Posts Tagged ‘Ed Konetchy’

1908: Woeful

August 13, 2018

The immortal Chappy Charles

How do you win a ballgame? It’s actually not a trick question. You win by scoring more runs than the other guy. All this stuff about home runs and doubles and RBIs and WAR and OPS+ is just about how you go about scoring runs. In the history of Major League Baseball, going all the way back to 1880, the most woeful team at doing what you have to do to win is the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals.

First, a couple of caveats. The 1880 Cincinnati team scored 296 runs, but it was in a total of 80 games. The 1882 Baltimore team got 272 runs. The all-time record low for runs scored is 24 by the St. Paul Apostles of the Union Association in 1884. But they only survived for nine games. For something like a modern season of 162 games (or 154 by 1900) the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals are the non-scoring champs with (get ready for it) 372 runs scored over 154 games (49-105 win-loss record), or about 2.4 runs a game. And while we’re at it, they are low with only 301 total RBIs for the season (1.95 per game).

We should also take a moment and praise the Brooklyn Superbas for their own magical 1908. They went 53-101 and scored all of 375 runs in the season (also 2.4 a game) while the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) dropped to the bottom in the American League with 459 runs scored (2.96 runs a game–and the Highlanders played 155 games). And for what it’s worth, those extra three runs got the Superbas four more wins than the Cards while the Highlanders split the difference, winning two more games than St. Louis.

Now at this point I just know you’re dying to know who are these all-time greats that managed an all-time low in runs scored while playing at St. Louis, so I’m going to oblige you (You knew I would, didn’t you?) The big gun (well, sorta) was Red Murray a 24-year-old outfielder who hit .282 and led the team with 64 runs scored (just over 17% of all the team’s runs) and 62 RBIs (20% of the team RBIs). Second on the team in both runs and RBIs was first baseman Ed Konetchy with 46 runs and 50 RBIs (that works out to 12% of the team’s runs and 17% of the team RBIs). The other two outfielders, Al Shaw (40 runs) and Joe Delahanty (37 runs and 44 RBIs) did much of the remaining damage. Murray, Konetchy, and Delahanty were the only players with more than 20 RBIs (Shaw had 19). And finally, backup infielder Chappy Charles had 39 runs scored, good for fourth on the team (just over 10%).

So how does all this compare to some of the other teams in 1908? Well, Fred Tenney led the NL in runs with 101, Honus Wagner had 100, Tommy Leach had 93, Fred Clarke had 83 (as did Johnny Evers). Add ’em up and you get 377, more than the entire St. Louis (and Brooklyn) team. In RBIs, Wagner led the league (of course he did, it’s 1908) with 109. Mike Donlin had 106 and Cy Seymour had 92. That’s three players who added together had more RBIs than poor old St. Louis.

I suppose that if your team is doing poorly, it’s no comfort to know the 1908 Cardinals existed. But in the deadest of all Deadball seasons, they set a record. I’m not sure how you celebrate that kind of record.

1908: The Ball

August 4, 2018

Bill Klem

The 1908 season is primarily famous today for one play in one game, a game between the Giants and Cubs. The game I want to look at today isn’t nearly as famous, but the quirk in it is worth noting.

In 1908 the teams from Brooklyn and St. Louis were in a dogfight for last place in the National League. It took a while, but eventually St. Louis would prevail and finish four games behind Brooklyn. One of the reasons for that five game gap occurred 4 August 1908, 110 years ago today.

The game was played in Brooklyn with the Superbas (Dodgers would come later) sending Kaiser Wilhelm to the mound. In 1908 if you were named Wilhelm, “Kaiser” was sort of an obvious nickname. Here’s a picture of the non-baseball playing Kaiser Wilhelm, and his baseball counterpart.

Der Kaiser

and Brooklyn’s finest

The Cardinals responded with Bugs Raymond

who looked like this and was really named “Arthur”

Neither lineup had names that are familiar today (except maybe the German Kaiser) with a pair of first basemen, Ed Konetchy of St. Louis and Tim Jordan of Brooklyn being the main players for each team. The only Hall of Famer involved in the game was umpire Bill Klem (see picture above).

Brooklyn won the game 3-0 with runs scored in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings. The latter run was scored off reliever Ed Karger. Center Fielder Bill Maloney who was hitting .191 at the end of the game hit a home run (he hit three all year and managed to get to .195 by the end of the season–obviously he had a hot streak late). A stolen base and a Jordan double plated the earliest run and another stolen base followed by a long single scored the other (typical Deadball Era runs). Wilhelm managed to shut out the Cards on three hits (all singles) and a walk, while striking out six. At the end of the day, Brooklyn was five and a half games out of last place in the NL. The game took one hour and twenty-five minutes to play.

So why am I telling you about this otherwise obscure and unremarkable game? Well, according to a number of sources the entire game was played using exactly one baseball. It seems umpire Klem thought the ball was in good enough shape to keep it in the game and never changed to a new ball. Somehow it’s absolutely appropriate for a Deadball Era game to be played with one baseball.

probably not the actual ball

 

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.

 

1910: Cardinals Postmortem

September 3, 2010

By 1910 there was nothing to indicate how important the St. Louis Cardinals would be to the 20th Century National League. The Cardinals in the first decade of the century were terrible. There was no change in 1910.

For the entire period of the Deadball Era (1900-20) the Cardinals  finished with the worst record in the National League. At least in 1910 they weren’t last. The Cards finished seventh with a 63-90 record, 40.5 games out of first.

Manager Roger Bresnahan simply didn’t have a lot to work with at St. Louis, installing himself as the backup catcher and even pitching one inning of one game. He hit .273, stole 13 bases, had 15 doubles, scored 35 runs, and was easily the best player on a woeful bench. The entire bench failed to hit a home run (the Cards finished last in homers) and no one other than Bresnahan had double figure runs scored.

Which brings me to the starters. Most of them were at least a bit better than the bench. First baseman Ed Konetchy hit .302, slugged .425, and led the team with 78 RBIs. Outfielder Rube Ellis hit all of four home runs to lead the team. Miller Huggins, future Hall of Fame manager, led the NL in walks, stole a team high 34 bases, and his 101 runs scored led the team and was good for second in the NL. The team as a whole finished fifth in runs, sixth in average and slugging, and first in walks.

The problem  with the hitting was nothing compared to the pitching. The team finished last in ERA, strikeouts, shutouts, and first in hits allowed.  Twenty-four year old lefty Johnny Lush ( please tell me he wasn’t a drinker) led the team with 14 wins and was the only pitcher with a winning record (14-13). Unfortunately he had more walks than strikeouts and more hits than innings pitched. Of  the six Cardinals pitchers who pitched in 10 or more games, four gave up both more hits than innings pitched and had more walks than strikeouts. Bob Harmon managed to lead the NL with 133 walks while striking out only 87. His ERA was 4.46, a gigantic ERA for a Deadball pitcher with 33 starts.

All in all, St. Louis didn’t look good in 1910 and didn’t look like it could compete for a pennant in 1911 (they moved up to fifth in 1911). The hitting wasn’t all that bad, although it wasn’t all that good either (Can you say “mediocre”?). But if the pitching didn’t improve the team would continue to flounder. The pitching didn’t, and the team did.

Opening Day, 1910: St. Louis (NL)

April 12, 2010

Miller Huggins (1910)

I asked myself one day which National League team had the worst overall record in the Deadball Era. Answer: the St. Louis Cardinals. Considering what they’ve meant to baseball since, I find that a lot strange. By the start of the 1910 season, the last time they’d seen the first division was 1901. In 1909 they finished 56 games out of first.

In 1909 they picked up a new manager, Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan. He immediately inserted himself as the backup catcher and almost as quickly came into conflict with most of his players. He was from the Giants, had been Christy Mathewson’s catcher, and was a student of John McGraw. The Cardinals weren’t very Giantlike and it created problems for Bresnahan.

The team, as befits a seventh place finisher, underwent major changes going into the 1910 season. Half the starters were new. Ed Konetchy was still at first and hitting cleanup, but Miller Huggins was over from Cincinnati to play second and leadoff. Arnie Howser was now the shortstop and eight hitter, with Mike Mowrey, a previous backup, taking over at third and hitting seventh.

The outfield consisted of holdovers Rube Ellis in left and Steve Evans in right, They hit second and fifth. The new guys was Rebel Oakes, like Huggins, from Cincinnati. He took the three hole. And the regular catcher was seven hitter Ed Phelps.

The bench was Bresnahan catching, Rudy Hulwitt the backup middle infielder, Frank Betcher another backup infielder, and Ody Abbott as the fourth outfielder. It wasn’t much of a bench,, Bresnahan being the only one to manage .250 during the season.

The pitching staff of 1909 consisted of six guys who failed to break even on the mound. Fred Beebe, Johnny Lush, Slim Sallee, Bob Harmon, Charlie Rhodes, and Les Backman are all pretty obscure, and there’s a reason for that. Only Sallee would ever do much. By 1910 Beebe was gone, replaced by Vic Willis who came to St. Louis from pennant winning Pittsburgh. Eddie Higgins, 1909’s bullpen man, managed only two games in 1910 and was ultimately replaced by committee. There just wasn’t much of an improvement for the staff over the offseason.

There was very little reason for hope in St. Louis as the 1910 season began. The changes were insignificant, but at least the average age of the pitchers had gone from  23 to 26, so the added maturity might be a blessing. Also Huggins appeared to be a real player and Bresnahan’s fire was encouraging. But when you’ve just finished 56 games out, you need more than maturity and fire. You need talent.

Next: Boston