Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2013 Hall of Fame Inductees

What makes a Hall of Famer a Hall of Famer?  Ask a hundred experts and you will likely get a hundred different answers.  There are, of course, a few specific criteria a player, owner, umpire, broadcaster or contributor needs to meet before even being eligible for consideration. 

First, the player has to have played within the last 20 years but must be retired for at least five years.  The player will be eligible for 15 years as long as he gets a minimum of 5% of the votes.  Anyone on the ballot 15 years without election is referred to the Veteran's Committee for consideration.  Anyone receiving less than 5 % is also referred to the Veteran's Committee for consideration. 

Second, they had to be an active player in at least parts of ten seasons.

Third, if they die during their career, they can be eligible  for the Hall of Fame on the next ballot (assuming the ballot is more than six months after their death).

Finally, anyone listed on the baseball ineligible list (this would be players like the Black Sox, Pete Rose, Hal Chase, Joe Gedeon, etc) is not an eligible candidate.

To be elected, a player needs to receive votes on 75% of the ballots cast in any given year.  For example, this past season there were 569 ballots cast.  A player would have needed to appear on 427 ballots.  The closest person this past year was Craig Biggio who spent his entire career with the Astros.  He fell 39 votes short of the requirement. 

The Hall gives very few guidelines or suggestions on what should be considered.  It merely says that the voting should be based on their "record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the teams on which the player played".  There are no automatic elections.  A perfect game, a triple crown, a .400 season does not mean you get into the Hall. 

So that still doesn't answer what makes a Hall of Fame member.  There are differing opinions but here are some of the more common qualifications that people use:
  • If a player gets certain milestones they are generally considered a lock for the Hall of Fame:  3000 hits, 500 Home Runs, .300 lifetime average, 300 Wins, etc.  This does not mean you have to reach one of these to make it but it has traditionally been considered your "get in free" pass.
  • If a player is the clear cut, best player at his position for his era.  For example, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson were clearly the best pitchers of the 1960's.  While Denny McLaine had a 30 win season and dominated the 1968 American League, over the length of his career he was not as dominant as that one season.  Based on that Gibson and Koufax are in and McLaine is not.
  • If the story of a player's era cannot be told without mentioning them they should be in.  For example, if you led your era in wins, average, Home Runs, etc over a ten year period you should be in the hall of Fame. Additionally, if you contribute heavily to the success of  a team that has been the dominant team of the league you should merit significant consideration. 
This year's voting has been one of the most controversial ever.  No player was elected based on the ballot system and there were questions about how to handle the steroid era.  That is a topic for another post.  This is not about arguing for or against people to be enshrined.  This article is about honoring the individuals who will be enshrined this year.  So without further pause, ladies and gentlemen, here are your 2013 Hall of Fame inductees:

O'Day pitched seven years in the National League and ended with a career 73-110 record.  Clearly not Hall of Fame numbers and that is not the reason he will be joining the best of the best.  His contributions to the game were as an umpire.  Hank O'Day started umpiring in the National League in 1901, the same year the American League started competing with the senior circuit.  He called games until 1911.  In 1912 he was given the managing job for the Reds but finished only  78-76.  He was replaced after one year and returned to umpiring for 1913.  He got one more shot at managing with the Cubs in 1914, replacing Johnny Evers.  Given Evers' notorious hatred for umpires you can imagine how Evers felt about an umpire taking his managing job.  O'Day umpired in ten World Series (1903, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1916, 1918, 1920, 1923 and 1926).  Honestly, with the success that he had and the respect he garnered from his contemporaries it is a surprise he had to wait this long to be enshrined.  O'Day retired after the 1927 season.  He passed away at the age of 75 in 1935, six days short of his 76th birthday.

Jacob Ruppert:

If you had asked someone before 1919 how they thought the New York Highlanders (the early version of the Yankees) would do in an upcoming season you would likely have to wait for the laughter to subside to get an answer.  The Yankees were owned by Frank Farrell and William Devery from the time the team moved from Baltimore in the early years of the American League.  The two had done nothing to improve the team and although they had some future Hall of Fame players including Pitcher Jack Chesboro and the legendary Wee Willie Keeler, the Highlanders were the joke of the league.  Devery and Farrell were more interested in what they could get out of the team financially and politically than they were in putting a competitive team on the field.  Ruppert, meanwhile, was a former congressman who ran a highly profitable brewery and was trying to buy a baseball franchise.  He had tried several times to buy the Giants as well as considering buying the Cubs.  When Ruppert's friend John McGraw introduced him to Colonel Till Huston, who also wanted to own a baseball team, the two combined resources and purchased the Yankees for $480,000 in 1915.  Ruppert and Huston set to the task of building a competitive team and they had the resources to do it.  Someone who needed resources was the Red Sox owner Harry Frazee.  Over the next few years the Yankees started to slowly build a wining team and by 1920, after the purchase of Babe Ruth and numerous other Red Sox players, they were legitimate pennant contenders.  They would remain consistent playoff contenders long past Ruppert's days.  The relationship between Huston and Ruppert soured (which is a topic for another day) and Ruppert bought out Huston's share in 1922.  Ruppert was still the owner when he passed away in January of 1939 but during his time as owner of the Yankees he turned the American League's New York franchise from a joke into the most successful franchise in sports history.  Under Ruppert, the Yankees won the World Series seven times (1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937 and 1938).  They would also reach the World Series another three times (1921, 1922, and 1926) but come up short.  The General Manager, Ed Barrow, who was considered the architect of both the Red Sox dynasty and the Yankees dynasty in the early decades of the sport, was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1953.  Somehow it took an extra 60 years for Ruppert to get there.

Deacon White:
When Deacon White played there was no Hall of Fame.  There were no All Star games.  There was no World Series.  There were just wins and losses.  There was no OPS or WAR.  People rarely focused on any statistics past hits, runs and whether your team won or lost.  White played for eight different teams from 1871-1890 when statistics were kept by owners mostly as a way to determine how much they could cut a players pay from season to season.  That being said, White played in a total of 1560 games over the 20 years of his career (many of the seasons were before the 100+ game seasons).  Given the differences in the eras it is hard to compare his numbers to Mays, Mantle, Ruth, Cobb or even Evers and Chance so we will simply put them in context of his on times.  White finished with a .312 average over 20 years and finished with 2067 hits.  White also won two batting titles, led the league in hits once, total bases once, triples once and RBI three times.  Unfortunately there has been a lot of complaints that White is being enshrined after all these years but n the context of White's time he was certainly one of the top players.
The first class of Hall of Famers were elected in 1936.  Five former players (one Shortstop, two Outfielders and two Pitchers) were voted in as part of the first class.  Who were the five players inducted?

Three pitchers have started the All Star Game for their respective league five times.  All of them are Hall of Fame Pitchers.  Lefty Gomez of the Yankees started five All Star Games for the American League (1933, 1934, 1935, 1937 and 1938).  Robin Roberts of the Phillies started five All Star Games for the National League (1950, 1951, 1953, 1954 and 1955).  Don Drysdale of the Dodgers started five All Star Games for the National League (Both games of the 1959 season, 1962, 1964 and 1968).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

80 Years of All Star Memories

There had been unofficial games of the sport's greatest players before but not like this.  22 years before this there was a collection of stars who played a game to gather proceeds for the widow of poor Addie Joss.  Joss was one of the best pitchers the game had seen in the brief history.  Joss was one of the first pitchers in the modern era to throw a perfect game.  Only 31, he had not been feeling well for quite some time.  Before an exhibition game, in the middle of a conversation, Joss collapsed.  The meningitis he never knew he had would take his life before he ever awoke again.  To provide money to his family, a collection of stars decided to play against Joss's Cleveland team mates and donate any money they made to Joss's widow. 

The Indians had some stars of their own including Jack Graney, Nap Lajoie, and Terry Turner.  Opposing them was a collection of talent never before assembled on one team.  Gabby Street (C, Washington), Hal Chase (1B, Washington), Eddie Collins (2B, Philadelphia), Bobby Wallace (SS, ), Frank "Home Run" Baker (3B, Philadelphia), Tris Speaker (CF, Boston), Ty Cobb (RF, Detroit), Sam Crawford (LF, Detroit), Smokey Joe Wood (P, Boston) and Walter Johnson (P, Washington).  Most of them would be Hall of Fame members.  Others were absolutely dominant  and at the top of their games. 

Fans became obsessed with the idea of seeing great players from opposing teams playing together.  Barnstorming became a huge success.  Post season tours of non-major league cities were big sources of extra cash for the game's big stars.  That was until the owners became terrified that their big name stars would get hurt and their drawing power would be hurt badly.  The league outlawed the barnstorming tours but they filed a mental note about the money they could make.

Enter the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago.  That would be 80 years ago this year.  It was not only the World's Fair, it was Chicago's Centennial Celebration.  Whatever they had planned it had to be big.  The fair included a few exhibitions that would be obscenely offensive today.   Black face performers.  A Midget City.  A series of incubator demonstrations with real babies.  There were also the normal exhibitions by car manufacturers, star performers and an appearance by the Graf Zeppelin.

The fair needed one more thing and with the Cubs having a great team, they had won the NL the year before, the city was baseball mad.  Why not find a way to showcase their great players?  Arch Ward, the Chicago Tribune sports editor suggested that they could get even more people to show up if they used more than just the local stars.  Why not use all of the league's stars?  And even better, why not let the baseball fans see who they want?  It was perfect.  The Tribune distributed ballots in each daily paper, this was a Chicago exhibit after all so the Chicago fans got to choose.  They would be the ones paying for the ticket and playing who they vocally wanted to see ensured high ticket sales.

The 47,595 fans certainly got their money's worth.  It was the last time Connie Mack and John McGraw, rivals since the American League began 30 years before, faced off as managers.  They had gone head to head in the World Series in 1905, 1911 and 1913 and were chosen to lead each squad today.  In future years the manager of the All Star Teams would be the managers of the previous seasons World Series representatives.

McGraw had retired the year before but it was a reunion of sorts for Mugsy.  On his team were Carl Hubbell, Hal Schumacher and Bill Terry, his former players.  Terry, who despised McGraw (and the feeling was probably mutual) had taken over the reigns of the Giants when McGraw retired.  The bigger reunion for McGraw was managing Frankie Frisch.  McGraw, at one point, was like a father to the Fordham Flash but McGraw's tirades and finger pointing grated on Frisch.  After a disagreement (to put it very mildly) in 1926, McGraw shipped Frisch to the Cardinals.  Now, here Frisch was playing for the old man again.  Just like old times, Frisch was the star for McGraw, hitting the first National League Home Run in All Star history.

Old rivalries were renewed as well.  McGraw hated the new style into which the game had evolved.  He was the scientific type.  The Ty Cobb type.  He won with sacrifice hits, good defense and great pitching.  This Home Run game was bull shit in his opinion.  He despised Ruth and the way he had ruined the game with all these long balls.  This was McGraw's first time facing off against Ruth since they had gone head to head in the World Series three years in a row from 1921-1923.

This may have been billed as an exhibition game but it was really a grudge match.  There was a lot of pride at stake and the wounds were still not healed from the war that was ended thirty years ago.  This may have been a showcase for the fans but these players still had to explain themselves to the rest of the league if they messed up.

The first run in All Star game history came in the bottom of the second.  Jimmy Dykes of the Athletics walked with one out.  Joe Cronin of the Senators walked right behind him.  After a fly out for the second out, Lefty Gomez, the Yankees starting pitcher stepped in to hit.  Gomez hit a single to center field bringing Dykes around to score.  That's right.  A pitcher got the first RBI in All Star Game history.

After an easy top of the third the fans got to see what they really wanted to see.  Charlie Gehringer, the Tigers' second baseman, walked and the big guy came up.  Chicago fans hated Ruth.  In the last World Series he had called his shot against the Cubs and had engaged in an ugly feud with them.  Now he stepped in with a runner on first.  He drove a pitch deep to right field and did what everyone would expect the Home Run king to do.  He hit the first home run in All Star Game history and the AL led 3-0.

The NL would cut the lead to 3-2 but that was as close as they got.  The final was 4-2 and the American League had won the first All Star Game.  The NL wanted a rematch and they would get it every year (with the exception of 1945) all the way to the present day. In fact for four years (1959, 1960, 1961 and 1962) they played two All Star Games in a season.  Currently the National League leads the series with a 43-39 record with 2 ties.

The rosters for the first All Star Game (as they do today) included a representative from each team.  Here were the rosters (starters are bolded, future Hall of Fame members are italicized):
American League:
Rick Ferrell C, Red Sox, 
7 time All Star. 
0-3 in the first All Star Game

Al Simmons CF/LF, White Sox, 
3 time All Star. Leading vote getter. 
1-4 with a single and grounded into a double play
Earl Averill CF, Indians,
6 time All Star,
1-1 as  Pinch Hitter with an RBI in the first All Star Game
Wes Ferrell, P, Indians,
2 time All Star. 
Did not play in the first All Star Game)
Orel Hildebrand P, Indians,
only All Star Game. 
Did not play in the first All Star Game)

Charlie Gehringer 2B, Tigers, 
6 time All Star.
0-3 with 2 walks, a Stolen Base and a run scored in the first All Star Game

Ben Chapman LF/RF, Yankees, 
4 time All Star,
1-5 with a strikeout in the first All Star Game
Bill Dickey C, Yankees,
11 time All Star,
Did not play in first All Star Game)
Lou Gehrig 1B, Yankees 
7 time All Star. 
0-2 with 2 walks and a strikeout.  He also committed an error in the first All Star Game.
Lefty Gomez P,Yankees
7 time All Star. 
3 innings pitched.  Allowed 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks and 1 strikeout.  At the plate he was 1-1 with an RBI.  He earned the first Win in All Star Game history and his RBI single drove in the first run in All Star Game history.
Tony Lazzeri 2B, Yankees
Only All Star Game.
Did not play in first All Star Game
Babe Ruth RF, Yankees 
2 time All Star. 
2-4, 2 strikeouts, 1 run, 2 RBI, Home Run in first All Star Games

Jimmy Dykes 3B, Athletics,
2 time All Star,
2-3 with a walk and a run scored, helped turn a double play.
Jimmie Foxx 1B, Athletics,
9 time All Star.
Was the reigning AL MVP but did not appear in the first All Star Game.  He would also win his second consecutive MVP award in 1933
Lefty Grove P,Athletics,
6 time All Star.
3 innings pitched, allowed 3 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts and earned the first Save in All Star Game History.  He was 0-1 at the plate.

Sammy West CF, Browns,
4 time All Star,
Entered as a late inning defensive replacement.  Had no plate appearances

Joe Cronin, SS, Senators, 
7 time All Star,
1-3 with a run scored and a walk in the first All Star Game
General Crowder P, Senators,
3 innings pitched, allowed 3 hits, 2 runs, walked none, struck out none and had an ERA of 6.00 for the day.  He was 0-1 at the plate. 
This was his only All Star appearance

National League:
Wally Berger ,CF, Braves,
4 time All Star. 
0-4 and grounded into a double play in the first All Star Game

Tony Cuccinello, 2B, Dodgers. 
2 time All Star. 0-1 with a strikeout as a pinch hitter in first All Star Game

Woody English, 3B, Cubs.
Only All Star Game.
0-1 as pinch hitter and played SS in first All Star Game
Gabby Hartnett C, Cubs
6 time All Star. 
0-1 with a strikeout in first All Star Game
Lon Warneke P, Cubs. 
5 time All Star.
4 innings pitched.  Allowed 1 run, 6 hits, no walks, 2 strikeouts and had a 2.25 ERA.  Was also 1-1 with a triple and run scored in the first All Star Game

Chick Hafey LF, Reds. 
Only All Star Game. 
1-4 in first All Star Game

Carl Hubbell P, Giants.
9 time All Star.
Would win NL MVP in 1933. 2 innings pitched.  Allowed 0 runs, 1 hit, 1 walk and 1 strikeout.  He did not have a plate appearance in first All Star Game.
Lefty O'Doul OF, Giants. 
Only All Star Game.
0-1 as Pinch Hitter in first All Star Game
Hal Schumacher P, Giants. 
2 time All Star.
Did not play in first All Star Game
Bill Terry 1B, Giants. 
3 time All Star.  2-4 in first All Star Game
Dick Bartell SS, Phillies,
2 time All Star. 
0-2 with a strikeout.  Helped turn a double play in first All Star Game
Chuck Klein RF, Phillies. 
2 time All Star.
Reigning NL MVP.  Would finish 2nd in NL MVP in 1933. 1-4 in the first All Star Game

Pie Traynor 3B, Pirates. 
2 time All Star.
1-1 with a double as a pinch hitter in first All Star Game
Paul Waner OF, Pirates. 
4 time All Star. 
Was a late inning defensive replacement.  Did not have a plate appearance in first All Star Game.

Frankie Frisch 2B, Cardinals,
3 time All Star.
2-4 with a run, RBI and Home Run.  Helped turn a double play in first All Star Game
Pepper Martin 3B, Cardinals.
4 time All Star.
0-4 with an RBI and a strikeout in first All Star Game
Bill Hallahan P, Cardinals. 
Only All Star Game. 
2 innings pitched.  Allowed 3 runs, 2 hits, 5 walks, 1 strikeout and had a 13.50 ERA.  Was also 0-1 at the plate.  Took the first loss in All Star Game history.
Jimmie Wilson C, Cardinals. 
2 time All Star Game.
0-1 in the first All Star Game.

Lefty Gomez started the first All Star Game for the American League and Bill Hallahan for the National League. Three pitchers are tied for the record for starting the All Star Game five different times as a Starting Pitcher. Who are they?
Hint:  All three are in the Hall of Fame

Congratulations to Hope at Disneyland for getting last week's trivia question correct.
Answer to Last Week's Question:
The Cubs moved into Wrigley Field in 1916.  The stadium was built for Chicago's entry into the Federal League, the Chicago Whales.  It was originally called Weeghman Park, named after the owner of the Whales.  When the Federal League folded the Cubs took over the stadium and have played there ever since.  Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the park.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats: Steve Bartman

Don't forget to check out the other articles in the "Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats" Series: Fred Merkle, Hack Wilson, Johnny Pesky, Ralph Branca , Leon Durham, Donnie Moore, Bill Buckner and Mitch Williams

It must be a unique experience to root for the Cubs.  1908.  That was the pinnacle of Cubs fandom.  Of course the Cubs have a very proud tradition.  Tinker, Evers and Chance.  Three Finger Brown. Rogers Hornsby.  Charlie Root.  Ernie Banks. Billy Williams.  Ferguson Jenkins. Ron Santo.  Ryne Sandberg.  Andre Dawson.  Mark Grace.  Harry Carey.  The friendly confines of Wrigley Field.  With all of that, 1908 was still the top moment.  1908: When the Cubs won the second of their back to back World Series, when someone could honestly say "who ever heard of the Cubs losing a game they needed to win" without being laughed out of town, that was 95 years before this.

The Cubs had not won a postseason series in 95 years.  When that happened:
  • Mickey Mouse (1928), Bugs Bunny (1938) and the Flinstones (1959) were decades away.
  • The first All Star Game (1933) was 25 years away.
  • Jackie Robinson was 49 years from his debut
  • Babe Ruth (1915) was seven years away from his debut.
  • The Yankees would not win their first World Series for another 15 years (1923)
  • Fenway Park would not exist for another four years and Wrigley Field for another six years (and wouldn't be the Cubs home for another two years after that).
  • The American Professional Football Association (the NFL's ancient ancestor) was 12 years from the first game.
  • The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was 5 years away.
  • The first use of the Designated Hitter was 65 years away.
They had reached the playoffs and the World Series several times but they just had not won.  This was the year.  All the years of hearing "wait 'til next year" was now over.  They were a great team.  They had beaten the jinx by taking out the Atlanta Braves.  They had beaten great teams to get here and now they just had to beat these new kid Florida Marlins. 

It was fitting that they would advance to the World Series today. October 14. It was 95 years ago to the day that the Cubs of Tinker, Evers and Chance beat Ty Cobb's Tigers for the second straight (and last) Cubs World Series title.  This Cubs team took a 3 games to 1 series lead into game 5 but lost 4-0.  They now were in the 8th inning of Game 6 and they had a 3-0 lead with young Mark Prior on the mound and cruising through the Marlins lineup.  Florida had only 3 hits to this point.

Mike Mordecai flied out to start the inning and Cubs fans could start counting down.  5 more outs.  Then Juan Pierre doubled and Cubs fans were nervous. The Marlins had the big bats coming up with only one out and now everyone knew something would happen.  Something bad.  The city of Chicago was positive it was coming but the pressure of waiting to see what it would be was agonizing.

The next batter, Luis Castillo started an epic, 9 pitch at bat, although for Cubs fans this at bat is still going on.  On a 3-2 pitch Castillo lifted a fly ball down the left field line and left fielder Moises Alou tracked it right up to the stands.  He jumped and had this timed perfectly. 

It was just at the wall.  Anywhere between five and ten fans were sure they had a souvenir from the day the Cubs clinched their first trip to the World Series since 1945.  Alou was sure he had out number two. Then the ball bounced off the hands of a fan and Alou landed without the ball.  Alou went berserk.  He was furious.  Regardless of Alou's anger the at bat continued.  Just like the 1985 World Series, it isn't important what causes the chaos, it is how you react to the chaos that is important and the Cubs didn't react well.  Castillo finished the nine pitch at bat with a walk.  Ball four got past the catcher and Juan Pierre advanced to third.

Ivan Rodriguez faced off against Prior.  Prior had the advantage of an 0-2 count but Rodriguez stroked a single to left field scoring Pierre.  The lead was down to 2 and a young Miguel Cabrera, future Triple Crown winner, stepped in to face Prior. Cabrera hit an easy bouncing ball to Shortstop and this would get them out of trouble.  An easy 6-4-3 double play and the inning is over.  The ball bounced.  Shortstop Alex Gonzalez turned to backhand the grounder. It hit in his glove and then dropped straight to the ground.  Everyone was safe.  Bases loaded.  Instead of being out of the inning it was the start of dark times.

Derek Lee, future Cubs' legend, stepped in and doubled to left and the game was tied. Prior was gone but they could still salvage this thing.  It wasn't the end of the world.  Mike Lowell was walked intentionally to load the bases and a sacrifice fly from Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine, gave Florida the lead and gave the Cubs their second out.  Todd Hollandsworth was walked intentionally to load up the bases and Mike Mordecai, the first out of the inning stepped in with the bases loaded.

Steve Lyons, the Fox broadcaster, told everyone as the 2-1 pitch was being delivered that Mordecai was a great fastball hitter.  Mordecai was lucky because that was exactly what he was getting and it was exactly where he wanted it.  Right down the middle.  Mordecai rifled the pitch to left-center field and it was a shot right at the very symbol of the Cubs.  It smacked up against the Wrigley Field ivy clearing the bases and scoring three runs.  An RBI single by Juan Pierre followed giving Florida an 8-3 lead.  Luis Castillo mercifully ended the inning with a pop out to second base but the curse had struck.  Despite the wild pitch, botched double play ball and conga line of batters to the plate Cubs fans knew exactly who to blame.  It was the guy who tried to catch the ball.

The guy's name is known to everyone:  Steve Bartman.  His life was ruined.  He received death threats.  He had beer poured on him.  He had to be escorted out of the stadium by security.  His entire life changed for the negative because of one foul ball.  There are a trillion reasons (other than the regular common sense reasons) that you cannot blame Steve Bartman.  Here are just a few:

1.  Steve Bartman did exactly what you would have done.  Deny it all you want but if you are at a regular season game (let alone a potentially series clinching game) and a foul ball comes your way your first thought is going to be "I've been coming to games for years and I am finally getting a foul ball."  Watching the replay at least five other fans are going for the ball.  A fan two seats in front of Bartman comes within an eye lash of touching the ball before Bartman does.

2.  The Cubs themselves did not blame Bartman.  The team issued a statement after the game saying "games are won on the playing field-not in the stands.  It is unfair and inaccurate to suggest that an individual fan is responsible for the events that transpired in Game 6.  He did what every fan who comes to the ballpark tries to do-catch a foul ball in the stands.  That's one of the things that makes baseball the special sport that it is."

3.  The Cubs self destructed.  A wild pitch and a botched double play ball are only part of the story. All of the Marlins hits were clean base hits that were nowhere near being outs.  Mark Prior,the Cubs young ace, said after the game "We had chances to get out of that situation.  I hung an 0-2 curveball  to Rodriguez that he hit for a single.  Alex Gonzales, who's a sure thing almost at Shortstop, the ball came up on him...Everybody in the clubhouse and management knows that play is not the reason we lost the game."

4.  The Cubs had a 3 games to 1 series lead.  The Cubs jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in Game 1 but ended up losing 9-8 in 11 innings.  That could be seen as their first missed opportunity. Game 2 was a blow out 12-3 in favor of the Cubs.  Game 3 was a tight 11 inning game won on a top of the 11th RBI triple by Doug Glanville.  The emotion and momentum of that win translated into a Game 4 8-3 win which was actually not even as close as it sounds.  Game 5 was the Cubs opportunity to ride their scorching hot bats into the World Series but Josh Beckett dominated them with a 4-0 two hit shutout.  The Cubs also had a chance to win Game 7.  They gave up three runs in the first to Florida but in the second and third they roared back and took a 5-3 lead.  Two innings later the Cubs gave the lead back and kept giving until Florida led 9-5.  From the time the Cubs took their 5-3 to the end of the game they had exactly 0 base runners and one hit.  A two out solo, pinch hit Home Run by Troy O'Leary in the 7th.

5.  This Marlins team was good.  We didn't know it then but we can see it now.  The Marlins had won the World Series in 1997 with an amazing collection of talent including Bobby Bonillia, Moises Alou, Gary Sheffield, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown and quite a few others.  That team was immediately torn apart and the Marlins went into a rebuilding mode.  Entering the 2003 season they were a joke with little proven talent, other than Ivan Rodriguez.  When their season record hit 16-22, last place in the N.L.East, nine games out of first and losers of 12 of their last 16 games,  the management changed managers.  Jeff Torborg was out, 72 year old Jack McKeon was in and the laughter got louder.  These poor Marlins.  Not only did they have the worst team in the league, now their manager might be late for games because he was taking advantage of an early bird special somewhere.  The Marlins went 75-49 under McKeon and won a Wild Card berth.  At the time we looked at the team as an inexperienced group of kids with no proven talent.  What we know now is that this team was full of All Stars and some possible Hall of Famers.  Ivan Rodriguez was a former MVP and Todd Hollandsworth was a former Rookie of the Year and All Star.  Other than these two there were very few recognizable names.  That would change.  It has been ten years since this series and few fans won't recognize the names that were on this roster:  Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre, Juan Encarnacion, Miguel Cabrera, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett.  Every one of those players became (or still is) a major contributor to playoff teams in other cities.  The Marlins of 2003, mostly because of the perception they had coming into the season, are one of the most underrated World Series teams in history.

The Chicago Cubs moved into Wrigley Field in 1916 although the stadium was opened in 1914.  What team originally occupied the Stadium?  (for imaginary bonus points, what was the original name of the stadium?)

Answer to last week's question: 
Congratulations to TJD who got the answer to last week's question correct.
Garry Maddox made his debut in Centerfield for the Giants on April 25, 1972.  Starting for the Giants that night was future Hall of Fame Pitcher Juan Marichal.  Facing off against Marichal was future Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton.  Maddox went 0-3 with 2 strikeouts against Carlton (the Giants only got one hit in the game) as Carlton won his third game.  Maddox would be traded to the Phillies on May 4, 1975.  Carlton and Maddox would play together for a number of years during the Phillies most successful period, each being major contributors to the Phillies first sustained period of success.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats: Mitch Williams


Don't forget to check out the other articles in the "Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats" Series: Fred Merkle, Hack Wilson, Johnny Pesky, Ralph Branca , Leon Durham, Donnie Moore and Bill Buckner

The magical season was over. The Phillies' bench was quiet. It was an odd thing for this group who never seemed to shut up. Rounding the bases for the Blue Jays was Paul Molitor. He had played in the league since 1977. He had been a rookie of the year. By the end of his career he would be a seven time All Star playing nearly every infield position and, along with Robin Yount and Jim Gantner, was the beginning middle and end of the history of the Milwaukee franchise. The previous winter he had made the almost impossible decision to leave Milwaukee for the chance to win a World Series. He had shown the world what everyone in Milwaukee had known for years. He was one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. In the bottom of the 5th inning of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series he drove a 1-1 pitch from Terry Mulholland deep into the left field seats and that, everyone was sure, was the nail in the Phillies' coffin.

When the Phillies' big hitters, Daulton, Eisenreich and Thompson, went down in order in the top of the 6th the requiem bells were drowning out the Liberty Bell in the city of brotherly love. As the Top of the 7th started with the bottom of the order coming to the plate and the Phillies down by four runs it was just a matter of formality. Then, as it had all year long, the magic returned. Kevin Stocker opened the inning with a ten pitch at bat, fouling off four pitches and working a walk out of Dave Stewart. Mickey Morandini singled and Stocker, ever the spark plug, took the extra base. Suddenly something was brewing.

Walking up to the plate was the heart of the Phillies. If anyone represented the toughness and passion of this team it was the man they called "Nails" (as in tough as). If Molitor's Home Run was supposed to drive the nails in the coffin, Nails drove them right back out with a three run Home Run to right field. Tie game. Dykstra would not allow this thing to end. Not if he had anything left to say about it. Seven batters later and the Phillies had amazingly batted around and scored five runs in the inning.

Now not only were they still alive, they were only 9 outs away from forcing Game 7. Rickey Henderson, Devon White and Molitor went in order in the 7th and it was just six outs left. Toronto loaded the bases in the 8th but Larry Andersen, yes the Larry Andersen Phillies fans hear every game, got out of the inning without allowing a run and it was only three outs to go for Game 7.

Dave Hollins, Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich went down in order in the top of the 9th and now it was time for Phillies fans to follow whatever routine they had followed all year long. Whatever it was, it had gotten them this far. Some crossed their fingers. Some held their breath. Some covered their eyes or paced the floor or sat and prayed and some just couldn't take the stress and left the room altogether getting updates from the braver fans who watched what actually unfolded.

Rickey Henderson stepped in to hit and "Wild Thing " was sure this was the hitter that would win the game. He would need to get ahead of Rickey. It was life and death to fall behind this guy so the first pitch had to be perfect. BALL ONE. It was a small thing but now he was worried. BALL TWO. Now he was sweating. BALL THREE. Now he was screwed. BALL FOUR and Rickey was on board. No one out. The best lineup in a long time all waiting to get a shot. Devon White. Molitor. Carter. Olerud. Alomar. It was a modern day Murderer's Row but all Williams could think of was "Rickey is going to steal".

Williams focused on Devon White but was clearly distracted by Rickey. Four times in White's nine pitch at bat Williams threw over to first. Each time Rickey got back easily. White flew out to deep left-center field. Molitor stepped in. No one could remember anyone hitting this well in a postseason series. He already had 11 hits (2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 Home Runs), 10 runs, 8 RBI , 2 walks and zero strike out. Despite all that, if he failed here this would be the at bat everyone remembered.

Williams was still distracted by Rickey. He threw over to first and Rickey was back easily again. It was fun for Rickey. This was what he loved. He would inch off the base. Get into a low squat. Then wait, motionless, waiting until the pitcher's eyes were on him. Then he would lean slightly. The legs twitched. No one in the stadium knew if he was going or not. Maybe it was getting a better foothold. Maybe it was a lean towards second. Maybe he wanted to see the pitcher's move to get the timing. Only Rickey knew. Williams stared him down then went to the plate. Ball one. Williams was frustrated. Almost as if Rickey could turn a stolen base into a three run Home Run. The pattern repeated. He delivered home again and Molitor fouled it off and the dance started all over again. This time Molitor delivered and drove a single to Center field. Dykstra reached the ball quickly and Henderson held at second.

Now even the Phillies fans with nerves of steel cringed. Joe Carter approached the plate and if the Jays wanted anyone at the plate it was Carter. Big Joe was the heart and soul of this team. He was the leader. The veteran. The clutch hitter. Carter took ball one, then ball two. This was a hitter's count anyone would want. He took strike one then swung through strike two.

The 2-2 pitch,the fifth of the at bat, came in. Williams released. Put everything into the pitch. His glove hand landed on the mound giving him balance. His back leg swung around and he was almost laying on the mound. By the time that foot hit the ground the ball was headed in the opposite direction. It was high. It was moving fast and it was going very very far. Williams didn't wait. He walked off the mound. Head down. He gave one last quick glance over his shoulder just to make sure he wasn't wrong. He was right and as his head dropped again Joe Carter went into orbit. Fireworks burst everywhere in all colors. Carter jumped like a ten year old kid and flew around the bases to be lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates at home plate. It was a shocking, amazing, exciting end to a great series.

Before the ball landed in the Skydome seats Philadelphia was sure that if it were not for Mitch Williams the team would have won the World Series. There are plenty of reasons you can't blame Mitch Williams and here are just a few:

1. Mitch Williams was called the Wild Thing for a reason, really for many reasons. When he followed through on a pitch his body flew one way, his arm went another, his hair flew in a completely other direction and every swing from the opposing batters made the entire city of Philadelphia gasp. At least that is how history has told us we all acted when Wild Thing appeared in a game. The way we understand that season now Williams didn't know where the ball was going when he threw it and every appearance was an adventure. The reality is Williams had a total of 6 blown saves in 49 attempts. He also saved 43 games. That was good enough for 7th in the league.

2. Most of the Phillies didn't hit. While Molitor (.500), Alomar (.480), Tony Fernandez (.333) Pat Borders and Devon White (.292) seemed to be smacking the ball everywhere for the Blue Jays, the Phillies hitters struggled. Of the Phillies regulars only Dykstra (.348), Kruk (.348), Duncan (.345) and Milt Thompson (.294) had regular success against Toronto pitching. The key role players of the Phillies, the ones who got them there (along with Darren Daulton) failed to hit the way they had against the Braves to get Philadelphia to the World Series. Daulton (.217), Eisenreich (.231), Hollins (.261), Rickey Jordan (.200), Incaviglia (.143), Morandini (.200) and Stocker (.211) all failed to hit in the clutch the way they had in the NLCS. The Blue Jays were also much more efficient. The Phillies worked 34 walks out of the Blue Jays but struck out 50 times. The Blue Jays worked 25 walks and struck out only 30 times. The Phillies left 54 runners on base while the Blue Jays left only 39.

3. The entire Phillies pitching staff failed. There is no way to deny Williams had a very poor series but to pin the entire seres loss on one arm is ridiculous. Williams made three appearances, blew two save opportunities, lost two games and saved one. He allowed six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings pitched for a 20.25 ERA. That wasn't the worst of it all. Larry Andersen (12.25 ERA), Tommy Greene (27.00), Danny Jackson (7.20), Terry Mulholland (6.75), Ben Rivera (27.00) and David West (27.00) all had tremendously high ERA's.

4. The Blue Jays had the better team. The 1993 Phillies team is legendary in Philadelphia and provided Phillies fans the first positive baseball memories in ten years. Those memories would need to last for another 10 years as the organization struggled to regain the magic of '93. There is no denying that the Phillies team put it all together to stun everyone. The Blue Jays were built to be the Yankees of the 1990's before the Yankees of the 1990's. Their starting line up was full of All-Stars, MVP's, Cy Young winners, legends and future Hall of Fame members. John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, Tony Fernandez, Joe Carter, Rickey Henderson, Devon White and Paul Molitor were all clicking on all cylinders while Juan Guzman, Dave Stewart, a young Pat Hentgen and Al Leiter were pitching at the top of their game. If the 1994 strike had not interrupted the season there is no telling how long their run would have lasted.

Legendary Phillies outfielder Garry Maddox made his Major League debut for the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, April 25, 1972. What future Hall of Fame pitcher did he face off against?
Email me your answer or leave your guess in the comments section.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats: Bill Buckner

Don't forget to check out the other articles in the "Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats" Series: Fred MerkleHack WilsonJohnny Pesky, Ralph Branca , Leon Durham and Donnie Moore.

Dave Henderson is always smiling.  At least that's the way every picture you will ever see of him portrays it.  He has one of the most infectious grins you will ever see and it just screams out how much fun this game is.  So you can forgive him if he smiled a little wider as he jogged out to Left Field in Shea Stadium for the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.  He had escaped the baseball grave yard that was Seattle with a late season trade on August 19 and now Dave Henderson had just saved the Red Sox's season for the second time in two weeks.  Just 13 days before the Red Sox were down to their last strike when "Hendu" took Donnie Moore deep to save the year.  Tonight, just a few moments before, Henderson led off the top of the 10th with the a Home Run off of Rick Aguilera.  Just like in Anaheim when he knew it was gone, he did a quick hop, smiled like a little boy, and jogged backwards towards first.  Four batters later the Red Sox added another run when Wade Boggs doubled and Marty Barrett singled him home. 

With Barrett on second Bill Buckner stepped in and was hit by a pitch. It hit him right in the hip and it stung.  On a cold October night that pitch hurt but it was fine.  The season was almost over.  As he reached first base he half expected a pinch runner.  With a two run lead and only three outs left he knew he wasn't coming back out for the bottom of the 10th and why take a chance that he would have to try and score if Jim Rice hit a ball in the gap.  There was no movement from the dugout so he stood on first.  When Jim Rice hit a fly ball to Left Field to end the inning he could relax.  In every important game this season, late in the game with a lead, Dave Stapleton took over first base.  Buckner took off his batting helmet and limped toward the visitors dugout but was stunned when the bat boy jogged his glove out to him. 

If you count the one game appearance at the age of 19 for the 1969 Dodgers, Buckner played for 22 years in the majors.  He had a lifetime average of .289 and 2715 hits.  Had he gotten just 13 more hits in each of his 22 years he would have broken the 3000 hit mark.  In 10 of his 22 years he played in less than 130 games, including only 92 during the prime of his career.  In fact, his 2715 hits put him just 6 hits behind Lou Gehrig.  It also places him ahead of at least 105 members of the Hall of Fame including Billy Williams, Fred Clarke, Nellie Foxx, Harry Heilman, Hank Greenberg, Yogi Berra and Ted Williams (2654).  His .289 average puts him ahead of at least 27 other Hall of Fame members including his contemporaries Andre Dawson, Robin Yount, Ryne Sandberg, Dave Winfield and Cal Ripken as well as legends Willie Stargell, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams. If he had been healthy he surely would have reached the 3000 mark and the Hall of Fame.  He made an All Star team in 1981, received MVP votes five times and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting twice.  He knew, everyone knew, that this could be the end of a great career.  So John McNamara followed his heart, instead of his normal logic, and decided that when the final out of Boston's first World Series win since World War I was recorded Bill Buckner would be in the game at first base.

So there Buckner was.  In the cool Autumn evening in New York he saw the Mets fly out to Right Field and then center field on only seven pitches.  Now there was just one out left and Buckner stood at first.  Just moments from infamy.  Two run lead, two outs and no worries.  The video display board flashed a sign congratulating the Red Sox for their World Series win.  World Champion T-shirts and caps were being placed in each Red Sox locker.  Champagne was on ice and NBC Sports had Bob Costas in the locker room ready to interview the celebrating Red Sox.  The widow of Tom Yawkey was ready to let loose a torrent of emotions, finally celebrating what her husband had tried decades to achieve before succumbing to leukemia.

In the Mets' clubhouse Keith Hernandez sat in the trainers room, having flown out for the second out, with a beer and a cigarette waiting for the inevitable.  There was a shitty little television set and Hernandez sat sipping a beer, watching, thinking, wondering how this season had slipped away. 

Gary Carter kept the inning alive with a single.  Kevin Mitchell followed that with another single and suddenly things were uncomfortable.  Ray Knight singled for the third straight hit and Carter scored.  Boston still had a one run lead and needed only one out.  Even though Mitchell stood only 90 feet away the Mets had to have a clean base hit to score.  A sacrifice wouldn't do it. 

McNamara had seen enough.  He went to the mound and took the ball from Calvin Schiraldi and in came Bob Stanley.  He would face only one batter:  Mookie Wilson.  It was an epic at bat considering what was at stake. 

First pitch was a foul ball and the Mets had just two strikes left.   That was followed by ball one and it was all even.  Ball two and Mookie had the advantage.  Then a pitch fouled off Wilson's foot for strike two.  One strike left and the Red Sox were World Champions.  The next pitch was identical and was fouled off Wilson's foot a second time. That was followed by a third straight foul ball.

Then pitch number eight in the at bat changed everything.  Gedman, Boston's Catcher, set up on the outside corner expecting a pitch that would paint the black of the plate.  Wilson, to this point, had seemed to indicate that he could reach that pitch but not quite put it in play so if he got a hold of it he might do nothing worse than pop it up.  If he missed it or didn't swing at all it was strike three.  Gedman's target was set well before Stanley began his windup.  The pitch came in exactly the opposite of where Gedman, and Wilson, were looking for it.    The fact that it was so far inside confused Wilson.  The replay shows that it did not really come close to hitting him but as he spun out of the way he left his feet to avoid being hit.  As he left his feet the ball bounced off of Gedman's glove.  Wilson stayed on the ground but wildly motioned to Mitchell to run like hell.  Mitchell didn't need any help because he was barreling home.  Wilson gestured madly for Mitchell to slide but Mitchell was a big guy and he would be damned if he would be tagged out by Stanley.  If anything he would knock Stanley on his ass.  That plate was his.  But there was no throw to the plate.  Mitchell scored easily and the game was tied.

Ray Knight took second on the wild pitch and now a single from Wilson and the Mets might actually win it.  The crowd, quiet and sullen when Carter had stepped in to face Schiraldi, were crazed now.  The normal major league pitcher has about three pitches in his arsenal.  Some might have four but not usually more than that.  Having thrown 8 pitches already Wilson had seen everything Stanley had.  Now Gedman and Stanley just needed to catch Wilson guessing wrong on what was coming next.  Pitch number 9 of the at bat was fouled away and everyone settled in for what would possibly be a never ending at bat.  Then came the fateful pitch number ten.  It was put in play.  A small bouncing ground ball.  The kind you get in batting practice.

Have you ever heard 55,000 people go from loud to silent to deafening in a single breath?  Vin Scully had called nearly every great Dodger moment since the 1950's so he probably thought he had seen it all.  But what happened on pitch number 10 surprised even him. 

"Little roller up along first."  Ray Knight was running like hell to third not even looking at the play yet but he thought the game was probably over.  That was until he heard the crowd explode.  He turned his head to see what the hell had caused it.  He couldn't hear a thing except the third base coach yelling "Go! Go!"

"Behind the bag. It gets through Buckner!"  Vin was shocked.  Even he had never seen a game like this.  "Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!"

The Sox were stunned.  They silently gathered their things and walked to the clubhouse.  As Buckner walked off the field he may not have realized the importance of the play just yet.  There was still Game 7.  As the winter months moved on after the Game 7 loss the next night it became clear.  Bill Buckner's error was forever seen as the reason the Red Sox lost.  There are a million reasons you cannot blame Buckner for this loss but here are just a few:

1.  Buckner shouldn't have been on the field.  In games 1-5 Dave Stapleton became a defensive replacement for Buckner three times.  In each of those situations the Red Sox had a late inning lead.  It was fine to let Buckner bat for himself in the Top of the 10th but a pinch runner should have been sent out with the idea of a replacement fielder in the bottom of the 10th.  The pain that he was suffering through was evident to even the casual observer.  Every broadcast of every game pointed out the difficulty that Buckner had in moving around.  It is easy to see why McNamara wanted Buckner out there.  It would  have been a great thing  for Buckner to crown his career by being on the field for the last out but you have to win with the formula that got you there.

2.  Three runs scored in the bottom of the 10th. Only one of them was allowed by Buckner.  After two very quick outs the Mets sent only four more batters to the plate. Three of them scored.  Only one of them by benefit of a base hit.  Carter's base hit was followed by Mitchell's base hit which was followed by Knight's base hit. Carter scored on the single but Mitchell scored on the Wild Pitch . 

3. With Ray Knight at the plate and an 0-1 count he hit a slow roller down the third base line.  Wade Boggs had to make a quick decision: let it roll foul or try to make a play.  Knight was not the fastest runner in the world but he had decent speed.  Boggs decided to let the ball roll foul instead of making a play.  It was probably the smart play but knowing how things turned out it certainly would have changed things.  Had he fielded it and Knight had been safe the bases would be loaded with two outs but no runs would have scored.  Of course Boggs couldn't know that Knight would bang a single to center on the next pitch or that Mitchell would take the extra base and score on a wild pitch.  Had Boggs made the play Wilson may or may not have faced Stanley.

4.  Knight did a nice piece of hitting.  On an 0-2 count Knight had to protect the plate.  The pitch came in on the hands.  It was definitely a strike and Knight's swing was not the most beautiful but he fought off a very good pitch to drop a single into center field extending the inning and allowing Wilson to come to  the plate.

5.  In order for Buckner's error to lose the game Kevin Mitchell had to score from third on Stanley's wild pitch.  Mitchell, throughout history, has gained a reputation for being a difficult team mate, hard to deal with and not the brightest of baseball minds but you wouldn't be able to tell from this play.  When Knight knocked a  little bloop single into center with two outs Mitchell probably should have held at second.  Mitchell had good speed and he made a very smart aggressive decision in advancing to third base.  Aggressive base runners can sometimes appear foolish if they are thrown out but just like Enos Slaughter's mad dash, Mitchell decided to challenge the arms of the Red Sox outfielders and beat them easily.  A less aggressive runner would have stayed at second, meaning the Passed Ball  would have only advanced the runners to third and second.  It would not have tied the game.

6.  Wilson likely would have beaten the ball to the bag.   Wilson had great speed.  When the ball was hit he was tearing down the line.  With Buckner playing off the line he had to take several aching steps to reach the proximity of the ball.  Fielding the ball and beating Mookie to the bag was not an option.  He would have needed Bob Stanley over to the bag to cover.  On the video review Stanley appears to take a few steps towards first but for some reason he never enters the picture when Wilson is sprinting down the line.  That is because he has assumed Buckner has it.  Wilson knew that he could beat Buckner but  he felt that he would need to also beat Stanley to make it safely.  "My only thought was to beat the pitcher there.  I thought I had a good chance to beat the pitcher and I think Buckner saw that too and maybe he tried to rush a little bit."

7.  The Mets knew Calvin Schiraldi.  Calvin Schiraldi was drafted by the Mets in 1983 and played for them until 1985.  He had played with most of these same players. They clearly knew his tendencies and patterns.  They knew what pitches he had available and where he liked to throw them.  Schiraldi was put on the mound 7 times during the 1986 post season (including four against the Angels in the ALCS) and lost three games.  Schiraldi pitched just four innings in the World Series but gave up six earned runs. 

8.  The Red Sox had a lead late into Game 7 with their ace on the mound.  Just before the debacle that was the 10th inning of Game 6 turned into legend, an announcement had been made in the press box: Bruce Hurst had been named the World Series MVP. When the team collapsed over the next four batters Hurst was given a chance to improve on his already impressive numbers.  In the second inning the Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead on back to back Home Runs from Dwight Evans and Barrett and an RBI single by Boggs.  At that point any momentum that was lost in Buckner's error the night before had swung back to the Red Sox.  Hurst was spectacular through 5 1/3 innings having allowed only one hit and no walks.  With one out in the bottom of the sixth it fell apart and he allowed three hits and a walk leading to three runs that tied the game.  He left after the sixth with the game tied and the Sox brought in none other than Calvin Schiraldi.  Schiraldi faced four batters only getting one out on a sacrifice bunt.  The other batters hit a solo home run, a single, a wild pitch scored a run, and another single. By the time Schiraldi left the game, the Mets had a two run lead.  One more of his runners would score after Schiraldi left giving him the loss in an 8-5 defeat.