Posts Tagged ‘Nolan Ryan’

Curses, the Rangers, and Golden Corral

December 27, 2017

Best Buffet in the USA (by their own admission)

We spent the last holiday with my sister-in-law. She’s a nice enough lady, but she hates to cook. So she decided she’d treat us to a dinner out. She picked the local Golden Corral for the big event.

Now I have no idea if you’re familiar with Golden Corral, but it’s a national buffet chain. You enter, pay some money, and are met with a long set of food choices that go on for several feet. There are meats, desserts, breads, veggies, salad items, and drinks (soft, coffee, tea, and water). The deviled eggs are great and if you’re picking out the deviled eggs for mention it should tell you something about the quality of the food. It actually ranges from pretty good to pretty wretched depending on the dish and the establishment.

It’s also usually crowded. The tables are close together so if you’re eating instead of gabbing it’s pretty easy to hear the conversation of the people at the next table, which is about three feet away. The table just to my left contained two men who looked to be in their mid-thirties who were deep in conversation.

“They’ve been cursed by God. I swear it’s a curse from God.”

Well, that got my attention. Not wanting to be in the line of fire if a curse from God is on the menu I decided I’d better make sure who (or what) was cursed. So I grew a long set of ears and heard the following conversation (which is only vaguely paraphrased):

“Can’t be a curse. God wouldn’t curse the Rangers.”

“Sure he would. Look at what happened when they got rid of him.” This from the first guy.

“Yeah, they started losing but I don’t know that was a curse. Maybe it was just getting rid of Ron Washington.”

At this point I knew the curse was on the Texas Rangers and as a Dodgers fan I figured I was safe and could go back to eating.

“Nope. God’s gotta be a Ryan fan and so help me he cursed the Rangers when they cut him loose.” OK, it was too much and I had to start listening again.

“Well, they were winning when he was there.”

“Damned straight. Nolan Ryan was the Rangers and they let him go. Where’d he go? Houston. And look what happened to them.”

As a Dodgers fan I was well aware of what happened to the Astros. Maybe there was something to this conversation.

“You tell me that’s not a curse on the Rangers.”

“OK, they lost. But a curse? From God?”

“Look what God did to Houston with that damned flood. You think he’s a big Houston fan? Hell, maybe getting Ryan saved them from worse problems.”

For the first time I realized that Nolan Ryan had a direct line to God that most of us lacked.

“I’m just saying the Rangers ain’t gonna win again until they get Ryan back in Arlington. God’ll see to that.”

I think the other guy was starting to agree with him, but about that time my wife got back to the table and insisted I talk with her and her sister. I don’t know how the conversation turned out but the guy who believed in the curse was winning.

 

The 1980 NLCS: All the Marbles

October 29, 2015

With the NLCS tied at two games each, Philadelphia and Houston squared off in the Astrodome for game five of the 1980 series. The winner went on to the World Series, the loser went home. For both teams winning would be a unique experience. Houston had never been to a World Series and Philadelphia hadn’t been to one since 1950.

Del Unser

Del Unser

Game 5, 12 October

To send the Astros to the World Series, Houston put Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan on the mound. Philly countered with rookie Marty Bystrom, who hadn’t pitched in the NLCS and was 5-0 in six total Major League games. At the beginning it looked like a bad choice. Astros lead off man Terry Puhl singled to start the bottom of the first, stole second, and came home on a Jose Cruz double. That put Houston up 1-0. But it didn’t hold up for even one inning. In the top of the second a single and walk put Manny Trillo on second and Garry Maddox on first. A ground out moved both up one base with two outs. Phils catcher Bob Boone singled off Ryan to plate both runs and put Philadelphia up 2-1.

That held up through the top of the sixth as Bystrom matched shutout inning for shutout inning with Ryan. In the bottom of the sixth, Denny Walling lofted a fly to left that Greg Luzinski misplayed into two bases for Walling. Then an Alan Ashby single tied up the game 2-2. In the bottom of the seventh Houston exploded for three runs as Puhl singled, came home on a Walling single after Cruz walked. A wild pitch by Phils reliever Larry Christenson brought Cruz home. Art Howe then tripled to score Walling.

But this was game five in 1980 and, well, it wasn’t extra innings yet, so Philadelphia came back in the top of the eighth. Three consecutive singles loaded the bases for Pete Rose. He coaxed a walk out of Ryan to make the score 5-3. A Keith Moreland ground out scored the second run. A single by Del Unser, playing right after pinch hitting earlier, and a triple by Trillo gave the Phils a 7-5 lead with six outs to go. They got two. Singles by Craig Reynolds and Puhl put runners on first and third and back-to-back singles tied the game at 7-7.

Philly got a  man as far as third in the top of the ninth but failed to score. Houston went in order in the bottom of the ninth and for the fourth game in a row, and four of five, the NLCS went into extra innings. With one out, Unser doubled. An out later, Maddox doubled plating Unser with the go ahead run. With Dick Ruthven now on the mound, a popup, a liner, and a long fly to center finished off Houston 8-7 and sent Philadelphia to the World Series, where they defeated Kansas City four games to two. Trillo was chosen NLCS MVP.

It was a great series of games, with four of five going into extra innings. Philly outhit Houston .289 to .233, but scored only one more run (20-19).  There was a major difference in the two team’s walks and strikeouts. Philly struck out 37 times and walked 13, while Houston struck out 19 times and walked 31. Greg Luzinski had the only homer for either team (in game 1) but Houston had five triples. Houston had a team ERA of 3.49, just slightly more than Philadelphia’s 3.28, while Philly pitching gave up 40 hits to the Astros’ 55.

Individually Manny Trillo led Philly hitters (players who appeared in all 5 games) by hitting .381 and racking up eight hits. Luzinski and Trillo both had four RBIs while Luzinski and Rose each scored three runs. Steve Carlton’s eight walks led both teams, while Nolan Ryan’s 14 strikeouts easily outpaced everyone else (of course it did).  Tug McGraw picked up two saves (and took a loss) and Dick Ruthven’s 2.00 ERA led Philadelphia starters with five or more innings pitched. Joe Niekro’s 0.00 ERA over 10 innings led all starters.

For a long time now, I’ve said that the 1991 World Series was the best I ever saw. But I’m not sure that for drama, emotion, and utter excitement that the 1980 NLCS wasn’t its equal.

The 1980 NLCS: The games in Philadelphia

October 23, 2015

Back in 1980 the League Championship Series’ were a best of five with one team hosting the first two games and the other getting game three and the if necessary games. In 1980 that meant the first two games were played in Philadelphia with the follow-up games coming in Houston.

Greg Luzinski

Greg Luzinski

Game 1, 7 October 1980

For game one the Phillies started Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton on the mound while Houston countered with Ken Forsch. Although neither pitcher did particularly well (there were several hits by both teams), there was no scoring until the top of the third when, with one out, Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedano hit back to back singles. After a second out, Gary Woods, playing for regular right fielder Terry Puhl, laced a single scoring Cruz with the games first run. The run held up through the fourth and fifth innings. In the bottom of the sixth Phillies first baseman Pete Rose singled and two outs later Greg Luzinski slugged a ball to deep left center to plate both runs and give Philly a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the seventh Garry Maddox singled. A bunt sacrifice and a stolen base put him on third with Carlton due up. The Phils sent up Greg Gross to pinch hit. He banged a single to left that scored Maddox. With Carlton out of the game Philadelphia went to its closer Tug McGraw in the eighth. He set Houston down in order and when Philadelphia failed to score in the bottom of the eighth, he took a 3-1 lead into the ninth. A walk put a man on first where he stayed as McGraw finished off Houston to give the Phillies the win. It was the last time in the NLCS that the game would end with the ninth inning.

The big heroes were Carlton, who pitched seven innings giving up one run, and Luzinski who powered the winning runs across the plate. Luzinski was injured for much of the year and failed to produce big numbers. Driving in the winning runs served as something of a redemption for him.

Dave Bergman

Dave Bergman

Game 2, 8 October 1980

Game 2 saw Nolan Ryan take on Dick Ruthven. Neither pitcher had put up stellar numbers during the season, but both began the game pitching well. In the top of the third a walk, a sacrifice, and a Terry Puhl single scored Houston’s first run. It held up until the bottom of the fourth. Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski hit back to back doubles to score Schmidt and tie the game. One sacrifice later a Maddox single scored Luzinski to put Philadelphia ahead 2-1. That scored lasted until the top of the seventh when, with two outs, Ruthven committed one of those baseball sins that haunt teams. He walked the opposing pitcher. Puhl immediately followed the walk with a double that scored Ryan to tie up the game. Both teams picked up one more run in the eighth and were blanked in the ninth, leading to a 3-3 score going into the first extra inning of the NLCS. It was a long, long inning, especially for Philly. Puhl led off the top of the 10th with a single. A bunt sent him to second, then Joe Morgan was intentionally walked. Jose Cruz singled to score Puhl, then a fielder’s choice by Cedeno led to out two, but scored a second run for Houston. With two on Dave Bergman, who’d come in to play first in the eighth inning, tripled to score both Cruz and Cedeno to make the score 7-3. The Phils weren’t through yet. A single, a walk put runners on first and second. A fly produced the first out, then a grounder to short got the second out, but the inability to complete the double play scored a fourth Philadelphia run. Another walk brought the tying run to the plate, but Schmidt flew out to Puhl in right to give Houston a 7-4 victory and even the NLCS at one game apiece.

After a day off, the Series would resume in Houston. It was now a simple best two of three series with Houston having home field for all three games. None of them would finish in nine innings.

 

The 1980 NLCS: Houston

October 19, 2015
The Express

The Express

Over all the years I’ve watched baseball, the 1980 NLCS is still the most exciting playoff series I’ve seen. There have been some other fine series’ and a number of very good World Series contests (especially 1991), but for sheer sustained suspense there’s nothing to match this set of contests between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Astros finished second in 1979, but in 1980 managed to tie the Los Angeles Dodgers for the West Division title. A one game playoff sent them on to the NLCS. Manager Bill Virdon, the old Pirates center fielder, was in his sixth (fifth full) season at the helm. With him in charge, the Astros (with a one season hiccup in 1978) managed a steady climb to a division title. The 93 wins was a team record.

The infield consisted of former utility man Art Howe (later A’s manager and a major figure in both the Money Ball book and movie) at first, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan at second, Enos Cabell at third, and Craig Reynolds at short. Howe’s status as a utility man meant he only had 77 games at first (and just over 30 at the other three infield slots). He hit .283 with 10 home runs (his only season with double figure homers), 46 RBIs, a 129 OPS+, and a 1.8 WAR. Morgan was at the end of his career. he hit only .243, but had 11 home runs and 24 stolen bases (with six caught stealing). As usual he walked a ton (a team leading 93 walks), had a good OPS+ (115), and fifth on the team (fourth among hitters) with 3.6 WAR. Cabell contributed 21 home runs and hit .276, but only had a 90 OPS+ and a -0.2 WAR. Additionally he wasn’t much of a third baseman. Reynolds, on the other hand, was a pretty good shortstop. In 135 games he managed only 17 errors (about dead in the middle of the league). He hit only .226 with neither power nor speed, but did manager a positive WAR of 0.5. From the bench Danny Heep, Denny Walling, and Dave Bergman spelled Howe at first. Walling got all three homers the trio provided, 29 of 38 RBIs, and led the group at .299. Their combined WAR was 2.9 (with Walling leading the pack at 0.9). Rafael Landestoy did most of the backup work for the other infield positions, hit .247, but stole 23 bases (and was caught 12 times), and produced 1.4 WAR.

The heart of the offense was the outfield. Terry Puhl held down right field and led the team in WAR with 6.2. He hit .282 with a team leading 13 home runs (it was the Astrodome after all).His 55 RBIs tied for third on the team, as did his 27 stolen bases. He had a 124 OPS+. Cesar Cedeno patrolled center field and led the starters with an OPS+ of 147 (5.0 WAR). He hit .309, had an OPS of .854, 73 RBIs, 154 hits, 48 stolen bases, and 10 home runs. The OPS, average, and stolen bases led the team. Jose Cruz was in left field. He hit .302, had 11 home runs, a team leading 91 RBIs, 36 stolen bases, and managed to led the team with 185 hits. His OPS+ was 127 and his WAR topped out at 4.8. The 24 year-old backup was Jeffrey Leonard. He hit only three homers and had 20 RBIs to go along with a .213 average. He was not yet the slugger he became at San Francisco.

Alan Ashby did the bulk of the catching, logging 116 games. He hit .256, scored 30 runs, and knocked in 48. His backup was Luis Pujols who hit all of a buck 99. Way down the list of everyday players was current Giants manager Bruce Bochy who, at 25, caught 10 games.

They caught a staff that was supposed to be the strength of the team. Joe Niekro was the ace. He went 20-12 with an ERA of 3.55 (ERA+ 93). His WHIP was 1.355, and he gave up more hits than he had inning pitched. His WAR was 0.9 (hardly inspiring for an ace). Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan had a standard Nolan Ryan year. His record was one game over .500 (11-10), his ERA was in the mid-threes (3.35) with an ERA+ of 98. He walked 98 and struck out 200. He finished second in strikeouts (in the previous eight years he’d finished 1st seven times). The 200 strikeouts were second on the league (by 86 to Steve Carlton). Ryan’s WHIP was 1.297 and his WAR 1.5. Verne Ruhl was 12-4 with a 2.37 ERA (ERA+ of 139), a 1.111 WHIP (3.2 WAR), but only 55 strikeouts in 159 innings. Ken Forsch had a losing record at 12-13, but a 3.20 ERA (103 ERA+). He’d also given up more hits than he had innings pitched, helping result in a 1.219 WHIP and 2.6 WAR. Which brings me to J.R. Richard. He should have been the ace, maybe the best pitcher in baseball, but his health caught up with him. On 30 July he collapsed with a stroke, effectively ending his career. Any speculation as to how much he might have helped Houston in the rest of the regular season (or playoffs) is just that, speculation. Swingman Joaquin Andujar took his place, starting 14 games. He put up a 3.91 ERA (ERA+ of 84) with a 1.434 WHIP and 0.0 WAR.

Joe Sambito held down the closer spot. In many ways he was a typical reliever of the era. He had 17 saves in 64 appearances and pitched 90 innings (just under one and a half per outing). His ERA was 2.19 with an ERA+ of 151 (2.0 WAR), and he struck out 75 with a WHIP of 0.963.  Both Dave Smith and Frank LaCorte picked up double figure saves with Smith posting an ERA+ of 171. At 2.6 his WAR was actually higher than Sambito’s and by the end of the regular season he was doing as much closing as Sambito.

Although a good team, the 1980 Astros were flawed with a weak hitting infield and few quality pitchers. They’d taken an extra game to win the West and few chose them to win the pennant. They faced Philadelphia in the NLCS>

 

 

 

The Hoosier Thunderbolt

June 8, 2012

Amos Rusie

There’s an old baseball tale that goes like this. The pitcher winds up, blazes a fastball toward home, the batter, absolutely unable to see the ball stands still, the ball hits the catcher’s mitt with a resounding “whack”, then the umpire calls it a ball. The catcher turns around and says, “It was a strike, ump. Didn’t you see it?” The ump replies, “Nope, but it sounded high.” Great story. I’ve found versions of it about a half-dozen or so pitchers. The earliest version I can find goes all the way back into the 1890s and Amos Rusie.

Rusie was born in Indiana in 1871. The family moved to Indianapolis where Rusie dropped out of school to work in a factory. The factory had a team, Rusie could pitc,h and the team played against barnstorming big league teams. Rusie successfully shut down both the Washington and Boston National League teams in 1888 and was picked up by the Indianapolis Hoosiers. He was 18, went 12-10, walked more men than he struck out, and the team finished 7th. Indianapolis folded after the season leaving Rusie without a team. The NL decided to send most of the good players, including Rusie, to the New York team. Rusie was upset at not being able to negotiate a contract with any team willing to pay him and it led to problems for his entire career. He became a star, liked New York, found a wife, and was the toast of the town, but never quite got over being sent to New York against his will.

Rusie as a rookie

He was brilliant as a pitcher. He was also wild. In his first three years he was 114-85 with 982 strike outs and (read this number carefully) 821 walks. He led the NL in strikeouts twice and in walks all three years. In 1893 they moved the pitching distance back to the current 60′ 6″ and a number of sources credit Rusie with the change. Batters feared both his speed and his wildness.

OK, maybe, but what is certain is that Rusie flourished at the new distance. He had 33 wins in 1893, 36 in 1894. His strikeout totals went down, but he still led the NL. His walks also went down, but he continued to lead the league in bases on balls. To be blunt, Rusie never really overcame his wildness.

His Triple Crown year was 1894. He won 36 games (losing 13) with a 2.78 ERA (ERA+ 188) and stuck out 195 men, his lowest total of strikeouts since his rookie year. He also led the league with three shutouts and (you knew this was coming) 200 walks. That makes him the only Triple Crown winner to lead his league in both strikeouts and walks. I’m not a big fan of pitching WAR (hitting WAR is OK), but his WAR for 1894 is 13.8. For the season, his team finished second, but qualified for the newly contested Temple Cup. The Giants won the Cup in four straight games.

In 1895, Rusie dropped back to 23-23 for a record but still led the NL in strikeouts. For the first time since his rookie campaign, he didn’t lead in walks. But he was also involved in one of his perennial contract disputes with the Giants. Unwilling to accept the club offer, he sat out all of 1896. The Giants, who had finished ninth in 1895, moved up to seventh in 1896. That didn’t help Rusie so he reluctantly resigned for the 1897 season.

He was good again in 1897, winning 28 games and his second ERA title. For the first time since 1892 he failed to lead the NL in strikeouts (the 1896 hold out year excepted). He had 20 wins in 1898 before hurting his shoulder attempting a pick-off. No one knew it at the time, but his career was over. He sat out 1899 and 1900 before attempting a comeback in 1901. He was traded to Cincinnati (more on that later), went 0-1 in three games striking out six final batters (and walking three). He was done.

He worked at a paper mill in Indiana after retirement, then moved to Seattle where he worked as a steamfitter. In 1921 he became superintendent at the Polo Grounds, a job he held through 1929. John McGraw did that kind of thing for old ballplayers. He went back to Seattle where the Great Depression hurt his financial interests badly. He was injured in a car accident in 1934 and retired. He lingered into 1942 when he died in Seattle, where he is buried. In 1977 the Veteran’s Committee chose him for the Hall of Fame.

Over his 10 year career Rusie won 246 games and lost 174 (.586 winning percentage). He walked 1707 men and struck out 1950. His ERA was 3.07 (ERA+129). He gave up 3389 hits and 1288 earned runs in 3779 innings. He led the NL in wins and losses once each, in shutouts and strikeouts four times each, in ERA twice, and in walks five times.

Rusie reminds me a lot of guys like Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, and Hal Newhouser. All three were great fastball pitchers who lacked control, although all, especially Ryan, managed to gain at least some control as their career progressed. Rusie was also like that, only a half century earlier. His feats were legendary. One story has it that in one game the catcher didn’t throw the ball back to Rusie. Rusie then simply wound up, faked a throw, the batter swung, and the umpire called a strike. You don’t get many stories like that.

Oh, and that trade to Cincy? Well, it seems the Reds were giving up on a young right-hander and decided to take a flier on Rusie. So for a washed up Amos Rusie, the Giants got a new pitcher named Christy Mathewson. Worked out well for New York, not so well for the Reds.

Random Thoughts on the 2011 World Series

October 29, 2011

The new Champs

Have refrained from posting here until he Series was over. Wanted to watch it, digest it, think about it, and not research other things at the same time. So here, in no particular order, are some thoughts on the just completed World Series.

1. Congratulations to the Cardinals. My grandfather would be pleased, as would my wife’s grandfather. Both were diehard Cardinals fans.

2. For an exciting Series, it certainly was sloppy. There were way too many errors, a handful of base running blunders, a missed cutoff, and even a couple of pick-offs. Not the best played World Series ever.

3. Did you notice the inordinate number of fielding plays made by pitchers? There were a bunch of those in 2006 which Detroit pitchers didn’t handle well. At least this year most were cleanly fielded. Wonder what it is about the Cards that brings out a lot of fielding plays by the pitcher?

4. It was good to see Lance Berkman win a ring. Always liked him (although he was never exactly a favorite), but, like everyone else, figured he was through. Nice to see him play for a winner and to also do well in the World Series.

5. Who the heck are Alan Craig and David Freese? Tell me you expected either to be a hero before the playoffs began. Many years some obscure play rises to prominence in the Series. This year was one of those.

6. Sorry about the Rangers. Good team, good ownership and leadership (love Nolan Ryan) but no pitching.

7. Speaking of pitching isn’t it amazing just how much better Chris Carpenter is than all the other members of both staffs?

8. If you’ve been around here much, you know I’ve always wondered about the role of managers in a game. This Series strikes me as having been played pretty well (except see above) despite the best efforts of both managers to utterly hash it.

9. Tell me you predicted the following scores: 3-2, 2-1, 4-0, 4-2. Bet you didn’t. This was supposed to be the second coming of “Murderer’s Row” from both teams and we ended up with a surprisingly low scoring Series. Only game three (16-7) and game six (10-9) were really high scoring affairs, and game six went eleven innings. It’s really kinda strange considering the lack of quality pitching on both teams.

10. If I’m happy for Berkman, I’m sorry for Michael Young.

11. And now we get to see what happens with Albert Pujols.

The 1980 NLCS

July 4, 2011

Tug McGraw as a Phillie

Ever notice how many people talk about the great World Series’ they’ve seen. I like to dwell on the 1991 Series, others will pick different ones to extol. But most people never say much  about the other rounds of playoffs. That’s unfortunate, because some of the finest games or sets of games have happened in the various League Championship Series’. You can take a look at the mid-1980s as an example if you want. The Kansas City/Toronto ALCS was great with the Royals coming back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to win in seven. The NLCS of 1986 (Mets over Astros) was a classic, as was the 1988 NLCS (Dodgers over Mets). But for my money the finest League Championship was the NLCS of 1980.

The 1980 NLCS matched the Philadelphia Phillies against the Houston Astros. Philly won the east by a game over Montreal. In the west, the Astros and Dodgers tied leading to a one-game playoff. If the NLCS was great, the one game playoff was wretched. Houston won 7-1 and it didn’t seem that close. Philadelphia featured Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, hits leader Pete Rose, and Phillies stalwarts Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Garry Maddox, and Tug McGraw (the father of Faith Hill’s husband). Houston countered with its own Hall of Famers, Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan. The Astros also featured Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, Enos Cabell, and one of my personal favorites, Terry Puhl. The Series was  still a best of five and there was no earlier round division series to get in the way. The champion went to the World Series, the loser went home.

Game one was in Philadelphia. Steve Carlton squared off against Ken Forsch. Forsch pitched a complete game, but lost 3-1 on a  Greg Luzinski home run. It was the last game decided in nine innings. Houston took game two, also in Philly, by scoring  four runs in the 10th inning (Philadelphia managed one in its own half of the tenth). Frank LaCorte got the win, Rick Reed took the loss. Backup first baseman Dave Bergman plated the winning runs with a triple. With the NLCS knotted at 1-1, the teams headed for the first ever playoff games in the Astrodome. They were classic.

Game three saw Joe Niekro (Phil’s brother) take on Larry Christenson. Doing his Jack Morris impression, Niekro went nine scoreless innings scattering six hits, walking one, and striking out two. Christenson matched him through six innings when he was pulled for a pinch hitter. Dickie Noles pitched a little more than one inning, then in came Faith Hill’s father-in-law. McGraw pitched scoreless ball into the bottom of the eleventh when Joe Morgan tripled and his pinch runner scored on a sacrifice fly. Houston led the NLCS 2 games to one.

Game four saw Carlton face Vern Ruhle. Neither was as good as Niekro or Christenson, but they kept the game close. The game saw the most controversial play of the series. With two men on in the fourth inning, Philadelphia appeared to hit into a triple play. The umpires finally ruled it a double play and allowed the inning to continue. To the relief of most people (except maybe Phils fans), Philly didn’t score. Carlton left losing, but Philadelphia tied it up and went ahead. The Astros scored in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings, the third game in a  row to go into the tenth. Rose singled, a couple of  batters later Luzinski doubled to score Rose and McGraw set Houston down in order to set up game five.

The final game saw Nolan Ryan make his first appearance. It was a fairly standard Ryan game. He went seven innings, gave up eight hits, walked two, struck out eight, and, uncharacteristically, gave up six earned runs. Opponent Marty Bystrom wasn’t Ryan, but he left giving up only two runs (one earned). His bullpen let him down as Houston scored five runs off the relievers. Of course Houston’s bullpen was only marginally better, it gave up only one run over the eighth and ninth innings, but that tied the score at 7-7. So for the fourth game in a row (read that number closely, fourth) the NLCS would go to extra innings. It’s the only time that’s ever happened. Del Unser and Maddox both doubled in the tenth, giving Philadelphia a lead. Three straight outs in the bottom of the tenth, and the Phillies were on their way to their first World Series since 1950 (they won in six games). Manny Trillo, who I never even mentioned in the above was the MVP. That’s how good the NLCS was, you could talk about the entire thing and not mention the MVP.

It was a wonderful series. Four extra inning games, timely hitting, good pitching, and a possible triple play. I’ve seen a lot a NLCS and ALCS games since. For my money, the Philadelphia-Houston NLCS of 1980 is still the best of the lot.

Tug's Daughter-in-Law (before she was "waiting all day for Sunday night")

The Little Steam Engine

July 26, 2010

Pud Galvin

The other day, prefatory to doing my post on Cy Young, I looked over the list of 300 game winners. Most of the modern ones are fairly well-known, as are most of the ones who pitched in the early part of the 20th Century. That’s not as true of the 19th Century pitchers. Most have fallen into obscurity. The recent book on 1884 has brought back Charles Radbourn and both Welch and Keefe pitched in New York for pennant winners. Clarkson pitched for the Cubs and Kid Nichols gets a lot of votes as the best 19th Century pitcher. So if I had to pick a 300 win pitcher and call him the most obscure, it would be James “Pud” Galvin, the winningest pitcher of the 19th Century.

Galvin was born Christmas day 1856 in St. Louis. In 1875 he began playing for the hometown Browns of the National Association (the only Major League at the time). He got into eight games as a pitcher, going 4-2, and played a handful of games in the outfield, hitting .130. The Association folded the next season and Galvin disappears from the Major Leagues until 1879. Between the two big league appearances he pitched for the International League team in Buffalo. In 1879, Buffalo joined the National League and Galvin stayed in the majors through 1892. Early on he picked up the nickname “The Little Steam Engine”, the first of a number of pitchers compared to trains. Walter Johnson (The Big Train), and Nolan Ryan (The Express) come immediately to mind.

He played for Buffalo into the 1885 season when he was sent to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the American Association. In 1887, Pittsburgh moved to the National League and Galvin remained with them through 1889. In 1890 he jumped to the fledgling Player’s League (joining the new team in Pittsburgh), then returned to the Alleghenys when the Player’s League collapsed. He went back to St. Louis (now the Cardinals) toward the end of 1892, then retired. At retirment he was the winningest pitcher in Major League history. He died in March 1902 in Pittsburgh. The Wikipedia article on him indicates that the nickname “Pud” was an abbreviation for “Pudding”, which is what his pitches turned hitters into. I’ve been unable to track down a better explanation.

Galvin seems to be the first of the PED boys. Apparently he took an elixir that contained monkey testosterone to help him stay in shape and sharp. There are a lot of jokes to be made here about arm length and hair and such. I think I’ll simply mention the fact and let it go at that.

Galvin pitched far enough back that many of his numbers are in dispute. I’ve taken the newest baseball encyclopedia numbers for use here and recognize that when the next version comes out they may be different. For his career Galvin had 361 wins, 308 losses (for a .540 winning percentage), with 5941 innings pitched. He gave up 6352 hits, walked 744 and struck out 1799. For all that he had a 2.87 ERA in 697 games, 681 of them starts. His teams never won a pennant or a postseason series. In his career best seasons of 1883 and 1884 he won 46 games each year, leading the league in innings pitched in 1883 with 656, and threw a league leading 12 shutouts in 1884. In 1883 he tied the all time record (with Will White) for the most games pitched and started in a season with 76 games and 75 starts.

Galvin is very difficult to evaluate. For one thing, he never pitched a big league game at 60’6″. He’s one of only two 300 game winners to do that (Radbourn is the other). How he would have done at the modern distance is simply unknowable. Additionally, the ball and strike counts varied during his career. Sometimes there were four balls and three strikes, sometimes there were more. Throw in the differences in equipment and fields and you have a pitcher doing his job in conditions that are alien to us. Having said all that, there are still a few observations that can be made. He gave up more hits than innings pitched, which is never a good thing. His walks to strikeout rate is pretty good (2.4 strikeouts per walk) for the era without being great. He got a lot of wins (and losses) but pitched in an era when two pitchers was fairly normal and one single hurler could occasionally dominate a team’s statistics. Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract does not list him among his 100 greatest pitchers and the WAR statistic puts him 27th between Don Sutton and Curt Schilling (and two below his contemporary rival Radbourn).

Coincidence

May 10, 2010

Yesterday is one of those serendipitous days that happens in baseball occasionally. Two people forever intertwined in an event make history on the same day a continent apart. That’s actually happened a few times before and let’s take a moment and note them.

1. Yesterday a pitcher named Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game. Until then, he was primarily famous for his dust-up with Alex Rodriguez over A-Rod crossing the mound on the way back to first, a serious breach of Braden’s view of baseball ethics. Also yesterday Rodriguez slugged his third home run of the season. It managed to tie Frank Robinson on the all-time homer lit.

2. Rickey Henderson set the all-time stolen base mark and bragged he was the best ever. Unfortunately for him Nolan Ryan threw his seventh and final no-hitter the same day (1 May 1991). The two are joined because Ryan’s 5000th strikeout victim was (drum roll, please) Rickey Henderson.

3. On 4 August 1985 Tom Seaver got his 300th career win in New York (pitching for the White Sox). Rod Carew picked up his 3000 career hit the same day in Anaheim. How are they connected? Seaver was the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year, while Carew won the same award in the American League the same season. By way of trivia, in 1956 both Luis Aparicio and Frank Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award. That marks, along with 1967 and 1977 (Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson), the first of only three times both Rookies of the Year went on to the Hall of Fame.

Don’t you just love coincidences?

Joseph Campbell and Baseball

April 3, 2010

The definitive book on mythology is written by Joseph Campbell. It looks at what myths are, how they develop, and how they grow. Many of his ideas are applicable to baseball. As you may have noticed if you’ve managed to hang around here for very long, I have a fascination with the mythology and legend of baseball. In the future I want to do a series of comments on baseball legend and mythology. To do that I need some help.

If you looked at the Dizzy Dean post you saw some comments at the bottom. In them I asked for other people’s opinion of just who has moved from ballplayer to mythological or legendary figure. I suggested Babe Ruth (who I refer to here as BABE RUTH!!!!! when dealing with the legendary aspect of the man), Sandy Koufax, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and of course Dean himself. Bill Miller added Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Nolan Ryan. SportsPhd suggested Yogi Berra.

All of those are certainly people to explore and I will. But I’d like other people’s opinion. Who am I missing that you think has gone beyond mere ballplayer to myth? To put it into another field, who’s gone from actor to John Wayne!!!!? I promise I’ll take a look at the people. I don’t promise I’ll buy off on all of them, but I’ll check ’em out. Give me your “able to leap tall buildings at a single bound” list and I’ll study it. At some point, and it will be at least a couple of weeks, I’ll start a post, or more likely a series of posts, on the idea of legend, mythology, and baseball. Deal?