Posts Tagged ‘Jack Kramer’

The Best Team Never to Win (2)

January 26, 2017

Mel Parnell

Having decided the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox are the best team to never win a pennant, I spent the last post detailing some of the players. In this one I want to look at more of the roster. I have the battery and the bench left.

Almost all the catching was done by two men: Birdie Tebbetts and Mike Batts. Tebbetts was the primary catcher for the entire period. He’d been around for a while (1936) and 1952 would be his last season. He started with Detroit and participated in the 1940 World Series (the Tigers lost). He’d missed the 1945 Series win because of military service. He came to Boston in 1947 and remained through 1950. His triple slash line for 1950 was ..310/.377/.444/.821. It was easily his best season in Boston, but it needs to be noted he only played in 79 games that year. He had 18 home runs over the period. His 68 RBIs in 1948 was easily his highest total. He had 3.2 total WAR for the three seasons. He’d been an excellent catcher while in Detroit, but age and injury diminished his skills by 1948. Mike Batts was the primary backup. His best year was 1948 when his triple slash line looked like this: .314/.391/.441/.832 in 46 games (his high in games played was 75 in 1950. He managed eight total home runs and topped out at 34 RBIs in 1950. As a catcher he was nothing special. His total WAR for the three seasons was 1.2.

As usual, the bench saw much change over three seasons. The following were the primary bench players in 1948: Sam Mele and Wally Moses in the outfield, and infielders Billy Hitchcock and Jake Jones (all the bench players with more than four games played). Hitchcock hit .298, both Mele and Moses had two homers, and Moses led the bench with 29 RBIs and five steals. Together they had -1.3 WAR. In 1949 Hitchcock and Mele were back. Tommy O’Brien replaced Moses and Walt Dropo replaced Jones and new guy Lou Stringer joined the team as the members of the bench with 40 or more at bats. Dropo, who only got into 11 games, I dealt with in the last post. The others saw Stringer hit .268 and O’Brien have three homers and 10 RBIs. Between them they came up with -2 WAR. In 1950, except for Billy Goodman who showed up in the last post, no backup infielder played in more than 25 games. The main bench consisted of O’Brien, Clyde Vollmer, and Tom Wright in the outfield (where Williams was injured for part of the season), along with Buddy Roser who was the third catcher. Wright hit .318 and Vollmer had seven home runs and 37 RBIs. Vollmer’s 0.3 was the only WAR in positive numbers. The above makes it plain that the bench wasn’t a major team strength.

You can get away with a weak bench, but you can’t get away with a weak staff. As you should expect, over a period of three years there were major changes in the pitching staff as well as stalwarts who were there all three seasons. In the brief look at the various pitchers which is going to follow this paragraph, I am noting all hurlers who started double figure games along with the top two or three men in the bullpen.

In 1948, six men started double figure games: Joe Dobson, Mel Parnell, Jack Kramer, Ellis Kinder, Mickey Harris, and Denny Galehouse. Parnell and Harris were the lefties. Kramer led the team with 18 wins while Parnell’s 3.14 set the ERA pace. Only Harris, at 7-10 put up a losing record. Kramer, Galehouse, and Harris all gave up more hits than innings pitched, while Dobson’s 1.341 WHIP led the starters. Parnell, Kinder, Galehouse, and Harris all walked more men than they struck out. Parnell’s 139 was the top ERA+ and only Dobson (at 3.6) and Parnell (at 3.4) had pitching WAR above 2.0. Earl Johnson, Dave Ferriss, and Tex Hughson were the only other pitchers to appear in 10 or more games. Johnson’s 4.53 was the only ERA under five and all of them gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Hughson’s 1.448 was the best WHIP and Hughson’s 0.0 WAR was best of the three.

The next season, 1949, saw Kramer, Parnell, Kinder, and Dobson remain from 1948. They were joined by Chuck Stobbs and Mickey McDermott, both lefties. Parnell and Kinder had great seasons. Parnell won 25 games, Kinder 23. Parnell’s ERA was 2.77, but he still walked more men than he struck out (1.327). His 8.2 WAR was second on the team to Ted Williams, while Kinder had 4.3 WAR. Of the others, only Kramer had a losing record, but only Dobson had an ERA under four. Additionally Kramer gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Together they produced 2.1 WAR. The bullpen featured Hughson and Johnson, while adding Walt Masterson. Only Masterson had an ERA under 5.25. All three gave up more hits than they had innings pitched, Hughson’s 1.584 was the top WHIP, and together they managed all of 10.4 WAR.

By 1950 only Parnell and Dobson were left from the 1948 starters. Stobbs, who’d come in 1949 was still there, and Willard Nixon had come aboard as a new right hander. Among the bullpen men, Masterson and McDermott did the bulk of the work. The big change was that Kinder was now doing half of his work out of the bullpen (23 starts in 48 games pitched). Parnell (at 5.6) and Dobson (at 3.9) led the team in WAR and produced winning seasons with 18-10 and 15-10 records (Parnell listed first). Parnell’s ERA was 3.61 and Dobson’s was 4.18. Both Stobbs and Nixon had ERA’s north of five while Dobson and Nixon continued the trend of giving up more hits than they had innings pitched. Kinder did the same, but at 1.401 had the best WHIP. All the starters, except Kinder walked more men than they struck out. Both McDermott and Masterson put up ERA’s over five and both walked more opponents than they struck out (at least McDermott gave up fewer hits than he had innings pitched). Kinder’s WAR was a respectable 3.5, but Stobbs, Nixon, McDermott, and Masterson together totaled -0.3.

So there’s the team that played in Boston in the American League between 1948 and 1950 inclusive. They didn’t win, although they did come close, especially in 1948. Next time some thoughts on what went wrong.

 

 

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Missouri Waltz: the 1944 World Series

June 24, 2013
MissHarry Truman in one of the most famous of all political pictures

Missouri’s favorite son, Harry Truman in one of the most famous of all political pictures

It was a heck of a year for Missouri. U.S. Senator Harry Truman from Independence was leading a major committee that was instrumental in helping the war effort. In baseball with both St. Louis teams winning Major League Baseball pennants, the World Series would be an all-St. Louis affair in 1944. All games would be played in town with the Cardinals being the home team in games one, two, six, and seven. The Browns got games three, four, and five. All games were played in Sportsman’s Park, a stadium the two teams shared. The Cards were big favorites.

With the Browns having needed the last day of the season to clinch the pennant, they sent Denny Galehouse to the mound. Galehouse was 9-10 over 24 games (19 starts) over the season. With Chet Laabs back from war work, they were also able to start the man who was supposed to be their regular left fielder. The Cards countered with their regular lineup and ace Mort Cooper (22-7 over 34 games). After three scoreless innings, the Browns got to Cooper when, with two outs, Gene Moore singled and George McQuinn hit a two-run home run. They were the only two hits Cooper gave up. The scored held into the bottom of the ninth when Marty Marion doubled, went to third on a ground out then came home on Ken O’Dea’s sacrifice fly. Galehouse then got Johnny Hopp to fly to center to end the game. The underdog Browns were up 1-0.

That lasted exactly one day. The second game saw the Browns send Nels Potter to the mound to oppose Max Lanier. The Cards scored first in the bottom of the third on an Emil Verban single, a Lanier bunt that Potter threw away, sending Verban to third. Augie Bergamo then grounded out to second scoring Verban. The Cards added another run in the fourth when Ray Sanders singled, went to second on another single, took third on an error by the third baseman (Mark Christman), then scored on a sacrifice fly by Verban. The Browns tied the game in the seventh when Moore singled, scored on a double by Red Hayworth, and Frank Mancuso (pinch-hitting for Potter) singled to score Hayworth. That completed the scoring through the ninth. The game went eleven innings and ended when Sanders singled, went to second on a bunt, and came home on O’Dea’s single.  Reliever Blix Donnelly got the win and fellow reliever Bob Muncrief took the loss.

Game three saw the Browns take over as home team. With no need to travel, the game was played the next day. The Cards started Ted Wilks while the Browns answered with ace Jack Kramer. The Cardinals got an early run in the first when, with one out, Hopp reached second on an error by shortstop Vern Stephens, then after another out, scored on a single by Walker Cooper. The run held up into the third when the Browns exploded for the Series’ first big inning. Moore and Stephens both singled, then consecutive singles by McQuinn, Al Zarilla, and Christman plated three runs. After an intentional walk and a wild pitch to hurler Kramer, Zarilla scored the fourth run. After the Cards tacked on an unearned run in the top of the seventh, the Browns responded with two more runs to win 6-2. Kramer got the win with a complete game and Wilks the loss pitching only 2.2 innings. After three games, the underdog Browns were actually ahead 2 games to 1.

Game four was played on Saturday 7 October. The Cards sent Harry Breechen to the mound to oppose Sig Jakucki. With one out in the top of the first, Stan Musial popped a home run scoring himself and Hopp to put the Cardinals ahead. It was all Breechen needed. He gave up nine hits, walked four, struck out the same number, but only allowed a single run (in the eighth on a double play ball), while his teammates tacked on three more runs, two in the third on a couple of singles and an error, and one more in the sixth on a Marion double. The game tied the Series at 2 each, turning the playoff into a best of three.

Game five on Sunday saw a repeat of the game one matchup. This time the results were different. Galehouse gave up single runs in the sixth (a Sanders home run) and eighth (a Danny Litwhiler home run), while Mort Cooper threw a complete game shutout on seven hits and two walks while striking out 12.

That brought the World Series to game six, a Lanier, Potter rematch. It also sent the Cardinals to the home dugout. The Browns broke on top in the second with a Laabs triple followed by a McQuinn single. The run held up into the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Walker Cooper walked, went to third on a Sanders single, and scored to tie the game when Stephens threw away a grounder from Whitey Kurowski. After a second out, Verban and Lanier both singled to drive in two more runs and put the Cards up 3-1 with five innings left. Lanier got through the fifth, ran into trouble in the sixth, and was lifted for Wilks, who got out of a base runners at second and third situation without a run scoring. Wilks set the Browns down in order in both the seventh and eighth. In the ninth, McQuinn fouled out, pinch hitter Milt Byrnes struck out, and a second pinch hitter, Mike Chartak also struck out to end the game, the Series, and the Browns postseason experience. The Cardinals had won in six games.

It was a good, but not great Series. For the Browns there were lots of reasons they lost. They had 10 errors, at least one in every game but game one (by contrast, the Cards had one total error). They led to seven unearned runs (the Cards scored 16 total runs). Among starting hitters only McQuinn hit above .250 (he hit .438 and had the only Browns home run). As a team they hit a buck eighty-three. The pitchers (other than Jakucki who was  shelled) did well. The team ERA was 1.49 and the staff struck out 43 while walking only 19 and giving up 49 hits.

But the Cardinals staff was as good. Their ERA was higher at 1.96, and they walked 23, but they struck out 49 and allowed only 36 hits. There was no real hitting star for the Cards. Five men had two RBIs, no one had more. Verban hit .412, but both Musial and Walker Cooper were over .300 and Sanders hit in the .280s. There were three home runs, all by different players (Musial, Litwhiler, and Sanders), and Verban, Walker Cooper, and Musial all led the team with seven hits. It was a true team effort.

For the Cardinals it was the third in a series of four pennants in five years. So there was one more opportunity (1946) for the Redbirds, but for the Browns it was the high point of their existence. It was the only time they would win a pennant (until after they moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles). For St. Louis it was the city’s greatest baseball season. And for Missouri it was also a good year. That Senator from Independence named Truman went on to be elected Vice President of the United States and became President the next year.

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.