Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Bragan’

The First Integrated World Series: Gionfriddo’s Grab

April 24, 2015

With New York leading Brooklyn 3 games to 2 in the 1947 World Series, the last two games would be played on consecutive days in the Bronx. Brooklyn needed to win game six to force a game seven. The Yankees simply wanted to end it quickly. Game six became one of the more famous of all World Series games because of one substitute’s glove and one superstar’s reaction.

Game 6

Al Gionfriddo 5 October 1947

Al Gionfriddo 5 October 1947

Desperate to win, the Dodgers jumped on Yankees starter Allie Reynolds for two runs in the top of the first. Consecutive singles by the first three Brooklyn batters loaded the bases. A double play traded a run for two outs, but a Sherm Lollar passed ball plated the second run. The Dodgers sent Reynolds to the showers with two more runs in the third on three straight doubles.

In the bottom of the third, New York finally got to Dodgers starter Vic Lombardi. A double and wild pitch sent Lollar to third. Then a ground ball error scored him. The Yankees then tied the score 4-4 on five consecutive singles, knocking Lombardi out of the game. New York went ahead in the fourth on singles by Aaron Robinson, Tommy Henrich, and Yogi Berra (playing right field rather than catching).

The hitters took the fifth inning off before the critical sixth inning. A single and double in the Brooklyn top of the sixth sent Bruce Edwards to third. Cookie Lavagetto, pinch hitting for the third game in a row, lifted a sacrifice fly that scored Edwards. A double by pinch hitter Bobby Bragan plated a second run. With Dan Bankhead running for Bragan, Eddie Stanky singled, then a PeeWee Reese single drove in both runs. Consecutive outs ended the top of the sixth.

To start the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers made three major changes. Joe Hatten took over on the mound, Lavagetto went to third, and speedy outfielder Al Gionfriddo went to left for defense. With the score 8-5, New York’s Snuffy Stirnweiss worked a one out walk. One out later Berra singled sending Stirnweiss to second. Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio stepped in and drove a ball to deepest left field. Gionfriddo raced back, leaped for the ball and caught it. Initial reports indicated that Gionfriddo had robbed DiMaggio of a homer, but a frame by frame analysis of the film and a look at photographs indicate that Gionfriddo caught the ball a couple of steps from the bullpen gate and his momentum carried him to the gate. His arm was up and it appeared he’d snagged the ball as it was going out of the field of play. Whether it was going out or going to be a double (or triple) two runs, at least, were going to score. The catch ended the inning. Nearing second when the catch was made, DiMaggio kicked the dirt in a show of emotion, something no one could remember seeing him show in 11 years of baseball.

The Yanks loaded the bases in the seventh, but Hatten got out of it. After an easy eighth, he needed three outs to send the Series to game seven. He got none. A single and a walk brought in Brooklyn relief ace Hugh Casey. He got an out, then a single loaded the bases. A ground out force brought in a Yankees run, but a tapper back to the mound ended both the threat and the game.

It was a good game, made famous by Gionfriddo’s great catch, still one of the most famous of all World Series fielding plays, and by DiMaggio’s reaction to the grab. It would be Gionfriddo’s last big league game. It tied the Series 3-3. Game 7 would decide the champion.

Game 7

The Scooter

The Scooter

Game 7 of the 1947 World Series was played 6 October in Yankee Stadium. Spec Shea started his third game for the Yanks, while Hal Gregg took the mound for Brooklyn. The Dodgers struck first, picking up two runs in the top of the second. With one out, Gene Hermanski tripled and a Bruce Edwards single brought him home. A single by Carl Furillo pushed Edwards to second and took Shea out of the game. He was replaced by game four’s hard luck loser Bill Bevens. He gave up a double to Spider Jorgensen that scored Edwards, but then got out of the inning without further damage.

New York got one back in the bottom of the second on twin walks and a Phil Rizzuto single. In the fourth a walk, a single, and a Bobby Brown pinch hit double tied the game, and sent Gregg to the clubhouse. Then a Tommy Henrich single off reliever Hank Behrman, scored Rizzuto with the go ahead run.

Brown’s at bat had taken Bevens out of the game. In his place was relief ace Joe Page to start the fifth. He was magnificent, allowing only one hit and striking out one. Meanwhile the Yanks added a single run in the sixth on a bunt single and steal by Rizzuto followed by an RBI single. They tacked on one more in the seventh on a Billy Johnson triple and an Aaron Robinson single. By the ninth, the Dodgers were down 5-2 with their four, five, and six hitters up. Dixie Walker grounded out, Eddie Miksis singled to keep Brooklyn alive. Then Edwards grounded to Rizzuto at short. A 6-4-3 double play ended the game, the Series, and Dodgers hopes. New York was world champ by a 5-2 score.

It was a terrific World Series, particularly if you liked offense. The Dodgers team ERA was 5.55 and the Yanks were at 4.09. Brooklyn walked 38 while striking out only 37. New York’s numbers were almost as bad at 30 walks and 32 strikeouts. Having said that, Spec Shea had two wins and a 2.35 ERA for the Yankees and reliever Hugh Casey had two wins and a save to go with an ERA of 0.87 for the Dodgers.

For the Yankees Rizzuto scored three runs, including two in the Series clincher. Henrich had 10 hits, five RBIs, and a home run. DiMaggio’s average was only .231 but he scored four runs, drove in five, and had two home runs in six hits. Billy Johnson led both teams with eight runs scored. For the Dodgers the heroes were Jackie Robinson for simply showing up and performing well in a pressure situation (he had three runs scored and three RBIs), Casey on the mound, and Reese who hit .304 with five runs and four RBIs. Then there were the subs, Lavagetto and Gionfriddo. Lavagetto had one hit for the Series, but it won game four. Gionfriddo had a key stolen base, walked in a crucial situation, scored two runs, and made the catch of the Series, one of the most famous in World Series history.

It was the second Yankees-Dodgers World Series (1941 being the first). There would be five more (and even more after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles). The 1955 Series has become the most famous (because it’s the only one Brooklyn won), but none of them were better than 1947 in either drama or intensity.

 

 

 

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The First Integrated World Series: Dem Bums

April 14, 2015
Burt Shotten and Duke Snider

Burt Shotten and Duke Snider

The 1947 World Series holds a unique place in baseball history. First, it was a heck of a Series, known for two famous games and two equally famous moments in those games. But most importantly, it was the first ever postseason series of any kind that featured an integrated team.

In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers were a team in turmoil. Leo Durocher, their manager for years was banned from baseball, a black man was on the team, a number of players were opposed to having him around, another group was at best ambivalent. The man who was to hold this all together was Burt Shotten. He’d been an outfielder back in the 1920s, then did a little managing and coaching before becoming a Brooklyn scout in 1946. With Durocher sidelined, Shotten got the call to replace him (He arrived three games into the season so Clyde Sukforth managed the first two games). He was considered easy-going and easy to get along with, just what the Dodgers needed in a volatile atmosphere. The Dodgers had finished third in 1945 and second in 1946, both under Durocher. So it’s not like they came out of nowhere to win the 1947 National League pennant, but Shotten got a lot of credit for keeping the lid on in the clubhouse.

Most of the turmoil surrounded the first baseman, rookie Jackie Robinson. As the first black man to play in the Major Leagues since 1884 (Moses Fleetwood Walker), Robinson was the center of the great integration experiment of 1947. He played well, despite all the turmoil. His triple slash line was .297/.383/.427/.810 with an OPS+ of 112. He tied for the team lead in home runs with 12. His 115 runs, 125 hits, and 29 stolen bases led the team. His BBREF version of WAR was 3.1. All that got him the first ever Rookie of the Year Award (there was only one that year, not one for each league). Shortstop PeeWee Reese was even better. He’d weathered the racial problems on the team to post a triple slash line of .284/.414/ 426/.841 for an OPS+ of 121. His WAR was 6.2, tops among hitters. He’d tied Robinson for the team lead in homers, led the team in walks with 104. The other two members of the infield were second baseman Eddie Stanky and third baseman Spider Jorgensen. Stanky was one of more vocal opponents of employing Robinson, but later became famous for his confrontation of the Phillies when they were attacking Robinson during a game. He hit .253, scored 97 runs, and walked 103 times. Jorgensen, who’d been a minor league teammate of Robinson, hit .274 and was second on the team with 29 doubles.

The center of the opposition to Robinson was with outfielder Dixie Walker. Walker demanded either a trade or Robinson’s demotion to the minors. He got neither. It didn’t carry over onto the field. He hit .306 with a team leading 94 RBIs and an OPS+ of 121. Right fielder Carl Furillo was famous for his rifle arm and hit .295 with 88 RBIs. The normal center fielder was Pete Reiser. Today he’s known for running into walls and otherwise being hurt. In 1947 he was hurt again, but managed 110 games, a .309 average, and 14 stolen bases.

The catcher was Bruce Edwards. He was a better catcher than he’s usually given credit for by both fans and historians. His problem was that he wasn’t Roy Campanella who would, within a year or two would completely overshadow Edwards. One of the backups was Bobby Bragan. He’d initially supported Walker’s position on having Robinson on the team, but by the end of the season was one of Robinson’s strongest friends and supporters. The other backup was Gil Hodges who’d not yet moved to first base and become a Dodgers stalwart.

The Dodgers had a deep bench, with seven players appearing in more than 30 games. The big name for later Dodgers history was Duke Snider, a 20-year-old rookie who wouldn’t play in the Series. For the current team, the more important names were Gene Hermanski, who’d done a lot of the replacement work when Reiser was hurt, and Cookie Lavagetto, Al Gionfriddo, and Eddie Miksis who would become household names in Brooklyn by the end of the Series.

The pitching staff was in transition. The big names of the early 1940s, Whit Wyatt and Kirby Higbe were both gone, Higbe to Pittsburgh as a way to curtail his influence among the anti-Robinson faction in the locker room. Hugh Casey was still around. He’d thrown the most famous pitch in the 1941 World Series and was still the main Brooklyn pitcher out of the bullpen. He had 18 saves, an ERA+ of 103, but he gave up 23 runs in 29.2 innings. The great names of the 1950s, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe, weren’t yet in Brooklyn. Ralph Branca was. He’d had a terrific year going 21-12 with an ERA of 2.67 (ERA+ 154), a 1.246 WHIP, and a 6.9 WAR. The other starters were lefties Joe Hatten and Vic Lombardi. Both had more innings pitched than hits allowed, but Hatten gave up a lot more walks than strikeouts (105 to 76). The other right handers were Hal Gregg, who started 16 of 37 games and had an ERA of 5.87, and Harry Taylor who would put up one of the strangest pitching lines in World Series history while participating in one of the most famous of all World Series games. Clyde King, Rex Barney, and Hank Behrman, all right handers, were the other pitchers with more than three starts. The bullpen, other than Casey, relied on a combination of pitchers who doubled as spot starters (Barney, Gregg, etc.) and relievers none of whom pitched more than six games (except Ed Chandler who’d been in 15 games). The most notable was Dan Bankhead, the second black player to join the Dodgers. His ERA was over seven.

It was, all in all, a good team. It was short power and beyond Branca the staff wasn’t very strong, but it hit well, ran well, was a good fielding team for the era, and the darling of Brooklyn. It would draw crosstown rival the New York Yankees in the Series.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Bobby Bragan

November 29, 2013
Bragan in catching gear

Bragan in catching gear

1. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1917. He was born Robert Downs, but his father died when he was young. He was  adopted by a step-father, thus changing his last name to Bragan.

2. He spent one semester in Howard (now Samford) College, then signed with the Class D Panama City Pelicans for $65 a month.

3.In 1940 he became the Phillies regular shortstop, a position he held the job into 1942. Late in the season he became the Phils backup catcher.

4. In 1943 he was traded to Brooklyn. He spent both 1943 and 1944 as a backup infielder and catcher. He later credited his manager, Leo Durocher, with instilling in him the desire to be a big league manager.

5. He spent all of 1945 and 1946 in the military.

6. On his return to baseball, he was one of the Dodgers players who signed the petition to keep Jackie Robinson off the team. He demanded a trade if Robinson was brought onto the team. As the 1947 season wore on, he saw the abuse Robinson received, saw Robinson’s reaction to it and changed his mind. He rescinded his trade request and became one of Robinson’s best friends on the team. They remained friends until Robinson’s death.

7. He batted one time in the 1947 World Series, driving in the winning run in game six.

8. After playing only nine games in 1948, Bragan was offered a chance to manage the Dodgers’ Fort Worth minor league team. Fort Worth won the Texas League championship in 1948, then won the Dixie Series (a postseason series pitting the Texas League champion against the Southern Association champ). He remained in Fort Worth through 1953. In 1953 he moved to California to manage the Hollywood Stars, a Pirates minor league club. His team finished first in 1954. It got him the chance to manage the Pirates in 1956.

9. He was unsuccessful, although he did help Roberto Clemente ease his way into the Majors. In 1958 he got the Indians managerial job but lasted only three months.

10. He later coached third for the Dodgers, was director of the Houston farm system, managed the Braves, became President of the Texas League, and was for three seasons President of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.

11. In 1991, he formed the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation which promotes scholarships for high school students to attend college.

12. Prior to his death in 2010 he was elected to both the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Bragan is a hero of mine. He rose above his prejudices, made attempts to mend the racial system in the US, and became devoted to helping others through education. That’s a heck of a legacy and it makes Bragan a much greater man than a ballplayer. I think he’d like that epitaph.

Bragan's grave

Bragan’s grave

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.

Good Bye, Bobby

January 29, 2010

I missed the news the other day that Bobby Bragan died. He was 92 and an old ballplayer. He was also a hero of mine.

Bragan was from Alabama and got to the majors in 1940 as a shortstop with the Phillies. He played 597 games over 7 seasons, the last four years with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He spent most of his time as a backup shortstop and catcher. For a career he hit .240 with 15 home runs and 172 RBIs. He was one of the Dodgers players who signed the infamous petition to keep Jackie Robinson off the Dodgers prior to the 1947 season. After his playing days ended he served as a manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956 and 1957, for the Cleveland Indians in 1958, and for the Braves (both in Milwaukee and Atlanta) from 1963-1966. He had a .481 winning percentage as a manager and never finished above 5th. 

“Hold it,” I hear you say, “this guy was a marginal player, a failed manager, a racist, and he’s a hero of yours? What gives?”  Let me tell you.

I once heard an interview with the Dodgers radio play-by-play man Red Barber, also a Southerner, in which he acknowledged his racism in 1946 and then commented that in terms of race Jackie Robinson “matured” him. Bragan was never that eloquent, but I think he might have agreed with the sentiment. Within a few weeks of Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn, Bragan had changed his mind about Robinson. He saw him as a superior player, as a good person, saw the abuse the man took, and saw Robinson’s response to it. Somewhere along the line, Bragan had an epiphany and decided that he was wrong and that Robinson, and by extension black Americans, was OK. He became one of Robinson’s best friends on the Dodgers, later served as an honorary pallbearer at Robinson’s funeral. I’ve seen a picture of Bragan and Rachel Robinson embracing. As a manager he became known as a sympathetic ear and something of a mentor to black and Latin ballplayers, most specifically Roberto Clemente. He solidly backed Hank Aaron in the rush to the home run record.

Most of us, me included, have a lot of trouble finding an internal flaw. We tend to ignore them and when confronted with one fall back on “it’s not my fault” or “who, me?” or some such response. Bragan didn’t.  He confronted his racism head on, saw it’s evil, and changed his ways. Then he became a supporter of that which he’d previously despised. Quite a change for anyone. That makes him a hero of mine. Rest in peace, Bobby.