Posts Tagged ‘Walter Johnson’

Stability

September 4, 2017

Johnny Bench, Reds

Over at one of my favorite blogs, The Hall of Miller and Eric, they are running a “Mount Rushmore” of each team. As you might expect that means they are picking four players to represent the best of each franchise. But there is a kicker there. The player must have played his entire career with the same team. That means no Warren Spahn at the Braves, no Duke Snider with the Dodgers, no Yogi Berra with the Yanks (he had nine at bats with the Mets).

Now all that, especially the loss of Snider and Dazzy Vance with the Dodgers, got me to looking for players who spent their entire career with one team. Now it had to be significant time with the team, after all Moonlight Graham spent his entire Major League career with one team. I figured it would be loaded with old-time players, players who were faced with the reserve clause. Surprisingly, there were a lot of modern guys on the list. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of just a few of the players who never changed teams.

First base: Lou Gehrig, Jeff Bagwell, Willie Stargell

Second Base: Charlie Gehringer, Jackie Robinson (he was traded but never played for a second team, opting to retire instead), Craig Biggio

Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Luke Appling, PeeWee Reese, Phil Rizzuto

Third Base: Brooks Robinson, Chipper Jones, George Brett, Mike Schmidt

Outfield: Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

Catcher: Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella

Left-Handed Pitchers: Whitey Ford, Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax

Right-Handed Pitchers: Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Mariano Rivera

Not a bad lot, right?

One quick note. Honus Wagner came up with the Louisville Colonels and ended up with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not quite the same as being traded or leaving via free agency. Barney Dreyfuss owned both teams and when the National League contracted he moved all his good players to Pittsburgh and let Louisville go. I’m not sure how to deal with that, so I left him off. You might differ.

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The Rep

December 22, 2016
"Vinegar Bend" Mizell

“Vinegar Bend” Mizell

One of the great sage pieces of advice my grandfather gave me when I was growing up stuck with me into my adulthood and probably will stay with me through my dotage. It’s simply that people never talk politics, religion, or sports. They argue them, so stay away from them. And putting any two together is down right crazy. Well, the very act of doing this blog violates the sport part, but now I’m going to put two of them together. It’s up to you to decided just how crazy that is.

Baseball is full of people who mixed the sport with politics. Way back the first President of the National League became a US Senator. Later on John Tener was Senator, Governor, and President of the National League. The Britton brothers who ran the Cleveland Spiders and later the St. Louis Cardinals dabbled in politics. Those are all owners and executives, but players have also been involved. Walter Johnson ran, unsuccessfully, for office, Mickey Owen was sheriff (an elective office where he lived) in his home county. One of the more prominent was a pitcher who made it to the US House of Representatives.

Wilmer Mizell was born in Alabama in 1930. The nearest town was Vinegar Bend and it served as his nickname, surely one of the great baseball nicknames, through his career. He grew up in Mississippi and was good enough at baseball that he made the low minors in 1949. He stayed there until 1952 when he went to St. Louis as a southpaw pitcher. Other than a stint in the Army during the 1950s, he remained in the big leagues through 1961. In 1962 he split time between the minors and the big leagues.

For the Cards he was mostly a starter (185 starts out of 199 games pitched) who was one game under .500 (69-70) with an ERA in the mid-threes with more innings pitched than hits allowed and more strikeouts than walks (WHIP of 1.377). In 1959 he made the National League All Star team.

In 1960 the Cardinals sent him to Pittsburgh. The Pirates were assembling a pennant winning team that year and Mizell was one of the pitching parts. He went 13-5 with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.201 WHIP, and 2.5 WAR. He pitched in two World Series games, starting and losing game three and going a couple of innings in the game six blowout loss. It was his only ring.

In 1961 he had a losing record and an ERA over five. His last year was 1962. He was done at 31. For his career he was 90-88 with an ERA of 3.85 (ERA+ of 104) with 680 walks, 918 strikeouts, a 1.383 WHIP, and 17.7 WAR. Not a bad career, but not a great one either. He did have the one World Series championship to his credit.

So what do you do after a life in baseball? Mizell went to work for Pepsi going into sales and later public relations. In 1966 he moved into politics, running for and winning a seat on the Davidson County, North Carolina board of commissioners. He held the job two years then ran for Congress from the Fifth District of North Carolina. He was a Republican, it was 1968, and the South was changing. He won the seat with just under 53% of the vote. He remained in Congress through the 1974 election when he, like many Republicans in the wake of Watergate, lost his seat. In partial compensation he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and held the job until Jimmy Carter became President. With the arrival of Ronald Reagan, Mizell was appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Governmental and Public Affairs and later moved to the Assistant Secretary slot at the Intergovernmental Affairs branch of the Department of Agriculture. President George H.W. Bush made him head of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

He retired after Bill Clinton took office and died in February 1999. Today he’s probably most remembered as the primary Republican pitcher in the Congressional baseball game. He’s got a ring. He served his country for twenty years. All in all, that’s not a bad legacy.

Mizell's grave from Find a Grave

Mizell’s grave from Find a Grave

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1933

November 1, 2016

We come now to the penultimate (don’t you just love $50 words like penultimate?) class of the My Little Hall of Fame project. This time a broad selection of people, including one of the more obvious choices possible.

Barney Dreyfuss

Barney Dreyfuss

Longtime National League owner Barney Dreyfuss entered baseball in the 1890s. He served as President and owner of the Louisville Colonels and later the Pittsburgh Pirates. During his tenure his Pirates team won six pennants, two prior to the creation of the World Series, then won the World Series twice. He was instrumental in bringing to a close the “Baseball War” of 1901-1903 between the National League and the American League and is the man who first proposed a “World’s Series” between the two Major League pennant winners. His team participated in the first one.

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson, the “Big Train,” pitched for the Washington American League team from the early 20th Century through 1927. Over his career he amassed more than 400 wins, became the first pitcher to record 3000 strikeouts, and led the league in wins six times, in strikeouts 12 times, in ERA five times, and helped his team win the 1924 World Series. He is the only player to win both a Chalmers Award and a League Award.

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

One of the greatest Negro League pitchers, Jose Mendez came from Cuba to star for the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1920s. He led them to a Negro World Series championship in 1924 before retiring after the 1926 season.

Zack Wheat

Zack Wheat

Star outfielder for Brooklyn in the National League he led his team to World Series appearances in both 1916 and 1920. He won the 1918 batting title and in the pennant winning season of 1916 led the league in extra base hits. He also led the National League in fielding twice.

And the commentary:

1. Dreyfuss was an easy choice as a contributor. He was an early advocate of the World Series, of gaining a “peace” between the warring American and National Leagues, and of contracting the National League to eight teams from the unwieldy 12 team league that existed most of the 1890s. Unfortunately, he was also an early advocate of syndicate baseball. I’m surprised it took quite so long for Cooperstown to come calling.

2. You knew Johnson was getting in, right? The only question was his win total. I noted a couple of differences in the final number, so left it at “more than 400 wins.”

3. Mendez is one of the truly outstanding pitchers of the early Negro Leagues. I suppose I might have put in another (although George Stovey did make it several classes ago), but his work with the Monarchs, a premier team in the 1920s, made him an easier choice.

4. Wheat has the kind of numbers that impressed 1930s writers. There are lots of hits, a high average, and he’s a good outfielder. One thing I noticed is that there’s praise for his later work (the years in the 1920s) that talks about him getting better with age. Of course we know that he covers that transition from the “Deadball” era to the “Lively ball” era so much of that later work is influenced by the change in eras. I don’t see anything that leads me to believe that the writers of the era paid attention to that.

5. Here’s the list of everyday players eligible for the final ballot in this project: George Burns, Cupid Childs, Ty Cobb, Jake Daubert, Jack Fornier, Larry Gardner, Heinie Groh, Baby Doll Jacobson, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Stuffy McInnis, Clyde Milan, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Tris Speaker, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren, Ross Youngs (a total of 21 with 20 a maximum).

6. Now the same list for pitchers: Babe Adams, Chief Bender, Jack Chesbro, Wilbur Cooper, Stan Coveleski, Sam Leever, Rube Marquard, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Urban Shocker, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White (a total of 12 with 10 a maximum).

7. Finishing with the contributors: umpires-Bob Emslie, Tim Hurst; manager-George Stallings; owners-Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann; Negro Leagues-Pete Hill, Oliver Marcell, Dobie Moore, Spottswood Poles, Ben Taylor, Christobal Torriente; and 19th Century pioneer William R. Wheaton (a total of 12 with a maximum of 10).

8. Without giving anything away I think the Cobb and Speaker kids have a pretty good chance of making it.

 

 

Win the MVP, Get a Car

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

Hugh Chalmers pictured on the cover of his biography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Walter, George, and the Jalopy

December 23, 2015
Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Way back in the 1920s a lot of ball players barnstormed during the winter trying to make a few extra buck, trying to keep in shape for the regular season, trying to grow the game, trying to get away from the drudgery of an everyday off-season job. That made it possible for fans in places that had no contact with Major League Baseball except through the radio or local newspaper to meet big leaguers and watch them play baseball at its best level. This is the story of how my Grandfather met Walter Johnson, at least as it was told to me.

During the 1920s Johnson did a barnstorming tour or two. One of those came through Oklahoma close to where my Grandfather and Grandmother lived. They worked on a small farm owned by a man named George (last name left off because he probably still has relatives around). George owned the farm and my Grandfather was a tenant. That could be a bad combination but because both men liked each other a lot it worked out well. They spent a lot of time together, loved baseball, and George owned an old jalopy that he used to take my Grandfather around in when Granddad needed to go somewhere.

He also owned the plot of land where Uncle Joe had his still (see the article “The Moonshiner and the Church League” of 2 October 2013 for details on Uncle Joe, the still, and my Grandfather’s role in the enterprise). Of course George knew about the still and was content to let it stay where it was because he got a Mason Jar full of the “stash” every time Uncle Joe made a new batch. So the relationship between George and my family was close.

Sometime in the 1920s the word came that Walter Johnson was leading a team across country and they were going to stop in Oklahoma (Muskogee, I think, but don’t remember for sure after all these years). Well, Granddad and George wanted to see him pitch, so they decided to take a couple of days off, drive down to Muskogee (again, don’t hold me to the name of the town) and see the game. There were a couple of problems. First, my Grandmother was pregnant and getting her safely to Muskogee and back in George’s jalopy was going to be a problem (apparently she wasn’t near delivery, but was obviously pregnant). Second, Mrs. George didn’t like baseball, didn’t care who was pitching, and thought Muskogee was a long way in an old car. And finally, it wasn’t much of a car.

I never saw the jalopy. By the time I was born, it was gone, buried, and in whatever afterlife exists for things run by the internal combustion engine. But it was legendary in the family. The shocks were shot, the tires weren’t exactly bald, but they weren’t new either. There were no springs in the backseat (another reason my Grandmother couldn’t go) and George had to carry a couple of jugs of water to keep the radiator from exploding. So neither of the women wanted to go to Muskogee in what was just a few bolts short of a deathtrap.

Well, that was OK, because there was always Uncle Joe. And with Uncle Joe came the “stash.” And of course Uncle Joe was more than happy to go along (and bring a few bottles of his finest).

So sometime during the week (it was a weekday, I don’t know which) they said good-bye to the women and headed off in a car that both wives were absolutely sure wouldn’t make it half way to Muskogee, let along make it all the way back (but, of course, you do have to humor the absolutely crazy). They had the jugs of water, enough sandwiches to cover a couple of days, three bottles of Uncle Joe’s finest, a few dollars, a toothbrush, and little else. Other than stopping at every other creek on the way to fill the radiator and refill the jugs, the trip went without incident (somewhere along the line they had to get gas, but I don’t remember any stories about it). Of course the “stash” helped ease the problem of the shocks. When they got to Muskogee they had no money for a hotel room, so it was decided to park at the local fair grounds (which was where the ballpark was) for the night. Apparently they weren’t alone and that created a problem. Who got to sleep with the stash? Somebody had to or it might be stolen in the night. This is a big deal because two of the guys were going to have to sleep under the car while the stash guard got to sleep inside the car. Well, it was an easy choice; it was George’s car so he got the interior (and the stash).

The next morning it dawned on our three intrepid travelers that they couldn’t take Uncle Joe’s best into the ballpark. They also couldn’t leave in the jalopy because the damned thing didn’t lock and everyone around knew what clear liquid you kept in Mason Jars. So the chance of any of the jars (and by this point at least one would have been empty) still being there at the end of the game was tiny. They decided to hide it. I’ve never been quite sure where (the story changed a time or two when I heard it) but it seems they found what they considered a safe place.

The weather was dry, the crowd was big (for Muskogee), and the cost of the game was cheap enough even Granddad, George, and Uncle Joe could afford a ticket (I think I remember hearing “a quarter.”). They got seats part way up the visitors side. The fair grounds ballpark is gone so I have no idea how many rows that was, but it seems, from everything else they said, that it wasn’t too high up the grandstand.

Walter Johnson and his team showed up, took batting practice, signed a few autographs, then the home team took the field. Johnson pitched the first three innings and Granddad told me he’d never forget the way he mowed down the Muskogee team. No one got on base, only a couple of guys even hit the ball, and after three innings Johnson exited the game. That was the cue the crowd needed. Half the fans in the grandstand rushed the field, Granddad included. They clustered around Walter Johnson, patted him on the back, shook his hand. My Granddad managed to reach the front of the mob and got to briefly shake The Big Train’s hand. He told me he was in utter awe of having touched Walter Johnson.

The Johnson team won the game after order was restored (the score changed a time or two in the telling) and Granddad, George, and Uncle Joe started home, after recovering the stash. It was too far to get home in one night. I’ve never been sure if the distance was too far, the headlights didn’t work (or even if there were headlights), or they just wanted one more night on the road, but they stopped about half way home and pulled off into a field. Apparently the evening was taken up with talking about the game, enjoying each other’s company, and sharing the last of the stash with the farmer who owned the field where they stayed. George again got the interior for overnight.

The next morning they took off for home and arrived in the afternoon. For much of my upbringing, my Grandfather told his story. It got a little better with age (but then so do my tales), but it was one of his favorites. I met George later and he told pretty much the same story, so I always believed it was true (more or less). For my Grandfather it was the only time he actually met a big league star and he was sure it was worth every minute of the trip. Both wives were sure they’d wasted value time goofing off.

WAR, One Pitcher, and Winning it All

September 24, 2015
Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

They tell me that the guys with the best WAR are the best players. They also tell me that a great pitcher will win for you. OK, I’ll give them both of those (sorta). But one thing I’ve noticed is that they’re certainly no predictor of a championship. It’s the nature of the game that this would be true. You simply can’t let your ace pitcher (the one with the best WAR) pitch every inning and you can’t let your best hitter (again the one with the best WAR) come up for every at bat. It’s particularly true that you can’t take the guys with the best ever pitching WAR and find a lot of World Series championships.

I’ve been particularly critical of pitching WAR (but not as much critical of offensive WAR) ever since I saw the numbers and read the ever-changing formulae. But let’s accept that it’s a good measure of pitching excellence. It still isn’t much of a predictor of how a team will do. I Went down the BBREF list of yearly WAR (which uses BBREF’s version of WAR) looking only for pitchers. I excluded all pitchers who showed up before the advent of the 20th Century. In other words I ignored the pre-American League championship games  (1884-1891). I did this because there is great disagreement about how seriously they were taken by the teams and players and how much they were treated as mere exhibitions. I also ignored the Temple Cup Series. Then I looked to find the top 10 WAR seasons for a pitcher in the American League era (1901-present). Of course I ran into Walter Johnson who had three of the top five and four of the top 12. So I changed the way I went at it. I began looking for a new name until I found 10 different pitchers. That took me all the way to 52nd on the list. Of course many of the 52 (and ties) were pre-1901 pitchers (including the first seven) and some were hitters (Ruth four times, Barry Bonds twice, and Gehrig, Yastrzemski and Hornsby once each). Here’s the list I ended up with: Walter Johnson in 1913 (16.0 WAR), Johnson in 1912 (14.6), Dwight Gooden in 1985 (13.2), Johnson in 1914 (13.0), Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920 (12.8), Cy Young in 1901 (12.6), Steve Carlton in 1972 (12.5), Roger Clemens in 1997 (12.2), Johnson in 1915 (12.1), Fergie Jenkins in 1971 (12.0), Hal Newhouser in 1945 (12.0), Bob Gibson in 1968 (11.9), Alexander in 1916, Pedro Martinez in 2000, and Smokey Joe Wood in 1912 (all at 11.7). So the individual pitchers are Johnson, Gooden, Alexander, Young, Carlton, Clemens, Jenkins, Newhouser, Gibson, Martinez, and Wood (a total of 11).

Let’s notice a couple of things about this list. First, Walter Johnson’s 1912-1915 is, by WAR, the greatest pitching performance by a single pitcher over a  period of years in the last 115 years (and people still debate how good he was). Second, there are a couple of one shot wonders in the list, specifically Gooden and Wood. The remainder are quality pitchers having their peak year.

But for my purpose, the most interesting thing is that only two of the pitchers were with teams that won the World Series: Newhouser and Wood. Gibson got to the Series but the Cardinals lost in seven games (Gibson himself taking the loss in game seven). In 1901 there was no Series, but Young’s Boston team finished second.

This isn’t a knock on pitching WAR, but merely an acknowledgement that it can’t predict pennants. And one great pitcher isn’t a predictor either. It does help if the number two pitcher on your team has a pretty good year also.

1924: The Con Job

March 17, 2015

(A DISCLAIMER: I don’t know how this happened, but the post concerning the 3 games held in New York posted out of order. It is currently four posts below this one and appears to be the first post in the set on the 1924 World Series. I have no idea how this happened; nor do I know how to fix it. If you’re interested, take a second to scroll down and read it. It is titled, “1924: The Senators Steal One.” Sorry, team.)

Needing two wins, the Washington Senators got the last two games of the 1924 World Series at home. If they could sweep, they would win Washington its first ever World’s Championship. New York needed one of the two to return the title to the Big Apple.

Game 6

Washington Player-Manager Bucky Harris

Washington Player-Manager Bucky Harris

Game 6 was played 9 October 1924 with the Senators needing a win to force a game seven. Tom Zachary, game 2 winner, was sent to the mound by Washington to insure that happened. Art Nehf opposed him. In the top of the first, Fred Lindstrom led off with a bunt that failed. Frankie Frisch then doubled. When he tried to advance to third on a Ross Youngs tapper back to the mound, Zachary gunned him down at third while Youngs advanced to second. A Highpockets Kelly single to center scored Youngs with the first run. The score remained 1-0 into the bottom of the fifth. Roger Peckinpaugh led off the Senators half of the inning with a single. A bunt sacrifice sent him to second. A Zachary grounder sent him to third. With two outs Earl McNeely walked, then stole second. With two outs and two on, Washington’s player-manager Bucky Harris singled to drive in both runs. Through the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth, New York managed one single was the score stayed 2-1 into the ninth. With one out in the ninth, Highpockets Kelly singled, but a ground out forced pinch runner Billy Southworth at second. Needing one out to force a game seven, Zachary fanned Hack Wilson to end the game. Zachary was great in game six. He gave up a single run in the first inning, then shutout the Giants. He gave up seven hits, walked none, and struck out three. Harris’ single provided all the runs he needed. Nehf wasn’t bad, even though he lost. He went seven innings (Rosy Ryan pitched the eighth) giving up only two runs, four hits, and four walks. He also struck out four. It set up game seven.

Game 7

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Game seven of the 1924 World Series became one of the most famous of all World Series games. It was played 10 October in Washington and its outcome was caused, in part, by one of the great con jobs in Series history. Senators manager believed that Giants player Bill Terry had trouble hitting left-handed pitching so he announced that righty Curly Ogden, who hadn’t pitched all Series, would start game seven. New York manager John McGraw responded by inserting Terry into the lineup (he hit fifth) over normal left fielder Irish Meusel (the regular five hitter). Terry went to first and Highpockets Kelly, the usual first baseman took Meusel’s place in left. It turned out to be a great con.

Ogden pitched to two men, striking out the first and walking the second. In came George Mogridge, who would normally have pitched game seven. Mogridge was left-handed and McGraw chose not to pull Terry in the first inning. Washington broke on top in the fourth when Harris homered to left. The run held up until the sixth when Ross Youngs walked and a Kelly single sent him to third. McGraw sent Meusel in to hit for Terry. Harris replaced Mogridge with relief ace Firpo Marberry. Marberry immediately gave up a sacrifice fly that tied the score and a Hack Wilson single sent Kelly to third. An error by first baseman Joe Judge brought in Kelly with the lead run. Then another error, this one by shortstop Ossie Bluege, gave the Giants a third run. New York hurler Virgil Barnes kept the Senators at bay until the eighth when a double, a single and a walk loaded the bases. With two outs, Harris singled to left tying up the game at 3-3. During the eighth, Washington pinch hit for Marberry. Needing a new pitcher, they went to Walter Johnson, who was 0-2 so far for the Series. Johnson had a great career, had a very good season, but he was 36 and pitching on one day’s rest (he’d lost game five). But he was Walter Johnson and he did what Walter Johnson normally did. Through the ninth, the tenth, the eleventh, and the twelfth inning, he shut down New York. He gave up three hits and walked three, but he also struck out five. He was in trouble in every inning but the tenth, but no Giants scored. Of course no Senator scored either. By the bottom of the twelfth he was tired. With an out, Muddy Ruel lifted a foul ball that catcher Hank Gowdy dropped. Given a second chance, Ruel doubled. Johnson was up. He hit one to short, but a misplay put him on. Up came leadoff hitter Earl McNeely. He dropped a roller to third. As third baseman Fred Lindstrom came in to field it and make a play on Ruel who was heading to third, the ball hit a pebble and bounced over Lindstrom’s head for a double. Ruel was slow, but he was quick enough to score and give Washington its first and only championship. Johnson finally had his Series win.

It was an excellent Series, arguably the best of the 1920s. The Giants actually outhit the Senators .261 to .246. Both teams had nine doubles and Washington out homered New York five to four. The Giants put up 27 runs to the Senators 26. But only 18 of Washington’s runs were earned as opposed to 23 New York earned runs. Individually, Goslin hit .344 with three home runs and seven RBIs. Harris had the other two homers and also seven RBIs while hitting .333. McNeely, Judge, and Goslin all scored four runs, while Harris led the team with five. For the Giants it was more of a mixed bag. No one hit more than one home run and both Kelly and Lindstrom had four RBIs. Kelly scored seven runs, but no one else had more than four (Gowdy).

Pitching-wise Zachary was terrific, going 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA but only three strikeouts. Marberry didn’t do well. He picked up a couple of saves, but took a loss and blew a save situation. On the other hand his ERA was a tiny 1.13. And Walter Johnson finally got a win. He went 1-2 with an ERA of 3.00 and 20 strikeouts. For the Giants Bentley took two losses, but pitched the best game for the team to give him a 1-2 record and a team high 10 strikeouts. Ryan pitched well in critical situations.

It marked a couple of milestones. It was John McGraw’s last World Series. The Giants would make it back to the Series in 1933 (against the Senators again), but Bill Terry would be the manager. George Mogridge won a game on the road. In all their history, the Senators/Twins would win only one more road game in their history (and Johnson would get it). Marberry picked up the only Senators/Twins road save ever. And the Giants? Well, in game seven they started seven Hall of Famers (all but the battery) and managed to lose. It happens.

 

1924: Derailing the Big Train

March 11, 2015

The first two games of the 1924 World Series were in Washington, D.C. There had never been playoff baseball in Washington. Even the President showed up.

Game 1

Bill Terry

Bill Terry

Game one, 4 October 1924, saw the Giants send Art Nehf to the mound to face D.C.’s ace Walter Johnson. Neither man pitched all that well, but it became a great game anyway. New York struck first when George “High Pockets” Kelly slammed a Johnson pitch into the left field seats to lead off the second inning. In the top of the fourth, Bill Terry drove a Johnson pitch to almost the same spot. The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the sixth, when Earl McNeely doubled, went to third on a ground out, and scored Sam Rice’s grounder to second. The score remained 2-1 into the bottom of the ninth. Two outs from losing game one, Ossie Bluege singled, then tied the game when Roger Peckinpaugh doubled. The tenth and eleventh innings were scoreless with both teams getting men as far as second, but being unable to get a key hit. That changed in the 12th. Giants catcher Hank Gowdy walked, went to second on a single by pitcher Nehf, then on to third when McNeely threw the ball away trying to catch Nehf off first. A walk to pinch hitter Jake Bentley loaded the bases. Frankie Frisch then grounded to shortstop Peckinpaugh. He flicked the ball to second baseman and manager Bucky Harris who then gunned down Gowdy trying to score, leaving the force at second intact. That let Nehf go to third and Bentley on to second (and Frisch was safe at first). Billy Southworth pinch ran for Bentley. A single by Ross Youngs brought home Nehf with the go ahead run and a Kelly sacrifice fly brought home Southworth. With the score now 4-2, the Senators rallied when Mule Shirley reached second on an error and, one out later, scored on a Harris single. Nehf got the next two men and the game ended 4-3.

The big heroes for the Giants were Terry with a home run, Kelly with a homer and a sacrifice fly that scored the winning run, and Nehf who pitched a complete game, and scored a run. He gave up 10 hits and walked five, but only gave up three runs, two of them earned (the first two), while striking out three. Johnson didn’t pitch all that well. He gave up four earned runs on 14 hits, two home runs, and six walks. He did, however, strike out 12.

Game 2

Goose Goslin

Goose Goslin

Game two occurred 5 October 1924 and was in many ways as exciting as game one. Tom Zachary took the hill for the Senators while game one pinch hitter Jake Bentley started for New York. Washington jumped on Bentley immediately, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first. With two outs and Sam Rice on second, Goose Goslin parked a two-run homer to right center for a 2-0 Senators lead. They picked up another run in the fifth when Bucky Harris put one over the fence in left for a 3-0 lead. It held up until the top of the seventh, when a walk and a single put runners on first and third with no outs. Hack Wilson hit into a double play that scored High Pockets Kelly with the Giants first run. They got two more in the ninth (just as Washington had done the day before) with a walk, a long single with one out that scored the runner on first, and a single after a second out that tied the game. For the first time in the Series, a new pitcher entered the game when Zachary gave way to Firpo Marberry, who promptly fanned Travis Jackson to end the inning with the scored tied 3-3. In the bottom of the ninth Joe Judge walked, went to second on a single, and scored the winning run when Roger Peckinpaugh doubled to left. Bentley pitched well, giving up four runs on six hits while walking four and striking out three. Two of the hits were home runs. For Washington there were a lot of heroes. Goslin and Harris had homers, and Zachary went eight and two-thirds giving up three runs on six hits and three walks. Under the rules of the day, Zachary was the winning pitcher while Marberry picked up a save (a stat that hadn’t been invented yet).

So after two games the Series was knotted at 1-1. It now became a best of five Series as both teams did what they needed (the Giants won a game on the road and the Senators weren’t swept). New York held home field advantage.

1924: First in War; First in Peace

March 5, 2015
Firpo Marberry about 1924

Firpo Marberry about 1924

There are a lot of World Series games that are considered classics. Game 5 of 1956 (Larsen’s perfect game), game 7 of 1991 (Jack Morris vs. the Braves), game 7 of 1965 (Koufax on short rest), game 8 of 1912 (BoSox vs. Giants) all come to mind. But a lot of World Series’ taken as a whole aren’t particularly memorable. One of the better, and one of the more obscure, was the 1924 World Series.

The American League representative in the 1924 World Series was the Washington Senators. Yep, the famous mantra “First in War; First in Peace; and Last in the American League” had broken down. For the first time ever, a team from Washington was a pennant winner. In the entire history of the National League going back to 1876, no Washington franchise had finished first. In the entire history of the American League going back only to 1901, the Senators had never finished first. In the National Association and the Union Association and the Player’s League and the American Associations (professional leagues of the 19th Century) no Washington franchise had ever finished first. The Series became famous for that fact alone.

In the midst of the first big run by the Babe Ruth led New York Yankees, the Senators finished first in 1924 by two games over the Yanks and six over third place Detroit. It was a pitching heavy team. Catcher Muddy Ruel hit .283 with no home runs, but did a decent job catching a powerful staff. Most powerful was all-time great Walter Johnson. Johnson was 36 and late in his career. For the season he went 23-7 with 158 strikeouts to go with 77 walks, an ERA of .272 and an ERA+ of 149. He led the AL in wins, winning percentage, strikeouts, shutouts (6), ERA, ERA+, WHIP (1.116) and posted a 6.8 WAR (BaseballReference.com version). After the season ended he would win the MVP award. Tom Zachary was 15-9 with an ERA of 2.75 and an ERA+ of 148 (WAR of 4.7). George Mogridge was 16-11, but gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. The rest of the starters were 20-20. But owner Clark Griffith was an old pitcher and had spent much of his later active years in the bullpen. He knew the value of a good bullpen man and had cornered one of the first great relief men. Firpo Marberry was 11.-12 with a 3.09 ERA in 50 games. He had 15 saves, which, along with the 50 games, led the league. The 15 saves were also a Major League record (to be fair, no one knew that as the “save” stat had yet to be invented).

The infield consisted of Joe Judge, Bucky Harris, Roger Peckinpaugh, and Ossie Bluege from first around to third. Harris served as manager (and later went to the Hall of Fame as a manager) and hit .268. His 20 stolen bases were second on the team. He was all of 27. Judge was 30 and had been around since 1915 (in 1916 he replaced Black Sox player Chick Gandil at first). He was in a stretch where he was regularly hitting over .300 (.324 in 1924). His WAR was 3.9 (he had a 4.0 a couple of times) one of the highest of his career. He hit for little power. Peckinpaugh was a minor star.  He’d come over from the Yankees in 1922 and played a good shortstop. He usually hit in the .260s to .280 range with some speed and little power (He would win the 1925 AL MVP Award). Bluege was the kid. He was 23, in his third season, and getting better each year. He hit .280 and put up an OPS of .711.

The outfield had Nemo Leibold in center. At least he played the most games there. Leibold was one of the “Clean Sox” of 1919. He’d been in a platoon system (with Shano Collins) in right field then and came to the Senators in 1923. He hit .293 in 1924 (his next to last season) and had a WAR of 1.0. The corners of the outfield showcased two future Hall of Fame members. Goose Goslin was in left. He hit .344 for the season, led the team in home runs (12) and triples (17). His 129 RBIs led the American League. He had an OPS+ of 143 and a WAR of 6.4. Sam Rice held down right field. He started with the Senators in 1915 and had been a consistent star. He hit .334 in 1924, led the AL in hits with 216, led his team with 24 stolen bases and posted a 114 OPS+ with a 4.4 WAR.

As with a lot of teams in the 1920s, the Washington bench was thin Wid Mathews and Earl McNeely both hit .300 as backup outfielders while Doc Prothro spelled Bluege at third. For the Series, McNeely would do most of the work in center field, spelling Leibold. Those were the only players with 35 or more games played. For the Series, infielder Tommy Taylor, who got into only 26 games in 1924 (his only year in the Majors), would also play a big role. No bench player hit even a single home run (Johnson had one giving the entire bench plus staff exactly one homer for the season).

It was a good team, a  surprise team. They weren’t expected to win the AL pennant and were slight underdogs in the World Series. They would draw the New York Giants, a team competing in its fourth consecutive World Series.

 

The Arrival of a Legend

July 11, 2014
The Babe while still a Red Sox

The Babe while still a Red Sox

Today marks one of the most significant anniversaries in Major League baseball history. One hundred years ago on 11 July 1914 the Boston Red Sox gave the ball for the first time to a rookie pitcher nicknamed “Babe” Ruth. It was the start of the most legendary of all baseball careers.

For the day, Ruth pitched seven innings against the Cleveland Naps giving up three runs (two earned). Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) knocked in a run early and catcher Steve O’Neill knocked in two in the seventh for the Cleveland runs. Ruth struck out one and walked none to pick up the win. At bat he went 0-2 with a strikeout. Better hitting days were to come for the Babe.

Most everyone knows the name Babe Ruth, many without knowing what it was he did. If you do know what he did, odds are you know about the home runs and the hitting feats. But Ruth was also a heck of a pitcher. If you look at the left-handed hurlers of the decade between 1910 and 1920 you could make a pretty fair argument that Ruth was the best left-hander of the decade. You might look at Eddie Plank or Rube Marquard early in the decade, or at Hippo Vaughn later in the decade (and he and Ruth faced each other in the 1918 World Series with the Babe picking up a 1-0 win), but Ruth is equally in the argument.

Ruth’s conversion from pitcher to outfielder is key to his career. But if you look around, you’ll find that while it wasn’t common, it wasn’t unheard of in baseball. George Sisler did the same thing and went to the Hall of Fame. So did Lefty O’Doul (without the Hall of Fame being attached). A lot of years later Stan Musial hurt his arm in the minors and switched from the mound to the outfield and ended up in Cooperstown. Bob Lemon went the other way, from third base to pitcher and made the Hall. Bucky Walters also went from third to pitching and won an MVP. Darren Dreifort, while at Wichita State, served as the DH when he wasn’t pitching, but didn’t play in the field (although he did pinch hit) in the Majors. I’m sure that’s nowhere near a complete list.

For his Boston career, Ruth was 89-46, a .659 winning percentage, with a 1.142 WHIP, a 2.19 ERA, and a 122 ERA+. He had 17 shutouts, 483 strikeouts, and 425 walks for his Red Sox years (there were also a handful of games with the Yanks). Ruth’s pitching WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 20.6.  His World Series record is equally good. He was 3-0 with a shutout and eight strikeouts. He did, however, walk 10. His consecutive scoreless streak in the Series was a record until Whitey Ford finally passed him in the 1960s.

I know over the years that a lot of people have tried to tell us that someone else (Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, etc.) was better than Ruth. And maybe as a hitter they were (although I wouldn’t bet on that in Vegas), but ultimately you have to decide that Ruth was the overall superior player because he could also pitch very well. Aaron was Aaron, Williams was Williams, and Bonds was Bonds, but Ruth was a combination of any of them and Walter Johnson. Top that crew.