Posts Tagged ‘Don Drysdale’


September 4, 2017

Johnny Bench, Reds

Over at one of my favorite blogs, The Hall of Miller and Eric, they are running a “Mount Rushmore” of each team. As you might expect that means they are picking four players to represent the best of each franchise. But there is a kicker there. The player must have played his entire career with the same team. That means no Warren Spahn at the Braves, no Duke Snider with the Dodgers, no Yogi Berra with the Yanks (he had nine at bats with the Mets).

Now all that, especially the loss of Snider and Dazzy Vance with the Dodgers, got me to looking for players who spent their entire career with one team. Now it had to be significant time with the team, after all Moonlight Graham spent his entire Major League career with one team. I figured it would be loaded with old-time players, players who were faced with the reserve clause. Surprisingly, there were a lot of modern guys on the list. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of just a few of the players who never changed teams.

First base: Lou Gehrig, Jeff Bagwell, Willie Stargell

Second Base: Charlie Gehringer, Jackie Robinson (he was traded but never played for a second team, opting to retire instead), Craig Biggio

Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Luke Appling, PeeWee Reese, Phil Rizzuto

Third Base: Brooks Robinson, Chipper Jones, George Brett, Mike Schmidt

Outfield: Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

Catcher: Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella

Left-Handed Pitchers: Whitey Ford, Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax

Right-Handed Pitchers: Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Mariano Rivera

Not a bad lot, right?

One quick note. Honus Wagner came up with the Louisville Colonels and ended up with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not quite the same as being traded or leaving via free agency. Barney Dreyfuss owned both teams and when the National League contracted he moved all his good players to Pittsburgh and let Louisville go. I’m not sure how to deal with that, so I left him off. You might differ.



August 16, 2016
Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson

While researching something else, it dawned on me that I’d never actually sat down and wrote about one of my all time favorites, Bob Gibson. I did a little something a few years back (25 October 2010 titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car”) on how a bet on the 1967 World Series netted me enough to buy a used car (and Gibson was instrumental in that win) but I’d never actually centered something on him. Time to change that.

Gibson came out of Omaha before Peyton Manning made the town a sports word. He did a little work with the Harlem Globetrotters, then joined the St. Louis Cardinals. He made his debut in 1959 against the Dodgers. He worked the last two innings in relief, gave up a couple of runs, including a home run to Jim Baxes, the first batter he faced in the National League. His opponent was Don Drysdale.

Gibson got better. After two seasons with a losing record, he finished over .500 for the first time in 1961 (13-12). Unfortunately, he also led the NL in walks. He made his first All Star Game in 1962 and led the NL in shutouts. In 1964 he won 19 games, was either the ace or the “two” pitcher, depending on your view of Ray Sadecki, and helped the Cards to their first World Series since 1946. He lost his first game, then won two more, including game seven, as St. Louis won the Series and he was named MVP. He got into two more World Series. The one in 1967 saw him win three games, set the single game strikeout record for a Series, and pick up his second World Series MVP award (and a car for me).

In 1968 he was awesome. He was 22-9 (.710 percentage) and led the NL in ERA (1.12), shutouts (13), strikeouts (268), ERA+ (258), WHIP (0.853), WAR (11.2), and about anything else you can do on a mound including raking it. It got him an MVP Award and his first Cy Young Award. He won two games in the World Series, but lost game seven as Detroit stopped the Cards.

He led the NL in wins one more time and picked up a second Cy Young Award. He started slipping in 1973 and was done by 1975. For his career he was 251-174 (.591), had 56 shutouts, 3117 strikeouts, a 2.91 ERA (ERA+ of 127) a 1.188 WHIP, 81.9 WAR, an MVP Award, and two Cy Young Awards. In World Series play he was 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA 0.889 WHIP, 92 strikeouts, two rings, and two Series, MVP Awards. The Hall of Fame call came in 1981, his first year.

Gibson got to St. Louis at an important time in the team history. Integration had just occurred and there were still problems about it on the team. The stature of Stan Musial, who had no problem with it and went out of his way to make black players welcome on the team, helped some, but the tensions were still there. And to be a black pitcher was, in some circles, almost an affront to decency. Gibson overcame that and became probably the best pitcher in Cardinals history. He did it through determination, grit, and sheer ability. Over the years he’s become famous (or infamous depending on your view) as a fierce, almost violent pitcher who took hits as a personal challenge. If you watched him on the mound the determination showed through even a TV set. Heck, he scared me through the lens. The way he lunged forward when he threw made him even more scary. Of course that kind of determination and desire for domination led to one of his most famous moments. He was hit in the leg, breaking the bone. Unwilling to admit it, he took the ball, set up, and unleashed one last pitch as he fell to the ground and had to be taken off the field. That moment epitomized Bob Gibson unlike almost anything else he did.

He has one of the better World Series records. OK, he has the most strikeouts in a game and in a single Series, but there’s another most people overlook. In his career he lost his first Series game and lost his last. In between he won seven games in a row. No one else, not Whitey Ford, not Red Ruffing, not Allie Reynolds (the other men with seven or more World Series wins) won seven World Series games in a row.

Over the years he’s kind of gotten lost. He was truly the most dominant pitcher in baseball for a very short time. Before him there was Sandy Koufax. Then came Tom Seaver. In between he had to contend with Juan Marichal and Drysdale. It seems to have cost him something of his luster.

He did have the advantage of spending much of his career with Tim McCarver as his catcher. Whatever you think of him as a color guy, McCarver is one of the great storytellers in baseball. He ended up spinning one Gibson tale after another and it helped Gibson remain in the public eye a little more. My favorite story goes like this:

The manager ordered an intentional walk. McCarver held up four fingers, stepped over, held up his glove, and watched the first pitch drill the batter solidly in the ribs. He went out to the mound asking what happened? Gibson told him that he (Gibson) had just saved three pitches. See why I got a car betting on him?


The End of a Dynasty: Games 3 and 4 (Dodger Stadium)

September 10, 2015

Up two games to none in the World Series, the 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers came home in early October halfway to a victory over the New York Yankees. They played the Yanks a number of times before, only winning once (1955). If they could win two of three In LA, they would double that total.

Game 3 (5 October)

Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

For the third game, Los Angeles led with the reigning Cy Young Award winner, Don Drysdale. For the season he’d been overshadowed by mound mate Sandy Koufax, but he was still a formidable pitcher. He drew 21 game winner Jim Bouton as his pitching opponent.

Drysdale got through the first inning without a problem. Then the Dodgers, as they’d done before in the Series, struck early. With one out in the bottom of the first, Jim Gilliam walked. A lineout and a wild pitch sent him to second. National League batting champion Tommy Davis then lined a single scoring Gilliam with the first run of the game. A foul to the catcher ended the inning with the Dodgers ahead 1-0.

It was all Drysdale needed. He pitched a magnificent nine inning shutout. In the second and the sixth, runners got as far as third, and died on the bag. He was in most trouble in the second when a single, a hit batsman, and an intentional walk with two outs loaded the bases. Drysdale then struck out the opposing pitcher to end the threat. For the game he hit the one man (Drysdale always seemed to hit a lot of batters), allowed the one intentional walk, and gave up only three hits, all singles (and never more than one an inning), and picked off a batter. He struck out nine.

After giving up the run in the first, Bouton was almost as good. He gave up four hits, struck out four, and gave up the one run. He did walk five, one the critical walk to Gilliam in the first. It was a good performance, not good enough.

Drysdale pitched the game of the Series (Koufax’s 15 strikeout performance in game one not withstanding) and gave Los Angeles a three games to none lead. They needed one more win in four tries to claim their second title (the other was in 1959) since arriving in LA. With Koufax on the mound in game four, the odds looked good.

Game 4 (6 October)

Jim Gilliam

Jim Gilliam

To begin game four both teams did what they needed to do, they started their aces: Sandy Koufax for the Dodgers and Whitey Ford for the Yanks. Both men were on that day. Through four innings, no one scored. In fact no one got beyond second base. In the bottom of the fifth, LA finally broke through when big Frank Howard crushed one to deep left to put the Dodgers up 1-0. It held up until the seventh, when Mickey Mantle connected for a long drive to left that knotted the game 1-1. It was a historic home run because it tied Mantle with Babe Ruth for the most home runs by any player in World Series history (15).

In the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers struck again and as was usual for this Series, Jim Gilliam was in the middle of it. He led off the inning with a roller to third. New York third baseman Clete Boyer picked it up and fired to Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone. In 1963 most male baseball fans still wore white shirts to public events. It was a warm enough day for most of them to shuck their jackets and Pepitone swore he lost the ball in the sea of white shirts. Whether he did or not, he missed the ball and by the time it was retrieved Gilliam was safe at third. Willie Davis followed with a long sacrifice fly that gave the LA a 2-1 lead.

The Yanks tried to rally in the eighth. With one out, Phil Linz singled, but was erased on a double play. The Dodgers failed to dint the scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth, leaving them ahead by one run with three outs needed to clinch the World Series. Bobby Richardson led off the inning with a single, then Koufax struck out two Yanks to put the Dodgers within one out of a championship. An error put runners on first and second and brought up Hector Lopez. He rolled a grounder to short and a throw to first made the Dodgers champs. For his two complete game victories, Koufax was named Series MVP.

It’s very difficult to call a four game sweep a great Series, but 1963 was certainly a very good World Series. Three games (all but the first) were very close and New York had a lot of chances to tie or win games. It was also, as is appropriate for a 1960s World Series, dominated by pitching. The Dodgers pitchers had a collective ERA of 1.00. They gave up four total runs, all earned, walked five, struck out 37, and gave up 22 hits. The Yankees weren’t much worse. Their ERA was 2.91 with 12 earned runs (one unearned), with 11 walks, 25 strikeouts, and only 25 hits given up.

But in fairness to the hitters, they didn’t do all that badly either. LA hit all of .214 for the Series, but had thee doubles, two triples, and three home runs (of 25 total hits). New York hit only .171 with five extra base hits. Jim Gilliam was an unsung hero for the Dodgers. He hit only .154, but scored three runs on two hits and three walks. Willie Davis and John Roseboro had three RBIs, as did Yankees castoff Moose Skowron. No New Yorker scored more than one run and only Tom Tresh had more than one RBI (he had two–both on his home run), but Mickey Mantle did tie Babe Ruth for total World Series home runs.

For New York it was the first World Series loss in three tries under Ralph Houk. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankee dynasty that had dominated baseball for four decades. They would get to another Series in 1964, but lose it also. Then there would be a long dry spell until 1976 (which they also lost) and 1977 when they were able to win another World Series (and get revenge on LA). For the Dodgers it was the first of three pennants in four years and the first of two championships (the other was 1965).



The End of a Dynasty: the 1963 Dodgers

August 29, 2015
Ron Perranoski

Ron Perranoski

There are a couple of misconceptions about the 1963 Dodgers. One is that they were never supposed to make the World Series. A second is that all they could do was pitch. In 1962 the Dodgers had taken eventual champion San Francisco to a three game playoff before losing the playoff in the third game. So reality is that Los Angeles was a formidable team a year early with both the MVP (Maury Wills) and the Cy Young Award  winner (Don Drysdale). Additionally Tommy Davis won the 1962 batting title and led the National League in RBIs. Allegations that the team could pitch but not hit fail when you understand that Davis repeated the batting title in 1963, the team finished first in stolen bases, and in the middle of the pack (in a 10 team league) in hitting, OBP, runs, hits, and even home runs (seventh). It wasn’t the 1927 Yankees, but the team could hit a little.

Walter Alston was in his 10th year managing the Dodgers. His record was 99-63 (almost a duplicate of 1962’s 101-61). He’d managed the Dodgers’ two previous World Series victories (1955 and 1959) and had supervised the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958.

John Roseboro was the catcher. He’d replaced the legendary Roy Campanella in 1958 and maintained his job into 1963. He was solid, unspectacular, a good teammate and hit all of.236 with nine home runs and an OPS+ of 91 with 1.9 WAR (BBREF version).

The infield was also solid, and occasionally spectacular. Ron Fairly was at first. He hit .271 and had 12 home runs, good for third on the team. His 77 RBIs were second, while his OPS topped out at .735 (OPS+ 120) with 2.8 WAR. Jim Gilliam, a Brooklyn holdover, was at second. He hit .282, stole 19 bases, bunted well, was third on the team with 201 total bases, had 5.2 WAR (good for second on the team), played an excellent second base and did all those things managers wanted the two hitter to do. Maury Wills was the spectacular part of the infield. He hit .302, scored a team high 83 runs, stole 40 bases, and was credited with reestablishing the stolen base as an offensive weapon. It wasn’t really true but it was believed. Third base was in flux. Ken McMullen ended up playing more games there than anyone else, but hit all of .236 with neither power nor speed. By the time the World Series came around he was out of the lineup with Gilliam replacing him at third. That left second open and Dick Tracewski took over the position. He was a good fielder but hit .226 with one home run and 10 RBIs.

The outfield had two Davis’s and a Howard. The aforementioned Tommy Davis was in left field. He hit .326 to repeat as batting champion, and his home run total was second on the team at 16. His RBIs had fallen off to 88, but it still led the team. His OPS+ was 142 with a 3.9 WAR. The other Davis was center fielder Willie. He was generally a good fielder who could run. He hit only .245, but stole 25 bases and scored 60 runs, which equaled his RBI total. The power came from Frank Howard who was a genuinely huge man for the era. He played right field, hit .273, led the team with 28 home runs, had an OPS of .848 (easily first on the team), led all everyday players with and OPS+ of 150 and had 4.1 WAR.

The bench was long, if not overly good. Six players (including Tracewski mentioned above) were in 50 or more games and three more played at least 20 games. Wally Moon, at 122, played the most games. He hit .262 with eight home runs, 48 RBIs and 41 runs scored. Former Yankee Moose Skowron got into 89 games and had 19 runs scored, 19 RBIs, and four home runs. Doug Camilli was the primary backup catcher.

But no matter how much the Dodgers hitting was overlooked, the pitching dominated the team. Don Drysdale was the reigning Cy Young Award winner and went 19-17 with an ERA of 2.63 (ERA+ 114), 315 innings pitched, 251 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.091, and 4.7 WAR. But he’d ceded the ace title to Sandy Koufax. Koufax was 25-5 with an ERA of 1.88 (ERA+ 159), 11 shutouts, 306 strikeouts, 0.875 WHIP, and 9.9 WAR. All, except ERA+(which was second) were first among NL pitchers. All that got him the NL MVP Award and a unanimous Cy Young Award in an era when only a single Cy Young Award was given. The third pitcher was 1955 World Series MVP Johnny Podres. He went 14-12 with an ERA of 3.54, 1.311 WHIP, and 0.3 WAR. Pete Reichert and Bob Miller, neither of which figured in the World Series, were the other pitchers with double figure starts.

Ron Perranoski was the ace of the bullpen with a 16-3 record and 21 saves. His ERA was 1.67 (ERA+ 179) with 4.5 WAR. Larry Sherry (another World Series hero–this time in 1959), Dick Calmus, and Ed Roebuck were the other bullpen men with 20 or more appearances. Sherry had three saves.

The Los Angeles hitting was underrated in 1963, but the pitching was first rate. If the pitching did its job, and the hitting did much of anything at all, it was a team that could compete with the New York Yankees in the World Series.


Lost in the Shuffle

April 10, 2014
Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

Back when I was in the army I spent a year at a small base in Virginia. I had a roommate who was perfect for me. He was also a diehard Dodgers fan. We were allowed to put up posters on our wall. I didn’t have any but he had three. The one closest to the door extoled the virtues of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The one closest to the windows had a picture of a First National Bank somewhere with a guy in a robe heading in the front door. The caption read “Jesus Saves.” In the middle was a big poster of Don Drysdale in motion. The picture above is the nearest to it I could find.

Drysdale’s dropped off the face of the earth in the last few years. He made the Hall of Fame, which was controversial, but once you’re in a lot of the commentary (“He should be in” “He shouldn’t be in”) goes away. He showed up again when Orel Hershiser passed him in consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Then there was one last flurry of comment when he died, but that’s about it. It’s kind of a shame.

Drysdale hit well. Most people don’t know that about him. He hit a buck-86, but had 29 home runs (peaking at seven in both ’58 and ’65), 26 doubles (six in ’60), and 113 RBIs (19 in ’65). His OPS is .523 (and Baseball has his offensive WAR as 5.9). His seven homers in ’65 was seventh on the team. OK, it isn’t Ty Cobb, but not bad for a man who hit in the nine-hole.

He had a couple of problems when he pitched. He was only the ace of the staff a few years, taking over for Don Newcombe about 1958 or so and surrendering the position to Sandy Koufax by 1963. In between he won a Cy Young Award in 1962 (back when they only gave out one). He only got to 20 wins twice (’62 and ’65), only led the National League in shutouts once and in strikeouts three times. Not bad, right? But his chief problem was that he pitched on the same staff at the same time as Koufax and got pushed to second place quickly. He just wasn’t Koufax, but then few pitchers were. Worse for Drysdale, when you looked away from the Dodgers there were Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal; and in 1966 there was even Gaylord Perry. So it was tough to consider Drysdale second best pitcher in the NL. As a rule, most years after 1962 the best you could do was slot him into the fourth slot in an all-NL rotation. That hurt his memory a lot.

Having said all that, he still managed 209 wins, a 2.95 ERA, an ERA+ of 121, and a1.148 WHIP. Not bad, but not in the same ballpark with Koufax, Gibson, or Marichal.

It’s a shame that he’s been lost in the shuffle. But he does have one advantage over all the rest of them. Back in 1967 I was on my way to Viet Nam and had a chance to overnight in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were in town I got to see the only game I’ve ever seen at Dodger Stadium. Drysdale was on the mound and won the game. I, at least, will always remember him.



Winning Quick

July 5, 2013
Frank Howard

Frank Howard

You ever notice how often you hear that you just gotta stay close and we’ll get ’em in the late innings? Or how about this one, “We need to knock ’em out quick.”? Nice ideas. Both work. You can win either way. There are good examples of each. In the next couple of posts I want to look at two World Series confrontations that occurred almost back to back. They are good examples of each way of winning.

 In the long history of the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry, there has only been one sweep, the 1963 World Series. It was a great case of winning the game in the first couple of  innings. And of course, as a Dodgers fan, it’s one of my favorites.

The 1963 Series was a contrast in teams. The Dodgers were young. Of everyday players competing in 50 or more games, Jim Gilliam at 34 and Wally Moon at 33 were the geezers. The Yankees were older. Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Hector Lopez, and Harry Bright were all 33 or more. The Yankees were still a power team. They had 188 home runs, 714 runs, a .403 slugging percentage, and only 42 stolen bases. In contrast, the Dodgers had 110 home runs, 640 runs, a.357 slugging percentage, and a league leading 124 stolen bases. Los Angeles offset that with pitching. They featured Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and aging (he was all of 30 but had been around since 1952) but still effective Johnny Podres. New York countered with Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, and Ralph Terry. Not bad, but only Ford was the equal of the Dodgers main starters.

Game one set the tone for the entire Series. In the bottom of the first, Koufax struck out Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, and Tommy Tresh in order. Then in the second he struck out Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris before getting Elston Howard to foul out to catcher Johnny Roseboro. In between the Dodgers put up four runs in the second on a double, two singles, and a Roseboro home run. The Yankees never recovered. By the second inning, the game was  done. Koufax struck out 15, including every Yankees starter except Clete Boyer,  gave up six hits (including a Tresh two-run homer with the game already decided), and shut New York down. I was in school when the game started, but was able to listen to the first two innings on the radio in class (we had a couple of very compliant teachers). You could tell it was over.The crowd was stunned to silence. I missed the third inning getting home, but when the TV went on for the fourth, you could see the Yankees dugout was equally stunned. Of course as a Dodger fan I was in heaven, but a  couple of friends of mine who weren’t LA fans were watching with me. Both told me New York was done. Not just for the game, but for the Series.

They were right. In game two the Dodgers put up two runs in the top of the first on two singles, a steal of third, and a Tommy Davis double. Although he got two more runs (one in the fourth, one in the eighth), Podres didn’t need more help. He only struck out four (OK, he wasn’t Koufax, but then no one else was either), but scattered six hits and wasn’t in trouble until the ninth when, with one out, he gave up a double and single to plate a run. In came reliever Ron Perranoski who set down the next two hitters to finish the game.

Game three was Saturday, so I finally got to watch the entire thing. It was a great pitching duel between Drysdale and Bouton. Again the Dodgers scored early. With one out in the first, Gilliam walked, went to second on a wild pitch after the second out, then came home on another Tommy Davis hit, this one a single. That concluded the scoring for the entire game. Drysdale pitched a three hit shutout, striking out nine. Bouton was almost as good. He gave up four hits and struck out four, but he walked five (to Drysdale’s one). Again the Dodgers quick strike was decisive.

That led to game four on Sunday. I have no idea if anyone thought the Yankees could win. I was at a friend’s house for the game. There were five of us, including the friend’s dad. None of them were Dodgers fans, but all of them agreed we were going to watch the Bums win the Series that day. The Yanks showed up looking defeated, but, much to their credit, put up their best showing of the entire Series. For a change the Dodgers didn’t score early. Through six innings Whitey Ford was magnificent. He gave up two hits, walked one, and struck out four. Unfortunately one of the hits was a huge fifth inning home run by Frank Howard. The Dodgers hadn’t scored early but they were ahead. Koufax was almost as good as Ford. By the seventh, he’d struck out five, given up three hits, and hadn’t walked anyone. But in the seventh, New York got the run back on a homer by Mickey Mantle. The bottom of the seventh gave the Dodgers a second run on a three base error by Joe Pepitone and a sacrifice fly by Willie Davis. Koufax then picked up another strikeout in the eighth and struck out two more in the ninth. A routine grounder to short ended the Series.

It’s never been considered a great World Series (except by a few diehard Dodgers fans), but it was a great example of being able to score early. With an excellent starting staff (the Dodgers used one reliever for two-thirds of an inning in the entire Series) a team who scores early, even if only a run or two can really put the opponent in a deep hole. That’s exactly what LA did in 1963.


The 50 Greatest Dodgers

November 27, 2012

Don Newcombe, the 8th Greatest Dodger

Back a year or so ago I did a post on the 50 Greatest Yankees ever (according to ESPN). Turns out that the network did an entire series of these lists. You’ll have to look around pretty hard (or type in “greatest Dodgers” or whichever team) to find their lists but they are interesting.

One of the lists is the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers list. The top 10 (in order) look like this: Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Zack Wheat, Roy Campanella, PeeWee Reese, Mike Piazza, Don Newcombe, Don Sutton, Dazzy Vance. And before anyone asks, Don Drysdale is 11th. Not a bad list actually, here’s a few comments on the list.

1. To create a full team you end up with Gil Hodges (16th on the list) at first, Robinson at second, Reese at short, and Roy Cey (14th on the list) at third. The outfield is Snider, Wheat, and Pedro Guerrero (15th on the list). Campanella catches and the first position player whose position is already covered is Piazza, making him the DH. The staff (four men for a World Series rotation, at least one being left-handed) is Koufax, Newcombe, Sutton, and Vance. Way down at 46th is Ron Perranoski, the only reliever on the list.

2. The list is a decent mix of both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, with LA being slightly favored in the higher parts of the list (see Guerrero over Babe Herman or Carl Furillo for example). There are, as you would expect with the Dodgers, an inordinate number of pitchers in the top 15.

3. They did put Dixie Walker on the list (he’s 25th). With the way he left the team (his opposition to Robinson) I half expected he’d be overlooked.

4. Wheat in the top 5 is inspired, as is Vance in the top 10. It’s unusual for guys who played that long ago to get much support when up against newer players that voters remember. However, Wheat over Campanella is questionable. Wheat and Vance are the only two players on the list who spent significant time with the Dodgers prior to 1940.

5. During their time together (most of the 1970s) Steve Garvey got a lot more press than Cey. This list placed Cey higher (14th to Garvey’s 17th). I think that’s probably right.

6. Jim Gilliam is at 43rd. That’s way too low. His versatility (second, third, center, and left) made him so much more valuable than his hitting stats (which aren’t bad either) made him appear.

7. Reggie Smith is at 26th. Again, I think that’s too low. I might slide him into the top 15. I know I’d put him in the top 20. I might even jump him over Guerrero. Smith is one of the more overlooked players in both Dodgers and Red Sox history.

8. The picking of  Newcombe over both Sutton and Drysdale is  interesting. Both ended up with more wins and Newk did have the drinking problem. I’m not sure the voters got it right. Maybe yes, maybe no.  Newcombe was the ace of the most famous (if not most successful) team in Dodgers history and that has to be worth something. Now, if he coulda just won a single World Series game (he went 0-4).

9. Now about first place. When I first became interested in baseball, Robinson was my hero. As he waned, Snider replaced him. Then as the Duke faltered, Koufax became my guy. That got me through high school and hero-worship of big leaguers. So I have no problem with those three being in the top positions. I’m not sure about the order. The ultimate problem is Robinson’s status as a civil rights icon. It so overshadows his on-field accomplishments that I’m not sure it didn’t get him first place more than his playing  ability did. Having said that, I recognize he was a heck of a player and when added to his late start (because of circumstances not of his making) and the abuse he suffered, maybe he is first. But Snider was as good, maybe better. And Koufax is simply the greatest pitcher I ever saw. I have my own order, but I have no real problem with the current order.

10. The location of a few more well-known names: Hershiser (12th), Valenzuela (13th), Wills (22nd), Reiser (31st), Podres (33rd), and Nomo (49th).

11. The most glaring omission? Carl Erskine.


Playoff Baseball Comes to the West Coast

June 11, 2012

Felix Mantilla

Prior to divisional play beginning in 1969, the Major Leagues had a playoff system to determine pennant winners in case the regular season ended in a tie. It wasn’t used all that often. The American League used it all of once (1948) and the National League a bit more frequently (1946, 1951, 1959, 1962). The most famous occurred in 1951. Arguably the best occurred in 1959.

In 1959 the Milwaukee Braves were two-time defending NL champions. They featured Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter and Warren Spahn. They went into the last weekend of the regular season tied for first, then went 2-1 against Philadelphia to finish the year with a 86-68 record.

Their opponents were the Dodgers, the team they had replaced atop the NL in 1957. But it was a vastly different Dodgers team. First, it was no longer in Brooklyn, having relocated to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. Second, most of the “Boys of Summer” Dodgers were gone. Hall of Famer Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Carl Furillo were still around; but the new team featured Don Drysdale, Wally Moon, Johnny Roseboro, and a wild lefty named Sandy Koufax. Drysdale and Koufax were on the 1956 pennant winning team, but neither was considered a major player on that team. Gone were Roy Campanella, PeeWee Reese, Don Newcombe, and Carl Erskine, a stalwart of the Brooklyn mound who began the year in LA, but retired before the season ended.

The 1959 playoff format was a best of three series with LA getting two home games. The Milwaukee home game was 28 September in County Stadium. The next game was the following day in the LA Coliseum, the first playoff game ever on the West Coast. Game three, an if necessary game, would be in LA the 30th.

With both teams having to win late in the season, the first game saw Danny McDevitt start for the visitors with Carl Willey on the mound for the Braves. With two out and second baseman Charlie Neal on  second, Dodgers right fielder Norm Larker singled to drive in a run in the first inning. Milwaukee struck back in the second with two runs on a bunch of singles and an error. The two runs took McDevitt out of the game and brought in bullpen man Larry Sherry.  LA got the run back in the next inning on three singles and a force out. In the sixth, Roseboro led off the inning with a home run putting the Dodgers up 3-2. Sherry pitched masterfully shutting out Milwaukee on four hits (and two walks) making Roseboro’s homer the deciding run.

The next day the teams played one of the great playoff games ever. The Dodgers started Drysdale and the Braves countered with Lew Burdette. In the opening frame with an out Mathews walked, Aaron doubled, then Frank Torre doubled to plate both runs. The Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the first with a  Neal triple followed by a single by Wally Moon. The Braves got the run right back on a single and error by Snider in the second. In the bottom of the fourth Neal homered to bring the Dodgers within a run. Again Milwaukee got the run right back with a Mathews home run in the fifth. It drove Drysdale from the game. The score remained 4-2 until the top of the eighth when catcher Del Crandall tripled and came home on a Felix Mantilla sacrifice fly. The score remained 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. With three outs to go, Burdette stumbled. Moon, Snider, and Hodges all singled to load the bases. Out went Burdette, in came bullpen ace Don MaMahon. He proceeded to give up a two-run single to Larker. Out went McMahon, in came Warren Spahn. A sacrifice fly by Furillo tied the game.

It stayed tied through the tenth and eleventh, the Dodgers managing one hit in the eleventh. By the twelfth, Stan Williams was on the mound for LA and Bob Rush for Milwaukee. Williams got through the twelfth without giving up a hit, but with two out Rush walked Hodges. Joe Pignatano singled moving Hodges to second. Furillo then singled to shortstop Mantilla who was playing short instead of his normal second because of a defensive substitution in the seventh. Mantilla managed an error letting Hodges in with the winning run and putting the Dodgers into the World Series. They would win it over Chicago in six games.

In the years since, playoff games prior to the World Series became a staple of baseball. Now we don’t consider it unusual to see a round of games between the end of the regular season and the Series. Back in 1959 it wasn’t at all normal. It happened three times previously in all of NL history. So there was a level of anticipation that was different from today’s playoffs. And it was the first postseason play (although technically the games counted as regular season games, they were considered by most a playoff) on the West Coast. With game two, the West Coast got a great introduction to playoff baseball.


“But They Who Trust in the Lord…”

April 28, 2012

“..shall renew their strength.” Isaiah, Chapter 40, verse 31 (JPSV)

Baseball has a long history of being connected to religion. I don’t mean all the fans at home and in the stands with their palms together going “please, Lord, let him get a hit.” I’m talking about on the field. It goes back at least to Billy Sunday in the 1880s and probably longer. Today you see and hear it with frequency. So far I’ve noted no “Tebowing” but watch for the player stepping into the batter’s box who crosses himself, watch for the guy who crosses home and points a finger to the sky (sometimes in memory of a parent or sibling, but frequently in acknowledgement of his faith). How many times have you heard an interview begin with the phrase, “I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior”? I suppose that the most famous moment of religion in baseball occurred almost 50 years ago in October 1965.

Sandy Koufax pitching

In 1965, the Los Angeles Dodgers won their second National League pennant in three years. Their unquestioned star was left-handed starter Sandy Koufax. On his way to a second Cy Young Award and second place in the MVP voting, he won the pitching triple crown with 26 wins, an all-time record 382 strike outs and and ERA of 2.04. That, of course, meant that everyone knew who was going to start game one of the World Series against the American League champion Minnesota Twins.

Except that there was a problem. The sixth of October 1965 was Yom Kippur, one of the most important days in the Jewish religious tradition and Koufax was Jewish. He announced, quietly, to his team he would not pitch on such a holy day. The press got wind of the story and it took off. It made the front page of newspapers (including the local paper in the town where I lived) and created something of an uproar. First, probably 80% of baseball fans had no idea Koufax was Jewish (he’d never made a point of it) and even less knew what Yom Kippur was all about. He had not been averse to pitching Friday night or Saturday afternoon games, but this was different and a lot of people didn’t understand how. In some places he was vilified, in others praised. But he maintained his stance, refused to comment publicly on the issue and went about his business preparing to pitch game two.

Well, Don Drysdale pitched game one and was shelled. Then Koufax took the mound for game two. He gave up one earned run (and one unearned) and the bullpen collapsed leading to a 5-1 Twins victory and 2-0 Twins lead in games. They could only win one more. Claude Osteen pitched a masterful game three, Drydale came back in game four, and Koufax won both game five and seven (the latter a three hit shutout) and picked up the Series MVP award.

He pitched one more year then retired. The religious stand became a major part of his legacy to both Jews and non-Jews alike. Many saw it as a stand for principle, something ball players aren’t known for as a rule.


Thoughts on the Upcoming Veteran’s Committee Vote: IV

November 11, 2011

Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe as members of the Nashua Dodgers

Here’s the last installment of my look at the 2011 Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame. This time I want to look at the last two men on the list. They are general manager Buzzie Bavasi and owner Charlie Finley.

Bavasi was general manager for the Dodgers in their last few seasons in Brooklyn, beginning in 1951. He went with them to Los Angeles, overseeing the transition to the West Coast. He remained through 1968. From there he went to San Diego as their first GM, then finished up with the Angels in 1984. prior to taking over in Brooklyn, he worked with Brooklyn minor league teams, most importantly the Nashua, New Hampshire team that became the haven for Dodgers players brought over from the Negro Leagues. As GM he increased the number of black players on both the big league team and in the minor league system. He signed both Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, centerpieces of the Dodgers winning teams in the 1960s. On Bavasi’s watch, the Dodgers won their first four World Series championships (1955, ’59, ’63, and ’65). He set up the San Diego minor league system and later put together the first Angels teams to win division titles. He died in 2008.

Finley took over a moribund Athletics team, moved it out of Kansas City, signed a bunch of good players like Reggie Jackson, and won three consecutive World Series’ in the early 1970s. Out of perverseness, or spite, or stupidity, or miserliness, he began selling off his players for next to nothing, getting him in trouble with then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Kuhn ruled his actions were not “in the best interest of baseball.”  He sold the team in 1981. He brought in the A’s green and gold uniforms (some in awful combinations, other nice), he experimented with a designated runner, with colored balls. He had a mule for a team mascot. He was, in other words, an innovator, a rascal, a con man, and a genius all rolled into one. He died in 1996.

So do either of  them make my ballot? Nope. My problem with Finley is simply that I can’t see putting another owner into the Hall of Fame until Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the 1920s “Murderer’s Row” Yankees, and the 1930’s “Bronx Bombers” makes the Hall. It’s unbelievable to me he isn’t in, and until he is, I can’t endorse any other owner for the Hall (as if my endorsement makes a difference). Bavasi is a little harder to explain, especailly being a die hard Dodgers fan. To determine just how much impact a GM has on a team is difficult. So many other factors like scouting, ownership, and cash available all factor into the making of a team. A good GM has to work within that framework and no matter how good an evaluator of talent and chemistry he is, if he can’t get all three things working together, especially ownership and cash, he simply isn’t going to be successful. Until I work out in my mind exactly how it works, I will pass on GM’s for the Hall. I understand that my objections to both are personal quirks and  Idon’t expect anyone else to follow along.