Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Browns’

28 June 1914: the AL

June 25, 2014
Harry Coveleski

Harry Coveleski

Continuing a look at where Major League Baseball stood on 28 June 1914, the date the assassination in Sarajevo began the process that ushered in World War I. Today the American League gets a view.

As with the Federal League there were only three games played on Sunday the 28th of June. Two were a double-header between the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox. The other a single game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians). Chicago and Cleveland were the home teams.

In game one in Chicago, the Sox took ten innings to dispatch the Browns 2-1. Losing pitcher Bill James (obviously neither the guy pitching for the Braves that season nor the modern stats guy) gave up two unearned runs, both to left fielder Ray Demmitt. He also game up three walks, two of them to Demmitt. He struck out four and saw the game lost on an error. For the White Sox, righty Jim Scott gave up only one run. It was earned. He also walked three, but struck out ten (James had four strikeouts). For James it was his fifth loss against seven wins while Scott picked up his seventh win against eight losses.

In the nightcap, the White Sox completed the sweep winning another 10 inning game, this time 3-2. Later Black Sox player Buck Weaver scored one run, fellow Black Sox Eddie Cicotte started the game. Later White Sox players Shano Collins and Ray Schalk played. Collins scored a run and knocked in another. Schalk had three hits with an RBI. Third baseman Jim Breton playing in his last season stole home. Hall of Famer Red Faber entered the game in the 10th and picked up his fifth win against two losses. Cicotte went eight innings giving up both runs. Joe Benz pitched one inning in relief giving up no hits and no walks. Browns starter Carl Weilman also went eight innings, giving up two earned runs. Reliever George Baumgardner took the loss to run his record to 7-6.

The game in Cleveland was more high scoring than both Chicago games combined. With Ty Cobb taking the day off, the Tigers won 6-4. After spotting Cleveland a run in the top of the first, they struck for four runs in the bottom of the inning. Naps starter Fred Blanding only managed two outs before being pulled. He would take the loss running his record to 1-8. Detroit later tacked on single runs in both the third and the sixth, with Cleveland getting one in the fifth and two in the seventh. Harry Coveleski (brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Stan Coveleski) got the win going five innings to set his record at 11-6. Hooks Dauss pitched for innings for his third save (a stat that didn’t exist in 1914). Hall of Fame player Sam Crawford went one for three with a walk and a strikeout for the Tigers while fellow Hall of Famer Nap LaJoie went one for three and was involved in two double plays.

At the end of the day, Philadelphia was three games up on Detroit in the standings with St. Louis 4.5 back in third. Chicago was sixth, 6.5 back (but still had a winning record at 33-32). Cleveland was dead last 16 games back. By seasons end Cleveland and Chicago would maintain the positions, although Chicago would have a losing record. The Browns would drop to fifth (and also have a losing record), while Detroit would end up in fourth (with a winning record). Philadelphia would remain in first, winning the pennant by 8.5 games. It would, of course, lose the World Series in four straight games.

Wally Schang, Mack’s other Catcher

March 10, 2014
Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

As I mentioned in the post just below, the Philadelphia Athletics used three catchers during their 1910-1914 dynasty. The other post looked briefly at Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas. This one looks at Wally Schang,easily the best of the three.

Walter Schang was born in South Wales, New York, a town just south of Buffalo, in 1889. His dad caught for the local town team and two of his brothers also played ball, Bobby making it to the Majors (1914 and 1915 with the Pirates and Giants and again in 1927 with the Cardinals). In 1912, Wally caught on with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League (managed by George Stallings, later manager of his opponent in the 1914 World Series). In 1913 he made the Majors with the A’s. He got into 79 games with Philadelphia, then played four games against the Giants in the World Series. He hit .357 in the Series with a home run after hitting just.266 in the regular season.

By 1914, he’d become the Athletics primary catcher. He led all American League catchers with a .287 average and with 45 RBIs. He did terribly in the 1914 World Series (as did the A’s as a team), slumped in 1915, then had a great year (for him) in 1916. The 1916 A’s were one of the worst teams in AL history going 36-117. Schang, switched to the outfield in 1916 (he played a few outfield games in 1915 and again later in his career) led the team with seven home runs, two coming on 8 September when he became the first switch hitter to slug a homer from each side of the plate. By 1917, the A’s, already desperate for money, became even more desperate and Mack traded him to the Red Sox to start the 1918 season.

Schang was with Boston for the 1918 World Series. He hit .444 with an OPS of 990. He remained in Boston through the 1920 season when he was part of the continued dismantling of the Red Sox. Like Babe Ruth (who was traded a year earlier), Schang was traded to the Yankees. For the next four years he served as New York’s primary catcher, playing in three World Series’, including the Yanks first championship in 1923 (He hit .318 with seven hits in the victory). He slumped badly in 1925 and was sent to the St. Louis Browns for 1926.

He stayed at St. Louis four seasons, hitting over .300 twice and setting a career high with eight home runs in 1926. He went back to Philadelphia for 1930 as a backup to Mickey Cochrane. He picked up another ring at the end of the season, but did not play in the Series. His final season was 1931 when he got into 30 games with Detroit. He hit all of  a buck eighty-four and was through at 41.

He played and managed in the minors through 1935, then Cleveland hired him as a coach. His primary job was to teach Bob Feller how to pitch instead of throw. He remained in baseball until he was 52, when he finally retired. He died in Missouri in 1965. He was 75.

For his career Schang’s triple slash line is .284/.393/.401/.794 with an OPS+ of 117 (Baseball Reference.com’s version of WAR gives him 41). He had 1506 hits, 264 for doubles, 90 triples, and 59 home runs for 2127 total bases. He had 711 RBIs and stole 121 bases. He was considered one of the better fielding catchers of his era but he led the AL in passed balls (the Boston staff of 1919 will do that to you) and in errors (1914) once each. He appeared in six World Series’, helping his team to three wins. As mentioned above he was also on the 1930 A’s but did not play in the championship games.

Wally Schang was unquestionably the best of Connie Mack’s catchers prior to Mickey Cochrane. He hit well, fielded well, and helped his team win. He occasionally pops up on lists of players overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I don’t think he belongs, but I can see why he makes those lists.

Schang's grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

Schang’s grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

The Pride of the Association

July 29, 2013
Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

I’ve contended on this site that there are five true dynasties in the 19th Century: 1870s Boston Red Stockings, 1880s Chicago White Stockings, 1880s St. Louis Browns, 1890’s Boston Beaneaters, and 1890s Baltimore Orioles. Over the years I’ve done posts on four of them. It’s time to take a look at the last, the Browns.

First, to clarify something, this team has nothing to do with the American League St. Louis Browns who are now in Baltimore as the Orioles, which are also not the 1890s Orioles. The 1880s Browns played in the American Association, a league that no longer exists. The team is still around but it’s now the Cardinals (got all that?).

The American Association put a team in St. Louis in 1882. Owned by Chris von der Ahe, a local beer mogul, the team became a contender in 1883, finishing second. It slipped to fourth in 1884, then dominated the Association for the rest of the decade. With the small rosters of the era, much of the team remained consistent through the entire period.

Pat Deasley did the bulk of the catching in 1883 and 1884. In 1885 Doc Bushong took over as the primary backstop with Deasley going to the Giants. Bushong remained with the team through 1887, spending the first two years as the primary catcher and backing up Jack Boyle who remained the starter into the 1890 season. None of them were particularly distinguished, although Boyle did manage to crack 23 home runs over 13 years.

the infield corners consisted of Charlie Comiskey at first and Arlie Latham at third. Comiskey doubled as manager and was considered an above average fielder for is day. He wasn’t an especially good hitter. Latham led off, scored a lot of runs, stole a lot of bases (pre-1900 definition of stolen base), and was generally considered one of the more obnoxious players in the league by his opponents. For most of the era  Bill Gleason handled short. He led the Association in putouts and assists a couple of times, but also led in errors. By the end of the period (1888 and 1889) Bill White (obviously not the 1960s Cardinals first baseman) and Shorty Fuller replaced him. Neither are much remembered today and neither especially deserves to be recalled. Second base went through a series of players. George Strief, Joe Quest, and Sam Barkley all spent one season at second (1883-1885). In 1885 Yank Robinson  showed up as a utility infielder. By 1886 he had the second base job holding it to 1890. His average wasn’t all that great, but he walked a lot and scored over 100 runs four times (three with St. Louis).

There was great consistency in the outfield also. Hugh Nicol held down one corner spot from 1883 through 1886. He was another player whose average wasn’t all that high, but who scored a lot of runs and was considered a fine fielder by 1880s standards. He left for Cincinnati in 1887 and was replaced by first Bob Caruthers (see more on him in the pitcher section of this post), then by Hall of Fame outfielder Tommy McCarthy. The other corner slot was held down, after the 1883 season, by Tip O’Neill. O’Neill is one of the handful of players who can legitimately be called the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. He hit .326, won the triple crown in 1887 (.425 average, 14 home runs, 123 RBIs), led the Association in hits, average, and RBIs a couple of other times, and was deemed a so-so outfielder. The center fielder in 1883 was Fred Lewis, an early switch hitter who hit .296 for his career. He was replaced in 1885 by Curt Welch, who wasn’t as good at hitting, but was a better outfielder. Welch was gone by 1888, replaced by Harry Lyons in 1888. Lyons managed to hit all of a buck-94 and 1889 found Charlie Duffee in center. A rookie, Duffee managed to lead the Association in strike outs.

As usual with 1880s teams, the pitching staff showed a lot of turnover. Pitchers threw a lot of innings and many of them didn’t last all that long. The 1883 team featured Tony Mullane (who just appeared on the latest Veteran’s Committee Hall of Fame ballot). It was his only year with the team. Jumbo McGinnis Served as the two pitcher. McGinnis stood 5’10” and weighted 197 pounds, hardly a “Jumbo” by today’s standards, but a big man in 1883. He had good years in both ’83 and ’84, then his career came unglued. Dave Foutz joined the team in 1884, replacing Mullane. He remained through 1887 winning 114 games (told you these guys pitched a lot). In 1885 he was joined by Caruthers (see the outfield above). Caruthers remained through 1887 (he and Foutz both went to Brooklyn) winning 106 games, playing 86 games in the outfield (and 23 at first), and hitting .357 with eight home runs in 1887. In 1887 Silver King showed up, earning a spot in the rotation when Caruthers was in the outfield. He became the ace the next season and remained with the Browns through the 1880s. He won 203 total games, 113 with the Browns.

St. Louis finished second in 1883, fourth in 1884, then ran off four consecutive pennants, They finished second in 1889 and had two more good years, although the team changed in 1890 due to the Player’s League. The 1880s produced a proto-World Series and the Browns were involved in one each of the years they won pennants. In 1885 they faced the Chicago White Stockings. Foutz went 2-2, Caruthers 1-1, and the seventh game was a disputed tie. In an 1886 rematch, they defeated Chicago four games to two with O’Neill hitting .400 and blasting two home runs. In 1887 the Series consisted of 15 games with Detroit (a team that included newly elected Hall of Famer Deacon White) winning 10 games while St. Louis picked up only five wins (they played all 15 games, although Detroit got to eight wins quickly). Finally, in 1888 the Giants beat them six games to four. Giants pitcher Tim Keefe set a record by winning four games in postseason play.

Throughout its existence, the American Association was usually viewed as the weaker of the two professional major leagues (the National League being the other). that’s probably true. But that weaker league did produce one of the truly great teams of the 19th Century in the 1880s St. Louis Browns.

The Woodstock Wonder

May 25, 2012

Tip O’Neill in 1889 (2 years removed from his Triple Crown)

Canada is not really famous as a hotbed of baseball. It’s much more noted for hockey. But over the century and a half of Major League Baseball, there have been a number of quality players from Canada. Tip O’Neill was one of the best.

For Americans “Tip O’Neill” conjures up the political leader of the 1970s and 1980s. He was from Massachusetts and served as Speaker of the House. According to my research, his dad was a baseball fan and his nickname for his son Thomas was “Tip” in honor of the Woodstock Wonder.

James O’Neill (the ballplayer, not the politician) was born in 1858 in Springfield, Ontario, Canada which is near Woodstock (and let’s admit it, “Springfield Wonder” just doesn’t have the same ring). He was a natural and by 1878 was pitching for his local team, the Woodstock Actives (the family apparently had homes in both towns). He was good enough to get the attention of the New York Gothams, who signed him in 1883. He went 5-12 with a 4 ERA, walked more than he struck out, and hit all of a buck 97. Needless to say, he didn’t stick around.

The still struggling American Association (formed in 1882) was trying to establish itself as a true rival to the powerful National League in 1884. The team in St. Louis, the Browns (now the Cardinals), needed help and picked up O’Neill as both a pitcher and an outfielder. He went 11-4 as a pitcher, hit .276 (second on the team), and found himself becoming the regular left fielder. He blossomed during the next several seasons becoming one of the best players in the AA and helped lead his team to postseason play in 1885, ’86, ’87, and 1888. In 1886 he led the Association in RBIs. He was also adept at “tipping” balls for fouls until he got the pitch he wanted, leading to the “Tip” nickname.

His career year was 1887. He hit .435, had 14 home runs, and 123 RBIs to win the Association’s Triple Crown (the only Association player to win one). Additionally he led the league in doubles with 52, triples with 19, hits with 225, 357 total bases, and runs with 167. No other player in Major League history has ever led the league in all those categories in the same season. It was the first time someone had slugged 50 doubles. He also had 50 walks, which at the time were counted as hits, giving him an average of .492 (the .435 is without the walks and is now considered the official average for the season). His modern numbers included an OBP of .490, a slugging percentage of .691, an OPS of 1.180, and an OPS+ of 213. All led the league. He also hit for the cycle twice in the 1887 season.

He led the Association in both hits and average the next season, then continued to hit .300 or better for three more years. He never again had 50 doubles (his peak was 33). He  had double figure home runs (10) and triple digit RBIs (110) once more each.

In 1890 he jumped to the Player’s League where he hit .302 and led the league in games played. When the league folded after one season, O’Neill went back to St. Louis for one last decent season, then finished his career in Cincinnati in 1892. He hit .250 and retired. 

His numbers are good. For his career he hit .326, had an OBP of .392, slugged .458, for an OPS of .851 (OPS+ 144). He hit 52 home runs, 92 triples, and 222 doubles in 1385 hits (1947 total bases). He scored 879 runs and knocked in 757 in 1052 games. In postseason play he hit only .240, but had 5 home runs and 25 RBIs in a win, two losses, and a tied series.

After retirement, O’Neill stayed in baseball. He was President of the Western League and promoted baseball in Canada. He was killed in a streetcar accident 31 December 1915 in Quebec. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in the first class (1983) and the Hall’s award to the best Canadian ballplayer is named for O’Neill.

With the possible exception of Cy Young, every 19th Century player is obscure, especially Association players. Most fans don’t even know the American Association was ever a Major League. So O’Neill falls victim to the double problem of playing forever ago and playing for a league no one knows existed. Still he was a heck of a player and one I’d vote to send to Cooperstown (You know, you can make a pretty fair team out of non-Hall of Fame 19th Century players). He wouldn’t be my first choice (Deacon White would be) but he’d be way high up the food chain.

“The Greatest Day of My Life”

March 21, 2012

Chet Laabs, a Browns stalwart

I actually knew a St. Louis Browns fan. My wife’s grandfather was born in the 1890s in the St. Louis area. He was just reaching an age when sports becomes important to a kid when the American League dropped a team in St. Louis to rival the Cardinals. He told me he became a Browns fan because they were new, and because he knew the Cardinals were terrible at the time. Unfortunately for him, the Cards got better and the Browns were traditionally awful. But in 1944 they won a pennant. The day they clinched the title he call “the greatest day of my life.” Then he looked around sheepishly to make sure no one else, especially his wife, had heard that claim. I made a promise that I would never tell either his wife or his daughter (my mother-in-law) he said that.

From the beginning the Browns were bad. They finished second in 1902 (OK, they weren’t bad the first season, but just wait), which is apparently what caught the attention of my wife’s grandfather. It was downhill from there. In 1908 they got back to the first division (4th), then stayed in the second division until 1920. They had decent runs in the 1920s, finishing as high as second (1922), third in 1921, 25, and 28. They finally found a handful of quality players. George Sisler was at first, hit .400, stole some bases, had no power. Ken Williams, Baby Doll Jacobson (they don’t make nicknames like that anymore, do they?), and Jack Tobin patrolled the outfield, and Urban Shocker was a better than average pitcher who went on to play for the 1927 Yankees.

It didn’t last. The 1930s were dismal. They finished as high as fifth once and the best they could do for an All Star was Harland Clift, a good ballplayer, but not a true star. Things got better in the 1940s. They finished third in 1942, the first war year, then won their first (and only) American League pennant in 1944. That year produced the above mentioned “greatest day of my life” moment for my wife’s grandfather. So in his honor, let’s take a moment and celebrate the stars of the only Browns pennant winner. The catcher was Red Hayworth, who hit .222 with an OPS just barely over .500. The infield consisted of  (from first around to third) George McQuinn, Don Gutteridge, Vern Stephens, and Mark Christman. If you’re lucky, you’ve probably heard of Stephens; and if so, it’s probably in conjunction with his stint with the Red Sox. The outfield had Gene Moore, Mike Kreevich, and Milt Byrnes. Chet Laabs was supposed to be the regular left fielder, but was off at war work for much of the season. He got back in time to play in the Series. The staff consisted of such household names as Denny Galehouse, Jack Kramer, Sig Jakucki, Bob Muncrief, and Nels Potter. All were right-handed and none went on to greatness. The main man off the bench was Al Zarilla, of “Zarilla slud into third” fame.  They lost to the Cardinals in six games.

“Zarilla slud into third” is a good way to look at the problem of the Browns. Their most famous member was up in the broadcast booth. Dizzy Dean became the Browns radio announcer and his mangling of the English language, but obvious baseball knowledge, made him a national figure. It’s tough to take the team seriously when the announcer is their most famous member. And for those interested, Dean pitched his last game, a four inning affair in 1947, with the Browns. It gave him 10 years in the Majors and a ticket to Cooperstown.

The 1944 season was the highlight for the Browns. By 1945 they slid back to third, despite getting 77 games out of Pete Gray (whose story is worthy of telling sometime). By 1946 they were seventh, moved to sixth in ’47, then never finished above seventh the rest of their time in St. Louis. Meanwhile the Cardinals were becoming among the best teams in baseball, and attendance, never very good, was falling at Browns games. In 1947 they brought Hank Thompson to the big leagues, becoming the third team to integrate. Thompson was a poor choice, the first ex-Negro Leaguer to be a failure, and the Browns were unable to profit from their foray into black baseball.

By the end of the 1953 season the Browns were in terrible shape. But in 1953 the Boston Braves had taken a flier and moved to Milwaukee. It worked. Their attendance was up, they went from seventh to second in the National League. Browns ownership decided to move. They picked Baltimore, jettisoned the Browns name and became the Orioles. Although they did well in attendance, the team was still miserable. By 1960 they were climbing up the standings, culminating in an initial World Series victory in 1966, giving them something that St. Louis never saw, a Browns winner.

And my wife’s grandfather? Well, he continued to follow the Browns after they moved to Baltimore. He told me he liked a number of the players and stayed with the team until those retired or were traded. By 1966, although gratified that the Orioles won, he’d switched his allegiance to the Cardinals, a team he remained loyal to until his death. And I kept my promise and never told either his wife or his daughter about his “greatest day.”

The Original “Goose”

June 17, 2011

Goose Goslin as a Senator

Use the name “Goose” around a modern fan and the odds are you’ll get one of two responses: “who?” or “Gossage.” Frankly, I’d probably respond with Gossage too. But way back there was another “Goose” who was good enough to make the Hall of Fame. As I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with the Washington Senators/ Minnesota Twins recently, I thought I might introduce you to “Goose” Goslin.

Leon Goslin was born in New Jersey in 1900. He was good enough to play for his  local factory team, both pitching and playing the field. It got him a job with the Minor League team in Columbia, South Carolina in 1920. The team made him an outfielder. In 1921 the Senators signed him for $6000. He made the club late in the season, hitting .260 with a home run and six RBIs. By 1922 he was the regular left fielder.

This is as good a time as any to get to the “Goose” nickname. There are at least three stories. One says that Goslin was fairly inept in the field when he came up and would run around the outfield chasing the ball with his arms flapping like a goose. The second says that his large nose, known colloquially as a “honker” (a noise geese make) got him the nickname. The third, which is the one I favor, is that it simply was a natural to go with Goslin. Whatever the reason, it stuck for the rest of his life.

He played well in both 1922 and 1923, leading the team in home runs in ’23 and the entire American League in triples. In 1924 the Senators made the World Series for the first time. Goslin, playing all seven games, hit .344, led the league in RBIs, had an OPS of .937, and hit for the cycle on 28 August against New York. The Senators won the Series in seven games, Goslin hitting .344 (the same as his regular season average. I wonder how often that happens?) with three home runs, seven RBIs, and an OPS of 1.000. They were back in 1925, this time dropping the Series in seven. Playing all seven games again Goslin had three home runs, hit .308, and had six RBIs. His OPS? 1.072. For the regular season he led the AL in triples and had 200 hits for the first time.

The Senators slipped in 1926 but Goslin continued to perform well into 1930 when he was traded to St. Louis. He was having trouble getting along with manager Walter Johnson, a conflict he could never win in Washington. Freed from cavernous Griffith Stadium,  Goslin had a career high 30 home runs (37 for the season, a season noted for a juiced ball), dropped back to 24 the next season and further down to 17 in 1932. That got him a trade back to Washington (Johnson had just been fired), which promptly went out and won its third AL pennant. Although on the downside of his career, Goslin contributed a .297 average and 65 RBIs. In the World Series he played all five games of the loss to the Giants, hitting .250 with one home run. It was Washington’s last World Series and Goslin had the distinction of being the only Senator to play in all 19 of the team’s World Series games. He also logged every inning.

Goslin hadn’t gotten along with Johnson’s replacement, Joe Cronin, so he (Goslin) went to Detroit in 1934. There he teamed with Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, and Gee Walker to form the Tigers “G Men” (a play on the currently popular nickname for FBI agents). Again, Detroit promptly went out and won the AL pennant. Goslin hit .305, had  100 RBIs, and an OPS of .826. In the Series he hit .241 with two RBIs and the Tigers lost in seven to Dizzy Dean and the “Gas House Gang” Cardinals.

The Tigers were back in 1935, winning the pennant with Goslin contributing nine home runs, 109 RBIs, an OPS of .770, and a .292 average. This time, taking on the Cubs, the Tigers won the Series (their first ever) with Goslin hitting .273, having three RBIs, and driving in the Series’ winning run in game six. Again he played each game. It was to be his last Series. For his postseason career he hit .287, had an OPS of .836, hit seven home runs, had 19 RBIs, scored 16 runs, and had 37 hits, while playing all 32 games in the Series.

His last good year was 1936. He hit .300 for the last time, had 125 RBIs and 24 home runs. His OPS was .930. He also managed the first home run off phenom Bob Feller. He had a bad 1937 and was released by Detroit. He was 36. Washington brought him back for one last fling in 1938. he hit a buck .58 and was done. He managed a couple of undistinguished seasons in the Minors, then retired to a farm in New Jersey. He farmed, ran a boat business, and made the Hall of Fame in 1968. Death came in 1971.

For his career, Goslin hit .316, slugged .500, had an OBP of .387, totalling .887 for his OPS (OPS+ of 128). He had 2735 hits, 248 home runs, 173 triples, and 500 doubles for 4325 total bases. He had about two walks for every strikeouts and managed 176 stolen bases in a low stolen base era. His black ink number is 10, but his gray ink number is 200. In an end of century list, the Sporting News named Goslin the 89th greatest player of the century (probably too high).

I remember putting together my own list of greatest left fielders one time years ago. I had Goslin third (Williams and Musial) because Bonds and Henderson had not yet become the stars they became and because I was still fascinated by a player hitting .300 (which still is good, just not as good as I used to think). Bill James has him 16th in his historical abstract. My guess is that Goslin sits somewhere between. He helped his team, both Washington and Detroit, win. It can’t be pure coincidence that he gets traded to two teams who just then manage to win pennants (he’s a missing piece, not the prime reason for winning). All in all he’s a player I like and think should be remembered. I have no problem with him being in the Hall of Fame.

And I love the picture of him that I placed at the head of this comment. His hat is cocked, he stands confident and looks very self-assured. Kind of like to see that in a ball player.

1910: Ray Jansen, Superstar

September 30, 2010

 

One hundred years ago today Ray Jansen went four for five (all singles) in a losing effort for the St. Louis Browns. He never played another game in the Major Leagues. His .800 batting average is one of the highest for a player who showed up for only one game.

According to the info I can find on him, Jansen was a St. Louis local who was signed by the Browns to play third base for a game. He hit well, but made several errors (3) and never got back into a game. He played a couple of years in the minor leagues, then drifted out of baseball and died in 1934.

All this begs a question. Why did the Browns not give Jansen another chance? Anybody who goes four for five ought to have another chance to show what he can do. If he can’t play third base, then shift him to the outfield. In 1910 the minors were not attached to particular teams in the “farm system”, so it’s not that the Browns sent him to their minor league farm team where he failed. I remember Joe Garagiola once commenting that you could shake a tree and out would fall a glove, but a bat was hard to find. I suppose Jansen is an example of why the Browns were awful for most of their history.

Jansen is also an example of a type of player that you see more frequently than you might suppose. It’s the player that gets to a team, gets one chance, does OK (or even really good), then never gets another chance. There are a bunch of those and I’m not about to try listing all of them. Go through any baseball encyclopedia and you’ll run across them. I’m not talking here about the guy who gets up, gets hurt, and never recovers, but the guy who gets up, plays well, then falls into oblivion. I wonder why that happens. I also wonder why some guys who don’t do all that well keep getting more chances.

I went through a couple of baseball encyclopedias and found several of both types, but let me just take one example for you. Both these guys played on the same team at the same time. Both played for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1990.

Carlos Diaz was a 14th round draft choice who was a 25-year-old catcher in 1990. He played in nine games, all behind the plate. His fielding was OK with an error or two, no passed balls, and he allowed one stolen base and gunned down a second base runner trying to steal. He batted four times, sacrificing once. His average was .333 as he went one for three (a single). He scored a run and struck out twice. So he’s not Ray Jansen (and who is?), but one for three ain’t bad and he was a good enough backstop. As far as I can tell he wasn’t injured,but he never played in the big leagues again. You’d think he’d get another try, wouldn’t you?

On this same team was Tom Quinlan. Quinlan was a third baseman who got into one game in 1990, went one for two ( a single and a strikeout), and scored no runs. He didn’t get back to the Blue Jays in 1991, but was there in 1992 where he got into 13 games, hitting .067. In 1993 he was in the minors, in 1994 he surfaced at Philadelphia where in 24 games he hit .200 with a home run. Back in the minors in 1995, he made one last big league stop in Minnesota in 1996 where he went oh-fer in four games. Other than seeming to be available only in even-numbered years, it’s a nothing career. He hits (drum roll, please) .155 with a home run and 26 strikeouts. You’d think Diaz coulda done that.

Not being a Toronto fan, I’m not sure what was going on here, but I find it interesting that two players have essentially the same rookie season, albeit a short ones and one never got another chance, whereas the second player was given three more chances. I realize that five total at bats (1-3 for Diaz and 1-2 for Quinlan) don’t make for much of a sample size, but I can’t help wondering what was going on that led to the totally different outcomes.

Like Diaz ,I think Jansen deserved another shot. He didn’t get it, but he at least got to the big leagues. I nominate 30 September as Ray Jansen day for all baseball fans. Go, Ray!!!

1910: Browns Postmortem

August 23, 2010

By the end of August 1910, the St. Louis Browns were on the verge of elimination in the American League pennant race. If you ignored ties that might or might not be replayed, they were eliminated on 22 August. If you count the ones that were replayed, then they managed to hang on another week.

For the season the Browns went 47-107 (a .305 winning percentage). In an eight team league they finished 7th in hits, runs, and doubles; 6th in triples, walks,  and slugging: and dead last in hitting, stolen bases, and RBIs. They did manage 4th in home runs with all of 12. The pitching was as bad. They finished 7th in complete games (a bigger deal in 1910 than it is now) and hits allowed. They were dead last again with the most walks, highest ERA , and least strikeouts in the American League.

Individually, only Hall of Fame shortstop Bobby Wallace (.258) and outfielder George Stone (.256) managed to hit .250. Wallace and sub Art Griggs led the team in doubles with 19 and 22, while Stone led with 12 triples, 40 RBIs, and 144 hits. A real problem was that of all the bench players with 30 or more at bats, only Griggs managed to hit above .200 (.236), so there was no one to go to if one of the starters slumped (With this team I’m not sure how you determined if someone was slumping.). Another real problem for the team was that Stone and Wallace, their best position players were, at 36 and 33, the oldest position players on the team (pitcher Jack Powell was 35).

The pitching ace (if there is an “ace”) was Joe Lake who went 11-18 with a 2.21 ERA, which is third highest in the AL among “aces”. He’s the only pitcher to pick up double figure wins. Lefty Bill Bailey went 3-18 with more walks than strikeouts. Only Roy Mitchell at 4-2 (over six games), Rube Waddell 3-1 (10 games and only two starts), and Dode Criss 2-1 (six games, all in relief) had winning records (Bill Crouch and Harry Howell both went 0-0, which at least isn’t a losing record).

All this got first year manager Jack O’Connor fired. Shortstop Wallace was picked to replace him. Wallace would make in 39 games into 1912 before being shown the door. O’Connor never managed again in the big leagues.

I’d like to say something good about this team, but just can’t find anything positive to say. It’s not like a young George Sisler came up at the end of the year and showed possibilities or anything.  This team is a typical Browns team of the era. There’s a reason the Browns made exactly one World Series (1944) before transferring to Baltimore (where they are now the Orioles). Too many teams like this is the reason.

Over the next month or so, I intend to do one of these for each team that failed to win the 1910 pennant. I want to see what went wrong and what went right. It may take a while, because I’m not going to slavishly do it each time until all are done.

The First Modern 3rd Baseman

May 18, 2010

Harlond Clift

As the post yesterday might have told you, I’ve been looking at third basemen recently. I’ve discovered a few things that I find interesting. You probably already know that there are less of them in the Hall of Fame than any other position (10 or 11 depending on where you put Paul Molitor). In 1924 Fred Lindstrom made his Major League debut. In 1943, George Kell made his. So? Well, no third baseman who began his career between those two dates is a Hall of Famer. Not a single one. That’s a 20 year gap. There’s no comparable gap at any other position. Were the third basemen of the era really that weak or did something else happen to change the nature of the position? It is, as you might suspect, a combination of things. All of which brings me to Harlond Clift.

Clift was from Oklahoma and arrived in the majors in 1934. He was a good enough player, but he had two strikes against him when he arrived: he played for the St. Louis Browns, and believe it or don’t he hit for power. The Browns were an awful team that ended the 1934 season in 6th place then went south, next getting back to 6th in 1940. In 1941 they made a run that put them in the first division, then slid back in 1942. In ’43 Clift developed mumps, saw it worsen, got traded to Washington, which did well in 1943, but his illness restricted Clift to eight games.  In 1944 they were dead last with Clift playing in only 31 games. He closed out his career in 1945 by helping the Senators to a second place finish, the highest his team ever stood when a season ended. The mumps, and injuries, derailed his career and he was through by age 32. He died in 1992.

For his career his home run totals are as follows: 14, 11, 20, 29, 34, 15, 20, 17, 7, 3, 3, 8 for a total of 178. OK, you say, not bad, but nothing special for the era. Agreed, except in one way they are special. Here’s the highest total of home runs in the American League for the same period (1934-1941, Clift’s productive years) by any third baseman not named Clift: 16 (Higgins), 23 (Higgins), 14 (Hale), 10 (Lewis), 26 (Keltner), 14 (Rolfe and Tabor), 21 (Tabor), and 23 (Keltner).  For the period, Clift is the only consistent power threat at third base. Others will have short periods where they will challenge him, but not will be there year after year. Ultimately none of them will surpass him in total home runs.    

What Clift did was to demonstrate that third base was not just a fielding position where if you hit for a decent average you were elite. He showed it could be a year-to-year power position. In that he is a precursor to the change at third base that allowed, in the 1950s, for a new kind of third baseman, one who hit for great power. He is the godfather of players like Bob Elliott, the first third baseman to win an MVP award. As you might guess, third base is  the last fielding position to have an MVP awarded. Al Rosen, Eddie Mathews, and Mike Schmidt, power hitting third basemen who could win MVPs, home run titles, and lead their teams to pennants are his linear descendents.

I’m not suggesting Clift is a Hall of Fame caliber player. I am suggesting he is the prototype of a new kind of player at his position. We ought to tip our cap to his memory when we watch the new generation of third basemen we see play today.

Ol’ Diz

April 2, 2010

When I grew up, you could spend hours listening to greatness on the radio. There were Mel Allen and Russ Hodges. There were Red Barber and Jack Buck. There was the incomparable Vin Scully. Then there was Dizzy Dean.

Dean was from Arkansas, born in 1910. There used to be some dspute about when, but all the sources seem to have settled on January 1910. Part of the problem was Dean himself. He gave a variety of different answers to the question “When and where were you born?”  The gag was that everybody got a scoop, but it’s possible Dean simply didn’t know. One of the best of the pioneering farm system at St. Lous (Stan Musial gets my vote as the best), he got to the Cardinals in 1930, pitched one game, a three hit, one run, victory, then spent 1931 in the minors. Back with the Cardinals in 1932, he became a staple of the “Gas House Gang”, becoming their ace on the mound. In 1934 he became the last National League pitcher to win 30 games, as he led the Cards to a World Series victory over the Tigers. He won two games, his brother Paul the other two. He picked up the NL MVP award that season. In the 1937 All Star game he was injured (he broke his toe), cameback too soon, and his career fell apart. He was sent to Chicago, where he got into one more World Series in 1938, losing his only game. Pitching with decreasing ability he was done by 1941. In 1947 his employer, the St. Louis Browns, realized he needed one more year to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. He was announcing games at the time and had complained about the quality of Browns pitchers. The Browns pitchers wives essentially told him to put up or shut up, so the Browns, serving two purposes with one game,  got him into a game . He pitched four innings, gave up three hits, no runs, and got a single in his only at bat, giving him a season average of 1.000. His quip to the press was “Even Babe Ruth never done that”.  He pulled a muscle rounding the bag, which led to “I’m just glad I didn’t pull a muscle in my throat.”  He made the Hall of Fame in 1953.

The stories about him as a player are legion. Here’s a couple of my favorites. In 1934 he bet he could strike out Vince DiMaggio (Joe’s brother) four times in a game. He fanned DiMaggio the first three times at bat, then DiMaggio hit a foul pop in his fourth at bat. Dean yelled to the catcher “Drop it.” The catcher did and Dean proceeded to strike out DiMaggio for the fourth time. Also in 1934 he told the press he and his brother would win 45 games between them. The press accused him of bragging. The Deans ended up winning 49 games (30 for Dizzy, 19 for Paul). Dean’s response? “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

After he left the field, Dean got a job as the announcer for St. Louis Browns radio baseball, much to the joy of fans in the midwest and to the horror of English teachers everywhere. Dean was colorful as an announcer and was famous for butchering the English language. His most famous line was ” (Al) Zarilla slud into third.” Other wonderful moments included “He nonchalantly walked back to the dugout in disgust,” “The runners returned to their respectable bases,” and he occasionally signed off with “Don’t fail to miss tomorrow’s game.”

All this got him into trouble with English teachers. When they attacked him for saying “ain’t” his response was classic Dean. “A lotta folks who ain’t sayin’ ain’t, ain’t eatin’.” He finally compromised with the teachers by saying, “You learn ’em English, and I’ll learn ’em baseball.” Seems to have worked.

By the 1950s he was on television doing the Falstaff (a beer company) “Game of the Week.” He went through a number of color guys (I always wondered why Dean, of all people, needed a “color” guy.), but finally ended up with Dodgers great PeeWee Reese as his most famous “pardner.” He broadcast into the late 1960’s then retired. He died in July 1974 (everybody agrees on that).

I loved listening to Dean when I was younger. His voice was distinctive, his stories wonderful, his language colorful. To end this I want to give you my top Dean story. In the 1934 World Series he was a pinch runner. Trying to break up a double play, he was skulled. Unconcious, he was sent to the hospital. There are a couple of versions of what happened next. This is my favorite. Dean got out of the hospital and the reporters asked him what happened. He delivered my all time favorite deathless baseball line. “They x-rayed my head and didn’t find nothin’.”  Gotta love that man.