Featured

New Book Project In the Works

Hello all! Hope everyone had/is having a good holiday season!

As has been the case for the past year, I’ve been a bit bogged down with other projects which has kept me from posting as much here. I’ve recently considered writing about the current state of the Cubs, but that’s a sad road I’d rather not travel at this moment in time.

Rather, I’ll just announce a new project that is underway.

I’m compiling some of the greatest hits of this here site, and adding a few new tidbits for inclusion in a little book. I’m hoping to have this ragtag collection of baseball essays out sometime this coming spring, 2021.

Title, release info, and chapter teasers forthcoming.

Thanks all, Happy New Year!

Featured

Sisler Sizzles in Final Big League Win

Normally, a tilt between the fifth and seventh-place teams with just two weeks remaining in the season wouldn’t be grounds for excitement, much less remarkableness.

On Sunday, September 17, 1916 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis however, there was a game that was thoroughly exciting. It was also quite remarkable.

On this day, “Gorgeous” George Sisler of the home team Browns out-dueled the great Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators 1-0 for the final win of his pitching career.

But wait, isn’t Sisler a Hall of Fame first basemen? Yes, he is. But like several other ballplayers of that era, notably Babe Ruth and Smoky Joe Wood, Sisler enjoyed some success on the hill, albeit in a smaller capacity, comparatively.

George Sisler | Sisler's 1922 season — during which he batted .420, hit  safely in a then-record 41 con… | Famous baseball players, Baseball star,  Cardinals baseball
George Sisler, early 1920s

Sisler started just 12 games with 28 appearances on the mound in his 15-year MLB career, compiling a mark of 5-6 with a 2.35 ERA over 111 innings pitched. Included in those outings were nine complete games, three saves, and one shutout – coming against Johnson, no less. He started three games for his Browns in ’16, completing all of them, with a record of 1-2 and an ERA of an even 1.00. These pitching marks went alongside a strong offensive campaign for the 23-year old in which he hit .305 with 11 triples, 76 RBI and 34 steals.

His final, and lone pitching victory of 1916 was a dandy.

In a game late in the season with both teams long out of pennant contention, the young Sisler took the bump opposite the Big Train himself. In an otherwise meaningless contest, the two pitchers locked horns in an epic standoff. The solitary run of the game crossed the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning. Browns center fielder Armando Marsans drew a walk by Johnson and was shortly thereafter singled home by catcher Grover Hartley. It was the only threat the Browns mustered all day, as Johnson was his typical brilliant self, scattering four hits while striking out eight. One of his two walks on the day, that to Marsans, would be the difference in the game.

For his part, Sisler allowed six Senators hits, while walking two and striking out six in a game that took just one hour, forty-seven minutes.

Although this was the last time Sisler would throw a complete game victory, it was not the first time he did so against Walter Johnson. Almost a year earlier to the day, on August 29, 1915, Sisler went the distance in a 2-1 victory over Johnson and the Senators, in a contest that was also at Sportsman’s Park and made famous by a brilliant eighth-inning execution of the hidden ball trick.

The St. Louis Browns would finish 79-75 in 1916, good enough for fifth place in the eight-team American League. The Washington Senators ended up 7th, with a mark of 76-77.

Sisler made just six more pitching appearances in his career after the Johnson shutout. He would go on to be the greatest player in Browns history and one of the best first basemen of his era. He finished with a lifetime batting average of .340, hit over .300 in 13 of his 15 MLB seasons, was the 1922 MVP and won batting titles in 1920 and 1922, hitting over .400 each time.

An excellent hitter, baserunner and defensive player, Sisler was not surprisingly part of the inaugural class at Cooperstown. But notching two of five career pitching wins against Walter Johnson, hurling the full nine each time, deserves a doff of the cap too.

Sources:

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sislege01.shtml

https://radbournsrevenant.com/2017/09/17/the-curious-case-of-gentleman-george/

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA191508290.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/AL/1916.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA191609170.shtml

https://baseballhall.org/discover/inside-pitch/sisler-bests-johnson-in-epic-pitchers-duel

Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/452752568771330267/

The AAGBBL Turns on the Lights at Wrigley

Baseball is the oddest game of numbers, dates, funny hops and bizarre coincidences.

9 August, 1988

The Chicago Cubs earn a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets in the first official night game at Wrigley Field — except it wasn’t supposed to be the first. It just became the first official completed night game there. Sort of.

8 August, 1988

On a windy and stormy evening, a game between the Cubs and visiting Philadelphia Phillies was called midway through the fourth inning after a lengthy rain delay. Mother Nature had other plans for the would-be first official night game at Wrigley Field — only that it was considered the first professional night game at Wrigley wasn’t exactly true either.

For the actual first pro game under the lights at Clark & Addison, you have to journey back to July 1, 1943.

On that night, an All Star game of the All-American Girls Base Ball League (AAGBBL), then in its inaugural season and long before being immortalized by the smash hit film A League of Their Own, first graced the ivy in the twilight.

Night games in professional baseball began in 1935 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. On May 24 of that year, the Phillies ventured across the Ohio River for a late-spring matchup against the Reds. In a grand ceremony overseen by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, night baseball was officially underway. MLB teams began adding lights to their ballparks over the next several years, including the Cubs, but the events of December 7, 1941 changed their north side installation. The Cubs were set to have night games beginning in the 1942 season, but the day after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, the Cubs donated all the steel and useful parts of the lights to the ensuing war effort. Despite a lot of back and forth for the next several years, the Cubs still wouldn’t play a night game until nearly five decades later.

Night baseball did happen at Wrigley Field, however, courtesy of the AAGBBL (before the name was changed prior to the 1944 season to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL) (1). For the occasion, portable lights were placed “behind home plate, first base, and third base.” (2).

The first season of the AAGBBL featured four teams, playing standard baseball rules but using a 12-inch softball to create a sort of hybrid-style game. While the first official AAGPBL All Star Game wouldn’t occur until 1946, the league’s stars were assembled on this forgotten July night in ’43 for a special contest — on nearly the 10 year anniversary of the first MLB All Star Game, which was held at Chicago’s other legendary ball yard, Comiskey Park.

The two 1943 AAGBBL All Star teams consisted of combined rosters of the Rockford Peaches and South Bend Blue Sox on one side, and the Racine Belles and Kenosha Comets on the other.

The game itself was the headline event of the evening, and the Wisconsin squad blanked the Illinois-Indiana group by a tally of 16-0. The opener featured a softball game by the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps), wherein Fort Sheridan defeated Camp Grant 11-5.

Researcher Jay Feldman acquired some AAGBBL player feedback on the contest.

“The lights weren’t all that great, but we were used to that — we had to play with whatever we had,” said Shirley Jameson of the Kenosha Comets. “Besides, just the fact that we were playing in Wrigley Field was enough. We’d have done it whether it was light or dark, because we were all on Cloud Nine.” (3).

July 1, 1943 box score
Box score from the July 1, 1943 AAGBBL All Star Game from the July 2 edition of the Kenosha Evening News

 

Center fielder Betsy “Sock ‘Em” Jochum of the South Bend Blue Sox went about the game as usual. “I didn’t realize at the time that they didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field,” she said. “I just thought those lights were there all the time. We showed up for the game, the lights were on, and we played. (3).

The league returned to Wrigley Field a year later, once again using portable lights, when on July 18, 1944 the now-named AAGPBL played a twi-night doubleheader to benefit the Red Cross. (2).

These overlooked night contests further signify the remarkable role these women played in not only keeping baseball going during the war years, but planting the seeds for a significant cultural impact that would be felt for decades to come.

Oh, and speaking of those bizarre coincidences, A League of Their Own debuted on July 1, 1992 – which was 49 years later, to the day, of when the AAGBBL became the first professional group to play ball under the lights at the friendly confines.

 

 

 

Notes and sources

  1. https://www.aagpbl.org/history/league-history
  2. https://baseballhall.org/discover/1943-aagpbl-all-star-game-played-under-lights-at-wrigley-field
  3. https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-1-1943-all-american-girls-play-first-game-under-the-lights-at-wrigley-field/ (article appearing in “Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison, (SABR 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf)

https://www.aagpbl.org/history/league-historyhttps://chicagology.com/baseball/wrigleylights/

Image Source:

https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-1-1943-all-american-girls-play-first-game-under-the-lights-at-wrigley-field/ (image originally from the Jul 2, 1943 edition of the Kenosha Evening News.)

 

 

Forgotten Silence: 1917 World Series Champion White Sox No-Hit Twice In a Row

The Chicago White Sox enjoyed a banner season in 1917, one of the best in franchise history.

The pale hosers from the south side led the league in attendance, finished with a sterling record of 100-54 to take the American League pennant, and then went on to defeat the powerful New York Giants four games to two in the World Series.

But it was a rather rocky start for Commy’s crew when they found themselves with just an 11-10 mark on May 6, two and a half games back early in a season that was rife with promise.

Worse yet, the formidable White Sox batsmen had just been inexplicably no-hit for the second consecutive day by the St. Louis Browns.

Sox skipper Clarence “Pants” Rowland took his squad southwest on what was originally a four-game series at venerable Sportsman’s Park against the Browns, but the Saturday-Wednesday tilt was extended to six games to make up for two earlier rainouts. As such, doubleheaders were played on Sunday and Tuesday.

Sportsman's Park, 1931 | Preservation Research Office
Sportsman’s Park in the glory days

The series opened on Saturday, May 5th with a little slap of controversy. Famed Sox hurler Eddie Cicotte took the bump against Ernie Koob, a young lefty from Michigan who only played four major league seasons, though he generated a solid 3.13 lifetime ERA. The next day’s Chicago Tribune erroneously printed a headline stating the Sox were one-hit, the result of the official scorer at Sportsman’s Park initially recording a hit on what seemed like an obvious error in the opening frame. 

With one out in the top of the first, White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver smacked a grounder toward Browns second baseman Ernie Johnson. The 29-year old, who came up with the White Sox in 1912 and would re-join them from 1921-23, was making his first Browns start for the nicked up Del Pratt, considered among the best second-sackers in the American League. Johnson played a bad hop in the muddy field correctly, keeping the ball in front of him with plenty of time to get Weaver at first. But the mucked-up ball slipped from his hand on the attempted throw to hall of fame first baseman George Sisler, and rolled behind him – a clear error. How anyone could have thought otherwise is a mystery, but somehow the recorded play was confused, ruled a hit, and newspaper accounts followed. After the game, the official scorer, John Sheridan, sought input from the umpires, coaches and some players. The majority felt the play was in fact an error, and the official record was changed. This prompted the Baseball Writers Association of America to file a protest with both leagues, and set forth a mandate that the official scorer cannot reverse a decision unless a clear violation of the rules was evident.

In the end, the reversed ruling stood. Cicotte battled to the distance, allowing just five hits and striking out three in the effort. Koob out-dueled the would-have-been hall of famer though, and his gem became the first Browns no-hitter at Sportsman’s Park.

As the inaccurate headline landed on doorsteps in Chicago on Sunday, May 6, the first of two doubleheaders in the Sox/Browns extended series was getting underway in the ‘Lou.

In the first game, the St. Louis offense peppered Sox starter Reb Russel for five runs in 3.2 innings and never looked back. Though the Sox would do some makeup damage against Browns pitcher Allan Sothoron, the gap couldn’t be closed and St. Louis wound up 8-4 victors. Bob Groom grabbed the six-out save for Fielder Jones’ Brownies, throwing two innings of no-hit ball.

He wasn’t done yet – not by a long shot.

The Belleville, Illinois native had a fair 10-year career, all in the American League with the Senators, Browns and Indians, except for a two-year stint with the short-lived Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers. The career 119-game winner compiled a 3.10 ERA with 157 complete games in 288 starts – nothing to scoff at.

Groom took the mound in game two, and picked up right where he left off in the opener, going the distance in a 3-0 no-hitter while striking out four.

Opposing him was Joe Benz of the White Sox, a veteran back end righty who only appeared in 19 games in the ’17 season. Benz was stout on this day though, going the full contest, but allowing three earned runs on eight scattered hits.

For Groom, the 11 innings of no-hit ball on the same day was a career highlight, adding to the oddity of no-hitting the potent White Sox twice on consecutive days.

The decent spring start for the Browns wouldn’t last though, as they trudged to a 57-97 record, good for seventh place in the eight-team American League.

The Sox on the other hand, bounced back rather quickly, taking the next three games in the series to be a little brighter-eyed at 14-10 and just 1.5 games back. They would race on from there to the century mark in wins, capturing the flag and then a ring at season’s end.

 

 

Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHW/1917-schedule-scores.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA191705050.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA191705061.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA191705062.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/groombo01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/benzjo01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/johnser01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/SLB/1917-schedule-scores.shtml

https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/may-5-1917-second-thought-its-no-hitter-ernie-koob

http://nationalpastime.com/

 

Photo Credit: http://preservationresearch.com/north-st-louis/sportsmans-park-1931/

 

 

One More Trip ‘Round the Bags: Cravath’s Cunning in New York

1920 was a fascinating year in baseball.

The deadball era was over, and before season’s end the world would see some extraordinary happenings: Eight members of the Chicago White Sox suspended by their owner just before capturing their second consecutive pennant, sluggers like Babe Ruth redefining power numbers and the first and only death to occur from an injury in a major league game.

The roaring twenties got off to a raucous start.

The official beginning of the live ball era also promised to bring about a lot of change. It had to for the good of the game, particularly in the wake of rumors that the 1919 World Series was tainted. The owners had to ensure that the public’s trust in the integrity of the game would keep going – along with the turnstiles at the ballparks.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Including some timely strategy by managers – or more specifically, player-managers like Clifford Carlton “Gavvy” Cravath of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Before Babe Ruth, there was Gavvy Cravath | Escondido Grapevine
Gavvy Cravath, circa 1920

Cravath was a solid player. The 11-year veteran amassed a career slash of .287/.380/.478 and was in the final year of his career in 1920 where he also assumed managerial duties of the hapless Phillies. His career as a skipper wasn’t much to gloat about though, having taken over for Jack Coombs in 1919 and continuing through 1920 where the Phillies finished in last place both years.

But early on in the ’20 season, there was a spark of promise from the Baker Bowl dwellers. After splitting the season-opening series in Brooklyn, the Phils traveled to the Polo Grounds for three games against the powerful John McGraw-led New York Giants. After dropping the first game 2-1, Philadelphia sent future hall of famer Eppa Rixey to the bump in game two to face the Giants’ Rube Benton, coming off one of the better seasons of his career in ’19.

A terrific duel ensued on a frigid April 20, with Rixey and Benton blanking each other’s batsmen through seven frames.

Singles by Dots Miller and Ralph Miller sparked the Phillies to begin their half of the eighth. With two men on, the 39-year old Cravath, in a surprise move not unlike the (fictional) Indians’ Jake Taylor’s genius use of general manager Roger Dorn 70 years later, inserted himself as a pinch hitter for Rixey. The strategy was bold, given that the Giants had only touched the cunning lefty for one hit.

Cravath, by this time in his career no stranger to tense situations, had other options on his bench. But something struck a chord of confidence in him in this circumstance. The gamble worked, as he unloaded on a regrettable Benton pitch and deposited it deep into the left field bleachers, giving his club a 3-0 lead they would not relinquish. It was the final round-tripper that Cravath would hit, the 119th of his career. George Smith emerged from the Phillies’ bullpen to record the two inning save and seal the heroic deed for the road team.

The tightly contested game took just one hour and twenty-five minutes.

Cravath’s cronies would win the next day as well, to snag two out of three against the Giants, who fell to a bewildering 1-4. The Phillies then followed that up with a win in their home opener against the Dodgers to sit at 4-2 and the Philly nationals were enjoying some signs of early life. But that’s where the turbulence began in earnest. A streaky season ensued, resulting in a 62-91 last-place finish and the end of Cravath’s big league career.

The Giants had a much more successful campaign at 86-68, finishing in second place, seven games behind the pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/PHI/1920.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/cravaga01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NY1/NY1192004200.shtml

Photo credits: https://escondidograpevine.com/2019/10/03/before-babe-ruth-there-was-escondidos-gavvy-cravath/

What’s In a Name, Anyway?

Staring out my home office window at the newly snow-covered ground on this frigid March day, I wonder to myself: Just how the hell did we get here?

Oh yeah, the thing.

That thing that we don’t need to mention because we all know what the thing is that’s affecting everyone on the globe.

Instead of getting ready for the MLB Opening Day in a few days, we’re all stuck working at home, trying to find a store that has toilet paper, and practicing social distancing for the next couple weeks, at least.

The thing is not good.

So with no new baseball news, and after being bogged down with work and life and therefore only able to post a few times here in recent months (sorry, all), I figured why not have some mindless fun: Baseball names.

There’s been some real laughers, head-scratchers and oddballs over the years. I’m not talking about the Johnny Dickshot’s, Dick Pole’s and Rusty Kuntz’s of the world – those fellas have been mentioned to death. Instead, I thought it’d be kind of enjoyable to list some of the lesser-known ballplayers of times past who carried strange, if unfortunate monikers.

And for whatever reason, a lot of these guys played for the Phillies…

Close Up Photography of Coors Light Beer Near Black Baseball Mitts

Cannonball Titcomb. Pitcher from 1886-1890 with several teams. Not to be confused with Cannonball Crane, another pitcher of that era, or the hit song by the boy band Menudo in 1984.

Pussy Tebeau. This guy’s career spanned just two games in 1895 but he was productive, going 3 for 6 with three runs, an RBI and a stolen base. Ridiculous name.

Lil Stoner. Unclear if he liked the green stuff, but he compiled an unremarkable 50-58 record from 1922-1931 pitching for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies.

Mysterious Walker. A multi-sport athlete and coach at several colleges, he went 7-23 through parts of five MLB seasons from 1910-1915, with multiple teams.

Pete LaCock. Enough said.

Razor Shines. First baseman for the Montreal Expos during parts of the 1983-87 seasons. Later became a promising minor league manager, his last stint coming in 2015.

Chicken Hawks. No relation to Lincoln Hawk(s) of Hawk & Son Trucking Co., this dashing gent debuted with the New York Yankees in 1921 and hit .288 in 41 games. After a solid 4-year tour in the minors, he reemerged to MLB with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1925 and hit .322 in 105 games while breaking up multiple no-hitters and shutouts. He bounced around the minors until retiring in 1931.

Tony Suck. This Chicago native was a catcher, playing parts of the 1883 and 1884 seasons. He wasn’t that good.

Wonderful Terrific Monds. Whether his name was the inspiration for Larry Tremendous-Ridiculous is unknown.

Losing Pitcher Mulcahy. Pitching for, you guessed it, the Phillies from 1935-40 and again from 1945-46 before finishing up with the Pirates in ’47, Hugh Mulcahy earned his unfortunate nickname from having never pitched a season where he won more games than he lost.

Harry Cheek. Another guy who only played two games in his career, but went 2 for 4 with a run for who else – the Phillies – in 1910.

Phenomenal Smith. Playing for multiple teams from 1884-1891, he amassed a not-so-phenomenal record of 54-74.

 

 

 

Sources: https://www.ranker.com/list/the-best-baseball-names-of-all-time/sesel88

http://www.baseball-reference.com

 

Photo Credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photography-of-coors-light-beer-near-black-baseball-mitts-168567/

 

 

 

 

The Lookout Shot for Gray

Greetings, all. It’s been over two months since my last post, as work and a myriad of other projects continue to take precedence (and somewhat of a shortage of ideas, I admit. Wait, a shortage of baseball stuff to write about? Nah, that’s only an excuse. Digressing now.) On this final day of 2019, I figure it is a good time to pen something – another odd coincidence in over 150 years’ worth of them in our game.

“If I could teach myself how to play baseball with one arm, I sure as hell could handle a rifle.”

– Pete Gray, 1941

Pete Gray was no stranger to challenges.

A right arm amputee following a childhood accident in 1923, Gray was told repeatedly throughout his life that he would never make it as a professional ballplayer. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was told he’d never be a soldier, either.

Breaking into professional baseball in 1942, due, in part to the manpower shortage from the war effort, Gray began to produce immediately. While it may have been easy for some to say he was playing due not only to the limit of available players – but also to boost ticket sales – he was in reality a lightning fast base runner with excellent outfield range. He was more than a capable hitter as well, amassing a lifetime minor league average of .308.

He eventually broke into the majors in 1945 with the St. Louis Browns, hitting .218 in 77 games. During those years, Gray bashfully became considered something of a stateside hero. The continuation of baseball served to be an important boost to national morale, and something for the troops overseas to hold onto, and Gray was a not-so-small part of that.

1944 was a big year for Pete. As a member of the Class A Memphis Chicks, he was awarded MVP of the Southern Association, after a season in which he batted .333 with 68 stolen bases. He was also recognized as the “Most Courageous Athlete” by the Philadelphia Sports Writers, to which he immediately replied with “Boys, I can’t fight, and there is no courage about me. Courage belongs on the battlefield, not the baseball diamond.”

Stoic almost to a fault, Gray would still achieve one singular personal milestone that season.

Visiting Chattanooga, TN to take on the rival Lookouts at historic Engel Stadium, this was to be a highlight, if overlooked, day for Pete Gray. With the score tied 3-3 in the eighth, Gray stepped into the box to face Bob Albertson, a career minor leaguer who never made the show. Albertson uncorked a fastball, and Gray dropped the barrel of his club on the pill, launching it over the 20-foot high right field fence, 330 feet away from home plate.

Pete Gray, the one-armed ballplayer from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, had finally hit his first career home run as a professional ballplayer – another thing they told him he could never do.

Outside of the attendees at Engel Stadium that day, few people knew of this feat, and even fewer cared, even though this was the only professional ballgame played in the country on this particular date. After years of unwanted attention and suffering endless ridicule, nobody cared what Pete Gray did during this game. It was ironic.

All other pro games had been cancelled, with flags everywhere flying at half-staff.

The date was June 6, 1944.

 

 

Photo credit: https://www.pristineauction.com/a1217907-Pete-Gray-Signed-Browns-8×10-Photo-JSA-COA#images-1

Sources: Klima, John. The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray, and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Gray

 

 

 

 

The Return of Ross

“…but a very complex one. A swamp with many levels of political overtones and resonances that can’t be fathomed at the present time; but need the distance of the future to give it a proper perspective, so you can truly have a point of view – and realize the viscosity of that quagmire. And the only way to understand this is to realize that it’s incomprehensible.”

– Robin Williams as Jack Dundee in The Best of Times

Such could be likened to the Cubs’ hiring of David Ross as their new manager.

Some fans and critics think its a great hire. Others think its bad. The truth is, neither is the case – at this exact moment. We won’t know if it’s a good or bad hire for a few years, at least. So, following the wisdom of Mr. Dundee, we will see how it looks down the road a bit.

Related image

Ten days ago, I penned a short piece explaining how Ross might be Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s guy, and lead the northsiders in the 2020 season. That content wasn’t intended to advocate, but rather to shed some light on why Ross could be selected over other worthy candidates, Joe Girardi among them.

The why

Cutting to the chase here, there had been enough circumstantial evidence and expert analyses done to believe that the Cubs front office wanted a manager who is young, will do the job for not a lot of money, and won’t push back on baseball decisions.

Ross checks all those boxes.

All things being equal, (obviously not the resumes of the candidates, where Ross literally does not compare), if it came down to three big things, those are they. Added to which it’s an internal hire since Ross never actually left the payroll. He assumed a very Craig Counsell-ish special assistant to the GM role in 2017, which may very well have set this whole thing in motion.

In his short but distinctive time with the Cubs, he was in many ways a coach on the field. No doubt he is a smart baseball guy, and his impact within the organization and with the fans likely set off some light bulbs in the front office to hire him as a coach one day – soon. How soon is now?, The Smiths once asked. Well, it’s today.

The criticism

Fans and writers have offered up two highly common – and valid – points of criticism about Ross regarding his managerial hiring.

  1. He has no experience. That is true. However, there is plenty of modern precedent for first time managers finding success. Of recent ilk, Counsell, Aaron Boone, Alex Cora and Bob Brenly come to mind. There are many other examples going back through the history of baseball as well. With so many baseball decisions being made in this era by the front office and on-field coaches, the role of the manager has been reduced somewhat. However, navigating through a 162-game regular season is different than the quick and crucial strategizing that is required in a critical postseason series. Ross and the Cubs aren’t there yet but that will no doubt be a fascinating test.
  2. He is too friendly with a lot of the players. This is a valid concern, too. But plenty of managers have coached recent teammates. It’s not like that’s a new situation. Furthermore, if you haven’t read Ross’ book, or gleaned enough insight from these friends of his – namely Jon Lester, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward – he has angrily lit these guys up more than once. The now famous moniker of ‘Grampa Rossy’ was created largely in part to him being somewhat of a curmudgeonly grumpy guy who would get on players’ cases. If he can temporarily turn the friendship off to light a fire by choice as a teammate, should we doubt that he will be able to do so by right as a manager? Time will tell on this also.

We’ll see how it plays out. Whether you feel its a good, bad, or lazy hire right now, no doubt it’s a popular one. If it actually turns out to be good or bad, remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it’s a new and exciting era for the Cubs beginning in 2020.

 

Photo Credit: http://wavethew.com/2016/05/may-2-cubs-take-game-1-of-series-with-pirates-7-2/

 

 

 

Drawn to the Dugout: The Next Cubs Manager

From the legendary Cap Anson to Joe Maddon 140 years later, the Cubs have had more than their share of unique personalities at the top step of the dugout.

Hall of Fame gentlemen like Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance (yes, that Tinker to Evers to Chance group), Rogers Hornsby, Joe McCarthy, Gabby Hartnett, and Leo Durocher all had their tenures as north side skipper.

Of course, only in Chicago could a manager lead his club to the first World Series title since Chance was at the helm, end the honeymoon before it even began, become a polarized figure and turn into non-surprising news when his contract wasn’t renewed nary three years later, right?

But thanks, Joe. Seriously and sincerely.

Thus begins the search for who will lead the Cubs starting with the 2020 season.

While the list is pretty short at this stage, the purported front runner, David Ross, is somewhat polarized himself. But should he be?

If strictly comparing resumes to other candidates like Joe Girardi, Mark Loretta and Joe Espada is the main factor, then Ross literally does not compare – he simply hasn’t coached before. Despite having a reputation for most of his playing career as a coach-on-the-field for his knowledge and quick thinking, he has never held an official seat. Much less one that is on par with someone like Girardi, who has won a World Series as a manager.

But does that really matter?

Aaron Boone had no managerial experience when he took over the New York Yankees in 2018. They won 100 games and reached the ALDS. This year they won 103 and are currently in the ALCS.

Alex Cora was a first time manager when he was handed the reigns of the Boston Red Sox in 2018. They won the World Series.

Bob Brenly led the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001 in his first season as manager.

The point is, a first-time manager finding success is far from unprecedented or unrealistic.

This is not to advocate Ross for the job. This is saying why he could, not should, be the choice. I always liked him as a player and I believe he will make a fine skipper some day, but I certainly have no crystal ball that is locking him in to the Cubs dugout for next season.

All the candidates are sound.

But has this been boiled down to Girardi vs. Ross?

Experience and success-wise, Girardi has no competition here.

There are some other intangibles that may put Ross ahead of the pack, however. One inherent issue with experienced coaches, especially former managers, is the pushback on baseball-related issues they can give to the front office. In today’s sabermetric, analytics-driven game, the old guard baseball guys tend to have some strategic friction with their bosses. Reports of this happening with Maddon and Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were surfacing as far back as the Cubs’ magical 2016 championship season. It is unlikely the Cubs brass will want to invite similar issues back with their new manager.

Furthermore, the actual role of field manager has been reduced somewhat in this modern era. With a lot (some say too much) of data available, many game decisions are made by the front office and crucial personnel – bench and pitching coaches to be exact – to help the manager along.

Youth, money and control are other considerations. Strong hearsay and between-the-lines rumblings indicate that Epstein/Hoyer may want a younger, more passive type of manager who won’t push back with them (too much) on baseball-related decisions, and someone they won’t have to pay a large salary to. Someone like Ross would check all those boxes, where Girardi, although still fairly young, would not. With a World Series title, nearly 1,000 wins and experience managing in a major market under his belt, it is highly unlikely that Girardi would be the pseudo “Yes Man” that the Cubs brass seems to be searching for. They’d also have to pay him a lot more money than any other candidate.

My initial reaction a couple weeks ago was that Loretta, the current Cubs bench coach would be the practical – albeit boring – selection. Added to which I figured Ross’ interest would be a token interview just to appease Cubs fans, and that maybe he would be brought on as Loretta’s bench coach at most. It would seem now, however, that Ross is the likely target, and that Girardi, ironically, has become the token interviewee. ‘Grandpa Rossy’ also has plenty of marketability to consider. The fans adore him, and he has an endearing personality and sense of self-deprecating humor (there was that whole Dancing With the Stars thing, after all) that automatically lends itself to the role. How that may translate into success on the field would be anyone’s guess.

The other blowback from Cubs fans about Ross is whether or not he is still too close to a number of current players. It is well known that his former teammates Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant among others are some of his best friends. Would he be able to put that aside and act managerially? Would he be able to relate to them no longer as a colleague but as their in-game boss? The answer to that, I believe, is yes. Something that is often forgotten by Cubs fans is the ‘Grandpa Rossy’ nickname that Bryant and Rizzo bestowed upon him was more than just a friendly jab at an old backup catcher in his final season of his playing career. It was a sarcastic nod at the fact Ross could be a prick – in a good way – for his ability to light a fire under the players and get their attention. The youngins on the club thought he was being a curmudgeonly old man. They realized after ’16 that he actually always had a point.

If he can continue to do that, and keep his sharp baseball mind in-tune, then maybe Ross would be the right guy after all.

Or maybe it’ll be someone else, in which case you can disregard everything you just read.

Image result for David Ross

 

Photo credits: https://twitter.com/NBCSCubs/status/1179075357405859840

https://www.en24.news/2019/10/mlb-2019-joe-girardi-and-david-ross-candidates-to-take-command-of-the-chicago-cubs.html

 

Decloaking the Folklore

Greetings once again from the southwest Chicago suburbs, friends.

It’s been some time since my last post, as work and myriad other projects have leapfrogged the production of any new content here for a bit.

Hey, it happens.

With the 2019 MLB postseason just days away (and without my Cubs for the first time in four years thanks to an epic collapse that brings about confusion, embarrassment and other inexplicable things, but that’s a whole other monster), I felt it we should again touch base on the 1919 World Series.

Plus I didn’t have anything else to write at this time.

As the anniversary of that ill-fated Sox/Reds matchup reaches it’s centennial crescendo, this is an opportune time to point you to an excellent new work by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), appropriately titled Eight Myths Out. This project was orchestrated and edited by SABR’s Director of Editorial Content, and the foremost Black Sox historian, Jacob Pomrenke. 

Most casual fans who know anything of the 1919 World Series instantly cite, or quote from the film Eight Men Out – a good one, yes – but largely untrue and unsubstantiated.

In fact, the film and book are mostly glossed over malarkey.

Pomrenke brings this fantastic research project to life with fascinating and newly uncovered facts that debunk virtually everything you thought you knew about that infamous Chicago White Sox team.

Image result for 1919 White Sox

As with nearly every aspect of the infamous scandal, most facts uncover even more questions, which ironically mimics the confusion of the original events themselves. Nobody truly knows what happened during that fateful autumn 100 years ago, and probably never will. Research will be ongoing and more light shed on each facet, but Eight Myths Out has established a new foundation, a stronger starting point to uncover the truth than any other over the last century has.

Anyone who has ever held a shred of interest in the 1919 White Sox story won’t want to miss this.

 

 

Sources:

https://sabr.org/eight-myths-out

https://sabr.org/author/jacob-pomrenke

Photo credit: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/1919-black-sox-baseball-scandal-wasnt-first-180964673/