Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Greatest Lineup Ever?

I can remember watching some star-studded and dominant National League lineups in All-Star games in the 1960's. It was mostly due to the American League owners' tardiness in scouting and signing black players. (They probably still called them colored.) The NL got almost all of the best black players.
So, for instance, in 1963 here were the lineups, one mostly black, the other almost all white. Oh ya, Bill White doesn't count as white.
 The American League                                         The National League
  C  Elston Howard                                                 Joe Torre
1B  Joe Pepitone                                                    Bill White, Orlando Cepeda
2B  Nellie Fox                                                        Bill Mazeroski
3B  Brooks Robinson                                             Ron Santo
SS  Luis Aparicio                                                   Maury Wills
OF Mickey Mantle                                                 Willie Mays
OF Harmon Killebrew                                            Stan Musial
OF Al Kaline                                                          Hank Aaron
OF Carl Yaztrsemski                                              Roberto Clemente
  P  Jim Bunning                                                     Sandy Koufax
  P  Juan Pizarro                                                     Juan Marichal
  P  Mudcat Grant                                                   Don Drysdale
  P  Jim Bouton                                                       Warren Spahn
Torre, Mazeroski, Santo, Musial, Koufax, and Drysdale were the only white guys for the NL and Musial and Spahn were really from another era. Elston Howard was the exception that proved the rule for the AL.
That the National League won by just two runs seems amazing. Talk about the Al being overmatched. But there once was an American League lineup that might just have beaten that NL squad.
Long before there were all-star games, a game was played - on July 24 1911 in Cleveland - to benefit the widow of Addie Joss, the Cleveland Naps' outstanding pitcher. He had died suddenly after contracting tubercular meningitis in a day when there were no antibiotics.
Each AL club was asked to send a couple of its best players. Ty Cobb was the first star to indicate that he would play in the game. Without further ado, here is the lineup for the All-Stars.
  C   Gabby Street (the only stiff on the team)
1B   Hal Chase (crooked, but a gifted player)   
2B   Eddie Collins  (Hall of Fame)          for Cleveland  Napoleon Lajoie  (Hall of Fame)
3B   Frank Home Run Baker (Hall of Fame)
SS   Bobby Wallace  (Hall of Fame)    
OF  Ty Cobb  (Hall of Fame)                  for Cleveland, rookie Shoeless Joe Jackson
OF  Tris Speaker  (Hall of Fame)
OF  Sam Crawford  (Hall of Fame)
OF  Clyde Milan (an outstanding fielder who was averaging 30 assists a year)
  P   Walter Johnson  (Hall of Fame)       for Cleveland   Cy Young  (Hall of Fame)
  P   Ed Walsh   (Hall of Fame)
I'm not sure Bobby Wallace should be in the Hall of Fame, but maybe Clyde Milan should be. And, of course Joe Jackson should certainly be.
Trivia: Did Ty Cobb ever wear a uniform other than a Tiger uniform? Well, he played the last two years of his career in Philadelphia. Any others? Yes, for the game just described he wore a Cleveland uniform. He'd left his in Detroit. 
Speaking of Cobb, boy did he have a crummy year in 1916. He didn't even win the batting title! Well, he hadn't won it in 1910 either, but that was because the St. Louis Browns had their third baseman play in the outfield so the much more popular Nap Lajoie, "the Frenchman", could win the beautiful Chalmers automobile. (Hell, Larry was so popular the Cleveland Blues changed their name to the Naps.) The company was so thrilled by the publicity and scandal they gave each guy a car. The Browns' manager got fired over it.
Anyway, back to 1916 when Cobb stunk the place out. He had won the batting title in 1907, '08, '09, 1910, 1911 (he hit .420, Jackson hit just .408), 1912 (he hit .409, Jackson hit just .395), 1913 (he hit .390, Jackson hit just .373, ouch), 1914 and '15.
I know I digress - again - but my vote for the actor who looks the least like the guy he was portraying has to be Ray Liotta as Jackson in Field of Dreams. Joe wasn't quite that handsome. Of course Hollywood had lard arses William Bendix and John Goodman play the athletic Babe Ruth. (123 stolen bases)
Cobb won the batting title in 1917, 1918, and 1919. But in 1916 he hit just .371. Tris Speaker, the rough as nails cowboy who roamed centerfield in the still new Fenway park, batted .386.
After 1919 it was all downhill for Cobb. In 1920 He hit a measly .334. Gorgeous George Sisler hit .407.  In '21 Cobb batted .389. Not bad, but teammate Harry Heilmann hit .394. In 1922 Cobb hit .401. Sisler hit .422.
I am a fan of Baseball Reference as a quick source of stats. But I was looking up Cobb's numbers and I see that, apparently because a bunch of morons have gone on their site and voted against Cobb (of course everyone hated him when he played too) he is rated as the 29th best hitter in baseball history. PARDON?!!!
WTF. I don't have a problem with their top ten - Ruth, Wagner, Gehrig, Williams, Mays, Musial, Aaron, Speaker, Eddie Collins, and Hornsby, except that Cobb should be first second or third along with Ruth and Williams.
After Foxx and DiMaggio in 11th and 12th things get stupid. Ricky Henderson (13th) ? Cal Ripken (19th)? Chipper Jones (24th)?
Let me tell you something about Ty Cobb, forget about his ferocious all-out style (didn't get Pete Rose in the Hall) and forget about all his stolen bases. We're just talking batting here.
If he is not at the top because of a lack of power, in spite of a lot of RBIs before that was a big thing, remember he did lead the league a couple of times. And, the parks were cavernous when he played and the ball wasn't wound tightly until 1920 and it was almost black because of dirt and spit by the second inning - probably about three innings before it was taken out of play.
Cobb hated players like Ruth who swung for the fences. One time he said to some reporters, "Fine, I will show you that I could hit home runs if I chose to." In the next three games he had five.