Crazy ’08

It seems like I’ve been reading a lot of baseball books of late. It’s all relative, I suppose. After reading almost no baseball books in 2016, anything would seem like a big increase.

I’ve recently finished Crazy ’08, by Cait Murphy, a recap of the madcap 1908 baseball season, focusing primarily on the National League race between the New York Giants, the Chicago Cubs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, while not ignoring the American League contest between the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and the Cleveland Naps.

This book caught my eye primarily because of my own efforts at covering the Minneapolis Miller’s 1904 season, and I wanted to see how Murphy approached this project. Murphy has the advantage of having an abundance of primary source material, as she is covering the major leagues in the big cities, where there were probably a few newspapers in each city covering the story. Murphy uses her sources well, (and footnotes exhaustively, for those who like that sort of detail,) and we get to enjoy a number of little background stories to the season which add depth and color to the story — such as how particular umpires are viewed in the different cities, and about the huge controversy and final resolution of the in-famous Merkle game of 23 September.

While you might quibble with Murphy’s hyperbole regarding 1908 (“The best season in baseball history is 1908.”) 1908 certainly deserves consideration. The season is full of historic characters and exciting baseball. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Frank Chance, Cy Young, Nap LaJoie, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, Eddie Collins, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, and even Bull Durham were all playing in ’08, and with both pennant races going down to the final days, the baseball was fierce and frequently unbelievable. For example, in the October 2nd game between Cleveland and the White Sox. Cleveland is 1/2 game behind the Tigers, and the White Sox are 1 1/2 back, and they’re both running out of time. Ed Walsh pitches for the White Sox and he is nearly flawless. He strikes out 15, gives up just four hits and a single un-earned run. (Curiously, Murphy says that Walsh strikes out 16 in that game. All the other sources I’ve looked at say 15. Odd that Murphy would make an error like that covering such a big game. Perhaps the pennant-race pressure got to her.) Anyway, Walsh strikes out 15, but he loses anyway. Cleveland wins 1-0, as Addie Joss throws a perfect game for the Naps. Chicago drops 2 1/2 games back with only four games left to play.

As the ol’ perfesser used to say, you could look it up. In the end, the Cubs beat the Tigers in the World Series, four games to one, with both clubs probably exhausted from the pennant race. I like that about old-time baseball. There’s the regular season, everyone going all out to end up on top. And then there’s the World Series. Not 5 rounds of playoffs. The two league champions meet for the ultimate test. I wonder if we would have seen the Tigers and the Cubs in the ’08 series if they had had playoffs? Probably not. How often do the two teams with the best regular season record show up in the World Series? I’d be surprised if that’s ever happened since wild card teams were introduced. Some say that it makes baseball more exciting, the fact that in the playoffs – “Anything can happen!”  I guess I don’t see it that way. I’d like the regular season, the long campaign, to have more importance than it does.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book quite a lot! Murphy made the season and the players and the pennant races come alive. It would be a perfect read in the dark days of December, when baseball is most distant and most needed. And it would be a perfect read tomorrow, too. Nicely done, Cait Murphy!

It Is Good To Be In First.

Well, so much for the run at best season-opening winning streak. The Twins drop today’s game, 6-2 in Chicago. Given recent history, we are well satisfied with a 4-1 record to start the season. Curious about fast starts, I did a little research and found that the ’87 Brewers and the ’82 Braves hold the “modern” record, both starting their seasons 13-0. The all time mark is held by the St. Louis Maroons of the old Union Association, who started the 1884 season with a 20-0 mark.

The Brewers failed to make the playoffs in ’87, and the Braves were eliminated in the playoffs. The Maroons, however, were the Union Association champions in 1884, finishing the season with a impressive 94-19 record.

The Maroons mark is a bit suspect, though, due to the nature of the Union Association, which many say was not a true “major league.” (The other leagues at the time referred to it as the “Onion Association.”) The Union Association only lasted the one season. Four of the original 12 teams folded during the season, and one moved. And so perhaps the 20-0 mark is a bit suspect, perhaps not an actual “major league” record. However, there’s no denying that it’s still quite a nice start to a season.

I was unable to find a picture of the legendary Maroons of ’84, so here’s a picture of a slightly later edition. A dapper bunch. The Maroons joined the National League in 1885, and played there in 1886 as well, before moving on to greener pastures in Indianapolis. (The old St. Louis Browns of the American Association were too much competition for the Maroons. It was a Brown town.)

[How can there not be a picture of the ’84 Maroons? Ridiculous. There’s gotta be one out there. But, so far, unfindable. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Cardinals organization is to blame.]

But: I digress.

It’s nice to start the season with a few quick wins. However, talking baseball with Ghost today, we decided that it doesn’t have the same impact as starting the season with a string of losses. Starting with losses at the start of the season is like the kiss of death. If you start your season 0-9, you are, unfortunately, pretty well done for the year. There’s no coming back. But if you start out 9-0, it seems like soon enough you find your self in second place, or clinging to a tenuous lead. Early season losses seem to have a greater impact than early season wins. This probably says something profound about the nature of human existance, but it’s a bit late in the day to go down  that road. Suffice to say that even though things are good now, it’s a long way to Tipperary.

 

 

it is good to be in first

Let’s enjoy. Blogging at the start of the season last year was like a death march. Let’s make some hay while the sun is shining. We’re Three and Oh!

I little quick research tells me that the Twins’ best start ever, since coming to Minnesota, was 6-0, back in 1968. I think I got that right, scanning through the years. That year they beat the Yankees in game 3 (we used to beat the Yankees occasionally,) 6-0. Batting order?

Tovar, 3b
Carew, 2b
Oliva, rf
Killebrew, 1b
Allison, lf
Roseboro, c
Uhlander, cf
Hernandez, ss
J. Perry, p

Who hit the home run? Jim Perry, of course, off Stan Bahnson.

Hey, Bulldog!

Mickey Mantle played first, went 0-3, Joe Pepitone was in centerfield(!) and got a hit. The bulldog, Jim Bouton, got into the game for two innings. Not good. Five hits, a walk, three runs. But at least he didn’t get taken over the wall by the fat kid.

Those were good days for the Twins. And so was yesterday, as the boys scored two in the bottom of the seventh to win the game, 5-3. Polanco played short, got a couple of hits, and drove in two. Sano got a couple of hits. Gibson looked good, went five innings. The Twins are trying to make us forget about last year.

Hey, it won’t take much. We’re easy. A pushover. Let’s play some ball.

My previous post mentioned the old Atlantics playing baseball on skates, which reminded me today about that Twins commercial from a few years ago. It’s a classic:

 

 

comings and goings

First, Happy Birthday to Robert Moses Grove, born on this date in 1900.

lefty-grove-3c-fr-txt

Well, what can you say about Lefty Grove? One of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, if not THE greatest. (I am partial to Walter Johnson, but I grant that an argument could be made for Lefty.) 300 wins. 3.06 lifetime ERA. Nine ERA titles. Seven strikeout titles. Two triple crowns. An MVP award. Those are all pretty good marks. And then consider that Grove didn’t pitch in the majors till he was 25 — he pitched five seasons for the old Baltimore club in the International League, from 1920 – 24. He went 108 – 36 with the Orioles before joining Connie Mack’s Athletics in Philly in 1925.

lefty-grove-mechanics

From 1928 to 1933 Grove played with some pretty good Athletics clubs, and fairly dominated the league:

(League leading marks in bold.)
1928 – 24 wins, 8 losses, 2.58 ERA, 183 K
1929 – 20 wins, 6 losses, 2.81 ERA, 170 K
1930 – 28 wins, 5 losses, 2.54 ERA, 209 K
1931 – 31 wins, 4 losses, 2.06 ERA, 175 K
1932 – 25 wins, 10 losses, 2.84 ERA, 188 K
1933 – 24 wins, 8 losses, 3.20 ERA, 114 K

I guess it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. Happy Birthday, Lefty!

On the flip side, Kirby Puckett passed away on this date in 2006.

kirby-pucket-3d-fr-txt

It just seems totally wrong that Kirby Puckett is gone already. It seems like he was just out there in center field, just yesterday. Damn.

Seems like everyone loved Kirby from day one. (Day one was May 8th, 1984. Kirby started the game batting lead-off, playing centerfield (replacing Darrell Brown) and went 4 for 5, with a stolen base and scoring a run.) He was the sparkplug on those World Champion teams. He loved the game and he had fun out there. And we had fun watching him play.

We got to watch Kirby-ball for 12 seasons before his career was cut short by glaucoma. In those 12 seasons Kirby got 2304 hits, received MVP votes 9 times, played in 10 all-star games, and finished with a career .318 batting average. He also earned 6 gold gloves in centerfield, and also has the Twins’ second longest string of plate appearances without hitting a home run – 583 plate appearances in 1984, no home runs. (The longest string is by Rod Carew: 591 plate appearances in 1972, no home runs.)

On top of everything else, there was the ’91 World Series. Game 6 was Kirby, game 7, Jack. One for the ages.

Finally, Kirby also had one of the top all-time best baseball names. Kirby Puckett. Almost too good to be true.

Kirby was just 45 years old when he passed away.

Hey, Kirby, good game. Touch ’em all.

kirby-puckett-1987-c-fg-fr

…in the midst of despair, a fleeting moment of cheer, or at least wonder…

The Twins incomprehensible excursion into the doldrums continues today, with yet another loss, 3-1, to the Pale Hose of Chicago. What can you say? Seven hits – one more that the Sox. One double. (The Southsiders got 4 doubles in their 6 hits.) A good pitching effort wasted. Duffy falls to 0-2, despite a 2.60 ERA. Woe, woe, woe is us.

sweet mother of mercy 3 caption

In the midst of this seemingly unending death march of a season, we note a small ray of sunshine falling upon the wings of the circling buzzards.

For Lo, young Tyler Duffy has struck out 4 men in an inning.

Tyler Duffy - 2015 - 4ksAll right, all right, it’s not that amazing. It’s been done before. In fact it’s been done 33 times in the American league, and 44 times in the senior circuit. In fact it’s been done recently by one of our own, Francisco Liriano, 5 June 2012. But still.

Duffy opened the seventh by striking out Brett Larie, and then struck out Avisail Garcia. But wait! The ball skips away, bouncing off the plate and away from our catcher (Centeno?) and when the dust settles Garcia resides at first. Well, then, Navarro doubles, and Garcia scores, making it 3-1. Duffy comes back to strike out Austin “Action” Jackson, for his third strike out of the inning. He then intentionally walks Adam Eaton, and then strikes out Jimmy Rollins (#4) to end the inning. One inning, four strike outs. All told, Duffy struck out 9 in 7 innings of work. In a losing effort. But still.

In case you are wondering, no one has ever struck out 5 in an inning. It seems to me like that should have been done, back in the early days of the game. But no. Scripture says, no.

Other Twins who have accomplished the four K feat: Well, Walter Johnson (we get to claim him,) Liriano, as mentioned, Scott Baker, and Phil Hughes (when with the Yankees.)

Chuck Finley (with the Angels and then with the Clevelanders) did this 3 times. That’s kind of amazing.

Anyway. Another loss. But perhaps four strikeouts in an inning… even though it was in a loss… perhaps that’s a sign that fickle fortune… perhaps…

April: 7-17

The Twins wrap up April (the Cruelest Month)  with a 7-17 mark, which puts them 9 1/2 games off the pace for the Central Division Gonfalon. May – the Month of Rejuvenation or Recrimination, depending upon how it goes – has started off with a loss.

Last year the Twins went 20-7 in May, getting themselves back in contention. 20-7 is a lot to hope for, and not very likely, either. However, if the Twins can get back to within five or six by June, than the season is not yet lost.

Haiku for a Disruptive April:

a lengthy cold snap

frosts the grass, yet birds still sing,

and lilacs sparkle

It’s been an interesting (bad) April. Byung Ho Park gives us hope, leading the club with 6 HR, showing a lot of poise.

Byung Ho Park 2016

Ervin Santana, Trevor Plouffe, Glen Perkins, and Kyle Gibson, all on the disabled list already. Several of these guys are what is known as “key” players. Heralded youngster Jose Berrios is already up and already made his major league debut. (Tonight he is going for his first win, with the Twins ahead in the 9th.) Heralded youngster Byron Buxton is sent down. (Currently hitting .219 after 7 games at AAA Rochester.) Everyone is talking about the comeback of the Legendary Joe Mauer, hitting .337 with a .920 OPS. Miguel Sano is holding down right field and trying to get himself established. Eduardo Nunez hitting .373.

No, things aren’t going as expected. Which just makes for a better story later on.

Here’s a tip o’ the cap to Jose Berrios, first major league win tonight, as the Twins beat the “Astros” of Houston, 6-2.

8-18 now, for those keeping track at home.

Worst April record by a pennant-winning baseball club? Unknown. Does anybody track this sort of thing? Well, the answer in the future might be 7-17.

 

o – 9

What makes this so much worse, of course, (as if there could be a bright side to being 0-9,) are the lofty expectations that we had for the season.

It’s difficult to maintain optimism in the face of the long litany of overwhelming statistics that strongly imply that our season is more or less over. Nipped in the bud. Wait till next year.

And yet..

And yet…

What are we? Eight games out of first? Nine?

Has a team never made up a nine-game deficit?

Has this never been done in the history of Organized Ball?

Hey, wait a second, wait a second.

We’ are only 7 games back!

It’s going to be a long long long season if we give up hope now.