Posts Tagged ‘Tim Keefe’

The Pitching Problem

July 3, 2014
Tim Keefe

Tim Keefe, the proud owner of the greatest season ever

In a comment on my 1905 Hall of Fame class post, Kortas commented on how difficult it is to determine the quality of pitching in 19th Century baseball. You’ll note I didn’t contradict him. The reason for that is simple. I agree with him.

Pitching in the 19th Century can be quickly divided into three periods: the opening period when the pitcher stood 45 feet away and had to throw underhand, the 1884 period when the pitching box moved back to 50 feet and the pitcher could do a short run, and the modern period where a mound exists. I have never been able to determine how you compare pitchers over those eras. The rules are different, the pitching motions are different, the distances are different. How do you compare Al Spaulding whose career is entirely within the 45 feet era with Charles Radbourne who pitches at 50 feet but never on a mound or with Walter Johnson who never pitches anywhere except from a mound? They say there are stats that level the field, but do you level a field when there’s a mound for one player and no mound for another?

I looked at Baseball Reference.com and combed through a lot of stats over the last couple of days. I’ve been critical of WAR as a definitive stat because it exists in several different versions, but for this purpose I’m going to use Baseball Reference.com’s version to make a point. If you go to the list of leaders and look at the stat for most WAR in a given season, pitchers hold the top 15 slots (Ruth’s 1923 is the first hitting season). Amos Rusie has one and Walter Johnson two of the 15. All 12 of the others are from prior to the invention of the mound.

Now ask yourself a simple question, do you really think that 12 of the 15 greatest seasons ever were by pre-1890 pitchers? Well, of course in many ways your answer has to be “yes,” because of the way pitching was used. But those can never be replicated because pitching is totally different today and that means that we will always know that no matter how good a player is he can never best Tim Keefe in 1883 (20.0 WAR).

So it means that even the most sophisticated stats have trouble differentiating the changes made in pitching. Forget the lousy fields and the jokes they had for gloves, just know that the use of one pitcher in 80% of the games (and I don’t mean a reliever who pitches to one batter in 100 games) simply isn’t comparable to a modern hurler who gets 33 or 34 games tops. Tommy Bond, who started this conversation, won 40 games twice, Greg Maddux never pitched more than 37 in a season.

I hope that when we try to compare pitchers over eras we keep this in mind.

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My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1901

March 19, 2014

If I knew how to add ’em in I’d put all sorts of bells and whistles into this post  to announce the inaugural class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. But I don’t so you’re just going to have to put up with typed words on-screen. Knowing you just can’t wait, here’s the list first (alphabetically) followed by commentary. With only one vote, all winners are unanimous (ain’t that great?).

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes is the finest hitter in the National Association. In the five years of its existence, Barnes hit .391, scored 459 runs in 265 games (1.73 a game), had 532 hits, 101 doubles and 30 triples. He won two batting titles, led the NA in runs scored and in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in triples once plus a lot of other stats that no one in 1901 would have known (I’m not even sure they would have known all the stats I just listed). With the formation of the National League he won the first batting title, and led the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, and walks (I could find no contemporary info that indicated anyone knew that Barnes led the NL in walks).

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson won more games in the National League than any other pitcher in the 19th Century. His 328 wins were mostly bunched between 1885 and 1892 when the pitching distance was fifty feet and there was no mound. He led the NL in wins three times, including the second highest total ever with 53 in 1885. A workhorse, he led the NL in innings pitched four times, peaking at 623 in 1885. He also won the strikeout title three times, including in 1889 when he won the pitching triple crown. In both 1885 and 1889 he led the NL in shutouts (I’m not sure they knew that in 1901). He led his team to three postseason clashes and retired soon after the move to a mound and 60’6″ for pitchers.

William Hulbert

William Hulbert

The driving force behind the founding of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs in 1876, Hulbert was a grocery and coal magnate who owned the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). With the folding of the National Association, Hulbert spearheaded the move to form a new league, this one headed by team owners rather than players. His team won the first NL pennant and in 1877 became President of the NL, a position he held until his death in 1882. During the 19th Century his league became the only professional league to survive more than 10 years. (And he gets this great grave site).

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

the teams listed on the ball in the picture above are those teams existing in the NL in 1882, the date of Hulbert’s death.

Tim Keefe

Tim Keefe

Keefe pitched from 1880 through 1893, winning 342 games. He spent time with both New York teams, the Mutual of the American Association and the Giants of the National League. In 1888 he won the pitching triple crown. He led his league in both wins and strikeouts twice, in ERA three times, and in shutouts once (again, not sure they would have known the shutout total in 1901). He participated in three postseason series helping his team to wins in the latter two, going 4-1 in them. He spent most of his career throwing sidearm from less than 60’6″.

George Wright

George Wright

Wright, younger brother of manager Harry Wright, was the first great shortstop in professional baseball. He played for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings hitting .633 with 49 home runs. Later he anchored the infield of four pennant winning Boston teams in the National Association, then helped the Boston franchise of the National League win pennants in 1877 and 1878. In 1879, as manager of the Providence team he led it to its first NL pennant.

So there it is, the first class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. First a couple of comments, then I’d like to answer a few questions prior to them being asked. I initially, when I thought up this project, presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and Clarkson. Then I discovered that only Clarkson was retired five years prior to 1901. That, frankly, surprised me a little. I guess I knew that, but as I almost always associate all four of the hitters with the 1880s, I’d forgotten they played as late as the mid-1890s. That meant I had to find four more candidates for the first class. There are a lot of decent candidates available and these are the five I picked.

Now to answer a few questions.

1. Why Hulbert over any of the Knickerbockers? Actually it was pretty easy to pick Hulbert. First he invented a system of control that made professional baseball both profitable and stable. Well, stable if a team could stay on his good side. In other words he came up with a formula that worked and in inventing the first modern professional league he set the format for not just baseball but for football and basketball also. But why not one of the Knickerbockers? First, it’s difficult to really accept that the Knickerbocker rules are the first rules, especially as William Wheaton, one of the members of the Knickerbocker rules committee, stated he had assisted in forming a set of rules for the Gothams in 1837, a decade before the Knickerbocker rules. Now I’ll admit that a voter in 1901 might not know that, but as neither the Alexander Cartwright story or the Abner Doubleday myth were current fodder for voters I don’t know that any Knickerbocker would be seen as the obvious candidate to represent the founding team. And I can’t see electing the “Knickerbocker Rules Committee” (5 members) as a whole. And as for Wheaton, he does not, in the interview I read, claim that his rules were the first.

2. Why Keefe over Pud Galvin? This is kind of complicated, but it seems from what I can find, that Keefe was a lot more well-known than Galvin in 1901. Among other things, Keefe was still alive and had done some coaching in college. Galvin was also still alive (he died in 1902) but appears to have fallen almost totally out of the public eye. Additionally, Keefe pitched for both New York teams while Galvin toiled in Pittsburgh and Buffalo for teams that never won a thing. As I’m trying to do this the way it might have been done in 1901, I’m actually quite comfortable guessing that Keefe would have made the Hall of Fame before Galvin (as he did in the real Hall).

3. Ross Barnes? When the decision was made to count playing time in the National Association as Major League time, Barnes became the obvious candidate. He was easily the finest hitter in the NA. the waiving of the 10 year rule also made it possible to insert him into my Hall (he played 9 years in both the NA and NL). The two rules were not designed especially for Barnes or guys like Cal McVey (who I’m not sure is going to get invited to my Hall) but was designed to help players from an era when careers were shorter, the NL was not the juggernaut it became, and some players (Lip Pike, Joe Start) were already established players prior to 1871 and thus older and prone to leave the game before having 10 years NL service.

4. George Wright over Harry Wright? Well, George was the better player and I’d already decided on Hulbert as my contributor for this group. Harry probably makes it next time (but don’t hold me to that).

5. Running into problems doing it this way? Yes, two in particular. First, it’s very hard to determine exactly what a prospective 1901 voter would know. What sort of stats are available and what newspapers are accessible are two questions that are proving difficult to answer. There are Reach Guides available but their stats vary and include such things as sacrifices and times reaching first, but some stats like RBIs are missing. That’s why in the summaries above I didn’t put in a player’s RBI total. The second problem is that I’m so aware of the new stats (WAR, Peace, JAWS, Paws, WHIP, Chains, OPS+, NOPES-, etc.) that it’s tough to ignore them when I’m looking over a player. I’m trying to ignore them, but I can’t help but notice.

A cursory look at the class of 1902 looks interesting with only one sure to be elected player. I have to be careful and avoid putting in five each time just to pump up the numbers. The class will show up here in April.

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.

Big League, Small Town

January 29, 2013
Troy, New York

Troy, New York

Did you ever notice how Major League teams gravitate toward big cities? There simply are no teams in middle-sized towns. Those towns are reserved for the farm teams. That wasn’t always so. Way back in the beginning of professional baseball, medium-sized cities also played Major League baseball. For instance, there was Troy, New York.

Troy was founded in the early 1700s, grew up during the 1830s and by 1860 was a prosperous industrial town just north of Albany. By 1860 it had a population of 39,000 (56,700 by 1880) and was becoming a hotbed for baseball.

In 1860 the Union club was established. It played at a high enough level that it soon gained the attention of the powerful teams that played in Brooklyn, New York City, and Philadelphia. They played games against the teams from the larger cities and held their own through most of the 1860s. By 1869 they were part of the National Association of Base Ball Players. They participated in 21 championship games going 12-8-1, good enough for fifth place (The Atlantic of Brooklyn won the pennant). In 1870, they were 11-13-1, again good for fifth place in a fifteen team league.

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. Troy was one of the teams joining the first fully professional league. They managed a coup when they picked up perennial all-star Lip Pike to both play and manage the team. Pike led the National Association in home runs, extra base hits, and finished second in a number of other categories. Unfortunately for Troy, he wasn’t much of a manager and the Haymakers, as they were now called, finished 13-15, eight games out of first and good enough for sixth in the nine team league. The next season the Haymakers finished fifth (of 11 teams) with a 15-10 record. Pike, their best player was gone, and despite a winning record, the team wasn’t making money. At the end of the season the team folded.

Troy was without a Major League team until 1879 when a new team was formed. The National League had replaced the National Association and was looking to expand. It chose Troy for one of the teams. It might strike us odd today that Troy was getting a team while both New York and Philadelphia were shut out of the NL. It was personal. William Hulbert, founder of the NL, was angry at both cities for failing to complete a western swing in the inaugural NL season of 1876. He vowed never to allow either city back in “his” league. When expansion time came, Troy was close to New York City so it became a chosen team.

The new team was called the Trojans (although some news accounts still refered to them as the Haymakers). It played its home games at the Putnam Grounds, then moved to Haymakers Grounds in 1880. It remained there until making a final move to the Troy Ball Club Grounds (which was in Watervliet, not Troy) in 1882.

They finished dead last in 1879, going 19-56. They did, however, produce one good player. Future Hall of Fame first baseman Dan Brouthers made his Major League debut for the Trojans that season. He hit .274 with four home runs.

The 1880 season was better for Troy. They finished fourth at 41-42. Much of the increase in wins can be attributed to the rookie campaigns of Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Mickey Welch, and Tim Keefe, all Hall of Fame players. In 1881, they were back to fifth and had lost Brouthers to Buffalo. The 1882 season saw the team continue to plunge, this time finished next to last.  Despite the record, the team drew moderately well.

But it wasn’t enough. By 1883, William Hulbert was dead, the American Association was flourishing and the National League needed teams in New York and Philadelphia in order to compete. The team in Worcester, Massachusetts (which finished last in 1882) was dropped. A new team was established in Philadelphia. Now only New York needed a team. Troy was closest, it was also falling in the standings, but it had a number of good players. The NL decided to drop Troy and set up a new team in New York. A number of Troy players, including Connor, Ewing, Keefe, and Welch, ended up with the new team (now the San Francisco Giants) and Troy was done as a Major League town.

The town continued to provide good quality Minor League teams and players. There is still a team around today. But the experiment of Troy as a Major League city was over.  

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

The Original Giant

October 26, 2012

Jim Mutrie

With the Giants up in the World Series, this seems like a good time to talk about the history of the team. It goes back to the 1880s, although almost no one knows anything that happened in Giants baseball prior to John McGraw. So let me introduce you to Jim Mutrie.

Mutrie was born in Massachusetts in 1851. He worked for his father, attended school, and played cricket. The latter got him interested in baseball. By 1867 he was catching for local clubs and making his name as a leading sportsman of the region. Besides proficiency in baseball and cricket he was known as a champion cycler (this is the old bicycle that had the giant wheel in the front and a small one at back) and won some distance races on the bicycle, including a 50 mile distance race in 1879. But baseball was where the money was and Mutrie was good enough to make it onto some minor league teams in the area. By 1880 he had quit as a player and was managing the Brockton team.

Baseball in New York City had fallen on bad times. One of the great cradles of Paleolithic baseball, New York hadn’t had a Major League team since just after the founding of the National League when the Mutuals were tossed out of the league for failing to make a late season Western (read Chicago) swing. Brooklyn, another hotbed of  early baseball also was  without a team, the Dodgers (originally called the Atlantics after a famous 1850s-60s team) weren’t formed until 1884. Mutrie saw the need and potential for a Major League team in New York. He got in contact with John B. Day, a successful tobacconist (the stories of how they met vary), convinced Day to invest in a baseball team, and found a suitable area to build a stadium, the initial Polo Grounds (not to be confused with the more famous one in Queens). He recruited players, named the team the New York Metropolitans (Mets) and joined the Eastern Championship Alliance (a minor league). They won championships in both 1881 and 1882, earning them an invitation to join the newly formed American Association (a new Major League). The team accepted and Major League baseball was back in New York in 1883.

And it was back in a big way. Not only did the Metropolitans join the Association, but Day formed a new team called the Gothams and managed to get them into the National League. So from having no teams between 1877 and 1882, New York now had a team in both Major Leagues.

The Mets won a pennant in 1884. That allowed them to participate in the first primitive World Series against the National League’s Providence Greys. It was a three game series with Providence winning all three games.  But the Gothams made more money, had more panache, and finished fourth. Day approached Mutrie about changing teams, Mutrie agreed, and in 1885 he became manager of the New York Gothams. He brought with him Tim Keefe, the Mets best pitcher. It began a steady rise for the Gothams. By the end of the 1885 season they had a second place finish and a new nickname, the Giants.

There is some debate about the origin of the name. We know that P.J. Donohue, a reporter for the New York World used the term “Giants” in an article on 14 April 1885. Later Mutrie claimed that he’d refered to his team as “My big fellas, my Giants” to Donohue and thus deserved credit for the name. Donohue never commented one way or the other as far as I can tell. This brings up an issue when dealing with Mutrie. His nickname was “Truthful James”, but it was meant in the same ironic way that a 6′ 6″ 250 pound linebacker is called “Tiny.” Apparently Mutrie liked to brag, to take credit for things whether he did them or not, and inflate his importance, and let his stories improve with age (He’d make a great “booster” in the town where I live). So you should take his assertion about the “Giants” nickname with something less than 100% confidence.

Whatever Mutrie’s veracity, his team was good. They won pennants in 1888 and 1889, then swept to “World Series” wins in both seasons. It was a great team, one of the best of the 19th Century. Hall of Famers Roger Connor, Monte Ward, Jim O’Rourke, and Buck Ewing played in the field. Keefe and Mickey Welch, both Hall of Fame members anchored the pitching staff.  Mike Tiernan and George Gore also played for the team and were household names in the era.

But all was not well with the team. The Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players was heavily represented on the team (Ward was the Brotherhood founder and leader). In 1890, fed up with low salaries and contract restrictions, the Brotherhood formed its own league (the Player’s League). It devastated the Giants. Of the 1889 starting fielders, only Tiernan remained with the team. Keefe also left the team, although Welch remained. The team finished in sixth at 63-68 (the only losing season in Mutrie’s career). They got back to third in 1891, but the team was in trouble. Day was broke and sold the team. Wanting a fresh start, the new ownership fired Mutrie.

For Mutrie it was the end. He never got back to the Major Leagues. He moved to Staten Island with his wife and daughter, survived doing odd jobs, and was largely forgotten. The Giants had an occasional reunion of the old teams and Mutrie was there. They eventually gave him a small pension, but he was never associated with the team again. He died on Staten Island in relative obscurity in 1938.

For his career, Mutrie won three pennants, two “World Series”, and finished with a losing record once. He managed nine years, won 658 games, lost 419, and ended with a winning percentage of .611. Know how many managers with 200 games have a better winning percentage? One, Joe McCarthy (.615) of the 1930s-1940s Yankees. You’d think that would get people’s attention, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong. Mutrie has had almost no support for the Hall of Fame.

Jim Mutrie is one of those guys that early baseball seems to run across with frequency. Part showman, part genius, part fool. We’ve lost something with the modern ballplayer and manager. We’ve lost the Mutrie “character”. Ain’t that kind of a shame?

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.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Tim Keefe

June 6, 2012

Tim Keefe as a Giant

1. Tim Keefe was born New Year’s Day 1857 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the same town as his contemporary rival John Clarkson.

2. His Major League debut was in 1880 at Troy (New York). He pitched in 12 games, won six, and won the ERA title with a record low 0.86 and an ERA+ of 293.

3. When Troy folded after the 1882 season he moved to New York of the American Association where he pitched for two seasons, including the 1884 pennant winning campaign. In the first postseason play between Major League teams, he was 0-2 as his team lost to Providence in three games.

4. Between 1885 and 1889 he played for the New York Giants leading them to a pair of pennants and postseason triumphs in 1888 and 1889. He was 4-1 in the two postseasons.

5. He was the brother-in-law of John Montgomery Ward (they married sisters), head of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union. Keefe supported the Brotherhood and took his services to the Player’s League in 1890.

6. With the folding of the Player’s League in 1891 he went back to the Giants, did poorly and was traded to Philadelphia.

7. He stayed in Philly through 1893 and the transition to a pitching distance of 60′ 6″. At was 36 and with a new set of pitching regulations, he finished 10-7 with a 4.40 ERA and retired at the end of the season.

8. His Triple Crown season was 1888. He went 35-12 (.745 winning percentage), had an ERA of 1.74 (ERA+156), and stuck out 335 men (while walking 90). He also led the National League with eight shutouts. And we should remember that the pitching distance at the time was 50′ and there was no mound.

9. For his career he was 342-225 with an ERA of 2.63 (ERA+126). He had 2564 strikeouts, 1233 walks, gave up 4438 hits, and 1474 earned runs in 5050 innings pitched. At his retirement the 342 wins was second only to Pud Galvin.

10. He is  credited with inventing the change-up in 1883. I’m not sure that’s true because it implies no one changed speeds prior to 1883. My guess is he figured out how to throw both his fastball and a slower pitch with the same arm motion. That’s strictly a guess.

11. After retirement he umped a little then coached at Harvard, at Princeton, and at Tufts University.

12. He died in 1933 in Cambridge and is buried in the same cemetery as Clarkson.

13. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964, 31 years after his death.

An Ugly Story

June 4, 2012

John Clarkson in the 1880s

Sport is about heroes, not tragedy. At least that’s the way most of us want it. Unfortunately, this is not a pretty tale. It’s an awful ending to the life of a great ballplayer. You watch a man play, you read about his life, you root for him, but you want everything to end well. In the case of John Clarkson, it doesn’t.

John Clarkson was born in July 1861 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He grew up with two advantages. First, his father was a watchmaker and jeweller who made decent money for the era. Second, the father had a co-worker named Harry Wright (yep, that Harry Wright). There’s no direct evidence about the matter, but it’s likely that Wright made at least a small impression on Clarkson when it came to baseball. Whether Wright did or didn’t influence the kid, Clarkson played for his local high school team (both catcher and pitcher), then joined the family business while attending a local trade school. There’s a common rumor that Clarkson attended Harvard. Although the family lived in Cambridge and both brothers attended the university, John Clarkson didn’t.

He did play amateur baseball and played it well. In 1882 he pitched well enough against the Worcester Ruby Legs of the National League that the team offered him a contract. Don’t you just love both the nickname and the idea that Worcester, Massachusetts could have a Major League team in 1882? It shows you just how much Major League Baseball was in its infancy in the 1880s.

Now a professional, Clarkson was another of those players who wasn’t an instant success. He went 1-2 with an ERA of 4.50, but did hit .364 with two doubles in three games. He was released early in the season complaining of a sore arm. The next season he played in the Northwestern League. He did well enough to make it back to the National League in 1884, this time with Chicago.

This is as good a point as any to discuss the pitching changes that were to dominate Clarkson’s career. He began his career pitching at 45 feet and throwing underhand. The rules were changed to move him back to 50 feet and allow him to throw sidearm. Then came the change to throwing overhand. Finally the powers that be moved the pitcher back to 60′ 6″ and put in a mound. Clarkson pitched through all of those changes and did well until the final change. It’s something of a testament to his abilities that he managed to survive as many changes as he did before finally reaching a point where he was ineffective.

He did well enough in 1884, but his career took off in 1885. For the next five years he was utterly dominant. And for the following three seasons he was really good. He won 53 games in 1885 (second all time and  still the Cubs record), led the NL with 308 strikeouts (his career high) and 10 shutouts (also a career high).  Chicago finished first and participated in the postseason championship round against the winner of the American Association (St. Louis). He started two games, one ended in a tie and he lost the other. The Colts (now the Cubs) repeated in 1886 and Clarkson was 36-17, but this time Chicago won the postseason clash with Clarkson picking up two wins. He again led the NL in wins and strikeouts in 1887.

The next year was a watershed for Clarkson. Not only did he win 33 games in 1888,  but he changed teams. Dissatisfied with Chicago and an early member of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union in the US, he jumped to Boston (now Atlanta) for the enormous sum (for the era) of $25,000 for three years and $10,000 up front. Boston finished fourth. Clarkson stayed with the team through 1891, meaning that although a member of the Brotherhood, he didn’t jump to the Player’s League in 1890. It cost him friends and worsened an already developing drinking problem.

He had one last great season with Boston. In 1889 Clarkson won 49 games and lost 19. He led the NL in wins, ERA (2.73), winning percentage, shutouts (8), walks (203), and had 284 strikeouts to give him the pitching Triple Crown. His modern numbers show a WHIP of 1.277 and an ERA+ of 150. Both also led the National League.  

In 1892 he was traded to Cleveland where he joined a new pitcher named Cy Young as the mainstays of the Spiders. It was the year of the split season and Cleveland won a part of the pennant. They faced Boston, Clarkson’s old team, in the postseason and lost. Clarkson pitched in two games, losing both.

In 1893 came the move to a mound for the pitcher. Clarkson didn’t adjust well. His record was mediocre (16-17) and his ERA soared to 4.45. His previous high in a season in which he pitched more than three games was 3.27. He was even worse in 1894 and was traded to Baltimore. He refused to report and was through at age 32.

So what have we got at this point? Clarkson retired with 328 wins (an NL record at the time), 178 losses (.648 winning percentage), 1978 strikeouts, 1191 walks, a 2.81 ERA (ERA+133), 4295 hits, and 1417 earned runs in 4536 innings pitched. Most people ignore his hitting, but he was also a very good hitter for a pitcher (you knew that caveat was coming, didn’t you?). He hit .219 but had 24 home runs (a record at the time), 232 RBIs, and never struck out 20 times in a season. He also played 27 games in the outfield (and a handful at both first and third) and was an adequate fielder.

So far not too bad, right? But now comes the ugly stuff. He ran a minor league club, opened a cigar store (actually a chain of them) and was moderately successful. In 1905 his mind snapped. Something was wrong and the sources can’t seem to agree on exactly what went wrong. Some say he suffered paranoia, others depression, others come up with different theories. Whatever it was there is universal agreement that Clarkson was a heavy drinker and this added to his problems and to his instability. One story indicates he killed his wife; however, she survived him by several years so this tale can be discounted. Other versions of the story say he stabbed her but there is no record of an arrest nor any statement from her saying it occurred. Whatever happened, Clarkson was institutionalized. He spent much of the rest of his life in the McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Massachusetts with occasional home visits allowed. By the end he was getting longer visits home, often lasting weeks, so apparently things were improving at least a little. In January 1909 he developed pneumonia and died in February. He is buried in Massachusetts in the same cemetery as longtime rival Tim Keefe. In 1963 the Hall of Fame enshrined Clarkson at Cooperstown.

I hate finding out things like this. You want your heroes to not only shine while playing, but also to have happy endings. Clarkson had a terrible end (except for the Hall of Fame, which he never knew about) and that’s a great shame. I prefer to dwell on the baseball hero, not the mental patient. Unfortunately, both are part of his legacy.

Winning Big

April 1, 2011

Get ready, team, I’ve invented another new stat. It’s called W-RITA (Geez, I don’t think I even know a Rita). That’s short for Wins Remaining In The Arm ( Catchy name, right?). OK this is a dumb stat and strictly for trivia purposes, but it’s kinda fun to note. Here’s how it works. You take a retired pitcher, say Cy Young, and write down his total wins (511). then you go to a particular point in his career, say the start of the 1911 season, and write down the number of wins he has on that date (504). The difference is the wins remaining in the arm (7). Let me give you some examples.

Below is a list of the ten pitchers with the most wins according to Baseball Reference.com (other places vary the number of wins for the guys before 1920). Beside that is the number of wins they had already logged by opening day 1911 (12 April): Cy Young 511/504, Walter Johnson 417/82, Christy Mathewson 373/263, Grover Cleveland Alexander 373/0, Pud Galvin 365/365, Warren Spahn 363/0, Kid Nichols 361/361, Greg Maddux 355/0, Roger Clemens 354/0, Tim Keefe 342/342.

So now we subtract the second number from the first, rearrange the list in order, and we get the following: Alexander 373, Spahn 363, Maddux 355, Clemens 354, Johnson 335, Mathewson 110, Young 7, and Galvin, Nichols, and Keefe all with zero (they were retired by 1911). The number you see is the total number of wins remaining in the arms of the pitchers listed when opening day 1911 rolled around.

OK, so  what? Well, really it’s mainly trivia, but it does hold one interesting note. Alexander won 28 games in 1911. So by the end of the 1911 season the numbers of the top four will look like this: Spahn 363, Maddux 355, Clemens 354, Alexander 345. Meaning that sometime during the 1911 season, and I went to Retrosheet to look up the date (it’s the 9th of June, the date Alexander won his 11th game), Spahn will pass Alexander to become the winningest pitcher in the last 100 years. Bet you didn’t know that.

The First Postseason Series’

March 16, 2010

Between 1882 and 1891 Major League Baseball comprised two leagues (actually in 1884 and 1890 there were three), the National League and the American Association. For seven of those years the leagues existed in an uneasy and unequal truce, the National League being the dominant partner. They did agree that their pennant winners probably ought to meet up at the end of the season to determine who was the true champion of the big leagues. They were the first version of the modern World Series, although sometimes it’s tough to tell.

These series of games were in many ways more akin to exhibitions. The two teams would meet for a specified number of games, the number varied from 3 to 15, and the team winning the most was declared the winner. One of the problems was that the teams were supposed to play all the games (although that didn’t always happen) even after it became clear which was going to win the most games. The big 15 game series ended 10-5, although eight wins was enough to determine a winner. The three games series went three, although the same team won all three. That made the latter games frequently unimportant, and this effected both the quality of play and attendance greatly. The quality of play was universally panned. It was alleged that players weren’t playing to the best of their ability since the games were postseason and the money they were getting was nothing special.  Some teams had players skip the series altogether. Finally, many of the games were road games for both teams. This was supposed to allow for more fans to see the postseason games, but tended to depress the gate when the local fans had no rooting interest in either team. So it certainly didn’t make for the spectacle and excitement we know today. Having said that, some of them could be interesting, some exciting, some almost silly. Here’s a short recap of each with the National League team listed first.

1884–Providence vs. New York (3 games). Charles Radbourne, winner of 59 games (or 60 depending on your definition of “win”) shut down New York by pitching three complete games in two days and giving up no earned runs. Although Providence took the first two games to clinch the series, game three was played anyway on the afternoon of game two. It was Providence’s only series appearance. All three games were played in New York.

1885–Chicago vs.St. Louis (7 games). One of the most controversial series. Game one was a tie, then game two was declared a forfeit with Chicago (now the Cubs, but then the White Stockings) winning 5-4. The next four games were split and the two teams agreed to count the seventh game as the decisive game (ignoring the first two games). St. Louis won 13-4. Games were played in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to go along with St. Louis and Chicago.

1886–Chicago vs. St. Louis (7 games). This series is the one that most closely resembles a modern World Series. Among other things they played three games in each city.  Chicago and St. Louis split the first four games, then St. Louis won the next two, making the seventh game unnecessary. For a change, they didn’t play it.

1887–Detroit vs. St. Louis (15 games). Having seen sense prevail in 1886, the leages returned to silliness in 1887.  The series saw games played in not just St. Louis and Detroit, but also in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Chicago, and Baltimore.  Detroit won it’s eighth game, and the series, in game 11, but the final four games were played anyway. For what it’s worth, the teams split them.

1888–New York vs. St. Louis (10 games). With games in Brooklyn and Philadelphia to go along with home games in each city, the series was scheduled for an even number of games. That was the idea of the St. Louis owner (he ran a brewery and I’m not going to speculate on how sober he was when he proposed an even number of games). New York won five of the first six, then took game eight to wrap up the series. Giants pitcher Tim Keefe won four of the games to tie the record for a single postseason series (Three pitchers in the 15 game series each won four). 

1889–New York vs. Brooklyn (11 games). Another series that stopped when one team got to six wins. New York repeated as champions six games to three.  This time Cannonball Crane won four games for New York.

1890–Brooklyn vs. Louisville (7 games). The last 19th Century World Series between the National League and the American Association. Brooklyn (the team that is now the Los Angeles Dodgers) jumped to the National League and won a watered down championship. The Player’s League joined to create a third league, but was frozen out of the postseason.  Brooklyn became the first team to participate in consecutive postseasons for different leagues. All games were played in Brooklyn and Louisville.  Game three was a tie and the teams split the other six. Because of the late date (October 28 for game seven) and the weather, the teams agreed to play a game at the beginning of the next season to determine the season champion. Things changed during the offseason when the Player’s League collapsed. The NL and the AA split and the series was never completed. 

Following the 1890 season the two leagues went their separate ways, as mentoned above. The American Association collapsed after the 1891 race concluded (it got a lot of help from the NL, but that’s also a story for another time). There were other attempts to create a postseason after 1890. None were successful until 1903 ushered in the first modern World Series.