Posts Tagged ‘Boston Braves’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Rabbit Maranville

October 27, 2014
Rabbit Maranville

Rabbit Maranville

1. Walter James Vincent Maranville was born in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts (home to the basketball Hall of Fame).

2. He worked as a pipe fitter and played semi-pro ball before signing with New Bedford of the New England League in 1911. He got his nickname there in 1912 because people thought he hopped around like a rabbit while playing short.

3. He was signed by the Boston Braves in late 1912 and made 11 errors in 26 games while hitting .206.

4. By 1914 he was hitting clean up (until Possum Whitted showed up at mid-season). He hit .246 with four home runs and 28 stolen bases. He drove in 78 runs (a team and career high) and finished the season hitting seventh in the lineup. Boston won the 1914 World Series with Maranville hitting .308 with an OPS of .708. He finished second in the Chalmers Award (an early version of the MVP Award) voting in 1914.

5. During World War I he served as a gunner on the battleship USS Pennsylvania.

6. In 1921 he was traded to Pittsburgh, where he played through 1924, finished seventh in MVP voting in ’24. He was promptly traded to Chicago.

7. He was with St. Louis when they made the 1928 World Series. He hit .240 in the regular season, but .308 in the World Series. The Cardinals were swept.

8. He went back to Boston in 1929, remaining there through 1933.

9. In spring training 1934 he broke his foot sliding into home. He was out all of the ’34 season, then failed in a 1935 comeback (He hit .149 in 23 games).

10. In retirement, he managed a little, then caught on as director of a sandbox baseball school for one of the New York City newspapers. Among the players he taught was Whitey Ford.

11. He died in January 1954 and was elected to the Hall of Fame shortly afterward. Many people still contend it was a sympathy and tribute vote.

12. For his career Maranville has a triple slash line of .258/.318/.340/.658 with an OPS+ of 82.  His OPS+ peaks at 114 in 1919 (in a season in which he plays more than 11 games). His Baseball offensive WAR is 29.5 and his defensive WAR is 30.7.  He was considered a superior shortstop in his era and did extraordinarily well in MVP voting for a guy who never hit above .284 in years when an MVP was awarded.

Maranville,s grave

Maranville’s grave




“What’s in a Name?”…

October 11, 2013

…William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2)

All the fuss about the Washington football team name “Redskins” is beginning to dominate the American sporting world. I guess it’s fair to question the validity of the name. It’s a football problem; but baseball has its own problem with team names that offend some people. I mean “Indians” and “Braves.”

Before getting there, a note about my terminology. I don’t use “Native American” to describe the guys who had feathers in their hair at Little Big Horn. Heck, guys, I’m a native American, born in Brooklyn, raised in Oklahoma and Texas. I can trace one relative back to 1609. Try getting much more “native” than all that. And I don’t have “Native American” or “Indian” blood in me (at least I don’t think so). Therefore I don’t like using the term to describe one group of “Natives” while ignoring another group of “Natives.” Indians is just incorrect, although I grew up using it (as in playing Cowboys and Indians). I know a number of people who are “Native American” and not a one uses either “Native American” or “Indian” to describe themselves. They use their tribal name. “Hi, there, I’m Frank and I’m Houma (or Apache, or Navajo, or Cherokee, or…pick a tribe).” You see, all the “Native Americans” I know consider themselves members of a particular tribe and are proud of same. So I use “Tribal American” to describe them generically. I don’t expect anyone else to do so, but I do and that’s what you’ll find in this post. Got all that?

First, the Braves. The name comes from way back when the team was in Boston. They’ve been called a lot of things, Red Stockings, Beaneaters, Doves, Bees, Braves (and a few other things by irate Yankees fans). A key to the names is that many of them start with a “B”, giving you Boston Beaneaters, Boston Bees, Boston Braves. It’s a nice bit of alliteration and apparently that was what it was meant to be all along. Braves was a militant sounding “b” word and that worked in Boston. But when you move to Milwaukee and then Atlanta, the “B” alliteration goes by the way. So the original basis for the name has “gone with the wind” (just for Atlanta).

But there’s a problem with the attack on “Braves.” It’s not just Tribal American types who can be brave (besides Brave being an English word and never something any tribe would have called its members). Firemen are brave, soldiers are brave, cops are brave, heck pilots can be brave. So in many ways the problem isn’t the word, it’s the symbols that go with it, the tomahawk and the “tomahawk chop”. You know, if they took the tomahawk off the uniform and inserted a firefighters helmet or a police badge you’d still have “Braves” without an overt symbol of tribal Americanism. The chop on the other hand is something that has to be stopped by fans, not just management. In fact, the quicker they stop the chop the better. I think it’s the most annoying chant in American sports.

Indians is an entirely different issue. According to the story (at least the one I heard), when they decided to put a new team in Cleveland no one wanted to use the old National League name “Spiders” because it was associated with losing, especially the 1899 disaster. So a new name was needed. Someone suggested (apparently in 1901) they name the new team for the Spiders best ever player, Lou Sockalexis. Turns out Sockalexis was a Penobscot  and no one thought the Cleveland Sockalexi or the Cleveland Penobscots would work, so Cleveland Indians was born. OK, maybe. But there are a couple of problems with that. First, Sockalexis only played two years with the Spiders, one good and one awful (he apparently had the stereotypical “drunken Indian” problem) and everyone knew that their early 1890s pitcher, guy named Cy Young, was better. And of course the main problem is that Cleveland joined the American League in 1901 as the Blues, went to Broncos, then to Naps (for manager and best player Napoleon LaJoie) before becoming the Indians in 1915. It seems to have taken a long time to decide that Sockalexis was the best ever Cleveland player. And of course this shoots down the idea that they decided early to go with Indians, making the “no one wanted to use the old name and Sockalexis was immediately brought up” theory ridiculous. If you’re going to name the team after your best player I suggest you should stay with Naps, Cleveland.

Another problem at Cleveland is the logo. It’s ugly, cartoonish, clownish, and frankly if I were a Tribal American I’d be offended. So it needs to go, without reference to the name. But the name is still the major problem. What do you change it to? I dunno. The original Cleveland entry in the old National Association was the Forest City (don’t guess there’s much forest around Cleveland now). The Negro League team was the Buckeyes. There’s Lake Erie for Cleveland Eries. Heck, name it the Fire Rivers for the Cuyahoga fire disaster. My personal choice would be Buckeyes, but I wouldn’t be upset with another name.

I guess all this means I favor leaving Braves alone (but dumping the tomahawk) and getting rid of Indians. I’d be interested to know what Cleveland and Atlanta fans think of this entire mess. On the other hand, I think baseball has a lot bigger problems to deal with than team nicknames. So if they do change the name in Cleveland to Fire Rivers (or River Fires), remember, you heard it here first.

“Outrun the Word of God”

February 14, 2013
Sam Jethroe playing for the Braves

Sam Jethroe playing for the Braves

A lot of players who first integrated Major League Baseball teams are famous only for that. Some go on to glory, some into obscurity. Some, like Sam Jethroe make their mark both on the field and later in life and change baseball’s financial system in doing so.

Sam Jethroe was born in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1918. He was a star at his local (segregated) high school, excelling in baseball and football. After graduating he played semi-pro ball locally, getting a 1938 cup of coffee with the Indianapolis ABC’s. In 1942 he made it to the Cincinnati Buckeyes as a switch-hitting, speedy, weak armed outfielder who could, in the words of one contemporary, “outrun the word of God.” In 1943, the Buckeyes moved to Cleveland, where they remained for the remainder of Jethroe’s Negro League career.

The Buckeyes were never one of the strongest Negro American League. Jethroe was one of the players who changed that. In 1942 Jethroe made his first East-West Game. He won batting titles in 1944 and 1945, pairing both titles with the league lead in stolen bases and in hits, all while tending bar in the off-season. The 1945 Buckeyes won the NAL pennant, then swept Homestead in the Negro World Series. They picked up another pennant in 1947, Jethroe’s last full season with the Buckeyes, but lost the Negro World Series to the Cubans.

For Jethroe, 1948 was a watershed season. While still playing a few games with Cleveland, he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He spent most of the season at Montreal, and followed 1948 up with another year in Canada. He had OPS ratings of .858 and .923 his two years in Montreal, and stole 89 bases in 1949. He couldn’t make it to Brooklyn despite those numbers. He played center field and the Dodgers had just brought up Duke Snider. Why they didn’t make Jethroe the fourth outfielder I don’t know. Whatever the reason, he found himself traded to the Boston Braves (now the team in Atlanta) for a couple of nobodies.

In 1950 he made the Major Leagues as the Braves first black player. He was terrific. He hit .273, had an OBP of .338, led the National League with 35 stolen bases, but struck out about twice as often as he walked. His reward was the 1950 National League Rookie of the Year award (the second black player, after Jackie Robinson, to win one). He was good again in 1951 raising his batting average five points and duplicating the 35 steals to again lead the NL. He was also 34. He began slipping in 1952 and found himself back in the minors in 1953. He had a two game shot with Pittsburgh in 1954, then went back to the minors to stay. He remained in the minors through 1958 playing mostly with Toronto.

As with all Negro League players, his Negro League stats are incomplete. What we have shows 219 at bats. In those at bats he had a triple slash line of .283/.323/.406. He had 62 hits, two home runs, and nine steals. Considering his stolen base propensity in the Major Leagues, obviously a lot of stats are missing.

His Major League numbers show a triple slash line of .261/.337/.418 for an OPS of 755 (OPS+ of 107). He had 737 total bases over 460 total hits with 80 doubles, 25 triples, and 49 home runs. He scored 280 runs, had 181 RBIs, and stole 98 stolen bases. He was also 33 when he arrived in Boston..

After retirement, Jethroe worked in an Erie, Pennsylvania factory, opened a bar, and complained  about not getting a pension. Pension rights were based on Major League service and because Negro League players were excluded from the Majors, few of them were eligible for one. Jethroe, in 1991, sued the Major Leagues demanding a pension. He lost the case, but in what may be his most important achievement in baseball, got the attention of Major League leadership. It took until 1997, but Negro League players not otherwise eligible for a pension were granted stipends. Jethroe received a pension until his death in 2001.

Sam Jethroe is not in the Hall of Fame and probably shouldn’t be. He is, however, very important. Mostly he is known for integrating the Braves, but he is also important as the second black player, and the first to spend significant time in the Negro Leagues, to win the Rookie of the Year award (Jackie Robinson spent only one year in the Negro Leagues). But equally important is his stand for compensation for Negro Leaguers who were unable to play in the Major Leagues simply because of their tan. Getting these men a pension, even a small one, was of significance and for that alone Jethroe should be remembered.

Tom, Dick, and Larry: Dick

May 25, 2010

Dick Rudolph

When I’ve been doing these short comments on Deadball Era players, I’ve almost always chosen position players. Today I want to change that and look at a pitcher. I’ve chosen Dick Rudolph.

 Rudolph came out of New York City via Fordham University to a minor league career in New England and Canada. He got a cup of coffee with the Giants in 1910 and 11, did poorly, and went back to the minors. The Braves brought him to Boston in 1913. He was  a “junk ball” pitcher with a good curve, but not much of a fastball. As is usual for these kinds of pitchers, he got by on location and the curve. He was 14-13 in 1913, then became the ace of the Braves staff in 1914, going 26-10. That was the year of the “Miracle Braves.” In last place in July, they came to life and rolled to a pennant, then crushed the world champion Philadelphia Athletics in four straight games in the World Series. Rudolph being the winning pitcher in both games one and four.

After that, he had two more good years going 22-19 in 1915 and 19-12 in 1916. It was his last year with a winning record. In 1918 he developed soreness in his arm. His ERA’s remained good through 1919 and part of his record is a reflection of the declining quality of the team. By 1921 he became a coach who pitched occasionally (8 games over 7 years). He did some work in the minors as an owner, then became the supervisor for the concessionaire at both the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. He died in 1949.

For his career, Rudolph was 121-109 (.526 winning percentage) over 279 games (almost all starts). He had more innings pitched than hits and struck out about twice as many men as he walked. His career ERA was 2.66. Then there are the two World Series wins. His postseason ERA was 0.50 wth 15 strikeouts in 18 innings. He also went 2 for 6 as a hitter and scored a run in the Series.

Rudolph is a good example of a fairly common type of pitcher. They go back all the way to the beginning of the Major Leagues and continue today. It’s the pitcher who has a short, but productive, few years then sees his career collapse for whatever reason, usually an injury.  This type still flourishes today, note Mark Prior as an example. Rudolph is one of those that managed to parlay his short period of excellence into a championship.

Boston Marathon

February 25, 2010

The longest game in Major League Baseball history, in terms of innings is 26. It occurred on the 1st of May 1920. The kicker? Well, both pitchers hurled complete games.

The Boston Braves squared off against the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) on 1 May 1920. They sent 28 year old righthander Joe Osescher to the mound against Brooklyn’s 29 year old righty Leon Cadore. The game remained scoreless into the 5th inning when Robins catcher Ernie Krueger singled. Two batters later, second baseman Ivy Olsen singled driving home Krueger with the Robins’ run. In the bottom of the 6th right fielder Walt Cruise tripled and came home on an RBI single by third baseman Tony Boeckel. The score was tied. It remained that way for the rest of the day. For 20 innings the two pitchers managed to throw shut out baseball. There were baserunners all over the place, the Robins leaving 11 men on base and the Braves leaving 19, but nobody scored after the bottom of the 6th. It was the era before lights in stadiums, so finally after three hours and 50 minutes, 26 innings, and 25 hits the umpire called the game on account of darkness. It ended a 1-1 tie. For the game Oeschger had ptiched 26 innings, given up one earned run, 10 hits, three walks, and four strike outs . Cadore’s line read 26 innings, one earned run, 15 hits, five walks, eight strikeouts, and the Major League Baseball record of facing 96 batters in a single game.

Among the batters there were some awful box score numbers. Robins shortstop Chuck Ward went 0 for 10, as did Cadore. Braves second baseman Charlie Pick had an even worse day. He was 0 for 11 with two errors. There are slumps that have better numbers.

For the season Oeschger went 15-13 for the Braves who finished 7th in an eight team league, 30 games out of first. The Robins won the pennant (and lost the World Series to Cleveland 5 games to 2 in a best of nine series) with Cadore posting 15 wins and 14 losses. In the series he pitched in two games, taking the loss in game five.

Oeschger pitched until 1925, ironically finishing his career with Brooklyn. He was 82-116 for the career with an ERA of 3.81. walking 651 and striking out 535. He died in 1986.

Cadore pitched into 1924 winning 68 and losing 72. His ERA was 3.14 and he had 289 walks with 445 strikeouts. He died in 1958.

For the year of 1920 Oeschger pitched 299 innings. Cadore in 1920 managed 254 innings pitched. For both, 26 came on the same day. That’s 9.7% of Oeschger’s innings and 10.2 % of Cadore’s. No one, pitching more than a handful of innings, has ever topped that total for a single game. My guess is that no one ever will.

Thanks, King

February 22, 2010

All the way back in 1950, there was a poll that decided the greatest American athlete of the first half of the 20th Century. The big winner was Jim Thorpe. He enters baseball twice, and thus is fodder for me.

Thorpe came out of Oklahoma first achieving fame as a footlball star at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. He also starred at track and field, being half of a two man team one year. There wasn’t a lot of money to be had running college track or playing college football, so Thorpe began playing semi-professional baseball during the summer. He was OK, but it wasn’t his best sport.

In 1912 he entered the Olympics, held in Stockholm, Sweden, winning both the decathlon and the pentathlon gold medals. Those medals were handed to him by the King of Sweden who remarked “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” Thorpe’s deathless reply was “Thanks, King.” It wasn’t long before Thorpe’s semi-pro baseball career came to the attention of the Olympic committee and he lost both medals because of professionalism (The medals were returned to his family in the 1990s).

In 1913, Thorpe joined the New York Giants as an outfielder. He hit a buck 43 over 19 games with two stolen bases. He stayed with the Giants through 1915 hitting .195 with seven stolen bases in 66 games, 28 in the field (all outfield). He sat out 1916, began 1917 at Cincinnati, did reasonably well (.237 average, 12 stolen bases, 36 RBIs), then was traded back to the Giants. He got into the 1917 World Series, playing one game in the outfield without getting to the plate. The Giants lost the Series. His 1918 was much like his 1917 year, hitting .248 with 11 RBIs in 58 games. He started 1919 at New York and ended up with the Boston Braves, finally hitting over .300 (.327) and having 25 RBIs. It was his final season. For a career he hit .252 with 82 RBIs, 29 stolen bases, and 91 runs in 289 games.

After leaving baseball, Thorpe spent time as President of the newly founded National Football League and played a few games for the Canton Bulldogs. He made the NFL Hall of Fame in 1963. His baseball career was certainly well short of Cooperstown. He died in 1953 in California. He was buried in Pennsylvania in a town that agreed to change its name to Jim Thorpe. In the ESPN poll to determine the greatest athlete of the entire 20th Century, Thorpe, dead for almost 50 years, still finished in the top five.