Posts Tagged ‘MVP’

Boog Powell’s MVP Season

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

A native of Key West—the place where Pan Am began, the U.S.S. Maine sailed from on its last journey before exploding in Havana Harbor, and Ernest Hemingway maintained a legendary home—John Wesley Powell, also known as Boog, spent most of his 17-season career in an Orioles uniform.  One of those seasons—1970—resulted in him winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Powell ran away with the MVP voting, gaining 11 of 24 first-place votes and 234 points.  The next four contestants weren’t even close:

  • Tony Oliva, Minnesota Twins (157)
  • Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota Twins (152)
  • Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (136)
  • Frank Howard, Washington Senators (91)

Memorial Stadium rocked with the cheers of Oriole Nation as Powell marched toward the coveted .300 batting average barrier, falling just short at .297.  Powell’s dominance at the plate reflected in 35 home runs, 114 RBI, and a .549 slugging percentage.

It was a banner year for Baltimore’s birds—they won the World Series after getting upset by the Miracle Mets in 1969.  Powell’s fellow Orioles did not fare as well with awards, despite outstanding seasons.  Baltimore’s legendary pitching staff boasted three 20-game winners—Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Jim Palmer scored in the top five for the American League Cy Young Award voting, but got eclipsed by Jim Perry of the Twins.

Powell said, “I think it’s a shame we were neglected for the other awards.  All of our three pitchers certainly deserved the Cy Young.  But I’m still elated at being chosen the MVP.  I feel it’s the highest honor in sports.”

Yankee skipper Ralph Houk won the American League Manager of the Year title rather than Earl Weaver, who helmed the O’s to two straight World Series.  A third consecutive appearance happened against the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’71—ultimately a losing affair in seven games.

Cheers, an NBC prime time powerhouse in the 1980s, used Powell to cement verisimilitude of Sam “Mayday” Malone—a fictional relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, a recovering alcoholic, and the owner of Cheers.  As the show’s theme song declares, Cheers is a bar, near the Boston Commons, where everybody knows your name.

In the first season episode “Sam at Eleven,” Sam’s former ballplayer pal Dave Richards, now a sportscaster, wants to interview the ex-Red Sox reliever at Cheers.  Sam talks about a dramatic moment when he faced Powell in the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader.  During the middle of Sam’s story, Dave abandons for an interview with John McEnroe.  Diane Chambers, an intellectual waitress having an undercurrent of highly significant sexual tension with Sam, which gets resolved in a later episode when they succumb to their respective differences—he, a dumb jock stereotype and she, a condescending sort—asks what happened to “the Boog person” and Sam, obviously suffering from a punch to his ego, casually tells her that Powell grounded to third to end the game.

After some gentle and not-so-gentle verbal prodding from Diane, Sam talks about the injury to his psyche.  Then, perhaps in a moment of catharsis, he tells Diane about the end of the second game, which also found him facing Powell in the bottom of the ninth.

Sam’s story could not have taken place during Powell’s MVP year, however.  When Cheers left prime time in 1993, after 11 seasons, Sports Illustrated ran a biography of America’s favorite barkeep.  “Everybody Knows His Name” recounted Malone’s career based on dialogue throughout the series.  Sam Malone entered professional baseball in 1966, débuted in the major leagues in 1972, and ended his career in 1978.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 15, 2016.

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.

1957 American League MVP Controversy

Friday, January 6th, 2017

One was a lanky outfielder whose presence in the batter’s box automatically elicited cheers from the Fenway Faithful.  The other, a mainstay in pinstripes, compiling legendary statistics while riddled by injuries throughout his career.

Ted Williams.  Mickey Mantle.

Coming off his Triple Crown season of 1956, Mantle won the 1957 American League Most Valuable Player Award.  But the Yankee slugger from Commerce, Oklahoma didn’t think he had a shot compared to the venerable outfielder who wore #9 for the Red Sox.  “Mantle Felt Williams Won Award With East” blared the headline at the top of an Associated Press story in the Boston Globe, underscoring the confusion of many—and the resentment in Red Sox Nation—concerning Mantle’s achievement.

In 1957, Williams led the American League in Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, and Slugging Percentage; Mantle led in Runs and Walks while achieving a .365 batting average, second to Williams’s .388.  According to the calculations of baseball-reference.com, Mantle dominated Wins Above Replacement (WAR) categories, placing first in WAR-Position Players, WAR-Offensive War, and War-All.  Williams trailed in second place.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America bestowed the MVP honor after the tallying of votes belonging to a tribunal of 24 scribes ended in an overall score.  Mantle led his American League peers with six votes for first place, resulting in a score of 233.  Williams followed with a 209 score, supported by five votes for first place.  The next highest score—204—belonged to Roy Sievers, a formidable run producer garnering four first place MVP votes with the last place Washington Senators; Sievers led the American League in Home Runs and Runs Batted In.  Other contenders included Nellie Fox with five first place votes and Gil McDougald with four.

Williams’s bristly relationship with the press may have influenced the balloting.  Harold Rosenthal of the New York Herald Tribune wrote, “The face for first would have been an eyelash proposition if personalities hadn’t entered into the balloting.  On two ballots Williams dre no better than a ninth and a tenth, a flagrant abuse of the electorate.”

Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey concurred, offering praise of the Yankee centerfielder while protecting the Splendid Splinter.  Hy Hurwitz of the Boston Daily Globe wrote, “Yawkey pointed out he admired Mantle as a wonderful ball player but stated that anyone who allows ‘personalities’ to enter into his voting should not be allowed to vote.”

Williams, as the numbers showed, had the respect of all but those two voters assigning him a ninth place vote and a tenth place vote—this, despite a season of stellar statistics.  Hurwitz commented, “There is little question—not only with the fans—but with more than 90 percent of the committee—that Williams didn’t belong lower than fourth place on any ballot.  Twenty-two of the 24 voters had Ted first, second, third or fourth.”

A media conspiracy theory concerning the 1957 American League Most Valuable Player Award offers lucrative fodder for debate amongst baseball enthusiasts, especially those in Boston and the Bronx.  Williams received laughter from the audience at his Hall of Fame induction in 1966, when he poked fun at his relationship with the press, followed by his appreciation:  “I received two hundred and eighty-odd votes from the writers.  I know I didn’t have two hundred and eighty-odd close friends among the writers.  I know they voted for me because they felt in their minds, and some in their hearts, that I rated it, and I want to say to them: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 14, 2015.

Roy Campanella and the Baltimore Elite Giants

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Roy Campanella was born in the same year as the team for which he played before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.  The Elite Giants débuted in 1921 in Nashville, where it stayed for a decade and a half before moving to Washington, D.C.  After spending 1936 and 1937 in the nation’s capital, the team moved about 40 miles north to Baltimore, where it won the Negro National League championship the following year.

In his 2009 book The Baltimore Elite Giants, Bob Luke described team found Thomas “Smiling Tom” Wilson as a businessman who straddled the line separating legal and illegal activities.  “He ran a profitable numbers operation, which was illegal, sponsored numerous events at his namesake stadium in Nashville, Wilson Park, and ran a popular nightclub, the Paradise Ballroom,” wrote Luke.

The Baltimore Afro-American ran a story in the February 5, 1938 edition—May Transfer Elite Giants From Washington To Balto—quoting Wilson, who explained the financial benefit of changing metropolises:  “Last year we lost money with the club operating from Washington.  I sincerely feel Baltimore far superior to Washington as a baseball town.”  Wilson added, “It’s been a long time since Baltimore has had a regular league team and I feel the people there need one and will support one.”

Five weeks later, the Afro-American confirmed the move, heralding the relocation to Baltimore—the team’s last city until its demise in 1950—amongst other decisions made at a three-day Negro National League conference:  “Tom Wilson’s Elite Giants, who operated from Washington the last two years, definitely have been transferred to Baltimore this season and will play out of either Oriole Park or Bugle Field as a home base.

“This gives Baltimore its first real big league club since 1931.”

Campanella credited his rookie season of 1937 with the Elite Giants as forming the foundation for his catching skills, specifically, learning under the tutelage of veteran catcher Biz Mackey, who managed the team.  Though he was 15 years old, Campanella possessed natural abilities that belied his young age.

In his 1959 autobiography It’s Good To Be Alive, Campanella wrote, “As that season wore on I began to share the catching with Biz Mackey fifty-fifty.  Instead of growing distant as I grew better, Biz gave me everything he could.  I was becoming a good instinctive catcher, doing the right thing without thinking about it.  But my hitting was something else again.  Biz tried to get me to cut down on my swing and meet the ball better.”

Campanella biographer Neil Lanctot investigated the Campanella-Mackey relationship for his 2011 book Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella.  Mackey according to Lanctot, did not mandate a “do as I do” guideline for the teenage protégé.  “Unlike some coaches, Mackey did not try to force his pupil to copy his style.  There were different ways of catching, Mackey felt, and each receiver should use the form that worked best for him.  However, the boy needed instruction in the mechanical and mental aspects of the position.  Roy soon discovered there was much he did not know about catching.  After watching Mackey for a few games, he began to wonder whether he knew anything about catching.”

Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Campanella after the 1945 season.  Campanella first played for the Nashua Dodgers, a farm team in the Eastern League, where he won the 1946 MVP Award.  Rickey called him up to Brooklyn in the middle of the 1948 season.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Roy Campanella in 1969.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 29, 2015.

Brooklyn, Baseball, and the Aurora Borealis

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Brooklynites tuning their radios to WOR for the Dodgers-Pirates broadcast on September 18, 1941 encountered an unexpected delay in Red Barber’s recounting of balls and strikes.  A natural phenomenon triggered the interruption and, consequently, the ire of Dodger fans.  The New York Times reported, “Sun spots and the aurora borealis yesterday and lat night played havoc with radio communications, but treated New York and the Eastern Seaboard as far south as Virginia to a display of light unparalleled in recent years.”

The Dodgers and the Pirates were in a scoreless tie at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field when the event happened at 4:00 p.m., preventing the broadcast from continuing for about 15 minutes.  During the delay, the Pirates scored four runs.  The source of the delay had no import for the Brooklyn faithful, though.  “Thousands of Brooklyn followers meanwhile had telephoned the station and displayed little satisfaction with the explanation that the sun was to blame,” explained the Times.

The Pirates won the game 6-5, but the Dodgers won the National League pennant, vaulting to the World Series after a two-decaf drought.  History repeated itself as a World Series championship proved elusive.  The Dodgers lost the World Series to the Red Sox in 1916 and again in 1920 to the Indians; in ’41, they lost to the Yankees.

The most memorable moment of the 1941 World Series occurred in Game 4 with a 4-3 Dodger lead and two outs in the ninth inning.  Yankee outfielder Tommy Henrich sprinted to first base after Hugh Casey’s pitch hit Mickey Owen’s glove and a called third strike became a passed ball.  A succession of hits guided the Yankees to a 7-4 comeback victory and a 3-1 lead in the World Series.  The next day, the Yankees won the World Series in Game 5.

In Owen’s 2005 obituary, Richard Goldstein of the New York Times described the moment’s effect.  “Owen played for 13 seasons in the major leagues and was an outstanding catcher with a strong, accurate arm.  But he has been linked in baseball history with figures like Fred Merkle, Ralph Branca and Bill Buckner, all outstanding players defined by a single moment of misfortune.”

The Dodgers had three players who cracked the .300 batting average barrier in 1941: Dixie Walker, Pete Reiser, and Joe Medwick.  Reiser was Brooklyn’s powerhouse in the batter’s box, leading the National League with a .343 batting average.  He scored 117 runs, smashed 184 hits, and reached second place in the voting for National League Most Valuable Player.  Reiser’s teammate Dolph Camilli won the MVP, giving Brooklyn a one-two MVP punch in 1941.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 1, 2014.