Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How Do the Yankees' Young Studs Compare?

The Yankees have always had plenty of money to buy stars from other teams or to sign free agents. They infuriated the fans of other teams when they bought Johnny Mize in 1949 and Enos Slaughter in ’54. The results have been mixed. Often the players have been well past their prime, see Kevin Brown, 2004-5. Sometimes the results have been spectacular, see George Herman Ruth, 1920 to 1932.

For most of the past several years the club has relied heavily on free agent signings instead of focusing on their scouting and farm system. Now, they’re looking more to homegrown talent. How does the current stable of Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Chad Green, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez stack up against batches of young homegrown Yankees of the past? Is it their best crop ever?

The early years of the franchise were lean ones. The Highlanders did finish second three times - in each case almost completely the result of career years from their aces, Jack Chesbro in 1904, Al Orth in ‘06, and Russ Ford in 1910. In ‘27 reporters resurrected the term “Murderers’ Row” to describe the Yankee powerhouse. It was a reference to the second floor of New York’s City Prison, which everyone called the Tombs, the floor on which rapists and murderers awaited execution. The nickname had originally been applied to the 1918 squad in Miller Huggins’ first year as manager. It referred to Frank Gilhooley, Del Pratt, Wally Pipp, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Ping Bodie, and Roger Peckinpaugh. Each had started his career with another team. (It was a sign of the dead ball era that the six sluggers had combined for a whopping fourteen home runs that year.)

The first homegrown young star to arrive was Lou Gehrig in ’25. He was joined the next season by Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, and powerful Tony Lazzeri. The club won three straight pennants before giving way to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia powerhouse. The next rookie Yankee hopeful was Leo Durocher (in ’28). He was good with his mouth but not so much with his bat. The next year 22-year-old Bill Dickey from the Jackson (Mississippi) Senators went behind the plate and embarked upon a Hall of Fame career.
In 1930 the Yanks brought up Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez, who would anchor the staff for years to come. The witty Gomez attributed his success to “clean-living and a fast outfield.” In his rookie season he coined a phrase when he said the fielders often had to ‘go fer’ balls.
Joe D, Keller, and Henrich
There were no other sensations until DiMaggio came along in '36. Joe D was followed by Tommy Henrich in '37, Joe Gordon in '38, and Charlie Keller the next year. Phil Rizzuto, who'd been nicknamed 'Scooter' in his last year in the minors, completed the juggernaut in '41.

It would be six more years before any new young stars cracked the lineup - 22-year-old Yogi Berra and Vic “the Springfield Rifle” Raschi. Allie Reynolds came over from Cleveland to give the Yankees another dynamic duo the likes of Ruffing and Gomez.

In ’51 Mantle arrived. Whitey Ford had gone 9-1 in 1950 but would serve two years in the military before returning for ’53. Whitey and Mick were joined by Moose Skowron in ‘54, Elston Howard in ’55, and 21-year-olds Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek in ’57. More homegrown talent and more championships. The championships would continue, but the homegrown talent base was thinning ominously. The next crop of Tom Tresh, Joe Pepitone, and Jim Bouton in’62, Al Downing ’63, and Mel Stottlemyre in ’64 was good but clearly much less gifted than its predecessors.

The next batch of hopefuls - Horace Clarke, Roy White, and Bobby Murcer, who was ordained the next Mickey Mantle, was a disappointment. With the exception of Thurman Munson (1969) the next few years would see the Yanks import young talent someone else had developed - with excellent results. The imports included Sparky Lyle, Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Bobby Bonds, Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Reggie Jackson, Rich Gossage, Don Gullett, and of course Catfish.
The Core Four
The only gem the Yanks produced in the ‘80’s was Don Mattingly, who started in the outfield. He was surrounded by another bunch of imports that included Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson.  The 90’s saw the arrival of Bernie Williams and more imports - Paul O’Neill, Wade Boggs, and Jimmy Key. The Buck Showalter years ended with perhaps the best batch of homegrown talent in Yankee history. Joining Williams in ’95 were Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. The young guns were joined by another slew of imports: Joe Girardi, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Mike Mussina, and Jason Giambi.
Robinson Cano, the most gifted homegrown player since Derek Jeter, came on the scene in ’05 along with Melky Cabrera. Three years later Joe Giradi welcomed Brett Gardner, David Robinson, and Jobe Chamberlain. The next year it was right back to importing high-priced help in the form of C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, and Curtis Granderson - again with good results. There was a long lull and then Brian Cashman finally committed himself to finding and producing talent rather than buying or renting it. Only time will tell if the current crop can compare to those of the Gehrig-led crop of ’25-26, the Dimaggio-led crop of ’36 to ’41, the Mantle-led crop of the Fifties, and the Jeter-led crop of the ‘90’s.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Would Rube Have Struck Out 800?

In doing the research for "Babe Ruth & the 1927 Yankees Have the Best Summer Ever" (you can watch a preview of the book on Youtube at ) I reread Bill Jenkinson's excellent study "The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs" which chronicles the number of 375+ foot shots the Babe belted that were caught, but would have reached the stands if he'd been batting in modern parks.

Rube before his all night prowling took its toll.
Which brings me to just how many batters Rube Waddell, the subject of "King of the Hall of Flakes", would have fanned if he'd pitched this year. Rube had blinding speed and, because he was incredibly strong and could grip the laces so tightly, had the sharpest breaking ball (a slider though the term didn't yet exist - fastballs were still 'shoots') in the game. In school he threw too hard for any other kid to catch him, so he taught himself to throw a wobbler, i.e., a knuckleball. And he threw a screwball on occasion.

Waddell was virtually unhittable. Cub reporter Grantland Rice once watched in amusement and amazement as Rube purposely loaded the bases in a close game even though he knew that the heart of Cleveland's order would be coming to the plate. Rube strolled to the stands, flirted with a couple of lovely ladies, and then returned to the rubber and blazed nine straight strikes past Nap Lajoie, Bill Bradley, and Elmer Flick - three of the best hitters in the game.

In 1903 Rube struck out 302 batters. The mark seemed to defy belief. Flame throwers Cyclone Young and Addie Joss hadn't COMBINED for that many. In 1904 Rube registered 349 strikeouts, still the AL record for lefties. This year 140 major leaguers struck out 100 times or more - some A LOT more. In 1904 one batter did. Only four others struck out as many as 80 times. Wee Willie Keeler fanned twelve times in '04. He was getting old. In his prime he struck out ten times in 1,850 at bats.

Big Ed Delahanty, who once homered
four times in a game, hated to strike out.
Hitters weren't trying to reach the fences then. Because cranks who couldn't be seated needed to stand in the outfield, parks were far bigger. There wasn't much chance you could hit a tobacco juice drenched ball that had been in the game for five innings (rooters were expected to return foul balls) 490 feet after all. Batters choked up and swung for base hits. Even powerful Nap Lajoie (pronounced Lajaway) fanned just 19 times in '04. In '02 three-time .400 hitter Ed Delahanty, the subject of my latest book, "The Only Del", struck out nine times.

In 1904 major leaguers struck out in 11.3% of their at bats. This year, batters struck out in 24.2% percent of their at bats. If you do the math, at that rate Rube would have racked up 747 K's this season. More remarkable is the fact that Rube missed his last five starts in '04 with a separated shoulder. Hell, he might have struck out 400. That'd translate to more than 800 in today's game.

It Took the Red Sox 100 Years

The Red Sox finished first in the AL East for a second consecutive season. The team hadn't accomplished that since the two leagues split into divisions in 1969. In fact the last time the Red Sox captured back-to-back blue ribbons was in 1915 and 1916. This year they were led by 18-game winners Chris Sale and 'Big Smooth'  Drew Pomerantz.

In 1915 Boston had an embarrassment of riches on the mound. Ernie Shore and Rube Foster won 19 games each. There were a lot of lefties named after Rube Waddell back then, but Foster was a rightie. Oddly, one of his four wives was named Ruby. Flaky Rube Waddell was never sure how many women he'd married.

Babe Ruth, who led the team with four home runs, won 18 games and Dutch Leonard and Smoky Joe Wood both won 15. The Red Sox had a couple of other pretty talented hurlers too - Carl Mays and Herb Pennock.  The Babe would win 23 in '16 and then 24 in '17. No wonder they were reluctant to move him to the outfield.