Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Owen’

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.

 

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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.

 

The Rep

December 22, 2016
"Vinegar Bend" Mizell

“Vinegar Bend” Mizell

One of the great sage pieces of advice my grandfather gave me when I was growing up stuck with me into my adulthood and probably will stay with me through my dotage. It’s simply that people never talk politics, religion, or sports. They argue them, so stay away from them. And putting any two together is down right crazy. Well, the very act of doing this blog violates the sport part, but now I’m going to put two of them together. It’s up to you to decided just how crazy that is.

Baseball is full of people who mixed the sport with politics. Way back the first President of the National League became a US Senator. Later on John Tener was Senator, Governor, and President of the National League. The Britton brothers who ran the Cleveland Spiders and later the St. Louis Cardinals dabbled in politics. Those are all owners and executives, but players have also been involved. Walter Johnson ran, unsuccessfully, for office, Mickey Owen was sheriff (an elective office where he lived) in his home county. One of the more prominent was a pitcher who made it to the US House of Representatives.

Wilmer Mizell was born in Alabama in 1930. The nearest town was Vinegar Bend and it served as his nickname, surely one of the great baseball nicknames, through his career. He grew up in Mississippi and was good enough at baseball that he made the low minors in 1949. He stayed there until 1952 when he went to St. Louis as a southpaw pitcher. Other than a stint in the Army during the 1950s, he remained in the big leagues through 1961. In 1962 he split time between the minors and the big leagues.

For the Cards he was mostly a starter (185 starts out of 199 games pitched) who was one game under .500 (69-70) with an ERA in the mid-threes with more innings pitched than hits allowed and more strikeouts than walks (WHIP of 1.377). In 1959 he made the National League All Star team.

In 1960 the Cardinals sent him to Pittsburgh. The Pirates were assembling a pennant winning team that year and Mizell was one of the pitching parts. He went 13-5 with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.201 WHIP, and 2.5 WAR. He pitched in two World Series games, starting and losing game three and going a couple of innings in the game six blowout loss. It was his only ring.

In 1961 he had a losing record and an ERA over five. His last year was 1962. He was done at 31. For his career he was 90-88 with an ERA of 3.85 (ERA+ of 104) with 680 walks, 918 strikeouts, a 1.383 WHIP, and 17.7 WAR. Not a bad career, but not a great one either. He did have the one World Series championship to his credit.

So what do you do after a life in baseball? Mizell went to work for Pepsi going into sales and later public relations. In 1966 he moved into politics, running for and winning a seat on the Davidson County, North Carolina board of commissioners. He held the job two years then ran for Congress from the Fifth District of North Carolina. He was a Republican, it was 1968, and the South was changing. He won the seat with just under 53% of the vote. He remained in Congress through the 1974 election when he, like many Republicans in the wake of Watergate, lost his seat. In partial compensation he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and held the job until Jimmy Carter became President. With the arrival of Ronald Reagan, Mizell was appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Governmental and Public Affairs and later moved to the Assistant Secretary slot at the Intergovernmental Affairs branch of the Department of Agriculture. President George H.W. Bush made him head of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

He retired after Bill Clinton took office and died in February 1999. Today he’s probably most remembered as the primary Republican pitcher in the Congressional baseball game. He’s got a ring. He served his country for twenty years. All in all, that’s not a bad legacy.

Mizell's grave from Find a Grave

Mizell’s grave from Find a Grave

 

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: Bad

November 18, 2015
Leo Durocher while with Brooklyn

Leo Durocher while with Brooklyn

There are a lot of ways to construct a winning team. You can create it internally through a farm system. You can trade for the right players. You can out right buy players from another team. In the last 50 or so years you can go through the free agent market. And of course you can use any combination of these to build your team. I want to take something of an extended look at how one team did it.

As a Dodgers fan I’m much more familiar with their doings than with other teams, so it’s reasonable for me to look at how the Dodgers built a winning team. In this case I’m going to single out the 1941 Brooklyn team that got to a World Series, then faltered, but laid the foundation for the team that was generally in contention through the remainder of the team’s time in Brooklyn (1957).

To start, here’s the main part of the roster of the pennant winning 1941 team. Infield (first around to third): Dolf Camilli, Billy Herman, PeeWee Reese, Cookie Lavagetto. Outfield: Pete Reiser, Joe Medwick, Dixie Walker. The catcher was Mickey Owen. Starting pitchers (guys with double figure starts): Kirby Higbe, Whit Wyatt, Curt Davis, Fred Fitzsimmons, Luke Hamlin. The bullpen (guys with 20 or more appearances from the pen): Hugh Casey and Mace Brown (and Casey also had double figure starts). And the bench (guys with 50 or more games played): Lew Riggs (primarily a 3rd baseman), Pete Coscarart (primarily a 2nd baseman), Herman Franks (a catcher), and Jim Wasdell (and outfielder). The manager is Leo Durocher. Keep all those names in mind as we go through the process of putting this team together. These are the guys we’re ultimately looking for in order to create a winning team.

Now here’s a look at the same team in 1937. The order is the same (infield, outfield, catcher, starters, bullpen, bench, manager): Bud Haslett, Lavagetto, Woody English, Joe Stripp, Heinie Manush, Tom Winsett, John Cooney, Babe Phelps, Max Butcher, Hamlin, Fred Frankhouse, Waite Hoyt, Van Mungo, Fitzsimmons, Roy Henshaw, George Jeffcoat, Jim Lindsey, Gibby Black (outfield), Jim Butcher (2nd, 3rd, and outfield), Roy Spencer (catcher), Lindsay Brown (Short). Burleigh Grimes is the manager.

The ’37 Dodgers finished sixth of eight teams in the National League. They were 62-91, 33.5 games out of first and 17.5 out of fifth place. They finished sixth in batting average, OBP, OPS, runs, and hits; seventh in slugging; dead last in home runs. At least they were third in stolen bases (all of 69) and second in doubles. The pitching was worse. They were seventh in ERA, runs, earned runs, complete games (which meant a lot more in 1937 than it does today, and last in shutouts. At fourth in strikeouts, they managed to get into the top half of the National League. And to top it off they were dead last in fielding percentage. In short, the Daffiness Boys stunk up the place.

Five years later they won the NL pennant. A lot of things changed. But a few things remained. Off the 1937 squad, Cookie Lavagetto remained. He’d moved from second to third. Although many of his traditional stats had regressed, he maintained an OPS+ of 110 (down one point from 1937) and his WAR (BBREF version) moved from 2.5 to 2.7. Luke Hamlin was still around also. His ERA was up, his wins down, his ERA+ was down 25 points, and his WAR had gone from 3.4 to a negative. Fitzsimmons was also there. By 1941 his ERA and ERA+ were much better although his WAR was unchanged. So even the holdovers from 1937, especially Hamlin, weren’t doing much to help the team make its five-year rise. To do well, an entire overhaul needed to occur. In the next few posts I want to look at that overhaul.

Game Six: Wickets

August 8, 2011

One interesting thing about baseball is that you can track stats over time. For instance, you can make a list of the men who held the single season home run title from 1876 all the way through 2010. Another stat that’s easy to follow is errors. If you track them, you’ll notice that, as a rule, there has been a distinct improvement in fielding through the years. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still errors. Some are infamous. Fred Snodgrass in 1912 made an error that modern baseball fans know about. In 1941 Mickey Owen let a ball get passed him to open up a Yankees rally that won a World Series game. But if I  had to pick one error to put at the top of the infamy list, it occurred in 1986.

1986

Ray Knight scores, game six, 1986

The Red Sox and Mets squared off in game six of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium on 25 October. The Red Sox needed one win to grab their first championship since 1918. For the Mets, they needed two wins to secure their second championship ever. Both teams sent aces to the mound: Roger Clemens for Boston and Bob Ojeda for New York. Clemens started off well, Ojeda was shaky, giving up single runs in both the first and second innings. After that he settled down and pitched shutout ball through the sixth inning. Clemens did fine through four, then gave up the tying runs in the fifth on a walk, a single, an error (making one of the runs unearned), and a double play. Boston retook the lead on an unearned run in the seventh, but New York tied it back up on a Gary Carter sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. No one scored in the ninth, so the game went to extra innings.

Boston seemingly won the Series in the top of the tenth with a home run, a double, and  a single to give them a 5-3 lead. But of course the home team gets one last at bat, so down two runs, the Mets came to the plate in the bottom of the tenth. Pitcher Calvin Schraldi (an ex-Mets player) got two quick outs, then gave up three consecutive singles, giving the Mets one run back. Out went Schraldi, in came Bob Stanley, who promptly threw a wild pitch tying the game and sending the potential winning run to second. That brought up left fielder Mookie Wilson, who hit a slow roller to first baseman, and one-time batting champ, Bill Buckner, who let it go between the wickets for an error. Ray Knight, the runner on second (and husband to golfer Nancy Lopez), scored the winning run, which set up a game seven. The Mets won it 8-5 to secure the World Series championship.

Fans called Buckner all sorts of things. That went on for years, and I still know people who blame him for the loss. I never did. First, it was game six. So what if Boston loses it? Go out and win game seven. They actually led in game seven 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, when Bruce Hurst and the bullpen blew it again. BTW, Buckner went 2 for 4 in game seven, scoring one run in the eighth inning. You want to blame somebody? I got a lot of suggestions. First, blame the Mets. They played good ball, got timely hitting, and took advantage of the opportunities offered. Second, blame the Boston pitching. Bruce Hurst won 2 games and Clemens pitched well despite getting no decisions. The rest of the staff was weak (and I’m being kind to some of them). Oil Can Boyd and Al Nipper had 7.00 ERA’s.  Bob Stanley threw a critical wild pitch and closer Schraldi was 0-2 (one save) with a 13.00 ERA. Also blame the manager, John McNamara. All season he had replaced the largely immobile Buckner with Dave Stapleton late in games with Boston leading. He had done so in all three of the Red Sox wins prior to game six. For some reason (and I’ve never heard a definitive answer from McNamara) he left Buckner in the game on the 25th. Some people say he wanted to give Buckner the thrill of being on the field when the Sox won the Series, but I’ve never heard McNamara actually say that.

For the Red Sox it took until 2004 to win a World Series. The Mets have never won another. They had a couple of chances but came up short against the Cardinals in the regular season, the Dodgers in the playoffs, and against the Yankees in the one World Series they managed to get back into. Ya know, maybe there’s a curse of Bill Buckner.

Clean Living and Johnny Murphy

December 30, 2010

Johnny Murphy

Lefty Gomez has always been one of my favorites. He was a good enough pitcher, but he was even better with a quip. The story goes that after a particularly good outing on the mound, a reporter asked him to what did he attribute his success. Without missing a beat, he replied “Clean living and Johnny Murphy.”

Murphy was born in 1908 in New York City, went to Fordham University. While at Fordham he set the team ERA mark, a record that lasted until 1986. Toward the end of the 1929 Fordham season, Murphy signed a contract with the New York Yankees. He remained a minor leaguer until 1932, when he made the big league team as a bullpen man. He went back to the minors (although his brief appearance in 1932 got him a World Series share) and finally made it back to the Yankees to stay in 1934. He split time that season between the bullpen and starting. He started 20, relieved 20, and went 14-10 with an ERA of 3.12. After the ’34 season, Murphy went to the bullpen and became the Yankees regular closer (although they didn’t call it that back in 1934). Although the stat hadn’t been invented yet, Murphy led the Major Leagues in saves in 1938, 1939, 1941, and led the American League in 1942 (Hugh Casey of Brooklyn in the National League had more). In the Yankees championship years of 1936-39 Murphy appeared in all four World Series’ picking up a save in each of the first three and a win in game 4 of 1939, the final game of the sweep over Cincinnati. In 1941, he was the winning  pitcher in game 4, the game famous for Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike that should have ended the game. He did not participate in the 1942 Series, but picked up one final save in the 1943 Series. He lost 1944 and 1945 to World War II. He didn’t join the military, but rather worked at Oak Ridge on the Manhattan Project. I have been unable to find out exactly what he did, so would appreciate anything someone can give me to enlighten me on this point. He was back with the Yanks in 1946, didn’t do badly, but didn’t do well either and ended up in Boston with the Red Sox for one final season. Again he didn’t do badly, but at age 38 he was through.

Boston hired him as a scout, then named in vice president and director of minor league operations. He held the latter job until the end of the 1960 season. In 1961 he took a job as scouting supervisor for the Mets and the next year became defacto personnel director (his official title as “Administrative Assistant”). In 1967 he negotiated the deal that brought Gil Hodges to the Mets as their manager and in December 1967 Murphy took over as general manager. He held the job during the 1969 “Miracle Mets” run, then was felled by a heart attack on 30 December 1969 (41 years ago today). He died in January 1970 and is buried in the Bronx. The Mets rookie award is named for Murphy and in 1983 he joined the team Hall of Fame.

Murphy isn’t the first great relief specialist (Firpo Marberry is), but he’s one of the best. For his career he went 93-53 with 107 saves, one of the top three save totals prior to 1960. He walked 444 men, struck out 378, had an ERA of 3.50, and gave up 985 hits in 1045 innings pitched. His ERA+ is 118 with a WHIP of 1.367. In World Series play he was 2-0 with four saves and an ERA of 1.10 a WHIP of 0.918 with four walks and eight strikeouts. He pitched in five World Series’ and the Yankees won every one of them. The lone Yanks loss of the era, 1942, is the single series Murphy sat out.

Lefty Gomez’s comment about clean living is a testament to Murphy’s value to the Yankees dynasty of the late 1930s-early 1940s. He went further than just a great reliever, when he went to the Mets front office. As scout, personnel director, and general manager, he is one of the major forces in bringing the Mets to their 1969 victory. As such, he’s one of a very few men who’ve made both a major contribution to one team as a player and another as a front office man.

Will not be posting any more this year. Enjoy your holiday, have a good time, don’t drink and drive (PLEASE!!!), and have a wonderful 2011. Will be back to posting next year.