Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Kling’

A Bad Century

May 3, 2012

Tinker, Evers, and Chance (left to right)

Ever have one of those days? You know the one I mean, the one where nothing goes right no matter how hard you try. One of those? Yeah, of course you have. Well, baseball has a team with an entire century of those kind of days, the Chicago Cubs.

It wasn’t always that way. Chicago won the first ever National League pennant all the way back in 1876. On the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, it was seen as an omen to a number of Chicago city boosters. For a while it was. They won again in the 1880s, picking up a postseason championship along the way. There were down times in the 1890s, but they bounced back in the early 20th Century with a pretty good team. The 1906 version still has the highest winning percentage in Major League Baseball. But it was the 1908 team that represented the peak of Cubs baseball.

The 1908 Cubs won the National League pennant, one of the most famous of all pennant races, by a single game over Honus Wagner’s Pirates (I wonder if Wagner walked around going “aargh” or not. Probably not.) and John McGraw’s Giants. Although defending world Series champs, the Cubs faced a formidable opponent in the American League’s Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb. The Tigers featured Cobb and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Sam Crawford in the outfield with Bill Donovan, Ed Killian, and Ed Summers on the mound. They’d won the American League pennant by a half game and had won it with hitting. Their pitchers records reflected their hitters abilities as much as they did the individual pitcher’s skills.

The Cubs, on the other hand, could both pitch and hit. Three Finger Brown, Jack Pfiester, and Orval Overall were superior hitters and the infield of Frank Chance (who doubled as manager), Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, and Harry Steinfeldt was one of the best in baseball. The outfield was good with Jimmy Sheckard, Wildfire Schulte, and Solly Hofman patrolling the grass. Johnny Kling was considered one of the finest catchers in the NL.

Games one through three were high scoring, particularly for Deadball Era games. The Cubs and Brown won the first game 10-6 by plating five runs in the top of the ninth. Kling, hitting eighth, drove in the winning run with a clean single. Game two ended with a Cubs 6-1 victory. With both teams shutout going into the bottom of the eighth (game one was in Detroit, but games two and three were in Chicago) when the Cubs bunched together all six runs, highlighted by Tinker’s two-run homer. Detroit won game three in an 8-3 shootout. Again Chicago scored all its runs in one inning (the fourth), but this time Detroit also had a big inning. Down 3-1 in the top of the sixth, the Tigers strung together four singles, a bunt, and a double to plate five runs and put the game away.

Games four and five were back in Detroit where Chicago pitching took over. Brown and Overall both threw shutouts, Detroit got seven total hits, and the Cubs scored three runs in game four and two in the fifth game to capture the World Series. 

The Cubs hit .293 (Chance hit .421), had an OBP of .343 (Chance also led in walks with three), slugged .360 including the Series’ only home run (Tinker’s in game 2). That game them an OPS of .702 (Chance’s was .921 and Schulte’s .950. Detroit hit all of .209 with Cobb leading the team at .368. Their OBP was .272, with a slugging percentage of .241 (OPS of .512).

Cubs pitchers Brown and Overall each won two games (Pfiester took the loss). The team ERA was .260 and Chicago gave up only 33 hits and 13 earned runs. Detroit’s pitchers wern’t nearly as good. Donovan and Summers each took two losses (Mullen got the win). The team ERA was 3.68 and they gave up 48 hits and 18 earned runs.

The Cubs won another pennant in 1910, but lost the World Series to Philadelphia, then the team began to slide. It won the NL pennant again in 1918, but lost to Boston and Babe Ruth. Futility has reigned since. As it turned out, 1908 was the last World Series Chicago won. Bad century, indeed.

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Rating Catchers

February 21, 2012

The "Tools of Ignorance"

With the sad and untimely death of Gary Carter, there’s been a lot of chatter about his place in the pantheon of Major League catchers, so i’m taking a short semi-break (you’ll see why “semi” in a few paragraphs) from my look at black baseball to make a few comments. I’m certainly not going to argue with those that place Carter in the top ten of catchers, because I agree with them. But I noticed a problem (actually problems) developing when I started to put together my own list of the ten greatest catchers.

The first problem of course is fairly self-evident. It’s the question of equipment. Take a look at the rudimentary equipment worn by guys like Buck Ewing way back. Basically, it’s an oversized work glove with some extra padding and a lot of prayer. Take a look at the equipment today. Which would you rather have if you were going to try to catch a Roy Halliday fastball? And that makes a world of difference in evaluating catchers. John Sayles when he did the movie “Eight Men Out” took great pains to be authentic. Take a look at the equipment Ray Schalk wears. Now Schalk was considered a tremendous catcher (without reference to his hitting) in the era. So was Johnny Kling a dozen years earlier. Give them a chance to use modern equipment and they might name their first-born after you. Give someone like Gary Carter a chance to use the old equipment and my guess is that after calling you things you didn’t know you could be called, he’d figure out how to make the best use of what he has available and still be a good catcher.

I remember listening to an interview with Roy Campanella way back in the 1950s. He didn’t particularly like the big “pillow” mitt in use then. He complained that it kept his right hand in constant danger of injury (and it was ultimately a hand injury that curtailed his stats in the year or so before his accident). I’m not sure Johnny Bench was really the greatest fielding catcher ever, but the innovation of the hinged mitt to replace the “pillow” certainly gave him advantages that other catchers had never had before. Now the right hand could be tucked behind the body when the bases were empty (and I’m astounded at the number of catchers who still don’t do that). Now it was possible to squeeze a pop foul rather than two-hand it. It helped Bench, along with his natural ability, to revolutionize the game.

And, of course, none of this has anything to do with hitting a baseball. Guys who are good catchers and hit well tend to go to the Hall of Fame. I might argue that the two best catchers I ever saw were Jim Sundberg and Bob Boone. Neither hit much, but were tremendous catchers. I don’t know many people who think either should be considered in the top 10 of a catching list. So we come again to a problem we see a lot. I mentioned it in a much earlier post on shortstops. It’s the question of how much reliance is to be put on fielding in establishing a player’s greatness. If the guy plays left field (Hello, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez) no one cares if he’s a good, or even overly acceptable, fielder, when establishing his credentials for greatness. With catcher you can’t do that. It puts a burden on catchers (and shortstops also) that a lot of outfielders don’t have to carry. It’s not exactly fair, but it’s the nature of how the game is played. If I could hit, you could get away with me in left field. If I could hit, you could never use me behind the plate.

Finally, there’s the obvious question of segregation (see what I mean about “semi”?). Most lists of Negro League catchers put Josh Gibson, Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, and Campanella at the top of the charts at the position. We have some idea of the quality of Campanella (although he spent a lot of time in the Negro Leagues). The others never got to play in the white Major Leagues (Santop was dead by 1947). As usual for Negro League players, you’re stuck with anecdotes, not full statistical evidence, in trying to determine the quality of a player. So we make judgement calls (“Do I see a ’10’ from the Bulgarian judge?”) and hope we get it right. Considering that I’m certain that Campanella is a top 10 all-time catcher, I am confident in adding Gibson to a list of the best catcher, but I have no idea how you rate either Santop or Mackey. Maybe they’re in, maybe they’re out.

So having  just put all those caveats out there for you to read, here’s my list of the 10 best catchers ever in alphabetical order: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Josh Gibson, Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez. With suitable apologies to Gabby Hartnett and to Joe Mauer, both of which might slip into the list. I think it’s the best list I can put together at this time. Notice that it’s full of modern guys (seven are post 1945). I think that the equipment has a lot to do with that.

1910: Cubs Postmortem

October 5, 2010

This marks the beginning of the final three posts about the 1910 season (Is that cheering I hear?). The other two will sum up the Athletics season and explain why I think 1910 matters. I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow of the World Series. You can go to Retrosheet and see for yourself  how and why Philadelphia won. Or you can wait a few weeks and Kevin at DMB will run the 1910 World Series for you and you get pick up a taste of it then (and maybe root for an upset).

The year 1910 saw the end of the Chicago dynasty that had dominated the National League since 1906. They participated in four of the five World Series’ (missing 1909) during the period, winning two (1907 and 1908). But the run ended with the loss in the 1910 Series. If you look at the team at the end of 1910, you might figure that Chicago will compete for a long time. It turns out that the next time the Cubs made the Series was 1918. So what went wrong?

To start with, three-fourths of the infield and the starting catcher went by the way in 1911. Frank Chance was effectively done as a player. For the entire rest of his career, he managed to play exactly 46 games.  Johnny Evers played only 46 games in 1911 (talk about statistical coincidences). He did come back in 1912 and 1913, but was sent to Boston in 1914. Boston promptly won the World Series and Evers won the Chalmers Award, an early version of the MVP award. In 1911, third baseman Harry Steinfeldt went to Boston, got into 19 games and was through. By 1914 he was dead. Finally, catcher Johnny Kling started slowly, was traded, and finished his career in 1913. In short, half the everyday players of 1910 were unavailable for 1911, three of them permanently. That’s half the starting lineup that has to be replaced. Doing it with quality players is unusual, and Chicago didn’t have those quality players. The following people replaced the 1910 starters: Vic Saier, Heinie Zimmerman, Jim Doyle, and Jim Archer. Ever hear of any of them? If you’re lucky you may know Zimmerman who won a home run and batting title in 1912 an RBI title in both 1916 and 1917, and was banned for throwing games in 1920. The drop off is both stunning and quick.  

The pitching was aging. Three Finger Brown was 34 in 1911. It was his last good year in the NL (he did OK in the Federal League). Harry McIntire was 33. Orval Overall retired with a bad arm. That left King Cole (who ended up dying in 1916) and third starter (or fourth, depending on your viewpoint) Ed Reulbach. It’s kind of difficult to rely on your third starter.

Having said all that, Chicago still finished second in 1911. But in 1912 they fell to third, stayed there in 1913, then dropped to fourth and finally fifth by 1917. I doubt anyone saw this coming at the end of the 1910 World Series. So Chicago maintained high hopes at the end of 1910. Those hopes were a mirage.

Pool Shark

September 1, 2010

Johnny Kling (note the old style mitt)

From 1906 through 1908 the Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant every year. In 1910 they won it again. The loss in 1909 is attributable more to a great season by Pittsburgh than to a falling off by Chicago. But it’s also true that the Cubs lost a stalwart in 1909 and that he came back in 1910. His name was Johnny Kling, he was the catcher, and the reason for his leaving the team in 1909 is, as far as I can tell, absolutely unique.

Kling was born in Kansas City in 1875, the son of a baker. In the mid-1890s he managed and pitched for a local semi-pro team. He did well enough that the minor leagues picked him up. He bounced from one team to another and one position to another until he settled in at catcher for the Western League team in St. Joseph. The Cubs spotted him and brought him to the Major Leagues in 1900. By 1902 he was the fulltime catcher and remained so through 1908. His hitting numbers were nothing grand, but they weren’t bad either. But Kling’s specialty was catching. He is widely acknowledged as the finest defensive catcher of the period in either league. As a member of the Cubs he participated in the 116 win season of 1906 and in the subsequent loss to the White Sox in the World Series. In 1907 and 1908 the Cubs went back to the Series, winning both. He was the catcher in the famous “Merkle Game” of 1908 and the replay of that game that ultimately sent the Cubs to the World Series.

Kling was also something of a pool shark. He honed his skills in the off-season back home in Kansas City. In 1909 he won the world pocket billiards championship. He set up a pool hall in Kansas City (not River City)  and decided to quit baseball so he could tour the country as world champion giving exhibitions, playing matches, and making more money than he could make behind the plate. It lasted a year, he did pretty well financially, but lost the championship in 1910. So it was back to baseball for him.

In 1909 the Cubs lost the National League pennant for the first time in four years. Some people claimed it was because they missed Johnny Kling. I’d like to say that’s true, and it probably is to some extent. But in 1908 the Cubs went 99-55 and won the World Series. In 1909 they went 104-49 and lost the pennant to a Pittsburgh team that ran off 110 wins. In 1910 with Kling back they went 104-50 and got back to the Series. It’s true Kling hit better than Jimmy Archer, his 1909 replacement, and was a better catcher, but he wasn’t responsible for Pittsburgh winning 110 games in 1909.

Back with the Cubs, Kling had a decent 1910 (and a terrible World Series), then got off to an awful start in 1911. In June he was traded to the NL team in Boston where his numbers got a little better. In 1912 he was appointed manager at Boston. The team finished last at 52-101, 52 games out of first. Kling lost his job to George Stallings who became the “Miracle Man” of 1914. Kling was traded to Cincinnati and retired after the 1913 season. For his career he hit .271 with a .357 slugging percentage, 1149 hits, 513 RBIs, 474 runs scored in 1260 games and two rings.

After retirement, Kling went back to Kansas City and opened a restaurant called the Pennant Cafe (which had a pool room in the back, of course). He did well, made a lot of money, went into real estate and did even better.  In 1935 he bought the minor league Kansas City Blues and immediately eliminated segregated seating at the team’s home ballpark. He sold the team in 1937 for a lot of money to Colonel Jacob Ruppert of the Yankees (who reinstituted segregated seating).  Kling died in January 1947.

King is an integral member of the Cubs team that dominated the National League from 1906-1910. But he is also an excellent example of a player who is so underpaid that he is willing to leave the sport to pursue other interests that make more money. The new salary structure in baseball means we don’t see players like him very often. It’s also interesting to note that he does well after retirement. In researching for these posts, I’ve noticed that an inordinate number of catchers seem to do very well after retirement. I haven’t researched it well enough to determine if they really do better than other position players, but it looks to me is if it may be true. I’m not sure why, maybe they’re just brighter. Anyway, Kling is one of those. He’s unique in that it was his skill with a pool stick that opened up the door for his success after baseball and made it worthwhile to sit out a year.

Opening Day, 1910: Chicago (NL)

April 7, 2010

King Cole

The 1909 Cubs were three time defending National League champion and two time World Champion when the season began. With basicially the same team, they finished 6.5 games behind Pittsburgh. Injured manager-first baseman Frank Chance played only 93 games in ’09 and catcher Johnny Kling, considered the finest defensive catcher of the era, left the team and it plummeted. By 1910 Chance was healthy again. Kling was also back. He had won the world pocket billards championship in 1908 and used the season to earn money at pool (no idea if he played in River City), but lost the title in the following tournament. So he was back with the Cubs, although minus a $700 fine for leaving the team.

The team that finished first, first, first, and second in the previous four seasons made, as you would expect, few changes. Chance stayed on as manager, first baseman, and clean up hitter. Johnny Evers still led off and held down second base. Joe Tinker was at short and hit seventh. Third base was Harry Steinfeldt country. He hit fifth. The outfield was the same as the previous season; Jimmy Sheckard in left and hitting second, Solly Hofman in center and moved to third in the order, and Wildfire Schulte in right and dropped from third to Hofman’s old sixth spot. Kling was back catching and hitting eighth. The bench saw Heinie Zimmerman as the backup infielder. Jimmy Archer, last year’s starting catcher, was now the backup, replacing Pat Moran (now with the Phillies. Ginger Beaumont came over from Boston to take the backup outfield slot. As it turned out, it was Beaumont’s final season.

There were some changes on the mound. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was still the ace, coming off a 27-9 season, and Orvai Overall was back after leading the NL in strikeouts with 205. Ed Reulbach and Jack Pfiester were still there, but  two new pitchers were added to the mix. King Cole was a 24 year old rookie who had pitched one game for the Cubs the previous year and Harry McIntire had been acquired from Brooklyn. The addition of these two was to prove fortuitous.

For the Cubs things looked good when 1910 started. Their three time pennant winning team was intact, with all major components healthy. Age again should have been a bit of a concern. The hitters were tied with Philadelphia as the oldest team in average age at 29, and the pitching staff was the second oldest (to Pittsburgh) in the league. But everyone was healthy, Kling was back after a year off, Cole was only 24, and they knew how to win.

Tomorrow: McGraw’s Giants

Hooray for Hollywood

February 1, 2010

Baseball and Hollywood have been very good to each other.  Baseball has given Hollywood some wonderful plot lines (and a few really awful ones too). Hollywood has showcased the game in a number of very good movies (and, again, some really awful ones). Real players have graced the silver screen on a number of occasions.  I got curious about finding out if you could field a real team from the players who have been in the movies. It turns out you can.

A couple of caveats. First, I looked for silent films first. Couldn’t find a player at every position, so I decided to stop at 1945. That made it pretty easy. Second, I wanted to player to be in a real movie, not some newsreel type short on last season’s best plays or some such thing. Also no TV and no commercials for razor blades or Mr. Coffee or any other product. Here’s what I found (there are more, but these will do for now).

1b-Hal Chase has two credits, one in 1911, the other in 1914. He plays a ballplayer in both. What, not a gambler?

2b-Nap LaJoie has one credit for a one reeler in 1903, the oldest one I could find.

ss-Honus Wagner has 2 credits, one in 1919 and the other in 1922. The 1919 flick costars Shemp and Moe Howard before they joined with Larry Fine to become the 3 Stooges. Obviously the best acted flick in the lot.

3b-Frank “Home Run” Baker has 2 credits, one in 1913 and the other in 1914.

of-Ty Cobb has 2 credits in 1917 and one in 1921. Later in the 1930’s through 1950’s he does a series of cameos on both the big screen and on TV.

of-Babe Ruth has 10 credits between 1920 and 1942. In most he plays someone named Babe Ruth, but in a 1922 movie called “Babe Comes Home” he plays a ballplayer named Babe Dugan. He is, movie-wise, most famous for playing himself in “Pride of the Yankees.”

of-Mike Donlin was the most successful of the ballplayers in Hollywood. Between 1917 and 1935 Donlin racked up 61 roles, mostly uncredited, in a lot of silent flicks and a few talkies. His most notable film was Keaton’s “The General” in which he played a Union officer.

c-Bill Dickey was in 2 flicks in the 1940s, the most famous being “Pride of the Yankees.”

p-Christy Mathewson has two credits in 1914 and 1915, neither for movies I’ve ever heard of.

 manager-John J. McGraw did two movies, one in 1914, the other in 1919. The 1914 flick was called “Detective Swift” with McGraw in the title role and included a Mrs. Hans Lobert, apparently the wife of the ballplayer.

The are surely others, but it’s not a bad list. Anybody with others to add, feel free.

Cubs Win

January 30, 2010

Most of us are familiar with the futility that is the Chicago Cubs. They haven’t made a World Series since 1945, didn’t make any kind of playoff between 1945 and 1984, can’t win the big one. But once upon a time (yeah, I know it’s a fairy tale opening, but some of you will think this is a fairy tale) the Cubs were good and even won the World Series.

Between 1906 and 1910 the Cubs were the best team in the National League. They went to the World Series 4 times, winning- yes, I said winning-twice (The Series they missed was 1909). In 1906 they lost to their crosstown rivals the White Sox and lost in 1910 to the bulding Philadelphia Athletics dynasty. In between they won.

The 1907 team won the pennant by 17 games over Pittsburgh. It faced off against a Ty Cobb led Detroit Tigers team that won 92 games. Game one of the Series was a 12 inning tie called because of darkness. At the time, players win/loss shares were determined by gate receipts for all games played. There was talk that the teams had deliberately tied in order to raise the Series cut each player got. The rule was changed later to give the players a cut of only the first 4 games played, thus making this a significant Series despite the outcome. After game one, the Cubs blew by the Tigers in 4 straight posting a 257 batting average (to 209 for the Tigers) and on 0.75 ERA (to 2.15 for Detroit).  The Cubs hitting star was third baseman Harry Steinfeld who hit .471 with 8 hits and the only team triple.

The next season saw a rematch of the Series as Chicago topped New York in one of the most famous pennant races ever, winning on the last day of the season in a make up game (the so-called “Merkle game”), while Detroit also ended up on top by a half game in another terrific pennant race.  The Tigers did better in this Series, they won game three. The Cubs picked up their second consecutive World Series title (and last so far) with a .293 batting average (to .203 for Detroit) and an ERA of 2.60 (to the Tigers’ 3.68).

In 1909, the Cubs lost the pennant to Pittsburgh by 6.5 games. In 1910 they won the National League again, this time by 13 games over the New York Giants, but lost the Series to the A’s in 5 games. The run was over and it took until 1918 for the Cubs to make it back to first place.

It was an era of small rosters and little turnover, so much of the team that won the two World Series’ was the same. The infield constisted of (this time from third around to first in honor of Franklin Adams) Harry Steinfeldt, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance. The outfield was Frank “Wildfire” Schulte, Jimmy Slagle, and Jimmy Sheckard, with Johnny Kling behind the plate.  The same starting eight began most of the games in both seasons. The bench (all players with 40 or more games played) consisted of outfielder Solly Hofman, catcher Pat Moran, and first baeman-outfielder Del Howard in 1907 and Hofman, Howard, Moran, and new guy Heinie Zimmerman in 1908.

It’s not an overly impressive set of hitters (Chance, Evers, and Tinker are the only Hall of Famers). It’s not bad, just not impressive.  Only Evers managed to hit 300 (exactly 300 in 1908), and Schulte’s .386 in 1907 is the highest slugging percentage. Only Steinfeldt in 1907 managed as many as 70 RBIs. Those aren’t bad numbers for Deadball baseball, but a lot of players did a lot better.

Their fielding, despite the poem, was middle of the pack, although Kling is generally considered the finest fielding catcher of the day. What  they really could do was pitch and pitch well. Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was the ace of the staff winning 20 and 29 games in the two seasons with ERAs of 1.39 and 1.47. He struck out 240 men in the two seasons combined, which isn’t  a bad number for the era. Orval Overall (ain’t that a great name?) won 23 and 15 games and contributed 308 strikeouts, which is great for the era. Ed Reulbach won 17 and 24 games, while the team lefty Jack Pfeister won 15 and 12 games. In 1907 Carl Lundgren added 18 wins.

I have no idea how to explain the Cubs futility since. They’ve certainly had better players. If I were putting together an all-time, all-Cubs team Brown is probably the only one of these guys to make it, but they did do something that none of the teams with the better players managed to do–they won.