Tagged: Cardinals

A Conversation With Orlando Cepeda

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Last weekend, the Hall
of Fame opened a new exhibit, Viva Baseball, which chronicles the history of
Latin Americans in the game. Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando
Cepeda, a native of Puerto Rico and one of 11 Latinos currently enshrined in Cooperstown, attended the exhibit opening. During a wide-ranging
conversation with Mark McGuire of the Albany-Times Union, Hall of Fame researcher
Bill Francis, and me, Cepeda talked about his father, Negro Leagues shortstop Perucho
Cepeda, his own experiences playing in San Francisco, and his relationship with
fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente. Humble in discussing his own
accomplishments, Cepeda lavished praise on a number of lesser known Latino
standouts, including Minnie Minoso, Ruben Gomez, and Hector Espino.

 

 

McGuire: What do
you think, looking around this exhibit, seeing your dad’s stuff [on display]?

 

Cepeda: Awesome.
Awesome. Awesome. Incredible. You know, he never saw me play [in the major
leagues]. You know he died one day before I played my first pro game. He died.
I remember like in 1952, I was 15 and I got my knee operation. He had to talk
to the doctor and asked him, “Do you think my son will be able to play ball?”
My father always had it in his mind that someday I would be a ballplayer.

 

McGuire: Who was
better, you or him?

 

Cepeda: He was
better.

 

McGuire: When you
look at the state of Latin players, we think of them as one big group,
regardless of what country they come from. Do you notice different styles of [Latino]
players from different countries? Or is it pretty much the same?

 

Cepeda: The same.
Baseball is [played] one way. They [the Latino players] are the same. So many
great players, from the Dominican, Venezuela, from Cuba, they never had the
opportunity to play in the big leagues–they never made the Hall of Fame–but
they were as good as people who are in the Hall of Fame. So many great Latino
players, like Minnie Minoso, they opened the door for us. He was the first
Latino star in the big leagues, Minnie Minoso. There was also Vic Power, Ruben
Gomez, so many great players that never made it to the Hall of Fame, but they
were very good players.

 

McGuire: What do
you think of the idea that you’re part of an exclusive club here in the Hall of
Fame of Latino players, but it’s pretty much going be doubled [in membership] soon.

 

Cepeda: Yeah, it
is. We’re so proud that we were the first ones in the Hall of Fame. A day like
today will live forever. So that’s why I say thank you to Hall of Fame
president Jeff Idelson for thinking about putting this [exhibit] together. It’s
a great day for Latinos.

 

McGuire: It’s
kind of strange how you growing up couldn’t necessarily have dreamed of playing
in the major leagues [because of skin color], but with Albert Pujols, Jose
Reyes, Johan Santana now, you really can’t picture baseball today without
Latino players?

 

Cepeda: Al Kaline
told me last year that if it weren’t for the Latino player, baseball would have
been dead by now because there are just so many great Latino players today.

 

Markusen:
Earlier, Juan Marichal talked about how you and Felipe Alou helped him when he
first came to the big leagues with the Giants. Who helped you when you first
arrived in San Francisco?

 

Cepeda: Ruben
Gomez. Ruben Gomez. In 1958, I lived with him. You need somebody to work with
you. And that’s what we did with Juan in 1960. We made him feel welcome right
away.

 

Markusen: Of all
the major league cities you played in, which was the most receptive to Latin
Americans?

 

Cepeda: Oh, San Francisco. San
Francisco, because they had so many people from different backgrounds, so much
diversity. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central Americans. So they welcomed me
right away in San Francisco.

 

Francis: Can you
talk about how the Giants embraced the Latin American player? It seems like the
Giants had a lot of Latin Americans. Was it because of Alex Pompez [the scout]?

 

Cepeda: No, it
wasn’t Alex Pompez. The guy who signed me–his wife is here today– was Pete
[Pedrin] Zorrilla. Pedrin, he was very close to Horace Stoneham, the Giants’
owner.

 

At one time, the Giants had like 30 Latinos in the minor
leagues. Manny Mota, Jose Pagan, me. From 1954 on, a lot of Latinos.

 

Francis: Can you
talk about the Alvin Dark incident? Was that the worst experience you had in major
leagues?

 

Cepeda: Yeah,
about that, he told me a few years back that he was very sorry that happened.
He didn’t know the Latino heritage, that for a Latino to come here and do well,
was very difficult. He was very sorry for that.

 

Francis: That
must have been tough.

 

Cepeda: Yeah,
very hard, very hard. Because baseball is a tough game in all aspects, and now
you had to deal with Dark and you had to deal with the pitcher. You had to deal
with the game every day; it was very hard.

 

Markusen: How
close were you with Roberto Clemente?

 

Cepeda: Well, I
knew Roberto since 1950. He played for my dad, you know, for a couple of games,
but didn’t make the team. In 1955, we came here to the states. He came here in
1954, to Montreal.
In ’55, we flew together to Florida for spring
training to Fort Myers,
the Giants’ minor league complex. Yeah, very close. Still very close to the family,
his wife, Roberto Jr., who is here today.

 

Markusen: You
must remember very well where you were when you heard that he had died.

 

Cepeda: Oh yeah,
I was at my brother’s house, when I heard the news.

 

Markusen: Another
player prominently featured in this exhibit is an underrated player, Hector
Espino, who was called the “Babe Ruth of Mexico.” Did you ever play against
Espino?

 

Cepeda: Yeah, I
played against him in 1974. He came up, I believe it was in 1960, with St. Louis. He signed with St. Louis [but never
played in the major leagues]. I played against him in ’74, when he was in the
Mexican League.

 

Markusen: How
good was Espino?

 

Cepeda: Great.
Great hitter.

 

Markusen: Do you
think he would have starred in the majors.

 

Cepeda: Yeah,
yeah. He was a great low ball hitter. If you’re a great low ball hitter, you
can play anywhere.

 

Markusen: Thanks,
Orlando, for
your time.

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Bunts and Boots: Marlins Mania, Brian Barton, and Trey Hillman

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With their nearly flawless record of 11-2, the Marlins are
playing spectacularly well, but are they for real? The answer is yes–and no.
Let’s make no mistake about it; the Marlins are a very good team. They have
potent starting pitching and an explosive offense, two features that will allow
them to contend with the Phillies and Mets for either a division title or a
wildcard spot. On the other hand, the Marlins aren’t as great as their 13-game
record would indicate. Six of their 11 wins have come at the hands of the
Nationals, who appear to be the odds-on favorites to post the worst record in
either league. The schedule-maker will eventually balance the Marlins’ ledger,
changing their status from great to merely very good.

 

The Marlins lack the big name value of the Phillies and
Mets, but they don’t lack the talent level of those clubs. Florida’s starting rotation of Ricky Nolasco,
Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, and Anibal Sanchez looks superior to what the Mets
and Phillies have. Offensively, they have a strong nucleus headlined by Hanley
Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, and the revitalized Jeremy Hermida. Even the
Marlins’ major weakness of a year ago, their fielding, has undergone a
renovation, spearheaded by the decision to make the rangy Emilio Bonifacio their
starting third baseman and move Cantu to first base. Those moves have made the
Marlins better defensively at two positions; top prospect Cameron Maybin has
upgraded a third position now that he’s been installed as the starting center
fielder.

 

Clearly, the Marlins are a very good club. They may not be
able to beat both the Mets and Phillies, but they aren’t going to disappear
either…

 

One of the Marlins’ rivals, the Braves, made a small deal on
Monday, but it’s one that should be characterized as a steal. Atlanta sent righty reliever Blaine Boyer to
the Cardinals for Brian Barton, who is just the kind of young outfield talent
the Braves need. Caught in a crowded St.
Louis outfield, Barton is joining an organization that
desperately needs young outfield talent. Highly intelligent, Barton will also
bring the Braves some speed and power, and the ability to play all three
outfield spots. If the Braves are smart, they’ll bring Barton up quickly and platoon
him with Garret Anderson in left field, giving some balance to Atlanta’s lineup. If they’re even smarter,
they’ll give Barton a chance to take the job of Anderson, who is off to a
miserable start in Atlanta
and has no RBIs through his first ten games as a Brave.

 

The cost of bringing in Barton looks more than reasonable.
Boyer is a dime-a-dozen middle reliever who pitched well in the first half of
2008, but has been roundly pelted since then. Middle relievers of Boyer’s
talent can always be found, but multi-talented outfielders like Barton are much
harder to locate. Good move for the Braves…

 

Trey Hillman is taking his share of heat from an
increasingly frustrated fan base in Kansas
City, which can’t understand his infatuation with Kyle
Farnsworth. The high-octane reliever cost the Royals a game for the second time
this season, as Farnsworth was brought into the bottom of the ninth inning of a
tie game on Sunday. Farnsworth promptly gave up a game-winning home run.
Strangely, Hillman had the option of pitching his terrific young closer, Joakim
Soria, who was extremely well rested, not having pitched in six days. That’s right, six days. The
Royals also had a day off built into the schedule the following day, but Soria
remained chained to the bullpen. Hillman has apparently become the latest
manager to become intoxicated by Farnsworth’s 97 to 100-mile-per hour fastball
and his off-the-table slider. But the effectiveness of those pitches continues
to be undermined by Farnsworth’s inability to throw strikes, which too often
puts him into hitter’s counts.

 

Hillman is a smart guy who won throughout his minor league
career and his days in the Japanese Leagues. Hopefully, he’ll realize the truth
about Farnsworth before he starts putting his Royals job in jeopardy.

The Nickname Game: Team Names

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Beginning this week and continuing most Thursdays throughout the season, we present a new feature at Cooperstown Confidential. Though they have become somewhat of a dying art in the major leagues, nicknames are one of my favorite pastimes. They tell us more about teams and players, while adding some color to the game. In this week’s lidlifter, let’s examine some of the best secondary nicknames that have been given to some memorable teams over the last 100-plus years.


While
all current-day teams have official nicknames, there’s always been a tendency
to give some clubs more colorful names, as a way of paying tribute to unique
characteristics or personalities within the teams’ dynamics. Here are 12 of the
most intriguing names that have been given to teams over the years, either by
fans, the media, or by the players themselves.


“Hitless Wonders”: 1906 Chicago White Sox

Epitomizing
the depths of offensive frustration in the Deadball Era, the White Sox batted
.230 with a grand total of seven home runs in the regular season, yet still
claimed the American League pennant. The Sox might not have hit much, but they
drew a ton of walks and played little ball to the hilt, finishing fourth in the
league in runs scored. The White Sox then pulled off an ever larger upset in
the World Series, downing the crosstown Cubs of Tinker-to-Evans-to-Chance fame,
four games to two.

 

“Murderers’ Row:” 1927-1928 New York
Yankees

No
team nickname has matched the fame of “Murderers’ Row,” which actually
originated as a 19th century reference to an isolated row of prison
cells featuring some of the worst criminals of the infamous Tombs prison.  The baseball version of Murderers’ Row
included four future Hall of Famers–Earle Combs (batting leadoff), Babe Ruth
(batting third), Lou Gehrig (in the cleanup spot), and Tony Lazzeri (batting
sixth). The ’27 Yankees didn’t receive much punch from the bottom of the order,
where weak links like Jumping Joe Dugan and Pat Collins resided, but the top
six batters in the lineup did the damage of nine full men.

 

“The Gas House Gang:” 1934-1939 St. Louis
Cardinals

This
name originated with a neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan, where a violent group of young men
tormented citizens and came to call themselves the “Gashouse Gang.” The
Cardinals’ version of the “Gang” wasn’t quite as vicious as the street thugs,
but they did feature a number of ruffians, including infielders Leo Durocher
and Pepper Martin, outfielder Ducky Medwick, and ace pitcher Dizzy Dean. The
Cardinals of that era played a hard-nosed brand of ball, sliding hard into
bases, knocking over opposing defenders, and rarely backing away from on-field
brawls.

 

“Whiz Kids:” 1950 Philadelphia Phillies:

Coming
out of nowhere to win the National League pennant, Eddie Sawyer’s “Kids”
featured a day-to-day lineup of players almost exclusively under the age of 30.
The oldest regular was 30-year-old first baseman Eddie Waitkus, but the stars
were the 23-year-old Richie Ashburn and the 25-year-old Del Ennis. The starting
rotation was also headlined by two youngsters, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons,
whose combined total of wins (37) nearly matched their collective age (44).

 

“Big Red Machine:” 1969-1976 Cincinnati
Reds

Some
newspapers and magazines began to refer to Cincinnati’s dynamic offensive team
as the “Big Red Machine” as early as 1969 and ’70, but the name really caught
on when the franchise steamrolled the rest of the majors in winning the ’75 and
’76 World Championships. That mid-1970s run included a four-game World Series annhilation of the Yankees, a series that too often seemed like Thurman Munson battling alone against Cincinnati’s entire 25-man roster. The cast of characters changed significantly from 1969
to 1976, with Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Bobby Tolan eventually giving way to
George Foster, Joe Morgan, and Ken Griffey Sr. The constants were Johnny Bench,
Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, though both Perez and Rose switched positions in
mid-stream; Perez moved from third to first, and Rose went from right field to
left field to third base. Combining power and speed, few teams in history have
matched the offensive potency of “The Machine.”


“Pittsburgh Lumber Company:” 1970-1976 Pittsburgh
Pirates

The Lumber Company name didn’t really take hold until the mid-1970s, but in retrospect, the 1971 world championship team should be included. Using
a free-swinging approach that might not have been fully appreciated by some
Sabermetricians, the Pirates pummeled their way to five division titles, one
pennant, and a World Championship during the first half of the decade. Other than
Willie Stargell and Bob Robertson, the “Lumber Company” didn’t like to take
walks, which they generally regarded as unmanly. Instead, Roberto Clemente, Al
Oliver, and Manny Sanguillen preferred to swing the bat early and often, and
they did it well, banging a parade of singles and doubles in a constant barrage
against opposing pitching staffs.

 

“Mustache Gang:” 1972 Oakland A’s

After
initially balking at Reggie Jackson’s spring training mustache, Oakland owner Charlie
Finley decided that he liked the new facial hair so much that he offered $300
bonuses to each of his players if they followed suit by Father’s Day. All 25
players took up the challenge, what with $300 being a lot of money to a major
leaguer in 1972. Even after the resulting “Mustache Day” promotion, most of the
A’s kept their mustaches; some took the trend a step further by letting their
hair grown long, while adding beards and heavy sideburns to boot. The new look
certainly didn’t hurt the A’s on the field, as Finley’s gang went on to win the
first of three consecutive world championships.


“The F-Troop:” 1973-1974 Atlanta Braves

The
Braves’ bench players came to call themselves the “F-Troop,” in reference to
the popular TV show that starred Ken Berry and Forrest Tucker. Although the
Braves finished fifth and third, respectively, in 1973 and ’74, they did have
some productive players in reserve. In 1973, backup catcher-first baseman Dick
Dietz hit .295 while drawing an amazing 49 walks against only 25 strikeouts.
Reserve first baseman Frank Tepedino hit .295 with 29 RBIs. And utilityman
Chuck Goggin batted .289 while showing the versatility to both catch and play
shortstop. Without Dietz and Goggin, the bench wasn’t nearly as productive in
’74, resulting in a quick fadeaway for the F-Troop nickname.


“The Southside Hitmen:” 1977 Chicago White Sox

The
’77 White Sox of Bob Lemon finished no better than third in the American League
West, couldn’t field a lick, and had the third-worst pitching in the league,
but still managed to win 90 games while creating a legacy that makes them one
of the most beloved Sox teams in memory. The hard-hitting, stone-gloved lineup
featured Jorge Orta at second, Eric Soderholm at third, Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr in left,
Richie Zisk in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH, all the while wearing those awful
black and white throwback uniforms that featured collared shirts of the
“untuckable” variety. Finishing second in the league in runs scored, the
“Hitmen” made the summer of ’77 a fun one in the Windy City–and a final legacy to aging owner Bill Veeck.


“The Bronx
Zoo:” 1977-1979 New York Yankees

This
nickname became popular because of the book of the same name written by Sparky
Lyle and Peter Golenbock. “The Bronx Zoo” served as a perfect description of a
team where arguments took place on a daily basis, players fought in the showers
(Cliff Johnson vs. Goose Gossage), the team’s center fielder (Mickey Rivers)
spoke in a language all his own, and Lyle himself routinely sat on birthday
cakes delivered to the clubhouse.  It was
all in a day’s work with the Yankees of the late seventies.

 

“Riders of the Lonesome Pine:” 1981 Detroit Tigers

The
’81 Tigers finished out of the playoff money during the split season and the
bench players really were nothing special, but they deserve credit for coming
up with one of the most colorful nicknames for a backup squad of players. “The
Riders” included the wacky (Johnny Wockenfuss and that wonderful leg-crossing stance), the obscure (Ron Jackson, Mick
Kelleher, and Stan Papi), and the forgotten (Lynn Jones and Ricky Peters).

 

“Harvey’s
Wallbangers:” 1982-1983 Milwaukee Brewers

This
nickname was a natural, given the first name of manager Harvey Kuenn and the
team’s ability to hit home runs at a moment’s notice. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas
led the American League with 39 home runs in 1982, while Cecil Cooper and Ben
Oglivie also cracked the 30-home run barrier. The “Wallbangers” advanced to the
seventh game of the 1982 World Series, but fell back in ’83, finishing fifth in
a stacked American League East. Two future Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and
Robin Yount, played as regulars for the ’82 Wallbangers, while two others, Don
Sutton and Rollie Fingers, contributed to an underrated pitching staff.

 

Jackie Robinson’s Legacy: A History of Integration

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In commemoration of Jackie Robinson Day, we present an excerpt from my original manuscript The Team That Changed Baseball: The 1971 Pirates. Since this chapter did not make the final cut for the book, it is published here for the first time ever.

Jackie
Robinson’s entrance into the National League in 1947 did not signal the end of
racial bigotry in major league baseball. Nor did it lead to a stampede rush to
sign all of the best black and African-American talent available to major
league general managers and owners. Rather, the process of true racial
integration in baseball took place much more slowly–over a period that spanned
nearly two and a half decades. As a result, the major leagues could not boast
of a single significantly or truly integrated World Championship team during
the 1940s, fifties, or sixties.

           

On April 15,
1947, Robinson officially ended the practice of the color line when he made his
debut at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Team president Branch Rickey had
promoted Robinson from the club’s top minor league affiliate, the Montreal
Royals, where he had played in 1946.  In
August, Dan Bankhead joined Robinson on the Dodgers’ roster to become the
majors’ first African-American pitcher. Earlier in the season, during the month
of July, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck made news when he signed outfielder
Larry Doby, who became the first African-American player in the existence of
the American League.  That same month,
the St. Louis Browns purchased the contracts of Willard Brown and Hank Thompson
from the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the best teams in the Negro Leagues.  The five new African-American players joined
a handful of Latin Americans, including Mike Guerra and Jesse Flores of the Philadelphia
Athletics, who already held jobs in the major leagues.

 

Baseball’s integration proceeded at a snail’s pace over the
next three seasons.  In 1948, the Dodgers
promoted former Negro Leagues star Roy Campanella, who became the first
African-American catcher in 20th century major league history.  Only one other black player, venerable
pitcher Satchel Paige, debuted in 1948. Paige signed a contract with Veeck’s
Indians, drawing the wrath of such publications as The Sporting News, which railed against the wisdom of adding a
fortysomething hurler well past his prime. 
Meanwhile, the Washington Senators, one of the most progressive teams in
their pursuit of Latinos, added two Cubans to their roster: shortstop Angel
Fleitas and pitcher Moin Garcia.  The
Senators, who employed full-time scout Joe Cambria in Cuba, had
signed a number of Cuban players in 1944 and ’45, but by now, they had
disappeared from the roster. (Prior to Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the
major leagues in 1947, a number of Latin Americans–generally light-skinned–had
played in the majors.  Although some
baseball historians have argued that some
of these Latinos were also black in color, and that some so-called Cubans were
actually African Americans, none of the pre-1947 teams could be considered
truly integrated.  Major league teams
simply refused to sign black players who did not have Latino-sounding names, or
who did not at least contend they
were of Latin American descent.  These
men continued to be barred because of baseball’s most significant unwritten
rule: the color line.)

 

Although some baseball historians have contended that racist
motivation prevented a faster rate of integration, one of the most significant
writers of the time cited a completely different reason.  Wendell Smith, writing for the black
newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier,
believed that a shortage of black players in 1948 had slowed the pace of
integration.  “The scouts are out there
snooting around like Scotland Yard detectives looking for talent,” Smith wrote,
“but having a difficult job uncovering it. The fact that Cleveland signed the 40-year-old Page
indicates that there is a definite shortage of talent, both white and Negro.”

 

Smith argued that the Negro Leagues had featured far more
talent during the 1920s and thirties. 
“It was better talent than we have today,” wrote Smith in the Courier, “and plenty of it.  That’s why there won’t be a large number of
Negro players in the majors for some time to come.” Smith believed that the
major leagues would have to wait several years for young black players to graduate
from American sandlots.

 

In ’49, only four African-American players were added to
major league rosters: Luke Easter and Minnie Minoso (Indians), Monte Irvin  (Giants), and Don Newcombe (Dodgers).  A few Latinos made their inaugural big league
appearances, including Mexican second baseman Bobby Avila with the Indians and
Cuban pitcher Enrique Gonzalez of the Senators.   In 1950, the influx of new African-American
players featured only one addition, Sam Jethroe, who debuted with the Boston
Braves.  As Wendell Smith reiterated in
the Pittsburgh Courier that summer,
the wellspring of black players continued to run dry. “When Brooklyn
signed [Jackie] Robinson in 1947, there was a wealth of Negro talent,” Smith
contended.  “Today, however, good Negro
players are hard to find.”  The solution?
Smith called for black colleges to do a better job of developing players. 

          

Among the Latino entrants, Venezuelan shortstop Chico
Carrasquel of the Chicago White Sox highlighted the newcomers, while the Senators
continued their Cuban infatuation, signing five pitchers from the island.  None of the five Washington
newcomers had a major impact in 1950, however, as Washington finished 67-87, 31 games out of
first place.

 

The annoyingly slow pace of minority integration quickened
significantly in 1951, when eight African-American players entered the major
leagues, including a young superstar named Willie Mays. Integration seemed to
be enjoying its first major breakthrough thanks to an influx of young black
talent from the college and high school ranks. 
“There are now 13 Negroes playing in the majors and twice that many in
the minors,” wrote Wendell Smith in the Pittsburgh
Courier
.  “In practically every
league, whether major or minor, it is possible to find an outstanding Negro
player.”  In addition, five Latin
Americans joined big league clubs, although Ray Noble of the New York Giants
and Luis Marquez of the Boston Braves were also included on the list of players
who could be called blacks.  At one point
or another during the season, the Indians featured four black players (Easter,
Doby, Minoso, and newcomer Bobby Avila). The Dodgers carried four African
Americans in Robinson, Campanella, Newcombe, and Bankhead, but no Latinos.  The Giants also carried four black players:
Irvin, Mays, Artie Wilson, and Noble, who was also Cuban.  The Senators added two more Cubans–Cisco
Campos and Willie Miranda–while dropping two of their Latino pitchers.  The St. Louis Browns promoted pitcher Tito
Herrera, of Mexico.

 

In 1952, the Dodgers added two more black players, Joe Black
and Sandy Amoros (a Cuban), but dropped Dan Bankhead from the roster. Amoros
played in only 20 games, so, in essence, the Dodgers’ total number of black
players remained at four. (Don Newcombe missed the season while serving in the
military.)  The Boston Braves signed Buzz
Clarkson and George Crowe, who along with Sam Jethroe, made for a total of
three black players.  Washington
imported hurlers Miguel Fornieles and Raul Sanchez from Cuba, adding
the duo to holdovers Connie Marrero, Julio Moreno, and Sandy Consuegra on the
pitching staff.

 

While the influx of new minority talent in 1952 ranked as
fairly unimpressive, the minor league picture brought some hope for the
future.  A survey by the Pittsburgh Courier showed that the St.
Louis Browns led all organizations with 22 black players in their farm
system.  The Boston Braves ranked second
with 14 black athletes in the minor leagues, while the Pirates followed suit
with 12 and the Senators with nine.

 

In 1953, major league teams reached double figures in black
newcomers, adding 11 to their rosters. 
The Chicago Cubs jumped into the integration business in that season,
promoting Gene Baker and Ernie Banks from the minor leagues.  The Indians added Al Smith and Dave Hoskins,
the Milwaukee Braves signed Billy Bruton and Jim Pendleton, and the Dodgers
promoted Junior Gilliam.  Yet, racism
still existed in terms of unstated and unpublicized quotas. While the total
number of minorities was rising in the minor leagues, individual ballclubs
continued to resist the idea of having too
many black players on their
team.  As baseball columnist Dick Young
wrote in a 1971 edition of the New York
Daily News
: “We are talking about 1953. 
Black ballplayers had been in the majors for only seven years, and there
was still a quota system.  I think the
stylish maximum for that year was four.  At least the Dodgers had four, and whatever
the Dodgers had was accepted as the maximum. 
Don’t laugh.  That was very
serious business in those days. ‘If you have more than four of them on the
field,’ I used to hear, ‘the people will quit on the club.  They’re not ready for it.’ ”

 

The quota system may have cost Brooklyn
the services of the dark-skinned Roberto Clemente. Since the Dodgers already
had three black position players and one African-American pitcher, they may
have been reluctant to sign Clemente to a major league contract.  Teams simply did not want more black players
than whites in their everyday lineup. Instead, the Dodgers signed Clemente to a
minor league deal in February of 1954, meaning they would have to expose
him to a draft of other major league teams after the season. That’s when the
Pirates swooped in, taking Clemente with the first choice.

 

In addition to the quota system, other problems existed. No
teams, including the Dodgers, made much progress in bringing Latinos to the
major leagues in 1953.  The Pirates did
sign their first two Latin Americans, both outfielders: Felipe Montemayor of Mexico and Carlos Bernier of Puerto
Rico.  The Giants added a
black Puerto Rican, Ruben Gomez, to their pitching staff. Hardly a new wave of
Latino talent.                                                                                    

 

Prior to 1954, only a few major league teams (the Dodgers,
Braves, Giants, Indians, and White Sox) had shown any real interest in signing
and promoting black players to the big leagues. 
In fact, most of the 11 remaining teams had yet to debut a black player
at the major league level.  Thankfully,
that trend began to change in 1954, when the St. Louis Cardinals (Tom Alston),
Cincinnati Reds (Nino Escalera), and Senators (Carlos Paula) all debuted their
first black on-the-field performers. The Senators also signed right-hander
Camilo Pascual, who would become the best of their Latino pitchers, but
retained only one Latino holdover from the previous season, Connie Marrero. The
Cardinals also added Mexican left-hander Memo Luna, albeit for one game.   Future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron joined the
Milwaukee Braves in 1954, as did an obscure African-American player named
Charlie White.  But since George Crowe
and Buzz Clarkson had already been dropped from the Braves, the club’s total
number of black players remained stagnant. 
All in all, 14 black players, several of whom were also of Latino
descent, made their major league debuts in 1954. 

 

Baseball’s rate of African-American integration remained
relatively steady over the balance of the decade, while the number of Latino
entries increased, and then dipped.  In
1955, 12 black players made their major league debuts, including a black
Latino, the Pirates’ own Roberto Clemente. 
In terms of Latino talent, three Puerto Ricans (including Clemente),
eight Cubans, and three Panamanians joined major league clubs that season.  Thirteen blacks entered the majors the
following season, including Curt Flood with the Cardinals, Bill White with the
Giants, and Frank Robinson with the Reds. 
Only seven Latinos debuted that season, including Venezuelan Luis
Aparicio. The 1957 season saw the number of black entrants drop slightly–to
10–and featured no major stars.  The
number of new Latino players plummeted to three.  The class of 1958 black newcomers totaled 13,
including African Americans Jim “Mudcat” Grant (Indians), Vada Pinson, (Reds)
and Leon Wagner (San Francisco Giants), and Latino standouts Felipe Alou and
Orlando Cepeda (also with the Giants). 
Alou and Cepeda represented the best of the eight Spanish-speaking
entrants.

 

The Giants were now challenging their fellow West Coast
transplants–the Los Angeles Dodgers–for superiority in the chase for black and
Latino talent.  The additions of Wagner,
Alou and Cepeda to a team that already featured Willie Mays, Bill White, Andre
Rogers, and Ruben Gomez gave San
Francisco an impressive mix of players.  But the Giants were not yet a championship
team.   The Giants’ 80-74 record put them
12 games out in the 1958 National League pennant race.

 

In 1959, major league clubs added a record number of 16
black newcomers, most of whom joined National League teams.  The new wave of black stars was laden with
impressive talent, including future Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (Cardinals),
Willie McCovey (Giants), and Billy Williams (Cubs), All-Stars like Tommy Davis
and Maury Wills (both Dodgers), and solid journeymen performers in Jose Pagan
(Giants) and Earl Wilson (Red Sox). 
Pagan, a native of Puerto Rico, and
Cubans Mike Cuellar (Reds) and Zoilo Versalles (Senators) highlighted the class
of five Latinos who debuted in ’59. 
While the Giants continued their aggressive integrative efforts by
adding both McCovey and Pagan, they also dispatched Bill White (to the
Cardinals) and Ruben Gomez (to the Phillies), leaving them with the same number
of minorities as the previous year.  The
Giants remained third in the National League standings, but did close the gap
to within four games of the first-place Dodgers.

 

The Reds also showed some aggressiveness in adding
minorities to their roster, including Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson to the
everyday lineup, and Cuellar, Luis Arroyo, Don Newcombe, and Orlando Pena to
the pitching staff.  But of that group,
only Robinson, Pinson, and Newcombe enjoyed a high level of impact, and the
Reds, as a team, enjoyed little success. In 1959, Cincinnati finished in a fifth-place tie, 13
games behind the Dodgers.

 

In 1960, both the Reds and Giants regressed in the
standings, although they continued to recruit and promote minority talent.  Dominicans Matty Alou and Juan Marichal
debuted for the Giants in 1960, while the Reds added Latinos Leo Cardenas, Elio
Chacon, Tony Gonzalez, and several other lesser players to their team.  Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Cardinals improved from
second-division status to finish a strong third in the National League.  Although the Cardinals had not yet reached
championship level, their everyday lineup now boasted three minorities: Bill
White, Julian Javier, and Curt Flood.  
The bench included George Crowe and Leon Wagner, and the pitching staff
featured a talented but ineffective Bob Gibson. While the Cardinals, Dodgers,
Giants and Reds continued to lap their competitors in the integration race,
American League teams lagged well behind in the promotion of black and Latino
players to the major leagues.

 

Although baseball had stepped up its level of integration in
the mid-1950’s, none of the pennant-winning or championship teams from 1947 to
1960 could be considered heavily, or substantially integrated.  In 1947, and from 1949 through ’53, the New
York Yankees won the World Series.  The
Yankees, however, did not debut their first black player until 1955, when
Elston Howard earned a promotion from the minor leagues.  In four of those World Series, the Yankees
defeated the Dodgers, who had unquestionably led the way in the effort to
integrate major league baseball with black players.   Despite their impressive pioneering spirit,
the Dodgers numbered no higher than five black players on any of those National
League pennant winners.  Although the
presence of five black athletes on a 25-man roster (or 20 per cent) was
probably considered progressive at the time, it would hardly be considered a heavily integrated roster in the
contemporary context.  The Dodgers had
also signed very few Latino players during that span of years.

 

In 1948, the Indians defeated the Boston Braves four games
to two in the World Series.  The Indians
boasted only two black performers, Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Satchel Paige,
while the Braves featured nary a single African American or Latin American on
the roster.  The 1948 Dodgers, losers to
the Indians in the World Series, included Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella,
Latino outfielder Luis Olmo, and Don Newcombe.  
The 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, who lost four straight games to the
Yankees in the Series, possessed no black or Latino players.

 

That brings us to 1954, when the Giants and Indians squared
off in the Fall Classic.  With Paige no
longer on the team and Luke Easter reduced to six at-bats during the regular
season, only Doby and Dave Pope contributed significantly as minorities to the
Indians’ cause.  A Puerto Rican pitcher,
Jose Santiago, pitched in only one game during the regular season. Meanwhile,
the Giants found themselves down to two African Americans: Mays and Irvin, and
one Latin American, right-hander Ruben Gomez, who won 17 games.

 

The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers made several major inroads on the
integration path.  For the first time, a
World Championship team featured as many as four black players in the regular
lineup: Junior Gilliam at second base, Jackie Robinson at third base, Sandy
Amoros in left field, and Roy Campanella behind the plate.  The team’s best starting pitcher, Don
Newcombe (20-5, 3.19), became the first black hurler to post two 20-win seasons
in the major leagues.  Yet, the Dodgers,
after trading pitcher Joe Black in mid-season, carried no other
African-American players on their pitching staff. Similarly, there were no
black players on the bench.  In total,
black players represented less than 20 per cent of the Dodgers’ roster.

 

In 1956, the Dodgers again faced the Yankees in October, but
lost to New York
in seven games.  Gilliam, Amoros,
Robinson and Newcombe continued to play key roles for the Dodgers, while Elston
Howard represented the Yankees’ sole black contributor.  In ’57, the pennant-winning Yankees added
Harry Simpson to the roster, while the World Champion Milwaukee Braves used two
African-American regulars, Hank Aaron and Billy Bruton.  The two teams met again in ’58, with the
Braves adding only Puerto Rican left-hander Juan Pizarro to their pitching
staff, and the Yankees trading away Simpson in mid-season.

 

In 1959, the Dodgers won their first World Championship
while in Los Angeles,
but by this time their roster composition had changed drastically.  Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe had already
retired, and Sandy Amoros totaled only five games and five at-bats during the
regular season.  On the plus side, Maury
Wills and Tommy Davis made their major league debuts in 1959, although Davis received just one
at-bat, while Wills served primarily as a utilityman.  The Dodgers’ opponent in the World Series,
the Chicago White Sox, carried only two black veterans for part of the season,
Harry Simpson and Larry Doby.

 

In 1960, the Yankees returned to the World Series and faced
the upstart Pirates.  New York carried two African-American
players in Elston Howard and Jesse Gonder, and two Latin Americans in Hector
Lopez and Luis Arroyo. The Pirates featured Roberto Clemente in their starting
lineup; Gene Baker, Joe Christopher (a native of the Virgin
Islands) and R.C. Stevens off the bench; Cuban outfielder Roman
Mejias; and Benny Daniels and Diomedes Olivo on the pitching staff.  The racial makeup of the ’60 Pirates was far
different from the composition of their teams in the early 1970s.

 

Baseball entered a new era in 1961, when the American League
expanded by two teams. The National League followed suit with two expansion
clubs in 1962. In theory, the four new teams would provide additional
opportunities for minority players to make major league rosters.

In the early 1960s, the Dodgers once again set the trend for
signing, developing and promoting black stars to the major leagues. Maury
Wills, Junior Gilliam, Tommy and Willie Davis, and John Roseboro formed a large
percentage of the starting lineups employed by manager Walter Alston.  Yet, the Dodgers’ pitching staff, with no
black Americans and only one Latino on the 1963, ’65, and ’66 staffs, lagged
behind the progressiveness the organization had displayed in the development of
minority position players.

 

The Giants of the early 1960s featured a number of black and
Latino standouts.  The 1962 team, which
included eight minorities, won the National League pennant before bowing to the
Yankees in the World Series.  In 1963,
the Giants maintained their minority corps of Orlando Cepeda, Jose Pagan,
Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, and Juan Marichal, and added players
like Jim Ray Hart, Jesus Alou, and Jose Cardenal to the mix.  So with such an array of talent, why did the
Giants fall off to 88-74, 11 games behind the league-leading Dodgers?  The cause, in part, may have been the
handling of the team’s racial makeup by San
Francisco management. 
The front office discouraged Latino players from associating with each
other.  Manager Alvin Dark banned the
speaking of Spanish in the clubhouse and on the field, a decision that made
Latino players even less comfortable in unfamiliar environs.  “Alvin Dark segregated the team,” recalls
Orlando Cepeda.  “He [divided] the
whites, the blacks, and Latins.  We had
to strike against that, you know, being black and being Latin.”

 

Cepeda says that Dark regularly blamed Giant losses on the
team’s minority stars, including himself, Mays, and McCovey.  Such criticism affected the team’s morale and
performance. The Giants eventually traded off many of their best Latino and
black players, including Cepeda (to the Cardinals), Cardenal (Angels), Pagan
(Pirates), Matty Alou (Pirates), and Felipe Alou (Braves) in a series of
disastrous deals.  If not for those
regrettable decisions, the Giants might have become baseball’s first heavily
integrated championship team.

 

The compositions of teams like the Dodgers, Giants, and St.
Louis Cardinals throughout the 1960s displayed the National League’s
superiority in the quest to fully integrate the major leagues.  As Frank Robinson, a veteran of both the
American and the National leagues, pointed out in a 1972 interview with Sport magazine, the NL had outdone the AL from the start in the
effort to integrate.  “The National
League was the first to sign black players and it has remained ahead all of
these years,” Robinson told sportswriter Bill Libby.  “And so many outstanding players are black
that it’s hard to have an outstanding team without your share of black
players.” As a result, the quality of play in the National League had surpassed
that of the American League by the mid-1960s.  
“It seemed like the National League teams were willing to sign any
promising prospect, regardless of color,” said Robinson, “while the American
League was only interested in the outstanding, ‘can’t-miss’ black prospect.”

 

In 1969, the major leagues expanded by four teams, and
re-aligned into four divisions, with East and West factions in both the
American and National leagues. Both divisional winners, the Baltimore Orioles
and Minnesota Twins, exhibited some of the typical progress enjoyed during the
sixties, when several teams made strides in integrating their rosters.  But neither club’s level of integration was
particularly astounding. The Orioles, winners in the American League East,
featured Frank Robinson, Paul Blair, Don Buford, and Elrod Hendricks in the
starting lineup; Dave May, Chico Salmon, and Curt Motton off the bench; and
Mike Cuellar and Marcelino Lopez on the pitching staff, That gave the Orioles a
total of nine minorities.  The champions
of the American League West, the Twins, numbered five African-American and
Latino starters in their lineup: Rod Carew, Leo Cardenas, Tony Oliva, Cesar
Tovar, and John Roseboro.  Off the bench,
the Twins’ roster included Jim Holt and Herm Hill, while the pitching staff had
only one black contributor, Tom Hall. 

 

In the National League, the eventual World Champion New York
Mets featured Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Donn Clendenon, Ed Charles, and Amos
Otis as black position players, but only one African-American pitcher, Al
Jackson, managed to play a full season in the majors.  Another African American, left-hander Jesse
Hudson, pitched in only one game. In the West, the Atlanta Braves featured a
nearly all-black infield, with Orlando Cepeda, Felix Millan, and Sonny Jackson,
and an all-minority outfield of Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, and Tony
Gonzalez.  In fact, it seems that only
the lack of an African-American or Latino catcher prevented the Braves from
fielding the major leagues’ first all-black starting lineup.   The Braves’ bench featured Rico Carty, Gil
Garrido, Tommie Aaron, Ralph Garr, Oscar Brown, and Dusty Baker.  Yet, the numbers on minorities on the bench,
which appear impressive at first, are deceiving. Of that group of reserves,
only Carty had any significant impact. 
Garr, Brown, and Baker, all young players recently promoted from the
minors, played very briefly that season. And in contrast to their everyday
lineup, the Braves’ pitching staff was completely white.

 

In 1970, the Orioles repeated as American League Eastern
Division champions, and returned all of their African-American and Latino
players from the previous summer.  The
Orioles added rookie outfielder and future star Don Baylor, giving them a total
of 10 minorities.  But, of that group,
Curt Motton had little impact off the bench, Dave May accumulated only 31
at-bats before being traded during the season, and Baylor played in only eight
games, batting just .235.  Out West, the
Twins repeated as divisional winners, after adding Latino utilityman Minnie
Mendoza and dropping veteran catcher John Roseboro.   The pitching staff included only two
minorities in Tom Hall and Luis Tiant.

 

In the National League, the Reds captured the West, kicking
off what would become one of their most successful decades in franchise
history.  The starting lineup featured
two American blacks, Lee May and Bobby Tolan, and two Latinos, Tony Perez and
Dave Concepcion.  Off the bench, the trio
of Hal McRae, Angel Bravo, and Pat Corrales (an American-born Mexican) provided
quality play.  The pitching staff
included an African-American starter, Wayne Simpson, who won 14 games, and a
Latino reliever, Pedro Borbon, who struggled in 12 appearances.  All in all, the 1970 Reds featured a decent
level of integration, but nothing that could be considered eye-popping.

 

In 1970, the Pirates won the first of three straight
National League Eastern Division titles. 
Danny Murtaugh’s regular lineup included Manny Sanguillen, Willie
Stargell, Matty Alou, and Roberto Clemente, while the bench boasted a number of
black and Latino contributors: Al Oliver, Jose Pagan, Johnny Jeter, Dave Cash,
Gene Clines, and Jose Martinez.  Dock
Ellis headlined a starting rotation that also included Bob Veale.  In the bullpen, Mudcat Grant, Orlando Pena,
Al McBean, and Eduardo Acosta each pitched for the Bucs during the season.

 

In total, 15 minorities played for the Pirates in 1970.  So why not consider them the first heavily integrated championship team in
history?  While Sanguillen, Stargell,
Alou, and Clemente all had an impact as starters, the Pirates did not feature
an African American or Latino who played the infield as a regular throughout
the season.  Dave Cash had not yet overtaken
Bill Mazeroski at second base, and Jackie Hernandez had not yet joined the
team.  Of the bench players, neither Martinez nor Jeter
enjoyed much success, while Gene Clines spent most of the season in the minor
leagues.  Of the relievers, only Mudcat
Grant pitched effectively, and he actually spent less than half the season in Pittsburgh.  Important role players like Vic Davalillo,
Rennie Stennett, and Ramon Hernandez had yet to make their Pittsburgh debuts.  Furthermore, the Pirates of 1970 were not a
championship team in the classic sense.  They won the division with a record-low 89
wins, but failed to win the National League pennant, losing to the Reds in
three straight games.

 

In 1971, the Orioles repeated as American League champions,
but their level of integration had once again remained stagnant, what with the
addition of Grant Jackson and the subtraction of Marcelino Lopez from the
pitching staff.  In the West, the Oakland A’s won the first
of five straight division championships with an interesting mix of black,
Latino, and white players.  Campy
Campaneris and Reggie Jackson served important roles as starters, while Tommy
Davis and former Pirate Angel Mangual headlined a productive bench that also
included George Hendrick, Felipe Alou, Frank Fernandez (an American-born
Spaniard), Dwain Anderson, and Ramon Webster. 
On the pitching staff, Vida Blue, Diego Segui, Blue Moon Odom, and
Mudcat Grant all contributed to a team that piled up 101 victories during the
regular season.  In total, 13 African
Americans and Latinos made appearances for the A’s that season.  On the down side, the ’71 A’s featured only
two African-American or Latino regulars in their lineup; Felipe Alou batted
only eight times before being traded to the Yankees; and Hendrick, Fernandez,
Anderson, and Webster had no impact.  The
’71 A’s, much like the Pirates of 1970, lost the playoffs in three straight
games, falling to a superior team from Baltimore.

 

The San Francisco Giants claimed the National League West in
1971, and featured a number of African-American and Latino standouts, including
Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Tito Fuentes, and Juan Marichal.  A young George Foster, veteran third
baseman-outfielder Jim Ray Hart, and three obscure players (Bernie Williams,
Frank Johnson, and Jimmy Rosario) saw playing time off the bench. Of that
group, however, Foster batted only 105 times before being traded to the Reds in
the infamous Frank Duffy deal, and Hart played in only 31 games because of
injuries.  Furthermore, the pitching
staff, outside of Marichal, contained no minority hurlers.

 

Quite clearly, a number of teams–beginning with the Dodgers,
Cardinals, Giants, and Reds in the early 1960s–had enjoyed substantial progress
in populating their teams with high-quality Latino and African-American
players.  These National League teams had
all succeeded in scouting and signing minority players, and promoting the most
talented ones to the highest professional level.  During this time period, the starting lineups
in Los Angeles, St. Louis,
San Francisco, and Cincinnati served as evidence of the National
League’s willingness to bring the American black and Latino player to the
forefront.  Yet, most of the minority
players on these–and other–teams played as regulars, particularly at first base
and in the outfield.  For example, the
1967 World Champion Cardinals included only three minorities on their bench:
Alex Johnson, Dave Ricketts, and Bobby Tolan. 
In general, very few African-American and Latino players made major
league rosters as utility players, lending credence to the theory that most
teams were operating under the following unwritten rule: If you were an African American or Latino in the fifties and sixties,
and weren’t considered a star, or at least good enough to make it as a starter,
you generally weren’t going to be included on the roster–at all.  The utilityman, backup and pinch-hitting jobs
would fall to the white players, unless you, as a black player, had shown that
you were far and away a superior player.

 

Much like the tendency to keep black and Latino players from
having bench jobs, many clubs discouraged the development of minority pitchers
and catchers. Even the most progressive National League teams of the sixties
had lagged behind in their development of African-American and Latino pitchers.  Black players like Bob Gibson and Don
Newcombe and Latinos such as Juan Marichal represented a minuscule percentage
of teams’ pitching staffs. 
Unfortunately, very few organizations exhibited trust in the mental
capacities of African Americans and Latinos as pitchers.  Therefore, those teams rarely recruited
minority amateurs as pitchers, but
sought to convert them to the so-called “athletic” positions of center field
and shortstop.  Secondly, only the most
dominant minority pitchers gained advancement to the majors.  Borderline black and Latino pitchers
competing for fourth starting spots and long relief roles often lost out to
white pitchers of similar abilities.

 

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Jackie Robinson and
others, minority players had long since proven their worth to major league
teams, but only as everyday star players. Yet, most major league teams had
little interest in keeping African Americans and Latinos around in any other
capacity. In that way, some general managers and owners could maintain an acceptable
quota of dark-skinned players while still keeping the overall minority numbers
down. At the same time, they could continue to reinforce their own unfortunate
beliefs in the mental shortcomings of black and Latin American players.

 

Thankfully, those trends began to diminish by the late
1960s, when teams like the Pirates and Cardinals advanced their levels of
integration. By 1971, the idea of a racial quota received a severe blow when
the Pirates fielded the first all-black lineup in major league history. That
occurred on September 1. Less than two months later, those same Pirates became
world champions of baseball.

From the Outfield to the Infield

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For about 20 years now, most teams have resisted trying to
move outfielders to infield positions. As Bill James has written, these kinds
of moves generally flop–and flop badly. Most outfielders do not make good third
basemen, or second basemen, or shortstops. The transition to first base is
easier, but I’m really talking about making the shift to the middle infield
positions, or the hot corner, which are positions that require a high degree of
skill. Just ask Hensley Meulens, or
Keith Moreland, or Cory Snyder, or Jim Ray Hart, or Tommy Harper, among the
dozens who have struggled in trying to become infielders. If you have an outfielder that you want to move
somewhere else, try moving him to DH–or maybe to the bench. That’s the safer
bet.

 

Although I am sure they are very aware of the inherent problems,
the Royals and Cardinals are trying to buck the trend in 2009. Both teams have
taken starting outfielders and moved them to second base. In the case of the
Royals, they haven’t committed to Mark Teahen as their everyday second baseman,
but want him to be a versatile backup capable of playing second, third, and the
outfield. With regard to the Cardinals, they’ve decided that Skip Schumaker
(you have to love a player named Skip) will be their regular second baseman, partnering with new shortstop Khalil
Greene. A surplus of outfielders (including the looming presence of super
prospect Colby Rasmus), along with a shortage of middle infielders, convinced
the Cards to make the radical move.

 

In spite of what the baseball history books tell us, I like
what the Cardinals and Royals are doing. Middle infielders are hard to find,
especially ones who can hit with authority. If Teahen and Schumaker, who are OK
offensive players as outfielders go, can make the transition to second base,
they will become that much more valuable. There’s also a larger issue at work
here. Players and teams have become all too rigid about positions in recent
years, to the point where specialization has reached a dangerous extreme.
Versatility, which was once a highly valued skill, has become degraded. This is
a trend that really makes no sense, because with teams now carrying 12 or 13
pitchers on their 25-man rosters, they often have only three or four available
bench players on a given night. Given that reality, teams need a greater supply
of versatile players–now more than ever.

 

In the cases of Teahen and Schumaker, there are some factors
working in their favor. Both are relatively young players–Teahen is 27,
Schumaker is 29–and both are good athletes. Both will have the entirety of
spring training–a full six weeks–to learn the nuances of their new position.
Additionally, neither the Royals nor Cardinals play their home games on
artificial turf, where the increased speed of batted balls would make the transition
to the infield more difficult. Ultimately, if the experiments fail, the teams
can always shift the players back to their original positions. Teahen could
move back to the outfield, making David DeJesus available in trade talks.
Schumaker could play center field, making Rick Ankiel a more viable candidate for
a trade. Both teams clearly have options.

 

The Cardinals and Royals are gambling here, taking a chance
on injury and embarrassment. But if these moves work out, the benefits could be
significant and tangible. And heck, if you can’t experiment with position
changes in spring training, when can you? 

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The Hall of Fame’s Manager Ballot

Next Monday, the Hall of Fame will announce the results of its newly structured balloting for managers, executives, umpires, and pioneers. A field of seven skippers will be considered by a 16-man panel that meets this Sunday, December 2. The group of managers includes Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Southworth, and “Dick” Williams.

Throughout the week, we’ll analyze the candidacies of the three men who stand the strongest chances of election–Herzog, Martin, and Williams. Let’s begin with “The White Rat.”

As a journeyman outfielder-first baseman, Whitey Herzog had little lasting impact on the game. His post-playing career, however, has produced far more meaningful storylines. During the 1970s and eighties, Herzog became a revolutionary manager, tailoring two ball clubs to a slash-and-speed style that fit perfectly with their distinctive ballparks.

Though it doesn’t technically have any effect on his Hall of Fame candidacy as a manager, Herzog’s work as a scout with the old Kansas City A’s represented the first groundbreaking measures of his post-playing career. Working under the employ of the difficult and demanding Charlie Finley, Herzog signed seven players who eventually made the major league roster, including talented but mercurial right-hander Chuck Dobson. Herzog also scouted Don Sutton for the A’s, strongly recommending to the owner that he sign the future Hall of Fame right-hander. The A’s would have followed through on Herzog’s legwork if not for some Finley foolishness; he insisted that Sutton adopt a nickname, ala Jim “Catfish” Hunter and John “Blue Moon” Odom. When Sutton refused the demand, Finley withdrew the contract offer. As a fan of Finley’s A’s, I can only imagine how formidable an early 1970s rotation of Hunter, Vida Blue, Sutton, and Ken Holtzman would have been for the franchise that had had relocated to Oakland.

After fighting Finley over travel expenses, Herzog left the A’s to become a coach with the Mets. He soon moved up to the front office, becoming the team’s director of player personnel in 1967 and having an influence on the development of minor league talent. As young pitching becoming the hallmark of the franchise in the late 1960s, the Mets shocked all observers by winning the World Series in 1969, with Herzog playing at least a small, indirect role.

From there, Herzog feuded with Mets chairman M. Donald Grant and then assumed his first managerial role with the Rangers. Greatly influenced by the teaching of Casey Stengel, who had managed the Yankees while Herzog played in their farm system, Whitey began to put some of Stengel’s principles, such as platooning and roster usage, into play. Unfortunately, Herzog had little talent at his disposal. Presiding over directionless franchises in Texas and California (where he served the Angels on an interim basis), Herzog managed without fanfare, acclaim, or success. Then came what would prove to be a dream job–two miles from his home in Kansas City. In taking over the upstart Royals in 1975, Herzog assumed leadership of a team that had won nothing since its inception in 1969.

Realizing that the fast artificial turf and lengthy dimensions of Royals Stadium penalized slow, plodding sluggers, and favored players who could run and defend, Herzog made quick and drastic changes to his lineup. He benched slow-footed second baseman Cookie Rojas and aging right fielder Vada Pinson, replacing them with Frank White and Al Cowens, respectively. Cowens and White had their flaws offensively, but both ran well, and both played the field exceptionally. White’s blanket-like range at second base, coupled with Cowens’ range and throwing arm in right field, fit Royals Stadium to a tee. On offense, Herzog showed a preference for players who could get on base, at a time when on-base percentage was not emphasized the way it is in today’s game. He gave players like Hal McRae and Darrell Porter increased roles, taking advantage of their ability to hit and draw walks.

With “Whiteyball” in place, the Royals intimidated other teams with their ability to pepper line drives from foul line to foul line while aggressively stealing bases. Elevating the team from non-contention in 1975 and overcoming the lack of a dominant closer, Herzog oversaw three American League West titles from 1976 through 1978. Unfortunately, each season ended with a League Championship Series loss to the rival Yankees.

It was during his Royals’ tenure that Herzog first began to show his intolerance of players he believed to be drug abusers or heavy drinkers. Suspecting that the play of slugging first baseman John Mayberry was being affected by cocaine and alcohol abuse, Herzog convinced the front office to rid the team of its cleanup hitter in the spring of 1978, when the Royals sold him to the Blue Jays in a cash deal. (Herzog would later do the same with the Cardinals, ridding them of Keith Hernandez, one of St. Louis’ key contributors to the 1982 World Championship. Unlike the Mayberry deal, the Hernandez trade would badly hurt Herzog’s team, especially in the short term.) Although the Royals ended up winning the AL West without Mayberry, Herzog’s influence in riding the popular slugger out of town made him a target within the organization. A developing feud with batting coach Charlie Lau only exacerbated the situation; when the Royals finished second in 1979, the front office had its excuse to fire Herzog.

To his full credit, Herzog did not allow the firing to become a career-killer. He became the manager of the Cardinals in 1980, then actually modified his career path, moving to the front office and becoming St. Louis’ general manager. By October, Herzog had assumed the dual role of general manager and manager. (Such an arrangement in today’s game is almost unthinkable.) With the Cardinals, he did exactly what he did to the Royals–but now with full power over player personnel decisions. Herzog shipped out slower players and sluggers, replacing them with superior defensive players who could run. Through a series of blockbuster trades, Herzog phased out Ted Simmons, Leon “Bull” Durham, Garry Templeton, and Ken Reitz. In most cases, he brought in a better defender to man each position. At catcher, Darrell Porter replaced Simmons. At shortstop, Ozzie Smith succeeded Templeton. In another move, Herzog stole Willie McGee from the Yankees for Bob Sykes, giving the Cardinals a top-flight center fielder. The succession of deals also netted a Hall of Fame closer, Bruce Sutter, who gave the Cardinals a lockdown quality in the late innings.

Emphasizing speed, defense, and the ability to hit line drives into the spacious outfield gaps, the Cardinals conformed to the fast-paced artificial surface of Busch Stadium. In spite of a shocking lack of power, the Cardinals scored runs efficiently while putting enormous pressure on opposing defenders. They also overcame a lack of dominant starting pitching, in part because of Herzog’s masterful use of the bullpen and overall skill as an in-game strategist. The end result? The Cardinals won the World Series in 1982, then followed up with National League pennants in 1985 and ’87. They narrowly missed a second title under Herzog’s watch in ’85, in part because of Don Denkinger’s blatantly bad call at first base in Game Six of the World Series.

With three pennants, one World Championship, and a successful reign as general manager in St. Louis (a later stint as Angels GM proved largely ineffective), Herzog built up a considerable Hall of Fame resume. But is it strong enough? Three straight losses in the American League Championship Series certainly damage Herzog’s cause. (Unlike some, I’m not a big proponent of the “crapshoot” theory of postseason baseball.) The personality conflicts in Kansas City led to his premature firing, denying him of an opportunity to manage the Royals in 1980, when they ended up winning the AL pennant under a lesser manager in Jim Frey. And then there were the two World Series failures in the mid-1980s, with the Cardinals losing to seemingly inferior teams in Kansas City and Minnesota, despite building early leads in each Series. The defeat at the hands of the Royals was especially disheartening, given the Cardinals’ three-games-to-one lead in the Series.

Objectively, Herzog seems like a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. Managing for part or all of 18 seasons, he compiled a .532 winning percentage, which compares favorably with Tommy Lasorda (.526) and Bill McKechnie (.524). He dared to buck–and successfully so–the conventional wisdom that dictated power hitting was a prerequisite to making the postseason. He also succeeded in the dual role of manager-general manager, an incredible accomplishment given the time demands of both jobs. Yet, there were two large failings: Herzog’s inability to coexist with others, which short-circuited his Royals tenure, and the ill-fated trade of Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey, which weakened the Cardinals while simultaneously strengthening a division rival in New York. While a reasonable argument for Herzog’s election can be made, I think he may have fallen one World Championship (or perhaps just one league pennant) shy of Hall of Fame induction.

1968 Revisited

It is the matchup that no one predicted. Two teams that staggered into the postseason after sorrowful Septembers will now meet for the right to be called World Champions.

The 2006 versions of the Cardinals and Tigers will be hard-pressed to match the drama and charm of 38 years ago–the last time the two teams met in postseason play. In 1968, the two storied franchises squared off in the last World Series before the adoption of divisional play and the League Championship. Let’s take a look back.

Although the 1968 World Series didn’t include a single one-run game–with only one game decided by as little as two runs–it did feature a slew of memorable moments and record-breaking accomplishments. An intriguing decision made by one of the managers prior to the Series also made headlines. Tigers skipper Mayo Smith decided to replace light-hitting shortstop Ray Oyler with converted center fielder Mickey Stanley, who had never before played the infield in his major league career. The move accommodated the return of Al Kaline from the disabled list, while necessitating the shift of Jim Northrup from right field to center. Despite some criticism, the move paid off for Smith. Stanley played shortstop without incident, while Kaline’s heavy hitting helped carry the Tigers’ offense…

In a Game One matchup of Cy Young Award winners, Bob Gibson outdueled Denny McLain on his way to striking out 17 Tigers, breaking the World Series record for most strikeouts in a single game. McLain, a 30-game winner during the regular season, was knocked from the box in the sixth inning…

The Cardinals took a three-games-to-one lead in the Series on Gibson’s 10-strikeout gem in Game Four, only to watch the Tigers storm back with victories in the fifth and sixth games…

Pitching Game Seven on only two days’ rest, Series MVP Mickey Lolich outlasted Gibson, 4-1, to pick up his third victory of the Series. Jim Northrup’s two-run triple in the seventh (which came courtesy of Curt Flood’s misjudgment of a fly ball) salted the game and completed the comeback for Detroit. The Tigers became only the third team in history to win a Series after trailing three games to one…

Several Hall of Famers participated in the Series, including Gibson, Lou Brock, Steve Carlton, and Orlando Cepeda for the Cardinals, and Al Kaline and the late Eddie Mathews for the Tigers. Mathews’ three pinch-hit at-bats represented his final major league appearances as a player…

Brock received strong criticism for his failure to slide into home plate on a close play in Game Five. Bill Freehan tagged out Brock, quashing a fifth-inning rally. Kaline’s bases loaded single in the seventh spearheaded the Tiger victory…

Aside from the Hall of Famers, a trio of notables participated in the Series for the Cardinals: catcher Tim McCarver, who has since gained more fame as a network television broadcaster; center fielder Curt Flood, perhaps the game’s most important labor pioneer; and right fielder Roger Maris, the onetime American League home run king who would announce his retirement after the Series…

In a sidenote, Jose Feliciano stirred controversy with his unusual rendition of the National Anthem prior to Game Five at Tiger Stadium. The length of the anthem particularly annoyed Mickey Lolich, who felt that his preparation for Game Five was disrupted by Feliciano’s slow delivery.