Posts Tagged ‘Gabby Hartnett’

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 a lot of 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.

Greatness vs. Winning

March 10, 2010

Right after the Super Bowl there were all these comments to the effect that you couldn’t call the losing quarterback a true great of the game until he won and won a bunch of titles. That works in tennis, but football isn’t tennis. In tennis one player stands out there (unless you’re doing doubles) and takes on one other player. It works also in boxing where one heavyweight matches up one-on-one with another heayweight. But football isn’t boxing either. It’s a team sport and so is baseball.

You hear the same kind of comments about baseball. Barry Bonds wasn’t really very good, after all he never won one. Ernie Banks? Nice little player but he never got to a World Series, let alone won it. Again it’s a team sport and the last time I checked both Bonds and Banks played only one of the positions on the field and batted in only one of the positions in the lineup. If neither was successful in winning a World Series maybe part of the problem is that they had a bad year, but maybe it’s also that the guys around them weren’t good enough to propel a team to a championship. So lay off the stars, fellas, it’s not all their fault. I agree that a player’s primary purpose in a sport is to win. And that works in individual sport. But in a team sport like baseball you have to have a bunch of other guys around who can play a little bit or you’re going to put up great numbers and watch your team lose. Take a look at Jimmie Foxx in 1935. He leads the AL in home runs, slugging, has 118 runs, 185 hits and his A’s finish dead last 34 games out. In 1987 Andre Dawson wins the MVP with a great years an the Cubs finish dead last 18.5 games out and would have been third in the other division. You can put together a pretty decent team of players who never won a World Series. An infield of Willie McCovey, Rod Carew, Ernie Banks, and George Kell; an outfield of Ted Williams, Billy Williams, and Andre Dawson; a battery of Gabby Hartnett and Don Sutton is going to win a lot of games (they’re all in the Hall of Fame) but not one of them ever won a World Series (Sutton was on the 1988 Dodgers, but was gone before the Series). Does that make them a bunch of bums? Of course it doesn’t.

Besides if you base everything on winning a championship you end up with some startingly stupid conclusions. Did you know that Scott Brosius was a greater third baseman than both Mike Schmidt and George Brett combined? Well, he won three rings, and each of them only has one. So if winning makes greatness, he has to be greater. Bet you didn’t know that old timer Goose Goslin was a greater left fielder than either Bonds or Ted Williams. He has two rings. Their total? Zero. Paul O’Neill is greater than Hank Aaron four rings to one and Andy Pettitte is greater than Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and Lefty Grove combined five rings to four. And of course ultimately that makes Yogi Berra the greatest of all because he has 10 rings, more than anybody else.

Nonsense, you say. You’re right, it is nonsense. A player’s greatness has to be measured in conjunction with his team, but his play is only a part of the whole. Don’t confuse greatness with ultimate success if you’re dealing with a team sport.