Don Mincher

March 6, 2012

ed. given the news that Don Mincher passed away this week, I thought it would be appropriate to compile some of the things I have written about him in previous posts.

Here’s my take on the trade that brought Mincher to Washington/Minnesota.

1962: 1B Don Mincher .240/.406/.488 9 HR 0.5 BFW 6 WS 1 FRAR 1.3 WARP3
Mincher was set to start at first base out of spring training, but neither Griffith nor Mele were comfortable with the 24-year-old playing every day, prompting the trade for Vic Power. Still, Mincher showed glimpses of power in his brief playing time in 1962, and would get more playing time a year later.

1963: 1B Don Mincher .258/.351/.520 17 HR 0.5 BFW 10 WS 1 FRAR 2.3 WARP3
Mele didn’t tend to use his reserves very often, but the fact that Mincher showed so much power in such little playing time meant that he was sure to get at-bats off of the Twins’ bench.

1964: 1B/OF Bob Allison .287/.404/.553 32 HR 4.5 BFW 25 WS 12 FRAR 8.4 WARP3
1B Don Mincher .237/.300/.547 23 HR 0.6 BFW 8 WS 3 FRAR 2.4 WARP3
To make room for Tony Oliva, Bob Allison was moved to first base for the 1964 season. He spent a good part of the early portion of the season adjusting to his new position, but you wouldn’t know it from his hitting stats. Allison had his best major league season at the plate, and was named the starting All Star first baseman after playing just 75 games at that position. Allison’s time as the regular first baseman was short lived. After the season, Calvin Griffith announced that he would be moving back to left field for 1965. Mincher continued to hit for power as a backup to Allison and pinch hitter.

1965: 1B Don Mincher .251/.344/.509 22 HR 0.4 BFW 17 WS 0 FRAR 2.9 WARP3
Mincher had begun to show signs of frustration in the spring of 1965, and started to make noise about wanting to be traded. With Killebrew and Allison both able to play first base, it didn’t seem as there would be any room for Mincher to play as a regular. Still, Mincher maintained a positive attitude and was willing to work in both the outfield and at third base if it would help the team. As it turned out, his number was called at his most comfortable position when Killebrew lost most of the second half of the season due to injury. Mincher responded to the regular playing time with the best season of his career so far. The biggest compliment he might have received, however, came from Killebrew before the injury. Harmon suggested to Mele that perhaps he should play another position to get Mincher in the lineup more. Sure enough, Killebrew started to show up at third base when the team faced right handed pitchers, and when he returned for the last few weeks of the season he was installed there regularly so Mincher could remain at first base for the World Series.

1966: 1B Don Mincher .251/.340/.418 14 HR 0.4 BFW 14 WS 8 FRAR 3.3 WARP3
After falling off from his numbers of the previous several seasons, Mincher was traded to the California Angels. Mincher bounced around the majors from 1967 to 1972, even posting a career best season with the Angels in 1967. He finished his 13-year major league career with 200 home runs.


Elmer Valo

November 16, 2010

When Elmer Valo joined the Washington Senators in 1959, he was already a veteran of 19 baseball seasons. Though he spent his first 15 seasons with the Philadelphia/Kansas City A’s, by the time he was signed as a free agent by the Nats in May of 1960 he had spent the previous five seasons playing for six different teams in seven different cities.

It seemed that his major league career was over in 1959. After the Czechoslovakia native seemed to get no interest from major league teams in the offseason, he began the year as player-manager for the Seattle Raniers. He caught the eye of many during his short stint in the Pacific Northwest, including famous Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich who noted in a May roundup that Valo was leading the Pacific Coast League in hitting with a .340 average.

The Senators snatched him up when the 40-year-old became available after appearing just eight times for the New York Yankees before being cut when the rosters reduced in the early part of the season. The Sporting News report indicated that Washington was interested in Valo primarily as a pinch-hitter, which turned out to be an understatement. To make room for Valo, the team sent young first baseman Don Mincher to Charleston, though manager Cookie Lavagetto insisted that Mincher had a future as a major league player.

While he appeared in 76 games for the Nats that season, Valo started in a single game. By the end of the season, he had compiled all of 20 innings in the outfield. Of his 85 plate appearances, 75 came as a pinch-hitter. When combined with the seven pinch-hitting plate appearances with the Yankees, Valo still holds the single-season American League record with 82 pinch-hitting appearances.

Valo made the move with the franchise to Minnesota. He appeared in 33 games (all as a pinch hitter) before he was released in June. Valo was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies for the rest of the season before retiring at the age of 41.

In 108 games with the franchise, Valo made just the one start. His batting line was .240/.372/.292 thanks to a patient eye at the plate.


Eisenreich and Terrell

June 4, 2010

Just a couple of links, both to biographies written originally for Minnesotans in Baseball.  The first is on Jim Eisenreich, the second on Jerry Terrell.


Minnesotans in Baseball

May 26, 2009

51rooHLu0tL._SL500_AA240_I had the privilege over the past year of working on a project with a group from the Halsey Hall Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The result of that work is available in bookstores, or you can buy it online at several sites.

The book is a collection of biographies about ballplayers who spent a significant amount of their formative years in the state of Minnesota. I authored the chapters on Jim Eisenreich and Jerry Terrell. Other players covered in the book are Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, and Joe Mauer.

I particularly enjoyed Tom Swift’s bio of Chief Bender, the pitcher who is also the subject of Swift’s book. The other highlights for me were the bios of a couple of women, Jean Ann Havlish by Anne Aronson and Toni Stone by Stew Thornley.

The book includes profiles of 46 players written by 25 different authors. If you are looking for a good summer read, I would recommend it.


The Incredible Story of Bert Shepard

February 26, 2009

ED: This was originally published in Gameday Vol. 7 Issue 5.

On a late afternoon in August 1945 at Griffith Stadium, manager Ossie Bluege signaled for a left-handed pitcher to come out of the bullpen. The Washington Senators, predecessors to today’s Minnesota Twins, were in the midst of the second game of a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox. It was the fourth consecutive day of twin bills for the weary Nats, who had just watched as their starting pitcher, the debuting Joe Cleary, allowed 12 runs in the fourth inning.

With the game out of reach and his team still in the pennant hunt, Bluege was not interested in using one of the tired but more experienced relievers. No doubt frustrated by Cleary’s performance, Bluege called on a 25-year-old to make his major league debut in a mop-up role.

It was a scenario that had played itself out many times over the years in baseball, but Bluege’s move caused a stir in the Washington crowd that had started to lose interest as their team fell further behind. The fans immediately woke up and began to applaud when they saw that Bluege was waving Bert Shepard to the mound.

Just 15 months earlier, Shepard was preparing for another baseball game. After playing minor league ball for a few years, but was drafted into military service in May of 1942. He applied for pilot training and became a member of the 55th Fighter Group stationed in England.

Shepard, like many ballplayers, continued to play as part of his service. He was the manager and star pitcher of the base’s team, which was set to play its first game on May 21, 1944. That morning, Shepard learned of a mission scheduled to bomb Berlin. With 33 missions in his P38 Lightning already under his belt, Shepard volunteered to fly his 34th, the first daytime raid over Berlin. Shepard figured that he would probably be back in time for the game.

As Shepard sped his plane towards the target that day, he was hit by German anti-aircraft fire. A sharp pain in his right foot was followed by numbness. More fire caused Shepard to lose control of his plane. The last memory he later recalled was crashing his plane to the ground about a mile before reaching the target site.

He awoke in a German hospital several days later to find that his right leg had been amputated, cut off between the knee and the ankle. Shepard later recalled: “I had been an athlete all of my life, and I promised myself the day I found my leg was off that I would continue to be one.”

Just weeks after the crash, Shepard had recovered enough to be moved to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. It was there that he received his first artificial leg, a crude instrument crafted by a fellow prisoner.

Shepard started to work himself into shape on his new leg. At first he simply ran on it, but slowly started to add pitching moves to his routine, including throwing, pivoting, and fielding bunts. His workouts began to catch the eye of the hospital staff, who would sometimes gather to watch Shepard practice.

After eight months in the German camp, Shepard returned to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange. He arrived at New York harbor in February of 1945. Shortly after, while at Walter Reed Hospital waiting for a new artificial leg, Shepard was summoned to the office of the Secretary of War, Robert Patterson. Patterson wanted to talk to some of the men who had just returned from German prison camps, and Shepard was selected at random. When Patterson learned that Shepard wanted to play professional baseball, he immediately contacted his friend, the owner of the Washington Senators, Clark Griffith.

Griffith, probably sensing a money-maker, invited Shepard to camp that spring. Three days after being fitted with a new leg, Bert Sheperd reported to the Nats’ spring training complex. Manager Ossie Bluege and the rest of the team found out that Shepard was an amputee only after seeing him getting dressed in the locker room before his first day on the field.

Regardless of how the rest of the team felt when they first saw the artificial leg, it became clear very quickly that Shepard was more than just a publicity stunt. He wowed players and media alike by showing his skills, most amazingly his ability to field sacrifice bunts. Shepard’s first appearance in an organized game came on April 1, when he pitched a scoreless inning against the Norfolk Naval Training Club.

Shepard started getting some interest from the New York Yankees, so Griffith eventually signed him as a baserunning coach and batting practice pitcher, but the owner made it clear that Shepard would have every opportunity to make the team as a player. He pitched several exhibition games in the spring and early summer, but hadn’t been called upon for a real major league game until Bluege signaled him into the game on August 4, 1945.

The rookie had little time to enjoy the moment because Cleary had left the bases loaded with two outs. The first batter he faced was George Metkovich, Boston’s center fielder. Metkovich worked the count full. With the runners on the move, Shepard threw a fastball by Metkovich to end the inning. The Washington crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation as he returned to the dugout.

Shepard lasted 5 1/3 innings that afternoon to finish the game. He held the Red Sox to just a single run on three hits with three strikeouts in the 15-4 Nats’ loss.

Though Shepard’s debut was a success, his time in the majors did not last long. With Washington still in the thick of a pennant race, Bluege relied on his veteran pitching staff down the stretch. When the pre-war stars began to return from service in 1946, it became clear that Shepard would not get his chance to play with Washington. He went on to have a decent career in the minors, and was a regular on the Army’s hospital visit circuit, but never again made a pitching appearance in the major leagues.

Bert Shepard passed away on June 16, 2008 at a California nursing home. He remains the only man to have pitched in the major leagues with an artificial leg.

Sources

Tellis, Richard Once Around the Bases: Bittersweet Memories of Only One Game in the Majors Triumph, 1998.

The Sporting News archives at Paper of Record (http://paperofrecord.com)

Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime website (http://www.garybed.co.uk/index.htm)


Mickey Vernon Year-by-Year

September 26, 2008

1939
1B Mickey Vernon .257/.317/.351 1 HR -1.9 BFW 3 WS -2 FRAR 0.0 WARP3
After Griffith got rid of Zeke Bonura after the 1938 season, first base became somewhat of a revolving door in Washington. Jimmy Wasdell was the starter on opening day, but he didn’t hit enough for the Nats, and was replaced by veteran Ossie Bluege. Though Bluege showed some success, he was 38-years-old and unable to play the position every day. The team tried to move Sam West in from the outfield, but he never really go the hang of the position. After a few weeks with a young Bob Prichard at first, it was decided to call up the 21-year-old who had impressed so much in spring training: James Barton “Mickey” Vernon. Vernon was found by a Washington scout while he was attending Villanova University. In his first year as a pro in 1938, Vernon hit .346 for Greenville of the South Atlantic League. He was described in The Sporting News as a “tall, spare young man who is handy with the glove” – though it was speculated that he might be “too green” to hold down the job for the rest of the season. Though Vernon took his lumps in 1939, he was the regular first baseman for the balance of the season.

1941
1B Mickey Vernon .299/.352/.443 9 HR -1.0 BFW 16 WS -4 FRAR 3.5 WARP3
After a full year in the minors, Mickey Vernon was back to claim the starting first base job. Unlike in his first attempt in 1939, Vernon had success in 1941, and was able to secure the first base job.

1942
1B Mickey Vernon .271/.337/.388 9 HR -1.8 BFW 20 WS -4 FRAR 3.5 WARP3
Several times during the season, Vernon’s name was listed alongside Jake Early’s in the “horrible slump” category. Clearly, Vernon’s slumping was nowhere near as bad as Early’s, but it illustrates the expectation that surrounded the 24-year-old.

1943
1B Mickey Vernon .268/.357/.387 7 HR 0.1 BFW 21 WS -4 FRAR 4.4 WARP3
Vernon had his best season so far and looked to be on his way to reaching the potential that so many thought he had. Like many ballpayers, Vernon missed 1944 and 1945 due to military service.

1946
1B Mickey Vernon .353/.403/.508 8 HR 4.3 BFW 33 WS 6 FRAR 9.3 WARP3
Vernon’s last major league action came at the age of 25 in 1943. Now 28, Vernon came back to have his best career season. He led the league in batting (.353) and doubles (51) and was third in OBP (.403) and sixth in slugging (.508). On May 19th, he hit for the cycle in the second game of a double header against the White Sox.

1947
1B Mickey Vernon .265/.320/.388 7 HR -1.4 BFW 15 WS 0 FRAR 2.7 WARP3
After exploding back into the majors in 1946, Vernon returned to earth quite a bit in 1947. The 29-year-old was down in almost every offensive category, and would continue to fall in 1948. Vernon’s troubles in 1947 were a microcosm of the Nats’ troubles as a team. Vernon’s struggles through the season were constant fodder for local and national sportswriters, who all had their suggestions for the 1946 batting champion. As the season wore on, and Vernon continued slumping, the buzz turned from ideas for correction to trade rumors.

1948
1B Mickey Vernon .242/.310/.332 3 HR -2.4 BFW 7 WS 29 FRAR 3.7 WARP3
Vernon’s season-long slump of 1947 continued into 1948 where he had his worst season as a professional. Not surprisingly, Vernon found himself on the trading block, and was sent to Cleveland in December. He’ll regain his form in 1949, and ultimately return to Washington the following year.

1950
1B Mickey Vernon .306/.404/.459 9 HR 1.4 BFW 13 WS 16 FRAR 5.0 WARP3
Less than two years after trading the veteran first baseman away, Clark Griffith sends pitcher Dick Weik to Cleveland in exchange for a struggling Vernon (.189/.284/.189 in 28 games with the Indians). Vernon’s early season struggles made him very expendable for Cleveland, who had rookie Luke Easter playing fairly well at first base through the first few months of the season. The deal allowed Harris to move rookie Irv Noren to the outfield where he was sorely needed. Vernon had a good season following the trade, and would remain the regular first baseman for Washington until the mid-1950’s.

1951
1B Mickey Vernon .293/.358/.423 9 HR -0.1 BFW 18 WS 24 FRAR 6.5 WARP3
Vernon struggled early in his first full season with Washington since 1948, mostly due to the fact that he was playing on two hurt ankles. As the team fell in the standings later in the summer, Vernon started to surge, and finished with some pretty respectable numbers. It was also noted in The Sporting News that this is the year that Vernon began to take an active role as more of a “holler guy” in the Washington dugout; a role that was quite different for the traditionally quiet Vernon.

1952
1B Mickey Vernon .251/.353/.394 10 HR 0.0 BFW 20 WS 33 FRAR 7.0 WARP3
Vernon’s line from 1952 illustrates why he can be a difficult player to evaluate. While BFW, WS, and WARP3 typically vary a little bit, they don’t usually disagree so much for a given player. Vernon’s 1952 WS and WARP3 numbers look pretty good, not top of the league good, but certainly above average. BFW indicates that Vernon was average. WARP3 would rate 1952 as the fourth best season of Vernon’s career (1953 9.6 WARP3; 1946 9.3 WARP3; 1949 8.0 WARP3); while Win Shares says there were six seasons in which Vernon was better (1946 33 WS; 1953 29 WS; 1954 24 WS; 1943, 1949, & 1955 21 WS; while BFW says there were nine seasons in which Vernon was better than in 1952 (1946 4.3 BFW; 1953 3.0 BFW; 1949 1.8 BFW; 1954 1.4 BFW; 1955 1.0 BFW; 1956 0.6 BFW; 1958 0.5 BFW; 1950 0.4 BFW; 1943 0.1 BFW). Vernon put up fairly consistent offensive numbers through his career. Throw out his two high and two low OPS+ seasons from his years as a regular and all the remaining numbers fall between 99-137. The difference, then, would be how the different metrics account for his fielding. FRAR likes his defense in 1952 – the only year in which he was credited with more was in 1949 when he had 34. I don’t have the breakdown of fielding stats that contribute to the other numbers, but it might be safe to say that Pete Palmer rates Vernon’s effort at first base in 1952 a good bit lower than does Bill James.

1953
1B Mickey Vernon .337/.403/.518 15 HR 3.0 BFW 29 WS 23 FRAR 9.5 WARP3
At the age of 35, Vernon clinched his second AL batting title on the last day of the season. After he made an out late in the game, Vernon stood at .337, just percentage points better than Al Rosen. Once word arrived to the team that Rosen’s day was done with Vernon still in the lead, Nat runners started to mysteriously make some poor base running mistakes, running into outs and getting picked off bases. Vernon did not bat again, and the title was his.

Controversy aside, 1953 was easily Vernon’s best season since 1946, the year he won his other batting title. He went to his third All Star Game, and finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting, behind Al Rosen and Yogi Berra.

1954
1B Mickey Vernon .290/.357/.492 20 HR 1.4 BFW 24 WS -4 FRAR 4.9 WARP3
At the age of 36 Vernon wasn’t quite the defender that he had been in his prime, but he could still swing the bat. Last year’s batting champion didn’t compete for that title in 1954, but he did set a record with 20 home runs, the most by a left-handed batter in franchise history. Vernon also made his fourth All Star Game, and hit he 2,000 career hit on September 2.

1955
1B Mickey Vernon .301/.384/.452 14 HR 1.0 BFW 21 WS -9 FRAR 4.0 WARP3

At the age of 37, Vernon turned in another All Star season and was credited with keeping Washington afloat in the summer months. Unfortunately for Vernon, he became a victim of his own success when Clark Griffith, and later Calvin, decided it was time to rebuild. Vernon was one of the few pieces that was of value on the trade market, and the Griffiths took advantage by building a nine-player trade with the Boston Red Sox. Though the deal was consummated after the death of the elder Griffith, it was widely reported that he was the mastermind behind it. Though the four players that Washington sent to Boston didn’t pan out particularly well, neither did the young players that were added. For better or worse, Vernon’s time with Washington came to an end. After a pretty successful season with the Sox in 1956, Vernon began to show his age. He played into his 40’s, but was clearly well past his prime. He finally retired as a player in at the age of 42 in 1960. In 14 seasons with Washington, Vernon hit .288/.358/.428 with 121 home runs and 63.4 WARP3. Vernon went on to become the first manager of the expansion Washington franchise in 1961, and lasted in that role until the beginning of the 1963 season, when he was let go after two losing seasons and a poor start in a third.


The All-Washington Team: Relief Pitcher

August 8, 2008

Firpo Marberry 1923-1932, 1936

1924
RP Firpo Marberry 11-12 3.09 ERA 1.33 WHIP 1.7 PW 17 WS 4.3 WARP3
Marberry joined the team in August 1923 and pitched in a handful of games towards the end of the season, but 1924 was his first full season in the majors. He appeared in 50 games, most in the AL and though the save was years away from becoming an official stat, Marberry led the league in that category with 15 (teammate Allen Russell was 2nd with 8). Frederick Marberry earned the nickname “Firpo” because he looked like the famous boxer Luis Firpo.

1925
RP Firpo Marberry 9-5 3.47 ERA 1.38 WHIP 1.0 PW 11 WS 2.8 WARP3
Marberry was once again a very good option out of the bullpen in just about any situation. For the second straight season he led the league with 15 saves.

1926
RP Firpo Marberry 12-7 3.00 ERA 1.35 WHIP 2.0 PW 16 WS 5.5 WARP3
Another good season for Marberry, who was just about as reliable as any reliever in the league. In 1926 he appeared in 64 games (59 relief appearances, besting his own record set a year earlier) and earned 22 saves. The saves mark would not be surpassed until 1949.

1927
RP Firpo Marberry 10-7 4.64 ERA 1.58 WHIP -1.4 PW 8 WS 1.8 WARP3
1927 was easily the worst season in Marberry’s career. He pitched better in 1928, but was used mostly as a starter for the rest of his career.

1928
RP Firpo Marberry 13-13 3.85 ERA 1.25 WHIP 0.1 PW 11 WS 3.6 WARP3
Marberry continued to be one of the better AL relievers, but was not as dominant as he had been a few years earlier. 1928 was the start of his transition to the starting rotation.

1929
SP Firpo Marberry 19-12 3.06 ERA 1.21 WHIP 4.0 PW 26 WS 9.8 WARP3
From 1924-1928 he was among the premier relief pitchers in baseball, and is still considered one of the first relief aces in history. At the age of 30, however, Marberry got his first chance to start, and he may have been the best starting pitcher in the American League in 1929. He was second only to Lefty Grove in ERA, and led the league in WHIP. Marberry was fourth in AL strikeouts, and still managed to lead the league in saves with 11.

1930
SP Firpo Marberry 15-5 4.09 ERA 1.31 WHIP 1.5 PW 3.9 WARP3
Though not as impressive as his 1929 season, Marberry’s solid numbers made Washington very deep in starting pitching.

1931
SP Firpo Marberry 16-4 3.45 ERA 1.25 WHIP 2.1 PW 20 WS 5.3 WARP3
Marberry’s W-L record was eye-popping, and earned him a mention on the MVP ballots. Of his 45 pitching appearances in 1931, 20 of them were in relief.

1932

RP Firpo Marberry 8-4 4.01 ERA 1.39 WHIP 0.3 PW 16 WS 3.3 WARP3
1932 would mark Firpo’s 10th, and really his final season in Washington (though he will return for five games in his final season of 1936). Marberry started as one of the first bullpen aces, and may have been one of the more valuable members of the franchise’s only World Championship so far. Later in his career he shifted to the starting rotation and had a lot of success there as well. His final line with Washington (including the five appearances in 1936):

117-71 3.59 ERA (117 ERA+) 11.8 PW 145 WS 41.8 WARP3

Firpo will be traded to Detroit after the season.

The rest of the team…

C Muddy Ruel

1B Joe Judge

2B Buddy Myer

SS Joe Cronin

3B Buddy Lewis

LF Goose Goslin

CF Clyde Milan

RF Sam Rice

SP Walter Johnson


The All-Washington Team: Starting Pitcher

August 1, 2008

A bit of a no-brainer.

Walter Johnson 1907-1927

1907
P Walter Johnson 5-9 1.88 ERA 1.09 WHIP 0.5 PW 4 WS
In only 12 starts, the 19-year-old made an impact, and was the one bright spot on an otherwise horrible pitching staff.

1908
P Walter Johnson 14-14 1.65 ERA 0.96 WHIP 2.1 PW 20 WS
Though the win total was low, Johnson was 20 years old and already turned in the best season a Washington pitcher has ever had. He finished 5th in AL ERA (1.65), 3rd in K/9 IP (5.62), 4th in H/9 IP (6.81), and 3rd in shutouts (6).

1909
P Walter Johnson 13-25 2.22 ERA 1.12 WHIP 0.1 PW 12 WS
Exhibit “A” as to how bad of a team this was, and a great example of how win-loss record is a meaningless stat when it comes to evaluating a pitcher. Johnson’s 2.22 ERA, while not as outstanding as he would see in future years, was better than average in a deadball American League. Despite the astronomical loss total, Johnson was second in AL strikeouts and third in innings pitched.

1910
P Walter Johnson 25-17 1.36 ERA 0.91 WHIP 5.5 PW 36 WS
1910 may be the year that Johnson made the jump from a very good pitcher to a dominant pitcher. In 1910, he led the AL in games pitched (45), complete games (38) innings pitched (370), strikeouts (313), and strikeouts per nine innings (7.61). His adjusted ERA+ was 183, a great number to be sure, but one Johnson will surpass many times before his career is over. On July 8 against the Browns, Johnson struck out the first seven men he faced. On September 25, Johnson tosses a near-perfect game, allowing the Browns only a single.

1911
P Walter Johnson 25-13 1.90 ERA 1.12 WHIP 5.4 PW 31 WS 10.0 WARP3
Johnson, now a superstar, actually held out for a contract at the beginning of the 1911 season. It didn’t last long, as he signed a 3-year deal worth $7,000 a year around opening day. The hold out did mean that Johnson missed the opening day start for Washington. The next time that would happen isn’t until 1922. Other notable events in 1911 include Johnson’s first career over-the-fence home run surrendered on April 28, an appearance in for the AL All-Stars in a benefit game for Addie Joss’s family, and a 14 strikeout performance in a All-Star exhibition against the Lincoln Giants from the Negro Leagues. Johnson finished 2nd in AL ERA, and led the league in complete games (36) and shutouts (6); including an 11 inning gem over the White Sox on August 4.

1912
P Walter Johnson 33-12 1.39 ERA 0.91 WHIP 10.6 PW 47 WS 16.3 WARP3
The list of accomplishments for Johnson in 1912 is a long one. He led the AL in ERA, WHIP, K (303), K/9 (7.39), and ERA+ (240). After allowing 8 home runs in 1911, he cut the number back down to only two in 1912. Johnson’s bat emerged in 1912 as well, with a .264/.298/.403 line and two home runs (the same number he allowed). The scariest part is that this wasn’t even his best season on the mound.

1913

P Walter Johnson 36-7 1.14 ERA 0.78 WHIP 10.9 PW 54 WS 18.1 WARP3
Walter Johnson’s best season in some historical context:

Single Season PW (1901-present)
1. Walter Johnson 1913 10.9
2. Walter Johnson 1912 10.6
3. Christy Mathewson 1905 8.5
4. Pedro Martinez 2000 8.4

Single Season Win Shares among Pitchers (1901-present)
1. Walter Johnson 1913 54
2. Jack Chesbro 1904 53
3. Ed Walsh 1908 47
3. Walter Johnson 1912 47

Single Season Total Win Shares (1901-present)
1. Honus Wagner 1908 59
2 .Babe Ruth 1923 55
3 .Walter Johnson 1913 54
3. Barry Bonds 2001 54

Single Season WHIP (1901-present)
1. Pedro Martinez 2000 0.74
2. Walter Johnson 1913 0.78

3. Addie Joss 1908 0.81
4. Greg Maddux 1995 0.81

Single Season WARP3 (All Time)
1. Walter Johnson 1913 18.1
2. Babe Ruth 1923 18.0
3. Amos Rusie 1894 17.6
4. Cal Ripken 1991 17.0

At the very least, Walter Johnson’s 1913 season is in the conversation for greatest pitching season ever, and perhaps greatest baseball season ever.

1914
SP Walter Johnson 28-18 1.72 ERA 0.97 WHIP 7.2 PW 38 WS 14.6 WARP3
On opening day, Johnson shuts out the Boston Red Sox 3-0, and really doesn’t look back, having another great season for Washington. During the off season following 1914, Johnson will flirt with the Federal League, but ultimately will return to Washington. Johnson hit a grand slam against Detroit on June 21.

1915
SP Walter Johnson 27-13 1.55 ERA 0.93 WHIP 7.4 PW 42 WS 14.1 WARP3
Another year, another dominant season for Johnson. At the age of 27, he once again led the league in several pitching categories, and was the backbone for yet another winning season in Washington.

On August 14, 1915 Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth squared off for the first time. Ruth led the Red Sox to a 4-3 victory over Johnson and the Nats, going 2-for-3 at the plate in the process.

1916
SP Walter Johnson 25-20 1.90 ERA 1.01 WHIP 5.2 PW 36 WS 13.4 WARP3
Though his ERA was up slightly from his incredible run in the early part of the decade (his ERA+ was “only” 147), Johnson had yet another dominant year. At the age of 28, Johnson did not allow a single home run in and AL league-leading 369.7 innings pitched. He added 36 complete games and three shutouts to his career totals, and led the AL in strikeout to walk ratio for the fifth straight season.

As an interesting aside, Walter Johnson faced Babe Ruth head-to-head at least five times over the course of the 1916 season.

Date-Location-Outcome
4/16 Fenway Park; Bos 5, Was 1; ended after seven innings due to rain
6/1 Fenway Park; Bos 1, Was 0; Ruth’s second straight shut out
8/15 Fenway Park; Bos 1, Was 0; 13 innings, Johnson allowed only five hits
9/9 AL Park; Bos 2, Was 1; Ruth 4-hitter
9/12 AL Park; Was 4, Bos 3; 10 innings, Johnson’s only win vs. Ruth in 1916

Final Tally: Babe Ruth 4, Walter Johnson 1

1917
SP Walter Johnson 23-16 2.21 ERA 0.97 WHIP 3.1 PW 29 WS 10.4 WARP3
While his ERA was a little on the high side for his standards, the defense behind Johnson probably had something to do with that. The rest of his numbers, including WHIP, look pretty comparable with the rest of his career. The “problem” will be corrected next season.

1917 is the year that Ty Cobb hit his only career home run off of Johnson; an inside-the-park home run that helped the Tigers win a late-September game 4-3. Also of note, Johnson finally earned a win against Babe Ruth in October, when the Nats shut out the Red Sox 6-0.

1918
SP Walter Johnson 23-13 1.27 ERA 0.95 WHIP 7.6 PW 38 WS 14.2 WARP3
In terms of WARP, 1918 was Walter Johnson’s fourth best season behind 1913, 1912, and 1914. During the season, Walter Johnson pitched 17+ innings twice. The first came against the White Sox, when he and Lefty Williams each pitched a shutout through 17 innings. Johnson had a scoreless 18th, while the Nats were able to push a run across in the bottom of the frame. The 18-inning shutout still stands as an ML record, though it was tied by Carl Hubbell in 1933.

1919
SP Walter Johnson 20-14 1.49 ERA 0.99 WHIP 6.7 PW 27 WS 14.1 WARP3
On opening day, Johnson pitched a 13-inning shutout, and the Nats defeated Philadelphia 1-0. It was one of five 1-0 victories for Johnson in 1919, tying his own major league record. Johnson led the AL in ERA (1.49), WHIP (0.99), H/9 (7.28), K (147), Shutouts (7), K/W (2.88), and ERA+ (214). The 1919 season marks the end of Johnson’s dominance. He will have several more very good seasons, but will not approach the dominance he displayed from 1910-1919. Over those 10 seasons, from the age of 22 to 32, Johnson compiled an amazing 138.7 WARP3. It is probably the most dominant stretch for any player in ML history.

1920

SP Walter Johnson 8-10 3.13 ERA 1.13 WHIP 1.3 PW 10 WS 4.1 WARP3
1920 was a season of ups and downs for the franchise player, though there was more down than up. On July 1 he pitched his first career no hitter, striking out 10 Red Sox in the process. Had it not been for a Bucky Harris error, Johnson would have pitched a perfect game. A few weeks later, Johnson was shut down for the season due to soreness in his pitching arm. His play past July would be limited to a few pinch-hitting appearances.

Though Johnson’s numbers look to be pretty bad by his standards, they aren’t as big a drop off as they might appear. His 1.49 ERA in 1919 came in a league with a total ERA of 3.01. The 3.13 ERA he posted in 1920, while a major drop for Johnson, was still well below the league’s 3.79 total mark. His ERA+ dropped from 214 in 1919 to 118 in 1920. In the context of Johnson’s career, 118 ERA+ is pretty low, and was a drop to be sure; but he was still among the best in the league.

1921
SP Walter Johnson 17-14 3.51 ERA 1.35 WHIP 2.3 PW 23 WS 7.5 WARP3
On September 5, 1921 Walter Johnson passed Cy Young to become the all-time leader in career strikeouts with 2,287. Despite reaching another career milestone, Johnson followed his tough 1920 season with a similar 1921. Once again his numbers were good, but well below what Washington fans had come to expect from the Big Train. It may have seemed that Johnson’s career was almost over, but the 33-year old still had a few good seasons in him.

1922
SP Walter Johnson 15-16 2.99 ERA 1.36 WHIP 2.8 PW 21 WS 7.8 WARP3
This was the star pitcher’s best season since 1919. Between June 18 and June 28, Johnson pitched three consecutive shut outs, prompting the Sporting News (7/6/22) to announce that “Walter will win nearly all his games from now on”; and if Mogridge could return to his 1921 form, “Washington may yet get somewhere.”

The third shutout in the streak came against New York on June 28. Johnson struck out nine Yankees in the 1-0 Washington win. The Sporting News noted, however, that Johnson’s nemesis still had his number:

Walter was no puzzle to Ruth, the Babe getting two ferocious singles in four times up, and pulling another to center in the ninth, which would have cleared the fence if hit toward right.

1923
SP Walter Johnson 17-12 3.48 ERA 1.29 WHIP 1.4 PW 17 WS 7.2 WARP3
In 1923, the Big Train matched the lowest ERA+ of his career to that point (109). He was 21 years old and lost 25 games the last time it was that low in 1909. Still, his ERA was a half-run better than league average, and he won 17 games for a sub-.500 team. At 35, it seemed that Johnson passed a different career milestone on a daily basis. On May 2, Johnson earned his 100th career shutout at the first Sunday game at Yankee Stadium. On July 22 Johnson struck out his 3,000th man, and on September 17 he earned two victories in a double-header.

1924
SP Walter Johnson 23-7 2.72 ERA 1.12 WHIP 4.9 PW 29 WS 9.5 WARP3
After several seasons that were below the legend’s standards, Walter Johnson returned to form in 1924. He led the league in almost every pitching category including wins (23), ERA (2.72), WHIP (1.12), K/9 (5.12), Shutouts (6), and K/W (2.05). About the same time that Sam Rice was in the midst of his 31-game hitting streak, Johnson had a streak of his own: 13 straight wins. The streak came late in the season and, like Rice, Johnson’s play was a key factor in the eventual pennant victory for the Nats. Johnson won the 1924 MVP award, the second of his career. While is 1924 numbers don’t approach the numbers he put up in 1913, they are almost as impressive considering the hitter-friendly era and the fact that Johnson, at age 36, was the 8th oldest player in the American League.

1925

SP Walter Johnson 20-7 3.97 ERA 1.29 WHIP 4.6 PW 26 WS 7.9 WARP3
While the 37-year old continued to pile up the pitching numbers, 1925 was his best season at the plate. In 107 plate appearances, Johnson hit .433/.455/.577 with two home runs and 20 RBI. On at least two occasions, manager Harris called for Johnson’s bat in game-winning situations, and Johnson came through. On April 23 Johnson was called out of the shower to hit a two-run single to win the game over New York, 3-2. On May 19th, the Big Train drove a ball over the 45-foot wall at League Park in Cleveland to give his team a 4-3 win.

In the World Series, Johnson seemed to have the Pirates’ number in his first two appearances, allowing just one run in Games 1 and 5. The Pirates finally got to Johnson in the final game, however. He allowed 15 hits and nine runs, though only five of them were earned, in the 9-7 loss in Game 7.

1926
SP Walter Johnson 15-16 3.63 ERA 1.27 WHIP 0.7 PW 15 WS 5.5 WARP3
In his final opening day start, Johnson pitched what he remembered as his greatest game. No member of the Philadelphia Athletics went further than first base in a 15-inning, six hit shutout for Johnson. Though 1926 would become a bit of a tough season for the legend, he did manage to pile on more career milestones. On April 27 he won his 400th career game.

1927
SP Walter Johnson 5-6 5.10 ERA 1.29 WHIP -0.4 PW 5 WS 1.4 WARP3
The spring injury created a situation where Walter Johnson ended his career with a whimper rather than with a bang, but the circumstances surrounding his final season did not diminish the career of the man who remain the greatest player in franchise history 80 years later.

Johnson’s career numbers: 417-279 2.17 ERA (146 ERA+) 1.06 WHIP 89.9 PW 560 WS 203.2 WARP3

He remains baseball’s all-time leader in career shutouts with 110 and PW with 89.9. He is second only to Cy Young in wins, and is eighth on the all-time ERA list. His 1913 season still stands as one of the greatest single seasons in history. Walter Johnson is, hands down, the greatest player in the history of the franchise.

The rest of the starters…

C Muddy Ruel

1B Joe Judge

2B Buddy Myer

SS Joe Cronin

3B Buddy Lewis

LF Goose Goslin

CF Clyde Milan

RF Sam Rice


The All-Washington Team: Right Field

July 21, 2008

The team so far:

C Muddy Ruel

1B Joe Judge

2B Buddy Myer

SS Joe Cronin

3B Buddy Lewis

LF Goose Goslin

CF Clyde Milan

And in right field:

Sam RIce (1915-1933)

1916
RF Sam Rice .299/.352/.386 1 HR 0.4 BFW 8 WS 3 FRAR 1.8 WARP3
Rice also pitched 21.3 innings in 1916, but his pitching career ended there (9 G, 1-1, 2.52 ERA, 1.27 WHIP career). Edgar “Sam” Rice started his ML career at the age of 25 due to a stint in the merchant marines and the US Navy. He saw combat aboard the USS New Hampshire off the coast of Mexico in April 1914. Rice was noticed playing semi-pro ball while on leave that August, and purchased from the Navy by the owner of the Portsmouth Truckers. He was purchased by the Nationals in July of 1915.

1917
RF Sam Rice .302/.360/.309 0 HR 1.5 BFW 24 WS 16 FRAR 6.4 WARP3
This is the year that Rice established himself as one of the better hitters in the league. He will take most of 1918 off to serve in the Army, though he will play in a few games while on furlough.

1919
RF Sam Rice .321/.376/.411 3 HR 1.4 BFW 18 WS 15 FRAR 6.6 WARP3
Rice has the distinction of being the only Nats hitter in 1919 that could be accurately described as having a good season. One year removed from serving in World War I, Rice returned to form as if he hadn’t missed any time at all.

1920
CF Sam Rice .338/.381/.428 3 HR 2.3 BFW 23 WS 20 FRAR 7.1 WARP3
Rice replaced Milan in center field for the 1920 season, and would stay there for three seasons before moving back to right in 1923. He had a 28-game hitting streak that was finally stopped on July 16. Arguably Washington’s most valuable player in 1920.

1921
CF Sam Rice .332/.382/.467 4 HR 1.7 BFW 23 WS 12 FRAR 5.2 WARP3
Another very good season for Sam Rice, who, at the age of 31, was still the most dependable bat in the Washington lineup.

1922
CF Sam Rice .295/.347/.423 6 HR 0.0 BFW 20 WS 6 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
1922 was a bit of a down year for Rice. His .347 OBP was a career low (he would have lower OBP, but not until the age of 37). He would return to his normal .380 range by 1923.

1923
RF Sam Rice .316/.381/.450 3 HR 1.6 BFW 24 WS 18 FRAR 7.2 WARP3
At the age of 33, Rice may have had his finest season in 1923. He had career highs in a number of offensive categories, though he would surpass most of them later in his career. Rice’s 7.2 WARP3 stands as the highest in his career. Though most careers wind down at Rice’s age, he still had a number of very good seasons ahead of him.

1924
RF Sam Rice .334/.382/.443 1 HR 0.4 BFW 24 WS 18 FRAR 6.2 WARP3
Rice had a 31-game hitting streak that occurred mostly in September. His play down the stretch was a key reason that the Nats were able to hold off the Yankees.

1925
RF Sam Rice .350/.388/.442 1 HR 0.7 BFW 24 WS 14 FRAR 5.6 WARP3
Rice hit 182 singles in 1925, an AL record that will stand until 1980. The most famous play of Rice’s career occurred in Game 3 of the World Series, when he appeared to make a tumbling catch of an Earl Smith line drive to the right field corner. Rice disappeared from view for about 15 seconds, prompting speculation that a fan had helped him recover the ball. Sam would dodge questions about the play for many years, finally offering the answer in a sealed envelope to be opened upon his death. In 1974, the Hall of Fame opened the message, which stated “At no time did I lose possession of the ball.”

1926
RF Sam Rice .337/.380/.445 3 HR 1.0 BFW 23 WS 11 FRAR 5.6 WARP3
At the age of 36, Rice continued to be one of the premier singles hitters in baseball. He finished fourth in AL MVP voting, and led the league in at-bats (641), hits (216), and singles (167).

1927
RF Sam Rice .297/.336/.408 2 HR -1.8 BFW 17 WS 18 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
37-year-old Sam Rice had his worst season in 1927. For the first (and only) time in his Washington career he was a below-average hitter. Rice’s problems were primarily a product of a horrible start. It was so bad during the season that Bucky Harris was quoted as saying that his prospects for starting in 1928 “were not very bright.” There were even some rumors that Griffith was shopping the star hitter for a trade. Though he showed that he could still hit by turning his season around in the summer, Rice still had to fight for his job the next season. Rice stayed with the team and rebounded in 1928, indicating that his poor play early in the 1927 season was likely caused by health problems he had in the spring, not by a decline in skills.

1928
RF Sam Rice .328/.379/.438 2 HR -0.6 BFW 19 WS 3 FRAR 4.5 WARP3
Rice rebounded at 38-years-old to his typical career numbers. Age did not seem to catch up with Rice, who would remain a regular into his 40’s.

1929
RF Sam Rice .323/.382/.424 1 HR -0.1 BFW 20 WS 10 FRAR 4.7 WARP3
Once again Rice had a typical season for his career. What made it different was that he did at at the age of 39.

1930
RF Sam Rice .349/.407/.457 1 HR 0.9 BFW 23 WS 18 FRAR 6.0 WARP3
At the age of 40 Sam Rice showed that he wasn’t ready to retire quite yet. Interestingly, Rice was only the sixth oldest player in the league in 1930.

1931
RF Sam Rice .310/.365/.400 0 HR -0.4 BFW 13 WS 13 FRAR 3.0 WARP3
If Sam Rice played in 2007, he would likely be under suspicion for some kind of performance-enhancing drug. At age 41 he still played every day for Washington, maintained 100 OPS+, and was still an above-average fielder. When Rice did need a rest, Dave Harris filled in well. Harris also backed up the other outfield positions, and served as the team’s go to pinch-hitter.

1932
OF Sam Rice .323/.391/.438 1 HR 0.5 BFW 11 WS 6 FRAR 2.6 WARP3
Rice was used as a back up, but still put up some pretty good numbers at the age of 42.


The All-Washington Team: Center Field

July 8, 2008

The team so far:

C Muddy Ruel

1B Joe Judge

2B Buddy Myer

SS Joe Cronin

3B Buddy Lewis

LF Goose Goslin

And, in center field:

CF Clyde Milan (1907-1922)

1908:
CF Clyde Milan .239/.304/.315 1 HR 0.4 BFW 15 WS
The easy-going Milan became a regular in center for the first time in 1908. The 21-year-old would patrol the field better than just about anybody in the game for 15 years to come.

1909:
CF Clyde Milan .200/.268/.257 1 HR -1.7 BFW 3 WS
Things weren’t looking so good for Milan in 1909. The Nats stuck with him, however, and would be rewarded in a few years. Despite the poor offensive contribution, Milan was already cementing his status as a very good fielder in center.

1910:
CF Clyde Milan .279/.379/.333 0 HR 2.6 BFW 23 WS
Milan equaled or surpassed career highs in nearly every offensive category in his third season as a full time player. He finished fifth in the AL in OBP due partially to his ability to draw walks. He was second in the AL in that category with 72 bases on balls.

1911:
CF Clyde Milan .315/.395/.394 3 HR 1.8 BFW 27 WS 16 FRAR 6.3 WARP3
This is the season that Milan established himself as one of the top center fielders in baseball. He played in every game and had his best offensive season to date. Milan also broke out as a baserunner, finishing second in AL stolen bases with 58. He continued to show outstanding range in center, and totaled 33 assists by the end of the season. Milan also gained some respect around the league, finishing 9th in MVP voting. The best news for the Nats: at 24 years of age he had a long career ahead of him.

1912:
CF Clyde Milan .306/.377/.379 1 HR 1.0 BFW 33 WS 18 FRAR 5.7 WARP3
Though his number slipped a bit from the previous year, Milan finished fourth in AL MVP voting (one spot behind teammate and friend Walter Johnson), no doubt a function of his team’s success. Milan ran away with the AL stolen base crown, swiping 88 bases. Though Eddie Collins stole six bases on two occasions, he still finished a distant second with 63. On June 14th, Milan stole five bases, including home.

1913:
CF Clyde Milan .301/.367/.378 3 HR -1.2 BFW 28 WS 5 FRAR 4.7 WARP3
For the second straight season Milan led the AL in stolen bases. He swiped 75 in 1913, beating out teammate Danny Moeller by 13. Now a veteran of 6 seasons, Milan played 154 games in center field for the third straight season. From 1910-1913, Milan compiled 23.1 WARP3, the best stretch of his career.

1914:

CF Clyde Milan .295/.346/.396 1 HR -0.5 BFW 19 WS 2 FRAR 3.2 WARP3
Milan, considered by Clark Griffith to be the best center fielder in franchise history, continued to drop according to FRAR:

1911 16
1912 18
1913 5
1914 2

Some of the drop off may be due to the collision with Moeller, but his FRAR will hover in the single digits for the rest of his career.

milan1911.jpg
A 1911 Clyde Milan tobacco card

After leading the league for two straight years in stolen bases, Milan only swiped 38 in a shortened 1914, 5th in the league. Still, the 27 year old was the top offensive producer for Washington, and had several good seasons ahead of him.

1915:
CF Clyde Milan .288/.353/.346 2 HR -1.0 BFW 22 WS 4 FRAR 3.6 WARP3
Once again Milan was among the AL leaders in stolen bases with 40, good for fifth in the league; though he was caught stealing 19 times. Virtually all of his value from 1913 to the end of his career came from his hitting, as he was slightly better than a replacement level fielder.

1916:
CF Clyde Milan .273/.343/.313 1 HR 0.3 BFW 18 WS 10 FRAR 3.4 WARP3
This is the first year that Milan’s OPS+ fell below 100 since 1909. He will be back above league average again next season.

1917:
CF Clyde Milan .294/.364/.333 0 HR -0.6 BFW 22 WS -5 FRAR 3.4 WARP3
Milan’s offense returned after a slightly disappointing 1916. He led the AL in singles with 151. At the age of 30, he still has a few good seasons left in him, though his fielding seems to have taken a sharp dive.

1918:
CF Clyde Milan .290/.344/.346 0 HR -0.9 BFW 18 WS 5 FRAR 3.2 WARP3
This is pretty much what was expected from Milan at this point in his career. He was still an above average hitter at the age of 31.

1919:
CF Clyde Milan .287/.371/.361 0 HR -0.2 BFW 9 WS 0 FRAR 2.2 WARP3
The 32-year-old played in only 88 games, the lowest total of his career if you take away his first and last seasons. Buzz Murphy filled in at center field when Milan was out, but was very unimpressive at the plate and wasn’t really an improvement in the field.

1920:
LF Clyde Milan .322/.364/.403 3 HR 0.0 BFW 14 WS 11 FRAR 3.9 WARP3
At the age of 33, Milan was well into his career downswing by 1920. He moved from center to left field, where he had some success, and was able to play 122 games total.

1921:
RF Clyde Milan .288/.351/.397 1 HR -0.9 BFW 10 WS 2 FRAR 1.3 WARP3
This was his last season as a regular, though he would continue to play as manager in 1922. The easy-going outfielder had a long, slow decline and it would be easy to forget what he had meant to the Nationals in his prime. He was considered one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball in the early part of the 1910’s, and it was hard to find a better hitter in the league not named Cobb during that same time span. Milan’s playing career lasted 16 seasons, and he compiled a .285/.353/.353 line with 55.5 WARP3.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.