Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Wasdell’

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: Wrapping it up at Ebbets

March 28, 2017

With New York up two games to one in the 1941 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers needed a win to square the Series and give themselves a real chance of winning it all. What they and all fans got, was one of the most well known moments in World Series history.

Game 4, 5 October 1941

The play

With game four the Dodgers brought Kirby Higbe to the mound. Facing him was Atley Donald.  Higbe allowed a first inning run on a Charlie Keller single to give the Yanks an early 1-0 lead. Then in the fourth he allowed a Keller double, walked Bill Dickey, and saw a Joe Gordon single load the bases. He got two outs, one of them a cut down of Keller trying to score from third, then gave up a two out single to Johnny Sturm that put New York up 3-0. It also sent him to the showers, as Larry French took over and recorded the final out.

Then Donald got into trouble. In the bottom of the fourth, with two outs (a lot of stuff happens in this World Series with two outs) he walked both catcher Mickey Owen and pinch hitter Pete Coscarart to bring up Jimmy Wasdell. A Wasdell double plated both runners to make the score 3-2.

It got worse for Donald in the fifth. He walked Dixie Walker, then watched as Pete Reiser sent one over the Ebbets Field fence to put Brooklyn ahead 4-3.  With relief ace Hugh Casey now on the mound, the Dodgers rolled through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. The Yanks managed all of two hits off Casey going into the ninth. Consecutive groundouts by Sturm and Red Rolfe brought Tommy Henrich to the plate with two outs. Casey got two strikes on him. In the mind’s eye of all Brooklyn fans the next pitch went like this: Casey threw a low one, Henrich swung for the third strike, Owen caught the ball and the Dodgers had tied the Series. In reality it went like this: Casey threw a low one, Henrich swung for the third strike, and the ball skipped away from Owen all the way to the backstop. An alert Henrich raced to first and was safe. For years in Brooklyn some fans called it simply “the play” (which is one of the more family friendly things it was called). Years later Casey admitted he crossed up Owen and threw a pitch the catcher wasn’t expecting.

With new life, New York capitalized on a rattled Dodgers team (especially Casey). Joe DiMaggio singled sending Henrich to second. A double by Keller scored both runners, putting New York ahead. Dickey walked. A Joe Gordon double scored both Keller and Dickey. Phil Rizzuto walked. That brought up reliever Johnny Murphy who, acting as the designated rally killer, grounded out to end the inning. Instead of winning 4-3, Brooklyn now trailed 7-4 with three outs to go.

Murphy was the Yankees relief ace for a reason. He got the three necessary outs on a fly and two grounders to give New York a 3-1 lead in the Series. For Owen the play was to define the rest of his career (he’d had two passed balls all season). He went on to a successful career running a youth baseball camp and serving as a county sheriff in Missouri; but it always came back to “the play.”

Game 5, 6 October 1941

Joe Gordon

Now down three games to one the Dodgers faced elimination on 6 October. They sent their ace, Whit Wyatt back to the mound to stave off defeat. He’d so far been the only Brooklyn pitcher to pick up a win. The Yankees replied with Ernie “Tiny” Bonham.

Wyatt caused much of his own problem early. To start the second inning he walked Charlie Keller, then gave up a single to Bill Dickey that sent Keller all the way to third. Then, shades of game 4, Wyatt uncorked a wild pitch (this one not close enough to Owen to blame him) that allowed Keller to score the first run and send Dickey to second. A Joe Gordon single plated Dickey before Wyatt regained control of the situation and set down the next three Yanks in order.

The Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the third on a Wyatt double, a Lew Riggs single, and a Pete Reiser sacrifice fly that scored Wyatt, but Bonham got a strikeout to end any further threat that inning.

After a scoreless fourth, Tommy Henrich got hold of a Wyatt pitch that sailed out of the field of play to give New York a 3-1 lead. And that was all Bonham needed. He coasted through the rest of the game giving up only one single (of four total hits allowed) and a walk (of two total) to give the Yankees a win and the Series 4 games to 1.

Despite being something of a blowout four games to one, it was a terrific World Series. Three games were one run affairs and the finale was 3-1. Even the 7-4 fourth game was 4-3 going into the ninth. The Yanks hit .247, the Dodgers .182. Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller were both terrific having five RBIs each with Gordon contributing a homer. Tommy Henrich had the other team home run and, of course, had shown great heads up play by taking first on the game four dropped third strike. For Brooklyn, Joe Medwick led the team with a .235 average and Peter Reiser had three RBIs.

The Dodgers pitching had a 2.66 ERA, but walked 23 (while striking out only 18) and gave up crucial hits (41 of them) as well as a critical wild pitch and the infamous crossing-up-the-catcher pitch. New York pitchers posted a 1.80 ERA, struck out 21 (while walking 14) and only gave up 29 hits. There was no Series MVP in 1941 but it might have been a tough call among Keller, Gordon, and Henrich.

For Brooklyn, 1941 was a losing Series. There would be more. For New York it was a winner, and there would also be more. But it began one of the truly great rivalries in American sport and should be remembered for more than one play.

 

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: Leo’s Lads

March 20, 2017
Leo "the Lip" while with the Yankees. Durocher's on the left, the other guy is unknown.

Leo “the Lip” while with the Yankees. Durocher’s on the left, the other guy I don’t recognize.

The other half of the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry was Brooklyn. Unlike the Yanks, the Dodgers hadn’t been overly successful, especially during the “Daffiness Boys” Days of the 1930s. By 1941 that had all changed.

Leo Durocher was now the manager. He’d come over from St. Louis as a shortstop, had become the player-manager of the late 1930s, and was still doing a little field time in 1941. He’d led the team to 100 wins and its first pennant since 1920 (a World Series loss to Cleveland). The hitters dominated the National League ending up first in runs, hits, doubles, triples, total bases, home runs, average and almost everything else (they were next-to-last in stolen bases). The staff wasn’t quite as good, only leading the NL in hits and ERA. But they were second in runs allowed and shutouts, running third in both walks and strikeouts.

It was a veteran staff. Of the primary starters, only Kirby Higbe was under 30 (he was 26). He tied for the team lead with 22 wins, had an ERA just over three (ERA+ of 118), a 1.262 WHIP, walked more men than he struck out, and put up 3.4 WAR. The other team ace was Whit Wyatt (who was 33). He also had 22 wins, but his ERA was 2.34, with a team leading ERA+ of 159 (among pitchers with 15 or more starts). He led the team with 7.6 WAR, a 1.058 WHIP, and managed to strikeout about two men for every one he walked. Curt Davis’ 13 wins were the most by any other starter. His ERA was under three (2.97) while fourth starter Luke Hamlin had an ERA north of four. Fred Fitzsimmons was only in 13 games in 1941, was 39, and overweight. He parlayed all that into a 6-1 record with a 2.07 ERA and a 180 ERA+. Also under thirty (at 27) was Hugh Casey, the primary man out of the bullpen. He was in 45 games, started 18, pitched 162 innings and was almost dead even in walks to strikeout ratio (57 to 61). Of the rest of the staff, no one won more than three games, or pitched 60 innings (Johnny Allen had 57 innings).

From first around to third, the infield consisted of an MVP, two Hall of Famers, and a player later famous for a single hit. The MVP was first baseman Dolph Camilli. He’d come over from the Phillies and proceed to lead the team in home runs (34), RBIs (120), walks, and strikeouts. His OPS+ came in at 164 with an infield high of 6.8 WAR. Billy Herman was at second (and the first of the Hall of Fame duo). He’d come over from Chicago and led the infield with 156 hits and put up 3.6 WAR. PeeWee Reese was both the shortstop and the other infielder to make the Hall of Fame. He hit only .229 and had 2.0 WAR. He led National League shortstops in both putouts and errors. Cookie Lavagetto held down third. He hit .277, drove in 78 runs, had 2.7 WAR, and was still six years from his most famous hit (a double in the 1947 World Series to break up a no-hitter). Lew Riggs, Alex Kampouris, and Pete Coscarart were the main backups. Both Riggs and Kampouris hit above .300 and Riggs led the subs with five home runs. Manager Leo Durocher got into 18 games, 13 in the middle of the infield.

The outfield was Pete Reiser, Dixie Walker, and Ducky Joe Medwick. Medwick was a recent pickup from St. Louis and four years from his Triple Crown. He still hit well, .318 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs. There’s an argument that his home run total was suppressed by Ebbets Field. That may be true, but it had been dropping for a couple of years. He showed 141 OPS+ and 4.6 WAR over 133 games. Reiser had some claim to being both the team and league MVP (although Camilli won the league award). He hit an NL high .343 with a .558 slugging percentage and .964 OPS, an OPS+ of 164 and 299 total bases. All led the league. His WAR was 7.4 (it would be his career high) in 137 games. For a player known for his speed, he stole only four bases (tied for third on the team). Walker was not yet the figure of scorn that later fans heaped on him for his opposition to Jackie Robinson. He hit .311, with nine homers (fourth on the team) and 71 RBIs (good for fifth on the team). The primary backup men were Jimmy Wasdell and Joe Vosmik. Wasdell had four home runs and hit .298. Future Hall of Famer Paul Waner, at the end of his career, appeared in 11 games and hit a buck-71.

All of which brings me to the catchers: Mickey Owen and Herman Franks. Owen was the primary catcher with Franks spelling him. Although he’d been up since 1937, Owen was new with the Dodgers. In his first year with the team he’d been an All-Star, hitting only .231 with a single homer. But he was considered a terrific catcher, showing a .995 fielding percentage, a 52% caught stealing percentage, and allowing only two passed balls all year. Franks, who would later make a name for himself as a manager, hit only .201 and wasn’t as good behind the plate as Owen.

The Dodgers, the new kids on the block, were decided underdogs in 1941, but they brought an energy to baseball that had been missing for several years. They weren’t expected to win, but they were expected to bring joy to Hilda Chester and her bell along with the Sym-Phony band.