Posts Tagged ‘Frank Chance’

The 50 Greatest Cubs

December 5, 2012
Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

As a followup on the 50 Greatest Dodgers post, I found two more lists that ESPN published. Root around a little and you can find the entire list at ESPN. There are five total that I have found, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox. I’ve already commented on the Yanks, BoSox, and Bums. Here are some thoughts on the Cubs list.

1. The top 10 Cubs, as listed by ESPN, are, in order: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Cap Anson, Three Finger Brown, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Frank Chance, Hack Wilson, and Gabby Hartnett. Again, before anyone can ask, the first guy out of the top 10 (number 11) is Phil Cavarretta.

2. To make a complete team with a four man World Series rotation (at least one lefty) and a closer you get an infield of  Anson at first, Sandberg at second, Banks at short, Santo at third; an outfield of Williams, Wilson, and Riggs Stephenson (at number 18); Hartnett catching; a rotation of Brown, Jenkins, Hippo Vaughn (number 12 and the lefty), and Ed Reulbach (at number 13); with the closer being Lee Smith at number 24. The first player duplicating a position, and hence the DH is Chance.

3. Sammy Sosa finished 23. The little bit of commentary available notes the steroid allegations and the corked bat problem. Without them, my guess is he makes the top 10 easy and replaces Stephenson on the starting team.

4. Tinker to Evers to Chance is perhaps the most famous infield combination ever. As noted above Chance is 8th. Joe Tinker shows up at 15th (the second highest shortstop on the list) while Evers is number 30, the fourth second baseman listed (behind Rogers Hornsby at 21 and Bill Herman at 17).

5. I was surprised to see Lee Smith above Bruce Sutter (who finished 29th). I have no particular problem with that, but I thought the Cy Young Award and the split-finger mystique would move Sutter to the top of the closer list.

6. Besides Anson, there are two other 19th Century players listed, Larry Corcoran at 22nd, and Clark Griffith at 50th. That means that essentially all those 1880s Colts were excluded. I’m not sure why. The change in mound and other rules would surely have excluded Anson also, so that can’t be the reason.

7. Which brings me to the most glaring omissions: King Kelly and John Clarkson.

8. Stan Hack is very underrated at 27th on the list. I know a number of people support him for the Hall of Fame. Whether he deserves to be there or not is another question.

9. Considering the Cubs record of futility since 1908, it’s sometimes astounding to note the number of truly great players that have come through Chicago. The following Hall of Famers are on the list and have so far not been mentioned: Andre Dawson (20th), Kiki Cuyler (28th), Grover Cleveland Alexander (31st). Also Greg Maddux, a sure Hall of Fame member is 14th (and the first pitcher that didn’t make the four man rotation). Long-time manager Charlie Grimm is 26th, Charlie Root who gave up Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series is 19th, and MVP Hank Sauer is listed 37th.

10. To me the most surprising name on the list is Carlos Zambrano at 40th.

Thoughts?

A Bad Century

May 3, 2012

Tinker, Evers, and Chance (left to right)

Ever have one of those days? You know the one I mean, the one where nothing goes right no matter how hard you try. One of those? Yeah, of course you have. Well, baseball has a team with an entire century of those kind of days, the Chicago Cubs.

It wasn’t always that way. Chicago won the first ever National League pennant all the way back in 1876. On the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, it was seen as an omen to a number of Chicago city boosters. For a while it was. They won again in the 1880s, picking up a postseason championship along the way. There were down times in the 1890s, but they bounced back in the early 20th Century with a pretty good team. The 1906 version still has the highest winning percentage in Major League Baseball. But it was the 1908 team that represented the peak of Cubs baseball.

The 1908 Cubs won the National League pennant, one of the most famous of all pennant races, by a single game over Honus Wagner’s Pirates (I wonder if Wagner walked around going “aargh” or not. Probably not.) and John McGraw’s Giants. Although defending world Series champs, the Cubs faced a formidable opponent in the American League’s Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb. The Tigers featured Cobb and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Sam Crawford in the outfield with Bill Donovan, Ed Killian, and Ed Summers on the mound. They’d won the American League pennant by a half game and had won it with hitting. Their pitchers records reflected their hitters abilities as much as they did the individual pitcher’s skills.

The Cubs, on the other hand, could both pitch and hit. Three Finger Brown, Jack Pfiester, and Orval Overall were superior hitters and the infield of Frank Chance (who doubled as manager), Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, and Harry Steinfeldt was one of the best in baseball. The outfield was good with Jimmy Sheckard, Wildfire Schulte, and Solly Hofman patrolling the grass. Johnny Kling was considered one of the finest catchers in the NL.

Games one through three were high scoring, particularly for Deadball Era games. The Cubs and Brown won the first game 10-6 by plating five runs in the top of the ninth. Kling, hitting eighth, drove in the winning run with a clean single. Game two ended with a Cubs 6-1 victory. With both teams shutout going into the bottom of the eighth (game one was in Detroit, but games two and three were in Chicago) when the Cubs bunched together all six runs, highlighted by Tinker’s two-run homer. Detroit won game three in an 8-3 shootout. Again Chicago scored all its runs in one inning (the fourth), but this time Detroit also had a big inning. Down 3-1 in the top of the sixth, the Tigers strung together four singles, a bunt, and a double to plate five runs and put the game away.

Games four and five were back in Detroit where Chicago pitching took over. Brown and Overall both threw shutouts, Detroit got seven total hits, and the Cubs scored three runs in game four and two in the fifth game to capture the World Series. 

The Cubs hit .293 (Chance hit .421), had an OBP of .343 (Chance also led in walks with three), slugged .360 including the Series’ only home run (Tinker’s in game 2). That game them an OPS of .702 (Chance’s was .921 and Schulte’s .950. Detroit hit all of .209 with Cobb leading the team at .368. Their OBP was .272, with a slugging percentage of .241 (OPS of .512).

Cubs pitchers Brown and Overall each won two games (Pfiester took the loss). The team ERA was .260 and Chicago gave up only 33 hits and 13 earned runs. Detroit’s pitchers wern’t nearly as good. Donovan and Summers each took two losses (Mullen got the win). The team ERA was 3.68 and they gave up 48 hits and 18 earned runs.

The Cubs won another pennant in 1910, but lost the World Series to Philadelphia, then the team began to slide. It won the NL pennant again in 1918, but lost to Boston and Babe Ruth. Futility has reigned since. As it turned out, 1908 was the last World Series Chicago won. Bad century, indeed.

The Crab

September 6, 2011

Johnny Evers

Some players have careers that are easy to evaluate. Whatever criteria you use, whatever stats you emphasize, whatever stats you make up, Babe Ruth is going to be pretty clearly marked out as a player. Others aren’t so easy to define. One of those is Johnny Evers.

Evers was born in upstate New York in 1881, and began his minor league career in 1902. That same year he was the “throw in” guy in the purchase of a pitcher by the Chicago Cubs. Evers was short, weighed barely 100 pounds, had great range, could throw well, and made a lot of errors because of his range (he got to a lot of balls then couldn’t make the play). Initially the shortstop, he was moved to second base after about a week. There he was terrific by Dead Ball Era standards. He teamed with Joe Tinker at shortstop and Frank Chance (later his manager) to form the most famous, if not necessarily the best, double play combination of the era. The team won 116 games in 1906 (a number equaled once, and that with eight more games on the schedule) but lost the World Series. They won the Series the next two years. Evers hit well, but this was a team built on pitching and defense and his play at second was, perhaps, more significant than his hitting.

He was also a pain, which is a nice way of saying few people liked him. It helped earn him the nickname “The Crab”. He and Tinker didn’t speak off the field for years. You get a lot of reasons depending on the source. Evers own version has Tinker firing a ball to record an out that hurt Evers hand. When Evers complained, Tinker laughed and that destroyed any brewing friendship. And with Evers there don’t seem to have been a lot of friends. To say he was “high-strung” is to understate the measure. He alienated teammates with his criticism of bad plays, opponents with his hard play. In fact, he alienated almost everyone (I guess his folks liked him, but that’s a guess). In 1911, he had a nervous breakdown that cost him most of the season. Again there are a lot of  stories of what happened, but Evers own account says he lost money in a business venture and was broke.

Evers also had a habit of not going out with the guys in the evenings. With his personality, would you want him along? (A Dale Carnegie graduate he wasn’t.). He used his spare time to read, including the baseball rulebook. He became something of an expert on the more arcane rules, which led to his participation in the most famous of all Dead Ball Era plays, the “Merkle play”. With two out in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game in 1908, Giants baserunner Fred Merkle failed to advance from first to second on a single while the winning run scored (there are a lot of places on-line where you can get the details). Evers retrieved a ball (probably not “the” ball), stepped on second, and demanded the umpire declare Merkle out and the run void. Apparently Evers and umpire Hank O’Day knew the rule. O’Day called Merkle out, the game ended in a tie, the season ended in a tie, the Cubs won the replay, and their last World Series to date.

In 1913, Evers became manager of the Cubs. Think about that. Here’s a high-strung guy that fights with everyone, that no one likes, and you make him the team manager (and you wonder why the Cubs don’t win often). Despite all that, the Cubs still finished third, but Evers managed to alienate everyone, including the beer salesmen and the owner, so out he went. They sent him to Boston where he took over the second base job for the Braves. His leadership skills (“Play hard or Evers will scream”) and his getting hot with the bat during the last half of the season were considered reasons why the “Miracle Braves” moved from last to first in the final three months of the season to capture the National League pennant, then win the NL’s first World Series since 1909 in a four game sweep of the Athletics. Evers won that season’s NL Chalmers Award (the early version of the MVP).

It was his last good year. He was on the downside of his career anyway and his nerves began really fraying. His did poorly in 1915, worse in 1916, and was cut prior to the 1917 season. He did some managing after his retirement, skippering both the Cubs and the White Sox. He did reasonably well, but never won. He  got into one game in both 1922 and 1929, drew two walks and had no hits, then retired for good. He ran a sporting goods store in Albany, New York (wonder how he was with customers), had a stroke in 1942, made the Hall of Fame in 1946, and died in 1947.

For his career Evers hit .270, slugged .334, had an OBP of .356, for an OPS of .690 (OPS+ of 106). He hit all of 12 home runs, had 216 doubles, 70 triples, and 1659 hits for 2051 total bases. He scored 919 runs and knocked in 528. He had 324 stolen bases.  He never led the NL in any major hitting category but finished as high as second in both walks and stolen bases. In World Series play he hit .316, scored 11 runs, knocked in six, and stole eight bases. He hit .438 with an OBP of .500 in the 1914 World Series victory. As a fielder he led the NL in assists twice and also in errors twice, doing both in 1904 (now that’s a neat trick). He also led the league in putouts and fielding percentage among second baseman once each.

So those numbers don’t sound all that great, do they? Even for Dead Ball Era players they’re not that spectacular. But Evers seems to be one of those guys that is more than the sum of his stats. He’s bright, he’s aggressive, he’s also a pain. Those are things difficult to evaluate. He’s a good second baseman, a lousy teammate. He’s a good glove man, not so great with the bat. He’s knowledgable about the game, but he can’t stay healthy. He’s certainly a mixed bag. I like him because he’s fun to study, but I don’t think I’d like to have known him. And maybe that’s the fascination with Evers. He’s all those things listed above and that makes for an interesting character.

Opening Day 1911: NL

April 11, 2011

Christy Mathewson

Last year I went into a detailed (perhaps overly detailed) look at the 1910 season. I don’t intend to repeat that with 1911, but 12 April was opening day in 1911 and I think we should celebrate the season 100 years later. It was, if not as significant as 1910, still a very interesting year. First the National League.

The old Cubs dynasty died. Both Frank Chance and Johnny Evers spent much of the year on the bench and in Chance’s case it was to be permanent. For the rest of his career Frank Chance would play only 56 games. Evers, on the other hand, would bounce back and have several more productive seasons, culminating with a Chalmers Award (and early MVP  Award) and a World Series championship in 1914.

The Giants took Chicago’s place as the reigning dynasty. John McGraw’s team won the pennant despite seeing their stadium burn. They spent most of the season as guests of the Highlanders (now the Yankees), but returned to their own stadium in August. They managed to go on a hot streak in August  and took the championship by 7.5 games.

A number of players had superb seasons. Honus Wagner hit .334 and won his final batting title for the Pirates. His OPS also led the league at .930. Chicago’s Wildfire Schulte led the NL with 21 home runs, the most by a player since 1899. Schulte and Owen Wilson of Pittsburgh tied with 107 RBIs. Schulte would walk away with the NL’s Chalmers Award (and the new car that went with it).

The biggest news was among the pitchers. Grover Cleveland Alexander had what was arguably the finest rookie season of any pitcher in the 20th Century. He led the NL in wins with 28, shutouts with seven, and pitched 31 complete games. Giants ace Christy Mathewson put up 26 wins and led the NL with an ERA of 1.99. In 307 innings he walked a total of 38 men. As good as that sounds, he would do even better in 1912. His teammate lefty Rube Marquard led the league in strikeouts with 237.

Unfortunately, the pennant was all the Giants could manage, dropping the World Series in six games. Mathewson and Doc Crandall got the two wins with Mathewson and Marquard taking three of the losses (Red Ames took the loss in game six). the team hit .175 for the Series with Larry Doyle and Chief Meyers managing to hit .300 with Josh Devore leading in both RBIs and strikeouts.

It’s a year to look back on and celebrate. We can look at the greatness of Honus Wagner, the genius of John McGraw, and the pitching prowess of Christy Mathewson. That’s worth celebrating, even if the NL lost the World Series.

Why 1910 Matters

October 11, 2010

Since April I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time running all over the 1910 baseball season. Part of that is simply because it was 100 years ago and a centennial is worth remembering. It’s also because the season is interesting in itself. But primarily I’ve been focusing on the 1910 season because it is a watershed season for Major League Baseball. There are a lot of reasons why. Here are some in no particular order.

1. The appointment of Hal Chase as manager of the Highlanders (Yankees) is not, for managerial purposes, all that important. What is important is the ability of the owners and the National Commission (which ran baseball before Judge Landis) to look the other way when it came to gambling in the big leagues. Failure to crack down on this sort of activity meant that it was going to get worse and that eventually something like the Black Sox scandal was bound to occur. The players likely to participate in this kind of thing now had proof that not only were the powers that be not going to do anything about gambling,  but might actually reward a player if the situation was right. I don’t want to compare it directly with the steroid situation of the 1990s, but it does seem that Malamud was right, we really don’t learn from our mistakes (The book “The Natural”–not the movie–has this as one of its central themes.).

2. During the 19th Century the National Association, the Union Association, the American Association, and the Player’s League had all existed, as had the National League. By 1892 they were all gone. Only the American Association survived 10 seasons, and by the tenth was on life support. By contrast the American League, founded in 1901, was now ten years old and flourishing. The 1910 season marked a decade of success both as a business and on the field. Frankly, baseball had not had this kind of stability in its history. Ban Johnson had managed to create a new Major League and made it work. By 1910 there was no question the AL was here to stay and that the National League finally had a partner co-equal to it. 

3. The Athletics had created the first successful AL dynasty. From league founding in 1901 through 1910, four teams won all the AL pennants: Chicago (1901, 1906), Philadelphia (1902, 1905, 1910), Boston (1903-1904), and Detroit (1907-1909). None of the pre-1910 teams created a dynasty. OK, Detroit won three years in a row, but was defeated in all three World Series matchups, which is kinda hard to call a dynasty. Let’s be honest, dynasties work, especially if they happen to be your team. Baseball seems to do best in attendance and popularity when there is a dynasty. They give fans both a hero and a villain (depending on whether you like the team or not) and 3500 years of drama tell us that nothing  in entertainment sells like heroes and villains. On top of that, it was easy to like the A’s. Connie Mack was a nice enough human being (except when it came to paying his players–a common problem in the era). You hear very few negative comments about Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, or Stuffy McInnis. And in the case of  Chief Bender, he was a sympathetic figure to many fans because of all the racial riding he took (he was an American Indian). All those things went together to help boost attendance and cash.

4. The Cubs dynasty had come to an end. If one dynasty was born in 1910, another died. The “Tinker to Evers to Chance” Cubs had their last fling in 1910. Between 1906 and 1910 the Cubs dominated the NL. They won four of five pennants (losing in 1909 to Pittsburgh) and two World Series’ (1907-8). But 1910 was the end. In the Cubs Postmortem post I detailed what went wrong, so I don’t intend to do it again. But the loss of the Cubs dynasty is signficant because it allowed for a more wide open NL. If having a dynasty is good for baseball, having two isn’t. One league has to remain open for fans to believe their team has a chance to win. With the death of the Cubs dynasty hope could rise for other teams in the NL, notably John McGraw’s New York team, but also in the next ten years Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Cincinnati would also win pennants (as would the Cubs in 1918). The end of the Cubs dynasty also ushered in the beginning of the Cubs mystique as the “loveable losers.” With only sporadic exception, the Cubs have been non-factors in the NL since.  After four pennants in five seasons, the Cubs have won the NL title exactly six times (1918, 1929, 1932, 1935. 1938, 1945). They are now a synonym for “loser”, a tradition that began with the end of the 1910 season.

5 The AL became the dominant league. I said earlier that the reasons 1910 mattered were in no particular order, but this one is last on purpose because it’s the most important. Between 1903 and 1909 there were six World Series matchups. The NL won four (1905, 1907-09) and the AL only two (1903, 1906). By 1910, the AL hadn’t beaten the NL in four years. All that changed in 1910. Take a look at the next ten years, actually 11 because I’m going to ignore the 1919 “fixed” Series. Between 1910 and 1920 inclusive the NL wins one untainted World Series, 1914. And it took a team known as the “Miracle Braves” to do that.  The AL won everything else: Philadelphia in 1910-11, 1913; Boston in 1912, 1915-16, 1918; Chicago in 1917; and Cleveland in 1920. And that kind of dominance continues in some measure all the way to 2010. Here’s the World Series wins by league by decade since 1910 (going from the zero year to the nine year to determine a decade, thus 1920-29, 1940-49, etc.) 1910-19: AL-8, NL-2 (including 1919), 1920-29: AL-6, NL-4, 1930-9: AL-7, NL-3; 1940-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1950-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1960-9: AL-4, NL-6, 1970-9: AL-6, NL-4; 1980-9: AL-5, NL 5, 1990-9: AL-6, NL-3 (and no series in 1994): 2000-9: AL-6, NL-4. In each decade except the 1960s, when the NL actually wins more World Series championships and  1980s when the each win five, the American League has won the more often. I think this is much more significant than the results of the All Star game which saw the NL have along period of dominance in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m not really impressed with winning an exhibition game. So the American League has been the superior league in most of the last 100 years, and that began in 1910.

I’ve enjoyed going over the 1910 season. I learned a lot, some significant, some trivial. I’ve begun to celebrate the players of the era more by having done this, and I consider that a good thing. Hope you enjoyed it.

1910: Cubs Postmortem

October 5, 2010

This marks the beginning of the final three posts about the 1910 season (Is that cheering I hear?). The other two will sum up the Athletics season and explain why I think 1910 matters. I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow of the World Series. You can go to Retrosheet and see for yourself  how and why Philadelphia won. Or you can wait a few weeks and Kevin at DMB will run the 1910 World Series for you and you get pick up a taste of it then (and maybe root for an upset).

The year 1910 saw the end of the Chicago dynasty that had dominated the National League since 1906. They participated in four of the five World Series’ (missing 1909) during the period, winning two (1907 and 1908). But the run ended with the loss in the 1910 Series. If you look at the team at the end of 1910, you might figure that Chicago will compete for a long time. It turns out that the next time the Cubs made the Series was 1918. So what went wrong?

To start with, three-fourths of the infield and the starting catcher went by the way in 1911. Frank Chance was effectively done as a player. For the entire rest of his career, he managed to play exactly 46 games.  Johnny Evers played only 46 games in 1911 (talk about statistical coincidences). He did come back in 1912 and 1913, but was sent to Boston in 1914. Boston promptly won the World Series and Evers won the Chalmers Award, an early version of the MVP award. In 1911, third baseman Harry Steinfeldt went to Boston, got into 19 games and was through. By 1914 he was dead. Finally, catcher Johnny Kling started slowly, was traded, and finished his career in 1913. In short, half the everyday players of 1910 were unavailable for 1911, three of them permanently. That’s half the starting lineup that has to be replaced. Doing it with quality players is unusual, and Chicago didn’t have those quality players. The following people replaced the 1910 starters: Vic Saier, Heinie Zimmerman, Jim Doyle, and Jim Archer. Ever hear of any of them? If you’re lucky you may know Zimmerman who won a home run and batting title in 1912 an RBI title in both 1916 and 1917, and was banned for throwing games in 1920. The drop off is both stunning and quick.  

The pitching was aging. Three Finger Brown was 34 in 1911. It was his last good year in the NL (he did OK in the Federal League). Harry McIntire was 33. Orval Overall retired with a bad arm. That left King Cole (who ended up dying in 1916) and third starter (or fourth, depending on your viewpoint) Ed Reulbach. It’s kind of difficult to rely on your third starter.

Having said all that, Chicago still finished second in 1911. But in 1912 they fell to third, stayed there in 1913, then dropped to fourth and finally fifth by 1917. I doubt anyone saw this coming at the end of the 1910 World Series. So Chicago maintained high hopes at the end of 1910. Those hopes were a mirage.

The Player-Manager

September 15, 2010

 

Solly Hemus

Baseball changes all the time. Some of the changes are immediate and noticable, like changing the pitching distance in 1893. Some are more subtle. No one seems to have realized what changing the strike zone in the 1960s would do to offense. Other things just seem to drop out of use without much fanfare. Player-Managers are like that. Once upon a time there were lots of them. Now there hasn’t been one since Pete Rose hung up his glove in 1986.

It actually makes since that there should be a lot of Player-Manager’s in the early days of baseball. Small rosters, limited talent pools, poor conditions make for having one man responsible for running the team and holding down a position. Harry Wright played center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. He also managed the team. So the tradition goes back a ways and carries on through players like Cap Anson and Charles Comiskey who both held down first base and managed in the 1880s.

Further, the expansion of Major League baseball from eight to 16 teams in 1901 meant that more managers were needed and the talent pool was small. So what better way to pick up a manager than to assign one of the players the managerial job (and toss in a couple hundred bucks for his troubles)? In 1901, four of the eight American League managers were player-managers. In the more established National Leage three of eight managers were player-managers. This trend continued for most of the Deadball Era (although not in those proportions). If you look at just the World Series, player-managers rule for much of the Deadball Era, especially early. Between 1901 and 1912 at least one team was managed by an active player in each Series except two. In both of those, 1905 and 1911, John McGraw faced off against Connie Mack. But in 1903 player-manager Jimmie Collins won. In ’06 it was Fielder Jones; in ’07 and ’08 it’s Frank Chance. In 1909 Fred Clarke played left field and managed Pittsburgh, in 1912 it was Jake Stahl as both first baseman and manager for Boston.

The rest of the Deadball Era saw a continued use of player-managers, but they were being less successful. Between 1913 and 1920, only Bill Carrigan at Boston in both 1915 and 1916 (44 games played in ’15, 33 in ’16), and Tris Speaker in 1920 were player-managers who led their team to the World Series (each happened to win). In the 1920s Rogers Hornsby in 1926 and Bucky Harris in 1924 were successful player-managers. In the 1930s you get something  of a rebirth with Bill Terry, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Grimm, Joe Cronin, and Gabby Hartnett all winning pennants (although Grimm, Cronin, and Hartnett’s teams all lose). The 1940s, a time that, because of a lack of players, should have produced mostly managers who were done with playing in the field gave us only Leo Durocher and Lou Boudreau as successful player-managers. It it should be noted that both had their greatest success on either side of the war. Boudreau became the last player-manager to win the World Series. The trend away from player-managers continued into the 1950s. Solly Hemus was at St. Louis in 1959 (he got into around 30 games), and appears (I may have missed one or two) to have ended the tradition until Pete Rose shows up in the 1980s.

So why did the tradition end? I’ll be honest, I’m not certain. I have some guesses, and that’s all they are.

1. As teams got more professional, a full-time manager was necessary.

2. Expanding rosters made it difficult for part-time managers to spend the time necessary to address the needs of individual players, especially bench players.

3. Once you get beyond 1910, full-time “professional” managers are almost always more successful than player-managers.

4. It’s easier for a full-time manager to act as a buffer between players and press than it is for a player-manager.

5. Full-time managers don’t have to worry about their individual stats, other than win/loss record.

I’m sure there are others. Feel free to add your own to the list.

1910: Tinker

June 28, 2010

Joe Tinker

He is one of the most famous shortstops in the history of baseball, primarily for a piece of bad poetry that begins “Tinker to Evers to Chance.” Despite not having played a game outside baseball’s Stone Age, Joe Tinker is still known, if only vaguely, because people know that single line. But today marks the centennial of Joe Tinker doing something no other Major Leaguer had ever done. On Tuesday, 28 June 1910, in an 11-1 romp over Cincinnati, Tinker became the first big league ballplayer to steal home twice in a single game.

Over a career lasting from 1902 through 1916, Tinker played 1806 games, all but 267 with the Chicago Cubs. He managed to hit .262 with 2273 total bases, 263 doubles and  114 triples. His OBP was .308, his slugging percentage was .353, giving him an OPS of .661. He stole 336 bases (including the two on this date one hundred years ago) and walked 416 times. In 1914 and 1915 he played in the Federal League, hitting about what he hit for his career. He managed the Federal League Chicago Whales to second place in 1914 and then won the Feds pennant in 1915. In 1916 he took over the Cubs manager’s role and led them to fifth place, a spot down from their 1915 position. He was let go and the Cubs remained in fifth for 1916.

He played in four World Series’, all with the Cubs. He was part of a winning team in 1907 and 1908, and suffered losses in 1906 and 1910. He didn’t do particularly well in World Series play, hitting .235 with one home run, seven stolen bases, and 21 total bases. His best Series’ were 1908 when he hit the home run, slugged .421, and had four RBIs; and 1910 when he hit .333, slugged .444, and had two doubles.  

Over the years, because of the poem, he’s become most famous for his fielding. It’s also become common to deride his fielding as nothing special.  His fielding numbers certainly aren’t bad for the era, but Honus Wagner he isn’t. It is, however, wrong to deride his contribution at short. He finished first in assists by shortstops three times and second another three. He was also first in errors once and second a further two times. His range factor was consistently in the top four shortstops and led the league three times (plus once in the Federal League). He still ranks 38th in defensive games as a shortstop.

I think a lot of the problem people have with Tinker is that he’s in the Hall of Fame. His numbers aren’t bad, but to single him out for the Hall is a bit much for most people. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1946 by the “Old Timer’s Committee” (We now call it the “Veteran’s Committee”, which has a nicer ring for us old timer’s.). Prior to his election he’d not gotten a lot of support among the writers, but was steadily climbing the ladder, peaking at 27.2% in 1946, the year the Veteran’s Committee put him over the top.

I’m not sure Tinker really deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown. Maybe he does; maybe he doesn’t. And I guess that says a lot about what I truly think. It seems to me that there should be no question about whether a player is in the HoF or he isn’t, so if you have a question, then he’s probably not someone who should, in your opinion, be there. Now I don’t mean to imply by that comment that all of us will question the same people or agree on the same people, only that if you have a question in your own mind then you probably deep down inside don’t think the guy ought to be honored. For me Tinker is one of those. Having said all that, I’m still glad he’s remembered.

Opening Day, 1910: Chicago (NL)

April 7, 2010

King Cole

The 1909 Cubs were three time defending National League champion and two time World Champion when the season began. With basicially the same team, they finished 6.5 games behind Pittsburgh. Injured manager-first baseman Frank Chance played only 93 games in ’09 and catcher Johnny Kling, considered the finest defensive catcher of the era, left the team and it plummeted. By 1910 Chance was healthy again. Kling was also back. He had won the world pocket billards championship in 1908 and used the season to earn money at pool (no idea if he played in River City), but lost the title in the following tournament. So he was back with the Cubs, although minus a $700 fine for leaving the team.

The team that finished first, first, first, and second in the previous four seasons made, as you would expect, few changes. Chance stayed on as manager, first baseman, and clean up hitter. Johnny Evers still led off and held down second base. Joe Tinker was at short and hit seventh. Third base was Harry Steinfeldt country. He hit fifth. The outfield was the same as the previous season; Jimmy Sheckard in left and hitting second, Solly Hofman in center and moved to third in the order, and Wildfire Schulte in right and dropped from third to Hofman’s old sixth spot. Kling was back catching and hitting eighth. The bench saw Heinie Zimmerman as the backup infielder. Jimmy Archer, last year’s starting catcher, was now the backup, replacing Pat Moran (now with the Phillies. Ginger Beaumont came over from Boston to take the backup outfield slot. As it turned out, it was Beaumont’s final season.

There were some changes on the mound. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was still the ace, coming off a 27-9 season, and Orvai Overall was back after leading the NL in strikeouts with 205. Ed Reulbach and Jack Pfiester were still there, but  two new pitchers were added to the mix. King Cole was a 24 year old rookie who had pitched one game for the Cubs the previous year and Harry McIntire had been acquired from Brooklyn. The addition of these two was to prove fortuitous.

For the Cubs things looked good when 1910 started. Their three time pennant winning team was intact, with all major components healthy. Age again should have been a bit of a concern. The hitters were tied with Philadelphia as the oldest team in average age at 29, and the pitching staff was the second oldest (to Pittsburgh) in the league. But everyone was healthy, Kling was back after a year off, Cole was only 24, and they knew how to win.

Tomorrow: McGraw’s Giants

Cubs Win

January 30, 2010

Most of us are familiar with the futility that is the Chicago Cubs. They haven’t made a World Series since 1945, didn’t make any kind of playoff between 1945 and 1984, can’t win the big one. But once upon a time (yeah, I know it’s a fairy tale opening, but some of you will think this is a fairy tale) the Cubs were good and even won the World Series.

Between 1906 and 1910 the Cubs were the best team in the National League. They went to the World Series 4 times, winning- yes, I said winning-twice (The Series they missed was 1909). In 1906 they lost to their crosstown rivals the White Sox and lost in 1910 to the bulding Philadelphia Athletics dynasty. In between they won.

The 1907 team won the pennant by 17 games over Pittsburgh. It faced off against a Ty Cobb led Detroit Tigers team that won 92 games. Game one of the Series was a 12 inning tie called because of darkness. At the time, players win/loss shares were determined by gate receipts for all games played. There was talk that the teams had deliberately tied in order to raise the Series cut each player got. The rule was changed later to give the players a cut of only the first 4 games played, thus making this a significant Series despite the outcome. After game one, the Cubs blew by the Tigers in 4 straight posting a 257 batting average (to 209 for the Tigers) and on 0.75 ERA (to 2.15 for Detroit).  The Cubs hitting star was third baseman Harry Steinfeld who hit .471 with 8 hits and the only team triple.

The next season saw a rematch of the Series as Chicago topped New York in one of the most famous pennant races ever, winning on the last day of the season in a make up game (the so-called “Merkle game”), while Detroit also ended up on top by a half game in another terrific pennant race.  The Tigers did better in this Series, they won game three. The Cubs picked up their second consecutive World Series title (and last so far) with a .293 batting average (to .203 for Detroit) and an ERA of 2.60 (to the Tigers’ 3.68).

In 1909, the Cubs lost the pennant to Pittsburgh by 6.5 games. In 1910 they won the National League again, this time by 13 games over the New York Giants, but lost the Series to the A’s in 5 games. The run was over and it took until 1918 for the Cubs to make it back to first place.

It was an era of small rosters and little turnover, so much of the team that won the two World Series’ was the same. The infield constisted of (this time from third around to first in honor of Franklin Adams) Harry Steinfeldt, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance. The outfield was Frank “Wildfire” Schulte, Jimmy Slagle, and Jimmy Sheckard, with Johnny Kling behind the plate.  The same starting eight began most of the games in both seasons. The bench (all players with 40 or more games played) consisted of outfielder Solly Hofman, catcher Pat Moran, and first baeman-outfielder Del Howard in 1907 and Hofman, Howard, Moran, and new guy Heinie Zimmerman in 1908.

It’s not an overly impressive set of hitters (Chance, Evers, and Tinker are the only Hall of Famers). It’s not bad, just not impressive.  Only Evers managed to hit 300 (exactly 300 in 1908), and Schulte’s .386 in 1907 is the highest slugging percentage. Only Steinfeldt in 1907 managed as many as 70 RBIs. Those aren’t bad numbers for Deadball baseball, but a lot of players did a lot better.

Their fielding, despite the poem, was middle of the pack, although Kling is generally considered the finest fielding catcher of the day. What  they really could do was pitch and pitch well. Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was the ace of the staff winning 20 and 29 games in the two seasons with ERAs of 1.39 and 1.47. He struck out 240 men in the two seasons combined, which isn’t  a bad number for the era. Orval Overall (ain’t that a great name?) won 23 and 15 games and contributed 308 strikeouts, which is great for the era. Ed Reulbach won 17 and 24 games, while the team lefty Jack Pfeister won 15 and 12 games. In 1907 Carl Lundgren added 18 wins.

I have no idea how to explain the Cubs futility since. They’ve certainly had better players. If I were putting together an all-time, all-Cubs team Brown is probably the only one of these guys to make it, but they did do something that none of the teams with the better players managed to do–they won.