Posts Tagged ‘Ernie Lombardi’

Trying for Two: the Second Round in Cincinnati

January 29, 2015

After five games of the 1940 World Series, the Detroit Tigers were ahead three games to two. With only two games left, they needed one victory to clinch their first championship since 1935. Unfortunately, the two games were in Cincinnati and the Reds two best pitchers were set up to throw the remaining games. There were no days off during the Series (it was, unlike the current format, played on consecutive days). That created something of a problem for Detroit. If there was a game seven, their ace, Bobo Newsom, would pitch it on very short rest.

Game 6

Bucky Walters

Bucky Walters

Game 6 was 7 October and featured game two winner Bucky Walters pitching for the Reds matching up against game two loser Schoolboy Rowe. Cincinnati needed the same result as game two; the Tigers looked for Rowe to rebound. They didn’t get it. Bill Werber led off Cincinnati’s half of the first with a double, then went to third on a sacrifice bunt. An Ival Goodman single brought Werber home with the first run. Another single by NL MVP Frank McCormick sent Goodman to second, and a Jimmy Ripple single sent Goodman home and Rowe to the showers. Johnny Gorsica took over for Detroit and got out of the inning with a strikeout and a ground out. The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the sixth when consecutive singles and a walk loaded the bases. A force out at home kept them loaded for a Walters bleeder to third. The throw home was late and the score went 3-0, Walters getting the RBI. A double play then ended the inning. With Fred Hutchinson now pitching for the Tigers, Walters connected on a solo home run in the eighth to complete the scoring for the Reds. Detroit managed to get two runners on in the ninth, but a double play and a fly to center completed the shutout. The Reds had won 4-0. The big hero was Walters. He’d pitched nine shutout innings, given up only five hits and two walks, while striking out two. He’d contributed to the scoring with a home run and two RBIs. Rowe failed to get out of the first inning. So there would be a game seven.

Game 7

Frank McCormick

Frank McCormick

Game seven was 8 October and featured Cincy ace Paul Derringer against Detroit ace Bobo Newsom. Tigers manager Del Baker was taking a chance with Newsom who was pitching on a single day’s rest (they don’t do that much anymore). The game turned out to be a classic.

For two innings no one got beyond second base as each team managed one single. In the top of the third Billy Sullivan led off with a single, then went to second on a Newsom sacrifice bunt. A pop fly retired Dick Bartell, then Barney McCosky walked. The next batter, Charlie Gehringer, hit one to third. Werber threw it away letting Sullivan score an unearned run. Hank Greenberg struck out to end the inning. The game stayed 1-0 through the fifth. Both pitchers did well. In the top of the sixth, Greenberg singled and, after an out, went to second on a walk. A ground out sent him to third, then another ground out ended the inning. Greenberg was the only Detroit player to reach third after the Tigers scored their run. In the bottom of the seventh, failing to score Greenberg came back to haunt Detroit. Frank McCormick led off with a double and Ripple followed with another double to tie the game at 1-1. A bunt sent Ripple to third. The Reds sent up injured catcher Ernie Lombardi to hit. Newsom intentionally walked him to set up a double play. Billy Myers batted next and slammed a long fly to center that scored Ripple. A grounder ended the inning, but Cincinnati took the lead 2-1. Derringer needed six outs to end the Series. Gehringer led off the eighth with a single, but a liner to short and consecutive flies to the outfield ended the inning without a run. The Reds managed a single in the bottom of the eighth, but failed to score, leaving it 2-1 going to the top of the ninth. Consecutive ground outs brought up Hall of Famer Earl Averill to pinch hit for Newsom. He rolled one to second and the Series ended on the flip to first baseman McCormick. Cincinnati had won its second World Series. Derringer gave up one unearned run, seven hits, and three walks. He stuck out one. Newsom was great in defeat. He gave up only seven hits, one walk, and struck out six, but the two runs in the seventh doomed him.

It had been a very good Series. Detroit actually outscored Cincinnati with 28 runs to the Reds’ 22 (all that coming in the 8-0 fifth game blowout). For the Series Cincy hit .250, Detroit .246.  The Reds had 58 hits, the Tigers 56. Both teams had 30 strikeouts. Detroit had four home runs, Cincinnati two. The pitching numbers were just as close. The Reds pitchers had a 3.69 ERA, the Tigers pitchers came in at 3.00. The only significant difference saw the Tigers take 30 walks to Cincy’s 15. Stats-wise it was a great Series.

Individually, the Reds twin aces, Walters and Derringer did well, together going 4-1 with ERAs well under 3.00. Reliever Whitey Moore had an ERA of 3.24, but the rest of the bullpen, minus Elmer Riddle who only pitched one inning, didn’t do as well. For the Tigers Newsom was superb, finally losing in the seventh inning of the seventh game on one day’s rest. His 17 strikeouts led all pitchers on either team and his 1.38 ERA was first among both team’s starters. Schoolboy Rowe, however, was clobbered. Gorsica did well in relief, and Tommy Bridges won the Tigers other victory.

Among hitters Jimmy Ripple, a midseason pickup, led Cincinnati with six RBIs while Goodman had five. Goodman and Werber led the team with five runs scored while Ripple scored three times. Five hitters who played six or more games hit over .300 while Goodman clocked in with a .276. Even pitcher Walters chipped in a .286 average and a homer. For Detroit Greenberg had a great Series hitting .357 with a home run, a triple, two doubles, 10 hits (the most by any player on either team), six RBIs and five runs scored. Pinky Higgins had eight hits, including three doubles, a triple, and a home run, while driving in six. McCosky scored five runs and Bruce Campbell also had four hits and five RBIs. Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer had a miserable Series hitting .214 with one RBI, three runs scored, and no extra base hits.

For Cincinnati the death of Willard Hershberger hung over the Series. But having dedicated the Series to him, they’d won. The lingering questions about 1919 could be put to rest for a while. There was nothing tainted about the 1940 win. It was, for them, the end of the line. Their next pennant would come in 1961, their next championship would have to wait all the way to 1975.

For Detroit it was a bitter loss. They were now 1-5 in World Series play (a win in 1935, losses in 1907, ’08, ’09, 1934, and 1940). They would not, however, have to wait as long as Cincinnati to claim their next, and second, championship. They would get back to the World Series in 1945 on the arm of Hal Newhouser (who did not pitch in the 1940 Series) and the bat of Greenberg. It would take seven games but they would defeat the Cubs to finally win their second World Series.

 

 

Trying for Two: the Reds

January 20, 2015
Ival Goodman

Ival Goodman

If, in 1940, it was five years between pennants for Detroit, it was much longer for Cincinnati. The Reds hadn’t won since 1919, and that was the most tarnished of all World Series victories. For Cincy, it would be both a chance for a second title and for redemption from the fiasco of 1919.

For much of the 19th Century Cincinnati was a hotbed for baseball. They’d had the famous Red Stockings team of 1869, they’d been a charter member of the National League, they’d won the first ever American Association pennant. But the 20th Century turned the Reds into an afterthought. In 1919, they’d won their first NL pennant and promptly won the World Series. Of course it was the Black Sox World Series, noted primarily for Chicago throwing the Series to Cincinnati in eight games. The Reds argued they would have won anyway, but no one would ever know. In 1939 they’d won the NL pennant, and been destroyed in four games by the Yankees. The 1940 Series offered them the chance to finally prove they could be in true winner, particularly in the wake of tragedy.

In early August, backup catcher Willard Hershberger killed himself in a hotel room in Boston. Apparently he blamed himself for causing multiple losses to both the Giants and the Bees (now the Atlanta Braves). The team dedicated the remainder of the season to Hershberger and used his death as a  spur when they got to the Series. They also retired his number (5) but unretired it later and then gave it to Johnny Bench.

Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, who had a World Series title already as manager of the 1925 Pirates, but was primarily known as Babe Ruth’s last manager, took over the Reds in 1938. They finished fourth. He maneuvered them to pennants each of the next two years by emphasizing pitching, good defense, and timely hitting (obviously he didn’t invent that formula).

His infield consisted of NL MVP Frank McCormick at first, Lonny Frey at second, Billy Myers at short, and Bill Werber at third. McCormick led the NL in hits and doubles, played a solid first base, led the team with 19 home runs, and hit .309. He also led the league in grounding into double plays. Frey hit .266 for the season, but led the NL in stolen bases with 22. He’d come to the big leagues as a shortstop, was lousy at it, and ended up at second, where he was at least a little better. He played little in the Series because of an injury to his toe. Myers was at the end of his career (1941 was his last season). He hit .202 for the year, but was a good enough fielder his glove kept him in the lineup. Werber was, at 32, the geezer of the group (all the others were 29). He hit .277 and his 12 home runs were tied for third on the team.

The outfield contained two new kids and one veteran. The vet was right fielder Ival Goodman. He hit .258, was tied with Werber for third in home runs, was third on the team with 63 RBIs, and played an excellent right field. The new guys were left fielder Mike McCormick (apparently not related to Frank) and center fielder Harry Craft (who later did a lot of managing). McCormick was a rookie who hit .300 but without power. Craft hit .244,  played center well, and by the Series was replaced by Jimmy Ripple, who hit better.

The catcher was Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi. Lombardi was famous for two things: hitting the ball hard and being the slowest man on earth. For the year he’d hit .319 with 14 home runs and 74 RBIs. But he was hurt (his hand) and was limited in his performance during the Series.

With Frey and Lombardi hurt and Craft not hitting, the bench was essential for Cincinnati. Ripple, a mid-season acquisition from Brooklyn, filled in for Craft. He hit .307 in 32 games. For catcher, McKechnie picked part-time player, part-time coach Jimmie Wilson, age 39, to sub for Lombardi. He hit .243 for the year, caught 16 games (mostly after Hershberger’s death and after Lombardi’s injury), and was considered well over-the-hill. Frey’s replacement was 24-year old Eddie Joost.

McKechnie’s pitching staff was well front loaded. Twin aces Paul Derringer and converted third baseman Bucky Walters each won 20 games. Walters won the 1939 NL MVP and was third in 1940 voting. He led the NL in ERA and innings pitched, had an ERA+ of 154 and a league leading WHIP of 1.092. Derringer was almost as good, finishing fourth in MVP voting. His ERA 3.06 with an ERA+ of 124. Gene Thompson and Jim Turner also started 20 games and had a combined record of 30-16. Turner had given up as many hits as he had innings pitched. Whitey Moore was the only other pitcher to start more than 10 games. Double no hit Johnny VanderMeer was 3-1 in only 10 games. Only VanderMeer was left-handed. The main bullpen man was Joe Beggs who went 12-3 in 37 games (only starting one).

It was a good team. Except for Mike McCormick much the same team that had won the NL pennant the year before. It was for the Reds a chance to erase the questions of 1919 and to honor a fallen player. The Series started in Cincinnati.

 

 

Ernie, Bubbles, and the King

July 21, 2010

It’s really hard not to like Joe Mauer. He’s a heck of a hitter, he’s a darned fine catcher, and he seems to be a good teammate and a thoroughly likeable human being. He’s now won three American League batting titles. No other AL catcher ever won even a single batting title. The National League’s batting title has been owned by a catcher three times and, depending on how you look at it, one possible. Here’s a very brief look at the men who, other than Joe Mauer, have won batting titles while spending much of their time behind the plate.

Ernie Lombardi

Ernie Lombardi won National League batting titles in 1938 with Cincinnati and again in 1942 with the New York Giants. Lombardi was a big, largely immobile catcher who could hit a ton and ran like a turtle. He’s sometimes regarded as the slowest man to ever play Major League baseball. A joke attributed to Dizzy Dean goes that Lombardi was so slow that he could turn a triple into a close play at first. Maybe, but he did have 27 triples during his career (mostly played in Crosley Field and the Polo Grounds, both of which had huge outfields). For his career he hit .306 with 190 home runs, a .460 slugging percentage, and 1792 hits over 1853 games. On the field he’s probably best known for being bowled over by Charlie Keller during the final game of the 1939 World Series. Unable to get up (the reason tends to change with the author who’s telling it), he let two more runs score before being able to regain his balance and senses. He took a lot of heat for the play, but the series was a Yankees sweep. He was part of the 1940 World Series champion Reds and made the Hall of Fame in 1986. There’s a nice fairly detailed biography of him in Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract. And before someone asks, as far as I know he is not related to the Green Bay Packers’ Vince Lombardi.

Bubbles Hargrave

Bubbles Hargrave was another Reds catcher who won the batting title, this time in 1926, breaking Rogers Hornsby’s string of six straight. For his career he hit .310 with 29 home runs, 786 hits, in 852 games. His batting title was controversial because he only had 326 at bats in 1926. He hit .353 and had only 115 hits in 105 games. Today he wouldn’t qualify for the batting title, but under the rules in play in 1926 he was the winner and I see no reason to dispute his title. For the rest of his career his highest average was .333 in 1923 when he managed to lead the league in being hit by a pitch (12 times). He led the NL in fielding percentage one time and seems to have been a serviceable catcher. He died in 1969.

King Kelly

All the way back in 1886 Mike “King ” Kelly led the NL in hitting at .388.  He also led the league in runs that season with 155 and in slugging at .483.  Kelly was a sometime catcher who played 56 games in the outfield in 1886, 53 behind the plate, and a handful in the infield. Beginning in 1888 he started catching more often than he played any other position. Prior to 1888 he spent more time in the outfield than behind the plate. Usually as a player ages he spends less time catching and more time in the outfield.. Kelly does it the other way. I’m not sure what that says about Kelly or about the catching position in 1880s baeball. For his career he hit .308 with 69 home runs, 1813 hits, a .438 slugging percentage in 1455 games. He also spent 750 games in the outfield and 583 catching, with 277 everywhere else (including 12 pitching performances). He made the Hall of Fame in 1945. He’s generally not considered a catcher when his batting title is discussed. I’ll let you decide what you think.

So there they are, the catchers not named Joe Mauer who have won a batting title. Two of them (counting Kelly as a catcher if you desire) are Hall of Famers. That seems to bode well for Mauer.