Posts Tagged ‘Eddie Mathews’

Adios, Red

June 8, 2018

Red Schoendienst

I saw that Red Schoendienst died earlier this week. He was 95 and the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame. He played far enough back that you have to be my age to remember him. He was, after Stan Musial, a man who could legitimately claim the title “Mr. Cardinal.”

He joined the Cards in 1945 as an outfielder. The team had a chronic problem at second base and the people in charge saw Schoendienst as just the man to solve it for them. He played one game at second in ’45, then moved in as the primary second sacker in 1946. He was an All Star, helped his team to the 1946 World Series, which they won. He stayed in St. Louis through 1956, making eight more All Star games, before moving on to the New York Giants. He put in less than 150 games with the Giants before a trade that took him to the Milwaukee Braves in 1957.

At Milwaukee he became a mainstay on consecutive pennant winning teams, winning it all in 1957. He generally hit second (behind Billy Bruton) and was credited with stabilizing the infield, providing a clubhouse presence, and giving the team veteran leadership. All of those were probably true but Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn were the big guns for the Braves. He made the All Star game one last time in 1957.

In 1959 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. It cost him all but five games of the season, a season the Braves lost a three game playoff to the Dodgers. Fortunately for Schoendienst an operation helped and he could return to the field. He remained active through 1963, serving as a player-coach in his last two active seasons.

In 1964 he became a fulltime coach, moving on to manager after the season. He won pennants in 1967 and again in 1968, winning the World Series in ’67. In 1968 he’s supposed to have told a reporter, in response to a question about Bob Gibson, “I tell him which day he’s pitching. He shows up and I take the day off.”

Schoendienst remained Cards manager through 1976, then did a little coaching at Oakland. He subsequently returned to St. Louis and coached during the 1982 World Series winning season. On two occasions he served at Cardinals interim manager, then settled in as a special assistant to the team. He made the Hall of Fame in 1989.

For his career his triple slash line reads .289/.337/.387/.724 (OPS+ of 94) with 2449 hits, and more walks than strikeouts. All of that gave him 42.3 WAR. As a manager he was 1041-955 (.522 winning percentage). His Hall of Fame selection is sometimes downplayed saying he wasn’t that good, but the combination of playing, coaching, and managing make him someone at least legitimate to consider.

So God’s Speed, Red. The Cardinals, Braves, and all of baseball will miss you.

 

Hammerin’ Hank vs the Mick: Back to the Bronx

July 25, 2016

With New York down 3 games to 2, the 1957 World Series returned to Yankee Stadium for games six and seven. The defending champs needed to win both games to defend their title. The Braves needed to win one to claim their first title since 1914 and their first in Milwaukee.

Hank Bauer

Hank Bauer

Game 6

On 9 October 1957 the Braves sent Bob Buhl to the mound to close out the Series. Trying to stay alive, the Yanks responded with Bob Turley. Again, Buhl couldn’t get out of the early innings. In the third he walked Enos Slaughter then watched as Yogi Berra drove a ball into the right field stands to put New York up 2-0. Out went Buhl. In came reliever Ernie Johnson.

Milwaukee got one back in the top of the fifth on a Frank Torre home run and tied it up in the top of the seventh with a Hank Aaron home run. After the seventh inning stretch Johnson got Turley on a foul bunted third strike which brought up New York right fielder Hank Bauer. He parked one in left field to put the Yankees back up 3-2. Turley got out of the eighth after walking one and went into the ninth nursing the one run lead. Eddie Mathews led off the inning with a walk. Aaron struck out for the first out. That brought up Wes Covington who grounded to Turley. A flip to short to get Mathews and a relay to first ended the game.

The Series was tied three games each. For the third year in a row there would be a game seven. New York was in each.

Lew Burdette

Lew Burdette

Game 7

It was 10 October when the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves squared off in game seven of the 1957 World Series. The Yanks went back to game 3 winner Don Larsen to close out the Braves. Milwaukee countered with the winner of games two and five, Lew Burdette.

The key inning was the third. In the top of the third with one out Bob Hazle singled. An error by third sacker Tony Kubek on a Johnny Logan grounder put men on first and second and brought up Eddie Mathews. He stroked a double to plate both Hazle and Logan. A follow-up single by Hank Aaron scored Mathews. A Wes Covington single sent Aaron to third where he scored when the Yanks couldn’t complete a double play on a slow roller by Frank Torre. When the inning concluded, the Braves led 3-0.

Burdette sailed through the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings allowing only three hits, all singles. In the top of the eighth, Braves catcher Del Crandall added to Milwaukee’s lead by parking a ball in the left field stands. Needing six outs Burdette set New York down in order in the eighth. The Braves went in order in the top of the ninth. Burdette got the first out of the bottom of the ninth on a pop-up, then a single put a man on. A fly got the second out. Consecutive singles loaded the bases for Moose Skowron who’d entered the game earlier as a pinch hitter. He slapped a grounder to Mathews at third. Mathews gloved it, stepped on third and Milwaukee won its first ever World Series. Burdette was named Series MVP.

The 1957 World Series was both an upset and a good Series. The Yankees actually outhit the Braves .248 to .209. Milwaukee put up one more home run (8 to 7) than New York while the Yanks countered by scoring two more runs. Hank Aaron had a great World Series hitting .393 with five runs, seven RBIs, and three homers. Eddie Mathews was second with four RBIs and five runs scored. He had only one home run, but it won game four. Hank Bauer led New York with six RBIs and two homers. Tony Kubek matched the two home runs, but had a critical error.

By a couple of measures even the New York pitching was superior. Their ERA was lower (2.89 to 3.48) and the allowed fewer runs (23 to 25). But the difference was Burdette. He was 3-0 in three complete games, two of them shutouts. His ERA was 0.67. With that record the Braves only needed to find a pitcher who could win one game. They found him in Warren Spahn, who won the 10 inning fourth game (the one involving Nippy Jones’ shoe and Mathews’ home run).

For Milwaukee it was their peak. In 1958 they would get back to the World Series and lose a rematch with New York in seven games. In 1959 there would be a regular season tie and a loss of a three game playoff to Los Angeles. Then they would fall further back, eventually moving to Atlanta. For New York it was a blip, but a harbinger of things to come. They would win in 1958, fail to capture a pennant in 1959, lose the Series in 1960, and see Casey Stengel put out to pasture. They would, however, go on to win four more pennants in the early 1960s.

Hammerin’ Hank vs. the Mick: The Shoe Shine

July 21, 2016

With the World Series tied one game apiece, the 1957 championship shifted to Milwaukee for three games. A two-one split either way would send the Series back to New York for the deciding game or games. A sweep would crown a champion.

Game 3

Tony Kubek

Tony Kubek

Game 3 on 5 October became the only blowout in the Series. Interestingly enough neither starting pitcher got out of the second inning. The Yankees jumped on Milwaukee starter Bob Buhl in the first inning, racking up three runs on a Tony Kubek home run, consecutive walks to Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, a Gil McDougald sacrifice that scored Mantle and a “Suitcase” Harry Simpson single that plated Berra. The single was Buhl’s last pitch. When the Braves got one back in the bottom of the second on a walk to Bob “Hurricane” Hazle, a single, a wild pitch, and a Red Schoendienst single, Yankees manager Casey Stengel took out starter Bob Turley and brought in 1956 World Series hero Don Larsen who got out of the inning.

Larsen stayed for the rest of the game giving up two more runs in the fifth inning on a two run home run to Hank Aaron, but the Braves began a long parade of five more hurlers to the mound, none lasting more than two innings. The Yanks got to Milwaukee pitching and scored 12 runs on nine hits and 11 walks. Kubek had a second home run and ended up going three for five with four RBIs and three runs scored. Mantle added one home run. Larsen took the win by going 7.1 innings and giving up the home run to Aaron, five hits, four walks, and striking out four.

Game 4

Nippy Jones

Nippy Jones

Game four was played 6 October and featured both the most famous game of the Series and one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history.

Milwaukee began with game one loser Warren Spahn on the mound. He gave up an early run to New York on two singles, a fielders choice, and a walk that brought Mickey Mantle home with the game’s first run. That held up until the bottom of the fourth when Yankees starter Tom Sturdivant got into trouble. He walked Johnny Logan, gave up an Eddie Mathews double to move Logan to third, then made the mistake of leaving one over the plate for Hank Aaron who smashed a three run homer to give Milwaukee the lead. One out later he gave up another home run to first baseman Joe Adcock to put the Braves up 4-1.

And that held up into the top of the ninth, when New York struck for three runs. With Yogi Berra on second and Gil McDougald on first, Elston Howard answered Aaron’s three run blast with his own three run homer to tie the score at 4-4. When the Braves didn’t score in the bottom of the ninth, the game went into extra innings.

New York got a run in the top of the tenth when, with two outs, Spahn (still pitching into the 10th) gave up a double to Tony Kubek and a triple to Hank Bauer that put New York up 5-4 with three outs to go.

Milwaukee led off the bottom of the tenth with pinch hitter Nippy Jones (he was subbing for Spahn). Jones was the third string first baseman and a pinch hitter. He’d hit .266 for the season with two homers, three walks, and five runs scored. But he believed in looking spiffy on the field, so he shined his shoes. The first pitch was low for ball one and Jones complained saying he’d been hit on the foot by the ball. The umpire, Augie Donatelli, disagreed. Jones grabbed the ball, showed Donatelli a black scuff mark on the ball, and argued it was proof he’d been hit. Donatelli believed him and despite Yankee protests awarded Jones first base.

Jones heads to first (courtesy getty images)

Jones heads to first (courtesy getty images)

Milwaukee sent in Felix Mantilla to run for Jones (there is no truth to the rumor that the team gave Jones a shoe brush as part of his World Series share). A Red Schoendienst sacrifice sent Mantilla to second and a Johnny Logan double tied the game. That brought up Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews who promptly sent the ball over the fence in deep right to win the game for Milwaukee.

Jones became a big hero, almost bigger than Mathews, whose home run had actually won the game. Aaron’s three run shot and Logan’s clutch hits in two different innings, including the 10th, were forgotten. They shouldn’t be because they were also significant. And for those interested, it was Jones’ last plate appearance in the big leagues.

Over the years the Jones play took on mythic proportions. It was certainly one of the strangest of all World Series moments, not likely to be duplicated ever. Except that in 1969 the same thing happened to Cleon Jones (what is it with guys named Jones and shoe polish?) during the “Miracle Mets” run to the championship. So far there hasn’t been another case of it in the Series but I admit that every time a player named Jones (like Chipper or Andruw for instance) comes to the plate in the World Series I try to get a look at their shoes.

Game 5

Eddie Mathews

Eddie Mathews

If games three and four were dominated by hitters, game five became a pitcher’s duel. The Yanks sent ace Whitey Ford to the mound while the Brave responded with game two winner Lew Burdette. Four five and a half innings they matched zeroes. Ford gave up three hits and a walk, while striking out one. No Milwaukee hitter got beyond second base. Burdette was every bit as good. He gave up five hits an no walks with no runner getting beyond second.

In the bottom of the sixth, Ford got the first two men out then gave up a single to Eddie Mathews, whose homer the day before won the game for the Braves. Hank Aaron followed with another single sending Mathews to third. A final single by Joe Adcock brought Mathews home with the first run of the game. Then a grounder ended the inning leaving the score 1-0.

It was all Burdette needed. He set the Yankees down in order in the seventh. In the eighth he gave up a single, but a caught stealing got him out of the inning. In the ninth it was two quick outs before a single by Gil McDougald brought up Yogi Berra. He popped to third to end the inning and the game. Burdette had a seven hit shutout without giving up a walk. It put Milwaukee on the cusp of a championship going to New York to finish the Series.

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The MIck: Milwaukee

July 14, 2016

The 1957 season marked ten years since the Braves won a pennant. In 1948 they lost to Cleveland and were still in Boston. They moved in the early 1950s to Milwaukee and built a powerhouse. In 1957 they finally reached first place in the National League. It was their third championship of the century (1914 and 1948).

Fred Haney

Fred Haney

The Braves were led by Fred Haney who had a short playing career in the 1920s, then went into coaching. He’d been a not particularly successful manager never finishing higher than sixth when, in 1956, he took over the Milwaukee team. He led them to second place and broke through the next year  with 95 wins. The Braves led the NL in runs, triples, home runs, total bases, and slugging. They were second in hits, average, and OPS; third in OBP. In an eight team league they were next to last in stolen bases. The staff gave up the least home runs in the league while finishing second in hits and ERA. They were second in run scarcity, but they were next to last in walks.

The Braves infield changed during the season. The most important change was the addition of second base Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst from the Giants. He solidified the middle of the infield, added veteran leadership to the team, and gave Milwaukee a top part of the order hitter (he did a lot of leading off). He hit .310 with an OBP of .348, tops behind the big power hitters. His 3.9 WAR was fourth among everyday players. Johnny Logan was his middle infield mate. Logan hit .273 with 10 home runs and 135 hits. He was a competent shortstop whose 4.1 WAR was third among the hitters. Second among the hitters at 7.4 WAR was Hall of Fame third sacker Eddie Mathews. He hit .292, had 94 RBIs, 32 home runs, 167 hits, and scored 109 runs. First base was supposed to be a platoon position with Joe Adcock being the big slugger and hitting right-handed while Frank Torre (Joe’s brother) hit lefty and was a much better fielder. The problem was that Adcock broke his leg and was reduced to playing in only 65 games. He hit .287 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs. Torre, forced to do most of the work at first hit .272, but with only five home runs and 40 RBIs in almost exactly twice as many games. The bench wasn’t particularly strong. Danny O’Connell (who Schoendienst replaced as the starter) and Felix Mantilla both hit in the .230s and had five home runs between them. At first, the Braves had Nippy Jones to replace Adcock he hit .266 and, much to the Yankees regret, had a penchant for shining his shoes.

When the season started, the outfield was supposed to be set. It turned out it wasn’t. Right field was secure in Henry Aaron. The Hall of Famer hit .322, had 44 home runs, 132 RBIs, a .600 slugging percentage, and led the team in WAR at 8.0. That earned him the National League MVP Award for 1957. The problem was the other two spots. Billy Bruton was supposed to be the regular center fielder and the leadoff man, but he banged up his knee and only got into 79 games. He still managed to lead the team with 11 stolen bases. Needing a new outfielder, the Braves shifted Aaron to center and brought up a career minor leaguer named Bob “Hurricane” Hazle. He became one of the greatest (and most famous) “90 day wonders” ever. In 41 games he hit .403 with seven home runs, 27 RBIs, 26 runs scored, 87 total bases, an OPS of 1.129, an OPS+ of 209, and 1.9 WAR (which is pretty good over only 41 games). The other problem was left field. Bobby Thomson of “The Giants Win the Pennant” fame and Andy Pafko of “The Boys of Summer” fame were sharing time. Together they had 12 home runs, 50 RBIs, and hit around .250. Haney decided to go with second year man Wes Covington to solve his left field problem. Covington responded with a .284 average, 21 home runs, 65 RBIs, and 2.6 WAR. In addition to these six, the Braves got 28 games and six RBIs out of 28-year-old Chuck Tanner. He went on to lead the “We Are Family” Pirates to the 1979 World Series as manager.

Three men did most of the catching. The regular was Del Crandall. He hit only .253, but had 15 home runs, 46 RBIs, a .718 OPS, and 1.6 WAR. The backups were Carl Sawatski and Del Rice (making the Braves probably the only team ever to have two catchers named Del–I didn’t check). Between them they equaled Crandall’s 15 home runs (with Rice having nine of the 15), but only 37 RBIs.

They caught a staff that used five men to make a four man rotation. The star and ace was all-time winningest left-hander and Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. He pitched 39 games (35 starts), went 21-11, had an ERA of 2.69, had a 1.177 WHIP, an ERA+ of 130, and 4.6 WAR. Sort of your standard every season Spahn year. Lew Burdette was the second pitcher amassing a 17-9 record with a 3.72 ERA with only 78 strikeouts. Bob Buhl was the third starter. His record was 18-7 with an ERA of 2.74 and 2.9 WAR. To cover the fourth hole the Braves used Gene Conley and Bob Trowbridge. They pitched a total of 67 games, starting 34 (about half). Conley was, at the time, about equally famous as one of the last two sport stars because he played for the Boston Celtics basketball team when not on the mound. He was 9-9 while Trowbridge was 7-5 (a combined 16-14, not an untypical record for a fourth pitcher). The Closer was Don McMahon. He was, with 47 innings over 32 games, something like a modern Closer (which wasn’t that typical in the era). His ERA was 1.54, he had 46 strikeouts in the 47 innings, and produced 1.7 WAR. Later Reds stalwart Joey Jay, at age 21, got into one game for Milwaukee. He got a save.

The Yankees may have been favored, but the Braves were a formidable team. Aaron was a rising star, Mathews already a star, and Spahn an icon. As an aside, I considered, when I was much younger, the Braves the best team up and down the roster that I ever saw (I go back to the early 1950s). Not sure that’s true any longer, but they were one of the teams that had both hitting and pitching to go along with good fielding and a bench.

 

Star Managers

December 5, 2013

Recently my son reminded me that Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, and Ted Williams all have something in common other than being Hall of Famers with 500 home runs. Each was a manager with an overall losing record. Mathews’ .481 is the highest winning percentage of the four. He wondered if I knew that (I didn’t).

It got me to thinking about how commonplace an idea it is that great players don’t make great managers. The great managers are guys like Earl Weaver who never got to the big leagues,  Tony LaRussa who was a marginal player (he hit a buck-99 in 132 games), or Walter Alston who got all of one at bat in the Major Leagues. And no one is going to question that the three of them were great managers. But let me point out a small handful of exceptional players who made pretty fair managers.

1. John J. McGraw has the second most wins of any manager ever, and the one with the most wins of any manager who didn’t also own the team (Connie Mack). McGraw was a true star in the late 19th Century. He was the heart and soul of the most famous of all 19th Century teams, the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. He hit well, played a fine third base, ran well, and was unmatched at on field shenanigans.

2. Hughie Jennings was a teammate of McGraw’s and led Detroit to three consecutive World series appearances (1907-09). The Tigers lost all of them, but the next time they got the Series was 1934.

3. Yogi Berra led two New York teams to the World Series: the Yankees in 1964 and the Mets in 1973. Both teams lost.

4. Joe Torre, who admittedly wasn’t the player McGraw and Berra were, won four championships as a manager after winning an MVP as a player.

There are also a number of player-managers who were both successful managers and star players. Bucky Harris, Frank Chance, and Joe Cronin are only three examples.

So while it’s true that being a great player doesn’t necessarily translate to a great manager, it also doesn’t mean the guy is a disaster as manager.

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.

The Outsiders of 1957

March 15, 2012

1957 Milwaukee Braves

In baseball, the 1950s is primarily famous for the dominance of the city of New York. In that decade teams from New York won every World Series championship except two: 1957 and 1959. And to be fair about it, the 1959 winner was only two years transplanted from New York (actually Brooklyn), so only one team without New York connections won a World Series in the decade. That team played in Milwaukee. 

The 1957 Milwaukee Braves are one of a handful of teams that are in the running for best team of the 1950s. They could hit, the were good in the field, their pitching was excellent, and they even had a decent bench. Most teams in the 1950s didn’t have all four of those things, certainly not in the same season. So, in the words of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” movie “Who are those guys?”

The catcher was Del Crandall. He’d been around since 1949, lost two years to Korea, then become the primary backstop in 1953. He was a good catcher, leading the league year after year in caught stealings. It was an era of few steals, but Crandall was the best at stopping the running game. He wasn’t a great hitter, but by 1957 his numbers were trending up (although ’57 was a down year for him) in most categories (his home runs and RBIs were dropping).

The left side of the infield was solid. Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews held down the hot corner. He hit .292, had 32 home runs, 94 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .540. Johnny Logan was at short. He made a lot of errors, but was always near the top in range factor, assists, and put outs. He tended to hit around .270 with 10-15 home runs.

The right side of the infield is a good place to look at both the bench and the importance of a trade. The trade was at second. The Braves were struggling at second base early in the season Danny O’Connell wasn’t doing much, so Milwaukee turned a three-for-one trade (later World Series winning manager Chuck Tanner was one of the others). They got Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst in the deal. Schoendienst solidified the infield, gave the team a good hitter. He hit .310, had an OPS+ of 116, and was a good, if not spectacular infielder. He was third in putouts; second in assists, range, and fielding percentage. He and Logan weren’t Fox and Aparicio turning a double play, but they were more than serviceable. First base saw the bench come to the fore. Joe Adcock was the main first baseman. He was a pretty standard 1950s first baseman. He was a slugger who could put up 30 home runs, hit about .270, and get a lot of RBIs. He also was only a mediocre first baseman. Enter Frank Torre (Joe’s older brother). Torre was a good first baseman, had little power, hit in the .270s, and in 1957 had an OPS+ of 103. He also carried an enormous glove. The gag was that Schoendienst had to cover a third of the distance from second to first and Torre’s glove would cover the rest of the area. Adcock went down early (he only played 65 games) and Torre was a more than adequate replacement.

The arrangements in the outfield are fascinating. In left the Braves went through a ton of trouble to find their man. Bobby Thomson (six years removed from “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”) started out there. He was pretty much through. They tried Chuck Tanner, but if you’re relying on Chuck Tanner (other than as a manager), you’re in trouble. They finally decided on Wes Covington, who had a  breakout year. His triple slash numbers were .284/.339/.547. His OPS was .876 (OPS+ of 138).

The bench also came into play in center field. The starter and lead off man was Bill Bruton. He stole a team high 11 bases, hit .278, and got hurt. He played in only 79 games. In came a totally obscure minor leaguer and bench player named Bob Hazle. “Hurricane” Hazle proceeded to hit .403, slug .649, have an OPS of 1.126 and an OPS+ of 209. He was, in other words, one of the great “ninety day wonders” ever. His career floundered after 1957, but he was exactly what Milwaukee needed in 1957. And here’s a good enough place to mention Andy Pafko who, in his last good year, was the fourth outfielder.

Right field was solid. Henry Aaron was out there and he had an MVP year (his only MVP). He hit .322, slugged .600, had an OPS of .978, and an OPS+ of 166 (OK, it wasn’t Hurricane Hazle, but it was close). He hit 44 home runs, 22 doubles, had 198 hits, 132 RBIs, and 369 total bases. He also played right superbly (especially for a converted second baseman).

The starting pitching was above average for the era. Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Buhl were the primary starters. Spahn won his usual 21 games (and the Cy Young Award), Buhl had 18, and Burdette 17. both Spahn and Buhl had ERA’s under three and only Burdette had an ERA+ under 100 (94). The fourth pitcher (four starters in that era) rotated between Gene Conley (who had a solid NBA career), Juan Pizarro, and Bob Trowbridge. Put their numbers together and you got a 21-20 record with more innings pitched than hits and more strikeouts than walks.

The bullpen in the 1950s wasn’t the same as today. There was no “closer” who pitched only the ninth while waiting for a series of set-up men to get the team to the ninth. But Don McMahon was pretty close. He pitched in 32 games going 46.2 innings (about 1.3 innings per appearance). He had nine saves in a time when no one knew what a save was or how it was figured (it hadn’t been invented yet). He had an ERA of 1.54 and an ERA+ of 228. The rest of the bullpen produced 10 saves and was fairly typical for the age in that it was basically older guys who weren’t true starter material. And having more saves than the “closer”, McMahon, shows how little the closer role was a part of the game in 1957.

The Braves won the World Series in 1957 (becoming the last National League team to play New York in a Series), lost to the Yankees in the 1958 World Series (allowing the Yanks to beat every National League team then in existence), then lost a two (of three) game playoff to the Dodgers in 1959. That was it. The team faded fast, finishing fourth in 1960, then fifth or sixth in 1961 through 1965. In 1966 they moved to Atlanta. The run was short, but the team was good. Obviously the team of the 1950s was the Yankees, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t pick the 1957 Braves as the best one year team of the decade.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Veteran’s Committee Vote, II

November 7, 2011

Minnie Minoso's 1956 baseball card

Last time I give you my thoughts on the infielders appearing on December’s Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame. Here’s a few thoughts on the outfielders.

Cuban born Minnie Minoso is the only person on the ballot who lost time to the Negro Leagues. He played (and led off) for the New York Cuban Giants when they won the Negro League World Series in 1947. That team also featured Luis Tiant’s dad. By age 23 Minoso was in the Major Leagues and became a regular at age 25.  Tony Oliva, the other outfielder on the ballot, also lost some time in the Majors, but this was because of politics. Being Cuban in the early 1960s, he had trouble getting out of Cuba to play in the US, but did manage to become a regular at age 25. I’m telling you this so you can judge how much of their big league careers were lost to either segregation or politics.

Both men have similar career numbers and have similar problems that have kept them out of the Hall of Fame. There are also significant differences that make it possible to support one for induction and leave the other hanging. Minoso had much the longer career. He spent most of it with Chicago when the White Sox weren’t very good, and  left just as they were getting better. He missed the 1959 Go Go Sox while playing for Cleveland, and was with the Sox when Cleveland was good in the early 1950s. He led the American League in hits once, in triples and stolen bases a few times, in total bases once, but never in any of the triple crown categories. He failed to hit .300, had less than 2000 hits, and less than 200 home runs. All of those things have hurt his chances for the Hall of Fame. I also think the stunts of having him activated at age 50 and again at age 54 didn’t help. They made him look like something of a freak show. Although in his defense it was good publicity and he got at hit at age 50. How many other players have done that?

Oliva on the other hand was a huge success early and, like Eddie Mathews, something of a disappointment later in his career. Oliva won three batting titles, two in his first two fulltime seasons, led the league in hits five times, in total bases once, in doubles four times, in runs once, all in his first eight years in the Majors. Then he got hurt (knees) and hung on for five more years playing good ball, but not Tony Oliva caliber ball. I think that has hurt his chances at the Hall. He got to the World Series once (1965, his second full season), but lost. He was always in Harmon Killebrew’s shadow and periodically fell in the shadow of other teammates like Rod Carew. I think that also hurt his shot at the Hall.

Now both are on the Veteran’s Committee ballot. Are they Hall of Famers? My answer to both is yes. So next time I’ll take a look at the pitchers.

The Winningest Pitcher in the last 100 Years

June 9, 2011

Warren Spahn in wind up

On this date in 1911 Grover Cleveland Alexander won his 11th game for Philadelphia, 4-1 over Cincinnati. It made him 11-2 for the season. It also meant that at the end of the day he would go on to win 362 games for the rest of his career. That means as of today no pitcher has won more games in the last 100 years (9 June 1911 to right now) than Warren Spahn.

Somehow Spahn gets overlooked in the roll-call of great pitchers. Even if you restrict it to left-handers he tends to fall short of the top rung. I suppose there are a lot or reasons for that. He did pitch so long ago that only a few geezers like me even remember him and that enormous leg kick of his. He was never very flashy. He went out day after day season after season and won 20 games with regularity and nobody noticed. Milwaukee, and earlier Boston, were not hot spots for Major League baseball when he pitched. OK, Boston was a big deal but it was a big deal for the Red Sox, not for the Braves. He also tended to be overshadowed by his teammates. He had Johnny Sain in Boston, then came Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron. Even Lew Burdette overshadowed him for a while as a pitcher. But Spahn was always there and always winning.

Spahn had a cup of coffee with the Braves before World War II, went off to war, won a Purple Heart, then got back to the Majors in 1946. He won eight games. The next time he won less than 14 was 1964. In 1948 the Braves got to the World Series for the first time since the “Miracle Braves” of 1914. He teamed with Johnny Sain to form a formidable one-two pitching punch (“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” was the mantra), but Boston lost to Cleveland in six games. In 1957, ’58, and ’59 the Braves were again in contention, winning the Series in ’57, losing it in ’58, and losing a best of three playoff series to Los Angeles in 1959. In 1961 he won 21 games at age 40, including his second no-hitter, proving that some players do actually get better with age without the use of steroids.  Spahn had a miserable 1964. He was traded to the Mets and then to the Giants for his final year. After retirement he coached and managed in the minors, occasionally pitching a game for his team. That put off his Hall of fame induction to 1973. He died in Oklahoma in 2003.

What Spahn did was win and eat innings for his team. Between 1947 and 1963 inclusive he won 342 games (an average of 20 a season). He led the National League in wins eight times, in winning percentage once, innings pitched four times, in complete games nine times, in shutouts five, in strikeouts four, and picked up two ERA titles. In all of that his peak number of wins was 23. In other words Spahn was winning consistently every year, not just putting together a great year followed by a weaker season, then dropping in another great year a season or so later. Between 1957 and 1961 he never won more than 22 games nor less than 21. For his career he was 363-245 (.597 winning percentage) with 2583 strikeouts, 1434 walks, an ERA of 3.09 (ERA+ of 119) and a 1.195 WHIP. He even picked up 29 saves along the way. All while facing 21,547 batters. In the World Series he was 4-3 with 32 strikeouts and 13 walks, and ERA of 3.05 (almost dead-on his regular season average) and 1.071 WHIP.

He also had a decent sense of humor and was something of a philosopher. He gave up Willie Mays’ first home run. In later years Spahn said he took full responsibility for Mays’ career. If he’d gotten him out, maybe Mays would have ended up back in the Minors and National League pitchers would have been spared a lot of grief. He is also supposed to have come up with the comment to the effect that hitting is timing. Pitching is disrupting timing (I’ve seen that quoted a couple of ways, so it isn’t in quotation marks.). Not a bad philosophy for a pitcher.

Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about which left-hander was the greatest. Lefty Grove gets a lot of support. So do Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. Sandy Koufax enters some discussions, as does Carl Hubbell. But Spahn almost never does. The others were each, in their own way, more spectacular, but none was more consistent than Spahn.I know it’s fashionable to downplay the “win”statistic, but back in the 1950s (the bulk of Spahn’s career) it meant more. Pitchers completed more games, regularly pitched more innings, certainly started more games. Those make the win a more important stat in the era than it is today. And Warren Spahn has more of them than anyone else in the last 100 years.

Someone, at least, finally recognized Spahn’s greatness. In 1999 the Warren Spahn Award was initiated recognizing the best lefty in baseball. Randy Johnson won the first one (actually the first four) and Spahn was there to hand it to him. I always thought that was nice of them.

Warren Spahn Award trophy

Two Months of Glory

June 18, 2010

Bob Hazle

The Braves didn’t have a particularly distinguished history in the first half of the 20th Century. They won the World Series in 1914, lost it in 1948 and did nothing in between. In the early 1950’s they left Boston for Milwaukee, picked up Eddie Mathews and Henry Aaron to go with stalwart lefty Warren Spahn, and finally became a pennant threat in the National League. They had a pretty good team by 1957, then center fielder and leadoff man Billy Bruton went down with a knee injury. In crisis mode, the Braves called up an undistinguished minor leaguer named Bob Hazle. It worked.

Hazle was from South Carolina, born in 1930. He had a cup of coffee with the Cincinnati Reds in 1955, then went back to the minors where he languished until Bruton banged up his knee. One hundred games into the 1957 season Hazle made his debut for Milwaukee. Over the months of August and September he exploded offensively in such a way as to make fans forget, at least temporarily, both Aaron and Mathews. For the two months he played in 1957 Hazle hit .403 with 27 RBIs and seven home runs over 41 games. It got him the nickname “Hurricane” (a play on his name and the devastating hurricane Hazel which hit South Carolina in 1954) and it got the Braves the pennant. The Braves became the first non-New York team to win the National League pennant since the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids”.

The Braves won the World Series, beating New York in seven games. Hazle played in four of the games, batting .154. He had two singles, both in game seven. There were no RBIs, but he did score two runs and picked up a ring.

The World Series was a sign of things to come. He started 1958 horribly (a buck seventy-nine average and no extra base hits), was traded to Detroit, did a little better (.241 and two home runs), then went back to the minors. He retired after the 1959 season and died in 1992.

So he wasn’t much of a player after all. But what a great two months he had. It’s hard to say this about a team that includes Aaron, Mathews, and Spahn, but without Hazle the Braves don’t win.

Quick aside: Today marks the 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Advice–bet on Wellington.