Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Hall of Fame Controversy Part 2: SABRmetrics and the Hall of Fame

Last week I gave everyone a reason to hate me, or at least question my sanity and moral compass.  This week I will give you a reason to question my intelligence as we continue exploring the Hall of Fame controversy.

SABRmetrics and the new statistics defining our analysis:
For over a century baseball players have been judged based on their numbers.  Where did this come from?  This is a team game.  The point of the game is, and always has been, for one team to score more runs than the other team and win the game.  If we can all agree that the purpose of sending your top nine players against their top nine players is to work as a unit and win the game, why does it matter what individual stats a player reaches?

Simple.  Money.  Despite what we all love to believe, that at one time baseball was played for the love of the game and not for the money, this is mostly a myth.  From the time the Cincinnati Red Stockings fielded their all professional team in 1869 to the present day, statistics have been kept for the same reason: management's evaluation of salary.

As more and more professional teams developed, more and more players were paid salaries.  As an owner, how do you judge who gets a salary, a bonus or a raise and who doesn't?  You could simply say Player A is a good player and Player B is not as good as A but is better than C and fix a pay scale for one year for those three players based on that scale.  Then what?  How do you tell Player A that although he was better than Player B last year, Player B has improved and now is better than Player A so A needs a pay cut and B needs a raise?  Statistics.

The owners first started using basic statistics.  How many hits (walks were counted as hits) and how many runs did you accumulate in the season.  Cap Anson wants a raise? Sorry Cap.  In 1872 you scored 60 runs but in 1873 you only scored 53.  Your performance slipped by 7 runs so you get a pay cut.  Pure and simple. Statistics were developed by management to control salary.

The statistics developed over time and were retroactively applied.  Runs Batted In were calculated, bases on balls were moved to a separate category, then Intentional Bases on Balls were broken into their own category.  Pitchers were judged on wins and losses.   Then they were judged on how many runs they gave up.  Then they were judged an average of how many runs they gave up every nine innings.  Then just on how many runs they gave up that were earned by the other team and not allowed by fielding errors.

As each statistic developed management had a new way of evaluating the player's performance and arguing against giving a raise, or limiting how much of a raise they had to give.  While ownership used these numbers to keep the business running and profits high, baseball writers used it to sell papers.  With each new statistic that was developed they could compare performances based on numbers.  Who was better Nap LaJoie or Ty Cobb?  Just look at the stats and write an article to argue your point.  Everything that was written was analyzed by the baseball crazy society. The Detroit Free Press might run an article stating they had definite proof that Cobb was better.  Oh, by the way, Cleveland is playing the Tigers today.  Don't believe us?  Why not go to the stadium yourself and compare Cobb against LaJoie.  Who got more hits?  Who scored more runs?  Who came out on top?

Ownership and the papers came out on top.  More people bought papers and more people packed the stadium. 

Years went by and statistics became obsession.  Frank Baker hit two Home Runs in one World Series?  My god! Imagine that.  Two Home Runs.  "Home Run" Baker is amazing.  Discussion of the power displayed by Baker in the 1911 World Series brought up questions of how impressive it was.  Seven years later a man known for being a great pitcher hit 11Home Runs in a season.  The next season the same player hit 29.  It was unheard of, what next?  30?  In one season?  The public loved it.  They flooded stadiums to see how many Home Runs would fly out of the park.  The fans who couldn't get to the stadium read about it in the papers.  Then came 54 Home Runs in one season.  Home Runs were now the major statistic in the game.  It was nice that Cobb, Hornsby and Sisler could hit .400 but people came to watch the ball fly.  There's a reason Yankee Stadium was called the house that Ruth built.

The Home Run was the dominant statistic until the late 1960's when Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, Seaver and Carlton became the dominant players in the league.  For decades pitchers were graded based on their number of innings pitched, wins-losses, and Earned Run Average.  As Koufax began to absolutely dominate hitters the number of strikeouts became the dominant stat for pitchers.  Walter Johnson was the definition of a speed pitcher until Koufax and Gibson came along.  As they racked up the strike out numbers the power pitcher became the star of the game.  Pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Mark Fidyrich and Ron Guidry emerged as stars.  Unfortunately, the draw back of the power pitcher was the stress that was put on the arm and the damage that was done in a short period of time.  With the power displayed by the pitchers the strikeout became the number one focus.  K's (the shorthand for strikeouts on a score card) started hanging in stadiums as the free swinging hitters sat down.  This led to pitchers who routinely threw over 100 miles per hour and routinely needed off season surgery to repair the stress put on their arms. 

With the birth of Tommy John surgery and the realization that the new flame thrower may not have a long lasting shelf life, the birth of the relief pitcher came about.  The bull pen had, to this point, been viewed as the place to put your pitchers who aren't good enough to start but can be used in an emergency.  As the study of the effect of hard throwing developed, so did the realization that every pitcher on your staff needed to have a purpose.  Sparky Anderson is generally acknowledged as the first manager to fully utilize his bullpen.  Of course, other managers had bullpens before that, however, Sparky was really the one who saw the bullpen as a full unit to be used as part of the game plan and not as an emergency stop gap.  As Sparky's use of the pitching staff gave him the nickname of Captain Hook, the rest of the league started to realize Sparky had something.  Thus developed the position of the closer and the emergence of pitchers like Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter.  With the development of a new position came the development of new statistics to evaluate their effectiveness.  The save became the popular term in the 1980's.  This was followed by the blown save.  Eventually relief pitchers who were not in a save situation were judged by a hold, the ability to hold the lead until the closer could come in and get the save.

The 1970's also saw the emergence of a new organization that looked to further investigate and advance the study of the game.  They have infinitely improved statistical analysis and introduced countless new ways to analyze the game.  The Society for American Baseball Research has introduced new statistics like the Hold, OPS (On Base Percentage), Slugging Percentage, OPS+, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and the PECOTA rating (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm). 

These statistics were around for years (the PECOTA only since the early 2000's) but with the success of Billy Beane and the A's "moneyball" system, the focus on the use of these statistics has become more intense.  This leads me to the point of  all this.  My problem with SABRmetrics is not with SABR.  My problem is the way that we use these statistics and the way we apply the statistics that SABR compiles.

The issue is that many of the people voting for the Hall of Fame appear to use the new SABRmetrics as their sole basis for voting.  Like any statistic (RBI, Stolen Bases, Batting Average, ERA, etc) statistics are not the only way to judge a Hall of Fame calibre player.  Career WAR is a clear example of the issue that the misuse of these stats creates.  If we were to use WAR (the newest miracle stat for voters) as the sole statistic then we would say that Joe DiMaggio was a far inferior player to Ken Griffey, Sr, Brooks Robinson, Jeff Bagwell, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken.  Don't get me wrong, I am the biggest fan of both Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken but I would never claim that either was a better player than DiMaggio.  If I am a manager and you tell me my team is in the bottom of the ninth with two outs in a playoff game and I need a hit or my season is over I would choose Joe DiMaggio over almost any other player in history to be at the plate.

An analysis several years ago showed that Derek Jeter was the worst defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues.  This analysis was done prior to the recent injuries that Jeter has suffered through.  As great as the statistical analysis is (and the teams love them because they can use them in the contract negotiations) is there anyone who truly believes that Derek Jeter is a poor fielder?  He may not have the range of some other shortstops.  His arm strength may not be the same as it used to be.  But seriously, when you watch Derek Jeter make a spectacular play that no one else would even try to make have you ever thought, that is the worst Shortstop in the league?

The problem is not with the development of these statistics.  I love the work that SABR does because it advances our understanding of the game and promotes further analysis of historical figures.  It keeps the history of the game alive and allows us to continuously evolve the baseball society.  SABR is an important part of our understanding of the game.  The problem is the way some people use the information that SABR give us.

One of the best examples for misuse of statistical data that I can think of is Joe Jackson in the 1919 World Series.  There is often a great deal of sympathy for Joe Jackson as a victim of the gamblers.  The argument is always that Jackson had a higher average and more hits than anyone in the series and hit the only Home Run and if he was that far superior he could not have been part of the conspiracy.  The statistics were impressive but there is no substitute for drilling down and looking at the situation of the hitting.  Players can pad their average in a meaningless situation and make their statistics look better and get the rewards later because many people look at statistics alone but is it fair to punish another player because in a tight situation he bunted to move the runner or purposely grounded a ball to the right side of the infield to advance the runner to third instead of swinging for the fences?

The bottom line is SABR metrics are great.  The way many of the experts are using them when voting for the Hall of Fame is not.

Just as with last week's article, I am sure that many of you readers disagree with me.  Please send me your views so we can continue to discuss the situation.

Don't forget to check back next week for part three of the Hall of Fame Controversy.

In today's article, it was mentioned that baseball fans are very in tune with numbers.  Some examples given in today's article were Maris's 61 Home Runs in a season as well as DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak.  With this same idea in mind what does the number 2632 mean to baseball fans?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Carl Erskine pitched a no hitter on June 19, 1952 against the Cubs.  Erskine also pitched a no hitter on May 12, 1956 against the hated Giants.  Sandy Koufax pitched his first no hitter on 6/30/1962 and pitched his second one year  later on 5/11/1963.  On 6/4/1964 Koufax pitched his third no hitter.  Koufax pitched his masterpiece on 9/9/1965, a perfect game against the Cubs.  The correct answer to last week's question is 6.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Hall of Fame Controversy Part 1: How Do We View a Potential Hall of Fame Player from the Steroid Era?

For those of you who have been enjoying the rivalries series, I apologize for the interruption of the series.  There are still two more articles coming in that series so please continue to check out.  Since the Hall of Fame voting will be revealed in a few weeks I thought this would be an appropriate time to start a discussion of the Hall of Fame controversy.

Since I started this blog a little over a year ago I have tried to give my honest opinion about things in baseball from the current happenings to historical perspectives and everything in between.  To this point I have avoided broaching some subjects for several reasons.  One of the topics I have avoided is the Hall of Fame and the place of steroid users in history.

First, I wanted to make sure that I thought out what my perspective is in detail so that I can properly give my views and second I needed to make sure I viewed this from as many perspectives as possible.  The biggest focus of the Hall of Fame controversy right now is on what to do with the steroid users but there are a few other issues clouding the nomination process.  So over the next three weeks we'll discuss three main points of the Hall of Fame controversy:

1) Steroids and the Hall of Fame:  How are we setting the parameters of the "steroid era" and what do we define as a Performance Enhancing Drugs?

2) SABRmetrics and the new statistics dominating our analysis.

3) What makes a Hall of Fame Player?:

I am sure that many of you will disagree with my opinions and I would love to hear your views.  The only way we, as baseball fans, will ever get past the controversy is to get as many perspectives as possible and respectfully discuss the issue.  So let's get started with part one.

Steroids and the Hall of Fame:
To start off, the big question is "how do we define the steroid era".  When people reference the steroid era they usually start the discussion with McGwire and Sosa's Home Run duel and end it with the start of drug testing around 2007 when testing became much stricter and better regulated.  There are a lot of problems with this but three main problems exist with the parameters that have been artificially drawn around the era.
  1. We have basically accepted that the "steroid era" is over (meaning that the rampant, unchecked use of the Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) has stopped), yet in the last few years Bartolo Colon, Nelson Cruz, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Peralta, Melky Cabrera and several other big stars have been embroiled in a performance enhancing drug ring that was only truly exposed because a disgruntled ex-employee of a South Florida clinic leaked information. How many other clinics similar to the one these players were associated with are out there and have not been discovered yet?  Also, there are many ways that PED users can get around the system.  When I worked retail we had to do whatever we could to stop shoplifters, however, we always knew that shop lifters were developing new ways to take things from under our noses and we were essentially playing catch up to their methods.  Essentially this is the same idea.  The PED users are always one step ahead of the people trying to catch them.  The use of PEDs may never be ended completely.
  2. If the steroid era "lasted" from the late 1990's through the mid 2000's, is it fair to exclude someone from the Hall of Fame because they played in the steroid era as we have defined it and they "looked like they used steroids"?  Last year there were no Hall of Fame members inducted on the normal ballot despite the presence of players like Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio on the ballot for the first time.  Several voters withheld their votes because they said they were "punishing" the steroid era players (whether or not they used steroids) because the players had known others were using and did nothing about it.  This argument has a few flaws to me, most importantly, how do we know that these players didn't go to the player's union and ask for testing.  Drug testing had been on the table for a very long time before it was finally put in place (it was part of the issues that caused the 1994 strike).  There had to be some players pushing for this testing for the Players' Union to finally agree to it.  In 1988, as Jose Canseco amazed everyone with his 40 Home Runs/40 Stolen Bases, Tom Boswell of the Washington Post wrote an article saying that it was time we started to look into the possibility that steroids were impacting the record books.  The reaction from his media colleagues was that Boswell, a very respected baseball writer and still a very respected historian, was out of line and had no proof.  The support for Canseco by the media made it clear that the media had no intention of pushing the issue and Boswell's reputation was damaged.  It is amazing that these same people are now punishing the players for not informing publicly on their teammates. In addition, the argument against players like Piazza and Bagwell was that there was no proof that they had used steroids but they "looked" like steroid users.  One writer even said he did not vote for Piazza because he had back acne which is sometimes associated with steroid use.  This argument turns the moral stand taken against those who didn't inform on the users into a way for writers to shift the blame from themselves for not pushing on an issue that they clearly were aware of as it happened. 
  3. Performance Enhancing Drugs are not new.  During the 1990's I had a subscription to Sports Illustrated.  One of the issues that I received in the mail had a picture of a gaunt Lyle Alzado, former defensive lineman for the Broncos and Raiders.  The article inside revealed that Alzado had a brain tumor that he linked directly to the use of anabolic steroids he took during his playing days.  He admitted using steroids as far back as 1969.  That's correct.  1969.  In addition to that there were players as far back as the late 1800's who drank "tonics" that were supposed to have properties that could improve your health and energy.  Pud Galvin reportedly drank "monkey testosterone" for better performance.  In the 1930's at least one player was said to have taken injections of an extract from bull testicles.  In the 1960's Mickey Mantle was trying to find a way to play through the knee pain that was destroying his career.  He went to a doctor recommended to him by Mel Allen.  The doctor's injection led to an infection that forced Mickey to miss the end of the 1961 season.  During the 1970's Doc Ellis reportedly pitched a no hitter while high on LSD.  In the 1980's players (including some Hall of Fame superstars) were using amphetamines as "pick me ups".  They would simply drop the "greenies" into their coffee and dissolve them.  We have  arbitrarily defined the steroid era as post 1994 strike or the 1998 Home Run race, when clearly steroids and PED's have been around for decades.  The voters who "punished" players for not demanding testing earlier have already voted for some players and elected players who very easily have done the same thing.  We can certainly continue to incorrectly define the steroid era from post strike to the mid 2000's and the voters can continue to "punish" players of the era who didn't reveal the deep dark secrets of the locker room, but Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg and others also played in that time period and are already in the Hall of Fame (I am not implying, accusing or suggesting any of these players used PED's but they certainly played well into the steroid era and likely played with teammates who were using PED's).  So it was a grand moral statement by the voters to "punish" last year's Hall of Fame candidates who didn't say anything about steroid use publicly, but if the issue truly bothered these individuals, why did they choose last winter to take their stand?
What are we defining as a performance enhancing drug?
We can start with the most rudimentary, first grade essay format and define the words Performance Enhancing Drug.
Performance: the execution of an action
Enhancing:  Heightening or improving, especially enhancing or improving in value, quality desirability or attractiveness.
Drug:  1) a substance that is used as a medicine or 2) an illegal and often harmful substance that people take for pleasure.

So basically what we are saying is that a Performance Enhancing Drug is any substance that improves your ability to perform.  Carl Erskine pitched for the Dodgers in the 1950's.  He often told a story of waking up a day after he had pitched not being able to raise his arm to comb his hair.  His arm was swollen, bent and in pain.  A friend on another team recommended Erskine see that team's trainer, who gave Erskine a shot.  When Erskine's turn came up in the rotation a few days later he was not only healthy, he threw a no-hitter.  If we apply the definition of performance enhancing drug, clearly the substance administered to Erskine enhanced Erskine's ability to recover from his sore arm and perform in his regular rotation spot.  I am not implying that Erskine did not have the ability to throw a no hitter without the shot. Nor am I implicating Erskine as a steroid user, cheater or in any way saying anything negative about Erskine.  In fact, Erskine is one of the most respected and well liked people from those Dodgers teams.  My point is only that without that shot he likely would not have been able to even make the start.  By definition that substance was a PED.  That substance was cortisone.  It is now used regularly by nearly every professional trainer in every major sport. 

The Dodgers trainers used this same treatment to keep Sandy Koufax in performance shape, along with applying hot capsolin (an extreme version of icy hot so severe that it caused blistering on Koufax's arm) that allowed him to get his arm loose enough to throw his breaking ball.  Again, I am in no way questioning the ethics, honesty or character of Sandy Koufax.  The things that Koufax was able to accomplish and the pain that he endured in doing so are amazing and I admire the man greatly but clearly, by our current definition, this would be another Performance Enhancing Drug. 

My point here is not that Erskine or Koufax should be viewed differently.  Erskine had a great career and was a big reason for the success of the Dodgers.  Koufax was a definite Hall of Fame player, one of the best pitchers in the history of the game and also one of the classiest people ever.  So what if they were using an applied treatment from the training staff? 

This is my point:  the arguments against allowing the PED users into the Hall of Fame is that they have an advantage that other players in their eras (and older eras) did not have.  This is another faulty argument.  I think we can all agree that cortisone, when administered by a trained professional, is an acceptable substance that can assist the the body in a quick recovery allowing athletes to perform.  But if we are using the argument that current PED users are cheating because they have an advantage that other players of previous eras did not, should we revise our view of the accomplishments of the 1950's to the present.  For example, Hal Newhouser, Bob Feller, Dizzy Dean, and Carl Hubbell were all great pitchers who dominated the hitters of their eras but how much better could they have been and how much longer could they have pitched if cortisone were available then?  The surgeries that are available now allow pitchers to simply repair a damaged arm that would have been beyond repair decades ago.  Should we punish pitchers like Tommy John and Ron Guidry who had great careers but fell short of Hall of Fame numbers because their arms broke down before the current medical technologies that could have kept them pitching for much longer?  As you can see the issue goes much deeper than a simple someone used steroids and someone else didn't.

Why do players look so much bigger than the old days?:
The first part of this answer feeds into the second answer.  Looking at pictures of Mark McGwire, David Ortiz and Prince Fielder it is definitely a logical conclusion that there are more players of larger build today than there were sixty, fifty, or even twenty years ago.  I have not done a percentage based analysis but it is definitely true that the players today are larger than most players of the past.  It is not true in all cases.  Two very specific examples are Jimmie Foxx and Ted Kluszewski.  Foxx was known as "the Beast" because of his gigantic arms.  Kluszewski was alternately known as "Big Klu" or "Killer" and had arms so big he had to cut the sleeves of his shirt to comfortably fit his arms into them.  He routinely asked pitchers not to pitch him low and inside.  It wasn't because he couldn't hit it.  He could.  He could hit it hard, but he couldn't control the fact that the ball always went right back up the middle and he was terrified he would kill a pitcher.

Foxx and Kluszewski are just a few examples.  The truth is there are more players of a larger build today and steroids obviously play a big part in that.  However, there has also been a significant philosophical shift in the training habits of the league in the last twenty to thirty years.  For the first 100 years of organized baseball there was a fear by management and coaches of weightlifting.  There was a fear that the development of muscles (specifically biceps and triceps) would hinder the movement of the arms and would lead to loss of fluidity in the swing.  For pitchers, it was assumed that adding muscle to an individual would hinder their pitching motion and lead to more arm injuries.  With the growth of the fitness industry, health and vitamin supplement improvements and a better study by baseball trainers of the human body, weight lifting is no longer off limits and is often added to off season training regimens under supervision of the team training staff.  The acceptance of weight lifting by the baseball community has had a big impact on the new vision of the baseball player.

Why are we focused on baseball's players using steroids while other leagues ignore or do cursory testing?
When the NFL went on strike a few years ago one of the big issues causing the strike was the Players Union's stance on how far the league could go in testing for illegal substances.  The league wanted to start testing for Human Growth Hormones (HGH) and the union refused.  I actually heard one player make the argument that "no one's using HGH so there is no need to test for it."  That is not an exaggeration, that was an actual argument a current player made.  It would be like applying for a job that required a lie detector test and telling them "I'm not a liar so you don't need to do a lie detector test."  It also sounded eerily like the argument that baseball players were making before the 1994 strike and before the drug testing policy went into place.

The NBA has a first offense penalty of 5 games. Second offense is a 10 game suspension.  A third offense is 25 games and a fourth offense is a two year suspension.  The problem with this system is that players can only be tested four times in a season so once that fourth test is up they are off limits.

The NFL suspends players for 4 games on first offense.  Second offense is eight games and third offense is a full season.
The NHL has a stronger policy of 20 games for a first offense, 60 games for a second offense and permanent suspension for a third offense.  The problem with the NHL's policy, similar to the NBA's, is that players can only be tested twice in a season. 

The MLB has the strongest (though clearly not perfect) process for punishing offenders.  The best part of it is the public and permanent shaming of the players.  Manny Ramirez was considered by many one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game.  When he was named as a violator of the MLB policy he went to an overnight pariah.  Raphael Palmeiro was on his way to the Hall of Fame but hasn't been heard from since his positive test in 2005.

In 2006 Shawne Merriman, linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, was suspended four games for violation of the league's policy.  Instead of being treated like a criminal and cheater, the way Palmeiro, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Clemens have been, Merriman was voted the league's Defensive Player of the Year...the same season that he had been suspended for four games.  Many of the people who voted for Merriman as the best defensive player that year are the same voters taking a moral stand against PED users in the Hall of Fame.  The Shawne Merriman example is just one of many situations where a player from another sport is given a clean slate when he returns from suspension while Major League Baseball players come back from suspension knowing that they have just thrown away their chance for a Hall of Fame career and the public's trust.

Why is all of this attention paid to MLB and not to the other sports?  Simple.  Baseball is still that national past time.  I will not question that the NFL is the most popular sport in the United States and has been for a long time.  However, baseball has a larger impact on our national psyche.  If you mention specific numbers to sports fans, regardless of what sport they follow, they can likely tell you who the number belongs to.  61 automatically refers to Roger Maris.  714 automatically brings up Babe Ruth. 755 is Hank Aaron.  These are the sacred numbers of baseball history.  These are the number chases that captured the nation's attention.

What is the equivalent to these numbers in other sports?  I recently asked a friend of mine, who is a big football fan, who held the record for all time rushing yards.  He had to look it up and then was surprised at the answer (Emmit Smith).  I asked him who threw the most career touchdown passes and who scored the most career points.  He had no idea.

Ask a sports fan what the number 56 means and more often than not without thinking about it they will just say DiMaggio.  Ask a hockey fan who has the record for most goals in a a season and you'll likely get a blank stare.

Say .401 to a baseball fan and they'll just tell you Teddy Ballgame.  Ask a basketball fan who had the highest Field Goal percentage in a season and most people won't have a clue.

Regardless of the current popularity of football, baseball is still the national past time.

The Cheaters argument:
Every time the topic of steroids and PED's comes up there is a parade of angry callers to sports radio shows who usually say something like "they're cheaters and cheating is wrong so these are bad people."  I am not condoning cheating and I am not condoning the use of PED's, despite what this next argument may say.

We cannot just automatically go with the simple argument that cheaters are bad and these players cheated so they are bad people.

We need to discuss this a little bit more thoroughly.  Yes.  It is absolutely wrong to cheat.  The argument I hear from a lot of people is this:  "I don't want my kids to think it is ok to cheat."  That's a great philosophy, but are the people blaming the players for teaching their children the wrong message teaching the right message themselves?  There are always gray areas to every argument and we seem to apply alternate severity to alternate situations.  Don't forget as a society (sports fans society) we allowed the cheating to flourish despite clear signals there were issues.  Now, after years of  watching this happen we are all of a sudden (in the last ten years) horrified at what is happening.

A few years ago Don Imus, a "shock jock" radio host, was embroiled in a controversy over some horrendous, disgusting remarks he made about the Rutgers Women's basketball team.  The comments he made were offensive and indefensible.  The problem in this discussion is not whether what he said was offensive, the problem is why he thought he could say them.  Imus had been in broadcasting since 1968, meaning by the time the Rutgers issue erupted in 2007 he had been in the field for nearly 40 years.  His entire on-air personality to that point was someone with politically incorrect outspoken and often offensive opinions.  This persona had gotten him high ratings and legions of fans.  Every time he made an off color, offensive statement he received supportive phone calls from fans, higher ratings and higher salary.  All of this not only condoned his outspoken behavior, it encouraged it.  So it is completely illogical for people to get up in arms over the disgusting comments made by Imus in 2007 when they had encouraged him to be offensive for years.  (again I am absolutely, positively not defending Imus or his comments.  I am just making a point that if we were offended by those comments, why were we not in an uproar over comments he had been making for years.)

Steroids are a similar issue. As far back as the 1970's it was widely known that baseball players were using amphetamines for "energy boosts".  There was little outrage or demand for penalties.  In the late 1980's Tony Mandarich played offensive line for Michigan State and it was a poorly kept secret that he used steroids.  Instead of punishing Mandarich the sports society named him "Michelin Man", put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated and chuckled as he was drafted second overall by Green Bay and became a "draft bust".  I had mentioned the article by Tom Boswell earlier in this article.  During the ABC broadcast of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, moments before Jose Canseco blasted a Grand Slam to give the A's a lead, Joe Garagiola and Vin Scully discussed the article which mentioned the very real possibility that Canseco was using steroids.  Garagiola said that it was unfair for Boswell to question Canseco and Canseco had publicly said that Boswell was a liar.  Bottom line, Canseco was allowed to continue doing what he was doing and society punished Boswell for asking the question that everyone else ignored.  By ignoring it, as a sports society, we condoned Canseco's (and anyone else's) use of PED's.

We still do this.  We can argue all we like that cheaters are bad and cheating is bad and we don't like cheaters but what we say and what we do are completely at odds.  The old argument that actions speak louder than words is still true.  Use this past ALCS as an example.  I sat in my living room watching the Red Sox fans taunt the Tigers Johnny Peralta with stadium wide chants of "Steroids, steroids", clearly demonstrating that as a society we no longer accept this behavior.  Less than an hour later, when David Ortiz blasted a Grand Slam to put the Red Sox back in the game, the Fenway faithful erupted in ecstasy.  Had they forgotten that Ortiz failed a drug test back in 2003?  Likely not because Manny Ramirez who also failed a test in 2003 (and several since) is still persona non grata in Beantown.  Instead of booing the player who had previously failed a drug test, Boston residents actually voted for Ortiz in the recent mayoral election (he came in third by the way).  A similar example is Andy Pettite.  In 2007 Andy Pettite admitted that he had used HGH.  Since then Andy Pettite has been given several contracts, won a World Series and watched as his team mate Alex Rodriguez is treated like the worst human being in history.  Pettite is lauded and promoted while Roger Clemens, his former training partner, is vilified and subject to Federal prosecution.  These are just a few examples of the way every fan base of every team reacts.

Why?  As a society, isn't our position that cheaters are bad people?  So how do we justify turning Barry Bonds into the highest example of cheating while we vote for Ortiz as a public official.  Why have we drawn the distinction between the two?  I have never met any of these people and I am not able to judge them as human beings.  Everything I hear about Pettite and Ortiz is positive.  They are friendly, positive people who do a lot to benefit their communities (and help their teams win).  These are not bad people.  Yet every time someone tests positive for a banned substance, people bring out the same old angry argument that cheating is  bad and cheaters are bad people.

Bonds, on the other hand, was the focus of almost all steroid talk in the early 2000's and was portrayed as evil by the media.  I have never met Barry Bonds and I cannot judge him as a human being.  From everything I hear about Bonds he can be surly, angry, bitter, hard to deal with and down right mean.  I have also heard many times that he does many charitable things and donates large amounts of money that he does not discuss, take credit for or want anyone to know about.  When Bonds was an active player I was far from being a Bonds fan.  My opinion of him was that he was arrogant, selfish and over rated.  Admittedly, my opinion was based solely on the fact that Bonds always played on teams that were direct rivals of teams for whom I am a big fan.  Bonds also falls directly into the question of how we, as a society, react to cheaters.  Whispers of whether or not Bonds was using PED's started in the early 1990's, shortly after he signed with the Giants.  By that time Bonds was already a two time MVP, two time All Star, three time Gold Glove Winner and on his way to the Hall of Fame.  After the whispers and suspicion began (and continued) Bonds was voted as the National League Most Valuable Player five more times and finished second another time.  These votes come from the same people who vote for the Hall of Fame and took a moral stand against steroid users reaching the Hall of Fame last year.  If using steroids is the sin that the media has told us it is why were these same people voting for players they suspected of using steroids and therefore encouraging the cheating behavior.

My argument here is not that we should turn Pettite and Ortiz into villains or that we should view Bonds as a saint. The point is that it is not acceptable to shout from the mountain tops that all cheaters are bad and villains then pick and choose which people we want this to apply to.  We need to discuss this a little more before we just blindly start reacting to these situations.

I am sure that many of you readers disagree with me.  Please send me your views so we can continue to discuss the situation.

Don't forget to check back next week for part two of the Hall of Fame Controversy.

Mentioned in today's article were Carl Erskine and Sandy Koufax.  How many combined no-hitters/perfect games did these two have in their career?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Waiting on deck as Bucky Dent was recovering from the foul ball off his ankle was Mickey Rivers.  Rivers noticed a crack in Dent's bat and had the bat boy bring one of his own.  According to legend, Rivers told Dent "Hey homey, use this bat.  It has a lot of hits in it."  Dent used Rivers's bat to hit his infamous Home Run.  Years later Rivers made statements that implied the bat may have been corked.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Rivalries: Fisk vs Munson

The American League East was a tight race at the top in 1973.  On August 1st there were four teams less than three games apart.  The Yankees were at the top.  The Orioles sat one game out, Detroit sat two games out and the Red Sox trailed by 3 1/2.  That night Boston faced off against the Yankees.  The rivalry had been in a relatively dormant state but as the teams were tied at 2 in the ninth inning, it was about to erupt.

Thurman Munson led off the Yankee 9th with a double and moved to third on a ground out by Graig Nettles.  Felipe Alou was walked intentionally and that brought up Gene Michael.  As the Red Sox Pitcher, John Curtis, went into the pitching motion, Munson broke for the plate.  Gene Michael squared around to lay down a bunt.  He missed it.  As the ball smacked into the glove of Carlton Fisk, crouched behind the plate, Michael knew he had failed.  Fisk knew they had Munson and Munson was angry.  Tearing down the line, knowing he would be out, Munson had one option and it was one he loved.  Knock Fisk on his ass and hope to God Fisk dropped the ball.  Basically Munson had been given a gift.  The opportunity to charge at the man he hated full speed with the goal of hitting him as hard as possible.  Fisk absorbed the collision and held the ball.  Munson was a smart baseball player.  He knew that if Fisk couldn't get up he couldn't stop Felipe Alou from advancing on the bases.  Fisk knew the same thing.  The result was Fisk pushing Munson off of him, punching Michael and igniting a ten minute brawl.  Fisk and Munson were both ejected and the Red Sox went on to win the game, tightening the AL East race even more.

This was an era of the storied rivalry that was still budding but it was fierce every step of the way.  Both players had come to the majors for short stints in 1969.  Munson played all of 1970 while Fisk spent the year in Pawtucket.  Fisk was a New Hampshire native who grew up wanting nothing more than to play for the hometown Red Sox and was living his dream.  Munson was an Ohio native who wanted nothing more than to play for the Indians, close to his wife and kids so he wouldn't have to be away so much.  Fisk was the good looking ladies' man with the face that magazines loved to display.  Munson was the snarling, mustachioed catcher alternately called Walrus, Tugboat, Squatty Body or Grumpy.

For a competitor as fierce as Munson, he was surprisingly sensitive.  He hated being looked at as second best.  It was partially determination and a competitive nature and partially an insecurity.  Munson's father wanted to play professionally but World War II had seen to it that he didn't make it.  Angry and jealous of the opportunity that his son had which he didn't, the father ridiculed his son to his face and often to others.  When the Yankees scout showed up to his house Munson's dad told the scout "Ya know he ain't too good on pop ups."

In a league filled with great Catchers Munson was clearly elite.  The question was how elite was he?Clearly above Catchers like Bill Freehan, Jim Sundberg and Darrel Porter, was he as good as Bench and Fisk?

He faced off against Fisk every year so it was easy to compare the two.  It was Bench that was considered the elite.  They faced off in the 1976 World Series.  The Yankees were swept by the Reds but Munson hit .529.  Following the final game reporters asked Sparky Anderson to compare the two.  "Thurman is an outstanding hitter, one of the best we have seen all year.  There is no question he would be a .300 hitter in our league but don't ask me to compare Johnny Bench with any other Catcher.  Don't embarrass anyone."  Munson was in the room when it was said, waiting for his own post game interview.  "For me to be belittled after my season and series, it hurts.  I don't appreciate it being rubbed in my face.

Munson worked hard to lead the Yankees.  He was named team Captain.  He was clearly the one who led by his example on the field.  All of a sudden he was called into question publicly.  In 1977 the Yankees signed Reggie Jackson and before spring training began Jackson had already offended Munson.  Jackson gave an interview to Sport Magazine in which he basically said the Yankees were good and Munson was good but they wouldn't be great until Jackson got in the mix.  What resulted was the team known as the Bronx Zoo, two World Series wins and one of the most iconic Yankee-Red Sox moments of all time.

At the end of the 1978 season the Yankees and Red Sox were tied for first.  There was a one game playoff for the American League pennant.  With two out in the seventh and runners on first and third, Bucky Dent hit a home run that defined a generation of heartbreak for Red Sox fans and a generation of winning for the Yankees.  Behind the plate, praying for the ball to bounce off the green monster was Carlton Fisk.  At the top of the dugout steps, praying for the ball to get up in the wind and sneak over the wall was Thurman Munson.

Although some of the rivalries we have seen in this series have been friendly, this one was not.  Munson and Fisk were extremely competitive with each other.  Constantly fighting for first place in the standings and for headlines.  Munson won the World Series twice.  Fisk never would.  Munson would show anger at the mention of Fisk's name and his teammates used that to their advantage.  Gene Michael would hang articles in Munson's locker that compared the two and he knew Munson would come out swinging that night. 

The press loved it because it sold papers.  The teams loved it because it fed into the Yankees-Red Sox feud.  Munson and Fisk just wanted to win.  They were competitive and may have hated losing to the other but it was business, not personal.  Once, as the two were warming up before a game, Thurman yelled over to Fisk. "Hey Fisk, I just wanted to let you know that I never said anything bad about you."

Fisk, possibly with the benefit of twenty years of reflection, said that he and Munson were rivals (and certainly not friends) but not enemies.  "We never hated each other. It was the uniform more than anything.  We were so much alike in our attitudes about baseball.  I think one of the things I regret most about my career is that Thurman and I were never teammates.  I know that if it wasn't for the Yankees uniform he wore, we would have gotten along great.  I never hated Thurman."

The question is, if they were teammates, which one would have moved from Catcher?

Bucky Dent famously hit his Home Run after fouling the previous ball off his ankle.  Dent hobbled around, the trainers came out and checked on him and the game was delayed.  While Dent was getting treatment, the on deck batter noticed that Dent had cracked his bat on the last swing.  The on deck batter told the bat boy to go get a bat, one of his own, for Dent.  The bat that was handed to him was the one that launched the Home Run.  Who provided the bat for Dent?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Casey Stengel first took part in a World Series in 1916 as a member of the Brooklyn Robins.  The Robins lost to the Boston Red Sox.  Stengel also played in two World Series as a member of the New York Giants in 1922 and 1923.  Although he managed nine seasons prior to taking over the Yankees he had no World Series appearances in that time.  Stengel took over the Yankees in 1949 and won the World Series in his first year.  Stengel would reach the World Series as the Yankees manager in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1960.  He won the World Series in seven of those seasons.  This would give him a total of 13 World Series appearances.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Rivalries: Al Lopez vs Casey Stengel

Don't forget to check out our other articles in the Rivalries series:  Christy Mathewson vs. Three Finger Brown, Ty Cobb vs Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson vs Leo Durocher.

It was late.  Nearly 2:00 A.M.  It had not been a good season in Brooklyn but at least they had made Bill Terry and the Giants eat their words.  The Dodgers  may have been a horrible team in 1934, but, if nothing else, they had ruined the Giants' season on the final day.  Now, as the off season began the reality of just how bad they were set in.

The Dodgers had two All Star representatives in 1934.  Their pitcher Van Lingle Mungo, who took the loss in the game, and their Catcher, Al Lopez.  The rest of the team was mostly players who had shown little of what they would display later in their career or players who were past their prime.  Included in the former category were Tony Cucinello, Dutch Leonard, Lonny Frey and Freddie "Boom-Boom" Beck (known as Boom-Boom because when he pitched in Philadelphia there was the distinct boom of the ball being hit by the opponents followed immediately by the boom of the ball immediately hitting the tin wall in the Phillies' Baker Bowl stadium).  In the latter category were Hack Wilson and Tom Zachary.

As the management realistically evaluated the team and formulated a plan on how they were going to rebuild this disaster of a team, it was clear.  Only two people had trade value.

"Mr. Lopez,"  the conversation started.  It was odd because these two men were close friends, business partners away from the game.  "Something must be done to fix this team.  We have to make a trade.  Now, nobody wants anybody but my guy with the funny name that throws so well and my Catcher, that's you.  Now my guy with the funny name, people pay to see him pitch but no one ever pays to see a Catcher catch."

Al Lopez had interpreted Stengelese long enough to know what this meant.  He sat in Stengel's office listening to the man jabber on about clam chowder and winning tradition and Lopez knew he was likely going somewhere else to play for the next season.  Stengel was clearly upset about trading his friend but had no choice and Lopez told Stengel not to worry.  Changing jobs always brings on a variety of emotions and changing teams is no different.  You could go from a decaying organization in the basement to a chance at a pennant over night.  Or you could take a step down.  For Lopez, landing in Boston with the Braves organization, even after playing with a poor Brooklyn team, was a step down.

The parting of the two friends was only for a few years.  In 1935 and 1936 the Dodgers continued to struggle and Stengel paid for it with his job.  After sitting out the 1937 season he was hired by the Braves and was reunited with his pal Al Lopez.  The reunion was shorter than the first parting.  The Braves, in worse shape than the Dodgers had been, were desperate for cash.  Stengel had promised Lopez that he would not sell his contract but in the end a tearful Stengel announced to the press that Lopez had been sold to the Pirates, another bottom dweller.  He would play for the Pirates until 1946 and finish his playing career in 1947 with the Indians.

Stengel would manage the Braves for another few years, finally leaving the organization after the 1943 season and then he disappeared from the game.  That was until the Yankees started looking for a new manager to replace Joe McCarthy.  Stengel was given the job in 1949 and he immediately became a winner.  1949. 1950.  Two seasons, two World Series rings.

While Stengel was winning with the most successful organization, Lopez was showing his managerial talents in Indianapolis, the Pirates' minor league affiliate.  Then came the shock heard round the Cuyahoga.  The Cleveland Indians were under new ownership, led by Bill Veeck and his new General Manager Hank Greenberg.  The team itself was only a few years past their surprising 1948 World Series win and their leader was the fan favorite, Shortstop Lou Boudreau.  Greenberg called a press conference to announce the manager for the 1951 season.  The Cleveland press already knew it would be Boudreau, because how could you fire a living legend? 

Greenberg loved to tell the story of how he pulled one over on the Cleveland Press: 
  "I knew it would be very unpopular because the press had already been reporting that Lou Boudreau was going to be signed for another year.  Those were the headlines on the day I called for a press conference at Municipal Stadium...Reporters had come from the surrounding cities and out walked Al Lopez...I said 'Gentleman, here's your next manager of the Cleveland Indians, Mr. Al Lopez.' Well, you could have knocked the writers over with a feather."

The 1950 Indians had finished 4th and won 92 games.  In Lopez's first season they improved by one game and finished second, only five games behind Stengel's Yankees.  Not only did they finish only five games behind the Yankees, they had actually put up a fight.  As late as September 19, Cleveland was tied for first with the Yankees.  They lost five of their last six games while the Yankees went on a tear to take out the Indians and then the Giants.  Not a bad start for the Indians but Lopez hated losing to Stengel.

The 1952 Indians finished with the same 93 wins as the previous season but they finished three games closer to the Yankees. The Tribe went 19-5 in the final month to put serious pressure on the Yankees and finished only 2 games behind.  Another spectacular 90+ wins and another second place finish behind Stengel.  It was frustrating.  The Yankees had Allie Reynolds, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Vic Raschi,  Hall of Famers and a legacy of DiMaggio, Gehrig and Ruth.  The Indians had Al Rosen, Larry Doby, Ray Boone, Dale Mitchell and Bob Feller.  Superstar players but considered just one rung below the Yankees legends.

The Indians, to the Cleveland press, fell badly in 1953.  They won only one game less but the Yankees ran away with the pennant. Lopez finished second again, behind Stengel's Yankees, this time by 8 1/2 games.

This was getting ridiculous.  Cleveland loved the tight pennant races.  They were certainly exciting.  What they really wanted was a win over the Yankees.  Lopez was destroying himself internally.  He wasn't a big drinker.  He wasn't someone who stayed out late.  He was someone who wanted to win and coming this close without winning was causing him to suffer from ulcers.  He was tired of losing to the Yankees and worse, losing to his pal Stengel.  The Yankees had now won the American League in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953.  There was no reason to believe 1954 would be any different.

It was different.  On June 12 the Indians took over first place, 1/2 game ahead of the White Sox and 2 1/2 ahead of Stengel's Yankees. The Indians kept winning and they opened up a lead of 9 games, ending the year 8 games ahead of the Yankees.  Lopez had done it.  He had finally outdone his old friend but it was a small step.  The bigger step was the World Series and although Lopez could finally rest knowing that he had beaten Stengel's Yankees but his team would forever be known as the 1954 Indians, the team that won 111 games but lost to the Giants in the World Series.

Confidently, Lopez and the Indians went back to it for 1955.  Aggressively and determinedly, so did Stengel and the Yankees.  Just like every year since Lopez took over, it was neck and neck.  Eight games out on 7/2, Lopez got his team straightened out and got them back on top by August 10.  Back and forth it went.  The Yankees built a two game lead but Cleveland came back to tie.  The Yankees went back up by 1 1/2 but  Cleveland kept fighting.  With 9 games left Lopez had his team up by two games over the Yankees.  Just like 1950, they fell badly over the last two weeks.  They lost 6 of their last 9 and Stengel had again proven he knew how to beat his protege.

1956 was a disaster for Lopez.  The Tribe finished second but they never really had a chance.  They were tied for first on May 14 and although they would never fall farther back than second in the standings they would never threaten the Yankees, finishing 8 games out.  Stengel had again outsmarted Lopez. 

Heading into the end of 1956 the Cleveland Press was frustrated.  90+ win seasons were not what they were used to, and the consistency was nice but it wasn't a World Series.  Stengel himself recognized Lopez's talent.  He said "The big knock you hear about Al is that he has an outstanding record of finishing second.  One great ballplayer could make him recognized as a great manager."  Unfortunately, heading into the 1957 one of his best players, Larry Doby, was dealt to the White Sox.

Frustrated with finishing behind Stengel and the criticism of the Cleveland papers, Lopez resigned from the Indians. 

Lopez wasn't out of a job long.  Starting in 1957 he was on the bench for the White Sox, leading a team that had not appeared in a World Series since Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil and the Black Sox had been there in 1919.  Lopez immediately had them playing like champs.  They were in the race, and in first place, for most of the first half but Mantle, Stengel and company again took the pennant.  The ChiSox finished in second, eight games out. 

1958 seemed to be the start of something new.  They started off slow but climbed as high as second, again behind the Yankees, again Lopez finished directly behind Stengel.  Lopez still had hope.  "I'm not a failure but I still haven't accomplished what I wanted.  I want to win.  I keep saying the Yankees can be had because I keep thinking they can, and I want my guys to believe they can win.  I want to finish first!"

The White Sox were ready for a fight.  The Yankees were not.  There was little fight but Lopez came out on top with the Yankees in third, 15 games back.  Stengel had won the American League in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958.  Only twice had he missed out.  Both years he was beaten by his old business partner Al Lopez.  Both times Lopez would lose in the World Series.

1960 was the last year of the Lopez-Stengel rivalry.  The two old friends were both growing old, especially Stengel.  Lopez's Sox may have had a World Series hangover, or may have over achieved in reaching the fall classic, or may have just pissed off the Yankees by beating them.  Whatever the reason, 1960 didn't end well for either of the two old friends.  Lopez and the Sox were never really in the race.  The Yankees ran into Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates in the infamous World Series of 1960. 

Stengel would be fired after the 1960 World Series.  Lopez would stay in Chicago for several years.  He would continue to battle the Yankees.  His White Sox would finish with 90 wins several times and as close as one game out in 1964, but would never again reach the World Series.

Managers would fight each other as "rivals" in the future.  Leo Durocher and Walter Alston.  Billy Martin and Earl Weaver.  Joe Torre and Terry Francona.  Even Roger Craig and Don Zimmer, lifelong friends and former team mates, would face each other in the 1989 NLCS.  But never again would two people, friends and former business partners, ever face each other year in and year out with only the two of them reaching the World Series for such an extended period of time.

How many World Series (as player and manager) was Casey Stengel involved in?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Congratulations to Hope and TJD for answering last week's trivia question.
Charlie Dressen was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds from 1934-1937.  In 1951, Dressen took over the Dodgers and led them to a three game playoff against the Giants, followed by back to back National League Championships in 1952 and 1953.  Dressen felt he deserved a vote of confidence from the Dodgers owners and demanded a three year contract.  Walter O'Malley declined that demand.  Instead he hired Walter Alston, a man with no prior Major League experience.  For the next 23 years, Alston worked on one year contracts and in the process he won seven National League Pennants (1955, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1974) and four World Series (1955, 1959, 1963 and 1965).  Alston managed until the 1976 season.  He was replaced with only a few games left in the season by Tommy Lasorda.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rivalries: Jackie vs. Leo

Don't forget to check out the other articles in our rivalry series:  Christy Mathewson vs Three Finger BrownTy Cobb vs Babe Ruth, and Joe DiMaggio vs Ted Williams.

"Listen up!"  The words were angry, vicious and worst of all at this time of the morning, loud.

It was late.  Half of those present were pulled out of bed.  Some of them may have just snuck into bed.  None of them had experienced anything like this spring training.  First of all, it was in Havana.  What the hell were a bunch of white guys, many of them southerners, doing in Cuba? Then of course there was Jackie Robinson.  What the hell was an African American from California  doing in Cuba with all these white southerners?

"Listen up!"  He said it again but the first one was probably enough.  When the Lip told you to listen you listened.  "I hear some of you guys got a problem with Robinson."  Leo knew exactly who the players were who had the problem.  "I don't care if the guy is yellow, or black or has stripes like a f***ing zebra.  I'm the manager of this team and I say he plays."

The problem became this: when the 1947 season opened and Jackie Robinson jogged out to first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Leo Durocher was sitting at home, suspended by the commissioner for his involvement with less than savory characters and his association with a married woman.  So in the end, he had no say over who played for 1947. 

While Leo sat out for the season, Burt Shotton and Jackie Robinson took the Dodgers to their first pennant since 1941, Durocher's third year as manager.  He had been through a lot since then.  The Dodgers had fought with the Cardinals for first place.  The Cardinals were Leo's former team, Branch Rickey's former team and Pete Reiser's former team.  Durocher had seen Pete Reiser, the natural, the leader, the one man that had more talent (it was whispered) than even DiMaggio.  Reiser ran himself into a wall, literally, and fractured his skull.  The doctors told him to stay out or risk his life.  Durocher needed him in uniform for moral support but promised not to use him.  He couldn't keep the promise and Reiser's health was forever ruined.  Durocher saw many of his stars, Reiser, Reese and more, shipped off to war and miss the prime of their careers.

Durocher saw the same talent, or more, in Jack.  He couldn't wait to see what he could do.  He saw what Jackie could do, lead the team like few had done before, but Jack did it for Shotton and the Dodgers reached the World Series.  Durocher would need to wait for 1948 to get the advantages out of Jack's talent.  But if the Dodgers front office thought Jack's success the year before would mean immediate acceptance they were wrong.

The Dodgers bus pulled up to a Florida stadium in Spring Training 1948, overflowing with a record crowd to see the Dodgers.  Dodger Pitcher Rex Barney told the story of a big security officer stopping Jack at the entrance and questioning Jack's intelligence and literacy.  Durocher immediately spoke up.  "He can't go in there?  He can't go in that entrance?  Then we are not going in there.  Do you know what that means?"  In Barney's story the security guard relented knowing the overflow crowd would likely riot.  It was a rare moment of camaraderie between Jackie and Leo.

Like most award winning players, especially one as spectacular as Robinson, everyone wanted a piece of him.  Four off season months and lots of rubber chicken dinner speaking engagements later, Jack appeared at Spring Training twenty pounds above his 1947 playing weight.  Durocher was appalled.  Robinson wasn't the only over weight star.  Pete Reiser and Jack were forced to run for hours in rubber sweat suits to work off the excess fat.  While they were running laps in tropical heat Durocher was yelling at them "C'mon fatso!  Get moving."  It was humiliating for the players and Jackie resented it.

The difference between Shotton and Durocher was night and day.  Shotton had told the Dodgers that he would stay out of their way and that they could win despite him.  Durocher drove them relentlessly and let them know who was boss.  The pressure on Shotton was non existent.  If he had lost it would have been what everyone expected.  For Durocher the pressure was ever-present.  He was terrified that if the Dodgers struggled he would be blamed and fired.  The season was a disaster.  The team struggled.  Robinson struggled.  As the pressure mounted Durocher took it personally.

On Sunday, June 11, the Dodgers lost 3-2 to the Giants and fell to 35-37.  It was Durocher's last game as a Dodger manager.  On July 15, the Giants split a double header, bringing their record to 37-38.  Their manager, Giant legend Mel Ott, was fired and replaced with none other than Leo.  If the Dodger's Giants rivalry had been dormant for a few years it was about to erupt.

Durocher's style of managing caused quite a bit of resentment to the remaining Dodgers.  Two players in particular, Jackie and Carl Furillo, hated Leo.  Leo was from the old school.  The school that thought if you can distract your opponent they won't focus on the job.  Durocher would stand in the coaching box and mimic a person with a swollen head and point to Jack. 

After a tight pitch from Sal the barber, Jackie bunted the next pitch foul down the first base line and ran straight through Maglie.  Durocher yelled to Jackie.  "That's bush league Robinson."  Jack yelled back "You should know.  You taught me to do it."

Durocher was a master taunter but Jackie could give it right back.  Russ Meyer, a former Giant who was traded to the Dodgers said "He (Jackie) hated Durocher with a goddamn passion.  He used to taunt him." According to Meyer Robinson yelled taunts like "Hey Leo, who you gonna marry next?  Is Laraine taking good care of you?"

The funny thing about rivalries is that once the years go by the anger usually fades.  At the end of their careers both had won World Series.  Both ended in the Hall of Fame and both were remembered as successful.

Jackie himself reflected on the rivalry with clarity.  He remembered the spring training from hell in his auto biography.  "To get me in shape, Leo put me through some furious physical paces.  They were humiliating because rookies, reporters and teammates were all onlookers.  Leo also kept after me verbally, and as the world knows, he is a magnificent tongue lasher.  At the time I thought he was being too excessive, but later I realized he was only doing what was necessary, and even though his comments hurt, I could not forget that Durocher had done all he could the previous year to help ease my way into the majors...I think that Leo felt I had not given him my best effort and was working harder for Shotton.  That wasn't true but on the playing field Leo and I got into a number of hassles that were picked up by the press.  Leo and I were alike in so many ways, and that could have been part of our problem.  But no matter how many verbal insults were exchanged, I believe we never lost the respect we had for each other's abilities."

Current Dodger Manager Don Mattingly has asked for a three year contract as a reward for his success.  It has been a long time Dodger organization policy to only give Dodgers' managers a one year contract (this dates back to long before the move from Brooklyn).  In fact, legendary Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda never had a contract longer than one year.  Mattingly's demand for a three year contract is eerily similar to the demand of Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen back in 1953.  Dressen had led the Dodgers to a three game playoff against the Giants in 1951, followed by back to back National League Championships in 1952 and 1953.  Dressen wrote a letter to Walter O'Malley demanding a three year contract.  O'Malley did not deal well with demands from others so he replaced Dressen.  Who replaced Dressen as Dodgers manager?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
In games 1 & 2 of the 1951 World Series the Yankees started a young outfielder in his first full year in the Major Leagues.  The right fielder went 0-3, with 2 walks in Game 1.  In Game 2 the young player went 1-2 with a run and strikeout.  He only played part of the second game.  In the top of the 5th inning, Willie Mays led off the Giants' 5th inning with a fly ball to right-center field.  Joe DiMaggio moved over to track down the fly ball, invading the right field territory.  The young right fielder had started to track the ball himself but when he saw DiMaggio tracking it he attempted to move into a back up position.  When he changed his course Mickey Mantle caught his spike on an exposed drain pipe and severely damaged his knee causing pain for the rest of his life.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rivalries: Williams vs. DiMaggio

Don't forget to check the first two articles in the Rialries series: Christy Mathewson vs Three Finger Brown and Ty Cobb vs Babe Ruth.

"I can't do it."  The voice was disappointed but still yearning for a positive result.  "I just can't.  The people here, the fans, would just kill me.  They think Ted's a better ball player.  Now, if you want to throw in that funny looking outfielder in the deal I might be able to sell this thing here in Boston."

The voice belonged to Tom Yawkey, owner of the Boston Red Sox.  Sitting on the other end of the phone, just as disappointed, was Larry MacPhail, General Manager of the New York Yankees.  The trade, discussed in the late spring of 1947 but never completed, could have changed baseball history up to the current time. 

What had been proposed was this:  the Red Sox would send Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived, the most identifiable person to wear Red Sox across his chest, to the New York Yankees.  In return the Red Sox would receive two players:  Joltin' Joe, the Yankees captain, and the funny looking outfielder who would go on to become a multiple MVP winner and one of the greatest Catchers in history, named Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra.

The trade, which might have brought a World Series to Boston decades before the 2004 "Reverse the Curse" team, was never made.  DiMaggio would continue to patrol the Yankee Stadium center field until 1951. Williams would continue to destroy AL pitching in Fenway for much longer.  The proposed trade, which was discussed (in varying states of inebriation, depending on the version you read) was just one of the many moments that intertwined the two legends in a decades long rivalry.

Joe DiMaggio, an immigrant's son known to his teammates and opponents as "the Dago", came to the major leagues in 1936 with the acclaim of having hit in 61 straight games while playing for the San Francisco Seals.  He arrived in Yankees camp and was issued uniform #9.  Wearing Joe's future #5 was Frankie Crosetti.  (Crosetti would move to #1 for 1937 giving Joe his famous #5).  DiMaggio first played for the San Francisco Seals at the end of the 1932 season.  He had 2 hits in 9 at bats (a double and a triple).  In the next three seasons in the minors Joe played in 460 games, had 657 hits and a .351 average.  The stats were enough to have every team asking for him.  That is until the knee injury and all of a sudden the Yankees were "taking a chance" on Joe.

Ted Williams grew up in San Diego but anyone who claimed he was a privileged white kid didn't know Teddy.  When the Red Sox scout came to his house Ted refused to stand up to shake his hand.  It had nothing to do with lack of manners or social skills.  It had to do with the fact that his parents didn't have enough money to replace the furniture so he was terrified the scout might see the hole in the upholstery of the chair Ted was sitting in. 

The rivalry had so many facets.  Both were poor kids from California.  Both had the fast track to the majors with high expectations.  It was Northern California vs. Southern California.  Yankees vs. Red Sox.  Team captain vs. team captain.  The classy Joe DiMaggio vs the working class Williams. 

The player rivalry lacked one thing:  an actual player rivalry.  "So much was made of my rivalry with Ted and yet I never felt it was there.  There was rivalry with the Red Sox and frankly that was what it was about." That was DiMaggio's view.

If winning was what it was about then, hands down, DiMaggio won the rivalry.  Williams and the Red Sox reached the World Series in 1946 and pushed the Cardinals to a seventh game but ultimately lost.  Williams hit .200.  The Red Sox reached a one game playoff to decide the American League in 1948.  Williams went 1-4 and scored a run but the Indians came out on top.  That was the extent of Ted's post season experience.

Joe played in the post season ten times.  In Joe's first post season, 1936, he had nine hits. That's three more postseason hits than Ted would have in his career.  In total Joe would play in 10 World Series and win 9.  By the time Ted started his rookie year Joe already had two more World Series titles than Ted would have at the end of his 19 year career.

Still, although Joe and Ted may not have had a rivalry like Cobb and Ruth or like Munson and Fisk (check back in a few weeks) situations often create rivalries that the players unwittingly participate in.  The Red Sox had not been good since, well, since the sale of Ruth, Mays, and most of the Red Sox to the Yankees. Now the transplanted Red Sox were gone. The owners of that Red Sox group was gone and a new attitude in Boston felt they could compete with the big bad Yankees.  And they did.

Year after year, as DiMaggio and Williams fought each other for the batting title the Yankees and Red Sox fought each other to reach the World Series.  Seemingly every year Williams would win the batting title (he won six, including two triple crowns) and DiMaggio's Yankees would win the American League.  In 1946 the Red Sox won the AL by 12 games over the second place Tigers and the Yankees were 22 behind.  In 1947 the Yankees beat the Tigers by 12 and the Red Sox were 16 behind.  In 1948 the Red Sox tied for first with the Indians but the Yankees had their revenge. 

With the 1948 pennant on the line in the last day of the regular season  (and the Yankees out of the running) Joe McCarthy was concerned that DiMaggio would effect the Red Sox chances.  He tried to anticipate DiMaggio, sitting on the bench because of an injury, pinch hitting.  Three separate times in the final game McCarthy had his pitching ace up and throwing in the bull pen, ready for Joe.  DiMaggio stayed on the bench.  The problem was that because he had thrown so many warm up pitches in anticipation of an at bat that never happened, Boston's ace was not available for the playoff game against the Indians.  Instead, McCarthy played a hunch and used Denny Galehouse in the playoff game.  The Indians won.

1949 was the height of the rivalry.  The teams entered the final two games, head to head with the Red Sox needing to take one of two to clinch the AL Pennant.  They led in the first game until Birdie Tebbetts, the Red Sox Catcher, told Yogi (remember that funny looking outfielder) he was looking forward to sipping champagne in a few hours and taking tomorrow off.  Yogi went back to the bench and told the Yankees what he heard and the Yankees went to work.  They won that first game of the series, forcing a final day show down of the two teams.  The Yankees won that final game and moved to the World Series.

If the personal rivalry was not the focus of the two players and winning was the ultimate goal, the numbers of the two legends tell the story of their careers.  DiMaggio went 3-8 with a double and a triple in that final 1949 series.  Williams, however, went 1-5.

Unlike the other rivalries we have reviewed in Ruth and Cobb or the ones you will see in the future of this series this was a mostly press driven rivalry but it continued well after they both had retired.  Williams was known as the greatest hitter who ever lived.  DiMaggio insisted on always being called "the greatest living ballplayer".  The press and fan driven rivalry lasted even after their deaths.  In 2012 the United States Postal Service released a series of stamps known as "All Stars Forever".  Included in the series were Larry Doby, Willie Stargell, Joe and Ted.  The post office tracked orders of each stamp to see which was more popular and decades after each had retired the rivalry was back on.
In Joe DiMaggio's final World Series appearance of 1951 who was playing Right Field for the Yankees in Games 1 and 2?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Claire Merritt was born in Athens, Georgia, not far from the hometown of Ty Cobb.  Cobb and Merritt met and dated seriously as Cobb was on his way up to the Major Leagues.  The seriousness of the relationship varies based on who is telling the story.  It has been described simply as a friendship all the way up to near engagement.  Many years later Claire Merritt (now known as Claire Hodgson.  Her husband Frank Hodgson had died.) was introduced to Babe Ruth.  On April 17, 1929 Claire Merritt Hodgson became Claire Merritt Hodgson Ruth.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rivalries: Ty Cobb vs Babe Ruth

If you missed it, don't forget to check out the first article in the Rivalries Series:  Christy Mathewson vs. Three Finger Brown

To Ty Cobb, baseball was war.  It was to be taken seriously.  Like religion.  It was a life and death struggle.  It was dirt sprawling, fists flying, spikes slashing battle and anyone who didn't take it seriously would have to face Cobb's wrath. 

To Babe Ruth baseball was a game.  It was to be taken lightly and taken advantage of to the utmost.  It was free swinging, ball launching, slow trotting, clowning and anyone who thought differently didn't matter because Ruth didn't notice anyways. 

Ty Cobb was born into a well respected Georgia family and was brought up in luxury.  His father was a school teacher and landowner.  His relatives had fought in the Civil War, for the south of course, and led Cobb's Legion cavalry in General Lee's army.  The Cobb's legion was legendary in the "Lost Cause" lexicon.  They fought under General McLaw's Division of Longstreet's Corps.  They fought at most of the major battles of the Army of Northern Virginia including Sharpsburg (Antietam), Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  The legion remained famous after the war and was the unit joined by Ashley Wilkes in "Gone With The Wind".  The Cobb family has a county named after it.  Cobb's father tried everything to get him to be a doctor, lawyer, soldier or anything but a ballplayer.  Cobb left home against his father's wishes and promised him he would not drink alcohol, one of the major evils of the world.

Babe Ruth was born to a bar owner in Baltimore.  There was little money for the family.  Ruth skipped school, stole from the family cash register, got into fights.  He did everything wrong and after one too many fights with his father he was declared incorrigible.  Ruth was sent away to a reform school.

Ty Cobb came along at the perfect time for the game.  At the turn of the century the National League was looking for someone to replace the aging stars, those first generation players, while the American League was looking for its identity.  Cobb slashed his way into Detroit from the minor leagues, ready to fight the world, including the entire Tigers team.  He drove his team to three straight World Series appearances in 1907, 1908 and 1909, the first AL team to do so.  In 1909 his Tigers played in the first ever deciding Game 7 and lost.  Cobb would never make it back to the Series.  As great as he was, possibly still the best player in the history of the sport, he would fight forever and never get a World Series title.

Ruth joined the Red Sox at the perfect time for Babe Ruth.  The Red Sox were set for a run of three World Series appearances in the next four years, winning all three.  Ruth moved on to the Yankees and won another five World Series.  His teams appeared in an additional three.  Ruth made the World Series seemingly effortlessly.

Cobb did everything better than anyone ever.  He hit better than anyone for more base hits and a higher average.  He scored runs better than anyone.  He stole home better than anyone.  He could also hate better than anyone.  He hated everyone. He was overflowing with that emotion.  He withheld a certain type of hate for pitchers.  They were the enemy.  He would stare them down as he walked toward the plate. Glare at them.  Scowl.  He would tell himself "this poor son of a bitch has to face the great Ty Cobb."  Then he would do what he wanted.

Ruth entered the league in 1914 as a pitcher, the worst of all people by Cobb's standards, and won two of the four games he appeared in.  He had a near full season in 1915 and won 18 games and a World Series title.  Not bad for a rookie.  He followed that with a 23 win season and a second World Series win, including pitching all 14 innings of a 2-1 win in game 2.  He would give up a first inning run and then throw 13 shutout innings.  He pitched again in the 1918 World Series and threw a 9 inning shutout in Game 1.  He pitched again in Game 4 and held the Cubs scoreless until the 8th.  With one out the Cubs scored a run, ending Ruth's record of consecutive scoreless innings in the post season at  29.  That would stand until the 1960's.

Cobb had no friends.  The people that he called friends were usually more business associates than friends.  They really didn't like him.  He had few reasons to smile and he could care less.

Ruth was every one's friend.  He had so many "friends" that he just stopped learning peoples names.  He would play with Catcher Benny Bengough for 8 years in New York yet still referred to him as "that googles guy."  He would give everyone he met a big "Hiya Kid!"  regardless of age, social standing or how long he had known them.

Cobb was vilified by the press.  Everything he did had some sinister purpose by the view of the press.  When he held out for more money, Tigers owner Frank Navin made him out to be a troublemaker. A greedy, ungrateful ruffian trying to bankrupt an honest business man.  Cobb had to fight to get $5000 a year.

Ruth was adored.  He could seemingly do no wrong.  Cameras and crowds followed him everywhere.  Ruth earned $52,000 a year with the Yankees in the middle of the depression era.  Someone asked him if he felt it was right that he earned more than the President.  Ruth said it was fine with him "I had a better year than he did, didn't I?"  The president was Hoover so no one questioned that Ruth's year was better.

With the two complete opposites it shouldn't be hard to imagine that a rivalry would evolve and yet none of these reasons above sparked the rivalry (although with Cobb's insane drive to be the best, you can see where he would be angry).  The rivalry came from the competing theories of baseball.

Cobb was from the "inside" theory of the game.  Cobb's view of the game was to play for one run.  Fight your way on base anyway you can.  If that means getting hit by a pitch then you took one for the team.  Once you got there nothing would stand in your way.  Cobb would work with Sam Crawford to master the hit and run and the double steal.  They would sacrifice themselves to advance a runner and score the one run then hold the other team.  It was a strategic game to Cobb, won on the base paths by outwitting your opponent.

Ruth was from no real theory of the game.  He walked to the plate, dug in his heels and swung.  Although, we have a picture of the free swinging hitter as missing more than they connect (thanks to the Mighty Casey at the Bat) Ruth was a tremendous hitter, much more than just a Home run hitter.  Ruth would end his career with a .342 average and would even hit .393 one season (and didn't win the batting title.  Harry Heilman of Detroit hit .403).

Ruth's approach revolutionized the game.  It took the attention from the station to station, hard slashing approach of Cobb, Speaker, Hornsby and Frisch and opened the door for the hard swinging, long ball launching bats of Gehrig, Foxx and Greenberg that would translate decades later into Aaron, Bonds, McGwire and Sosa.  In the mind of Cobb, Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest player in the history of the game and probably the player that most revolutionized the game, ruined the national past time.

Who was Claire Hodgson and what part did she play in the lives of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth?

Answer to last week's question:
When Mathewson took over as the manager of the Reds, Hal Chase was his first baseman.  Chase was long regarded as the best first baseman in the league and would likely have been considered Hall of Fame caliber, except for one major defect.  Chase was also considered the most crooked baseball player in the league.  Mathewson, long considered the most honest player in the league (his nickname was "the Christian Gentleman"), knew Chase was throwing games. Mathewson filed a complaint with the National League offices (this was several years before the Black Sox scandal).  By the time the league's investigation started, Mathewson was overseas, serving in World War I, and obviously unavailable to provide testimony.  Unable to prove the charges, the Reds released Chase, who was immediately picked up by John McGraw and the Giants.  When Mathewson returned from the war, his managers job with the Reds was already filled so he became a coach for McGraw's Giants.  Just a few months after Mathewson's return Chase was implicated in the investigation that led to the exposure of the Black Sox scandal.  Chase was banned for life along with the eight Chicago players.