Posts Tagged ‘Urban Shocker’

Leftovers

April 26, 2018

Urban Shocker as a Yankee

Every so often the Hall of Fame decides to revamp the Veteran’s Committee. Currently there are four of them and I wouldn’t hold my breath if they moved that to five or to three between now and the next meeting later this year. That alone should tell you how difficult it is to determine exactly what the parameters are for electing members of the Hall.

One of those committees, which is supposed to meet only once in 10 years, is the really old timers committee that looks at players prior to the advent of Jackie Robinson in the big leagues. You might name it for me, the Geezer Committee. But the very fact that it is meeting only once in 10 years is to me a hopeful sign that the Hall has finally determined that they have, more or less, all the people from the pre-Korean War period that should be enshrined in Cooperstown. But of course, you know the committee is still going to meet and we also know that the Hall of Fame gives the committee a ballot (almost always with 10 names on it) to vote on. So I began to wonder what that list might look like. Yeah, I know I have too much time on my hands, but having just dodged the end of the world (or missed the rapture) I’m free again to take that time to think about such things as the veteran’s committee, Geezer edition. Here’s something of a semi-educated guess that may or may not have much to do with what the real ballot will look like (Is that wishy-washy enough for you?). This is strictly a guess and you may feel free to snicker at it, laugh aloud, curse it, or comment on my sanity as appropriate. In this I make no comment on whether the person should be or should not be in the Hall of Fame. In no particular order:

1. Daniel “Doc” Adams-is one of he founders of the sport and seems to be the most well-known. Duncan Curry, William Rufus Wheaton, and a host of others could be here as representing the people who codified the game, but Adams is probably the best know and hence most likely to be on such a ballot.

2. Bud Fowler-is probably the best 10th Century black player currently not in the Hall of Fame.

3. or maybe it’s George Stovey. Fowler was an infielder, Stovey a pitcher.

4. As the committee is now allowed to look at the period beginning in 1871 rather than 1876, it opens up the list for Ross Barnes. Barnes was a terrific hitter in the old National Association and for a few years in the new National League.

5. Joe Start played for the Atlantic in the 1860s (they were the Yankees of their day) and was one of their stars. He moved to the Association, then to the NL and continued playing into his 40s and into the 1880s. Helped Providence to a pair of pennants and to a victory in the first ever postseason series against the American Association in 1884. It was sort of an early version of the World Series. Very few players can say they gave quality play for three decades.

6. Sam Breadon owned the Cardinals from 1920 through 1947. When he took over they hadn’t won a championship in the 20th Century. By the time he retired, they were the dominant franchise in the NL.

7. Wes Ferrell is probably not in the Hall of Fame because he has a huge ERA. But the new fangled stats make it easier to see that he was a very good pitcher in a hitting era (and he could hit a little too).

8. Bucky Walters was one of those guys who started at one position (third base) and transitioned into a quality player at another position (pitcher). He won an MVP, a World Series, and, like Ferrell, could hit a little.

9. Urban Shocker may be the most overlooked pitcher of the late 19-teen and the 1920s. He pitched well enough in the Deadball Era, then moved successfully into the hitting era of the 1920s (and he played for the ’27 Yankees who have everybody else except the batboy in the Hall).

10. Candy Jim Taylor was a superb player, then became a manager and ultimately took over the reins of the Negro League Homestead Grays during their most successful period in the 1940s. Obviously he should not be confused with Jim Taylor, the fullback for the Vince Lombardi Packers of the 1960s.

So there it is, a solid guess at what the really Old-Timers Veteran’s Committee list will look like when it’s published a couple of years from now (and the least likely players to actually show up are probably the Negro League guys). By then, this should be well hidden on this blog and most of you will have forgotten you ever saw it. That may be for the best.

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.

 

 

 

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Opening Salvos

July 9, 2015

The opening games of the 1926 World Series were played in New York on 2 and 3 October. The Yankees were favorites over the St. Louis Cardinals, a team making their inaugural Series appearance. The format was two games in New York, three in St. Louis, and then a return to New York if the sixth and seventh game were necessary.

Game 1

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

For game one, the Yankees sent ace Herb Pennock to the mound against St. Louis stalwart Bill Sherdel. The Yanks made a minor change in their normal roster, starting backup catcher Hank Severeid over normal starter Pat Collins.

The game started out as if it was going to be a high scoring contest. The Cards’ leadoff hitter Taylor Douthit doubled to start the game, went to third on a ground out, then scored on a single. Pennock got out of it without further damage and the Yankees game to bat in the bottom of the first. Earle Combs led off the inning with a walk, then after an out, consecutive walks loaded the bases for New York first baseman Lou Gehrig. He hit one to short, but the Cardinals were unable to complete the double play and Combs scored to tie the game.

After that the two pitchers settled down to match shutout innings through the fifth. In the bottom of the sixth Babe Ruth singled, went to second on a bunt, and scored on a Gehrig single. It was all the run support Pennock needed. He shutout St. Louis for the remainder of the game, giving up only the one run, while allowing three hits, and striking out four (he also walked three). Sherdel did well enough, going seven innings, giving up the two runs, and allowing six hits with three walks and a single strikeout. The big hero was Gehrig who had both RBIs.

Game 2

Billy Southworth

Billy Southworth

The next day, the Yankees sent Urban Shocker to the mound to face St. Louis’ Grover Cleveland Alexander. Alexander was 39, considered over the hill and ready for retirement. In the second inning he looked it. A single to Bob Meusel, a move up grounder by Gehrig, and a single by rookie Tony Lazzeri plated the first run. A single sent him to third, then with two outs he attempted to steal home. He was safe when Alexander threw wildly to catcher Bob O’Farrell. So New York broke on top 2-0. But that would be all the damage Alexander allowed. He gave up four total hits, walked one (Combs), and struck out 10 (every starter except Combs and pitcher Shocker fanned twice). Meanwhile the Cardinals went to work. They got both runs back in the top of the third when back-to-back singles by Douthit and Billy Southworth put two men on. A sacrifice sent them to second and third, and a Jim Bottomley single tied the score.

It stayed tied through six innings, when the Cardinals erupted for three runs. With O’Farrell and Tommy Thevenow on base, Southworth clubbed a three run homer to right to put St. Louis up 5-2. In the ninth, Thevenow hit one deep into right field that eluded Ruth and Thevenow circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run. The final scored was 6-2 as Alexander shut the Yanks down in the ninth.

So the Series was tied 1-1 after the first two games in New York. After an all night train ride, the two teams would resume play on the 5th of October. What people knew was that there would be three games in St. Louis.

“The Greatest Day of My Life”

March 21, 2012

Chet Laabs, a Browns stalwart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way to Win: Murder’s Row

August 4, 2010

Miller Huggins in 1927

Let me start with a disclaimer: I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a Yankees fan. Having said that, I acknowledge they are the most successful franchise in Major League baseball. That statement lends itself to an obvious question. How do they do it? You can argue it’s money, but it wasn’t just money in 1923 when they won their first title. I’ve begun to look at the great Yankees dynasties (1926-28, 1936-43, 1949-64, 1976-1981, and 1996-2001) and discovered those teams are actually a lot alike. 

All the great Yankees dynasties have the following things in common: 1) they have a good manager, 2) there are a few true greats on the team, 3) there are some really quality players in other positions, 4) there are a number of role players, 5) there are some one year wonders. You can look at other teams throughout baseball history and find the same thing (and you can add in things like a deep bench and good relief pitching for the more modern teams), so it’s not just the Yankees system of winning, but they do it best. It seems these traits, not the stockpiling of stars, are essential to winning. 

To provide a quick example, here’s a look at one of those Yankees teams. 

The 1926-1928 Murder’s Row Yankees were skippered by Miller Huggins. He was an ex-middle infielder who had a decent, but not spectacular career. He won a couple of walks titles in the first few years of the 20th Century and managed the Cardinals without much success prior to taking over at New York in 1918. He provided a steady hand and a calming influence on a team that could be wild. 

The Murder’s Row Yankees had two all-time greats on the team: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Both were simply great in 1927 and 1928 and 1926 was Gehrig’s coming out party. Behind them the Yankees fielded a number of really good players who could step up on days the two stars were not doing well. Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, and Waite Hoyt all made the Hall of Fame and Urban Shocker could do so someday (if somebody will just look at his numbers). 

Bob Meusel had been in the “really good” category in the early 1920s, but by 1926-28 had slipped to a role player. Mark Koenig, Joe Dugan, and the various catchers (Pat Collins, Hank Severeid, Johnny Grabowski) all fill the bill.  The one-year wonders are Wilcy Moore in 1927 and George Pipgras in 1928 (although Pipgras also had a decent 1929). 

I want to do follow-up posts on the other dynasties to show it’s not just the “Yankees way” of winning. I’m also certain I’m not the first person to determine what it takes to win, but I find this instructive (but not predictive of the next dynasty). Feel free to add your own criteria to the list.