Posts Tagged ‘Orlando Cepeda’

The Impossible Dream: Back to Boston

January 16, 2017

With the St. Louis Cardinals leading the 1967 World Series 3 games to 2, the Series shifted to Boston for the final two games. The Cards needed to win only one to be champions and had Bob Gibson waiting for an if necessary game seven. For the Red Sox they would have to win both games either without ace Jim Lonborg or with Lonborg going on short rest.

Game 6

Rico Petrocelli

Rico Petrocelli

Game 6 was 11 October with the home team sending Gary Waslewski to the mound. Waslewski had pitched well in his previous relief appearance in the Series. He was opposed by 16 game winner Dick Hughes. Neither man would figure in the decision.

Boston struck first on a second inning Rico Petrocelli home run. The Cardinals would get it back in the third on a Julian Javier double and a Lou Brock single. Brock then stole second and St. Louis took a 2-1 lead with a Curt Flood single plating Brock.

That score lasted until the bottom of the fourth. Carl Yastrzemski led off with a home run followed by two outs. Then back-to-back homers by Reggie Smith and Petrocelli put the Bosox up 4-2 and sent Hughes to the showers.  Things stayed that way to the seventh.

In the top of the seventh, St. Louis tied the game on a two run shot by Brock. In the bottom of the seventh, the Cards brought in Jack Lamabe to pitch. He got an out, then pinch hitter (for pitcher John Wyatt) Dalton Jones singled and Joe Foy doubled. Jones took off from first and scored. The throw home missed Jones and allowed Foy to move to third and come home on a Mike Andrews single. A Yastrzemski single sent Andrews to third and a Jerry Adair sacrifice fly scored him. Consecutive singles by George Scott and Smith brought Yastrzemski home with the fourth run of the inning. Ahead 8-4 the Red Sox brought in starter Gary Bell to finish the game. He gave up three hits and walked one, but no St. Louis player scored and the Sox tied up the Series three games each.

Game 7

Photo File

Game 7 of the World Series was 12 October. The Bosox were faced with an immediate problem. Jim Lonborg, the season long ace, was available to start only if he started on short rest. Manager Dick Williams, deciding to go with his best, sent Lonborg out to start the game. The bullpen was ready to jump in if Lonborg was ineffective on the short rest. Facing them was a fully rested Bob Gibson.

For two innings both pitchers were on. Lonborg gave up two hits, but neither runner scored. Gibson walked one man and struck out three. In the top of the third light hitting shortstop Dal Maxvill tripled. Lonborg bore down and got the next two men out without allowing Maxvill to score. That brought up Curt Flood who singled Maxvill home. A Roger Maris single sent Flood to third and with Orlando Cepeda at the plate, Lonborg uncorked a wild pitch that plated Flood. With two strikeouts to his credit, Gibson set Boston down in order in the bottom of the third leaving the score 2-0.

In the fourth no one reached base for either team and Gibson struck out two more. That brought the teams to the top of the fifth. With one out, Gibson came to the plate and hit a home run. It opened the flood gates a crack. Lou Brock singled and stole second. Flood walked and Brock stole third. Roger Maris’ sacrifice fly sent Brock home and made the score 4-0. Cepeda flew out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox got one back on a George Scott drive to center. Scott tore around second trying to stretch it to a triple. Julian Javier fielded the throw from Flood and tried to nail Scott at third. The throw was wild and Scott scampered home with the first Boston run.

If the flood gates opened a crack for St. Louis in the fifth, they broke wide open in the sixth. Tim McCarver led the inning off with a double. An error by the third baseman left Mike Shannon safe at first and brought up Javier, whose error in the fifth had led to Boston’s first run. He made up for it with a three-run homer to left that made the score 7-1. Despite giving up another hit, Lonborg got through the inning without giving up another run. Due to lead off the bottom of the sixth, he was pulled for a pinch hitter. Manager Dick Williams’ gamble of starting Lonborg had worked for four innings, but he’d been gotten to in both the fifth and sixth. He ended up giving up seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits, a walk, and struck out three.

For Gibson it was a lead he could hold easily. In the sixth and seventh innings he gave up no hits and only one walk. In the eighth he gave up a double to Rico Petrocelli, then wild pitched Petrocelli to third. He walked the next batter, then relief pitcher Norm Siebern grounded to second. A force out provided one out, but Petrocelli scored to make it 7-2. Consecutive grounders ended the inning. In the ninth Gibson gave up a leadoff single to Carl Yastrzemski, but he was erased on a double play. Gibson then struck out Scott to end the inning, the game, and the Series. St. Louis had won the 1967 World Series four games to three. Gibson was voted the MVP.

Before the Series began, there were a lot of questions being asked by fans and reporters. One was “can the Cardinals stop Carl Yastrzemski?” The answer turned out to be “no.” Yaz hit .400, slugged .840, and put up an OPS of 1.340 (of the Cards, only Lou Brock was close to those numbers). He scored four runs, drove in five, had three home runs, and made no errors in the field. The question that no one asked was “can the Cardinals stop everyone but Yaz?” The answer there turned out to be mostly “yes.” No other Red Sox player came close to Yastrzemski’s numbers. Andrews and Dalton Jones, neither of which played in all seven games, were the only other players to hit .300 and neither had an extra base hit. Petrocelli and Reggie Smith both had two home runs, but neither hit above .250. Smith and Scott had six doubles but both only scored three times. For the Series the Red Sox hit .216 with 21 runs, 19 RBIs, 17 walks, and 49 strikeouts.

The Sox pitching was somewhat better. Their ERA was 3.39, while giving up 25 runs and 17 walks. They struck out 30. Of pitchers going more than two innings, Gary Waslewski’s 2.16 ERA (over eight innings) was the only ERA under five.

For St. Louis Brock, Javier, and Maris all hit over .350 and Maris’ seven RBIs easily led the team (the next highest number was four). Brock scored eight runs and five different Cards had one home run each. The team hit .223, scored 25 runs.

Another question being asked was “With Gibson only able to pitch three games, could any other Cards pitcher beat the Red Sox?” Again the answer was “yes.” Nelson Briles won his only start and Gibson took the other three wins. Of pitchers throwing more than six innings, they were the only two with ERA’s under five (Carlton gave up no earned runs in six innings, but an unearned run gave him a loss).

It was Gibson’s series. He was 3-0 in three complete games. He allowed three runs, walked five, and allowed 14 hits in 27 innings. He set a World Series record with 31 strikeouts in 1964 (besting Sandy Koufax). In 1967 he came close to topping it with 26.

For the Red Sox it was a fluke. They would not get back to a playoff until 1975, when they would again make the Series and again lose in seven games. For the Cardinals, it was the next-to-last fling. They would make the Series in 1968 and lose to Detroit in seven games, then be out of the playoff mix for a full decade before a revival in the 1980s.

Back years ago I did a post titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car” (25 October 2010–if you want to read it) about the 1967 Series. I was in Viet Nam when the Series was played and almost everyone I knew was rooting for Boston. I put money on the Cards and picked up enough to help me buy a nice used car when I got back to the States; so the Series has always had a special place in my heart. Thanks, Bob.

 

 

The Impossible Dream: the games in St. Louis

January 12, 2017

With the 1967 World Series tied at one game each, the Series moved to St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park for the next three games. If one team could sweep, the Series would end. A 2-1 split would send the games back to Boston for the finale.

Game 3

Mike Shannon

. BMike Shannon

Game 3 was played 7 October. Knowing that Bob Gibson could only pitch three games in the Series, St. Louis depended on someone else, anyone else, to win one game. In game 3 they went with Nelson Briles. Boston countered with Gary Bell on the mound. Bell was in trouble from the start. The Cardinals jumped on him in the first when leadoff hitter Lou Brock tripled, then scored on a Curt Flood single. In the second, Tim McCarver singled and rode home on Mike Shannon’s home run to make the score 3-0. Bell was due to bat in the third, so he stayed in for the entire second inning then was lifted for a pinch hitter in the third. Gary Waslewski, the reliever, did a fine job keeping the Cards off the scoreboard over three hitless inning.

In the sixth, the Red Sox finally got to Briles. Mike Andrews, pinch-hitting for Waslewski, singled, was bunted to second, and came home on a single. But with Waslewski out of the game the Cards struck back against Lee Stange in the bottom of the sixth. Lou Brock singled, then went to third on a failed pick off (Stange threw it away), and came home on Roger Maris’ single.

A Reggie Smith homer in the seventh made the score 4-2, but a Roger Maris single and an Orlando Cepeda double gave the Cardinals one more run and a 5-2 final margin of victory. The big star was Briles who gave up two runs on seven hits, no walks, and struck out four.

Game 4

Tim McCarver

Tim McCarver

Game 4 in 1967 was, is frequently the case, pivotal. In an era that tended to use three-man rotations in the World Series, the game one starters, Jose Santiago for Boston and Bob Gibson for St. Louis, were back on the mound. Boston was looking to even the Series. What they got was a second dose of Gibson’s pitching.

The game effectively ended in the first inning. Back to back singles by Lou Brock and Curt Flood brought Roger Maris to the plate. His double scored both runs. A fly to right recorded both the first out and sent Maris to third. Tim McCarver’s single brought home Maris for the third run. An out and consecutive singles brought home McCarver and sent Santiago to the showers. Reliever Gary Bell (the game three starter and loser) got the last out, but the score stood 4-0 at the end of a single inning.

It was all Gibson needed. He went the full nine innings walking one (Smith in the seventh with one out), giving up five hits, only one (a leadoff ninth inning double by Carl Yastrzemski) for extra bases, and struck out six. Yastrzemski was the only runner to reach second during the game. When getting to third on a fly out, Yastrzemski was the only Bosox to advance to third in the game.

While Gibson was shutting down the Red Sox, the Cards were adding on two more runs in the third. Orlando Cepeda led off the inning with a double, went to third on a wild pitch, and came home on a McCarver fly. A subsequent walk to Mike Shannon and a double by Julian Javier plated the final Cards run.

Down three games to one, the “Impossible Dream” was in deep trouble. Boston would have to run the table or suffer a second consecutive World Series loss to St. Louis (1946).

Game 5

Jim Lonborg

Jim Lonborg

Down to having to win all three games, the Boston Red Sox, on 9 October 1967, turned to ace Jim Lonborg to keep the World Series alive and send the games back to Boston. The Cardinals countered with future Hall of Fame hurler Steve Carlton. It was Carlton’s first appearance on the mound during the Series. It turned out to be a first rate pitching duel.

Both pitchers matched zeroes until the top of the third when, with one out Joe Foy singled. Mike Andrews then laid down a bunt to third which Mike Shannon, a converted outfielder, mishandled allowing Foy to make second and Andrews to be safe at first. A Ken Harrelson single scored Foy for the first run of the game.

And it held up all the way to the ninth. Lonborg was masterful through eight walking none, allowing two singles, and striking out four. Carlton was lifted after six but gave up only the one unearned run while giving up three hits, walking two, and striking out five. Ray Washburn relieved Carlton and in two innings gave up a lone hit and struck out two.

Going into the ninth, the Cards brought Ron Willis into pitch. He walked George Scott, gave up a double to Reggie Smith, then intentionally walked Rico Petrocelli, before being lifted for Jack Lamabe. The new pitcher was greeted by an Elston Howard single that scored both Scott and Smith. A strikeout and a double play ended the inning.

Needing three outs to send the Series back to Boston, Lonborg got consecutive ground outs before Roger Maris drove a ball over the right field fence to score St. Louis’ first run. Another ground out ensured it would be their only run. Boston won 3-1. Although Carlton had pitched well, the day belonged to Lonborg who’d showed everyone just how important he was to the Bosox.

So the World Series would go back to Boston for game six and an if necessary game seven. Not only did the Red Sox have to win both games, they would have to do it without Lonborg or use him on short rest.

 

 

 

 

The Impossible Dream: the Cards

January 5, 2017
Red Schoendienst

Red Schoendienst

In 1967 the baseball world was enamored of the Boston Red Sox. Their season was known, after the Broadway hit, “The Impossible Dream.” The National League pennant winning St. Louis Cardinals were, on the other hand, a team that had shown more recent success. From the 1920s through 1946 (coincidentally against the Red Sox) the Cards were consistent winners. They’d fallen on hard times in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s but had won as recently as 1964. Now a new team (with several holdovers from ’64 still around) was going to challenge Boston in the World Series.

Hall of Fame Manager Red Schoendienst in his third years with St. Louis headed a solid team with four future Hall of Famers. In hitting the team led the NL in stolen bases and placed second in all the triple slash categories (BA/OPB.SLG/OPS) and second in runs, hits, and total bases. They were fourth in home runs and third in doubles. The pitching was also second in most categories (ERA, hits, shutouts, runs) while being third in walks and sixth in strikeouts. The team was fourth in fielding percentage, but sixth in errors.

As with the Red Sox, the Cardinals infield was set. From first around to third it consisted of Orlando Cepeda, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill, and Mike Shannon. Hall of Famer Cepeda led the team in WAR, home runs, RBIs, OPS and OPS+ on his way to the NL MVP Award. Shannon was a converted outfielder who sometimes played like it. He was getting better in the field, but was never going to make anyone forget Brooks Robinson. He hit .245 with 23 home runs and 0 WAR (making him the epitome of an average player). Both Javier and Maxvill were in the lineup for their gloves and both did well enough in the field. Javier, additionally, could hit. He managed .281 with 14 home runs (good for third on the team) and 2.6 WAR. Maxvill hit .227 with one homer. The backups were Ed Spiezio and Phil Gagliano. Neither hit .225.

There was no Carl Yazstremski in the outfield, but it was still solid across the grass. Hall of Famer Lou Brock was in left field. He wasn’t as bad an outfielder as he’s sometimes considered, but he was in the game to hit and run. He went .299 with 21 home runs (second on the team), 76 RBIs, 52 stolen bases, 325 total bases, and 5.6 WAR (third on the team). Center Fielder Curt Flood hadn’t yet become the player’s champion but was, nevertheless, a sterling ball player. He hit a team leading .335 to go with 5.3 WAR. In right field, Roger Maris was 32 and well beyond his home run hitting years as a Yankees stalwart. He hit .261 with nine home runs, 55 RBIs, and 3.6 WAR. The replacements were Bobby Tolan (later of the “Big Red Machine”) and future batting champ Alex Johnson. Tolan had six home runs while Johnson was, at .223, still learning to hit.

If the Red Sox catching situation was a mess, the Cardinals had stability there in the person of Tim McCarver. Not yet a household name because of his years as the color guy on national broadcasts, McCarver was a solid catcher who was having something like a career year. He hit .295, had 14 home runs, 69 RBIs, eight stolen bases, more walks than strikeouts, and 6.0 WAR, good for second on the team. His backups were Dave Ricketts, who hit .273, and John Romano who didn’t come close.

With a couple of exceptions, the Cardinals pitching wasn’t in any better shape than the Bosox. Seven men started 10 or more games during the season. Much of that had to do with a key injury. In July Cards ace Bob Gibson was hit by a batted ball. He made a throw to first, then managed one pitch before collapsing with a broken leg (not many people can do that). He was back by the World Series, but had only gone 13-7 with an ERA of 2.98 (ERA+ 110) and only 2.7 WAR. Dick Hughes and youngster Steve Carlton took up most of the slack. Hughes went 16-6 with a 2.67 ERA, 161 strikeouts, and 3.9 WAR. Future Hall of Famer Carlton led the team with 168 strikeouts in 193 innings, won 14 games, had an ERA of 2.98, and put up 2.9 WAR. Ray Washburn had 10 wins and an ERA north of three fifty. Nelson Briles who started 11 of 49 games had 3.6 WAR. Joe Hoerner led the bullpen with 14 saves followed by Ron Willis who had 10.

All in all the 1967 Cardinals was a fine team. With Gibson back healthy they could be formidable. The first game of the World Series was in Boston.

 

First in St. Louis

March 3, 2016
Johnny Mize with the Cardinals

Johnny Mize with the Cardinals

Did you ever notice how certain teams breed players at particular positions? The Yankees do it at Second Base, in Center Field, and Catching. The Red Sox produce great left fielders. The Dodgers and Giants come up with superior pitchers. St. Louis is one of those. As the title of this little excursion should alert you, for the Cards it’s First Base.

The Cardinals began business in the 1880s as part of the fledgling American Association. They were then called the Browns and were immediately successful and began with an excellent first baseman. Charles Comiskey started at first for the Browns for most of the 1880s. He wasn’t that great a hitter, but he was considered a good fielder (for his era), an innovator in first base play, and spent much of the decade as the team manager. The team won four pennants with him as player-manager.

The team moved to the National League in 1892 and slipped back toward the bottom of the field. They got very little out of their first baseman until Jake Beckley joined the team in 1904. He had one great season, winning a number of league titles, but wasn’t much beyond that. He was followed by Ed Konetchy and Dots Miller as first basemen for the rest of the Deadball Era. They weren’t bad (Konetchy hit over .300 a couple of times), but weren’t particularly notable either and the Cards floundered.

That changed in the 1920s. St. Louis began a long drive toward the top of the standing that culminated in the 1926 National League pennant. Most of the glory had to go to Rogers Hornsby, but the Cards found a pretty fair first baseman to help the Rajah along. He was Jim Bottomley and he was good enough to enter the Hall of Fame, although some think he’s one of those guys who shouldn’t be there. Bottomley won a home run crown and a couple of RBI titles. He lasted through the championship seasons of 1926, 1928, 1930, and 1931 before being replaced by Rip Collins. Collins was a power hitter who fit in quite nicely with the raucous Cardinals team of the 1930s. He hit well, won a home run title, drove in a lot of runs, and became a mainstay of the “Gas House Gang.”

But by 1936 St. Louis had found another power hitting first baseman. His name was Johnny Mize and he became the dominant first baseman in the NL for several years. (I’ve never done anything on him and I need to remedy that). He won a batting title, and RBI title, and a couple of home run titles before being traded to the Giants. He did well there and later helped the Yankees to a couple of championships. But he left just as the Cardinals found the promised land again. The 1942 through 1946 Cards won three championships and four pennants. Ray Sanders did most of the work at first (with Johnny Hopp holding down first in 1942). He was no Mize, but he played well enough. His departure led to a long series of Cardinal first basemen that didn’t last long nor did they provide a lot of thrills. But in some ways it didn’t matter. If all else failed, St. Louis could always bring Stan Musial in from the outfield to play first. He did it a lot and no one cared if he could field or not. He was pretty good with the glove, but his forte was the use of the bat.

Things got back to normal for St. Louis at first with the arrival of Bill White in 1957. He would hold down the position through 1965 and become a major factor in the Cardinals championship run of 1964. He was good with the bat, good with the leather. He was one of the men who constituted an all-St. Louis infield in the All Star game of 1963 (Julian Javier, Dick Groat, and Ken Boyer were the others). White hung around until replaced in 1966 by Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda had been, with Willie McCovey, part of a terrible fielding left field combination at San Francisco. One of them could go to first, but the other would have to stay in left and leak runs or be traded. McCovey was younger, so he got to go to first and Cepeda was traded. The trade was to St. Louis where he ended up at first also. It worked. He won an MVP in 1967 and was part of two pennant winning teams in 1967 and 1968, the ’67 team winning the World Series.

But Cha Cha was getting old and was never much at first, so by 1969 the team was looking for a new first baseman. They tried a couple of different options, but finally settled on ex-catcher, ex-third baseman Joe Torre. He lasted a couple of years before moving on for Keith Hernandez.

Hernandez was the great fielding first sacker of his day. He was universally touted for his defensive skills, so much so that people forgot he could also hit. He won an MVP in 1979 (a tie with Willie Stargell of Pittsburgh), then joined in a championship season in 1982, before moving on to the Mets. And that was it for a while for St. Louis at first base. True they had Jack Clark for a while (and picked up a couple of pennants with him at first) and Pedro Guerrero but neither was a satisfactory answer to their woes at first. That changed with the arrival of Mark McGwire in 1992.

McGwire was the power hitting machine that eventually set a single season home run title. We’ve come to see that record as dubious because of the steroid issue, but for St. Louis it provided a boost in attendance and in winning. By 2001, after a couple of playoff appearances, injuries, questions about steroids, and age took McGwire to the showers. But St. Louis had one throw left at first.

Albert Pujols came to the Cards in 2001. He was rookie of the year and a heck of a hitter. But he had no set position. They tried him in the outfield, then at third. Finally they decided to move him to first. He wasn’t very good at first, at least not for a while. But he got better with the leather and there was never anything wrong with the way he swung the lumber. The team won a pennant, then two World Series’ with Pujols at first. He picked up a ton of hardware including three MVP awards. In 2012 he left for Southern California. St. Louis has yet to replace him.

Although there have been periods when St. Louis first basemen were pedestrian, it’s not all that common. Throughout most of their history they’ve managed to find excellent, if not truly great, first basemen. There’s no Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle handoff nor a Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski baton pass, but over a century and a half, the Cardinals have produced an excellent first base tree.

 

Shutting ’em Down in Game 7: Terry’s Redemption

September 29, 2014
Ralph Terry

Ralph Terry

Ralph Terry was never Whitey Ford, but he was a good pitcher for the New York Yankees. In 1960 he was 0-1 when he was brought into game seven of the 1960 World Series. There were two outs in the bottom of the eighth and he got out of the inning. Then he made two pitches in the ninth. The second one went over the fence in left field to make Pittsburgh world champs. In 1961, the Yankees won the World Series, losing only one game to Cincinnati. The losing pitcher in that one game? You guessed it, Ralph Terry. In 1962 the Yanks were back in the Series, this time against San Francisco. By game seven Terry was 1-1 and was tasked with winning the final game.

It was Ralph Houk’s second New York pennant winner. He’d taken over as manager from Casey Stengel after the 1960 loss and kept the Yankees winning. It was a very different team from the great 1950s New York squads. Moose Skowron was at first, while Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek covered the center of the diamond and slick fielding Clete Boyer held third. Newcomer Tom Tresh was in left field and one year removed from their great home run race Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were the other two outfielders. Yogi Berra was relegated to the bench while Elston Howard did most of the catching.

He caught an aging pitching staff. Five pitchers, including Ford and closer Marshall Bridges were over 30. Terry was the ace that season going 23-12, and was only 26. Bill Stafford and Jim Bouton were both kids.

After six games and a five-day rain delay, the two teams were tied three-three with the final game in San Francisco. Terry had lost game two, but won game five. The long rain delay allowed him to pitch game seven.

He faced a formidable Giants lineup. Orlando Cepeda was at first, Chuck Hiller at second, Jose Pagan at short, and Jim Davenport at third. The outfield consisted of Felipe Alou, Willie McCovey, and Willie Mays. Harvey Kuenn, Matty Alou, and Manny Mota were available off the bench.

Tom Haller caught a staff of Jack Sanford, who came in second to Don Drysdale in the Cy Young Award voting, Juan Marichal, and lefties Billy O’Dell and Billy Pierce. Sanford, like Terry, was 1-1 in Series play and was tabbed for game seven.

Sanford walked a man in the first but got out of it on a fly out by Mantle. In the top of the third the Yanks put two men on, but again Sanford got out of it, this time on a grounder to second. By the top of the fifth, Terry still hadn’t given up a hit and New York finally found a run. Consecutive singles put men on first and third, then a walk loaded the bases. Kubek then rolled one out to short and Skowron scored as the Giants opted to complete a double play.

In the sixth, Terry finally gave up a hit, but no run. With two outs in the seventh, McCovey tripled, but died at third when Cepeda struck out. With the bases loaded in the eighth, Billy O’Dell relieved Sanford. A force at home and a double play later, the Yanks were still ahead 1-0. Consecutive ground outs and a strikeout brought the Giants to their last three outs. On a bunt single, Matty Alou made first. Then Terry struck out both Felipe Alou and Hiller. Mays doubled sending Matty Alou to third and bringing up McCovey. “Stretch” smoked a liner that Richardson snagged to end the inning, the game, and the Series.

For both teams it was something like an ending. The Giants despite good hitting and decent pitching couldn’t get passed the Dodgers and Cardinals and didn’t get back to a World Series until the 1980s. The Yankees won the next two American League pennants, but they, like the Giants, couldn’t get passed the Dodgers and Cardinals before things collapsed in 1965. They would wait until 1976 to make it back to a World Series.

But for Terry it was a shining moment. He was named Series MVP and much of his reputation for failure in the clutch went away. He had one more good year in New York, then a down year and was traded. He was through in 1967. But his work in game seven of 1962 solidified him as a genuine Yankees hero, at least for one World Series.

 

 

Stretch

April 23, 2014
Willie McCovey

Willie McCovey

When I was in Viet Nam I got hit in the arm and had to spend a few days in the walking wounded ward at the base hospital. Most of the guys there were baseball fans so we talked a lot of ball. One of the doctors was a Giants fan and would join us for a few minutes when he made his rounds. He kept talking about how much he was impressed by “Willie” and of course we all presumed he meant Mays. It took a couple of days to figure out he was a big fan of Willie McCovey.

Let’s be honest here, no one ever wanted McCovey for his glove. “Stretch” played because he could pound the ball harder than anyone in captivity, including teammate Mays. He was a pure power hitter, a run producer, and has slipped out of the conversations about baseball today.

Over a 22-year career, mostly with the Giants, McCovey personified pure raw power. At the height of a great pitching era, he led the National League in slugging, and home runs three times each, in RBIs twice, and in home run percentage five times. And he wasn’t doing it with only 25 homers a year.

Personally, I will never forget the first time I saw the famous 1962 World Series play where Bobby Richardson snagged McCoyey’s drive to end the Series. I’m still surprised Richardson’s glove didn’t end up in right field. Actually, I’m surprised his entire left arm didn’t end up somewhere out around where Roger Maris was playing. Maybe it’s part of McCovey’s perception problem that his most famous play was an out.

McCovey came up in 1959 at age 21. He played quite a bit, but not full-time at first base through 1961. In 1962 the Giants got the great idea of putting him in left field. Not a brilliant move, but not as bad as some people thought it was going to be. The problem was the Giants had two big power hitting first basemen who were, to be charitable about it, mediocre glove men: McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. The idea was to get both in the lineup at the same time. For you kiddies, this is back in the pre-Designated Hitter age of baseball, so the current solution wasn’t possible. After a couple of seasons it became obvious that something had to be done. They chose to trade “Cha Cha” to the Cardinals in 1966 (he’d been hurt in 1965). That made McCovey the regular first baseman through 1973. His career on the downside, he went to San Diego, then to Oakland, and finally back to the Giants in 1977. It was his last big year. He hung on into 1980, finally retiring tied with Ted Williams in career home runs and setting a NL record with 18 grand slams.

A great misconception about the 1960s is that pitching absolutely dominated. No question pitching was paramount, but take a look at McCovey in the 1960s. He played 130 or more games seven seasons in the decade (1963-1969). he hit 249 home runs and drove in 666 runs. My guess is that a lot of pitchers kept trying to figure out why they weren’t being dominant as McCovey (or Aaron or Mays for that matter) circled the bases.

I do love McCovey’s walk-strikeout ratio. In 22 years he struck out exactly 205 more than he walked. Not great, but not bad for a modern power hitter. After he left the Giants in 1974 he struck out 126 more times than he walked. So it you study only his beginning and prime Giants years he struck out only 79 more times than he walked, for an average of 5.27 per season. That’s exceptional in the modern age of all or nothing swings.

But he’s still gotten relegated to the backbench of Hall of Fame players. My guess is there are a number of reasons. First, he played in the shadow of Willie Mays for his great years (despite winning the 1969 MVP award). Secondly, his team never won. With all the firepower that was McCovey, Mays, Cepeda, Felipe Alou, and the staff that was Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, the Giants won exactly one NL pennant (1962) and one divisional title (1971). They were always in the shadow of the Dodgers or the Cardinals (or the Miracle Mets) the reasoning seems to go that if you couldn’t beat the banjo hitting Dodgers or the so-so Cardinals how good could the players (aside from Mays) actually be?  Finally, it has just been a while since Willie McCovey played. Most of the people who read this will have never seen him play. That’s a shame. You really missed a heck of a player.

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).

Deceptive Advertising

February 5, 2013
New York Cubans logo

New York Cubans logo

From the beginnings of  segregation of the Major Leagues a certain amount of deception went on. There were those owners and managers who recognized there were black players who were well qualified to play in the big leagues. But custom determined they couldn’t join the party. Creative owners and managers, of which John McGraw was one of the best, tried to find ways around the color barrier. Black players were passed off as American Indians (tribe to be determined if it came up), as Mexicans, and most frequently as Cuban. It never quite worked, but it did lead to the Negro Leagues adopting “Cubans” as one of their more famous names.

There was a “Cubans” as early as 1899. By 1916 there were two of them (known unofficially as “Cubans (West)” and “Cubans (East)”. They spent time in the Negro National League (Cubans West) and the Eastern Colored League (Cubans East). But the Great Depression crippled the already struggling Negro Leagues and both teams folded in the early 1930s. By 1935 the economy was  better, the fans had at least a little more money, and the Negro Leagues were reviving. Alex Pompez (now in the Hall of Fame),  former owner of the Cubans East, resurrected the Cubans styling this team the “New York Cubans.” In 1935 they joined the Negro National League.

The “Cubans” name was always something of a misnomer. Although there were Cubans on the team, the roster generally included Black Americans and players from a number of Latin American countries. For example, Pedro Cepeda, father of Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, was a member of the team. The Cepeda’s were Puerto Rican. Tetelo Vargas was from the Dominican Republic.  Easily the best Cuban on the “Cubans” was Martin DiHigo who played the outfield, second base,  and pitched. So essentially if you were too dark for acceptance in the Major Leagues, and a good ball players, the Cubans would take you.

As a brief aside I should point out that Cubans were allowed into the Major Leagues. As early as the 1870s and 1880s, Esteban Bellan played in the National League. During the 1920s and 1930s such players as Bobby Estalella (father of the recent catcher), and Dolf Luque played Major League baseball. The difference was that each of these players was considered “light” enough to play while the players active with the Cubans were too “dark” to get a chance at the big leagues.

In 1935, the Cubans finished third of eight) in the NNL, six and a half games out of first. In 1936, the fell back to fourth (of six). In 1937 and 1938 they were inactive due to the legal troubles of their owner. By 1939 they were back in the NNL finishing last (of six). Between 1940 and 1942 they finished in the middle of the pack, finally taking second in 1943. In 1944 and 1945 they were back in the second division, finally getting back to second in 1946. They broke through in 1947, winning their only NNL pennant by seven and a half games.

The 1947 pennant winners included 40-year-old Luis Tiant (father of the 1960 and 1970 American League pitcher) who went 10-0 on the mound with Lino Dinoso and Pat Scantlebury as the other primary pitchers. Both Tiant and Dinoso were Cubans, Scantlebury was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Pedro Pages, Claro Duany, and Cleveland Clark were the outfield, with Lorenzo Cabrera, Rabbit Martinez, Silvio Garcia, and Minnie Minoso holding down the infield from first around to third. The catching duties were divided between Ray Noble and Louis Louden. Jose Maria Fernandez managed the team. They squared off against the Cleveland Buckeyes in the best of  seven Negro World Series. With game one ending in a tie, they lost game two then came back to win four in a row, thus giving them their only Negro World Series title.

It was the high point for the Cubans. In 1948 they finished second and at the end of the year the NNL folded. the Negro American League took in some of the NNL teams, including the Cubans. They finished fourth (of five)  in the NAL  Eastern Division (the NAL went to two divisions in 1949) in both 1949 and 1950. That was all for the team. It ceased playing after the 1950 season, a victim to lost revenue, lost fans, and the integration of the Major Leagues.

One-Trick Pony

December 23, 2010

In keeping with the animal theme that seems to be have started around here, I want to write about one-trick ponies. A one-trick pony is a circus horse that can only do one thing. He can do it really well, but doesn’t do anything else well. He still gets to be in the show doing that one trick. Baseball and its Hall of Fame are full of this kind of player.

In one sense all pitchers are essentially one-trick ponies. Their job is to pitch (and do that job only every second, third, fourth, or fifth day depending on the era). A closer is even more so, because his job is to pitch to one (and sometimes two) innings worth of hitters. Some of them, like Babe Ruth or Walter Johnson can hit some. No body cares. They are there to pitch and if they hit some, well, that’s great icing on the cake. Some of them, like Jim Kaat or Greg Maddux, field well. No body cares. They are there to pitch and if they field some, well, that’s great icing on the cake. Some, like Lefty Gomez, don’t do either well. No body cares. If they don’t field or hit well no body pulls them from the starting lineup because they can’t field a bunt or hit a curve. Can you imagine the following conversation? “Sorry, Lefty, you won’t start today because you can’t field a bunt.” Neither can I.  And almost by definition American League pitchers of the last 40 years can’t hit because of the designated hitter rule.

There are also guys who have great gloves and no sticks. Bill Mazeroski (who was an OK hitter, but nothing special), Rabbit Maranville, Nellie Fox (who had the one great year with a bat), and Bobby Wallace come instantly to mind. It seems that baseball always finds a way to get them into the lineup. I exclude catchers who don’t hit well, because most of them do a number of things well (like throw, block the plate, move to fouls, control the tempo of the game, etc.).

And then there are the sluggers who seem to always find a batting order spot. I mean guys like Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Ted Williams, and Orlando Cepeda. All of them hit, and all of them were less than sterling in the field (and I’m being generous here).  Despite the greatness of Williams and the others, they are simply another bunch of one-dimensional players.

All of which brings me to Edgar Martinez, an excellent example of a one-trick pony. What he did was hit and hit well. His knees gave out and he couldn’t field, but he could still hit.

You know what Killebrew, Kiner, Williams,  Cepeda, Mazeroski, Maranville, Fox, Wallace, and Gomez have in common besides being one-trick ponies? They’re also Hall of Famers (and Maddux will be). This is not a plea to put Martinez in the Hall, although I would vote for him, but to acknowledge that the reason many people say he shouldn’t be in (“All he could do was hit.”) is an invalid reason for excluding a man from the Hall. There are already a lot of guys in the Hall who could only do one thing, so excluding Martinez because he could only do one thing is silly. Maybe he should be excluded. Maybe his numbers aren’t good enough. Maybe he doesn’t have the proper leadership skills or the proper moral character and thus should be excluded. Fine by me, exclude him. Just make sure you do it for the right reasons.

Evaluating the Giants

November 5, 2010

I guess it’s time I add my congratulations to the Giants on their World Series victory. I have to admit I didn’t see it coming, having picked both Philadelphia and St. Louis to be the NL teams in the LCS. But with that congratulations comes a caveat from someone who studies baseball history. This isn’t the best Giants team to win a pennant. That goes, in my opinion, to the 1962 version.

Check out the starting lineup of game seven of the 1962 World Series. Felipe Alou leads off, Willie Mays bats third, Willie McCovey hits clean up, and Orlando Cepeda is in the five hole. Jack Sanford is on the mound and would have won the Cy Young Award that year if not for a fellow named Drysdale. Juan Marichal had pitched earlier and even Gaylord Perry had played a little in the season (but wasn’t a major factor in the team winning). The team got through a bruising 1962 three game playoff with Los Angeles to get to the Series, then battled the Yankees down to the last out. McCovey’s smash that Bobby Richardson caught ended game seven with crucial runs on base. To me it’s the best Giants pennant winner ever, although others may prefer the Hubbell-Ott teams of the 1930s, or the John McGraw teams of the 1920s and the 1900s.

What this team reminds of most is a combination of the  hitting of the 2002 Angels and the pitching of the 1985 Royals. The ’02 Angels (who just happened to beat the Giants in the Series) were led by the likes of Garrett Anderson, Tim Salmon, David Eckstein, and Troy Glaus. Nice players all, but not great stars. To be honest, I look over the roster and I can’t find a Hall of Famer in the lot. That’s unusual because almost every team that wins a World Series has at least one Hall of Famer around  somewhere. But they’re still a lot of really nice players who did well. Unlike the ’85 Royals, there was no George Brett around.  Take a look at the current World Series winning Giants roster, which also has no George Brett. Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, and Juan Uribe are all nice players and make teams better by their presence. But there’s not a truly great player there. Much like the Angels the sum of the parts is much superior to the bits themselves.

But pitching-wise, the 2010 Giants remind me very much of the 1985 Royals. Lincecum, Cain, Wilson have their counterparts in Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson, and Dan Quisenberry. Both teams feature quality pitching that goes deep down the staff.  They both have two-time Cy Young winners (Lincecum and Saberhagen) and first-rate relievers (Wilson and Quisenberry). The second and third spot pitchers are better than average for both teams.

Unfortunately for Kansas City, the staff didn’t hold up. Arms went, other parts of the anatomy failed, wildness took over, and in Quisenberry’s case disease took him early. That’s a precautionary tale for anyone ready to assign long-term greatness to the Giants. Maybe the arms will hold up, but maybe they won’t. Whichever the case, congrats to the 2010 version.