Saturday evening, April 30th, 1904: “Brilliantly played Game”

The millers won a tight one in Louisville yesterday, 2-1, a “brilliantly played game,” according to our man in Louisville, though there were four errors in the game. Gene Ford got the win, giving up 6 hits and a walk while striking out five. Ford also scored the winning run in the sixth, getting a hit, going to second on a sacrifice, to third on an error, and coming home on a fielder’s choice. It’s miller time!

The colonels lone run came in the second. Brashear singled, then went from first to third on an infield out, a grounder to short. Not sure how that’s possible, but there it is, black and white. Brashear must have blazing speed? Anyway, he then scored (probably easily) on a fly-ball out. Denny Sullivan tied it up for the millers in the bottom of the frame (YES, the millers are batting last, though the game’s in Louisville. What’s up with that?) hitting a long home run (!) into the center field pasture.

Catcher Weaver has a cannon for an arm, apparently, catching four of the five colonels attempting to steal. McNichol was at third again, and handled eight changes without “a skip.” He also dazzled in a double play in the ninth: with runners on first and second, Hart hit a stinger down to McNichol. He stepped on third for one and tossed across to Lally, but too late to catch the speedy Hart. Lally, though, noted that the runner from first had rounded second and was headed to third, and he gunned the ball back across the diamond to McNichol, who applied the tag for the out. Score that 5-3-5, folks, and some heads-up ball by the millers. The colonels love to run too, apparently.

Meanwhile, our scribe gets a few column inches to provide analysis, and, yes, the millers are speedy. Speedy speedy speedy. Everybody agrees. Can we give it a rest for awhile?

Our scribe is highly optimistic that the club will come home from this road trip above the .500 mark. It’s a shame that they only got to play one game against the Columbus team, because the millers clearly outclassed the Ohioans, and they probably would have won two or three games, if they could only have been played. (Instead of just losing the one game, which was, I guess, an anomaly.)

The pitching has been good, though Ford reported late, so he’s still a question mark. (Analysis apparently done pre-game, as Ford rocked the colonels.) Katoll’s arm, meanwhile, is still said to be in good shape, but Watkins “intends to save Big Katoll until warm weather arrives.” But his arm is fine. But he doesn’t want to take any chances. But his arm is healthy. (Why do I think that Katoll’s got a bad arm? I don’t know, but I suspect he won’t make it through the season. Watty should be looking for more pitching.)

McNichol and Demontreville are having a good contest for third base, with McNichol playing a bit better, but Demontreville has not been released yet because of Fox’s sickness. It looks like Watty will hang onto them both for two or three weeks. Fox is in there playing, yesterday, but I guess Watkins like to have a little depth on the bench.

Hitting is a concern. Only 51 safeties in six games, our analyst reports, which, using a little 1904 sabremetrics, breaks out to just eight and a half hits per game: “This is not good enough batting to suit the fans entirely, but six games is hardly a criterion of the team’s real strength.”  Yes, I think I get what he’s trying to say. He’s right. Hardly a criterion.

Finally, catcher Weaver looks good, as does Leslie. Our reporter thinks that Leslie will probably play most of the games, as long as he keeps hitting.

—-

Meanwhile, at UW Madison, it’s the same old same old.

“Seranaded the professors?” I can imagine what that was like. But I’m not sure what happened with the “vaudeville performance.” Why do I suspect that beer was heavily involved with this? Anyway, thank the lord that the police were on hand to break up the shenanigans. I suspect that that’s the last we’ll hear of Mr. Larue of Chicago and Mr. Davies of Davenport.

“Holy Cow!”

…as Halsey Hall used to say.halsey-hall-wcco

Pitchers and Catchers report to spring training tomorrow!

Did you know that Halsey used “Holy Cow” in his Home Run call long before Harry Caray used it?

Yes, Halsey originated the “Holy Cow!” exclamation. Credit where credit is due.

My favorite story about ol’ Halsey is the time in 1968 that he set the press box on fire with ashes from one of his big cigars.

I was lucky to grow up listing to the Twins games on the radio, summer after summer, Herb Carneal, Halsey Hall, and of course, Hamm’s, the beer that refreshes.

hamms-beer-bear-and-twins

There’s a nice little write up about Halsey on the Society for American Baseball Research website. Good stories? Holy cow! In fact, the local SABR chapter is the Halsey Hall chapter. I wonder if they could add Herb Carneal into the name? Check out their February 2017 newsletter for a nice “Who Lived Here” trivia question.

Anyway: Pitchers and Catchers report. Spring is here. At last.

2016 Opening Day!

2016 Baseball America Baseball AlmanacThe baseball gods have been chiding me, these last few weeks. Or perhaps prodding would be a better word. I came across a free copy of Baseball America’s 2016 Almanac the other day, for one. I’ve not seen this publication before, and it’s an old-school compendium of everything baseball in 2015, overflowing with detailed statistics on the game at all levels. It may even cover high school ball, I haven’t thoroughly investigated the back pages yet. If I don’t carry it gently, statistics fall out like confetti, leaving a trail of data behind. Best to keep it in a plastic bag. There’s more than anyone could possibly want to know, in here, and in a font that punishes the older crowd with the weak eyes and out-dated eyeglasses. I can’t imagine that they sell a lot of these. It’s a pretty limited market. And isn’t this all online? But I like it, it’s nice to have, it’s got a solid feel to it, and – I don’t know how they did this – but when I flip through the pages I can smell the dark green grass of summer evenings. Honest.

1916 Spalding Baseball GuideAnd I can’t help but nod a bit in the direction of Spalding’s Base Ball Guide of 1916. It would be fun to compare the two. I’ll put that on my ever-growing list of things to blog about.

I also picked up a free copy of David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 just yesterday.

And a few weeks ago I picked up two books, Deadball Stars of the American (and National) League, published by our friends at SABR, and waiting for me on the $2 shelves at my nearby Half-Price Books.

Plus, of course, there’s Spring Training, coming and now going, and I see today that the StarTribune writers have made their forecasts for the coming season.

playing for keepsAnd I just finished, (a couple weeks ago) Goldstein’s Playing for Keeps – A History of Early Baseball. (Rather scholarly, that.)

And I finally acquired a Japanese baseball card I’ve been wanting.

So.

Could I maybe take the time, or make the time, to blog a bit?

Obviously, no, not so much. There is a crushing shortage of available time.

And yet, here I am. I cannot let the season begin without making a prediction.

The local Knights of the Keyboard are not so much impressed by our hometown boys and their 19-11 springtime mark. A couple of the scribes pick them for second, three of them say third place, and one says fourth. The high-water mark on record is the 87-75 prediction, good 2nd place. The doubting Thomas pegs them at 79-83, and a 4th place disaster.

Well, maybe they are right. After all, these are the fellows that follow this club, day and night. They get paid to know all about the Twins.

But, what the heck, it’s Spring, and sometimes you just gotta show a little faith and a little confidence. Maybe they don’t quite have the pitching for a 97 win season. But I’m saying the boys finish first, and win 93 games. 93-69, good enough for first, the Junior Circuit Gonfalon, and a place in the big show against the Cubbies. You heard it here first.

1991 Twins Championship

Ya gotta believe.

Happy Birthmonth, Frank Chapman!

Looking at today’s baseball birthday’s I see that Ducky Medwick was born today, in 1911. His parents named him Ducky, but most people called him Joseph Michael. How could you not like a ballplayer named Ducky? Joe Medwick c fr sm - 1937 - Dixie Premium

Ducky was a member of the famous “gashouse gang,” the Cardinals teams of the ’30s, and he could hit the ball some. He won the Triple Crown and NL MVP in 1937, when he hit .374 — yes, .374 — with 31 home runs and 154 runs batted in. He finished up with a lifetime batting average of .324.

In the 1934 World Series Medwick got taken out of the seventh game in, in Detroit. Apparently the Tigers fans didn’t like the way he slid hard into third base after hitting a triple, and were throwing a lot of garbage at him out in left field in the bottom half of the inning. (The Tigers fans were used to a more genteel style of play, such as Ty Cobb used to show them, where he would slide carefully into third base on a triple and then dust off the opposing third baseman after the play was over.) Anyway, in order to get the play going again, and, they medwick in left pelted 1934 world seriessay, for Ducky’s own safety, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball Commissioner, who just happened to be there that day, ordered Medwick off the field. To be fair about it, he also ordered the Tiger third baseman out of the game too, a guy named Marv Owen.

Above you see a picture of Ducky standing out in left, the fans pelting him with garbage, an image from the newsreel available on shutterstock. After the game, (which the Cardinals won, 11-0, winning the series,) Medwick said “Well, I knew why [the Tiger fans] threw that garbage at me. What I don’t understand is why they brought it to the park in the first place.”

A good question.

This is Charlie Ferguson, Philadelphia Pitcher in the 1880s. This is not Frank Chapman, but perhaps Charlie knew Frank? In any case, Frank probably dressed something like this when he was pitching for the A's that day.

This is Charlie Ferguson, Philadelphia Pitcher in the 1880s. This is not Frank Chapman, but perhaps Charlie knew Frank? In any case, Frank probably dressed something like this when he was pitching for the A’s that day.

And what about Frank Chapman? Frank was born sometime in November, (might as well call it the 24th) in 1861, and broke in with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1887, the starting pitcher on 22 July against the Cleveland Blues. Chapman gave up six runs, four earned, in five innings of work. Eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts, and oh for two at the plate. He got credit for a complete game, as Blues starter Mike Morrison declared a forfeit, with the Blues ahead by two, after a heated argument with the umpire. So, complete game, but he doesn’t get a victory or a defeat. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.

That was it for Frank Chapman’s career in the bigs. Perhaps he was disenchanted with the experience. But another odd thing about this is that for years they thought Frank Chapman was Fred Chapman, (who was born on 24 November) and this appearance by Fred Chapman would have been when Fred was just 14 years old, making him the youngest player ever to play in the majors. (Such as it was.)

But it wasn’t Fred after all, as shown in research by SABR guy Richard Malatzky. So, well, never mind. It just goes to show, you never know. Who’da though you could pitch a complete game and not get a win or a loss? That’s the way baseball go. You just never know.

Which led me to Joe Nuxhall, who is actually the youngest guy (or so we believe at this point in time, to the best of our knowledge) ever to play in major league ball. Joe was just 15 (well, 15 years and 361 days, to be exact) when he pitched two-thirds of an inning for the Reds on 10 June, 1944.

Joe got the first guy out in that game. But then gave up five walks, two hits, a wild pitch, and five runs before being pulled. In 1945 Joe decided to finish high school, and then he went back to baseball, and came up with the Reds again in 1952, and was a pretty decent pitcher for them, making the All-Star team in 1955 and ’56.

Anyway. Happy Birthday Ducky, Fred, Frank, and Joe Nuxhall too, (a bit late on Joe, July 30th.) Good game, all.

Moneyball (the book)

I just  finished reading Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. I’ve read this before but thoughtmoneyball it worth a re-read for the Year of Baseball. Because I’m dedicated. It’s just how I am.

This was a great book, and I’m sure you know all about it. Michael Lewis wondered why a low budget team, the Oakland A’s, so consistently did better than teams with so much more money, and so he spent a year investigating. At first he went to a number of teams and the story he had planned to write was going to be much more broadly based, but after awhile he saw that the Oakland A’s and their general manager, Billy Beane, were the most interesting part of the story, so he ended up focusing the large majority of the book on them.

Beane and the A’s were pretty surprised by this development, Lewis says, when they saw the early release copies of the book. I imagine they were. Lewis says that

“Each member of the staff had a slightly different reaction to it. Bean’s was something like horror. He was surprised that so much of the thing was about him, and disturbed that I’d portrayed him as a maniac.”

The impression Oakland had, that they were just a portion of a larger story, probably worked to Lewis’s advantage – they were probably less self-conscious in front of him, thinking they would be only a part of a bigger story. (Clever, Lewis. Clever.)

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

The book give a nice quick overview of the history of sabermetrics in baseball, telling Bill James story and talking about the other “pioneers” of baseball statistical analysis. It’s a great overview/opening for anyone interested in that aspect of baseball. Interesting, I think, that there is so much of that in baseball. Baseball uniquely lends itself to this sort of study, perhaps because, though it is a team game, it is built largely upon individual match-ups, in particular the pitcher against the batter. The fact that there are many years of available historical data also was a probably a key factor — though this data proved inadequate for heavy duty use, they were perfectly adequate to open the door to deeper thinking on the game. It does take a certain kind of mind to ask these types of questions and then to delve into the records exhaustively to find answers, or, as in this case, to create a whole new system of record keeping in order to find answers. One might ask, to what end? What’s gained by all this effort? This being just a game – perhaps nothing of real importance. But then again, Knowedge is Good, or so they say. And let’s not totally discount that there’s a certain amount of fun in figuring out how something works, in the discovery of the hidden game. Like working a huge puzzle.

I’ve read one other book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short, which was a look at the financial crisis and how some people saw it coming and profited because of that. It was also quite good, and did a good job of explaining complex issues in an understandable way. Both of these books have a similar theme, illustrating how a small group of people, thinking differently, see a totally different market reality than everyone else, and then take risks based on that view of the market, and are successful. Nice theme. I wonder how often he can write on that? What are some other examples?

I remember when the Twins acquired Beane in 1986. For some reason I thought this wasbilly beane during the Howard Fox era, because I remember hating that trade and I hated all the trades Howard Fox made during his brief tenure,  from 1984 to 1985. (Fox was kind of a placeholder when Griffith sold the club; Griffith had it in the deal that the current team management would stay in place, but Griffith was general manager when he owned the club, and I think Fox replaced him at the  time of the sale. Fox was replaced by Andy McPhail in August of 1985.) So, given the time frame, I guess MacPhail pulled the trigger on this. I suppose Beane’s potential was undoubtedly pretty tempting. Still, at the time, it struck me as a Foxian deal, and I hated it.

One thing that struck me on this reading was the post-script, where Lewis tees off on critics of the book and of Billy Beane and the whole sabermetrical take on baseball. This seemed unnecessary, though probably very satisfying to write, and his response to the critics seems quite on target. I suppose that critics who are loudly and publicly asinine should be called on it.

It would have been interesting for Lewis to compare and contrast the A’s success with the Twins success in that same time period, especially as the Twins were also a money-challenged team. It seems highly likely that the Twins assembled their team using the “old-school” methods of evaluating and developing players, and they certainly had their successes. Perhaps not as sustainable as the A’s?  Looking at the records since 2001, the A’s have the edge in record, with 1129 wins and 955 losses, compared to the Twins 1078 wins and 1006 defeats. That’s a 51 game difference over 12 seasons, a bit over 4 games a season. On the other hand the Twins have finished first in their division 6 times, to 4 times for the A’s. So we’ll call them about even.

There’s been a lot of concern (amongst Twins baseball fans who like sabermetrics, at least) that the Twins don’t use sabermetrics all that much in their evaluations of players. ESPN had an article about this in 2010 – I wonder how true this is today? In 2012 SABR had their annual convention in Minneapolis, and at that time I believe Ryan gave a talk indicating that the Twins are trying to do more in this area. But baseball blogger Aaron Gleeman suggested that the Twins are probably in the bottom five as far as use of statistical data go. Which is unfortunate. (Again, knowledge is a good thing, ain’t it?)

 

Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

Bill James
I certainly don’t need to go into who Bill James is. His annual Baseball Abstracts (1977-88) popularized and revolutionized in-depth statistical analysis of baseball, the way we think about the game today, and the way the game is operated. (Yes, pretty darn influential!)

Besides his annual Abstracts James published in 1985 The Historical Baseball Abstract, where he takes a look at the history of the game decade by decade, talking about how the game was played, where, and by whom. This is one of my favorite baseball books – its bases are loaded with stories, statistics, and trivia, and it’s just some kind of fun on every page. I pick it up often, and it’s the perfect antidote to a cold winter day.

Bill James Hx

The first part of the book, about 250 pages in my edition, looks at the game decade by decade, from the 1870s on, and each section starts with a quick listing of fun facts such as notable nicknames, (Death to Flying Things, Spinach, Ol’ Stubblebeard, The Grey Eagle, The Donara Greyhound), biggest and smallest players, most disappointing player (or over-hyped — the Clint Hurdle Award), attendance, births and deaths, most home runs, most wins, most strikeouts, best outfield arm, fastest player, and best baseball book. And so on. After this introductory section, James writes a number of brief articles looking at the issues and the players of that time period. These can be little biographical notes on a player of interest (Kirby Higbe, Gates Brown, Lyman Bostock) or more statistically oriented, such as his piece on why run production dropped so dramatically in the 1960s.

The second part of the book is also great, and a bit longer than the first section. Here James appraises the top players of the game, position by position, and gives his estimation as to who was the best. James begins this section with a brief overview of statistical methods for appraising baseball players and review different variations of formulas that have been carefully tailored to different time periods and different standards of record keeping. For example, did you know that the National League did not keep statistics on “caught stealing from 1926 to 1950? Well, they didn’t. You can’t look it up. And so the formula for evaluating players in that time period has been adjusted to account for that.

Here are the top players, by position, according to James estimations in the ’85 edition of the Historical Baseball Almanac:

C – Yogi Berra
1B – Lou Gehrig
2B – Eddie Collins
SS – Honus Wagner
3B – Mike Schmidt
LF – Stan Musial
CF – Ty Cobb
RF – Babe Ruth
RHP – Walter Johnson
LHP – Lefty Grove
RP – Rollie Fingers

One section that I found particularly interesting in my review of this book for this posting was James talking about MVP awards; James did some math on these awards, and awarded MVP shares, based on percentage of votes received for the MVP award. So if a player received 100  percent of the votes cast, he was given 1 point, if he received 50 percent of the votes he was given .5 point. After looking at all the voting, who got the most points, do you think? James thought it would be Mickey Mantle, but he was wrong. And I was wrong too. (Ted Williams.) It was Stan Musial.

It looks like there is a more recent edition of this book out, though some of the comments on Amazon make me think that I will hold off on getting it. There’s been a few changes made, a few articles missing, a few format changes, which make it seem like you would want both books on your shelf. That being the case, I will be keeping my eye open for a nice used copy in my local used bookstores. But make no mistake, this is one book you will want to have on you shelf of Top Baseball Books.