Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oh, How Different Things Might Have Been: Jim Rice and the 1975 Red Sox

History is fixed.  It is unchangeable.  Nothing can change the past.  You can watch Carlton Fisk hop down the line a million times and he will still waive the ball fair.  No matter how many times Todd Worrell touches that bag, Don Denkinger is still going to call Jorge Orta safe.  Bill Buckner is never going to field that little roller behind the bag and Mitch Williams will not look back over his shoulder to see Joe Carter's fly ball being caught.

The winners and losers in the history of the game will always be winners or losers.  But this series will explore some "what if's".  What if a player who missed the World Series hadn't gotten injured?  What if a play that turned a World Series had been completed differently?

We have already looked at  the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics, the 1910 Cubs, the 1962 Dodgers and last week the 1968 Tigers.  This week we look at how the loss of a rookie outfielder might have changed World Series for the 1975 Red Sox:

No one had predicted this.  Anyone who had would have been sent for evaluation.  Imagine it.  The Orioles had won the division every year (except 1973) since the division format had been invented.  Only the Tigers had been able to claw the birds out of the top perch.  Although Baltimore had sent Frank Robinson and Boog Powell to the Indians (suddenly the Indians looked improved) the O’s still had Brooks Robinson and that great pitching.  The Yankees had added Catfish Hunter and Bobby Bonds to a roster that already included Thurman Munson and Graig Nettles.  Even the young Brewers were improving with Robin Yount and Darrell Porter mixing with veterans George Scott and Hank Aaron.

So what did the Red Sox have?  They had arguably the best Catcher in baseball (Freehan, Munson and Bench were certainly in the discussion) but he was out of the lineup for god knows how long.  They had an aging legend in Carl Yastrzemski whose knees were shot and would be moved to First Base to save his body.  They had a pitcher that was rejected by Cleveland and Minnesota with a wind up so ridiculous it almost baffled the mind that the pitches made it to the catcher at all.  They had another pitcher that would have been rejected by Monty Python as a character too unbelievable to be part of their sketches and called himself “Spaceman”.

They also had a ton of young, unproven players.  No one was dumb enough to believe Boston had a shot at this.  Still, at the end of the first month the Sox stood at the top of the division at 7-5.  Any hope of a Boston miracle began to fade as the Sox dropped 4 straight and fell to 4th.  A quick rally in the form of an 8-2 stretch actually put the Red Sox four games up by mid May and the focus was on the excitement of Luis Tiant and the young players.
There were three main youngsters that became the focus of the team: Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans  and Jim Rice. 

The opening day lineup was honestly a bit of a mess. Yaz, the man who had written the textbook on how to play the Green Monster, was at First Base.  In Left Field was Juan Beniquez with Lynn in Center Field and Evans in Right.  Catching was Bob Montgomery in place of an injured Fisk.

Friday April 18th was a big day.  Though few saw it at the time, it would be a great day in the story of the franchise.  Facing off against the favored Orioles, Reggie Cleveland gave up 2 quick first inning runs.  Boston went in order (Beniquez, Rick Burleson, Yaz) in the first.  The O’s got another base runner in the second but Dave Duncan remained at first and the Sox came up for the second inning.
Dwight Evans grounded to Brooks Robinson at third to start the inning and Rico Petrocelli  walked.  Walking to the plate, in his first starting assignment of the year, was Jim Rice.  In the days before baseball players used weights, Jim Rice was a giant.  The theory at the time was that weights and baseball didn’t mix.  It was thought that larger muscles would interfere with the fluidity of the swing.  Rice was a challenge to that theory.  He was a football player on the baseball diamond.  He was so strong that he once broke his bat on a check swing.  Think about the physics of that moment.  His arms were so powerful that when they stopped their momentum a wooden bat continued moving, putting enough pressure to crack a solid object in two.  He demonstrated his power here with a two run game tying Home Run.  The next batter was Fred Lynn who walked.

In the third, Dwight Evans doubled giving the Sox the lead.  In the 4th Rice stepped to the plate and hit his second Home Run of the day putting Boston up 4-2.  By the end of the inning Boston led 6-2.  In the 7th Fred Lynn hit a solo Home Run.  The three youngsters (Evans, Rice and Lynn) would be 6-13, scored 3 runs, 5 RBI, a walk, a double and three Home Runs.  It was the first time all three had started together.  But try telling the Red Sox fans it was a great day as they filed out of Fenway.  Lee May, the Orioles First Baseman, had gone 2-3, with 2 runs, 7 RBI, 2 Home Runs (both with two men on).  The Sox lost 9-7, at home to a division rival.

The rookies took over the season.  It seemed that every time you looked up Fred Lynn was sliding face first on the grass or crashing into a wall to make a catch and Rice was trotting around the bases.  They were dubbed the “Gold Dust Twins” and they carried the team to win after win.  By July 28th they were 9 games up.  The lead shrunk to 5 ½ by September 1 but they recovered and continued to win.  Lynn, Rice and Evans were everywhere.  Evans was the least successful of the three somehow.  Rice and Lynn were similar in numbers.  At the end of the year their numbers looked like this:
                                Hits        Runs      RBI         2B/3B/HR            Avg.       BB/K      SB/CS
Jim Rice                  174         92           102         29/4/22                .309        36/122  10/5
Fred Lynn               175         103         105         47/7/21                .331        62/90     10/5

It should be obvious why they were called twins.  It definitely was not because they looked alike.  Things were great.  Fisk was back in the lineup by the end of June, the kids were tearing it up and the combination of Tiant and Lee was consistently winning.  The Sox fans started seeing rings.
It was an unusual feeling.  The Boston Globe asked “What’s Right with the Red Sox”.  But this was still the era of the Curse of the Bambino.  It struck on September 21.  Facing Detroit, the Tigers had taken a 1-0 lead in the first, although with the Gold Dust Twins a one run lead was nothing.  Leading off the second inning was  Jim Rice.  The pitch came in tight on Rice.  It was too far inside and Rice did not react quickly enough.  It hit Rice on the hand, crushing the powerful hand between the ball and the bat, breaking the hand.  Rice would stay in the game and came around to score.  He walked in his next plate appearance and flew out in the 6th.  With the Sox ahead heading into the 7th, Evans replaced Rice in right field.    Rice was sent for x-rays and it was found that a bone was broken.  The Sox clinched their division but they would be without Jim Rice in the playoffs.

Their first opponent would be a difficult challenge.  The A’s were the World Series Champions three times running.  They had lost Catfish Hunter since last year but they still had names like Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Gene Tennace, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Rollie Fingers and the biggest of all, Reggie Jackson.  It did not appear to be an easy task and without Rice many thought the Red Sox didn’t stand a chance.

The Sox scored twice in the first inning of Game 1 thanks to two Oakland errors.  It remained 2-0 entering the bottom of the 7th.  Boston exploded for five runs, three of those unearned, and cruised to a 7-1 lead.

Game 2 was a bit more tense.  Reggie Jackson put the A’s out to a 2-0 lead with a 2 run Home Run and the A’s young outfielder Claudell Washington added to the lead with an RBI double in the third.  Yaz answered in the bottom of the third with a 2 run Home Run of his own and Rico Petrocelli grounded into a double play that allowed Carlton Fisk to score from third.  Tie game headed into the 4th.  From there it seemed to be all Red Sox.  Fisk drove in Yaz with an RBI single in the 6th.  Petrocelli homered in the 7th and Lynn drove in Juan Beniquez in the 9th for a 6-3 win and a 2-0 lead in the series.

We can only imagine the mood in the A’s locker room after the second straight loss. Often volatile, even when winning, we can at least be confident that it wasn’t quiet.   Without Catfish as an option, the A’s went back to their ace Ken Holtzman to try and save their season.  He had  been victimized by 4 A’s errors in Game 1 and had to work out of trouble n the 1st inning of Game 3 but he seemed to settle down.  The game was scoreless entering the 4th.  After 2 quick outs  Fred Lynn hit a fly ball that looked like it would get the A’s to the plate but Claudell Washington misplayed the ball and Lynn ended up on second base.  Petrocelli made them pay with a single scoring Lynn.  The A’s went in order in the 4th and Holtzman returned to the mound.  Holtzman struck out Cecil Cooper to start the inning but Rick Burleson singled.  Juan Beniquez (Rice’s replacement) flew out for out number 2.  Denny Doyle singled to score Burleson and Yaz followed with a single. Holtzman’s day was done but the Red Sox were not.  Relief Pitcher Jim Todd gave up an RBI single to Fisk, scoring Doyle and was replaced.  Paul Lindblad came in and allowed Yaz to score on a Wild Pitch making it 5-0 Sox.  Down 6-1 in the 8th, the A’s made one last rally when they bunched three singles and an error to score 2 but  Dick Drago came in to relieve Rick Wise and got a double play to end the inning.  The Sox had advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1967 and only the third time (1946 being the other) since 1918.

The Sox were able to win relatively easily without Rice in the ALCS but that was mostly thanks to A’s poor fielding.  Juan Beniquez, Rice’s replacement, had gone 3-12 with only one extra base hit, a double.  They would need more than that if they were going to beat the Reds of Bench, Morgan, Rose and Perez.

The Reds were heavily favored entering the World Series based on their dominant regular season and collection of future Hall of Famers.  The 1975 World Series is one of the greatest of all time with each game seemingly more surprising and exciting than the next.  Game 1 saw Luis Tiant pitch an emotional dominating game.  Tiant had been reunited with his parents for the first time since leaving Cuba.  Fidel Castro had allowed them a temporary visa to see their son pitch in the World Series. 
Boston led Game 2 heading into the 9th inning and were on the verge of taking a 2 games to none lead until the Reds got 2 doubles, a stolen base and two runs to take the lead.  The Sox went in order in the bottom of the 9th.

Game 3 saw a controversial end to a 10 inning game.  After trailing 5-1 the Sox fought back to tie the game only to lose on a non-call of batter/runner interference by Ed Armbrister. 

Game 4  was another win for Tiant, who was not as sharp as he had been in Game 1.  He allowed 4 runs but with a 5 run inning in the 4th the Sox tied the series at 2 games each. 

Game 5 saw Tony Perez break out of his slump with a solo Home Run and a three run Home Run to give the Reds a 3 games to 2 lead in the series.

Game 6 was arguably the greatest game ever played.

Game 7 saw the Red Sox take a 3-0 lead and hold a 3-2 lead heading into the 7th.  But Bill Lee had to leave when a blister formed on a finger on his pitching hand and Joe Morgan drove in Ken Griffey in the top of the 9th to win the World Series.

Of course it is easy to say that Jim Rice would have made the difference but we can’t know that he would have made the difference.  Knowing that the series went 7 games and each game was close, Rice certainly could have made a difference.  It is not fair to say “things would definitely have happened differently if… “  There is never an absolute.  If a fielder doesn’t throw wild, our team will win.  If a runner doesn’t lose his footing turning a bag, our team will win.  It certainly would improve the team's chances of winning but it doesn’t automatically mean they will win.  So simply saying that the Red Sox would have won in 1975 if Jim Rice was in the lineup is not entirely accurate, but he certainly could have helped their chances greatly.

With that being said, let’s look at how Rice could have changed things had he been in the four losses in the World Series.  When the Red Sox were healthy and playing at their best in 1975 their lineup looked like this:
C    Carlton Fisk
1B  Carl Yastrzemski
2B  Denny Doyle
SS  Rick Burleson
3B Rico Petrocelli
RF  Dwight Evans
CF Fred Lynn
LF Jim Rice
DH Juan Beniquez/Cecil Cooper/Rick Miller/Bernie Carbo

The DH was not used in the World Series so two bats were essentially taken out of the lineup: Jim Rice and the DH.

The first loss for the Red Sox, Game 2, saw Yaz playing in place of Rice in Left Field but since Yaz was part of the regular lineup,First Baseman Cecil Cooper would have been considered the Rice replacement.  In Game 2 Cooper would go 1-5 with a double.  In fact he led off the game with the 2 base hit.  He was erased on a double play.So in his other 4 plate appearances could he have effected the game the way Rice could have?  Of course there is always the argument  that a healthy Rice could show his power at any time. so of course Rice could have changed the game in that way.  Cooper led off the third with a ground ball to Joe Morgan.  In the 5th, he was the third out in a 1-2-3 inning.  In the 7th, he was out number 2 in a 1-2-3 inning.  In the 9th Cooper made the final out with a pop out to short, again part of a 1-2-3 inning.  There was no point in this game that Cooper left runners on base or killed a rally.

Game 3 had the same lineup.  Cooper was hitting in the lead off spot (Rice would normally be 4th or 5th in the lineup).  Cooper went 0-5 and twice he came to bat with a runner on base. In the bottom of the 5th with two out and Burleson on first, Cooper grounded out.   The second time could be a situation where we could see Rice making a difference.  The Red Sox trailed entering the top of the 9th.  Fred Lynn struck out to start the inning.  Rico followed with a single and after a pitching change Dwight Evans tied it with a Home Run.  Burleson followed with a single and suddenly the pressure was on.  Pitcher Jim Willoughby sacrificed Burleson to second and up came Cecil Cooper.  Imagine the pressure on the Reds had Jim Rice walked to the plate with a runner in scoring position instead of Cecil Cooper but the intimidation that could have been applied by Rice could have changed the way that game went.  Instead Cooper flew out easily to Center Field and the game remained tied into the 10th.  Of course, you can also do the “what if” game with Ed Armbrister’s bunt in the 10th inning as well, as in what if the umpire called him out.

Game 5 was the next loss and the lineup got juggled a little.  Yaz moved to First Base and batted third.  Taking over in Left Field was Juan Beniquez.  Beniquez would go 0-3 with a walk and a strikeout.  But were any of his plate appearances in situations where Rice could have made a difference?  Beniquez led off the game by grounding to third.  That was followed by a Denny Doyle triple.  So had Rice been in the game he was more likely to get on base, although Rice normally batted in the middle of the lineup so we can give Beniquez a pass on the lead off spot.  In the third, Beniquez was the third out in a 1-2-3 inning.  In the 6th, with the Reds ahead 2-1 Beniquez got a 2 out walk and was stranded there.  By the time he came up to the plate again to lead off the 9th  the Reds were ahead 6-1.  Beniquez struck out looking. 

Finally, Game 7.  Could Rice have changed things? Again the answer is that he could flex his power at any given moment but the real question is: did his replacement miss any opportunities to change the game? Yaz again played First Base but in Left Field to start the game was Bernie Carbo.  Carbo had hit a pinch hit Home Run the night before.  That Home Run tied him with Chuck Essegian of the 1959 Dodgers for most pinch hit Home Runs in a World Series with 2.  Carbo led off the game with a double to left field.  When Denny Doyle followed with a fly ball to right, Carbo failed to advance.  It was a lack of aggressiveness on the base paths that Red Sox fans would point to as a missed opportunity.  Yaz grounded to the right side of the infield, advancing Carbo to third, although he might have scored had he advanced to third on Doyle’s fly ball out.  Burleson flew out to end the inning.  Rice was not a tremendous runner.  He stole 10 bases in  1975 but would never again break double digits in that category.  So it is unclear whether this would have differed with him on the base paths.  With only one out and Yaz coming up, Don Zimmer, coaching 3rd base, might have held Rice at second anyways.  Carbo next came up in the 3rd with the game still scoreless.  He worked a one out walk, moved to third on a Doyle single and scored the game’s first run on a Yaz single.  Carbo came to bat again in the 4th.  Bill Lee singled to start the inning and moved to second on a wild pitch.  Carbo grounded to second to advance Lee to third, so although it wasn’t a base hit, it was a productive out.  Doyle and Yaz left Lee at third.   Carbo’s final at bat of the game came leading off the 6th.  With Boston ahead 3-2 Carbo was the first out of a 1-2-3 inning.  Rick Miller replaced Carbo in left field to start the 7th.  By the time Carbo’s spot came up in the order again the Sox were down 4-3.  Leading off the bottom of the 9th, Juan Beniquez pinch hit for Rick Miller.  He flew out to right for the first out of a 1-2-3 inning.  Certainly the Boston approach to the game might have been different had Rice been in the game.  Rice would not have been replaced defensively by Miller in the 7th and his presence at the plate would have made Sparky Anderson much more nervous than Juan Beniquez.  Following Beniquez’s fly ball out to start the 9th, Boston went to the bench again and sent up Catcher Bob Montgomery to pinch hit for Denny Doyle.  Had Rice been in the game, Darrel Johnson would have had other options for pinch hitters (like Bernie Carbo) in that situation.

But the question still remains, would Rice have made the difference?  Comparing numbers is always helpful.  So as a final review to allow you to make your decision, let’s compare the numbers of Rice’s replacements to Rice’s numbers in the other post seasons he played in his career:
                                                AB/Hits Runs      RBI         2B/3B/HR            BB/K             AVG
Cecil Cooper (1975*)              1-18       0              1              1/0/0                     0/3              .056
Juan Beniquez (1975*)              1-8       0              1              0/0/0                     1/1              .125
Bernie Carbo (1975*)                2-5      2               3              1/0/1                     1/1              .200
Jim Rice (Career Postseason+)18-76   15              8              2/1/2                    9/22             .237
*-numbers used are only in situations where player was considered Rice’s replacement

+- Rice played in the 1978 playoff game to decide the AL East division as well as 1986 ALCS, 1986 World Series and 1988 ALCS.  The 1978 AL East division deciding game is technically not post season but was included as it added weight to viewing Rice’s performance in playoff situations.

Joe Morgan was named the MVP of the 1975 World Series.  Morgan went 7-27,  including a double, for a  259 average. He also scored 4 runs, drove in 3, including the series winner, walked 5 times and stole 2 bases.

There was another major piece of the Big Red Machine who had great numbers and could have been considered for the Series MVP.  This Red went 10-27 (.370) including a double and a triple, scored 3, drove in 2 and walked 5 times. Although many feel this Red should be in the Naitonal Baseball Hall of Fame he has not been enshrined in Cooperstown yet. Who is he?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
The Cardinals and Tigers first faced each other in the World Series in 1934.  It was the Gashouse Gang vs. Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and SchoolboyRowe.  In a great, tightly contested seven game series the Cardinals  came out on top.

The 1934 World Series was Detroit's fourth World Series appearance (they had lost to the Cubs in 1907 and 1908 and the Pirates in 1909).  It was the Cardinals 5th appearance (they had beaten the Yankess in 1926 and lost to the Yankees in 1928.  They had also lost to the Athletics in 1930 but beaten the Athletics in 1931)

By the time the two faced off again in 1968 the Cardinals had won the 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964 and 1967 and had lost the 1943 World Series. The Tigers had won the 1935, 1945 World Series and had lost the 1940 World Series.

After the 1968 season both teams fell off drastically.  The Cardinals would not reach the World Series again until the Whitey Herzog era of the 1980s.  They won the 1982 World Series but lost the 1985 and 1987 World Series.  The Tigers, following the 1968 World Series, would not return to the Fall Classic until 1984.

The 1990s were a terrible era for the Tigers but saw a rebirth for the Caridnals, although no World Series appearances.

The early 2000s started poorly for the Tigers but they surprised everyone with a dramatic 2006 turn around and run through the playoffs to the World Series.  The Cardinals continued their rebirth with a 2004 World Series appearance where they faced the Red Sox.  In 2006 tehy returned to the World Series and faced the Tigers (the third time they faced off) and won their first World Series since 1982.

The Cardinals returned to the World Series in 2011 and 2013 while the Tigers returned in 2012.  Any one of those seasons could have seen a rematch as the oposing team lost in the LCS round of their respective leagues.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Oh, How Different Things Might Have Been: Lou Brock, Curt Flood and the 1968 Cardinals

History is fixed.  It is unchangeable.  Nothing can change the past.  You can watch Carlton Fisk hop down the line a million times and he will still waive the ball fair.  No matter how many times Todd Worrell touches that bag, Don Denkinger is still going to call Jorge Orta safe.  Bill Buckner is never going to field that little roller behind the bag and Mitch Williams will not look back over his shoulder to see Joe Carter's fly ball being caught.

The winners and losers in the history of the game will always be winners or losers.  But this series will explore some "what if's".  What if a player who missed the World Series hadn't gotten injured?  What if a play that turned a World Series had been completed differently?

We have already looked at  the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics , Johnny Evers and the impact he might have had on the 1910 World Series. Last week we reviewed the impact of Leo Durocher on the 1962 pennant race.  This week we look at how two plays turned the 1968 World Series for the Tigers:

Everything was on the line here. Everything.  So many emotions turned over this one little white ball.  As Julian Javier connected on the Mickey Lolich pitch a million emotions unfolded.

Relief.  It was a little looper to left.  Not particularly well hit and in left field, Willie Horton was playing fairly shallow.  Horton sprinted, in trying to catch up to the slowly falling ball.  It didn't fix all of their problems but it kept things from getting worse.

Panic.  Tiger fans saw Horton take his route to the ball.  As he moved towards his right before coming in.  There was a sudden fear that this could fall in there.  Horton came charging in and as he pulled up, just slightly to charge the ball on the bounce the home town fans held their breath.

Confidence.  The runner at second was the definition of speed on the base paths.  The Cardinals already led the series 3-1 and this game 3-2.  The Tigers had just cut into the lead the inning before.  Answering with another easy run would crush the Tigers.  The series would be all but over and with Lou Brock running, a man so terrifying on the base paths that National League catchers had given up trying to catch him, there seemed to be no chance he would not score.  For the Cardinals, this would be the run that capped their second straight World Series title.

Pride.  First, there was Mickey Lolich.  He knew he was the best pitcher on this staff but he was sick and tired of hearing that Denny McLain was the golden boy, the best pitcher in the AL.  Of course, if Lolich lost this, the public would say "well, you can't have McLain pitch every day."  Next there was the left fielder, Horton.  The home town boy.  He had grown up in the shadow of Tiger Stadium.  He went to High School in Detroit.  His friends and family were probably out there in left field suffering that panic attack as they saw him pull up in front of Javier's single.  He loved playing for the Tigers and loved what that old English D meant to the city he grew up in.  He was one of the leaders of this team.  Imagine how bad the pride of this man was hurt when he was removed from the game the day before and replaced for 'defensive purposes".

Anger.  "Is this the end of it?"  The baseball fans in Detroit were devastated by the way the Tigers had lost the 1967 pennant race.  Entering the last weekend of the season with a chance to at least force a tie for the AL pennant, it had all fallen apart.  McLain, this year's savior, was pinned with a big part of the blame when he missed the end of the 1967 season with a foot injury.  Some crazy story about injuring his foot, tripping over furniture while he was checking on a noise outside.  No one believed him. Of course baseball fans couldn't dwell on the lost 1967 pennant for very long.  They had a distraction that made baseball unimportant.  The city had torn itself apart in 1967.  Buildings were set on fire, riots erupted.  Police and citizens clashed.  Terror tore through downtown Detroit.  Lolich, a National Guard member.was called into service as the city burned.  He told a story of his surreal nervousness as his commander drove a military jeep around the smouldering, deserted, ghost town streets of Detroit and the commander was stopping at red lights.  Hearing sporadic gun shots in the distance Lolich suggested that the red lights may not apply in this situation.  The Tigers winning ways in 1968 had been a big way for the city to come together.  A communal focus.  A communal love.  A positive representation of their city to offset the hatred and destruction the country had seen a year ago.  But this was how it would end.  A lot of noise.  A long season.  The first 30 game winner since Dizzy Dean won 30 in 1934 and the first in the AL since Lefty Grove won 31 in 1931. All of this time and energy spent and this is how it will end.
Desperation.  Everything rode on this play.  On this little white ball with red stitches.  If Lou Brock scores the Cardinals go back up by 2.  With a runner still on first and 1 out, Lolich would likely be pulled from the game.  Everything rode on this play. Horton fielded the ball on the first hop.  It bounced right into his waiting glove.  He had not caught it on the fly but he had played the hop perfectly.  His fundamentals were sound.  Square your body to the ball.  Get in front of it.  Don't let it get past you.  As he felt the ball smack in the glove he took two steps for some momentum and he let it go.  He let everything go.  The relief, the panic, the pride, the anger, the desperation.  He just put it all into the throw.

As it all came streaking home, Brock hit third and turned the corner.  What is always overlooked in this play is something that is so seemingly insignificant, yet so intrical to the play.  Don Wert.  More than anything Don Wert made this play possible.  What did Don Wert do?  He raised his arm and turned his body.  It is the key, silent gesture in a play that turned a World Series.

It is the answer to this great question:  how did Lou Brock, the speedster who was running all over the base paths freely, get thrown out at the plate?  He was out because he didn't slide.  Why didn't he slide?  He didn't slide because Don Wert raised his arm and turned his body.  What is seldom seen when watching a game at home is the on deck batter coaching the runner coming home.  He can be the difference.  By Wert simulating an attempt to cut off the throw from Horton, the Cardinals were tricked into believing Brock would score easily.  After all, why would the Tigers let that throw come through? Who would try to get Brock at the plate and risk turning an obvious RBI single into an RBI double.

The Tigers would.  They discussed it before the series and they felt that Brock had been conceded some bases on the base paths by his National League competition and had gotten a feeling of complacency.  They would challenge Brock with their throws and force him to beat them full speed.  Wert's fake of cutting off the throw fed the Cardinal's belief that no team would try to catch Brock and no one signaled for Brock to slide.

Brock and the ball arrived at the same time.  Standing in Brock's way was Bill Freehan with the ball.  As Brock seemingly stamped his foot on the plate he collided with Freehan and was called out.  The Cardinals argued but the call was right.  Brock never touched the plate.  Freehan had held him off.    It was the play that saved the series for Detroit.

Let's not get this wrong. It wasn't an immediate flip of the switch.  The Tigers still struggled.  They were retired easily in the 5th and left the bases loaded in the 6th.  It was in the 8th that they finally roared loudly.  After Wert struck out looking, Lolich singled. Cardinal Relief Pitcher Joe Boever gave up a single to Dick McAuliffe and walked Mickey Stanley.  When Al Kaline singled to score 2 and Norm Cash followed with a single scoring one, the Tigers took a 5-3 lead. Lolich made it interesting in the 9th by giving up singles to Tim McCarver and Ed Speizio putting two on with Roger Maris, the Home Run king from 1961 at the plate.  Fortunately for the Tigers this wasn't 1961 and Maris struck out.  The Tigers held off elimination for one more day.

The series returned to St.Louis for the last two games.  The Cardinals needed just one win in the last two at home to take the World Series and with Bob Gibson set to pitch the 7th game (if it went that far) it would be a tough, some said impossible, job for the Tigers.  Detroit made it clear early in Game 6 that they would make Gibson necessary.  With two runs already in, the Tigers came up for the top of the 3rd facing starter Ray Washburn.  It was a nightmare inning for St. Louis.  It went like this: Walk, single, RBI single by Kaline, Relief pitcher.  RBI single by Cash, Walk, Grand Slam by Jim Northrup, Relief Pitcher.  Walk, Hit by Pitch, Sacrifice bunt (out number 1), intentional walk, Ground out (out number 2), 2 run single by Kaline, Relief pitcher, RBI single by Cash, RBI Single by Horton, Flyball out (Out number three).  When the inning was over the Tigers had scored 10 runs, sent, 15 men to the plate, had seven hits (two by Cash and two by Kaline) and the Tigers had given their 30 game winner a 12-0 lead.  Kaline would add a solo Home Run in the 5th and the Tigers crusied to a 13-0 win.  Kaline's day was the stuff of legends.

Yet, if the Tigers were going to win this World Series, they would have to beat a living legend in Bob Gibson in St. Louis in Game 7.  His opponent for the day was Mickey Lolich.  Although some, including Lolich himself,  considered Lolich the Tigers’ best pitcher, McLain had won 30 games that year.  If you were a betting man it was almost impossible to go against the Cardinals. 

Gibson did what you would expect.  He dominated the Tigers.  The same man who had struck out 17 Tigers in his first start of the series, kept the Tigers off the bases until the 4th.  Mickey Stanley broke the pattern with a one out single but Gibson got the next two batters to leave Stanley at first base in the 4th, then retired another 8 straight batters.  That means that Gibson retired 21 of the first 22 batters he faced and the one runner he allowed never advanced past first.  That is damn near perfect.
Lolich, on the other hand, seemed to always be in trouble.  Just one pitch from blowing the whole thing.  In the first, the Cardinals put two on with two out but Mike Shannon flew out to end the threat.  In the second he walked Tim McCarver to lead off the inning but got out of it with a double play.  McCarver singled to start the 5th but Lolich got the next three batters.

Scoreless after 5 ½ the Cardinals looked like they would get their big inning in the bottom of the 6th.  Lou Brock led off with a single.  Looking to get a jump on Lolich, Brock left too early and the Tigers picked him off the hard way. (Lolich to Cash to Stanley).  Lolich got Julian Javier for the second out but the speedy Curt Flood followed with a single and Orlando Cepeda stepped in to bat. 
Flood was a great base runner in his time, but playing in the shadow of Lou Brock, he often was overlooked.  The Tigers were just as concerned about Flood on the base paths as they were Brock, especially with Cepeda at the plate.  A ball in the gap could score Flood from first and send the Cardinals to the world title.  If Brock was picked off the hard way, then Flood’s was the master level.  Like Brock, Flood took off early trying to get a jump on a ball hit by Cepeda or to get into scoring position with a  steal.  Lolich caught him leaning and threw to Cash.  Cash threw down to Dick McAuliffe.  Flood stopped and turned back to first, trying to avoid a repeat of Brock’s blunder.  Lolich had come over to cover first so McAuliffe threw to Lolich.  Flood reversed again.  Lolich threw down to Stanley at second base and Flood was out.  Lolich had allowed two of the game's best base runners to reach base in the same inning of a scoreless, season deciding game and escaped unharmed.  The Tigers still had to do the impossible.  They had to get to Bob Gibson.

Leading off the 7th in a still scoreless game, Stanley struck out looking and Kaline grounded out for the second out.  That brought up Norm Cash.  Cash was an enigma to Tigers fans.  When he flashed the signs of greatness that everyone knew he had he was the crowd’s favorite Tiger.  Although the Detroit press often portrayed him as lazy, indifferent and clownish and he had been booed often at home.  The Tigers had used Eddie Matthews, the aging Milwaukee legend, as a way to push Cash and put some fear in him about the safety of his job but Matthews was injured and Cash cruised along.  You couldn’t say Cash didn’t have  a sense of humor.  While the Tigers were being no-hit by Nolan Ryan (it would be Ryan’s second no hitter) Cash walked to the plate with a table leg, thinking the larger lumber would give him a better chance at hitting. Unfortunately, some took his humor as a lack of focus and the fans laughed, but shook their head.

Cash stepped to the plate with two outs and connected for a single to right field.  It was a clean base hit, you couldn’t quite call it a blooper but it wasn’t a hard line drive hit. It was only the second base runner Gibson had allowed and there was little concern for St. Louis.  Cardinals fans were still more upset over the missed opportunities of Brock and Flood getting picked off the inning before.  The focus changed when Willie Horton connected on the very next pitch.  It looked like an easy ground ball but it found it’s way between short and third for a base hit.  Two out, two on and neither of the hits were particularly impressive. 

Gibson loved to work fast but now it seemed like he was slowing, tiring.  McCarver went out to talk to him before they faced Jim Northrup.  Gibson hated the mound visits.  McCarver would tell him "runners on first and second..." and before McCarver could finish Gibson would snap "I know they're there.  I put them there."

Northrup followed Horton’s example and went after Gibson’s first pitch.  It was a fly ball to center field where Curt Flood, a seven time Gold Glove winner, was as sure a fielder as anyone.  Flood took off at the crack of the bat but the shadows played tricks on him.  On first reaction it looked like Flood had a beat on the ball and the great Gibson had performed one last escape trick.  Cardinals fans reacted with a collective stunned silence as they saw Flood stumble, just a bit, then recover and sprint in the opposite direction.  The ball fell just over his head and as Flood tore after the ball, Cash, Horton and Northrup tore around the bases.  It was a two run triple.

Just a few days before, as Brock had headed home for an insurance run, the Cardinals were sure they were World Champs.  Now, after a few great plays by the Tigers and some help from the shadows, the Tigers had the upper paw.

Bill Freehan kept the pressure on when he followed with an RBI double.  Suddenly, the curtain had been pulled back from the great and powerful Gibson.  Baseball fans had come to expect a Cardinals victory when Gibson took the mound in the World Series but now, he was human.

Gibson and Lolich would both finish the game.  The Tigers added another run on a Don Wert RBI single in the 9th and the Cardinals avoided the shut out with a solo Home Run by Mike Shannon in the bottom of the 9th but the Cardinals had blown a 3 games to 1 lead and the Tigers were World Champs.

The St, Louis Cardinals have appeared in 15 World Series in their history and the Detroit Tigers have played in 11.  How many times have they played each other in the Fall Classic?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Leo Durocher was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1994 by the Veterans' Committe.  In 24 years as manager he won 2008 games, 3 National League Titles and 1 World Series title.  He is best remembered as manager of the Dodgers and Giants.

He was, to put it mildly, a polarizing figure.  People either loved him or despised him.  After being fired by the Dodgers after the 1962 debacle, Durocher did get a chance to manage again.  He was hired by the Cubs in 1966 and he got the Cubs out to a big division lead in 1969, the first year of division play, although the team collapsed and lost to the Miracle Mets.  He held the Cubs managerial post from 1966 through most of the 1972 season.  

At 46-44 in 1972 he was let go by the Cubs.  The team was in 3rd place, 10 games behind the Pirates.  Before the 1972 season ended he was hired by the Astros.  The Astros were surprisingly in second place.  Durocher led them to a 16-15 record to finish the year in second place, 10 1/2 games behind the Reds.

Durocher's final year of managing was in 1973.  He led the Astros to an 82-80 record and a 4th place finish.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Oh, How Different Things Could Have Been: Walter Alston, Leo Durocher and the 1962 Dodgers

History is fixed.  It is unchangeable.  Nothing can change the past.  You can watch Carlton Fisk hop down the line a million times and he will still waive the ball fair.  No matter how many times Todd Worrell touches that bag, Don Denkinger is still going to call Jorge Orta safe.  Bill Buckner is never going to field that little roller behind the bag and Mitch Williams will not look back over his shoulder to see Joe Carter's fly ball being caught.

The winners and losers in the history of the game will always be winners or losers.  But this series will explore some "what if's".  What if a player who missed the World Series hadn't gotten injured?  What if a play that turned a World Series had been completed differently?

We have already looked at  the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics and  Johnny Evers and the impact he might have had on the 1910 World Series.  This week we will look at the impact Leo Durocher had on the 1962 pennant race and how different things might have been had he not been hired:


This battle was more than a three game series.  This was generations of hatred.  It stretched all the way back to the first days of organized baseball and went far beyond the game.  In Brooklyn, considered a small town in New York, the citizens clung with pride to that small town feel.  The larger area of New York City was pushing to incorporate Brooklyn as a borough.

It was small town vs big city.  The battlefield was really the political arena but for the citizens, the baseball diamond turned into the battlefield.  It turned into us vs them.  Giants vs Superbas.  The acceptance of being a borough of New York sunk in after a few years but that hatred lingered on the field.

As the years  went on some started to forget what had first lit the fire but the embers were reignited in 1913.  John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson had been team mates and friends since 1892.  They played together on the old Baltimore Orioles, the dominant champions of the early National League.  As McGraw started managing and Robinson became too old to play, McGraw made sure that Robinson always had a job on his coaching staff.  They were inseparable.  That all changed over a glass (or keg, or two or three) in 1913.  While McGraw had turned the Giants into the terror of the National League, the Superbas had fallen to the second division.  The rivalry had become less intense, simply because Brooklyn was not very good.

McGraw and Robinson were two peas in a pod.  Neither could stand to lose a game.  So when the Athletics took the last game of the 1913 World Series it probably would have been better for all involved to just go home.  Instead, McGraw, Robinson and some friends went out to drown their sorrow.  No one quite remembers who threw the first insult.  McGraw had some criticism of the way Robinson had coached at third.  Robinson had plenty of criticism for the way McGraw had used his bench in 1912 and 1913.  Words got heated and someone (most say McGraw) threw their beer at the other.  That was enough for Robinson.  He quit on the spot and was hired as manager by the Brooklyn Superbas as a direct challenge to McGraw.

The Giants continued to thrive and although he was hated by many of his players McGraw kept the Giants in contention every year.  Robinson was beloved by his players and the press.  He was known as "Uncle Robby" and the team changed their name to the Robins in his honor.  Unfortunately, with the exception of 1916 and 1920 they were not very successful and by the time Robinson left the managerial spot they were known as the "Daffiness Boys' for their poor play.

There were of course other incidents to incite the rivalry.  The most memorable was the famous Bill Terry question in 1934 "Are they still in the league?"  But when Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was fired midway through the 1948 season and hired immediately by the Giants, the rivalry took on a more intense feel.  The hatred intensified.  Every close pitch took on a sinister meaning.  Every hard slide at second base had a retaliatory equalizer.  The Dodgers hated Durocher.  Robinson hated him.  Furillo hated him.  Even Pee Wee Reese hated him.  It was fine because Durocher hated all of them right back.  Durocher was glad to be a Giant.  He had Willie Mays.

The Durocher era of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry was intense since they were both fighting for first most years and most had that personal connection to Durocher.  What made it more intense was that the man who replaced Durocher, Charlie Dressen, had been a Durocher disciple (similar to McGraw-Robinson).  The most vivid moment of that era, of course, was the three game playoff in 1951 that ended with the Branca-Thomson confrontation.

The Dodgers remained at the top for the next few years following Branca-Thomson but the Giants fell off after a few years (although they did manage to shock the 1954 Indians).  When attendance fell at the Polo Grounds and the option for a move to the West Coast came, the Giants jumped.  The rivalry was still there between the organizations but they seemed to be on different schedules.

The 1958 Dodgers finished 7th while the Giants finished third.  The Dodgers won the first West Coast World Series in 1959 while the Giants finished a distant third.  The 1960 Dodgers fell to 4th while the 1960 Giants fell to 5th. The 1961 Dodgers climbed back to second, just 4 games behind the pennant winning Reds while the Giants came in third, 8 behind the Reds and 4 behind the Dodgers.

1962 proved to be the first real rivalry moment on the West Coast.  The Giants had dismissed Durocher years before moving west and most of the players from his days as the Dodger manager were gone by now.  Durocher wanted to get back into the game and he expected to be offered the job as the first manager of the Angels franchise.  According to Durocher in his autobiography, he helped the Angels prepare for the expansion draft and was shocked when Angels General Manager Fred Haney told him to tell anyone in the press who asked that he "wasn't interested in the job."  The problem was he was very interested.  Leo desperately wanted to manage.  That led to an offer that shocked him.  Out of nowhere he got a call from Buzzy Bavasi, Dodgers General Manager saying that Walter O'Malley and Walter Alston wanted him on their coaching staff.

It was a match made in hell.  It was oil and water. It was the man who never spoke and the man who never shut up.  It was a disaster waiting to happen.  Every move Alston made Durocher questioned.  It was bad enough that some of Alston's players questioned him but when the coaching staff backed up that insecurity it led to a tense, uncomfortable club house.

Alston was seen as the company man.  He got the job because Charley Dressen, who had led the team to the brink of the 1951 World Series followed by two straight NL titles, had the audacity to ask for a three year contract.  O'Malley was offended that his generosity of year by year contracts wasn't enough for Dressen so he replaced him with Alston who never questioned the annual contract negotiations.  He was a silent leader.  He rarely argued with the umpires.  He felt that arguing with them on close calls would prejudice them against you and you will never get another close one.  Durocher believed if you weren't antagonizing the umpire on every call you weren't doing your job.

Winning fixes everything.

The Giants started 1962 hot. It was a sign, thought Giants fans.  It was finally their year.  Opening day saw Juan Marichal dueling Warren Spahn. Marichal started the day with a quick inning.  Spahn got two quick outs in the bottom of the first by getting Harvey Kuenn and Jose Pagan but this Giants team went as Willie Mays went.  In the first at bat of the season Mays went deep.  Marichal would strike out 10 and allow only three hits.  The Giants won 6-0.  They won 6 of their first 7.  They won 12 of 13 from April 25-May  8.  By mid May they were 27-10 with a 4 1/2 game lead in the National League.

By June 1st the Dodgers were tied for first.  Even that was an uphill battle.  In a normal season their efforts would put them in a good position and give them some separation from the pack.  This was not a normal year.  A Dodgers 13 game winning streak from May 21-June 1 was only good enough to earn them a tie with the Giants.  The Dodgers lost the next two before winning four more straight.  So winning 17 of 19 was only good enough for a half game deficit.

In the second week of June the Giants hit the skids.  They lost 12 of 16 from June 6 through June 22.  With a Dodgers team playing red hot heading into June this was their chance to pull ahead. They did not take advantage. Over the same stretch the Dodgers went just 8-8.  They were only up  2 1/2.  That quickly disappeared as the Giants recovered from their slide.

Neither team could do anything to pull away.  The Dodgers would pull ahead by a game but within days the Giants had erased it and pulled ahead by a game themselves.  The Dodgers pulled into first on July 8 but between that date and July 27th, they could not get the lead above 2 games.

On July 25th the Dodgers won.  The lead was at 1 game.  They won their next three to stretch the lead to 4.  An August 1st loss coincided with the Giants' 4th straight loss so the lead stayed at 4 but the Dodgers won another 4 straight.  Four more wins by the Dodgers put the lead at 5 1/2, the biggest any team had enjoyed to that point of the year.

Winning solves everything.  Losing causes problems.

The Dodgers had no problems anyone was aware of.  The Giants stars seemed to be sniping at each other behind closed doors.  Mays.  McCovey. Marichal.  Cepeda, Perry. The egos were reportedly out of control.  Each believing they were the most important cog in the wheel.  If management paid a kindness to one of them, another wanted to know why they had not gotten the same treatment.

What no one was aware of was the behind the scenes cat and mouse game between Durocher and Alston.  In his autobiography Durocher told how he would undermine Alston, although in his mind he wasn't undermining the manager he was doing things the way they should be done.  "Alston would give me the take sign, I'd flash the hit sign.  Alston would signal to bunt, I'd call for the hit and run."...I never 'saw' a take sign from Alston with any of the speedsters-and how they loved it.  The whole team knew what I was doing, and they were saying 'Just keep going Leo'."

Winning solves everything.

The Dodgers went into San Francisco for a three game series from August 10-12 with a chance to stretch the lead.  The Giants swept the series.  The Dodgers lost the next two to the Pirates and the lead was back down to 1 1/2.  No one could pull away.  As they entered the final month of the season the Dodgers were up 2 1/2 but no lead was comfortable.

After losing three in the first week the lead was back down to 1/2.  From September 8th through September 15th the Dodgers won seven straight and stretched the lead back to 4.  It was not a secure lead but by September 22nd, with only 7 games left to play the lead was still at 4.  The Dodgers needed to win just a few more games to shore up the pennant.  With Koufax and Drysdale there was little doubt they would do just that.

They lost September 23 in St.Louis while the Giants won in Houston.  The lead was down to three but only six games left.  The Dodgers would play the expansion Colt .45's for three and the Cardinals for three, all at home.  The Giants would play the same two teams, the Cardinals followed by the Colt .45's, also all at home.

The Dodgers lost two of three to Houston.  The Giants took two of three from St. Louis.  Entering the last three days of the regular season Los Angeles clung to a two game lead.

On September 28 the Dodgers lost in 10 innings.  When the Giants' game got rained out the lead was cut to a game and a half.  The Giants would play a double header on Saturday, September 29th.  They won the first game convincingly, cutting the lead to one game and with Marichal on the mound they felt they could keep the pressure on Los Angeles.  The Dodgers sent Drysdale to the mound with confidence that they could hold the one game lead.  Marichal failed to deliver.  In 4 1/3 innings he allowed 4 runs.  Houston's Bob Bruce pitched 9 innings and allowed only 2 runs.  The Dodgers could clinch if Drysdale could win. Drysdale pitched 8 strong innings allowing 0 Earned Runs, only 5 hits and 3 walks.  Ernie Broglio of the Cardinals pitched 9 innings and allowed only 2 hits and 0 runs.  The difference in the game came in the 2nd inning with two outs and a runner on first, Frank Howard made an error on what would have been the third out of the inning.  The runner on first scored.  The Cardinals pitcher followed that with a clean single and the Dodgers lost 2-0 on two unearned runs.

September 30th was the last day of the season. The Dodgers needed a win or a Giants loss.  The Giants needed a win and a Dodgers loss.

The Dodgers sent out Johnny Podres, the man who had clinched the only World Series title in Brooklyn history.  He would face Curt Simmons.  Podres was brilliant.  He retired the first six batters before allowing a single to Gene Oliver leading off the third.  Oliver did  not advance any further and Podres retired the next 11 straight.  Simmons seemed to constantly have a runner on base but double plays bailed him out several times.  The teams entered the 8th scoreless.  Podres got the first batter on a line drive to center,  He had now retired 18 of the last 19 batters.  The batter was Gene Oliver.  In his first full year in the majors Oliver had hit only 13 Home Runs this year.  He hit his 14th to give the Cardinals a 1-0 win.  It would hold up.

In San Francisco the Giants sent Billy O'Dell to the mound.  Like Simmons in Los Angeles, O'Dell seemed to be constantly in trouble.  The Colt .45's had runners on base in almost every inning.  The Giants had plenty of chances of their own but were unable to take advantage and were constantly leaving men on base.  The Giants drew first blood in the 4th with a Home Run by Ed Bailey.  Both teams continued to threaten and Houston tied the score at 1 in the 6th.  The Giants had the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th with two out but Matty Alou popped out.  This Giants team went as Willie went. Leading off the bottom of the 8th with a 1-1 count.  Willie went deep.  It was a sign.  Willie wanted to win and the Giants did.  1-0.

The season was over.  The Dogers and Giants were tied.  The two teams, rivals for generations, would face off in a winner take all, three game death match.  A best of three series for the right to take on the other hated rival, the Yankees.

The Dodgers sent Koufax to the mound for Game 1.  At 14-6 to follow up an 18 win season it seemed that Koufax had finally figured it all out.  His 2.41 ERA was best in the NL for the year but he had missed all of August and had lost his last four decisions.  What was worse, he had not gone farther than the 4th inning in any of them.  The Giants sent Billy Pierce to the mound.  Pierce was a veteran near the end of a good career.  He had spent most of his career in Chicago with the White Sox and would love to be a World Series Champion before he retired.

The Dodgers went in order in the first and the Giants went as Willie went.  Willie went deep off of Koufax for a 2-0 lead in the first.  The Dodgers went in order again in the second and Jim Davenport went deep for a 3-0 lead and an end to the day for Koufax.  It wouldn't end there.  The Giants won 8-0. The Dodgers not only lost, they used six pitchers in the process.  The Giants' bullpen rested.

The Dodgers sent Drysdale out for Game 2. If anyone could save the season, Drysdale could.  He faced Jack Sanford. It started to look bleak for the Dodgers when the Giants took a 5-0 lead in the 6th.  It was a nightmare inning for Drysdale and the Dodgers. The 6th started with a strikeout but that was followed by a walk, a double, an error, a single, another single, a ground ball out and another single.  The typewriters in the press box were clicking out the Dodgers' obituary when Jim Gilliam led off the bottom of the 6th with a walk.   A Duke Snider double moved him to third and he scored on a sac fly. That was followed by a conga line of batters to the plate.  A walk, a single, a single, a hit by pitch, a double and an error.  A Giants team that entered the inning needing just 12 outs to advance to the World Series had given up 7 runs.  A once secure 5-0 lead was now a 7-5 deficit.  But this was Dodgers-Giants and no one gave up without a fight.  The Giants scored two in the 8th to tie it at 7 where it remained entering the bottom of the 9th.  Maury Wills walked to lead off the 9th.  Gilliam walked behind him.  A sacrifice bunt moved both in to scoring position.  An intentional walk loaded the bases with one out.  When Ron Fairly lined out to Center Field for a sacrifice fly, the Dodgers tied up the series at 1game each in the most difficult fashion.  They scored a walk off run without having an official at bat in the inning.

This was it.  One last game to decide the National League.  The Giants started Juan Marichal, their undisputed ace.  The Dodgers started Johnny Podres, the hero of the 1955 World Series.  The Giants scored two in the third.   The Dodgers scored once in the 4th and twice in the 6th and stretched the lead to 4-2 in the 7th,  The score remained there in the top of the 9th.

On the bench, Durocher had started his work before the inning started.  When Ed Roebuck came off the mound after the 8th Durocher asked Roebuck how he felt.  According to Durocher, Roebuck said "My arm feels like lead."  Durocher then went to the pitching coach, who was within ear shot of Alston and told them to get someone up.

Durocher's account says that Joe Becker, the pitching coach, didn't say a word but Alston said "I'm going to win or lose with Roebuck. He stays right there."  Meanwhile, further down the bench, Duke Snider, Koufax and Drysdale were pleading with Durocher to convince Alston not to send Roebuck back out for the 9th.  Durocher says he told the three "What the hell do you want me to do?   I'm not managing the club.  There's not a goddam thing more I can say than I've said."

The problem was not that Durocher was not running the team.  The problem was that Durocher had built a relationship with the players that made them comfortable coming to him to question the manager knowing that he would back them up on their griping.  It was almost as though Durocher was telling them "you're right.  he's wrong.  If I were in charge I would do what you are telling me you think is right."  What was worse he was doing it with Alston ten feet away.

Things fell apart for the Dodgers needing just three outs.  Alou led off with a single.  He was erased on a Fielder's Choice and McCovey walked putting two on with one out.  Things were still ok.  Except on the bench where Durocher and Snider were griping away about Alston.  Durocher's version implies that the Dodgers had an unlimited supply of relievers.  In reality, their bullpen had been working overtime in these three games.

Snider, who was unhappy with his own playing time for the season, had left the game in the 8th with a thigh injury.  His version makes Durocher's version slightly more questionable in the fact that the players knew there was no other fresh option opposed to Roebuck.  "Our pitchers were worn out by this point-Koufax, Podres, Ron Perranoski, Stan Williams, Ed Roebuck- all of them- except one, Don Drysdale...Big D was sitting next to me when the 9th inning started and I said to him 'Don, go down there and tell Alston you want to warm up.  We could still lose this thing if we're not careful...Don says 'I already told him.' 'What did he say?' ' He said he's saving me for tomorrow'."

What really changes Durocher's version is the way he told it to Snider.  In the way Durocher told the story to Snider it was not just once that Durocher questioned Alston.  According to Snider "Leo told him he was crazy.  A few minutes later, Leo tried again  Alston said again 'Roebuck's my man.'  When Leo questioned Alston's sanity in more candid terms, Alston said 'well then you're fired."

There was anarchy and chaos on the bench with a two run lead.  Instead of letting the team get the final two outs everyone was second guessing everyone.  There was no confidence that this would work out.  With Alou on first, Alston shifted second baseman Larry Burright towards first to close the hole opened up with a runner on first.  Snider said the Dodgers players were yelling to Burright to move farther towards the second base bag.  Snider seems to imply that Kuenn's fielder's choice  would have been a double play and everything would have been avoided if the players had run the team and positioned Burright.  Instead it was a ground ball with a force at second.

That was followed by a Willie McCovey walk, a Felipe Alou walk, and a Willie Mays single.  Now Durocher got his way and Stan Williams came in to pitch.  A sac fly scored the tying run.  There was then a wild pitch, an intentional walk, a walk forcing in the go ahead run,  another pitching change, an error by Burright on a ground ball and finally a third strikeout.  Snider would have told you Drysdale should have been in there and Burright should have been playing closer to second, that would have changed everything.  Durocher would have told you that Alston should have changed pitchers (to one of the other tired arms) at the start of the inning and that would have changed everything.

Regardless, the mood on the Dodger bench was one of panic and fear even with a two run lead.  The Dodgers were playing from behind with a lead and they beat themselves.

Leo Durocher certainly wanted to get back into a manager position and he was able to do that with two more teams before finally retiring. What two teams did he manage after leaving the Doodgers?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Johnny Evers was identified with the Cubs in the first decade of the sport as much as the ivy on the walls at Wrigley are today.  Frank Chance left the team over a dispute with management and Joe Tinker was traded to Cincinnati leaving only Evers of the famous "trio of bear cubs". 

In 1914, with the fortunes of the team falling, Evers was traded to the lowly Boston Braves.  Midway through the 1914 season the Braves got hot and went from dead last to the top of the league.  Led by Evers, Shortstop Rabbitt Maranville and pitcher Bill James, the "Miracle Braves" rolled into the World Series and not only won, they swept the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics.  It was the first time a team was swept in World Series history.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Oh, How Different Things Might Have Been: Johnny Evers and the 1910 Cubs

History is fixed.  It is unchangeable.  Nothing can change the past.  You can watch Carlton Fisk hop down the line a million times and he will still waive the ball fair.  No matter how many times Todd Worrell touches that bag, Don Denkinger is still going to call Jorge Orta safe.  Bill Buckner is never going to field that little roller behind the bag and Mitch Williams will not look back over his shoulder to see Joe Carter's fly ball being caught.

The winners and losers in the history of the game will always be winners or losers.  But the series of articles beginning this week will explore some "what if's".  What if a player who missed the World Series hadn't gotten injured?  What if a play that turned a World Series had been completed differently?

Last week we looked at Rube Waddell and the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics.  This week is a look at Johnny Evers and the impact he might have had on the 1910 World Series.

It was nothing but bad news on October 3, 1910 in Illinois.  The headlines of the Rock Island Argus told it all:

 "29 Missing on the New Hampshire: Uncertain yet as to the extent of the disaster in New York: Bodies not found".

"Whole Town Fears Dietz: Girl, badly wounded as result of gun play, and Son held under arrest."

 "Seventy Die in Mexican Mine"

"Explosives Used in Los Angeles Crime Bought in Frisco: Third Bomb Placed at Home of Owner of the Times Fails to Explode".

 "No Banquet for Browne Thought Of: Beckenmeyer it was a scheme to shield Jackpotters: Letters All Fakes"

"Mail Pouches Robbed of Gold"

For two cents you could read all of it.

Pushed to smaller space on Page 3 was an article in the bottom center column.  "Chicago At Last Clinches Pennant".  The article went on to say "while the race practically has been over for more than a month it required yesterday's victory officially to eliminate New York, the runners up.  Chicago clinched a tie with New York but did so at the cost of a broken leg for Johnny Evers. second baseman, who as a result will not be able to play again this season."

Tinker to Evers to Chance.

It was a great piece of poetry.  It was a way for a Cubs fan working as a sports writer at the New York Times, surrounded by Giants fans, to rub it in a little bit.  A nice, quick little dig at the rivals of his beloved team.  It has come to symbolize a raging debate over the "trio of bear cubs".  The three may have been better off had it not been published.  There are those, many of whom have likely not studied the impact these three had on the era, who claim they don't belong in the Hall of Fame.

Chance was known as the "Peerless Leader". Tinker was the man who could hit Christy Mathewson better than anyone.  Yet, it was Evers who was the spirit, the drive, the fire that kept the Cubs fighting.  Evers didn't take any part of the game lightly.  Everything was a battle for him.  Every ball called to an opposing batter was a needle to Evers. Every strike a victory.  Every close call that went against the Cubs was a match to a powder keg with Evers personifying the explosion.    It may have been Yogi Berra who said it ain't over until it's over but it was Evers who actually lived it.

In 1908 when the Giants had all but won the pennant it was Evers who saw that slim. one in a million chance for the Cubs to save their season.  As the Polo Grounds was over run by delirious fans it was Evers who screamed for the ball to force Fred Merkle at second base.  It was Evers, who went to bed every night with a candy bar, a copy of the Sporting News and the baseball rule book.  He drove himself to know every part of the game, every bit of information.

His numbers were not amazing by today's standards.  Some, those who go just by the SABRmetrics, may have a point about Evers not belonging.  The great thing about the game is that success in baseball goes well beyond numbers.  The Cubs knew, as the rest of the baseball world knew, that the Cubs' success, domination is a better description, of 1906-1910 was only possible with Evers.  John McGraw, who almost never said something flattering about anyone, said a player like Evers only comes along once every ten years.

Chance was the manager but it was Evers who directed the defense.  Evers would peer into the Catcher's signs and position the fielders on every pitch.  He was the one who would call out a player for a mental lapse.  He was the most important player on one of the greatest teams of all time.

The Cubs were ahead 3-1 in Cincinnati on October 2.  They needed just a few more innings before they celebrated a return to the World Series.  Johnny Evers was on second when Solly Hoffman hit a ball into Center field.  Evers was moving on contact.  He could tell it would get down and he wanted to get that insurance run.  It was a meaningless run.  He turned third and watched the catcher.  He looked for any sign of where the throw would be.  Was it going to be close?  Should he slide to the outside?  inside?  Would there be a collision?

He started to go into his slide but noticed the catcher was not set up for a throw.  Evers would score easily.  Already half way into a slide he changed his mind.  It was the wrong choice.  His spikes stuck in the ground as his momentum kept him moving forward.  There was an audible crack.  Loud enough for the fans in the stands to hear.  Evers fell to the ground.  As he fell he had the presence of mind to slap the plate.  He would be damned if he was going to lose a run despite the circumstances.

The fact that touching the plate was a thought for him was amazing.  He had broken his leg, as the Rock Island Argus  had reported.   What they did not report was the severity of the injury.  It was a fractured fibula.  The bone had broken through the skin and the tendons in the ankle had twisted.  While the team popped champagne and celebrated, Evers lay in a hospital bed in agony.  Frank Chance sent some champagne to Evers as a symbolic way to include him in the celebration he had done so much to make possible.  Evers loved the gesture and was forever grateful but the reality quickly set in.  The fracture was severe.  Surgery would be needed and, worse, in order to untwist the tendons and set the leg properly the doctors would need to break the leg in another place.  That meaningless insurance run had now put Evers' career in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the Cubs slogged through the rest of the season.  They lost the following day, possibly with quite a few players battling headaches and nausea brought on by the celebration.  They would win 8 of the final 10 games and were set for the World Series against the Athletics.

The Cubs were favored.  And why not?  With Chance and Tinker still in the lineup they were joined by the great Cubs lineup of the back to back World Champions from 1907 and 1908.  Johnny Kling, Wildfire Schulte, Solly Hoffman and Jimmy Scheckard.  They were all there.  The pitching staff was still strong.  Ed Ruelbach, Orval Overall and of course the great Three Finger Brown.

Their opponents were young and, most of them, in their first World Series. The A's had the $100,000 infield of Harry Davis, Jack Barry, Eddie Collins and Frank "Home Run" Baker.  The outfield was strong with Danny Murphy, Bris Lord and Amos Strunk.  Their pitching staff was a veteran group.  though only two pitchers would be used in the whole of the series.

Evers' replacement was Heinie Zimmerman.  In Game 1 he would go 0-3 with two strikeouts.  Zimmerman was not the best liked player on the team.  Zimmerman, much like Evers, was a passionate person.  He once had an argument with Scheckard in the clubhouse.  Zimmerman ended the argument by throwing a bottle of ammonia at Sheckard's face.  It was feared Scheckard might be permanently blind but fortunately he recovered.  Zimmerman was not a bad player but he didn't bring the focus and the drive  of Evers.  He also couldn't hold players accountable the way that Evers could.

Led by Eddie Collins and Harry Davis the A's took Game 2.  Zimmerman did not play badly but the rest of the Cubs did not play their normally sharp ball.  Three Cubs errors helped the A's score two unearned runs on the way to a 9-3 win.  With Evers on the field, directing the action, would the errors have happened?  Possibly.  But with Evers on the field the defensive positioning might have been better and the fear of a public shaming by Evers might have forced the players to focus and bear down a little more.

It was felt that the Cubs would have a better chance to win when they returned home for Game 3.  The Spokane Press gathered quotes from the experts such as Cap Anson, Fielder Jones, Ty Cobb and Joe Tinker. The general consensus was that  the Cubs had been flat, without energy in the first two games.  They would need to become more energized if they were going to have a chance. (Clearly the energy lost from Evers' presence was missed greatly.) Zimmerman went 0-4 in the first game in Chicago with another strikeout.  It was not all his fault.  When the opposition scores 12 runs on 16 hits it can't all be one man's fault.  The papers were finally starting to focus on the missing piece. The Marion Daily Mirror of Ohio had a large picture of Evers after Game 3 saying that the betting community was ready to switch sides, thanks in large part to Evers's absence.

Zimmerman went 1-4 in Game 4, although he also grounded into a double play and was caught stealing.  The Cubs did manage to take the game in 10 innings to give them one in the win column but the fire just wasn't there.

It all ended on October 23rd as the A's blasted the Cubs 7-2.  In the end Zimmerman went 4-17 with 0 runs, 2 RBI and three strikeouts.  The batting average was not great but it wasn't the reason the Cubs had lost.  The Cubs lost the series way back on October 2nd when they lost their fighting spirit.  Johnny Evers may not have won the World Series for the Cubs but he certainly would have kept the teammates accountable for the sloppy, uninspired play.

Although Evers did not help the Cubs win the 1910 World Series, he did win one more World Series before calling it quits.  What year did he win his last World Series and what team was he with?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
In the days before Hilton's and Sheratons and Five Star accomodations, teams stayed in the best available accomodations   In many hotels, these accomodations included only one bed, meaning players not only slept in the same room, they slept in the same bed.

Waddell had a habit of drinking down some corn whiskey and munching on animal crackers while lying in bed.  The crumbs that Waddell left in the bed drove Schreckengrost crazy.  Apart from just rolling in crumbs,  the crumbs attracted the roaches and ants in the less than cleanly hotels.

Schreckengrost would continue to room with Rube, but only if it was put in writing that Rube not be able to eat animal crackers in bed.