Saturday, October 28, 2017

Powerful Pairs

The Bronx Bombers have long been known for hitting the long ball. Aaron Judge smacked 52 homers this season and Gary Sanchez swatted 33. Where does their combined total of 85 rank in Yankee history?
Harry Wolter, one of two with two in '13

In the team’s first thirteen seasons, the top two home run hitters on the club averaged eight round-trippers a year. Not each. Combined! The lowest total ever will be hard to beat - the top pair in 1913 swatted just two each. Twelve homers remained the club’s dynamic duo record until 1916 when Wally Pipp and Frank Home Run Baker combined for 22.

So much for the Dead Ball Era, as Yankee fans will guess, that record was shattered in 1920 when the Babe blasted 54 and Wally Pip, Aaron Scott, and Silent Bob Meusel managed eleven a piece. The new mark of 65 by a twosome was bettered the very next season when Ruth launched 59 and Meusel hit 24 for a record 83.

Of course that record was broken in the Home Run Derby of ’27, which is meticulously chronicled in “Babe Ruth & the 1927 Yankees Have the Best Summer Ever”. Gehrig and the Babe combined for what must have seemed at the time a never-to-be-bettered 107 circuit clouts. (Reporters conjured up a lot of new names for homers that year.) Ruth and Gehrig combined for 81 in ’28 and again in ’29, had 90 in 1930 and then belted 46 each in ’31 for a total of 92, good for third place on the Yankee powerful pairs all-time list. With the Babe gone in ’35 the top two (Lou and Tony Lazzeri) hit just 43, the poorest total since 1919.

The 46 by 22-year-old Joe Dimaggio and 37 from 34-year-old Gehrig in ‘37 would be the most by a pair of Yankees until 1956, the meagerest total coming in the last year of WWII when Nick Etten hit 18 and Russ Derry added 13. In ’56 it was Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra leading the way with 52 and 30 for 82, just short of the ’21 mark of Ruth and Meusel. In the most famous Homer Derby since ’27 Mick and Roger combined for 115 in ’61.
The 60’s saw a decline in talent and in power as well. In ’67 Mantle and Tom Tresh managed just 36 dingers and the next year the Mick and Roy White totalled 35, the same number as Graig Nettles and Thurman Munson in ’74. The 69 homers - 37 by Nettles and 32 by Reggie - in 1977 were the most by a pair of sluggers since ’61.

After reaching a low point of just 40 in ’94 and ’95 there was an improvement to 65 in ’97, most of them off the bat of Tino Martinez. The 80 by Jason Giambi and Alfonso Soriano in 2002 were the most since ’61 but would be topped by A-Rod’s 48 and Gary Sheffield’s 34 in ‘05. The 2013 and ‘14 totals of 44 and 45 were the lowest in twenty years. Last year’s 43 was even worse. This year of course, things changed.
Here are the best ever Yankee pairs.
1st  1961  -  115   Maris & Mantle   2nd  1927 - 107  Ruth & Gehrig   
3rd  1931  - 92   Ruth & Gehrig    4th  1930  - 90   Ruth & Gehrig   
5th  2017 - 85  Judge & Sanchez    6th  1921 and 1937 – 83 Ruth & Meusel; Dimaggio & Gehrig 
8th  – 82  1956 and 2005   Mantle & Berra; A-Rod & Sheffield
10th  – 81  1928 and 1929  Ruth & Gehrig; Ruth & Gehrig    

So Judge and Sanchez were right up there with the best. As for how their top seven (add in Didi, Gardner, Holliday, Starlin, and Hicks) stack up against the top seven of all time … they belted 166 homers. In ‘61 Mick, Roger, Moose, Yogi, Ellie, Blanchard, and Clete whacked 218. Judge and Sanchez may well improve upon their 85 homers in years to come but when it comes to striking out it’s worth noting that Lou and the Babe fanned a combined 173 times in ’27 and Roger and Mickey whiffed in 179 of their 1961 bats. Aaron and Gary struck out 328 times this year! Joe Dimaggio would have been mortified to strike out like those two do. He whiffed 39 times in his rookie season and never that often again. In ’41 he went to the plate 622 times and struck out 13 times. Like I said, times change.
Injuries and illness played a role in each of the ’27, ’61, and 2017 powerful pairs’ performances. On September 10, with 18 games left in the ’61 season, Maris had 56 home runs, three more than Mickey. Mantle had been suffering severe muscle stiffness and soreness for weeks and had then caught a nasty cold that sapped his strength and caused him to miss four games. He returned to action on September 23 and hit his 54th in the first inning, but the next day went 0-3 before leaving the game in the sixth. On the advice of broadcaster Mel Allen, Mickey visited the office of Doctor Max Jacobsen, whose nickname was Doctor Feelgood. Among his patients Jacobsen boasted Eddie Fisher, Judy Garland, Tennessee Williams, and Elizabeth Taylor. The doctor gave Mantle a shot of amphetamine in the hip. The needle caused him severe pain, he felt like he’d been jammed with a hot poker. The Yankees’ doctor removed an abscess from Mick’s hip, leaving behind a hole the size of a golf ball.  He would hit no more homers.
This year, while Aaron Judge stayed healthy and played in 155 games, Gary Sanchez missed 21 games due to a muscle strain behind his right biceps.
Gehrig - no goiter
In ’27 the Babe stayed healthy and played in all but three of the Yankees’ games. Of course the indestructible Gehrig played them all. But he was stricken by a goiter, the removal of which would necessitate a then rather risky operation. On September 9, Lou was batting .389, with 45 homers and 161 runs batted in. He was on a pace to drive in 189. But in the 22 games after the goiter swelled the Iron Horse batted just .275 and hit just two home runs.

As you can read in “Babe Ruth & the 1927 Yankees Have the Best Summer Ever”, it wasn’t Lou that had the goiter!



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.