Posts Tagged ‘Walter Alston’

The End of a Dynasty: the 1963 Dodgers

August 29, 2015
Ron Perranoski

Ron Perranoski

There are a couple of misconceptions about the 1963 Dodgers. One is that they were never supposed to make the World Series. A second is that all they could do was pitch. In 1962 the Dodgers had taken eventual champion San Francisco to a three game playoff before losing the playoff in the third game. So reality is that Los Angeles was a formidable team a year early with both the MVP (Maury Wills) and the Cy Young Award  winner (Don Drysdale). Additionally Tommy Davis won the 1962 batting title and led the National League in RBIs. Allegations that the team could pitch but not hit fail when you understand that Davis repeated the batting title in 1963, the team finished first in stolen bases, and in the middle of the pack (in a 10 team league) in hitting, OBP, runs, hits, and even home runs (seventh). It wasn’t the 1927 Yankees, but the team could hit a little.

Walter Alston was in his 10th year managing the Dodgers. His record was 99-63 (almost a duplicate of 1962’s 101-61). He’d managed the Dodgers’ two previous World Series victories (1955 and 1959) and had supervised the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958.

John Roseboro was the catcher. He’d replaced the legendary Roy Campanella in 1958 and maintained his job into 1963. He was solid, unspectacular, a good teammate and hit all of.236 with nine home runs and an OPS+ of 91 with 1.9 WAR (BBREF version).

The infield was also solid, and occasionally spectacular. Ron Fairly was at first. He hit .271 and had 12 home runs, good for third on the team. His 77 RBIs were second, while his OPS topped out at .735 (OPS+ 120) with 2.8 WAR. Jim Gilliam, a Brooklyn holdover, was at second. He hit .282, stole 19 bases, bunted well, was third on the team with 201 total bases, had 5.2 WAR (good for second on the team), played an excellent second base and did all those things managers wanted the two hitter to do. Maury Wills was the spectacular part of the infield. He hit .302, scored a team high 83 runs, stole 40 bases, and was credited with reestablishing the stolen base as an offensive weapon. It wasn’t really true but it was believed. Third base was in flux. Ken McMullen ended up playing more games there than anyone else, but hit all of .236 with neither power nor speed. By the time the World Series came around he was out of the lineup with Gilliam replacing him at third. That left second open and Dick Tracewski took over the position. He was a good fielder but hit .226 with one home run and 10 RBIs.

The outfield had two Davis’s and a Howard. The aforementioned Tommy Davis was in left field. He hit .326 to repeat as batting champion, and his home run total was second on the team at 16. His RBIs had fallen off to 88, but it still led the team. His OPS+ was 142 with a 3.9 WAR. The other Davis was center fielder Willie. He was generally a good fielder who could run. He hit only .245, but stole 25 bases and scored 60 runs, which equaled his RBI total. The power came from Frank Howard who was a genuinely huge man for the era. He played right field, hit .273, led the team with 28 home runs, had an OPS of .848 (easily first on the team), led all everyday players with and OPS+ of 150 and had 4.1 WAR.

The bench was long, if not overly good. Six players (including Tracewski mentioned above) were in 50 or more games and three more played at least 20 games. Wally Moon, at 122, played the most games. He hit .262 with eight home runs, 48 RBIs and 41 runs scored. Former Yankee Moose Skowron got into 89 games and had 19 runs scored, 19 RBIs, and four home runs. Doug Camilli was the primary backup catcher.

But no matter how much the Dodgers hitting was overlooked, the pitching dominated the team. Don Drysdale was the reigning Cy Young Award winner and went 19-17 with an ERA of 2.63 (ERA+ 114), 315 innings pitched, 251 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.091, and 4.7 WAR. But he’d ceded the ace title to Sandy Koufax. Koufax was 25-5 with an ERA of 1.88 (ERA+ 159), 11 shutouts, 306 strikeouts, 0.875 WHIP, and 9.9 WAR. All, except ERA+(which was second) were first among NL pitchers. All that got him the NL MVP Award and a unanimous Cy Young Award in an era when only a single Cy Young Award was given. The third pitcher was 1955 World Series MVP Johnny Podres. He went 14-12 with an ERA of 3.54, 1.311 WHIP, and 0.3 WAR. Pete Reichert and Bob Miller, neither of which figured in the World Series, were the other pitchers with double figure starts.

Ron Perranoski was the ace of the bullpen with a 16-3 record and 21 saves. His ERA was 1.67 (ERA+ 179) with 4.5 WAR. Larry Sherry (another World Series hero–this time in 1959), Dick Calmus, and Ed Roebuck were the other bullpen men with 20 or more appearances. Sherry had three saves.

The Los Angeles hitting was underrated in 1963, but the pitching was first rate. If the pitching did its job, and the hitting did much of anything at all, it was a team that could compete with the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Shutting ’em Down in Game 7: Bums Win

September 25, 2014
The Podres statue at the Hall of Fame

The Podres statue at the Hall of Fame

Game seven of the 1955 World Series is arguably the most famous game in Brooklyn Dodgers history. April of 1947 is its only rival. Finally, after years of frustration going back to 1901 the Dodgers finally were World Champions. It had last occurred in 1900.

The Dodgers were playing the Yankees for the sixth time (’41, ’47, ’49, ’52, ’53 are the others) and were 0-5. Some had been good Series’ (particularly 1947) but Brooklyn always lost. The 1955 team was still very much the same team as the 1952 and 1953 teams but there were significant changes. First, Walter Alston was now the manager. He’d been a minor league manager for a while, but in 1954 took the leadership of the team. The infield was different from the more famous “Boys of Summer” infield. Gil Hodges was still at first and Pee Wee Reese still held down shortstop, But Jim Gilliam now spent more time at second than anyone else. He could also play the outfield in for game seven he was in left. Utility man Don Zimmer was at second. Jackie Robinson now was the primary third baseman, but for game seven he was on the bench with Don Hoak at third. Carl Furillo and Duke Snider were still in right and center field, but Sandy Amoros did most of the work in left. As mentioned earlier, on 4 October 1955 he started on the bench. He didn’t stay there. Roy Campanella having his last good year, was the MVP winning catcher.

The pitching staff was in transition. Don Newcombe was still the ace, Carl Erskine was fading, Billy Loes was still there, but a key newcomer (he’d been around awhile, but wasn’t anything like a star) was 22-year old Johnny Podres. Ed Roebuck and Clem Labine did the bulk of the bullpen work, but 19-year old bonus baby Sandy Koufax was on the roster (he didn’t pitch in the Series). Podres, the game three winner, got game seven.

He faced a Casey Stengel New York Yankees team that, after a string of five consecutive World Series victories, had finished second in 1954. They were back with a new lineup that included Moose Skowron at first, Gil McDougald at second, Andy Carey at third, and shortstop Billy Hunter. Gone was Johnny Mize while Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto and Joe Collins were on the bench. Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer were in center field and right field with Irv Noren doing most of the work in left. Elston Howard had finally integrated the Yanks in ’55 and now backed up in left.

MVP Yogi Berra caught a staff that included Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Tommy Byrne, Bob Grim and Don Larsen. Ford was the ace, with Turley a close second. Larsen was still learning (and would figure it all out in one game the next World Series). Byrne had a good year but as usual walked more than he struck out. He drew game seven which was played in Yankee Stadium.

Both pitchers got through the first inning without incident. Byrne gave up a walk in the second and Podres gave a double to Skowron, but no runs came across. It stayed that way to the top of the fourth. With one out, Campanella doubled, then went to third on a grounder to short. Hodges then singled to left scoring Campy with the initial run of the game. In the bottom of the fourth New York got a runner as far as third before a pop up to short ended the threat.

Reese led off the top of the sixth with a single then went to second on a Snider bunt. An error by Skowron made Snider safe. Then a Campanella bunt put runners on second and third with only one out. Byrne intentionally walked Furillo to load the bases, then gave up the mound to Bob Grim. Hodges hit a long sacrifice to right center that scored Reese with an unearned run. A wild pitch (that didn’t allow Snider to score) and a walk reloaded the bases, but pinch hitter George Shuba grounded out to end the inning. As a short aside, it’s a measure of how much the game has changed that both Snider and Campanella, the three and four hitters, laid down bunts in a critical situation.

Shuba’s pinch hit was critical to the game. It removed Zimmer from the lineup and forced Gilliam to take second. That brought Amoros into the game in left. That immediately made a difference. Martin, playing second in this game, walked to lead off the bottom of the sixth and went to second on a bunt by McDougald, who was safe at first. Berra then slammed a drive down the left field line. Amoros, a left-hander, got to the line, stuck up his glove (on his right hand) and snagged the ball. A toss to Reese and a relay to Hodges completed a double play. Bauer then grounded out to end the threat. Most experts agree that Gilliam, with his glove on his left hand, would have never been able to make the play in left, but southpaw Amoros became an instant Brooklyn hero.

It was the turning point of the game. Podres allowed two base runners in both the seventh and eighth innings but worked out of both jams without damage. In the ninth a comebacker to the pitcher, a fly to left, and a ground out short to first ended the game and brought Brooklyn its first World Series championship. Brooklyn went crazy.

The big heroes were Amoros with a great catch and throw, Campanella with a run scored and a key bunt, Hodges with both RBIs, and Reese with a run and a fine relay on Amoros’ catch and throw. But the biggest hero was Podres. He’d pitched a complete game shutout. It was true that it wasn’t a masterpiece. He’d allowed eight hits (the Dodgers only had five) and walked two, but he’d also struck out four and pitched out of each jam. It was the first year an MVP for the World Series was awarded. Podres won it easily.

The Yanks played well. McDougald had three hits, but was doubled up in the sixth on Reese’s relay. Skowron had a double, but also an error, while Berra had the only other extra base hit for New York and smashed the ball to left that started the double play that was so pivotal to the game.

The game marked the high water mark for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year they were back in the World Series, but lost to the Yankees. In 1957 they had a bad year and by 1958 were relocated to Los Angeles. They did well there winning again it 1959. A handful of the 1955 winners were still around: Snider, Furillo, Gilliam, Zimmer, and Koufax among others. Most notably for fans of the 1955 team, so was Podres. He pitched two games and picked up the win in game two.

 

 

Star Managers

December 5, 2013

Recently my son reminded me that Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, and Ted Williams all have something in common other than being Hall of Famers with 500 home runs. Each was a manager with an overall losing record. Mathews’ .481 is the highest winning percentage of the four. He wondered if I knew that (I didn’t).

It got me to thinking about how commonplace an idea it is that great players don’t make great managers. The great managers are guys like Earl Weaver who never got to the big leagues,  Tony LaRussa who was a marginal player (he hit a buck-99 in 132 games), or Walter Alston who got all of one at bat in the Major Leagues. And no one is going to question that the three of them were great managers. But let me point out a small handful of exceptional players who made pretty fair managers.

1. John J. McGraw has the second most wins of any manager ever, and the one with the most wins of any manager who didn’t also own the team (Connie Mack). McGraw was a true star in the late 19th Century. He was the heart and soul of the most famous of all 19th Century teams, the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. He hit well, played a fine third base, ran well, and was unmatched at on field shenanigans.

2. Hughie Jennings was a teammate of McGraw’s and led Detroit to three consecutive World series appearances (1907-09). The Tigers lost all of them, but the next time they got the Series was 1934.

3. Yogi Berra led two New York teams to the World Series: the Yankees in 1964 and the Mets in 1973. Both teams lost.

4. Joe Torre, who admittedly wasn’t the player McGraw and Berra were, won four championships as a manager after winning an MVP as a player.

There are also a number of player-managers who were both successful managers and star players. Bucky Harris, Frank Chance, and Joe Cronin are only three examples.

So while it’s true that being a great player doesn’t necessarily translate to a great manager, it also doesn’t mean the guy is a disaster as manager.

The Phenom of Phenoms

December 20, 2010

The loss of Bob Feller reminded me just how much of a “phenom” he was. He joined the Indians at 17, then left in September to begin his senior year in high school. Upon graduation he returned to Cleveland and renewed his career. There have been a great number of “phenoms”, some fragile like Stephen Strasburg, some injured like Herb Score. Back in the 1950s the “Bonus Baby” rule required “phenoms” signed for huge bonus’ to stay on the Major League roster for two years (“We gotta discourage this bonus nonesnse.”). Those men played out their minor league careers in front of Major League audiences. When they should have been playing Double A and Triple A ball they were spending entire seasons on the bench with an occasional foray to the field. Some of them disappeared. Others became stars after they served their time on the bench. Eighteen year old Harmon Killebrew played nine games in his rookie season but became a feared power hitter who ended up with over 500 home runs and a plaque in Cooperstown. Nineteen year old college freshman Sandy Koufax got into 42 innings in 1955, but became a Hall of Famer and the best hurler I ever saw. Watching both in the first few years of their careers was painful, but it panned out in the end.

But there was another “phenom” who was just as good and just as painful to watch in his early years. He got to the big leagues at age 16. It wasn’t exactly the Major Leagues he got to. They wouldn’t let him into the Majors when he was 16 and it had nothing to do with his age. He joined professional baseball at the highest level he could by entering the Negro Leagues. His name was Roy Campanella and he was very, very good.

Campanella was of mixed race, which in 1930s and 1940s America meant that no matter his actual skin tone, he was considered black. He was a natural at baseball, excelling at school and on the sand lots. At age 16, he dropped out of school and in the spring of 1937, still aged 16, he joined the Washington Elite Giants, who moved to Baltimore in 1938. I heard an interview with Campanella years ago in which he pronounced the name of the team as E-LIGHT Giants, not E-LEET Giants. Don’t know if it was his personal pronunciation or the actual pronunciation of the team name, but I’ve called them E-LIGHT Giants since. I’m not about to contradict Roy Campanella.

By his own confession he wasn’t much of a catcher at age 16. The Elite Giants (however you pronounced them) had a great catcher of their own named Biz Mackey, who later on was elected to the Hall of  Fame. Campanella credited Mackey with making him a Major League caliber catcher.

In the Negro Leagues, Campanella became a star and was considered something of a rival of Josh Gibson as the finest catcher in the leagues (at least as far as anyone was going to rival Gibson). In 1942 Campanella jumped to the Mexican League where he was equally good. In 1946 Jackie Robinson signed his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers and baseball, slowly, tentatively, and ever so carefully cracked open the door of integration. Late in 1946, the Dodgers signed Campanella (by now universally known as “Campy”). While in Nashua in the minors, the team manager (Walter Alston) was tossed from the game. He appointed Campanella as his replacement, making Campy the first black man to manage white players in a professional minor league game. Behind when Campy took over, the team ultimately won the game. He made the Major League team in 1948, settling in as the regular catcher. He became a regular all-star, a regular MVP candidate, and a three-time winner of the MVP award. Although “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke” may have been more famous, in the time that they and Campy all played in New York, Campy won as many MVP awards as the other three put together (as did Campy’s closest rival, Yogi Berra).

Campanella was a great catcher. He had large and soft hands, could move easily despite a distinct bulk. He blocked the plate well, threw to second well (not all that significant a skill in the low base stealing era that was the 1950s), could move under a foul fly with ease, and did a wonderful job with pitchers, especially considering the racial problems created by a black/white battery. And he could hit. God, could he hit. I never saw anyone swing the bat harder. We had a joke in the house that when he swung and missed you could feel the breeze cool you through the TV. He hit .300 three times, had 30+ home runs four times (once going over 40 for a then record number by a catcher), led the National League in RBIs once, and even managed to steal eight bases one year. As he put it about the steals, “They were laughing so hard, they forgot to throw the ball.”

In 1954 he got hurt; his throwing hand. It never healed properly and periodically bothered him for the rest of his career. In the year he stayed healthy (1955) he was still terrific, winning one more MVP award and appearing in the Dodgers first ever World Series triumph. In 1956 and 1957 he was on the wane. The hand was a problem, so was age. He was only 35 and 36, but he was a catcher and the aches, pains, injuries, and squats took their toll. In 1958 came the car wreck and the end of his career. He made the Hall of Fame in 1969, three years before  Josh Gibson. Death came in 1993.

Campanella was a big league player at 16 (a year earlier than Feller). He was a superior catcher and hitter who because of his age may be the “phenom of phenoms”. It’s hard to place him in the pantheon of great catchers because he loses his earliest years to racism and is hurt in the final couple of years of his career (without reference to what the car wreck might have cost him in playing time). Still he rates in the ten best among catchers. I’ve seen some lists that place him has high as second. I’ll settle for top five and the knowledge that he stands at the head of a long line of young “phenoms” who made their mark in baseball.

Roy Campanella

The Way to Win: The Antithesis of Murder’s Row

August 11, 2010

Walter Alson while the team was in Brooklyn

In the 1960s baseball changed, going back to something like the Deadball Era. Now the home run didn’t disappear, but it went from being the primary element of the game to a supporting role. The starring role went to Deadball staples speed and pitching. No team epitomized that more than the 1962-1966 Los Angeles Dodgers. 

I admit to being a Dodgers fan, but I also acknowledge that this team, particularly the 1965 version was one of the weaker teams to ever dominate an era. The ’65 Dodgers were dead last in home runs with 78 and seventh (in a 10 team league) in hitting. Of course they could pitch and run. They also played defense pretty well. They were the antithesis of the great Yankees dynasties, but they were built, personnelwise, very much like those Bronx teams. In the period they won two World Series’, lost one, lost a three game playoff and finished sixth (1964). 

Walter Alston was the manager. He’d gotten into one game for the Cardinals back in the 1930s, then took up managing. He joined the Dodgers when they were in Brooklyn and was the manager when they won their first World Series in 1955. He went with them to Los Angeles and led them to another Series win in 1959. By the 1960s he was well established, considered knowledgable, and was well liked my most of the clubhouse. The “most” is key. Apparently there was some question about how well he’d handled integrating the team as more and more black players arrived in the late 1950s an early 1960s (he came on board well after 1947 so was not there for the initial arrival of black players). There’s no evidence of overt racism that I can find, but a number of black players didn’t like him. And he didn’t particularly like Sandy Koufax (bad move, Jack) although he recognized the talent. 

The team had two stars, both, as you would expect, pitchers. Don Drysdale won the 1962 Cy Young award and Sandy Koufax won the same award in 1963, 1965, and 1966.  Back then there was only one Cy Young awarded (not one in both leagues) which should tell you just how dominant the two Dodgers stars were. BTW Koufax is still the only pitcher to win three Cy Young’s unanimously (with Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Drysdale in the same league no less). He also won the 1963 MVP award. 

The Dodgers had some really good players to go along with their stars. Maury Wills led off, played shortstop, led the league in stolen bases, won the 1962 MVP, and gets sporadic support for the Hall of Fame (although not from this quarter). Willie Davis was a good fielding (except for one inning in 1966-ouch) center fielder, Tommy Davis won back-to-back batting titles (before getting hurt), and Frank Howard was a monster who provided what little power the Dodgers had. After going to Washington he won a couple of home run titles. 

The team went through a number of role players in the five-year period. Johnny Roseboro was an excellent catcher who hit a little, Ron Fairly could handle both first base and the outfield (after Howard went to Washington), Lou Johnson took Howard’s place as the power hitter (such as it was), Jim Lefebrve won the 1965 Rookie of the Year Award, and Wes Parker was a slick fielding first baseman who took Fairly’s place. The third pitcher was originally Johnny Podres, who had by this time become something of a role player. Claude Osteen replaced him late in the run, and Don Sutton was a rookie in 1966 going 12-12 at the start of a Hall of Fame career. Then there was Jim Gilliam, maybe the ultimate role player. Put him at second, put him at third, stick him in the outfield. It didn’t matter, he performed well in each. 

There was a one-year wonder also. Phil Regan replaced Ron Perranoski as the closer in 1966. He went 14-1 with 21 saves. He never had another year even vaguely approaching that season. Perranoski is sort of a one-year wonder. His 1963 was by far his greatest year, but his other years weren’t the drop off that I associate with one-year wonders. 

On the surface this team is absolutely unlike the great Yankees dynasties. If you look at the types of players, even they look different. But if you look at a more generalized view of the team, you find it’s made up in the same style as the other teams mentioned in previous posts. I’ll wrap this up in the next post.