Posts Tagged ‘Phil Rizzuto’

The First Integrated World Series: Lavagetto’s Double

April 22, 2015

After sweeping Brooklyn in the Bronx, the New York Yankees stood poised to take the 1947 World Series handily. They would have three games in Ebbets Field and if they could win two, the Series was theirs. For Brooklyn, they had to win at least two to send the Series back to the Bronx. The fans ended up getting three interesting games.

Game 3

Hugh Casey

Hugh Casey

Game 3 was played on 2 October. The Dodgers sent Joe Hatten to the mound to stop the Yanks. New York countered with old-timer Bobo Newsom, aged 39 and seven years from his game 7 loss in 1940. Neither man got through the fifth inning as the game turned into a slugfest.

Newsom was the first to go. The Dodgers got to him for six runs in the bottom of the second. With one out, a walk, a double, and a single plated two runs. Another out, and a single  put men on second and third. A two-run double by Eddie Stanky made the score 4-0 and sent Newsom to the showers. Vic Raschi, of 1950s fame, replaced him. He watched Jackie Robinson single, then another two run double, this one by Carl Furillo, made the score 6-0. Finally a Dixie Walker ground out stopped the bleeding.

The Yankees responded with two in the third, but Brooklyn got one of those back in the bottom of the inning. In the fourth New York got two on a walk, a Sherm Lollar double, and a Snuffy Stirnweiss single. Not to be outdone, the Dodgers got both back in he bottom of the fourth on a pair of walks and two singles. By now it was 9-4.

The fifth saw a walk and a Joe DiMaggio home run narrow the score to 9-6. It also sent Hatten out of the game, replaced by Dodgers ace Ralph Branca. Branca finished the inning, but gave up a run on a Tommy Henrich double in the sixth and then a Yogi Berra home run made it 9-8 in the seventh. It was the first ever pinch hit home run in World Series history, and it sent Branca to the clubhouse and brought in Brooklyn’s bullpen ace big Hugh Casey. To this point, Casey was most famous for a 1941 pitch mix up with two out in the bottom of the ninth in game four of the World Series that let the Yankees win the game. He got redemption in 1947. He went 2.2 innings, gave up one run, one walk, and struck out one, and allowed only one other runner as far as second. The Dodgers won 9-8 to close the Series to a one game Yankees advantage.  Both teams had 13 hits. Fans wondered if the next game would also be a hammering match.

Game 4

Cookie Lavagetto

Cookie Lavagetto

There was never a World Series game quite like game four. It became one of the most famous of all World Series games. In it, a journeyman almost did the impossible and the Dodgers bench stepped up. Bill Bevens started for New York and Harry Taylor began the game for Brooklyn. By the time the day was over they sported two of the stranger pitching lines in World Series history.

Taylor faced four batters. Snuffy Stirnweiss and Tommy Henrich both singled, then Yogi Berra hit into a fielder’s choice which Dodgers shortstop PeeWee Reese dropped to load the bases. A walk to Joe DiMaggio brought in the first run and sent Taylor to the showers. He’d faced four men, given up two hits, a walk, got no one out, and given up an unearned run. Hal Gregg replaced him and got out of the inning with a pop to short and a double play grounder.

Bevens then went to work. He was wild, but he was effective. Over the first four innings he issued four walks and struck out three. He left men on base in every inning but the fourth. Meanwhile his teammates tacked on another run with a Billy Johnson triple and a Johnny Lindell double. With the score 2-0, Bevens went into the fifth with a no-hitter still going. He walked Spider Jorgensen and pitcher Gregg. A bunt  sent Jorgensen to third and a grounder to shortstop Phil Rizzuto got a second out, but allowed Jorgensen to score without benefit of a hit. The score stood 2-1 and the Dodgers still didn’t have a hit.

Bevens walked one more man in both the sixth and seventh, but no Brooklyn player picked up a hit or scored. By the bottom of the ninth the Yankees were still ahead 2-1 and Bevens pitching line stood at 8 innings pitched, 8 walks, 5 strikeouts, 1 run allowed, and 0 hits allowed. It wasn’t pretty, but it was three outs from the first no-hitter in the World Series. A fly recorded the first out, then Carl Furillo walked. A foul provided the second out. At this point, Dodgers manager Burt Shotten, sent speedy outfielder Al Gionfriddo in to run for Furillo. Gionfriddo immediately stole second, leaving first open. The Brooklyn pinch hitter, Pete Reiser was walked intentionally. No one was quite sure why. There were two outs and Reiser had a bad leg. Anything that stayed in the park was likely to result in an out. With Reiser unable to run, Shotten sent another speedy player, Eddie Miksis, to replace him at first, then called on pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto. He was a backup third baseman who’d gotten into 41 games that year and hit .261 with three homers and a double. So far he was 0-2 in the Series. He turned on a Bevens pitch and drove it high against the right field wall (it missed the “Hit Sign, Win Suit” sign) and bounced back toward the infield. Gionfriddo and Miksis were, with two out, off with the crack of the bat. Gionfriddo scored to tie the game and Miksis easily beat the throw to plate the winning run. Lavagetto stopped that second with his second double all year.

Bevens had given up one hit and lost. Taylor hadn’t gotten anyone out and had not taken a loss. It was a strange pair of pitching lines in one of the more memorable World Series games ever played. As importantly, the Series was now tied at two games apiece.

Game 5

Joltin' Joe

Joltin’ Joe

There was no way game five was going to match the drama of game four, but for intensity, it was close. The Dodgers sent 22-year-old Rex Barney to the mound. New York countered with game one starter Spec Shea.

In the first, Barney got out of a bases loaded jam, then put two on in both the second and third but no Yankees scored. Shea, on the other hand, was perfect through three. In the fourth Barney, with two outs, walked both Aaron Robinson and Phil Rizzuto, bringing up Shea. The Yankees pitcher singled to left to bring home Robinson with the game’s first run. Another walk loaded the bases, but a grounder to second ended the threat. Brooklyn finally got a base runner when Shea walked PeeWee Reese. A pop to first and a grounder kept Reese at first. In the fifth, with one out, Joe DiMaggio hit a home run to deep left field to make the score 2-0. Following a second out and a walk, Joe Hatten replaced Barney on the mound.

The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the sixth, when Al Gionfriddo, pinch-hitting for Hatten, coaxed a walk, went to second on another walk, then scored on Jackie Robinson’s single. With the score 2-1, Shea got into a bit of trouble in the seventh, but pitched out of it. By the bottom of the ninth he’d walked five, struck out six, and given up three hits. Dodgers catcher Bruce Edwards led off the ninth with a single, went to second on a bunt, and stayed there after a fly failed to advance him. Brooklyn then sent up yesterday’s hero, Cookie Lavagetto to pinch hit. Shea struck him out to end the game.

With New York up 3 games to 2, the Series shifted back to the Bronx for game six and an if necessary game seven. The Yanks had to play .500 ball to win, the Dodgers had to win both. Like game 4, game 6 became a classic.

The First Integrated World Series: the Yanks

April 16, 2015
The Yankee Clipper

The Yankee Clipper

There was less disarray among the 1947 New York Yankees than there was with Brooklyn, but it was in some turmoil because it was a team in transition. Between 1921 and 1943 New York had never gone more than three seasons without a pennant. By failing to win in 1944, 1945, and 1946, they’d just matched that record. The idea of going four in a row was anathema. So it brought on changes within the team.

The most noticeable change, in many ways, was the man in charge in the dugout. After 16 years as manager, Joe McCarthy was gone. A combination of losing, poor teams during the war, his drinking, and new management had sent McCarthy and his seven world championships into retirement. In his place was rookie manager Bucky Harris. Now Harris was a rookie manager only in the sense of being new to the Yanks. He’d managed the Senators as far back as their single World Series title in 1924 and had spent other years managing in Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia. On the hot seat after replacing the manager with the most championships ever and leading a team used to winning, Harris was able to provide stability to his team.

The infield was changed from the glory years. George McQuinn was at first after playing the same position for the Browns and Athletics. He hit over .300 and his 13 home runs tied for third on the team. Snuffy Stirnweiss had been around for a while. He’d taken over at second during the war years and was terrific. He’d picked up a batting title in 1945. Then reality set in. The major players were back from the war; the dominant pitchers were back on the mound. Stirnweiss suffered against them. His WAR (BBREF version) went from the mid-eights to the mid-threes. It was still better than backup Lonny Frey, seven years removed from his term with the world championship Reds of 1940. He’d come to New York in mid-season and hit .179. Phil Rizzuto hit .273, led the team in stolen bases, and was one of the better shortstops of the era. The primary third baseman was Billy Johnson. He had 10 home runs, had an ERA+ of 114 and was being challenged by Bobby Brown (who would later be President of the American League).

The outfield saw more stability. Johnny Lindell was now the regular in left field. He hit .275 with 11 home runs. He was the replacement for Charlie Keller. Keller was having back problems and so only saw action in 45 games. He only hit .238 but tied for third on the team with 13 home runs. His .550 slugging percentage and .954 OPS led the Yanks. Right field remained with Tommy Henrich. He led the team with 98 RBIs, and with 109 runs scored. His 158 hits was second on the team as were his 16 homers. And of course he was second in both to Joe DiMaggio. The Yankee Clipper hit .315, had 20 home runs, 97 RBIs, 168 hits, walked 64 times then had 31 doubles and 32 strikeouts. Just a more or less normal DiMaggio year.

No where was in greater transition than the catching job. Aaron Robinson began the year as the primary catcher. He was 32, hit .270, was a decent catcher, and by the end of the year was losing his job to second year man, the 22-year-old Yogi Berra. Berra hit .280, had 11 home runs, 54 RBIs, and 41 runs scored in 293 at bats. His catching numbers were on par with Robinson’s and in some cases (passed balls and caught stealing percentage) slightly better. The third catcher was Ralph Houk. He didn’t play much in 1947, but he would later manage the Yanks to three pennants and two World Series championships. Future All Star Sherm Lollar got into 11 games behind the plate.

But easily the most notable transition was in the pitching staff. Gone were the stalwarts of the 1930s and early 1940s, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. Allie Reynolds was now the ace. He came over from Cleveland at the beginning of 1947,went 19-8 and posted an ERA+ of 110. He walked 123 while striking out 129 and gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Vic Raschi was only 7-2 in his rookie year (he’d pitched two games the year before), but was already 28. He would join Reynolds as one of the mainstays of the early 1950s Yanks. Spec Shea was the second pitcher. He went 14-5 and had both 89 walks and 89 strikeouts. Bill Bevens, like Shea, had the same number of walks as strikeouts. In his case 77 of each. He was a journeyman who went 7-13 during the regular season, but would make the most of his one starting opportunity in World Series play. Spud Chandler and Bobo Newsom, both aged 39, rounded out the starters. Fireman Joe Page was the primary reliever, garnering 17 saves, while relieving in 44 of 56 games. Karl Drews started 10 games and pitched in 30. No one else appeared in more than 25 games. Tommy Byrne, who would come to fame on the 1950s Yanks got into four games. Except for Page (and Byrne) all of them were right-handed.

They were a formidable team and favored in the Series. Since 1927 they’d won nine World Series and lost only one. In 1941 they’d beaten the Dodgers in five games. Most writers expected them to do so again, although it might take more than five games.

The One They Lost

March 13, 2012

Between 1927 and 1954 the New York Yankees put together baseball’s greatest dynasty. In those 28 years the Yanks went to the World Series 16 times (57% of the time) and won 15 Series’ (94%). This is the story of the one they lost.

1942 Yankees

By the 1942 World Series the Yankees had won the last eight World Series’ they had played in (1927-8, 1932, 1936-39, and 1941). Except for losing Tommy Henrich to the military, they had not suffered significantly because of the Second World War. With Buddy Hassett at first, Joe Gordon at second, Phil Rizzuto at short, Red Rolfe at third, Bill Dickey behind the plate, and an outfield of Charlie Keller, Joe DiMaggio, and Roy Cullenbine the team hit well. The pitching was also good, but beginning to age a little. Red Ruffing was still there, but a fading ace. Ernie Bonham (the ace in ’42), Spud Chandler, and Hank Borowy all started 20 or more games and Johnny Murphy was the main bullpen man with 11 saves.

1942 Cardinals

Their opponents were a bunch of upstarts, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards hadn’t won since the Gas House Gang days of 1934, but won 106 games in 1942. It was a young team with only center fielder Terry Moore among the starters being over 29 (he was 30). The infield was (first around to third) Johnny Hopp, Creepy Crespi, Marty Marion, and Whitey Kurowski. Walker Cooper did the catching, and the outfield consisted of Enos Slaughter, Moore, and the best player on either team, Stan Musial. During the Series, utility man Jimmy Brown (age 32) took over second base for the light hitting Crespi. The staff was also young with ace Mort Cooper (Walker’s brother and winner of the ’42 National League MVP) the old man at 29.  Johnny Beazley was 24, Ernie White was 25, and Max Lanier was 26. Harry Gumbert, who was a geezer at 32, started 19 games and did the bulk of the bullpen work picking up five saves.

Games 1 and 2 were in St. Louis. Red Ruffing handcuffed the Cards for the first eight innings of game one. While not exactly lighting up Mort Cooper, the Yanks steadily put up runs, leading 7-0 going into the bottom of the ninth. They were helped by four Cardinal errors. But the bottom of the ninth became something of a warning for the Yankees. The Cards scored four runs on a handful of singles, a triple by Marion and some weak bullpen pitching by the Yanks. The inning is somewhat notable for more than just the four runs. Stan Musial joined a small group of others in making two outs in a single inning in the World Series. If Musial makes two outs in one inning, that shows you how tough a game it really is.

Game two saw the Cards score two runs in the first on Walker Cooper’s double. That was it for St. Louis for six innings. The Cardinals got another run in the bottom of the seventh on a Whitey Kurowski triple. Then New York struck in the top of the eighth, putting up three runs to tie the score. The key hit was a two-run homer by Charlie Keller. With two out in the bottom of the eighth, Slaughter doubled and Musial singled him home with the lead run. In the ninth, Slaughter had a great throw from right field that caught a runner going to third and snuffed out a Yankees rally.

With the Series tied at one game each, the next three games were in New York. In game three southpaw Ernie White held the Yankees to six hits, all singles, and pitched a complete game shutout. The Cards only got five hits, three off starter Spud Chandler, but put up a run in the third on a walk, a single, a bunt, and a ground out. They got an unearned run in the ninth on two singles sandwiched around an error by pitcher Marv Breuer.

Game four was a shootout. New York got a run in the first, then St. Louis exploded for six runs in the fourth. Except for a Musial double that scored one run, they did it all with singles and walks. Not to be outdone, the Yankees scored five of their own in the sixth. The big blow was another Keller home run, this one a three run job. With the score tied in the seventh, St. Louis scored two runs on consecutive walks, a single, and a sacrifice. They added a final run in the ninth on (again) a bunch of singles, bunts, and a final single by the pitcher (Lanier).

Down three games to one, the Yankees struck first when Phil Rizzuto led off the bottom of the first with a home run. That held up until the fourth, when Slaughter answered with another homer (the first Cardinal home run of the Series). New York responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the fourth, this time using the Cardinals method of singles and bunts to plate the go-ahead run. In the top of the sixth, St. Louis got a run on two singles and a fly to tie the game back up. It stayed that way until the top of the ninth. With one out and Walker Cooper on second, Kurowski hit a two-run home run to put the Cardinals ahead. With two on and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, Cooper and Marion worked a pick off that cut down Joe Gordon at second for the first out. A pop up and a ground out ended the game and the Series giving St. Louis its first championship since Dizzy Dean.

It was actually a darned good series, despite only going five games. The Yankees outhit and out slugged St. Louis but scored only 18 runs (13 earned) on 44 hits, nine of them for extra bases (including three home runs). The Cardinals put up 23 runs (22 earned) on 39 hits, only eight for extra bases (two home runs, both in game five).  A key difference was that St. Louis worked for 17 walks while New York only had eight (an OBP of .311 to .280 in favor of the Cards). Yankees pitching had an ERA of 4.50 and a WHIP of 1.273, while St. Louis’ ERA was 2.60 with a 1.156 WHIP. Johnny Beazley won two games, Lanier got one and pitched well in relief. Kurowski had big hits in two wins, including the clinching home run in game five. For New York Charlie Keller had five RBIs despite hitting only .200. Ruffing got the only win.

New York would get their revenge the next season when they knocked off St. Louis in five games (the Cards won game two). That was a temporary end of the line for the Yanks. They would miss the Series for the next three years, but by 1947 had reloaded and went on a run that saw them win six World Series (1947, 1949-52) in seven years. 

But for the Cardinals 1942 was the beginning of their greatest run. They took pennants in 1942, 43, 44, and 46 and won the World Series in each year except 1943. The young guns would remain the keys to the team throughout the period, although change would see a number of other “youngsters” join the team, including Hall of Fame announcer Joe Garagiola and Cooperstown inductee Red Schoendienst. Outside St. Louis, though, the 1942 World Series is primarily known as the one the Yankees lost.

Tall at Short

July 13, 2011

In my last post I answered Bill Miller’s question concerning my evaluation of Derek Jeter as an all-time Yank. Bill actually asked two questions. The second asked my opinion as to Jeter’s position in the shortstop pantheon. So, as I said earlier, I’m not immune from putting my foot solidly in my mouth, so here’s a reply to that query.

First the evaluations of shortstops are more difficult than a lot of positions. By general consensus Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson, and Barry Bonds (done in the order they arrived in the big leagues) are the top four left fielders. There record as left “fielders”, as opposed to hitters is a mixed bag. Let me ask this, do you seriously care? Probably not. All are in the lineup to hit and it they can catch and throw then you have gravy. But it doesn’t work that way with a shortstop. You can’t just concentrate on his hitting. Fielding matters and fielding stats are most nebulous and imprecise of baseball stats. So you can’t just look at Jeter and say, “Well, sure, he’s better than Ozzie Smith because Smith didn’t hit nearly as well” (Using Smith purely as an example). That may be true, but Smith was twice the fielder that Jeter is (and that’s true of Smith versus almost anyone at short) and so that must be taken into serious consideration. If you decide that Williams and Bonds are a dead tie as hitters, you can use fielding as a way of picking one over the other, but with shortstops you have to consider this stat from the start. So looking at shortstops requires going into the fielding stats minefield.

Secondly, an inordinate number of truly fine shortstops have spent a lot (and I mean a LOT) of time at other positions. Honus Wagner was up for several years before settling at short, Robin Yount and Ernie Banks were both hurt and transfered to other positions (Yount to the outfield and Banks to first base) for significant parts of their career. In fact Banks ended up with more games at first than short, and Yount ended up with more total games in the outfield (but not at any single position in the outfield) than at short. And to give you a contemporary player, Alex Rodriguez has now spent more time at thrid than at short. All this makes it difficult to view a player as a shortstop rather than as an overall players (although doing so year by year instead of via career numbers makes it easier). Besides what do you call Yount, a shortstop of an outfielder? To solve that I went to the Hall of Fame site and looked how they defined a player. They say Yount and Banks are both shortstops (and Willie Stargell a left fielder as opposed to a first baseman–just to give you some idea of what they do). So I decided to add both to my list. I left ARod off (which I know isn’t great for consistency) because he’s still playing and it is possible he will shift back to short and solve the question or will end up spending twice as many games at third and solve the problem that way. As I don’t know what will happen there (“It is always easier to prophesy after the event.”–Winston Churchill) I left him off.

So here’s my thought on the matter. I’ll list my one and two players, then the next three in alphabetical order. I’m certain who I think is first and who is second. Three through five tend to shift around depending on the day, the stats I’m looking at, the latest book I’ve read (the phases of the moon), but I’m reasonably confident which three go there.

1. Honus Wagner. There are a lot of really good shortstops, but Wagner is still head  and shoulders above the rest. Personally, I think the drop from number one to number two is greater at shortstop than at any other position (no offense to number two, below).

2. Cal Ripken. He set the standard for a new kind of shortstop. He was mobile and he had power. He didn’t have the flash of Smith, but he was very adept at playing the hitter in such a way that he very seldom had to make a spectacular play.

3-5. Ernie Banks, Arky Vaughan, Robin Yount. Banks was the prototype for Ripken. It just didn’t take. All three of these are much alike. They are good enough shortstops (I’d rate Yount as the best) with a glove, but all hit very well; Banks for good power, Yount for occasional power. Both Yount and Banks win double MVPs and Vaughan could well have won one.

So where is Jeter? He’s in the next bunch. There are an entire pack of really good quality shortstops that can be rated 6-10. There’s Ozzie Smith, the underrated Alan Trammel, Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, both Lu Ap’s (Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling), Reese, Rizzuto, Omar Vizquel, and old-timer George Davis who could take the next five slots (and I’m sure I left off at least one deserving candidate). Jeter is one of those that fit right in with this group. Right now I’d certainly put him in the mix, probably very high in that mix. I’m reasonably sure he’s going to move up my food chain. I expect him to end up a top five, possibly as high as third or fourth. But I’m going to wait until the career ends to drop him into a definite hole.

Having said that, he ought to get at least an extra point or two for standing along the first base line, grabbing a badly thrown ball, and flipping to Posada to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate during the playoffs. Arguably the greatest play I ever saw. For all the overhyping of Derek Jeter (and I’ve been critical of it) he is the closest we’ve had to a baseball icon since the steroid scandal broke. Baseball could surely use one and Jeter has done a good job of filling that role.

The Greatest General Manager

November 16, 2010

Ed Barrow

A title like the one above is dangerous. People can always say “Hey, dope, you forgot…”. Well, in this case I think I’m quite safe in picking Ed Barrow is the finest General Manager to ever grace the game.

Barrow was born in May 1868. After a short newspaper stint in Iowa, Barrow moved to Pittsburgh in 1890 and by 1895 had served as manager in Wheeling, West Virginia and Paterson, New Jersey. In ’95 while in New Jersey, he signed Honus Wagner (see what I mean about greatest) to a contract. By 1903 he was manager of the Detroit Tigers, finishing fifth in an eight team league. He left in 1904 and went back to managing in the minors. In 1910 he took over presidency of the Eastern League and in 1918 became manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Barrow made one major change to the Sox roster in 1918. He moved Babe Ruth from being primarily a pitcher who could hit a bit to an outfielder who could pitch a bit. Boston promptly won the World Series. Barrow stayed at Boston through 1920. The owner, Harry Frazzee, was in the process of dismantling the team for cash. The most famous sale was Ruth to New York, but it also cost him his manager. Barrow also moved to New York, this time in the role of business manager (the modern equivalent is general manager). It’s here that Barrow flourished. Given pretty much a free hand by Yankees ownership, between 1920 and 1945 Barrow helped create the greatest dynasty in Major League history. He was largely responsible for bringing up such players as Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Earle Combs for the 1920s Yankees team. In the 1930s he added Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey (Dickey actually came up in 1928, but didn’t start), Phil Rizzuto, Lefty Gomez, Tommy Henrich, and Charley Keller. He also was an astute trader, picking up journeyman Red Ruffing from Boston to be the ace of the 1930’s team.

In 1945, Barrow became president of the Yankees, holding the job for two years. He retired after the 1947 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953. He died later that same year.

There is no question that the Yankees teams that dominated baseball between 1921 and 1947 owed their success to the quality of the players on the field. Ed Barrow was largely responsible for putting those teams together. Branch Rickey may have been more influential by creating the farm system and integrating baseball, but Barrow was more successful on the diamond. He gets my vote as the best GM ever.

The Way to Win: The Bronx Bombers

August 9, 2010

Joe McCarthy

The second great Yankees dynasty took the field between 1936 and 1943. The team won seven pennants (1936-39, 1941-1943) and six World Series’ (all but 1942). Over that period of time, the roster changed significantly, but not the types of players available. The manager remained stable as did a handful of the players.

Manager Joe McCarthy was slightly different from the other Yankees dynasty managers. He never got to the Major Leagues and he was a successful manager prior to joining the Yankees. He took the 1929 Chicago Cubs to the World Series where they lost in five games. He got to New York in time to see the 1932 World’s Championship and the final years of Babe Ruth. Like Miller Huggins, he knew how to run a team, how to utilize his talent and how to mesh players. He also had a drinking problem. This would hurt him later when, after retiring from New York, he took up the managerial job in Boston.

The great stars off this team were Lou Gehrig. still around from the 1920s team, Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, and Bill Dickey. Gehrig was through by 1939 and dead a couple of years later, but the others remained for the entire period except for games lost to World War II.

A number of truly good players came and went during the 1936-1943 period. Tony Lazzeri was still around in both ’36 and ’37 (although it might be fair to place him in the role player category by this point in his career). Lefty Gomez joined Ruffing as a pitching mainstay. Outfielder Tommy Henrich showed up in 1937, second baseman Joe Gordon the next year, and Charlie Keller in 1939. In 1941 Phil Rizzuto joined the team.

The number of role players varies depending very much on the war. There are several players who step up during the war (guys like Stuffy Stirnweiss and Nick Etten) along with already established players like Red Rolfe, George Selkirk, and Frankie Crosetti. On the mound, Spud Chandler replaced Gomez and Johnny Murphy became one of the better early relief specialists.

There were even the one-year wonders. Pitcher Steve Sundra went 11-1 for the Yankees in 1939. For the rest of his career he’s 45-40. Babe Dahlgren, and otherwise undistinguished player, stepped in for Gehrig and clubbed 15 home runs (Gehrig had 29 in 1938).

The Yankees put together a long pennant streak, winning every year except 1940 when Detroit took the pennant and 1942 when Stan Musial’s Cardinals defeated them in five games. Again they won with a strong manager and a mix of great players, role players, solid starters, and a few flukes. This will happen again in the 1950s under Casey Stengel and also in the 1990s with Joe Torre. But next I want to turn to a team that helps bring one of those dynasties to a close and on the surface looks radically different.

A Hole in the Lineup

May 17, 2010

Did you ever notice how certain teams breed great or really good players at some positions and end up with less sterling players at others? I wonder why that is. It can’t be just a team having lousy scouts or dumb management, because it’s too widespread.  A couple of examples are in order.

The Yankees have produced an inordinate number of truly great catchers and second basemen. Take a look at Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada. The first two are in the Hall of Fame, the last one has a good chance of joining them. Now take a look at Yankees second basemen. There’s Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon, both Hall of Famers, and Bobby Richardson, Billy Martin, Willie Randolph, Robinson Cano, all of which would get support in some quarters. Not the greatest set of second basemen ever, but a heck of a good quality set. We could do the same for the outfield (minus left field) and on the mound.

Now  contrast those positions with the rest of the infield. At first base there’s one all-time great (Gehrig), one really good player (Mattingly) and the rest of the crew. Shortstop is the same way with Jeter and Ruzzuto being way above the rest of the pack (except for Bucky Dent for one afternoon in Boston). Then there’s third base. I guess I’d go with Graig Nettles (What, momma couldn’t decide if she wanted Greg or Craig?) and Red Rolfe as the cream of the crop, with maybe a nod to Clete Boyer’s glove, but you gotta admit any of them is a real step down.

I’m a Dodgers fan. They have the same problem. An outfield of Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Zack Wheat, Willie Davis, Tommy Davis isn’t bad; and Campanella, Piazza, Scioscia, and Al Lopez is a pretty good collection of catchers; and the pitching staff can be great. But look at the infield. At short there’s PeeWee Reese and Maury Wills, and little else. At second there’s Jackie Robinson and  Jim Gilliam (who could play anywhere, but I’ve put him at second) along with a bunch of decent, but unspectacular other guys. First has Hodges and Garvey who are OK, but not true top rung players (and, yes, I’m a supporter of Hodges for the Hall). And again there’s third base. I suppose I’ll take Ron Cey as the best of the lot. He was a good enough player, probably the best of the 1970s infield crew, but if that’s the best you can do, well…

I can go through team after team and do the same thing. Look at the Phillies at first base. Howard may be their best ever and he hasn’t played 10 years yet. Ditto Chase Utley.

I have no idea why this is so. Maybe there’s just a lack of really good quality players at certain positions. Maybe it’s the chance in emphasis in the way a position is played (take a look at the difference in second and third basemen between 1915 and 1965). Maybe some teams really aren’t very good at spotting talent at certain positions. I don’t know the answer, I merely point out the phenomena.

Best Possible Game 2

December 10, 2009

Beginning in 1936 and ending in 1943 the Yankees won 6 World Series’, missed one (1940), and lost one. The one they lost was in 1942. They lost it to the St. Louis Cardinals in 5 games. Game 2 was critical.

The Yankees won game 1 of the 1942 World Series 7-4. Game 2 was played the next day in St. Louis. The Yankees sent  9 game winner Ernie (Tiny) Bonham to the mound against Cardinals 21 game winner Johnny Beazley. The Yanks had Hall of Famers Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Bill Dickey in the lineup. The Cardinals countered with Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial.

The Cards scored in the 1st on a walk, a fielder’s choice, and catcher Walker Cooper’s double. Then the game settled into a pitcher’s duel to the 7th when Johnny Hopp singled and Whitey Kurowski tripled him home for the Cardinals’ third run. So far a Cardinals walk in the park.

In the top of the eighth Yankees bats finally got to Beazley.  Right Fielder Roy Cullenbine singled with two outs, promptly stole second, and came home on DiMaggio’s single. Then left fielder Charlie Keller hit a two-run home run to tie the game. It looked like the Yankees were on the verge of another run to put themselves up 2-0 in the Series, but Beaszley struck out Gordon to leave the game tied.

In the bottom of the eighth, the two Cardinals Hall of Famers struck. Again with two outs Slaughter doubled and Musial followed with a run scoring single. In the ninth, Beazley got in trouble with a leadoff single, but a great throw by Slaughter nipped the runner going to third.  Then two quick outs and the Cardinals tied the Series.

Honorable mention game 2:

1912-game ended as a tie because of darkness after 11 innings.  Mathewson gave up 6 runs, all unearned.

1924-Senators wn 4-3 with a double in the bottom of the ninth.

1991-Twins win 3-2 on a Scott Leius home run, one of only 4 hits by the Twins.

2002-an 11-10 slugfest featuring 6 home runs and both a winning and losing pitcher named Rodriguez.