Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Klein’

A Chance for Revenge: the 1935 Cubs

August 11, 2017

Charlie Grimm

By 1935 the Chicago Cubs were in the midst of one of the strangest runs in Major League history. After falling off beginning in 1911, they’d won a pennant in 1918 then spent a decade in the wilderness. In 1929 they won the National League pennant and lost the World Series. Three years later in 1932 they won another pennant and lost another Series. In 1935 it was again three years later. And they would carry it on through a final pennant three years later in 1938. That’s winning a pennant at three-year intervals from 1929 through 1938.

Their manager was former first baseman Charlie Grimm. By ’35 he was technically a player-manager, but at age 36 he was much more manager than player, getting into only two games (eight at bats without a hit). He was, unlike Cochrane, well liked by most people and most of his team (“Jolly Cholly” being his nickname). The team was first in the NL in batting, on base percentage, and OPS while being second in slugging and total bases. It was also first in runs, doubles, and walks, while finishing third in triples, homers, and stolen bases. The staff finished first in hits allowed (that’s the least number of hits allowed by a staff), runs allowed and ERA, while coming in second in strikeouts.

It was a team of mixed veterans and new guys. The newest guy was Phil Cavarretta who was 18. He hit .275 with eight home runs and 0.8 WAR, but would get better, earning an MVP Award in 1945. Hall of Famer Billy Herman held down second. He led the team with a .341 batting average was second on the team with 83 RBIs (one more than Cavarretta). His 6.9 WAR led the team. His double play partner was Billy Jurges. He hit all of .241, but had 2.5 WAR, 3.0 of that coming from his defense. Stan Hack was at third. Hitting .311, he did a lot of lead off work. He stole 14 bases and put up 4.5 WAR. Woodie English and Fred Lindstrom, both in the latter part of their careers, did most of the backup work. Both were 29. Lindstrom hit .275, English just barely topped .200. Lindstrom did produce 62 RBIs in 90 games. They both turned in WAR of 0.5.

The outfield saw five men patrol it for more than twenty games. Augie Galan was the main man. He had a triple slash line of .314/.399/.468/.866 (OPS+ of 131, good for second on the team). He stole a team leading 22 bases. The entire team stole 66 and Galan’s 22 was a third of the total (and with Hack’s 14 they had over half). He scored 133 runs and his 5.1 WAR was second on the team (to Herman). Phillies refugee Chuck Klein, a few years removed from a Triple Crown year, led the team with 21 homers, had 73 RBIs, hit .293, and had 2.8 WAR. The other main starter was Frank Demaree. He hit .323 with no power and only six stolen bases. His WAR was 1.6. The backups, Tuck Stainback and Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler managed about 250 at bats together they had seven home runs and Cuyler hit .268 to Stainback’s .255.

At 34, Hall of Fame backstop Gabby Hartnett was the oldest starter (Cuyler, at 36, was older). He’d been around for both the 1929 and the 1932 pennants and was instrumental in the 1935 victory. His triple slash line read .344/.404/.545.948 with an OPS+ of 151 with 13 homers, a team leading 91 RBIs, and 5.0 WAR. His backup was Ken O’Dea who got into 76 games, hit .257, with six home runs. That total gave the catching position second place on the team for homers (behind Klein). When Chicago made it back to the World Series in three years, Hartnett would be managing.

Seven pitchers showed up in 20 or more games (and later Dodgers stalwart Hugh Casey pitched in 13, all in relief). Lon Warneke and Bill Lee both won 20 games with Lee’s ERA coming in just under three and Warneke’s at just over three. Both managed to give up fewer hits than they had innings pitched and had more strikeouts than walks. Warneke had a WHIP of 1.173 with 4.3 WAR while Lee’s WHIP was 1.290 with 3.1 WAR. Larry French was the main southpaw. He went 17-10 with a 2.96 ERA (same as Lee’s), ninety strikeouts to 44 walks, a 1.311 WHIP, 3.4 WAR, and the continuing bugaboo of giving up more hits than he had innings pitched. Tex Carleton and Roy Henshaw were the other two primary starters. Both had ERA’s in the threes and Henshaw walked more men than he struck out. Charlie Root, of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy, was in the bullpen. He was 36, started 18 games (of 38 pitched) had a 3.08 ERA, and at 201 innings actually pitched more than either Carleton or Henshaw. Fabian Kowalik was the other man with more than 20 games pitched. His ERA was 4.22 in 55 innings.

Having lost their last two World Series (actually four, but no one from the 1910 or 1918 losses was around), the Cubs wanted a win badly. There is no evidence that I could find that showed they cared about the two wins their earlier versions had put up against Detroit. Games one and two would be in Detroit.

A Tale of Woe

April 10, 2015
Dolph Camilli about 1935

Dolph Camilli about 1935

Over the last several years one of the more common refrains of baseball is how much the fans in both Chicago and Boston suffered. It dropped off some when the Red Sox won in 2004 (and twice since), but you still hear it about Chicago, despite the White Sox win (primarily because it was the ChiSox, not the Cubs who won). But before you get all sad and start crying over the plight of the two cities, let me tell you about another city with the same kind of problem: Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was an early hot spot for baseball. The 1850s and 1860s saw the local team, called the Athletics, being competitive. Off and on through the 1870s and early 1880s teams from Philadelphia wandered through the ranks of Major League teams, with the American Association version actually winning a pennant. In 1883 the Quakers arrived in the National League and after deciding that wasn’t much of a nickname, eventually settled on Phillies as the team nickname. In 1901 the American League arrived and stuck a team in Philadelphia, naming it after the long gone Athletics.

The AL team was sporadically good. They won a pennant in 1902 (there was no World Series yet), then another in 1905 (losing the second World Series). Between 1910 and 1914 they won the World Series three times (1910, ’11, and ’13) and lost it once (’14). Then they fell into a malaise that lasted deep into the 1920s. They won pennants each year from 1929 through 1931, picking up a World Series title in both 1929 and 1930. Then they fell off. They fell off so bad that they never won another pennant. By the early 1950s they were dying and eventually left Philly altogether, heading first for Kansas City, then for Oakland (where they’ve again been sporadically good–4 world titles, a couple of pennants, and a few other playoff appearances in 45 plus years).

That left the Phils, who weren’t good, sporadically or otherwise. In 1901 they finished second, they got back to the first division in 1905 and hovered around fourth until 1915, when they broke through for their first ever National League pennant. They won the first game of the World Series (against Boston) with Grover Cleveland Alexander on the mound. Then they were swept out of the Series. They finished second in 1916 and 1917 then quickly went South. Between 1918 and 1948 inclusive they finished fifth twice (1929 and 1945), and fourth another time (1932). Other than that, it’s a long, long litany of sixth (four times), seventh (eight times), last place (16 times, including five in a row at one point).

They had some decent players through out the era. Chuck Klein made the Hall of Fame and after a trade got into a World Series (with Chicago). Dolph Camilli won an MVP, but of course it was after the Phils traded him to Brooklyn. They were also managed by Ben Chapman who became universally infamous for his opposition to Jackie Robinson playing in the Major Leagues (He’s played by Alan Tudyk in the recent movie “42”.) All in all it was a thoroughly forgettable 20 years.

In 1949 they started improving and stayed reasonably competitive through 1955. They won a pennant with the 1950 “Whiz Kids”, then were swept in four games by the Yankees, who featured a rookie pitcher named Whitey Ford who became the youngest pitcher to win a World Series game when he won game four (I didn’t check to see if he’s still they youngest winner). It was the same year that Alexander, the last Phillie pitcher to win a World Series game, died.

In 1964 there was the infamous collapse when they led the NL with two weeks to play and lost. They soldiered on until 1976, when they again made a playoff (the League Championship Series) and were again swept. In 1977 they finally won another playoff game before losing the LCS to the Dodgers in four games. For what it’s worth, Gene Garber became the first Phillie pitcher to win a postseason game since 1915 (it was in relief). At the time, only two members of the 1915 team, pitchers Ben Tincup and Joe Oeschger, were still alive (Milt Stock died in 1977). In 1980 they finally won another World Series game and Bob Walk became the second Phils pitcher, the first since Alexander way back in 1915, to record a World Series win. By then, only Oeschger was still around (Tincup died in 1980, but before the Series). Then to the astonishment of the entire baseball universe, they became the last team around in 1901 to win the World Series (even the Cubs had two wins in the 20th Century). Since then, Philadelphia has joined the ranks of the sporadically good with another World Series win and three World Series loses.

Top of the World

October 18, 2012

Triple Crown winner Chuck Klein with a bunch of bats

So far I’ve said little about Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown. I tend to worry more about old-time baseball than about the current season, but congratulations are certainly in order. With Detroit still alive in the playoffs he has a chance to do something that’s only been done twice.

Over the years a hitting Triple Crown has been accomplished 16 times. Only twice has the Triple Crown winners team also won the World Series. Here’s a quick review of each Triple Crown winner and where his team finished.

1878–Paul Hines won the Triple Crown for Providence. They finished third in the National League.

1887–Tip O’Neill won the Triple Crown for St. Louis of the American Association (a major league at the time). The team finished first and played a 15 game postseason series against Detroit of the National League (sort of a  primitive World Series). They lost 10 games to 5.

1901–Napoleon LaJoie won the Triple Crown for the Philadelphia Athletics. They finished fourth in the fledgling American League.

1909–Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown at Detroit. The Tigers dropped the World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games.

1922 and 1925–Rogers Hornsby won the Triple Crown while with St. Louis. The Cardinals finished third in 1922 and fourth in 1925. Hornsby became the only player to win a Triple Crown and hit .400 in the same season. He did it both times.

1933–both leagues had a Triple Crown winner (only time that’s happened). Chuck Klein won the NL Triple Crown for the seventh place Phillies, while Jimmie Foxx won the AL Triple Crown for the third place Athletics. As a bit of trivia, both Triple Crown winners played in Philadelphia.

1934–Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown in one of the few years the Yankees didn’t finish first. They finished second.

1937–Joe Medwick won the last NL Triple Crown for the Cardinals. They rewarded him with a fourth place finish.

1942 and 1947–Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in both seasons. His Boston team finished second in ’42 and third in ’47.

1956–Mickey Mantle became the second Yankee Triple Crown winner and first Triple Crown winner to have his team (the Yankees) win the World Series.

1966–Frank Robinson became the second (with Baltimore). Robinson also became the first (and so far only) black player to win a Triple Crown. 

1967 –Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown with Boston, but the Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals.

Pitching Triple Crown winners are both more common and have won more frequently. Here’s a list of the pitchers who won both the pitching Triple Crown and the World Series (1800s version or modern version): Tommy Bond in 1877 (there was no postseason play that season but Bond’s Boston team took first place in the regular season), Charles Radbourne in 1884, Tim Keefe in 1888, Christy Mathewson in 1905, Walter Johnson in 1924, Lefty Grove in 1930, Lefty Gomez in 1937, Hal Newhouser in 1945, Sandy Koufax in both 1963 and 1965.

All that indicates that winning a Triple Crown (either variety) is no predictor of success in the postseason. Still, I think I’d rather win one than not.

The Nice Guy

March 4, 2011

Mel Ott

I tried a little trick with some friends of mine both locally and online. I handed (or sent) them a list of all the men who had 500 plus home runs in Major League history. But instead of writing down the names, I provided only the initials and asked them to fill in the names without resorting to a baseball encyclopedia or the internet. Well, everybody got BR as Babe Ruth and HA as Hank Aaron (although a couple missed BB as Barry Bonds). Most of the rest were hit and miss with more modern players doing better than the old guys. There was one set of initials that absolutely no one got, not a single guy: MO. Everyone forgot Mel Ott, making him,at least among my crowd, the most obscure power hitter ever.

They told Ott he was too short to play. Well, he fooled them all. He learned to pull the ball, draw a lot of  walks, and played right field almost flawlessly. Oh, and by the way, when he retired he held the National League record for home runs and was third on the all-time list. Not bad for a short guy, right?

Ott was a catcher by trade when he arrived in New York at age 19. John McGraw moved him to the outfield because he thought Ott would have a longer career. He pinch hit most of 1927, hitting .239 (.282 overall). In 1928 he became the Giants regular right fielder and the next year set a career high with 42 home runs. Ott won numerous home run titles, but his highest total was good for only second. There’s a reason for that. He played in Philadelphia on the last day of the season. Phillies right fielder Chuck Klein had 43 home runs going into the game. The Phils walked Ott each time to ensure that Klein won the homer title. As neither team was going anywhere, I’ve never been quite sure what I think of that.  The 1929 season was also unique for Ott in that he had more home runs that strikeouts (42 to 38). He won five home run titles during the 1930s. His lowest total was 23 in 1933, his highest 38 in 1932. He had a strange batting stance that included a high leg kick with swinging. It’s supposed to have helped him generate power. Here’s a posed shot of it:

Ott swinging away

For the decade of the 1930s he was terrific, joining Carl Hubbell as the driving force on the Giants.  He scored a lot of runs, knocked in a lot of runs, and had seven years of 100 walks. In 1933, the Giants won the NL pennant. It was Ott’s weakest season in the decade, but he made up for it by clubbing .389 in the World Series. His tenth inning home run in game five clinched the Series for New York. The Giants also took pennants in 1936 and 1937, but dropped both World Series’ to the Yankees. Ott did all right in the ’36 Series, but had a down Series in 1937.

His first really sub par season in years occurred in 1940. He bounced back in 1941. In 1942 the Giants made him their manager. He responded by leading the NL in home runs one final time. His first season hitting below .250 was 1943. It was also his lowest home run total since 1927. In the war depleted ranks of 1945, he had one final good season. He hit .300 one last time and picked up his 500th home run, passing Lou Gehrig in the process. In 1946 he concentrated on managing and his average plummeted to .074. In 1947 he went 0 for 4 and retired as an active players. He managed the Giants without much success through 1948 and made the Hall of Fame in 1951. In 1958 he died in a car wreck. It was about him that Leo Durocher is supposed to have said, “Nice guys finish last.”

For his career Ott had 2876 hits, 488 doubles, 72 triples, 511 home runs, scored 1859 runs with 1861 RBIs (another amazingly close number), and walked 1708 times to only 896 strikeouts.  He hit.304, slugged .533, had an on base percentage of .410, and an OPS of 943 (OPS + of 155). All good numbers. All certainly Hall of Fame worthy.

But despite all the superlatives you can recount about Ott’s career, there’s always one complaint raised over and over. He got an unfair advantage because he played in the Polo Grounds. During his career Ott hit 63% of his home runs (323 of 511) at home. By contrast, Babe Ruth hit 49% of his at home, Mickey Mantle hit 50% at home, and Willie Mays got 51% of his at home (and for part of Mays’ career, the Polo Grounds was home). It was 258 feet down the right field line at the Polo Grounds, so the argument goes that the left-handed hitting Ott got a lot of cheap home runs and therefore isn’t really as great as he appears.

Oh? Let’s see if I have this right. Ott regularly drives in 100 runs a year, scores 100 runs a year, and has 140-190 hits a year. Of those he regularly deposits nineteen of them over the wall at the Polo Grounds (That’s 63% of his average home run total from 1929 through 1942, his productive years.) and isn’t really a geat player. What did I miss? There are a bunch of runs scored and RBI’s that don’t have a thing to do with 258 feet fences. For his career, excluding 1926, 1946, and 1947 when he played less than 40 games, Ott averaged 150 hits, of which nineteen flew over the fence in New York. He scored 97 runs, nineteen of which came from a ball that he hit over the fence in New York. He knocked in 98 runners a year, an indeterminate number of which were on base when a ball flew over the fence in New York. He walked 89 times a season, none of which came from a ball flying over a fence in New York, thus putting himself on base a lot and giving his team a chance to score runs whether or not they put a ball over the fence in New York. Frankly, I don’t think the Polo Grounds had a lot to do with Ott’s status as a great player. As a power hitter, yes; as a great player, no.

Even if it did help his power numbers, he’s not the only one. You don’t hear people complain about Wade Boggs’ inflated hit totals because he knew how to use Fenway Park, do you? A lot of people will tell you that the two greatest seasons any player ever had were Ruth’s 1920 and 1921 years. In 1920 Ruth had 29 home runs at home, 24 on the road (54% at home). In 1921 he hit 32 at home and 27 on the road (again 54%). Want to guess where he played his home games? You got it, the Polo Grounds with its 258 foot fence that aided left-handed hitters like Ruth and Ott. According to Green Cathedrals it was actually 256 feet in 1920-1921. I wonder how many home runs just barely cleared that 256 feet? (and how they got an extra two feet in 1929) OK, I know 63% is a lot more than 54%, but you just don’t hear anyone complain that Ruth got an extra benefit from the Polo Grounds. I’m not arguing that Ott didn’t get a lot of help by playing his home games in the Polo Grounds, he obviously did when it comes to power numbers. But that fact alone doesn’t take away from his greatness any more than it would take away from either Boggs or Ruth.

Mel Ott was one of the finest players of the 1930s. He was third in both home runs and RBIs for the decade and was a part of three pennant winners. And for all that he’s managed to become utterly obscure. Isn’t that a great shame?

1910: J. Frank Baker

July 7, 2010

Frank Baker

John Franklin Baker was born in Maryland in 1886. He played baseball well enough that Connie Mack brought him to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. The next season he took over as the regular third baseman and stayed there through 1914. During his tenure the A’s won four pennants and three World Series championships. During the period Baker hit .321 and led the American League in home runs four times (1911-14) and in RBIs twice (1912 and 1913). As good as all that sounds, he was even better in World Series play. In three winning efforts (1910, 1911, and 1913) he hit .409 with three home runs and drove in sixteen runs. His slugging percentage was .621. In 1914, the Braves shut him down, along with pretty much everybody else, and the A’s lost. The three home runs in Series play tied or won ballgames and led to his nickname “Home Run” Baker. 

Baker sat out 1915 in a salary dispute with Mack. He spent the season playing in a semipro league in Pennsylvania. At the end of the season, Mack sold him to New York. He did alright with the Yankees, but he was never as good as he had been with Philadelphia. He hit .300 once, had double figure home runs twice (10 both times) and saw his slugging average drop badly. 

In 1920 his wife died and he took the season off to be with the children. He was back in New York in 1921 in time to make it to the World Series again (I was unable to find out if he remarried or not).  In 1921 he managed nine home runs to finish third on the team behind Babe Ruth’s 59 and Bob Meusel’s 24. The Yankees lost the series to the Giants with Baker contributing two hits (both singles) for a .250 average. His ground out to second with one out the ninth inning of the final game was turned into a double play when the runner on first, AaronWard, tried to steal a run by dashing to third. The throw to third was on target and the series ended. In 1922 he played one final year, hitting .278 in 69 games. He got into the World Series going 0 for 1 in a pinch hitting role. For his career he ended up with a .307 average, 1838 hits, 96 home runs, 1013 RBIs, on OBP of .353, a slugging percentage of .442, 235 stolen bases, and six triple crown titles in 5985 games, all at third base (except for pinch-hitting duties). 

After retirement he coached and managed a little. He’s credited with discovering Jimmie Foxx. He retired to his farm in Maryland and made the Hall of Fame in 1955. He died in 1963, arguably the finest third baseman of the deadball era. 

As a fielder, Baker was both good and mediocre (bear with me a second on that). His 3.43 range factor compares well with fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and George Kell, but his fielding average is nothing to write home about. In his prime years, 1909-14, he was generally in the lower half of the league in fielding, but made up for it with decent range. One of the things I like about his fielding is that he got better. He started with fielding averages in the .920s and ended his career in the .950s. OK, those aren’t great numbers, but a lot of guys never get any better and Baker did. 

He has two number that I really like: 24 and 36. Those are the distance between his RBI totals in 1912 and 1913 and his nearest competitor. In 1912, Baker knocked in 133 runs. Sam Crawford at Detroit and Duffy Lewis at Boston each had 109 (Helps to have Eddie Collins, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker hitting in front of you, doesn’t it?) In 1913, he had 126. The next two guys behind him (again a tie) had 90. You don’t see that kind of domination often. In 1930, Hack Wilson set the Major League record for RBIs with 191. He won by 21. The following year Lou Gehrig set the AL record with 184. He also won by 21. Both Chuck Klein and Mickey Mantle won triple crowns. Klein won his RBI title by 14 and Mantle by only two. 

During his glory years, 1910-1914, Baker joined Cobb and Speaker as the dominant hitters of the age. And I guess that’s part of the knock on Baker. His glory years weren’t very long. But in those five years he won six triple crown titles (batting average, home runs, RBIs). So did Cobb. Speaker only got one. It’s not a bad legacy to say you could hold your own with Cobb and Speaker, even if only for five years. 

There haven’t been a lot of truly great third basemen in Major League history. In the Deadball Era there are only Baker and Jimmy Collins and I prefer Baker. With our without the nickname, Frank Baker is one of the top 10 third basemen ever and I could probably be talked into putting him in the top five.

Triple Crown, I

March 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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