Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I prefer baseball on the radio to the televised game, so this is a special bargain for me. Why the preference? I can explain it by talking about Vin Scully, regarded by most observers (that is, listeners) as the best broadcaster ever. I was lucky to be within listening range of his Dodgers broadcasts for 15 seasons. I've talked to many people whose only exposure to Scully was his work in the World Series and other national telecasts. They couldn't appreciate him. They admitted not appreciating him, simply didn't regard him as so obviously head-and-shoulder above the other telecasters that they had to bow down to him. The reason is simple. Like every other announcer of a televised game, Scully was tethered to the image on the screen. If the image switched from the pitcher to the runner leading off first, he had to explain why. If they showed someone in the dugout, he had to say something about that player. When they showed five replays, he (or some other bozo in the booth) had to comment on each different angle of the play in question. When his director flashed statistics on the screen, he had to repeat them and make some note about them. If he wanted to tell a story or give some historical perspective on the game, he had to hope it wasn't interrupted by an image of the guy warming up in the bullpen or the third-base coach giving signals or some movie star in the crowd about to be interviewed by the sideline reporter, or whatever arbitrary decision the director was making for him.
Every telecaster is a slave to the next image on the screen. There is no escape from it, and it reduces them all to homogenized voice-over automatons. At best. At worst, they try to justify their presence on the air by yakking nonstop about what we can already see on the screen. No wonder people who know Vin Scully only from his work on television don't know how special he has been for the last FIFTY-FOUR seasons.
A Scully broadcast, on the other hand, is a work of art. I hear that age has slowed him down somewhat, and he no longer does the full nine innings, so I am speaking here of Scully in his prime, say 15-20 years ago when I listened to him as often as I could even though I had no rooting interest in the Dodgers. Scully treated a baseball game like Hemingway telling a short story. His pre-game intro would set the stage for what he expected the main drama to be. Maybe it was a streaking or slumping team, maybe the aftermath to last night's brawl or some other recent dramatics, or maybe it was the roller-coaster ride rocking tonight's starting pitcher. Scully would introduce the main characters and themes in the early part of the broadcast, but like every good story-teller, he was sensitive to the variations within those themes. If he told you in the first inning that Orel Hershiser was the hottest pitcher in the league and he struggled in the early innings, he gave extra emphasis to whether Hershiser escaped those jams or paid a price by giving up runs the Dodgers might not get back for him. He knew the habits and tendencies of every player and reported their progress and their deviations from the norm, the signals that tonight might be different from what was expected.
Every game took on its own drama and shape for Scully, and he perceived the new themes as the game went along. Sometimes the story followed a direct path, and sometimes the digressions loomed larger, but always he could put every event in context -- in the context of the season, the homestand, this series, the changing fortune of the key performers, and the bigger picture of baseball history. That was the joy of listening to a Scully broadcast. It wasn't just a ballgame, a succession of hitters and pitchers producing balls and strikes and hits and runs and outs. It was a short story with motifs, characters, themes, and subplots, and sometimes it turned into a very long and complex tale indeed.
Add to this formula a gorgeous, mellifluous voice, a sense of irony, and wonderful descriptive powers, and it was a thing of beauty. How many announcers have you heard who can do this to a routine fly ball -- "Davis lofts the ball to center, Butler drifting under it, reaches up into the night, and picks it off"? Beautiful. No wonder generations of fans have brought their radios to the games at Dodger Stadium just so they could listen to Scully describing what they were watching.
That's what Scully and the other greats, most of them long departed from the scene, bring to baseball on the radio. I know what the game looks like. Listening to the broadcast, I can picture it in mind, and I don't need five replays to show me what happened. All I need is the right man by my side in the living room, sharing his vision of the game with me.
So bring on the broadcasts! I'll catch whatever Scully action I can, late at night here on the East coast, and I'll check out Jon Miller of the Giants and this year's Frick Award winner, Dave Niehaus, doing the Mariners games. I'll sample the others and pick out favorites to return to, hoping to find more artists who can "paint the word picture" and who make me feel not that I'm being force-fed a blur of images designed to appease viewers with short attention spans, but rather that I'm catching a ballgame with a friend who knows why baseball is so much fun.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
There were many surprises along the way, a good deal of cursing, and plenty of harmless anxiety. You wait for ten minutes to get the guy you really need to draft in that spot, crawling through a mine-field of a dozen other picks, feeling the relief when other managers ignore the guy you're craving, until you only have two or three more to get through, and then it's the last pick before your turn and your guy is still there. And then you see his name come up, and find out that the Podunk Pustules, the team that has no chance to win the league, for some reason found it necessary to draft the player who was the key to your whole strategy. All you can do is summon the spirit of the immortal Joe Schultz, manager of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, type a hasty "shitfuck!" and come up with another pick in a hurry.
Having gone on record with my strategy before the draft, I have to say that everything I planned on came about, and my team's only problems are the things I forgot to consider in my plan. I wrote that I'd be very happy to have a starting rotation built around Jake Peavy, Aaron Harang, and John Maine. My Gabe Sox nabbed all three of them, albeit in the first five rounds, shortchanging my offense a bit. Still, I got Maine just three picks ahead of Freddy Berowski, screwing up his pitching plans. I even took a closer in round 6, Francisco Cordero, who had 44 saves last year. After that, I focused on the guys who should lock up a third straight Holds title, unless one or two of them take over closer jobs. The quartet of Rafael Betancourt, Scot Shields, Scott Downs, and Joaquin Benoit combined for 106 holds last season, way more than my league-leading total. If they can come close to that, I'll lock up Holds, the Key Irrelevant Stat in my master plan. Lost in the shuffle of this mad quest for holds was the fact that I forgot to draft a fourth starting pitcher until all the good ones were gone. I picked up Jon Lester as a fourth starter late, figuring he'll win games for the Red Sox even if he doesn't pitch that well. Overall, the consensus is that I have one of the two or three best pitching staffs, at least on a computer screen.
The offense is another story. I have two big run producers from last year, a cast of mid-level performers (solid but unspectacular) filling four other spots in the 10-man starting lineup (one from each position plus two "utility" guys), and a bunch of question marks for the rest, mostly young players who might be blossoming stars this year or flat-out busts. The two studs, drafted second and fourth, are Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Pena. In a league whose offensive categories include total bases and on-base percentage, they both figure to put up more big numbers this season. The solid but unexceptional quartet are left fielder Raul Ibanez and infielders Orlando Cabrera, Aaron Hill, and Edwin Encarnacion. Ibanez was my one "panic pick," a last-second choice in Round 10 after frenzied indecision during the 90 seconds allowed for each pick. I had Michael Bourn on tap to play left field but thought he'd be available later, had some other players on my queue, then saw Ibanez's name about ten seconds before my time was up and for some reason hit the button. Bourn went two rounds later shortly before I would have taken him, and now I deeply regret this hasty move since stolen bases looms as my weakest category. Last season's panic pick, Ramon Hernandez, was a huge waste of a 9th-round pick. I hope I don't get burned by Ibanez. He has driven in 228 runs the last two seasons, so he ought to be fine, it's just drafter's remorse at taking a guy who provides little besides the RBI someone else can give me instead of the guy who could solve my stolen bases problem all by himself.
My first big gamble on offense was Josh Hamilton, my 7th-round pick. That got a loud yelp of protest from Rob Pendell, who drafted Francisco Liriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Philip Hughes in adjacent rounds, compared to whom Hamilton is a sure thing. I got a lot of production from him last year when he played for my favorite team, the Reds, and was disgusted when they traded him during the winter. He seems primed for stardom, is hitting around .600 in spring training for the Rangers, and might be their cleanup hitter. I just wish I could be saying those things about his prospects with the Reds. I could've taken veteran run-producers like Todd Helton, Ken Griffey, and Paul Konerko in this spot, but went with Hamilton.
After taking Cabrera, Betancourt, and Ibanez in the next three rounds, I gambled again in Round 11 by grabbing J.R. Towles. In my pre-draft blog, I linked him with Geovany Soto as favored catching prospects, and I was astonished to see Soto go in the fifth round, much earlier than I projected. Towles is nursing a sore hamstring and hasn't played much so far, but I'm counting on him to play the bulk of the time, though I added Gregg Zaun in my final pick as a reliable backup catcher. Last season I carried only one catcher most of the season and it hurt me. There were 30-40 days when I had no catcher playing, and in this league you have to have every position filled to the max to pile up those numbers. There are no negative stats in this league--that is, no strikeouts for hitters, no errors, no losses for pitchers, etc. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by playing your guys every day you can, unless they're facing guys like Santana and Peavy.
After filling in my starting infield and bolstering my bullpen in the middle rounds, I spent rounds 17-19 picking up hitters who showed a lot of potential as part-timers last season. They'll start this season in the utility spots, and I need two of the three to nail down jobs and hold them. In Round 17 I took Daric Barton, who gave my Gabe Sox a big boost down the stretch last season. In 72 at-bats, he hit .347 with 16 runs, 4 HR, 46 total bases, and a .429 on-base%. He is pegged as the starting first baseman for the A's this season if all goes well, hitting in the middle of the lineup. I don't expect him to hit .347, but if he keeps the job he can give me the 20 HR, 90 RBI, and .375 OBP that most teams in our league are going to get from their main utility guy. In round 18 I got Nate McLouth, who has a good shot to start the season as the Pirates' centerfielder and leadoff hitter. If so, he might be the solution to my stolen base deficiency. Last season, in 329 at-bats, roughly half a season for an everyday leadoff hitter, he stole 22 bases and added 13 HR and 62 runs. I'll be very happy if he can increase those totals by 50% as a regular. Since he plays all three outfield positions, he's a one-man outfield bench in fantasy ball. With my 19th pick, I took Jeff Keppinger, who has the edge at the moment for the starting shortstop job with the Reds, with Alex Gonzalez sidelined by knee surgery. Keppinger also gave the Gabe Sox a big shot in the arm last September, hitting a very productive .332 for the Reds. Too bad he's a mediocre fielder who can't lay claim to a position based on all-around play. He needs to make the most of his chance in Gonzalez's absence, has to hit so well that Dusty Baker has no choice but to keep him in the lineup.
So that's how my team shapes up. Like most teams, there's a strong nucleus and a lot of question marks. I'm not going to make any changes yet, unlike the half-dozen managers who have already begun raiding the free-agent ranks and discarding dubious draft picks. My post-draft excitement came the next morning, when Freddy Berowski invaded my office to harangue the manager at the next desk, Bill Francis, about his team. The two of them went back and forth for 25 minutes, trashing each other's choices and chances, and as they went on and on it became easier to think they were both right. I do know that their trash talking will continue all season, and at some point they'll give up on the pennant chase and care only about beating each other. Even if they won't admit it. So it goes in the Cooperstown League.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The first fantasy league I played in was almost 20 years ago and was modeled after the original Rotisserie League. We auctioned off the players with a $25 bankroll per team and bidding in 25-cent increments. I resisted the temptation to overpay early on, and after other managers ran out of money, I was able to pick up the likes of Kirby Puckett for a quarter. That was the good news. The bad news was that there were no roster changes during the season. The team you drafted was it, no matter what. One player I really wanted was Nick Esasky, who was coming off a 30-HR, 108-RBI season with the Red Sox. The day after I drafted him, he was diagnosed with vertigo, and his career vanished along with my pennant chances.
There was a long stretch during the 1990s when I avoided fantasy leagues because of its inherent evil: it perverts your rooting interests. What are you supposed to do when your fantasy-team pitcher faces your favorite team? Suppose the bases are loaded and your fantasy third baseman comes up to bat against your pitcher? Without the fantasy element, it's easy to root for your favorite team's player to hit a grand slam. With fantasy, it's a psychological trauma, not to mention a philosophical dilemma. Multiply this dilemma by the 180 days of a baseball season, and it can eat at you if you take it seriously. For a long time, I felt it was simpler just to root for my favorite teams without any complications. Let other people obsess over saves and WHIP and team stolen bases, I thought. I just want my damn team to win.
This will be my third season in this league, and though I do feel the pangs of conflicting rooting interests, I find that there is a benefit that outweighs that anxiety. Fantasy baseball forces me to pay very close attention to everything that is happening in professional baseball. Since I make my living from baseball, this can only be a good thing. Over the years, I had gotten into the habit of following my own team and a scattering of favorite players around the rest of the league. The majority of major leaguers flew beneath my radar. Today, on the other hand, I find myself contemplating the prospects of J.R. Towles, whose career in the majors consists of 40 at-bats last September for the Astros. Towles hit .375 with a dozen RBI in that brief audition, including a team-record eight RBI in one game. Will he be available in the 15th round of tonight's draft, I wonder? Will someone else pounce on him earlier? Will he be taken before Geovany Soto, another promising young catcher who excelled after a late-season call-up by the Cubs last year? I think I'd be happy going into the season with either one of these guys as my catcher, a position which was a nightmare for me last year. But the Astros and Cubs both have veteran catchers who might take a lot of playing time away from the youngsters, especially if they struggle early. Just don't let me get stuck with Ramon Hernandez again. . .unless of course he has the kind of season he had in 2006, before I drafted him.
Ten years ago I wouldn't have noticed Soto and Towles in September, and I certainly wouldn't have wiled away the winter thinking about them and other players who might be available in the last ten rounds of a 23-player draft. We'll be drafting 368 players tonight, and that's a lot of players to research and form opinions about, but we do it willingly if not joyfully. One of our managers, Freddy Berowski, has compiled a thick notebook full of color-coded evaluations of every player in every category, which he is using to project the round in which every player will be taken. Last year, he froze during the tenth round of the draft and picked a player at a position he had already filled, so he doesn't want to make any mistakes this year. I've printed out just a few statistical tables and have a couple of sheets from a legal pad on which I've listed players I'm willing to have on my team. For instance, I refuse to utilize any Yankees or Dodgers. If I had the first pick in this year's draft, I would not take Alex Rodriguez. Nope, no "Mr. Sportsmanship" on my teams.
That won't be a problem, since I'm drafting 11th this year, not one of the better spots. In my first year in the Cooperstown League, I got the first pick, took Albert Pujols, and finished second. Last year, with the second overall pick, I took Jose Reyes, and I won the league. Drafting 11th is going to be a big challenge. I'm hoping to get Johan Santana or Jake Peavy in that spot. I built last year's champions on a strong starting rotation: Sabathia, Aaron Harang, Carlos Zambrano, and John Maine were the starters I drafted. I traded Zambrano after his dugout fistfight, and got Fausto Carmona in return, so that worked out well. I plan to take three starting pitchers in my first six picks this year, and will be very happy to wind up with Peavy, Harang, and Maine.
Still, as everyone in the Cooperstown League has discovered the hard way, the key category is Holds. When I finally got the invitation to join the league, I lobbied, pleaded, and argued for the elimination of holds as one of the six pitching categories. It's the most worthless "stat" ever created. If a reliever enters with a lead (in a "save situation"), retires at least one batter, and leaves with his team still leading, he gets a hold, no matter what else happens. So I can enter with a 7-4 lead, retire one batter, walk the next five batters in a row, and get yanked by my angry manager, but I can trudge back to the dugout and that torrent of boos from the home fans who hate me for leaving with a 7-6 lead and the bases loaded, knowing that I at least recorded a hold which my agent can use as ammunition the next time I go to arbitration. The next reliever comes in, gives up a bloop hit that knocks in a couple of runs, and he gets the blown save even though I was mostly responsible for trashing the lead. And here's the best part: I'm the losing pitcher. I can get a hold (supposedly a positive stat) and the loss (the worst state) for the same outing! If that isn't ridiculous, tell me what is. One other travesty of the hold rules is that only pitchers on the team with the lead can get them. If I come in with my team trailing by a run, pitch three shutout innings to keep my team in the game, I get squat on my resume. Yeah, that makes sense.
Well, I harassed all the Cooperstown League poobahs about dumping the hold, and I may even have gotten them to vote on it, but the hold remained. Hold this, I was told. Doing well was the best revenge, however, and I've gotten mine by leading the league in holds in both seasons. As I told them last season when I earned the bragging rights, once I locked up holds everything else just fell into place. So I'm setting my sights on the likes of Hideki Okajima, Rafael Betancourt, and Heath Bell, guys I wouldn't have recognized a decade ago if their names had appeared in skywriting above Doubleday Field. They are all solid relievers, and even though I scoff at one of their stats, it's good that fantasy baseball helps point me toward players whose talent contributes a lot to their teams' success.
There's much more to say about fantasy baseball, and I'll get to all of that, but right now the draft is less than three hours away, and I must prepare some more. What, oh what, am I going to do if Josh Hamilton is taken before I can sneak him past the wolves? Decisions, decisions!
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
See the Table of Contents and read the chapter "Lefty Grove 1931" in PDF (19.52MB)
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Read Chapter 1
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By Gene Carney, in “Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown” -- #260, May 1, 2002
PLAY IT AGAIN
When we read about the fifty greatest games or baseball's fifty greatest myths
or someone's hundred best players of all time, invariably some omission gets our
juices flowing. What?! How can they leave out [insert name of your favorite
missing player.] Usually there is a ranking to argue about, if we concede the
list is, well, OK for now.
I wrote the above just last issue, in a book review. Since then, I am mostly through Unhittable: Baseball's Greatest Pitching Seasons, by Gabriel Schechter (Charles April Publications, 2002.) And I am enjoying it fine, even though no omission got my juices flowing. I guess I should complain that the author avoided ranking the twenty-five greatest seasons ever turned in, taking a cowardly chronological approach instead -- but that doesn't bother me either.
Gabriel Schechter authored Victory Faust a year or so ago (I reviewed it in #220), a book that succeeded by focusing on a main character (and Charley Faust sure was a character!) and following him through his career of several seasons, virtually game by game. In Unhittable, twenty-five different seasons are put under the microscope for examination, one at a time, and again the pace is everything. The reader sets it -- they can savor each summer game by game, or skim along.
I'm taking the front cover-to-back cover route, but I'm sure younger fans will prefer reading it in the opposite direction. It doesn't matter. Each season gets the same treatment, and once the reader catches on, they will have favorite features to look for: a full-page grid of stats with the detailed record of every appearance of that pitcher, that special season; a thumbnail analysis of the player (years in minors, majors, wins before and after that year, team record without their ace, runs scored in his wins vs losses -- and lots more); a smaller grid comparing the pitchers five best seasons; another one comparing the top five ML pitchers that year; breakdown versus each opponent; and sidebars with quotes that are not familiar.
And what a menu Schechter serves up! Cy Young's 33-10 1901; Jack Chesbro's dazzling 41-13 1904 (which ended unhappily for this old Yankee); Ed Walsh's 40-15 1908 ... Christy Mathewson, Joe Wood ... the chapter on Grover Cleveland Alexander makes a convincing case for Old Pete as one of the top arms, ever ... on thru the 1930's (Hubbell, Dean, Grove) ... not much in the 40's and 50's (just Bob Feller's 1946 -- Hal Newhouser fans will balk) ... then on into the aces I feel privileged to have seen work, Spahn, Koufax, Gibson ... before long the reader is in the present (or close), recalling Greg Maddux' 1995, then Randy Johnson's and Pedro's 1999.
I was hoping to see Addie Joss make the team -- I guess I did sense an omission, but Addie's career was cut too short, and no one-season wonders were chosen. (Wait a minute, Joss had more good summers than Koufax, and Sandy made the cut....)
There are two appendices to answer such objections: "The best of the rest" (Addie's in there), and "The Best of the Pen" (no relievers rated a chapter -- but readers may be surprised at how often aces like Walter Johnson were called on to get clutch outs in late or extra innings.)
OK, I missed Three Finger Brown, too. All those who would pick Nolan Ryan over Three Finger for a must-win game, raise your hand. See? I am not a big Nolan Ryan fan, even though he was arguably an exciting player, who might toss another no-hitter at any time. And of course I missed him when he retired, because there was no longer a major league player younger than me. And of course I concede him the Strikeout King title. But really, given the time machine to go back and catch a game this afternoon, I will set the dial for Three Finger vs Matty, 1905 or '06. Nolan would be pretty far down my list.
I have written here before how difficult it can be to take readers through a season, without losing most of them. The author has obviously done their homework, have immersed themselves in microfilm for months or years, have excavated newspapers, books and whatever else they could find, and now they have this mountain of names and dates and numbers, and by golly, I'm gonna squeeze in as much as I can! Mistake. The best writers know when to skim, so their readers won't. So what if you sum up a few weeks with a sentence or two? Only a few readers want all the detail.
And Gabriel Schechter does an admirable job, picking and choosing, so the reader gets the feel for the season, with its streaks and slumps and odd events, without feeling either rushed, or dragged too slowly through time. I was surprised at seeing how many seasons that turned out to be all-timers, started slowly: Alexander was 8-3 on May 31, en route to 33-12; Cy Young 5-3 on the same date, en route to 33-10; Feller 7-4 same date -- he finished 26-15; Hubbell 6-3 (26-6!); Koufax 7-3 (26-8 in 1965); Spahnie 7-3 (23-7); and get this: in 1968, Bob Gibson finished May at 3-5, but finished the summer 22-9. Gibson's 1968, with its string of five shutouts (starting June 6 -- he tossed seven more before the season ended), and its shrinking ERA (it wound up 1.12, but he flirted with a sub-1.00 mark into September) ranks in my memory as the single greatest pitching season, bar none.
Schechter calls his book "a smorgasbord of pitching lore" and that it is -- and a tasty one, too. Gabriel is in the process of moving from California to Cooperstown (attracted by our recent earthquake?) and is a welcome addition to our local SABR chapter.
By R J Lesch (Des Moines, IA United States) - See all my reviews
Schechter's presentation of the great pitching seasons in this book is remarkable in that it shows both the highs and lows in each season. Even the most stunning seasons had a losing streak here or a poor outing there. The most remarkable chapters in the book (Jack Chesbro's 1904 season, Warren Spahn 1963, Nolan Ryan 1973 and Orel Hershiser 1988) are impressive not because they necessarily present the best performances, but because they best illustrate the idea that a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. We see, in 24 of the 25 chapters, where the pitcher hits a wall of some sort -- an injury, a team slump, a family crisis (the health problems of Hershiser's infant son, for example) and battles through it to achieve a measure of greatness.
The exception might be Lefty Grove's 1931 season, for which Schechter makes the case that a 31-4 record is misleading -- Grove might very well have had an undefeated season that year!
The appendices "The Best of the Rest" and "The Best of the Bullpen" are also excellent reading.
Advised of his destiny by a fortune teller, Charley Faust was convinced that he would lead the 1911 New York Giants to victory. Schechter labors mightily to sort long-ago facts from the myths spun by New York's hyperbolic baseball press. Quoting contemporary accounts and reprinting vintage illustrations, he transports readers to the baseball world of 1911. John McGraw ruled the Giants, and the Giants ruled New York, even without a home field for much of the year. Although Faust was nominally a pitcher, his main role was to jinx the opposition, and he wasn't the only major league mascot-jinx. Connie Mack kept a hunchbacked dwarf on the Philadelphia A's bench, but no other mascot succeeded like Faust. It seemed that with him at hand, the Giants couldn't lose, and when he wasn't, they couldn't win. A fascinating, book-length look at one of baseball's charming oddities--the very stuff of the game and its literature. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
By C. W. Emblom "Bill Emblom" (Ishpeming, Michigan USA) -
Rightfully so, baseball produces more great books than any other sport. Author Gabriel Schechter has provided us with a truly unique subject in Charley Faust, a Kansas farmer who visited a fortune teller who told him if he would join the New York Giants they would win the pennant. Ballplayers were terribly superstitious and manager John McGraw took him along with the team as a good luck charm during the 1911 season. These were the Giants of Mathewson, Marquard, Merkle, Meyers, and Snodgrass among others. I was aware of the basic details of the Charley Faust story, but it was very interesting to read in greater detail about this story in baseball history. The players humored Charley in regard to his pitching abilities, but Charley regarded himself as a legitimate pitcher. Charley did get to pitch near the end of the 1911 season which put him into the baseball record book with everyone else whoever played the game. Faust as a good luck charm, however, didn't last into the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics of Connie Mack and his $100,000 infield which defeated the Giants. During 1912 Charley Faust became more of a pest than a good luck charm and he eventually drifted off to the state of Washington where he died in 1915 from tuberculosis. Anything about John McGraw's Giants is interesting reading, but to have a book about the Charley Faust story hits a subject that has been ignored until now. The author did a great deal of research on his subject and includes various colorful articles on great writers of the time such as Damom Runyon, Sid Mercer, and others. A casual fan with an interest in baseball history will enjoy it.
By Winslow Bunny "Winslow_Bunny" (Rockledge, Florida United States)
to an extent, but it's still more than you'll find out about Charles Victor(y) Faust anywhere else. As with most baseball fans, I had been introduced to C. Victory Faust through Lawrence Ritter's "Glory Of Their Times." I had looked up his pitching record, thought it interesting but no more so than thousands of other players who had briefly touched the major leagues and then disappeared. Gabriel Schechter's book, though, adds a terrific story behind the man who pitched a slight amount in the big leagues, in the most unusual of circumstances. Schechter did a marvelous job of research on Faust, interweaving his story with the times, the personality of the people involved with Faust, and while there is still much mystery to Faust, we know enough about him and the times to know that his story could never take place today. This, besides the story, is a reason the biography is so interesting: 21st century baseball will never see someone like Charlie Faust. One other point of interest about this book: in Schechter's fine job of writing, one could imagine that this story would make one heck of a movie. A backwards bumpkin goes to a famous baseball team as a good luck charm, almost completes his destiny, is discarded by those who believed in him, doesn't understand why, etc. The book is definitely worth a reading (then imagine it in a movie context).
By Daniel B. Adams (Avis, PA United States)
This book fills in many previously unanswered questions about a man who today would be considered disturbed, but during the 1911 baseball season he became a sensation in New York. It is an amazing tale of how a man with very limited skills acheived his delusional goal of pitching for the New York Giants. Victory Faust came to a sad end, but after reading this book you will never forget his brief career. A must read for the baseball researcher.
By Gene Carney in “Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown” -- #220, August 30, 2000
CAREFUL THE WISH YOU MAKE
Careful the spell you cast. These warnings are from the musical Into the Woods, but they could be from Damn Yankees just as easily. Would someone sell their soul, to get to play on a pennant-winning ball club? Fiction, right? Maybe.
VICTORY FAUST, the Rube Who Saved McGraw's Giants, by Gabriel Schechter (Chas. April Publications, Los Gatos, 2000) is one of those books. Too much baseball, even for hard-core fans? Or not enough? We certainly know more about Charles Victor Faust after its 264 pages, but do we really know him? "The Legend of Faust" is one of baseball's oldest and most intriguing stories, more factual than Ruth's "Called Shot" can ever be -- yet is it better left an anecdote, to be saved for rain delay banter?
A book on the Called Shot would, I think, be less about an event in the 1932 World Series than about how legends and myths are born, and how they grow (and grow!) It would be mostly a collection of eyewitness testimony, reported and recorded then and since -- that is what we can look up today. (OK, we have the thing on film, but without a soundtrack, that evidence is not conclusive. Turns out we all see what we want to see.)
A book on Victory Faust, however, can be amazingly detailed, and Gabriel Schechter's is. He spent twenty years collecting "puzzle pieces," as he called the project in his introduction, and his book gives us a portrait that is striking, fascinating, very well-documented -- and yet, inevitably incomplete. And those pieces that are missing are likely to be lost forever.
Baseball fans interested in the history of the game probably first learned of Victory Faust in Lawrence Ritter's classic The Glory of Their Times. Ritter interviewed Fred Snodgrass, fifty years after his path crossed with Faust's, at the intersection of John McGraw's 1911 Giants. Faust also caught the attention of Ken Burns, some eighty-three years later, but was relegated to a digression on mascots and (by Schechter's reckoning) the Ward and Burns' account contained seven errors in nine sentences. Snodgrass' error rate was lower, but to be fair, the Faust story is not easy to document accurately.
The Faust story is a good one, a tale so tall that we want to believe it, factual or not, and however exaggerated or unreal its sounds. The son of a Kansas farmer is told by a fortune-teller that he will pitch the New York Giants to a pennant. Nothing to do now, if you are Charlie Faust, but report at once to manager John McGraw. Then, as Russ Hodges might put it, The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! And yes, Charlie Faust pitched for them.
It's a better story if Faust is given credit for all three pennants that followed his joining the team, 1911-12-13 -- that is the way Fred Snodgrass recalled it. (It's also a better story if you imagine Faust pitching in more than two innings, in games played after the flag was secured.) But that would be stretching things. Faust was unquestionably (?!) a good luck charm down the first pennant run, but he was gone from that role by the middle of the next season. But was that his only role?
The merit of Schechter's book is his answer to that question. Every aspect of his presence on the Giants is explored, and while this examination takes place in the context of a battle for a pennant, it also looks around outside the lines.
Victory Faust did pitch for the Giants -- you can look it up. If you look it up in The Ballplayers, Ken Turetzky's article leads off with a quote from McGraw: "I give Charlie Faust full credit for winning the pennant for me -- the NL pennant of 1911." Turetzky ends by noting that when Faust died in 1915, the Giants finished last. (I asked Gabriel Schechter about the quote, and he said Turetzky took it from an article on Faust by Edwin Burkholder; but the source Burkholder used is a missing puzzle piece.)
Looking up events is one thing, but proving cause-and-effect is another. Faust pitched, the Giants won. For those on the 1911 Giants who believed these two phenomena were related, no explanation was necessary (to borrow that old French maxim); for those who may not have believed (but kept quiet, just in case), none was possible.
Faust pitched. Looking it up shows his two games meant nothing in the larger scheme, the race was over. But we cannot look up in the usual places how many times Charlie Faust warmed up, before and during Giant games (mostly wins -- coincidence?) And this bit of exercise in full Giant uniform (although never under contract) provided terrific entertainment for fans all around the league, and especially in New York. Today, Charlie might be invited to host Saturday Night Live; back then, he settled for a visit to Vaudeville.
Clearly, Charlie provided comic relief for the young Giants that McGraw whipped toward October that summer. No small role. His antics, speeches, and Forrest Gump-like simplicity (the image is Schechter's) made him the object of much humor, some cruel. All this kept his teammates loose, and maybe less self-conscious. Christy Mathewson credited Faust with real baseball value in this role. Rube Marquard, the Giants' other ace, summed it up best: When he was with us, we won. When he wasn't, we didn't." Any fan who has felt a little bit responsible for their team's fortunes, rooting them to triumph, or jinxing them by failing to attend or listen to a game, etc., can relate to Marquard's words. And you can look this up, too: Rube was nearly invincible with Faust around, both in 1911 and 1912, when Marquard was 19-0 when Faust left the team, and lost three games the next week.
Looking up Victory Faust is like looking up the role of faith and superstition in human existence, except that religion is replaced by baseball ("not a bad trade," I hear some Groucho out there quip.) For Faust himself, his belief that he was a ballplayer was unshakable, and he took it to his grave. He ignored all evidence to the contrary, and his utter confidence earned him a real Giants' uniform. If Dizzy Dean's famous "It ain't bragging if you can do it" can be adapted, Faust could argue "It ain't delusion if I did it." His faith finally took him over the edge, the place where fantasy-campers stop, but not before he climbed the mound at the Polo Grounds. Twice.
For Faust's manager and teammates, superstition was as real as Red Ames' lucky tie, or the jinxing power of Connie Mack's white-haired, hunchback boy mascot, or the four-leaf-clovers and horseshoes that "everybody" used for luck. Faust apparently was seen as both a charm who could "will" the Giants wins, and as a jinx-killer, a shield to ward off the defeat-inflicting powers of the opposition's own magic. Crazy? Try telling that to the fans in Atlanta who chant and chop, Twins' fans waving Homer Hankies, or Pirate fans who remember the Green Weenie and Babushka Power.
Whether Faust was developmentally disabled or mentally ill or both or something else -- Schechter wisely avoids a long-distance diagnosis -- is not clear, even if he eventually turned up in an asylum. Tell people you struck out Honus Wagner on your way to the World Series, and maybe you would be judged insane, too. Charlie had pulled off the unbelievable. But this is not necessarily a good thing, when you are locked up in a hospital.
The film Charly is silent about Victory Faust (it is based on the novel Flowers for Algernon), but says much about how society treats persons who take longer to learn things, who seem mentally slower, and who might walk and talk differently. Often this treatment is cruel. "Hire the handicapped, they're fun to watch" -- that very old "joke" provides a bridge for understanding one other aspect of Charlie Faust. The target of his teammates' pranks (in the locker room, on the Pullmans, or in the hotels, he was fair game everywhere) or the catalyst for the cheering and laughter of fans (at the ballpark, the theater or for fans reading their daily sports pages) -- Faust was entertainment.
Faust became a fixture in this role, a sideshow and again comic relief in a serious pennant race. The Giants were hardly the only team with a mascot or pet, but their uniformed charm was not just a bat boy whose head could be rubbed for luck. No, Charlie could windup and throw all day, to the amusement of both fans and players, and he could do it with Buster Keaton deadpan, convinced (just ask him) that he would surely be called on today -- or tomorrow. Long-running act, long-running joke -- we can only wonder how many fans might have turned out if McGraw had given them any notice that Charlie would really get in a game.
Was the Faust phenomenon that much different than Sauerkraut Saul running this summer of 2000 in the daily perogi race at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, and losing forty-six times before finally finishing ahead of Chester Cheese and Potato Pete? I'm not so sure. Like Faust, Saul is something else going on for reporters and columnists, and there were plenty of both in 1911, all starving for good stories. He was good copy. "Did you see Sid Mercer's piece on Faust in today's Globe?" must have been asked back then as often as "Did Sauerkraut lose again last night?"
Gabriel Schechter has read all the columns, and all about the ball games, too. We meet the whole team in his book. I suspect that some readers will have a problem with the pace of the book, which is the pace of the long summer of baseball. Fans, I think, tend to skip and skim along, they are in and out of the daily grind, at least until they are in the grip of The Fever (see NOTES #200 for details.) But there is something to be gained by taking things slow and letting the story of Victory Faust unfold as it happened, not in a blur, but day by day.
For one thing, you learn exactly from what Faust was comic relief, for the Giants and for baseball fans living in 1911. For another, you can imagine a little about how it might have been on the inside of the tale, how Charlie experienced those days of living out his wish or dream or fantasy or delusion -- you make the call. But first, read Victory Faust.
vortex of dissipation Posted: March 06, 2006 at 04:39 AM (#1885189)
Jim Brosnan's Pennant Race and The Long Season are two I have read several times. James' Abstracts, the original BJHBA, the follow-up NBJHBA (they're different enough to be considered separately), and his book on managers are all read often.And if you've never read Victory Faust: The Rube Who Saved McGraw's Giants, by Gabriel Schechter, find yourself a copy….
- Reviewed By danthesportsman
This book fills in many previously unanswered questions about a man who today would be considered disturbed, but during the 1911 baseball season he became a sensation in New York. It is an amazing tale of how a man with very limited skills achieved his delusional goal of pitching for the New York Giants. Victory Faust came to a sad end, but after reading this book you will never forget his brief career. A must read for the baseball researcher.
Reviewed By Anonymous
This book tells a deeply amusing and haunting story of fame, obsession and delusion -- on the part of Faust, the simple mascot who believed he was a ballplayer, and on that of the Giants, the team who egged him on for their own amusement and benefit.
Schechter also gives us a richly detailed account of National League baseball in 1911. We see the players, the owners, and especially such reporters as Damon Runyon and Sid Mercer, as vividly as we see baseball's characters today.
Reviewed By thescribe
Gabriel Schechter's “Victory Faust - The Rube Who Saved McGraw's Giants” explores the tale of one of baseball's oddest characters. The near mythical story of Charles “Victory” Faust, an unknown hayseed who went from the obscurity of a Kansas farm to the toast of the New York baseball world, is set forth in detail. Using newspaper accounts and considerable original research, Schechter has crafted a fascinating portrait of the sport during the period just before the first World War. It was a time and a game of innocence and superstition, filled with legends such as Giants' manager John McGraw and pitcher Christy Mathewson, when the “impossible” was possible. In the history of baseball no story is more improbable than that of “Victory” Faust, the hick who became a flesh and blood good luck charm for the New York Giants. The author is able to put the reader in a box seat to history and breathe life into Faust's touching quest to actually pitch in a big league game. This book provides a fascinating read for those interested in a glimpse into early 20th century America, fan or non-fan alike.
CHAPTER ONE: ONE GIDDY WEEKEND
Manager John McGraw was in a rotten mood as his New York Giants rode a train across the endless fields of Indiana and Illinois near the end of July 1911. It did not take much to disturb the volatile McGraw, but this time he had ample excuse for gloom. Come morning, the Giants would be in two places that genuinely distressed him: third place and St. Louis.
Awful things happened in St. Louis, the perilous western outpost of the major leagues. During their June visit, the Giants had lost two players when McGraw’s entire squad numbered only eighteen. Shortstop Al Bridwell got wobbly and weak-kneed before breaking down completely, felled by malaria blamed on bad drinking water. Fear of the perils of water may have cost them Bugs Raymond as well. A fine spitball pitcher when sober, Raymond fell off the temperance wagon in St. Louis with such a thud that he never climbed on again.
It wasn’t just the Giants who came to dread venturing to St. Louis. On July 26, the second-place Philadelphia Phillies, making their first pennant run in years, lost catcher-manager Red Dooin in a collision at home plate. Dooin’s broken leg shattered the Phillies’ pennant hopes, and the news of this fresh calamity reminded McGraw that there was no safe haven across the Mississippi River. The Cardinals were managed by Roger Bresnahan, a McGraw protégé who had taken second-division talent and raised them to within two games of the Giants and five games of the first-place Cubs.
McGraw wondered what might happen this time in St. Louis, though things couldn’t get much worse. July had been a disaster from the start, when the Giants dropped from first place to third by losing four straight games in Philadelphia during a brutal heat wave. The continuing hundred-degree heat slowed their running attack all month and sapped their pitchers’ stamina. The Giants staggered through July playing listless .500 ball.
McGraw tried desperately to ignite the needed spark. He brought back the most popular player from his 1905 champions, batting star Mike Donlin, who had “retired” to go on the stage in 1908 after marrying vaudeville star Mabel Hite. Bringing back Donlin succeeded only as a publicity boost. Donlin got plenty of headlines and ovations, but only four hits. Later in July, McGraw shook up his infield by trading the popular but weakened Bridwell to Boston for Charlie Herzog, a hard-nosed ex-Giant. The new alignment had not jelled yet, as the Giants lost two of the last three games in Cincinnati before boarding the train for St. Louis.
When nothing else worked, McGraw went berserk, his preferred motivational tool. The scourge of National League umpires, McGraw chalked up three ejections and one suspension in July. The first to toss him was old nemesis Hank O’Day, who had made the fateful decision on “Merkle’s Boner” that cost the Giants the 1908 flag. The day after O’Day nailed him, McGraw was bounced again, this time by Bill Finneran. Finneran still sported the scars of a pummeling three days earlier by Phillies outfielder Sherry Magee, an all-purpose slugger. McGraw stopped short of assaulting the rookie umpire but berated him all the way to the clubhouse, a long, loud walk.
Those eruptions made small blips on the screen compared with McGraw’s big blowup in Cincinnati on July 25. It began with an argument at the plate, McGraw claiming that a Reds runner veered out of the baseline to avoid a tag. It continued when the Giants came to bat and McGraw went out to coach third base. Few umpires could stomach the sight of McGraw, five feet, seven inches of rabid competitive fury, barking at them from such close range. When umpire Jimmy Johnstone had heard his fill and ejected him, McGraw went nuts, screaming at Johnstone for five minutes before consenting to leave the field. Everyone in the ballpark heard McGraw accuse Johnstone of being “drunk all summer.” Fuming in the clubhouse, McGraw fired off a letter to N.L. President Thomas Lynch, accusing Johnstone of bragging to players that he was “going to get” the Giants. Lynch, a former umpire who had just suspended Magee for the season for his attack on Finneran, probably felt he was letting McGraw off easy with the customary three-day suspension, his second of 1911. Like all suspensions of that era, it was effective immediately, with appeals rare.
McGraw began his suspension the last day in Cincinnati. Popular wisdom regarded the Giants as helpless without the “Little Napoleon” leading them, and games like this proved why. With McGraw banished to the bleachers, team captain Larry Doyle was the acting manager as the Giants took a 4-2 lead to the seventh inning. Pitcher Louis Drucke fell apart and was sabotaged further by a trio of infield misplays. Second baseman Doyle acted like an innocent bystander, leaving Drucke in so long that he not only blew the game but also blew out the tender shoulder he had nursed all summer. Doyle accepted the blame, but the damage was done. Drucke remained sidelined until October and never won another major league game.
Hurtling toward St. Louis, McGraw agonized over how to shore up his collapsing pitching staff. Drucke was through, and Raymond wasn’t coming back. That left only five pitchers. McGraw had not used a five-man staff since the days when Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity stood alongside Christy Mathewson as the only teammates in this century to win thirty games in the same season—and they did it twice. This 1911 crew could not handle a load like that. The ace, Mathewson, was past his prime and looked increasingly mortal, with four losses already in July. Two veterans, Red Ames and Hooks Wiltse, were cold-weather horses who wilted in the summer heat. The workhorse relief specialist, Doc Crandall, was suffering from recurring headaches, courtesy of a Red Dooin line drive that nailed him in the forehead and literally knocked him out of the Fourth of July disaster in Philadelphia.
Reluctantly, McGraw had to rely more often on the staff’s youngest pitcher, twenty-one-year-old Richard “Rube” Marquard. A lefty phenom with a high price tag, the erratic Marquard got his big chance when Raymond was jettisoned. Starting regularly for the first time, Marquard prospered, doubling his win total from five to ten during July. Still, the jury was out on the wry-necked kid dubbed “the $11,000 Lemon,” whose reputation for falling apart under the slightest pressure overshadowed the flashes of brilliance that made him Mathewson’s heir apparent.
Only Marquard and Mathewson could start more than once a week. The staff was full of part-timers and question marks. McGraw needed pitching help—lots of it and right away, wherever he could find it. He tried all month to make a trade for a pitcher. Rumons dangled and disappeared, as the other clubs saw McGraw’s dilemma and asked for more than he could bring himself to give. Frustrated, he turned to the minor leagues. In St. Louis he announced the signing of Birmingham ace Bert Maxwell. But Maxwell would not report until Birmingham’s season ended in September. McGraw needed another arm right away. He kept looking. The Giants had just won a court judgment against a team from Marion, Ohio, which now owed McGraw a player. Maybe he’d get lucky there.
Indeed, there was a lucky pitcher from Marion waiting for the Giants at Robison Field that Friday, though McGraw didn’t know it. This pitcher was from Marion, but not the one in Ohio. His home was a farm outside the little town of Marion in the middle of Kansas, and he had hopped a train for his first trip to the big city, just to meet John McGraw. Giants centerfielder Fred Snodgrass described the first appearance of the stranger who approached them during batting practice: “Out of the grandstand walked a tall, lanky individual in a dark suit, wearing a black derby hat. He walked across the grass from the grandstand to the bench, and said he wanted to talk to Mr. McGraw. So some of us pointed McGraw out, and he went over to him. ‘Mr. McGraw,’ he said, ‘my name is Charles Victory Faust. I live over in Kansas, and a few weeks ago I went to a fortune-teller who told me that if I would join the New York Giants and pitch form them that they would win the pennant.’” The desperate McGraw could hardly wait to give Faust a tryout.
The truth dawned quickly: Faust, despite elaborate signals and a furious windmill windup, had only one speed—slow. McGraw soon tossed off his glove and caught Faust barehanded, simmering at this waste of his valuable time. What was that fortune-teller crap? Was this somebody’s idea of a prank, or did this nut really think he was a ballplayer? McGraw needed a hurler, not a slowball twirler. It was a bad joke, and someone would pay for it.
McGraw plotted a swift revenge on the unsuspecting farmer. He told Faust to take batting practice and run the bases, then sent instructions around the infield. The plan worked better than he imagined. After a flurry of pathetic swings, Faust connected with a slow pitch and sent a soft roller toward shortstop. Heeding McGraw’s shouts, he took off for first base, lumbering up the line. The shortstop launched the first of several deliberate overthrows that chased Faust around the bases. At second base, the gawky Faust attempted a slide, bouncing along the pebbly dirt, biting the dust until a chorus of yells propelled him toward third base. McGraw raced around the infield to spur Faust onward, almost following him. This riled up the gathering crowd, and as Faust sprawled across third and hauled himself up again, he was surrounded by laughter and cheering. One more wild throw sent him staggering home, with frenzied voices telling him to slide one more time. When he tumbled across the plate with his make-believe run, his Sunday clothes torn and dusty, the crowd roared, and everyone had a big belly laugh at his expense. For the first time in weeks, the Giants saw their manager smile.
McGraw’s mood turned dark again during the game, the second of his suspension. The Giants played their sloppiest game of the season, committing five errors to undermine Mathewson and cost him a tough 5-2 loss. “Matty got non-support of the sort that a bunch of hucksters selling strawberries might give Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera House,” wrote Sid Mercer in the New York Globe. Another apparent blunder by acting manager Doyle in the eighth inning multiplied McGraw’s disgust. Trailing 5-0, Doyle let Mathewson bat, then pinch-hit for leadoff man Josh Devore. The move may have been punishment for Devore, who had dropped an easy fly ball in left field and later heaved another ball into the stands to cap Mathewson’s nightmare. It was all the same to McGraw. The whole performance stank. Nobody could remember Matty losing five games in a month, but there it was. Worse yet, nobody could remember how to play ball in McGraw’s absence, and one more day remained in his suspension.
Next day at Robison Field, the Giants found Charles Victor Faust lurking again. Undaunted by his failed audition, he repeated his intention of pitching the Giants to the pennant. The players welcomed this comic relief, found him a uniform, and perpetrated more pranks son the determined gate-crasher during practice. The spectacle of Faust attempting to play baseball caused such a sensation that after only his second day of action, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that “Charley Faust, the Hector (Kan.) farmer boy, again amused with his awkward batting, fielding, and base running.” That hustling awkwardness soon became his trademark.
No matter how much the Giants tormented him, he took it all with a goofy lopsided grin. In fact, his good cheer buoyed the slumping players so much that they let him sit on the bench during the game. Inspired by his hyperactive pregame romp, the Giants ran wild, winning 8-0 before a huge crowd. They stole nine bases, leaving the Cardinals infielders dizzy and demoralized. The rampage made life easy for Rube Marquard, who didn’t need much help. His four-hitter was the first shutout of Marquard’s career, and Faust cheered every pitch, savoring his closeness to the team of his destiny.
Faust returned on Sunday, which greatly resembled Saturday. The Giants ran roughshod over the Cardinals, embarrassing the home team again. With McGraw back directing traffic from the coaching box at third base, the Giants piled up fourteen hits and five more stolen bases to win 6-0. Hooks Wiltse eclipsed Marquard’s performance. After the Cardinals loaded the bases in the first inning, Wiltse stifled them completely, retiring the last twenty-five batters.
For Charley Faust, it was a day he would never forget. He cavorted on the field in his Giants uniform, performing his already familiar baseball stunts to the acclaim of twenty-eight thousand fans, the biggest crowd in St. Louis baseball history. Just before the game began, players from both teams formed a circle near the plate for a ceremony, and Faust was summoned to their midst. Cardinals outfielder Steve Evans made a presentation. “On behalf of the fans of St. Louis,” Evans intoned, “who thoroughly appreciate your great work since becoming a member of the New York team, I present this slight token to you and hope you will continue to succeed in your chosen profession.”
After this touching speech, Evans handed a jewel box to the wide-eyed Faust, who bowed and doffed his cap to the cheering crowd. A moment later, persuaded that the real “token” was inside the box, Faust opened it and found a pocket watch. Encouraged to open the watch, Faust did so. That’s when the trick watch exploded like a pistol-shot, the parts scattering as quickly as the players who had perpetrated the prank, while Faust gawked at his empty watch chain.
The Giants, indulging Faust’s claim to be a pitcher, got him to warm up during Wiltse’s first-inning difficulties, telling him to get ready in case Wiltse needed his help. Picture Wiltse gazing toward the outfield, where the eager but weak-armed Charles Victor Faust prepared to rescue him. No wonder Wiltse refused to allow a base runner the rest of the way; he was afraid to.
The series ended Monday, and accounts conflict over Faust’s presence. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that “things were dull. . .because Charley was missing. He simply dropped off the earth and the players know not what happened to him.” But according to the New York Globe, “Faust worked out every day with the Giants in St. Louis,” though he refused to put on a uniform Monday. “He says the old player won’t give the young fellows a chance.” This was not the first time a budding star complained about veterans stifling new talent by such means as muscling them out of their batting-practice swings. Ty Cobb had felt victimized by the same thing when he broke in, using it to justify his aloofness from even his own teammates. But Charley Faust? Did Faust expect McGraw to put him in the game?
Maybe if he had been left-handed McGraw would have given him a chance. Wiltse and Marquard, his only lefties, had smothered the Cardinals on six hits in two games. On Monday, McGraw brought Marquard back on one day of rest, doubting that the vulnerable Cardinals would put much pressure on him. The move worked. Marquard scattered five hits and won 3-2, keying both scoring rallies himself with singles. His seventh win of July moved the Giants back into second place.
Suddenly McGraw’s outlook brightened. Three days after their sluggish arrival in St. Louis, the Giants were revived. Five more stolen bases made a total of twenty-three in the series. The offense was alive, the new infield looked better, Marquard was blossoming, and Matty would have four days of rest when he opened the series in Pittsburgh. For the first time in weeks, McGraw relished the showdown with the Cubs in Chicago that would conclude the road trip.
Then McGraw did something stupid. He got rid of Charley Faust. Mathewson told the tale in his book Pitching in a Pinch, written after the 1911 season. Faust met the team at the St. Louis train station, “ready to go along. ‘Did you get your contract and transportation?’ asked McGraw, as the lanky Kansan appeared. ‘No,’ answered Charley. ‘Pshaw,’ replied McGraw. ‘I left it for you with the clerk at the hotel. The train leaves in two minutes,’ he continued, glancing at his watch. ‘If you can run the way you say you can, you can make it and be back in time to catch it.’ It was the last we saw of Charley Faust for a time—galloping up the platform in his angular way with that contract and transportation in sight. ‘I’m almost sorry we left,’ remarked McGraw as Charley disappeared into the crowd,” and the train left without him.
A superstitious man in a superstitious age, McGraw knew that he risked feeling sorry indeed. Good-luck charms and mascots, those stray freaks of human fate, came and went with some frequency (though Connie Mack of the Athletics kept one mascot, a hunchback dwarf, for the better part of a decade). Winning gave credibility to each new talisman, until losing inevitably blew his cover. But Faust was undefeated, and it could be bad luck to discard him while his jinxing power remained potent.
McGraw was willing to take his chances. He didn’t need a fortune-teller to know that it would take pitching help for the Giants to win the pennant. This unathletic hayseed, no pitcher at all, could not be the answer to his prayers. There was no denying that the Giants had won three straight games convincingly with Faust on the bench, but what was McGraw supposed to do, pay the bumpkin’s fare to Pittsburgh so that he could hang around with the team until they lost? On the basis of three games?
John McGraw managed the New York Giants, professional ballplayers about to engage in fierce battles of baseball skill with the powerhouses of the National League, the Pirates and the Cubs. Faust, with no baseball skills, was irrelevant, an aberration, a nut whose clowning had kept the team loose during one giddy weekend in St. Louis. Nothing could have made McGraw hold the train while Faust chased that wild goose. McGraw could not help expressing a twinge of doubt as he wondered how he got himself in this spot, but he couldn’t even have imagined then that Faust would indeed help the Giants win the pennant. How could he? He hardly believe it after it happened.
[End of chapter 1, beginning of the adventure]
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
PAGING THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST
1939: Jacob Ruppert, brewing magnate and Yankees owner since 1915, dies at the age of 71. Yankees fans know him for building Yankee Stadium and presiding over the team’s first seven championships. Yankees haters should remember him as the man who amassed a huge fortune during the Great Depression but used everyone else’s struggles as an excuse to shortchange his greatest players. Ruppert had ready cash when the stock market crashed in 1929 and bought up huge chunks of Manhattan property cheaply. After Prohibition ended, he multiplied his brewery holdings. When he died, his estate was worth $40-45 million. His philosophy was best summed up by his stance in 1933 when Babe Ruth (who made $75,000 in 1932) rejected a salary offer of $50,000 and asked for $60,000. “He asked me if I was going to let a matter of $10,000 stand between him and the club,” Ruppert explained. “I told him I had no alternative, pointing out that it was not a matter of $10,000 but one of $60,000, involving a club that lost money last year. . .Do you think I would be going through this situation if it was not necessary?” Well, the Yankees lost exactly $4,703.04 in 1932, and have I mentioned Ruppert’s $40 million estate?
Quote of the Day: 1939. Ruth, after visiting Ruppert on his deathbed: “It was the only time in his life he ever called me Babe to my face.”
HOW COLONEL RUPPERT DID THINGS
1931: Here’s Jacob Ruppert in a nutshell. He makes a blustery declaration that Babe Ruth will never get another $80,000 salary. “Baseball—no, not even the Yankee management—cannot afford to pay such a salary.” He insists that Ruth “isn’t the big drawing power” of the Yankees and snorts, “I suppose Gehrig didn’t help draw all those big crowds last summer?” Okay then. Does this mean that Gehrig will be rewarded for surpassing The Bambino as the big drawing card? Are you kidding? Ruppert signs Gehrig for the same $25,000 he got in 1931, when he set an American League record with 184 runs batted in. No doubt Ruppert told Gehrig, “They don’t come to the park to see you, they come to see the big guy.” Ruth, meanwhile, has to take a cut to $75,000 after hitting .373, driving in 163 runs, and tying Gehrig for the league title with 46 home runs. So it goes in the Bronx, while Ruppert continues to pocket millions in real estate deals.
PLUS A GOLDFISH TO BE NAMED AT A LATER DATE
1973: In the most bizarre trade in baseball history, Yankees pitchers and best friends Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich announce that in October they exchanged families. Peterson got Susanne Kekich and two daughters, and Kekich got Marilyn Peterson and two sons. This was after they discussed having the two older children (five and four years old) go with their fathers and the younger ones (both two years old) stay with their mothers. They also traded dogs. “It wasn’t a wife swap,” says Kekich. “It was a life swap.” Peterson adds, “It wasn’t a sex thing. It was not a cheap swap.” Fritz and Susanne are planning to get married, but Mike and Marilyn aren’t getting along so well.
COMPARED TO TODD HOLLANDSWORTH!
1997: Derek Jeter, the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, rejects a salary offer of $450,000, and the Yankees threaten to renew his contract at a lower salary. He wants $550,000, the same amount that the NL Rookie of the Year, Todd Hollandsworth just signed for. GM Bob Watson scolds Jeter for comparing himself to a player who has an extra year of service time in the majors, ignoring the fact that the extra “year” (1995) consisted of a whopping 103 at-bats compared to 48 for Jeter.
Quote of the Day: 1973. Kekich: “I would like it to work out with Marilyn and me, but I’m dubious.” So were the rest of us.
WHAT COLAVITO WANTED TO DO (see May 12)
1912: After three days of enduring unprintable abuse from fans at Hilltop Park, Ty Cobb snaps, racing into the stands to administer a thorough beating to one fan, pummeling his face until teammates pull him away. The problem is that the bloodied fan is defenseless, having lost eight of his fingers in an industrial accident. The Yankees fan must have realized he was out of line, because he didn’t press charges against Cobb.
FUN AT THE COPA
1957: A half-dozen Yankees and their wives go out for a night on the town to celebrate Billy Martin’s birthday. At the Copacabana nightclub at 2:30 A.M., an argument with hecklers leads to Hank Bauer breaking some lummox’s nose and knocking him out. All the Yankees, including future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford, are fined $1,000 for being out so late the night before a game, and when GM George Weiss assumes that it was Martin who threw the punch, he uses it as an excuse to trade him.
Quote of the Day: 1957. Hank Bauer, sporting a .203 batting average the night of the fight, denying that he participated: “Hit him? Why, I haven’t hit anybody all year.”
WELCOME TO LAST PLACE
1908: In the first inning, Hal Chase drops a popup and Ty Cobb belts a two-run home run, setting the stage for the Tigers to win 6-3 and knock the Yankees into last place. Their fourth loss in a row is only a small part of the longest sustained stretch of putrid baseball in franchise history. Between June 9 and August 18, they lose 52 of 62 games, including losing streaks of 7, 6, 6, 7, 12, and 7 games. They finish the season 51-103, seventeen games behind the seventh-place team.
FORGET THOSE LITTLE BUGS IN CLEVELAND IN 2007
1939: Tormented by a swarm of Japanese beetles, the Yankees succumb to the Red Sox, losing 3-1 and 3-2. Three Yankees are ejected in the nightcap, which Jimmie Foxx wins with a ninth-inning home run.
TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE
1969: On Babe Ruth Day in Baltimore, with his widow watching on, the Orioles score a franchise-record ten runs in one inning as they romp twice over the Yankees, 10-3 and 4-1.
Quote of the Day: 1982. VP Bill Bergesch, ripping Doyle Alexander, who missed two months and then got drilled in his return after refusing to make a second rehab start: “Here is a man earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to pitch and then flat refuses to get himself ready.”
JOE DiMAGGIO PROBABLY PUKED WHEN HE HEARD THIS
1970: Champagne flows and spills in the Yankees clubhouse in a post-game celebration after a 6-4 victory over the Senators—which clinches second place! That’s what passes for glory these days at Yankee Stadium. After finishing tenth, ninth, fifth and fifth the previous four seasons, they finish second! Manager Ralph Houk is all smiles in his office, flanked by equally gleeful GM Lee MacPhail and club president Mike Burke, when players douse them with three buckets of cold water. Who can blame them—we’re talking second place, folks! Oh boy!
ENTERING THE TWILIGHT ZONE
1960: The most surreal, incomprehensible World Series for the Yankees begins with a 6-4 loss to the Pirates at Forbes Field. Art Ditmar can’t get out of the first inning as the Pirates score three runs, and Bill Mazeroski’s two-run home run in the fourth inning is the key hit for the huge underdogs from Pittsburgh.
THAT’S THE WAY THE BALL BOUNCES
1963: Two tough hops cost the Yankees as the Dodgers win 1-0 to get within one game of a sweep. Don Drysdale and Jim Bouton combine to yield only seven crummy singles, but in the first inning Bouton’s two-out sinker just eludes catcher Elston Howard for a wild pitch, sending Jim Gilliam to second. Tommy Davis follows with a hard grounder to second, and a bad hop sends the ball skittering off Bobby Richardson’s shin into the outfield, scoring Gilliam with the only run of the game.
THE FAT LADY SINGS
1942: Whitey Kurowski’s two-run home run in the ninth inning breaks a 2-2 tie as the Cardinals win 4-2 to take the title in five games.
Quote of the Day: 1963. Howard: “They’re good all right, but we’re just not hitting. When it’s like that, it doesn’t matter who pitches.” Right. It’s just a coincidence that they’ve faced Koufax and Drysdale.
WHY PEOPLE HATE THE YANKEES
1996: The Orioles lead the Yankees 4-3 in the eighth of Game 1 of the AL Championship Series when Derek Jeter lofts a fly ball to right field. Tony Tarasco camps under it. “It was a magic trick,” Tarasco says later, “because the ball just disappeared out of midair.” It disappears because 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reaches over the fence and swats the ball into the stands. Umpire Richie Garcia, nearby on the warning track, doesn’t see Maier and rules it a home run. The Yankees, rescued by the botched call, win in extra innings and go on to take the series. Maier, instead of being punished for interfering, becomes a New York hero. He appears on two morning talk shows, and The Daily News gives him box seats behind the Yankees dugout for Game 2.
OL’ PETE DOES IT AGAIN
1926: Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, a 39-year-old midseason acquisition by the Cardinals, pitches his second complete game of the World Series, winning 10-2 to set up a deciding seventh game.
Quotes of the Day: 1996. #1: Maier: “I hope it didn’t affect the game that much [duh], but I am a Yankee fan, and I do want them to win the game. I can see why Baltimore is mad.” #2: Orioles outfielder Bobby Bonilla, on Maier: “If one of the Orioles had hit it, the kid would have been strung up on the Throgs Neck Bridge.”
OOPS, HE DID IT AGAIN1979: Billy Martin and a friend are in a bar in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to Martin biographer Peter Golenbock, after six scotches Martin gets into a baseball argument with marshmallow salesman Joseph Cooper, prompting Martin to toss three $100 bills on the table and say, “Here’s three hundred dollars to your penny I can knock you on your ass and you won’t get up.” Cooper puts up his penny and they head for the lobby, where Martin sucker-punches him, putting a 20-stitch cut in his lip and collecting the penny. Martin’s version is that after he left the bar alone, Cooper “must have followed me out of the bar, because as I was walking in the lobby I turned around and saw this guy laying on the floor. He fell and cut his lip.” Soon enough, the truth emerges, and Martin is fired by George Steinbrenner, ending his second stint as Yankees manager.
I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE DVD TO COME OUT
2004: Yankee Stadium is sold out, and George Steinbrenner is there, too, as the Yankees suffer the worst defeat in franchise history. The carnage begins with Travis Hafner’s bases-loaded triple in the first inning. Javier Vazquez is knocked out in the second inning, but three relievers don’t do any better. The Indians are already routing the Yankees before they score six runs in the fifth and add six more in the ninth. Omar Vizquel leads the 22-hit attack with four singles, two doubles, and four runs batted in. The final score (fanfare!): 22-0.
Quote of the Day, and Understatement of the Year: 2004. Joe Torre: “There’s a certain level of embarrassment there, no question."
A HEARTWARMING VALENTINE’S DAY STORY
1963: Relief pitcher Marshall Bridges is at spring training in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, while his wife and three children are at home in Mississippi. He’s spending the evening at the Negro Elks Club when, according to manager Ralph Houk’s statement the next morning, “This woman came in and after a few words he said he hardly knew what happened.” Here’s what the woman, aptly named Carrie Raysor, told police: Bridges “tried to pick me up. . .and when he kept bothering me, I took out my gun and shot him.” The bullet hits him below the knee and lodges in his calf, fracturing his fibula and tearing a muscle. Bridges pitches only 23 more games for the Yankees, who exile him to Washington after the season.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THIS. . .
2003: Not surprisingly, David Wells takes Derek Jeter’s side against George Steinbrenner (see February 13), saying the owner’s criticisms are unfair. Wells, who was involved in a pre-dawn fight in 2002, maintains that “you can’t live a sheltered life,” and says Jeter isn’t in his class as a late-night adventurer.
Quote of the Day: 2003. Wells: “Derek is not a party guy. I’ve tried to get him to go out and he said, no, he’s just going to chill. He goes out a lot, but to the movies.” Marshall Bridges turns over in his grave.
1984: In the free agent draft, the Yankees select defending NL Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe and relief superstar Bruce Sutter, but George Steinbrenner insists that their first priority is free agent Ed Whitson, a 14-game winner in San Diego. “He’s an outstanding competitor,” says Steinbrenner, “and he’s mentally tough. I don’t need any guys faint of heart.” They sign Whitson at $800,000 a year, more than double his San Diego salary, but his season and a half with the Yankees is a disaster. His ERA is 5.38, he is viciously booed and traumatized at Yankee Stadium, and the place where he shows the most heart is a Baltimore bar where he pummels his manager (see Sept. 21).
FOR ONCE, THE TRUTH
1979: After the Yankees sign free agents Bob Watson and Rudy May, George Steinbrenner admits that he’s trying to buy another pennant, bankrolled by “the people who gave us their hard-earned money” at Yankee Stadium this season. He adds, “I didn’t cause free agency. I wasn’t around when it all started [actually, he was, in 1975]. But I’m not going to be a hypocrite. If it’s there, I use it.” And then some.
Quote of the Day: 1964. Yogi Berra, shortly after being fired by the Yankees, when asked if he has made up his mind yet about accepting the Mets’ offer of a coaching job: “Not that I know of.” Think about it.
DRAFT DISASTERS, Part 4
1967: Here’s another all-star team—of players the Yankees bypassed while squandering the first overall pick on Ron Blomberg, a nice guy but a first baseman with only 52 career home runs. We have Vida Blue, Jerry Reuss, Ted Simmons, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, John Mayberry (a first baseman who hit 255 home runs), Dusty Baker, Darrell Evans, Davey Lopes, Al Hrabosky, and more.
1978: With three first-round picks, the Yankees take Rex Hudler, Matt Winters, and Brian Ryder, choosing not to draft Cal Ripken Jr., Ryne Sandberg, Kent Hrbek, Mike Boddicker, Steve Bedrosian, Kirk Gibson, Bob Horner, and Dave Stieb.
YOU CAN’T REPLACE BUCKY #&@#!%$ DENT!
1990: With the Yankees floundering in last place with an 18-31 record, manager Bucky Dent is fired and replaced by Carl “Stump” Merrill. It doesn’t matter. They still wind up finishing last.
Quote of the Day: 1967. General Manager Lee MacPhail: “I feel Ronnie [Blomberg] is the best prep prospect to come along in several years. We had six of our scouts watch Ronnie and they unanimously agreed that he was the one we should sign.” No wonder it took them another decade to win a title.
BRING ON THE NATHAN’S HOT DOGS
1919: In a battle promoted by the Jacksonville (Florida) Chamber of Commerce, Yankees outfielder Ping Bodie wins a spaghetti-eating contest—from an ostrich! Bodie never lets up over the course of the eleven platters of pasta it takes to defeat the overmatched bird.
1956: Pitcher Don Larsen rams his car into a post, losing the cap on a front tooth and doing $800 damage to the car. Larsen explains that he fell asleep at the wheel on his way back to the hotel—at 5 A.M.
STANDING UP TO THE BOSS
1999: Interim manager Don Zimmer is steamed at George Steinbrenner’s handling of the Hideki Irabu crisis (see April 1). Steinbrenner bad-mouthed Irabu and held him back from a road trip, but now orders Zimmer to start Irabu the next day. Zimmer refuses, fuming, “When he said, ‘I am the one Yankee who is in Irabu’s corner,’ like nobody else is, I think that stunk. . .I can’t sit here and be a little wimp and scared of something.”
Quote of the Day: 1919. W. O. McGeehan, in the New York Tribune: “ROUND 10—The ostrich staggered out of his corner with his beak sagging. It was plain that he had little further to go. Bodie grinned.
INTRODUCTION: YOU CALL THIS A UNIVERSE?
Hank Steinbrenner, the latest overseer of the New York Yankees, said a mouthful during the last off-season when he declared, “This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”
So far, Hank’s mighty Yankees are hardly measuring up to the traditionally excessive expectations which are easy to associate with his father but actually go back more than one hundred years, to the foundation of the franchise. As I write this, it has taken a recent hot streak just to get the Yankees out of the cellar and into third place in their division. With serious pitching problems and many aging players, the Yankees have an uphill struggle to do more than contend in the wild-card race, much less make it to the World Series for the first time in five years.
This is not the only sign that the “Yankee universe” is very much off its axis. For the past year, the press has reported that George Steinbrenner, the dictator since 1973, has been sliding into dementia and is no longer running the team. “The Madness of King George” has struck the
The fans of this team have always had a reputation for being arrogant, rude, self-centered, and aggressive, prepared to emulate the team ownership in running roughshod over any insignificant entity that might get in the way. But in May this tendency to “stop at nothing” reached a literal and tragic peak in
The players haven’t been more contentious than usual, but their behavior has grown more troubling with the recent report that Jason Giambi owns a lucky tiger-striped, gold-lame thong which he not only wears himself but shares with teammates who are trying to end batting slumps. The list of thong-donners includes Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, and former Yankee stud Bernie Williams. This leaves even the hardiest believers in Yankee pride open to mockery:
The Yanks love Giambi’s gold thong,
They wear it and pass it along.
It gives them no pleasure,
Which is just one more measure
Of a franchise gone horribly wrong.
Okay, things are pretty whacked-out today, but what of the long tradition of Yankees greatness, the decades of success which gave them—from ownership down through management to the players and finally their fans—such a gross sense of entitlement, the notion that winning a disproportionate number of titles (after all, on average these days each franchise should win one title every 30 years) is not only their expectation but also their birthright. Has this Yankees tradition, this “universe,” always been such a marvelous thing?
This book shows that it has not. Even during their several periods of dominance, the Yankees have not only steamrolled their adversaries, they have also exploited and mistreated their own. What Hank and Hal Steinbrenner did to manager Joe Torre after the 2007 season—giving him a take-it-or-leave-it, pay-slashed offer—is part of a long tradition of callously casting aside the managers who have served the team so well. Yogi Berra was so offended by his mistreatment that he stayed away from Yankee Stadium for 14 years. Casey Stengel never forgave them. I’m not just talking about George Steinbrenner here. I could fill this whole volume with his travesties, but that would short-change the other bullies who have owned the Yankees. You want to know about man’s inhumanity to man? Read about how owner Jacob Ruppert begrudged paying a penny more than he could get away with to Lou Gehrig and the other stars of the 1930s dynasty, pleading poverty while amassing a personal fortune worth $40 million.
In these pages you will find ample evidence of how heartlessly the Yankees have treated their own people from top to bottom, from Babe Ruth down to batboys and ushers, from the city of
This BAD Day in Yankees History is a celebration of everything bad that has happened to the Yankees and a condemnation of everything bad they have perpetrated. My policy has been to accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive. Each calendar date includes events and quotes from that date; Yankees ugliness is an everyday phenomenon. During the season, the majority of entries cover awful games and terrible performances—doubleheader sweeps, blowouts, losing streaks, and other embarrassments. The off-season entries focus more on their business dealings and personal/personnel strife—bad deals, salary squabbles, fights with marshmallow salesmen, ripoffs, and the steady parade of doomed managers. For the October entries, I include only games from postseason series they lost, with one lone exception. You can read the entries all at once like a book, and/or use it as a perpetual calendar, a daily reminder of the darkest days of the most-hated team in sports history. I hope you get as much enjoyment from reading this litany of mistakes and misdeeds as I got from compiling it.