Results tagged ‘ Christy Mathewson ’

Of Hype And Baseball Cards In The Attic (Updated)

Sometimes – whether you merit it or not – you seed the Publicity Storm Cloud just right with the chemicals and you get eight inches of rain.

Such it was yesterday when a respected memorabilia auction house put out a story about the discovery of some hundred-year old baseball cards in an attic in Ohio. I have a little less than 400,000 followers on Twitter and it feels like half of them sent me a link, wondering if I would be buying what each and every article described as three million dollars worth of cards. As near as I can tell, the story was picked up by ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, Fox, AP, Forbes Agence France Presse, TASS, and Pravda. As I washed my face before bed last night and flipped on the radio, the story was on the CBS hourly newscast.

I’ve dealt with the auctioneers – Heritage – for years with nothing but professional results, and I’m accusing them of nothing but professional success here, but boy oh boy oh boy did they hype this thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Finding 1909-10 baseball cards in pristine condition in an attic at Defiance, Ohio, is a wonderful story and the cards are worth a lot of money. But comparisons to unique artwork (“It’s like finding the Mona Lisa in the attic,” said the finder) and the three-million dollar pricetag are ludicrous.

Here are some of the cards, and then I’ll explain why the pricetag is nonsensical:

There are 30 cards in the set, issued by an anonymous candy manufacturer during the baseball card craze of 1909-11. Labeled within our hobby for cataloging purposes as “E-98″ (the “E” is for “Early Candy and Gum”) the cards are scarce compared to other more plentiful issues of the time (yet there are 15 of them available right now, in lesser shape, on eBay). They also just aren’t that popular. In an era in which the candy companies produced extraordinarily beautiful lithographs of players stylized to look like Greek Gods with blazing sunsets behind them, E-98’s are pretty bland colorized black-and-white images set against one-color backgrounds. The set is also full of careless errors (if you look at the card of “Cy” Young, lower left, you’ll notice it shows a lefthanded pitcher. Cy, who only won 511 career games, was a righthander. The photo actually depicts a very obscure contemporary named Irv Young).

Here’s what I mean about relative attractiveness. The Mathewson and the Wagner below are from the E-95 set issued by Philadelphia Caramel in 1909. Find me 700 copies of them in superb condition and we’re talking.

:Nevertheless, baseball card price guides agree that a full set of all 30 E-98 cards should be valued at about $125,000 in near perfect condition. The 37 cards that the auction house, Heritage, plans to sell next month, are the best of the bunch, real beauties with sharp corners, the kind investors love.

The problem is that there’s only one thing that investors react to more than beautifully conditioned old cards. That would be the sudden “find” of a large lot of previously hard-to-find cards.

From the time it came out in 1953 or 1954, a Dormand Postcards issue of Gil Hodges of the Brooklyn Dodgers was wildly scarce. In the days when regular cards from the series fetched a dollar or two and even a Mickey Mantle cost only $5 or $10, Hodges was “worth” $400. Then a few years ago somebody found a stack of them. I mean, like 750 of them. Like, however many they made and didn’t distribute for whatever reason back in the ’50s. Right now on eBay you can get your average Dormand postcard for $25 to $45. Hodges? Well, you can buy-it-now for $750. That’s $750 for 42 copies of the Hodges card (some poor guy, meanwhile, is still trying to sell his one pristine-looking Hodges for $2,000).

If you read the entire story of the “attic find” in Ohio you’ll notice that what they discovered wasn’t just 37 old cards, but 700 of them. The family and the auction house aren’t saying specifically what the rest of them are, but the way these things work, if there weren’t a lot more of the E-98 cards (presumably in lesser condition) than they’d be auctioning them off, too. If they were more valuable, or more intriguing, or just from a more collected or beloved set of cards, they’d be publicizing them.

So, congrats to the owners of the “find.” The estimate for what an auction next month at the national collectors’ gathering in Baltimore – $500,000 – might be a little high, but it’s probably in range. Investors will invest in anything, especially if they’ve read about it in the news. But even some of the news articles indicate that there are less than 700 of these E-98’s registered and encased in plastic (as in the illustration) with an unknown larger supply in “raw” (that is, not encapsulated) condition. If you introduce 700 new ones into the market, the price will initially go up, and then way, way down.

The family and the auction house have a stack of 700+ cards from a set nobody really collects and which investors might begin to doubt.

Don’t forget to wave to the Gil Hodges Dormand Postcard when you pass it.

UPDATE 5 PM EDT: A tweeter raises an important point. Javier Cepero writes: “Doesn’t the guy have a Honus Wagner 10 rated card?”

Yes. But not the Honus Wagner. The Honus Wagner – from the American Tobacco Company 1909 set called “T-206″ has been sold for $3,000,000 by itself (in perfect, albeit altered condition) down to the $300,000-$400,000 range for the crappier ones.

“The” Wagner is on the right. “My” Wagner meets baseball historian/Braves pitcher Tim Hudson last year, in the middle. The E-98 Wagner is on the right.

Seaver And Mathewson

On his MLB Network program Studio 42, Bob Costas tonight referenced a blog post here from 2009, and asked Tom Seaver if he was aware that I’d found a game-action photograph of Christy Mathewson from the 1911 World Series that showed Mathewson using the exact of drop-and-drive delivery Seaver brought to perfection in the early years of his career in the late ’60s.

Seaver said he’d seen the photo – I was pretty sure he had, since I’d sent a copy to him via a friend shortly after I found it in Cooperstown.

In blog years, a long time has passed since I posted the shots, so here they are again:

(C) Associated Press 1975

That’s Seaver – coincidentally in action against at Shea Stadium the San Francisco Giants in 1975  – showing the “drop and drive” that usually left the front of his right knee dirty. There had been a lot of anecdotal evidence that Mathewson, who retired in 1916, had used a similar delivery. But until the kind curators at the Hall photo archive let me look at their collection of glass images from the 1911 World Series, I don’t think anybody had actually seen a game-action image of Mathewson.

The resemblance, as you’ll see, is startling:

(C) National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

It’s the same delivery. In 1911.

Needless to say, I geeked out completely when I saw that photo. I literally thought “Why is there a picture of Tom Seaver pitching in the 1911 World Series?” After I posted the shot in August, 2009, I ran into Bob at Yankee Stadium and he had seen the post and he geeked out completely over it.

Just for the record, there are precious few game-action photos, particularly of pitchers, particularly in post-season action, from before the first World War. This was part of a series of 30 or 40 transparent glass slides, above three by five inches, that had been taken with a special camera for presentation as a slide show at the earlier movie theaters of the time. The Hall has what appears to be a complete set, and it constitutes a treasure trove for historians. You’ve heard of “Home Run” Baker? He got his name not for volume of homers, but for consecutive game-winning blasts off Mathewson and his fellow future Hall of Famer Rube Marquard in the ’11 Series. The slides include images of Baker rounding third on one of the homers.

I’m not going to say there isn’t another game-action photo of Mathewson anywhere else (and I’m not counting all the posed and/or warm-up shots that show Matty fully upright or just soft tossing). I’m just saying I’d never seen one before this image, and I don’t recall anybody reporting having seen another.

The 1911 photo series had been lost to historians because when it was donated to the hall in the mid 1960’s, the individual slides were divvied up and put, one by one, into the individual files of the players depicted. Only around 2009 was a search made for the whole set (you can imagine how long that took). This is what the Mathewson photo looked like – exactly as movie-goers would have seen it in October or November, 1911:

(C) National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

This is magnificent for several reasons – not the least of which is the extraordinarily low mound (which makes you appreciate Mathewson’s 373 career wins (plus five more in World Series action). But principally because that which historians thought really hadn’t become the standard for the “power pitcher” until the ’40s or ’50s, was in Mathewson’s repertoire a century ago.

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.

Hall Of Fame…Coaches?

As the Hall of Fame induction looms, something I heard on a Cardinals’ broadcast the other day inspired me to hit the books. The gist of the discussion, which was dead serious and included not even a hint that the view might be a little skewed by some homerism, was that while there weren’t any coaches in Cooperstown, and there was no mechanism for electing any, obviously Dave Duncan would be elected, and just as soon as possible.

This is not to dismiss the idea. Far from it. I’ve always thought coaches were under-appreciated, and the first bit of research (and vanity publishing) I ever did was when I realized there were plenty of records of players and managers and umpires, but as of 1973, there wasn’t even a list of coaches anywhere. I spent a week in the Hall of Fame library that summer jotting down, by hand, all the data I could find.
I’m a “coaches guy.”
I’m just not sure Dave Duncan is the first choice to go to Cooperstown, even among just the pitching coaches, even if a side exhibit were to open honoring just them (and maybe scouts as well – that’s far more overdue). The problem, obviously, is evaluation. What constitutes a great coach? Number of .300 hitters coached? 20-game winners coached? Is it more esoteric? Does Duncan get a plaque because he managed to keep Todd Wellemeyer in the majors, and turned around Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley? Should he be elected solely because Kent Bottenfield, winner of 46 career major league games, went 18-7 under Duncan’s tutelage in 1999?
The bigger issue, of course, is how much is the tutelage, and how much is the talent? These aren’t exactly hunks of clay out there, being shaped by a sculptor. If coaches ever do go to the Hall of Fame, certainly SABR-metrics will probably be able to prove a coach’s impact on a staff, or a batting order, but subjectivity will be a huge factor. And what of the proverbial “bold print” data that form the shorthand of research into a player’s success relative to his peers?
This, finally, gets me to my scratch-the-surface research. Which men have coached the most Cy Young Winners? Which have coached the most World Series Champions? There are a few surprises, and though the leaders in the latter category do tend to become weighted in favor of the Yankee dynasties, there is some insight to be had.
First, the Series winners. There are a few caveats. The “coach” is largely unheard of in baseball until the early years of the 20th Century. Managers inevitably ran the team from the third base coach’s box (Gene Mauch did this well into the ’60s in Philadelphia, and Tommy Lasorda tried it as a slump-buster in the ’90s), and a pitcher or non-starting player would coach from first. Gradually the New York teams began to experiment with somebody to help the manager out – 19th Century stars Duke Farrell with the Yankees and Arlie Latham with the Giants in 1909. The Yanks clearly weren’t sold on the idea. Farrell did not coach in 1910, but came back in 1911. They then eliminated the position entirely until 1914.
The “pitching coach” was even later to evolve. Wikipedia erroneously lists Wilbert Robinson as John McGraw’s pitching coach from 1903 through 1913 and credits him with all manner of successes. In point of fact, contemporary records show Robinson managing in the minors in 1903 and 1904, playing in Baltimore as late as 1908, and running the family saloon there. He clearly helped McGraw instruct pitchers in spring training, but did not join the Giants full time as a coach until 1911.
It seems that the first World Series winning team with a coach dedicated to supervising and instructing pitchers was McGraw’s 1921 Giants, with the immortal Christy Mathewson doing the honors. But even then Matty’s health was failing and just how much time he really did the job is speculation at best. Nick Altrock might have been the nominal pitching coach of Washington’s only World Champions in 1924, but he was better known for comic antics in the coach’s box. The first true pitching coach on a World Series winner might in fact be ex-catcher Cy Perkins with the 1932 Yankees. It was still a novelty; the 1933 World Champion Giants had no pitching coach, nor did the 1945 Tigers.
In any event, the leaders by World Series wins are as follows:
7 – John Schulte, Yankees, 1936-1947
7 – Jim Turner, Yankees, 1949-1958
5 – Mel Stottlemyre, Mets, Yankees, 1986-2000
4 – Mike Gonzalez, Cardinals, 1934-1946
3 – Johnny Sain, Yankees, Tigers, 1961-1968
3 – Joe Becker, Dodgers, 1955-1963

The others with as many as two? Duncan (1989 A’s, 2006, Cards), Galen Cisco (1992-93 Jays), Ron Perranoski (1981, 1988 Dodgers), Larry Shepard (1975-76 Reds), Wes Stock (1973-74 A’s), Dick Such (1987, 1991 Twins).

Two notes on the above. You may or may not want to give Stottlemyre the 5th Series. He had to leave the team to undergo intensive treatment for multiple myeloma in September, 2000, and the pitching coach duties were assumed by Billy Connors. And whereas Turner was the embodiment of the modern pitching coach, Schulte, as late as the 1947 World Series program, is described more informally as “the man who readies the pitchers.”
The Cy Young Winning coaches are a little more diverse. The usefulness of the data also suffers from the fact there were no awards before 1956, and only one for both leagues until 1967. Nevertheless they provide some insight:
6 – Leo Mazzone: Glavine ’91 ’98, Maddux ’93 ’94 ’95, Smoltz ’96
4 – George Bamberger: Cuellar ’69, Palmer ’73 ’75 ’76
4 – Dave Duncan: Hoyt ’83, Welch ’90, Eckersley ’92, Carpenter ’05
3 – Joe Becker: Newcombe ’56, Drysdale ’62, Koufax ’63
3 – Bill Fischer: Clemens ’86 ’87 ’91
3 – Ray Miller: Flanagan ’79, Stone ’80, Drabek ’90
3 – Claude Osteen: Carlton ’82, Denny ’83, Bedrosian ’87
3 – Johnny Sain: Ford ’61, McLain ’68 ’69
3 – Rube Walker: Seaver ’69 ’73 ’75
The others with two apiece: Rick Anderson (Santana ’04 ’06), Mark Connor (Johnson ’99 ’00),  Billy Connors (Sutcliffe ’84, Maddux ’92), Roger Craig (Jones ’76, Hernandez ’84), Bobby Cuellar (Johnson ’95, Martinez ’97), Art Fowler (Lyle ’77, Guidry ’78), Marv Grissom (Chance ’64, J. Perry ’70), Cal McLish (Fingers ’81, Vuckovich ’82), Billy Muffett (Gibson ’68 ’70), Lefty Phillips (Koufax ’65 ’66), Mel Queen (Clemens ’97 ’98), Dave Righetti (Lincecum ’08 ’09), Ray Rippelmeyer (Carlton ’72 ’77), Mel Stottlemyre (Gooden ’85, Clemens ’01), Carl Willis (Sabathia ’07 Lee ’08).
There’s one scorer’s judgement required here. In both 1977 and 1978 Art Fowler gets partial credit. The first year saw Sparky Lyle’s Cy Young season, as well as what might have been the first full-time Bullpen Pitching Coach, in the Yanks’ Cloyd Boyer. In ’78 Fowler exited at mid-year along with manager Billy Martin, and Clyde King coached Ron Guidry the rest of the way.
Obviously the two lists barely coincide. Schulte’s career was over before there were Cy’s, and though he coached in the majors all but two years from 1949 through 1973, Jim Turner coached only one winner (Bob Turley in 1958). The men who fared the best on both lists seem to be Joe Becker and Johnny Sain. Consider Becker for a second. How does the team that hires you as pitching coach in 1955, the Dodgers, proceed to win three World’s Championships and three Cy Youngs through 1963 – and then when you come up empty in 1964, they
fire you? Becker went to St. Louis in 1965 and the Cubs in ’67 and did pretty well with Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins in those places, but evidently not well enough.
Lastly two intriguing facts which figuratively fell off the book shelf while the research unfolded. Two Cy Young winners have gone on to be pitching coaches for Cy Young winners, and if that’s not a good new trivia question, I don’t know what is. The answers are Warren Spahn (1957 winner; coach for Gaylord Perry in 1972), and Bob Welch (1990 winner, coach for Randy Johnson in 2001).
That fact in turn led to this one, which suggests Hall of Fame berths for pitching coaches may not be that great an idea. Johnson won four of his six Cy Youngs with the same team, yet with three different pitching coaches in three consecutive years: Mark Connor in 2000, Welch in ’01, and Chuck Kniffin in ’02

Beerless Forecasts

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.

Milton Bradley Makes The Worst Teams In The World

Jack Zduriencik was one move away from completely rebuilding a shaken franchise in a little over thirteen months.

And then he made the move.
How much easier could this be to understand? You do not trade for Milton Bradley. You do not trade for Milton Bradley. You do not trade for Milton Bradley. 
He’s a “good teammate and a nice guy,” said the Mariners’ GM, hours after guaranteeing that all the startlingly good work he and his manager Don Wakamatsu had done in the last year would be washed away by some cataclysm (or “event,” as the nuclear plant engineers pleasantly call them) involving Bradley next season. Since April 1978, when his Dad filled out the name on his birth certificate without his Mom’s consent, there’s always been something. Tearing an ACL while having to be restrained from hitting an umpire. Bumping an umpire. Charging a third umpire. Suspended for the season by the Cubs. Trying to get to the press box during the game to confront the visiting announcer. Fighting with Eric Wedge. Fighting with Lou Piniella. Throwing the baseball bag on the field. Throwing a bottle back into the stands. Throwing the game ball into the stands – after the second out.
And by the way, we are talking about a player whose career highs are 34 doubles, 22 homers,  77 RBI, 17 steals, and a .321 average. This is not Albert Belle. This is not even Carl Everett. Statistically, this is a poor man’s Ben Grieve (my apologies to Ben Grieve).
And after signing Chone Figgins and Russell Branyan (and maybe even re-signing him), and dealing for Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Wilson, Cliff Lee, Ian Snell, and David Aardsma, all the good work by Zduriencik is undone by adding a player who is being described as looking for a “fresh start.” This’d be his seventh. 

FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:

This was my favorite part of the annual SABR Journal – the curious things the late Al Kermisch found, presumably in pursuit of grander truths (an example from his last “From,” published after his passing in 2002: as a professional, Phil Rizzuto never played on a team that finished worst than third, and in 17 years, he was on 14 pennant-winners). I can’t hope to emulate the quality of Mr. Kermisch’s work but I do hope to touch the curiosity factor, both with nuts-and-bolts research and, in the case of my first effort, whimsy.
Meet the greatest name in baseball history: Phifer Fullenwider. 
Don’t go looking him up in the Baseball Encyclopedia; he never actually pitched in the big leagues (though he did make it to Spring Training one year, at a time when less than 30 men per team did so).
Fullenwider graduated with a degree in pharmacy from the University of North Carolina in 1908, but instead of to a drug store, he headed to the Carolina Association, where, as Baseball Reference’s superb minor league database indicates, he opened a fourteen-year minor league career with a 13-4 record for Charlotte. But it would be 1911 before he really broke through with a 26-9 mark for Columbia of the South Atlantic (SALLY) League.
And that impressive season leads us to this rather remarkable public domain image from the Polo Grounds in New York:
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That is none other than our Mr. Fullenwider, in the uniform of the Columbia Commies (had a different meaning then), standing in New York’s Polo Grounds, most likely late in the season of 1911, or possibly early in 1912. In those days before extensive farm systems, major league teams not only drafted players from minor league teams, but did so wholesale – and usually days after the minor league season ended. Thus it was not unusual for “bushers” to report to the big leagues – and apparently to bring their uniforms with them.

The Giants thought enough of Fullenwider to bring him to spring training in 1912. The camp was in Marlin, Texas, and the team picture indicates just how few prospects were included among the veterans:
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NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME

The bottom row is, left to right, Giants aces Red Ames and Hall of Famer Rube Marquard, an otherwise unidentified “trainer,” Fullenwider, and outfielder Josh Devore. The legendary John McGraw is second from right in the middle row (almost right behind his prized pitching prospect), and in the back are the only two guys not wearing the goofy hats: catcher Chief Meyers (fourth from the right) who is capless, and next to him, wearing his cap backwards, Christy Mathewson. For this team photo is nothing less than a 1912 manifestation of that which we purists fear may some day happen in the future – players wearing advertisements on their uniforms! Those caps are ads for “ANGER’S Ice Cream Cones.” And evidently Mathewson and Meyers are having none of it (and yes, that’s my boy Merkle, back row, far right).
But back to Phifer Fullenwider, and something even stranger than an ad for ice cream cones on his uniform.
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The one-time UNC pitching hero is still wearing his Carolina cold-weather baseball sweater. The thing is four years old at least, he’s the property of the defending National League Champion New York Giants,  they took him to spring training in hopes that he might pitch alongside Christy Mathewson – and nobody gave him his own Giants’ sweater!
As it proved, Fullenwider never would pitch alongside Matty, nor any other big leaguer. The records of 1912 are a lot less precise than today, but while nearly everybody else in that photo went on to win the N.L. crown again in 1912 and 1913, Fullenwider shows up pitching for Buffalo of the International League (where the Giants often sent their extra players, in an informal arrangement), where he would win 20, 19, and 17 games in the next three seasons and yet never get a call to the big time. After a 19-victory season at Atlanta in 1917, he apparently quit. A 1919 entry in the University of North Carolina alumni review notes that Fullenwider (“Phar. ’08”) “is a druggist, with the Rose Drug Co., of Rocky Mount. He will be remembered as a star pitcher on the varsity baseball team. He has a one-year old child.”
The game was not gone from his system, however. Phifer Fullenwider, at the age of 34, reapp
ears in the minor league record in that same city – Rocky Mount, pitching for the Tarheels of the Virginia League for two seasons, then Columbia in 1922 and Greenville in ’23. He’d finish up with a record of 194 and 146, with memories of a trip to Marlin, Texas with McGraw and the boys, and at least one winter of the greatest kind of hope and optimism. One wonders if he got to keep the Ice Cream Cone hat.
There’s one other note before we let Mr. Fullenwider out of the clutches of the researcher. He may not have gotten a big league game under his belt, but he did make it onto a baseball card. From the Contentnea Cigarettes series called T209, dating from the 1909 season — and a dandy it is, I might add.
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The Greatest Cooperstown Find (Updated)

For more than 25 years, Dan Patrick and I have had the same debate.

We’ll be talking about the game’s All-Time Greats, and I’ll throw out the names of Honus Wagner or Buck Ewing or Christy Mathewson, or how we need to give Bobby Mathews credit for having won 300 games at a time when most pitchers didn’t last five seasons, and he’ll always say the same thing: “How do you know they were any good? We have no film of them. We don’t know what they did or how they did it.”
I’d point out that you could say the same thing about the Negro Leaguers, or largely about Ty Cobb, and he’d say these were exceptions, and secretly I’d realize at what a towering disadvantage the pre-1920 stars are, and I’d grieve that a man like Mathewson – clearly baseball’s first idol and considered by the old, old timers as being perhaps its first modern pitcher – might eventually be totally ignored.
It saddened me especially about Mathewson, to whom the kids of 1967 was a tangible memory easily obtained from their grandfathers. One of my earliest baseball-related daydreams was of going back in time to see him pitch, possibly alongside my mother’s Dad, the great Giant fan, who never had enough money to go once to the Polo Grounds while Mathewson still weaved his magic there – or even to go before Mathewson died in 1925, after six years of agony from tuberculosis and lungs scalded in a poison gas training exercise in France just weeks before World War I ended.
And then I was shown something, in the photo library of the Hall, last week. And I gasped.
There is some film of Mathewson – he’s shown warming up on the sidelines, evidently on Opening Day of 1905, arrogant John McGraw’s decision to put “World Champions” on the uniforms (another nose thumb at the American League), the most evident image. But he’s only tossing the ball and if that’s the way he’s pitched, Dan’s right – he won his 373 games because he managed to last for parts of seventeen seasons and both the pitching and the hitting of the time were unscientific messes. At one point a dog runs around on the field, and at another, Mathewson drops the return throw. If he’s cracking 70 on these “pitches” I’d be mighty surprised.
In fact, bluntly, the second or third best “film” of Mathewson in action is from a “flip book” (A Winthrop Moving Picture Post Card, to be precise) – a delightful hand-held series of still pictures from 1907 which when skimmed through with the thumb, create an animated representation of Mathewson’s legendary form. If you grew up on the legend of the hero who died so young and so loved, it can make you tear up. I got one last year – here’s the cover:
Matty1907.jpg
It’s wonderful, but even here, he’s just, well, throwing. He’s a professional, to be sure, and his mechanics would make any pitcher jealous, but, again, where’s the beef? 

Mathewson was famed for one piece of advice to young pitchers, which would cause him to be banned from the field today, as pitching coaches clapped their hands over the ears of their young charges: Don’t put everything you have on every pitch. Save something for the 9th Inning (that might explain his 435 Complete Games). Still, this is ridiculous. He had to have had something more in the way of exertion or form – in an era of contact hitting when a batter striking out 100 times in a season was likely to find himself in Decatur, Illinois the next year, he led the National League in strikeouts five years out of six and ended with more than 2500. But where was the visual, visceral, proof?
In the basement of the Hall of Fame, that’s where.
I was handed a series of glass images, each about four inches by five, that were nothing less than the “magic lantern slides” that used to be projected in movie houses, in the pre-newsreel days. You just couldn’t set up film cameras in 1911 and hope to get anything meaningful in the way of action or highlights. But the box camera did the trick.
And there it all was: the key plays of the 1911 World Series, right down to the consecutive home runs in Games Two and Three that earned A’s third baseman Frank Baker the nickname “Home Run,” and first lit the fire in the public’s imagination about the longball. It can be argued that those two dingers – one which tied up the game in the 9th, the other which won one – set the stage for the next century of Home Run Mania, and the constant alteration of equipment, ball, stadium dimensions, and pitching rules that has ushered in era after era of “The Home Run Era” virtually without interruption.
And there was one other image in there that took my breath away. I originally posted a blurry snapshot taken with an iPhone, but the warm and friendly curators took pity on me and sent… this:
Mathewson Christy 348-65d_Act_PD.jpg
Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.

The figure in the middle of the diamond is Christy Mathewson, and what he is doing couldn’t have surprised me more than if the slide showed that he had his 2009 Lamborghini parked behind home plate.
He is clearly delivering at one of those moments when he would have advised the kids to throw as hard as they could. He is firing. And his delivery is precisely that of the modern power pitcher. His frame, 6′ 1-1/2″, is so low to the ground that the back knee is nearly touching it. He is in classic fireballer position, as aware of the physics of pitching as anybody who has followed him. 
In fact, the first thing I thought when I saw that slide was: ‘What’s this picture of him doing mixed in here?':
Seaver.JPEG
Christy Mathewson had Tom Seaver’s delivery. That’s it. That’s who I thought I was seeing in that slide from 1911. Old Dirty Knees Seaver.
Or, if that’s not enough of a reference, let’s say he had a righthanded version of this guy:
Koufax.jpegMattyCropped.jpg
Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.

Cooperstown: Saturday Evening

Had the great pleasure of joining the family of 2009 Frick Award Winner Tony Kubek on its private tour of the Hall (and lunch) and while private means private, I can share some of the artifacts and one very nice family image.

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How many Tony Kubeks are in this photo?
That is the great Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek, Jr, on the left, of course, and his son, Tony Kubek III on the right, and in between them, Tony Kubek IV. The photo they have picked up is of the first Tony Kubek, congratulating his son the Yankee during his World Series triumphs in their native Wisconsin in 1957. The Hall prides itself on a file on literally each of the 17,000 or so players who’ve performed in the majors since 1871 (to say nothing of a few thousand more on executives, broadcasters, and even famous fans), and it gave the Kubeks a chance to look at Tony’s. The inductee himself stood by with a kind of patient stoicism, while insisting we should be looking at all the other neat stuff. 
Such as this Shroud of Turin-like object, the importance of which Hall curators didn’t even fully comprehend until last year.
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That, they thought, was some vintage sandlotters’ uniform, circa 1900. It had been labeled such for all the time it had sat inside the Cooperstown collection. Then the light hit it just right, and what seemed to be a murky discoloration on the right breast, just below where the sleeve is folded, revealed itself as the outline of a “Y.” 
A similar “N” was found on the left, and certain other characteristics (like the buttons for converting the sleeves from short to long) became evident. That was a 1905 New York Giants’ uniform – the letters had simply come off, or been taken off, in the interim. In fact further investigation proved it was Christy Mathewson’s 1905 uniform. Not the one he wore during his three World Series shutouts that fall, but his regular season model.
Here’s another relic, a little blurry, and not for the faint-of-heart Red Sox fan:
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Yep, promissory note, from Yankees’ owner Jacob Ruppert to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, for part of the sale price of… Babe Ruth. The front signatures are Ruppert (r) and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston (Ruppert’s less vocal partner – even though his middle name translated as ‘The Man God’). On the back is Frazee’s endorsement, plus five cents in official document tax stamps, used to retire the debt from World War One.
Thus you are looking at what you get when you sell your soul.
The Mathewson shirt (there was also a 1930-era Babe Ruth brought out for our gasping pleasure) is part of a vast collection, kept in archival quality boxes stacked atop each other. They were not just major leaguers’ – there were half a dozen at least from the All-America Girls’ Baseball League of the ’40s and ’50s – and they were certainly not all Hall of Famers’, which brings us to this anomaly of an image.
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So Pete Rose is in the Hall of Fame – boxed between Jackie Robinson and Al Rosen.
Which causes my mind to wander off the point, and the famous Rose joke from the early ’80s that enabled card collectors and memorabilia dealers to be the first to sense something was very wrong with Pete’s finances. Collector goes up to a uniform dealer and asks for a game-worn Rose jersey.
Buyer:  He wore all these in games?
Dealer: Yep.
Buyer:  There are a lot of them. I can’t decide
Dealer: Well. Cincinnati, Montreal, or Philadelphia?
Buyer:  Uh, Cincinnati
Dealer: Home or Away?
Buyer:  Um, home?
Dealer: ’60s vest style or ’70s-era doubleknit?
Buyer:  Doubleknit
Dealer: What size would you like?
This last item is not from the priceless archives, nor the temperature-controlled storage vaults beneath the public displays, nor was it gingerly handed to us by Exhibitions and Collections Director Erik Strohl, but it was as wonderful a find as I could’ve had. Two 1988 Topps cards, tacked up to a cork board in the librarians’ main area, reflecting at once the difficulties of baseball research and record-keeping, and its sheer silliness:
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Yep. Andy Allanson, and Allan Anderson. A beautiful kind of symmetry.
And this brings me to the last and saddest of the imagery. It is not in the Hall, but rather, in a CVS Drug Store nearly directly across the street from the Hall. It is not in front of the CVS, where Bob Feller was signing autographs when I last walked by, ninety minutes or so ago. It is not even in the front of the CVS. It is in the back, near the tissues.
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There. Third shelf from the bottom, below last year’s baseball cards, and the boxes of Red Sox brand tissues. To the left.
Take a closer look.
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Oh Holy Toledo Mudhens – it’s a pile of autographed 8 x 10’s of ex-Giant and Yankee John “The Count” Montefusco. Your cost? $4.95 each. The prints themselves probably cost 50 cents apiece, and rigid photo-holders that size are worth just about that. Meaning “The Count’s” Amount is down to about four bucks at the CVS in Cooperstown. And they were not flying off store shelves.
Fame is fleeting.
And with that, this is your faithful correspondent signing off from blog central, on the front porch,
on one of the prettiest streets of the Democracy, until an update after tonight’s big soiree or tomorrow morning’s pre-induction mayhem.
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