Posts Tagged ‘Don Newcombe’

What Were They Looking At?

June 2, 2010

Yesterday I did a post about Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. Kevin from DMB blog pointed out that Ted Williams’ 1941 was at least as good as DiMaggio’s and probably better. I concur. It got me to thinking (which is sometimes not a good thing) about Williams’ lack of respect in the MVP voting, which led me to Duke Snider and a couple of other people who never got the support they needed from MVP voters. I want to point out five cases, four from the 1950s, (there are more and you may have your own favorite) where I can’t help but ask, “What were they looking at?” when the writers voted for MVP.   

Joe Gordon

 1. 1942. Joe Gordon won. Gordon hit .322, slugged 491, had 173 hits, 88 runs, 18 home runs, 103 RBIs, and 264 total bases. He managed to lead the league in one category, strikeouts with 95. Williams the same year hit .356, slugged .648, had 186 hits, 141 runs, 36 home runs, 137 RBIs, and 338 total bases. He led the league in average, slugging, runs, home runs, RBIs, and total bases. In other words, the man won the triple crown. He also led the league in walks. What were they looking at? Unless they simply decided to give it to the best player on the team that won there’s no way Gordon had a better year. And I’m not sure I’d credit him as the best Yankee that year.   

Roy Campanella

  2. 1953. Roy Campanella won. For the season Campy hit .312, slugged .611, had 162 hits, 103 runs, 41 home runs, 142 RBIs, and 317 total bases. Good year, right? Now let me give you another line in the same order: .336, .627, 198, 132, 42, 126, and 370. Those are the numbers for Duke Snider, Campy’s teammate. Snider led the National League in runs, slugging and total bases and they picked Campy. OK, maybe, but Campanella only led the league in RBIs.  

Duke Snider

  3. 1955. Campy won again. For the year Campanella hit .318, slugged .583, had 142 hits, 81 runs, 32 home runs, and 107 RBIs. Snider’s numbers for the same year were .309, .628, 166, 126, 42, and 136. He led te NL in both runs and RBIs. Duke, you got robbed.  

Don Newcombe

4. 1956. Don Newcombe won. Newcombe in 1956 put up the following numbers: 27 wins, 7 losses, a 3.06 ERA, 268 inning pitched, 219 hits, 139 strikeouts, and 46 walks. He led the National League in both wins and winning percentage. Sal Maglie finished second with the following numbers in the same order: 13/5/2.87/191/150/108/52. Now I have no problem with Newcombe beating the Barber here. What I have a problem with is Maglie coming in second when the following two sets of numbers are available. This is the same pitching numbers in the same order: 21/11/2.78/281/249/128/52. Those are Warren Spahn’s numbers and I think I’d rather have his than Maglie’s. Again Duke Snider has good numbers: 158 hits, 112 runs, 43 home runs, a .292 average, a.598 slugging percentage, 101 RBIs, and 324 total bases. He leads the league in homers, slugging, on base percentage, and walks. He also comes in 10th in the MVP voting. Say what? Again my problem isn’t with Newcombe winning, it’s with the disrespect shown to both Spahn and Snider (What? Do they just not like guys whose last name starts with an S?) 

Jackie Jensen

  5. 1958. Jackie Jensen won. Jensen hit .286, slugged .535, had 157 hits, 83 runs, 35 home runs, 122 RBI’s, and 293 total bases. He led the league in RBIs. Mickey Mantle on the other hand hit .304, slugged .592, had 158 hits, 127 runs, 42 home runs, 97 RBIs, and 307 total bases. He managed to lead the league in runs, home runs, total bases, and also walks and strikeouts.   

There they are. You tell me who you’d vote for. I’m not sure what I’m missing when  I look these over. I’m tempted to say that there was too much emphasis on the RBI, but Williams loses in 1942 and Snider loses in 1955 with more RBIs, so it can’t just be RBIs. Campanella and Gordon both played more demanding fielding positions, and I’ll give you that Williams wasn’t the greatest outfielder in the world. But the thing is that Snider was no slouch in center and Gordon wasn’t the greatest second baseman to ever put on a glove (although he wasn’t bad ether). And Mantle with the leather was superb. So it can’t be that either, at least not entirely.   

Frankly, I’ve never been able to figure out MVP voting.  I know I’m dealing with the personal quirks and biases of a bunch of writers, but there is no consistency here at all. There have been a number that I’ve scratched my head over. These are, to me, five of the most obvious examples of “What were they looking at?” Feel free to add your own personal favorites (there are plenty).

Queen of the Hall of Fame

February 11, 2010

Effa Manley

In baseball history, there has never been anything quite like Effa Manley. She ran a team, ran it well, and became a star in her own right.  Other women owned baseball teams, but Effa Manley actually ran hers. She was controversial, brash, beautiful, and understood baseball.

She was born in Philadelphia in 1897 (or 1900, depending on who you believe). There are three stories about her background. One insists she was white, the second that she was black, and the third contends she was of mixed race. In a 1973 interview, she indicated that she was white, but the other stories persist.  Whichever was true, Manley identified with black America.

There are as many tales of what happened to her between 1897 and 1935 as there are stories of her racial makeup. Some of them may even be true. What is certain is that she worked in the millinery business in New York becoming a baseball fan in general, and a Yankees fan specifically. In 1935 she married Abe Manley, a black entrepeneur (again, there are conflicting stories about where he got his money). They formed the Brooklyn Eagles that same year. According to Manley the name came from wanting the team to fly high, but it should be pointed out that the major black newspaper in the area was the Brooklyn Eagle.

In 1936 the team moved to New Jersey as the Newark Eagles. From the beginning, Effa Manley ran the team, although Abe was co-owner and at least somewhat responsible for hirings and firings. She made player and contract decisions, was responsible for scheduling and promotions. She worked to improve the quality of play in the Negro National League and insisted that contracts be honored by all teams. On the field she understood the game and could make player and management decisions by simply watching the game. There are stories that she even called plays by crossing and uncrossing her legs to indicate a bunt.

Socially, she was active in the community, serving as treasurer of the local NAACP chapter, organizing a boycott of Harlem stores that refused to hire black clerks (as usual, she won), and holding an anti-lynching day at the ballpark. On a personal level, she became somewhat notorious, being linked publically with a number of her players, especially pitcher Terris McDuffie. One story goes that if she wanted her husband to get rid of a player, she’d start a rumor she was having a fling with the player and within a week he’d be gone. Don’t know if it’s true, but it’s too good a story to not pass along.

In 1946, the Eagles won the Negro League World Series, besting the Kansas City Monarchs. It was a team consisting of Hall of Famers Leon Day, Monte Irvin, and Larry Doby. All were players Manley pushed to aquire. It was the high point in her team’s history.

By 1947, the Negro Leagues were beginning to lose players to the white Major Leagues. Manley’s Eagles suffered the loss of both Irvin and Doby. Within a couple of years, newly found pitcher Don Newcombe was gone also. Eagles attendance suffered badly, dropping from 120,000 in 1946 to 57,000 in 1948, a drop of 52.5%. The team couldn’t sustain that kind of loss.

Manley seems to have realized that integration of white leagues was killing black baseball. She demanded that Major League teams honor Negro League contracts, that raiding stop, and that Negro League teams be compensated for the loss of players to the Majors. She was, by and large, ignored (Bill Veeck of Cleveland being an exception). By 1947 the losses were terminal and the Manley’s sold the Eagles. The team folded after the 1948 season.

In retirement, Manley remained active in the community and continued to promote baseball and agitate for recognition of black baseball. She died in April 1981 (Abe died in 1952). In 2006, a special committee designed to study the Negro Leagues elected her to baseball’s Hall of Fame, the sole woman enshrined. Her plaque in Cooperstown reads in part “tireless crusader in the civil rights movement who earned the respect of her players and fellow owners.” I have a feeling she would have liked that.

Some Random Thoughts on the Negro Leagues

February 6, 2010

February is Black History Month around the US. It seems appropriate to look at the Negro Leagues during February, so I’m going to do a couple of posts. Let me start them with a disclaimer. I’m no expert on the Negro Leagues. I find them interesting and the info fascinating, but I’d never pretend to be an expert on the matter. That being said, a few comments follow:

1. There were several of them. Most famous were the Negro American League, the Negro National League (1920s version), the Negro National League (1930s-40s version), and the Eastern Colored League. There were a host of  others, but these four dominate most of the conversations about segregated baseball.

2. The leagues were led by the same sorts of people who led the white Major Leagues, entrepeneurs and opportunists. I’ve heard some less than favorable comments about a number of the owners because they made their money in less than “savory” occupations. A couple ran pool rooms (“You got trouble right here in River City”), some were loan sharks, others ran numbers. Of course if you were a black American in the era you had to live in specific places and keep to specific jobs, very few of which were of the “best” quality. I’m reminded of the Christian attitude towards Jews in the Middle Ages. Put them in cramped ghettos, make them hold specific jobs, and then be astounded when they ended up dirty and usurers. So I find it stunning when people are shocked (“Shocked to find there’s gambling going on”) to find so-called disreputable types running teams. I’m also remined that the owners of the white teams frequently weren’t among “the salt of the earth.”

3. Not all the owners were black and male. Two of the most successful franchises were the Kansas City Monarchs and the Newark Eagles. The Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson was white and the Eagles owner, Effa Manley, was female (she ran the team, but co-owned with her husband). Both ran very successful franchises, each winning a Negro League World Series and both eventually were elected to the Hall of Fame.

4. The quality of play seems to have been about on par with the Major Leagues. There are few reliable stats about the Negro Leagues, but anecdotal evidence and the few stats that do survive indicate that the top players and top teams were very much the equal of the Major League teams. Certain of the weaker teams may have been only minor league quality, but then the same can be said of a number of Major League teams in a given year.

5.  Judging by the impact black players, many of them coming over from the Negro Leagues, made in the majors, especially in the National League in the 1950s, it is evident that the top line players were equal with the best of the Major League players. Between 1949, when Jackie Robinson became the first black player to win the National League MVP and 1963 when Sandy Koufax won his (a 15 year period) black players won 11 National League MVP awards (Robinson, Roy Campanella-3 times, Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks-twice, Frank Robinson, and Maury Wills) to only four for white players (Jim Konstanty, Hank Sauer, Dick Groat, and Koufax). They also win five of the next six. I can’t prove it, but my guess is that black players would have also done well in the 1930s and 1940s.

6. Finally, there is no way to compare the Negro Leaguers with their Major League counterparts. They play in totally different leagues and even if the stats were available they exist isolated from each other. Does hitting .350 in the National League in 1935 mean the same thing as hitting .350 in the Negro National League? I don’t know, and neither does anybody else. I would guess that Josh Gibson, Louis Santop Satchel Paige, and Hilton Smith were the equal of any of their contemporaries in the Major Leagues, but I can’t prove it. Great shame.

It’s important to celebrate the Negro Leagues, not to deify them. Josh Gibson doesn’t need an apotheosis, he was good enough as is. But let us remember to celebrate them. Hopefully we won’t see their like again.