Category Archives: MLB

The Second Coming of Joe DiMaggio

I posted yesterday about a chat I will be doing at 11:30 a.m. PST today to promote a new article. The article’s live this morning, and if you enjoy my writing, this one might especially be of interest.

I wrote about how Joe Marty got hyped as the second coming of Joe DiMaggio, his teammate from the Pacific Coast League and why he failed to live up to it. This was a fun one to research and write. Marty’s near to my heart, as I grew up and live in Sacramento, where he’s from.

Please let me know what you guys think of my piece, good or bad. No one’s been commenting lately, and I want to make sure I’m writing things that are of interest. If not, maybe it’s time for me to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to create better articles. I don’t want to waste my life churning things out that no one reads.

Join me for a live chat about baseball history

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to have a new freelance piece dropping at The National Pastime Museum entitled “The Second Coming of Joe DiMaggio.” It’s about how DiMaggio’s teammate in the Pacific Coast League, Joe Marty drew comparisons to him when he debuted in the majors in 1937. In general, I’m intrigued with players who get heavily hyped or compared to all-time greats and then don’t live up to it. Marty was also from my hometown of Sacramento.

The National Pastime Museum has started doing something interesting recently whenever new articles appear. It’s having its authors host live chats to promote them. I’d like to invite anyone interested to take part in my chat tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. PST.  The National Pastime Museum publishes a lot of good writing about baseball history and offers fair pay for professional writers, so I’d like to see it succeed. I also think this chat should be a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys baseball history.

To sign up for the chat, simply go to this page and RSVP. You’ll get an email reminder 15 minutes before the chat.

The chat will last for one hour and primarily be about Joe DiMaggio and my article. That said, I invite people to take part regardless of if they’ve read my piece and also to ask me any question under the sun. If people would prefer to spend an hour talking about the Hall of Fame, I’m cool with that. I’m happy to talk about anything people want, as long as we’re talking baseball history.

Please feel free to email me at thewomack@gmail.com with comments or questions about how to sign up or anything else related to the chat. That being said, I look forward to chatting with as many of you as possible tomorrow.

I went on AM 1570 in Baltimore

Writing for Sporting News has a few perks. One perk is that it dramatically increases my chances of appearing on the radio. Something about the Sporting News name lends instant credibility that I could never dream of in my years simply blogging at this website.

Anyhow, I have an almost 20-minute clip to share from WNST AM 1570 in Baltimore yesterday morning. I talk a lot in the clip about my love for Candlestick Park, the Hall of Fame, and more. Let me know what you think if you listen.

If you’re reading this and you have a radio show, podcast, or television show, I’d be happy to appear on it free of charge. Feel free to email me at thewomack@gmail.com if you’re interested.

The baseball book that changed my life

I have another freelance baseball article out today. Work has been brisk lately, as I want it. I struck out one on my own as a full-time writer and editor about three months ago, and I need all the work I can get.

Anyhow, one of the websites that I write for, The National Pastime Museum has a cool series called, “The Baseball Book That Changed My Life.” My contribution to it just came out a little while ago this morning. I wrote about The 20th Century Baseball Chronicle, a massive book of baseball trivia that my grandfather gave me when I was eight. To read why it changed my life, be sure to check out the essay.

Feedback as always is welcome. Thanks for reading.

Nine months of content is missing from my website

Any new visitors to this site may notice that it looks a bit bare, with the most recent published article from March 14 as I write this post. My site went down over the weekend, and though it’s back online, roughly nine months of content is missing.

I hate when this happens. In the six and a half years my site has existed, this is maybe the third time I’ve lost content over what I presume is a server crash. The last time, two years ago, I lost three months of articles. This is the most that’s disappeared in one fell swoop. I feel nauseous writing this.

Every article I publish is automatically sent to me via WordPress, so I have the option to manually republish everything. I really don’t want to do this, for a number of reasons. But I’ll try and get at least a few big posts from the past several months up.

If anyone has ideas about how to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future, I’m all ears. I’m really tired of this happening.

Babe Ruth, the White Sox, and what might have been

In the summer of 1914, 19-year-old Babe Ruth emerged as a star pitcher for Baltimore of the International League, and a bidding war quickly developed for his services. Robert Creamer wrote in his landmark 1974 Ruth biography of Baltimore owner Jack Dunn offering Ruth to Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack and failing to contact New York Giants manager John McGraw, who had interest.

There were other potential suitors as well, such as New York Yankees owner Frank Farrell who offered Dunn $25,000 for Ruth and three other players just prior to Ruth’s sale in July 1914. Dunn turned it down, hoping to get at least $30,000. The Baltimore owner was sometimes notorious for holding out on selling players, most notably perhaps with Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove a decade later.

Another offer Dunn received may have changed baseball history had he moved on it. In reporting the sale to the Boston Red Sox of Ruth, Ernie Shore, and Ben Egan, theAllentown Democrat [Allentown, PA] noted July 11, 1914 that the Chicago White Sox had offered $18,000 for Ruth alone.

I tweeted a little while ago about finding this article, and my friend and editor Rich Mueller, whose website Sports Collector Daily I contribute to, showed me a piece he wrote in 2012. In uncovering correspondence from White Sox scout George Earl Mills, Mueller found that team owner Charlie Comiskey could have had Ruth and five other players for $18,000, but turned it down thinking the price too high.

Mueller wrote:

Had Comiskey been willing to open his checkbook a little more for the recent refugee from St. Mary’s Industrial School, baseball history would have been forever altered.  The White Sox may have become the dominant team in baseball during the 1920s.  The Black Sox scandal may never have happened–or Ruth could have been caught up in it.

I like to think Ruth could have turned the tide in the 1919 World Series on his own. It’s rare in baseball that a single position player has the power to change the course of events, but Ruth was more or less a one man show for Boston in 1919. It’s one of the more underrated seasons in baseball history, even if it paled in comparison to what came later for Ruth.

Ruth was so much better than the rest of his team and the rest of his league in 1919 it’s ridiculous. In just his first full season as a position player, Ruth offered a 217 OPS+ and shattered the home run record with 29. He hit all but four of Boston’s home runs, scoring or driving in about a third of Boston’s runs. Ruth also hit 12 percent of all homers in the American League in 1919. For context, Barry Bonds’ 73 homers represented just 2.5 percent of all National League homers in 2001.

So I like to think Ruth could have beat the Cincinnati Reds and eight conspiring teammates on his own in 1919, but who knows. Then again, heroics by Ruth may never have brought to light the gambling problem in baseball, which was endemic over the first 20 years of the 20th century, maybe longer. In that respect, I’m glad things played out as they did. Still, it’s interesting to wonder what might have been.

A few more places to read my work

Hi everyone:

Once again, I must offer my apologies on the recent lull in posting here. I’m three days away from moving to Sacramento to be with my girlfriend, and life will hopefully be getting back to normal soon. The last few months have been a blur of work and hunting for an apartment and job in Sacramento while trying to get as much quality time in as I can with my girlfriend.

I apologize to anyone who’s been anxious for new content here. Believe me, I’ve been anxious to write more than I have, though my obligations have taken precedence.

That said, I’ve started contributing weekly at a memorabilia website called Sports Collectors Daily. I haven’t seriously collected sports cards since childhood, though there’s ample opportunity to discuss baseball history in writing about the hobby. I’ve written two pieces thus far, one on rookie cards of popular Hall of Fame candidates and one that went live tonight featuring cards of 15 players who met tragic ends. Please feel free to suggest ideas for future pieces– I’ll of course credit anyone who gives me an idea I use.

Aside from my new gig, I’m also working on a Hall of Fame-related research piece for a site that may be familiar to SABR members. I’ll hold off for now on saying the name of the site here, though I’m excited to write something for it.

Anyhow, my thanks to everyone who frequents this site. I look forward to having a steady supply of new content again soon.

Graham

Keith Olbermann mentioned me on ESPN

I had one of the more surreal moments of my life yesterday.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted a link to my recent piece on Herman Long to Keith Olbermann. Like me, Olbermann’s a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and he wrote something about Long a few years ago that caught my eye.

I originally hoped Olbermann might like my piece enough to retweet it or even just say he liked it. It’s gratifying to get a response from someone of Olbermann’s stature, a sign that perhaps all the work I do here isn’t in vain. There’s also a tangible benefit, as even a 0.1 percent click through rate on my story from Olbermann’s 500,000 Twitter followers would bring 500 visitors here, a good traffic day by this website’s standards.

It made my night when Olbermann retweeted my piece just before Christmas and told me great job via Twitter. Yesterday, Olbermann went one better and did something that, to my knowledge, no television personality has done for me before. In a segment Tuesday on Long’s forgotten Hall of Fame candidacy, Olbermann mentioned me and my piece during his show “Countdown” on ESPN2, even quoting what I wrote on the air.

The mention of me starts around the 4:30 mark of this.

I can’t say how flattered I was to see this. I’m 31 years old, haven’t sold a freelance piece in almost a year, and I question sometimes how much longer I can keep trying to write about baseball for a living. I love researching and writing about baseball history, and I think I’ll always do it at least as a hobby, but economically, it doesn’t make much sense to keep telling myself I can one day make a career of this. Days like Tuesday make me want to keep trying.

Joe Sewell and the art of not striking out

By various measures, Joe Sewell might rank as the hardest player to strike out in baseball history. The Hall of Famer fanned just 114 times in 8,333 plate appearances lifetime, famous for going full seasons with four or six strikeouts. Lefty Grove, who never struck Sewell out in 96 at-bats, per Retrosheet, called him the toughest batter he ever faced.

I got to wondering recently if Sewell went his entire career without striking out twice in a game. I checked game logs on Baseball-Reference.com, and it’s close: Sewell struck out twice on May 13, 1923 and again on May 26, 1930. Sewell being Sewell, he didn’t strike out the rest of the 1930 season after May 26, finishing the year with three strikeouts in 414 plate appearances.

At the time of the 1930 game, Sewell was getting over a recent end due to illness to an 1,103-game consecutive games streak, second-best in baseball history at the time after Everett Scott according to Sewell’s SABR biography. Interviewed in the 1970s by Society for American Baseball Research founder L. Robert Davids, Sewell said also he was thrown off in the 1930 game by white shirts in the center field bleachers.

One of Sewell’s secrets as a hitter, after all, was his ability to keep his eye on the ball. He also favored contact over power, with just 49 homers lifetime, and he kept a comfortable stance that allowed him to adjust to any pitch.

“I followed the ball all the way,” Sewell said in 1960, while hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians, where he played most of his career. “I could even see it hit the bat. Anyone can– if he concentrates on picking up the ball and not watching the pitcher’s motion.”

That might be a good lesson for today’s hitters. With major leaguers striking out a record 37,441 times in 2014, Sewell’s career strikeout rate looks untouchable. Since 1950, just five players according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool have struck out under 500 times with at least 8,000 plate appearances: Nellie Fox, Jim Gilliam, Bill Buckner, Tony Gwynn and Juan Pierre.

Sewell, who died in 1990, would likely be aghast at today’s strikeout rates. “There’s no excuse for a major league player striking out 100 times a season,” he said in 1960. “Unless, of course, he’s blind.”

A busy few weeks

Dear readers:

I apologize for the sporadic content lately. It’s been a busy past couple of months. I’ve been working longer hours at work and am also in the process of moving to Sacramento to be with the woman I love.

I enjoy maintaining this site and something feels off when I’m not writing regularly here. That said, supporting myself and being there for the people who matter most to me will always take precedence.

The regular posting schedule here is 3-5 articles per week. I will return to this as soon as I can.

I should have a new post up in the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading,
Graham

Jim Levey’s year in the sun

If Jim Levey isn’t the worst player in baseball history, he isn’t far off. My friend Adam Darowski ranks him 18,401st out of 18,405 players. But even bad players have their days. Alfredo Griffin, Doug Flynn and Neifi Perez all won Gold Glove awards. Ray Oyler had his own fan club in Seattle, having a good enough experience in the city that he lived there until his death. Levey, meanwhile, got an MVP vote in 1932. There’s a good story around how Levey got that vote.

I discovered Levey, a shortstop for the St. Louis Browns while researching Pete Rose and the worst seven-season stretches for players based on Wins Above Average. WAA’s an interesting stat, and Levey shows a side of it I hadn’t thought much about. As reader Marc Rettus has pointed out a few times in the comments here, WAA is a rate stat that rewards players like Roberto Clemente or Sandy Koufax whose careers ended at or near peak performance levels. WAA penalizes players like Rose, Lou Brock and Rabbit Maranville, to name a few who stuck around past their primes. Then there are the Jim Leveys of the baseball world who started their careers at the statistical bottom and scraped it for a few years before their inevitable quick departures from the majors.

Levey lasted just 440 games through four seasons with the Browns before being banished back to the minors, though it’s worth noting he accumulated his -13.7 WAA at a quicker clip than the all-time leader for this stat, Bill Bergen at -24.4 WAA. For the most part, Levey’s career was just wall-to-wall dreck. His -5.9 WAA in 1933 is worst in baseball history, and he also ranks fourth-worst all-time with -5 WAA in 1931. Levey wasn’t a bad athlete, necessarily, coaching semi-pro basketball during the 1932 offseason and playing in the NFL after his time in the majors. He just didn’t have much success with baseball.

But in 1932, however, things seemingly came together for Levey. Seizing on a suggestion in spring training from manager Bill Killefer to change his right-handed batting stance and hit left-handed against right-handed pitchers, Levey raised his batting average .280, up 71 points from 1931. While sabermetrics shows that Levey’s 1932 season wasn’t good, just relatively less bad than his other work at -2.6 WAA, it seemed like enough of an improvement at the time that he was written of as possibly baseball’s most improved player late in the season.

I couldn’t figure out who gave Levey his MVP vote and if it was meant seriously or as a token gesture. Votes like this sometimes go to veteran players who help traditionally bad teams to unexpected successes; Maranville got these sorts of MVP votes late in his career. But the ’32 Browns finished a distant sixth at 63-91. And even by the statistical measures of the day for voters, Levey looked nothing close to the best player in his league. Jimmie Foxx was American League MVP decisively, hitting .364 with 58 homers and 169 RBIs for an A’s team that won 94 games and finished second.

That being said, I can’t say that I mind coming upon votes like this. It’s nice to see the Jim Leveys of baseball win one every now and again.

Pete Rose’s historically bad final seasons

I was struck perusing Baseball-Reference.com on Saturday to see Pete Rose had -13.7 Wins Above Average over his final seven seasons, 1980 through 1986. It’s long been well-known Rose stuck around a few seasons longer than he maybe should have as he chased the all-time hits record. Rose got 884 hits those final seven seasons, passing Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, Tris Speaker, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and finally Ty Cobb on the hits list. But those seasons cost Rose in other ways.

If Rose had retired at 38 after the 1979 season, he’d rank 49th all-time with 42.3 WAA; instead, he’s tied for 130th at 28.6. He’d also be two hits shy of averaging 200 hits a season for his career and likely would have been ushered into the Hall of Fame in 1985, four years before his lifetime ban for betting on baseball. In more ways than maybe any other player in baseball history, Rose’s career and life is a story of not knowing when to quit. Ironically, it’s the same compulsive drive that made him great.

By Wins Above Average, Rose’s final seven seasons rank 29th-worst among position players in modern baseball history. With the help of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are the 29 worst seven-season runs by position players since 1900:

  • Bill Bergen, -14.3 WAA, 1901-1907
  • Bill Bergen, -14 WAA, 1902-1908
  • Bill Bergen, -14.9 WAA, 1903-1909
  • Bill Bergen, -16 WAA, 1904-1910
  • Bill Bergen, -16.3 WAA, 1905-1911
  • Ralph Young, -14 WAA, 1916-1922
  • Walter Holke, -13.8 WAA, 1918-1924
  • Walter Holke, -14.7 WAA, 1919-1925
  • Chick Galloway, -15.3 WAA, 1920-1926
  • Tommy Thevenow, -13.8 WAA, 1928-1934
  • Tommy Thevenow, -15.6 WAA, 1929-1935
  • Tommy Thevenow, -14 WAA, 1930-1936
  • Doc Cramer, -15.8 WAA, 1936-1942
  • Doc Cramer, -13.8 WAA, 1937-1943
  • Ken Reitz, -15 WAA, 1973-1979
  • Ken Reitz, -16.2 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Jerry Morales, -15.3 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Dan Meyer, -14.3 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Ken Reitz, -15.7 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Dan Meyer, -15.4 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Jerry Morales, -14.9 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Doug Flynn, -15.9 WAA, 1976-1982
  • Dan Meyer, -14.1 WAA, 1976-1982
  • Doug Flynn, -17.6 WAA, 1977-1983
  • Dan Meyer, -14.7 WAA, 1977-1983
  • Doug Flynn, -17 WAA, 1978-1984
  • Doug Flynn, -14.7 WAA, 1979-1985
  • Pete Rose, -13.7 WAA, 1980-1986
  • Yuniesky Betancourt, -16.7 WAA, 2007-2013

There’s another side to this that I’d be remiss to not mention. For one thing, Rose’s WAA would be higher had he not played first base for the Phillies. According to this page of Baseball-Reference.com, which @LoveSportsFacts showed me on Twitter, WAR sets average offensive production for first basemen at .797 OPS. It’s set at .707 for third base, Rose’s position before he signed with the Phillies in December 1978. Assuming Rose had been able to keep playing the bulk of his innings at third, his .687 OPS from 1980 through 1986 would be close to average for the position. It seems a little unfair to penalize Rose, given that he switched positions to accommodate Mike Schmidt.

Rose’s greatest value may have come in the clubhouse, which makes me wonder why he didn’t manage Philadelphia, which had four skippers during his five seasons in town. Dan Mallon shared a few pages with me via Twitter from the 2013 book Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980 Phillies, which describes Rose’s immediate impact in Philadelphia. This included Rose diverting attention away from Schmidt by grandstanding with the press, “a wonderful salesman for the team almost from the beginning of his tenure.” He also helped build Schmidt and other teammates’ confidence. The book includes a quote from Schmidt, who said of Rose:

In 1980, Pete provided the kind of dynamic leadership that took the pressure off the other players. He was the finest team player I had ever seen. He always had something to say to pump you up, to play harder every game. At the same time, he was the kind of athlete who was boastful and could go out on the field and back it up. That allowed the rest of us to raise our level of play and ultimately go on to win the World Series.

Mallon told me Rose that Schmidt, like Phillies teammates Larry Bowa and the late Tug McGraw and manager Dallas Green have all publicly credited Rose for getting Philadelphia over the hump to win its first World Series in 1980. After all when Rose joined the Phillies as a free agent in December 1978, the team was coming off three consecutive years losing the National League Championship Series. As a player, Rose was worth -2.8 WAA in 1980. Given the outcome that year, the point is moot.

It’s a different story for 1983, where 42-year-old Rose hit .245, was worth -4 Wins Above Average and struggled to keep his starting spot. Nicknamed “The Wheeze Kids” at an MLB-high 31.8 years average age that season, Philadelphia somehow made a pennant run. Rose hit .345 in the playoffs, but the Phillies lost to Baltimore 4-1 in the World Series and released Rose one week later. Roger Angell wrote of it, “It is painful for us to see old players go, and infinitely harder when they prolong the inevitable process.” Bill James wrote in his 1984 abstract, by which point Rose had signed with the Montreal Expos:

Pete’s selfishness in sacrificing the good of his team to forge on in sub-mediocrity after his own goals is, in its own way, what you would expect from a spoiled beauty. It’s a sad way to end a distinguished career, but you’ll do us both a favor if you’ll just pull the plug on it, and let him get his 4,000th hit two years from now in an empty parking garage in a dark corner of the nation, at a far remove from the pennant race.

Baseball, of course, did nothing of the sort with a seven-minute celebration and new Corvette presented on field when Rose got his record on September 11, 1985.

A nice story about Doug Glanville

I was pleasantly surprised the other day to see former baseball player, ESPN commentator and writer Doug Glanville announced as a candidate to manage the Tampa Bay Rays. I’ve admired Doug’s thoughtful, engaging writing for a long time, maybe a decade. I also have a personal connection to Doug that I haven’t shared here, though I thought the time might be right.

As an independent baseball blogger, I sometimes devise unusual methods to promote my work. In the past, I wrote a weekly column here called “Any player/Any era” where I projected players into different eras than the ones they played in. A couple of years ago, having interacted with Doug once or twice through Twitter, I thought he’d be interested to hear I’d be writing one of these columns on him. Doug was receptive, answering a few questions while I researched the piece. He had nice things to say about the end product, too and within a few months, we were following each other on Twitter.

Around this time, I went through a rough stretch with employment, being unable to consistently pay my bills. I sometimes will stay quiet during such stretches, as they’re embarrassing, though I decided to speak up this time on Twitter. Doug caught site of my tweet as follows:

The best was yet to come.

Shortly thereafter, Doug messaged me asking where I’d want to write, if I could do so anywhere. Would if every struggling writer could get one of these messages. I was so excited I called my parents at 6:30 a.m. to tell them. That probably wasn’t my best idea, as parents worry when they get calls from or about their kids so early in the morning. Still, I couldn’t hide how I was feeling.

After thinking about it briefly, I told Doug of a few places I might like to write, including the San Francisco Chronicle. Doug said he’d email the sports editor. While Doug wasn’t the only person who put in a good word for me, he’s part of the reason I wound up freelancing for the Chronicle for about a year. [A collection of my Chronicle stories can be found here, by the way.]

With sabermetrics staking more and more of a place in the baseball world, the job of a manager is changing. For some teams, managing is less these days about devising in-game strategies [front office employees and computers can do that] than it is about managing the various personalities that play for any given team. Managing is about offering encouragement to a collection of mostly 20- and 30-something-year-old players, getting the best out of them, helping them to believe they’re capable of more than they have been heretofore.

Doug did this for me and while I don’t know if that means he’d make a good big league manager, I like to think it does.

Project schedules

A quick update for a Tuesday afternoon:

First off, voting closed Sunday night for my project on the 25 most important people in baseball history. Thanks to the 262 people who voted! I’m excited to share the voting results and will unveil them next Monday. I want to take my time writing between now and then to do this project justice. I’ll try to get a couple regular posts up in the interim, though I’m not promising anything in-depth.

On a related note, as some may know, I do an annual project having people vote on the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. I’ve done this project for four years now and it’s always been a December-January thing. I’ve done it at this time because interest in Cooperstown spikes between the time the Veterans Committee announces its inductees in December and when the Baseball Writers Association of America does likewise in January.

That being said, I’ve decided to do something different this year. Because I do not want to burden people who just voted in my project on the 25 most important people in baseball history by asking them to immediately fill out another ballot, I’m pushing my project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame out at least a few months. Ideally, I’d like it to run in late July, when interest in Cooperstown peaks during the annual induction weekend.

I may ask for votes a few months before July, though, as I’m interested in doing the next version of my Hall of Fame project as a book. That’s right. I’m 31, I’ve never written a book, and I know I have one in me. I also think I’ve maybe taken my Hall of Fame project as far as I want to in blog form. I’m eager to explore the creative possibilities that doing my project as a book may allow. I also believe in continuing to give myself challenges and growing. It’s an important part of life, not just for writers.

I’m posting all of this here as an explanation to anyone who was looking forward to voting in a month [eight people have voted all four years of my project; dozens of others have voted two or three years.] I also want to invite anyone interested in helping me plan a book. I know I’m going to need a lot of help for this thing to be a success.

Why Irv Waldron may have left the majors

It ranks as one of the more enduring mysteries in baseball history. The inaugural 1901 season of the American League also marked the debut in the majors of 29-year-old Irv Waldron. While not a star, the 5’5″, 155-pound outfielder hit .311 between the old Milwaukee Brewers [who became the St. Louis Browns in 1902] and Washington Senators, with a 106 OPS+ for the year. And that was it for Waldron. While he played another nine seasons for various minor league teams, he never returned to the majors after 1901.

I’ve written about one-season MLB careers before. What makes Waldron’s unusual is that it didn’t end for the typical reasons– injury or lack of ability. Granted, he finished third in errors by an outfielder, his defense suspect enough to inspire a derisive Chicago Inter Ocean cartoon, at right. But Waldron likely could have gotten more work playing in the majors. Late in the 1901 season, the Boston Beaneaters of the National League expressed interest in signing him for their depleted outfield. Tangentially, one of the Beaneaters stars of 1901 figured in where Waldron played in 1902. More on that in a moment.

To my knowledge, no one’s ever definitively stated the reason for Waldron’s exit from the American League. Seemingly, no one thought to interview him before his death in 1944, with his obituary making no mention of why he left the majors. Waldron has no SABR biography and scant details accompany his stats at Baseball-Reference.com. What’s been written is largely speculative, like this book noting, “His reputation for bone-headed playing must have stayed with him.” The Ultimate Baseball Book classes Waldron “among the most mysterious figures to wear major league uniforms.”

Waldron’s departure was mysterious even at the time. MLB historian and veteran baseball author John Thorn sent me an excerpt from a Febuary 1, 1902 article in Sporting Life that asked of new Washington manager Tom Loftus:

Why has he permitted Sam Dungan and Irving Waldron to slip away and fall into the minor leagues? They hit way over .300 last year why were they not good enough for 1902? The ways of managers are past all explanation, and what’s the use of trying to fathom their ideas?

Loftus’s presence in Washington could hint at why Waldron left. Loftus took over for Jim Manning, who served as both manager and co-owner for Washington in 1901 before selling his controlling shares in the team. The New York Times noted on October 30, 1901 that while several stockholders lobbied Manning to retain control, he sold because of his strained relationship with notoriously imperious American League president Ban Johnson. Instead, Manning and future Hall of Famer Kid Nichols, who anchored the Boston Beaneaters pitching staff in 1901 got joint control of a Western League team, the Kansas City Blue Stockings, with Nichols to serve as manager. In January 1902, Nichols signed a number of players including, on January 19, Waldron.

I mentioned Waldron and Manning’s simultaneous move from Washington to Kansas City to baseball historian David Nemec, who wrote much of the text in The Ultimate Baseball Book. Nemec replied:

I checked my notes after we talked.  They confirm everything you found and more.  Manning was very popular with many players he managed and Nichols was still at the top of his game.  He hated it in Boston and went to KC as part-owner.  Although salary figures are unavailable, I suspect Waldron made more in 02 than he did in 01 with Washington.  After Nichols left KC to come back to the majors, Waldron left too and went to SF in the fledgling PCL.  Probably he followed the money; the PCL even then paid fairly well.  Waldron I suspect was a lesser version of Willie Keeler, good contact hitter but one that didn’t walk much despite the small strike zone he presented.

I’ve mentioned before here– and I’m not the first person to say it– that generations ago in baseball, effective players with a glaring flaw or two like Waldron could often earn more in the minors than the majors, with the added bonus of being able to play in western states the majors didn’t extend to before 1958. Indeed, as a longtime reader pointed out to me when I emailed him about it, most of Waldron’s minor league career after 1901 is a series of sojourns through places like San Francisco, Denver and Lincoln, Nebraska.

There’s one other thing worth noting. Early in the 1902 season, with Waldron on his way to hitting .322 for Kansas City, he got an offer to jump to the Louisville Colonels of the American Assocation. George Tebeau who’d managed the previous Western League team in Kansas City in 1901 offered Waldron $350 a month, not far off of the National League maximum annual salary of $2,400. Waldron turned Tebeau down, giving his telegram to Nichols to keep as a memento. In an article on the incident in the April 30, 1902 Topeka Daily Capital, Nichols laughed, “Tebeau has always been anxious to sign Waldron. He was after him in the East at the time that I landed him.”

There may never be a definitive answer to why Waldron didn’t play in the majors after 1901. Short of tracking down one of his descendants through ancestry.com, which I don’t yet have access to, I’m not sure the historical record exists. But one thing is clear– for many years after 1901, Waldron remained in demand as a baseball player.

Ben Shields and the fight against fate

A longtime reader asked me recently which pitcher in baseball history had the most wins without any losses. In using the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool to research the answer to this question– Clay Rapada, who is 8-0 through seven seasons– I came across an obscure pitcher who seemingly wouldn’t rate a mention today.

Ben Shields’ career spanned just 41.1 innings between 1924 and 1931. While he went 4-0 lifetime, which is tied for the fourth-most wins without any losses of any pitcher in baseball history, the remainder of his stats are ghastly: an 8.27 ERA, 5.82 FIP and a projected -4.0 Wins Above Average for a full season’s work. At one point, however, Shields was a top Yankee prospect. If not for a disease that’s long since been eradicated in the western world, Shields might have pitched for the 1927 Murderers Row club.

Shields certainly looked like one of the few bright spots for an otherwise abysmal Yankee club when he joined the team in September 1925. The left-hander had gone 21-14 for Richmond of the Virginia League that season, setting a strikeout record for the circuit. And after pitching a scoreless inning in his season debut for the Bronx Bombers on September 22, Shields proceeded to win his next three appearances, pitching two complete games. But his illness during spring training the following year would forever alter his career.

After Shields came back to the majors with the Boston Red Sox in 1930, there were stories his career had been disrupted because he’d taken a Babe Ruth line drive to the chest during spring training in 1926, suffering internal injuries. I couldn’t find any record of this in perusing newspaper accounts from 1926. The truth appears to be less dramatic, as it often is, with the Yankees shelving Shields for the 1926 season after he contracted tuberculosis. He’s not the only ballplayer to battle the disease, with Christy Mathewson and Rube Waddell both dying from it. Shields overcame it and lived to old age, dying in 1982, though he didn’t pitch professionally in 1927, ’28 or ’29, working as a taxi driver in Richmond.

The Red Sox thought enough of Shields, however, to pay $150 to cover his travel expenses when they worked him out in the winter of 1930. Shields made just three appearances for Boston, allowing 16 hits and 10 earned runs in ten innings, though the Phillies brought him back the following year after he asked manager Burt Shotton for a tryout. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted on March 3, 1931:

Now the Phillies have him– a burly, healthy-looking fellow, whose weight is up to 213 pounds. But the health bug has bitten Ben for fair now. It’s more weight than he wants, and he’s the hardest worker on the Winter Haven lot to boot.

But that isn’t all. After Burt Shotton dismisses his baseball class every day, Shields hies himself to a lake in Winter Haven and rows around in circles for an hour or more. ‘I’m going to get as hard as steel,’ Ben promises.

I admire people like Ben Shields, folks who persevere, thumb their nose at bad fate and work to make their own better destiny. I want to believe the Ben Shieldses of the world can and will succeed with enough hard work. I want to believe because I see a bit of myself in him. But there was nothing Shields could do about the ’31 Phillies, a sixth-place team that allowed the most runs in the National League and played in the notoriously hitter-friendly Baker Bowl. Shields allowed nine runs over four appearances that totaled 5.1 innings and that was it for him as a baseball player.

Rube Ehrhardt’s unique place in baseball history

Few baseball fans may know of Rube Ehrhardt. Seemingly, there’s no good reason. Ehrhardt pitched for Brooklyn Robins and Cincinnati Reds from 1924 to 1929, going 22-34 with a 4.15 ERA, sub-par even for the high-scoring age in baseball history. With the exception of 1924, when Ehrhardt’s stellar pitching after a mid-July purchase from a Class C team helped keep Brooklyn in the pennant race until the season’s final days, he had an unremarkable career. Half the battle for Ehrhardt was just getting to the majors, as he didn’t debut until age 29 due to multiple serious injuries and service in World War I. Perhaps it stunted his professional growth.

Ehrhardt has a niche in baseball history, though, as one of five pitchers who threw a shutout in their final game, according to this Baseball Research Journal article and a review of recent seasons I did with the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool.

Three of the other men who threw shutouts in their final game– Lew Krausse Sr. on September 2, 1932, Don Fisher on September 30, 1945 and Brian Denman on October 2, 1982– were young pitchers who barely made a dent in the majors and played in the minors for some time after. The fourth pitcher to hurl a shutout in his last game, one-time All Star Don Wilson on September 28, 1974, died months later at 29 of carbon monoxide poisoning. Ehrhardt is the only member of this group who voluntarily didn’t pitch another professional game after his shutout finale.

I’d like to think of Ehrhardt as the baseball equivalent of an entertainer dropping his mic and walking off stage after an epic performance; maybe it isn’t that simple. Ehrhardt was a few months from turning 35 when he blanked the World Series-bound Chicago Cubs on the last day of the 1929 season, triumphing over another journeyman pitching the last game of his big league career. Ehrhardt went to spring training training with Cincinnati in 1930, though the Reds released him in April after he declined to be sent to the minors. The Boston Braves signed Ehrhardt a few months later, though he never pitched for them, instead closing out the year playing semi-pro ball in his native Chicago.

Ehrhardt’s baseball career seemingly over after 1930, he pursued various other lines of work the remainder of his life, at different times a car salesman, taproom operator and, for 20 years, an employee in a Chicago-area steel mill. [Long before free agency or baseball’s pension plan, former ballplayers usually had to work after their careers ended. I’ll dive into this more in a future post.] By the time of Ehrhardt’s death at 85 in 1980, I imagine his baseball career was a distant memory for all but those closest to him.

The “One and Only” Club: Pitchers

On Monday, I looked at hitters who retired with one of a certain stat. I enjoyed researching and writing that enough that I decided to expand this to pitchers. Via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are six pitchers since 1901 who retired with the most innings pitched in the statistical category they represent:

Randy Hennis, one hit allowed in 9.2 IP: Quietly and without anyone knowing it at the time, Randy Hennis had one of the best final appearances in major league history. A 24-year-old September call-up for the Houston Astros in 1990, Hennis threw a one-hitter over 6.1 shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds on the last day of the season. Hennis got rocked during 1991 spring training, however and that was it for him in the majors.

Juan Pena, one run allowed in 13 IP: Whenever someone talks about a great Boston Red Sox pitcher from 1999, it’s generally Pedro Martinez who had one of the best years ever for a pitcher that season. Seemingly no one ever talks about Juan Pena, who got sent to the disabled list twice in short succession after he went 2-0 with an 0.69 ERA in two starts. Pena never pitched again in the majors, though one can only wonder what might have been. Had Pena pitched 210 innings in 1999 [and not regressed], his stats project to a 742 ERA+ and 12.9 WAR.

Jack Nabors, one win in 269.2 IP: Poor Jack Nabors. There was no hope for the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, who were in the middle of a long rebuilding stretch and went 36-117, boasting three pitchers with at least 20 losses. Nabors was one of them, going 1-20 with a 3.47 ERA, 82 ERA+ and 3.12 FIP. Playing on an A’s team that scored just 447 runs, Nabors received two runs or less of support in 18 of his 30 starts. His only win came April 22 when the A’s scored six runs. Connie Mack said late in the season that Nabors would be back in 1917, though he pitched just twice more in his career.

Rube Vickers, one homer allowed in 458 IP: Some context is in order here. Rube Vickers pitched 317 innings in 1908 without allowing a home run, but there were just 116 hit in all of the American League that year. One team, the Chicago White Sox managed three homers all season, with Hall of Fame pitcher Ed Walsh accounting for one of the bombs. In contrast, the average American League team in 2014 hit 144 home runs.

Kirk Rueter, one shutout in 1,918 IP: With just four complete games, a 4.27 ERA and a career spanning an era that strongly favored hitters, it’s a wonder Kirk Rueter lasted as long as he did. His only shutout is more unbelievable: a one-hit, seven strikeout gem on August 27, 1995. Ironically, it came against the San Francisco Giants, where Rueter would play the majority of his career. Or maybe that’s why the Giants traded for Rueter.

Tom Seaver, one save in 4,783 IP: Decades before relief specialists were common, staff aces pitched with some regularity out of the bullpen. Walter Johnson had 34 saves lifetime. Christy Mathewson, Dizzy Dean and Grover Cleveland Alexander all had at least 30 saves as well. Heck, Lefty Grove led the American League in saves the same season he won 28 games. By Seaver’s era, though, the trend had slowed. Tom Terrific made just nine relief appearances in his career, collecting his only save in the second game of a 1968 doubleheader.

Book review series delays

Faithful visitors to this site will notice that once again there is not a promised new book review posted.

I started a Friday book review series a month ago to clear a roughly 30-book backlog that had accumulated since I promised four years ago to review any book sent to me. When the series began, I promised to review a book a week. That quickly became once every two weeks when I couldn’t read the books quickly enough. Now, it’s been three weeks since my last review and I’m halfway through my latest book.

Suffice it to say, I don’t know when my next book review will be posted. It’s important to me to be a person of my word, and I’m tired of making promises I keep breaking. I don’t know if I need to stretch my book review schedule to once every month or abandon it entirely and post reviews as I finish reading these books, even if it’s one every six months. I’d rather post an infrequent but thorough review than rush up hastily-written screeds about books I’ve only skimmed. That said, I’m also concerned about having no incentive to read these books at a reasonable pace.

I’d welcome feedback on this from anyone who’d like to give it.

The “One and Only” Club

It takes some players awhile to collect certain stats. Ben Revere finally hit his first home run this year, five seasons into his big league career. Also in 2014, with less fanfare, Yonder Alonso got his first triple. And, after nearly 1,000 plate appearances, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez stole his first base.

Revere hit his second homer before the regular season ended and other players have gone on to collect more stats in areas they were formerly without luck. I got to wondering, though, about players who retired with just one of a certain stat. With the help of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are eight players. Each has the most plate appearances for any position player since 1901 in the statistical category they represent:

Skeeter Shelton, one hit in 43 plate appearances: Shelton’s big league career barely spanned a week late in the 1915 season. He was perfect in 22 chances in the outfield, with Shelton’s SABR bio noting that he robbed Bobby Veach of a triple. But even in the Deadball Era on a New York Yankees team that hit just .233, there was nothing that could be done about Shelton’s .025 batting average. His SABR bio notes that he served in World War I, coached baseball at West Virginia University and sold insurance, among other things, after he left the majors.

Mike Schemer, one strikeout in 114 plate appearances:

Schemer hit .333 after the New York Giants made him a late-season replacement for Phil Weintraub in August 1945. But while he also won praise for his defense, his power– one home run and a .407 slugging percentage– left something to be desired for a first baseman. “Schemer isn’t an impressive batter,” the Associated Press noted two weeks into his career. “He looks husky enough to powder the ball but he doesn’t get much distance.” Johnny Mize returned from World War II the following season and that was it for Schemer.

Joe Cannon, one walk in 232 plate appearances: There were hints of the inept free-swinger Cannon would become as he progressed through the minors. The 1974 first round draft pick hit .299 with the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate 1976-78, but he averaged 95 strikeouts and 28 walks. Houston dealt Cannon to the Toronto Blue Jays in November 1978. Getting his most playing time in the majors the following season, Cannon’s issues came full surface. In 146 plate appearances, he managed just a .211/.217/.254 slash. His only walk came August 24, buttressed by 34 strikeouts.

George Twombly, one double in 477 plate appearances: Here’s an odd one. Deadball Era outfielder Twombly was by all accounts a hapless hitter, offering a .211/.289/.247 slash over parts of five seasons. That he managed just one double and had no home runs isn’t a surprise. It’s the seven career triples, including five in just 266 plate appearances as a rookie in 1914 that seem wholly out of place.

Duane Kuiper, one home run in 3,754 plate appearances: Maybe I’m biased as a San Francisco Bay Area sports fan, but I assume Giants announcer Kuiper’s one home run is the most well-known of any stat on this page. It even inspired a commemorative bobblehead from the Giants earlier this year. “The thing I always ask myself, and I’ll ask it about this function: If I would have hit two, would there be a bobblehead?” the San Jose Mercury News quoted Kuiper as saying. “No? Well, then this is fantastic!”

Rod Barajas, one triple in 3,784 plate appearances: Lumbering catchers often don’t have many triples or stolen bases in their careers, so it isn’t stunning that Barajas appears here. [He came close to making this list for steals as well, with two lifetime.] He had five triples in his first four seasons in the minors, though.

Gus Triandos, one stolen base in 4,424 plate appearances: I’ll give Triandos credit for knowing not to run. Russ Nixon, who went 2,715 appearances without a stolen base, was thrown out seven times trying to steal. Cecil Fielder was 2-for-8 stealing lifetime. Triandos’ only career stolen base and attempt came the last day of the 1958 season, in the second game of a doubleheader, in the ninth inning. “I went in standing up on that one, too,” Triandos told the Baltimore Sun in 2009. “[Opposing catcher Darrell] Johnson never got over that.”

Pete Rose, one grand slam in 15,890 plate appearances: Had Charlie Hustle played in a better hitter’s era or batted deeper in the order– 90 percent of his PAs came in the first or second spot in the lineup– this stat might be different. That being said, as Tim Kurkjian noted for ESPN.com in 2006, Rose’s sole slam came off his future manager Dallas Green. On a side note, Derek Jeter just retired with one career grand slam as well.