Posts Tagged ‘Grover Cleveland Alexander’

The War to End All Wars

November 11, 2018


Hell” by George LeRoux

Today marks the end of World War I, one hundred years ago. At 11 am in France, the guns fell silent and an armistice took over. Ultimately a peace treaty was worked out and the guns remained silent until a greater, but not more significant, war broke out.

As with everything else, the war touched baseball in a number of ways. Here’s a sampling of how:

1. The 1918 season was shortened to 140 games from the standard 154. It led to some funny statistics as the season was simply chopped down without being reworked. Some teams played more games than others, some played one team a lot of times, other teams not so many.

2. A lot of great and good players were away from the diamond during the season. Many were in the military, others were off at “war work.” The government allowed players to join war-related industries (like ship building or munitions making) in lieu of actually joining the military. Many players took up the offer. Some of them found that “war work” generally consisted of playing exhibition games for the rest of the workers.

3. A handful of owners, notably Charles Comiskey, thought using the “war work” option was “shirking” and held it against their players when they returned to the field after the war. A number of 1919 “Black Sox” were in this category and some scholars feel it further soured the team’s relationship with their owner.

4. The careers of some players were changed. Grover Cleveland Alexander played a handful of games, went off to the war (not to war work) and saw combat. He suffered “shell shock,” which added to his drinking problem, was to plague his pitching for a number of years. The 1918 season was also the first year in which Babe Ruth played more games in the outfield than he did on the mound. Some of that had to do with Ed Barrow noting the Babe’s hitting prowess, but Duffy Lewis was off to war and the Red Sox needed outfield help.

5. Former New York Giants infielder Eddie Grant was killed in action while a training accident drastically shortened the life of Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson.

There are more, lots more, effects, but this should give you a short taste of how much this early 20th Century catastrophe changed the world, but also changed American sport.

“The Trench”–Otto Dix

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Quick, We Need a Pitcher

July 26, 2017

Lefty Grove with the A’s

With the trading deadline approaching, I note that a number of teams are shopping decent pitchers. I guess if you figure you’re not going anywhere, that’s not a bad idea. It certainly isn’t new. Throughout baseball history good pitchers have been dealt while still quality hurlers, although not necessarily during the season (all these examples occurred between seasons).

Back in 1918 the Philadelphia Phillies let Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander go to the Cubs. I’d like to say it got the Cubs the pennant, but it didn’t exactly. Alexander pitched a handful of games (3) then went off to war. Chicago did win the pennant by 10.5 games, but Alexander’s impact was minimal. What did the Phils get in return? They got Pickles Dillhoefer (one of the all time great baseball names), Mike Pendergast, and cash ($55,000). The next time Philadelphia showed up in the World Series was 1950, Alexander threw what is arguably the most famous strikeout in baseball history in the 1926 World Series. He threw it for St. Louis (which should tell you there was another trade).

Between the 1933 and 1934 seasons the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox worked a trade. The BoSox got Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove (and Max Bishop and Rube Walberg) while the A’s got Bob Kline, Rabbit Warstler, and $125,000. It’s hard not to believe the cash was a major factor in the trade. Neither team got anywhere near the World Series and Grove still had 44.7 WAR left.

A bit more recently, the Cardinals unloaded Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, who had just put up a 20-9 win-loss record, to the Philadelphia Phillies (do you notice that both Philly teams show up a lot in these trades?) for Rick Wise between the 1971 and 1972 seasons. Wise didn’t do much, but Carlton went 27-10, led the National League in ERA, strikeouts, ERA+, put up 12.1 WAR, and won the Cy Young Award. He later got a call to Cooperstown. Wise? He went 32-28 for the Cards in two seasons and put up 7.7 total WAR.

Maybe it’s not a bad idea to get rid of a pitcher, even a good one. But sometimes it’s a mistake. The Dodgers used to say they liked to get rid of a player a year early rather than a year late. They may be good philosophy, but sometimes the guy just has more than one year left in him.

The Winning Team: A Review

August 22, 2016
Grover Cleveland Alexander and Rogers Hornsby (Hollywood version)

Grover Cleveland Alexander and Rogers Hornsby (Hollywood version)

Baseball movies tend to lump into one of about three categories. One of those is the hero flick in which our ballplayer overcomes great odds, rises to the top, falls back, then comes on in the end to become a hero. It’s sort of a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back plot that is so prominent in musicals and comedies but with a sports story. One of these is the 1952 flick “The Winning Team.”

The movie purports to be a biography of Grover Cleveland Alexander from about 1905 through the end of the 1926 World Series. It stars Ronald Reagan (whatever happened to him?) as Alexander and Doris Day gets a turn as his wife. Frank Lovejoy gets the second male role as Rogers Hornsby and Gordon Jones plays Alexander’s first manager.

The basic premise of the movie is that Alexander is happy in his small town in Nebraska, planning to marry his girl, and pitches on the side for the town team. During a slide show presentation for the town at the community church, Gordon Jones shows up and persuades him to join a professional team. He does and ultimately is beaned, causing him to have blurred vision which magically clears up one moonlit night. He goes on to fame and fortune in the big leagues, enters World War I, develops a form of epilepsy, drowns his troubles in booze, and becomes a bum. But faithful wife knows he still has it in him to be great and manages to convince Rogers Hornsby to pick Alexander up for the Cardinals where he leads them on to glory in the 1926 World Series.

That’s a pretty standard “sports hero” movie and it fits right into the late 1940s and early 1950s sports flick that lionizes the ball player. “The Pride of St. Louis” does it for Dizzy Dean and “The Babe Ruth Story” does it for the Bambino. And they are good movies for what they do. What they don’t do is look at all critically at the real player (or his family) or at the facts. In “The Winning Team” there are a lot of things skipped over (like Alexander’s drinking, which is only briefly touched on) and a number of facts are simply wrong. Just two examples at the end of the movie (I figure if you’re interested in this movie, you already know how the 1926 World Series went) make my point. In the flick, Tony Lazzeri strikes out on a 3-2 pitch and fouls off the wrong pitch, and rather than Babe Ruth being out on a caught stealing to end the Series, Alexander strikes out a nameless player wearing number 15 (the Yanks didn’t add numbers until after 1926).

Having said that, it’s not a bad movie, if you understand what you’re seeing. Reagan, Day, and Lovejoy do fine jobs as the main characters and Jones is great as the minor league manager. The supporting cast includes a handful of real ball players, including Bob Lemon who has a speaking role as Jesse Haines (I wonder if any other Hall of Famer has portrayed a Hall of Famer in a movie).

If you can find it somewhere it’s worth a watch at least once. As with most movies about historical events, it tells us more about the era when it was made (1952) than about the historically portrayed era (about 1905-1926). And after you check it out, see if you can find out what happened to that Reagan guy.

WAR, One Pitcher, and Winning it All

September 24, 2015
Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

They tell me that the guys with the best WAR are the best players. They also tell me that a great pitcher will win for you. OK, I’ll give them both of those (sorta). But one thing I’ve noticed is that they’re certainly no predictor of a championship. It’s the nature of the game that this would be true. You simply can’t let your ace pitcher (the one with the best WAR) pitch every inning and you can’t let your best hitter (again the one with the best WAR) come up for every at bat. It’s particularly true that you can’t take the guys with the best ever pitching WAR and find a lot of World Series championships.

I’ve been particularly critical of pitching WAR (but not as much critical of offensive WAR) ever since I saw the numbers and read the ever-changing formulae. But let’s accept that it’s a good measure of pitching excellence. It still isn’t much of a predictor of how a team will do. I Went down the BBREF list of yearly WAR (which uses BBREF’s version of WAR) looking only for pitchers. I excluded all pitchers who showed up before the advent of the 20th Century. In other words I ignored the pre-American League championship games  (1884-1891). I did this because there is great disagreement about how seriously they were taken by the teams and players and how much they were treated as mere exhibitions. I also ignored the Temple Cup Series. Then I looked to find the top 10 WAR seasons for a pitcher in the American League era (1901-present). Of course I ran into Walter Johnson who had three of the top five and four of the top 12. So I changed the way I went at it. I began looking for a new name until I found 10 different pitchers. That took me all the way to 52nd on the list. Of course many of the 52 (and ties) were pre-1901 pitchers (including the first seven) and some were hitters (Ruth four times, Barry Bonds twice, and Gehrig, Yastrzemski and Hornsby once each). Here’s the list I ended up with: Walter Johnson in 1913 (16.0 WAR), Johnson in 1912 (14.6), Dwight Gooden in 1985 (13.2), Johnson in 1914 (13.0), Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920 (12.8), Cy Young in 1901 (12.6), Steve Carlton in 1972 (12.5), Roger Clemens in 1997 (12.2), Johnson in 1915 (12.1), Fergie Jenkins in 1971 (12.0), Hal Newhouser in 1945 (12.0), Bob Gibson in 1968 (11.9), Alexander in 1916, Pedro Martinez in 2000, and Smokey Joe Wood in 1912 (all at 11.7). So the individual pitchers are Johnson, Gooden, Alexander, Young, Carlton, Clemens, Jenkins, Newhouser, Gibson, Martinez, and Wood (a total of 11).

Let’s notice a couple of things about this list. First, Walter Johnson’s 1912-1915 is, by WAR, the greatest pitching performance by a single pitcher over a  period of years in the last 115 years (and people still debate how good he was). Second, there are a couple of one shot wonders in the list, specifically Gooden and Wood. The remainder are quality pitchers having their peak year.

But for my purpose, the most interesting thing is that only two of the pitchers were with teams that won the World Series: Newhouser and Wood. Gibson got to the Series but the Cardinals lost in seven games (Gibson himself taking the loss in game seven). In 1901 there was no Series, but Young’s Boston team finished second.

This isn’t a knock on pitching WAR, but merely an acknowledgement that it can’t predict pennants. And one great pitcher isn’t a predictor either. It does help if the number two pitcher on your team has a pretty good year also.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: the last games in New York

July 21, 2015

With the Yankees up three games to two and needing only one win to clinch the 1926 World Series, the Series returned to Yankee Stadium. Needing two wins to capture the title, the St. Louis Cardinals went with their most experienced pitcher in game six and with a tried veteran for game seven.

Game 6

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Game six was a second start for Grover Cleveland Alexander. For New York, the Yankees sent Bob Shawkey to the mound. It was his first start, although he’d relieved in two previous games. He was in trouble from the beginning. It started with a single to Wattie Holm, playing center field for Taylor Douthit. A force at second put him out, but put Billy Southworth on first. A walk to Rogers Hornsby sent Southworth to second and a double by Jim Bottomley plated him. A followup single by Les Bell brought both Hornsby and Bottomley home.

It was all Alexander needed. The Yanks got a run in the fourth on a Bob Meusel triple and a Lou Gehrig grounder to first, but the Cardinals got it right back in the fifth on two singles sandwiched between a bunt sacrifice.

With the score already 4-1, the Cards exploded for five runs in the seventh. A couple of singles, a double, and a Bell two run home run made it 9-1. New York managed one in the bottom of the inning, but St. Louis tacked on one more in the ninth on a Southworth triple and a Hornsby grounder to make the final 10-2.

Alexander was superb, giving up two runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out six and scored a run. Flush with victory he, according to legend, went on something akin to a real bender that evening. He was, at least so he thought, finished with his World Series chores.

Game 7

Tommy Thevenow

Tommy Thevenow

Game seven of the 1926 World Series occurred 9 October. It featured pitchers Jesse Haines taking on Waite Hoyt. Both men had already won a game in the Series: Haines game three and Hoyt game four. It was to become famous for a single moment, one of the more well known and  most frequently written about moments in World Series lore.

Both teams started slow. Although there were a number of base runners, no one scored until the bottom of the third when Babe Ruth launched a shot into deep right field to put New York up 1-0. St. Louis struck back in the top of the fourth. With one out Jim Bottomley singled, then Les Bell reached first on an error by Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig. Chick Hafey singled to load the bases. Then Bob O’Farrell lifted a fly to left field that Yank outfield Bob Meusel dropped. Bottomley scored to tie up the game. That brought up eight hitter shortstop Tommy Thevenow. He singled to right, scoring both Bell and Hafey. A strikeout and grounder ended the inning with the score St. Louis 3, New York 1. That held up until the bottom of the sixth when, with two out, Joe Dugan singled and a Hank Severeid double plated Dugan with the second Yankees run. A ground out ended the inning.

In the top of the seventh, the Cards went in order. That brought up the Yanks in the bottom of the seventh and set the stage for one of the most famous of all World Series moments. Earle Combs led off the inning with a single and went to second on a bunt. An intentional walk put Ruth on first. A grounder to Bell led to a force of Ruth at second, but left runners on first and third with two outs. Haines then proceeded to walk Lou Gehrig.

At this point legend takes over and facts get a little obscured. One version of what happens next has Haines having to leave the game with a finger blister, forcing manager Hornsby to change pitchers. Another version has Hornsby deciding Haines was done and calling for a new pitcher without reference to Haines’ finger. Whichever is true, Haines was out and Hornsby called for Grover Cleveland Alexander from the bullpen.

And now another legend takes over. According to one version of what happened, Alexander was in the bullpen sleeping off a hangover when Hornsby called for him. Another version says he was sober, but unready to pitch because he presumed that having gone nine innings the day before he wouldn’t be pitching at all on 9 October. Yet a third version says he’d just begun to warm up. I don’t think anyone knows for sure which is true. The SABR version of the event states Alexander was sober.

Whichever is true, in came Alexander to face rookie Tony Lazzeri with two outs and the bases full of Yankees (Combs on first, Meusel on second, and Gehrig at first). The first pitch was a strike. The second was fouled off deep down the left field line just missing the foul pole. With two strikes, Lazzeri swung and missed the next pitch to record the final out of the inning. It is, arguably the most famous strikeout in baseball history.

St. Louis got a couple of men on in the eighth, but didn’t score. New York went down in order in the bottom of the eighth, as did the Cardinals in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth Alexander got Combs and Koenig on groundouts which brought up Ruth, who walked. With Meusel at bat and Gehrig on deck, Ruth tried to surprise the Cards by stealing second. O’Farrell threw to Hornsby, the tag was applied, and the St. Louis Cardinals won their first ever World Series.

It was a good Series, especially for the hitters. The Cardinals hit .272 as a team with Thevenow hitting .417. He joined Hornsby and Southworth by driving in four runs, but Bottomley topped all three with five and Les Bell led the team with six. Southworth led St. Louis with six runs scored and Thevenow was just behind with five. Thevenow, Southworth, Bell, and pitcher Haines each had one home run, while Bottomley had three doubles, and Southworth picked up the only triple as well as led the team with 10 total hits.

Although the Yanks hit only .242 as a team, Combs and Gehrig hit above .345 while Ruth hit an even .300 and Joe Dugan was at .333.. Ruth had five RBIs while Gehrig, in his rookie Series, had four. Ruth’s six runs scored easily led the team. He also hit all four of the team’s home runs, including three in one game. Combs led New York with 10 hits. He and Gehrig each had two doubles and Meusel got the only triple.

Among pitchers, Alexander was the big hero. He had two wins and the famous save in game seven. But Haines’ had an even better ERA (1.08 to 1.33) while picking up the other two wins. Bill Sherdel had two of the losses, but only a 2.12 ERA. Alexander led the team with 14 strikeouts. For New York Herb Pennock posted two wins with Hoyt getting the other. His 10 strikeouts led the team.

For both teams it was a beginning. For St. Louis it was their first 20th Century title. They would win again in 1928 (and end up losing to New York) and then win three times in the 1930s, four times in the 1940s, and still carry on a winning tradition into the 21st Century. The Yankees began a great period of consistent excellence in 1926, winning with great regularity into the 1960s and, like the Cardinals, continuing on into the 21st Century. That makes 1926 something of a watershed and makes it a Series worth remembering for more than just one strikeout.

 

 

 

 

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Opening Salvos

July 9, 2015

The opening games of the 1926 World Series were played in New York on 2 and 3 October. The Yankees were favorites over the St. Louis Cardinals, a team making their inaugural Series appearance. The format was two games in New York, three in St. Louis, and then a return to New York if the sixth and seventh game were necessary.

Game 1

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

For game one, the Yankees sent ace Herb Pennock to the mound against St. Louis stalwart Bill Sherdel. The Yanks made a minor change in their normal roster, starting backup catcher Hank Severeid over normal starter Pat Collins.

The game started out as if it was going to be a high scoring contest. The Cards’ leadoff hitter Taylor Douthit doubled to start the game, went to third on a ground out, then scored on a single. Pennock got out of it without further damage and the Yankees game to bat in the bottom of the first. Earle Combs led off the inning with a walk, then after an out, consecutive walks loaded the bases for New York first baseman Lou Gehrig. He hit one to short, but the Cardinals were unable to complete the double play and Combs scored to tie the game.

After that the two pitchers settled down to match shutout innings through the fifth. In the bottom of the sixth Babe Ruth singled, went to second on a bunt, and scored on a Gehrig single. It was all the run support Pennock needed. He shutout St. Louis for the remainder of the game, giving up only the one run, while allowing three hits, and striking out four (he also walked three). Sherdel did well enough, going seven innings, giving up the two runs, and allowing six hits with three walks and a single strikeout. The big hero was Gehrig who had both RBIs.

Game 2

Billy Southworth

Billy Southworth

The next day, the Yankees sent Urban Shocker to the mound to face St. Louis’ Grover Cleveland Alexander. Alexander was 39, considered over the hill and ready for retirement. In the second inning he looked it. A single to Bob Meusel, a move up grounder by Gehrig, and a single by rookie Tony Lazzeri plated the first run. A single sent him to third, then with two outs he attempted to steal home. He was safe when Alexander threw wildly to catcher Bob O’Farrell. So New York broke on top 2-0. But that would be all the damage Alexander allowed. He gave up four total hits, walked one (Combs), and struck out 10 (every starter except Combs and pitcher Shocker fanned twice). Meanwhile the Cardinals went to work. They got both runs back in the top of the third when back-to-back singles by Douthit and Billy Southworth put two men on. A sacrifice sent them to second and third, and a Jim Bottomley single tied the score.

It stayed tied through six innings, when the Cardinals erupted for three runs. With O’Farrell and Tommy Thevenow on base, Southworth clubbed a three run homer to right to put St. Louis up 5-2. In the ninth, Thevenow hit one deep into right field that eluded Ruth and Thevenow circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run. The final scored was 6-2 as Alexander shut the Yanks down in the ninth.

So the Series was tied 1-1 after the first two games in New York. After an all night train ride, the two teams would resume play on the 5th of October. What people knew was that there would be three games in St. Louis.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Cards

July 9, 2015
1926 St. Louis Cardinals

1926 St. Louis Cardinals

In the 1880s, the St. Louis team, then called the Browns, were a powerhouse in the American Association. In the 1890s they moved to the National League and became a doormat. By 1926 every National League team existing in the 20th Century had won at least one pennant, except for St. Louis, now called the Cardinals. That changed when the Cards won the 1926 NL pennant.

St. Louis won the pennant by two games over Cincinnati. With 89 wins, they featured a good hitting team with mid-range power. They led the NL in hits, runs, home runs, walks, slugging, and OPS while finishing second in average, OBP, and doubles. As a rule, their numbers weren’t as spectacular as the Yankees numbers.  Their pitching staff, like that of New York, finished in the middle of the pack in many categories.

The infield consisted of two Hall of Fame players, a third baseman having a career year, and a 22-year-old shortstop. Jim Bottomley played first, hit .293 with 19 home runs, nine triples, a team leading 120 RBIs, 144 hits, and an OPS of .804. Player-manager Rogers Hornsby held down second. Coming off several consecutive great seasons, Hornsby’s numbers were down in 1926. He was 30, but the assumption was that his managerial duties were hurting his statistics. He still managed to hit .317 with 11 home runs, 167 hits, an OPS of .851, and 93 RBIs. At 22, shortstop Tommy Thevenow was in his third season. He didn’t hit all that much (.256), but was a good shortstop and led the NL in putouts and assists, and was second in double plays turned at short. Les Bell had a career year. He hit a career high .325 (he never hit .300 in any other season), had another career high in home runs with 17 and in RBIs with an even 100. His 85 runs and 189 hits were also career highs. His Baseball Reference.com WAR for 1926 was 4.4 (second to Hornsby). He never had another year of more than 1.8 WAR. Specs Toporcer and Jake Flowers were the primary infield subs. Toporcer hit .250 and Flowers .270, but Flowers also had three home runs in 40 games.

Five men did the outfield work. Billy Southworth started 99 games in right field. He’d come over from the Giants during the season and hit .317 with 11 home runs. He would later manage the Cards to two pennants and a World Series championship. He made the Hall of Fame in 2008. Taylor Douthit was the speedy center fielder. He hit .308, stole 23 bases (third in the league) and led the league in putouts and assists for a center fielder. Ray Blades was in left. He hit .305 and scored 81 runs. The backups were Hall of Fame member Chick Hafey and Heinie Muller. Hafey hit .271, had four homers. Muller hit .267 and had three home runs.

Bob O’Farrell did almost all the catching. In 140 games he hit .293, had an OPS of .804, seven home runs, and 213 total bases. All that got him the NL MVP award for 1926. His backups were Ernie Vick and Bill Warwick. Warwick hit .357 in nine games, and in 24 games Vick hit .196.

For the season six pitchers started 10 or more games. Bill Sherdel and Art Reinhart were the sole lefties. Sherdel started 29 games, won 16 of them, gave up more hits than he had innings pitched, and put up an ERA of 3.49. Reinhart had a 10-5 record in 11 starts and 27 games. His ERA was north of four and he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched and also walked more than he struck out. Flint Rhem had the most wins with 20. His ERA was 3.21. Unlike the southpaws he had more innings pitched than hits allowed, but like Reinhart he walked more than he struck out (75 to 72). Vic Keen started 22 games, went 10-9, over 26 games (21 starts) and joined Reinhart in both giving up more hits than innings pitched and walking more than he struck out. His ERA was 4.56. Hall of Famers Jesse Haines and Grover Cleveland Alexander were the staff geezers. Haines, aged 32, posted a 13-4 record in 20 starts (33 total games) and tied for the team lead with two saves. He had a nice ERA (3.25) but continued the pattern of more walks and hits than strikeouts and innings pitched. At 39, Alexander was considered through by a lot of people. He started the year with the Cubs, was released after a 3-3 start and was picked up by the Cardinals. He went 9-7 at St. Louis, but posted a team low ERA of 2.91 (OK, Duster Mails had a 0.00 ERA but only pitched one inning). Unlike the rest of the staff, he’s struck out more than he walked and had fewer hits given up than innings pitched.  He also had two saves (he’d get one more).

Hi Bell was the main bullpen man with only eight starts in 27 games. His ERA was 3.18 and he had the team’s other two saves. For a change he had more innings pitched and strikeouts than otherwise. Syl Johnson, lefty Bill Hallahan, and southpaw Allan Sothoron rounded out the men who pitched in 10 or more games.

The Cardinals were underdogs. The Murderer’s Row Yankees were considered superior at almost every position except maybe second where Hornsby was an all-time great. Much of that has to do with the American League being considered the superior league. Because St. Louis statistics aren’t especially weaker than New York numbers, a fact a lot of pundits seem to have overlooked. The World Series began in New York on 2 October.

 

 

A Tale of Woe

April 10, 2015
Dolph Camilli about 1935

Dolph Camilli about 1935

Over the last several years one of the more common refrains of baseball is how much the fans in both Chicago and Boston suffered. It dropped off some when the Red Sox won in 2004 (and twice since), but you still hear it about Chicago, despite the White Sox win (primarily because it was the ChiSox, not the Cubs who won). But before you get all sad and start crying over the plight of the two cities, let me tell you about another city with the same kind of problem: Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was an early hot spot for baseball. The 1850s and 1860s saw the local team, called the Athletics, being competitive. Off and on through the 1870s and early 1880s teams from Philadelphia wandered through the ranks of Major League teams, with the American Association version actually winning a pennant. In 1883 the Quakers arrived in the National League and after deciding that wasn’t much of a nickname, eventually settled on Phillies as the team nickname. In 1901 the American League arrived and stuck a team in Philadelphia, naming it after the long gone Athletics.

The AL team was sporadically good. They won a pennant in 1902 (there was no World Series yet), then another in 1905 (losing the second World Series). Between 1910 and 1914 they won the World Series three times (1910, ’11, and ’13) and lost it once (’14). Then they fell into a malaise that lasted deep into the 1920s. They won pennants each year from 1929 through 1931, picking up a World Series title in both 1929 and 1930. Then they fell off. They fell off so bad that they never won another pennant. By the early 1950s they were dying and eventually left Philly altogether, heading first for Kansas City, then for Oakland (where they’ve again been sporadically good–4 world titles, a couple of pennants, and a few other playoff appearances in 45 plus years).

That left the Phils, who weren’t good, sporadically or otherwise. In 1901 they finished second, they got back to the first division in 1905 and hovered around fourth until 1915, when they broke through for their first ever National League pennant. They won the first game of the World Series (against Boston) with Grover Cleveland Alexander on the mound. Then they were swept out of the Series. They finished second in 1916 and 1917 then quickly went South. Between 1918 and 1948 inclusive they finished fifth twice (1929 and 1945), and fourth another time (1932). Other than that, it’s a long, long litany of sixth (four times), seventh (eight times), last place (16 times, including five in a row at one point).

They had some decent players through out the era. Chuck Klein made the Hall of Fame and after a trade got into a World Series (with Chicago). Dolph Camilli won an MVP, but of course it was after the Phils traded him to Brooklyn. They were also managed by Ben Chapman who became universally infamous for his opposition to Jackie Robinson playing in the Major Leagues (He’s played by Alan Tudyk in the recent movie “42”.) All in all it was a thoroughly forgettable 20 years.

In 1949 they started improving and stayed reasonably competitive through 1955. They won a pennant with the 1950 “Whiz Kids”, then were swept in four games by the Yankees, who featured a rookie pitcher named Whitey Ford who became the youngest pitcher to win a World Series game when he won game four (I didn’t check to see if he’s still they youngest winner). It was the same year that Alexander, the last Phillie pitcher to win a World Series game, died.

In 1964 there was the infamous collapse when they led the NL with two weeks to play and lost. They soldiered on until 1976, when they again made a playoff (the League Championship Series) and were again swept. In 1977 they finally won another playoff game before losing the LCS to the Dodgers in four games. For what it’s worth, Gene Garber became the first Phillie pitcher to win a postseason game since 1915 (it was in relief). At the time, only two members of the 1915 team, pitchers Ben Tincup and Joe Oeschger, were still alive (Milt Stock died in 1977). In 1980 they finally won another World Series game and Bob Walk became the second Phils pitcher, the first since Alexander way back in 1915, to record a World Series win. By then, only Oeschger was still around (Tincup died in 1980, but before the Series). Then to the astonishment of the entire baseball universe, they became the last team around in 1901 to win the World Series (even the Cubs had two wins in the 20th Century). Since then, Philadelphia has joined the ranks of the sporadically good with another World Series win and three World Series loses.

1915: The New Kids in the Natonal League

April 8, 2015
Erskine Mayer

Erskine Mayer

Philadelphia joined the National League in 1876 and was tossed out before the end of the season. A team was formed in the rival American Association and won the 1883 Association pennant. The National League returned to Philly in 1883 when Worcester folded and the rights to a new franchise were given to Philadelphia. The new team was called the Quakers and managed to finish last. It was fairly typical for the NL team in Philly. Between 1883 and 1914 they’d won absolutely nothing. That changed finally in 1915, one hundred years ago.

The 1914 Phils finished sixth in an eight team league. It cost manager Red Dooin his job. Pat Moran, who’d played one game for Philadelphia in 1914 took over the job. He was 38 and a catcher. He’d not had much of a career (.235, a 78 OPS+, and a total WAR of 6.8), but he turned into a successful manager (He led the 1919 Reds to a World Series title). He ran a team that was greatly changed in 1915.

The 1915 Phillie infield (first to third) consisted of Fred Luderus, Bert Neihoff, Dave Bancroft, and Bob Byrne. Luderus was a holdover from the previous year. He’d hit only .248 but was second on the team with 12 home runs. Byrne was also a holdover, although he’d been the regular second baseman in 1914. Bancroft and Neihoff were both new. Bancroft was 24 and a rookie, just beginning what became a Hall of Fame career, while Neihoff came to the Phils from Cincinnati.

The outfield contained two holdovers and one new guy. The new guy was Possum Whitted. He’d been the cleanup hitter for the World Champion Boston Braves in 1914, but came to Philly in the off-season. His 43 RBIs were fourth on the team. One of the holdovers was Beals Becker. He hit only .246 in 1915, but was second on the team in home runs. The other was Gavvy Cravath. Cravath was the Philadelphia power hitter. He led the team in homers, RBIs, and runs, and was second in hits. His 24 home runs, 115 RBIs, 89 runs, and 170 OPS+ all led the NL.

Bill Killefer (played by James Millican in the flick “The Winning Team”) did the bulk of the catching. He wasn’t much of  a hitter, but was a good catcher. His backup, Ed Burns hit about the same but without the receiving skills. Dode Paskert and Milt Stock joined Burns as the only men on the bench who played more than 40 games. Stock led the bench with a .260 average and Paskert had three home runs.

Five men did most of the pitching. The ace was Grover Cleveland Alexander (who didn’t look much like Ronald Reagan in “The Winning Team”). Alexander went 31-10, had 12 shutouts, and struck out 241 while putting up a 1.22 ERA (ERA+ of 225) and a BBREF WAR of 10.9. Erskine Mayer was the two pitcher. He was 21-15 with a 2.36 ERA. Lefty Eppa Rixey had a losing record, but still recorded an ERA+ of 115. Al Demaree and George Chalmers rounded out the starters. Southpaw Stan Baumgartner and righty Ben Tincup did most of the bullpen work, but didn’t manage to post a single save (Alexander led the team with three).

The Phils won the pennant by seven games over reigning champ Boston. they were second in the league in runs, but last in hits (That’s a really odd combination, isn’t it?). They led the NL in home runs, were third in both doubles and RBIs. The staff led the league in ERA, hits, and runs, and was third in strikeouts. Individually, Cravath led the NL in offensive WAR, slugging, OBP, runs, walks, total bases, RBIs, and home runs. A caveat should be thrown in here. Almost all of Cravath’s 24 homers came at home in the small Philly ball park, Luderus finished second in hitting, second in doubles, and fifth in OBP and 10th in hits. Bancroft was third in runs scored and second in walks. Among pitchers Alexander led the NL in ERA, wins, WAR, strikeouts, shutouts, complete games, innings pitched, and just about anything else you can think of for pitchers. Mayer’s 21 wins were third in the league and he was ninth in strikeouts. He did, however, also lead the league in gopher balls.

The Phillies were one hit wonders. In 1916 they dropped back to second, stayed there in 1917, then went south quickly. They would return to their normal middle of the pack to second division status for the rest of the first half of the 20th Century. Their next pennant would come in 1950, the same year Alexander died.

Opening Day, 1914: National League

March 30, 2014
George Stallings, "The Miracle Man"

George Stallings, “The Miracle Man”

The National League opened play in 1914 in mid-April, but with opening day starting earlier now, it seems like a good time to finish my look at how things stacked up in 1914. It’s important to remember it’s a different world in 1914. Black Americans couldn’t vote or play in the Major Leagues, most Americans still lived in rural settings (but that would change by 1920), the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was still alive (his death in June would spark World War I), the Braves were still in Boston and they were supposed to be bad.

The New York Giants were three-time defending NL champions and expected to repeat in 1914. They were led by Hall of Fame pitchers Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard with Hall of Fame manager John McGraw at the helm. It was decent, but not great lineup with soon to be war casualty Eddie Grant available as a sub. By way of  compensation, third pitcher Jeff Tesreau  would have a career year.

Philadelphia finished second in 1913 and looked set for another run at a pennant in 1914. Grover Cleveland Alexander was the ace and would have more wins and strikeouts than any other NL pitcher. But the rest of the staff, minus Erskine Meyer, would have a down year. Gavvy Cravath would lead the league in home runs with 19  (he also led in OPS and OPS+, but those stats weren’t around in 1914), and Sherry Magee won the RBI total with a miniscule 103. But other than Beals Becker’s .325 average the rest of the team didn’t do much.

The Cubs and Pirates finished third and fourth in 1913. Cubs pitching, even with Three-Finger Brown moved to the Federal League was still good, but the hitting wasn’t even vaguely on par with the pitching. The Pirates were aging. Honus Wagner, their best player, had his first bad year and without him, Pittsburgh had no one to step up.

The Braves finished fifth in 1913. They were 69-82, which was best among teams with a losing record, but still fifth. But there had been a revolution in Boston. Of the 1913 infield, only Rabbit Maranville, the shortstop, remained with the team. The catcher was new, as was one outfielder. the new players included Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers (who would win the NL’s 1914 Chalmers Award–the 1914 version of the MVP) and a clutch of players brought over during the season who would turn the team around. The pitching also came around. By the fourth of July they were still out of the running (last place), but that would change as manager George Stallings’ (I still try to call him “Gene Stallings” some times) platoon system, judicious use of pitchers, a great (for the era) fielding team, and timely hitting brought them all the way to first as the “Miracle Braves.”

Nothing much was expected of Brooklyn, St. Louis, or Cincinnati, but Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert won the batting title and the Cardinals Bill Doak took the ERA title. Doak’s pitching helped St. Louis more than Daubert’s hitting helped Brooklyn with the Card’s coming in third and Brooklyn fifth.

It was not a great year for rookies in the NL. In May 1914, the Braves brought Dolf Luque to the team. He got into two games, lost one of them, and ended up being a non-factor in the Braves’ sprint for the championship. He would make his mark a few years later.

Boston was a big underdog in the 1914 World Series, but ended up sweeping the Athletics away in four games. They hit .244 while Philly had an average of only .172. Boston’s ERA was 1.15 versus the A’s 3.41. They scored 16 runs (14 earned) while giving up only six (five earned).

It was a “one year wonder” team. Boston faded in 1915, finishing second, then proceeding downhill, finishing sixth by the time the United States joined World War I in 1917. You gotta admit, it was one heck of a year for them in 1914.