Posts Tagged ‘Earned Run Average’

Hank Aaron’s Last Home Run

Monday, April 10th, 2017

As America recovered from its Bicentennial hangover, Hank Aaron clubbed a home run in the Brewers-Angels game on July 20, 1976.  It was not, in any way, a cause for ceremony.  It was, however, highly significant.

Aaron’s solo smash off the Angels’ Dick Drago was his last home run, though nobody knew it at the time.  Hammerin’ Hank followed George Scott’s solo home run, one of 18 blasts that Scott swatted in 1976.  Jerry Augustine got the win for the Brewers—his first in more than a month—scattering five Angel hits in seven innings.  It capped a streak of five consecutive losses for Augustine, who had a 9-12 record, 3.30 Earned Run Average, and WHIP of 1.299.

Aaron, Scott, et al. belted 12 hits against the Angels; Von Joshua, Tim Johnson, Darrell Porter, and Robin Yount scored the other Brewer runs.  Johnson, the Brewer second baseman, had an outstanding 3-for-3 day.  In the eighth inning, relief pitcher Danny Frisella replaced Augustine.

When Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record on April 8, 1974 by hitting his 715th home run, every dinger afterward became, simply, icing on top of frosting.  His round-tripper in the Brewers’ 6-2 victory over the boys from Anaheim was his 755th home run; Aaron hit 10 home runs, batted .229, and racked up 62 hits in a rather uneventful 1976 season for the Brewers—a 66-96 record garnered 6th place in the American League East.

At age 42, Aaron retired after the 1976 season with outstanding career statistics:

  • 3,771 hits
  • 2,174 runs scored
  • 13,941 plate appearances
  • .305 batting average
  • 2,287 RBI (major league record)
  • Led the major leagues in RBI four times

Henry Louis Aaron clocked his first major league home run on April 23, 1954.  Throughout the next two decades and change, Aaron faced the pitching gods of Major League Baseball—Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Don Gullett, Roy Face, Don Drysdale, Nolan Ryan, Vida Blue, Sandy Koufax, Robin Roberts.  When he went yard, it was the definition of power against power.  Tom Seaver’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site recalls Aaron’s statement of Seaver being “the toughest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”

Aaron’s last home run occurred during the year that the Yankees reached the World Series for the first time since 1964; Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday snatched an American flag from two trespassers about to burn it in the Dodger Stadium outfield; the Chicago White Sox played in shorts for one game; Ted Turner became the sole owner of the Atlanta Braves; the second incarnation of Yankee Stadium débuted after two years of renovations; Philadelphia Phillies third baseball Mike Schmidt knocked four home runs in a game against the Cubs; original Houston Astros owner Judge Roy Hofheinz sold the team that began its life as the Colt .45s; Dodgers manager Walter Alston resigned after 23 years at the helm in Ebbets Field and Chavez Ravine; and the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays began selecting players for the following year’s American League expansion.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 20, 2016.

Vic Willis, the Boston Beaneaters, and the Last No-Hitter of the 20th Century

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Vic Willis, he of the assonant moniker, hurled with the intensity of a Nor’easter whipping across the Charles River.

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, Willis compiled a career 249-205 win-loss record, achieved a 2.63 Earned Run Average, and pitched in 513 games.  His 13-year career began with the Boston Beaneaters, for whom he played from 1898 to 1905.  Then, he called Pittsburgh home for four seasons, winning more than 20 games for the Pirates in each season.  Willis ended his career in 1906, with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Willis came charging out of the gate in his rookie year, notching a 25-13 record.  In addition to Willis’s performance, 1898 was an explosive year for Boston’s pitching staff:

  • Fred Klobedanz (19-10)
  • Ted Lewis (26-8)
  • Kid Nichols (31-12)

The Beaneaters won the 1898 National League pennant with a 102-47 record.

After his first two seasons, Willis had a record of 52 wins, 21 losses.  In 1900, he did not fare as well.  A 10-17 record belied Willis’s proficiency on the mound.  In his indispensable two-volume series Major League Baseball Profiles:  1871-1900, baseball historian David Nemec explains that rather than adhere to the ritual of spring training in southern climates, Willis opted for working out instead with Boston catcher Boileryard Clarke in the Princeton Gym.  “Arm trouble” resulted.

Further, a leap to the American League, perhaps prompted by Boston’s 66-72 record in 1900, failed to launch.  “Willis then made his critical career-changing mistake.  That winter, he agreed to jump to the rival American League and signed a contract with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s.  But in March TSN  [The Sporting News] observed that he had ‘flopped back to the big league,’ after Boston threatened legal reprisal and perhaps raised his salary to compete with the A’s offer,” writes Nemec.

Willis threw a no-hitter for Boston on August 7, 1899 against the Washington Senators.  Boston Globe sports writer Tim Murnane wrote, “The solitary hit off Willis was not worth the name. The ball went along the ground from [Senators pitcher Bill] Dineen’s [sic] bat as harmless as a robin at play until [Beaneaters third baseman Jimmy] Collins reached for it, when it jumped to one side and was safe.”

Although it stands as a no-hitter, the game’s box score in the Globe indicates a hit for Dinner.  Further, a headline for Murnane’s story states, “Only One Hit Off Willis in the Full Nine Innings.”

Boston beat Washington 7-1.  Murnane wrote, “The visitors scored their only run in the first, on two bases on balls, [Beaneaters catcher Marty] Bergen’s side throw to second and a putout.”

In 1899, Willis had the best Earned Run Average in the major leagues—2.50.

“Tall, graceful workhorse with sweeping curve” is the description of Willis on his Hall of Fame plaque.  Workhorse, indeed.  Willis scored at least 20 wins eight times.  In 1902, Willis led the major leagues in:

  • Games pitched (51)
  • Games started (46)
  • Complete games (45)
  • Innings pitched (410)
  • Saves (3)
  • Batters faced (1,652)
  • Strikeouts (225)

In addition to Willis, the Hall of Fame inducted Richie Ashburn, Leon Day, William Hulbert, and Mike Schmidt in 1995.

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

The Amazing Season of Timothy Keefe

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

In 1888, Timothy Keefe won 19 consecutive games for the New York Giants.  Or did he?

On July 16th, Keefe left the mound in the second inning of a game against the Chicago White Stockings—he played the rest of the game in the outfield.  Buck Ewing, the Giants catcher and field manager, moved Keefe to protect him from wearing out during a fantastic pitching streak.  At the time, a pitcher did not need to be on the mound for a minimum of five innings to receive an official victory in his record.

Keefe’s outstanding performance, despite the squabbles that may arise regarding the impact of the July 16th game, underscored a fantastic year for the Giants as they penetrated the National League competition to meet the St. Louis Browns in the World Series.  New York’s beloved team emerged as the champion.

When the season began, though, Keefe created clouds of question marks that hovered over the New York sunshine when he held out for a higher salary.  In the April 11th edition of the New-York Tribune, Keefe remained fortnight but firm in his quest.  “I was just thinking about taking a train for Boston,” revealed Keefe.  “I guess I will remain over, however, a day or two, and see if the difference in salary cannot be settled.  I want $4,000 and will sign with the club when I get it and not before.  I am satisfied with the New York Club and have always been treated right by the management, but I think I am worth that amount to the club and will not sign until I get it.  I don’t want my release, and neither do I want to go to any other club.  I would rather play in New York than any place else in the country.”

Tribune editorial on April 15th praised the hurler, who went 35-12 in 1888.  “Keefe is a wonderful pitcher, of course, probably the best in the country today.  The local club cannot very well get along without him, and he never loses sight of that fact.”  Further, the newspaper took the position that Keefe and John Montgomery Ward, another holdout, would reach a compromise with the team’s management.

They did.

Keefe’s 1888 statistics reflect his dominance—leading the major leagues in winning percentage (.745), shutouts (8), and strikeouts (335).  Additionally, Keefe’s 1.74 Earned Run Average led the National League.

It was a time full of glory in New York.  To begin his 1952 book The New York Giants: An Informal History of  Great Baseball Club, Frank Graham described the 1880s from its societal elements to its grimy underbelly.  “This was New York in the elegant eighties and these were the Giants, fashioned in elegance, playing on the Polo Grounds, then at 110 Street [sic] and Fifth Avenue,” wrote Graham.

“It was the New York of the brownstone house and the gaslit streets, of the top hat and the hansom cab, of oysters and champagne and perfecto cigars, of Ada Rehan and Oscar Wilde and the young John L. Sullivan.  It also was the New York of the Tenderloin and the Bowery, of the slums and the sweat shops, of goats grazing among shanties perched on the rocky terrain of Harlem.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 1, 2016.

Expos and Excellence

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

On September 29, 2004, Montreal bid adieu to its beloved Expos ball club.  And so, a baseball legacy faded into finality as the Expos transitioned to become the Washington Nationals.

Montreal never celebrated a World Series championship, but moments of greatness sprinkled across its major league tenure, which began in 1969.  Bill Stoneman, for example, stands as a bright spot, achieving twice what some pitching legends achieved once and others not at all—a no-hitter; Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and Jim Palmer fall into the former category while Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove, and Whitey Ford reside in the latter.

In the Expos’ rookie season, Stoneman threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies.  Although he walked seven batters, Stoneman retired the Mets with aplomb.  The New York Times noted, “There were no difficult plays by Stoneman’s teammates as only five balls were hit to the outfield.  Stoneman struck out nine.”

Both games had scores of 7-0.

Stoneman’s dual no-hitters belie a career win-loss record of 54-85 and 4.08 Earned Run Average.

Dennis Martinez retired 27 Dodgers on July 28, 1991 in a perfect game, the 15th time a major league pitcher reached that pinnacle of performance; 17 batters grounded out.  Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times noted the impact of the daytime schedule.  “Another factor, according to the Dodgers is that Dodger Stadium is toughest on hitters during afternoon games,” wrote Plaschke.  “It is even harder when Martinez is pitching, because in his windup he tucks the ball in his glove until the last possible moment.”

A recovering alcoholic, Martinez plodded through a minor league stint in the Expos organization after nine seasons as a favorite on the Orioles pitching staff.  “I look back and see the faith that I had, and the reaching out for help that I did, and I think, it is paying off now,” said Martinez.  Climbing his way back into the major leagues, Martinez kindled pride in his hometown—Granada, Nicaragua.  Kevin Baxter, also of the Los Angeles Times, explained, “Edgar Rodriguez, a sportswriter at El Nuevo Diario, said each of the country’s radio stations broke into their normal programming to report the perfect game.  That was cause for loud celebrating in the neighborhoods around his paper’s office.”

To call it a “masterful performance” is to do it injustice, like saying the Aurora Borealis is nice to look at.  “Though there weren’t advanced pitch-tracking systems back then to break down every Martinez offering that day, you’d swear he threw 50 of those trademark knee-buckling curveballs,” wrote Jonah Keri in his 2014 book Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos.

The perfect game was not an outlier for Martinez in 1991—he led the National League in Earned Run Average with 2.39.  And it was not the only marvel for Montreal during its series with Los Angeles.

Two days prior to Martinez’s accomplishment.  Mack Gardner threw nine no-hit innings; the Expos did not score either.  Los Angeles punctured hopes for the metropolis that Mark Twain dubbed “City of a Hundred Steeples” during a  visit in 1881.  Keri explained, “Dodger Lenny Harris opened the bottom of the 10th with a high chopper over Gardner’s head [Expos shortstop] Spike Owen charged, tried to field the ball…and dropped it.  A frustrating misplay, but with the ball hit that slowly, Owen would’ve had no chance to get Harris either way—it was an infield hit, busting the no-hitter.”

Daryl Strawberry won the game for the Dodgers with an RBI single in the 10th inning to bring Harris home.

Final score:  1-0.

Although Gardner cleared the Dodgers for nine innings, Major League Baseball’s scoring paradigm labels a game as a no-hitter when the pitcher’s team scores.  Hence, Gardner did not technically pitch a no-hitter.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 22, 2015.

Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, and the 1931 Houston Buffaloes

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Three decades before Houston became a major league city it was a minor league icon—the Houston Buffaloes won the Texas League championship in 1931.  Managed by Joe Schultz, a former National League journeyman with a career batting average of .285, the Buffs—a minor league team for the Cardinals organization—compiled a dominant 108-51 record.

Buff Stadium was the hub of Houston’s baseball universe.  In the 2013 book Deep in the Heart:  Blazing A Trail From Expansion To World Series, Bill Brown and Mike Acosta recognized the stadium’s cutting edge quality.  “Close to the University of Houston, it was considered a state-of-the-art ballpark by minor league standards and it featured a Spanish-style tiled roof entryway,” wrote Brown and Acosta.  “Buff Stadium became known as a pitcher’s park, measuring 344 feet to the left field line, 434 to center and 323 to right with 12-foot walls.”

Houston’s ’31 team placed #42 on Minor League Baseball’s list of the Top 100 teams.  On MILB’s web site, Bill Weiss and Marshall Wright described the path to success for the ’31 Buffs, which conquered the Texas League competition in a byzantine schedule.  “In the first half of the 1931 season, which ended June 30, Houston and Beaumont finished tied for first with 50-30 marks, wrote Weiss and Wright.  “The league constitution prescribed how the tie was to be broken.  Five second-half contests were designated as playoff games.  They also counted in the second half standings.”

Houston captured the first half of the season, then tore through the Texas League in the second half with a 58-21 record, which provided a cushion of 14 games ahead of Beaumont, the team with the next best record.

Two future Hall of Famers played for the Buffaloes—Joe Medwick and Dizzy Dean.

Indefatigable, Dean plowed through Houston’s 1931 Texas League competition with his speed.  In the 1992 biography Diz:  The Story of Dizzy Dean and Baseball During the Great Depression, Robert Gregory wrote, “It was also at Ft. Worth that he pitched his first doubleheader of the season.  On June 29, he said, ‘If I beat ’em in the first game, I might as well go ahead and pitch the second.’  He won both, 12-3 and 3-0.  The next night, he relieved in the first inning with the bases loaded and nobody out.  He struck out the side—and stayed on to pitch eight innings more, went 4 for 4 at bat, stole a base, and said, ‘Shoot no,’ when somebody asked if he was tired after three games in two days.  ‘I’ll pitch tomorrow if they want me to.'”

Dean’s dominance resulted in a 26-10 record and 1.57 Earned Run Average.

Nicknamed “Ducky” for his gait, the 19-year-old Medwick hit .305 in 1931.  He got called up to the Cardinals in the middle of the ’32 season, played in 26 games, and compiled a .349 batting average for the season.  It was just the beginning of an amazing career that ended with a .324 batting average, nearly 2,500 hits, and an MVP Award.

The Baseball Hall of Fame web site states, “Though Medwick could hit for power, it didn’t come at the expense of his ability to put the bat to the ball, as he never struck out more than 100 times in a season.  He was a well-rounded hitter, capable of going outside of the strike zone to drive in runs when needed.”

In the 1931 Dixie Series, the Buffaloes faced the Birmingham Barons, champions of the Southern Association.  With the series tied at three games apiece, Dean started Game Seven.  His prowess on the mound was not enough, however.  Birmingham won 6-3 to capture the Dixie Series crown.  Dean told reporters, “I thought I had too much speed, but they’re a good bunch of boys and got to me.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 17, 2015.

Don Sutton Wins 300

Friday, January 13th, 2017

In a city resting on a foundation of glamour, Don Sutton provided a terrific contrast.  With a workmanlike manner, Sutton reigned over the pitcher’s mound with consistency complemented by endurance.  No ego.  No nickname.  No razzle-dazzle.

Sutton began his major league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966; the Baltimore Orioles swept the Dodgers in the ’66 World Series.  He went 12-12 in his rookie season, not breaking .500 until 1970.  It was a record hardly indicating greatness.  Despite a moderate beginning to his career, Sutton flourished.  In 1980, Sutton led the National League in Earned Run Average—2.20.  His Hall of Fame plaque calls attention to his reliability—100 or more strikeouts in a season 21 times, 15 or more victories in 12 seasons, and the fifth best career strikeout total.

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said, “When you gave him the ball, you knew one thing—your pitcher was going to give you everything he had.  You win as many games as he did—to me, that should be automatic Hall of Fame.”  Lasorda’s quote is on Don Sutton’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site.

After his lengthy stint in Los Angeles, which ended with the 1980 season, Sutton played for Houston, Milwaukee, and Oakland before playing for the California Angels in the mid-1980s.  He returned to the Dodgers in 1988, which was his last season in the major leagues.

On June 18, 1986, the curly-haired pitcher reached a pinnacle rarely achieved by hurlers.  300 victories.  In the Los Angeles Times, Mike Penner detailed Sutton’s dissimilarity with pitching legends, for example, Warren Spahn.  “And today, they have the company of the sport’s ultimate Everyman, Donald Howard Sutton,” wrote Penner.  “Sutton, who won 20 games in a season only once, who never struck out 300 batters in a season, who never had a no-hitter, who just, in his own words, kept getting people out, became the 19th pitcher in major league history to win 300 games by beating the Texas Rangers, 5-1, before an Anaheim Stadium crowd of 37,044.”

Sutton’s stoic manner disappeared after his 300th victory.  Penner described the scene taking place more than two hours after Sutton punctuated the day by striking out Gary Ward to end the game:  “But there in the darkness, still clad in his Angel uniform, was Sutton, still grinning, still clasping a celebratory plastic cup of champagne.”  It was a contrast, certainly, to Penner and other baseball insiders familiar with a pitcher uninterested in the openness connected to being a public figure.  Rhetorically and kiddingly, Penner questioned, “So this is Mr. Unemotional, eh?  The man who supposedly wears nothing on his sleeve except cuff links?  The pitcher who prides himself on two decades’ worth of poise, who attributes his long-running success to never leaving himself vulnerable to an unguarded moment?”

In 1998, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Don Sutton.  During his speech, Sutton said, “My mother used to worry about my imaginary friends ’cause I would be out in the yard playing ball. She worried because she didn’t know a Mickey, or a Whitey, or a Yogi, or a Moose, or an Elston, but I played with them every day.”

Sutton’s trajectory led him to the major leagues, where he played with and against other legends—Seaver, Palmer, Niekro, and Carlton, to name a few.  Without star power enjoyed by his peers, Sutton compiled a career undeniably worthy of belonging in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 8, 2015

Circle Me Bert!

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

What is your favorite baseball nickname?  The Say Hey Kid for Willie Mays?  The Yankee Clipper for Joe DiMaggio?  Mr. Cub for Ernie Banks?  Tom Terrific for Tom Seaver?

ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman christened a tongue-in-cheek nickname for Bert Blyleven with a play on the pitcher’s last name — Bert Be Home Blyleven.  Blyleven, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, has created a phenomenon as a Minnesota Twins broadcaster that rivals his baseball exploits.

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