Posts Tagged ‘Hack Wilson’

Congratulations and another one of those All Time Teams

September 16, 2016

First, it seems right to congratulate the Chicago Cubs as the first team to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. But, perhaps to celebrate, Sports Illustrated just released, on its daily mailing it sends to people like me, the All Time Cubs team. Here, for your interest and edification, is the list:

Catcher–Gabby Hartnett

Infield-Cap Anson (1st), Ryne Sandberg (2nd), Ernie Banks (ss), Ron Santo (3b)

Outfield–Billy Williams (left), Hack Wilson (center), Sammy Sosa (right)

Pitchers–Fergie Jenkins and Mordecai Brown as starters and Bruce Sutter as the reliever.

There are no backups listed.

So what do we make of this? On the face of it, it isn’t a bad list. It’s certainly better than the thing ESPN did on its top 100 players. Having said that, I have a couple of problems with it. I’m not sure how you compare Anson with the rest of the cast. He spent almost his entire career (which went from the National Association of the 1870s into the 1890s) hitting against pitchers who were not allowed to throw overhand or who did not throw from a mound 60’6″ away. I agree Anson was a heck of a player (probably a top 100), but I’m not sure you can accurately compare him with more modern Cubs first basemen (Mark Grace, Leon Durham, even Phil Cavarretta of the 1945 team). Sure you can make comparisons with Anson’s contemporaries, but I do worry about comparing him to much never guys. Second, I wish they’d do some commentary on Sosa’s steroid issue. I’m not sure how much it would change his position, but it should be noted (as should the bitter taste of how he left Chicago).

There is no manager listed. I suppose I’d go with Frank Chance. He’s the only one who proved he could lead a team to a modern World Series championship. Anyway, you should be able to find the list on Sports Illustrated’s website somewhere.

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Beginning a Dynasty: the 1923 Giants

June 16, 2016
Polo Grounds

Polo Grounds

By 1923 the New York Giants were winners on consecutive World Series’. Except for 1917, they’d been also-runs for most of the 19-teens. They’d roared back in 1921 to defeat the crosstown Yankees in the Series, then done it again the next year. It was, as Giants pennant winners went, a very different team from the normal champs.

Baseballwise, the New York of the early 1920s was the bailiwick of John J. McGraw and the Giants. They’d won consecutive titles, and McGraw was an institution dating back to the turn of the century. More even than Babe Ruth, McGraw was “Mr. Baseball” in New York. That would begin changing with this World Series. The ’23 Giants weren’t a typical McGraw team, a team heavy in pitching and speed. McGraw had adjusted to the “lively ball” era very well and produced a team that led the National League in runs, hits, average, normal “deadball” stats. But it also led the NL in slugging, OBP, OPS, and total bases. They were third in home runs, stolen bases, and doubles, while posting a second in triples. The staff, unlike pre-1920 Giants teams was sixth in ERA, but higher in strikeouts, hits, and runs allowed while being third in shutouts.

The infield consisted of three Hall of Famers. George “Highpockets” Kelly held down first. He hit .307 with 16 home runs and 103 RBIs. The homers were second on the team, while the RBIs were third. His WAR was 2.5. Frankie Frisch at second was a star. He led the team with a 7.1 WAR and was second in runs scored and RBIs while his .348 average paced the regulars. Dave Bancroft also hit .300, but was beginning the downside of his career. He had 46 errors at short and was beginning to be pushed by 19-year-old Travis Jackson, another future Hall of Famer, he was second on the team with 3.7 WAR.. Heinie Groh was the non-Hall of Famer and, at 33, the oldest of the starters. He hit .290 with no power and posted an even 3.0 WAR. Fred Maguire, along with Jackson, was the primary infielder on the bench, although future star, Hall of Famer, and Giants manager Bill Terry got into three games.

Five men did the bulk of the outfield work. Hall of Famer Ross Youngs was in right. He hit .336, led the team with 200 hits and with 121 runs scored, producing an OPS+ of 125 and a 3.6 WAR. The other corner outfielder was Emil “Irish” Meusel, brother of Yankees left fielder Bob Meusel. It’s the first time brothers playing the same position faced each other in a World Series. “Irish” led the team in RBIs with 125, in homers with 19, in triples with 14 and was considered an excellent outfielder, although the general consensus was that his brother had the better arm. All that got him 2.2 WAR. Jimmy O’Connell got into 87 games, most in center field. He hit .250 with six home runs, good for fourth on the team. Bill Cunningham and 32-year-old Charles “Casey” Stengel (another Hall of Famer, but in a different context). were the other two outfielders. Cunningham saw action in 79 games, while Stengel got into 75. Stengel hit .335 and both men had five home runs, good for a fifth place tie on the team. Twenty-three year old future Hall of Fame inductee Hack Wilson got into three games late in the season.

Frank Snyder did most of the catching, getting into 120 games. He was a good defensive backstop but his backup Hank Gowdy hit better. Gowdy, a hero of the 1914 Series, was 33 and not able to catch as often as previously. Alex Gaston and Earl Smith got into just over 20 games each.

The pitching staff was a long ride from the Mathewson, McGinnity, Marquard, Ames staffs of the early century. While those pitchers are still reasonably well known (except maybe Red Ames), the ’23 Giants staff wasn’t filled with household names. Hugh McQuillan, Mule Watson, and Jack Scott were the right handers. McQuillan and Watson both had ERA’s of 3.41 while Scott’s was 3.89. All three had given up more hits than they had innings pitched. McQuillan’s 3.3 WAR was easily highest among the staff. Lefties Art Nehf and Jack Bentley both had ERAs north of four and continued the trend of giving up more hits than having innings pitched. The Bullpen featured spot starter Rosy Ryan who went 16-5 and Claud Jonnard. Both had ERAs in the mid-threes and Jonnard joined the pack that gave up more hits than had innings pitched. Ryan missed making it unanimous by less than four innings.

So it was a good hitting team that could make up for a mediocre pitching staff. Facing the American League pennant winner, mediocre might just not be good enough.

1924: The Con Job

March 17, 2015

(A DISCLAIMER: I don’t know how this happened, but the post concerning the 3 games held in New York posted out of order. It is currently four posts below this one and appears to be the first post in the set on the 1924 World Series. I have no idea how this happened; nor do I know how to fix it. If you’re interested, take a second to scroll down and read it. It is titled, “1924: The Senators Steal One.” Sorry, team.)

Needing two wins, the Washington Senators got the last two games of the 1924 World Series at home. If they could sweep, they would win Washington its first ever World’s Championship. New York needed one of the two to return the title to the Big Apple.

Game 6

Washington Player-Manager Bucky Harris

Washington Player-Manager Bucky Harris

Game 6 was played 9 October 1924 with the Senators needing a win to force a game seven. Tom Zachary, game 2 winner, was sent to the mound by Washington to insure that happened. Art Nehf opposed him. In the top of the first, Fred Lindstrom led off with a bunt that failed. Frankie Frisch then doubled. When he tried to advance to third on a Ross Youngs tapper back to the mound, Zachary gunned him down at third while Youngs advanced to second. A Highpockets Kelly single to center scored Youngs with the first run. The score remained 1-0 into the bottom of the fifth. Roger Peckinpaugh led off the Senators half of the inning with a single. A bunt sacrifice sent him to second. A Zachary grounder sent him to third. With two outs Earl McNeely walked, then stole second. With two outs and two on, Washington’s player-manager Bucky Harris singled to drive in both runs. Through the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth, New York managed one single was the score stayed 2-1 into the ninth. With one out in the ninth, Highpockets Kelly singled, but a ground out forced pinch runner Billy Southworth at second. Needing one out to force a game seven, Zachary fanned Hack Wilson to end the game. Zachary was great in game six. He gave up a single run in the first inning, then shutout the Giants. He gave up seven hits, walked none, and struck out three. Harris’ single provided all the runs he needed. Nehf wasn’t bad, even though he lost. He went seven innings (Rosy Ryan pitched the eighth) giving up only two runs, four hits, and four walks. He also struck out four. It set up game seven.

Game 7

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Game seven of the 1924 World Series became one of the most famous of all World Series games. It was played 10 October in Washington and its outcome was caused, in part, by one of the great con jobs in Series history. Senators manager believed that Giants player Bill Terry had trouble hitting left-handed pitching so he announced that righty Curly Ogden, who hadn’t pitched all Series, would start game seven. New York manager John McGraw responded by inserting Terry into the lineup (he hit fifth) over normal left fielder Irish Meusel (the regular five hitter). Terry went to first and Highpockets Kelly, the usual first baseman took Meusel’s place in left. It turned out to be a great con.

Ogden pitched to two men, striking out the first and walking the second. In came George Mogridge, who would normally have pitched game seven. Mogridge was left-handed and McGraw chose not to pull Terry in the first inning. Washington broke on top in the fourth when Harris homered to left. The run held up until the sixth when Ross Youngs walked and a Kelly single sent him to third. McGraw sent Meusel in to hit for Terry. Harris replaced Mogridge with relief ace Firpo Marberry. Marberry immediately gave up a sacrifice fly that tied the score and a Hack Wilson single sent Kelly to third. An error by first baseman Joe Judge brought in Kelly with the lead run. Then another error, this one by shortstop Ossie Bluege, gave the Giants a third run. New York hurler Virgil Barnes kept the Senators at bay until the eighth when a double, a single and a walk loaded the bases. With two outs, Harris singled to left tying up the game at 3-3. During the eighth, Washington pinch hit for Marberry. Needing a new pitcher, they went to Walter Johnson, who was 0-2 so far for the Series. Johnson had a great career, had a very good season, but he was 36 and pitching on one day’s rest (he’d lost game five). But he was Walter Johnson and he did what Walter Johnson normally did. Through the ninth, the tenth, the eleventh, and the twelfth inning, he shut down New York. He gave up three hits and walked three, but he also struck out five. He was in trouble in every inning but the tenth, but no Giants scored. Of course no Senator scored either. By the bottom of the twelfth he was tired. With an out, Muddy Ruel lifted a foul ball that catcher Hank Gowdy dropped. Given a second chance, Ruel doubled. Johnson was up. He hit one to short, but a misplay put him on. Up came leadoff hitter Earl McNeely. He dropped a roller to third. As third baseman Fred Lindstrom came in to field it and make a play on Ruel who was heading to third, the ball hit a pebble and bounced over Lindstrom’s head for a double. Ruel was slow, but he was quick enough to score and give Washington its first and only championship. Johnson finally had his Series win.

It was an excellent Series, arguably the best of the 1920s. The Giants actually outhit the Senators .261 to .246. Both teams had nine doubles and Washington out homered New York five to four. The Giants put up 27 runs to the Senators 26. But only 18 of Washington’s runs were earned as opposed to 23 New York earned runs. Individually, Goslin hit .344 with three home runs and seven RBIs. Harris had the other two homers and also seven RBIs while hitting .333. McNeely, Judge, and Goslin all scored four runs, while Harris led the team with five. For the Giants it was more of a mixed bag. No one hit more than one home run and both Kelly and Lindstrom had four RBIs. Kelly scored seven runs, but no one else had more than four (Gowdy).

Pitching-wise Zachary was terrific, going 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA but only three strikeouts. Marberry didn’t do well. He picked up a couple of saves, but took a loss and blew a save situation. On the other hand his ERA was a tiny 1.13. And Walter Johnson finally got a win. He went 1-2 with an ERA of 3.00 and 20 strikeouts. For the Giants Bentley took two losses, but pitched the best game for the team to give him a 1-2 record and a team high 10 strikeouts. Ryan pitched well in critical situations.

It marked a couple of milestones. It was John McGraw’s last World Series. The Giants would make it back to the Series in 1933 (against the Senators again), but Bill Terry would be the manager. George Mogridge won a game on the road. In all their history, the Senators/Twins would win only one more road game in their history (and Johnson would get it). Marberry picked up the only Senators/Twins road save ever. And the Giants? Well, in game seven they started seven Hall of Famers (all but the battery) and managed to lose. It happens.

 

1924: McGraw’s Last Throw

March 9, 2015
Travis Jackson

Travis Jackson

After three consecutive National League pennants and two World Series victories (1921 and 1922), the New York Giants rolled to their fourth straight pennant in 1924. It was still John McGraw’s team, but it was a vastly different team from his Deadball teams. Those relied to pitching and timely hitting. This was a team that hit well and the pitching was a notch down from those 1904-1913 teams. It was also McGraw’s final pennant winner.

The infield consisted of five Hall of Famers and one pretty good player. George “High Pockets” Kelly held down first. He led the team with 21 home runs and 136 RBIs. The RBI total led the NL and the homers ranked fourth. He was being challenged at first by second year player Bill Terry. Kelly was, in 1924, still the better player, but McGraw was keen on installing Terry in the lineup. Frankie Frisch played second, hit .328, stole 22 bases, had 198 hits (third in the NL), and scored a league leading 121 runs. The shortstop was 20-year old Travis Jackson, currently in his third year with the Giants. He managed to hit .300 (.302) for the first time in 1924, hit 11 home runs (good for second on the team), and played a good short. At 34, Heinie Groh was the old man on the team, and the only one not later enshrined in Cooperstown. He was famous for the odd shape of his bat (“Bottlebat”), but also played a good third while hitting .281. He was hurt during the season, which allowed the Giants to bring up 18-year old Fred Lindstrom who hit only .253 in 1924, but was considered a coming star. He would figure in one of the most famous plays of the World Series.

Five men, two of them in the Hall of Fame, manned the outfield. The Hall of Famers were Ross Youngs and Hack Wilson. Youngs was the regular right fielder. His .356 led the team in hitting. His 10 home runs were third and his 112 runs scored were second on the team. He would have two years left before being felled by Bright’s Disease. Wilson did much of the center field work. He was not yet the fearsome power hitter he became in the late 1920s at Chicago. He tied Youngs with 10 homers and hit .295. Emil “Irish” Meusel (the brother of Yankees left fielder Bob Meusel) was the primary left fielder. He hit .310 with 102 RBIs. Billy Southworth (who also made the Hall of Fame, but this time as a manager) and Jimmy O’Connell spelled the other three. O’Connell hit .317 and Southworth .256. Neither showed much power.

McGraw used two catchers during the season. Hank Gowdy, who did less during the regular season, did almost all the catching in the World Series. His partner was Frank Snyder. Neither had much power (Snyder had five homers, Gowdy four) and Snyder hit .302 to Gowdy’s .325. Both were right-handed hitters so they weren’t used in a platoon situation.

They caught a staff that was weaker than the old Giants pitching staffs. There was no Mathewson or McGinnity or even a Marquard on the staff (there may have been a Red Ames or two). Six men pitched double figure games: right-handers Virgil Barnes, Hugh McQuillan, Wayland Dean, Mule Watson, and lefties Jack Bentley and Art Nehf. Bentley and Barnes both won 16 games, while Dean actually had a losing record (6-12). Barnes, Bentley, Dean, and Watson all gave up more hits than they had innings pitched while both Dean and Watson walked more men than they struck out. For the Senators Firpo Marberry had 15 saves. The entire Giants staff had 19 with Rosy Ryan leading with five. If it came to the staff and the bullpen, Washington had a distinct advantage.

The 1924 Series was held over seven consecutive days (no day off) with the Senators getting games one, two, six, and seven at home. The papers of the day (at least the ones I’ve found) felt it was going to be Washington pitching against New York hitting. It turned out to be a great series with an unforgettable game seven.

 

1924: The Senators Steal One

March 4, 2015

With the World Series tied one game to one, the 1924 Series moved to New York for games three, four, and five. If either team could sweep, the Series would end. A two to one split would send it back to D.C. for a finale.

Game 3

Rosy Ryan

Rosy Ryan

On 6 October the first New York game of the 1924 World Series saw the Giants bring Hugh McQuillan to the mound. Washington countered with Firpo Marberry. It was a strange choice for player-manager Bucky Harris because Marberry had spent most of the season as a relief specialist. It was a mistake early. The Giants got to Marberry for two runs in the second and one more in the third before Harris had to pull him. With one out and two on in the bottom of the second singled to score Bill Terry and send Travis Jackson to third. With two outs, Marberry uncorked a wild pitch that brought home Jackson with the second run. In the third with two on and nobody out, Hack Wilson hit into a run scoring double play that made the score 3-0. It was the end for Marberry. The Senators got on the board in the fourth with a walk to Sam Rice, an out, a double, another walk, and a sacrifice. Then with the bases loaded, Rosy Ryan replaced McQuillan. He immediately walked backup catcher Ben Tate to bring in a second run, but got a fly to end the inning and maintain a 3-2 lead. Ryan managed to restore a two run lead in the next inning when he slugged a homer to right field off new Washington pitcher Allen Russell. In the sixth the Giants got another off Russell with an error by Ralph Miller, playing third for primary third baseman Ossie Bluege, a bunt, and a Fred Lindstrom double. It made the score 5-2. Washington finally got to Ryan in the eighth when a single, a walk, and another single yielded one run. New York got it right back in the bottom of the eighth with a single, a stolen base, another single, and a ground out by Ryan that plated Hank Gowdy. As he was tiring, Ryan was replaced in the ninth. Three singles and an out loaded the bases for Bluege, who was playing shortstop in the game. He walked to force in a run, then got a foul out and a grounder to end the game. For the Giants the big hero was Ryan.  He pitched 4.2 innings with seven hits and three walks, but gave up only two runs, struck out two, and had a home run and two RBIs. Marberry went back to the bullpen for Washington.

Game 4

George Mogridge, the only Senators/Twins pitcher not named Johnson to win a World Series road game

George Mogridge, the only Senators/Twins pitcher not named Johnson to win a World Series road game

Down two games to one, Washington sent 16 game winner George Mogridge to the mound in game four. New York countered with Virgil Barnes. The Giants struck first with a run in the first on a walk, a ground out, and an error. It held up until the top of the third. With two out and two on Goose Goslin stroked his second homer of the Series to put the Senators up 3-1. They tacked on two more in the fifth on consecutive singles, a Barnes wild pitch, and a Goslin single. New York made it 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth when a double by Highpockets Kelly and back-to-back groundouts plated a single run. In the top of the eighth singles by Goslin, Joe Judge, and Ossie Bluege scored both Goslin and Judge. With the score 7-2, New York came up in the bottom of the eighth. Ross Youngs walked and a Hack Wilson double scored him. In the ninth, the Giants got another run on a single, a two-base error, and another single, this one by Fred Lindstrom. Marberry, who’d entered the game with one out in the eighth, managed to slam the door for his second save. To this day, he is the only Senators/Twins franchise pitcher to record a World Series save in the other team’s park. But the big heroes were Goslin who had hour hits, one a home run, and four RBIs in four plate appearances, and Mogridge who went 7.1 innings, gave up three runs, two earned, and three hits, while striking out two and walking five.

The World Series was now tied 2-2. It had become a best of three with home field now moving to Washington. It was now also certain that the Series would return to the nation’s capital.

Game 5

Jack Bentley

Jack Bentley

Game 5 saw Walter Johnson square off against Jack Bentley. The Giants won 6-2 as Johnson gave up six runs on 13 hits. Bentley himself popped a home run and had two RBIs. Fred Lindstrom also had two RBIs, while Hank Gowdy scored four runs. For the Senators only Goose Goslin performed well. He hit a home run while Joe Judge scored the other run. It put the Giants up 3-2 going back to Washington. As an aside, it was the last World Series game John McGraw ever managed in New York. At least he went out a winner at home.

 

The 50 Greatest Cubs

December 5, 2012
Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

As a followup on the 50 Greatest Dodgers post, I found two more lists that ESPN published. Root around a little and you can find the entire list at ESPN. There are five total that I have found, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox. I’ve already commented on the Yanks, BoSox, and Bums. Here are some thoughts on the Cubs list.

1. The top 10 Cubs, as listed by ESPN, are, in order: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Cap Anson, Three Finger Brown, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Frank Chance, Hack Wilson, and Gabby Hartnett. Again, before anyone can ask, the first guy out of the top 10 (number 11) is Phil Cavarretta.

2. To make a complete team with a four man World Series rotation (at least one lefty) and a closer you get an infield of  Anson at first, Sandberg at second, Banks at short, Santo at third; an outfield of Williams, Wilson, and Riggs Stephenson (at number 18); Hartnett catching; a rotation of Brown, Jenkins, Hippo Vaughn (number 12 and the lefty), and Ed Reulbach (at number 13); with the closer being Lee Smith at number 24. The first player duplicating a position, and hence the DH is Chance.

3. Sammy Sosa finished 23. The little bit of commentary available notes the steroid allegations and the corked bat problem. Without them, my guess is he makes the top 10 easy and replaces Stephenson on the starting team.

4. Tinker to Evers to Chance is perhaps the most famous infield combination ever. As noted above Chance is 8th. Joe Tinker shows up at 15th (the second highest shortstop on the list) while Evers is number 30, the fourth second baseman listed (behind Rogers Hornsby at 21 and Bill Herman at 17).

5. I was surprised to see Lee Smith above Bruce Sutter (who finished 29th). I have no particular problem with that, but I thought the Cy Young Award and the split-finger mystique would move Sutter to the top of the closer list.

6. Besides Anson, there are two other 19th Century players listed, Larry Corcoran at 22nd, and Clark Griffith at 50th. That means that essentially all those 1880s Colts were excluded. I’m not sure why. The change in mound and other rules would surely have excluded Anson also, so that can’t be the reason.

7. Which brings me to the most glaring omissions: King Kelly and John Clarkson.

8. Stan Hack is very underrated at 27th on the list. I know a number of people support him for the Hall of Fame. Whether he deserves to be there or not is another question.

9. Considering the Cubs record of futility since 1908, it’s sometimes astounding to note the number of truly great players that have come through Chicago. The following Hall of Famers are on the list and have so far not been mentioned: Andre Dawson (20th), Kiki Cuyler (28th), Grover Cleveland Alexander (31st). Also Greg Maddux, a sure Hall of Fame member is 14th (and the first pitcher that didn’t make the four man rotation). Long-time manager Charlie Grimm is 26th, Charlie Root who gave up Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series is 19th, and MVP Hank Sauer is listed 37th.

10. To me the most surprising name on the list is Carlos Zambrano at 40th.

Thoughts?

A Bad Century: The Nadir (“Friggin’ Sun”)

May 9, 2012

Woody English (from the Engish website)

Down one game in the 1929 World Series, the Chicago Cubs had game two at home. They managed to lose it 9-3 to go down 0-2, but a change of scenery to Philadelphia seemed to make a difference. They won game three 3-1 behind Guy Bush. So now down two games to one, Chicago was ready to tie up the World Series and make it at best of three championship. The next game was to become one of the most famous games in World Series history, primarily for one astonishing inning. It also represents, to me, the absolute nadir of the Cubs Bad Century.

Game four was scheduled for 12 October in Shibe Park Philadelphia. The Cubs jumped on A’s starter Jack Quinn. Getting six runs off Quinn in five innings and two more off a pair of relievers, the Cubs looked ready to tie up the Series when the Athletics came to bat in the bottom of the seventh down 8-0. Charlie Root (of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy) needed nine outs to lock up the Series. He got one.

Al Simmons led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run (count ’em up with me, 8-1), then consecutive singles by Jimmie Foxx, Bing Miller, Jimmy Dykes, and Joe Boley brought in two more (8-3). Pinch hitting for the pitcher, George Burns (not the comedian) popped out for Root’s only out. Max Bishop singled to bring in another run (8-4). That sent Root to the showers and brought in lefty Art Nehf who sported an impressive ERA of 5.58. Mule Haas greeted him with a three run inside the park home run (8-7). Center Field Wilson managed to lose the ball in the sun, letting it get by him all the way to the fence, clearing the bases. That was bad enough but Wilson wasn’t through proving he was in the lineup for his bat not his glove. Mickey Cochrane then walked, bringing out the hook for Nehf and bringing in Sheriff Blake. Simmons and Foxx both singled bringing in Cochrane (8-8). Out went Blake, in came Malone, the ace, who managed to plunk Miller. That brought up Dykes who doubled over Wilson’s head (another ball that Wilson lost in the sun) to score both Simmons and Foxx (8-10). Then Boley and Burns, designated rally killers supreme, both struck out to end the inning. The A’s scored 10 runs on 10 hits, a walk, an error, and two misplayed balls. Burns managed to make two outs in a single inning. So far as I can determine, only Stan Musial in 1942 managed to equal that feat. When the inning was over, Wilson, back in the dugout, is supposed to have muttered, “friggin’ sun.” (OK, he didn’t say “friggin'”, but this is a family friendly site.)

Lefty Grove entered the game, no hit the Cubs for two innings and picked up the save. The Series now stood 3-1 in favor of Philadelphia. Teams had come back from that kind of deficit before (not often, it’s true, but it had been done), so Chicago still had a chance. There was no game on Sunday, so Monday 14 October, the subject of my next post, would see game five.

A Bad Century: The Nadir (Older than the Rockies)

May 7, 2012

Riggs Stephenson, Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, and KiKi Cuyler in 1929

Most people might tell you that the failure to win a pennant since 1945 is the nadir of the Chicago Cubs’ “Bad Century”. Others might pick the long list of last place finishes as their nadir. And In one sense they’d both be right. But for my money I pick 1929 because of the way in which the Cubs lost an available championship. Somehow that’s more awful than simply finishing last. Anybody can finish last, but to blow an entire World Series in two innings takes Cubs-like effort.

After losing the 1918 World Series, the Cubs became also rans in the National League, falling back into the pack for a decade. By 1929, they’d righted the ship, found a way back to a pennant and under manager Joe McCarthy (yes, the same McCarthy who would lead the Yankees through the 1930s) had a chance to pickup a championship. It was a solid team consisting of an infield of Charlie Grimm at first, Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, Woody English at short, and third sacker Norm McMillan. The outfield had Riggs Stephenson in left and Hall of Famers Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler in center and right. Gabby Hartnett was the normal catcher, but arm injuries limited him to pinch hit duties in the Series, so Zack Taylor took his place behind the plate. Hornsby and Wilson tied for the team lead with 39 home runs, and Wilson led the NL in RBIs with 159 while Cuyler had 43 stolen bases to cop the league crown. The staff consisted of  ace Pat Malone, Sheriff Blake, Guy Bush, and Charlie Root (not yet infamous for throwing Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in 1932). They were all right-handed, gave up  more hits than they had innings pitched, and both Blake and Bush walked more men than they struck out. So the pitching was a bit of a problem, but Bush did lead the NL in saves with eight.

In 1929 they faced Connie Mack’s resurgent Philadelphia Athletics, whose losing streak went back even farther than Chicago’s. The A’s hadn’t won a pennant since 1914, but had won a World series in 1913, five years after the last Cubs victory. The 1929 Series could be seen as redemption for one team or the other.

With Lefty Grove as the staff ace, everyone expected Mack to start him in game one. The A’s skipper opted instead for Howard Ehmke. Ehmke was 35 and in the words of one wit “older than the Rockies.” He’d started eight games all season (11 total games pitched), was 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA and 20 total strikeouts. Not bad, but not Lefty Grove. What Ehmke had going for him was great command of the strike zone and a fastball that topped out at about Jaime Moyer level. Ehmke had never been a blazing fastball pitcher, but now he was, to put it as nicely as I can, slow. But for Mack that was exactly the point. The Cubs were notorious fastball hitters and free swingers (for the era). Mack reasoned that the Chicago batters would be too impatient to wait on Ehmke’s “fast” ball.
The game was played in Chicago on 8 October and for six innings Ehmke and Cubs starter Root matched shutouts. Both men were pitching well, Ehmke was simply mowing down (can you “mow down” a batter with a slow fastball?) Chicago hitter after Chicago hitter and Root had given up only two hits. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Jimmie Foxx crushed a ball that put the A’s up 1-0.  That held up until the ninth. In the top of the ninth with the bases loaded on a single and consecutive errors, Bing Miller singled to drive home two runs. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs finally got to Ehmke, picking up one unearned run on an error and a single. Then Ehmke closed the door by striking out the final man to preserve the A’s 3-1 win.

Root had pitched well, so had reliever Bush, but Ehmke was the story of the game. He gave up the one unearned run, scattered eight hits, walked one, and in what had to be utter vindication for Mack, struck out 13 Cubs. It was a record for a World Series game that lasted to 1953 (Carl Erskine got 14 k’s). And remember that Ehmke had only 20 strikeouts for the entire regular season.

So the Cubs were down 0-1 with another game at home. The World Series had started badly, but it was still possible to save it and bring home a championship to Chicago. But, of course, this is the Cubs we’re talking about.

Short but Sweet

December 27, 2010

Following up on the post about guys who made the Hall of Fame and really could only do one thing well, I began to look for other groups of players who could be linked. An easy one was guys with very short, but very intense careers who make the Hall of Fame based on a brief time of greatness. It turned out there were more than I thought. 

Let me exclude from this list players who lost significant time to war. Guys like Joe DiMaggio who only played 13 years and Hank Greenberg, also 13 years, go in this group. Also I exclude Negro League players who are in the Hall of Fame for their Major League years but lost significant time to segregation. This is where guys like Roy Campanella and Larry Doby go. A third group to be left out are those guys who die while major leaguers but make the Hall. Addie Joss and Ross Youngs are the primary people in this group. All of these people have short careers because of outside influences (or internal in the case of Joss and Youngs) and not due to baseball related causes. That makes them different enough to me that I exclude them from the list I compiled. I also excluded players whose primary career was prior to 1900. Conditions were so different then that short careers were actually somewhat common and both conditions and rules changes (a mound over a pitching box, gloves vs no gloves, etc) made a difference. Still, I get a fairly impressive, and probably incomplete, list.

Among pitchers, five came quickly to mind and a survey of the info indicated I was right about them. Jack Chesbro, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez, Sandy Koufax, and Joe McGinnity (alphabetically) all had very short careers that were considered Hall of Fame worthy (and I don’t intend to debate here whether they were worthy or weren’t).  In Dean’s case he only barely got the required 10 years in through a bit of trickery by the St. Louis Browns ownership. McGinnity also deserves a caveat. He left the National League after 10 years (averaging 25 wins during the 10 seasons) to return to the Minor Leagues (which were not tied to the Major Leagues as they are now) and racked up another 250 plus wins before finally retiring. I’m a bit unclear on his reasoning for the change, but his ML career was on its downside.

I knew of six hitters who met my criteria: Earl Averill, Mickey Cochrane, Earle Combs, Ralph Kiner, Kirby Puckett, and Hack Wilson (again alphabetical). Averill, Combs, Kiner, and Puckett all suffered injuries (back for both Averill and Kiner, a skull fracture for Combs to go along with a broken collarbone, and eyes for Puckett) that curtailed their careers. Cochrane was skulled in a game and told to retire. He did. Wilson drank himself out of the game.  Again each had a short, and very intense period of greatness that did not turn into a long career because of other circumstances (primarily injury except for Wilson).

By my count, there are 180 people in the Hall of Fame who are primarily players (Here’s hoping I can count.) and not managers, executives, umpires, etc. I didn’t really go through the entire list looking for people who played only 10-13 years. Instead I used people I could think of immediately. Maybe not the best way of doing it, but it’s what I used. At least 11 of them had short careers. That’s about 6%, which isn’t a bad number, although certainly not an overwhelming number either. And here I used the entire Hall without excluding those people I specifically excluded in the second paragraph. Had I done so, the percentage would, of course, be higher. It seems that if you are very good you can still have a short career and make the Hall of Fame. But you have to be very, very good.

1910: J. Frank Baker

July 7, 2010

Frank Baker

John Franklin Baker was born in Maryland in 1886. He played baseball well enough that Connie Mack brought him to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. The next season he took over as the regular third baseman and stayed there through 1914. During his tenure the A’s won four pennants and three World Series championships. During the period Baker hit .321 and led the American League in home runs four times (1911-14) and in RBIs twice (1912 and 1913). As good as all that sounds, he was even better in World Series play. In three winning efforts (1910, 1911, and 1913) he hit .409 with three home runs and drove in sixteen runs. His slugging percentage was .621. In 1914, the Braves shut him down, along with pretty much everybody else, and the A’s lost. The three home runs in Series play tied or won ballgames and led to his nickname “Home Run” Baker. 

Baker sat out 1915 in a salary dispute with Mack. He spent the season playing in a semipro league in Pennsylvania. At the end of the season, Mack sold him to New York. He did alright with the Yankees, but he was never as good as he had been with Philadelphia. He hit .300 once, had double figure home runs twice (10 both times) and saw his slugging average drop badly. 

In 1920 his wife died and he took the season off to be with the children. He was back in New York in 1921 in time to make it to the World Series again (I was unable to find out if he remarried or not).  In 1921 he managed nine home runs to finish third on the team behind Babe Ruth’s 59 and Bob Meusel’s 24. The Yankees lost the series to the Giants with Baker contributing two hits (both singles) for a .250 average. His ground out to second with one out the ninth inning of the final game was turned into a double play when the runner on first, AaronWard, tried to steal a run by dashing to third. The throw to third was on target and the series ended. In 1922 he played one final year, hitting .278 in 69 games. He got into the World Series going 0 for 1 in a pinch hitting role. For his career he ended up with a .307 average, 1838 hits, 96 home runs, 1013 RBIs, on OBP of .353, a slugging percentage of .442, 235 stolen bases, and six triple crown titles in 5985 games, all at third base (except for pinch-hitting duties). 

After retirement he coached and managed a little. He’s credited with discovering Jimmie Foxx. He retired to his farm in Maryland and made the Hall of Fame in 1955. He died in 1963, arguably the finest third baseman of the deadball era. 

As a fielder, Baker was both good and mediocre (bear with me a second on that). His 3.43 range factor compares well with fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and George Kell, but his fielding average is nothing to write home about. In his prime years, 1909-14, he was generally in the lower half of the league in fielding, but made up for it with decent range. One of the things I like about his fielding is that he got better. He started with fielding averages in the .920s and ended his career in the .950s. OK, those aren’t great numbers, but a lot of guys never get any better and Baker did. 

He has two number that I really like: 24 and 36. Those are the distance between his RBI totals in 1912 and 1913 and his nearest competitor. In 1912, Baker knocked in 133 runs. Sam Crawford at Detroit and Duffy Lewis at Boston each had 109 (Helps to have Eddie Collins, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker hitting in front of you, doesn’t it?) In 1913, he had 126. The next two guys behind him (again a tie) had 90. You don’t see that kind of domination often. In 1930, Hack Wilson set the Major League record for RBIs with 191. He won by 21. The following year Lou Gehrig set the AL record with 184. He also won by 21. Both Chuck Klein and Mickey Mantle won triple crowns. Klein won his RBI title by 14 and Mantle by only two. 

During his glory years, 1910-1914, Baker joined Cobb and Speaker as the dominant hitters of the age. And I guess that’s part of the knock on Baker. His glory years weren’t very long. But in those five years he won six triple crown titles (batting average, home runs, RBIs). So did Cobb. Speaker only got one. It’s not a bad legacy to say you could hold your own with Cobb and Speaker, even if only for five years. 

There haven’t been a lot of truly great third basemen in Major League history. In the Deadball Era there are only Baker and Jimmy Collins and I prefer Baker. With our without the nickname, Frank Baker is one of the top 10 third basemen ever and I could probably be talked into putting him in the top five.