Sunday, October 11, 2015

Unusual Major League Baseball Playoff Events/Records

   The playoffs just started recently for Major League Baseball, so I thought I'd do a post about them.  Most of these events/records are for the World Series, but a few are about the playoffs.  A note about statistics--the number/number/number "slash" is, respectively, batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage.  OPS+ is on base percentage plus slugging, adjusted for ballpark, time period, etc., and 100 is average.  Similarly, ERA+ is earned run average adjusted for the time period and ball parks, etc., and 100 is average, too.

1) Shoe polish and the surname "Jones" have had important impacts in two World Series.  Vernal "Nippy"Jones was a journeyman, mostly reserve player from 1946-57, hitting .267/.304/.392 with an OPS+ of 82.  However, he managed to make a difference in the 1957 Series vs. the New York Yankees while playing for the Milwaukee Braves.  In Game 4, with his Braves down 2 games to 1, he led off the 10th inning.  A low pitch was called a ball, but Jones insisted it had hit his foot.  When he retrieved the ball and showed home plate umpire Augie Donatelli a bit of shoe polish on it, he was awarded first base.  This opened the door for a Braves rally of 3 runs, which resulted in the Braves evening up the Series, which they would go on to win in 7 games.  Twelve years later a similar thing happened, in the 1969 Series between the New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles.  Cleon Jones was a better player than Nippy, batting .281/.339/.404 OPS+ of 110 in 14 seasons.  In Game 5 with his Mets up 3 games to 1, he led off the 6th inning with his team down 3-0.  Once again, Jones claimed he was hit on the foot with the pitch, while the umpire disagreed.  And once again an examination of the ball showed a telltale patch of shoe polish, and Jones was awarded first base.  The next batter, Donn Clendenon, hit a 2 run home run, sparking a Mets rally that resulted in them winning the game 5-3, and the Series in 5 games.

2) Playing in a World Series is a crap shoot for players.  Sometimes little known, modestly talented players are on Series rosters, while great, Hall of Fame players have the bad luck to be stuck on bad teams for their entire career.  The following is a list of players who played the most games without ever playing in a World Series.
     a. 2831 Rafael Palmeiro, in his 20 year career from 1986-2005.
     b. 2671 Ken Griffey, Jr. in his 22 year career, from 1989-2010.
     c. 2627 Andre Dawson in his 21 year, Hall of Fame career, from 1976-96.
     d. 2528 Ernie Banks in his 19 year, Hall of Fame career from 1953-71.
     e. 2527 Julio Franco in his 23 year career, from 1982-2007.
     f. 2488 Billy Williams in his 18 year, Hall of Fame career from 1959-76.
     g. 2469 Rod Carew, 19 years, from 1967-85, also a Hall of Famer.
     h. 2425 Bobby Abreau, 18 years, from 1996-2014.
     i. 2422 Luke Appling, in his 20 year, Hall of Fame career from 1930-50.
     j. 2409 Mickey Vernon, 20 years, from 1939-60.
         (Note that Ken Griffey will surely be a Hall of Famer when he's eligible, and Palmeiro would have been if he hadn't used performance-enhancing drugs.  Also, Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki may make this list if they play next year and don't make the Series.

3) This one's tragic.  Donnie Moore was a decent reliever in his career, posting totals of a 43-40 won-loss record, with a 3.67 ERA, 89 saves, a 1.350 WHIP ratio (walks and hits per inning pitched), and an adjusted ERA of 111.  In 1986, his California Angels were up 3-1 in the ALCS versus the Boston Red Sox, and were up 5-2 in the 9th inning, at home.  However, the Sox closed the lead to 5-4 when Don Baylor hit a 2 run home run.  Closer Moore came in with 2 outs, and Rich Gedman on first.  Moore had a 2-2 count on Dave Henderson.  One more strike and the Angels are in the World Series.  The fans are going nuts.  However, Henderson goes deep, giving the Sox a 6-5 lead.  A gloom settles over the stadium.  However, the Angels aren't done.  They manage to tie the game up in their half of the 9th.  Moore is still in the game, and he gives up a run in the 11th, on a sac fly to......Dave Henderson again.  The Angels lose the game.  They also lose the next two games, 10-4, and 8-1, so the Red Sox go to the Series (where they have arguably a more gut-wrenching loss to the Mets).  Moore is crushed.  He plays two more seasons with California, but he loses his closer's job and is not a fan favorite anymore.  He's released, and picked up by the Kansas City Royals, who assign him to their minor leagues.  Pitching badly, he's released from there, and his career is over.  Then on July 18, 1989 he gets into a fight with his wife, and shoots her 3 times.  Then, while she's been taken to the hospital, he fatally shoots himself.  Fortunately, his wife at least survives.

4) Figuring out who the worst player who ever won a World Series is obviously a matter of opinion.  But I'd like to put up Billy Bates, of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.  He did very well in the Reds' unlikely 4 game sweep of the heavily favored Oakland Athletics.  In Game 2 he beat out an infield single in the bottom of the 10th off of highly regarded reliever Dennis Eckersley, and then scored the winning run on Joe Oliver's single.  But let's look at his career numbers, in 2 season, mostly with the Milwaukee Brewers.  He went 6 for 48 at the plate, with 4 walks, 11 runs, 1 double,  2 rbi's, and 8 stolen bases (in 9 attempts).  So he slashed .125/.189/.146, with an OPS of .335 and an adjusted OPS of -5!  There's many pitchers who do better than that!  I don't mean to be nasty--after all, he did make the Majors, which only a scant few players do.  But still.  I'm amused that he does have his fans, though.  On the Baseball Reference website, people can sponsor a player's page, and if they do they can include a brief sentence or two about the player.  Bate's is, "One of the greatest double-baggers who has more World Series rings than Ken Griffey, Barry Bonds, and Frank Thomas--COMBINED!  Ask Dennis Eckersley if he remembers Billy."

5) Here's another list.  These guys played the most games while never playing in the postseason at all.  (Remember, until 1969 there was only the World Series, played between the American League and National League champs.  From 1969 to 1993 each league split into 2 divisions, and the leader of each played each other in a Championship Series (with the winners meeting in the World Series), meaning there were a total of 4 playoff teams.  After 1993 each league split into 3 divisions, and added a wild card, meaning there was a total of 8 playoff teams.  And then in the past few years a 2nd wild card team was added, bring the current total up to 10 playoff teams.  A few of these are repeats from the previous list.
      a. 2528 Ernie Banks, 1953-71, 19 seasons, Hall of Famer.
      b. 2422 Luke Appling, 1930-50, 20 seasons, Hall of Famer.  
      c. 2409 Mickey Vernon, 1939-60, 20 seasons.
      d. 2405 Buddy Bell, 1972-89, 18 years.
      e. 2243 Ron Santo, 1960-74, 15 seasons, Hall of Famer.
      f.  2209 Joe Torre, 1960-77, 18 seasons, Hall of Famer as manager.
      g. 2155 Toby Harrah, 1969-86, 17 seasons.
      h. 2147 Harry Heilmann, 1914-32, 17 seasons.
      i. 2109 Eddie Yost, 1944-62, 18 seasons.
      j. 2093 Roy McMillan, 1951-66, 16 seasons.

6) The 1920 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers) saw something unique.  In Game 5 second baseman Bill Wambsganss made a play with men on first and second.  The batter, Clarence Mitchell, hit a line drive that Wambsganss caught for an out, and then Bill stepped on 2nd base to force out Pete Kilduff, and then tagged out Otto Miller who was near second as he was running on the hit and run play.  To date, this is the only unassisted triple play in Series history (and one of the rare ones across the board).  People seemed to recall this well, almost too well for Wambsganss, it seems.  He was quoted as saying, "You'd think I was born the day before and died on the day after."  So let's buck this trend and go a little deeper.  Wambsganss was considered a great fielder, but clearly was a weak hitter, going .259/.328/.327 with an OPS+ of 78 in his 13 year career from 1914-26.  (And in the 1920 Series he only went 4 for 26, or .154/.214/.154.)  The Indians 1920 season was tragically memorable as well.  Their shortstop Ray Chapman, was killed after being hit in the head by a pitch from Yankee pitcher Carl Mays.  (To date, luckily, the only such fatality in Major League history.)  Game 5 otherwise saw some firsts and oddities.  Elmer Smith hit the first grand slam in Series history, and Jim Bagby hit the first home run by a pitcher in a Series.  Also, on the day of the game Brooklyn pitcher Rube Marquard (later a Hall of Famer) was arrested for scalping tickets!  (He was released to play in the game, and pitched in relief.  Later he was found guilty but fined only $1 and court costs (for a total of $3.80).  But the Robins released him, and his wife divorced him.)  Wambsganss later managed for both an attempted pro indoor baseball league, and then for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League for 2 seasons (the league featured in the movie "A League of Their Own").

7) Since the Series started in 1903, there have been two years that it hasn't been played.  The first was 1904, when the National League champs, the New York Giants, decided it wasn't worth playing the American League leading Boston Americans (later the Red Sox).  The National League, around since 1876, considered the 1901-born American League as young upstarts, and hated that their young rivals had signed away some of their players.  The Giants' opinions were short lived, though, as they decided to play the next year against the Philadelphia Athletics (and won).  Even during World Wars 1 and 2 baseball managed to play the Series, albeit sometimes with many of their star players away at war.  Alas, in 1994 a labor dispute saw the season, and the playoffs and Series, cancelled.  In case you're curious, the leaders at the time of the abbreviated season's end were the Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, and the Indians as the wild card in the American League, while the Expos, Reds, Dodgers, and the Braves as wild card would have represented the National League.  Also, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Matt Williams were on pace to challenge the season home run record (then Maris's 61) and Tony Gwynn may have hit .400, as he was at .394.

8) Pinpointing who the worst teams were to make, and then win a Series is of course also a matter of opinion.  But going by season records the worst pennant winner was the 1973 New York Mets, with a 82-79 (.509 winning percentage), and the worst Series winner was the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, 83-78 (.516 winning percentage).

9) Bill Bevens was a decent, but unspectacular pitcher for 4 years, going 40-36, with a 3.08 ERA, 1,298 WHIP, and an adjusted ERA of 113.  But while playing for the New York Yankees in the 1947 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers he came agonizingly close to throwing the first no-hitter in the Series.  (Yankee Don Larsen threw a perfect game in 1956, and Philadelphia Phillie Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in the NLDS in 2010 for the only postseason no-hitter/perfect games to date.)  He was up 2-1 and had two outs in the 9th inning.  Men were on first and second due to walks.  One more batter till history.  And then pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto hit a double, breaking up the no-hitter, scoring two runs and losing the game for Bevens and the Yankees.  (The Yankees went on to win in 7 games.)  But actually, Bevens did set a Series pitching record, one which I think will never be broken.  He walked 10 Dodgers in the game!

10) Mike Andrews was a solid infielder in his 8 year career, from 1966-73.  He was part of the Red Sox's "Impossible Dream" 1967 pennant winning team, and later played with the Oakland Athletics.  In the 1973 Series against the New York Mets, things got ugly, and weird.  Game 2 went into extra innings, tied 6-6.  Andrews had come in to play second in the 8th inning.  In the 12th inning the Mets scored 4 runs, helped by Andrew's 2 fielding errors.  The Athletics ended up losing 10-7.  After the game, flamboyant and controversial Athletic's owner Charlie Finley had a doctor perform an impromptu medical examination of Andrews.  Saying it was for the best of the team, Finley badgered Andrews into signing a document claiming he had injured his shoulder.  In this way Finley could put Andrews on the injury list, and call up another player to replace Andrews, namely, Manny Trillo.  The league, the Athletics players, and fans all could figure out that Finley was acting sleazy, and shortly thereafter, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn disregarded the injury claim and forced Finley to reinstate Andrews.  Andrews told the press the whole story about how he was pressured to lie about the injury.  When Andrews pinch hit later in the Series, even the opposing Mets fans at Shea gave him a standing ovation.  That was Andrew's final moment in the Majors, but the A's did win it in 7 games.  Later Andrews became a highly regarded director of the Jimmy Fund, a cancer-fighting charity.

11)  To date, 8 teams have never won a World Series.  The Texas Rangers (formerly the second incarnation of the Washington Senators), Tampa Bay Rays, the Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos), the Houston Astros, the Seattle Mariners, the Colorado Rockies, the San Diego Padres, and the Milwaukee Brewers (formerly the Seattle Pilots) are still waiting to claim baseball's title.  The Nationals and Mariners haven't even been bridesmaids, so to speak, as they have never even played in a World Series.  (Clearly this is as of this moment--the Astros and Rangers are still in the playoffs as I write this.)  (Update- cross the Houston Astros off this list, as they won the
2017 World Series.)
     Oh, and for any foreign readers, admittedly the name "World" Series is a bit of a misnomer, and rather conceited on Major League Baseball's part, as aside from Canada, there are no other teams from other countries.  Unlike say, the World Cup for soccer (football), which is truly representative of the entire world for that sport.  But, it is the name of the event here, so I'll use it anyway.

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