Posts Tagged ‘Bill Nicholson’

The Last Segregated World Series: The Whiz Kids

May 6, 2015
Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts

Recently I did an extended look at the 1947 World Series, the first to include a black player (actually two: Jackie Robinson and Dan Bankhead). It seemed like a decent follow-up would be to look up the last Series that included no black players and go over it. Turns out that’s 1950.

The 1950 World Series was played between the New York Yankees, defending World Champions, and the Philadelphia Phillies, winners for the first time since 1915. The Series is generally considered a walkover. It’s true it was a sweep, but if you look at the scores, three of the games were decided by one run. So it’s actually worth taking a look at.

The Phils had just completed a rebuilding period. A cynic might point out that 16 consecutive losing seasons constituted an elongated rebuilding period, but however long it lasted, it finally came time for Philadelphia to win in 1949. The next year they fought down to the wire and defeated the National League defending champions, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to win the pennant on the last day of the season.

Manager Eddie Sawyer was a career minor leaguer who’d spent a decade managing. He took over the Phillies from Ben Chapman in 1948 (there was actually an interim who was around for 12 games). The team rose some, finally had a winning season in 1949, then broke through in 1950. Sawyer was considered an excellent handler of young talent.

And he needed to be. The team was nicknamed “The Whiz Kids” and the emphasis could be on the “Kids.” The eight everyday starters averaged 26 years old. The six men who started more than 10 games averaged 25.5. Of the nine men who spent time on the bench, only three were 30 or more (the youngest 22, the oldest 35).

The infield had Eddie Waitkis at first. At 30 he was the oldest infielder (and the oldest starting everyday player). He had no power, no speed, but was a decent fielder and led the team by scoring 102 runs. He was primarily famous for having been shot in a hotel room by a woman back in 1949. The incident served as a device in Malamud’s The Natural. Mike Goliat was at second. He hit .234, but had 13 home runs, a large number of 1950s second basemen. At 23, shortstop Granville “Granny” Hamner was the youngest infielder. In 1950 he hit .270, had 11 home runs, and finished sixth in the MVP race. He had good range, but made a lot of errors. Willie Jones held down third. He was second on the team with 25 home runs, hit .288, and his 88 RBIs were second on the team. His BBREF WAR was 3.6, tied for fourth on the team.

The outfield consisted of Dick Sisler, Del Ennis, and Richie Ashburn. Sisler hit .296, had 83 RBIs, and 13 home runs, one of which was the pennant clinching homer against the Dodgers. Ennis led the team in home runs (31), doubles (34), RBIs (126), hits (185), and slugging (.551). Hall of Famer Ashburn was a third year player and spectacular fielder (with Ennis and Sisler both being really slow, he had to be). He hit .303, had 14 triples, which led the NL. He’d led the league in stolen bases in 1948, but was down to only 14 (still good enough for fifth in the league) in 1950. His 3.8 BBREF WAR was third on the team, while Ennis’ 5.0 led Philadelphia.

The bench was shallow with only five men playing 25 or more games. Jimmy Bloodworth, an in season acquisition, and Putsy Cabellero were the backup infielders. Bloodworth hit .229 while Cabellero was below the Mendoza line. Neither had a home run. Former MVP runner-up (1944) Bill “Swish” Nicholson and Dick Whitman were the other men in the outfield. Nicholson had three home runs and Whitman hit .250. Nicholson’s three homers were three-quarters of the bench home run total.

The other bench home run went to catching backup Stan Lopata. He hit .209, caught 51 games, and managed a woeful slugging percentage of .279. The main catcher was Andy Seminick. His 24 home runs were third on the team, his OPS of .925 led the team, as did his 143 OPS+. At 4.3, his BBREF WAR was second to Ennis.

They caught an emerging pitching staff. The undoubted ace was 23-year-old future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. He was 20-11 with an ERA just above three with 146 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.180 (his WAR was a team leading 7.3). Right behind him was lefty Curt Simmons. Simmons went 17-8, matched Roberts with 146 strikeouts, and had a 1.236 WHIP. Other pitchers who started more than ten games included rookie Bubba Church, Bob Miller, Russ Meyer, and left hander Ken Heintzelman, who at 34, was eight years older than any of the other starters. Jim Konstanty led the bullpen. He appeared in 74 games, won 16, lost seven, and ended up winning the National League MVP (the first reliever to do so). His 22 saves led the league (and are roughly 30% of his career save total).

The Phils were a surprise in 1950, but were also a good team. By the time the Series started they were having pitching problems. With the team needing a win on the final day of the season, Roberts had pitched and was unavailable for game one. Church was struck in the face by a batted ball earlier in the summer and was out for the Series. Just prior to the Series Simmons was called for military duty (the Korean War was going on) and was also unavailable for the Series. It would lead to a serious shuffling of the staff. The loss of Simmons and Church and the inability to use Roberts in game one would haunt Philadelphia for the entire World Series.

A Bad Century: Crossing into Sinai

May 14, 2012

Phil Cavarretta

The Cubs failure in the 1929 World Series was repeated at three-year intervals through the 1930s. The lost championships in 1932, 1935, and 1938. With the dawn of the 1940s, the team failed to maintain their pattern and slid back into the National League pack. That all changed in 1945, when the roared to a pennant and took on old rival Detroit. The Cubs and Tigers had a history going back to 1907. Chicago won the World Series twice, both times against Detroit (1907 and 1908). In fact, Chicago has never won a World Series against any other team. In 1935 they met again, this time with Detroit prevailing. The 1945 Series would give them a chance to even their record against the Cubs.

The 1945 Cubs were a fine team. Former first baseman from the 1929 pennant winner, Charlie Grimm was the manager. He got an MVP performance from first baseman Phil Cavarretta and good work from the rest of the infield: 2nd baseman Don Johnson, shortstop Roy Hughes, and third baseman Stan Hack. Both Hack and Johnson managed .300 plus batting averages. The outfield consisted of left fielder Peanuts Lowery, 100 RBI man Andy Pafko in center, and Bill “Swish” Nicholson in right. Mickey Livingston backstopped a staff that included Hank Borowy, Claude Passeau, lefty Ray Prim, former Reds ace Paul Derringer, and current ace Hank Wyse. The “ace” is a little misleading. Borowy came over from the Yankees earlier in the season, put up an 11-2 record and by the Series was the main pitcher. None of them were great power pitchers, Passeau leading the team with 98 strikeouts, but most (all except Derringer) had more innings pitched than hits given up.

The first three games were in Detroit. Chicago jumped all over Tigers ace, Hall of Famer, and reigning MVP, Hal Newhouser, getting four runs in the first and three more in the third. They cruised to a 9-0 win with Borowy pitching a six hit shutout. It was to be the first of three Newhouser-Borowy confrontations. In game two Wyse had one bad inning, the fifth. With two outs, two on, and a run in, Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg lifted a three run shot that put Detroit ahead 4-1, the final score. Game three was a Claude Passeau masterpiece. He walked one, catcher Bob Swift in the sixth. Swift was out on a double play. Passeau  gave up one hit (a second inning single to Rudy York) and the Cubs won 3-0 to head to Chicago up two games to one.

The remaining games were all in Wrigley Field (wartime travel restrictions were just ending). Throughout their history, the Cubs had done well in postseason play on the road, but terribly in Wrigley (1906, 07, 08, and 10 were not in Wrigley). That was to hold true for games four and five. In game four Detroit bunched together two walks, (one intentional), a double, and three singles to plate four runs. Tigers pitcher Dizzy Trout gave up one unearned run, a walk, and five hits to even the Series at two games each. Game five saw the Newhouser-Borowy rematch. Newhouser gave up four runs, two walks, and seven hits, but struck out nine Cubs. Borowy gave up five runs in five innings, then the bullpen let Detroit tack on three more. Now the Tigers led the Series three games to two.

Game six turned out to be a classic. Having to win the game or lose the Series, Chicago dropped behind on a bases loaded walk, but answered with four in the fifth and a single run in the sixth. Detroit got a run back in the top of the seventh, but the Cubs got two more in the bottom of the inning to stay ahead. But 1945 was a World Series full of big innings and the Tigers had another in them, putting up four in the top of the eighth to tie up the game. It stayed there into the twelfth. Desperate to win, manager Grimm sent Borowy back to the mound with no days off. He was masterful, pitching four full innings and giving up neither a run nor a walk. In the bottom of the twelfth, Stan Hack doubled to bring home the Series tying run.

The next day there was no game, so Grimm decided to send Borowy back to the mound to face Newhouser one final time. He needed 27 outs to bring Chicago its first World Series triumph since 1908. He got none. The Tigers teed off on him scoring three earned runs and when the dust settled had scored five total runs in the first. The Cubs got one back in the bottom of the first, but Detroit responded with one of their own in the second, then kept piling on runs. The Cubs’ Roy Hughes singled to lead off the ninth, then with two outs, Stan Hack drove a grounder to short. A flip to second for the force and the Series was over. The final score was Detroit 9, Chicago 3 and Detroit was champion. They’d played Chicago four times in the World Series and each team had won twice.

It’s tough not to feel a little sorry for the Cubs. They hit .263 for the Series (Detroit managed only .223) and had more hits. But Detroit had scored in bunches and that made all the difference. Cavarretta hit .423 with the team’s only home run. Borowy was good in defeat. He ended up 2-2 with an ERA of 4.00, but he’d done well (especially in game six) until the final game when he was called on one time too many.

For the Cubs it was like crossing into Sinai. For the next 40 (actually 39) years they would wander in the wilderness. They fell back into the pack in 1946 and began their long sojourn as the “loveable losers”.  The 1945 World Series was their last, so let’s take a moment to commemorate Roy Hughes who got the last ever Cubs hit in a World Series (and made the last ever out), Stan Hack who was the last ever Cubs batter in a World Series, and Hank Wyse who threw the last ever pitch by a Cub in the Series (it resulted in a third to first ground out).

A lot of good players came through Chicago in the last half of the 1940s and in the 1950s. The same is true of the 1960s and 1970s, but the Cubs failed to make even a single postseason game for almost four decades. Finally, in 1984, they made it back to the playoffs.

The Fortunes of War

August 16, 2010

The other day I was talking with my son the genius (everyone agrees he gets it from his mother). He suggested looking at the guys World War II made into stars. We talked for a while ironing out exactly what he meant and this is the result (so if you think this is a bust, blame him). 

There were three categories of people involved in our discussion (Pete Gray is in a category by himself). First is those who were rising stars when the war broke out, continued to play well, and had at least a few good years after the war. People like Bill Nicholson, Spud Chandler, and especially Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser fit into this category. Second, those people who were retired or failed players who got back to the Major Leagues and had one last fling. These include guys like Tony Cuccinello who retired in 1941, then came back and almost won a batting title in 1945 and Johnny Dickshot who had played four undistinguished years in the National League (the last being in 1939), then came back to the Majors with the White Sox and had a great 1945. Finally, there were those guys who were either new or almost new,  had been nothing special, became stars during the war years, then disappeared as impact players almost immediately afterward. It’s that last group that we decided were worth a look. I picked two Yankees players as good examples of this type player. 

Nick Etten

NIck Etten got to the Major Leagues in late 1938 as a 27-year-old first baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics. He stayed on as a marginal player into June 1939, then was sent to Baltimore where he stayed until 1941. The Philadelphia Phillies picked him up and he stayed there through 1942. He hit .300 in 1941 and managed a total of 22 home runs and 120 RBIs in his stint with the Phils. So far not much of a career. 

Then in 1943 he made it to the New York Yankees. With the war in full swing and many of the better players gone Etten blossomed. He hit .271, had 14 home runs (tied for his career best), and 107 RBIs. His OPS was 775 and he had 245 total bases. The Yanks got to the World Series, winning it in five games. In 19 at bats, he got two hits (both singles), but did drive in two runs. 

He flourished in 1944 and 1945. In ’44 he won the AL home run title with 22 and also led the league in walks with 97 while putting up a 865 OPS.. The next year he hit only 18 homers but had a league leading 111 RBIs. with 90 walks, an OPS of 824, and made the All-Star Game. By 1946 the war was over and the pre-war regulars were back. Etten hit .232 with only nine home runs and 79 RBIs in 108 games. By 1947 he was back with the Phillies where he got into 14 games, hit .232 and had one home run. In May the Phils sent him back to New York and the Yanks failed to activate him. His career was over. He hit .277 (.283 during the war), with 89 home runs (54 during the war), and 526 RBIs (309 during the war). He died in 1990. 

Snuffy Stirnweiss

 Snuffy Stirnweiss is, to me, the quintessential World War II era player. He was born in 1918 and got to the big leagues in 1943 as a second baseman, replacing Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. He had a rough time in 1943, hitting .219 with no power and 11 stolen bases. He got into one game in the ’43 World Series and scored a run. He was a star for the next two years leading the AL in runs, hits, triples, and stolen bases both years and winning the batting title in 1945. He also led the league in OPS and slugging in 1945. 

With the return of the regulars, he became a run of the mill role player never hitting above .256. His postwar highest hit total was 146, he managed a high of 18 stolen bases, and his slugging percentage dropped (although he still had a decent OBP). He remained the Yankees primary second baseman through 1948 (remaining with the team into 1950), making the World Series in both 1947 and 1949. He hit .259 with a triple and three RBIs in the 1947 series and appeared in one game of the 1949 series without batting. 

The Yanks sent him to the St. Louis Browns in June 1950. He’d played all of seven games for New York. He had 50 games for Cleveland in 1951 and appeared in a single game for the Indians the next season. He was killed in a train wreck in 1958. 

For his career he hit .268 (.301 for the war) with 604 runs (266 for the war), and 989 hits (460 during the war). His longer career gives him a smaller ratio of hits and runs during the war than Etten, but his war years are huge compared to his postwar career. And before anyone asks, I have no idea where “Snuffy” comes from. 

There were a number of guys like this, but these two strike me as the best of the lot. They remind me of the NFL “replacement” players of  several years back, but they are significant in the history of the game. At least both Etten and Stirnweiss played for winners.