Posts Tagged ‘Elston Howard’

The Impossible Dream: The Bosox

January 3, 2017
Dick Williams

Dick Williams

Fifty years ago (1967) the world was a lot different. I was in Viet Nam doing my bit. The anti-war people were screaming. Martin Luther King was still alive. The big hit on Broadway was a musical titled Man of La Mancha. It’s most famous song was “The Quest” which was better known as “The Impossible Dream.” And in baseball the Boston Red Sox were an afterthought. That changed when they ran off enough wins to grab the American League pennant and go to the World Series for the first time since 1946. The team caught the imagination of a lot of people and the season became known as “The Impossible Dream” season.

The Bosox were led by Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams. He hadn’t been much of a player, but he had an eye for talent and led Boston to only its second pennant since Babe Ruth played for the team in 1918. The Sox hitters led the American League in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, home runs, total bases, slugging and OPS. They were third in stolen bases (all of 68), fourth in triples, and toward the bottom in fielding. Their pitchers were less impressive, finishing in the middle of the pack in most categories.

The infield consisted of four players averaging 24 years old. George Scott held down first. He had 19 home runs (third on the team) and 82 RBIs (good for second). Mike Andrews, who’d become famous (or infamous depending on your view of the matter) with the Athletics hit .263 with 2.9 WAR and was a decent second baseman. Rico Petrocelli, who in many ways became the face of the infield (he got a lot more press than the other three) played short, hit 17 home runs, had 4.1 WAR, and made the All Star team. Joe Foy was at third with 16 home runs, but only 2.6 WAR. Dalton Jones and Jerry Adair were the primary infield backups. Both hit about .290 with three homers apiece and 51 total RBIs.

Although the outfield was set at the beginning of the season, tragedy caused a major problem for the Red Sox as the season progressed. Tony Conigliaro was 22 and having a great year. He had 20 home runs, 67 RBIs, was hitting .287, with 3.7 WAR when he was hit in the eye with a pitched ball. Needing a replacement, Boston went with Jose Tartabull. “The Bull” hit only .223 with no power, only 53 OPS+, six stolen bases, and -1.8 WAR. It was a noticeable drop off. Fortunately for the team, the other two outfielders were much better. Reggie Smith played center and led the team with 16 stolen bases. He hit .246 but had 15 home runs and 61 RBIs for 3.4 WAR. But the star was Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. It was his Triple Crown year. He hit .326, had 44 homers, 121 RBIs, a 1.040 OPS (193 OPS+), and 12.4 WAR. For comparison, Ted Williams highest WAR was 10.9 in 1946. All that garnered Yaz the AL MVP Award. Later famed announcer Ken Harrelson and old-time Dodgers player Don Demeter were the other outfielders.

If both the infield and outfield were settled, the catching situation was a mess. Mike Ryan did more catching than anyone else in Boston in 1967 and he was above league average in the caught stealing statistic, but he hit only a buck .99 with no power and -0.6 WAR. Russ Gibson wasn’t much better. He was, like Ryan, above average in gunning down base runners, but he hit only .203 with a single home run. The solution was to bring in 38 year old Elston Howard from New York. Unfortunately for the Bosox, Howard was through. He hit .147 with 11 RBIs, a below average caught stealing percentage, and -0.8 WAR. For the World Series, Howard would be the primary backstop.

The pitching staff was also unsettled. Jim Lonborg was the unquestioned ace. He went 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA (ERA+ of 112), 246 strikeouts to go with 83 walks (a 1.138 WHIP), and 4.1 WAR. For the first time, MLB gave out two Cy Young Awards, one in each league (previously there had been a single award). Lonborg won it. Lee Stange and Gary Bell were the other pitchers who started 20 or more games. Stange was 8-10 with a 2.77 ERA while Bell went 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA. The fourth starter (in an era where most teams started four, not five pitchers) was almost as unsettled as the catcher. Bucky Brandon, Dennis Bennett, and Jose Santiago all started double figure games, with Santiago going 12-4 in fifty games (11 starts) to take the fourth spot in the Series. John Wyatt led the team in saves with 20, but 11 other players had at least one save.

It had been 30 years since Boston won the AL pennant. The “Impossible Dream” team of 1967 was an unexpected winner. They were something of a sentimental favorite nationwide. Standing in their way were the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson.

 

 

 

 

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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: Games at the Stadium

July 18, 2016

The 1957 World Series saw the New York Yankees, winners of multiple World Series championships take on, for the first time, the Milwaukee Braves, winners of exactly one World Series championship (1914).

Whitey Ford

Whitey Ford

Game 1

Played 2 October 1957 in Yankee Stadium, game one featured the two team aces, Whitey Ford for New York and Warren Spahn for Milwaukee, square off. Four and a half innings into the game it was still scoreless. The Yanks had two men reach third, but no one scored. That changed in the bottom of the fifth with a Jerry Coleman single and a Hank Bauer double sandwiched around consecutive groundouts producing the Series’ first run. They tacked on two more in the sixth by way of an Elston Howard single, a walk to Yogi Berra, an Andy Carey single that scored Howard and sent Berra to third, and a Coleman squeeze bunt that scored Berra. Milwaukee got on the scoreboard in the seventh with a Wes Covington double and a Red Schoendienst single that brought Covington home. That was it for the Braves as Ford set them down in order to end the game.

It was a well pitched game with Ford giving up only the one run on five hits, only Covington’s double going for extra bases, and four walks to go with five strikeouts. Spahn was good for five innings, but was lifted during the sixth inning Yankees uprising. The three Braves pitchers gave up a combined nine hits and only two walks. They struck out four, none by Spahn. So far the battle of the aces belonged to Ford.

Johnny Logan

Johnny Logan

Game 2

Game two was 3 October. Aiming to get even for the Series, Milwaukee sent Lew Burdette, who’d begun his career with the Yanks, to the mound. Aiming equally hard to go ahead two games to none, New York responded with Bobby Shantz, a former Rookie of the Year with the Athletics.

Neither pitcher was as effective as the previous starters. Milwaukee got a run in the second on a Hank Aaron triple and a Joe Adcock single. New York countered in the bottom of the second with a walk to Enos Slaughter, a Tony Kubek single that sent Slaughter to third, and a Jerry Coleman single that plated Slaughter. So in the top of the third, the Braves kept the scoring going with a Johnny Logan home run. Not to be outdone, Hank Bauer tied the game at 2-2 with his own home run in the bottom of the third.

It looked like each team was going to score every inning for a while when the Braves struck again in the top of the fourth. Three straight singles by Adcock, Andy Pakfo, and Wes Covington scored both Adcock and Pakfo. The latter scored on an error by Yanks third baseman Kubek.

Getting the second run in an inning seems to have broken the spell, because that ended the scoring for the game. Burdette was masterful from that point on. He allowed two more singles and gave up two more walks, but the Yanks never scored. Shantz left the game in the two run fourth and relievers Art Ditmar and Bob Grim each allowed only one hit (and no walks).

There was an off day for travel before the Series resumed in Milwaukee. It was now a best of five with the Braves having home field advantage.

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The Mick: The Yankees

July 12, 2016
The "Old Perfessor" about 1953

The “Old Perfessor” about 1953

No team was ever as successful as the 1950s New York Yankees. The won the World Series in the first four years of the decade, lost a pennant to Cleveland, lost a World Series to Brooklyn, then won a fifth championship in 1956. But in all the winning they’d done since 1923, their first championship, they’d never played the Braves. They beaten every other National League team at least once. But the Braves, either the Boston team or the Milwaukee version, had never won a pennant in the same year that the Yankees won an American League pennant. That changed finally in 1957.

Manager Casey Stengel’s charges won 98 games and took the AL pennant by eight games over Chicago. They led the league in runs, hits triples, batting average, slugging, and OPS. They were third in home runs, fifth in doubles, and third again in stolen bases with all of 49. The staff led the AL in ERA, in strikeouts, gave up the least hits and runs.

The infield was still in transition. Gone were the stalwarts of the early ’50s, Billy Martin (although Martin played in 43 games) and Phil Rizzuto. The new guys up the middle were 21-year-old Bobby Richardson and long time jack-of-all-trades Gil McDougald. Richardson hit .256 with no power, no speed, and he didn’t walk much. McDougald hit .289 with 13 home runs, good for fifth on the team. He was second on the team with 156 hits and 5.8 WAR. Bill “Moose” Skowron held down first. His .304 average was second among the starters. He had 17 home runs, 88 RBIs, and 3.1 WAR to go with it. Andy Carey had more games at third than anyone else, although McDougald had done some work there also. Carey hit .255 with 0.8 WAR. As mentioned above Martin started the year in New York but was traded to Kansas City (now Oakland). He was joined on the bench by former starters Joe Collins and Jerry Coleman. Coleman’s .268 led the bench infielders.

Five men did most of the outfield work. The key was center fielder Mickey Mantle. He hit a team leading .365 with 34 home runs (also the team lead). He had 94 RBIs, 173 hits, scored 121 runs, had 11.3 WAR, ad 221 OPS+. All led the team. All that got him his second consecutive MVP Award. Hank Bauer flanked him in right. His average wasn’t much, but he had 18 home runs and was a good outfielder. Elston Howard did most of the left field work, but also served as the backup catcher. He was the Yankees’ first black player and still a long way from the MVP Award he’d win in the early 1960s. Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter was the primary backup outfielder. If Howard was a long way from reaching his prime, Slaughter was a long way beyond his. He hit .254 with no power and had lost what speed he had while with St. Louis. Tony Kubek was new. He was used very much in a utility role dong work in left, center, and at all the infield positions except first. He hit .297 and showed 2.5 WAR. They also had “Suitcase” Harry Simpson (one of the great nicknames in baseball). He hit three triples for the Yankees (after coming over from Kansas City), but tied for the league lead with nine. He tied with Bauer and McDougald.

The man behind the mask was Yogi Berra. He was beyond his MVP years, but still formidable. He hit .251 but with 24 home runs (and 24 strikeouts) and 82 RBIs. His WAR was 3.0. Howard, as mentioned above, was his primary backup Darrell Johnson got into 21 games, hitting .217 with a home run.

It was a pitching staff without a true ace. In most years Whitey Ford would hold that position but in 1957 because of a shoulder problem he appeared in only 24 games (17 starts). He managed only 129 innings and an 11-5 record. His 1.8 WAR was fifth on the staff. Tom Sturdivant’s 16 wins topped the team while former Rookie of the Year Bobbie Shantz had the lowest ERA at 2.45. Bob Turley’s 152 strikeouts led the Yanks while Johnny Kucks and Don Larsen had ERAs over three.  Bob Grim and Art Ditmar did most of the bullpen work while former started Tommy Byrne gave the pen it’s lefty.

New York was defending champion. They’d won seven of the last eight AL pennants and six of the last eight World Series. They were favored to repeat.

 

The End of a Dynasty: Games 1 and 2 (Yankee Stadium)

September 8, 2015

After a brief hiatus to look at my ongoing Hall of Fame project, it’s back to the 1963 World Series. It’s very difficult to say an ordinary World Series is decided in the first two innings of the first game, but in 1963 it’s possible that’s true. Between the pitching of Los Angeles’ ace and the Dodgers hitting the tone was set for the entire Series.

Game One (2 October 1963)

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

For game one, the New York Yankees sent ace Whitey Ford to the mound against the Dodgers. Los Angeles countered with their own ace, Sandy Koufax. With the twin aces toeing the rubber, most people expected a pitcher’s duel. In the top of the first, Ford set down Los Angeles on two strikeouts and a grounder. Koufax was even better striking out Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, and Tom Tresh in order. In the top of the second with one out Frank Howard doubled to center. Ex-Yankee Moose Skowron, playing first, singled to score Howard. Another single by light hitting Dick Tracewski sent Skowron to second, then catcher John Roseboro slugged a three run home run to right field. A fly and a strikeout got Ford out of the inning. Then Koufax went back to doing what he’d done in the first inning. He struck out Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris for five consecutive strikeouts to open the game. Elston Howard finally hit the ball, a foul to the catcher, as the Yanks went down in order.

In the third, Jim Gilliam led off with a single, was erased on a fielder’s choice that left Willie Davis on first. A single by Tommy Davis sent Willie Davis to third. An out later, Skowron singled again to plate Willie Davis with the fifth run. In the bottom of the third Koufax must have tired or something because he recorded only one strikeout. The other two outs were recorded on a grounder to second and another foul. Ford got out of the fourth without giving up a run, then Koufax, who’d made one of the outs in the top of the fourth, went back to the mound and struck out three more Yankees.

The fifth was critical. Ford got out of a jam and New York finally got a hit off Koufax. after a strikeout (what else?) and another foul out (again, what else?), the Yanks put together three consecutive singles to load the bases. Koufax then proceeded to strikeout pinch hitter Hector Lopez (hitting for Ford) to end the threat. In the sixth reliever Stan Williams set Los Angeles down in order, then Koufax did the unthinkable, he went through an inning without striking out a man. He gave up two walks but twin pop outs, one to second, the other to third, got him out of the inning. In the seventh he added one more strikeout.

The Yanks finally broke through in the eighth. Needing six outs for a shutout, Koufax struck out one, gave up a single to Kubek, struck out another, then gave up a two run blast to Tresh to make the score 5-2. Los Angeles went in order in the top of the ninth. A line out, a single, and a fly brought up pinch hitter Harry Bright. Koufax proceeded to strike him out (of course he did) to complete the victory.

It was Sandy Koufax’s game. He gave up two runs, on six hits, walked three, and struck out 15. The strikeouts were a World Series record (replacing former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine). But it’s important to recall Moose Skowron’s two singles which plated two runs and set up Roseboro’s big home run. As a former Yankee who’d been let go from a World Series champion, it must have been a true joy to help bring down the team that let him go.

Game 2 (3 October 1963)

the Moose with some guy named Musial

the Moose with some guy named Musial

The second game of the 1963 World Series saw a contrast on the mound. New York started rookie Al Downing, famous as a flamethrower. Los Angeles sent 1955 Series MVP Johnny Podres to toe the rubber. Podres’ rookie campaign was 1953 and it had been a while since anyone described him as a “flamethrower.”

Flames or not, Downing was in trouble from the beginning. The Dodgers put up two runs in typical Los Angeles fashion in the top of the first. Maury Wills led off with a single, then stole second. Jim Gilliam followed with a single that sent Wills to third. Yankees right fielder threw the ball to home in order to keep Wills from scoring. Gilliam took the chance and advanced to second. Willie Davis then doubled to right to score both runners. Downing then settled down to pick up the three outs without Davis scoring.

Podres also let a man on in the first, but he didn’t get beyond first. Then for the next two innings the teams matched zeroes. In the top of the fourth, Dodgers first baseman Bill “Moose” Skowron led off. He’d played nine years for the Yanks, but was let go at the end of the 1962 season. Signed by LA, he’d gotten into 89 games, hit .203 with four home runs, and 19 RBIs (all career lows). Looking for something like payback, he smashed a Downing offering deep into the right field seats to make the score 3-0.

Through the next three and a half innings, the pitchers dominated the game. There were a few runners, but only one man reached second (on an error). In the top of the eighth, the Dodgers picked up one more run on a Willie Davis double and a Tommy Davis triple. Podres got through the bottom of the eighth without significant damage (he gave up a single), then LA went out in order in the top of the ninth. The Dodgers needed three outs to take a 2-0 lead in games.

Mickey Mantle led off with a long fly to left that Tommy Davis corralled for out one, then Hector Lopez smashed a ground rule double to put a man on second. For the first (and only) time in the Series, the Dodgers made a pitching change. Out went Podres, in came relief ace Ron Perranoski. He immediately gave up an Elston Howard single to plate a run for the Yankees. Then a fielder’s choice recorded the second out. That brought up Clete Boyer who fanned to end the game with a 4-1 score and give the Dodgers their 2-0 lead in games.

Podres had pitched well. He gave up the one run on six hits and one walk. Lopez’s double was the only extra base hit he allowed. He also struck out four. Downing went five innings, gave up three runs, on seven hits (one each double, triple, and home run) and one walk. He struck out six and took the loss. Wills’ leadoff single, stolen base, and advance to third followed by Gilliam taking the extra base on a throw home and the single by Willie Davis (who had two RBIs and one run scored in the game) was typical for how the power strapped Dodgers scored. They may have been the winning runs, but Skowron’s blast was decisive (and much more Yankee-like).

The Series took a day off as the teams flew to Los Angeles. The Yanks need a pair of wins to send the Series back to New York. Los Angeles needed to go 2-1 to end the World Series at home.

The End of A Dynasty: the 1963 Yankees

September 1, 2015
Elston Howard

Elston Howard

By 1963 the New York Yankees were well established as baseball’s greatest dynasty. Stretching back to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Yanks won championships with great regularity picking up three titles in the 1920s, five in the 1930s, four in the 1940s, and six in the 1950s. By 1963, they’d won two more in the 1960s (1961 and 1962) and were back in the World Series for the fourth consecutive time.

Manager Ralph Houk was an old backup catcher for the Yanks. In his third (and final) season in the Bronx he led his team to the American League pennant in all three of his seasons skippering them. So far he’d proven a worthy successor to Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel.

His catcher was league MVP Elston Howard (the first black player to be AL MVP). He hit .287 with a team leading 28 home runs and 85 RBIs were second on the team. He had an OPS+ of 141 and a team leading 5.2 WAR (BBREF version). His backup was 38-year-old Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. Berra was in his final season but still managed to hit ..293 with a 139 OPS+ (1.3 WAR) and a .497 slugging percentage.

They caught a staff the consisted of one Hall of Fame lefty and a handful of pretty good pitchers. The Hall of Fame lefty was Whitey Ford. He went 24-7 with a 2.74 ERA, a staff leading 189 strikeouts, a 1.099 WHIP, and ERA+ of 129, and 4.3 WAR (good for second on the staff). It was second to Jim Bouton whose WAR was 4.8. Bouton was 21-7 with an ERA of 2.53, a 1.115 WHIP, 148 strikeouts, an ERA+ of 140, and a team leading six shutouts. The third pitcher was Ralph Terry who went 17-15 with an ERA of 3.22 and 114 strikeouts. Al Downing (before he threw the 715th home run pitch to Hank Aaron) was a 22-year-old rookie (he pitched 10 innings over the previous two seasons) who had 13 wins, 171 strikeouts, and whose 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings led the AL. Stan Williams at 9-8 was the only other pitcher with 20 or more starts. Righty Hal Reniff led the team with 18 saves, while lefty Steve Hamilton was second with five.

Around the horn, the infield consisted of first year starter Joe Pepitone, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Clete Boyer. Pepitone led the group with 27 home runs (second on the team) and a team leading 89 RBIs. His .271 average was also first for the group. Boyer had 12 home runs for second among the infielders, but had the lowest batting average with .251. He more than made up for that with his glove. The entire infield suffered from a common problem. None of them got on base all that much. Pepitone’s .304 was easily the highest OBP. Both Richardson and Kubek had a .294 OBP (you suppose they compared notes out at second?), while Boyer was a point higher at .295. In order first to third they had 23, 25, 28, and 33 walks. The infield bench was thin with only Phil Linz and Harry Bright getting into more than 15 games. Bright did the backup work at first, hit .236, and had seven homers. Linz backed up the rest of the infield. He hit better (.269) but had no power. At least his OBP hit .349.

The outfield was a shambles. Tommy Tresh held down center field, hit .269 with 25 home runs, 71 RBIs, more walks than strikeouts, an OPS+ of 140, and 4.1 WAR. Injuries to regular center fielder Mickey Mantle kept him to 65 games, but they were Mantle-like games. He hit .314 with 15 home runs, 35 RBIs, and OPS of 1.063, a team leading 196 OPS+, 40 walks (good for second on the team), and 2.9 WAR. Injuries also hampered regular right fielder Roger Maris. He hit ..269 (146 OPS+), had 23 home runs, 169 total bases, and 3.5 WAR. With regular left fielder Tresh in center, Hector Lopez did the bulk of the work in left. He hit .249 with 14 home runs, an OBP of .304, 52 RBIs, and -0.2 WAR. Ex-backup catcher John Blanchard and Jake Reed provided the outfield subs, with Blanchard doing much of the pinch hit work. Blanchard hit .225, had 16 home runs in 218 at bats, had an OPS+ of 113, and -0.2 WAR. Reed’s WAR was better at 0.2, while he hit .205 without a home run and one RBI. No other player was in more than 14 games.

The Yanks won 104 games in 1963 and were favorites to repeat as World Champions. They were second in most major hitting categories and first or second in most major pitching categories. They were, however, last in the league in walks and first in the AL in strikeouts. That could prove a problem in the World Series against a pitching heavy team. As luck would have it, they were up against an old opponent, the Dodgers, now displaced from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. It would be the first confrontation between the teams since the move West. But with Mantle back healthy and a solid staff they expected to win.

50 Years On: The Falling Team

August 11, 2015
Mel Stottlemyre

Mel Stottlemyre

It was simply assumed that the New York Yankees would win. After all, they always did. Between 1936, Joe DiMaggio’s rookie campaign, and 1964, Yogi Berra’s last year with the club, they’d won more than 20 pennants. So it came as something of a shock when the 1965 version of the Yanks fell into the second division of the American League by finishing sixth. Fifty years ago the Yankees began a tumble that lasted a decade.

The manager was Johnny Keane. He seemed a worthwhile choice. In 1964 he managed the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards defeated the Yanks in seven games to win the World Series. The result saw New York manager Yogi Berra fired and Keane move over from St. Louis to replace him. It didn’t work. Keane suffered through a terrible season, saw the Yankees start 4-16 in 1965 and was fired. He died the next year.

In a pitching rich environment, the Yankees staff was only acceptable. They finished in the middle of the pack in most categories. Although they were a league third best in strikeouts, they were sixth (of 10) in walks and seventh in hits. The aces were right hander Mel Stottlemyre and lefty Whitey Ford. Ford was 36 and not aging particularly well (although 1965 wasn’t a bad year for him). He was 16-13 with a3.24 ERA (ERA+ of 105 and a BBREF WAR of 3.8 that was second on the team–pitchers or hitters). He was still a good strikeout pitcher but his hits allowed were getting dangerously close to being worse than his innings pitched (244 to 241). Stottlemyre, on the other hand, was 23 and had a great year. He was 20-9, had an ERA of 2.63 with an ERA+ of 129 and a team high WAR of 6.8. Al Downing (who is most famous for giving up Hank Aaron’s 715th homer), Jim Bouton (of Ball Four fame), and Bill Stafford were the only other pitchers to start double figure games. You know you’re in trouble when two of your pitchers are more famous for doing something other than pitching for your team. They were a combined 19-37 with Downing’s 3.40 being the low ERA (he also had the highest ERA+ with 100). Bouton also gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Pedro Ramos, a converted starter, with his 2.92 ERA had the closer role. He picked up 18 saves (the rest of the bullpen had 10 total), but his hits and innings pitched were a wash and he had only four more strikeouts than walks. Hal Reniff, Pete Mikkelsen, and Steve Hamilton were the only other men to pitch at least 20 games (although Jack Cullen got in 59 innings in nine starts). Hamilton’s 1.39 ERA led the team and his 2.5 WAR was third on the staff.

If the staff was mediocre, it was the hitting that really hurt New York. Although the team finished fifth in home runs and slugging, their ninth place finish in average, OBP, walks, and stolen bases was much more in line with their general run of statistics (in a 10 team league). It was an aging team with six of eight starters at 29 or older with three at 33 or older.

Catcher Elston Howard was the oldest man on the team (eight months older than Ford). A former MVP, he was aging terribly. He hit .233 with an OBP of .278 and an OPS+ of 77. There were nine home runs, 45 RBIs, and a terrible walk to strikeout ratio (24 to 65). Doc Edwards, Jake Gibbs, and holdover from 1961 Johnny Blanchard all backed him up. Howard’s .233 was easily the top average among the four, with neither Blanchard nor Edwards reaching the Mendoza Line. they combined for four home runs and 19 RBIs. Gibbs’ 0.3 WAR was the only WAR in positive numbers (Howard’s was 1.0).

The infield of Joe Pepitone, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Clete Boyer weren’t much better. Only Boyer, the third baseman, managed to hit over .250 (he had .251). He and first sacker Pepitone both had 18 home runs (tied for third on the team). Second baseman Richardson’s OBP was all of .287 while Kubek’s .258 was lowest of all the starters. Only Richardson had a decent walk to strikeout ratio. Partially in compensation, the infield was pretty good defensively, with Boyer being the standout. His 2.9 WAR led all hitters. Pepitone’s was 1.0 and the other two were in negative WAR.

It’s not like the bench was better. Horace Clark, Ray Barker, and Phil Linz were the main backups, but none hit above .254. Barker (who was already 29) did tag seven home runs, but he was the backup first baseman. There was a little hope deep down the roster. Bobby Murcer was 19 and listed as a shortstop. He’d later move to the outfield and become a Yankees stalwart.

Mickey Mantle, Tom Tresh, Hector Lopez, Roger Repoz, and Roger Maris did almost all the outfield work. It had been a formidable outfield a few years back, but had fallen on hard times by 1965. Mantle was 33 and ailing (he played in 122 games). He’d moved to left field and hit .255 with 19 home runs. The latter was good for second on the team. Tresh was the team leader with 26. He hit .279 and led the team with 74 RBIs. Maris was out much of the season and got into only 46 games. He hit .239 with eight home runs and his 126 OPS+ was third among people playing in more than 14 games. Lopez, his replacement, had seven home runs, hit .261 and ended up with a WAR of 0.5 (Mantle was at 1.8 and Maris at 0.7). Repoz hit .220 with a WAR of 0.2, but he did manage 12 home runs, fifth on the team. Again, there was hope deep down the roster. Twenty-one year old Roy White got into 14 games and hit .333. He would take over in the outfield later and help lead a resurgent team in the 1970s.

So what went wrong? Apparently a lot of things (some of which I’m sure I’m going to miss). First, Keane seems to have been a lousy fit for the Yanks. I found a couple of stories very critical of his managing skills. Now it may be that it’s simply a case of trying to find a scapegoat without blaming the players or it may be that he had the bad timing to replace New York legend Yogi Berra (who’d just won an American League pennant in his one year as manager) and simply couldn’t be forgiven for that sin, but it does seem that there’s too much criticism to not have some bit of truth in it. Secondly, the hitting got old, seemingly all at once. In 1963 Howard is MVP. In 1964 he’s still good. In 1965 he puts up the numbers quoted above. In 1964 Mantle hits .303 with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs. In 1965 he puts up the number listed above. Pepitone and Richardson also had numbers much below the previous season. Third, Maris was hurt and Hector Lopez wasn’t Roger Maris. As importantly as all that, the pitching wasn’t good enough to compensate for what happened to the offense. Stottlemyre had a good year. Ford’s year wasn’t Ford-like, but it wasn’t awful either. The rest of the staff was competent, but not spectacular (the spectacular pitchers  were in the National League). But competent simply wasn’t good enough to overcome the hitting woes. There also wasn’t much of a bench either. Go to Baseball Reference.com and look it over. Tell me who you like (other than the really new guys Murcer and White).

For the Yanks it began a long fall that bottomed out the next year when they finished last in a ten team league. It took until 1970 for them to show a spark of the old Yankees teams. From there it was a gradual rise until they made the 1976 World Series and then won the Series in both 1977 and 1978.

The Old Perfessor

May 4, 2015
Ole Case

Ole Case

Baseball is full of men who made a difference. There are heroes. There are villains. There are men who rose to the occasion and men who failed to rise to the occasion. All of them are interesting in some way or other. But to me the most fascinating man to ever appear in a baseball uniform is, with suitable apologies to Leo Durocher, Casey Stengel.

Ask most people what they know about Casey Stengel and you’ll draw a blank. It’s been a while, after all. But to a baseball fan you’ll generally get a nod of recognition. Usually they know about his stint managing the Yankees, sometimes they know he was the first manager of the Mets. At that point most baseball fans come up short.

They don’t know that Stengel was a pretty fair player long before he became a manager. He played from 1912 through 1925 with Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, all in the National League. That’s a little surprising since he rose to his greatest fame in the American League. He played the outfield (mostly in right) and was pretty good at it. He led the NL in a couple of fielding categories a few times. He was also a good hitter with a career triple slash line of .284/.356/.410/.766 (OPS+ of 120). He played more than 135 games once (1917), led the NL in OBP once (1914), and settled in for much of his career as the fourth outfielder. He hit 60 home runs (peaking at 9), 535 RBIs (peak of 73), stole some bases (he had 19 twice), and ended up with a BBREF WAR of 20.1 (hitting 3.0 twice).

He was better in the World Series. He played in three: 1916, 1922, and 1923. His team won the middle one. He hit .393 with and OBP of ..469, a slugging percentage of .607, and an OPS of 1.076. He scored five runs, had two home runs (both in 1923), the more famous of the two an inside the park job. There were four RBIs and he did so well in 1923 that one writer summed up the Series as “Yankees 4, Stengel 2 (He’d had the key hit in both Giants wins).

After retirement he coached and managed. His stints at Brooklyn (1934-36) and Boston (1938-43) were less than stellar (he never finished higher than fifth), but he gained a reputation as a knowledgeable baseball man who, if given a good team, could win. He got the chance in 1949. The New York Yankees finished third in 1948 (two games back and 2.5 because of a playoff game) and dumped manager Bucky Harris who’d won it all in 1947 (don’t ask).
Stengel was manager of the Oakland AAA team which won three consecutive pennants. He was picked to take over from Harris. Of course you know he proceeded to lead the Yanks to five consecutive pennants and five World Series championships. Then, after taking a year off to let Cleveland win a pennant (and hash a World Series), he led the Yanks to four more consecutive pennants and two World Series championships. In 1959 he let Chicago win the AL (and again blow the Series), then had one last pennant winner in 1960. It was an astounding record. In 12 years he’d won seven World Series’, three more pennants, finished second once, and third the other time.

After the 1960 Series the Yankees “retired” him. They said he was too old at 70. He responded that he’d “never make that mistake again.” He took 1961 off, then hooked up with the fledgling Mets in 1962. They were an expansion team and absolutely awful. He stayed with them into 1965, never finishing anywhere but last. After retirement he made the Hall of Fame in 1966 and died in 1975 as one of the most acclaimed men in baseball history.

Stengel was very quotable. There are a couple dozen quotes from him that have become famous, at least to baseball fans. He was also known for his mangled use of the English language. Sometimes it was known simply as “Stengelese” and a number of writers and players had trouble figuring out what he’d said.

Lesser known is the fact that he played in the Cuban-American Major League Series in 1913. This was a series of games between an American Major League team and some Cuban League teams. It’s important because the Cuban League was integrated. While managing the Yankees, Stengel presided over the integration of the team. He’d already been familiar with Negro League baseball when he was in Kansas City (where he grew up and the origin of the “Casey” nickname) and had recommended Bullet Joe Rogan (a Hall of Fame pitcher) to J.L. Wilkinson, head of the Kansas City Monarchs. All this made the transition to integrated baseball easier for New York than it did for some other teams (although Stengel apparently didn’t particularly like Elston Howard, the man who integrated the Yanks).

All in all I find Stengel absolutely fascinating. He’s a very good player, a less than successful manager, and then the consummate team leader whose record is stunning. That’s quite a combination.

A handful of my favorite Stengel quotes.

“Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

“When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you’re older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out.”

” Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

“You have to have a catcher because if you don’t you’re likely to have a lot of passed balls.”

“You have to go broke three times to learn how to make a living.”

And my favorite: “Without losers, where would winners be?”

God love that man.

 

Shutting ’em Down in Game 7: Terry’s Redemption

September 29, 2014
Ralph Terry

Ralph Terry

Ralph Terry was never Whitey Ford, but he was a good pitcher for the New York Yankees. In 1960 he was 0-1 when he was brought into game seven of the 1960 World Series. There were two outs in the bottom of the eighth and he got out of the inning. Then he made two pitches in the ninth. The second one went over the fence in left field to make Pittsburgh world champs. In 1961, the Yankees won the World Series, losing only one game to Cincinnati. The losing pitcher in that one game? You guessed it, Ralph Terry. In 1962 the Yanks were back in the Series, this time against San Francisco. By game seven Terry was 1-1 and was tasked with winning the final game.

It was Ralph Houk’s second New York pennant winner. He’d taken over as manager from Casey Stengel after the 1960 loss and kept the Yankees winning. It was a very different team from the great 1950s New York squads. Moose Skowron was at first, while Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek covered the center of the diamond and slick fielding Clete Boyer held third. Newcomer Tom Tresh was in left field and one year removed from their great home run race Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were the other two outfielders. Yogi Berra was relegated to the bench while Elston Howard did most of the catching.

He caught an aging pitching staff. Five pitchers, including Ford and closer Marshall Bridges were over 30. Terry was the ace that season going 23-12, and was only 26. Bill Stafford and Jim Bouton were both kids.

After six games and a five-day rain delay, the two teams were tied three-three with the final game in San Francisco. Terry had lost game two, but won game five. The long rain delay allowed him to pitch game seven.

He faced a formidable Giants lineup. Orlando Cepeda was at first, Chuck Hiller at second, Jose Pagan at short, and Jim Davenport at third. The outfield consisted of Felipe Alou, Willie McCovey, and Willie Mays. Harvey Kuenn, Matty Alou, and Manny Mota were available off the bench.

Tom Haller caught a staff of Jack Sanford, who came in second to Don Drysdale in the Cy Young Award voting, Juan Marichal, and lefties Billy O’Dell and Billy Pierce. Sanford, like Terry, was 1-1 in Series play and was tabbed for game seven.

Sanford walked a man in the first but got out of it on a fly out by Mantle. In the top of the third the Yanks put two men on, but again Sanford got out of it, this time on a grounder to second. By the top of the fifth, Terry still hadn’t given up a hit and New York finally found a run. Consecutive singles put men on first and third, then a walk loaded the bases. Kubek then rolled one out to short and Skowron scored as the Giants opted to complete a double play.

In the sixth, Terry finally gave up a hit, but no run. With two outs in the seventh, McCovey tripled, but died at third when Cepeda struck out. With the bases loaded in the eighth, Billy O’Dell relieved Sanford. A force at home and a double play later, the Yanks were still ahead 1-0. Consecutive ground outs and a strikeout brought the Giants to their last three outs. On a bunt single, Matty Alou made first. Then Terry struck out both Felipe Alou and Hiller. Mays doubled sending Matty Alou to third and bringing up McCovey. “Stretch” smoked a liner that Richardson snagged to end the inning, the game, and the Series.

For both teams it was something like an ending. The Giants despite good hitting and decent pitching couldn’t get passed the Dodgers and Cardinals and didn’t get back to a World Series until the 1980s. The Yankees won the next two American League pennants, but they, like the Giants, couldn’t get passed the Dodgers and Cardinals before things collapsed in 1965. They would wait until 1976 to make it back to a World Series.

But for Terry it was a shining moment. He was named Series MVP and much of his reputation for failure in the clutch went away. He had one more good year in New York, then a down year and was traded. He was through in 1967. But his work in game seven of 1962 solidified him as a genuine Yankees hero, at least for one World Series.

 

 

Shutting ’em Down in Game 7: Bums Win

September 25, 2014
The Podres statue at the Hall of Fame

The Podres statue at the Hall of Fame

Game seven of the 1955 World Series is arguably the most famous game in Brooklyn Dodgers history. April of 1947 is its only rival. Finally, after years of frustration going back to 1901 the Dodgers finally were World Champions. It had last occurred in 1900.

The Dodgers were playing the Yankees for the sixth time (’41, ’47, ’49, ’52, ’53 are the others) and were 0-5. Some had been good Series’ (particularly 1947) but Brooklyn always lost. The 1955 team was still very much the same team as the 1952 and 1953 teams but there were significant changes. First, Walter Alston was now the manager. He’d been a minor league manager for a while, but in 1954 took the leadership of the team. The infield was different from the more famous “Boys of Summer” infield. Gil Hodges was still at first and Pee Wee Reese still held down shortstop, But Jim Gilliam now spent more time at second than anyone else. He could also play the outfield in for game seven he was in left. Utility man Don Zimmer was at second. Jackie Robinson now was the primary third baseman, but for game seven he was on the bench with Don Hoak at third. Carl Furillo and Duke Snider were still in right and center field, but Sandy Amoros did most of the work in left. As mentioned earlier, on 4 October 1955 he started on the bench. He didn’t stay there. Roy Campanella having his last good year, was the MVP winning catcher.

The pitching staff was in transition. Don Newcombe was still the ace, Carl Erskine was fading, Billy Loes was still there, but a key newcomer (he’d been around awhile, but wasn’t anything like a star) was 22-year old Johnny Podres. Ed Roebuck and Clem Labine did the bulk of the bullpen work, but 19-year old bonus baby Sandy Koufax was on the roster (he didn’t pitch in the Series). Podres, the game three winner, got game seven.

He faced a Casey Stengel New York Yankees team that, after a string of five consecutive World Series victories, had finished second in 1954. They were back with a new lineup that included Moose Skowron at first, Gil McDougald at second, Andy Carey at third, and shortstop Billy Hunter. Gone was Johnny Mize while Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto and Joe Collins were on the bench. Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer were in center field and right field with Irv Noren doing most of the work in left. Elston Howard had finally integrated the Yanks in ’55 and now backed up in left.

MVP Yogi Berra caught a staff that included Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Tommy Byrne, Bob Grim and Don Larsen. Ford was the ace, with Turley a close second. Larsen was still learning (and would figure it all out in one game the next World Series). Byrne had a good year but as usual walked more than he struck out. He drew game seven which was played in Yankee Stadium.

Both pitchers got through the first inning without incident. Byrne gave up a walk in the second and Podres gave a double to Skowron, but no runs came across. It stayed that way to the top of the fourth. With one out, Campanella doubled, then went to third on a grounder to short. Hodges then singled to left scoring Campy with the initial run of the game. In the bottom of the fourth New York got a runner as far as third before a pop up to short ended the threat.

Reese led off the top of the sixth with a single then went to second on a Snider bunt. An error by Skowron made Snider safe. Then a Campanella bunt put runners on second and third with only one out. Byrne intentionally walked Furillo to load the bases, then gave up the mound to Bob Grim. Hodges hit a long sacrifice to right center that scored Reese with an unearned run. A wild pitch (that didn’t allow Snider to score) and a walk reloaded the bases, but pinch hitter George Shuba grounded out to end the inning. As a short aside, it’s a measure of how much the game has changed that both Snider and Campanella, the three and four hitters, laid down bunts in a critical situation.

Shuba’s pinch hit was critical to the game. It removed Zimmer from the lineup and forced Gilliam to take second. That brought Amoros into the game in left. That immediately made a difference. Martin, playing second in this game, walked to lead off the bottom of the sixth and went to second on a bunt by McDougald, who was safe at first. Berra then slammed a drive down the left field line. Amoros, a left-hander, got to the line, stuck up his glove (on his right hand) and snagged the ball. A toss to Reese and a relay to Hodges completed a double play. Bauer then grounded out to end the threat. Most experts agree that Gilliam, with his glove on his left hand, would have never been able to make the play in left, but southpaw Amoros became an instant Brooklyn hero.

It was the turning point of the game. Podres allowed two base runners in both the seventh and eighth innings but worked out of both jams without damage. In the ninth a comebacker to the pitcher, a fly to left, and a ground out short to first ended the game and brought Brooklyn its first World Series championship. Brooklyn went crazy.

The big heroes were Amoros with a great catch and throw, Campanella with a run scored and a key bunt, Hodges with both RBIs, and Reese with a run and a fine relay on Amoros’ catch and throw. But the biggest hero was Podres. He’d pitched a complete game shutout. It was true that it wasn’t a masterpiece. He’d allowed eight hits (the Dodgers only had five) and walked two, but he’d also struck out four and pitched out of each jam. It was the first year an MVP for the World Series was awarded. Podres won it easily.

The Yanks played well. McDougald had three hits, but was doubled up in the sixth on Reese’s relay. Skowron had a double, but also an error, while Berra had the only other extra base hit for New York and smashed the ball to left that started the double play that was so pivotal to the game.

The game marked the high water mark for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year they were back in the World Series, but lost to the Yankees. In 1957 they had a bad year and by 1958 were relocated to Los Angeles. They did well there winning again it 1959. A handful of the 1955 winners were still around: Snider, Furillo, Gilliam, Zimmer, and Koufax among others. Most notably for fans of the 1955 team, so was Podres. He pitched two games and picked up the win in game two.