Congratulations, baseball fans. You did it. You successfully navigated the miserable winter months. Spring has arrived. And, save for a flurry of offseason moves and meaningless spring training games, you’ve been deprived of the game you love. But the wait is over.
Thankfully, for those of us in Kansas City, the offseason went by much faster this year due to it being one month shorter than it has been the previous 29 years. Still, it’s good to have baseball back.
Before I make my predictions for the 2015 season, let me quickly point out how wildly successful my 2014 predictions were. I, along with everyone else who predicted these things, whiffed on the AL East. I missed on the Pirates too, and made the mistake of picking against the A’s. But 7/10 ain’t bad.
So here we go. Let’s look into the future together. Postseason picks in italics. I’ve added ALCS/NLCS/WS/MVP/Cy Young winners this year too.
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Another year of uncertainty in the AL East. The Red Sox reloaded adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees did nothing and appear fragile. The Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson but are young and lack a rotation. The Orioles were predicted to stink it up last year but ran away with the division and are likely under projected in 2015. The Rays are a dark horse as always.
Typically I refuse to buy into teams that spend tons of money to restock their teams. I think it takes a year to gel as a unit and establish an identity. However, the Red Sox rotation is already strong and on paper this is the best team in the division. Look for Mookie Betts to break out this year too.
But I’m picking my hometown boys. People keep saying the Royals got worse in the offseason but I just don’t see it. Morales and Rios are both upgrades. Shields is gone, but Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura both have the potential to match his production. Plus they have three of the most sustainable strengths to their advantage: bullpen, defense and speed. I believe in this team, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Indians and Royals swap spots. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers absolutely tank and finish 4th.
Los Angeles Angels
I’m not going to make the mistake of picking against Oakland two years in a row. The A’s blew up their entire team and look like they’re probably going to win the Cactus League this year too, whatever that’s good for (absolutely nothing). The Angels and Mariners are both really good though and it’s hard to pick one of the three to miss. The Mariners just missed the playoffs last year. If they can stay healthy, I think they’ll run away with this division in 2015. The Angels will likely regress slightly and should still contend, but I think they’ll end up on the outside looking in. Houston will continue to improve – they appear to be trying out the Royals model of success in bolstering up their bullpen. The Rangers are going to be bad.
New York Mets
While the American League has all sorts of intrigue, the National League is a joke. Washington is going to run away with this division. They were already the best, and then they added Max Scherzer. The Marlins and Mets are both no slouch, but the Nats could win 100 games this year. The Marlins added Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Mat Latos. They extended Giancarlos Stanton and get Jose Fernandez back from injury. The Mets get their ace back too in Matt Harvey. Plus both teams get 18 games against the Phillies and the Braves which ought to inflate their records a bit. They’ll be in the mix come September.
St. Louis Cardinals
As has become the norm, this division race will be good, but the Cardinals will eventually pull away and the Pirates will separate themselves form the rest. The Cubs obviously got much better with the acquisition of Jon Lester, and if they can get their prospect trio – Kris Bryant, Jorge Solar and Javier Baez – into the majors sooner than later, they could manage to make a push in the second half. But I do think 2016 is their year to return to the playoffs.
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
The Dodgers are only going to be better from last year. They added Jimmy Rollins and dropped Matt Kemp. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher and best player in baseball, in my opinion. You can talk about Trout all you want, but Kershaw has the power to completely dominate a game. The Padres added Justin Upton, Kemp, and former Royal and Ray, Wil Myers. Their biggest addition is James Shields. Their bullpen is dominant too. They could do some damage, but I see them finishing as the first team out. The Giants got much worse this offseason with the loss of Panda, and with the injury to Pence. Plus, Madison Bumgarner is super overrated. The Rockies and D-Backs are…not great.
Let me begin with this: the St. Louis Browns Historical Society has an absolutely beautiful website. Take a look: thestlbrowns.com. Bravo.
The Browns were perrenial losers. The bottom of the American League. They fired Branch Rickey who turned the Cardinals into a winner and later signed Jackie Robinson to a deal with Brooklyn. The 1944 Browns also had a one-armed left fielder, Pete Grey.
Here’s what the STLBHS has to say about the 1944 St. Louis Browns…
When the U.S. entered World War II, President Roosevelt gave the “green light” to keep playing. New manager Luke Sewell got surgical with his 1942 roster, and rebuilt the team. The Browns lost a few men to the war effort, but other teams said goodbye to key players. By 1944, every Browns infielder was classified 4-F, or excused from military service, many for physical limitations. The Browns cashed in on their odds, opening the season with a bang — nine straight wins. Cut to October 1, 1944, the last regular-season game. The pennant was at stake. No player on the Browns roster had ever made it to a World Series. The Browns led the visiting Yankees 5-2 into the ninth. Down to the final out, Oscar Grimes shot a high fly ball into foul territory. Browns first baseman George McQuinn nabbed it. Pandemonium ensued. The Browns were going to the World Series to face the Cardinals. Thus began the Streetcar Series, called such because St. Louis had so many trolleys at the time. Both teams would have the home field advantage — the Cards for the first two and last two games; the Browns for the three in the middle. With a 3-1 Game 6 loss, the Browns said goodbye to their “Cinderella season” and World Series hopes. After World War II, the rest of the league’s talent was replenished. The Browns’ best years were put behind them as they returned to last place.
I guess you can call it a “Cinderella season,” but let’s be real: with the war at it’s height, it’s not like the Browns were the prettiest girl at the ball…they were more like the only girl at the ball.
The Browns and the Cardinals played in the third World Series to be ever hosted in the same ballpark for all games: Sportsman’s Park. The other two took place at the Polo Grounds in New York City. It also is one of two all-Missouri World Series, the other being 1985 when Kansas City won it all against the Cardinals.
Embarrassingly, the Junior World Series in Baltimore outdrew the real World Series that same year – a large reason why the Browns would end up moving to Baltimore a decade later. 1944 was clearly a low point for baseball. The war was taking it’s toll.
The Cardinals were in their 3rd straight World Series, the previous two splitting against the Yankees. Stan Musial struggled in both of those series, but in 1944 he was his normal self hitting .304/.360/.522 and hitting his only career postseason HR in Game 4.
The Cardinals had a huge chance in the 3rd inning of Game 1. They loaded the bases with 1 out and couldn’t score. The next half inning George McQuinn’s hit a 2 run homer off veteran Mort Cooper and the Browns had the first runs of the Series. Denny Galehouse worked around 11 baserunners (7 H, 4 BB) allowing just one run in a complete game affair. Browns took a early series lead.
Game 2 was an epic 11-inning walkoff win for the Cardinals. The game was tied 2-2 after nine. George McQuinn hit a leadoff double to start the 11th for the Browns, but they couldn’t score him.
Ray Sanders led off the bottom half with a single. Whitey Kurowski bunted him to second. Marty Marion was intentionally walked. Ken O’Dea won it with a pinch hit single to right field scoring Sanders from second. Cardinals win in walkoff fashion to tie the Series at 1.
Game 3 featured another huge game for George McQuinn, who went completely bananas in the postseason turning his regular season .250/.357/.376 into a .438/.609/.750 – aided heavily by his 7 walks over the 6 game series. The obvious MVP if the Browns had managed to pull it out in the end (if they handed out MVP awards in 1944, that is). He went 3-3 with a double and a walk in Game 3, setting the table for the Browns 6-2 win.
Game 3 also featured another complete game by a Browns pitcher, this time Jack Kramer who struck out 10. This is the last World Series game the St. Louis Browns would ever win.
Game 4 was over early. Stan Musial hit a 2-run home run three batters into the game. The Browns only chance to counter came in the 2nd when catcher Red Heyworth grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the rally. The Cardinals added 2 more in the next inning and it was 4-0. The Cardinals went on to win 6-2. This time it was Harry Brecheen of the Cardinals throwing the complete game. Series tied, 2-2.
Game 5 was a pitchers duel and a rematch of Game 1 starters: Mort Cooper and Denny Galehouse. This time both men would go the distance, and Galehouse actually allowed two fewer baserunners. Unfortunately for the Browns, two of those hitters – Sanders and Danny Litwhiler – circled the bases. The Cardinals won 2-0 behind Mort Cooper’s final World Series appearance. This was his 3rd career World Series win, 2nd career World Series complete game and 1st career World Series shut out.
And Game 6 sealed it for the Redbirds. The Cards posted a 3-run 4th inning and that was plenty. The Browns only trip to the World Series ended in a 3-1 loss that wasn’t even that close – the Cardinals had 10 hits and 4 walks and had plenty of chances to add to their total, but it wouldn’t matter in the end.
The Cardinals won their 5th championship and 2nd in 3 years. We’ll see them again in 1946 to complete the 3 straight even-yeared championship circuit (just like the Giants completed in 2014). But next year features two different faces.
As for the Browns, well, to quote Eminem, “you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, cause opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.”
Cincinnati was the perfect place to kick off Opening Day. They do it right here in the Queen City, and they’ve been doing it right for a long long time.
I wanted to begin my ballpark tour in Cincinnati because historically it is where the baseball season has always started. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional baseball team. Ten salaried players managed to go 57-0 against its competition that season.*
* – Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been surrounded by Cincy natives who hate Kentucky basketball, but it’s hard to shake the obvious comparison of college athletes getting handouts under the table causing a similar imbalance in the NCAA.
Being first in professional baseball may not have been the sole reason the Reds managed to host the season opener every year, but it definitely aided Cincinnati’s case. Until recently, it was the place to be for Opening Day. The president would even be regularly called upon to throw out the first pitch. But in an era of TV ratings, coastal elitism and dreams of international fan bases (Australia?! Seriously?), it doesn’t get the national audience has in the past.
But that doesn’t mean it lacks the enthusiasm on a local level. Cincinnatians still have Opening Day fever. The city buzzes with life the whole weekend leading up. People skip out on work, businesses take the day off, and Skyline Chili offers free cheese coneys. The 95th annual Findlay’s Market Opening Day Parade travels the streets of downtown, and fans line the streets for miles to wave back at the nearly two hour fanfare.
I even saw one woman who dyed her poodle completely red to celebrate the day. Opening Day is that big of a deal in Cincinnati.
We hit the Hall of Fame first – the Reds’ is one of the best HOF experiences in the MLB – and then walked the parade route for a bit. Hall of Famer Dave Concepcion, Reds shortstop during the 1970s “The Big Red Machine” era, was grand marshall this year, and joined by George Foster and injured Reds pitchers Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman. Poor Chapman. Really rooting for a quick recovery for him after getting hit in the head with a Salvy Perez line drive a couple weeks ago.
Concepcion also threw out the first pitch alongside another HOF Reds Ss: Barry Larkin. Straight off the ESPN set, he donned a Reds uniform over his blue collared shirt, and the two threw out simultaneous first pitches (although Concepcion jumped the gun a bit and definitely threw first).
Something I learned about Reds baseball: it has a long history of local talent. In fact, in the Hall, there is a whole section dedicated to all the Reds players out of Cincinnati and nearby Indiana and Kentucky. The list is astonishing, really. Here’s a quick sampling…
Ken Griffey, Jr.
…that’s just off the top of my head. The plaque has over 100 names on it.
This connection with the players – the local boys – creates a bond between the fans and the players. They call them by their first names (or at least the friendly lady I was sitting next to did), and they feel a connection with the team in a way high profile, big city teams don’t.
The Reds are their boys, and they represent their city.
This hometown bond makes Reds fans extremely loyal, and their players – especially the local boys – embrace and return this loyalty – Pete Rose flew in from Las Vegas to support his hometown and former team even! There’s a great tradition of guys like Rose who play hard for their home city and it’s fans.
Speaking of Rose, it was awesome to see him on hand at Opening Day. But it had to kill him to watch his former teammates Concepcion, Foster, and Joe Morgan (who was a part of the pre-game fanfare too) be honored for their time in a Reds uniform on field while Rose watched as a paying customer. The Reds and their fans certainly want to honor Pete the same way they honored Dave, George and Joe. And as a Cincy native, he deserves accolades more than any other.
If you don’t know by now, I’ve positioned myself fully in the “Let Pete into the HOF” club. He never bet on his own team (that would be completely against his competitive nature), and if Barry Bonds can be honored on field in Pittsburgh yesterday, then Pete Rose should in Cincinnati.
If all baseball sins are equal, then there should be no difference between the treatment. If all baseball sins aren’t equal, it baffles me that gambling would be less egregious than steroid use.
Pete has been demonized by Major League Baseball and turned into a poster boy for what happens when you bet on baseball. That may have been a necessary message in the 80’s, but now the message has run it’s course.
It’s time to let Pete in. Maybe a new commissioner will make it happen. I sure hope so.
All that to say, Cincinnati loves the Reds. Especially on Opening Day. And not just the organization, but the individual ballplayers themselves. It’s a truly hometown team.
The game itself was a pitchers duel. Adam Wainwright pitching for the Cardinals and Johnny Cueto for the Reds. Cueto was terrific, but Wainwright was even better:
Cueto: 7 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 8 K
Waino: 7 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 4 BB, 9 K
Cueto was one mistake away from being the better pitcher actually. He served up a solo HR to Yadier Molina. His other two hits were to Matt Adams who beat the insane shift to the right side with opposite field hits to left. No shift, and Cueto may have tossed a 1 hitter and still taken the loss.
I wonder how much teams will continue to use the dramatic shift on Adams throughout the season. It worked twice, but it burned the Reds twice too. He got a double on a little dribbler just inside the bag. Would’ve been an east play for Todd Frazier at third with Adams running. Instead it was a double. Maybe John Mabry, Cardinals hitting coach, taught Adams to take it to opposite field during the off season.
Waino had the Reds off balance all night. First pitch curves. Freezing batters with 2-strike fastballs. The Reds never knew what was coming next. They looked lost most of to night.
The most lost: Billy Hamilton.
I was really excited to see Hamilton play. I wanted a lead off bunt, two stolen bases and a run on a Brandon Phillips groundout. Never even got close to happening. Wainwright is terrible matchup for Hamilton – tons of off-speed stuff with lots of twelve-six movement making it really tough to bunt on.
If Hamilton is going to be the success the Reds hope he is, he’s going to have to learn to make contact with breaking balls. He needs to work the count. His balance at the plate needs to improve. You absolutely cannot go 0-4 with 4 Ks as lead off hitter. Unacceptable.
The Reds still had plenty of opportunities. Three errors and five walks ought to bite you back at some point, but somehow the Cardinals continued to weasel their way out of jams.
It was a great first game of the season, and I can’t say that I was entirely disappointed with the outcome. It would’ve been fun to celebrate with the home team fans, but the Cardinals fan in me has to smile.
As I posted over the weekend, I’m beginning a new series looking at every World Series starting with 1943. I promise future posts won’t be nearly this long. I’m going to try and vary my approach to these posts too – sometimes focusing on stats, other times stories, other times focusing on specific players.
I figured out the reason for MLB Films beginning in 1943. It was the first year they ever did a World Series highlight film, and thus the first footage that was comprehensive enough to tell the story well enough visually.
The film was made for those fighting overseas during World War II so they wouldn’t miss the Fall Classic. Babe Ruth, 8 years into retirement, opened the highlight reel with a speech thanking the men and women for their service. This was especially important since many professional ballplayers from both teams were in active duty and not on the ball field.*
* – This year also marked the launch of the All American Girls Baseball League. In an effort to keep baseball alive in a time when so many stars were off at war. This 1943 season is told loosely in the film, A League of Their Own, which popularized the classic Tom Hanks line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
The 1943 World Series featured the Cardinals and the Yankees – a rematch of the 1942 Series that the Cardinals won in 5 games – but because of so many players entering the military during the 1943 season, the rosters looked very different than the year before.
Take a look; players in italics left for the military before or during the ’43 season, and players with asterisks were their replacements.
Yankee Position Players – 1942/1943
C – Bill Dickey/Bill Dickey
1B – Buddy Hassett/Nick Etten*
2B – Joe Gordon/Joe Gordon
SS – Phil Rizzuto/Frankie Crosetti
3B – Frankie Crosetti/Billy Johnson*
OF – Charlie Keller/Charlie Keller
OF – Joe Dimaggio/Johnny Lindell*
OF – Tommy Henrich/Bud Metheny*
Cardinals Position Players – 1942/1943
C – Walker Cooper/Walker Cooper
1B – Johnny Hopp/Ray Sanders
2B – Jimmy Brown/Lou Klein*
SS – Marty Marion/Marty Marion
3B – Whitey Kurowski/Whitey Kurowski
OF – Stan Musial/Stan Musial
OF – Enos Slaughter/Harry Walker*
OF – Terry Moore/Danny Litwhiler*
The Yankees had 4 position players leave for the military, while the Cardinals had 3.* So New York, at a glance, lost way more than St. Louis to the war. So how did they both make it back here to defend their pennants?
* – I chose not to include Cardinals’ 2B, Creepy Crespi, who technically started the most games (93) there in 1942, but Jimmy Brown started more games overall as a utility infielder playing 145 games between 2B (82), 3B (66), & SS (12). Plus, Crespi’s 1942 WAR was -0.2, so technically the Cardinals gained something when Crespi left. Crespi would go on to break his leg playing a pickup game on an Army base, then would break it again in a wheelchair race, and later a nurse would accidentally administered 100 times the correct amount of boric acid to his injury leaving him with severe burns and a permanent limp.
Well, first, it should be noted that every team lost players to the war, and not just the two defending pennant winners. But this is about the World Series and not the regular season. But in order to set up the Fall Classic, let’s quickly look at the comparative WAR between the starters in 1942 and their replacements during the 1943 season.
1942 Yankees: 15.9 WAR Joe DiMaggio (5.7), Phil Rizzuto (5.7), Tommy Henrich (2.7), Buddy Hassett (1.4) 1943 Yankees: 8.0 WAR Billy Johnson (3.8), Nick Etten (2.4), Johnny Lindell (1.0), Bud Metheny (0.8)
NYY Difference: -7.9 WAR
1942 Cardinals:9.9 WAR Enos Slaughter (6.2), Terry Moore (2.6), Jimmy Brown (1.1) 1943 Cardinals:10.2 WAR Lou Klein (5.8), Harry Walker (1.8), Danny Litwhiler (1.5)
STL Difference: -0.8 WAR
So while the Yankees, coming off their World Series loss, fielded a team with -7.9 WAR than the previous year, the Cardinals, coming off their World Series win, amazingly enough, fielded a nearly identically talented team in 1943 after shipping 3 of their starters overseas. They decreased by less than 1.0 WAR.
How did the Cardinals manage to maintain their level of production, and how did the Yankees overcome such massive losses?
For St. Louis, the answer is obvious: Stan Musial won his first MVP in 1943 and contributed more than enough to lead the Cardinals back to the World Series. His 9.4 WAR led the entire MLB.
The other major contributor was rookie Lou Klein. Klein, in his only worthwhile statistical year, played every single inning at 2B, and nearly matched Enos Slaughter’s WAR from the year before. Klein left for military duty in 1944, and came back playing second fiddle to future Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst.
So here’s the real question: How did the Yankees lose such major pieces of their team and make a return to the World Series?
The answer: Spud Chandler, AL MVP.
Spud had one of the most historical pitching seasons in the history of baseball. In 30 starts, Chandler went 20-4 for the best Win & mark in baseball that year. He threw 20 complete games and his 1.68 ERA was the lowest of any starting pitcher between 1920 and 1967, and is still the Yankee record. His .992 WHIP was the lowest in 1943, and the only sub-1.000 of any pitcher that season.
So this series featured the face-off of the two league MVPs – Musial and Chandler – who had risen to the occasion and carried their teams back to the World Series for a rematch. The Cardinals looking to defend and the Yankees looking to reclaim. And while the names on the front of the jerseys were the same, the names on the back were drastically different (that is, if they’d had names on their backs).
The Yankees sent Spud Chandler out to pitch Game 1, and the Cardinals countered with lefty Max Lanier.The Cardinals had home field advantage in 1943, but due to the costs of war, it was decided that the teams should play the away games first in New York and then finish with 4 straight games in St. Louis. The Yankees crowd was astonishingly huge in all 3 games in New York, averaging around 69,000 fans each game.
In the early innings, both teams tried their best to manufacture runs. A lot has been written about bunting in recent years. Today, sabermetrics suggest two things that make bunting a poor decision:
1. Outs are too precious to just give away for free. Even if it advances a runner, your team only gets 27 outs, so you’d be more likely to score more in the long run by just swinging away.
2. Odds are better that a run will score with a man on 1st and 0 outs than with a man on 2nd and 1 out. Typically, managers will simply intentionally walk the next batter anyway, and set up the double play scenario. Statistically, it doesn’t help much.*
* – However, I still believe strongly in the bunt in certain situations. Unlike some of my peers, I haven’t written off bunting entirely. Late innings. No outs. One run or tie game. Strikeout pitcher on the mound. Putting the ball in play is infinitely better than a strikeout. But never NEVER bunt a guy to second when your best hope is on deck. Automatic IBB.
However, this is not 2014. This was 1943, and bunting was extremely popular in those days. And if this World Series is any example, the fielding wasn’t nearly as good those days either (the teams combined for 15 errors over the 5 games of this Series), so maybe the advantage was greater simply to put the ball in play.
All that to say, both teams succeeded in plating their first run thanks to advancing the runner with a bunt. After Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper singled in the 2nd inning, Whitey Kurowski sacrificed him over to 2B with a bunt and he eventually scored on a Marty Marion double.
The Yankees’ SS, Frankie Crosetti, reached on an infield error by the pitcher in the 4th, stole second, and then Billy Johnson bunted for a single to set up 1st and 3rd with no outs. Charlie Keller hit into a double play, but Crosetti scored making it 1-1.
Then Joe Gordon hit a 420 foot bomb to make it 2-1. Which, after all the small ball the teams had played up until that point, makes a HR seem way too easy.
Gordon would give the Cardinals the run right back in the next half inning though after a poor throw let Sanders advance to 2B to start off the 5th. Sanders came around to score tying it back up at 2-2.
The Yankees next two runs would come thanks to a screwy play. After lacing together two leadoff singles, and with 1 out, a pitch from Lanier popped up off the front of the plate. Cooper, throwing off the mask and looking around frantically, had no idea where it was (it was sitting about 5 feet behind him on the grass). He searched long enough for the baserunners to advance two bags, scoring 1, the other coming across on a shallow fly to CF two batters later.
Even though both runs were considered earned to Lanier after the wild pitch, they were sloppier than they appear in the box score.
This game (and entire series) was a pitchers duel, but poor fielding led to a 4-2 finish in Game 1. Chandler went the distance, spreading out 7 hits over the complete game. Lanier pitched well too, but he was responsible for both errors.
The Cardinals sent out Mort Cooper to start Game 2 in New York. Mort Cooper was the older brother of Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper, and the pitcher-catcher duo played together in St. Louis from 1940-1945.
Just hours before the beginning of Game 2, the Brothers received news that their father, Robert, had died. Suddenly, Mort was pitching to honor his father and his mentor.
The Cooper brothers were from Atherton, MO, just East of Kansas City near Independence. Had this been the 70’s, the Cooper Bros. might have been Royals instead, but white baseball* wouldn’t be in Kansas City until Connie Mack moved the Philadelphia Athletics in 1955.
* – Of course, the Monarchs of the Negro Leagues were huge in KC from 1920-1965. Two years later, in 1945, Jackie Robinson would come back from the war and become a Monarch.
Ernest Edward Bonham, better known as Tiny, was on the mound for the Yankees, but the Cardinals offense came out strong. A solo homer from Marion in the 3rd that barely cleared the 301′ sign in LF put the Cards up early again. Unlike Game 1, this time they were able to increase their lead by posting 3 runs the next inning anchored by a 2-run homer by Sanders.
Mort Cooper was brilliant until the bottom of the 9th when he got into some trouble. Johnson doubled. Keller tripled. The next batter, Bill Dickey, lined a shot right at Lou Klein at second base. Who knows what the damage would have been had that screamer found grass. Instead, it was just a loud out.
Nick Etten grounded out to Klein to make the second out, but Keller scored from third to make it 4-3. And with 2 outs and nobody on, Gordon came to the plate.
And he popped out unceremoniously to the catcher in foul territory to end the game.
Mort Cooper threw a complete game giving up 3 runs on 6 hits, most coming in the final inning.
The final game in Yankee Stadium of 1943 hosted a record crowd of 69,900 fans. The tie series put significant pressure on both teams to take Game 3 and head to St. Louis up 2-1.
The Cardinals had a big 2nd inning. Leadoff single from Stan the Man*, double by Kurowski, and an intentional walk to Sanders juiced the bases with 1 out. Litwhiler singled, plating Musial and Kurowski. Another intentional walk, this time to Marion, loaded the bases again for pitcher, Al Brazie, who fouled out to 1B. Lou Klein then grounded out to end the inning. The Yankees dodged some major damage,
* – Musial wasn’t much of The Man in his 4 World Series appearances, only batting .256/.347/.395 with 4 RBI in 99 plate appearances.
The Cardinals seemed on their way to taking a Series lead back home until the bottom of the 8th. With the score 2-1, suddenly Brazie got into some trouble. The Yankees put up 5 runs with a Billy Johnson triple off the 450 ft sign on the CF wall.
The Yankees took Game 3, 6-2, and more importantly held a 2-1 Series lead headed to Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.
With the Yankees up in the Series, manager Joe McCarthy decided to hold Spud Chandler until Game 5. Instead they threw Marius Russo, who went 5-10 during the season in 24 appearances. He walked more guys than he struck out that year (45 BBs, 42 Ks). He hadn’t won a single game in August, going 0-5 in 4 starts and 1 relief appearance. Opponents hit nearly .300 against him that month, and his ERA was 5.11.
But September was a different story. In 6 games (5 starts), Russo posted a 1.53 ERA with a 2-1 record, and even got a save in his one relief appearance. Batters hit only .184 against Russo in September. He was a different guy altogether.
And his excellence in September spilled over into October. Going into the 7th, Russo had only allowed 3 singles and nobody had made it past 1B. The Yankees lad 1-0, and if Frankie Crosetti hadn’t dropped an easy 2-out pop fly in the 7th inning, the Cardinals never would’ve had a chance. Then two batters later, Johnson botched a grounder to third, and the Cardinals knotted the game a 1-1.
So Russo decided to bring his excellence to the offensive side of the ball too. The Cardinals brought in Harry Brecheen to take over for Lanier who had been pinch hit for the previous inning, and Russo lead off with a double – his second of the game. After being bunted over to third. A fly to CF plated him and the Yankees took the lead back 2-1.
And that’s the way the game would finish.
Russo’s run was unearned, so his line was 9 innings, 7 hits, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 Ks. He pretty much single handedly won Game 4 for New York and put the Cardinals up against the ropes for the Series.
Finally, the matchup everyone wanted: Mort Cooper vs Spud Chandler.
Mort Cooper struck out the first 5 Yankee batters of the game, and held the Yankees in check until the 6th inning when Keller singled and Bill Dickey hit a homer to make it 2-0 New York.
And that’s all the help Spud Chandler would need.
He pitched another complete game, giving up 10 hits, but managed to pitch his way out of multiple jams. The Cardinals had runners in scoring position in 5 different innings, and couldn’t get the clutch hits when they needed them. Chandler kept the ball down and forced the Cardinal hitters into 16 ground ball outs on top of 7 strikeouts.
The Cardinals probably had the better offense, and were likely the better team overall, but the 1943 World Series was all about pitching. The Yankees – behind Chandler and Russo – were better and deeper in that department, and reclaimed the championship they’d lost in 1942.
But all was not lost for the Cardinals. As we will see in 2 of the next 3 Fall Classics. And maybe next time Stan Musial will actually live up to his regular season performance. We’ll see.
This was the 10th World Series championship for the Bronx Bombers, and the last appearance for manager Joe McCarthy who would stay with the club through the 1946 season, but would retire before the Yankees could get back to the World Series again in 1947.
Tuesday night the Pirates won the NL wild card game to move on to the NLDS against the Cardinals. It’s their first time in the playoffs since 1992 – 20 straight losing seasons. As a Royals fan, I know (almost) exactly how that feels.
In 1992, the Braves were up 3 games to 1 when the Pirates stormed back to force a game 7. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th, two outs and the pitchers spot coming up, Braves manager Bobby Cox pinch hit with Francisco Cabrera. Cabrera had only 10 plate appearances all season, three of them hits.
Pirates fans will tell you that they shouldn’t have even been in this position. Whoever it was the was two batters prior, had just walked, two of the pitches seemingly strikes but called balls instead. The next batter hit a cute little flare behind second base which was caught with no advancing runners. It would’ve been the third out, Pirates fans will argue.
Francisco Cabrera at the plate. “The unlikeliest of heroes,” Tim McCarver kept saying on the broadcast. McCarver clearly had no faith that Cabrera would do anything of value in this position. After Cabrera took the first pitch – a ball – McCarver began droning on about how if the count goes to 2-0, Cabrera should just keep taking becuase it was more likely that he would walk in the tying run than actually get a hit.
But when the count went to 2-0, Francisco Cabrera, the unlikeliest of heroes, had the green light. the next pitch was right down the pipe and Cabrera turned on it and the ball caught the meat of the bat. A frozen rope down the third base line that would easily plate David Justice from third base if it wasn’t caught.
But it hooked foul. The Pirates had dodged a major bullet. Cabrera had just missed his moment as a NLCS hero – had he just waited a fraction of a second longer to swing, that ball was over Barry Bonds’ head in LF and off the wall, plating two. Game over.
But instead it’s a 2-1 count. And Cabrera, after swearing to himself a bit at the plate, digs in for the fourth pitch of the at bat. And this time he isn’t in front of it at all.
Cabrera laces a single in front and to the left of a charging Barry Bonds. Just moments earlier, Andy Van Slyke had told Bonds to scoot in a little bit. Bonds flipped Van Slyke the bird in return. David Justice scored easily, but the winning run had just rounded third and was bolting for home.
Whenever I watch a play at the plate, it seems like it’s happening in slow motion. The runner has a huge head start, but it doesn’t matter when the ball is traveling at 80 mph while the runner is pushing 12 mph. The ball gets there quickly, and the baserunner ends up looking surprisingly slow no matter if it’s Billy Butler or Billy Hamilton rounding third.
In this instance it was Sid Bream, the Pirates old first baseman who was in his second year with the Braves. Bream, wearing number twelve and a Magnum PI mustache, was a shockingly slow runner, and was still a few steps up the basepath when catcher Mike Lavilliere got the ball. But Bonds’ toss was a full reach toward first base – the product of having to field it to his left and throw across his body. Lavilliere picked it and spun back across his body to catch Bream’s foot sliding across the plate.
But it was too late. By a matter of inches, Bream’s foot had beat Lavilliere’s tag.
Braves win, 3-2.
David Justice mobbed Bream on top of home plate in what appeared to be a wrestling move of some sort just before the rest of the Braves team piled on top. The hero, Fransico Cabrera, is never even shown during the ensuing celebration. All the focus is on Bream, Justice and manager Bobby Cox.
Meanwhile, Pirates center fielder Andy Van Slyke is sitting on the grass with his cap down over his eyes. Heartbreak for Pittsburgh for the third consecutive year: 1990, 1991 and 1992 had all brought NL East regular season crowns. All three seasons had ended in NLCS losses, and this was the second consecutive Game 7 loss to these Atlanta Braves. The World Series had eluded the Pirates again, and suddenly the future wasn’t looking very bright.
That errant throw was Barry Bonds’ last time touching the ball in a Pirates uniform. He would sign with the Giants next season. Starting pitcher Don Drabek, who had pitched in three different games in the NLCS – all of them against John Smoltz – wouldn’t be back either. 1993 would bring the first of 20 consecutive losing seasons.
Fast forward to 2013: the first Pirates winning season since that devistating string of NLCS losses. First postseason game since Barry Bonds’ airmail. Is there a redemptive storyline in the making? Due to the playoffs being expanded following the 1995 season, the Pirates have a tougher road then years past. They have to get through the NL Central winning St. Louis Cardinals** before they get a shot at another NLCS where they would meet the winner of the Dodgers and the – holy smokes could this storyline be happening? – Atlanta Braves. There’s a storyline for you.
Stay posted folks. This could (is guaranteed to) be really fun.
** – For the record, I will NOT be rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the St. Louis Cardinals. Just thought I’d make that clear. However, if the Pirates get past St. Louis, I’m pretty certain I’ll be cheering hard for the Bucs. Plus they have John Buck on their team now, so…