Friday, October 25, 2013

World Series Errors

With the first two games of the World Series featuring seven errors and multiple mental mistakes, it may be interesting to revisit the most famous errors in World Series history. It is also the 27th anniversary of the Buckner Error.

It seems fitting that the first error in modern (since 1903) World Series history was made by a member of the Boston Americans (now Red Sox). Second baseman Hobe Ferris (the chap on the left) booted a ball hit by Pittsburgh's Kitty Bransfield in the first inning of the first game. There were two further throwing errors in the inning, leading to three runs for the Pirates.

On October 16, 1912, the New York Giants entered the 9th inning of game 8 (series tied 3-3 due to game two being called a tie because of darkness) needing three outs to win their first series since 1905. The Giants were beaten the previous year by the Philadelphia A's. Again, this series featured the Red Sox. Pinch hitter Claude Engle hit a fly ball out to center fielder Fred Snodgrass.

Describing what happened, Snodgrass said "I got under it and, well, I dropped the darn thing." Engle wound up on second base.

The next hitter, Harry Hooper, hit a line drive into deep center field. Snodgrass made a fine catch on the ball, but Engle tagged up and reached third. Christy Mathewson walked the next hitter, then gave up a single to Tris Speaker which tied the game at 2. After an intentional walk which set up a would be double play, Larry Gardner lifted a sacrifice fly to score Steve Yerkes and win the series for the Sox. Unlike Bill Buckner's error in the 1986 series, the Snodgrass Muff in 1912 did cost the Giants the series. Snodgrass survived until 1974 and became a very successful banker. He also served as mayor of Oxnard, California. However, his obituary led with the error he made over 60 years before.

Errors deciding game seven in the World Series are very rare.

1. In 1925, the Washington Senators led 7-6 as the bottom of the 8th inning started. After two quick outs, Walter Johnson gave up two doubles and a walk to tie the game. Max Carey then reached on an error by third baseman Ossie Bleuge. The next hitter, Kiki Cuyler, pounded a ground rule double into right field, scoring two runs. The Pirates won the game and the series.

2. In game 7 of the 1926 World Series, the Cardinals scored two runs in the fourth inning off two errors by the Yankees and went on to win the game 3-2. This is the famous game where Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the seventh inning.

3. In 2001, Mark Grace led off with a single to center field off of Mariano Rivera. Damian Miller followed with a sacrifice bunt, but Jorge Posada made a poor throw trying to get Grace at second. The next hitter bunted as well, which forced Grace at third. Tony Womack then doubled into right field, tying the game. After hitting Craig Counsell, Rivera gave up a soft line drive single to Luis Gonzalez, which won the series for the Diamondbacks.

4. In 1997, Craig Counsell (yep, same guy) reached on an error by Tony Fernandez. This put runners on the corners with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Bobby Bonilla was forced at home after an intentional walk. Edgar Renteria then singled to center field to score Counsell and win the series for the Florida Marlins. It is interesting that Counsell should hold such a place in world series game sevens with expansion teams.

Bill Buckner's famous error in the 1986 world series did not happen in game seven. It happened in game six. It tied up the series for the Mets, who went on  in Game 7 to score three runs off Calvin Schiraldi in the bottom of the seventh inning to win. What is also forgotten about the Buckner miscue is that it happened after the game was tied. The Mets won the game on Buckner's error, but they tied it on back to back singles followed by a wild pitch by Bob Stanley. The wild pitch also put Ray Knight on second base instead of first. No wild pitch, Buckner's error puts runners at first and third with two outs, and the Red Sox are still alive.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Matty vs. Miner: Sept 4, 1916

On Sept 4, 1916, the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds met for a Labor Day doubleheader in Chicago. In the first game, the Reds lost 3-0, a not uncommon occurrence for the Reds that year. The second game, however, was something else entirely.

Earlier that season, the New York Giants traded Christy Mathewson to the Reds in exchange for manager/second baseman Buck Herzog and two other players. The trade worked wonders for the Giants, who embarked soon after on a 26 game winning streak. For the Reds, the ship of the 1916 season had sailed. While "Matty" got the Reds playing better baseball, they could only win 25 of their remaining 68 games and finished seventh. In the meantime, the Cubs were in the middle of the pack as the doubleheader started. The great club of the previous decade was long gone; only Wildfire Schulte and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown remained. Of the great rivalries of the first decade of the twentieth century, none surpassed that between Christy Mathewson and Three Finger Brown.

That Monday, Brown was 39 and Matty 35. They were opponents 23 times before that day; Mathewson won 12 and Brown 11. During the 1908 season, when the Cubs finished one game ahead of the Giants and Pirates, Brown defeated Mathewson twice during the heat of the pennant race. That year Mathewson won 37 games, Brown 29. Coincidentally, 1908 was the last time the Cubs won a World Series.

The last time they pitched against each other was July 15, 1913 at the Polo Grounds in New York. Mathewson won that game; at the end of the season Brown jumped to the Federal League. He returned to the Cubs for the 1916 season.

The matchup was touted as the farewell match of the great pitchers; both were awarded bouquets and loving cups by the Cubs, and the games was noted in newspapers throughout the United States. Baseball Magazine had this to say: "while the old speed was gone, hurlers now could take lessons from the great control exhibited by both men." The game was quite different then.

Both pitchers threw complete games, and both were hit hard. Mathewson gave up two runs in the first inning, but the Reds touched up Brown for two runs in the 3rd, 5th and 6th innings. In the 9th, Matty gave up three runs but the Reds held on to win 10-8. Were the men taking it easy? Maybe. Brown and Mathewson totaled 5 hits by themselves.

Picture a game in which both pitchers are hall of famers, both are in their last season, and both throw complete games. Since 2005, the highest pitch count in the majors belongs to Edwin Jackson, who tossed 149 on June 25, 2010. He had an excuse, as he was threw a no-hitter. Using Tom Tango's pitch estimate calculator, Brown threw 157 pitches and Mathewson 145.

This was Mathewson's 373rd career victory, and his last. When he retired, only Cy Young had won more games. He is still tied for third with Pete Alexander behind Young and Walter Johnson. He was also second in strikeouts. Brown finished with 239 wins and only 130 losses.

Between 1907 and 1910 the record for the duos are eerily similar.


Yes, Brown recorded 22 saves while he threw 29 shutouts. In those days, managers used their best pitchers at the ends of close games. In the height of the Deadball Era, Brown and Matty were the best pitchers on two of the best three teams in the National League. Mathewson is also perhaps the only pitcher who could conceivably be accused of single handedly winning a World Series. In 1905, he threw three shutouts at the Rube Waddell-less Philadelphia A's.

After the season, Brown went and pitched for a few years in Indiana, finally hanging it up in 1920 to operate a gas station in Terre Haute. He died in 1948, roughly a year before he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee. It always surprised me that Brown did not get more support for the Hall than he did, topping out at 27%, behind pitchers  Rube Waddell, Ed Walsh and Herb Pennock. Brown not getting as many votes as Pennock is, well, silly.

Mathewson returned to manage the Reds the next season, and volunteered for the US Army in 1918. He joined the Gas and Flame Corps, and was exposed to mustard gas during training. He never managed or played again, but did work for the Giants as a coach in 1919-1920 and as President of the Boston Braves in 1923. He worked as a sportswriter, and with Hugh Fullerton sought to expose the Black Sox after the 1919 World Series. It should also be pointed out that when manager of the Reds in 1917 and 1918, he suspended Hal Chase for "indifferent play", widely considered a euphemism for throwing games by the sporting press.

Mathewson developed tuberculosis in 1919 and eventually died of the disease on October 7, 1925. He was elected to the hall of fame in its first class in 1936.

(all stats courtesy of Info also from the SABR bio project entries for Christy Mathewson and Mordecai Brown)

Are Jim Leyland and Davey Johnson hall of fame managers?

Jim Leyland stepped down earlier this week as the manager of the Detroit Tigers. He is now 68, and this may be his last managing job. He is the leader in active managers in wins, leading Dusty Baker by 98. Is Leyland a Hall of Fame manager?

Davey Johnson stepped down as manager of the Washington Nationals two weeks ago. Johnson is 70 and says he is not interested in managing again. Johnson first played in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles in 1965 and took over as the starting second baseman in 1966. He played for Baltimore until 1972 when he was traded to Atlanta in a six players deal (which involved another future Orioles manager, Johnny Oates). Is Johnson a Hall of Fame manager?

Johnson was a good player. Selected to 4 All Star games, he won three gold gloves and hit 43 home runs in 1973, benefiting from the "Launching Pad" of Fulton County Stadium (the Braves hit 118 of their 206 home runs at home that year.) Johnson managed in the minors for three years and was promoted to manage the New York Mets in 1984.

Like many good baseball managers, Leyland never played in the major leagues. His highest level as a player was AA, and as a catcher hit .208 in 161 games. He pitched in two games as well. Leyland managed in the minors for 10 years, from 1972 to 1981. His teams posted a winning season 7 times. He managed a young Kirk Gibson at Lakeland in A ball. He then worked for Tony LaRussa in Chicago between 1982-85. He took over the Pirates following the 1985 season.

Overall Records (all stats courtesy of

Jim Leyland: 22 seasons, 3497 games, 1769-1728, .506 winning percentage
Rankings: 15th all time in wins, 14th all time in games.

Davey Johnson: 17 seasons, 2443 games, 1372-1071, .562 winning percentage.
Rankings: 28th all time in wins, 21st all time in winning percentage, 30th all time in games.

Leyland took over the Pirates when they were in full on rebuilding mode, then guided them to the top of the division for three consecutive seasons. Leyland's first Tigers team in 2006 posted a 25 game improvement over the previous year, even though Curtis Granderson and the arrival of some kid named Verlander had a lot to do with that.

Johnson's Mets teams finished first or second every year from 1984-1989 and were in second place in 1990 when he was fired. In Baseball's Greatest Dynasties, Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein wrote that if the second and first place finishes were reversed, the 1980s Mets would be considered one of the best teams of the 20th century. Those Mets won 87 games every year, but finished second 4 times. Two of those teams, the St. Louis Cardinals of 1985 and 1987, went to the World Series. The two others, the Cubs of 1984 and 1989, were pretty fluky teams.

In addition, of the 33 people who have managed over 2400 games in their careers, only 5 have higher career winning percentages than Johnson; all of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Leyland: 8 playoff appearances, 44-40 overall record.
6 division titles, 3 pennants, 1 World Series (1997 Florida Marlins)

Johnson: 5 playoff appearances, 19-21 overall record.
6 division titles, 1 pennant, 1 World Series (1986 New York Mets)

Johnson managed the 1994 Reds, who were 18 games over .500 when the strike ended the season in August. They won the division in 1995.

While Leyland has more pennants, each has one world series title. Johnson's teams made the playoffs the same number of times as Leyland's (if you count 1994) and Leyland managed for 5 more seasons than Johnson.

Leyland: three time manager of the year (1990, 1992, 2006) three time runner up for that award (1988, 1991, 2011)

Johnson: Two time manager of the year (1997, 2012), four time runner up for that award (1984, 1986,1994,1995)

Again, even.

Odds and Ends
1. Johnson's teams were consistently good. Only during four years did he post a losing record:
  •  1990, when he was fired at 20-22.
  • 1993, when he took over the Reds from Tony Perez. Johnson was 8 games over .500 until August 9th and the Reds collapsed down the stretch.
  • the 1999 Dodgers are the only team managed by Johnson for a full season with a losing record.
  • the 2011 Nationals, whom Johnson took over after Jim Riggleman was fired.
2. Johnson is 301 games over .500 for his career. This is the 15th highest total of all time, and only 5 of the 14 managers in front of him managed fewer games. All of them (Billy Southworth, Cap Anson, Harry Wright, Al Lopez and Frank Selee) are in the hall of fame. Anson as a player, Wright as a player, manager and organizer. Three did the majority of their managing in the 1890s. Billy Southworth is the greatest "forgotten" manager in baseball history.

3. Johnson brought Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Wally Backman and Sid Fernandez with him in 1984, and was the ULTIMATE creative manager who would do just about anything to get people into a lineup and got great bench production. Evidence:
  • In 1986, Kevin Mitchell played 24 shortstop. Kevin Mitchell was a subpar fielder at first base, for goodness sakes.
  • On July 22, 1986 in Cincinnati, Johnson alternated Roger McDowell, his righthanded closer, and Jesse Orosco, his lefty specialist. When a righty came up, McDowell would move in to pitcher from left field and Orosco would go to right, with Mookie Wilson moving over to left. When a lefty came up, they would switch back. The Mets won the game 6-3 in 14 innings, with this unorthodox arrangement tossing five scoreless innings. Orosco also drew a walk and scored on Howard Johnson's home run in the 14th.
  • Jeff Branson was  the best utility player in the NL in 1994 and 1995, hitting 18 home runs in 440 at bats over those two years. For the rest of his career he totaled 16 homers in 1115 at bats.

4. Leyland was a different sort of manager, one that would take over teams and gradually turn them into winners. He was usually quite good at developing younger talent. When he took over the Pirates in 1986, the starting rotation was
However, the youngsters were on the way, and Leyland oversaw their development:
With the Tigers, Leyland managed the development of Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.

5. Bill James produced the Pythagorean winning percentage, which predicts a teams record based on its runs scored and allowed. It is used to identify teams who play above or below their statistics for various reasons. Here are the Pythagorean records of Johnson's teams, with their actual records and difference:


 In 14 full seasons, Johnson's teams outperformed their Pythagorean expectation by 17 games. In 22 seasons, Leyland was at a +/- of 0.

6. Baseball-Reference has a stat called "average rank", which is the average finish of a manager's teams. Johnson and Joe McCarthy are the only managers at 2.0 (second) or better who managed over 2000 games. Johnson is at 1.9. McCarthy at 2 even. McCarthy was the manager of the New York Yankees from 1931 to 1946 and won seven world series titles in 16 years.

Johnson's teams were consistently competitive, as were Leyland's when he had the horses. Only 6 managers have more postseason appearances than Leyland. Three (Casey Stengel, Joe McCarthy and John McGraw) are in the hall and the other three (Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre) are not yet eligible. I would guess all three of them will be in at some point.  Leyland won 90 games 7 times. Johnson did it seven times also, in five fewer seasons. Johnson's Reds teams of 1994 and 1995 may have won 90 games each year if not for the strike. I would argue that both men are worthy, but I would go for Johnson first. His teams were close to the top year in and year out. They will most likely cancel each other out in the voting and neither will get in, which is a shame. Johnson also ruffled more than a few feathers in his time and was quite adept at wearing out welcomes.

However, Johnson did say the following of his 43 HR season. "Those home runs were no accident. I could pole." Awesome.