Posts Tagged ‘MVP Award’

Ted Williams’s MVP Years

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

If Boston ever establishes a Mount Rushmore of sports, the four visages will likely be those of Robert Gordon Orr, Larry Joe Bird, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr., and Theodore Samuel Williams.

Bobby.  Larry.  Tom.  Ted.

When Ted Williams swung his bat, a hit was not a foregone conclusion—pretty close, though.  After a 19-year career, Williams retired with a .344 batting average, 521 home runs, and two American League Most Valuable Player Awards.

In 1946, Williams won his first MVP Award, all the more remarkable because a three-year absence from ballparks to serve as a Marine pilot in World War II had, apparently, no impact—the Red Sox slugger nicknamed “The Splendid Splinter” led the major leagues in:

  • Runs Scored (142)
  • Walks (156)
  • On-Base Percentage (.497)
  • Slugging Percentage (.667)

Williams eclipsed Detroit Tigers left-hander Hal Newhouser, who won the AL MVP in 1944 and 1945. It was bittersweet, though.  The Red Sox lost the 1946 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games; Williams batted a Mendoza-like .200.

A red seat at Fenway Park shows the landing spot of a Williams home run on June 9, 1946—the longest dinger of his career.  To be precise, though, the ball landed on the head of the seat’s occupier—Joseph A. Boucher, a construction engineer.  Harold Kaese of the Boston Globe wrote, “He had never sat in the Fenway Park bleachers before.  There were 7897 fans besides [sic] himself perched on the sun-drenched wind-whipped concrete slope.  Indeed was the elderly Mr. Boucher honored when crowned by a five-ounce baseball that the game’s greatest hitter had socked some 450 feet.”

It happened during the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers; the Red Sox won both games.

Boucher’s brush with fame had a cost of slightly hurt noggin, barely protected by a straw hat.  It resulted; the “great baseball fan…and Red Sox rooter” received treatment from “Dr. Ralph McCarthy and two pretty nurses” in the stadium’s First Aid room.  Boucher did not recover the ball.

In 1949, Williams won his second MVP Award.  Once again, joy had a contrast of sorrow—the Yankees won the American League pennant by one game over the Red Sox.  It was an extraordinary year for Williams, even by MVP standards.  Williams led the major leagues in:

  • Runs Scored (150)
  • RBI (159)
  • Walks (162)
  • On-Base Percentage (.490)
  • On-Base plus Slugging Percentage (1.141)

Further, he led the American League in:

  • Doubles (39)
  • Home Runs (43)
  • Slugging Percentage (.650)

Though he did not achieve leadership in the following categories, his statistics were formidable:

  • Hits (194)
  • Strikeouts (48)
  • Batting Average (.343)

In Sports Illustrated‘s 2002 Special Commemorative Issue for Ted Williams, Tom Verducci wrote, “Trying to define Williams as a hitter is like studying one of those black-and-white optical illusions and trying to make out both a vase and the profiles of two people.  Do you see Williams as a high-average hitter with power or a power hitter who hit for a high average?  He was, of course, both.  Williams won six batting titles and four home run titles.”

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

Bobby Valentine, Tommy Lasorda, and the 1970 Spokane Indians

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Among its symbols, Spokane boasts The Historic Davenport Hotel, the Bing Crosby Theatre, and the Monroe Street Bridge.  They are, to be sure, propellants of the city’s physical, cultural, and architectural landscapes.

Baseball contributes an equally significant identifier to this foothold of the Inland Northwest.

And so it was—and continues to be—with the 1970 Spokane Indians.

Indians shortstop Bobby Valentine won the Pacific Coast League MVP Award, with a .340 batting average, 211 hits, and 122 runs scored.  IN a 2015 Hartford Courant article by Owen Canfield, Valentine praised Tommy Lasorda, the Indians manager, for offering positive reinforcement at a low point.  “After one particularly tough fielding game for me, he came into the locker room and said to the other players, ‘Go and get yourselves a pen and paper and get Bobby’s autograph, because some day he’s going to be great.'”

At the time, the AAA Indians belonged in the Dodgers’ minor league hierarchy.  Lasorda, of course, succeeded Walter Alston as the Dodgers’ manager, stayed at the helm for the next 20 years, and became a Chavez Ravine icon.  Spokane was a highly significant facilitator for the Dodgers—Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Von Joshua, Joe Ferguson, and Charlie Hough played for the Indians before getting called up to “the show.”

In his 1985 autobiography The Artful Dodger, written with David Fisher, Lasorda described his strategy of converting ballplayers to different positions—Davey Lopes, for example.  “He was a bona fide, blue-chip, big league prospect,” explained Lasorda.  “His only problem was that he was an outfielder, and the organization had an abundance of talented outfielders.  We needed shortstops and second basemen.  Since Russell and Valentine were already working out at shortstop, I told Davey I wanted to make him a second baseman.  He resisted the idea at first, but once I’d convinced him he would get to the big leagues a lot faster as an infielder, he accepted it.”

Lopes became a mainstay of the Dodgers infield in the 1970s, along with Ron Cey at third base, Russell at shortstop, and Garvey at first base.

In 1970, the Indians notched a 94-52 record, captured the PCL’s Northern Division by 26 games, and won the PCL championship by defeating the Hawaii Islanders in a four-game sweep.

From 1958 to 1972, the Indians belonged in the Dodgers organization, with subsequent affiliations to Texas, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Kansas City.  The team’s genesis began, effectively, on December 2nd, when the Dodgers and the Giants agreed to pay $900,000 in damages to the PCL for transporting into the league’s territory upon their exoduses from Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively.

A three-team move followed, rearranging the Los Angeles Angels to Spokane, the San Francisco Seals to Phoenix, and the Hollywood Stars to Salt Lake City.  Hollywood and the other PCL teams—Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento, Portland, San Diego—split the $900,000 equally, receiving $150,000 apiece.

Of the realignment, Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times clarified, “Long Beach, which has been a strong bidder for the Hollywood franchise, has no chance of landing it.  Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, among others, are solidly opposed to the beach city because of its proximity to Los Angeles.”

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

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.

Ted Williams Hits His Final Home Run

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

When a lanky native of San Diego hit a home run on September 28, 1960, it was not, perhaps, the most significant happening in his career—and certainly not the most significant happening in world affairs during the ninth month of the 60th year of the 20th century.

Ted Williams won two MVP Awards, the Triple Crown, and The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award seven times.  His career statistics include 521 home runs, .344 batting average, and .634 slugging percentage.  On that late September day, for the last time, Williams donned his Red Sox uniform, heard the cheers from the Fenway Park denizens, and went yard in his last at bat in the major leagues.

Legendary sportswriter Shirley Povich of the Washington Post noted that the excellence of the Red Sox slugger negated any revelatory aspects of the milestone.  “It shouldn’t have been surprising.  Williams has been making a commonplace of the dramatic homer ever since he came into the majors,” wrote Povich.

Still, an emotional charge laced the moment as Williams placed a period at the end of a 22-year career, all in a Red Sox uniform.  Nicknamed “The Splendid Splinter” for his batting prowess, Williams understood the impact of the home run.  “The first thing he did after the game was to send the home run bat to Tom Yawkey upstairs by bat boy Bobby Sullivan.  Then he hung around and soaked up praise and adulation, the admiring glances of those who would not approach, the warmth of a winning clubhouse—as he never would again,” wrote Harold Kaese in the Boston Globe.

Nonetheless, Williams did not tip his hat to the crowd.

About three weeks after Williams’s last game, The New Yorker published John Updike’s account in its October 22, 1960 issue; “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” stands as a model of baseball writing.  It is an honest appraisal of the dynamic fostered in the Red Sox legend’s adopted city.  Updike wrote, “The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing of shared memories.”

Additionally, an unparalleled work ethic, according to Updike, set Williams apart from his peers.  “No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy,” opined Updike.

Invoking the theory of ceteris paribus—all things being equal—Williams’s home run might have been in the 600s rather than the 500s had he not served his country during World War II.  A hero for his service as a pilot, Williams did not play professional baseball from 1943 to 1945, losing three years in his prime.  When Williams returned in 1946, he showed no signs of slowing down—MVP Award, .342 batting average, and 123 RBI.  Additionally, he led the major leagues in walks (156), slugging percentage (.667), on-base percentage (.497), and runs scored (142).

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 16, 2015.

1957 World Series

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Milwaukee inaugurated the Braves ball club to its new home city just a couple of weeks before the 1953 season began.  Acclimation from its previous location of Boston did not present a problem, given the enthusiasm showered by Milwaukeeans on their new major league ambassadors.  Four years later, the Braves powered through their National League competition to face the august New York Yankees in the 1957 World Series—it went seven games.

Initially scheduled to pitch Game Seven, Warren Spahn got sidelined by the flu, forcing Braves skipper Fred Haney to tap Lew Burdette for the deciding game, played at Yankee Stadium.  Burdette went the distance, blanked the Yankees 5-0, and notched his third victory in the ’57 series.  And he did it on two days rest, scattering seven hits and walked one batter—an intentional walk.  Burdette received the World Series MVP Award, predictably.

Milwaukee erupted in a celebration reaching from the citizenry on the streets to the power brokers in government.  Richard J.H. Johnston of the New York Times wrote, “Mayor Frank Zeidler burst from his office in City Hall and rushed to the building’s bell tower.  He and his laughing aides took turns at the bell rope to set in motion a great booming that was heard all over the city.  The first signal sent up from City Hall was five ear-shattering clangs of the bell, one for each of the Braves’ five runs in their 5-to-0 victory over the New York Yankees.”

Sid Gray of the New York Herald Tribune quoted Yankee star Mickey Mantle on praising the Braves:  “And that [Eddie] Mathews, they told me he was no gloveman.  They must have been kidding.  He was great.  So was their entire club on defense.”

Hank Aaron, the 1957 National League Most Valuable Player, assessed Burdette’s momentum combined with a sense of vindication in his autobiography I Had a Hammer:  “The way he was going, I think Burdette could have pitched if he’d been up all night working in one of those coal mines back in West Virginia.  Burdette had been traded by the Yankees before he ever got a chance to really pitch for them, and he hadn’t forgotten it.”

Burdette overcame a Yankee threat in the bottom of the ninth, a pure storybook opportunity for the boys in pinstripes to reverse the game’s course.  Yogi Berra fouled out, but Gil McDougald followed with a single.  Then, Yankee rookie Tony Kobe flied out to centerfield, governed by Aaron.

Two outs, one man on base.

Jerry Coleman singled.

Two outs, two men on base.

Tommy Byrne singled.

Two outs, bases loaded.

Burdette faced fearsome Yankee slugger Moose Skowron, upon whose shoulders the hopes of Yankee fans stood.  Alas, another World Series victory was not to be for the boys from the Bronx.  Bob Cooke of the Herald Tribune described the play and its impact on Yankee manager Casey Stengel:  “And then came the end, but not peacefully.  Moose Skowron shot a grounder to the right of [Braves third baseman] Eddie Mathews.  The latter scooped it up with a great, backhand catch, and danced to third where he forced Coleman for the final out.

“Stengel had disappeared.  He was on his way to the clubhouse and a long winter.”

Pitching the seventh game of a World Series at Yankee Stadium did not faze Burdette, an example of calm.  In his 2012 book Bushville Wins! The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers, and Beer Swiggers Who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball, John Klima wrote, “Burdette looked utterly unbothered on the mound.  He was so laid-back, yet so determined to win, that even the guys who had played with him for years, marveled at how the pressure that would kill other men couldn’t touch him.”

That night, upon the team’s landing at Billy Mitchell Field, approximately 12,000 Milwaukeeans greeted, cheered, and celebrated their baseball heroes.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 12, 2015.