Posts Tagged ‘Miller Huggins’

1908: Extra Bases

August 7, 2018

Tim Jordan, NL home run champ for 1908

In keeping with the idea that an individual game that appears meaningless in the standings can be interesting, here’s a look at a game played 7 August 1908, 110 years ago today.

On this date 110 years ago, the Cincinnati Reds were in Brooklyn for a Friday game. They were led by future Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins and sent pitcher Bob Ewing to the mound. The Superbas (again, the “Dodgers” would come later), led by first baseman Tim Jordan responded with pitcher Nap Rucker.

The game ended 5-3 with the Reds grabbing a lead in the fourth and adding three more in the sixth and tacking on a final run in the eighth. The Superbas got two run in the seventh to narrow the lead to 4-2, but were unable to tie it up. in the bottom of the ninth, they got one more run to give Cincy a two-run margin. Ewing got the win and Rucker, who went eight innings (relieved by Jim Holmes for the ninth), took the loss. At the end of the day, the Reds were at .500, 11 games out of first (in fifth place) and Brooklyn was 23 games out in seventh (next-to-last place).

“So what?” you ask. Glad you asked. There were four games played that day (it was a short schedule) and in this game Huggins had a double and a triple. He neither scored a run nor knocked in any of the Reds five runs. Jordan hit a two-run home run to account for a third of the Superbas’ three runs and two of their three RBIs (shortstop Phil Lewis had the other RBI when he knocked in Jordan). Harry Lumley was on base when Jordan homered. Jordan would go on to lead the National League in home runs in 1908 (one of the few hitting categories not monopolized by Honus Wagner). Again you ask, “So?” Well, here’s the thing. The double and triple by Huggins and the Jordan homer were the only extra base hits the entire day in either league. The other scores were 7-0, 3-0, and 2-1. There were a total of 36 hits in the other three games, all were singles. In the Cincinnati vs. Brooklyn matchup there were 14 hits, a total of 50 hits in the day, only three, all in the same game were for extra bases. There were also 11 errors spread among the games and 22 total walks. The 7th of August 1908 is an excellent example of Deadball baseball at its finest.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1930

August 2, 2016

Well, it’s the first of the month, so that means it’s time to delve again into my mythical pre-1936 Hall of Fame. This time two new members brought in for contributions both on the field and in the dugout, with one of them going on to make a major impact off the field.

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Pitcher, manager, owner, and league founder, Andrew “Rube” Foster was a significant pioneer in Negro baseball. He was a fine pitcher for the Chicago American Giants in the early part of the century, becoming manager, and later owner of the same team. In 1920 he led the formation of the Negro National League, serving as its President through 1926.

Miller Huggins

Miller Huggins

Miller Huggins began his career in Major League Baseball as a second baseman. In 1913 he became manager of the St. Louis National League team. He moved, in 1918, to New York to manage the Yankees. Under his leadership the Yankees won six pennants in eight years, capping their season with three World Championships.

And of course the commentary:

1. I am entirely comfortable putting Huggins into a 1930s Hall of Fame. He had just died (1929) and was almost as famous as his best player, Babe Ruth. In fact, some of the support for Huggins would be based on his ability to get the most out of Ruth when the Babe was still doing his “wild child” impression. In 12 years with New York he finished out of the first division only once (1925), and finished first exactly half his seasons with the Yanks.

2. Rube Foster is, in 1930, absolutely the most important person in black baseball history. His Negro National League was a success, although the Great Depression would destroy it in 1931 (and in 1930 the Hall voters wouldn’t know that yet). He was a superior pitcher, probably as good a manager. For my money he’s not a particularly good executive, noted for showing favorites among both players and teams. But the totality of his work would, if you are going to accept a black man getting into a 1930 Hall of Fame, make it a cinch he’d be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the year he died, if not previously.

3. I thought it possible that the onset of the Great Depression might lead to a trip down nostalgia lane in baseball. Sort of the old “Geez, things were so much better back 25 or so years ago when the country was prospering and so was I” attitude. So far I haven’t seen it, at least not much. That does not bode well for 19th Century players.

4. Here’s the eligible everyday players for 1931: George Burns (the catcher, not the comic), Cupid Childs, Jake Daubert, Jack Doyle, Johnny Evers, Art Fletcher, Larry Gardner, Harry Hooper, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Clyde Milan, Del Pratt, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Casey Stengel (as a player only), Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George Van Haltren, Bobby Veach, Tillie Walker. A total of 24 (with 20 being the maximum).

5. The list of eligible pitchers: Chief Bender, Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Rube Marquard, Tony Mullane, Jeff Pfeffer, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White, Joe Wood. A total of 12 (with 10 being the maximum).

6. And the contributors: umpires-Bob Emslie, Tim Hurst; manager-George Stallings; owners-Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann, Ben Shibe; Negro Leagues-Dobie Moore, Spottswood Poles, Candy Jim Taylor; pioneer-William R. Wheaton. A total of 10 (with 10 being the maximum).

7. In the next couple of years there are a handful of players who are going to show up that represent part of the problem of a Hall of Fame. These are players that either are enshrined in Cooperstown who have multiple questions arise concerning their true value or are players that haven’t gotten into the Hall of Fame but have had, over the years, serious discussion about their case for enshrinement. Guys like Ross Youngs and Chief Bender are the types of players I mean. I thought I ought to mention this issue now, because it will be important in the coming months.

8. By this point the statistical information is beginning to firm up. Essentially the same stats are available and they tend to be the same. There’s not a lot of issues like “Gehrig gets 125 RBIs” in one place and “Gehrig gets 133 RBIs” in another or one publication listing a stat and another ignoring it entirely. That makes life a lot simpler for me (although it doesn’t help much with the Negro Leagues).

 

Beginning a Dynasty: the 1923 Yankees

June 13, 2016
Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium

Most fans know the Yankees have over the years produced the greatest dynasty in Major League Baseball. Ask most of them when it began and they’ll probably give you 1927. The ’27 Yankees are legendary and were a truly great team. But the dynasty actually started in the early 1920s. Between 1921 and 1923 inclusive, the Yankees took on the crosstown rival Giants in the first three “Subway Series.” This is a look at the third of those.

Manager Miller Huggins had a team that went 98-54 winning the pennant by 16 games (over Detroit). They finished first in slugging and home runs, second in triples and OPS, and were third in four categories: runs, hits, average, and OBP. They also lead the American League in total bases. Despite being known as a hitting team, the pitching was equally good. New York led the AL in ERA, hits, runs, and strikeouts. They were third in both shutouts and walks.

The underrated staff consisted of five men who started double figure games. The one lefty was Hall of Famer Herb Pennock. He went 19-6 with an ERA of 3.13, with a 1.271 WHIP and 5.9 WAR. The WAR was first among pitchers and second on the team. Waite Hoyt was 23 and also a Hall of Famer. He went 17-9 with a 3.02 ERA, more walks than strikeouts, and 4.0 WAR. The “ace” was Bullet Joe Bush who won 19 games in a team leading 30 starts. He led the team with 125 strikeouts and produced 5.5 WAR. Bob Shawkey and Sam Jones rounded out the starters. Between them they won 37 games with Jones leading the team with 21. His ERA was 3.63 and he had walked one more than he struck out. The bullpen’s leading man was Carl Mays, three years removed from the pitch that killed. His ERA was a monstrous 6.20 but he was the only other man to appear in more than eight games.

Wally Schang, Fred Hofmann, and Benny Bengough did the catching. Schang was the main starter. He hit .276 with no power. He was almost dead on the league average in throwing out base runners. Hofmann was the main backup. He hit better than Schang, but wasn’t considered as good on defense or in handling pitchers. Bengough, who’d become part of the Murderers Row Yankees of the later 1920’s was in only 19 games.

The infield was good, but not great. From first around to third the normal starters were Wally Pipp, Aaron Ward, Everett Scott, and Jumpin’ Joe Dugan (Dugan would still be around for the late 1920s). Pipp hit over .300, Scott less than .250. Ward had 10 home runs, good for second on the team, and Pipp was second on the team with 109 RBIs. Ward’s 4.4 WAR was second on the team among hitters. Mike McNally was the only backup infielder who got into 30 or more games. He hit .211 with no power. There was a 20 year old first baseman named Lou Gehrig who got into 13 games, hit .423 with a homer and eight RBIs. He’d later replace Pipp.

The outfield had two good players and it had Babe Ruth. Bob Meusel and Whitey Witt were the good players. Between the they had 15 home runs, while Meusel’s 91 RBIs were third on the team. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team (and you’ll never guess who was first). He had what was considered the finest throwing arm in either league and tended to play the long field (in Yankee Stadium that was left field) while Ruth took the short corner outfield spot (in Yankee Stadium that put him in right). Witt was the center fielder. His WAR was 3.1, Meusel’s was 1.7. Behind them stood Harvey Hendrick and Elmer Smith.

Then there was the Babe. He hit .393, led the team in stolen bases with 17 (told you that you’d never guess), had 41 home runs, 130 RBIs, 45 doubles, 205 hits, 399 total bases, and 170 walks. All but the doubles and average led the league (the doubles were third, the average was second). All that got him the 1923 League Award, the 1920s version of the modern MVP. His OPS+ was 239, second highest of his career, his WAR was a career high 14.1.

The Yanks were two-time defending AL champions and two-time losers in the World Series. In 1923 they would try to remedy the latter. In their way stood their two-time conquerors, the Giants.

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Miller Huggins

January 25, 2016
Miller Huggins

Miller Huggins

1. Miller Huggins was born in Cincinnati in 1878. He took to baseball very early and while still young played under the name “Procter.” His father disapproved of baseball as a frivolous activity.

2. He played semi-pro ball until 1900, playing for a number of teams including one owned by the Fleischmann’s Yeast Company of Cincinnati.

3. In 1900 he began playing professional baseball in St. Paul. He remained there through 1903 playing middle infield. During the offseason he used his time and baseball salary to obtain a law degree from the University of Cincinnati (class of 1902)

4. In 1904 he began his Major League Baseball career with the National League Cincinnati Reds. While with the Reds he led the NL in walks twice and in stolen bases once.

5. After a down year in 1909 (he was hurt), he was traded to St. Louis (the Cardinals, not the Browns) where he again won two bases on balls titles, including a career high 116 in 1910.

6. In 1913 he became player-manager for the Cards. His teams finished as low as eighth (last) and as high as third. While St. Louis manager he convinced the Cardinals to sign Rogers Hornsby to a contract.

7. His last year as a player-manager was 1916. In 1917 he served strictly as manager of the Cardinals and in 1918 he was hired by the New York Yankees as manager. He remained there the rest of his life.

8. He was one of the people who urged the Yankees to buy Babe Ruth from Boston in 1920 (club business manager Ed Barrow was another). At the end of the season Huggins had a nervous breakdown (how much Ruth had to do with that is debated) but was back in decent health in 1921 before suffering another setback with blood poisoning.

9. In 1923 he led the New York Yankees to their first ever World’s Championship by defeating the NL’s New York Giants. He would win championships again in 1927 and 1928 and an American League pennant in 1926.

10. In 1925 he installed Lou Gehrig as his primary first baseman and fined Ruth $5000 for his various antics. The joint moves are frequently credited with making Ruth a team player (although Ruth’s wife Claire is also given credit for that) and turning the Yankees into the juggernaut of the next three seasons.

11. Never in good health, Huggins picked up an infection in 1929. Late in the season he was relieved on managerial duties so that he could work on his health. He died in September.

12. In 1964 he was elected to the Hall of Fame. In 1932 he received the first monument erected in center field at Yankee Stadium. It became the first memorial in what became Monument Park. When the new Yankee Stadium was build, the Huggins memorial was moved to the new stadium.

Huggins Monument

Huggins Monument

Beat Down: the 1927 Yankees

January 12, 2016
"Jumpin'" Joe Dugan

“Jumpin'” Joe Dugan

For a lot of people for a long time, the 1927 New York Yankees are the gold standard of Major League teams. They won 109 games, road roughshod over the American League, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, and they swept the World Series. It’s that World Series that I want to look at over the next several posts. There’s a quite a bit of misinformation about it and I want to dwell on the Series in some detail. First, we need to look at both teams on the eve of the Series; winners first.

Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins had a juggernaut in 1927. His Yanks led the AL in batting, OBP, slugging, OPS, total bases, hits, runs, triples, home runs, walks, and fan. They were second in doubles. The pitching wasn’t quite as good, but they still managed to finish first in hits given up, runs, walks, and ERA. They managed to finish second in complete games, home runs allowed, and were third in strikeouts. With all that, Huggins’ chief job was to make sure the team got to the stadium on time.

The infield was better on the right side than on the left. Lou Gehrig held down first. His triple slash line read .373/.474/.765/1.240 with an OPS+ of 220 and 11.8 WAR (BBREF version). He had 447 total bases (read that number closely), 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, 173 RBIs, 218 hits, and scored 149 runs. All that got him the 1927 League Award (an early version of the current MVP). Some argued that Ruth had a better year but whether he did or didn’t, the rules didn’t allow a player to win two League Awards (that was a carryover from the old Chalmers Award where the winner got a car and no one wanted to give Ty Cobb a half-dozen cars). Ruth won the award in 1923. Tony Lazzeri, who struck out in the most famous moment of the previous World Series, played second. He wasn’t Gehrig, but he was pretty good. His triple slash line read .309/.383/.482/.866. He hit 29 doubles and 18 home runs to go with 102 RBIs and 92 runs scored for 6.3 WAR. Both men would make the Hall of Fame. The left side of the infield consisted of Mark Koenig at short and Joe Dugan at third. Koenig hit .285 with 11 triples and 69 walks, good for third on the team (behind Ruth and Gehrig). Dugan hit all of .269 with only two home runs, but was considered one of the better third sackers of his day. Mike Gazella, Ray Morehart, and Julie Wera were the backups. Both Wera and Morehart had a home run, while Gazella led the group with a .278 average. Morehart’s 20 RBIs led the three.

The outfield consisted of two Hall of Famers and another guy. The other guy was Bob Meusel. He was on the downside of his career at age 30 but still darned good. His triple slash line was .337/.393/.510/.902 with an OPS+ of 135 (4.2 WAR). He’d won a home run title a few years earlier, but had only eight in 1927. He did contribute 75 runs and 103 RBIs to the team. He also had what was universally agreed was the best outfield arm in either league. Earle Combs held down center field. His triple slash line was .356/.414/.511/.925 with an OPS+ of 141 (6.8 WAR). He led off and played center well. He scored 137 runs (third behind Ruth and Gehrig), had 36 doubles, 23 triples, 311 total bases (again behind only Ruth and Gehrig), and contributed 64 RBIs. And of course there was the Babe. This was his 60 home run year, but his other numbers were equally good. His triple slash line read .356/.486/.772/1.258 with an OPS+ of 225 (12.4 WAR), 417 total bases, 165 RBIs, 158 runs scored, 192 hits, and 29 doubles. Those three were backed up by Ben Paschal and Cedric Durst. Paschal hit .317 with two homers and saw a lot of time in the Series. Durst contributed 25 RBIs.

New York used three catchers during the season. Pat Collins did most of the work with 92 games played (89 behind the plate). He hit .275 with seven home runs, but in 311 plate appearances, he walked 54 times, good for fifth on the team. John Grabowski was his main backup. he managed .277 with 25 RBIs and 29 runs, while secondary backup Ben Bengough hit .247 in 31 games.

Five men started 20 or more games; two of them made the Hall of Fame. Lefty Herb Pennock was 19-8 with and even 3.00 ERA (3.1 WAR) and a 1.302 WHIP (he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched). Waite Hoyt was the ace. He went 22-7 with an ERA of 2.63 (5.8 WAR) and a 1.155 WHIP. His 86 strikeouts led the team. Underappreciated Urban Shocker was 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA (3.1 WAR) and 1.240 WHIP. He managed to both give up more hits than he had innings pitched and also walk more men than he struck out. Dutch Reuther did the same thing while going 13-6 with an ERA of 3.38. His WHIP ballooned to 1.380 with only 0.6 WAR. George Pipgras was the other starter. He was 10-3 with an ERA north of four, but managed to pitch more innings than he gave up hits and to also strikeout more batters than he walked. His WHIP was 1.353 with a 0.2 WAR. Wilcy Moore pitched in 50 games, but only started 12. That got him a 19-7 record with 13 saves (not yet a stat in 1927) and a 2.28 ERA (4.7 WAR). His 75 strikeouts were good for third on the team. Myles Thomas pitched in 21 games, starting nine, while Bob Shawkey earned the distinction of having, at 2-3, the only losing record on the team. He compensated by having a 2.89 ERA and striking out 23 in 43 innings and picking up four saves.

There are people who consider the ’27 Yankees as the greatest of all baseball teams. Maybe so, maybe not. Whatever you think you have to admit they were formidable. They were also, in 1927, overwhelming favorites to win the World Series.

 

 

 

 

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Yanks

July 7, 2015
'26 Yankees

’26 Yankees

The late 1920s New York Yankees were known as “Murderer’s Row”. The 1927 version is frequently cited as the greatest team ever (although other teams are also in the running). In a three-year run the team won three American League pennants, had a player establish a single season home run record, had another win the MVP, and generally run roughshod over Major League Baseball. The opening salvo was fired by the 1926 team.

Manager Miller Huggins’ team won 91 games in 1926, scoring 5.5 runs per game on average. As a team they hit .289 (third in the American League), slugged .437, had a OPS of 806, and racked up 2282 total bases. All those stats led the AL, hence the nickname. The pitching wasn’t quite as good, finished fourth in most league categories, although the team was second in strikeouts.

The infield was anchored by Hall of Fame first baseman Lou Gehrig. He hit .313, had 16 home runs, 109 RBIs, and 179 hits (all third on the team). He led the team with 20 triples. Unlike in later years, he hit fifth in the order rather than fourth. At 22, rookie, and fellow Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri played second (and hit sixth). He hit .275 with 18 home runs and 117 RBIs, both good for second on the team. The left side of the infield wasn’t as formidable. Mark Koenig played short, hit second in the lineup, had 167 hits, and scored 93 runs. Third sacker Joe Dugan was the old guy at age 29. He’d come over from Boston in 1924 and was considered one of the better defensive third baseman in the game. He hit .288 with only one home run, but struck out only 16 times.

The outfield consisted of three well established players. Bob Meusel usually held down left field, but occasionally played right. He had what is generally regarded as the best arm in the AL, so he tended to play the longer corner outfield position (in Yankee Stadium that was left field). He was 29, hit fourth, and was beginning to fade. He hit .315, but had only 12 home runs (fourth on the team), drove in 78 runs, and played only 108 games. Center Field was occupied by Hall of Famer Earle Combs. He hit .299 for the season. In the lead off spot he had 181 hits (second on the team), scored 113 runs (good for third on the team), and had an OBP of .352 (fifth among the starters). Babe Ruth was in right field. He led the AL in  home runs, RBIs, walks, OBP, Slugging, OPS, and total bases. Just your basic run of the mill Babe Ruth year. He also led the Yankees in hits (184) and batting average (.372–good for second in the AL).

Pat Collins, Benny Bengough, and Hank Severeid were the catchers. Collins did most of the work, hitting .286 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 123 (which was third among starters). Severeid got into 41 games, and hit .268, while Bengough was in 36 games. He hit .381 in 84 at bats.

The bench wasn’t particularly strong. Other than the catchers, only three players were in more than 30 games, with two others playing in at least 20. Ben Paschal did the most work (he replaced Meusel when the regular left fielder was out). He hit .287 with seven home runs and his 31 RBIs were easily the most off the bench. Ruth and Gehrig were the only everyday players whose WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) was above 3.0 (although Collins was at 3.0 exactly).

For the season, four men started over 20 games. Lefty Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock had the most with 33. He went 23-11 with an ERA of 362 (ERA+ of 107). He led the team in both wins and innings pitched. Urban Shocker (who ought to be at least considered for the Hall) pitched the next most innings (258) and managed a 19-11 record with an ERA of 3.38 (ERA+ of 114). His 71 walks led the team. Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt and Sam Jones were the other two main starters. Hoyt went 16-12 and led the Yanks in strikeouts (79) while Jones went 9-8, had an ERA north of 4.75 and led the team with five saves. Only Pennock (3.1) and Shocker (4.7) had a WAR above 3.0.

Lefty Garland Braxton led the bullpen with 37 appearances (one start), a 5-1 record, a 2.67 ERA and an ERA+ of 145. Myles Thomas and Walter Beall both pitched 20 games, as did team future manager Bob Shawkey.

It was a formidable team that won the AL pennant by only three games (over Cleveland). It’s hitting was great, it’s pitching middle of the road. It was a favorite to win the 1926 World Series.

The Colonel

March 8, 2012

Colonel Jacob Ruppert

When some talks to me about “The Colonel” I usually think of Harland Sanders first. Heck, being “Colonel Chicken” is a pretty good gig. But baseball also has it’s Colonel and he established the greatest dynasty in Major League history.

Jacob Ruppert was a second generation American born into a brewing family in New York in 1867. He spent some time in the New York National Guard, becoming an aide to the governor. That got him a promotion to Colonel and the title by which he is most commonly known. He spent time in the US Congress (1899-1907, four terms) as a Democrat Representative from New York (not all rich guys were Republicans in 1900).  He left Congress to work with his father in the brewery. Knickerbocker Beer was popular and the family made a lot of money. In 1911 Jacob Ruppert was chosen President of the United States Brewer’s Association, a job he held into 1914. In 1915 his father died and he took over the family business. A year earlier, in 1914, Jacob Ruppert bought a struggling baseball team, the New York Highlanders, and changed the face of baseball forever.

Logo allegedly based on Ruppert's stickpin

One of the first things Ruppert did was change the team nickname to “Yankees”. The famous Yankees logo showing an Uncle Sam top hat on a bat is supposed to be derived from a stickpin he wore on his lapel during World War I. The lapel is supposed to have shown an Uncle Sam top hat and the team took that and replaced the stickpin with a bat. I’ve looked at a lot of pictures of Ruppert and have to admit I can’t find a copy of the pin (maybe I’ve just overlooked it), so I can’t verify the tale, but it does make a good story.

Ed Barrow

Rupert understood that he had a potential goldmine in the American League team in New York, but he also had a team that wasn’t very good. It took a few years, but he began to create a team that could compete for the AL title on a yearly basis. One of his most important acquisitions was Ed Barrow. Barrow had been secretary and some-time manager of the Boston Red Sox in the late 19-teens. Ruppert brought him over to run the team as secretary (a position more or less equivilent to the modern general manager). It was a match that worked and the two men became the brain trust behind the Yankees pennant winning teams (certainly better than the Soggy Bottom Boys brain trust of “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?”). One of Barrow’s first suggestions was for the Yankees to purchase Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. Ruth became an instant star in New York and the Yankees started winning. Ruppert, a second generation American from Germany, had a noticable accent and generally refered to the Babe as “Root.” Actually, that’s OK. In German a “th” (as in Ruth) is frequently pronounced as a “t” so “Root” was a good pronunciation, if you were German. It did get a number of gags going in the press including one that asked if Ruth was going to hit third and Root fourth.

Through a series of good trades, timely purchases, good scouting, and sheer luck, the Yankees under Ruppert and Barrow produced great team after great team. They picked up Miller Huggins to manage the team, found a college slugger named Lou Gehrig to play first, went to San Francisco to look at a prospect named Joe DiMaggio, traded for Red Ruffing and Herb Pennock, and had a scout tell them about Bill Dickey. In each case they decided to pick up the player and the team won year after year. Between 1921 and 1938 (Ruppert died in 1939 before the season began) the Yankees won 10 pennants and 7 World Series’ and produced great player after great player. The 1927 team in frequently cited as the greatest of all Major League teams. Recent works have added the 1939 team (which was put together on Ruppert’s watch) as the greatest of all Major League teams. Pick either and the common denominators are Ruppert and Barrow.

Ruppert was not first into the farm system (Branch Rickey gets that honor), but saw immediately the promise of the system and got the Yankees into it quickly. Unfortunately, it got Ruppert into one of the great controversies of his career (letting Ruth go was the other). He bought a minor league team in Kansas City. The team came with a stadium that happened to have integrated seating. Ruppert immediately segregated the seating, moving black fans to the far reaches of the stadium. It got him into some trouble with the press, but he had the backing of the powers that be in the Majors Leagues (including Judge Landis) and survived with little problem.

Jacob Ruppert died in January 1939 in New York. One of the last people to visit him was Babe Ruth. They parted friends, despite past arguments over Ruth’s contract. Ruth always thought that Ruppert was generous with his money but stingy with praise (DiMaggio thought Ruppert was tight with a buck). He’s buried in the mausoleum pictured below.

Ruppert tomb

Occasionally I’m asked who I think is the best player currently not in the Hall of Fame (and eligible). My answer is Jeff Bagwell. But if the question is “who’s the most deserving baseball figure not currently in the Hall of Fame?” then I have a different answer. Because other executives and contributors are enshrined in Cooperstown, I pick Jacob Ruppert.

1910: Cardinals Postmortem

September 3, 2010

By 1910 there was nothing to indicate how important the St. Louis Cardinals would be to the 20th Century National League. The Cardinals in the first decade of the century were terrible. There was no change in 1910.

For the entire period of the Deadball Era (1900-20) the Cardinals  finished with the worst record in the National League. At least in 1910 they weren’t last. The Cards finished seventh with a 63-90 record, 40.5 games out of first.

Manager Roger Bresnahan simply didn’t have a lot to work with at St. Louis, installing himself as the backup catcher and even pitching one inning of one game. He hit .273, stole 13 bases, had 15 doubles, scored 35 runs, and was easily the best player on a woeful bench. The entire bench failed to hit a home run (the Cards finished last in homers) and no one other than Bresnahan had double figure runs scored.

Which brings me to the starters. Most of them were at least a bit better than the bench. First baseman Ed Konetchy hit .302, slugged .425, and led the team with 78 RBIs. Outfielder Rube Ellis hit all of four home runs to lead the team. Miller Huggins, future Hall of Fame manager, led the NL in walks, stole a team high 34 bases, and his 101 runs scored led the team and was good for second in the NL. The team as a whole finished fifth in runs, sixth in average and slugging, and first in walks.

The problem  with the hitting was nothing compared to the pitching. The team finished last in ERA, strikeouts, shutouts, and first in hits allowed.  Twenty-four year old lefty Johnny Lush ( please tell me he wasn’t a drinker) led the team with 14 wins and was the only pitcher with a winning record (14-13). Unfortunately he had more walks than strikeouts and more hits than innings pitched. Of  the six Cardinals pitchers who pitched in 10 or more games, four gave up both more hits than innings pitched and had more walks than strikeouts. Bob Harmon managed to lead the NL with 133 walks while striking out only 87. His ERA was 4.46, a gigantic ERA for a Deadball pitcher with 33 starts.

All in all, St. Louis didn’t look good in 1910 and didn’t look like it could compete for a pennant in 1911 (they moved up to fifth in 1911). The hitting wasn’t all that bad, although it wasn’t all that good either (Can you say “mediocre”?). But if the pitching didn’t improve the team would continue to flounder. The pitching didn’t, and the team did.

The Way to Win: Murder’s Row

August 4, 2010

Miller Huggins in 1927

Let me start with a disclaimer: I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a Yankees fan. Having said that, I acknowledge they are the most successful franchise in Major League baseball. That statement lends itself to an obvious question. How do they do it? You can argue it’s money, but it wasn’t just money in 1923 when they won their first title. I’ve begun to look at the great Yankees dynasties (1926-28, 1936-43, 1949-64, 1976-1981, and 1996-2001) and discovered those teams are actually a lot alike. 

All the great Yankees dynasties have the following things in common: 1) they have a good manager, 2) there are a few true greats on the team, 3) there are some really quality players in other positions, 4) there are a number of role players, 5) there are some one year wonders. You can look at other teams throughout baseball history and find the same thing (and you can add in things like a deep bench and good relief pitching for the more modern teams), so it’s not just the Yankees system of winning, but they do it best. It seems these traits, not the stockpiling of stars, are essential to winning. 

To provide a quick example, here’s a look at one of those Yankees teams. 

The 1926-1928 Murder’s Row Yankees were skippered by Miller Huggins. He was an ex-middle infielder who had a decent, but not spectacular career. He won a couple of walks titles in the first few years of the 20th Century and managed the Cardinals without much success prior to taking over at New York in 1918. He provided a steady hand and a calming influence on a team that could be wild. 

The Murder’s Row Yankees had two all-time greats on the team: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Both were simply great in 1927 and 1928 and 1926 was Gehrig’s coming out party. Behind them the Yankees fielded a number of really good players who could step up on days the two stars were not doing well. Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, and Waite Hoyt all made the Hall of Fame and Urban Shocker could do so someday (if somebody will just look at his numbers). 

Bob Meusel had been in the “really good” category in the early 1920s, but by 1926-28 had slipped to a role player. Mark Koenig, Joe Dugan, and the various catchers (Pat Collins, Hank Severeid, Johnny Grabowski) all fill the bill.  The one-year wonders are Wilcy Moore in 1927 and George Pipgras in 1928 (although Pipgras also had a decent 1929). 

I want to do follow-up posts on the other dynasties to show it’s not just the “Yankees way” of winning. I’m also certain I’m not the first person to determine what it takes to win, but I find this instructive (but not predictive of the next dynasty). Feel free to add your own criteria to the list.

Opening Day, 1910: St. Louis (NL)

April 12, 2010

Miller Huggins (1910)

I asked myself one day which National League team had the worst overall record in the Deadball Era. Answer: the St. Louis Cardinals. Considering what they’ve meant to baseball since, I find that a lot strange. By the start of the 1910 season, the last time they’d seen the first division was 1901. In 1909 they finished 56 games out of first.

In 1909 they picked up a new manager, Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan. He immediately inserted himself as the backup catcher and almost as quickly came into conflict with most of his players. He was from the Giants, had been Christy Mathewson’s catcher, and was a student of John McGraw. The Cardinals weren’t very Giantlike and it created problems for Bresnahan.

The team, as befits a seventh place finisher, underwent major changes going into the 1910 season. Half the starters were new. Ed Konetchy was still at first and hitting cleanup, but Miller Huggins was over from Cincinnati to play second and leadoff. Arnie Howser was now the shortstop and eight hitter, with Mike Mowrey, a previous backup, taking over at third and hitting seventh.

The outfield consisted of holdovers Rube Ellis in left and Steve Evans in right, They hit second and fifth. The new guys was Rebel Oakes, like Huggins, from Cincinnati. He took the three hole. And the regular catcher was seven hitter Ed Phelps.

The bench was Bresnahan catching, Rudy Hulwitt the backup middle infielder, Frank Betcher another backup infielder, and Ody Abbott as the fourth outfielder. It wasn’t much of a bench,, Bresnahan being the only one to manage .250 during the season.

The pitching staff of 1909 consisted of six guys who failed to break even on the mound. Fred Beebe, Johnny Lush, Slim Sallee, Bob Harmon, Charlie Rhodes, and Les Backman are all pretty obscure, and there’s a reason for that. Only Sallee would ever do much. By 1910 Beebe was gone, replaced by Vic Willis who came to St. Louis from pennant winning Pittsburgh. Eddie Higgins, 1909’s bullpen man, managed only two games in 1910 and was ultimately replaced by committee. There just wasn’t much of an improvement for the staff over the offseason.

There was very little reason for hope in St. Louis as the 1910 season began. The changes were insignificant, but at least the average age of the pitchers had gone from  23 to 26, so the added maturity might be a blessing. Also Huggins appeared to be a real player and Bresnahan’s fire was encouraging. But when you’ve just finished 56 games out, you need more than maturity and fire. You need talent.

Next: Boston