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!

Roger Kahn, Memories of Summer

I recently finished reading Memories of Summer, by Roger Kahn, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Kahn’s book is a memoir, and roughly the first third of the book tells of growing up in Brooklyn, going to Ebbets field with his father, playing ball and going to school and discovering that he wants to be a writer. His father happens to know the city editor of the New York Herald Tribune, and this gets 19-year-old Roger an interview and a job as a copy boy in 1946. I particularly enjoyed this part of the book, stories of how Roger learned about newspapers and sports writing from some of the greats, such as Red Smith and Heywood Broun. In 1950 he became a copyreader in the sports department ($48/week; do they still have copyreaders?), and soon after that he was out on general sports assignments, covering everything except major league baseball. (They wanted their baseball writer to be older than the players, and I suppose that’s a good general rule of thumb.) But just two years later, at the wise old age of 24, Kahn gets dispatched to Florida to cover the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training. Those were different times, obviously, but I think this speaks to Kahn’s ability as a writer, that they thought he was ready.

His first year covering the Dodgers they win the National League pennant, and (no dilly-dallying in those day, no 8 rounds of playoff games) they play the lordly New York Yankees in the World Series, and Kahn covers this experience closely in the book, and brings home the drama and personalities in the story. And there are quite a few personalities involved: Jackie Robinson, Casey Stengel, Pee Wee Reese, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Allie Reynolds. The Yankees win it in 7 games, a hard fought, well-played series. After the game, (and about a million years ago,) a reporter asked Mantle about his off season plans.

At the age of twenty, Mickey Mantle had arrived, batting .345 with two important home runs. “Nice Series, young man,” Rud Rennie said. “What are you up to now?”

“Headin’ back to Oklahoma. I got me a job working down in the mines.”

“Work in the mines? The winning share is more than $6,200. You don’t have to do that now.”

“Yes, I do,” Mantle said. “You know my dad died, and I got seven dependents who’re counting on me.” Mantle named three brothers, a sister, his mother, and his wife.

“That’s six,” Rennie said.

“A baby is due in March,” Mantle said. “I don’t know whether I’ll be in the electrical crew or the pump crew or whatever.” The Yankees’ slugging hero of the series smiled pleasantly. “I’m just lucky the mining company offered me a job.”

The second part of the book traces Kahn’s career after he leaves the newspaper, and features some chapters that focus on some individual players, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in particular. These are thoughtful and personal character studies; Kahn tells us a lot about these legends, in a subtle and natural way.

Many of you baseball fans out there are familiar with Kahn’s other huge best-seller, The Boys of Summer. That seems like it was written a hundred years ago now, (published 1972, so, really, only 45 years ago) and it is well worth re-reading. Kahn brings the same care and skill to this book, and leaves me wanting more. And so I’m planning on tracking down another Kahn book, The Era, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers Ruled the World. 

Nice to note that Roger is still with us, 89 years old, and I hope writing another book.

Good game, Roger!

I suppose the Twins are training, now…

…and I suppose I should make some note of that.

But last season took a lot out of me. As my high expectations (i.e. World Series) were not just “dashed.”

There isn’t really a word for what they were.

Perhaps “eviscerated” comes close.

Well, anyway, these are the Twins, so they have regrouped and apparently are in Florida again, spring training, as it were, and thinking of the future, and planning for the upcoming season. They’ve got a brand-spanking new front office, new GM, new coaches, a new “pitch-framing” catcher, a new old third baseman, and everybody should still have a bad taste in their mouth from last season. (59-103, lest you could possibly forget.)

Anyway, I’ll have to touch base with the Twins soon — and forgive them — and get up to speed on the doings over there.

And I should also let all you Blaze fans know: The Louisiana Blaze, my team in the National Pastime Baseball League, are Champs! Yes! Yes!  Champions of the NPBL! We RULE.

The NPBL is a computer baseball league that uses Out of the Park Baseball simulation software, which provides an incredibly realistic baseball management experience. I assumed control over the Blaze back in 2050, and my 19-year long-range plan worked pretty much to perfection, as we win the title in 2069 (after finishing third in our division.)

I think more on this later. There were at least a couple good stories there. Suffice to say that “We rule!” and also that it’s also spring training in the NPBL, and last year is last year, we have left it behind and are thinking of the future and planning for the coming season.

Which makes me think that baseball is a zen sort of sport. There’s no yesterday, and there’s no tomorrow. There’s only NOW. And now the Blaze are working on the usual drills, enjoying an off day after winning a 5-3 spring game yesterday. And the Twins are also enjoying an off day after winning a 2-1 win spring game yesterday. And everything is good.

Now if only the Millers could win a game…

 

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

well, well, well…

chicago-tribune-cubs-win-1908

This would be a terrible baseball blog indeed, if some small mention was not made of the Chicago Cubs wonderful championship season. I don’t think I need go into details; the media juggernaut has certainly covered the story from every possible viewpoint. Let’s just say congratulations to a fun team. Congratulations also to the Cleveland club, who also excelled this year, and might very easily have been the champions. It was a magnificent World Series, very nearly approaching the ’91 classic.

The illustration above is from the Chicago Tribune, who has posted the front page story from the last time the Cubs won the series. I love those old newspapers! October 15, 1908. A totally different world back then, but still, baseball.

And here’s another nice item:

final-out-baseball-from-1908-cubs-world-series-victory

I noticed that the Final Out Baseball from the 1908 World Series has gone up for auction. Current bid: $28,000 (plus the buyer’s premium, of course.) There’s still time to get your bid in!

Other than the world series, and the Cubs, well, there were the Twins. One of the most disappointing seasons ever. A good baseball blogger would perhaps have covered the disaster in detail, but I just just just couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was purely awful and, really, the less said about it, the better for everyone.

Just Awful.

But: we turn the page. Welcome to the 2017 Hot Stove League!

country store d fr

2-9

Okay, well, I’m certainly not going to be posting every day, an update on the Twins current record. However the Twins did win today, 6-4, hitting a few home runs, (Plouffe, Arcia, & Park,) with the resurgent Nolasco pitching resurgently, and Eduardo Nunez going 2 for 4, bringing his average down to .692 or so.

However.

I do feel the need to point out that a few other teams have started out the season 2-9, and still managed to put together pretty good seasons.

Like, for instance, say…       the 1991 Minnesota Twins.

On April 20, 1991, they lost to California, 2-1, and their record stood at an abysmal 2-9.

And yet, I’m pretty sure that they went on to have not so bad a year in 1991.

As I recall.

1991 World Series

Keep the faith, baby.