Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Pesky’

The Best Team Never to Win (1948 playoff)

January 31, 2017
Vern Stephens (Boston) and Lou Boudreau (Cleveland) at Fenway Park 1948

Vern Stephens (Boston) and Lou Boudreau (Cleveland) at Fenway Park 1948

If the 1948-50 Boston Red Sox were the best team to never win a pennant, the 1948 team came close. At the end of the regular season, they emerged tied for first with the Cleveland Indians. At the time, each league had its own rules about breaking end of season ties. The National League ran a best of three series to determine a pennant winner. The American League had a one game winner-take-all playoff to determine their pennant winner. The AL was founded in 1901. Prior to 1948 there had never been a tie, so the 1948 game was a first in league history. The game was played 4 October in Fenway Park, Boston.

The pennant race came down to the final day so neither team was able to start their ace. Boston manager Joe Mc Carthy sent 8-7 Denny Galehouse to the mound, while Cleveland player-manager Lou Boudreau countered with 19 game winner Gene Bearden. Bearden in particular was working on short rest. Here’s a look at the starting lineups:

Cleveland: Dale Mitchell (lf), Allie Clark (1b), Lou Boudreau (SS and Hall of Fame), Joe Gordon (2b, and Hall of Fame), Ken Keltner (3b), Larry Doby (cf and Hall of Fame), Bob Kennedy (rf), Jim Hegan (c), Bearden.

Boston: Dom DiMaggio (cf), Johnny Pesky (3b), Ted Williams (lf and Hall of Fame), Vern Stephens (SS), Bobby Doerr (2b and Hall of Fame), Stan Spence (rf), Billy Goodman (1b), Birdie Tebbetts (c), Galehouse.

Things began with a bang. With two outs, Boudreau caught up with a Galehouse pitch and drove it over the fences for a 1-0 Cleveland lead. That lasted exactly two outs. With an out, Pesky doubled, then, following another out, came home on a Stephens single to left. Then the pitchers settled down. Over the next two innings, Galehouse walked one and gave up a single while striking out one. Bearden walked two, one of which was erased on a double play, while giving up no hits.

Then came the top of the fourth. Consecutive singles by Boudreau and Gordon brought up Keltner. He blasted a three run homer that sent Galehouse to the showers and brought in reliever Ellis Kinder who managed to get out of the inning without further damage. Bearden sailed through the fourth, then Boudreau hit his second homer, this one off Kinder, to make the score 6-1 half way through the game.

After an uneventful bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, Boston struck, again with two outs. With a single out, Williams reached base on an error by Gordon and scored ahead of Doerr when the latter connected with a home run. A Spence strikeout ended the inning with the score 6-3.

It stayed that way into the eighth when Cleveland picked up an unearned run on an error. They tacked on another when a double play with the bases loaded allowed an eighth run. With the score 8-3, Bearden returned to the mound for the bottom of the ninth. A grounder back to the pitcher made Doer the first out. Bearden then walked pinch hitter Billy Hitchcock. Goodman struck out for the second out of the inning. Then Tebbetts grounded to third baseman Keltner, who tossed to first for the final out and Cleveland was champ 8-3.

Boudreau was great (he won the MVP that year), going four for four with three runs scored, two RBIs and two homers. Keltner had provided another homer, this one worth three runs. Doby also managed a couple of hits, both doubles. Bearden threw a complete game giving up one earned run (the first one) while striking out six. He gave up five hits and five walks, but only three men scored.

For the Red Sox, Doerr had a homer and two of the RBIs (Stephens got the other). No one had more than one hit and Pesky had the only extra base hit (a double) other than Doerr’s home run. Galehouse gave up five hits and four runs over three-plus innings, while walking one and striking out another one. Kinder also gave up four runs (three earned) over six innings while giving up eight hits, striking out two and walking three.

Cleveland would go on to win the World Series that year; their last to date. Boston would have two more tries at the ring. As this series of posts has pointed out, they never grasped it. Next time some thoughts on why they failed.

 

 

 

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The Best Team Never to Win

January 24, 2017
Marse Joe while with the Yanks

Marse Joe while with the Yanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Kid vs. The Man: Back at Sportsman’s Park

August 27, 2014

The 1946 World Series returned to St. Louis on Sunday, 13 October. The Cardinals need to win to force a game seven. By this point most of the questions raised when the Series began were answered. Only two significant ones were left: how would Ted Williams and Stan Musial do, and who would win.

Harry Brecheen

Harry Brecheen

The Cardinals sent game two starter Harry Brecheen back to the mound. He’d pitched a complete game shutout in his last outing. He didn’t do quite as well this time. He gave up a run in the seventh inning when Rudy York tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Bobby Doerr. By that point St. Louis was already ahead 3-0 and would win 4-1. In the third inning they’d bunched together a single, a bunt (by Brecheen), a sacrifice and three more singles to score three runs off Tex Hughson. In the bottom of the eighth Harry Walker reached first on a force out then scored on a double by Marty Marion. Both the same hit and the same inning would loom large in game seven.  For Brecheen it was his second complete game victory.

Enos Slaughter, 15 October 1946

Enos Slaughter, 15 October 1946

The final game was played 15 October 1946 with Boston sending Boo Ferriss to the mound and the Cardinals countering with Murry Dickson. The Bosox got one in the first when Wally Moses singled, went to third on another single, and scored on Dom DiMaggio’s sacrifice fly. The Cards got it back in the bottom of the second when Whitey Kurowski doubled, went to third on a groundout, and then scored on a fly to left. St. Louis took the lead in the fifth when Walker singled, went to second on a bunt, then scored on Dickson’s double. A Red Schoendienst single plated Dickson. It stayed 3-1 until the top of the eighth. Rip Russell singled and Catfish Metkovich doubled to put Russell on third. It was all for Dickson. Manager Eddie Dyer brought Brecheen, the game six winner in to stop the Boston rally. He got two outs, then DiMaggio doubled to tie the games (both runs credited to Dickson). With the score tied, St. Louis Hall of Fame right fielder Enos Slaughter led off the bottom of the eighth with a single. Two outs later he was still parked on first and the score was still tied. That brought up Walker. He doubled off reliever Bob Klinger. Slaughter, with two outs, was off with the pitch. He rounded second, went to third, ran through a stop sign and headed home. The Red Sox fielded the ball cleanly but cutoff man Johnny Pesky hesitated just enough with the relay throw that Slaughter slid home safely with the go ahead run. The play has become famous as “Slaughter’s Mad Dash” and is still one of the more well known plays in World Series lore (and it may have been the deciding factor that got Slaughter into the Hall of Fame). In the ninth Brecheen went back to the mound. York singled as did Doerr. Doerr was erased on a force out by Pinky Higgins. Roy Partee fouled out with runners on first and third, then Ted McBride rolled a grounder to Schoendienst who flipped to Marion for the force that ended the Series. St. Louis had won both the game and Series 4-3. It was Brecheen’s third win.

Boston did well in defeat. Williams was a major disappointment hitting .200 with five hits, all singles. He had five walks, five strikeouts, and scored two runs. The big hitting star was Rudy York. He had six hits, four for extra bases (a double, a triple, and two homers). He drove in five and scored six runs. The staff did well enough with a team ERA of 2.95. They gave up 20 earned runs in 28 total runs (and if you ignore the 12-3 blowout in game four they actually gave up fewer runs than the Cards pitchers).

St. Louis had a lot of stars. Slaughter scored the big run while hitting .320. Walker had six RBIs, including the last one. Musial is frequently lambasted for a poor series (and he hit only .222), but he had six hits, five for extra bases (four doubles and a triple), scored three runs, drove in four, had four walks (and two strikeouts), and stole a base (and was immediately picked off). But the big hero was Brecheen. He had two complete games and gave up one run in them. He picked up the win in game seven in relief (although he’d given up the hit that tied the game) and became the first of only three lefties to register three wins in a World Series (Mickey Lolich and Randy Johnson are the others). He was also the second three game winner to pick up one victory in relief (Smokey Joe Wood did it in 1912 and later Johnson did it the same way in 2001). All in all not bad for a .500 pitcher in the regular season (he went 15-15).

It was a terrific World Series. It began a line of three great World Series’ (1947 and ’48 also became famous). It was also the only time both Williams and Musial met in a Series. For Williams it was his single Series. For Musial it was his last. He, at least, went out on a winning note.

 

 

The Kid vs. The Man: Fenway

August 25, 2014

With the 1946 World Series tied at one win apiece, the action moved to Fenway Park in Boston. If either team could sweep in Fenway, the Series would end. A split would send the teams back to Sportsman’s Park for at least one game. The question of using the “Williams Shift” was answered in St. Louis, but the question of how well Ted Williams and Stan Musial would do remained, as did the question of how well each pitching staff would hold up.

Rudy York

Rudy York

The Bosox sent Boo Ferriss to the mound. With two out he walked Musial who immediately stole second. Then in a bazaar pick-off play, third baseman Pinky Higgins slipped in behind Musial and Ferriss caught “The Man” flatfooted for the final out of the inning. Cardinals starter Murry Dickson managed to get an out, then a single and ground out put Johnny Pesky on second with two outs. Dickson intentionally walked Williams to bring up Rudy York. York smashed a ball to left that cleared the “green monster” for a three run home run. It turned out to be all the help Ferriss needed. He gave up six hits, walked one, and struck out two on the way to a complete game shutout. Meanwhile the Red Sox tacked on another run in the eighth to win the game 4-0 and go up 2-1 in the Series.

 

Cards catcher Joe Garagiola

Cards catcher Joe Garagiola

Game four was the only blowout in the Series. The Cards jumped on Red Sox starter Tex Hughson for six runs in three innings. An Enos Slaughter home run, a couple of singles, a sacrifice and St. Louis had three runs in the second. They added three more in the third on a single, an error, a double, and another single. Hughson didn’t get a single out in the third. The Cardinals proceeded to pile on five Boston relievers finally scoring a total of 12 runs. Catcher Joe Garagiola went four for five with two doubles and three RBIs. Shortstop Marty Marion was three for four with three RBIs. Boston managed all of three runs off St. Louis started Red Munger, only one of them earned. Two came on a home run by second baseman Bobby Doerr. Now with four games played, the Series was tied 2-2, making the championship a best two of three with St. Louis having two home games.

 

Joe Dobson

Joe Dobson

Game five was played on a Friday, 11 October. It was one of the best games of the Series. The Sox got three hits and a run off St. Louis starter Howie Pollet. It was enough for manager Eddie Dyer and out went Pollet and in came reliever Al Brazle. Boston starter Joe Dobson gave back an unearned run in the top of the second, but Boston went ahead in the bottom of the second on two singles sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt. The score stayed 2-1 until the bottom of the sixth when Leon Culberson launched a home run to put the Red Sox up 3-1. In the seventh a tiring Brazle gave up a double to Dom DiMaggio, then intentionally walked York. Higgins drove in DiMaggio then after another intentional walk, Roy Partee hit a double play ball to Marty Marion, who proceeded to throw it away allowing both York and Higgins to score. Then with two outs in the ninth, an error plated two final runs for the Cards giving Boston a 6-3 win. Dobson pitched well, striking out eight, walking only one, and allowing four hits. All three St. Louis runs were unearned.

With the Series set to return to St. Louis with the Red Sox up 3-2 the question of how well the pitching staffs would hold up was pretty well answered. Other than the Boston meltdown in game four both staffs had done their job. The Cards had given up 14 runs, and Boston only 20 (12 of those in game four). So far neither Williams nor Musial were doing much.

The Kid vs. The Man: Boston

August 18, 2014
Ted Williams hitting

Ted Williams hitting

Most of us would agree with the statement that the two finest hitters of the 1940s were Ted Williams and Stan Musial. I’m sure some would hold out for Joe DiMaggio, but my guess is that most would prefer Williams and Musial (and I’m also sure some of you will pick DiMaggio just to show me how wrong I am). They were in different leagues, so they only faced off at the All-Star Game. Except, of course, in 1946 both their teams won pennants and squared off in the World Series.

The Boston Red Sox of 1946 were a team of hitters with a handful of pitchers who were good enough to keep the team in the game. They finished second in walks, third in strikeouts, and fourth in ERA. The hitters led the American League in runs, hits, doubles, walks, and average, while finishing second in home runs. Manager Joe Cronin’s team had 104 wins (50 losses) and won the AL pennant by 12 games over defending champ Detroit.

The infield (first around to third) consisted of Rudy York, who hit 17 homers, drove in 119 runs, and hit .276; Hall of Fame member Bobby Doerr who had 18 home runs, 116 RBIs, and hit .271; shortstop Johnny Pesky who managed 208 hits, scored 115 runs, and hit .335. During the season Rip Russell played more games at third than anyone else, but by season’s end and the World Series Pinky Higgins, who’d come over from Detroit and was in his last season, was getting the majority of time at third. Higgins hit .275 with 55 hits in 64 games.

Ted Williams, “The Kid”, held down left field. He hit .342, had 38 homers, and 123 RBIs. All that got him his first ever MVP Award (his second came in 1949). Dom DiMaggio (Joe’s brother) played center field. He hit .316, scored 85 runs, and led the team with 10 stolen bases. Right Field was unsettled with Catfish Metkovich  starting opening day. He got into 76 games in right, hit .246, and had 100 total bases. He split time with Leon Culberson who hit north of .300. The catcher was Hal Wagner, a .230 hitter with six home runs. Roy Partee, hit .300 in 40 games and backed up Wagner.

Tex Hughson, Dave “Boo” Ferriss, Joe Dobson, and Mickey Harris all started at least 20 games. Hughson and Ferriss both won 20 games. All four had more strike outs than walks, but Harris allowed more hits than he had innings pitched and Ferriss broke even with 274 of each. Only Harris was left-handed. The main man out of the bullpen was 38-year-old Bob Klinger who relieved in 20 games and picked up nine saves.

Boston last won a pennant in 1918, with Babe Ruth splitting time in the outfield and on the mound (although mostly an outfielder by 1918). Also-rans for almost 30 years they were finally in the World Series. They would have to face the St. Louis Cardinals (who they’d never faced in Series play) and “The Man.”

 

 

Cocky

October 18, 2010

Eddie Collins

Baseball has a world of wonderful stats. One of my favorites is this: who’s the only player to hit .300 in four different decades? Answer, Eddie Collins.

Collins is the only member of the Athletics “$100,000 infield” I haven’t profiled. Primarily that’s because he’s the most famous, and thus the one readers are most likely to know. It’s time to change that omission.

Collins was from New York, attended Columbia University in New York City and, unlike a number of players who only attended college, graduated. He was a good ballplayer and in 1906 got to the big leagues with the Philadelphia Athletics. With eligibility remaining at college in 1906, he played under the name Sullivan for that season. It didn’t do him any good. Columbia knew what was going on and Collins was not allowed to play his final season. Instead, he served as a student coach and completed his degree. Already a good hitter and a fine second baseman, a combination made him a starter in 1909, he sent previous second sacker Danny Murphy to the outfield (where Murphy continued to have a stellar career). Collins spent most of his career hitting second where he developed a reputation for great bat control, timely hitting, ability to place the ball,  just all the basic things a Deadball Era two hitter was required to do well.

While in Philadelphia, Collins helped lead the A’s to pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914, winning the World Series in all but the final year. With the forming of the Federal League in 1914, baseball started a new round in a salary war. Connie Mack, A’s owner, strapped for cash and losing some of his best players, sent Collins to the Chicago White Sox in 1915 for cash. While at Philadelphia, Collins managed to lead the American League in runs in 1912, 13, and 14, in slugging in 1914, and in stolen bases in 1910. A Chalmers Award, the Deadball equivalent of the modern MVP, came his way in 1914. He’d also made a reputation for himself as being very confident in his ability. This earned him the nickname “Cocky.”

He was every bit as good in Chicago. In 1917 and 1919 he was instrumental in bringing pennants to the White Sox. His mad dash home in the 1917 World Series is credited as the defining moment in the Series and led ultimately to a ChiSox victory over the Giants. In 1919 it was a different story. Collins was one of the “Clean Sox” who did not conspire to throw the World Series. Sources indicate that Collins heard rumors of the “fix”, but did not believe them. Unfortunately, he had a terrible Series, batting .226 with only seven hits (only one of them for extra bases-a double), one RBI, and was caught stealing in a key moment. After the Series he was one of the critics of the “Black Sox” and testified at their trial.

Neither the Black Sox scandal nor the end of the Deadball Era seemed to effect his play. He continued hitting over .300, peaking at .372 in 1920, and hitting .344 in 1926 his last year in Chicago. He led the AL two further times in stolen bases (1923 and 1924). In 1925 he became a player-manager for Chicago, taking the team to a fifth place finish, its highest finish since 1922 (also fifth). They remained fifth in 1926, and he lost his job to former teammate and “Clean Sox” Ray Schalk.

 He went back to Philadelphia in 1927, but never again played 100 games in any season. 1927 was his last productive year. He hit .336, played in 56 games at second, stole 12 bases, and scored 50 runs in 226 at bats. His on base percentage was .468. In 1928 he got into 36 games, almost all as a pinch hitter. In 1929, he played in nine games, all as a pinch hitter (racking up no hits). His last season was 1930, when he went one for two and scored a run. His .500 batting average in 1930 made him the only player to average at least .300 for four different decades (1900’s, 19 teens, 1920s, and 1930s). OK, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s still a fun bit of baseball trivia.

By this point he was already doing a bit of coaching. He continued through 1932, then became General Manager for the Boston Red Sox in 1933. He remained in that position through 1947. He was instrumental in bringing such players as Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky to the big leagues. In 1946, on his watch, the Red Sox went to the World Series for the first time since 1918. They lost to St. Louis.  Unfortunately, he continued the Red Sox tradition of not integrating the team. He retired in 1948 and died in 1951. His Hall of Fame induction came in 1939.

Collins numbers are staggering. He hit .333, had 3315 hits, scored 1821 runs, stole 741 bases, walked 1499 times, had a .424 on base percentage, put up 4268 total bases, and slugged .429, which isn’t bad for a player with only 47 home runs. He is the only player to play at least 12 seasons for two different teams (Philadelphia and Chicago). He played on six pennant winners, and four World Series champions. In World Series play he hit .328, scored 20 runs, had 42 hits (good for 10th all time), 14 stolen bases (tied with Lou Brock for the most ever), and his four doubles in 1910 is tied for the most in a four game series. On top of all that, Collins was a good second baseman, leading the AL in putouts seven times and in assists four. He is still second all time in putouts and first in assists among second basemen. An argument can be made that he is the third best player of the Deadball Era, behind Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner (not sure I’d make it).

Collins is consistently rated among the five greatest second basemen in Major League history (Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, Nap LaJoie, and Charlie Gehringer are the other names most commonly, but certainly not exclusively, mentioned). You won’t get an argument from me. I’m not sure I’d rate him first, but he’s certainly in the running.

The Hall of Fame and Warfare

January 16, 2010

On a comment to an earlier post brettkiser (who has a blog worth checking out–do so) asked my opinion on two players who lost time to World War II. He wanted to know if I thought they were Hall of Fame worthy. I’ll answer that in a moment, but want to make a couple of points first.

I think Hall of Fame voters and people who study the institution need to understand that World War II, Korea, and to a lesser extent for Americans World War I took players away from baseball for what were considered at the time “greater causes”. Whether or not you agree these wars, or any wars, are worth fighting isn’t the issue here. The issue is the effect on the players. Their numbers are going to be lower than players who do not lose 1-4 years to a war (see Hank Greenberg as perhaps the greatest example). That should be both understood and considered when picking a man for enshrining at Cooperstown. That being said, the idea of “so how much did he lose to the war?” is something that cannot be answered. Maybe a man losing 3 years to a war lost a huge number of positive statistics, but maybe if he had been playing in 1943, he would have been sculled on the first pitch he saw, developed eye problems, and never played again, thus losing any numbers he put up after 1945. We can’t know.

Having said all that, here’s a look at how the Second World War effected a handful of players (some already Hall of Famers):

Johnny Pesky-lost all of 43-45. I don’t think he was destined for the Hall anyway. His hitting numbers aren’t special and he was no Marty Marion with the glove.

Dom DiMaggio-lost all of 43-45. Maybe the hardest choice (and one of brettkiser”s 2 questions).  Missed hitting 300 by two points, led the league in triples once, in runs twice, and stolen bases once (with all of 15, the lowest number to ever lead either league). To get in contemporaniously with his teammates, he had three real problems: he missed 300 (a stat that really matters in 1950s Hall voting), he wasn’t as good as his brother, he wasn’t the best player on his team (Ted Williams was). He may have been the best Center Fielder (but see Richie Ashburn). I think he had no chance in his era, but the Veteran’s Committee (who steadfastly refuses to elect anyone–JERKS) should look at him closely. I’d vote for him, but I wouldn’t put him at the head of the ballot.

Tommy Henrich-lost all of 43-45. Yankees stalwart in Right Field. Major player on a bunch of pennant winners and was still pretty good when he got back from the war. Probably the third best outfielder on his team (DiMaggio and Keller), so not going to get much support at the time. I like him, but don’t know that I’d vote for him.

Cecil Travis-lost all of 42-44 and the 2nd of brettkiser’s questions. Heck of a player for an obscure team, Washington, that no one cared about (see a comment earlier on Harlond Clift for another of those). Hit 314 with little power and not much speed. Led league in hits once. I like the average, but there’s not much else going for him. I’m a little surprised he didn’t get a lot more support in the 1950s and 1960s when the voters seemed to worry a lot more about batting average. I think I’d vote for him, but could be talked out of it.

Mickey Vernon-lost all of 44-45. Teammate of  Travis at Washington, led league in doubles twice, won two batting titles, hit 280. Like him better than Travis, but  don’t see him in the Hall anytime soon. As with Travis I could vote for him, or be talked out of it..

Warren Spahn-lost all of 43-45. OK, he’s in the Hall, but did you know he came up in 1942 and had exactly zero wins prior to heading off to war? Give him those 3 years and he might have got around 400 wins (or blown his arm out in 1943 and ended up ith none at all. See what I mean by speculation?)

Terry Moore-lost all of 43-45. Cardinal Center Fielder on the 1942 World’s Champions. Good solid career and someone who might have made it if his numbers hadn’t been hurt by the war. He’s the guy I have most trouble with here, because I like what I see, I just don’t think its good enough to stand up to Hall of Fame standards.

Hugh Casey and Larry French-both lost all of 43-45. Were mainstays of the Dodgers teams that won in 1941 and were competitive later. French had 197 wins, went off to war and never won another game. Had he gotten 200 wins he might have made it, but had more hits than innings pitched and his walk/strikout ratio wasn’t very good. He’s not in and I don’t think the war kept him out. As for Casey, he was basically a reliever in an era where nobody cared about relievers. He’s not in and I don’t think the war is why. Personally, wouldn’t vote for either.

Gil Hodges-lost all of 44-45. Let me start by saying I’d vote for Hodges anyway and think the Veteran’s Committee is being silly for not putting him in. I’m not sure how much the war effected his numbers. He was up in 43 (he went 0 for 2), then went off to war. In 1946 he was in the minors, so I don’t know that he lost much by going off to war. Had he been given 44 and/or 45 in the minors maybe he’s up in 46 and do well (or maybe not).

There are others, people like Pete Reiser, and Early Wynn (who only lost 1 year and still made the Hall) who could be considered, but this list will do for now.