Posts Tagged ‘Gus Mancuso’

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.


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.

Changing the Guard

May 6, 2013
Carl Hubbell, New York's "Meal Ticket"

Carl Hubbell, New York’s “Meal Ticket”

In 1933 the New York Giants did something they hadn’t done since the 1880s. They won a pennant without John McGraw at the helm. The changing of the guard from McGraw to Bill Terry in 1932 rejuvenated the Giants and led them to their first World Series in 10 years.

When I first decided to do this post, I tried to list all eight starters, the three pitchers, the main bullpen guy, and a couple of subs. I got about six names total. Unless you’re a true diehard Giants fan, it’s a fairly obscure team. The infield consisted of (first to third) hall of famer and manager Bill Terry, Hughie Critz, Blondy Ryan, and Johnny Vergez. Terry hit .300, Vergez had double figure home runs, and the other two were primarily glove men. Gus Mancuso was the catcher. He did almost all the catching and had a 49% caught stealing percentage (which was good in the era). The outfield consisted of another hall of famer, Mel Ott, in right, JoJo Moore, George “Kiddo” Davis, Lefty O’Doul, and Homer Peel holding down the other two spots. By the Series, Davis had settled in left and Moore was more or less the normal center fielder. Travis Jackson (another hall of famer), Sam Leslie, and Bernie James were the main backup infielders, while Paul Richards (of manager fame) was the backup catcher. The one significant trade during the season saw O’Doul come to the Giants while Leslie went to the Dodgers. The team led the NL in home runs, but no other major category.

As with most teams McGraw led (and he’d only been gone a year, not time enough for a team make over), the key to the Giants was pitching. Carl Hubbell had a great year going 23-12 with an ERA of 1.66. He had 10 shutouts and walked only 47 to go with 156 strikeouts. Twenty-two year old “Prince” Hal Schumacher was 19-12 with a 2.16 ERA while “Fat” Freddie Fitzsimmons (who could never get that nickname in this politically correct era) was 16-11 with a 2.90 ERA. Geezers Dolf Luque and Hi Bell did most of the bullpen work. The pitchers led the National League in ERA and shutouts, finished second in strikeouts, and were dead last in hits allowed.

They drew Washington in the World Series. It had been eight years since the Senators won a pennant, so both teams were in unusual territory. The Giants won the first two games at home, then dropped game three in DC. They came back to claim game four, then game five became an all-time classic.

In the top of the second, the Giants picked up two runs on a single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt, and a two run scoring single by pitcher Schumacher. They picked up a third run in the sixth when Davis doubled, went to third on a bunt, and scored on Mancuso’s double. In the bottom of the sixth, the Senators struck back. After consecutive singles, Senators center fielder Fred Schulte connected for a three-run homer.After two more singles, Luque replaced Schumacher and slammed the door on Washington. The two teams matched zeroes into the tenth inning. With two outs, Ott launched a home run that put New York ahead. With two out in the bottom of the tenth, a single and a walk put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run at first. Luque responded by striking out Joe Kuhel to end the game and the Series. Luque was terrific in relief, going 4.1 scoreless innings and striking out five. Ott struck out twice, but had the deciding blow.

For the Series the Giants hit .267 to Washington’s .214. They had three home runs (including Ott’s Series winner) while the Senators had two. New York scored 16 runs to their opponent’s 11. Hubbell was 2-0 with 15 strikeouts, Schumacher won game two, and of course Luque was the pitching star of the finale. Fitzsimmons took the only loss (game three by a 4-0 score).

The victory was in isolation. In 1934 and 1935 they Giants fell back. A very different team won pennants in both 1936 and 1937 (losing both World Series’ to the Yankees). The 1940s were a lost time for New York. They reemerged in 1951 to win a thrilling playoff and drop another World Series to the Yankees. They would win one final pennant in New York in 1954.