Posts Tagged ‘Miller Huggins’

The Hall of Fame Case for Lou Piniella

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Lou Piniella is one of baseball’s greatest journeymen—a player with the Orioles, the Indians, the Royals, and the Yankees, in addition to stints as a manager with the Yankees, the Reds, the Mariners, the Devil Rays, and the Cubs.

Piniella’s achievements as a manager include winning a World Series championship, AL Manager of the Year twice, and NL Manager of the Year once.  With 1,835 career wins, Piniella is #14 on the all-time list—ahead of Hall of Fame managers Earl Weaver, Wilbert Robinson, Al Lopez, Miller Huggins, Tommy Lasorda, and Clark Griffith.  Also, Piniella managed the Mariners to an American League single-season record of 116 wins in 2001.

And yet, Piniella is not graced with a plaque in the Hall of Fame.  Why?  Surely, his managerial success indicates a career deserving of inclusion into the exclusive club in Cooperstown, located at 25 Main Street.  And that success emanated from determination.  Piniella managed as he played—with fierceness to win and reluctance to lose.

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner gave Piniella his first manager job.  Working for Steinbrenner came with legendary tension.  But in a 2002 article by Ira Berkow in the New York Times, Pinieall acknowledged the opportunity.  “I owe my managerial career to George,” said Piniella.  “He made me the manager and it was on-the-job training.  He saw something in me—I know he liked my intensity as a player—and he gave me a shot.”

“Intensity” to say the least.  Piniella had the resolve of a bull charging the matador.

For Yankee fans, Piniella was a fixture on the “Bronx Zoo” teams that brought three American League pennants and two World Series titles to Yankee Stadium in the late 1970s.  It was a volatile era, indeed.  When Reggie Jackson joined the Yankees before the 1977 season, Piniella knew a storm was brewing around the star player and manager Billy Martin that would have made the tornado from The Wizard of Oz look like a slight breeze.

“It was obviously going to be explosive,” said Piniella in Bill Pennington’s 2015 book Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius.  “And Billy was right, it did cause problems with Thurman [Munson] and Craig [Nettles].  But at the same time, let’s face it, Reggie was never Billy’s kind of player.  I think Billy did resent him a little.  He didn’t like most guys who called attention to themselves.”

On June 16, 1984, Piniella played in his last game.  Naturally, he had the game-winning RBI.  Even though Piniella went 0-for-5 on the day, his efforts contributed value to the Yankees beating the Orioles 8-3—the crucial RBI came from a ground ball.

George Vecsey of the New York Times described Piniella’s psychological makeup in an account of the June 16th game.  “His temper kept him in the minor leagues for most of the 1960’s, but later that temper hardened into a fierce athletic pride.  Only rarely did the temper come through in New York—but when it did, the tantrum was a beauty.  Who will ever forget Piniella sitting on the grass, pounding his fists on the east, raging over being called out by Ron Luciano during the 1978 playoffs?”

Piniella won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1969, notching a .282 batting average, 139 hits, and 68 RBI for the Kansas City Royals.  “Sweet Lou” retired from playing during the 1984 season.  His career statistics include a .291 batting average, 1,705 hits, and 305 doubles.

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

The Men Who Portrayed Babe Ruth

Friday, February 17th, 2017

To say that Babe Ruth was a dominant force is like saying that Mount Vesuvius spewed a little lava.

Firmly stands the Babe in popular culture, in part because of portrayals in films.  “The pattern of the drama, with its Horatio Alger stamp—rags to riches and romance—is obviously contrived, and the personal characterizations are all of them second-grade stock,” wrote the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther of the 1948 movie The Babe Ruth Story.   “Mr. [William] Bendix is straight from the smoke-house and Claire Trevor pulls all the heart-throb stops as a little showgirl who marries the great man and sticks by through thick and thin.”

Bendig was a character actor famed for “playing all manner of lugs, both loveable and dangerous,” according to his biography on the Turner Classic Movies web site.  Credits include the Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat, the Abbott & Costello movie Who Done It?, and the 1964 thriller Seven Days in May.  Perhaps Bendix’s best-known role was the title character in the 1950s television series The Life of Riley.

Babe Ruth, a 1991 NBC tv-movie, starred Stephen Lang as the Babe, Donald Moffat as Jacob Ruppert, and Bruce Weitz as Miller Huggins.  Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times lauded, “Lang has some of the size to play Ruth and, with tutoring from Rod Carew, the right-handed actor has developed a fairly convincing left-handed stroke and, with makeup, a prominent nose to match.”  Richard Huff of Variety also praised Lang—“he does his job convincingly.”

Art LaFleur played Babe Ruth in a dream sequence in the 1994 film The Sandlot.  Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, the best player on his sandlot baseball team, has a dream in which he talks with the Yankee slugger, who offers him advice on confronting “The Beast,” a dog guarding the house belonging to the baseball field’s neighbor; balls are gone forever when the kids hit them over the fence.  One particular ball poses a major problem for Scotty Smalls, a newcomer who’s unfamiliar with baseball—he brings a ball owned by his stepfather to the sandlot; it’s signed by Babe Ruth.  When Benny hits it over the fence, it’s gone forever.  Presumably.

Ruth’s ghost counsels Benny, “Everybody gets one chance to do something great.  Most people never take the chance, either ’cause they’re too scared or they don’t recognize it when it spits on their shoes.  This is your big chance, and you shouldn’t let it go by.  Remember when you busted the guts out of the ball the other day?  Someone’s telling you something, kid.  If I was you, I’d listen.”

As Ruth disappears, he offers final words of inspiration:  “Remember, kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends.  Heroes get remembered.  But legends never die.  Follow your heart, kid.  And you’ll never go wrong.”

Eventually, “The Beast” is discovered to be a friendly, humongous dog named Hercules.  His owner is a former Negro League ballplayer, portrayed by James Earl Jones.

In the 1992 film The Babe, John Goodman embodied the Sultan of Swat.  Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that Goodman was “ideally cast.”  In an interview with Clifford Terry of the Chicago Tribune, Goodman offered insight to Ruth’s boisterous, almost childlike nature.  “I don’t think the Babe had an underlying meanness,” said Goodman.  “It was maybe an emptiness in the middle.  I read an interesting quote that I tried to use as much as I could.  Somebody who knew him quite well was asked about him, and he said, ‘You know, I don’t think Babe ever loved anybody in his life.’  I based most everything on Robert Creamer’s outstanding … biography.  For example, I watched a lot of old film, but I could never figure out how to do Ruth’s home-run trot until I read a simple description of it in the book, and I was in.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 6, 2016.

Urban Faber’s World Series

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Urban Clarence “Red” Faber played in the 1917 World Series like Andrew Carnegie governed the steel industry—with dominance.  Faber spearheaded the Chicago White Sox to a World Series championship by winning three games against John McGraw and the New York Giants.

Before the World Series began, Chicago Daily Tribune sports writer I. E. Sanborn analyzed Faber’s ability. “He has a world of stuff and a deadly curve to mi with his spit ball, but is inclined to wildness,” wrote Sanborn.  “Faber’s one failing is a tendency to put too much on the ball when an opponent first faces him.  The result, if the man is a good waiter, is a near base on balls, compelling Faber to let up and put the ball where the batsman wants it.”

After winning the first game, the White Sox sent Faber to the mound on October 8th for the second game.  Chicago won 7-2, compiling 14 hits to New York’s eight; neither team had a home run.  With the score tied at two apiece after the second inning, Chicago put five runs on the scoreboard in the fourth inning.  Buck Weaver and Shoeless Joe Jackson each had three hits; their combined RBI total of three would have been enough to win the game—Weaver had one RBI and Jackson had two.

Sanborn underscored Faber’s performance, running error, and hometown pride.  “Red Urban Faber made Cascade, Ia., famous the world over as long as the world may last,” wrote Sanborn.  “Not only did the Cascade ido pitch as strong game, for which he long will be remembered, but in the fifth inning he staged a classic ‘Barry’ by trying to steal third base, which already was occupied by Buck Weaver, and that feat never will be forgotten.  ‘A thousand, thousand years’ from now it will be dug up by the historians as the feature of the 1917 world’s series.”

Faber lost the fourth game, then returned to the mound two days later.  Chicago beat New York 8-5 as both teams put on hitting displays—14 hits for Chicago, 12 hits for New York.

In the sixth and deciding game, Faber evidence Sanborn’s forecast.  In the New-York Tribune, W. J. Macbeth wrote, “His was a style made to order for a batting outfit of the Giant Kind if [Manager John] McGraw’s sluggers had only patience.  Faber tried to put everything he had on every pitch.  When a pitcher does this, as a rule, he affects his control.  It was so with Faber yesterday.  But the Giants simply refused to permit the Chicago twirler to ‘dutch’ himself.  If New York batters had been patient it is more than likely Faber would have been in hot water often.”

Three unearned runs in the fourth inning provided a sufficient cushion to win the game.  Final score:  4-2.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Faber in 1964, along with Luke Appling, Heinie Manush, Burleigh Grimes, Miller Huggins, Tim Keefe, and John Ward.  Faber’s page on the Hall of Fame web site indicates the respect showered by McGraw, who said, “That fellow has a lot of stuff.  He’s got the best drop curve that I’ve seen along the line for some time.  And his spitter is a pippin’, too.”

After a 20-year career, Faber retired with a  254-213 record, 3.15 Earned Run Average, and 111 home runs allowed; he won 20 games or more in three consecutive year, 1920-1922.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 28, 2016.

The Death of Babe Ruth

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Like the man whose life it honored, Babe Ruth’s funeral was gigantic.  “The Babe is no longer breathing, but the fans will always talk about him,” wrote Hy Hurwitz in the Boston Globe upon the Babe’s passing in 1948.  “Talk about him because of his run-in, suspension and fine by the late Miller Huggins, only half of Ruth’s size, but a man who made it possible for Ruth to realize manhood.  Talk about him because he never turned down an autograph request or a trip to a hospital to visit a sick patient.”

George Herman “Babe” Ruth died on August 16, 1948.  6,000 mourned at Ruth’s funeral in and around St. Patrick’s Cathedral, perhaps New York City’s most famous religious site, within a Ruthian home run of Rockefeller Center and the New York Public Library’s Main Branch in midtown Manhattan.  Ignoring the rain, another 75,000 lined the streets in St. Patrick’s environs.  Newspapers recounted Cardinal Spellman’s prayer:  “May the Divine Spirit that inspired Babe Ruth to overcome hardships and win the crucial game of life animate many generations of American youth to learn from the example of his struggles and successes loyally to play their positions on all American teams, and may his generous-hearted soul through the mercy of God, the final scoring of his own good deeds and the prayers of his faithful friends, rest in everlasting peace.  Amen.”

Hardships began in Baltimore, Ruth’s hometown, where the father of the future slugger owned a bar.  Ruth, apparently, was incorrigible at a terribly young age, so his parents sent him to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, an institution serving problem children.  He was nine years old or thereabouts.  Versions vary regarding the impetus for Ruth’s enrollment in St. Mary’s.  Ruth biographer Robert W. Creamer wrote, “Another story, the origins of which are vague, says that one day during a brawl in the Ruth saloon a shot was fired.  No one was hurt, but an indignant neighbor got in touch with city authorities, declaring that the saloon was not a fit place to raise a child.  As a result either the city insisted or the parents themselves decided that the increasingly wayward boy should be removed from his unwholesome environment.”

Ruth left St. Mary’s when he was 20 years old, after a scout discovered his ability to smash baseballs over the fences.  He played in the major leagues from 1914 to 1935, amassing devotion from fans enthralled by his achievements, including the stunning season record of 60 home runs in 1927; it stood until 1961, when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs.  Ruth’s death reignited that wonder, as is common with the passing of a legend.  “It had to come sometime, of course,” wrote Arthur Daley in the New York Times.  “But Babe Ruth seemingly had acquired a cloak of immortality as if he were a demigod who had sprung from Zeus.  He was not an ordinary mortal even in life.  Now in death he will assume still more grandiose proportions as an almost legendary figure.”

Ruth’s impact on the game cannot be measured by his statistics alone, though they are legendary.  Career numbers include:

  • .690 slugging percentage
  • .342 batting average
  • 714 home runs

Further, as a pitcher for the Red Sox before he became a power hitter, Ruth held the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched in the World Series until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961.  Immeasurably, Ruth injected excitement into a game scarred by the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  When he swatted American League pitching for round-tripper after round-tripper, fans delighted.

Ruth’s skill with a bat turned baseball toward a new era.  The New York Herald Tribune eulogized, “His slugging prowess inspired imitators and the emphasis shifted from the tight tricks of the sacrifice, the squeeze, the stolen base, the playing for one run, to the long hit which would clean the bases, the one big inning.  It worked on every ball club in the country, but nobody could do it like the Babe, who began it.”

Ruth lay in state at Yankee Stadium for two days before the funeral at St. Patrick’s.  It was an opportunity to pay respects in the baseball shrine nicknamed “The House That Ruth Built.”  Thousands came.  “Aside from a few public officials, such as City Council President Vincent Impellitteri and Bronx Borough President James J. Lyons, these were the kind of people who might have sat in the stands to watch the Babe hit one of his tremendous homers, or strike out with gusto,” wrote Murray Schumach in the New York Times.  “The enormous line that waited patiently outside the Stadium, might have been mistaken for the bleacher line.  There were few limousines in the vicinity.  These people had come by elevated and subway, apparently straight  from work.  Many men were in shirtsleeves.”

On August 20th, the day of Ruth’s funeral, the New York Yankees defeated the Washington Senators decisively—the score was 8-1.  Yankee icon Joe DiMaggio attended Ruth’s funeral while the team prepared in Washington for a game against the Senators.  Quoted by Rud Rennie of the New York Herald Tribune, DiMaggio said, “The Babe must have been more than just a great ball player to have so many people think so much of him.”

Attending the funeral left a small window of time for travel to Washington, though.  Fortunately, DiMaggio had the help of legendary bar owner Toots Shortchanged and CBS Chairman William Paley.  “Shortchanged yelled at Paley, who was driving on Madison Avenue in his limousine.  Paley got out and turned the car over to DiMaggio so that he was able to get to LaGuardia Airport,” wrote Rennie.

DiMaggio also got a boost from his flight crew.  Rennie added, “American Air Lines held flight 307 for ten minutes.”

Entering the game in the third inning, DiMaggio went one-for-four with no runs scored and no RBI.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 21, 2015.

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.

1920: A Year of Tragedy and Scandal

Monday, October 31st, 2016

Just a few days before the 1920 World Series between the Brooklyn Robins (also known as the Dodgers) and the Cleveland Indians began, Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson turned rumors to fact about gamblers reaching their tentacles into the clubhouse to choke the oxygen of purity from baseball.

Cicotte and Jackson testified before a Chicago grand jury that eight White Sox players “fixed” the 1919 World Series in exchange for payment from gamblers who bet heavily on Chicago’s opponent, the Cincinnati Reds.  It was an emphatic blow to baseball’s soul.  Another dark event occurred in 1920 baseball, tragic because of its finality.

On August 16th, the Indians’ Ray Chapman got hit in the head by a Carl Mays pitch in a game against the Yankees.  The setting was late afternoon, top of the 5th inning.

Thinking the ball hit the bat, Mays fielded it and threw to first baseman Wally Pipp.  Chapman took three or four steps, then collapsed.  Although he walked off the field, with assistance, the Indians’ shortstop died early the next morning in the hospital.  Chapman’s obituary in the New York Times cited Yankee skipper Miller Huggins surmising that Chapman’s spikes got caught in the dirt, thereby preventing him from moving out of the way.

Another theory espoused that Chapman simply did not see the ball because it was scuffed, dirtied, or otherwise marred either by a pitcher or through regular play.  In that era, snow white baseballs were not in terrific supply during a game.  By the later innings, a game ball could be discolored, even misshapen.  Consequently, a batter might have difficulty perceiving the ball, judging its speed, and avoiding its contact.

In the twin wakes of the White Sox betrayal and the Chapman tragedy, a 6’3″ pitcher, lanky yet muscular, strode to his citadel, the Ebbets Field pitching mound.  Richard William “Rube” Marquand, nicknamed by a sports writer after pitching great Rube Waddell, received the task of opening the World Series for Brooklyn.

Four days shy of his 34th birthday, Waddell gave up three runs to the Indians ball club, still mired in grief over the Chapman death.  It was all the fodder needed.  Brooklyn lost the game 3-1, its lone run scored by future Hall of Famer Zack Wheat.  Ignominy fathered for Brooklyn in Game 5 when Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss made an unassisted triple play, the only one in World Series history.

Brooklyn lost the 1920 World Series to Cleveland, five games to two games.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 31, 2013.

 

Lou Gehrig, Baseball History, and July 4th

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

On my desk, a 25-cent Lou Gehrig stamp rests in a frame nestled on a plastic stand.

It reminds me of Gehrig’s dedication to his baseball craft, reflected in 2,130 consecutive games played.

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