The Mays Malaise

Coincidences happen, of course. But on occasion, some situations can foretell what’s to come. Baseball analysts and sabermetricians have been on the hunt for the Holy Grail metric; that figure which can predict what a player will, or at least very likely do, for years. Where Carl Mays was concerned, predictability was nearly impossible. Actually, it was scary.

The submariner had something of a tumultuous career, and a personality that wasn’t quite favorable among players and coaches in the majors. Moreover, he was a spitballer, and combined with his unique delivery and blazing fastball it made him a formidable, if not dangerous pitcher.

This stigma was strengthened in 1915 during a fiery encounter with Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers. Mays, pitching for the Red Sox, repeatedly threw at Cobb each at-bat during a game, prompting Cobb to throw his bat at Mays in the eighth inning. Once things calmed down, Mays responded by plunking Cobb on the wrist (1). For whatever malice he may or may not have pitched with, he appeared to have no fear or shame.

Still with the Red Sox in 1918, Mays and his team were enjoying a fantastic season, one that would end with a World Series Championship over the Chicago Cubs. Mays was the ace of the staff that season, going 21-13 with a 2.21 ERA, tossing 30 complete games and tacking on eight shutouts over 293 innings pitched. Earlier in the season on May 20, an incident occurred which, unbeknownst at the time, would portend an eerie and deadly second act. In the third inning of an 11-1 rout of the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park, Mays let loose a pitch that drilled the great Tris Speaker right on the head. The extreme nature of this beaning only firmed up the already deplorable M.O. that Mays garnered. Nobody could’ve seen what would happen two years later.

In keeping pace with the high-high’s and low-low’s of his career, later in the 1918 season on August 30, Mays became the only pitcher in Red Sox history to throw two complete game wins in the same day. Both wins were integral in keeping the Red Sox atop the pennant hunt.

The frightening beanball Mays laid on Speaker’s noggin was, in hindsight at least, notoriously prophetic. In 1920, Mays, then pitching for the Yankees, would be the instigator of tragedy. In one of the most infamous moments in baseball history, Mays hit Indians’ shortstop Ray Chapman on the skull, killing him. Mays always vehemently denied throwing at Chapman intentionally, and even went so far as to attempt blame on Chapman for crowding the plate. Two years, two Indians players hit on the head, and one sparkling young player killed. This incident would haunt Mays for the rest of his life.

Chapman’s death ignited a series of rules changes that are still in use today. Beginning shortly after the tragedy, umpires began to insert new baseballs into the game when the one in play became scuffed or too dirty. The spitball and other doctored-up pitches were outlawed, and although it took over thirty years to be fully integrated, batting helmets began to be used.

Mays’s career continued with success, despite a permanently damaged reputation after the Chapman beaning. In 1921, Mays had the best season of his career when he led the league with 27 wins and 336 innings pitched. He helped lead the Yankees into the World Series against the New York Giants but his sterling season was marred amid accusations that he was offered a bribe from gamblers to throw Game 4 of the World Series. As the alleged story goes, Mays’ wife Marjorie signaled her husband that she had received the bribe money and the pitcher was now in the bag. Mays, who had been dominant up until then, started crossing up his pitch signals and became lackadaisical, allowing the Giants to clobber him and take a lead they would not relinquish (2.) The Giants went on to win that game and eventually the best-of-nine-series, five games to three. Though cleared of any wrongdoing, the rumors of conspiring with gamblers felt like salt in the wound of baseball, with the Black Sox scandal of 1919 being so fresh in everyone’s minds.

Mays would pitch until 1929, ending a 15-year career and all told, his numbers were excellent. He compiled a record of 206-127, with 29 shutouts and a 2.92 ERA. He won 20-plus games five times. Still, he has been left out of the Hall of Fame, despite having career statistics that would make him worthy of the accolade. His ugly reputation, combined with suspicion of throwing a World Series game and Chapman’s death are the likely scapegoats of Mays not being enshrined.

Sources

(1) http://www.thedeadballera.com/prelude.html

(2) “1921: The Yankess, The Giants, & the Battle For Baseball Supremacy In New York:, Lyle Sptatz and Steve Steinberg

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS191805200.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BOS/1918.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1921_WS.shtml

http://nationalpastime.com/

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

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The Greatest Game Ruth Ever Pitched

In the years before he became the near-mythical Yankees’ slugger he is known for, Babe Ruth was a terrific pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. In 1916, he was tops of the World Series champion’s staff, compiling a 23-12 record with an American League leading 1.75 ERA and 23 complete games in 323 innings pitched.

Arguably his pinnacle, if overlooked, performance was in Game Two of the 1916 World Series.

Image result for babe ruth 1916 world series

Playing at nearby Braves Field in Boston to accommodate a much larger crowd than could be squeezed into Fenway Park, the Red Sox entered Game Two with a 1-0 series lead over the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers.) Ruth would take the bump against Brooklyn’s Sherry Smith, a solid hurler who went 14-10 with a 2.34 ERA on the season, in a battle of southpaws. What transpired was a tremendous 14-inning duel that left fans captivated as darkness descended on the then brand new Boston ballpark and certified Ruth as a true ace.

With two outs in the first frame, Brooklyn’s Hi Myers launched a ball off Ruth to right center that got past both Harry Hooper and Tilly Walker. With the two outfielders unable to corral the bounce off the wall, Myers chugged all the way around the bases for an inside the park home run. Neither team scored in the second, but the Red Sox were able to tie it up in the third when Ruth’s groundout scored Deacon Scott, who led off the inning with a triple.

For the next several innings both teams threatened, but gallant pitching by both Ruth and Smith and excellent defense held serve as neither team could flash a run across the dish. With the score still tied 1-1, the Red Sox’ Hal Janvrin led off the bottom of the ninth with a double. Pinch hitter Jimmy Walsh reached on an error, and Boston enjoyed runners at first and third with no outs. A fly ball from Dick Hoblitzell to center field promised to be the game-winning sacrifice fly, but Brooklyn’s Hi Myers, contributing from both sides of the plate, pegged Janvrin at home to preserve the tie. Larry Gardner would then foul out to end the inning and send Game Two to extras.

As was the case all day, both teams threatened in each of the extra innings but couldn’t capitalize. Daylight was fading now, and the game would’ve been ruled a tie if they couldn’t finish one way or another, soon. Brooklyn, trying to seize another opportunity, had their last best chance in the top of the 13th. With a runner on second and no outs, Sherry Smith, who was still on the mound, looped a liner to left field. Duffy Lewis, an outstanding defensive player in his own right, took a page from the Tris Speaker handbook when he tore in from deep left to make a sensational catch, saving a run and perhaps, the game.

Smith set Boston down in order in the 13th, and Ruth followed suit to Brooklyn in the 14th. It was now time for some classic deadball-era smallball by the Sox.

Hoblitzell led off with a walk and Lewis sacrificed him to second. Sox skipper Bill Carrigan inserted Mike McNally to run for Hoblitzell, and Del Gainer to pinch hit for the struggling Larry Gardner. The gamble worked, as Gainer roped a single to left field and McNally beat a strong throw by Zack Wheat to the plate, giving Boston the 2-1 victory and a two games to none lead in the series. They would go on to win in five games for their second World Championship in a row.

Not lost on the thrilling finale to this game was the incredible pitching by both Sherry Smith and the victorious Babe Ruth, both going the distance. Smith’s final line tallied 13.1 innings, scattering seven hits and two earned runs while walking six and striking out two. Ruth was even better, going the full 14 innings, allowing only six hits and one run, with four strikeouts and three free passes. The win not only put the Red Sox in the drivers seat to clinch the series, but it cemented Ruth as a big-game pitcher who really put an exclamation point on his stellar regular season. Two years later, Ruth would twirl another gem in the World Series, shutting out the Cubs 1-0 in Game One. As sterling as that was, his Game Two sensation against Brooklyn may have been better.

Ruth would enjoy a couple more strong seasons on the mound for the Red Sox, but by 1918 his bat really began to emerge, and 1919 saw him achieve true slugger status. Prior to the 1920 season he was sold to the New York Yankees, helping them create a dynasty and launching Ruth into his legendary status thereafter.

Yet long before having his likeness carved into the Mount Rushmore of baseball legends, the stocky kid from Baltimore was quite the sensational southpaw on the hill.

Sources: Braves Field: Memorable Moments at Boston’s Lost Diamond. Howlin & Brady, 2015.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS191610090.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/ruthba01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BOS/1916.shtml

Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_the_Bambino

Phantom First Basemen: Elite Company

Baseball, as we all know, is a game full of bizarre and bewildering situations. Many are often forgotten, or only briefly remarked upon by way of a footnote in a long-overlooked box score, or a mention from a researcher on one of those “On this day…” articles. Such was the case today, when glossing over http://www.nationalpastime.com I noticed a remarkable stat that occurred on this date 87 years ago. Looking a bit further into it, I was reminded of a very small handful of times where a team could have actually won a game without their first baseman.

On April 27, 1930, the Chicago White Sox defeated the St. Louis Browns 2-1 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. The lone oddity of this game, was that White Sox first baseman Bud Clancy played all nine innings without recording a single putout, becoming the first player in modern baseball history to do so. (A.B. McCauley first accomplished the feat in 1891 while playing for the Washington Statesmen of the old American Association.) The Odell, Illinois native would have a largely vanilla nine-year major league career, mostly as a backup. Though he would end up with a solid .281 career batting average, he is most remembered for this strange day early in the ’30 season.

Wait. Is it considered a feat if a player technically does nothing?

What if he does it, er, nothing, twice?

Such was the case several years later for James Anthony “Ripper” Collins. A very good player by all accounts, Collins was late to the game, toiling in the minors for several years in the 1920’s and breaking into the majors in 1931 with the St. Louis Cardinals. He would have a breakout year in 1934, tying the great Mel Ott for the league lead in home runs with 35, and helping the famed Gashouse Gang of St. Louis to win the World Series. A year later on August 21, 1935, Collins would join Clancy when he would play all nine innings in a 13-3 win against the Braves in Boston, recording zero putouts. Two years later after having been traded to the Cubs, Collins would do it again. On June 29, 1937 in a game, ironically against the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park, Collins and the Cubs would enjoy an 11-9 victory including zero putouts from the first baseman.

The strange occurrence would happen again nearly 40 years later, as Oakland’s Gene Tenace would join the Clancy/Collins ranks. On September 1, 1974 while playing with the World Series champion Oakland Athletics, Tenace would “help” his team earn a 5-3 win over Detroit at Tiger Stadium with no participation defensively from himself.

Fast forward another 41 years to July 5, 2015, and Red Sox slugger David Ortiz joined the list. In his first start at first base at Fenway Park in over nine years, Ortiz does not record a putout, though he did get an assist in the Sox’ 5-4 win over Houston.

Just four first basemen in the modern history of the game to essentially do nothing defensively to him his team win. Rare and odd, but evidently not impossible. It’s a strange game after all…

Sources: http://nationalpastime.com/

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/95982dfa

http://www.southsidesox.com/2015/12/29/10680878/white-sox-feats-of-strength-bud-clancys-zero-chance-game

https://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/david-ortiz-did-something-no-red-sox-first-baseman-has-ever-done-004547771.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/colliri02.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/clancbu01.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/WAS/1891.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1935-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/1937-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/OAK/1974-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS201507050.shtml