Posts Tagged ‘Dots Miller’

First in St. Louis

March 3, 2016
Johnny Mize with the Cardinals

Johnny Mize with the Cardinals

Did you ever notice how certain teams breed players at particular positions? The Yankees do it at Second Base, in Center Field, and Catching. The Red Sox produce great left fielders. The Dodgers and Giants come up with superior pitchers. St. Louis is one of those. As the title of this little excursion should alert you, for the Cards it’s First Base.

The Cardinals began business in the 1880s as part of the fledgling American Association. They were then called the Browns and were immediately successful and began with an excellent first baseman. Charles Comiskey started at first for the Browns for most of the 1880s. He wasn’t that great a hitter, but he was considered a good fielder (for his era), an innovator in first base play, and spent much of the decade as the team manager. The team won four pennants with him as player-manager.

The team moved to the National League in 1892 and slipped back toward the bottom of the field. They got very little out of their first baseman until Jake Beckley joined the team in 1904. He had one great season, winning a number of league titles, but wasn’t much beyond that. He was followed by Ed Konetchy and Dots Miller as first basemen for the rest of the Deadball Era. They weren’t bad (Konetchy hit over .300 a couple of times), but weren’t particularly notable either and the Cards floundered.

That changed in the 1920s. St. Louis began a long drive toward the top of the standing that culminated in the 1926 National League pennant. Most of the glory had to go to Rogers Hornsby, but the Cards found a pretty fair first baseman to help the Rajah along. He was Jim Bottomley and he was good enough to enter the Hall of Fame, although some think he’s one of those guys who shouldn’t be there. Bottomley won a home run crown and a couple of RBI titles. He lasted through the championship seasons of 1926, 1928, 1930, and 1931 before being replaced by Rip Collins. Collins was a power hitter who fit in quite nicely with the raucous Cardinals team of the 1930s. He hit well, won a home run title, drove in a lot of runs, and became a mainstay of the “Gas House Gang.”

But by 1936 St. Louis had found another power hitting first baseman. His name was Johnny Mize and he became the dominant first baseman in the NL for several years. (I’ve never done anything on him and I need to remedy that). He won a batting title, and RBI title, and a couple of home run titles before being traded to the Giants. He did well there and later helped the Yankees to a couple of championships. But he left just as the Cardinals found the promised land again. The 1942 through 1946 Cards won three championships and four pennants. Ray Sanders did most of the work at first (with Johnny Hopp holding down first in 1942). He was no Mize, but he played well enough. His departure led to a long series of Cardinal first basemen that didn’t last long nor did they provide a lot of thrills. But in some ways it didn’t matter. If all else failed, St. Louis could always bring Stan Musial in from the outfield to play first. He did it a lot and no one cared if he could field or not. He was pretty good with the glove, but his forte was the use of the bat.

Things got back to normal for St. Louis at first with the arrival of Bill White in 1957. He would hold down the position through 1965 and become a major factor in the Cardinals championship run of 1964. He was good with the bat, good with the leather. He was one of the men who constituted an all-St. Louis infield in the All Star game of 1963 (Julian Javier, Dick Groat, and Ken Boyer were the others). White hung around until replaced in 1966 by Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda had been, with Willie McCovey, part of a terrible fielding left field combination at San Francisco. One of them could go to first, but the other would have to stay in left and leak runs or be traded. McCovey was younger, so he got to go to first and Cepeda was traded. The trade was to St. Louis where he ended up at first also. It worked. He won an MVP in 1967 and was part of two pennant winning teams in 1967 and 1968, the ’67 team winning the World Series.

But Cha Cha was getting old and was never much at first, so by 1969 the team was looking for a new first baseman. They tried a couple of different options, but finally settled on ex-catcher, ex-third baseman Joe Torre. He lasted a couple of years before moving on for Keith Hernandez.

Hernandez was the great fielding first sacker of his day. He was universally touted for his defensive skills, so much so that people forgot he could also hit. He won an MVP in 1979 (a tie with Willie Stargell of Pittsburgh), then joined in a championship season in 1982, before moving on to the Mets. And that was it for a while for St. Louis at first base. True they had Jack Clark for a while (and picked up a couple of pennants with him at first) and Pedro Guerrero but neither was a satisfactory answer to their woes at first. That changed with the arrival of Mark McGwire in 1992.

McGwire was the power hitting machine that eventually set a single season home run title. We’ve come to see that record as dubious because of the steroid issue, but for St. Louis it provided a boost in attendance and in winning. By 2001, after a couple of playoff appearances, injuries, questions about steroids, and age took McGwire to the showers. But St. Louis had one throw left at first.

Albert Pujols came to the Cards in 2001. He was rookie of the year and a heck of a hitter. But he had no set position. They tried him in the outfield, then at third. Finally they decided to move him to first. He wasn’t very good at first, at least not for a while. But he got better with the leather and there was never anything wrong with the way he swung the lumber. The team won a pennant, then two World Series’ with Pujols at first. He picked up a ton of hardware including three MVP awards. In 2012 he left for Southern California. St. Louis has yet to replace him.

Although there have been periods when St. Louis first basemen were pedestrian, it’s not all that common. Throughout most of their history they’ve managed to find excellent, if not truly great, first basemen. There’s no Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle handoff nor a Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski baton pass, but over a century and a half, the Cardinals have produced an excellent first base tree.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Opening Day, 1910: Pittsburgh

April 6, 2010

Honus Wagner

The Pirates were defending champions when the 1910 season opened. As you would expect, they’d made few changes to the roster. In the infield, first baseman and normal six hitter Bill Abstein was replaced by rookie Jack Flynn (Abstein went to St. Louis of the American League). Dots Mller remained at second and in the five hole, while third baseman Bobby Byrne moved to the leadoff spot in the order. At shortstop Honus Wagner, defending batting, slugging, doubles, and RBI champ, took the clean up spot. The outfield remained unchanged with manager Fred Clake in left and batting third, right fielder Owen Wilson hitting seventh, and Tommy Leach in center and batting second. George Gibson stayed behind the plate and hit eighth. There were some changes. Ham Hyatt remained the primary pinch hitter, Ed Abbatacchio backup middle infielder was traded during the first week of the season. Bill McKechnie became his replacement.

The pitching staff of 1909 was led by Howie Camnitz, Vic Willis, Lefty Leifeld, and Nick Maddox. Babe Adams, the World Series hero; Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever had all spent the season splitting time between starting and the bullpen. In 1910 Willis was gone to the Cardinals and Adams replaced him as one of the four primary starters. Leever and Phillippe, the pitching ace of he 1903 World Series, were now almost entirely bullpen men.

At 28, the Pirates had the 3rd oldest hitting team in the league by average age, but their staff was the oldest staff in the NL. Phillippe and Leever were both 38 and Adams, though reasonably new to the league, was 28 as was Camnitz. As far as I can tell, Clarke didn’t seem to be worried about it. Maybe he should. His biggest stars, Wagner (36), Leach (32), and himself (37) were getting old by 1910 baseball standards.

So Pittsburgh went into the 1910 season with its World Champion team mostly intact. There was a rookie at first and an aging pitching staff, but as long as the hitting, especially Wagner, held up they would be competitive for the season.

Tomorrow–the Cubs

The Dutchman vs the Peach

January 19, 2010

By general consensus the two great position players of the Deadball Era are Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. Two people more unalike is tough to imagine. Wagner was from the Pennsylvania coal fields. He was quiet, dignified, admired by his teammates, apparently relatively free from racism (when told John Henry Lloyd was being called “The Black Wagner”, Honus was supposed to have said he was honored to be compared with Lloyd). Cobb, on the other hand, was from Georgia. Quiet would never describe him. He was brash, angry, violent, tolerated rather than liked by his teammates, and violently racist. The did have one thing in common, they were great ballplayers. For fans who wanted to see both in action against each other, there was a problem. Wagner (“The Flying Dutchman”) played in the National League while Cobb (“The Georgia Peach”) played in the American League. The only way they could be on the same field in an meaningful game would be in the World Series. In 1909, that finally happened.

Cobb’s Detroit Tigers swept to the American League pennant by 3.5 games over the A’s. Led by Cobb, who hit league leading numbers of 377 in batting, 107 RBI’s, and 9 homers to become the second American Leaguer to win the Triple Crown (Nap LaJoie in 1901), the Tigers had future Hall of Famers Sam Crawford and manager Hughie Jennings on the team. The leading pitchers were George Mullin (29 wins) and Ed Willett (22 wins).

The Pittsburgh Pirates, who knocked off the Cubs by 6.5 games, had Wagner who led the league in hitting at 339 and in RBI’s at 100, along with a league leading 39 doubles. They also had future Hall of Famer and manager-left fielder Fred Clarke and got good seasons from Bill Abstein (1st base), Dots Miller (2nd base), and Tommy Leach (center field). The pitching was led by Howie Camnitz (25 wins) and future Hall of Famer Vic Willis (22 wins).

It was a good series, the first to go the full compliment of 7 games (The 1903 Series was a best of nine. There was a game 7, but it was the penultimate game.) The Pirates won all the odd numbered games, the Tigers the even numbered games (what are the chances of that?). Neither Wagner nor Cobb were the stars. Cobb hit only 231, stole only 2 bases, but led the team with 5 RBIs. Wagner did better hitting 333 with 6 stolen bases and 2 RBIs. But the big stars were Clarke who hit both Pirates home runs and tallied 7 RBIs with only a 211 batting average, Leach who hit 360, and an obscure pitcher named Babe Adams who won 3 of the Pirates 4 games (13 game winner Nick Maddox won the other game). Adams put up a 1.33 ERA and struck out 11 in 27 innings. He pitched three complete game victories, including game 7.

When the Series ended, Pittsburgh had its first championship, the Tigers had lost 3 World Series’ in a row. Neither Cobb nor Wagner would ever make it back to a Series as a player. Both men would be in the initial Hall of Fame class.