Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Avila’

“The Biggest Upset Since Harry Truman”

November 24, 2014
Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes

The death of Alvin Dark got me looking at the 1950s Giants. So I was reading an article on Willie Mays the other day. That article got me thinking about the 1954 World Series, so I started doing some research on it. In doing so, I ran across another article that made the claim that makes the title of this article (see how A leads to B leads to C, etc.). In 1948 Truman was supposed to lose to Thomas Dewey and didn’t. In 1954 the New York Giants were supposed to lose to the American League record-breaking Cleveland Indians.

The Indians won 111 games in 1954, a record since surpassed. They did it primarily by beating up on the AL also-rans, but it was still a formidable team. Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn were the mainstays of the mound. Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Feller was in the twilight of his career, but still put up 13 wins, while Mike Garcia had 19. In the bullpen Don Mossi, Ray Narleski, and Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser provided relief work. Second baseman Bobby Avila won a batting title, Larry Doby led the AL in home runs and RBIs, and Al Rosen was fourth in the league in slugging and OPS, fifth in OBP and home runs. For manager Al Lopez it was a formidable team.

Their opponent was the New York Giants, led my Leo Durocher. Although not as seeming invincible as the Indians, the Giants were also good. They won 97 games with Johnny Antonelli, Ruben Gomez, and Sal Maglie on the mound. Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm provided much of the relief work as the premier right hander out of the bullpen. Marv Grissom complimented him from the left side. Outfielder and Hall of Famer Willie Mays led the National League in batting, slugging, triples, OPS, and OPS+ (just your typical Mays year). Don Mueller hit over .300, while Monte Irvin coming off a down year completed the outfield. Hank Thompson and Al Dark both had 20 home runs, and pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes had 15.

Game one is primarily famous for Willie Mays making the great catch in center field to keep the game tied. Rhodes later won it with a home run in the tenth inning. Game two was also close with the Giants winning 3-1 and Rhodes again contributing a home run. Moving to Cleveland for game three, the Giants took control and won game three 6-2. They were already ahead by six runs when Cleveland finally scored their first run. Game four was something of a foregone conclusion. The Giants put up seven runs before Cleveland scored and coasted to a 7-4 victory to close out the Series.

This brings up two obvious questions: “What went wrong for the Indians?” and “What did the Giants do right?” They are, of course, two parts of a single question, “what the heck happened to cause the Indians to lose and the Giants to win?”

The Cleveland pitching staff had a terrible World Series. They had a 4.84 ERA, gave up 33 hits and 21 runs (19 earned) in 35.1 innings. Garcia started one game and ended up with an ERA of 5.40. He gave up three earned runs and four walks in five innings (he did manage to strike out four). Lemon was worse. In two games he gave up 16 hits, 10 earned runs, and eight walks in 13.1 innings (with 11 strikeouts). The bullpen (and Early Wynn) did much better, although Newhouser gave up a run, a hit, and a walk without getting anybody out.

The hitting wasn’t much better. Of the starters, only Vic Wertz (who hit the famous ball that Mays caught) hit above .250 (Rosen hit right on .250). He and Hank Majeski tied for the team lead with three RBIs, while Wertz and Al Smith were the only players with more than one run scored (each had two). Larry Doby struck out four times

The Giants pitching did better. It’s ERA was 1.46, giving up six total earned runs (and three unearned–the Giants had seven errors) and 26 hits in 37 innings. Maglie’s 2.57 ERA was the team high. Neither Grissom nor Wilhelm gave up a run out of the bullpen.

New York hitting beat Cleveland to death. Dark, Mueller, Rhodes, and Thompson all hit over .350 while both Mays and catcher Wes Westrum both topped .250. Rhodes had seven RBIs, Thompson scored six runs, and both Mays and Mueller scored four runs. Irvin (who had a bad Series) and Westrum led the team with three strikeouts, while Mays walked four times. Rhodes OPS was 2.381 (Wertz at 1.493 topped the Indians starters).

There was no Series MVP in 1954 (it began the next year), but most people presume Rhodes would have won it. Maybe, but the entire Giants team did well (except Irvin and Whitey Lockman).

It was, besides being a huge upset, a fluke World Series. Cleveland had not finished first since 1948 and wouldn’t do so again until 1995. For the Giants, it was their first since 1950 and they wouldn’t be back until 1962 when they were no longer the New York Giants, but had become the San Francisco Giants. The next year it would be back to the normal Yankees-Dodgers World Series.

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The Pride of Havana

November 16, 2011

Dolf Luque, the Pride of Havana

There is a long history of baseball in Cuba. One source puts its origins in the 1850s and 1860s. For Cubans in the Major Leagues it’s a lot newer. It begins with Adolfo Luque (there were other Cubans before him, but he was far and away the most successful) who was a pretty fair pitcher.

Luque was from Havana, born in 1890. He pitched well in the Cuban leagues, was spotted by Major League scouts, and picked up by the Boston Braves (now in Atlanta) in 1914. There were immediate problems. The racial attitudes of the era made it difficult for a non-“white” individual to do well in the big leagues. Dark skinned players, like fellow Cuban Martin DiHigo, were completely banned from the Majors. American Indians like Chief Bender were ridiculed, and light-skinned Latin players like Luque were supposed to be too hot-tempered to play. And, unfortunately, Luque, like many of us, had a temper. It was to create problems for him for most of his career. As I want to look more at his stats than his temper, I’m not going to concentrate on the incidents (especially the Stengel incident). There are plenty of references about them online.

Luque pitched four games for the Braves in 1914 and 1915, going 0-1 with big ERA’s for the time. He ended up back in the minors until Cincinnati picked him up in 1918. He stayed there through 1929.  Going 10-3 mostly in relief, he helped the Reds to the 1919 World Series. He pitched five innings over two games giving up no runs, one hit, no walks, and striking out six. In doing so he became the first Latin American native to play in a World Series. His best year was 1923 when he went 27-8 and led the National League in wins, ERA, shutouts, winning percentage, and ERA+. It was a notable improvement considering he’d led the NL in loses the previous year.  He led the NL in ERA, WHIP, ERA+, and shutouts again in 1925, although he posted only a 16-18 record. His career followed a fairly normal projection and by 1929, he was 38, had a 5-16 record, and was sent to Brooklyn. He spent two years with the Dodgers. Neither were particularly bad years, but his ERA was rising and he was giving up more hits than he had innings pitched. At age 41 he went to the Giants where he became a reliever. He was good at it putting up acceptable numbers in both 1933 and 1934. In the former year he got back to the World Series for the second time. He relived in game 5, pitching 4.1 innings of scoreless ball, striking out five and giving up only two hits. When the Giants scored in the top of the tenth, Luque shut down Washington in the bottom of the inning to clinch the World Series championship for New York.

He pitched two games in 1935, getting one last win, then retired to coach with the Giants. He remained with the Giants as a coach off and on through the Second World War, then retired from the Majors for good. During his playing days and while a coach in New York, Luque spent his winters in Cuba, and later in Mexico, working with Winter League players. He played, coached, and managed a number of great island teams. He was instrumental in developing Major League players like Sal Maglie, Bobby Avila, and Camilo Pascual. He managed through the 1956 season and died of a heat attack in July 1957. He was later inducted into both the Cuban and Mexican baseball Hall of Fame.

For his Major League career, Luque was 194-179 (,520 winning percentage), had an ERA of 3.24 (ERA+ of 118), a 1.288 WHIP, and 16 shutouts. He struck out 1130 while walking 918. Over 3220 innings he gave up 3231 hits and 1161 earned runs. All in all not a bad career for a man who got started late (he was 27 when he caught on with Cincinnati), played year-round, and had to face the challenges of perceptions about Latin ball players. He deserves a lot more recognition, particularly among Latin players, then he gets.