Posts Tagged ‘Hippo Vaughn’

The Arrival of a Legend

July 11, 2014
The Babe while still a Red Sox

The Babe while still a Red Sox

Today marks one of the most significant anniversaries in Major League baseball history. One hundred years ago on 11 July 1914 the Boston Red Sox gave the ball for the first time to a rookie pitcher nicknamed “Babe” Ruth. It was the start of the most legendary of all baseball careers.

For the day, Ruth pitched seven innings against the Cleveland Naps giving up three runs (two earned). Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) knocked in a run early and catcher Steve O’Neill knocked in two in the seventh for the Cleveland runs. Ruth struck out one and walked none to pick up the win. At bat he went 0-2 with a strikeout. Better hitting days were to come for the Babe.

Most everyone knows the name Babe Ruth, many without knowing what it was he did. If you do know what he did, odds are you know about the home runs and the hitting feats. But Ruth was also a heck of a pitcher. If you look at the left-handed hurlers of the decade between 1910 and 1920 you could make a pretty fair argument that Ruth was the best left-hander of the decade. You might look at Eddie Plank or Rube Marquard early in the decade, or at Hippo Vaughn later in the decade (and he and Ruth faced each other in the 1918 World Series with the Babe picking up a 1-0 win), but Ruth is equally in the argument.

Ruth’s conversion from pitcher to outfielder is key to his career. But if you look around, you’ll find that while it wasn’t common, it wasn’t unheard of in baseball. George Sisler did the same thing and went to the Hall of Fame. So did Lefty O’Doul (without the Hall of Fame being attached). A lot of years later Stan Musial hurt his arm in the minors and switched from the mound to the outfield and ended up in Cooperstown. Bob Lemon went the other way, from third base to pitcher and made the Hall. Bucky Walters also went from third to pitching and won an MVP. Darren Dreifort, while at Wichita State, served as the DH when he wasn’t pitching, but didn’t play in the field (although he did pinch hit) in the Majors. I’m sure that’s nowhere near a complete list.

For his Boston career, Ruth was 89-46, a .659 winning percentage, with a 1.142 WHIP, a 2.19 ERA, and a 122 ERA+. He had 17 shutouts, 483 strikeouts, and 425 walks for his Red Sox years (there were also a handful of games with the Yanks). Ruth’s pitching WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 20.6.  His World Series record is equally good. He was 3-0 with a shutout and eight strikeouts. He did, however, walk 10. His consecutive scoreless streak in the Series was a record until Whitey Ford finally passed him in the 1960s.

I know over the years that a lot of people have tried to tell us that someone else (Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, etc.) was better than Ruth. And maybe as a hitter they were (although I wouldn’t bet on that in Vegas), but ultimately you have to decide that Ruth was the overall superior player because he could also pitch very well. Aaron was Aaron, Williams was Williams, and Bonds was Bonds, but Ruth was a combination of any of them and Walter Johnson. Top that crew.

 

28 June 1914: the NL

June 27, 2014
Heinie Groh, complete with "bottle bat"

Heinie Groh, complete with “bottle bat”

And now concluding a look at where all three Major Leagues stood on 28 June 1914 (100 years ago tomorrow), the day that the assassination in Sarajevo set off the spark that led to World War I, here’s a view of what was going on in the National League.

The National League had the most games on Sunday, 28 June 1914. Both of the other leagues had three games, a double-header and a single game. The NL went with twin double-headers. In one set Pittsburgh played two in Cincinnati and in the other the Cubs took on the Cardinals in St. Louis.

the Reds managed to sweep both games from the Pirates. In game one they rallied late to take a 7-6 victory. Pittsburgh scored a run in each of the first three innings, got three more in the seventh, and led 6-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. Joe Conzelman, in relief of Babe Adams started the ninth, couldn’t get anyone out, and left the job to George McQuillan. McQuillan got two outs, but never got the last, as Cincinnati plated five runs, all earned, to win the game. Heinie Groh of “bottle bat” fame had two hits, scored a run, and drove in one.  But the big hero was center fielder Howard Lohr who had three hits (all singles) scored two runs, and drove in three.

In game two the teams went the other way. In the second, Groh singled, then came home on another single by left fielder Harry LaRoss. It was the only run that starter Marty O’Toole gave up, but Cincinnati starter Pete Schneider picked up his first win of the season by throwing a complete game shutout. For the day Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner went one for seven with an RBI, while fellow Hall of Fame player Max Carey went one for seven and scored a run.

In St. Louis, the two teams split the double-header. In game one the Cards routed Chicago 6-0. The hitting stars were Lee Magee and Dots Miller. Magee scored two runs and had an RBI while going two for two with two walks. Miller went two for four, but drove in three runs. Pitcher Bill Doak threw a complete game shutout.

In the nightcap, with the scored tied 2-2, the Cubs erupts for six runs in the fifth. Tommy Leach two runs, Vic Saier had three RBIs, and Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan had both a run and an RBI from the eight hole. With the score 8-2, St. Louis rallied for two runs in the eighth before Cubs ace Hippo Vaughn entered the game. He gave up one more run, but then shut down St. Louis to record his only save of the season and see Chicago pull off an 8-5 victory.  Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem had the plate for both games.

At the end of the day, Cincy stood in second place, five games behind the Giants, while the Pirates held down fifth place (and were the highest placed team with a losing record). The Cubs were in third and the Cards in fourth. By the end of the season the Cards had risen to third, the Cubs were fourth, the Reds had slipped to last, nine games below seventh place Pittsburgh.

One major trade occurred that day. The last place Braves sent Hub Perdue, a 2-5 pitcher to St. Louis. They got back first baseman Possum Whitted and utility outfielder Ted Cather. Whitted moved into the clean up spot for the Braves and Cather became part of an outfield platoon. Both men were instrumental in the “Miracle Braves” run to the NL pennant and the World Series triumph in 1914. The run began 6 July when Boston ran off seven of eight wins to start the climb to the top.

 

 

 

 

“Non-Essential”

March 30, 2012

Harry Hooper during the 19-teens

In April 1917 the United States entered the Great War on the side of the Entente (Britain, France, Russia) and sent men off to “make the world safe for Democracy” (nice try, fellas). The federal government began to mobilize American society to fight a war unlike any the US had ever faced. It would take a million men to fight it and even more to provide the materiel (yep, that’s spelled right. Materiel is a particular military spelling of material whose origins escape me.), goods, services, morale boosting necessary to fight a modern industrial war. The basic government slogan was “fight or work.” Unfortunately, most people didn’t see playing baseball as work so Major League Baseball was declared “non-essential” and the 1918 season was scrapped.

Of course baseball struck back. The leadership of both leagues argued that the sport provided a morale boost for both men on their way to France and to the munitions and shipyard workers who were supporting the troops, so it should be allowed. The government relented and authorized a shortened season that had to end by Labor Day (2 September) except for a World Series that could be held immediately after. That gave the game a shortened season (126 games for the American League champion and 129 for the National League champion) and led to some funny looking numbers.

With a lot of good players off at either war or war work, the Boston Red Sox won the AL pennant by 2.5 games over Cleveland. They failed to lead the AL in any major category in hitting (leading only in sacrifices). They, in fact, finished dead last in hits with 990. Individually Babe Ruth, now splitting time between the outfield and the mound, tied for the league lead with 11 home runs and led the AL with strikeouts with 58. Pitching was a different story. Boston lead the league in complete games, least hits allowed, shutouts, least runs allowed, and was seond in ERA. Both first baseman Stuffy McInnis and third baseman Fred Thomas spent some time away from the team while serving in the military, but were available for the World Series. Dave  Shean (who lead the AL in sacrifices) and Everett Scott rounded out the infield with Hall of Famer Harry Hooper in right field, Amos Strunk in center, and Ruth in left (with George Whiteman spelling Ruth on days he pitched). Sam Agnew and Wally Schang took care of the catching. The staff had Ruth, Carl Mays, Sam Jones, and Joe Bush starting double figures games and Dutch Leonard who also started 16 games but was gone to the military by the end of the season.

They got to face the Chicago Cubs in the Series. Chicago, which hadn’t won since 1910 had put together a good team through trades and won a pennant by 10.5 games. Fred Merkle (of 1908 infamy), Rollie Zeider, Charlie Hollocher, and Charlie Deal were the infield with Max Flack, Dode Paskert, and Les Mann doing the outfield work, while old-time Phillies catcher Bill Killefer did the backstop work. The staff consisted of Hippo Vaughn, Claude Hendrix, Lefty Tyler, and Phil Douglas as the starters with Paul Carter as the man out of the bullpen. Expected ace Grover Cleveland Alexander was off in the army after only three games. As with Boston, the stars were on the mound (although the team lead the NL in runs scored). Chicago led the NL in shutouts, least runs allowed, and in strikeouts.

It was a terrific Series, with Boston winning in six games. No team scored more than three runs in a game, no game was decided by more than three runs (a 3-0 shutout win by Chicago in game five). Four games (1, 3, 4, and 6) were decided by one run. Ruth won two games (Mays the other two for Boston), including game one. In doing so he stretched his consecutive scoreless inning streak. It stayed until game four’s eighth inning when Chicago got two runs (both earned). The record lasted until Whitey Ford slid passed it in 1960. There were no home runs and only Cubs backup second baseman Charlie Pick and Boston’s Schang hit over .300 (Schang led all hitters at .444).

Maybe 1918 was “non-essential” but it produced a good pennant race in the AL. It also produced a fine World Series. All-in-all not a bad way of diverting a wartime populace from the tragedy of World War I.

1910: Highlanders Postmortem

September 13, 2010

For the first time since 1904, the New York Highlanders were significant contenders for the American League pennant. Ultimately they failed to win, finishing at 88-63, 14.5 games back in second place. They were the only team in either league to change managers during the season, going from George Stallings to Hal Chase. That occurred in late September 1910 and will be the subject of a later post.

The Highlanders (now the Yankees) hit well. They led the league in stolen bases and walks, were third in runs, fifth in hits (but made up for it in OBP with all those walks), and third in slugging. Shortstop Jack Knight was the only regular to hit .300, but first baseman Hal Chase, second baseman Frank La Porte, and outfielders Harry Wolter and Birdie Cree all hit above .260. Only third base man Jimmy Austin and catcher Ed Sweeney hit below .220. Chase led the team in RBIs, runs, and hits. More about him in the manager post.

The bench had six players participate in 20 or more games. One of them, backup outfielder Bert Daniels, led the team in stolen bases, hit .253, and was fourth on the team in walks. The other major  bench players hit below .250, with two hitting below .200 (and one below .150).

The Highlanders used only 10 pitchers all season, five of them starting 15 or more games. They did pretty well. Russ Ford was 26-6 with an ERA under two. Jack Quinn (who would pitch into his 40s and win a World Series as late as 1930) was 18-12, and 22-year-old lefty James “Hippo” Vaughn went 13-11 with a 1.83 ERA. Every pitcher had more strikeouts than walks, and all but one, Tom Hughes, had more innings pitched than hits.  At 7-9, Hughes was also the only major starter with a losing record.

For the Highlanders, the future looked bright. The pitching staff was good, the starting position players were good to adequate, depending on the position. What they lacked was a solid bench, but then so did everyone else. In 1911 they slipped back to fifth and finished at .500. What happened? Well, that manager change certainly didn’t help. Hal Chase wasn’t the best choice to lead a team, any team.

Opening Day, 1910: New York (AL)

April 18, 2010

 

Hal Chase

Considering what the American League team in New York has meant to the AL since 1920, it’s a little surprising to note that the Highlanders (they were to become the Yankees in the next decade) were not a significant factor in the league. They were formed in 1903 when the Baltimore franchise relocated to New York. They finished in the first division in ’03 and second in the league in ’04 (1.5 games out), then slid back in 1905, made second again in 1906, then fell back, finishing last in 1908. By 1909 they were back to fifth.

It was a team in some turmoil. Manager George Stallings (the “Miracle Man” of 1914) had a fairly solid infield, but there were problems in the rest of the positions. Hal Chase, Frank La Porte, Jack Knight, and Jimmy Austin held down the infield from first over to third in 1909 and all were back for 1910. but the infield bench was different. Gone was Kid Elberfeld. Earle Gardner, Roxy Roach, and Eddie Foster now handled the backup duties for the team.

The 1909 outfield was gone. Willie Keeler, Ray Demmitt, and Clyde Engle were replaced by Harry Wolter, Charlie Hemphill, and Birdie Cree. In 1909 Cree had been the fourth outfielder, but the others were new. Bert Daniels was now the outfielder sitting on the bench.

Ed Sweeney, the ’09 backup catcher, moved to the starting role in 1910 with Fred Mitchell the backup. Former starter Red Kleinow developed a sore arm and was traded after getting into only six games. Neither catcher would manage to hit .220.

The pitching underwent something of a makeover. Joe Lake, Jack Warhop, Lew Brockett, Jack Quinn, Joe Doyle, Tom Hughes, and Rube Manning had done the bulk of the starting for the Highlanders in 1909. Quinn, Warhop, and Hughes were back. Manning was now a bullpen man and Doyle lasted exactly three games before a trade. In their place were Russ Ford and Jim “Hippo” Vaughn.

Well, it wasn’t a bad team, in fact it would show significant rise in 1910. But it had one serious flaw. By 1910 manager Stallings was already voicing concerns about the reliability of first baseman Chase. There were allegations that Chase was taking money to lose games, that he was spreading gambling money to other players in return for shoddy play in critical games. There were allegations that he was playing just well enough to look reasonably good in losing efforts. There was no proof, and certainly nowhere for Stallings to go with his complaints but to the ownership who had an interest in protecting Chase who was a definite fan favorite (Judge Landis was 10 years in the future).  All this made for major clubhouse problems. It would take until 1919-1920 to garner the evidence to ban Chase. Until then he would be a cancer on the club, and any club for which he played.

Next: Cleveland

Double No-No

February 17, 2010

The other truly odd game of 1917 occurred on the 2nd of May. This game was in the National League and pitted home team Chicago against the Cincinnati Reds. It became famous at the double no hitter.

The Cubs sent lefty Jim “Hippo” Vaughn to the mound. There are a couple of stories about his nickname. One says it had to do with his size, the other with the way he walked. Don’t know which is true, but the Sports Encylcopedia: Baseball  lists him as 6’4″ and 214 pounds, not exactly hippo-like numbers. He was opposed by Cincinnati ace right-hander Fred Toney.

Both pitchers managed to get through a regulation game without giving up a hit. Both had a couple of walks, with Cubs outfielder Cy Williams being the only Chicago base runner (on two walks). In the tenth inning, Vaughn managed to get the first out, then light hitting shortstop Larry Kopf singled for the first hit of the day by either team. For the year Kopf was a .255 hitter with no power, a little speed (17 stolen bases), and a handful of runs (81). He went to third on an error and came home on a single by backup outfielder Jim Thorpe (Yes, that Jim Thorpe). Thorpe hit all of .247 for the year with 36 RBIs, none more famous than bringing home Kopf. Vaughn then shut down the Reds and Toney took the mound. He set the Cubs down in order to pick up the win and notch his only no hitter.

For years baseball carried the game as the only double no hitter ever pitched. When they changed the rules recently, Vaughn’s effort was washed away and only Toney now gets credit for a no hitter. I guess that’s fair, but it is kind of a shame.

For the season the Cubs ended up 5th 24 games back. Vaughn won 23 games against 13 losses with an ERA of 2.01 and 195 strikeouts. The Reds finished just ahead of Chicago in 4th place 20 games back. Toney was 24-16 with a 2.20 ERA and 123 strikeouts.

Over their careers, Vaughn did slightly better finishing 178-137 over 390 games with 1416 strikeouts and a 2.49 ERA. Toney was 137-102 (a better winning percentage) over 336 games with 718 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.69. But for one day, they were both superb and Toney was better.

This finishes a run of 3 posts on no hitters in 1917. In fairness, I need to point out there were 2 others that year, both in April. Eddie Cicotte of Chicago no hit the Browns on the 14th (and perhaps the two no hitters in May were payback by the Browns) and George Mogridge no hit the Red Sox on the 24th.  There were six no hitters in 1917. That ties 1908, 1915, 1969, and 1990 for most in a single season.