Saturday, June 21, 2014

Players I Love More Than I Should: Outfield: Larry Herndon

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching some of them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  This week we will explore one of the outfielders I chose for the series: Larry Herndon.

If you are just joining the blog don't miss the other players in the Players I Love More Than I Should series: Yogi BerraHank GreenbergJoe MorganCal Ripken, Frank "Home Run" Baker and Frank Robinson

Growing up in the South
Of all the players in this series of Players I Love More Than I Should, Larry Herndon stands out for a number of reasons.  He is one of only two who are not Hall of Fame players.  He is the only one who never made an All Star appearance. He never won a Gold Glove or a Silver Slugger Award.  In fact very little about Larry Herndon's life is known.  He is still living.   He has been asked many times but he allows very little of himself to be known.

We do know that he was raised by his grandmother.  Born in Sunflower, MS in 1953, Larry moved to Memphis, TN and spent most of his early life there.  The reason he was raised by his grandmother instead of his parents is something Larry has never talked about.  He has said that his grandmother was a wonderful woman who raised him right.  He felt fortunate to be able to grow up under her care and have great brothers and sisters in his life.

Larry never really talked about the racial bigotry he clearly would have suffered from in the south in the 1950's and 1960's.  Being a quiet person Larry simply said that "if you don't argue with someone there can't be an argument."

Regardless of what he suffered Larry showed great promise as a baseball player at Douglass High School in Memphis and attracted attention from the Cardinals.  At 17 Herndon was signed by the Cardinals as a minor leaguer.

Near Miss in St.Louis
Herndon played in the Cardinals Gulf Coast League entry for 1971.  Four other players on the team made the majors, most notably Jerry Mumphrey and Mike Vail.  In 40 games Larry hit only .239 and showed little power with no Home Runs.  In 1972 he started again in rookie ball but was moved to two different A league teams in the Cardinals organization.  Rising through the organization he continued playing with Mumphrey and Vail as well as being a team mate of Keith Hernandez briefly.  He only played a total of 45 games between the three teams that year and still showed no power as he failed to hit a single Home Run.  He was still a young man growing into his body and would not reach his full potential yet.

From there the rise was fairly steady.  1973 he played in A ball St. Petersburg and hit three Home Runs.  1974 was AA Arkansas.  At the end of the 1974 he got a shot at the big time.  He appeared in 12 games, all but one as a pinch runner, and got only one at bat.  He replaced Reggie Smith in Center field in the Top of the 7th in a blow out Cardinals win against the Expos.  With two out Herndon singled back to the pitcher to load the bases.  It was his only plate appearance of his time in the majors with St.Louis.

1975 started in AAA Tulsa with hopes of reaching the majors again.  Then on May 9 came the shock.  Herndon was traded to the Giants organization and spent the rest of the year in Phoenix. 1976 was back to Phoenix to start of but it was a short stay.  After just 14 games in Phoenix he was promoted to play in the majors.

In his official rookie year Herndon started to show his potential.  He hit .288, played good defense, stole 12 bases and, although the Giants were a bad team Herndon looked like a big piece in what the Giants hoped to build.  It was not to be as injuries slowed his career.  He played in just 49 games in 1978.  He continued to work hard and as the Giants moved into the 1980's and Frank Robinson took over as manager he was excited for what Herndon might bring to the team.  Instead the Giants traded Herndon to the Tigers for Mike Chris and pitcher Dan Schatzeder.

The Tigers were building something special but it would be a few more years before it all came together.  Having built from their minor leagues with Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson the Tigers made some smart trades to bring the rest of the team together. Herndon was an important part of that process.

While his power numbers were never great in St.Louis or San Francisco, Herndon hit 23 in his first year in Detroit.  Although the Brewers and Orioles were at the top of the division the Tigers were getting ready to pounce.  1983 was a career year for Herndon as he hit over  .300 and drove in over 90 while hitting 20 Home Runs.

Quietly Great
The start to the season for the 1984 Tigers was an amazing thing.  They had signed Darrell Evans as a big free agent but he struggled.  Herndon's power numbers were down (he did not hit his first Home Run until June 21).  Yet while these two important pieces of the puzzle were struggling, the team was mauling the competition.  They started 35-5 and blew the competition away.  Because Herndon's numbers were below his regular pace Sparky Anderson started to platoon Herndon, Johnny Grubb and newly acquired Ruppert Jones.  Herndon's playing time decreased.  Nevertheless, the Tigers fought off a late charge by the Blue Jays and advanced to the League Championship Series against the Royals.

In game 1 Herndon led off the 4th inning with the Tigers already ahead 2-0.  Facing the Royals young pitcher Bud Black, Herndon took the first pitch for ball one.  On the second pitch of the at bat Herndon made everyone forget about the decreased power numbers in the regular season when he launched a Home Run to put the Tigers up 3-0.  It would be Herndon's only hit of the series.  After the game the press, as it does now, waited to talk to Herndon.  Larry wanted nothing to do with the press.  As far as he was concerned he had done his job plain and simple.  Talk to Morris and Trammell.  It was their game more than his.  He showered, dressed and snuck out the back before anyone had a chance to notice he had left.

The Tigers faced the Padres in the World Series and although the Tigers were heavily favored the Padres took a 2-1 lead in Game 1.  Entering the fifth inning Alan Trammell flew out to Tony Gwynn in right field.  Kirk Gibson walked but was caught stealing second and with two outs Lance Parrish doubled to let.  The quiet big man watched the first pitch for a called strike.  Then ball one.  Ball two.  Ball three.  Herndon swung at the fifth pitch of the at bat.  The pitch was on the outside of the plate and in the lower part of the zone.  Herndon reached out and swung hard.  The ball took off towards the right field fence and Tony Gwynn looked up just in time to see the ball drop over the fence for a Home Run.  It provided the margin of victory.  Again, Herndon shunned the spotlight.  He dressed quickly, left the locker room and let Jack Morris take credit for the victory.  In the World Series every base hit is crucial and Herndon would have four more hits in the series.  None were more crucial than that Home Run.  The Tigers won that World Series 4 games to 1.  Ernie Harwell called the final out when he exclaimed "fly ball to Herndon" before being drowned out by the multitude of Tigers fans.

The Tigers could not duplicate the magic of 1984 in the next two seasons.  They struggled and Herndon struggled along with them.  His knees were going bad and his numbers fell.  He didn't complain in the press when his playing time fell off.  He kept working hard and did his job.  He was released by the Tigers after the 1986 season but he resigned before the start of the 1987 season and Tigers would be happy he did.

On opening day of 1987 Herndon displayed his power in grand fashion.  Many felt that the ball, crushed to Center Field, would have left the stadium if it hadn't hit the stadium first.  By all eye witness accounts the ball was still on the way up when it hit the upper deck in center field.  Herndon would play in 89 games that year and hit 9 home runs. The first was that monster blast to center field. The last one was in the 162nd game of the Tigers season.  The Tigers had come from 3.5 games behind with ten games to play and were facing Toronto on the last day of the season. If the Tigers won they would clinch the division.  If they lost they would face Toronto in a one game playoff for the division lead.  The Blue Jays sent their young ace Jimmy Key, with a17-7 record, to the mound.  Lou Whitaker led off the bottom of the first with a single but a Bill Madlock double play ball and a Kirk Gibson pop to short ended the first.  After having sent six men to the plate in the first without scoring, the Blue Jays' second started with future Tiger star Cecil Fielder lining out to right field followed by two more quick outs.  The Tigers second started with Alan Trammell trying to sneak a bunt to third for a base hit but Garth Iorg was ready for it and Trammell was retired.  Herndon then launched a Home Run that would score the only run of the game.  Larry Herndon had sent the Tigers to the ALCS to face the Twins.

The Tigers won only one game in the series.  Down 2 games to 0 in game 3 Herndon started the game on the bench.  The Tigers had Dave Bergman as the DH who flew out to left in his first at bat.  As the bottom of the third started a double, single and walk loaded the bases with no one out.  A ground ball out scored one and the Tigers took the lead.  A balk scored another run, a single scored a third and the Tigers were ahead 3-0.  Chet Lemon walked and it was Bergman's turn at bat.  The Twins removed starter Les Straker and put in Dan Schatzeder, the same Dan Schatzeder the Tigers had sent to the Giants for Herndon.  As Schatzeder warmed up on the mound, Herndon stepped to the on deck circle to hit for Bergman. Larry connected for a two run double and the Tigers were ahead 5-0.  Herndon was again at the center of the only game the Tigers won in the series.

Quiet Dignity 
During the off season Herndon was again released by the Tigers but was resigned before the start of the season.  Herndon played in just 76 games, his fewest since his injury plagued year in San Francisco, and his numbers were not what he would have liked.  He played mostly at DH and split time with an aging Darrell Evans as the Tigers tried to make one more push with their core group.  In an amazingly tight American League East race, where the top five spots were separated by just 3.5 games, the Tigers came up one game short.

At the end of the season Herndon walked away.  He was gone for four years before Sparky Anderson asked him to return as the hitting coach.  He worked with young Tiger hitters like Travis Fryman, Tony Clark and Bobby Higginson but as the Tigers struggled in the standings it was clear that Sparky Anderson was not going to be fired.  The Tigers needed a change and Herndon became the target.  Herndon has since rejoined the Tigers as a minor league hitting instructor and is receiving great reviews for his work.

Herndon has passed his simple philosophy onto others, including the Lakeland Tigers manager Andy Barkett: "He told me that throughout his career, when he stepped on the field for either practice or a game, he treated every day like he was preparing to play in the seventh game of the World Series.  Playoff baseball is wonderful.  Why not approach it like that every day?"

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Larry Herndon please check out

Ken Burns Baseball
1984 Detroit Tigers World Series Collectors Edition
The Official World Series Film Collection


Wire to Wire: Inside the 1984 Detroit Tigers World Championship Season by George Cantor and Chet Lemon
Detroit Tigers 1984: What A Start! What a Finish! by Mark Pattison, David Raglin, Gary Gillette and Richard L. Shook

In 14 years in the Major Leagues Larry Herndon hit .274.  As you can see from today's article, Herndon had a knack for coming up big in the post season.  What was Herndon's career post season batting average?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Frank Robinson's record as a manager was 1065-1176.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Players I Love More Than I Should: Outfield: Frank Robinson

If you are just joining the blog don't miss the other players in the Players I Love More Than I Should series: Yogi Berra, Hank Greenberg, Joe Morgan, Cal Ripken and Frank "Home Run" Baker

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching some of them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  This week we will explore one of the outfielders I chose for the series: Frank Robinson.

Of the more than 18,000 people to play Major League Baseball there are probably ten to fifteen players who could legitimately be considered for the title of "the greatest player ever".  Of course the names of Ruth, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio come to mind immediately.  Jackie Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Sandy Koufax, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron would probably get quite a few votes. Contemporaries like Jeter and Pujols may get some mention.

The question becomes what makes a great player?  Is it pure individual numbers?  Is it the number of rings you win?  Is it your ability to lead your team quietly behind the scenes when people don't necessarily see it?  Is it your ability to raise the level of accomplishments of the players around you?  Is it your ability to do things no one else has done before?

There is one player who did everything you would want from the greatest player of all time and yet is far too often overlooked in consideration as the greatest player of all time.

"It went all the way out."  Boog Powell told Robby as he settled back on the bench.  "Yeah, right." was the unbelieving response.

540 feet.  180 yards.  Nearly two full football fields. 

Luis Tiant had started his wind up.  It was his normal twisting, turning, bending, contortionist wind up. The arms swung once, twice. The hands came together, the arms went up, the front leg lifted and straightened.  The back leg and the hips twisted towards center as the throwing hand fell by his back hip.  Every motion was disjointed until the whole body flew forward towards the hitter.  Few people could figure it out but Robby swung at the first pitch and it was crushed.  It flew.  Farther.   Faster.   Quicker than anyone in Baltimore had ever seen a ball fly before.  On Sunday, May 7, 1966 Frank Robinson launched the ball that would forever be marked for Orioles fans to remember.  The ball literally left Memorial Stadium, landing in the parking lot 540 feet away.

I can personally remember going to the stadium, sitting in the stands and looking out to the parking lot and seeing that black and orange flag hanging in the stadium parking lot.  It said one word.  "Here".   I can remember watching the thing flapping in the breeze and thinking "does that actually just say 'here'.  What does that mean?"  Then I asked my dad.  "What is that flag out there?"  That was when my dad explained about the day that Frank Robinson hit the ball "HERE" and officially left his mark in Baltimore.  Although it was one of the longest visible marks he left there, it was one of just a million that he left in Baltimore and many other cities throughout baseball history.

Early Success
A few weeks ago we reviewed the career of Joe Morgan, the great Reds second baseman.  Joe was born in Texas but very early in his life moved to the Oakland Bay area.  Frank Robinson had a very similar start in life, although Frank was a bit older than Joe.  Frank was born in Beaumont, TX in 1935.  When his parents divorced his mother moved the children to the bay area.  One can only imagine the discrimination, prejudice and torture the family endured.

Frank was too young to remember the time in Texas and he has said that during his time in the bay area he was unaware of prejudice or bigotry.  It was a tough area to be sure.  Frank told stories of having to fight his way to school and back.  Not far away, just a few years older than Frank, a young Billy Martin was growing up in Berkeley, CA, fighting in street gangs in a very racially charged community.  When Frank was 11 years old Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and Frank's response at first was "so what?".  Frank loved the game of baseball, dreamed of being a pro player but it had never occurred to him that the game was segregated.  He soon learned the importance of Jackie Robinson. 

He was clearly better than most players in his age group, though he humbly wondered why players he played with never became better players. His father had once told his brothers that Frank would never be good enough to make a big league player.  It drove Frank, as doubts about him would always do, and he used it as motivation to prove his father wrong.  Frank signed with the Reds organization at the age of 17 and was sent to the Ogden, UT team in the Pioneer League and he quickly learned what racism was.  He was one of two non-white players on the team and while all other players had private homes, Frank and Chico Terry were forced to share a tiny hotel room.  As non-white they were not allowed to eat in the local restaurant, go to movies or do any number of things the white players could do.  He couldn't even talk to his roommate who Frank said knew only the word "coffee".

Frank loved nothing more than to play ball but hearing fans yell disgusting, unspeakable, unrepeatable things at a teenage kid for doing nothing more than trying to hit a ball made him question his place. The loneliness was nearly unbearable.  He had nothing to do but work on his game and think about baseball.  In the 1953 Pioneer League season Frank played in 72 games, hit .348 with 20 doubles, 6 triples and 17 Home Runs.  Not bad for a 17 year old kid far from home and facing the hate filled rages of hicks for the first time.

He moved on to Columbia of the South Atlantic League for next year and if he thought he faced racism in Ogden, it was just an appetizer for the main course of hatred he faced in the 1950's south.  Robby continued to improve his game but as would always be the case, the magnitude of his greatness was never really realized.  Frank would hit .336 with 32 doubles, 9 triples and an amazing 25 Home Runs.  In an era when Home Runs were not yet king, it was nearly unheard of for an 18 year old to hit with so much power.  He played 80 games for Columbia in 1955 and his numbers were not great but there was a reason.  There was a shoulder problem that plagued him.  He was forced to play first base for the first time in his life because, as Frank said, "I couldn't throw the ball ten feet".  Being an African American player in the south was bad enough.  Being an African American player who was performing far below the numbers that were expected was unforgivable.  The abuse he faced was severe and he nearly gave up.  Call it the intervention of the baseball gods.  Call it the determination that only the greatest of the great have.  Call it whatever you want,  Frank did not give up.  He pushed on and "in the last six weeks of the season I hit .390 and hit ten home runs...most important, after all I'd been through, I knew I could play this game, knew I'd never be tempted to quit again."

Ohio is a northern state but it is just across the river from Kentucky, a border state in the Civil War.  Don't forget it was in Cincinnati that Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie Robinson in a silent gesture of support against vicious taunts. It was this city that Frank Robinson started his career and it was a start that few could ever equal.  On a team with Ted Kluszewski, Wally Post, Gus Bell and Ed Bailey, Frank Robinson led the team in almost everything.  He hit more home runs (38) than "Big Klu".  He drove in as many runs (83) as Wally Post.  He scored more runs than anyone else in the league and the Reds finished third in a very close National League race.  Frank Robinson was the youngest All Star player that year and finished in the top ten voting (7th) in the MVP award.  He also won the Rookie of the Year Award.  Who finished second?  No one.  There was no second choice.  A total of 23 votes were cast for the top rookie.  Each and every one was for Frank Robinson. 

Every Rookie of the year hears the same refrain:  watch out for the sophomore slump.  Frank had none of that.  His power numbers dropped (home runs went from 38 to 29) but his average raised from .290 to .322. He made the All Star team again and again finished in the top 10 in MVP voting.  The NL Champion Dodgers fell off dramatically in 1957 but the Reds couldn't seem to take advantage.  The Braves and Cardinals moved up and the Reds finished 4th.

Over the next few years the pattern seemed to be the same.  The Reds showed great talent, led by Robby, Big Klu and Vada Pinson.  They just could not compete with the top of the league as the Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants and even the Pirates finished ahead of the Reds.  Through these years Frank was still one of the top players in the league.  Considered the second generation of African American players following Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays and Joe Black, Frank Robinson dominated the league with the likes of Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey and Monte Irvin.  Frank usually hit well above 30 Home Runs, drove in about 80-85 runs (he drove in 120 in 1959) and his average would fluctuate near .300, usually above that mark.

Robby and Dumb Wit
Robinson was a clear star in the league as 1960 turned to 1961.Any success the Reds could hope for would have to include Frank.  There was no question.  Robby was a star and a leader in the club house.  However, as a young man in a turbulent time he also had a bit of a temper.  Not one to look for a fight he would certainly protect himself when he was threatened.  Unfortunately, in the craziness of the time, if an African American protected themselves they somehow were in the wrong.  In February 1961 Frank and some friends went out for a night on the town and ended up in a diner late at night.  An altercation led to a friend being arrested and as Frank and another friend returned to retrieve their food the cook made a slashing motion with a butcher knife.  When the cook displayed his weapon of choice, Robby simply showed the cook that he was protected and flashed his pistol.  The cops were called and Frank was arrested.  Humiliated, angry that he did not receive any assistance from the team and left in a cell to think, Frank decided it was time to make some changes in his life.  It was time to grow up and focus all of his energy on fighting the other team.  It was the best news that the Reds could have gotten.  It was the worst news the opposition could have gotten.  Frank Robinson, already dangerous, was now more focused and more determined than ever.  The behind the scenes story of the arrest would lead to a lingering effect however.  When Bill DeWitt, the Reds General Manager,was notified that Robinson was in jail he decided to leave him there for the night.  Frank took great offense, feeling that had it been Kluszewski or another Reds star, DeWitt would have come to bail him out.  A rift was formed that led to Frank forever calling the GM DumbWitt.

The new focus led Frank to dominate even more as he led the Reds to their first World Series since 1940.  Frank hit 37 Home Runs, had a .323 average, drove in 124, scored 117 and even stole 22 bases.  It was a dominant performance and the former Rookie of the Year added a National League Championship and an MVP award to his already illustrious career.  In the World Series of 1961 Frank had a tough time of it.  He hit only .200 as the Yankees pitchers avoided giving him anything good to hit.  In the fifth and final game Frank drove a ball out of the park but the Reds lost 13-5.  It was a disappointing season for a man (and a team) that had their sights set on the ultimate goal.

Over the next three years the Reds would not have as much success.  Frank never dropped from his high standards.  He continued to improve and although the Reds failed to make the post season (they came very close in 1964 as the Phillies collapsed) Frank would continuously be an All Star and MVP candidate.  1965 was the turning point for the Reds, for Frank and for an unsuspecting American League.  His average dropped below .300 (he hit .296), he drove in "only" 113 runs and scored "only" 109. He finished 18th in the MVP voting. The rift between Robinson and Reds Management had only grown wider over the years as disputes over injuries and salary became more and more common.  On December 9, 1965 Bill DeWitt made a decision.  He would end the Frank Robinson era in Cincinnati.  DeWitt cited a youth movement as the key reason for the trade.  When it was pointed out that Frank was only thirty DeWitt responded that yes he was only 30 but it was "an old 30". These words would haunt DeWitt for the rest of his career.  On December 9, 1965 Frank Robinson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson.  Like his father's statement that Frank would never make a major league player, DeWitt's words provided fuel for Frank's already burning desire to be the best.

The Lord of Baltimore
The Orioles were not known as winners.  They were the old Browns of St.Louis and they had rarely competed since they moved to Baltimore.  They did have a nice little team they were building with Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell and a good young pitching staff, but realistically there was still Mantle and Maris in New York,  Kaline and Cash in Detroit and Olivo, Kaat and Carew in Minnesota.  The Orioles seemed to be way behind the league. Even the Red Sox were starting to build a strong team with an Italian kid named Conigliaro, another named Petrocelli and a Polish kid  with an almost unpronounceable name of Yastrzemski.

When Frank arrived at spring training the Orioles resident star Brooks Robinson could have been a prima dona and staked his claim to the status he had already established.  Instead he walked up to Frank Robinson, stuck out his hand and said "You're just what we needed."  On the first pitch he saw in his first batting practice in Baltimore's spring camp Frank crushed a Home Run and a young Jim Palmer blurted out "I think we just won the pennant."  Frank was driven.  It was a great team.  A team that loved playing together.  They were jokers.  A fun group.  Having a white Southerner named Robinson star next to an African American Robinson lent itself to quite a bit of confusion.  When one reporter confused the two Frank said "can't you tell us apart?  We wear different numbers."  There were some not so funny confused moments.  When Frank moved to town, his wife tried to rent a house.  She called to set up an appointment to view the house and introduced herself as Mrs. Robinson, wife of one of the Orioles.  She was welcomed with open arms until it was realized it was Frank Robinson and not Brooks Robinson.  Due to the racial laws at the time Frank and his wife were rented a far inferior dwelling in "the black section" of Baltimore.  The previous tenants had left holes in the wall and dog shit on the floor.  They had no choice.  It was all they could get.

Almost immediately the Orioles took flight and shocked the American League.  Several Orioles said they were inspired by Frank's determination.  Several said they never saw a man work so hard.  Others said Frank's Home Run, the one forever marked 'HERE' was the turning point.  Regardless, that was just one of the great moments of Frank Robinson's great season.  On a team with Powell, Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair and Davey Johnson, Frank Robinson led the way and led the league in almost everything possible. He was first in Slugging Percentage, On Base Percentage, Runs Scored, Total Bases, Extra Base Hits, Times on Base.  That list also included batting average, Home Runs and RBI, the three categories of the Triple Crown.  Frank Robinson became the first player to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues.

The Orioles won their first AL pennant but the baby birds were a large underdog against Koufax, Drysdale and Maury Wills of the Dodgers.  The first post season game in the Orioles history started in Los Angeles.  Don Drysdale got Luis Aparicio to fly out to right then walked Russ Snyder.  Robby stepped in.  It was a bright LA fall afternoon.  He stood toward the back of the batters box.  Rested the bat on his hip, bent and rubbed some dirt on his hands.  He watched ball 1 come in high.  He had faced Drysdale what seemed like a million times.  Both were strong competitors.  Both were intense, fierce.  Both believed the plate belonged to them.  The second pitch came in and Frank turned on it.  He lifted the ball to left field.  Tommy Davis tracked it to the fence but it was five rows deep.  In classic Ruth-Gehrig fashion, Brooks Robinson followed Frank's blast with a solo of his own.  The O's led 3-0 and would win 5-2.  Game 2 had the Orioles facing Sandy Koufax.  The living legend.  It would be his final appearance in the Major Leagues but he was still Koufax.  Due to one of the most unfortunate innings ever in baseball history (poor Willie Davis) the Orioles took a 3-0 lead.  In the top of the 6th Frank led off with a triple and scored on Boog Powell's single as the O's won the game 6-0.  The Orioles won Game 3 1-0 on a Paul Blair Home Run.  Game 4 saw Don Drysdale take a second crack at the O's.  Robby got a second shot at Big D.  In the 4th with the game tied 0-0 Robby duplicated his Game 1 success with a solo homer to left.  The Orioles won their first World Series and Frank Robinson won the World Series MVP.

Injuries limited Frank over the next few years.  It was the knees, concussions, you name it.  It was the hazard of playing full throttle all the time.  The concussion came from a hard slide into second where his head was hit by the knee of the second baseman.  He still had solid numbers and he still was one of the best in the game.  He continued to make his impact on the team in the clubhouse.  He led the kangaroo court and became known as the judge.  He levied fines to players who made mental errors and no one was immune, not even Earl Weaver.  Famously Robinson said in kangaroo court. "Stand up when you address the judge Earl.  Oh, you are standing up."  Robby loved his time in Baltimore with the O's.

He loved playing for Earl Weaver.  The group of Orioles was an intense group, focused.  They would play hard on the field but they would have fun off it too.  In 1969 they finally returned to the top AL perch.  They won over 100 games, swept the first ALCS in history and went into the World Series facing the New York Mets.  Who could believe the Mets could beat the birds?  The Mets could.  The Orioles cruised through the first game and looked to keep going.  Then the miracle happened.  The Mets took games 2, 3 and 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the series. Earl Weaver got so frustrated that he even got kicked out of Game 4.  He almost got kicked out of Game 5 as well.  When Frank got hit on the belt buckle and headed toward first the umpire called him back to the plate and told him it was just a foul ball.  Frank was outraged.  He argued and even walked to the dugout in protest.  He delayed the game for several minutes.  When he went back to the plate he eventually struck out and the Orioles fell to the Mets.

1970 was the redemption season.  The Orioles were again top in the AL, beating the Twins in the ALCS again, and Frank again made the All Star Team and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting.  His numbers were down again as injuries continued to take their toll.  Yet, in the World Series Frank's bat again led the way.  He pounded Reds pitching getting revenge on the organization that discarded him.  Robby hit two home runs, drove in 4 and scored 5 times.  The real star as the O's reclaimed the World Series title was Brooks Robinson's glove.

The golden years of Orioles baseball ended the following year as the golden age of Oakland A's baseball began to dawn.  Frank battled injuries again as the Orioles again won the AL East.  They swept the ALCS, this time against the A's and faced the Pittsburgh Pirates led by Bob Robertson and Roberto Clemente.  Although Frank, fighting, limping and straining, scored a game winning run in the bottom of the 10th of Game 6, The Orioles lost to the Pirates, led by Clemente, in a deciding Game 7.  The golden age of Orioles baseball was over.

Southern California
If Bill DeWitt thought the Orioles were getting an "old 30" when he sent them Frank in 1966, The Orioles found Frank to be an older 35 after the 1971 World Series.  With a young Don Baylor set to spread his wings in Baltimore, the Orioles had to make room in the outfield.  On December 2, 1971 Frank Robinson was traded with Marv Reichert to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Doyle Alexander Bob O'Brien, Sergio Robles and Royle Stillman.  The team that Frank joined was similar to the Orioles team he had joined in 1966.  They were building a strong young team with players like Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Russell and Joe Ferguson.  Drysdale and Koufax were gone replaced by Tommy John and Don Sutton.  Frank poured every ounce of his body into that 1972 season but the Dodgers fell behind the Reds and finished 10.5 games back in second place.  The Dodgers had a strong core and Frank Robinson did not fit in to their future plans.

Still known as a clubhouse leader and still known as a drawing card, the California Angels felt they were getting close to something good in Anaheim.  They sent Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith to the Dodgers and in return received Frank, Billy Grabarkewitz, Bill Singer, Mike Strahler and Bobby Valentine.  Fortunately for Frank an old friend, former Orioles GM Harry Dalton was now GM in Anaheim and Frank felt he could contribute at the big A.  Another old friend, Vada Pinson, was playing for the Angels as well.  Nolan Ryan won 21 games, Frank was reborn as a DH and finished 15th in MVP voting.  The Angels, however, did not finish so well.  Entering 1974 with the youth of the Angels it was hoped that Frank's intensity would translate into a winning team.

What happened instead was a disaster.  Manager Bobby Winkles was apparently convinced that Harry Dalton had brought Frank in with the idea of making him the manager.  Although Winkles and Frank had some troubles in the first year, Winkles told Dalton in the winter that he had to trade Robinson.  Dalton refused and the environment of the clubhouse was tense and uncomfortable.  The Angels struggled and when Winkles finally called a team meeting he called out Frank specifically and told the entire team that he had demanded that Frank be traded a few months prior.  "I didn't like it at all.  To me, what Winkles was saying was that he couldn't manage with me on the team.  He didn't want me here.  But I haven't asked to be traded, and I wouldn't like for him to be fired."  Winkles was fired and Dick Williams was hired. This relationship started off nicely with Williams naming him  captain but Williams's style of managing and Frank's view on how to run a team clashed.    He didn't have to worry about it long.  In mid September, with the Angels clearly out of the pennant race, Robinson was traded to Cleveland.

Leading the Tribe
He finished 1974 as an Indian with an assurance from the front office that he would receive a contract for the next year.  The contract he received was not what he expected.  It was not just a contract as a player but as a manager as well.  Frank rejected it at first.  Not because he didn't want to manage but because he was being paid the same amount to manage and play as he had received the year before just to play.  He finally worked out an acceptable amount and Frank Robinson, already the first man to win an MVP in both leagues, became the first African American manager.

Those who read the blog often will remember my earlier question about Lloyd McClendon.  Why do bad teams happen to good people?  The 1975 Indians certainly fit that mold.  They picked up Boog Powell from the Orioles and they had a great pitcher in Gaylord Perry but they had some serious problems.  Frank had seen the problems at the end of the 1974 team when he saw that the African American players and coaches stayed away from the white players and vice versa.  Frank did what he could to change this culture but his journal from this season shows some serious divide on the team.  From the day Frank joined the team in 1974 Gaylord Perry seemed to show resentment at being paid less than Frank.  The resentment increased when Frank became Perry's boss.  Perry refused to do the running required in spring training.  He spoke about his manager and teammates in the press and demanded a trade.  Finally, on June 13, after demanding a trade again, Perry was traded.  It was too late, the Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees were too far ahead.  The Indians were in last place, eight games out of first.  They would finish fourth that year and the following year.  Frank was acknowledged as a great manager but the talent on the team was terrible.  Midway through the 1977 season the Indians made a decision to fire Frank Robinson.

He was a coach for Earl Weaver in Baltimore for several years before his next opportunity came along.  It was in San Francisco, not far from  where he grew up across the bay in Oakland.  He worked hard and expected the same from his players.  He had trouble with some of the players but the bigger problem was something all managers were dealing with at the time.  He was hired by the Giants for the 1981 season and the Giants had rising stars like Jack Clark and Darrell Evans and established stars like Vida Blue.  Frank had to deal with players earning more than he could have imagined as a super star and producing well below the expectations.  Evans and Clark were very unhappy.  Often Frank would call them into his office, talk to them one on one to make sure they were on the same page and get confirmation that the issues were resolved.  He woke up the next morning and saw new quotes from the players blasting the team.  The other problem at the time was drugs.  Frank talked often in his auto biography "Extra Innings" of the moodiness of several players, Vida Blue among them, and the frustration of knowing how good some of these players were not knowing what was stopping them  from reaching their potential.  He later found out that cocaine, amphetamines and steroids were running rampant in the game.

He had great players on the team like Joe Morgan and Reggie Smith, who he knew were the types of players needed to win.  Jack Clark may put up great numbers but Joe Morgan played the game the way you needed if you want to win.  Darrell Evans may hit long Home Runs but so did Reggie Smith and Smith helped the younger players along.  Unfortunately, the management and Frank were not on the same page so Smith moved on to Japan, Morgan moved on to help the 1983 Phillies  win a pennant and Frank was given a poor team.  By the time 1984 ended Darrell Evans was a World Champion with the Tigers, Jack Clark would move on to St. Louis and Frank Robinson was unemployed.

Manager of the Year
"The great irony in all this is that I'm a much better manager than I ever was before and I'm out of a job".  It was true and the statement spoke volumes about Frank.  He knew the game. He had played it better than nearly anyone ever had in the history of the game and yet he still had learned more since he retired as a player.  While Frank was learning to manage the Orioles were learning what life was like A.W. (After Weaver).  Earl Weaver had retired after the 1982 season.  The Orioles immediately hired Joe Altobelli and won the World Series. A year and a half later, half way through 1985, Earl Weaver was back to pick up the pieces but the pieces didn't quite fit the puzzle.  In 1987 Cal Ripken, Sr took over a bad team as manager and the ownership knew it was not a good team.  The team was flat out terrible except for Cal Jr and Eddie Murray.  John Shelby had potential but he was gone by next year and Fred Lynn was well beyond his prime.  So Ripken, Sr. started the 1988 season as skipper of a sinking ship.   The O's lost two straight to the Brewers then were swept in four straight against the Indians.  Although the Orioles had promised Senior a fair chance to manage, he was fired after the sixth game.  He was replaced with Frank.  It was a terrible start to the season.  After 21 games the O's had not won a game.  Not even the 1962 Mets were that bad.  Starting with a 21 game deficit was obviously not a good way to go but there were bright spots by the end of the season.  Mike Boddicker was traded to the eventual AL East champion Red Sox.  In return they got a young lead off hitter named Brady Anderson.  They had a nice young center fielder waiting to be brought up from the minors named Mike Devereaux.  They had a young starting pitching staff with Jeff Ballard, Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling, Jamie Moyer and a minor leaguer named Mike Mussina.  In the draft they got a good arm in Ben McDonald.  The future was bright.

The 1989 season was the exact opposite of the 1988 season.  Eddie Murray was gone, replaced by an under rated young first baseman named Randy Milligan who had a career year. Third base, a problem since Brooks Robinson retired, was held down by a rookie sensation Craig Worthington.  Behind the plate Mickey Tettleton, known as the Froot Loop kid for his love of the cereal, teamed with Milligan, DH Sam Horn and Cal Ripken Jr to form a solid middle lineup and Joe Orsulak was a defensive expert in right field.  Add to that a young relief ace named Greg Olson, nicknamed Wild Thing and the team was in first for most of the year.  The magic lasted almost all year but on the final weekend of the season the O's broke a wing and fell to the Blue Jays to finish second in the AL east.  Despite a second place finish the turn around won Frank Manager of the year.  Frank would manage two more years and the expectations were high but the results were disappointing.

He did, however, become an executive in the Orioles organization.  While there he made one of the worst trades in history.  He sent Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley to the Houston Astros for first baseman Glenn Davis.  Davis immediately injured his back and played few games while Finley, Harnisch and Schilling went on to tremendous careers.

Frank would get a final chance to manage with a dying organization when MLB took over the Expos organization in 2002.  With little talent and less money he led the Expos to second and fourth place finishes keeping them in the race long past the expectations of the experts and receiving serious consideration as manager of the year.  When the Expos moved to Washington for 2005 Frank became the first manager of the new franchise.  They finished 81-81 but last in the AL East.  The second year in Washington was a 71-91 finish and Robinson was replaced at the end of the year by Manny Acta.

Frank Robinson retired as a player in 1976.  When all was said and done he had 2943 hits, 586 Home Runs, 1829 runs, 1812 RBI, and a .294 average.  In 1982 Frank Robinson became eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time, the same year that Hank Aaron became eligible for the Hall of Fame.  Aaron appeared on 97.8 % of the ballots (who the hell were the ones who didn't vote for Hank Aaron as a Hall of Fame player?).  Receiving 89.2% of the votes and being elected on his first ballot was Frank Robinson.  Robby was a leader who elevated the play of those around him and a pioneer who won a triple crown, two MVP's, two World Series rings and became the first African American Manager.  Best of all Frank Robinson is the forgotten man in the conversation for greatest player of all time.

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Frank Robinson please check out
Ken Burns Baseball


Extra Innings by Frank Robinson
Pitching, Defense and Three Run Homers:  the 1970 Baltimore Orioles by Society for Advancementof Baseball Research, Mark Armour and Malcolm Allen
The Baltimore Orioles: Four Decades of Magic from 33rd Street to Camden Yards by Ted Patterson
Black and Blue: Sandy Koufax, the Robinson Boys and the World Series that Stunned America by Tom Adelman
Before the Machine:  The Story of the 1961 Pennant Winning Reds by Mark J. Schmetzer
Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan
Anaheim Angels: A Complete History by Ross Newhan
The National Baseball Hall of Fame Almanac (2013 Edition) by Baseball America

Frank Robinson managed four teams (Indians, Giants, Orioles and Expos/Nationals) for 16 years as a Major League Manager.  He did not make the playoffs as a manager.  How many regular season games did Frank win as a manager?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Harry Davis, the original First Baseman of the $100,000 infield began his career in 1895. He was a big part of the 1905 and 1910 Athletics AL Championship teams. By the time the 1911 season rolled around his playing days were mostly over and following the 1914 season he hung around for a few years but played a total of seven games for the Athletics, retiring after the 1917 season.

Last week's article showed us that Baker moved on to the Yankees and played on their first two World Series teams, although he retired before they won their first one in 1923.

Stuffy McInnis stayed with the Athletics until 1917.  He moved onto the Red Sox in 1918 where he was a member of the World Champion Sox team.  He also moved on to Cleveland (1922) and the Boston Braves (1923-1924)  In 1925 he moved on to the Pirates and made strong contributions to the team that beat Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, Sam Rice and the Senators giving him 2 World Series titles.  He finished with the Phillies in 1927.

Eddie Collins, considered by many as the greatest second baseman of all time, was sent to the White Sox immediately after the 1914 loss.  The White Sox won the 1917 World Series then lost (threw) the 1919 World Series to the Reds.  Collins was not one of the Black Sox and remained the key player on the White Sox until 1926.  He returned to play a few games for Connie Mack again in 1927 and retired in 1930.

Jack Barry, known as Black Jack, was moved to the Red Sox part way through the 1915 season.  He played on the Boston teams that beat the Phillies (1915) and Robins (1916) in the World Series.  Although he was on the 1918 roster he was not active as he was serving in World War I.  

So the final totals: Davis 0, Baker 0, McInnis 2, Collins 1 and Barry 2.  Total: 5

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Players I Love More Than I Should: Third Base: Frank "Home Run" Baker

IF you are just joining the blog, don't miss the other players in the "Players I Love More Than I Should series: Yogi Berra, Hank Greenberg, Joe Morgan and Cal Ripken.

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching some of them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  This week we will explore the Third Baseman  I chose for the series:Frank "Home Run" Baker.

The uniqueness of Frank Baker in this series of player profiles is that he is one of only two players from the dead ball era in the series (check back in a few weeks for the other in the pitching category).  For some, the dead ball era is considered pre-historic, almost inconsequential to today's game.  In truth, some of the best traditions and best legends of the game came from this time period.

By the sixth inning of a dead ball era game the ball was in horrible condition.  It was likely the same ball that was used for the first pitch (and every subsequent pitch).  If the ball had gone into the crowd it was expected that it would come back on the field to be put into play.  Of course if there was no other option, say the ball left the park in an uncommon home run, the umpire would introduce a new ball but otherwise the same ball was kept in use.  By the sixth inning the ball was lobsided, scratched, scuffed, blackened and generally unrecognizable as a baseball.  The idea of hitting the thing for distance was unheard of in the game.

The second game of the 1911 World Series was tied entering the 6th.  The Giants had taken Game 1 and if they could wrap up Game 2 they would be (as Red Barber used to say) in the catbird seat.  Rube Marquard was nearly unhittable for the first part of the game and he started the bottom of the 6th by retiring Bris Lord and Rube Oldring on fly balls.  Pesky little Eddie Collins doubled with two outs and as the batter walked to the plate the Giants bench may have relaxed.  It was Frank Baker and Marquard had owned him to this point in the game. The first pitch came in, a curveball, for a strike.  The second was the same.  Baker was in the hole 0-2.  Behind the plate Chief Meyers knew exactly what the plan was.  Baker could not catch up with Rube's fastball so Chief dropped one finger.  Marquard nodded in agreement.  As he set for the pitch Marquard changed his mind. He had already gotten Baker out on fastballs so there was no way Frank would be expecting a curve.  The ball came in and started to break.  As Baker would later say "I saw it starting to break and I busted it".  The ball launched to left field and landed beyond the wall for a two run Home Run.  The Giants bench deflated.   The Home Run lifted the A's.  Baker was just getting started.

Growing Up on the Farm (Literally)
On March 13, 1886, on a farm in Trappe, MD Frank Baker was born.  Baker's father was a farmer, plain and simple,  married to a distant cousin of Robert E. Lee.  Living in Maryland, one of the border states, Baker's father fought for either side in the Civil War but I am not aware of any information to indicate which side he would have joined, although being married to a relative of Lee might indicate he was likely to have been a Confederate.  Regardless, John Franklin Baker was born to the two in 1886.  At a young age he showed great signs of athleticism and joined the High School baseball team as an Outfielder.  He showed enough promise to get $5.00 a week as a semi pro player.

Fast Moving Rise
The stories of Baker's skills started to spread around the Maryland area and he was eventually signed by Jack Dunn of the legendary Orioles in 1907.  He was given five games to prove he could make it.  Dunn, widely respected for finding talent, saw Baker go 2-15 with two singles in five games and rendered his verdict that Baker was not a professional quality hitter. There was no way he would make it in the big leagues.

Baker was not far from the Maryland-Pennsylvania border and word had gotten around that there were other options available so, some how, Baker signed on for the 1908 season to play for the Reading Pretzels in Reading, PA.  Baker played in 119 games that year, collecting 135 hits, including 11 doubles, 13 triples and six home runs.  One more hit would have made a big difference as he hit .299 for the season.  10 other players from that team would go on to play in the majors.  Only Baker would truly have success.  He finished third on the team in batting, third in hits, first in triples and had three times more Home Runs than anyone else on the team.  No records are available about stolen bases but the numbers (especially the triples) would suggest that Baker had very good speed.  I do not have any information to tell us how many Home Runs were of the inside the park variety, however, given this was during the dead ball era it is likely that many of these were.

For those of you not from the area, Reading, PA is not far from Philadelphia and Connie Mack had scouts all over the Southern Pennsylvania area.  The A's, in 1908, were using future Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins at third base but it was clear Collins was done.  Collins hit only .217 and although he had been great, Mack needed a viable option for 1909.  The A's finished sixth in 1908, 22 games behind the Tigers who were in the middle of a three year domination at the top of the league.  Mack was getting reports that Baker was ready for the big time so at the end of the 1908 the outfielder, rejected by one legend, was given a chance by the legendary Connie Mack at third base.  Mack had several young players called up at the end of the wasted season including  Socks Seybold, Amos Strunk, Jack Barry and Shoeless Joe Jackson.  Baker got into nine games.  He got 9 hits, batted .290, scored 5, drove in 2 and had 2 doubles.  It was too small a sample size but with Collins quitting it was clear Mack needed a third baseman and Baker had potential.

The 1909 A's gave the Tigers a run for their money.  Still featuring the great first baseman Harry Davis and one of the greatest second baseman of all time in Eddie Collins, the A's were clearly a potentially strong team.  Baker had a great year.  He hit 19 Home Runs, stole 20 bases and hit .305, while scoring 73 and driving in 85.  If the offense of Baker and Collins was not strong enough, Joe Jackson had the potential to be great (if he could get his head on straight) and the starting rotation of Bender, Plank, Morgan and Coombs looked to give the A's a bright future.

1910 was the start of something special, something Philadelphia would not see the likes of for another 100 years.  Although Joe Jackson would not be part of it the way it was hoped the rest of the team rounded into form.  With a win on 6/21 the A's took over first place by half a game.  By 7/2 they were five games ahead.  By 9/2 they were twelve and a half up and they rolled to the American League Pennant.  The view of this match up now is completely different from how it would have been viewed entering the series.  It is now viewed as the final hurrah of the Cubs dynasty and the rise of the A's dynasty.  The view at the time would have been the Cubs steamroller continuing to pick up speed but the poor, young, inexperienced A's being little less than a pebble in the way.  The Cubs lost Johnny Evers at the end of the regular season but Heinie Zimmerman was a good replacement so the Cubs were the clear favorites.  Eddie Collins got the A's offense started in the bottom of the first with a lead off single but when he tried to steal Johnny Kling proved he was the best Catcher in the business by gunning him down to end the inning.  The Cubs were not able to get to Chief Bender in the top of the second so Frank Baker got his first World series at bat.  Baker ripped a ground rule double to left field.  Harry Davis sacrificed Baker to third and when Danny Murphy  singled, Baker scored the first run of the game.  In the third, with a 2-0 lead already and Bris Lord on second, Baker singled to earn his first RBI in World Series play.  He wasn't done yet.  With two out and two on in the 8th Baker doubled again scoring Eddie Collins.  The A's won Game 2 as well.  Baker went 1-4 with a walk and a run but Collins was the star of the game, going 3-4 with two doubles, two stolen bases, two runs and an RBI.  Game 3 was crucial.  The underdog A's could take control of the Series  or they could allow the Cubs to gain some footing and fight their way back into the series.  Strunk worked a walk to lead off the game.  A sacrifice bunt moved him to second but he had to hold on a fly ball by Collins.  Baker stepped in against Orval Overall.  Baker lined a single to center scoring Strunk and the A's were on the board.  The Cubs tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the inning and the A's took the lead again in the top of the second with two runs.  The Cubs came right back with two to tie and the fight was on.  Bris Lord started the third with an out.  Collins singled and Baker stepped up again.  He shot a triple to right field scoring Collins.  Harry Davis was hit by a pitch and a Danny Murphy three run Home Run put the game out of hand.  The A's took control of the series with a 12-3 win and the Baker-Collins offensive punch was clearly the reason. The team had a chance for a sweep and they took  a 3-1 lead when Baker doubled and came around to score on Danny Murphy's two run double. By the end of the game Baker was hitting .529 for the series.  The Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the 9th on an RBI triple by Frank Chance and won Game 4 in the 10th to avoid a sweep.  In the 5th and deciding game Baker went 0-5 and his average dropped to .409 for the series, although Eddie Collins stole the show with 2 doubles, 2 RBI and 2 Stolen Bases and the A's won their first World Series.

$100,000 and Creating the Legend

The A's First baseman for 1910 had been a long time great Harry Davis.  He had been playing since 1895 and had hit below .150 the previous season.  The A's were happy with the World Series win but an upgrade was clearly needed.  Davis was moved to a back up role and his starting spot was given to Stuffy McInnis.  The A's struggled badly out of the gate and lost 6 of their first 7.  By mid May they were 12 games behind the front running Tigers who appeared to be running away with the pennant.  The team went on a tear to catch up, and even take over first by half a game, by mid July.  But they stumbled again and fell back.  By July 20 they were five and a half out.  They turned it around again and by August 7 they were in the lead to stay, eventually winning the pennant by 13 games.  The team was led by the pitching and the infield stars of McInnis, Collins, Barry and Baker.  You could forgive the experts if they chose McGraw and the Giants as favorites  over the streaky A's.  Baker's 1911 performance was spectacular again.  He had already led the league in Home Runs in 1909 (he hit 4) and in 1911 his power exploded with 11 Home Runs.  His numbers were far from Ruthian but for the time they were spectacular.  His other stats were not bad either as he hit .334 with 42 doubles.

The 1911 World Series was where Baker truly gained the name of "Home Run Baker".  The Baker-Marquard face off was clearly an important part of that legend but it was only step one.  Step 2 came the next day.  With the series tied the Giants took a 1-0 lead into the top of the ninth.  With Christy Mathewson it looked like the Giants would take the series lead.  Eddie Collins grounded out to start the ninth and Baker stepped in to face the master.  Two quick curves for strikes again put Baker 0-2.  Matthewson knew that Marquard had failed with a breaking ball the game before so he decided to sneak a fast ball past him.  Baker figured Matty wouldn't throw three straight breaking balls so he sat on a fast ball and sent a rocket over the  fence in right field to tie the game.  In the 11th Baker singled to move Collins to 3d and scored the winning run on a Danny Murphy single.  Baker would hit .375 for the series with 2 doubles and the 2 amazingly well timed Home Runs.  The two big hits (combined with his 11 regular season Home Runs) gave Frank a new nickname, the name that would almost become his first name.  He was no longer Frank Baker. He was now "Home Run" Baker.

The 1912 A's season was a disaster.  The team was never truly in the race as the Red Sox stormed to the AL pennant and won one of the closest, most viciously fought World Series.  The A's, meanwhile, seemed to suffer from too much carousing.  Chief Bender and Rube Oldring were both suspended in early September for rumored violations of team rules. Despite the fall from the top for the A's Baker continued to improve.  He reached the 200 hit mark for the first time, led the league in Home Runs (10), and RBI(131). He also had career highs in average (.347), Stolen Bases (40)  and runs (116).   Despite all this there was no catching the Red Sox.

The A's were again led by their infield of McInnis, Collins, Barry and Baker.  They were so successful that Mack decided to reward the four of them.  Each player got raises.  When the salaries were added together they exceeded $100,000 dollars.  For a team to spend that much on payroll was questionable. To spend that much on just four players was unheard of.  Mack didn't care.  He had the best team money could buy and he knew the fans came to watch them.

The A's came back strong in 1913.  The Red Sox, who had ridden the arm of Smokey Joe Wood in 1912, suffered when Wood's arm could not hold up. (He had broken his thumb in the final game of the Series and was never quite the same).  Eddie Plank, Boardwalk Brown,  Bob Shawkey and Chief Bender led the pitching staff and Baker and Collins led the offense as usual.  Baker led the league in Home Runs yet again (12), hit .337, drove in 117 and hit 34 doubles.  The A's ran away with the AL and faced McGraw, Matthewson, Marquard and the Giants in the Series for the second time in three years.

Marquard started Game 1 for the Giants and Baker had a chance to strike first.  With two on and two out in the first Baker faced his old nemesis.  Baker swung and connected and as Marquard whipped his head to track the ball into left field he must have breathed a sigh of relief as he watched George Burns settle under the high fly ball to record the out.  The Giants scored first in the bottom of the third but Collins led off the fourth with a triple and scored on Baker's single.  Baker then scored on a triple by Wally Schang giving the A's a 3-1 lead.  In the 5th Baker lived up to his name again.  With two out Collins walked.  As Collins broke for second on the first pitch, Baker took strike one and Collins was in scoring position.  Baker stepped back in and stared down Marquard.  Marquard went into his motion, unleashed a breaking ball and Baker connected sending the ball into the right field bleachers giving the A's a 5-1 lead.  The A's would win the game 6-4 and Baker would have 3 hits, including the two run Home Run.  Matthewson dominated Game 2 and shut out the A's 3-0.  Baker had 2 of the eight hits allowed by Matthewson but no A's player had an extra base hit and the series was tied.  Baker went 2-4 in the game and drove in 2 as the A's took a 2-1 lead in the series.  Baker was hitting .538 for the series to this point.  Baker's 0-5 in Game 4 did not hurt the A's thanks to the even hotter bat of Eddie Collins.  In Game five Baker went 2-3 with a run scoring sacrifice fly and drove in a total of two runs as the A's once again claimed the World Series title.  

The other side of a Miracle
Baker's numbers were down slightly in 1914.  His Home Runs were down to 9 but he still led the league.  His average dropped a bit but it was still above .300.  The A's struggled over the first month or so but once they took over first place they continued to charge straight into the post season for the fourth time in five years.  Their opponents were a shock.  The Boston Braves, led by Johnny Evers, had started off the season poorly.  By the time 13 games of the season were gone the Braves were 10 games out of first.  By June 8 they were 13 and a half games out of first.  On July 5 they were 15 games out and then the turn around began.  While the Braves caught fire, the Phillies and Giants swooned and the Miracle Braves took the National League by ten and a half games.  Taking the National League was one thing but taking out the $100,000 infield was another.  The A's had a chance to take an early lead in the Bottom of the First but with two on and one out Baker grounded into a double play.  It would be the last chance the A's truly had as they lost 7-1.  Baker went 0-3 in game 2.  The game was scoreless into the 9th when the Braves scored the only run of the game to take a 2 games to 0 lead for the series.  The miracle run seemed to be continuing.  In Game 3 the game was deadlocked in the top of the 10th and it looked like Baker had come through again with a two run single with the bases loaded giving the A's the lead.  Hank Gowdy led off the Braves 10th with a solo Home Run.  The Braves would use a walk, a single and a sac fly to tie the game up and keep it moving forward. In the bottom of the 12th the Braves used a Ground Rule Double, an intentional walk and an error by Bullet Joe Bush to win the game and take a commanding three games to none lead.  Johnny Evers finally got his revenge for having missed the 1909 series when his Cubs had faced off against this same group of A's and his two run single gave the Braves a 3-2 lead in Game 4 and a World Series Miracle win.

Immediately after the loss the rumors started to circulate.  Several players from the A's jumped to the Federal League for bigger contracts.  Stories said some of the players even had the contracts in hand during the Series and looked to make some money on the side by betting on the Series before they joined the new league.  The theory goes that the bets were not all placed on themselves.  It was a precursor to the Black Sox scandal but there was no follow up, no investigation, no outrage.  It was ignored and of course never proven.  It is important to note that these are all just rumors.  No proof has been given to show that anyone on the A's performed less than at their best and the Braves certainly had some talent on their team.

The Split
Connie Mack certainly had some issues with the performance of the team in the World Series.  The team was dismantled. Gettysburg Eddie Plank officially jumped to the Federal League in December of 1914.  Three days later Chief Bender followed.  Three days after that Eddie Collins was sold to the White Sox who were building their own powerful team.  In January Jack Coombs was cut loose.  In June, in mid season, Herb Pennock and Bob Shawkey were discarded.  Of course some players remained but the players used to replace the stars were not up to snuff.

By the time the season started none of it mattered to Baker.  Entering the off season he had asked for a raise.  After all, he had played his best in the series, had remained loyal and rejected offers from the Federal League and with the other high priced players leaving, certainly Mack had some money in the budget to pay his stars.  According to Mack, Baker was already signed and had agreed to a salary.  Baker held out.  Mack refused to budge.  "I'll come back if Connie asks me to."  Mack didn't and told the world that he could get along just fine without Baker.  Mack felt that Baker was breaking his contract by holding out and said "a man who breaks his word once is likely to do it again.  I don't want Baker in my club."

Baker sat out the 1915 season.  He was unsure if his career was over.  There was no free agency at this point.  As long as Mack held the rights to Baker's contract he could not sign a contract with another team.  The Federal League collapsed after the 1915 season so that was no option.  Eventually the Yankees decided they would pay whatever Mack wanted for the contract.

Home Run Baker put on the pinstripes after a year of sitting home (and playing sometimes semi-pro ball) and tried to pick up where he left off.  He hit ten Home Runs, finishing second behind team mate Wally Pipp's 12, but his RBI total and average dropped significantly.  The Yankees were certainly an improving bunch but they were still a bit of a joke around the league.  Baker was a legitimate star for the Yankees, one of the first for the franchise, but it was still a long way from the success that was around the corner for the organization.  Baker had a few strong seasons in 1917 and 1918, even pushing his average above .300 in 1918, but not having Collins, Murphy, Barry and McInnis around him in the lineup meant that pitchers did not necessarily have to throw him pitches to hit.  1919 saw him hit 10 Home Runs and he appeared to be on the verge of regaining his status of the Home Run king.

The winter of 1919 was bad for baseball.  Rumors of the World Series swirled. Chicago was rife with suspicion and it was a bad winter all around.  Baker's wife contracted Scarlett Fever that winter and passed away.  Baker was devastated.  He decided to stay home and focus on his children for the year instead of playing ball.  The Yankees could have used him.  With Babe Ruth leading the way, the Yankees had their first legitimate chance at a pennant.  While the Yankees, led by Ruth, Pipp and Ping Bodie,  fought the Indians and White Sox and dealt with the Carl Mays-Ray Chapman saga, Baker was sitting home trying to reclaim his life.

Baker decided he was set to play for 1921.  The problem was Commissioner Landis was not so sure that he could. During his year off Baker had played a few games with some semi-pro teams (he certainly needed the money).  One of the teams his group was scheduled to play against featured Heinie Zimmerman, a player banned by Commissioner Landis.  Landis had declared that any player who played with or against the players banned by the league could no longer play in the majors.  An investigation was launched and Baker finally had some luck.  An appeal from Yankees manager Miller Huggins pointed out that the game set to be played against Zimmerman was actually rained out so techincially Baker never faced off against the banned player.  Landis reviewed it and finally  agreed that Baker could play.  It had taken Baker a while to decide if he wanted to come back after his daughter fell ill but her recovery and his need to earn a living, made up his mind for him.  Baker was cleared to play a week into the season but with Aaron Ward performing well Baker rode the bench at first.  When he did get into the games he struggled.  Before the month ended  Baker was on the bench with a leg injury just as he had brought his average up to .300.  He was back in the lineup by June 3 but on August 20 (the one year anniversary of Ray Chapman's death) he was taken out of the lineup with another leg injury.  It would essentially end his year.  He would return on September 3, but would only play in ten more games, even leaving the team for a little bit with the passing of his  mother.  The Yankees succeeded with Aaron Ward at third base.  Despite the difficulty Baker finished the year with a .294 average and 9 Home Runs.

The Yankees reached their first World Series in 1921.  They faced off against the rival Giants and took the first two games easily.  Baker sat by and watched.  Game 3 was not nearly as fun for the Yankees.  It was a 13-5 beating and although Baker got into the game in the 9th as a pinch hitter he flew out to left in a lost cause.  The Yankees took a three games to 2 lead (the series was a best of nine) but in Game 6 the Giants tied the series back up.  Baker was again used as a pinch hitter in a losing cause and again failed in his only at bat.  For Game 7 he started on the bench but when Mike McNally tore ligaments in his shoulder sliding into second Baker took over at third.  He went 2-3 in the game but the Giants took the lead in the Series with a 2-1 win.  Baker got a start in the final game of the series as McNally was out but unfortunately so was Ruth.  He had an abscess on his arm so dangerously infected that amputation was not out of the question.  Baker went 0-3 and the Giants scored an unearned run on an error by Roger Peckinpaugh.  The Giants won the game and the World Series with a 1-0 victory.

1922 was Baker's final year. He played in only  69 games as the Yankees picked up Joe Dugan for the hot corner.  Injuries, age and the constant tragedy of his life had slowly taken their toll on the once vibrant young man.  The Yankees reached the World Series again but were swept (with one tie) by the Giants.  Baker played in one game as a pinch hitter but went hitless.  It was his final at bat.

John Franklin "Home Run"Baker retired with a .307 lifetime average, 96 Home Runs, 315 doubles, 103 triples and two World Series titles.

Baker walked away from the game but his impact was not done.  Baker still worked as a scout for the Yankees.  He found players here and there and he found one who he knew could not miss.  He approached the Yankees and told them this guy could not miss.  The Yankees passed.  They already had Bob Meusel, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth.  Why the hell would they need another bat?  Rejected, Baker approached Connie Mack.  Mack made the investment and got the best deal of all time. Mack forever thanked Baker for bringing Jimmie Foxx to the A's organization, theoretically making up for the contract dispute of 1915.

Baker's name first appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot in 1936.  He received 0.6% of the vote.  Of course that was the first ever vote so he fell behind names like Ruth, Cobb, Alexander, Speaker, Young and many others.  He picked up some votes in his second year reaching 6.5% but still with names like Nap LaJoie,George Sisler and Ed Delahanty it was a tough field to try to get ahead of.  His voting results yo-yo'd from year to year.  They went to 12.2 to 10.9 back up to 16.7 then down to 10.5 up again to13.7, 19.3 and as high as 30.4 before dropping again to 3.3, 2.4 and finally 3.5.  In 1955 the Veteran's Committee finally made the choice that should have been made years before.  Joining Joe DiMaggio, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance and Gabby Hartnett, the Veteran's Committee elected Ray Schalk and Frank "Home Run" Baker.

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Frank "Home Run" Baker please check out:

Ken Burns Baseball


Cobb:A Biography by Al Stump
The Ultimate Philadelphia Athletics Reference Book 1901-1954 by Ted Taylor
My Life in Baseball: The True Record by Ty Cobb, Al Stump and Charles C Alexander
Mack, McGraw and the 1913 Baseball Season by Richard Adler
Tinker Evers and Chance: A Triple Biography by Gil Bogen
The First Fall Classic:  The Red Sox, The Giants and the Cast of Players, Pugs and  Politicos Who Reinvented the World Series in 1912 by Mike Vacarro
1921: The Yankees, the Giants and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York  by Lyle Spatz, Steven Steinberg and Charles C. Alexander
The National Baseball Hall of Fame Almanac (2013 edition) by Baseball America

The $100,000 Infield was made up originally of Harry Davis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry and Frank Baker.  Davis was replaced by Stuffy McInnis at First Base.  The group won the World Series in 1910, 1911 and 1913.  After the 1914 loss to the Miracle Braves Connie Mack broke up the championship team.  How many World Series titles did the group win after leaving the Athletics?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Cal and Billy Ripken combined for 451 Home Runs.  The three DiMaggio brothers totaled 573 (Dom had 87, Joe had 361 and Vince had 125).  The Alomar brothers (Roberto 210 and Sandy Jr 112) had 322 total.  The Cansecos (Jose at 462 and Ozzie at 0) totaled 462.  There are three current Molina brothers in the majors (Jose currently has 213, Bengie is currently at 144 and Yadier is currently at 92 for a current total of 449).  The record, however, is held by the Aaron brothers.  Hank hit 755 career Home Runs and his brother Tommie hit a total of 13 giving the family a total of 768.