Posts Tagged ‘Gene Moore’

Building a Winner: Crossing the Jordan

November 27, 2015
Joe Medwick

Joe Medwick

With the coming of the 1940s, the Brooklyn Dodgers were finally, after 20 years, in position to contend for the National League title. By 1940 the team had put together many of the components necessary to make a legitimate run at a pennant. The next few pieces of the puzzle would come together in 1940.

With manager Leo Durocher now doing more managing than playing, the Dodgers needed a new shortstop. They found him in minor leaguer Harold “PeeWee” Reese. How good was he? He managed to make the Hall of Fame. With Dolph Camilli again leading the team in home runs, RBIs, and WAR Brooklyn also had a first-rate first baseman. Cookie Lavagetto at third fell back somewhat from his 1939 campaign, but held firmly on to his position. Pete Coscarat was at second. He hit under .250, but was fourth on the team in home runs (nine) and fifth in RBIs (55). They may have been fourth and fifth on the team, but the Dodgers were looking, at the end of the season, for something better than nine homers and 55 Ribbys.

The outfield had a full makeover. Although Gene Moore and Ernie Koy were still on the team (they got into a combined 34 games) the starters were totally different from 1939. New guy from 1939, Dixie Walker, now held one position. He hit above .300 and had 66 RBIs. Joe Medwick, a future Hall of Famer who’d won the Triple Crown, came over from St. Louis to take the second position. He’d fallen off from both the Gas House Gang pennant year of 1934 and the triple crown. He did manage to hit .300 in Brooklyn and had 14 home runs for the team. Thirty year old Joe Vosmik came over from the American League (Boston) to take the third slot. But the more important news, at least in terms of what would happen in 1941, was 21-year-old rookie Pete Reiser who got into 58 games, hit .293, and played with wild abandon in the outfield.

Catcher Babe Phelps hit .293, but at 32 was aging fast. His backups included Gus Mancuso who was even older and Herman Franks who hit all of a buck-83. He caught a  staff that included returning starters Fred Fitzsimmons, Luke Hamlin, and Whit Wyatt. As early as 1940, Hugh Casey was beginning to fill a relief roll. He still started 10 games, but appeared in 44. There was one significant arrival on the mound, Curt Davis. He’d come to Brooklyn from St. Louis in the same trade that brought Medwick to the Dodgers (Koy was one of the players going the other way). He went 8-7, but would make his arm known the next season.

All this got the Dodgers 88 wins and second place in the National League (behind Cincinnati). By the end of 1940 most of the pieces were in place for a significant pennant run. There was still work needed at second. Another starter would be necessary. And with an aging catcher, new blood behind the plate was needed. The Dodgers would look to address all these issues before the 1941 season ended.


Building a Winner: Pivot Point

November 24, 2015
Whit Wyatt

Whit Wyatt

In many ways the key year in the Dodgers late 1930s, early 1940s turn around was 1939. It ushered in a series of major changes that led ultimately to the 1941 pennant. So let’s us take a look at the 1939 team.

Arguably the most significant change occurred in the dugout. Manager Burleigh Grimes was terminated at the end of the dismal 1938 campaign by new President and General Manager Larry McPhail. The addition of McPhail was in itself a significant change in Brooklyn’s front office. Grimes’ successor was player-manager Leo Durocher. “Leo the Lip” was loud, abrasive, fiery and hated losing (and I can’t believe I’ve never done anything on him). He brought a fire to the Dodgers that was lacking under Grimes (who could be fiery himself). A number of the players didn’t particularly like Durocher, but he had the respect of most of them. He and McPhail made for a strange and interesting pair leading the franchise.

The infield saw one change. Pete Coscaret went from being the backup to playing the most innings at second, while former starter John Hudson became the primary backup middle infielder. With shortstop Durocher now managing, Hudson saw more action than a backup might normally see (he got into 109 games). Dolph Camilli and Cookie Lavagetto continued to hold down the corners of the infield. Lavagetto hit .300 and was second on the team in home runs (10) and RBIs (87). Camilli led the team in both with 26 home runs and 104 RBIs (his WAR and OPS+ also topped the starters).

The outfield underwent a significant change in 1939. Of the 1938 starters, only Ernie Koy remained a primary outfielder. Gene Moore and Art Parks took over the other positions while Goody Rosen became a backup and Bud Hassett moved to the Braves. Of major significance for 1941, the Dodgers picked up a new backup outfielder when 28-year-old Dixie Walker was picked up on waivers from Detroit. He would, by 1941, become one of the more famous players on the pennant winning team. For 1939 he hit .280 with 83 total bases (0.3 WAR).

Although Babe Phelps remained the primary catcher, the staff he handled added two major pieces to the pennant winning puzzle. Holding on to Luke Hamlin and Fred Fitzsimmons as starters, and moving Tot Presnell from spot starter to a major contributor helped Brooklyn, but the two new guys were key. One was Whit Wyatt. He was 31, had spent several mediocre years in the American League, spent 1938 in the Cleveland minor league system (Milwaukee), and was purchased by Brooklyn for 1939. He went 8-3 in 16 games (14 starts) and made the All-Star game. By 1941 he was the Dodgers’ ace. The other new guy was Hugh Casey. Casey was 25, had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 1935, and became a full-time player only in 1939 after being picked up by Brooklyn from Memphis. Although known today primarily as a reliever, he started 25 games in 1939 and posted a 15-10 record, a 5.3 WAR, and managed to lead the National League in hit batsmen with 11.

The result of all this was a third place finish and a winning season for the Dodgers; their first in several years. Much of the “Daffiness Boys” syndrome was gone and they were emerging as a legitimate contender in the National League. By this point half the infield was in place, much of the pitching staff was available and the first of the outfield was on board. With Leo Durocher piloting the team, and McPhail ready to make the necessary acquisitions, they were finally moving in the right direction.

As an aside, there was also one other notable addition to the Dodgers, although it didn’t change the play on the field. The 1939 season saw Brooklyn pick up a new play-by-play radio announcer. Red Barber joined the team in the booth in 1939.


Missouri Waltz: the 1944 World Series

June 24, 2013
MissHarry Truman in one of the most famous of all political pictures

Missouri’s favorite son, Harry Truman in one of the most famous of all political pictures

It was a heck of a year for Missouri. U.S. Senator Harry Truman from Independence was leading a major committee that was instrumental in helping the war effort. In baseball with both St. Louis teams winning Major League Baseball pennants, the World Series would be an all-St. Louis affair in 1944. All games would be played in town with the Cardinals being the home team in games one, two, six, and seven. The Browns got games three, four, and five. All games were played in Sportsman’s Park, a stadium the two teams shared. The Cards were big favorites.

With the Browns having needed the last day of the season to clinch the pennant, they sent Denny Galehouse to the mound. Galehouse was 9-10 over 24 games (19 starts) over the season. With Chet Laabs back from war work, they were also able to start the man who was supposed to be their regular left fielder. The Cards countered with their regular lineup and ace Mort Cooper (22-7 over 34 games). After three scoreless innings, the Browns got to Cooper when, with two outs, Gene Moore singled and George McQuinn hit a two-run home run. They were the only two hits Cooper gave up. The scored held into the bottom of the ninth when Marty Marion doubled, went to third on a ground out then came home on Ken O’Dea’s sacrifice fly. Galehouse then got Johnny Hopp to fly to center to end the game. The underdog Browns were up 1-0.

That lasted exactly one day. The second game saw the Browns send Nels Potter to the mound to oppose Max Lanier. The Cards scored first in the bottom of the third on an Emil Verban single, a Lanier bunt that Potter threw away, sending Verban to third. Augie Bergamo then grounded out to second scoring Verban. The Cards added another run in the fourth when Ray Sanders singled, went to second on another single, took third on an error by the third baseman (Mark Christman), then scored on a sacrifice fly by Verban. The Browns tied the game in the seventh when Moore singled, scored on a double by Red Hayworth, and Frank Mancuso (pinch-hitting for Potter) singled to score Hayworth. That completed the scoring through the ninth. The game went eleven innings and ended when Sanders singled, went to second on a bunt, and came home on O’Dea’s single.  Reliever Blix Donnelly got the win and fellow reliever Bob Muncrief took the loss.

Game three saw the Browns take over as home team. With no need to travel, the game was played the next day. The Cards started Ted Wilks while the Browns answered with ace Jack Kramer. The Cardinals got an early run in the first when, with one out, Hopp reached second on an error by shortstop Vern Stephens, then after another out, scored on a single by Walker Cooper. The run held up into the third when the Browns exploded for the Series’ first big inning. Moore and Stephens both singled, then consecutive singles by McQuinn, Al Zarilla, and Christman plated three runs. After an intentional walk and a wild pitch to hurler Kramer, Zarilla scored the fourth run. After the Cards tacked on an unearned run in the top of the seventh, the Browns responded with two more runs to win 6-2. Kramer got the win with a complete game and Wilks the loss pitching only 2.2 innings. After three games, the underdog Browns were actually ahead 2 games to 1.

Game four was played on Saturday 7 October. The Cards sent Harry Breechen to the mound to oppose Sig Jakucki. With one out in the top of the first, Stan Musial popped a home run scoring himself and Hopp to put the Cardinals ahead. It was all Breechen needed. He gave up nine hits, walked four, struck out the same number, but only allowed a single run (in the eighth on a double play ball), while his teammates tacked on three more runs, two in the third on a couple of singles and an error, and one more in the sixth on a Marion double. The game tied the Series at 2 each, turning the playoff into a best of three.

Game five on Sunday saw a repeat of the game one matchup. This time the results were different. Galehouse gave up single runs in the sixth (a Sanders home run) and eighth (a Danny Litwhiler home run), while Mort Cooper threw a complete game shutout on seven hits and two walks while striking out 12.

That brought the World Series to game six, a Lanier, Potter rematch. It also sent the Cardinals to the home dugout. The Browns broke on top in the second with a Laabs triple followed by a McQuinn single. The run held up into the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Walker Cooper walked, went to third on a Sanders single, and scored to tie the game when Stephens threw away a grounder from Whitey Kurowski. After a second out, Verban and Lanier both singled to drive in two more runs and put the Cards up 3-1 with five innings left. Lanier got through the fifth, ran into trouble in the sixth, and was lifted for Wilks, who got out of a base runners at second and third situation without a run scoring. Wilks set the Browns down in order in both the seventh and eighth. In the ninth, McQuinn fouled out, pinch hitter Milt Byrnes struck out, and a second pinch hitter, Mike Chartak also struck out to end the game, the Series, and the Browns postseason experience. The Cardinals had won in six games.

It was a good, but not great Series. For the Browns there were lots of reasons they lost. They had 10 errors, at least one in every game but game one (by contrast, the Cards had one total error). They led to seven unearned runs (the Cards scored 16 total runs). Among starting hitters only McQuinn hit above .250 (he hit .438 and had the only Browns home run). As a team they hit a buck eighty-three. The pitchers (other than Jakucki who was  shelled) did well. The team ERA was 1.49 and the staff struck out 43 while walking only 19 and giving up 49 hits.

But the Cardinals staff was as good. Their ERA was higher at 1.96, and they walked 23, but they struck out 49 and allowed only 36 hits. There was no real hitting star for the Cards. Five men had two RBIs, no one had more. Verban hit .412, but both Musial and Walker Cooper were over .300 and Sanders hit in the .280s. There were three home runs, all by different players (Musial, Litwhiler, and Sanders), and Verban, Walker Cooper, and Musial all led the team with seven hits. It was a true team effort.

For the Cardinals it was the third in a series of four pennants in five years. So there was one more opportunity (1946) for the Redbirds, but for the Browns it was the high point of their existence. It was the only time they would win a pennant (until after they moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles). For St. Louis it was the city’s greatest baseball season. And for Missouri it was also a good year. That Senator from Independence named Truman went on to be elected Vice President of the United States and became President the next year.

Missouri Waltz: the 1944 Browns

June 20, 2013
Don Gutteridge, Browns second baseman

Don Gutteridge, Browns second baseman

If the National League race was predictable with the Cardinals triumphant, the American League race was absolutely wild. To start with the St. Louis Browns won it. They’d never won anything, ever. The 1944 pennant was their first.

All-time underachievers, the Browns won 89 games, besting Detroit by one game. Manager Luke Sewell’s team was next to last in batting average, but was second (to Boston) in runs per game. They were second in RBIs, doubles, and home runs. The staff was second (to Detroit) in runs given up per game and led the AL in strikeouts.

The catchers were Gus Mancuso and Red Hayworth. Hayworth played in two more games than Mancuso, but both were right-handed hitters. Apparently it wasn’t a platoon situation, but I can’t determine the exact rationale for using each player. Manager Sewell was an ex-catcher so perhaps he was merely keeping his catcher fresh. Both hit under .225 and had a homer apiece.

The infield was the same as in 1943 with George McQuinn at first, Don Gutteridge at second, Vern Stephens holding down short, and Mark Christman at third. Christman had replace long time third sacker Harland Clift midway through 1943, but the other had been Browns starters for both seasons. McQuinn and Stephens were the only Browns with double figure home runs (McQuinn had 11, Stephens 20). Stephens also led the team with 109 RBIs and was the only infielder to hit over .275. Gutteridge led the team with 20 stolen bases.

The outfield was unsettled. Gene Moore, Mike Kreevich, and Milt Byrnes did most of the outfield work, but that was because longtime left fielder Chet Laabs lost part of the season to the war (he was back by the World Series). Kreevich was the only starter to hit .300 (.301). He was also 36 years old. He replaced Mike Chartak as the primary center fielder prior to opening day. So only Byrnes had been a starter in 1943.

The bench was a strong point for the Browns, which helped propel them to the title. Laabs, in 66 games had five home runs and scored 28 times. Al Zarilla, a backup outfielder (and primarily known today for Dizzy Dean’s call of “Zarilla slud into third.”) hit .299, had six homers, six triples, and an OPS of .823. The rest of the bench was made up of decent fielders who didn’t hit a lot.

It was the pitching staff that changed the fortunes of the Browns. Gone were Steve Sundra, Steve Niggeling, and Al Hollingsworth as starters (Hollingsworth was a reliever, Sundra pitched three games). In their place were new ace Jack Kramer, Sig Jakucki, and Nels Potter. Both Potter and Kramer had better ERAs than any of the three departed starters. Returning starters were Bob Muncrief and Denny Galehouse. Their ERA+ ran from Kramer’s 146 to Jakucki’s 103. The starters faced one problem, all were right-handed. All the southpaws were in the bullpen. The bullpen had George Caster with 12 saves in 34 appearances, all in relief.

My wife’s grandfather was a diehard Browns fan. He told me stories, on more than one occasion, about the 1944 Browns. They won the pennant on the final day of the season and according to my wife’s grandfather, the entire town of St. Louis celebrated, even Cardinals fans. They knew they were seeing something they’d never seen before and , considering the Browns historical record, were likely never to see again, an all St. Louis World Series.