Posts Tagged ‘Ty Cobb’

The Demons Within Us

May 23, 2019

“Eddie” Waitkus in 1941

Eddie Waitkus was a first baseman in the 1940s and 1950s for, first, the Chicago Cubs, then the Phillies and Orioles. He had a nice little career hitting .285 with 24 home runs, 373 RBIs, and 12.9 WAR. He’s of course known more for being shot than for playing ball.

It seems he had a fan named Ruth Ann Steinhagen who had an entire array of internal demons. In 1949 she shot him in a hotel room in Chicago. He survived and she spent some time in Kankakee State Hospital.

Maybe all of this sounds familiar. It should be. It is the opening basis for both the book and the movie The Natural. They occasionally have things in common, like the name of the main character, but essentially they differ thematically. The movie tells us that after a mistake, there is redemption. The book tells us that after a mistake, we don’t really learn anything and our demons persist.

Baseball is a sport involving the demons within us; and we all have them. Ty Cobb channeled his internal demons into a ferocity the made him a great player, a miserable human being, and someone neither fans nor teammates particularly liked. Babe Ruth had his own demons within him. They drove him to a lifestyle that might have killed him if he hadn’t gotten the help he needed to control them. Some internal demon drove Leo Durocher to be a martinet that ended up losing his players, his owners, his coaches. The racial demons that all of us seem to have lurking within just below the surface of civility allowed people to relegate players like Martin DiHigo and Josh Gibson to something other than the Major Leagues.

They are a mixed bag, these demons of ours. Without them DiHigo and Gibson might have been among the foremost Major Leaguers of the 1930s and 1940s. But without them Cobb might not have ruled Deadball baseball as he did and Ruth would surely have become merely another fine player without becoming a legend.

I try to keep away from politics around here, but this all came up because I hate what’s going on in American politics. Without reference to who’s President or Speaker of the House or Chief Justice, we currently are unleashing our demons in a way not seen in 150 years. That unleashing led to people shooting each other at places with names like Shiloh and Antietam.

I have hope. I watch a game and see those demons on display frequently. They disturb me, but I also recognize that there is at least something constructive going on at a ball game. You think the politicians might want to pay attention?

 

Adding it up

April 30, 2019

Yaz

Baseball has a ton of stats. There are stats for everything. You have hits, runs, number of strings on the webbing of a first baseman’s mitt, and other assorted great things. Some are pretty much ignored, others almost worshipped.

One of my favorites, which sits somewhere between ignored and worshipped, is Total Bases. For those who don’t know the stat is singles+ (doublesx2)+(triplesx3)+(homerunsx4)=total bases. It’s a quick way of seeing exactly what a player has done on the basepaths. The higher the total bases, the more hits and the more slugging a player has contributed to his team. I like it because it’s simple and it does its job well. It has a huge flaw and if you’re quick, you’ve already noticed it. It doesn’t include walks, which is sort of equivalent to a single. Despite what you may have been told in Little League by a coach saying “A walk is as good as a hit,” it’s not exactly the same because with a man on base a walk gives him one base. A single might give him two or more.

So I decided to take a look at the men at the top of the total base list. Their names are Aaron, Musial, Mays, Bonds, Cobb, Alex Rodriguez, Ruth, Rose, Pujols, and Yastrzemski. You’ve probably heard of them. What I did was take their total bases (as given by BaseballReference.com) and add to that number their walks (same source). I didn’t factor out intentional walks because they are not complete for early players like Cobb. I also didn’t add in hit batsman or catcher’s interference (other ways to get on base) because those numbers are so small that they didn’t make a difference in the calculations. If you’re interested in doing this yourself, feel free to add them in (and to factor out intentional walks if you think that’s best). The list above (Aaron, Musial, Mays, et.al.) is in order of total bases. With walks factored in, the list reads:

Barry Bonds-8534

Henry Aaron-8258

Babe Ruth-7855

Stan Musial-7733

Willie Mays-7530

Carl Yazstremski-7484

Pete Rose-7318

Alex Rodriguez-7151

Ty Cobb-7103

Albert Pujols-6946

A couple of quick points. First, Pujols is still active so will rise up the list probably. Second, I didn’t look at the total bases and walks of players not in the top 10 in total bases. It is entirely possible that someone listed 11th or lower would, when walks are added, move ahead of one of the current top 10.

I found this interesting and thought I’d pass it along.

Losing at .400

October 25, 2018

Ed Delahanty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thought you might like to know.

1908: The Series

October 22, 2018

“Circus” Solly Hofman

Things have been a little goofy around here lately. I’ve been out-of-town and out of sorts for a while, so I’m a little behind on my 110 year later look at the 1908 season. But here’s a quick look at the World Series that season.

Because of the short distance between Detroit and Chicago, the 1908 World Series was played on consecutive days from 10 October through 14 October. The games rotated between cities with Detroit getting the odd-numbered games and Chicago the even numbers.

The Cubs were defending champions led by the celebrated (and probably overrated) trio of Joe Tinker to Johnny Evers to Frank Chance with Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown as the staff ace. The Tigers counted with an all-star outfield of Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb with Matty McIntyre holding down the other spot in the pasture.

After the celebrated National League pennant race and the equally terrific, but less celebrated, American League race, the Series seems something of an afterthought. It went five games with Detroit winning game three only. The Cubs scored 10 and six runs in the first two games, while Detroit managed seven total. The Tigers win in game three was 8-3, then the final two games turned in more common Deadball scores of 3-0 and 2-0. Brown and Orval Overall each picked up two wins with ERA’s of 0.00 (Brown) and 0.98 (Overall) with Jack Pfiester putting up a 7.88 ERA (it shouldn’t surprise you to find out he took the Cubs only loss). For Detroit George Mullen (ERA of 0.00) got the team’s only win while ace “Wild” Bill Donovan took two losses, including game five. Among hitters, Chance hit .421 while Tinker had the only home run (game 2). Outfielder Solly Hofman (of Merkle game fame) led the team with four RBIs. For Detroit Cobb hit .368 with a team leading four RbIs, while no Tiger hit a homer.

It was a fine, if not spectacular end of a famous season. Chicago won its second consecutive World Series and its last until 2016. The Cubs would get one more chance in 1910 (against Connie Mack’s Athletics) then fade. Detroit would be back for another try in 1909. This time they would face the Pittsburgh Pirates, Honus Wagner, and a rookie named Babe Adams.

 

1908: The AL Pennant

October 6, 2018

“Wahoo” Sam Crawford (note the sunglasses)

In 1908, the final day of the season was 6 October. On that date, the Detroit Tigers began the day 89-63, a half game ahead of both the White Sox and Cleveland. A Detroit win would clinch a title. As the baseball gods would have it, the Tigers played the ChiSox. Cleveland got the Browns.

The Browns dropped the game to the Naps (now the Indians) 5-1, making them 90-64 for the season. Both games were played in the Central Time Zone (St. Louis and Chicago). I was unable to find out if the Naps knew the outcome of the Chicago game before their own ended. I also couldn’t find out it the teams in Chicago knew that Cleveland won.

The Tigers sent Wild Bill Donovan to the mound to face Doc White. The game got out of hand quickly as the Tigers scored four first inning runs off the White Sox and tacked on another in the second. They added two more in the ninth to take the American League pennant 7-0. White didn’t get out of the first inning. Reliever Ed Walsh went a little more than three innings, and Frank Smith finished the game. Combined they gave up 12 hits, struck out six, and didn’t walk any. Donovan twirled a two hitter, both singles, walked three, and struck out nine. For the Tigers, Sam Crawford had four hits, one a double, and scored two runs. Ty Cobb racked up two hits, the big blow being a triple.

The final tallies for all three teams stood at 90-63 for Detroit, 90-64 for Cleveland, and 88-64 for the ChiSox. Detroit had a tie, Cleveland had three, and Chicago four. By the rules of the day, ties did not have to be made up. So the rules in play for 1908 gave the Tigers a half game lead and the pennant. That rule is different now.

In the National League it was another story. The Giants had a made up game the next day and won. That left New York at 98-55, in a dead tie with Chicago. But each team had a tie, the so-called ‘Merkle Game.” Under the earlier decision by the National League leadership, the game would be replayed 8 October.

 

1908: The End of July

August 1, 2018

Here’s the next update in my continuing look at the 1908 season (110 years on).

Bobby Wallace

With approximately two-thirds’ of the 1908 season gone, the pennant race in the American League was taking shape seriously. Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland all had winning records and held down the first division. The Tigers were two games up on the Browns, with Chicago 5.5 back, and Cleveland at eight behind. For Detroit, Ty Cobb was hitting .346, but fellow Hall of Famer Sam Crawford was only at .287. Chicago was standing behind Ed Walsh on the mound and 37-year-old George Davis (in his next-to-last season). Davis was only hitting .212. For Cleveland Nap LaJoie was having a down season so far (.269 with four triples), but the pitching (read Addie Joss here) was holding up. For the Browns, Bobby Wallace, their most famous player, was also having a bad season (hitting .269), but pitcher Rube Waddell was doing well (By WAR, a stat unknown in 1908, Wallace was having a terrific season. He’d end at 6.3). Among the also rans, the Highlanders (Yankees) were in last place, 25 games out.

John Titus

In the National League, five teams winning records on 31 July: Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. The Pirates were a half game up on the Cubs, two up on the Giants, 6.5 ahead of the Phils, and eight up on the Reds. St, Louis was all the way at the bottom 23.5 games out of first. The Pirates leaders, Tommy Leach, manager Fred Clarke, and Roy Thomas were a mixed bag at the end of July, but the team revolved around shortstop Honus Wagner. By 31 July, he was hitting .328 with an OPS of .939. Chicago, relying on the Tinker to Evers to Chance infield and Three-Finger Brown, was also getting good years out of Harry Steinfeldt, the other infielder, and a 21-year-old backup named Heinie Zimmerman. For the Giants it was a standard John McGraw team with great pitching from Christy Mathewson and Hooks Wiltse (with an assist from part-time pitcher, part-time coach, Joe McGinnity), and 3.0 WAR from first baseman Fred Tenney. Philadelphia played Cincinnati on 31 July and the Phillies win put the Reds another game back. Philadelphia’s John Titus was having a good year and for the Reds Hans Lobert was leading the hitters.

The season still had two months to go, two terrific pennant races to conclude, one utter memorable game to play. But it also had one of the more interesting games coming up between two also-rans in just a few days.

Padding Time

June 19, 2018

Way back when I was a little kid, my grandfather, who was by trade a tenant farmer, got a job as a gravedigger. It was far enough back that you still used a shovel to dig the grave. He worked on an hourly wage scale, but sometimes they had to work overtime. They didn’t have overtime wages at the cemetery where he put in his time, so if the crew had to work late the owners would allow them to take a day off when their overtime hours reached eight. So, of course, if there was a grave to be dug late in the day, they’d move a little slower and manage to go an hour over. The crew called it “padding time.”

Baseball has that, sort of. One of the all-time greats, Albert Pujols, is doing “padding time” now. He’s a shadow of his former all-star self. He’s still a decent player, but nothing like what we saw 10 years ago when he was the greatest first baseman I’d ever seen. Right now he’s simply “padding” his career stats and moving up the list on a lot of statistical charts. Currently he’s tied with Jimmie Foxx for 22nd in runs scored, 27th in hits (less than 20 from Rod Carew), 11th in doubles (three from David Ortiz), seventh in home runs all of four behind Ken Griffey, within shouting distance of Lou Gehrig and sixth on the RBI list (and Barry Bonds is only one RB beyond Gehrig), and eighth in total bases (a long way from Pete Rose in seventh).

Now that’s not a knock on Pujols. He’s a great player who is the “padding time” mode and it’s not the first time a player’s done that. Rose, to some extent, did it when trying to pass Ty Cobb in hits.  There’s nothing either immoral or illegal about it and it’s well within baseball’s acceptable traditions.

But it comes with a built-in problem. There are a lot of fans, most of them in California, who will know and remember Pujols only as a nice ball player and not recall the wonderful athlete that became arguably the second greatest St. Louis Cardinals player ever (behind Stan Musial). And that’s a shame. It’s not Pujols fault so much as it’s the fault of the fans, but nonetheless it is bound to happen.

I think that part of the aura that surrounds players like Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax is that there is no “padding time” for either of them, or at least not much with Williams. He’d been falling off for a few years, but there was no collapse into mediocrity for “Teddy Ballgame” and the last homer in the last at bat is the stuff of legends. For Koufax, there’s no long slow decline as his curve doesn’t and is fastball isn’t. For those who saw both and can watch the film of both, there’s no watching a great become a former great. Barry Sanders is like that in football, as is Jim Brown.

It’s kind of painful to watch, but I wouldn’t trade getting to see Pujols, even at half the player he was, perform.

1908: The End of May

May 31, 2018

Continuing on with something like a detailed look at the 1908 Major League season, here’s a few notes on where things stood at the end of May.

Honus Wagner

The National League

By the close of May, 1908, the National League began to settle down into those teams that were going to do well and the have-nots. Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh had winning records. Boston, Brooklyn, and St. Louis didn’t. The Cubs were in first, 3.5 games ahead of New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. The Pirates were a bit further back at four games.

It was Honus Wagner’s year. In 1908 he would put together the greatest year by WAR of any hitter prior to the arrival of Babe Ruth in New York. By the end of May Wagner was at .311 (.840 OPS) with nine steals. He’d end the year at .354/.957 and 53 steals. He obviously got better as the season when on.

The American League

T Cobb (see, he could smile)

The American League

The junior circuit saw huge changes in May. At the end of April, Detroit, the defending AL champs, were in last place. By the end of May the Tigers had clawed their way into second place, percentage points behind New York. The Browns, Athletics, and Naps (Cleveland) were all over .500 and fifth place Cleveland was only 1.5 games out of first. The White Sox had a losing record (17-19), but were only three games back, with seventh place Washington only a half game further back. Only the Red Sox were more than five games out of the lead (they were 6.5 back).

Much of Detroit’s turn around was attributed to Ty Cobb, who’d gotten his average back over .300 (.302). Of further note, Washington was holding close despite Walter Johnson not yet having pitched. His first game was 11 June.

Next month there are a couple of specifics I want to get into, but this should give you some sense of what’s going on 110 years ago.

1908: The End of April

May 3, 2018

Orval Overall

In my continuing look at the 1908 season (110 years ago), here’s a quick summary of how things stood going into the month of May. By the end of April of the 1908 season, every team had at least 11 games in the bank (with a couple at 15). There were a handful of surprises.

In the American League, 1907 pennant winner Detroit stood at 3-9, the worst record in either league. Ed Summers had two of the team wins with Ed Killian logging the other. Both Ty Cobb and infielder Germany Schaefer were hitting well, but Sam Crawford was at .239 and leadoff man Matty McIntyre was at 1.82. Two of their three wins were extra inning affairs (both went 10 innings). They were dead last in runs scored (48-tied with Washington) and their staff had given up more runs than any team in either league (76). By contrast, the Highlanders (now the Yankees) were in first place with an 8-5 record, followed closely by the Browns at 9-6.

The National League was following form more closely than the AL. Defending champ Chicago was in first, followed closely by Pittsburgh and the New York Giants. As expected, the Cardinals were in last place 3-10 having scored just 29 runs. Orval Overall led the Cubs with three wins (at this point Three-Finger Brown had yet to rack up a win). Chick Fraser had also posted three wins. Fraser would end the season 11-9 while Overall settled for 15-11. Brown did have a save in game one. He would lead the NL with five in 1908 and end up 29-9. Harry Steinfeldt was hitting .310 and Frank Chance was only at .206 (and Joe Tinker was hitting .143 and Johnny Evers .242).

This was to be Honus Wagner’s greatest year, leading the league in almost every major category (and a few not so major categories also). By the end of April, 1908 he was hitting all of .233. He would get better.

So that’s how it stood at the end of April in 1908. The biggest surprise had to be the Tigers in last place, with the Highlanders leading the AL a close second.

Opening Day 1908

April 12, 2018

Jack Coombs

Continuing with the ongoing look at 1908, 14 April was opening day. That’s a Saturday this year, and I don’t post normally on a Saturday. So here’s an early look at the first day of the 1908 season.

There were seven total games opening the 1908 season, three in the National League, four in the American League. The defending champion Cubs opened on the road against Cincinnati. Chicago won 6-5. There are a couple of interesting points about the game. First Orval Overall started the opener, not Mordecai Brown (Brown relieved). Second, the Reds got all five runs in the first inning (only one was earned) then were shutout for the remainder of the game. Third, Hans Lobert, a pretty fair third baseman, started the game in left field. For the season he played 21 games in left and 99 at third. Finally, the hitting star was Johnny Evers. He went three for three with a double, three runs scored, an RBI, and a walk.

The Giants beat the Phillies 3-1 with Christy Mathewson throwing a four hit gem. He struck out seven, walked one, and saw a shutout lost in the ninth inning. In the other NL game, the Doves (Boston) knocked off the Superbas (Brooklyn) 9-3. Brooklyn first baseman Tim Jordan hit the NL’s first home run in the losing effort.

In the American League, Cy Young picked up a win leading the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory over the Senators. The one Washington run was a home run by Jim Delahanty. The Browns (St. Louis) knocked off the Naps (Cleveland) 2-1 with Hall of Famer Addie Joss taking the loss. Fellow Hall of Famer Nap LaJoie, for whom the team was named, went one for four with a double. The New York Highlanders (now Yankees) beat Connie Mack’s Athletics 1-0 in 12 innings. All 12 innings took two hours and 25 minutes to play. In another oddity, later star pitcher Jack Coombs started the game in right field for Philadelphia. He went two for five. The two hits led the team. For the season he played 47 games in the outfield and pitched 26.

The defending AL champion Detroit Tigers were in a slugfest with the Chicago White Sox. The final was 15-8 for the ChiSox with Doc White picking up the win. Every Chicago starter, including White, scored at least one run. For Detroit, both Hall of Famers Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb did well. Crawford was two for five with a double and two runs scored, while Cobb went two runs scored, a double, and a home run.

That was opening day 1908.