Posts Tagged ‘Waite Hoyt’

Beginning a Dynasty: The “Ole Perfessor” and the Babe

June 21, 2016

With both the Yankees and the Giants sharing the same hometown, the World Series was played on consecutive days in October 1923. The teams alternated parks with Yankee Stadium getting game one and the Polo Grounds holding game two. Two future Hall of Famers would step front and center in the first two games.

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Game 1

For game one on 10 October, the Yankees started Waite Hoyt on the mound. The Giants responded with Mule Watson. Bush was on the mark early in the game, but not Watson. He walked Joe Dugan with one out. Babe Ruth grounded to short, but the relay was late and he was safe at first with Dugan recording the second out of the inning at second. A Bob Meusel double sent Ruth all the way around for the game’s first run. In the next inning consecutive singles, two outs, and another single brought home both Wally Schang and Aaron Ward to put the Yankees up 3-0. That did it for Watson. He was scheduled to bat in the third and was pulled for a pinch hitter. Rosy Ryan relieved him.

But before Ryan could take the mound, the Giants erupted for four runs in the top of the third to take the lead. A single, a walk, another single brought up Dave Bancroft. A force at second scored one run and gave the Giants one out. After Bancroft stole second, Heinie Groh tripled to score two and send manager Miller Huggins to the mound to get Hoyt. Bullet Joe Bush took over and gave up a single to plate Groh making the score 4-3.

And there it stayed until the seventh inning stretch. Ryan pitched well, but in the bottom of the seventh he gave up a single to Bush, who was a very good hitting pitcher. An out by Whitey Witt brought up Dugan. He tripled driving in Bush to tie the game. Ruth then drove a sharp grounder to first. Dugan broke for home but was out at the plate. A Meusel fly ended the threat.

The Giants got a man on in the top of the eighth and the Yanks got two on, but no one scored. That brought the game to the top of the ninth. Two quick outs brought up center fielder Casey Stengel (who’d later manage the Yankees). He drove a ball to deep left center, the deepest part of the ballpark. Racing around the bases, he lost a shoe, but continued running. He beat the throw home and scored an inside-the-park home run to give the Giants a lead. One wit, likening Stengel to the race horse Man O’ War noted he’d thrown a shoe but still finished first by a head. Now in front, Ryan proceeded to set the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the ninth to close out the win for the Giants 5-4.

Stengel got most of the press, but Ryan had done well in very long relief. Groh had two RBIs and Bancroft contributed a key stolen base. Game two was the next day.

The Babe

The Babe

Game 2

The Giants hosted game two 11 October 1923 in the Polo Grounds. They had Hugh McQuillen pitching while the Yankees sent southpaw Herb Pennock out to tie up the Series.

Neither pitcher got through six outs before giving up a run. With one out in the top of the second Arron Ward slugged a homer for the Yankees. Giants left fielder Emil “Irish” Meusel matched the home run with one of his own in the bottom of the second to tie up the game 1-1.

Two innings later, Babe Ruth led off the top of the fourth with a home run to right. Later in the inning singles by Wally Pipp, Wally Schang, and Everett Scott scored Pipp to put the Yanks up 3-1. In the top of the fifth, Ruth added his second homer of the game when he drove a ball down the right field line to make the score 4-1.

The Giants mounted a comeback in the sixth. Heinie Groh and Frankie Frisch both singled. A Ross Youngs single plated Groh, but a force at second and a double play shut down the Giants rally leaving the score 4-2.

And it stayed that way. Pennock allowed three more hits the rest of the way, but no Giant advanced beyond second base. The Yankees win tied up the Series at one game apiece. The next day the Series would return to Yankee Stadium as a best of five series.

 

 

Beginning a Dynasty: the 1923 Yankees

June 13, 2016
Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium

Most fans know the Yankees have over the years produced the greatest dynasty in Major League Baseball. Ask most of them when it began and they’ll probably give you 1927. The ’27 Yankees are legendary and were a truly great team. But the dynasty actually started in the early 1920s. Between 1921 and 1923 inclusive, the Yankees took on the crosstown rival Giants in the first three “Subway Series.” This is a look at the third of those.

Manager Miller Huggins had a team that went 98-54 winning the pennant by 16 games (over Detroit). They finished first in slugging and home runs, second in triples and OPS, and were third in four categories: runs, hits, average, and OBP. They also lead the American League in total bases. Despite being known as a hitting team, the pitching was equally good. New York led the AL in ERA, hits, runs, and strikeouts. They were third in both shutouts and walks.

The underrated staff consisted of five men who started double figure games. The one lefty was Hall of Famer Herb Pennock. He went 19-6 with an ERA of 3.13, with a 1.271 WHIP and 5.9 WAR. The WAR was first among pitchers and second on the team. Waite Hoyt was 23 and also a Hall of Famer. He went 17-9 with a 3.02 ERA, more walks than strikeouts, and 4.0 WAR. The “ace” was Bullet Joe Bush who won 19 games in a team leading 30 starts. He led the team with 125 strikeouts and produced 5.5 WAR. Bob Shawkey and Sam Jones rounded out the starters. Between them they won 37 games with Jones leading the team with 21. His ERA was 3.63 and he had walked one more than he struck out. The bullpen’s leading man was Carl Mays, three years removed from the pitch that killed. His ERA was a monstrous 6.20 but he was the only other man to appear in more than eight games.

Wally Schang, Fred Hofmann, and Benny Bengough did the catching. Schang was the main starter. He hit .276 with no power. He was almost dead on the league average in throwing out base runners. Hofmann was the main backup. He hit better than Schang, but wasn’t considered as good on defense or in handling pitchers. Bengough, who’d become part of the Murderers Row Yankees of the later 1920’s was in only 19 games.

The infield was good, but not great. From first around to third the normal starters were Wally Pipp, Aaron Ward, Everett Scott, and Jumpin’ Joe Dugan (Dugan would still be around for the late 1920s). Pipp hit over .300, Scott less than .250. Ward had 10 home runs, good for second on the team, and Pipp was second on the team with 109 RBIs. Ward’s 4.4 WAR was second on the team among hitters. Mike McNally was the only backup infielder who got into 30 or more games. He hit .211 with no power. There was a 20 year old first baseman named Lou Gehrig who got into 13 games, hit .423 with a homer and eight RBIs. He’d later replace Pipp.

The outfield had two good players and it had Babe Ruth. Bob Meusel and Whitey Witt were the good players. Between the they had 15 home runs, while Meusel’s 91 RBIs were third on the team. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team (and you’ll never guess who was first). He had what was considered the finest throwing arm in either league and tended to play the long field (in Yankee Stadium that was left field) while Ruth took the short corner outfield spot (in Yankee Stadium that put him in right). Witt was the center fielder. His WAR was 3.1, Meusel’s was 1.7. Behind them stood Harvey Hendrick and Elmer Smith.

Then there was the Babe. He hit .393, led the team in stolen bases with 17 (told you that you’d never guess), had 41 home runs, 130 RBIs, 45 doubles, 205 hits, 399 total bases, and 170 walks. All but the doubles and average led the league (the doubles were third, the average was second). All that got him the 1923 League Award, the 1920s version of the modern MVP. His OPS+ was 239, second highest of his career, his WAR was a career high 14.1.

The Yanks were two-time defending AL champions and two-time losers in the World Series. In 1923 they would try to remedy the latter. In their way stood their two-time conquerors, the Giants.

 

Beat Down: games 1 and 2

January 19, 2016

For most people the 1927 Yankees conjure up images of a power laden lineup that simply drove the ball over the fence or deep in the gaps and crushed the opposition with raw force. Keep that image in mind when you read through this account of the first two games of the 1927 World Series. Pay particular attention to the way New York takes advantage of various methods of putting runs on the board. I find it a valuable look at the team. It makes them, to me, an even better team because of the myriad ways they scored without using the home run.

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

Game 1, 5 October 1927

The World Series opened in Pittsburgh with Ray Kremer on the mound for the Pirates. He failed to get out of the first inning without giving up a run. With two outs, Babe Ruth singled and came home on a Lou Gehrig triple. Bob Meusel’s fly ended the inning. Yankees ace Waite Hoyt, starting for New York, didn’t have any better luck. He began the game by plunking Pirates leadoff man Lloyd Waner. With one out, Paul Waner, Lloyd’s older brother, doubled sending Lloyd to third. A sacrifice fly by Glenn Wright tied the game.

It stayed that way until a Yankees third inning explosion. With one out in the top of the third, Mark Koenig reached first on a Pirates error. Ruth singled, sending Koenig to third. A walk to Gehrig loaded the bases. Another walk to Meusel scored Koenig. A Tony Lazzeri roller forced Meusel at second while Ruth scored and Gehrig went to third. A throw to the catcher trying to nip Ruth got by Earl Smith allowing Gehrig to race home with the third run of the inning. New York scored three runs with only Ruth’s single leaving the infield. Pittsburgh got one back in the bottom of the third when pitcher Kremer doubled, went to third on a Meusel error and scored on Paul Waner’s single.

In the fifth, the teams again exchanged runs with New York getting one run on a Koenig double, a Ruth grounder that sent Koenig to third, and a Gehrig sacrifice fly. The Pirates got the run right back on a Lloyd Waner double and a Clyde Barnhart single. Pittsburgh picked up one more run in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Wright and Pie Traynor hit back-to-back singles that sent Hoyt to the showers. Reliever Wilcy Moore induced a grounder for the second out, but Wright went to third on the play. A Joe Harris single plated Wright to make the score 5-4. A grounder, liner, and another grounder in the bottom of the ninth finished the game with the 5-4 score holding.

Mark Koenig

Mark Koenig

Game 2, 6 October 1927

For game two, the Pirates sent Vic Aldridge to the mound. Unlike Kramer the day before, he managed to get through the first inning without giving up a run. On the other hand, Yankees starter George Pipgras gave up a run early. Lloyd Waner led off the Pittsburgh half of the first with a triple and scored on a sacrifice by Clyde Barnhart. It was Pittsburgh’s first lead of the Series. It lasted until the third inning when New York, duplicating the previous day, again exploded for three runs. Earle Combs singled and came home on a Mark Koenig single. With Koenig trying for second, center fielder Lloyd Waner threw the ball away allowing Koenig to scamper all the way to third. A Babe Ruth sacrifice fly brought home Koenig with the go ahead run. Lou Gehrig then singled and went to third on a Bob Meusel single, and scored on another sacrifice fly, this one by Tony Lazzeri.

That concluded the scoring through the seventh inning with no player advancing beyond second base. In the top of the eighth consecutive singles by Meusel and Lazzeri put runners on first and third. At that point Aldridge let loose a wild pitch that scored Meusel and sent Lazzeri to second. A fielder’s choice erased Lazzeri (and put Joe Dugan on), then back-to-back walks to catcher Ben Bengough and pitcher Pipgras loaded the bases. Out went Aldridge and in came reliever Mike Cvengros. He proceeded to throw gasoline on the fire by plunking Earle Combs to score Dugan and reload the bases. A Koenig single then scored Bengough to conclude the Yankees scoring.

Pittsburgh fought back in the bottom of the eighth. With one out Lloyd Waner singled, then went to third on a Barnhart single, and scored on a Paul Waner sacrifice fly. But a Glenn Wright grounder ended the Pirates threat. When Pipgras shut them down three in a row in the ninth, the Yanks had a 6-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the World Series. The Series would resume the next day in New York.

 

 

 

Beat Down: the 1927 Yankees

January 12, 2016
"Jumpin'" Joe Dugan

“Jumpin'” Joe Dugan

For a lot of people for a long time, the 1927 New York Yankees are the gold standard of Major League teams. They won 109 games, road roughshod over the American League, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, and they swept the World Series. It’s that World Series that I want to look at over the next several posts. There’s a quite a bit of misinformation about it and I want to dwell on the Series in some detail. First, we need to look at both teams on the eve of the Series; winners first.

Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins had a juggernaut in 1927. His Yanks led the AL in batting, OBP, slugging, OPS, total bases, hits, runs, triples, home runs, walks, and fan. They were second in doubles. The pitching wasn’t quite as good, but they still managed to finish first in hits given up, runs, walks, and ERA. They managed to finish second in complete games, home runs allowed, and were third in strikeouts. With all that, Huggins’ chief job was to make sure the team got to the stadium on time.

The infield was better on the right side than on the left. Lou Gehrig held down first. His triple slash line read .373/.474/.765/1.240 with an OPS+ of 220 and 11.8 WAR (BBREF version). He had 447 total bases (read that number closely), 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, 173 RBIs, 218 hits, and scored 149 runs. All that got him the 1927 League Award (an early version of the current MVP). Some argued that Ruth had a better year but whether he did or didn’t, the rules didn’t allow a player to win two League Awards (that was a carryover from the old Chalmers Award where the winner got a car and no one wanted to give Ty Cobb a half-dozen cars). Ruth won the award in 1923. Tony Lazzeri, who struck out in the most famous moment of the previous World Series, played second. He wasn’t Gehrig, but he was pretty good. His triple slash line read .309/.383/.482/.866. He hit 29 doubles and 18 home runs to go with 102 RBIs and 92 runs scored for 6.3 WAR. Both men would make the Hall of Fame. The left side of the infield consisted of Mark Koenig at short and Joe Dugan at third. Koenig hit .285 with 11 triples and 69 walks, good for third on the team (behind Ruth and Gehrig). Dugan hit all of .269 with only two home runs, but was considered one of the better third sackers of his day. Mike Gazella, Ray Morehart, and Julie Wera were the backups. Both Wera and Morehart had a home run, while Gazella led the group with a .278 average. Morehart’s 20 RBIs led the three.

The outfield consisted of two Hall of Famers and another guy. The other guy was Bob Meusel. He was on the downside of his career at age 30 but still darned good. His triple slash line was .337/.393/.510/.902 with an OPS+ of 135 (4.2 WAR). He’d won a home run title a few years earlier, but had only eight in 1927. He did contribute 75 runs and 103 RBIs to the team. He also had what was universally agreed was the best outfield arm in either league. Earle Combs held down center field. His triple slash line was .356/.414/.511/.925 with an OPS+ of 141 (6.8 WAR). He led off and played center well. He scored 137 runs (third behind Ruth and Gehrig), had 36 doubles, 23 triples, 311 total bases (again behind only Ruth and Gehrig), and contributed 64 RBIs. And of course there was the Babe. This was his 60 home run year, but his other numbers were equally good. His triple slash line read .356/.486/.772/1.258 with an OPS+ of 225 (12.4 WAR), 417 total bases, 165 RBIs, 158 runs scored, 192 hits, and 29 doubles. Those three were backed up by Ben Paschal and Cedric Durst. Paschal hit .317 with two homers and saw a lot of time in the Series. Durst contributed 25 RBIs.

New York used three catchers during the season. Pat Collins did most of the work with 92 games played (89 behind the plate). He hit .275 with seven home runs, but in 311 plate appearances, he walked 54 times, good for fifth on the team. John Grabowski was his main backup. he managed .277 with 25 RBIs and 29 runs, while secondary backup Ben Bengough hit .247 in 31 games.

Five men started 20 or more games; two of them made the Hall of Fame. Lefty Herb Pennock was 19-8 with and even 3.00 ERA (3.1 WAR) and a 1.302 WHIP (he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched). Waite Hoyt was the ace. He went 22-7 with an ERA of 2.63 (5.8 WAR) and a 1.155 WHIP. His 86 strikeouts led the team. Underappreciated Urban Shocker was 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA (3.1 WAR) and 1.240 WHIP. He managed to both give up more hits than he had innings pitched and also walk more men than he struck out. Dutch Reuther did the same thing while going 13-6 with an ERA of 3.38. His WHIP ballooned to 1.380 with only 0.6 WAR. George Pipgras was the other starter. He was 10-3 with an ERA north of four, but managed to pitch more innings than he gave up hits and to also strikeout more batters than he walked. His WHIP was 1.353 with a 0.2 WAR. Wilcy Moore pitched in 50 games, but only started 12. That got him a 19-7 record with 13 saves (not yet a stat in 1927) and a 2.28 ERA (4.7 WAR). His 75 strikeouts were good for third on the team. Myles Thomas pitched in 21 games, starting nine, while Bob Shawkey earned the distinction of having, at 2-3, the only losing record on the team. He compensated by having a 2.89 ERA and striking out 23 in 43 innings and picking up four saves.

There are people who consider the ’27 Yankees as the greatest of all baseball teams. Maybe so, maybe not. Whatever you think you have to admit they were formidable. They were also, in 1927, overwhelming favorites to win the World Series.

 

 

 

 

Building a Winner: Bad

November 18, 2015
Leo Durocher while with Brooklyn

Leo Durocher while with Brooklyn

There are a lot of ways to construct a winning team. You can create it internally through a farm system. You can trade for the right players. You can out right buy players from another team. In the last 50 or so years you can go through the free agent market. And of course you can use any combination of these to build your team. I want to take something of an extended look at how one team did it.

As a Dodgers fan I’m much more familiar with their doings than with other teams, so it’s reasonable for me to look at how the Dodgers built a winning team. In this case I’m going to single out the 1941 Brooklyn team that got to a World Series, then faltered, but laid the foundation for the team that was generally in contention through the remainder of the team’s time in Brooklyn (1957).

To start, here’s the main part of the roster of the pennant winning 1941 team. Infield (first around to third): Dolf Camilli, Billy Herman, PeeWee Reese, Cookie Lavagetto. Outfield: Pete Reiser, Joe Medwick, Dixie Walker. The catcher was Mickey Owen. Starting pitchers (guys with double figure starts): Kirby Higbe, Whit Wyatt, Curt Davis, Fred Fitzsimmons, Luke Hamlin. The bullpen (guys with 20 or more appearances from the pen): Hugh Casey and Mace Brown (and Casey also had double figure starts). And the bench (guys with 50 or more games played): Lew Riggs (primarily a 3rd baseman), Pete Coscarart (primarily a 2nd baseman), Herman Franks (a catcher), and Jim Wasdell (and outfielder). The manager is Leo Durocher. Keep all those names in mind as we go through the process of putting this team together. These are the guys we’re ultimately looking for in order to create a winning team.

Now here’s a look at the same team in 1937. The order is the same (infield, outfield, catcher, starters, bullpen, bench, manager): Bud Haslett, Lavagetto, Woody English, Joe Stripp, Heinie Manush, Tom Winsett, John Cooney, Babe Phelps, Max Butcher, Hamlin, Fred Frankhouse, Waite Hoyt, Van Mungo, Fitzsimmons, Roy Henshaw, George Jeffcoat, Jim Lindsey, Gibby Black (outfield), Jim Butcher (2nd, 3rd, and outfield), Roy Spencer (catcher), Lindsay Brown (Short). Burleigh Grimes is the manager.

The ’37 Dodgers finished sixth of eight teams in the National League. They were 62-91, 33.5 games out of first and 17.5 out of fifth place. They finished sixth in batting average, OBP, OPS, runs, and hits; seventh in slugging; dead last in home runs. At least they were third in stolen bases (all of 69) and second in doubles. The pitching was worse. They were seventh in ERA, runs, earned runs, complete games (which meant a lot more in 1937 than it does today, and last in shutouts. At fourth in strikeouts, they managed to get into the top half of the National League. And to top it off they were dead last in fielding percentage. In short, the Daffiness Boys stunk up the place.

Five years later they won the NL pennant. A lot of things changed. But a few things remained. Off the 1937 squad, Cookie Lavagetto remained. He’d moved from second to third. Although many of his traditional stats had regressed, he maintained an OPS+ of 110 (down one point from 1937) and his WAR (BBREF version) moved from 2.5 to 2.7. Luke Hamlin was still around also. His ERA was up, his wins down, his ERA+ was down 25 points, and his WAR had gone from 3.4 to a negative. Fitzsimmons was also there. By 1941 his ERA and ERA+ were much better although his WAR was unchanged. So even the holdovers from 1937, especially Hamlin, weren’t doing much to help the team make its five-year rise. To do well, an entire overhaul needed to occur. In the next few posts I want to look at that overhaul.

Taking on Murderer’s Row: the last games in New York

July 21, 2015

With the Yankees up three games to two and needing only one win to clinch the 1926 World Series, the Series returned to Yankee Stadium. Needing two wins to capture the title, the St. Louis Cardinals went with their most experienced pitcher in game six and with a tried veteran for game seven.

Game 6

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Game six was a second start for Grover Cleveland Alexander. For New York, the Yankees sent Bob Shawkey to the mound. It was his first start, although he’d relieved in two previous games. He was in trouble from the beginning. It started with a single to Wattie Holm, playing center field for Taylor Douthit. A force at second put him out, but put Billy Southworth on first. A walk to Rogers Hornsby sent Southworth to second and a double by Jim Bottomley plated him. A followup single by Les Bell brought both Hornsby and Bottomley home.

It was all Alexander needed. The Yanks got a run in the fourth on a Bob Meusel triple and a Lou Gehrig grounder to first, but the Cardinals got it right back in the fifth on two singles sandwiched between a bunt sacrifice.

With the score already 4-1, the Cards exploded for five runs in the seventh. A couple of singles, a double, and a Bell two run home run made it 9-1. New York managed one in the bottom of the inning, but St. Louis tacked on one more in the ninth on a Southworth triple and a Hornsby grounder to make the final 10-2.

Alexander was superb, giving up two runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out six and scored a run. Flush with victory he, according to legend, went on something akin to a real bender that evening. He was, at least so he thought, finished with his World Series chores.

Game 7

Tommy Thevenow

Tommy Thevenow

Game seven of the 1926 World Series occurred 9 October. It featured pitchers Jesse Haines taking on Waite Hoyt. Both men had already won a game in the Series: Haines game three and Hoyt game four. It was to become famous for a single moment, one of the more well known and  most frequently written about moments in World Series lore.

Both teams started slow. Although there were a number of base runners, no one scored until the bottom of the third when Babe Ruth launched a shot into deep right field to put New York up 1-0. St. Louis struck back in the top of the fourth. With one out Jim Bottomley singled, then Les Bell reached first on an error by Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig. Chick Hafey singled to load the bases. Then Bob O’Farrell lifted a fly to left field that Yank outfield Bob Meusel dropped. Bottomley scored to tie up the game. That brought up eight hitter shortstop Tommy Thevenow. He singled to right, scoring both Bell and Hafey. A strikeout and grounder ended the inning with the score St. Louis 3, New York 1. That held up until the bottom of the sixth when, with two out, Joe Dugan singled and a Hank Severeid double plated Dugan with the second Yankees run. A ground out ended the inning.

In the top of the seventh, the Cards went in order. That brought up the Yanks in the bottom of the seventh and set the stage for one of the most famous of all World Series moments. Earle Combs led off the inning with a single and went to second on a bunt. An intentional walk put Ruth on first. A grounder to Bell led to a force of Ruth at second, but left runners on first and third with two outs. Haines then proceeded to walk Lou Gehrig.

At this point legend takes over and facts get a little obscured. One version of what happens next has Haines having to leave the game with a finger blister, forcing manager Hornsby to change pitchers. Another version has Hornsby deciding Haines was done and calling for a new pitcher without reference to Haines’ finger. Whichever is true, Haines was out and Hornsby called for Grover Cleveland Alexander from the bullpen.

And now another legend takes over. According to one version of what happened, Alexander was in the bullpen sleeping off a hangover when Hornsby called for him. Another version says he was sober, but unready to pitch because he presumed that having gone nine innings the day before he wouldn’t be pitching at all on 9 October. Yet a third version says he’d just begun to warm up. I don’t think anyone knows for sure which is true. The SABR version of the event states Alexander was sober.

Whichever is true, in came Alexander to face rookie Tony Lazzeri with two outs and the bases full of Yankees (Combs on first, Meusel on second, and Gehrig at first). The first pitch was a strike. The second was fouled off deep down the left field line just missing the foul pole. With two strikes, Lazzeri swung and missed the next pitch to record the final out of the inning. It is, arguably the most famous strikeout in baseball history.

St. Louis got a couple of men on in the eighth, but didn’t score. New York went down in order in the bottom of the eighth, as did the Cardinals in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth Alexander got Combs and Koenig on groundouts which brought up Ruth, who walked. With Meusel at bat and Gehrig on deck, Ruth tried to surprise the Cards by stealing second. O’Farrell threw to Hornsby, the tag was applied, and the St. Louis Cardinals won their first ever World Series.

It was a good Series, especially for the hitters. The Cardinals hit .272 as a team with Thevenow hitting .417. He joined Hornsby and Southworth by driving in four runs, but Bottomley topped all three with five and Les Bell led the team with six. Southworth led St. Louis with six runs scored and Thevenow was just behind with five. Thevenow, Southworth, Bell, and pitcher Haines each had one home run, while Bottomley had three doubles, and Southworth picked up the only triple as well as led the team with 10 total hits.

Although the Yanks hit only .242 as a team, Combs and Gehrig hit above .345 while Ruth hit an even .300 and Joe Dugan was at .333.. Ruth had five RBIs while Gehrig, in his rookie Series, had four. Ruth’s six runs scored easily led the team. He also hit all four of the team’s home runs, including three in one game. Combs led New York with 10 hits. He and Gehrig each had two doubles and Meusel got the only triple.

Among pitchers, Alexander was the big hero. He had two wins and the famous save in game seven. But Haines’ had an even better ERA (1.08 to 1.33) while picking up the other two wins. Bill Sherdel had two of the losses, but only a 2.12 ERA. Alexander led the team with 14 strikeouts. For New York Herb Pennock posted two wins with Hoyt getting the other. His 10 strikeouts led the team.

For both teams it was a beginning. For St. Louis it was their first 20th Century title. They would win again in 1928 (and end up losing to New York) and then win three times in the 1930s, four times in the 1940s, and still carry on a winning tradition into the 21st Century. The Yankees began a great period of consistent excellence in 1926, winning with great regularity into the 1960s and, like the Cardinals, continuing on into the 21st Century. That makes 1926 something of a watershed and makes it a Series worth remembering for more than just one strikeout.

 

 

 

 

Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Yanks

July 7, 2015
'26 Yankees

’26 Yankees

The late 1920s New York Yankees were known as “Murderer’s Row”. The 1927 version is frequently cited as the greatest team ever (although other teams are also in the running). In a three-year run the team won three American League pennants, had a player establish a single season home run record, had another win the MVP, and generally run roughshod over Major League Baseball. The opening salvo was fired by the 1926 team.

Manager Miller Huggins’ team won 91 games in 1926, scoring 5.5 runs per game on average. As a team they hit .289 (third in the American League), slugged .437, had a OPS of 806, and racked up 2282 total bases. All those stats led the AL, hence the nickname. The pitching wasn’t quite as good, finished fourth in most league categories, although the team was second in strikeouts.

The infield was anchored by Hall of Fame first baseman Lou Gehrig. He hit .313, had 16 home runs, 109 RBIs, and 179 hits (all third on the team). He led the team with 20 triples. Unlike in later years, he hit fifth in the order rather than fourth. At 22, rookie, and fellow Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri played second (and hit sixth). He hit .275 with 18 home runs and 117 RBIs, both good for second on the team. The left side of the infield wasn’t as formidable. Mark Koenig played short, hit second in the lineup, had 167 hits, and scored 93 runs. Third sacker Joe Dugan was the old guy at age 29. He’d come over from Boston in 1924 and was considered one of the better defensive third baseman in the game. He hit .288 with only one home run, but struck out only 16 times.

The outfield consisted of three well established players. Bob Meusel usually held down left field, but occasionally played right. He had what is generally regarded as the best arm in the AL, so he tended to play the longer corner outfield position (in Yankee Stadium that was left field). He was 29, hit fourth, and was beginning to fade. He hit .315, but had only 12 home runs (fourth on the team), drove in 78 runs, and played only 108 games. Center Field was occupied by Hall of Famer Earle Combs. He hit .299 for the season. In the lead off spot he had 181 hits (second on the team), scored 113 runs (good for third on the team), and had an OBP of .352 (fifth among the starters). Babe Ruth was in right field. He led the AL in  home runs, RBIs, walks, OBP, Slugging, OPS, and total bases. Just your basic run of the mill Babe Ruth year. He also led the Yankees in hits (184) and batting average (.372–good for second in the AL).

Pat Collins, Benny Bengough, and Hank Severeid were the catchers. Collins did most of the work, hitting .286 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 123 (which was third among starters). Severeid got into 41 games, and hit .268, while Bengough was in 36 games. He hit .381 in 84 at bats.

The bench wasn’t particularly strong. Other than the catchers, only three players were in more than 30 games, with two others playing in at least 20. Ben Paschal did the most work (he replaced Meusel when the regular left fielder was out). He hit .287 with seven home runs and his 31 RBIs were easily the most off the bench. Ruth and Gehrig were the only everyday players whose WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) was above 3.0 (although Collins was at 3.0 exactly).

For the season, four men started over 20 games. Lefty Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock had the most with 33. He went 23-11 with an ERA of 362 (ERA+ of 107). He led the team in both wins and innings pitched. Urban Shocker (who ought to be at least considered for the Hall) pitched the next most innings (258) and managed a 19-11 record with an ERA of 3.38 (ERA+ of 114). His 71 walks led the team. Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt and Sam Jones were the other two main starters. Hoyt went 16-12 and led the Yanks in strikeouts (79) while Jones went 9-8, had an ERA north of 4.75 and led the team with five saves. Only Pennock (3.1) and Shocker (4.7) had a WAR above 3.0.

Lefty Garland Braxton led the bullpen with 37 appearances (one start), a 5-1 record, a 2.67 ERA and an ERA+ of 145. Myles Thomas and Walter Beall both pitched 20 games, as did team future manager Bob Shawkey.

It was a formidable team that won the AL pennant by only three games (over Cleveland). It’s hitting was great, it’s pitching middle of the road. It was a favorite to win the 1926 World Series.

The Other Guy in Murderer’s Row

July 7, 2014
Bob Meusel

Bob Meusel

The 1920s Yankees, known as Murderer’s Row, are one of the most famous of all teams. But in many ways it’s selectively famous. People know Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Diehard fans know Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri. Pitching freaks know Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt. But the rest of the team is pretty anonymous. That’s a shame because one of the better members of the team batted right in the middle of the lineup and is now largely forgotten. That’s Bob Meusel.

Meusel was born in California in 1896, three years after his brother Emil, who played a number of years for the Giants. Bob Meusel was spotted while still playing high school baseball. He spent the years 1917-1919 in the West Coast minors, except for a stint in the US Navy during World War I. He did well and in 1920 got the call from the New York Yankees. He was 23.

He was an immediate starter, playing 119 games, most at the corner outfield positions. From the beginning he showed the best outfield arm in either league. By general consensus of the articles of the day (and with a lot of stats agreeing) he was an exceptional outfielder, especially the arm. He got the nickname “Long Bob” almost immediately and there are a couple of versions as to why. One says he was 6’3″ and thin, the other than he had a long arm. You can pick your favorite. In his rookie campaign he hit .328 with 11 home runs, the latter number being seventh in the American League.

He was even better the next season, hitting .318 and slugging 24 home runs with 135 RBIs. The home run number was second in the AL and the RBI total third. He also hit for the cycle against Walter Johnson. It would be the first of three cycles, a Major League record. His team won its first ever pennant with Meusel hitting clean up behind Babe Ruth. The team lost a best of nine series in eight games (to the Giants) with Meusel hitting .200 with three RBIs and no home runs. He did manage to steal home in game two (a game the Yanks won). He would do so again in 1928 to become the only man to successfully steal home twice in the World Series.

Meusel was suspended for barnstorming after the 1921 World Series (so was Ruth), but managed to get into 122 games in 1922. New York won again and again failed to beat the Giants and big brother Emil (called Irish for reasons that make no sense, the family was German in its background). This time Bob Meusel hit .300 but managed only two RBIs, two runs, and no home runs. Back in the Series in 1923 (and still facing his brother’s Giants) Meusel hit only .269 but drove in eight runs with seven hits (two triples and a double included). This time his team took home its first World’s Championship.

Although the Yankees failed to win in either 1924 or 1925 (largely because of Ruth’s woes) Meusel had good years. In ’24 he hit .325, then in ’25 led the AL in home runs with 33 and RBIs with 138. Those would be the only time he would lead the league in a major offensive category.

In 1926, Murderer’s Row was back in the World Series. Meusel .315, but with only 12 home runs. He still maintained his clean up spot although new first baseman Lou Gehrig was challenging him from the five hole. Meusel had a terrible Series hitting .238 with no home runs or RBIs and scoring only three runs. In the famous seventh inning of game seven when Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Lazzeri with the bases loaded, Meusel was on second. He was also at bat when Ruth tried to steal second, was thrown out, and the Series ended in a St. Louis victory.

In 1927 and 1928 New York won back-to-back World Series’ with Meusel contributing little. He had his only home run in the 1928 Series (along with the steal of home mentioned above), but only had three RBIs (and only one in 1927). He did manage to score five runs in ’28 (to only one in 1927).

At the end of 1928 he was 32 and mostly through. His 1929 was down. He hit .261 (a career low) with only 57 RBIs. He was waived and picked up by Cincinnati for the 1930 season. Despite the juiced ball, he only hit .289 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs and was done. He hung on in the minors for a couple of years, but retired after the 1932 season. In retirement he did a bit of movie work, mostly cameos in baseball flicks, and worked as a security guard at a Navy base. He died in California in 1977.

For his career his triple slash line is .309/.356/.497/.852 with an OPS+ of 118. He had 1693 hits, scored 826 runs, and knocked in 1064 runners. He had 268 doubles, 95 triples, and 156 home runs for 2719 total bases. His WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 27.6.  In the field he was considered one of the premier outfielders of his day, known especially for the strength and accuracy of his arm (but never led the AL in outfield assists).

Bob Meusel was a very good ballplayer, one of the better players of the 1920s. At times he could be considered the second best player on the Yankees (and in 1925 arguably their best) and at other times third (behind Ruth and Gehrig). It’s not a bad legacy to say you’re the best player on a team excepting those two.

Meusel's grave in California

Meusel’s grave in California

 

 

 

St. Louis Blues: 1928

June 26, 2013
Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth

Back in 1989 my son and I watched the World Series between Oakland and San Francisco. Although known today primarily as the “Earthquake Series” the Series was a four game sweep by Oakland. It was, to be brutally honest, a thorough crushing. My son asked if I’d ever seen a more one-sided World Series. I admitted I hadn’t. So being a clever child he started looking through baseball encyclopedias and finally announced he’d found a World Series as lopsided as 1989. It was the 1928 Series. Here’s a brief rehash of that Series.

In 1926, the St. Louis Cardinals burst onto the baseball scene, becoming the last of the 20th Century’s National League teams to win a pennant. Then they managed to defeat the “Murder’s Row” New York Yankees in seven games (including Alexander’s strikeout of Lazzeri, arguably the most famous strikeout in Major League history). The Yankees, unlike the Cards, repeated by winning the American League pennant in 1927 and manhandling the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games. Both St. Louis and New York won in 1928, setting up a rematch of 1926.

The Cardinals were a good team. Hall of Fame pitchers Grover Cleveland Alexander and Jesse Haines anchored the staff with lefty Bill Sherdel and right hander Flint Rhem rounding out the starters. Haines and Sherdel had 20 wins, Alexander 16, and Rhem 11. That sounded better than it was. Of the four, only Haines had more innings pitched than hits allowed and Rhem had walked more men than he struck out. The hitting stars were Hall of Famers Jim Bottomley, Frankie Frisch, and Chick Hafey, while Taylor Douthit and George Harper also put up good numbers. Although he didn’t hit much, Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville could still play a decent short at age 36.

The Yankees were loaded. The duo of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were in their prime. Tony Lazzeri and Mark Koenig both hit .300, as did Earle Combs (who was hurt and didn’t play much in the Series). The staff included Hall of Fame righty Waite Hoyt, fellow Hall of Famer lefty Herb Pennock, George Pipgras, and bullpen specialist Wilcy Moore.

The first game was played 4 October in New York. The Yanks got an early lead when Ruth and Gehrig hit back-to-back doubles to score Ruth with the first run. They added two more in the fourth when Ruth doubled and, after an out by Gehrig, Bob Meusel belted a two-run home run. A Jim Bottomley homer in the seventh got a run back, but the Yanks returned the lead to three runs in the eighth, with consecutive singles by Koenig, Ruth, and Gehrig to score Koenig. The game ended 4-1 with Hoyt getting the win and Sherdel taking the loss. It was the closest game.

If game one turned out to be the closest game. game two was the biggest blowout. And there had to have been a great satisfaction in getting it at the expense of 1926 hero Alexander. The Yanks got three runs in the first when following a single and a walk, Gehrig clouted a three-run home run. The Cards plated three in the second to tie the game. After a walk and a double scored a run, Lazzeri committed a huge error (on a throw) that sent a second run home. Then a double play grounder gave St. Louis a third run. New York got the lead back the next inning on a walk, a sacrifice, and a single. The third was the Yankees big inning. Ruth singled, Gehrig walked, then Meusel doubled to score the Babe. After a walk and a single sent Gehrig home, Alexander plunked catcher Benny Bengough to bring in a run.  A single scored a fourth run and only a great throw from Douthit saved another run. The Yanks tacked on a final run in the seventh on a single, a stolen base, a sacrifice and a pinch hit single by Joe Dugan.

After a travel day, the Series resumed 7 October in St. Louis.  The Cards broke on top with two runs in the first. With one out, third baseman Andy High singled, Frisch followed with another single, then Bottomley tripled to score both men. New York responded with a home run from Gehrig in the second, then took the lead in the fourth when Ruth walked and Gehrig legged out an inside-the-park home run (hit to deepest center field) that scored two runs. The Cards tied it back up when Douthit was plunked and High doubled him home in the fifth. The Yanks responded with a very unYankees-like inning. Koenig singled, was forced at second with Ruth taking first. Gehrig walked (something he did a lot of in the Series). Meusel then grounded to third. High flipped to second to force Gehrig, but Ruth raced home. The relay to catcher Jimmie Wilson was on-line, but he dropped the ball, letting Ruth score. Meusel took third on the play. After a walk to Lazzeri, New York executed a double steal, Lazzeri going to second and Meusel stealing home. A single brought in Lazzeri with the third run of the inning. New York got one last run in the seventh when an error by Hafey and a Ruth single gave them a seventh run.

Down 3-0, St. Louis sent Sherdel back to the mound on 9 October. New York countered with Hoyt. For six innings it looked like the Cards might have a chance to play a game five. They got one in the third when outfielder Ernie Orsatti doubled, went to third on a bunt and scored on Frisch’s sacrifice fly. The Yanks got the run back in the fourth on Ruth’s first Series homer. In the bottom of the fourth Maranville was safe at second on a botched double play relay throw by Koenig. The next man was out, then Hoyt tried to pick off Maranville. The ball sailed into the outfield and the Rabbit came home to put St. Louis ahead. That lasted until the seventh. With one out Ruth hit his second home run of the game. Gehrig followed with a homer of his own. Meusel singled, went to third on Lazzeri’s double, and scored on the next play, Lazzeri going to third. In his only appearance of the Series, Earle Combs then hit a long sacrifice to right that plated Lazzeri. In the eighth, backup outfielder Cedric Durst hit a home run, and the Babe crushed his third home run of the game (and Series) to finish the Yankees scoring. The Cardinals picked up one final run in the ninth, then Frisch popped a foul to Ruth in left to end the game and the Series.

It wasn’t even close. The Cards managed 10 runs to New York’s 27. Maranville led the Cards with a .308 average. Bottomley hit only .214, but had three RBI’s. Only Maranville scored more than one run (He had two.). The staff was shelled. Sherdel took two losses, Alexander and Haines each took one.  Haines 4.50 ERA was the best among the starters. The team ERA was 6.09. They had both 13 walks and 13 strike outs.

New York, on the other hand, played wonderfully. Here’s the triple slash line for Ruth .625/.647/1.375/2.022. He had three home runs (all in game four), four RBI’s, 10 hits, and scored nine runs. Gehrig might have been better. His triple slash line reads .545/,706/1.722/2.433. He had four home runs, nine RBI’s, six hits, and scored five runs. His lack of hits was largely the result of walking six times. Of his two hits that weren’t home runs, one was a double. No other Yankee did as well, but Durst hit .375 and Meusel had three RBI’s and a steal of home. The pitchers put up an ERA of 2.00 while striking out 29 and walking only 11. Every game was a complete game victory with Hoyt getting two of them.

It was a complete beat down. And after the loss of 1926, must have been particularly sweet for the Yanks, especially for Lazzeri who managed a double and scored a run against Alexander. Both teams would go on to play good ball over the next several years, New York winning another pennant in 1932 and St. Louis in both 1930 and 1931. They would not, however, meet again in the World Series until 1942. And I promise no more music based titles with Missouri themes (at least for a while).

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.