Posts Tagged ‘Leo Durocher’

1934: Back to Navin

May 2, 2017

With the Tigers up three games to two, the World Series shifted back to Navin Field in Detroit. To win the Series, all the Tigers had to do was win one of two. Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, would have to sweep on the road to claim their third championship.

Game 6, 8 October 1934

Paul “Daffy” Dean

Detroit sent staff ace Schoolboy Rowe to the mound to clinch the Series. St. Louis responded with the younger Dean brother, Paul. The Cards got a run immediately. With one out, Jack Rothrock doubled. One out later, a Joe Medwick single scored Rothrock to put the Cardinals up 1-0.

It took a couple of innings, but the Tigers got the run back in the third on series of plays that started with a walk to JoJo White. White then stole second and went on to third when St. Louis second baseman, and manager, Frankie Frisch misplayed the ball. A single by Detroit catcher, and also manager, Mickey Cochrane gave the Tigers an unearned run and a tied ball game.

It stayed tied until the fifth when a Leo Durocher single and a Dean bunt put the go ahead run on second. Pepper Martin singled, scoring Durocher, and a bad throw by left fielder Goose Goslin who tried to nip Durocher at the plate got by Cochrane and put Martin on third. He stayed perched there for a couple of pitches before Rothrock rolled one to short. Martin scored as shortstop Billy Rogell got the out at first.

That held up until the sixth when White led off the inning with a walk and went to third on a Cochrane single. A Charlie Gehringer grounder back to the mound that Dean couldn’t handle scored White and advanced Cochrane. A Goslin bunt wasn’t far enough away from the catcher and St. Louis backstop Bill DeLancey gunned Cochrane down at third. A Rogell fly sent Gehringer to third and a Hank Greenberg single brought Gerhinger home with an unearned run that tied the game 3-3.

The tie lasted exactly three batters. With one out in the seventh, Durocher doubled, then came home on a single by pitcher Dean. He’d hurt himself with the misplay in the sixth, but made up for it with a single in the seventh. With St. Louis now up  4-3, he allowed singles in both the seventh and eighth innings (actually two in the eighth) but kept a run for scoring. In the ninth he set Detroit down in order to finish the game and tie the Series at three games each. The decisive game would be the next day.

Game 7, 9 October 1934

Joe Medwick

Game seven turned out to be one of the great blowouts in World Series history. It would be little remembered today except for one play and the fan reaction to it. It would make Joe Medwick a household name and require the Commissioner of Baseball to interfere in the World Series.

The game began with Eldon Auker on the mound for Detroit and Dizzy Dean pitching for St. Louis. For two innings nothing much happened. A handful of Cards got on base and Dean had a man reach on a error, but the score stayed 0-0. In the third with one out, Dean doubled. A Pepper Martin single sent him to third, then Martin stole second. A walk set up an out at any base and made a double play in order. The problem was that Cardinals second baseman Frankie Frisch hit the ball into the right field gap clearing the bases. A second out sent Frisch to third. A Rip Collins single and a Bill DeLancey double plated two runs, A walk and a single reloaded the bases. A Dean single brought in another run while leaving the bases loaded (and making Dean one of the few people to have two hits in one inning of a World Series game). A walk to Martin forced in another run. A Jack Rothrock grounder ended the inning, but the score now stood 7-0.

For Dean it became a walk in the park. Between the bottom of the third and the end of the fifth, he allowed a couple of men on base, but kept them clear of home. Then the Cards struck again in the sixth. Martin opened the frame with a single and came home on a Medwick triple. The play was close at third and Medwick slide in hard upsetting Marv Owen, the Detroit third baseman. Words were exchanged and some sources indicate that at least a few swings were taken. Ultimately Medwick was still safe and came home on a Rip Collins single, making the score 9-0.

But the play wasn’t over. Medwick went to his normal position in left field and the Detroit fans let him know what they thought of his roughhouse play. Medwick, being Medwick, didn’t care, but the fans continued to yell. Eventually various items of food, like oranges, and a sandwich or two, went flying out into left field. It went on long enough that play had to be stopped. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis was in attendance and umpires turned to him for help. With the game already out of hand, Landis ruled that Medwick was to be removed from the game (at 9-0 it was presumed his bat wouldn’t be missed) and play would continue with a new Cardinals left fielder and a thorough clearing of left field. The new left fielder was Chick Fullis.

Losing Medwick didn’t matter. Dean set the Tigers down in order in the sixth and St. Louis tacked on two more runs in the seventh on a triple, an error, and a double. Now up 11-0, the Cards coasted to a win and took the Series in seven games.

It’s tough to call it a terrific Series. Two of the games, including the last, were blowouts, but four were decided by three or less runs. It was punctuated by two famous plays: Dean’s beaning in game four, and Medwick’s confrontation with a fruit salad in game seven.

St. Louis hit .279 with only two home runs, but they had 14 doubles and five triples (along with two stolen bases, both by Martin). Jack Rothrock had six RBIs, Medwick had five, and both Martin and DeLancey had four. Martin, Medwick, and Collins each had 11 hits and Martin, the lead off man, scored eight runs.

Detroit hit only .224 with two homers, one by Greenberg and the other by Gehringer. But they only had one triple and 12 doubles. Greenberg’s seven RBIs easily led the team while lead off man JoJo White had six runs scored. Gehringer’s 11 hits paced the losers.

The Cardinals pitching was spotty. Both the Dean brothers were great. The each had two wins, and Paul’s 1.00 ERA led the starters. But Tex Carleton and Bill Walker had ERA’s over seven. As a team they walked 25 and struck out 43. The Tigers pitchers were equally spotty. Schoolboy Rowe’s ERA was under three, but Eldon Auker’s was over five. As a team they walked 11 and struck out 31.

For St. Louis it would mark the team apex until the coming of the 1940s and Stan Musial. Paul Dean would hurt his arm and Dizzy Dean his toe and both would be out of the game by 1940. Medwick had a great next few years, then went to Brooklyn. DeLancey developed tuberculosis and would die shortly.

For Detroit they would get one more chance to win their first championship. They would, with essentially the same team, win a pennant again in 1935. This time they would face Chicago. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I’ll remind you that the Cubs went 108 years between World Series wins in 1908 and 2016. You figure it out.

 

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1934: On to St. Louis

April 27, 2017

The middle three games of the scheduled seven game 1934 World Series were held on consecutive days in St. Louis. With the teams tied one game apiece, the Series was now a best of five affair.

Game 3, 5 October 1934

Paul “Daffy” Dean

For game three the Detroit Tigers sent Tommy Bridges to the mound. The Cardinals responded with Dizzy Dean’s younger brother, Paul. Sometimes called “Daffy”, a nickname he hated, he was considerably less colorful than his brother, but Paul Dean was every bit as good a pitcher, if only for a few seasons.

In game three he was close to masterful. Inning after inning he shut down the strong Tigers lineup. Over eight innings he allowed six hits while walking five (the five walks keep the outing from being truly “masterful”) and striking out seven. No Detroit player advanced beyond second base. In the top of the ninth, JoJo White led off with a single. Dean got the next two men on pop ups. Needing one out for a shutout, he allowed a Hank Greenberg triple that plated White for the Tigers first, and only, run. Another pop up finished Detroit.

Meanwhile, the Cards jumped on Bridges for a run in each of the first two innings and two more in the fifth. Pepper Martin led off the first with a triple and scored on a Jack Rothrock sacrifice fly. A Rip Collins single, a double by Bill DeLancey, and another sacrifice fly, this one by Dean, led to what proved to be the winning run. In the fifth St. Louis tacked on insurance runs via a Martin double, a Rothrock triple, and a Frankie Frisch single.

The final was 4-1 and St. Louis, thanks go Pepper Martin, Jack Rothrock, and a great pitching performance by Paul Dean was ahead in the Series two games to one. It set the stage for arguably the most famous beanball in baseball history.

Game 4, 6 October 1934

Dizzy Dean (on ground) and Billy Rogell

Game four began as simply another World Series game. It ended as one of the more famous, primarily for one incident in mid-game.

The game was a blowout with Detroit winning 10-4. Eldon Auker pitched for the Tigers and scattered four runs, three of them earned, and four walks, while giving up 10 hits. He gave up a run in the second and the third, but Detroit jumped on Tex Carleton for three runs in the third. He was pulled and Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance made his only World Series appearance ever. He got out of the inning after allowing an inherited runner to score and then wild pitched a run home in the fourth.

Going into the bottom of the fourth, the score stood 4-2 in favor of Detroit. Ernie Orsatti led off the half inning with a single. Leo Durocher hit a ball to Marv Owen at third. He flipped to Charlie Gehringer for a force at second, but Gehringer dropped the ball making both runners safe. Spud Davis then pinch hit for Vance. He singled home Orsatti and sent Durocher to third. Davis was slow and a catcher. Manager Frisch decided to pinch run for him. Dizzy Dean, not scheduled to pitch in game four, went in as the pinch runner. That brought up Pepper Martin, whose ball in play scored Durocher and tied the game.

But the big news was at second. Martin’s ball went to Gehringer, who tossed to shortstop Billy Rogell for an out on the advancing Dean. Then Rogell fired the ball to first in an attempt at a double play. Dean was running head down and Rogell admitted he threw low to force Dean to slide. Dean seems not to have noticed and he and ball collided. Down went Dean with a blow to the head and all St. Louis fans held their breath. He was carried from the field and rushed to the nearest hospital for x-rays.

With Dean gone, the Cardinals offense completely collapsed (remember, the score was tied when Dean went down). They scored no more runs while Detroit erupted for one more run in the seventh and five in the eighth. The most famous of the scoring plays was a steal of home in the eighth by big Hank Greenberg who was never noted for his speed. The final scored ended up 10-4 and knotted the Series at two games each.

Of course the big question was “how’s Dean”? The hospital released him that evening and a flood of reporters was waiting for him. The first, and obvious, question was, “How are you, Diz?” His response was priceless, “They x-rayed my head and didn’t find nothing.”

Dean is, along with Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Yogi Berra, one of those people who get a lot of credit for things they probably didn’t really say. But in this case, apparently he really did say it. Back several years ago my son was walking when he discovered proof that two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. In his case himself and a car. He was hit and suffered head trauma. The ran x-rays of course (and lots of other tests). A week or so later they gave us the x-rays to keep. We looked them over closely. You could see a small fracture in one and in the other you could see inside the skull to note a little brain swelling. He looked at them and through the still pounding headache commented, “Hey, they x-rayed my head and did find something. I’m one up on Dizzy Dean.” I love my kid. (BTW he’s fine, he’s grown up to be a successful husband, father, and a good man–at least as good as he can be with me as half of his parenting model.)

Here’s another shot of the beaning of Dean, taken from another angle. Dean is on the ground, Rogell is bending over him. The player in the distance with the dark hat and wearing number 8 is Tigers third baseman Marv Owen. The two Cardinals in the foreground wearing 8 and 9 are Spud Davis and Bill DeLancey. I don’t know which umpire is pictured.

Dean’s beaning

Game 5, 7 October 1934

Tommy Bridges

On 7 October 1934 the biggest baseball question was “How’s Dizzy Dean doing?” The answer was he was doing well enough to start game five of the World Series. He went eight innings, gave up six hits and three walks while striking out six. He also gave up three runs, two of them earned. In the second inning, he walked Hank Greenberg then saw him score on a Pete Fox double. In the sixth Charlie Gehringer led off with a home run and a Billy Rogell single coupled with an error put Dean nemesis Rogell on third. He scored the unearned run on a subsequent Greenberg sacrifice fly.

It was a good performance, particularly after the beaning, but Tigers starter Tommy Bridges was better. He allowed one run, a Bill DeLancey home run in the seventh, gave up seven hits, and walked none. He struck out seven Cardinals and put Detroit ahead in the Series three games to two.

With the end of the three games in St. Louis, the 1934 World Series returned to Detroit for game six and a possible game seven. The Tigers were going home needing only one win to gain their first ever championship. The Cardinals needed to win both games to claim their third (1926 and 1931). They would have the Dean brothers on the mound for each game.

 

 

 

 

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1934: The Gas House Gang

April 20, 2017

The Fordham Flash

Over the years, few teams have become as famous as the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals. The “Gas House Gang” is the subject of books, movies, lore, nostalgia, and more than a fair amount of mythology. Whatever one thinks of their skill, they rank as one of the more fun teams to study.

For the season the Cardinals batters were almost as formidable as the Tigers. They finished first in hits, runs, stolen bases, total bases, doubles, OBP, slugging, and batting average. They were second in the National League in both triples and home runs. They didn’t strike out a lot, but they didn’t walk much either. The staff was second in ERA and led the NL in strikeouts. They finished third in both hits and runs. All that got the team 95 wins.

The infield consisted of two Hall of Famers up the middle and a pair of solidly good players at the corners. Rip Collins played first. He hit .333 and led the team with 35 home runs and 128 RBIs. He walked more than he struck out, which was more common for sluggers in the era than it is today. His WAR was 6.3, which led all the hitters. John “Pepper” Martin played third. He was a leadoff hitter who stroked a .289 average and led the team with 23 stolen bases. His WAR was 1.7. He’d rocketed to fame in the 1931 World Series when he’d rattled then A’s, and now Tigers, catcher Mickey Cochrane with his base running. He’d been an outfielder then and had just moved to third. He was still new at it and fielding wasn’t his specialty. The Hall of Fame shortstop was Leo “The Lip” Durocher. He didn’t hit much, going .260 with neither power nor speed, but he was a good shortstop and with Martin at third, that mattered a lot. His WAR came in at 0.4. The other Hall of Famer was second baseman and player-manager, Frankie “Flash” Frisch. He hit .305, had 11 stolen bases, still played a good second, and struck out only 10 times all year (in 550 at bats). His WAR was 2.5 and he was considered a better player than manager (and hadn’t yet gotten a bad reputation for his years on the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee). Unlike the Tigers, St. Louis had a reasonably deep bench for the 1930s. Burgess Whitehead and Pat Crawford both logged more than 60 games for the team. Whitehead played all the infield positions but first while Crawford periodically took over second and third. Whitehead hit .277, Crawford hit .271. Neither had any power, although Whitehead had five stolen bases in 92 hits.

In the outfield, Hall of Famer “Ducky” Joe Medwick held down left field. He was still a few years away from his Triple Crown year, but was already a feared hitter. He hit  .319 with 18 home runs, good for second on the team. His 106 RBIs were also second, and he led the Cards with 18 triples (same total as his home runs). All that gave him 3.1 WAR. He was joined in the field by the two members of the team without a nickname. Ernie Orsatti hit an even .300 with 0.2 WAR and Jack Rothrock hit .284 with 0.8 WAR. Rothrock’s 11 homers and 10 stolen bases were both good for third on the team. The backup outfielders were Chick Fullis and Buster Mills. Fullis hit above .250, Mills didn’t, but had the only home run between the two.

The catching staff featured two men who were very much alike in their statistics and not much alike as people. Virgil “Spud” Davis was in 107 games, hit .300 with nine home runs, and 2.4 WAR. Rookie Bill DeLancey was in 93 games, hit .316, had 13 homers, and 3.0 WAR. By the time the Series began, he was doing as much, if not more, catching than Davis. Unfortunately, he’d develop tuberculosis in 1935, play only one more complete season, and die in 1946. With the primarily right-handed Tigers staff, he did most of the catching in the Series (he hit lefty, Davis hit from the right side).

The staff consisted of an interesting mix of younger guys and old-timers. All together they made for an interesting, but not great, staff. The geezers were Jesse Haines and Dazzy Vance. Both were over 40 and well beyond their peak. Both made the Hall of Fame, but not for their 1934 campaign. After a good to excellent career, “Pop” Haines was mostly a reliever (he started six games). Vance, who was even older, was new to the Cards. He pitched 59 innings and still had, despite the age, some of the old Vance in him (Forty year old Burleigh Grimes also got into four games). He struck out 33 in those 59 innings. For Vance it was his only World Series. Jim Lindsey, “Wild” Bill Hallahan, and Bill Walker were all in their thirties. Lindsey relieved in 11 games and had posted an ERA north of six. Walker and Hallahan had 20 wins between them with Walker’s 3.12 ERA being the better of the two. His 2.9 WAR was third among pitchers. The two youngest were “Tex” Carleton and Paul “Daffy” Dean. Carlton had an ERA over four but got 2.2 WAR out of 16 wins. “Daffy” had 19 wins, a 3.43 ERA, and at age 21 put up 5.1 WAR. He was second on the team with 150 strikeouts.

But the staff always came down to Paul’s older brother, “Dizzy” Dean. By 1934 he was already a legend. He was brash, he was opinionated, he was confident, and he was very good. He told the press “Me and Paul will win 45 games.” Some sources say he predicted 50 wins. When told he was bragging, whatever number he predicted, he responded, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” They won 49 (still a record for siblings). Diz won 30 in 1934, the last National Leaguer to do so. It got him an MVP Award. He struck out 195, walked 75, had an ERA of 2.66, pitched 313 innings, and produced an ERA+ of 159 to go with a team leading 9.1 WAR. By 1934 he was the heart, soul, and most particularly the voice of the Gas House Gang.

The Cards and Tigers would face off on seven consecutive days in October. The Series would produce one of the most famous moments in Series history in game seven. And it would also give baseball one of its most famous lines after game four.

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Hilda

April 6, 2017

HIlda Chester leading the pack

Doesn’t it strike you strange that a fan can become as famous as a team or a player? It does me. I don’t mean someone like a President who is famous in ways that have nothing to do with baseball, but someone who is just simply famous for being a fan of the game and of a particular team. I just find that strange. But it’s happened. Let me briefly introduce you to “Howlin'” Hilda Chester, a fan extraordinaire.

She was born in 1897. Although there seems to be a consensus that the birthplace was Brooklyn, there’s no actual evidence of that. It’s equally possible she was born in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She seems to have been pretty good at sports in school (playing for the Bloomer Girls, a local team) but little is known of her education or her family background. Somewhere along the way there was a marriage and a daughter, but the husband is lost to history at this point (she indicated he died). The daughter went on to play some in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (see the movie “A League of Their Own” for a highly fictionalized version of the league’s first season). Beatrice Chester was a backup third baseman (basegirl?) for the Blue Sox of South Bend, Indiana and the Rockford Peaches. Beatrice Chester had a son, making Hilda Chester a grandmother, but it seems she was close to neither the daughter (who spent some time in the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum) nor the grandson. It’s difficult to tell if the problem was economic (lack of money) or emotional (Hilda Chester didn’t know how to raise a daughter). Maybe it was a combination of both. I just don’t know. As you can tell by now, the elements of her personal life are very obscure. In interviews with her that I read it’s obvious she wanted to keep it that way.

She sacked and sold peanuts at Ebbets Field for a while, but by the 1930s was becoming famous as a loudmouthed Dodgers fan. The Dodgers instituted Ladies Day once weekly for home stands and Chester managed to get into games for 10 cents. It was, she said, “her kinda price.” In the offseason she sold hotdogs at local racetracks. As far as I can tell these were the two primary sources of income. Apparently the sacking job got her entrance to the ballpark and saved her the dime when it wasn’t Ladies Day.

By the mid-1930s she was a fixture at Ebbets Field. She was in the right field bleachers, she was loud, she was garish, she was baseball savvy, and she was absolutely perfect for the new Dodgers team being built by loud, garish, and baseball savvy Leo Durocher, the new manager. He was a favorite of Hilda’s and he returned the favor.

She started out with a frying pan and a spoon as noisemakers but graduated to her famous “cowbell” after a heart attack. Now a short aside about the “cowbell.” I’ve spent a lot of time around cows and their bells and Hilda’s noise maker looks more like a school bell that teachers used to ring while standing in the doorway than it does like a bell that Gertrude the heifer wore around her neck, but it’s come down in legend as a “cowbell.” Be advised. You can compare them in the pictures below (Yeah, I know I’m getting pedantic).

cowbell

School bell. Note Hilda’s bell looks like this

In 1941 she had a second heart attack. While in the hospital Durocher visited her. He became, after that moment, her all-time favorite. When he went to the Giants after 1947, Hilda actually spent some time at the Polo Grounds before returning to Brooklyn and Ebbets Field.

By the 1940s she was something of a legend in Brooklyn. There are stories of her passing notes to Durocher about what she thought the Dodgers should do in the upcoming inning. At least one of them seems to be true. She appeared on radio, did bit parts in a couple of movies, and loved being the center of attention. And of course with those things came a certain amount of money. Today she’d be an internet sensation and make money endorsing widgets and whatnot. That wasn’t happening in 1940s Brooklyn and her economic status never seems to have improved more than slightly.

With the coming of Jackie Robinson, she also found a team that was winning with great frequency. There’s some question about her relationship with Robinson. As crowds changed in Brooklyn after 1946 (more black Americans were showing up for games), the old hands were being shunted aside to some degree. She seems to have resented it a little, but as long as the Dodgers kept winning, she kept showing up with her bell and her voice. It’s tough to tell if the resentment was racially tinged or if she was simply sorry to see the old fans being elbowed out of the stands for new fans. From the little available about the issue, I tend to think it’s the latter.

The Dodgers won it all in 1955 and moved on to Los Angeles in 1958. Hilda loved the first, hated the second. She never seems to have transferred her loyalty to the Yankees or to the newly formed Mets. But then by 1960 she was into her sixties and slowing down.

She was interviewed when Ebbets Field was demolished, then more or less dropped from sight. She went into a nursing home, got out, and moved into a small place in Queens. She died in December 1978, poor, almost indigent, forgotten. She was buried on Staten Island (no, not in Brooklyn) by the Hebrew Free Burial Association. Not a great ninth inning.

Hilda Chester’s grave from Find a Grave

But there’s something of a happy ending to all this (maybe we can call it “extra innings”). The next time you head to Cooperstown, make sure you take the stairs to the second floor. There you’ll find a set of life-size fabric-mache statues of fans. I have no idea what fabric-mache is (and am too lazy to look it up), but that’s what they tell me the statues are made of. I’ll take their word for it. Right in the middle, “cowbell” in hand, is Hilda Chester. She made it into the Hall of Fame. I’ve been there twice and given her a salute both times. When you get there, make sure you say “Hi” to her for me.

Hilda makes it to Cooperstown

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The First Three Games

March 23, 2017

The 1941 World Series began a rivalry that was among the most fierce and passionate in baseball: the Dodgers and the Yankees. Now that it’s cross country, it’s a little less passionate, but nonetheless the intensity is still there. The first games in that rivalry were in Yankee Stadium.

Game 1: 1 October 1941

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon

Game one saw the Yankees start Hall of Fame right-hander Red Ruffing against Curt Davis. New York struck first with a Joe Gordon home run in the bottom of the second. The 1-0 score lasted until the bottom of the fourth when, Joe DiMaggio drove a long fly to left. Joe Medwick, grabbed the top of the fence, hoisted himself up, and snagged the ball going out of the field of play (sort of like the more famous Al Gionfriddo catch of 1947). That gave New York two outs. But then Charlie Keller walked. Bill Dickey promptly doubled to score Keller and run the score to 2-0.

The Dodgers got the run right back in the top of the fifth, again with two outs. PeeWee Reese singled and scored on a follow up triple by catcher Mickey Owen. The score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the sixth when, this time with only one out, Davis again walked Keller. A Dickey single sent Keller to third and a Gordon (who went 2 for 2 in the game with a walk) single brought home Keller with the third New York run. It also sent Davis to the bench and brought in ace reliever Hugh Casey, who got out of the inning with consecutive flies.

Brooklyn again got the run right back in the top of the sixth. Cookie Lavagetto reached first on a throwing error by Yanks shortstop Phil Rizzuto. A Reese single sent Lavagetto to second and Lew Riggs pinch hit for Owen. Riggs singled to plate Lavagetto, but a double play and a ground out ended the inning with the score 3-2. It stayed that way through the eighth when Ruffing gave up two singles sandwiched around a foul. That brought up Dodgers catcher Herman Franks (who was in the game because Riggs had pinch hit for Owen). He hit one to Gordon, who flipped to Rizzuto who threw on to first to end the inning and the game on a nifty double play.

The big stars were for the Dodgers, Medwick, who’s great catch saved a run and for the Yankees, Ruffing who pitched a complete game and Gordon who drove in two runs and scored one. The game gave New York a 1-0 Series lead.

Game 2, 2 October 1941

Mickey Owen about 1940

Game 2 saw New York trot out Spud Chandler to face Brooklyn ace Whit Wyatt. At the beginning of the game, Chandler seemed more the ace than Wyatt. The Dodgers gave up runs in both the second and third innings. It could have been worse. With two outs and Charlie Keller on third and Joe Gordon on second, Chandler singled to score Keller, but an alert play by Dolph Camilli, Dodgers first baseman, gunned Gordon down at the plate to end the inning. In the third, Tommy Henrich doubled and after an out, came home on a Keller single.

After that Wyatt settled down. He gave up a couple of walks and a handful of hits, but no Yankee scored. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finally got to Chandler in the fifth. Walks to Camilli and Cookie Lavagetto were bookends to a Joe Medwick double that loaded the bases and brought up Brooklyn shortstop PeeWee Reese. Reese grounded to his counterpart, Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto flipped to Gordon to get Lavagetto, but Reese beat the relay and Camilli scored while Medwick went to third. That brought up Mickey Owen, who singled home Medwick to tie the score.

In the top of the sixth, Dixie Walker reached first on a Gordon throwing error and went to third on a Billy Herman single. That gave Chandler an appointment with the showers and brought in Yankees relief ace Johnny Murphy. Camilli singled to untie the game and the Dodgers held on to win 3-2. Wyatt ended up with a complete game victory while Chandler took the loss.

Game 3, 4 October 1941

Marius Russo

After a day off and with the Series tied one game each, the teams moved to Ebbets Field for game three. It was the first postseason game played in Ebbets Field since 1920. The Dodgers gave the ball to Fred Fitzsimmons. The Yanks countered with Marius Russo.

For seven innings it was a great pitchers duel. No on scored. Only one man on each team (Joe Gordon and Pete Reiser) made it as far as third. By the eighth, Fitzsimmons was almost out of gas. Then he got hit on the foot by a batted ball. He’d given up four hits and walked three, while striking out one, but he just couldn’t go on with the foot hurting. So Leo Durocher decided he had to go to his bullpen. In came Hugh Casey, the Dodgers counterpart to Johnny Murphy. He got the first out, then consecutive singles by Red Rolfe and Tommy Henrich brought Joe DiMaggio to the plate. He singled to left scoring Rolfe and sending Henrich to third. Charlie Keller was next and singled scoring Henrich. That was all for Casey. Larry French replaced him and recorded the final out of the inning.

Leading 2-0 Russo started the bottom of the eighth by giving up a Dixie Walker double. One out later French was removed for a pinch hitter, who struck out. That brought PeeWee Reese to the plate. He singled scoring Walker before Russo got a popup to end the inning. He sailed through the ninth to record a Yankees 2-1 win and put New York up 2 games to 1. Game four was Sunday and would become the most famous, of infamous depending on your point of view of the entire Series.

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: Leo’s Lads

March 20, 2017
Leo "the Lip" while with the Yankees. Durocher's on the left, the other guy is unknown.

Leo “the Lip” while with the Yankees. Durocher’s on the left, the other guy I don’t recognize.

The other half of the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry was Brooklyn. Unlike the Yanks, the Dodgers hadn’t been overly successful, especially during the “Daffiness Boys” Days of the 1930s. By 1941 that had all changed.

Leo Durocher was now the manager. He’d come over from St. Louis as a shortstop, had become the player-manager of the late 1930s, and was still doing a little field time in 1941. He’d led the team to 100 wins and its first pennant since 1920 (a World Series loss to Cleveland). The hitters dominated the National League ending up first in runs, hits, doubles, triples, total bases, home runs, average and almost everything else (they were next-to-last in stolen bases). The staff wasn’t quite as good, only leading the NL in hits and ERA. But they were second in runs allowed and shutouts, running third in both walks and strikeouts.

It was a veteran staff. Of the primary starters, only Kirby Higbe was under 30 (he was 26). He tied for the team lead with 22 wins, had an ERA just over three (ERA+ of 118), a 1.262 WHIP, walked more men than he struck out, and put up 3.4 WAR. The other team ace was Whit Wyatt (who was 33). He also had 22 wins, but his ERA was 2.34, with a team leading ERA+ of 159 (among pitchers with 15 or more starts). He led the team with 7.6 WAR, a 1.058 WHIP, and managed to strikeout about two men for every one he walked. Curt Davis’ 13 wins were the most by any other starter. His ERA was under three (2.97) while fourth starter Luke Hamlin had an ERA north of four. Fred Fitzsimmons was only in 13 games in 1941, was 39, and overweight. He parlayed all that into a 6-1 record with a 2.07 ERA and a 180 ERA+. Also under thirty (at 27) was Hugh Casey, the primary man out of the bullpen. He was in 45 games, started 18, pitched 162 innings and was almost dead even in walks to strikeout ratio (57 to 61). Of the rest of the staff, no one won more than three games, or pitched 60 innings (Johnny Allen had 57 innings).

From first around to third, the infield consisted of an MVP, two Hall of Famers, and a player later famous for a single hit. The MVP was first baseman Dolph Camilli. He’d come over from the Phillies and proceed to lead the team in home runs (34), RBIs (120), walks, and strikeouts. His OPS+ came in at 164 with an infield high of 6.8 WAR. Billy Herman was at second (and the first of the Hall of Fame duo). He’d come over from Chicago and led the infield with 156 hits and put up 3.6 WAR. PeeWee Reese was both the shortstop and the other infielder to make the Hall of Fame. He hit only .229 and had 2.0 WAR. He led National League shortstops in both putouts and errors. Cookie Lavagetto held down third. He hit .277, drove in 78 runs, had 2.7 WAR, and was still six years from his most famous hit (a double in the 1947 World Series to break up a no-hitter). Lew Riggs, Alex Kampouris, and Pete Coscarart were the main backups. Both Riggs and Kampouris hit above .300 and Riggs led the subs with five home runs. Manager Leo Durocher got into 18 games, 13 in the middle of the infield.

The outfield was Pete Reiser, Dixie Walker, and Ducky Joe Medwick. Medwick was a recent pickup from St. Louis and four years from his Triple Crown. He still hit well, .318 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs. There’s an argument that his home run total was suppressed by Ebbets Field. That may be true, but it had been dropping for a couple of years. He showed 141 OPS+ and 4.6 WAR over 133 games. Reiser had some claim to being both the team and league MVP (although Camilli won the league award). He hit an NL high .343 with a .558 slugging percentage and .964 OPS, an OPS+ of 164 and 299 total bases. All led the league. His WAR was 7.4 (it would be his career high) in 137 games. For a player known for his speed, he stole only four bases (tied for third on the team). Walker was not yet the figure of scorn that later fans heaped on him for his opposition to Jackie Robinson. He hit .311, with nine homers (fourth on the team) and 71 RBIs (good for fifth on the team). The primary backup men were Jimmy Wasdell and Joe Vosmik. Wasdell had four home runs and hit .298. Future Hall of Famer Paul Waner, at the end of his career, appeared in 11 games and hit a buck-71.

All of which brings me to the catchers: Mickey Owen and Herman Franks. Owen was the primary catcher with Franks spelling him. Although he’d been up since 1937, Owen was new with the Dodgers. In his first year with the team he’d been an All-Star, hitting only .231 with a single homer. But he was considered a terrific catcher, showing a .995 fielding percentage, a 52% caught stealing percentage, and allowing only two passed balls all year. Franks, who would later make a name for himself as a manager, hit only .201 and wasn’t as good behind the plate as Owen.

The Dodgers, the new kids on the block, were decided underdogs in 1941, but they brought an energy to baseball that had been missing for several years. They weren’t expected to win, but they were expected to bring joy to Hilda Chester and her bell along with the Sym-Phony band.

 

Building a Winner: The Promised Land

December 1, 2015
Kirby Higbe

Kirby Higbe

The arrival of the 1941 season saw the Brooklyn Dodgers on the rise. They’d come from as low as seventh place in 1938 to second place in 1940. Now a little luck, a few judicious additions and subtractions, and Brooklyn might just produce their first pennant since 1920.

By 1941 Leo Durocher settled in as the fulltime manager in Brooklyn (meaning he played no games in the field that season). His personality and his baseball knowledge fueled a team that won 100 games, led the National League in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, average, total bases, a slew of advanced stats that they didn’t know existed, and ERA. It also produced, in first baseman Dolph Camilli, the MVP for 1941. It was a team Hilda Chester could be proud of.

The Dodgers made one final change to their infield. A handful of games into the season general manager Larry McPhail traded two players to the Cubs for second sacker and future Hall of Famer Billy Herman. Herman solidified an infield that had a gap at second by hitting .291 with 156 hits and playing a solid second. Former starter Pete Coscarat hit only .129 in 43 games. MVP Camilli had 34 home runs, 120 RBIs, a 164 OPS+, and 6.8 WAR. Second year shortstop PeeWee Reese only hit .229 but led the team with 10 stolen bases and played shortstop well. Third baseman Cookie Lavagetto hit .277 with no power, but posted a 110 OPS+ and 2.7 WAR.

There was one change in the outfield. Former starter Joe Vosmik became a backup outfielder and hit .196. He was joined on the bench by Jim Wasdell who hit .298 with four homers. The change was second year player Pete Reiser taking over as a regular. He hit .343 with 14 home runs, 17 triples, 117 runs scored, 184 hits, 7.5 WAR, and on OPS+ of 164 (same as Camilli’s). He was joined by holdovers Dixie Walker and Joe Medwick, both of which hit .300 or better with Medwick adding in 18 home runs.

The third big change (behind picking up Herman and starting Reiser) was at catcher. Longtime started Babe Phelps was relegated to the bench in favor of new pickup Mickey Owen. Owen came from St. Louis and wasn’t all that great a hitter. He was, however, a very good catcher for the era and handled the staff well (at least until the World Series).

The final piece of the Dodgers puzzle was the acquisition of Kirby Higbe by trade from Philadelphia (the Phillies, not the Athletics). His 22-9 record led the NL in wins. Added to Whit Wyatt, Curt Davis, Luke Hamlin, and Fred Fitzsimmons he gave Brooklyn the best staff in the NL. Additionally Durocher had decided what to do with Hugh Casey. Casey was a good enough pitcher, but found his niche in the bullpen by chalking up 45 appearances, all but 18 in relief. He, along with Pirates retread Mace Brown, gave the Dodgers a solid relief staff.

Brooklyn ultimately lost the 1941 World Series to the Yankees, but they’d built, over five years, a team that was formidable enough to provide the basis for a contender for years to come. How? Well, they’d brought up a few of their own (Reese, Reiser), kept a few of their stalwarts (Lavagetto, Hamlin), traded for others (Camilli, Walker), found a few retreads who got new life in Dodger blue (Medwick, Davis), found a manager (Durocher) who could motivate a team to win, and had a general manager (McPhail) willing to do what was necessary to put the best team on the field. Put all that together, have several guys have their “career year” at the same time (Higbe, Wyatt) and you can win a lot.

One of the side aspects of the entire prospect, was that it got the interest of other teams and their front office personnel. When the Dodgers GM Larry McPhail left for the Yankees, Branch Rickey of St. Louis was interested. That worked well.

 

 

Building a Winner: Crossing the Jordan

November 27, 2015
Joe Medwick

Joe Medwick

With the coming of the 1940s, the Brooklyn Dodgers were finally, after 20 years, in position to contend for the National League title. By 1940 the team had put together many of the components necessary to make a legitimate run at a pennant. The next few pieces of the puzzle would come together in 1940.

With manager Leo Durocher now doing more managing than playing, the Dodgers needed a new shortstop. They found him in minor leaguer Harold “PeeWee” Reese. How good was he? He managed to make the Hall of Fame. With Dolph Camilli again leading the team in home runs, RBIs, and WAR Brooklyn also had a first-rate first baseman. Cookie Lavagetto at third fell back somewhat from his 1939 campaign, but held firmly on to his position. Pete Coscarat was at second. He hit under .250, but was fourth on the team in home runs (nine) and fifth in RBIs (55). They may have been fourth and fifth on the team, but the Dodgers were looking, at the end of the season, for something better than nine homers and 55 Ribbys.

The outfield had a full makeover. Although Gene Moore and Ernie Koy were still on the team (they got into a combined 34 games) the starters were totally different from 1939. New guy from 1939, Dixie Walker, now held one position. He hit above .300 and had 66 RBIs. Joe Medwick, a future Hall of Famer who’d won the Triple Crown, came over from St. Louis to take the second position. He’d fallen off from both the Gas House Gang pennant year of 1934 and the triple crown. He did manage to hit .300 in Brooklyn and had 14 home runs for the team. Thirty year old Joe Vosmik came over from the American League (Boston) to take the third slot. But the more important news, at least in terms of what would happen in 1941, was 21-year-old rookie Pete Reiser who got into 58 games, hit .293, and played with wild abandon in the outfield.

Catcher Babe Phelps hit .293, but at 32 was aging fast. His backups included Gus Mancuso who was even older and Herman Franks who hit all of a buck-83. He caught a  staff that included returning starters Fred Fitzsimmons, Luke Hamlin, and Whit Wyatt. As early as 1940, Hugh Casey was beginning to fill a relief roll. He still started 10 games, but appeared in 44. There was one significant arrival on the mound, Curt Davis. He’d come to Brooklyn from St. Louis in the same trade that brought Medwick to the Dodgers (Koy was one of the players going the other way). He went 8-7, but would make his arm known the next season.

All this got the Dodgers 88 wins and second place in the National League (behind Cincinnati). By the end of 1940 most of the pieces were in place for a significant pennant run. There was still work needed at second. Another starter would be necessary. And with an aging catcher, new blood behind the plate was needed. The Dodgers would look to address all these issues before the 1941 season ended.

Building a Winner: Pivot Point

November 24, 2015
Whit Wyatt

Whit Wyatt

In many ways the key year in the Dodgers late 1930s, early 1940s turn around was 1939. It ushered in a series of major changes that led ultimately to the 1941 pennant. So let’s us take a look at the 1939 team.

Arguably the most significant change occurred in the dugout. Manager Burleigh Grimes was terminated at the end of the dismal 1938 campaign by new President and General Manager Larry McPhail. The addition of McPhail was in itself a significant change in Brooklyn’s front office. Grimes’ successor was player-manager Leo Durocher. “Leo the Lip” was loud, abrasive, fiery and hated losing (and I can’t believe I’ve never done anything on him). He brought a fire to the Dodgers that was lacking under Grimes (who could be fiery himself). A number of the players didn’t particularly like Durocher, but he had the respect of most of them. He and McPhail made for a strange and interesting pair leading the franchise.

The infield saw one change. Pete Coscaret went from being the backup to playing the most innings at second, while former starter John Hudson became the primary backup middle infielder. With shortstop Durocher now managing, Hudson saw more action than a backup might normally see (he got into 109 games). Dolph Camilli and Cookie Lavagetto continued to hold down the corners of the infield. Lavagetto hit .300 and was second on the team in home runs (10) and RBIs (87). Camilli led the team in both with 26 home runs and 104 RBIs (his WAR and OPS+ also topped the starters).

The outfield underwent a significant change in 1939. Of the 1938 starters, only Ernie Koy remained a primary outfielder. Gene Moore and Art Parks took over the other positions while Goody Rosen became a backup and Bud Hassett moved to the Braves. Of major significance for 1941, the Dodgers picked up a new backup outfielder when 28-year-old Dixie Walker was picked up on waivers from Detroit. He would, by 1941, become one of the more famous players on the pennant winning team. For 1939 he hit .280 with 83 total bases (0.3 WAR).

Although Babe Phelps remained the primary catcher, the staff he handled added two major pieces to the pennant winning puzzle. Holding on to Luke Hamlin and Fred Fitzsimmons as starters, and moving Tot Presnell from spot starter to a major contributor helped Brooklyn, but the two new guys were key. One was Whit Wyatt. He was 31, had spent several mediocre years in the American League, spent 1938 in the Cleveland minor league system (Milwaukee), and was purchased by Brooklyn for 1939. He went 8-3 in 16 games (14 starts) and made the All-Star game. By 1941 he was the Dodgers’ ace. The other new guy was Hugh Casey. Casey was 25, had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 1935, and became a full-time player only in 1939 after being picked up by Brooklyn from Memphis. Although known today primarily as a reliever, he started 25 games in 1939 and posted a 15-10 record, a 5.3 WAR, and managed to lead the National League in hit batsmen with 11.

The result of all this was a third place finish and a winning season for the Dodgers; their first in several years. Much of the “Daffiness Boys” syndrome was gone and they were emerging as a legitimate contender in the National League. By this point half the infield was in place, much of the pitching staff was available and the first of the outfield was on board. With Leo Durocher piloting the team, and McPhail ready to make the necessary acquisitions, they were finally moving in the right direction.

As an aside, there was also one other notable addition to the Dodgers, although it didn’t change the play on the field. The 1939 season saw Brooklyn pick up a new play-by-play radio announcer. Red Barber joined the team in the booth in 1939.

 

Building a Winner: Worse

November 20, 2015
Dolph Camilli

Dolph Camilli

As bad as the 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers were, the 1938 version was even worse. They dropped all the way to seventh in 1938 going 69-80 to finish 18.5 games back (which is actually closer than in 1937–the ’37 Giants  won 95 games, the ’38 Cubs only 89). Their Pythagorean said they should have finished 74-75, so they underperformed. In hitting they finished sixth in most categories but first in stolen bases and walks. In fact they had 611 walks and only 615 strikeouts for the season (and if you exclude pitchers they actually walked more than they struck out), which helped them to second in OBP. The pitching was also bad. The staff consistently finished about sixth in most categories coming in high in shutouts (3rd) and having the third lowest walk total. Even Hilda Chester might have had trouble rooting for this team.

But a couple of significant changes occurred. First, Dolph Camilli came over from Philadelphia. He posted 24 home runs and 100 RBIs, both of which easily led the team. His 118 walks also led the team (as did his 101 strikeouts). His OPS and OPS+ also led the Dodgers, while his WAR was second on the team (but first among position players). He replaced Bud Hassett at first, but Hassett moved to the outfield replacing Heinie Manush (who got into 17 games), so effectively Camilli replaced Manush. Manush hit for a much higher average in 1937 than did Camilli in 1938, but had only about half the WAR and drove in 73 with four home runs. The other big infield change saw Leo Durocher take over at short. Durocher’s numbers weren’t better than Woody English who’d held down shortstop in 1937, but Durocher became team captain and brought a new competitive attitude to the team. Also in the infield Cookie Lavagetto moved from second to third and John Hudson replaced him at second. Lavagetto replaed Joe Stripp making Hudson essentially Stripp’s replacement. Hudson’s OPS+ and WAR weren’t very good, but they were better than Stripp.

The outfield was entirely different. The aforementioned Hassett was now on one corner. Goody Rosen took another and former college football standout Ernie Koy had the final position. Koy almost hit .300 and his 11 home runs were second on the team, as were the 76 RBIs.

The bench was long in 1938. Merv Shea and Gilly Campbell were the backup catchers while former backup Roy Spencer got into only 16 games. The 1937 starting shortstop Woody English now rode the pine and Pete Coscaret was pushing Hudson for more time at second. Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler was, along with Tuck Stainback, the primary backup outfielder. He was 39 but could still hit in the .270s. Other than Cuyler they didn’t do much.

The battery consisted of Babe Phelps behind the plate and nine primary pitchers. Phelps hit .300 with no power and 1.7 WAR (that was eighth on the team). The primary starters were three holdovers from 1937: Luke Hamlin, Fred Fitzsimmons, and Van Mungo (of Van Lingle Mungo song fame). Fitzsimmons’ 4.4 WAR led the team and Hamlin’s 3.4 was third. The new guy was Bill Posedel who poured kerosene on an already combustible staff by going 8-9 with an ERA north of five. The bullpen (those with 20 or more games pitched) saw Fred Frankhouse as a leftover from 1937 and Tot Presnell, Vito Tamulis, and Max Butcher as the new guys. Both Tamulis and Presnell posted ERA+ number above 100.

Part of the problem lay with manager Burleigh Grimes. Essentially everyone knew he was a lame duck and his authority in the clubhouse waned. He’d been a good pitcher for a long time (eventually making the Hall of Fame) but wasn’t much of a manager. He came immediately into conflict with Durocher who, it was assumed, was manager-in-waiting. It didn’t help team chemistry.

There was one significant off field addition also. In 1939 Larry McPhail became President and General Manager of the Dodgers. He would change the culture of the team greatly.

So where were we when 1938 came to a close? Much of the infield was in place. Camilli was at first and Lavagetto at third. Both were playing well. Durocher was at short, but would leave the position after the end of the season to become manager. Neither the 1941 outfielders nor the catcher were yet in place. The pitching staff was beginning to add the first parts of the pennant winning group in holdovers Fitzsimmons and Hamlin, but the mainstays of the 1941 staff were still missing. Much of this would change in 1939, making it a key year in the rebuilding process.