Results tagged ‘ Gil McDougald ’

Good Luck Retirements?

So now that Gil Meche has quit, does that mean the Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series this year?

Too laughable for words? How about Milwaukee, because Trevor Hoffman has hung ‘em up while still theoretically still with the Brewers?
If you haven’t clicked away by now, don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting there’s a predictable correlation between any of these things, but there is a not insubstantial list of occasions in history in which a prominent player – or even star – has retired only to see his last team go on to win the World Series the following fall.
Three of the game’s All-Time greats managed this impossible and dubious trick. Stan Musial was a World Champ in three of his first four seasons in the majors (’42, ’44, ’46 – he spent 1945 in the service) and then slogged it out with some pretty bad Cardinals teams for the next 17 years before retiring after the ’63 campaign. He then watched from the distant front office as the Birds won it all in ’64.
The other two immortals managed to miss out together. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had been forced out of their player-manager jobs in Detroit and Cleveland respectively after a gambling scandal hit the American League in the late ’20s, and concluded their careers as teammates with the 1928 Philadelphia A’s. They left (Cobb to true retirement, and Speaker to a pinch hitting/managing gig with Newark of the International League), and the Athletics won the 1929 Series. Speaker had won crowns in Boston and Cleveland, but though he was in the Series in his second, third, and fourth full seasons in the majors in Detroit, the Tigers lost all three of those Classics and for everything else he did, Cobb could never claim he won a Series.
The most touching example of this impeccably bad timing would obviously be Don Mattingly, who arrived just after the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series. Mattingly suffered through the worst of the Steinbrenner years at Yankee Stadium from 1982 to 1993 without once seeing the post-season. Mattingly’s ’94 Yanks, a pretty good team, were snuffed out by the strike, and in ’95, when he finally reached the playoffs after having announced his retirement, they blew a chance at what would’ve been his only Series appearance by coughing up the 2-0 lead to the Mariners. The Yankees, with Tino Martinez in Donnie Baseball’s stead at first base, went on to win the Series in 1996.
Amazingly there are at least two other Yankee first basemen who did the same thing, although neither had as much to complain about as did Mattingly. George McQuinn retired after the 1948 season, just before the Yanks went on their run of five straight Championships. But McQuinn had already gotten his ring with the ’47 Yankees.
McQuinn’s retirement opened up a path for Joe Collins to take over much of the work at first base in the Bronx. Collins was hardly cheated: he only played eight full seasons but was on six World’s Champs. When the Yanks decided to trade him to Philadelphia after they lost the 1957 Classic, Collins retired – and New York rebounded to win the 1958 crown.
Mathematically, with all those titles, it’s not surprising that there are at least four other Yankees on this strange list. They began asking “where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” in the winter of 1951 when he retired. With nine rings in just thirteen years on the field, the Yankee Clipper did not get shortchanged. Nevertheless, New York won two more in his first two years away from the game. The talented Jerry Coleman, still going strong in the Padres’ booth just 53 years later, quit the Yanks after the ’57 loss to Milwaukee and, like Collins, missed the ’58 crown. His fellow Yankee infield stalwart Gil McDougald retired after the ’60 loss to Pittsburgh and thus missed the ’61 win over Cincinnati and the ’62 victory over San Francisco. And of the most recent vintage, Mike Mussina’s triumphant climax to his great career, his first 20-win season in his swan song of 2008, also meant he missed out on what would’ve been his only ring in 2009.
This list is probably incomplete; I confess to having done it off the top of my head. But Pee Wee Reese is on it, retiring from the 1958 Dodgers and so on their ’59 Series winners only as a coach. If you want a manager, take Earl Weaver. He retired from the Orioles after 1982. They won it under Joe Altobelli in 1983. Making things worse, the Birds soured on Altobelli in ’85 and Weaver un-retired for two unhappy seasons. 
There are a couple of judgement calls, too. Tim McCarver called it quits from the Phillies at the end of 1979 and went into the broadcasting booth, only to be activated in September, 1980 when rosters expanded. But he was back in civvies for the World Series triumph, which would’ve been his first since St. Louis in 1964. There is also the iffy case of Harvey Haddix. The Baltimore Orioles traded the veteran pitcher to Milwaukee in August of 1965, but Haddix told the Braves he was intending to retire in a month and they shouldn’t waste money or players on obtaining him. In fact, his last major league game was on August 28, 1965, so I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not he qualifies on the bad timing roster considering the ’66 edition of the Orioles won the Series.
Lastly, the most frustrating case I can recall would have to be that of Mel Harder, the Cleveland Indians pitcher for whose Hall of Fame candidacy Ted Williams never stopped lobbying. Harder joined the Tribe in 1928, eight years after they’d taken the Series under player-manager Speaker. He won a tidy 223 games before finally giving up after his 20th season in Cleveland, in 1947. The Indians promptly won the 1948 World Series, in no small measure because of their rookie pitching coach – Harder himself. He stayed in that job through 1963 (and obviously the Indians never won the Series after his first year). To expand our terms a little bit, when the Indians let him go, Harder quickly hooked on as pitching coach of the Mets (five years before their Championship). He would move on to the Reds in ’66 and stay through 1968, exiting just before The Big Red Machine rose to prominence.
So if the Royals or Brewers surprise everybody this year, maybe you know why.

The Other Victim

Gil McDougald confirmed, many years after the event, that his retirement from baseball after just ten major league seasons, owed in large part because of his loss of his sense of joy after the Herb Score incident in 1957. The vision – and career – of the lefthanded pitcher with the greatest start in baseball history would never be the same after he was struck by a line drive near the eye. McDougald was physically uninjured, but he was the man who hit the ball, and psychologically, he never really got over it.

To that end, this snapshot of Miggy Tejada last night running, his interest in the safe or the out decreasing with every stride, after he knocked Jeff Niemann to the turf in St. Petersburg.
IMG_2093.JPG
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA VIA MLB NETWORK

At that point, Tejada could not have known that his comebacker hit Niemann not in the head but in the shoulder, and that the Rays’ big twirler might even be back for his next start. But it underscores that while the pitcher is the obvious victim of such cataclysms, we should give a moment’s thought to the scare the batter experiences.
NEXT, I WILL BUY A WALKMAN:
Made the big leap into 21st Century Social Networking last night. I’m up on Twitter and will dispense baseball nuggets and advisories of new blog posts as warranted at #KeithOlbermann. Now available without a prescription.
FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:

It’s generally presumed that
when Warren Spahn dueled Juan Marichal for 16 innings at Candlestick Park on
July 2, 1963 (before losing 1-0 on a one-out Mays homer), it started Spahn’s
rapid decline (6-13 in ’64, 7-16 in ’65). In fact, through that loss, Spahn was
11-4 that season. He would go on to win 12 of his last 15 decisions to finish
at 23-7. Whatever led him downhill, it wasn’t the marathon against Marichal.

Is This Any Way To Run A Hall Of Fame?

Bill Skowron is a delightful and generous man, and Gil McDougald was a versatile player and is an inspiring person, and Hank Bauer was an underrated star and a gifted manager. And they’re also on one of baseball’s seemingly most glamorous Top 10 stat lists, while really serving only to prove how misleading stat lists can be.

Skowron, McDougald, and Bauer are among baseball’s all-time Top 10 World Series Home Run Hitters.
I am the first guy to say a reliance on numbers, especially in the Hall of Fame voting, is erroneous and even contemptible. Nevertheless, several statistical comparisons are so overwhelming as to be jaw-dropping, and reinforce the notion that all those who have yet tried their hands at selecting the immortals – Baseball Writers, Special Committees, Veterans’ Committees, Veterans/Members Committees, Negro League Research Committees – have all botched the job.
Ignoring the rest of the 2009/2010 ballot results (ok, not totally ignoring them: I told you Roberto Alomar’s last three seasons would cost him election), I remain absolutely fascinated by where Bert Blyleven fits into the history of the game and the minds of the electors.
Look at this. Which one of these is the only Hall of Famer in the group?

Category              Blyleven      John        Kaat        Roberts

WINS                      287           288         283           286

LOSSES                 250           231         237           245

ERA                       3.31          3.34        3.45          3.41

K                           3701          2245       2461         2357

WALKS                  1322         1259        1083          902

20 WINS                    1              3             3              6

LCS                         3-0           4-1          0-1            N/A

WORLD SERIES      2-1           2-1          1-2            0-1

FULL YEARS            22            23           24            19

Do you see any rhyme or reason to this? In Wins, Losses, and ERA, Blyleven and Robin Roberts are virtual matches. Roberts has 420 fewer walks, but Blyleven has 1344 more strikeouts. At the peripherals, Blyleven acquitted himself well on the post-season stages, but Roberts reeled off six 20-win seasons (and consecutively, no less) to the Dutchman’s one.

And save for those 20-win seasons and the issue of longevity, John and Kaat are near statistical matches to Roberts.
Roberts is in the Hall. The others are not.
Below is another amazing comparison. We’ll keep the players names out of it (except to note that they debuted in consecutive seasons; this is not some 19th Century guy versus Bob Gibson) until after you compare their numbers. One pitcher is in; the other has never garnered significant support:

Category                HOF Pitcher              Forgotten Pitcher

WINS                          224                            229

LOSSES                     166                            172

ERA                           3.26                           3.30

K                               2012                          2416

WALKS                       954                           1104

20 WINS                       5                                4

LCS                            4-3                             1-0

WORLD SERIES         5-3           &nb
sp;                 2-0

FULL SEASONS          15                              17

Well this is crazier than Bert Blyleven/Tommy John/Jim Kaat/Robin Roberts. These men are identical. One of them was about 20% more a strikeout/walks guy. The other was on far more  playoff and World Series teams (and yet, significantly, only won 9 of 15 decisions).
The Hall of Famer is Catfish Hunter, and the “other guy” is Luis Tiant.
One more, which has some remarkable comps in the Won/Lost numbers and then fades off as the other statistics roll out. But it again illustrates how the theoretical gulfs between Hall of Famers and obscure, never-supported candidates, can be (and again, these men broke in within a little under two years of each other):

Category                HOF Pitcher              Forgotten Pitcher

WINS                         209                            209

LOSSES                    166                            164

ERA                          2.95                           3.40

K                              2486                          1728

WALKS                      855                            858

20 WINS                      2                                0

LCS                           N/A                            0-0

WORLD SERIES         3-3                            N/A

FULL SEASONS         14                              16

If I didn’t tell you this (or you didn’t read it where I did, in The Bill James Historical Abstract, you’d have no way of guessing. 
The Hall of Famer, remarkably, is Don Drysdale. The other is Milt Pappas, who, if remembered at all, is remembered for being traded for Frank Robinson.
I think this inundation of stats suggests a couple of things. Foremost, it says that Bert Blyleven isn’t just a Hall of Famer – he’s an obvious one, and that Tommy John and Jim Kaat are, too – and Tiant almost certainly is (I’m not sure about Milt Pappas, but it sure is impressive that he duplicated Don Drysdale’s won-lost record with less of a fastball and on inferior teams). You can say the paucity of post-season work for Luis Tiant compared to Catfish Hunter is to some degree Tiant’s fault – but the same measure is not applied to Robin Roberts. You can point out that Drysdale is doubtless given some credit for the sudden, dramatic end to his career due to injury at the age of 33 – and yet it seems as if John and Tiant are not being credited with similar injuries (Tiant was 17-30 and traded or released three times between ’69 and ’71; John didn’t pitch once between July 17, 1974, and Opening Day, 1976). More over, John and Tiant came back from their injuries and certainly aren’t getting credit for that.
Ultimately for all the voters’ talk about longevity and consistency, the Hall of Fame is about building a reputation and doing it quickly. Robin Roberts is in the Hall of Fame because by the time of his 29th birthday he had produced six straight 20-win seasons (never mind that he would pitch eleven more seasons without another one). Catfish Hunter pitched in six of the seven World Series between 1972 and 1978. And Blyleven and John and Kaat all face the same bizarre slur that dogged Don Sutton for years – they just “hung around.” Isn’t “hung around” a less pleasant way of describing longevity and consistency?
It is a shame that we don’t have something akin to the system in Japan. They have a two-tiered Hall. One is based on simple statistical thresholds. The other is more subjective. Theirs is an odd two-headed beast, but it underscores the fact that as important and as far outside the bounds of mortality Cooperstown is – these endlessly bizarre vote outcomes prove that all we have is the subjective.

The Nine Smartest Plays In World Series History

Inspired by Johnny Damon’s double-stolen base in Game Four on Sunday, I thought it was time to salute a part of the game rarely acknowledged and even more rarely listed among its greatest appeals to the fan. What they once quaintly called “good brain-work”: the nine Smartest Plays in World Series History.

We’ll be doing this on television tonight, illustrated in large part with the kind help of the folks behind one of the most remarkable contributions ever made to baseball history, The Major League Baseball World Series Film Collection, which comes out officially next week, and which, as the name suggests, is a DVD set of all of the official “films” of the Series since  ex-player Lew Fonseca started them as a service to those in the military in 1943. The amount of baseball history and the quality of the presentation (the “box” is by itself, actually a gorgeous Series history book) are equally staggering.

We start, in ascending order, with a famous name indeed, and Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in the eighth inning of the first game of the 1955 World Series. It is perhaps the iconic image of the pioneer player of our society’s history, but it was also a statement in a time when the concept was new. Ironically, the Dodgers were losing 6 to 4 when Robinson got on, on an error, moved to second on a Don Zimmer bunt, aggressively tagged up on a sacrifice fly.

Robinson was at third, but up for the Dodgers was the weak-hitting Frank Kellert. And, after all but taunting pitcher Whitey Ford and catcher Yogi Berra of the Yankees, Jackie seized the day, and broke for the plate. No catcher has more emphatically argued a call, and no moment has better summed up a player, his influence, or the changes he would bring to the game.

Ironically, that was the last run the Dodgers would score and they would lose the game. But the steal set a tone for a different Brooklyn team than the one which had tried but failed to outslug the Yankees in their previous five World Series meetings. The Dodgers would win this one, in seven games.

The eighth play on the list is another moment of base-running exuberance. In a regular season game in 1946, Enos “Country” Slaughter, on first base, had been given the run-and-hit sign by his St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Eddie Dyer. Slaughter took off, the batter swung and laced one into the outfield. As Slaughter approached third base with home in his sights, he was held up by his third base coach Mike Gonzalez. Slaughter complained to his skipper. He knew better than Gonzalez, he told Dyer, whether or not he could beat a throw home. Dyer said fine. “If it happens again and you think you can make it, run on your own. I’ll back you up.”

It indeed happened again – and in the bottom of the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 Series! The visiting Red Sox had just tied the score at three, but Slaughter led off the inning with a single. Manager Dyer again flashed the run-and-hit sign, and Harry “The Hat” Walker lined Bob Klinger’s pitch over shortstop for what looked to everybody like a long single.

Everybody but Slaughter. He never slowed down. He may never have even seen third base coach Gonzalez again giving him the stop sign. When Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky turned clockwise to take the relay throw from centerfielder Leon Culberson, and, thus oddly twisted, could get little on his throw to the plate – Slaughter scored, the Cardinals led, and, an inning later, were World Champions.

The Red Sox should’ve seen it coming. Long before Pete Rose, Slaughter ran everywhere on the field, to the dugout and from it, on walks, everywhere. He said he had learned to do it in the minor leagues, when as a 20-year old he walked back from the outfield only to hear his manager say “Hey, kid, if you’re tired, I’ll get you some help.”

That manager was Eddie Dyer – the same guy who a decade later would encourage Slaughter to run any and all red lights.

The particulars of the seventh smartest play in Series history are lost in the shrouds of time: the 1907 Fall Classic between the Tigers and Cubs. This was the Detroit team of the young and ferocious Ty Cobb, but its captain was a veteran light-hitting third baseman named Bill Coughlin. In the first inning of the second game, Cubs’ lead-off man Jimmy Slagle walked, then broke for second base. Catcher Fred Payne’s throw was wild and Slagle made it to third. Coughlin knew the Tigers were in trouble.

There are two ways to do what Coughlin did next; we don’t know which he used. Later third basemen like Matt Williams were known to ask runners to step off the base so he could clean the dirt off it. Others, through nonchalance or downright misdirection, would convince the runner that they no longer had the ball. Which one Coughlin did, we don’t know. The Spalding Base Ball Guide for 1908 simply described it as “Coughlin working that ancient and decrepit trick of the ‘hidden ball,’ got ‘Rabbit’ Slagle as he stepped off the third sack. What the sleep of Slagle cost was shown the next minute when Chance singled over second.”

Coughlin snagged Slagle with what is believed to be the only successful hidden ball trick in the history of the Series.

 
Sixth among the smartest plays is another we will not likely see again. The New York Mets led the Baltimore Orioles three games to one as they played the fifth game of the 1969 World Series. But the favored Birds led that game 3-zip going into the bottom of the sixth. Then, Dave McNally bounced a breaking pitch at the feet of Cleon Jones of the Mets. Jones claimed he’d been hit by the pitch, but umpire Lou DiMuro disagreed – until Mets’ skipper Gil Hodges came out of the dugout to show DiMuro the baseball, and the smudge of shoe polish from where it had supposedly hit Jones. DiMuro changed his mind, Jones was awarded first, Donn Clendenon followed with a two-run homer, Al Weis hit one in the seventh to tie, and the Mets scored two more in the eighth to win the game and the Series.

But there were questions, most of them voiced in Baltimore, about the provenance of that baseball. Was it really the one that McNally had thrown? A nearly identical play in 1957 with Milwaukee’s Nippy Jones had helped to decide that Series. And years later an unnamed Met said that ever since, it had always been considered good planning to have a baseball in the dugout with shoe polish on it, just in case.

Today, of course, players’ shoes don’t get shined.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Hall of Fame batter, Hall of Fame manager, all involved in the fifth smartest play. But only two of them were smart in it. Reds 1, A’s nothing, one out, top of the eighth, runners on second and third, third game of the ’72 Series, and Oakland reliever Rollie Fingers struggles to a 3-2 count on Cincinnati’s legendary Johnny Bench. With great theatrics and evident anxiety, the A’s battery and manager Dick Williams agree to go ahead and throw the next pitch deliberately wide — an intentional walk.

Which is when Oakland catcher Gene Tenace jumps back behind the plate to catch the third strike that slides right past a forever-embarrassed Bench. As if to rub it in, the A’s then walked Tony Perez intentionally. For real.

Another all-time great was central to the fourth smartest play in Series history. With Mickey Mantle, you tend to think brawn, not brain, but in the seventh game of the epic 1960 Series, he was, for a moment, the smartest man in America. Mantle had just singled home a run that cut Pittsburgh’s lead over the Yankees to 9-to-8.  

With one out and Gil McDougald as the tying run at third, Yogi Berra hit a ground rocket to Pirate first baseman Rocky Nelson. Nelson, having barely moved from where he was holding Mantle on, stepped on the bag to retire Berra for the second out. Mantle, on his way into no man’s land between first and second, about to be tagged hi
mself for the final out of the Series, stopped, faded slightly towards the outfield, faked his way around Nelson, got back safely to first, and took enough time to do it, that in the process, McDougald could score the tying run.

Mantle’s quick thinking and base-running alacrity would have been one of the game’s all-time greatest plays – if only, minutes later, the 9-to-9 tie he had created, had not been erased by Bill Mazeroski’s unforgettable Series-Winning Home Run to lead off the bottom of the ninth.

 

Like the Mantle example, the gut and not the cerebellum is associated with the third smartest play in Series history. It’s Kirk Gibson’s epic home run to win the opening game of the 1988 classic. The story is well-known to this day; Gibson, aching, knees swollen, limping, somehow creeps to the batter’s box and then takes a 3-2 pitch from another hall of fame Oakland reliever, Dennis Eckersley, and turns it into the most improbable of game-winning home runs.

But the backstory involves a Dodger special assignment scout named Mel Didier. When the count reached 3-and-2, Gibson says he stepped out of the batter’s box and could hear the scouting report on Eckersley that Didier had recited to the Dodgers, in his distinctive Mississippi accent, before the Series began. On a 3-2 count, against a left-handed power hitter, you could be absolutely certain that Eckersley would throw a backdoor slider. He always did it. And as Gibson once joked, “I was a left-handed power hitter.”

So Gibson’s home run wasn’t just mind over matter. It was also mind. And it was also Mel Didier.

The second smartest play in Series history came in perhaps the greatest seventh game in modern Series history. The Braves and Twins were locked in their remorseless battle of 1991, scoreless into the eighth inning. Veteran Lonnie Smith led off the top of the frame with a single. Just like Enos Slaughter in 1946, he then got the signal to run with the pitch, and just like Harry Walker in 1946, his teammate Terry Pendleton connected.

But something was amiss at second base. Minnesota Shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch were either completing a double-play, or they had decided they were the Harlem Globetrotters playing pantomime ball. Smith, at least momentarily startled by the infielders pretending to make a play on him at second, hesitated just long enough that he could not score from first as Enos Slaughter once had. He would later claim the Twins’ infielders hadn’t fooled him at all with their phantom double play – that he was just waiting to make sure the ball wasn’t caught.

But he never scored a run, nor did the Braves. The game, and the Series, ended 1-0 Minnesota, in the 10th inning on a pinch-hit single by Gene Larkin from — appropriately enough for the subject — Columbia University.
 
480-damonstealing3rd.jpg

All-stars and cup of coffee guys; fielders and hitters and baserunners and pitchers and even a scout, and stretching over a span of 102 years of Series history. And yet the smartest play is: from this past Sunday. Johnny Damon not only worked his way back from down 0-2 to a line single on the ninth pitch of the at bat against Brad Lidge, but he quickly gauged the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with which the Phillies had seemingly presented him. Few teams employ a defensive shift towards the left side or the right when there’s a runner on base. This is largely because if there is a play to be made at second or third, the fielders who would normally handle the ball are elsewhere. With Mark Teixeira up, the Phillies had shifted their infield, right.

So Damon realized.

If he tried to steal, the throw and tag would probably be the responsibility of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz is superb at third base, fine at first, has experience in both outfield corners, and even caught a game for part of an inning. But his major league games up the middle total to less than 30 and this just isn’t his job. Even if Feliz didn’t botch the throw or the tag, his meager experience in the middle infield slightly increased the odds in Damon’s favor. The question really was, what would happen immediately afterwards, if Damon stole successfully: Where would Feliz go, and who would cover third base?

Damon chose a pop-up slide so he could keep running. Feliz took the throw cleanly, but did not stop his own momentum and continued to run slightly towards the center of the diamond. And nobody covered third base. All Damon needed was daylight between himself and Feliz, and Feliz would have no chance of outrunning him to third, and nobody to throw to at third.     

And all of that went through Johnny Damon’s mind, in a matter of seconds. Before anybody else could truly gauge what had happened, he had stolen two bases on one play without as much as a bad throw, let alone an error, involved. It is a play few if any have seen before, and it is unimaginable that any manager will let us ever see it again!

Thereafter, in a matter of minutes, the Yankees had turned a tie game, with them down to their last strike of the ninth inning, into a three-run rally that put them within one win of the World’s Championship. And all thanks to the Smartest Play in World Series History.

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