Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Kucks’

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The Mick: The Yankees

July 12, 2016
The "Old Perfessor" about 1953

The “Old Perfessor” about 1953

No team was ever as successful as the 1950s New York Yankees. The won the World Series in the first four years of the decade, lost a pennant to Cleveland, lost a World Series to Brooklyn, then won a fifth championship in 1956. But in all the winning they’d done since 1923, their first championship, they’d never played the Braves. They beaten every other National League team at least once. But the Braves, either the Boston team or the Milwaukee version, had never won a pennant in the same year that the Yankees won an American League pennant. That changed finally in 1957.

Manager Casey Stengel’s charges won 98 games and took the AL pennant by eight games over Chicago. They led the league in runs, hits triples, batting average, slugging, and OPS. They were third in home runs, fifth in doubles, and third again in stolen bases with all of 49. The staff led the AL in ERA, in strikeouts, gave up the least hits and runs.

The infield was still in transition. Gone were the stalwarts of the early ’50s, Billy Martin (although Martin played in 43 games) and Phil Rizzuto. The new guys up the middle were 21-year-old Bobby Richardson and long time jack-of-all-trades Gil McDougald. Richardson hit .256 with no power, no speed, and he didn’t walk much. McDougald hit .289 with 13 home runs, good for fifth on the team. He was second on the team with 156 hits and 5.8 WAR. Bill “Moose” Skowron held down first. His .304 average was second among the starters. He had 17 home runs, 88 RBIs, and 3.1 WAR to go with it. Andy Carey had more games at third than anyone else, although McDougald had done some work there also. Carey hit .255 with 0.8 WAR. As mentioned above Martin started the year in New York but was traded to Kansas City (now Oakland). He was joined on the bench by former starters Joe Collins and Jerry Coleman. Coleman’s .268 led the bench infielders.

Five men did most of the outfield work. The key was center fielder Mickey Mantle. He hit a team leading .365 with 34 home runs (also the team lead). He had 94 RBIs, 173 hits, scored 121 runs, had 11.3 WAR, ad 221 OPS+. All led the team. All that got him his second consecutive MVP Award. Hank Bauer flanked him in right. His average wasn’t much, but he had 18 home runs and was a good outfielder. Elston Howard did most of the left field work, but also served as the backup catcher. He was the Yankees’ first black player and still a long way from the MVP Award he’d win in the early 1960s. Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter was the primary backup outfielder. If Howard was a long way from reaching his prime, Slaughter was a long way beyond his. He hit .254 with no power and had lost what speed he had while with St. Louis. Tony Kubek was new. He was used very much in a utility role dong work in left, center, and at all the infield positions except first. He hit .297 and showed 2.5 WAR. They also had “Suitcase” Harry Simpson (one of the great nicknames in baseball). He hit three triples for the Yankees (after coming over from Kansas City), but tied for the league lead with nine. He tied with Bauer and McDougald.

The man behind the mask was Yogi Berra. He was beyond his MVP years, but still formidable. He hit .251 but with 24 home runs (and 24 strikeouts) and 82 RBIs. His WAR was 3.0. Howard, as mentioned above, was his primary backup Darrell Johnson got into 21 games, hitting .217 with a home run.

It was a pitching staff without a true ace. In most years Whitey Ford would hold that position but in 1957 because of a shoulder problem he appeared in only 24 games (17 starts). He managed only 129 innings and an 11-5 record. His 1.8 WAR was fifth on the staff. Tom Sturdivant’s 16 wins topped the team while former Rookie of the Year Bobbie Shantz had the lowest ERA at 2.45. Bob Turley’s 152 strikeouts led the Yanks while Johnny Kucks and Don Larsen had ERAs over three.  Bob Grim and Art Ditmar did most of the bullpen work while former started Tommy Byrne gave the pen it’s lefty.

New York was defending champion. They’d won seven of the last eight AL pennants and six of the last eight World Series. They were favored to repeat.

 

Shutting Out in Game 7

October 9, 2013
Babe Adams about 1909

Babe Adams about 1909

There is nothing in baseball quite like game 7 of the World Series. It is the ultimate moment for two teams, one of which is going to be overjoyed while the other goes into deep mourning. Over the history of the World Series, there have been 36 times that the Series went to a game 7. This does not count the handful of best of nine Series’. That’s about a third of the time, which is  a number that somewhat shocked me. I presumed there were more. I wanted, in conjunction with the playoffs, to look at the game 7 phenomena. When I began  doing so, I noticed something interesting (at least to me). If about a third of all World Series’ climax with a game 7, a quarter of those game 7’s have been shutouts. Here’s a quick look at the game 7 shutouts in World Series history.

1909–Babe Adams, a really obscure deadball pitcher for the Honus Wagner led Pittsburgh Pirates threw the first game 7 shutout in the very first game 7 (not counting the game 7 that was part of the 1903 best-of-nine Series). He defeated Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers 8-0. He gave up six hits (none to Cobb), walked one and struck out one.

1934–The next game 7 shutout occurred in 1934. The St. Louis Cardinals “Gas House Gang” led by starting pitcher Dizzy Dean corralled the Detroit Tigers 11-0.  Dean gave up six hits (like Adams), struck out five and didn’t walk any. This is the game made famous for Tigers fans throwing fruit at Joe Medwick.

1955–We next have to skip all the way to the first Brooklyn Dodgers World Series champion to find the next game 7 shutout. Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees 2-0, on eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts, and a famous catch by Sandy Amoros.

1956–The Yankees returned the favor the next season when journeyman Johnny Kucks gave up three hits and three walks while striking out one on the way to an 11-0 beating of the Dodgers.

1957–For a decade known mostly for its hitters, the 1950s produced three consecutive game 7 shutouts. This time Braves right-hander Lew Burdette shut out the Yankees 5-0. He gave up seven hits, walked one, and struck out three.

1962– After a five-year break, the baseball god’s decided it was time again for another game 7 shutout. This time the Yankees defeated the Giants 1-0 in a game most famous for Bobby Richardson’s grab of Willie McCovey’s liner to end the game. Ralph Terry picked up the win by striking out four while giving up four hits and not walking a man.

1965–This game became the standard for judging Sandy Koufax. On two day’s rest he tossed a three hit shutout, walking three and striking out 10. The Dodgers scored two runs.

1985–Bret Saberhagen shut down St. Louis on five hits and two strikeouts without a walk, as Kansas City won 11-0 in the aftermath of the Don Denkinger blown call game.

1991–Jack Morris pitched the only game 7 shutout that went into extra innings. The Twins knocked off the Braves 1-0 with Morris giving up seven hits, walking two, and striking out eight. As a great little bit of trivia, Lonnie Smith participated in both the 1985 and 1991 games (obviously a number of Yankees and Dodgers participated in the 1955, 56, and 57 showdowns). Smith won one (1985) and lost one (1991).

That’s the list. A couple of quick observations are in order. Only the Dodgers and Yankees win two of these, 1955 and ’65 for the Dodgers and 1956 and 1962 for the Yanks. The Dodgers win the only two pitched by left-handed pitchers (Podres and Koufax). The three biggest game 7 blowouts (’34, ’56, and ’85) all ended up as 11-0 shutouts (wonder what are the odds on that). Finally, only Koufax and Dean are Hall of Fame pitchers (Morris has a year left on the ballot, plus the Vet’s Committee, so maybe there will be three). Some pretty obscure pitchers (Adams and Kucks) have also won a game 7 shutout. Want to take bets on whether there will be one this season or not?

Top 10

July 11, 2011

In a comment on the post below, Bill Miller asked me who were my choices for the 10 greatest Yankees. Well, never being one to shy away from making a fool of myself, I’m going to answer that. Here’s my list of the ten greatest Yankees, 1-5 in order, 6-9 listed alphabetically, and then number 10.

The Babe

1. Babe Ruth–do I have to really go into any detail as to why?

The Iron Horse

2. Lou Gehrig–Is arguably the second greatest player in MLB history (I think that’s too high, but understand people who want to make that argument), the greatest first baseman ever, and the classiest player on any team anytime.

The Mick

3. Mickey Mantle–It’s a tough call over DiMaggio, but I think I want Mantle’s combination of speed, power, and hitting. Sure, he hung on too long and lost out on a .300 batting average. I think if he’d ended up over .300 there might not be a question of who is the greatest Yankees center fielder.

Joltin’ Joe

4. Joe DiMaggio–Like Gehrig, a classy player. In many ways the opposite of  Mantle. Where Mantle was raw and powerful, DiMaggio was elegant and effortless. Still his numbers overall aren’t as good, so I go with the Mick.

Yogi

5. Yogi Berra–OK, he’s become a national comedian with his use of the English language, but I saw him play and God could he hit. He looked funny doing it, but he could do it so well. A lot of people forget he was a very good catcher too. The Yanks used to find all sorts of journeyman pitchers like Johnny Kucks, Don Larsen, and company and they ended up doing superbly, at least for short periods, with New York. I’ve  always thought Yogi had a lot to do with that.

6-9. In alphabetical order, Whitey Ford, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Red Ruffing. These guys I have a personal order for, but I have to admit it varies sometimes and I could be talked into turning the order around. I think they are all close and it’s hard to compare Jeter to the pitchers. It’s also hard to compare starting pitchers with relievers. As a rule I prefer starters over relievers because I’d rather have a guy who is good and can give my team 200-250 mostly quality innings over a guy who’s going to give me 70-100 mostly quality innings, even if most of those 70-100 are the ninth inning. After all, you gotta get through the first 24 outs before you can worry about the last three.

I know the above paragraph sounds pretty wishy-washy, but every time I think I have a list of greats down the way I want them, someone comes up with a new stat or I read something that puts a different nuance onto a player’s career. Then the list goes out the window and I start over. So I’m comfortable knowing 6-9 are the right guys. I’m much less comfortable with the exact order.

10. There are a lot of guys who could go here, Don Mattingly, Bill Dickey, Dave Winfield (and others). My personal choice is Reggie Jackson, but I recognize the difficulty in chosing a guy who was only there five years. But what a heck of a five years they were. Although winning is very much a team stat, I think it matters to a degree in judging a player. That degree has to do with how much impact that player has on the team. Using the four players listed above, Mattingly and Winfield simply never won as Yankees, and although Dickey won in the 1930’s and early 1940s I think that has a lot more to do with having Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio as teammates. On the other hand, the late 1970s Yankees were Jackson’s team. The line used about him was that the was “the straw that stirred the drink.” He was indeed that. So at this point I pick Jackson, knowing that someone reading this is quite capable of convincing me otherwise.

Anyway, there’s my list. First I know it’s pretty standard (except maybe for Jackson). No great surprises, but that’s probably to be expected. I know many will disagree, and that’s OK too. Have at it, team.