Posts Tagged ‘Bob Gibson’

Adios, Red

June 8, 2018

Red Schoendienst

I saw that Red Schoendienst died earlier this week. He was 95 and the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame. He played far enough back that you have to be my age to remember him. He was, after Stan Musial, a man who could legitimately claim the title “Mr. Cardinal.”

He joined the Cards in 1945 as an outfielder. The team had a chronic problem at second base and the people in charge saw Schoendienst as just the man to solve it for them. He played one game at second in ’45, then moved in as the primary second sacker in 1916. He was an All Star, helped his team to the 1946 World Series, which they won. He stayed in St. Louis through 1956, making eight more All Star games, before moving on to the New York Giants. He put in less than 150 games with the Giants before a trade that took him to the Milwaukee Braves in 1957.

At Milwaukee he became a mainstay on consecutive pennant winning teams, winning it all in 1957. He generally hit second (behind Billy Bruton) and was credited with stabilizing the infield, providing a clubhouse presence, and giving the team veteran leadership. All of those were probably true but Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn were the big guns for the Braves. He made the All Star game one last time in 1957.

In 1959 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. It cost him all but five games of the season, a season the Braves lost a three game playoff to the Dodgers. Fortunately for Schoendienst an operation helped and he could return to the field. He remained active through 1963, serving as a player-coach in his last two active seasons.

In 1964 he became a fulltime coach, moving on to manager after the season. He won pennants in 1967 and again in 1968, winning the World Series in ’67. In 1968 he’s supposed to have told a reporter, in response to a question about Bob Gibson, “I tell him which day he’s pitching. He shows up and I take the day off.”

Schoendienst remained Cards manager through 1976, then did a little coaching at Oakland. He subsequently returned to St. Louis and coached during the 1982 World Series winning season. On two occasions he served at Cardinals interim manager, then settled in as a special assistant to the team. He made the Hall of Fame in 1989.

For his career his triple slash line reads .289/.337/.387/.724 (OPS+ of 94) with 2449 hits, and more walks than strikeouts. All of that gave him 42.3 WAR. As a manager he was 1041-955 (.522 winning percentage). His Hall of Fame selection is sometimes downplayed saying he wasn’t that good, but the combination of playing, coaching, and managing make him someone at least legitimate to consider.

So God’s Speed, Red. The Cardinals, Braves, and all of baseball will miss you.

 

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Gunther Decides He Can Pitch

May 24, 2018

Main Square Kassel, Germany

Way back in 1970 the US Army decided I could help save the world if they sent me to a little base not far from Kassel, Germany. It was a nice enough place, the duty wasn’t hard, the beer was good and so was the fellowship.

There was a baseball diamond on post, but the place also had a ball team so the peons weren’t supposed to use the diamond, and thus mess it up, during ball season, so we had to find another place to play. The solution was in downtown Kassel. We’d head over to the place they stored the sports equipment, draw out a set of rubberized bases, a set of catchers equipment, some bats and balls, and pile into a couple of cars the guys had (I didn’t have a car) and drive down to Kassel. The town was a nice enough place with several parks. One of them was divided into two sections. One section had trees and paths and benches and small open areas where people could walk and sit and talk and kids could run and play and just do all the things that families and couples and singles do when they’re out and about (that enough usage of “and” for ya?). The other side was a long open stretch of grass used for sports. There were a couple of soccer goals, one area where a basketball half-court was set up, and then a big open area where there was nothing but grass. It just called out for a makeshift baseball diamond.

We would get there early, usually on a Saturday, and throw out a diamond and start playing. Generally there were six or seven of us, so we’d just switch off guys hitting and pitching with everyone else shagging flies or scooping grounders. You’ve probably done this too. It was fun and of course there was no score (heck, there was no base running).

And of course we began to attract the locals. Guys would wander over to see what the “Crazy Americans” were doing. Commentary would follow in German. Most of us knew at least a little German (certainly enough to order a beer or start a conversation with a girl) and a couple of us knew it quite well, so we could tell the Germans were interested in what was going on, but couldn’t figure out how it all worked. A lot would head back over to the soccer field while the rest would continue checking out what you could do if you used the hands God gave you to play sports. Eventually this led to inviting them to join us and we’d try to teach them the game. It was great for us because we suddenly had 12 or 13 or 14 guys so we could actually play something like a game instead of just bat the ball around. We’d try to divide teams so that there were roughly an equal number of Americans and Germans on a team. It more or less worked. Eventually most of the German guys could catch some (we’d trade around gloves), could throw it in the right direction, could even swing the bat and make some contact. What they couldn’t do, was pitch.

One of the biggest loudmouths among the Germans was Gunther (he made sure we pronounced it Goon-tur, not Gun-thur). He was in his early 20s, a student at the local university, tall, lanky, and absolutely sure he’d figured out the game. He wasn’t bad, but Joe DiMaggio was in no danger of losing his place in the pantheon of American sport.  But Gunther decided he wanted to be Bob Gibson. So one day the Germans essentially announced they weren’t going to play if Gunther didn’t get to pitch (always wondered what he’d bribed them with).

It turned out that I hit second that day, so one of the other guys got first taste of Gunther on the mound (“Gunther on the Mound.” You could make a flick about something with that title, couldn’t you?).  He tried to mimic a windup, he tried to throw it hard, he tried to get it near the plate. Well, he got the first one pretty close, the second one he achieved, the third one became “God knows” baseball (God knows where the ball is going). He was wild, he was awful. We tried to convince him that no matter how hard you threw it, if it didn’t get anywhere near the plate it was still ball one, ball two, ball three, ball four, take your base. We didn’t have an umpire to actually call that, but after a handful of pitches we decided that it was a walk and the guy should go find the appropriate rubberized base.

That brought me up. The first pitch was high, but close to the plate. The second one actually bounced over the plate (we had to explain it still wasn’t a strike). Gunter was getting closer. The third pitch finally found a part of the plate and I hit the thing. It went right up the middle toward Gunther who had no chance of either catching it or ducking. Caught him right in the breadbasket. I ended up on first, the other guy hoofed it all the way to third while everyone just kind of stood there watching to see what would happen. Gunther went down in a heap, the ball rolled away, and we stopped play.

Gunther was alright, sore, but alright. We suggested he ought to maybe take an outfield spot until he felt better and let one of the other guys (an American) pitch. He agreed.

We finished the game, gathered up the equipment, stowed it in one of the cars, then wandered over to a local biergarten (beer garden), drank a few, had a few laughs, many at Gunther’s expense (he took it well), and headed back to our normal lives. The next Saturday we showed up again, laid out the field, had the Germans come over, and started a new game. Gunther was there as usual. He volunteered to play center field.

 

Stability

September 4, 2017

Johnny Bench, Reds

Over at one of my favorite blogs, The Hall of Miller and Eric, they are running a “Mount Rushmore” of each team. As you might expect that means they are picking four players to represent the best of each franchise. But there is a kicker there. The player must have played his entire career with the same team. That means no Warren Spahn at the Braves, no Duke Snider with the Dodgers, no Yogi Berra with the Yanks (he had nine at bats with the Mets).

Now all that, especially the loss of Snider and Dazzy Vance with the Dodgers, got me to looking for players who spent their entire career with one team. Now it had to be significant time with the team, after all Moonlight Graham spent his entire Major League career with one team. I figured it would be loaded with old-time players, players who were faced with the reserve clause. Surprisingly, there were a lot of modern guys on the list. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of just a few of the players who never changed teams.

First base: Lou Gehrig, Jeff Bagwell, Willie Stargell

Second Base: Charlie Gehringer, Jackie Robinson (he was traded but never played for a second team, opting to retire instead), Craig Biggio

Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Luke Appling, PeeWee Reese, Phil Rizzuto

Third Base: Brooks Robinson, Chipper Jones, George Brett, Mike Schmidt

Outfield: Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

Catcher: Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella

Left-Handed Pitchers: Whitey Ford, Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax

Right-Handed Pitchers: Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Mariano Rivera

Not a bad lot, right?

One quick note. Honus Wagner came up with the Louisville Colonels and ended up with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not quite the same as being traded or leaving via free agency. Barney Dreyfuss owned both teams and when the National League contracted he moved all his good players to Pittsburgh and let Louisville go. I’m not sure how to deal with that, so I left him off. You might differ.

The Impossible Dream: Back to Boston

January 16, 2017

With the St. Louis Cardinals leading the 1967 World Series 3 games to 2, the Series shifted to Boston for the final two games. The Cards needed to win only one to be champions and had Bob Gibson waiting for an if necessary game seven. For the Red Sox they would have to win both games either without ace Jim Lonborg or with Lonborg going on short rest.

Game 6

Rico Petrocelli

Rico Petrocelli

Game 6 was 11 October with the home team sending Gary Waslewski to the mound. Waslewski had pitched well in his previous relief appearance in the Series. He was opposed by 16 game winner Dick Hughes. Neither man would figure in the decision.

Boston struck first on a second inning Rico Petrocelli home run. The Cardinals would get it back in the third on a Julian Javier double and a Lou Brock single. Brock then stole second and St. Louis took a 2-1 lead with a Curt Flood single plating Brock.

That score lasted until the bottom of the fourth. Carl Yastrzemski led off with a home run followed by two outs. Then back-to-back homers by Reggie Smith and Petrocelli put the Bosox up 4-2 and sent Hughes to the showers.  Things stayed that way to the seventh.

In the top of the seventh, St. Louis tied the game on a two run shot by Brock. In the bottom of the seventh, the Cards brought in Jack Lamabe to pitch. He got an out, then pinch hitter (for pitcher John Wyatt) Dalton Jones singled and Joe Foy doubled. Jones took off from first and scored. The throw home missed Jones and allowed Foy to move to third and come home on a Mike Andrews single. A Yastrzemski single sent Andrews to third and a Jerry Adair sacrifice fly scored him. Consecutive singles by George Scott and Smith brought Yastrzemski home with the fourth run of the inning. Ahead 8-4 the Red Sox brought in starter Gary Bell to finish the game. He gave up three hits and walked one, but no St. Louis player scored and the Sox tied up the Series three games each.

Game 7

Photo File

Game 7 of the World Series was 12 October. The Bosox were faced with an immediate problem. Jim Lonborg, the season long ace, was available to start only if he started on short rest. Manager Dick Williams, deciding to go with his best, sent Lonborg out to start the game. The bullpen was ready to jump in if Lonborg was ineffective on the short rest. Facing them was a fully rested Bob Gibson.

For two innings both pitchers were on. Lonborg gave up two hits, but neither runner scored. Gibson walked one man and struck out three. In the top of the third light hitting shortstop Dal Maxvill tripled. Lonborg bore down and got the next two men out without allowing Maxvill to score. That brought up Curt Flood who singled Maxvill home. A Roger Maris single sent Flood to third and with Orlando Cepeda at the plate, Lonborg uncorked a wild pitch that plated Flood. With two strikeouts to his credit, Gibson set Boston down in order in the bottom of the third leaving the score 2-0.

In the fourth no one reached base for either team and Gibson struck out two more. That brought the teams to the top of the fifth. With one out, Gibson came to the plate and hit a home run. It opened the flood gates a crack. Lou Brock singled and stole second. Flood walked and Brock stole third. Roger Maris’ sacrifice fly sent Brock home and made the score 4-0. Cepeda flew out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox got one back on a George Scott drive to center. Scott tore around second trying to stretch it to a triple. Julian Javier fielded the throw from Flood and tried to nail Scott at third. The throw was wild and Scott scampered home with the first Boston run.

If the flood gates opened a crack for St. Louis in the fifth, they broke wide open in the sixth. Tim McCarver led the inning off with a double. An error by the third baseman left Mike Shannon safe at first and brought up Javier, whose error in the fifth had led to Boston’s first run. He made up for it with a three-run homer to left that made the score 7-1. Despite giving up another hit, Lonborg got through the inning without giving up another run. Due to lead off the bottom of the sixth, he was pulled for a pinch hitter. Manager Dick Williams’ gamble of starting Lonborg had worked for four innings, but he’d been gotten to in both the fifth and sixth. He ended up giving up seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits, a walk, and struck out three.

For Gibson it was a lead he could hold easily. In the sixth and seventh innings he gave up no hits and only one walk. In the eighth he gave up a double to Rico Petrocelli, then wild pitched Petrocelli to third. He walked the next batter, then relief pitcher Norm Siebern grounded to second. A force out provided one out, but Petrocelli scored to make it 7-2. Consecutive grounders ended the inning. In the ninth Gibson gave up a leadoff single to Carl Yastrzemski, but he was erased on a double play. Gibson then struck out Scott to end the inning, the game, and the Series. St. Louis had won the 1967 World Series four games to three. Gibson was voted the MVP.

Before the Series began, there were a lot of questions being asked by fans and reporters. One was “can the Cardinals stop Carl Yastrzemski?” The answer turned out to be “no.” Yaz hit .400, slugged .840, and put up an OPS of 1.340 (of the Cards, only Lou Brock was close to those numbers). He scored four runs, drove in five, had three home runs, and made no errors in the field. The question that no one asked was “can the Cardinals stop everyone but Yaz?” The answer there turned out to be mostly “yes.” No other Red Sox player came close to Yastrzemski’s numbers. Andrews and Dalton Jones, neither of which played in all seven games, were the only other players to hit .300 and neither had an extra base hit. Petrocelli and Reggie Smith both had two home runs, but neither hit above .250. Smith and Scott had six doubles but both only scored three times. For the Series the Red Sox hit .216 with 21 runs, 19 RBIs, 17 walks, and 49 strikeouts.

The Sox pitching was somewhat better. Their ERA was 3.39, while giving up 25 runs and 17 walks. They struck out 30. Of pitchers going more than two innings, Gary Waslewski’s 2.16 ERA (over eight innings) was the only ERA under five.

For St. Louis Brock, Javier, and Maris all hit over .350 and Maris’ seven RBIs easily led the team (the next highest number was four). Brock scored eight runs and five different Cards had one home run each. The team hit .223, scored 25 runs.

Another question being asked was “With Gibson only able to pitch three games, could any other Cards pitcher beat the Red Sox?” Again the answer was “yes.” Nelson Briles won his only start and Gibson took the other three wins. Of pitchers throwing more than six innings, they were the only two with ERA’s under five (Carlton gave up no earned runs in six innings, but an unearned run gave him a loss).

It was Gibson’s series. He was 3-0 in three complete games. He allowed three runs, walked five, and allowed 14 hits in 27 innings. He set a World Series record with 31 strikeouts in 1964 (besting Sandy Koufax). In 1967 he came close to topping it with 26.

For the Red Sox it was a fluke. They would not get back to a playoff until 1975, when they would again make the Series and again lose in seven games. For the Cardinals, it was the next-to-last fling. They would make the Series in 1968 and lose to Detroit in seven games, then be out of the playoff mix for a full decade before a revival in the 1980s.

Back years ago I did a post titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car” (25 October 2010–if you want to read it) about the 1967 Series. I was in Viet Nam when the Series was played and almost everyone I knew was rooting for Boston. I put money on the Cards and picked up enough to help me buy a nice used car when I got back to the States; so the Series has always had a special place in my heart. Thanks, Bob.

 

 

The Impossible Dream: the games in St. Louis

January 12, 2017

With the 1967 World Series tied at one game each, the Series moved to St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park for the next three games. If one team could sweep, the Series would end. A 2-1 split would send the games back to Boston for the finale.

Game 3

Mike Shannon

. BMike Shannon

Game 3 was played 7 October. Knowing that Bob Gibson could only pitch three games in the Series, St. Louis depended on someone else, anyone else, to win one game. In game 3 they went with Nelson Briles. Boston countered with Gary Bell on the mound. Bell was in trouble from the start. The Cardinals jumped on him in the first when leadoff hitter Lou Brock tripled, then scored on a Curt Flood single. In the second, Tim McCarver singled and rode home on Mike Shannon’s home run to make the score 3-0. Bell was due to bat in the third, so he stayed in for the entire second inning then was lifted for a pinch hitter in the third. Gary Waslewski, the reliever, did a fine job keeping the Cards off the scoreboard over three hitless inning.

In the sixth, the Red Sox finally got to Briles. Mike Andrews, pinch-hitting for Waslewski, singled, was bunted to second, and came home on a single. But with Waslewski out of the game the Cards struck back against Lee Stange in the bottom of the sixth. Lou Brock singled, then went to third on a failed pick off (Stange threw it away), and came home on Roger Maris’ single.

A Reggie Smith homer in the seventh made the score 4-2, but a Roger Maris single and an Orlando Cepeda double gave the Cardinals one more run and a 5-2 final margin of victory. The big star was Briles who gave up two runs on seven hits, no walks, and struck out four.

Game 4

Tim McCarver

Tim McCarver

Game 4 in 1967 was, is frequently the case, pivotal. In an era that tended to use three-man rotations in the World Series, the game one starters, Jose Santiago for Boston and Bob Gibson for St. Louis, were back on the mound. Boston was looking to even the Series. What they got was a second dose of Gibson’s pitching.

The game effectively ended in the first inning. Back to back singles by Lou Brock and Curt Flood brought Roger Maris to the plate. His double scored both runs. A fly to right recorded both the first out and sent Maris to third. Tim McCarver’s single brought home Maris for the third run. An out and consecutive singles brought home McCarver and sent Santiago to the showers. Reliever Gary Bell (the game three starter and loser) got the last out, but the score stood 4-0 at the end of a single inning.

It was all Gibson needed. He went the full nine innings walking one (Smith in the seventh with one out), giving up five hits, only one (a leadoff ninth inning double by Carl Yastrzemski) for extra bases, and struck out six. Yastrzemski was the only runner to reach second during the game. When getting to third on a fly out, Yastrzemski was the only Bosox to advance to third in the game.

While Gibson was shutting down the Red Sox, the Cards were adding on two more runs in the third. Orlando Cepeda led off the inning with a double, went to third on a wild pitch, and came home on a McCarver fly. A subsequent walk to Mike Shannon and a double by Julian Javier plated the final Cards run.

Down three games to one, the “Impossible Dream” was in deep trouble. Boston would have to run the table or suffer a second consecutive World Series loss to St. Louis (1946).

Game 5

Jim Lonborg

Jim Lonborg

Down to having to win all three games, the Boston Red Sox, on 9 October 1967, turned to ace Jim Lonborg to keep the World Series alive and send the games back to Boston. The Cardinals countered with future Hall of Fame hurler Steve Carlton. It was Carlton’s first appearance on the mound during the Series. It turned out to be a first rate pitching duel.

Both pitchers matched zeroes until the top of the third when, with one out Joe Foy singled. Mike Andrews then laid down a bunt to third which Mike Shannon, a converted outfielder, mishandled allowing Foy to make second and Andrews to be safe at first. A Ken Harrelson single scored Foy for the first run of the game.

And it held up all the way to the ninth. Lonborg was masterful through eight walking none, allowing two singles, and striking out four. Carlton was lifted after six but gave up only the one unearned run while giving up three hits, walking two, and striking out five. Ray Washburn relieved Carlton and in two innings gave up a lone hit and struck out two.

Going into the ninth, the Cards brought Ron Willis into pitch. He walked George Scott, gave up a double to Reggie Smith, then intentionally walked Rico Petrocelli, before being lifted for Jack Lamabe. The new pitcher was greeted by an Elston Howard single that scored both Scott and Smith. A strikeout and a double play ended the inning.

Needing three outs to send the Series back to Boston, Lonborg got consecutive ground outs before Roger Maris drove a ball over the right field fence to score St. Louis’ first run. Another ground out ensured it would be their only run. Boston won 3-1. Although Carlton had pitched well, the day belonged to Lonborg who’d showed everyone just how important he was to the Bosox.

So the World Series would go back to Boston for game six and an if necessary game seven. Not only did the Red Sox have to win both games, they would have to do it without Lonborg or use him on short rest.

 

 

 

 

The Impossible Dream: 2 games in Boston

January 10, 2017

The 1967 World Series began in Boston 4 October. With no additional rounds of playoffs in the era, the Series could start much earlier than it does today. The Red Sox were sentimental favorites.

Game 1

Lou Brock

Lou Brock

The first game saw the Bosox start out in something of a hole. Jim Lonborg, the ace, was unavailable to pitch. Boston won the American League pennant at the last-minute and Lonborg had pitched late enough that he needed the extra rest. That put Jose Santiago on the mound for the Red Sox. St. Louis countered with Bob Gibson.

It was something of a standard mid-1960s game; a low scoring pitchers duel. The Cardinals struck first by putting up a run in the top of the third inning. Lou Brock led off with a single and went to third on a Curt Flood double. Roger Maris then hit a roller to first. First baseman George Scott’s only play was to record the out at first while Brock raced home from third. It was a fairly typical Cardinals run, showcasing speed, timely hitting, and hitting to the right with a man on third.

The Red Sox got the run right back when, with one out, pitcher Santiago slugged a home run to knot the game. And there the score stood for three more innings. Both pitchers did well. A handful of runners got on base, and Julian Javier was thrown out at home to end the fourth, but the game was showcasing the pitchers as frequently happened in the semi-Deadball Era of the mid-1960s.

In the seventh, Brock singled, then stole second. Flood, hitting behind the runner, rolled one to first for the out while Brock went on to third. That brought up Maris again. This time it was a roller to second that brought home Brock. And that was all Gibson needed. He allowed two hits and a walk in the final three frames, but no one got beyond second and the Cardinals took game one by a 2-1 score.

Gibson was great. He struck out 10, walked the one, allowed six hits, only two for extra bases (a double by Scott to go along with Santiago’s homer), and gave up one run. Santiago took the loss, but had pitched well. He went seven innings, gave up the two runs, walked three, but struck out five while giving up 10 hits. St. Louis had won by playing the kind of ball they’d played all year (stolen bases, timely hitting) to win. Game two was the next day and Lonborg was ready to pitch for Boston.

Game 2

Yaz

Yaz

Game 2 occurred 5 October and showed non-Boston fans exactly why Jim Lonborg was so important for the Red Sox. He shut out St. Louis on one hit, an eighth inning two out double by Julian Javier (who died on second when a grounder ended the inning), and a single walk ( to Curt Flood with one out in the seventh). He also struck out four on the way to a complete game shutout.

While Lonborg was shutting out the Cardinals, the St. Louis pitching staff made a major mistake, they decided to pitch to Carl Yastrzemski. After walking Yaz in the first, they threw one over the plate to lead off the fourth. He promptly hit it out for a home run and a 1-0 score. He made another out, then a three run homer in the seventh made the score 5-0 (the Bosox picked up a run in the sixth on a Rico Petrocelli sacrifice fly). In the eighth Yastrzemski managed another single to go three for four with four RBIs, two runs scored, two homers, and a walk.

Game two managed to tie the World Series at one game apiece. The Series moved to St. Louis for games three, four, and five of what was now a best of five series.

 

The Impossible Dream: the Cards

January 5, 2017
Red Schoendienst

Red Schoendienst

In 1967 the baseball world was enamored of the Boston Red Sox. Their season was known, after the Broadway hit, “The Impossible Dream.” The National League pennant winning St. Louis Cardinals were, on the other hand, a team that had shown more recent success. From the 1920s through 1946 (coincidentally against the Red Sox) the Cards were consistent winners. They’d fallen on hard times in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s but had won as recently as 1964. Now a new team (with several holdovers from ’64 still around) was going to challenge Boston in the World Series.

Hall of Fame Manager Red Schoendienst in his third years with St. Louis headed a solid team with four future Hall of Famers. In hitting the team led the NL in stolen bases and placed second in all the triple slash categories (BA/OPB.SLG/OPS) and second in runs, hits, and total bases. They were fourth in home runs and third in doubles. The pitching was also second in most categories (ERA, hits, shutouts, runs) while being third in walks and sixth in strikeouts. The team was fourth in fielding percentage, but sixth in errors.

As with the Red Sox, the Cardinals infield was set. From first around to third it consisted of Orlando Cepeda, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill, and Mike Shannon. Hall of Famer Cepeda led the team in WAR, home runs, RBIs, OPS and OPS+ on his way to the NL MVP Award. Shannon was a converted outfielder who sometimes played like it. He was getting better in the field, but was never going to make anyone forget Brooks Robinson. He hit .245 with 23 home runs and 0 WAR (making him the epitome of an average player). Both Javier and Maxvill were in the lineup for their gloves and both did well enough in the field. Javier, additionally, could hit. He managed .281 with 14 home runs (good for third on the team) and 2.6 WAR. Maxvill hit .227 with one homer. The backups were Ed Spiezio and Phil Gagliano. Neither hit .225.

There was no Carl Yazstremski in the outfield, but it was still solid across the grass. Hall of Famer Lou Brock was in left field. He wasn’t as bad an outfielder as he’s sometimes considered, but he was in the game to hit and run. He went .299 with 21 home runs (second on the team), 76 RBIs, 52 stolen bases, 325 total bases, and 5.6 WAR (third on the team). Center Fielder Curt Flood hadn’t yet become the player’s champion but was, nevertheless, a sterling ball player. He hit a team leading .335 to go with 5.3 WAR. In right field, Roger Maris was 32 and well beyond his home run hitting years as a Yankees stalwart. He hit .261 with nine home runs, 55 RBIs, and 3.6 WAR. The replacements were Bobby Tolan (later of the “Big Red Machine”) and future batting champ Alex Johnson. Tolan had six home runs while Johnson was, at .223, still learning to hit.

If the Red Sox catching situation was a mess, the Cardinals had stability there in the person of Tim McCarver. Not yet a household name because of his years as the color guy on national broadcasts, McCarver was a solid catcher who was having something like a career year. He hit .295, had 14 home runs, 69 RBIs, eight stolen bases, more walks than strikeouts, and 6.0 WAR, good for second on the team. His backups were Dave Ricketts, who hit .273, and John Romano who didn’t come close.

With a couple of exceptions, the Cardinals pitching wasn’t in any better shape than the Bosox. Seven men started 10 or more games during the season. Much of that had to do with a key injury. In July Cards ace Bob Gibson was hit by a batted ball. He made a throw to first, then managed one pitch before collapsing with a broken leg (not many people can do that). He was back by the World Series, but had only gone 13-7 with an ERA of 2.98 (ERA+ 110) and only 2.7 WAR. Dick Hughes and youngster Steve Carlton took up most of the slack. Hughes went 16-6 with a 2.67 ERA, 161 strikeouts, and 3.9 WAR. Future Hall of Famer Carlton led the team with 168 strikeouts in 193 innings, won 14 games, had an ERA of 2.98, and put up 2.9 WAR. Ray Washburn had 10 wins and an ERA north of three fifty. Nelson Briles who started 11 of 49 games had 3.6 WAR. Joe Hoerner led the bullpen with 14 saves followed by Ron Willis who had 10.

All in all the 1967 Cardinals was a fine team. With Gibson back healthy they could be formidable. The first game of the World Series was in Boston.

 

Gibby

August 16, 2016
Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson

While researching something else, it dawned on me that I’d never actually sat down and wrote about one of my all time favorites, Bob Gibson. I did a little something a few years back (25 October 2010 titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car”) on how a bet on the 1967 World Series netted me enough to buy a used car (and Gibson was instrumental in that win) but I’d never actually centered something on him. Time to change that.

Gibson came out of Omaha before Peyton Manning made the town a sports word. He did a little work with the Harlem Globetrotters, then joined the St. Louis Cardinals. He made his debut in 1959 against the Dodgers. He worked the last two innings in relief, gave up a couple of runs, including a home run to Jim Baxes, the first batter he faced in the National League. His opponent was Don Drysdale.

Gibson got better. After two seasons with a losing record, he finished over .500 for the first time in 1961 (13-12). Unfortunately, he also led the NL in walks. He made his first All Star Game in 1962 and led the NL in shutouts. In 1964 he won 19 games, was either the ace or the “two” pitcher, depending on your view of Ray Sadecki, and helped the Cards to their first World Series since 1946. He lost his first game, then won two more, including game seven, as St. Louis won the Series and he was named MVP. He got into two more World Series. The one in 1967 saw him win three games, set the single game strikeout record for a Series, and pick up his second World Series MVP award (and a car for me).

In 1968 he was awesome. He was 22-9 (.710 percentage) and led the NL in ERA (1.12), shutouts (13), strikeouts (268), ERA+ (258), WHIP (0.853), WAR (11.2), and about anything else you can do on a mound including raking it. It got him an MVP Award and his first Cy Young Award. He won two games in the World Series, but lost game seven as Detroit stopped the Cards.

He led the NL in wins one more time and picked up a second Cy Young Award. He started slipping in 1973 and was done by 1975. For his career he was 251-174 (.591), had 56 shutouts, 3117 strikeouts, a 2.91 ERA (ERA+ of 127) a 1.188 WHIP, 81.9 WAR, an MVP Award, and two Cy Young Awards. In World Series play he was 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA 0.889 WHIP, 92 strikeouts, two rings, and two Series, MVP Awards. The Hall of Fame call came in 1981, his first year.

Gibson got to St. Louis at an important time in the team history. Integration had just occurred and there were still problems about it on the team. The stature of Stan Musial, who had no problem with it and went out of his way to make black players welcome on the team, helped some, but the tensions were still there. And to be a black pitcher was, in some circles, almost an affront to decency. Gibson overcame that and became probably the best pitcher in Cardinals history. He did it through determination, grit, and sheer ability. Over the years he’s become famous (or infamous depending on your view) as a fierce, almost violent pitcher who took hits as a personal challenge. If you watched him on the mound the determination showed through even a TV set. Heck, he scared me through the lens. The way he lunged forward when he threw made him even more scary. Of course that kind of determination and desire for domination led to one of his most famous moments. He was hit in the leg, breaking the bone. Unwilling to admit it, he took the ball, set up, and unleashed one last pitch as he fell to the ground and had to be taken off the field. That moment epitomized Bob Gibson unlike almost anything else he did.

He has one of the better World Series records. OK, he has the most strikeouts in a game and in a single Series, but there’s another most people overlook. In his career he lost his first Series game and lost his last. In between he won seven games in a row. No one else, not Whitey Ford, not Red Ruffing, not Allie Reynolds (the other men with seven or more World Series wins) won seven World Series games in a row.

Over the years he’s kind of gotten lost. He was truly the most dominant pitcher in baseball for a very short time. Before him there was Sandy Koufax. Then came Tom Seaver. In between he had to contend with Juan Marichal and Drysdale. It seems to have cost him something of his luster.

He did have the advantage of spending much of his career with Tim McCarver as his catcher. Whatever you think of him as a color guy, McCarver is one of the great storytellers in baseball. He ended up spinning one Gibson tale after another and it helped Gibson remain in the public eye a little more. My favorite story goes like this:

The manager ordered an intentional walk. McCarver held up four fingers, stepped over, held up his glove, and watched the first pitch drill the batter solidly in the ribs. He went out to the mound asking what happened? Gibson told him that he (Gibson) had just saved three pitches. See why I got a car betting on him?

 

WAR, One Pitcher, and Winning it All

September 24, 2015
Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

They tell me that the guys with the best WAR are the best players. They also tell me that a great pitcher will win for you. OK, I’ll give them both of those (sorta). But one thing I’ve noticed is that they’re certainly no predictor of a championship. It’s the nature of the game that this would be true. You simply can’t let your ace pitcher (the one with the best WAR) pitch every inning and you can’t let your best hitter (again the one with the best WAR) come up for every at bat. It’s particularly true that you can’t take the guys with the best ever pitching WAR and find a lot of World Series championships.

I’ve been particularly critical of pitching WAR (but not as much critical of offensive WAR) ever since I saw the numbers and read the ever-changing formulae. But let’s accept that it’s a good measure of pitching excellence. It still isn’t much of a predictor of how a team will do. I Went down the BBREF list of yearly WAR (which uses BBREF’s version of WAR) looking only for pitchers. I excluded all pitchers who showed up before the advent of the 20th Century. In other words I ignored the pre-American League championship games  (1884-1891). I did this because there is great disagreement about how seriously they were taken by the teams and players and how much they were treated as mere exhibitions. I also ignored the Temple Cup Series. Then I looked to find the top 10 WAR seasons for a pitcher in the American League era (1901-present). Of course I ran into Walter Johnson who had three of the top five and four of the top 12. So I changed the way I went at it. I began looking for a new name until I found 10 different pitchers. That took me all the way to 52nd on the list. Of course many of the 52 (and ties) were pre-1901 pitchers (including the first seven) and some were hitters (Ruth four times, Barry Bonds twice, and Gehrig, Yastrzemski and Hornsby once each). Here’s the list I ended up with: Walter Johnson in 1913 (16.0 WAR), Johnson in 1912 (14.6), Dwight Gooden in 1985 (13.2), Johnson in 1914 (13.0), Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920 (12.8), Cy Young in 1901 (12.6), Steve Carlton in 1972 (12.5), Roger Clemens in 1997 (12.2), Johnson in 1915 (12.1), Fergie Jenkins in 1971 (12.0), Hal Newhouser in 1945 (12.0), Bob Gibson in 1968 (11.9), Alexander in 1916, Pedro Martinez in 2000, and Smokey Joe Wood in 1912 (all at 11.7). So the individual pitchers are Johnson, Gooden, Alexander, Young, Carlton, Clemens, Jenkins, Newhouser, Gibson, Martinez, and Wood (a total of 11).

Let’s notice a couple of things about this list. First, Walter Johnson’s 1912-1915 is, by WAR, the greatest pitching performance by a single pitcher over a  period of years in the last 115 years (and people still debate how good he was). Second, there are a couple of one shot wonders in the list, specifically Gooden and Wood. The remainder are quality pitchers having their peak year.

But for my purpose, the most interesting thing is that only two of the pitchers were with teams that won the World Series: Newhouser and Wood. Gibson got to the Series but the Cardinals lost in seven games (Gibson himself taking the loss in game seven). In 1901 there was no Series, but Young’s Boston team finished second.

This isn’t a knock on pitching WAR, but merely an acknowledgement that it can’t predict pennants. And one great pitcher isn’t a predictor either. It does help if the number two pitcher on your team has a pretty good year also.

Oisk,

June 10, 2014
Carl Erskine

Carl Erskine

If Don Newcombe was the most storied pitcher of the “Boys of Summer” Brooklyn Dodgers, Carl “Oisk” Erskine was easily second.

Erskine was born in Indiana in 1926. He played sandlot and high school ball and was good enough that he was noticed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. While in the Navy, Erskine signed with the Dodgers, but had his contract voided by the commissioner when it was learned he was still in the Navy (there was a rule against that). Despite other and bigger offers, he resigned with Brooklyn  and joined their minor league team at Danville in 1946. He pitched two years at Danville before transferring to Fort Worth in 1948. He stayed two years in Ft. Worth before playing one final minor league season in Montreal in 1950. He also played winter league ball in Cuba where he shared the field with black players and was managed by Martin DiHigo.

His Major League career began in 1948 when he was called up in 1948. He went 6-3 in 17 games (nine starts), tore a muscle in his back (it never healed properly and would bother him for his entire career), then began 1949 in the minors. Again he came up at the end of the season, went 8-1 in 22 games (three starts), and helped Brooklyn to the National League pennant. He got into two games in the World Series going 2.1 innings, giving up three runs, and posting an ERA north of 16. The Dodgers lost the Series in five games and Erskine had no decisions.

With the torn muscle still a problem, he started his last minor league campaign in 1950. He was called up early this time getting into 22 games, winning seven and losing six. After 1950 he would remain in the Major Leagues for the remainder of his career. The 1951 season saw him become a regular in the Dodgers rotation. He went 16-12, and helped lead Brooklyn to one of the more famous playoffs in MLB history. The Dodgers lost a three game playoff to the Giants (Bobby Thomson’s home run being the most famous moment). Erskine did not pitch in the playoff series.

He had a terrific 1952, going 14-6 with an ERA of 2.70. In June he pitched a no-hitter against the Cubs, walking only one man (the opposing pitcher). The Dodgers were back in the World Series at the end of the season. He lost game two of the Series on 2 October (his wedding anniversary), then won game five in 11 innings.  He also pitched the last couple of inning of a game seven loss without taking the decision.

In 1953, Erskine went 20-6, set a career high in strikeouts, and was the Dodgers ace. He started three games in the World Series, taking a no decision in game one, then came back to win game three and set the all-time record for strikeouts in a World Series game by fanning 14 Yankees, a record broken by a later teammate, Sandy Koufax (and later broken by Bob Gibson).  He started game six, but was not around when New York won the game 4-3 to clinch the Series.

Still in pain, Erskine would produce three more good years: 1954-56. In 1954 he would finally make an All Star team (his only one). In 1955 he would help his team win its only World Series. He started game four, took a no decision as the Dodgers won late, then didn’t pitch again for the remainder of the Series. In 1956, he would pitch his second no-hitter, this one at home against the Giants. He would get into one last World Series, losing game four as the Yankees took revenge for 1955.

Still hurting in 1957, he began slipping badly. By 1958 both he and the Dodgers were in Los Angeles, and he was given the honor of starting the first West Coast game. He got the win. It was easily the highlight of a forgettable year for both pitcher and team. In 1959, he started the year with LA, but retired during the season. The Dodgers made the World Series that year, winning in six games, but I’ve been unable to determine if he got a Series share.

For his career he was 122-78 with an ERA of 4.00 (ERA+ of 101). He gave up 1637 hits in 1718.2 innings, had 14 shutouts, walked 646, struck out 981, had two no hitters, and a WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) of 16.6. He never recovered from the muscle tear and finished his career at age 32.

In retirement he coached baseball at Anderson College winning four championships in 12 seasons. He also served as an insurance man and was chairman of the Indiana Bankers Association. Not a bad legacy for a sore-backed pitcher.

And for those curious, “Oisk” is a Brooklyn corruption of “Ersk”, the first part of his name.