Tag: History

Sal "The Barber" Maglie Finished Just a Little off the Top in 1956

Ninth in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

Sal Maglie’s 1956 season combines the “Elston Howard factor” of collecting more MVP votes than worthier candidates largely because his team inched out theirs at the finish line with the “‘Indian Bob’ Johnson factor” of a hot stretch drive that stayed fresh in the memory of writers come ballot time.

Maglie enjoyed the double-whammy of earning lots of votes this way in two award races: the National League MVP and the very first Cy Young honor.

Not to paint a picture that Maglie reaped undue reward for a marginal season. On the contrary, he was a key starter who contributed mightily to a pennant winner—but in my opinion, his runner-up finishes for the MVP and Cy Young Award came at the expense of more-deserving candidates.

Sal Maglie’s story is well known: Struggling for several pre-war years in the mid-minors, he went home to work in a defense plant as America mobilized, until finally making his debut with the New York Giants just as the war drew to an end. Three of his five wins came by shutout, including one against the World Series–bound Chicago Cubs.

But nearing his 29th birthday as Opening Day of 1946 approached, Maglie, along with Max Lanier, Mickey Owen, Giants teammate Danny Gardella and more than a dozen other major leaguers, jumped to the Pasquale Brothers’ outlaw Mexican League, nearly aborting his career before it started.

Maglie pitched in Mexico for two seasons under the tutelage of hotheaded Cuban fireballer Dolf Luque, who had enjoyed a successful 20-year NL career, including a 27-win season in 1923.

Luque taught Maglie to be a more aggressive pitcher, soon transforming Maglie into one of the most feared moundsmen in the National League for his eagerness to throw high and inside, resulting in his sobriquet, “The Barber.” (Despite his nasty reputation, however, Maglie hit only 44 batters in his 10-year major league career.)

Temporarily banned from the majors for his outlaw days, Maglie pitched in Canada before returning to the Giants in 1950. Now a well-traveled 33-year-old, he unleashed his talent and temper on National League batters to the tune of an 18-4 record, pacing the NL in ERA, shutouts and winning percentage.

In the Giants’ legendary 1951 campaign, Maglie reached his apex, tying with teammate Larry Jansen for the major league lead in victories, with 23.

His 2.93 ERA claimed second best, and he finished third in strikeouts. In the Shot Heard ‘Round the World game, Maglie surrendered four runs in eight innings but took a no-decision when Ralph Branca spared him the goat’s horns.

Maglie followed 1951 with several more strong seasons, helping New York to a World Series championship in 1954 and remaining one of the hated nemeses of the Brooklyn Dodgers—and their fans—during his tenure in the Polo Grounds. While donning a Giants jersey, Maglie tortured the powerful Bums by taking 23 of 34 decisions.

In 1955, despite ringing up nine victories through July, the defending champs put Maglie on waivers. Quickly claimed by the Cleveland Indians, he hurled a mere 25.2 innings the rest of the season and looked to be near the end of the line.

Five innings into the 1956 campaign, the borough of Brooklyn did a collective double take as their defending champions, slow out of the gate, purchased the reviled Maglie from the Tribe.

During his first two months in Dodger blue, Maglie, used as both a spot starter and a reliever, did little to help Brooklyn’s fortunes, going 2-3 and carrying an ERA above 4.00.

Then, on July 28, The Barber found his groove. (He won his start previous to July 28 but did not pitch well and claimed victory thanks to Brooklyn’s 10-run assault.) Through the end of August, Maglie won four of five decisions, pitched three no-decisions in which he surrendered a total of two earned runs and dropped his ERA from 4.20 to 3.34

As Brooklyn slowly cut into the Milwaukee Braves’ summer-long lead—simultaneously rumbling with the revived Cincinnati Redlegs—Maglie maintained his magic.

On September 11, he went the distance to beat Milwaukee, 4-2, bringing Brooklyn into a tie for first. And in his next start, Maglie gutted out a narrow victory at Crosley Field to raise the Dodgers into the lead for the first time since April.

As Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Cincinnati played tug-of-war for the pennant, Maglie no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies on September 25. Although Milwaukee’s easy victory in Cincinnati that day kept Brooklyn from gaining ground, Maglie’s headline-making feat so close to the end of the season surely carried a lot of weight come awards time.

Four days later, his complete-game victory in the opener of a double-header against the Pittsburgh Pirates put Brooklyn one game in the lead for good. (After winning the back end of the double-header, Brooklyn clinched the pennant with a series sweep of Pittsburgh the next afternoon, despite Milwaukee also winning its final game.)

At season’s end, Maglie stood at 13-5, with a 2.87 ERA for Brooklyn—a fantastic ERA while hurling two-thirds of his innings in a home park among the toughest in which to pitch.

There is no doubt that Brooklyn—which edged Milwaukee by a single game and Cincinnati by two—won the pennant largely on the arm of Sal Maglie. From late July onward, Maglie was money—especially during the three-team race of September, when he went 6-1, with a 1.77 ERA.

For his heroics, Maglie finished second to teammate Don Newcombe in both the MVP race and the brand-new Cy Young Award, as Newcombe authored one of the monster seasons of the post-war era: 27-7, 3.06 ERA and a 0.989 WHIP—by far, baseball’s best.

Not to minimize in any way Maglie’s huge contribution to a pennant winner, but of the 11 NL pitchers who received MVP votes, only reliever Clem Labine collected fewer wins. Maglie also pitched the fewest innings of any vote-getting starter.

Especially considering that Don Newcombe and his 27 victories were the true anchor of Brooklyn’s staff—and rightfully rewarded as such—a Dodger who played every day deserved more recognition than Maglie for keeping the Bums churning through a daily dogfight.

How Duke Snider finished a distant tenth in the MVP is a real head-scratcher. Garnering a single first-place vote, the Duke’s vote share lagged well behind not only Maglie, but teammates Jim Gilliam and Pee Wee Reese—a part-time keystone combo having an excellent fielding season, with Gilliam cracking an even .300 and drawing 95 walks.

But Duke carried the biggest stick on an aging team suddenly replaced by Cincinnati as the most potent offense in the league.

Snider paced the Senior Circuit in home runs, walks and OPS, tying with Junior Gilliam for the lead in on-base percentage, all while chasing down fly balls to center field at his usual reliable rate. He also crossed the plate 112 times, second most in the league.

And as Newcombe struggled to clinch the pennant on the schedule’s final day—surrendering six earned runs on 11 Pirates’ hits—it was the Duke who saved Brooklyn’s season, slamming a pair of home runs and driving in four RBI.

Sandy Amoros also clubbed two homers, but Duke’s three-run blast in the bottom of the first set the tone and put Pittsburgh in a hole from which it could not fully emerge before Don Bessent relieved the fatigued Newcome and sealed the pennant.

Of course, no one knew from WAR at the time, but the Duke tied Willie Mays for the NL lead at 7.6. Having topped 130 RBI in the previous two seasons yet driving home “only” 101 in 1956, perhaps voters turned their pens elsewhere based on Duke’s “drop-off” in that coveted stat.

Already a potent lineup, the long-lost Redlegs—who hadn’t seen .500 since 1944—slugged their way from 75 to 91 wins largely on the addition of Frank Robinson.

Enjoying one of the greatest freshman campaigns ever—and copping a unanimous Rookie of the Year honor for it—the gritty Robinson smashed 38 home runs, a record that would stand for 31 seasons.

In doing so, Robinson also helped Cincinnati clout a record-tying 221 home runs. Exhibiting impressive bat discipline for a 20-year-old slugger, Robinson drew 64 walks to go with his solid .290 batting average, which, combined with a league-high 20 hit-by-pitches for the rookie who defiantly dug in against veteran hurlers, led to an NL-best 122 runs scored.

Robinson also tied teammate Ed Bailey for second in OPS, with .936. Considering Cincinnati’s dearth of starting pitching—only Brooks Lawrence chalked up more than 13 victories, and only Joe Nuxhall logged an ERA better than league average—Robinson, in my opinion, had more to do with Cincinnati’s sudden resurgence than any other Redleg.

One can argue that a seventh-place finish on the MVP ballot was amply complemented by the Rookie of the Year honor, but Robinson, a natural-born leader and the highest-scoring player on the highest-scoring team, should have finished higher in the vote.

Interestingly, both Snider and Robinson batted their best against each other as Brooklyn and Cincinnati jockeyed all summer for the inside track. Duke lit up Redlegs hurlers for an even .400 and slugged a monstrous .787, while driving in 18 runs and scoring 23 times in 22 contests.

Nearly matching Duke’s mastery of Cincinnati pitching, the rookie Robinson still bruised Brooklyn for nine homers and .716 slugging, resulting in 13 RBI and 20 runs scored in the same 22 games.

Neither fared well against Milwaukee’s deep and stingy rotation.

Warren Spahn also probably should have ranked higher than Maglie. Arguably the best pitcher on what was, far and away, the best pitching staff in the NL (team ERA of 3.11nearly half a run better than runner-up Brooklyn), Spahn enjoyed a typical Warren Spahn season: 20-11, 2.78 ERA. He led the league in nothing but hurled 90 more innings than Maglie.

Over the course of an entire season, during which Spahn’s Braves spent 83 percent of its schedule within two games, either way, of first place, 90 high-quality innings is a huge difference to overlook.

Milwaukee’s strength on the mound may have actually worked against Spahn at voting time. Lew Burdette spun a season very similar to Spahn statistically (19-10, 2.70 ERA, in 256.1 innings), yet although voters barely took notice of Burdette or 18-game winner Bob Buhl at awards time, Spahn’s 20 wins might have lost some impact among his big-winning teammates.

Of course, had Milwaukee finished a game ahead of Brooklyn, Spahn likely would have received many of the votes that instead went to Maglie.

Unfortunately for Spahn, who went 7-1 and saved one game in September (including a 12-inning complete-game victory on September 13), he took a truly hard-luck loss in Milwaukee’s penultimate game of the season, which dropped the Braves a game behind Brooklyn and allowed the Dodgers to claim the pennant the following afternoon despite Burdette’s 4-2 win in St. Louis.

Tied with Brooklyn with two games to play, Spahn spun a masterful 11 innings, yielding only three hits and one earned run. But Cardinal Herm Wehmeier, an oft-wild thrower with a career mark of 80-100 going into the game, matched Spahn inning for inning.

With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 12th, Spahn yielded a double to Stan Musial. Intentionally walking Ken Boyer to get to Rip Repulski, Repulski ripped a double to left, scoring Musial and giving Brooklyn—busy winning the second game of a double-header against Pittsburgh after Maglie won the opener—a one-game edge going into the season’s final day.

As for the Cy Young Award—which, in 1956, was issued to a single pitcher selected from both leagues—Maglie again placed second to Newcombe. The same argument for Spahn (and Burdette) in the MVP race becomes stronger for this vote. With Newcombe deservedly running away with the inaugural award, Maglie earned four of the remaining six votes, outpacing both Spahn and Whitey Ford.

The ace of the eventual world-champion New York Yankees, Ford went 19-6, with a Major League–topping 2.47 ERA. But the Bronx Bombers peeled away from the rest of the AL in July and coasted to the pennant, so Ford enjoyed none of the hero-making drama of a close race, as did Maglie.

Yet a pitcher superior that season both to Spahn and Ford, let alone Maglie, was completely ignored. Herb Score, coming off a Rookie of the Year effort in 1955, took another step toward the superstardom he’d sadly never reach (see his entry, No. 2, in my series for a fuller explanation).

Flame throwing his way to a 20-9 season, garnished with an AL-high five shutouts and 263 strikeouts—best in the Majors and 71 more than anyone else—Score unfairly went missing at ballot time thanks to an 88-win Cleveland Indians squad made irrelevant by the machine-like Yankees.

As good as was Maglie down Brooklyn’s stretch drive, Score, with his adjusted ERA of 166, pitched at the highest caliber virtually all season.

Pitching in his third—and final—World Series, in 1956, Maglie went the distance in the opener, whiffing 10 Yankees in a 6-3 victory at Ebbets Field. In Game 5, he had the misfortune of pitching against history, as his gutsy eight innings were no match for Don Larsen’s perfection. (Along with the Shot Heard ‘Round the World game, this made Maglie a starting pitcher in perhaps the two most famous contests in baseball annals.)

New York, of course, went on to reclaim the crown Brooklyn had usurped the previous year.

Maglie pitched one more season in Brooklyn, but now 40 years old, the Barber’s days were numbered. He bounced to the Yankees—becoming one of only 14 players who made the stop at all three New York boroughs—before concluding his short but eventful career with the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1958.

Etching a most impressive 119-62 record, with a career ERA 27 percent better than league average, Sal Maglie enjoyed one helluva ride for a guy who didn’t stick in the Majors until age 33.

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Thurman Munson’s 22 Errors Deserved a Fool’s-Gold Glove

Seventh in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

You could probably find at least one undeserved Gold Glove awarded every season. The vast majority of Gold Glove recipients are repeat winners, sort of making the award like a concussion—once a player gets one, it becomes progressively easier to get more.

To be sure, most repeat winners are among the very best defenders in the league and deserve the honor, but as we saw with Jim Kaat, precedent eventually plays a big role.

As well, a Gold Glove sometimes becomes a “throw-in” for players who have had strong seasons with the bat (or on the mound). Perhaps it’s unfair to spotlight Thurman Munson for this, but I do so more for who didn’t receive the Gold Glove than who did.

Munson had already won a Gold Glove the previous year and had come into his own as one of the best backstops in the American League. In truth, no AL catcher enjoyed a truly standout season behind the plate in 1973 (unless you count Detroit’s Bill Freehan, who played only 98 games), but Munson, with a league-high 80 assists and a 48 percent caught-stealing rate, was a good choice.

Smashing a career-best 20 home runs and batting .301 didn’t hurt his cause, either, and though it shouldn’t have had any bearing on the Gold Glove vote, Thurman’s lively bat likely helped him beat out Oakland’s light-hitting Ray Fosse, who enjoyed an equally strong season with the mitt.

However, the defending AL Gold Glove winner did not follow up his 1973 campaign so well. In fact, despite making the All-Star team, Munson suffered a setback in 1974. His offense dropped across the board, finishing with a lackluster .697 OPS. Yet thanks to the virtual absence of an injury-plagued Carlton Fisk, Munson had no real competition at the plate, making his off-season with the bat look good enough at season’s end.

Even so, Munson’s “default” slugging and defending Gold Glove earned him an encore in 1974—an honor that should have gone to Ellie Rodriguez, the unsung journeyman backstopping his first season for the California Angels. (Ironically, Rodriguez had begun his Major League career with the Yankees in 1968 after toiling in their farm system for four years. But New York’s selection of Munson in the first round of the 1968 amateur draft made Rodriguez expendable; left unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft, he was snatched up by the Kansas City Royals.)

Of course, when evaluating catchers’ performances, chances and putouts—being almost exclusively the result of receiving strikeoutsare poor statistics to utilize, especially when one’s battery mates include strikeout machines Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana (ergo, Rodriguez led the league in both categories in 1974). More tellingly, Rodriguez tied Munson for the AL lead in assists with 75.

However, Munson committed, by far, a league-worst 22 errors, including a horrendous 11-game stretch in early August during which he booted seven plays (ignominiously crowned by a three-error meltdown on August 13). Yet in essentially the same amount of innings, Rodriguez miscued only seven times, giving him a glittering .992 fielding average to Munson’s subpar .974 (league average: .983).

Eighteen of Munson’s errors came on throws—that’s a lot of extra bases gifted to existing baserunners. In fact, 11 of those throwing errors led directly to unearned runs, either on the throws themselves or allowing baserunners to get into scoring position, after which they were driven home. More amazingly, five of those runs scored on errant pickoff attempts to third base—this does not scream Gold Glove.

Advanced sabermetrics were unknown in 1974, of course—and I don’t believe in getting too far into them both because many of the highly specialized sabermetrics border on the arcane and because it’s unfair to criticize in hindsight using evaluations that were unavailable at the time. However, for the sake of argument, Rodriguez’s total zone runs dwarfs Munson’s in every category, according to Baseball-Reference. Furthermore, Rodriguez’s range factor per nine innings not only far surpassed Munson’s but also outdid every other full-time catcher in the AL.

Apart from the huge disparity in errors, though, what should have tipped the scale heavily in favor of Rodriguez was his effectiveness at stopping baserunners. Ellie’s powerful arm nailed would-be thieves at a 48 percent clip—resulting in an AL-topping 56 caught-stealings, far and away the best performance in the American League. Munson’s 35 percent caught-stealing rate was next-to-last among regulars in the Junior Circuit. (Of course, the pitcher shares fault in a stolen base, but that’s still a big deficit.)

True, Rodriguez allowed 20 passed balls to Munson’s eight, which partially washes out the difference in errors—passed balls being the only key statistic that favored Thurman—but Rodriguez should be cut a little slack for backstopping the most inaccurate staff in the AL. California issued the most walks in the league—and more than 100 more than Munson’s Yankees.

With Angels hurlers missing the strike zone so often, some pitches that could have been scored wild might well have instead been rung up as passed balls. (Incidentally, Rodriguez’s 20 passed balls were a fluke; he never before or again yielded more than eight in a season.)

Despite Rodriguez’s defensive superiority in 1974, being a light-hitting catcher on a last-place team surely camouflaged him come awards time. Again, not that hitting is supposed to play a role in Gold Glove voting—even though it clearly does—but Rodriguez’s home run and RBI totals pale even to Munson’s off-year. There was no way that seven home runs, 36 RBI and a .253 batting average on only 100 hits were going to accrue votes for Rodriguez.

As an aside, Rodriguez—who claimed to be a better stickball player in his youth than Willie Mays—actually clubbed more doubles than Munson in 122 fewer at-bats. More significantly, his 69 walks yielded a very respectable .373 on-base percentage—far better than Munson’s awful .316.

Similarly, being a light-hitting rookie catcher likely buried Jim Sundberg, even on a Texas Rangers team that had risen from last place in 1973 to second in 1974. Stepping right into a starting role, Sundberg fielded .990 on just eight errors, rang up the third-most assists, led all catchers in double plays and surrendered only nine passed balls. He, too, was more deserving of the Gold Glove than Munson, but even the most precocious freshmen hardly ever receive recognition for their defense.

Thurman Munson claimed a third Gold Glove in 1975. That award, too, is highly debatable considering an AL-topping 23 errors—the most ever by a Gold Glove–winning catcher, breaking his own dubious record of the previous year. Sundberg caught a slightly superior season with the mitt, but I’m certain voters were deterred by his horrid .199 batting average and meager run production. Sundberg’s day would come, though, as he owned the Gold Glove for the following six seasons.

Whereas Munson was ascending to stardom in 1975, Ellie Rodriguez, one of the better defensive catchers of his time, saw his wandering career wind down. He played only 90 games for the Halos that season, albeit well. Traded to the nearby Los Angeles Dodgers just before Opening Day of 1976, Ellie put in 36 games in Dodger Blue before his Major League sojourn ended.

Across a nine-year career that took him to five cities, Ellie Rodriguez always fielded well—even making two All-Star squads—yet never was officially recognized for his defensive prowess. In 737 games, he committed the same amount of errors as did Thurman Munson just in 1974 and 1975 combined.

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Joe Judge’s Third-Place MVP Finish Produced Disorder in the Sport

Sixth in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

Never a superstar, Joe Judge spent 20 years as a solid, dependable first baseman. Still in the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins top 10 of most batting categories more than eight decades after last playing in the nation’s capital, he has remained in the shadows not only of Hall of Fame teammates Goose Goslin and Sam Rice but of the heavy-hitting behemoths who shared the same position—George Sisler, Lou Gehrig and, later, Jimmie Foxx.

Even away from cavernous Griffith Stadium, the smallish Judge was not a prototypical first baseman (to this day, he holds the franchise mark for sacrifice bunts—a tactic virtually unthinkable for a first sacker since the live-ball era); Judge belted only 57 home runs in more than 1,000 road games.

Yet, like many Senators players, he took advantage of his home park’s deep alleys, legging out 157 triples. And Judge was swift enough to swipe 213 bases during his career.

A lifetime .298 hitter, Judge exercised excellent bat control, drawing twice as many bases on balls as he struck out, giving him a healthy on-base percentage of .378. Judge helped his perennially also-ran Senators to consecutive pennants, spearheading Washington to its lone championship, in 1924, with a .385 average in the World Series—where, as usual, he was overshadowed, this time by the great Walter Johnson.

After 18 years in the nation’s capital, the Brooklyn native went home and put in 42 ineffective games with the Dodgers before being released. Quickly signing with the Boston Red Sox, he eked out another 45 games over two seasons, ending his career with 2,352 hits, 1,184 runs scored and 1,034 RBI.

Despite ranking, upon retirement, seventh all-time in putouts, fourth in assists and holding the highest fielding percentage for a first baseman in baseball history, Judge may be best remembered as the man who hastened the end of Walter Johnson’s career, when he smashed a line drive off The Big Train’s ankle in spring training of 1927.

This is an unfair label for Judge, as the 40-year-old Johnson recovered from the fracture to pitch 107.2 innings, although he was no longer effective—which one would expect of even a healthy 40-year-old.

Judge’s worth was recognized in his own time, collecting MVP votes in four seasons. Yet the fourth of those seasons rings peculiarly. In 1928, Judge tied for third with Tony Lazzeri in the AL MVP vote—well ahead of some big-name players.

That Lazzeri placed third is, in itself, a surprise—although a key member of Murderers’ Row, injuries limited him to 116 games. Why writers shunned George Pipgras (a league-high 24 wins and 300.2 innings) is a mystery.

Perhaps they figured Pinstripes pitching coasted on New York’s battering-ram offense. (It didn’t—New York owned the second-best team ERA in addition to the AL’s best offense.)

Judge came in far ahead of the only two other Yankees to garner MVP votes: Earle Combs (118 runs scored, an AL-high 21 triples) and Waite Hoyt (23-7, 3.36 ERA). (At the time, any American League player who had already won the MVP since its inception in 1922 was not eligible for future MVP awards. This eliminated Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who, between them would have carted off the lion’s share of MVPs during the decade.)

One wonders what voters were thinking in 1928—the 98-win Philadelphia Athletics saw only two of their players make the ballot. And although the A’s Mickey Cochrane took home the MVP (just edging out Heinie Manush and his 241 hits), Lefty Grove and his Pipgras-tying 24 wins did not earn a single vote. (Incredibly, neither did Grove in 1930, when he won the pitching triple crown.)

With the Senators finishing a remote fourth—Washington was out of the pennant race before summer began—it’s hard to comprehend how a player from a team with a 75-79 record outpolled so many players from the contenders. (For the 1928 vote, only Ruth and Gehrig, among the Yankees and Athletics, were ineligible.)

Yes, Judge finished in the top 10 in walks, RBI, on-base percentage and stolen bases—yet he didn’t come close to leading in any of them.

And although he enjoyed another sterling year in the field, Judge hit a relatively pedestrian .306, with only 44 extra-base hits and 78 runs scored (trailing even such renowned table setters as Earle Combs and Joe Sewell in slugging percentage).

Judge did put together a strong second half, batting .336 and racking up an OPS of .896, but Washington fell 20 games off the lead before July. If anyone from the mediocre Senators deserved to scale the MVP vote so high, it was Goose Goslin, who snared the batting crown with a .379 average and slugged a mighty .614.

With the possible exception of Manush, Goslin was the most dangerous AL hitter after the MVP-ineligible Ruth and Gehrig (he led all vote-getters in WAR). Yet, enigmatically, Goose collected fewer than half the votes as did Judge.

Likewise, it’s outright baffling that no St. Louis Brown besides Manush made an appearance on the ballot. St. Louis improved by 23 victories over the previous season, yet voters completely ignored General Crowder, whose 21-5 record on a club that played only .532 ball should have put him right in the thick of the award race with Cochrane and Manush. 

Freshly traded from the ascendant Athletics, first-year Brownie Sam Gray, who fashioned a 20-12 record and a fine 3.19 ERA, also should have gotten votes. Didn’t any of those writers pay attention?

For all I know, Joe may have been thoroughly popular throughout the league with beat writers looking for quotes—which could have served him well come voting time. Yet considering that, in 1924, Judge received nary a vote despite hitting .324 while helping Washington to its first pennant (nor did Goslin, despite an AL-high 129 RBI—go figure), finishing third in the MVP race during a lost season is more than a little hard to fathom.

Ironically, Judge may well have been earmarked for a trade that season. The previous December, Washington owner Clark Griffith had bought George Sisler, St. Louis’ slowly fading superstar of a first baseman, for a pricey $25,000.

No longer the batting wizard he had been before losing a full season to sinusitis in the early part of the decade, Sisler was still a productive hitter—and a better one than Judge. Coming off a 200-hit campaign, his acquisition could only have meant that Griffith was looking to move the longtime Senator.

Calls for action about the logjam at first base became an open matter as early as two weeks into the season, even though Sisler had barely left the bench. Yet, strangely, Sisler never got a chance in Washington, pinch-hitting sporadically for a month before Griffith sold him to the Boston Braves at a $17,500 loss, while Judge went on to play all but one of Washington’s games that season.

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Rusty Staub Played Like Stainless Steel for the 1969 Montreal Expos

Third in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

Just as performing marginally on a pennant winner still can earn accolades in the MVP vote (see my Elston Howard article), a team’s last-place finish can make a valiant individual performance nigh unto invisible. Rusty Staub had just such a season in the Montreal Expos’ inaugural year of 1969.

Led by the most generous pitching staff in the Senior Circuit (4.33 team ERA), Montreal tied fellow National League newbies, the San Diego Padres, in bringing up the rear in their respective divisions, with identical 52-110 records.

But Expos hurlers hardly shouldered the blame by themselves. Like most expansion clubs, Montreal was deficient in all areas of the game. It led the league in errors and fielding percentage, and the only reason Montreal managed to turn the most double plays was because it allowed so many baserunners (Expos pitchers issued nearly 100 more walks than the next-highest team).

At the plate, only San Diego kept the Expos from scoring the fewest runs and registering the lowest on-base percentage. When Expos were fortunate enough to reach base, Montreal batters proved more adept than any other NL team in killing rallies, leading the league in double plays grounded into.

Little wonder Montreal fell into the National League basement by April 29 and never emerged.

But Montreal had itself a genuine star in Rusty Staub—and Rusty had a season in 1969 that was lost in the painful glare of 110 losses and a team more Canadian curiosity than contender.  

Montreal acquired Staub from the Houston Astros 11 weeks before Opening Day. The fledgling franchise had plucked Donn Clendenon from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Jesus Alou from the San Francisco Giants during the previous October’s expansion draft and then shrewdly swapped them to Houston for Staub.

Already a two-time All Star who had hit .333 and led the NL in doubles in 1967, Rusty not only brought cachet to Parc Jarry but endeared himself to Montrealers by learning French and becoming a member of the Quebecois community.

In his trade to Montreal, Le Grand Orange, as hometown fans anointed the personable redhead, indirectly figured in the king-making of several World Series champions.

Clendenon refused to report to Houston, so along with Alou, Montreal sent two pitchers and $100,000. Now persona non grata to Montreal management, Clendenon played 38 ineffectual games for the Expos before being swapped to the New York Mets in mid-June. Clendenon helped the soon-to-be Amazins into the playoffs and then exploded in the Fall Classic, slamming three home runs and winning the World Series MVP.

One of the pitchers packed off to Houston in Clendenon’s stead was Jack Billingham, himself snared from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the expansion draft but never to pitch for the Expos. Two-and-a-half years later, Billingham was part of the blockbuster deal that also sent Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke and Ed Armbrister to the Cincinnati Reds.

Billingham became the ace of the new-and-improved Big Red Machine and led it to two consecutive championships and a third pennant, logging an all-time Series best 0.36 ERA in 25.1 innings.

Back in Montreal, batting third in front of powerful left fielder Mack Jones, Rusty hit .302, including 29 home runs—as many as bona fide sluggers Willie Stargell and Ron Santo. Staub should have collected more than 79 RBIs, but Montreal’s leadoff and No. 2 hitters did a poor job all season of getting on base for the heart of the order. 

Perhaps most impressively, Rusty fashioned a .426 on-base percentage, fourth-best in the league and a hair less than batting champion Pete Rose, who had outhit Staub by 46 points. Rusty’s 110 walks, tied for third with ex-teammate Joe Morgan, combined with robust .526 slugging to notch an OPS of .952, also fourth-best in the NL. Staub also ranked 10th in total bases.

This all added up to a WAR of 6.2, tied for seventh-best among position players in the National League and surpassing, among others, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Stargell and Santo—the latter of whom finished fifth in MVP voting.

Staub’s are not numbers to sneeze at—but they were sneezed at because he played on a 110-loss expansion club that voters likely thought couldn’t have gotten much worse. Yet without Staub, Montreal might have approached the 1962 New York Mets’ legendary futility. Had Rusty worn a Mets or Atlanta Braves uniform that season, he would have garnered serious MVP consideration.

As it was, Rusty earned a single 10th-place vote, tied for last place in the MVP race (he was the only member of either NL expansion squad to appear on any ballot, not counting Tony González, whose MVP votes were unquestionably earned after his June 13 trade from dead-in-the-water San Diego to first-place Atlanta).

I’m not going to make the Andre Dawson argument that, despite playing for a last-place squad, Staub should have finished at or near the top of the voting. I don’t believe Andre Dawson should have gotten anywhere near the 1987 NL MVP—the bottom half of the top 10 would have sufficed.

Which is where Rusty Staub should have finished.       

Perhaps a particular game early in the 1969 schedule epitomized Staub’s intrepid season: On April 17, Rusty was a one-man wrecking crew against the Philadelphia Phillies, smashing three doubles, homering and driving in three runs in a 7-0 whitewashing of the Expos’ NL East rivals.

As fate would have it, Rusty’s awesome performance was rendered an afterthought by teammate Bill Stoneman, who—in just the ninth game of the Expos’ existence and the fifth start of his career—twirled a no-hitter (the hard-throwing, hard-luck Stoneman pitched a second 7-0 no-hitter in 1972 before arm trouble short-circuited his career).

It was just an under-the-radar kind of season for Rusty.

Staub had two more excellent campaigns in Montreal before saying au revoir for greener pastures in New York and Detroit. And perhaps Rusty enjoyed some karma in 1978 when he finished fifth in the AL MVP vote by driving in 121 runs, bettered only by Jim Rice. Appearing as the designated hitter in every one of the Tigers’ games, Staub became the first player ever to appear solely as a DH and finish in the top 10 in MVP voting.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Al Bumbry Got a Bum Deal in the 1973 MVP Vote

First in an 11-part series about the vagaries of awards voting.

Al Bumbry rightfully earned American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1973. However, as arguably a division champion’s best hitter, he received not a single vote for Most Valuable Player.

Naysayers might counter that Bumbry played only 110 games; however, dozens of position players who have played as few games have received MVP consideration over the years.

In fact, in that same season, Bud Harrelson, who collected votes in the NL MVP race, played in only 106 games, and Dick Allen received a vote after suiting up for a mere 72 games before suffering a leg fracture.

(In a strange coincidence—and a display of Baltimore’s bottomless depth in those days—Rich Coggins, often platooning alongside Bumbry, also played in 110 contests and, enjoying a season statistically similar to Bumbry, earned a first-place vote for Rookie of the Year.) 

Loaded, as usual, with pitching and defense, the Baltimore Orioles easily outpaced a hard-hitting Boston Red Sox club and won the AL East by nine games.

Lacking a booming bat, Baltimore placed eighth in the AL in home runs thanks in large part to Boog Powell’s injury-plagued season. However, the Birds still barely missed outscoring the rest of the Junior Circuit by playing smart, Earl Weaver baseball: taking pitches and swiping bases.

Baltimore led the AL in walks, on-base percentage and stolen bases. And although Orioles batters were not a constant threat to hit the long ball in 1973, they hit the ball often and all over the field enough (Baltimore also led the AL in triples) to log the third-highest OPS in the league.

Jim Palmer’s first Cy Young Award–winning season and a pitching staff that boasted the lowest ERA (including the fewest hits allowed and the second-fewest walks issued) combined with the stifling Orioles defense (four Gold Gloves, with a nearly impregnable infield of Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger and Bobby Grich and a speedy outfield captained by Paul Blair) to strangled opponents.

Baltimore surrendered, by far, the fewest runs in the AL.

So exceptional were the Orioles in every facet of the game that it’s a wonder they didn’t tally more than 97 victories.

Used sparingly as a pinch runner throughout the beginning of the 1973 season, 26-year-old Al Bumbry soon found a spot as a corner outfielder—primarily in left field. (His trek to the Majors had been delayed by a year in Vietnam, during which time he received a Bronze Star while serving as a platoon leader.)

Like Bumbry, the Orioles started slowly out of the gate. A .500 club as late as June 13, Baltimore battled a four-team logjam led by the surprising New York Yankeesalthough Al warmed with the change of season, going 11-for-26 to close out June.

Playing decently but yet to fire on all cylinders, Baltimore remained in a four-team race throughout the summer, finally pushing past the sputtering Yankees on August 3. But the Detroit Tigers wrested first place from Baltimore just three days later.

Until the Birds finally turned on the jets.

Earl Weaver’s crew ran off 14 consecutive wins beginning in mid-August, quickly reclaimed top spot in the AL East and never looked back.

(The Red Sox, trailing all three of these squads, rushed past Detroit in late August and chased Baltimore into autumnbut despite playing .607 ball over the last month, Boston could never get closer than four games out.)

Bumbry heated up long before Baltimore—amassing an eye-popping OPS of 1.015 in June—and stayed hot for the rest of the season. And as the pesky Sox remained within striking distance in early September, Al shifted into overdrive, hitting .409 and slugging .570 over the season’s final month. 

Bumbry was Baltimore’s catalyst in 1973. When leading off an inning, he registered an on-base percentage of .437 (not to mention hitting five of his seven home runs).

When Baltimore trailed, Bumbry slugged a near-Ruthian .654 (in 107 at-bats—not merely a handful). And in the eighth and ninth innings, Al hit .509 and slugged .649.

Perhaps even more tellingly, against Detroit and Boston—Baltimore’s summer-long rivals for the division crown—Bumbry hit a combined .410 and slugged a hefty .639.

At season’s end, the rookie had hit .337 and with only seven home runs had managed to slug .500—largely on the strength of a league-best 11 triples (remember, in only 110 games). In fact, excluding Dick Allen and his less than half a season, Bumbry’s OPS of .898 stood second only to Reggie Jackson, who won the MVP vote unanimously.

Al also stole 23 bases, and his 73 runs tied for second on Baltimore with Paul Blair, who played 36 more games.   

Voters rewarded Bumbry with a richly deserved Rookie of the Year Award but utterly ignored him in the MVP vote. One might be inclined to think that voters considered the MVP off-limits to a first-year player amply honored with the Rookie of the Year, but Fred Lynn took home both awards only two seasons later.

As division winners, Baltimore saw five of its players make the ballot. Jim Palmer and his AL-topping 2.40 ERA rightly earned the lion’s share of MVP votes going to Orioles. However, Tommy Davis, who enjoyed a fine comeback after playing only 41 games in 1972 due to injuries, received enough votes to tie with Catfish Hunter for 10th place—despite delivering little punch as a designated hitter.

Davis did hit .306 and drove in 89 runs, yet he slugged only .391 and scored fewer runs than Mark Belanger—whom he outhit by 80 points. Certainly a good season for the 34-year-old Davis, but nowhere near as productive as Bumbry.

And both Bobby Grich and Paul Blair, though providing Gold Glove defense, put up numbers in 162 and 146 games, respectively, that weren’t any more valuable than Bumbry’s 110-game totals. (Grich drew 107 walks yet outscored Bumbry by only nine runs.)

It is inconceivable that Deron Johnson, the Oakland A’s designated hitter, was more valuable to his team than the mercurial Bumbry. Johnson managed to collect eight vote points despite hitting an anemic .218 and a mere seven home runs after the All-Star break.

Among American Leaguers who suited up for at least 100 games in 1973, Al tied for second in runs created per game—even topping unanimous MVP Reggie Jackson.

That Al Bumbry could be a division winner’s offensive spark plug yet not make it onto any of 1973’s 24 MVP ballots represents a sizable oversight by the voters.

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Remembering the Epic 1975 Red Sox vs. ‘Big Red Machine’ World Series

The two-game set on tap for the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox likely won’t be must-see TV, but it does have one redeeming quality:

It’s an excuse for us to talk about that one time the Reds and Red Sox met in the 1975 World Series.

The 1975 Fall Classic wasn’t supposed to be much of a fight. The Reds were The Big Red Machine, and ’75 was the year they fielded what Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated called “the most famous lineup in history.”

Note: An initial version of this article had Pete Rose highlighted as a Hall of Famer. Oops.

With this lineup, the Reds scored more than five runs per game on their way to winning a staggering 108 of them.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, won just 95 games. They had two stars in Carl Yastrzemski and Luis Tiant, whose best days seemed behind them. And while Rookie of the Year and MVP center fielder Fred Lynn, right fielder Dwight Evans and left fielder Jim Rice made for an exciting young core, Rice was out of the World Series picture thanks to a wrist injury.

What seemed in store was a romp in favor of the Reds. What the baseball world got instead was one of the greatest World Series ever that included maybe the single greatest World Series game ever.

It’s worth re-living in all its epic-y epicness, which leads me to the following idea: Hey, let’s do that!


Game 1: We Interrupt This Pitchers’ Duel to Bring You a Blowout

The pitching matchup for Game 1 was to be a classic old guy versus young gun affair.

The 33-year-old Tiant, who had started an ALCS sweep of Oakland with a shutout, would be on the bump for Boston. The Reds were countering with 24-year-old lefty fireballer Ron Gullett, who kicked off an NLCS sweep of Pittsburgh with a complete game of his own. 

It looked early on as if the 35,205 at Fenway Park were in for a pitchers’ duel, as Tiant and Gullett matched scoreless frames through six innings. The Red Sox had more chances, stranding eight men to Cincinnati’s four, but couldn’t get a key hit.

Cue Tiant taking matters into his own hands.

With the designated hitter rule shelved for the series, Tiant picked up his first hit since 1972 with a leadoff single in the seventh. After Gullett threw an Evans bunt into center field and second baseman Denny Doyle poked a single to left, the bases were loaded with nobody out.

Then, as they are wont to do, the floodgates opened.

Yastrzemski singled to bring home Tiant and chase Gullett. Right-hander Clay Carroll walked catcher Carlton Fisk (more on him later) to bring home another run. Left-hander Will McEnaney momentarily stemmed the tide by striking out Lynn, but then gave up singles to third baseman Rico Petrocelli and shortstop Rick Burleson and a sac fly to first baseman Cecil Cooper.

All told, it was a six-run inning, which, as noted by Ron Fimrite of Sports Illustrated, was the biggest World Series inning since a 10-run frame by the Detroit Tigers in 1968.

It was more than enough for Tiant. With the Fenway crowd chanting “Loo-ey! Loo-ey!” he retired the final six Reds he faced to complete the shutout. In losing 6-0, The Big Red Machine had managed just five hits and two walks.

Reds manager Sparky Anderson gave credit where it was due, saying via The New York Times“Tiant put zeroes on the scoreboard all game long, and I don’t know how much better you can be than that.”

He then added: “But I’ll give you a little advice—everybody stay calm, because I am.”


Game 2: Ken Griffey Crashes the Bill Lee Party

The pitching matchup for Game 2 seemed to favor the Reds. They were starting Jack Billingham, who had been a National League Cy Young contender in 1973 and 1974. The Red Sox were countering with Bill Lee, whose mediocre 1975 season had last seen him start in mid-September.

Then there was the added complication of Lee being booed in the pregame introductions. As Fimrite noted, that was Lee’s comeuppance for having the nerve to call Bostonians “gutless” over opposition to the busing of black students to white schools (a little thing known as the Boston busing crisis).

The crowd eventually came around, though. Crowds typically do when great pitching is happening.

There was plenty of that going on, as Lee followed Tiant’s fine example by allowing just one run through eight innings. And for a time, a win seemed in order for the soft-tossing lefty after the Red Sox took a 2-1 lead in the sixth thanks to a Davey Concepcion error and a Petrocelli RBI single.

When the ninth inning came, Lee was looking to finish Boston’s second complete game in as many days, in the process giving the underdog Red Sox a 2-0 series lead.

At this, he failed.

Johnny Bench started the inning with a double down the right field line. Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson took that as his cue to replace Lee with right-hander Dick Drago, who led Boston with 15 saves in the regular season.

Drago got a ground out from Tony Perez that moved Bench to third and a not-deep-enough fly-out from George Foster. But then Concepcion made up for his costly error by grounding a ball up the middle that Doyle could only field, bringing Bench home to tie the game.

Concepcion further made up for his error by stealing second. Had he not done that, he might not have been able to score when Griffey lined a 1-2 pitch from Drago into the left-center gap.

Griffey’s double gave the Reds their first lead of the series, and rookie relief ace Rawly Eastwick had little trouble nailing it down. After pitching a scoreless eighth, the right-hander retired the side in order in the home half of the ninth.

The Reds had won 3-2 to even the series at 1-1. And from there, they were going home.


Game 3: The Slugfest That Turned on a Bunt

The ’75 Reds were a great team wherever they went, but they were nearly unbeatable at home. They went 64-17 in Riverfront Stadium, a record largely owed to their collective ability to mash there. The ’75 Reds slugged .428 at home, compared to .375 on the road.

This is the situation the Red Sox were walking into for Game 3, and the Reds didn’t disappoint. In front of more than 55,000 fans, their bats did come alive.

Trouble was, Boston’s bats came alive, too.

The scoring started in the first inning with a solo home run off the bat of Fisk. Red Sox starter Rick Wise made the lead last for a time but gave it up on a two-run homer by Bench in the fourth. Then there were back-to-back homers by Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo to lead off the fifth. After Wise departed, Joe Morgan brought home another run with a sac-fly.

That made it 5-1 in favor of the Reds, a hole the Red Sox would be hard-pressed to crawl out of.

But crawl out of it they did.

The Red Sox got a run on a sac-fly by Lynn in the sixth and another on a pinch-hit home run by former Red Bernie Carbo (more on him later as well) in the seventh to make it 5-3.

Right-hander Jim Willoughby kept Boston’s deficit at two with a scoreless eighth, and the Red Sox were in business in the ninth when Petrocelli singled off McEnaney with one out. That brought Evans to the plate as the tying run, with Anderson countering by bringing in Eastwick.

Two pitches later, it was a tie ballgame.

Evans’ homer was the game’s sixth, tying the World Series record. With all that power going on, the game seem destined to be decided by a long ball.

In the end, not quite.

After going quietly in their half of the ninth, the Reds got a runner aboard in the 10th when Geronimo led off with a single. Anderson then pinch-hit for Eastwick with Ed Armbrister and called on him to bunt Geronimo into scoring position.

Armbrister did just that…but he also got himself into scoring position thanks to a run-in with Fisk at home plate that caused a wild throw into center field.

Fisk sorely wanted Armbrister called out for interference, as did his manager. 

Home plate umpire Larry Barnett, however, saw things differently, telling The New York Times that it’s “interference only when the batter intentionally gets in the way of the fielder.”

A defensible call indeed, and one the Reds gladly took. It meant runners on second and third with nobody out, a prime opportunity to win the game. 

What followed was an intentional walk of Pete Rose by left-hander Roger Moret, who then struck out Merv Rettenmund after Anderson called on him to pinch hit for Griffey. That made it one out with the bases loaded, and it was Morgan’s turn to try and play hero.

He obliged with a drive over Lynn’s head.

Morgan’s drive gave the Reds a 6-5 win. After being dominated through the first 17 innings of the series, there they were with a 2-1 advantage and all the momentum.

In the next game, however, would be their tormentor from Game 1.


Game 4: The Game 1 Formula Works Again for the Red Sox

With Game 4 taking place just four days after Game 1, Anderson chose to go with veteran lefty Fred Norman rather than pitch Gullett on three days’ rest.

As Anderson would later explain to The New York Times: “Don Gullett will never be sacrificed for a world championship. He has not pitched on the fourth day in 1975 at all. You have to know what he means to the Cincinnati Reds and his family.”

Norman didn’t have a bad season in ’75, as he pitched to a 3.73 ERA in 34 appearances (26 starts). He just wasn’t on the same level as Gullett, who had pitched to a 2.42 ERA.

Norman was also going up against a pitcher with a hot hand: Luis Tiant. If the Reds were going to win, odds were they were going to need Norman to match Tiant pitch for pitch.

He couldn’t.

Norman started strong but fell apart in the fourth. That’s when, just as in Game 1, Red Sox hitters scraped together all the support Tiant would need with a five-run inning highlighted by RBI hits from Evans, Burleson and Yastrzemski.

That outburst wiped away what had been a 2-0 Reds lead from RBI doubles by Griffey and Bench in the first. Tiant was shaky then, and he was shaky again when he surrendered RBI hits to Concepcion and Geronimo in the home half of the fourth.

But after that, Tiant was in control. In his last five innings, he held the Reds scoreless on just three hits to close out a series-tying 5-4 victory.

The win meant that, win or lose in Game 5, the Reds were going to have to beat the Red Sox at Fenway Park if they wanted to win the World Series.

It also meant, one figures, that Anderson was going to be facing the music if his decision to hold Gullett back until Game 5 didn’t pan out.

Fortunately, it did.


Game 5: Don Gullett and Tony Perez Come Alive

With the Reds looking for a bounce-back performance from Gullett, what they saw at the start of Game 5 was disappointing. 

Three batters in, Gullett had put the Reds in a 1-0 hole by allowing a triple by Doyle and a sac-fly to Yastrzemski. It looked then as if the Red Sox had Gullett’s number.

But not for long.

The one hit the Red Sox got in the first inning matched how many hits off Gullett they would get over the next seven. Fisk was able to sum up why with a single word.

“Heat,” Fisk would later say, via The New York Times. “He threw much harder tonight. He was untouchable the first eight innings.”

With his fastball blazing past Boston hitters, all Gullett needed was some offense. He ended up getting some from a source both likely and unlikely: Tony Perez.

After hitting 20 homers in the regular season and one more in the NLCS, Perez went hitless in the first four games of the World Series. Perhaps sensing that his slugging first baseman was pressing, Anderson dropped him from the cleanup spot to No. 5 in the order for Game 5.

Just what the doctor ordered, apparently.

After striking out in the second against Boston starter Reggie Cleveland, Perez busted his slump by launching a game-tying solo home run in the fourth. Later, following a go-ahead RBI double by Rose in the fifth, Perez padded Cincinnati’s lead with a three-run homer in the sixth.

After coming into the game with nothing to show for his third World Series appearance, suddenly there was Perez with two homers and four RBI.

“I try to forget about yesterday, but I didn’t want my children to talk about me setting any World Series record for not getting a hit,” he would later tell the Times.

The 5-1 advantage was enough for Gullett. The Red Sox finally chased him when they got a run on three straight hits in the ninth inning, but it came with two men out and only succeeded in wiping out an insurance run the Reds had gotten on a Concepcion sac-fly in the eighth.

Gullett left having allowed only five hits and a walk, striking out a series-high seven. Appropriately, Eastwick came in and ended the game by getting Petrocelli swinging.

The Reds had won 6-2. With a 3-2 lead in the series, they were one win away.

Getting it would prove to be difficult.


Game 6: You Know How It Goes

The first five games of the World Series were so intense that Mother Nature evidently needed a rest, which she got by hammering Boston with enough rain to delay Game 6 from October 18 to October 21.

It wasn’t just Mother Nature who got a rest. Luis Tiant did, too. And sure enough, Johnson gave him the ball and the task of saving Boston’s season in Game 6.

Things started well. After Tiant worked around a one-out walk in the first, he got a 3-0 lead to work with when Lynn launched a Gary Nolan offering over the Boston bullpen.

Tiant took his 3-0 lead and spun three scoreless innings. When the top of the fifth came, the Red Sox were 15 outs away from evening the series with their ace on the mound.

The 1975 World Series being the 1975 World Series, though, it’s only natural that the script was flipped.

Boston’s 3-0 lead evaporated in the fifth thanks to a two-run triple by Griffey and an RBI single by Bench. In the top of the seventh, the Reds got to Tiant for two more when Foster brought home Griffey and Morgan with a two-out double.

Then came the kick while the Red Sox were down. After hitting just six homers all year, Geronimo’s second homer of the series was a leadoff job in the eighth inning that pushed Cincinnati’s lead to 6-3 and chased Tiant from the game. 

Like that, the Reds had conquered their tormentor and put themselves six outs away from the title.

Enter the unsung hero of Game 6: Bernie Carbo.

Carbo—a former first-round pick of the Reds in 1965apparently didn’t have a particularly clear head while all the drama of the 1975 World Series was going on.

“I probably smoked two joints, drank about three or four beers, got to the ballpark, took some [amphetamines], took a pain pill, drank a cup of coffee, chewed some tobacco, had a cigarette, and got up to the plate and hit,’’ Carbo told Stan Grossfield of The Boston Globe in 2010.

This is the man Johnson called on when the game was on the line in the bottom of the eighth. After Lynn and Petrocelli had gotten on to lead off the inning, Eastwick entered and got two quick outs with Roger Moret’s position in the batting order coming up.

Johnson called on the supposedly loaded Carbo to pinch hit. Initially, it looked like a bad call.

“So I go into the batter’s box. I ain’t ready to hit,” recalled Carbo. “Next thing, strike one, strike two, ball one, ball two. Then he threw me a cut fastball, a little slider and I took it right out of Bench’s glove—the ball just dribbled out. I step out and I’m thinking, ‘Aw man, I almost struck out. I was lucky.’ “

Carbo wasn’t kidding about his swing on the 2-2 pitch. Ron Fimrite of Sports Illustrated jabbed at it by writing that Carbo had “swung with all the power and grace of a suburbanite raking leaves.”

But then, just when Carbo’s at-bat seemed doomed, he swung at a fastball and drove it in the direction of the center field seats. When it landed, the score was 6-6 and Fenway Park was going nuts.

After Carbo’s homer tied it, the Red Sox seemed poised to win it in the ninth when they loaded the bases with nobody out for Lynn.

The Red Sox didn’t need much. A simple fly ball could do the trick, provided it was deep enough.

Lynn did hit a fly ball, lofting one along the line out to left field. What he didn’t do is hit it deep enough to render Foster’s arm moot.

After Foster nailed Doyle at home plate, the Boston threat was officially squandered when Petrocelli grounded out.

The Reds nearly took advantage in the 10th inning, getting Concepcion to second on a single and a stolen base with just one out. The Red Sox were able to dodge that one, but were right back in trouble in the 11th when Joe Morgan came to the plate with one out and a runner on first.

And at the crack of the bat on a 1-1 pitch from Drago, Morgan seemed to have something. He sent a long fly ball to right field that looked assured to get over Evans’ head and bring Griffey home from first with the go-ahead run.

Evans’ glove and arm, however, intervened.

The miraculous play by Evans preserved the 6-6 tie. And after the Red Sox withstood another threat from the Reds in the 12th inning, Fisk came to the plate to lead off the bottom half of the inning.

What happened next was partially Rose’s fault. Fisk would say after the game, via the The New York Times, that the Reds star and Fisk had had a conversation in the 10th that went something like this: ” ‘This is some kind of game, isn’t it?’ And I said, ‘Some kind of game.’ “

Last October, Fisk recalled (via MLB.com) feeling “rejuvenated” by the exchange, going from feeling exhausted to feeling energized by the realization that, yeah, he was playing in a great game.

Fisk took the first pitch from right-hander Pat Darcy up high. On the next pitch, Fisk sent a high fly ball down the left field line. As Fisk watched it, he knew there was only one question.

“When I hit it, I knew it was high enough, I knew it was long enough,” he said in 2013, “but I didn’t know if it was going to stay fair. And then it did.”

With a little help of a little body English, of course.

Fisk’s walk-off homer did three things. It gave the Red Sox a 7-6 win, evened the series at 3-3 and capped one of the greatest games in World Series history.

“I don’t think I’ve ever gone through a more emotional game,” said Fisk afterwards, via Fimrite. “I don’t think anybody in the world could ask for a better game than this one.”

Even Anderson had to agree, telling the Times: “The way I hurt all over, it was probably as good a ball game as I’ve ever seen. A great game in a great series.”

Morgan, on the other hand, didn’t feel much like glowing.

“We had the championship within our grasp tonight,” Morgan told the Times. “And we’ll have it within our grasp tomorrow night. We let it get away.”

Morgan was right: The series wasn’t over yet. For all the excitement of Fisk’s walk-off homer, it hadn’t won the series. It had only prolonged it. There would indeed be a Game 7.

And as it would turn out, Morgan himself would have a hand in deciding it.


Game 7: Not With a Bang, But a Bloop

Judged against the high drama of Games 1 through 6, Game 7 of the 1975 Fall Classic was, as Ron Fimrite wrote, “strangely anticlimactic.”

Judged against most of the other games in World Series history, however, it was another classic.

Making his third start of the series for the Reds would be Gullett. This time, his blazing heat would be matched by Bill Lee’s assorted collection of junk.

Lee had the advantage early on, shutting out the Reds through three. In the bottom of the third, the Red Sox started treating Gullett as they had treated him back in Game 1.

After a walk by Carbo—who would later tell ESPN’s William Weinbaum that he was far from ready for his surprise start in left field—and a single by Doyle, Yastrzemski opened the scoring with an RBI single. With two outs, Gullett delivered back-to-back bases-loaded walks to Petrocelli and Evans.

That made it 3-0, and Gullett’s day was done soon after. In four innings, he walked five and gave up four hits.

Luckily, Anderson had a bullpen that had produced a 2.79 ERA in the regular season to turn to. And in this game, Anderson’s faith in his bullpen was well placed. After Gullett left, Billingham, Carroll and McEnaney combined to allow one hit and no runs in five innings.

As they did their job, The Big Red Machine did its job.

With one out and Rose on first in the sixth, Bench grounded one to short that might have been a double play…had Doyle been able to get off a clean throw to first base. He couldn’t because of a hard slide by Rose, which forced a wild throw.

This allowed Perez to come to bat. And after he had followed up his big Game 5 with two hits in Game 6, the no-longer-slumping slugger homered over the Green Monster to cut Boston’s lead to 3-2.

An inning later, Rose—on his way to series MVP honors with a .370 averagefollowed up his game-turning slide by lining a single to center field to bring home the game-tying run.

After the Red Sox went quietly in both the seventh and eighth, there were the Reds again in the ninth.

Griffey led off with a walk and was subsequently sacrificed to second by Geronimo. After Dan Driessen pinch-hit for Carroll and grounded out, Rose drew a walk to bring Morgan to the plate with one out and Griffey just 90 feet away at third base.

Red Sox lefty Jim Burton was able to get ahead of Morgan 1-2, but the low and outside slider he tried to throw past Morgan wasn’t low and outside enough to avoid Morgan’s bat.

It wasn’t a shot off the pole in left field or Pesky’s Pole in right field, nor was it a booming liner off the Green Monster. But a hit is a hit is a hit. Morgan’s could have been more dramatic, but it simply landing and giving the Reds the go-ahead run was good enough.

And this time, there would be no comeback rally.

McEnaney came in and retired pinch-hitters Juan Beniquez and Bob Montgomery. With two outs, Yastrzemski worked the count to 2-1 before lofting a harmless fly ball to center field.

The Gold Glover Geronimo had no trouble getting to it.

When Geronimo squeezed the final out of the 1975 World Series, one championship drought ended and another was extended.

For the Reds, it was their first World Series since 1940, not to mention the title The Big Red Machine couldn’t win in 1970 or 1972.

For the Red Sox, it made it 57 years since they had last won the World Series in 1918. Unbeknown to them, nearly 30 more years of frustration were waiting.

Still, you might say that the Red Sox didn’t so much “lose” the 1975 World Series as they did “not win” it. Though they entered as practically hopeless underdogs, they proved to be a fine match for one of the greatest teams in baseball history. They came this close to being David to Cincinnati’s Goliath.

No need to tell Anderson.

“We are the best team in baseball,” he said at the Reds victory celebration, according to Fimrite. “But not by much.” 


Note: Stats and game data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.


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‘Wrigley Field Year by Year’ Gives in-Depth Account of Wrigley’s Rich History

There has never been a book that chronicled the entire history of a baseball park by the year. That is, not until now. Author Sam Pathy spent the last 25 years of his life researching for Wrigley Field Year by Year, spending between 10,000 and 12,000 hours on it. His passion for the project matches the passion that so many devoted Cubs fans have for the magical ballpark. 

Along with a rich written history of the park, the book also uses pictures from every era, which add historical context to already famous events. In fact, most of the stories told in the book have never been told to the general public before. 

“There’s the most complete historical list of advertisers on the billboard on the roof across Sheffield Avenue. There is a list of the 60 longest home runs in park history. I’ve done enough research to logically repudiate the ‘goat curse’ folktale,” Pathy says. 

Clearly, the fact that Wrigley Field has even survived as long as it has is a long shot, which makes its 100th birthday something worth celebrating and appreciating. Only Fenway Park has been around longer than Wrigley Field, and the next oldest stadium is Dodger Stadium, which is 48 years younger than Wrigley. 

Included in the book are several features in every year and every chapter including “Home Opener,” “Games of the Year” and “Quote of the Year.” These go more in-depth and provide an even richer history of the park than has ever been seen before. 

For someone who has spent over half his life researching for this book, Pathy realizes as well as anyone that Wrigley Field provides a certain constant in people’s lives that the team on the field can’t always provide.

“You never know what the Cubs will do—they may be good occasionally, but it’s never constant. But Wrigley Field is a constant. I know that I will always see the marquee at Clark and Addison, that the ivy always sprouts in early May, and that numbers are always twirling on the scoreboard.”

The fact that Wrigley Field has been able to be a comfort to so many for so long is pretty amazing. This book, which will be available on April 1, commemorates the countless amazing moments the park has seen over its improbable century-long history. 

Like so many others, Pathy is obsessed with the ballpark and the team that plays in it. Pretty much every Cubs fan can remember their first game at the famous park no matter how long ago that was and Pathy‘s tale is no different.

“I can still visit the place where I saw my first ballgame in 1969. Only five ballparks from that year still exist. So I have this thing that few other baseball fans can claim—and I savor it.”

Every other Cubs fan should savor it too: 25 years worth of research, 100 years worth of history, a lifetime worth of memories. Wrigley Field Year by Year will help fans to relive those moments and perhaps learn about some new ones along the way.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

‘Before Wrigley Became Wrigley’ Is Fascinating Historical Tale

From the time Weeghman Park, the park that would eventually become Wrigley Field, opened and the time the Cubs played their first game there, two full years would pass. Even though Weeghman Park opened on April 23, 1914, it housed the Chicago Federals of the Federal League; the Cubs didn’t play a game there until April 20, 1916. The unlikely story of how the Cubs became housed in what is now viewed as a baseball and national landmark is the subject of this book by The Sporting News writer Sean Deveney.

As Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday this season, it’s only natural to look back at its long and storied history. Everyone knows about Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot,” “the Homer in the Gloamin,” “The Sandberg Game” and the “Bartman Game.” Those stories will forever live in Cubs lore. However, very few Cubs fans realize that Wrigley Field very nearly never existed. 

Deveney explores this issue in great depth while also providing in-depth analysis of the futile, yet thoroughly interesting Federal League. In fact, had it not been for the Federal League, Wrigley Field almost certainly wouldn’t exist. How it all came to be truly is a baseball drama of epic proportions.

“With [Cubs’ owner] Charles Murphy as the villain and [Chicago Federals’ owner] Charlie Weeghman as the hero in Chicago, the story really is a classic drama,” Deveney says.

Even though it’s told from a historical perspective, the book really does read like a novel with the climax reached as the Cubs move into their eventual north-side home. For quite some time, it was unheard of for the Cubs to move from the west side to the north side of town with residents of the north side threatening lawsuits if a stadium was even built on the north side of Chicago. Sounds kind of like rooftop owners nowadays who aren’t the biggest fans of video boards.

Furthering the drama, one story that was run by the Daily News actually claimed the entire situation that eventually led to Wrigley Field’s existence “threatened to split baseball apart altogether.” As fate would have it, the coming about of Weeghman Park coincided with a very tumultuous time in baseball history. It is that tumultuous time that many Cubs fans may be unaware of altogether.

From the very first day of the ballpark, there was foreshadowing of things to come. On April 23, 1914, the first-ever game was played at Weeghman Park, fans crowded rooftops of nearby apartments and children chased home run balls on Sheffield Avenue. Sounds an awful lot like the fan actions that have become norms in the modern day. 

Deveney, who has primarily lived in Chicago and Boston for most of his life, realizes that a park like Wrigley Field (or Boston’s Fenway Park) has a way of impacting the city and residents that surround it.

“Parks like this are centrally important to each city and really impact the growth of the city as a whole. Aside from downtown, Wrigley Field is the top tourist attraction in Chicago,” Deveney says.

Certainly, as Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday, it’s a great time for Cubs fans and residents of Chicago in general to look back on what made the magical ballpark possible. Very few people have any knowledge of how Wrigley came into existence or what exactly took place in the first couple years of the famous ballpark. 

Before Wrigley Became Wrigley: The Inside Story of the First Years of the Cubs’ Home Field examines exactly that and hits bookshelves everywhere April 1, just a day after the Cubs open the season in Pittsburgh.

Perhaps the Cubs organization realizes the importance of these first few years of the park’s history as it will wear throwback 1914 Chicago Federals jerseys on April 23 of this year when it takes on the Diamondbacks on the exact 100th anniversary of the opening of the ballpark. As the 100th anniversary inches closer and closer, it’s important to remember just how differently the Chicago baseball landscape could look today. Without knowing it, Weeghman foreshadowed this point when addressing Chicagoans before opening the ballpark.

This great park, dedicated to clean sport and the furtherance of our national game is yours, not ours. Its destiny is in your hands. Believing that Chicago Fans are champions of fair play, believing that the great North Side of this city needs a Big League Ball Park, believing that the baseball public will respond to a Chicago Ball Team Owned By Chicagoans, I have devoted my time, my energy and my money to help bring this project to the point where it stands today.

The two years that explore this process are truly fascinating. Boy, what a far way the historic park has come since then.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

How Atlanta Became the Home of the Braves

The Atlanta Braves have come a long way since their humble beginnings as the Boston Red Stockings. They’ve seen cities, stadiums, owners, players and even team names come and go through a revolving door. The Braves have had high points, like winning the World Series, and low points, like devastating playoff losses and seasons with few highlights.

Since the announcement that the Braves will be moving to Cobb in 2017, we’ve learned what the future of the team appears to be. But let’s take a quick look back and see how they ended up at Turner Field and the history they’ll always carry with them.

It all started in 1871 when Ivers Whitney Adams and Harry Wright incorporated the Boston Red Stockings with $15,000. They became one of nine charter members of the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. They won six of the first eight pennants in all of baseball history, setting the tone for the future of the franchise.

The National League started in 1876. On April 22, the Boston Red Stockings defeated the Philadelphia Athletics in the first ever National League game. It ended with two runs in the ninth inning and a final score of 6-5.

In 1883, the team changed names to form stronger ties with Boston. The new name, Boston Beaneaters, also made it easier to differentiate themselves from the Cincinnati Red Stockings. This same year, the Beaneaters, once again, won the NL pennant.

Between 1884 and 1906, the team had their ups and downs. Most notably, Mike “King” Kelly, the most famous player of the time, earned a $10,000 paycheck. This whooping sum of money shocked baseball fans all around the country.

In 1907, the Beaneaters changed names to reflect the change in ownership. The new owners, the Dovey brothers, decide on the intimidating name of the Boston Doves.

After the passing of one of the Dovey brothers, the team was sold to William Hepburn Russell, who changed the team name to the Boston Rustlers in 1909.

Just a few years later, in 1912, the team earned the nickname the Boston Braves, a name that stuck around for some time. It was coined by Johnny Montgomery Ward, also known as Monte Ward, former professional baseball player and, at the time, part owner of the Boston Braves.

The ‘Miracle’ Braves won the World Series in 1914 after starting the season 4-18. They swept Philadelphia in four games to take home the crown. It’s a story that gives hope to fans who doubt their team at the start of a rocky season.

Between 1915 and 1935, the team switched ownership a couple of times. In 1915 it was for the steep price of $500,000. That won’t get you one veteran player for half of a season anymore. Babe Ruth also finished his career with the Braves during this time. He hit his 714th home run but held only a .181 batting average in his final season.

In 1936, the Braves fans decided to change the name to the Bees and their stadium was referred to as the “Beehive.” Thankfully, this name only stuck around for five years and fans haven’t felt the need to press management to change it back ever since.

1953 was a year of big changes for the Braves. They moved to Milwaukee because of a declining fan base in Boston, and Braves owner, Lou Perini, had promised to help Milwaukee find a baseball team. It certainly didn’t hurt that the Braves’ highest ranked minor league team was also in the area. The following season, the Braves tried their luck on a rookie named Hank Aaron and never looked back.

A few seasons later, the Braves, with the help of Aaron, Wes Covington and Bob Hazle, beat the Yankees in the 1957 World Series. The Braves find eight more successful seasons, including another World Series appearance in 1958 and multiple pennants, in Milwaukee before heading to Atlanta.

The move was largely due to the lack in fan support. In 1961, there were just over one million tickets sold for the season. Not the turnout the Braves front office expected for the team with three solid playoff performances in a row.

While the Braves were looking for a new city to call home, Atlanta offered to pay $18 million for a new stadium. The city was growing quickly and wanted to put themselves on the map as one of the country’s largest. The Braves took little convincing to pack their bags and head down south.

The move to Atlanta wasn’t nearly as simple as the move from Boston. Wisconsin didn’t want to see the team leave. The city of Milwaukee filed injunctions and court orders to keep the team from leaving. As we all know, the team eventually made it out of Milwaukee and onto their new home in Atlanta, where they were welcomed with a parade in 1966.

Because there weren’t any other major league teams in the surrounding area, the Braves acquired fans from far and near. Atlanta baseball was televised on TBS and quickly became the beloved home team for much of the southeast. They were known as “America’s Team” and wore new red, white and blue uniforms to reflect the nickname.

The Atlanta Braves, unfortunately, lost their first home game in Atlanta Stadium to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The stadium later became known as Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which was the home of many great memories for the Braves. Their years included Aaron breaking the home run record, hosting an All-Star game and Ted Turner purchasing the team in 1975.

Ted Turner owned the Atlanta Braves and decided to become the team manager during a 17-game losing streak. After just one game, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn told Turner he couldn’t own stock in a team if he managed it.

Although managing may not be one of things Turner brought the Braves, he helped the team win 18 consecutive pennant races and became the namesake of their new home following the Olympics in 1996, Turner Field.

Turner Field has housed Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and now the young stars Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. Many more notable names could be included but the list would be never ending.

While a chapter in Braves history may be coming to a close in the next few years, the name on their ball caps and jerseys won’t let the fans forget where they came from.

Historical facts courtesy of braves.com, The Washington Times and SB Nation.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Epstein and Hoyer: A Timeline of the First Two Years of the Cubs’ Rebuild

There’s no doubt that the bold move of luring Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox to become the Chicago Cubs‘ president of baseball operations changed the culture of baseball on the north side of Chicago. Instantly, there was a change in organizational philosophy and for the first time in seemingly forever, the Cubs were preparing to undergo a rebuild.

Gone were the days when noncompetitive Cubs teams tried to rebuild through signing free agents to overpriced multi-year deals. Looking back over the first two-plus years of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s how the Cubs got to this point. 


October 13, 2011: The Cubs hire Theo Epstein as their president of baseball operations.

In order to make this deal possible, Epstein had to resign as the GM of the Boston Red Sox because he had a year left on his deal in Boston. With the hire, the Cubs made it clear that they wanted to head in a completely new direction. One could say that Epstein has a record of reversing curses, and the Cubs were clearly hopeful that he could continue that trend. As part of the deal, the league also announced that the Cubs would have to provide the Red Sox with compensation. 


October 26, 2011: The Cubs hire Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod from the San Diego Padres organization. 

They name Hoyer as the team’s general manager and McLeod as the director of scouting and player development. These two helped Epstein build a championship team in Boston in 2004. With these hires, the top of the Cubs’ new front office was effectively set. 


November 2, 2011: The Cubs fire manager Mike Quade

As can usually be expected when there’s a regime change in the front office, there’s a regime change in the dugout, as well. While Quade didn’t have much to work with, the team still evidently felt that going in a new direction at manager as well was the right move for the team going forward. 


November 17, 2011: The Cubs hire manager Dale Sveum.

The former Brewers hitting coach is tabbed as the next manager of the Cubs after the team interviewed several candidates, including Mike Maddux (who later withdrew his name from consideration) and Sandy Alomar Jr. 


January 6, 2012: The Cubs trade pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Padres for pitcher Zach Cates and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. 

After missing out on Prince Fielder in free agency, making a move like this gave the Cubs what they believed to be their first baseman of the future in Anthony Rizzo. Whether he turns out the way that management envisioned remains to be seen, but this move majorly changed the direction of the club long-term. 


January 11, 2012: The Cubs sign pitcher Paul Maholm to a one-year deal. 

This signing of former division rival Maholm normally wouldn’t seem like a big deal in terms of the organization’s future, but what he got them at the trade deadline made his signing an important one. A signing like this was also a indication of things to come in the Epstein/Hoyer regime; signing mid-level players to one-year deals and hoping to trade them at the deadline for prospects has become a successful trend for the Cubs’ front office. 


February 21, 2012: The Cubs send pitcher Chris Carpenter to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein coming to the Cubs before his deal with Boston expired. 

No, this wasn’t the Cardinals‘ former ace Chris Carpenter, but this was significant because Carpenter was one of the Cubs’ better pitching prospects. One of the biggest problems facing the Cubs right now is their lack of pitching depth in the minor leagues, so this move could prove significant even though Carpenter hasn’t panned out on the big league level as of yet.


June 12, 2012: The Cubs fire hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo

Once thought of as the savior for the Cubs lineup after coming over from Texas, the lack of offensive production forced the Cubs’ front office to move in a new direction. With this move, most remaining top front office members and coaching staff were selected by Epstein and Hoyer


June 26, 2012: The Cubs recall 1B Anthony Rizzo from Triple-A Iowa. 

After trading for him in January, the Cubs decide that it was time for Rizzo to play first base in a Chicago Cubs uniform. He didn’t disappoint in his first prolonged big league action, hitting 15 home runs and driving in 48 while batting .285 in 87 games. His season was highlighted by a walk-off two-run homer against the rival Cardinals on July 29th. 


June 30, 2012: The Cubs and OF Jorge Soler agree to a nine-year deal. 

Cuban defector Soler boasts more raw power than many youngsters in baseball. This signing is the first major move of the Epstein and Hoyer regime that shifted focus to the future, when the team should be competing in the playoffs. 


July 11, 2012: The Cubs sign OF Albert Almora to a minor league contract after drafting him sixth overall in the June draft. 

Following this pick, the Cubs believed that they had found their leadoff man of the future. Coming out of high school, Almora still had to grow quite a bit, and again the forward-thinking front office knew that when his time came, it would also likely be the Cubs’ time to compete. 


July 30, 2012: The Cubs trade pitcher Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Braves for pitchers Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino

Since they signed Maholm to a one-year deal in the offseason, the Cubs basically scooped up Chapman and Vizcaino for the price of Maholm‘s contract from April through July. Vizcaino was coming off of Tommy John surgery at the time of the deal and he suffered a setback in 2013, but he seems ready to make an impact from the bullpen in the 2014 season.


August 15, 2012: Cubs fire vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita

This came as somewhat of a surprise after Fleita signed a four-year extension the previous offseason, but again Epstein and Hoyer evidently felt that putting their own guys in place at the top was the right way to go. Fleita had been with the organization in various capacities since 1995. 


August 28, 2012: The Cubs and SS Starlin Castro agree to a seven-year contract extension. 

In an interesting deal, both sides were taking a risk. By signing the budding star to a seven-year, $60 million contract, the Cubs are saying that they believe he will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. If he turns out to be a superstar, then it’s a good deal for the Cubs and a bad deal for Castro. Should he completely flop, then it’s the other way around. Just a year-and-a-half into the extension, it’s unclear who the winner of this contract is right now. 


August 29, 2012: The Cubs hire Brandon Hyde as director of player development. 

This move meant that Hyde would now be in charge of running the Cubs’ farm system and making sure that players at all levels were progressing the way they were supposed to be. Effectively, Hyde was the replacement for Fleita after he was fired two weeks before. Recently, Hyde was moved to the dugout to be the Cubs’ bench coach for the 2014 season. 


November 27, 2012: The Cubs and pitcher Scott Feldman agree to terms on a one-year deal. 

Like the Maholm signing, this didn’t seem like big news at the time, but the group of players that he brought in return made this signing a big deal. It also established a trend that the front office would like to continue: signing players in the same fashion that they signed Maholm the year before. 


December 7, 2012: The Cubs and pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa agree to terms on a two-year deal. 

At the time, it seemed like Fujikawa would be the setup man to closer Carlos Marmol. However, injuries made him ineffective and eventually ended his season extremely prematurely. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in June, he is expected back at some point toward the middle of the 2014 season. As of right now, this move isn’t significant, but he could be a wild card in the bullpen if he stays healthy and can be effective in 2014. 


December 21, 2012: The Cubs and OF Nate Schierholtz agree to terms on a one-year deal. 

This move was reminiscent of the sort that Epstein and Hoyer have liked making in the past. Take a player that was marginally productive as a role player and throw him into the everyday starting lineup and see how he does.

This strategy worked out really well for the Cubs and Schierholtz, as the lefty ended up hitting 21 home runs in 2013, which was more than double his previous career high. Moving forward, Schierholtz could be a very interesting trade piece in 2014 if the Cubs decide to go that route since they have so many young outfielders waiting in the minor leagues. 


January 3, 2013: The Cubs and Edwin Jackson agree to terms on a four-year deal.

Giving $48 million ($52 million including a signing bonus) to a player that has never seemed to stick in one city seemed risky at the time. For a guy who can eat up innings and be a workhorse, the deal didn’t seem atrocious, but 2013 proved to be a major down year for Jackson. He lost 18 games and had an ERA just below 5.00.

He showed a glimpse of why he got the contract he did when he went 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA in July. Since he gets behind in counts often, Jackson will never have a low ERA, but if he can consistently work late into games and keep the Cubs in it, he can be a solid contributor as a third starter. 


April 3, 2013: The Cubs and Ryan Sweeney agree to terms on a minor league contract. 

This was a low-risk proposition for the Cubs, who snatched up Sweeney on the chance that he could eventually be productive at the major league level again. The signing proved to be a smart one as Sweeney ended up totaling six home runs and 19 RBI in limited action.

He was injured often in 2013, but after receiving another contract from the Cubs in the 2013 offseason, he projects as a starter until some of the club’s young talent starts making its way to Wrigley Field.


May 13, 2013: The Cubs and 1B Anthony Rizzo agree to terms on a seven-year contract extension. 

Following suit from the extension they gave Castro, the Cubs again gave Rizzo more money than he was worth up front in hopes that he would eventually be worth far more in the future. For a left-handed hitter with the power to hit more than 30 home runs a year, it seemed like a relatively safe risk for the organization. 


July 2, 2013: The Cubs trade C Steve Clevenger and pitcher Scott Feldman to the Orioles for starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop. 

When it’s all said and done, this may be one of the biggest steals that the Cubs have pulled off in a while. While Clevenger was showing promise, he was never going to be the Cubs’ everyday catcher. Feldman was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason with the goal of getting a return for him exactly like this. 

What the Cubs received in return was two promising pitchers whose teams essentially gave up on them. Arrieta was a former top prospect, and after performing well down the stretch for the Cubs, he projects into the No. 4 or 5 slot in the Cubs’ 2014 starting rotation. 

Strop pitched extremely well for the Orioles in 2012, going 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA in the setup role. However, things seemed to fall apart early in the 2013 season for Strop, and the Orioles lost trust in him. There was a period of two weeks between May and June that Strop wasn’t used once in Baltimore. Once he came to the Cubs, though, management informed him that he was tipping his slider, and once he corrected that, it was smooth sailing for the righty

After arriving in Chicago, Strop posted a 2.83 ERA while going 2-2. Without the signing of Jose Veras in the 2013 offseason, Strop would have had a great chance at being the team’s 2014 closer. That being said, he still looks like the setup man or closer of the future. 


July 12, 2013: The Cubs and 3B Kris Bryant agree to terms on a minor league contract. 

After drafting him second overall in the June draft, the Cubs were able to sign the player that was far and away the best hitter in the draft. In college at San Diego, Bryant clubbed 31 home runs, which was 10 more than the next closest player. 

He continued his dominance in the minor leagues and is now on the fast track to Chicago. 


July 19, 2013: The Cubs recall OF Junior Lake from Tripla-A Iowa. 

Originally a shortstop and third base prospect, Lake is plugged into the Cubs outfield because the organization evidently projects him getting more playing time there. For a player who wasn’t necessarily a top-flight prospect, Lake performed extremely well. 

The fleet-footed Lake hit six homers to go along with 16 RBI and batted .284 in 236 at-bats. That performance, as well as his room to grow, have him on track to be a starting outfielder for the Cubs in 2014 and possibly beyond depending on his sustained performance. 


July 23, 2013: The Cubs trade pitcher Matt Garza to the Rangers for 3B Mike Olt and pitchers C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm. 

While the Feldman trade may have been the Cubs’ biggest trade steal, this was the Cubs’ biggest trade yield. The Cubs received Mike Olt, who was a top prospect in the Rangers organization, and after battling through vision issues a year ago he is primed to make a run at the starting third base job this spring training. 

C.J. Edwards is an undersized, yet extremely impressive young pitcher. He needs to fill out his 6’2″, 155-pound frame, but the production people have seen from Edwards in the lower levels of the minor leagues is already enough to call him one of two top pitching prospects in the Cubs organization. 

Grimm is not as highly touted a prospect as Edwards, but he produced at the major league level a season ago and will be battling for one of the final projected bullpen spots this spring training. 


July 26, 2013: The Cubs trade OF Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees for pitcher Corey Black. 

Ridding themselves of the last bad contract from the Jim Hendry era, the Cubs were actually able to get a decent return. Black isn’t nearly major league-ready, but the fact that the Cubs got a player who can project into their rotation at some point in the future was solid given Soriano’s remaining contract. 

While he didn’t perform poorly, Soriano never lived up to the giant contract that he signed with the Cubs. This move was symbolic of a franchise shifting directions and looking toward the future as it developed an entirely new brand of Cubs baseball. 


September 30, 2013: The Cubs fire manager Dale Sveum

It seemed obvious from the moment they hired him that Sveum wasn’t going to be the Cubs’ manager when they were competing for championships, but his departure came a season or two earlier than most likely expected. 

Like Quade, he wasn’t given much to work with, but his smug demeanor didn’t play out well with the team losing as many games as it did. He did help groom some players like Castro and Rizzo, but his tenure was a forgettable one from the Cubs’ perspective. 


November 7, 2013: The Cubs hire Rick Renteria as manager. 

After missing out on coming to an agreement with former Cubs catcher Joe Girardi, the club decided to hire Padres bench coach Rick Renteria. The club made it a point to add more Spanish-speaking managerial staff due to its plethora of Spanish-speaking talent in the minor leagues, and Renteria fit the bill in that respect and others. 

Renteria is seemingly in a gray area as manager of this team. When Sveum took the job two years before, it seemed apparent that he wouldn’t be coaching the team when it was contending. Now, though, Renteria will be coaching a team that is still at least a year, and maybe two, away from competing. How he performs as manager may directly affect if he’s around when the club’s competing or not. 


December 12, 2013: The Cubs trade OF Brian Bogusevic to the Marlins for OF Justin Ruggiano

Acquiring Ruggiano gives the Cubs more versatility on their bench. He figures to be a fourth outfielder and an often-utilized pinch hitter. He hit 18 home runs last season while not playing every day, so the move provides the Cubs with more depth on their bench. 


December 16, 2013: The Cubs and reliever Wesley Wright agree to a one-year deal. 

What this deal did more than anything is give the team more flexibility in the bullpen. Now Wright joins James Russell as the two lefties in the Cubs’ ‘pen. Being able to use multiple lefties is invaluable to a team whose bullpen underachieved a season ago.


December 27, 2013: The Cubs and reliever Jose Veras agree to terms on a one-year deal.

This signing adds even more depth to a drastically improved Cubs bullpen. It allows the Cubs to have a proven closer at the ready while pitchers like Pedro Strop and Arodys Vizcaino develop into the possible closers of the future.


January 13, 2014: The Cubs announce that “Clark” will be the first mascot in team history. 

In possibly the worst-timed mascot announcement of all time, the Cubs managed to discourage a fanbase even further. 



The first two years of the rebuild have been a roller-coaster ride, as expected. What will be more indicative of the progress of the rebuild will be how the next two years go. How they go could determine the future of a franchise rooted in futility. Fortunately, Epstein and Hoyer are hoping that they can make lightning strike twice.

For a full list of Cubs transactions over the past two-plus seasons, click here


As always, if you want to hear more or just want to talk Cubs baseball with me, follow me and/or message me on Twitter @KornSports


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