What could be better than the baseball hall of fame???

Well, I’ll tell you.

How’s about getting into the archives at the library of congress? Yes. Better than the “so-called Hall of Fame,” as some might say.

And who’s JUST entered the hallowed halls of the Great Library?

Yes.

It’s the bulldog, Jim Bouton. I received notice today that Jim’s personal papers — all 37,000 items! —  have been acquired by the Library of Congress.

Faithful readers know that Jim is a personal favorite (and isn’t it time for me to re-read Ball Four for the umpteenth time?) and a helluva ball player and a great pitcher and a world-class human being. (Not to say he’s perfect. But he’s 110% human being.) His sense of humor and perspective on the game, and the game of life, resonates with me.

Faithful readers also know that Jim has been dealing with health issues lately. We wish him the best.

Today inaugurates the Jim Bouton category on this blog. Congratulations, Jim. You’re the only player so honored.

And now, I think…. now it’s time to pound some Budweiser.

101 years ago…

Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox looks to be a self-published book by Allen Wood, through iUniverse Star, in 2000. The book provides a well-researched and entertaining account of the 1918 baseball season, with a focus on Babe Ruth’s penultimate season with the Red Sox.

One of the reasons I picked this up was that it follows a club through a season a long long time ago, in the same way I have been following the 1904 Millers, (reportedly,) and I wanted to see how this writer approached it. Of course I also picked it up because of Babe Ruth, who was such a stand-out character, and the book looks at a particularly interesting time in his career. And, plus, it was only $3 on the discount shelf at Half-Price Books. So how could I go wrong? I could not, and I did not.

Anyone with an interest in baseball history would enjoy this book and probably also learn a thing or two. The author has used multiple sources and interviews to piece together a nice snapshot of the game in 1918. The U.S. had entered the First World War in April of 1917, and so by 1918 a lot of players were in the army or joining the army, and there was some discussion about canceling baseball for the duration. There were a lot of people who looked down on ballplayers for not being in the army, and that, along with so many men being in the military, led to a steep drop in attendance. Players also were dropping-out throughout the season, either being drafted into the military, or volunteering, or leaving to join some war-related industry, often steel-mills and shipyards, it seems, where they could work and also (and mostly) play ball on the company baseball teams while at the same time avoiding the draft. Owners and managers were constantly juggling their rosters throughout the season, looking for older players in the minors who could come up to the big time.

(By the way, there’s a nice piece on the Delaware River Shipbuilding League 1918 on the SABR website.)

Still, the game continued, and Babe Ruth was simply the biggest star in the game. I don’t know what made the Babe so good, how that happened. It’s really pretty inexplicable, and kind of magical, how his game was at such a higher level than everyone else’s. 1918 was the season where Babe transitioned from pitcher to outfielder, and he juggled the two roles with difficulty throughout the season, at one point even going awol because he wasn’t playing in the field as much as he wanted. In 1917 he pitched in 41 games, starting 38, and ending up 24-13, with a 2.01 ERA, while in 1918 he only pitched in 20 games, starting 19, and went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA. Meanwhile his at-bats went up  from 123 to 317, and he hit 11 home runs and drove in 61, as compared to 2 home runs and 14 rbis in 1917. Several times during the season he made mention of having a sore arm, and I wonder if that might not have been true. But he went back and forth about that, and so he wasn’t exactly a trustworthy source of information. And he loved hitting the ball, and so maybe the “sore arm” was only an attempt to get more time in the field.

It had to have been an odd experience, being Babe Ruth; coming from a poor background, the rough side of town, then raised by the catholic brothers at the boys school, and so much more talented, at every level, than the players around him. Hard to think of a comparison. He was like the Shakespeare of baseball, the Beethoven, the Beatles, the Picasso. How can experiences like that be understood? Maybe the Beatles come closest, in terms of general public popularity and also financial success. I don’t think Picasso was ever particularly popular with the masses. Shakespeare, maybe. Who else is has had that experience? How would it change you, if it happened to you?

I don’t get the sense that it changed Babe Ruth much. There’s a lot of references in this book, and others, to Ruth’s immaturity and appetites. Perhaps that was magnified by his immense talent and easy money. Ruth had a difficult and deprived childhood, and then, in a few short years, he had everything, money, success, fame. He was free to indulge for the first time in his life, and at that age there’s quite a lot to indulge in. Beethoven was probably the same way. I imagine there’s a lot of stories about young Beethoven, enjoying the fruits of his labor. Shakespeare too, I suppose. Einstein? Well, anyway. Babe Ruth for sure.

The 1918 season was, frankly, a somewhat bizarre season. With the war going on, the owners cut the season down to 140 games, and with players coming and going, team fortunes rose and fell with player availability. Attendance was dropping, and there were continuing questions as to whether the season should be cancelled or finished early. At that time the game was run by the National Commission, made up of three club owners. These are guys who probably would do well today in Trumpmerica. The players had no power and no say in things, and when the owners changed the pay structure for the World Series, they didn’t really bother to ask or explain this to the players. The championship money that formerly went to the players was to be divided up among the top four clubs in each league, which, coupled with the large drop in attendance, led to a lot less money for the players in the Series. And this led to both the Red Sox and Cubs nearly walking out of the Series in an effort to get a fairer deal and more money. In the war climate, with injured vets sitting in the stands, it was a tough stand to take. Maybe too tough.

This was a particularly interesting part of the book. A World Series walk-out seemed imminent. There were player-commission and player-owner meetings that went nowhere, and it seemed like the Series would be over. And then, suddenly, the players agreed to play, without obviously winning any concessions other than vague promises. The turnaround by the players is surprising, and the author considers the possibility that the gambling interests in play at the time had something to do with it. Was some under-the-table money changing hands, some subterfuge, some dark money? Gambling would seem to be a quick solution to the players’ money problem, and gambling on ball games was rife back then, culminating, of course, with the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The author explores the history of some of the players who were shown later to be involved in gambling. There is one definite clue that the series was fixed — a scrap of paper from an individual who may have been in a position to know — but no firm conclusions can be drawn, and there’s nothing obvious in the games to raise suspicions. I suppose that it’s possible, with all the money riding on the games, that it’s also possible that the players were coerced or threatened into playing by gambling interests. But again, no one knows.

Still.

Maybe?

Another possibility is that the players realized that they had no  leverage, and that walking out of the series would have long term implications for their careers. Maybe they just thought that there’s a war on, and that now is not a good time to be complaining about money. The author’s research does not come up with any answers to this riddle. But the games go on, and the Red Sox win their championship. The Babe pitches in the Series, and sets a record for consecutive scoreless innings in the series. He goes 2-0, while hitting only .200 with no home runs. The Red Sox take the series 4 games to 2, with a lot of good pitching and tight games in the series.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, and a nice window into baseball of 100 years ago. Everything has changed in 100 years. We all get around with our jet-packs now, instead of automobiles, and world government has made war and jingoistic patriotism a thing of the far distant past. And yet, a home run is still a home run, a game is still 9 innings, and there won’t ever be another guy like Babe Ruth.

Good game, Allen Wood. Nice job with this book.

Best in Baseball, (continued…)

The logical course of events:

  • Twins go to Tampa Bay to play “a big series” with a certain amount of media hype
  • Twins lose the first game by 14-3
  • Twins lose the next three games
  • and slink back home with tail between legs
  • and a new element of doubt planted in their psyche
  • and in the psyche of their fans

Instead, the Twins have upset the narrative. (This almost never happens.) They win game two of the series, come back from a 3-1 deficit to take the game 5-3, with strong pitching by Berrios and a two run single by Rosario in the top of the 9th. And then they take game 3, 6-2, with Kyle Gibson’s solid pitching, and home runs by Marvelous Marwin Gonzalez and also by Mr. Buxton.

And then yesterday they take game four, with Mr. Odorizzi as the slab artist. Jake goes 6 innings, gives up 3 hits, strikes out 9, and his ERA sinks to 1.96 on the season. The Twins jump out to a 7-0 lead, but the bullpen gets into some trouble, giving up 5 in the 7th. Schoop-dog hits a two run homer in the 8th to make it 9-5, and the Rays come back with 2 in their half of the 8th, 9-7. which is where it ends, with Taylor Rogers pitching a door-slammer of a 9th, striking out three for the save. Case closed. See you later.

Twins get a day off before visiting Cleveland for what will doubtlessly be a hotly contested series.

And life is good in Twins Country. And new narratives arise.

Pure Baseball

Pounded.

There was something of a build-up to yesterday’s Twins – Rays game. A little bit of small-market buzz. Two of the hottest clubs in baseball, facing off. Yankees – Red Sox? Forget ’em! The Twins are playing the Rays! Hang onto your hats, sportsfans, this is going to be good!

Instead, the Twins were mercilessly pounded by the Rays, 14-3. Which brings to mind a couple of famous sayings, one by Catfish Hunter, “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day,” and one by Joe Schultz, famous manager of the Seattle Pilots, which readers of Ball Four will likely recall.

Martin Perez started, and he gave up 6 (runs) in two and two thirds. 6-0. Zack Littell came in, and gave up 8 (runs) in four and a third. Just one of those games, I guess. Even the best team in baseball is going to lose a lot of games during the course of the long season. This was one of those. Goodbye. Game over. Round two tonight.

On a brighter note, I also finished reading my latest baseball book last night. But before I can talk about that, I need to talk about this one, that I read last year, and never got on the blog. Odd, that, because it was really a really good book. But I remember it got buried on the book stack on the desk, and then later it was moved back into the baseball library, and was just plain forgotten. Until now.

I was never much of a Keith Hernandez fan. Probably mostly because he was over there in the senior circuit, and I just didn’t see much of him. Plus, -10 points for being a Cardinal at one point in his career.

But I always new that he was a good ball player. Excellent fielder, excellent hitter. Maybe not a big threat to steal. But big deal. I’d have him on my club.

I noted a reference to Hernandez baseball smarts somewhere. Perhaps it was in the book I read with all the World Series stories. Anyway, it made me curious, and so I picked up a copy of Pure Baseball. And I learned a lot from Mr. Hernandez about the game. Turns out, I wasn’t such an advanced fan after all. There was (is) a lot I don’t know about the game. I suspected that was the case. As my friend Ghost once told me, “It’s a goddamn chess match out there!”

Reading this book is a lot like sitting in your man-cave, in your man-chair, having a few man-beers and watching baseball on your man-TV with Hernandez sitting next to you and with him explaining everything that’s happening. Except that would be pretty annoying, sitting with Mr. Know-it-all, listening to him pontificate on every play. So reading this book is actually better than having him there in person. And, in the book, he is actually sitting in his palatial NY penthouse apartment, watching baseball on his huge projection TV, and analyzing what’s going on. He watches two games, one in each league, and he covers them inning by inning, sometimes pitch by pitch, when it matters. And he’s got a lot of good stories and insights that he shares with you, and he’s annoying hardly at all.

For example, I learned about the intricacies of deciding who covers second base when you think a runner might go. If you’ve got a left-handed batter up and a guy on first, but the batter often takes the ball to left field, would it be smart to have the second baseman move to cover second? It’s a bit risky, Hernandez says – with the first baseman holding the runner and the second baseman moving to cover, it leaves a big hole on the right side of the field.

Hernandez, it turns out, was a student of the game, always watching and learning. Some players struggle with the game, the pitching part or the hitting part, and they need to focus on the inner game, the strategy and smarts, in order to keep up and stay in the show. I guess Hernandez was one of those other guys, though. He didn’t need to worry quite so much about the hitting and fielding, and was just naturally curious and attentive. He was so game-smart that his managers would sometimes let him set the defense when he was out there on the field.

Readers who are not serious baseball fans may possibly be bored (and annoyed) by this book. Maybe you’d rather not see baseball as a kind of chess match. Maybe you hate chess. Maybe you are writing a book that explains baseball as sort of like a game of checkers.

The serious baseball fan, though, the curious and attentive student of the game, is probably going to learn a few things from this book. And will probably end up thinking better of Keith Hernandez for having written it. Even if he did have to play for the Cardinals for awhile. He was really mostly a Met.

Good game, Keith.

20 Over

36 wins, 16 losses.

20 games over .500.

When was the last time the Twins were 20 games over .500?

Well, I can’t say for sure, but looking back at the Twins records over the years, I notice that in 2010 the Twins finished the season at 94-68, 26 games over. And they were 92-60 on September 22nd. 32 games over. So. Not so very long ago, really, in baseball time. Just nine years ago. That was the season when Morneau was hitting .345, with 18 HR and 56 RBIs and then he got the concussion on July 7th that changed his life. Damn. That was the season when Delmon Young hit .298 with 21 hr and 112 rbi. Orlando Hundson played second base, seriously, hit .268 with 133 hits. Who remembers Orlando Hudson? Anybody? Buhler?

Anyway, Joe Mauer hit .327 (pre-concussion days as well,) JJ Hardy played shortstop, Jason Kubel was in the outfield, Danny Valencia was at third, and Cuddyer was at first (post-Morneau). Pavano won 17 games, Liriano 14, Kevin Slowey, 13. Brian Duensing won 10 in relief. Scott Baker won a dozen. Jon Rauch was our closer, got 21 saves. Wow, this seems like ancient history, and it’s just nine seasons ago. Matt Capps also had 16 saves that year. Matt Capps! I think Rauch must have got hurt, there.

Then, in 2011 the Twins turned it around and went 63-99. Morneau hit .227, and probably shouldn’t have been out there playing. Nishioka hit .226 at shortstop, till he got hurt. Yes, Nishioka, that was his season in the sun. Drew Butera played 93 games at catcher and hit .167. Yes, that’s right. Not a typo. .167. Butera was really known more for his defense than his bat. I guess Mauer must have got hurt. Concussion? Mauer played 82 games and hit .287. Delmon Young, .266, 4 hr. Jim Thome came on board and hit a dozen. Cuddyer hit .284 with 20 hr and 71 rbi. Chris Parmalee came up for a cup of coffee and hit .355 in 76 at bats. Pavano, 9-13, Duensing 9-14, Liriano, 9-10. Capps went 4-7, with 15 saves. Well, need I go on? 2011 was not a good season. And following on the heels of 2010, it was particularly brutal. And the sudden demise of Morneau and Mauer, that was just brutal. Ouch.

It’s remarkable, really, how quickly things can go south.

2010: scored 781, allowed 671
2011: scored 619, allowed 804

But.

2019, so far: scored 315, allowed 204.

That’s correct, folks. It’s still May, and the Twins have scored 315 runs.

It’s been a pretty good month.

Good enough, in fact, for the Twins to capture the number 4 spot on the MLB power rankings. Yes. That’s right. Number 4. That’s how good we are right now, according to the MLB power rankings. Right behind the Astros, the Dodgers, and the Yankees.

Number 4 is ours. All ours. We are 4th!

Say hey!

A little bit of Today in Baseball History:

 

1894: Joe Judge is born. Pretty good first baseman for the Senators. Played 20 years, hit .298. Happy birthday Joe! (Well, I guess he’s probably passed away by now.)

 

 

 

1935: Babe Ruth hits his last three home runs, playing against Pittsburgh in Forbes Field for the Boston Braves. Number 714 clears the right field grandstand, and is measured at 600 ft.

 

 

 

1951: Willie Mays makes his NY Giants debut, after hitting .477 with the Minneapolis Millers to start the season.
He goes 0 for 5. But still has a pretty nice career.

 

 

and

2019: The Minnesota Twins continue to play pretty good ball, at 34-16. Which is a better record than a lot of the other major league teams, maybe most of them, and probably even all of them. You could look it up. If you’re curious.