Posts Tagged ‘Gabby Hartnett’

A Crushing: the Cubs

October 20, 2017

The 1932 National League winner was the Chicago Cubs. They weren’t the “loveable losers” of later times. As recently as 1929 they’d been in the World Series. Their manager at that point was the current Yankees manager Joe McCarthy.

Charlie Grimm

The Cubs began the season with Rogers Hornsby as manager. By Series time he was gone. Frankly, he’d hadn’t done much as manager and bluntly no one liked him (well, I suppose Mrs. Hornsby did). So out he went and in came “Jolly Cholly” Charlie Grimm, the first baseman. He was able to get more out of the team and led them to the Series. In most hitting categories, the Cubs were middle of the National League. They were fourth in runs, triples, walks, batting average, slugging, and total bases; fifth in hits, homers, stolen bases; and third in doubles. Their three top home run hitters combined for one more home run than Lou Gehrig hit. The staff was much better. They led the NL in ERA, hits, and runs allowed; were second in strikeouts; and fifth in walks.

The staff consisted of five pitchers who started 15 or more games. The ace was Lon Warneke who went 22-6 with a 2.37 ERA (160 ERA+), a 1.123 WHIP, and a team leading 6.9 WAR. Pat Malone and Guy Bush had ERA’s in the low to mid-threes, had WHIP numbers that were good and put up 2.7 WAR (Bush) and 2.5 (Malone). At 38, Hall of Fame hurler Burleigh Grimes was still good enough to start 18 games. His ERA was over four, his WHIP was 1.585, and he had a -0.9 WAR. The fifth starter was Charlie Root. He ha 15 wins, a 3.58 ERA, a 1,230 WHIP, and 1.8 WAR. He would also throw the most famous pitch of the Series.

Their primary receiver was Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett. He was 31, hit .271, was second on the team with 12 home runs, had a 111 OPS+ and 2,5 WAR. As his backup, Rollie Hemsley hit .238 and had four home runs, the most of any bench player.

Riggs Stephenson, Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler, and Johnny Moore were the primary Chicago outfield. Stephenson, who ended his career with a huge batting average, but few at bats, hit .324 with a team leading 121 OPS+. He led the team with 49 doubles and 189 hits, and had 3.3 WAR. Cuyler, who’d been known for his speed, hit 291 with nine steals, 10 homers (good for third on the team), and managed all of 1.6 WAR. Moore led the team in home runs with 13 and hit .305, while producing 2.3 WAR. Backups included Marv Gudat, who played first and actually pitched an inning, Lance Richbourg, and Vince Barton. Barton had the most home runs and Gudat’s 0.0 WAR led the crew.

The Cubs infield saw six men do most of the work. Manager Grimm was at first. He hit .307 with seven home runs, good for fourth on the team. His 80 RBIs were second and he pulled 107 OPS+. All that produced 2.5 WAR. Hall of Fame second sacker Billy Herman hit .314 with a team leading 14 stolen bases. His 3.5 WAR led all position players. Woody English and Billy Jurges were the normal left side of the infield. English hit .272 with 1.8 WAR while shortstop Jurges hit .253, lowest among the starters, and had 2.4 WAR. Both men were spelled by players that would have a profound impact on the team. Stan Hack was still 22 and beginning a long run as the Cubs third baseman. He hit .236 and had 0.2 WAR. If Hack had the longer term impact on Chicago, Mark Koenig had the more important short-term value. He’d come over in mid-season and sparked the team. He hit .353 with three home runs, had 11 RBIs in 33 games, put up an OPS+ of 136 with 1.4 WAR. He was generally credited with being the cog that put the Cubs over the top. But because he’d come over at mid-season, the team didn’t vote him a full share of the World Series purse. As a former teammate of the Yankees (he was the Murderer’s Row shortstop in the late 1920s) this action hacked off a lot of the New Yorkers, especially Babe Ruth. It would cause more bad blood between the teams than did a normal World Series campaign.

If you look at the team numbers closely, you can see why New York was favored. Chicago was, despite the number differential, still a good team and there were hopes it could compete evenly with the Yankees.

 

 

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A Chance for Revenge: On to Chicago

August 21, 2017

With the 1935 World Series tied at one game apiece, the teams shifted to Chicago’s Wrigley Field for games three, four, and five. Any kind of split would send them back to Detroit for the final game or games of the Series.

JoJo White

Game 3, 4 October 1935

For the first game in Chicago, the Cubs sent Bill Lee (obviously not the later Red Sox hurler) to the mound to face down Detroit’s “G-Men.” The Tigers, now short injured Hank Greenberg at first, responded with Eldon Auker. Neither man was around for the conclusion of what many called the best game of the Series.

The Cubs struck first with two runs in the bottom of the second. Frank Demaree led off with a home run. A Stan Hack single and a steal of second put a runner in scoring position. An error by substitute third baseman Flea Clifton (regular third baseman Marv Owen was at first in place of Greenberg) moved him to third and he scored on a Lee ground out.

In the fifth they got another run on a Billy Jurges walk, a bunt, and a run scoring single by Augie Galan. The 3-0 score would hold up exactly a half inning. In the top of the sixth, Detroit got that run back on a Goose Goslin single and a Pete Fox triple. With Fox safely at third, he wandered away from the bag and Lee picked him off to end the threat.

Detroit finally broke loose in the  eighth. Jo Jo White walked. With one out, a Charlie Gehringer double sent him to third. Goslin, hitting in Greenberg’s normal spot, singled both men home to tie the score. Consecutive singles by Fox and Billy Rogell scored Goslin and sent Fox back to third. With only one out, Rogell broke for second. The throw was ahead of him, so he froze in place. During the subsequent rundown, Fox scored.

With the score now 5-3 in favor of Detroit, the Cubs went quietly in the eighth. After a quick top of the ninth the Cubs faced a bottom of the ninth down by two runs. With one out, Hack singled. A Chuck Klein single sent him to second and a Ken O’Dea single scored Hack with Klein heading to third. A long fly by Galan tied the game and sent it into extra innings.

Both teams managed a hit in the 10th, but neither scored. With two outs in the top of the 11th and Marv Owen at second, White singled home the go ahead run. With Schoolboy Rowe now on the mound for Detroit, the Tigers set down Chicago in order in the bottom of the ninth to win the game 6-5 and take a one game lead in the Series.

Alvin “General” Crowder

Game 4, 5 October 1935

With game 4 ending 6-5 and both teams better known for their hitting than for their pitching, game 5 turned into a pitcher’s duel. The Tigers had Alvin “General” Crowder (the nickname came from a General Enoch Crowder of World War I) going against Tex Carleton (who did come from Texas).

Both men pitched well. Crowder gave up a lead off homer to Gabby Hartnett in the second while Carleton let Detroit tie it up in the third on a Crowder single and a Gehringer double. It stayed 1-1 through inning following inning until the sixth. With two out, Flea Clifton reached second base on a dropped fly by left fielder Galan. That brought up Crowder who hit a grounder to shortstop Jurges. Jurges got to it, couldn’t control it, and Clifton scored with Crowder safe at first.

It was all Crowder needed. The Tigers got a walk in the seventh, couldn’t score, went in order in the eighth, then put two men on in the ninth. A double play got Detroit and Crowder out of the jam and put the Tigers up three games to one by a score of 2-1.

Both pitchers did well. Over seven inning, Carleton gave up one earned run struck out four, walked seven, and gave up six hits. Crowder, with both the arm and the bat, was the star. He’d contributed to both Detroit runs, gave up only the home run to Hartnett, walked three, gave up five hits, and struck out five.

Down three games to one, the Cubs now had to run the table to win the Series. Remarkably enough, with their star first baseman Greenberg on the bench, Detroit had won two games in a row. Game five was the next day.

Lon Warneke

Game 5, 6 October 1935

The fifth game of the 1935 World Series turned into another pitcher’s duel as the two game one hurlers, Lon Warneke for Chicago and Schoolboy Rowe for Detroit, squared off for what could have been the deciding game.

It wasn’t because Warneke pitched almost as well as he had in the first game. Over six innings he gave up three hits, all singles, walked none and struck out two before being lifted in the top of the seventh for Bill Lee. Rowe matched him until the third inning when he gave up two runs on a Billy Herman triple and a Chuck Klein home run. He gave up another run in the seventh to put the Tigers up 3-0 going into the ninth. Three singles gave Detroit a run but a fly to center, a grounder to second, and a foul snagged by the first baseman ended the threat and gave Chicago its first home win of the Series.

Over the years, Wrigley Field has been unkind to the Cubs in postseason play. They have used it since 1916 and played their first World Series in the park in 1929 (the 1918 Series had been moved to Comiskey Park). In the 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945, and 2016 World Series combined, the Cubs have won exactly three games at Wrigley (one each in 1935, 1945, and 2016), the win in 1935 being the first home win in Wrigley.

With Detroit up three games to two, the Series now moved to the Motor City for a possible two games. Chicago would have to win both to capture their first title since 1908. For the Tigers a win in either game would give them revenge for their last World Series failure, the same 1908 Series.

 

 

 

A Chance for Revenge: Games in Detroit

August 15, 2017

The 1935 World Series began in Detroit. It was to be played in a format familiar to us. The first two games were in Detroit, the next three in Chicago, then a final pair, if necessary back in Detroit. There was one significant difference between those games and the modern version. Because of the proximity of the two towns, the games would be played on consecutive dates.

Lon Warneke

Game 1, 2 October 1935

For game one, both teams sent experienced pitchers to the mound, Schoolboy Rowe for the Tigers and Lon Warneke for Chicago. Both men pitched well, but a number of Detroit errors, a key one by Rowe himself, helped doom the Tigers.

And it began immediately for Detroit. Augie Galan led off the game for the Cubs with a double. Then Billy Herman tapped one back to the mound. Rowe turned, tossed it to first, and missed Hank Greenberg’s glove by several feet. Galan scored easily but Herman, running through the base, was unable to advance. A Fred Lindstrom bunt back to Rowe sent Herman to second (this time Rowe got the throw right). Gabby Hartnett followed with a single to score Galan. Rowe then settled down and got out of the inning down only 2-0.

It was more than enough for Warneke. He breezed through the game giving up only four hits and walking another four. It wasn’t until the fourth inning that Detroit got two men on base and managed to move one of them to third before the died there waiting for a hit. It was the only inning the Tigers put either two men on base or moved a man to third.

Meanwhile, Rowe, apparently getting over the error, matched Warneke with zeroes until the ninth. Frank Demaree led off the top of the ninth with the Series’ first home run to give the game its final score 3-0. For the game, Rowe had given up seven hits, struck out eight, walked none, and given up two earned runs. He’d also made the critical error.

Hank Greenberg (in the lumber business?)

Game 2, 3 October 1935

For game 2, the Tigers sent Tommy Bridges to the mound. He drew Charlie Root for a pitching opponent. Root has last seen World Series action in 1932 when he’d given up Babe Ruth’s “called shot” homer in game three. On this occasion he had the same amount of success, none.

After an uneventful top of the first, Detroit lit up Root in the bottom of the inning. Jo Jo White led off with a single. A Mickey Cochrane double scored him. Charlie Gehringer followed with a single scoring Cochrane. Then Hank Greenberg parked one in the left field stands for two runs and an early exit for Root.  Ray Henshaw replaced him with only slightly more success.

After surviving the second and third innings, Henshaw, with two outs in the fourth, plunked Marv Owen. A Bridges single sent Owen to third and a walk to White loaded the bases. Then Henshaw uncorked a wild pitch moving up all three runs and making it 5-0. He walked Cochrane to reload the bases, bringing up Gehringer. He singled to score Bridges and White. Out went Henshaw, in came Fabian Kowalik who managed to retire Greenberg to end the inning. The score stood 7-0. Chicago got a run back on an error, a ground out, and a single, then two more on a walk and consecutive singles, but it was too late.

Detroit came up in the bottom of the seventh ahead 7-3 when one of the key moments of the Series occurred. With two outs and two on, Pete Fox singled to right plating Gehringer. Following close behind, Greenberg tried to score also, but was thrown out at home. In the collision at home, he broke his wrist and was done for the Series. It changed the Tigers lineup for the remaining games by moving Owen to first and bringing in Flea Clifton to play third. At that point Greenberg had a home run and two RBIs. For the entire rest of the Series Owen would get one hit and Clifton went oh-fer.

But Detroit had evened the Series at one win apiece. The next three games would be in Chicago, where a sweep by either team would crown a champion. The 1935 World Series was now a best of five.

 

 

A Chance for Revenge: the 1935 Cubs

August 11, 2017

Charlie Grimm

By 1935 the Chicago Cubs were in the midst of one of the strangest runs in Major League history. After falling off beginning in 1911, they’d won a pennant in 1918 then spent a decade in the wilderness. In 1929 they won the National League pennant and lost the World Series. Three years later in 1932 they won another pennant and lost another Series. In 1935 it was again three years later. And they would carry it on through a final pennant three years later in 1938. That’s winning a pennant at three-year intervals from 1929 through 1938.

Their manager was former first baseman Charlie Grimm. By ’35 he was technically a player-manager, but at age 36 he was much more manager than player, getting into only two games (eight at bats without a hit). He was, unlike Cochrane, well liked by most people and most of his team (“Jolly Cholly” being his nickname). The team was first in the NL in batting, on base percentage, and OPS while being second in slugging and total bases. It was also first in runs, doubles, and walks, while finishing third in triples, homers, and stolen bases. The staff finished first in hits allowed (that’s the least number of hits allowed by a staff), runs allowed and ERA, while coming in second in strikeouts.

It was a team of mixed veterans and new guys. The newest guy was Phil Cavarretta who was 18. He hit .275 with eight home runs and 0.8 WAR, but would get better, earning an MVP Award in 1945. Hall of Famer Billy Herman held down second. He led the team with a .341 batting average was second on the team with 83 RBIs (one more than Cavarretta). His 6.9 WAR led the team. His double play partner was Billy Jurges. He hit all of .241, but had 2.5 WAR, 3.0 of that coming from his defense. Stan Hack was at third. Hitting .311, he did some lead off work. He stole 14 bases and put up 4.5 WAR. Woodie English and Fred Lindstrom, both in the latter part of their careers, did most of the backup work. Both were 29. Lindstrom hit .275, English just barely topped .200. Lindstrom did produce 62 RBIs in 90 games. They both turned in WAR of 0.5.

The outfield saw five men patrol it for more than twenty games. Augie Galan was the main man. He had a triple slash line of .314/.399/.468/.866 (OPS+ of 131, good for second on the team). He stole a team leading 22 bases. The entire team stole 66 and Galan’s 22 was a third of the total (and with Hack’s 14 they had over half). He scored 133 runs and his 5.1 WAR was second on the team (to Herman). Phillies refugee Chuck Klein, a few years removed from a Triple Crown year, led the team with 21 homers, had 73 RBIs, hit .293, and had 2.8 WAR. The other main starter was Frank Demaree. He hit .323 with no power and only six stolen bases. His WAR was 1.6. The backups, Tuck Stainback and Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler managed about 250 at bats together they had seven home runs and Cuyler hit .268 to Stainback’s .255.

At 34, Hall of Fame backstop Gabby Hartnett was the oldest starter (Cuyler, at 36, was older). He’d been around for both the 1929 and the 1932 pennants and was instrumental in the 1935 victory. His triple slash line read .344/.404/.545.948 with an OPS+ of 151 with 13 homers, a team leading 91 RBIs, and 5.0 WAR. His backup was Ken O’Dea who got into 76 games, hit .257, with six home runs. That total gave the catching position second place on the team for homers (behind Klein). When Chicago made it back to the World Series in three years, Hartnett would be managing.

Seven pitchers showed up in 20 or more games (and later Dodgers stalwart Hugh Casey pitched in 13, all in relief). Lon Warneke and Bill Lee both won 20 games with Lee’s ERA coming in just under three and Warneke’s at just over three. Both managed to give up fewer hits than they had innings pitched and had more strikeouts than walks. Warneke had a WHIP of 1.173 with 4.3 WAR while Lee’s WHIP was 1.290 with 3.1 WAR. Larry French was the main southpaw. He went 17-10 with a 2.96 ERA (same as Lee’s), ninety strikeouts to 44 walks, a 1.311 WHIP, 3.4 WAR, and the continuing bugaboo of giving up more hits than he had innings pitched. Tex Carleton and Roy Henshaw were the other two primary starters. Both had ERA’s in the threes and Henshaw walked more men than he struck out. Charlie Root, of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy, was in the bullpen. He was 36, started 18 games (of 38 pitched) had a 3.08 ERA, and at 201 innings actually pitched more than either Carleton or Henshaw. Fabian Kowalik was the other man with more than 20 games pitched. His ERA was 4.22 in 55 innings.

Having lost their last two World Series (actually four, but no one from the 1910 or 1918 losses was around), the Cubs wanted a win badly. There is no evidence that I could find that showed they cared about the two wins their earlier versions had put up against Detroit. Games one and two would be in Detroit.

Congratulations and another one of those All Time Teams

September 16, 2016

First, it seems right to congratulate the Chicago Cubs as the first team to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. But, perhaps to celebrate, Sports Illustrated just released, on its daily mailing it sends to people like me, the All Time Cubs team. Here, for your interest and edification, is the list:

Catcher–Gabby Hartnett

Infield-Cap Anson (1st), Ryne Sandberg (2nd), Ernie Banks (ss), Ron Santo (3b)

Outfield–Billy Williams (left), Hack Wilson (center), Sammy Sosa (right)

Pitchers–Fergie Jenkins and Mordecai Brown as starters and Bruce Sutter as the reliever.

There are no backups listed.

So what do we make of this? On the face of it, it isn’t a bad list. It’s certainly better than the thing ESPN did on its top 100 players. Having said that, I have a couple of problems with it. I’m not sure how you compare Anson with the rest of the cast. He spent almost his entire career (which went from the National Association of the 1870s into the 1890s) hitting against pitchers who were not allowed to throw overhand or who did not throw from a mound 60’6″ away. I agree Anson was a heck of a player (probably a top 100), but I’m not sure you can accurately compare him with more modern Cubs first basemen (Mark Grace, Leon Durham, even Phil Cavarretta of the 1945 team). Sure you can make comparisons with Anson’s contemporaries, but I do worry about comparing him to much never guys. Second, I wish they’d do some commentary on Sosa’s steroid issue. I’m not sure how much it would change his position, but it should be noted (as should the bitter taste of how he left Chicago).

There is no manager listed. I suppose I’d go with Frank Chance. He’s the only one who proved he could lead a team to a modern World Series championship. Anyway, you should be able to find the list on Sports Illustrated’s website somewhere.

The “Called Shot” Game

July 19, 2013
The Babe

The Babe

There are a handful of home runs that are so famous that almost any fan can tell you about them. There’s Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951. There’s Bill Mazeroski’s World Series ending homer in 1960. There’s Bucky “Bleepin'” Dent’s 1978 shot. Kirk Gibson’s 1988 homer is also famous. But equally famous and certainly more mythologized, is Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in 1932. Here’s a look at the game in which it occurred.

In 1932 the New York Yankees returned to World Series play for the first time since their thrashing of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928. Much of the team was the same, anchored by Ruth and by Lou Gehrig. Their opponents were the Chicago Cubs, back in the Series for the first time since they’d lost to Philadelphia in 1929. With Gabby Hartnett and Kiki Cuyler they also had a good team. New York won the first two games of the Series by scores of 13-6 and 5-2. That set up game three in Wrigley Field on 1 October.

The Yanks scored early when Earle Combs opened the game with a grounder to shortstop Billy Jurges, who proceeded to throw it away. A walk to Joe Sewell brought Ruth up to face Cubs starter Charlie Root. Ruth promptly crushed a three-run home run to put New York up 3-0. The Cubs got one back in the bottom of the third on a Billy Herman walk and a run scoring double by Cuyler. The Yanks got that one back when Gehrig hit a solo home run to lead off the third. Chicago again scored in the bottom of the inning. Cuyler slugged a homer and a single and long double made the score 4-3. The Cubs then tied the game up in the fourth on a Jurges hit and an error by New York second baseman Tony Lazzeri.

All of which led to the decisive, mythic, and still controversial top of the fifth. Sewell led off the inning grounding out to short. That brought up Ruth, who took strike one. Then he apparently did something with his hand. He pointed, he wagged it, he held up one finger indicating one strike, he gave the Cubs “the finger”, he pointed to center and called his shot. All are possible. Root dealt strike two and Ruth again gestured with his hand. There’s a picture that purports to be a shot of Ruth at the moment of his second gesture. It is too far away for these old eyes to tell exactly what he’s doing, but the arm is up. Root threw the third pitch and Ruth parked it in the deep center field bleachers for a 5-4 New York lead. The next man up was Gehrig, who also unloaded. This time the ball went to deep right and Root went to the showers. Both New York and Chicago picked up one more run in the ninth (the Cubs run coming on a Hartnett home run) to make the final score 7-5. The next day the Yankees won the Series  shellacked five Cubs pitchers for a 13-6 victory(Ruth went one for five and Gehrig went two for four).

The fifth inning of 1 October 1932 became, arguably, Ruth’s most famous at bat. Few people know it was the game winning hit (the Yanks never trailed after Ruth touched home). Fewer know that Gehrig hit a homer in the next at bat. What they know is Ruth’s “called shot”. Did he do it? Frankly, I don’t know. A study of Ruth leads me to believe that it wasn’t out of character for him to do so. It was also equally in character for him to flash his middle finger at the Cubs. I’d like to think he did call his shot, it would be utterly Ruthian (but so would the middle finger). I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself.

A Great Age for Hitting Catchers

July 3, 2013
Joe Mauer's Wikipedia picture

Joe Mauer’s Wikipedia picture

Ever look over a list of  Hall of Famers? One of the things a lot of people mention after doing so is “Geez, there’s not a lot of third basemen in the Hall.” That’s true. But it’s also true of catchers. Excluding 19th Century players, there are a dozen each third basemen and catchers in the Hall. It’s a hard position, catcher, to play.

But we are living in a great age for catchers that can hit. There have been a few of those, but not many. In the 1930s you found Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett playing at the same time. In the 1950s there was Yogi Berra and there was Roy Campanella. Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk overlap in the 1980s. And in the last 15 or so years, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing a new group of them that may (or may not) be as good, but are certainly a deeper pool of fine hitting catchers. Going back to the turn of the century, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were still productive players. In the 21st Century we’ve added three more.

Did you know that prior to 2006 catchers won only three batting titles: Ernie Lombardi twice and Bubbles Hargrave? Since 2006 catchers have won four. Joe Mauer has three and Buster Posey one. And this year Yadier Molina (who has in the last few seasons resolved any doubt as to which Molina brother was the best) is leading the National League. He probably won’t stay there, but to have a catcher leading the NL on 1 July is amazing.

So let’s all set back on our Fourth of July break and enjoy a ballgame. And while we’re at it, take a second to revel in the quality of good hitting catchers that are available to us. It’s very rare.

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: The Nadir (Older than the Rockies)

May 7, 2012

Riggs Stephenson, Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, and KiKi Cuyler in 1929

Most people might tell you that the failure to win a pennant since 1945 is the nadir of the Chicago Cubs’ “Bad Century”. Others might pick the long list of last place finishes as their nadir. And In one sense they’d both be right. But for my money I pick 1929 because of the way in which the Cubs lost an available championship. Somehow that’s more awful than simply finishing last. Anybody can finish last, but to blow an entire World Series in two innings takes Cubs-like effort.

After losing the 1918 World Series, the Cubs became also rans in the National League, falling back into the pack for a decade. By 1929, they’d righted the ship, found a way back to a pennant and under manager Joe McCarthy (yes, the same McCarthy who would lead the Yankees through the 1930s) had a chance to pickup a championship. It was a solid team consisting of an infield of Charlie Grimm at first, Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, Woody English at short, and third sacker Norm McMillan. The outfield had Riggs Stephenson in left and Hall of Famers Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler in center and right. Gabby Hartnett was the normal catcher, but arm injuries limited him to pinch hit duties in the Series, so Zack Taylor took his place behind the plate. Hornsby and Wilson tied for the team lead with 39 home runs, and Wilson led the NL in RBIs with 159 while Cuyler had 43 stolen bases to cop the league crown. The staff consisted of  ace Pat Malone, Sheriff Blake, Guy Bush, and Charlie Root (not yet infamous for throwing Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in 1932). They were all right-handed, gave up  more hits than they had innings pitched, and both Blake and Bush walked more men than they struck out. So the pitching was a bit of a problem, but Bush did lead the NL in saves with eight.

In 1929 they faced Connie Mack’s resurgent Philadelphia Athletics, whose losing streak went back even farther than Chicago’s. The A’s hadn’t won a pennant since 1914, but had won a World series in 1913, five years after the last Cubs victory. The 1929 Series could be seen as redemption for one team or the other.

With Lefty Grove as the staff ace, everyone expected Mack to start him in game one. The A’s skipper opted instead for Howard Ehmke. Ehmke was 35 and in the words of one wit “older than the Rockies.” He’d started eight games all season (11 total games pitched), was 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA and 20 total strikeouts. Not bad, but not Lefty Grove. What Ehmke had going for him was great command of the strike zone and a fastball that topped out at about Jaime Moyer level. Ehmke had never been a blazing fastball pitcher, but now he was, to put it as nicely as I can, slow. But for Mack that was exactly the point. The Cubs were notorious fastball hitters and free swingers (for the era). Mack reasoned that the Chicago batters would be too impatient to wait on Ehmke’s “fast” ball.
The game was played in Chicago on 8 October and for six innings Ehmke and Cubs starter Root matched shutouts. Both men were pitching well, Ehmke was simply mowing down (can you “mow down” a batter with a slow fastball?) Chicago hitter after Chicago hitter and Root had given up only two hits. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Jimmie Foxx crushed a ball that put the A’s up 1-0.  That held up until the ninth. In the top of the ninth with the bases loaded on a single and consecutive errors, Bing Miller singled to drive home two runs. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs finally got to Ehmke, picking up one unearned run on an error and a single. Then Ehmke closed the door by striking out the final man to preserve the A’s 3-1 win.

Root had pitched well, so had reliever Bush, but Ehmke was the story of the game. He gave up the one unearned run, scattered eight hits, walked one, and in what had to be utter vindication for Mack, struck out 13 Cubs. It was a record for a World Series game that lasted to 1953 (Carl Erskine got 14 k’s). And remember that Ehmke had only 20 strikeouts for the entire regular season.

So the Cubs were down 0-1 with another game at home. The World Series had started badly, but it was still possible to save it and bring home a championship to Chicago. But, of course, this is the Cubs we’re talking about.

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.