Results tagged ‘ Casey Stengel ’

The Cardinals Rally To Overcome…The Cardinals?

Was that the greatest World Series game ever played?

For games in which a team, having put itself on the precipice of elimination because of managerial and/or strategic incompetence, then stumbles all  over itself in all the fundamentals for eight innings, and still manages to prevail? Yes – Game Six, Rangers-Cardinals, was the greatest World Series Game of all-time. I’ve never seen a team overcome itself like that.

But the Cardinals’ disastrous defense (and other failures) probably disqualifies it from the top five all-time Series Games, simply because it eliminates the excellence requisite to knock somebody else off the list. Mike Napoli’s pickoff of Matt Holliday was epic, and the homers of Josh Hamilton and David Freese were titanic and memorable. But history will probably judge the rest of the game’s turning points (Freese’s error, Holliday’s error, Holliday’s end of the pickoff, Darren Oliver pitching in that situation, the Rangers’ stranded runners, Nelson Cruz’s handling of the game-tying triple, the failures of both teams’ closers) pretty harshly.

For contrast, in chronological order here are five Series Games that I think exceed last night’s thriller in terms of overall grading.

1912 Game Eight: That’s right, Game Eight (there had been, in those pre-lights days at Fenway Park, a tie). The pitching matchup was merely Christy Mathewson (373 career wins) versus Hugh Bedient (rookie 20-game winner) followed in relief by Smoky Joe Wood (who won merely 37 games that year, three in the Series).  Mathewson shut out the Red Sox into the seventh, and the game was still tied 1-1 in the tenth when Fred Merkle singled home Red Murray and then went to second an error. But the Giants stranded the insurance run, and in the Bottom of the 10th, as darkness descended on Fenway (the first year it was open) there unfolded the damnedest Series inning anybody would see until 1986. Pinch-hitter Clyde Engle lofted the easiest flyball imaginable to centerfielder Fred Snodgrass – who dropped it. Hall of Famer Harry Hooper immediately lofted the hardest flyball imaginable to Snodgrass, who made an almost unbelievable running catch to keep the tying run from scoring and the winning run from getting at least to second or third. Mathewson, who had in the previous 339 innings walked just 38 men, then walked the obscure Steve Yerkes. But Matty bore down to get the immortal Tris Speaker to pop up in foul territory between the plate and first, and he seemed to have gotten out of the jam. Like the fly Holliday muffed last night, the thing was in the air forever, and was clearly the play of the inward rushing first baseman Merkle. Inexplicably, Mathewson called Merkle off, shouting “Chief, Chief!” at his lumbering catcher Chief Myers. The ball dropped untouched. Witnesses said Speaker told Mathewson “that’s going to cost you the Series, Matty” and then promptly singled to bring home the tying run and put the winner at third, whence Larry Gardner ransomed it with a sacrifice fly.

1960 Game Seven: The magnificence of this game is better appreciated now that we’ve found the game film. And yes, the madness of Casey Stengel is evident: he had eventual losing pitcher Ralph Terry warming up almost continuously throughout the contest. But consider this: the Hal Smith three-run homer for Pittsburgh would’ve been one of baseball’s immortal moments, until it was trumped in the top of the 9th by the Yankee rally featuring Mickey Mantle’s seeming series-saving dive back into first base ahead of Rocky Nelson’s tag, until it was trumped in the bottom of the 9th by Mazeroski’s homer. There were 19 runs scored, 24 hits made, the lead was lost, the game re-tied, and the Series decided in a matter of the last three consecutive half-innings, and there was neither an error nor a strikeout in the entire contest.

1975 Game Six: Fisk’s homer has taken on a life of its own thanks to the famous Fenway Scoreboard Rat who caused the cameraman in there to keep his instrument trained on Fisk as he hopped down the line with his incomparable attempt to influence the flight of the ball. But consider: each team had overcome a three-run deficit just to get the game into extras, there was an impossible pinch-hit three-run homer by ex-Red Bernie Carbo against his old team, the extraordinary George Foster play to cut down Denny Doyle at the plate with the winning run in the bottom of the 9th, and Sparky Anderson managed to use eight of his nine pitchers and still nearly win the damn thing – and have enough left to still win the Series.

1986 Game Six: This is well-chronicled, so, briefly: this exceeds last night’s game because while the Cardinals twice survived two-out, last-strike scenarios in separate innings to tie the Rangers in the 9th and 10th, the Met season-saving rally began with two outs and two strikes on Gary Carter in the bottom of the 10th. The Cards had the runs already aboard in each of their rallies.  The Red Sox were one wide strike zone away from none of that ever happening.

1991 Game Seven: I’ll have to admit I didn’t think this belonged on the list, but as pitching has changed to the time when finishing 11 starts in a season provides the nickname “Complete Game James” Shields, what Jack Morris did that night in the 1-0 thriller makes this a Top 5 game.

There are many other nominees — the Kirk Gibson home run game in ’88, the A’s epic rally on the Cubs in ’29, Grover Cleveland Alexander’s hungover relief job in 1926, plus all the individual achievement games like Larsen’s perfecto and the Mickey Owen dropped third strike contest — and upon reflection I might be able to make a case to knock last night’s off the Top 10. But I’m comfortable saying it will probably remain. We tend to overrate what’s just happened (a kind of temporal myopia) but then again perspective often enhances an event’s stature rather than diminishing it. Let’s just appreciate the game for what it was: heart-stopping back-and-forth World Series baseball.

Pitchers Warmed Up…Where?

Veteran baseball people were barely done scratching their heads at the sudden rush to declare Opening Day starters in February – to tentatively hint at a violation of the mix of superstition and inchoate fear they call “tradition” – when injury claimed a pitcher who was merely scheduled to start the Spring Training opener.

Adam Wainwright may not only miss pitching in this Cardinals’ camp; he may not experience Spring Training again until 2013. The ligament damage near his elbow is profound enough to shelve him until sometime during the ’12 season, and could have as big an impact on a team and a franchise as any such injury in recent history, maybe since Sandy Koufax’s retirement put the Dodgers into a funk that lasted eight seasons. Not only does it neuter a Cardinal team that fell behind Cincinnati last season, and Milwaukee last off-season, but it could even impact the team’s ability and willingness to commit huge money to Albert Pujols next off-season.

The larger question pertains to the feeling that these injuries happen more now than they did ‘in the past.’ This question itself has been around long enough to become a baseball tradition of sorts. Surely they don’t happen that much more often. Koufax quit before his fragile elbow might have snapped like a twig. Don Drysdale retired in mid-season just three years later. 1958 Cy Young winner Bob Turley blew up a year later. And countless careers ended as did Mel Stottlemyre’s: with a run in, a man on, and nobody out in the top of the 4th at Shea Stadium on June 11, 1974 (he’d come back for two more innings two months later, then pitch a little the following March, but his rotator cuff was gone).

But the reality is that more pitchers today are warned in advance of these potentially career-ending events. Wainwright isn’t necessarily a victim of some awful turn in pitching mechanics, but rather the beneficiary of greater understanding of their impact, and far greater options in terms of repair. Given how little pain he reported, if this ligament issue had sprung up in Spring Training 1911, he would’ve tried to pitch through the pain, because contrary to today, his livelihood depended on not resting an injury. He might’ve struggled to an 11-12 record this year, had constant pain, started ’12 0-3 and wild as anything, and gone to the minors, never to be heard from again.

Still there is the nagging suspicion that we are doing something to our pitchers that makes Complete Games chimerical dreams, and the four-man rotation and the nine-man staff as comically antiquated as the horse-and-buggy. Denny McLain spent August 29, 1966 – as The Sporting News merrily noted – “struggling to a 6-3 decision over the Orioles…McLain allowed eight hits, walked nine, and struck out 11.” He threw 229 pitches. Two seasons later McLain started 41 games (and won 31 of them). Three years later, he started 41 games (and won 24 of them). The other stat – 51 Complete Games in the two seasons – was not repeated not because of arm problems but due to a suspension for associating with gamblers (the arm problems came a year later).

We know pitchers no longer “save” anything for the 9th Inning (that went out with Jack Morris; it used to be true of the top 25 starters in each league), and that without a fastball in the high 80’s you will now never get signed, and unless something else about you is spectacular, even that will only get you a career serving as the Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotter Prospects in the minors.

sc0014e7b6.jpgBut I have long wondered if one tiny change of rituals might have contributed just enough to the wear-and-tear on pitchers to have actually made a difference. The ritual is represented by the smiling fellow at the left, Galen Cisco, the long-time pitching coach who hurled for the Red Sox, Mets, and Royals from ’61 through ’69.

On August 7th, 1964, Al Jackson of the Mets gave up three runs in the first inning. The next day it was two off Cisco; a day later, one off Tracy Stallard in the first. Then came two consecutive scoreless firsts, followed by a doubleheader in which Jackson surrendered one in the first of the opener and Stallard three in the first of the nightcap. Finally on August 15th came the deluge: six first inning runs off Jack Fisher. So as they sent Cisco out to start on August 16, manager Casey Stengel and coach Mel Harder did something radical.

Cisco promptly retired Tony Gonzalez, Dick Allen, and Johnny Callison, and an ecstatic Lindsey Nelson told his Mets radio audience: “Galen Cisco, who warmed up in the bullpen, where there is a mound, in an effort to be better prepared in the top half of the first inning, gets them out in order!”

Your inference is correct. In 1964, starting pitchers did not automatically warm up in the bullpen. When I first heard this old tape I was flashed back to the summer of my tenth year, and the newfound joy of seeing a doubleheader from behind the screen at Yankee Stadium. There, in my mind’s eye, are the starters in the nightcap, Stan Bahnsen of the Yankees and Joe Coleman of the Washington Senators, warming up, on either side of the plate, throwing to catchers whose butts are pressed up against the backstop.

Years ago, Cisco, by then pitching coach of the Phils, insisted to me that he had been no trailblazer, and he had warmed up in the bullpen before August 16, 1964, and that other pitchers had, too. But I know I saw Elrod Hendricks, wearing a mask, warming somebody up long before a game at the new Yankee Stadium, dating it no later than 1976. I was on the field and I had to walk all the way around he and his pitcher. I photographed Goose Gossage throwing, and throwing hard, to somebody in front of the visitors’ dugout in New York that same summer, and it was four years later that I got trapped in a space beyond the third base camera well at Shea Stadium because Scott Sanderson and another Expo twirler were airing it out, pre-game.

Somewhere in the twenty year span of the ’60s and ’70s, the idea that relievers warmed up in the bullpen because they had to “get ready fast,” but starters should warm up from a rubber just on the foul side of either the first or third base foul line, changed into what we see today: everybody warms up in the pen, before, during, or after a game, and again between starts.

Ever had a workout with a trainer? Or just a well-led class at a gym? From yoga to weights, if the guy or gal wants to punish you, they’ll have you do whatever you’re doing, on an uneven surface. Incline or decline, it’s tougher if you’re not on flat ground. To really burn you, they’ll even have you stride downwards or upwards as you lift that weight or try to balance on one foot.

This is not offered as an explanation for all of the woes of the modern pitcher. But a warm-up pitch thrown from a mound is a distant cousin of a pitch to Pujols with two on and nobody out in the 5th. A warm-up pitch from the flat ground is a distant cousin of…playing catch. In short, if Denny McLain had 229 pitches in him on one day in August, 1966, he didn’t use up 20 or 30 or 50 of them before they played the Anthem.

Maybe that’s why Casey Coleman of the Cubs is really one percent likelier to get catastrophically hurt (and 90% likelier to not throw a Complete Game) than his dad Joe did that night in the Bronx (WP: Coleman, 7-7. CG. 11 K, 2 BB, 2 H, Time: 2:37).

Just a thought.

 

 

A Modest (Moot) Proposal

So Adrian Beltre is going to cost the Texas Rangers $16 million a year for six years, and Derek Jeter is going to cost the New York Yankees $17 million a year for three years (maybe more).

Did the Yankees ever consider the financial madness, or the lack of quality control, that represents? Or, to phrase it more correctly, how many times will they be forced to think about it in the next three years, as Jeter continues his descent from impact player to easily-jammed to liability to living statue?
If it seems asinine to consider asking Alex Rodriguez to move back to shortstop after seven years at third base, it certainly isn’t much more so than is expecting Jeter to suddenly regain the range that deteriorated so noticeably last year, or to do that and be a productive shortstop on his 40th birthday.
All greatness comes to an end, and usually a year or two later, so does all sentimentality. The Yankees released Babe Ruth in 1934. They forced Yogi Berra into the manager’s office in 1963 and fired him in 1964. They dumped Casey Stengel days after his 10th World Series in a dozen years in the uniform. They let Reggie walk. They cut The Scooter on Old Timers’ Day. They marginalized and then released Bernie Williams in 2006. They cashiered Joe Torre.
If you are horrified by the thought of the Yankees simply throwing away Jeter, how horrified are you by the image of seeing him benched for Ramiro Pena or Cesar Izturis or somebody while the 2012 Yankees are chasing Toronto for third place behind the Sox and Rays, and you’re sitting there thinking “they could’ve had Adrian Beltre for a million less?”

Joe Torre Is Not An Un-Person

I unreservedly like Tim McCarver’s work. I have compared his analysis before the last pitch of the 2001 World Series to Mazeroski’s home run to win the 1960 World Series. For all his stylizing and odd constructions, I’ve found his game analysis, especially his “first guessing,” to be almost universally insightful and correct.
But he’s dead wrong about this Joe Torre stuff. And not just for the unfortunate imagery he used during Saturday’s broadcast from Yankee Stadium at the end of the sad week in which both Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner died. Tim is wrong on the facts.

“You remember some of those despotic leaders in World War II, primarily in Russia and Germany, where they used to take those pictures that they had taken of former generals who were no longer alive, they had shot ‘em. They would airbrush the pictures, and airbrushed the generals out of the pictures. In a sense, that’s what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre. They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there’s no sign of Joe Torre at the Stadium. And that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it.”

McCarver has apologized for the imagery (you hate the Yankees? Fine. The “rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel” is stern enough, we don’t have to bring Hitler and Stalin into this). But he sticks to the contention that the Yankees have “airbrushed” Torre from their history and should have retired his number by now.

Let’s address the number first. Torre has been gone for only two-and-a-half seasons. Nobody else has been assigned his old uniform number 6. In examining the retirements, the Yankees have shelved fifteen numbers representing sixteen players (both Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey wore number 8). Mariano Rivera’s 42 will be automatically retired upon his departure from the Bronx, in keeping with the baseball-wide retirement of the number to honor Jackie Robinson in 1997 (and doubtless Rivera will get his own ceremony since he’s clearly earned it).

Fourteen of the sixteen honorees were, at the time of their uniform retirements, either still working for the Yankees, out of baseball, or deceased. When Casey Stengel’s number 37 was put away for good in 1970, it had been a decade since he had last managed the Yankees and half of one since he had last managed the Mets. He still had a largely ceremonial vice presidency with the Mets and still suited up for short stints during spring training. Berra was managing the Mets when the number he and Dickey was retired in 1972. By then Yogi, too, had been away from the Yankees for a long time – eight years.

There is some logic in delaying, especially for individuals still living. I found what is in retrospect a hilarious blog post from September, 2007, declaring that the Yankees would “surely” be one of three teams to retire the number of a veteran player: Roger Clemens. Yeah, and don’t call me Surely.

Thumbnail image for IMG_0183.jpg Clearly the Yankees are honoring Torre by not handing his old number to anybody else. But has he been under-represented in terms of imagery at the new Stadium? McCarver acknowledged he saw some photos of his old friend in the park and did had not meant for the “airbrushed” imagery to be taken literally.

Turns out there are 21 photos of Torre on display at the new Stadium. One of them is just Joe and Steinbrenner, giant-sized, at one of the park’s street entrances. I saw a couple of others of note tonight in the Bronx, in my first visit since McCarver’s remarks. This would be the entrance to Suite Number 6 down the first base line. The motif is pretty straight forward for each suite – a series of photos of the Yankees who wore each number, even a list of them in the alcove just outside the door. And the pride of place in terms of photography goes to the odd image you see at the left. In fact, let’s get a little closer and see just who that particular Number 6 happens to be: IMG_0184.jpg


I’m not sure who that is with him, but that would be Joe Torre on the left. And the idea that he is somehow being dissed by being shown back-to-the-camera denies the purpose of the photograph: each suite emphasizes the Yankees who have worn that number. 

Off point, no, I do not believe there is a Suite 91 featuring nothing but photos of Alfredo Aceves.

Now, the image above is a small, untitled photo, correct? Doesn’t emphasize Torre’s vast contributions to the remarkable streak of four titles in five years? Try this, from the main concourse of the stadium, behind the ground level seats, down the left field line.

IMG_0189.JPG

Prime location? Two beer stands and a men’s room?

Each Yankee championship team is remembered with a three-photo display. It starts with 1923 in the farthest corner of Right Field and then moves chronologically back towards the plate and out to Left. And who are the guys in the farthest right panel?

IMG_0188.jpg

That’s right: the late George Steinbrenner, Rudolf Giuliani, and dressed for a very cold parade day from 2000, Joe Torre. 

I’ll repeat myself here. I’m a fan and friend of Tim McCarver’s, and Joe Torre is my oldest baseball friend. I’ve even worked with them both. And I know the Yankees could have done better by Joe, and his exit was unceremonious and poorly-handled by the club. I would also argue that the Yankees are the most self-important, overly-serious franchise in overtly pro sports (I can think of about 27 college programs that would at least give them a run for their money).

But Timmy was just wrong, in style and in substance. Neither literally nor figuratively have the Yankees excised, erased, airbrushed nor Memory-Hole’d Joe Torre. Doubtless the day will come soon, perhaps even while he’s still managing elsewhere, that they will formally retire the number and give him the big ceremony he deserves. To see a conspiracy in the fact that the day has yet to come is, at best, to overreact.

Swinging At The Future; Whiffing At The Past

Two books to address today, one brand new, one kinda.

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS 2010
Edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl
John Wiley, $25.95
Two caveats: the publisher is putting out my next book, and this really isn’t a review, because by now if you’re a baseball fan and you don’t know what BP is, you’re working in a mine without one of those helmets with the lights on it.
This is more about the headlines from the annual phone-book-sized tub of prophecies these figure filberts put out, than it is any kind of assessment of the publication as a hole, because we don’t really know how good each year’s edition is until after the season is over. But for once, there shouldn’t be much argument about what is the Statistical Reduction crowd’s biggest forecast for the season ahead: The collapse of Derek Jeter.
OK, “collapse” is a little strong. The actuarial tables of the game again prompt the editors to call Jeter’s team “still the class of MLB,” but they pummel the Captain personally. He finished 2009 at 18-66-.334-.406-.465 with 107 runs and 30 steals. BP sees 2010 as 11-58-.286-.359-.401 with 67 runs and 10 steals. 
As I understand the formulas with which the BP numbers are calculated, there is room for a dollop of common sense and/or extenuating circumstances. But mostly the stats-to-come are generated, in Jeter’s case, by comparing him to what happened to every 14-year veteran going into his 15th season, and what happened to every 35-year-old shortstop as he turned 36, and employing every other demographic comparison in baseball history. And the loss of 48 points of batting average and 40 runs and 64 points of slugging percentage, is the evident result.
It actually gets worse. The one BP number that gives you the best overall sense of a player’s total worth to his team is VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In short, it measures in net runs (how many more do you score, how many fewer does the other team score) what were to happen if the player in question was suddenly reduced by the average bench guy. Last year, Derek Jeter’s VORP was 71.2 (Albert Pujols’ was 100.1), meaning if he had quit on Opening Day 2009 to be replaced full-time by Ramiro Pena, the number of fewer runs the Yankees would’ve scored, plus the number of more runs they would have allowed, would’ve been 71.
Jeter’s predicted 2010 VORP is just 20 – a loss of 51.2 when nobody else in the majors is predicted to lose more than 37.2 (and that’s Joe Mauer, by the way. The BP folks readily admit that their formulae tend to punish spectacular seasons). Merging the topics of catching and the Yankees, BP sees Jorge Posada dropping from 22-81-.285-.522 to 12-49-.263-.445 (and losing 21 VORP points in the process).
If BP is right, there are similar harrowing declines ahead for Ryan Howard (to hit .249 this year), and Michael Young (.297), and Kevin Youkilis (22-86-.283), and David Aardsma (15 saves). On the other hand, it sees Nick Johnson emerging to lead the AL in On Base Pecentage, Kelly Johnson to rebound in Arizona, Jeremy Hermida to blossom in Boston, and Geovany Soto to comeback in Chicago. Certainly two of the stranger computer-generated forecasts: Chris Davis with 33 homers, and your 2010 Major League Saves leader: Joakim Soria with 43 in Kansas City.
There’s also something in here about Rickie Weeks blossoming, but I think that may have been accidentally left over from the 2009 edition. Or the 2008. Or the 2007. Or the 2006…
THE FIRST FALL CLASSIC
THE RED SOX, THE GIANTS, AND THE CAST OF PLAYERS, PUGS, AND POLITICOS WHO REINVENTED THE WORLD SERIES IN 1912
By Mike Vaccaro
Doubleday, $26.95

More than 30 years ago I made an enemy for life of a baseball writer named Maury Allen. I panned his biography of Casey Stengel because I felt he had forfeited the credibility of the book’s essence – exclusive, heretofore unpublished anecdotes and quotes – because he had made so many simple historical mistakes. Allen had the Polo Grounds in which Stengel played and managed off-and-on for 50 years overlooking the Hudson River, when it in fact overlooked the Harlem River, a no-brainer mistake that nobody who had lived in New York for more than three weeks would make.
My point was not that it was fatal to make a few dozen such flubs, but that if I as the presumably less-expert reader could spot such obvious mistakes, how many more of them were in there that I wasn’t smart enough to catch? And why would I trust the accuracy of the quotes and the stories as offered by a writer who couldn’t keep his basic geography straight? If you could switch the Hudson for the Harlem, you could – I don’t know – switch Hugh Casey for Casey Stengel.

Sadly, this dynamic is reproduced in Vaccaro’s book about the epic eight-game World Series of 1912 between the Giants and Red Sox. The Series – and the topic – had everything: a dubious tie game, the first year of Fenway Park, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, President John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, and the year Smoky Joe Wood won 37 of the 120 games (regular season and World Series) he would win in his lifetime. 
For an obsessive historian with a gift for composition, like my friend Josh Prager of The Echoing Green fame, the 1912 Series would basically sing itself and he would write down the notes as quickly as he could. I truly hoped this book would be like this (I went out and bought it retail – the ultimate sign of respect by somebody in the same business) and given the volume of startling stories and the in-the-clubhouse quotes from men dead half a century and more, Mike Vaccaro certainly seems to have tried to make it like that.

But I can’t trust him. The book is riddled with historical mistakes, most of them seemingly trivial, some of them hilarious. One of them is particularly embarrassing. Vaccaro writes of the Giants’ second year in their gigantic stadium, the Polo Grounds:

…to left field, the official measurement was 277 feet, but the second deck extended about twenty feet over the lower grandstand, meaning if you could get a little air under the ball you could get yourself a tidy 250-foot home run…

Unfortunately this wasn’t true until 1923. Any photograph of the 1912 World Series showing left field, indeed any photo of the new Polo Grounds in its first twelve years of use, clearly

Vaccaro Wood.jpg

shows that the second deck ends thirty or forty feet to the left of the foul pole, and the seats in fair territory are the bleachers. 
There are, in fact, actually at least two photos showing Joe Wood, with the Red Sox in the Polo Grounds, which show, in the background behind him, either the left field foul line leading directly to the bleachers, not a double deck, or, the left field foul pole standing like a lone tree with no “extended” deck even close to it.
One of him, warming up, is included in Vaccaro’s book, right after page 146.

That’s it, on the right. The white stripe next to
his glove, is the left field foul line.
The other photograph – the background largely washed out but with the undecked left field corner still vaguely visible – shows him shaking hands with the Giants’ Jeff Tesreau, and it was chosen for publication on the cover of Vaccaro’s book, below.

Sigh.
Vaccaro Cover.jpg
The most often-repeated of the mess-ups, and thus both the most annoying and the most damaging, is Vaccaro’s insistence about Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, arch Sox fan and grandfather of the future president, around whom Vaccaro tries to develop a political thread to the book and who gets nearly as much attention from him as Tris Speaker or Mathewson. Four times in the book, Vaccaro notes that Fitzgerald liked to sing, or was singing, or was about to sing, his theme song “Sweet Adelaide.” There may have been such a song, but it wasn’t a favorite of Honey Fitz (or presumably of anybody else). The Mayor, as any political historian, or adult over 65, or anyone who’s ever encountered a Barbershop Quartet, or any Marx Brothers buff, could tell you, sang “Sweet Adeline,” an incredibly popular song published in 1903 that Groucho and company later performed in “Monkey Business.”
Of the remaining twenty or so that I caught, most have clearer connections to the sport itself. Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey becomes Rixley, 1912 Red Sox infielder Steve Yerkes becomes Sam, Redland Field in Cincinnati becomes “brand-new Crosley Field” (it wasn’t renamed Crosley Field until 1934 and the radio baron who did it was still a 20-something developing automobiles in Muncie, Indiana, when Redland Field was brand-new in 1912). 

There is a lot of historical tone-deafness – particularly distressing considering Mr. Vaccaro often covers the Yankees. He recounts a conversation among McGraw and New York sportswriters about the Giants taking in the American League New York Highlanders as tenants at the Polo Grounds for the 1913 season. Vaccaro quotes the famed Damon Runyon telling McGraw that his paper’s headline writers have a new name intended for the team: The Yankees. McGraw is quoted as wondering if it will catch on in 1913. Even if the mistake originates elsewhere, it should’ve rung untrue to Vaccaro: The name “Yankees” had been used on the baseball cards as earlyYankees1912.jpg as 1911, and on a team picture issued by one of the New York papers in 1907. If McGraw and Runyon hadn’t heard the name “Yankees” by the time of the 1912 World Series, they’d both had undiagnosed hearing problems for five years.

Vaccaro also has a lot of trouble with geography. He indicates that Giants’ owner John Brush had a mansion in “upstate Pelham Manor” even though the town is essentially parallel to 241st Street in Northern Manhattan. He mocks the nickname “Swede” for Danish-born Boston outfielder Olaf Henriksen as an indication that baseball didn’t worry about geography in assigning monickers. But until 1905 Denmark was part of a union with Norway, and as late as the early 1800’s, those two countries were trying to reestablish a medieval tripartite union with Sweden. For all we know, Henriksen might have considered himself Swedish.
There are also mistakes so convoluted as to be baffling. Vaccaro writes of the fabulous game-saving catch by the Giants’ Josh Devore in Game Three:

“I took it over my left shoulder and with my bare hand although I clapped my glove on it right away and hung on like a bulldog in a tramp,” Evans would soon tell the mountain of reporters…

Evans? The catch was by Josh Devore. Evans – Billy Evans – was the umpire who confirmed the out. Later, there is the inexplicable observation that during the tense eighth game, so much of Manhattan was at the then-popular newspaper scoreboards that “Schoolrooms were scarce.” While this was doubtless as true in the New York of 1912 as it is in the city of 2010, it wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with baseball. Students in schoolrooms, yes. The rooms themselves?
The mistakes – and there are probably a dozen more – matter only in this context. When I read Vaccaro’s account of a supposed conversation, after the Red Sox took a 3-1 lead in games, between Boston’s owner and manager that clearly implies that the owner ordered the manager to hold back his ace pitcher in hopes Boston might lose the next game and thus gain the income from one more game in Fenway, I’m not inclined to take Vaccaro’s word for it. Because, lastly and most damningly, this may be how he researched the book. Years after retirement, Boston’s Hall of Fame centerfielder Tris Speaker went back to the minors as an executive. Vaccaro writes he would:

…become a part owner of the American Association, a top Triple-A-level minor league…”

In fact, Speaker would become a part owner not of the league, but of one of the teams in the league, the Kansas City Blues.
You know where else this mistake turns up?

Post professional career
In 1929 Speaker replaced Walter Johnson as the manager of the Newark Bears of the International League, a post he held for two years. He became a part owner of the American Association. The announcement of Speaker’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame was made in January, 1937

Yep. Tris Speaker’s Wikipedia page.

How sad.

The Pete And The President And The Hall of Famer Shortage

It wasn’t the first time, and it doesn’t mean they said anything more than ‘howdy,’ but Pete Rose met with MLB President and Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy here in Cooperstown over the weekend.

Perhaps just importantly, when Rose said his former teammate (and Hall of Fame Vice Chairman) Joe Morgan was “here,” he was slightly underselling reality. Morgan’s visit to Rose, in the same venue as DuPuy’s, lasted closer to an hour.
While the rest of us were all distracted by the official big doings down Main Street, the action at the memorabilia shop where Rose hawked his autographs all weekend, must have felt heavy enough to merit a revolving door. Besides the emotional visit from (and fractional forgiveness by) Rose’s old manager Sparky Anderson, witnesses say DuPuy also stopped by the shop, and Morgan did not spend his hour there just reminiscing.
All of this continues to feed the extrapolation that MLB is seriously considering reinstating Rose – at least for eligibility for the Hall – and that Commissioner Bud Selig is being heavily lobbied by people he greatly respects, to pardon Rose, or give him clemency of some sort. As Bill Madden of The New York Daily News reported, Hank Aaron told a couple of reporters (ironically including one who works for the Hall of Fame) “I would like to see Pete in. He belongs there.”
Madden has since updated the story with a detail that really turns up the volume:

It was also learned by the Daily News that in a meeting of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors at the Otesaga later on Saturday, two of Rose’s former teammates on the board, vice chairman Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson, also expressed their hope that Selig would see fit to reinstate Rose.

At roughly the same hour, as I first reported late Saturday night, Sparky Anderson marched into the “Safe At Home” shop as if he were going to the mound at Riverfront to pull Jack Billingham, and, tears welling in his eyes, told Rose, “You made some mistakes 20 years ago, Pete, but that shouldn’t detract from your contributions to the game.”


There was a rather petulant piece at ESPN pooh-poohing the story, and another less dyspeptic one from the solid reporter Phil Rogers of The Chicago Tribune claiming Selig was angry enough about the Daily News report that he nearly issued a rare formal denial.

But the Commissioner did not do that, and the reasons are not hard to gather. Aaron is not only his close friend but someone whom Bud has always held on a pedestal. Morgan’s power within baseball, and particularly the Hall, has been steadily growing. Frank Robinson is perhaps the game’s elder statesman. Rogers’ conclusion that “there has been no movement by Rose’s peers to have him take a seat among the greats in Cooperstown” might be numerically correct, but it does not take into account the relative influence of these three larger-than-life figures.

Perhaps just as importantly is the upcoming trauma of the 20th anniversary of Rose’s banishment, and, a week later, the 20th anniversary of Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s stunning, and to so many of us, heartbreaking, death. Selig and baseball can completely co-opt the story and turn it into one of redemption (whether or not it really is). The Veterans’ Committee vote on Rose can finish with only Aaron, Morgan, and Robinson voting “aye” and everybody else shouting obscenities, and Selig will have still redirected the coverage at the end of next month. It’s the scene from “Catch-22″ where the General, Orson Welles, wants to court-martial the Captain, Alan Arkin, for dropping his bombs in the Mediterranean. “We thought of that,” says the Major, played by Martin Balsam, “but then we considered the inevitable publicity.” Welles sighs. “You don’t have to say another word, Major.”

And lastly there is the drum beat growing louder and louder about the Hall of Fame and steroids – and Rose. It’s not just the issue of relative immorality. There is a looming Hall of Famer shortage. Exactly who are we to think are the lead-pipe, no-controversy, no-rumor, no-speculation first-ballot cinches among the recently-retired? Fred McGriff next winter? Larry Walker for the ceremonies of July, 2011? Bernie Williams of the class of 2012? Craig Biggio the year after that? There are, to me, literally two certainties out there and only one of them is certainly retired – Greg Maddux will be here five summers hence, and, if he doesn’t try to pitch again, so will Tom Glavine.

And in the interim? Robby Alomar? 

I mean – and I intend to go into this in depth in a future blog – I think this is great news for Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, and maybe even Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, and Ron Santo. But the next few years are not going to be remembered for serene and joyous election revelations and inductions. It ain’t gonna be Jim-Ed fans buying out the postcards of their Red Sox hero by late on the day of the ceremony, as they just did this weekend.

Good grief, the Hall might – gasp – need Pete Rose for his star power.

MEANWHILE, IN THE BASEMENT:

I am spending two extra days here researching the obscure stuff I can’t find out about anywhere other than the Hall’s incredible library. The entire staff (particularly librarian Jim Gates and Collections Senior Director Erik Strohl) has already passed several camels through the eyes of needles and before you say they’re just sucking up to a guy with a tv show, their long-ago predecessors Cliff Kachline and the late Jack Redding treated me with the exact same level of respect the last time I darkened the library’s doors – when I was fourteen years old.

Anyway, the research later. For now, here is one of the things we stumbled over, buried in a box in the Scorebooks and Scorecards Collections, while – of course – looking for something else:

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This is a nondescript, hand-drawn scorebook – in an otherwise ordinary composition notebook – with no markings or identification. Maybe the same name will jump out at you, that jumped out at me.

Batting second and playing centerfield for Shelbyville, Kentucky, of the Blue Grass States League, is Stengel. Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel. It’s July, 1910, and he’s just been saved from having to go back to dental school in Kansas City after his first professional season as a player came to an abrupt halt when the Kankakee team went out of business! Stengel latched on with Shelbyville (the franchise moved in mid-season so some records show him with Maysville), opened up with a 1-for-3 day in a 3-2 win, and would remain in baseball until his death in 1975.

And this is a scorebook, apparently belonging to a fan, who saw him play 20 or so times, in the lowest of the minors, 99 years ago. And the Hall of Fame has so much stuff that this not only isn’t on display, but nobody had yet had the time to look long enough at the book to figure out that that’s what it was.

And finally I have some ideas of what I want my house to look like!

Since you’ve read so long, just to say thanks, I give you something you never see – what the non-baseball part of Cooperstown looks like – here’s Lake Otsego, which is about a four-minute walk from the Hall’s front door:

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Meet Wilbur Huckle. Again.

Last month I introduced you to Wilbur Huckle, the latest apparent inductee into a very unfortunate, star-crossed club: guys who were on big league rosters, eligible to play in big league games – and never did.

Huckle, according to a scorecard owned by a photographer who works the New York ballparks, Steve Moore, was listed on the Mets’ roster in September, 1963. He never appeared in a major league game, and his two claims to fame were having been Tom Seaver’s first minor league roomate in Jacksonville in 1966, and later a Mets’ minor league manager.
Well there is a little clarification on his prospective membership in the DNP Club – and a third, delightful, claim to fame.
The ’63 scorecard turns out to list Huckle – but the listing is done in pencil, by hand, by a scout who attended the game. It assigns him uniform number 24. And it fits perfectly into the one piece of archived Huckle news found in contemporary reporting.
The San Antonio Express of September 12, 1963, reports:

HUCKLE CALLED UP TO VARSITY

San Antonio’s Wilbur Huckle, who was named the all-star shortstop in the Class A Carolina League, has joined Casey Stengel’s Mets.

So far, so Eureka! But wait, after a resume of Huckle’s brief pro career (and his signing by the same scout who found Nolan Ryan for the Mets), there’s more:

Huckle flew from Raleigh to New York Tuesday to join the parent club. “He didn’t know whether the Mets planned to play him any, or whether they just wanted him to work out with the club a few days,” his father, Allen Huckle said Wednesday. “We’ve been hoping to see his name in a box score.”

Wow. That last line – given that they never would, is particularly poignant.

Worse still, a UPIarticle from a month later, October 16, announces the addition of a dozen minor leaguers to the Mets’ off-season roster. Huckle is among them. This seems conclusive; it strains credulity to think he was added to the Met roster for a couple of days in September only to be removed, and then returned to it in October.
He appears to belong to a still more select and unfortunate club: guys who were in uniform on a major league field but didn’t even to not get in a game.
Huckle’s name, would, however, ring briefly in Mets’ history. He was with the team for most of Spring Training in ’64, and enough fans were enchanted by his handle that in that year of a presidential election, the Mets produced at least two “campaign buttons” for a fictional Huckle Presidential Campaign:
The one on the left is particularly sublime. Other than the word “Mets,” the slogan is a direct quote from the man who would ultimately be the 1964 GOP nominee, Senator Barry Goldwater.

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