Posts Tagged ‘Ty Cobb’

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1934

December 8, 2016

After a couple of years I bring this project to a conclusion. How successful it was is up to the people who read it. Be kind, team. Here it is the final class. A few trumpets and drums please (OK, a lot of trumpets and drums).

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb is Major League Baseball’s all time leader in average, hits, stolen bases, and runs. He is second in both doubles and triples. While with Detroit he won 12 batting titles, four RBI titles, and a home run title. He led his team to three consecutive American League pennants and won the 1911 Chalmers Award.

Urban Shocker

Urban Shocker

Stalwart pitcher of two pennant contenders, Urban Shocker first led the St. Louis American League team to respectability, then led the New York Yankees to two pennants and a World Series title before his untimely death.

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker played center field for both Boston and Cleveland in the American League. With Boston he won the 1912 Chalmers Award while leading his team to a World Series Championship. He won a second championship with Boston then as player-manager of Cleveland won the 1920 World Series. He is the all time leader in doubles and second in total hits.

Christobal Torriente

Christobal Torriente

Negro League outfielder Christobal Torriente played 15 years for both Cuban and American teams. While with the American Giants his team won three Negro National League pennants.

The commentary:

1. I don’t suppose I need to say much about either Cobb or Speaker. They are the kinds of players that a Hall of Fame is made to showcase. A couple of quick comments are in order. First, the records of the time show Cobb winning the 1912 batting title so I went with that rather than the newer information that indicates Nap LaJoie might be the true winner. Also the stolen base number is a little shaky, but everyone is in agreement that Cobb has the most since the change of definition in the late 1890s. I don’t think Speaker gets enough credit for his managerial stint, so I wanted to make a point of mentioning it.

2. Shocker is something of a stretch, but he was generally regarded as a first line pitcher and there was a lot of ink about his dying early (the same sort of thing that happened with Addie Joss). Frankly, I think he should be in Cooperstown, so I took the opportunity to add him.

3. Which brings me to Torriente. There is some question about his last season. He is well documented (at least for a Negro League player) through a 1928 retirement. Then he comes back for a short spell in 1932. I decided that as Negro League careers were much more in flux than white players, that I would ignore the 1932 period and let him in as the first and only Cuban everyday player.

4. If this project went on into 1935, these would be the names showing up among everyday players: George Burns, Max Carey, Cupid Childs, Jake Daubert, Johnny Evers, Jack Fornier, Larry Gardner, Heinie Groh, Baby Doll Jacobson, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Stuffy McInnis, Clyde Milan, Johnny Mostil, Ray Schalk, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Billy Southworth, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren, Ken Williams, Ross Youngs.

5. With the same proviso, the pitchers: Babe Adams, Chief Bender, Jack Chesbro, Wilbur Cooper, Stan Coveleski, Sam Leever, Rube Marquard, Carl Mays, Art Nehf, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White.

6. With the same proviso, the contributors: umpires-Bob Emslie, Tim Hurst; owners-Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann; Negro Leagues-Pete Hill, Oliver Marcell, Dobie Moore, Spottswood Poles, Ben Taylor; and pioneer William R. Wheaton.

7. I’m not doing 1935, but my best guess is that Max Carey, who had the record for most stolen bases in the National League (modern definition) in 1935 would make it. I’m not sure about any other everyday players. Among pitchers Coveleski would be, and I’m guessing here, the one with the best change of getting in. And I’d guess Oliver Marcell as the top choice among contributors. The only one I’d bet on would be Carey.

8. I’m going to do a wrap up later that will address questions some of you probably have, some I certainly have, and look at what I found out in doing this project.

9. I am sorry that I’m going to miss guys like Babe Ruth and John Henry Lloyd, but it’s up to Cooperstown to fix that when they vote in 1936. I’m banking on Ruth making it quickly, but don’t hold your breath over Lloyd.

 

 

 

Win the MVP, Get a Car

August 18, 2016
Hugh Chalmers pictured on the cover of his biography

Hugh Chalmers pictured on the cover of his biography

The idea of a Most Valuable Player isn’t new. The current award goes back to the 1930s and before that there were two other versions of the award. In the 1920s the League Awards anointed an MVP in each league and prior to that there were the very first MVP style awards–the Chalmers Awards.

Hugh Chalmers began his rise to entrepreneurial prominence with the National Cash Register Company, becoming vice president at age 30. He was also an early automobile enthusiast. He got into the business early, buying into the Thomas-Detroit car company (Thomas was E. R. Thomas another early automobile magnate) in 1907. He took control of the company in 1909. He changed the name to Chalmers-Detroit and in 1911 dropped the Detroit. The company was moderately successful doing well until the US entry into World War I (April 1917). The Maxwell Company, under lease from Chalmers, took over much of their manufacturing space under government contract and made vehicles for the war effort. After the war ended, Chalmers returned to manufacturing his automobiles, but the damage was done. The company faltered, Chalmers merged with Maxwell in 1922, and made his last car in 1923. Maxwell later became the basis of Chrysler. He died in 1932 still in his 50s.

Chalmers was also a baseball fan. In 1910 he hit on the idea of combining his business with the sport to sponsor an award for baseball’s best players. The award was one of his cars. It would be great publicity for his company and recognize baseball’s best all at the same time. He got the leagues to agree to the idea of an annual award. Originally the award was to be given to the batting champ (batting average), the man with the highest batting average in either league (s0 only one car was given away)

Of course it wouldn’t be baseball if controversy hadn’t ensued. On the last day of the American League season Ty Cobb, leading the batting race, sat out the game. Indians second baseman Napoleon LaJoie was only a few points behind him and managed eight hits in a season ending doubled header. That gave him the batting title except that the St. Louis Browns, in a rebuke to Cobb’s playing style, played their third baseman so deep that LaJoie easily beat out eight bunts. Detroit, and a lot of other places, called foul and AL President Ban Johnson gave the batting title to Cobb (and there is still controversy today over who actually won the title) and declared, with Chalmers’ consent, that both men would receive a car. The National League batting champ, Sherry Magee, was well behind both Cobb and LaJoie (as well as Tris Speaker) so he didn’t figure in the debate.

The next season there were some changes in the award. First, it became officially an MVP Award. It could go to the “most important and useful player” as determined by a committee of baseball writers, without reference to whether he won the batting title or not (meaning that now pitchers were eligible). Second, there would be one in each league. That seemed to solve the worst problems.

Except of course it didn’t. In 1911 Ty Cobb again had a great year and won the 1911 Chalmers Award in the AL (and another car). That created a problem. No one wanted to give Cobb a new car every year and there was good reason to believe he might be the “most important and useful player” for a lot of years. So they made another change. Having won a Chalmers Award, a player was ineligible to win a second (meaning no one got more than one car). That seemed to solve the problem, but it created another. When the League Awards began in the 1920s, the “win one, ineligible for another” rule was put in place. Apparently the powers that be forgot why the Chalmers Award had that rule (the League Awards didn’t give out a car). When they got to the modern MVP in the 1930s, they dumped the one award only rule.

The problem now arose that the Award wasn’t helping Chalmers sell cars. His sales didn’t go up as he expected and it was expensive giving away two cars every year. The Award last through the 1914 season when Chalmers dropped his offer (and MLB didn’t continue the award without the car).

Here’s a quick list of the winners of the Chalmers Award:

AL: 1911-Cobb, 1912-Tris Speaker, 1913-Walter Johnson (the only pitcher to win the award), 1914-Eddie Collins

NL: 1911-Wildfire Schulte, 1912-Larry Doyle, 1913-Jake Daubert, 1914-Johnny Evers

Although it only lasted four years (and the 1910 fiasco), the Chalmers Award is important in baseball history. It established the idea of a postseason award for playing excellence, leading to the current MVP, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and Henry Aaron awards, among others. It’s interesting to note that all four of the AL Chalmers winners ended up in the Hall of Fame, while only Johnny Evers among NL winners made it to Cooperstown. That might help explain why the AL was dominant in the World Series’ of the nineteen-teens.

Nap LaJoie and Ty Cobb (left to right) in a 1910 Chalmers 30 Automobile

Nap LaJoie and Ty Cobb (left to right) in a 1910 Chalmers 30 Automobile

 

 

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Carl Hubbell

March 26, 2015
Carl Hubbell

Carl Hubbell

1. Carl Hubbell was born in Carthage, Missouri 22 June 1903 but grew up in Meeker, Oklahoma.

2. He became an excellent local pitcher with good seasons in the both the Oklahoma State League and the Western League. That got a tryout with the Detroit Tigers in 1926. Manager Ty Cobb wasn’t all that impressed and sent him to the minors, proving Cobb was a great hitter, but not a great judge of talent (He was specifically worried about how much Hubbell threw the screwball).

3. After 1926 and 1927 in the minors, the New York Giants picked him up in 1928. The Giants were led my John McGraw who remembered his best pitcher, Christy Mathewson, threw a screwball. Hubbell went 10-6 with an ERA of 2.83 and a 1.113 WHIP.

4. He quickly became the Giants ace winning twenty or more games five consecutive years and picking up 18 wins two other times. He earned the nicknames “King Carl” and “The Meal Ticket.” He personally liked the latter over the former.

5. In 1933 he led the National League in wins, ERA, and shutouts. He also led the league in the modern stats of ERA+ and WHIP. His team won the World Series, with Hubbell gaining two wins in the Series. He was chosen NL MVP.

6. In both 1936 and 1937 he led the Giants to the World Series. They lost both with Hubbell going 2-2. He became the first pitcher to win the MVP twice. Hal Newhouser is the only other pitcher to do so (Walter Johnson won a Chalmers Award and a League Award, both early versions of the modern MVP).

7. In 1934 he had what has become his most famous moment. In the second All-Star game when he struck out five consecutive Hall of Famers (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin). Fifty years later, Hubbell threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 1984 All-Star game.  He threw a screwball.

8. He retired at the end of the 1943 season. His record was 253-154 (.622 winning percentage) with 3461 hits given up, 725 men walked, 1677 strikeouts, and 36 shutouts in 3590 innings pitched. His ERA was 2.98 with an ERA+ of 130 and a WHIP of 1.166. His BaseballReference.com version of WAR is 67.8. He is also the first NL player whose number (11) was retired by his team.

9. After retirement, Hubbell was made director of player development. He held the job through 1977, when he suffered a stroke. In that period he helped sign and develop such Giants players as Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal.

10. Recovered from the stroke, he became a scout for the Giants after retiring as player development director. He held that job for the rest of his life. When he died he was the last member of the New York Giants still serving with the team.

11. He was killed in a car accident 21 November 1988 in Scottsdale, Arizona (on the same day 30 years earlier, teammate Mel Ott was also killed in an auto accident). He is buried in his hometown of Meeker, Oklahoma. The town maintains the Carl Hubbell Museum which has a small exhibit about Hubbell.

12. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947.

Hubbell's final resting place

Hubbell’s final resting place

 

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.

Opening Day 1914: American League

March 27, 2014
Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Next week marks what most of us consider the real Opening Day for MLB. So it’s time for a look at what was going on Opening Day 100 years ago. As the American League contained the World Champion Athletics, I think I’ll start with them (having done the “outlaw” Federal League already).

The champion A’s were much the same team as the 1913 version with the $100,000 Infield in place (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Baker). The outfield was still decent and in Wally Schang the A’s had a good catcher. They led the AL in hits, runs, home runs, RBIs, and average. The Athletics used a dominant pitching staff to rule the A for five years, but it was beginning to fray. Jack Coombs was gone (he pitched only 2 games), Eddie Plank was 38 and not aging well. Herb Pennock had five starts over the previous two years, while Bullet Joe Bush had all of 17. As a consequence, the A’s would have 24 shutouts, but lead the league in no other category. They were fourth in ERA and hits allowed.

Two teams would give them a run for their money. One was Washington. The Senators finished 19 games back, but they had Walter Johnson who led the AL in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts.

The greater challenge came from Boston. the Red Sox still had Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, ad Harry Hooper as their outfield. Speaker led the league in hits and doubles. Pitcher Dutch Leonard went 19-5 with an all-time low ERA of 1.00 (try losing five games with that ERA). But the most important news at Boston and for baseball in general was the arrival on 11 July of a rookie pitcher from Baltimore with the nickname of “Babe” Ruth. He would go 2-1 over four games (three starts), but it was the beginning of the most famous of all Major League careers.

Around the rest of the AL, Ty Cobb again won a batting title (.368) and the slugging crown (.513). His teammate Sam Crawford led the league in RBIs and triples. Fritz Maisel, a third baseman for the Highlanders, won the stolen base title with 74 and Baker with the A’s copped the home run title with nine. In April future Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber made his debut for the White Sox, while Fred McMullin, one of the 1919 Black Sox (and Faber teammate) played his first big league game with Detroit in August. The 1920s stalwarts Everett Scott and Jack Tobin also first show up in 1914. Finally, 1914 is the rookie campaign for Bill Wambsganss, famous for the only unassisted triple play in World Series history (1920).

In the World Series, Philadelphia would be mauled by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston. It would be the end of Connie Mack’s A’s dynasty (he’d put together another in 1929) and the arrival of Ruth would signal the start of a new dynasty. This one in Fenway Park.

 

A Visit from Beyond

January 11, 2014
they didn't have sheets

they didn’t have sheets

Last night I was sleeping. About 2 pm, give or take, I heard a distinct cough. It woke me and I looked around. Imagine my surprise to see the spirits of John McGraw, Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb standing at the foot of my bed. They called  me by name saying “We need your help.”

Now, not being a particularly spiritual man I was, to say the least, shocked. I looked around. My wife was sleeping, the cat was curled up on the bed, and there were McGraw, Ruth, and Cobb at the foot of my bed saying again, “We need your help.”

Ok, I’m a sucker for a good nightmare, so I figured I’d go along. “To do what?”

“We want you to fix the Hall of Fame.” It was McGraw doing most of the talking (of course it was).

“Me? Why me?”

“Because you are an influential blogger.”

Now that worried me. Not only were they deluded that I was influential, but they knew what a blog was. “You got blogs in the afterlife?” I asked.

“Quite a bunch.” This was Ruth interrupting as he wolfed down a hot dog. “Yeah, Gehrig calls his ‘Luckiest Ghost’ even.”

“But I’m not influential,” I pointed out. “Try Kortas. He does mostly poetry, but he knows baseball.”

“You want us to get our word out through someone that does poetry?” Cobb snarled the last word particularly nastily.

I looked into Cobb’s eyes and blanched. “I got maybe ten loyal readers and I’m not sure of the sanity of half of them. How about Kevin, or Bill, or Glen? Geez, they have blogs that get more hits than mine. And SportsPhD is smarter than me, just look at his handle,”

“True.” It was McGraw again. “But they’re not goofy enough to be susceptible to listening to ghosts.”

OK, they had me there so I figured I ought to listen.

McGraw began. “First, you have to tell the world that the Hall of Fame has got to define their terms completely so the voters know what ‘good character’ means.”

“I know what that means,” Cobb said, speaking for the first time. “It means you gotta be tough on the ball field and what you do off the field out of uniform doesn’t count.”

“No, Ty,” McGraw snarled (McGraw seemed to snarl a lot), “it means what the Hall Committee says it means and so far they’ve done a lousy job saying anything at all about it. They have to come out and be definite about what it means. They need to take a stand and tell voters what to do about steroids and those other fancy drugs.” He looked straight at me. “We’re not asking for a particular definition, just that they make one. It’s time for them to stand and deliver.” Both Ruth and Cobb saluted.

“OK,” I said. “Define terms. Got it.”

“Second, they have to expand the voting public.”

“The voting public?”

“Hey, nobody said you was hard of hearing.” This from the Babe.

“We’ve come to you to tell you that the voting is all wrong. Many members of the BBWAA haven’t covered baseball since I was managing,” McGraw told me. “Some of them haven’t seen a game since Cobb here was alive. How come they have a vote? Only members currently covering baseball, and I don’t mean just going to opening day and then not seeing another game all year and trying to pass that off as covering the game, get a vote. Everyone else doesn’t get a vote.”

“I thought I heard you say “expand” the voting public,” I commented. I was finally getting used to McGraw, Ruth, and Cobb being in my bedroom so I was getting correspondingly bolder. “You just cut the voters by a bunch.”

McGraw was obviously exasperated at me and I feared one of his tirades, but he only shook his head. “You finished?” he growled.

I nodded, knowing now to never interrupt John McGraw again.

“OK, then we open up the voting to radio and TV types who cover the game. You think the guys who call games don’t know a good player from a bad one? We let the governing people at SABR have some votes. You think they don’t know the game? I gotta admit I don’t understand WAR from Peace or adjusted whatever from maladjusted whatever, but they seem to know what they’re talking about. You got all that?”

I nodded again. I’d decided my earlier instinct to not talk when McGraw was holding forth was the best policy.

“Now, they gotta get rid of this 10 vote rule. How many guys did you tell your readers you would vote for, sixteen right?”

I was stunned. “You read my blog?”

“Yeah,” Ruth said. “We wuz looking over the shoulder of some guy reading it while he was eatin’ a jelly donut. Gee, I miss those. You got any?”

This time I shook my head. “Damn,” Ruth muttered.

McGraw took up his monologue again. “And you got to vote for 10 only. Wouldn’t you have liked to have a chance to vote for all 16, especially if it would help keep them on the ballot?”

“Of course I would.”

“And how many you want for next year.”

I thought for a second. “Probably 15 or so.”

“Then here’s your chance.”

“OK,”

“And you gotta tell them to quit counting blank ballots. Some jerk wants to send in a blank ballot, OK by us, but they gotta just set it aside and not count it in the tally. Got that?”

I nodded again.

“You gotta do this for us. You gotta do it for the game.  We’re getting hell from George Halas because his Hall of Fame does a better job of electing people. You know how hard it is to put up with a football man in full gloat?”

“And McGraw won’t let me beat him up,” Cobb said.

“We’re not supposed to do that in the hereafter,” McGraw said. For a second I thought Cobb was going to attack him. Ultimately he didn’t.

McGraw looked over at me. “You got all that?”

“Yessir.”

“Good, then go back to sleep.”

They were gone. I lay there stunned. I looked over at my wife and nudged her. “Hey guess what?”

She mumbled something that sounded a lot like “I’ve got a headache, dear”, but I nudged her again. She woke up, glared at me, then at the alarm clock. “You do know it’s 2:30, don’t you?”

“Guess what happened to me?”

“Can’t it wait ’til the morning?”

“No.” And I told her everything.

“You want me to buy that?” she asked.

“It’s true.”

“If you buy that, I’ve got a bridge in New Jersey you can buy. Now go to sleep.”

I lay there a while contemplating what just happened to me. Was it real? Was it a dream? I wasn’t sure, but suddenly I had a craving for a jelly donut.

Hollywood Meets the Diamond

May 3, 2013
John McGraw, budding Thespian

John McGraw, budding Thespian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Day, 1913: American League

April 3, 2013
Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

In 1913, the American League opened its season one day later than the National League. Opening Day was 10 April. Among other games it saw Philadelphia win its first game of the season.

Although the Red Sox were defending World’s Champions, Connie Mack’s Athletics were the loaded team. The 1913 A’s boasted the “$100,000 Infield” of Stuffy McInnis at first, Jack Barry at short, and Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Frank Baker at second and third. Of outfielders Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian), and Jimmy Walsh, only Oldring was older than 25 (he was 29) and only Walsh hit below .280. Jack Lapp and rookie Wally Schang shared catching duties with Schang being much the better hitter. Aging Danny Murphy was solid of the bench. It was a strong team that looked good for many years. They had won the 1910 and 1911 World Series and finished third in 1912. The fall back was primarily because of the pitching. Ace Eddie Plank was 37 and former ace Jack Coombs was ill from typhoid. There was nothing wrong with Chief Bender, however, and he managed 21 wins with a 2.21 ERA and 13 saves. The A’s would win the pennant by 6.5 over Washington and beat up on the Giants in the World Series, winning four games to one.

The Senators would finish second primarily because they had Walter Johnson and no one else did. Johnson had a season for the ages. He went 36-6, had an ERA of 1.14, struck out 243 men, and ended with an ERA+ of 259. It got him the pitching triple crown and the AL’s Chalmers Award (an early form of the MVP). The Chalmers lasted four years (eight total awards) and Johnson is the only pitcher to win one. Washington’s top hitter was probably Chick Gandil, who became infamous in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

Defending champ Boston would finish in fourth (Cleveland was third) 15.5 games back. Tris Speaker hit in the .360s but the pitching collapsed. Notably, Smoky Joe Wood went from 34 wins to 11.

Ty Cobb won another batting title, hitting .390, while Baker won both the home run and RBI titles. Collins led the AL in runs, while Cleveland’s Joe Jackson had the most hits.

1913 saw a number of rookies who would make their mark. On 28 June Wally Pipp played his first game for the Tigers. He would anchor first base for the initial Yankees pennant winners before losing his position to Lou Gehrig. Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush made his debut on 20 August with Chicago. On 4 August Cleveland brought up Billy Southworth. He was an okay players, but made the Hall of Fame as a manager. Finally on 17 September Detroit brought Lefty Williams to the Major Leagues. He would eventually lose three games while helping the 1919 White Sox throw the World Series.

The Character Clause

February 7, 2013
Alex Pompez

Alex Pompez. Love the tie

As most of you know, baseball’s Hall of Fame has a character clause. Basically it says the voters have to take into account the man’s (and except for Effa Manley it’s always been a man) character when electing him to Cooperstown. There’s been a varied history of enforcing this clause. Some notable rogues have gotten in despite the clause. As my son pointed out when we talked about this post, most of them have taken at least a couple of elections before being enshrined among the baseball immortals.  But it seems to be more baseball foibles, rather than actual “character” issues that have kept players from the Hall. Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry, both noted for doctoring a ball or two, took a while to get in. Roberto Alomar was surely hurt by the spitting incident. And of course the steroids controversy which currently dogs the Hall should be noted. But if your problem is away from the diamond, like, say a Ty Cobb, well, you have less problem. Case in point, Alex Pompez.

Alejandro Pompez was born in South Florida in 1890 to Cuban parents. His dad was a member of the Florida State Assembly and ran a cigar factory. When the father died in 1896 he left his estate to the Cuban independence movement, leaving the family penniless. By 1902, the family was back in a now independent Cuba. Pompez returned to the US, played a little ball, the moved on to New York to work as a cigar roller. He did well, finally opening a cigar store in Harlem.

It’s here that the character clause kicks in. The cigar store made money, but not a lot. Pompez began running numbers, eventually rising to control much of the numbers racket in Harlem. A friend of Nat Strong (who is worth a post by himself), he became instrumental in helping funnel Latin players to the Negro Leagues. By 1916, with help from Strong and his numbers racket, Pompez formed the Havana Cuban Stars baseball team, stocking it with Latin American players.

In 1923, The Cubans, now known as the New York Cuban Stars, joined the Eastern Colored League. Although the team never won a ECL pennant, Pompez became a major player in both the league management and in Negro League baseball in general. In 1924 he led ECL negotiations for setting up the first Negro World Series against Rube Forster’s Negro National League. Until the ECL collapsed in 1928, Pompez was one of its most influential members (although never league President).

He kept his team afloat during the early 1930s by barnstorming. In 1935 he joined the newly reformed Negro National League, renaming the team the New York Cubans. For the first time, he added local Black American talent to his Latin players.

But Pompez was having legal troubles. In the late 1920s the mobster Dutch Schultz was moving into the numbers racket. In 1932 he and Pompez met and the Pompez network was absorbed (probably at gunpoint) into the Schultz mob. It cut into Pompez’s money and at the same time drew attention to him from federal prosecutors who wanted Schultz. In 1935 Schultz was killed and Pompez regained control of his numbers route. But by now he was a federal target. Pompez fled to Europe, returned, was indicted on racketeering charges, fled to Mexico. Eventually he was picked up by Mexican authorities and returned to New York. He made an agreement with the prosecution team (led by future New York governor and Presidential candidate Thomas Dewey) and turned states evidence against the rackets. For his trouble, he received probation only and promised to stay clear of the number route in Harlem.

Now free to run the team again, Pompez led the Cubans to their sole pennant in 1947 and saw his team win the Negro World Series that year. But the club, and all of black baseball, was in trouble. Integration was killing the fan base and taking the best players into white leagues. The Cubans hung on through 1950 before folding. But Pompez was not through with baseball. He’d made an earlier arrangement with the New York Giants that gave his team use of the Polo Grounds and the Giants first call on his players. With the team gone, the Giants hired Pompez as both a scout and as a mentor for their black and Latin players. As the team’s Director of International Scouting, he was instrumental in finding Latin talent, especially in the Dominican Republic, for the Giants.

In 1971 he retired from the Giants. He still wasn’t through with baseball. The Hall of Fame chose him to serve on the special committee designed to choose Negro League players for the Hall. He remained in the position until his death in 1974. In 2006, he was chosen for the Hall of Fame as a Negro League executive.

Without trying to condone Pompez’s foray into the world of racketeering and the mob, I would remind you that options for black entrepreneurs was limited in the first half of the 20th Century. Many of them turned to what “the better element” in American society labeled ‘shady’ or worse. Black baseball was no exception to that. Pompez is not the only owner who made his money in ways that might offend some of that “better element.” Of course that can be true of people in a lot of professions.

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.