Posts Tagged ‘Riggs Stephenson’

A Crushing: The Called Shot

October 26, 2017

Game three of the 1932 World Series became, over the years, one of the most famous of all World Series games. It is still talked about in a way that most games aren’t. In the center of it all was Babe Ruth.

Game 3

Charlie Root

Game three was played 1 October in Chicago. The Cubs sent long time hurler Charlie Root to the mound. He was ineffective and, as usual for this Series, runs crossed the plate in the first inning. An error by shortstop Billy Jurges put Earle Combs on base. A walk to Joe Sewell, brought up Babe Ruth, who promptly homered to put New York up 3-0.

Root was able to staunch further damage and Chicago was able to get a run back off Yanks pitcher, veteran George Pipgras. A walk to Billy Herman and a Kiki Cuyler double made the score 3-1.

Both teams scored in the third inning. New York got one run on a Lou Gehrig home run to make it 4-1. A Cuyler home run followed by a Riggs Stephenson single and a Charlie Grimm double cut the score to 4-3. Then they added one more in the fourth on a Jurges double and a Tony Lazzeri error that let Jurges score. That made it 4-4 going into the fifth.

Ruth at bat

The inning began with a Sewell ground out. That brought up Ruth. He and the Cubs had been at odds for the entire Series. It seems that he liked Mark Koenig, who’d been a former teammate on the “Murderer’s Row” Yanks of the 1920s. Koenig now played for Chicago and because he hadn’t been there the entire season was voted less than a full share of the World Series take. Ruth, and most everyone else, thought Koenig had been instrumental in the Cubs pennant drive and felt he wasn’t given a fair shake. So he and the Cubs were at each others throats during the Series. So with the score tied he faced off against Root.

And it’s here that legend takes over from fact. Root threw a strike, which Ruth took. Then a second strike, which the Babe also took. Then Ruth gestured with his hand, pointing to center field. Root threw another pitch and Babe Ruth, being the Babe, smashed the ball deep over the wall in center field for a 5-4 lead. He’d “called his shot” and put the Yanks ahead to stay. To top it off, it would be his last World Series homer.

Great story, right? There’s even a picture showing it (see just above). Well, maybe. But all the picture shows is Ruth gesturing. It’s too blurry to tell it he’s pointing or simply lifting his arm. Is he pointing to center field? Is he pointing at Root? Is he pointing at the Chicago dugout? Is he giving the middle finger salute to the Cubs? Frankly, I don’t know and neither does anyone else. Knowing what I know about Ruth I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the middle finger. Charlie Root went to his grave swearing Ruth never called the shot. Joe Sewell swore Ruth did. The Babe never said. Whatever actually happened, here’s an artist’s rendition of the moment.

Ruth calling his shot (the catcher is Gabby Hartnett)

With the Yankees now ahead, Root had to deal with Lou Gehrig. The “Iron Horse” proceeded to send another homer into the stands, this one in right field. It was all for Root. In came Pat Malone, who managed to get out of the inning without more New Yorkers crossing the plate. Both teams managed one more run in the ninth. An error and a double gave the Yankees seven runs and a Gabby Hartnett home run gave the Cubs a final tally of five.

In all the press about Ruth’s homer, a number of good performances were overshadowed. Gehrig’s follow-up home run had finished the shell-shocked Cubs and Hartnett’s home run, along with Cuyler’s, were totally lost. Pipgras had pitched well for eight innings (Herb Pennock pitched the ninth and picked up a save). And Root was forever tagged as the man who gave up Ruth’s called shot. Worse, from a Chicago point of view, the Cubs were down three games to none with game four scheduled for the next day.

 

 

 

A Crushing: In the Bronx

October 24, 2017

The 1932 World Series began with two games in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium was hosting its first World Series since 1928 with the Yanks being heavy favorites.

Game 1

Lou Gehrig

The first game was played 28 September with New York sending Hall of Famer Red Ruffing to the mound. He started slowly. Consecutive singles and an error by Babe Ruth scored Cubs lead off hitter Billy Herman. After an out, Riggs Stephenson singled to center scoring Woody English, whose single had scored Herman. Then Ruffing settled down getting seven men in a row before a single and stolen base put a runner on second. A fly ended the threat.

Meanwhile, Chicago starter Guy Bush was holding New York in check. In the fourth, the Cubs put two men on base, but failed to score. The Yanks’ Earle Combs led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk, then took second on a ground out. Ruth followed with a single to score Combs. That brought up Lou Gehrig who slugged a two run homer to put the Yankees ahead.

In the sixth, The Bombers tacked on five more runs. Three walks loaded the bases. They were followed, after an out, by a Bill Dickey single that scored two. After another out, a couple of hits, and a run, the bases were reloaded for Combs. He singled to drive in two more and make the score 8-2.

The Cubs got two back in the seventh. The Yanks promptly responded with three of their own to up the score to 11-4. Not to be outdone, Chicago got two more on a double by Gabby Hartnett, a Mark Koenig triple, and a run scoring ground out in the top of the eighth. Again, the Yankees responded with a Combs double and a Joe Sewell single to provide the final score of 12-6.

It was a blowout, but it’s important to note a couple of things. First, the Cubs actually led 2-0 in the third inning. Second, the Yankees were able to respond to the Cubs after the third with runs each time the Cubs scored. They did it with walks, singles, doubles primarily. Gehrig hit the only home run. By the end of game one, everyone knew they Yankees could score runs in bunches and without the benefit of the long ball.

Game 2

Bill Dickey

September 29th saw game two of the Series. New York sent Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez to the mound. He faced off against Lon Warneke. Again, the Cubs broke on top with leadoff hitter Billy Herman doubling, then coming home following an error and a long fly by Riggs Stephenson to make the score 1-0. And again the Yankees answered in the bottom of the first with successive walks to Earle Combs and Joe Sewell followed by Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey singles to make the score 2-1.

It remained that way until the third when Stephenson singled and Frank Demaree brought him home with a single. And as with the first inning, the Yankees broke the 2-2 tie in the bottom of the inning. A walk to Babe Ruth and a Gehrig single put two men on. An out and an intentional walk later Ben Chapman singled to plate both runners and put New York back ahead 4-2.

New York added another run on a Gehrig single a force at first that sent Gehrig to second and a Dickey single. That made the score 5-2 and Gomez coasted the rest of the game, giving up only two singles. In game one the Cubs broke on top, but couldn’t match the New York assault. The same thing happened again in game two. When Chicago scored a run, the Yankees scored two. If that continued it would be a short series.

The next three games were scheduled for Chicago. Any two New York wins would finish the World Series. Game three would produce one of the most famous and controversial moments in Series history.

 

 

 

A Crushing: the Cubs

October 20, 2017

The 1932 National League winner was the Chicago Cubs. They weren’t the “loveable losers” of later times. As recently as 1929 they’d been in the World Series. Their manager at that point was the current Yankees manager Joe McCarthy.

Charlie Grimm

The Cubs began the season with Rogers Hornsby as manager. By Series time he was gone. Frankly, he’d hadn’t done much as manager and bluntly no one liked him (well, I suppose Mrs. Hornsby did). So out he went and in came “Jolly Cholly” Charlie Grimm, the first baseman. He was able to get more out of the team and led them to the Series. In most hitting categories, the Cubs were middle of the National League. They were fourth in runs, triples, walks, batting average, slugging, and total bases; fifth in hits, homers, stolen bases; and third in doubles. Their three top home run hitters combined for one more home run than Lou Gehrig hit. The staff was much better. They led the NL in ERA, hits, and runs allowed; were second in strikeouts; and fifth in walks.

The staff consisted of five pitchers who started 15 or more games. The ace was Lon Warneke who went 22-6 with a 2.37 ERA (160 ERA+), a 1.123 WHIP, and a team leading 6.9 WAR. Pat Malone and Guy Bush had ERA’s in the low to mid-threes, had WHIP numbers that were good and put up 2.7 WAR (Bush) and 2.5 (Malone). At 38, Hall of Fame hurler Burleigh Grimes was still good enough to start 18 games. His ERA was over four, his WHIP was 1.585, and he had a -0.9 WAR. The fifth starter was Charlie Root. He ha 15 wins, a 3.58 ERA, a 1,230 WHIP, and 1.8 WAR. He would also throw the most famous pitch of the Series.

Their primary receiver was Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett. He was 31, hit .271, was second on the team with 12 home runs, had a 111 OPS+ and 2,5 WAR. As his backup, Rollie Hemsley hit .238 and had four home runs, the most of any bench player.

Riggs Stephenson, Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler, and Johnny Moore were the primary Chicago outfield. Stephenson, who ended his career with a huge batting average, but few at bats, hit .324 with a team leading 121 OPS+. He led the team with 49 doubles and 189 hits, and had 3.3 WAR. Cuyler, who’d been known for his speed, hit 291 with nine steals, 10 homers (good for third on the team), and managed all of 1.6 WAR. Moore led the team in home runs with 13 and hit .305, while producing 2.3 WAR. Backups included Marv Gudat, who played first and actually pitched an inning, Lance Richbourg, and Vince Barton. Barton had the most home runs and Gudat’s 0.0 WAR led the crew.

The Cubs infield saw six men do most of the work. Manager Grimm was at first. He hit .307 with seven home runs, good for fourth on the team. His 80 RBIs were second and he pulled 107 OPS+. All that produced 2.5 WAR. Hall of Fame second sacker Billy Herman hit .314 with a team leading 14 stolen bases. His 3.5 WAR led all position players. Woody English and Billy Jurges were the normal left side of the infield. English hit .272 with 1.8 WAR while shortstop Jurges hit .253, lowest among the starters, and had 2.4 WAR. Both men were spelled by players that would have a profound impact on the team. Stan Hack was still 22 and beginning a long run as the Cubs third baseman. He hit .236 and had 0.2 WAR. If Hack had the longer term impact on Chicago, Mark Koenig had the more important short-term value. He’d come over in mid-season and sparked the team. He hit .353 with three home runs, had 11 RBIs in 33 games, put up an OPS+ of 136 with 1.4 WAR. He was generally credited with being the cog that put the Cubs over the top. But because he’d come over at mid-season, the team didn’t vote him a full share of the World Series purse. As a former teammate of the Yankees (he was the Murderer’s Row shortstop in the late 1920s) this action hacked off a lot of the New Yorkers, especially Babe Ruth. It would cause more bad blood between the teams than did a normal World Series campaign.

If you look at the team numbers closely, you can see why New York was favored. Chicago was, despite the number differential, still a good team and there were hopes it could compete evenly with the Yankees.

 

 

A Bad Century: The Nadir (Older than the Rockies)

May 7, 2012

Riggs Stephenson, Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, and KiKi Cuyler in 1929

Most people might tell you that the failure to win a pennant since 1945 is the nadir of the Chicago Cubs’ “Bad Century”. Others might pick the long list of last place finishes as their nadir. And In one sense they’d both be right. But for my money I pick 1929 because of the way in which the Cubs lost an available championship. Somehow that’s more awful than simply finishing last. Anybody can finish last, but to blow an entire World Series in two innings takes Cubs-like effort.

After losing the 1918 World Series, the Cubs became also rans in the National League, falling back into the pack for a decade. By 1929, they’d righted the ship, found a way back to a pennant and under manager Joe McCarthy (yes, the same McCarthy who would lead the Yankees through the 1930s) had a chance to pickup a championship. It was a solid team consisting of an infield of Charlie Grimm at first, Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, Woody English at short, and third sacker Norm McMillan. The outfield had Riggs Stephenson in left and Hall of Famers Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler in center and right. Gabby Hartnett was the normal catcher, but arm injuries limited him to pinch hit duties in the Series, so Zack Taylor took his place behind the plate. Hornsby and Wilson tied for the team lead with 39 home runs, and Wilson led the NL in RBIs with 159 while Cuyler had 43 stolen bases to cop the league crown. The staff consisted of  ace Pat Malone, Sheriff Blake, Guy Bush, and Charlie Root (not yet infamous for throwing Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in 1932). They were all right-handed, gave up  more hits than they had innings pitched, and both Blake and Bush walked more men than they struck out. So the pitching was a bit of a problem, but Bush did lead the NL in saves with eight.

In 1929 they faced Connie Mack’s resurgent Philadelphia Athletics, whose losing streak went back even farther than Chicago’s. The A’s hadn’t won a pennant since 1914, but had won a World series in 1913, five years after the last Cubs victory. The 1929 Series could be seen as redemption for one team or the other.

With Lefty Grove as the staff ace, everyone expected Mack to start him in game one. The A’s skipper opted instead for Howard Ehmke. Ehmke was 35 and in the words of one wit “older than the Rockies.” He’d started eight games all season (11 total games pitched), was 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA and 20 total strikeouts. Not bad, but not Lefty Grove. What Ehmke had going for him was great command of the strike zone and a fastball that topped out at about Jaime Moyer level. Ehmke had never been a blazing fastball pitcher, but now he was, to put it as nicely as I can, slow. But for Mack that was exactly the point. The Cubs were notorious fastball hitters and free swingers (for the era). Mack reasoned that the Chicago batters would be too impatient to wait on Ehmke’s “fast” ball.
The game was played in Chicago on 8 October and for six innings Ehmke and Cubs starter Root matched shutouts. Both men were pitching well, Ehmke was simply mowing down (can you “mow down” a batter with a slow fastball?) Chicago hitter after Chicago hitter and Root had given up only two hits. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Jimmie Foxx crushed a ball that put the A’s up 1-0.  That held up until the ninth. In the top of the ninth with the bases loaded on a single and consecutive errors, Bing Miller singled to drive home two runs. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs finally got to Ehmke, picking up one unearned run on an error and a single. Then Ehmke closed the door by striking out the final man to preserve the A’s 3-1 win.

Root had pitched well, so had reliever Bush, but Ehmke was the story of the game. He gave up the one unearned run, scattered eight hits, walked one, and in what had to be utter vindication for Mack, struck out 13 Cubs. It was a record for a World Series game that lasted to 1953 (Carl Erskine got 14 k’s). And remember that Ehmke had only 20 strikeouts for the entire regular season.

So the Cubs were down 0-1 with another game at home. The World Series had started badly, but it was still possible to save it and bring home a championship to Chicago. But, of course, this is the Cubs we’re talking about.