Posts Tagged ‘Joe McCarthy’

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The Bombers

March 16, 2017
Marse Joe

Marse Joe

There are a number of great rivalries in baseball: Cards-Cubs, Dodgers-Giants, Yanks-Red Sox, and others. In postseason baseball there is nothing quite like the rivalry between the Yankees and the Dodgers. They’ve played each other more than any other World Series combination (with the Yankees usually winning). This is a look at the World Series that started that rivalry, the 1941 World Series.

Joe McCarthy, since the early 1930s managed to lead the New York Yankees to World Series triumphs five times, the last win coming in 1939. His offense finished high in almost every major American League category. They were second in runs, slugging, OPS, total bases; first in home runs; third in walks, batting average, OBP; and fourth in triples. Only in doubles were they down the list at seventh. The staff was equally as effective. They finished first in hits, runs, and saves (although the stat wasn’t around yet). They were second in ERA and shutouts while finishing third in strikeouts.

The infield, two years removed from the tragic loss of Lou Gehrig, consisted of Johnny Sturm at first, Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto up the middle, and Red Rolfe at third. Rizzuto’s .307 led the infield in average while Gordon led in both homers (24) and RBIs (24). His 5.2 WAR also led the infield and was third on the team. Rizzuto’s WAR was at 4.5. Rolfe’s WAR stood at 1.1 while Sturm was at a minus two. The backups were two middle infielders: Jerry Priddy and Frankie Crosetti. Both managed a single home run while Priddy had more RBIs and Crossetti a slightly higher batting average.

There is a school of thought that states this Yankees outfield was, across the board, the best Yankees outfield ever. Charlie Keller was in left. He hit .298 with 33 home runs, 122 RBIs, and OPS+ of 162 for 6.6 WAR. Tommy Henrich was in right. He hit .277 with 31 home runs, 85 RBIs, a 136 OPS+, and 4.6 WAR. Of course the center fielder was Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. The Clipper hit .357, had 30 homers, 125 RBIs, only 13 strikeouts in 541 at bats (read that closely), had an OPS+ of 184, and 9.1 WAR, all to go along with the 56 game hitting streak and an MVP Award. The backups were George Selkirk and Frenchy Bordagaray. Frenchy hit .260, “Twinkletoes” Selkirk had six home runs and 25 RBIs. They combined for a -0.1 WAR (Selkirk’s was at least a positive number).

Hall of Famer Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar did almost all the catching. In many ways their season mirrored each other. Dickey hit .284, Rosar .287. Dickey’s OPS+ was 109, Rosar’s was 101. Dickey’s 2.6 WAR exactly doubled Rosar’s 1.3. Dickey had seven home runs and 71 RBIs while striking out only 17 times in 348 at bats. Rosar played many less games, but had 10 strikeouts in 209 at bats. Ken Silvestri was the third catcher. He got into 17 games and hit .250.

Although there were a couple of stars involved, the staff really worked as a “staff.” Marius Russo led the team with 27 starts while Red Ruffing, Spud Chandler, Lefty Gomez, and Atley Donald all started at least 20 games. Marty Breuer and Ernie “Tiny” Bonham had 18 and 14 starts while no one else had more than eight. Ruffing and Gomez, the two members of the Hall of Fame, each put up 15 wins while Russo had 14. Chandler had 10 and both Donald and Bonham, as well has Breuer had nine. Russo’s WAR was 3.0, Bonham managed 2.6, and Ruffing 2.0. The reliever was Johnny Murphy. His ERA was 1.98 in 77 innings pitched, all in relief. He had 15 saves but managed to walk 40 opponents while striking out only 29. His ERA+ was a team leading 200.

Although they’d lost to Detroit in 1940, the Yankees of 1941 were still very much the same team that had won consecutive World Series crowns in 1936, ’37, ’38, and ’39. In the coming World Series they would face an upstart team that hadn’t been to a championship since 1920 and hadn’t won one since Iron Man Joe McGinnity and the turn of the century.

 

 

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 Best Team Never to Win

January 24, 2017
Marse Joe while with the Yanks

Marse Joe while with the Yanks

The Cubs have, over the last 60 years, been historically bad. Most years they weren’t in contention by the end of the first couple of days and went downhill from there. But there are a lot of other teams that didn’t win much, so I decided to look for what I considered the best team that never won.

Let me take a minute to define my terms. I’m looking for the team that was good, really good, but never won a pennant. As we move toward the modern era we get more teams making the postseason, so I decided that teams making a playoff could count, but they weren’t allowed to win even one round during the postseason. I did not sit down and laboriously go through stat after stat trying to find the team with the most runs, or the highest team WAR, or WHIP. I looked primarily at overall record and I decided that teams that were good, but unsuccessful, over a period of years were more what I was looking for than some one year wonder of a team. A team like the 1988 Mets didn’t win, but with essentially the same team, they’d won the World Series in 1986, so they weren’t eligible for this project. Several teams made the initial couple of cuts, but I found myself coming back over and over to a team that was very, very good, had an MVP performance, a Hall of Fame manager and a couple of Hall of Famers and still just couldn’t quite get over the top: the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox.

Before getting into the specifics of the team, let me give you a brief look at the people involved. The primary manager was Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy. He’d won a pennant with the Cubs in 1928 then led the Yankees through most of the 1930s and into the 1940s, when he resigned in 1946. He remained out of the dugout until 1948 when he took over Boston. He remained at the helm until June 1950 when he left managing for good. His replacement was Steve O’Neill. O’Neill managed the Detroit Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship (over McCarthy’s old team, the Cubs), then was let go after falling off by 1948. He remained with Boston through 1951.

In what’s about to follow, I want to point out the statistics I quote will not be yearly, but will note the best number in the three year run. For example if Joe Klutz has his best batting average in 1948, his best OBP in 1949, and his highest slugging percentage and OPS in 1950 then his triple slash line will look something like this (year substituted for actual number): 1948/1949/1950/1950. His home run number might be 1950 and his RBI number from 1948. I’m doing this to give you some flavor of how good the players were over a period of years rather than going through each individual yearly. On the other hand cumulative stats will be for the three-year span. Hopefully, I’ll do this well enough to make sure I distinguish which stat type is which (confused?). I think it’s more in line with the length of time involved with this team.

The infield was essentially five guys. Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr held down second for the entire period. His triple slash line (again, the best number in the three years, not necessarily from the same year) was .309/.393/.519/.891. He hit 72 total home runs, his highest RBI number was 120 (1950), and he led the American League in triples with 11 in 1950. His highest hit total was 172 and he totaled 14.1 WAR over the period. He was also generally first or second in most of the major fielding statistics. Johnny Pesky and Vern Stephens held down the left side of the infield. Pesky spent ’48 and ’49 as the primary third baseman and moved to short in ’50. Stephens obviously went the other way. His triple slash line reads .312/.437/.388/.825 (all from 1950 in this case). He totaled six home runs, his highest RBI total was 69 and he managed a high of eight stolen bases over the period. He scored 347 total runs, had 185 hits in 1949, and totaled 10.7 WAR in the three-year stretch. Although his fielding numbers aren’t as good as Doerr’s, Pesky still shows up as a very good defensive player. Stephens wasn’t exactly a bad fielder, but his primary job was to wield the lumber. His triple slash line for the period peaks at .295/.391/.539/.930 with 98 home runs. He led the AL in RBIs in both 1949 and 1950 with his 159 in 1949 being the highest number. In 1948 he also managed to lead the AL in grounding into double plays. His WAR for the period was 15.1.

The other two guys were at first. Billy Goodman did more work at first than anyone else, but he wasn’t really a first baseman. He also spent a lot of time at second, third, and in the outfield (ultimately he played more games at second than at any other position). He hit well, winning the 1950 AL batting title. His best triple slash numbers were .354/.427/.455/.882 (all from 1950, a year he played no games at first). He hit five total homers in the period, had 68 RBIs in 1950, scored 91 runs (also in 1950–obviously his career year), and managed 5.2 total WAR. His replacement at first was Walt Dropo. He didn’t play at all in 1948 and had a cup of coffee in ’49. In 1950 he took over as the everyday first baseman. He led the AL in RBIs with 144, won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, had a triple slash line of .322/.378/.583/.961, led the league in total bases with 326, and posted 2.6 WAR. He also hit 34 home runs, had 180 hits, and scored 101 runs. All those were to be career highs. For his career he would put up 3.2 WAR, 2.6 of that in 1950.

The outfield belonged to four men: Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Al Zarilla, and Stan Spence. If you’re reading this you probably have a sense of Williams. He’s one of the dozen or so greatest players ever and he was excellent in the three years around 1950. His best triple slash line for the three years reads .369/,497/.650/1,141. He hit 96 home runs in the period, won the RBI title in 1949 with a career high 159, led the AL in runs, doubles, total bases at various times during the three year run. His WAR totals 21.5. He was injured for much of 1950, or his number might have been higher. He won the MVP Award in 1949. Stan Spence, on the other hand, is fairly obscure. He played both right field and first base in 1948, then was traded seven games into 1949. In 1948 he hit .235/,368/.391/.759 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs. Zarilla was his replacement. He was with Boston in both ’49 and 1950 and had a better year in ’50. His triple slash line for 1950 is .325/.423/.493/.915. He had nine home runs both years, 145 total RBIs, had 32 doubles each year, and 4.6 total WAR. He was a decent outfielder, but is today probably most famous as the principal in the famous Dizzy Dean line “Zarilla slud into third.” Which leaves Dom DiMaggio, the center fielder. His triple slash numbers read .328/.4.14/.452/.866 (all are from 1950). He led the AL in stolen bases (15), triples (11), and runs 131) in 1950 (his best year) and put up 24 home runs, 384 runs, and 11.1 WAR over the period. His fielding stats show him as one of the best center fielders of the era.

Next time I want to look at the battery (both catchers and pitchers) as well as the bench. It’s a fine team. So I also want to look at what went wrong causing them to never reach the World Series.

 

 

 

 

 

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: 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 First Integrated World Series: the Yanks

April 16, 2015
The Yankee Clipper

The Yankee Clipper

There was less disarray among the 1947 New York Yankees than there was with Brooklyn, but it was in some turmoil because it was a team in transition. Between 1921 and 1943 New York had never gone more than three seasons without a pennant. By failing to win in 1944, 1945, and 1946, they’d just matched that record. The idea of going four in a row was anathema. So it brought on changes within the team.

The most noticeable change, in many ways, was the man in charge in the dugout. After 16 years as manager, Joe McCarthy was gone. A combination of losing, poor teams during the war, his drinking, and new management had sent McCarthy and his seven world championships into retirement. In his place was rookie manager Bucky Harris. Now Harris was a rookie manager only in the sense of being new to the Yanks. He’d managed the Senators as far back as their single World Series title in 1924 and had spent other years managing in Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia. On the hot seat after replacing the manager with the most championships ever and leading a team used to winning, Harris was able to provide stability to his team.

The infield was changed from the glory years. George McQuinn was at first after playing the same position for the Browns and Athletics. He hit over .300 and his 13 home runs tied for third on the team. Snuffy Stirnweiss had been around for a while. He’d taken over at second during the war years and was terrific. He’d picked up a batting title in 1945. Then reality set in. The major players were back from the war; the dominant pitchers were back on the mound. Stirnweiss suffered against them. His WAR (BBREF version) went from the mid-eights to the mid-threes. It was still better than backup Lonny Frey, seven years removed from his term with the world championship Reds of 1940. He’d come to New York in mid-season and hit .179. Phil Rizzuto hit .273, led the team in stolen bases, and was one of the better shortstops of the era. The primary third baseman was Billy Johnson. He had 10 home runs, had an ERA+ of 114 and was being challenged by Bobby Brown (who would later be President of the American League).

The outfield saw more stability. Johnny Lindell was now the regular in left field. He hit .275 with 11 home runs. He was the replacement for Charlie Keller. Keller was having back problems and so only saw action in 45 games. He only hit .238 but tied for third on the team with 13 home runs. His .550 slugging percentage and .954 OPS led the Yanks. Right field remained with Tommy Henrich. He led the team with 98 RBIs, and with 109 runs scored. His 158 hits was second on the team as were his 16 homers. And of course he was second in both to Joe DiMaggio. The Yankee Clipper hit .315, had 20 home runs, 97 RBIs, 168 hits, walked 64 times then had 31 doubles and 32 strikeouts. Just a more or less normal DiMaggio year.

No where was in greater transition than the catching job. Aaron Robinson began the year as the primary catcher. He was 32, hit .270, was a decent catcher, and by the end of the year was losing his job to second year man, the 22-year-old Yogi Berra. Berra hit .280, had 11 home runs, 54 RBIs, and 41 runs scored in 293 at bats. His catching numbers were on par with Robinson’s and in some cases (passed balls and caught stealing percentage) slightly better. The third catcher was Ralph Houk. He didn’t play much in 1947, but he would later manage the Yanks to three pennants and two World Series championships. Future All Star Sherm Lollar got into 11 games behind the plate.

But easily the most notable transition was in the pitching staff. Gone were the stalwarts of the 1930s and early 1940s, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. Allie Reynolds was now the ace. He came over from Cleveland at the beginning of 1947,went 19-8 and posted an ERA+ of 110. He walked 123 while striking out 129 and gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Vic Raschi was only 7-2 in his rookie year (he’d pitched two games the year before), but was already 28. He would join Reynolds as one of the mainstays of the early 1950s Yanks. Spec Shea was the second pitcher. He went 14-5 and had both 89 walks and 89 strikeouts. Bill Bevens, like Shea, had the same number of walks as strikeouts. In his case 77 of each. He was a journeyman who went 7-13 during the regular season, but would make the most of his one starting opportunity in World Series play. Spud Chandler and Bobo Newsom, both aged 39, rounded out the starters. Fireman Joe Page was the primary reliever, garnering 17 saves, while relieving in 44 of 56 games. Karl Drews started 10 games and pitched in 30. No one else appeared in more than 25 games. Tommy Byrne, who would come to fame on the 1950s Yanks got into four games. Except for Page (and Byrne) all of them were right-handed.

They were a formidable team and favored in the Series. Since 1927 they’d won nine World Series and lost only one. In 1941 they’d beaten the Dodgers in five games. Most writers expected them to do so again, although it might take more than five games.

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

May 11, 2012

Pat Malone

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

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

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

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

A Bad Century: The Nadir (Older than the Rockies)

May 7, 2012

Riggs Stephenson, Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, and KiKi Cuyler in 1929

Most people might tell you that the failure to win a pennant since 1945 is the nadir of the Chicago Cubs’ “Bad Century”. Others might pick the long list of last place finishes as their nadir. And In one sense they’d both be right. But for my money I pick 1929 because of the way in which the Cubs lost an available championship. Somehow that’s more awful than simply finishing last. Anybody can finish last, but to blow an entire World Series in two innings takes Cubs-like effort.

After losing the 1918 World Series, the Cubs became also rans in the National League, falling back into the pack for a decade. By 1929, they’d righted the ship, found a way back to a pennant and under manager Joe McCarthy (yes, the same McCarthy who would lead the Yankees through the 1930s) had a chance to pickup a championship. It was a solid team consisting of an infield of Charlie Grimm at first, Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, Woody English at short, and third sacker Norm McMillan. The outfield had Riggs Stephenson in left and Hall of Famers Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler in center and right. Gabby Hartnett was the normal catcher, but arm injuries limited him to pinch hit duties in the Series, so Zack Taylor took his place behind the plate. Hornsby and Wilson tied for the team lead with 39 home runs, and Wilson led the NL in RBIs with 159 while Cuyler had 43 stolen bases to cop the league crown. The staff consisted of  ace Pat Malone, Sheriff Blake, Guy Bush, and Charlie Root (not yet infamous for throwing Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in 1932). They were all right-handed, gave up  more hits than they had innings pitched, and both Blake and Bush walked more men than they struck out. So the pitching was a bit of a problem, but Bush did lead the NL in saves with eight.

In 1929 they faced Connie Mack’s resurgent Philadelphia Athletics, whose losing streak went back even farther than Chicago’s. The A’s hadn’t won a pennant since 1914, but had won a World series in 1913, five years after the last Cubs victory. The 1929 Series could be seen as redemption for one team or the other.

With Lefty Grove as the staff ace, everyone expected Mack to start him in game one. The A’s skipper opted instead for Howard Ehmke. Ehmke was 35 and in the words of one wit “older than the Rockies.” He’d started eight games all season (11 total games pitched), was 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA and 20 total strikeouts. Not bad, but not Lefty Grove. What Ehmke had going for him was great command of the strike zone and a fastball that topped out at about Jaime Moyer level. Ehmke had never been a blazing fastball pitcher, but now he was, to put it as nicely as I can, slow. But for Mack that was exactly the point. The Cubs were notorious fastball hitters and free swingers (for the era). Mack reasoned that the Chicago batters would be too impatient to wait on Ehmke’s “fast” ball.
The game was played in Chicago on 8 October and for six innings Ehmke and Cubs starter Root matched shutouts. Both men were pitching well, Ehmke was simply mowing down (can you “mow down” a batter with a slow fastball?) Chicago hitter after Chicago hitter and Root had given up only two hits. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Jimmie Foxx crushed a ball that put the A’s up 1-0.  That held up until the ninth. In the top of the ninth with the bases loaded on a single and consecutive errors, Bing Miller singled to drive home two runs. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs finally got to Ehmke, picking up one unearned run on an error and a single. Then Ehmke closed the door by striking out the final man to preserve the A’s 3-1 win.

Root had pitched well, so had reliever Bush, but Ehmke was the story of the game. He gave up the one unearned run, scattered eight hits, walked one, and in what had to be utter vindication for Mack, struck out 13 Cubs. It was a record for a World Series game that lasted to 1953 (Carl Erskine got 14 k’s). And remember that Ehmke had only 20 strikeouts for the entire regular season.

So the Cubs were down 0-1 with another game at home. The World Series had started badly, but it was still possible to save it and bring home a championship to Chicago. But, of course, this is the Cubs we’re talking about.

Between Murderers Row and the Bronx Bombers

March 19, 2012

Did you ever notice how the Yankees tend to win pennants in bunches. In 1921-23 they win, then again 1926-28, then you find them winning a bunch between 1936 and 1943. Then starting in 1947, they win more or less constantly through 1964. Then there’s a gap until 1976-1981, and finally there’s the 1996-2003 run. It’s not that they win every year, or that they win all the championships when they do win, but notice how for long periods of time (and three years is a long time in baseball) they are consistently in the World Series. There are two exceptions, two teams that win a World Series in isolation. One is the most recent gig, the other in 1932.

The 1932 Yankees were something of a hybrid, and that may explain why they have only one pennant. It’s a transition team between the Murder’s Row guys of the 1920s and the Bronx Bombers of the late 1930s. Babe Ruth was beginning his decline, but still good. Joe DiMaggio wasn’t in New York yet. In some ways this is Lou Gehrig’s team,  perhaps the only winner that can say that. I don’t mean to imply that Gehrig isn’t a major player in 1926-28 or again in 1936-38 but I think most people see the first team as Ruth’s and the second as DiMaggio’s. They are also a very overlooked team. Finally, it is Joe McCarthy’s first Yankees pennant winner.

The infield was Gehrig at first, Tony Lazzeri at second, Joe Sewell at third, and Frankie Crosetti at short. Gehrig hit .300 with 34 home runs, 151 RBIs (did you ever notice just how much of an RBI machine Gehrig was?), and had an OPS+ of 180. Lazzeri also hit .300, had 11 home runs, and an OPS+ of 137. Sewell, in the twilight of his career, hit .270 and did what he always did, hit the ball. He struck out all of three times in 503 at bats and walked 56 times. Crosetti hit just .240.

The outfield was Ruth, Earle Combs, and Ben Chapman. Ruth was Ruth, although he was on the downside of his career. He hit 41 home runs, drove in 137, had an OPS+ of 200, and an OPS of 1.150. Combs was still good, hitting .300, scoring 143 times, getting 190 hits, and posting a 126 OPS+. Chapman was the new guy. He hit .299, stole a team (and league) high 38 bases, and posted a 124 OPS+.

The battery consisted of Bill Dickey as the catcher. Dickey was just coming into his own as a hitter. He hit .310 with 15 home runs, 84 RBIs, and was another in a long line of Yankees with an OPS+ over 100 (120). The starters were still good, but beginning to age in spots. Lefty Gomez won 24 games but posted an ERA over four. Red Ruffing had 18 wins and an ERA just over three. George Pipgras, Johnny Allen, and 38-year-old Herb Pennock were the other pitchers who started 20 or more games. Allen joined Wilcy Moore in leading the team with four saves.

The 1932 Yankees won 107 games and finished first by 13 games (over Philadelphia). As a reward they got to face the Cubs in the World Series. They won in four games. The first and fourth game were blowouts, while games two and three were reasonably close. The most famous, and controversial moment came in game three. In the fifth inning with the game tied 4-4, Ruth came to bat with one out. He hit what became known as “The Called Shot” to deep center field. I’ve seen the picture of Ruth just before the home run. It’s obvious he has his hand up, but it’s difficult to tell exactly what he’s doing and where he’s pointing (maybe he’s giving the Cubs “the finger”), so I’m not going to make a definitive statement as to whether he “called” his shot or not. Being Ruth, I wouldn’t bet against it. What’s generally unknown is that Gehrig homered in the next at bat to give the Yanks a two-run lead and the eventual margin of victory.

The team fell back in 1933 and 1934. By 1935 Ruth was gone. By 1936 DiMaggio was there and it was a different team. So the 1932 Yanks are a team that won in isolation and was not part of either the Murderer’s Row or Bronx Bombers dynasty. Still, it’s a great team and I might argue it’s one of the very finest Yankees teams ever.

The Apotheosis of Bobby Cox

October 15, 2010

So we now say good-bye to Bobby Cox and watch him ride off into the sunset (or the cruise the announcers made such a fuss about). He’s certainly going to the Hall of Fame shortly, and that’s probably fair. He’s also been deified in the last several months. It’s as if baseball was putting up a Managerial Mount Rushmore and Cox was one of the four faces to go there. Maybe he should. Then again maybe he shouldn’t.

No knock on Cox, but I’m not sure how you quantify a great manager. You can’t just look at won-loss records, because Connie Mack ended up with a career losing record and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t think he belongs in Cooperstown. It can’t be titles because Tom Kelly and Danny Murtaugh aren’t Hall of Famers and they have the same number of titles as Tom LaSorda and Bucky Harris (2) and more than Whitey Herzog (1). Is it taking a bad team and winning with it? Nope, can’t be that either because Casey Stengel couldn’t make either Brooklyn or Boston (the Braves not the Red Sox) into competitive teams (not to mention what happened with the Mets) and everybody agrees he’s a Hall of Famer because of his Yankees years.  If it’s taking a bad team and making them contenders, then where’s Gene Mauch who had a habit of doing just that? And Cox? well, he’s got a lot of division championships, but only one World Series title, same as Herzog and less than Kelly or Murtaugh. I wonder if that makes him a lesser manager or not.

I’m very serious about this. I have no idea how you determine a great manager. I’m tempted to say that Stengel and Joe McCarthy were the greatest. They each won the World Series seven times, but how hard was it to write “Ruth” and “Gehrig” into McCarthy’s early lineup, then replace Ruth with “DiMaggio”? And it must have been tough as Stengel agonized about “did I do the right thing” when he wrote in “Mantle” or “Berra.” Great talent like that makes looking like a great manager easy. And as this post was started by referencing Cox, how tough was it to write in “Maddux”, “Glavine”, “Smoltz” three out of every five days? Geez, even I might win a few games with those three rosters.

So here’s a serious plea from me to you. Can we figure out how to determine agreat manager before we haphazardly anoint Saint Bobby of Cox? Frankly I think Cox deserves a seat at the great manager table but I don’t really know how we determine that.

My personal choice for the manager’s Mount Rushmore? Based on personal preference rather than true evaluation they would be (alphabetically) John McGraw, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, and Harry Wright (with apologies to Connie Mack).