Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Koufax’

The Derek Jeter Aura

March 3, 2014

So I see that Derek Jeter is hanging it up at the end of this season. That’s both good and bad. It’s, frankly, time for him to go, but it will cost MLB its face (which isn’t really David Wright, despite the recent poll) and the most recognizable player of his generation. He’ll get to make a grand tour, get lots of gifts (but try to top Rivera’s broken bat rocking chair), a ton of applause and adulation. Then he’ll ride off toward Cooperstown, making it in five years. It’s really a fitting way for him to leave us.

Ever notice how some players just have an aura about them? Ruth had one, so did Mantle. Koufax has it to a lesser degree. Well, Jeter has one too. He is “The Captain” the rock around which the Yankees built their latest dynasty. He’s the man with “The Flip” (which is still probably the best fielding play I ever saw). He is “one of the five greatest Yankees ever.” You hear all that don’t you?

Well, hang on a minute. Without trying to diminish Jeter’s legacy, which is formidable, let’s not get too carried away here. It’s not like he’s the first captain the team ever had. Gehrig was team captain too and Gehrig was a better player. If Jeter was the rock on which the latest Yankees dynasty was built, then he had a lot of other rocks around to hold up part of that foundation. There was Pettitte, Rivera, Posada (the so-called “Core Four”), and there was Clemens, and O’Neill, and Knoblauch, and Martinez too.

Jeter reminds me of Joe DiMaggio. He has the same aura about him. Both are great players, but both seem to be remembered as being somehow greater than they were in actuality. It took twenty-five years for fans to realize that Mantle was a greater player than DiMaggio and Jeter has that kind of aura too. I don’t mean to imply that somehow the Yanks have a greater shortstop in their history, only to point out that Jeter is revered in much the same way as DiMaggio. There’s a reverence about them that is different from the awe that surrounds either Mantle or Gehrig, or for that matter, Ruth. For the latter three it seems that “awe” is more appropriate and with Jeter and DiMaggio the word is “reverence.”

As for being “one of the five greatest Yankees ever” I suppose you could make that case for Jeter, although I’d rank him in the six through eight range, behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Berra and in line with Ford and Rivera. That’s not a bad place to be, all things considered. He’s probably a top five to ten shortstop (certainly behind Wagner and Ripken) depending on how you categorize Banks and Yount. He was never Ozzie Smith in the field, but then neither was much of anyone else.

Then it’s good-bye to Derek Jeter. The Yankees will miss him. I think a greater tribute is that baseball will miss him.

A Year’s End 9 Inning Celebration

December 31, 2013

So the year is ending, is it? Well, good riddance to bad rubbish. In many ways 2013 was a lousy year. The weather, the politics, the expenses, my wife broke a leg (which is now healed fine). But baseball provided some good moments. Here, in honor of nine innings and in no particular order, are some moments, both good and bad, that I remember.

1. The Dodgers made the playoffs and promptly hashed it. If you’re a Dodgers fan like me, this is a good sign.

2. The Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout controversy stayed around. Isn’t it great that there are two players this quality in the Major Leagues today so we can debate the meaning of greatness?

3. Biogenesis. Who ever heard of them? I wish the whole PED issue would just go away, but I know it won’t.

4. Mariano Rivera did finally go away. That’s the wrong kind of going away. Never a Yankees fan, but it was a joy to watch Rivera perform. He was good, he had class, he had style. Name five other players you can say all that about.

5. The Red Sox won the World Series. OK, I’m not a BoSox fan either, but they’re a good team, a good organization, and David Ortiz is one heck of a hitter.

6. Clayton Kershaw proved why it’s now alright to mention his name in the same breath as you mention Sandy Koufax’s.

7. Albert Pujols proved mortal again. I hope it’s not the end of the line for the finest first baseman I ever saw.

8. Mike Matheny got his Cardinals to the World Series. Finally he can begin to move out from under Tony LaRussa’s shadow.

9. The Hall of Fame put in Deacon White and Jacob Ruppert, both of which I’d been pushing for, but left out everybody else except an ump and three managers. Are you kidding?

Hopefully, you have your own list of nine. These are mine. May you have a better 2014 than you had a 2013.

Shutting Out in Game 7

October 9, 2013
Babe Adams about 1909

Babe Adams about 1909

There is nothing in baseball quite like game 7 of the World Series. It is the ultimate moment for two teams, one of which is going to be overjoyed while the other goes into deep mourning. Over the history of the World Series, there have been 36 times that the Series went to a game 7. This does not count the handful of best of nine Series’. That’s about a third of the time, which is  a number that somewhat shocked me. I presumed there were more. I wanted, in conjunction with the playoffs, to look at the game 7 phenomena. When I began  doing so, I noticed something interesting (at least to me). If about a third of all World Series’ climax with a game 7, a quarter of those game 7’s have been shutouts. Here’s a quick look at the game 7 shutouts in World Series history.

1909–Babe Adams, a really obscure deadball pitcher for the Honus Wagner led Pittsburgh Pirates threw the first game 7 shutout in the very first game 7 (not counting the game 7 that was part of the 1903 best-of-nine Series). He defeated Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers 8-0. He gave up six hits (none to Cobb), walked one and struck out one.

1934–The next game 7 shutout occurred in 1934. The St. Louis Cardinals “Gas House Gang” led by starting pitcher Dizzy Dean corralled the Detroit Tigers 11-0.  Dean gave up six hits (like Adams), struck out five and didn’t walk any. This is the game made famous for Tigers fans throwing fruit at Joe Medwick.

1955–We next have to skip all the way to the first Brooklyn Dodgers World Series champion to find the next game 7 shutout. Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees 2-0, on eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts, and a famous catch by Sandy Amoros.

1956–The Yankees returned the favor the next season when journeyman Johnny Kucks gave up three hits and three walks while striking out one on the way to an 11-0 beating of the Dodgers.

1957–For a decade known mostly for its hitters, the 1950s produced three consecutive game 7 shutouts. This time Braves right-hander Lew Burdette shut out the Yankees 5-0. He gave up seven hits, walked one, and struck out three.

1962– After a five-year break, the baseball god’s decided it was time again for another game 7 shutout. This time the Yankees defeated the Giants 1-0 in a game most famous for Bobby Richardson’s grab of Willie McCovey’s liner to end the game. Ralph Terry picked up the win by striking out four while giving up four hits and not walking a man.

1965–This game became the standard for judging Sandy Koufax. On two day’s rest he tossed a three hit shutout, walking three and striking out 10. The Dodgers scored two runs.

1985–Bret Saberhagen shut down St. Louis on five hits and two strikeouts without a walk, as Kansas City won 11-0 in the aftermath of the Don Denkinger blown call game.

1991–Jack Morris pitched the only game 7 shutout that went into extra innings. The Twins knocked off the Braves 1-0 with Morris giving up seven hits, walking two, and striking out eight. As a great little bit of trivia, Lonnie Smith participated in both the 1985 and 1991 games (obviously a number of Yankees and Dodgers participated in the 1955, 56, and 57 showdowns). Smith won one (1985) and lost one (1991).

That’s the list. A couple of quick observations are in order. Only the Dodgers and Yankees win two of these, 1955 and ’65 for the Dodgers and 1956 and 1962 for the Yanks. The Dodgers win the only two pitched by left-handed pitchers (Podres and Koufax). The three biggest game 7 blowouts (’34, ’56, and ’85) all ended up as 11-0 shutouts (wonder what are the odds on that). Finally, only Koufax and Dean are Hall of Fame pitchers (Morris has a year left on the ballot, plus the Vet’s Committee, so maybe there will be three). Some pretty obscure pitchers (Adams and Kucks) have also won a game 7 shutout. Want to take bets on whether there will be one this season or not?

Winning Quick

July 5, 2013
Frank Howard

Frank Howard

You ever notice how often you hear that you just gotta stay close and we’ll get ’em in the late innings? Or how about this one, “We need to knock ’em out quick.”? Nice ideas. Both work. You can win either way. There are good examples of each. In the next couple of posts I want to look at two World Series confrontations that occurred almost back to back. They are good examples of each way of winning.

 In the long history of the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry, there has only been one sweep, the 1963 World Series. It was a great case of winning the game in the first couple of  innings. And of course, as a Dodgers fan, it’s one of my favorites.

The 1963 Series was a contrast in teams. The Dodgers were young. Of everyday players competing in 50 or more games, Jim Gilliam at 34 and Wally Moon at 33 were the geezers. The Yankees were older. Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Hector Lopez, and Harry Bright were all 33 or more. The Yankees were still a power team. They had 188 home runs, 714 runs, a .403 slugging percentage, and only 42 stolen bases. In contrast, the Dodgers had 110 home runs, 640 runs, a.357 slugging percentage, and a league leading 124 stolen bases. Los Angeles offset that with pitching. They featured Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and aging (he was all of 30 but had been around since 1952) but still effective Johnny Podres. New York countered with Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, and Ralph Terry. Not bad, but only Ford was the equal of the Dodgers main starters.

Game one set the tone for the entire Series. In the bottom of the first, Koufax struck out Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, and Tommy Tresh in order. Then in the second he struck out Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris before getting Elston Howard to foul out to catcher Johnny Roseboro. In between the Dodgers put up four runs in the second on a double, two singles, and a Roseboro home run. The Yankees never recovered. By the second inning, the game was  done. Koufax struck out 15, including every Yankees starter except Clete Boyer,  gave up six hits (including a Tresh two-run homer with the game already decided), and shut New York down. I was in school when the game started, but was able to listen to the first two innings on the radio in class (we had a couple of very compliant teachers). You could tell it was over.The crowd was stunned to silence. I missed the third inning getting home, but when the TV went on for the fourth, you could see the Yankees dugout was equally stunned. Of course as a Dodger fan I was in heaven, but a  couple of friends of mine who weren’t LA fans were watching with me. Both told me New York was done. Not just for the game, but for the Series.

They were right. In game two the Dodgers put up two runs in the top of the first on two singles, a steal of third, and a Tommy Davis double. Although he got two more runs (one in the fourth, one in the eighth), Podres didn’t need more help. He only struck out four (OK, he wasn’t Koufax, but then no one else was either), but scattered six hits and wasn’t in trouble until the ninth when, with one out, he gave up a double and single to plate a run. In came reliever Ron Perranoski who set down the next two hitters to finish the game.

Game three was Saturday, so I finally got to watch the entire thing. It was a great pitching duel between Drysdale and Bouton. Again the Dodgers scored early. With one out in the first, Gilliam walked, went to second on a wild pitch after the second out, then came home on another Tommy Davis hit, this one a single. That concluded the scoring for the entire game. Drysdale pitched a three hit shutout, striking out nine. Bouton was almost as good. He gave up four hits and struck out four, but he walked five (to Drysdale’s one). Again the Dodgers quick strike was decisive.

That led to game four on Sunday. I have no idea if anyone thought the Yankees could win. I was at a friend’s house for the game. There were five of us, including the friend’s dad. None of them were Dodgers fans, but all of them agreed we were going to watch the Bums win the Series that day. The Yanks showed up looking defeated, but, much to their credit, put up their best showing of the entire Series. For a change the Dodgers didn’t score early. Through six innings Whitey Ford was magnificent. He gave up two hits, walked one, and struck out four. Unfortunately one of the hits was a huge fifth inning home run by Frank Howard. The Dodgers hadn’t scored early but they were ahead. Koufax was almost as good as Ford. By the seventh, he’d struck out five, given up three hits, and hadn’t walked anyone. But in the seventh, New York got the run back on a homer by Mickey Mantle. The bottom of the seventh gave the Dodgers a second run on a three base error by Joe Pepitone and a sacrifice fly by Willie Davis. Koufax then picked up another strikeout in the eighth and struck out two more in the ninth. A routine grounder to short ended the Series.

It’s never been considered a great World Series (except by a few diehard Dodgers fans), but it was a great example of being able to score early. With an excellent starting staff (the Dodgers used one reliever for two-thirds of an inning in the entire Series) a team who scores early, even if only a run or two can really put the opponent in a deep hole. That’s exactly what LA did in 1963.

Hollywood Meets the Diamond

May 3, 2013
John McGraw, budding Thespian

John McGraw, budding Thespian

As something of a followup to the last post, I decided to look more heavily into Hollywood’s love affair with baseball. I’ve done some of this kind of thing before, but this time I decided to see if I could put together a full team of players who have appeared on either TV or in the movies playing someone other than themselves (or a baseball player). It got a little silly for a while, but this is a pretty good set of players (I wonder if Olivier could hit).  I had to violate the playing someone else or not being a ball player a few times, but you’ll see why when you read them. I’m sure I missed a couple of greats, so feel free to add to the list.

1st base–Lou Gehrig. Back on 26 February 2010 I did a review of Gehrig’s foray into Westerns. He did an oater called “Rawhide” a year before he retired.

2nd base–Jackie Robinson. I also did a review of Robinson’s movie “The Jackie Robinson Story.” Gehrig did a better acting job. OK, this violates the play someone other than themselves (or a ball player) caveat, but it’s Robinson.

shortstop–Maury Wills. Wills shows up with four credits, three as a coach. The other is on “Get Smart”, the old spy spoof.

3rd base–Ron Cey. In 1987 he shows up as an uncredited member of the band in “Murder, She Wrote.”

outfield–Babe Ruth. Again I violated my “no ball player” rule, but it’s the Babe. He played a ball player named Babe Dugan in a film called “Babe Comes Home” in 1927. The IMDB indicates that the movie is lost.

outfield–Ty Cobb. Ok this time I violated the “appeared” part of my criteria. During the 1950s, Cobb wrote five stories and screenplays that showed up on television. Two were for a show called “The Adventures of Champion” (ole Champ was a horse).

outfield–Duke Snider. The Duke shows up with five credits. In one he plays himself, in a second he’s a center fielder. In the other three he has a role. One of those is opposite another former ball player, Chuck Connors, in “The Rifleman.”

catcher–Joe Garagiola. Best catcher I could find who played something other than himself. He appeared in one episode of “Police Story” in 1975. He played a cop. 

DH–Mike Donlin. Of all these guys, Donlin had the best movie career. I did a post on him on 5 January 2011. He ended up with 63 credits, most of them silents.

pitcher–Sandy Koufax. Way back when he was still an unknown, Koufax got into four TV shows: two Westerns, two cop shows. One of the cop shows was in 1959, the other three credits were in 1960.

manager–John McGraw. In 1914, McGraw appeared as Detective Swift in a short called “Detective Swift.” To top it off, Hans Lobert’s wife (cleverly called “Mrs. Hans Lobert) has a role in the short.

Not a bad list, right? There are an inordinate number of Los Angeles Dodgers in the list. That’s not because I’m a fan (although I am), but it makes great sense that the team in LA is going to have a large number of players available locally to show up for bit parts in both the moves and TV.

This list also excludes those players who showed up on Broadway (like Donlin) or in Vaudeville. McGraw and Christy Mathewson had a vaudeville act where they showed the audience how to throw a pitch. The earliest one of these I could find was an 1880s reference that indicated that King Kelly would appear on stage and dance while the band played “Slide, Kelly, Slide.” We’ve come a long way, I think.

The 50 Greatest Dodgers

November 27, 2012

Don Newcombe, the 8th Greatest Dodger

Back a year or so ago I did a post on the 50 Greatest Yankees ever (according to ESPN). Turns out that the network did an entire series of these lists. You’ll have to look around pretty hard (or type in “greatest Dodgers” or whichever team) to find their lists but they are interesting.

One of the lists is the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers list. The top 10 (in order) look like this: Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Zack Wheat, Roy Campanella, PeeWee Reese, Mike Piazza, Don Newcombe, Don Sutton, Dazzy Vance. And before anyone asks, Don Drysdale is 11th. Not a bad list actually, here’s a few comments on the list.

1. To create a full team you end up with Gil Hodges (16th on the list) at first, Robinson at second, Reese at short, and Roy Cey (14th on the list) at third. The outfield is Snider, Wheat, and Pedro Guerrero (15th on the list). Campanella catches and the first position player whose position is already covered is Piazza, making him the DH. The staff (four men for a World Series rotation, at least one being left-handed) is Koufax, Newcombe, Sutton, and Vance. Way down at 46th is Ron Perranoski, the only reliever on the list.

2. The list is a decent mix of both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, with LA being slightly favored in the higher parts of the list (see Guerrero over Babe Herman or Carl Furillo for example). There are, as you would expect with the Dodgers, an inordinate number of pitchers in the top 15.

3. They did put Dixie Walker on the list (he’s 25th). With the way he left the team (his opposition to Robinson) I half expected he’d be overlooked.

4. Wheat in the top 5 is inspired, as is Vance in the top 10. It’s unusual for guys who played that long ago to get much support when up against newer players that voters remember. However, Wheat over Campanella is questionable. Wheat and Vance are the only two players on the list who spent significant time with the Dodgers prior to 1940.

5. During their time together (most of the 1970s) Steve Garvey got a lot more press than Cey. This list placed Cey higher (14th to Garvey’s 17th). I think that’s probably right.

6. Jim Gilliam is at 43rd. That’s way too low. His versatility (second, third, center, and left) made him so much more valuable than his hitting stats (which aren’t bad either) made him appear.

7. Reggie Smith is at 26th. Again, I think that’s too low. I might slide him into the top 15. I know I’d put him in the top 20. I might even jump him over Guerrero. Smith is one of the more overlooked players in both Dodgers and Red Sox history.

8. The picking of  Newcombe over both Sutton and Drysdale is  interesting. Both ended up with more wins and Newk did have the drinking problem. I’m not sure the voters got it right. Maybe yes, maybe no.  Newcombe was the ace of the most famous (if not most successful) team in Dodgers history and that has to be worth something. Now, if he coulda just won a single World Series game (he went 0-4).

9. Now about first place. When I first became interested in baseball, Robinson was my hero. As he waned, Snider replaced him. Then as the Duke faltered, Koufax became my guy. That got me through high school and hero-worship of big leaguers. So I have no problem with those three being in the top positions. I’m not sure about the order. The ultimate problem is Robinson’s status as a civil rights icon. It so overshadows his on-field accomplishments that I’m not sure it didn’t get him first place more than his playing  ability did. Having said that, I recognize he was a heck of a player and when added to his late start (because of circumstances not of his making) and the abuse he suffered, maybe he is first. But Snider was as good, maybe better. And Koufax is simply the greatest pitcher I ever saw. I have my own order, but I have no real problem with the current order.

10. The location of a few more well-known names: Hershiser (12th), Valenzuela (13th), Wills (22nd), Reiser (31st), Podres (33rd), and Nomo (49th).

11. The most glaring omission? Carl Erskine.

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.

The Chairman of the Board

September 26, 2012

Whitey Ford during the 1950s

I note that the Atlanta Braves have tied the mark for the most consecutive wins by a team with a particular pitcher starting the game. One of the reasons I love baseball is this kind of esoteric stat. Kris Medlen now joins the ranks of all-time greats Carl Hubbell and Whitey Ford.

It’s amazing to me how very obscure Ford has become over the years. He is the greatest starter, and Mariano Rivera not withstanding, arguably the greatest pitcher on the greatest team (the Yankees) in Major League Baseball history and he’s sort of fallen off the face of the earth. You wonder how that happens.

I was, as a Dodgers fan, not a big fan of Ford. He played for the wrong team. But as I grew older, I began to understand exactly what the Yankees had. They had a solid starter who ate innings, gave them a chance to be in a game, won a lot of them, and year after year was there to count on. He was an American League version of Warren Spahn in his consistency. And part of Ford’s recognition problem is that much of his career is contemporary with Spahn (and the latter part overlaps Sandy Koufax).

Having said that, he wasn’t just Warren Spahn light. He had a great winning percentage. His .690 winning percentage is third among pitchers (according to Baseball Reference). The two guys ahead of him are Spud Chandler, whose career was about half as long; and Al Spaulding, who never once pitched at 60’6″. That’s pretty good for a guy that’s gotten really lost in the shuffle.

Part of Ford’s problem is that he only won 20 games twice (1961 and 1963), led the AL in shutouts twice, in wins three times. He also won the Cy Young Award in 1961 when they only gave out one award, not one per league.  Above I compared him to Warren Spahn, and those wins certainly aren’t Spahn-like numbers. But the basic career type still holds. Ford’s other problem, besides that it’s a long time ago now, is that the 1950s early 1960s Yankees were not seen as a pitcher’s team, but were viewed as a bunch of bashers. It’s the team of Mickey Mantle (who plays almost exactly the same years as Ford), of Yogi Berra, of Billy Martin, and Roger Maris. It’s also the team of Casey Stengel. Behind that crew, Ford sort of gets lost.

There also aren’t a lot of Ford stories. There are a handful of drinking stories, but not much else. A couple of stories emphasize Ford cutting the baseball to make his pitches move more. One has him using Elston Howard to cut the ball with his shin guards. Another says he filed down his wedding ring and used it. Don’t know if the latter is true, but wouldn’t you love to know Mrs. Ford’s reaction when she found out? Also Ford is supposed to have told the grounds crew to keep the area right behind the catcher moist so Howard and Berra could rub mud on the ball before they tossed it back to him. Those are about it on Ford.

And that’s despite some of the records he holds. He has more wins in the World Series than any other pitcher, and also more losses. He has the most consecutive shutout innings among starters in World Series history. He leads in inning pitched, in games started, in strikeouts (and walks), and at one time was the youngest pitcher to win a World Series game (game four of 1950). I don’t know if that last stat is still true. He pitched some truly fine World Series games. Some were blowouts like games three and six in 1960. Others were tight duels like game four in 1963 against Sandy Koufax or game six in 1953 against Carl Erskine.

Ford was the mainstay of the most consistently victorious team ever, the 1950-1964 Yankees. His last good year was 1965, the year the Yankees dynasty stumbled. I think it’s important to note that when Ford fell off so did the Yankees. It wasn’t just him, Mantle got old also and Berra retired. The loss of the three was devastating to New York.

As I grew, I grew to appreciate Whitey Ford more and more. I’m sorry he’s sort of gotten lost in the shuffle by now. He shouldn’t, he was a great pitcher and I was privileged to see him throw.

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.

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.