Saturday, April 30, 2005
April 30th, 1944
Giants and Dodgers Play Doubleheader
This pair of games took place at the Polo Grounds, and the teams split them, although they could not have been more different. The first one was a Giants' triumph by a score of 26-8 and described by the next day's New York Times as "far and away one of the most bizarre exhibitions seen under the lee of Cogan's Bluff in many a revolving moon." (I've probably said this before, but it really is a shame sportswriters don't write like that anymore.) The second game was a hard fought battle--albeit one that only went seven innings on account of darkness--which featured the Dodgers breaking a 3-3 tie with two runs in the ninth, er, seventh only to see the Giants recover to score one in their turn at-bat but fall short of a comeback.
Although the Times' reporter might have been guilty of some hyperbole, the first game was a strange one. For a start, the opposing pitchers were cousins, Cliff (Giants) and Rube (Dodgers) Melton. For another, although the Giants' offensive outburst was in part from good hitting, every Giants' player save for Melton would get a hit. It was largely on account of the astounding wildness of the Dodgers' pitchers. The Dodgers gave up seventeen walks, including a rare display in the second inning when after a double by Johnny Rucker the Giants were issued six consecutive walks, the last four of which drove in runs. Both those "accomplishments" tied league records, as did Mel Ott's feat of walking the first five times he came to the plate. The hitting star for the Giants' was unquestionably Phil Weintraub however, who went four for five and missed the cycle only by its easiest part, having struck two doubles, a triple and home run.
If you indulge me a bit more with regards to the sportswriting, the description of Leo Durocher's ejection from the first game is just fantastic: "Leo the Lip, for a reason clear to no one, chose to pick a row in the sixth with all three of the umpires who simultaneously and with considerable enthusiasm waved him right off the premises." The last interesting thing about the first game of the double header is that despite featuring thirty-four runs, twenty-one walks and one ejection it took just two hours and fifty-eight minutes. These days if that game started on April 30th, it wouldn't end until Cinco de Mayo.
The second game lacked the explosiveness of the first one, and suffered from being cut off, but was nonetheless a decent battle. Both teams scored their first run in the third, and the Giants put another on the board in the fourth. The Dodgers came back with two in the fifth however, to take a 3-2 lead, but the Giants scored one in the sixth to tie the game. However, in the "gloaming of the seventh" (the Times once more) the Dodgers scored a pair and when the Giants were able to only muster one in the seventh and darkness set in, the game was ended, putting an end to an entertaining day of baseball witnessed by a crowd of 52,037.
Friday, April 29, 2005
April 29th, 1975
Josh Booty Born
Josh Booty was the Marlins' first round pick in the 1994 draft, the fifth pick over all. Booty was famously a bust, and like another would-be third baseman, Drew Henson, Booty retreated to his better sport, football and is currently on the roster of the Cleveland Browns. The 1994 draft is notable in that it is basically the worst draft of the 90s. The top pick was Paul Wilson, a member of the Mets "Generation K" who is now a member of the Reds' rotation after having his arm shredded by Dallas Green, and has constantly posted an ERA about ten percent worse than league average. The second pick was Oakland's Ben Grieve, who won the Rookie of the Year--and went to the All-Star team--in 1998 but never posted an OPS+ of better than 120 after that and is now struggling to stay in the Majors. Grieve's All-Star appearance is notable as it was the only one from the entire top ten picks that year. That's slightly unfair as there are two pretty decent players, Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek in the top fifteen, but to have a draft with just one All-Star appearance in its top ten is shockingly bad. For the sake of contrast, the top ten of the 1993 Draft has eight All-Star appearances (all admittedly by Alex Rodriguez) and the 1995 Draft has nine All-Star showings (spread among four players) in its top ten. I guess this just goes to show 1994 was a terrible year for baseball all-around.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
April 28th, 1964
Barry Larkin Born
Stan Musial, whom I've written about before, is underappreciated for a few simple reasons. For one thing, he's a pretty modest guy, not relentlessly self-promoting. For another, he played in St. Louis for all of his career, a relatively small place compared to the center of the baseball world then (and arguably even now) New York, which leads into the last reason, the media coverage around his career was less both on account of the location and the different nature of media in those days. Barry Larkin in contrast, will likely be underrated in small part on account of having played most of his career in Cincinnati, but it really comes down to one simple reason. Actually, four simple reasons: Cal Ripken, Jr., Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. Larkin was an amazing talent, a fantastic hitter and a pretty good fielder, but had the misfortune of having his career correspond with the man who redefined the position (Ripken) and three who--to varying degrees thus far--took that refinement to a heretofore unseen degree.
Larkin's career numbers are pretty good, .295/.371/.444, good for a 116 OPS+, although even those are slightly deceptive as Larkin's late career numbers bring down the lifetime totals as he struggled through several mediocre seasons. He finished his career with 190 home runs, 2340 hits and 379 stolen bases aganist just 77 times caught, an excellent 83% sucess rate. Larkin also won three Gold Gloves (1994-96), nine Silver Slugger awards (given the best hitter at each position), including five in a row 1988-92 as well as the MVP in 1995. He posted an OPS+ of 125 or better--an impressive feat for shortstop--eight times. Larkin is a better player than all but a few shortstops in the Hall of Fame, and probably deserves to join them there, and while he probably someday will, it is a shame that he will be remembered not as the elite talent he was, but instead as the "other man" of the great shortstop era of the 80s and 90s.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
April 27th, 1967
John McGraw Dies
No, not that John McGraw, he died in 1934 and would have been ninety-four if he were still alive in 1967. This John McGraw pitched in one game, just two innings for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the Federal League in 1914. The Tip-Tops interestingly enough, were managed by Bill Bradley, again, no not that Bill Bradley, this Bill Bradley managed the Cleveland Naps (Indians) for forty-one games in 1905 going 20-21 in addition to a fourteen year career spent mostly as a third baseman.
Also interestingly enough, April 27th is the birthday of Brian Giles, but no, not that Brian Giles. This Brian Giles played for the Mets, Brewers, White Sox and Mariners in the early 80s, putting up a career .228/.298/.309 line. Furthermore--and I'm only reaching a little here--April 27th represented one of the few appearances of Bernie Williams, no, not that Bernie Williams in the 1974 season, when he served as a pinch runner for Willie McCovey in the eighth inning of a Padres-Phillies game.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
April 26th, 1955
Mike Scott Born
Having learned the split-fingered fastball from pitching coach Roger Craig prior to the 1985 season, Mike Scott went out in 1986 and put it on the map, dominating the National League, going 18-10 with a 2.22 ERA, sixty-three percent better than average even factoring in the cavernous Astrodome, and was even better in the playoffs. How good was Scott for Houston against the Mets in 1986? He pitched two complete game wins, and allowed just one run, one walk, eight hits (that's a half a baserunner per inning) while striking out nineteen Mets. The statistics say it well, although my favorite reflection of Scott's dominance is that despite only appearing in two games and having his team lose the series in six games, Scott still won the series MVP!
The Mets of course, would scream to anyone who would listen--and probably several who wouldn't, notably the umpires--that Scott's "splitter" was actually a spitball, and claimed that balls recovered from Scott were all scuffed up. Scott was never caught, however, so I guess his 1986 domination will remain genuine, despite allegations of being a later-day Stan Coveleski.
Monday, April 25, 2005
April 25th, 1944
Tony Mullane Dies
I've not written much on nineteenth century players here, in part because I don't know too much about and in part because no one knows too much about them. Even when you do know something about them, the differences between the game then and the game now make it something of an occasionally absurd comparison. Tony Mullane's 1886 season, for the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association (they would join the National League in 1890 and still exist today as the Reds) is a pretty good example of this. Mullane threw five hundred twenty-nine innings for his team that year, with a 3.70 ERA.
Both those numbers are wholly deceiving. The innings total is huge, but a product of the era. For one thing, the mound was still at just fifty feet from home plate (it would not be moved until 1893) and Mullane was unlikely to exert much effort on many of the hitters. Even the league’s best team, the St. Louis Browns (they’re the Cardinals today) had three players in their everyday line-up with sub .300 OBPs. Pitching from a shorter distance and having a line up that was made up with nearly half pitcher-quality hitters, Mullane could conserve his strength and pitch the huge inning totals. Mullane’s total, huge as it was, wasn’t even the highest in the league, three pitchers threw more innings, including league leader “Toad” Ramsey who threw five hundred eighty-eight innings. His ERA is also deceptive, although 3.70 sounds good to modern ears, it would have ranked 18th if put up in the National League last year, the league ERA during Mullane’s time was such that his performance in 1886 was actually five percent worse than league average.
The game prior to the turn of the (last) century was an interesting one (as the essay in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers on Mullane demonstrates), but the factors of my own ignorance, the difficulties in fixing that ignorance and the only distant relation between the game then and the game now combine to relegate it to a minor role in my view of the history of baseball.
Sunday, April 24, 2005
April 24th, 1962
Casey Stengel Fined
Casey Stengel in his first season as the Mets' manager was fined $500 by Commissioner Ford Frick for appearing in a beer ad. That's about $3,000 in modern dollars, and although a relatively small sum for someone of Stengel's stature (Casey was doubtless not counting pennies) strikes me as relatively unfair. For one thing, if Stengel was attempting to promote the new Mets franchise, appearing in advertisement, even those not for the team, was a good thing. For another, if anyone ever could ever be to said to be endorsing a product they use, it was Casey Stengel. The man was managing the 1962 Mets for God's sake! Who could need a beer more than that? Before their game on April 24th, the Mets were 1-9, having just won their first game the day before after a 0-9 start. Seems to me that the celebration from win number one for a franchise also deserves a beer. So Casey was managing a terrible team (worthy of a beer) and had just won the team's first game of the season, which was also their first game ever (also worthy of a beer). Since Casey was obviously enjoying a few drinks, he might as well have been getting paid for it. Should’ve given Casey a break there, Commish.