Posts Tagged ‘Red Schoendienst’

The Impossible Dream: the Cards

January 5, 2017
Red Schoendienst

Red Schoendienst

In 1967 the baseball world was enamored of the Boston Red Sox. Their season was known, after the Broadway hit, “The Impossible Dream.” The National League pennant winning St. Louis Cardinals were, on the other hand, a team that had shown more recent success. From the 1920s through 1946 (coincidentally against the Red Sox) the Cards were consistent winners. They’d fallen on hard times in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s but had won as recently as 1964. Now a new team (with several holdovers from ’64 still around) was going to challenge Boston in the World Series.

Hall of Fame Manager Red Schoendienst in his third years with St. Louis headed a solid team with four future Hall of Famers. In hitting the team led the NL in stolen bases and placed second in all the triple slash categories (BA/OPB.SLG/OPS) and second in runs, hits, and total bases. They were fourth in home runs and third in doubles. The pitching was also second in most categories (ERA, hits, shutouts, runs) while being third in walks and sixth in strikeouts. The team was fourth in fielding percentage, but sixth in errors.

As with the Red Sox, the Cardinals infield was set. From first around to third it consisted of Orlando Cepeda, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill, and Mike Shannon. Hall of Famer Cepeda led the team in WAR, home runs, RBIs, OPS and OPS+ on his way to the NL MVP Award. Shannon was a converted outfielder who sometimes played like it. He was getting better in the field, but was never going to make anyone forget Brooks Robinson. He hit .245 with 23 home runs and 0 WAR (making him the epitome of an average player). Both Javier and Maxvill were in the lineup for their gloves and both did well enough in the field. Javier, additionally, could hit. He managed .281 with 14 home runs (good for third on the team) and 2.6 WAR. Maxvill hit .227 with one homer. The backups were Ed Spiezio and Phil Gagliano. Neither hit .225.

There was no Carl Yazstremski in the outfield, but it was still solid across the grass. Hall of Famer Lou Brock was in left field. He wasn’t as bad an outfielder as he’s sometimes considered, but he was in the game to hit and run. He went .299 with 21 home runs (second on the team), 76 RBIs, 52 stolen bases, 325 total bases, and 5.6 WAR (third on the team). Center Fielder Curt Flood hadn’t yet become the player’s champion but was, nevertheless, a sterling ball player. He hit a team leading .335 to go with 5.3 WAR. In right field, Roger Maris was 32 and well beyond his home run hitting years as a Yankees stalwart. He hit .261 with nine home runs, 55 RBIs, and 3.6 WAR. The replacements were Bobby Tolan (later of the “Big Red Machine”) and future batting champ Alex Johnson. Tolan had six home runs while Johnson was, at .223, still learning to hit.

If the Red Sox catching situation was a mess, the Cardinals had stability there in the person of Tim McCarver. Not yet a household name because of his years as the color guy on national broadcasts, McCarver was a solid catcher who was having something like a career year. He hit .295, had 14 home runs, 69 RBIs, eight stolen bases, more walks than strikeouts, and 6.0 WAR, good for second on the team. His backups were Dave Ricketts, who hit .273, and John Romano who didn’t come close.

With a couple of exceptions, the Cardinals pitching wasn’t in any better shape than the Bosox. Seven men started 10 or more games during the season. Much of that had to do with a key injury. In July Cards ace Bob Gibson was hit by a batted ball. He made a throw to first, then managed one pitch before collapsing with a broken leg (not many people can do that). He was back by the World Series, but had only gone 13-7 with an ERA of 2.98 (ERA+ 110) and only 2.7 WAR. Dick Hughes and youngster Steve Carlton took up most of the slack. Hughes went 16-6 with a 2.67 ERA, 161 strikeouts, and 3.9 WAR. Future Hall of Famer Carlton led the team with 168 strikeouts in 193 innings, won 14 games, had an ERA of 2.98, and put up 2.9 WAR. Ray Washburn had 10 wins and an ERA north of three fifty. Nelson Briles who started 11 of 49 games had 3.6 WAR. Joe Hoerner led the bullpen with 14 saves followed by Ron Willis who had 10.

All in all the 1967 Cardinals was a fine team. With Gibson back healthy they could be formidable. The first game of the World Series was in Boston.

 

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Hammerin’ Hank vs. the Mick: The Shoe Shine

July 21, 2016

With the World Series tied one game apiece, the 1957 championship shifted to Milwaukee for three games. A two-one split either way would send the Series back to New York for the deciding game or games. A sweep would crown a champion.

Game 3

Tony Kubek

Tony Kubek

Game 3 on 5 October became the only blowout in the Series. Interestingly enough neither starting pitcher got out of the second inning. The Yankees jumped on Milwaukee starter Bob Buhl in the first inning, racking up three runs on a Tony Kubek home run, consecutive walks to Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, a Gil McDougald sacrifice that scored Mantle and a “Suitcase” Harry Simpson single that plated Berra. The single was Buhl’s last pitch. When the Braves got one back in the bottom of the second on a walk to Bob “Hurricane” Hazle, a single, a wild pitch, and a Red Schoendienst single, Yankees manager Casey Stengel took out starter Bob Turley and brought in 1956 World Series hero Don Larsen who got out of the inning.

Larsen stayed for the rest of the game giving up two more runs in the fifth inning on a two run home run to Hank Aaron, but the Braves began a long parade of five more hurlers to the mound, none lasting more than two innings. The Yanks got to Milwaukee pitching and scored 12 runs on nine hits and 11 walks. Kubek had a second home run and ended up going three for five with four RBIs and three runs scored. Mantle added one home run. Larsen took the win by going 7.1 innings and giving up the home run to Aaron, five hits, four walks, and striking out four.

Game 4

Nippy Jones

Nippy Jones

Game four was played 6 October and featured both the most famous game of the Series and one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history.

Milwaukee began with game one loser Warren Spahn on the mound. He gave up an early run to New York on two singles, a fielders choice, and a walk that brought Mickey Mantle home with the game’s first run. That held up until the bottom of the fourth when Yankees starter Tom Sturdivant got into trouble. He walked Johnny Logan, gave up an Eddie Mathews double to move Logan to third, then made the mistake of leaving one over the plate for Hank Aaron who smashed a three run homer to give Milwaukee the lead. One out later he gave up another home run to first baseman Joe Adcock to put the Braves up 4-1.

And that held up into the top of the ninth, when New York struck for three runs. With Yogi Berra on second and Gil McDougald on first, Elston Howard answered Aaron’s three run blast with his own three run homer to tie the score at 4-4. When the Braves didn’t score in the bottom of the ninth, the game went into extra innings.

New York got a run in the top of the tenth when, with two outs, Spahn (still pitching into the 10th) gave up a double to Tony Kubek and a triple to Hank Bauer that put New York up 5-4 with three outs to go.

Milwaukee led off the bottom of the tenth with pinch hitter Nippy Jones (he was subbing for Spahn). Jones was the third string first baseman and a pinch hitter. He’d hit .266 for the season with two homers, three walks, and five runs scored. But he believed in looking spiffy on the field, so he shined his shoes. The first pitch was low for ball one and Jones complained saying he’d been hit on the foot by the ball. The umpire, Augie Donatelli, disagreed. Jones grabbed the ball, showed Donatelli a black scuff mark on the ball, and argued it was proof he’d been hit. Donatelli believed him and despite Yankee protests awarded Jones first base.

Jones heads to first (courtesy getty images)

Jones heads to first (courtesy getty images)

Milwaukee sent in Felix Mantilla to run for Jones (there is no truth to the rumor that the team gave Jones a shoe brush as part of his World Series share). A Red Schoendienst sacrifice sent Mantilla to second and a Johnny Logan double tied the game. That brought up Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews who promptly sent the ball over the fence in deep right to win the game for Milwaukee.

Jones became a big hero, almost bigger than Mathews, whose home run had actually won the game. Aaron’s three run shot and Logan’s clutch hits in two different innings, including the 10th, were forgotten. They shouldn’t be because they were also significant. And for those interested, it was Jones’ last plate appearance in the big leagues.

Over the years the Jones play took on mythic proportions. It was certainly one of the strangest of all World Series moments, not likely to be duplicated ever. Except that in 1969 the same thing happened to Cleon Jones (what is it with guys named Jones and shoe polish?) during the “Miracle Mets” run to the championship. So far there hasn’t been another case of it in the Series but I admit that every time a player named Jones (like Chipper or Andruw for instance) comes to the plate in the World Series I try to get a look at their shoes.

Game 5

Eddie Mathews

Eddie Mathews

If games three and four were dominated by hitters, game five became a pitcher’s duel. The Yanks sent ace Whitey Ford to the mound while the Brave responded with game two winner Lew Burdette. Four five and a half innings they matched zeroes. Ford gave up three hits and a walk, while striking out one. No Milwaukee hitter got beyond second base. Burdette was every bit as good. He gave up five hits an no walks with no runner getting beyond second.

In the bottom of the sixth, Ford got the first two men out then gave up a single to Eddie Mathews, whose homer the day before won the game for the Braves. Hank Aaron followed with another single sending Mathews to third. A final single by Joe Adcock brought Mathews home with the first run of the game. Then a grounder ended the inning leaving the score 1-0.

It was all Burdette needed. He set the Yankees down in order in the seventh. In the eighth he gave up a single, but a caught stealing got him out of the inning. In the ninth it was two quick outs before a single by Gil McDougald brought up Yogi Berra. He popped to third to end the inning and the game. Burdette had a seven hit shutout without giving up a walk. It put Milwaukee on the cusp of a championship going to New York to finish the Series.

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The Mick: Games at the Stadium

July 18, 2016

The 1957 World Series saw the New York Yankees, winners of multiple World Series championships take on, for the first time, the Milwaukee Braves, winners of exactly one World Series championship (1914).

Whitey Ford

Whitey Ford

Game 1

Played 2 October 1957 in Yankee Stadium, game one featured the two team aces, Whitey Ford for New York and Warren Spahn for Milwaukee, square off. Four and a half innings into the game it was still scoreless. The Yanks had two men reach third, but no one scored. That changed in the bottom of the fifth with a Jerry Coleman single and a Hank Bauer double sandwiched around consecutive groundouts producing the Series’ first run. They tacked on two more in the sixth by way of an Elston Howard single, a walk to Yogi Berra, an Andy Carey single that scored Howard and sent Berra to third, and a Coleman squeeze bunt that scored Berra. Milwaukee got on the scoreboard in the seventh with a Wes Covington double and a Red Schoendienst single that brought Covington home. That was it for the Braves as Ford set them down in order to end the game.

It was a well pitched game with Ford giving up only the one run on five hits, only Covington’s double going for extra bases, and four walks to go with five strikeouts. Spahn was good for five innings, but was lifted during the sixth inning Yankees uprising. The three Braves pitchers gave up a combined nine hits and only two walks. They struck out four, none by Spahn. So far the battle of the aces belonged to Ford.

Johnny Logan

Johnny Logan

Game 2

Game two was 3 October. Aiming to get even for the Series, Milwaukee sent Lew Burdette, who’d begun his career with the Yanks, to the mound. Aiming equally hard to go ahead two games to none, New York responded with Bobby Shantz, a former Rookie of the Year with the Athletics.

Neither pitcher was as effective as the previous starters. Milwaukee got a run in the second on a Hank Aaron triple and a Joe Adcock single. New York countered in the bottom of the second with a walk to Enos Slaughter, a Tony Kubek single that sent Slaughter to third, and a Jerry Coleman single that plated Slaughter. So in the top of the third, the Braves kept the scoring going with a Johnny Logan home run. Not to be outdone, Hank Bauer tied the game at 2-2 with his own home run in the bottom of the third.

It looked like each team was going to score every inning for a while when the Braves struck again in the top of the fourth. Three straight singles by Adcock, Andy Pakfo, and Wes Covington scored both Adcock and Pakfo. The latter scored on an error by Yanks third baseman Kubek.

Getting the second run in an inning seems to have broken the spell, because that ended the scoring for the game. Burdette was masterful from that point on. He allowed two more singles and gave up two more walks, but the Yanks never scored. Shantz left the game in the two run fourth and relievers Art Ditmar and Bob Grim each allowed only one hit (and no walks).

There was an off day for travel before the Series resumed in Milwaukee. It was now a best of five with the Braves having home field advantage.

RIP Frank Torre

September 15, 2014
Frank Torre

Frank Torre

I saw over the weekend that Frank Torre died. Today he’s most famous as Joe’s big brother. That’s kind of a shame because he was a pretty good ballplayer in his own right (but his younger brother was better).

I remember him from the late 1950s Milwaukee Braves. He was a tall first baseman who carried an enormous glove. There was a joke going around that Red Schoendienst (the Braves second baseman) covered the thirty feet closest to second, Torre took the thirty feet closest to first, and Torre’s glove covered the middle thirty feet between first and second. He was a very good first baseman, not Keith Hernandez good, but still darned good. He didn’t hit a lot; going .273 with 13 home runs for his career, although in 1957 he scored six runs in a game. It was an era of big hulking first basemen who hit the ball a long way and did an adequate job at first. Milwaukee’s answer to that was Joe Adcock. In 1957 Adcock got hurt and Torre did most of the first base work late in the season. He got into the World Series and hit .300 with two home runs (only Henry Aaron had more). The Braves won and got back to the Series in ’58. They lost and Torre did poorly with the bat (but still played well at first). He ended up spending a lot of time coming into games late to spell Adcock when the Braves wanted a good defense to protect a lead.

He ended up playing a couple of years in Philadelphia. He hit .300 one year, but still had no power. His last year was 1963 and he was through by then. He was 31. I lost track of him after that until he resurfaced with the heart problems in 1996. It made a great story with him in a hospital bed, his younger brother managing his old nemesis team the Yankees against his old team the Braves. But after New York won, he slipped back into obscurity.

I always liked that 1957-’59 Braves team. I think it’s one of the great teams ever and it gets totally lost behind the New York teams. Torre was a major member of that team and I always kind of liked him (although Spahn, Burdette, Aaron, and Mathews were the guys I liked best). RIP, Frank, you will be missed by the baseball community.

The Kid vs. The Man: Back at Sportsman’s Park

August 27, 2014

The 1946 World Series returned to St. Louis on Sunday, 13 October. The Cardinals need to win to force a game seven. By this point most of the questions raised when the Series began were answered. Only two significant ones were left: how would Ted Williams and Stan Musial do, and who would win.

Harry Brecheen

Harry Brecheen

The Cardinals sent game two starter Harry Brecheen back to the mound. He’d pitched a complete game shutout in his last outing. He didn’t do quite as well this time. He gave up a run in the seventh inning when Rudy York tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Bobby Doerr. By that point St. Louis was already ahead 3-0 and would win 4-1. In the third inning they’d bunched together a single, a bunt (by Brecheen), a sacrifice and three more singles to score three runs off Tex Hughson. In the bottom of the eighth Harry Walker reached first on a force out then scored on a double by Marty Marion. Both the same hit and the same inning would loom large in game seven.  For Brecheen it was his second complete game victory.

Enos Slaughter, 15 October 1946

Enos Slaughter, 15 October 1946

The final game was played 15 October 1946 with Boston sending Boo Ferriss to the mound and the Cardinals countering with Murry Dickson. The Bosox got one in the first when Wally Moses singled, went to third on another single, and scored on Dom DiMaggio’s sacrifice fly. The Cards got it back in the bottom of the second when Whitey Kurowski doubled, went to third on a groundout, and then scored on a fly to left. St. Louis took the lead in the fifth when Walker singled, went to second on a bunt, then scored on Dickson’s double. A Red Schoendienst single plated Dickson. It stayed 3-1 until the top of the eighth. Rip Russell singled and Catfish Metkovich doubled to put Russell on third. It was all for Dickson. Manager Eddie Dyer brought Brecheen, the game six winner in to stop the Boston rally. He got two outs, then DiMaggio doubled to tie the games (both runs credited to Dickson). With the score tied, St. Louis Hall of Fame right fielder Enos Slaughter led off the bottom of the eighth with a single. Two outs later he was still parked on first and the score was still tied. That brought up Walker. He doubled off reliever Bob Klinger. Slaughter, with two outs, was off with the pitch. He rounded second, went to third, ran through a stop sign and headed home. The Red Sox fielded the ball cleanly but cutoff man Johnny Pesky hesitated just enough with the relay throw that Slaughter slid home safely with the go ahead run. The play has become famous as “Slaughter’s Mad Dash” and is still one of the more well known plays in World Series lore (and it may have been the deciding factor that got Slaughter into the Hall of Fame). In the ninth Brecheen went back to the mound. York singled as did Doerr. Doerr was erased on a force out by Pinky Higgins. Roy Partee fouled out with runners on first and third, then Ted McBride rolled a grounder to Schoendienst who flipped to Marion for the force that ended the Series. St. Louis had won both the game and Series 4-3. It was Brecheen’s third win.

Boston did well in defeat. Williams was a major disappointment hitting .200 with five hits, all singles. He had five walks, five strikeouts, and scored two runs. The big hitting star was Rudy York. He had six hits, four for extra bases (a double, a triple, and two homers). He drove in five and scored six runs. The staff did well enough with a team ERA of 2.95. They gave up 20 earned runs in 28 total runs (and if you ignore the 12-3 blowout in game four they actually gave up fewer runs than the Cards pitchers).

St. Louis had a lot of stars. Slaughter scored the big run while hitting .320. Walker had six RBIs, including the last one. Musial is frequently lambasted for a poor series (and he hit only .222), but he had six hits, five for extra bases (four doubles and a triple), scored three runs, drove in four, had four walks (and two strikeouts), and stole a base (and was immediately picked off). But the big hero was Brecheen. He had two complete games and gave up one run in them. He picked up the win in game seven in relief (although he’d given up the hit that tied the game) and became the first of only three lefties to register three wins in a World Series (Mickey Lolich and Randy Johnson are the others). He was also the second three game winner to pick up one victory in relief (Smokey Joe Wood did it in 1912 and later Johnson did it the same way in 2001). All in all not bad for a .500 pitcher in the regular season (he went 15-15).

It was a terrific World Series. It began a line of three great World Series’ (1947 and ’48 also became famous). It was also the only time both Williams and Musial met in a Series. For Williams it was his single Series. For Musial it was his last. He, at least, went out on a winning note.

 

 

The Kid vs. The Man: the Opening Games

August 22, 2014

The 1946 World Series began in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis on Sunday, 6 October. There were a number of questions that hung over the Series. How would Ted Williams do? How would Stan Musial do? Was either pitching staff up to the task? Would St. Louis employ the “Williams Shift”? The Shift was designed to defend against Williams’ tendency to pull the ball to right field. The shortstop (in this case Marty Marion) would move to the first base side of second while the third baseman (in this case Whitey Kurowski) would assume Marion’s normal shortstop position. As long as second and third base were unoccupied it gave the defense a distinct advantage versus the best hitter in the American League. The short answer was “Yes,” the Cardinals would use the Shift.

Rudy York

Rudy York

Game 1

For the opening game, the Cards sent Howie Pollet to the mound. He pitched reasonably well, giving up three hits and striking out another three. He did, however, give up four walks, two to Williams. The Red Sox picked up a run in the second when Pollet hit Rudy York with a pitch. York went to second on a walk, and came home on a single by Pinky Higgins. The Cards got the run back off Boston starter Tex Hughson when Red Schoendienst singled then scored on a Musial double. In the bottom of the eighth, they got another run when Kurowski singled and catcher Joe Garagiola doubled to plate Kurowski. Pollet needed three outs to clinch game one. With one out Higgins singled and was replaced on base by Don Gutteridge. A Rip Russell single sent Gutteridge to third. With two outs, right fielder Tom McBride singled to score Gutteridge and tie up the game. It went 11 innings. In the top of the 11th, York homered off Pollet and reliever Earl Johnson set down St. Louis without a run to pick up the win and put Boston ahead.

Harry Brecheen

Harry Brecheen

Game 2

The second game of the Series was held the next day. It was a pitching masterpiece for Cards starter Harry Brecheen. He pitched a complete game shutout allowing four hits, three walks, and struck out four. He allowed a first inning single, then got out of the inning on a double play. In the second he walked two (one intentionally) but got out of it with three harmless groundouts. In the fourth it was a walk and a single that put two men on, but again a groundout ended the threat. After that he never allowed two men on in any inning. Meanwhile, St. Louis got a run in the third when catcher Del Rice doubled and Brecheen singled to score Rice. They tacked on two more in the fifth when Rice and Brecheen scored on a single by Terry Moore and groundout by Musial (Brecheen could hit a little too.). Both runs were unearned. Losing pitcher Mickey Harris went seven innings, gave up six hits, walked three, struck out three and gave up all three runs.

After game two the Series shifted to Boston with the teams tied at one win each. How were the questions being answered? So far Williams was one for seven with two walks and a strikeout. Musial was one for nine (a double) with two RBIs and a strikeout. Both pitching staffs had done well. St. Louis had given up three runs, one in extra innings, and Boston had given up five, only three of which were earned.

 

Playoff Baseball Comes to the West Coast

June 11, 2012

Felix Mantilla

Prior to divisional play beginning in 1969, the Major Leagues had a playoff system to determine pennant winners in case the regular season ended in a tie. It wasn’t used all that often. The American League used it all of once (1948) and the National League a bit more frequently (1946, 1951, 1959, 1962). The most famous occurred in 1951. Arguably the best occurred in 1959.

In 1959 the Milwaukee Braves were two-time defending NL champions. They featured Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter and Warren Spahn. They went into the last weekend of the regular season tied for first, then went 2-1 against Philadelphia to finish the year with a 86-68 record.

Their opponents were the Dodgers, the team they had replaced atop the NL in 1957. But it was a vastly different Dodgers team. First, it was no longer in Brooklyn, having relocated to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. Second, most of the “Boys of Summer” Dodgers were gone. Hall of Famer Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Carl Furillo were still around; but the new team featured Don Drysdale, Wally Moon, Johnny Roseboro, and a wild lefty named Sandy Koufax. Drysdale and Koufax were on the 1956 pennant winning team, but neither was considered a major player on that team. Gone were Roy Campanella, PeeWee Reese, Don Newcombe, and Carl Erskine, a stalwart of the Brooklyn mound who began the year in LA, but retired before the season ended.

The 1959 playoff format was a best of three series with LA getting two home games. The Milwaukee home game was 28 September in County Stadium. The next game was the following day in the LA Coliseum, the first playoff game ever on the West Coast. Game three, an if necessary game, would be in LA the 30th.

With both teams having to win late in the season, the first game saw Danny McDevitt start for the visitors with Carl Willey on the mound for the Braves. With two out and second baseman Charlie Neal on  second, Dodgers right fielder Norm Larker singled to drive in a run in the first inning. Milwaukee struck back in the second with two runs on a bunch of singles and an error. The two runs took McDevitt out of the game and brought in bullpen man Larry Sherry.  LA got the run back in the next inning on three singles and a force out. In the sixth, Roseboro led off the inning with a home run putting the Dodgers up 3-2. Sherry pitched masterfully shutting out Milwaukee on four hits (and two walks) making Roseboro’s homer the deciding run.

The next day the teams played one of the great playoff games ever. The Dodgers started Drysdale and the Braves countered with Lew Burdette. In the opening frame with an out Mathews walked, Aaron doubled, then Frank Torre doubled to plate both runs. The Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the first with a  Neal triple followed by a single by Wally Moon. The Braves got the run right back on a single and error by Snider in the second. In the bottom of the fourth Neal homered to bring the Dodgers within a run. Again Milwaukee got the run right back with a Mathews home run in the fifth. It drove Drysdale from the game. The score remained 4-2 until the top of the eighth when catcher Del Crandall tripled and came home on a Felix Mantilla sacrifice fly. The score remained 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. With three outs to go, Burdette stumbled. Moon, Snider, and Hodges all singled to load the bases. Out went Burdette, in came bullpen ace Don MaMahon. He proceeded to give up a two-run single to Larker. Out went McMahon, in came Warren Spahn. A sacrifice fly by Furillo tied the game.

It stayed tied through the tenth and eleventh, the Dodgers managing one hit in the eleventh. By the twelfth, Stan Williams was on the mound for LA and Bob Rush for Milwaukee. Williams got through the twelfth without giving up a hit, but with two out Rush walked Hodges. Joe Pignatano singled moving Hodges to second. Furillo then singled to shortstop Mantilla who was playing short instead of his normal second because of a defensive substitution in the seventh. Mantilla managed an error letting Hodges in with the winning run and putting the Dodgers into the World Series. They would win it over Chicago in six games.

In the years since, playoff games prior to the World Series became a staple of baseball. Now we don’t consider it unusual to see a round of games between the end of the regular season and the Series. Back in 1959 it wasn’t at all normal. It happened three times previously in all of NL history. So there was a level of anticipation that was different from today’s playoffs. And it was the first postseason play (although technically the games counted as regular season games, they were considered by most a playoff) on the West Coast. With game two, the West Coast got a great introduction to playoff baseball.

The Outsiders of 1957

March 15, 2012

1957 Milwaukee Braves

In baseball, the 1950s is primarily famous for the dominance of the city of New York. In that decade teams from New York won every World Series championship except two: 1957 and 1959. And to be fair about it, the 1959 winner was only two years transplanted from New York (actually Brooklyn), so only one team without New York connections won a World Series in the decade. That team played in Milwaukee. 

The 1957 Milwaukee Braves are one of a handful of teams that are in the running for best team of the 1950s. They could hit, the were good in the field, their pitching was excellent, and they even had a decent bench. Most teams in the 1950s didn’t have all four of those things, certainly not in the same season. So, in the words of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” movie “Who are those guys?”

The catcher was Del Crandall. He’d been around since 1949, lost two years to Korea, then become the primary backstop in 1953. He was a good catcher, leading the league year after year in caught stealings. It was an era of few steals, but Crandall was the best at stopping the running game. He wasn’t a great hitter, but by 1957 his numbers were trending up (although ’57 was a down year for him) in most categories (his home runs and RBIs were dropping).

The left side of the infield was solid. Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews held down the hot corner. He hit .292, had 32 home runs, 94 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .540. Johnny Logan was at short. He made a lot of errors, but was always near the top in range factor, assists, and put outs. He tended to hit around .270 with 10-15 home runs.

The right side of the infield is a good place to look at both the bench and the importance of a trade. The trade was at second. The Braves were struggling at second base early in the season Danny O’Connell wasn’t doing much, so Milwaukee turned a three-for-one trade (later World Series winning manager Chuck Tanner was one of the others). They got Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst in the deal. Schoendienst solidified the infield, gave the team a good hitter. He hit .310, had an OPS+ of 116, and was a good, if not spectacular infielder. He was third in putouts; second in assists, range, and fielding percentage. He and Logan weren’t Fox and Aparicio turning a double play, but they were more than serviceable. First base saw the bench come to the fore. Joe Adcock was the main first baseman. He was a pretty standard 1950s first baseman. He was a slugger who could put up 30 home runs, hit about .270, and get a lot of RBIs. He also was only a mediocre first baseman. Enter Frank Torre (Joe’s older brother). Torre was a good first baseman, had little power, hit in the .270s, and in 1957 had an OPS+ of 103. He also carried an enormous glove. The gag was that Schoendienst had to cover a third of the distance from second to first and Torre’s glove would cover the rest of the area. Adcock went down early (he only played 65 games) and Torre was a more than adequate replacement.

The arrangements in the outfield are fascinating. In left the Braves went through a ton of trouble to find their man. Bobby Thomson (six years removed from “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”) started out there. He was pretty much through. They tried Chuck Tanner, but if you’re relying on Chuck Tanner (other than as a manager), you’re in trouble. They finally decided on Wes Covington, who had a  breakout year. His triple slash numbers were .284/.339/.547. His OPS was .876 (OPS+ of 138).

The bench also came into play in center field. The starter and lead off man was Bill Bruton. He stole a team high 11 bases, hit .278, and got hurt. He played in only 79 games. In came a totally obscure minor leaguer and bench player named Bob Hazle. “Hurricane” Hazle proceeded to hit .403, slug .649, have an OPS of 1.126 and an OPS+ of 209. He was, in other words, one of the great “ninety day wonders” ever. His career floundered after 1957, but he was exactly what Milwaukee needed in 1957. And here’s a good enough place to mention Andy Pafko who, in his last good year, was the fourth outfielder.

Right field was solid. Henry Aaron was out there and he had an MVP year (his only MVP). He hit .322, slugged .600, had an OPS of .978, and an OPS+ of 166 (OK, it wasn’t Hurricane Hazle, but it was close). He hit 44 home runs, 22 doubles, had 198 hits, 132 RBIs, and 369 total bases. He also played right superbly (especially for a converted second baseman).

The starting pitching was above average for the era. Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Buhl were the primary starters. Spahn won his usual 21 games (and the Cy Young Award), Buhl had 18, and Burdette 17. both Spahn and Buhl had ERA’s under three and only Burdette had an ERA+ under 100 (94). The fourth pitcher (four starters in that era) rotated between Gene Conley (who had a solid NBA career), Juan Pizarro, and Bob Trowbridge. Put their numbers together and you got a 21-20 record with more innings pitched than hits and more strikeouts than walks.

The bullpen in the 1950s wasn’t the same as today. There was no “closer” who pitched only the ninth while waiting for a series of set-up men to get the team to the ninth. But Don McMahon was pretty close. He pitched in 32 games going 46.2 innings (about 1.3 innings per appearance). He had nine saves in a time when no one knew what a save was or how it was figured (it hadn’t been invented yet). He had an ERA of 1.54 and an ERA+ of 228. The rest of the bullpen produced 10 saves and was fairly typical for the age in that it was basically older guys who weren’t true starter material. And having more saves than the “closer”, McMahon, shows how little the closer role was a part of the game in 1957.

The Braves won the World Series in 1957 (becoming the last National League team to play New York in a Series), lost to the Yankees in the 1958 World Series (allowing the Yanks to beat every National League team then in existence), then lost a two (of three) game playoff to the Dodgers in 1959. That was it. The team faded fast, finishing fourth in 1960, then fifth or sixth in 1961 through 1965. In 1966 they moved to Atlanta. The run was short, but the team was good. Obviously the team of the 1950s was the Yankees, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t pick the 1957 Braves as the best one year team of the decade.

Frick Award

December 8, 2011

Tim McCarver

It seems that baseball’s award season isn’t really over as I suggested a week or so ago that it might be. Saw that they just gave the Ford Frick Award to Tim McCarver. This is the award for excellence in broadcasting (sort of a counterpoint to the Spink Award for writers). The list is posted in the Hall of Fame, so in one sense McCarver finally made the Hall of Fame.

I’m of two minds about McCarver as a broadcaster. I remember when he was good, really good. He brought fresh commentary, new ideas, a new sense of how the game was played to the color guy spot in the booth. I learned a lot about some of the inside on-field stuff from him. I remember him saying “the manager will send him here” and the manager sent the guy and other stuff like that. I loved his stories, especially the Bob Gibson tales (there were almost none about Steve Carlton, which sort of figures). 

But by now the act is getting old. I’ve heard all the stories a dozen times. In McCarver’s defense my wife has heard all mine at least that many times and probably more. He’s not as accurate as he used to be and he has trouble with getting the right words sometimes. I know the feeling, so I’ll give him a break on it. But maybe this should be the capstone of his career and he should ride off into the sunset (do color guys do that?) and enjoy a well-earned retirement. Whatever he does, congratulations to Tim McCarver for winning the Frick Award.

My favorite McCarver story about Gibson goes like this. Red Schoendienst, Cardinals manager, ordered an intentional walk. Gibson plunked the guy with the first pitch. McCarver goes out to the mound and asks what the heck was that all about? Gibson replies, “I just saved three pitches.” Don’t know that I believe all the stories, but that one I believe.