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Archive for the tag “Jackie Robinson”

Ten Things You Should Know About Jackie Robinson

Former Brooklyn Dodgers’ legend Jackie Robinson died forty years ago today in Stamford, CT, at age 53.  I was nine-years old when he died, living in Bridgeport, CT, just about half an hour away from Stamford.  I vaguely remember the event being covered in the local media.  At the time, though, I had no idea of the significance of Jackie Robinson’s legacy on baseball in particular, and on American society in general.

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers unif...

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers uniform, 1954. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are ten things you may not have known about Jackie Robinson:

1)  His full name was Jack Roosevelt Robinson.  A Republican-leaning Independent for most of his adult life, his middle name was a family tribute to progressive Republican president Theodore Roosevelt, not to F.D.R.

2)  His older brother, Mack Robinson, won the Silver Medal for the U.S. in the men’s 200 meter sprint in the 1936 Olympics hosted by Adolf Hitler in Berlin.  Teammate Jesse Owens won the Gold.

3)  In the spring of 1947, the Dodgers held Jackie Robinson’s first Spring Training in Havana, Cuba.  It was considered a more hospitable place for Jackie to break in than Spring Training in the U.S. would have been.  That same year, 21-year old Fidel Castro participated in his first (unsuccessful) attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

4)  While enrolled at UCLA, Robinson participated in multiple sports, including football, basketball and track and field.  His worst sport at that time was baseball.  In the one season he played baseball for UCLA, Robinson batted just .097, though he did steal home twice.

Robinson in his UCLA track uniform

Robinson in his UCLA track uniform (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  In his rookie season in the Majors, Robinson exclusively played first base.  It was the only one of his ten seasons where he would be the team’s starting first baseman.  He was replaced at that position by Gil Hodges in 1948.

6)  When Robinson won MLB’s first Rookie of the Year award in 1947, though he was certainly the most important player in either league, he did not actually have the best rookie season in the league.  He finished the year with a WAR of 3.0, good for third place behind Giant’s pitcher Larry Jansen (4.6 WAR), and the Athletics’ first baseman Ferris Fain (3.8 WAR.)

7)  During the regular season, Robinson stole home 19 times in his career, certainly an impressive number.  The Major League record, however, belongs to Ty Cobb.  He stole home an amazing 54 times in his career.

8)  The one season that the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series was 1955.  Perhaps surprisingly, that was also Robinson’s least productive season.  Playing in just 105 games, Robinson batted just .256.  Then, in 24 World Series at bats vs. the Yankees, the 36-year old Robinson batted just .182.  He did, however, steal home in Game 1 of the Series, played at Yankee Stadium.  It remains the last straight steal of home in World Series history.

9)  In 1965, Robinson became the first black T.V. network broadcaster, hired by ABC as part of its baseball broadcast crew.

10)  His oldest son, Jackie Robinson, Jr., developed a drug problem while serving in the Vietnam War where he was wounded in action in 1965.  After he was discharged from the Army, he enrolled in a drug treatment center in Seymour, CT.  He was later killed in a car accident in 1971, age 24.  His father, Jackie Robinson, Sr. would survive his son by just 16 months.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Jackie Robinson

What is the most exciting play in baseball?  Is it the walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth?  How about a bases-loaded triple?  For that matter, how about a triple play?

Certainly, one of baseball’s most exciting plays is stealing home plate.

Now, although there are different “kinds” of steals — straight steals, double steals, busted suicide squeeze plays — for the sake of brevity, this article will not differentiate between the various types.

When Washington outfielder Bryce Harper stole home off of Philadelphia lefty Cole Hamels a couple of months ago, it was noteworthy not only because Hamels had plunked Harper in the back to apparently send him some sort of message (guess THAT didn’t work), but also because the straight-steal of home (as opposed to being on the front end of a double-steal), is such a rarity these days, (notwithstanding the fact that the Padres Everth Cabrera stole home just two days ago against the Dodgers.)

There was a time, however, when stealing home was an important tactical weapon in the arsenal of most baseball teams.  Certainly, it requires the guts of a cat burglar and the stealth of a ninja.  Or, at the very least, a pitcher half-asleep on the mound.

Jackie Robinson often comes to mind when I think of a player stealing home.  Perhaps his most famous steal of home occurred in the 1955 World Series against the Yankees in Game One.  Yankee catcher Yogi Berra went ballistic when Robinson was ruled safe at home by the home plate umpire.  Berra maintains to this day that Robinson really was out.

This was also the only World Series the Dodgers ever won in Brooklyn, and it was Robinson’s only steal of home in a World Series.

Recalling this exciting event led me to ask an obvious question, “How many times did Jackie Robinson steal home in his career?

Of course, stealing home was going on in baseball long before Jackie Robinson came along.  The first unrecorded steal of home must have taken place in the 19th century.  We do know that Honus Wagner stole home twice on June 20, 1901.

Interestingly, the Dodgers own Pete Reiser set the modern N.L. single-season record for steals of home plate with an amazing seven in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  (Ty Cobb holds the single-season record with eight steals of home in 1912.)

Jackie Robinson, it turns out, stole home a whopping 19 times in his career, against approximately 12 times caught stealing.  Before 1950, “caught stealing” as a statistical category was not consistently recorded, so we can’t be sure exactly how many times Robinson was caught stealing home.  For four of Robinson’s ten seasons, therefore, we have incomplete data from which to draw accurate conclusions regarding his overall success rate.

Shane Tourtellotte of the Hardball Times, in an interesting and provocative article published on March 2nd of this year, posits the interesting hypotheses that Robinson’s 19 successful steals of home (20, if you count the one in the ’55 Series), were worth more in run-producing, game-winning value than all of his other steals combined.

So, did Jackie Robinson steal home more than any other player in history over the course of his career?  Not by a long shot.  As far as we know, 38 players have stolen home base at least ten times in their careers.  Here’s a list of the top 20: (Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Almanace.com)

1)  Ty Cobb – 54

2)  Max Carey – 33

3)  George Burns – 28

4)  Honus Wagner – 27

5)  Sherry Magee – 23

5)  Frank Schulte – 23

7)  Johnny Evers – 21

8)  George Sisler – 20

9)  Frankie Frisch – 19

9)  Jackie Robinson – 19

11) Jim Shekard – 18

11) Tris Speaker – 18

11) Joe Tinker – 18

14) Rod Carew – 17

14) Eddie Collins – 17

14) Larry Doyle – 17

17) Tommy Leach – 16

18) Ben Chapman – 15

18) Fred Clarke – 15

18) Lou Gehrig – 15

I was surprised that, although Robinson’s 19 steals of home are impressive, they are not nearly the greatest total of all time.  Ty Cobb’s record of 54 career steals of home is a record that I can’t imagine ever being broken.  The most recently active player with at least ten career steals of home plate is Paul Molitor, who retired 14-years ago at age 41.

The biggest surprise to me on the list I posted above is Lou Gehrig.  Who knew Gehrig stole home just four fewer times in his career than Jackie Robinson?  In truth, if Gehrig had one flaw as a baseball player, it was as a base stealer.  In his career, Gehrig stole 102 bases, but was also thrown out 100 times.

Among baseball statisticians, anything less than a 70% success rate means you should have stayed put.  A 50% success rate indicates an actual loss of overall run production, due to the opportunities squandered where a base runner who had stayed put might have been driven home by his teammates.  (See Tourtellotte’s article for more on this as well.)

Anyway, if you have Babe Ruth and Tony Lazzeri around you in the lineup, is there really any reason to try to steal home?

Speaking of Babe Ruth, it may also come as a surprise to you that The Bambino actually stole home ten times in his career, most, presumably, on the front end of double-steals.

Strategies and game conditions have, of course, changed a great deal over the past hundred years.  For many reasons too numerous to discuss in this post, the steal of home hasn’t been a significant part of the National Pastime for decades.

Nevertheless, when it does occur, it brings us back to a time when daring base runners challenged pitchers to a duel unlike any other in sports:  I can run faster than you can throw.  It is a challenge that links us to baseball’s historic past, even as the game continues to evolve on into the future.

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Ten Reasons Why Baseball is Better Than Football

I have to face the fact that football seems to have brazenly overtaken baseball as the de facto national pastime.  Even in its off-season, football news and gossip (usually the same thing), often intrudes itself into our lives with depressing regularity.  The bi-weekly drug arrests, revolving quarterback soap operas, and mind-numbing stories about which draft picks will break camp hold about as much interest for me as my aunt’s wilted cole slaw on Easter Sunday.

Still, I won’t go down without a fight.

So, for the record, here are ten reasons why baseball is better than football.

1)  Baseball is not constantly interrupted by little men throwing their dainty little yellow flags all over the field every time they have a conniption fit because they saw something that offended their hair-trigger sensibilities.

2)  Baseball players do not wear helmets that make them look like anonymous Terminators bent on the destruction of the universe.  They look like actual, you know, people.

3)  When a baseball player hits a home run, peer pressure causes him (generally) to put his head down while circling the bases, cross home plate, and quietly receive the accolades of his teammates.  When a football player scores a touchdown, he (generally) responds with an epileptic seizure in the end zone.  It’s not something I enjoy watching, and it makes me wonder why they don’t regulate their medication more effectively.

4)  Baseball fans embrace their sports history and mythology in a way that football fans are incapable of understanding.  Baseball’s lineage is practically Biblical.  To the average football fan, football history goes back to last weekend.

5)  A father playing catch with his son is an emotional bonding experience, passed down through the generations, an unspoken acknowledgement of love, mortality and hope.  A father throwing a football at his son is just a guy suffering from low self-esteem who needs to occasionally pretend that he is an N.F.L. quarterback so he can justify the ongoing emasculation he suffers every Monday morning at work.

6)  Baseball has induced tremendous social change in America.  Jackie Robinson is one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.  His personal bravery and talent greatly improved our civil society by challenging us to re-examine our personal values regarding fairness, race, and what it means to be an American.

Football teaches us that there is nothing bigger in life than immediate success and personal gratification.  Winners are loved, losers are vilified, and none of it means anything three days later.

7)  Baseball gave us Tommy John surgery so that young men with injured arms could rejuvenate their careers.  Football has given us Post-Concussion Syndrome in numbers so large that it is now becoming a virtual epidemic.

8)  A baseball diamond is a pastoral throwback to a time when most of America lived on or near farms and in the countryside, and understood man’s proper relationship to his world.  The football grid-iron, by contrast, resembles the endless modern suburban sprawl that disconnects us from our natural environment as well as from ourselves.

9)  Baseball has “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” a fun, carnival-like song that kids and grownups alike can relate to.  Football has “Are You Ready for Some Football?” an unimaginative, annoying pseudo-country song written by a man who has forever been trying to simultaneously emerge from and cloak himself with the shadow of his much more talented father.

10)  Every baseball at bat boils down to one man facing another, and may the best man win.  It is Achilles vs. Hector, Burr vs. Hamilton, Doc Holliday vs. Johnny Ringo.  An N.F.L. quarterback, by contrast, has no correspondingly singular opponent.  The protagonist has no antagonist.  He wields his sword dubiously against the faceless masses before him, a Roman Legionnaire lost amidst the swirl of the barbarian horde.

And that’s why baseball is better than football.

New Negro League Data-Base on Baseball-Reference.com

I was pleased to read today on the homepage of the National Baseball Hall of Fame that Baseball-Reference.com now features a new database of Negro League statistics.  They do not claim that these statistics are anything but incomplete, but, at last, a serious attempt is being made by a highly credible baseball website to document the long-neglected accomplishments of Negro League players.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Below is the official press release of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on this topic:

March 22, 2012
Statistics for Negro Leagues players, like Hall of Famer Buck Leonard (shown crossing home plate), are now online at baseball-reference.com. (NBHOF Library)Statistics for Negro Leagues players, like Hall of Famer Buck Leonard (shown crossing home plate), are now online at baseball-reference.com. (NBHOF Library)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – For more than a century, African-Americans made history on the baseball diamond prior to Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in the major leagues.

Beginning today, that history – in the most complete form ever assembled – is available to a world-wide audience through one of the game’s premier statistical websites.

Statistics on Negro Leagues players are now available through the Hall of Fame’s website partner, www.baseball-reference.com. The website, which has become the go-to resource for baseball statistics throughout the industry, will publish biographical and statistical information on all Negro Leagues players who were identified in a groundbreaking study commissioned by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum a decade ago.

“The data that forms the basis of these statistics is the result of years of tireless research by a dedicated team of historians,” said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “We are so proud to have been able to facilitate this research, and equally pleased that our partner, baseball-reference.com, is able to make this information available to the public. This history that once was lost is now alive to help tell the story of the great African-American baseball heroes of the early 20th Century.”

The Negro Leagues statistical database is the most comprehensive study on African-American Baseball ever produced, a team effort of “The Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors Group” deputized by the Hall of Fame Board of Directors in 2001 and led by Dr. Larry Hogan, Dick Clark, and Larry Lester. Major League Baseball provided the Baseball Hall of Fame with a $250,000 grant in July 2000 in order to initiate a comprehensive study on the history of African-Americans in Baseball, from 1860-1960.

The research resulted in a raw narrative and bibliography of nearly 800 pages and a statistical database, which includes 3,000 day-by-day records, league leaders and all-time leaders. The research was culled from box scores from 345 newspapers of sanctioned league games played from 1920-48.

“There have been a number of books capturing oral histories, biographies written about players, and team histories, but few mediums tackle the statistical challenge of compiling data from the Negro Leagues,” said Larry Lester. “The Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors Group was tasked with this challenge in 2001, and a decade later we present, via www.baseball-reference.com, a sampling of our findings. More data will be released, once a complete audit has been done, that will demonstrate the talent of men who played before Jackie Robinson entered the Major Leagues.”

The study includes sanctioned league game box scores from almost 100 percent of games played in the 1920s, in excess of 90 percent of the box scores from games played in the 1930s and box scores from 50-70 percent of games played in the 1940s and 50s, during which time the various leagues began to disband and newspapers ceased to report game information. The end result is the most comprehensive compilation of statistics on the Negro Leagues that has ever been accumulated.

The compiled statistics will be accessible at baseball-reference.com like the data from the 17,000-plus men who have played Major League Baseball. There were no formal or official statistics from the various Negro Leagues, but the numbers in the database represent league-sanctioned games from 1920-54 for which there is a viable box score. Exhibition games and other related events are not included.

“This treasure trove of information on the Negro Leagues fills in a major gap of the historical record of the game of baseball,” said Sean Forman, the founder of baseball-reference.com. “The research provided from the study, along with the technology that allows it to be published and accessed, will result in a greater understanding of the Negro Leagues, and ultimately more research on the subject.”

For more information, please visit www.baseballhall.org.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 3

The 1960’s was for the Baseball Hall of Fame, as it was for America in general, a decade of turmoil.  It featured some of the highest highs, and the lowest lows.  In 1962, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill into law, prohibited discrimination in public places, and made employment discrimination based on race illegal.

By 1965, America was also knee-deep in the jungles of a disastrous war in South-East Asia.  The middle ’60’s also witnessed the equally unforced (though not nearly as serious) error of inducting Eppa Rixey, Elmer Flick, Burleigh Grimes, Lloyd Waner into The Hall.

The hymn of our National Pasttime, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” was rapidly being eclipsed in American culture by The Beatles, “Revolution,”  The Doors, “Break On Through,” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking.”

As the decade sputtered to a soggy conclusion among the nation’s youth at Woodstock in upstate New York, just a few miles away two of America’s favorite sons, Stan Musial and Roy Campanella were immortalized in Cooperstown, New York.  Seldom had Americans witnessed so much turmoil in a single decade before or since.

In his induction speech in 1966, Ted Williams used the opportunity to call for the induction into The Hall of the great Negro League players of the first half of the 20th century.

America, and the Baseball Hall of Fame, would never be the same.

And yet, among Hall of Fame voters, some things would never change.

If you’ve come with me this far in the series, then you know that the purpose of this multi-part analysis is to find that elusive Golden Age of the Hall of Fame that lots of fans and pundits go on about, when supposedly only the best of the best were inducted.  This mythical quest has been, up to this point, fruitless.

Remember, we are not merely looking for players for whom a legitimate Hall of Fame-worthy case can be made.  We’re looking for only the true immortals, Mt. Olympus-worthy players.

In our two prior installments of this series we discovered, lo and behold, that at least a third of the first 66 players inducted  into The Hall between 1936-59 were not necessarily the Olympian superstars that later generations of fans believed that they must have been.

These choices have had long-term ramifications that continue to haunt Hall of Fame voting up to the present day.

So let’s take a closer look at the 25 players inducted into The Hall from 1961-69.

1961 — VC: Max Carey, Billy Hamilton

Clearly, in ’61, the Veteran’s Committee had a speed fetish.

Billy Hamilton was the only player for the Cow...

Image via Wikipedia

Billy Hamilton’s 914 career stolen bases currently rank third all-time, but was the record for 77 years until 39-year old Lou Brock broke it in 1978.  Hamilton led the league in steals five times,  in on-base percentage five times (including an absurd .521 OBP in 1894), in walks five times, and in runs scored four times.  His career OPS+ of 141 is also impressive.  Even including our modern era, Hamilton was probably one of the top three lead-off hitters of all-time.

Hamilton’s addition into The Hall was a rare, astute move by the Veteran’s Committee.

Max Carey was also a lead-off hitter and a prolific base-swiper.  His 738 steals currently ranks 9th all-time.  Overall, though, he was a lot more like Brett Butler than he was Billy Hamilton.  Carey never produced a WAR exceeding 5.4 in any given season.  He never finished higher than 11th in MVP voting.   His career OPS+ is just 107.  But he did lead the league in stolen bases ten times.

Although a case can be made for Max Carey’s election into the HOF, clearly, his career was not that of an elite superstar.

1962 — BBWAA: Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson. VC: Edd Roush

There are still some people out there who believe that the only reason that Jackie Robinson was elected into The Hall was that he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and that his career numbers don’t merit Hall inclusion.  In other words, he was elected as a symbol, not as a ballplayer.

In his relatively short ten year career, however, Robinson scored at least 99 runs in each of his first seven seasons.  He led the league twice in stolen bases.  He won a batting title.  He drove in over a hundred runs in 1949.  He had a career on-base percentage of .409.  His career OPS+ was 131.

Robinson drew 740 walks in his career against fewer than 300 strikeouts.  He had respectable power, slugging at least .500 in five seasons.  Also an asset in the field, he posted a career defensive WAR of 7.8.  He also led the N.L. in offensive WAR for four straight years, 1949-52.

His career WAR, 63.2, is quite high for someone who only played ten years.

Jackie Robinson belongs in The Hall both for his historic contributions to baseball as well as his very significant contributions on the field.

Bob Feller was also a legend in his own time.  By the age of 22, he was already a three-time 20 game winner.  Then he went off to fight in WWII, and missed three of his prime seasons.  Returning from the war, he went on to win 20 games three more times.  A serious power-pitcher, he led the league in strikeouts seven times.  His career record of 266-162 (notice he wasn’t a 300 game winner) and his career WAR of 66.0 (reaching at least 8.6 in three seasons) are the raw material of a Hall of Fame career.

Hall of famer Edd Roush led Cincinnati to the ...

Image via Wikipedia

Edd Roush had a spare “d” in his first name, helped the Reds defeat the White Sox in the 1919 “Black Sox” Series, won a pair of batting titles, and was a pretty darn good player.  His OPS+ of 126 is respectable, as is his 46.5 WAR, but it’s obvious the Veteran’s Committee didn’t upstage the BBWAA’s choices in 1962.

1963 — VC: John Clarkson, Elmer Flick, Sam Rice, Eppa Rixey

Clarkson, with an ERA+ of 134 and a WAR of 82, is definitely deserving.

Flick, like Clarkson, a 19th century player, is also solid. OPS+ 149.

Sam Rice is a bit of a stretch.  Career OPS+112 and 51 WAR is Johnny Damon territory.

Rixey pitched a long time (1912-33) for the Phillies and Reds, posting an respectable 51 career WAR and a mediocre 266-251 record.  He doesn’t seem to have been the best pitcher in his league in any of his 21 seasons, though he was very good for four or five of them.

1964 — BBWAA: Luke Appling. VC: Red Faber, Burleigh Grimes, Tim Keefe, Heinie Manush

Luke “Old Aches and Pains” Appling was a seven-time All Star who won two batting titles and struck out just 528 times in over 10,000 plate appearances.  Led A.L. in Offensive WAR in ’43 with a mark of 6.5.  A career WAR approaching 70, this infielder deserves his Hall recognition.

When the Veteran’s Committee gets frisky, it’s as ready and willing to please as a Texas high school cheerleader after a Friday night football game.  Thus, Faber, Grimes, Keefe and Manush were elected in one fell swoop.

Faber enjoyed success with the White Sox, winning 20+ games for three straight years in the early ’20’s, twice leading the league in ERA, ERA+, and complete games.  According to Baseball-Reference.com, the pitcher Faber is most closely comparable to is…Burleigh Grimes.  And Burleigh Grimes is close to Eppa Rixey, and Rixey is close to Hoyt, and Hoyt is close to… ah, but you get the point.

As you may have gathered by now, there really isn’t much point arguing that there is some sort of reasonable standard for pitchers as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned.  With a couple of 20-win seasons, and an overall winning record, you have as much chance as the next guy to make it into The Hall.  Timing, and not much else, appears to be everything as far as perceived Hall worthiness is concerned.

Keefe was a great 19th century pitcher with over 300 wins and a WAR above 80.  I’ll take ’em.

Heinie Manush, like so many players of his generation, hit for a high average (.330) but accumulated a relatively low career WAR (44.1) and a respectable, but not overwhelming OPS+ (121.)  I’ll trade you a Heinie Manush for a Zack Wheat, straight up.

1965 — VC: Pud Galvin

Tossed 72 complete games in 1883.  I’m not making that up.  One of only two 300-game losers in baseball history, the other being Cy Young, whom they named an important award after.  So that’s not a bad thing.  Galvin is an old-time immortal.

1966 — BBWAA: Ted Williams

Obviously, a true immortal.  2,021 walks against just 709 strikeouts.  Career OPS+ 190.  Career On-Base Percentage, .482 is still the best ever.  Missed five seasons to two wars, and still finished with a career WAR of 125.3. Greatest hitter ever.

1967 — BBWAA: Red Ruffing. VC:  Lloyd Waner

Ruffing, like Eppa Rixey before him, pitched for a long time, enjoyed four 20-win and two 20-loss seasons, and was never the best pitcher in his league in any given year.  But a career ERA+ 110 and WAR 53.6 are not generally indicative of greatness.

Lloyd Waner was an even worse choice.  See Lloyd Waner vs. Dale Murphy for more details.

1968 — BBWAA: Joe Medwick. VC: Kiki Cuyler, Goose Goslin

Joe “Ducky” Medwick was an excellent hitting left fielder for the Gas House Gang Cardinals of the 1930’s.  But he peaked by age 27, then began a slow descent into mere competence over the next several years, until finally retiring at age 36 in 1948.  He was the N.L. MVP in 1937.  Career OPS+ 134 is the same as Al Kaline and Paul Waner.  Reasonably good choice.

Please allow me to pay homage to the Book of Genesis for a moment:  Willie Keeler begat Hugh Duffy.  Hugh Duffy begat Earle Combs.  Earle Combs begat Zack Wheat.  Zack Wheat begat Edd Roush.  Edd Roush begat Lloyd Waner.  Lloyd Waner begat KiKi Cuyler.  KiKi Cuyler begat Harry Hooper, and on and on, a thin, sub-royal lineage that persists through generations of Hall voters, up to the present day.

Goose Goslin, one of two geese in the Hall of Fame, is deserving.  Career WAR 63 is pretty close to Al Simmons and Home Run Baker.  It would be wrong to keep him out.

1969 — BBWAA: Roy Campanella, Stan Musial. VC: Stan Coveleski, Waite Hoyt.

According to Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca in “A Moment in Time,” Campanella was always a little jealous of all the press and publicity Robinson received, but they did respect each other as players. Campy won three N.L. MVP awards, and helped lead the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only World Series title in 1955.  One of the top ten catchers in baseball history.  A car accident in 1957 left the 35-year old Campanella crippled for life.

Stan “The Man” Musial was a power hitter who also won an astonishing seven batting titles.  His 6,134 career total bases are second all-time to Hank Aaron.  Musial also won three MVP awards.  A class act and a true immortal.  Interesting to note, however, that he did not reach 500 home runs in his career, a fictitious standard, (along with 300 wins) that Hall voters continue to desperately hang onto as a substitute for actual statistical analysis.

The Veteran’s Committee vouched for Coveleski, and he’s a respectable choice.  Nice career ERA+ 128 is the same as Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson, though he’s not really in their class, of course.

Hoyt, born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., pitched for the Yankees, the Giants and a few other teams in his 21-year career, but his claim to fame is that he was considered the ace of the ’27 Yankees pitching staff.  Career ERA+ 112, 237 career wins, two 20-win seasons, and six World Series wins might remind some of Jack Morris.  The comparison is apt.  Neither of them belongs in The Hall of Fame.

So there you have it.  Hall voting in the ’60’s generally mirrors Hall voting in previous decades.

Out of the 25 players inducted into The Hall during this decade, 14 were very good picks, five more were perhaps acceptable, and six were pointless choices.  Therefore, the voters were reasonably successful in around 76% of their choices, which is similar to previous decades.   The mythical Golden Age of the Hall of Fame, then, did not exist in the 1960’s, despite some of the incredible talent inducted during that decade.

Now, because you’ve come this far with me, for your viewing pleasure, click on the youtube link below, and enjoy.

“A Moment In Time” – A Baseball Book Review

“A Moment in Time:  An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak and Grace,”  By Ralph Branca, with David Ritz.  Published by Scribner, New York.  2011.

How long could you live with a secret? Not just any secret, but the secret about how your life changed forever due to a conspiracy of epic proportions?

An image of Major League Baseball manager Leo ...

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And suppose you knew that the man who benefited from changing your life forever, for the worse, would benefit from doing so for the rest of his life?

Could you keep that a secret?

Remarkably, that’s what Ralph Branca did, until the recent publication of his brand new book, “A Moment In Time,” (coauthored with David Ritz.)

As one would expect, there is a thread of bitterness throughout this fascinating inside look at the Dodger’s clubhouse in the late 1940’s and into the early 1950’s.  Ralph Branca, who grew up a Giants fan watching Mel Ott play at the Polo Grounds, enjoyed his greatest triumphs pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

He would suffer his greatest defeat, however, at the hands of the team he once rooted for as a child.  In fact, the manager who orchestrated the sign-stealing scandal (which did not come to light until decades later), Leo Durocher, was Branca’s manager, whom Branca respected and admired, while Durocher managed the Dodgers before being sent packing to the Giants by Branch Rickey.

But long before Giants slugger Bobby Thomson hit what became known as ‘The Shot Hit ‘Round the World,” on the last day of the 1951 baseball season, Branca was a successful young pitcher with a cocky attitude playing on a legendary team in a historic era.  Branca relates early on in this heartfelt story about how the Dodgers as individuals, for example, treated Jackie Robinson.

We learn that PeeWee Reese, who would grow into one of Robinson’s staunchest defenders, was at first ambivalent and cool towards Robinson.  Branca himself, along with Gene Hermanski, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider, treated Robinson with respect, but several other players in the Dodger’s clubhouse did not.

Branca, of Italian heritage, (he was later surprised to learn that his mother was actually a Jew who converted to Catholicism because she thought her children would be better off) relates a moment early in his life when an educator dissuaded Branca from applying for college because of Branca’s ethnic heritage.

In those days, working class Italian-Americans were not considered college material.  No doubt this moment highly influenced his future empathy towards Robinson and the other “negro” players coming into the Majors in the late 1940’s.

Branca’s style throughout the book is direct, proud, articulate, and perceptive.  He has a knack for remembering all kinds of details, especially his own personal statistics, and how much money he got paid throughout his years as a baseball player.  But also, the details of conversations he had with Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, with his own brothers, and with the woman he courted and would later marry, Ann Mulvey.

Occasionally, it is obvious that he is his own biggest booster, but given the magnitude of the baseball scam played against him and his teammates by the Giants in 1951, one has to feel that he has every right at this point in his old age to say whatever he wants to say.

Branca relates, in almost excruciating detail, how the Dodgers slowly watched the 13 1/2 game lead they’d had on August 11th, slip away as the Giants made an incredible run to catch them on the last day of the season.  Now one outside of the Dodgers clubhouse, of course, knew at the time about the telescope the Giants had set up in center field at the Polo Grounds, which they would bring with them on the road as well.

But Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen, who replaced Leo Durocher, was so obsessed by Durocher’s reputation (as portrayed by Branca), that he made several dumb moves throughout the season.  The dumbest move of all has to be that when the Dodgers won the coin-toss to decide if they would open the three-game playoff series at home or on the road, Dressen chose to play the first game at Ebbett’s Field, thus allowing the Giants to have home field advantage for Game Two, and if necessary, Game Three as well.

Without going into the surprising details of how Branca first learned about the Giants cheating scandal a few years later in 1954, the final quarter of the book covers Branca’s reaction to this shocking revelation, how it affected his surprisingly long relationship with Bobby Thomson over the next few decades, and why he never chose to come forward with the information about this scandal himself.

Suffice to say that Branca is a man of tremendous personal integrity, amazing generosity of spirit and deep religious faith.

Branca’s baseball career did not last long, and he will be forever remembered as the pitcher who served up the Thomson home run in the playoff game in ’51, thereby handing the Giants the pennant that year.

But “A Moment In Time” also shows that a man is much more than the one episode he is fairly or unfairly remembered for. Baseball was lucky to have had a Ralph Branca as its “goat.”

Because any man who chooses to live with a dark secret so as not to hurt the other people in his life is truly a hero.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 6 – The Brooklyn Dodgers

The Brooklyn Dodgers have been extinct for fifty-three years now.

Yes, I am aware that there is a team out in L.A. that calls itself the Dodgers, and that they have been in existence for nearly as long as their original name-sake.  But the two versions of the Dodgers are as different from one another as Bob Marley, the comedian from Maine, and Bob Marley, the Reggae singer from Jamaica.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were baseball’s happy, lovable, birthday-party-of-a franchise.  Their Sym-phony band serenaded fans and players alike with a perpetual cacophony of off-key, tone-deaf music recalling  a time when baseball’s soul hadn’t yet been completely sucked dry by corporate avarice.

The L.A. Dodgers, on the other hand, are your well-to-do, late middle-aged uncle tooling around in an expensive convertible, trying to impress  a girl-friend half his age.

But the Brooklyn Dodgers were also an actual baseball team.  And, although theirs was largely a record of futility dating back to the days of Zach Wheat, by the late 1940’s,this was a team on the rise.

Their names, summoned from the stately pen of Roger Kahn, still evoke timeless awe in those who hear them:  Pete Reiser, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe, Clem Labine, and, of course, Jackie Robinson.  The Boys of Summer.

But one man, a right-fielder by trade, has sometimes gone overlooked among those who journey down memory lane all the way to Ebbet’s Field in Flatbush, N.Y.  His nickname… “The Reading Rifle.”

His name was Carl Furillo.

Outside of his baseball address in Brooklyn, N.Y., Furillo lived his entire life in Stony Creek Mills, PA, where he was born in 1922.  At the age of 24, he made his debut with the Dodgers, the team with whom he spent his entire 15 year career.

Although Furillo had already enjoyed seven productive seasons with Brooklyn, including identical 18 homer, 106 RBI campaigns in 1949-50, Carl Furill0’s Best Forgotten Season occurred in 1953.

At the age of 31, he won the N.L. batting title with a .344 mark.  His on-base percentage was .393, he slugged .580, and his OPS was .973 (fifth best in the league.)  His OPS+ was a career high 146, also good for fifth best in the N.L.

Furillo had 38 doubles, 21 homers and 92 RBI’s while striking out just 32 times all season.  He finished tied for 9th in MVP voting in 1953 with teammate Carl Erskine.  In fact, an astonishing seven Dodgers finished in the top 14 in MVP voting in 1953.  Furillo’s teammate, Roy Campanella won the award, and Duke Snider finished in 3rd place (although he had the highest WAR of any of the Dodgers at 9.5.)

Interestingly, Jackie Robinson, 12th place in the voting, had a slightly higher WAR than MVP winner Campanella (7.3 to 7.2.)

Furillo remained a productive player for the Dodgers for the next five years, hitting between .289 and .314 per season.

When the Dodgers moved to Chavez Ravine in L.A. in 1958, Furillo went with them.  He enjoyed his first year out west, batting .290 with 18 homers and 83 RBI’s.  But at the age of 36, his career was clearly winding down.

He finished his career with a .299 batting average, over a thousand RBI’s, and nearly 2,ooo hits.  He also led the N.L. in outfield assists twice, and he played in two All-Star games.

Furillo played his last game as a Dodger on May 7, 1960.

In a few months, a new young President would be elected, and a new era would dawn on the L.A. Dodgers.

Now, meet Joe Black.

Before there was Tony LaRussa and his coddled, one-inning specialist, there was Joe Black.

Joe Black, born in Plainfield, New Jersey,  made his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952 at the age of 28.  He had pitched well for a Negro League team, the Baltimore Elite Giants, for several years before arriving in Brooklyn.  His late arrival may indicate that although the dam holding back the flood of African-American talent had been severely eroded by 1952, it had not fully collapsed.

In 1952, Joe Black enjoyed one of the Best Forgotten Seasons of any Brooklyn Dodger.

He pitched in 56 games in his rookie season, tossing 142 innings, far more innings than modern relief pitchers are expected to hurl.  He finished 41 games, and his 15 saves were second best in the N.L.  These totals demonstrate how much the role of a relief pitcher has changed over the decades.  Black pitched whenever his manager felt like he needed him, not merely when a pre-determined inning number appeared on a scoreboard.

His 15-4 record, 2.15 ERA, and 1.00 WHIP were so impressive that Black not only won the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award, he finished third in the MVP voting.

After injuries decimated the Dodgers pitching staff shortly before the 1952 World Series began, Black was asked to start Game One of the World Series against the Yankees.  Black beat Allie Reynolds 4-2, becoming the first African-American to win a World Series game.  Black then started Games 4 and 7.  Although he lost both of them, he pitched very well in all three outings.

Strangely, however, this was Black’s only effective season in his major league career.  His WAR for 1952 was 4.0.  For his entire career, it was 3.4.  WAR is a cumulative stat, so this indicates that Black’s career after 1952 actually resulted in negative value until his retirement in 1957 at the age of 33.

It is a mystery as to why a career that began with so much promise went downhill so quickly and dramatically.  Black pitched just 414 innings in his entire career, finishing with a career record of 30-12, but his ERA after 1952 was never lower than 4.00 in any season.

Perhaps starting and working deep into three World Series games in seven days took their toll on his arm.

Although Joe Black’s 1952 season is largely forgotten today, it deserves to be remembered as one the Best Forgotten Seasons any Brooklyn Dodger ever produced.

Author’s Note:

This was my 50th blog-post.  I want to say thank you to all of you who have been reading along for the past several months.  I appreciate all the comments many of you have left for me, and I have enjoyed this experience even more than I thought I would.

So, once again, Thank You.

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