Posts Tagged ‘Rogers Hornsby’

Losing at .400

October 25, 2018

Ed Delahanty

It’s been a long time since anyone won a batting title by hitting .400. You have to go all the way back to Ted Williams in 1941 to find one. But you know what’s kind of odd? There are a handful of guys who’ve hit .400 and not won the batting title. Here’s a quick list of them.

First, one of my caveats. This includes on the period since the beginning of the National League in 1876. In the old National Association there were a couple of occasions when someone hit .400 and didn’t win the batting title, but those were incredibly short seasons. There surely were players who hit over .400 in the even older Association of the 1860s and didn’t win a title, but we don’t have enough information to determine them. So it’s at least easier to find the players since 1876 (OK, I’ll admit to being lazy).

1887-Tip O’Neill wins the American Association (it was a Major League in 1887) batting title at .435. Runner up Pete Browning hit .402.

1894-There was something in the water in Philadelphia in 1894 when the entire City of Brotherly Love outfield, and their primary outfield sub all hit .400. Billy Hamilton hit .403. Ed Delahanty hit .405. Sam Thompson hit .415. That was the starting outfield in Philly. Super sub Tuck Turner hit .418. And none of them won the batting title. Boston outfielder Hugh Duffy managed to hit a still record .440 to take the batting title.

1895-Delahanty again hit over .400, this time coming in at .404. Again he lost the batting title. This time to fellow Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett who hit .405.

1896-This time Hughie Jennings hit over .400 by ending up at .401. Burkett again won the title. He managed .410.

That does it for the 19th Century and I suppose I ought to take a moment to remind you that the National League moved the mound back to 60′ 6″ just before the big outbreak of .400 hitting in 1894. Some hitters adjusted more quickly and obviously a lot of pitchers didn’t.

1911-Shoeless Joe Jackson hit .408, which is the record high in the 20th Century for a hitter that didn’t win a batting title. He lost to Ty Cobb who hit .420.

1922-Cobb was on the other end of hitting .400 and losing the batting title in 1922. He hit .401 and lost to George Sisler who hit .420. Interestingly enough, Rogers Hornsby won the National League title at .401. Had he been in the American League, he would have also joined the batting title losers who hit .400.

Thought you might like to know.

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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.

 

 

The Winning Team: A Review

August 22, 2016
Grover Cleveland Alexander and Rogers Hornsby (Hollywood version)

Grover Cleveland Alexander and Rogers Hornsby (Hollywood version)

Baseball movies tend to lump into one of about three categories. One of those is the hero flick in which our ballplayer overcomes great odds, rises to the top, falls back, then comes on in the end to become a hero. It’s sort of a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back plot that is so prominent in musicals and comedies but with a sports story. One of these is the 1952 flick “The Winning Team.”

The movie purports to be a biography of Grover Cleveland Alexander from about 1905 through the end of the 1926 World Series. It stars Ronald Reagan (whatever happened to him?) as Alexander and Doris Day gets a turn as his wife. Frank Lovejoy gets the second male role as Rogers Hornsby and Gordon Jones plays Alexander’s first manager.

The basic premise of the movie is that Alexander is happy in his small town in Nebraska, planning to marry his girl, and pitches on the side for the town team. During a slide show presentation for the town at the community church, Gordon Jones shows up and persuades him to join a professional team. He does and ultimately is beaned, causing him to have blurred vision which magically clears up one moonlit night. He goes on to fame and fortune in the big leagues, enters World War I, develops a form of epilepsy, drowns his troubles in booze, and becomes a bum. But faithful wife knows he still has it in him to be great and manages to convince Rogers Hornsby to pick Alexander up for the Cardinals where he leads them on to glory in the 1926 World Series.

That’s a pretty standard “sports hero” movie and it fits right into the late 1940s and early 1950s sports flick that lionizes the ball player. “The Pride of St. Louis” does it for Dizzy Dean and “The Babe Ruth Story” does it for the Bambino. And they are good movies for what they do. What they don’t do is look at all critically at the real player (or his family) or at the facts. In “The Winning Team” there are a lot of things skipped over (like Alexander’s drinking, which is only briefly touched on) and a number of facts are simply wrong. Just two examples at the end of the movie (I figure if you’re interested in this movie, you already know how the 1926 World Series went) make my point. In the flick, Tony Lazzeri strikes out on a 3-2 pitch and fouls off the wrong pitch, and rather than Babe Ruth being out on a caught stealing to end the Series, Alexander strikes out a nameless player wearing number 15 (the Yanks didn’t add numbers until after 1926).

Having said that, it’s not a bad movie, if you understand what you’re seeing. Reagan, Day, and Lovejoy do fine jobs as the main characters and Jones is great as the minor league manager. The supporting cast includes a handful of real ball players, including Bob Lemon who has a speaking role as Jesse Haines (I wonder if any other Hall of Famer has portrayed a Hall of Famer in a movie).

If you can find it somewhere it’s worth a watch at least once. As with most movies about historical events, it tells us more about the era when it was made (1952) than about the historically portrayed era (about 1905-1926). And after you check it out, see if you can find out what happened to that Reagan guy.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: the last games in New York

July 21, 2015

With the Yankees up three games to two and needing only one win to clinch the 1926 World Series, the Series returned to Yankee Stadium. Needing two wins to capture the title, the St. Louis Cardinals went with their most experienced pitcher in game six and with a tried veteran for game seven.

Game 6

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Game six was a second start for Grover Cleveland Alexander. For New York, the Yankees sent Bob Shawkey to the mound. It was his first start, although he’d relieved in two previous games. He was in trouble from the beginning. It started with a single to Wattie Holm, playing center field for Taylor Douthit. A force at second put him out, but put Billy Southworth on first. A walk to Rogers Hornsby sent Southworth to second and a double by Jim Bottomley plated him. A followup single by Les Bell brought both Hornsby and Bottomley home.

It was all Alexander needed. The Yanks got a run in the fourth on a Bob Meusel triple and a Lou Gehrig grounder to first, but the Cardinals got it right back in the fifth on two singles sandwiched between a bunt sacrifice.

With the score already 4-1, the Cards exploded for five runs in the seventh. A couple of singles, a double, and a Bell two run home run made it 9-1. New York managed one in the bottom of the inning, but St. Louis tacked on one more in the ninth on a Southworth triple and a Hornsby grounder to make the final 10-2.

Alexander was superb, giving up two runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out six and scored a run. Flush with victory he, according to legend, went on something akin to a real bender that evening. He was, at least so he thought, finished with his World Series chores.

Game 7

Tommy Thevenow

Tommy Thevenow

Game seven of the 1926 World Series occurred 9 October. It featured pitchers Jesse Haines taking on Waite Hoyt. Both men had already won a game in the Series: Haines game three and Hoyt game four. It was to become famous for a single moment, one of the more well known and  most frequently written about moments in World Series lore.

Both teams started slow. Although there were a number of base runners, no one scored until the bottom of the third when Babe Ruth launched a shot into deep right field to put New York up 1-0. St. Louis struck back in the top of the fourth. With one out Jim Bottomley singled, then Les Bell reached first on an error by Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig. Chick Hafey singled to load the bases. Then Bob O’Farrell lifted a fly to left field that Yank outfield Bob Meusel dropped. Bottomley scored to tie up the game. That brought up eight hitter shortstop Tommy Thevenow. He singled to right, scoring both Bell and Hafey. A strikeout and grounder ended the inning with the score St. Louis 3, New York 1. That held up until the bottom of the sixth when, with two out, Joe Dugan singled and a Hank Severeid double plated Dugan with the second Yankees run. A ground out ended the inning.

In the top of the seventh, the Cards went in order. That brought up the Yanks in the bottom of the seventh and set the stage for one of the most famous of all World Series moments. Earle Combs led off the inning with a single and went to second on a bunt. An intentional walk put Ruth on first. A grounder to Bell led to a force of Ruth at second, but left runners on first and third with two outs. Haines then proceeded to walk Lou Gehrig.

At this point legend takes over and facts get a little obscured. One version of what happens next has Haines having to leave the game with a finger blister, forcing manager Hornsby to change pitchers. Another version has Hornsby deciding Haines was done and calling for a new pitcher without reference to Haines’ finger. Whichever is true, Haines was out and Hornsby called for Grover Cleveland Alexander from the bullpen.

And now another legend takes over. According to one version of what happened, Alexander was in the bullpen sleeping off a hangover when Hornsby called for him. Another version says he was sober, but unready to pitch because he presumed that having gone nine innings the day before he wouldn’t be pitching at all on 9 October. Yet a third version says he’d just begun to warm up. I don’t think anyone knows for sure which is true. The SABR version of the event states Alexander was sober.

Whichever is true, in came Alexander to face rookie Tony Lazzeri with two outs and the bases full of Yankees (Combs on first, Meusel on second, and Gehrig at first). The first pitch was a strike. The second was fouled off deep down the left field line just missing the foul pole. With two strikes, Lazzeri swung and missed the next pitch to record the final out of the inning. It is, arguably the most famous strikeout in baseball history.

St. Louis got a couple of men on in the eighth, but didn’t score. New York went down in order in the bottom of the eighth, as did the Cardinals in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth Alexander got Combs and Koenig on groundouts which brought up Ruth, who walked. With Meusel at bat and Gehrig on deck, Ruth tried to surprise the Cards by stealing second. O’Farrell threw to Hornsby, the tag was applied, and the St. Louis Cardinals won their first ever World Series.

It was a good Series, especially for the hitters. The Cardinals hit .272 as a team with Thevenow hitting .417. He joined Hornsby and Southworth by driving in four runs, but Bottomley topped all three with five and Les Bell led the team with six. Southworth led St. Louis with six runs scored and Thevenow was just behind with five. Thevenow, Southworth, Bell, and pitcher Haines each had one home run, while Bottomley had three doubles, and Southworth picked up the only triple as well as led the team with 10 total hits.

Although the Yanks hit only .242 as a team, Combs and Gehrig hit above .345 while Ruth hit an even .300 and Joe Dugan was at .333.. Ruth had five RBIs while Gehrig, in his rookie Series, had four. Ruth’s six runs scored easily led the team. He also hit all four of the team’s home runs, including three in one game. Combs led New York with 10 hits. He and Gehrig each had two doubles and Meusel got the only triple.

Among pitchers, Alexander was the big hero. He had two wins and the famous save in game seven. But Haines’ had an even better ERA (1.08 to 1.33) while picking up the other two wins. Bill Sherdel had two of the losses, but only a 2.12 ERA. Alexander led the team with 14 strikeouts. For New York Herb Pennock posted two wins with Hoyt getting the other. His 10 strikeouts led the team.

For both teams it was a beginning. For St. Louis it was their first 20th Century title. They would win again in 1928 (and end up losing to New York) and then win three times in the 1930s, four times in the 1940s, and still carry on a winning tradition into the 21st Century. The Yankees began a great period of consistent excellence in 1926, winning with great regularity into the 1960s and, like the Cardinals, continuing on into the 21st Century. That makes 1926 something of a watershed and makes it a Series worth remembering for more than just one strikeout.

 

 

 

 

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The St. Louis Games

July 9, 2015

With the 1926 World Series tied at one game each, the third through fifth games were held in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. If either team could sweep the games, the Series would end. Any kind of split would send the Series back to New York for up to two games. Game three was played 5 October.

Jesse Haines

Jesse Haines

For game three, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby decided to send Jesse Haines in to pitch. It turned out to be a good choice. Haines didn’t allow a man on base until the third inning, but got out of a mini-jam with a grounder to first. His opponent, Dutch Reuther, was doing almost as well. He’d allowed a couple more men on base, but no one scored.

In the fourth St. Louis finally broke through. A leadoff single to third sacker Les Bell, a bunt to advance him to second, and a walk to catcher Bob O’Farrell, brought up shortstop Tommy Thevenow. He rolled one to short, but the failure to complete a double played allowed Bell to score and kept the inning alive. Haines, who’d had one RBI all year, promptly hit a two-run homer to put the Cards up 3-0. They added one more in the fifth on consecutive singles and a ground out.

It was all Haines needed. He shutout Murderer’s Row on five hits and three walks. He struck out three. He’d also struck the biggest blow with his home run.

Game 4

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

In the 6 October game St. Louis made a huge blunder. They decided to pitch to Babe Ruth. Consequently, the game became the Babe Ruth show. Cardinals pitcher Flint Rhem, and later reliever Art Reinhart, was simply unable to cope with the Babe’s batting. In the first inning, Ruth hit a home run to right. Yankees hurler Waite Hoyt gave it right back on three consecutive singles by Taylor Douthit, Billy Southworth, and Hornesby. Hornesby’s hit driving in Douthit.

In the third inning, Ruth connected for his second consecutive home run, putting New York back in the lead. A walk and a double in the fourth made it 3-1, when St. Louis staged a big inning. With one out, Chick Hafey singled. An error by Mark Koenig, let Bob O’Farrell on. Then Thevenow doubled to scored Hafey. The second out, a long fly to left, scored O’Farrell, then a double by Douthit brought in Thevenow. It could have been worse, but Douthit was thrown out at home by Bob Meusel’s accurate throw. At the end of four it was 4-3 in favor of the Cardinals.

In manufacturing the three runs in the fourth. A pinch hitter took Rhem out of the game. Art Reinhart took his place. In the top of the fifth he walked Earle Combs. A Koenig double tied the score. Reinhart managed to keep Ruth from hitting a home run by walking him. Another walk to Meusel loaded the bases and Lou Gehrig picked up an RBI when Reinhart walked him. That was all for Reinhart, who’d managed to get no one out. Hi Bell replaced him and induced a long sacrifice fly that brought home Ruth. A ground out scored Meusel, then a balk and a walk reloaded the bases. Fortunately for St. Louis pitcher Hoyt didn’t hit much and ended the inning with a grounder to Hornsby at second. The score was 7-4.

But the Yanks, and Ruth, weren’t through. They tacked on two more in the sixth when Ruth hit his third home run of the game with Koenig on base and got one more in the seventh on a single, a bunt, and a double to make the score 10-4. In the eighth, Wild Bill Hallahan, now pitching for St. Louis, walked Ruth, but didn’t allow a run. The Cards got one more in the ninth on a two out single by Les Bell making 10-5 the final.

Ruth went three for three with two walks for the game. He had three home runs, scored four runs and had four RBIs. Art Reinhart, on the other hand got no one out, gave up four earned runs on four walks and one hit.

With the Yankees win, the Series was tied two games each. That ensured that there would be at least one more game in New York.

Game 5

Tony Lazzeri

Tony Lazzeri

Game five was played 7 October. The pitching matchup was a rehash of game one with Bill Sherdel taking on Herb Pennock. Both pitchers got through the first three innings without damage. In the bottom of the fourth, with one out, Jim Bottomley doubled and came home on a Les Bell single. It held up until the top of the sixth when Pennock doubled and was picked off second. Except that he wasn’t. Shortstop Thevenow dropped the ball and Pennock remained at second. A Mark Koenig single brought Pennock home with the tying run.

The Cards went back ahead on a double by Bell and a O’Farrell single to make the score 2-1. Sherdel went into the top of the ninth needing three outs to put St. Louis up three games to two. He was met with a Lou Gehrig double and a Tony Lazzeri single that put Gehrig on third. Pinch hitter Ben Paschal then singled to center to re-tie the game. Sherdel then settled down to get three groundouts to end the inning. Two pop ups and a grounder got Pennock out of the ninth and the game into extra innings.

In the tenth, Koenig singled, went to second on a wild pitch. Then a walk to Ruth brought up Meusel. His sacrifice bunt sent Koenig to third and Ruth to second. Sherdel walked Gehrig to set up a force. It didn’t do much good as Lazzeri drove a long fly to left that scored Koenig and recorded the second out. One out later, Pennock took the mound with a 3-2 lead. With one out, Thevenow singled but didn’t go anywhere when a pop up and a grounder ended the game.

The 1926 World Series was going back to New York. The Yanks needed one win to take their second title (1923) while the Cardinals had to win two in a row to take their first.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Cards

July 9, 2015
1926 St. Louis Cardinals

1926 St. Louis Cardinals

In the 1880s, the St. Louis team, then called the Browns, were a powerhouse in the American Association. In the 1890s they moved to the National League and became a doormat. By 1926 every National League team existing in the 20th Century had won at least one pennant, except for St. Louis, now called the Cardinals. That changed when the Cards won the 1926 NL pennant.

St. Louis won the pennant by two games over Cincinnati. With 89 wins, they featured a good hitting team with mid-range power. They led the NL in hits, runs, home runs, walks, slugging, and OPS while finishing second in average, OBP, and doubles. As a rule, their numbers weren’t as spectacular as the Yankees numbers.  Their pitching staff, like that of New York, finished in the middle of the pack in many categories.

The infield consisted of two Hall of Fame players, a third baseman having a career year, and a 22-year-old shortstop. Jim Bottomley played first, hit .293 with 19 home runs, nine triples, a team leading 120 RBIs, 144 hits, and an OPS of .804. Player-manager Rogers Hornsby held down second. Coming off several consecutive great seasons, Hornsby’s numbers were down in 1926. He was 30, but the assumption was that his managerial duties were hurting his statistics. He still managed to hit .317 with 11 home runs, 167 hits, an OPS of .851, and 93 RBIs. At 22, shortstop Tommy Thevenow was in his third season. He didn’t hit all that much (.256), but was a good shortstop and led the NL in putouts and assists, and was second in double plays turned at short. Les Bell had a career year. He hit a career high .325 (he never hit .300 in any other season), had another career high in home runs with 17 and in RBIs with an even 100. His 85 runs and 189 hits were also career highs. His Baseball Reference.com WAR for 1926 was 4.4 (second to Hornsby). He never had another year of more than 1.8 WAR. Specs Toporcer and Jake Flowers were the primary infield subs. Toporcer hit .250 and Flowers .270, but Flowers also had three home runs in 40 games.

Five men did the outfield work. Billy Southworth started 99 games in right field. He’d come over from the Giants during the season and hit .317 with 11 home runs. He would later manage the Cards to two pennants and a World Series championship. He made the Hall of Fame in 2008. Taylor Douthit was the speedy center fielder. He hit .308, stole 23 bases (third in the league) and led the league in putouts and assists for a center fielder. Ray Blades was in left. He hit .305 and scored 81 runs. The backups were Hall of Fame member Chick Hafey and Heinie Muller. Hafey hit .271, had four homers. Muller hit .267 and had three home runs.

Bob O’Farrell did almost all the catching. In 140 games he hit .293, had an OPS of .804, seven home runs, and 213 total bases. All that got him the NL MVP award for 1926. His backups were Ernie Vick and Bill Warwick. Warwick hit .357 in nine games, and in 24 games Vick hit .196.

For the season six pitchers started 10 or more games. Bill Sherdel and Art Reinhart were the sole lefties. Sherdel started 29 games, won 16 of them, gave up more hits than he had innings pitched, and put up an ERA of 3.49. Reinhart had a 10-5 record in 11 starts and 27 games. His ERA was north of four and he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched and also walked more than he struck out. Flint Rhem had the most wins with 20. His ERA was 3.21. Unlike the southpaws he had more innings pitched than hits allowed, but like Reinhart he walked more than he struck out (75 to 72). Vic Keen started 22 games, went 10-9, over 26 games (21 starts) and joined Reinhart in both giving up more hits than innings pitched and walking more than he struck out. His ERA was 4.56. Hall of Famers Jesse Haines and Grover Cleveland Alexander were the staff geezers. Haines, aged 32, posted a 13-4 record in 20 starts (33 total games) and tied for the team lead with two saves. He had a nice ERA (3.25) but continued the pattern of more walks and hits than strikeouts and innings pitched. At 39, Alexander was considered through by a lot of people. He started the year with the Cubs, was released after a 3-3 start and was picked up by the Cardinals. He went 9-7 at St. Louis, but posted a team low ERA of 2.91 (OK, Duster Mails had a 0.00 ERA but only pitched one inning). Unlike the rest of the staff, he’s struck out more than he walked and had fewer hits given up than innings pitched.  He also had two saves (he’d get one more).

Hi Bell was the main bullpen man with only eight starts in 27 games. His ERA was 3.18 and he had the team’s other two saves. For a change he had more innings pitched and strikeouts than otherwise. Syl Johnson, lefty Bill Hallahan, and southpaw Allan Sothoron rounded out the men who pitched in 10 or more games.

The Cardinals were underdogs. The Murderer’s Row Yankees were considered superior at almost every position except maybe second where Hornsby was an all-time great. Much of that has to do with the American League being considered the superior league. Because St. Louis statistics aren’t especially weaker than New York numbers, a fact a lot of pundits seem to have overlooked. The World Series began in New York on 2 October.

 

 

An Extraordinary Season

June 10, 2013
Rogers Hornsby while with the Cardinals

Rogers Hornsby while with the Cardinals

Baseball is full of guys having great seasons. Both Cabrera and Trout had great seasons last year. So far the kid in LA is having a great week. Babe Ruth is noted for great seasons between 1920 and 1924. But Rogers Hornsby also had a couple of great seasons in the National League while Ruth was tearing up the American League. Hornsby played second base for the Cardinals in 1922. He got into 154 games.  Here’s a look at Hornsby’s 1922 year, a year that you could argue wasn’t his best.

In April Hornsby played 15 games. He got hits in all but three (and in one of those he walked in all four of his plate appearances). He hit .389, slugged .704, had an OBP of .469, had 21 hits, four of them home runs. The two games in which he had both at bats and no hits were not back to back. They were against the Reds and Cubs.

In May he played 28 games. He hit .371, slugged .705, had an OBP of .464, with 39 hits and 9 home runs. In the 28 games he went hitless four times, none of them consecutive. They were against the Giants, Phillies, Pirates, and Cubs.

In June he played in 23 games. He hit .427, slugged .667, had an OBP of .477, with 41 hits and four home runs. He went hitless in three games. For the first time in the season he was hitless on consecutive days, 26 and 27 June. Both games were against the Reds. The other game was against the Giants. None of the games were back-to-back.

So we’re half way through the season and what do we have? So far Hornsby has played in 66 games and failed to hit in nine of them (only once in back-to-back games). He has 101 hits and 17 home runs. His average is .396. So far only the Braves and Dodgers have failed to hold him hitless at least one time.

Now on to July. He played in 35 games (lots of double headers). He hit .383, slugged .752, had an OBP of .425 with 54 hits and 10 home runs. He failed to get a hit four times, once each against the Reds, Phillies, Giants, and Braves. None of the games were consecutive.

In August he played 22 games. He hit .380, slugged .663, had an OBP of .447 with 35 hits and five home runs. He went hitless in only two games all month. One each  against the Braves and Cubs. Again, the two games weren’t back-to-back.

In September he played 29 games. He hit .438, slugged .792, had an OBP of .463 with 57 hits and 10 home runs. He went hitless twice. The Cubs and finally the Dodgers (Robins at the time) managed to hold him without a hit. Neither game was consecutive. It was his best month.

He played one game in October and got three hits. All were singles. As St. Louis did not make the World Series, his season ended on 1 October.

For the year Hornsby hit .401, slugged .722, had an OBP of .456. He had 250 hits, 42 were home runs, 46 were doubles, and 14 were triples. He stuck out 50 times and walked 65, and had 450 total bases. He scored 142 runs and drove in 152. His OPS was 1.181 and his OPS+ was 207. He would surpass both the OPS and OPS+ twice (1924 and 1925). His offensive WAR was 11.2. It would be slightly higher in 1924 (11.5), but not in 1925. Only once did he fail to hit in consecutive games (but he did manage to go hitless against all seven opponents).In 154 games he was hitless in 17. For all that the Cardinals, who had a little beyond Hornsby, finished third.

Hornsby’s 1922 is one of the great seasons ever. In compares well with Ruth’s best years. Some baseball historians downplay Hornsby arguing that he wasn’t much of a second baseman, specifically that he had trouble going back on the short pop up at second. OK, maybe he did. But I think I’ll take the bat anyway.

Top of the World

October 18, 2012

Triple Crown winner Chuck Klein with a bunch of bats

So far I’ve said little about Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown. I tend to worry more about old-time baseball than about the current season, but congratulations are certainly in order. With Detroit still alive in the playoffs he has a chance to do something that’s only been done twice.

Over the years a hitting Triple Crown has been accomplished 16 times. Only twice has the Triple Crown winners team also won the World Series. Here’s a quick review of each Triple Crown winner and where his team finished.

1878–Paul Hines won the Triple Crown for Providence. They finished third in the National League.

1887–Tip O’Neill won the Triple Crown for St. Louis of the American Association (a major league at the time). The team finished first and played a 15 game postseason series against Detroit of the National League (sort of a  primitive World Series). They lost 10 games to 5.

1901–Napoleon LaJoie won the Triple Crown for the Philadelphia Athletics. They finished fourth in the fledgling American League.

1909–Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown at Detroit. The Tigers dropped the World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games.

1922 and 1925–Rogers Hornsby won the Triple Crown while with St. Louis. The Cardinals finished third in 1922 and fourth in 1925. Hornsby became the only player to win a Triple Crown and hit .400 in the same season. He did it both times.

1933–both leagues had a Triple Crown winner (only time that’s happened). Chuck Klein won the NL Triple Crown for the seventh place Phillies, while Jimmie Foxx won the AL Triple Crown for the third place Athletics. As a bit of trivia, both Triple Crown winners played in Philadelphia.

1934–Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown in one of the few years the Yankees didn’t finish first. They finished second.

1937–Joe Medwick won the last NL Triple Crown for the Cardinals. They rewarded him with a fourth place finish.

1942 and 1947–Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in both seasons. His Boston team finished second in ’42 and third in ’47.

1956–Mickey Mantle became the second Yankee Triple Crown winner and first Triple Crown winner to have his team (the Yankees) win the World Series.

1966–Frank Robinson became the second (with Baltimore). Robinson also became the first (and so far only) black player to win a Triple Crown. 

1967 –Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown with Boston, but the Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals.

Pitching Triple Crown winners are both more common and have won more frequently. Here’s a list of the pitchers who won both the pitching Triple Crown and the World Series (1800s version or modern version): Tommy Bond in 1877 (there was no postseason play that season but Bond’s Boston team took first place in the regular season), Charles Radbourne in 1884, Tim Keefe in 1888, Christy Mathewson in 1905, Walter Johnson in 1924, Lefty Grove in 1930, Lefty Gomez in 1937, Hal Newhouser in 1945, Sandy Koufax in both 1963 and 1965.

All that indicates that winning a Triple Crown (either variety) is no predictor of success in the postseason. Still, I think I’d rather win one than not.

Down the Stretch

May 21, 2012

Secretariat winning the Belmont in 1973

We’re currently two-thirds of the way through horse racing’s Triple Crown with I’ll Have Another having a shot at winning it. Secretariat’s run in the Belmont is still the single greatest thing I ever saw in sport (sorry 1980 hockey team). There’s been a lot of lamenting about it being more than 30 years since a horse came “down the stretch” to win the Belmont and seal a Triple Crown. It’s been even longer than that since baseball had a hitting Triple Crown winner (1967). There hasn’t been one in the National League since 1937. Two men (Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams) have won two. In total it’s been done 16 times. Pitchers have been a little more successful, the last pitching Triple Crown winner occurring in 2011 in both leagues. The idea of winning the baseball Triple Crown is even rarer. This means a player led both leagues, not just his own, in all three Triple Crown categories. It’s happened five times among hitters with no repeats. In pitching it has occurred 12 times with Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Sandy Koufax doing it twice (Koufax did it three times).

Winning a Triple Crown goes back a long way. As early as 1877 a pitcher wins one and in 1878 the first hitter follows suit. In the next few posts I want to look at a handful of the men who have won a Triple Crown. Specifically I want to look at the men who accomplished the feat first, the 19th Century players. There are three hitters (Paul Hines, Tip O’Neil, Hugh Duffy) and six pitchers (Tommy Bond, Guy Hecker, Charles Radbourn, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson, Amos Rusie). I don’t promise to do all nine, but merely provide a sampling in order to give readers a look at the types of men who strode out onto baseball diamonds a century and a half ago.

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.