the race

I was going to call this “breathing space,” with the Twins 5 and a half ahead of the Spiders today, but thought better of it. Breathing space can disappear in the space of four or five games, and there are plenty of games yet to play. Every game is playoff baseball now, everything counts, and everybody feels post-season drawing closer, and closer, and closer. (Cue: music from Jaws.)

Looking over to the National League, I see the Braves, Cards, and Dodgers all on top in their respective divisions. Coincidentally, the three teams that the Twins have already played in the World Series. So: rematch time?

Credit goes to the NY Times for this lovely representation of the Yanquis.

But first, of course, the Twins will need to overcome los Yanquis de Nuevo York.

Which is a tall task for anybody, but particularly for the Twins, who seem to be allergic to all New York teams, past, present, and probably future. Perhaps if we refer to them as the Phillies or the [insert Florida’s NL team name here] or the Diamondbacks… perhaps then we will do better.

With pennant fever raging, the Twins have gotten a few bits of bad news:

First, they lose one of their key starters, Michael Pineda, for the rest of the season, due to PED rule violation. This hurts, as Berrios and Gibson have been struggling of late, while Pinada has been getting stronger. Apparently Pinada took some over-the-counter medication, given to him by a friend, to help control weight issues? I guess that could happen. This must be awful for Pineda. After all, post-season is THE BIG SHOW, everyone plays all year trying to get into post season, and here’s his shot and suddenly, no, he’s out. How many chances do you get to go to the playoffs?

Which makes me wonder what players have gone a lot, and I suppose there are players out there who rarely get the chance. Who are the active players with fewest post-season games in their career? Are there any players out there who have played a long time and never gone to the playoffs? Which baseball team has the longest post-season drought?

Mariners fans; how do you stand it? It’s been 17 seasons since the Mariners have seen playoff ball. Seventeen long seasons. There are young Seattle baseball fans who have no memory of Seattle in the playoffs, and may not even know that playoffs exist. Perhaps they see the Mariners as the baseball equivalent of the Washington Generals? I think that’s the team that goes around the world losing to the Harlem Globetrotters. Anyway. Seventeen seasons. And the Seattle record so far, in 2019: 58-85. And yesterday they lost to the Astronats by the score of, uh… looks like…  21 – 1.

It may be some time before those Mariners get back to the big show.

Ernie Banks, sad to say, holds the record for most games played without seeing the post season: 2528 games, 19 seasons. Ouch. I have not yet found a source that tracks active players in this regard. I might examine the Mariner roster, for starters.

Anyway, besides Pineda, the Twins also may have to do without Byron Buxton, who’s injured his shoulder. There’s some talk of surgery. Byron has been a tough luck player.

And then, finally, the Twins also may have to do without Max Kepler, who also seems to be injured. That would be another tough loss, if he can’t come back. He’s having a heckuva year.

Oh, well. I suppose the Mariners would love to have these problems. There’s lot’s of baseball left to play, let’s just try to win the next one, tomorrow, in Washington. (Almost like a home game!) And let’s try to stay healthy too.

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.

Fall Classics

Last week I finished reading Fall Classics, a nice little collection of contemporaneous writing focused on the great world series’ of the past. Very enjoyable pre-season reading! The book picks up with a 1903 article “Pittsburgh a Winner in the first Clash,” by Tim Murnane. I like the way those old time news articles had “sub-headlines” that brought out the key points:

Pittsburgh a Winner in the first Clash

Boston Beaten by a Score of 7-3

“Cy” Young is Off Edge and Bumped Hard

More than 16,000 Persons See Opening Contest

Boston the Favorite in the Game

Scheduled for Today

Murnane was a reporter for the Boston Globe, and his reporting on the game is a pretty detailed inning by inning recap:

In the third Collins made a fine catch of Wagner’s fly. Bransfield lined one to right that Freeman came in for and then allowed to go through him to the crowd for the three bases. Bransfield scored on Sebring’s single past LaChance.
Boston went out in order.
Beaumont opened the fourth with a grounder that was fumbled by Ferris. Clarke and Leach singled, scoring Beaumont. Wagner flied out to Parent, and Bransfield forced a man at second, Ferris making a clever running assist.

I thought I’d see if I could find an image of the original article online, with no luck on that. But I did learn two things:

  1. Tim Murnane (right) played a bit of ball himself, 1872-1884, with the Middletown Mansfields, the Athletic of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia White Stockings, the Boston Red Caps, the Providence Grays, and then finally the Boston Reds.
  2. While the first World Series was being played, there were a bunch of other ball games being played too! The Philadelphia A’s were playing the Philadelphia Phillies, (Americans 6, Nationals 0,) the Chicago Nationals were playing the Chicago Americans, (Nationals 11, Americans 0,) the Cincinnati Nationals were playing the St. Louis Americans (Nationals 7, Americans 6,) and the local team in Williamsport took on the New York Nationals (a ten inning draw, 5-5.)

The book doesn’t cover every world series of course. The editors, Bill Littlefield and Richard A. Johnson, have picked (in their opinion) the best writing of the first 100 years. Which comes out at roughly about forty chapters, generally one per year. I’ll not quibble with the choices. Plenty of good baseball to go around. A few favorites: the Murnane article was excellent, I thought, a great lead-off for the rest of the book. The 1912 set of short articles by Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, and Tris Speaker — probably ghost written, but nicely done and evocative of the time period. The 1948 article is also by a ball player, again probably ghost written, but it’s ol’ Satch, and I think has a bit of his personality. Roger Angell is here, of course, and he’s always a stand out. The 1991 Twins-Braves series is in the book, written by Dave Kindred, and that brings back some nice (but fading) memories.

Lardner’s piece on the 1919 series was not my favorite. Too bad there wasn’t another piece in here by Lardner. I’d hate to think all his writing was on this level. (Surprising that I haven’t yet picked up his vaunted baseball book, You Know Me, Al. It could be awhile before I go down that road, now.)

I was surprised that there was nothing on the 1908 series, as that is the greatest season of baseball ever played, some aver. But perhaps the series was anti-climax, and the writers had worn themselves out over the last week of the season, had no more to give for the series. That can happen, I guess.

The book is a veritable Hall of Fame for baseball writers: Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Jimmy Breslin, Haywood Broun, Red Smith, Dick Young, Murray Kempton, Pete Gammons. (How they left Roger Kahn out, I don’t know.)  With a line up like that, really, how could you go wrong? Forty chapters by an elite squad of top wordsmiths covering some of the greatest sporting events in recorded history?

It’s gotta be good.

And in the waning days of the long dark Minnesota winter, it was perfect.

And It’s the Hawks! And the Tigers! And the Monkeys.

Once again, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have won the Japan World Series, in six games, over the Yokohama BayStars. This is the third time in the last four seasons that the Hawks have been the Champs.

They Hawks won the first three games of the series against the BayStars, but then dropped two, leading up to game 6. Down 3-1 in the 8th, the Hawks picked up a run on a groundout, and they tied the game up in the ninth on a homer by Uchikawa against closer Yamasaki. Then, in the 11th, a couple of walks set the stage for Kawashima’s two-out Sayonara Single, a drive through the right side of the infield that plated the series winner.

[10 Nov 17 – Well, it looks like the original video had been taken down. But I think this (below) is also the Sayonara Single.]

[11.15.17 – Well, now, that’s gone too. So much for marketing. The Sayonara Single will have to live on in legend. I can say that I saw it. A looping liner into right. Perfect. Sayonara.]

Meanwhile, over in the KBO, the KIA Tigers pounced on the Doosan Bears, winning the series 4 games to 1 on October 30th. The Bears took the first game of the series, 5-3, but then lost four straight. Poor Bears.

And finally, over in the China Professional Baseball League (Taiwan)…

…it looks like the last game was played on October 11th, with the Lamigo Monkeys beating 7-11 by the score of 9-7.

Are they the champions?

I think they are, judging by the game-ending celebration.

 

And I think this means that it’s safe to say that Hot Stove League has begun play.

How ’bout them Monkeys? Could they beat the Bears? Or the Astros? What is an “Astro,” anyway?

 

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.

Happy Birthday McKinley Wheat

Yup. Zach’s younger half-brother Mack was born on 9 June 1893. Mack was a catcher, played a bit with Zach on the Brooklyn Robins, and also played for the Phillies. He finished out his career in 1922 with LA in the Pacific Coast League, where it looks like he played in three games, going 0 for 2 at the plate. Still, he got a pretty nice baseball card out of the deal.

Mack was not quite as good a hitter as Zach, finishing up with a batting average of .204 in just over 600 plate appearances over 7 seasons in the majors. Still: seven years in the majors. Perhaps he was an excellent windpaddist.

Also of note in baseball history today, the Twins hit five home runs in the seventh inning against the Angels in 1966, the first time in the American League there was ever a five home run inning. Rollins, Versalles, Oliva, Mincher, and then, finishing up, the fat kid, Harmon Killebrew. True Twins fans know that the game was never in the bag, but the Twins did manage to hang on somehow to win it, 9-4.

And then, some years later, the great Zoilo Casanova Versalles passed away on 9 June, 1995. American League MVP in 1965, leading the Twins to the World Series. Good game, Zoilo.

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!