Posts Tagged ‘Jimmie Foxx’

Padding Time

June 19, 2018

Way back when I was a little kid, my grandfather, who was by trade a tenant farmer, got a job as a gravedigger. It was far enough back that you still used a shovel to dig the grave. He worked on an hourly wage scale, but sometimes they had to work overtime. They didn’t have overtime wages at the cemetery where he put in his time, so if the crew had to work late the owners would allow them to take a day off when their overtime hours reached eight. So, of course, if there was a grave to be dug late in the day, they’d move a little slower and manage to go an hour over. The crew called it “padding time.”

Baseball has that, sort of. One of the all-time greats, Albert Pujols, is doing “padding time” now. He’s a shadow of his former all-star self. He’s still a decent player, but nothing like what we saw 10 years ago when he was the greatest first baseman I’d ever seen. Right now he’s simply “padding” his career stats and moving up the list on a lot of statistical charts. Currently he’s tied with Jimmie Foxx for 22nd in runs scored, 27th in hits (less than 20 from Rod Carew), 11th in doubles (three from David Ortiz), seventh in home runs all of four behind Ken Griffey, within shouting distance of Lou Gehrig and sixth on the RBI list (and Barry Bonds is only one RB beyond Gehrig), and eighth in total bases (a long way from Pete Rose in seventh).

Now that’s not a knock on Pujols. He’s a great player who is the “padding time” mode and it’s not the first time a player’s done that. Rose, to some extent, did it when trying to pass Ty Cobb in hits.  There’s nothing either immoral or illegal about it and it’s well within baseball’s acceptable traditions.

But it comes with a built-in problem. There are a lot of fans, most of them in California, who will know and remember Pujols only as a nice ball player and not recall the wonderful athlete that became arguably the second greatest St. Louis Cardinals player ever (behind Stan Musial). And that’s a shame. It’s not Pujols fault so much as it’s the fault of the fans, but nonetheless it is bound to happen.

I think that part of the aura that surrounds players like Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax is that there is no “padding time” for either of them, or at least not much with Williams. He’d been falling off for a few years, but there was no collapse into mediocrity for “Teddy Ballgame” and the last homer in the last at bat is the stuff of legends. For Koufax, there’s no long slow decline as his curve doesn’t and is fastball isn’t. For those who saw both and can watch the film of both, there’s no watching a great become a former great. Barry Sanders is like that in football, as is Jim Brown.

It’s kind of painful to watch, but I wouldn’t trade getting to see Pujols, even at half the player he was, perform.

The Camera Eye

June 29, 2015
Max Bishop

Max Bishop

Back when I first became interested in studying baseball, rather than merely watching the game, I had (and still have to some extent) a love of the 1929-1931 Philadelphia Athletics. They were a great team that managed to sideline the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees for three seasons and were an interesting bunch in and of themselves. But I wondered about something. I couldn’t quite understand why, on a team full of excellent players, Max Bishop led off.

Bishop was born in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania in 1899. He was a good amateur player who moved to Baltimore at age 14 and caught the attention of the minor league Baltimore Orioles who signed him as a third baseman in 1918. While playing for the birds in the summer, he attended Baltimore City College in the fall and spring, playing second base for the college team. In 1919, the Orioles switched him to second also.

His play with Baltimore was good enough that both the A’s and the Boston Red Sox were interested in obtaining him. The Athletics landed him in late 1923 and he began the 1924 season as their primary second baseman. He developed rapidly a great batting eye (hence the nickname “Camera Eye”) and moved to lead off for Philadelphia, a position in the batting order he held for most of his career. He usually hit in the .270 to .250 range, once getting into the .300s and once dropping as low as .230. He had no power, little speed (his top stolen base total was 10 in 1928), but with the power hitters Connie Mack had behind him, he was never going to be asked to steal a lot of bases. He walked a lot, having more than 100 bases on balls in eight of 12 campaigns (and 80 or more two other times). He was a decent second baseman, never among the top fielding men in the American League, but a solid middle of the pack keystone player (although he did win three fielding percentage titles).

In the glory years of 1929-1931 he was a major contributor to the team, but hardly a star. He had 10 home runs in the inflated air of 1930, led the AL in walks in 1929, scored over 100 runs each year (and also in 1928), and had 150 or more total bases each year. In his three World Series appearances he hit only .182, but had 12 walks, and scored 11 runs. His World Series OBP was .316.

With the team floundering and cash running out, Mack sold Bishop to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) in 1934 (along with Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg). He played two final years in Boston, never getting into 100 games, and in 1936 moved to Portland to become player-manager of the Pacific Coast League team. He got hurt, couldn’t play second, and was fired in May. He played a few games with Baltimore, then became a scout, managed a little, then took over the baseball team at the Naval Academy. He stayed there 24 years, putting up winning season after winning season. He retired after the 1961 season and died in February 1962. He is buried in Baltimore.

For his career Bishop has the following triple slash line: .271/.423/.366/.789 (OPS+ of 103. In 1338 games he had 1216 hits, 236 doubles, 35 triples, 41 home runs, for 1645 total bases. He had 379 RBIs, 40 stolen bases (and was caught stealing 51 times), 1156 walks (about .86 per game), and only 452 strikeouts. He’s never gotten much support for the Hall of Fame, peaking at 1.9% of the vote in 1960.

Bishop, to answer my childhood question, led off because he got on base a lot.  He had a very good On Base Percentage, a statistic I’d never heard of at the time. Hidden in his lack of power, speed, and high average was the ability to draw a walk and get on base in front of the big guns of Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx hitting behind him. It was a successful formula that helped Philadelphia to three pennants and two World Series championships.

Bishop's tombstone

Bishop’s tombstone

Top of the World

October 18, 2012

Triple Crown winner Chuck Klein with a bunch of bats

So far I’ve said little about Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown. I tend to worry more about old-time baseball than about the current season, but congratulations are certainly in order. With Detroit still alive in the playoffs he has a chance to do something that’s only been done twice.

Over the years a hitting Triple Crown has been accomplished 16 times. Only twice has the Triple Crown winners team also won the World Series. Here’s a quick review of each Triple Crown winner and where his team finished.

1878–Paul Hines won the Triple Crown for Providence. They finished third in the National League.

1887–Tip O’Neill won the Triple Crown for St. Louis of the American Association (a major league at the time). The team finished first and played a 15 game postseason series against Detroit of the National League (sort of a  primitive World Series). They lost 10 games to 5.

1901–Napoleon LaJoie won the Triple Crown for the Philadelphia Athletics. They finished fourth in the fledgling American League.

1909–Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown at Detroit. The Tigers dropped the World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games.

1922 and 1925–Rogers Hornsby won the Triple Crown while with St. Louis. The Cardinals finished third in 1922 and fourth in 1925. Hornsby became the only player to win a Triple Crown and hit .400 in the same season. He did it both times.

1933–both leagues had a Triple Crown winner (only time that’s happened). Chuck Klein won the NL Triple Crown for the seventh place Phillies, while Jimmie Foxx won the AL Triple Crown for the third place Athletics. As a bit of trivia, both Triple Crown winners played in Philadelphia.

1934–Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown in one of the few years the Yankees didn’t finish first. They finished second.

1937–Joe Medwick won the last NL Triple Crown for the Cardinals. They rewarded him with a fourth place finish.

1942 and 1947–Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in both seasons. His Boston team finished second in ’42 and third in ’47.

1956–Mickey Mantle became the second Yankee Triple Crown winner and first Triple Crown winner to have his team (the Yankees) win the World Series.

1966–Frank Robinson became the second (with Baltimore). Robinson also became the first (and so far only) black player to win a Triple Crown. 

1967 –Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown with Boston, but the Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals.

Pitching Triple Crown winners are both more common and have won more frequently. Here’s a list of the pitchers who won both the pitching Triple Crown and the World Series (1800s version or modern version): Tommy Bond in 1877 (there was no postseason play that season but Bond’s Boston team took first place in the regular season), Charles Radbourne in 1884, Tim Keefe in 1888, Christy Mathewson in 1905, Walter Johnson in 1924, Lefty Grove in 1930, Lefty Gomez in 1937, Hal Newhouser in 1945, Sandy Koufax in both 1963 and 1965.

All that indicates that winning a Triple Crown (either variety) is no predictor of success in the postseason. Still, I think I’d rather win one than not.

A Bad Century: The Nadir (We Needed Eight Runs Saturday)

May 11, 2012

Pat Malone

In my last post I went into some detail about game 4 of the 1929 World Series, indicating I thought it was near the very bottom of the Cubs’ bad century. But with a Chicago win in game three, the fourth game didn’t actually end the Series. Only in Cubsland could you ask “Can it get worse than blowing and 8-0 lead with eight outs to go?” I’m not sure it got worse, but 14 October 1929 was darned close.

Game five of the 1929 World Series was played in Philadelphia. Down 3 games to one, Chicago had to win to keep the Series going. Manager Joe McCarthy sent ace Pat Malone to the mound. A’s manager Connie Mack countered with game one winner Howard Ehmke. Malone pitched well. He shut down a powerful Athletics lineup through the first three innings, allowing only one hit, an Al Simmons single that was erased on a double play. In the fourth Chicago got two runs on a double, a walk, and consecutive singles. Then Malone went back to the mound. He was masterful. He gave up one hit through the bottom of the eighth and allowed only one batter (Jimmie Foxx) as far as second. When the Cubs went down in order in the top of the ninth, they were three outs from getting back into the Series. According to one, probably fanciful, story an A’s coach (usually, but not always, identified as Eddie Collins) turned to Mack in the dugout and simply said “We need two runs bad.” Mack’s supposed to have replied, “We needed eight runs Saturday.”

With one out Max Bishop singled, and the wheels began to come off for Chicago. That brought up Mule Haas who slugged a pitch over the fence to tie the score at 2-2. Mickey Cochrane grounded to second for the second out, bringing up Al Simmons. Simmons doubled into the gap. Foxx was intentionally walked, giving Bing Miller the chance to be a hero. He was. Miller doubled to score Simmons and close the World Series with an Athletics win.

For the Cubs the loss was devastating and unexpected. They’d had exactly two bad innings in two days and now they were going home World Series losers. They would get back to the Series in 1932 (and be swept), then again in 1935 and 1938, but the cloud of 1929 lingered through the ensuing decade.

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.

The 50 Greatest Red Sox

April 20, 2012

The Birthday Boy

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, ESPN Boston just released its list of the 50 Greatest Red Sox. It’s an interesting list and frankly not a bad one, although I would disagree with some of the selections. Here’s a list of their top 10 in order: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Tris Speaker, Pedro Martinez, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, and Bobby Doerr. Before you ask, Jim Rice is 11th.

Again, not a bad list but I wonder how much Clemens rancorous departure and the subsequent steroid controversy contributed to his rank below both Martinez and Young. I’m a little surprised Grove is a top 10 over Wade Boggs or Rice, but why not. You got to admit, that’s one heck of an outfield, isn’t it?

In case you’re interested it takes all the way to 30th to get a full team. According to this listing, the best Red Sox team is:

Infield: Foxx, Doerr, Joe Cronin (18th), and Wade Boggs (13th)

Outfield: Williams, Yastrzemski, Speaker

Catcher: Carlton Fisk (14th)

DH: Rice (11th and the first position player who would not have a regular spot in the field, hence he’s the DH)

Left Handed Starters: Ruth and Grove

Right Handed Starters: Martinez, Young, and Clemens

Closer: Dick Radatz (30th)

Agree? Disagree? Fine, but compliment or complain to ESPN: Boston, it’s their list.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Walter Johnson

July 21, 2011

The Big Train

Presuming that most fans know something about the true greats of the game, I like to do this simple numbered format to point up things about top rung players. It beats delving into long paragraphs about things you already know. So going from obscurity to the antithesis of same, here’s a list of things you ought to know about Walter Johnson:

1. He was born in Kansas in 1887, moved to California with his parents, and ended up in Idaho where he pitched Minor League ball.

2. The “Big Train” was signed in July 1907 at age nineteen by the Washington Senators.

3. He wasn’t an instant success. He went 32-48 in his first three seasons. He did, however, have 395 strikeouts in 663 innings.

4. He hit his stride in 1910, going 25-17 with an ERA of 1.26 and 313 strikeouts (almost doubling his “K” total in one season). His ERA+ for the season was 183, and it was to get even better.

5. In 1912 and 1913 he won over 30 games each season, leading the American League in the latter year. He was to lead the AL in wins five more seasons, the last time in 1924.

6. He won strikeout titles every year from 1912 through 1919, then again in 1921, 1923, and 1924. He won the pitching triple crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts) in 1913, 1918, and 1924. The latter year he was 36 years old.

7. The Senators won two pennants while he pitched (1924 and 1925), winning one World Series (’24). Johnson went 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA and 35 strikeouts over 50 innings. He is one of only two Senators/Twins pitchers to win a road game in the World Series (George Mogridge is the other–see an earlier post).

8. When he retired he had 3509 strikeouts, 705 more than the second place pitcher (Cy Young). The record stood until 1983. He’s currently ninth. No hitter currently ranked in the top 96 in batter strikeouts faced Johnson. Babe Ruth, at 97th, has the highest strikeout total of any hitter who faced Johnson (Ruth’s highest single season total was 93 in 1923). Johnson compiled his strikeout total against players who didn’t regularly strikeout 150 times a season. Jimmie Foxx, whose rookie year was 1925, is next among hitters Johnson faced at 104th on the list (12 strikeouts ahead of David Ortiz).

9. Johnson retired after the 1927 season with 417 wins, 279 losses, an ERA of 2.17, a winning percentage of .599, the 3509 strikeouts mentioned above, 1363 walks, a record 110 shutouts, two MVP awards (1913 Chalmers Award and 1924 MVP), and an ERA+ of 147, fifth all-time, and third to Pedro Martinez and Lefty Grove among starters who pitched from 60’6″ (Reliever Mariano Rivera and 19th Century starter Jim Devlin are also both ahead of Johnson).

10. After his retirement he managed the Senators, didn’t do very well, managed the Indians (also without much success), did some announcing on the radio in 1939, and was in the initial class of the Hall of Fame.

11. He got into politics a little after his retirement (What? Playing for the Senators wasn’t punishment enough?). He was a county commissioner in Maryland and ran twice for Congress, losing both. He died in 1946 and is buried in Maryland.

12. In 1969’s Centennial of Professional Baseball voting, he was chosen both the greatest right handed pitcher ever and the greatest Senators player.

The Biggest Inning

May 11, 2010

There’s an old baseball dilemma that shows up every so often. It’s the “Do I play for one run or go for the big inning” dilemma. As we all know the answer depends on a lot of variables. One of those is “how far behind am I?” If the answer is eight runs in the seventh inning, the best bet is to go for the big inning. Which brings me to game four of the 1929 World Series.

The 1929 World Series featured the Chicago Cubs (You already know how this is going to turn out, don’t you?) and the Philadelphia Athletics. The Cubs were back in the Series for the first time since 1918 and the A’s had passed the Murder’s Row Yankees for their first pennant since the 1910-1914 glory days of Home Run Baker and Eddie Collins. The series figured to be close. Both teams hit really well. The difference was supposed to be the A’s pitching staff. So far that held up. The A’s won the first two games, then dropped game three in Philadelphia. If the Cubs could win the fourth game, the World Series would be a simple best of three sprint.

The Cubs sent Charley Root to the mound. Unfortunately for Root he’s always been associated with Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in the 1932 World Series, but he was a solid, if unspectacular, pitcher who was the Cubs second best starter in 1929. For six innings he pitched like it.

The A’s sent Jack Quinn to hill. I don’t want to say Quinn was old or anything, but his rookie year was 1909 when the Yankees were still the Highlanders. He was 45 (15 years older than Root) and had started only 18 games in 1929. In game four, he pitched like it. He got through five innings, giving up seven runs on seven hits. Rube Walberg came in to replace him and saw a couple of men Quinn left on base score. In the seventh inning Eddie Rommel replaced Walberg and promptly gave up one final run. So going into the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs were up 8-0 with nine outs to go to tie up the World Series.

Al Simmons led off the seventh with a home run (8-1), then Jimmie Foxx, Bing Miller, and Jimmie Dykes all singled, scoring Foxx (8-2). Joe Boley singled to drive in Miller (8-3). George Burns, pinch-hitting for Rommel popped out. Max Bishop singled to bring in Dykes (8-3). Out went Root, in came Art Nehf, Chicago’s primary left-handed reliever. He proceeded to throw gas on the fire by tossing a fast ball to Mule Haas. Haas drove it to center field where Cubs star Hack Wilson promptly lost the ball in the sun. It rolled to the fence for an inside-the-park home run (8-7). Nehf walked A’s catcher Mickey Cochrane and was pulled for Sheriff Blake, the Cubs fourth starter. Simmons and Foxx both singled, driving in Cochrane (8-8). Out went Blake, in came Cubs ace Pat Malone who proceeded to plunk Miller to load the bases. Dykes then drove a double into left field scoring both Simmons and Foxx as the A’s took the lead 10-8. With the damage now done, Boley struck out and Burns fanned for the final out and the distinction of being one of the few players to make two outs in one World Series inning (and the patron saint of every one of us who made more than one out in an inning in Little League).

Now that they were ahead, the A’s sent ace Lefty Grove to the mound to shut down the Cubs. That worked. The game ended 10-8 and the A’s had just put together the biggest inning in World Series history (even the 1993 Phillies-Blue Jays 15-14 slugfest didn’t see more than six runs scored in one inning). Blake took the loss and Rommel had the win.

To finish it up, the A’s won the World Series the next day with a single, home run, and consecutive doubles in the bottom of the ninth. It was a thorough meltdown by the Cubs. Wilson got a lot of blame for losing the ball in the sun, but that was one play in an inning that produced 10 runs. The Cubs pitching was woeful for that inning and the A’s hitters, especially Jimmie Dykes, took advantage to prove that in this case the big inning is better.

Triple Crown, I

March 17, 2010

When I think of Triple Crown, my first thought, believe it or don’t, is of horse racing. Watching Secretariat come down the stretch in the Belmont is still the most amazing thing I ever saw in sports. But baseball also has its triple crown, actually two of them: one in pitching, one in hitting. I want to look at the hitting ones.

One thing I find interesting is that Stone Age baseball produces four triple crowns, while Classical baseball (1920-1945) gives us seven, and the post-Classical baseball world gives us four again, none since 1967. I understand part of the reason that modern baseball doesn’t get triple crowns. The more teams you have the more players are in line for a shot at one. That means it’s more likely they will knock each other off. The greatest player  (non-pitcher) I ever saw was Ted Williams and that at the tail end of his career, so perhaps the best I ever saw at his peek was either Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. Neither ever wins one. Why? Well, among other things they have to beat out Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews and a bunch of other people at various times. Additionally, as they get into some of the most productive years of their career baseball goes into one of the greatest of pitching periods. You try winning a triple crown when you have to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, and Marichal. (At least in Mays’ case Marichal is on his team). I’ve been sure for a while that a significant reason the last two triple crowns come in the AL is that neither Frank Robinson nor Carl Yastrzemski has to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, or Marichal on a regular basis.

A number of people never win a triple crown, despite leading their league in all three categories at one time or the other.  Babe Ruth is one of those. In 1924 he loses the RBI title by eight to Goose Goslin of Washington. It’s the only year Ruth wins the batting title. He hits .376, which ties for the lowest average to win the title in the 1920s. Jimmie Foxx and Joe DiMaggio are among others who suffer the same fate (although Foxx does ultimately win one).

Additionally, you can look at a handful of the existing triple crowns and argue they are tainted. In two cases, Joe Medwick in 1937 and Yastrzemski in 1967, they tie for the league lead in home runs (Mel Ott and Harmon Killebrew). So they don’t really stand alone at the top of the stats. 

Of the other 20th Century triple crowns six more are tainted because the individual would not have finished first in all three categories had he been in the other league. In 1901 Nap LaJoie loses the home run title to Sam Crawford. In 1922 Rogers Hornsby loses the RBI title to Ken Wiliams. In 1933 Jmmie Foxx and Chuck Klein both win the triple crown, but knock each other off when Foxx has more home runs, but Klein has the higher batting average. In 1947 Ted Williams loses the home run title to a tie between Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize. Finally in 1966 Matty Alou puts up a better batting average than Frank Robinson. That leaves five true triple crowns (number one in all the Major Leagues in batting average, RBIs and home runs)  in the 20th Century: Ty Cobb in 1909, Rogers Hornsby in 1925, Lou Gehrig in 1934, Ted Williams in 1942, and Mickey Mantle in 1956.

There are two 19th Century triple crowns. I’m saving them for the next post.