Posts Tagged ‘Gil Hodges’

The First Integrated World Series: Dem Bums

April 14, 2015
Burt Shotten and Duke Snider

Burt Shotten and Duke Snider

The 1947 World Series holds a unique place in baseball history. First, it was a heck of a Series, known for two famous games and two equally famous moments in those games. But most importantly, it was the first ever postseason series of any kind that featured an integrated team.

In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers were a team in turmoil. Leo Durocher, their manager for years was banned from baseball, a black man was on the team, a number of players were opposed to having him around, another group was at best ambivalent. The man who was to hold this all together was Burt Shotten. He’d been an outfielder back in the 1920s, then did a little managing and coaching before becoming a Brooklyn scout in 1946. With Durocher sidelined, Shotten got the call to replace him (He arrived three games into the season so Clyde Sukforth managed the first two games). He was considered easy-going and easy to get along with, just what the Dodgers needed in a volatile atmosphere. The Dodgers had finished third in 1945 and second in 1946, both under Durocher. So it’s not like they came out of nowhere to win the 1947 National League pennant, but Shotten got a lot of credit for keeping the lid on in the clubhouse.

Most of the turmoil surrounded the first baseman, rookie Jackie Robinson. As the first black man to play in the Major Leagues since 1884 (Moses Fleetwood Walker), Robinson was the center of the great integration experiment of 1947. He played well, despite all the turmoil. His triple slash line was .297/.383/.427/.810 with an OPS+ of 112. He tied for the team lead in home runs with 12. His 115 runs, 125 hits, and 29 stolen bases led the team. His BBREF version of WAR was 3.1. All that got him the first ever Rookie of the Year Award (there was only one that year, not one for each league). Shortstop PeeWee Reese was even better. He’d weathered the racial problems on the team to post a triple slash line of .284/.414/ 426/.841 for an OPS+ of 121. His WAR was 6.2, tops among hitters. He’d tied Robinson for the team lead in homers, led the team in walks with 104. The other two members of the infield were second baseman Eddie Stanky and third baseman Spider Jorgensen. Stanky was one of more vocal opponents of employing Robinson, but later became famous for his confrontation of the Phillies when they were attacking Robinson during a game. He hit .253, scored 97 runs, and walked 103 times. Jorgensen, who’d been a minor league teammate of Robinson, hit .274 and was second on the team with 29 doubles.

The center of the opposition to Robinson was with outfielder Dixie Walker. Walker demanded either a trade or Robinson’s demotion to the minors. He got neither. It didn’t carry over onto the field. He hit .306 with a team leading 94 RBIs and an OPS+ of 121. Right fielder Carl Furillo was famous for his rifle arm and hit .295 with 88 RBIs. The normal center fielder was Pete Reiser. Today he’s known for running into walls and otherwise being hurt. In 1947 he was hurt again, but managed 110 games, a .309 average, and 14 stolen bases.

The catcher was Bruce Edwards. He was a better catcher than he’s usually given credit for by both fans and historians. His problem was that he wasn’t Roy Campanella who would, within a year or two would completely overshadow Edwards. One of the backups was Bobby Bragan. He’d initially supported Walker’s position on having Robinson on the team, but by the end of the season was one of Robinson’s strongest friends and supporters. The other backup was Gil Hodges who’d not yet moved to first base and become a Dodgers stalwart.

The Dodgers had a deep bench, with seven players appearing in more than 30 games. The big name for later Dodgers history was Duke Snider, a 20-year-old rookie who wouldn’t play in the Series. For the current team, the more important names were Gene Hermanski, who’d done a lot of the replacement work when Reiser was hurt, and Cookie Lavagetto, Al Gionfriddo, and Eddie Miksis who would become household names in Brooklyn by the end of the Series.

The pitching staff was in transition. The big names of the early 1940s, Whit Wyatt and Kirby Higbe were both gone, Higbe to Pittsburgh as a way to curtail his influence among the anti-Robinson faction in the locker room. Hugh Casey was still around. He’d thrown the most famous pitch in the 1941 World Series and was still the main Brooklyn pitcher out of the bullpen. He had 18 saves, an ERA+ of 103, but he gave up 23 runs in 29.2 innings. The great names of the 1950s, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe, weren’t yet in Brooklyn. Ralph Branca was. He’d had a terrific year going 21-12 with an ERA of 2.67 (ERA+ 154), a 1.246 WHIP, and a 6.9 WAR. The other starters were lefties Joe Hatten and Vic Lombardi. Both had more innings pitched than hits allowed, but Hatten gave up a lot more walks than strikeouts (105 to 76). The other right handers were Hal Gregg, who started 16 of 37 games and had an ERA of 5.87, and Harry Taylor who would put up one of the strangest pitching lines in World Series history while participating in one of the most famous of all World Series games. Clyde King, Rex Barney, and Hank Behrman, all right handers, were the other pitchers with more than three starts. The bullpen, other than Casey, relied on a combination of pitchers who doubled as spot starters (Barney, Gregg, etc.) and relievers none of whom pitched more than six games (except Ed Chandler who’d been in 15 games). The most notable was Dan Bankhead, the second black player to join the Dodgers. His ERA was over seven.

It was, all in all, a good team. It was short power and beyond Branca the staff wasn’t very strong, but it hit well, ran well, was a good fielding team for the era, and the darling of Brooklyn. It would draw crosstown rival the New York Yankees in the Series.

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2015 Veteran’s Ballot: The infield

November 5, 2014

In early December the Veteran’s Committee (1946-72 version) will vote on a list of 10 candidates for the Hall of Fame. You can find the list on a post below. The members are allowed to vote for up to five candidates each, with any candidate gaining 12 or more votes being elected for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Over three ruminations I’m going to give you my take on those nominees. I know you just can’t wait to read my thoughts, but you’ll just have to wait for all three. As a disclaimer, let me remind you that I am older than most of the people reading this, so I remember everyone of these players. I saw each of them play so I have a very distinct memory of each and that memory colors my view of them. Don’t forget that when reading what’s below.

First, the infielders in alphabetical order.

Dick Allen

Dick Allen

Dick Allen came up as a third baseman, but ended up spending more time at first than at third. He played from 1963 into 1977 winning the Rookie of the Year Award (1964), and MVP (1972) and making seven All Star teams. He hit .292, had an OPS of 912 and an OPS+ of 156. He led the league in walks, RBIs, triples, and walks once, in homers and strikeouts twice. His highest WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) was 8.8 in both his Rookie of the Year and MVP campaigns. Sounds like a surefire Hall of Famer, right? But Allen was a terrible fielder who took plays off, did an “ole” on more than one ball, and played in such a way he made Harmon Killebrew look like a capable third baseman (in his defense he was new to third). Unlike Killebrew he frequently seemed to not be either trying or paying attention. He wrote obscenities to the fans in the dirt around third, threatened to boycott the 1976 postseason if one of his buddies, who’d had a bad year, didn’t make the postseason squad. The buddy, Tony Taylor, to his credit declined to take advantage of the blackmail, and Allen eventually backed down (and Taylor was designated a coach for the postseason series). Allen got into fights with teammates and in the midst of the 1974 season announced his retirement (he had a lingering injury), but ended up being traded. A couple of times during his career he simply disappeared from the team for a while. In other words he was a great player who was a terrible teammate and a general pain. A lot of those make the Hall of Fame, but a lot don’t.

Kenny Boyer

Kenny Boyer

Ken Boyer was the best of three brothers who played in the 1950s and 1960s. He played third base for the Cardinals between 1955 and 1965, winning an MVP and a World Series in 1964. He made seven All Star teams. He later played for the Mets, White Sox, and Dodgers. For a career he hit .287 with an OPS of .810 and an OPS+ of 116. In 1961 he had his highest WAR at 7.9. He was considered a superior third baseman and spent three years managing the Cardinals (with one winning season). He died in 1982. Unlike Allen, he was generally well-liked and respected by fans and teammates.

Gil Hodges

Gil Hodges

Gil Hodges was one of the more famous players on one of the more famous teams ever, the 1950s Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers. He came to the majors in 1943 as a catcher. After two years out for World War II, he caught on in 1947 as a first baseman and remained in the big leagues through 1963, spending all but his final two years with the Dodgers. He became a New York Mets player in 1962 and thus became a member of another storied team, the 1962 “Amazin’ Mets”.  He retired after 11 games in 1963. For a career he hit .273 with and OPS of .846 and an OPS+ of 120. His top WAR was 6.2 in 1954 and he made eight All Star teams. After retirement, he went into coaching, managing first the Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers), then his former team the Mets. He became newly famous when he led the 1969 “Miracle Mets” to a World Series victory. He was not a natural first baseman, but by the middle of  his career was considered an adequate fielder and became something of a quiet team leader. Having watched the Dodgers pitching woes through the 1950s, he became, when he took over as manager of the Mets, one of the first practitioners of the five man rotation. He died in 1972.

Maury Wills

Maury Wills

Maury Wills is sometimes credited with the revival of the stolen base in baseball. That’s an exaggeration, but he was one of the sports finest base runners. He arrived with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959. Late in that season (he was already 26) he took over shortstop and became one of the rarest of all players, a rookie shortstop whose team won the World Series. He remained Dodgers shortstop through 1966, winning the 1962 MVP award, participating in two further World Series triumphs (1963 and 1965) and one loss (1966). Along the way he set the record for stolen bases (post 1898 definition) with 104 in 1962 (the first time anyone passed 100 stolen bases). He made the All Star team five times and led the National League in triples once and stolen bases six times (and in caught stealing seven with a high of 31 in 1965). After declining to go to Japan for a postseason exhibition trip, he was traded to Pittsburgh where his career fell off. He spent two years in Pittsburgh, part of a season in Montreal, then came back to Los Angeles for the final three and a half years of his career. He retired after the 1972 season. For a career he hit .281 with an OPS of .661 and an OPS+ of 88. His WAR peaked at 6.0 in 1962. He had 586 stolen bases to go with 208 caught stealing (a .738 success rate). After retirement he coached some, being particularly used as a running coach before taking over the managerial job with the Seattle Mariners in late 1980. He was fired early in 1981 with a combined 26-56 record. It wasn’t much of a team, but the general consensus was that Wills wasn’t much of a manager. There are mixed stories about how well he got along with his teammates, but according to the recent book on Sandy Koufax the 1960s Dodgers were a divided team and Wills seems to have fit in nicely with one group and not the other. Later his son, Bump, played a few years with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs.

So my take? Remember I’ve only got five votes and only two of them go here: Boyer and Hodges. Wills exploits are nice but the Dodgers win in the 1960s because they have Koufax and Drysdale and no one else does. And Dick Allen was a fine player, although for only a short period of time, but his divisiveness caused more problems than a lot of teams thought he was worth. That’s not a ringing endorsement for a Hall of Famer. I’ll pass until next time, maybe.

Shutting ’em Down in Game 7: Bums Win

September 25, 2014
The Podres statue at the Hall of Fame

The Podres statue at the Hall of Fame

Game seven of the 1955 World Series is arguably the most famous game in Brooklyn Dodgers history. April of 1947 is its only rival. Finally, after years of frustration going back to 1901 the Dodgers finally were World Champions. It had last occurred in 1900.

The Dodgers were playing the Yankees for the sixth time (’41, ’47, ’49, ’52, ’53 are the others) and were 0-5. Some had been good Series’ (particularly 1947) but Brooklyn always lost. The 1955 team was still very much the same team as the 1952 and 1953 teams but there were significant changes. First, Walter Alston was now the manager. He’d been a minor league manager for a while, but in 1954 took the leadership of the team. The infield was different from the more famous “Boys of Summer” infield. Gil Hodges was still at first and Pee Wee Reese still held down shortstop, But Jim Gilliam now spent more time at second than anyone else. He could also play the outfield in for game seven he was in left. Utility man Don Zimmer was at second. Jackie Robinson now was the primary third baseman, but for game seven he was on the bench with Don Hoak at third. Carl Furillo and Duke Snider were still in right and center field, but Sandy Amoros did most of the work in left. As mentioned earlier, on 4 October 1955 he started on the bench. He didn’t stay there. Roy Campanella having his last good year, was the MVP winning catcher.

The pitching staff was in transition. Don Newcombe was still the ace, Carl Erskine was fading, Billy Loes was still there, but a key newcomer (he’d been around awhile, but wasn’t anything like a star) was 22-year old Johnny Podres. Ed Roebuck and Clem Labine did the bulk of the bullpen work, but 19-year old bonus baby Sandy Koufax was on the roster (he didn’t pitch in the Series). Podres, the game three winner, got game seven.

He faced a Casey Stengel New York Yankees team that, after a string of five consecutive World Series victories, had finished second in 1954. They were back with a new lineup that included Moose Skowron at first, Gil McDougald at second, Andy Carey at third, and shortstop Billy Hunter. Gone was Johnny Mize while Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto and Joe Collins were on the bench. Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer were in center field and right field with Irv Noren doing most of the work in left. Elston Howard had finally integrated the Yanks in ’55 and now backed up in left.

MVP Yogi Berra caught a staff that included Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Tommy Byrne, Bob Grim and Don Larsen. Ford was the ace, with Turley a close second. Larsen was still learning (and would figure it all out in one game the next World Series). Byrne had a good year but as usual walked more than he struck out. He drew game seven which was played in Yankee Stadium.

Both pitchers got through the first inning without incident. Byrne gave up a walk in the second and Podres gave a double to Skowron, but no runs came across. It stayed that way to the top of the fourth. With one out, Campanella doubled, then went to third on a grounder to short. Hodges then singled to left scoring Campy with the initial run of the game. In the bottom of the fourth New York got a runner as far as third before a pop up to short ended the threat.

Reese led off the top of the sixth with a single then went to second on a Snider bunt. An error by Skowron made Snider safe. Then a Campanella bunt put runners on second and third with only one out. Byrne intentionally walked Furillo to load the bases, then gave up the mound to Bob Grim. Hodges hit a long sacrifice to right center that scored Reese with an unearned run. A wild pitch (that didn’t allow Snider to score) and a walk reloaded the bases, but pinch hitter George Shuba grounded out to end the inning. As a short aside, it’s a measure of how much the game has changed that both Snider and Campanella, the three and four hitters, laid down bunts in a critical situation.

Shuba’s pinch hit was critical to the game. It removed Zimmer from the lineup and forced Gilliam to take second. That brought Amoros into the game in left. That immediately made a difference. Martin, playing second in this game, walked to lead off the bottom of the sixth and went to second on a bunt by McDougald, who was safe at first. Berra then slammed a drive down the left field line. Amoros, a left-hander, got to the line, stuck up his glove (on his right hand) and snagged the ball. A toss to Reese and a relay to Hodges completed a double play. Bauer then grounded out to end the threat. Most experts agree that Gilliam, with his glove on his left hand, would have never been able to make the play in left, but southpaw Amoros became an instant Brooklyn hero.

It was the turning point of the game. Podres allowed two base runners in both the seventh and eighth innings but worked out of both jams without damage. In the ninth a comebacker to the pitcher, a fly to left, and a ground out short to first ended the game and brought Brooklyn its first World Series championship. Brooklyn went crazy.

The big heroes were Amoros with a great catch and throw, Campanella with a run scored and a key bunt, Hodges with both RBIs, and Reese with a run and a fine relay on Amoros’ catch and throw. But the biggest hero was Podres. He’d pitched a complete game shutout. It was true that it wasn’t a masterpiece. He’d allowed eight hits (the Dodgers only had five) and walked two, but he’d also struck out four and pitched out of each jam. It was the first year an MVP for the World Series was awarded. Podres won it easily.

The Yanks played well. McDougald had three hits, but was doubled up in the sixth on Reese’s relay. Skowron had a double, but also an error, while Berra had the only other extra base hit for New York and smashed the ball to left that started the double play that was so pivotal to the game.

The game marked the high water mark for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year they were back in the World Series, but lost to the Yankees. In 1957 they had a bad year and by 1958 were relocated to Los Angeles. They did well there winning again it 1959. A handful of the 1955 winners were still around: Snider, Furillo, Gilliam, Zimmer, and Koufax among others. Most notably for fans of the 1955 team, so was Podres. He pitched two games and picked up the win in game two.

 

 

The 50 Greatest Dodgers

November 27, 2012

Don Newcombe, the 8th Greatest Dodger

Back a year or so ago I did a post on the 50 Greatest Yankees ever (according to ESPN). Turns out that the network did an entire series of these lists. You’ll have to look around pretty hard (or type in “greatest Dodgers” or whichever team) to find their lists but they are interesting.

One of the lists is the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers list. The top 10 (in order) look like this: Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Zack Wheat, Roy Campanella, PeeWee Reese, Mike Piazza, Don Newcombe, Don Sutton, Dazzy Vance. And before anyone asks, Don Drysdale is 11th. Not a bad list actually, here’s a few comments on the list.

1. To create a full team you end up with Gil Hodges (16th on the list) at first, Robinson at second, Reese at short, and Roy Cey (14th on the list) at third. The outfield is Snider, Wheat, and Pedro Guerrero (15th on the list). Campanella catches and the first position player whose position is already covered is Piazza, making him the DH. The staff (four men for a World Series rotation, at least one being left-handed) is Koufax, Newcombe, Sutton, and Vance. Way down at 46th is Ron Perranoski, the only reliever on the list.

2. The list is a decent mix of both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, with LA being slightly favored in the higher parts of the list (see Guerrero over Babe Herman or Carl Furillo for example). There are, as you would expect with the Dodgers, an inordinate number of pitchers in the top 15.

3. They did put Dixie Walker on the list (he’s 25th). With the way he left the team (his opposition to Robinson) I half expected he’d be overlooked.

4. Wheat in the top 5 is inspired, as is Vance in the top 10. It’s unusual for guys who played that long ago to get much support when up against newer players that voters remember. However, Wheat over Campanella is questionable. Wheat and Vance are the only two players on the list who spent significant time with the Dodgers prior to 1940.

5. During their time together (most of the 1970s) Steve Garvey got a lot more press than Cey. This list placed Cey higher (14th to Garvey’s 17th). I think that’s probably right.

6. Jim Gilliam is at 43rd. That’s way too low. His versatility (second, third, center, and left) made him so much more valuable than his hitting stats (which aren’t bad either) made him appear.

7. Reggie Smith is at 26th. Again, I think that’s too low. I might slide him into the top 15. I know I’d put him in the top 20. I might even jump him over Guerrero. Smith is one of the more overlooked players in both Dodgers and Red Sox history.

8. The picking of  Newcombe over both Sutton and Drysdale is  interesting. Both ended up with more wins and Newk did have the drinking problem. I’m not sure the voters got it right. Maybe yes, maybe no.  Newcombe was the ace of the most famous (if not most successful) team in Dodgers history and that has to be worth something. Now, if he coulda just won a single World Series game (he went 0-4).

9. Now about first place. When I first became interested in baseball, Robinson was my hero. As he waned, Snider replaced him. Then as the Duke faltered, Koufax became my guy. That got me through high school and hero-worship of big leaguers. So I have no problem with those three being in the top positions. I’m not sure about the order. The ultimate problem is Robinson’s status as a civil rights icon. It so overshadows his on-field accomplishments that I’m not sure it didn’t get him first place more than his playing  ability did. Having said that, I recognize he was a heck of a player and when added to his late start (because of circumstances not of his making) and the abuse he suffered, maybe he is first. But Snider was as good, maybe better. And Koufax is simply the greatest pitcher I ever saw. I have my own order, but I have no real problem with the current order.

10. The location of a few more well-known names: Hershiser (12th), Valenzuela (13th), Wills (22nd), Reiser (31st), Podres (33rd), and Nomo (49th).

11. The most glaring omission? Carl Erskine.

Playoff Baseball Comes to the West Coast

June 11, 2012

Felix Mantilla

Prior to divisional play beginning in 1969, the Major Leagues had a playoff system to determine pennant winners in case the regular season ended in a tie. It wasn’t used all that often. The American League used it all of once (1948) and the National League a bit more frequently (1946, 1951, 1959, 1962). The most famous occurred in 1951. Arguably the best occurred in 1959.

In 1959 the Milwaukee Braves were two-time defending NL champions. They featured Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter and Warren Spahn. They went into the last weekend of the regular season tied for first, then went 2-1 against Philadelphia to finish the year with a 86-68 record.

Their opponents were the Dodgers, the team they had replaced atop the NL in 1957. But it was a vastly different Dodgers team. First, it was no longer in Brooklyn, having relocated to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. Second, most of the “Boys of Summer” Dodgers were gone. Hall of Famer Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Carl Furillo were still around; but the new team featured Don Drysdale, Wally Moon, Johnny Roseboro, and a wild lefty named Sandy Koufax. Drysdale and Koufax were on the 1956 pennant winning team, but neither was considered a major player on that team. Gone were Roy Campanella, PeeWee Reese, Don Newcombe, and Carl Erskine, a stalwart of the Brooklyn mound who began the year in LA, but retired before the season ended.

The 1959 playoff format was a best of three series with LA getting two home games. The Milwaukee home game was 28 September in County Stadium. The next game was the following day in the LA Coliseum, the first playoff game ever on the West Coast. Game three, an if necessary game, would be in LA the 30th.

With both teams having to win late in the season, the first game saw Danny McDevitt start for the visitors with Carl Willey on the mound for the Braves. With two out and second baseman Charlie Neal on  second, Dodgers right fielder Norm Larker singled to drive in a run in the first inning. Milwaukee struck back in the second with two runs on a bunch of singles and an error. The two runs took McDevitt out of the game and brought in bullpen man Larry Sherry.  LA got the run back in the next inning on three singles and a force out. In the sixth, Roseboro led off the inning with a home run putting the Dodgers up 3-2. Sherry pitched masterfully shutting out Milwaukee on four hits (and two walks) making Roseboro’s homer the deciding run.

The next day the teams played one of the great playoff games ever. The Dodgers started Drysdale and the Braves countered with Lew Burdette. In the opening frame with an out Mathews walked, Aaron doubled, then Frank Torre doubled to plate both runs. The Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the first with a  Neal triple followed by a single by Wally Moon. The Braves got the run right back on a single and error by Snider in the second. In the bottom of the fourth Neal homered to bring the Dodgers within a run. Again Milwaukee got the run right back with a Mathews home run in the fifth. It drove Drysdale from the game. The score remained 4-2 until the top of the eighth when catcher Del Crandall tripled and came home on a Felix Mantilla sacrifice fly. The score remained 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. With three outs to go, Burdette stumbled. Moon, Snider, and Hodges all singled to load the bases. Out went Burdette, in came bullpen ace Don MaMahon. He proceeded to give up a two-run single to Larker. Out went McMahon, in came Warren Spahn. A sacrifice fly by Furillo tied the game.

It stayed tied through the tenth and eleventh, the Dodgers managing one hit in the eleventh. By the twelfth, Stan Williams was on the mound for LA and Bob Rush for Milwaukee. Williams got through the twelfth without giving up a hit, but with two out Rush walked Hodges. Joe Pignatano singled moving Hodges to second. Furillo then singled to shortstop Mantilla who was playing short instead of his normal second because of a defensive substitution in the seventh. Mantilla managed an error letting Hodges in with the winning run and putting the Dodgers into the World Series. They would win it over Chicago in six games.

In the years since, playoff games prior to the World Series became a staple of baseball. Now we don’t consider it unusual to see a round of games between the end of the regular season and the Series. Back in 1959 it wasn’t at all normal. It happened three times previously in all of NL history. So there was a level of anticipation that was different from today’s playoffs. And it was the first postseason play (although technically the games counted as regular season games, they were considered by most a playoff) on the West Coast. With game two, the West Coast got a great introduction to playoff baseball.

A Hitter’s Hall

March 23, 2012

Hank Aaron, a hitter in the Hall

Recently Bill Miller at “The On Deck Circle” completed an eighth part series on the Hall of Fame. If you haven’t read it, go to the blog roll at the right of this page, click on the site, and go read the articles. During that time, I did a post on Gary Carter and catchers. Baseballidiot commented that the Hall of Fame was pretty much “a Hall of Hitters”. Those two things got me to thinking about Cooperstown and how right Baseballidiot is in most situations. If you hit really well, there’s a good chance of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. If you field well and don’t hit a lick, forget it. So as a rule he’s right (obviously excluding pitchers), but there are exceptions and I’d like to point out a couple as examples of just how good you have to be to get into Cooperstown based primarily on your fielding.

I’m going to give you some stats on three players, one of which is in the Hall. The stats are batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage/on base plus slugging/home runs/ RBIs. The player’s careers overlap.

player 1 267/322/401/723/268/1357

player 2 273/359/487/846/370/1274

player 3 298/353/498/850/279/1028

Stop for a second now and ask yourself if all you know about a player is what’s listed above, is he a Hall of Famer? Whatever your answer to that question, player 1 is in the Hall of Fame. He’s Brooks Robinson and he’s, by general agreement, the greatest fielding third baseman who ever played the Hot Corner. The other two are Gil Hodges and Ted  Kluszewski (in that order), both first basemen from the 1950s (when Robinson started his career). The three of them are pretty much the same player, aren’t they? Klu has a higher average, Hodges more home runs, Robinson more RBIs. and the OPS is pretty much a wash (especially between Hodges and Kluszewski). But look at those numbers carefully and ask yourself the following: “If Robinson was a first baseman rather than a third baseman, would he be in the Hall of Fame?” Bet your answer is  either “No” or “I’ve been saying for years that Hodges and Klu were Hall of Famers.”  Here’s a case where the position and the ability to field it with superior skill overrides a good, but not great, batting line.

Heres’ another example using slightly different stats: average/OPB/SLG/OPS/stolen bases. These five don’t exactly overlap (the bottom guy is earlier) although the first four are teammates.

player 1: 262/337/328/666/580

player 2: 264/324/345/668/752

player 3: 295/333/396/729/352

player 4: 288/371/420/791/370

player 5: 260/299/367/667/27

Except for the wide swing in stolen bases they’re all pretty close, right? Again, ask yourself whether you put any of these people in the Hall based on their hitting stats. The players are, in order, Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Lonnie Smith, and Bill Mazeroski. One and five are in Cooperstown and two through four aren’t. Again the difference (besides the era for Maz) is that both Smith and Mazeroski are considered very superior fielders and by general concensus are among the top two or three best fielders at their position in the history of the game. Again, take a look at Smith and Mazeroski’s stats and move them to the outfield where the other three played and tell me that the Wizard and Maz would be in Cooperstown.

You can do this same thing with catchers, although it’s a little trickier because you’re dealing with a Veteran’s Committee vote on such players as Roger Bresnahan, Ray Schalk, and Rick Ferrell. And I’ve always seen the Vet’s Committee as more easily swayed than the writers because of the small size of the Vet’s Committee, so that can make a great deal of difference in selection. 

Anyway my point is that Baseballidiot is pretty much dead on about the Hall as a haven for hitters. There are exceptions. But those exceptions have to be for truly superior fielders like Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski, and Brooks Robinson.

Kick, Mule

February 27, 2012

Mule Suttles

I don’t suppose there’s anyone who doesn’t believe that Josh Gibson was the ultimate power hitter in the Negro Leagues. And I won’t dispute that. I will, however, point out that the leader in documented home runs is Mule Suttles (other sources say Turkey Stearnes).

George Suttles was born in Louisiana in 1900. He had little formal education, not uncommon for a black man in turn of the 20th Century Louisiana (Huey Long and the free text books were 25 years in the future). He was a coal miner and did some semipro ball playing until he was 21. He got a cup of coffee with the 1921 New York Bacharach Giants (one hit in four at bats in a single game) then went back to semipro ball. In 1923 he caught on with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro National League. This time he stayed around. He put in three years with Birmingham before heading to St. Louis where he finished his Negro National League career.

In 1930 the Negro National League folded and he went to the Eastern Colored League’s Baltimore franchise (not the Elite Giants) in time to watch the ECL go under also. He went back to St. Louis to play for the Stars in the newly reformed NNL After 1931, it too folded and Suttles settled in with the East-West League’s Detroit Wolves and Washington Pilots. Want to guess what happened to the East-West League?

By 1933 he was back in the new NNL (this time it stayed around). He began with the Chicago American Giants, then in 1936 he went to the Newark Eagles, where he stayed through 1940 He spent 1941 with the New York Black Yankees, then went back to Newark in 1942, finishing his career with Newark in 1944. Retired, he did some umpiring, then retired from baseball. He died in 1966 and made the Hall of Fame in 2006, forty years after his death.

Mule Suttles was a big man for his era, 6’3″ and 215 pounds (officially). By the end of his career he’d put on weight and may have been closer to 250 than 215.  He carried a 50 ounce bat (by comparison, Babe Ruth’s was 54 ounces) and was immensely strong, hence the “Mule” nickname. He made the East-West All-Star game numerous times, being one of its most effective hitters. He’s credited with a .412 batting average in the game, an .883 slugging percentage, and is supposed to have hit the first home run in the All-Star game. he played left field, but spent much of his career at first base. He wasn’t overly fast, but was known for his good hands. In close games in late innings, Suttles coming to bat elicited the cry “Kick, Mule” from both fans and teammates.

As with all Negro League players, his numbers are spotty. Baseball Reference’s Bullpen has some stats on him. They are incomplete but give something of a picture of  his skill. In 763 documented games he hit .327, slugged .571, had 894 hits, 257 walks, in 2731 at bats. Again no OBP is given but 894 plus 257, divided by 2731 gives a partial OBP of .421 for an .992 partial OPS. There are 133 home runs, 167 doubles, 561 runs, and  493 RBIs that are documented. The same page gives his 162 game numbers as 119 runs, 190 hits, 105 RBIs, 35 doubles, 28 home runs, and 10 stolen bases. 

Suttles is a good example of a fairly common type. He’s a big slugger who hits for power and decent average. He’s an every year All-Star, but his teams usually fall short of the championship. Ralph Kiner is one of those, so is Rudy York or Hal Trosky or Barry Bonds. York made it to a World Series, but his team (Boston) lost. So did Bonds. There are a number of others like Gil Hodges or Ted Kluszewski, some currently playing. One of the most interesting things about studying the Negro Leagues is how quickly you discover they’re made up of the same kinds of players as the white leagues. I find that important because it reminds me just exactly how much alike baseball players are in their skills, black or white. That reassures me that maybe we really are all in this together.

“Chickie’s a Sport”

January 18, 2012

Chick Gandil as a Senator

In most accounts of the Black Sox scandal, Chick Gandil takes center stage as the prime mover among players. He is portrayed as grasping, malevolent, and greedy. In the “Eight Men Out” movie the actor Michael Rooker does this portrayal wonderfully. But according to his friends he was a good pal, someone who looked after his buddies, would help them in a pinch. In Sleepy Bill Burns’ phrase, “Chickie’s a Sport.”  Maybe that makes Gandil a complex person, like most of us.

Arnold Gandil was born in Minnesota in 1887. His parents moved to Berkeley, California while he was still young. He played ball, did poorly in school, then left to find his own way in the world. He was athletic enough to both box and play baseball. He played semipro ball for a number of Western teams, most of which were tied to companies. He worked as a boiler maker and copper smelter worker while playing ball on the weekends. Primarily a catcher, while with a team in Mexico he became a first baseman. That seems to happen a lot. Both Rudy York and Gil Hodges, noted first basemen, started out as catchers.

In 1908 he found both a wife and a minor league team in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was good enough to get a trial with the St. Louis Browns. Cut, he ended up in Sacramento by way of Fresno (where he got in trouble for absconding with $225 of the team’s money), and came to the attention of the White Sox. He had a terrible year in Chicago. He hit a buck 93 with an OBP of .267 and only 72 total bases in 77 games. The Sox sold him to Montreal where he played well in 1912.

In 1913 the Washington Senators picked him up. He stayed through 1915 hitting well and playing first superbly for the era. He hit .300 a couple of times, had an OPS+ over one hundred each season, stole some bases, and led the American League in first baseman assists twice. All that got him sold to Cleveland for $5000. He did OK, but his hitting numbers were beginning to slide. He made up for it by leading the AL in assists, putouts, range factor and fielding percentage among first basemen. Needing a first baseman, the White Sox, his original team, picked him up in March 1917.

He had a fairly standard Gandil year in 1917, hitting .273 with an OPS of .631. He again led the AL in fielding percentage and was third in putouts. He did well in 1918, better in 1919. In 1917 Chicago won the World Series with Gandil hitting .261 for the Series and leading the team in RBIs (5). So far a fine, if fairly pedestrian, career.

Of course his entire career is defined by the last eight games, the 1919 World Series. There is universal agreement that Gandil was a prime mover in throwing the Series (Among other indicators, he and attempted Series fixer Sleepy Bill Burns had been teammates in 1910.). He was one of the few players to get his entire cut, he played poorly in the field, undistinguished at the plate, and made a lot of money by 1920 standards. It was enough to allow him to retire. He stood trial in Chicago in 1921, was acquitted, then banned by Judge Landis. He continued playing outlaw ball with an occasional sidetrip to independent minor leagues in the West through 1927.

He ended up as a plumber in California, proclaimed his innocence in a couple of 1950s articles, including one of the first “Sports Illustrated” articles, and died in 1970. By then he was largely forgotten.

For his career, Gandil hit .277, had an OBP of .327, a slugging percentage of .362, for an OPS of  689 (OPS+ of 103). He had 1176 hits, 173 of them were doubles, 78 were triples, and he hit 11 home runs. There were also 557 RBIs and 1538 total bases. As a first baseman (he played 2 games in the outfield) his numbers are much better. He was a superior fielder and led the league (as mentioned above) several times in several categories. And if not for 1919 he would be totally obscure.

I’m of two minds about the Black Sox. On the one hand I understand the frustration of doing a job well and being grossly underpaid. I understand revenge. What I don’t understand is willfully throwing ballgames. I have no sympathy of guys like Gandil or the other seven “Black Sox” (well, maybe just a little for Buck Weaver) but I do kind of understand their reasoning. I may understand it, but I don’t like it. The defense of Gandil is generally that he came from a hard background, a poor background and baseball was a way out. Then it turned out it didn’t pay all that well. Having just said that, I’m reminded that  Honus Wagner came from much the same background (his was in coal not copper) as did any number of other players of the age. So I can’t cut Gandil any slack for his actions. I’m frankly glad he was banned.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Veteran’s Committee Vote, I

November 4, 2011

Ken Boyer's 1955 baseball card

The last post here detailed the list of people on the 2011 Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame. I promised I’d give a thought to the ballot and comment. Here’s the first of three sets of comments.

I’m going to start with the infielders Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Ron Santo. There’s a reason these guys, and the rest of the players on the ballot, are still around 25 years after their retirement for the Veteran’s Committee to assess. All have serious flaws in their career that makes it difficult for some people to put them in the Hall of Fame. For these three it’s a combination of things.

Hodges was arguably the finest first baseman in the 1950s. Johnny Mize was aging, Willie McCovey was just coming up, others just weren’t as good. And that’s part of Hodges’ problem. He’s the best of a weak era. It’s an era dominated by outfielders and catchers, not first basemen (compare it, in reverse, to today). The other part of his problem is that he was never the best player on his team. At best he was third to fifth depending on the year. Campanlla and Snider were almost always better, Robinson was better in the first few years of Hodges’ career, and sporadically Carl Furillo was better. It’s kind of tough to argue that a team goes four or five deep Hall of Fame-wise (and I left out Reese on purpose). In Hodges favor he was a good first baseman, a decent hitter, a member of a truly great team, and his experience managing the Mets and becoming the apostle of the five-man pitching rotation are probably being overlooked by most fans.

Boyer and Santo were both third basemen whose careers seriously overlap, so direct comparisons can be made. They are, beginning with Boyer in the late 1950s and ending with Santo in the early 1970s, the best National League third basemen of their era. OK, maybe Dick Allen was better, but he was a terrible teammate and made Albert Belle look like a wonderful man you’d want to pal around with. Boyer won both a ring and an MVP award (both in 1964), Santo won neither. Santo was probably the better player. Boyer’s good years were shorter, Santo was more likely to be overlooked on his own team because of Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins (and fan favorite, but no longer great player, Ernie Banks). Another problem they have is that the truly finest third baseman of the era, Brooks Robinson, played in the other league and outshone both.

So do I vote for them? Well, yes and no. I would cast a vote for Hodges and for Santo and set Boyer aside. I’ll go so far as to say that I think Santo is probably the best player eligible and not in the Hall of Fame. And in a final point, let me note that all three men are dead. With Cooperstown’s emphasis on Hall of Fame Weekend that may change how the committee votes. If it does, it’s a  great shame.

Nest time I’ll look at the outfielders, or maybe I’ll take the pitchers.

2011 Veteran’s Committee Ballot

November 3, 2011

Just saw the Veteran’s Committee Ballot for the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. Here’s the list alphabetically: Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Ron Santo, and Luis Tiant. There are also two executives listed: Buzzy Bavasi and Charley Finley. Anyone with 75% of the 16 voters (12) gets in. The blurb specifies that three recently retired managers: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre will be on the 2013 Veteran’s ballot, not this year’s ballot. Voting will be 5 December. Will weigh in on who I’d vote for in a few days (probably Monday or later) after I’ve thought it over. Just wanted to get the list out to anyone who reads this.