Posts Tagged ‘Red Ruffing’

Gibby

August 16, 2016
Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson

While researching something else, it dawned on me that I’d never actually sat down and wrote about one of my all time favorites, Bob Gibson. I did a little something a few years back (25 October 2010 titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car”) on how a bet on the 1967 World Series netted me enough to buy a used car (and Gibson was instrumental in that win) but I’d never actually centered something on him. Time to change that.

Gibson came out of Omaha before Peyton Manning made the town a sports word. He did a little work with the Harlem Globetrotters, then joined the St. Louis Cardinals. He made his debut in 1959 against the Dodgers. He worked the last two innings in relief, gave up a couple of runs, including a home run to Jim Baxes, the first batter he faced in the National League. His opponent was Don Drysdale.

Gibson got better. After two seasons with a losing record, he finished over .500 for the first time in 1961 (13-12). Unfortunately, he also led the NL in walks. He made his first All Star Game in 1962 and led the NL in shutouts. In 1964 he won 19 games, was either the ace or the “two” pitcher, depending on your view of Ray Sadecki, and helped the Cards to their first World Series since 1946. He lost his first game, then won two more, including game seven, as St. Louis won the Series and he was named MVP. He got into two more World Series. The one in 1967 saw him win three games, set the single game strikeout record for a Series, and pick up his second World Series MVP award (and a car for me).

In 1968 he was awesome. He was 22-9 (.710 percentage) and led the NL in ERA (1.12), shutouts (13), strikeouts (268), ERA+ (258), WHIP (0.853), WAR (11.2), and about anything else you can do on a mound including raking it. It got him an MVP Award and his first Cy Young Award. He won two games in the World Series, but lost game seven as Detroit stopped the Cards.

He led the NL in wins one more time and picked up a second Cy Young Award. He started slipping in 1973 and was done by 1975. For his career he was 251-174 (.591), had 56 shutouts, 3117 strikeouts, a 2.91 ERA (ERA+ of 127) a 1.188 WHIP, 81.9 WAR, an MVP Award, and two Cy Young Awards. In World Series play he was 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA 0.889 WHIP, 92 strikeouts, two rings, and two Series, MVP Awards. The Hall of Fame call came in 1981, his first year.

Gibson got to St. Louis at an important time in the team history. Integration had just occurred and there were still problems about it on the team. The stature of Stan Musial, who had no problem with it and went out of his way to make black players welcome on the team, helped some, but the tensions were still there. And to be a black pitcher was, in some circles, almost an affront to decency. Gibson overcame that and became probably the best pitcher in Cardinals history. He did it through determination, grit, and sheer ability. Over the years he’s become famous (or infamous depending on your view) as a fierce, almost violent pitcher who took hits as a personal challenge. If you watched him on the mound the determination showed through even a TV set. Heck, he scared me through the lens. The way he lunged forward when he threw made him even more scary. Of course that kind of determination and desire for domination led to one of his most famous moments. He was hit in the leg, breaking the bone. Unwilling to admit it, he took the ball, set up, and unleashed one last pitch as he fell to the ground and had to be taken off the field. That moment epitomized Bob Gibson unlike almost anything else he did.

He has one of the better World Series records. OK, he has the most strikeouts in a game and in a single Series, but there’s another most people overlook. In his career he lost his first Series game and lost his last. In between he won seven games in a row. No one else, not Whitey Ford, not Red Ruffing, not Allie Reynolds (the other men with seven or more World Series wins) won seven World Series games in a row.

Over the years he’s kind of gotten lost. He was truly the most dominant pitcher in baseball for a very short time. Before him there was Sandy Koufax. Then came Tom Seaver. In between he had to contend with Juan Marichal and Drysdale. It seems to have cost him something of his luster.

He did have the advantage of spending much of his career with Tim McCarver as his catcher. Whatever you think of him as a color guy, McCarver is one of the great storytellers in baseball. He ended up spinning one Gibson tale after another and it helped Gibson remain in the public eye a little more. My favorite story goes like this:

The manager ordered an intentional walk. McCarver held up four fingers, stepped over, held up his glove, and watched the first pitch drill the batter solidly in the ribs. He went out to the mound asking what happened? Gibson told him that he (Gibson) had just saved three pitches. See why I got a car betting on him?

 

The Old and the New: Game 5

March 22, 2016

Game five of the 1942 World Series was played in New York with the Yankees down three games to one. To pick up the ’42 championship they would have to win three consecutive games.

Whitey Kurowski

Whitey Kurowski

Game 5

The game was played 5 October in the Bronx. To keep their hopes alive, the Yanks turned to game one victor Red Ruffing. St. Louis needing one win to clinch the Series countered with game two winner Johnny Beazley. As in game four, the Yankees scored early when Phil Rizzuto led off the bottom of the first with a home run. It held up until the top of the fourth when Enos Slaughter led off that half inning with a home run. Not to be outdone, New York replied in the bottom of the fourth. This time, rather than a home run, they used a Red Rolfe single, a botched pickoff, a sacrifice fly, and a Joe DiMaggio single to retake the lead 2-1.

Things stayed that way until the top of the sixth. Consecutive singles by Terry Moore and Slaughter put runners on first and third. A Stan Musial popup brought up Walker Cooper. His long fly to right plated Moore with the tying run, but a Johnny Hopp fly out stranded the go ahead run on the bases.

From the bottom of the sixth through the end of the eighth inning the pitchers ruled. Only one man, Rizzuto for the Yankees and Jimmy Brown for the Cardinals, got on base for either team. With it looking like extra innings, Walker Cooper led off the top of the ninth with a single. A bunt sent him to second and brought up Cards third baseman Whitey Kurowski. He proceeded to drive a pitch deep into the left field stands and put the Cardinals ahead 4-2 with three outs to go. Joe Gordon led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, the seventh hit given up by Beazley. Brown managed to boot a Bill Dickey grounder to put men on first and second with no outs. St. Louis shortstop Marty Marion then slipped behind Gordon at second and a snap throw from catcher Cooper caught Gordon off the base for out one. A pop-up to Brown brought the second out. Then a grounder went straight to Brown who flipped to first for the final out of the Series. St. Louis won the game 4-2 and the Series in five games.

For a short World Series it was a good Series. The Yankees actually outhit the Cardinals .247 to .239 and had more extra base hits (nine to eight), and more total hits (44 to 39). They even had fewer errors (5 to 10). But St. Louis scored more runs 23 to 18, more walks (17 to 8), and less strikeouts (19 to 22). Brown’s .300 led all St. Louis hitters while Kurowski’s five RBIs, including the Series winning one, paced the Cardinals. Four players, including Kurowski, scored three runs. Musial’s .222 average wasn’t much, but he scored two runs and drove in another pair while walking a team leading four times. For New York, Rizzuto hit .381, while Keller, who hit only .200, led the team with five RBIs and two home runs. MVP Gordon hit only .095 and was picked off in a critical situation.

It was the St. Louis pitching that made much of the difference. Their ERA was 2.60 as opposed to the New York ERA of 4.50. They gave up five more hits, but five fewer runs (how’s that for symmetry?). While the Yanks walked 17, the Cards walked only eight. In strikeouts the Cardinals had a small edge of 22 over the Yankees 19. Beazley won two games with an ERA of 2.50 while Ernie White had a complete game shutout. For New York only Red Ruffing claimed a win, but he also took a loss.

For both teams there would be the rematch of 1943, which New York would win by the same four games to one margin. Then New York would fall off, only to revive in 1947 and then have another great run from 1949 all the way to 1964. For Yankees manager Joe McCarthy it would be the only blot on his New York World Series resume. The Series would become known in some places as “the one the Yankees lost.” For St. Louis it was the beginning of an impressive run. During the 1940s the Cardinals would win four championships (’42, ’43, ’44, and ’46) and win three world titles (all but ’43). It was one of the truly best, and by now most overlooked, teams in National League history. It is still the last National League team to win three consecutive pennants (1942, ’43, and ’44). In the 1950s the Cards would fall off, but in a twist of great irony it was the 1964 Cardinals that would finally end the great Yankees run of the 1950s and early 1960s.

 

 

The Old and the New: games at Sportsman’s Park

March 14, 2016

The 1942 World Series began in St. Louis with two games. After those two, the Series would move to New York for games three through five. The final games, if necessary, would be back in St. Louis.

Red Ruffing

Red Ruffing

Game 1

The first game in Sportsman’s Park was played 30 September. St. Louis sent National League MVP Mort Cooper to the mound. New York countered with long time stalwart Red Ruffing. Both pitchers were on for three innings. In the top of the fourth Joe DiMaggio singled.  Consecutive pop ups got two outs, then Bill Dickey walked moving DiMaggio to second. A Buddy Hassett double down the left field line scored DiMaggio and sent Dickey to third. A grounder by pitcher Ruffing got Cooper out of the jam with only one run scoring. But the Yanks went back to work in the top of the fifth. With one out a Red Rolfe single and Roy Cullenbine double put runners on second and third. A Joe DiMaggio roller to third got Cullenbine trying to advance, but Rolfe scored the second New York run.

In the eighth inning, the wheels came off for Cooper. With two outs and DiMaggio on first, Dickey singled. A Hassett single scored the Yankee Clipper and sent Dickey to third. Then Ruffing lifted a fly to right field which Cardinals outfielder Enos Slaughter misplayed allowing both Dickey and Hassett to score. That put New York up 5-0. New York tacked on two more in the ninth when Rolfe singled and Cullenbine hit a little tapper back to Max Lanier, who’d relieved to start the ninth. Lanier threw it away allowing Rolfe to score and Cullenbine to go to third. A second out brought up Charlie Keller who walked. A Lanier pick-off attempt went wide and Cullenbine scored the seventh New York run.

Up 7-0 Ruffing started the bottom of the ninth. Considering what was to happen in the remainder of the Series, it was a harbinger of what was to come. Stan Musial fouled out, then Walker Cooper singled. Another out brought up pinch hitter Ray Sanders who walked. A Marty Marion triple scored both runners. Pinch hitter Ken O’Dea singled scoring Marion. Another single brought Terry Moore to the plate. His single scored the fourth run of the inning. A Slaughter single brought up Musial with two outs. He’d made the first out of the inning and proceeded to ground to the first baseman. A flip to the pitcher ended the game, the inning, and made Musial one of the few men to make two outs in one inning in the World Series.

The Yankees won 7-4, but the St. Louis rally in the bottom of the ninth was indicative of what the Cardinals were capable of doing. New York had gotten good production out of much of its lineup and Ruffing had been sterling for eight innings. Both teams did well, but New York led the Series 1 game to none.

The Man

The Man

Game 2

The second game was played 1 October. For the Cardinals Johnny Beazley took the mound. The Yankees response was Ernie Bonham. From the beginning Bonham was in trouble. He gave up a leadoff walk to Jimmy Brown. Terry Moore bunted Brown to second and beat out the throw. Two outs later Walker Cooper doubled home both runs to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

Both pitchers pitched well from there. They gave up a lot of hits but there weren’t many walks and no one scored. The Cards tacked on a run in the seventh on a Johnny Hopp single and a Whitey Kurowski triple, but failed to score Kurowski. That was to cost the Cards because the Yanks came storming back in the top of the eighth. With two outs, Roy Cullenbine singled, then stole second. Joe DiMaggio singled to bring home Cullenbine and scored himself when Charlie Keller slugged a two-run home run to right field that tied the game at 3-3.

In the bottom of the eighth, tied and in danger or possibly going down two games to none, St. Louis took a pair of quick outs. That brought up Enos Slaughter who doubled to right. Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto let the throw in from right get away and Slaughter dashed to third. Up came Stan Musial who had made two outs in one inning the day before, including the final out of the game. But it was Musial and he singled to score Slaughter and put the Cardinals ahead 4-3. The score stayed that way despite consecutive singles to lead off the top of the ninth. Neither man scored, the first being cut down at third on a great throw from Slaughter. A fly and a groundout finished off New York and the Cardinals had tied the Series one game apiece.

Beazley had one bad inning, but managed to win. He was in trouble a lot, giving up 10 hits and walking two, but New York’s scoring was confined to one inning. Bonham had given up only six hits and walked just one, but he’d spread four runs over the game and lost. Slaughter was a big hero scoring the decisive run and gunning down a key runner in the ninth, but it was Musial who drove in the game winner.

Several years ago I did a series of posts in which I gave my candidate for the best ever World Series by game (i.e. the best all time game 1, the best all time game 2, etc.). At the time I chose the 1942 Series game 2 as the finest game 2 in World Series history. It’s been several years since (and thus a number of game 2’s since) so I might now change my mind. But whether I would or not, it was still a great game.

After a day off for travel, the World Series would resume in New York with three games. With the Series tied, a split of any kind would bring the games back to St. Louis. A sweep would end the season.

 

 

 

Between Murderers Row and the Bronx Bombers

March 19, 2012

Did you ever notice how the Yankees tend to win pennants in bunches. In 1921-23 they win, then again 1926-28, then you find them winning a bunch between 1936 and 1943. Then starting in 1947, they win more or less constantly through 1964. Then there’s a gap until 1976-1981, and finally there’s the 1996-2003 run. It’s not that they win every year, or that they win all the championships when they do win, but notice how for long periods of time (and three years is a long time in baseball) they are consistently in the World Series. There are two exceptions, two teams that win a World Series in isolation. One is the most recent gig, the other in 1932.

The 1932 Yankees were something of a hybrid, and that may explain why they have only one pennant. It’s a transition team between the Murder’s Row guys of the 1920s and the Bronx Bombers of the late 1930s. Babe Ruth was beginning his decline, but still good. Joe DiMaggio wasn’t in New York yet. In some ways this is Lou Gehrig’s team,  perhaps the only winner that can say that. I don’t mean to imply that Gehrig isn’t a major player in 1926-28 or again in 1936-38 but I think most people see the first team as Ruth’s and the second as DiMaggio’s. They are also a very overlooked team. Finally, it is Joe McCarthy’s first Yankees pennant winner.

The infield was Gehrig at first, Tony Lazzeri at second, Joe Sewell at third, and Frankie Crosetti at short. Gehrig hit .300 with 34 home runs, 151 RBIs (did you ever notice just how much of an RBI machine Gehrig was?), and had an OPS+ of 180. Lazzeri also hit .300, had 11 home runs, and an OPS+ of 137. Sewell, in the twilight of his career, hit .270 and did what he always did, hit the ball. He struck out all of three times in 503 at bats and walked 56 times. Crosetti hit just .240.

The outfield was Ruth, Earle Combs, and Ben Chapman. Ruth was Ruth, although he was on the downside of his career. He hit 41 home runs, drove in 137, had an OPS+ of 200, and an OPS of 1.150. Combs was still good, hitting .300, scoring 143 times, getting 190 hits, and posting a 126 OPS+. Chapman was the new guy. He hit .299, stole a team (and league) high 38 bases, and posted a 124 OPS+.

The battery consisted of Bill Dickey as the catcher. Dickey was just coming into his own as a hitter. He hit .310 with 15 home runs, 84 RBIs, and was another in a long line of Yankees with an OPS+ over 100 (120). The starters were still good, but beginning to age in spots. Lefty Gomez won 24 games but posted an ERA over four. Red Ruffing had 18 wins and an ERA just over three. George Pipgras, Johnny Allen, and 38-year-old Herb Pennock were the other pitchers who started 20 or more games. Allen joined Wilcy Moore in leading the team with four saves.

The 1932 Yankees won 107 games and finished first by 13 games (over Philadelphia). As a reward they got to face the Cubs in the World Series. They won in four games. The first and fourth game were blowouts, while games two and three were reasonably close. The most famous, and controversial moment came in game three. In the fifth inning with the game tied 4-4, Ruth came to bat with one out. He hit what became known as “The Called Shot” to deep center field. I’ve seen the picture of Ruth just before the home run. It’s obvious he has his hand up, but it’s difficult to tell exactly what he’s doing and where he’s pointing (maybe he’s giving the Cubs “the finger”), so I’m not going to make a definitive statement as to whether he “called” his shot or not. Being Ruth, I wouldn’t bet against it. What’s generally unknown is that Gehrig homered in the next at bat to give the Yanks a two-run lead and the eventual margin of victory.

The team fell back in 1933 and 1934. By 1935 Ruth was gone. By 1936 DiMaggio was there and it was a different team. So the 1932 Yanks are a team that won in isolation and was not part of either the Murderer’s Row or Bronx Bombers dynasty. Still, it’s a great team and I might argue it’s one of the very finest Yankees teams ever.

The One They Lost

March 13, 2012

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

1942 Yankees

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

1942 Cardinals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colonel

March 8, 2012

Colonel Jacob Ruppert

When some talks to me about “The Colonel” I usually think of Harland Sanders first. Heck, being “Colonel Chicken” is a pretty good gig. But baseball also has it’s Colonel and he established the greatest dynasty in Major League history.

Jacob Ruppert was a second generation American born into a brewing family in New York in 1867. He spent some time in the New York National Guard, becoming an aide to the governor. That got him a promotion to Colonel and the title by which he is most commonly known. He spent time in the US Congress (1899-1907, four terms) as a Democrat Representative from New York (not all rich guys were Republicans in 1900).  He left Congress to work with his father in the brewery. Knickerbocker Beer was popular and the family made a lot of money. In 1911 Jacob Ruppert was chosen President of the United States Brewer’s Association, a job he held into 1914. In 1915 his father died and he took over the family business. A year earlier, in 1914, Jacob Ruppert bought a struggling baseball team, the New York Highlanders, and changed the face of baseball forever.

Logo allegedly based on Ruppert's stickpin

One of the first things Ruppert did was change the team nickname to “Yankees”. The famous Yankees logo showing an Uncle Sam top hat on a bat is supposed to be derived from a stickpin he wore on his lapel during World War I. The lapel is supposed to have shown an Uncle Sam top hat and the team took that and replaced the stickpin with a bat. I’ve looked at a lot of pictures of Ruppert and have to admit I can’t find a copy of the pin (maybe I’ve just overlooked it), so I can’t verify the tale, but it does make a good story.

Ed Barrow

Rupert understood that he had a potential goldmine in the American League team in New York, but he also had a team that wasn’t very good. It took a few years, but he began to create a team that could compete for the AL title on a yearly basis. One of his most important acquisitions was Ed Barrow. Barrow had been secretary and some-time manager of the Boston Red Sox in the late 19-teens. Ruppert brought him over to run the team as secretary (a position more or less equivilent to the modern general manager). It was a match that worked and the two men became the brain trust behind the Yankees pennant winning teams (certainly better than the Soggy Bottom Boys brain trust of “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?”). One of Barrow’s first suggestions was for the Yankees to purchase Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. Ruth became an instant star in New York and the Yankees started winning. Ruppert, a second generation American from Germany, had a noticable accent and generally refered to the Babe as “Root.” Actually, that’s OK. In German a “th” (as in Ruth) is frequently pronounced as a “t” so “Root” was a good pronunciation, if you were German. It did get a number of gags going in the press including one that asked if Ruth was going to hit third and Root fourth.

Through a series of good trades, timely purchases, good scouting, and sheer luck, the Yankees under Ruppert and Barrow produced great team after great team. They picked up Miller Huggins to manage the team, found a college slugger named Lou Gehrig to play first, went to San Francisco to look at a prospect named Joe DiMaggio, traded for Red Ruffing and Herb Pennock, and had a scout tell them about Bill Dickey. In each case they decided to pick up the player and the team won year after year. Between 1921 and 1938 (Ruppert died in 1939 before the season began) the Yankees won 10 pennants and 7 World Series’ and produced great player after great player. The 1927 team in frequently cited as the greatest of all Major League teams. Recent works have added the 1939 team (which was put together on Ruppert’s watch) as the greatest of all Major League teams. Pick either and the common denominators are Ruppert and Barrow.

Ruppert was not first into the farm system (Branch Rickey gets that honor), but saw immediately the promise of the system and got the Yankees into it quickly. Unfortunately, it got Ruppert into one of the great controversies of his career (letting Ruth go was the other). He bought a minor league team in Kansas City. The team came with a stadium that happened to have integrated seating. Ruppert immediately segregated the seating, moving black fans to the far reaches of the stadium. It got him into some trouble with the press, but he had the backing of the powers that be in the Majors Leagues (including Judge Landis) and survived with little problem.

Jacob Ruppert died in January 1939 in New York. One of the last people to visit him was Babe Ruth. They parted friends, despite past arguments over Ruth’s contract. Ruth always thought that Ruppert was generous with his money but stingy with praise (DiMaggio thought Ruppert was tight with a buck). He’s buried in the mausoleum pictured below.

Ruppert tomb

Occasionally I’m asked who I think is the best player currently not in the Hall of Fame (and eligible). My answer is Jeff Bagwell. But if the question is “who’s the most deserving baseball figure not currently in the Hall of Fame?” then I have a different answer. Because other executives and contributors are enshrined in Cooperstown, I pick Jacob Ruppert.

Top 10

July 11, 2011

In a comment on the post below, Bill Miller asked me who were my choices for the 10 greatest Yankees. Well, never being one to shy away from making a fool of myself, I’m going to answer that. Here’s my list of the ten greatest Yankees, 1-5 in order, 6-9 listed alphabetically, and then number 10.

The Babe

1. Babe Ruth–do I have to really go into any detail as to why?

The Iron Horse

2. Lou Gehrig–Is arguably the second greatest player in MLB history (I think that’s too high, but understand people who want to make that argument), the greatest first baseman ever, and the classiest player on any team anytime.

The Mick

3. Mickey Mantle–It’s a tough call over DiMaggio, but I think I want Mantle’s combination of speed, power, and hitting. Sure, he hung on too long and lost out on a .300 batting average. I think if he’d ended up over .300 there might not be a question of who is the greatest Yankees center fielder.

Joltin’ Joe

4. Joe DiMaggio–Like Gehrig, a classy player. In many ways the opposite of  Mantle. Where Mantle was raw and powerful, DiMaggio was elegant and effortless. Still his numbers overall aren’t as good, so I go with the Mick.

Yogi

5. Yogi Berra–OK, he’s become a national comedian with his use of the English language, but I saw him play and God could he hit. He looked funny doing it, but he could do it so well. A lot of people forget he was a very good catcher too. The Yanks used to find all sorts of journeyman pitchers like Johnny Kucks, Don Larsen, and company and they ended up doing superbly, at least for short periods, with New York. I’ve  always thought Yogi had a lot to do with that.

6-9. In alphabetical order, Whitey Ford, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Red Ruffing. These guys I have a personal order for, but I have to admit it varies sometimes and I could be talked into turning the order around. I think they are all close and it’s hard to compare Jeter to the pitchers. It’s also hard to compare starting pitchers with relievers. As a rule I prefer starters over relievers because I’d rather have a guy who is good and can give my team 200-250 mostly quality innings over a guy who’s going to give me 70-100 mostly quality innings, even if most of those 70-100 are the ninth inning. After all, you gotta get through the first 24 outs before you can worry about the last three.

I know the above paragraph sounds pretty wishy-washy, but every time I think I have a list of greats down the way I want them, someone comes up with a new stat or I read something that puts a different nuance onto a player’s career. Then the list goes out the window and I start over. So I’m comfortable knowing 6-9 are the right guys. I’m much less comfortable with the exact order.

10. There are a lot of guys who could go here, Don Mattingly, Bill Dickey, Dave Winfield (and others). My personal choice is Reggie Jackson, but I recognize the difficulty in chosing a guy who was only there five years. But what a heck of a five years they were. Although winning is very much a team stat, I think it matters to a degree in judging a player. That degree has to do with how much impact that player has on the team. Using the four players listed above, Mattingly and Winfield simply never won as Yankees, and although Dickey won in the 1930’s and early 1940s I think that has a lot more to do with having Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio as teammates. On the other hand, the late 1970s Yankees were Jackson’s team. The line used about him was that the was “the straw that stirred the drink.” He was indeed that. So at this point I pick Jackson, knowing that someone reading this is quite capable of convincing me otherwise.

Anyway, there’s my list. First I know it’s pretty standard (except maybe for Jackson). No great surprises, but that’s probably to be expected. I know many will disagree, and that’s OK too. Have at it, team.

The 50 Greatest Yankees

April 4, 2011

Recently ESPN New York did a poll of experts (and I’ll bet they stiffed every one of us) to determine the 50 Greatest New York Yankees. The list is available at their site or if you go through Google, it’s the first item. I won’t give you the entire list, but here’s the top 10 in order followed by some commentary: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter, Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey. And for those curious but not willing to go look up the list, Don Mattingly finished 11th.

Now some comments:

1. Ruth finished first on every ballot. He was the only person to finish in the same spot on every ballot. That works for me.

2. That means that Gehrig did not universally come in second. A commentary on the  site indicates that a handful of people chose Rivera second, over Gehrig. I love Mariano Rivera. I can’t stand the Yankees, but I like him. He’s the greatest reliever ever and it’s not often you get to actually see the “greatest ever” actually do his job. That’s really tough for someone who thought Dennis Eckersley, who never played for the Yanks, was the greatest. But Rivera greater than Gehrig? Come now, folks. I’m not sure what my all-time top 10 greatest players would look like, but I’m reasonably sure Gehrig would be in it and Rivera wouldn’t.

3. Staying with Rivera, I think ranking him above Ford is wrong. Gimme a starter every time over a reliever, especially if that starter pitched prior to the 1980s (1950s and early 1960s for Ford), when a hurler was expected to go deep into the game. For his career Ford averaged seven innings in each start with 13036 batters faced. Rivera, in contrast, has faced only 4586 (as of 3 April). Additionally, of pitchers with 150 wins or more, Ford has the highest winning percentage. Basically it’s a question of who do you prefer, a starter or a reliever? I suppose some of you would opt for the reliever, but I’ll stick with the starter.

4. Red Ruffing is a great choice for the top 10. He was an absolute bust at Boston, moved to New York, and became a Hall of Famer. It’s not just that he had a better team behind him, his numbers in general get better. He wins more, gives up fewer runs, walks less, strikes out more, his hits to innings pitched ratio gets a lot better. That can’t all be Yankee Stadium and Phil Rizzuto (and in case you’re curious, Ruffing was 25 when the Yanks picked him up). He also has one of my favorite stats. In World Series play, he is 7-2 (losing in 1936 and 1942). That’s the same record as Bob Gibson, although Gibson has the distinction of losing his first and last games and winning the seven in between.

5. If you’re interested in putting together a full team, Tony Lazzeri was the highest rated second baseman and Graig Nettles the highest third baseman, making your all-time team Gehrig, Lazzeri, Jeter, Nettles the infield; Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle the outfield; Berra the catcher; Ford the left-handed starter; Ruffing the right-handed starter; and Rivera the reliever.

So there you go. If you disagree with the list, complain to ESPN New York. All in all I thought it was a pretty fair listing.

The Greatest General Manager

November 16, 2010

Ed Barrow

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

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

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

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

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

The Way to Win: The Bronx Bombers

August 9, 2010

Joe McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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