Posts Tagged ‘Norm Cash’

Go-Go

May 5, 2011

Minnie Minoso, Jim Landis, Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox in 1959

There are those times I look at a baseball team and wonder, “How the heck did this team win?”  Sometimes it’s obvious, other times obscure. For a good case of obscure I give you the 1959 Chicago White Sox, the “Go-Go Sox”.

First, a brief review of the players is in order. The infield consisted of, from first around to third: Earl Torgeson, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, and Bubba Phillips. During the year both Torgeson and Phillips had problems and by the World Series Billy Goodman was doing the bulk of the work at third while Ted Kluszewski had come over from Pittsburgh to hold down first. The outfield consisted of four players doing the bulk of the work: Al Smith, Jim Landis, Jim McAnany, and Jim Rivera (I always wondered how “Al” got into that mix). The catcher was Sherm Lollar. Norm Cash did much of the pinch-hitting work and stopgapped at first, Johnny Callison was the other outfielder, and Sammy Esposito did the back up work at second, short, and third.

How’d they do? well, they ended up sixth in runs (in an eight team league), sixth in hits, fourth in doubles, dead last in home runs, sixth in batting average, seventh in slugging, and sixth in OPS. The did finish first in steals and triples, and third in OBP. They ended up with an OPS+ of 91. Lollar led the team with 22 home runs and had the team high of 451 in slugging, a .796 OPS, and an OPS+ of 118. Aparicio led the American League in steals (56), and Fox hit .306, led the team in OBP (380), had 191 hits, and won the AL MVP award.

OK so the hitting wasn’t all that great so it has to be the pitching, right? Well, sort of. The team finished first in ERA and saves, runs and earned runs, which is good. It’s ERA+ was 155. But they gave up a lot of hits and were fifth in walks and fourth in strikeouts, which isn’t so good. In total, those aren’t bad numbers, but they are, at best, a mixed bag. The starters who gave the team these numbers were Early Wynn who led the team in wins and strikeouts and picked up the Cy Young Award that season (there was only one Cy Young Award in 1959). Bob Shaw, Dick Donovan, and the immortal Barry Latman completed the right-handed starters, and Billy Pierce was the sole lefty among the regulars. The bullpen was pretty good, especially for the era. Turk Lown led the team in saves (which wasn’t a stat yet), with Gerry Staley right behind. Ray Moore and lefty Rudy Arias were the only other pitchers with more than 25 games.

All this, plus a league leading  fielding  percentage, got them a five game victory over Cleveland, manager Al Lopez’s old team. I’m not sure how much credit goes to Lopez. He’d been there three years, finished second twice, then broke through. But then the Chisox had finished third the year before Lopez arrived.

They got to the World Series, won game one, lost the next three, won game five, then lost the Series in six games to a Los Angeles team that, frankly, wasn’t a lot better than they were. Kluszewski had a great Series hitting .391, driving in 10 runs, hitting three home runs, and tying (with Fox) for the team lead in hits with nine. Wynn and Shaw both won a game and Wynn led both teams with 19 strikeouts, but  posted an ERA over five. By way of trivia, game five had the largest crowd in World Series history (The LA Coliseum will do that for you), so more people watched the Sox win a World Series game (1-0) than any other team.

It was the high point for them. By 1961 they were back to fourth and didn’t make a World Series again until 2005. Today they are noted mostly for having “invented” the modern running game. In doing so they showed both leagues the advantages and disadvantages of that style game. Aparicio had 56 steals, but scored only 98 runs, and had the second lowest OBP of the starters. Those 98 runs would have led only two other teams in the AL, sixth place Baltimore and seventh place Kansas City (and he would have tied for the lead with last place Washington). But their defense, of course, was that they won. Other teams tried it, a few succeeded, but the power game coupled with good pitching still dominates.

As the above should tell you, I’ve never been a big fan of this team. Aparicio and Fox were good up the middle and Wynn had one last good season, but there’s not a lot else going for them. Kluszewski is old, Callison will hit his stride with Philadelphia. Cash will have a good year in 1961 but will do it with Detroit. All in all, I rate them one of the weaker teams to win a pennant in the modern era.

An aside before anyone asks. Minoso, pictured above, was with Cleveland in 1959. He came to Chicago in 1960. The picture is of the fielding awards ceremony in 1960 (making the date of the caption wrong—sorry).

My First Big League Game

October 20, 2010

Fenway Park

I grew up in two small towns far from the meccas of Major League Baseball. So I never saw a game in person until I joined the army in 1967. I spent a couple of months in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (“Fort Lost in the Wood, Misery” to all of us trainees). Then I went to Massachusetts for specialized training. It was there that I finally had time and money to attend my first big league game.

It was about an hour bus ride into Boston from the post.It wasn’t all that far, but the traffic made it take an hour. Then you could get the subway out to Fenway Park to catch a game. They had a special ticket booth where you could go if you were in uniform. The tickets there were 50 cents a pop for unassigned seats in the bleachers. A buddy who’d done it before went with us (there were four of  us) and showed us the ropes, including the little detail that if you stood up in the mezzanine for the first inning you could find out where the empty seats were and get a better view of the game than you got from the bleachers. The game was a double-header and in those days you got both ends for one ticket, so we had to get up between games and lounge around until the second inning started to make sure the same seats weren’t being used for game two. On this day they weren’t.

They say the experience is unique. The sights, the sounds, the smells are all special. Well, frankly I don’t remember any smells. I think we had a hot dog and a beer, or maybe it was a soda, but I don’t remember the smell of the hot dog or the wood on the seats. The sights and sounds? Well, that’s different.

Let me say here that I’ve never been a Boston fan. As a Dodgers fan you hate the Yankees, so that should make you at least somewhat partial to the Red Sox, right? Didn’t work with me. Didn’t care for the BoSox either. All that means that Fenway Park held no special place in my Southwestern US heart. The field was nice. I was stunned by how big the outfield actually was. Outfields to me were from the school yards or Little League or the Junior High fields where I played, or at most the High School diamond. This outfield was massive. It seemed to go on forever until it hit that stupid wall in left field. The “Green Monster” struck me as an eyesore. I’d never  seen it in color before (black and white TV) and so although I knew it was “Green”, I’d never actually contemplated what that meant. It was quirky, but ugly. The stands were old, the sight lines OK from where we sat, the seats creaked. At my age I understand creaking a bit better than I did then. All in all the place was OK, but you could tell there were problems.

The games, however, were different. The Sox were playing Detroit that day, 14 May 1967, a Sunday. I’m surprised how much I remember about the games. I jotted down what I remembered, then went to Retrosheet and looked the games up. Turned out I was right about what I remembered. In what follows, what I got from Retrosheet is in the parens. The Sox won both games (8-5, 13-9). I remember both Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich pitched for Detroit (McLain in game one and Lolich game two) and that Jim Lonborg pitched one of the games (the first). I remembered both were high scoring games (see the scores mentioned above) and that former Dodgers Johnny Podres and Larry Sherry pitched in a game (both were in game one and Sherry also worked the second game). I remembered Al Kaline scoring, knocking in a couple of runs, and making a heck of a catch for the final out in one of the innings of game one (the second inning). I recall that there were a lot of home runs (among others, Willie Horton had two in game two, Norm Cash hit a homer in game two, and Carl Yastrzemski had a home run in both games).  I remember wondering how Yaz could hit with his bat held that high. Got that one wrong. Finally I remember that the pitching was dreadful that day (50 total hits by both teams over both games).

I left happy. We caught a bus back to the post, talked about the games all the way back, never realizing this was “The Impossible Dream” year for Boston. It was my first ever Big League game and I was content.