Posts Tagged ‘Monte Irvin’

Good Bye to 2016

December 29, 2016
Hopefully I won't have to be this old before the Dodgers win

Hopefully I won’t have to be this old before the Dodgers win

Another baseball season is over. The winners are crowned, the loser mourned. The postseason awards are announced, the winter meetings are through, and the Veteran’s Committee has spoken. Here, in my usual nine things for nine innings format, are a few random thoughts on what we saw (and didn’t see) in 2016.

1. The Cubs finally won. It hadn’t happened in 108 years and the Cubs fans are joyous. But I wonder if some of the mystique that surrounded the Cubs wasn’t harmed. The “loveable loser” moniker is gone, as is the “sit in the sun, drink beer, and don’t worry about the score” motif of Cubsdom is over. Will it hurt the overall fan base, or not. I have no idea.

2. Can the Angels find a pitcher? They have Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the Major Leagues in a long time. They have Albert Pujols, a shadow of what he was at St. Louis, but still a formidable player (He had 119 RBIs and needs nine homers for 600). C. J. Cron is 26 and Kole Calhoun is 29. And they still can’t win. Maybe the problem is the staff, maybe it’s the coaching staff (Scioscia hasn’t led them very far in a while), but they just don’t win.

3. Sticking with the West Coast, but moving to Chavez Ravine, we say good-bye to Vin Scully who, for 67 years, graced us with his voice, his wit, his stories. I liked Jack Buck and Dizzy Dean. I liked Bob Prince and Russ Hodges, but there was only one Vin. Maybe he’ll be the first broadcaster elected to the Hall of Fame itself, not just to the broadcasters niche. And the Dodgers answered the question, “who needs an ace?” by rattling off a ton of wins with Clayton Kershaw injured.

4. I loved that Royals team that won in 2014 and 2015, but injuries and free agency have taken their toll. I’d love to see them back in the mix again, but I’m afraid it will have to be with a very different set of players. That’s a shame; they were fun to watch.

5. Then there’s Cleveland. They now have the longest streak of not having won the World Series (since 1948). It’s a good team with a very good manager and I’d like to see them break their streak (but not at the expense of my Dodgers). And sticking with the Indians, I hope the Terry Francona method of using his relievers in key situations, not just the ninth inning, catches on.

6. So Bud Selig is now a Hall of Famer. OK, I guess. There have been better choices and there have been worse choices. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza also made it. They were better, and easier, choices.

7. We lost W.P. Kinsella this year. He gave us the book Shoeless Joe, which in turn gave us the movie Field of Dreams. We also lost Hall of Famer Monte Irvin and broadcast legend Joe Garagiola, and  current pitcher Felix Fernandez, among others.

8. Dan Duquette is an honest man. He told us that the Orioles weren’t interested in Jose Bautista because the fans didn’t like him. OK, I guess. It’s honest, but I don’t know how much baseball sense it makes. Thoughts, Bloggess?

9. Buck Showalter is getting another year. He’s a fine manager, but he’s gotta know when to bring in his relief ace.

And finally it’s time for my annual Dodgers rallying cry “Wait ’til next year.” Why change the cry now; it’s been good for 28 years.

 

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RIP Monte Irvin

February 4, 2016
Monte Irvin with the Newark Eagles

Monte Irvin with the Newark Eagles

I realize that Monte Irvin died a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to save my few comments on him until Black History Month. Considering his pioneering position it seemed appropriate.

I remember Irvin slightly. I don’t recall his glory years in either the Negro Leagues (that was before my time) or while he starred with New York (the Giants, not the Yankees) but I remember seeing him on TV as his Giants career was closing and I remember the Cubs year. He was never a favorite of mine. I was more interested in Willie Mays and Al Dark, Sal Maglie and Johnny Antonelli on that 1950s Giants team than I was in Irvin. I don’t think I ever had an Irvin baseball card (but I did have all the others I mentioned).

As I got older and he was long retired I began to understand the tragedy of the segregated Negro League stars and guys like Irvin, guys who actually got to play in the white Major Leagues but did so after their greatness was diminished by age or by the catcalls and slights of the earliest integration period. I found out later that many people thought Irvin would be the man to finally break down the “color barrier” and integrate the Major Leagues. He supposedly had all the right qualifications. He was a good player, he was quiet, he didn’t showboat, but he was 26 in 1946 and people were beginning to think he’d missed his chance. Jackie Robinson was about a month older than Irvin, both born in 1919 (Robinson in January, Irvin in February). So it seems it came down to Branch Rickey’s preference for Robinson over Irvin and he never got to be “the one.”

He won a Negro World Series (1946) with the Newark Eagles while playing shortstop with Larry Doby at second and Hilton Smith pitching. All three, along with owner Effa Manley and manager Biz Mackey, made the Hall of Fame. When the Giants picked him up they didn’t need a shortstop (there was Al Dark), but they needed outfield help. Irvin went to the outfield and roamed it with Mays and with Don Mueller (in the 1954 squad). They lost a World Series in 1951, won another in 1954. He hit .293 in the regular season but was a .394 hitter in the Series. For his career he managed 99 home runs, peaking at 24 in 1951, led the National League in RBIs in the same year with 121 and every year of his career he walked more than he struck out (except his final season when he broke even with 41 of each). His OPS+ is 125 and he ended with 21.3 WAR.

He made the Hall of Fame in 1973 as a Negro League inductee. He only had eight years in the Major Leagues so it was the only way he could go in. In retirement he did some scouting for the Mets and became the man for public relations in the Commissioner’s Office in 1968. It made him the highest black officer in Major League Baseball. He retired in 1984 and died at 96.

We are, as fans, better off because Monte Irvin graced a baseball diamond. He gave us a lesson in class and in dignity. Rest in Peace, Monte.

 

“You’re a Better Man…

February 4, 2015

…than I am, Gunga Din.”–Rudyard Kipling

playbill for the movie version of "Gunga Din"

playbill for the movie version of “Gunga Din”

As with most baseball fans I was saddened by the recent death of Ernie Banks. He was, by all accounts, a better man than a ballplayer and he was one heck of a good ballplayer. I never met him myself, but he’s one of a handful of the true greats that I’d really have liked to know.

But Banks was more than a good man and a good ballplayer, he was also a pioneer. I presume a few of you don’t know that he was the first black player in Chicago Cubs history. He was the first great Major League black shortstop. His hitting was superb (he won 2 MVP awards), his fielding was better than a lot of people would like you to believe, but he wasn’t Ozzie Smith either. He set the pattern for the big, powerful shortstop in the same way that Eddie Matthews set the standard at third base. It took a long time for it to register on the baseball world what Banks had done, but eventually other players like Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez followed in his path (although it’s fair to say that Ripken was the true catalyst of the new type of shortstop). Although not power hitters in the way of Banks both Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter are also in the Banks mold.

With his passing we are down to six of the players who originally integrated the 16 original teams of the 1950s: Monte Irvin (Giants), Minnie Minoso (White Sox), Ozzie Virgil, Sr. (Tigers), Pumpsie Green (Red Sox), and both Nino Escalara and Chuck Harmon (who both played for the Reds on the same day). Let’s take a minute here and remember them. Each should have his number retired by his team in the same way and for the same reason that all of Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s 42. Irvin and Minoso have already received this honor (as have a couple of the deceased players like Banks), but I’d like to see it done by all those teams that were once segregated, without reference to the quality of the player.

It seems like the right thing to do. After all they went through to get to the big leagues and then what they went through upon arrival, it’s the least we can do. And after all they went through they are, at least in a baseball sense, like Gunga Din; better men than most of us.

 

“The Biggest Upset Since Harry Truman”

November 24, 2014
Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes

The death of Alvin Dark got me looking at the 1950s Giants. So I was reading an article on Willie Mays the other day. That article got me thinking about the 1954 World Series, so I started doing some research on it. In doing so, I ran across another article that made the claim that makes the title of this article (see how A leads to B leads to C, etc.). In 1948 Truman was supposed to lose to Thomas Dewey and didn’t. In 1954 the New York Giants were supposed to lose to the American League record-breaking Cleveland Indians.

The Indians won 111 games in 1954, a record since surpassed. They did it primarily by beating up on the AL also-rans, but it was still a formidable team. Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn were the mainstays of the mound. Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Feller was in the twilight of his career, but still put up 13 wins, while Mike Garcia had 19. In the bullpen Don Mossi, Ray Narleski, and Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser provided relief work. Second baseman Bobby Avila won a batting title, Larry Doby led the AL in home runs and RBIs, and Al Rosen was fourth in the league in slugging and OPS, fifth in OBP and home runs. For manager Al Lopez it was a formidable team.

Their opponent was the New York Giants, led my Leo Durocher. Although not as seeming invincible as the Indians, the Giants were also good. They won 97 games with Johnny Antonelli, Ruben Gomez, and Sal Maglie on the mound. Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm provided much of the relief work as the premier right hander out of the bullpen. Marv Grissom complimented him from the left side. Outfielder and Hall of Famer Willie Mays led the National League in batting, slugging, triples, OPS, and OPS+ (just your typical Mays year). Don Mueller hit over .300, while Monte Irvin coming off a down year completed the outfield. Hank Thompson and Al Dark both had 20 home runs, and pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes had 15.

Game one is primarily famous for Willie Mays making the great catch in center field to keep the game tied. Rhodes later won it with a home run in the tenth inning. Game two was also close with the Giants winning 3-1 and Rhodes again contributing a home run. Moving to Cleveland for game three, the Giants took control and won game three 6-2. They were already ahead by six runs when Cleveland finally scored their first run. Game four was something of a foregone conclusion. The Giants put up seven runs before Cleveland scored and coasted to a 7-4 victory to close out the Series.

This brings up two obvious questions: “What went wrong for the Indians?” and “What did the Giants do right?” They are, of course, two parts of a single question, “what the heck happened to cause the Indians to lose and the Giants to win?”

The Cleveland pitching staff had a terrible World Series. They had a 4.84 ERA, gave up 33 hits and 21 runs (19 earned) in 35.1 innings. Garcia started one game and ended up with an ERA of 5.40. He gave up three earned runs and four walks in five innings (he did manage to strike out four). Lemon was worse. In two games he gave up 16 hits, 10 earned runs, and eight walks in 13.1 innings (with 11 strikeouts). The bullpen (and Early Wynn) did much better, although Newhouser gave up a run, a hit, and a walk without getting anybody out.

The hitting wasn’t much better. Of the starters, only Vic Wertz (who hit the famous ball that Mays caught) hit above .250 (Rosen hit right on .250). He and Hank Majeski tied for the team lead with three RBIs, while Wertz and Al Smith were the only players with more than one run scored (each had two). Larry Doby struck out four times

The Giants pitching did better. It’s ERA was 1.46, giving up six total earned runs (and three unearned–the Giants had seven errors) and 26 hits in 37 innings. Maglie’s 2.57 ERA was the team high. Neither Grissom nor Wilhelm gave up a run out of the bullpen.

New York hitting beat Cleveland to death. Dark, Mueller, Rhodes, and Thompson all hit over .350 while both Mays and catcher Wes Westrum both topped .250. Rhodes had seven RBIs, Thompson scored six runs, and both Mays and Mueller scored four runs. Irvin (who had a bad Series) and Westrum led the team with three strikeouts, while Mays walked four times. Rhodes OPS was 2.381 (Wertz at 1.493 topped the Indians starters).

There was no Series MVP in 1954 (it began the next year), but most people presume Rhodes would have won it. Maybe, but the entire Giants team did well (except Irvin and Whitey Lockman).

It was, besides being a huge upset, a fluke World Series. Cleveland had not finished first since 1948 and wouldn’t do so again until 1995. For the Giants, it was their first since 1950 and they wouldn’t be back until 1962 when they were no longer the New York Giants, but had become the San Francisco Giants. The next year it would be back to the normal Yankees-Dodgers World Series.

RIP Alvin Dark

November 18, 2014
Al Dark

Al Dark

Saw that Alvin Dark died last week. He was 92 and largely forgotten. But he was a significant player and a big league manager of note.

Dark came out of Oklahoma and attended what is now Louisiana-Lafayette excelling in both baseball and football. He was drafted in 1945 by the Philadelphia Eagles football team, but chose to play baseball. He made it to the Boston Braves for a 1946 cup of coffee. While there, he  hit .231 and was sent back to the Minors (Milwaukee). In 1948 he was up for good playing shortstop well enough to earn the second ever Rookie of the Year Award (there was only one award in 1948, not one in each league). Boston got to the World Series, lost in six games to Cleveland, and Dark managed to come in third in the MVP voting.

He remained in Boston in 1949, then was sent to New York where he anchored a Giants infield that included Eddie Stanky and Hank Thompson. They finished third. The next year the Giants tied the Dodgers for first place in the National League and Dark participated in the most famous of all playoff series. Whitey Lockman had joined the team at first and an outfield of Monte Irvin, Don Mueller, and rookie Willie Mays helped the team go 50-12 at the end of the season. Dark managed to lead the National League in doubles that season (the only time he led the league in any significant hitting stat). In the famous ninth inning of the third game, Dark led off with a single, went to second on another and came home with the first run of the inning. Later Bobby Thomson hit his “Giants win the pennant” homer and everybody forgot Dark began the rally.

He hit .417 in the World Series with a home run, but the Giants lost. Dark remained with the Giants through 1955, helping them to a World Series sweep in 1954. He hit .412 and scored a couple of runs in the Series. He played part of 1956 in New York, but ended up in St. Louis. He remained with the Cardinals into 1958, then was sent to Chicago. We was with the Cubs two years, then spent the 1960 season, his last between the Phillies and the Braves.

A trade sent him back to the Giants. He retired to take over as the Giants manager in 1961. They finished third. The next year he took them to their first World Series since the 1954 sweep and their first since moving to San Francisco. They took the Yankees to seven games before losing 2-1 in the last game.

He stayed in San Francisco through 1964 when he was fired (during the sixth inning of the final game). He worked with Kansas City (the A’s, not the Royals) becoming manager in 1966 and part of 1967, when he fell victim to one of Charlie Finley’s tantrums. That sent him to Cleveland until 1971 where he managed and for a while doubled as general manager. In 1974 he was back with the A’s (now in Oakland) and led the team to the final of three consecutive World Series triumphs (Dick Williams managed the other two wins). The A’s got to the playoffs in 1975, lost, and Dark was fired. He managed one year in San Diego (1977) then retired.

For his career he hit .289, had an OBP of .333, slugged .411, and ended up with an OPS of .744 (OPS+ of 98). He led the NL in doubles the one time and had 2089 hits, 358 total doubles, 72 triples, 126 home runs, and 757 RBIs to go with 1064 runs scored. His Baseball Reference.com version of WAR is 43.1. As a fielder he was considered more than capable. He led the league in putouts, assists, double plays, and errors at various times in his career. Over his career, he made three All Star teams. His Hall of Fame voting percentage peaked at 18.5% in 1979.

During his managerial career there was some question about his view of black players. In 1964, he made a questionable comment about their baseball smarts which some considered racist. But both Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson came to his defense.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, Dark’s been largely forgotten. But he was a key player on three pennant winners, one World Series winner, and managed in two World Series contests, winning one. RIP, Alvin.

The Best of the Giants

May 27, 2013
Will Clark

Will Clark

It’s been a while since I stuck my foot deep in my mouth and picked an all-time team for a franchise. So it’s time to do it again. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this month dealing with the Giants, especially the New York version, so it seems like a good franchise to work with now.

A few caveats first (you knew I’d do that, right?). Let me start with a simple disclaimer: I’ve never been a particular Giants fan. Growing up supporting the Dodgers, there’s not a lot of nice things to say about the Giants (only the Yankees are as deep in perdition as the Giants). That means I’ll admit to being less than confident about my choices, but it’s the best I can do using only research and a few memories. Second, I put together a 25 man roster that does not mirror a Major League roster, but it’s my list and I get to do it my way. There are nine infielders, five outfielders, two catchers, and nine pitchers. I decided to go with three bullpen men and six men who were primarily starters. I also picked a manager (bet you can guess him). Finally there are no players whose primary career is before the advent of the mound. There are som really fine Giants prior to 1892, like Roger Connor, Tim Keefe, Mike Tiernan, but they play a game that is different, so different I decided to drop them from consideration.

So with all that said, here we go diving in where God knows what we will find. Each list is alphabetical.

The Infield:  Will Clark, Al Dark, George Davis, Art Fletcher, Frankie Frisch, Travis Jackson, Jeff Kent, Johnny Mize, Willie McCovey.

Did you ever notice that the Giants have produced an inordinate number of quality first basemen? I chose McCovey, Mize, and Clark (and Cepeda spent a lot of time at first) and left out Hall of Fame first sackers Bill Terry and George Kelly. Frankly, I didn’t really have to think that hard about it. The only hard choice was Mize, who spent significant time with both St. Louis and the Yankees. I decided he was in. If they’ve had great first basemen, they’ve had mediocre third basemen. I went with Fletcher as the only third baseman because the rest of the list was Fred Lindstrom and Jim Davenport and guys like that. OK, maybe I should have considered Sandoval, but as a rule I like to stay away from current players because we don’t know how they’re stay with their team will go (but see Posey below). Short and second were mixed bags. Frisch, Kent, and Larry Doyle stood out but there wasn’t much below them. Short on the other hand had more quality players, but no one at the level of either Frisch or Kent. I left off Dave Bancroft and added Dark which may strike some as odd, but I suppose it’s merely a personal preference. And of course Jackson (who was in the top 10 Giants in WAR, which surprised me) played third toward the end of his career. 

The Outfield: Barry Bonds, Orlando Cepeda, Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Mel Ott.

There is Bonds (whatever you think of him as a person or as a steroids user), there is Mays, and there is Ott. Everyone else is a huge drop, a really huge drop. You could make an argument that across the three outfield positions (left, center, and right) the Giants may have the best starting outfield ever. But you need backups and at the point you get past the big three you end up with a lot of quality outfielders. Cepeda’s knees sent him to first, but he began in the outfield. Irvin was a converted middle infielder who lost several years to segregation. Both are just short of the top-tier. I had to leave out both Felipe and Matty Alou, which I was sorry to do because I’d liked both when they played. Jeff Leonard and Kevin Mitchell were good for too short a time to be considered at the top.

The Catchers: Roger Bresnahan and Buster Posey.

OK, who else was there? Look at the Giants’ list of catchers and tell me you like anyone better. As a rule, Giants catching has been very weak. Buck Ewing is excluded as a pre-1890s player.  Hank Severeid maybe, but if that’s the best you can do then we’re stuck with these two. I hesitate to pick a current player like Posey, but it’s a really weak position and Posey has the advantage of coming to the Giants and they win a World Series. Then he gets hurt and they falter. Then he’s healthy again and they win another World Series. That’s a pretty good legacy, isn’t it?

The Starters: Carl Hubbell, Juan Marichal, Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Gaylord Perry, Amos Rusie.

You know, you could make a pretty fair five man rotation for the Giants just using pitchers whose last name began with the letter “M”. You could dump those bums Perry and Rusie and insert Rube Marquard and Sal Maglie and still have a darned good staff. I didn’t. I have a feeling that in a few years both Lincecum and Cain will be getting some consideration on lists like this.

The Bullpen: Rod Beck, Rob Nen, Hoyt Wilhelm.

Not the strongest part of the Giants history. Wilhelm made the Hall of Fame, but his tenure with New York was relatively short. Most of his Cooperstown credentials are from other teams. Nen and Beck are simply one, two in saves, so why not?

The Manager: John J. McGraw.

Surely you saw that coming.

So there it is in all its glory; for good ,bad, or indifferent. I think it’s a pretty fair list, but I’m sure a lot of people will disagree. Feel free to do so. (I have this nagging feeling I’ve left somebody out).

The Last Win in New York

May 16, 2013
Willie Mays as a New York Giant

Willie Mays as a New York Giant

You’ve all seen the film. Willie Mays turns, runs back, his cap goes off, he reaches out, the ball falls in his mitt and he turns to fire the ball back to the infield. It’s the famous catch off Vic Wertz’s bat and is one of the handful of most famous plays in World Series history. It occurred in 1954, the last stand of the New York Giants in postseason.

The 1954 Giants were a team coming off a down season in 1953. After winning the National League pennant in 1951, they’d dropped to second in 1952, then fallen to fifth in 1953. It was much the same team, but with a couple of significant changes. Wes Westrum was still the catcher. He hit under the Mendoza Line for the season, but was a decent catcher. He’d led the league in caught stealing a couple of times, but also in passed balls (more on that later). The infield was Whitey Lockman, Davey Williams, Alvin Dark, and Hank Thompson. They had all been around in 1953. Dark and Thompson both hit 20 plus home runs with Dark leading the infield with a .293 average. Hall of Famer Monte Irvin and Don Mueller patrolled the outfield corners. Irvin had 19 home runs and Mueller hit .342. But the big change was the return of Willie Mays from the military. Mays hit .345, slugged .667, had an OPS+ of 175 and hit 41 home runs with 110 RBIs. He was also, of course, a superb center fielder.

The pitching staff consisted of Johnny Antonelli having a career year, Ruben Gomez continuing his run as a starter, and 37-year-old Sal Maglie contributing 14 wins. The closer was Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm, whose knuckleball accounted for most of Westrum’s passed balls. Manager Leo Durocher’s bench was fairly thin, but ace pinch hitter and sometime outfielder Dusty Rhodes hit .341, had an OPS+ of 181 (higher than Mays).

The Giants weren’t favored in 1954, the Dodgers were. But the Giants went 25-19 against Brooklyn and Milwaukee (the other NL teams that played .500 ball) while the Dodgers were only19-25. The six games made a difference as New York took the pennant by five games, posting a 97-57 record.

They drew record-setting Cleveland in the World Series. The Indians had rolled to an American League record 111 wins (since bettered) but the number was deceiving. They’d feasted on the second division teams and played only so-so against the first division. There were no second division teams in the Series. Behind Mays’ famous catch, Rhodes two home runs, Dark’s .412 average, and pitching that held Cleveland to a .190 average New York swept the Indians in four games.

For the Giants it was the end. In 1955 they finished third. In both 1956 and 1957 they were sixth (of eight teams). By 1958 they were no longer the New York Giants. They moved to San Francisco at the end of the 1957 season. They had been a great franchise in the 1880s and had gone on to glory in the first 25 years of the 20th Century. After that they were sporadically good, but had become the third team in New York (behind both the Yankees and Dodgers). The 1954 season was their last hurrah. They would not win again until the 21st Century.

The First Generation

February 23, 2011

I want to look at something I found that is just a bit unusual. I’ll be the first to admit that I looked at the initial generation of black players to make the Major Leagues as guys whose careers are incomplete. After all, so my argument went, they lost so much time to segregation that we only have a part of their career to study. Turns out that argument is only partially true. In the case of older players like Sam Jethroe or Luke Easter or Satchel Paige or Willard Brown it’s correct. But there is another group of first generation blacks who don’t fit at all into that argument. In what you’re about to read, do not forget that this is a  very small sample of players and is nothing like a definitive look at all the players of the era.

Among the players who first integrated the Major Leagues were a number of younger up and coming players. I looked at some of them with an eye toward determining if what we had was something like a full career. I took the players who integrated their teams prior to 1951 then eliminated those guys like Jethroe and the others mentioned above who I knew had established Negro League careers of long duration. I concentrated on their ages. There was some differences in the posted age of various players so I went with Baseball-Reference.com’s age (right or wrong, it is at least a starting point). By concentrating on the Rookies of the Year and a handful of other players who came quickly to mind I put together the following list of first generation players who were relatively young (At my age “young” is always relative) and spent time in the Negro Leagues before 1951: 20-Willie Mays; 21-Hank Thompson; 23-Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso,  Don Newcombe; 24-Jim Gilliam; 26-Roy Campanella; 28-Joe Black, Jackie Robinson; and 30-Monte Irvin. They average 24.6 years of age when they arrive in the Major Leagues, and if you leave out Irvin, the oldest, it’s 24.0. Now let’s be honest here. Obviously under a normal career progression, guys like Irvin are already passed their prime and both Black and Robinson are right in the heart of theirs. And Campanella is also different in that he’d been playing Negro League ball since age 16. So even within this group, a number have lost significant time to Negro League play, just not all. This list also leaves out players like Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks who come up later and, at least to me, aren’t quite members of that first generation of black Major Leaguers.

So I wondered was 24.6 “old” for a rookie in the 1947-1955 era? For comparison I took a like number of white players. I went to the Rookie of the Year list and took the white players from 1948 through 1955 trying to come up with 10 names, two of which were pitchers. Here’s the list: 21-Harvey Kuenn; 22-Roy Sievers, Herb Score; 23-Gil McDougald; 24-Bill Virdon, Wally Moon, Bob Grim; 25-Harry Byrd; 26-Alvin Dark, Walt Dropo.  The average age here is 23.8, or less than one year difference. And if you leave out Dropo (who with Dark is the oldest), you get 23.4.

The point of all this is not to compare the black players with the white players, although you can if you want. The point is that there is a group of Negro League players who arrive in the Major Leagues at about the same age as white counterparts so we may look at their Major League careers as being as substantially complete as those white counterparts. That doesn’t mean that special circumstances might have changed the age the player arrived in the Major Leagues, only that both groups arrive at roughly the same age. 

Of the black list above only Irvin and Joe Black are older than the oldest of the white players. Campanella is the same age as the oldest white player. As mentioned above, this doesn’t mean that the careers should be directly compared; only that the black players, like the white players, have careers that are substantially complete. It does mean that should you ask if Jim Gilliam was as good as Wally Moon (both were 24 when they arrived in the Majors), you can look over their career stats, and then make a judgement without wondering how much did Gilliam lose to his Negro League career. I think that’s worth noting. What you decide about either Gilliam and Moon is up to you.

The Last Great Negro League World Series

February 18, 2011

Although the signing of black players to Major League teams began the end for the Negro Leagues, they managed to hold a World Series as late as 1948. But by 1948 the Negro Leagues were on life support. They still had good players. Willie Mays played in the last Negro League World Series (his team lost). But as a whole the leagues were dying. At the end of 1948 the Negro National League folded. But prior to losing most of their best players to the white leagues, the Negro Leagues had one last great Series in 1946.

As with the Major League World Series (won in 1946 by the Cardinals), the Negro League World Series was a best of seven. The 1946 version featured the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. The Monarchs were a well established team that had been victories in previous Negro League World Series’ going all the way back to the 1920s. Manager and back-up catcher Frank Duncan’s team featured NAL batting champion Buck O’Neill at first, Hank Thompson at second, Herb Souell at third, and Series hitting star Chico Renfroe at short (Renfroe had backed up Jackie Robinson earlier). The outfield consisted of Willard Brown in center flanked by Ted Strong in right and a whole group of left fielders including pitchers Robert Griffith and Ford  Smith. The catcher was Joe Greene, who caught a staff that included Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, Ford Smith, Chet Brewer, and James LaMarque.

1946 KC Monarchs

The Negro National League winning Newark Eagles weren’t nearly as famous. In fact, their owner, Effa Manley, may have been more famous than the team. They’d never won before, but put up a 47-16 record to take the pennant. Manager Biz Mackey’s (like Duncan the back-up catcher)  infield consisted of  Lennie Pearson at first, Larry Doby at second, Clarence Israel at third, and  Monte Irvin at short.  Cherokee Davis and Bob Harvey patrolled the outfield with pitcher Leon Day taking the other position on days he didn’t pitch. Regular catcher Leon Ruffin backstopped a staff that included Day, Max Manning, Lennie Hooker, and Rufus Lewis.

1946 Newark Eagles

The first two games were in Newark, with the teams splitting the games. Kansas City won the first game 2-1 with a fine relief performance by Paige, who also scored the winning run. Newark evened the Series the next day winning 7-4. The key to the game was a six run rally in the 7th inning. Paige relieved again, and this time the Eagles got to him with Doby providing a key home run.

The Series moved to Kansas City for games 3-5. The first two games in KC were blowouts. In game 3, the Monarchs racked up 15 runs and 21 hits in crushing Newark who put up five runs on seven hits. The Eagles got revenge in game 4, winning 8-1. Doby doubled and tripled for the key runs. Paige again relieved and was again ineffective. Game 5 saw Newark collect ten hits, but score only one run, while the Monarchs made five runs on nine hits. In a key development, right fielder Ted Strong left the Monarchs to play ball in the Puerto Rico winter league making it necessary for pitcher Ford Smith to take his post in right.

With Newark down 3-2, the Series went back to the East Coast. Game 6 developed into an offensive slugfest. Irvin and Lennie Pearson both slugged two homers, Buck O’Neill and Willard Brown each  had one. The Eagles evened the Series with a 9-7 win. That set up game seven, only the second time the Negro League World Series had gone the full seven games (1943). The key development occurred prior to the game when Paige didn’t show up for the game. No one seems to know exactly why. Stories about bribes, drinking, loose women, and all sorts of other things pop up, but there seems to be no definitive answer to Paige being MIA. The way he’d pitched in the Series, it might have made no difference. Newark scored first, but KC tied it in the sixth and went ahead 2-1 in the seventh. In the bottom of the eighth, both Doby and Irvin walked. Cherokee Davis followed with a two run double to put the Eagles ahead 3-2. KC failed to score in the ninth and Newark won its only Negro League World Series.

The Series had a usual assortment of heroes and goats. For the Eagles Irvin, Pearson, and Davis had great games with Irvin hitting .462 with eight RBI’s and three home runs. For the staff Lewis was 2-1 and Manning 1-1. Hooker was also 1-1, but with an ERA of 6.00. Ace Leon Day ended up 0-0, also with a 6.00 ERA. For the Monarchs, Renfroe hit .414, O’Neill had two homers, and Brown had three, despite hitting only .241. The loss of Strong was a blow, but as he was hitting only .111 when he left the team, it may have effected the pitching more than the hitting. Hilton Smith was 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA and hit well when he played the outfield. But the rest of the staff didn’t do as well. Paige was also 1-1, but with a 5.40 ERA, a blown save, and of course missed game 7 entirely.   LaMarque won his only decision, but had an ERA over 7.

There would be two more Negro League World Series matchups before the NNL folded. Both were played with depleted rosters and neither lived up to the 1946 version. It was to be the final Negro League World Series with the top quality players available and in many ways was the true end of an era.

Jackie Robinson and the Death of the Negro Leagues

February 12, 2010

There’s an old phrase I remember from years ago in my science classes (my son is fairly sure there was only alchemy that far back), “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Seems that’s true in baseball too. For years the black community wanted the integration of Major League Baseball. The columns of Wendell Smith of Pittsburgh are a wonderful read when looking at this attitude. In 1947 they got what they wanted. They also got something they didn’t, the death of the Negro Leagues.

When Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers he opened up a new pool of talent for Major League teams. Slowly, it’s true, but steadily the big league teams began signing black players and by 1959 every team had at least one on its Major League roster. For most Americans, then and now, this was progress. For the Negro Leagues it was slow and steady death. For every black player that went to the Major Leagues, there was one less white player with a job; but for every black player that went to the Major Leagues, there were also less fans in the stands at Negro League parks and that was deadly. Some estimates indicate a tripling of black faces in Ebbets Field in the first three years Robinson played in Brooklyn. If that’s true, then those fans, whose wages hadn’t changed, were not going to Negro League games and spending money at Negro League parks. In the post on Effa Manley I noted the Newark Eagles attendance dropped 52%. That’s fairly common. And if Negro League teams collapsed that put more and more black people out of work; not just players, but owners, executives, peanut sellers, etc.

Part of the loss of fan base is because of the falling off in quality of play. As more and more stars of the Negro Leagues ended up in the Majors or in the vast reaches of the Minor Leagues, the level of play in the Negro Leagues suffered. Taking a look at the 3 Negro League World Series’ beginning in 1946, the year Robinson played in Montreal preparatory to heading to Brooklyn, you can see this beginning.

In 1946 the Newark Eagles and Kansas City Monarchs squared off in the Series. By 1948 Monte Irvin and Larry Doby of the Eagles were gone to the Majors (Doby) or to the minors (Irvin). The Monarchs lost Hank Thompson, Willard Brown, and Satchel Paige (and manager Buck O’Neill became the first black coach in the Majors)  to previously all-white teams.

The aftermath of the 1947 Series saw the New York Cubans lose Minnie Minoso, Lino Donoso, Pat Scantleberry, and Jose Santiago to the white leagues and the Cleveland Buckeyes lose the services of Sam Jethroe, Quincy Trouppe, and Toothpick Sam Jones.

By the last World Series in 1948 the damage was already heavy and the two teams, the Homestead Grays and the Birmingham Black Barons, lost only three players: Luke Easter, Bob Trice, and Willie Mays (Yes, that Willie Mays). There was no Series in 1949. (A disclaimer here: I may have missed a player or two, but I think I have the majority of players off to the Majors or Minors from the six teams involved.)

Those players were being replaced by lower quality players and the leagues suffered. By 1949 the Negro National League collapsed. The Negro American League lasted into the 1950s, but was in many ways a repository of minor league talent with just a few significant players left. Independent teams were also failing. Major players like Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks were deserting the black teams for integrated Major League teams with greater prestige and more money.

A number of owners like Newark’s Effa Manley tried to stem the tide by requiring that the Major Leagues either honor Negro League contracts or pay the Negro League teams for the services of players already under contract. Most big league teams ignored her and her peers and simply signed who they wanted. In fairness to the Major League teams, the Negro League teams had not been real good at honoring each others contracts.

So within 3 years of Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Negro Leagues were on life support. Within 10 years they were moribund. A handful of black teams, many trying to make their way as baseball versions of the Harlem Globetrotters, managed to hang on into the 1960s, but the era of black baseball was over.  For every team integrated, the US moved toward a more incusive society, but for every team integrated a black team died and bunches of men were out of a job. It was a tradeoff and unintended.

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve devoted a week to black baseball. This post marks the end of my foray into the subject, at least for a while. Hope you’ve enjoyed them and learned something. I did.