Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Fine Mess

Well, the genie is officially out of the bottle. The can of worms has been opened. What has long been suspected is now a reality. Some of baseball’s best are juicing. I’d like to preface this with a disclaimer--there are no heroes here. For all of his indignation, Bud Selig is a raging hypocrite. Let’s not forget this one fact: Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner et al were all too happy to cash the checks that fans wrote to watch players like Giambi, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa etc work their 500 ft. pharmacological magic. Any protestations about the scandal they utter only highlights their stunning resemblance to a constipated bovine.

Geez, so much to cover and no idea where to start. I guess point one is what to make of Barry Bonds achievements? Are his totals tainted?

Sure--but nowhere near the extent that some claim. Tom Boswell opined:

Let Bonds keep his 411 homers and three MVPs before he linked his fate to Anderson in '98, though we can't be sure what he might have used to aid his play before that. At least we now know what he's willing to use: anything that's put into his hands.

To completely discount almost 300 HR is to say that Bonds wouldn’t have hit a single dinger after 1998 is, to put it simply, absurd. Obviously his totals are skewered and I’m guessing that Boz’ is engaging in a little good old fashioned hyberbole. It also assumes that if you were to put Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Carlos Beltran, or Vladmir Guerrero on Bonds’ program, they too could go five seasons averaging .339/.530/.781 with 123 runs scored and 109 RBI while blasting 258 HR from their 35th birthday. They can’t produce a 1.100 OPS in their primes (Pujols did reach 1.106 in 2003) so what makes us think they could post a 1.421 OPS when they’re 39-40 regardless of what they put into their bodies? Steroids won’t turn a bum into a Hall-of-Famer any more than they could turn Neifi Perez into Alex Rodriguez. Bonds’ achievements are due to a convergence of several circumstances: an extremely gifted (and slightly freakish genetically) athlete, an otherworldly nutrition and fitness program, an era geared to offense, and performance enhancing drugs. For laughs, let’s deduct 30% of Bonds’ totals since he turned 35: that makes him a .237 hitter, but his OBP is still a healthy .371 and his SLG is an excellent .547 and he hits not 258, but 181 HR giving him a career total of 626 dingers. What kind of player posts an aggregate OPS of .918 and blasts 181 HR for five seasons after his 35th birthday?

One of the best ever.

Yes, mentally put an asterisk beside Bonds’ totals but don’t forget that he’s still on the short list of all time greats.

I know the Yankees are working hard to rid themselves of Jason Giambi (or more pointedly their financial obligations to Jason Giambi). Now I believe cheaters should have to pay a penalty, but in l’affaire Giambi, I don’t think the Yankees should be allowed to divest themselves of all of Giambi’s remaining millions for several reasons above and beyond what’s written in the collective bargaining agreement and Giambi’s contract. First: the Yankees must have known--or at least had strong suspicions--that Giambi was chemically enhanced. To state otherwise would’ve been about as credible as Bill Clinton saying: “I thought I had a growth on my groin, I had no idea it was an intern.” They signed the deal knowing (and hoping) to get seven years of steroid-aided production from first base. They’re in no position to call foul now. Second: .208/.342/.379/$82M--.290/.393/.534/$26M. These numbers represent the production and money owed of both Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield. Both have been implicated in the BALCO scandal, the Yankees are trying to get rid of one--but not both--of these players. What are the odds that production and money owed are factoring more into this decision than the amount of besmirching to the pinstripes each has done? If Giambi were still performing at his 2000-2002 levels, the Yankees would be doing some tut-tutting but that would be it. It’s easy to find religion when you’re standing on the trap door with a noose about your neck and it’s easy for the Yankees to find morality and ethics when there’s an $82M sunk cost staring you in the face.

I’ve read a lot of vitriol in the press about this. Yes, this is a scandal. Yes, it gives baseball a black eye, but the apocalyptic rantings are a bit over the top. The fans are outraged. These are the same fans who have suspected steroid use for years yet still enable--via their wallets--the sport of baseball to continue it’s chemically aided course. Until there is a financial disincentive for using performance enhancing substances the problem will continue unabated as more sophisticated ways of beating drug tests are developed. The fans have the greatest control over this: letters to the editors, protests, resolutions, jeers, and taunts will have no effect as long as tickets are being bought. When owners and players realize drugs are hurting their bottom lines then there will be meaningful reform. This will not be the end of baseball, nor its doom. We love it too much. The only thing that will truly be learned in all this is that the maxim is indeed true: If you can hit the curveball you can get away with murder steroids.

Just ask Barry Bonds….or Jason Giambi.

Best Regards


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

An Epitaph For The Montreal Expos

I never thought I’d type these words, but here goes: Good-bye Montreal Expos. I’ve kept the faith about the Expos future in Montreal for years now. Year after year we’d hear reports of the Expos soon-to-occur exodus but put little stock in them. When owners and commissioners open their mouths I assume one of two things: (a) they’re lying, and (b) they’re trying to extort money from the fans, the players, the regions that host/wish to host MLB.

However this time it’s real. Bud Selig and his money-whoring heart got the necessary corporate welfare from D.C. to give them a team. A vote on the Expos’ relocation is about to be taken and Budley Do-Wrong never calls for a vote unless he’s positive about the outcome.

I do not bear any ill will toward baseball fans in Washington. I wish them well and hope Nos Amours bring them all the joy and none of the frustrations that the Expos have brought me. I was thrilled back in 1976 with the news that Toronto was going to get the Giants from San Francisco so I am in no position to bear any kind of animus toward Washingtonians for rejoicing over the arrival of les Expos.

I do not blame Washington for my losing my National League rooting interest. There’s plenty of blame to pass around for the Expos’ demise and baseball fans in Washington’s fingerprints are nowhere to be found on the murder weapon. I wish I were a dog so I could cock my hind leg and give the following a proper salute:

  • Bud Selig: I love pizza. If there was only one pizza joint in my hometown and they advertised that the food was poor, the beer was lukewarm and watered down, the servers were rude and inattentive, and that chances were excellent that I’d leave their establishment unsatisfied and a little nauseous and they had absolutely no intention of improving things, would it be logical to say that I didn’t like pizza because I refused to patronize the place? What if you complained about the restaurant to management and they told you that if you ate high priced feces and drank cat urine a couple of dozen times a year they might decide to serve slightly better pizza and a have decent beer in a few years--although they might have to jack up the prices in order to so?

    Doubtless you’d suggest that the establishment do something that’s both auto-erotic and anatomically impossible.

    Well, that’s Bud and the Expos. Blame the consumer for not swallowing his #@*#!! And calling it ice cream or the 1927 Yankees incarnate. His other crimes (I won‘t list them all, bandwidth problems y‘know) include the bad faith negotiating that led the strike of 1994 derailing a magnificent season for Expos that could’ve revitalized the franchise. Not letting the Expos call up players Sept 1st when they were contending for the wild card not long ago, not offering Vlad Guerrero arbitration so the Expos could get draft picks or at the very least extending the negotiating window to retain him. Trying to contract the Expos, killing off interest in the Expos but implying that every year was the last season for the Expos in Montreal, his non-stop anti-marketing of MLB, rewarding Jeffery Loria with a World Series championship team for doing his part to killing off any remaining interest in the Expos and then plundering the front office before going to Florida etc. etc. etc.

  • Jeffery Loria: Let the option expire on the tract of land for a new park, kept the Expos off (or significantly reduced) the radio and TV rather than accept fees he felt were inadequate (thereby killing off interest via a lack of exposure rather than trying to build interest and induce demand), ticked off local government, ticked off corporate sponsors, alienated the people he needed to cultivate in order to make the team successful, made dubious cash calls to acquire dubious talent to dilute other stockholder’s share to acquire enough of the team to sell to MLB. Took the money and ran off to Florida with a lot of Expos’ property, and generally helped Bud Selig to assassinate any interest in the Expos. Loria and Selig teamed up to destroy as much interest in the Expos’ as possible to make selling and moving the franchise the only “logical” alternative.
  • Claude Brochu: Supported Bud Selig’s stance during the strike of 1994. The Expos were 13th out of 14 teams in attendance in 1993, moved up to 11th out of 14 in 1994 and drew a total of 2,917,687 fans those [almost] two seasons (in other words--things were picking up). The Expos finished 3 games back of Philadelphia in the NL East (94-68) in 1993 and had the best record in MLB in 1994 (74-40.…with the second lowest payroll in the major leagues). Instead of taking advantage of renewed interest in the Expos and investing in the franchise to continue the trend, they stripped the club of its stars to lower payroll even further. If you don’t think there was renewed interest in the Expos, consider this: Despite the firesale of 1995, the Expos moved up to 10th out of 14 in NL attendance. The interest was there, but Brochu and his partners let it wither and die.
  • Bowie Kuhn: Limited the Expos to 18 telecasts into the Ontario market--which in effect, cut off the Expos from anywhere west of Quebec. The Expos, Canada’s first team, was, in the words of--then owner--Charles Bronfman “ghettoized ... into Quebec.” The Blue Jays would go on to become one of MLB’s wealthiest teams while the Expos became the poorest.
  • “The System”: The system, in theory is fine. A team gets six years major league service from the players they develop. However, the mishandling/manipulating of the system by owners, the MLBPA, and player agents hurt the Expos significantly. Some quick points: The levels of revenue sharing [up to recent times] destroyed the Expos. Large revenue teams bid up the price of players which small revenue teams had to match to hang on to talent. The large revenue teams escalated the cost of doing business for the small revenue teams giving them a built in advantage. Teams like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers etc. could acquire the best current talent while pricing out future top talent out of the price range of teams like the Expos. This wouldn’t be a problem if this only involved free agents, however it trickled down to arbitration eligible players as well. A player on a small market team might not be able to afford the arbitration awards of its top talent forcing them to trade [the player]. This reduced the period of time a club could hang on to its best players from six to as few as three years. This enabled wealthy clubs earlier access to the best talent developed by low revenue clubs as team like the Expos would have to trade their most talented arbitration eligible players to franchises who could afford them.

I could go on and one but the point is clear: the power brokers in MLB screwed the Montreal Expos repeatedly. Every time the Expos were building interest, expanding it’s base, and growing in success (late 1970‘s-early 1980‘s; mid 1990‘s) baseball management derailed it. The fans did not fail the Montreal market--MLB did. The fan base showed more interest and loyalty to the Expos than MLB ever did. If major league baseball did what they did to the Expos to any other franchise over the last 25 years, they’d be the ones headed to Washington. A team can win despite a cheap/dishonest owner or the current system or an idiotic commissioner etc. but not when all of these factors come into play as they did with the Expos.

Believe it or not, despite his constant whinings to the media, Bud Selig likes the current setup of the business of major league baseball. Competitive balance isn’t the problem it’s been made out to be. Since the strike, the Florida Marlins have won two World Series, the Minnesota Twins just three-peated in the AL Central, the Oakland A’s can win their fourth division title in five years thereby giving them their fifth straight post season appearance, the one time laughable Cleveland Indians (remember the Major League movies) won six division titles and two pennants, the one time equally laughable Seattle Mariners won three division titles and qualified for the playoffs once via the wild card.

Picture if you will, what Bud Selig would call his baseball utopia: 100% of baseball revenues are put into a pot and divided evenly 30 ways. There is a hard salary cap. Perfect, right?


In this “utopia” could you go to your city, municipality, state and say: “I need a new public financed stadium to compete or I‘m going to go broke”? Why do you need a new stadium? You have the exact same revenues as the Yankees. The Yankees can’t outspend you. It doesn’t matter where you play since you’re situation would remain unchanged relative to the other teams in the league. Could you go to your city, municipality, state and say: “I need a new public financed stadium to compete or I‘m going to go broke and if you don‘t build it I‘m leaving”? Where would you go? You’d be no better or worse off than where you were [at the moment].

A degree of perceived competitive imbalance/perceived economic losses is important to Selig (why do you think that he‘s to the word “aberration” that Ford Frick was to the word “asterisk”?) in that it gives him leverage to extract public money for his stadium scams. He can claim market size disadvantages, he can claim payroll disadvantages etc. Absent these “imbalances” he has no claim to need public assistance. Then he has the hammer: the antitrust exemption. There’s only one game in town--major league baseball. If Bud Selig had his alleged utopia, then any market that could support a team could have one. Bud doesn’t want that however; by having fewer teams than cities that could support them, he has another tool in his blackmail belt. Now he can make the threat “[insert team name] needs a new public financed stadium to compete or [insert team name] will go broke and if you don‘t build it [insert team name] is leaving.” The name of the game is no longer fan support but corporate welfare. Could Los Angeles support an NFL franchise? Of course. But why have L.A.’s last two teams left for St. Louis and Oakland respectively? Those regions anteed up more subsidies than Los Angeles was willing to pay. Why has Washington not gotten a major league team during the multiple rounds of expansion since 1977? D.C. didn’t put enough subsidies on the table. Now that they’re willing to cough up 100% of stadium costs and assign the lion’s share of stadium revenues to the team, now Washington is “ready” to become “major league” again.

This is what is so purulent about Selig. When he was trying to find a buyer for the Expos, he wasn’t just looking for a buyer. Bill Gates couldn’t purchase the Expos unless the city Gates would have them play in would subsidize the franchise with a publicly financed stadium. Selig was looking first and foremost for a round heeled city. Once one was located, then the search for a group to purchase the team could begin in earnest. It’s not about fan support, it’s about public support. It’s not about the number of fans willing to buy tickets, it’s about the number of corporations willing to lease luxury boxes and club seats. It’s not about the “best interests of baseball” it’s about taking money from schools, libraries, healthcare etc. and giving it to his billionaire parasites he calls friends.

When Bud Selig dies I am going to go to his grave and dig up some worms. I am going to take those worms and go fishing. I am going to take the fish I catch and feed it to my cat. I am going to take the litter out of my cat’s litter box and take it to the dump. Then I am going to check back at the dump in two weeks and look where I dumped the cat litter so I can say that I watched maggots engage in cannibalism.

Best Regards


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

He was third in the AL in innings pitched. He was tied for second in starts. He surrendered the fewest hits per nine innings of anyone in the league. Although he finished seventh in strikeouts, he lead the loop in ERA (2.48.…the pitcher who finished second was 2.69), adjusted ERA+ (171.…the pitcher who finished second was 154) and Runs Saved Against Average (RSAA)--47.…the pitcher who finished second was 39--all by reasonably comfortable margins. His team won 99 games and the division title.

A Cy Young candidate?

You’d think so.

He didn’t finish in the top three in voting; he didn’t finish in the top five [in voting]; he finished seventh.

Did he fare any better in the MVP voting?

He didn’t even finish in the top 25. Some of his teammates did however. This player .289/.369/.536 27 HR 84 RBI 142 OPS+* finished seventh in the voting. This player .275/.327/.479 28 HR 95 RBI 116 OPS+** finished eighth. Three of his fellow pitchers finished 20th and tied for 21st … one was a reliever who finished 20th and pitched 40 innings, with a 3-3 record, 13 saves, and a 2.02 ERA (209 ERA+)***. One of the two who tied for the next spot finished sixth in the Cy Young voting (17-10, 3.45 ERA, 123 ERA+)****. The other was a middle reliever who posted a mark of 11-0 (impressive to be sure) 3.32 ERA (127 ERA+ in 105 2/3 IP)*****. Finally at 24th in the MVP voting was a light hitting middle infielder who went .282/.302/.377 with 8 HR 65 RBI and OPS+ of 83 and created 467 outs (16th in the AL, 22nd in MLB)******.

Why did this workhorse pitcher finish so poorly in both the Cy Young balloting and the MVP voting, especially when you consider his team won the division? Players on division winning teams generally are given a boost when it comes to passing out the post season hardware. Indeed this higher profile allowed a middle reliever and a non Gold Glove outmaking middle infielder that was subpar even for his position (-8 Runs Created Against Position--RCAP) to garner MVP votes.

He went 14-13 that year. Here is his stat line:

What's a guy gotta do to get a little respect?
1413 2.48 36  8   2265206 73 96167   171   47

Blue Jays’ fans can tell you of whom I speak; this was Dave Stieb in 1985.

So what’s with the history lesson? Well this year, there’s a pitcher who leads the league (tied for first) in ERA (2.74), strikeouts (268), and RSAA (43) is second in IP (223.2), is tied for third in complete games (4) and sports the following record:

What's a guy gotta do to get a little respect? II
1413 2.74 32  4   2223.2154 68 41268  164   43

Compare that to Stieb’s 1985 season:

1413 2.48 36  8   2265206 73 96167   171   47

And he may not sniff the Cy Young Award due to his barely .500 record. Granted, Randy Johnson has a few things working in his favour. He’s won the award five times previously (then again one of his fellow candidates--Roger Clemens--has won six!). He’s a first ballot Hall-of-Famer (then again, so is Clemens), he’s an historic strikeout artist having a typically excellent year in this regard (then again, so has Clemens). However, Clemens, while eighth in IP (201), fourth in ERA (3.00), sixth in RSAA (28) and fifth in strikeouts (198) sports a far sexier won-loss record (18-4).

Let’s not forget about Roy Oswalt (18-9, 3.48 ERA, 23 RSAA, 191 K/217.1 IP) or Jason Schmidt (16-7, 3.24 ERA, 29 RSAA, 232 K/205.2 IP).

Will a pitcher that’s thrown 215 IP, struck out 237 while walking just 29, has an ERA that’s third best in the NL (2.80) and is second in RSAA (39) get any votes?

Probably not….Ben Sheets of the Milwaukee Brewers is just 11-12.

In my opinion, Randy Johnson is the best pitcher in the National League. Whether that translates into a sixth Cy Young Award remains to be seen. I’m guessing Clemens will notch number seven for his grandson Kash’n’Kerry. It’ll be interesting to see if the voters have learned much since 1985. I’m not saying Stieb should’ve won, but I am saying he should’ve placed higher than seventh.

You’ll notice I’ve added a comments feature to my blog so feel free to flame, complain, bellyache, and question my ancestry to your heart’s content. If you’d like to suggest a link or join my wife in letting me know how wrong I am [again], please do.

*Jesse Barfield

**George Bell

***Tom Henke

****Doyle Alexander

*****Dennis Lamp

******Damaso Garcia

Best Regards


Monday, September 13, 2004


Ever hear of a stream-of-consciousness monologue? Well, that’s what’s gonna happen here. Initially this blog was going to be fairly Blue Jay/Expos-centric. This year however, I can sum up their respective seasons thusly:

They suck....badly.

Pretty straightforward. Hopefully, come the offseason, I can write something more positive. Oh sure, the Jays have the makings of an impressive rotation come 2005 if Roy Halladay doesn’t have Duane Ward’s disease (minor tendonitis all you need is rest....nine years worth and counting). Delgado is in the midst of a nice contract push (.326/.424/.689 with 14 HR) since August 1st and yet another 30 HR/100 RBI season beckons if he can bang one more HR and 14 RBI over the next 19 games. Can the Jays retain Delgado? Why not? Vlad Guerrero got $70M over 5 years from the Angels and he was the premier free agent last year. Guerrero was 27 years old, could hit for average and power and has an absolute cannon in RF. Delgado is an average fielding 1B, will be 33 next summer, and is coming off the worst season of his career which could mark the beginning of his natural decline. He’s a tremendous hitter, but that’s all he brings to the table. He has no aura of being a “championship calibre” player (he has 0 post season AB) and he has DH written all over him. Unless a team loses their mind, there’s no way he’s going to command anything near what Guerrero got last year. In the “new marketplace” Delgado will have a great deal of difficulty commanding even 3 years/$30M. I’m guessing he can be had for 3 years/$18-24M....well within the Jays budget (especially if there are deferrals in the deal). Know this, the Jays will not offer Delgado arbitration. Delgado would jump at it--guaranteed. A player offered arbitration is guaranteed 80% of his previous season’s salary which means the Jays would have to pay at least $15.2M for Delgado’s services.

The Expos? They’re doing about as well as any victim of first degree murder could be expect to [be doing]. Bud Selig should be strung up by his nuts with monofilament fishing line with 25 lb. barbell plates attached to his nostril hairs and beaten on like a pinata until he can recite the stats of every player ever to don an Expos uniform. However, I’ll settle for seeing him hauled off to jail in handcuffs, flat broke after losing the RICO suit with small children wearing Expos caps hurling cat-urine filled balloons at his face as he’s being led off. Barring that, I’d like to see him drummed out of baseball for life with a sign posted on every highway leading into the state of Wisconsin that reads: “Please accept Wisconsin’s deepest apologies for Bud Selig.”

Yes, I realize I‘m probably being too lenient. What can I say? I’m a big softie.

On to other items of note: I’m trying to wrap my mind around Barry Bonds’ season. This year, only five players (Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton, Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez) have a higher SLG than Bonds’ OBP (.614). Bonds is .375/.614/.831. He has been walked 203 times....a full 84 times more than Houston’s Lance Berkman who is second in MLB. Bonds has walked 117 times more than AL leader Jorge Posada. Since the season he turned 36 Bonds has hit 254 HR and is .341/.531/.784. To try to put that into some kind of context, Rogers Hornsby over five seasons (2679 AB) from 1921-25, batted an aggregate .402. He was .402/.474/.690 over that stretch....an Hornsby did that during his prime (ages 25-29).

For those of you who feel he’s had chemical assistance (I am among them), consider this: If he’s indeed “juiced” do you think if you put Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Albert Pujols, etc. on the exact same program Bonds may be on that they’d duplicate Bonds’ accomplishments from ages 36-40? Let’s go nuts for a moment. Let’s assume that Bonds is a walking (pun intended) pharmacy. So I’m going to pull a number out of my, um, posterior, and say that 25% (an insanely high total) of Bonds’ accomplishments over the last five years are due solely to performance enhancing drugs. That would make Bonds .256/.398/.588 with 190 HR since 2000 and he’d be .281/.461/.623 this year.

He’d be third in MLB in OPS, just .004 points out of 2nd (Coors Field aided Todd Helton).

In other words, take a huge “supplement adjustment” out of Bonds’ numbers and he’s still one of the best players in baseball.

My point? Well, it appears that Bonds is a genetic freak. The same way Satchel Paige was a genetic freak, the same way Nolan Ryan was a genetic freak, the same way Gordie Howe was a genetic freak.

A final note: .440/.466/.599.

Ichiro Suzuki’s stats since July 1st.

As a bonus, since I’ve been away, I thought I’d post an old feature I once did about one of MLB’s most colourful (and besotted) players....

I'm Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time -- The Wacky Adventures Of Rube Waddell

“Rube probably has the best strikeout to IQ ratio in baseball” history once said a friend of mine. Let’s kick back and enjoy the life and times of the original wacky southpaw. Other gems from the aforementioned friend: “There are guys better than him, but then again they probably all had IQ's over the simpleton level. He certainly has to be considered one of the most successful drunks of his or any other era. Today a player like Rube probably would never be given a chance - at an early age he would be written off as 'special' and sent some place.”

So here's to Rube, lean back, put your feet up and enjoy and also don't forget, the man could flat out pitch.

The Phenom

Rube Waddell first started turning heads (for his play that is) at the tender age of 18. This was a bit unusual seeing as southpaws have the reputation of needing more time than righties to master their control. Waddell was no different except his trouble wasn't with his arm which had plenty of control but rather it was his synapses that required more seasoning. At the time he was pitching semipro in Butler, Pennsylvania, mostly because he preferred pitching to working (an understandable preference) when he caught the eye of the National League Louisville Colonels where he was signed for $500 which he promptly took and celebrated in typical Rube fashion -- he got bent. You could drink a lot with $500 back then, nowadays that gets you a beer for you and three friends at Comerica Park. His fondness for lubricating his fluid motion made his first major league stint rather short.

Louisville's manager -- Fred Clarke -- fined him fifty bucks after two games because he hadn't finished celebrating the fact that he was in the big leagues. He had two choices, pay the fine or quit the team and keep the fifty smackers for recreational pursuits.

He jumped the team ...

... all the way to the Western League in Detroit, where he pitched nine games and decided to continue his trek north -- right out of the country and into semi-pro ball in Canada. Perhaps Detroit had a 'special meaning' for Waddell even though he had no idea what it was exactly, but he was fined $100 by his distraught manager.

Waddell demanded to know why it had been levied, to which his manager replied: '[it] was for that disgraceful hotel episode in Detroit.' Waddell answered: “You're a liar. There ain't no Hotel Episode in Detroit.”

At any rate, Waddell decided he didn't like Canada much and returned to the Western League with Columbus-Grand Rapids and stayed put long enough to win 27 games and again he caught the eye of the National League. However those were the days of the 'reserve clause' and Louisville felt, that -- like the Mariners, Mets, Padres, Angels etc. did/do with Rickey Henderson -- they could live with his eccentricities. He pitched nine games that year winning seven and decided he needed to get an offseason job and found one...

... as an alligator wrestler.

Meanwhile rumors abounded that Louisville was about to be folded by the National League and Waddell became a Pirate where he won eight, lost 13 but sported a solid ERA of 2.37 which led the league...
... and jumped ship in July, back to the Western League under the supervision of Connie Mack. A wise man, Mack realized that Waddell would require 'special' treatment (as in, the sporting goods store is having a 'special' on dumbbells). He didn't pay Waddell a regular salary but rather forwarded him money as needed. Mack also learned how to motivate his erratic southpaw. One of Waddell's favorite pastimes -- other than wrestling large reptiles with personalities like Carl Everett, leaving games mid-start, or even mid-batter to chase fire trucks and playing marbles with kids under the grandstand belying the claim that he lost his -- was fishing. So after Waddell had just finished pitching a 17-inning game, won by his own triple. Mack and the opposing manager agreed to limit the second game of that day's doubleheader to five innings. Mack made Waddell an offer: “You can take off and go fishing for the next three days if you'll pitch the second game.” Waddell agreed and threw a five-inning shutout and Tony LaRussa -- like Mack -- a future manager of the Athletics got his first lesson in how to handle a young developing pitcher.

Again he caught the eye of the National League. However those were the days of the 'reserve clause' and Pittsburgh felt, that -- like the Mariners, Mets, Padres, Angels etc. did/do with Rickey Henderson -- they could live with his eccentricities and demanded him back.

Some things never change however, Waddell being one of them. After he lost two starts for Pittsburgh in 1901, player-manager Clarke told [owner] Dreyfuss he'd had enough of the man-child: “Sell him, release him, drop him off the Monongahela Bridge; do anything with him you like, so long as you get him off my ball team.” A Pittsburgh team-mate recalled Waddell soaking his left arm in buckets of ice for hours at a time, claiming that he feared he'd 'burn up the catcher's glove' if he didn't 'cool it off.'

The Best Nut Case in the American League

Waddell was sold to the Chicago Orphans where he won 13 of 28 and was suspended for the final month of the season for being himself so he spent his suspension playing semipro ball in Wisconsin. He latched onto a group of barnstorming big leaguers after the season, and after they made a trip to the West Coast, Waddell decided that he hadn't seen this part of America before and decided he liked it there (which makes you wonder how many children he fathered over there with those Hollywood types and all) and decided to stay. He began 1902 with the Los Angeles Loo Loos and was 12-8 and hitting .283 by mid June. Meanwhile back in Philadelphia, Connie Mack purchased Waddell's contract from the Orphans and dispatched two Pinkerton Guards to L.A. to bring him to the City of Brotherly Love. Waddell was less than happy with this turn of events and sulked his way through his first start but caught fire in July winning ten straight, finishing the year 24-7 leading the infant American League in strikeouts by 50 over a chap by the name of Cy Young. That began a run of league leading K's that lasted until 1907. Over that span Waddell whiffed 1576 the aggregate K's of the runners up was 1180. In 1904 he struck out 349 and finishing second was the Yankees' Jack Chesboro who finished 110 punch outs in arrears of Philadelphia's phinest phlake. In his first year of American League play Waddell became the first pitcher to strike out the side on nine pitches.

Waddell continued to make history as he was victimized by Cy Young who threw the Junior Circuit's first ever perfect game. Waddell would gain a measure of revenge beating the 511 game winner in a 20-inning duel which he concluded by doing handsprings off the field, then taking the ball (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) to local bars parlaying it into his favorite non-sporting activity--getting totally ripped. His 1903 season was best summed up by Cooperstown historian Lee Allen: “He began that year sleeping in a firehouse in Camden, New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events he won 22 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, played left end for the Business Men's Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, toured the nation in a melodrama called 'The Stain of Guilt,' courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion.” That year, 'The Rube' also inspired one of the first extended Major League contract negotiations on record. Not his own, however, but those of his battery and roommate Ossie Schreckengost. In those days, ballplayers generally bunked two to a room (sharing the same bed) while on the road. Schreckengost, fed up with the nocturnal habits of his team-mate, refused to renew his contract until the Athletics inserted a 'no eating crackers in bed' clause in both their contracts. Despite Rube's objections, Connie Mack gave in, and Rube's batterymate's contract was renewed. Otherwise, the duo got along famously. The catcher was hovering over Waddell when the pitcher awoke in a hospital after a huge drunk with the boys the night before.

“How'd I get here?” Waddell asked. A reasonable enough question.

Schreckengost explained that Waddell insisted he could fly, and when his team-mates ridiculed the idea, the pitcher leaped out the second-story window, flapping his arms. A reasonable enough answer (considering we‘re talkin‘ about Rube Waddell here).

“Why didn't you stop me?” Waddell implored. A reasonable enough reaction.

“What? And lose the hundred bucks I bet on you?”

I guess even wrestling alligators gets dull after awhile.

Waddell was tainted by scandal in 1905. Waddell was the staff ace and appeared in a league-leading 46 games winning 27 against 10 losses, despite missing the last month of the season. It seems that Waddell had ridiculed team-mate Andy Coakley's new straw hat (like his other urges, Waddell simply could not resist the urge to steal straw hats and punching holes in them), and the two pitchers scuffled during a train trip. Coakley fell on Waddell's left shoulder, injuring it. As a result, Waddell didn't pitch in the World Series. When someone reported that gamblers had gotten to Waddell to keep him out of the Series, Mack was outraged. “Ridiculous!” he growled. “Money means nothing to him.” (I imagine Don Fehr and Scott Boras must have nightmares about guys like Rube) However writer Joe Vila claimed, “Wiser men had him holed up in a lush Manhattan apartment with a group of Broadway showgirls, his expenses paid by a New York betting crowd.” Regardless Mack insisted throughout his life that Waddell was actually injured. Mack was fond of his off-beat ace, recognizing him for what he was, a six year old in a man's body who, despite his foibles, hated to lose, as evidenced by his reaction to winning his 20 frame duel against one of baseball's greatest hurlers. This was a man who used to kill the off season wrestling alligators so it was unlikely that he would've foregone pitching if he could actually throw.

At any rate, Rube was never dull. A case in point was reported in the 1905 issue of the Philadelphia Daily News documents an incident in which Waddell, was in his typical state of mind (utterly wasted) on a houseboat cocktail party, responded to a panicked cry for help. Waddell then dove into the frigid waters and succeeded in rescuing a passing log.

Still, what gave Vila's story credibility was his fondness for the fairer gender which would make Steve Garvey look like a monk. He preceded Al Martin (and ABBA) by singing: “I do I do I do I do I do” more often than the law allowed. Waddell when discovering that he nibbled one nuptial too many opined that he forgot he was already married, in Rube's case -- a distinct possibility.

Staggering into the Sunset

However, despite his fondness for ace lefty, Mack's patience ran out. Waddell has a solid 1907, leading the loop in whiffs (232), finishing 19-13 with a 2.15 ERA but was sold to the St. Louis Browns. Waddell's competitive fires burned and he posted solid numbers again winning 19, again striking out 232 and posted a sparkling earned run mark of 1.89. In his first start against the Mackmen he set a then American League record of 16 punch outs. The Browns, schooled in the wisdom according to Mack also hired Waddell for the offseason as a hunter keeping his employers well stocked in fresh game.

However Rube was still, well Rube. In 1909 the New York Highlanders' (Yankees) rookie third baseman Jimmy Austin and his team-mates were riding in their carriage to a game when they saw rival pitcher Waddell stagger out of a saloon, with a mug of beer in his hand. He toasted them and waved as they passed. Somehow he made it to the game on time, and he pitched well enough for the first three innings. However with two on in the fourth, Austin went yard. Piqued, Waddell glared at Austin all the way around the bases, but the 360-degree turn made him dizzy and he passed out. After Waddell won 11 and lost 14 in 1909, St. Louis released him early in 1910. He had 32 wins in two seasons in the minors including a sparkling 20-6 record with one of the top minor league clubs of that time -- the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association -- however during the winter of 1912 a dike broke not far from where he was living, and Waddell went to offer help. He stood in deep, icy water for hours, piling sandbags upon sandbags to block the rushing stream. He caught a miserable cold and never recovered. He pitched poorly for a Northern League team in 1913 and was later sent to a San Antonio tuberculosis sanatorium, and Waddell died in 1914.

One has to wonder if the Lefty Gomez's, Tug McGraws and David Wells of this world have a little of Waddell's DNA rattling around inside them somewhere. In a sense, Waddell was exactly what we want baseball players to be, big kids enjoying a game for what it was. Rube was the ultimate man-child, obsessed with play but also innocent of spirit. He died the way he lived, heart first.

Best Regards


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Federal League

Before the turn of the nineteenth century, many so called 'major leagues' came and went by the wayside. Leagues that dotted the baseball landscape bore such names as the American Association, the National Association, the Union Association and the Players' League.

Come 1901, the first league to successfully rise up in competition to the well established National League was known as the American League--the same one that we enjoy today. Still, even after 1901, plans were drawn up for other major leagues; the vast majority never even getting its feet off the ground. Come 1913 there was yet another interloper onto the baseball canvas that was different from all the other abortive efforts that were tried.

What was different? Well, what ‘talks’ loudest in baseball? Money of course. This new league had substantial capital; enough even to draw off the major stars of the senior and junior circuits and it was: the Federal League.


In 1912, the magazine 'The Sporting Life' (in its May 11th issue) stated in regard to the infant United States League that:

... if the league fails it will put to a finish for a time, to thoughts of battling the big fellows (the American and National Leagues).

That sentiment lasted for just a single year. The United States League died on the vine, yet on March 8th 1913, in the city of Indianapolis, the Federal League was born.

John Power, who earlier had tried to launch another 'major league' -- the Colombian League -- was elected president of the infant circuit. Unlike the American and National Leagues, the Federal League planned to be no part of the National Commission and its rules. Instead, it wished to be independent. At the time it planned no player raids against the established leagues, but rather it would develop its own players.

Initially, the league hoped, like its compatriots, to have an eight team league However, due to time constraints, it was only able to launch six [teams] in its maiden season. The six cities represented were: Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. This would put the Federal League into competition with five major league and one minor league market. It also increased the number of major league franchises to three in both Chicago (White Sox and Cubs), and St. Louis (Cardinals and Browns). The Cincinnati club, due to financial difficulties, was relocated to Covington Kentucky, but even that didn't help. Before the league’s maiden season had concluded, it would be competing with the American Association's Blues in Kansas City.

As mentioned earlier, the Federal League vowed not to interfere with organized baseball’s (From this point on, the term 'organized baseball' will be understood to stand for the National and American Leagues.) player contracts, but, rather, would only sign 'free agents.'

Unfortunately, what organized baseball and the Federal League considered 'free agents' differed due to the infamous 'reserve clause.' This clause was known offically as Rule 10 A which stated:

" On or before January 15 ... the Club may tender to the Player a contract for the term of that year by mailing the same to the Player. If prior to the March 1 next succeeding said January 15, the Player and the Club have not agreed upon the terms of such contract, then on or before 10 days after said March 1, the Club shall have the right ... to renew this contract for the period of one year."

When three players were signed by the Pittsburgh Federal League franchise that organized baseball considered as 'under obligation,' then organized baseball began to raid Federal League rosters. The Chicago Cubs were the most aggressive offering contracts to a number of the Chicago Whales (or Chifeds--take your pick) players.

The battle is joined

Back then, baseball was not exempt from federal anti trust laws; yet developments within this 'baseball war' would impact significantly on this matter. The first situation that impacted on this was Western Telegraphs refusal to allow Federal League scores to be put on its service. The Federal League dispatched one E. E. Gates to appear before the Interstate Commerce Commission. His bone of contention was that the Federal League had offered to pay for the service, yet was refused. Gates felt that organized baseball was behind this. He later met with a U.S. government representative and encouraged him to introduce a resolution to Congress to investigate whether organized baseball had violated antitrust laws. Gates felt that baseball had acquired certain privileges that other businesses lacked and pointed out that organized baseball was trying to monopolize the baseball marketplace--illegal unless the government says otherwise. If organized baseball was found to have violated antitrust laws, they would be liable to triple damages. (But once again, more on that later.)

On August 2 of that year, a development occurred that would send tremors throughout baseball. Powers was forced to relinquish the league's presidency and Chicago's James Gilmore was elected [president]. One of his first accomplishments was enlisting the support of wealthy restaurateur, Charles Weeghman for the Chicago franchise. He later induced oil magnates Harry Sinclair and Phil Ball to acquire the Newark and St. Louis franchises respectively, thus pouring in a not insignificant amount of capital into the new league. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis entry won the inaugural Federal League pennant.

Over the course of the league's history, the Federal League attempted to formulate a workable post season playoff format. One idea that came forth was challenging the World Series champions to another series. Organized baseball wanted no part of that idea. (After all, why try to crush the competition on the field when you're too busy trying to crush them out of the marketplace?)

Another idea was brought out of mothballs was to form an all star team from the remaining teams to challenge the Federal League champions to a series. Much as the AL and NL did in its infancy. (Like infants, they couldn't get along with their siblings so they took their toys and went home.)

Trying to prove that they were a major league, the Federal League claimed that they were both losing large amounts of capital and wanted to expand. A tradition that endures 'til this day. Teams were added in Brooklyn, which was purchased by the bakery magnate Ward brothers (who had a lot of dough) who promptly christened the team the Tip Tops, in honor of their line of breads. (Possibly feeling that their chances of winning may well have been toast.) This caused such a furor in the New York media that the Wards --showing no lack of a lack of imagination -- renamed their franchise the equally ridiculous Brookfeds. The Wards proposed to Superbas (as the Dodgers were known as then) owner Charlie Ebbets a series between their respective teams which was met with about as much enthusiasm as the Federal League/World Series championship tournament had. Mostly because it was assumed that since neither team could win a championship, why bother?

Two other franchises were added in direct competition to International League teams in both Buffalo and Baltimore. This proved devastating to these teams because baseball fans in these markets considered the Federal League entries to be 'major league baseball,' which hurt these two teams at the gate. This caused the Baltimore franchise to be relocated to Richmond and nearly destroyed the International League. In addition, Cleveland was dropped from the circuit.

Returning Fire

It was in 1914 that the Federal League proclaimed itself a major league with its eight franchises challenging in four major and four minor league cities. The league also led all three circuits in innovations. The Federal League was organized as a single corporation with stock divided up among ownership. There were also incentives for the players as well.

In order to maintain its hold on their players, the Feds (as the Federal League came to be known as) devised a program in which a certain percentage of the profits generated by the league would be set aside to be divvied up among the players at the conclusion of each season. After ten years of Federal League service a player could opt for free agency. The most intriguing concept was the notion that since the Federal League had inflated players' salaries, a salary cap would be brought in. With free agency, salary caps, and revenue sharing, baseball is likely the most environmentally sound business in history, (their hot air notwithstanding) they've been recycling for years. The Bible said it best when it said: ‘there was nothing new under the sun (or the retractable dome).'

After the pre-emptive strike from organized baseball, the Federal League felt it was time to strike back and do a little player raiding of its own. This served to put the two leagues under pressure as well as adding legitimacy to its 'major league status.' The biggest prize from that initial foray was the landing of Joe Tinker of the immortal Cubs infield trio of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. Chance had just been sold from the Cincinnati Reds to the Brooklyn Superbas. To use the lingo of the underworld he was 'given an offer he couldn't refuse.' Whereas the Super ... oh what the heck, the Dodgers offered Chance a contract worth $7500 dollars, the Chifeds, er Whales, oh whatever, offered him a cool twelve grand plus stock in the franchise. Tinker would also skipper the club. Other notables induced to jump the organized baseball ship for managerial posts in the new league were George Stovall (Kansas City), and Mordecai 'Three Finger' Brown who was to pilot the St. Louis Terriers.

Hitting the fan

The Federal League was a godsend to the players of the two leagues, in that it gave them leverage in renegotiating new contracts with their clubs. This sent (sticker) shock waves throughout baseball. It was the Federal League influence that caused the venerable Connie Mack to dismantle his first great dynasty. He sold Hall-of-Fame bound second sacker Eddie Collins to cheapskate Charles Comiskey. He requested waivers on Hall-of-Fame hurlers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, who then signed with the Feds. Mack sold Hall-of-Fame hot cornerman Frank 'Home Run' Baker to the Yankees and effectively consigned the A's to baseball purgatory for over a decade and a half--heroes to zeroes courtesy of the Feds.

The uniform players’ contracts were called into question because the contract basically stipulated that a player was the property of the franchise for life, yet the team could release a player on ten days notice. This went to court in the case of pitcher-of-no particular-renown Chief Johnson, the 1910's version of Andy Messersmith. Like Messersmith, Johnson won out. This prompted star first baseman Hal Chase -- who could smell money as well as any owner -- to give his club ten days notice and jump to the Feds. The court ruled that the contract lacked mutuality. This was already known to organized baseball. They didn't say it in so many words, yet their actions spoke volumes. Here is an excerpt from the Sporting Life magazine from the May 30, 1914 edition:

'Safe in proceeding at once against the majors for the players they illegally claim. Indeed, some of our club presidents are so anxious to recruit from the big leagues that I may not be able to hold them in leash. Organized ball has gotten away with a lot of hot air about having all the best men sign contracts from which the ten days' clause has been eliminated. Ty Cobb is a pretty good ballplayer isn't he? Well, the ten days clause is in his contract. He can have a good many thousands of dollars from Frank Navin (Detroit Tiger owner) any time he consents to scratch out this feature of inequity. Detroit has tried in vain repeatedly to purchase Cobb's consent to the change. If organized ball believed in the validity of this clause do you think it would be trying now to bribe its players to submit to the subtraction of this objectionable phrase from the contract? The Chicago Nationals (Cubs) paid Jimmy Lavender $3000 to strike out the clause from his document. I could name a dozen other big leaguers.

The organized baseball magnates -- never ones to take defeat lying down -- struck back. The National Commission rules were amended to specify a three-year suspension for reserve rule jumpers and five-year suspension for contract breakers. The May 4, 1914 Boston Herald reported that American League boss Ban Johnson (who led the league in hot air proclamations) stated:

No player of the Federal League can ever play in the American League ... a man may be reinstated by the National Commission, but can never hope to get into the American League. The National and other leagues may accept him, but as for the American League, never.

The Herald of June 21st of that same year reported that organized baseball was considering launching a third major league of their own within the National Commission to combat the Feds. The discussions went so far as to discuss how to handle the World Series with three participants, even to the point of perhaps holding a World Series round robin tournament.

Believe it or not, throughout all the action in the board rooms and in the press the Feds pressed on to their second campaign with Indianapolis again winning the pennant. Players were beginning to develop reputations and fan recognition. Benny Kauff of the pennant winning Hoofeds (Hoosiers+Federals....get it?) 'The Ty Cobb of the Federal League' won the batting title with a sparkling .370 average.

Yankee defector Russ Ford had a superlative season on the mound going 21-6 with a minuscule ERA of 1.82. Sadly this was the last hurrah for a one time promising hurler. In his first two seasons with the Highlanders/Yankees he posted won-loss marks of 26-6 and 22-11; yet in 1915 he went 5-9 (4.52 ERA) in his second campaign with the Buffeds. (Buffalo+ Federal....I'm not making this stuff up.) Claude Hendrix of the Chifeds led all hurlers with a stunning 29-10 ledger to go along with a minute earned run mark of 1.69. He logged 362 frames walking only 77. Gene Packard -- the only Federal League moundsman to have a pair of 20 win seasons -- finished 20-14 despite an earned run mark of almost three (remember this is the 'dead ball era'). Like Hendrix, Packard too logged 300+ innings. Another beneficiary of run support was Brooklyn Tip Top pitcher Tom Seaton, who despite a high-for-that-era earned run mark of 3.03, still managed a won loss mark of 25-14. He joined Hendrix and Packard in logging over 300 frames. George Suggs also entered the 20 win circle, weighing in at 24-14 with a 2.90 ERA. He accomplished this despite allowing more hits than innings pitched (319 IP to 322 hits surrendered). The secret to his success? The same formula that holds true today: don't beat yourself and others will have a tough time beating you. In 319 frames, he only issued 57 free passes or about 1.5 walks per start.

Although Kauff was the headliner with the lumber, others gave notice as well. Ennis 'Rebel' Oakes -- a player of no import in organized baseball -- batted .312 for Pittsburgh drove in 75 runs. Edward Zwilling, whose claim to fame is currently being the last entry in the 'Baseball Encyclopedia,' was unique in that he played out his four year baseball career with all three major league teams in Chicago. While in organized baseball he was a nobody, but with the Chifeds he was a star slugger. In the midst of the dead-ball era he slugged a mighty .485 in 1914. He batted .313 smacking 38 doubles, ripping 8 triples, and blasting a mighty (back then it was mighty) 16 home runs and driving in 95. He wasn't a hulking slugger in anybody's book being about the size of Phil Rizzuto.

At the conclusion of all three leagues’ respective seasons, they secretly entered into negotiations to try and bring an end to the baseball 'war.' Although new money had come into the league when Sinclair, Weeghman, Ball, and the Ward brothers acquired franchises, the Federal League was losing money. While the financial losses were not as great within organized baseball, there were still losses. On top of that the question: 'whether to jump or not' was causing dissension within many clubs. The National and American Leagues were also tired of losing marquee names to the Feds. Nothing came to fruition from these talks because the Federal League wanted to be recognized as a major league by the other two bodies, a condition unacceptable to the monopoly-minded National and American Leagues.

Since peace was unachievable, the 'war' continued. On January 5th, the Feds filed a suit against organized baseball charging that they had broken antitrust laws. Gilmore contended that the defacto monopoly status enjoyed by the other two leagues resulted in such 'illegal acts' of farming out players -- thereby allowing the various organized baseball franchises to maintain control of the players, thus preventing them from joining the Feds -- was a restraint of free trade. (Which was likely the only time organized baseball ever worried about freeing up the player marketplace.) Organized baseball had considerable reason for alarm in that the case landed in the court of a notorious 'trust buster' who had recently ruled that Standard Oil had been guilty of anti trust violations (later overturned). The judge’s name?

Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

In what appeared to be another devastating blow inflicted by the Feds occurred when 'The Big Train' Walter Johnson rejected Washington Senator's owner Clark Griffith's contract offer in order to sign with the Chicago Whales, er, Chifeds. (whatever) Initially, Johnson had no real intention of signing with the Feds but was rather using it as leverage to get a better contract from Griffith. Johnson had asked for either a one year deal for $15,000, a three year deal for $36,000, or a five year offer of $50,000. When Griffith curtly told Johnson that he didn't want to 'purchase the whole state of Kansas,' (Johnson hailed from Kansas) Johnson signed to play in Chicago for Joe Tinker earning $20,000 a year for two years. Griffith wasn't going to along with this, he stated as much in a newspaper interview:

There was a provision in the 1914 contract whereby I obtained an option on Johnson's services for the 1915 season. Twenty five hundred dollars of the $12000 salary which he has received was given for the specific purpose of reserving an option in 1915 upon Johnson. I am convinced he has violated the agreement, and I will sue him to the end of the earth before I acknowledge his right to sign with the Federals.

However, Griffith, upon reflection, thought that litigation might not be the most prudent thing to do under the circumstances. He decided to try a little diplomacy instead. He traveled down to Kansas City to visit vis-à-vis with Johnson and convinced him that he had always acted in good faith toward his storied hurler and deserved better. Johnson agreed, but felt that it would hurt the Chifeds if he were to jump back. Griffith again reminded him that he would hurt Washington if he stayed in Chicago. Griffith went on to argue that because of Johnson's defection he would ultimately hurt either Washington or Chicago and he'd have to choose which.

Swayed, Johnson returned his signing bonus to Weeghman's club and returned to the Senators, and receiving a healthy raise for his troubles. Johnson never threw a single pitch in the Federal League. In an interview with the Washington Post (Sunday May 14, 1915) he candidly admitted:

“... I deserve the blame for what I have done, and I admit in the light of experience, that I did not act wisely, I make no excuses and ask no consideration. I am willing to accept whatever blame is due me.

Once again, organized baseball decided to renew hostilities with the Federal League by signing away from Brooklyn (he had been 'transferred' there from Indianapolis) 'The Ty Cobb of the Federal League'--Benny Kauff. This served to create more difficulties within the Senior Circuit. He was signed by the New York Giants, but the Giants’ manager John McGraw didn't want him. The Boston Braves -- who had initially lost Kauff to the Federal League -- claimed that he was blacklisted because he had jumped his contract there.

Kauff, however, stated that: “he was through with the Federal League” and applied to the National Commission for re-instatement stating: “if I can't play with the Giants I'll quit the game for good.” The National Commission refused his reinstatement and Kauff was forced to eat his words (and no doubt some more Tip Top bread) and return to the Brookfeds.

Despite all the off-field fireworks, the Federal League enjoyed one of its finest pennant races (not difficult when you consider that they only had three) going down to the final few games of the season when Chicago split a double header with Pittsburgh to finish ahead of St. Louis by percentage points. Chicago finished at 86-66; with St. Louis at 87-67; and Pittsburgh at 86-67; marking the first time that the team with the most wins didn't win the pennant. The other time of course was the players' strike year of 1981 when the Cincinnati Reds won a division high 66 games and yet did not qualify for the post season under the split-season format.

Benny Kauff won his second straight batting title, hitting .342. At the conclusion of the 1915 campaign several developments brought peace to the game.

Truce or consequences

Just as the appearance of one man gave the Federal League new life, it was the exit of one man that spelled doom for the infant circuit. When Robert Ward, wealthy owner of the Brooklyn Tip Tops passed away in the fall of 1915, much of the fight, spunk and vision died with him. Despite a thrilling pennant race in the waning days of 1915, attendance was dismal because of the effects of the first world war. The war also worked hardship on organized baseball, but they were in better shape to handle the stormy days still ahead. Even the reduction of ticket prices in several Federal League cities couldn't bolster attendance. That, coupled with the hefty contracts that the league handed out, spelled doom for the league. Here is a short list of what the Feds were paying compared with organized baseball:

Tinker$5 500$12 000
Campbell$3 200$8 500
Cooper$2 500$7 500
Falkenberg$4 000$8 500
Kauff$2 000$7 500
Seaton$2 600$8 200
Chase$6 000$9 000

To top it all off, World War I was imminent and Federal League president Jim Gilmore felt that the league couldn't survive this perilous time. But what to do? The league had lost considerable money and Gilmore (as well as the other team magnates) wanted to recoup some lost capital. What followed was the greatest bluff in the history of gambling. A superbly orchestrated and executed plan that bought an extremely generous settlement from organized baseball. It went like this....

Initially, the Feds wanted to move their Newark franchise to New York City yet was prevented by Newark interests from doing so. They had already placed a team in Brooklyn to challenge the Sup, er ... sorry, the Dodgers, now they wanted to challenge the big boys--the Giants and Yankees. For those of you who are sketchy on baseball history, the Giants were the toast of New York City and the Yankees had yet to launch any portion of their dynasty.

To begin with, Jim Gilmore and Harry Sinclair had planned to place a franchise in New York. However, with the league trying to survive, Gilmore thought that it could be an excellent bargaining chip to use against organized baseball. The league had already purchased property at the corner of 145th street and Lenox avenue for the magnificent sum of $1.25 million. Gilmore figured that he could build the stadium itself for about $475,000. He had a blueprint made which called for a stadium that could ultimately hold 55,000 patrons and determined it could be completed in just a few short months. (Yes, there was a time teams paid for their own stadiums.)

It was to be designed similar to Shibe Park in Philadelphia with a two tier cantilevered grandstand that would offer an unimpeded view of the field (meaning you weren't stuck behind a post)--not unlike recent stadium architecture. All this was going on at the same time that the New York Yankees were looking to build a stadium of their own, having been told by the Giants that they wished to occupy the Polo Grounds alone. This panicked the National League who now wanted to negotiate with the Feds.

However, American League boss Ban Johnson was not fooled one bit. Johnson himself had made inquiries about that selfsame plot of land for his new league in 1903. What Johnson knew was that there was nothing he could do if the city ever decided to put a street right through the heart of the property, so he rejected the land since an inside the streetcar home run works best in stickball--not baseball. Johnson tried in vain to convince the Senior Circuit to stand strong, that Sinclair and Gilmore were only bluffing -- but due to the suspicion in which each regarded the other -- they wouldn't budge. When critics maintained that Sinclair didn't have the revenue to launch such a project Sinclair issued a challenge:

I'll meet you people (the A.L and N.L. magnates) on the waterfront and we'll toss dollar for dollar into the Hudson River. Then we'll see who runs out of money first.

This challenge shook up the Junior Circuit sufficiently to wish to settle as well.

Thus the Feds received an excellent settlement from organized baseball. In effect, organized baseball bought out the Feds. Terms of the agreement allowed Charles Weeghman to buy the National League Cubs, which he promptly did. This is how the Cubs ended up in Wrigley Field. Wrigley was initially constructed for the Chifeds, the Cubs occupying South Side Park. Phil Ball owner of the St. Louis Terriers was permitted to by the A.L. St. Louis Browns. Weeghman and Ball then merged their two clubs, taking the best from the organized baseball and Federal League clubs. The Ward estate was awarded $400,000, the Pittsburgh franchise was given $50,000, and the right to make bids on major league franchises that would become available. Sinclair probably received the best settlement when he was paid $100,000, and was given the rights to all the players from the Newark, Kansas City, and Buffalo teams. He was also given the rights to Lee Magee, Benny Kauff, and George Anderson (this is not Sparky Anderson, he's old but not that old), which he sold to organized baseball teams. Baltimore was offered $50,000 but rejected it and pursued the matter until 1922 when baseball was granted antitrust exemption by the Supreme Court.

The antitrust suit that was before Judge Landis was to be dropped, which it was by seven of the eight teams. Baltimore chose to fight it out instead. This was considered by organized baseball to be a breach of contract and went to court to have the settlement declared null and void. National League president John Tener contended that:

Each league understood that each of its clubs would carry out the terms of the agreement. The Baltimore club was at that time one of the eight parts of the Federal League. In making the peace agreement the Federal League spoke for it and undertook to see to it that Baltimore should comply with the terms of the peace agreement. As is well known the Baltimore Federal League club has not only refused to carry out the peace agreement, but has gone further and brought an action in the United States courts charging that the Federal League, by signing the peace agreement, conspired with organized ball to injure and destroy the Federal Baltimore club. It is apparent that the Federal League has not carried out the obligation it took in the peace agreement.”

“The National and American Leagues naturally declines to pay for something that they have not received. Until the Federal League keeps its promises and secures from its constituent clubs an acceptance of the peace agreement, no payment will be made under the agreement.

The court rejected his argument. Other provisions of the agreement was that all the Federal League players were to be granted amnesty and have the remaining parts of their Federal League contracts to be paid in full. The International League refused any part of the agreement due to the damage the Feds brought to their league. The Baltimore club wanted to be transferred to the International League. However Jack Dunn of the Richmond club was adamantly against this. They had to transfer his franchise from Baltimore to Richmond because of the Federal League's incursion in that market.

Dunn was backed up by International League president Ed Barrow who rightly contended that the Feds had no right to drive them out of Baltimore and then reap the benefits of their actions after their league failed to make good. Initially, the Baltimore club had offered to sell Dunn their franchise for $100,000. This too was rejected because Dunn felt that he would be paying for something that was already his--the rights to Baltimore.

A similar scenario unfolded in Buffalo, although the Buffalo International League franchise had remained there. As to the remaining Federal League franchises, they received little or no compensation.


The Federal League disbanded eighty years ago yet we shouldn't dismiss it as simple history. What the Federal League did had seismic implications that are felt to this day. Baseball's unique antitrust exemption sprang directly from the suit that was launched by the Baltimore Federal League club against organized baseball. The suit that was presented before the court of Kenesaw Mountain Landis between 1914 and 1915 was never decided. The Federal League dropped the suit as part of the 'peace agreement.' Landis, for his part deliberately delayed ruling on the matter anyway. Landis was a baseball fan himself, in the trial transcripts, Landis said to the Federal League attorneys:

Do you realize that a decision in this case may tear down the very foundations of this game so loved by thousands?

He realized that baseball was in violation of antitrust laws but was loathe to issue a ruling on the matter. This was surprising and a huge break for organized baseball in view of Landis' reputation as a 'trust buster.' Baseball remembered the favor that Landis did for them and repaid it by making Judge Landis baseball's first commissioner. Still, make no mistake, the owners took a gamble on Landis, in that they felt that since he sided with ownership in the matter involving the Federal League, that he would likely be an “owners' commissioner” siding with ownership whenever a controversy arose with the players (which he was originally--see the Black Sox vs. Charles Comiskey) or the courts. History reveals that they were very much mistaken in assuming that.

As to the player raids, in retrospect, it was 'much ado about nothing,' most of the marquee names that jumped were for the most part at the end of their careers. Their only real value was as gate attractions/name recognition. (The Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets have used this as a model for roster assembly in recent years.) Philadelphia A's and Hall-of-Fame pitcher Eddie Plank enjoyed his final quality season with the Feds when he went 21-11. Chief Bender's first campaign with the Feds went 4-16. Mordecai 'Three Finger' Brown went 31-19 in his two years with the Feds, but he too, was at the end of the line. Jack Quinn, who won 247 games over his career went from hero to zero with the Feds. While pitching with Baltimore in 1914, he won 26 and lost 14, yet the following campaign he lost 22 games.

Benny Kauff later signed with the Giants and enjoyed a handful of solid, though unspectacular seasons before being banished from the game. (He was charged with auto theft, acquitted by the court and was banished anyway because Landis figured that he was probably guilty.)

Promising hurler Russ Ford never played in another major league game after the Feds closed up shop. Chifed pitcher Claude Hendrix who led the league in wins in 1914 with 29 victories won 20 with the Cubs in 1918, yet despite that, his post Federal League ledger read 57-61. Gene Packard who won twenty in both his Federal league seasons won only 37 more while pitching in the N.L. Tom Seaton who in his first two National League and one Federal League campaign was a fine 68-38, went 25-27 thereafter before he too was blacklisted. George Suggs who won twenty games in 1910 with the Reds, and 24 in 1914 with the Baltimore Feds won 11 the following year, again with Baltimore and never threw a pitch in the majors again.

Federal League slugger Edward Zwilling played in only 35 games with the Cubs following a superlative Federal League career, batting an anemic .113.

For the most part, the majority failed to make any real contribution back in organized baseball, but there were exceptions. Jack Tobin, who began his major league career with the Federals went on to play through 1927 accumulating a lifetime batting mark of .309. Tobin topped 200 hits in four consecutive seasons (1920-1923) garnering 236 hits in 1921. If you never heard of him it is probably because he spent the large part of his career with the moribund St. Louis Browns.

The real jewel of the Feds was unquestionably Edd Roush. He, like Tobin, debuted in the Federal League, however unlike Tobin, you will find Roush's visage gracing the Hall-of-Fame.

And the beat goes on.

I’ve been negligent in recent months about adding links to my blog. So, I’m going to add a trio of sites: The Hardball Times, which has some of my favourite amateur baseball writers including Lee Sinins: "Around the Majors" reports. The second is Larry Mahnken's Replacement Level Yankee Weblog which touches on all things pinstriped. Finally, for a good laugh, check out Batgirl, you'll never look at the Minnesota Twins (or Legos for that matter) the same way again. As her slogan states, it's "Less Stats, More Sass."

Best Regards


Monday, August 16, 2004

Of Jays Gone By....Remembering Jimmy Key

Ironically, 1993 and 1994--as a member of the New York Yankees--defined Jimmy Key's career. He won 35 games those two seasons and lost just ten. His aggregate ERA for those two campaigns was 3.11 (140 ERA+). Over the rest of his career which began in Toronto and ended in Baltimore it was 3.58 (122 ERA+). His two healthy seasons for the Yankees he won almost 78% of his games, other than those two seasons he still won almost 58% of his decisions. Those first two seasons wearing pinstripes encapsulated what might have been. In baseball it's called: "coulda, woulda, shoulda." Yankee Stadium has had the reputation of being friendly to left handed pitchers. Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez and Herb Pennock all carved Hall of Fame careers in Yankee Stadium. Other stellar lefties, such as Ron Guidry, Eddie Lopat and Tommy Byrne all enjoyed stellar careers or part of great career playing in the Bronx. Herb Pennock was an average pitcher before coming to New York. While pitching in Philadelphia and in the graveyard for lefties -- Fenway Park, Pennock pitched just over .500 baseball (77-72, 3.73 ERA). However after coming to the Yankees as a great many Red Sox of that era did (Babe Ruth, Carl Mays, Red Ruffing etc.), he punched his ticket to Cooperstown by going 162-90 with an ERA of 3.54, very respectable for that era of high octane offense.

Key made his debut with the Toronto Blue Jays as part of a bullpen that was considered suspect at best, a veritable arsonist‘s convention at worst. He did manage to save 10 games but had an earned run average close to five. The following year -- which coincided with the Jays first Amercan League East Divisional Championship -- Key served notice that he was a bit of a rarity, a young lefty with good command of his stuff, much the same way as Andy Pettite was in the 1990's. He made 32 starts, went 14-6 and dropped his ERA down to 3.00 (141 ERA+) exactly. That would begin a run of ten consecutive seasons with at least 12 wins. His first exposure to post season play was rocky. In the 1985 American League Championship Series he started games two and five going 0-1 with an ERA of 5.19.

In 1986 he duplicated his previous seasons 14 wins. However in 1987 he had a banner year. This was the year of the "juiced ball" where offensive numbers went through the roof. A's rookie Mark McGwire set a freshman record for home runs with 49 and Twins' starter, Bert Blyleven surrendered 50 home runs -- also a record. Key, for his part, led the league in ERA at 2.76 (164 ERA+), won 17 games and finished second in Cy Young voting to Roger Clemens. He pitched the final game of the season with the American League East flag on the line against the Detroit Tigers on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. He pitched brilliantly surrendering a single run, a home run, by Larry Herndon, but the Jays couldn't score.

In 1988, various arm miseries began settling on Key. Over the next three seasons, he only topped 200 innings pitched once, in 1989. From 1988-90 Key won a total of 28 games. However, when the Jays again made it to the post season in 1989 Key was much more effective in the American League Championship Series. Against the Oakland juggernaut Key was the only pitcher to notch a win for Toronto, pitching six innings and surrendering three runs in game three of the series.

As better health set in, Key continued his remarkable career. He helped pitch the Jays to the post season again in 1991 finishing the season 16-12, with a fine ERA of 3.05 (138 ERA+). His start in Game Three of the American League Championship Series was much like the final game in 1987 in that he pitched well, but received no offensive support. He endured a shaky first inning where he coughed up two runs but shut the Twins out until relieved after the end of six innings. The following season Key struggled for much of the campaign. At one point he was 8-13 until he caught fire, and he wouldn't cool off the rest of the year. He won his last five decisions however it wasn't enough in the eyes of manager Cito Gaston to earn a spot in the post season rotation. He saw action in Game Five of the American League Championship Series when he relieved an ineffective David Cone and pitched three shutout innings.

For the World Series, Jays manager Cito Gaston decided to stick with a three man rotation for the World Series, again relegating Key to the bullpen. However, after Jack Morris was shaky in Game One and David Cone, while not as shaky, was not that effective in Game Two. Gaston decided to insert Key into the rotation for Game Four thereby giving his other three starters and additional day of rest.

Key would make Gaston look like a genius. Key dueled with the Braves Tom Glavine into the eighth inning, at SkyDome in Toronto and surrendering a single run. He left the game to a standing ovation. In Game Six at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Toronto closer, Tom Henke allowed the Braves to tie the game. Henke pitched in the tenth but Gaston brought Key in again when an Alfredo Griffin error at short cost him an unearned run after the Jays scored two in the top of the eleventh inning. With John Smoltz pinch running at third and Otis Nixon (who drove in the tying run off Henke in the ninth) batting, Gaston came out to inquire whether Key wanted to pitch to Nixon. Key acknowledged that Nixon gave him problems so Gaston brought in Mike Timlin to get the save. Key's final World Series tally for the 1992 tournament was 2-0 with an ERA of 1.00 exactly.

During the offseason Key filed for free agency but was negotiating a return to Toronto, but the sticking point was that Key wanted a four year guaranteed contract whereas the Jays would only go three. In the interim, the Jays would ink Dave Stewart to a deal and subsequently pulled their offer to Key off the table. Key then inked a four year deal with the New York Yankees on December 10th 1992.

As previously mentioned, Yankee Stadium has been traditionally kind to southpaw hurlers. Key, who'd been generally acknowledged as one of the finer left handers in the American League proceeded to take his game up a notch. He made his first major mark with the Yankees on April 27th when he pitched 5-0 one-hit, complete-game victory against the California Angels. Key went on to set a career high in wins with 18, strikeouts with 173 and matched his 1985 ERA with a mark of 3.00 (141 ERA+) and finished fourth in Cy Young voting. Key picked right up where he left off in 1994. The Yankees had the best record in the American League in large part to Key who again had a stellar season finishing 17-4 with a nifty ERA of 3.27 (140 ERA+). It was as close to the Cy Young as he would ever get finishing second behind a soon-to-be-teammate, David Cone who was pitching for Kansas City that year.

Key's tenure with the Yankees would come to a screeching stop in May 1995 when he was put on the disabled list with a badly damaged rotator cuff which required surgery. He logged just over 30 innings that year with a 1-2 record and an ERA of 5.64. With surgery on a rotator cuff, it usually takes a pitcher about two years to get up to speed. In 1996 Key was barely above average going 12-11 with an earned run mark of 4.68 (108 ERA+) over thirty starts and enduring two stints on the disabled list in both May and June. However Key would become a key contributor to the Yankees post season aspirations that year.

When the American League Divisional Series opened against the Texas Rangers, Key was given the nod to pitch game three. Although he wasn't on top of his game, he nonetheless left the game only down 2-1. The Yankees would go on to rally in the ninth to take a 2-1 lead in the series. In the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles, he was again given the ball to start the third game. This time out he was vintage Jimmy Key. The crafty southpaw endured a rocky start in the first inning where he gave up a pair of runs then completely shut down the Orioles the rest of the way. By the time he left the game at the end of eight, he given up just three hits and a walk, striking out five. When the Yankees turned their attention to the World Series against the National League Champions -- the Atlanta Braves -- Key drew the short straw as he was slated to face Greg Maddux twice. Maddux had just finished a season where he'd win a record fourth consecutive Cy Young Award. Their first tilt was slated for game two at Yankee Stadium. Key lasted six innings against the Braves’ ace and was tagged for the loss, putting the Bronx Bombers in a seemingly untenable position, down 0-2 in the series with the next three games to be played at Atlanta. They matched up again in game six with the Yankees -- who had swept all three games south of the Mason-Dixon Line -- up 3-2 and in a position to clinch the Fall Classic. Key again pitched into the sixth when Yankee skipper Joe Torre turning the game over to his elite bullpen corps who nailed down the championship. It was Key's second clinching victory in World Series play, his first coming in relief against the same Atlanta Braves in 1992 when he was in Toronto.

Key, who was coming off both a decidedly average regular season, was now at the end of his contract with the Yankees. The greying of his hair at the temples served as a reminder that Key was now -- athletically speaking -- getting a little "long in the tooth." He would turn 36 in August of the 1997 season and was still recovering from his rotator cuff surgery. The Yankees decided not to retain Key who then inked a two year contract with the Yankees division rivals, the Baltimore Orioles.

Key showed his resiliency in 1997 by flashing his old form while pitching for Baltimore. He won 16 games, his fifth time at that level or higher. His 3.43 ERA (128 ERA+) was impressive considering his age and surgically repaired shoulder. Key and staff ace formed a formidable 1-2 punch that would conquer the Yankees in the American League East. Key was given the ball for game two against the Cleveland Indians and set a record that he'd rather forget. He set a major league record, becoming the first pitcher to hit three batters in one inning of a postseason game. Key's one-inning effort tied the record for hit batsmen in an entire championship series set by Detroit's Frank Tanana in 1987. After throwing a called third strike past Cleveland's Bip Roberts, the game's first batter, Key hit Omar Vizquel and allowed a two-run homer to Manny Ramirez, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead over the Orioles in Game 2 of the AL championship series. Matt Williams singled and Key then hit David Justice before getting Sandy Alomar on a groundout. Tony Fernandez was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Key fell behind Kevin Seitzer 3-0 before striking him out to end the inning. Key only lasted four innings before being replaced by Scott Kamieniecki. He would return the favor in game five when he came in to relieve Kamieniecki throwing three shutout innings at Jacobs Field. It would be his last post season pitching appearance as the Tribe would go on to represent the American League in the 1997 World Series.

The following year, 1998 Key tried valiantly to pitch through an inflamed rotator cuff. In order to conseve his arm he pitched both in the rotation and out of the bullpen with mixed results. Although he won six and lost three, his ERA shot up from 3.43 (128 ERA+) in 1997 to 4.20 (108 ERA+) in 1998. On January 30 1999, he released the following statement:

"After four months of careful thoughts and reflection on the status of my career, the health of my arm and where I am in my personal life, I have decided to retire."

Key Facts....:

  • Key earned All-ACC honors as a pitcher and DH in 1982 while at Clemson, compiling a 9-3 record and 2.79 ERA on the mound and hitting .300 with 21 doubles.
  • Key was selected by Chicago White Sox organization in 10th round of free-agent draft (June 5, 1979); but did not sign.
  • Key was selected by Toronto Blue Jays organization in third round of free-agent draft (June 7, 1982) and signed.
  • Prior to his record setting three hit batsmen in game two of the 1997 American League Divisional Series against Cleveland, he had hit one in 61 2-3 previous postseason innings. The regular-season record also is three hit batters in one inning, accomplished nine times in the NL and six in the AL.
  • Key was named American League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News twice (1987 and 1994). He was also named lefthanded pitcher on The Sporting News American League. All-Star team (1987 and 1993-94).
  • Key appeared in one game as pinch-runner (1985).
  • Key was the starting pitcher in August 1992 game at SkyDome when the Milwaukee Brewers scored 22 runs on 31 hits.
  • Key had 10 consecutive seasons with at least 12 wins.
  • Although he never pitched a no-hitter, he pitched two one hitters. The first against Chicago on May 22, 1986 and the second against the California Angels on April 27th 1993.
  • Key never traded once in his career and never pitched outside of the American League East.
  • Key notched 10 saves in 1984 and never garnered another over the rest of his career including 18 post-1984 relief appearances.

Best Regards


Monday, August 09, 2004

A Requiem For Vic Raschi

Well, last week I dealt with Russ Ford. Another Yankee hurler I’ve always been fascinated with I’ll highlight today. Before Jack Morris, there was the New York Yankees Vic Raschi. A pitcher who had the reputation of being a cantankerous curmudgeon who was single-minded of purpose--win. Born Victor John Angelo Raschi in Springfield Mass....the year the "Black Sox" threw the World Series (1919).

Interestingly (though not surprisingly), Raschi often clashed with general manager George Weiss over money. Weiss would spend a great deal of time trying to convince Raschi that he wasn't as good as he was by drawing his attention to peripheral stats such as ERA. In 1950 Raschi won 21 games but had an earned run mark of exactly 4.00, a point that Weiss tried to hammer home during negotiations over his 1951 contract. Raschi never concerned himself too much with his ERA because he felt that if the Yankees scored 10 runs of support, what did it matter if he coughed up five or six runs as long as the Yankees were victorious? (Weiss's points were a canard, the AL's aggregate ERA that year was 4.58). Raschi would drive home the point back to Weiss that he was the staff ace, told him to ignore his other numbers and focus on his "value to the club" which was undeniable. His size (6'1" 205 lbs.) and the menacing scowl on his dark, unshaven face and blazing fastball were helpful in intimidating opposing hitters, who grudgingly realized he was very valuable.

Almost as if to answer Weiss's objections, Raschi posted his two lowest ERA's of his starting career in 1951, 52 (3.27 and 2.78). However Weiss would have the last laugh. As age (34) and bad knees caught up with Raschi, he posted his lowest win total in six seasons (13-6). Raschi had pitched well (3.33 ERA, AL's ERA: 3.99), led the Yankees to another World Series win, pitched a complete game against Brooklyn, but gave up three runs and lost 3-2. However it wasn't enough for Weiss who sold him to the St. Louis Cardinals. The effect on the Yankees was undeniable as they spent the entire summer in 1954 trying to catch the Cleveland Indians. When the Yankees needed a big win, their big game pitcher was not there. Despite winning 103 games that year, the consensus was that they lost "key" games. Something that Raschi used to provide.

How good was Vic Raschi however? Playing on a great team can, statistically, make a player look better than he really played. To use a pinstriped example, we saw this on the 1999 Yankees in the case of Paul O Neill and Tino Martinez where both players notched over 100 RBI, often considered the benchmark of hitting productivity. However closer inspection indicates that both players had been slipping offensively. O Neill's adjusted OPS+ had fallen the last three years. From 1997-99 his adjusted OPS+ went: 138, to 129 to 114 (he also notched a 100 RBI campaign in 2000 despite his adjusted OPS+ being 89). Tino Martinez was also in a downward spiral those three years: 144, 123 and 110. Martinez also enjoyed a 91 RBI season despite his adjusted OPS+ dropping to 86 in 2000. However their struggles were somewhat obscured by their RBI totals which had more to do with the three hitters ahead of them in the lineup. Chuck Knoblauch's on base percentage (OBP) was .393, Derek Jeter's (OBP) was .438, Bernie Williams’ .435 had as much to do with their "production" than their own abilities.

So, the question needs be asked, was Raschi a great pitcher or was he a beneficiary of playing on a great team?

A few points:

What was Raschi's won-loss record compared to the Yankees? Raschi's best seasons ran from 1948 through 1953. A quick comparison between the two:

Year   Raschi Yankees

1948 19-8 94-60
1949 21-10 97-57
1950 21-8 98-56
1951 21-10 98-56
1952 16-6 95-59
1953 13-6 99-52

Raschi went 111-48 over those seasons, the Yankees record was 581-340. The Yanks .631 winning percentage over the period isn't as good as Raschi's .699, so we get a pretty good idea that the Yankees weren't carrying Raschi over that period. As mentioned earlier, Raschi never concerned himself with statistics like ERA. What was important was winning. When a big game needed pitching, the Yankees turned the ball over to Raschi and more often than not, he came through for them. Some examples:

  • He pitched the pennant clincher against the BoSox on the last day of the 1949 season. In that game the Yankees and Boston were tied for the lead and this one game would decide who would play in the World Series and who would get the best tee times. Raschi pitched eight innings of pressure packed shut-out ball preserving a 1-0 lead. When the Yankees provided a five run cushion with four markers in the bottom of the eighth, Raschi coughed up three meaningless runs in the ninth as he sometimes did, yet finished off the Beantowners without further incident.
  • In the Fall Classic that same year he went 1-1 with an ERA of 4.30 against Brooklyn, but, again, these numbers are misleading. His loss in game two was the result of a 1-0 whitewashing by spitballer Preacher Roe. His somewhat inflated earned run mark in the series was due to the 10-0 lead the Yankees handed him in the clincher and once again let up somewhat in the 7th frame. Regardless, Raschi won the game with the World Series attached to it.
  • The following year when the Bronx Bombers dismantled the 'Whiz Kids' Philadelphia Phillies, Raschi got things rolling by blanking the Phillies by tossing a 1-0 two-hitter.
  • In 1952 with the Yankees down 3-2 to the Dodgers going back to Ebbets Field, the Yankees needed this win to stay alive. Again they looked to Raschi.

    Again he delivered the goods.

  • His World Series ledger in the Yanks magnificent five year run between 1949-1953 reads 5-3 with an 2.24 ERA in 58 2/3 innings pitched. The latter mark inflated somewhat by the four cheap runs he gave up in Game Five of the '49 series. Subtract that one inning and his ERA drops to 1.67.

So a quick comparison between his regular season/World Series earned run marks indicates that his win totals were not due to his simply being the beneficiary of playing on a great team. When necessary, when it was important, he was very stingy with opposing hitters.

Raschi is a highly unlikely candidate for Cooperstown. His career is too short (10 seasons, 1819 IP). His win total maxed out at 132, his BB/K ratio is mediocre, his ERA+ during his peak is solid, though unremarkable (117), we could cite examples all day. However, the Hall-of-Fame isn’t necessarily about statistical milestones/achievements. Bill James once said that one definition of a Hall-of-Famer is a key player on a great team. Let’s take this up a notch: what about the undisputed ace pitcher of a dynasty team? Does that sound like a Hall-of-Famer? How about the undisputed ace pitcher of a dynasty team who turned it up a notch in the big game? Does that sound like a Hall-of-Famer? Well that was Vic Raschi. The New York Yankees won five straight World Series from 1949-53, their unquestioned ace and big game pitcher was Vic Raschi. An interesting conundrum; statistically, it’s pretty much impossible to make a Hall-of-Fame case for “The Springfield Rifle” but at the same time, an ‘undisputed ace pitcher of a dynasty team who turned it up a notch in the big game’ instinctively sounds like Hall-of-Fame material.

Rifling through Raschi....

  • Raschi was the winning pitcher in 1948 All Star game at Sportsmans Park driving in the winning run.
  • May 3 1950 Raschi commits four balks.
  • Raschi led AL in strike outs in 1951 (164).
  • He won the WS clincher against Brooklyn, a feat he duplicated against the Giants in 1951. He two-hit the Phillies 1-0 in the 1950 WS, and won twice more against the Dodgers in the 1952 World Series.
  • Raschi was a fair hitter (.184 career average).
  • Game six 1952 WS Raschi drives in winning run off Brooklyn's Billy Loes.
  • On August 3, 1953 his seven RBI set an ML single-game record for pitchers (since broken by Tony Cloninger).
  • Raschi was named to four All Star teams.
  • In February 1954, he was sold to the Cardinals for $85,000 after contract battles with the Yankees.
  • Raschi finished his career with the Kansas City Athletics.

Best Regards