Posts Tagged ‘Spud Chandler’

The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The First Three Games

March 23, 2017

The 1941 World Series began a rivalry that was among the most fierce and passionate in baseball: the Dodgers and the Yankees. Now that it’s cross country, it’s a little less passionate, but nonetheless the intensity is still there. The first games in that rivalry were in Yankee Stadium.

Game 1: 1 October 1941

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon

Game one saw the Yankees start Hall of Fame right-hander Red Ruffing against Curt Davis. New York struck first with a Joe Gordon home run in the bottom of the second. The 1-0 score lasted until the bottom of the fourth when, Joe DiMaggio drove a long fly to left. Joe Medwick, grabbed the top of the fence, hoisted himself up, and snagged the ball going out of the field of play (sort of like the more famous Al Gionfriddo catch of 1947). That gave New York two outs. But then Charlie Keller walked. Bill Dickey promptly doubled to score Keller and run the score to 2-0.

The Dodgers got the run right back in the top of the fifth, again with two outs. PeeWee Reese singled and scored on a follow up triple by catcher Mickey Owen. The score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the sixth when, this time with only one out, Davis again walked Keller. A Dickey single sent Keller to third and a Gordon (who went 2 for 2 in the game with a walk) single brought home Keller with the third New York run. It also sent Davis to the bench and brought in ace reliever Hugh Casey, who got out of the inning with consecutive flies.

Brooklyn again got the run right back in the top of the sixth. Cookie Lavagetto reached first on a throwing error by Yanks shortstop Phil Rizzuto. A Reese single sent Lavagetto to second and Lew Riggs pinch hit for Owen. Riggs singled to plate Lavagetto, but a double play and a ground out ended the inning with the score 3-2. It stayed that way through the eighth when Ruffing gave up two singles sandwiched around a foul. That brought up Dodgers catcher Herman Franks (who was in the game because Riggs had pinch hit for Owen). He hit one to Gordon, who flipped to Rizzuto who threw on to first to end the inning and the game on a nifty double play.

The big stars were for the Dodgers, Medwick, who’s great catch saved a run and for the Yankees, Ruffing who pitched a complete game and Gordon who drove in two runs and scored one. The game gave New York a 1-0 Series lead.

Game 2, 2 October 1941

Mickey Owen about 1940

Game 2 saw New York trot out Spud Chandler to face Brooklyn ace Whit Wyatt. At the beginning of the game, Chandler seemed more the ace than Wyatt. The Dodgers gave up runs in both the second and third innings. It could have been worse. With two outs and Charlie Keller on third and Joe Gordon on second, Chandler singled to score Keller, but an alert play by Dolph Camilli, Dodgers first baseman, gunned Gordon down at the plate to end the inning. In the third, Tommy Henrich doubled and after an out, came home on a Keller single.

After that Wyatt settled down. He gave up a couple of walks and a handful of hits, but no Yankee scored. Meanwhile, the Dodgers finally got to Chandler in the fifth. Walks to Camilli and Cookie Lavagetto were bookends to a Joe Medwick double that loaded the bases and brought up Brooklyn shortstop PeeWee Reese. Reese grounded to his counterpart, Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto flipped to Gordon to get Lavagetto, but Reese beat the relay and Camilli scored while Medwick went to third. That brought up Mickey Owen, who singled home Medwick to tie the score.

In the top of the sixth, Dixie Walker reached first on a Gordon throwing error and went to third on a Billy Herman single. That gave Chandler an appointment with the showers and brought in Yankees relief ace Johnny Murphy. Camilli singled to untie the game and the Dodgers held on to win 3-2. Wyatt ended up with a complete game victory while Chandler took the loss.

Game 3, 4 October 1941

Marius Russo

After a day off and with the Series tied one game each, the teams moved to Ebbets Field for game three. It was the first postseason game played in Ebbets Field since 1920. The Dodgers gave the ball to Fred Fitzsimmons. The Yanks countered with Marius Russo.

For seven innings it was a great pitchers duel. No on scored. Only one man on each team (Joe Gordon and Pete Reiser) made it as far as third. By the eighth, Fitzsimmons was almost out of gas. Then he got hit on the foot by a batted ball. He’d given up four hits and walked three, while striking out one, but he just couldn’t go on with the foot hurting. So Leo Durocher decided he had to go to his bullpen. In came Hugh Casey, the Dodgers counterpart to Johnny Murphy. He got the first out, then consecutive singles by Red Rolfe and Tommy Henrich brought Joe DiMaggio to the plate. He singled to left scoring Rolfe and sending Henrich to third. Charlie Keller was next and singled scoring Henrich. That was all for Casey. Larry French replaced him and recorded the final out of the inning.

Leading 2-0 Russo started the bottom of the eighth by giving up a Dixie Walker double. One out later French was removed for a pinch hitter, who struck out. That brought PeeWee Reese to the plate. He singled scoring Walker before Russo got a popup to end the inning. He sailed through the ninth to record a Yankees 2-1 win and put New York up 2 games to 1. Game four was Sunday and would become the most famous, of infamous depending on your point of view of the entire Series.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Beginnings of a Rivalry: The Bombers

March 16, 2017
Marse Joe

Marse Joe

There are a number of great rivalries in baseball: Cards-Cubs, Dodgers-Giants, Yanks-Red Sox, and others. In postseason baseball there is nothing quite like the rivalry between the Yankees and the Dodgers. They’ve played each other more than any other World Series combination (with the Yankees usually winning). This is a look at the World Series that started that rivalry, the 1941 World Series.

Joe McCarthy, since the early 1930s managed to lead the New York Yankees to World Series triumphs five times, the last win coming in 1939. His offense finished high in almost every major American League category. They were second in runs, slugging, OPS, total bases; first in home runs; third in walks, batting average, OBP; and fourth in triples. Only in doubles were they down the list at seventh. The staff was equally as effective. They finished first in hits, runs, and saves (although the stat wasn’t around yet). They were second in ERA and shutouts while finishing third in strikeouts.

The infield, two years removed from the tragic loss of Lou Gehrig, consisted of Johnny Sturm at first, Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto up the middle, and Red Rolfe at third. Rizzuto’s .307 led the infield in average while Gordon led in both homers (24) and RBIs (24). His 5.2 WAR also led the infield and was third on the team. Rizzuto’s WAR was at 4.5. Rolfe’s WAR stood at 1.1 while Sturm was at a minus two. The backups were two middle infielders: Jerry Priddy and Frankie Crosetti. Both managed a single home run while Priddy had more RBIs and Crossetti a slightly higher batting average.

There is a school of thought that states this Yankees outfield was, across the board, the best Yankees outfield ever. Charlie Keller was in left. He hit .298 with 33 home runs, 122 RBIs, and OPS+ of 162 for 6.6 WAR. Tommy Henrich was in right. He hit .277 with 31 home runs, 85 RBIs, a 136 OPS+, and 4.6 WAR. Of course the center fielder was Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. The Clipper hit .357, had 30 homers, 125 RBIs, only 13 strikeouts in 541 at bats (read that closely), had an OPS+ of 184, and 9.1 WAR, all to go along with the 56 game hitting streak and an MVP Award. The backups were George Selkirk and Frenchy Bordagaray. Frenchy hit .260, “Twinkletoes” Selkirk had six home runs and 25 RBIs. They combined for a -0.1 WAR (Selkirk’s was at least a positive number).

Hall of Famer Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar did almost all the catching. In many ways their season mirrored each other. Dickey hit .284, Rosar .287. Dickey’s OPS+ was 109, Rosar’s was 101. Dickey’s 2.6 WAR exactly doubled Rosar’s 1.3. Dickey had seven home runs and 71 RBIs while striking out only 17 times in 348 at bats. Rosar played many less games, but had 10 strikeouts in 209 at bats. Ken Silvestri was the third catcher. He got into 17 games and hit .250.

Although there were a couple of stars involved, the staff really worked as a “staff.” Marius Russo led the team with 27 starts while Red Ruffing, Spud Chandler, Lefty Gomez, and Atley Donald all started at least 20 games. Marty Breuer and Ernie “Tiny” Bonham had 18 and 14 starts while no one else had more than eight. Ruffing and Gomez, the two members of the Hall of Fame, each put up 15 wins while Russo had 14. Chandler had 10 and both Donald and Bonham, as well has Breuer had nine. Russo’s WAR was 3.0, Bonham managed 2.6, and Ruffing 2.0. The reliever was Johnny Murphy. His ERA was 1.98 in 77 innings pitched, all in relief. He had 15 saves but managed to walk 40 opponents while striking out only 29. His ERA+ was a team leading 200.

Although they’d lost to Detroit in 1940, the Yankees of 1941 were still very much the same team that had won consecutive World Series crowns in 1936, ’37, ’38, and ’39. In the coming World Series they would face an upstart team that hadn’t been to a championship since 1920 and hadn’t won one since Iron Man Joe McGinnity and the turn of the century.

 

 

The Old and the New: Games 3 and 4

March 17, 2016

With the World Series tied one game to one in 1942, the championship opened a three game set in Yankee Stadium.

Ernie White

Ernie White

Game 3

The first game in New York occurred 3 October. The hometown Yankees sent Spud Chandler to the mound. St. Louis responded with seven game winner Ernie White. The game ended up being a real pitcher’s duel.

Chandler was perfect for two innings but walked Whitey Kurowski to lead off the top of the third. A Marty Marion single put runner on first and second. White followed with a bunt that moved each base runner up one. Then a Jimmy Brown ground out second to first allowed Kurowski to score.

And that was it through the eighth inning. White was great, walking none and giving up only five hits, all singles. Except for giving up the run, Chandler was even better. He gave up three hits and walked only one in eight innings. But he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth, bringing Marv Breuer into the game for New York. A single, an error by Breuer, and another single gave St. Louis a second run and sent Breuer to the showers without recording an out. In the bottom of the ninth White gave up a final single but a Charlie Keller fly to right ended the threat and put the Cardinals up two games to one in the Series.

White was the big hero, he’d pitched a complete game shutout and even delivered a sacrifice bunt that helped lead to the Cardinals first (and winning) run. For Chandler it was a great game also, he just had the bad luck to give up one run (on a ground out). Now New York needed to win the next game to tie up the Series.

Max Lanier

Max Lanier

Game 4

On Sunday 4 October the hometown Yankees sent Hank Borowy to the mound to oppose game one loser Mort Cooper. Today Borowy is primarily famous for starting the last ever Chicago Cubs World Series game (game 7 of 1945) but in 1942 he was a significant member of the New York staff. And he started out well while Cooper struggled. In the bottom of the first a Red Rolfe double and a Roy Cullenbine single scored the first run of the game. Over the first three innings Borowy walked one and allowed a couple of hits, but no runs. That changed in the top of the fourth when St. Louis tallied six runs. Singles by Stan Musial and Walker Cooper (Mort’s brother) put two men on. Then Borowy walked Johnny Hopp. That brought up Whitey Kurowski. He singled scoring both Musial and Walker Cooper and sent Hopp to third. Marty Marion then walked. Pitcher Mort Cooper singled to let in both Hopp and Kurowski, and send Borowy to the bench replaced by Atley Donald. He got an out, then a Terry Moore single plated Marion. An out later Musial’s second hit of the inning, this one a double, scored Mort Cooper to give St. Louis a 6-1 lead.

It lasted to the bottom of the sixth when New York lit up Mort Cooper and tied the game. A Phil Rizzuto single led off the inning. Then Rolfe walked. A Cullenbine single scored the Scooter. After an out Charlie Keller smashed a three run home run and sent Cooper to the showers. An error put Joe Gordon on base, a grounder sent him to second, and a double scored Gordon to knot the game at six each.

Walks to Enos Slaughter and Musial put two men on base to open the seventh inning. Walker Cooper’s single scored Slaughter. An out and a walk later Marion hit a long fly to center that scored Musial and the Cards were back on top 8-6.

The Cards sent Max Lanier to the mound to hold the Yanks in check. He worked around an opening single to keep St. Louis ahead, then got around both a hit and a walk to keep the score 8-6 going into the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Hopp led off with a single, went to second on a bunt, and scored on a Lanier single. Lanier gave up one more single in the ninth, but again no one scored and the Cardinals won the game 9-6.

It was the highest scoring game of the Series. Both teams did most of their scoring in one big inning (six runs for St Louis and five for New York). Musial and Walker Cooper both scored two runs and drove in one. Kurowski and Mort Cooper both had two RBIs. Charlie Keller provided the big blow for New York with his three run home run.

Down three games to one, New York was in an unusual situation. Winner of eight straight World Series, stretching back to 1927 (’27, ’28, ’32,’ 36-’39, ’41) they’d seldom been in a hole. They had one last game at home to crawl closer and send the Series back to St. Louis.

 

 

 

The Old and the New: the ’42 Yankees

March 7, 2016
Marse Joe

Marse Joe

The 1942 baseball season was the first played while the US was involved in the Second World War. It changed a lot of things. One thing it didn’t change was the New York Yankees stranglehold on the American League. For the sixth time in seven years, New York won the AL pennant. Joe McCarthy’s gang won the league championship by nine games and were primed to win their ninth World Series since 1927.

Yankee hitters finished first in runs and home runs and second in almost everything else, finishing third in stolen bases and triples and fourth in doubles. The pitching was even better. New York hurlers led the AL in every major category except strikeouts (they were second) and in home runs. All that got them 103 wins and earned second baseman Joe Gordon an MVP award.

It wasn’t one of the more famous Yankee staffs, but New York pitchers were excellent. Ernie Bonham, Spud Chandler, Hank Borowy, Atley Donald, and Marv Breuer all started at least 19 games. Hall of Famer Red Ruffing had a 3.21 ERA which was last among the starters. His .667 winning percentage (14-7) was next-to-last. Johnny Murphy and Johnny Lindell did most of the damage out of the bullpen, while former ace Lefty Gomez was restricted to 13 games.

At 35, Bill Dickey was still a premier catcher. He hit .295 for the season with an OPS of .732 (POS+ of 108) and 1.6 WAR. His power was gone (two homers)but neither Buddy Rosar or Rollie Hemsley, his backups, had more.

The infield was formidable up the middle and weaker at the edges. Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto played either side of the keystone bag. Gordon, as mentioned above, won the MVP hitting .322 with a .900 OPS and a 154 OPS+. His WAR was a team high 8.2. He contributed 103 RBIs, 88 runs, and 18 home runs (all third on the team). Shortstop Rizzuto added a .284 average, a .718 OPS, a 103 OPS+, and 5.7 WAR. He had 157 hits, 68 RBIs, and flashed good leather. Buddy Hassett held down first. He wasn’t Lou Gehrig, managing only a .284 average, 0.4 WAR, and a below average OPS+ of 95. Frankie Crosetti and Red Rolfe shared time at third. Neither hit.250 (Crosetti’s .242 easily outpacing Rolfe’s .219). Rolfe’s eight home runs doubled Crosetti’s four and between them they had 48 RBIs. Jerry Priddy and Ed Levy provided most of the bench work (infielders with more than 40 at bats).  Levy hit a buck-22, but Priddy hit .280 with a couple of home runs.

The 1942 team provided one of the best Yankee outfields. There was no Ruth or Mantle, but across the field from left to right the three main players might have given New York the best trio of outfielders it produced at one time. Joe DiMaggio was in center. His 6.1 WAR was third on the team. He hit .305 with 21 home runs (good for second on the team) while leading the team with 114 RBIs and 186 hits. Charlie Keller played left. He hit .292, led the team with 26 homers and a .930 OPS (163 OPS+) and posted 6.7 WAR (good for second on the team). Tommy Henrich hit .267 with 13 home runs, 129 hits, a team leading 30 doubles, an OPS+ of 121, and 2.7 WAR. Roy Cullenbine and George Selkirk were the other outfielders. Cullenbine hit .364 and led the team with an OPS+ of 188 (1.4 WAR) and had the only two home runs by the backup outfielders. Selkirk hit .192.

The Yanks were defending champions. They were seasoned, formidable, and ready to repeat. Standing in their way was the upstart team from St. Louis.

The First Integrated World Series: the Yanks

April 16, 2015
The Yankee Clipper

The Yankee Clipper

There was less disarray among the 1947 New York Yankees than there was with Brooklyn, but it was in some turmoil because it was a team in transition. Between 1921 and 1943 New York had never gone more than three seasons without a pennant. By failing to win in 1944, 1945, and 1946, they’d just matched that record. The idea of going four in a row was anathema. So it brought on changes within the team.

The most noticeable change, in many ways, was the man in charge in the dugout. After 16 years as manager, Joe McCarthy was gone. A combination of losing, poor teams during the war, his drinking, and new management had sent McCarthy and his seven world championships into retirement. In his place was rookie manager Bucky Harris. Now Harris was a rookie manager only in the sense of being new to the Yanks. He’d managed the Senators as far back as their single World Series title in 1924 and had spent other years managing in Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia. On the hot seat after replacing the manager with the most championships ever and leading a team used to winning, Harris was able to provide stability to his team.

The infield was changed from the glory years. George McQuinn was at first after playing the same position for the Browns and Athletics. He hit over .300 and his 13 home runs tied for third on the team. Snuffy Stirnweiss had been around for a while. He’d taken over at second during the war years and was terrific. He’d picked up a batting title in 1945. Then reality set in. The major players were back from the war; the dominant pitchers were back on the mound. Stirnweiss suffered against them. His WAR (BBREF version) went from the mid-eights to the mid-threes. It was still better than backup Lonny Frey, seven years removed from his term with the world championship Reds of 1940. He’d come to New York in mid-season and hit .179. Phil Rizzuto hit .273, led the team in stolen bases, and was one of the better shortstops of the era. The primary third baseman was Billy Johnson. He had 10 home runs, had an ERA+ of 114 and was being challenged by Bobby Brown (who would later be President of the American League).

The outfield saw more stability. Johnny Lindell was now the regular in left field. He hit .275 with 11 home runs. He was the replacement for Charlie Keller. Keller was having back problems and so only saw action in 45 games. He only hit .238 but tied for third on the team with 13 home runs. His .550 slugging percentage and .954 OPS led the Yanks. Right field remained with Tommy Henrich. He led the team with 98 RBIs, and with 109 runs scored. His 158 hits was second on the team as were his 16 homers. And of course he was second in both to Joe DiMaggio. The Yankee Clipper hit .315, had 20 home runs, 97 RBIs, 168 hits, walked 64 times then had 31 doubles and 32 strikeouts. Just a more or less normal DiMaggio year.

No where was in greater transition than the catching job. Aaron Robinson began the year as the primary catcher. He was 32, hit .270, was a decent catcher, and by the end of the year was losing his job to second year man, the 22-year-old Yogi Berra. Berra hit .280, had 11 home runs, 54 RBIs, and 41 runs scored in 293 at bats. His catching numbers were on par with Robinson’s and in some cases (passed balls and caught stealing percentage) slightly better. The third catcher was Ralph Houk. He didn’t play much in 1947, but he would later manage the Yanks to three pennants and two World Series championships. Future All Star Sherm Lollar got into 11 games behind the plate.

But easily the most notable transition was in the pitching staff. Gone were the stalwarts of the 1930s and early 1940s, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. Allie Reynolds was now the ace. He came over from Cleveland at the beginning of 1947,went 19-8 and posted an ERA+ of 110. He walked 123 while striking out 129 and gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Vic Raschi was only 7-2 in his rookie year (he’d pitched two games the year before), but was already 28. He would join Reynolds as one of the mainstays of the early 1950s Yanks. Spec Shea was the second pitcher. He went 14-5 and had both 89 walks and 89 strikeouts. Bill Bevens, like Shea, had the same number of walks as strikeouts. In his case 77 of each. He was a journeyman who went 7-13 during the regular season, but would make the most of his one starting opportunity in World Series play. Spud Chandler and Bobo Newsom, both aged 39, rounded out the starters. Fireman Joe Page was the primary reliever, garnering 17 saves, while relieving in 44 of 56 games. Karl Drews started 10 games and pitched in 30. No one else appeared in more than 25 games. Tommy Byrne, who would come to fame on the 1950s Yanks got into four games. Except for Page (and Byrne) all of them were right-handed.

They were a formidable team and favored in the Series. Since 1927 they’d won nine World Series and lost only one. In 1941 they’d beaten the Dodgers in five games. Most writers expected them to do so again, although it might take more than five games.

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.

The Fortunes of War

August 16, 2010

The other day I was talking with my son the genius (everyone agrees he gets it from his mother). He suggested looking at the guys World War II made into stars. We talked for a while ironing out exactly what he meant and this is the result (so if you think this is a bust, blame him). 

There were three categories of people involved in our discussion (Pete Gray is in a category by himself). First is those who were rising stars when the war broke out, continued to play well, and had at least a few good years after the war. People like Bill Nicholson, Spud Chandler, and especially Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser fit into this category. Second, those people who were retired or failed players who got back to the Major Leagues and had one last fling. These include guys like Tony Cuccinello who retired in 1941, then came back and almost won a batting title in 1945 and Johnny Dickshot who had played four undistinguished years in the National League (the last being in 1939), then came back to the Majors with the White Sox and had a great 1945. Finally, there were those guys who were either new or almost new,  had been nothing special, became stars during the war years, then disappeared as impact players almost immediately afterward. It’s that last group that we decided were worth a look. I picked two Yankees players as good examples of this type player. 

Nick Etten

NIck Etten got to the Major Leagues in late 1938 as a 27-year-old first baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics. He stayed on as a marginal player into June 1939, then was sent to Baltimore where he stayed until 1941. The Philadelphia Phillies picked him up and he stayed there through 1942. He hit .300 in 1941 and managed a total of 22 home runs and 120 RBIs in his stint with the Phils. So far not much of a career. 

Then in 1943 he made it to the New York Yankees. With the war in full swing and many of the better players gone Etten blossomed. He hit .271, had 14 home runs (tied for his career best), and 107 RBIs. His OPS was 775 and he had 245 total bases. The Yanks got to the World Series, winning it in five games. In 19 at bats, he got two hits (both singles), but did drive in two runs. 

He flourished in 1944 and 1945. In ’44 he won the AL home run title with 22 and also led the league in walks with 97 while putting up a 865 OPS.. The next year he hit only 18 homers but had a league leading 111 RBIs. with 90 walks, an OPS of 824, and made the All-Star Game. By 1946 the war was over and the pre-war regulars were back. Etten hit .232 with only nine home runs and 79 RBIs in 108 games. By 1947 he was back with the Phillies where he got into 14 games, hit .232 and had one home run. In May the Phils sent him back to New York and the Yanks failed to activate him. His career was over. He hit .277 (.283 during the war), with 89 home runs (54 during the war), and 526 RBIs (309 during the war). He died in 1990. 

Snuffy Stirnweiss

 Snuffy Stirnweiss is, to me, the quintessential World War II era player. He was born in 1918 and got to the big leagues in 1943 as a second baseman, replacing Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. He had a rough time in 1943, hitting .219 with no power and 11 stolen bases. He got into one game in the ’43 World Series and scored a run. He was a star for the next two years leading the AL in runs, hits, triples, and stolen bases both years and winning the batting title in 1945. He also led the league in OPS and slugging in 1945. 

With the return of the regulars, he became a run of the mill role player never hitting above .256. His postwar highest hit total was 146, he managed a high of 18 stolen bases, and his slugging percentage dropped (although he still had a decent OBP). He remained the Yankees primary second baseman through 1948 (remaining with the team into 1950), making the World Series in both 1947 and 1949. He hit .259 with a triple and three RBIs in the 1947 series and appeared in one game of the 1949 series without batting. 

The Yanks sent him to the St. Louis Browns in June 1950. He’d played all of seven games for New York. He had 50 games for Cleveland in 1951 and appeared in a single game for the Indians the next season. He was killed in a train wreck in 1958. 

For his career he hit .268 (.301 for the war) with 604 runs (266 for the war), and 989 hits (460 during the war). His longer career gives him a smaller ratio of hits and runs during the war than Etten, but his war years are huge compared to his postwar career. And before anyone asks, I have no idea where “Snuffy” comes from. 

There were a number of guys like this, but these two strike me as the best of the lot. They remind me of the NFL “replacement” players of  several years back, but they are significant in the history of the game. At least both Etten and Stirnweiss played for winners.

The Way to Win: The Bronx Bombers

August 9, 2010

Joe McCarthy

The second great Yankees dynasty took the field between 1936 and 1943. The team won seven pennants (1936-39, 1941-1943) and six World Series’ (all but 1942). Over that period of time, the roster changed significantly, but not the types of players available. The manager remained stable as did a handful of the players.

Manager Joe McCarthy was slightly different from the other Yankees dynasty managers. He never got to the Major Leagues and he was a successful manager prior to joining the Yankees. He took the 1929 Chicago Cubs to the World Series where they lost in five games. He got to New York in time to see the 1932 World’s Championship and the final years of Babe Ruth. Like Miller Huggins, he knew how to run a team, how to utilize his talent and how to mesh players. He also had a drinking problem. This would hurt him later when, after retiring from New York, he took up the managerial job in Boston.

The great stars off this team were Lou Gehrig. still around from the 1920s team, Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, and Bill Dickey. Gehrig was through by 1939 and dead a couple of years later, but the others remained for the entire period except for games lost to World War II.

A number of truly good players came and went during the 1936-1943 period. Tony Lazzeri was still around in both ’36 and ’37 (although it might be fair to place him in the role player category by this point in his career). Lefty Gomez joined Ruffing as a pitching mainstay. Outfielder Tommy Henrich showed up in 1937, second baseman Joe Gordon the next year, and Charlie Keller in 1939. In 1941 Phil Rizzuto joined the team.

The number of role players varies depending very much on the war. There are several players who step up during the war (guys like Stuffy Stirnweiss and Nick Etten) along with already established players like Red Rolfe, George Selkirk, and Frankie Crosetti. On the mound, Spud Chandler replaced Gomez and Johnny Murphy became one of the better early relief specialists.

There were even the one-year wonders. Pitcher Steve Sundra went 11-1 for the Yankees in 1939. For the rest of his career he’s 45-40. Babe Dahlgren, and otherwise undistinguished player, stepped in for Gehrig and clubbed 15 home runs (Gehrig had 29 in 1938).

The Yankees put together a long pennant streak, winning every year except 1940 when Detroit took the pennant and 1942 when Stan Musial’s Cardinals defeated them in five games. Again they won with a strong manager and a mix of great players, role players, solid starters, and a few flukes. This will happen again in the 1950s under Casey Stengel and also in the 1990s with Joe Torre. But next I want to turn to a team that helps bring one of those dynasties to a close and on the surface looks radically different.