Posts Tagged ‘Joe Medwick’

1934: Back to Navin

May 2, 2017

With the Tigers up three games to two, the World Series shifted back to Navin Field in Detroit. To win the Series, all the Tigers had to do was win one of two. Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, would have to sweep on the road to claim their third championship.

Game 6, 8 October 1934

Paul “Daffy” Dean

Detroit sent staff ace Schoolboy Rowe to the mound to clinch the Series. St. Louis responded with the younger Dean brother, Paul. The Cards got a run immediately. With one out, Jack Rothrock doubled. One out later, a Joe Medwick single scored Rothrock to put the Cardinals up 1-0.

It took a couple of innings, but the Tigers got the run back in the third on series of plays that started with a walk to JoJo White. White then stole second and went on to third when St. Louis second baseman, and manager, Frankie Frisch misplayed the ball. A single by Detroit catcher, and also manager, Mickey Cochrane gave the Tigers an unearned run and a tied ball game.

It stayed tied until the fifth when a Leo Durocher single and a Dean bunt put the go ahead run on second. Pepper Martin singled, scoring Durocher, and a bad throw by left fielder Goose Goslin who tried to nip Durocher at the plate got by Cochrane and put Martin on third. He stayed perched there for a couple of pitches before Rothrock rolled one to short. Martin scored as shortstop Billy Rogell got the out at first.

That held up until the sixth when White led off the inning with a walk and went to third on a Cochrane single. A Charlie Gehringer grounder back to the mound that Dean couldn’t handle scored White and advanced Cochrane. A Goslin bunt wasn’t far enough away from the catcher and St. Louis backstop Bill DeLancey gunned Cochrane down at third. A Rogell fly sent Gehringer to third and a Hank Greenberg single brought Gerhinger home with an unearned run that tied the game 3-3.

The tie lasted exactly three batters. With one out in the seventh, Durocher doubled, then came home on a single by pitcher Dean. He’d hurt himself with the misplay in the sixth, but made up for it with a single in the seventh. With St. Louis now up  4-3, he allowed singles in both the seventh and eighth innings (actually two in the eighth) but kept a run for scoring. In the ninth he set Detroit down in order to finish the game and tie the Series at three games each. The decisive game would be the next day.

Game 7, 9 October 1934

Joe Medwick

Game seven turned out to be one of the great blowouts in World Series history. It would be little remembered today except for one play and the fan reaction to it. It would make Joe Medwick a household name and require the Commissioner of Baseball to interfere in the World Series.

The game began with Eldon Auker on the mound for Detroit and Dizzy Dean pitching for St. Louis. For two innings nothing much happened. A handful of Cards got on base and Dean had a man reach on a error, but the score stayed 0-0. In the third with one out, Dean doubled. A Pepper Martin single sent him to third, then Martin stole second. A walk set up an out at any base and made a double play in order. The problem was that Cardinals second baseman Frankie Frisch hit the ball into the right field gap clearing the bases. A second out sent Frisch to third. A Rip Collins single and a Bill DeLancey double plated two runs, A walk and a single reloaded the bases. A Dean single brought in another run while leaving the bases loaded (and making Dean one of the few people to have two hits in one inning of a World Series game). A walk to Martin forced in another run. A Jack Rothrock grounder ended the inning, but the score now stood 7-0.

For Dean it became a walk in the park. Between the bottom of the third and the end of the fifth, he allowed a couple of men on base, but kept them clear of home. Then the Cards struck again in the sixth. Martin opened the frame with a single and came home on a Medwick triple. The play was close at third and Medwick slide in hard upsetting Marv Owen, the Detroit third baseman. Words were exchanged and some sources indicate that at least a few swings were taken. Ultimately Medwick was still safe and came home on a Rip Collins single, making the score 9-0.

But the play wasn’t over. Medwick went to his normal position in left field and the Detroit fans let him know what they thought of his roughhouse play. Medwick, being Medwick, didn’t care, but the fans continued to yell. Eventually various items of food, like oranges, and a sandwich or two, went flying out into left field. It went on long enough that play had to be stopped. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis was in attendance and umpires turned to him for help. With the game already out of hand, Landis ruled that Medwick was to be removed from the game (at 9-0 it was presumed his bat wouldn’t be missed) and play would continue with a new Cardinals left fielder and a thorough clearing of left field. The new left fielder was Chick Fullis.

Losing Medwick didn’t matter. Dean set the Tigers down in order in the sixth and St. Louis tacked on two more runs in the seventh on a triple, an error, and a double. Now up 11-0, the Cards coasted to a win and took the Series in seven games.

It’s tough to call it a terrific Series. Two of the games, including the last, were blowouts, but four were decided by three or less runs. It was punctuated by two famous plays: Dean’s beaning in game four, and Medwick’s confrontation with a fruit salad in game seven.

St. Louis hit .279 with only two home runs, but they had 14 doubles and five triples (along with two stolen bases, both by Martin). Jack Rothrock had six RBIs, Medwick had five, and both Martin and DeLancey had four. Martin, Medwick, and Collins each had 11 hits and Martin, the lead off man, scored eight runs.

Detroit hit only .224 with two homers, one by Greenberg and the other by Gehringer. But they only had one triple and 12 doubles. Greenberg’s seven RBIs easily led the team while lead off man JoJo White had six runs scored. Gehringer’s 11 hits paced the losers.

The Cardinals pitching was spotty. Both the Dean brothers were great. The each had two wins, and Paul’s 1.00 ERA led the starters. But Tex Carleton and Bill Walker had ERA’s over seven. As a team they walked 25 and struck out 43. The Tigers pitchers were equally spotty. Schoolboy Rowe’s ERA was under three, but Eldon Auker’s was over five. As a team they walked 11 and struck out 31.

For St. Louis it would mark the team apex until the coming of the 1940s and Stan Musial. Paul Dean would hurt his arm and Dizzy Dean his toe and both would be out of the game by 1940. Medwick had a great next few years, then went to Brooklyn. DeLancey developed tuberculosis and would die shortly.

For Detroit they would get one more chance to win their first championship. They would, with essentially the same team, win a pennant again in 1935. This time they would face Chicago. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I’ll remind you that the Cubs went 108 years between World Series wins in 1908 and 2016. You figure it out.

 

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1934: Games 1 and 2

April 25, 2017

The first two games of the 1934 World Series were played in Navin Field, Detroit.

Game 1, 3 October 1934

Ole Diz

For St. Louis, manager Frankie Frisch sent his ace, Dizzy Dean, to the mound for game one. The Tigers manager, Mickey Cochrane, responded with General Crowder. Crowder was in trouble early. With one out in the top of the second, Ernie Orsatti singled. One out later both Dean and Cardinals lead off man Pepper Martin got on with consecutive errors by Detroit all-star second baseman Charlie Gehringer. A Jack Rothrock single plated both Orsatti and Dean to put St. Louis up 2-0. It would not be the last time an error would wreck the Tigers.

In the third, Joe Medwick led off with a single. A Rip Collins roller to Gehringer led to a flip to Tigers shortstop Billy Rogell. He got the out on Medwick, but threw the ball away trying to double up Collins, who ended up at second. Then catcher Bill DeLancey hit one to first baseman Hank Greenberg, who fumbled it allowing DeLancey to be safe and letting Collins score all the way from second.

Detroit got a run back in the third, but Medwick hit the Series’ first home run in the fifth to put St. Louis back ahead by three runs, 4-1. Then the Cards had the first big inning of the Series. With Firpo Marberry now on the mound for the Tigers (Crowder was lifted for a pinch hitter) in the sixth, three singles, a bunt, and a double plated four Cardinals and put the game away. Detroit got two more runs, including a Greenberg home run, but St. Louis cruised to an 8-3 win. Dean had predicted he’d win game one. He had.

Game 2, 4 October 1934

Schoolboy Rowe

Many people claim game two was the best of the 1934 World Series games. With Schoolboy Rowe on the mound for Detroit, the Cards struck for early runs on a single and Orsatti triple in the second inning. In the third, Medwick singled to score Martin and put St. Louis ahead 2-0. It could have been 3-0, but a great throw by Goose Goslin nipped Medwick at the plate for the final out of the inning.

From that point Rowe calmed down and shut out the Cards without a hit. He also didn’t walk anybody, giving him 18 men set down in a row. While he was holding St. Louis scoreless, the Tigers were chipping away at Cards starter Bill Hallahan. Doubles by Billy Rogell and Pete Fox gave Detroit its first run in the bottom of the fourth. With the score now 2-1, Hallahan kept the Tigers off the scoreboard until the ninth.

Fox led off the inning with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt. Gee Walker, pinch hitting for JoJo White, singled to score Fox, then was picked off first to kill the rally.

With the game in extra innings, Rowe did the unthinkable, he gave up a hit. It went no where and at the middle of the 12th, the score still stood 2-2. Hallahan had been lifted earlier and Bill Walker stood on the hill for St. Louis going into the bottom of the 12th. With one out he faced the Tigers “G-Men.” He walked both Gehringer and Greenberg, which brought up Goslin, who promptly singled to center to score Gehringer and tie up the Series at one game each.

With the Series now tied, the games shifted to St. Louis and Sportsman’s Park, which would host the next three games. Games three and five would be the best games, but it was game four that became memorable for one throw and one immortal line.

1934: The Gas House Gang

April 20, 2017

The Fordham Flash

Over the years, few teams have become as famous as the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals. The “Gas House Gang” is the subject of books, movies, lore, nostalgia, and more than a fair amount of mythology. Whatever one thinks of their skill, they rank as one of the more fun teams to study.

For the season the Cardinals batters were almost as formidable as the Tigers. They finished first in hits, runs, stolen bases, total bases, doubles, OBP, slugging, and batting average. They were second in the National League in both triples and home runs. They didn’t strike out a lot, but they didn’t walk much either. The staff was second in ERA and led the NL in strikeouts. They finished third in both hits and runs. All that got the team 95 wins.

The infield consisted of two Hall of Famers up the middle and a pair of solidly good players at the corners. Rip Collins played first. He hit .333 and led the team with 35 home runs and 128 RBIs. He walked more than he struck out, which was more common for sluggers in the era than it is today. His WAR was 6.3, which led all the hitters. John “Pepper” Martin played third. He was a leadoff hitter who stroked a .289 average and led the team with 23 stolen bases. His WAR was 1.7. He’d rocketed to fame in the 1931 World Series when he’d rattled then A’s, and now Tigers, catcher Mickey Cochrane with his base running. He’d been an outfielder then and had just moved to third. He was still new at it and fielding wasn’t his specialty. The Hall of Fame shortstop was Leo “The Lip” Durocher. He didn’t hit much, going .260 with neither power nor speed, but he was a good shortstop and with Martin at third, that mattered a lot. His WAR came in at 0.4. The other Hall of Famer was second baseman and player-manager, Frankie “Flash” Frisch. He hit .305, had 11 stolen bases, still played a good second, and struck out only 10 times all year (in 550 at bats). His WAR was 2.5 and he was considered a better player than manager (and hadn’t yet gotten a bad reputation for his years on the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee). Unlike the Tigers, St. Louis had a reasonably deep bench for the 1930s. Burgess Whitehead and Pat Crawford both logged more than 60 games for the team. Whitehead played all the infield positions but first while Crawford periodically took over second and third. Whitehead hit .277, Crawford hit .271. Neither had any power, although Whitehead had five stolen bases in 92 hits.

In the outfield, Hall of Famer “Ducky” Joe Medwick held down left field. He was still a few years away from his Triple Crown year, but was already a feared hitter. He hit  .319 with 18 home runs, good for second on the team. His 106 RBIs were also second, and he led the Cards with 18 triples (same total as his home runs). All that gave him 3.1 WAR. He was joined in the field by the two members of the team without a nickname. Ernie Orsatti hit an even .300 with 0.2 WAR and Jack Rothrock hit .284 with 0.8 WAR. Rothrock’s 11 homers and 10 stolen bases were both good for third on the team. The backup outfielders were Chick Fullis and Buster Mills. Fullis hit above .250, Mills didn’t, but had the only home run between the two.

The catching staff featured two men who were very much alike in their statistics and not much alike as people. Virgil “Spud” Davis was in 107 games, hit .300 with nine home runs, and 2.4 WAR. Rookie Bill DeLancey was in 93 games, hit .316, had 13 homers, and 3.0 WAR. By the time the Series began, he was doing as much, if not more, catching than Davis. Unfortunately, he’d develop tuberculosis in 1935, play only one more complete season, and die in 1946. With the primarily right-handed Tigers staff, he did most of the catching in the Series (he hit lefty, Davis hit from the right side).

The staff consisted of an interesting mix of younger guys and old-timers. All together they made for an interesting, but not great, staff. The geezers were Jesse Haines and Dazzy Vance. Both were over 40 and well beyond their peak. Both made the Hall of Fame, but not for their 1934 campaign. After a good to excellent career, “Pop” Haines was mostly a reliever (he started six games). Vance, who was even older, was new to the Cards. He pitched 59 innings and still had, despite the age, some of the old Vance in him (Forty year old Burleigh Grimes also got into four games). He struck out 33 in those 59 innings. For Vance it was his only World Series. Jim Lindsey, “Wild” Bill Hallahan, and Bill Walker were all in their thirties. Lindsey relieved in 11 games and had posted an ERA north of six. Walker and Hallahan had 20 wins between them with Walker’s 3.12 ERA being the better of the two. His 2.9 WAR was third among pitchers. The two youngest were “Tex” Carleton and Paul “Daffy” Dean. Carlton had an ERA over four but got 2.2 WAR out of 16 wins. “Daffy” had 19 wins, a 3.43 ERA, and at age 21 put up 5.1 WAR. He was second on the team with 150 strikeouts.

But the staff always came down to Paul’s older brother, “Dizzy” Dean. By 1934 he was already a legend. He was brash, he was opinionated, he was confident, and he was very good. He told the press “Me and Paul will win 45 games.” Some sources say he predicted 50 wins. When told he was bragging, whatever number he predicted, he responded, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” They won 49 (still a record for siblings). Diz won 30 in 1934, the last National Leaguer to do so. It got him an MVP Award. He struck out 195, walked 75, had an ERA of 2.66, pitched 313 innings, and produced an ERA+ of 159 to go with a team leading 9.1 WAR. By 1934 he was the heart, soul, and most particularly the voice of the Gas House Gang.

The Cards and Tigers would face off on seven consecutive days in October. The Series would produce one of the most famous moments in Series history in game seven. And it would also give baseball one of its most famous lines after game four.

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A Dozen Things You Should Know About Joe Medwick

April 13, 2017

Joe Medwick

1. Joseph Medwick was born in November 1911 in Carteret, New Jersey.

2. He was a four sport star in high school and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals to play baseball in 1930.

3. Between 1930 and 1932 he played minor league ball in Pennsylvania and Texas.

4. While in Houston, Texas he picked up the nickname “Ducky Wucky.” There are different versions of the name’s origins, but everyone agrees he hated the nickname. Later it was shortened to “Ducky.” He didn’t like that version any better.

5. He made the Cardinals in a late season call up in 1932. He hit .349 over 26 games with two home runs and 12 RBIs.

6. He remained with St. Louis for the rest of the 1930s becoming the primary left fielder for the rest of the decade.

7. In 1934, as part of the “Gas House Gang,” he won a World Series ring. He hit .379 with 11 hits, a home run, a triple, five RBIs, and scored four runs. But he’s become most famous for the aftermath of a base running play he made. In game seven of the Series, he slid hard into third base, upsetting the fielder (Marv Owen). After heading to the outfield, he was pelted with all sorts of fruit and vegetables both delaying the game and littering the field. The Commissioner, Kennesaw M. Landis, had him removed from the game so the Series could continue. Medwick was unapologetic about the slide.

8. In 1937 he won the hitting Triple Crown by hitting .374 with 31 home runs and 154 RBIs. It was his only batting title and his only homer title. He won three RBI crowns, but 1937 was his career high. All that got him the National League MVP Award. He is still the last National Leaguer to win a hitting Triple Crown.

9. With his numbers falling off after 1937, he was traded to Brooklyn in 1940. While with the Dodgers he helped lead them to the 1941 World Series, where he made a famous catch off Joe DiMaggio above the rail in game one. Despite the catch, the Dodgers lost both the game and the Series. Medwick hit .235 in the Series.

10. He played through 1948, becoming something of a nomad in the last four years of his career. He finished his career with a triple slash line of .324/.362/.505/.867, 2471 hits, 205 homers, 1382 RBIs, an OPS+ of 134 and 55.6 WAR.

11. He made the Hall of Fame in 1968.

12. Joe Medwick died in St. Petersburg, Florida on 21 March 1975 while performing duties as a Cardinals batting instructor. He is buried in Sunset Hills, Missouri.

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The First Three Games

March 23, 2017

The 1941 World Series began a rivalry that was among the most fierce and passionate in baseball: the Dodgers and the Yankees. Now that it’s cross country, it’s a little less passionate, but nonetheless the intensity is still there. The first games in that rivalry were in Yankee Stadium.

Game 1: 1 October 1941

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon

Game one saw the Yankees start Hall of Fame right-hander Red Ruffing against Curt Davis. New York struck first with a Joe Gordon home run in the bottom of the second. The 1-0 score lasted until the bottom of the fourth when, Joe DiMaggio drove a long fly to left. Joe Medwick, grabbed the top of the fence, hoisted himself up, and snagged the ball going out of the field of play (sort of like the more famous Al Gionfriddo catch of 1947). That gave New York two outs. But then Charlie Keller walked. Bill Dickey promptly doubled to score Keller and run the score to 2-0.

The Dodgers got the run right back in the top of the fifth, again with two outs. PeeWee Reese singled and scored on a follow up triple by catcher Mickey Owen. The score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the sixth when, this time with only one out, Davis again walked Keller. A Dickey single sent Keller to third and a Gordon (who went 2 for 2 in the game with a walk) single brought home Keller with the third New York run. It also sent Davis to the bench and brought in ace reliever Hugh Casey, who got out of the inning with consecutive flies.

Brooklyn again got the run right back in the top of the sixth. Cookie Lavagetto reached first on a throwing error by Yanks shortstop Phil Rizzuto. A Reese single sent Lavagetto to second and Lew Riggs pinch hit for Owen. Riggs singled to plate Lavagetto, but a double play and a ground out ended the inning with the score 3-2. It stayed that way through the eighth when Ruffing gave up two singles sandwiched around a foul. That brought up Dodgers catcher Herman Franks (who was in the game because Riggs had pinch hit for Owen). He hit one to Gordon, who flipped to Rizzuto who threw on to first to end the inning and the game on a nifty double play.

The big stars were for the Dodgers, Medwick, who’s great catch saved a run and for the Yankees, Ruffing who pitched a complete game and Gordon who drove in two runs and scored one. The game gave New York a 1-0 Series lead.

Game 2, 2 October 1941

Mickey Owen about 1940

Game 2 saw New York trot out Spud Chandler to face Brooklyn ace Whit Wyatt. At the beginning of the game, Chandler seemed more the ace than Wyatt. The Dodgers gave up runs in both the second and third innings. It could have been worse. With two outs and Charlie Keller on third and Joe Gordon on second, Chandler singled to score Keller, but an alert play by Dolph Camilli, Dodgers first baseman, gunned Gordon down at the plate to end the inning. In the third, Tommy Henrich doubled and after an out, came home on a Keller single.

After that Wyatt settled down. He gave up a couple of walks and a handful of hits, but no Yankee scored. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finally got to Chandler in the fifth. Walks to Camilli and Cookie Lavagetto were bookends to a Joe Medwick double that loaded the bases and brought up Brooklyn shortstop PeeWee Reese. Reese grounded to his counterpart, Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto flipped to Gordon to get Lavagetto, but Reese beat the relay and Camilli scored while Medwick went to third. That brought up Mickey Owen, who singled home Medwick to tie the score.

In the top of the sixth, Dixie Walker reached first on a Gordon throwing error and went to third on a Billy Herman single. That gave Chandler an appointment with the showers and brought in Yankees relief ace Johnny Murphy. Camilli singled to untie the game and the Dodgers held on to win 3-2. Wyatt ended up with a complete game victory while Chandler took the loss.

Game 3, 4 October 1941

Marius Russo

After a day off and with the Series tied one game each, the teams moved to Ebbets Field for game three. It was the first postseason game played in Ebbets Field since 1920. The Dodgers gave the ball to Fred Fitzsimmons. The Yanks countered with Marius Russo.

For seven innings it was a great pitchers duel. No on scored. Only one man on each team (Joe Gordon and Pete Reiser) made it as far as third. By the eighth, Fitzsimmons was almost out of gas. Then he got hit on the foot by a batted ball. He’d given up four hits and walked three, while striking out one, but he just couldn’t go on with the foot hurting. So Leo Durocher decided he had to go to his bullpen. In came Hugh Casey, the Dodgers counterpart to Johnny Murphy. He got the first out, then consecutive singles by Red Rolfe and Tommy Henrich brought Joe DiMaggio to the plate. He singled to left scoring Rolfe and sending Henrich to third. Charlie Keller was next and singled scoring Henrich. That was all for Casey. Larry French replaced him and recorded the final out of the inning.

Leading 2-0 Russo started the bottom of the eighth by giving up a Dixie Walker double. One out later French was removed for a pinch hitter, who struck out. That brought PeeWee Reese to the plate. He singled scoring Walker before Russo got a popup to end the inning. He sailed through the ninth to record a Yankees 2-1 win and put New York up 2 games to 1. Game four was Sunday and would become the most famous, of infamous depending on your point of view of the entire Series.

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: Leo’s Lads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Building a Winner: The Promised Land

December 1, 2015
Kirby Higbe

Kirby Higbe

The arrival of the 1941 season saw the Brooklyn Dodgers on the rise. They’d come from as low as seventh place in 1938 to second place in 1940. Now a little luck, a few judicious additions and subtractions, and Brooklyn might just produce their first pennant since 1920.

By 1941 Leo Durocher settled in as the fulltime manager in Brooklyn (meaning he played no games in the field that season). His personality and his baseball knowledge fueled a team that won 100 games, led the National League in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, average, total bases, a slew of advanced stats that they didn’t know existed, and ERA. It also produced, in first baseman Dolph Camilli, the MVP for 1941. It was a team Hilda Chester could be proud of.

The Dodgers made one final change to their infield. A handful of games into the season general manager Larry McPhail traded two players to the Cubs for second sacker and future Hall of Famer Billy Herman. Herman solidified an infield that had a gap at second by hitting .291 with 156 hits and playing a solid second. Former starter Pete Coscarat hit only .129 in 43 games. MVP Camilli had 34 home runs, 120 RBIs, a 164 OPS+, and 6.8 WAR. Second year shortstop PeeWee Reese only hit .229 but led the team with 10 stolen bases and played shortstop well. Third baseman Cookie Lavagetto hit .277 with no power, but posted a 110 OPS+ and 2.7 WAR.

There was one change in the outfield. Former starter Joe Vosmik became a backup outfielder and hit .196. He was joined on the bench by Jim Wasdell who hit .298 with four homers. The change was second year player Pete Reiser taking over as a regular. He hit .343 with 14 home runs, 17 triples, 117 runs scored, 184 hits, 7.5 WAR, and on OPS+ of 164 (same as Camilli’s). He was joined by holdovers Dixie Walker and Joe Medwick, both of which hit .300 or better with Medwick adding in 18 home runs.

The third big change (behind picking up Herman and starting Reiser) was at catcher. Longtime started Babe Phelps was relegated to the bench in favor of new pickup Mickey Owen. Owen came from St. Louis and wasn’t all that great a hitter. He was, however, a very good catcher for the era and handled the staff well (at least until the World Series).

The final piece of the Dodgers puzzle was the acquisition of Kirby Higbe by trade from Philadelphia (the Phillies, not the Athletics). His 22-9 record led the NL in wins. Added to Whit Wyatt, Curt Davis, Luke Hamlin, and Fred Fitzsimmons he gave Brooklyn the best staff in the NL. Additionally Durocher had decided what to do with Hugh Casey. Casey was a good enough pitcher, but found his niche in the bullpen by chalking up 45 appearances, all but 18 in relief. He, along with Pirates retread Mace Brown, gave the Dodgers a solid relief staff.

Brooklyn ultimately lost the 1941 World Series to the Yankees, but they’d built, over five years, a team that was formidable enough to provide the basis for a contender for years to come. How? Well, they’d brought up a few of their own (Reese, Reiser), kept a few of their stalwarts (Lavagetto, Hamlin), traded for others (Camilli, Walker), found a few retreads who got new life in Dodger blue (Medwick, Davis), found a manager (Durocher) who could motivate a team to win, and had a general manager (McPhail) willing to do what was necessary to put the best team on the field. Put all that together, have several guys have their “career year” at the same time (Higbe, Wyatt) and you can win a lot.

One of the side aspects of the entire prospect, was that it got the interest of other teams and their front office personnel. When the Dodgers GM Larry McPhail left for the Yankees, Branch Rickey of St. Louis was interested. That worked well.

 

 

Building a Winner: Crossing the Jordan

November 27, 2015
Joe Medwick

Joe Medwick

With the coming of the 1940s, the Brooklyn Dodgers were finally, after 20 years, in position to contend for the National League title. By 1940 the team had put together many of the components necessary to make a legitimate run at a pennant. The next few pieces of the puzzle would come together in 1940.

With manager Leo Durocher now doing more managing than playing, the Dodgers needed a new shortstop. They found him in minor leaguer Harold “PeeWee” Reese. How good was he? He managed to make the Hall of Fame. With Dolph Camilli again leading the team in home runs, RBIs, and WAR Brooklyn also had a first-rate first baseman. Cookie Lavagetto at third fell back somewhat from his 1939 campaign, but held firmly on to his position. Pete Coscarat was at second. He hit under .250, but was fourth on the team in home runs (nine) and fifth in RBIs (55). They may have been fourth and fifth on the team, but the Dodgers were looking, at the end of the season, for something better than nine homers and 55 Ribbys.

The outfield had a full makeover. Although Gene Moore and Ernie Koy were still on the team (they got into a combined 34 games) the starters were totally different from 1939. New guy from 1939, Dixie Walker, now held one position. He hit above .300 and had 66 RBIs. Joe Medwick, a future Hall of Famer who’d won the Triple Crown, came over from St. Louis to take the second position. He’d fallen off from both the Gas House Gang pennant year of 1934 and the triple crown. He did manage to hit .300 in Brooklyn and had 14 home runs for the team. Thirty year old Joe Vosmik came over from the American League (Boston) to take the third slot. But the more important news, at least in terms of what would happen in 1941, was 21-year-old rookie Pete Reiser who got into 58 games, hit .293, and played with wild abandon in the outfield.

Catcher Babe Phelps hit .293, but at 32 was aging fast. His backups included Gus Mancuso who was even older and Herman Franks who hit all of a buck-83. He caught a  staff that included returning starters Fred Fitzsimmons, Luke Hamlin, and Whit Wyatt. As early as 1940, Hugh Casey was beginning to fill a relief roll. He still started 10 games, but appeared in 44. There was one significant arrival on the mound, Curt Davis. He’d come to Brooklyn from St. Louis in the same trade that brought Medwick to the Dodgers (Koy was one of the players going the other way). He went 8-7, but would make his arm known the next season.

All this got the Dodgers 88 wins and second place in the National League (behind Cincinnati). By the end of 1940 most of the pieces were in place for a significant pennant run. There was still work needed at second. Another starter would be necessary. And with an aging catcher, new blood behind the plate was needed. The Dodgers would look to address all these issues before the 1941 season ended.

Building a Winner: Bad

November 18, 2015
Leo Durocher while with Brooklyn

Leo Durocher while with Brooklyn

There are a lot of ways to construct a winning team. You can create it internally through a farm system. You can trade for the right players. You can out right buy players from another team. In the last 50 or so years you can go through the free agent market. And of course you can use any combination of these to build your team. I want to take something of an extended look at how one team did it.

As a Dodgers fan I’m much more familiar with their doings than with other teams, so it’s reasonable for me to look at how the Dodgers built a winning team. In this case I’m going to single out the 1941 Brooklyn team that got to a World Series, then faltered, but laid the foundation for the team that was generally in contention through the remainder of the team’s time in Brooklyn (1957).

To start, here’s the main part of the roster of the pennant winning 1941 team. Infield (first around to third): Dolf Camilli, Billy Herman, PeeWee Reese, Cookie Lavagetto. Outfield: Pete Reiser, Joe Medwick, Dixie Walker. The catcher was Mickey Owen. Starting pitchers (guys with double figure starts): Kirby Higbe, Whit Wyatt, Curt Davis, Fred Fitzsimmons, Luke Hamlin. The bullpen (guys with 20 or more appearances from the pen): Hugh Casey and Mace Brown (and Casey also had double figure starts). And the bench (guys with 50 or more games played): Lew Riggs (primarily a 3rd baseman), Pete Coscarart (primarily a 2nd baseman), Herman Franks (a catcher), and Jim Wasdell (and outfielder). The manager is Leo Durocher. Keep all those names in mind as we go through the process of putting this team together. These are the guys we’re ultimately looking for in order to create a winning team.

Now here’s a look at the same team in 1937. The order is the same (infield, outfield, catcher, starters, bullpen, bench, manager): Bud Haslett, Lavagetto, Woody English, Joe Stripp, Heinie Manush, Tom Winsett, John Cooney, Babe Phelps, Max Butcher, Hamlin, Fred Frankhouse, Waite Hoyt, Van Mungo, Fitzsimmons, Roy Henshaw, George Jeffcoat, Jim Lindsey, Gibby Black (outfield), Jim Butcher (2nd, 3rd, and outfield), Roy Spencer (catcher), Lindsay Brown (Short). Burleigh Grimes is the manager.

The ’37 Dodgers finished sixth of eight teams in the National League. They were 62-91, 33.5 games out of first and 17.5 out of fifth place. They finished sixth in batting average, OBP, OPS, runs, and hits; seventh in slugging; dead last in home runs. At least they were third in stolen bases (all of 69) and second in doubles. The pitching was worse. They were seventh in ERA, runs, earned runs, complete games (which meant a lot more in 1937 than it does today, and last in shutouts. At fourth in strikeouts, they managed to get into the top half of the National League. And to top it off they were dead last in fielding percentage. In short, the Daffiness Boys stunk up the place.

Five years later they won the NL pennant. A lot of things changed. But a few things remained. Off the 1937 squad, Cookie Lavagetto remained. He’d moved from second to third. Although many of his traditional stats had regressed, he maintained an OPS+ of 110 (down one point from 1937) and his WAR (BBREF version) moved from 2.5 to 2.7. Luke Hamlin was still around also. His ERA was up, his wins down, his ERA+ was down 25 points, and his WAR had gone from 3.4 to a negative. Fitzsimmons was also there. By 1941 his ERA and ERA+ were much better although his WAR was unchanged. So even the holdovers from 1937, especially Hamlin, weren’t doing much to help the team make its five-year rise. To do well, an entire overhaul needed to occur. In the next few posts I want to look at that overhaul.

A Review: “The Gashouse Gang”

June 6, 2013

Well, I’m back from high school graduation. She made it through. We made it there and back. Along the way I picked up a book to read in down time. It’s called “The Gashouse Gang”, it’s by John Heidenry, and here’s a quick review of it.

The book is a look at the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series that year with one of the more colorful teams ever. The book concentrates more on the players than on the games. It centers around Dizzy Dean (naturally) and occasionally you forget that there were other players on the team. Heidenry sees Dean as intelligent and manipulative, a classic con man who can pitch. There are a dozen or so episodes in the book centering on Dean that make him come alive as a person. There are also sketches of general manager Branch Rickey, of manager Frankie Frisch, and of a handful of the players. The sections are uneven in that the comments on Joe Medwick are more in-depth than the comments on Ernie Orsatti. The same is true of other players. The players Heidenry finds most fascinating (or maybe that he can find the most info on) range over several pages. These include players like Paul Dean (who apparently hated being called “Daffy”), Pepper Martin, Medwick, and Leo Durocher while other players like Rip Collins, Spud Chandler, and the non-Dean pitchers get only passing reference. Jack Rothrock is almost invisible. There is also a nice, but short, sketch on Sam Breaden, the owner.

Heidenry spends the better part of a chapter trying to determine where the moniker “Gashouse Gang” came from. He finally decides that the New York papers came up with it in 1935, the year after the Cards won the Series. He also spends a couple of chapters on the 1934 World Series (against Detroit) with a nice character sketch of Mickey Cochrane thrown in as a welcome bonus.

All in all it’s a good book and worth the read if you’re a fan of 1930s baseball. It’s even better if you’re a fan of the Cardinals. The book was published in 2007 and is available in paperback at Barnes and Noble. It retails for $17.99.