Monday, October 2, 2017

Oldest Ringless Players & Playoff Predictions: 2017 Edition

Yes, it's that time of year again. We're here to look at the soon-to-start postseason and the players who've been waiting the longest for that elusive championship ring. Here we are with the postseason teams (including the stupid second Wild Card that nobody wanted) and their oldest bare-fingered roster occupant:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Fernando Rodney (March 18, 1977)
Boston Red Sox: Rajai Davis (October 19, 1980)
Chicago Cubs: Brian Duensing (February 22, 1983)
Cleveland Indians: Edwin Encarnacion (January 7, 1983)
Colorado Rockies: Ryan Hanigan (August 16, 1980)
Houston Astros: Carlos Beltran (April 24, 1977)
Los Angeles Dodgers: Rich Hill (March 11, 1980)
Minnesota Twins: Bartolo Colon (May 24, 1973)
New York Yankees: Chase Headley (May 9, 1984)
Washington Nationals: Ryan Raburn (April 17, 1981)

Not a bad list. Several names that have showed up here before. Bartolo Colon and Carlos Beltran are two of the three still-active 1990s players (Adrian Beltre is the third), and neither one has managed to add a World Series title to his resume in all that time. If you needed another reason to root against the Yankees (as if there were a shortage of those), there's the fact that their oldest ringless player is the youngest of the bunch.

Now let's shift gears and head to the prediction portion. How do I predict these playoffs will play out? Here you go:

Wild Card Round

Diamondbacks over Rockies
Yankees over Twins

Predicting the outcome of a single game is like predicting the outcome of a coin flip, but since I think both home teams are significantly better than the road teams, the odds would favor them. While it'd be funny to see an upset, since I don't particularly like either top Wild Card, it would also go against my anti-second Wild Card principles, so the fact that both second Wild Cards are more interesting and likable can't be allowed to sway my rooting interest too strongly.

Division Series

Dodgers over Diamondbacks
Cubs over Nationals
Indians over Yankees
Red Sox over Astros

The Dodgers have been up-and-down over the course of the season, so it's hard to know how much confidence to place in them. I'll say they get hot in October though, because they righted the ship at the end.

While I personally love both the Cubs and the Nationals, I feel like Washington is one of those franchises that's snakebitten in October, and it's hard for me to predict them winning a playoff series until I see it. I think the Cubs are confident after last year's run, so they'll take this series for a rematch of last year's NLCS.

I love the Indians too, so it makes me a little nervous to see them facing the up-and-coming Yankees. When October rolls around, there's always that fear that the more favorable media team will get the wind to its back and ride it to an undeserved deep playoff run. I think these Indians are legit though, so they're definitely capable of putting them back in their place. But on that note...

Both the Yankees AND the Red Sox losing in the first round? I won't push my luck that I could ever be so fortunate. Yes, it happened in 2005, but that was 12 years ago. As great a season as the Astros have had, and as great a narrative as it would be to win in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I think it's inevitable that some fanbase's heart is going to get broken big time. The Astros deserve so much better than this, but it is what it is.

League Championship Series

Dodgers over Cubs
Indians over Red Sox

I think the Dodgers and Indians are simply the best in their respective leagues this year, and they have what it takes to win their respective pennants, and the respective respect of their respective competition.

World Series

Indians over Dodgers

In 2004, the Red Sox exorcised the Curse of the Bambino. In 2005, it was the White Sox getting the 88-year monkey off their back. In 2010, the Giants won for the first time since Willie Mays was a youngster manning center field in the Big Apple. And perhaps most memorably, the Cubs in 2016 put to bed any talk of goats, black cats, inopportune fan interferences, or Merkle's Boners. That leaves one franchise with a drought going back to the pre-expansion era, namely the Cleveland Indians, whose fans have been waiting for another since 1948. Is this the year they finally get that one more run that Terry Pluto says they always need? Well, let's just say that they have as good a chance as any Indian club in the past 69 years, and personally, I'm hoping they get it. Good luck, Tribe. Let this be the year.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bobby Doerr Becomes the Last Surviving Red Sox Player From Two Decades

Iconic Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr had a shorter career than you might expect from a Hall of Famer, but when it comes to being alive, he's outlasted most of his contemporaries.

Doerr is already the last living MLB player from the 1930s, but with the passing of Tom Wright on September 5, he also became the last living Red Sox player from the 1940s. Doerr was a 31-year-old veteran in 1949, but none of Boston's youngsters managed to outlive him. In addition to Wright, the last calendar year has seen 1940s BoSox Dave Ferriss and Sam Mele go to the great beyond.

With his 100th birthday less than a year away, Doerr has only three teammates who are still living, all from his final two seasons in the early 1950s: Paul Hinrichs, Charlie Maxwell, and Al Richter. The odds of Doerr being the last surviving 1950s Red Sox player are pretty slim, but how often does a player have a substantial career and survive until he has only three living teammates? Has any player with a decade-plus career ever outlived every single one of his teammates? Further digging may be needed to answer that question.

Keep on going, Mr. Doerr. Only seven months needed to reach the century mark!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

PTWSW #80: The 1983 Baltimore Orioles

Manager: Joe Altobelli
Record: 98-64
Ballpark: Memorial Stadium
Owner: Edward Bennett Williams
GM: Hank Peters
Coaches: Elrod Hendricks, Ray Miller, Cal Ripken, Ralph Rowe, Jimmy Williams

Future Hall of Famers: Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr.

All-Stars: Tippy Martinez, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.

Team Leaders, Batting

BA: Cal Ripken, .318
OBP: Eddie Murray, Ken Singleton, .393
SLG: Eddie Murray, .538
OPS: Eddie Murray, .930
2B: Cal Ripken, 47 (AL leader)
3B: Al Bumbry, Dan Ford, 4
HR: Eddie Murray, 33
RBI: Eddie Murray, 111
BB: Ken Singleton, 99
SB: John Shelby, 15

Team Leaders, Pitching

W: Scott McGregor, 18
SO: Storm Davis, 125
ERA: Mike Boddicker, 2.77
IP: Scott McGregor, 260.0
CG: Scott McGregor, 12
SHO: Mike Boddicker, 5 (AL leader)
K/BB: Mike Boddicker, 2.31
SV: Tippy Martinez, 21

Tidbits

Oldest Player: Jim Palmer (b. October 15, 1945)

Youngest Player: Storm Davis (b. December 26, 1961)

First to Leave Us: Aurelio Rodriguez (d. September 23, 2000). While a pedestrian walking the streets of Detroit, Rodriguez was struck by a vehicle that veered off the road.

Last Survivor: Most are still living as of the date of this post.

First in Majors: Jim Palmer (debut April 17, 1965)

Last in Majors: Cal Ripken (final game October 6, 2001)

First to Play For the Franchise: Jim Palmer (April 17, 1965)

Last to Play For the Franchise: Cal Ripken (October 6, 2001)

Pre-union Team: No team had more than two.

Reunion Team: The 1986 Yankees (Leo Hernandez, Gary Roenicke and Tim Stoddard) and 1989-90 Dodgers (Rick Dempsey, Eddie Murray and John Shelby) each had three.

Accomplishments

Cal Ripken, AL MVP
Eddie Murray, AL First Base Gold Glove
Eddie Murray, AL First Base Silver Slugger
Cal Ripken, AL Shortstop Silver Slugger


Season Summary

The 1982 AL East division race was a classic. The Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers were scheduled for a four-game set to close out the season, with Milwaukee needing only one win to clinch the title. The Orioles, however, weren't going to roll over, as longtime manager Earl Weaver was set to retire, and they won the first three games to force a winner-take-all showdown on the last day of the season. Unfortunatley for Baltimore, the magic ran out there, as the Brewers romped to their first-ever division title.

Despite coming up a game short in '82, the Orioles' late-season momentum gave them optimism heading into the next season. Their core of players remained intact, and the general consensus on the club was that 1983 was going to be their year. Taking Weaver's spot in the dugout was Yankee third base coach Joe Altobelli, who was familiar with several players on the roster due to having previously managed the Orioles' top farm club in Rochester. Altobelli lacked Weaver's large personality, but he was a good man to keep the ship on the course it had begun.

The Orioles were a typical team built in the mold of Earl Weaver: Baltimore led the league in home runs and on-base percentage, while stealing few bases, employing platoons, and playing solid defense behind a sturdy pitching staff. They had two big stars in Eddie Murray, a consistently productive slugger and steady presence at first base, and Cal Ripken Jr., the 1982 Rookie of the Year and son of third base coach Cal Ripken Sr. The young Ripken played every inning at shortstop for the '83 Birds, and was a powerful force on both offense and defense who would be named league MVP for his work that season. Beyond that, the Orioles' strength was their depth of talent.

After getting off to slow starts the previous few years, the Orioles finished April a half-game in first place and stayed above .500 for the rest of the season. The American League East was a strong division in 1983, with five of the seven teams finishing with winning records, and all but the last-place Indians coming within a game of first place at some point after May. The Orioles fell behind different rivals at various points of the season: The Red Sox in May, the Blue Jays in June and July, and the Brewers and Tigers in August. However, an eight-game winning streak at the end of August catapulted them into first place for good. They paid back the Brewers for clinching on their turf the previous season by going to Milwaukee and wrapping up the divison title in County Stadium behind young fireballer Storm Davis.

The Orioles didn't make any huge transactions that season, but there were two worth noting: The trade for reserve outfielder Tito Landrum from the Cardinals and the purchase of infielder Todd Cruz from the Mariners. The Orioles had been weak at third base all year, between young Leo Hernandez, a weak defender whose bat hadn't delivered on the promise of his minor league numbers, and veteran Aurelio Rodriguez, who could still play strong defense but couldn't hit a lick. Cruz plugged the hole at third, and while he wasn't the glove man Rodriguez was, or even the hitter Hernandez was, he proved to be a better all-around option. As for Landrum, he would provide a significant moment in October.

The ALCS pitted the Orioles against the Chicago White Sox, who'd had a strong second half to run away with a weak AL West division. The Sox won Game 1 when their ace, Cy Young winner LaMarr Hoyt, outdueled Baltimore ace Scott McGregor 2-1. Undeterred, the Orioles bounced back in Game 2 with a shutout from rookie Mike Boddicker. Boddicker had begun the season in the minors, but he joined the big club in May to give the rotation a boost, and he didn't disappoint. Shutouts were something of a specialty of his; he threw one in his first start of the season, and led the league with five scoreless outings. Now he'd thrown another to get his team back on track. When the series shifted to Chicago, the O's spoiled things for the hometown fans by drubbing the Sox 11-1 in Game 3.

With one win still needed for a pennant, the Orioles sent Storm Davis to the mound, while the Pale Hose sent lefty Britt Burns. It was a tight battle, with a scoreless game and both starters still duking it out in the seventh inning. When White Sox first baseman Greg Walker led off the bottom of the inning with a single, Altobelli pulled Davis in favor of relief ace Tippy Martinez. The Sox got runners on first and second with one out, and Julio Cruz singled to left. Sox runner Jerry Dybzinski, who didn't realize that lead runner Vance Law was being held at third, got caught between the bases, and when the Oriole defense threw to second, Law broke for home attempting to score on the play, where he was thrown out. The Orioles escaped the inning unscathed, and the game remained scoreless till the end of regulation.

In the tenth inning, with Burns still chugging along for the White Sox, Tito Landrum came up to bat with one out. Landrum, not known for his power, finally put a run on the board with a solo homer to left. The Orioles would score two more against the White Sox bullpen to take a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the tenth, where Martinez closed it out with little incident. For the first time in four years, the Orioles were American League champions. Baltimore's run prevention had carried them, as they allowed only three White Sox runs in the four games. For his masterful effort in Game 2, Mike Boddicker was named ALCS MVP.

The World Series with the veteran-laden Philadelphia Phillies bore some resemblance to the LCS; in Game 1 the Orioles faced a Cy Young winner at Memorial Stadium, this time John Denny, and lost 2-1. Game 2 was once again started by young Boddicker, and while he didn't throw a shutout, he allowed only one run in a complete game victory. Going on the road for Games 3 through 5, the Orioles were unfazed by the crowd in Philly; they won Games 3 and 4 by one run each, then handed the ball to McGregor for Game 5, where he pitched a shutout to clinch the title. It was Baltimore's first World Series championship since 1970. Catcher Rick Dempsey was named World Series MVP for his .385 batting average, two RBI, and five extra-base hits.


Acknowledgements:

Baseball Reference
Retrosheet
Baseball Almanac
Google News Archives
Cal Ripken Jr, The Only Way I Know

Saturday, July 29, 2017

PTWSW #79: The 1982 St. Louis Cardinals

Manager: Whitey Herzog
Record: 92-70
Ballpark: Busch Memorial Stadium
Owner: August Busch Jr.
GM: Joe McDonald
Coaches: Chuck Hiller, Hub Kittle, Hal Lanier, Dave Ricketts, Red Schoendienst

Future Hall of Famers: Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter

All-Stars: Lonnie Smith, Ozzie Smith

Team Leaders, Batting

BA: Lonnie Smith, .307
OBP: Keith Hernandez, .397
SLG: George Hendrick, .450
OPS: Lonnie Smith, .815
2B: Lonnie Smith, 35
3B: Lonnie Smith, Willie McGee, 8
HR: George Hendrick, 19
RBI: George Hendrick, 104
BB: Keith Hernandez, 100
SB: Lonnie Smith, 68

Team Leaders, Pitching

W: Joaquin Andujar, Bob Forsch, 15
SO: Joaquin Andujar, 137
ERA: Joaquin Andujar, 2.47
IP: Joaquin Andujar, 265.2
CG: Joaquin Andujar, 9
SHO: Joaquin Andujar, 5
K/BB: Joaquin Andujar, 2.74
SV: Bruce Sutter, 36 (NL leader)

Tidbits

Oldest Player: Jim Kaat (b. November 7, 1938)

Youngest Player: David Green (b. December 4, 1960)

First to Leave Us: Darrell Porter (d. August 5, 2002)

Last Survivor: Most are still living as of the date of this post.

First in Majors: Jim Kaat (debut August 2, 1959)

Last in Majors: Willie McGee (final game October 3, 1999)

First to Play For the Franchise: Bob Forsch (July 7, 1974)

Last to Play For the Franchise: Willie McGee (October 3, 1999)

Pre-union Team: The 1978 San Diego Padres had five: George Hendrick, Steve Mura, Eric Rasmussen, Ozzie Smith, and Gene Tenace.

Reunion Team: The 1983 Detroit Tigers (Doug Bair, Julio Gonzalez, and John Martin) and 1988 Atlanta Braves (Ken Oberkfell, Lonnie Smith, and Bruce Sutter) had three each.

Accomplishments

Keith Hernandez, NL First Base Gold Glove
Ozzie Smith, NL Shortstop Gold Glove

Season Summary

In 1980, the once-proud St. Louis Cardinals had spent a decade mired in mediocrity. Poor hiring choices, ill-conceived trades, and the stale leadership of company men had resulted in no postseason appearances since the NL pennant of 1968. In early June, the Cardinals found themselves with the worst record in baseball, which led to the firing of former Redbird great Ken Boyer as manager. To replace him, the Cards hired Whitey Herzog, whom the Royals had controversially fired at the end of 1979, just one year removed from a run of three straight division titles.

There was definite talent on the team Herzog inherited, which showed itself once he took the reins. With Whitey at the helm, the Cards went on a 38-35 run before Herzog handed the reins to Red Schoendienst, allowing himself to finish the season as general manager. It was as GM that Herzog would remake the Cardinals into the team he wanted; out were longtime slugging catcher Ted Simmons and longtime slow-footed third baseman Ken Reitz, who had started the 1980 All-Star Game. To replace them, Herzog brought in free agent backstop Darrell Porter, who'd played for him in Kansas City, and young infielder Ken Oberkfell took over the hot corner. He also landed All-Star closer Bruce Sutter from the Cubs to handle ninth inning duties.

With their revamped roster, the Cardinals might've won it all in 1981. With Herzog doing double duty as field manager and general manager, St. Louis finished with the best record in the National League East. Unfortunately, due to the mid-season strike, the playoff format required a team to have the best record in their division for either the first or second half of the season, neither of which the Cardinals accomplished. The Cardinals spent that October watching the postseason on television, and Herzog prepared himself for another busy offseason.

In October, the Cards acquired a minor league outfielder named Willie McGee from the Yankees in exchange for pitcher Bob Sykes. The move wasn't flashy, and it was overshadowed by the Yankees playing in the World Series at the time, but it would prove significant. Herzog would also re-sign free agent pitcher Joaquin Andujar, grab outfielder Lonnie Smith from the Phillies, and trade talented-but-troubled shortstop Garry Templeton to the Padres. The key player the Cardinals got back from San Diego? A little shortstop with an outstanding glove by the name of Osborne Earl Smith. Little did anyone at the time know that Ozzie Smith would spend 15 seasons in a Cardinal uniform.

After getting off to a 1-3 start, Herzog relinquished his GM duties and stuck to managing full time. The Cardinals then went on a 12-game winning streak, propelling them into the pennant race early. McGee, the promising young outfielder, made his major league debut in May, and quickly became the full-time center fielder, allowing Lonnie Smith to take his more natural position in left field. The Redbirds struggled a bit in June, and by the All-Star break, they were in a close race with the Phillies for the division title.

Both teams continued their winning ways through the second half, and on August 12, the Cardinals regained first place. They brought their lead up to 3.5 games on September 1, only to see it slip away when a slump coincided with a Philly hot stretch. On September 13, with the Cardinals holding a half-game lead, the two teams met for a three-game series at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies took the first match (as well as first place) behind Steve Carlton's three-hit complete game shutout. Not to be outdone, the Cardinals roared back by not allowing any runs in the next two games. Joaquin Andujar pitched a three-hit complete game shutout of his own in the third contest. It was the start of an eight-game winning streak, which gave the Cardinals the division lead they'd hold for the rest of the season. On September 27 against the Expos, the Cardinals clinched their first-ever NL East title.

Whitey Herzog had truly created a team in his own image. With McGee, the two Smiths, and Tommy Herr leading the way, the Cardinals topped the league with 200 stolen bases, while finishing last with a paltry 67 home runs. They tied San Diego for the lead in triples, and they were first in on-base percentage, thanks to finishing second in both batting average and walks. Their pitchers struck out the fewest batters in the league, but they made up for it by allowing few homers, and their fielding was among the best in the NL.

The National League Championship Series matched the Cardinals with the Atlanta Braves, who were appearing in the postseason for the first time since 1969. Game 1 was initially rained out with the Braves leading 1-0, and when the game was replayed, the Cardinals won easily, as Bob Forsch pitched a 7-0 shutout. Game 2 was the only close one of the series; it was a tie ballgame in the bottom of the ninth when Ken Oberkfell's drive just got past Brett Butler's glove in center field, scoring David Green with the game-winner. The series shifted to Atlanta, but Game 3 proved to be another easy victory for St. Louis, allowing them to complete the sweep and make it back to the World Series for the first time in 14 years.

The American League's representative was the Milwaukee Brewers, playing in the franchise's first World Series, who had come back from a 2-0 deficit in the ALCS to beat the Angels. On the Brewers' roster were three players Herzog had traded away during the wheeling-and-dealing 1980-81 offseason: Former franchise icon Ted Simmons, 18-game winner Pete Vuckovich, who would win the Cy Young that year, and injured closer Rollie Fingers, who wouldn't see action in the World Series. Of the players the Cardinals had received back in that deal, two were still on the roster (David Green and Dave LaPoint), one was included in the deal for Ozzie Smith (Sixto Lezcano), and the other was included in the deal for Lonnie Smith (Lary Sorensen). The Brewers were in many ways the Cardinals' opposite: They won mostly by slugging home runs, and weren't big on base-stealing. Their pitching and defense were average at best, and they relied on hits much more than walks.

The Brewers won Game 1 in a blowout, by a score of 10-0. Milwaukee's dynamic duo of Robin Yount and Paul Molitor combined for nine hits and four runs driven in. The resilient Cardinals bounced back, however, with wins in Games 2 and 3. The Cards' Game 2 win came on Steve Braun's bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning, and Willie McGee's two homers powered them to victory in Game 3. The Brewers wouldn't quit though, and they won the next two to take a 3-2 series lead. The Brew Crew took Game 4 thanks to a six-run seventh inning, and Game 5 saw Yount put up his second four-hit game of the series.

Back at Busch for Game 6, the Cardinals returned the favor from Game 1 by blowing out the Brewers 13-1. St. Louis starter John Stuper went the distance, allowing only four hits and two walks in the must-win game. That set the stage for Game 7, which pitted Vuckovich against Andujar, who was returning from an injury in Game 3. After five innings, the game was tied at one apiece, but the Brewers scored two in the top of the sixth to take the lead. The Cardinals were unfazed, however, scoring three of their own in the bottom half to go ahead 4-3. They would never trail the rest of the way. Andujar completed seven innings, and Bruce Sutter came in for the final two, retiring all six batters he faced to close out both the game and the series.

In just two years, Whitey Herzog had turned the Cardinals from a mediocre also-ran to a World Series champion. It was the first championship ring of his career, and he had done it his way. For St. Louis fans, it was the first time they'd won it all since 1967, when Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and company were still in their primes. It was the beginning of what was to be a successful era in the Gateway City.


Acknowledgements:

Baseball Reference
Baseball Almanac
Google News Archives
Retrosheet
New York Times: Cardinals Are Baseball's Mystery Team
1982 NLCS on Wikipedia

Thursday, June 29, 2017

R.I.P. Anthony Young

It's happened again. The curse of the 1990s Cub pitching staff claimed another, as Anthony Young passed away Tuesday from a brain tumor. I only have vague memories of Young, as I'd just started following baseball when he was with the Cubs, but I do remember his name and reading about his famous losing streak after the fact.

He's been preceded in death by six other Cubbie hurlers from the decade: Rod Beck, Geremi Gonzalez, Kevin Foster, Dave Smith, Jessie Hollins, Frank Castillo, and if you want to count the year 2000, Ruben Quevedo as well.

Rest in peace, Mr. Young. Your perseverance will never be forgotten.