Frenchy Bordagaray

…passed away on this date in 2000, age 90.

Frenchy was the guy who raced a horse in a hundred yard dash. He lost by a few feet. I wonder if more than one guy has done that. That was probably the measure of pure speed back then. Are you faster than a horse? A lot of baseball clubs probably kept a horse around, just for measuring player speed. Oh, those were the days.

He also got fined one time for spitting on an ump, (I’m sure it was accidental,) and said something like “The fine was a bit more than I expectorated.”

When he showed up to training camp in ’36 sporting a mustache and goatee, it was a pretty big deal. Ball players were clean-shaven in those days. Probably most guys were. It was a clean-shaven era. (Our era: the “anything-goes” era. Interesting cultural shift, where facial hair just isn’t very interesting any more, not for more than a few seconds.) Anyway, it was a pretty big deal. Wikipedia reports that it was due to a bit-part in a movie, but I haven’t tracked that down. I did find this article, (Washington Evening Star, 17 March 1936) though:

Boy, they don’t write ’em like that anymore!

However, it was too good to last, I guess. Here’s from the Star, just six days later.

I had read elsewhere that ol’ Casey made him shave off the ‘stache, saying “if anyone’s going to be a clown around here, it’s me.” Sounds like something Casey would say, but I didn’t find the quote in the papers. Could have been made up by a sportswriter. It may have been more fun being a sportswriter back then.

Other than the mustache incident, Bordagaray had a pretty nice career. Eleven years in the bigs, a .283 lifetime average.

I bought an old card of Frenchy a while back, because his name was Frenchy and I thought he looked like a philosophical chap.

Good game, Frenchy. Way to make the game fun.

Also, I love the old graphics in newspapers.

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Phils Clobber Twins!

Well, yesterday, when I started writing this up, the Twins were on a pace to win, like, 130 games this year. But then they lost yesterday, and we knew 130 games was crazy unrealistic anyway, so now we are back on to reality, and on pace to win 107.99 games, which is still pretty good, we’ll take that, thank you very much.

But, of course, It’s Early. And early trends do not reliably predict future performance. So we’ll play them one game at a time, see if we can get to 5 – 2 today. (And back on pace to win 115.714285714 games.)

I was just about to write about what a good start the Twins were off to, and I wondered when was the last time the boys got off to such a good start? Well, as you undoubtedly recall, the 2017 Twins — yes, all the way back to 2017. Remember those guys? Mauer and Dozier and Grossman and los dos Santanas and Colon and Kintzler? Remember those guys? — anyway, they started off the season 5-1, which is where we would have been if we would have won yesterday. 2002? Also a 5-1 start. In ’68 and ’65 the boys jumped off to a 6-1 start. I guess we’re not going to match any of those records, but 4-2 is better than 2-4, so we’re sufficiently happy.

Yesterday they lose to the Phillies, 10-4. Looking at the box score, what jumps out first is 3 errors. Well, those things happen. It was a very bad weather day in Philly, drizzly/rainy and cold, and both teams had to contend with that, but it seems like the weather or something else got in Odorizzi’s way: he only went 2/3rds of an inning, gave up 2 hits, 3 walks, 5 runs. Not a quality start. The boys narrowed it to 6-4 in the top of the 5th, but that was all she wrote. Perez gave up a couple more runs, and Mejia yielded a few, and game over.

The other thing that jumps out from the box score is the Polanco line: 5 1 5 1. Jorge goes 5 for 5, which is an awfully nice day at the plate. AND he hits for the cycle, which is the first time that’s happened for the Twins since Cuddyer did it in 2009. Hitting for the cycle is an odd thing. Nobody tries to hit the cycle. Nobody stops at second if that’s what they need to complete the cycle. It’s a somewhat meaningless event. But still: cool. But I think the cycle is overshadowed by a 5 for 5 day. To sum up: kudos to Polanco for 5 for 5 and the cycle. “Keep up the good work.”

This seems like a math-heavy post, so we’ll just touch briefly on the Pythagorean Theory of Baseball. You all know Pythagoras, of course, who was a geometry guy, I think, his real life job was as a geometrist. You could make good money at that, back in the day. But his true love was baseball, or rather, the early Greek form of baseball, which was called something else back then, but was basically a form of baseball, an early Greek-style form of baseball, so we’ll just call it baseball. When he was young he played a little ball with the Samos club, you could look it up, and after that he took up geometry in a big way, and kind of became known for that more than for his early days with Philosophers. (Good glove, no hit. Tended to overthink things out there at the plate.)

Pyth was obviously good with numbers, (or what they used for numbers, back then. This was before actual “numbers.”) and he paid attention to numbers, and he was, like the first early Greek-form-of-baseball sabermetrist. And he noticed or worked out that he could get a pretty good estimate of a team’s winning percentage by comparing the number of runs they scored to the number of runs they allowed. That simple. Like I said, it was an early form of sabermetrisity. They didn’t have a lot of data to work with but they did have runs and wins and losses. (They were not called runs back then. They were called ducats. I don’t know why. Basically the same thing, though.)

We move ahead, then, years later, many many years later to the famous American psychologist, writer and philosopher William James. James “rediscovered” this Pythagorean formula, back in the 1880s, I believe, while following the fortunes of the Beaneaters in Boston. I think he wrote a paper about it, using a slightly updated version, removing the ducats.

Ever since then, countless others have tinkered with the basic formula, trying to improve its accuracy and get their name on a formula.

The”general use” version of the Pythagorean formula currently is:

I’m sure there are other versions that factor in lefty righty splits during rain delays in day games during July before a road trip to the east coast. And probably more complicated versions than that.

But, using this very simple, very basic, very very old formula, you are generally able to make a pretty darn good estimate as to a teams winning percentage. The trick, of course, is to know how many runs they will score in the season, and how many runs they will give up. At this point Pythagoras threw up his hands and said, “that’s why we play the games!” And he was so right about that.

You’ll find a team’s Pythagorean Results listed in some of the more detailed standings sheets that you might see in the sports pages, and maybe even online, telling you, based on how many runs they’ve scored and given up, what their record should be. Teams will often be a few games above or below their Pythagorean record. Seems like the Twins are usually a few games below. Chalk it up to weather conditions or luck or bad base running or whatever. Maybe the boys ease up when they have a big lead, so as not to rub it in. That would affect their Pythagorean standings. But Pythagorean standings don’t win pennants.

That’s why we play the games.

Fall Classics

Last week I finished reading Fall Classics, a nice little collection of contemporaneous writing focused on the great world series’ of the past. Very enjoyable pre-season reading! The book picks up with a 1903 article “Pittsburgh a Winner in the first Clash,” by Tim Murnane. I like the way those old time news articles had “sub-headlines” that brought out the key points:

Pittsburgh a Winner in the first Clash

Boston Beaten by a Score of 7-3

“Cy” Young is Off Edge and Bumped Hard

More than 16,000 Persons See Opening Contest

Boston the Favorite in the Game

Scheduled for Today

Murnane was a reporter for the Boston Globe, and his reporting on the game is a pretty detailed inning by inning recap:

In the third Collins made a fine catch of Wagner’s fly. Bransfield lined one to right that Freeman came in for and then allowed to go through him to the crowd for the three bases. Bransfield scored on Sebring’s single past LaChance.
Boston went out in order.
Beaumont opened the fourth with a grounder that was fumbled by Ferris. Clarke and Leach singled, scoring Beaumont. Wagner flied out to Parent, and Bransfield forced a man at second, Ferris making a clever running assist.

I thought I’d see if I could find an image of the original article online, with no luck on that. But I did learn two things:

  1. Tim Murnane (right) played a bit of ball himself, 1872-1884, with the Middletown Mansfields, the Athletic of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia White Stockings, the Boston Red Caps, the Providence Grays, and then finally the Boston Reds.
  2. While the first World Series was being played, there were a bunch of other ball games being played too! The Philadelphia A’s were playing the Philadelphia Phillies, (Americans 6, Nationals 0,) the Chicago Nationals were playing the Chicago Americans, (Nationals 11, Americans 0,) the Cincinnati Nationals were playing the St. Louis Americans (Nationals 7, Americans 6,) and the local team in Williamsport took on the New York Nationals (a ten inning draw, 5-5.)

The book doesn’t cover every world series of course. The editors, Bill Littlefield and Richard A. Johnson, have picked (in their opinion) the best writing of the first 100 years. Which comes out at roughly about forty chapters, generally one per year. I’ll not quibble with the choices. Plenty of good baseball to go around. A few favorites: the Murnane article was excellent, I thought, a great lead-off for the rest of the book. The 1912 set of short articles by Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, and Tris Speaker — probably ghost written, but nicely done and evocative of the time period. The 1948 article is also by a ball player, again probably ghost written, but it’s ol’ Satch, and I think has a bit of his personality. Roger Angell is here, of course, and he’s always a stand out. The 1991 Twins-Braves series is in the book, written by Dave Kindred, and that brings back some nice (but fading) memories.

Lardner’s piece on the 1919 series was not my favorite. Too bad there wasn’t another piece in here by Lardner. I’d hate to think all his writing was on this level. (Surprising that I haven’t yet picked up his vaunted baseball book, You Know Me, Al. It could be awhile before I go down that road, now.)

I was surprised that there was nothing on the 1908 series, as that is the greatest season of baseball ever played, some aver. But perhaps the series was anti-climax, and the writers had worn themselves out over the last week of the season, had no more to give for the series. That can happen, I guess.

The book is a veritable Hall of Fame for baseball writers: Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Jimmy Breslin, Haywood Broun, Red Smith, Dick Young, Murray Kempton, Pete Gammons. (How they left Roger Kahn out, I don’t know.)  With a line up like that, really, how could you go wrong? Forty chapters by an elite squad of top wordsmiths covering some of the greatest sporting events in recorded history?

It’s gotta be good.

And in the waning days of the long dark Minnesota winter, it was perfect.

Kirby Puckett AND Albert Einstein

Both of them, born on March 14th.

I don’t think Albert was much of a baseball fan. There’s some story that he tutored catcher Moe Berg in physics, but I don’t know the details.

This autographed ball is up for auction at Coach’s Corner Sports Auction. I’m no expert, but perhaps I’m a bit skeptical. Still, it’s a nice looking ball. Strong signature. Plus the E=mc2 equation! His most famous equation, right below the signature. Nice!

 

Happy Belated Birthday, Al. Good game.

Zack Davis Wheat

Zack D.Wheat passed away on this date in 1972 at the age of 83.

A heck of a ball player. Batted left, threw right. Seems like he was initially known for his fielding skills, and developed as a hitter. Led the league in hitting only once, 1918, at .335. In both 1923 and ’24 he hit .375, and then hit .359 in 1925 at age 37. Played in the 1916 and 1920 World Series, losses to Boston and Cleveland. He finished up with 2884 hits in his major league career. Looking at the Dodgers career statistics leaders, Wheat is still tops in games played, plate appearances, hits, singles, doubles, triples, total bases,runs created, times on base, and hit-by-pitch. He’s number 3 in RBIs, behind Duke Snider and Gil Hodges. Number 2 in runs scored, behind Pee Wee Reese, and number 2 in extra base hits, behind the Duke.

Yep, one heck of a ball player. 

Wheat started playing ball in 1906 for Enterprise, and played for Wichita, Shreveport, and Mobile in the minors. In 1909 Wheat signed with the Brooklyn Superbas, and played with them and the Brooklyn Robins til 1926. He played in ’27 with the A’s, then in 1928 he played for the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association, where he hit .309 in 82 games. An injury to his heel ended his season and career.

After baseball he went back to his farm. He always went back to his farm in the off-season, and always maintained that he would happily farm if his baseball contract fell short of what he felt he deserved. He lost his farm in the Great Depression, operated a bowling alley for a bit, and then became a police officer. After almost losing his life in a car accident during a police chase in 1936, Wheat spent five months in the hospital recuperating, then moved down to Sunrise Beach, Missouri, where he opened up a hunting and fishing resort. He lived there for the rest of his days. It looks like beautiful country.

“He (Zack Wheat) was the most graceful left-handed hitter I ever saw. With the dead ball, many of his line drives were caught, but they were just shot out of a cannon almost every time up.” – Casey Stengel

 

“Zack Wheat was 165 pounds of scrap iron, rawhide, and guts.” – Buck O’Neil

 

“One of the grandest guys ever to wear a baseball uniform, one of the greatest batting teachers I have ever seen, one of the truest pals a man ever had and one of the kindliest men God ever created.” – Casey Stengel

That card up on top is a 1921 exhibits card. What a classic shot. I wonder who the photographer was?

Heroes of the Negro Leagues

It’s a pack of baseball art cards AND a book! And a DVD!

Well, okay, not quite a DVD.

But it’s a nice little book, based on the (out of print) Art Cards of the same title.

What you get here is 66 watercolor-painted images of the greats of the negro leagues (39 more than in the boxed set of cards!) and one-page write-ups telling a bit about the guys. The paintings, by “award-winning artist” Mark Chiarello, are quite nice. Here’s a poor reproduction of one of my favorites, Judy Johnson:

And the one page write-ups are well written snapshots, a bit of baseball doings, a bit of personal story. Leaves you wanting more, as they should. And there’s a nice introduction by Monte Irvin!

But!   That’s!    Not!    All!

Included in the book is the DVD, Only the Ball was White, which I haven’t seen yet, but will let you know how it is. Looks like a 30 minute documentary about the Negro Leagues. I don’t know if this comes with every book or only with the books that include the DVD. But it looks like it might be great.

How could it not be, really?

Especially if you’re a guy who likes reading about baseball history.

To sum up: an excellent little book, with wonderful illustrations and good stories. You’ll probably want to add this volume to your ever-expanding baseball library, if you’re any kind of baseball fan at all.