Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Branca’

Adios, Newk

February 20, 2019

Don Newcombe

Don Newcombe died yesterday. He was 92. He’s not the last Brooklyn Dodgers player, but he was close. Both Carl Erskine and Sandy Koufax are still around, and I presume there are others. This will be the second of these I’ve done in Black History Month, and it reminds us how many of the black pioneers are gone.

Newcombe spent time in the Negro Leagues, then followed the Dodgers minor league plan (Nashua, Montreal) before arriving in Brooklyn. He was Rookie of the Year in 1949, Dodgers ace by 1950. Ralph Branca gave up the home run that cost the Dodgers the 1950 pennant, but Newcombe was on the mound earlier and couldn’t hold off the Giants. He won 20 games in 1951, went off to the Korean War in 1952 and 1953, then came back for two more great years in 1955 and 1956. The 1956 season got him an MVP and the first ever Cy Young Award. In 1956 they only gave out one Cy Young for all of Major League Baseball.

He faded after that, didn’t make the transition to Los Angeles well, was traded to Cincinnati, then to Cleveland, and was done at 34. For his career he was 149-90 with an ERA of 3.56 (ERA+114), 1.209 WHIP, and 29.6 WAR.

Back then, sportswriters didn’t talk much in public about the dark side of a player. I didn’t know Newcombe had a drinking problem until years later. It certainly curtailed his career (as did Negro League time, although he was only 23 as a rookie). He got over it and became one of those ex-players teams called on to counsel players with personal problems, particularly alcohol. By all accounts, he was pretty good at it. In some ways it is his greatest contribution to the game.

There was always a knock on him; he never won a World Series game. In five starts he was 0-4 with an ERA of 8.59. He gave up 29 hits in 22 innings, but walked only eight while striking out 19. He gave up a couple of critical home runs to Yogi Berra in the Series (Berra did that to a lot of hurlers) and was seen as a bust in postseason play.

I remember him from my childhood. He was huge on the mound and intimidating (not Bob Gibson intimidating, but intimidating nonetheless). He was never a particular favorite of mine. I leaned toward Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, and Carl Furillo. And later Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres overshadowed him in my world (Koufax didn’t hit his stride until Newcombe was gone). I’ve come to realize that was youthful ignorance and he should have been right up there with the others. So this is by way of mourning a loss and making a belated apology to him.

RIP, Don Newcombe, and please, God, let’s not do any more of these this month.

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 Bombers Explode

April 20, 2015

The 1947 World Series began 30 September in the Bronx. As with the current set up the Yanks would get two home games, then there would be three games in Brooklyn followed by a final two back in the Bronx if the Series went the full seven games. Unlike the modern Series, the games took place on seven consecutive days rather than a travel day between location changes.

Game 1

“Fireman” Joe Page

For game one New York manager Bucky Harris sent Spec Shea to the mound. Shea, unlike ace Allie Reynolds, had postseason experience. Brooklyn manager Burt Shotten countered with ace Ralph Branca. The Dodgers struck in the very first inning. With one out Jackie Robinson walked and stole second. He  was out attempting to advance on a Pete Reiser tapper back to the mound. Reiser took second on the out and scored on a Dixie Walker single. Over the first four innings Branca was perfect, striking out five. Then in the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees pounced. A single, a walk, and a hit batsman loaded the bases, bringing up outfielder Johnny Lindell. who doubled scoring two and putting runners on second and third. After another walk to reload the bases, Branca was replaced by Hank Behrman, who promptly walked in the third run. An out later a Tommy Henrich single scored two more to make the total five runs in one inning. With the Yanks now ahead, Harris brought in his ace reliever Joe Page. Page was sloppy but effective. He gave up two runs, one on a wild pitch, but managed to hang on to give New York a 5-3 victory and a 1 game lead in the Series.

Game 2

Tommy Henrich

Tommy Henrich

Game two was the following day, 1 October. This time the Yanks sent Reynolds to the mound. Brooklyn countered with Vic Lombardi. It became the Series’ only blowout. The Yanks got a run in the first on two singles and a double play and poured it on from there. The Dodgers managed runs in the third and fourth, including a Dixie Walker home run, but New York answered each with a run of their own, including a pair of triples. Already ahead 3-2 the Yankees scored two runs in the fifth, one in the sixth, and four in the seventh to open up a 10-2 lead. It was a team effort. Every Yankees starter except eight hitter Yogi Berra had a hit (and he scored a run). Seven players (all except Berra and Joe DiMaggio) had at least one RBI. Snuffy Stirnweiss, Johnny Lindell, and Billy Johnson each had a triple and Tommy Heinrich had the only New York home run. With one out and two on the Dodgers managed a final run in the ninth by scoring on a force at second to provide a final score of 10-3.

By the end of game two the Yankees were in  firm control of the Series. Up two games to none, they were now moving to Brooklyn for the next two games and the, if necessary game five. At this point it had all the makings of a truly one-sided Series.

The First Integrated World Series: Dem Bums

April 14, 2015
Burt Shotten and Duke Snider

Burt Shotten and Duke Snider

The 1947 World Series holds a unique place in baseball history. First, it was a heck of a Series, known for two famous games and two equally famous moments in those games. But most importantly, it was the first ever postseason series of any kind that featured an integrated team.

In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers were a team in turmoil. Leo Durocher, their manager for years was banned from baseball, a black man was on the team, a number of players were opposed to having him around, another group was at best ambivalent. The man who was to hold this all together was Burt Shotten. He’d been an outfielder back in the 1920s, then did a little managing and coaching before becoming a Brooklyn scout in 1946. With Durocher sidelined, Shotten got the call to replace him (He arrived three games into the season so Clyde Sukforth managed the first two games). He was considered easy-going and easy to get along with, just what the Dodgers needed in a volatile atmosphere. The Dodgers had finished third in 1945 and second in 1946, both under Durocher. So it’s not like they came out of nowhere to win the 1947 National League pennant, but Shotten got a lot of credit for keeping the lid on in the clubhouse.

Most of the turmoil surrounded the first baseman, rookie Jackie Robinson. As the first black man to play in the Major Leagues since 1884 (Moses Fleetwood Walker), Robinson was the center of the great integration experiment of 1947. He played well, despite all the turmoil. His triple slash line was .297/.383/.427/.810 with an OPS+ of 112. He tied for the team lead in home runs with 12. His 115 runs, 125 hits, and 29 stolen bases led the team. His BBREF version of WAR was 3.1. All that got him the first ever Rookie of the Year Award (there was only one that year, not one for each league). Shortstop PeeWee Reese was even better. He’d weathered the racial problems on the team to post a triple slash line of .284/.414/ 426/.841 for an OPS+ of 121. His WAR was 6.2, tops among hitters. He’d tied Robinson for the team lead in homers, led the team in walks with 104. The other two members of the infield were second baseman Eddie Stanky and third baseman Spider Jorgensen. Stanky was one of more vocal opponents of employing Robinson, but later became famous for his confrontation of the Phillies when they were attacking Robinson during a game. He hit .253, scored 97 runs, and walked 103 times. Jorgensen, who’d been a minor league teammate of Robinson, hit .274 and was second on the team with 29 doubles.

The center of the opposition to Robinson was with outfielder Dixie Walker. Walker demanded either a trade or Robinson’s demotion to the minors. He got neither. It didn’t carry over onto the field. He hit .306 with a team leading 94 RBIs and an OPS+ of 121. Right fielder Carl Furillo was famous for his rifle arm and hit .295 with 88 RBIs. The normal center fielder was Pete Reiser. Today he’s known for running into walls and otherwise being hurt. In 1947 he was hurt again, but managed 110 games, a .309 average, and 14 stolen bases.

The catcher was Bruce Edwards. He was a better catcher than he’s usually given credit for by both fans and historians. His problem was that he wasn’t Roy Campanella who would, within a year or two would completely overshadow Edwards. One of the backups was Bobby Bragan. He’d initially supported Walker’s position on having Robinson on the team, but by the end of the season was one of Robinson’s strongest friends and supporters. The other backup was Gil Hodges who’d not yet moved to first base and become a Dodgers stalwart.

The Dodgers had a deep bench, with seven players appearing in more than 30 games. The big name for later Dodgers history was Duke Snider, a 20-year-old rookie who wouldn’t play in the Series. For the current team, the more important names were Gene Hermanski, who’d done a lot of the replacement work when Reiser was hurt, and Cookie Lavagetto, Al Gionfriddo, and Eddie Miksis who would become household names in Brooklyn by the end of the Series.

The pitching staff was in transition. The big names of the early 1940s, Whit Wyatt and Kirby Higbe were both gone, Higbe to Pittsburgh as a way to curtail his influence among the anti-Robinson faction in the locker room. Hugh Casey was still around. He’d thrown the most famous pitch in the 1941 World Series and was still the main Brooklyn pitcher out of the bullpen. He had 18 saves, an ERA+ of 103, but he gave up 23 runs in 29.2 innings. The great names of the 1950s, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe, weren’t yet in Brooklyn. Ralph Branca was. He’d had a terrific year going 21-12 with an ERA of 2.67 (ERA+ 154), a 1.246 WHIP, and a 6.9 WAR. The other starters were lefties Joe Hatten and Vic Lombardi. Both had more innings pitched than hits allowed, but Hatten gave up a lot more walks than strikeouts (105 to 76). The other right handers were Hal Gregg, who started 16 of 37 games and had an ERA of 5.87, and Harry Taylor who would put up one of the strangest pitching lines in World Series history while participating in one of the most famous of all World Series games. Clyde King, Rex Barney, and Hank Behrman, all right handers, were the other pitchers with more than three starts. The bullpen, other than Casey, relied on a combination of pitchers who doubled as spot starters (Barney, Gregg, etc.) and relievers none of whom pitched more than six games (except Ed Chandler who’d been in 15 games). The most notable was Dan Bankhead, the second black player to join the Dodgers. His ERA was over seven.

It was, all in all, a good team. It was short power and beyond Branca the staff wasn’t very strong, but it hit well, ran well, was a good fielding team for the era, and the darling of Brooklyn. It would draw crosstown rival the New York Yankees in the Series.

A Review of “42”

August 8, 2013

By now I presume most of the people interested in baseball have seen the new movie “42”, the story of Jackie Robinson’s arrival in the Major Leagues. Normally I don’t spend time here reviewing new movies, but as it’s the only new major movie about baseball, I thought I’d change that. Here’s a quick review of the flick.

There are a lot of good and weak points in the movie. It’s pretty formulaic. Even if you knew nothing about Robinson as a person or about how the 1947 season went, you could probably figure out most of the plot by about 10 minutes in. The acting is uneven. Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey is terrific. As Hollywood has taken to using the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar to reward older actors who’ve never won an Oscar it’s possible we’re looking at an Academy Award nomination for Ford (and maybe a win).The two actors playing Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) and Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) both do good jobs, but the actress playing Rachel Robinson (Nicole Beharie) didn’t impress me. I think part of the problem is that I remember Ruby Dee in the old 1950s “Jackie Robinson Story” and Dee was wonderful. Christopher Meloni’s rendition of Leo Durocher was good but it was a really small part. Alan Tudyk’s Ben Chapman is suitably odious as the lead antagonist from another team. One of the better aspects of the film is Chapman’s utter incomprehension as to why he is being considered a villain. Most of the players, without reference to whether they liked Robinson or not, were pretty wooden, an exception being Hamish Linklater who got the comic relief role as Ralph Branca. And Max Gail’s Burt Shotten was just fun.

There were a number of historical errors in the movie, most done for film purposes, but nonetheless they give a false impression of the events. Early on Robinson and Smith meet in Florida in 1946. The scene is written as if the two men didn’t know each other, but they had been acquaintances since at least 1944. At the end of the flick Robinson hits a home run to clinch the pennant for the Dodgers. The game in question took place 17 September 1947 and did clinch the pennant. Robinson hit a fourth inning homer to put the Dodgers ahead to stay in a 4-2 victory over Pittsburgh. The movie leaves the impression he does it late in the game and it’s the deciding run. The movie essentially tells us that Robinson’s homer won the pennant, but the pennant winning runs were scored an inning later (and Robinson was involved). It’s more dramatic the way the flick does it, but it’s not exactly right. Also the movie shows the famous “if we can’t use the restroom, we’ll fill up our bus somewhere else” scene. But the scene ends with Robinson meeting Clyde Sukeforth for the first time. The two events were unconnected.

Having said all that, it’s nice to see the movie mention the Robinson court-martial (he refused to move on a bus long before Rosa Parks), although it’s only a passing mention. The interplay between Boseman and Ford, which in many ways is the heart of the movie, is very good. And the baseball action is well choreographed, although, as with any movie about Robinson, the baseball aspects of the film are secondary to the main plot line. One of the finest scenes is between Robinson and Smith in which Smith reminds Robinson that he (Smith) can’t sit in the press box, but has to sit in the stands and type his story as he watches. It reminds Robinson of just how important his actions are in changing things.

I suggest you see “42”. It’s worth the effort and the money, if for no other reason than the atmospheric filming. Just remember to take some of the events with a grain of salt.

Game Six

July 22, 2011

As a baseball fan you beg for a game seven. They are the ultimate test of a team, of the entire sport. Over the course of Major League Baseball’s history there have been a number of very good game seven’s. There have also been a number of real stinkers. But let me take a moment and praise game six, the penultimate game in a playoff. There have  also been an extraordinary number of very good sixth games. True, they set the stage for game seven, but they can also be compelling in their own right. That being said, I want to take some time and look at bunch of games numbered six.

First a  couple of caveats (which I always seem to have). I’ve limited my look at game six to the period following World War II. This is not to downgrade those games prior to 1945, but I’ve seen a lot of the games I’m about to mention so there is a personal tug about each. That simply can’t be true of the games prior to World War II. By doing it this way, I can give personal comments from actually having seen the games themselves. Second, there is one exception to this list, one game I didn’t see (heck, my Dad had just barely met my Mom when it was played), but that game is so famous, I have to talk about it. Thirdly, I have included playoff games as well as World Series games in the list. There have been a lot of good playoff games on the road to the World series and they deserve mention also. Finally, I made my personal preference for the best ever game 6 known way back in December 2009, so this will be a look more at the games in chronological order than a look at them by worst to best or best to worst format.

Al Gionfriddo, sixth inning, 5 October 1947

1947

The only game I didn’t personally see (actually watch on TV) is game six of the 1947 World Series. The New York Yankees were leading the Series 3 games to 2 over the Brooklyn Dodgers when game six was played on Sunday, October 5th at Yankee Stadium. Facing elimination, the Dodgers sent Vic Lombardi to the mound  against Allie Reynolds.

Neither pitcher had it in game six. The Dodgers scored two in the first, two in the third, and New York answered with four in the bottom of the third. Relievers Ralph Branca (of Bobby Thomson fame) and Karl Drews for New York kept things in check for two innings, Branca giving up one run in the fourth, and Joe Page replacing Drews in the fifth..  Then in the sixth, the Dodgers struck with four more runs chasing Page and bringing in 40-year-old Bobo Newsom, who shut down the Dodgers.

The Dodgers made two major changes in the bottom of the sixth, Joe Hatten took the mound, and sub outfielder Al Gionfriddo went to left. Hatten was initially somewhat ineffective. He got two men out, but he also put two men on and had to face Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio drove a ball to deep left field. Gionfriddo raced to the fence, leaped and caught the ball to end the inning. The catch is, along with Willie Mays’ 1954 catch, among most famous in World Series history. The shot of DiMaggio kicking the dirt around second base is one of the most iconic memories of him in his  career.

With the inning over, Hatten still had a tough time in the 7th, again loading the bases before getting the final out. He had a one-two-three 8th inning, then let two men on to open the bottom of the ninth. Dodgers closer Hugh Casey came in, gave up a run on a force out, then finished the game by inducing a pitcher to first (1-3) ground out.

It was a great game six. Ultimately it was futile on the part of the Dodgers. They lost game seven 5-2 after leading 2-0 in the second. The 1947 World Series is still considered a classic. Bill Bevans almost threw the first no-hitter in Series play and the Dodgers and the Yankees began one of the greatest postseason rivalries in sports history (and, yes, I know they played in 1941, but the war broke the string and I consider the rivalry to begin in 1947). But game six was unforgettable. And as trivia buffs might know, it was Gionfriddo’s last Major League game.