Posts Tagged ‘Frank Robinson’

RIP Frank Robinson

February 12, 2019

Frank Robinson

I hate writing these. It means that someone I liked long ago is now gone. It reminds me that not only are they mortal, but so am I.

By now you’ve read all the glowing tributes, the mention of his hitting ability, his MVP, this Triple Crown, his role as the first black manager in the Major Leagues. You’ve probably seen the umpire stare down that became a part of the Robinson legend. I remember Robinson as a player and a proud African-American and somehow it’s appropriate that if he had to die, it should be in Black History Month.

What I remember most about Robinson is not his stats, but his ferocity at the plate. He was no placid hitter who walked to the plate and looked out at the pitcher. He stalked to the plate, glared at the pitcher, dared him to try to throw something by him. Few did. But to me Robinson was summed up in two incidents that I will never forget (both watched on TV).

Bob Gibson

It was somewhere in either 1964 or 1965 and the Reds (Robinson’s team) were playing the Cardinals. Bob Gibson, who had the only glare in baseball greater than Robinson’s was pitching. They stood there staring at each other until Gibson motioned Robinson into the batter’s box. Being Robinson, he continued to stare, rather than move. Gibson motioned again and again nothing from Robinson. Finally the umpire told Robinson to get into the box. Gibson’s first pitch missed Robinson’s head by inches (very few of them). Robinson dusted himself off, got back up, stepped back out, and started the glare again. Eventually, after a couple of knock downs and a couple of strikes, Robinson tapped one to short (Dal Maxvill, I think). The was out by a bunch. Then he and Gibson engaged in a long stare down as Robinson returned to the dugout. It was good baseball, but it was better theater.

Sandy Koufax

The other one occurred about the same time. This time the Reds were playing the Dodgers with Sandy Koufax on the mound (he never glared at a batter). Koufax threw three of the greatest curves anyone ever saw and Robinson looked silly trying to hit them (Koufax could do that to you). He stepped out of the box, looked at Koufax for a moment, then nodded. Only time I ever saw him do that to a pitcher.

So adios, Frank. You were one of the greats and all of us who saw you play are better for it. RIP, Frank Robinson.

Star Managers

December 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winning Late

July 8, 2013
Johnny Blanchard

Johnny Blanchard

The last post around here was about a team winning games by scoring early and shutting down the opponent for the rest of the game. I mentioned that there were other ways to win, including putting up runs late in the game. If the 1963 World Series was an example of scoring early and holding on, the 1961 World Series was an example of doing it the other way.

The New York Yankees were defending American League champs (having lost the previous Series). They were much the same team in 1961 with a major exception. Ralph Houk had replaced Casey Stengel as manager. The Yankees ownership said Stengel was too old to manage. The Ol’ Perfessor’s response was “That’s a mistake I’ll never make again.” It was a team designed to bash the opposition into submission. Roger Maris set the yearly home run record with 61 (and despite the steroid sluggers of recent vintage, still the record for some of us). Mickey Mantle had 54. Five other players, including backup catcher Johnny Blanchard, had more than 20 home runs.  The team led the AL in home runs, slugging, OPS, and total bases. The pitching staff consisted of Whitey Ford and a couple of players having career years.

The Cincinnati Reds were afterthoughts in 1961. They hadn’t won since 1940 and had finished sixth the year before. They were led by MVP Frank Robinson, center fielder Vada Pinson, and a young pitching staff (only Bob Purkey was 30). They led the National League in doubles, but finished second in slugging and OPS. The staff led the NL in shutouts and gave up fewer hits and runs than any other team.

As was usual for me back then, I would have to catch the first couple of innings on radio at school (and again I had teachers who let us listen), then miss an inning getting home. But then I could sit and listen to the rest of the Series and root for my favorites. Well, 1961 was one of those years I didn’t have a favorite. As a Dodgers fan you are never allowed to root for the Yankees, ever. I think it’s classified as a sin or something. And the Reds had no particular meaning for me, so I could just sit back and enjoy the Series without worrying too much who was going to win.

Game one started slow, as did most of the games (and if they didn’t there wouldn’t have been much reason for this entire post). The Yanks got a run in the fourth when Elston Howard homered off Jim O’Toole. In the sixth O’Toole gave up another homer, this one to Bill Skowron. It was all the Yankees needed. Ford gave up only two hits, both singles (one in the first, the other in the fifth), walked one, and struck out six. New York scored in the middle stages of the game to win it.

Game two was the lone Reds win. They put up six runs: two in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth, and two more in the eighth. The Yankees got two runs, both in the fourth (and both in typical fashion–a two-run homer by Yogi Berra).

Game three was on a Saturday, so I got the full game for a change. It may have been the best game. Cincinnati got an early run in the third on a single, a couple of outs, and a Frank Robinson single. New York stayed scoreless until the seventh when they scored their first run on something other than a homer. A single, a passed ball, and a Berra single plated the tying run. Cincy was back in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead with a double, an intentional walk, and another single. But in the eighth and ninth the Yankees reverted to form when one-run homers by Blanchard and Maris gave New York the win. Again, they, won by scoring later in the game (this time the final three innings).

The game seems to have broken the back of the Reds. On Sunday, they held New York scoreless into the fourth. Then the Yanks put up runs in each of the next four innings to put the game away, 7-0. This time they did it without benefit of the home run.

I was back to school for the fifth game on Monday. This time there would be no waiting for the middle and later innings to determine the winner. New York jumped on Cincy hurler Joey Jay for four runs (of five total) in the first inning, highlighted by a two-run home run by Blanchard and a Hector Lopez triple. They added another run in the second on a Maris double. The Reds gave it a go in the third when Robinson hit a three-run homer. But New York responded by plating five runs in the fourth. The inning was highlighted by an answering three-run homer, this one by Lopez. Again, the Reds tried to keep it close when they got two runs in the fifth on Wally Post’s two-run shot. But New York got the two runs back in the sixth to close the scoring. They won 13-5 to take both the game and the Series.

 The Series is usually seen as a Yankees beat down of the Reds. That’s true of the final two games, but the Reds win was 6-2 and the first two games were close. The Yanks won with homers and scored a lot of runs in the last half of the game. Whitey Ford was outstanding, winning the Series MVP. For Cincy the season was something of a fluke. They slipped back to third in 1962 and didn’t resurface with a pennant until the 1970s. The Yankees would go on to win both a pennant and the World Series in 1962, then pick up two more pennants in 1963 and ’64 (losing both to the pitching of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Bob Gibson) before they collapsed. After 1964 they would not win another pennant until 1976, when they would, ironically, face the Reds again.

Top of the World

October 18, 2012

Triple Crown winner Chuck Klein with a bunch of bats

So far I’ve said little about Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown. I tend to worry more about old-time baseball than about the current season, but congratulations are certainly in order. With Detroit still alive in the playoffs he has a chance to do something that’s only been done twice.

Over the years a hitting Triple Crown has been accomplished 16 times. Only twice has the Triple Crown winners team also won the World Series. Here’s a quick review of each Triple Crown winner and where his team finished.

1878–Paul Hines won the Triple Crown for Providence. They finished third in the National League.

1887–Tip O’Neill won the Triple Crown for St. Louis of the American Association (a major league at the time). The team finished first and played a 15 game postseason series against Detroit of the National League (sort of a  primitive World Series). They lost 10 games to 5.

1901–Napoleon LaJoie won the Triple Crown for the Philadelphia Athletics. They finished fourth in the fledgling American League.

1909–Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown at Detroit. The Tigers dropped the World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games.

1922 and 1925–Rogers Hornsby won the Triple Crown while with St. Louis. The Cardinals finished third in 1922 and fourth in 1925. Hornsby became the only player to win a Triple Crown and hit .400 in the same season. He did it both times.

1933–both leagues had a Triple Crown winner (only time that’s happened). Chuck Klein won the NL Triple Crown for the seventh place Phillies, while Jimmie Foxx won the AL Triple Crown for the third place Athletics. As a bit of trivia, both Triple Crown winners played in Philadelphia.

1934–Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown in one of the few years the Yankees didn’t finish first. They finished second.

1937–Joe Medwick won the last NL Triple Crown for the Cardinals. They rewarded him with a fourth place finish.

1942 and 1947–Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in both seasons. His Boston team finished second in ’42 and third in ’47.

1956–Mickey Mantle became the second Yankee Triple Crown winner and first Triple Crown winner to have his team (the Yankees) win the World Series.

1966–Frank Robinson became the second (with Baltimore). Robinson also became the first (and so far only) black player to win a Triple Crown. 

1967 –Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown with Boston, but the Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals.

Pitching Triple Crown winners are both more common and have won more frequently. Here’s a list of the pitchers who won both the pitching Triple Crown and the World Series (1800s version or modern version): Tommy Bond in 1877 (there was no postseason play that season but Bond’s Boston team took first place in the regular season), Charles Radbourne in 1884, Tim Keefe in 1888, Christy Mathewson in 1905, Walter Johnson in 1924, Lefty Grove in 1930, Lefty Gomez in 1937, Hal Newhouser in 1945, Sandy Koufax in both 1963 and 1965.

All that indicates that winning a Triple Crown (either variety) is no predictor of success in the postseason. Still, I think I’d rather win one than not.

The Core of the Hall: Notes

July 6, 2012

The post just below this one touches on the 50 people who I think most belong in the Hall of Fame (of those already enshrined). The public comments have been positive, but I’ve also received a handful of private comments (and emails) with questions about the list. This is an attempt to answer those.

1. SportsPhD in his comment below notes a paucity of 19th Century players and speculates that I’m purposefully leaving off players who were active primarily before the advent of the mound. He is correct. I think the change in pitching distance and motion have so effected the game that players before and after those changes must be viewed in entirely different categories. And, yes, there is a certain amount of justice in placing Campanella above Anson.

2. A number of comments have asked why so many Negro Leaguers, especially Turkey Stearnes and Martin DiHigo. I am entirely comfortable in believing that five Negro League players are among the 50 finest players ever. Look at the National League in the 1950s and you’ll note that guys like Aaron, Mays, Clemente, and Frank Robinson are on my list. I don’t think it unreasonable to believe that five players from the period 1920-1950 who were Negro League stars should be included. If you can find four in ten years, surely you can find five in thirty. As to DiHigo I placed him here because of his playing ability, his versatility, and his impact on the game among Latin players. He is instrumental on growing the game in Latin America (as is Clemente) and when coupled with his skills that puts him on my list. Stearnes is a little harder to justify and frankly was one of the last people I included. Most sources claim he is the leader in home runs among Negro Leaguers. That probably is worth adding him, even at the expense of guys like Buck Leonard and John Henry Lloyd.

3. Most people, including those who made public comment on the first Core post, indicate they might have changed a half dozen or so. Actually I think that’s really good. It means that, at least among those people who read this blog, there is a fairly solid consensus as to the top 40 or so players.

4. Someone asked if I was sorry to have to leave off current players or Hall eligible (or in the case of Joe Jackson and Pete Rose ineligible) players. Yes, I was. I’d love to put Albert Pujols on the list as well as Greg Maddux and possibly Rose although I’d have to think long and hard about Charlie Hustle. I’m not sure I see him as a top 50 without reference to the gambling issue. Maybe, maybe not.

5. I was asked “If Campanella was the last man on, who was the last man off?” The answer is Eddie Murray. I really miss putting Murray on the list and I have to admit that a personal prejudice may have gotten in the way here. I always liked Murray, but I loved Campy. I guess in the end that made a difference.

6. Someone asked “If you could cut it down to 10 who would you pick?” Pass.

All this typed for the information of those who asked. This way I don’t have to write up a dozen different responses to a dozen different emails.

Coincidence

May 10, 2010

Yesterday is one of those serendipitous days that happens in baseball occasionally. Two people forever intertwined in an event make history on the same day a continent apart. That’s actually happened a few times before and let’s take a moment and note them.

1. Yesterday a pitcher named Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game. Until then, he was primarily famous for his dust-up with Alex Rodriguez over A-Rod crossing the mound on the way back to first, a serious breach of Braden’s view of baseball ethics. Also yesterday Rodriguez slugged his third home run of the season. It managed to tie Frank Robinson on the all-time homer lit.

2. Rickey Henderson set the all-time stolen base mark and bragged he was the best ever. Unfortunately for him Nolan Ryan threw his seventh and final no-hitter the same day (1 May 1991). The two are joined because Ryan’s 5000th strikeout victim was (drum roll, please) Rickey Henderson.

3. On 4 August 1985 Tom Seaver got his 300th career win in New York (pitching for the White Sox). Rod Carew picked up his 3000 career hit the same day in Anaheim. How are they connected? Seaver was the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year, while Carew won the same award in the American League the same season. By way of trivia, in 1956 both Luis Aparicio and Frank Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award. That marks, along with 1967 and 1977 (Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson), the first of only three times both Rookies of the Year went on to the Hall of Fame.

Don’t you just love coincidences?

Triple Crown, I

March 17, 2010

When I think of Triple Crown, my first thought, believe it or don’t, is of horse racing. Watching Secretariat come down the stretch in the Belmont is still the most amazing thing I ever saw in sports. But baseball also has its triple crown, actually two of them: one in pitching, one in hitting. I want to look at the hitting ones.

One thing I find interesting is that Stone Age baseball produces four triple crowns, while Classical baseball (1920-1945) gives us seven, and the post-Classical baseball world gives us four again, none since 1967. I understand part of the reason that modern baseball doesn’t get triple crowns. The more teams you have the more players are in line for a shot at one. That means it’s more likely they will knock each other off. The greatest player  (non-pitcher) I ever saw was Ted Williams and that at the tail end of his career, so perhaps the best I ever saw at his peek was either Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. Neither ever wins one. Why? Well, among other things they have to beat out Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews and a bunch of other people at various times. Additionally, as they get into some of the most productive years of their career baseball goes into one of the greatest of pitching periods. You try winning a triple crown when you have to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, and Marichal. (At least in Mays’ case Marichal is on his team). I’ve been sure for a while that a significant reason the last two triple crowns come in the AL is that neither Frank Robinson nor Carl Yastrzemski has to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, or Marichal on a regular basis.

A number of people never win a triple crown, despite leading their league in all three categories at one time or the other.  Babe Ruth is one of those. In 1924 he loses the RBI title by eight to Goose Goslin of Washington. It’s the only year Ruth wins the batting title. He hits .376, which ties for the lowest average to win the title in the 1920s. Jimmie Foxx and Joe DiMaggio are among others who suffer the same fate (although Foxx does ultimately win one).

Additionally, you can look at a handful of the existing triple crowns and argue they are tainted. In two cases, Joe Medwick in 1937 and Yastrzemski in 1967, they tie for the league lead in home runs (Mel Ott and Harmon Killebrew). So they don’t really stand alone at the top of the stats. 

Of the other 20th Century triple crowns six more are tainted because the individual would not have finished first in all three categories had he been in the other league. In 1901 Nap LaJoie loses the home run title to Sam Crawford. In 1922 Rogers Hornsby loses the RBI title to Ken Wiliams. In 1933 Jmmie Foxx and Chuck Klein both win the triple crown, but knock each other off when Foxx has more home runs, but Klein has the higher batting average. In 1947 Ted Williams loses the home run title to a tie between Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize. Finally in 1966 Matty Alou puts up a better batting average than Frank Robinson. That leaves five true triple crowns (number one in all the Major Leagues in batting average, RBIs and home runs)  in the 20th Century: Ty Cobb in 1909, Rogers Hornsby in 1925, Lou Gehrig in 1934, Ted Williams in 1942, and Mickey Mantle in 1956.

There are two 19th Century triple crowns. I’m saving them for the next post.