Posts Tagged ‘A’s’

Chris Chambliss, Billy Martin, and the 1976 American League Playoff

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

The baseball traveled on its parabolic destiny, rising through the mid-October night and dropping a few dozen feet in front of the Manufacturers Hanover Super Checking billboard at 11:43 p.m. Eastern.  It was a moment of exhilaration, followed nanoseconds later by pandemonium in a crowd that hadn’t tasted a championship in more than a decade.

Chris Chambliss’s three-run homer brought the 1976 American League pennant to the New York Yankees in the ninth inning of the fifth and deciding game of the playoffs against the Kansas City Royals.  Score:  Yankees 7, Royals 6.

“And I want to tell you, the safest place to be is up here in the booth!” exclaimed WPIX-TV announcer and former Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto when several hundred fans stiff-armed decorum, poured onto the Yankee Stadium turf, and jumped up and down like the prospectors who discovered gold in mid-19th century California.

New York City hadn’t seen a celebration like that since V-E Day.

To say that Chambliss’s safety was in jeopardy is neither hyperbole nor ignorance.  Suddenly, survival instinct surpassed the duty of touching home plate, an impossibility given the swarm of fans excited by the victory and oblivious to the hero’s wellbeing; Chambliss didn’t even make it to third base.  Hoping to embrace their hero, Yankee rooters risked injuring him—maybe even trampling him.  Had it not been for the uniform and the baseball diamond, one might have thought Chambliss was a running back as he plowed his 6’1″, 195-pound frame through the crowd towards the refuge of the dugout and, in turn, the Yankee clubhouse.

Chambliss came to the Yankees in a 1974 trade—along with Chambliss, the Indians sent Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw in exchange for Fritz Peterson, Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, and Steve Kline.  Not a power hitter, Chambliss was known as a dependable batsman—188 hits, 32 doubles, and 96 RBI in 1976.  With 17 home runs during the season, a dinger was feasible, but a hit off Royals pitcher Mark Little seemed more likely.

Chambliss, in the end, returned to the field under the guard of two police officers.  Alas, home plate vanished in the anarchy, so, to be sure, Chambliss stepped on the area.

Below the fold on the front page of the New York Times, media geography usually used to convey issues of national and of international importance, Murray Chass’s article informed the newspaper’s readers who went to bed before the ninth inning about the latest notch to Yankee Stadium’s greatest moments—a roster including Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech, Babe Ruth’s wistful farewell as he leaned on a bat with his frail body, and Don Larsen’s perfect game.

It was nostalgic, if not appropriate, that Billy Martin helmed the Yankee ball club.  Hired during the 1975 season, Martin had a reputation as a turnaround expert in stints with the Twins, the Tigers, and the Rangers.  But returning to the Bronx had an even sweeter taste for Martin—he played with the gloried Yankee teams of the 1950s, idolized manager Casey Stengel, and suffered a betrayal from Yankee management, specifically, Stengel.  Or so he believed.

When several Yankee players captured headlines with a fight at the Copacabana in New York in 1957, the front office shipped Martin to the Kansas City A’s after the season because of the embarrassment—it happened when Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford and their wives gathered to celebrate the 29th birthday of Martin, who went stag.  “Yanks Bench 2 in Copa Brawl” screamed the front page of the New York Daily News.  Confronting hecklers from a bowling team called the Republicans, the Yankees stepped up when nasty comments tinged with racism emerged from the hecklers aimed at Sammy Davis, Jr., the Copa’s performer, with whom the fellows from the Bronx were acquainted.  One bowler, a deli owner named Edwin Jones, claimed Bauer clocked him.

In his 2015 biography Billy Martin:  Baseball’s Flawed Genius, Bill Pennington wrote, “It was later learned that Casey had protected Billy from the Senators trade and two other trades.  But [Yankee General Manager George] Weiss was not to be dissuaded this time.  Not with this player in these circumstances.  Not when he wanted to send a message to the rest of the team.  Besides, Kubek was already in New York, ready to play shortstop.  For the Yankees’ youth movement in the middle infield to be complete, Richardson had to take over at second base.”

Stengel had not only managed Martin on the Yankees, they also worked together on the Oakland Oaks, a Pacific coast League championship team in 1948.  Returning to Yankee Stadium as a managerial descendant of his mentor may not have completely healed old wounds whose scars remained resonant, but it did give Yankee fans a continuity to the past, Martin a chance for redemption, and players the benefit of their manager’s baseball wisdom honed by Stengel’s tutelage two decades prior.

The Yankees lost the 1976 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in a four-game sweep, but rebounded to win the series in 1977 and 1978, both times against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Billy Martin went through several stings as the Yankee skipper, being fired and rehired by owner George Steinbrenner.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 13, 2017.

Ty Cobb, the Detroit Tigers, and the Brawl of 1912

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Ty Cobb posed a danger on two occasions—in the batter’s box and on the base paths.  On May 15, 1912, Cobb, legendary for his nastiness, pummeled on opponent who wore neither a uniform nor a baseball cap signifying membership on a ball club.  It happened during a game against the Yankees—also known as the Highlanders—at Hilltop Park.  Cobb responded with his fists to a fan who “annoyed him continually since the game began by the use of disgusting language and unspeakable insults,” wrote E. A. Batchelor in the Detroit Free Press.

Claude Lucker—or Luker, in some chronicles—was the recipient of Cobb’s blows; he instigated the slugger, according to some accounts of spectators and reporters.  Lucker’s loss of one hand and three fingers on his other hand mattered not to Cobb, whose defenders included the Mayor of Atlanta, quoted in the Free Press:  “I glory in the spunk of Ty Cobb in resenting the insults offered him by the spectator in New York.  He has lived up to the principles that have always been taught to Southern manhood.”

It was not an isolated instance, either.  The New York Times noted that Cobb received taunts during the series from New York fans seated in prime positions to launch verbal attacks on Cobb—behind the Tigers dugout:  “What they have been saying to the Georgia Peach has no place in a family newspaper or even one that circulates in barber shops only.”

Umpire Silk O’Loughlin ejected Cobb, Hank Perry replaced him, and American League President Ban Johnson banned him.  The Tigers won the game 8-4—giving them a 3-1 record on the road trip to New York.  But the drama caused by Cobb’s pugilistic display outweighed the excitement on the diamond.

The Tigers, in solidarity, struck; their telegram to Johnson read:

“Feeling that Mr. Cobb is being done an injustice by your action in suspending him, we, the undersigned, refuse to play in another game after to-day until such action is adjusted to our satisfaction.  He was fully justified in his action, as no one could stand such personal abuse from any one.  We want him reinstated for to-morrow’s game, May 18, or there will be no game.  If the players cannot have protection we must protect ourselves.”

Tigers skipper Hugh Jennings stood with his boys:  “I expect Mr. Johnson to reconsider the matter, fine Cobb, or announce definitely the length of his suspension.”  Recruits, mostly college players from St. Joseph’s College, filled the positions vacated by Detroit’s baseball sons for the May 18th game against the Philadelphia A’s, who administered a 24-2 drubbing in Shibe Park.

It was a precarious situation, if not an anarchic one.  Johnson, in turn, canceled the next Tigers-A’s game, scheduled for May 20th in Philadelphia.  Further, he threatened suspension of the striking players.

Tigers owner Frank Navin restored order, somewhat, by persuading his players to halt the strike through a “strong personal appeal,” described Batchelor.  “He pointed out that by their action in striking, the members of the club have caused him severe financial loss, which would grow constantly greater, probably resulting eventually in the loss of the Detroit franchise.”  Cobb received credit in the Free Press for bridging the schism between the players and Navin, a result, in no small part, of praise—the Tiger icon emphasized that the club owner treated the players “generously and fairly at all times” and noted “there is no use of making Mr. Navin suffer when we cannot get at the man we are fighting.”

A meeting of American League team owners in Philadelphia on May 20th resulted in fining each Tiger $100 for striking; Cobb’s suspension remained indefinite.  On May 25th, that status changed—Johnson okayed the reinstatement of Cobb and issued a $50 fine.  An investigation led Johnson to state:

  • Cobb used “vicious language in replying to a taunting remark of the spectator”
  • Cobb’s suspension of 10 days and a $50 fine was a “lesson to the accused and a warning of all players”
  • Cobb did not “appeal to the umpire, but took the law into his own hands”

Further, Johnson underscored the league’s policy regarding abuse by fans going forward:

  • Issuing “sure and severe punishment” for those players who “assume to act as judge and avenger of real or fancied wrongs while on duty”
  • Boosting the number of police officers at ballparks
  • Removal of fans who engage in “actions or comments [that] are offensive to players and fellow patrons”

The Tigers compiled a 69-84-1 record, playing the full slate of 154 games; the May 20th game was rescheduled as part of a July 19th doubleheader—one of three doubleheaders in the July series against the fellas from the City of Brotherly Love.

Despite the benching for 10 games, Ty Cobb led the major leagues in 1912 with 226 hits.  It was a season typical of Cobb output—the Georgia Peach also led in batting average (.409) and slugging percentage (.584).

Amidst the chaos triggered by Cobb’s incident, a bright spot shone through; 1912 was the year that the Tigers débuted their new stadium—Navin Field.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 8, 2017.

The Kid from Sudlersville

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

In a Hall of Fame Strat-O-Matic matchup between the Boston Red Sox and the American League, the former prevailed 10-3.  The lineups were:

American League

Tony Lazzeri (2b)

Larry Doby (CF)

Al Simmons (LF)

Hank Greenberg (1B)

Reggie Jackson (RF)

Harmon Killebrew (3B)

Lou Boudreau (SS)

Mickey Cochrane (C)

Bob Feller (P)

Boston Red Sox

Bobby Doerr (2B)

Carlton Fisk (C)

Jimmie Foxx (1B)

Babe Ruth (LF)

Wade Boggs (3B)

Carl Yastrzemski (CF)

Harry Hooper (RF)

Joe Cronin (SS)

Lefty Grove (P)

Jimmie Foxx slugged Bob Feller’s pitching in this simulation, notching three home runs and six RBI:

  • 1st inning:  Solo home run
  • 3rd inning:  Three-run home run (Doerr and Fisk on base—each singled)
  • 7th inning:  Two-run home run (Fisk on base—single)

Foxx also walked in the 5th inning and scored on Babe Ruth’s two-run home run; he singled in the 8th but got stranded when Ruth struck out to end the inning.  The other runs for the Red Sox Hall of Famers came from:

  • 4th inning:  Carl Yastrzemski solo home run
  • 7th inning:  Babe Ruth solo home run

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, Foxx began his career with the Philadelphia A’s in 1925.  Helmed by Connie Mack for the first half of the 20th century, the A’s won the World Series in 1929 and 1930.  A third consecutive World Series championship was not to be—the A’s lost to the Cardinals in 1931.

Foxx won back-to-back MVP awards in 1932 and 1933; a third MVP award came in 1938.

It was a nearly unanimous tally for the first award—voters at the Baseball Writers’ Association of American gave him 75 out of 80 possible points; Lou Gehrig had the next highest total—55 points.  1932 was the year that Foxx scored 58 dingers, just two shy of Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60.

On November 2, 1938, Foxx became the first player to win the MVP three times.  Now with the Boston Red Sox, Foxx surprised the baseball world with his ascent.  Associated Press noted that the slugger “made a gallant comeback after being considered on the downward trail a year ago, and bothered all this year by a sinus infection.”

In his MVP seasons, Foxx led the major leagues in several offensive categories:

  • Home runs (except for 1938)
  • RBI
  • Slugging percentage
  • On-Base + Slugging percentage
  • Total Bases

Foxx led the American League in batting average in 1933 and 1938; his 50 home runs trailed Hank Greenberg’s 58 in 1938.  When Foxx’s career ended in 1945, staggering numbers joined the annals of baseball’s greatest players—534 home runs, .325 batting average, .609 slugging percentage.

Foxx biographer W. Harrison Daniel, in his 1996 book Jimmie Foxx:  The Life and Times of a Baseball Hall of Fame, 1907-1967, notes that 1938 presented a turning point for the farm-raised ballplayer from Sudlersville, Maryland—a rural town with a population that has hovered around the 500 mark for the past 100 years.

Citing a title search at the Sudlersville Memorial Library, Daniel wrote, “Although 1938 was a memorable year in Foxx’s career, it was also the year that he abandoned any interest in returning to the farm.  Ten years earlier Jimmie had made a down payment on a farm near Sudlersville and he was quoted as saying this was an investment for the future and that he hoped to retire to the farm after his playing days.  It appears that Foxx’s parents lived on the farm until around 1938, when they moved into a house in the village of Sudlersville which they had purchased in 1925 and formerly rented out.  Jimmie’s farm, in 1938, had a mortgage of $7,000.00 which he had not paid off.  In this year the mortgage was paid and the property was transferred to J.C. Jones on June 8, 1938.”

Upon Foxx’s election to the Hall of Fame in 1951, Boston Globe sportswriter Harold Kaese noted the slugger’s urbanity off the field.  “Foxx was a gentleman all right, even though he was raised on a farm and good-naturedly squirted tobacco juice on the shoes of his friends when they walked into the dugout,” wrote Kaese.  “I know he was a gentleman because as the Red Sox broke training camp one Spring, and headed for Boston, he said, ‘I’ll be glad to get out of the South.  You can’t even get a decent manicure down here.'”

On January 13, 1967, Foxx received the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association’s Sultan of Swat Crown retroactively at the annual Tops in Sports banquet in Baltimore for Outstanding Batting Achievement.  Illness forced Foxx to accept the award in absentia; former Orioles manager and former Foxx teammate Jimmy Dykes accepted on his behalf.  Frank Robinson, a key cog in the Orioles’ machine that brought down the Dodgers in a four-game sweep of the previous year’s World Series received the Sultan of Swat Crown for 1966 and fellow Maryland native Lefty Grove also received an award at the event.  Foxx passed away six months later.

Today, Foxx’s Sultan of Swat Crown sits in Sudlersville Memorial Library as a testament to the farm boy who became a baseball superstar but never forgot where he came from.  Generations of Sudlersville families remain in town, offering continuity of community—if a Sudlersvillean goes to the library, the grocery store, or the bank, he or she is likely to triple the time allotted for the task because conversations, serious and casual, will commence.  In a town where everybody knows everybody else, gossip is not the watchword.  Rather, the verbal exchanges ignite the thoughtful question “How can I help?” rather than the judgmental statement “That’s too bad.”

If a trek occurs near the intersection of Main Street and Church Street, the conversation may include the topic of baseball, specifically, the man embodied by the statue there.  It’s a pose of a baseball player after one of his mighty right-handed swings—the one who decimated American League pitching, became a baseball hero to Philadelphians and Bostonians, and inspired the character Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, in A League of Their Own.

James Emory Foxx.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 4, 2017.

What If the Dodgers Had Stayed in Brooklyn?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

What if the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn?  Further, what if migration in the modern era had never taken place, thereby forcing expansion in Kansas City, San Francisco, and other MLB cities.

My paradigm assumes the following:

  • Tampa, Toronto, Arizona, and Montreal do not have teams
  • A’s, Braves, Browns, Dodgers, and Senators stay in their original locations
  • The Giants move to Minneapolis after the 1957 season.
  • Team names reflect the location’s history and lore
    • Grizzly Bears:  California’s state animal
    • Conquistadors:  Group claiming Oakland for Spain’s king in the 1770s
    • Loggers:  Washington state’s rich logging history
    • Gold:  Northern California’s gold rush in the mid-19th century
    • Mountaineers:  Georgia’s magnificent mountains
    • Astronauts:  Houston’s fame as the home of NASA
    • Express:  Colorado’s key role in America’s railroad history

Expansion teams have their inaugural years in parentheses.

1961-1965

American League

Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
St. Louis Browns
San Francisco Gold (1961)
Washington Senators

National League

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
Minnesota Giants
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals

1966-1975

American League East

Baltimore Orioles (1966)
Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Indians
Georgia Mountaineers (1966)
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
Washington Senators

American League West

Chicago White Sox
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals (1966)
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
San Francisco Gold (1961)
St. Louis Browns
Texas Rangers (1966)

National League East

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Cincinnati Reds
Denver Express (1966)
Houston Astronauts (1966)
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates

National League West

Chicago Cubs
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
Minnesota Giants
St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego Padres (1966)
Seattle Loggers (1966)

1976-Present

American League East

Baltimore Orioles (1966)
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
Washington Senators

American League Central

Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Georgia Mountaineers (1966)
St. Louis Browns

American League West

Kansas City Royals (1966)
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
Oakland Conquistadors (1976)
San Francisco Gold (1961)
Texas Rangers (1976)

National League East

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Miami Marlins (1976)
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates

National League Central

Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Houston Astronauts (1966)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
St. Louis Cardinals

National League West

Denver Express (1966)
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Minnesota Giants
San Diego Padres (1966)
Seattle Loggers (1966)

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 14, 2016.

What if…

Friday, April 21st, 2017

What if…

Charlie Finley hadn’t broken up the 1970s Oakland A’s dynasty?

Bob Uecker hadn’t appeared in Major League?

there was no Designated Hitter position?

the Mets had never traded Nolan Ryan to the Angels?

Yogi Berra had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers?

George Steinbrenner had never bought the Yankees?

the Dodgers had never moved from Brooklyn?

the Giants had moved to Minneapolis instead of San Francisco?

the Red Sox had never sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees?

Walter O’Malley had never owned the Brooklyn Dodgers?

the Red Sox had integrated in 1949 instead of 1959?

Satchel Paige had pitched against Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and other Hall of Famers in their prime?

Bob Feller and Ted Williams had never lost years to military service in World War II?

Mickey Mantle hadn’t blown out his knee in the 1951 World Series?

Bobby Thomson had struck out against Ralph Branch?

Commissioner William Eckert had never invalidated Tom Seaver’s contract with the Atlanta Braves?

Major League Baseball banned synthetic grass?

the Mets had never traded Tom Seaver to the Reds?

Reggie Jackson had never played for the Yankees?

Thurman Munson hadn’t died in a plane crash?

Mickey Mantle had stayed healthy in the home stretch of 1961?

The Natural had ended the same was as the eponymous novel?

the Indians hadn’t traded Chris Chambliss, Dennis Eckersley, Buddy Bell, and Graig Nettles?

the Braves hadn’t never left Boston for Milwaukee?

the first incarnation of the Washington Senators hadn’t left for Minnesota to become the Twins?

the second incarnation of the Washington Senators hadn’t left for Texas to become the Rangers?

the Seattle Pilots hadn’t left for Milwaukee to become the Brewers?

Jim Bouton hadn’t written Ball Four?

Roger Kahn hadn’t written The Boys of Summer?

Mark Harris hadn’t written Bang the Drum Slowly?

Jackie Robinson had sought a football career instead of a baseball career?

Billy Martin hadn’t managed the Yankees in the late 1970s?

Gil Hodges hadn’t died in 1972, during a high point in the history of the Mets?

Vin Scully had stayed in New York City and announced for the Yankees or the Mets?

Bob Feller had pitched for the Yankees?

Ted Williams had played for the Yankees?

Joe DiMaggio had played for the Red Sox?

Charles Ebbets hadn’t owned the Brooklyn Dodgers?

Honolulu had a Major League Baseball team?

Pete Rose were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

the commissioner’s office rescinded the lifetime banishment of the 1919 Black Sox from Major League Baseball?

Hank Aaron had played in the same outfield as Willie Mays?

Wiffle Ball hadn’t been invented?

Nashville had a Major League Baseball team?

Dwight Goodman and Darryl Strawberry had stayed away from drugs?

Roberto Clemente had played for the Dodgers instead of the Pirates?

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 17, 2016.

Strat-O-Matic Hall of Fame Game: 19th Century vs. Yankees

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

In a Strat-O-Matic matchup between 19th century and Yankee ballplayers, the latter emerged with a victory blessed by power—the Yankees smacked four home runs against John Clarkson and the 19th century squad in their 7-1 win.  Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle went yard back-to-back with solo home runs in the sixth inning; the other round trippers came off the bats of Joe Gordon and Yogi Berra.

To qualify for the teams, a player had to play at least five years for each classification—in the 19th century or with the Yankees.  The lineups were:

Yankees

  • Phil Rizzuto, Shortstop
  • Joe Gordon, Second Base
  • Lou Gehrig, First Base
  • Babe Ruth, Left Field
  • Mickey Mantle, Center Field
  • Reggie Jackson, Right Field
  • Wade Boggs, Third Base
  • Yogi Berra, Catcher
  • Jack Chesbro, Pitcher

19th Century

  • Bid McPhee, Second Base
  • Ed Delahanty, Left Field
  • Buck Ewing, Catcher
  • Hugh Duffy, Center Field
  • Dan Brothers, First Base
  • Hughie Jennings, Shortstop
  • King Kelly, Right Field
  • Jimmy Collins, Third Base
  • John Clarkson, Pitcher

Bid McPhee scored the only run for the 19th century players when Ed Delahanty doubled him home in the eighth inning.  McPhee’s Hall of Fame plaque notes career statistics:

  • .982 fielding average
  • 2,250 hits
  • Scored at least 100 runs 10 times.

Also highlighted are McPhee’s intangible qualities:  “Known for his sober disposition and exemplary sportsmanship.”

Clarkson notched five strikeouts of the Yankees:

  • Lou Gehrig (twice)
  • Jack Chesbro (twice)
  • Reggie Jackson (once)

A masterful hurler, Clarkson compiled a 328-178 win-loss record in his 19th century major league career.  In 1885 and 1889, he led the major leagues in victories with 53 and 49, respectively; Clarkson notched 38 victories to lead the American League in 1887.

Gordon went 2-for-5 on the day, his other hit being a single in the ninth inning.  In an 11-year career, Gordon made the American League All-Star team nine times.

Chesbro limited the 19th century batsmen to six hits.  Beginning his career with the Pirates in 1899, Chesbro spent four seasons in Pittsburgh before emigrating to the Yankees.  In 1904, he led the majors with 41 victories.  Finishing his career after the 1909 season, Chesbro’s career 198-132 win-loss record amounted to a winning percentage of .600.

King Kelly, a threat at home plate even if he were blindfolded, played for the Reds, the Cubs, the Beaneaters, and the Giants, in addition to the Boston Reds in the Players League’s only season—1890—and Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers the following year.  Kelly’s career spanned from 1878 to 1893.  Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945, Kelly’s career statistics include:

  • .308 batting average
  • 359 doubles
  • 418 strikeouts
  • 6,455 plate appearances

Reggie Jackson played for four teams in his Hall of Fame career:

  • A’s
  • Orioles
  • Yankees
  • Angels

During his five-year tenure with the Yankees, he played in three World Series, won two rings, and solidified a place in Yankee iconography when he smacked three home runs in one game in the 1977 World Series.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 16, 2016.

The Hall of Fame Case for Tommy John

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Forget about the 288 wins.

Forget about the four pennant-winning teams.

Forget about the pioneering surgery that bears his name.

You might as well.  The Baseball Hall of Fame voters have.

Thomas Edward John, Jr., the Terre Haute native who stayed in his hometown to attend college at Indiana State University, stands overlooked and undervalued for his contributions to baseball.

In his 26-year career, John pitched for:

  • Chicago White Sox
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • New York Yankees
  • California Angels
  • Oakland A’s

He led the National League in winning percentage in 1973 and the major leagues in 1974; played on the Dodgers’ National League pennant-winning teams in 1974, 1977, and 1978; played for the American League champs in the strike-shortened season of 1981—the Yankees.

In eras gone by, when more pitchers stayed on the mound for the entire game, John led the major leagues three times in shutouts:

  • 1966 (5)
  • 1967 (6)
  • 1980 (6)

With just 12 wins short of the magic number—300—John stands on the cusp of Cooperstown; peers Bert Blyleven and Jim Palmer were inducted with 287 and 268 wins, respectively.  One can presume that at least 12 games in a 26-year career fell victim to a combination of error, lack of prowess at the plate, and a manager’s strategic errors.  It’s an interesting point, but, in the end, you are what your record is.  And John’s 288 notches in the win column stand as impressive.

It is, perhaps, the breakthrough surgery that Dr. Frank Jobe performed on the hurler in 1974 that is the most significant factor in an argument for John’s Hall of Fame membership.  At the time, Jobe was the Dodgers’ orthopedist.

Tommy John surgery rebuilds the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) by using a tendon from another part of the body.  A torn or ruptured UCL can immediately put a period at the end of a pitcher’s career.  Only an injury warrants the surgery.  It is not a procedure for improving performance.

John won more games after the surgery than before it and played on three All-Star teams (1978-1980); his only other All-Star appearance happened in 1968.  To be a pioneering patient for a surgical procedure that’s become as much a cornerstone of the game as corporate-sponsored stadia.  Had Tommy John not gone under Dr. Jobe’s knife, somebody else would have.  Eventually.  But John took the risk.

When would another pitcher have been the first if John had stepped away from baseball?  1975?  1980?  How many careers have been saved because John opted for Jobe’s cutting edge idea?

Treating a UCL problem with Tommy John surgery has become de rigeur.  Hall of Famer John Smoltz sat out the 2000 season to recover from the surgery.  At his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2015, Smoltz warned teenage pitchers against going under the knife.  “I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old.  That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sports.  That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports.  Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way.”

Smoltz is the only Tommy John surgery patient inducted into the Hall of Fame.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 22, 2016.

Taft, Titanic, and Taking the Field

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

1,517 people died when the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the North Atlantic in 1912; a valued presidential adviser was among the men, women, and children that perished—Major Archibald Butt.

In a written statement dated April 19, 1912, President William Howard Taft eulogized, “His character was a simple one in the sense that he was incapable of intrigue or insincerity.  He was gentle and considerate to every one, high and low.  He never lost, under any conditions, his sense of proper regard to what he considered the respect due to constituted authority.  He was an earnest member of the Episcopal Church, and loved that communion.  He was a soldier, every inch of him; a most competent and successful quartermaster, and devotee of his profession.”

Butt, a member of both the Taft and the Theodore Roosevelt administrations, voyaged on the Titanic with his housemate, Francis Davis Millet, who was a painter, a sculptor, and a journalist.  Another member of Washington’s power circle, “Millet served as vice chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, a committee that has review over the ‘design and aesthetics’ of construction within Washington, D.C.,” states the National Park Service on its web site.  “The commission is also partly responsible for the design and plan of the National Mall, just a short walk from the fountain.”

NPS.gov also affirms that Millet, married with three children, had “several same-sex relationships in his life.”  Rumors about a homosexual relationship surround the duo; by all accounts, Butt and Millet are the only United States government officials to die on the Titanic.  Sculpted by Daniel Chester French, the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain on the Ellipse honors them.

Distraught by Butt’s death, Taft declined to attend Opening Day for the Washington Senators on April 19th—four days after the Titanic sunk.  “It was a crowd prepared to be enthusiastic, but the blight of the saddest story of the seas’ history could not be cast off.  One year previously President Taft had attended, throwing the first ball, and Maj. Archie Butt had been with him in the chief executive’s box,” reported Joe S. Jackson in the Washington Post.  “Yesterday the President could not be present for obvious reasons, and the many friends of his late aid were forced to absent themselves in deference to his memory.  Vice President [James] Sherman was there, and as the representative of the administration and of official life here, threw the first ball out onto the diamond.

In 1910, Taft inaugurated the tradition of throwing out the first ball.

The Senators blanked the Philadelphia Athletics 6-0 to kick off the 1912 season, an impressive feat considering the A’s were the World Series champions.  Walter Johnson struck out eight, walked two, contributed two hits to the Senators’ tall of 10, and stranded six A’s on base.  Except for the sixth inning, the A’s never had two players on base.

1912 was a banner year for Johnson, who overpowered American League lineups like a sledgehammer to a thumbtack; the “Train” led the major leagues with:

  • 303 strikeouts
  • .908 WHIP (Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched)
  • 1.39 ERA

It was the first of four times that Johnson had the best ERA in the major leagues.

Another 1912 standout for the Senators was outfielder Clyde Milan, who led the major leagues with 88 stolen bases.  In addition, Milan stood tall against American League batters in several categories:

  • Tied for 3rd in singles
  • Tied for 2nd in games played
  • 9th in runs scored
  • 3rd in at bats

Washingtonians rejoiced in the Senators’ record of 91-61 in 1912.  Though respectable, it trailed the Red Sox by a highly significant margin—Boston’s ballplayers notched a 105-47 record, led the American League in attendance, and defeated the New York Giants in the World Series.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 19, 2016.

Jim Palmer’s No-Hitter

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

Jim Palmer began his major league career in 1965, when the Braves played their last season in Milwaukee, the Astros unveiled the Astrodome, and Bert Campaneris became the first player to play all nine positions in a major league game.

Throughout his 19 seasons—all in a Baltimore Orioles uniform—Palmer racked up pitching achievements like a Marylander devours crabs.  Often.

  • World Series championships (1966, 1970, 1983)
  • American League Cy Young Awards (1973, 1975, 1976)
  • 2o-win seasons in all but one year between 1970 and 1978
  • Led the American League in innings pitched (1970, 1976, 1977, 1978)
  • Led the major leagues in shutouts (1975)
  • Led the American League in earned run average (1973, 1975)
  • Led the major leagues in earned run average (1975)
  • Led the American League in victories (1975, 1976, 1977)
  • Led the major leagues in victories (1975, 1976)
  • Led the American League in complete games (1977)
  • Led the major leagues in complete games (1977)

On August 13, 1969, the future Hall of Famer added a rare jewel to his crown—a no-hitter.  In an 8-0 shutout of the Oakland A’s, Palmer contributed with his bat as well as his right arm—a single, a double, a run scored, one RBI, and a walk that started a five-run tally in the seventh inning.  Associated Press began its account by emphasizing the 23-year-old right-hander “continuing his amazing comeback” after being on the disabled list; the no-hitter brought Palmer’s 1969 record to 11-2.

It was a glorious day for Baltimore.  Boog Powell rapped two hits and scored a run.  Brooks Robinson knocked a three-run home run—it was his only hit of the day.  Don Buford went three-for-four with two RBI.  Paul Blair and Frank Robinson had one RBI apiece.

After two years of limited work because of “assorted back and shoulder miseries,” described by AP, Palmer had an impressive 9-2 record in 1969 before tearing a muscle in his back, which prompted a stay on the disabled list beginning on June 29th.  When Palmer returned to pitch against the Minnesota Twins on August 9th, spirits lifted from Mount Washington to Fells Point.  It looked like the physical challenges were in the rear view mirror as Palmer notched a 5-1 victory over the fellas from the Twin Cities; he threw for six innings.

Palmer’s no-hitter occurred while the world experienced terrific events, with the adjective being used for both its original meaning as a derivation of the word “terror” and its adjusted meaning to describe something extraordinarily good.  In the four weeks prior to Palmer’s feat, Charles Manson masterminded a mass slaughter of Sharon Tate and six others, Apollo 11 made the first successful manned moon landing, and upstate New York prepared for a festival described as “3 Days of Peace and Music” at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel—the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

With a 109-53 record in 1969, the O’s had a 19-game differential from their closest competitor—the Detroit Tigers had 90 wins and 72 losses, respectable but not enough to eclipse the marshals of Memorial Stadium.  The New York Mets defied expectations by defeating the Orioles in the 1969 World Series, taking five games to accomplish the task.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 14, 2016.

McGraw and McGillicuddy

Friday, March 10th, 2017

One was pugnacious.  The other, almost regal.

When John Joseph McGraw took the field, he embraced baseball games as bouts, thus earning his nicknames Mugsy and Little Napoleon.

When Cornelius McGillicuddy managed the Philadelphia Athletics, he wore a suit rather than a uniform.

They were, certainly, opposites with a respect that ran deeper than the Hudson River.

Connie Mack—McGillicuddy’s more familiar moniker—managed the Athletics ball club from its genesis in 1901 until 1950.  When Mack passed away in 1956, it marked the end of a lengthy baseball tenure that began at the end of the 19th century—from 1894 to 1896, Mack was a player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  This came after playing in the major leagues for 11 years; in addition to Pittsburgh, Mack played for Buffalo and Washington.  Mack’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site honors innovation in the catcher position:  “Mack was one of the first catchers to play directly behind home plate instead of setting up by the backstop.  He was also famous for his abilities to fake the sound of a foul tip with his mouth and ‘tip’ opposing players’ bats during their swings.”

Mack’s 50-year governance of the A’s as a manager and a part owner resulted in five World Series championships and seven American League titles.  There were plenty of down years, too.  In 1915, the A’s had a 36-104 record— it began a 10-year run of losing seasons.  Eight winning seasons followed, including three consecutive American League pennants from 1929 to 1931.  The A’s won the World Series in 1929 and 1930.

Contrariwise to Mack’s aura of temperateness, John McGraw breathed flames.  Upon the death of the fiery New York Giants manager in 1934, New York Times writer John N. Wheeler opined that retirement a couple of years prior corresponded with a transition in the National Pastime.  “The game also had become more gentlemanly and, if you will take the word of an old-timer like the writer, less colorful,” wrote Wheeler.  “Not that there is any implication that John J. McGraw was not a gentleman, but when he went to wars he went to win.”

McGraw’s managerial career began with the Baltimore Orioles team that moved to New York after the 1902 season and became the Highlanders— the team later changed to the Yankees label.  McGraw was a Baltimore fixture, playing third base on the Oriole’s National League championship teams in the 1890s.

In the middle of the 1902 season, McGraw went to the New York Giants, where he became the symbol of toughness for the princes of the Polo Grounds.  And he brought several Orioles with him.  Under McGraw, the Giants won 10 National League pennants and seven World Series titles.

Mack and McGraw squared off in the World Series three times—1905, 1911, and 1913; the Giants own the 1905 contest and the A’s won the next two.

In 1937, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Connie Mack and John McGraw.  On McGraw’s Hall off Fame web site page, a quote from Mack summarizes his feelings toward his counterpart:  “There has been only one manager— and his name is McGraw.”

A version of this article appeared on March 17, 2016.