Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

The Lip

June 14, 2018

The Lip and the Babe

If I had to put together a list of the most interesting men to ever be associated with Major League Baseball, I’m certain that Casey Stengel would be at the top. I’m not sure of the order of the next three or four, probably Branch Rickey second. But I am sure that on the list, very high on the list would be Leo Durocher.

At this point Durocher is receding in the minds of most fans. It’s been a long time and he’s been gone for a long time. But he was brash, loud, opinionated (they called him “Leo the Lip” for a reason). He played with Babe Ruth and with Dizzy Dean. He managed PeeWee Reese and Willie Mays. He was, for years a fixture.

He wasn’t much of a player. Here’s his triple slash line: .247/.299/.320/.619 (OPS+ of 66) with 575 runs on 1320 hits and 377 walks. His WAR is all of 5.1. He was a decent, but not great, shortstop, his defensive WAR being 11.4. He spent time with the Yankees, Reds, Cardinals, and Dodgers.

What he was ultimately was a great baseball mind. He knew all the tricks of the trade, knew how to motivate players, knew how to get the most out of a modest roster, knew how to make the fans love him. He was, in other words, a Hall of Fame Manager. He took over a moribund Brooklyn team in 1939 and brought them to a pennant in 1941. They lost the World Series, then fell back behind a superb Cardinals team. In 1946, Brooklyn and St. Louis were tied at the end of the season. A three game playoff format lasted two games as the Cards swept the Dodgers and went on to a World Series title. It was during the 1946 season that Durocher uttered a comment about the Giants and Mel Ott that has come down to us as Durocher’s trademark, “Nice guys finish last.” That’s not the exact quote, but it does distill the meaning.

Contrary to popular belief, Durocher was not Jackie Robinson’s first big league manager. During the run up to the 1947 season, Durocher was suspended for a variety of reasons, most notably his inability to stay away from friends who were gamblers, mobsters, and bookies. Before the suspension, he did take swift action to quash the anti-Robinson petition being circulated by some of the Brooklyn players. Robinson later indicated he thought Durocher’s actions were significant in easing his (Robinson’s) path to the big leagues.

In 1948, Durocher was released by the Dodgers. Branch Rickey was running the team and he and Leo Durocher had very different philosophies on life (but not on integration and baseball). Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract tells the story of Durocher giving a nervous pitcher a drink before a game and Rickey going crazy over it. A paraphrase of Durocher’s comment led to the famous “There’s a W column and an L column. You pay me to put crooked numbers in the W column.”

It also contributed to Rickey releasing Durocher from his contract and allowing him to move to the Giants as manager. He led them to the NL pennant in 1951, this time winning a three game playoff against Brooklyn (the “Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant” series). They lost the World Series to the Yankees, but pulled off a famous upset in 1954 when they won the World Series against the 111 win Indians. It was the last Giants pennant and World Series victory in in New York, and their last world’s championship in the 20th Century. He left the Giants after the 1955 season.

Durocher had a long running affair with minor Hollywood actress Laraine Day. They were married in 1947 and divorced in 1960 (she was the third of four Durocher wives). The relationship got him some parts in movies and on television (he was in an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” playing himself) and he was considered pretty good for someone not trained in acting.

He coached a little, did some acting, then in 1966 took over the Chicago Cubs. He stayed into the 1972 season, captaining the collapse of 1969 that led to the “Miracle Mets” championship. The Cubs had a long history of futility when he took over, but he kept them above .500 in each of his seasons as manager, except the first. In 1972 he moved on to Houston after being fired by the Cubs for not winning a pennant. He had a winning record with the Astros and retired after the 1973 season with a managerial record of 2008-1709 (a .540 winning percentage).

He managed a little in Japan, wrote a book (which is pretty good), and died in 1991. He was enshrined at Cooperstown in 1994. He deserved it as a baseball man and as one of the more famous people to be involved in the game.

 

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A Series of Firsts

November 3, 2016
Cubs win

Cubs win

Let me start by congratulating the Cubs on finally winning a World Series in my lifetime (can’t say the same for the Indians). So now they are officially 1-108. Also congrats to Ben Zobrist, one of my favorites, on winning the Series MVP Award. Like most World Series’ there were a number of firsts in this one. In honor of a nine inning game, here’s nine for the Cubs:

1. One of the most important firsts involves Dexter Fowler. The last time the Cubs participated in a World Series was 1945. Jackie Robinson didn’t arrive in Brooklyn until 1947, so Fowler becomes the first black man to play in a World Series for the Cubs. It also means that now every franchise that has been to a World Series, (all but the Nationals and Seattle) has carried a black player on its roster during the World Series. It may be the most important first. And sticking with Fowler we get two more firsts. He is the first Cub to strike out in a World Series since 1945 and he is the first Cubs player to hit a home run since Phil Cavarretta did it in game one of 1945.

2. Jake Arrieta became the first Chicago Cubs pitcher to win a World Series game since integration when he won game two. The last Cubs pitcher to win a Series game? Hank Borowy won game 6 of 1945 (3 October 1945).

3. Ben Zobrist has a number of firsts. He became the first Cub to get a hit since 1945 and the first to get an extra base hit (a double) since 1945. As the MVP he becomes the first Cub to win the World Series MVP award (there was no Series award in 1945–it began in 1955).

4. Kyle Schwarber became the first player ever to get his first hit of the season in the World Series. Never been done before. He also got the first Cubs walk since 1945.

5. Kris Bryant scored the first Cubs run since game 7 of 1945.

6. Jon Lester became the first Cubs pitcher to lose a game (game 1) since Hank Borowy lost game seven in 1945. Yes, Borowy both won game six and lost game seven in 1945. He relieved in six and started seven.

7. Addison Russell hit the first grand slam in Chicago Cubs World Series history.

8. In 1945 the Cubs won game six at home. Their game five win in 2016 is their first home victory since. And it continues a Cubs tradition. Chicago played its first World Series game in Wrigley Field in 1929 (the 1906-08 and 1910 World Series were played in a different park and the 1918 Series was in Comiskey Park). Between 1929 and 2016 the Cubs are, in World Series play, 7-9 (.438 winning percentage) on the road. They are 3-14 (.176 winning percentage) in Wrigley (wins coming in 1935, 1945, and 2016).

9. In 1935 Frank Demaree hit two home runs against Detroit. In 2016 he was joined by both Bryant and Fowler, making them the first Cubs to hit two home runs in a Series since 1935 and the first time two Cubs did it in the same Series..

10. And in honor of the game going 10 innings last evening, here’s one for the Indians. In 1920 Stan Coveleski started three games on the mound for Cleveland. Corey Kluber is the first Indians pitcher to start three games in the Series since Coveleski. Kluber went 2-0, Coveleski 3-0.

 

Congratulations and another one of those All Time Teams

September 16, 2016

First, it seems right to congratulate the Chicago Cubs as the first team to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. But, perhaps to celebrate, Sports Illustrated just released, on its daily mailing it sends to people like me, the All Time Cubs team. Here, for your interest and edification, is the list:

Catcher–Gabby Hartnett

Infield-Cap Anson (1st), Ryne Sandberg (2nd), Ernie Banks (ss), Ron Santo (3b)

Outfield–Billy Williams (left), Hack Wilson (center), Sammy Sosa (right)

Pitchers–Fergie Jenkins and Mordecai Brown as starters and Bruce Sutter as the reliever.

There are no backups listed.

So what do we make of this? On the face of it, it isn’t a bad list. It’s certainly better than the thing ESPN did on its top 100 players. Having said that, I have a couple of problems with it. I’m not sure how you compare Anson with the rest of the cast. He spent almost his entire career (which went from the National Association of the 1870s into the 1890s) hitting against pitchers who were not allowed to throw overhand or who did not throw from a mound 60’6″ away. I agree Anson was a heck of a player (probably a top 100), but I’m not sure you can accurately compare him with more modern Cubs first basemen (Mark Grace, Leon Durham, even Phil Cavarretta of the 1945 team). Sure you can make comparisons with Anson’s contemporaries, but I do worry about comparing him to much never guys. Second, I wish they’d do some commentary on Sosa’s steroid issue. I’m not sure how much it would change his position, but it should be noted (as should the bitter taste of how he left Chicago).

There is no manager listed. I suppose I’d go with Frank Chance. He’s the only one who proved he could lead a team to a modern World Series championship. Anyway, you should be able to find the list on Sports Illustrated’s website somewhere.

28 June 1914: the NL

June 27, 2014
Heinie Groh, complete with "bottle bat"

Heinie Groh, complete with “bottle bat”

And now concluding a look at where all three Major Leagues stood on 28 June 1914 (100 years ago tomorrow), the day that the assassination in Sarajevo set off the spark that led to World War I, here’s a view of what was going on in the National League.

The National League had the most games on Sunday, 28 June 1914. Both of the other leagues had three games, a double-header and a single game. The NL went with twin double-headers. In one set Pittsburgh played two in Cincinnati and in the other the Cubs took on the Cardinals in St. Louis.

the Reds managed to sweep both games from the Pirates. In game one they rallied late to take a 7-6 victory. Pittsburgh scored a run in each of the first three innings, got three more in the seventh, and led 6-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. Joe Conzelman, in relief of Babe Adams started the ninth, couldn’t get anyone out, and left the job to George McQuillan. McQuillan got two outs, but never got the last, as Cincinnati plated five runs, all earned, to win the game. Heinie Groh of “bottle bat” fame had two hits, scored a run, and drove in one.  But the big hero was center fielder Howard Lohr who had three hits (all singles) scored two runs, and drove in three.

In game two the teams went the other way. In the second, Groh singled, then came home on another single by left fielder Harry LaRoss. It was the only run that starter Marty O’Toole gave up, but Cincinnati starter Pete Schneider picked up his first win of the season by throwing a complete game shutout. For the day Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner went one for seven with an RBI, while fellow Hall of Fame player Max Carey went one for seven and scored a run.

In St. Louis, the two teams split the double-header. In game one the Cards routed Chicago 6-0. The hitting stars were Lee Magee and Dots Miller. Magee scored two runs and had an RBI while going two for two with two walks. Miller went two for four, but drove in three runs. Pitcher Bill Doak threw a complete game shutout.

In the nightcap, with the scored tied 2-2, the Cubs erupts for six runs in the fifth. Tommy Leach two runs, Vic Saier had three RBIs, and Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan had both a run and an RBI from the eight hole. With the score 8-2, St. Louis rallied for two runs in the eighth before Cubs ace Hippo Vaughn entered the game. He gave up one more run, but then shut down St. Louis to record his only save of the season and see Chicago pull off an 8-5 victory.  Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem had the plate for both games.

At the end of the day, Cincy stood in second place, five games behind the Giants, while the Pirates held down fifth place (and were the highest placed team with a losing record). The Cubs were in third and the Cards in fourth. By the end of the season the Cards had risen to third, the Cubs were fourth, the Reds had slipped to last, nine games below seventh place Pittsburgh.

One major trade occurred that day. The last place Braves sent Hub Perdue, a 2-5 pitcher to St. Louis. They got back first baseman Possum Whitted and utility outfielder Ted Cather. Whitted moved into the clean up spot for the Braves and Cather became part of an outfield platoon. Both men were instrumental in the “Miracle Braves” run to the NL pennant and the World Series triumph in 1914. The run began 6 July when Boston ran off seven of eight wins to start the climb to the top.

 

 

 

 

The 50 Greatest Cubs

December 5, 2012
Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

As a followup on the 50 Greatest Dodgers post, I found two more lists that ESPN published. Root around a little and you can find the entire list at ESPN. There are five total that I have found, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox. I’ve already commented on the Yanks, BoSox, and Bums. Here are some thoughts on the Cubs list.

1. The top 10 Cubs, as listed by ESPN, are, in order: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Cap Anson, Three Finger Brown, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Frank Chance, Hack Wilson, and Gabby Hartnett. Again, before anyone can ask, the first guy out of the top 10 (number 11) is Phil Cavarretta.

2. To make a complete team with a four man World Series rotation (at least one lefty) and a closer you get an infield of  Anson at first, Sandberg at second, Banks at short, Santo at third; an outfield of Williams, Wilson, and Riggs Stephenson (at number 18); Hartnett catching; a rotation of Brown, Jenkins, Hippo Vaughn (number 12 and the lefty), and Ed Reulbach (at number 13); with the closer being Lee Smith at number 24. The first player duplicating a position, and hence the DH is Chance.

3. Sammy Sosa finished 23. The little bit of commentary available notes the steroid allegations and the corked bat problem. Without them, my guess is he makes the top 10 easy and replaces Stephenson on the starting team.

4. Tinker to Evers to Chance is perhaps the most famous infield combination ever. As noted above Chance is 8th. Joe Tinker shows up at 15th (the second highest shortstop on the list) while Evers is number 30, the fourth second baseman listed (behind Rogers Hornsby at 21 and Bill Herman at 17).

5. I was surprised to see Lee Smith above Bruce Sutter (who finished 29th). I have no particular problem with that, but I thought the Cy Young Award and the split-finger mystique would move Sutter to the top of the closer list.

6. Besides Anson, there are two other 19th Century players listed, Larry Corcoran at 22nd, and Clark Griffith at 50th. That means that essentially all those 1880s Colts were excluded. I’m not sure why. The change in mound and other rules would surely have excluded Anson also, so that can’t be the reason.

7. Which brings me to the most glaring omissions: King Kelly and John Clarkson.

8. Stan Hack is very underrated at 27th on the list. I know a number of people support him for the Hall of Fame. Whether he deserves to be there or not is another question.

9. Considering the Cubs record of futility since 1908, it’s sometimes astounding to note the number of truly great players that have come through Chicago. The following Hall of Famers are on the list and have so far not been mentioned: Andre Dawson (20th), Kiki Cuyler (28th), Grover Cleveland Alexander (31st). Also Greg Maddux, a sure Hall of Fame member is 14th (and the first pitcher that didn’t make the four man rotation). Long-time manager Charlie Grimm is 26th, Charlie Root who gave up Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series is 19th, and MVP Hank Sauer is listed 37th.

10. To me the most surprising name on the list is Carlos Zambrano at 40th.

Thoughts?

A Bad Century: The Nadir (“Friggin’ Sun”)

May 9, 2012

Woody English (from the Engish website)

Down one game in the 1929 World Series, the Chicago Cubs had game two at home. They managed to lose it 9-3 to go down 0-2, but a change of scenery to Philadelphia seemed to make a difference. They won game three 3-1 behind Guy Bush. So now down two games to one, Chicago was ready to tie up the World Series and make it at best of three championship. The next game was to become one of the most famous games in World Series history, primarily for one astonishing inning. It also represents, to me, the absolute nadir of the Cubs Bad Century.

Game four was scheduled for 12 October in Shibe Park Philadelphia. The Cubs jumped on A’s starter Jack Quinn. Getting six runs off Quinn in five innings and two more off a pair of relievers, the Cubs looked ready to tie up the Series when the Athletics came to bat in the bottom of the seventh down 8-0. Charlie Root (of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy) needed nine outs to lock up the Series. He got one.

Al Simmons led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run (count ’em up with me, 8-1), then consecutive singles by Jimmie Foxx, Bing Miller, Jimmy Dykes, and Joe Boley brought in two more (8-3). Pinch hitting for the pitcher, George Burns (not the comedian) popped out for Root’s only out. Max Bishop singled to bring in another run (8-4). That sent Root to the showers and brought in lefty Art Nehf who sported an impressive ERA of 5.58. Mule Haas greeted him with a three run inside the park home run (8-7). Center Field Wilson managed to lose the ball in the sun, letting it get by him all the way to the fence, clearing the bases. That was bad enough but Wilson wasn’t through proving he was in the lineup for his bat not his glove. Mickey Cochrane then walked, bringing out the hook for Nehf and bringing in Sheriff Blake. Simmons and Foxx both singled bringing in Cochrane (8-8). Out went Blake, in came Malone, the ace, who managed to plunk Miller. That brought up Dykes who doubled over Wilson’s head (another ball that Wilson lost in the sun) to score both Simmons and Foxx (8-10). Then Boley and Burns, designated rally killers supreme, both struck out to end the inning. The A’s scored 10 runs on 10 hits, a walk, an error, and two misplayed balls. Burns managed to make two outs in a single inning. So far as I can determine, only Stan Musial in 1942 managed to equal that feat. When the inning was over, Wilson, back in the dugout, is supposed to have muttered, “friggin’ sun.” (OK, he didn’t say “friggin'”, but this is a family friendly site.)

Lefty Grove entered the game, no hit the Cubs for two innings and picked up the save. The Series now stood 3-1 in favor of Philadelphia. Teams had come back from that kind of deficit before (not often, it’s true, but it had been done), so Chicago still had a chance. There was no game on Sunday, so Monday 14 October, the subject of my next post, would see game five.

“Non-Essential”

March 30, 2012

Harry Hooper during the 19-teens

In April 1917 the United States entered the Great War on the side of the Entente (Britain, France, Russia) and sent men off to “make the world safe for Democracy” (nice try, fellas). The federal government began to mobilize American society to fight a war unlike any the US had ever faced. It would take a million men to fight it and even more to provide the materiel (yep, that’s spelled right. Materiel is a particular military spelling of material whose origins escape me.), goods, services, morale boosting necessary to fight a modern industrial war. The basic government slogan was “fight or work.” Unfortunately, most people didn’t see playing baseball as work so Major League Baseball was declared “non-essential” and the 1918 season was scrapped.

Of course baseball struck back. The leadership of both leagues argued that the sport provided a morale boost for both men on their way to France and to the munitions and shipyard workers who were supporting the troops, so it should be allowed. The government relented and authorized a shortened season that had to end by Labor Day (2 September) except for a World Series that could be held immediately after. That gave the game a shortened season (126 games for the American League champion and 129 for the National League champion) and led to some funny looking numbers.

With a lot of good players off at either war or war work, the Boston Red Sox won the AL pennant by 2.5 games over Cleveland. They failed to lead the AL in any major category in hitting (leading only in sacrifices). They, in fact, finished dead last in hits with 990. Individually Babe Ruth, now splitting time between the outfield and the mound, tied for the league lead with 11 home runs and led the AL with strikeouts with 58. Pitching was a different story. Boston lead the league in complete games, least hits allowed, shutouts, least runs allowed, and was seond in ERA. Both first baseman Stuffy McInnis and third baseman Fred Thomas spent some time away from the team while serving in the military, but were available for the World Series. Dave  Shean (who lead the AL in sacrifices) and Everett Scott rounded out the infield with Hall of Famer Harry Hooper in right field, Amos Strunk in center, and Ruth in left (with George Whiteman spelling Ruth on days he pitched). Sam Agnew and Wally Schang took care of the catching. The staff had Ruth, Carl Mays, Sam Jones, and Joe Bush starting double figures games and Dutch Leonard who also started 16 games but was gone to the military by the end of the season.

They got to face the Chicago Cubs in the Series. Chicago, which hadn’t won since 1910 had put together a good team through trades and won a pennant by 10.5 games. Fred Merkle (of 1908 infamy), Rollie Zeider, Charlie Hollocher, and Charlie Deal were the infield with Max Flack, Dode Paskert, and Les Mann doing the outfield work, while old-time Phillies catcher Bill Killefer did the backstop work. The staff consisted of Hippo Vaughn, Claude Hendrix, Lefty Tyler, and Phil Douglas as the starters with Paul Carter as the man out of the bullpen. Expected ace Grover Cleveland Alexander was off in the army after only three games. As with Boston, the stars were on the mound (although the team lead the NL in runs scored). Chicago led the NL in shutouts, least runs allowed, and in strikeouts.

It was a terrific Series, with Boston winning in six games. No team scored more than three runs in a game, no game was decided by more than three runs (a 3-0 shutout win by Chicago in game five). Four games (1, 3, 4, and 6) were decided by one run. Ruth won two games (Mays the other two for Boston), including game one. In doing so he stretched his consecutive scoreless inning streak. It stayed until game four’s eighth inning when Chicago got two runs (both earned). The record lasted until Whitey Ford slid passed it in 1960. There were no home runs and only Cubs backup second baseman Charlie Pick and Boston’s Schang hit over .300 (Schang led all hitters at .444).

Maybe 1918 was “non-essential” but it produced a good pennant race in the AL. It also produced a fine World Series. All-in-all not a bad way of diverting a wartime populace from the tragedy of World War I.

Why 1910 Matters

October 11, 2010

Since April I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time running all over the 1910 baseball season. Part of that is simply because it was 100 years ago and a centennial is worth remembering. It’s also because the season is interesting in itself. But primarily I’ve been focusing on the 1910 season because it is a watershed season for Major League Baseball. There are a lot of reasons why. Here are some in no particular order.

1. The appointment of Hal Chase as manager of the Highlanders (Yankees) is not, for managerial purposes, all that important. What is important is the ability of the owners and the National Commission (which ran baseball before Judge Landis) to look the other way when it came to gambling in the big leagues. Failure to crack down on this sort of activity meant that it was going to get worse and that eventually something like the Black Sox scandal was bound to occur. The players likely to participate in this kind of thing now had proof that not only were the powers that be not going to do anything about gambling,  but might actually reward a player if the situation was right. I don’t want to compare it directly with the steroid situation of the 1990s, but it does seem that Malamud was right, we really don’t learn from our mistakes (The book “The Natural”–not the movie–has this as one of its central themes.).

2. During the 19th Century the National Association, the Union Association, the American Association, and the Player’s League had all existed, as had the National League. By 1892 they were all gone. Only the American Association survived 10 seasons, and by the tenth was on life support. By contrast the American League, founded in 1901, was now ten years old and flourishing. The 1910 season marked a decade of success both as a business and on the field. Frankly, baseball had not had this kind of stability in its history. Ban Johnson had managed to create a new Major League and made it work. By 1910 there was no question the AL was here to stay and that the National League finally had a partner co-equal to it. 

3. The Athletics had created the first successful AL dynasty. From league founding in 1901 through 1910, four teams won all the AL pennants: Chicago (1901, 1906), Philadelphia (1902, 1905, 1910), Boston (1903-1904), and Detroit (1907-1909). None of the pre-1910 teams created a dynasty. OK, Detroit won three years in a row, but was defeated in all three World Series matchups, which is kinda hard to call a dynasty. Let’s be honest, dynasties work, especially if they happen to be your team. Baseball seems to do best in attendance and popularity when there is a dynasty. They give fans both a hero and a villain (depending on whether you like the team or not) and 3500 years of drama tell us that nothing  in entertainment sells like heroes and villains. On top of that, it was easy to like the A’s. Connie Mack was a nice enough human being (except when it came to paying his players–a common problem in the era). You hear very few negative comments about Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, or Stuffy McInnis. And in the case of  Chief Bender, he was a sympathetic figure to many fans because of all the racial riding he took (he was an American Indian). All those things went together to help boost attendance and cash.

4. The Cubs dynasty had come to an end. If one dynasty was born in 1910, another died. The “Tinker to Evers to Chance” Cubs had their last fling in 1910. Between 1906 and 1910 the Cubs dominated the NL. They won four of five pennants (losing in 1909 to Pittsburgh) and two World Series’ (1907-8). But 1910 was the end. In the Cubs Postmortem post I detailed what went wrong, so I don’t intend to do it again. But the loss of the Cubs dynasty is signficant because it allowed for a more wide open NL. If having a dynasty is good for baseball, having two isn’t. One league has to remain open for fans to believe their team has a chance to win. With the death of the Cubs dynasty hope could rise for other teams in the NL, notably John McGraw’s New York team, but also in the next ten years Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Cincinnati would also win pennants (as would the Cubs in 1918). The end of the Cubs dynasty also ushered in the beginning of the Cubs mystique as the “loveable losers.” With only sporadic exception, the Cubs have been non-factors in the NL since.  After four pennants in five seasons, the Cubs have won the NL title exactly six times (1918, 1929, 1932, 1935. 1938, 1945). They are now a synonym for “loser”, a tradition that began with the end of the 1910 season.

5 The AL became the dominant league. I said earlier that the reasons 1910 mattered were in no particular order, but this one is last on purpose because it’s the most important. Between 1903 and 1909 there were six World Series matchups. The NL won four (1905, 1907-09) and the AL only two (1903, 1906). By 1910, the AL hadn’t beaten the NL in four years. All that changed in 1910. Take a look at the next ten years, actually 11 because I’m going to ignore the 1919 “fixed” Series. Between 1910 and 1920 inclusive the NL wins one untainted World Series, 1914. And it took a team known as the “Miracle Braves” to do that.  The AL won everything else: Philadelphia in 1910-11, 1913; Boston in 1912, 1915-16, 1918; Chicago in 1917; and Cleveland in 1920. And that kind of dominance continues in some measure all the way to 2010. Here’s the World Series wins by league by decade since 1910 (going from the zero year to the nine year to determine a decade, thus 1920-29, 1940-49, etc.) 1910-19: AL-8, NL-2 (including 1919), 1920-29: AL-6, NL-4, 1930-9: AL-7, NL-3; 1940-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1950-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1960-9: AL-4, NL-6, 1970-9: AL-6, NL-4; 1980-9: AL-5, NL 5, 1990-9: AL-6, NL-3 (and no series in 1994): 2000-9: AL-6, NL-4. In each decade except the 1960s, when the NL actually wins more World Series championships and  1980s when the each win five, the American League has won the more often. I think this is much more significant than the results of the All Star game which saw the NL have along period of dominance in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m not really impressed with winning an exhibition game. So the American League has been the superior league in most of the last 100 years, and that began in 1910.

I’ve enjoyed going over the 1910 season. I learned a lot, some significant, some trivial. I’ve begun to celebrate the players of the era more by having done this, and I consider that a good thing. Hope you enjoyed it.

The Banker was a Pitcher

September 6, 2010

Orval Overall

At some point every ballplayer has to retire. Some do it gracefully, some are led out kicking and screaming. Some don’t know what to do when they retire, others have a plan. One of the latter was Deadball Era pitcher Orval Overall.

Overall was born on Groundhog Day 1881 in California. He attended the University of California, majoring in agriculture, was elected class president, and played both baseball and football. In 1904 he joined Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League and was picked up by Cincinnati in 1905. He pitched there in both 1905 and 1906, going 22-28. In June 1906, he was traded to Chicago, where he joined a Cubs team on the way to a National League pennant. In both ’06 and ’07 Overall was a mainstay of the Cubs staff, winning 35 games and leading the NL in shutouts in ’07. He developed arm trouble in 1908, then came back in 1909 to win 20 games and led the league in strikeouts and shutouts. More arm trouble in 1910 was followed by a contract dispute and Overall retired after the season.

What did he retire to do? He ran a gold mine (jointly owned with teammate Three Finger Brown). He pitched a little minor league ball, then in 1913 went back to Chicago for one final season. He wasn’t very good and retired permanently at the end of the season. For his career he was 108-71 in 218 games (182 starts). He struck out 935 and walked 551 in 1535 innings and finished with a 2.23 ERA. In World Series play he finished 3-1 with 35 strikeouts, 15 walks, and two rings.

After retirement, Overall returned to California, worked in a brewery, then took over the family citrus farm. He sold it in the 1920s for a boatload of money, and became an appraiser and director of the local bank in Visalia, California. Moving  to Fresno, Overall became vice president of the Security-First National Bank of Los Angeles, eventually rising to branch manager in Fresno. He died in 1947 a very wealthy man.

There continues to be a perception that Deadball Era ball players were a bunch of uneducated, illiterate louts. Well, there’s great truth in that perception. But there was another group of ball players who were intelligent, well-educated, and knew how to manage their affairs. In the 1910 World Series Overall, Jack Barry, Eddie Collins, Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, and Jack Coombs were all college men, most of which went on to good careers after their playing days were over. Let us not forget them when we look at the louts who also inhabited the game.

Pool Shark

September 1, 2010

Johnny Kling (note the old style mitt)

From 1906 through 1908 the Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant every year. In 1910 they won it again. The loss in 1909 is attributable more to a great season by Pittsburgh than to a falling off by Chicago. But it’s also true that the Cubs lost a stalwart in 1909 and that he came back in 1910. His name was Johnny Kling, he was the catcher, and the reason for his leaving the team in 1909 is, as far as I can tell, absolutely unique.

Kling was born in Kansas City in 1875, the son of a baker. In the mid-1890s he managed and pitched for a local semi-pro team. He did well enough that the minor leagues picked him up. He bounced from one team to another and one position to another until he settled in at catcher for the Western League team in St. Joseph. The Cubs spotted him and brought him to the Major Leagues in 1900. By 1902 he was the fulltime catcher and remained so through 1908. His hitting numbers were nothing grand, but they weren’t bad either. But Kling’s specialty was catching. He is widely acknowledged as the finest defensive catcher of the period in either league. As a member of the Cubs he participated in the 116 win season of 1906 and in the subsequent loss to the White Sox in the World Series. In 1907 and 1908 the Cubs went back to the Series, winning both. He was the catcher in the famous “Merkle Game” of 1908 and the replay of that game that ultimately sent the Cubs to the World Series.

Kling was also something of a pool shark. He honed his skills in the off-season back home in Kansas City. In 1909 he won the world pocket billiards championship. He set up a pool hall in Kansas City (not River City)  and decided to quit baseball so he could tour the country as world champion giving exhibitions, playing matches, and making more money than he could make behind the plate. It lasted a year, he did pretty well financially, but lost the championship in 1910. So it was back to baseball for him.

In 1909 the Cubs lost the National League pennant for the first time in four years. Some people claimed it was because they missed Johnny Kling. I’d like to say that’s true, and it probably is to some extent. But in 1908 the Cubs went 99-55 and won the World Series. In 1909 they went 104-49 and lost the pennant to a Pittsburgh team that ran off 110 wins. In 1910 with Kling back they went 104-50 and got back to the Series. It’s true Kling hit better than Jimmy Archer, his 1909 replacement, and was a better catcher, but he wasn’t responsible for Pittsburgh winning 110 games in 1909.

Back with the Cubs, Kling had a decent 1910 (and a terrible World Series), then got off to an awful start in 1911. In June he was traded to the NL team in Boston where his numbers got a little better. In 1912 he was appointed manager at Boston. The team finished last at 52-101, 52 games out of first. Kling lost his job to George Stallings who became the “Miracle Man” of 1914. Kling was traded to Cincinnati and retired after the 1913 season. For his career he hit .271 with a .357 slugging percentage, 1149 hits, 513 RBIs, 474 runs scored in 1260 games and two rings.

After retirement, Kling went back to Kansas City and opened a restaurant called the Pennant Cafe (which had a pool room in the back, of course). He did well, made a lot of money, went into real estate and did even better.  In 1935 he bought the minor league Kansas City Blues and immediately eliminated segregated seating at the team’s home ballpark. He sold the team in 1937 for a lot of money to Colonel Jacob Ruppert of the Yankees (who reinstituted segregated seating).  Kling died in January 1947.

King is an integral member of the Cubs team that dominated the National League from 1906-1910. But he is also an excellent example of a player who is so underpaid that he is willing to leave the sport to pursue other interests that make more money. The new salary structure in baseball means we don’t see players like him very often. It’s also interesting to note that he does well after retirement. In researching for these posts, I’ve noticed that an inordinate number of catchers seem to do very well after retirement. I haven’t researched it well enough to determine if they really do better than other position players, but it looks to me is if it may be true. I’m not sure why, maybe they’re just brighter. Anyway, Kling is one of those. He’s unique in that it was his skill with a pool stick that opened up the door for his success after baseball and made it worthwhile to sit out a year.