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?


Spring Fever!

Well here it is, Spring Training, 2018 edition.

Ain’t it grand?

The Twins of Minnesota are 4-4 so far, not that that matters at all, unless, of course, you are 0-8, in which case it would plant a nagging seed of doubt. 

The Twins continue their quest for Quality Pitching by signing free agent Logan Morrison, a hard throwing… uh… designated hitter/first baseman.

This helps our pitching by ensuring that our pitchers don’t have to face him this season, as he might very well have found a spot with some other American League team.

Additionally, this helps fill that troublesome hole at DH, where the twins only had Vargas and Mauer and Grossman and Sano and whoever to plug in there. Seriously, though, last year’s DHs only hit about .237 with a .711 OPS, (reliable sources tell me) so there was considerable room for an upgrade. And so Welcome Logan Morrison. And I refuse to call him LoMo.

In other spring news, the Twins best player, Brian Dozier, says that he’ll be a free agent after this season. Kind of a surprise, since he is their best player, and you might think that they might try to keep their best player.

But no, that’s not how the game works. It’s much more complex than that. I’m missing out on the intangibles, I guess, and the metrics, and the inner game. I am an old fashioned fan from a bygone era. That’s not the way things work in century 21.  I guess there’s a lot of angles on this that I am just not paying attention to. No, all I see is a guy who leads by example, a guy who works his butt off 162 games a year, is a great fielder and has a lot of pop in his bat and has contributed a TON to the success of the club and been a bargain on the bottom line.

Oh well. I’d best appreciate him while he is here.

The Twins have added some pitching in this off season. I’ve made mention of other acquisitions in previous post, but since then they’ve traded young prospect Jermaine Palacios for the wiley veteran Jake Odorizzi.

Odorizzi has a 40-38 3.83 lifetime mark, he’s 27 years of age, and went 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA last season with the 80-82 Tampa club. The trade has been greeted with some skepticism by Twins loyalists. Probably the fact that it came soon after the Twins failed to sign Yu Darvish added to the sour grape flavor of the trade. However, Twins fans are a resilient and hopeful lot, and so there is some talk that the Twins Brain-trust notices some statistical data that seems to indicate that better days are ahead for Mr. Odorizzi.

Not that this matters, as — in this case — Odorizzi is a Junior Circuit veteran, and I’m sure someone has studied this, and I’ll have to look for the answer, but, as the pitchers in the National League get to pitch against pitchers, rather than against designated hitters, I wonder, on average, how that rewards their ERA and other stats?

Answer: Well in 2007 there was an article in the NY Times (Alan Schwarz, 7 January 2007) that looked at this. There probably have been more since, and by more Sabermetric publications, but for me I think the NY Times is sufficient. Looking at 29 pitchers that moved from the National League to the American League, and 28 pitchers that moved from the American League to the National League, he found that National League pitchers that moved to the American League had their ERA increase by .70. (Pitchers that moved from the American League to the National League decreased their ERA by .85. Probably got an extra bit of boost from sheer exuberance.)

Which perhaps helps to partly explain why Mr. Darvish decided to go with a National League club, rather than the Twins.

[Again, [[editorial comment]] it would be nice if the Ameican League gave up on this “Designated Hitter” experiment, and went back to letting the pitchers bat. But I digress.]

Speaking of Darvish, I notice:
a.) he’s 6’5″ tall. I had no idea. 220 pounds. In pictures he somehow doesn’t look so big.
b.) he’s sick. Hasn’t pitched yet for the Cubbies. “No worries” he says. Still. Is that any way to start the season? Hope he feels better soon.

Literary Corner

I finished reading The Player: Christy Mathewson, Baseball, and the American Century, by Philip Seib, months ago. So long ago I can’t remember what I was going to say about it. Oddly, the book has Tampa Bay Times News Library stamped on it. How it got to Half Price Books in Maplewood is anybody’s guess. And why would it ever wind up in a newspapers “News Library” anyway? Maybe Christy Mathewson is still newsworthy down there, or perhaps it’s just a review copy. Anyway, this was a good book.

“At one point he was offered a chance at some easy money by lending his name to a Broadway bar. All he had to do was let it be called “Christy Mathewson’s” and show up for 10 minutes once or twice a week. He was told he could make thousands of dollars a year from the venture. He turned it down, later telling his mother, “If I had to make money that way, I wouldn’t want any.”

Well, I guess the times have changed a bit.

The book presents a pretty well-rounded view of Mathewson, who does seem to have been quite a likable guy, besides being one of the best pitchers in the history of Organized Ball. One funny thing is that he got along famously with his manager, John McGraw, who was no choir boy. In fact the two lived together for quite awhile.

Christy Mathewson2.gif

Seib does a nice job of setting Mathewson and baseball within the context of the time, which adds emphasis to Mathewson’s role in popularizing the game. The book is an easy enjoyable read, and full of enjoyable anecdotes and baseball history. This was a great book to pick up in the cold darkness of the dead of winter. Thanks, Mr. Seib!

Mathewson would definetly get a spot in my starting four:

1. Walter Johnson, with that big side-arm heat of his.
2. Christy Mathewson
3. Bob Gibson
4. Three-finger Brown or Sandy Koufax
5. Lefty Grove (Kind of crazy having him be number 6, but really, how can you pick?)

Also in the running:

Grover Cleveland Alexander, Ed Walsh, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, and Jim Bouton. (Hey, pitching isn’t everything.)


Well, well, well…

So it’s the Astros of Houston, is it?

Champions of the World. The Houston Astros.

Faithful readers may recall my innate antipathy for the Astros of Houston.

Which is a bit odd, as, after all,  Jim Bouton was once an Astro.

But no, I never warmed up to the Houston club. Not until the 7th game did I come to the realization that better the Astros than the Los Angeles (formerly of Brooklyn) Dodgers. Houston, it turns out, is more deserving than Los Angeles.

Ahh, well. The mysteries of emotion and affection. Congratulations to the Astros of Houston. Heckuva season, heckuva series.It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

And: Chalk up another one for the junior circuit. That’s 65 championships for the American League, vs. 48 for the National League. For those of you keeping score at home.

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!

Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

What America Needs in 2017 is more Baseball Related Holidays.

There’s a lot of other things America needs, but I think Baseball Holidays is an achievable goal.

Say, for instance, when the hell are we going to start celebrating Larry Doby Day. Major League Baseball was not integrated until Larry Doby got the job done. And it wasn’t any easier in the American League. So: Larry Doby Day. That’s July 5th, by the way. Let’s make a little noise for Larry on that day. Wednesday. It’s the Twins vs the Northern Part of Southern California Centering on the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area Angels of Anaheim and Proximous Suburbs.

The Twins drop another tough one last night, 2-1, and again fall a game out of first. They jump into a quick lead today, but True Twins fans know that early leads are never secure, and the ball game isn’t over till it’s over, and pride cometh before the fall. Pressly took the loss, yesterday, gave up the go-ahead homer in the 7th.

I need to do a bit of research on these 2017 Twins. I have to admit, I kind of lost track of things last year, and now I find that there’s quite a few names on the team that really don’t sound familiar. For a team that didn’t really make a lot of moves in the winter, there seems like a lot of new names. Though it wouldn’t surprise me too much if some of the guys on last year’s team just changed their names so as to start fresh with a new life and a clean slate. Probably a good choice for some of them.

Some might be thinking of me now as a fair-weather fan, but no no no, I don’t think that’s the case. I think last year it was simply a matter of self-preservation. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I care too much.

Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I was also thinking that I might need to find a team to root for over in the National League, now that the Cubbies are the best team in baseball. I don’t feel honest, rooting for the top dog. I relate more to someone with limited talent but good intentions. Two possibilities are the Washington Senators er, Nationals. Seems like we are kind of related to them. And then there’s the Giants, who almost moved here back in the day. Could have been the Twin Cities Giants? The Minneapolis Giants? The Giants and the Nationals are a bit too good to really root for. So maybe the Braves, who had a terrible season last year, and who aren’t the Reds or the Padres, who were similarly terrible but who are the Reds and the Padres. Or perhaps the Phillies, because who roots for the Phils?

Obviously, more thought is required on this. Safe to say that the Nats and the Giants and the Reds and the Padres are not in contention for the honor.

And a stray tangentially-related thought: can we finally get rid of the designated hitter now? Haven’t we given it a fair trial? I am pretty sure that it was suppose to be a three-month deal! A test case. I’m pretty sure that’s how it was presented. I’m going to check on that. But anyway, here it is, 44 years later now, and we’re still doing this? Yeesh.


As long as we’re adding baseball holidays to the calendar, let’s put the ki-bosh on the DH as well. Posterity will thank us, (if there is any posterity.)

Game update: Still 5-0. Mr. Santana is tossing “a pretty good game.”

But it’s only the 8th inning. Plenty of outs left to play.

Update: It’s over. Twins win.

line score 4-45-2017

A pretty nice day for Mr. Santana. Doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. A one-out single in the third, to catcher Omar Narvaez.