Posts Tagged ‘John McGraw’

Before the Sox Turned Black: Games 1 and 2

June 22, 2017

The first two games of the 1917 World Series were played in Comiskey Park. The local White Sox had broken through to win their first pennant since 1906. They faced the New York Giants who were back in the Series for the first time since 1912.

Game 1, 6 October 1917

Eddie Cicotte

For the opening game, the Chisox sent ace Eddie Cicotte to the mound to face John McGraw’s Giants. New York countered with Slim Sallee. The game turned into a great pitchers duel.

Although a few men reached base, no one scored for the first two and a half inning. The White Sox broke through in the bottom of the frame that began with an out. Pitcher Cicotte singled, then was erased trying to go to third on a Shano Collins single. A great throw by Giants right fielder Dave Robertson nailed him, but it allowed Collins to move up to second. A Fred McMullin double plated Collins with the first run of the Series. In the bottom of the fourth Chicago tacked on another run on a Happy Felsch home run.

Down 2-0 New York struck in the top of the fifth. Lew McCarthy led off the inning with a triple. Pitcher Sallee then singled to bring him home with the Giants initial run of the Series. A double play and strikeout got Cicotte out of the inning without further damage.

And that ended the scoring. Both pitchers continued to record out after out through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. There were a couple of hits but no one motored beyond second. In the ninth the Giants went down in order and Chicago went up one game in the Series by a 2-1 score.

Both pitchers were stellar. For the win Cicotte gave up seven hits, a walk, and the single run. Sallee was almost as good. He gave up seven hits also, but didn’t walk anyone. The difference was the Felsch homer.

 

Game 2, 7 October 1917

Red Faber

If game one was a well pitched duel, game 2 wasn’t. The Sox sent future Hall of Famer Red Faber to the mound. The Giants countered with Ferdie Schupp.

Both pitchers had trouble initially. In the top of the second consecutive singles by Dave Robertson and Walter Holke put men on first and second with one out. A Lew McCarthy single to left scored both runs.

Chicago replied in the bottom of the second with four singles in a row.  Joe Jackson led off the inning with a single, Happy Felsch moved him to second, and Chick Gandil brought him home with the third single. Another single by Buck Weaver scored Felsch and evened the score at 2-2. A Ray Schalk bunt was unsuccessful with Gandil being out at third, but Schupp then walked Faber to reload the bases. That brought out McGraw for a pitching change. Fred Anderson, the new pitcher, picked up a strikeout, then saw a grounder to short get New York out of the jam.

It was the highpoint for Anderson. In the fourth the White Sox took his measure and put up four runs. Two singles, an out, and two more singles brought in two more runs and ran Anderson. McGraw brought in Pol Perritt to pitch. He was met by singles by Eddie Collins and Jackson that sent three more runners across home plate to make the score 7-2.

Meanwhile, Faber had settled down after the second inning and was setting down the Giants. For the game he gave up eight hits and walked one (the walk came in the eighth). After the second inning, no Giant got beyond second. By the end, Faber had his complete game victory and the White Sox were up two games to none in the Series.

 

 

McGraw’s Best Job

June 6, 2017

John McGraw with the Giants

Think about John McGraw. Go ahead, take a minute and conjure up your mental images of John J.. McGraw. I’ll wait. Done? Good. Now I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that not one of those images revolved around winning the 1917 National League pennant. That’s because the Giants pennant winning team is one of the more obscure NL winners and almost no one associates it with the great Giants teams under McGraw. But it may be his finest managing effort.

McGraw teams were always built on speed, good defense, and great pitching. This team was really no different, but it was a team that had no truly great player to anchor any of those things around. Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Rube Marquard, the name pitchers who had dominated all those winning teams from 1904 through 1913 were all gone. You can say what you want about the new guys, but they weren’t nearly the quality of those starters. Here’s the list of every pitcher who started 10 or more games: Ferdie Schupp, Slim Sallee, Rube Benton, Pol Perritt, Jeff Tesreau, Al Demaree, Fred Anderson. Ever hear of any of them? If so, maybe you remember Sallee because he was part of the 1919 Reds that won the infamous Black Sox World Series. Tesreau might strike a bell because he was a holdover from the last Giants pennant winner in 1913. So were Demaree and Schupp (although Schupp only pitched 12 innings). None of them were stars and none were the kind of pitchers great teams hang their hat on. But as a group they pitched well in 1917. They led the NL in ERA, fewest runs allowed, fewest hits allowed, were second in walks, and third in shutouts.

How about the rest of the battery? The main catcher was Bill Rariden with Lew McCarty and George Gibson as his backups. It was Rariden’s career year (if you exclude a stint in the Federal League). He hit .271, 34 points above his career average, and had 2.3 WAR, his non-Federal League high. McCarthy hit .247 and the 36-year-old Gibson a buck-.71. None were bad catchers, but only Gibson came close to the league average in throwing out runners (he tied the average at 44%).

The outfield was, perhaps, a bit better known. Benny Kauff was a refugee from the Federal League, who’d been a star with the Feds. With the Giants he was good, but not great. He hit .308 to lead the team and his 30 stolen bases were second on the team. George Burns was the other corner outfielder. He was over .300 and led the team in stolen bases and OPS while leading the NL in walks. Dave Robertson played center, hit .259 and led the team with 12 home runs. In in un-McGraw-like fashion he had 47 strikeouts and only 10 walks. Joe Wilhoit and Olympic champion Jim Thorpe were the backups. Wilhoit hit .340 in 34 games while Thorpe hit .193 in 26 games, and, for a player noted for his speed, had only one stolen base. Twenty year old Ross Youngs, a future Hall of Famer, got into seven games during the season, hitting .346 with five runs scored.

If there was a proven element on the team, it was the infield. They were, from first around the horn to third, Walter Holke, Buck Herzog, Art Fletcher, and Heinie Zimmerman. Zimmerman was a bona fide star of the era. He won the triple crown in 1912, won an RBI title in 1916, and repeated that title in 1917 (he’d later be banned in the fallout from the Black Sox affair). Both Herzog and Fletcher were favorites of McGraw. Both had been with him since 1909. Herzog actually game up in 1908 and had seen short stints with Cincinnati and the Braves. Fletcher had a fine year, leading the team in WAR, while Herzog was getting over-the-hill. Holke was a rookie (he’d had a few at bats earlier) who hung around at first through 1918 then went to the Braves. He hit .277 with 1.0 WAR.

As a team the Giants led the NL runs, home runs, stolen bases, OBP, was second in average and hits, and  showed up fourth in doubles. In the field the team made the least errors in the NL and was first in fielding percentage. All in all a good, not spectacular team. In many ways it was a typical McGraw team: it pitched well, it ran the bases well, and it was good on defense. What it lacked, and what McGraw had to make up for, was a top-notch pitcher. It is a great credit to him that he managed the team well enough to make up for that things. He would take the team to the World Series, where it would lose to the White Sox.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About George Gibson

May 9, 2017

George Gibson (from his Wikipedia page) about 1910. Note the era catching gear

Here are some fast facts about one of the primary catcher’s on my fantasy team.

1.  George Gibson was born in London, Ontario, Canada in 1880. He worked with his father as a bricklayer and played catcher for a church league team in London.

2. He began playing professionally in 1903 and went to Buffalo where his manager was George Stallings (manager of the World Series winning 1914 Braves). He didn’t particularly like Stallings.

3. From Buffalo he went to Montreal where he played until the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him in 1905. He got into 46 games, hit a buck-78, but produced only nine errors.

4. Gibson was big (5’11”) for the era and adroit at blocking the plate. He also was considered strong armed (a trait attributed to his size) and able to throw out more runners than a regular catcher (most years his caught stealing percentage is slightly above the league norm).

5. In 1909 he set a record by catching 134 consecutive games and another record by catching in 150 total games (of 154). The first record lasted into the 1920s and the other to 1940.

6. The 1909 season saw his only postseason play. He played in all seven World Series games (a victory against Detroit), hit .240, had two doubles, scored two runs, had two RBIs, had six total hits.

7. He remained with Pittsburgh through 1916, was waived and claimed by the Giants. He refused to report.

8. Giants manager John McGraw made him a player-coach and he reported in 1917. New York won the National League pennant in 1917, but Gibson did not play in the World Series.

9. His last year was 1918. He played four games (and hit .500) and retired with a triple slash line of .236/.295/.312/.607 (OPS+ of 81), 15 home runs, 346 RBIs, 295 runs scored, and 15.1 WAR (BBRef version).

10. He coached in the International League, managed the Pirates twice and the Cubs once (with a .546 combined winner percentage), coached for both the Senators and the Cubs, and did scouting work for the Cubs.

11. In 1956 he was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. In 1987 he joined the Canadian Baseball Fall of Fame.

12. George Gibson died in his hometown of London, Ontario in January 1967.

 

Stealing Games: A Review

September 8, 2016
Stealing Games cover

Stealing Games cover

There are always new baseball books coming out. I’ve just run across a new one by Maury Klein, a retired professor whose specialty was economic history and railroads specifically. He’s written an interesting new book titled Stealing Games: How John McGraw Transformed Baseball with the 1911 New York Giants. It’s well worth the read.

As the title suggests, this is a book about the New York Giants and the 1911 season. Professor Klein’s premise is that the Giants, under McGraw’s leadership, won a pennant by emphasizing the stolen base almost to the exclusion of anything else. He begins with spring training, then moves back to cover McGraw’s  career to 1911 including how he built the 1904 and 1905 pennant winners, how he then rebuilt the team after the Merkle game of 1908, and how he went about picking players in general. There is a month by month synopsis of the 1911 season. It’s followed by a fairly brief look at the 1911 World Series, which New York lost to the Philadelphia Athletics. It ends with brief post-1911 biographies of the major players.

It’s certainly a good work if you’re interested in either the Giants or the Deadball Era. It’s brand new having a copyright date of 2016. I found my copy at Barnes and Noble for $28. It’s also available at Amazon.com.

 

Level Playing Fields: A Review

July 7, 2016
Cover of Level Playing Fields

Cover of Level Playing Fields

I tend to read strange things sometimes. I look around, see something that interests me, and tend to pick it up. That just happened to me recently when I found a used copy of Level Playing Fields: How the Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball by Peter Morris.

This is a book about baseball fields, not stadia, not players, but fields. Through a look at the life of two of the first groundskeepers, John and Thomas Murphy, Morris takes us into the entire idea of how a baseball field is maintained and why it matters. John Murphy, the older brother, was head groundskeeper (and for a while the only groundskeeper) at the Polo Grounds during the entire period of the New York Giants 1904-1913 run (Murphy died in 1913). Thomas Murphy, the younger of the brothers, took command of the old 1890s Baltimore Orioles field. Both men helped shape the dynasties that followed.

Tom Murphy tailored the field in Baltimore to the specifications of the Orioles. He tilted the foul lines, he made the area just in front of home especially hard for the famous “Baltimore Chop.” He solved drainage problems by making right field so low that the catcher could barely see the cap of the right fielder. John Murphy set out to create a field that was less tailored to his team, although he did make the base paths quick for John McGraw’s runners. With parks located in less than desirable places, the two men had to deal with fields that were uneven and had poor drainage. They attacked and solved each problem, but with varying success. Both of them helped make the modern baseball field.

But the book uses the Murphy brothers more as examples of why it matters what a field looks like. Morris argues that the leveling of the field (literally) made the game more fair, made the crowds more willing to come to a game they felt was somehow “democratic” in its outcome. He uses a number of examples. One of the best deals with club houses rather than the field itself. He points out that early visiting teams had to dress in their hotels, then walk or ride to the park. It might let fans know there was a game, but it looked cheap and frequently the uniforms got dirty on the way (mud and dust and things thrown by fans of the home team) and were certainly dirty on the return trip. It made the game look unkempt, cheap, and lower class. The advent of a visitors club hours changed that and when added to a clean, level field without quirks in the dirt or the outfield itself did much to make baseball acceptable to the middle class, which made it profitable.

One of his more interesting assertions involves baseball versus cricket. He argues that field size helped make baseball a preferred sport in crowded cities. The field for cricket requires a lot of room, including behind the wickets and off to the side. Baseball, on the other hand, makes those spaces foul territory and they can be reduced to minimal size, making the field itself a factor in baseball’s success. I have to admit I’d never considered that idea.

The book is worth a read simply because it deals with an area of baseball almost entirely overlooked by fans. It also provides something of a social history of the era, especially as it pertains to baseball. Although I found my copy used I did check and the book is available through Amazon.com. It was published in 2007 by the University of Nebraska.

And BTW take a look at the cover above. The man in the center of the picture (the man with jacket and tie) is Thomas Murphy. He is surrounded by four members of the Baltimore Orioles who are also Hall of Famers. From left to right they are Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley, and John McGraw. Not bad company for the groundskeeper.

 

Beginning a Dynasty: “Jumpin’ Joe” and the Babe again

June 27, 2016

With the 1923 World Series tied at two games each the season came down to a best two of three series with the Yankees hold home field advantage. The winner of game five would need to win just one more to claim the championship while the loser would have to win two in a row, something that hadn’t happened yet in this World Series.

"Jumpin'" Joe Dugan

“Jumpin'” Joe Dugan

Game 5

For game 5 the Yankee bats stayed alive. Although there was no six run inning, the Yanks again put up eight runs and took a three games to two lead in the 1923 World Series.

Gaints starter Jake Bentley didn’t get out of the first inning without being clobbered. With one out Joe Dugan singled and Babe Ruth walked. A Bob Meusel triple scored both runners. A Wally Pipp sacrifice fly brought home Meusel to make the score 3-0.

The Giants got one back in the top of the second on an Irish Meusel triple and a Casey Stengel (there he is again) grounder. That was all they got and unfortunately that meant the Yankees got to bat again. With one out pitcher Bullet Joe Bush singled and went to second when Bentley walked Whitey Witt. That brought up Joe Dugan, who’d singled the previous inning. The lashed a ball into the right center gap and raced all the way around with another inside-the-park home run that scored both Bush and Witt. An error put Ruth on and sent Bentley to the showers. The Yankees tacked on another run when a single and a fielder’s choice scored Ruth to make it 7-1. In the fourth Dugan, Ruth, and Bob Meusel all singled to plate Dugan with the eighth Yankee run.

Bullet Joe Bush coasted for most of the game. After giving up the one run in the second he shut the Giants down. For the game he gave up three hits and two walks while striking out three. But the big hero was Dugan who scored three runs and had three RBIs on four hits.

At this point the Yankees led the World Series three games to two. A victory in either of the remaining games would give them their first ever championship. The Giants were faced with winning two games in a row.

 

Babe Ruth doing his thing

Babe Ruth doing his thing

Game 6

Facing elimination in game 6, the Giants sent game 3 winner Art Nehf to the mound. He faced Herb Pennock who’d already tallied a win and a save. With lefty Pennock pitching, Casey Stengel again started the game on the bench.

The Yanks jumped out to a one run lead when Babe Ruth smashed a home run with two outs in the top of the first. The Giants countered in the bottom of the inning with three consecutive singles, the last by Ross Youngs that scored Heinie Groh to tie the game.

That was it for two and a half innings. Nehf gave up one walk and Pennock completely shut down the Giants. In the bottom of the fourth Frankie Frisch bunted his way onto first, then moved up on a groundout and came home on a Billy Cunningham (Stengel’s replacement) single. In the fifth, they tacked on another run with a Frank Snyder home run and in the sixth a Frisch triple and an Irish Meusel single gave the Giants a 4-1 lead.

Nehf got through the seventh and started the eighth with a three run lead. He got the first out then back-to-back singles and a walk loaded the bases. Then he walked pinch hitter Bullet Joe Bush (an opposing pitcher who pinch hit) to force in a run and make the score 4-2. That brought Rosy Ryan in to get the final five outs. He promptly walked Joe Dugan to make the score 4-3. He got Ruth on a strikeout which brought up Bob Meusel. A long single scored two and Dugan came around to score when Cunningham threw the ball away trying to get Dugan at third. With the Yanks now ahead 6-4 on a five run inning, Wally Pipp grounded to second to end the inning.

Pennock got a ground out, gave up a single, then got another ground out for the first two outs of the bottom of the eighth. Manager John McGraw sent up Stengel to pinch hit. For a change he didn’t come through, fouling out to Dugan to end the inning.

The Yanks went in order in the ninth, giving the Giants one more chance to tie the game. A Popfly and a ground out gave the Yankees two outs. A roller to second, a flip to first and the Yanks were world champs for the first time.

As a team, the Yankees hit .293 with five home runs (three by Ruth), four triples, and eight doubles. Dugan hit .280 but drove in five and scored five. Ruth had the three RBIs from his home runs, but scored eight runs. Bob Meusel had two triples and eight RBIs. The pitching came through with an ERA of 2.83 with 18 strikeouts and only 12 walks and 17 runs (all earned). Pennock had two wins (and a save) with Bush and Bob Shawkey picking up the other two wins.

The Giants hit .234 with five home runs (Stengel getting two of them). He hit .417 with the two homers, five hits, four RBIs and three runs while walking four times without a strikeout. One paper summed up the Series with a headline that said “Yankees 4, Stengel 2.” The pitching disappointed. The team ERA was 4,75 with 28 earned runs given up (of 30 total runs) and 20 walks to go with 22 strikeouts. Nehf and Rosy Ryan got the two wins.

Historically it was an important World Series. The Giants were toward the end of a great run by John McGraw. He managed one more pennant in 1924 (and lost the Series to Washington and Walter Johnson) then the team slid off and he never again finished first. For the Yankees it was the beginning of the greatest dynasty in baseball. It was the first of 27 championships.

 

 

Beginning a Dynasty: The “Ole Perfessor” Redux, and “Long Bob”

June 23, 2016

With the World Series tied a game each in 1923, the Series returned to Yankee Stadium for game three. The Yanks were, with up to five games remaining, assured of at least two more home games and possibly three. This time a nemesis from earlier in the Series would strike again, and a prelude to the “Bronx Bombers” of a few years later would show up.

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Game 3

On 12 October the two teams squared off for game 3 of the 1923 World Series in Yankee Stadium. The Giants sent Art Nehf to the mound. The Yankees countered with Sam Jones. John McGraw, Giants manager, made one change to his lineup. Game 2 saw left Herb Pennock on the mound for the Yankees, so part-time center fielder Casey Stengel had not gotten the start (he did pinch hit). With righty Jones on the mound Stengel was back in the lineup.

The two teams battled inning after inning without denting the scoreboard. Through six innings Nehf gave up two singles and two walks to go with three strikeouts. Only in the fourth had a man gotten to third. Jones was as good. Through six innings he’d given up only two hits while handing out a walk and two strikeouts. It was a true pitchers duel.

In the top of the seventh Irish Meusel led off with a liner to left caught by his brother Bob for out one. That brought up Stengel. He sent a fly to deep right field that cleared the fences for a more traditional home run than his inside-the-park homer of game one. It put the Giants ahead 1-0.

Nehf now needed nine outs to put the Giants up two games to one. He gave up a walk and a single but got out of the  bottom of the seventh without a run being scored. In the bottom of the eighth he gave up a leadoff single, but consecutive strikeouts made two outs and a grounder back to the mound led to the third out. With one inning to play, Stengel’s home run was holding up. In the bottom of the ninth a grounder to third, a strikeout, and another grounder to third ended the game and put the Giants up two games to one.

Nehf was a hero, so was Stengel. Nehf pitched a complete game shutout with only three walks and six hits. Stengel’s homer was the difference. The Giants had two wins, both courtesy of the “Ole Perfessor.”

"Long Bob" Meusel (right) in 1927 with Babe Ruth (center) and Earle Combs (left)

“Long Bob” Meusel (right) in 1927 with Babe Ruth (center) and Earle Combs (left)

Game 4

The game of 13 October 1923 saw the Yankee bats truly explode for the first time. In the second inning they teed off on Giants starter Jack Scott for six runs. Wally Pipp led off the second with a single. Aaron Ward followed with another. An easy by Wally Schang rolled back to the mound should have gotten at least one out, but Scott threw it away to load the bases. Everett Scott proceeded to single scoring both Pipp and Ward. At that point Scott was relieved by Rosy Ryan. He induced a fly by Yanks pitcher Bob Shawkey which brought both the first out and the third run when Schang crossed the plate. A double by Whitey Witt scored Scott to make the score 4-0. Joe Dugan hit one to third, which was snagged by Heinie Groh. Witt, for reasons known only to him, broke for third, but was tagged out by Groh for the second out. A walk to Babe Ruth put two men on. That brought up Bob Meusel who tripled home both Dugan and Ruth. That was all for Ryan. Hugh McQuillan took over the pitching duties and managed to get designated rally killer Pipp to fly out to center field. The wreckage left the Giants down 6-0.

The Yanks added a single run in the third when Witt doubled to score Ward. Then in the fourth Ruth walked and came home on a Ward single. That made the score 8-0 and the Yankees coasted from there.

The Giants finally managed to score three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Three consecutive singles, one by Casey Stengel, again in the middle of a Giants scoring chance, led to a run, then two groundouts each scored a single run. There was still a chance for the Giants going into the ninth when Ross Youngs led off with an inside-the-park home run to cut the score to 8-4. But Herb Pennock, in relief of Shawkey got a groundout, a strikeout, and a fly to center to finish the game.

The Series was now tied at two games each with the Yankees getting two games at home.

 

Beginning a Dynasty: the 1923 Giants

June 16, 2016
Polo Grounds

Polo Grounds

By 1923 the New York Giants were winners on consecutive World Series’. Except for 1917, they’d been also-runs for most of the 19-teens. They’d roared back in 1921 to defeat the crosstown Yankees in the Series, then done it again the next year. It was, as Giants pennant winners went, a very different team from the normal champs.

Baseballwise, the New York of the early 1920s was the bailiwick of John J. McGraw and the Giants. They’d won consecutive titles, and McGraw was an institution dating back to the turn of the century. More even than Babe Ruth, McGraw was “Mr. Baseball” in New York. That would begin changing with this World Series. The ’23 Giants weren’t a typical McGraw team, a team heavy in pitching and speed. McGraw had adjusted to the “lively ball” era very well and produced a team that led the National League in runs, hits, average, normal “deadball” stats. But it also led the NL in slugging, OBP, OPS, and total bases. They were third in home runs, stolen bases, and doubles, while posting a second in triples. The staff, unlike pre-1920 Giants teams was sixth in ERA, but higher in strikeouts, hits, and runs allowed while being third in shutouts.

The infield consisted of three Hall of Famers. George “Highpockets” Kelly held down first. He hit .307 with 16 home runs and 103 RBIs. The homers were second on the team, while the RBIs were third. His WAR was 2.5. Frankie Frisch at second was a star. He led the team with a 7.1 WAR and was second in runs scored and RBIs while his .348 average paced the regulars. Dave Bancroft also hit .300, but was beginning the downside of his career. He had 46 errors at short and was beginning to be pushed by 19-year-old Travis Jackson, another future Hall of Famer, he was second on the team with 3.7 WAR.. Heinie Groh was the non-Hall of Famer and, at 33, the oldest of the starters. He hit .290 with no power and posted an even 3.0 WAR. Fred Maguire, along with Jackson, was the primary infielder on the bench, although future star, Hall of Famer, and Giants manager Bill Terry got into three games.

Five men did the bulk of the outfield work. Hall of Famer Ross Youngs was in right. He hit .336, led the team with 200 hits and with 121 runs scored, producing an OPS+ of 125 and a 3.6 WAR. The other corner outfielder was Emil “Irish” Meusel, brother of Yankees left fielder Bob Meusel. It’s the first time brothers playing the same position faced each other in a World Series. “Irish” led the team in RBIs with 125, in homers with 19, in triples with 14 and was considered an excellent outfielder, although the general consensus was that his brother had the better arm. All that got him 2.2 WAR. Jimmy O’Connell got into 87 games, most in center field. He hit .250 with six home runs, good for fourth on the team. Bill Cunningham and 32-year-old Charles “Casey” Stengel (another Hall of Famer, but in a different context). were the other two outfielders. Cunningham saw action in 79 games, while Stengel got into 75. Stengel hit .335 and both men had five home runs, good for a fifth place tie on the team. Twenty-three year old future Hall of Fame inductee Hack Wilson got into three games late in the season.

Frank Snyder did most of the catching, getting into 120 games. He was a good defensive backstop but his backup Hank Gowdy hit better. Gowdy, a hero of the 1914 Series, was 33 and not able to catch as often as previously. Alex Gaston and Earl Smith got into just over 20 games each.

The pitching staff was a long ride from the Mathewson, McGinnity, Marquard, Ames staffs of the early century. While those pitchers are still reasonably well known (except maybe Red Ames), the ’23 Giants staff wasn’t filled with household names. Hugh McQuillan, Mule Watson, and Jack Scott were the right handers. McQuillan and Watson both had ERA’s of 3.41 while Scott’s was 3.89. All three had given up more hits than they had innings pitched. McQuillan’s 3.3 WAR was easily highest among the staff. Lefties Art Nehf and Jack Bentley both had ERAs north of four and continued the trend of giving up more hits than having innings pitched. The Bullpen featured spot starter Rosy Ryan who went 16-5 and Claud Jonnard. Both had ERAs in the mid-threes and Jonnard joined the pack that gave up more hits than had innings pitched. Ryan missed making it unanimous by less than four innings.

So it was a good hitting team that could make up for a mediocre pitching staff. Facing the American League pennant winner, mediocre might just not be good enough.

Replacing a Legend

June 9, 2016
Bill Terry

Bill Terry

When you ask someone to name the hardest thing to do in baseball, you get a lot of different answers. Frankly, if the person’s thought about it, it’s generally a decent reply. But one of the things you almost never hear is how hard it is to replace a legend. It seems to me that has to be one of the toughest things a player can be asked to do. All of which brings me to Bill Terry and replacing John McGraw.

Terry was born in Atlanta in 1898. He was a good ballplayer and got into his first big league game in late 1923 with the Giants. The next season he made the team at the start of the year as a backup first baseman and pinch hitter. The Giants made the World Series (against Washington) and Terry got into five games in the Series, hitting .429 in a losing effort. He managed to hit one home run. It came off Walter Johnson. By 1925 he was the regular first baseman. He hit well in the ’20s, peaking at .372 in 1929. He was also considered a superior first baseman and a knowledgeable baseball man. In 1930 he became the last National League regular to hit .400 (.401). He had some power, peaking at 28 in 1932 and enough speed to manage 20 triples in 1931. He was, in other words, a bona fide star; a star who didn’t like his manager.

Then in mid-season 1932, Giants manager John McGraw retired. Although it’s tough to argue against Babe Ruth as New York’s “Mr. Baseball” in 1932, John J. McGraw might have been a close second. He’d led the Giants to three World Series wins (Ruth would get his fourth championship as a Yankee in 1932), and several more pennants, including one in 1904 when no Series was played. And now he was stepping aside and whoever took his place would be instantly compared to him. With the Giants in last place (eighth), McGraw resigned and Terry, who appears, despite not liking McGraw, to have been McGraw’s choice, was tapped as the new manager. He got the team to sixth by the end of the season.

He built from there. His team won the National League pennant in 1933 and then took the World Series in five games (against Washington, thus avenging the 1924 loss). With Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell as team stalwarts, the Giants remained a force through the 1930s, winning pennants (and losing the World Series) in 1937 and 1938. By 1939 the Giants were aging and fell back to fifth. They were sixth in 1940 and fifth again in 1941, That was it for Terry. He moved, at his request, to the front office where he took over as general manager in charge of scouting and the farm system.

So we now get to ask ourselves, how did he do as a replacement for a legend? Well, he did pretty well. He won three pennants and one championship in six years. McGraw had won at about the same pace through 1924. His winning percentage was .555 to McGraw’s .581.

If it’s hard to replace a legend, and I think it is, Terry did a pretty good job of doing so over a decade of managing. He, like McGraw, made the Hall of Fame (although he’s in as a player and McGraw as a manager) and became one of the more important and famous Giants while the team was still in New York. He died in 1989.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Midway

July 3, 2015

The selection of the Class of 1917 marks the mid-point of the My Own Little Hall of Fame project. I began it last year in March and intend to go through this year and finish in December next year with the 1934 class. Here’s a summary of some of the things I’ve discovered.

1. I have a much greater appreciation of how hard it is to be a Hall of Fame voter. I fully expected I would be able to simply look through some newspapers, a few journals, the contemporary guides, and come up with a quite obvious Hall. Oops. It actually takes a lot to make the determinations necessary to elect a Hall of Fame. If you do it right, or at least attempt to do it right (which is all I’ll admit to) it gets complicated fast. What stats are available? Which matter? Why? I’ve been very critical of the Hall of Fame voters on a number of occasions. I’ve discovered that it’s harder than it looks (which doesn’t mean the actual voters haven’t made mistakes). I have a new respect for those voters who are trying to get it right (which is different from all voters).

2. So far I’ve elected 52 members, or about 3 a year. By contrast the real Hall of Fame elected 62 members in its first 17 years (about 3.6 per year). So I’m actually being a bit more conservative than the real Hall voters. That kind of surprises me. I thought I’d probably end up adding more than the real Hall.

3. The number of people added each year has dropped. That makes sense. Any newly established institution like the Hall of Fame is going to begin with a backlog of quality candidates for membership. It takes a few years to clear that backlog, but once it’s gone, then the number of newly eligible quality candidates should, in most years, be considerably fewer. In my case that’s been absolutely true.

4. I’ve made it a point of  doing two things that the real Hall doesn’t do. First, I elect at least one for each class. There is no requirement the real Hall do so. Second, I’ve added three Negro League players already (Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, and George Stovey). I know that probably wouldn’t happen in 1917 and with the rise of racial tensions after World War I  it certainly wouldn’t happen between 1920 and 1934. However, I still intend to buck that and add Negro League players as I feel appropriate. It just seems like the right thing to do.

5. I was initially concerned with the number of “Contributors” I was adding. These are people added because of something they did for baseball other than play the game (William Hulbert, founder of the National League, is an example). Then I got to looking over the real Hall’s inductees in the first several years and noted they also added quite a number of “contributors” early. The number of contributors elected by Cooperstown has decreased in the last 40 or so years (although there are still several). As I look at my preliminary list of contributors going out to 1934, I note that I’ll probably be electing fewer also because the first couple of generations of contributors will be pretty much gone and the new group is, as a whole, less impressive (which does figure).

6. It’s interesting, and frankly obvious, how uneven the quality of players available in a given year becomes. Some years there are an entire list of quality candidates, not all of which will make it, but all of which will deserve study. Other years I simply want to say, “Yuck.” Of course that was destined to be true, because all the good players don’t retire at once and not every year has a bunch of good players leave the game. It does help to clear some of the backlog, but I’ve found it too tempting to simply add someone because he’s the best available guy not because he’s truly a Hall of Fame caliber player. I’m sure I’ve slipped up a time or two and let someone in based on that, but I try to watch it closely.

7. I knew that statistics were going to vary, but, frankly, was surprised by how much. From a preliminary look forward, that seems to start changing in the 1920s, especially with the Elias Sports Bureau’s arrival (maybe I should look at Al Munro Elias a bit more closely as a Hall of Famer). It does make it difficult to determine exactly who should get in my Hall because every time I look to hang my hat on a particular stat it changes. For instance, RBIs aren’t yet an official statistic and what I find concerning RBIs changes. I have to admit I sometimes go to Baseball Reference.com to determine which number is the one I should use. It’s not quite fair, but it does make it easier for me. When I do, I have to resist the temptation to look at the newer stats (OPS+, WAR, etc.). They weren’t even thought of yet and I don’t want to be influenced by them.

8. It has been an education for me to do this. I’ve had to read stuff I didn’t know existed, had to sort through things that sometimes were contradictory, had to almost flip a coin occasionally as to what do I believe. And it’s astounding how quickly the pioneers (pre-1876) guys have disappeared.

9. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve had to determine how much “fame” mattered over “greatness”. I’m still not sure I know the answer to that last. Go back a couple of months and look at my comments on John McGraw and you’ll get a feel for the structure of the question itself. It first manifested itself in trying to determine why Bill Lange, a 19th Century outfielder with Chicago, was so utterly famous (he’s now very obscure). I looked at his numbers and they were good (I even fiddled around with his newer SABR-style numbers, which aren’t bad–123 OPS+, five years of 3.5 or more WAR in a seven year career) and he came off as a very good player, but I wasn’t sure he was great. It began to dawn on me that the two things (famous and greatness) were not interchangeable and that came to a head in the John McGraw problem. That may be the most profound observation I’ve discovered on this project (and profundity from this site should scare you to death). If I ever figure out the complete answer, I’ll have a book (and a number of you telling me I got it wrong).