returned briefly to managing in 1967 when the Pirates were 42-42. He managed to keep them at .500 then returned to the front office at the end of the season. After Pittsburgh fired their manager just before the end of the 1969 season, Murtaugh was called on again to take the team. He managed the team to a division title in 1970 and the World Series title in 1971, then retired again. Finally, he was brought back late in 1973 (going 13-13) and stayed through the 1976 season, winning division titles in both 1974 and 1975 and finishing second in 1976. He died in December 1976 and had his number retired in 1977.

Now why Murtaugh for the Hall of Fame?

1. He has two World Series titles. That’s impressive enough, but if you look at the dates (1960 and 1971) it gets even better. He does it with two almost entirely different teams. The only 1960 holdovers still around in 1971 are Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, and Maz only plays 70 games (Dave Cash is the primary second baseman) and bats all of once in both the NLCS and the Series, getting a hit in the NLCS. So with very different talent Murtaugh wins.

2. He does it in two eras. It’s a very different game in 1960 than in 1971. The pitching revolution has occurred, there have been two rounds of expansion.

3. He has two seasons in which he manages his team to less than .500. They are 1963 and 1964 and in the latter year he’s 80-82.

4. He manages in five full seasons in which there are two rounds of playoffs. He reaches the playoffs in four of those (1970-1971, 1974-1975).

5. He was instrumental in easing Roberto Clemente’s way in the beginning of his career. He became a mentor and confidant. But in fairness, Bobby Bragan also did those things in Clemente’s earliest days in the Majors.

6. On 1 September 1971, he put nine American black and dark-skinned Latino players on the field at the same time, something that had never happened before. The team won the game.

So I think Murtaugh deserves a spot in Cooperstown. With his two World Series wins, I think he deserves it over Cox.

The “Called Shot” Game

July 19, 2013
The Babe

The Babe

There are a handful of home runs that are so famous that almost any fan can tell you about them. There’s Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951. There’s Bill Mazeroski’s World Series ending homer in 1960. There’s Bucky “Bleepin'” Dent’s 1978 shot. Kirk Gibson’s 1988 homer is also famous. But equally famous and certainly more mythologized, is Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in 1932. Here’s a look at the game in which it occurred.

In 1932 the New York Yankees returned to World Series play for the first time since their thrashing of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928. Much of the team was the same, anchored by Ruth and by Lou Gehrig. Their opponents were the Chicago Cubs, back in the Series for the first time since they’d lost to Philadelphia in 1929. With Gabby Hartnett and Kiki Cuyler they also had a good team. New York won the first two games of the Series by scores of 13-6 and 5-2. That set up game three in Wrigley Field on 1 October.

The Yanks scored early when Earle Combs opened the game with a grounder to shortstop Billy Jurges, who proceeded to throw it away. A walk to Joe Sewell brought Ruth up to face Cubs starter Charlie Root. Ruth promptly crushed a three-run home run to put New York up 3-0. The Cubs got one back in the bottom of the third on a Billy Herman walk and a run scoring double by Cuyler. The Yanks got that one back when Gehrig hit a solo home run to lead off the third. Chicago again scored in the bottom of the inning. Cuyler slugged a homer and a single and long double made the score 4-3. The Cubs then tied the game up in the fourth on a Jurges hit and an error by New York second baseman Tony Lazzeri.

All of which led to the decisive, mythic, and still controversial top of the fifth. Sewell led off the inning grounding out to short. That brought up Ruth, who took strike one. Then he apparently did something with his hand. He pointed, he wagged it, he held up one finger indicating one strike, he gave the Cubs “the finger”, he pointed to center and called his shot. All are possible. Root dealt strike two and Ruth again gestured with his hand. There’s a picture that purports to be a shot of Ruth at the moment of his second gesture. It is too far away for these old eyes to tell exactly what he’s doing, but the arm is up. Root threw the third pitch and Ruth parked it in the deep center field bleachers for a 5-4 New York lead. The next man up was Gehrig, who also unloaded. This time the ball went to deep right and Root went to the showers. Both New York and Chicago picked up one more run in the ninth (the Cubs run coming on a Hartnett home run) to make the final score 7-5. The next day the Yankees won the Series  shellacked five Cubs pitchers for a 13-6 victory(Ruth went one for five and Gehrig went two for four).

The fifth inning of 1 October 1932 became, arguably, Ruth’s most famous at bat. Few people know it was the game winning hit (the Yanks never trailed after Ruth touched home). Fewer know that Gehrig hit a homer in the next at bat. What they know is Ruth’s “called shot”. Did he do it? Frankly, I don’t know. A study of Ruth leads me to believe that it wasn’t out of character for him to do so. It was also equally in character for him to flash his middle finger at the Cubs. I’d like to think he did call his shot, it would be utterly Ruthian (but so would the middle finger). I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself.

A Hitter’s Hall

March 23, 2012

Hank Aaron, a hitter in the Hall

Recently Bill Miller at “The On Deck Circle” completed an eighth part series on the Hall of Fame. If you haven’t read it, go to the blog roll at the right of this page, click on the site, and go read the articles. During that time, I did a post on Gary Carter and catchers. Baseballidiot commented that the Hall of Fame was pretty much “a Hall of Hitters”. Those two things got me to thinking about Cooperstown and how right Baseballidiot is in most situations. If you hit really well, there’s a good chance of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. If you field well and don’t hit a lick, forget it. So as a rule he’s right (obviously excluding pitchers), but there are exceptions and I’d like to point out a couple as examples of just how good you have to be to get into Cooperstown based primarily on your fielding.

I’m going to give you some stats on three players, one of which is in the Hall. The stats are batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage/on base plus slugging/home runs/ RBIs. The player’s careers overlap.

player 1 267/322/401/723/268/1357

player 2 273/359/487/846/370/1274

player 3 298/353/498/850/279/1028

Stop for a second now and ask yourself if all you know about a player is what’s listed above, is he a Hall of Famer? Whatever your answer to that question, player 1 is in the Hall of Fame. He’s Brooks Robinson and he’s, by general agreement, the greatest fielding third baseman who ever played the Hot Corner. The other two are Gil Hodges and Ted  Kluszewski (in that order), both first basemen from the 1950s (when Robinson started his career). The three of them are pretty much the same player, aren’t they? Klu has a higher average, Hodges more home runs, Robinson more RBIs. and the OPS is pretty much a wash (especially between Hodges and Kluszewski). But look at those numbers carefully and ask yourself the following: “If Robinson was a first baseman rather than a third baseman, would he be in the Hall of Fame?” Bet your answer is  either “No” or “I’ve been saying for years that Hodges and Klu were Hall of Famers.”  Here’s a case where the position and the ability to field it with superior skill overrides a good, but not great, batting line.

Heres’ another example using slightly different stats: average/OPB/SLG/OPS/stolen bases. These five don’t exactly overlap (the bottom guy is earlier) although the first four are teammates.

player 1: 262/337/328/666/580

player 2: 264/324/345/668/752

player 3: 295/333/396/729/352

player 4: 288/371/420/791/370

player 5: 260/299/367/667/27

Except for the wide swing in stolen bases they’re all pretty close, right? Again, ask yourself whether you put any of these people in the Hall based on their hitting stats. The players are, in order, Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Lonnie Smith, and Bill Mazeroski. One and five are in Cooperstown and two through four aren’t. Again the difference (besides the era for Maz) is that both Smith and Mazeroski are considered very superior fielders and by general concensus are among the top two or three best fielders at their position in the history of the game. Again, take a look at Smith and Mazeroski’s stats and move them to the outfield where the other three played and tell me that the Wizard and Maz would be in Cooperstown.

You can do this same thing with catchers, although it’s a little trickier because you’re dealing with a Veteran’s Committee vote on such players as Roger Bresnahan, Ray Schalk, and Rick Ferrell. And I’ve always seen the Vet’s Committee as more easily swayed than the writers because of the small size of the Vet’s Committee, so that can make a great deal of difference in selection. 

Anyway my point is that Baseballidiot is pretty much dead on about the Hall as a haven for hitters. There are exceptions. But those exceptions have to be for truly superior fielders like Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski, and Brooks Robinson.

The Loser Wins

June 23, 2011

Bobby Richardson

For a long time baseball had no World series MVP. It seems the people in charge thought that fans were bright enough to figure out who did the best job in the Series. You had the advantage of being able to watch or listen or read accounts of the games and make your own choice as to who you thought was the MVP of a particular World Series. All that changed in 1955 when MLB decided to pick a Series MVP. Johnny Podres of Brooklyn won the first. Of course fans can still argue among themselves if the “experts” got it right, but there is now an official MVP. They have a lot in common, those MVPs, but being on the winning team isn’t one of them. The 1960 MVP played for the losers.

The 1960 World Series is primarily noted for Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s World Series winning home run leading off the bottom of the ninth in game seven. But Maz wasn’t the MVP. Neither was anyone else on the Pirates. The winner was Bobby Richardson, the other second baseman.

Richardson came to New York in 1955, and by 1957 was taking over as the regular Yankees second baseman. He hit in the mid-.200s, had no power, could run a little, but didn’t steal many bases with the power-laden lineup around him. He was a good enough second baseman, but not really stellar. Later in his career he improved and won several Gold Gloves.

 By 1959 he was the everyday second sacker and had moved into the seventh or eighth position in the order. His average improved and his OBP finally got to .300. He didn’t strikeout much (which is good), but didn’t walk much either (not so good).  In 1960 he hit .252 (his career average is .266), had 115 hits and 35 walks, and scored all of 45 runs. His OBP was .303. So far he was a run-of-the-mill middle infielder who hit low in the order most of the time.

The 1960 World Series was his coming out party. He exploded against Pirates pitching. He hit .367, slugged .667, had an OBP of .387, for an OPS of 1.054. He had a home run in game three, scored eight runs in five of the seven games (missing four and five), had two doubles and two triples, and led both teams with 12 RBIs (a record for the Series). By game seven he was  leading off for New York, and would continue to do so for much of the rest of his career. His stats are MVP numbers, but Mazeroski hit the home run and the Pirates won game seven and you gave the MVP to a winning player. They gave Richardson the MVP anyway. It’s still the only time a player on the losing team has won the World Series MVP (it’s happened a couple of times in the earlier rounds of the playoffs, but not in the Series.).

Richardson went on to have a solid career with New York, retiring in 1966. For his career he had an OBP of .299 (which is terrible for a leadoff man), slugged all of  .335, and ended up with an OPS of .634 (OPS+ of 77). He scored 643 runs in 1412 games. Not great numbers, but a  solid career. He went on to coach some in college. But he’s always going to be known for one World Series and one bit of trivia. I guess that’s not bad for a  player.

One-Trick Pony

December 23, 2010

In keeping with the animal theme that seems to be have started around here, I want to write about one-trick ponies. A one-trick pony is a circus horse that can only do one thing. He can do it really well, but doesn’t do anything else well. He still gets to be in the show doing that one trick. Baseball and its Hall of Fame are full of this kind of player.

In one sense all pitchers are essentially one-trick ponies. Their job is to pitch (and do that job only every second, third, fourth, or fifth day depending on the era). A closer is even more so, because his job is to pitch to one (and sometimes two) innings worth of hitters. Some of them, like Babe Ruth or Walter Johnson can hit some. No body cares. They are there to pitch and if they hit some, well, that’s great icing on the cake. Some of them, like Jim Kaat or Greg Maddux, field well. No body cares. They are there to pitch and if they field some, well, that’s great icing on the cake. Some, like Lefty Gomez, don’t do either well. No body cares. If they don’t field or hit well no body pulls them from the starting lineup because they can’t field a bunt or hit a curve. Can you imagine the following conversation? “Sorry, Lefty, you won’t start today because you can’t field a bunt.” Neither can I.  And almost by definition American League pitchers of the last 40 years can’t hit because of the designated hitter rule.

There are also guys who have great gloves and no sticks. Bill Mazeroski (who was an OK hitter, but nothing special), Rabbit Maranville, Nellie Fox (who had the one great year with a bat), and Bobby Wallace come instantly to mind. It seems that baseball always finds a way to get them into the lineup. I exclude catchers who don’t hit well, because most of them do a number of things well (like throw, block the plate, move to fouls, control the tempo of the game, etc.).

And then there are the sluggers who seem to always find a batting order spot. I mean guys like Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Ted Williams, and Orlando Cepeda. All of them hit, and all of them were less than sterling in the field (and I’m being generous here).  Despite the greatness of Williams and the others, they are simply another bunch of one-dimensional players.

All of which brings me to Edgar Martinez, an excellent example of a one-trick pony. What he did was hit and hit well. His knees gave out and he couldn’t field, but he could still hit.

You know what Killebrew, Kiner, Williams,  Cepeda, Mazeroski, Maranville, Fox, Wallace, and Gomez have in common besides being one-trick ponies? They’re also Hall of Famers (and Maddux will be). This is not a plea to put Martinez in the Hall, although I would vote for him, but to acknowledge that the reason many people say he shouldn’t be in (“All he could do was hit.”) is an invalid reason for excluding a man from the Hall. There are already a lot of guys in the Hall who could only do one thing, so excluding Martinez because he could only do one thing is silly. Maybe he should be excluded. Maybe his numbers aren’t good enough. Maybe he doesn’t have the proper leadership skills or the proper moral character and thus should be excluded. Fine by me, exclude him. Just make sure you do it for the right reasons.