Posts Tagged ‘Walter Johnson’

The Dandy Dominican

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

As San Francisco morphed into the headquarters for counterculture, with the intersection of Haight and Ashbury becoming as well known to hippies as that of Hollywood and Vine to fans of show business, Juan Marichal fired fastballs for the Giants, a team transplanted from a ballpark approximately 3,000 miles eastward.  The “Dandy Dominican” constructed a Hall of Fame career, boosted by a lineup of fellow Cooperstown-bound teammates Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, and Orlando Cepeda.

In a Hall of Fame Strat-O-Matic matchup of pre-1960 American Leaguers and post-1960 National Leaguers, Marichal notched nine strikeouts in a  9-5 victory for the senior circuit players.  The lineups were:

Pre-1960 American League

Ty Cobb, LF

Goose Goslin, CF

Hank Greenberg, 1B

Babe Ruth, RF

Home Run Baker, 3B

Charlie Gehringer, 2B

Joe Sewell, SS

Bill Dickey, C

Walter Johnson, P

Post-1960 National League

Lou Brock, LF

Joe Morgan, 2B

Hank Aaron, RF

Willie Mays, CF

Johnny Bench, C

Ernie Banks, SS

Eddie Mathews, 3B

Frank Chance, 1B

Juan Marichal, P

Each team was allowed to have one player from outside the time parameter.  The American League kept within it; the National League used Frank Chance.

Marichal gave up solo home runs to Gehringer and Johnson, respectively, in addition to a Greenberg two-run dinger with Goslin on base, courtesy of a rare error by Mr. Cub.  And the pitcher known as the “Dandy Dominican” helped his own cause, singling in the bottom of the second inning, moving to second when Morgan walked after Brock flied out to right, and scoring on an Aaron double.

On July 19, 1960, Marichal first appeared in a major league game, scoring 12 strikeouts in a two-hit, 2-0 victory; the righty’s initial three games—against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee—contributed as many wins to the Giants’ 79-75 season record.  Milwaukee skipper Charlie Dressen lobbied the umpires during the third inning of the Braves-Giants game, complaining that Marichal broke the rule regarding a pitcher’s position on the mound.  Marichal planted himself on the rubber’s location closest to first base, though he told Curley Grieve of the San Francisco Examiner that umpires had never raised the issue.  “I’m used to that position and I think it helps my curve ball, especially against right-handed hitters,” said Marichcal in Grieve’s article “Marichal Delivery Illegal?”

Dressen wanted Marichal to pitch from the middle of the rubber, insisting after the game that his argument was sound.

Marichal, all of 21 years old in his rookie year, received accolades from teammate—and fellow Dominican—Felipe Alou after the troika of games indicating future greatness:  “Juan used to throw harder.  We played for the same team.  Escogido in the Dominican winter league, and he burned them in.  Every year he learns a little more, he gets a new pitch.  Now he’s more clever with curves and sliders to go with his fast ball.”  Art Rosenbaum of the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Alou in his article “Juan Marichal a Baseball ‘Phee-nom,'” which also encapsulated Marichal’s minor league career in Class D (Midwest League), Class A (Eastern League), and AAA (Pacific Coast League).

Marichal ended his rookie year with a 6-2 record.  Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983, Marichal compiled a 243-142 win-loss record in his 16-year career.  An ignominious mark on an outstanding career occurred when he came to bat in a 1965 contest against the Dodgers, highlighted by Sandy Koufax and Marichal hurling brushback pitches; when Dodgers catcher John Roseboro threw the ball back to Koufax, it came too close for comfort—Marichal claimed it nicked his ear.  Retaliation erupted with Marichal bashing Roseboro’s head with his bat.  Roseboro left the game with several stitches and Marichal received a 10-game suspension, a $1,750 fine, and a settlement of litigation with Roseboro amounting to $7,500.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 7, 2017.

The Burning of Boundary Field

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Not since British troops burned the White House during the War of 1812 had the environs of the nation’s capital endured a conflagration triggering a plummet in morale.  On March 17, 1911, a fire tore through the Washington Nationals’ ballpark, also known as Boundary Field  “It is well, however, to be optimistic,” stated an editorial in the Washington Post.  “It is this quality that has distinguished Washington ‘fans’ from the rest of the universe.  Others may lose hope and be cast down, but the Washington ‘fans’ never.”

Plumbers left a blow lamp “in an exposed place,” according to the Post.  An estimated $20,000 in damage resulted from the blaze.  A lumber company and land owned by Howard University sustained damage estimated at $20,000 and $2,000, respectively.

With the season starting in just a few weeks, Washington’s baseball brain trust had to consider viable options if the stadium could not be fixed in time for Opening Day.  It was a logistical nightmare involving the balance of practicality, insurance money, and promises from contractors.

An idea to move the Nationals-Red Sox Opening Day game from Washington to Boston received quick dismissal from the hierarchy belonging to the Boston Braves.  “It would be out of the question for us to consent to the Washington American league [sic] opening being transferred to Boston, because we also open on that date,” said L. Coues Page in an article for the Boston Globe.  “All opening games are considered plums, and it would be contrary to the national agreement of baseball clubs for such a thing to happen.”

Logically, the Braves would not submit.  “It would be a poor business proposition for us, and I personally don’t believe such a thing could be don without violating the peace clause of the national agreement,” continued Page.

Lack of firefighting infrastructure jeopardized the ballpark.  “The fire was one of the hardest to combat in the history of the local department,” reported the Post.  “That Washington needs a high-pressure water system was clearly demonstrated, say the firemen.  There are but four fire plugs within the immediate vicinity of the ball park, and it was with great difficulty that the engines stationed at a distance threw water on the burning structures.”

Repair efforts proved successful.  Washington hosted Boston for the Opening Day game, which ended in an 8-5 victory for the home team.

1911 was not a great year for the Senators.  It was not even a good one.  Their 64-90 record put them in seventh place in the American League.  Walter Johnson, as was his won’t, put up terrific figures belying the team’s mediocrity:

  • 25-13 win-loss record
  • 1.90 ERA
  • Six shutouts
  • 36 complete games
  • 207 strikeouts
  • Led American League in shutouts
  • Led major leagues in complete games

Clyde Milan, Washington’s center fielder, led the American League in:

  • Plate appearances (705)
  • At bats (616)
  • Games played (154)

Additionally, he ratcheted 148 hits for a .315 batting average, his career high.  In the following two seasons the fleet-footed Milan led the major leagues in stolen bases:

  • 88 stolen bases in 1912
  • 75 stolen bases in 1913

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 5, 2016.

Savannah’s Bananas

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

When James Oglethorpe led the settling of Savannah, Georgia in 1733, he used a geometric shape for the layout—squares.  Robert Johnson has the distinction of the first square being named after him; Johnson—South Carolina’s colonial governor—and Oglethorpe were friends.  Savannah expanded to 24 squares; Johnson Square is the largest.  Urban development caused the destruction of two squares.

Savannah’s squares, essentially, consist of eight blocks—four residential and four civic.  But it is a square turned 45 degrees that occupies a firm footing in Savannah’s history, culture, and leisure—a diamond.  Well, a baseball diamond.  Grayson Stadium.

In the year that Grayson Stadium was constructed—1926—under the moniker of Municipal Stadium, Babe Ruth smashed home runs in his prime, Walter Johnson won his 400th game, and Mel Ott made his major league début.

Savannah native Colonel William Leon Grayson was the inspiration for the ballpark’s name.  In his 1917 book A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians, Volume 5, Lucian Lamar Knight wrote, “Colonel Grayson represents a long line of military men, and while his own active field service was confined to a brief campaign during the Spanish-American War, he has for years been active in organizing and maintaining Georgia’s militia, and his work was the basis for a tribute from one of Georgia’s governors, who once said that no braver, more efficient or more reliable officer ever held a commission from the state than Colonel Grayson.”

Since its inauguration, Grayson Stadium has been home to several minor league teams:

  • Savannah Indians (1926-1928, 1936-1942, 1946-1954)
  • Savannah Athletics (1955)
  • Savannah Redlegs (1956-1958)
  • Savannah Reds (1959)
  • Savannah White Sox (1962)
  • Savannah Senators (1968-1969)
  • Savannah Indians (1970)
  • Savannah Braves (1971-1983)
  • Savannah Cardinals (1984-1985)
  • Savannah Sand Gnats (1996-2015)

When the Savannah Bananas of the Coastal Plain League took the field in 2016, the team’s first season, it carried the torch for baseball in the Hostess City of the South.  A wood-bat collegiate summer league with 16 teams, the CPL takes its name from the Class D league that existed from 1937 to 1941 and 1946 to 1952; the CPL shelved its business during World War II.  2016 was the league’s 20th year.

“We had heard that the Sand Gnats were potentially leaving, so we came to Savannah a couple of times to see what a baseball game looked like here,” said the Bananas’ president, Jared Orton, before the 2016 season.  “It’s a beautiful city with a majestic ballpark that’s full of baseball history.  We can celebrate that with a new chapter of Savannah baseball.

“Obviously, we cannot use traditional names, for example, Indians.  So, we narrowed down the possibilities to five and then sent them to Studio Simon for logo designs and colors.  When we saw the Bananas logo and name together, it was a no-brainer.  The name is easy to say, recognize, and market.  So, we can build our brand identity around it.

“One of the things we’re planning is a historical timeline in Grayson Stadium’s concourse to honor baseball in Savannah, including the most famous players to ever have played here.  Babe Ruth is one example.

“We’re focused on integrating the Bananas into Savannah’s culture.  That’s been the most challenging and fun aspect about launching the team’s operations.  We’re constantly meeting with business and community leaders to build and reinforce our relationships and friendships.  Our goal is to make the Bananas games fun for the fans.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 4, 2016.

Welch’s Wizardry

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Pitchers can become overwhelming forces during a season.

Denny McLain went 31-6 in 1968.

Nolan Ryan struck out more than 300 batters in a season five times.

Ron Guidry’s 25 wins in 1978 comprised exactly 25% of the Yankees’ 100 victories.

In 1985, Dwight Gooden compiled a 24-4 record in addition to leading the major leagues in ERA, strikeouts, complete games, and innings pitched.

Walter Johnson burned through American League lineups like a torch through oil-soaked rags in 1913, ending the season with a 36-7 record.  His 1.14 ERA is the second-lowest for a single season.

1885 belonged to Mickey Welch of the New York Giants.  With a 44-11 record, Welch’s victories accounted for more than half of the Giants’ total.  Welch’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site notes that “Smiling Mickey” completed all 55 games that he started, won 17 consecutive games, and tallied a 1.66 ERA.  In addition, he struck out 258 batters.

Baseball historian Bill Lamb denoted the difference between Welch and Timothy Keefe, another Giants standout on the mound, in his biography of Welch for the Society for American Baseball Research Biography Project.  “But away from the field, Welch and Keefe were polar opposites,” wrote Lamb.  “Keefe was a quiet, serious man, reserved, almost aloof in manner, and he sported the handlebar mustache near-ubiquitous among the ballplayers of the 1880s.  In contrast, the clean-shaven Welch was a fun-lover.  Although he reputedly refrained from tobacco, swearing, and hard liquor, Mickey was a fabled beer drinker, given to composing impromptu ditties about his favorite beverage.  He also frequently entertained teammates, companions, and other bar-goers with a fine Irish tenor singing voice.

In his 1988 book The Giants of the Polo Grounds:  The Glorious Times of Baseball’s New York Giants, Noel Hynd wrote, “Welch was quickly developing into one of the most prolific beer drinkers of the nineteenth century, one reason he was always said to be smiling.  Welch loved his suds so dearly that he was even given to writing rhymes and jingles about them, then setting the verses to music.”

Ultimately, the Chicago White Stockings defeated the Giants for the 1885 National League pennant by two games.  An August 31st article in the New-York Tribune emphasized the team’s lack of attention as a source of losses.  “The New-York nine ought to have the lead instead of being one game behind,” stated the Tribune.  “It cannot be denied that the New-York men have lost several games through over-confidence.  They considered their opponents to be of little consequence and the mistake has cost them dearly.  Every player in the club, however, is determined to win the pennant, if hard work during the remainder of the season can win it, and no more careless playing will be tolerated.”

Welch won 30 or more games four times in his career; for his five years in the major leagues preceding the 1885 season, Welch racked up 113 victories.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 22, 2016.

Happy Birthday, Baseball Hall of Fame!

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Today, we celebrate the birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Opened on June 12, 1939 in Cooperstown, New York, the Baseball Hall of Fame is a time tunnel that journeys its visitors through a cornerstone of American history. More than a mere sport, baseball is a vehicle of social change.

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