Posts Tagged ‘Carl Yastrzemski’

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 Bosox

January 3, 2017
Dick Williams

Dick Williams

Fifty years ago (1967) the world was a lot different. I was in Viet Nam doing my bit. The anti-war people were screaming. Martin Luther King was still alive. The big hit on Broadway was a musical titled Man of La Mancha. It’s most famous song was “The Quest” which was better known as “The Impossible Dream.” And in baseball the Boston Red Sox were an afterthought. That changed when they ran off enough wins to grab the American League pennant and go to the World Series for the first time since 1946. The team caught the imagination of a lot of people and the season became known as “The Impossible Dream” season.

The Bosox were led by Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams. He hadn’t been much of a player, but he had an eye for talent and led Boston to only its second pennant since Babe Ruth played for the team in 1918. The Sox hitters led the American League in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, home runs, total bases, slugging and OPS. They were third in stolen bases (all of 68), fourth in triples, and toward the bottom in fielding. Their pitchers were less impressive, finishing in the middle of the pack in most categories.

The infield consisted of four players averaging 24 years old. George Scott held down first. He had 19 home runs (third on the team) and 82 RBIs (good for second). Mike Andrews, who’d become famous (or infamous depending on your view of the matter) with the Athletics hit .263 with 2.9 WAR and was a decent second baseman. Rico Petrocelli, who in many ways became the face of the infield (he got a lot more press than the other three) played short, hit 17 home runs, had 4.1 WAR, and made the All Star team. Joe Foy was at third with 16 home runs, but only 2.6 WAR. Dalton Jones and Jerry Adair were the primary infield backups. Both hit about .290 with three homers apiece and 51 total RBIs.

Although the outfield was set at the beginning of the season, tragedy caused a major problem for the Red Sox as the season progressed. Tony Conigliaro was 22 and having a great year. He had 20 home runs, 67 RBIs, was hitting .287, with 3.7 WAR when he was hit in the eye with a pitched ball. Needing a replacement, Boston went with Jose Tartabull. “The Bull” hit only .223 with no power, only 53 OPS+, six stolen bases, and -1.8 WAR. It was a noticeable drop off. Fortunately for the team, the other two outfielders were much better. Reggie Smith played center and led the team with 16 stolen bases. He hit .246 but had 15 home runs and 61 RBIs for 3.4 WAR. But the star was Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. It was his Triple Crown year. He hit .326, had 44 homers, 121 RBIs, a 1.040 OPS (193 OPS+), and 12.4 WAR. For comparison, Ted Williams highest WAR was 10.9 in 1946. All that garnered Yaz the AL MVP Award. Later famed announcer Ken Harrelson and old-time Dodgers player Don Demeter were the other outfielders.

If both the infield and outfield were settled, the catching situation was a mess. Mike Ryan did more catching than anyone else in Boston in 1967 and he was above league average in the caught stealing statistic, but he hit only a buck .99 with no power and -0.6 WAR. Russ Gibson wasn’t much better. He was, like Ryan, above average in gunning down base runners, but he hit only .203 with a single home run. The solution was to bring in 38 year old Elston Howard from New York. Unfortunately for the Bosox, Howard was through. He hit .147 with 11 RBIs, a below average caught stealing percentage, and -0.8 WAR. For the World Series, Howard would be the primary backstop.

The pitching staff was also unsettled. Jim Lonborg was the unquestioned ace. He went 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA (ERA+ of 112), 246 strikeouts to go with 83 walks (a 1.138 WHIP), and 4.1 WAR. For the first time, MLB gave out two Cy Young Awards, one in each league (previously there had been a single award). Lonborg won it. Lee Stange and Gary Bell were the other pitchers who started 20 or more games. Stange was 8-10 with a 2.77 ERA while Bell went 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA. The fourth starter (in an era where most teams started four, not five pitchers) was almost as unsettled as the catcher. Bucky Brandon, Dennis Bennett, and Jose Santiago all started double figure games, with Santiago going 12-4 in fifty games (11 starts) to take the fourth spot in the Series. John Wyatt led the team in saves with 20, but 11 other players had at least one save.

It had been 30 years since Boston won the AL pennant. The “Impossible Dream” team of 1967 was an unexpected winner. They were something of a sentimental favorite nationwide. Standing in their way were the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson.

 

 

 

 

The Catcher Question

October 27, 2016
Buck Ewing's Hall of Fame plaque

Buck Ewing’s Hall of Fame plaque

Recently somebody asked me who I thought were the greatest catchers ever. I made the appropriate reply, “Got me.” I think that rating catchers is the hardest rating job in baseball (well, maybe pitchers). The position is so different and so many factors that don’t weigh on other positions come into play that I don’t think any of us have yet come up with a definitive set of statistical information to answer that simple question.

There are a lot of reasons this is true. Let me give you one quick example: Buck Ewing. How good was he? It is evident from the information we have that he was a great, great player. But he was a great, great player in a game that was different from the modern game. Ewing’s career spans the 1880s and 1890s and for almost all the 1880s and the first part of the 1890s pitchers were restricted on how they could throw, and however they threw, they didn’t do it from a mound 60″6′ away from a home plate that was shaped differently than the modern one. Also, Ewing is a catcher. And that really does matter. “The tools of ignorance” are still evolving today and in the 1880s were in their infant stage. His glove might have kept his hand warm in winter, but wasn’t going to do much else. There was some padding, but not much. According to SABR, the catcher’s mask was an Ivy League invention of the mid 1870s and was essentially an adaption of the fencing mask. The chest protector comes in the early 1880s and is sometimes credited to Deacon White (again according to SABR). Flimsy is the operative word here. So how good was Buck Ewing at doing his fielding job? Well, the numbers show him not bad for 1880, but simply lousy for today. And part of that has to do with the equipment he’s using. And that’s a major problem with comparing catchers. The equipment today is just better.

We also have to deal with a factor of American history: segregation. By general consensus the best Negro League catchers were (alphabetically) Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey, and Louis Santop. How good were they? Again, “Got me.” I have some records available, but they are spotty and almost all of them are hitting, not fielding records. At the current stage of our knowledge we can determine that the Negro League catchers were good, but exactly how good is still a question.

And for course for catchers, fielding matters. Most people who saw both Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski play will tell you that Yaz was the better fielder. And nobody cares. If you hit like Williams no one cares if you can catch, they’ll find a place to play you (Hello, Harmon Killebrew). Greg Maddux was a superior fielding catcher and no one ever said that about Randy Johnson. Why? Because deep down inside no one cared. Maddux was there to pitch and if he could field well then that was gravy. Johnson had less gravy but did his main job more or less as well and that’s what mattered. It doesn’t work that way with catchers (and shortstops). You have to be able to field your position and with all the work that SABR and Bill James and the various stat guys have done, fielding stats are still a work in progress, and catching stats are less far along than other positions (probably because there are so many more to consider).

Until these problems are solved answering the “greatest catcher” question is at best a crap shoot, although by now we can call it a more “educated” chap shoot than it used to be when I was a kid. I am comfortable in saying that almost all the “greatest” catchers played since World War II (with possible exceptions like Ewing, Gabby Hartnett, and the 3 Negro Leaguers I mentioned above). Beyond that I’m shooting craps with everyone else.

The 50 Greatest Red Sox

April 20, 2012

The Birthday Boy

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, ESPN Boston just released its list of the 50 Greatest Red Sox. It’s an interesting list and frankly not a bad one, although I would disagree with some of the selections. Here’s a list of their top 10 in order: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Tris Speaker, Pedro Martinez, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, and Bobby Doerr. Before you ask, Jim Rice is 11th.

Again, not a bad list but I wonder how much Clemens rancorous departure and the subsequent steroid controversy contributed to his rank below both Martinez and Young. I’m a little surprised Grove is a top 10 over Wade Boggs or Rice, but why not. You got to admit, that’s one heck of an outfield, isn’t it?

In case you’re interested it takes all the way to 30th to get a full team. According to this listing, the best Red Sox team is:

Infield: Foxx, Doerr, Joe Cronin (18th), and Wade Boggs (13th)

Outfield: Williams, Yastrzemski, Speaker

Catcher: Carlton Fisk (14th)

DH: Rice (11th and the first position player who would not have a regular spot in the field, hence he’s the DH)

Left Handed Starters: Ruth and Grove

Right Handed Starters: Martinez, Young, and Clemens

Closer: Dick Radatz (30th)

Agree? Disagree? Fine, but compliment or complain to ESPN: Boston, it’s their list.

Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car

October 25, 2010

Viet Nam Military Payment Certificate (MPC), 1967

I got “in-country” Viet Nam in very late September 1967. That’s the way we described Viet Nam. When you were there, you were “in-country.” Everywhere else was “the world.” I recognize the built in bias of that statement, but that’s the way we looked at it then.  When you talked about going anywhere else, you talked about going back to “the world.” R and R (Rest and Recreation, a five day break from the war in some nearby place–in my case Bangkok) was in “the world.” Going home was back to “the world.” But even when you were “in-country” who were never far away from American sports (which were happening back in “the world”). October was the World Series and I was “in-country” with a bunch of other baseball fans.

This was the year of the Boston “Impossible Dream” Red Sox. For the first time since 1946, the BoSox were pennant winners and had home field in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. For some reason that I never quite understood, most of the guys I knew were Red Sox supporters. That’s to say they were rooting for the Sox, not that they were lifelong fans. Only one guy was from New England and a  lifelong fan. The rest were from all over the country and were fans of various teams. But for some reason most of them were pulling for Boston.

Now I grew up in  a home where Stan Musial was something just short of God himself (and the order of precedence got kind of fuzzy sometimes), so I was inclined to root for the Cardinals, and might have been read out of the family if I hadn’t. I’m  a Dodgers fan, but the Cards were my  second choice (as, apparently, Boston was most everyone else’s second choice). So I found myself in a minority around a bunch of  Boston rooters.

I kept telling them Bob Gibson wasn’t going to let Boston win. Their response was that Carl Yastrzemski would crush Gibson and that Boston would win in five. It was almost always five because everyone accepted that Gibson would probably win one. I kept disagreeing, which led finally to that classic American sports rejoiner, “Wanna bet?” Well, it was Viet Nam, there weren’t a lot of places to spend your money  and the money looked funny (MPC replaced dollars “in-country”), and I had some that I’d brought with me, so the answer was “sure.” I ended up putting up about $100 at 2-1 with a number of guys, then went out and agonized every time Boston won a game. I was wrong about Yaz, he hit Gibson and everybody else well. But I was right about Gibson. He won three games, including game 7 (hitting a home run in the process) and the Cards won the World Series. It seems Boston’s “Impossible Dream” really was impossible.

We met the next day at the enlisted club. Being basically honest types, everybody paid up, so I bought a round for all the losers. I sent almost all the rest of the money home and it made a nice start on the purchase of a used car when I got back to “the world.” For years I called the car “Gibby.” Damned thing ran pretty well.

My First Big League Game

October 20, 2010

Fenway Park

I grew up in two small towns far from the meccas of Major League Baseball. So I never saw a game in person until I joined the army in 1967. I spent a couple of months in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (“Fort Lost in the Wood, Misery” to all of us trainees). Then I went to Massachusetts for specialized training. It was there that I finally had time and money to attend my first big league game.

It was about an hour bus ride into Boston from the post.It wasn’t all that far, but the traffic made it take an hour. Then you could get the subway out to Fenway Park to catch a game. They had a special ticket booth where you could go if you were in uniform. The tickets there were 50 cents a pop for unassigned seats in the bleachers. A buddy who’d done it before went with us (there were four of  us) and showed us the ropes, including the little detail that if you stood up in the mezzanine for the first inning you could find out where the empty seats were and get a better view of the game than you got from the bleachers. The game was a double-header and in those days you got both ends for one ticket, so we had to get up between games and lounge around until the second inning started to make sure the same seats weren’t being used for game two. On this day they weren’t.

They say the experience is unique. The sights, the sounds, the smells are all special. Well, frankly I don’t remember any smells. I think we had a hot dog and a beer, or maybe it was a soda, but I don’t remember the smell of the hot dog or the wood on the seats. The sights and sounds? Well, that’s different.

Let me say here that I’ve never been a Boston fan. As a Dodgers fan you hate the Yankees, so that should make you at least somewhat partial to the Red Sox, right? Didn’t work with me. Didn’t care for the BoSox either. All that means that Fenway Park held no special place in my Southwestern US heart. The field was nice. I was stunned by how big the outfield actually was. Outfields to me were from the school yards or Little League or the Junior High fields where I played, or at most the High School diamond. This outfield was massive. It seemed to go on forever until it hit that stupid wall in left field. The “Green Monster” struck me as an eyesore. I’d never  seen it in color before (black and white TV) and so although I knew it was “Green”, I’d never actually contemplated what that meant. It was quirky, but ugly. The stands were old, the sight lines OK from where we sat, the seats creaked. At my age I understand creaking a bit better than I did then. All in all the place was OK, but you could tell there were problems.

The games, however, were different. The Sox were playing Detroit that day, 14 May 1967, a Sunday. I’m surprised how much I remember about the games. I jotted down what I remembered, then went to Retrosheet and looked the games up. Turned out I was right about what I remembered. In what follows, what I got from Retrosheet is in the parens. The Sox won both games (8-5, 13-9). I remember both Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich pitched for Detroit (McLain in game one and Lolich game two) and that Jim Lonborg pitched one of the games (the first). I remembered both were high scoring games (see the scores mentioned above) and that former Dodgers Johnny Podres and Larry Sherry pitched in a game (both were in game one and Sherry also worked the second game). I remembered Al Kaline scoring, knocking in a couple of runs, and making a heck of a catch for the final out in one of the innings of game one (the second inning). I recall that there were a lot of home runs (among others, Willie Horton had two in game two, Norm Cash hit a homer in game two, and Carl Yastrzemski had a home run in both games).  I remember wondering how Yaz could hit with his bat held that high. Got that one wrong. Finally I remember that the pitching was dreadful that day (50 total hits by both teams over both games).

I left happy. We caught a bus back to the post, talked about the games all the way back, never realizing this was “The Impossible Dream” year for Boston. It was my first ever Big League game and I was content.

Triple Crown, I

March 17, 2010

When I think of Triple Crown, my first thought, believe it or don’t, is of horse racing. Watching Secretariat come down the stretch in the Belmont is still the most amazing thing I ever saw in sports. But baseball also has its triple crown, actually two of them: one in pitching, one in hitting. I want to look at the hitting ones.

One thing I find interesting is that Stone Age baseball produces four triple crowns, while Classical baseball (1920-1945) gives us seven, and the post-Classical baseball world gives us four again, none since 1967. I understand part of the reason that modern baseball doesn’t get triple crowns. The more teams you have the more players are in line for a shot at one. That means it’s more likely they will knock each other off. The greatest player  (non-pitcher) I ever saw was Ted Williams and that at the tail end of his career, so perhaps the best I ever saw at his peek was either Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. Neither ever wins one. Why? Well, among other things they have to beat out Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews and a bunch of other people at various times. Additionally, as they get into some of the most productive years of their career baseball goes into one of the greatest of pitching periods. You try winning a triple crown when you have to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, and Marichal. (At least in Mays’ case Marichal is on his team). I’ve been sure for a while that a significant reason the last two triple crowns come in the AL is that neither Frank Robinson nor Carl Yastrzemski has to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, or Marichal on a regular basis.

A number of people never win a triple crown, despite leading their league in all three categories at one time or the other.  Babe Ruth is one of those. In 1924 he loses the RBI title by eight to Goose Goslin of Washington. It’s the only year Ruth wins the batting title. He hits .376, which ties for the lowest average to win the title in the 1920s. Jimmie Foxx and Joe DiMaggio are among others who suffer the same fate (although Foxx does ultimately win one).

Additionally, you can look at a handful of the existing triple crowns and argue they are tainted. In two cases, Joe Medwick in 1937 and Yastrzemski in 1967, they tie for the league lead in home runs (Mel Ott and Harmon Killebrew). So they don’t really stand alone at the top of the stats. 

Of the other 20th Century triple crowns six more are tainted because the individual would not have finished first in all three categories had he been in the other league. In 1901 Nap LaJoie loses the home run title to Sam Crawford. In 1922 Rogers Hornsby loses the RBI title to Ken Wiliams. In 1933 Jmmie Foxx and Chuck Klein both win the triple crown, but knock each other off when Foxx has more home runs, but Klein has the higher batting average. In 1947 Ted Williams loses the home run title to a tie between Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize. Finally in 1966 Matty Alou puts up a better batting average than Frank Robinson. That leaves five true triple crowns (number one in all the Major Leagues in batting average, RBIs and home runs)  in the 20th Century: Ty Cobb in 1909, Rogers Hornsby in 1925, Lou Gehrig in 1934, Ted Williams in 1942, and Mickey Mantle in 1956.

There are two 19th Century triple crowns. I’m saving them for the next post.