Monday, March 31, 2014

The Most Memorable All-Star Games--1940-1949

The 1941 All-Star Game provided one of the most dramatic finishes in history. Trailing, 2-1, in the top of the seventh at Detroit's Briggs Stadium, the NL jumped out in front on a 2-run homer by Pirates' shortstop Arky Vaughan. Vaughan smashed another 2-run clout an inning later to give the Senior Circuit a 5-2 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, the American League loaded the bases against right-hander Claude Passeau. Joe DiMaggio--the goat of two prior All-Star Games--hit a perfect double play ball to Eddie Miller at short that should have ended the game, but Billy Herman botched the relay and a run scored. In stepped Ted Williams. With the count at 2-1, Williams put the finishing touches on a day of misery for Passeau, lifting a towering drive that struck the facade of the stadium's third tier. His 3-run walk-off homer gave the AL a 7-5 win. Though overshadowed by Williams, Vaughan set several All-Star records during the game with most successive hits (3). He was also the first player to homer in consecutive innings and at-bats. The NL dugout was reportedly a "gloomy place" after the game. Cubs' slugger Bill "Swish" Nicholson smiled wanly and told reporters: "It's just another ball game."

In 1943, AL manager Joe McCarthy got most of the attention when he pulled off a bold managerial stunt. Criticized widely for using so many of his Yankee players during previous All-Star showdowns, he sat all six of his New York players for the entire game. Any Yankee fans among the crowd of 31,000-plus at Shibe Park in Philadelphia would have been sorely disappointed to see Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Bill Dickey confined to the bench. McCarthy's move ended up being highly unfortunate for pinstripers Johnny Lindell and Tiny Bonham. Neither would earn another All-Star selection. McCarthy got his point across nevertheless as the AL jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the fifth and hung on. "Don't think I had anything against my boys," said McCarthy after the game, "but we just didn't need them--did we?"

The 1946 affair featured a prodigious display of power from one of baseball's most gifted hitters--Ted Williams. "Teddy Ballgame" had a perfect day at the plate with a walk, two singles and a pair of homers. One of his blasts came during a famous match-up against Pirates' hurler Rip Sewell. Sewell had badly damaged his right foot in a hunting mishap several seasons earlier and had been forced to alter his mechanics on the mound. He added a blooper pitch to his repertoire, which was nicknamed the "eephus" (a variation of the Hebrew word for "nothing") by teammate Maurice Van Robays. The "eephus" was a soft toss with backspin that sailed high in the air on its way to the plate. No one had ever hit a homer off of the pitch before Williams. Sewell was in a two-out jam with two runners aboard in the eighth when Williams stepped up to the plate. Normally, the right-hander would only have used the "eephus" with the bases empty since it was so easy for runners to steal on it. But Sewell knew the fans wanted to see his quirky offering and had promised Williams before the game that he would use it if the two squared off. The first blooper was out of the strike zone. Williams fouled the second one off. The third time was a charm as the Red Sox slugger deposited the "eephus" into the right field bullpen at Fenway Park and laughed all the way around the bases. "That's the first homer ever hit off that pitch," said Sewell in a post-game interview, "and I still don't believe it."

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Most Memorable All-Star Games--1934-1939

During the 1930s, a slew of interesting events took place during the Midsummer Classic.

In 1934, Carl Hubbell of the Giants took the mound against a menacing assortment of AL sluggers. Master of the screwball, Hubbell carried the regal nickname of "King Carl" for his dominance of opponents. He got off to a shaky start as Detroit's Charlie Gehringer singled and Washington's Heinie Manush followed with a walk. Babe Ruth then strolled to the plate with a chance to blow the game wide open. Rising to the challenge, Hubbell struck him out on four pitches. Up next was Lou Gehrig--arguably the greatest clutch-hitter of all time. He swung through three of Hubbell's offerings and returned to his spot on the bench. But the AL threat was far from extinguished with Jimmie Foxx due to hit. Foxx had won consecutive MVP awards in '32/'33, launching 106 homers while collecting 332 RBIs in that span. Unfazed, Hubbell disposed of the A's big bopper on three pitches, retiring the side. Putting the finishing touches on a legendary performance, the crafty Giants' hurler fanned Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in the second inning before yielding a single to Yankee catcher Bill Dickey. Dickey wasn't going anywhere as his battery mate, Lefty Gomez, whiffed on three offerings. Years later, Hubbell confessed that Ruth was the only hitter in the bunch that he was actively trying to strike out. Hubbell was removed after the third inning with the NL sitting on a 4-0 lead. In his absence, the America League rallied for a 9-7 victory.

The 1936 affair is best remembered for a horrific performance by one of the game's most iconic figures. Playing in his rookie season, Joe DiMaggio ended up as the goat with an 0-for-5 performance at the plate. He stranded eight base runners in all and killed a promising AL rally in the seventh when he lined out with the bases loaded. In the top of the ninth, he had a chance to redeem himself. With two outs, a runner on second and the AL trailing, 4-3, he failed to deliver once again, flying out to second base. DiMaggio's defensive performance wasn't much better as he came up empty on a shoestring catch in the second inning, allowing a run-scoring triple to Gabby Hartnett. In the fifth, he bungled a single by Cubs' second baseman Billy Herman, allowing Herman to move up a base and eventually score. Fortunately for DiMaggio, there were 10,000 empty seats at Braves Field as fans stayed away, believing the game to be sold out.

In 1938,  a sloppy contest ended in a  4-1 NL victory. In the first inning, slick-fielding BoSox shortstop Joe Cronin allowed a grounder by Cubs' second-baseman Billy Herman to pass through his legs.Chicago's Stan Hack, who had opened the game with a single, moved to third and scored on a sacrifice by Cardinals' slugger Joe Medwick. Several innings later, the most astonishing series of miscues in All Star history took place. With the NL leading 2-0 in the seventh, Lefty Grove was summoned to pitch. AL skipper Joe McCarthy moved Jimmie Foxx to third to make room for Lou Gehrig. Frank McCormick, one of several Reds players who saw action that day, greeted Grove with a single. Leo Durocher came to the plate with instructions to lay down a sacrifice and ended up with the only "bunt homer" in All-Star history. Durocher pushed the ball down the third baseline. Gehrig was playing shallow and second baseman Charlie Gehringer failed to cover first. Foxx fielded the ball and threw to the unmanned bag. Not the fleetest of runners, McCormick motored home as right fielder Joe DiMaggio (in another forgettable All-Star moment) unleashed an errant throw that sailed far beyond the reach of teammate Bill Dickey at the plate. As legend has it, the ball ended up in the NL dugout, where coach Casey Stengel dropped it in a bucket of water and declared: "That's too hot to handle!" Durocher scored, giving the NL an airtight lead.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Most Memorable All-Star Games--1933

An Annual Tradition is Born

In 1933, Chicago was hosting a World's Fair in celebration of the city's one-hundredth anniversary. Arch Ward, editor of the Chicago Tribune, suggested that a "Game of the Century" should take place, pitting the best players from each league against each other. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis liked the idea and arrangements were made for fans to provide "advisory" votes to assemble the rosters. John McGraw--recently retired from his long tenure as Giants skipper--was appointed manager of the National League. Connie Mack--in his thirty-third season at the A's helm--was an obvious choice to pilot the junior circuit. Using the choices of fans as a "guide," Mack and McGraw made the selections.

The game drew concerns from many inside the baseball establishment. In addition to the risk of injury to players and the cost of travel, the idea of one league establishing supremacy over the other prompted opposition from various sources. Despite those objections, the exhibition was tremendously popular with fans. More than forty seven thousand spectators squeezed into Comiskey Park on a Thursday afternoon to see one of the most star-studded showdowns in history. The revenue generated from the gate receipts totaled more than $50,000--a significant sum in the Depression Era.

The game featured fifteen future Hall of Famers, including some of the biggest names of all time such as Lou Gehrig, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx and, of course, Babe Ruth. Cardinals' left-hander Wild Bill Hallahan, who got the start for the NL on the strength of his 10-4 record, remarked years later: "We wanted to see the Babe. Sure, he was old and had a big waistline, but that didn't make any difference. We were on the same field as Babe Ruth." At thirty-nine years of age, the "Bambino" had slowed down considerably, but he could still hit.  In the third inning, following a walk to Detroit's Charlie Gehringer, Ruth smashed a homer to deep right field, giving the AL a lead that would hold up.

With Senators' ace General Crowder on the mound in the sixth, the NL broke through for a pair of runs on a triple by Cubs' hurler Lon Warneke and a solo homer by Cardinals' second baseman Frankie Frisch. Warneke's drive was reportedly misplayed by Ruth, who was really beginning to show his age defensively. Lefty Grove came on in the seventh and pitched three scoreless frames to nail down a 4-2 win for the American League. There were no pitch counts in those days and hurlers were often left on the mound for three or more innings at a time in the early All-Star games.

The American League dominated the Midsummer Classic between 1933 and 1942, winning seven of ten meetings. The National League became an unstoppable force later on, winning eleven straight showdowns between 1972 and 1982.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Best Pitching Duos in History (Part X--1990-1999)

Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux/ Atlanta Braves (1993-1999)

A left-hander, Glavine made a living off of painting the corners and expanding the strike zone. He was a 20-game winner on five occasions--all with the Braves. Extremely durable, he led the league in starts six times. He won two Cy Young Awards and finished among the top five in voting four other times. With 305 career wins, he was a lock for the Hall of Fame in 2014. Another attribute that may have put him over the top was his hitting. Glavine was a Silver Slugger recipient four times and compiled a .289 average in '96.

Maddux was among the greatest pitchers of the 90s and perhaps of all time, winning at least 15 games in seventeen consecutive seasons. He captured four straight Cy Young Awards from '92-'95 in addition to four ERA titles (though not in succession). Aside from Jim Kaat, no other hurler has come close to matching Maddux's record for defensive excellence. By the time he retired, he had eighteen Gold Gloves in his collection. Interestingly, Maddux threw softer rather than harder when he was in a jam. He had one of the best circle changes in the majors. He was elected to the Hall in 2014 alongside his former teammate.

Based on the stat-line below, many would agree that Maddux and Glavine were perhaps the greatest pitching duo in modern history (at least during the pitch-count era). 

                                          1993        1994        1995        1996        1997       1998        1999
Greg Maddux                       20-10       16-6         19-2        15-11       19-4        18-9        19-9
Tom Glavine                         22-8         13-9         16-7        15-10       14-7        20-6       14-11

Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson/ Baltimore Orioles (1995-1999)

A right-hander, Mussina was one of the Orioles' top pitchers from 1992-'99, reaching the 15-win threshold six times. He led the league in '95 with 19 victories while additionally pacing the loop in shutouts. In '92, his .783 winning percentage was tops in the AL. "Moose's" best pitch was a knuckle curve--a standard curve thrown with bent fingers to allow for a better grip, tighter spin and increased movement. A five-time All-Star, he won six Gold Gloves and finished among the top ten in Cy Young voting eight times. During the second half of his career, he spent nearly a decade with the Yankees and retired on a high note after finally winning 20 games in 2008.

Erickson established himself at age 23 with a 20-8 season in Minnesota. He followed with horrible efforts in '93/'94, losing a league-high 19 games in the former campaign. His ERA stood at 5.95 when he was traded to the Orioles in July of '95. The change of scenery was an instant cure as he went 9-4 the rest of the way and lowered his ERA by over 100 points. Four more successful campaigns followed. From '96-'99, he worked 220-plus innings and the workload caught up with him. After '99, he was never terribly effective again.

                                                                1995          1996         1997          1998          1999
Mike Mussina                                            19-9           19-11        15-8           13-10        18-7
Scott Erickson                                            9-4*          13-12        16-7           16-13        15-12

*--Erickson did not arrive in Baltimore until July

Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser/Cleveland Indians (1995-1997)

In his early days, Nagy was a star pitcher for Team USA, helping the squad to a Gold Medal at the Seoul Olympics in '88. The right-handed Nagy was Cleveland's Iron Man, never missing a start from Oct. 3, 1993 through May 16, 2000. In that remarkable span, he won at least 15 games in six consecutive seasons. He was removed from the rotation when he developed bone chips in his elbow. He pitched a few more years, but was never effective again.

Hershiser is best known for his long stint with the Dodgers and his miraculous '88 season. During that storied campaign, he led the NL in wins (23), shutouts (8) and complete games (15) and finished third with an ERA of 2.26. He also set the record for consecutive scoreless innings with 59. He continued his success in the playoffs that year, capturing MVP honors in the NLCS and World Series. At seasons' end, he became the only hurler to win both of those accolades along with a Cy Young Award. He was thirty-six years-old when he joined th Indians in '95, but still had a few good years left in him, winning 13 or more games in four of five seasons with the Tribe. His overall record in Cleveland was 69-43.

                                                                           1995               1996               1997
Charles Nagy                                                       16-6                17-5                15-11
Orel Hershiser                                                      16-8                15-9                14-8

Andy Pettitte and David Cone/ New York Yankees (1997-1999)

Pettitte had a variety of pitches in his arsenal, among them a slider, curve, change and cutter. He kept runners close to the bag with his deceptive move to first (which bordered on a balk at times). He executed 100 successful pickoffs in his career. Among the most productive left-handers in Yankee history, he won more than 200 games in pinstripes (256 overall). He was a member of the fabled "Core Four," which included other home grown stars Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Together, they won five World Series rings.

Cone had a breakthrough season in 1988, posting a 20-3 record and 2.22 ERA. He captured a Cy Young Award with the Royals in '94. Two years later, he suffered a career-threatening aneurysm in his shoulder and made a successful comeback. Cone used a split-fingered fastball, slider and a curve. A finesse pitcher, his offerings had dramatic movement and his high pitch counts prevented him from going deep into games at times. In '97, he ended up with eleven no decisions and in '99 ten more. His earned run averages were more than economical and he could easily have won 15 or more games in either campaign had things turned out differently. He authored his personal masterpiece in '99--a perfect game against the Expos on Old Timer's Day at Yankee Stadium.

                                                                             1997               1998               1999
Andy Pettitte                                                          18-7                16-11             14-11
David Cone                                                             12-6                 20-7               12-9

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Best Pitching Duos in History (Part IX--1980-1989)

Welcome to the 1980s: era of free agency, pitch counts and players strikes.With those three factors in place, I found it extremely challenging to find pitching tandems that remained effective for more than two seasons at a time. (I have tried to stick with a "three-year rule" since I started this feature a couple of months ago.)  Though the '80s were not as fruitful as previous decades, I did find a handful of dynamic duos. They are as follows:

Dan Petry and Jack Morris/ Detroit Tigers (1982-1985)

Morris has received a lot of support for the Hall of Fame in recent years, peaking at 67.7% of the vote in 2013. There are several factors working against him--his lifetime 3.90 ERA and his tendency toward wildness for instance. But no one would disagree with the fact that Morris was among the greatest hurlers in Tiger history. Between 1979 and 1990, he won at least 15 games ten times for Detroit. He led the league in complete games and strikeouts once apiece. A big game pitcher, he captured World Series MVP honors in '91, going 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 3 starts against the Braves.

Petry is a little known right-hander who carried the less than intimidating nickname of "Peaches." He hit his peak between 1980 and 1985, winning at lest 10 games every year for a Tiger club that quietly snuck into contention. A durable workhorse, Petry tossed well over 200 innings in four straight seasons, leading the league with 38 starts during the '83 campaign. It put undue stress on his young arm, which finally gave out on him.

                                                                       1982            1983            1984            1985
Jack Morris                                                       17-16          20-13           19-11           16-11
Dan Petry                                                         15-9            19-11            18-8            15-13


Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling/ New York Mets (1984-1988)

Gooden started his career with a bang, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in '84 and a Cy Young Award the following year. He led the league in strikeouts both seasons, earning the nickname "Dr. K". Notoriously fond of the high life, Gooden's incessant partying eventually derailed his career. There was a moderately happy ending as George Steinbrenner took him into the Yankee fold during the late-90s. He tossed a no-hitter in May of '96.

A right-hander, Darling was among a handful of Yale alumni to find success in the big leagues. Handsome and articulate, he was one of the Mets' highest profile players during the 1980s and a key reason for the club's Series victory in '86. In the Fall Classic that year, he compiled a 1.53 ERA against the Red Sox in 3 starts. Using a split-fingered and cut fastball, he won 136 games during his career.

                                                          1984            1985            1986            1987            1988
Dwight Gooden                                    17-9              24-4            17-6             15-7            18-9
Ron Darling                                         12-9              16-6            15-6             12-8            17-9

Bruce Hurst and Roger Clemens/ Boston Red Sox (1986-1988)

The career of Roger Clemens can be divided into two parts: the era during which he hit his natural peak and the years in which he used steroids to regain his previous form. The right-hander's natural peak came between 1986 and 1992, when he won no fewer than 17 games and captured four ERA titles. At some point after that, he started juicing. Though Clemens has repeatedly denied the claims, there are too many accusations to ignore and nothing else adequately explains the superhuman stats he put up during his late-thirties/early- forties in the wake of a noticeable decline.

Hurst was a big left-hander who had a forkball, slider and curve in his repertoire. He hit his stride between '86 and '92, winning at least 14 games five times before injuries and age slowed him down. He was at his best when it counted most. In seven postseason games, he posted a handsome 2.29 ERA. He is among the most successful Mormon players in history.

                                                                                 1986              1987               1988
Roger Clemens                                                          24-4                20-9               18-12
Bruce Hurst                                                               13-8               15-13               18-6

Bob Welch and Dave Stewart/ Oakland A's (1988-1990)

Welch had many good seasons with the Dodgers and A's. A thin right-hander with a dramatic leg kick, he enjoyed his peak years between 1980 and 1990, winning 14 or more games eight times. He led the league in starts, shutouts and winning percentage once apiece. His greatest effort came in 1990 with Oakland, when he posted a stellar 27-6 record, guiding the club to its third straight World Series berth.

Stewart had six unremarkable seasons before the A's rescued him from the scrap heap in '86. He became their most reliable pitcher with four consecutive 20-win campaigns. After two mediocre seasons in '91 and '92, his career seemed to be more or less over. That prognosis proved to be premature as he won 12 games for Toronto in '93 and was MVP of the ALCS that year. Known for his explosive fastball, he carried the nickname of "Smoke."  

                                                                                1988               1989                1990
Dave Stewart                                                              21-12              21-9                22-11
Bob Welch                                                                 17-9                17-8                27-6