Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Thomson’

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The MIck: Milwaukee

July 14, 2016

The 1957 season marked ten years since the Braves won a pennant. In 1948 they lost to Cleveland and were still in Boston. They moved in the early 1950s to Milwaukee and built a powerhouse. In 1957 they finally reached first place in the National League. It was their third championship of the century (1914 and 1948).

Fred Haney

Fred Haney

The Braves were led by Fred Haney who had a short playing career in the 1920s, then went into coaching. He’d been a not particularly successful manager never finishing higher than sixth when, in 1956, he took over the Milwaukee team. He led them to second place and broke through the next year  with 95 wins. The Braves led the NL in runs, triples, home runs, total bases, and slugging. They were second in hits, average, and OPS; third in OBP. In an eight team league they were next to last in stolen bases. The staff gave up the least home runs in the league while finishing second in hits and ERA. They were second in run scarcity, but they were next to last in walks.

The Braves infield changed during the season. The most important change was the addition of second base Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst from the Giants. He solidified the middle of the infield, added veteran leadership to the team, and gave Milwaukee a top part of the order hitter (he did a lot of leading off). He hit .310 with an OBP of .348, tops behind the big power hitters. His 3.9 WAR was fourth among everyday players. Johnny Logan was his middle infield mate. Logan hit .273 with 10 home runs and 135 hits. He was a competent shortstop whose 4.1 WAR was third among the hitters. Second among the hitters at 7.4 WAR was Hall of Fame third sacker Eddie Mathews. He hit .292, had 94 RBIs, 32 home runs, 167 hits, and scored 109 runs. First base was supposed to be a platoon position with Joe Adcock being the big slugger and hitting right-handed while Frank Torre (Joe’s brother) hit lefty and was a much better fielder. The problem was that Adcock broke his leg and was reduced to playing in only 65 games. He hit .287 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs. Torre, forced to do most of the work at first hit .272, but with only five home runs and 40 RBIs in almost exactly twice as many games. The bench wasn’t particularly strong. Danny O’Connell (who Schoendienst replaced as the starter) and Felix Mantilla both hit in the .230s and had five home runs between them. At first, the Braves had Nippy Jones to replace Adcock he hit .266 and, much to the Yankees regret, had a penchant for shining his shoes.

When the season started, the outfield was supposed to be set. It turned out it wasn’t. Right field was secure in Henry Aaron. The Hall of Famer hit .322, had 44 home runs, 132 RBIs, a .600 slugging percentage, and led the team in WAR at 8.0. That earned him the National League MVP Award for 1957. The problem was the other two spots. Billy Bruton was supposed to be the regular center fielder and the leadoff man, but he banged up his knee and only got into 79 games. He still managed to lead the team with 11 stolen bases. Needing a new outfielder, the Braves shifted Aaron to center and brought up a career minor leaguer named Bob “Hurricane” Hazle. He became one of the greatest (and most famous) “90 day wonders” ever. In 41 games he hit .403 with seven home runs, 27 RBIs, 26 runs scored, 87 total bases, an OPS of 1.129, an OPS+ of 209, and 1.9 WAR (which is pretty good over only 41 games). The other problem was left field. Bobby Thomson of “The Giants Win the Pennant” fame and Andy Pafko of “The Boys of Summer” fame were sharing time. Together they had 12 home runs, 50 RBIs, and hit around .250. Haney decided to go with second year man Wes Covington to solve his left field problem. Covington responded with a .284 average, 21 home runs, 65 RBIs, and 2.6 WAR. In addition to these six, the Braves got 28 games and six RBIs out of 28-year-old Chuck Tanner. He went on to lead the “We Are Family” Pirates to the 1979 World Series as manager.

Three men did most of the catching. The regular was Del Crandall. He hit only .253, but had 15 home runs, 46 RBIs, a .718 OPS, and 1.6 WAR. The backups were Carl Sawatski and Del Rice (making the Braves probably the only team ever to have two catchers named Del–I didn’t check). Between them they equaled Crandall’s 15 home runs (with Rice having nine of the 15), but only 37 RBIs.

They caught a staff that used five men to make a four man rotation. The star and ace was all-time winningest left-hander and Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. He pitched 39 games (35 starts), went 21-11, had an ERA of 2.69, had a 1.177 WHIP, an ERA+ of 130, and 4.6 WAR. Sort of your standard every season Spahn year. Lew Burdette was the second pitcher amassing a 17-9 record with a 3.72 ERA with only 78 strikeouts. Bob Buhl was the third starter. His record was 18-7 with an ERA of 2.74 and 2.9 WAR. To cover the fourth hole the Braves used Gene Conley and Bob Trowbridge. They pitched a total of 67 games, starting 34 (about half). Conley was, at the time, about equally famous as one of the last two sport stars because he played for the Boston Celtics basketball team when not on the mound. He was 9-9 while Trowbridge was 7-5 (a combined 16-14, not an untypical record for a fourth pitcher). The Closer was Don McMahon. He was, with 47 innings over 32 games, something like a modern Closer (which wasn’t that typical in the era). His ERA was 1.54, he had 46 strikeouts in the 47 innings, and produced 1.7 WAR. Later Reds stalwart Joey Jay, at age 21, got into one game for Milwaukee. He got a save.

The Yankees may have been favored, but the Braves were a formidable team. Aaron was a rising star, Mathews already a star, and Spahn an icon. As an aside, I considered, when I was much younger, the Braves the best team up and down the roster that I ever saw (I go back to the early 1950s). Not sure that’s true any longer, but they were one of the teams that had both hitting and pitching to go along with good fielding and a bench.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

The Barber

May 20, 2013
Sal Maglie

Sal Maglie

Sal Maglie was one of the aces of the Giants teams that won a pennant in 1951 and the World Series title in 1954. His nickname was “The Barber” (a nickname he hated) because he pitched high and inside. He was a good solid pitcher who helped four teams to pennants. In other words, he was a heck of a pitcher. Unfortunately, he’s most famous today for a game he lost.

Magile was born in Niagara Falls (the town, not the falls, obviously) in 1917. He’s another of that generation of players who were first generation Americans (his family coming from Italy). Maglie loved baseball, his parents were certain it was ruining his life. Apparently that was a fairly common problem in the period. In researching a lot of different players, I’ve found an inordinate number had immigrant parents who were entirely buffaloed by their son’s desire to play ball and the country’s willingness to pay the kid to do so.

Maglie played semipro ball while working in a factory in Buffalo. He was good enough that the Double A Bisons picked him up. He was raw and ended up in Class D. Desperate for talent in 1942, the Giants picked him up for their Jersey City farm team. He stayed one year, then left to work in a defense plant. In 1945, the Giants enticed him back to baseball. By the end of the season he was in the Majors going 5-4 with an ERA of 2.35 and a 1.115 WHIP. He was 28 and had finally made it.

In 1946 the Mexican League, under new management, began luring big leaguers to Mexico with big salaries. Maglie, who was playing in the Cuban League (under ex-Giants pitcher Dolf Luque), took one of the contracts. Major League baseball was appalled. Commissioner “Happy” Chandler announced a five-year ban on players who jumped to the Mexican League. That included Maglie. He pitched two seasons at Puebla, establishing himself as a quality pitcher. But the Mexican League was in trouble. The big salaries didn’t translate to big attendance and the league began faltering. Maglie jumped ship in 1948 joining a barnstorming team that folded at the end of the season. He bought a gas station in Niagara Falls, then got a call to join a minor league team in Canada. He pitched in Canada in 1949, leading his team to its league championship. At the end of the 1949 season, Chandler lifted the ban on the Mexican League refugees (it lasted four of the five years) and Maglie rejoined the Giants.

Maglie, now 33, was a hit. He won the ERA title (and the ERA+ crown) in 1950, had his career year in 1951 with a league leading 23 wins, and led the Giants to a three game playoff with the Dodgers. He pitched eight innings of game three, the Bobby Thomson “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” game, but took a no decision. The Giants victory took them to the World Series. They lost to the Yankees, Maglie pitching one game, lasting five innings, and getting clobbered (he gave up four runs in five innings in game three).  He had a good year in 1952, not such a good year in 1953 (he was having back problems), and opened 1954 as the Giants three pitcher (behind Johnny Antonelli and Ruben Gomez). He went 14-6, struck out 117 batters, but allowed more hits than he had innings pitched. The Giants were again in the World Series and Maglie drew game one. Again he picked up a no decision in the game made famous by Willie Mays’ catch and Dusty Rhodes’ homer. The Giants swept the Series with Maglie not taking the mound after game one.

Despite a good start in 1955, Maglie was traded to Cleveland. After two games in Cleveland in 1956, the Indians sold him to Brooklyn. The Dodgers, needing pitching, returned Maglie to a starting role (he’d mostly relieved in Cleveland) and he went 13-5 with a 2.87 ERA and a league leading 139 ERA+. He pitched his only no-hitter in 1956 and pitched the pennant clinching game for Brooklyn.  That meant the Dodgers would play in their second consecutive World Series, squaring off against the Yankees. Maglie pitched and won the first game of the Series (beating Whitey Ford), then drew game five in Yankee Stadium. It was his most famous game. He was great, giving up only two runs and five hits while striking out five. The problem was that Yankees starter Don Larsen threw the World Series’ only perfect game that day.

Maglie began 1957 with the Dodgers, went 6-6, and was sent across the city to the Bronx. He was 2-0 for the Yankees as they made another World Series. He didn’t pitch in the Series (which New York lost to Milwaukee in seven games).  In 1958 he was 41 and done. He pitched a few games for New York, then ended the season for the Cardinals. They released him before the 1959 season. He’d played parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, becoming the last man to wear the uniform of all three New York teams (this doesn’t count anyone who played for all three teams once the Dodgers and Giants moved to California).

He coached one year in the Cards minor league system, then became Red Sox pitching coach in 1961 and 1962. He was out of baseball in 1963, ’64, and ’65. He spent part of 1965 with the New York Athletic Commission, but most of his time was taken nursing his dying wife (she had cancer). He returned to baseball as pitching coach of the 1966-67 Red Sox, including the “Impossible Dream” team that lost the 1967 World Series. He was fired at the end of the Series (he and manager Dick Williams didn’t get along). He spent time after 1967 as a pitching coach for the Pilots (now the Brewers), general manager for the Niagara Falls minor league team, ran a liquor distributorship, and was a coordinator for the Niagara Falls Convention Bureau. He retired in 1979 and died in December 1992.

For his Major League career “The Barber” was 119-62, had an ERA of 3.15 (ERA+ of 127), 25 shutouts, 562 walks, and 862 strikeouts in 1723 innings pitched (a WHIP of 1.250). He was a member of four pennant winning teams and one World Series champion (1954). In postseason play he was 1-2 with a 3.41 ERA, 20 strikeouts and a 1.345 ERA. All this with four years lost to the Mexican League.

It’s useless to speculated how much Maglie lost because of the Mexican League fiasco. We can never know. He didn’t make the big leagues until he was 28 and didn’t become a regular until he was 33. It was not in the cards that he would join the Hall of Fame. But he was considered one of the better “money” pitchers of his era, especially in the regular season. Not a bad legacy for a man who hated what is one of the better nicknames of all time.

Maglie's final resting place

Maglie’s final resting place

From New York to Frisco

October 23, 2012

Giants Logo

So it’s the Giants, is it? They’ve had a long and distinguished history. Interestingly enough they’ve never played Detroit in the postseason. Of all the original American League teams from 1901 the Giants have played each except for Detroit and the team now in Baltimore (via Milwaukee and St. Louis). How have they done?

Frankly, the Giants have, as a rule, been a disappointment in postseason play (I reference here only the 20th and 21st Century teams, not the successful 19th Century team.). In 1904 they won a pennant then refused to play Boston in the World Series. In 1905, under great public pressure, they changed their mind and bested Philadelphia in five games. It was their last win until the 1920s. They made the World Series each year from 1911 through 1913 and proceeded to lose all three. They lost again in 1917, going 0 for 4 for the teens.

They did better in the 1920s. From 1921 through 1924 they won consecutive National League pennants. In World Series play they beat the Yankees in the first two “Subway Series” in 1921 and 1922. Then they lost to the Yanks in 1923 and to Walter Johnson and the Senators in 1924. That was it for John McGraw’s tenure as manager.

In the 1930s they got back to the World Series on three occasions: 1933, 1936, and 1937. They won the first (against Washington), then dropped two Subway Series to Lou Gehrig’s Yankees.  For the 1940s they did nothing. The decade was doubly painful because they saw their status as New York’s premier NL team be eclipsed by the Dodgers.

In 1951 they won the most famous of all playoff games and finally got back to the World Series. I’ve always been amazed at the number of people who think that either Bobby Thomson’s home run won the World Series, or that the Giants went on to coast to a World Series victory. They didn’t as the Giants hashed the Series in six games. They were back again in 1954 when they pulled off one of the great upsets ever by knocking off the 111 game winning Indians in four games.

And that was it for the New York version of the Giants. In 1958 they headed for San Francisco. They won the pennant in 1962 and faced the Yankees in a “Jetliner Series”. They lost in seven games on a smoking line drive by Willie McCovey that Bobby Richardson speared (The ball was hit so hard I always wondered if it dislocated Richardson’s shoulder). And then they went into hibernation. For the rest of the 1960s, most of the 1970s (one playoff appearance that they lost), and the 1980s they were dismal. In 1989 they made a second San Francisco World Series losing the “Bay Area Classic” to Oakland in four games (interrupted by an earthquake).

Then it was back to the boondocks until 2002. They won the NL pennant that year, had the Angels on the ropes in game six of the World Series, and managed to hash another playoff run. That finally changed in 2010 when they blew Texas out of the Series and claimed their first championship in San Francisco.

So it’s a very mixed bag if you’re a Giants fan. You lose more than you win, but your wins are as glorious as they are for any other team. And like Detroit, you can put together a heck of a team. Here’s a sample of what they Giants could put in the field over the years: an oufield of Mel Ott, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds (before his head got big); an infield of Willie McCovey, Frankie Frisch, Al Dark, and Matt Williams; and Roger Bresnahan behind the plate. And the pitching? Try this staff without leaving the letter “M”: Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Rube Marquard, Sal Maglie, Juan Marichal. And of course that leaves out Carl Hubbell and company. They’ve even got a great pair of managers in John McGraw and Leo Durocher. Not bad, right?

So good luck to the Giants (You have any idea how hard that is for a Dodgers fan to type?). Win or lose I hope they play well. Most importantly, I hope it’s a great Series.