Saturday, June 24, 2017

David Ortiz's Book, Papi, Is A Huge Strikeout



Photo: from the book's Goodreads page, here.

Very disappointing book, more notable for the stuff he leaves out than for what he puts in. This is mostly a gripe session, with a surprising number of motherf---er bombs, considering his younger fanbase. If you want to read about what a motherf---er former Sox GM Theo Epstein was while they talked contracts, and about how much of a motherf---er Twins manager Tom Kelly was all the time, and about how much confidence he has in himself, which is necessary because everyone will disrespect you and you have to defend yourself and tell them who you really are, then this book is for you. He even takes a few stabs at Terry Francona, who he never respected again after Tito pinch-hit for him in Toronto three or four years ago. Yet wasn't he hitting about .220 at the time?

But I'd been hoping instead for a bit more about 2004, about the postseason. Those were covered in a few short pages. Or about 2007, and Curt Schilling's bloody sock, or something about J.D. Drew or Josh Beckett or, hell, anything at all about any of the more important games that year? Maybe something about Youkilis, who nobody remembers anymore. How about how Colorado finished the season 22-1 and then got swept in the World Series? Nope. Maybe 2013? How about some stories about Jonny Gomes, or Napoli, or anyone else? What about that ALCS against the Tigers, when Ortiz hit the season's most important homerun, before Napoli hit his against Verlander in that 1-0 game? How about how the Sox hit maybe the Mendoza line combined for the series, yet won it in 6 games? How about anything at all about Uehara? Maybe the World Series, which had a game that ended with a runner picked off third and was followed by a game that ended with a runner picked off first. Nope. Maybe a paragraph apiece, and nothing at all about any of the specific ALCS or World Series games. Not even anything about his World Series game-winning hits, except that he hit them, and who he hit them off. No commentary; no in-depth analysis, nothing. He proves he had a helluva memory for who threw what to him months ago, which he'd then look for months later, but that's it.

You get a really short chapter about what a butthole Bobby Valentine was, which I already knew, and I detested him then and now and for that whole year. Valentine was a baseball version of Trump, and it's no surprise to me at all that they're actually friends--if either guy can be said to have a friend, as opposed to a mutual, leech-like attraction. But there's nothing new here at all. The few things that may be news to some, like how his marriage almost fell apart, is never given specifics. I'm not expecting The Inquirer here, but give me something. Didn't get it.

I'm telling you, this book is at least 75% about how he was disrespected by contracts and PED accusations. He never mentions HGH, of course, and he never gave honest accolades to people he trashed, like Francona and Epstein. It all comes across as very bitter grapes from someone you might think doesn't have much to be bitter about. He has a few decent points that non-Sox fans may not know, like how the Sox underpays its stars (Pedroia notoriously got a home-discount contract that this book never mentions; Pedroia is more underpaid now than Ortiz ever was, dollar for dollar) and yet overpays its free agent signings--like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. And Carl Crawford. And Julio Lugo. And Edgar Renteria. And Rusney Castillo. You knew this already as a fan, but the sheer number of examples is staggering. Yet even this is harped on again and again, its repetition taking up space you wanted reserved for funny or interesting anecdotes about some players. Hell, how about Orsillo, or Remy, or Castig? How about how he was able to have the single-best last season of any hitter in history? How about any stories at all about fans he's spoken to over the years, especially in 2013?

Nope. You get a chapter about his charity, but nothing about other players' charities. Very disappointing. Ortiz was one of my favorite players, and still is, but as a baseball memoirist, he swings and misses. This book is truly a money-making grab off his retirement. Even non-Sox fans won't learn anything new here, which is a mystery because it's clearly written for a common Sox fan. And believe me, I'm no baseball prude, but the loud volume of motherf---ers and other punches and jibes is shocking, considering he has to know that kids and pre-teens will want to read this. But, Dads out there, beware: They probably shouldn't. Also shocking because it's otherwise such a light read, you'd think it was meant for a light (ie--young and/or new) fan. The diatribes and whining don't make it any less light, so it's essentially a fluff piece with a lot of whining, swears and overall negativity.

Shockingly disappointing.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Aaron Hernandez and Tom Brady



Photo: from the Huffington Post, at this website

--So Aaron Hernandez was (somehow) acquitted of double-homicide, then hanged himself in his cell with a bedsheet, the same day the Super Bowl-winning Patriots visited the White House. If you think that's a coincidence, I want to drink your Kool-Aid. This is what narcissistic sociopaths do, right to the bitter end. That'll show them, he thought.

--He also scribbled John 3:16 on his forehead. It reads: "For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in [H]im may not perish, but may have life everlasting." That's a narcissistic That'll show 'em, too. Again, all about him. That's not religious belief. That's self-importance. And power. Actual religious people are the ones not killing people. This act is an offense to every Christian out there. Narcissistic sociopaths will do anything, and believe anything, that benefits them. Unless you think he was actually seriously religious. Again, I'll take a glass of that.




Photo: Tom and Gisele, from the International Business Times, at this website. These two are so used to the limelight that they know they'll look better together if they're looking in opposite directions.

--I normally don't give a damn about the politics or beliefs of my favorite athletes, but I have to give kudos to Tom Brady, who at the last minute pulled out of a visit to the White House this week. He'll deny it was a political move, but a) Gisele posted an anti-Trump tweet this week (and as Gisele goes, Tom Brady goes); and b) Tom Brady has been quoted many times supporting Trump, speaking for him, and basically being Defense Exhibit A of why I don't care about the politics of my favorite athletes (See also: Curt Schilling). But to blow off Trump at the last second on a worldwide stage is a gutsy move, because we all know it will anger him. And it speaks very loudly, no matter what PC spin all three will put on it. I don't know why he did it (except, as Gisele goes, so does Tom Brady), but I'm glad he did. I might actually try his workout and diet plans, too. Which are really out there.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Don't Believe Everything You Read and Hear: Ty Cobb, A Terrible Beauty



Photo: from the book's Goodreads page (and from my review)


I've got a major sinus infection and fever, that the doctor said looked like strep or the flu, and and she just said she thinks I should be out of action for at least three days, so forgive the lack of structure here. Doing my best...

As Shakespeare's Caesar showed us (and Orwell's Animal Farm), when someone in charge repeats something often enough, the masses believe it. (Defense Exhibit A: Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Exhibit B: Everything Mr. Orange said to win the chair he never sits in.)  Charles Leerhsen's Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty attempts to show that everything we've thought, read and seen in a movie lately about Ty Cobb is either fiction, exaggerated, or misleading.

He largely succeeds, but he gets carried away with his own success. He inserts lame jokes into the text. He happily shows how he's correct and writers like Al Stump aren't. He's right, but does he have to be so gleeful and boastful about it? And most of the errors he points out about Cobb aren't direct falsehoods, but errors of degree. Was Cobb the psychotic we've learned about? No, he wasn't. But would you choose him over Honus Wagner to be on your team? No, you wouldn't. The Tigers desperately needed him, so they coddled him for as long as they needed to, but that was not a happy family in Detroit. Speaking of happy families, Cobb's mother did shoot his father, and Cobb apparently was emotionally and perhaps physically abusive to his kids, and perhaps his wife.

He favors Cobb with such a bias that he writes: "In Honus Wagner [the Pirates] had a marquee star who had almost all of Cobb's ability and none of his charisma..." (223). Now, there's a lot wrong there. Not so fast. Wagner had ALL of Cobb's abilities--including hits (Cobb 4,189; Wagner 3,420) average (.366 to .328) and stolen bases (963 to 897). The point isn't that Wagner surpassed the numbers; the point is we're talking about 2 all-time greats playing at the same time, amassing very similar numbers. And Wagner never saw the live ball era of the 1920s as Cobb did. Wagner retired in 1917 while Cobb hung up his spikes in 1928. Had they played during exactly the same years, their numbers would be closer. Though Cobb may have a slight edge with the bat, the numbers show that Wagner could have matched them, but didn't. Why? Perhaps the Pirates didn't need him to.

But the point Leerhsen never makes in his whole 400+ page book is that on defense for his career, Cobb owes 10 games to the Tigers (his defensive WAR is -10), while for his career Wagner gives his team +21 wins on defense. That's a swing of 30 games, which Cobb's 38 points of batting average, 700 hits and 66 stolen bases don't compensate for. (Cobb played 3 more years than Wagner, and Honus never saw the lively ball of the 20s.) Cobb was known as an average to below-average defender, at best, while Wagner made other players' jaws drop at shortstop. He played Gold Glove- caliber defense every day, according to his contemporaries, in The Glory of their Times. All of the players said Wagner was better than Cobb because of Wagner's defense, and that they all stood around and watched as Wagner hit. Nobody says that about Cobb.

Also consider Cobb's behavior. Leerhsen makes it clear that he was nowhere near the crazy butthole everyone thinks--but he also makes it clear that he was a pain in the ass to his own teammates, to anyone who got in his way on the basepaths (I can let that slide, as the players did. See what I did there?), to the team management that usually coddled him and adopted him, and to fans, both for him and against him. Did Cobb assault a black waiter? No, he didn't. Did he dislike African-Americans in general? The evidence says No, that he was indifferent, and that he was for them if they were good ballplayers, like how he spoke in favor of Jackie Robinson. Did he kill 3 people, as has been said? Nope.

But did he jump into the stands and beat the crap out of a paraplegic? Yes, he did! Did he slide with his spikes up? Yes, he did, but only if you were in his direct line on the basepaths. And if you were at a base, including home, he usually slid away from you. Did he say bad things to almost everyone, including his teammates, kids and wives? Yes. Did he drink too much as he got older and turn nasty? Yes, he did. You get the idea. Now, did Wagner do any of those things while active? Was the whole Pirates team against him? Did he piss off his ownership? Did he assault the disabled and chase after umpires and fight almost every guy he knew? Nope. And does that translate into a better team, so that it could be said that he helped his team by not being a butthole like Cobb was? You bet. (Though, like Cobb, Wagner drank too much when he got old. But while alcohol made Cobb angry, bitter and mean, the sauce just made Wagner babble incessantly, and start baseball stories that could last an afternoon.) In a nutshell, that's the argument Bill James makes when he says that Ted Williams was a better hitter than Stan Musial, but not a better ballplayer (or left fielder).

It's not clear by the numbers that Cobb was that much better than Wagner with the bat (though I'll concede the point that he may have been a little bit, like Ruth over Gehrig), but it's also very clear that Wagner was the much better defender and clubhouse presence. I don't give much credence usually to the latter, but I do when we're talking about a chronic problem like Cobb, though he may not have been the psychotic we've been led to believe he was. Having read this book, I see him now as a Jimmy Piersall type of neurotic, a nervous and anxiety-ridden guy, with an ability ten thousand times that of Piersall. But essentially the same temperament.

So that's what we've got here. The author makes the mistake of celebrating himself too much--ironic, since that's what he shows Cobb did too much, which made his teammates dislike him. He was better than they were, and different, and smarter, and faster, and that also made them dislike him. In fact, the T206 guys on his team actively bullied him, to the point that a few of them were suspended by the team. I don't criticize Cobb for this, though one would think he could have somehow handled it better. After all, Wagner was better than all of the Pirates of his time, and nobody taunted him or beat him up, even when he was a rookie. But Leerhsen says at least 12 times (I stopped counting) that Wagner (and Lajoie, and Elmer Flick, and other HOFers of the time) were grunts with a lunchpail, guys who would be in the mines without baseball, boring guys with no personality--I'm not making this up, or exaggerating. Leerhsen calls them these things.

Well, hell, I used to know a lot of people I thought were interesting, who did a lot of crazy things, who hurt a lot of good people, either emotionally, mentally or physically (or all of the above), but weren't they fun and exciting? But then I grew up, and I saw that stable and consistent behavior is a helluva lot more interesting than the crazy, destructive and self-destructive crap I saw the "exciting" people do. Those latter people flamed out, or exited from my life, stage left, (or both) and I replaced them with stable and consistent people with different things about them that were exciting and interesting.

Which ones would you rather work with for 20+ years? Exactly. Turns out, consistent and stable people make your job (and therefore your life) easier. Leerhsen gets caught up in his own cult of personality, like Cobb did in his, and it made them both pale in comparison.

So if you like the T206 era as I do, and you're interested in who Ty Cobb was, like I am, you should read this, and you'll find it interesting. It's informative, it sets the matter of Cobb straight, and it's a good read.

But like those guys who keep repeating the same thing, and it's believed because it's on the internet, or it's in print, or it's what you want to hear, or it's said by someone in some sort of power--Well, don't believe everything you read, you know? Ironic, because that's the point of this book, and Leerhsen proves his point in a way that he doesn't want to. But there it is.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez




Photos: from my own collection

A little side note before we begin: Bagwell signed one of the most player-friendly contracts ever. In 2005, he had 100 at-bats and 25 hits, and for this he got paid $18,000,000. Yes, that's 18 million bucks. That's $720,000 per base hit. Yes. What most professionals get paid in 10 years, he got per base hit, just in 2005. But it gets better. In 2006, he got paid over $19,000,000. Yes, 19 million bucks. That was #1 for all of baseball that year. He got paid more than anybody. For how many hits? 0. That's right, 0. He was injured and couldn't play, but that money was guaranteed. Like Pablo Sandoval last year for the Sox, he got paid $19M in 2006 not to play. For his career, he made over $128,000,000. Today, because of 10 years of inflation, that would be worth $169,000,000--an increase in 10 years of $41 million. And all he had to do was sit down and watch it happen. $41 million for doing nothing more than counting his money. If I ever hit it big doing anything, I want his agent.

And a little side note about Ivan Rodriguez: He's the 2nd catcher I've ever heard of nicknamed Pudge, and both guys are in the HOF. You should be ashamed of yourself if you don't know the name of the other guy.

See Bagwell's stats here.

See Rodriguez's stats here.

The Cards

Anyway, these two cards--both from the 1991 Topps Traded Set--are in PSA Gem Mint 10 Condition and can be had at decent prices.

My Rodriguez card cost $22.67 total, including shipping. This was a decent buy, as I saw some for about $2 to $5 less, but I also saw it go for a heckuva lot more than that. Some of those bought prices were crazy--up to $40+ for a card worth about $20. Craziness. There were a few who paid overall a couple of bucks less, and a couple of bucks more, than I did. I got this one from a Woonsocket place, not too far from my neck in the woods, and it was delivered the next day. I might drive up there sometime and check out his store. His ebay handle is rwm8218, and it was at a good price at next-day delivery, so if you're in New England and you're looking for cards, and you want it fast, give him a look on ebay. I was the only one who bid on this one, and the bidding started at $20--which is about average for the card--so his store on ebay is still small enough that you're not bidding against a ton of people. This is a highly sort after card, since Rodriguez just made the Hall of Fame, so the fact that it's been selling for more, but that I was the only one to bid on it at the asking price, tells you something. Sure, by pressing Sold Listings on ebay you can see that the top one sold for $20 +$2.67 shipping--that's me--and then the next one says it sold for $39.99 + shipping--that's the crazy one. Others sold for about $15 + shipping, so they paid a little less than I did, but that's followed by some $22 to $27 buys, all of whom paid more. So mine was about average, discarding the crazy high one and a crazy low one. As Rodriguez is just in the HOF, I expect this card to go up a little, so this will prove to be a slightly better than average buy.

The Bagwell card cost me $29.01 from someone in California. In all honesty, I made a rookie mistake here: I didn't look at the shipping before I bid. Had I done so, and seen that it was $4, I wouldn't have bought this. Overall I paid about $5 more than many, and about $5 less than a few. Overall, an average buy, not a steal, because of the shipping. I had first seen it at rwm8218, where it sold for $20, and someone else was the only bidder. That was a helluva price, a nice steal, better than the deal I got on his Rodriguez card and a helluva better deal than I got here. I'm still happy with the buy, and as Bagwell is just in the HOF as well, this will go up, so it'll prove to be an average buy, probably. But the lesson, again: If you want a deal, it's usually in the shipping, not in the price. Grrrrrrrrrrr...

So, the players...

Bagwell--if you're old enough, you already know this--was infamously traded by the Red Sox to Houston in 1990 for Larry Anderson, an average relief pitcher who'd had a helluva year in 1989, which overinflated his value. The Sox were constant losers in the playoffs--usually to the Oakland A's at the time--and were trying to get over the hump and advance further in the playoffs. They also had a 1st baseman at the time named Mo Vaughn, who was a consistent home run threat until he ate himself into an Angels uniform and then his career quickly ended. (All the Lady visits didn't help.) Anyway, Bagwell was a 1st baseman / DH type, which the Sox had a lot of, so they dealt him.

Bagwell was brought up immediately and won the Rookie of the Year Award, and then an MVP a few years later, and played 15 years--a short career derailed due to a bad back and shoulder--for Houston. He and Biggio made Houston legit for a few years, really put them on the map. They've been mostly legit since, with a few hiccup years in there. The bottom line about Bagwell--and you should see his stats here--is that he played the vast percentage of his team's games over the years, hitting more homers and drawing more walks than any 1st baseman, consistently, in the National League. His on-base %, RBIs, walks and his homerun totals are amongst the best ever, and baseball-reference.com's JAWS shows him to be the 6th best 1st baseman ever, after the likes of Gehrig, Foxx, Pujols and Cap Anson (and Roger Conor, and look at that guy's stats, please, because I know you've never heard of him), and higher than Miguel Cabrera (after 14 years) and Frank Thomas--which is damn impressive. If you're younger, you may not have ever heard of Bagwell because he played in Houston and because he was very, very quiet and shy to the media. Had he been a Yankee or Red Sox, he'd be a household name today. There is the steroid taint on him, of course, and he did balloon from a stick to King Kong, but don't get me started about how HOF writers shouldn't moralize, because I can show you that probably 85% or more of the best players of his era used. I don't condone it, of course, and it is extremely unhealthy for you...His election, and Piazza's, means that the writers are officially ready to open the door for players of this era who probably used. Bagwell was never accused officially, nor officially caught, using steroids, ever. Those whispers means he made it to the HOF on his 7th try when he should've made it on his first. JAWS says he was a better player in his career than Miguel Cabrera is now. Think about that for a second. He was the best quiet player I ever saw. If he and Biggio, who had over 3,000 hits and got on base almost as frequently, had had any quality players in the lineup with them at all consistently over the years, the Astros would've been a playoff powerhouse. Alas, not the case, and they rarely had the pitching as well. I've been making the Bagwell for the HOF case for a few years, as you know if you've read this blog, so I'm glad he's in.

Ivan Rodriguez--Pudge--also had the steroid whispers follow him around, mostly because of his remarkable durability at the toughest baseball position. People my age remember him as the only guy we've ever seen who crouched behind the plate with his right leg stretched out all the way, his left knee on the ground. From this truly unique position--without moving from it--he could throw out runners trying to steal second with a career-long consistency over 46%. Most years he was over 50% and 60%. For those of you who don't know, today 35% is fair and 40% is good. Most years he was between 50% to 60%. He won 13 Gold Gloves as a catcher, including 10 straight. Take that defense--by far the best all-time at that position--and throw in almost 3,000 hits. He finished with over 2,800 hits, but would have had well over 3,000 had he played any other position. He was so good defensively that he was maybe the best hitting catcher never moved away from the position, because you would waste all that ability putting him anywhere else, including DH. Even Yogi Berra played a ton of games in left field, and Piazza played some at first. In 21 years, Rodriguez played just 57 games at DH and just 8 at 1st base. He played 2,427 games behind the plate, the most ever. That, from a guy who had almost 3,000 hits, is remarkable. Rodriguez always--and I mean every day--played the game with a huge Cheshire Cat smile, and a lot of happiness and energy. He never complained about anything--as well he shouldn't, also having made more than $122,000,000 for his career, or over $156M with inflation since his retirement. You should see his stats here, and you can see the money at the end of the page. All stats and dollar figures for this entry via baseball-reference.com. That website has him as the #3 catcher of all-time, behind Bench and Carter. We remember him from the Texas Rangers, of course, but in his spare time in 2003 he helped the Marlins win the World Series, which I actually remember. He had the NLCS of his life that year, and won its MVP, mostly with his bat.

Both guys were quiet, though Pudge's defense made him look flashy. I watched the careers of both guys, who both started in 1991, and I'm happy as hell to see them in the Hall, especially Pudge.

By the way, Pudge #1 was Carlton Fisk. You knew that, right?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl LI Predictions -- Patriots and Falcons



Photo: Brady is congratulated by Patriots coach Bill Belichick after New England beat the Colts 44-13 in Brady's first career start on Sept. 30, 2001.  Victoria Arocho, AP. From usatoday.com at this address.

Just a quick post about today's game, due to start in about 2 hours. Any given Sunday, of course, but:

--I'll pat myself on the back for a second: long before the Vegas oddsmakers made the Pats a 3-point favorite, I said weeks ago that the Pats would win a close one by 3.

--My overall score pick: Pats, 40-37 or 41-38. High scoring game, and by 3. That's been my stance since both teams won two weeks ago.

--Why? Overall, because the offenses may cancel each other out, but the Pats defense is better. It's that simple.

--The Falcons were bad against the run this year. The Patriots, surprisingly, were in the top-5 rushing. The Falcons' running game was average at best.

--The Falcons were a good, but average good, 11-5 this season. The Patriots were 11-5 a few years ago and didn't make the playoffs. So 11-5, while good, doesn't knock me outta my socks.

--Sure, the Patriots schedule this year may have been easier than that of the Falcons (or of anyone, really), but that doesn't mean it's not a great team. They had a hiccup of two games in there, one of which they lost with Brady, but overall it's possible they were a great team with an easier schedule.

--The schedule thing evens out, by the way. Next year could be brutal.

--The Patriots also have an edge with experience. An inexperienced team can win, of course--like the Patriots in 2001. But I'll take it when it's used mentally and productively, which Belichick and Brady seem to do. They visualize and channel well. Brady in particular could have a post-sports career on the self-help lecture circuit.

--Speaking of Belichick, he's an edge, too. His reputation precedes him and it can mess with you. Just ask Pete Carroll and Marshawn Lynch. Belichick is one of the few coaches whose name is as well known as his best players. Who's the Falcons coach? (Atlanta, don't answer that.)

--The Falcons have one truly great receiver. The Patriots have 3--and 4 if you count The Gronk, who--of course--isn't playing.

--Another edge the Patriots have is the very large chip on Brady's shoulder. It's actually about boulder size, and can be seen for miles with the naked eye. I mean this, by the way, as a compliment. The man is a HOFer, a millionaire perhaps literally hundreds of times over, is married to a gorgeous supermodel, has incredible homes and cars, is famous outside the sport--and he's as angry and petulant as a foot-stomping teenager. Except, he focuses better and is more driven, but still...Most guys in his position would've mailed it in a long time ago. Not him. He wants to be perfect, and believes he can be (and often is, on the field), which is why he may come across as arrogant and bossy. But he's earned the right to be that way on the field. His players like and respect him, which is all that really matters.

--Though I can do without his politics. Curt Schilling needs to step away from the political mike, too.

--By the way, Brady went on vacation for those 4 games, all over Europe, with his gorgeous supermodel wife and his undoubtedly perfect kids. If Roger Goodell thinks that's punishment, he doesn't understand the word or the concept. And, note to Goodell: The Patriots were 3-1 in those 4 games. And good job finding, finally, the right judge for you. How many millions of lawyers' fees did that cost you? Because Brady's were paid by Robert Kraft, who has more money than God--and much, much more than Roger Goodell.

MVP: Brady. Possibly Hogan, if he repeats his AFC game.

Still, it'll be a close one. Either team could, and maybe should, win. Having said that, Patriots by 3 in a high-scoring game, 41-38.

I've got a small pile of dirt from my backyard in a little cup, in case I need to eat some in about 5 hours.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Jimmy Collins -- Boston and Providence Manager, Winner of Boston's 1st WS in 1903


Photos: Jimmy Collins T206 front and back, from my collection

I wouldn't have known the importance Jimmy Collins had on the Boston and Providence teams if I hadn't looked him up. And I wouldn't have appreciated his HOF stats--which are not impressive just by looking at them online, especially baseball-reference's JAWS scores for him. I look up every player's stats when I do a blog entry on them, and I always use baseball-reference.com. I also sometimes look up the player on Wikipedia if the stats show me something that seems interesting, suspicious, etc. about that player. Since I mention it, you can look at Jimmy Collins' stats here and you can read about him on his Wikipedia page here.

Collins is on the card with the Minneapolis Millers, which--like Joe Kelley--I assumed meant he was playing in the minors at the time, waiting to be called up. (This is considered his RC.) But I forgot that the leagues then weren't like the leagues now. In short, there were no minor leagues. A player played for a team and the owners and managers (no GMs then, either) would trade them or release them. So a major league player could be traded to Minneapolis, which was in the American Association (a major league for a very short time in the Victorian Era). It was a good, quality league by 1909, though not as good as the majors. A comparison today would be that it was quality-wise at least as good as AAA, and would sometimes be in between AAA and the Majors.

Good leagues then--defined as leagues that had decent quality of play, and where the players and managers could make a decent living, even if they never left--included the Majors, the AA, the Pacific Coast League (notorious for tiny ballparks and big, affluent crowds, especially in California), the Eastern League (of which Providence, RI was a member), the Western League and the Southern League. Lots of T205s refer to the Triple-I League, which were the states of Illinois, Iowa and Indiana. That was also apparently a helluva league. The pay and play in these leagues would vary, with the Majors being at the top in quality, but not always in pay. (The Texas League and the Southern Leagues were often not of the best quality of play. Often, players having a good year would hit 60+ homers and drive in over 150 like clockwork, but then struggle when they advanced to a better league, with better quality players.) In fact, Joe Kelley, by 1907, had played and managed in the majors for about 15 years. But although he was offered Major League jobs, he left the majors and played/managed in Toronto, in the Eastern League, in 1907. He returned to the Majors with the Boston Doves of the National League, but returned to Toronto for 1909 and 1910. Why? More money, he said. The Eastern League was a decent league, and Toronto drew well and played well, so it paid well. So Joe Kelley's T206 is of him with the Toronto Maple Leafs (he's got a bat in his hands, like he's ready to swing or bunt, but he's also smiling, so it's obviously a pose, and he only managed that year anyway), and I assumed without looking it up that he was in the minors, waiting to get called up. Turns out, he was at the tail end of his managerial career, and he'd been done playing for awhile. (It's still his RC.)

Which brings us back to Jimmy Collins. He wasn't near the quality player Joe Kelley was, in roughly the same time span. Collins started playing in 1895 and was a much better defensive player than he was with the bat. (Then and now, you can make a good career in baseball in the Majors if you're great with the glove and at least a bit decent with the bat.) Collins became better than just a little decent with the bat. After averaging 6 homers a year with maybe 30-50 RBIs, and okay averages, he suddenly had 2 straight years of 132 and 111 RBIs and .346 and .328 averages, in 1897 and 1898. He had 3 more straight years of 90+ RBIs without breaking 100. Good numbers, but really good hitters hit for crazy high averages in the 1890s, with tons of hits and RBIs. Wee Willie Keeler and Billy Hamilton, for example, did that every year, and Joe Kelley had 5 straight years of crazy Runs Scored and RBI totals, while averaging about .360 for those 5 years. (There was an offensive explosion in the mid-1890s that nobody's ever explained to me. There was no expansion, and players for the first time almost universally wore gloves in the field, which you would think would make run totals go down, not explode.)

Anyway, Jimmy Collins never led the league in much (homers in 1898, with 15 and total bases that year, plus ABs and PAs another year, but that's it) and he retired with 1,999 hits, because nobody cared about totals and stats as much then (Sam Rice retired in the 20s with 2,987 hits, for example) and because there was no Hall of Fame to continue playing for. Collins's career stats are not impressive when you look at them on the page; he finished with just over 1,000 runs scored and just under 1,000 RBIs. These are essentially Al Oliver numbers (though Oliver's career stats are superficially better because he played a lot longer, but he was terrible defensively).

So I was thinking that Collins was yet another Veterans Committee disaster pick for HOF until I read up about him. Turns out, while he was playing, he was regarded as the best third baseman, especially defensively. It was said that he "revolutionized the position," specifically by his ability to field bunts. (Fieldwork used to be so bad that players would frequently lay one down to get one base. The shortstops were considered the better athletes and they were usually in charge of fielding bunts, even ones that hugged the line.) Collins had such good instincts that he was amongst the first to play in on the grass to cut down on the bunts. His defensive play, plus his very good to good to adequate hitting, made him the first third baseman to be inducted into the HOF in 1945.

And that's what the numbers don't show. They're not impressive now. In fact, JAWS says he's just the 20th best third baseman. But that's now. Until 1945, he was the best third baseman in the majors. He held the record for most putouts, in a short career, until Brooks Robinson broke it in the 1970s--over 60 years after he retired. While active, he was written about and spoken about as the best third baseman. For some reason, the position remained somewhat stagnant until the 60s, and even now there aren't that many in the Hall compared to other positions. A quick look at the 19 third basemen in front of him, according to JAWS, shows me that only Home Run Baker (another HOFer) played in the same era as Collins. Everyone else, from George Brett to Eddie Matthews to Paul Molitor to Wade Boggs to Mike Schmidt to Chipper Jones (#6) and Adrian Beltre (very quietly #5 all-time)--as you can see, they're all post-1950.

So the numbers lie. You can't judge something just by the numbers, or by your limited understanding of the numbers, or of the era the numbers accumulated in. You have to look into the numbers and understand the time in which they were amassed. On their own, the numbers look like nothing. But in the context of their time, they make him an obvious HOF choice. In fact, I wonder who the HOF Committee thought should be represented at 3rd by their first few choices in the years after the Hall opened in 1933.

But wait, there's more. Jimmy Collins was the Boston Red Sox's first-ever manager, in 1901. The American League first became a league after 1900. Collins was also playing and managing the Boston Red Sox when it won its first-ever World Series in 1903, beating Honus Wagner and the Pirates 5-3 in a best of nine series. Collins also managed Boston to another first-place finish in 1904, but John McGraw and the New York Giants refused to play them in another series. After that, though, things went bad between Collins and Boston's owners, to the extent that he was suspended a few times, accused of quitting on the team--and he was managing them to a last-place finish. So the team president hires Chick Stahl to manage the team, while Collins stays on as a player, which must've been awkward as hell. Stahl was feeling a lot of pressure and depression, and committed suicide after the 1906 season ended. Boston let Cy Young manage in 1907 and traded Collins away.

By 1909 Jimmy Collins was managing the Minneapolis Millers (and playing; he had 152 hits and batted .273), which is where he was when the T206 was produced. So this is another manager card and not a player card. (The T206s don't list position or title, and there are no stats or writing on the back. This is unique, because the T205s, also produced between 1909-1911, have writing and stats, making them the preferred card for some. I like those backs, but I don't like the fronts, or the thicker gold borders that chip very easily.)

In 1910 and 1911 he managed the Providence Greys, of the Eastern League, who played in a park in Olneyville, just up 95 from here. (The Greys were the first World Series winning team in general, winning it in the 1880s when it was a Major League team. It folded, surprisingly, soon thereafter, reappearing in a few years as a minor league team.) He took over for Hugh Duffy, a HOF player from Cranston, RI, also just up the road from here. And within a couple of years after Collins retired after 1911 and moved back to Buffalo, the Greys had another HOFer on its roster--a pitcher named Babe Ruth.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jake Stahl, Boston Red Sox Manager, M101-2 Sporting News Supplement October 24, 1912



Photo: from my collection

Just a quick post before my year-end comments. I'm posting this as a tip of the cap to my better half, who got me this for Christmas. I've wanted this for a few months now. It's a helluva image, and he's a former Red Sox manager and player besides. And doesn't he look thrilled?!?

I have six of these now. I'll maybe put them in one post sometime. These are awesome, huge sepia-toned photos of players and managers, owners and league presidents, from 1909 to 1913. They were supplements in The Sporting News, which is a large, newspaper / magazine-sized publication that started in the 1880s and is still around now. (It's still a big publication, too.)

They were printed on very fine, thin paper and inserted in the publication.You can find them now only on ebay and specialty websites and stores. They don't have a fixed value, pretty much whatever you'll pay for them, though of course the ones of Hall of Famers or the ones in the best condition will be worth more. They're rare enough that you can go to ebay, put in the player's name, and M101 Sporting News Supplement, and click the box for "sold listings," and you'll get it. (This one was $42.) You can't do that with any card made, say, since the 1950s. There's just too many of them, even of specific cards. These M101-2s aren't cards, of course, but they're sold and collected that way, and will be listed in comprehensive catalogs of baseball cards, especially vintage ones. They're blank-backed.

Jake Stahl had an interesting time of it, too. He won the 1912 World Series with the Boston Red Sox (Which had ended just a few weeks before this photo was published. Was it taken during the World Series? Would a manager look as dour as this during the Series?), and then was fired / quit the very next year. He had better things to do than to be insulted by the players and owners: He had a full-time job as part-owner of a large bank with his father-in-law, which paid a heckuva lot better than what he was making from baseball. He'd already left baseball once, the year before, and he happily left it again. But actual happiness was not to be. He had a breakdown in 1920 and went to a sanitarium in California, where he never recovered. In fact, he contracted tuberculosis and died from that in 1922, just 10 years after this photo was taken.

This from the Society for American Baseball Research, at sabr.org. The full address is here.

In 1903, Jake played 40 games as a rookie catcher behind Cy Young-favorite Lou Criger. He did not play in the subsequent 1903 World Series, and his keen disappointment at missing that opportunity became one of the key forces driving him throughout the remainder of his playing career.

In 1912, Jake skillfully managed the famous “Speed Boys” to an American League pennant-winning 105-47 season record. Ninety-eight seasons later, the 1912 won-lost season record still stands as the best in Red Sox history. His Boston team subsequently won the 1912 World Series from the McGraw-led New York Giants.

Garland Stahl was born on April 13, 1879, in Elkhart, Illinois, the third son of Henry and Eliza Stahl. Henry was a front-line Union veteran of the Civil War who survived the horrors of the bloodbath at Shiloh. After the war, Henry and Eliza opened a thriving general store in Elkhart. In naming her third son, Eliza used the name of one of her brothers-in-law, Garland.

After graduating from high school (which at that time went only to the 10th grade) and working at the family store, Stahl enrolled at the University of Illinois. His fraternity brothers nicknamed him Jake. University of Illinois football coach George Huff (who briefly managed Boston in 1907) encouraged him to try out for the team.

With forward passes not allowed yet, no offensive/defensive specialization employed, and only rudimentary protective equipment used, the resulting two-way game was particularly brutal. As he matured physically, Jake became both an outstanding running back on offense and a smart, quick lineman on defense. He had his best year as a junior in 1901, when he was named to the All-Western Conference football team. He was named captain of the Illinois football team in 1902. In his first formal leadership position, Jake was required to address not only his personal needs but the needs of the entire team. It was a skill he would continue to hone throughout both his baseball and subsequent banking career.

Huff also coached baseball at the University and encouraged Jake to join his highly successful squad. As the starting catcher, Jake batted .441 his sophomore year, and in his senior campaign, led Illinois to a Western Conference Championship.

Exhibiting an outstanding ability to organize and focus his efforts, Jake graduated with a law degree in 1903. Although his athletic and classroom activities clearly were his first priorities, Jake was no social wallflower in college. The University of Illinois yearbooks of the time contain two references to Jake’s social activities, including a poem describing his carriage ride with a young woman named Clara. Jake met his future wife, Jennie Mahan, at the university.

In the spring of 1903, as Boston suffered a potentially debilitating blow to their pennant hopes with the injury of their backup catcher “Duke” Farrell, team owner Henry Killilea hurriedly traveled to Chicago to sign Jake to an American League contract on the playing field immediately after a late-season university ballgame. Jake got into his first game on Opening Day and appeared in 40 games as a catcher for Boston in 1903, hitting .239. More importantly, Jake’s work enabled Boston to keep Criger fresh for the postseason. As noted, Jake himself did not play in the 1903 World Series. When pinch-hitting opportunities arose in both Games One and Four, Collins twice used the still-recovering Farrell (who had played in only 17 games the entire season) and the veteran outfielder Jack O’Brien (who hit .210 in 1903.) Jake’s personal disappointment was a key factor that helped shape the rest of his professional baseball career.

With Farrell fully recovered, Boston no longer needed Jake as a backup catcher. Ban Johnson, however, grateful for Jake’s role in Boston’s successful 1903 season (Boston’s World Series victory ensured the long-term viability of his new American League), envisioned Jake achieving long-term baseball success as first baseman. During the winter of 1903-04, Boston shipped Jake to the floundering Washington franchise. Johnson was in charge of the team until suitable owners could be found and converted Jake into a first baseman. He appeared in 142 games and finished the year with a .262 batting average, three home runs, and 50 RBIs. Even by Deadfall Era standards, these numbers were not exceptional, yet Stahl led the woeful (38-113) Nationals in all three categories.

In 1905, Johnson promoted Jake to manager. Having just turned 26 years old the day before the season began, he became the youngest player-manager in American League history. Employing the inclusive management style he used in college, Jake quickly won the support of the team’s veteran players. Coupled with a focused disciplinary approach emphasizing direct out-of-public-view communication with offenders, punctuated by demonstrations of potential physical force, Jake led the 1905 squad to 64-87 record. For a short time early in the season, Jake even had the team in first place. When the team returned from a successful road trip, Washington gave the team a rousing parade and celebratory dinner. More importantly, Johnson found new owners for the shaky Washington franchise. Stahl had become, in the words of one observer, “popular with the players, and so well liked by the club owners that it has been officially announced that he can retain his present berth until he voluntarily resigns.” In the offseason, Jake married his college sweetheart, the daughter of highly-successful businessman Henry Weston Mahan.

In 1906, however, things fell apart for Jake and the Nationals. Popular shortstop Joe Cassidy unexpectedly died of typhus at the beginning of the season and the team fell into a tailspin, finishing 55-95. Upset by the death of his close friend and consumed with trying to right the fast-sinking team, Jake completely lost his personal focus, finishing with the worst batting average of his career, .222. Jake took personal blame for the team’s disappointing 1907 performance, noting, “If I’d been able to hit .300 this year, as many of my friends predicted, we’d have been up in the first division, but I was a frost.”

The frustrated Washington owners replaced Jake as their manager during the 1906-1907 offseason, urging him to concentrate on playing first base. Seeing the team transition that Boston was undertaking, Jake asked to be traded back to Boston. Washington management declined, trading him instead to the Chicago White Sox. Jake refused to report and spent the 1907 season working in his father-in-law’s bank, managing the University of Indiana’s baseball team, and playing semiprofessional baseball in Chicago.

In 1908, Chicago traded Jake to Clark Griffith’s New York Highlanders. When Griffith resigned in midseason, Jake was traded back to Boston to play first base. As the future Boston stars (Wood, Speaker, Hooper, Lewis, Gardner) developed, the hard-hitting Stahl anchored the Boston lineup from 1908-1910. In 1910, Jake led the American League with 10 home runs and ranked fourth best in RBIs (77) and triples (16). He also stole 22 bases.

Despite his baseball success, Jake’s off-the-field banking successes were even greater and paid more. Given the financial uncertainties associated with a baseball career at the time and the fact that he had just started a family, Jake opted to retire. He served as vice president of the Washington Park National Bank on Chicago’s South Side. Attempts to lure him back to baseball in 1911 were fruitless.

After a change in ownership late in the disappointing 1911 season, new Red Sox team president Jimmy McAleer convinced Jake to come out of retirement. Both he and his father-in-law became part-owners of the club, Jake becoming the player-manager-owner of a talented but uninspired Boston club. Jake signed a two-year contract. Using the same inclusive management and disciplinary styles he used earlier in Washington, he effectively focused the previously-uninspired team. Boston ran away with the 1912 American League pennant. Jake finished the year with a career-high .301 batting average. Facing the New York Giants in the 1912 World Series, Jake both outplayed the Giants’ Merkle at first base, and, according to Connie Mack, consistently out-managed McGraw. Jake invested his winning World Series share in his father-in-law’s Chicago banks.

In 1913, Boston started slowly and Jake suffered a serious foot injury requiring the removal of part of a bone in his right foot. Although he continued to manage the team, he could not play first base. Within a tense atmosphere of newspaper reports claiming internal dissension within the team and rumors that Jake would replace him as team president, Boston president McAleer publicly demanded that Jake return to first base.

Upset that he was being publicly portrayed in the newspapers as somehow losing control of his team, conniving for personal gain, and shirking his first-base playing duties, Jake met McAleer in Chicago during a July road trip. In the heat of the moment, the Boston president released him, paying off the remainder of his contract.

McAleer’s hasty action was immediately condemned by much of the baseball community, including Ban Johnson, who called the move “hasty and ill-advised.” Bill Carrigan, one of the players that Jake often consulted with, was named the new Boston manager. In October, Jake announced he was through with baseball. Later that offseason, as part of another Boston front office change, McAleer himself was released as president.

For his nine-year major league career, Jake posted a .261 batting average with 894 hits, which included 149 doubles, 87 triples, and 31 home runs. He also stole 178 bases, with his single-season high of 41 in 1906.

Jake immediately began his second career as a full-time banker. With his father-in-law serving as president, Jake became vice-president and board member of Washington Park National Bank. Jake continued as vice-president until he assumed the presidency of Washington Park in 1919.

During his years of involvement, he put in long hours at the bank, helping it more than double its deposits in three years. But the hard work came with a heavy price: in 1920, Jake suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a Monrovia, California, sanitarium. Though he spent two years in California, Jake’s health gradually worsened and he contracted tuberculosis. With his wife and son at his bedside, Jake died on September 18, 1922. He was just 43 years old.