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


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