Posts Tagged ‘Robin Roberts’

The Last Segregated World Series: the Games in Philadelphia

May 11, 2015

The 1950 World Series was a contest between perennial power, the New York Yankees and the upstart National League winners the Philadelphia Phillies’ “Whiz Kids.” The first game was played 4 October at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Due to the proximity of the two cities, the Series was played on consecutive days.

Vic Raschi

Vic Raschi

Game 1

The Yankees started ace Vic Raschi on the mound in game one. For the Phils there was a pitching dilemma. Ace Robin Roberts had started the last game of the season and was tired. Number two pitcher, Curt Simmons, was off doing military service due to the Korean War, and three pitcher Bubba Church was out with an injury. Manager Eddie Sawyer solved his quandary by starting Jim Konstanty, his bullpen ace. Konstanty had pitched in 74 games, started none, and averaged almost exactly two innings an outing. It was a gamble, but Philadelphia came close to pulling it off. Over three innings, Konstanty allowed two singles and three walks (one intentional), allowing one man to reach third. In the fourth Bobby Brown doubled. A Hank Bauer fly moved him to third, and another fly by Jerry Coleman brought him home with the Yanks first run. In the fifth, no Yank got on base. In the sixth there was one walk. In the seventh an error and a single put two men on, but Konstanty got out of it. The eighth was perfect and a pinch hitter removed Konstanty in the bottom of the eighth. He had been magnificent in an unaccustomed role. The last time he’d started a game was 1946 and he’d allowed one run, four hits, and four walks.

The problem for Philly was that Raschi was even better. In a complete game shutout he walked one, allowed two hits, and struck out five. The two hits were two singles in the fifth that put men on first and second with two outs. One of the five strikeouts ended the threat. The walk came with one out in the sixth but the runner didn’t advance. Those were the only three men to reach base against him. Raschi’s great performance gave the Yankees a one game lead in the Series.

Joe DiMaggio

Joe DiMaggio

Game 2

For game two on 5 October, the Phils finally got a chance to use their best pitcher. Fully rested, Robin Roberts took the mound in Shibe Park. He faced old hand Allie Reynolds. Roberts gave up two singles in the first, but got out of the jam on a popup and a foul. He wasn’t as lucky in the second. With one out, a walk to Jerry Coleman and back-to-back singles to pitcher Reynolds and Gene Woodling plated the first run of the game. Philadelphia got it back in the bottom of the fifth. Mike Goliat singled. After a failed bunt attempt, another single sent Goliat to third. He came home with the Phillies first run of the World Series when Richie Ashburn hit a sacrifice fly to left.

And that was all the scoring for the regulation game. Both pitchers gave up a lot of hits with Roberts giving up nine and Reynolds seven. Additionally both walked three men. Going into extra innings, both starters were still in the game. To lead off the 10th inning, Roberts faced Joe DiMaggio. The Yankee Clipper parked one in the left field stands and the Yanks took a 2-1 lead. Then a strikeout, a fly, and a grounder ended the top of the 10th. Reynolds walked the leadoff man in the bottom of the tenth, and a bunt sent him to second with one out. A foul to the first baseman and a strikeout ended the threat and the Yankees won 2-1 to take a two games to none lead in the Series.

Both games in Philadelphia were close games dominated by pitching.  Shibe Park was noted as a hitter’s park, but a total of four runs were scored in two games. Yankee Stadium was known as more of a pitcher’s park, especially in left and center fields. If the pitching continued to dominate, the Series, without regard to who won, could be counted on to produce some close games. It did.

 

The Last Segregated World Series: The Whiz Kids

May 6, 2015
Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts

Recently I did an extended look at the 1947 World Series, the first to include a black player (actually two: Jackie Robinson and Dan Bankhead). It seemed like a decent follow-up would be to look up the last Series that included no black players and go over it. Turns out that’s 1950.

The 1950 World Series was played between the New York Yankees, defending World Champions, and the Philadelphia Phillies, winners for the first time since 1915. The Series is generally considered a walkover. It’s true it was a sweep, but if you look at the scores, three of the games were decided by one run. So it’s actually worth taking a look at.

The Phils had just completed a rebuilding period. A cynic might point out that 16 consecutive losing seasons constituted an elongated rebuilding period, but however long it lasted, it finally came time for Philadelphia to win in 1949. The next year they fought down to the wire and defeated the National League defending champions, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to win the pennant on the last day of the season.

Manager Eddie Sawyer was a career minor leaguer who’d spent a decade managing. He took over the Phillies from Ben Chapman in 1948 (there was actually an interim who was around for 12 games). The team rose some, finally had a winning season in 1949, then broke through in 1950. Sawyer was considered an excellent handler of young talent.

And he needed to be. The team was nicknamed “The Whiz Kids” and the emphasis could be on the “Kids.” The eight everyday starters averaged 26 years old. The six men who started more than 10 games averaged 25.5. Of the nine men who spent time on the bench, only three were 30 or more (the youngest 22, the oldest 35).

The infield had Eddie Waitkis at first. At 30 he was the oldest infielder (and the oldest starting everyday player). He had no power, no speed, but was a decent fielder and led the team by scoring 102 runs. He was primarily famous for having been shot in a hotel room by a woman back in 1949. The incident served as a device in Malamud’s The Natural. Mike Goliat was at second. He hit .234, but had 13 home runs, a large number of 1950s second basemen. At 23, shortstop Granville “Granny” Hamner was the youngest infielder. In 1950 he hit .270, had 11 home runs, and finished sixth in the MVP race. He had good range, but made a lot of errors. Willie Jones held down third. He was second on the team with 25 home runs, hit .288, and his 88 RBIs were second on the team. His BBREF WAR was 3.6, tied for fourth on the team.

The outfield consisted of Dick Sisler, Del Ennis, and Richie Ashburn. Sisler hit .296, had 83 RBIs, and 13 home runs, one of which was the pennant clinching homer against the Dodgers. Ennis led the team in home runs (31), doubles (34), RBIs (126), hits (185), and slugging (.551). Hall of Famer Ashburn was a third year player and spectacular fielder (with Ennis and Sisler both being really slow, he had to be). He hit .303, had 14 triples, which led the NL. He’d led the league in stolen bases in 1948, but was down to only 14 (still good enough for fifth in the league) in 1950. His 3.8 BBREF WAR was third on the team, while Ennis’ 5.0 led Philadelphia.

The bench was shallow with only five men playing 25 or more games. Jimmy Bloodworth, an in season acquisition, and Putsy Cabellero were the backup infielders. Bloodworth hit .229 while Cabellero was below the Mendoza line. Neither had a home run. Former MVP runner-up (1944) Bill “Swish” Nicholson and Dick Whitman were the other men in the outfield. Nicholson had three home runs and Whitman hit .250. Nicholson’s three homers were three-quarters of the bench home run total.

The other bench home run went to catching backup Stan Lopata. He hit .209, caught 51 games, and managed a woeful slugging percentage of .279. The main catcher was Andy Seminick. His 24 home runs were third on the team, his OPS of .925 led the team, as did his 143 OPS+. At 4.3, his BBREF WAR was second to Ennis.

They caught an emerging pitching staff. The undoubted ace was 23-year-old future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. He was 20-11 with an ERA just above three with 146 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.180 (his WAR was a team leading 7.3). Right behind him was lefty Curt Simmons. Simmons went 17-8, matched Roberts with 146 strikeouts, and had a 1.236 WHIP. Other pitchers who started more than ten games included rookie Bubba Church, Bob Miller, Russ Meyer, and left hander Ken Heintzelman, who at 34, was eight years older than any of the other starters. Jim Konstanty led the bullpen. He appeared in 74 games, won 16, lost seven, and ended up winning the National League MVP (the first reliever to do so). His 22 saves led the league (and are roughly 30% of his career save total).

The Phils were a surprise in 1950, but were also a good team. By the time the Series started they were having pitching problems. With the team needing a win on the final day of the season, Roberts had pitched and was unavailable for game one. Church was struck in the face by a batted ball earlier in the summer and was out for the Series. Just prior to the Series Simmons was called for military duty (the Korean War was going on) and was also unavailable for the Series. It would lead to a serious shuffling of the staff. The loss of Simmons and Church and the inability to use Roberts in game one would haunt Philadelphia for the entire World Series.

The Bigot

March 13, 2014
Ben Chapman

Ben Chapman

By now I presume most of you have seen the movie “42” about the arrival of Jackie Robinson in the Major Leagues. One of the better performances in the flick is Alan Tudyk’s turn as Phillies manager Ben Chapman. For the purposes of the movie, Chapman becomes the symbol of all the hatred among players and managers aimed at Robinson and Tudyk’s wonderful job makes Chapman particularly odious. Of course Chapman wasn’t the only person who tossed slurs at Robinson, but he’s become, over the years, the ultimate symbol of racial bigotry in the Major Leagues, with only Cap Anson getting anything like equal billing.

Alan Tudyk as Chapman in "42"

Alan Tudyk as Chapman in “42”

William Benjamin Chapman was born in Tennessee on Christmas day in 1908. He was good at baseball and caught the eye of professional scouts. He spent 1928 and 1929 in the minors, then arrived in New York in 1930 as a backup third baseman and part-time second baseman for the Yankees. He hit .316 with 10 home runs, stole 14 bases, and 74 runs (it’s 1930, remember?). That got him a fulltime job, but not as an infielder. He moved to the outfield, splitting time between right field and left field (essentially playing whichever Babe Ruth wasn’t playing that day). He continued to hit well, leading the American League in stolen bases three times (and also leading in caught stealing four times). He was part of the 1932 Yankees World Series winning team, hitting .294 (his season average was .299) with a run, six RBIs, and an OPS of .780. He remained with New York through 1935 continuing to hit around .300 (.289 in 1935 was his low) and playing a decent, but not spectacular outfield. He led the AL in errors twice, but sources attribute that to his ability to get to balls slower men couldn’t even pretend to catch. He made three All Star teams (1933, ’34,’ and ’35) By 1934 and 1935 he was spending more time in center than either of the corner outfield slots. The next season the Yanks brought up Joe DiMaggio and Chapman was traded.

He ended up in Washington after 36 games in New York. He was still good enough to make another All Star team. In 1937 he was traded to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) and led the AL one more time with 35 stolen bases.  He hit well enough in Boston but with diminishing speed and little power, he was traded to Cleveland in 1939. Now over 30, his numbers were slipping and he saw himself traded one more time. He went back to Washington in 1941, lasted 28 games, and was sent on to the White Sox.

He spent 1942 managing in the minors. In 1943 he was suspended for the season after slugging an umpire, then returned to minor league managing in 1944. He turned his career around by becoming a pitcher and resurfaced in the Majors in late 1944 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yep, that’s Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers; the irony is stunning.  He went 5-3 mostly as a starter, then after going 3-3 in early 1945, he was sent to Philadelphia. He played a few games in the outfield in this last stage of his career, but he remained primarily a pitcher. He got into one final game with Philadelphia in 1946 and ended his big league playing career (he got into a few games for Gadsden in 1949).

By this point he was managing the Phils, having taken over about midway through the 1945 season. Philadelphia finished eighth. He got them to fifth in 1946, then back to eighth in 1947. Seventy-nine games into 1948, with Philadelphia in eighth place, Chapman was fired. Many sources blame his reaction to Robinson for his firing, and that may be true. But it’s also true his teams weren’t winning and the universal fate of losing managers is firing. His comments to Robinson may simply have been the final blow. In partial defense of Chapman as a manager, it’s not like the Phils were the 1927 Yankees or anything. They weren’t very good. Even John McGraw would have had trouble making this team a contender. Having said that, you can see the beginning of the 1950 “Whiz Kids” pennant winner starting to come together under Chapman. Del Ennis is there, Dick Sisler shows up, and finally in 1948 both Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts show up. He simply doesn’t win with them.

After retirement, Chapman sold insurance in Alabama, worked with high school baseball teams, and sat through a series of interviews, most of which wanted to talk about Robinson. He died largely forgotten in 1993.

For his career his triple slash line is .302/.383/.440/.823 with an OPS+ of 114. He had 1958 hits, scored 1144 runs, and had 977 RBIs. He hit 287 home runs, stole 287 bases (try doing that on purpose), but had a huge number of caught stealing. He ended up with 2849 total bases, and was 8-6 as a pitcher. All in all it’s not a bad career. His Baseball Reference.com WAR is 41.4. And his managerial record is 196-276. Baseball Reference.com has a similarity chart at the bottom of each player page. This tells you what other player this person is most like statistically. Interesting for Chapman, it’s Dixie Walker, the guy who started the petition to keep Robinson off the Dodgers. Funny how that works.

But of course Chapman is known for one thing, his virulent opposition to Jackie Robinson. And it has become simply the sole thing anyone knows about him. When I first saw Tudyk’s portrayal of Chapman I was stunned. Stunned not so much at the words he used on the field, but at the words he used to justify his actions. I’d heard them all my life from people I knew. “They don’t mind it. They know it’s just good-natured ribbing. They do it to us. All of us do it to each other and no body cares.” I found an interview with Chapman done in the 1970s where he still spouts the same thing. He’s also simply astounded and still shaken that no one seems to understand. In fact he never seemed to understand himself why people were repelled by his comments and actions. To me, that’s really the great tragedy of Chapman’s life and career. He never seemed to understand why he was seen as a jerk. (Or just possibly he’s fooled us all and knew exactly what he was doing and understood that his one chance for redemption was to act like he was a fool.) One of the best parts of Tudyk’s interpretation of Chapman is his ability to convey just how totally clueless Chapman was as to why he was being hounded. If Chapman had thought for even a minute about it he may have seen just how much his hounding of Robinson was much like what he himself was going through. But that presupposes a depth of self-perception that Chapman lacked.

Chapman's grave in Birmingham

Chapman’s grave in Birmingham

Whiz Kid

May 7, 2010

Robin Roberts

Yesterday I saw that Robin Roberts died. I mentioned it to a friend and his response was “Geez, I didn’t know she was sick.” OK, I’ll admit that when I think of Robin Roberts I too generally think of the modern reporter (who is certainly easier on the eyes than the old pitcher).

Roberts, the pitcher not the reporter, is usually at the foggiest edges of my mind when I think of baseball. He wasn’t a particular favorite of mine and we seldom got to see the Phillies play on TV or hear them on the radio. When we did, I don’t remember Roberts being the pitcher, so I guess he didn’t show up very often when I got to see or hear the Phils.

He was one of the Whiz Kids who brought, in 1950, Philadelphia its first National League pennant since 1915. Then they went out and were swept by a Yankees team that included a rookie southpaw named Whitey Ford. Roberts pitched game two and lost 2-1, then mopped up the last inning in a 5-2 game four Series ender.

He stayed with Philadelphia through 1961, then went to Baltimore, Houston, and the Cubs before retiring. I was never a great fan and for years wondered what the big deal was about Robin Roberts. His winning percentage was OK, but nothing special. He had almost as many hits as innings pitched and his ERA was OK for the age, but not spectacular. What he didn’t do was walk anybody. He walked 902 batters in 4689 innings. It took a while to realize how good he was because I never connected him to those awful Phillies teams that he pitched for much of his career.

He’s mostly forgotten now, although he made the Hall of Fame in 1976. I guess there are a lot of reasons. He never played for any of the great New York teams of the era (No Willie, Mickey, and the Duke aura). The Phillies were bad most of his career (1950 being an exception rather than a rule). When he left Philly he was mostly done and didn’t have very good years elsewhere. He pitched in an era noted more for its sluggers than its pitchers. Finally, he wasn’t either Warren Spahn or Whitey Ford, the dominant pitchers of his era. Even they have gotten a little lost in the shuffle, but Roberts had gone all the way to obscurity. He’s so obscure that my local newspaper’s sports page didn’t even mention his passing. Ain’t that a shame?

This is two of these semi-obituary pieces I’ve written in a row. A request to the baseball gods: Knock it off. Let me write about other things for a while, please.