Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Phillies’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Jim Bunning

December 27, 2016
Jim Bunning with Philadelphia

Jim Bunning with Philadelphia

Sticking with the theme of combining sport and politics, here’s some things you should know about Jim Bunning.

1. James Bunning was born in Southgate, Kentucky in 1931.

2. He was both a good ball player and a good student. He graduated from Xavier University (Norwood, Ohio) with a degree in economics.

3. He went to the minors as a Tigers prospect in 1950 as a D League right-handed pitcher. By 1955 he’d earned a stint in the big leagues with Detroit. He went 3-5 with an ERA north of six, and went back to the minors.

4. In 1956 he made the Tigers roster late in the season, went 5-1 with an ERA of 3.71, and remained in the Major Leagues through 1971.

5. He stayed with Detroit through the 1963 season, winning 20 games once (and 19 one other time), leading the American League in strikeouts twice, becoming a five time All Star and amassing 118 wins, 1406 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.45 (ERA+ of 116), a no-hitter, and 29.5 WAR.

6. After the ’63 season he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he  became the first man to throw a perfect game in the regular season (Don Larsen had thrown one in the 1956 World Series) since 1922 (first by a Phillies pitcher since 1906).

7. During the 1964 season he won 19 games, was an All-Star, and teamed with lefty Chris Short as twin aces for the 1964 Phillies who infamously faded in the last two weeks of the season to lose the National League pennant on the last day of the season.

8. He remained with the Phils through 1967, winning 89 games, picking up another strikeout title (1967), two shutout titles (1966 and ’67), posting a 2.93 ERA (ERA+ of 122), went to two All Star Games, and produced 31.4 WAR.

9. In 1969 he split time between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, then went back to Philadelphia for 1970 and a career ending 1971. He finished his career 224-184 with an ERA of 3.27 (115 ERA+), 2855 strikeouts, and even 1000 walks, 40 shutouts, and 60.3 WAR.

10. After leaving baseball, Bunning entered politics. He was elected to the Fort Thomas, Kentucky city council in 1977, then to the Kentucky state senate, becoming minority leader. He ran for Governor of Kentucky in 1983 and lost.

11. In 1986 he was elected to the US House of Representatives and then to the US Senate in 1998. He served in the Senate through 2010 (two terms). He was considered one of the Senate’s most conservative members.

12. In 1996, while a sitting member of the House of Representatives, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. To date he is the only Hall of Famer to serve in the US Senate.

 

A Tale of Woe

April 10, 2015
Dolph Camilli about 1935

Dolph Camilli about 1935

Over the last several years one of the more common refrains of baseball is how much the fans in both Chicago and Boston suffered. It dropped off some when the Red Sox won in 2004 (and twice since), but you still hear it about Chicago, despite the White Sox win (primarily because it was the ChiSox, not the Cubs who won). But before you get all sad and start crying over the plight of the two cities, let me tell you about another city with the same kind of problem: Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was an early hot spot for baseball. The 1850s and 1860s saw the local team, called the Athletics, being competitive. Off and on through the 1870s and early 1880s teams from Philadelphia wandered through the ranks of Major League teams, with the American Association version actually winning a pennant. In 1883 the Quakers arrived in the National League and after deciding that wasn’t much of a nickname, eventually settled on Phillies as the team nickname. In 1901 the American League arrived and stuck a team in Philadelphia, naming it after the long gone Athletics.

The AL team was sporadically good. They won a pennant in 1902 (there was no World Series yet), then another in 1905 (losing the second World Series). Between 1910 and 1914 they won the World Series three times (1910, ’11, and ’13) and lost it once (’14). Then they fell into a malaise that lasted deep into the 1920s. They won pennants each year from 1929 through 1931, picking up a World Series title in both 1929 and 1930. Then they fell off. They fell off so bad that they never won another pennant. By the early 1950s they were dying and eventually left Philly altogether, heading first for Kansas City, then for Oakland (where they’ve again been sporadically good–4 world titles, a couple of pennants, and a few other playoff appearances in 45 plus years).

That left the Phils, who weren’t good, sporadically or otherwise. In 1901 they finished second, they got back to the first division in 1905 and hovered around fourth until 1915, when they broke through for their first ever National League pennant. They won the first game of the World Series (against Boston) with Grover Cleveland Alexander on the mound. Then they were swept out of the Series. They finished second in 1916 and 1917 then quickly went South. Between 1918 and 1948 inclusive they finished fifth twice (1929 and 1945), and fourth another time (1932). Other than that, it’s a long, long litany of sixth (four times), seventh (eight times), last place (16 times, including five in a row at one point).

They had some decent players through out the era. Chuck Klein made the Hall of Fame and after a trade got into a World Series (with Chicago). Dolph Camilli won an MVP, but of course it was after the Phils traded him to Brooklyn. They were also managed by Ben Chapman who became universally infamous for his opposition to Jackie Robinson playing in the Major Leagues (He’s played by Alan Tudyk in the recent movie “42”.) All in all it was a thoroughly forgettable 20 years.

In 1949 they started improving and stayed reasonably competitive through 1955. They won a pennant with the 1950 “Whiz Kids”, then were swept in four games by the Yankees, who featured a rookie pitcher named Whitey Ford who became the youngest pitcher to win a World Series game when he won game four (I didn’t check to see if he’s still they youngest winner). It was the same year that Alexander, the last Phillie pitcher to win a World Series game, died.

In 1964 there was the infamous collapse when they led the NL with two weeks to play and lost. They soldiered on until 1976, when they again made a playoff (the League Championship Series) and were again swept. In 1977 they finally won another playoff game before losing the LCS to the Dodgers in four games. For what it’s worth, Gene Garber became the first Phillie pitcher to win a postseason game since 1915 (it was in relief). At the time, only two members of the 1915 team, pitchers Ben Tincup and Joe Oeschger, were still alive (Milt Stock died in 1977). In 1980 they finally won another World Series game and Bob Walk became the second Phils pitcher, the first since Alexander way back in 1915, to record a World Series win. By then, only Oeschger was still around (Tincup died in 1980, but before the Series). Then to the astonishment of the entire baseball universe, they became the last team around in 1901 to win the World Series (even the Cubs had two wins in the 20th Century). Since then, Philadelphia has joined the ranks of the sporadically good with another World Series win and three World Series loses.

The Guy with the Really Strange Stats

October 1, 2012

Roy Thomas, Phillies outfielder

You know, there are a lot of strange stat lines in baseball. Some are odd-looking lines for a particular game, others for a season. But there is nothing quite like the career stat line for Roy Thomas.

Thomas was a Deadball Era center fielder who spent most of his time with the Phillies. He made the Major Leagues in 1899, stayed through 1909, and played all but two years with Philadelphia (actually he played six games in Philly in 1908, but spent most of the season with Pittsburgh. He was a leadoff hitter and a very good, for the era, center fielder. You could, if you wanted, make a case for him as the second best center fielder in Phillies history after Richie Ashburn if you wanted (I’m not sure I would). In other words he’s a good solid player who deserves to be remembered, but Geez does his stat line look funny.

For his career Thomas hit .290, had an OBP of .413, and slugged .333 for an OPS of .747 (OPS+ 124). His WAR is 38.7 (about 3.0 per season). He has 100 doubles, 53 triples, seven home runs, and 1011 runs scored in 1537 hits. He walked 1042 times, struck out 518, had 1764 total bases, and 299 RBIs. He led the NL in walks seven times and in OBP twice. As a fielder he led the league in putouts, assists, range factor, and fielding percentage at various times. Like a said, a nice solid career.

But look at a couple of those numbers closely. He scored 1537 runs and had 299 RBIs. As such he’s the only significant player (more than 500 games) who managed to score three times as many runs as he knocked in. His ratio of doubles to total hits is a MLB record, as is his ratio of singles to hits. He’s also the only man with 1500 hits and less than 300 RBIs. This guy is an on base machine, but it’s always to first base. He also has only 244 stolen bases with a high of 42 in his rookie campaign. That means between 1537 hits, 1042 walks, he manages to get to second base on his own 404 times ( doubles + triples + home runs + stolen bases), also an MLB record. His OBP to slugging percentage is 1.24 to 1 (another record) and he manages 6.5 walks for every extra base hit (You guessed it, yet another record).

Now are those a strange set of stats or what? Roy Thomas is the ultimate singles hitter. Just thought you’d like to know.

The 1980 NLCS

July 4, 2011

Tug McGraw as a Phillie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1910: Chief

May 12, 2010

Today marks the centennial of Chief Bender’s one and only no-hitter. He beat Cleveland 4-0 (Cleveland was involved in both 1910 no hitters with Addie Joss winning in April) with 1903 World Series hero Bill Dinneen taking the loss. Dinneen had thrown his own no-hitter in 1905. Of the three major pitchers who were the centerpieces of the 1910-1914 Athletics dynasty (Eddie Plank, Jack Coombs being the others), only Bender tossed a no-no.

Charles Albert Bender was born in Minnesota in 1884. He was a Ojibwa tribal member who attended both Carlisle Indian School (before Jim Thorpe arrived) and Dickinson College, both in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He seems to have been an OK student and was a gifted pitcher. In 1903 Connie Mack brought him to the Philadelphia A’s where he became the third pitcher and leading right-hander  behind southpaw aces Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell. He pitched in the 1905 World Series, taking both a win and a loss. The win was Philly’s only victory in the series. By 1910 he was well established as one of Philadelphia’s aces. He was also a Connie Mack favorite, who was generally chosen to pitch critical games. In 1910, he will start two World Series games, splitting them. In 1911, he will start three going 2-1. With Coombs disabled in 1913, Bender will be the ace and win two games in the series. In 1914, lost his only start in the Miracle Braves sweep.

With the advent of the Federal League in 1914,  Mack began dismantling his team. Bender jumped to the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League where he had a terrible year, going 4-16 giving up more hits than innings pitched. With the collapse of the Feds, Bender ended up back in Philadelphia, but this time with the National League Phillies. He went 15-9 with other good numbers too. He retired then, went into war work for World War I, then coached for the White Sox in the 1920s. He got into one game in 1925, giving up a run in one inning with a walk and a hit, then was through for good. He returned to The A’s and coached, scouted, and manged at the minor league level through 1950, when both he and Mack retired. In 1953 he was elected to the Hall of Fame and died the next year.

For his career, including the Federal League year, Bender was 210-128 (a .621 winning percentage) with 1711 strikeouts in 3017 innings,  712 walks, and an ERA of 2.46. In World Series play he pitched ten games going 6-4 with 64 hits,59 strikeouts, and 85.1 innings pitched. Certainly a good enough career.

In one way it’s an even better career. Because Bender was an American Indian he faced the standard racial prejudices of his day every time he took the mound. Phil Sheridan of “The only good indian is a dead indian” fame had only been dead for 15 years prior to Bender’s rookie campaign. He faced problems from the stands and from the opposing players. One symbol of it was his nickname, “Chief.” It was common in the period for any American Indian player to have that nickname and frequently it was meant derogatorily. Mack, sensitive to Bender’s problem and his initial feelings about the name, refered to him as “Albert”, his middle name. Bender seems to have at a point late in his career finally embraced the name (or at least quite despising it) and used it as a badge of honor against a hostile world. One of his favorite responses to heckling from the stands was to refer to the hecklers as “Foreigners.”

His teammates and most of the Philly fans liked him (Considering the way they treat their own players today, what happened to Philly fandom in the last 100 years???). He was considered a good teammate and friend, a player the other players liked to be around both on and off the job. Mack trusted him with scouting and developing minor league players after Bender’s retirement. It wasn’t easy being an American Indian in 1910, but among his friends, coaches, and teammates Bender was respected and liked.

By this point, he’s been almost forgotten. Unlike the black community’s embrace of Jackie Robinson, the American Indian Movement never picked up on him as someone to remember and that’s a real shame. They probably should have done so. He’s worth it as both ballplayer and man.

Whiz Kid

May 7, 2010

Robin Roberts

Yesterday I saw that Robin Roberts died. I mentioned it to a friend and his response was “Geez, I didn’t know she was sick.” OK, I’ll admit that when I think of Robin Roberts I too generally think of the modern reporter (who is certainly easier on the eyes than the old pitcher).

Roberts, the pitcher not the reporter, is usually at the foggiest edges of my mind when I think of baseball. He wasn’t a particular favorite of mine and we seldom got to see the Phillies play on TV or hear them on the radio. When we did, I don’t remember Roberts being the pitcher, so I guess he didn’t show up very often when I got to see or hear the Phils.

He was one of the Whiz Kids who brought, in 1950, Philadelphia its first National League pennant since 1915. Then they went out and were swept by a Yankees team that included a rookie southpaw named Whitey Ford. Roberts pitched game two and lost 2-1, then mopped up the last inning in a 5-2 game four Series ender.

He stayed with Philadelphia through 1961, then went to Baltimore, Houston, and the Cubs before retiring. I was never a great fan and for years wondered what the big deal was about Robin Roberts. His winning percentage was OK, but nothing special. He had almost as many hits as innings pitched and his ERA was OK for the age, but not spectacular. What he didn’t do was walk anybody. He walked 902 batters in 4689 innings. It took a while to realize how good he was because I never connected him to those awful Phillies teams that he pitched for much of his career.

He’s mostly forgotten now, although he made the Hall of Fame in 1976. I guess there are a lot of reasons. He never played for any of the great New York teams of the era (No Willie, Mickey, and the Duke aura). The Phillies were bad most of his career (1950 being an exception rather than a rule). When he left Philly he was mostly done and didn’t have very good years elsewhere. He pitched in an era noted more for its sluggers than its pitchers. Finally, he wasn’t either Warren Spahn or Whitey Ford, the dominant pitchers of his era. Even they have gotten a little lost in the shuffle, but Roberts had gone all the way to obscurity. He’s so obscure that my local newspaper’s sports page didn’t even mention his passing. Ain’t that a shame?

This is two of these semi-obituary pieces I’ve written in a row. A request to the baseball gods: Knock it off. Let me write about other things for a while, please.

“And I Have Put My Words in Thy Mouth…

March 22, 2010

Billy Sunday

…and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand.” Isaiah 51:16 (KJV)

In an earlier post I mentioned that my family always used to say there were three things you didn’t debate, you argued: sports, politics, and religion. And that you never, ever combined any two. I combined sports and politics earlier, now I’d like to combine sports and religion and introduce you to Billy Sunday.

William Ashley Sunday was born in Iowa in November 1862. His father died shortly afterward of illness while on campaign in the American Civil War. When his mother went broke in 1872 and couldn’t care for Sunday and his older brother, she sent both to an orphan’s home. The home provided Sunday with an education and began honing his baseball skills. After a sojourn in Nevada, he was playing with the Middletown, Iowa fire department team by 1880. In 1882, he caught the attention of Cap Anson, native of Middletown and leader of the Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs). Sunday joined the Cubs in 1883 playing 14 games, all in the outfield. He hit .241 with four doubles. By 1884 he was up to 43 games in the outfield hitting .222.  The 1885 season brought the White Stockings a pennant and Sunday became the primary man off the bench. He hit .256 in the season and .273 in six games in the postseason, all in center field. He was on the bench again in 1886 and missed the postseason altogether. His speed was beginning to make him a more valuable player to Anson and in 1887 he took over as the regular right fielder and leadoff man. He hit .291 in 1887, but the Cubs lost and Sunday was sent to Pittsburgh in 1888. He spent three years with the Alleghenys hitting .236, .240, and .257. Late in the 1890 season he was traded to Philadelphia where he played 31 games hitting .261. It was the end of this period of his life.

For his career, Billy Sunday hit .248 over 499 games with 339 runs scored, 246 stolen bases (the number is incomplete for 1883-85), 170 RBIs and 12 home runs. He pitched to one batter in 1890, gave up a hit, and left the mound. The man didn’t score so he had no ERA. Not a great career. He found himself a substitute most of it. Somewhere along the line he also found God.

There are a number of stories relating to Sunday’s religious conversion. According to Sunday’s own account, which I’ll accept as genuine, he had been something of a carouser (a word you don’t hear much anymore) while playing ball, but never one of the worst offenders. In 1886, he attended a service at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. The mission was a combination church, homeless shelter, drunk tank, and rescue mission in Chicago which claims, with its founding in 1877, to be the oldest continuously operating main street mission in the US. I remember my hometown had an organization like this when I was growing up. It specialized in getting drunks off the streets, feeding them, giving them a place to sleep and adding on a good dose of fundamentalist Christianity. I knew one fellow who claimed to have been “saved” six times, and that every one was worth the good meal and the warm bed that followed. This experience led to Sunday’s conversion and ultimately to the Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church where he met and married one of congregation.

Between 1891 and 1896 Sunday spent time in Chicago working for the YMCA and other religious and charitable organizations. By 1896 he was ready to strike out on his own and became a more or less fulltime evangelist. It would consume the rest of his life.

Now let me take a minute and clear up a couple of points here. Sunday was neither a Pentecostal nor a faith healer. He professed a fundamentalist Christianity that was extremely common in his day, but is less so today. He is more akin in his theology to William Jennings Bryan than he is to Oral Roberts, or Jim Bakker, or any other modern television preacher. If forced to compare him to a modern American evangelist, I’d reluctantly pick Billy Graham, and put the emphasis heavily on reluctantly.

What Sunday was, apparently, was a heck of a preacher. His sermons were called spellbinding and uplifting and God-sent. He went from tent to tabernacle to church and back to tent and never missed a beat. His message was a simple version of sin and conversion and he would frequently throw in one of his baseball stories for emphasis. Without trying to compare the men, take a look at Bert Lancaster’s sermons in the movie Elmer Gantry. He’s supposed to have patterned his style on Sunday.

His message suffered in the aftermath of World War I. The Great War destroyed much in Western Civilization, including a belief in a benevolent God who cared about the average individual (And by that statement I take no stand on whether I agree or not. I merely state a reality). His audiences waned, but he continued preaching his message until his death in 1935.

When I first mentioned to some people I was going to do this post, I was asked a fairly obvious question, “You think Sunday would have seen ‘the light’ if he’d been hitting .348 instead of .248?” To be absolutely truthful, I have no idea. I’d like to think that Billy Sunday was an honest man and saw some need in his life that brought him to God via a Christian conversion experience, but I don’t know for sure. I am willing to take him at his word that he didn’t find God so much as God found him.

Harry Wright

March 5, 2010

Harry Wright

I have something in common with Joe Girardi. I’ve managed a baseball team. Ok so mine was a Little League team while his is the winner of the 2009 World Series, we’ve still both managed a baseball team. Together Girardi and I, along with any person who’s ever managed a baseball team at any level, owe a debt and a tip of the hat to Harry Wright. After all, he invented the modern job of baseball manager.

William Henry “Harry” Wright was born in 1835 in Sheffield, England and immigrated with his parents to the US in 1837 finding a home in New York. His father was a professional cricket player and Harry, along with younger brother George, played both cricket and baseball.

In 1866, following the American Civil War, Harry moved to Cincinnati, Ohio as a professional on the local cricket team. The next year he joined the local baseball club. In 1869 George Ellard, a Cincinnati businessman, organized a fully professional team, the Red Stockings, naming Wright as the manager at a salary of $1200.

I remember years ago I wondered why the field leader of most teams is called a coach, but baseball refers to its leader as a manager. Turns out Harry Wright helped define the role. He led the team in as an on field coach, but also served as what would today be called a “general manager”, a “traveling secretary”, scout, and even the clubhouse man. Wright did all those things and did them well. Over the years the general manager,  traveling secretary, and scout duties went to other people and the clubhouse got its own man, but the title stuck.

As a manager, Wright was very successful. He is supposed to have invented backing up a play, using a cutoff man, and playing positions based on the tendencies of the hitter. I’ve found no definitive contemporary information proving those things and I’m not sure that Wright can be credited with all (or any) of those innovations, but the modern mythology says he did. Somebody had to, why not Harry?

As a player Wright was the center fielder on his earliest teams, but by the formation of the first professional league in 1871 was beginning to concentrate on managing the team while other people manned the field. As late as 1877 he appeared in one game as an outfielder, but he was by now the manager. He took over the Boston Red Stockings at the formation of the National Association in 1871 and led the team to a disputed second place finish in 1871 and four consecutive pennants from 1872 through 1875.

With the folding of the Association after the 1875 season, Wright’s Red Stockings, renamed the Red Caps, joined the newly established (1876) National League, finishing fourth in an eight team league. In 1877 the Caps gave Wright his first National League pennant winning a six team league by seven games. They repeated in 1878, winning by four games. It was Wright’s last pennant. He remained in Boston through 1881 finishing second in 1879, sixth in 1880, and sixth again in 1881. In 1882 he moved on to Providence where he stayed two years finishing second and third. In 1884 he took his expertise to Philadelphia remaining there for the rest of his managerial career, which lasted to 1893. He finished fourth in 1893. His health broke down and he retired before the onslaught of offense that peaked in Philadelphia the next season. He died in 1895 in Atlantic City. In 1953 the Hall of Fame finally got around to recognizing him by enshrining him, 16 years after his brother George made the Hall (There was a third brother, Samuel, who got into 45 games in the big leagues without much success).

Wright deserves to be remembered as the first of a breed, the manager. Yes, there were other men who did the job before him, but he became the first truly successful manager. As a not overly successful Little League manager I owe him a debt, as does Joe Girardi, and Sparky Anderson, and Tommy LaSorda, and…

The Nap LaJoie Traveling Show

January 27, 2010

Nap LaJoie

Way back in baseball’s Stone Age, Napoleon LaJoie was a premier second baseman. For a few years he may have been one of its premier players. He was so good that teams went to court to get him and so good that cities named their teams after him.

Let me start by saying I have no idea how he pronounced his last name. I’ve heard it La-Ja-Way, La-Jay, La-Joy (I think I’ve got the Napoleon part down). Wikipedia says he used La-Ja-Way but gives no source for that. Anybody know?

 LaJoie first entered the Major Leagues in 1896, actually league- there was only one. With the Philadelphia Phillies he led the league in slugging percentage, total bases, doubles, and RBIs at various times. Basically, he was a heck of a player.

In 1901, Ban Johnson renamed his Western League the American League and went head to head with the National League. One of his brightest assets was LaJoie who jumped from the Phillies to their cross-town rivals, the Athletics. The Phillies sued (and you thought lawsuits were new). The A’s won. The Phillies appealed. The A’s lost. LaJoie ended up at Cleveland and was not allowed to travel to or through the state of Pennsylvania (Got all that?). Essentially the Phillies claimed LaJoie was theirs, a state court agreed, and if he entered the borders of Pennsylvania he was liable for arrest, fine, and worst of all he would have to play for the Phillies. By 1903, they had it all worked out. LaJoie stayed at Cleveland through 1914. Between 1905 and 1909 he was player-manager and from 1905 through 1914 the team was known as the Cleveland Naps in his honor. He went back to the Athletics in 1915 (see, old lawsuits do eventuallly die) and retired at the conclusion of the A’s horrendous 1916 season (worth a post in itself). He made the Hall of Fame in 1937.

If you don’t study Stone Age baseball you’re probably wondering what all the fuss was about. In 1901, Nap LaJoie won the American League’s triple crown. He hit .422, still an American League record, slugged .635, led in hits with 229, doubles with 48, home runs with fourteen, total bases with 345, runs at 145, and RBIs at 125. He tied for first in home run percentage and was eighth in triples. Now I heard someone once downgrade the season saying that the American League was a “marginal” big league in 1901, so don’t get too excited about the statistics. Maybe. But, you know what, nobody else feasted on this “weak” league like LaJoie; in fact, no one else was even close. the next two highest batting averages were .347 and .345.  Next in total bases were 279 and 274. In hits it’s 190 and 187. LaJoie’s not just ahead of these guys, he’s way ahead of them. By 1903, this “marginal” league managed to win the first ever World Series (got better real quick, didn’t it?). LaJoie won the batting and slugging titles that season and again the next. I’ll give you a bit of inflation for 1901, but not much.  LaJoie simply had an outstanding year.

In 1910, he was involved in a major controversy over the batting title. Several years ago a bunch of baseball historians discovered an error in Ty Cobb’s 1910 totals. Turns out, they claim, that LaJoie should have won the batting title. Major League Baseball has never recognized that chainge. The furor at the time was so great that the Chalmers automobile people, who had promised a car to the batting title winner, gave both men a car (this led eventually to the Chalmers Award, the first MVP award).

Between 1901 and 1906, LaJoie was a great player. He produced a lot of runs, got a lot of hits, and had an excellent slugging percentage. After down years in 1907 through 1909 he came back in 1910. My guess is that managing a team named for you can really wear on you quickly. He maintained a high degree of excellence though 1913, then finished out with three down seasons. He died in 1959 acknowledged as one of the half dozen or so greatest second basemen ever.

Death in the Argonne

January 18, 2010

Eddie Grant

A couple of friends of mine are British. According to them, when World War I broke out in 1914 a number of soccer clubs joined up in mass as “Pals” units. The idea was that you would go to war with your friends, which would make the transition easier and give you more to fight for. Of course the problem was that if the unit got caught up in the horror of the Somme or Passchendaele, well, there just wasn’t a soccer club left to be “Pals”.

American professional sportsmen have been luckier. There have been a number of amateur sports figures lost to war (Heisman trophy winner Nile Kinnick comes most quickly to mind in World War II), but the pros lost only one in World War I, third baseman Eddie Grant.

Grant was born in Massachusetts in 1883 and began his professional career in 1905 with the Cleveland Naps. He was back in the minors in 1906 but returned to the big leagues the next season with the Philadelphia Phillies. From 1908 to 1910 he was a sometimes hit, mostly good field third baseman who generally led off for the Phils, peaking in 1910 with 25 stolen bases and 67 runs. The Phils, being the Phils, immediately traded him to Cincinnati. Turns out the Phils were right. Grant was finished. He was traded to John McGraw’s Giants in 1913, where he finished his career in 1915. It wasn’t all that great a career. He hit 249, with 277 RBIs and a 295 slugging percentage.

During his career, Grant managed to pick up a degree from Harvard (1905) and spent his post baseball life as an attorney. In April 1917, immediately after he US declared war, Grant joined the 77th Infantry Division and became a captain. He went overseas with the Division in 1918 and participated in the campaign in the Argonne Forest. During the battles in the Argonne, a unit of the 77th was cut off from the rest of the Division, becoming the famous “Lost Battalion”. Grant’s unit was one of the companies sent in to find and make contact with the “Lost Battalion.”  On 5 October 1918, a shell exploded near Grant killing him instantly. He was buried in the Meuse-Argonne Military Cemetary.

Baseball was stunned. No Major League player had ever died in combat. True, Grant was retired, but still he was one of the boys. The Giants erected a monument to him in the Polo Grounds. It remained there until the Giants moved to San Francisco. If you watch the film of Willie Mays’ famous catch in 1954 you get a short glimpse of the monument before the camera begins zooming in on Mays.