Posts Tagged ‘Mike Donlin’

1908: Game of Games

October 8, 2018

Joe Tinker

With the regular season over, the National League pennant was still undecided. The Chicago Cubs and New York Giants had identical records, but there was still one game to make up, the so-called ‘Merkle Game.” The baseball world had never seen anything like it. There were fans clamoring for tickets even after the game began. There were stories in the newspapers about possible aspect of the game. The bettors were out in force. There was an eclipse of the sun, brimstone fell from heaven. Well, maybe not an eclipse or brimstone, but to read the accounts of the day, it was close.

The game started well for New York. In the bottom of the first Cubs starter Jack Pfiester plunked Fred Tenney (playing first for New York, the position Fred Merkle played in the famous 23 September game), then walked Buck Herzog. A pick-off removed Herzog, but “Turkey” Mike Donlin doubled to score Tenney and a walk to Cy Seymour sent Pfiester to the showers. In came Cubs ace Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. He managed to shut down the Giants without either Donlin or Seymour scoring.

Giants ace Christy Mathewson started for New York and got through the first two innings without damage. In the top of the third, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker, who’d hit Mathewson reasonably well during the season (and had homered in the “Merkle Game.”) tripled to lead off the inning. A Johnny Kling single brought him home to tie the game. With two outs, Johnny Evers walked. Then a double by Frank “Wildfire” Schulte scored Kling and a two-run double by manager Frank Chance cleared the bases.

With the score now 4-1, Brown cruised through the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh, New York staged a mini-rally. With Art Devlin on base, Tenney lofted a long sacrifice to score the second Giants run. It was all for the Giants, as Brown held them scoreless in both the eighth and ninth innings to secure the victory and the pennant for the Cubs.

There were recriminations in New York and celebration in Chicago. For the Cubs it sent them to their third consecutive World Series. They’d won in 1907 and lost in 1906. For the Giants it was the end of a famous season. They would wait two more years before returning to the top of the National League in 1911.

 

1908: Merkle

September 18, 2018

Fred Merkle in 1908

You knew when you read that I would be taking some time to talk about the 1908 season that it would eventually come down to Fred Merkle, didn’t you? The “Merkle Boner” is among the most famous of all baseball plays, probably the single most famous Deadball Era play. So without hesitation, let’s get on with it.

At the end of the day on 22 September 1908, the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were in a virtual tie atop the National League. The Giants were percentage points ahead (.635 to .629) by virtue of having played seven fewer games. They were three up in the loss column, but the Cubs had eight games to play while they had 15 more. The next game for both would be an afternoon game at the Polo Grounds the next day.

Fred Tenney

The Giants’ regular first baseman Fred Tenney was having back trouble and was forced to sit the 23 September game. In his place John McGraw inserted Fred Merkle. Our man Merkle came up in 1907, played a little, was again on the team in 1908. He had not started a game all season and at that point had all of 41 at bats for the year. He was, considered an excellent fielder, an acceptable hitter, and a player worth having. He was also 19 years of age.

The Cubs sent Jack Pfiester to the mound and the Giants replied with ace Christy Mathewson. Pfiester would finish the season at 17-6, while Mathewson would go 37-11. The first four innings were scoreless. In the top of the fifth, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker, who had a habit of hitting Mathewson well, stroked his fifth home run of the season (he ended up with six). The Giants struck back in the bottom of the sixth when a Mike Donlin single scored Buck Herzog with the tying run. The score remained 1-1 through the top of the ninth. By that point Merkle was 0-2 with a walk.

With one out Art Devlin singled, but was erased on a Moose McCormick grounder. Now with two outs, Merkle sliced a single that put McCormick on third and himself on first. Up came Al Bridwell who drove a pitch into center field scoring McCormick and giving the Giants a one game lead in the NL.

Except that it didn’t. Merkle, halfway to second and seeing McCormick score, turned and trotted toward the club house without ever touching second base. The rules (it’s 4.09) state that, with two outs, no run can score if the final out of the inning is a force play. Merkle was forced to run to second, so a force play was in order.

Johnny Evers

At this point, history leaves off and legend takes over. There a several versions of what happened next. All agree that Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle failed to touch second. He called for Cubs center fielder Circus Solly Hofman to throw him the ball. At this point there is great disagreement. The stories indicate that there was some interference with the throw. Most sources say that Giants base coach Joseph McGinnity intercepted the ball and threw it into the stands. Other sources say a fan (fans were on the field by this point) grabbed the ball and either tossed it into the stands or pocketed it. Whatever happened, Evers and other Cubs went after the ball. There seems to have been some sort of scuffle and Evers eventually emerged at second with a ball. Whether it was “the ball” or not is in open dispute. Wherever the ball came from, Evers was on second holding it and arguing that Merkle was out and that the run didn’t count. Umpire Hank O’Day agreed and called Merkle out. With fans all over the field and darkness approaching, he also called the game a tie.

Hank O’Day

New York exploded. McGraw was furious with the umpires, not with Merkle. Team President John T. Brush complained to the National League President. The Cubs prepared for the next game. The ramifications of the game would continue for the remainder of the season. They would effect both teams and, unexpectedly, help determine the fate of not only a pennant, but a life.

 

 

 

1908: Woeful

August 13, 2018

The immortal Chappy Charles

How do you win a ballgame? It’s actually not a trick question. You win by scoring more runs than the other guy. All this stuff about home runs and doubles and RBIs and WAR and OPS+ is just about how you go about scoring runs. In the history of Major League Baseball, going all the way back to 1880, the most woeful team at doing what you have to do to win is the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals.

First, a couple of caveats. The 1880 Cincinnati team scored 296 runs, but it was in a total of 80 games. The 1882 Baltimore team got 272 runs. The all-time record low for runs scored is 24 by the St. Paul Apostles of the Union Association in 1884. But they only survived for nine games. For something like a modern season of 162 games (or 154 by 1900) the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals are the non-scoring champs with (get ready for it) 372 runs scored over 154 games (49-105 win-loss record), or about 2.4 runs a game. And while we’re at it, they are low with only 301 total RBIs for the season (1.95 per game).

We should also take a moment and praise the Brooklyn Superbas for their own magical 1908. They went 53-101 and scored all of 375 runs in the season (also 2.4 a game) while the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) dropped to the bottom in the American League with 459 runs scored (2.96 runs a game–and the Highlanders played 155 games). And for what it’s worth, those extra three runs got the Superbas four more wins than the Cards while the Highlanders split the difference, winning two more games than St. Louis.

Now at this point I just know you’re dying to know who are these all-time greats that managed an all-time low in runs scored while playing at St. Louis, so I’m going to oblige you (You knew I would, didn’t you?) The big gun (well, sorta) was Red Murray a 24-year-old outfielder who hit .282 and led the team with 64 runs scored (just over 17% of all the team’s runs) and 62 RBIs (20% of the team RBIs). Second on the team in both runs and RBIs was first baseman Ed Konetchy with 46 runs and 50 RBIs (that works out to 12% of the team’s runs and 17% of the team RBIs). The other two outfielders, Al Shaw (40 runs) and Joe Delahanty (37 runs and 44 RBIs) did much of the remaining damage. Murray, Konetchy, and Delahanty were the only players with more than 20 RBIs (Shaw had 19). And finally, backup infielder Chappy Charles had 39 runs scored, good for fourth on the team (just over 10%).

So how does all this compare to some of the other teams in 1908? Well, Fred Tenney led the NL in runs with 101, Honus Wagner had 100, Tommy Leach had 93, Fred Clarke had 83 (as did Johnny Evers). Add ’em up and you get 377, more than the entire St. Louis (and Brooklyn) team. In RBIs, Wagner led the league (of course he did, it’s 1908) with 109. Mike Donlin had 106 and Cy Seymour had 92. That’s three players who added together had more RBIs than poor old St. Louis.

I suppose that if your team is doing poorly, it’s no comfort to know the 1908 Cardinals existed. But in the deadest of all Deadball seasons, they set a record. I’m not sure how you celebrate that kind of record.

Hollywood Meets the Diamond

May 3, 2013
John McGraw, budding Thespian

John McGraw, budding Thespian

As something of a followup to the last post, I decided to look more heavily into Hollywood’s love affair with baseball. I’ve done some of this kind of thing before, but this time I decided to see if I could put together a full team of players who have appeared on either TV or in the movies playing someone other than themselves (or a baseball player). It got a little silly for a while, but this is a pretty good set of players (I wonder if Olivier could hit).  I had to violate the playing someone else or not being a ball player a few times, but you’ll see why when you read them. I’m sure I missed a couple of greats, so feel free to add to the list.

1st base–Lou Gehrig. Back on 26 February 2010 I did a review of Gehrig’s foray into Westerns. He did an oater called “Rawhide” a year before he retired.

2nd base–Jackie Robinson. I also did a review of Robinson’s movie “The Jackie Robinson Story.” Gehrig did a better acting job. OK, this violates the play someone other than themselves (or a ball player) caveat, but it’s Robinson.

shortstop–Maury Wills. Wills shows up with four credits, three as a coach. The other is on “Get Smart”, the old spy spoof.

3rd base–Ron Cey. In 1987 he shows up as an uncredited member of the band in “Murder, She Wrote.”

outfield–Babe Ruth. Again I violated my “no ball player” rule, but it’s the Babe. He played a ball player named Babe Dugan in a film called “Babe Comes Home” in 1927. The IMDB indicates that the movie is lost.

outfield–Ty Cobb. Ok this time I violated the “appeared” part of my criteria. During the 1950s, Cobb wrote five stories and screenplays that showed up on television. Two were for a show called “The Adventures of Champion” (ole Champ was a horse).

outfield–Duke Snider. The Duke shows up with five credits. In one he plays himself, in a second he’s a center fielder. In the other three he has a role. One of those is opposite another former ball player, Chuck Connors, in “The Rifleman.”

catcher–Joe Garagiola. Best catcher I could find who played something other than himself. He appeared in one episode of “Police Story” in 1975. He played a cop. 

DH–Mike Donlin. Of all these guys, Donlin had the best movie career. I did a post on him on 5 January 2011. He ended up with 63 credits, most of them silents.

pitcher–Sandy Koufax. Way back when he was still an unknown, Koufax got into four TV shows: two Westerns, two cop shows. One of the cop shows was in 1959, the other three credits were in 1960.

manager–John McGraw. In 1914, McGraw appeared as Detective Swift in a short called “Detective Swift.” To top it off, Hans Lobert’s wife (cleverly called “Mrs. Hans Lobert) has a role in the short.

Not a bad list, right? There are an inordinate number of Los Angeles Dodgers in the list. That’s not because I’m a fan (although I am), but it makes great sense that the team in LA is going to have a large number of players available locally to show up for bit parts in both the moves and TV.

This list also excludes those players who showed up on Broadway (like Donlin) or in Vaudeville. McGraw and Christy Mathewson had a vaudeville act where they showed the audience how to throw a pitch. The earliest one of these I could find was an 1880s reference that indicated that King Kelly would appear on stage and dance while the band played “Slide, Kelly, Slide.” We’ve come a long way, I think.

Turkey Mike

January 5, 2011

Mike Donlin

I think all of us, if given the chance to play, would relish a Major League career.  You might “burn out” after a few years, but you’d really want to play as long as you could, right? Me too. I’ve always found it strange when I run across a player who saw baseball as a secondary career or as a way to another job. I find them a little strange (and they probably would find me the same way). Some want to go into politics, some into business. Others take to the stage.  Enter Stage Left: Turkey Mike Donlin.

Coming out of Peoria, Illinois, Mike Donlin was born in 1878. At age 15 he got a job with the local railroad and took a train all the way to California, where he decided to stay. He played amateur baseball, primarily pitching, but also compiling an extensive hitting resume. In 1899 the St. Louis Cardinals picked him up. They tried him at shortstop making him one of the last left-handed shortstops, first base, and finally in the outfield. He was terrible in each position. But he could hit. He .323 and 326 in 1899 and 1900 for the Cardinals, then jumped to the newly formed American League in 1901. He played one year for the Baltimore Orioles (who are now the Yankees, not the current Orioles), again hitting over .300. Then he got into trouble. He was picked up drunk and accused of urinating in the streets, accosting chorus girls, and ended up with six months in jail. The Orioles let him go and after five months in prison (He got off a month early for “good behavior”, which is kind of an odd choice of words when considering Donlin.) and he signed with Cincinnati in 1902. He was wretched.  In 1903 he had a great year, finishing second in the NL in hitting and runs, and third in slugging. Off to a good start in 1904, he got in trouble with the law again and was sent to New York and the tender mercies of John McGraw, who had been his manager at Baltimore.

He became a star in New York. His strutting to the plate earned him the nickname “Turkey Mike” (He hated it.). He put up great numbers in both 1904 and 1905. Hitting second in the line up, Donlin led the NL in runs in 1905 and then hit .316 in the World Series, leading both teams in hits and runs.  Then Donlin discovered both love and the stage.

In April 1906 Donlin married Mabel Hite. Hite was one of the great comedic actresses of the New York stage in the first decade of the 20th Century. She got great reviews in the press and was famous for being able to carry even a weak show. Here’s a picture of the happy couple:

Mabel Hite and Mike Donlin

I think this is an interesting picture because of the contrast between the two. Hite looks self-assured, Donlin doesn’t. Tells you which is used to being on stage, doesn’t it?

Married to an actress, Donlin developed an interest in the stage. That was actually fairly common in the era. A number of prominent players, including Donlin’s teammate Christy Mathewson and his manager John McGraw, appeared on stage as a way to supplement their income. Mostly they talked about baseball or showed the audience how to throw a particular pitch or how to hit a baseball, but it was vaudeville, not Shakespeare and those type acts were fairly common (Will Rogers started out doing roping tricks).

The problem was, as far as baseball was concerned, Donlin was pretty good at it. He starred in a couple of vehicles that included Hite and both were successes. There’s some debate about how much of the success was attributable to Donlin, but he caught the acting bug. For the rest of his Major League career, Donlin would wander in and out of the sport, spending time on the stage, in Hollywood, and on the diamond. When playing baseball, Donlin was still a formidable force at the plate. He played off and on through 1911, when the Giants traded him to Boston. He did alright there, but ended up traded to Pittsburgh in 1912. Again he had a decent season.

After the end of the season, Hite was diagnosed with cancer and died in December. Donlin wandered through vaudeville and baseball another couple of seasons, then gave up the sport to concentrate on the stage. In 1914 he married a woman named Rita Ross, another actress. 

Sources agree that she was part of the “Ross and Fenton” vaudeville act. Now I happen to know a little bit about the vaudeville acts of the World War I era and Ross and Fenton were a comedy team of the era specializing in spoofing classics like Shakespeare and the big dramas of the day. It was a popular routine in the era in which the couple would take a current play, say “A Study in Scarlett” starring William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes, then create a skit called something like “A Study in Black and Blue” and have the male member of the team ape the mannerisms of Gillette. There’s a problem with the identification of Rita Ross as a member of Ross and Fenton. Ross was Charles Ross and Fenton was Mabel Fenton. They were married in 1883 and worked as a couple. Maybe Rita was a daughter, but there is no record of a daughter working with the couple as part of their normal act.. They were together long enough that it’s possible there was a daughter of marriageable age in 1914, but I can find no evidence of her existence. It’s possible that there is a confusion between Donlin’s first wife Mabel Hite and Mabel Fenton, the first names being the same. Ross and Fenton made a couple of silent movies about 1915, but never made it big in Hollywood. Here’s a playbill of one of Mabel Fenton’s performances. I’ve seen pictures of Fenton and I’m certain the woman on the bill is not actually Fenton.

Mabel Fenton playbill

Donlin did a little managing, but by this point “Flickers” were beginning to make their way onto the American scene in a big way. Donlin was quick to join the craze. He starred in a movie about his life in 1915, then, with side trip to teach baseball to recruits during World War I, he migrated to Hollywood, where he found regular employment for much of the silent pictures era. His most famous role, and it’s a bit part, is as a general in the Buster Keaton masterpiece, The General (named for a locomotive, not Donlin’s character). He was a drinking buddy of John Barrymore and the famous actor managed to get him some decent roles in a number of Barrymore’s early movies. The Internet Movie Data Base shows Donlin with 63 credits, by far the most for a former baseball player. Having seen several of these, it’s my opinion that Mike Donlin wasn’t Humphrey Bogart, or John Wayne, or even Buster Keaton.

By 1933, Donlin’s movie career was coming to a close. He was never a major star and was finding it harder to get roles. He began looking to get back into baseball as a coach, but suffered a heart attack and died 24 September 1933.

As a ballplayer, Donlin was terrific when he wanted to play. For his career he hit .333, had an OBP of .386, slugged .468, and had on OPS of .854 (154 OPS+). He had 1282 hits, 1805 total bases, 176 doubles, 97 triples, and 51 home runs to go with 543 RBIs and 213 stolen bases. All in 1049 games over 12 seasons (97 games a year). And it’s the 97 games a year that creates a problem. It just seems that Donlin wanted to do something other than play baseball. In vaudeville and Hollywood he found a calling he prefered. For baseball fans that’s kind of a shame, because he seems to have been a much better ballplayer than an actor.

Hooray for Hollywood

February 1, 2010

Baseball and Hollywood have been very good to each other.  Baseball has given Hollywood some wonderful plot lines (and a few really awful ones too). Hollywood has showcased the game in a number of very good movies (and, again, some really awful ones). Real players have graced the silver screen on a number of occasions.  I got curious about finding out if you could field a real team from the players who have been in the movies. It turns out you can.

A couple of caveats. First, I looked for silent films first. Couldn’t find a player at every position, so I decided to stop at 1945. That made it pretty easy. Second, I wanted to player to be in a real movie, not some newsreel type short on last season’s best plays or some such thing. Also no TV and no commercials for razor blades or Mr. Coffee or any other product. Here’s what I found (there are more, but these will do for now).

1b-Hal Chase has two credits, one in 1911, the other in 1914. He plays a ballplayer in both. What, not a gambler?

2b-Nap LaJoie has one credit for a one reeler in 1903, the oldest one I could find.

ss-Honus Wagner has 2 credits, one in 1919 and the other in 1922. The 1919 flick costars Shemp and Moe Howard before they joined with Larry Fine to become the 3 Stooges. Obviously the best acted flick in the lot.

3b-Frank “Home Run” Baker has 2 credits, one in 1913 and the other in 1914.

of-Ty Cobb has 2 credits in 1917 and one in 1921. Later in the 1930’s through 1950’s he does a series of cameos on both the big screen and on TV.

of-Babe Ruth has 10 credits between 1920 and 1942. In most he plays someone named Babe Ruth, but in a 1922 movie called “Babe Comes Home” he plays a ballplayer named Babe Dugan. He is, movie-wise, most famous for playing himself in “Pride of the Yankees.”

of-Mike Donlin was the most successful of the ballplayers in Hollywood. Between 1917 and 1935 Donlin racked up 61 roles, mostly uncredited, in a lot of silent flicks and a few talkies. His most notable film was Keaton’s “The General” in which he played a Union officer.

c-Bill Dickey was in 2 flicks in the 1940s, the most famous being “Pride of the Yankees.”

p-Christy Mathewson has two credits in 1914 and 1915, neither for movies I’ve ever heard of.

 manager-John J. McGraw did two movies, one in 1914, the other in 1919. The 1914 flick was called “Detective Swift” with McGraw in the title role and included a Mrs. Hans Lobert, apparently the wife of the ballplayer.

The are surely others, but it’s not a bad list. Anybody with others to add, feel free.