Posts Tagged ‘Henry Ford’

The Indomitable Zack Wheat

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Zack Wheat churned out hits with the reliability of Henry Ford’s assembly line, which débuted the Model T in 1908, a year prior to Wheat’s introduction to the major leagues.  From 1909 to 1926, Wheat flourished as a member of Brooklyn’s National League squad with various nicknames in the press—Trolley Dodgers, Dodgers, Robins, Flock.  Wheat played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927, his last season.

Dodgers through the decades have achieved more fame, acclaim, and worship than Zachariah Davis Wheat, certainly.  Sandy Koufax pitched his way into Cooperstown with four no-hitters; Jackie Robinson earned civil rights icon status when he broke baseball’s color line in 1947; Tommy Lasorda declared his passion for the Dodgers at every opportunity; Fernando Valenzuela ignited Fernandomania during the summer of 1981; Don Drysdale struck fear into National League batting lineups, then parlayed his stardom into guest appearances on television sitcoms and a broadcasting career; Steve Garvey enjoyed an All-American image until it got sullied with a nasty divorce complemented by publicity regarding extramarital affairs and illegitimate children; Duke Snider defined power with each of his 407 career home runs; and Roy Campanella displayed courage, dignity, and inner strength in facing paralysis after a horrific car accident.

Wheat, surprisingly, often remains sidelined in discussions of Dodger greats.  A lack of recognition for Wheat’s performance belies a remarkable career output placing Wheat as the #1 Dodger in the following categories:

  • Career hits (2,884)
  • Doubles (476)
  • Triples (171)
  • RBI (1,248)

Wheat racked up a .317 batting average in his 19-year career, broke the .300 mark 14 times, and won the 1918 National League batting title with a .335 batting average.

A deeper dive into Wheat’s statistics reveals arcane nuances reflecting his excellence, which further enhances the value of the left fielder who batted left, threw right, and became a Brooklyn fixture.  OPS statistics—On-Base Plus Slugging—offer a baseline measure for ballplayers.  Additionally, Gray Ink grades on the number of times that a ballplayer’s achievements place in a given category’s top 10.

Baseball-reference.com states, “Wheat’s Adjusted OPS scores are not particularly high for a Hall of Famer, but on the other hand he was a well-rounded player.  His Gray Ink score (which is the 27th highest of all time) shows that he was commonly in the top ten in the National League—in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, among other stats, and he also stole over 200 bases in his career.  As a defensive player, his range was good for many years until he began to age.  He never played any position but outfield during his major league career, and almost never appeared in any outfield position than left field, which he owned for many years in Brooklyn.”

In the 1916 World Series, which Brooklyn lost to the Boston Red Sox, Wheat did not perform to his usual standard—he batted .211.  Wheat fared better in the 1920 World Series, achieving a .333 batting average.  It was not, however, enough—the Cleveland Indians beat Brooklyn in seven games.

Wheat’s approach to physical fitness lacked even a whiff of dedication.  “I smoke as much as I want and chew tobacco a good deal of the time,” said Wheat.  “I don’t pay any attention to the rules for keeping in physical condition.  I think they are a lot of bunk.  The less you worry about the effect of tea and coffee on the lining of your stomach, the longer you will live, and the happier you will be.”

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Zack Wheat in 1959.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 23, 2016.

The Death of John McGraw

Friday, November 18th, 2016

John McGraw was to baseball what Henry Ford was to the automobile.  They did not invent their respective industries.  They reinvented them.

Straddling the line separating the 19th and 20th centuries, McGraw ended his career as a baseball player by performing the additional duties of manager, first with the Baltimore Orioles and then with the New York Giants.  He was full of fire, brimstone, and anything ignitable.  And the fans loved him for it, as did his players.

McGraw died on February 25, 1934 at the age of 60.  His was a game of strategy, fundamentals, and thought.  But a change in the ball during the 1920s eclipsed McGraw’s approach.  In the February 26th edition of the New York Times, John Kieran eulogized, “Then the lively ball came in and any hill-billy, hay-shaker, or plow-jockey might walk up there with a blundering bludgeon to ruin a whole afternoon of fine strategy by slapping the jack-rabbit ball over a distant fence.  It made a new game, a slam-bang affair in which stolen bases didn’t count, inside stuff ran for Sweeney and the hit-and-run gave way to the hit-and-walk style of play; hit one into the bleachers and walk around the bases.  That wasn’t McGraw’s type of game.”

With a career encompassing 10 National League pennants and three World Series championships, McGraw epitomized toughness bordering on pugilism.  Upon McGraw’s death, the New York Herald Tribune, in its February 26th edition, stated, “Baseball to John J. McGraw was a feud, not a game.”  Age softened him up some, but even on the day he quit the playing field in 1932, thirty years after he had joined the Giants, he was the truculent and red-faced “Muggsy,” a name he hated with all the bitterness that could come of the McGraw nature of pride and arrogance.”

The Herald Tribune also noted McGraw’s impact on the game through his tutelage.  “He brought to the Polo Grounds dozens of players whose deeds made separate chapters in baseball’s history, and through his knowledge of baseball, knowledge that made popular the phrase ‘master minding’ and made McGraw ‘The Little Napoleon,’ he trained many players who learned their lessons so well that they afterward became rivals of their old master.”

Baseball mourned McGraw with an abundant admiration that might have shied the fiery manager.  Babe Ruth said, “What, John McGraw dead!  He was one of the three greatest baseball generals.  I rank him with my late friend, Miller Huggins, and Connie Mack.”  Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis said, “The man who first talked of ‘rugged individualism’ may well have had John J. McGraw in mind, for nobody was ever further removed from the commonplace than he.  I can think of no man whose name was more universally associated with the virile competitive spirit of baseball than McGraw.  To me his death is a personal affliction.”

McGraw’s players soaked up baseball knowledge like a sponge, cultivating an invaluable approach.  Bill Terry, the Giants manager, said, “The man who made the Giants stand for what they do is gone, but his code lives on.  It was under McGraw that I learned what I know about baseball and I will try to carry on and teach the same things to those who never had the chance to benefit directly from the greatest manager baseball has ever known.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 15, 2014.

What’s In A Team Name? Bridegrooms…Superbas…Dodgers! Oh My! The Birth of Brooklyn Baseball in the 19th Century (Part 2 of 3)

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Professional baseball for Brooklyn began about 125 miles south in a doubleheader against the ISBA’s Wilmington, Delaware team on May 1, 1883. The teams split the games.  Wilmington won the first game 9-6, Brooklyn won the second game 8-2.

On May 9th, Brooklyn played its first home game under professional auspices. Sort of.

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