Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Keller’

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: Wrapping it up at Ebbets

March 28, 2017

With New York up two games to one in the 1941 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers needed a win to square the Series and give themselves a real chance of winning it all. What they and all fans got, was one of the most well known moments in World Series history.

Game 4, 5 October 1941

The play

With game four the Dodgers brought Kirby Higbe to the mound. Facing him was Atley Donald.  Higbe allowed a first inning run on a Charlie Keller single to give the Yanks an early 1-0 lead. Then in the fourth he allowed a Keller double, walked Bill Dickey, and saw a Joe Gordon single load the bases. He got two outs, one of them a cut down of Keller trying to score from third, then gave up a two out single to Johnny Sturm that put New York up 3-0. It also sent him to the showers, as Larry French took over and recorded the final out.

Then Donald got into trouble. In the bottom of the fourth, with two outs (a lot of stuff happens in this World Series with two outs) he walked both catcher Mickey Owen and pinch hitter Pete Coscarart to bring up Jimmy Wasdell. A Wasdell double plated both runners to make the score 3-2.

It got worse for Donald in the fifth. He walked Dixie Walker, then watched as Pete Reiser sent one over the Ebbets Field fence to put Brooklyn ahead 4-3.  With relief ace Hugh Casey now on the mound, the Dodgers rolled through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. The Yanks managed all of two hits off Casey going into the ninth. Consecutive groundouts by Sturm and Red Rolfe brought Tommy Henrich to the plate with two outs. Casey got two strikes on him. In the mind’s eye of all Brooklyn fans the next pitch went like this: Casey threw a low one, Henrich swung for the third strike, Owen caught the ball and the Dodgers had tied the Series. In reality it went like this: Casey threw a low one, Henrich swung for the third strike, and the ball skipped away from Owen all the way to the backstop. An alert Henrich raced to first and was safe. For years in Brooklyn some fans called it simply “the play” (which is one of the more family friendly things it was called). Years later Casey admitted he crossed up Owen and threw a pitch the catcher wasn’t expecting.

With new life, New York capitalized on a rattled Dodgers team (especially Casey). Joe DiMaggio singled sending Henrich to second. A double by Keller scored both runners, putting New York ahead. Dickey walked. A Joe Gordon double scored both Keller and Dickey. Phil Rizzuto walked. That brought up reliever Johnny Murphy who, acting as the designated rally killer, grounded out to end the inning. Instead of winning 4-3, Brooklyn now trailed 7-4 with three outs to go.

Murphy was the Yankees relief ace for a reason. He got the three necessary outs on a fly and two grounders to give New York a 3-1 lead in the Series. For Owen the play was to define the rest of his career (he’d had two passed balls all season). He went on to a successful career running a youth baseball camp and serving as a county sheriff in Missouri; but it always came back to “the play.”

Game 5, 6 October 1941

Joe Gordon

Now down three games to one the Dodgers faced elimination on 6 October. They sent their ace, Whit Wyatt back to the mound to stave off defeat. He’d so far been the only Brooklyn pitcher to pick up a win. The Yankees replied with Ernie “Tiny” Bonham.

Wyatt caused much of his own problem early. To start the second inning he walked Charlie Keller, then gave up a single to Bill Dickey that sent Keller all the way to third. Then, shades of game 4, Wyatt uncorked a wild pitch (this one not close enough to Owen to blame him) that allowed Keller to score the first run and send Dickey to second. A Joe Gordon single plated Dickey before Wyatt regained control of the situation and set down the next three Yanks in order.

The Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the third on a Wyatt double, a Lew Riggs single, and a Pete Reiser sacrifice fly that scored Wyatt, but Bonham got a strikeout to end any further threat that inning.

After a scoreless fourth, Tommy Henrich got hold of a Wyatt pitch that sailed out of the field of play to give New York a 3-1 lead. And that was all Bonham needed. He coasted through the rest of the game giving up only one single (of four total hits allowed) and a walk (of two total) to give the Yankees a win and the Series 4 games to 1.

Despite being something of a blowout four games to one, it was a terrific World Series. Three games were one run affairs and the finale was 3-1. Even the 7-4 fourth game was 4-3 going into the ninth. The Yanks hit .247, the Dodgers .182. Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller were both terrific having five RBIs each with Gordon contributing a homer. Tommy Henrich had the other team home run and, of course, had shown great heads up play by taking first on the game four dropped third strike. For Brooklyn, Joe Medwick led the team with a .235 average and Peter Reiser had three RBIs.

The Dodgers pitching had a 2.66 ERA, but walked 23 (while striking out only 18) and gave up crucial hits (41 of them) as well as a critical wild pitch and the infamous crossing-up-the-catcher pitch. New York pitchers posted a 1.80 ERA, struck out 21 (while walking 14) and only gave up 29 hits. There was no Series MVP in 1941 but it might have been a tough call among Keller, Gordon, and Henrich.

For Brooklyn, 1941 was a losing Series. There would be more. For New York it was a winner, and there would also be more. But it began one of the truly great rivalries in American sport and should be remembered for more than one play.

 

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The First Three Games

March 23, 2017

The 1941 World Series began a rivalry that was among the most fierce and passionate in baseball: the Dodgers and the Yankees. Now that it’s cross country, it’s a little less passionate, but nonetheless the intensity is still there. The first games in that rivalry were in Yankee Stadium.

Game 1: 1 October 1941

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon

Game one saw the Yankees start Hall of Fame right-hander Red Ruffing against Curt Davis. New York struck first with a Joe Gordon home run in the bottom of the second. The 1-0 score lasted until the bottom of the fourth when, Joe DiMaggio drove a long fly to left. Joe Medwick, grabbed the top of the fence, hoisted himself up, and snagged the ball going out of the field of play (sort of like the more famous Al Gionfriddo catch of 1947). That gave New York two outs. But then Charlie Keller walked. Bill Dickey promptly doubled to score Keller and run the score to 2-0.

The Dodgers got the run right back in the top of the fifth, again with two outs. PeeWee Reese singled and scored on a follow up triple by catcher Mickey Owen. The score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the sixth when, this time with only one out, Davis again walked Keller. A Dickey single sent Keller to third and a Gordon (who went 2 for 2 in the game with a walk) single brought home Keller with the third New York run. It also sent Davis to the bench and brought in ace reliever Hugh Casey, who got out of the inning with consecutive flies.

Brooklyn again got the run right back in the top of the sixth. Cookie Lavagetto reached first on a throwing error by Yanks shortstop Phil Rizzuto. A Reese single sent Lavagetto to second and Lew Riggs pinch hit for Owen. Riggs singled to plate Lavagetto, but a double play and a ground out ended the inning with the score 3-2. It stayed that way through the eighth when Ruffing gave up two singles sandwiched around a foul. That brought up Dodgers catcher Herman Franks (who was in the game because Riggs had pinch hit for Owen). He hit one to Gordon, who flipped to Rizzuto who threw on to first to end the inning and the game on a nifty double play.

The big stars were for the Dodgers, Medwick, who’s great catch saved a run and for the Yankees, Ruffing who pitched a complete game and Gordon who drove in two runs and scored one. The game gave New York a 1-0 Series lead.

Game 2, 2 October 1941

Mickey Owen about 1940

Game 2 saw New York trot out Spud Chandler to face Brooklyn ace Whit Wyatt. At the beginning of the game, Chandler seemed more the ace than Wyatt. The Dodgers gave up runs in both the second and third innings. It could have been worse. With two outs and Charlie Keller on third and Joe Gordon on second, Chandler singled to score Keller, but an alert play by Dolph Camilli, Dodgers first baseman, gunned Gordon down at the plate to end the inning. In the third, Tommy Henrich doubled and after an out, came home on a Keller single.

After that Wyatt settled down. He gave up a couple of walks and a handful of hits, but no Yankee scored. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finally got to Chandler in the fifth. Walks to Camilli and Cookie Lavagetto were bookends to a Joe Medwick double that loaded the bases and brought up Brooklyn shortstop PeeWee Reese. Reese grounded to his counterpart, Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto flipped to Gordon to get Lavagetto, but Reese beat the relay and Camilli scored while Medwick went to third. That brought up Mickey Owen, who singled home Medwick to tie the score.

In the top of the sixth, Dixie Walker reached first on a Gordon throwing error and went to third on a Billy Herman single. That gave Chandler an appointment with the showers and brought in Yankees relief ace Johnny Murphy. Camilli singled to untie the game and the Dodgers held on to win 3-2. Wyatt ended up with a complete game victory while Chandler took the loss.

Game 3, 4 October 1941

Marius Russo

After a day off and with the Series tied one game each, the teams moved to Ebbets Field for game three. It was the first postseason game played in Ebbets Field since 1920. The Dodgers gave the ball to Fred Fitzsimmons. The Yanks countered with Marius Russo.

For seven innings it was a great pitchers duel. No on scored. Only one man on each team (Joe Gordon and Pete Reiser) made it as far as third. By the eighth, Fitzsimmons was almost out of gas. Then he got hit on the foot by a batted ball. He’d given up four hits and walked three, while striking out one, but he just couldn’t go on with the foot hurting. So Leo Durocher decided he had to go to his bullpen. In came Hugh Casey, the Dodgers counterpart to Johnny Murphy. He got the first out, then consecutive singles by Red Rolfe and Tommy Henrich brought Joe DiMaggio to the plate. He singled to left scoring Rolfe and sending Henrich to third. Charlie Keller was next and singled scoring Henrich. That was all for Casey. Larry French replaced him and recorded the final out of the inning.

Leading 2-0 Russo started the bottom of the eighth by giving up a Dixie Walker double. One out later French was removed for a pinch hitter, who struck out. That brought PeeWee Reese to the plate. He singled scoring Walker before Russo got a popup to end the inning. He sailed through the ninth to record a Yankees 2-1 win and put New York up 2 games to 1. Game four was Sunday and would become the most famous, of infamous depending on your point of view of the entire Series.

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The Bombers

March 16, 2017
Marse Joe

Marse Joe

There are a number of great rivalries in baseball: Cards-Cubs, Dodgers-Giants, Yanks-Red Sox, and others. In postseason baseball there is nothing quite like the rivalry between the Yankees and the Dodgers. They’ve played each other more than any other World Series combination (with the Yankees usually winning). This is a look at the World Series that started that rivalry, the 1941 World Series.

Joe McCarthy, since the early 1930s managed to lead the New York Yankees to World Series triumphs five times, the last win coming in 1939. His offense finished high in almost every major American League category. They were second in runs, slugging, OPS, total bases; first in home runs; third in walks, batting average, OBP; and fourth in triples. Only in doubles were they down the list at seventh. The staff was equally as effective. They finished first in hits, runs, and saves (although the stat wasn’t around yet). They were second in ERA and shutouts while finishing third in strikeouts.

The infield, two years removed from the tragic loss of Lou Gehrig, consisted of Johnny Sturm at first, Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto up the middle, and Red Rolfe at third. Rizzuto’s .307 led the infield in average while Gordon led in both homers (24) and RBIs (24). His 5.2 WAR also led the infield and was third on the team. Rizzuto’s WAR was at 4.5. Rolfe’s WAR stood at 1.1 while Sturm was at a minus two. The backups were two middle infielders: Jerry Priddy and Frankie Crosetti. Both managed a single home run while Priddy had more RBIs and Crossetti a slightly higher batting average.

There is a school of thought that states this Yankees outfield was, across the board, the best Yankees outfield ever. Charlie Keller was in left. He hit .298 with 33 home runs, 122 RBIs, and OPS+ of 162 for 6.6 WAR. Tommy Henrich was in right. He hit .277 with 31 home runs, 85 RBIs, a 136 OPS+, and 4.6 WAR. Of course the center fielder was Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. The Clipper hit .357, had 30 homers, 125 RBIs, only 13 strikeouts in 541 at bats (read that closely), had an OPS+ of 184, and 9.1 WAR, all to go along with the 56 game hitting streak and an MVP Award. The backups were George Selkirk and Frenchy Bordagaray. Frenchy hit .260, “Twinkletoes” Selkirk had six home runs and 25 RBIs. They combined for a -0.1 WAR (Selkirk’s was at least a positive number).

Hall of Famer Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar did almost all the catching. In many ways their season mirrored each other. Dickey hit .284, Rosar .287. Dickey’s OPS+ was 109, Rosar’s was 101. Dickey’s 2.6 WAR exactly doubled Rosar’s 1.3. Dickey had seven home runs and 71 RBIs while striking out only 17 times in 348 at bats. Rosar played many less games, but had 10 strikeouts in 209 at bats. Ken Silvestri was the third catcher. He got into 17 games and hit .250.

Although there were a couple of stars involved, the staff really worked as a “staff.” Marius Russo led the team with 27 starts while Red Ruffing, Spud Chandler, Lefty Gomez, and Atley Donald all started at least 20 games. Marty Breuer and Ernie “Tiny” Bonham had 18 and 14 starts while no one else had more than eight. Ruffing and Gomez, the two members of the Hall of Fame, each put up 15 wins while Russo had 14. Chandler had 10 and both Donald and Bonham, as well has Breuer had nine. Russo’s WAR was 3.0, Bonham managed 2.6, and Ruffing 2.0. The reliever was Johnny Murphy. His ERA was 1.98 in 77 innings pitched, all in relief. He had 15 saves but managed to walk 40 opponents while striking out only 29. His ERA+ was a team leading 200.

Although they’d lost to Detroit in 1940, the Yankees of 1941 were still very much the same team that had won consecutive World Series crowns in 1936, ’37, ’38, and ’39. In the coming World Series they would face an upstart team that hadn’t been to a championship since 1920 and hadn’t won one since Iron Man Joe McGinnity and the turn of the century.

 

 

The Old and the New: Games 3 and 4

March 17, 2016

With the World Series tied one game to one in 1942, the championship opened a three game set in Yankee Stadium.

Ernie White

Ernie White

Game 3

The first game in New York occurred 3 October. The hometown Yankees sent Spud Chandler to the mound. St. Louis responded with seven game winner Ernie White. The game ended up being a real pitcher’s duel.

Chandler was perfect for two innings but walked Whitey Kurowski to lead off the top of the third. A Marty Marion single put runner on first and second. White followed with a bunt that moved each base runner up one. Then a Jimmy Brown ground out second to first allowed Kurowski to score.

And that was it through the eighth inning. White was great, walking none and giving up only five hits, all singles. Except for giving up the run, Chandler was even better. He gave up three hits and walked only one in eight innings. But he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth, bringing Marv Breuer into the game for New York. A single, an error by Breuer, and another single gave St. Louis a second run and sent Breuer to the showers without recording an out. In the bottom of the ninth White gave up a final single but a Charlie Keller fly to right ended the threat and put the Cardinals up two games to one in the Series.

White was the big hero, he’d pitched a complete game shutout and even delivered a sacrifice bunt that helped lead to the Cardinals first (and winning) run. For Chandler it was a great game also, he just had the bad luck to give up one run (on a ground out). Now New York needed to win the next game to tie up the Series.

Max Lanier

Max Lanier

Game 4

On Sunday 4 October the hometown Yankees sent Hank Borowy to the mound to oppose game one loser Mort Cooper. Today Borowy is primarily famous for starting the last ever Chicago Cubs World Series game (game 7 of 1945) but in 1942 he was a significant member of the New York staff. And he started out well while Cooper struggled. In the bottom of the first a Red Rolfe double and a Roy Cullenbine single scored the first run of the game. Over the first three innings Borowy walked one and allowed a couple of hits, but no runs. That changed in the top of the fourth when St. Louis tallied six runs. Singles by Stan Musial and Walker Cooper (Mort’s brother) put two men on. Then Borowy walked Johnny Hopp. That brought up Whitey Kurowski. He singled scoring both Musial and Walker Cooper and sent Hopp to third. Marty Marion then walked. Pitcher Mort Cooper singled to let in both Hopp and Kurowski, and send Borowy to the bench replaced by Atley Donald. He got an out, then a Terry Moore single plated Marion. An out later Musial’s second hit of the inning, this one a double, scored Mort Cooper to give St. Louis a 6-1 lead.

It lasted to the bottom of the sixth when New York lit up Mort Cooper and tied the game. A Phil Rizzuto single led off the inning. Then Rolfe walked. A Cullenbine single scored the Scooter. After an out Charlie Keller smashed a three run home run and sent Cooper to the showers. An error put Joe Gordon on base, a grounder sent him to second, and a double scored Gordon to knot the game at six each.

Walks to Enos Slaughter and Musial put two men on base to open the seventh inning. Walker Cooper’s single scored Slaughter. An out and a walk later Marion hit a long fly to center that scored Musial and the Cards were back on top 8-6.

The Cards sent Max Lanier to the mound to hold the Yanks in check. He worked around an opening single to keep St. Louis ahead, then got around both a hit and a walk to keep the score 8-6 going into the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Hopp led off with a single, went to second on a bunt, and scored on a Lanier single. Lanier gave up one more single in the ninth, but again no one scored and the Cardinals won the game 9-6.

It was the highest scoring game of the Series. Both teams did most of their scoring in one big inning (six runs for St Louis and five for New York). Musial and Walker Cooper both scored two runs and drove in one. Kurowski and Mort Cooper both had two RBIs. Charlie Keller provided the big blow for New York with his three run home run.

Down three games to one, New York was in an unusual situation. Winner of eight straight World Series, stretching back to 1927 (’27, ’28, ’32,’ 36-’39, ’41) they’d seldom been in a hole. They had one last game at home to crawl closer and send the Series back to St. Louis.

 

 

 

The Old and the New: games at Sportsman’s Park

March 14, 2016

The 1942 World Series began in St. Louis with two games. After those two, the Series would move to New York for games three through five. The final games, if necessary, would be back in St. Louis.

Red Ruffing

Red Ruffing

Game 1

The first game in Sportsman’s Park was played 30 September. St. Louis sent National League MVP Mort Cooper to the mound. New York countered with long time stalwart Red Ruffing. Both pitchers were on for three innings. In the top of the fourth Joe DiMaggio singled.  Consecutive pop ups got two outs, then Bill Dickey walked moving DiMaggio to second. A Buddy Hassett double down the left field line scored DiMaggio and sent Dickey to third. A grounder by pitcher Ruffing got Cooper out of the jam with only one run scoring. But the Yanks went back to work in the top of the fifth. With one out a Red Rolfe single and Roy Cullenbine double put runners on second and third. A Joe DiMaggio roller to third got Cullenbine trying to advance, but Rolfe scored the second New York run.

In the eighth inning, the wheels came off for Cooper. With two outs and DiMaggio on first, Dickey singled. A Hassett single scored the Yankee Clipper and sent Dickey to third. Then Ruffing lifted a fly to right field which Cardinals outfielder Enos Slaughter misplayed allowing both Dickey and Hassett to score. That put New York up 5-0. New York tacked on two more in the ninth when Rolfe singled and Cullenbine hit a little tapper back to Max Lanier, who’d relieved to start the ninth. Lanier threw it away allowing Rolfe to score and Cullenbine to go to third. A second out brought up Charlie Keller who walked. A Lanier pick-off attempt went wide and Cullenbine scored the seventh New York run.

Up 7-0 Ruffing started the bottom of the ninth. Considering what was to happen in the remainder of the Series, it was a harbinger of what was to come. Stan Musial fouled out, then Walker Cooper singled. Another out brought up pinch hitter Ray Sanders who walked. A Marty Marion triple scored both runners. Pinch hitter Ken O’Dea singled scoring Marion. Another single brought Terry Moore to the plate. His single scored the fourth run of the inning. A Slaughter single brought up Musial with two outs. He’d made the first out of the inning and proceeded to ground to the first baseman. A flip to the pitcher ended the game, the inning, and made Musial one of the few men to make two outs in one inning in the World Series.

The Yankees won 7-4, but the St. Louis rally in the bottom of the ninth was indicative of what the Cardinals were capable of doing. New York had gotten good production out of much of its lineup and Ruffing had been sterling for eight innings. Both teams did well, but New York led the Series 1 game to none.

The Man

The Man

Game 2

The second game was played 1 October. For the Cardinals Johnny Beazley took the mound. The Yankees response was Ernie Bonham. From the beginning Bonham was in trouble. He gave up a leadoff walk to Jimmy Brown. Terry Moore bunted Brown to second and beat out the throw. Two outs later Walker Cooper doubled home both runs to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

Both pitchers pitched well from there. They gave up a lot of hits but there weren’t many walks and no one scored. The Cards tacked on a run in the seventh on a Johnny Hopp single and a Whitey Kurowski triple, but failed to score Kurowski. That was to cost the Cards because the Yanks came storming back in the top of the eighth. With two outs, Roy Cullenbine singled, then stole second. Joe DiMaggio singled to bring home Cullenbine and scored himself when Charlie Keller slugged a two-run home run to right field that tied the game at 3-3.

In the bottom of the eighth, tied and in danger or possibly going down two games to none, St. Louis took a pair of quick outs. That brought up Enos Slaughter who doubled to right. Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto let the throw in from right get away and Slaughter dashed to third. Up came Stan Musial who had made two outs in one inning the day before, including the final out of the game. But it was Musial and he singled to score Slaughter and put the Cardinals ahead 4-3. The score stayed that way despite consecutive singles to lead off the top of the ninth. Neither man scored, the first being cut down at third on a great throw from Slaughter. A fly and a groundout finished off New York and the Cardinals had tied the Series one game apiece.

Beazley had one bad inning, but managed to win. He was in trouble a lot, giving up 10 hits and walking two, but New York’s scoring was confined to one inning. Bonham had given up only six hits and walked just one, but he’d spread four runs over the game and lost. Slaughter was a big hero scoring the decisive run and gunning down a key runner in the ninth, but it was Musial who drove in the game winner.

Several years ago I did a series of posts in which I gave my candidate for the best ever World Series by game (i.e. the best all time game 1, the best all time game 2, etc.). At the time I chose the 1942 Series game 2 as the finest game 2 in World Series history. It’s been several years since (and thus a number of game 2’s since) so I might now change my mind. But whether I would or not, it was still a great game.

After a day off for travel, the World Series would resume in New York with three games. With the Series tied, a split of any kind would bring the games back to St. Louis. A sweep would end the season.

 

 

 

The Old and the New: the ’42 Yankees

March 7, 2016
Marse Joe

Marse Joe

The 1942 baseball season was the first played while the US was involved in the Second World War. It changed a lot of things. One thing it didn’t change was the New York Yankees stranglehold on the American League. For the sixth time in seven years, New York won the AL pennant. Joe McCarthy’s gang won the league championship by nine games and were primed to win their ninth World Series since 1927.

Yankee hitters finished first in runs and home runs and second in almost everything else, finishing third in stolen bases and triples and fourth in doubles. The pitching was even better. New York hurlers led the AL in every major category except strikeouts (they were second) and in home runs. All that got them 103 wins and earned second baseman Joe Gordon an MVP award.

It wasn’t one of the more famous Yankee staffs, but New York pitchers were excellent. Ernie Bonham, Spud Chandler, Hank Borowy, Atley Donald, and Marv Breuer all started at least 19 games. Hall of Famer Red Ruffing had a 3.21 ERA which was last among the starters. His .667 winning percentage (14-7) was next-to-last. Johnny Murphy and Johnny Lindell did most of the damage out of the bullpen, while former ace Lefty Gomez was restricted to 13 games.

At 35, Bill Dickey was still a premier catcher. He hit .295 for the season with an OPS of .732 (POS+ of 108) and 1.6 WAR. His power was gone (two homers)but neither Buddy Rosar or Rollie Hemsley, his backups, had more.

The infield was formidable up the middle and weaker at the edges. Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto played either side of the keystone bag. Gordon, as mentioned above, won the MVP hitting .322 with a .900 OPS and a 154 OPS+. His WAR was a team high 8.2. He contributed 103 RBIs, 88 runs, and 18 home runs (all third on the team). Shortstop Rizzuto added a .284 average, a .718 OPS, a 103 OPS+, and 5.7 WAR. He had 157 hits, 68 RBIs, and flashed good leather. Buddy Hassett held down first. He wasn’t Lou Gehrig, managing only a .284 average, 0.4 WAR, and a below average OPS+ of 95. Frankie Crosetti and Red Rolfe shared time at third. Neither hit.250 (Crosetti’s .242 easily outpacing Rolfe’s .219). Rolfe’s eight home runs doubled Crosetti’s four and between them they had 48 RBIs. Jerry Priddy and Ed Levy provided most of the bench work (infielders with more than 40 at bats).  Levy hit a buck-22, but Priddy hit .280 with a couple of home runs.

The 1942 team provided one of the best Yankee outfields. There was no Ruth or Mantle, but across the field from left to right the three main players might have given New York the best trio of outfielders it produced at one time. Joe DiMaggio was in center. His 6.1 WAR was third on the team. He hit .305 with 21 home runs (good for second on the team) while leading the team with 114 RBIs and 186 hits. Charlie Keller played left. He hit .292, led the team with 26 homers and a .930 OPS (163 OPS+) and posted 6.7 WAR (good for second on the team). Tommy Henrich hit .267 with 13 home runs, 129 hits, a team leading 30 doubles, an OPS+ of 121, and 2.7 WAR. Roy Cullenbine and George Selkirk were the other outfielders. Cullenbine hit .364 and led the team with an OPS+ of 188 (1.4 WAR) and had the only two home runs by the backup outfielders. Selkirk hit .192.

The Yanks were defending champions. They were seasoned, formidable, and ready to repeat. Standing in their way was the upstart team from St. Louis.

The First Integrated World Series: the Yanks

April 16, 2015
The Yankee Clipper

The Yankee Clipper

There was less disarray among the 1947 New York Yankees than there was with Brooklyn, but it was in some turmoil because it was a team in transition. Between 1921 and 1943 New York had never gone more than three seasons without a pennant. By failing to win in 1944, 1945, and 1946, they’d just matched that record. The idea of going four in a row was anathema. So it brought on changes within the team.

The most noticeable change, in many ways, was the man in charge in the dugout. After 16 years as manager, Joe McCarthy was gone. A combination of losing, poor teams during the war, his drinking, and new management had sent McCarthy and his seven world championships into retirement. In his place was rookie manager Bucky Harris. Now Harris was a rookie manager only in the sense of being new to the Yanks. He’d managed the Senators as far back as their single World Series title in 1924 and had spent other years managing in Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia. On the hot seat after replacing the manager with the most championships ever and leading a team used to winning, Harris was able to provide stability to his team.

The infield was changed from the glory years. George McQuinn was at first after playing the same position for the Browns and Athletics. He hit over .300 and his 13 home runs tied for third on the team. Snuffy Stirnweiss had been around for a while. He’d taken over at second during the war years and was terrific. He’d picked up a batting title in 1945. Then reality set in. The major players were back from the war; the dominant pitchers were back on the mound. Stirnweiss suffered against them. His WAR (BBREF version) went from the mid-eights to the mid-threes. It was still better than backup Lonny Frey, seven years removed from his term with the world championship Reds of 1940. He’d come to New York in mid-season and hit .179. Phil Rizzuto hit .273, led the team in stolen bases, and was one of the better shortstops of the era. The primary third baseman was Billy Johnson. He had 10 home runs, had an ERA+ of 114 and was being challenged by Bobby Brown (who would later be President of the American League).

The outfield saw more stability. Johnny Lindell was now the regular in left field. He hit .275 with 11 home runs. He was the replacement for Charlie Keller. Keller was having back problems and so only saw action in 45 games. He only hit .238 but tied for third on the team with 13 home runs. His .550 slugging percentage and .954 OPS led the Yanks. Right field remained with Tommy Henrich. He led the team with 98 RBIs, and with 109 runs scored. His 158 hits was second on the team as were his 16 homers. And of course he was second in both to Joe DiMaggio. The Yankee Clipper hit .315, had 20 home runs, 97 RBIs, 168 hits, walked 64 times then had 31 doubles and 32 strikeouts. Just a more or less normal DiMaggio year.

No where was in greater transition than the catching job. Aaron Robinson began the year as the primary catcher. He was 32, hit .270, was a decent catcher, and by the end of the year was losing his job to second year man, the 22-year-old Yogi Berra. Berra hit .280, had 11 home runs, 54 RBIs, and 41 runs scored in 293 at bats. His catching numbers were on par with Robinson’s and in some cases (passed balls and caught stealing percentage) slightly better. The third catcher was Ralph Houk. He didn’t play much in 1947, but he would later manage the Yanks to three pennants and two World Series championships. Future All Star Sherm Lollar got into 11 games behind the plate.

But easily the most notable transition was in the pitching staff. Gone were the stalwarts of the 1930s and early 1940s, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. Allie Reynolds was now the ace. He came over from Cleveland at the beginning of 1947,went 19-8 and posted an ERA+ of 110. He walked 123 while striking out 129 and gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Vic Raschi was only 7-2 in his rookie year (he’d pitched two games the year before), but was already 28. He would join Reynolds as one of the mainstays of the early 1950s Yanks. Spec Shea was the second pitcher. He went 14-5 and had both 89 walks and 89 strikeouts. Bill Bevens, like Shea, had the same number of walks as strikeouts. In his case 77 of each. He was a journeyman who went 7-13 during the regular season, but would make the most of his one starting opportunity in World Series play. Spud Chandler and Bobo Newsom, both aged 39, rounded out the starters. Fireman Joe Page was the primary reliever, garnering 17 saves, while relieving in 44 of 56 games. Karl Drews started 10 games and pitched in 30. No one else appeared in more than 25 games. Tommy Byrne, who would come to fame on the 1950s Yanks got into four games. Except for Page (and Byrne) all of them were right-handed.

They were a formidable team and favored in the Series. Since 1927 they’d won nine World Series and lost only one. In 1941 they’d beaten the Dodgers in five games. Most writers expected them to do so again, although it might take more than five games.

The One They Lost

March 13, 2012

Between 1927 and 1954 the New York Yankees put together baseball’s greatest dynasty. In those 28 years the Yanks went to the World Series 16 times (57% of the time) and won 15 Series’ (94%). This is the story of the one they lost.

1942 Yankees

By the 1942 World Series the Yankees had won the last eight World Series’ they had played in (1927-8, 1932, 1936-39, and 1941). Except for losing Tommy Henrich to the military, they had not suffered significantly because of the Second World War. With Buddy Hassett at first, Joe Gordon at second, Phil Rizzuto at short, Red Rolfe at third, Bill Dickey behind the plate, and an outfield of Charlie Keller, Joe DiMaggio, and Roy Cullenbine the team hit well. The pitching was also good, but beginning to age a little. Red Ruffing was still there, but a fading ace. Ernie Bonham (the ace in ’42), Spud Chandler, and Hank Borowy all started 20 or more games and Johnny Murphy was the main bullpen man with 11 saves.

1942 Cardinals

Their opponents were a bunch of upstarts, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards hadn’t won since the Gas House Gang days of 1934, but won 106 games in 1942. It was a young team with only center fielder Terry Moore among the starters being over 29 (he was 30). The infield was (first around to third) Johnny Hopp, Creepy Crespi, Marty Marion, and Whitey Kurowski. Walker Cooper did the catching, and the outfield consisted of Enos Slaughter, Moore, and the best player on either team, Stan Musial. During the Series, utility man Jimmy Brown (age 32) took over second base for the light hitting Crespi. The staff was also young with ace Mort Cooper (Walker’s brother and winner of the ’42 National League MVP) the old man at 29.  Johnny Beazley was 24, Ernie White was 25, and Max Lanier was 26. Harry Gumbert, who was a geezer at 32, started 19 games and did the bulk of the bullpen work picking up five saves.

Games 1 and 2 were in St. Louis. Red Ruffing handcuffed the Cards for the first eight innings of game one. While not exactly lighting up Mort Cooper, the Yanks steadily put up runs, leading 7-0 going into the bottom of the ninth. They were helped by four Cardinal errors. But the bottom of the ninth became something of a warning for the Yankees. The Cards scored four runs on a handful of singles, a triple by Marion and some weak bullpen pitching by the Yanks. The inning is somewhat notable for more than just the four runs. Stan Musial joined a small group of others in making two outs in a single inning in the World Series. If Musial makes two outs in one inning, that shows you how tough a game it really is.

Game two saw the Cards score two runs in the first on Walker Cooper’s double. That was it for St. Louis for six innings. The Cardinals got another run in the bottom of the seventh on a Whitey Kurowski triple. Then New York struck in the top of the eighth, putting up three runs to tie the score. The key hit was a two-run homer by Charlie Keller. With two out in the bottom of the eighth, Slaughter doubled and Musial singled him home with the lead run. In the ninth, Slaughter had a great throw from right field that caught a runner going to third and snuffed out a Yankees rally.

With the Series tied at one game each, the next three games were in New York. In game three southpaw Ernie White held the Yankees to six hits, all singles, and pitched a complete game shutout. The Cards only got five hits, three off starter Spud Chandler, but put up a run in the third on a walk, a single, a bunt, and a ground out. They got an unearned run in the ninth on two singles sandwiched around an error by pitcher Marv Breuer.

Game four was a shootout. New York got a run in the first, then St. Louis exploded for six runs in the fourth. Except for a Musial double that scored one run, they did it all with singles and walks. Not to be outdone, the Yankees scored five of their own in the sixth. The big blow was another Keller home run, this one a three run job. With the score tied in the seventh, St. Louis scored two runs on consecutive walks, a single, and a sacrifice. They added a final run in the ninth on (again) a bunch of singles, bunts, and a final single by the pitcher (Lanier).

Down three games to one, the Yankees struck first when Phil Rizzuto led off the bottom of the first with a home run. That held up until the fourth, when Slaughter answered with another homer (the first Cardinal home run of the Series). New York responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the fourth, this time using the Cardinals method of singles and bunts to plate the go-ahead run. In the top of the sixth, St. Louis got a run on two singles and a fly to tie the game back up. It stayed that way until the top of the ninth. With one out and Walker Cooper on second, Kurowski hit a two-run home run to put the Cardinals ahead. With two on and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, Cooper and Marion worked a pick off that cut down Joe Gordon at second for the first out. A pop up and a ground out ended the game and the Series giving St. Louis its first championship since Dizzy Dean.

It was actually a darned good series, despite only going five games. The Yankees outhit and out slugged St. Louis but scored only 18 runs (13 earned) on 44 hits, nine of them for extra bases (including three home runs). The Cardinals put up 23 runs (22 earned) on 39 hits, only eight for extra bases (two home runs, both in game five).  A key difference was that St. Louis worked for 17 walks while New York only had eight (an OBP of .311 to .280 in favor of the Cards). Yankees pitching had an ERA of 4.50 and a WHIP of 1.273, while St. Louis’ ERA was 2.60 with a 1.156 WHIP. Johnny Beazley won two games, Lanier got one and pitched well in relief. Kurowski had big hits in two wins, including the clinching home run in game five. For New York Charlie Keller had five RBIs despite hitting only .200. Ruffing got the only win.

New York would get their revenge the next season when they knocked off St. Louis in five games (the Cards won game two). That was a temporary end of the line for the Yanks. They would miss the Series for the next three years, but by 1947 had reloaded and went on a run that saw them win six World Series (1947, 1949-52) in seven years. 

But for the Cardinals 1942 was the beginning of their greatest run. They took pennants in 1942, 43, 44, and 46 and won the World Series in each year except 1943. The young guns would remain the keys to the team throughout the period, although change would see a number of other “youngsters” join the team, including Hall of Fame announcer Joe Garagiola and Cooperstown inductee Red Schoendienst. Outside St. Louis, though, the 1942 World Series is primarily known as the one the Yankees lost.

Ernie, Bubbles, and the King

July 21, 2010

It’s really hard not to like Joe Mauer. He’s a heck of a hitter, he’s a darned fine catcher, and he seems to be a good teammate and a thoroughly likeable human being. He’s now won three American League batting titles. No other AL catcher ever won even a single batting title. The National League’s batting title has been owned by a catcher three times and, depending on how you look at it, one possible. Here’s a very brief look at the men who, other than Joe Mauer, have won batting titles while spending much of their time behind the plate.

Ernie Lombardi

Ernie Lombardi won National League batting titles in 1938 with Cincinnati and again in 1942 with the New York Giants. Lombardi was a big, largely immobile catcher who could hit a ton and ran like a turtle. He’s sometimes regarded as the slowest man to ever play Major League baseball. A joke attributed to Dizzy Dean goes that Lombardi was so slow that he could turn a triple into a close play at first. Maybe, but he did have 27 triples during his career (mostly played in Crosley Field and the Polo Grounds, both of which had huge outfields). For his career he hit .306 with 190 home runs, a .460 slugging percentage, and 1792 hits over 1853 games. On the field he’s probably best known for being bowled over by Charlie Keller during the final game of the 1939 World Series. Unable to get up (the reason tends to change with the author who’s telling it), he let two more runs score before being able to regain his balance and senses. He took a lot of heat for the play, but the series was a Yankees sweep. He was part of the 1940 World Series champion Reds and made the Hall of Fame in 1986. There’s a nice fairly detailed biography of him in Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract. And before someone asks, as far as I know he is not related to the Green Bay Packers’ Vince Lombardi.

Bubbles Hargrave

Bubbles Hargrave was another Reds catcher who won the batting title, this time in 1926, breaking Rogers Hornsby’s string of six straight. For his career he hit .310 with 29 home runs, 786 hits, in 852 games. His batting title was controversial because he only had 326 at bats in 1926. He hit .353 and had only 115 hits in 105 games. Today he wouldn’t qualify for the batting title, but under the rules in play in 1926 he was the winner and I see no reason to dispute his title. For the rest of his career his highest average was .333 in 1923 when he managed to lead the league in being hit by a pitch (12 times). He led the NL in fielding percentage one time and seems to have been a serviceable catcher. He died in 1969.

King Kelly

All the way back in 1886 Mike “King ” Kelly led the NL in hitting at .388.  He also led the league in runs that season with 155 and in slugging at .483.  Kelly was a sometime catcher who played 56 games in the outfield in 1886, 53 behind the plate, and a handful in the infield. Beginning in 1888 he started catching more often than he played any other position. Prior to 1888 he spent more time in the outfield than behind the plate. Usually as a player ages he spends less time catching and more time in the outfield.. Kelly does it the other way. I’m not sure what that says about Kelly or about the catching position in 1880s baeball. For his career he hit .308 with 69 home runs, 1813 hits, a .438 slugging percentage in 1455 games. He also spent 750 games in the outfield and 583 catching, with 277 everywhere else (including 12 pitching performances). He made the Hall of Fame in 1945. He’s generally not considered a catcher when his batting title is discussed. I’ll let you decide what you think.

So there they are, the catchers not named Joe Mauer who have won a batting title. Two of them (counting Kelly as a catcher if you desire) are Hall of Famers. That seems to bode well for Mauer.

Best Possible Game 4

December 12, 2009

In World Series history the Dodgers have played the Yankees more than any other matchup. It’s appropriate they make this list. In 1947 they played a game for the ages. It included the first integrated World Series and proved the Last Hurrah for 3 players.

Game 4 in 1947 featured Hall of Fame players Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, and Phil Rizzuto for the Yankees. But the pivotal player was Bill Bevens, a journeyman pitcher who was 7-13 for the season. Opposing them was a Brooklyn Dodgers team featuring Jackie Robinson, the first black American in a World Series,  and PeeWee Reese. The starting pitcher was 10 game winner Harry Taylor.

Taylor didn’t have it. He gave up a bases loaded walk in the first and was lifted for Hal Gregg. The Yanks got another run in  on a  triple and a double. 

It looked like that was all they would need, because Bevens was wildly effective. For eight innings he gave up no hits, not one. He gave up 8 walks and one run on two walks, a bunt sacrifice and a fielder’s choice, but no hits (see, I told you he was wild, but effective).

The bottom of the ninth in Ebbets Field started with a fly out, then a walk to Carl Furillo. A foul out recorded the second out. Now the Dodgers decided to pinch run for Furillo. Enter Al Gionfriddo, a backup outfielder with speed who promptly stole second. Bevens intentionally walked pinch hitter Pete Reiser to set up a force at all three bases. The Dodgers sent in pinch runner Eddie Miksis for Reiser and called on pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto to get them home. Lavagetto immediately banged a double off the right field wall scoring Gionfriddo with the tying run, Miksis with the winning run, and ending the no hitter. The Dodgers had tied the Series 2 games apiece. They eventually lost in seven.

For Gionfriddo it was his last series. He played in 2 more games, making a famous catch in game 6 to save the game. He never played another game in the Major Leagues. For Lavagetto it was his last Major League hit. He played in two more of the games in the Series, but got no hits and was gone from the Majors after the Series. For Bevens it was the last game he ever pitched in the big leagues.

Honorable mention game 4:

1929-the A’s score 10 runs in the 7th inning to erase an eight run Cubs lead.

1939-the Series was a blowout, but game 4 was clsoe until Charlie Keller bowled over Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi leading to 3 runs in the 10th inning.

1941-The Dodgers were ahead until catcher Mickey Owen dropped the third strike with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees scored  four runs to win the game leading to a Series victory the next game.

1963-the Dodgers sweep the Yankees behind Sandy Koufax and a 2-1 win.

1993-Do you like offense? This 15-14 special asked if anyone on either team could pitch. Runs were scored in every inning except the ninth. What happened? Did the hitters finally get tired of running the bases?

2001-Down in the ninth, Tino Martinez homers for the Yankees, then in the 10th Derek Jeter becomes “Mr. November.”