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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A Lucky Bounce (or Three): Washington’s Wild World Series Win.

Seven games, four decided by one run, and two going to extra innings. When all was said and done, the 1924 World Series was an absolute classic.

And maybe one of the strangest, too. Particularly Game 7.

John McGraw led his powerhouse New York Giants into Griffith Stadium on the 10th of October, hoping to steal the series from the hometown Washington Senators and secure his third world championship in four years. The Senators’ player-manager Bucky Harris, along with ace and Hall of Famer Walter Johnson – and perhaps a bit of divine intervention – had other plans, however.

To this point, the series was a seesaw battle, with each team winning alternate games, sometimes in sloppy fashion. Odder still, was that the great Walter Johnson had pitched far below his potential and had taken losses in Games 1 and 5. Running out of arms, options and luck, Harris was in need of a little help if his Washington club was going to get their rings.

Washington starter Curly Ogden took the hill but was pulled after facing just two batters and retiring one, as he gave way to George Mogridge. Apparently, Harris started the righty Ogden so that McGraw would be forced to load his lineup with left-handed hitters who would then have to face the lefty Mogridge unprepared. The ploy worked, as Mogridge would be solid over the next 4 2/3, allowing one earned run and scattering four hits. Firpo Marberry came on in relief in the sixth, but after two unearned runs swiftly crossed the plate the Senators found themselves in a 3-1 deficit entering the late innings. Marberry shut down the Giants in the seventh and eighth, all while the Giants starting pitcher Virgil Barnes was cruising, only allowing one run on a Bucky Harris homer in the fourth.

With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Harris inserted pinch hitter Nemo Liebold, who had previously appeared in both the 1917 and 1919 World Series’ with the White Sox. Liebold lashed a double, followed by a single by catcher Muddy Ruel. Bennie Tate came in to pinch hit for Marberry, his job done for the day, and walked to load the bases. Suddenly Barnes’ sterling efforts were coming to a screeching halt. Harris stepped to the plate and got the extra help he sorely needed, as a seemingly routine grounder to third basemen Freddie Lindstrom took a wild hop over his head, plating two runs and tying the game. The 31,667 at Griffith Stadium tore in to a frenzy, with new life late in the contest.

With few choices on remaining arms, Harris called upon Johnson to step to the bump in the ninth. Despite his lackluster performances earlier in the series, “The Big Train” began to completely shut the Giants down from the jump. After failing to score in the bottom frame, Game 7 was headed to extras, and Johnson continued to dismantle Giants’ batsmen in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings as well. It was then in the bottom of the 12th, where a little more assistance from the ether was made available. With one out, Giants pitcher Jack Bentley got Ruel to loop a foul pop to catcher Hank Gowdy, who unfortunately stumbled over his own discarded mask and was unable to make the play. On the next pitch, Ruel ripped a double to left, bringing up Johnson. The Big Train rapped a grounder to Lindstrom’s left, where he was unable to handle another bad hop, putting runners on first and second with one out. Center fielder Earl McNeely stepped to the box and the standing room only crowd at the ‘Griff was hoping for one more miraculous bounce. Their prayers were answered, as McNeely found a hole on the left side by way of yet another unlucky hop, plating Ruel for the series’ winning run. Sometimes, you just need the ball to bounce your way a time or two…or three. After the game, losing pitcher Bentley summed up the bizarre afternoon:

“That was one of the strangest games I ever played in. With one out, Hank Gowdy did a sun dance on Ruel’s pop foul and stepped into his mask and dropped the ball. Ruel doubled and then there was an error at short, then McNeely hit that grounder. That was a helluva way to lose a World Series.”

The championship was the first and only one for the Senators in Washington. Decades later, the franchise would move to Minnesota, where the Twins would grab World Series titles in 1987 and 1991. The Senators would win the American League pennant again the following year in 1925, but would lose to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yet for that one magical day in ’24,  Harris, Johnson, and a few wild bounces would ensure that Washington would reach baseball’s pinnacle.

‘Tis a weird game, folks.

Checkout some amazing video highlights of the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2AN9IDDLqg

Sources: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1386103-washington-nationals-remembering-the-1924-world-series

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/WS1/WS1192410100.shtml

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

Mathewson’s Monumental Marvel

The New York Giants sure had a swell season in 1905.

Actually, it was tremendous. And the way it ended was ridiculous. Many modern glory stories are made of the Madison Bumgarners, Clayton Kershaws and Corey Klubers of the baseball world who throw key postseason innings on short rest. Rightfully so, of course. But what happened at the end of this particular season of a bygone era, if you frame it by today’s standards, is truly amazing.

The feisty John McGraw led his club to a staggering 105-48 mark on the ’05 season, including an all-too-brief but now-famous appearance in a June 29 game in Brooklyn by a young outfielder named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. The Giants’ season ended, of course, by capturing the National League pennant and then drubbing Connie Mack’s powerful Philadelphia A’s four games to one in the second ever World Series. But what makes this series so interesting 111 years later is it featured the single most incredible performance by a starting pitcher we may ever see. His name was Christy Mathewson.

Image result for christy mathewson 1905
The great Christy Mathewson, 1905

Pitching was the name of the game in the deadball era, and 1905 saw a slew of it, especially on the Giants. This was a starting rotation so strong that the number five hurler, lefty Hooks Wiltse, compiled a 15-6 record with a 2.47 ERA in 197 innings, with 18 complete games and a WHIP of just over 1. Today, such numbers would put a pitcher squarely in the Cy Young Award conversation. Back then, it was considered no more than “pretty good.” Of course, Wiltse’s season numbers paled in comparison to Mathewson’s who went 31-9 with a 1.28 ERA, and tossed a mammoth 338 innings while completing 32 of 37 games started. And that’s not even the ridiculous part. That would come in the World Series.

“Mathewson pitched against Cincinnati yesterday. Another way of putting it is that Cincinnati lost a game of baseball. The first statement means the same as the second.”

– Writer Damon Runyan

Mathewson was completely untouchable in Games 1 and 3 of the Fall Classic, blanking the Athletics 3-0 and 9-0 with just three days separating the two shutouts, and he wasn’t done there. With the A’s on the verge of defeat, Mathewson took the bump again in Game 5 on two days’ rest and slung another shutout, goose-egging Mack’s men 2-0 at the Polo Grounds and sending New York into a championship frenzy.

For the series, Mathewson’s totals were astonishing: 27 innings, 0 runs, 13 hits, 1 walk and 18 strikeouts. He did all this in just five days.

In any era of baseball, there has never been anything like what Mathewson did in the 1905 World Series. It was a hell of an exclamation point on an already stellar season and it’s the type of feat, especially only taking a few days to accomplish, that we’ll never see again.

 

Photo Credit: https://radbournsrevenantdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/c65ea-spchristymathewsonportrait2.jpg

Sources: http://baseballhall.org/discover/inside-pitch/christy-mathewson-throws-third-shutout

http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1905_WS.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/grahamo01.shtml

 

The Great Zim, Cocky Collins, and One Mad Dash For the Dish

October 15, 1917, the Polo Grounds. World Series Game 6: Chicago White Sox @ New York Giants.

The Series’ clincher for the Sox was not without some controversy, and 99 years later certain elements of one particular, pivotal play, remain in question. The play, of course being the botched rundown of Eddie Collins in the top of the fourth inning, which ended up being the winning run, and cemented Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman as the goat. But was that an unfair label?

Image result for heinie zimmerman 1917
Heinie Zimmerman in 1917 at the Polo Grounds

Zimmerman, a stalwart, but maligned infielder in the back nine of his career in ’17, was no stranger to implication. Throughout his 13 years in the bigs, Zimmerman was often in questionable situations of all sorts, and he earned a reputation as a ballplayer who was never quite as good as he should have been. His subpar play in the 1917 Series only served to fuel such talk. In six games, he batted just .120 and committed three errors, the last of which was a costly throwing error that allowed Eddie Collins to reach first base in the crucial fourth inning of game six. Collins would subsequently score the winning run on the famous chase to the plate.

The Rundown

With Collins on first, Shoeless Joe Jackson lifted a flyball toward Giants right fielder Dave Robertson, who dropped the ball, advancing Collins to third and Jackson to second. Sox slugger Happy Felsch then rapped a grounder back to pitcher Rube Benton, who wheeled and threw to Zimmerman at third, having caught Collins breaking for home. The rundown started normally, until Collins slipped past catcher Bill Rariden who was caught too far up the line. Inexplicably, neither Benton or first baseman Walter Holke was covering the plate! Zimmerman was thus forced to chase Collins all the way home. Collins, the faster runner, beat Zimmerman to the dish, giving the Sox a lead they would keep. They would go on to win the game and the World Series.

Some sources have conflicting reports on what Rariden actually did. Most agree he took at least one throw from Zimmerman, threw it back, but by then he was too far up the line and Collins ran past him. Other reports make it seem that Rariden was hardly engaged in the rundown at all, having broke far up the line immediately, leaving Zimmerman nobody to throw to from the outset. With obviously no video of this play, these details may never be fully revealed.

The snafu’d rundown, along with his lackluster play in the first five games and the key throwing error on Collins’ grounder, made Zimmerman the fall guy in New York. He would long be mentioned in the same vein as other infamous Giant goats like Fred Merkle and Fred Snodgrass, having to vehemently deny accusations that he allowed Collins to score.

Where the hell was everybody?

In that rundown situation, with the catcher and and third baseman engaged with the runner, the question becomes why didn’t either Rube Benton or Walter Holke cover the plate? There should have been at least one, if not two backups for catcher Bill Rariden, regardless of how long he stayed in the rundown, yet there were none. Once Rariden was out of the play, Zimmerman had nobody to throw to. He famously asked after the game “Who the hell was I supposed to throw to, (umpire) Bill Klem?” And Zimmerman was right. Even skipper John McGraw placed the blame on Benton and Holke for not covering the plate, but the fans and media alike would continue to assault Zimmerman for the broken play, no doubt aided by his poor series, crucial error early in the inning, and a string of insinuation and questionable actions throughout his career.

The eyebrow-raising  would continue for Zimmerman the next two years, especially after first baseman and master game-fixer Hal Chase, formerly of the Cincinnati Reds, would join the Giants in 1919. McGraw, taking a gamble (no pun intended), on signing Chase in an effort to straighten him out would see the plan backfire as Chase and Zimmerman would form a potent betting duo. A grand jury was convened to investigate gambling in baseball in 1920, and McGraw and other Giants players would testify to Zimmerman and Chase’s agendas for fixing games in 1919. In the wake of the famous Black Sox scandal that season, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis would ban both Zimmerman and Chase from the game.

The sad tale of Heinie Zimmerman remains an interesting piece of baseball history. For although his reputation of never fulfilling his great potential drew the ire of fans and reporters, and his sidekicking with Hal Chase surely sealed his fate, he should not be to blame for the ’17 Series. He made the only play he could’ve made. The extenuating circumstances surrounding him and that series unfortunately made him the goat.

Unfairly.

 

Photo Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bf/Heinie_Zimmerman.jpg/220px-Heinie_Zimmerman.jpg

Sources:

http://www.thisgreatgame.com/1917-baseball-history.html

http://www.baseballhistorycomesalive.com/heinie-zimmerman-chases-eddie-collins-across-the-plate-in-the-1917-world-series/

http://z.lee28.tripod.com/therest/heiniezimmerman.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NY1/NY1191710150.shtml

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e73e465a