29 April 1904 – Louisville

newsboy-minneapolis-1904-b“MILLERS FALL DOWN WITH STICK”

Read all about it!

The millers lost yesterday to the colonels in Louisville, by a 3-1 margin.

Watty’s colts only managed four hits off the colonel’s Egan, while the elongated Stimmel also tossed a fine game, giving up only six hits himself. Sad to say, poor base running may have played a part in the loss. Watkins can’t be happy about that. Apparently Maloney got caught napping at second base. I assume that billy-maloney-brg-bmeans he got picked off? Ouch! Maloney also got a couple of hits and sparkled out in right field, but I would think that Watkins will overlook those redeeming points and talk to him seriously about the importance of being highly alert while on the base paths.

I’m a bit concerned about the miller’s offence. (As I’m sure we all are.) Here’s the miller rally yesterday, as described by Our Man in the Field:

“The millers’ one score was secure in the fifth, when Oyler lined out a single, Stimmel sacrificed him along, and the shortstop stole third. McNichol bunted, and Dexter fielded the ball home, but Schriver dropped it, making the only miscue of the game.”

That’s probably going to be the nature of the millers’ offence this season: bunts, sacrifices, stolen bases, maybe an error thrown into the mix. I guess, in 1904, that was pretty much the nature of the game. Nowadays we think of the pre-Babe Ruth years as the Dead Ball Era, but back then it was just baseball. Nobody even noticed that the ball was dead. It was just part of the Great American Pastime. It’s a good thing that Watty has assembled a stable of speedsters.

On that note there was an interesting comment by Watty, in yesterday’s paper, I think it was. His theory is that it’s very difficult or impossible, really, to find much good hitting at this level of the game. If a guy shows he can hit, he gets snapped up by the big leagues. And that’s why he’s so focused on speed. Hitting across the league will be weak, and so he believes that the fastest team will create the most runs and thus come out as champions in the end. As long as they are awake out there on the base paths.

Yesterday, more bad weather, but they played anyway and played well. One error for the colonels, none for the boys from Minneapolis. Demontreville was sick, but McNichol played well at 3rd. Oyler was excellent at short. Watty says he will release both Ludwig excerpt-tacoma-times-12-april-1909-wm-ludwigand Roach shortly. Ludwig is apparently not fast enough, while Roach’s work “has been indifferent.” I wonder why he hasn’t released them already. Must be no fun for them. I hope he’s talked to them, and they don’t just read it in the papers. Maybe he’ll yet change his mind about Ludwig, who’s a fan favorite, a game player, and a fine young man, though perhaps not so fast.

Young Munch may twirl for the millers today. Census records seem to indicate that Gustave was born in 1876, which would make him about 28 in 1904. Which makes me wonder how old the rest of these guys are, if he’s “young” Munch?

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And in other news of the day:

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Diamonds are Forever

With baseball season just right around the corner, I’vediamonds-are-forever picked up a copy of Diamonds Are Forever at my local pre-owned book retailer. This is a good-sized book published in 1987 by the Smithsonian Institute, 159 pages full of baseball art and stories about the game we love.

The writing is mostly excerpts from longer works. Writers include John Updike, (“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,”) Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Roger Angell, Thomas Boswell, W.P. Kinsella, William Kennedy, Donald Hall, Steven King, and more. I hope Philip Roth is in there, but I haven’t spotted him yet. (Which reminds me, perhaps it’s time I re-read his The Great American Novel again. It’s been a good long while.)

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I really bought this book for the art. Some of these are familiar, and some I’ve never seen before. I loved this picture, to the left, of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett going toe-to-toe with an umpire. A lot of people don’t know that Beckett managed the White Sox for a few years back in the late 40s. Those were very dramatic years for the White Sox, though they didn’t win a lot of games. They were more focused on illuminating the tragi-comic nature of the human condition, by means of a legendary gamut of absurdist plays. One of the most well-known of these was the play of second-baseman Sonny Godot, who would take the cut-off throw from the outfield, but then keep the ball in his glove, pretending that he didn’t have it, though the whole crowd knew it was there. All the opposing runners would round the bases and score. Even though he did this every time, he continued to get cut-off throws, game after game. This was baseball for the thinking fan, the deeply thinking and ruminative fan, and, thus, the White Sox did not draw so well in those years. Which was just the way Beckett liked it. “The end is in the beginning and yet you go on,” he would say to the baseball reporters. In the end, a lot of the White Sox fans complained that they no longer understood the point of the game, and eventually Mr. Beckett got canned, which is the fate of all of us. Beckett-ball had its brief moment in the sun, and then that was it, back to Paris for Mr. Beckett. He never managed a professional club again, and, in his later years, denied that he had ever managed at all.

Anyway, back to the book. What’s not to like? Classic baseball prose. Any kind of baseball art you can think of. And it’s springtime. What could be better? Play ball, already.

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23 April 1904: Rebound

I feel a bit remiss, leaving the Millers languishing for so long at 1-1. I seem to recall that I was aiming at covering the year in a year, and for awhile, back in the spring, I was all up to date. Then life intervened, and then it was 26 September when last we heard from them, losing to the Mudhens, the vaunted Munch getting hammered in his Very First Game, when we were counting on him so much. I’m sure you have all been on the edge of your collective seats, wondering which way this would go. The beginning of the long slide down? Or the continuation of the hubris of spring?

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Archie Stimmel - SABR b

Well, good news, all. The boys rebounded the next day, behind the sterling twirling of The Elongated Stimmel. The final score was 7-1. Archibald gave up only 3 hits and no walks, going the distance. “He had great speed and used every kind of curve known to twirlers.” It was a tight 1-1 game in the fifth, but then Coulter came up with the bases loaded and “…the big fielder landed hard on a lob and sent the horsehide out to the centerfield bleachers. Everybody romped home before the ball was fielded in.” An inside the park home run, and that was pretty much all she wrote, especially the way the tall narrow Stimmel was throwing the bean. Coulter also got a double and a single, McNichol started at third for Demontreville and got three hits, and Leslie, starting at catcher again, also went 3 for 4. (Who is this Leslie guy?) It was a hit parade. But top honors go to Mr. Stimmel for totally stifling the Mudhens, leading the Millers to a 2-1 record.

Umpire Bausewine

Umpire Bausewine ran the game again. There were no incidents. Captain Fox held his tongue. Perhaps Umpire Bausewine has set the tone for his season.

Well, with two full games played, there’s a front page article in the 23 April sports section: “Too Early to Size Up Teams.” Thanks, Captain Obvious.

“Until the team has played the rest of its eastern games, however, it will be impossible to make any accurate predictions in regard to its finish. In fact, the team will not have a fair test until it reaches Minneapolis, and has played a few games on its own ground.”

Nice of them to let us know that it’s too early to know. It says that the eastern writers are all giving credit to the Millers for playing “a scrappy, gingery game.” Well, that’s what we want to see.

The writer then goes on to say that the Millers look weak with the stick, not that any conclusions can be drawn after only two games. But they still look weak with the stick. Watkins says it’s hard to get a good hitting club in the minors as the good hitters are quickly snapped up by the majors. His thinking is that a team that is fast and with strong pitchers, and fair hitting support, has more chance of winning than a team of hitters who are deficient in base running, fielding and team work. Well, we shall see about that, I guess. We shall see.

One thing is for certain: it’s too early to tell anything for certain.

Another thing, though, that is certain, is that Watkins has assembled a very fast club. Will they be fast enough???

In fact, former Miller pitcher Guy Converse is in town, having just been released by Winnipeg, and being picked up by the St. Paul club. “That is the fastest bunch I ever saw,” Converse reports. Manager Egan of the Winnipeg club agrees, saying that the average first division club has two or three fast men, but Watkins has six who are sprinters, and good ball players besides. “Sullivan, Maloney, Coulter, Fox, Oyler, and Demontreville ought to simply burn up the paths this season. I do not see how Watkins can help landing well up in the race.”

6 April 1904: it would be an error an inning — if the game went 14 innings.

From the Wednesday evening edition of the Minneapolis Journal.

Frosty Thomas - Minneapolis Journal - 3 April 1906

The Millers eked out a victory on the Illini again yesterday, topping the youngsters by a 5-3 margin in a “tightly contested” match. Kudos to Frosty Thomas, who pitched the first five innings in fine form, showing “considerable speed,” and allowing only one hit to the youth of Illinois.  Rusty Owens then came in to finish the game; he allowed three runs, but two of them came in on bad throws by Demontreville. This speaks to the importance of accurate throws, as mentioned before. A hard toss is no good if it is off into the cheap seats, Mr. Demontreville. You must do better, young man.

Demontreville, it turns out, has a sore arm! But even with the two errors and the sore arm, our scribe has climbed up on the Demontreville bandwagon:

Nevertheless, his work was good. He covered considerable ground and gives promise of being a very clever third baseman.

A very clever third baseman. So noted.

Lee Demontreville b

Demontreville – a very clever third baseman

Offensively the Millers didn’t show much against the college pitchers. Five hits. Demontreville scored on an error and two sacrifices. Errors let in another run in the fourth and two more in the fifth. I guess everybody’s a bit rusty out there in the field. Chalk up 8 more errors for the Little Perfessers of Illinois, while the Millers committed 6 gaffe’s of their own, including 2 by Lally at first, who had thought that first base would be so easy. Think again, Mr. Lally.

With 14 total errors in the game, I’m not sure that “tightly contested” is accurate. It sounds more like a circus out there, a comedy of errors. Keystone cops. Madcap fun. Can anybody catch the ball? To be fair, Lally did get 6 put outs and 8 assists in the game. Which seems a bit odd. 8 assists? Oyler at short had 3 put outs and no assists, and Lally at first had 8 assists? Curious. Makes me think I may not be reading the box score correctly. But what else could the little “a” stand for? Perhaps the college boys were all lefties, or working on a “bunt it to Lally” game plan, testing the new first baseman?

This weekend Watkin’s Warriors wend their way to Springfield for two games against… well, an un-named opponent. Perhaps there are some sporting Springfeldians who will take the field.

the pawns of summer

We were standing in the coffee line at Dunn Brothers, early this summer, and I was telling Ghost about that article I read, about baseball losing its audience.

“Boring?” he said, “How can people think that?”

“Exactly!” I replied. “It’s not boring at all!”

“No!”

“Far from it!” I said.

“Are you kidding me? It’s like a chess match out there!”

“Yes! A chess match!”

baseball chess b

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?)