Saturday, May 28, 2005

 

May 28th, 2002

Wes Westrum Dies


The answer to a trivia question, Wes Westrum was the Mets' second manager, he took over for Casey Stengel in the midst of the 1965 and managed to the end of the 1967, when he was replaced for the last eleven games by Salty Parker. Excluding that blip however, Westrum is the historical link from Casey Stengel, the lovable manager of the hopelessly inept "Amazins" to Gil Hodges, manager of the Miracle Mets.

Interestingly, while Stengel was most famously known as a Yankee, and Hodges as a Dodger, Westrum spent had spent his entire playing career with the third New York team, the Giants. Westrum was the Giants' regular catcher for many years, including 1952, when they lost the World Series to the Yankees after Bobby Thomson's pennant winning home run and 1954 when Willie Mays made "the catch" and the Giants swept the 111-win Indians. Westrum was a competent hitter for a catcher for many years, posting an OPS better than league average every year from 1949 through '52. Westrum played for the Giants through 1957, and became a coach in 1958.

During his coaching days, Westrum achieved a first-and-only, the only coach traded for another coach, when he was exchanged with the Mets' Cookie Lavagetto. Westrum then took over in 1965 when Stengel broke his hip. As I mentioned earlier, Westrum lasted until 1967 when he resigned with 11 games remaining.

Westrum would manage the Giants in 1974 and '75, leaving after the latter season when his former team succeeded in convincing Bill Rigney to come out of retirement and manage the team. Following his firing from the Giants, Westrum served as a Braves scout until 1992 when he retired, and died after a decade in retirement.



Friday, May 27, 2005

 

May 27th, 1968

Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas Born


Bagwell and Thomas, both power hitting first baseman of the first order are easily, easily the two best players to share a birthday, as both are among the top ten all-time at their position. The two are not particularly linked in the public mind, although they probably should be. For one thing, they were both MVP in 1994 and have spent (and likely will spend) their whole career with one team, but never won a title. Furthermore, they are the most alike players to each other in "Similarity Scores" which uses a player's stats to determine how similar a player is to others. Bagwell has been fortunate enough to have much of his decline masked by the Astros' move to Enron--er, Minute Maid Park, while Thomas seems doomed to Stan Musial territory, a member of the great underappreciated.

Leaving aside for the moment that Bagwell is the better all-around player (he can play defense while Thomas can't despite Thomas’ repeated insistence he be put there instead of DH), Frank Thomas was probably the best hitter in baseball in the 1990s--you'd have a hard time convincing me anyone else should be the first baseman on the all-90s team. Every year from 1991 to 1997 Thomas was in the top three in OPS+, leading three times. He averaged an OPS of better than eighty percent higher than league average those years. He and Bagwell (there's Jeff again) are the only active players besides Barry Bonds to appear in the top forty of single-season OPS+, both for their 1994 season.

Both Thomas and Bagwell will rightly be elected to the Hall of Fame, probably on the first ballot. And I'm willing to concede that they are unlikely at this point to be linked in the heads of most fans. But it would seem appropriate if they went in together, sharing the stage and joined together one last time.



Thursday, May 26, 2005

 

May 26th, 1959

Ed Walsh Dies


Ed Walsh was a spitballer who spent all but one year of his Hall of Fame career with the White Sox. He also had probably the best ten days of pitching in a pennant race in history in 1908. Although his White Sox would finish a game and a half out of first place (incredibly, that put them in third place, a game behind second), it was not on account of Walsh. He went 40-15, pitching 464 innings, while recording 42 complete games, including 11 shutouts. For good measure, he also appeared in relief in seventeen games, recording six saves, meaning his led the league in both wins and saves.

His last ten days of the 1908 pennant race however, deserve special attention. Walsh started six games, and threw complete games in five of them. On September 29th he started both ends of a doubleheader aganist Boston and won both games. For good measure, Sox manager Fielder Jones also twice called upon Walsh to relieve. In total, he pitched fifty-one and two-thirds innings, giving up just three runs (that's an ERA of 0.52), twenty-eight hits (less than five per nine innings pitched) and striking out fifty-two (essentially, one an inning). Incredibly, he actually lost a game, a 1-0 pitcher's duel with Addie Joss, when Joss had to pitch a perfect game to beat him, on an unearned run no less.

Walsh was never as good again as he was in 1908, which isn't much of an insult given how outstanding he was that year, but he would continue to be an effective until age thirty-one when all the innings finally caught with him. After his 1912 season, Walsh would never throw a hundred innings in a season again and he was out of the Majors after the 1917 season. He spent some time in the minor leagues and then as an AL umpire in 1922, but decided a career in the safes-and-outs wasn't for him and he served as a White Sox coach for many years until his death.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

 

May 25th, 1922

Babe Ruth Called Out


Ruth was called out by umpire George Hildebrand after he attempted to stretch a single into a double. Ruth, who once smacked an umpire in the face over his strike zone (the incident is more famously remembered because Ernie Shore, Ruth's replacement, picked off the one batter the Babe had allowed and then set down the next twenty-six in order) disagreed with the call. He responded by arguing and when that didn't work, picked up a handful of dirt and threw it into Hildebrand's eyes. After his ejection, Ruth noticed a heckler in the St. Louis crowd and decided that it would be a shame to waste all his rage on the umpire and went into the stands after the guy. After finally being dragged out of the crowd, Ruth stood on the dugout and proclaimed the crowd a bunch of "yellow cowards." All in all it was quite a performance. Ruth was suspended for a game and stripped of his role of Yankee Captain, which he had held for a grand total of six games.

This incident is notable not just for the differing attitudes we hold today towards players attacking fans, Ruth lost a game, while Ron Artest was out of the season, but also for how the story is told. In contrast to the story of Ty Cobb going into the stands, tellings of this story inevitably have a certain joking aspect to them, usually centered on Ruth's inability to remain Yankee Captain for an entire week. On the other hand, Cobb's going into the stands is usually painted as disgraceful. This is partially because the poor schmuck who Cobb went after turned out to not have any arms (the armless guy was played, oddly, by Jimmy Buffett in Cobb a few years back) but also because of the personalities of the men. Cobb, as I've said, was a jerk. Ruth could be a jerk, but was (and is) regarded with reasonable accuracy as a jovial figure.

This isn't to make excuses for Cobb, he has his apologists but I'm not one of them, just to remember that while history may seem the bare laying out of facts, but even when it comes to something as simple as baseball, the facts are rarely laid bare.

Some News:

I will be attending my first Yankee game of the season tonight, sitting in Tier Section 5, Row V (hey, I'm a student, I can't afford the box seats). If anyone would like to pay me a visit and/or get the exercise by coming all the way up to Row V, I will be seat 23, wearing a Yankee jersey, leather jacket, battered Yankee cap and scribbling furiously in a large grey scorebook.



Tuesday, May 24, 2005

 

May 24th, 1973

Bartolo Colon Born


In the department of, "Oh, how things change" Colon is listed on his BaseballReference.com page as being 6', 185 pounds. That was, I suppose, the numbers put out by the Cleveland Indians in Colon's rookie season, 1997. It was also probably a reasonable bit of data at the time. For the 2005 season, ESPN.com lists Colon as 5'11", 250 pounds. As anyone who has seen Colon pitch (or even just looked at his face) can tell you, the new measurements are probably closer to accurate.

But I'm not just here to point out that Bartolo Colon has added some weight over the course of nearly a decade (not that I didn't enjoy that) but also to point out the oddity of
Colon's 2000 campaign. On June 27th of that year, Colon was traded to the Expos from the Indians in exchange for Lee Stevens and some prospects. Prior to the trade, Colon was 10-4 for the Indians. He had pitched one hundred sixteen and a third innings and had four complete games, including two shutouts. In his innings, he had struck out seventy-five batters. Colon pitched the rest of the season in Montreal. He threw a total of one hundred seventeen innings, and went 10-4. He recorded four complete games, although with just one shutout. And in his innings, he struck out seventy-four batters.

This is all apropos of nothing--I try to limit those kinds of columns to one a month but it's awfully hard--in part because it's just random and in part because while Colon was having an all-time great season ERA-wise in Cleveland (2.55, more than 75% better than league average), in Montreal he returned closer to career norms (3.31, around 25% better than league average). That aside, the record, IP, complete games, shutouts and Ks do make for an interesting visual on
Colon's line.



Monday, May 23, 2005

 

May 23nd, 1928

Rogers Hornsby Hired as Braves' Manager

Hornsby, who was a legitimately great hitter by the way, one of the all-time best, took control of the team from Jack Slattery who had managed them to an 11-20 record. Hornsby immediately declared that his teammates--he was playing second base for the Braves--were "mostly bums." This statement was not out of character with the rest of Hornsby's career (more on that later) but probably not much of a motivational technique. That being said, it also was, if we're going to be frank, true. The Braves had Hornsby and George Sisler on the right side of their infield, and Lance Richbourg having a good season in the outfield. Besides that they were, well, bums. The team lost 103 games, and Hornsby was traded after the season to the Cubs.

With regards to Hornsby's comments not being out of character, that's true. Hornsby would have gotten along great with Ty Cobb; both were arrogant racists who managed the neat trick of thinking themselves better than they were, despite being pretty damn good. It was Hornsby, I believe, who said that if you shake a tree, ten gloves will fall out but no bats. That's probably true, but it was a self-serving comment if there ever was one, because while Hornsby could mash, as a second baseman he was average at best. When he managed, Hornsby's players almost to a man hated him, even the ones he didn't characterize as bums. Hornsby was once arguing with Art Fletcher (on the field) when out of nowhere, he decked Fletcher by punching him in the face. When asked why, Hornsby reported that he "wasn't making any progress trying to talk to him." I think you're probably getting a sense of the man.

Hornsby's last great year was 1929 for the Cubs, but he would eventually become manager, leading the Cubbies to the pennant in 1932, a year in which he presumably didn't need to break out the pejoratives to describe his team.





Sunday, May 22, 2005

 

May 22nd, 1954

Charles Bender Dies


Charles Bender was better known--and elected to the Hall of Fame as--"Chief" Bender, but he hated the name (his long-time manager Connie Mack always referred to him as "Albert", his middle name) so I'll take a pass on referring to him by it. Bender is, according to Microsoft's Encarta "credited with inventing the slider" although I can't imagine by whom; Bender himself never threw a slider, and while he did teach it to Bucky Walters in 1935, by that time Red Ruffing was having sucess with the pitch.

It is a shame that Bender is miscredited with the invention of the slider, as there are plenty of interesting and true things one can say about him. Bender, for one thing, is the best nineteen year old pitcher of all-time. This seems absurd at first blush, but there were some pretty good nineteen year olds. Dwight Gooden's 1984 (17-9, 2.60) for example, but Bender was the best, despite pitching for a fairly mediocre team. Bender does have one invention to his credit; it was he who dubbed Clyde Milan "deerfoot," and while the name was sarcastic, it wasn't because Milan was slow (to the contrary, he could fly) it was because Bender was implying Milan was an earlier version of Tony Womack, all he could do was run.

Bender is also notable for his brother, John. While Charles was pretty much a good guy--he coached at the US Navel Academy and worked in a shipyard during the First World War--John was...not so much. In 1908 John was pitching in the minor leagues. During an argument, John decide to channel his inner Latreel Sprewell, with a bit of Marty Bergen, and slashed his manager Win Clark, which earned him a two year suspension. A few years later, he died while in left-field, another unfortuante honor for the lesser Bender.

Charles Albert, meanwhile, died relatively peacefully after an extensive career as a scout and coach--it is a shame he never wrote a book as he was involed in the American League in one capacity or another for virtually the entire first half of the century. He is also in the Hall of Fame, and while not the worst pitcher there (it's Rube Marquard, whom I've now twice labled as such without any explanation, I will do that someday, I promise). He's another who must prompt Bert Blyleven to consider getting gas cans and just torching the place.

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