Posts Tagged ‘Ray Schalk’

Before the Sox Turned Black: back in Chicago

June 28, 2017

With the World Series tied two games each, the Series returned to Chicago for game five. If the two games in New York were shutouts and pitching dominated, game five was a shootout.

Game 5, 13 October 1917

Eddie Collins

Game five saw Reb Russell take the mound for Chicago. George Burns led off the game with a walk then went to third on a Buck Herzog single. Then Benny Kauff doubled to score Burns. And that was all for Russell. He’d pitched to three men and all had reached base, two by hits and a walk. The ChiSox brought in Eddie Cicotte to replace him. A fielder’s choice cut down Herzog at the plate for the first out of the inning. Another fielder’s choice cut down Kauff at home, but a Dave Robertson hit brought in a second run before Cicotte ended the inning.

Now ahead 2-0 the Giants sent Slim Sallee to the mound to hold the lead. He gave up a run in the third on an Eddie Collins walk and a Happy Felsch double, but the Giants got that run back, plus another in the fourth. Catcher Bill Rariden singled and went to second on a bunt. Burns singled and an error by right fielder Shano Collins let Rariden score. Two more errors brought Burns home to make the score 4-1.

Chicago got a second run in the sixth on three consecutive singles to make it 4-2, but New York responded in the top of the seventh with a run on an Art Fletcher double and a Rariden single. Going into the bottom of the seventh, the score stood 5-2 with Sallee cruising. With one out, Joe Jackson singled and Happy Felsch followed with another single. Chick Gandil then doubled to bring home both men.  An out moved him to third and a walk put Ray Schalk on first. Schalk took off for second and Herzog dropped the throw making Schalk safe and allowing Gandil to score to tie the game 5-5. A strikeout ended the inning.

Red Faber took over on the mound for Chicago in the eighth and sat down the Giants in order. In the bottom of the eighth Shano Collins singled and moved up on a bunt and scored on an Eddie Collins single. A Jackson single sent Eddie Collins to third. A Kauff throw failed to nip Eddie Collins, but New York third baseman Heinie Zimmerman thought he could catch Jackson going to second. His throw was wild and Eddie Collins scored while Jackson went on to third. A Felsch single scored Jackson but that ended the scoring.

With the score now 8-5, Faber went back to the mound. Two ground outs and a fly to left later, Chicago led the Series three games to two. So far all the games had been won by the home team. With game six back in the Polo Grounds there would be a game seven if that held.

 

Before the Sox Turned Black: Games 1 and 2

June 22, 2017

The first two games of the 1917 World Series were played in Comiskey Park. The local White Sox had broken through to win their first pennant since 1906. They faced the New York Giants who were back in the Series for the first time since 1912.

Game 1, 6 October 1917

Eddie Cicotte

For the opening game, the Chisox sent ace Eddie Cicotte to the mound to face John McGraw’s Giants. New York countered with Slim Sallee. The game turned into a great pitchers duel.

Although a few men reached base, no one scored for the first two and a half inning. The White Sox broke through in the bottom of the frame that began with an out. Pitcher Cicotte singled, then was erased trying to go to third on a Shano Collins single. A great throw by Giants right fielder Dave Robertson nailed him, but it allowed Collins to move up to second. A Fred McMullin double plated Collins with the first run of the Series. In the bottom of the fourth Chicago tacked on another run on a Happy Felsch home run.

Down 2-0 New York struck in the top of the fifth. Lew McCarthy led off the inning with a triple. Pitcher Sallee then singled to bring him home with the Giants initial run of the Series. A double play and strikeout got Cicotte out of the inning without further damage.

And that ended the scoring. Both pitchers continued to record out after out through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. There were a couple of hits but no one motored beyond second. In the ninth the Giants went down in order and Chicago went up one game in the Series by a 2-1 score.

Both pitchers were stellar. For the win Cicotte gave up seven hits, a walk, and the single run. Sallee was almost as good. He gave up seven hits also, but didn’t walk anyone. The difference was the Felsch homer.

 

Game 2, 7 October 1917

Red Faber

If game one was a well pitched duel, game 2 wasn’t. The Sox sent future Hall of Famer Red Faber to the mound. The Giants countered with Ferdie Schupp.

Both pitchers had trouble initially. In the top of the second consecutive singles by Dave Robertson and Walter Holke put men on first and second with one out. A Lew McCarthy single to left scored both runs.

Chicago replied in the bottom of the second with four singles in a row.  Joe Jackson led off the inning with a single, Happy Felsch moved him to second, and Chick Gandil brought him home with the third single. Another single by Buck Weaver scored Felsch and evened the score at 2-2. A Ray Schalk bunt was unsuccessful with Gandil being out at third, but Schupp then walked Faber to reload the bases. That brought out McGraw for a pitching change. Fred Anderson, the new pitcher, picked up a strikeout, then saw a grounder to short get New York out of the jam.

It was the highpoint for Anderson. In the fourth the White Sox took his measure and put up four runs. Two singles, an out, and two more singles brought in two more runs and ran Anderson. McGraw brought in Pol Perritt to pitch. He was met by singles by Eddie Collins and Jackson that sent three more runners across home plate to make the score 7-2.

Meanwhile, Faber had settled down after the second inning and was setting down the Giants. For the game he gave up eight hits and walked one (the walk came in the eighth). After the second inning, no Giant got beyond second. By the end, Faber had his complete game victory and the White Sox were up two games to none in the Series.

 

 

Before the Sox Turned Black: the Chisox

June 20, 2017

“Pants” Rowland

A lot of people who know about the 1919 Black Sox and throwing the World Series don’t know that it wasn’t the first Chisox pennant winner. They’d won the very first American League pennant in 1901 and followed that up with a World Series victory in 1906. More to the point of the Black Sox, they’d also won a pennant in 1917, two years before infamy, and 100 seasons ago this year.

Manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland was a former minor league catcher who’d managed long enough to get the attention of the White Sox. For those curious, the nickname came from his childhood when he wore his father’s trousers while playing ball. He took the reins of the Chicago American League team in 1915 and stayed through 1918 (he was fired in a disagreement with ownership). He led his team to 100 wins. They led the AL in runs scored, triples, stolen bases, OBP; were second in both walks and slugging; and third in batting average, home runs, and hits. The staff was first in ERA, shutouts, and allowed the fewest walks; second in runs allowed; and third in strikeouts.

The infield consisted of Chick Gandil at first, Hall of Famer Eddie Collins at second, Buck Weaver at third, and Swede Risberg at short. If they sound familiar, they’re the same four that were the primary infield in 1919. Collins led the group with a .289 average, one of only a handful of times he hit under .300. He also led the infield in most other offensive categories (doubles, triples, runs, even RBIs). His 128 OPS+ was third among all starters and his 5.0 WAR was second among non-pitchers. And of course, being Collins, he led the team in stolen bases. Gandil and Weaver both hit above .270 and Weaver’s OPS+ was 110. His WAR was 2.9, while Gandil checked in at 1.2. Risberg was only 22 and new to the big leagues. He wasn’t a particularly great shortstop, even with the lower fielding numbers of the era, and managed to hit all of .203 with only a 76 OPS+ and -0.3 WAR. Fred McMullin was the only backup infielder to play more than 20 games. He primarily substituted for Weaver at third and for Risberg at short. He hit .237 with 14 RBIs.

The primary outfield consisted of four men playing three position. Right field was a platoon situation between right-handed hitting Shano Collins (no relation to Eddie) and lefty Nemo Lebold. Leobold hit .236 while Collins hit .234 and had the only home run. Between them they had 41 RBIs, 25 doubles, 160 hits, and 206 total bases. Leobold’s WAR was 1.2 and Collins was absolutely average with 0.0. Center fielder Happy Felsch led the team in hitting at .308 with an OPS of .755 (OPS+ of 128), had 4.7 WAR, and was considered a superior outfielder. So was left fielder Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”). He hit .301, had five home runs (Felsch had six) and 82 RBIs (to Felsch’s 99) had an .805 OPS, an OPS+ of 143, and led the hitters with 5.8 WAR. Backup outfielder Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian) got into 53 games, hit .314, had a 135 OPS+, and produced 0.3 WAR.

Ray Schalk and Bird Lynn did almost all the catching. Hall of Famer Schalk hit .226, had both home runs, all five triples, and 12 of the 14 doubles. Lynn hit .222. Schalk produced 3.0 WAR but only had an OPS+ of 89. Schalk was a fine backstop. In a league where the caught stealing rate was 45%, he was at 54%, having caught 101 of 186 base stealers.

They caught a small, but competent staff. Dave Danforth was one of the first pitchers designated for use as a reliever. He’d played some before, but by 1917 was a main cog in Chicago’s pitching. He had a 2.65 ERA over 50 games (nine starts) and 173 innings (obviously not a modern closer). He struck out 79 (but walked 74), gave up 155 hits, 51 earned runs (one homer), and had nine saves (retroactively figured). It was one of the first big relief seasons. Four men started 20 or more games. The ace was Eddie Cicotte (of 1919 infamy). He was 28-12 with an ERA of 1.53 (ERA+ of 174) with seven shutouts, 150 strikeouts, and a team leading 11.5 WAR. Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber was 16-13 with 84 strikeouts and 85 walks over 248 innings. His ERA was 1.92 with an ERA+ of 139 and 2.6 WAR. Reb Russell was also under 2.00 in ERA (1.95) with 54 strikeouts in 185 innings and 4.2 WAR to go with a 15-5 record. Twenty-four year old Claude “Lefty” Williams (also of 1919 infamy) was the youngest hurler. He was 17-8 with an ERA of 2.97 and 1.5 WAR over 230 innings.

The Chisox managed, in 1917, to break the Boston stranglehold on the AL pennant. They would face the New York Giants in the World Series (I did something on the Giants a week or so ago, so look down the page for them.). Because of American League domination in the recent Series’ Chicago was favored to win.

 

 

28 June 1914: the AL

June 25, 2014
Harry Coveleski

Harry Coveleski

Continuing a look at where Major League Baseball stood on 28 June 1914, the date the assassination in Sarajevo began the process that ushered in World War I. Today the American League gets a view.

As with the Federal League there were only three games played on Sunday the 28th of June. Two were a double-header between the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox. The other a single game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians). Chicago and Cleveland were the home teams.

In game one in Chicago, the Sox took ten innings to dispatch the Browns 2-1. Losing pitcher Bill James (obviously neither the guy pitching for the Braves that season nor the modern stats guy) gave up two unearned runs, both to left fielder Ray Demmitt. He also game up three walks, two of them to Demmitt. He struck out four and saw the game lost on an error. For the White Sox, righty Jim Scott gave up only one run. It was earned. He also walked three, but struck out ten (James had four strikeouts). For James it was his fifth loss against seven wins while Scott picked up his seventh win against eight losses.

In the nightcap, the White Sox completed the sweep winning another 10 inning game, this time 3-2. Later Black Sox player Buck Weaver scored one run, fellow Black Sox Eddie Cicotte started the game. Later White Sox players Shano Collins and Ray Schalk played. Collins scored a run and knocked in another. Schalk had three hits with an RBI. Third baseman Jim Breton playing in his last season stole home. Hall of Famer Red Faber entered the game in the 10th and picked up his fifth win against two losses. Cicotte went eight innings giving up both runs. Joe Benz pitched one inning in relief giving up no hits and no walks. Browns starter Carl Weilman also went eight innings, giving up two earned runs. Reliever George Baumgardner took the loss to run his record to 7-6.

The game in Cleveland was more high scoring than both Chicago games combined. With Ty Cobb taking the day off, the Tigers won 6-4. After spotting Cleveland a run in the top of the first, they struck for four runs in the bottom of the inning. Naps starter Fred Blanding only managed two outs before being pulled. He would take the loss running his record to 1-8. Detroit later tacked on single runs in both the third and the sixth, with Cleveland getting one in the fifth and two in the seventh. Harry Coveleski (brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Stan Coveleski) got the win going five innings to set his record at 11-6. Hooks Dauss pitched for innings for his third save (a stat that didn’t exist in 1914). Hall of Fame player Sam Crawford went one for three with a walk and a strikeout for the Tigers while fellow Hall of Famer Nap LaJoie went one for three and was involved in two double plays.

At the end of the day, Philadelphia was three games up on Detroit in the standings with St. Louis 4.5 back in third. Chicago was sixth, 6.5 back (but still had a winning record at 33-32). Cleveland was dead last 16 games back. By seasons end Cleveland and Chicago would maintain the positions, although Chicago would have a losing record. The Browns would drop to fifth (and also have a losing record), while Detroit would end up in fourth (with a winning record). Philadelphia would remain in first, winning the pennant by 8.5 games. It would, of course, lose the World Series in four straight games.

Rating Catchers

February 21, 2012

The "Tools of Ignorance"

With the sad and untimely death of Gary Carter, there’s been a lot of chatter about his place in the pantheon of Major League catchers, so i’m taking a short semi-break (you’ll see why “semi” in a few paragraphs) from my look at black baseball to make a few comments. I’m certainly not going to argue with those that place Carter in the top ten of catchers, because I agree with them. But I noticed a problem (actually problems) developing when I started to put together my own list of the ten greatest catchers.

The first problem of course is fairly self-evident. It’s the question of equipment. Take a look at the rudimentary equipment worn by guys like Buck Ewing way back. Basically, it’s an oversized work glove with some extra padding and a lot of prayer. Take a look at the equipment today. Which would you rather have if you were going to try to catch a Roy Halliday fastball? And that makes a world of difference in evaluating catchers. John Sayles when he did the movie “Eight Men Out” took great pains to be authentic. Take a look at the equipment Ray Schalk wears. Now Schalk was considered a tremendous catcher (without reference to his hitting) in the era. So was Johnny Kling a dozen years earlier. Give them a chance to use modern equipment and they might name their first-born after you. Give someone like Gary Carter a chance to use the old equipment and my guess is that after calling you things you didn’t know you could be called, he’d figure out how to make the best use of what he has available and still be a good catcher.

I remember listening to an interview with Roy Campanella way back in the 1950s. He didn’t particularly like the big “pillow” mitt in use then. He complained that it kept his right hand in constant danger of injury (and it was ultimately a hand injury that curtailed his stats in the year or so before his accident). I’m not sure Johnny Bench was really the greatest fielding catcher ever, but the innovation of the hinged mitt to replace the “pillow” certainly gave him advantages that other catchers had never had before. Now the right hand could be tucked behind the body when the bases were empty (and I’m astounded at the number of catchers who still don’t do that). Now it was possible to squeeze a pop foul rather than two-hand it. It helped Bench, along with his natural ability, to revolutionize the game.

And, of course, none of this has anything to do with hitting a baseball. Guys who are good catchers and hit well tend to go to the Hall of Fame. I might argue that the two best catchers I ever saw were Jim Sundberg and Bob Boone. Neither hit much, but were tremendous catchers. I don’t know many people who think either should be considered in the top 10 of a catching list. So we come again to a problem we see a lot. I mentioned it in a much earlier post on shortstops. It’s the question of how much reliance is to be put on fielding in establishing a player’s greatness. If the guy plays left field (Hello, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez) no one cares if he’s a good, or even overly acceptable, fielder, when establishing his credentials for greatness. With catcher you can’t do that. It puts a burden on catchers (and shortstops also) that a lot of outfielders don’t have to carry. It’s not exactly fair, but it’s the nature of how the game is played. If I could hit, you could get away with me in left field. If I could hit, you could never use me behind the plate.

Finally, there’s the obvious question of segregation (see what I mean about “semi”?). Most lists of Negro League catchers put Josh Gibson, Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, and Campanella at the top of the charts at the position. We have some idea of the quality of Campanella (although he spent a lot of time in the Negro Leagues). The others never got to play in the white Major Leagues (Santop was dead by 1947). As usual for Negro League players, you’re stuck with anecdotes, not full statistical evidence, in trying to determine the quality of a player. So we make judgement calls (“Do I see a ’10’ from the Bulgarian judge?”) and hope we get it right. Considering that I’m certain that Campanella is a top 10 all-time catcher, I am confident in adding Gibson to a list of the best catcher, but I have no idea how you rate either Santop or Mackey. Maybe they’re in, maybe they’re out.

So having  just put all those caveats out there for you to read, here’s my list of the 10 best catchers ever in alphabetical order: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Josh Gibson, Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez. With suitable apologies to Gabby Hartnett and to Joe Mauer, both of which might slip into the list. I think it’s the best list I can put together at this time. Notice that it’s full of modern guys (seven are post 1945). I think that the equipment has a lot to do with that.

“In Conference with a Bunch of Crooked Players”

January 31, 2012

Buck Weaver

It had eventually to come to this post; the one on Buck Weaver. Of all the Black Sox he is the hardest to get a handle on when it comes to the scandal. His guilt is as certain as his innocence. And I know that sentence sounds silly, but if you look at the Black Sox issue, he can come across as either guilty or innocent depending on where you place your emphasis. As a rule, that’s not true of the others.

Born in 1890 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Weaver came from a steel town. He was neither a particularly good nor bad student, but he was a good ballplayer. By 1910, after stints in semipro and outlaw ball, he was in the Minor Leagues in Northampton, Massachusetts. He moved between Northampton; York, Pennsylvania; and San Francisco in a Minor League career that lasted two years. He was considered a good hitter and an excellent fielder.

In 1912 he made the Chicago White Sox as the starting shortstop.  He hit all of .224 and led the American League in both outs and errors made, but was considered a work in progress. And he did progress. Between 1913 and 1916 his average slid up and down, peaking at .272 in 1913. His OPS peaked in 1915 at .671. He was, however, becoming a good shortstop. He led the AL in putouts and assists in 1913 (and in errors). With the arrival of Swede Risberg in Weaver began a shift to third base, playing 66 games at short and 85 at third in 1916. By 1917 he was the team’s regular third baseman, a position he would hold for the rest of his career (although he still spent a lot of time at short).

In 1917, the White Sox won the AL pennant. Weaver hit .284, saw his OPS at .694, and had his OPS+ finally go over 100 (110). He also led all AL third basemen in field percentage. In the World Series he hit .333, and an OBP of .333 (obviously no walks), slugged .381, had an OPS of .714, scored three runs and drove in one. The Sox won in six games.

Weaver was one of a group of White Sox who played the entire 1918 season with the team. Despite World War I, he was neither drafted nor went off to do war work. He hit .300 for the first time, but OPS dropped. In 1919, he dropped back under .300 but established career highs in slugging percentage and OPS (although his OPS+ dropped to 99). He ChiSox won the pennant and lost the World Series in eight games. Weaver hit .324, had an OBP of .324 (again, the man simply refused to walk), slugged .500 and had an .824 OPS. He scored four runs, had four doubles, a triple, and no RBIs.

And it’s here we need to step away from the playing field and into a “conference with a bunch of  crooked players” (Judge Landis’ phrase). A group of White Sox decided to throw the World Series to Cincinnati and make a ton of money (by era standards). There were a number of meetings between the eight players (seldom with all eight present). Weaver was asked to join and did so. He seems to have immediately rejected the idea and had no part in the fix. He failed, however, to inform anyone else about what was going on. That would cost him dearly.

The 1920 season was a career year for Weaver. With the new “lively ball” he posted career highs in most categories. He hit .331, had an OPS+ of 107, and for the first time racked up 200 hits. He also continued to play well in the field. With only a few days left in the season, the Black Sox scandal broke. Weaver was implicated and thrown off the team. Tried with the other Black Sox, despite requesting a separate trial, he was acquitted. Then Landis brought down the hammer banning all players who participated in the fix. Then the last sentence included the following, “no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it will ever play professional ball.” It was aimed directly at Weaver.

Out of the Majors, Weaver played semipro ball, worked for the city of Chicago as a painter, ran a drug store (he was not the pharmacist), and dropped dead of a  heart attack on the streets of Chicago 31 January 1956, exactly 56 years ago. He was, despite repeated attempts, never reinstated to the Major Leagues.

Before making some general comments about Weaver, this is a good place to note how good the White Sox defense was rated. In contemporary account after contemporary account there is general agreement that the Sox were a superb defensive team. Gandil, Weaver, Jackson, and Felsch were considered in the top-tier of defense players in the American League, as were Clean Sox Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk. A quick look at team stats bears out that the ChiSox were among the elite fielding teams of the era and if you take the individual players and line them up against their opposite numbers, it’s generally true that the Chicago players are well into the upper echelon on defense. Accounts of the Black Sox scandal tend to generally focus on the hitting and pitching but as a team, the White Sox were pretty good defensively too.

My grandparents refered to knowing what to do and not doing it as a “sin of omission.” Weaver got caught up in something like that in 1919. In some ways we’re dealing with that right now in American sport. As I understand it, Joe Paterno was essentially accused of not doing enough in the Penn State scandal and that (not doing enough) is what got Weaver into trouble. Now I don’t want to compare the two incidents too closely, the specifics have almost nothing in common and the difference between the victims, a 10-year old in 2002 and a group of loud and sometimes obnoxious fans in 1919, makes the particulars totally unlike. And that leads to the question of how much sympathy to show towards Weaver. On the one hand, you’re taught to be loyal to your friends, but on the other hand there’s the question of knowing something is wrong and simply letting it slide. Ultimately I come down on the anti-Weaver side, but I certainly understand those who do not.

Having said all that, I agree with Judge Landis on banning those who are “in conference with a bunch of crooked players.” Making it a cause for banning was a shot across the bow of the players. Now even knowledge of a fix, not just the fix itself, was a banning offense. I’m not a big fan of Landis, but he got this one right.

Comparing Across Eras

May 30, 2011

Nap LaJoie

I have to admit I’m guilty of something. It’s a small thing, not exactly a sin, but I still do it. I’m guilty of trying to compare players across eras. We all do it. We compare Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron. We compare Lou Gehrig to Mark McGwire. We compare Honus Wagner to Derek Jeter. Baseball statisticians have come up with stat after stat that attempts to compare players. Some of them take the time to try to figure out how the eras differ and then try to factor that into the equation. Some of those do a fairly good job of it, and others stink up the joint when they try. So here’s a look at some of the factors that I think have to be considered when trying to compare players across eras.

1. Segregation. This one should be obvious and I have no idea how you factor it in. How much does Lefty Grove not having to face Josh Gibson change Grove’s overall numbers? Got me, coach. And of course it works the other way too. How much does Satchel Paige’s inability to face Babe Ruth in meaningful competition change Paige’s numbers? Again, got me, coach. I think it is important to recognize this is a problem. I simply have no idea how you fix it.

2. Roster sizes. I don’t want to hit this one too hard. If you have Babe Ruth on your team, you’re going to play him a lot. But roster sizes do matter, at least some. The smaller the roster, the less a manager can rest a player and that can create end of season slumps that might not occur on teams with larger rosters.

3. Rules changes. I tend to harp on the pitching change to 60’6″ as a watershed in baseball, but there are a lot of major rules changes that make it difficult to compare players. How would Cy Young do pitching at 50 feet? Well, we actually know he did quite well for a few years, but we don’t know what that means for someone like Walter Johnson. Pud Galvin never pitched a big  league game at 60’6″. Could he have been successful there? Don’t know and don’t know how to figure it out. There are other problems like ball and strike count, stolen base rules, etc. My guess is that some of them can be accounted for by looking at before and after stats and seeing how much change occurs (sort of like figuring out how much expansion changes things), but I don’t know you can account for every situation, particularly the mound. I also know this is a much greater problem in trying to factor in 19th Century players.

4. Equipment. How good was Honus Wagner in the field? A look at his basic fielding  stats shows he was OK, but nothing special. Some of the newer stats begin to show us just how good he was, but many of the older ones don’t take the difference in equipment into account. When you’re playing shortstop with a glove that looks a lot like my winter gloves, you’re not going to put up fielding statistics that equal those of players with modern gloves.  Take a look at modern catching equipment versus the gear of players as recent as Ray Schalk (of 1919 fame). Fielding statistics have gotten better over the years, but much of that is  artificial, brought on by equipment changes. Same for batting. Moderns bats are a far cry from the table legs used by guys at the turn of the 20th Century. There’s a wonderful picture of Nap LaJoie that I stuck in above. Take a look at the bat. Now think about a modern bat. Tell me that one factor doesn’t affect stats.

5. Fields. Modern baseball parks are a far cry from early parks. I’m not talking about the distance to fences, that’s easy to factor in. What I’m talking about is the general condition of the playing surface. Wagner talked about picking up a  ball and watching a cloud of  dust, a handful of pebbles, and the ball all going toward first at the same time. Don’t know how many times that actually happened, but it’s not going to happen at all today. Those uneven fields created more errors and also made normal chances more difficult. I think you can determine the best fielders of the era, but to compare them to modern fielders is difficult enough without worrying about the condition of the playing surface in 1910.

6. Going off to war. Really cuts down on your playing time and is specific to time and place.

Most of what I’ve talked about so far is generally known, and I think statisticians have made good-faith efforts to factor in those things. How much success they’ve had is another question. I don’t know that Win Shares or WAR or anything else adequately accounts for these things, but it’s evident that they are trying. It’s the following two items that I think have been vastly underappreciated by people who try to compare players.

7. Medical advances. You do know that if Tommy John never has the surgery named for him that he never enters a Hall of Fame discussion, don’t you? If that surgery were available in 1935, maybe Dizzy Dean wins another 100 games (or maybe something else goes wrong and he doesn’t). Modern arthritis treatments might give Sandy Koufax another twenty win season. My point is that medical advances change the ability of players to compete just as changes in bats and gloves and fields do the same. I don’t know that anyone has considered this. I also don’t know how you would factor it in, but I think it should be noted at some point.

8. Salaries. Back when I was collecting baseball cards the info on the back sometimes told you what the guy did in the offseason. Most players had to have a “real” job to make ends meet. Most of those jobs weren’t going to enhance your baseball skills. A guy like Richie Hebner dug graves. That might keep him in shape, but didn’t particularly help his batting eye. An old Cardinals pitcher named Ray Washburn sold insurance. Checking  actuary tables probably didn’t hurt his eyesight too much, but I’ll bet it didn’t help his throwing motion. With modern salaries making it less necessary for players to have a “real” job in the offseason they have more time to hone their baseball skills, thus making them better players. This doesn’t mean they all do it in the offseason, only that the opportunity is there for modern players, an option that wasn’t as readily available in 1960. Again, I’m not sure how that’s factored in, but it probably should  be noted.

So the next time you decide to see if you can figure out which was better, Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron, don’t forget to factor in a bunch of things that don’t always show up in the stats. There are others that I didn’t mention above (like advances in training methods), but these will do for starters. Have fun.

Cocky

October 18, 2010

Eddie Collins

Baseball has a world of wonderful stats. One of my favorites is this: who’s the only player to hit .300 in four different decades? Answer, Eddie Collins.

Collins is the only member of the Athletics “$100,000 infield” I haven’t profiled. Primarily that’s because he’s the most famous, and thus the one readers are most likely to know. It’s time to change that omission.

Collins was from New York, attended Columbia University in New York City and, unlike a number of players who only attended college, graduated. He was a good ballplayer and in 1906 got to the big leagues with the Philadelphia Athletics. With eligibility remaining at college in 1906, he played under the name Sullivan for that season. It didn’t do him any good. Columbia knew what was going on and Collins was not allowed to play his final season. Instead, he served as a student coach and completed his degree. Already a good hitter and a fine second baseman, a combination made him a starter in 1909, he sent previous second sacker Danny Murphy to the outfield (where Murphy continued to have a stellar career). Collins spent most of his career hitting second where he developed a reputation for great bat control, timely hitting, ability to place the ball,  just all the basic things a Deadball Era two hitter was required to do well.

While in Philadelphia, Collins helped lead the A’s to pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914, winning the World Series in all but the final year. With the forming of the Federal League in 1914, baseball started a new round in a salary war. Connie Mack, A’s owner, strapped for cash and losing some of his best players, sent Collins to the Chicago White Sox in 1915 for cash. While at Philadelphia, Collins managed to lead the American League in runs in 1912, 13, and 14, in slugging in 1914, and in stolen bases in 1910. A Chalmers Award, the Deadball equivalent of the modern MVP, came his way in 1914. He’d also made a reputation for himself as being very confident in his ability. This earned him the nickname “Cocky.”

He was every bit as good in Chicago. In 1917 and 1919 he was instrumental in bringing pennants to the White Sox. His mad dash home in the 1917 World Series is credited as the defining moment in the Series and led ultimately to a ChiSox victory over the Giants. In 1919 it was a different story. Collins was one of the “Clean Sox” who did not conspire to throw the World Series. Sources indicate that Collins heard rumors of the “fix”, but did not believe them. Unfortunately, he had a terrible Series, batting .226 with only seven hits (only one of them for extra bases-a double), one RBI, and was caught stealing in a key moment. After the Series he was one of the critics of the “Black Sox” and testified at their trial.

Neither the Black Sox scandal nor the end of the Deadball Era seemed to effect his play. He continued hitting over .300, peaking at .372 in 1920, and hitting .344 in 1926 his last year in Chicago. He led the AL two further times in stolen bases (1923 and 1924). In 1925 he became a player-manager for Chicago, taking the team to a fifth place finish, its highest finish since 1922 (also fifth). They remained fifth in 1926, and he lost his job to former teammate and “Clean Sox” Ray Schalk.

 He went back to Philadelphia in 1927, but never again played 100 games in any season. 1927 was his last productive year. He hit .336, played in 56 games at second, stole 12 bases, and scored 50 runs in 226 at bats. His on base percentage was .468. In 1928 he got into 36 games, almost all as a pinch hitter. In 1929, he played in nine games, all as a pinch hitter (racking up no hits). His last season was 1930, when he went one for two and scored a run. His .500 batting average in 1930 made him the only player to average at least .300 for four different decades (1900’s, 19 teens, 1920s, and 1930s). OK, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s still a fun bit of baseball trivia.

By this point he was already doing a bit of coaching. He continued through 1932, then became General Manager for the Boston Red Sox in 1933. He remained in that position through 1947. He was instrumental in bringing such players as Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky to the big leagues. In 1946, on his watch, the Red Sox went to the World Series for the first time since 1918. They lost to St. Louis.  Unfortunately, he continued the Red Sox tradition of not integrating the team. He retired in 1948 and died in 1951. His Hall of Fame induction came in 1939.

Collins numbers are staggering. He hit .333, had 3315 hits, scored 1821 runs, stole 741 bases, walked 1499 times, had a .424 on base percentage, put up 4268 total bases, and slugged .429, which isn’t bad for a player with only 47 home runs. He is the only player to play at least 12 seasons for two different teams (Philadelphia and Chicago). He played on six pennant winners, and four World Series champions. In World Series play he hit .328, scored 20 runs, had 42 hits (good for 10th all time), 14 stolen bases (tied with Lou Brock for the most ever), and his four doubles in 1910 is tied for the most in a four game series. On top of all that, Collins was a good second baseman, leading the AL in putouts seven times and in assists four. He is still second all time in putouts and first in assists among second basemen. An argument can be made that he is the third best player of the Deadball Era, behind Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner (not sure I’d make it).

Collins is consistently rated among the five greatest second basemen in Major League history (Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, Nap LaJoie, and Charlie Gehringer are the other names most commonly, but certainly not exclusively, mentioned). You won’t get an argument from me. I’m not sure I’d rate him first, but he’s certainly in the running.

1919: A Comparison

December 5, 2009

My son recently asked me why the White Sox were overwhelming picks to win the 1919 World Series. I told him that among other things the National League had managed to win exactly one World Series in 10 years (1914) which could leave people to assume the American League was simply superior. I still think that’s true, but a look at the players reveals that man for man it also could be interpreted as favoring the Sox.

Taking a look at only the hitters (maybe I’ll do the pitchers later) I decided to concentrate on 3 numbers: batting average, slugging percentage, and RBIs. I wanted to go with the traditional triple crown stats, but in the deadball era of 1919 the home run was not a significant weapon, so substituted slugging percentage as a way to cover extra base hits. Below are direct comparisons (RBI’s first, then average, then slugging) between the position players. I’ve lumped the corner outfielders together because the Sox platooned in right field and the Reds left fielders were about evenly split in games because Sherry Magee got hurt and batted only twice in the World Series.

1st Base: Daubert (44/276/350), Gandil (60/290/393) Advantage Sox.

2nd Base: Rath (29/264/298), E. Collins (80/319/450) Collins by a wide margin.

3rd Base: Groh (63/310/431), Weaver (75/296/401). Close either way. Weaver was considered a superior fielder.

Shortstop: Kopf (56/270/326), Risberg (38/256/345). Kopf over Risberg.

Center Field: Roush (71/321/431), Felsch (86/275/428) Closer than I originally thought. Roush won the NL batting title, but Felsch has more RBIs and the slugging percentage is a wash.

Catcher: Wingo (27/276/371), Schalk (34/282/320). Schalk by a little. Schalk was also considered much the superior catcher.

Corner Outfield: Duncan (17/244/411), Bressler (17/206/309), Magee (21/215/264),  Neale (54/242/316); Jackson (96/351/506), S. Collins (16/279/363), Leibold (26/302/353). As a whole the Sox are better, but if I had to pick only 3, I’d take Jackson, Leibold, and Neale. For the Series, Neale and Duncan did all the outfield work .

So in most positions the White Sox seem to be superior. There are just enough places where the Reds are as good or better that it could have been an interesting Series, providing of course that it was on the up and up. It wasn’t.

1919: The Other Guys

December 3, 2009

If you follow baseball, you know 1919 is the “Fixed  Series”. The “Black Sox” decided to take money from gamblers and let the Reds win the World Series. For most of the time since, the discussion focused on the “8 Men Out”. Take a minute now and consider the “White Sox” and what happened to them.

Kid Gleason-former pitcher and infielder who was a freshman manager in 1919. Managed the ChiSox through 1923.  Contemporary accounts say the fixed Series eventually killed him. Maybe. He died in 1933.

Dickie Kerr-pitcher who won 2 games in the Series, then was banned from baseball because he competed in games against other banned players and was done by 1925. His career record: 53-35.

Red Faber-pitcher who was hurt during the season and unavailable for the Series. Others have wondered if it would have been as easy to fix the Series had he been healthy. We’ll never know. Played until 1933 and ended with a record of 254-212. Elected to the Hall of fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1964.

Eddie Collins–2nd baseman who had a Hall of Fame career, hitting .300 in 4 decades (he went 1 for 2 in 1930, his final season). Career .300 hitter, 6th in career stolen bases, part of 4 Series winning teams. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939. Generally rated as one of the 5 greatest 2nd basemen to ever play.

Ray Schalk–catcher who was considered the finest fielding catcher of the era. Not much of a hitter, but known for his work with pitchers. Elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1955. One of the committee’s more controversial choices.

Nemo Leibold-left-handed hitting part of a platoon in Right Field. Played until 1925 and won a World Series with the 1924 Washington Senators (by that point he was in Center Field). Career .266 hitter with only 4 home runs and 133 stolen bases.

Shano Collins-the right-handed hitting part of the Right Field platoon. Not related to Eddie Collins. Played until 1925, then managed the Red Sox in 1931-32 (they finished 6th, then last). Career .264 hitter with 22 home runs and 225 stolen bases.

Considering that the two full time players and the major pitcher not in on the fix (E. Collins, Schalk, and Faber) all made the Hall of Fame, I’ve always wondered what would have happpened Hall of Fame-wise had the Sox not platooned in Right Field.