Archive for January, 2009

This Day in Baseball History: January 28th, 2005

January 28, 2009
“I’m gonna be so rich!”

On January 28, 2005:

Doug Mientkiewicz gives back the ball that made the last out of the 2004 World Series.

After making the last out of the 2004 World Series, Mientkiewicz kept the ball (he was the first baseman who received the throw), and he did not give it to the Red Sox (he actually gave it to his wife). Acquired at the July 31st deadline, Mientkiewicz put the ball in safe-keeping, actually a safety-deposit box named his “retirement fund” (he said he was kidding). This, however, was no laughing matter. The Red Sox wanted the ball that had ended their 86-year World Series drought, but Mientkiewicz wasn’t budging. Supposedly, both wanted the ball in order to share it with fans.

Making this situation more interesting is the baseball-playing side of things. Mientkiewicz was used to starting, but he didn’t play regularly once on the Red Sox. He was unhappy with his playing time. The Red Sox weren’t really keen on keeping him, either. They had already said that they would trade either Mientkiewicz or Kevin Millar. So, was Mientkiewicz keeping the ball and holding the Red Sox hostage at the same time? Was he a greedy man?

Well, three weeks after all this started, Mientkiewicz and the Red Sox had a “cordial” (I doubt it was anything but “cordial”) meeting in which they agreed that Mientkiewicz (it’s a pain to spell and type his name) would rent the ball to the Red Sox for a year. Was he greedy? Well, he did give the ball to the Red Sox and did not receive payment. However, he could have planned to sell it, but when the Red Sox asked for it back, he lost the media battle. Was he holding the team hostage? No. He was traded to the New York Mets the same day for a minor-leaguer and cash. Theo Epstein and the Red Sox would emphasize that the trade had nothing to do with the ball, which seems kosher because they had already stated they would trade one or the other. Then again, this may have made it easier to trade Mientkiewicz (let’s just call him “M” from now on).

About the situation, M would say:

“I didn’t expect all of this with the ball,” he added. “Sometimes in life you think you’re doing the right thing and it doesn’t turn out that way. That’s kind of what happened here. I didn’t think it was going to come out to this.”

Personally, I don’t see how it could have been right. Maybe he didn’t really expect all of it, but on a play as important, what made him think it was right to take the ball?

On another odd note, Edgar Renteria, who grounded out to end the World Series, would sign with Boston that off-season. Think he got a bonus?

Hall of Fame: Carl Hubbell (1947)

January 28, 2009
Almost like the telescope.

 Year Ag Tm  Lg  W   L   G   GS  CG SHO  GF SV   IP     H    R   ER   HR  BB   SO   ERA *lgERA *ERA+ WHIP
1928 25 NYG NL 10 6 20 14 8 1 5 1 124.0 117 49 39 7 21 37 2.83 3.90 138 1.113
1929 26 NYG NL 18 11 39 35 19 1 3 1 268.0 273 128 110 17 67 106 3.69 4.57 124 1.269
1930 27 NYG NL 17 12 37 32 17 3 4 2 241.7 263 120 104 11 58 117 3.87 4.72 122 1.328
1931 28 NYG NL 14 12 36 30 21 4 5 3 248.0 211 88 73 14 67 155 2.65 3.71 140 1.121
1932 29 NYG NL 18 11 40 32 22 0 7 2 284.0 260 96 79 20 40 137 2.50 3.72 149 1.056
1933 30 NYG NL 23 12 45 33 22 10 11 5 308.7 256 69 57 6 47 156 1.66 3.20 193 0.982
1934 31 NYG NL 21 12 49 34 25 5 11 8 313.0 286 100 80 17 37 118 2.30 3.86 168 1.032
1935 32 NYG NL 23 12 42 35 24 1 6 0 302.7 314 125 110 27 49 150 3.27 3.86 118 1.199
1936 33 NYG NL 26 6 42 34 25 3 6 3 304.0 265 81 78 7 57 123 2.31 3.90 169 1.059
1937 34 NYG NL 22 8 39 32 18 4 6 4 261.7 261 108 93 18 55 159 3.20 3.87 121 1.208
1938 35 NYG NL 13 10 24 22 13 1 2 1 179.0 171 70 61 16 33 104 3.07 3.78 123 1.140
1939 36 NYG NL 11 9 29 18 10 0 8 2 154.0 150 60 47 11 24 62 2.75 3.92 143 1.130
1940 37 NYG NL 11 12 31 27 11 2 3 0 214.3 220 102 87 22 59 86 3.65 3.89 106 1.302
1941 38 NYG NL 11 9 26 22 11 1 4 1 164.0 169 73 65 10 53 75 3.57 3.71 104 1.354
1942 39 NYG NL 11 8 24 20 11 0 1 0 157.3 158 75 69 17 34 61 3.95 3.35 85 1.220
1943 40 NYG NL 4 4 12 11 3 0 0 0 66.0 87 36 36 7 24 31 4.91 3.44 70 1.682
16 Yr WL% .622 253 154 535 431 260 36 82 33 3590.3 3461 1380 1188 227 725 1677 2.98 3.86 130 1.166

2 MVP awards (1933, 1936)
9 All-Star appearances (1933-1938, 1940-1942)

The first player elected by the BBWAA who played only in the “Live Ball” Era, Carl Owen Hubbell was born on June 22, 1903 in Carthage, Missouri. At age 23, he was invited to Spring Training with the Detroit Tigers, but Ty Cobb wasn’t too impressed with the young man. Cobb was mainly concerned that Hubbell threw too many screwballs and that they would hurt his arm. Hubbell would be sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs (yes, those Maple Leafs — are you serious?). He was invited back to the next Spring Training, and Cobb was so unimpressed he sent him two steps further down than Toronto. Hubbell was spectacular, but he did not receive an invitation to the next Spring Training in 1928. Hubbell demanded out, threatening to retire.

After receiving his release, the Giants found him and signed him. John McGraw had watched Christy Mathewson throw a screwball (they called it a “fadeaway”), and he wasn’t worried about Hubbell. Hubbell went 10-6 his first season as a Giant, and he would play his entire career with the Giants. In 1933, Hubbell would take a major step forward by going 23-12 with a 1.66 ERA on his way to his first MVP award, and the season ended on another positive note when Hubbell and the Giants won the World Series.

Over the next four seasons, he would win at least each season and would add on another MVP award. In 1934, Hubbell struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row during the All-Star Game (a record — Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin). In 1936, the cross-town World Series between the Yankees and Giants was depicted as a titanic struggle between Hubbell and Gehrig (Gehrig and the Yankees won, beginning their run of four straight World Series victories), the best pitcher and best hitter in baseball at the time.

Hubbell stayed solid threw the next few years, but in 1943, he declined rapidly and was released. Having done enough, he would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947 (the first elected by the BBWAA in five years — two non-elections followed by two years of no one receiving enough votes). It is said that he threw so many screwballs that his left arm was twisted, his palm facing outward at rest.

Historical Moment — School has been canceled for today as Lexington is completely covered in an inch of ice with a few inches of snow on top of that. I’m stuck here for the day, so in joy, you all get an extra-special bonus post today. Yay!

Nap Lajoie vs. Rogers Hornsby

January 27, 2009
That’s a pretty big difference.

This was sparked by a conversation comparing the two second basemen I had with cyber-friend and fellow baseball history enthusiast Ron Rollins at Baseball Over Here. So, I figured it would be interesting to take a look at the two and compare them. Both are Hall of Fame players, so there’s no reason to argue over that. This is simply a look at seeing which second baseman was better. Now that we’ve looked at both Nap Lajoie and Rogers Hornsby, we can take a look. I’ll compare their career stats (unless otherwise noted) and try to help put them in perspective.

Batting Average –> Lajoie .338; Hornsby .358
Hornsby has the edge here by a fairly good margin. One thing to note, however, is that Lajoie played regularly through his age 41 season whereas Hornsby stopped playing regularly after his age 33 season. Playing those seasons could have dropped Hornsby’s average back down. Another note for the rest of the offensive numbers, Lajoie played in the “Dead Ball” Era (which supressed offensive numbers) and Hornsby played his best seasons in the “Live Ball” Era. As for batting average, it would have helped Hornsby.

On-Base Percentage –> Lajoie .380; Hornsby .434
Hornsby wins by a lot here. Some of which is helped by his higher batting average, but the difference between his BA and OBP is greater (.076) than Lajoie’s (.042), suggesting Hornsby had a better eye and plate discipline. How much the difference in eras tweaked the numbers is difficult to measure. On one hand, he didn’t hit the ball (no difference therefore), but pitchers may have been more reluctant to pitch to Hornsby knowing it could go out of the park more often (advantage to Hornsby).

Slugging Percentage –> Lajoie .467; Hornsby .577
Hornsby wins by a healthy bit here, but again, how much did the “Live Ball” era help?

OPS+ –> Lajoie 150; Hornsby 175
Again to Hornsby, and you can assume that OPS also favors Hornsby.

Hits –> Lajoie 3242; Hornsby 2930
Edge this time to Lajoie, but he did have 1400 more at bats. Then again, longevity should count for something.

Runs –> Lajoie 1504; Hornsby 1579
Hornsby wins, but runs were more plentiful when he racked up a large number of those.

RBI’s –> Lajoie 1599; Hornsby 1584
Lajoie wins this time, but again, he did have more at-bats, thous Hornsby played in a better offensive era.

Doubles –> Lajoie 657; Hornsby 541
Lajoie wins pretty handily.

Triples –> Lajoie 163; Hornsby 169
Pretty even.

Home Runs –> Lajoie 83; Hornsby 301
Hornsby by a long shot.

Stolen Bases –> Lajoie 380; Hornsby 135
Lajoie was well-known for his stolen bases and speed, but one wonders how much the slight change in philosophy affected Hornsby’s running game (he wasn’t a sloth by any stretch of the imagination).

Range Factor/Games Played –> Lajoie 5.78 (5.09); Hornsby 5.36 (5.51)
In parentheses are the average major-league numbers for the position — both at second base only. Lajoie seems to have been a superior defender. His factor is higher, and it is higher than the average for his counterparts. Hornsby’s is lower than league average. Again, when looking at defense, there are fewer metrics, but defense is still a large part of the evaluation. If one or the other is a better defender, then it counts for a lot. Another thing to remember is that Lajoie played about 500 more games at second than did Hornsby and at an advanced age. Lajoie’s range factor took a hit in those final years, and Hornsby couldn’t play it at all in those years (granted, that was because of a severe ankle injury).

Fielding Percentage –> Lajoie .963 (.954); Hornsby .958 (.958)
Pretty much the same indication as above — Lajoie was a better defender –, though not by much here. Fielding percentage isn’t a great tool, but it can be useful. Lajoie’s fielding percentage didn’t decline too much in the last years, so age seems to have no bearing (I didn’t think it would considering you can still catch, but range is more age affected).

Well, when we look strictly at the numbers, Hornsby was a much better hitter but a worse fielder, though not by a whole lot. However, we have to take into account the eras in which they played (though Hornsby played just at the beginning of the “Live Ball” Era, his numbers jumped like Bonds on steroids — too far? too soon?). The defensive numbers really don’t make much of a difference, but the offensive numbers do. When you look at Lajoie pre-age 25, he actually compares favorably to Hornsby until 1920 (the year before the “Live Ball” Era started — I need to do a post on that). Then again, Lajoie did play in fewer games, thus having a smaller sample size. Hmm …

Overall, both were excellent second basemen. In the end, however, I’d probably go with Lajoie. Hornsby’s numbers, especially power, really spiked after 1921, and he didn’t have to suffer the decline that Lajoie did. Lajoie was still pretty useful through age 41, but Hornsby was done after 35 (really more like 33, but I’ll cut him some slack). Though, I can’t say I wouldn’t take Hornsby. The two are really close.

This Day in Baseball History: January 27th, 1937

January 27, 2009
Crosley Field not covered in water. The picture of the two pitchers is supposedly famous, but I couldn’t find it. If anyone knows how to find it, please let me know.

On January 27, 1937:

Cincinnati Reds pitchers Gene Schott and Lee Grissom row into Crosley Field on the back of the worst flood in Cincinnati history.

During the winter of 1936 and 1937, water levels on the Ohio River began to rise, and when a severe winter storm slammed into the area, the Ohio River flooded over the banks. From January 10 through 18, flood warnings were issued all over the area, but soon, record rainfalls pushed the river into homes and downtown Cincinnati. On January 23, martial law was declared in Evansville Indiana as the waters reached 54 feet high. By the 26th, water levels reached 80 feet in Cincinnati, and the following day, Louisville was swallowed by 57 feet of water. The river would fall below flood stage until February 5th.

The impacts were devastating. 100,000 were left homeless in Cincinnati, power was cut, and transportation systems shut down. Louisville was hammered as well, losing famed Rose Island theme park and a major rebuilding of the city. In response, the government initially was not ready for such a natural disaster. The government would build several reservoirs along the Ohio River, but they weren’t finished until the 1940’s. Still, those reservoirs have saved millions in flood damage since.

From the baseball perspective, Crosley Field was not untouched. Indeed, it was covered with 21 feet of water. Here’s a look of what it looked like inside Crosley Field during the flood. Gene Schott and Lee Grissom would team up with a groundscrew member and row a boat over the center field wall (where the flood waters came in) and into the field area in a famous stunt. The photographer was there as the three rowed to the pitcher’s mound.

Despite the damage, the Reds would still play their home-opener for the 1937 season in Crosley Field, but the team, waterlogged, would finish dead-last with a 56-98 record.

Executives: Ban Johnson

January 27, 2009
The man behind the AL — more on that tomorrow.

Byron Bancroft Johnson was born January 5, 1864 in Norwalk, Ohio. He first went to Marietta College to study law, but he would not complete his degree. Instead, Johnson went to work for a paper in Cincinnati and eventually became the sports editor. While in Cincinnati, he became friends with Charles Comiskey and Reds owner John Brush. After seeing his intelligence, the two suggested he be the next commissioner of the faltering Western League. A few years later, the Western League, a minor league, was the best-run league in baseball.

How did he do it? Well, Johnson wasn’t a fan of the National League. He hated the atmosphere which drove away families and women. In response, he supported his umpires and fined players and managers who disrespected umpires. Johnson would also fine players and managers who used foul language. This created an atmosphere of obedience to a sport without any, and the additional crowds brought in more money.

Johnson, however, still despised the National League, and working with Comiskey, the two set out to make another major league. In 1900, he renamed the Western League the American League, and a year later, he removed the Western League from the National Agreement, which was an understanding between the National League and the other minor leagues. This effectively made the American League a professional league. Johnson placed teams in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. in order to directly compete with the National League, and when the NL capped salaries at $2,400 in 1901, Johnson pounced. AL teams began to offer larger contracts, and players jumped from the NL to the AL. The AL would win those attendance wars in the big cities and forced the NL to come to an agreement. In the new National Agreement, the NL made the AL a co-major league.

That would be the high point of Johnson’s career. Possibly because of his overconfidence in office, Johnson took full control of the American League and would even refuse certain people to join if they disagreed. This caused a rift between the league’s teams. Teams began to defy Johnson, and the final straw came in 1920. He refused to believe Comiskey’s warnings that the White Sox were fixing the World Series, and when it was discovered, the two leagues decided for another leader to head the two leagues. Kenesaw Landis became that man and took the reins as the first Commissioner of Baseball. Johnson and Landis butted heads, but because Johnson had already caused trouble in the AL, Landis won the battle, officially transforming baseball from Sparta (two kings) to Macedonia (one king).

Johnson was officially pushed out in 1928, but he would still be elected into the Hall of Fame in 1937. An interesting note — he died on my birthday (March 28) in 1931.

Famous Teams: The Miracle Braves (1914)

January 27, 2009
Here they are.

An underdog story for the ages, the Boston Braves of 1914 made a remarkable comeback to win the division and the World Series.

Before 1901, the Boston Beaneaters were a very successful major-league team in the National League, but with the arrival of the Boston Americans, an American League team, the Beaneaters ran into some bad luck. The best players, like on so many other teams, ran to the newly-formed American League in search of better salaries, and the Beaneaters’ owners didn’t even bother to try to match the offers. The Boston Americans would become the Red Sox, and the Beaneaters would become the Doves (frightening), the Rustlers, and, finally, the Braves in 1912. Two years later, they would finally break their string of bad luck.

The bad luck, however, seemed as though it wouldn’t stop. Through May 20, the Braves were a dismal 4-18, and they had just lost 9 of 11 (one of the other two was a tie). They were also 11.5 games back. Coming up to July 4, the Braves were 26-38, but with two losses in a doubleheader on Independence Day, the Braves fell to 26-40 and were 15 games back. For the next 53 games, the team looked completely different. Instead of losing 40 more games, they won 41 of the next 53 to take first place from the New York Giants on September 8th. With the pressure on, the Braves would win 25 of 31, but the Giants would play .500 ball (16-16) and lose the division. They became the first team to ever come back from last place on July 4th to win the pennant. Not only did they win the division, they won it by 10.5 games (an amazing 25.5 game turnaround).

Despite this, the “Miracle Braves” were severe underdogs to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics for the World Series. However, just like the rest of the season, the Braves would prove the doubters wrong and sweep the World Series from the A’s. It was, in fact, the first four-game World Series sweep (Game 1 of the 1907 World Series ended in a tie on account of darkness — yeah a World Series game ended in a tie, take that Selig). Some believe that the A’s players were upset with A’s management and refused to play hard, and others believe that the Series was fixed. Neither has any real evidence.

The 1914 Boston “Miracle” Braves rode the backs of three, relatively unknown starting pitchers. Bill James led the way going 26-7 with a 1.96 ERA, but he was unsuccessful otherwise and his career basically ended when he signed up for the military in 1916. Dick Rudolph would add 26 more wins and a 2.35 ERA, and while he went on to have a few more good seasons, I like him for the fact that he was a spitball pitcher (one of those who was able to continue even after the pitch became illegal). Lefty Tyler added his own 16 wins and 2.69, and he stayed a solid but relatively unspectacular pitcher for the next four seasons. From July 26th on, James and Rudolph were a combined 35-2. The offense was decent with key contributions from OF Joe Connolly (.306, 9 HR, 65 RBI) and 1B Butch Schmidt (.285, 1, 71), but the pitching was the key.

An interesting note — the last game played at the South End Grounds (the Braves home park) was August 11, 1914, and the Braves would play the remaining home games in Fenway Park until the next season when Braves Field became available.

This Day in Baseball History: January 26th, 1990

January 27, 2009

On January 26th, 1990:

The Boston Red Sox name Elaine Weddington assistant general manager.

Not only is this story incredible because Elaine Weddington is a woman, she was the first black female to reach such a position in baseball. One thing I have always noticed missing from baseball is women. None of the general managers are women (though Kim Ng gave it a run this past off-season). None of the umpires are women. You don’t even see many women broadcasters or analysts. I realize that baseball is a game played by men, but I find it odd that more women have not been able to break through into the upper levels of these jobs. Even if a woman cannot compete physically with men on the diamond (not that no woman could, but overall, I think it would be difficult for a woman to get into baseball, especially with the emphasis being on power), she could surely be as good of an analyst, general manager, or umpire. The major obstacle then becomes respect, and it may be extremely difficult for a woman to get any respect from men. Maybe, the lack of respect has even pushed well-qualified women away from the game.

Back to the story at hand, Weddington became the first black female to become the assistant general manager of a professional sports team. If you immediately think Jackie Robinson, there’s more of a connection than you might think. She went to St. John’s University where she received a scholarship from the Jackie Robinson Foundation and is now a board member for the same foundation. Though named for a baseball player, Weddington is one of the few who have gone into baseball. At the end of Robinson’s career, he mentioned the color barrier had been broken for players, but there was still a barrier for managers and general managers. For coaches, the situation has improved, but that isn’t the case for general managers.

Working for a law degree, she interned for the Mets during college where she met Lou Gorman, who was the general manager of the Red Sox who hired Weddington and worked with the Mets during Weddington’s time there. Weddington would go on to receive a law degree, but instead of working as a lawyer, she turned her attention to baseball contracts. However, the move wasn’t easy. Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, states:

“No question there’s still not equal opportunity in that area. It’s imperative that some of our students go into baseball so other African-American youngsters see that as a possibility. What Elaine is doing helps the cause so much. We always knew she was special, that she was very determined, that she would always extend herself beyond.”

Weddington’s husband confirms:

“I admire her will because it hasn’t been easy for her. I’m sure there are people in her business who had no interest in dealing with a woman, particularly a black woman. But if they didn’t have respect for her credentials, she’s earned that respect now.”

Weddington still works for the Red Sox.

I have a soft spot for women in baseball, so if anyone knows of someone who has worked in baseball, send me an email or leave a comment.

Hall of Fame: Rogers Hornsby (1942)

January 26, 2009
Hornsby or Lajoie? Come back tomorrow.

 Year Ag Tm  Lg  G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG *OPS+  TB   SH
1915 19 STL NL 18 57 5 14 2 0 0 4 0 2 2 6 .246 .271 .281 67 16 2
1916 20 STL NL 139 495 63 155 17 15 6 65 17 40 63 .313 .369 .444 150 220 11
1917 21 STL NL 145 523 86 171 24 17 8 66 17 45 34 .327 .385 .484 169 253 17
1918 22 STL NL 115 416 51 117 19 11 5 60 8 40 43 .281 .349 .416 136 173 7
1919 23 STL NL 138 512 68 163 15 9 8 71 17 48 41 .318 .384 .430 151 220 10
1920 24 STL NL 149 589 96 218 44 20 9 94 12 15 60 50 .370 .431 .559 185 329 8
1921 25 STL NL 154 592 131 235 44 18 21 126 13 13 60 48 .397 .458 .639 191 378 15
1922 26 STL NL 154 623 141 250 46 14 42 152 17 12 65 50 .401 .459 .722 207 450 15
1923 27 STL NL 107 424 89 163 32 10 17 83 3 7 55 29 .384 .459 .627 188 266 5
1924 28 STL NL 143 536 121 227 43 14 25 94 5 12 89 32 .424 .507 .696 222 373 13
1925 29 STL NL 138 504 133 203 41 10 39 143 5 3 83 39 .403 .489 .756 210 381 16
1926 30 STL NL 134 527 96 167 34 5 11 93 3 61 39 .317 .388 .463 124 244 16
1927 31 NYG NL 155 568 133 205 32 9 26 125 9 86 38 .361 .448 .586 175 333 26
1928 32 BSN NL 140 486 99 188 42 7 21 94 5 107 41 .387 .498 .632 200 307 25
1929 33 CHC NL 156 602 156 229 47 8 39 149 2 87 65 .380 .459 .679 178 409 22
1930 34 CHC NL 42 104 15 32 5 1 2 18 0 12 12 .308 .385 .433 96 45 3
1931 35 CHC NL 100 357 64 118 37 1 16 90 1 56 23 .331 .421 .574 163 205 5
1932 36 CHC NL 19 58 10 13 2 0 1 7 0 10 4 .224 .357 .310 82 18 0
1933 37 TOT 57 92 11 30 7 0 3 23 1 0 14 7 .326 .426 .500 156 46 0
STL NL 46 83 9 27 6 0 2 21 1 12 6 .325 .423 .470 149 39 0
SLB AL 11 9 2 3 1 0 1 2 0 0 2 1 .333 .455 .778 214 7 0
1934 38 SLB AL 24 23 2 7 2 0 1 11 0 0 7 4 .304 .484 .522 151 12 0
1935 39 SLB AL 10 24 1 5 3 0 0 3 0 0 3 6 .208 .296 .333 60 8 0
1936 40 SLB AL 2 5 1 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 .400 .500 .400 122 2 0
1937 41 SLB AL 20 56 7 18 3 0 1 11 0 0 7 5 .321 .397 .429 108 24 0
23 Seasons 8173 2930 169 1584 64 679 .358 .434 .577 175 216
2259 1579 541 301 135 1038 4712

2 MVP awards (1925, 1929)
2 Triple Crowns (1922, 1925)

Rogers Hornsby was born April 27, 1896 in Chicago, Illinois. Hornsby is obviously the last name of his father, but his mother’s maiden name would not be left out either. It was Rogers. Scarred for life.

At the age of 19, Hornsby joined the St. Louis Cardinals toward the end of the 1915, and he would become a regular starting in the 1916 season. He, however, did not originally play the position he was famous for — second base. Instead, he played a majority of the time at third and would play occasionally at the other positions in the infield. Hornsby would not move to second until the 1920 season. Very productive in the “Dead Ball Era”, Hornsby would become more so during the “Live Ball Era” that began in 1921.

Previous to the 1921 season, his highest batting average was .370 (while remarkable, just wait), most doubles were 24, and most home runs were 9. Over the next five seasons, Hornsby would not hit lower than .384 and would hit .400 three times (.397 in the other season), hit fewer than 32 doubles (the other four seasons ranged from 41-46), or hit fewer than 17 home runs (including seasons of 42 and 39 — the up and downs of his home run production are staggering). In 1922, he became the only player in major league history that hit .400 with 40 HR.

He would slow down in 1926 by hitting only .317, but it wasn’t all bad as he and the Cardinals won the World Series. During the off-season, Hornsby was traded to the New York Giants for Frankie Frisch (a Hall of Famer but not as good as Hornsby) and Jimmy Ring (not good at all). Hornsby rebounded the next season, but he was traded again the next off-season to the Boston Braves. Hornsby continued to be a great player for the Braves, but just to be perplexing, the Braves traded him to the Chicago Cubs the next off-season.

After a productive 1929 campaign, Hornsby broke his ankle and would never be the same player. Released by the Cubs after the 1930 season (most of which spent on the bench), Hornsby caught on with the St. Louis Browns and spent the rest of his career as a pinch-hitter.

Off the field, Hornsby wasn’t quite so admirable. He didn’t drink or smoke, but he frequently gambled. Even worse, he admitted to being a member of the Ku Klux Clan. The great second baseman didn’t even make friends in baseball, and he supposedly threatened to expose Kenesaw Landis, baseball’s commissioner, and his stock market scandal when Landis threatened punishment for Hornsby’s gambling.

Regardless, Hornsby was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1942 with 78.2% of the vote (182 of 233).

This Day in Baseball History: January 24th, 1913

January 24, 2009
He’s not in the box! He’s not in the box!

On January 24, 1913:

Detroit President Frank Navin suggests moving back the “coacher’s boxes” to speed up games.

American League President Ban Johnson was worried about the length of games going over two hours (now, we worry about three hours and are impressed by two hour games), so he sent out a letter to all American League teams saying that they would need to find a way to decrease game times. In response, Navin believes that if the “coacher’s boxes” (“coach” was strickly a verb at the time, so they used the word “coacher”) are moved back, the problem will be solved.

It seems like an odd thing to say. If you want to decrease game time, there seem be a few more ways of doing it, but even Washington’s manager Clark Griffith agrees. Here’s why. At that point in baseball history, the catchers stood (not crouched — okay, they were slightly bent) farther back from the hitter than they do now. As a result, it was significantly easier to see what the calls were, and consequently, it made it easier to hit. To combat this problem, catchers took more time and care to hide their signals. Therefore, the games took longer as the catchers took longer to give the pitchers the signal.

Just for a quick reminder on the rules about “coacher’s boxes” (Rule 4.05):
(a) The offensive team shall station two base coaches on the field during its term at bat, one near first base and one near third base. (b) Base coaches shall be limited to two in number and shall (1) be in team uniform, and (2) remain within the coach’s box at all times. PENALTY: The offending base coach shall be removed from the game, and shall leave the playing field. Rule 4.05 Comment: It has been common practice for many years for some coaches to put one foot outside the coach’s box or stand astride or otherwise be slightly outside the coaching box lines. The coach shall not be considered out of the box unless the opposing manager complains, and then, the umpire shall strictly enforce the rule and require all coaches (on both teams) to remain in the coach’s box at all times. It is also common practice for a coach who has a play at his base to leave the coach’s box to signal the player to slide, advance or return to a base. This may be allowed if the coach does not interfere with the play in any manner.

In other words, following the rules is completely optional unless someone calls you out on it. If I’m the opposing manager of a team who had Gary Sheffield in his prime and hated the opposing third-base coach, I’d bring this little rule up.

Speeding up of games is still a problem in baseball. Some, like Shyster, have advocated the murder of Steve Trachsel. Other thoughts: shorter commercial breaks (yeah right), hitters aren’t allowed out of the box unless absolutely necessary, not letting Christy Mathewson go to the showers before the end of the game, not allowing Terry Pendleton to eat chili before games, and forcing Nomar Garciaparra to leave his flippin’ batting gloves alone.

Hall of Fame: The Museum (1939)

January 24, 2009
Probably the most famous of the major sports’ Hall of Fames.

When the Mills Commission decided on Abner Doubleday as the inventor of baseball, Cooperstown became a holy place for baseball, but it wasn’t until 1934, when the “Doubleday Ball” was discovered in an attic, that Cooperstown cemented itself as the spot for baseball. Stephen C. Clark bought the ball for $5, and he sought to have it and other baseball artifacts displayed. He chose a one-room spot in the Village Club, and after the public showed particular enthusiasm, Clark and partner Alexander Cleland sought and received the support for a museum from the National and American League.

Ford Frick, then President of the National League, wanted the Hall of Fame to enshrine great players and people in baseball. The first election occurred in 1936, but the Hall of Fame Museum did not open until June 12, 1939. Memorabilia began pouring in as soon as word got out about the museum, and it hasn’t stopped.

Expansions in 1950 and 1980 have enlarged the museum as baseball history has continued to grow. The museum has also been updated. In 1994, the Library was renovated (the Library was added in 1968), and renovations transformed the museum in the early 2000’s, making for larger hallways and easier flow.

Let’s go back to 1939. Baseball wanted a way to celebrate its 100th year (remember, Doubleday “discovered” baseball in 1939, and Doubleday was a key advertising strategy for the museum), and the opening of the Hall of Fame seemed the perfect opportunity. The four major executives — Frick, Kenesaw Landis (baseball’s commissioner), Willam Harridge (President of the American League), and William Branham (President of the National Association) — were all involved in the ribbon-cutting. Of the 25 people elected to the Hall of Fame already, only 11 were still alive, but all of them came. Later in the year, Lou Gehrig would also be elected to the Hall of Fame in order for him to be alive for his induction (the official results of that ballot have never officially been released).

As for the voting procedures at the time, they were still evolving. At the time, there was no waiting period or restriction against electing active players (although it was frowned upon), and there was an election every year. The annual elections, however, stopped in 1939 at the opening of the museum, and they were to only take place every three years (1940, 1941, and 1943 do not have classes). That rule didn’t last long as public outcry caused them to go back to electing every year in 1944. In 1946, the Hall instituted a one-year retirement requirement to be elected, and in 1954, the modern rule of waiting five years after one’s retirement began (an exception was made for Joe DiMaggio).

I have never been to the Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, but I hope to go sometime soon. Actually, I am applying for an internship there for this summer, but we’ll see how that goes.