Posts Tagged ‘Joe Jackson’

Opening Day, 1913: American League

April 3, 2013
Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

In 1913, the American League opened its season one day later than the National League. Opening Day was 10 April. Among other games it saw Philadelphia win its first game of the season.

Although the Red Sox were defending World’s Champions, Connie Mack’s Athletics were the loaded team. The 1913 A’s boasted the “$100,000 Infield” of Stuffy McInnis at first, Jack Barry at short, and Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Frank Baker at second and third. Of outfielders Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian), and Jimmy Walsh, only Oldring was older than 25 (he was 29) and only Walsh hit below .280. Jack Lapp and rookie Wally Schang shared catching duties with Schang being much the better hitter. Aging Danny Murphy was solid of the bench. It was a strong team that looked good for many years. They had won the 1910 and 1911 World Series and finished third in 1912. The fall back was primarily because of the pitching. Ace Eddie Plank was 37 and former ace Jack Coombs was ill from typhoid. There was nothing wrong with Chief Bender, however, and he managed 21 wins with a 2.21 ERA and 13 saves. The A’s would win the pennant by 6.5 over Washington and beat up on the Giants in the World Series, winning four games to one.

The Senators would finish second primarily because they had Walter Johnson and no one else did. Johnson had a season for the ages. He went 36-6, had an ERA of 1.14, struck out 243 men, and ended with an ERA+ of 259. It got him the pitching triple crown and the AL’s Chalmers Award (an early form of the MVP). The Chalmers lasted four years (eight total awards) and Johnson is the only pitcher to win one. Washington’s top hitter was probably Chick Gandil, who became infamous in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

Defending champ Boston would finish in fourth (Cleveland was third) 15.5 games back. Tris Speaker hit in the .360s but the pitching collapsed. Notably, Smoky Joe Wood went from 34 wins to 11.

Ty Cobb won another batting title, hitting .390, while Baker won both the home run and RBI titles. Collins led the AL in runs, while Cleveland’s Joe Jackson had the most hits.

1913 saw a number of rookies who would make their mark. On 28 June Wally Pipp played his first game for the Tigers. He would anchor first base for the initial Yankees pennant winners before losing his position to Lou Gehrig. Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush made his debut on 20 August with Chicago. On 4 August Cleveland brought up Billy Southworth. He was an okay players, but made the Hall of Fame as a manager. Finally on 17 September Detroit brought Lefty Williams to the Major Leagues. He would eventually lose three games while helping the 1919 White Sox throw the World Series.

The 50 Greatest White Sox

December 11, 2012
Luke Appling, the 2nd Greatest White Sox

Luke Appling, the 2nd Greatest White Sox

Concluding comments on the ESPN poll of the 50 greatest players on given teams, today I want to remark on the White Sox list. As far as I could find there are only five of these on ESPN (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox). If I find others, you’ll be second to know (behind me).

1. The top 10 White Sox in order are: Frank Thomas, Luke Appling, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Paul Konerko, Eddie Collins, Ted Lyons, Joe Jackson, Harold Baines, and Minnie Minoso. And again the guy just off the top 10 in eleventh is Ed Walsh.

2. To put together a complete team you first have to decide what to do with Thomas. He’s a first baseman, but ultimately spent the bulk of his playing time as the DH. His positioning determines who makes the team. I decided to place him as the DH, where he spent the most time, so that makes the infield Konerko at first, Fox at second, Appling at short, Robin Ventura (number 15) at third. The outfield is Jackson, Baines, and Minoso, with Carlton Fisk (number 13) catching. A four man rotation with at least one lefty yields Lyons, Walsh, Mark Buehrle (number 12), and Billy Pierce (number 14), with Hoyt Willhelm (number 18)  as the closer. With Thomas at first, Konerko drops out and Aparicio becomes the first duplicate position player and thus the DH.

3. Most of the 1919 “Black Sox” make the list. Jackson is listed above, Eddie Cicotte is 16th Buck Weaver is 39th, Happy Felsch is 41st, and Lefty Williams in 50th. Only Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, and Fred McMullen were left out.

4. The 1906 World Champs is also well represented with Walsh listed above, Doc White at 30th, Fielder Jones at 33rd, and Nick Altrock at 42.

5. Which brings me to the most glaring omission, George Davis of the 1906 team. My guess is they decided he wasn’t there long enough (and that’s strictly a guess).

6. Dick Allen comes in at 20th. I’m not sure what I think of that. He was probably better than most of the guys ahead of him, but he was only there a couple of years. I’m not sure how you decide that. But to be honest I’m not sure what to do with Dick Allen period.

7. I have real problems with Konerko at fifth, above Collins, Lyons, and Baines (among others). I don’t mind Konerko being well touted, after all he started out with my Dodgers, but fifth?

8. I think that putting both Lu Aps (Luke Appling and Luis Aparicio) in the top four is probably correct. What I’m surprised about is that they got the order right. 

9. Let me ask this. What does it say about a franchise when their third best player (Fox) has a career OPS+ of 93, 35 home runs, and more caught stealings than stolen bases? Always liked scrappy Nellie Fox, but putting him third does point out why the ChiSox have only  been in the World Series twice since 1919 and only picked up one victory.

10. You know the Jackson, Baines, Minoso outfield might be the least powerladen of all the teams, but it is a heck of a fielding team.

The Core of the Hall: Notes

July 6, 2012

The post just below this one touches on the 50 people who I think most belong in the Hall of Fame (of those already enshrined). The public comments have been positive, but I’ve also received a handful of private comments (and emails) with questions about the list. This is an attempt to answer those.

1. SportsPhD in his comment below notes a paucity of 19th Century players and speculates that I’m purposefully leaving off players who were active primarily before the advent of the mound. He is correct. I think the change in pitching distance and motion have so effected the game that players before and after those changes must be viewed in entirely different categories. And, yes, there is a certain amount of justice in placing Campanella above Anson.

2. A number of comments have asked why so many Negro Leaguers, especially Turkey Stearnes and Martin DiHigo. I am entirely comfortable in believing that five Negro League players are among the 50 finest players ever. Look at the National League in the 1950s and you’ll note that guys like Aaron, Mays, Clemente, and Frank Robinson are on my list. I don’t think it unreasonable to believe that five players from the period 1920-1950 who were Negro League stars should be included. If you can find four in ten years, surely you can find five in thirty. As to DiHigo I placed him here because of his playing ability, his versatility, and his impact on the game among Latin players. He is instrumental on growing the game in Latin America (as is Clemente) and when coupled with his skills that puts him on my list. Stearnes is a little harder to justify and frankly was one of the last people I included. Most sources claim he is the leader in home runs among Negro Leaguers. That probably is worth adding him, even at the expense of guys like Buck Leonard and John Henry Lloyd.

3. Most people, including those who made public comment on the first Core post, indicate they might have changed a half dozen or so. Actually I think that’s really good. It means that, at least among those people who read this blog, there is a fairly solid consensus as to the top 40 or so players.

4. Someone asked if I was sorry to have to leave off current players or Hall eligible (or in the case of Joe Jackson and Pete Rose ineligible) players. Yes, I was. I’d love to put Albert Pujols on the list as well as Greg Maddux and possibly Rose although I’d have to think long and hard about Charlie Hustle. I’m not sure I see him as a top 50 without reference to the gambling issue. Maybe, maybe not.

5. I was asked “If Campanella was the last man on, who was the last man off?” The answer is Eddie Murray. I really miss putting Murray on the list and I have to admit that a personal prejudice may have gotten in the way here. I always liked Murray, but I loved Campy. I guess in the end that made a difference.

6. Someone asked “If you could cut it down to 10 who would you pick?” Pass.

All this typed for the information of those who asked. This way I don’t have to write up a dozen different responses to a dozen different emails.

“Pretend It’s Commie’s Wake”

February 2, 2012

Comiskey during his playing days

If you’ve been following along, I presume you’re expecting to see a short bio of Joe Jackson here. I’ve not gone that direction for two reasons. First, Jackson has been done to death. Second, I’ve done Jackson to death. Instead, I want to focus on the team owner, Charles Comiskey, a man many people blame as much as the players for the Black Sox Scandal. In the flick “Eight Men Out” as a measure of the player’s disdain for Comiskey, when it’s time for the team picture, how do you get the players to smile? You tell them to “Pretend it’s Commie’s Wake.” Whatever you think of the Black Sox or the scandal, it  happened on Comiskey’s watch.
 
Comiskey was from Chicago, born in 1859 to parents that had connections. His dad was at various times Cook County Clerk and a member of the City Council. So Comiskey, unlike his players, knew a little about politics. He took to baseball very early, apparently got into fights with his parents over it, left home at 17 to play ball, and became a successful pitcher and first baseman in the Northwest League.
 
In 1882, he joined the newly formed American Association’s St. Louis Browns as their first baseman. He was good in the field, not as good with the bat, and something of a team leader. By 1883 he was the team’s player-manager. Under Comiskey, the Browns ran off four consecutive Association championships, including a victory over the National League’s Chicago team in an 1886 version of the World Series.
 
I was surprised to learn that Comiskey was a follower of Monty Ward’s Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players Union (it doesn’t fit with his later record). He joined Ward and other Major Leaguers in the 1890 Player’s League. With the folding of the Player’s League (and the Brotherhood), Comiskey went back to St. Louis, was traded to Cincinnati, and retired as a player after the 1894 season. His record is unspectacular. He hit .264, with an OBP of .293, slugged .337 for an OPS of .630 (OPS+ of 82). He had 1956 total bases, 883 RBIs, and 992 runs scored. His postseason numbers are almost dead on with his regular season stats. He managed parts of 13 seasons, coming in first four of them, second twice, and fourth three times. His managerial winning percentage is .608.
 
In 1894, while still active, he joined with Ban Johnson, a Cincinnati sportswriter, to form the Western League. Comiskey bought the team in Sioux City, Iowa but immediately moved it to St. Paul, Minnesota. He eventually moved the team to Chicago, joined with Johnson in renaming the league the American League, and in 1901 won the first pennant for the fledgling Major League (His manager was Hall of Famer Clark Griffith.). His team repeated as champion in 1906, winning its first World Series over the crosstown rival Cubs. By 1910, his team was successful, the league was a success, and he was making a ton of money.

Comiskey about 1910

 
 To all the world the team seemed a success. Comiskey owned a big, modern ballpark, gave tickets away to children, lavished food and drink on reporters, and otherwise looked like a wealthy man. But how do you do that in 1915 Chicago while running a baseball team? Well, one of the ways you do it is by shorting your players. Comiskey was beginning to pick up a reputation as a miser when it came to his players. He paid them poorly, gave them less meal money than other teams, put them in cheap hotels, gave them flat champagne as a bonus (1917), and didn’t do the laundry very often. He was known to belittle them in public and complain that they loafed on the job when they lost. All of which led to a World Series victory in 1917 and a loss in 1919.
 
And it’s the loss in 1919 that was the problem. Eight of the players conspired to fix the Series (the level of complicity varies from player to player). Comiskey and others had suspicions from the beginning, Comiskey going so far as to hold World Series shares until a private detective investigation was finished (the players eventually got their money). In 1920 it blew up in public court, ridicule, and shame (but there were no late night comics to give it a funny undertone). The players were put on trial, Comiskey testified, the players were acquitted and Comiskey, who had been one of the first to urge the creation of an independent Commissioner, found his players barred from baseball by his handpicked Commissioner, Judge Landis.
 

The Hollywood version of Comiskey (Clifton James)

 Comiskey continued to run the White Sox through 1931. His team never again finished near first (and didn’t do so again until 1959). It never won another World Series in his lifetime (and only won again in 2005). He made the Hall of Fame in 1939.

When I was in the army people got screwed with in basic training. Then they were screwed with in advanced training. And when they got to their new post, they were screwed with again by the guys who’d been there a while. Well, eventually most guys reached a point where they were the old guys. People tended to learn one of two lessons. First, you got even by screwing with the poor guys who were new or under your command. Second, you refused to be a jerk because you recalled what it felt like to be screwed with and didn’t want other people to feel the way you felt when you were the bottom rung. Most people learned the first lesson. I’ve always been a little surprised that , as an ex-player, Comiskey treated his team with utter contempt. In light of my army experience maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I know that my sympathy for Comiskey as wronged owner would be greater if he wasn’t a former player who knew what it was like to be the guy on the bottom. I understand why he’s in the Hall of Fame, but sometimes I wish he wasn’t.

 

“In Conference with a Bunch of Crooked Players”

January 31, 2012

Buck Weaver

It had eventually to come to this post; the one on Buck Weaver. Of all the Black Sox he is the hardest to get a handle on when it comes to the scandal. His guilt is as certain as his innocence. And I know that sentence sounds silly, but if you look at the Black Sox issue, he can come across as either guilty or innocent depending on where you place your emphasis. As a rule, that’s not true of the others.

Born in 1890 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Weaver came from a steel town. He was neither a particularly good nor bad student, but he was a good ballplayer. By 1910, after stints in semipro and outlaw ball, he was in the Minor Leagues in Northampton, Massachusetts. He moved between Northampton; York, Pennsylvania; and San Francisco in a Minor League career that lasted two years. He was considered a good hitter and an excellent fielder.

In 1912 he made the Chicago White Sox as the starting shortstop.  He hit all of .224 and led the American League in both outs and errors made, but was considered a work in progress. And he did progress. Between 1913 and 1916 his average slid up and down, peaking at .272 in 1913. His OPS peaked in 1915 at .671. He was, however, becoming a good shortstop. He led the AL in putouts and assists in 1913 (and in errors). With the arrival of Swede Risberg in Weaver began a shift to third base, playing 66 games at short and 85 at third in 1916. By 1917 he was the team’s regular third baseman, a position he would hold for the rest of his career (although he still spent a lot of time at short).

In 1917, the White Sox won the AL pennant. Weaver hit .284, saw his OPS at .694, and had his OPS+ finally go over 100 (110). He also led all AL third basemen in field percentage. In the World Series he hit .333, and an OBP of .333 (obviously no walks), slugged .381, had an OPS of .714, scored three runs and drove in one. The Sox won in six games.

Weaver was one of a group of White Sox who played the entire 1918 season with the team. Despite World War I, he was neither drafted nor went off to do war work. He hit .300 for the first time, but OPS dropped. In 1919, he dropped back under .300 but established career highs in slugging percentage and OPS (although his OPS+ dropped to 99). He ChiSox won the pennant and lost the World Series in eight games. Weaver hit .324, had an OBP of .324 (again, the man simply refused to walk), slugged .500 and had an .824 OPS. He scored four runs, had four doubles, a triple, and no RBIs.

And it’s here we need to step away from the playing field and into a “conference with a bunch of  crooked players” (Judge Landis’ phrase). A group of White Sox decided to throw the World Series to Cincinnati and make a ton of money (by era standards). There were a number of meetings between the eight players (seldom with all eight present). Weaver was asked to join and did so. He seems to have immediately rejected the idea and had no part in the fix. He failed, however, to inform anyone else about what was going on. That would cost him dearly.

The 1920 season was a career year for Weaver. With the new “lively ball” he posted career highs in most categories. He hit .331, had an OPS+ of 107, and for the first time racked up 200 hits. He also continued to play well in the field. With only a few days left in the season, the Black Sox scandal broke. Weaver was implicated and thrown off the team. Tried with the other Black Sox, despite requesting a separate trial, he was acquitted. Then Landis brought down the hammer banning all players who participated in the fix. Then the last sentence included the following, “no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it will ever play professional ball.” It was aimed directly at Weaver.

Out of the Majors, Weaver played semipro ball, worked for the city of Chicago as a painter, ran a drug store (he was not the pharmacist), and dropped dead of a  heart attack on the streets of Chicago 31 January 1956, exactly 56 years ago. He was, despite repeated attempts, never reinstated to the Major Leagues.

Before making some general comments about Weaver, this is a good place to note how good the White Sox defense was rated. In contemporary account after contemporary account there is general agreement that the Sox were a superb defensive team. Gandil, Weaver, Jackson, and Felsch were considered in the top-tier of defense players in the American League, as were Clean Sox Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk. A quick look at team stats bears out that the ChiSox were among the elite fielding teams of the era and if you take the individual players and line them up against their opposite numbers, it’s generally true that the Chicago players are well into the upper echelon on defense. Accounts of the Black Sox scandal tend to generally focus on the hitting and pitching but as a team, the White Sox were pretty good defensively too.

My grandparents refered to knowing what to do and not doing it as a “sin of omission.” Weaver got caught up in something like that in 1919. In some ways we’re dealing with that right now in American sport. As I understand it, Joe Paterno was essentially accused of not doing enough in the Penn State scandal and that (not doing enough) is what got Weaver into trouble. Now I don’t want to compare the two incidents too closely, the specifics have almost nothing in common and the difference between the victims, a 10-year old in 2002 and a group of loud and sometimes obnoxious fans in 1919, makes the particulars totally unlike. And that leads to the question of how much sympathy to show towards Weaver. On the one hand, you’re taught to be loyal to your friends, but on the other hand there’s the question of knowing something is wrong and simply letting it slide. Ultimately I come down on the anti-Weaver side, but I certainly understand those who do not.

Having said all that, I agree with Judge Landis on banning those who are “in conference with a bunch of crooked players.” Making it a cause for banning was a shot across the bow of the players. Now even knowledge of a fix, not just the fix itself, was a banning offense. I’m not a big fan of Landis, but he got this one right.

“We Don’t Want Any”

January 27, 2012

Lefty Williams

In the movie “Eight Men Out” there is a wonderfully subtle scene between Swede Risberg (Don Harvey) and Lefty Williams (James Read). Risberg is pitching the fix to Williams when we hear the voice of Williams’ wife (Nancy Travis) ask who’s at the door. Williams responds it’s a salesman and the wife replies that Williams should tell him “we don’t want any.”  It’s subtle because Risberg is actually selling something: the fix. Mrs. Williams is, in a throw off manner, offering excellent advice.  Every time I see the movie I mutter to myself, “Listen to your wife, Lefty.” He never does.

Claude Williams was born in Southwest Missouri in 1893. There seems to be a general belief that the 1919 White Sox were split along geographical lines with the Southerners and the Northerners squaring off in some replay of the Civil War. Ain’t so. Only Joe Jackson was from the South. None of the others were from anywhere near the South except for Williams. He was from one of those border states that tore itself apart during the 1860s. Four of the counties in deep southwest Missouri were evacuated and turned into something like a free fire zone by the Federal Government during the Civil War. The idea was that anyone found in those counties was a bushwhacker and subject to immediate arrest and/or execution. After the war the returned citizens in those counties became some of the biggest supporters of anti-government rebels (and general thugs) like Cole Younger and Jesse James. Williams’ family, from Aurora, came from one of those counties. I don’t know how seriously they identified with the South, but I suspect it had an impact on their son.

Williams became one of the rarest of baseball commodities, a good left-handed pitcher. He played semipro ball in Springfield, Missouri, starred in the Appalachian League, and was picked up by Detroit in 1913. He wasn’t an instant success going 1-4 over two years and picking up a save. He had a good curve, but neither his control nor the curve were what the Tigers wanted. They sent him to Sacramento after one game in 1914. He spent the rest of the season there, then slid over to Salt Lake City for 1915. He pitched well enough in Salt Lake (33 wins and 294 strikeouts) to get the attention of the White Sox.

He debuted in Chicago in 1916 and was a lot better than he’d been at Detroit. With better control and a wicked curve he became a staple of the ChiSox staff. He was 30-15 over two seasons, pitched a lot of innings, but didn’t finish many games. In the 1917 World Series he pitched in one game (one inning). He gave up a run on two hits and struck out three.

In 1918, he joined Jackson, his roommate, and others doing Naval shipyard work in lieu of joining the military. I’ve hit this before in other posts, so I’m not going into detail about it here. He was back for 1919 and won 20 games for the first time (23). He was third in innings pitched, first in games pitched, and for the only time in a full season had an ERA+ over 100 (121). The Sox went to the World Series for the second time in three seasons. Williams started and lost three games. In 1920 he was off to a 22-14 start with a huge ERA and led the American League in home runs allowed when the Black Sox scandal broke. Along with the other players he was acquitted by a jury but banned by baseball.

Williams, as with the rest of the Black Sox, played outlaw ball. He continued playing through 1927. He moved to California and opened a landscaping business and nursery. It was reasonably successful and provided both financial stability and a life away from the harsh glare of the scandal. He died in 1959.

There is a story in Asinof’s “Eight Men Out” that a gambler threatened Williams the night before game eight that the gambler would shoot Williams’ wife if Williams survived the first inning (it’s also in the movie). Asinof, years later, admitted he made up the story to catch plagiarism. I guess that’s so. The story always worried me, but you never know. In my book, Williams has been one of the more sympathetic figures in the Black Sox Scandal (at least as far as any of these jerks can be sympathetic). He seems to have agreed to throw the World Series, gotten a little cold feet, overrode them and decided that the money was good, eventually overriding his conscience. I have to admit that I’ve done that too (overrode my conscience, not thrown the Series). Still, Lefty, you shoulda listened to your wife.

“A Hard Guy”

January 25, 2012

The Swede

In some ways the least likeable of the eight Black Sox is Swede Risberg. He seems to be a particularly unloveable person. In Joe Jackson’s words, “a hard guy.”

Born in 1894 San Francisco, Charles Risberg was a third grade drop out (do you notice an educational pattern with a lot of these guys?). He excelled as a pitcher in semipro ball in the Frisco area. Between 1912 and 1916, he played for a series of Minor League teams in the West, doing well and eventually settling in as a shortstop. His last posting was with Vernon of the Pacific Coast League. His manager was 1906 World Series hero Doc White who recommended Risberg to his former boss Charles Comiskey.

Risberg made the big leagues in 1917 as a utility infielder but almost immediately became the every day shortstop. He hit .203 with no power and struck out more than he walked. As a shortstop he was nothing special. He led the American League in errors and finished fourth (of eight regulars) in putouts. Chicago made the World Series. Risberg batted twice, picked up a single and an RBI and helped the White Sox win.

1918 saw World War I intrude into baseball in a major way. Under a “work of fight” order a number of players like Risberg left the team during the season (he played 82 games) to work in Naval shipyards. Risberg went back to the West Coast to work in the Alameda Shipyard. Much of his job was to play ball and the whole idea bothered owner Comiskey. As with Happy Felsch (see earlier post) Comiskey felt Risberg was shirking his duty and held it against him for the rest of his career. Again, it’s difficult to determine how much this contributed to the crisis of 1919. One thing is certain, Risberg hated Chicago and the Midwest. He apparently was desperately homesick and spent as much time as he could back in California. This may also have contributed to what happened in 1919. Not liking the town, the owner, and a significant number of his teammates, Risberg was ripe for recruitment in the Black Sox Scandal.

He had a decent year in 1919, finally having 100 hits, hitting .256, and seeing his OPS rise to .662. I always hate writing something like that, because OPS was unheard of in Risberg’s day, but is so well-known today it needs to be quoted. During the World Series he hit a miserable .083 with one extra base hit (a triple), no RBIs, five strikeouts, and a World Series record eight errors at short. He blamed it on a cold.

Of course we know it was more than a cold. Risberg was one of Chick Gandil’s earliest recruits. A willing participant, he seems to have been the man who recruited both Lefty Williams and Jackson to the cause. He was responsible for getting Jackson’s money to him (via Williams) and is supposed to have threatened Jackson with physical violence when Jackson complained about the amount of money. That was Jackson’s story and Risberg never denied it (at least that I can find).

Risberg was having his best year in 1920 when the scandal broke. Acquitted by a jury, but banned by the Major Leagues, he played outlaw baseball and worked some in the minors, playing as late as the early 1930s. He told others he was making more money in the outlaw and minor leagues than he ever made in the Major Leagues. He ran a dairy farm, was involved in the Ty Cob/Tris Speaker gambling controversy (which came to nothing), lost a leg to osteomyelitis, moved back to California and ran a bar (another common thread among some of the Black Sox). He died in California in 1975, the last of the Black Sox.

I find it very difficult to like Risberg. I think that as a person he’s the one I’d least like to have known (which is different from saying which is most responsible for the fix). But he is intriguing because his career is the shortest. He seems to have been getting better when he was banned (as was Felsch) and I’d like to know how the “lively ball” era might have changed his stats. He was never going to be a big star, but he might have become a quality shortstop given time. That he didn’t give himself enough time lies with him.

“Please Help Me, I’m Falling”

January 22, 2012

Happy Felsch

In doing research for this post about Happy Felsch, I ran across an interview with him done back in the 1950s. In it he says he wanted to get some help from his friends in deciding what to do about fixing the 1919 World Series. I was immediately reminded of an old 1960s (I think) country song that contained the following lines: “Please help me, I’m falling. And that would be sin. Close the door to temptation. Don’t let me walk in.” The ethical blindness in both comment and song are much alike.

Oscar Felsch was born in Milwaukee in 1891, the son of immigrants from Germany. As with a number of the Black Sox, he was a drop out, not advancing beyond the sixth grade. He played sandlot ball, went into semipro ball, and finally made a local minor league team in 1913. He wasn’t very good in 1913, but improved. By 1915 he had been spotted and signed by Chicago. He was one of three Black Sox who spent his entire career with the White Sox (Weaver and Risberg were the others).

His first season wasn’t much, but he improved in 1916 and 1917. He hit .300 both years, had 100 RBIs in 1917, scored 70 runs both years, and had decent power for the era (13 total home runs). His OPS+ was 130 in ’16 and 128 in ’17.  He was also an exception center fielder for the era. He led the American League in both putouts and range factor in 1917 and was second in range factor in 1916. In the 1917 World Series he hit .273 with a home run and an OPS of .759.

After 53 games in 1918, Felsch left Chicago to perform war work at a naval shipyard. World War I was raging and he, along with other Major Leaguers, was faced with either joining the military or performing war-related service. Owner Charles Comiskey was upset at Felsch (and Lefty Williams and Joe Jackson who did the same as Felsch) for “shirking” the military in time of  crisis. The War Department was quite happy to get them, the ships needed to be built and the dockyard workers need entertainment (All three played a lot of ball for the shipyard team.). I’m not sure how much this incident added to the atmosphere that led to the 1919 fix, but it surely didn’t help.

Back fulltime in 1919, Felsch had another good year, hitting .275 with an OPS of .764 and an OPS+ of 113. He also led the AL in outfield assists. In on the World Series fix, he hit .192 with a double and three RBIs. He also had four strikeouts. Early in his career he was strikeout-prone (for the age), but had seen his strikeouts steadily decrease over the seasons.

In 1920 he was having an excellent year when the scandal broke. He took full advantage of the “lively ball” and hit .338 with a .923 OPS. He had 14 home runs, 40 doubles, and 115 RBIs in 142 games. All were career highs. But the breaking scandal cost him the rest of the season and banishment after his trial cost him the remainder of his career.

Back in Milwaukee he played some outlaw ball, sued for reinstatement to the Major Leagues, played in Canada, worked as a grocer, soda store operator, saloon keeper, and crane operator. In other words, he did what he could to make ends meet as his baseball skills diminished and his lack of education kept him in working class jobs. When Eliot Asinof began writing “Eight Men Out”, Felsch was still alive. He agreed to interviews and became one of the book’s leading sources. He died of a coronary blood clot in 1964, apparently no longer a “Happy” man.

Hot Stove League 1912 (AL)

January 5, 2012

Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper about 1912

Today we baseball junkies get our November-February fix by engaging in what’s called “The Hot Stove League”. It was no different 100 years ago. Here’s a few things the 1912 American League fan had to be discussing in January 100 years ago.

Could the Athletics repeat? The Philadelphia Athletics were two-time defending champions. Could they make it three in a row? No one ever had in the American League. We know the answer is “no.” Chief Bender had a down year, rookies Herb Pennock and Stan Coveleski (future Hall of Famers) didn’t do much (Coveleski only pitched 21 innings).

If not, who could take them? Boston had finished fifth in 1911, but  Jake Stahl took over as manager (and had a good year at first base), the outfield of Harry Hooper, Tris Speaker, and Duffy Lewis became arguably the finest Deadball Era outfield, third baseman Larry Gardner had a good season (better than Hooper’s), and Smokey Joe Wood won 30 games.

 Was Walter Johnson a fluke? After three so-so seasons, Johnson put together two 20 win seasons in 1910 and 1911. Fans had to wonder if he could continue. Short answer? Yes.

After hitting .400 in 1911, could Ty Cobb do it again? Again the answer turned out to be yes.

After hitting .400 in 1911 and losing the batting title to Cobb, could new guy Joe Jackson hit .400 in 1912 and win the batting title? Jackson slipped to .395, but led the AL in triples.

Would the team in New York, which had finished second in 1910 and slipped back to sixth in 1911 under now ousted manager Hal Chase recover or continue to slide. They dropped all the way to last place in 1912 with Chase still at first and sulking (among other things). He did lead the team in RBIs with 58.

And finally would Chicago pitcher Ed Walsh’s arm fall off? Walsh led the AL in games pitched in 1907, 1908, 1910, and 1911. Could he do it again? He could. He pitched in 62 games, starting 41, completing 32, and pitching 393 innings (read that last number closely).  Apparently the arm stayed attached, but the toll finally got to him. He developed a sore arm in 1913 and his career was effectively over.

Part of the joy of baseball is actually the offseason. The speculation, the anticipation, the questioning all make for a lot of fun. I love it, I hope you love it, and I’m sure fans 100 years ago loved it too.

Joe Jackson: Do the Stats Free or Convict Him?

September 28, 2011

Now that we’ve all had time to look over Joe Jackson’s batting statistics for the 1919 World Series, it’s time to ask what do they mean? Well, they mean a lot of things and the single most important thing they mean is that you cannot use Jackson’s World Series stats to prove he either was or wasn’t “throwing” the Series.  Had Jackson gone 0 for 21 in the games the White Sox lost, it would still not prove he was tanking. Players have bad games. Eddie Collins had a miserable Series in 1919 and no one believes he was trying to “throw” the Series.  Had Jackson gone 21 for 21 in the same games it would not prove he was playing on the up and up (the type of hits and their results would have to be factored in).  In fact, Jackson’s 1919 World Series stats are a perfect example of why a sole reliance on statistics is an awful way to research baseball. So if you expect me to say that these statistics prove definitely that Jackson was an angel or a slug you’re going to be wasting your time. Having said all that, there are some things we can note about the stats.

1. Let’s start with three small stats: walks, strikeouts, stolen bases. And I emphasize these are small stats (a total of four occurences). Jackson walks once in the Series, in a game the Sox win. It’s game six and he leads off the inning and does not score. For the season he walks 60 times (about 12% of his at bats–and, yes I know a walk doesn’t count as an at bat). That’s not much but is third on the team. The stolen base attempt comes in game 3 after a lead off single. He’s thrown out at second and the stolen base is unsuccessful. By this point in his career Jackson was no longer a prolific base stealer, having stolen only nine all season. For the entire regular season Jackson strikes out 10 times in 516 at bats. He strikes out twice, both in games the Sox lose (once looking, once swinging). The first is the sixth inning of game 2 against Slim Sallee who struck out 24 men all season. This is the one looking. The swinging strikeout is in the eighth inning of game 5 against Jimmy Ring who struck out 61 all season. Both strikeouts in losing efforts. The stolen base attempt, however, is in a winning game and is the only evidence of aggression on the base paths Jackson shows all Series. But it’s a failure. But it’s a failure in a game the Sox were trying to win so maybe we shouldn’t make too much of it one way or the other. The strikeouts worry me more. In point of fact are the only one of these three stats that do worry me. In 516 at bats Jackson strikes out 10 times during the season (as stated above). In 21 at bats in five games he strikeouts twice. And it’s not like Walter Johnson is gunning him down. Sallee and Ring were not major strikeout artists of the era, especially Sallee. Had the strikeouts come against Reds pitcher Hod Eller they might be more expected. Eller struck out 137 men during the season, second in the National League. Is this evidence of “throwing” games? No, but when you equal 20% of your yearly strikeouts in five games, people should notice. But it’s also a very small sample and that fact should not be ignored.

2. Jackson has four extra base hits (3 doubles, one home run), all in games the Sox lose. On first glance that sounds like evidence Jackson was playing it straight in the games Chicago lost. Let’s look at the hits one by one.  The first occurs in game one when he leads off the second inning with a double. He does not score. Well, with the next three batters in the line up being in on the “fix” (Happy Felsch, Chick  Gandil, Swede Risberg in order) he’s fairly safe leading off with a double knowing that there are three outs directly behind him. In fact, Jackson is in a perfect place to do well while “throwing” a game. He hits just in front of three consecutive players actively trying to “fix” the game. He can get on base, knowing the other three guys won’t let you score, at least not very often.  The second double occurs in exactly the same circumstances in game 4. This time he’s bunted to third (a fairly safe play that moves a runner up but doesn’t score him) then two consecutive outs ends the threat. The other double and the home run occur in game 8, the final game. With the score already 5-0, Jackson hits his home run with no one on base. The final double occurs in the eighth inning with an out and men on. The hit scores two runs, but the score when Jackson comes to bat is already 10-1. So here are four extra base hits, but they are reasonably unproductive hits, two leading off an inning with three acknowledged conspirators following in the inning and two coming when the final game is already out of hand. Do these prove Jackson was “throwing” games? As I said above, the stats alone can never prove that, but they worry me a lot, a whole lot.

3. Jackson has three runs and three RBIs in games the team loses, which isn’t a bad number in five games. There are a couple of problems with this theory, however. All three of the RBIs and two of the runs occur in game 8. If you look above at the comment on the extra base hits in reference to game 8 you’ll see how they played out. The only run not in the game 8 blowout was in game 1 and in that circumstance he reached base on a two base error, hardly an endorsement for those claiming he wasn’t throwing games.

So I’ll remind you once again that the statistical record for the 1919 World Series cannot free Jackson of guilt in trying to “throw” the World Series. They also cannot convict Jackson of “throwing” the World Series. They are at best ambivalent. Much more damning are the confession and the money. The confession, without reference to how it disappeared, is at best tainted by the way in which it was obtained. They money is different. There’s no question he took it. Do I think Jackson participated in “fixing” the 1919 World Series? Yes, I do. Do the statistics prove it? No, they don’t, but they also don’t disprove it.