Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Cochrane’

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.

 

1934: Games 1 and 2

April 25, 2017

The first two games of the 1934 World Series were played in Navin Field, Detroit.

Game 1, 3 October 1934

Ole Diz

For St. Louis, manager Frankie Frisch sent his ace, Dizzy Dean, to the mound for game one. The Tigers manager, Mickey Cochrane, responded with General Crowder. Crowder was in trouble early. With one out in the top of the second, Ernie Orsatti singled. One out later both Dean and Cardinals lead off man Pepper Martin got on with consecutive errors by Detroit all-star second baseman Charlie Gehringer. A Jack Rothrock single plated both Orsatti and Dean to put St. Louis up 2-0. It would not be the last time an error would wreck the Tigers.

In the third, Joe Medwick led off with a single. A Rip Collins roller to Gehringer led to a flip to Tigers shortstop Billy Rogell. He got the out on Medwick, but threw the ball away trying to double up Collins, who ended up at second. Then catcher Bill DeLancey hit one to first baseman Hank Greenberg, who fumbled it allowing DeLancey to be safe and letting Collins score all the way from second.

Detroit got a run back in the third, but Medwick hit the Series’ first home run in the fifth to put St. Louis back ahead by three runs, 4-1. Then the Cards had the first big inning of the Series. With Firpo Marberry now on the mound for the Tigers (Crowder was lifted for a pinch hitter) in the sixth, three singles, a bunt, and a double plated four Cardinals and put the game away. Detroit got two more runs, including a Greenberg home run, but St. Louis cruised to an 8-3 win. Dean had predicted he’d win game one. He had.

Game 2, 4 October 1934

Schoolboy Rowe

Many people claim game two was the best of the 1934 World Series games. With Schoolboy Rowe on the mound for Detroit, the Cards struck for early runs on a single and Orsatti triple in the second inning. In the third, Medwick singled to score Martin and put St. Louis ahead 2-0. It could have been 3-0, but a great throw by Goose Goslin nipped Medwick at the plate for the final out of the inning.

From that point Rowe calmed down and shut out the Cards without a hit. He also didn’t walk anybody, giving him 18 men set down in a row. While he was holding St. Louis scoreless, the Tigers were chipping away at Cards starter Bill Hallahan. Doubles by Billy Rogell and Pete Fox gave Detroit its first run in the bottom of the fourth. With the score now 2-1, Hallahan kept the Tigers off the scoreboard until the ninth.

Fox led off the inning with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt. Gee Walker, pinch hitting for JoJo White, singled to score Fox, then was picked off first to kill the rally.

With the game in extra innings, Rowe did the unthinkable, he gave up a hit. It went no where and at the middle of the 12th, the score still stood 2-2. Hallahan had been lifted earlier and Bill Walker stood on the hill for St. Louis going into the bottom of the 12th. With one out he faced the Tigers “G-Men.” He walked both Gehringer and Greenberg, which brought up Goslin, who promptly singled to center to score Gehringer and tie up the Series at one game each.

With the Series now tied, the games shifted to St. Louis and Sportsman’s Park, which would host the next three games. Games three and five would be the best games, but it was game four that became memorable for one throw and one immortal line.

1934: The G-Men

April 18, 2017

Black Mike

Detroit hadn’t done much in baseball by 1935. Yeah, they’d had the Wolverines in the 1880s and that team won a National League pennant and one of those postseason series that served as an early version of the World Series, but then the team quickly folded. The American League put a team into Detroit in 1901 and it took a few years to jell into a pretty fair squad. Led by Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, the team won consecutive pennants in 1907-1909, then fell back and were also-rans through the teens and the 1920s. By 1934, that changed as the Tigers G-Men team finally broke through to win the American League pennant.

In the 1930s the name “G-Men” was applied to FBI agents. It was short for “government men” and was considered something of a badge of honor. The Tigers featured three men whose last name began with “G” in the heart of their lineup. Another of their outfielders had a nickname beginning with “G.” It was sort of natural.

The team won 101 games and led the league in hitting at .290. It also showed first in slugging, OBP, OPS, walks, runs, and total bases. In in hits, home runs, triples, doubles, stolen bases, it finished second. To top it off they didn’t strike out much (third). The pitching wasn’t quite that good, but they were second in the AL in hits, runs, ERA, and strike outs. They even led the league in fielding percentage.

From first around to third, the infield consisted of Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer (two of the “G” men), Billy Rogell, and Marv Owen. All were in their prime. Greenberg, one of the first great Jewish ballplayers, (which would become something of an issue during the Series) hit .339 with an OPS of 1.005 (OPS+ of 156), 26 home runs, 139 RBIs (both led the team), and 201 hits. His WAR was 6.2. If possible, Gehringer was better. He hit .356, had an OPS+ of 149, 214 hits, 127 RBIs, played a wonderful second base, and led the team with 8.4 WAR. Owen at third also came in with a batting average north of three (.317), with a 115 OPS+, 98 RBIs, and 3.3 WAR. Rogell didn’t make a 300 average. He ended up at .296 (hey, somebody’s gotta be the low guy). He had 99 RBIs, 175 hits, an OPS+ of 98 (which seems low to me), and 4.8 WAR.

The outfield saw four men do almost all the work. Hall of Fame member Goose Goslin (the third “G” man) was in left. He hit .305 with 13 home runs (second on the team), 100 RBIs, 187 hits, a 112 OPS+, and 2.7 WAR. JoJo White was in center. He hit .313 and led the team with 28 stolen bases. His OPS+ was 108 and his WAR was 2.5. He was spelled by Gee Walker (the last “G” man). Walker hit an even .300 with 20 stolen bases and 1.0 WAR. Pete Fox held down the other outfield slot. He was low among the starters with a .285 average, but was second on the team with 25 stolen bases and produced 0.9 WAR.

Other than Walker, the team didn’t have much of a bench. Flea Clifton and Frank Doljack were the only non-catchers (except Walker) to play in more than 15 games (Clifton was in 16). Doljack hit .233 with a home run, while Clifton had under .100. The backup catcher was Ray Hayworth. He got into 54 games hit .293 with no power.

The pitching staff featured twin aces: Schoolboy Rowe and Tommy Bridges. Both won over 20 games with ERAs in the middle threes. Each pitched a lot of innings and gave up a lot of hits. Both struck out more men than they walked, but had WHIPs that were high for aces (1.284 for Bridges and 1.278 for Rowe). Beyond them, four men started double figure games, but none of them started 20 or more. Vic Sorrell and 35 year-old Firpo Marberry each started 19 games. Both had ERA numbers in the middle fours and gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. At least Marberry got 15 wins out of it. Carl Fisher, the only lefty, and Elden Auker were the other two pitchers with more than 10 starts. Auker, with 15 wins and an ERA under four did the better of the two. Of the staff, Rowe had 7.1 WAR and Bridges put up 5.0.

All these were managed by the primary catcher, Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane. “Black Mike” (the name had more to do with his temper than his complexion) was still a fine catcher. He hit .320 with an .840 OPS and an OPS+ of 117 to go with 4.0 WAR (which is excellent for a player-manager). He was respected more than liked.

The G-Men were a formidable team. They hit well, had decent power, a good pitching staff, an excellent (for the era) fielding team. They were weak in the bench and their pitchers gave up a lot of hits (it was a hitting era). In the World Series, they would face one of the most famous of all Major League teams, the “Gas House Gang” Cardinals.

 

 

Wally Schang, Mack’s other Catcher

March 10, 2014
Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

As I mentioned in the post just below, the Philadelphia Athletics used three catchers during their 1910-1914 dynasty. The other post looked briefly at Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas. This one looks at Wally Schang,easily the best of the three.

Walter Schang was born in South Wales, New York, a town just south of Buffalo, in 1889. His dad caught for the local town team and two of his brothers also played ball, Bobby making it to the Majors (1914 and 1915 with the Pirates and Giants and again in 1927 with the Cardinals). In 1912, Wally caught on with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League (managed by George Stallings, later manager of his opponent in the 1914 World Series). In 1913 he made the Majors with the A’s. He got into 79 games with Philadelphia, then played four games against the Giants in the World Series. He hit .357 in the Series with a home run after hitting just.266 in the regular season.

By 1914, he’d become the Athletics primary catcher. He led all American League catchers with a .287 average and with 45 RBIs. He did terribly in the 1914 World Series (as did the A’s as a team), slumped in 1915, then had a great year (for him) in 1916. The 1916 A’s were one of the worst teams in AL history going 36-117. Schang, switched to the outfield in 1916 (he played a few outfield games in 1915 and again later in his career) led the team with seven home runs, two coming on 8 September when he became the first switch hitter to slug a homer from each side of the plate. By 1917, the A’s, already desperate for money, became even more desperate and Mack traded him to the Red Sox to start the 1918 season.

Schang was with Boston for the 1918 World Series. He hit .444 with an OPS of 990. He remained in Boston through the 1920 season when he was part of the continued dismantling of the Red Sox. Like Babe Ruth (who was traded a year earlier), Schang was traded to the Yankees. For the next four years he served as New York’s primary catcher, playing in three World Series’, including the Yanks first championship in 1923 (He hit .318 with seven hits in the victory). He slumped badly in 1925 and was sent to the St. Louis Browns for 1926.

He stayed at St. Louis four seasons, hitting over .300 twice and setting a career high with eight home runs in 1926. He went back to Philadelphia for 1930 as a backup to Mickey Cochrane. He picked up another ring at the end of the season, but did not play in the Series. His final season was 1931 when he got into 30 games with Detroit. He hit all of  a buck eighty-four and was through at 41.

He played and managed in the minors through 1935, then Cleveland hired him as a coach. His primary job was to teach Bob Feller how to pitch instead of throw. He remained in baseball until he was 52, when he finally retired. He died in Missouri in 1965. He was 75.

For his career Schang’s triple slash line is .284/.393/.401/.794 with an OPS+ of 117 (Baseball Reference.com’s version of WAR gives him 41). He had 1506 hits, 264 for doubles, 90 triples, and 59 home runs for 2127 total bases. He had 711 RBIs and stole 121 bases. He was considered one of the better fielding catchers of his era but he led the AL in passed balls (the Boston staff of 1919 will do that to you) and in errors (1914) once each. He appeared in six World Series’, helping his team to three wins. As mentioned above he was also on the 1930 A’s but did not play in the championship games.

Wally Schang was unquestionably the best of Connie Mack’s catchers prior to Mickey Cochrane. He hit well, fielded well, and helped his team win. He occasionally pops up on lists of players overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I don’t think he belongs, but I can see why he makes those lists.

Schang's grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

Schang’s grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

A Great Age for Hitting Catchers

July 3, 2013
Joe Mauer's Wikipedia picture

Joe Mauer’s Wikipedia picture

Ever look over a list of  Hall of Famers? One of the things a lot of people mention after doing so is “Geez, there’s not a lot of third basemen in the Hall.” That’s true. But it’s also true of catchers. Excluding 19th Century players, there are a dozen each third basemen and catchers in the Hall. It’s a hard position, catcher, to play.

But we are living in a great age for catchers that can hit. There have been a few of those, but not many. In the 1930s you found Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett playing at the same time. In the 1950s there was Yogi Berra and there was Roy Campanella. Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk overlap in the 1980s. And in the last 15 or so years, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing a new group of them that may (or may not) be as good, but are certainly a deeper pool of fine hitting catchers. Going back to the turn of the century, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were still productive players. In the 21st Century we’ve added three more.

Did you know that prior to 2006 catchers won only three batting titles: Ernie Lombardi twice and Bubbles Hargrave? Since 2006 catchers have won four. Joe Mauer has three and Buster Posey one. And this year Yadier Molina (who has in the last few seasons resolved any doubt as to which Molina brother was the best) is leading the National League. He probably won’t stay there, but to have a catcher leading the NL on 1 July is amazing.

So let’s all set back on our Fourth of July break and enjoy a ballgame. And while we’re at it, take a second to revel in the quality of good hitting catchers that are available to us. It’s very rare.

A Review: “The Gashouse Gang”

June 6, 2013

Well, I’m back from high school graduation. She made it through. We made it there and back. Along the way I picked up a book to read in down time. It’s called “The Gashouse Gang”, it’s by John Heidenry, and here’s a quick review of it.

The book is a look at the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series that year with one of the more colorful teams ever. The book concentrates more on the players than on the games. It centers around Dizzy Dean (naturally) and occasionally you forget that there were other players on the team. Heidenry sees Dean as intelligent and manipulative, a classic con man who can pitch. There are a dozen or so episodes in the book centering on Dean that make him come alive as a person. There are also sketches of general manager Branch Rickey, of manager Frankie Frisch, and of a handful of the players. The sections are uneven in that the comments on Joe Medwick are more in-depth than the comments on Ernie Orsatti. The same is true of other players. The players Heidenry finds most fascinating (or maybe that he can find the most info on) range over several pages. These include players like Paul Dean (who apparently hated being called “Daffy”), Pepper Martin, Medwick, and Leo Durocher while other players like Rip Collins, Spud Chandler, and the non-Dean pitchers get only passing reference. Jack Rothrock is almost invisible. There is also a nice, but short, sketch on Sam Breaden, the owner.

Heidenry spends the better part of a chapter trying to determine where the moniker “Gashouse Gang” came from. He finally decides that the New York papers came up with it in 1935, the year after the Cards won the Series. He also spends a couple of chapters on the 1934 World Series (against Detroit) with a nice character sketch of Mickey Cochrane thrown in as a welcome bonus.

All in all it’s a good book and worth the read if you’re a fan of 1930s baseball. It’s even better if you’re a fan of the Cardinals. The book was published in 2007 and is available in paperback at Barnes and Noble. It retails for $17.99.

Shut Down

September 11, 2012

The 1935 Detroit Tigers

So the Nationals have shut down Stephen Strasburg and the Cubs have shut down Jeff Samardzija. Well, it’s unusual to say the least. Generally when a player is shut down it’s certainly not voluntary on the part of the team. It’s more like to be because he’s either having a dreadful season or he gets hurt. There’s a really good case of the latter back in the 1930s.

In 1935 the Detroit Tigers were defending American League champions. Under manager and catcher Mickey Cochrane they were able to repeat, besting the Yankees by three games. They had a good, solid team with the “G Men” hitting in the middle of the order: Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, and Goose Goslin. In keeping with the “G Men” theme the backup outfielder was Gee Walker and the three pitcher was General Crowder. Crowder won 16 games, Walker hit .301, Goslin had a down year but managed .292. Gehringer hit .330 with 19 home runs, and an OPS+ of 138. Greenberg hit .328, led the AL in home runs (36) and RBIs (170) and picked up the MVP award.

They made the World Series and faced Chicago. The Cubs hadn’t been to a Series since 1932 and were retooled. It was expected to be a close contest with Detroit slightly favored. With the first two games in Detroit, Chicago shut out the Tigers 3-0 in game one.

Game two saw the Tigers jump out to a 7-0 lead by the end of four with the big blow being a two-run home run by Greenberg. The Cubs got one back in the fifth, then two more in the seventh. That brought Detroit up in the bottom of the seventh. With one out and one on Greenberg was hit in the hand by a pitch. He stayed in the game and subsequently made the final out of the inning on a close play at the plate. That finished the scoring, the Tigers winning 8-3, but the big story was Greenberg. The wrist was broken and he was out for the rest of the Series. The AL MVP was not going to participate in the remainder of the World Series, which had just turned into a best of five set.

Cochrane was forced to improvise. Goslin went into Greenberg’s four hole in the batting order. Third baseman Marv Owen moved to first in the field and backup infielder Herman “Flea” Clifton took over third and batted eighth. I’d like to say that Clifton became the big hero. He didn’t. He went oh fer sixteen but did well enough at third (two putouts, nine assists, and an error). It was the rest of the team that stepped up. With Greenberg shut down Gehringer hit .375 with four RBIs, right fielder Pete Fox hit .385 also with four RBIs, Goslin hit .273 with three RBIs, and the pitching staff gave up 12 runs for the rest of the Series. Detroit won the World Series in six games on a walk-off single by Goslin.

Without Greenberg Detroit doesn’t make the 1935 World Series. With him in the Series they are 1-1. After he goes down the team steps up and goes 3-1. So even with their best player shut down a team can win. Maybe that bodes well for Washington this season. What it means for Chicago for next season is a little more difficult to determine.

A Bad Century: The Nadir (We Needed Eight Runs Saturday)

May 11, 2012

Pat Malone

In my last post I went into some detail about game 4 of the 1929 World Series, indicating I thought it was near the very bottom of the Cubs’ bad century. But with a Chicago win in game three, the fourth game didn’t actually end the Series. Only in Cubsland could you ask “Can it get worse than blowing and 8-0 lead with eight outs to go?” I’m not sure it got worse, but 14 October 1929 was darned close.

Game five of the 1929 World Series was played in Philadelphia. Down 3 games to one, Chicago had to win to keep the Series going. Manager Joe McCarthy sent ace Pat Malone to the mound. A’s manager Connie Mack countered with game one winner Howard Ehmke. Malone pitched well. He shut down a powerful Athletics lineup through the first three innings, allowing only one hit, an Al Simmons single that was erased on a double play. In the fourth Chicago got two runs on a double, a walk, and consecutive singles. Then Malone went back to the mound. He was masterful. He gave up one hit through the bottom of the eighth and allowed only one batter (Jimmie Foxx) as far as second. When the Cubs went down in order in the top of the ninth, they were three outs from getting back into the Series. According to one, probably fanciful, story an A’s coach (usually, but not always, identified as Eddie Collins) turned to Mack in the dugout and simply said “We need two runs bad.” Mack’s supposed to have replied, “We needed eight runs Saturday.”

With one out Max Bishop singled, and the wheels began to come off for Chicago. That brought up Mule Haas who slugged a pitch over the fence to tie the score at 2-2. Mickey Cochrane grounded to second for the second out, bringing up Al Simmons. Simmons doubled into the gap. Foxx was intentionally walked, giving Bing Miller the chance to be a hero. He was. Miller doubled to score Simmons and close the World Series with an Athletics win.

For the Cubs the loss was devastating and unexpected. They’d had exactly two bad innings in two days and now they were going home World Series losers. They would get back to the Series in 1932 (and be swept), then again in 1935 and 1938, but the cloud of 1929 lingered through the ensuing decade.

A Bad Century: The Nadir (“Friggin’ Sun”)

May 9, 2012

Woody English (from the Engish website)

Down one game in the 1929 World Series, the Chicago Cubs had game two at home. They managed to lose it 9-3 to go down 0-2, but a change of scenery to Philadelphia seemed to make a difference. They won game three 3-1 behind Guy Bush. So now down two games to one, Chicago was ready to tie up the World Series and make it at best of three championship. The next game was to become one of the most famous games in World Series history, primarily for one astonishing inning. It also represents, to me, the absolute nadir of the Cubs Bad Century.

Game four was scheduled for 12 October in Shibe Park Philadelphia. The Cubs jumped on A’s starter Jack Quinn. Getting six runs off Quinn in five innings and two more off a pair of relievers, the Cubs looked ready to tie up the Series when the Athletics came to bat in the bottom of the seventh down 8-0. Charlie Root (of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy) needed nine outs to lock up the Series. He got one.

Al Simmons led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run (count ’em up with me, 8-1), then consecutive singles by Jimmie Foxx, Bing Miller, Jimmy Dykes, and Joe Boley brought in two more (8-3). Pinch hitting for the pitcher, George Burns (not the comedian) popped out for Root’s only out. Max Bishop singled to bring in another run (8-4). That sent Root to the showers and brought in lefty Art Nehf who sported an impressive ERA of 5.58. Mule Haas greeted him with a three run inside the park home run (8-7). Center Field Wilson managed to lose the ball in the sun, letting it get by him all the way to the fence, clearing the bases. That was bad enough but Wilson wasn’t through proving he was in the lineup for his bat not his glove. Mickey Cochrane then walked, bringing out the hook for Nehf and bringing in Sheriff Blake. Simmons and Foxx both singled bringing in Cochrane (8-8). Out went Blake, in came Malone, the ace, who managed to plunk Miller. That brought up Dykes who doubled over Wilson’s head (another ball that Wilson lost in the sun) to score both Simmons and Foxx (8-10). Then Boley and Burns, designated rally killers supreme, both struck out to end the inning. The A’s scored 10 runs on 10 hits, a walk, an error, and two misplayed balls. Burns managed to make two outs in a single inning. So far as I can determine, only Stan Musial in 1942 managed to equal that feat. When the inning was over, Wilson, back in the dugout, is supposed to have muttered, “friggin’ sun.” (OK, he didn’t say “friggin'”, but this is a family friendly site.)

Lefty Grove entered the game, no hit the Cubs for two innings and picked up the save. The Series now stood 3-1 in favor of Philadelphia. Teams had come back from that kind of deficit before (not often, it’s true, but it had been done), so Chicago still had a chance. There was no game on Sunday, so Monday 14 October, the subject of my next post, would see game five.

Rating Catchers

February 21, 2012

The "Tools of Ignorance"

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

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

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

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

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

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