Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Gehringer’

Trying for Two: the Second Round in Cincinnati

January 29, 2015

After five games of the 1940 World Series, the Detroit Tigers were ahead three games to two. With only two games left, they needed one victory to clinch their first championship since 1935. Unfortunately, the two games were in Cincinnati and the Reds two best pitchers were set up to throw the remaining games. There were no days off during the Series (it was, unlike the current format, played on consecutive days). That created something of a problem for Detroit. If there was a game seven, their ace, Bobo Newsom, would pitch it on very short rest.

Game 6

Bucky Walters

Bucky Walters

Game 6 was 7 October and featured game two winner Bucky Walters pitching for the Reds matching up against game two loser Schoolboy Rowe. Cincinnati needed the same result as game two; the Tigers looked for Rowe to rebound. They didn’t get it. Bill Werber led off Cincinnati’s half of the first with a double, then went to third on a sacrifice bunt. An Ival Goodman single brought Werber home with the first run. Another single by NL MVP Frank McCormick sent Goodman to second, and a Jimmy Ripple single sent Goodman home and Rowe to the showers. Johnny Gorsica took over for Detroit and got out of the inning with a strikeout and a ground out. The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the sixth when consecutive singles and a walk loaded the bases. A force out at home kept them loaded for a Walters bleeder to third. The throw home was late and the score went 3-0, Walters getting the RBI. A double play then ended the inning. With Fred Hutchinson now pitching for the Tigers, Walters connected on a solo home run in the eighth to complete the scoring for the Reds. Detroit managed to get two runners on in the ninth, but a double play and a fly to center completed the shutout. The Reds had won 4-0. The big hero was Walters. He’d pitched nine shutout innings, given up only five hits and two walks, while striking out two. He’d contributed to the scoring with a home run and two RBIs. Rowe failed to get out of the first inning. So there would be a game seven.

Game 7

Frank McCormick

Frank McCormick

Game seven was 8 October and featured Cincy ace Paul Derringer against Detroit ace Bobo Newsom. Tigers manager Del Baker was taking a chance with Newsom who was pitching on a single day’s rest (they don’t do that much anymore). The game turned out to be a classic.

For two innings no one got beyond second base as each team managed one single. In the top of the third Billy Sullivan led off with a single, then went to second on a Newsom sacrifice bunt. A pop fly retired Dick Bartell, then Barney McCosky walked. The next batter, Charlie Gehringer, hit one to third. Werber threw it away letting Sullivan score an unearned run. Hank Greenberg struck out to end the inning. The game stayed 1-0 through the fifth. Both pitchers did well. In the top of the sixth, Greenberg singled and, after an out, went to second on a walk. A ground out sent him to third, then another ground out ended the inning. Greenberg was the only Detroit player to reach third after the Tigers scored their run. In the bottom of the seventh, failing to score Greenberg came back to haunt Detroit. Frank McCormick led off with a double and Ripple followed with another double to tie the game at 1-1. A bunt sent Ripple to third. The Reds sent up injured catcher Ernie Lombardi to hit. Newsom intentionally walked him to set up a double play. Billy Myers batted next and slammed a long fly to center that scored Ripple. A grounder ended the inning, but Cincinnati took the lead 2-1. Derringer needed six outs to end the Series. Gehringer led off the eighth with a single, but a liner to short and consecutive flies to the outfield ended the inning without a run. The Reds managed a single in the bottom of the eighth, but failed to score, leaving it 2-1 going to the top of the ninth. Consecutive ground outs brought up Hall of Famer Earl Averill to pinch hit for Newsom. He rolled one to second and the Series ended on the flip to first baseman McCormick. Cincinnati had won its second World Series. Derringer gave up one unearned run, seven hits, and three walks. He stuck out one. Newsom was great in defeat. He gave up only seven hits, one walk, and struck out six, but the two runs in the seventh doomed him.

It had been a very good Series. Detroit actually outscored Cincinnati with 28 runs to the Reds’ 22 (all that coming in the 8-0 fifth game blowout). For the Series Cincy hit .250, Detroit .246.  The Reds had 58 hits, the Tigers 56. Both teams had 30 strikeouts. Detroit had four home runs, Cincinnati two. The pitching numbers were just as close. The Reds pitchers had a 3.69 ERA, the Tigers pitchers came in at 3.00. The only significant difference saw the Tigers take 30 walks to Cincy’s 15. Stats-wise it was a great Series.

Individually, the Reds twin aces, Walters and Derringer did well, together going 4-1 with ERAs well under 3.00. Reliever Whitey Moore had an ERA of 3.24, but the rest of the bullpen, minus Elmer Riddle who only pitched one inning, didn’t do as well. For the Tigers Newsom was superb, finally losing in the seventh inning of the seventh game on one day’s rest. His 17 strikeouts led all pitchers on either team and his 1.38 ERA was first among both team’s starters. Schoolboy Rowe, however, was clobbered. Gorsica did well in relief, and Tommy Bridges won the Tigers other victory.

Among hitters Jimmy Ripple, a midseason pickup, led Cincinnati with six RBIs while Goodman had five. Goodman and Werber led the team with five runs scored while Ripple scored three times. Five hitters who played six or more games hit over .300 while Goodman clocked in with a .276. Even pitcher Walters chipped in a .286 average and a homer. For Detroit Greenberg had a great Series hitting .357 with a home run, a triple, two doubles, 10 hits (the most by any player on either team), six RBIs and five runs scored. Pinky Higgins had eight hits, including three doubles, a triple, and a home run, while driving in six. McCosky scored five runs and Bruce Campbell also had four hits and five RBIs. Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer had a miserable Series hitting .214 with one RBI, three runs scored, and no extra base hits.

For Cincinnati the death of Willard Hershberger hung over the Series. But having dedicated the Series to him, they’d won. The lingering questions about 1919 could be put to rest for a while. There was nothing tainted about the 1940 win. It was, for them, the end of the line. Their next pennant would come in 1961, their next championship would have to wait all the way to 1975.

For Detroit it was a bitter loss. They were now 1-5 in World Series play (a win in 1935, losses in 1907, ’08, ’09, 1934, and 1940). They would not, however, have to wait as long as Cincinnati to claim their next, and second, championship. They would get back to the World Series in 1945 on the arm of Hal Newhouser (who did not pitch in the 1940 Series) and the bat of Greenberg. It would take seven games but they would defeat the Cubs to finally win their second World Series.

 

 

Trying for Two: The Round in Detroit

January 26, 2015

With the 1940 World Series tied 1-1, the teams moved to Detroit for the next three game. A sweep by either would end the Series. A split would mean the two teams would return to Cincinnati for at least one game.

Game 3

Pinky Higgins

Pinky Higgins

Detroit sent Tommy Bridges to the mound for game three on 4 October 1940. Bridges was a 10 year veteran with six All Star appearances who was 3-1 in two previous World Series’ (1934 and 1935). But Cincy got to him immediately. Bill Werber led off with a double and with one out, Ival Goodman singled him home. Bridges got out of the inning without further damage and the run stood up until the bottom of the fourth. Barney McCosky led off for the Tigers with a single, went to second on a Charlie Gehringer single, and scored when Hank Greenberg hit into a 5-3-4 double play. Although Bridges got into trouble in the sixth, neither team scored again until the bottom of the seventh. With one on, Rudy York hit a two-run homer to put Detroit ahead. Billy Campbell followed the home run with a single, then Pinky Higgins slugged another two-run shot to put the Tigers up 5-1. That brought manager Bill McKechnie to the mound to take Reds pitcher Jim Turner out of the game. He was replaced by Whitey Moore, who proceeded to give up a couple of hits but kept Detroit from doing more damage. In the top of the eighth with one on Lou Riggs, pinch-hitting for Moore, hit into a force out, but consecutive singles plated him with the Reds’ second run. The bottom of the eighth saw two singles score a run for the Tigers, then a Higgins double drove in one final score for Detroit. Cincinnati tried to come back in the ninth against a tiring Bridges. Two singles and an error scored one run, then with two outs a single brought in a final run. Bridges managed a strikeout to end the inning and assure a 7-4 Detroit win. Higgins was the big hitting star with two hits, a home run, and four RBIs, while Bridges pitched a complete game giving up 10 hits, one walk, and three earned runs, while striking out five.

Game 4

Paul Derringer

Paul Derringer

Game four was held the next day, 5 October, with Detroit sending Dizzy Trout (who’d started only 10 games all season) to pitch. The Reds responded by sending game one loser Paul Derringer back to the mound. Cincinnati wasted no time in teeing off on Trout. Leadoff hitter Werber walked and was forced at second. Mike McCormick, on base replacing Werber, scored when Goodman doubled to left. A ground out put Goodman on third. A sharp grounder to Higgins was muffed allowing Goodman to score with the second run. In the third inning singles by Goodman and Frank McCormick were followed by a Jimmy Ripple double that scored Goodman. That brought Clay Smith in to replace Trout. Smith got out of the inning with no more damage. In the bottom of the inning, Detroit got a run back on a walk, a ground out, and a Greenberg double. The Reds got it right back with a walk to Werber, a double by Mike McCormick, and a sacrifice fly to right field. With the score at 4-1, runs came to a halt for a few innings. In the bottom of the sixth, a Bruce Campbell single and a Higgins triple made the score 4-2. In the eighth two singles sandwiched around a wild pitch, allowed Cincinnati to tack on another run, producing a 5-2 final score. The game was something of a redemption for Derringer. He’d managed to tie up the Series 2-2 while giving up five hits and six walks. He struck out four. Goodman scored two runs and drove in two more while getting two doubles to lead the Reds hitters, while Higgins got two more hits, including the triple, to lead Detroit hitting. Trout was beaten up badly with six hits, three runs, and a walk in two innings. The Series was now a best two of three with Cincinnati having home field advantage.

Game 5

 

Bobo Newsom

Bobo Newsom

On 4 October word came that Bobo Newsom’s father had died (a heart attack after seeing his son win game one). Newsom was scheduled to pitch game five. Despite the loss, he took the mound on 6 October (no days off during the Series). He would face Gene Thompson. Thompson got through two innings before disaster struck. He  gave up back to back singles to McCosky and Gehringer then grooved one to Greenberg who drove a home run to left field. In the bottom of the fourth a walk to Billy Sullivan, a sacrifice bunt by Newsom, and a Dick Bartell double scored one run. Then a passed ball sent Bartell to third. A walk to McCosky sent Thompson to the showers. In came Moore who walked Gehringer to send McCosky to second and load the bases. Another Greenberg fly to left, this one shorter than the home run, brought in Bartell. Rudy York walked to reload the bases. A Campbell single scored both McCosky and Gehringer. Higgins, designated rally killer for the day, then grounded to short to end the inning. The Tigers got one more in the eighth on a wild pitch. Final score? 8-0. Newsom was magnificent. He walked two and allowed only three hits in a complete game shutout. He struck out seven and no batter reached third. He was in trouble only once, and then only vaguely. In the fourth a single and ground out put Mike McCormick on second. Consecutive foul pops ended any threat. In the entire game, McCormick was the only Reds player to reach second.

With the Tigers up 3-2, the Series returned to Cincinnati for the final game (or two). Detroit needed one win, the Reds two. Fortunately for Cincy, they had both aces (Walters and Derringer) ready for the final two games.

 

 

Trying for Two: The Tigers

January 16, 2015
Charlie Gehringer

Charlie Gehringer

The 1940 World Series was sort of the odd man out Series of the era. Between 1936 and 1943 it was the only one in which the Yankees didn’t represent the American League. The Detroit Tigers won 90 games and made a temporary dent in the New York run. The Tigers weren’t new to World Series play, they’d been in five previously, but had won only once, in 1935 (Detroit had a championship from the 1880s, but that was a different team). So for Detroit, it was a chance to win a second title.

Manager Del Baker was a former catcher, who’d had a number of stints as a fill-in manager for the Tigers. He’d finally gotten the job fulltime with about 60 games left in 1938 and by 1940 had formed a team that hit well, fielded well, and pitched well enough to cop a pennant.

His infield consisted of one Hall of Famer and three very good players. The Hall of Famer was Charlie Gehringer. He was the resident gray-beard at 37. He was on the downside of a stellar career that included the 1937 AL MVP award. He hit .313 (OPS+ of 119) with 10 home runs and played a fine second base. At first, the Tigers had Rudy York. York was in his mid 20’s, and was noted for his inability to play in the field. Baker decided York would do less damage at first that anywhere else, so a Hall of Fame first baseman was sent to the outfield. York responded with a .316 average (OPS+ of 145) and 33 home runs. Pinky Higgins held down third. Higgins was one of the handful of third basemen who could honestly be considered the best AL third sacker of the era (along with Harold Clift, Ken Keltner, Red Rolfe). He was a capable enough fielder but his hitting made him something of a  star. In 1940 he managed .271 (a 92 OPS+), and 13 home runs. “Rowdy” Dick Bartell was the new guy at short. He’d come over from the National League and had World Series experience with the Giants. He was considered one of the finer shortstops of his day, but his hitting wasn’t much (As a testament to his fielding, he finished 12th in the MVP voting with a .233 average and seven home runs.)

The outfield consisted of a transplanted first baseman, a new guy, and one old hand. The transplant was Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. With York unable to play the outfield, Greenberg agreed to make the move to left field in ’40. He wasn’t great (his dWAR for 1940 is -0.8 in Baseball Reference.com’s version) but his hitting was still superb. He hit .340, led the AL in doubles, home runs, RBIs, total bases, and slugging and copped the MVP award (his second). The new guy was second year player Barney McCosky, age 23. He, like Greenberg, hit .340 (OPS+124) but with only four home runs. He did lead the AL in hits and triples and played an acceptable center field (he was fifth in the league in assists). The old hand was right fielder Pete Fox. He’d been around long enough to have played in both the 1934 and 1935 World Series (Detroit winning the latter and losing the former). He hit .289 with little power.

The Tigers bench wasn’t overly strong. Backup outfielder Bruce Campbell had eight home runs. For the Series he would get the bulk of the play in right field. Hall of Famer Earl Averill hit .280 while playing out the string in Detroit.  Backup catcher Billy Sullivan hit .309 with 41 RBIs. Come Series time he would replace the regular catcher for most of the games.

Primary catcher Birdy Tebbetts hit just under .300 with no power and handled a staff with four starters pitching at least 20 games. All but one were right-handed. Lefty Hal Newhouser was only 19 and still four years from the numbers that would put him in the Hall of Fame. The righty starters were 21 game winner and ace Louis “Bobo” Newsom, 1934-5 stalwart Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe, Tommy Bridges, Johnny Gorsica, and later managing legend Fred Hutchinson who got into less than 20 games. Only Newsom had an ERA under 3.00, although all but Hutchinson and Newhouser had ERA+ numbers over 100 (Newsom’s was 168). But only Newsom and Bridges had given up fewer hits than they had innings pitched. Al Benton did most of the relief work, but had an ERA of almost four and a half.

It was a very different team from the 1934-35 versions who’d won a World Series. The pitching was about the same, but most people agreed it had somewhat better hitting and the defense, particularly up the middle was better. Detroit was a slight favorite to defeat the National League’s Cincinnati Reds.

 

 

Shut Down

September 11, 2012

The 1935 Detroit Tigers

So the Nationals have shut down Stephen Strasburg and the Cubs have shut down Jeff Samardzija. Well, it’s unusual to say the least. Generally when a player is shut down it’s certainly not voluntary on the part of the team. It’s more like to be because he’s either having a dreadful season or he gets hurt. There’s a really good case of the latter back in the 1930s.

In 1935 the Detroit Tigers were defending American League champions. Under manager and catcher Mickey Cochrane they were able to repeat, besting the Yankees by three games. They had a good, solid team with the “G Men” hitting in the middle of the order: Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, and Goose Goslin. In keeping with the “G Men” theme the backup outfielder was Gee Walker and the three pitcher was General Crowder. Crowder won 16 games, Walker hit .301, Goslin had a down year but managed .292. Gehringer hit .330 with 19 home runs, and an OPS+ of 138. Greenberg hit .328, led the AL in home runs (36) and RBIs (170) and picked up the MVP award.

They made the World Series and faced Chicago. The Cubs hadn’t been to a Series since 1932 and were retooled. It was expected to be a close contest with Detroit slightly favored. With the first two games in Detroit, Chicago shut out the Tigers 3-0 in game one.

Game two saw the Tigers jump out to a 7-0 lead by the end of four with the big blow being a two-run home run by Greenberg. The Cubs got one back in the fifth, then two more in the seventh. That brought Detroit up in the bottom of the seventh. With one out and one on Greenberg was hit in the hand by a pitch. He stayed in the game and subsequently made the final out of the inning on a close play at the plate. That finished the scoring, the Tigers winning 8-3, but the big story was Greenberg. The wrist was broken and he was out for the rest of the Series. The AL MVP was not going to participate in the remainder of the World Series, which had just turned into a best of five set.

Cochrane was forced to improvise. Goslin went into Greenberg’s four hole in the batting order. Third baseman Marv Owen moved to first in the field and backup infielder Herman “Flea” Clifton took over third and batted eighth. I’d like to say that Clifton became the big hero. He didn’t. He went oh fer sixteen but did well enough at third (two putouts, nine assists, and an error). It was the rest of the team that stepped up. With Greenberg shut down Gehringer hit .375 with four RBIs, right fielder Pete Fox hit .385 also with four RBIs, Goslin hit .273 with three RBIs, and the pitching staff gave up 12 runs for the rest of the Series. Detroit won the World Series in six games on a walk-off single by Goslin.

Without Greenberg Detroit doesn’t make the 1935 World Series. With him in the Series they are 1-1. After he goes down the team steps up and goes 3-1. So even with their best player shut down a team can win. Maybe that bodes well for Washington this season. What it means for Chicago for next season is a little more difficult to determine.

The Original Hammerin’ Hank

August 16, 2012

Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg

It used to be possible to argue that you could directly compare the best first basemen to ever play the game because the three top first basemen all played in the same league at the same time, the 1930s. The men in question were Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg. You might disagree with that premise but other people would agree. The advent of Albert Pujols makes it almost impossible to make that argument today. Because they were contemporaries it is still instructive to look at the three and compare them (which I’m not going to do). By universal agreement, the third of the troika was Greenberg.

Hank Greenberg was born in 1911 (on New Year’s Day, no less) in Greenwich Village to a Jewish family that ran a textile mill. They made enough money to move to the Bronx when Greenberg was still young. He became a fine high school athlete excelling in soccer, baseball, and basketball (his high school team won the New York City title in 1929). After graduation he played first base for a semi-pro ball team and was scouted by the Giants (who decided he was too awkward to play) and the Yankees (who had Gehrig). He signed with Detroit in late 1929 for $9000.

Greenberg spent 1930, 1931, and 1932 in the minors at Hartford, Raleigh, Evansville, and Beaumont. He did well, but his ethnic background caused him some trouble with both fans and teammates. One famous anecdote has a teammate staring at Greenberg. When asked why, the guy is reported to have said “I”ve never seen a Jew before.” Greenberg asked if he “saw anything interesting.” The guy replied, “No, you look just like everyone else.” That was supposed to be the incident that solved Greenberg’s ethnic problems with his teammates. Unfortunately, it was a problem that was to plague him throughout his career as other teams and fans in other towns were known to heap anti-semitic abuse on him.

By 1933 he was with Detroit. They tried him at third (they already had a first baseman who cost them $75,000 and weren’t about to watch that much money ride the pine). He was awful. Finally they settled on a platoon situation in which Greenberg played against lefty pitching. He hit .301 with 12 home runs, 87 RBIs, and 59 runs scored in 117 games. That settled the issue and Greenberg settled in as the regular first baseman for the rest of the 1930s.

It was a good time for Detroit. They were in contention most years. The “G-Men” (a play on the then current fashion of referring to FBI men as “G-Men”-for “government men”) of Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Goose Goslin, and Gee Walker won a pennant in 1934, losing the World Series to the Cardinals “Gas House Gang”, then won the World Series in 1935 over Chicago. Greenberg led the American League in doubles in 1934 and in home runs, total bases, and RBIs in 1935.  He led the league again in RBIs in 1937. In 1938 he made a serious run at Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record. He managed 58, which along with his walk and run totals, led the AL. For the decade of the 1930s his lowest average was his rookie .301. He peaked at .339 the next season (OK, he hit .348 in 1936, but only played in 12 games).

His career took a couple of sharp turns in the 1940s. First, the Tigers brought up Rudy York. York could hit a ton, but was terrible in the field. They only place they could play him was first. So Greenberg moved to left field. He wasn’t very good (his fielding percentage was .963 in 1940), but the papers of the time indicate he improved as the season went along. He was rewarded with another trip to the World Series. Despite getting a .357 average with a home run and six RBIs, Detroit lost the Series to Cincinnati in seven games. BTW the 2-1 Cincy win is one of the best game seven’s ever played.

For Greenberg the second change came in 1941. Nineteen games into the season, the government came calling. He was drafted into the Army (he became a tanker) and spent most of the next five years in the service. Interestingly enough, his original Army physical rejected him because of flat feet, leading one reporter to ask “Do you shoot a gun with your feet?” He was discharged in early December 1941. Of course the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor a few days later and Greenberg rejoined the military, this time joining the Army Air Corps. He spent 1942 and 1943 flying “the Hump” in Burma, then was sent back to the US in 1944, where he served with a unit in New York. In mid-1945, he was discharged.

He returned to the Tigers in July. He played 78 games, hit .311, and had 13 home runs. On the last day of the season Detroit was tied with Washington for the pennant. In the final game of the season, Greenberg’s grand slam in the top of the ninth gave the Tigers the pennant. He hit .304 in the World Series with two home runs, seven RBIs, and seven runs scored. Detroit won in seven games.

In 1946 he hit only .277, but led the AL in home runs with 44 and in RBIs with 127. After the season he was waived. No one seems to know quite why. There’s a lot of speculation, but I’ve been unable to find a definite answer to the question of why Greenberg was waived. Pittsburgh claimed him. He spent one season with the Pirates, hitting .249 with 25 home runs and tutoring a budding star named Ralph Kiner. At the end of the season Greenberg retired.

For a career of 1394 games he hit .313, had an OBP of .412, slugged .605, and had an OPS of 1.017 (OPS+ of 158). The OPS and slugging percentage are both seven in MLB history. He had 331 home runs, 1276 RBIs, 1051 runs scored, 379 doubles, and 852 walks over 6097 plate appearances.

After retirement he moved to the front office with the Cleveland Indians. Initially Cleveland did well, winning a World Series in 1948 and a pennant in 1954. But as Greenberg’s influence grew, the team got worse. He seems to have been a decent executive, but as he moved into the general manager’s spot he moved a level too high for him and the team floundered. He went to Chicago as Bill Veeck’s assistant in the late 1950s and helped the White Sox to a pennant in 1959. He retired a wealthy man and died of cancer in 1986. The Hall of Fame called in 1956.

Throughout his career, Greenberg faced adversity. First his ethnic background gave him problems. Then he had to shift positions. Finally the Second World War interrupted his career. He became a great player and arguably one of the five greatest first basemen to ever play. Not a bad legacy.

The First Number Two

July 14, 2011

Mark Koenig

Now that we’ve thoroughly hashed and rehashed Derek Jeter, maybe it’s time to turn and look at another man who played shortstop for New York. There have been a lot of them from Ernie Courtney who started the first game for the New York Highlanders in 1903 (they were in Baltimore in 1901 and 1902) through Tony Fernandez, the guy Jeter replaced. The man I want to look at is Mark Koenig, the shortstop on what is arguably the most famous of all teams, the 1927 Murder’s Row Yankees.

Koenig was born in San Francisco on 19 July 1904 (almost exactly 107 years ago). He was a good ball player in high school, got a tryout with the local team, made the low minors in 1921 (he was 16 when the season started), got to St. Paul in 1924 and stayed there through 1925. His 1924 team won the American Association title and got a chance to play in the “Little World Series”, a post season playoff between the AA champ and the International League champion (those were the top minor leagues of the era). St. Paul won in ten games (5-4 with a tie). Koenig played well enough that the Yankees bought him and brought him to the Major Leagues in 1926. He was a disaster. He led the American League in errors with 52 (and four more in the World Series). He hit OK at .271 with no power and more walks than strikeouts. In the Series he hit only .125 with one double and his fourth error led to the Cardinals’ World Series clinching run in game seven. So far, he wasn’t much.

In 1927, the Yankees produced what many people conclude is the greatest of all teams. Koenig hit second and stayed at shortstop. His error total dropped to 47, still first in the American League, but he was also third in assists. He hit .285, still had no power, didn’t walk much (and struck out less), and had 15 sacrifices (a factor for the two hitter). In the World Series he hit  a team leading .500 with two doubles and scored five runs. In 1928 his errors increased to 49, but he dropped to second in the league (Red Kress of the Browns had 55). His average topped out at .319, with a .415 slugging percentage, an OBP of .360 (all career highs at the time). With the Yanks in the Series for the third straight year, Koenig hit .158. and scored one run in the four game sweep of the Cardinals. During his tenure, the Yankees adopted numbers for the players. They did it by simply giving the first hitter number one, the second number two, the third number three, and so on. That’s why Ruth was number three. So Koenig was the original number two for the Yanks (I wonder if Derek Jeter knows that).

In 1929, he became the backup infielder, playing 116 games and hitting .292. Leo Durocher was the new shortstop, hit terribly, but fielded much better than Koenig. After 21 games in 1930, he was sent to Detroit where he teamed with Charlie Gehringer at second base. Koenig remained there through 1931 and ended up sent to the Pacific Coast League in 1932. Late in the season he was called up by the Cubs and hit .353 with three home runs, and 11 RBIs in 102 at bats. He was considered by many to be the spark that helped the Cubs to the National League title and a World Series matchup against his old team, the Yankees. The Series was controversial for two reasons. First, the Cubs granted Koenig only a half-share of the World Series payout, a not unreasonable act considering he’d only played in 33 games. This got the attention of Babe Ruth, who liked Koenig.  Ruth began riding the Cubs for the entire Series for being cheap, the Cubs returned the favor by referencing Ruth’s ancestry (among other things). All that climaxed in the Series’ second great controversy, Ruth’s “called shot,” which I’m not about to weigh in on.

Koenig stayed with Chicago in 1933, didn’t do much, was traded to Cincinnati in 1934, had a decent year and was involved in one last controversy. The Reds were pioneering using  airplanes to travel to away games. Koenig was one of two players (Jim Bottomley was the other) who refused to fly. It got him into some trouble with the team’s front office, but they arranged to send him by train to away games.

He moved back to New York, this time with the Giants for the final two years of his career (1935-36). He got into one last World Series in 1936 (again against his old Yankees team), went one for three (a single) in a losing effort. He was through as a Major Leaguer after the Series. He played one final season in San Francisco and retired at age 33. He spent his last years running service stations and working in a brewery in the San Francisco area. He retired to Sacramento and died in April 1993, the last of the 1927 Yankees. I remember they made a big deal about it in the papers in ’93.

For his career, Koenig hit .279, slugged .367, and had an OBP of .316 for an OPS of .683 (OPS+ of 80). He had 1190 hits for 1567 total bases, 195 doubles, 49 triples, and 28 home runs. He also drove in 443 runs, and stole 31 bases. In fielding he led the AL in range factor in 1927, but offset that by making a ton of errors (even for his own day he was a terrible fielding shortstop).

He’s remembered now only for being part of the 1927 Yankees, and I guess that’s fair. He wasn’t a star, he wasn’t a great player, but he did contribute to a great team. Ultimately, that’s an acceptable legacy for a ball player.

The Original “Goose”

June 17, 2011

Goose Goslin as a Senator

Use the name “Goose” around a modern fan and the odds are you’ll get one of two responses: “who?” or “Gossage.” Frankly, I’d probably respond with Gossage too. But way back there was another “Goose” who was good enough to make the Hall of Fame. As I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with the Washington Senators/ Minnesota Twins recently, I thought I might introduce you to “Goose” Goslin.

Leon Goslin was born in New Jersey in 1900. He was good enough to play for his  local factory team, both pitching and playing the field. It got him a job with the Minor League team in Columbia, South Carolina in 1920. The team made him an outfielder. In 1921 the Senators signed him for $6000. He made the club late in the season, hitting .260 with a home run and six RBIs. By 1922 he was the regular left fielder.

This is as good a time as any to get to the “Goose” nickname. There are at least three stories. One says that Goslin was fairly inept in the field when he came up and would run around the outfield chasing the ball with his arms flapping like a goose. The second says that his large nose, known colloquially as a “honker” (a noise geese make) got him the nickname. The third, which is the one I favor, is that it simply was a natural to go with Goslin. Whatever the reason, it stuck for the rest of his life.

He played well in both 1922 and 1923, leading the team in home runs in ’23 and the entire American League in triples. In 1924 the Senators made the World Series for the first time. Goslin, playing all seven games, hit .344, led the league in RBIs, had an OPS of .937, and hit for the cycle on 28 August against New York. The Senators won the Series in seven games, Goslin hitting .344 (the same as his regular season average. I wonder how often that happens?) with three home runs, seven RBIs, and an OPS of 1.000. They were back in 1925, this time dropping the Series in seven. Playing all seven games again Goslin had three home runs, hit .308, and had six RBIs. His OPS? 1.072. For the regular season he led the AL in triples and had 200 hits for the first time.

The Senators slipped in 1926 but Goslin continued to perform well into 1930 when he was traded to St. Louis. He was having trouble getting along with manager Walter Johnson, a conflict he could never win in Washington. Freed from cavernous Griffith Stadium,  Goslin had a career high 30 home runs (37 for the season, a season noted for a juiced ball), dropped back to 24 the next season and further down to 17 in 1932. That got him a trade back to Washington (Johnson had just been fired), which promptly went out and won its third AL pennant. Although on the downside of his career, Goslin contributed a .297 average and 65 RBIs. In the World Series he played all five games of the loss to the Giants, hitting .250 with one home run. It was Washington’s last World Series and Goslin had the distinction of being the only Senator to play in all 19 of the team’s World Series games. He also logged every inning.

Goslin hadn’t gotten along with Johnson’s replacement, Joe Cronin, so he (Goslin) went to Detroit in 1934. There he teamed with Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, and Gee Walker to form the Tigers “G Men” (a play on the currently popular nickname for FBI agents). Again, Detroit promptly went out and won the AL pennant. Goslin hit .305, had  100 RBIs, and an OPS of .826. In the Series he hit .241 with two RBIs and the Tigers lost in seven to Dizzy Dean and the “Gas House Gang” Cardinals.

The Tigers were back in 1935, winning the pennant with Goslin contributing nine home runs, 109 RBIs, an OPS of .770, and a .292 average. This time, taking on the Cubs, the Tigers won the Series (their first ever) with Goslin hitting .273, having three RBIs, and driving in the Series’ winning run in game six. Again he played each game. It was to be his last Series. For his postseason career he hit .287, had an OPS of .836, hit seven home runs, had 19 RBIs, scored 16 runs, and had 37 hits, while playing all 32 games in the Series.

His last good year was 1936. He hit .300 for the last time, had 125 RBIs and 24 home runs. His OPS was .930. He also managed the first home run off phenom Bob Feller. He had a bad 1937 and was released by Detroit. He was 36. Washington brought him back for one last fling in 1938. he hit a buck .58 and was done. He managed a couple of undistinguished seasons in the Minors, then retired to a farm in New Jersey. He farmed, ran a boat business, and made the Hall of Fame in 1968. Death came in 1971.

For his career, Goslin hit .316, slugged .500, had an OBP of .387, totalling .887 for his OPS (OPS+ of 128). He had 2735 hits, 248 home runs, 173 triples, and 500 doubles for 4325 total bases. He had about two walks for every strikeouts and managed 176 stolen bases in a low stolen base era. His black ink number is 10, but his gray ink number is 200. In an end of century list, the Sporting News named Goslin the 89th greatest player of the century (probably too high).

I remember putting together my own list of greatest left fielders one time years ago. I had Goslin third (Williams and Musial) because Bonds and Henderson had not yet become the stars they became and because I was still fascinated by a player hitting .300 (which still is good, just not as good as I used to think). Bill James has him 16th in his historical abstract. My guess is that Goslin sits somewhere between. He helped his team, both Washington and Detroit, win. It can’t be pure coincidence that he gets traded to two teams who just then manage to win pennants (he’s a missing piece, not the prime reason for winning). All in all he’s a player I like and think should be remembered. I have no problem with him being in the Hall of Fame.

And I love the picture of him that I placed at the head of this comment. His hat is cocked, he stands confident and looks very self-assured. Kind of like to see that in a ball player.

Cocky

October 18, 2010

Eddie Collins

Baseball has a world of wonderful stats. One of my favorites is this: who’s the only player to hit .300 in four different decades? Answer, Eddie Collins.

Collins is the only member of the Athletics “$100,000 infield” I haven’t profiled. Primarily that’s because he’s the most famous, and thus the one readers are most likely to know. It’s time to change that omission.

Collins was from New York, attended Columbia University in New York City and, unlike a number of players who only attended college, graduated. He was a good ballplayer and in 1906 got to the big leagues with the Philadelphia Athletics. With eligibility remaining at college in 1906, he played under the name Sullivan for that season. It didn’t do him any good. Columbia knew what was going on and Collins was not allowed to play his final season. Instead, he served as a student coach and completed his degree. Already a good hitter and a fine second baseman, a combination made him a starter in 1909, he sent previous second sacker Danny Murphy to the outfield (where Murphy continued to have a stellar career). Collins spent most of his career hitting second where he developed a reputation for great bat control, timely hitting, ability to place the ball,  just all the basic things a Deadball Era two hitter was required to do well.

While in Philadelphia, Collins helped lead the A’s to pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914, winning the World Series in all but the final year. With the forming of the Federal League in 1914, baseball started a new round in a salary war. Connie Mack, A’s owner, strapped for cash and losing some of his best players, sent Collins to the Chicago White Sox in 1915 for cash. While at Philadelphia, Collins managed to lead the American League in runs in 1912, 13, and 14, in slugging in 1914, and in stolen bases in 1910. A Chalmers Award, the Deadball equivalent of the modern MVP, came his way in 1914. He’d also made a reputation for himself as being very confident in his ability. This earned him the nickname “Cocky.”

He was every bit as good in Chicago. In 1917 and 1919 he was instrumental in bringing pennants to the White Sox. His mad dash home in the 1917 World Series is credited as the defining moment in the Series and led ultimately to a ChiSox victory over the Giants. In 1919 it was a different story. Collins was one of the “Clean Sox” who did not conspire to throw the World Series. Sources indicate that Collins heard rumors of the “fix”, but did not believe them. Unfortunately, he had a terrible Series, batting .226 with only seven hits (only one of them for extra bases-a double), one RBI, and was caught stealing in a key moment. After the Series he was one of the critics of the “Black Sox” and testified at their trial.

Neither the Black Sox scandal nor the end of the Deadball Era seemed to effect his play. He continued hitting over .300, peaking at .372 in 1920, and hitting .344 in 1926 his last year in Chicago. He led the AL two further times in stolen bases (1923 and 1924). In 1925 he became a player-manager for Chicago, taking the team to a fifth place finish, its highest finish since 1922 (also fifth). They remained fifth in 1926, and he lost his job to former teammate and “Clean Sox” Ray Schalk.

 He went back to Philadelphia in 1927, but never again played 100 games in any season. 1927 was his last productive year. He hit .336, played in 56 games at second, stole 12 bases, and scored 50 runs in 226 at bats. His on base percentage was .468. In 1928 he got into 36 games, almost all as a pinch hitter. In 1929, he played in nine games, all as a pinch hitter (racking up no hits). His last season was 1930, when he went one for two and scored a run. His .500 batting average in 1930 made him the only player to average at least .300 for four different decades (1900’s, 19 teens, 1920s, and 1930s). OK, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s still a fun bit of baseball trivia.

By this point he was already doing a bit of coaching. He continued through 1932, then became General Manager for the Boston Red Sox in 1933. He remained in that position through 1947. He was instrumental in bringing such players as Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky to the big leagues. In 1946, on his watch, the Red Sox went to the World Series for the first time since 1918. They lost to St. Louis.  Unfortunately, he continued the Red Sox tradition of not integrating the team. He retired in 1948 and died in 1951. His Hall of Fame induction came in 1939.

Collins numbers are staggering. He hit .333, had 3315 hits, scored 1821 runs, stole 741 bases, walked 1499 times, had a .424 on base percentage, put up 4268 total bases, and slugged .429, which isn’t bad for a player with only 47 home runs. He is the only player to play at least 12 seasons for two different teams (Philadelphia and Chicago). He played on six pennant winners, and four World Series champions. In World Series play he hit .328, scored 20 runs, had 42 hits (good for 10th all time), 14 stolen bases (tied with Lou Brock for the most ever), and his four doubles in 1910 is tied for the most in a four game series. On top of all that, Collins was a good second baseman, leading the AL in putouts seven times and in assists four. He is still second all time in putouts and first in assists among second basemen. An argument can be made that he is the third best player of the Deadball Era, behind Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner (not sure I’d make it).

Collins is consistently rated among the five greatest second basemen in Major League history (Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, Nap LaJoie, and Charlie Gehringer are the other names most commonly, but certainly not exclusively, mentioned). You won’t get an argument from me. I’m not sure I’d rate him first, but he’s certainly in the running.