Posts Tagged ‘Gaylord Perry’

Stretch

April 23, 2014
Willie McCovey

Willie McCovey

When I was in Viet Nam I got hit in the arm and had to spend a few days in the walking wounded ward at the base hospital. Most of the guys there were baseball fans so we talked a lot of ball. One of the doctors was a Giants fan and would join us for a few minutes when he made his rounds. He kept talking about how much he was impressed by “Willie” and of course we all presumed he meant Mays. It took a couple of days to figure out he was a big fan of Willie McCovey.

Let’s be honest here, no one ever wanted McCovey for his glove. “Stretch” played because he could pound the ball harder than anyone in captivity, including teammate Mays. He was a pure power hitter, a run producer, and has slipped out of the conversations about baseball today.

Over a 22-year career, mostly with the Giants, McCovey personified pure raw power. At the height of a great pitching era, he led the National League in slugging, and home runs three times each, in RBIs twice, and in home run percentage five times. And he wasn’t doing it with only 25 homers a year.

Personally, I will never forget the first time I saw the famous 1962 World Series play where Bobby Richardson snagged McCoyey’s drive to end the Series. I’m still surprised Richardson’s glove didn’t end up in right field. Actually, I’m surprised his entire left arm didn’t end up somewhere out around where Roger Maris was playing. Maybe it’s part of McCovey’s perception problem that his most famous play was an out.

McCovey came up in 1959 at age 21. He played quite a bit, but not full-time at first base through 1961. In 1962 the Giants got the great idea of putting him in left field. Not a brilliant move, but not as bad as some people thought it was going to be. The problem was the Giants had two big power hitting first basemen who were, to be charitable about it, mediocre glove men: McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. The idea was to get both in the lineup at the same time. For you kiddies, this is back in the pre-Designated Hitter age of baseball, so the current solution wasn’t possible. After a couple of seasons it became obvious that something had to be done. They chose to trade “Cha Cha” to the Cardinals in 1966 (he’d been hurt in 1965). That made McCovey the regular first baseman through 1973. His career on the downside, he went to San Diego, then to Oakland, and finally back to the Giants in 1977. It was his last big year. He hung on into 1980, finally retiring tied with Ted Williams in career home runs and setting a NL record with 18 grand slams.

A great misconception about the 1960s is that pitching absolutely dominated. No question pitching was paramount, but take a look at McCovey in the 1960s. He played 130 or more games seven seasons in the decade (1963-1969). he hit 249 home runs and drove in 666 runs. My guess is that a lot of pitchers kept trying to figure out why they weren’t being dominant as McCovey (or Aaron or Mays for that matter) circled the bases.

I do love McCovey’s walk-strikeout ratio. In 22 years he struck out exactly 205 more than he walked. Not great, but not bad for a modern power hitter. After he left the Giants in 1974 he struck out 126 more times than he walked. So it you study only his beginning and prime Giants years he struck out only 79 more times than he walked, for an average of 5.27 per season. That’s exceptional in the modern age of all or nothing swings.

But he’s still gotten relegated to the backbench of Hall of Fame players. My guess is there are a number of reasons. First, he played in the shadow of Willie Mays for his great years (despite winning the 1969 MVP award). Secondly, his team never won. With all the firepower that was McCovey, Mays, Cepeda, Felipe Alou, and the staff that was Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, the Giants won exactly one NL pennant (1962) and one divisional title (1971). They were always in the shadow of the Dodgers or the Cardinals (or the Miracle Mets) the reasoning seems to go that if you couldn’t beat the banjo hitting Dodgers or the so-so Cardinals how good could the players (aside from Mays) actually be?  Finally, it has just been a while since Willie McCovey played. Most of the people who read this will have never seen him play. That’s a shame. You really missed a heck of a player.

Lost in the Shuffle

April 10, 2014
Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

Back when I was in the army I spent a year at a small base in Virginia. I had a roommate who was perfect for me. He was also a diehard Dodgers fan. We were allowed to put up posters on our wall. I didn’t have any but he had three. The one closest to the door extoled the virtues of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The one closest to the windows had a picture of a First National Bank somewhere with a guy in a robe heading in the front door. The caption read “Jesus Saves.” In the middle was a big poster of Don Drysdale in motion. The picture above is the nearest to it I could find.

Drysdale’s dropped off the face of the earth in the last few years. He made the Hall of Fame, which was controversial, but once you’re in a lot of the commentary (“He should be in” “He shouldn’t be in”) goes away. He showed up again when Orel Hershiser passed him in consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Then there was one last flurry of comment when he died, but that’s about it. It’s kind of a shame.

Drysdale hit well. Most people don’t know that about him. He hit a buck-86, but had 29 home runs (peaking at seven in both ’58 and ’65), 26 doubles (six in ’60), and 113 RBIs (19 in ’65). His OPS is .523 (and Baseball Reference.com has his offensive WAR as 5.9). His seven homers in ’65 was seventh on the team. OK, it isn’t Ty Cobb, but not bad for a man who hit in the nine-hole.

He had a couple of problems when he pitched. He was only the ace of the staff a few years, taking over for Don Newcombe about 1958 or so and surrendering the position to Sandy Koufax by 1963. In between he won a Cy Young Award in 1962 (back when they only gave out one). He only got to 20 wins twice (’62 and ’65), only led the National League in shutouts once and in strikeouts three times. Not bad, right? But his chief problem was that he pitched on the same staff at the same time as Koufax and got pushed to second place quickly. He just wasn’t Koufax, but then few pitchers were. Worse for Drysdale, when you looked away from the Dodgers there were Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal; and in 1966 there was even Gaylord Perry. So it was tough to consider Drysdale second best pitcher in the NL. As a rule, most years after 1962 the best you could do was slot him into the fourth slot in an all-NL rotation. That hurt his memory a lot.

Having said all that, he still managed 209 wins, a 2.95 ERA, an ERA+ of 121, and a1.148 WHIP. Not bad, but not in the same ballpark with Koufax, Gibson, or Marichal.

It’s a shame that he’s been lost in the shuffle. But he does have one advantage over all the rest of them. Back in 1967 I was on my way to Viet Nam and had a chance to overnight in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were in town I got to see the only game I’ve ever seen at Dodger Stadium. Drysdale was on the mound and won the game. I, at least, will always remember him.

 

The Character Clause

February 7, 2013
Alex Pompez

Alex Pompez. Love the tie

As most of you know, baseball’s Hall of Fame has a character clause. Basically it says the voters have to take into account the man’s (and except for Effa Manley it’s always been a man) character when electing him to Cooperstown. There’s been a varied history of enforcing this clause. Some notable rogues have gotten in despite the clause. As my son pointed out when we talked about this post, most of them have taken at least a couple of elections before being enshrined among the baseball immortals.  But it seems to be more baseball foibles, rather than actual “character” issues that have kept players from the Hall. Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry, both noted for doctoring a ball or two, took a while to get in. Roberto Alomar was surely hurt by the spitting incident. And of course the steroids controversy which currently dogs the Hall should be noted. But if your problem is away from the diamond, like, say a Ty Cobb, well, you have less problem. Case in point, Alex Pompez.

Alejandro Pompez was born in South Florida in 1890 to Cuban parents. His dad was a member of the Florida State Assembly and ran a cigar factory. When the father died in 1896 he left his estate to the Cuban independence movement, leaving the family penniless. By 1902, the family was back in a now independent Cuba. Pompez returned to the US, played a little ball, the moved on to New York to work as a cigar roller. He did well, finally opening a cigar store in Harlem.

It’s here that the character clause kicks in. The cigar store made money, but not a lot. Pompez began running numbers, eventually rising to control much of the numbers racket in Harlem. A friend of Nat Strong (who is worth a post by himself), he became instrumental in helping funnel Latin players to the Negro Leagues. By 1916, with help from Strong and his numbers racket, Pompez formed the Havana Cuban Stars baseball team, stocking it with Latin American players.

In 1923, The Cubans, now known as the New York Cuban Stars, joined the Eastern Colored League. Although the team never won a ECL pennant, Pompez became a major player in both the league management and in Negro League baseball in general. In 1924 he led ECL negotiations for setting up the first Negro World Series against Rube Forster’s Negro National League. Until the ECL collapsed in 1928, Pompez was one of its most influential members (although never league President).

He kept his team afloat during the early 1930s by barnstorming. In 1935 he joined the newly reformed Negro National League, renaming the team the New York Cubans. For the first time, he added local Black American talent to his Latin players.

But Pompez was having legal troubles. In the late 1920s the mobster Dutch Schultz was moving into the numbers racket. In 1932 he and Pompez met and the Pompez network was absorbed (probably at gunpoint) into the Schultz mob. It cut into Pompez’s money and at the same time drew attention to him from federal prosecutors who wanted Schultz. In 1935 Schultz was killed and Pompez regained control of his numbers route. But by now he was a federal target. Pompez fled to Europe, returned, was indicted on racketeering charges, fled to Mexico. Eventually he was picked up by Mexican authorities and returned to New York. He made an agreement with the prosecution team (led by future New York governor and Presidential candidate Thomas Dewey) and turned states evidence against the rackets. For his trouble, he received probation only and promised to stay clear of the number route in Harlem.

Now free to run the team again, Pompez led the Cubans to their sole pennant in 1947 and saw his team win the Negro World Series that year. But the club, and all of black baseball, was in trouble. Integration was killing the fan base and taking the best players into white leagues. The Cubans hung on through 1950 before folding. But Pompez was not through with baseball. He’d made an earlier arrangement with the New York Giants that gave his team use of the Polo Grounds and the Giants first call on his players. With the team gone, the Giants hired Pompez as both a scout and as a mentor for their black and Latin players. As the team’s Director of International Scouting, he was instrumental in finding Latin talent, especially in the Dominican Republic, for the Giants.

In 1971 he retired from the Giants. He still wasn’t through with baseball. The Hall of Fame chose him to serve on the special committee designed to choose Negro League players for the Hall. He remained in the position until his death in 1974. In 2006, he was chosen for the Hall of Fame as a Negro League executive.

Without trying to condone Pompez’s foray into the world of racketeering and the mob, I would remind you that options for black entrepreneurs was limited in the first half of the 20th Century. Many of them turned to what “the better element” in American society labeled ‘shady’ or worse. Black baseball was no exception to that. Pompez is not the only owner who made his money in ways that might offend some of that “better element.” Of course that can be true of people in a lot of professions.

Evaluating the Giants

November 5, 2010

I guess it’s time I add my congratulations to the Giants on their World Series victory. I have to admit I didn’t see it coming, having picked both Philadelphia and St. Louis to be the NL teams in the LCS. But with that congratulations comes a caveat from someone who studies baseball history. This isn’t the best Giants team to win a pennant. That goes, in my opinion, to the 1962 version.

Check out the starting lineup of game seven of the 1962 World Series. Felipe Alou leads off, Willie Mays bats third, Willie McCovey hits clean up, and Orlando Cepeda is in the five hole. Jack Sanford is on the mound and would have won the Cy Young Award that year if not for a fellow named Drysdale. Juan Marichal had pitched earlier and even Gaylord Perry had played a little in the season (but wasn’t a major factor in the team winning). The team got through a bruising 1962 three game playoff with Los Angeles to get to the Series, then battled the Yankees down to the last out. McCovey’s smash that Bobby Richardson caught ended game seven with crucial runs on base. To me it’s the best Giants pennant winner ever, although others may prefer the Hubbell-Ott teams of the 1930s, or the John McGraw teams of the 1920s and the 1900s.

What this team reminds of most is a combination of the  hitting of the 2002 Angels and the pitching of the 1985 Royals. The ’02 Angels (who just happened to beat the Giants in the Series) were led by the likes of Garrett Anderson, Tim Salmon, David Eckstein, and Troy Glaus. Nice players all, but not great stars. To be honest, I look over the roster and I can’t find a Hall of Famer in the lot. That’s unusual because almost every team that wins a World Series has at least one Hall of Famer around  somewhere. But they’re still a lot of really nice players who did well. Unlike the ’85 Royals, there was no George Brett around.  Take a look at the current World Series winning Giants roster, which also has no George Brett. Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, and Juan Uribe are all nice players and make teams better by their presence. But there’s not a truly great player there. Much like the Angels the sum of the parts is much superior to the bits themselves.

But pitching-wise, the 2010 Giants remind me very much of the 1985 Royals. Lincecum, Cain, Wilson have their counterparts in Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson, and Dan Quisenberry. Both teams feature quality pitching that goes deep down the staff.  They both have two-time Cy Young winners (Lincecum and Saberhagen) and first-rate relievers (Wilson and Quisenberry). The second and third spot pitchers are better than average for both teams.

Unfortunately for Kansas City, the staff didn’t hold up. Arms went, other parts of the anatomy failed, wildness took over, and in Quisenberry’s case disease took him early. That’s a precautionary tale for anyone ready to assign long-term greatness to the Giants. Maybe the arms will hold up, but maybe they won’t. Whichever the case, congrats to the 2010 version.

Getting to Cooperstown without Winning

May 19, 2010

For the second time in recent posting, I’m going to shamelessly borrow an idea from SportsPhd. He posted a comment on the absurdity of equating greatness as a player with winning a championship in a team sport. I agree entirely with him. I sat down following his post and began seeing if I could put together a team of players who never won and yet made it to Cooperstown. It was actually pretty easy, so I went a step farther.

Consider this team:

Infield from first to third: George Sisler, Rod Carew, Ernie Banks, and George Kell.

Outfield: Billy Williams, Harry Heilman, Ralph Kiner

Catcher: Rick Ferrell

Pitchers: Fergie Jenkins and Ted Lyons

Know what they have in common besides being Hall of Famers and not having won a World Series? They also never even got into a World Series. Yep, that’s right, team. This is a list of Hall of Fame quality players who failed to find a team good enough to earn a trip to the World Series. I’ll admit to having some problems with a couple of them getting into the Hall, but they are there and we have to deal with it.

This list points out two things to me. First, that you can be genuinely good and not win. Second, the truly great names, the ones we really expect to see in Cooperstown, do make it to a championship, at least occasionally. Here’s a look at a team that got to a World Series, but didn’t win. Notice that most of us would consider it a better team (at most positions).

Infield: Willie McCovey, Nellie Fox, Robin Yount, Fred Lindstrom

Outfield: Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Tony Gwynn

Catcher: Carlton Fisk

Pitchers: Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry

So if winning it all is the best measure of greatness, all these guys fall short (and Scott Brosius is a great, great, great–he won three–player).

There are other players that can be added. Feel free to put together  your own and post it here.