Posts Tagged ‘Joe Gordon’

The Best Team Never to Win (1948 playoff)

January 31, 2017
Vern Stephens (Boston) and Lou Boudreau (Cleveland) at Fenway Park 1948

Vern Stephens (Boston) and Lou Boudreau (Cleveland) at Fenway Park 1948

If the 1948-50 Boston Red Sox were the best team to never win a pennant, the 1948 team came close. At the end of the regular season, they emerged tied for first with the Cleveland Indians. At the time, each league had its own rules about breaking end of season ties. The National League ran a best of three series to determine a pennant winner. The American League had a one game winner-take-all playoff to determine their pennant winner. The AL was founded in 1901. Prior to 1948 there had never been a tie, so the 1948 game was a first in league history. The game was played 4 October in Fenway Park, Boston.

The pennant race came down to the final day so neither team was able to start their ace. Boston manager Joe Mc Carthy sent 8-7 Denny Galehouse to the mound, while Cleveland player-manager Lou Boudreau countered with 19 game winner Gene Bearden. Bearden in particular was working on short rest. Here’s a look at the starting lineups:

Cleveland: Dale Mitchell (lf), Allie Clark (1b), Lou Boudreau (SS and Hall of Fame), Joe Gordon (2b, and Hall of Fame), Ken Keltner (3b), Larry Doby (cf and Hall of Fame), Bob Kennedy (rf), Jim Hegan (c), Bearden.

Boston: Dom DiMaggio (cf), Johnny Pesky (3b), Ted Williams (lf and Hall of Fame), Vern Stephens (SS), Bobby Doerr (2b and Hall of Fame), Stan Spence (rf), Billy Goodman (1b), Birdie Tebbetts (c), Galehouse.

Things began with a bang. With two outs, Boudreau caught up with a Galehouse pitch and drove it over the fences for a 1-0 Cleveland lead. That lasted exactly two outs. With an out, Pesky doubled, then, following another out, came home on a Stephens single to left. Then the pitchers settled down. Over the next two innings, Galehouse walked one and gave up a single while striking out one. Bearden walked two, one of which was erased on a double play, while giving up no hits.

Then came the top of the fourth. Consecutive singles by Boudreau and Gordon brought up Keltner. He blasted a three run homer that sent Galehouse to the showers and brought in reliever Ellis Kinder who managed to get out of the inning without further damage. Bearden sailed through the fourth, then Boudreau hit his second homer, this one off Kinder, to make the score 6-1 half way through the game.

After an uneventful bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, Boston struck, again with two outs. With a single out, Williams reached base on an error by Gordon and scored ahead of Doerr when the latter connected with a home run. A Spence strikeout ended the inning with the score 6-3.

It stayed that way into the eighth when Cleveland picked up an unearned run on an error. They tacked on another when a double play with the bases loaded allowed an eighth run. With the score 8-3, Bearden returned to the mound for the bottom of the ninth. A grounder back to the pitcher made Doer the first out. Bearden then walked pinch hitter Billy Hitchcock. Goodman struck out for the second out of the inning. Then Tebbetts grounded to third baseman Keltner, who tossed to first for the final out and Cleveland was champ 8-3.

Boudreau was great (he won the MVP that year), going four for four with three runs scored, two RBIs and two homers. Keltner had provided another homer, this one worth three runs. Doby also managed a couple of hits, both doubles. Bearden threw a complete game giving up one earned run (the first one) while striking out six. He gave up five hits and five walks, but only three men scored.

For the Red Sox, Doerr had a homer and two of the RBIs (Stephens got the other). No one had more than one hit and Pesky had the only extra base hit (a double) other than Doerr’s home run. Galehouse gave up five hits and four runs over three-plus innings, while walking one and striking out another one. Kinder also gave up four runs (three earned) over six innings while giving up eight hits, striking out two and walking three.

Cleveland would go on to win the World Series that year; their last to date. Boston would have two more tries at the ring. As this series of posts has pointed out, they never grasped it. Next time some thoughts on why they failed.

 

 

 

The Old and the New: Game 5

March 22, 2016

Game five of the 1942 World Series was played in New York with the Yankees down three games to one. To pick up the ’42 championship they would have to win three consecutive games.

Whitey Kurowski

Whitey Kurowski

Game 5

The game was played 5 October in the Bronx. To keep their hopes alive, the Yanks turned to game one victor Red Ruffing. St. Louis needing one win to clinch the Series countered with game two winner Johnny Beazley. As in game four, the Yankees scored early when Phil Rizzuto led off the bottom of the first with a home run. It held up until the top of the fourth when Enos Slaughter led off that half inning with a home run. Not to be outdone, New York replied in the bottom of the fourth. This time, rather than a home run, they used a Red Rolfe single, a botched pickoff, a sacrifice fly, and a Joe DiMaggio single to retake the lead 2-1.

Things stayed that way until the top of the sixth. Consecutive singles by Terry Moore and Slaughter put runners on first and third. A Stan Musial popup brought up Walker Cooper. His long fly to right plated Moore with the tying run, but a Johnny Hopp fly out stranded the go ahead run on the bases.

From the bottom of the sixth through the end of the eighth inning the pitchers ruled. Only one man, Rizzuto for the Yankees and Jimmy Brown for the Cardinals, got on base for either team. With it looking like extra innings, Walker Cooper led off the top of the ninth with a single. A bunt sent him to second and brought up Cards third baseman Whitey Kurowski. He proceeded to drive a pitch deep into the left field stands and put the Cardinals ahead 4-2 with three outs to go. Joe Gordon led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, the seventh hit given up by Beazley. Brown managed to boot a Bill Dickey grounder to put men on first and second with no outs. St. Louis shortstop Marty Marion then slipped behind Gordon at second and a snap throw from catcher Cooper caught Gordon off the base for out one. A pop-up to Brown brought the second out. Then a grounder went straight to Brown who flipped to first for the final out of the Series. St. Louis won the game 4-2 and the Series in five games.

For a short World Series it was a good Series. The Yankees actually outhit the Cardinals .247 to .239 and had more extra base hits (nine to eight), and more total hits (44 to 39). They even had fewer errors (5 to 10). But St. Louis scored more runs 23 to 18, more walks (17 to 8), and less strikeouts (19 to 22). Brown’s .300 led all St. Louis hitters while Kurowski’s five RBIs, including the Series winning one, paced the Cardinals. Four players, including Kurowski, scored three runs. Musial’s .222 average wasn’t much, but he scored two runs and drove in another pair while walking a team leading four times. For New York, Rizzuto hit .381, while Keller, who hit only .200, led the team with five RBIs and two home runs. MVP Gordon hit only .095 and was picked off in a critical situation.

It was the St. Louis pitching that made much of the difference. Their ERA was 2.60 as opposed to the New York ERA of 4.50. They gave up five more hits, but five fewer runs (how’s that for symmetry?). While the Yanks walked 17, the Cards walked only eight. In strikeouts the Cardinals had a small edge of 22 over the Yankees 19. Beazley won two games with an ERA of 2.50 while Ernie White had a complete game shutout. For New York only Red Ruffing claimed a win, but he also took a loss.

For both teams there would be the rematch of 1943, which New York would win by the same four games to one margin. Then New York would fall off, only to revive in 1947 and then have another great run from 1949 all the way to 1964. For Yankees manager Joe McCarthy it would be the only blot on his New York World Series resume. The Series would become known in some places as “the one the Yankees lost.” For St. Louis it was the beginning of an impressive run. During the 1940s the Cardinals would win four championships (’42, ’43, ’44, and ’46) and win three world titles (all but ’43). It was one of the truly best, and by now most overlooked, teams in National League history. It is still the last National League team to win three consecutive pennants (1942, ’43, and ’44). In the 1950s the Cards would fall off, but in a twist of great irony it was the 1964 Cardinals that would finally end the great Yankees run of the 1950s and early 1960s.

 

 

The Old and the New: Games 3 and 4

March 17, 2016

With the World Series tied one game to one in 1942, the championship opened a three game set in Yankee Stadium.

Ernie White

Ernie White

Game 3

The first game in New York occurred 3 October. The hometown Yankees sent Spud Chandler to the mound. St. Louis responded with seven game winner Ernie White. The game ended up being a real pitcher’s duel.

Chandler was perfect for two innings but walked Whitey Kurowski to lead off the top of the third. A Marty Marion single put runner on first and second. White followed with a bunt that moved each base runner up one. Then a Jimmy Brown ground out second to first allowed Kurowski to score.

And that was it through the eighth inning. White was great, walking none and giving up only five hits, all singles. Except for giving up the run, Chandler was even better. He gave up three hits and walked only one in eight innings. But he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth, bringing Marv Breuer into the game for New York. A single, an error by Breuer, and another single gave St. Louis a second run and sent Breuer to the showers without recording an out. In the bottom of the ninth White gave up a final single but a Charlie Keller fly to right ended the threat and put the Cardinals up two games to one in the Series.

White was the big hero, he’d pitched a complete game shutout and even delivered a sacrifice bunt that helped lead to the Cardinals first (and winning) run. For Chandler it was a great game also, he just had the bad luck to give up one run (on a ground out). Now New York needed to win the next game to tie up the Series.

Max Lanier

Max Lanier

Game 4

On Sunday 4 October the hometown Yankees sent Hank Borowy to the mound to oppose game one loser Mort Cooper. Today Borowy is primarily famous for starting the last ever Chicago Cubs World Series game (game 7 of 1945) but in 1942 he was a significant member of the New York staff. And he started out well while Cooper struggled. In the bottom of the first a Red Rolfe double and a Roy Cullenbine single scored the first run of the game. Over the first three innings Borowy walked one and allowed a couple of hits, but no runs. That changed in the top of the fourth when St. Louis tallied six runs. Singles by Stan Musial and Walker Cooper (Mort’s brother) put two men on. Then Borowy walked Johnny Hopp. That brought up Whitey Kurowski. He singled scoring both Musial and Walker Cooper and sent Hopp to third. Marty Marion then walked. Pitcher Mort Cooper singled to let in both Hopp and Kurowski, and send Borowy to the bench replaced by Atley Donald. He got an out, then a Terry Moore single plated Marion. An out later Musial’s second hit of the inning, this one a double, scored Mort Cooper to give St. Louis a 6-1 lead.

It lasted to the bottom of the sixth when New York lit up Mort Cooper and tied the game. A Phil Rizzuto single led off the inning. Then Rolfe walked. A Cullenbine single scored the Scooter. After an out Charlie Keller smashed a three run home run and sent Cooper to the showers. An error put Joe Gordon on base, a grounder sent him to second, and a double scored Gordon to knot the game at six each.

Walks to Enos Slaughter and Musial put two men on base to open the seventh inning. Walker Cooper’s single scored Slaughter. An out and a walk later Marion hit a long fly to center that scored Musial and the Cards were back on top 8-6.

The Cards sent Max Lanier to the mound to hold the Yanks in check. He worked around an opening single to keep St. Louis ahead, then got around both a hit and a walk to keep the score 8-6 going into the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Hopp led off with a single, went to second on a bunt, and scored on a Lanier single. Lanier gave up one more single in the ninth, but again no one scored and the Cardinals won the game 9-6.

It was the highest scoring game of the Series. Both teams did most of their scoring in one big inning (six runs for St Louis and five for New York). Musial and Walker Cooper both scored two runs and drove in one. Kurowski and Mort Cooper both had two RBIs. Charlie Keller provided the big blow for New York with his three run home run.

Down three games to one, New York was in an unusual situation. Winner of eight straight World Series, stretching back to 1927 (’27, ’28, ’32,’ 36-’39, ’41) they’d seldom been in a hole. They had one last game at home to crawl closer and send the Series back to St. Louis.

 

 

 

The Old and the New: the ’42 Yankees

March 7, 2016
Marse Joe

Marse Joe

The 1942 baseball season was the first played while the US was involved in the Second World War. It changed a lot of things. One thing it didn’t change was the New York Yankees stranglehold on the American League. For the sixth time in seven years, New York won the AL pennant. Joe McCarthy’s gang won the league championship by nine games and were primed to win their ninth World Series since 1927.

Yankee hitters finished first in runs and home runs and second in almost everything else, finishing third in stolen bases and triples and fourth in doubles. The pitching was even better. New York hurlers led the AL in every major category except strikeouts (they were second) and in home runs. All that got them 103 wins and earned second baseman Joe Gordon an MVP award.

It wasn’t one of the more famous Yankee staffs, but New York pitchers were excellent. Ernie Bonham, Spud Chandler, Hank Borowy, Atley Donald, and Marv Breuer all started at least 19 games. Hall of Famer Red Ruffing had a 3.21 ERA which was last among the starters. His .667 winning percentage (14-7) was next-to-last. Johnny Murphy and Johnny Lindell did most of the damage out of the bullpen, while former ace Lefty Gomez was restricted to 13 games.

At 35, Bill Dickey was still a premier catcher. He hit .295 for the season with an OPS of .732 (POS+ of 108) and 1.6 WAR. His power was gone (two homers)but neither Buddy Rosar or Rollie Hemsley, his backups, had more.

The infield was formidable up the middle and weaker at the edges. Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto played either side of the keystone bag. Gordon, as mentioned above, won the MVP hitting .322 with a .900 OPS and a 154 OPS+. His WAR was a team high 8.2. He contributed 103 RBIs, 88 runs, and 18 home runs (all third on the team). Shortstop Rizzuto added a .284 average, a .718 OPS, a 103 OPS+, and 5.7 WAR. He had 157 hits, 68 RBIs, and flashed good leather. Buddy Hassett held down first. He wasn’t Lou Gehrig, managing only a .284 average, 0.4 WAR, and a below average OPS+ of 95. Frankie Crosetti and Red Rolfe shared time at third. Neither hit.250 (Crosetti’s .242 easily outpacing Rolfe’s .219). Rolfe’s eight home runs doubled Crosetti’s four and between them they had 48 RBIs. Jerry Priddy and Ed Levy provided most of the bench work (infielders with more than 40 at bats).  Levy hit a buck-22, but Priddy hit .280 with a couple of home runs.

The 1942 team provided one of the best Yankee outfields. There was no Ruth or Mantle, but across the field from left to right the three main players might have given New York the best trio of outfielders it produced at one time. Joe DiMaggio was in center. His 6.1 WAR was third on the team. He hit .305 with 21 home runs (good for second on the team) while leading the team with 114 RBIs and 186 hits. Charlie Keller played left. He hit .292, led the team with 26 homers and a .930 OPS (163 OPS+) and posted 6.7 WAR (good for second on the team). Tommy Henrich hit .267 with 13 home runs, 129 hits, a team leading 30 doubles, an OPS+ of 121, and 2.7 WAR. Roy Cullenbine and George Selkirk were the other outfielders. Cullenbine hit .364 and led the team with an OPS+ of 188 (1.4 WAR) and had the only two home runs by the backup outfielders. Selkirk hit .192.

The Yanks were defending champions. They were seasoned, formidable, and ready to repeat. Standing in their way was the upstart team from St. Louis.

The One They Lost

March 13, 2012

Between 1927 and 1954 the New York Yankees put together baseball’s greatest dynasty. In those 28 years the Yanks went to the World Series 16 times (57% of the time) and won 15 Series’ (94%). This is the story of the one they lost.

1942 Yankees

By the 1942 World Series the Yankees had won the last eight World Series’ they had played in (1927-8, 1932, 1936-39, and 1941). Except for losing Tommy Henrich to the military, they had not suffered significantly because of the Second World War. With Buddy Hassett at first, Joe Gordon at second, Phil Rizzuto at short, Red Rolfe at third, Bill Dickey behind the plate, and an outfield of Charlie Keller, Joe DiMaggio, and Roy Cullenbine the team hit well. The pitching was also good, but beginning to age a little. Red Ruffing was still there, but a fading ace. Ernie Bonham (the ace in ’42), Spud Chandler, and Hank Borowy all started 20 or more games and Johnny Murphy was the main bullpen man with 11 saves.

1942 Cardinals

Their opponents were a bunch of upstarts, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards hadn’t won since the Gas House Gang days of 1934, but won 106 games in 1942. It was a young team with only center fielder Terry Moore among the starters being over 29 (he was 30). The infield was (first around to third) Johnny Hopp, Creepy Crespi, Marty Marion, and Whitey Kurowski. Walker Cooper did the catching, and the outfield consisted of Enos Slaughter, Moore, and the best player on either team, Stan Musial. During the Series, utility man Jimmy Brown (age 32) took over second base for the light hitting Crespi. The staff was also young with ace Mort Cooper (Walker’s brother and winner of the ’42 National League MVP) the old man at 29.  Johnny Beazley was 24, Ernie White was 25, and Max Lanier was 26. Harry Gumbert, who was a geezer at 32, started 19 games and did the bulk of the bullpen work picking up five saves.

Games 1 and 2 were in St. Louis. Red Ruffing handcuffed the Cards for the first eight innings of game one. While not exactly lighting up Mort Cooper, the Yanks steadily put up runs, leading 7-0 going into the bottom of the ninth. They were helped by four Cardinal errors. But the bottom of the ninth became something of a warning for the Yankees. The Cards scored four runs on a handful of singles, a triple by Marion and some weak bullpen pitching by the Yanks. The inning is somewhat notable for more than just the four runs. Stan Musial joined a small group of others in making two outs in a single inning in the World Series. If Musial makes two outs in one inning, that shows you how tough a game it really is.

Game two saw the Cards score two runs in the first on Walker Cooper’s double. That was it for St. Louis for six innings. The Cardinals got another run in the bottom of the seventh on a Whitey Kurowski triple. Then New York struck in the top of the eighth, putting up three runs to tie the score. The key hit was a two-run homer by Charlie Keller. With two out in the bottom of the eighth, Slaughter doubled and Musial singled him home with the lead run. In the ninth, Slaughter had a great throw from right field that caught a runner going to third and snuffed out a Yankees rally.

With the Series tied at one game each, the next three games were in New York. In game three southpaw Ernie White held the Yankees to six hits, all singles, and pitched a complete game shutout. The Cards only got five hits, three off starter Spud Chandler, but put up a run in the third on a walk, a single, a bunt, and a ground out. They got an unearned run in the ninth on two singles sandwiched around an error by pitcher Marv Breuer.

Game four was a shootout. New York got a run in the first, then St. Louis exploded for six runs in the fourth. Except for a Musial double that scored one run, they did it all with singles and walks. Not to be outdone, the Yankees scored five of their own in the sixth. The big blow was another Keller home run, this one a three run job. With the score tied in the seventh, St. Louis scored two runs on consecutive walks, a single, and a sacrifice. They added a final run in the ninth on (again) a bunch of singles, bunts, and a final single by the pitcher (Lanier).

Down three games to one, the Yankees struck first when Phil Rizzuto led off the bottom of the first with a home run. That held up until the fourth, when Slaughter answered with another homer (the first Cardinal home run of the Series). New York responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the fourth, this time using the Cardinals method of singles and bunts to plate the go-ahead run. In the top of the sixth, St. Louis got a run on two singles and a fly to tie the game back up. It stayed that way until the top of the ninth. With one out and Walker Cooper on second, Kurowski hit a two-run home run to put the Cardinals ahead. With two on and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, Cooper and Marion worked a pick off that cut down Joe Gordon at second for the first out. A pop up and a ground out ended the game and the Series giving St. Louis its first championship since Dizzy Dean.

It was actually a darned good series, despite only going five games. The Yankees outhit and out slugged St. Louis but scored only 18 runs (13 earned) on 44 hits, nine of them for extra bases (including three home runs). The Cardinals put up 23 runs (22 earned) on 39 hits, only eight for extra bases (two home runs, both in game five).  A key difference was that St. Louis worked for 17 walks while New York only had eight (an OBP of .311 to .280 in favor of the Cards). Yankees pitching had an ERA of 4.50 and a WHIP of 1.273, while St. Louis’ ERA was 2.60 with a 1.156 WHIP. Johnny Beazley won two games, Lanier got one and pitched well in relief. Kurowski had big hits in two wins, including the clinching home run in game five. For New York Charlie Keller had five RBIs despite hitting only .200. Ruffing got the only win.

New York would get their revenge the next season when they knocked off St. Louis in five games (the Cards won game two). That was a temporary end of the line for the Yanks. They would miss the Series for the next three years, but by 1947 had reloaded and went on a run that saw them win six World Series (1947, 1949-52) in seven years. 

But for the Cardinals 1942 was the beginning of their greatest run. They took pennants in 1942, 43, 44, and 46 and won the World Series in each year except 1943. The young guns would remain the keys to the team throughout the period, although change would see a number of other “youngsters” join the team, including Hall of Fame announcer Joe Garagiola and Cooperstown inductee Red Schoendienst. Outside St. Louis, though, the 1942 World Series is primarily known as the one the Yankees lost.

The Yankees Way at Second

June 24, 2011

Some teams seem to stockpile players at one position. Take a look at the Giants and their history of great pitchers as an example. For the Yankees there are three positions like that: Center Field, Catcher, and Second Base. I recognize they’ve had some pretty good players at other positions, but when you have Ruth and Gehrig it’s such a fall off to whoever you pick as the second best guy at the position that you tend to overlook the other players in right field and at first. A while back I did a look at the Yankees center field history, so in keeping with a look at second base, here’s a brief look at the quality of Yankees second basemen since 1921.

When the Yankees won their first pennant in 1921 the second baseman was Aaron Ward. He was a decent player, hitting .300 that year with five home runs. He’s most famous for making the final out in the Series by trying to reach third on a ground out to second (the first time a World Series ended on a double play). He stayed in New York through the 1922 pennant and the first championship of 1923, got hurt in 1924, didn’t bounce back well in 1925 and yielded his place to Tony Lazzeri in 1926.

Lazzeri is the first of the Yankees Hall of Fame second sackers. He’s most famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) for striking out with the bases loaded in game seven of the 1926 World Series (he led the American League in striking out in 1926 with 96). He went on to be a key player in the Murderer’s Row Yankees of 1926-32 and in the first couple of years of the 1936-42 Bronx Bombers. He hit well, was OK in the field, and had a decent World Series record (4 home runs, 19 RBIs in 30 games). In 1938 he was sent to Chicago where he helped the Cubs to a World Series (against the Yankees). He went o-2 in two pinch hit tries.

The Yankees replaced him with their second Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Gordon. As good as Lazzeri had been, Gordon was better. He hit better, had more power, and was a considerably better second baseman. He won a controversial MVP in 1942, slumped in ’43, then went off to war in 1944 and 1945. He was back in New York in 1946, did poorly, and went to Cleveland the next season. As with Lazzeri, he helped his new team to a pennant, although in took a year (1948) to get to the top. And unlike Lazzeri’s Cubs, the Indians won.

Snuffy Stirnweiss took over for the war years, remaining through most of the 1940s. He was terrific against wartime pitching, not so great postwar. Jerry Coleman replaced him. Coleman was a good glove, no stick player who held the job until Billy Martin arrived.

Martin is much more controversial today than he was when he played for the Yankees. He had a great 1952 World Series, beating the Dodgers pretty much single-handedly (if only he coulda pitched). He stayed at second through the bulk of the 1950s, giving way to Bobby Richardson in the late 1950s. Richardson was another Coleman. He was a good second baseman and hit well enough to eventually lead off for the Yankees through the first half of the 1960s. He hit well, but as a leadoff hitter he was problematic. He never walked and on a team that relied on power over speed, had no power.

As with the rest of the Yankees in the last half of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the second basemen were not players particularly worth remembering (unless you’re a relative). That changed with Willie Randolph. Randolph played the position well, hit well, ran the bases well (again without stealing a lot of bases), and was a critical member of a Yankees revival that lasted into the mid-1980’s. His later stint with the Mets as a manager has damaged his reputation to some degree, but as a player he was very good. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, maybe shouldn’t be, but was a truly fine player.

The Yanks went into another funk that lasted into the middle 1990s. They picked up a  number of good players, drafted some others, and went on to become the formidable force they are today. One of the pickups was Chuck Knoblauch. He hit well, gave them a leadoff hitter with some power, decent speed, and until he forgot how to throw the ball, a pretty fair second baseman. He was replaced by Alfonso Soriano, who ended up in Chicago and in the outfield for a reason. Robinson Cano is the new guy and he’s a throwback to the Lazzeri/Gordon years of a second baseman who can hit and hit for power. I hate to jinx the guy, but he may end up being the best Yankees second sacker ever.

There’s a brief rundown of Yankees second basemen in their glory years. It’s a fairly formidable list. I can think of very few teams that boast two great second basemen. The Yanks have that many, plus a number of above average ones and one current player who may surpass them all. No wonder New York wins a lot.

The Obligatory Second

February 21, 2011

When I was in the army one of my best friends was a black guy from New York. We did a lot of things together, including heading to a few parties. I had a car, he didn’t, and it was easiest for us to head out together in my Dodge. I remember we pulled up to one party and as we were getting out he commented, “I wonder who the obligatory second is?”  Not unreasonably, I asked, “What the heck is that?” “The people throwing the party can’t admit to tokenism, so they have to invite a second black person to the party so no one can say either of us was a token. That’s the obligatory second.” I told him I thought that sounded terrible. “Actually, sometimes it’s not bad. Sometimes they pick a good-looking girl and I get lucky.” I remember the obligatory second that night was a girl and I also remember driving home alone. He did better than I. Larry Doby was, in many ways, baseball’s obligatory second.

Larry Doby

Larry Doby was born in Jim Crow South Carolina in 1923. The family moved to Paterson, New Jersey where Doby caught the eye of the nearby Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. He was signed in 1942 at age 17 to playsecond base. He was good from the beginning, but lost 1944 and 1945 to the Second World War. Back in Newark in 1946, he helped lead his team to the Negro League World Series, a set of games they won 4 games to 3.  Doby didn’t do particularly well. He hit .227, but walked to begin the rally that won game 7 for the Eagles.

In 1947, the Cleveland Indians determined it was time to bring a black player to the American League. The picked Doby over teammate Monte Irvin. Irvin was considered by many contemporary writers as the man who would integrate the AL, but Indians owner Bill Veeck wanted more power and Doby gave him that over Irvin (and Irvin was considerably older). Unfortunately for Doby, the Indians already had a good second baseman, Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. Veeck’s solution was to make Doby an outfielder. Doby made his Major League debut on 5 July 1947 in Chicago. He pinch hit and struck out. The day before, 4 July, Cleveland had a home game which they won 13-6. I’m not sure why they didn’t let Doby play on Independence Day in front of a home crowd. For the 1947 season Doby played in 29 games, going 5 for 32 (.156).

By 1948 he was the starting center fielder. Cleveland got hot, Doby did well, and for the first time since 1920, the Indians made the World Series. They won in six games, Doby hitting .318 with a home run. For the regular season he hit .301 with an OPS of 873 and 14 home runs. As a fielder the results were mixed. He led the AL in errors in center field, but was third in the league in assists.

He remained with Cleveland through 1955, twice leading the AL in home runs, and once in both RBIs and runs. In the 1954 111 win season he finished second the the mVP race (to Yogi Berra), being  acknowledged as the most valuable Indian. Unfortunately for Cleveland, 111 were all the wins they were going to get as the Giants swept the World Series. Doby was part of the reason they lost. He hit a buck-25 with no extra base hits and four strikeouts (he had two hits and two walks). In 1956 he was traded to Chicago where he took over center field for the White Sox. His career was on the slide. He went back to Cleveland in 1958, then to Detroit and back to Chicago in 1959. He retired at age 35. He became the third American player to head to Japan when he joined the Japanese Leagues in 1962. He coached at both Montreal and Cleveland, then in 1978 became manager of the White Sox. Again, he was second. Frank Robinson had become the first black manager in the Major Leagues (ironically enough at Cleveland) and Doby was overlooked again. He remainded somewhat overlooked until 1998 when the Veteran’s Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame. His death came in June 2003.

For his big league career, Doby hit .283 with an 876 OPS (136 OPS +). He had 253 home runs, 970 RBIs, 2621 total bases, 1515 hits, and 960 runs (Note the closeness of the RBI and runs number. You don’t see that a lot.) Not a bad career. But over the last few days around here there’s been a lot of comment (including mine) about just how good Negro League players were. Well, with Doby we actually have something like a complete career.  Signed at 17, he’s in the Negro Leagues at ages 18 and 19. By 20 and 21 he’s in the military. At 22 he’s back in the Negro Leagues, and makes his Major League debut at 23. That’s not a bad career progression for the era. Think of 18 and 19 as inital years in the minors then, like a  lot of other minor leagues he goes off to war. He returns to the minors in 1946, then makes his cup of coffee debut at 23. Hank Bauer, to use only one example of a player whose career is interrupted by war, makes his debut (19 games) at age 25. None of that is meant to imply that 1940s Negro League teams were only minor league in quality, but is meant only to give an age progression comparison. So unlike a lot of Negro Leaguers of the first generation who get to the Majors in mid-career, Doby gives us a look at how a  good  young Negro League player could play at the highest level. That was pretty good.

The Way to Win: The Bronx Bombers

August 9, 2010

Joe McCarthy

The second great Yankees dynasty took the field between 1936 and 1943. The team won seven pennants (1936-39, 1941-1943) and six World Series’ (all but 1942). Over that period of time, the roster changed significantly, but not the types of players available. The manager remained stable as did a handful of the players.

Manager Joe McCarthy was slightly different from the other Yankees dynasty managers. He never got to the Major Leagues and he was a successful manager prior to joining the Yankees. He took the 1929 Chicago Cubs to the World Series where they lost in five games. He got to New York in time to see the 1932 World’s Championship and the final years of Babe Ruth. Like Miller Huggins, he knew how to run a team, how to utilize his talent and how to mesh players. He also had a drinking problem. This would hurt him later when, after retiring from New York, he took up the managerial job in Boston.

The great stars off this team were Lou Gehrig. still around from the 1920s team, Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, and Bill Dickey. Gehrig was through by 1939 and dead a couple of years later, but the others remained for the entire period except for games lost to World War II.

A number of truly good players came and went during the 1936-1943 period. Tony Lazzeri was still around in both ’36 and ’37 (although it might be fair to place him in the role player category by this point in his career). Lefty Gomez joined Ruffing as a pitching mainstay. Outfielder Tommy Henrich showed up in 1937, second baseman Joe Gordon the next year, and Charlie Keller in 1939. In 1941 Phil Rizzuto joined the team.

The number of role players varies depending very much on the war. There are several players who step up during the war (guys like Stuffy Stirnweiss and Nick Etten) along with already established players like Red Rolfe, George Selkirk, and Frankie Crosetti. On the mound, Spud Chandler replaced Gomez and Johnny Murphy became one of the better early relief specialists.

There were even the one-year wonders. Pitcher Steve Sundra went 11-1 for the Yankees in 1939. For the rest of his career he’s 45-40. Babe Dahlgren, and otherwise undistinguished player, stepped in for Gehrig and clubbed 15 home runs (Gehrig had 29 in 1938).

The Yankees put together a long pennant streak, winning every year except 1940 when Detroit took the pennant and 1942 when Stan Musial’s Cardinals defeated them in five games. Again they won with a strong manager and a mix of great players, role players, solid starters, and a few flukes. This will happen again in the 1950s under Casey Stengel and also in the 1990s with Joe Torre. But next I want to turn to a team that helps bring one of those dynasties to a close and on the surface looks radically different.

What Were They Looking At?

June 2, 2010

Yesterday I did a post about Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. Kevin from DMB blog pointed out that Ted Williams’ 1941 was at least as good as DiMaggio’s and probably better. I concur. It got me to thinking (which is sometimes not a good thing) about Williams’ lack of respect in the MVP voting, which led me to Duke Snider and a couple of other people who never got the support they needed from MVP voters. I want to point out five cases, four from the 1950s, (there are more and you may have your own favorite) where I can’t help but ask, “What were they looking at?” when the writers voted for MVP.   

Joe Gordon

 1. 1942. Joe Gordon won. Gordon hit .322, slugged 491, had 173 hits, 88 runs, 18 home runs, 103 RBIs, and 264 total bases. He managed to lead the league in one category, strikeouts with 95. Williams the same year hit .356, slugged .648, had 186 hits, 141 runs, 36 home runs, 137 RBIs, and 338 total bases. He led the league in average, slugging, runs, home runs, RBIs, and total bases. In other words, the man won the triple crown. He also led the league in walks. What were they looking at? Unless they simply decided to give it to the best player on the team that won there’s no way Gordon had a better year. And I’m not sure I’d credit him as the best Yankee that year.   

Roy Campanella

  2. 1953. Roy Campanella won. For the season Campy hit .312, slugged .611, had 162 hits, 103 runs, 41 home runs, 142 RBIs, and 317 total bases. Good year, right? Now let me give you another line in the same order: .336, .627, 198, 132, 42, 126, and 370. Those are the numbers for Duke Snider, Campy’s teammate. Snider led the National League in runs, slugging and total bases and they picked Campy. OK, maybe, but Campanella only led the league in RBIs.  

Duke Snider

  3. 1955. Campy won again. For the year Campanella hit .318, slugged .583, had 142 hits, 81 runs, 32 home runs, and 107 RBIs. Snider’s numbers for the same year were .309, .628, 166, 126, 42, and 136. He led te NL in both runs and RBIs. Duke, you got robbed.  

Don Newcombe

4. 1956. Don Newcombe won. Newcombe in 1956 put up the following numbers: 27 wins, 7 losses, a 3.06 ERA, 268 inning pitched, 219 hits, 139 strikeouts, and 46 walks. He led the National League in both wins and winning percentage. Sal Maglie finished second with the following numbers in the same order: 13/5/2.87/191/150/108/52. Now I have no problem with Newcombe beating the Barber here. What I have a problem with is Maglie coming in second when the following two sets of numbers are available. This is the same pitching numbers in the same order: 21/11/2.78/281/249/128/52. Those are Warren Spahn’s numbers and I think I’d rather have his than Maglie’s. Again Duke Snider has good numbers: 158 hits, 112 runs, 43 home runs, a .292 average, a.598 slugging percentage, 101 RBIs, and 324 total bases. He leads the league in homers, slugging, on base percentage, and walks. He also comes in 10th in the MVP voting. Say what? Again my problem isn’t with Newcombe winning, it’s with the disrespect shown to both Spahn and Snider (What? Do they just not like guys whose last name starts with an S?) 

Jackie Jensen

  5. 1958. Jackie Jensen won. Jensen hit .286, slugged .535, had 157 hits, 83 runs, 35 home runs, 122 RBI’s, and 293 total bases. He led the league in RBIs. Mickey Mantle on the other hand hit .304, slugged .592, had 158 hits, 127 runs, 42 home runs, 97 RBIs, and 307 total bases. He managed to lead the league in runs, home runs, total bases, and also walks and strikeouts.   

There they are. You tell me who you’d vote for. I’m not sure what I’m missing when  I look these over. I’m tempted to say that there was too much emphasis on the RBI, but Williams loses in 1942 and Snider loses in 1955 with more RBIs, so it can’t just be RBIs. Campanella and Gordon both played more demanding fielding positions, and I’ll give you that Williams wasn’t the greatest outfielder in the world. But the thing is that Snider was no slouch in center and Gordon wasn’t the greatest second baseman to ever put on a glove (although he wasn’t bad ether). And Mantle with the leather was superb. So it can’t be that either, at least not entirely.   

Frankly, I’ve never been able to figure out MVP voting.  I know I’m dealing with the personal quirks and biases of a bunch of writers, but there is no consistency here at all. There have been a number that I’ve scratched my head over. These are, to me, five of the most obvious examples of “What were they looking at?” Feel free to add your own personal favorites (there are plenty).

Best Possible Game 2

December 10, 2009

Beginning in 1936 and ending in 1943 the Yankees won 6 World Series’, missed one (1940), and lost one. The one they lost was in 1942. They lost it to the St. Louis Cardinals in 5 games. Game 2 was critical.

The Yankees won game 1 of the 1942 World Series 7-4. Game 2 was played the next day in St. Louis. The Yankees sent  9 game winner Ernie (Tiny) Bonham to the mound against Cardinals 21 game winner Johnny Beazley. The Yanks had Hall of Famers Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Bill Dickey in the lineup. The Cardinals countered with Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial.

The Cards scored in the 1st on a walk, a fielder’s choice, and catcher Walker Cooper’s double. Then the game settled into a pitcher’s duel to the 7th when Johnny Hopp singled and Whitey Kurowski tripled him home for the Cardinals’ third run. So far a Cardinals walk in the park.

In the top of the eighth Yankees bats finally got to Beazley.  Right Fielder Roy Cullenbine singled with two outs, promptly stole second, and came home on DiMaggio’s single. Then left fielder Charlie Keller hit a two-run home run to tie the game. It looked like the Yankees were on the verge of another run to put themselves up 2-0 in the Series, but Beaszley struck out Gordon to leave the game tied.

In the bottom of the eighth, the two Cardinals Hall of Famers struck. Again with two outs Slaughter doubled and Musial followed with a run scoring single. In the ninth, Beazley got in trouble with a leadoff single, but a great throw by Slaughter nipped the runner going to third.  Then two quick outs and the Cardinals tied the Series.

Honorable mention game 2:

1912-game ended as a tie because of darkness after 11 innings.  Mathewson gave up 6 runs, all unearned.

1924-Senators wn 4-3 with a double in the bottom of the ninth.

1991-Twins win 3-2 on a Scott Leius home run, one of only 4 hits by the Twins.

2002-an 11-10 slugfest featuring 6 home runs and both a winning and losing pitcher named Rodriguez.