Posts Tagged ‘Larry French’

A Chance for Revenge: the 1935 Cubs

August 11, 2017

Charlie Grimm

By 1935 the Chicago Cubs were in the midst of one of the strangest runs in Major League history. After falling off beginning in 1911, they’d won a pennant in 1918 then spent a decade in the wilderness. In 1929 they won the National League pennant and lost the World Series. Three years later in 1932 they won another pennant and lost another Series. In 1935 it was again three years later. And they would carry it on through a final pennant three years later in 1938. That’s winning a pennant at three-year intervals from 1929 through 1938.

Their manager was former first baseman Charlie Grimm. By ’35 he was technically a player-manager, but at age 36 he was much more manager than player, getting into only two games (eight at bats without a hit). He was, unlike Cochrane, well liked by most people and most of his team (“Jolly Cholly” being his nickname). The team was first in the NL in batting, on base percentage, and OPS while being second in slugging and total bases. It was also first in runs, doubles, and walks, while finishing third in triples, homers, and stolen bases. The staff finished first in hits allowed (that’s the least number of hits allowed by a staff), runs allowed and ERA, while coming in second in strikeouts.

It was a team of mixed veterans and new guys. The newest guy was Phil Cavarretta who was 18. He hit .275 with eight home runs and 0.8 WAR, but would get better, earning an MVP Award in 1945. Hall of Famer Billy Herman held down second. He led the team with a .341 batting average was second on the team with 83 RBIs (one more than Cavarretta). His 6.9 WAR led the team. His double play partner was Billy Jurges. He hit all of .241, but had 2.5 WAR, 3.0 of that coming from his defense. Stan Hack was at third. Hitting .311, he did a lot of lead off work. He stole 14 bases and put up 4.5 WAR. Woodie English and Fred Lindstrom, both in the latter part of their careers, did most of the backup work. Both were 29. Lindstrom hit .275, English just barely topped .200. Lindstrom did produce 62 RBIs in 90 games. They both turned in WAR of 0.5.

The outfield saw five men patrol it for more than twenty games. Augie Galan was the main man. He had a triple slash line of .314/.399/.468/.866 (OPS+ of 131, good for second on the team). He stole a team leading 22 bases. The entire team stole 66 and Galan’s 22 was a third of the total (and with Hack’s 14 they had over half). He scored 133 runs and his 5.1 WAR was second on the team (to Herman). Phillies refugee Chuck Klein, a few years removed from a Triple Crown year, led the team with 21 homers, had 73 RBIs, hit .293, and had 2.8 WAR. The other main starter was Frank Demaree. He hit .323 with no power and only six stolen bases. His WAR was 1.6. The backups, Tuck Stainback and Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler managed about 250 at bats together they had seven home runs and Cuyler hit .268 to Stainback’s .255.

At 34, Hall of Fame backstop Gabby Hartnett was the oldest starter (Cuyler, at 36, was older). He’d been around for both the 1929 and the 1932 pennants and was instrumental in the 1935 victory. His triple slash line read .344/.404/.545.948 with an OPS+ of 151 with 13 homers, a team leading 91 RBIs, and 5.0 WAR. His backup was Ken O’Dea who got into 76 games, hit .257, with six home runs. That total gave the catching position second place on the team for homers (behind Klein). When Chicago made it back to the World Series in three years, Hartnett would be managing.

Seven pitchers showed up in 20 or more games (and later Dodgers stalwart Hugh Casey pitched in 13, all in relief). Lon Warneke and Bill Lee both won 20 games with Lee’s ERA coming in just under three and Warneke’s at just over three. Both managed to give up fewer hits than they had innings pitched and had more strikeouts than walks. Warneke had a WHIP of 1.173 with 4.3 WAR while Lee’s WHIP was 1.290 with 3.1 WAR. Larry French was the main southpaw. He went 17-10 with a 2.96 ERA (same as Lee’s), ninety strikeouts to 44 walks, a 1.311 WHIP, 3.4 WAR, and the continuing bugaboo of giving up more hits than he had innings pitched. Tex Carleton and Roy Henshaw were the other two primary starters. Both had ERA’s in the threes and Henshaw walked more men than he struck out. Charlie Root, of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy, was in the bullpen. He was 36, started 18 games (of 38 pitched) had a 3.08 ERA, and at 201 innings actually pitched more than either Carleton or Henshaw. Fabian Kowalik was the other man with more than 20 games pitched. His ERA was 4.22 in 55 innings.

Having lost their last two World Series (actually four, but no one from the 1910 or 1918 losses was around), the Cubs wanted a win badly. There is no evidence that I could find that showed they cared about the two wins their earlier versions had put up against Detroit. Games one and two would be in Detroit.

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: Wrapping it up at Ebbets

March 28, 2017

With New York up two games to one in the 1941 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers needed a win to square the Series and give themselves a real chance of winning it all. What they and all fans got, was one of the most well known moments in World Series history.

Game 4, 5 October 1941

The play

With game four the Dodgers brought Kirby Higbe to the mound. Facing him was Atley Donald.  Higbe allowed a first inning run on a Charlie Keller single to give the Yanks an early 1-0 lead. Then in the fourth he allowed a Keller double, walked Bill Dickey, and saw a Joe Gordon single load the bases. He got two outs, one of them a cut down of Keller trying to score from third, then gave up a two out single to Johnny Sturm that put New York up 3-0. It also sent him to the showers, as Larry French took over and recorded the final out.

Then Donald got into trouble. In the bottom of the fourth, with two outs (a lot of stuff happens in this World Series with two outs) he walked both catcher Mickey Owen and pinch hitter Pete Coscarart to bring up Jimmy Wasdell. A Wasdell double plated both runners to make the score 3-2.

It got worse for Donald in the fifth. He walked Dixie Walker, then watched as Pete Reiser sent one over the Ebbets Field fence to put Brooklyn ahead 4-3.  With relief ace Hugh Casey now on the mound, the Dodgers rolled through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. The Yanks managed all of two hits off Casey going into the ninth. Consecutive groundouts by Sturm and Red Rolfe brought Tommy Henrich to the plate with two outs. Casey got two strikes on him. In the mind’s eye of all Brooklyn fans the next pitch went like this: Casey threw a low one, Henrich swung for the third strike, Owen caught the ball and the Dodgers had tied the Series. In reality it went like this: Casey threw a low one, Henrich swung for the third strike, and the ball skipped away from Owen all the way to the backstop. An alert Henrich raced to first and was safe. For years in Brooklyn some fans called it simply “the play” (which is one of the more family friendly things it was called). Years later Casey admitted he crossed up Owen and threw a pitch the catcher wasn’t expecting.

With new life, New York capitalized on a rattled Dodgers team (especially Casey). Joe DiMaggio singled sending Henrich to second. A double by Keller scored both runners, putting New York ahead. Dickey walked. A Joe Gordon double scored both Keller and Dickey. Phil Rizzuto walked. That brought up reliever Johnny Murphy who, acting as the designated rally killer, grounded out to end the inning. Instead of winning 4-3, Brooklyn now trailed 7-4 with three outs to go.

Murphy was the Yankees relief ace for a reason. He got the three necessary outs on a fly and two grounders to give New York a 3-1 lead in the Series. For Owen the play was to define the rest of his career (he’d had two passed balls all season). He went on to a successful career running a youth baseball camp and serving as a county sheriff in Missouri; but it always came back to “the play.”

Game 5, 6 October 1941

Joe Gordon

Now down three games to one the Dodgers faced elimination on 6 October. They sent their ace, Whit Wyatt back to the mound to stave off defeat. He’d so far been the only Brooklyn pitcher to pick up a win. The Yankees replied with Ernie “Tiny” Bonham.

Wyatt caused much of his own problem early. To start the second inning he walked Charlie Keller, then gave up a single to Bill Dickey that sent Keller all the way to third. Then, shades of game 4, Wyatt uncorked a wild pitch (this one not close enough to Owen to blame him) that allowed Keller to score the first run and send Dickey to second. A Joe Gordon single plated Dickey before Wyatt regained control of the situation and set down the next three Yanks in order.

The Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the third on a Wyatt double, a Lew Riggs single, and a Pete Reiser sacrifice fly that scored Wyatt, but Bonham got a strikeout to end any further threat that inning.

After a scoreless fourth, Tommy Henrich got hold of a Wyatt pitch that sailed out of the field of play to give New York a 3-1 lead. And that was all Bonham needed. He coasted through the rest of the game giving up only one single (of four total hits allowed) and a walk (of two total) to give the Yankees a win and the Series 4 games to 1.

Despite being something of a blowout four games to one, it was a terrific World Series. Three games were one run affairs and the finale was 3-1. Even the 7-4 fourth game was 4-3 going into the ninth. The Yanks hit .247, the Dodgers .182. Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller were both terrific having five RBIs each with Gordon contributing a homer. Tommy Henrich had the other team home run and, of course, had shown great heads up play by taking first on the game four dropped third strike. For Brooklyn, Joe Medwick led the team with a .235 average and Peter Reiser had three RBIs.

The Dodgers pitching had a 2.66 ERA, but walked 23 (while striking out only 18) and gave up crucial hits (41 of them) as well as a critical wild pitch and the infamous crossing-up-the-catcher pitch. New York pitchers posted a 1.80 ERA, struck out 21 (while walking 14) and only gave up 29 hits. There was no Series MVP in 1941 but it might have been a tough call among Keller, Gordon, and Henrich.

For Brooklyn, 1941 was a losing Series. There would be more. For New York it was a winner, and there would also be more. But it began one of the truly great rivalries in American sport and should be remembered for more than one play.

 

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.