Home Opener 2015

April 13, 2015

A year ago the start of the Twins season brought with it some cautious optimism. The Twins offense showed signs of being, at the very least, interesting and while nobody was thinking playoffs, entertaining baseball and a .500 team did not seem out of the question.

Today, the only optimism I feel towards the Minnesota Twins’ home opener comes from the beautiful spring weather and the fact that I get to spend the afternoon enjoying that rather than a view of teflon.

Maybe that’s not entirely true. The news that Trevor May will be starting the game will perhaps provide a small glimpse into the bright future for the Minnesota Twins.

That bright future, entirely theoretical at this point, seems to be a smaller dot on the horizon than it did at this time last year. It is hard to look at any aspect of the team and see improvement from a year ago. The defense looks worse on paper and on the field; what little hope the pitching has of being more than mediocre is probably dependent on defensive improvement; and it seems that the ever expanding strike zone might be the worst enemy of an offense that lived and died by drawing walks last season.

I believe the last time I was less excited for a new baseball season, at least for the home team, was in the mid 1990’s.

Still, through the magic of MLB.tv I can begin the process of choosing a secondary team to follow for the season. It’s not the same as Minnesota Twins success, but it will have to do for now.

And the fact remains that I will be sitting in the sun watching baseball this afternoon, and even the worst teams win about a third of their games.



Half-Baked Hall Profile: Joe Jackson

April 4, 2015

I copied my swing after Joe Jackson’s. His is the perfectist.  -Babe Ruth


Babe Ruth was not skimpy when it came to praise of a man he attempted to pattern his swing after. Joe Jackson, in fact, was considered by most who saw him play to possess the most pure baseball swing the game had seen up to that time. Most discussions of Shoeless Joe, however, begin and end with the Black Sox scandal.

When Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis came down hard on the eight players implicated in the 1919 World Series scandal, it may have been necessary. Baseball was on the verge of becoming a big business, but the game had a shady relationship with gamblers that went back to its beginnings. In order for the game, or any game, to fully capture the interest of mainstream America it would need to have a cleaner image.

The World Series fix of 1919 was a high profile event and an opportunity for the owners to distance themselves from the gambling element. Thus, though the eight players were acquitted of wrongdoing by a jury of their peers, it was announced shortly thereafter that all eight were banned from baseball for life.

There may be a compelling argument in defense of the ban. There is an equally compelling argument that Shoeless Joe shouldn’t have been among the players banned.

Jackson’s World Series statistics are often used as evidence that he was not a part of the fix. It is the defense that was made famous by Kevin Costner as he plowed under his corn at great risk of foreclosure. It is also a defense that is incomplete. Jackson did have a good World Series in 1919, but that doesn’t prove non-involvement in the fix itself.

The testimony of the other seven players involved was a different story. The stories lined up: Shoeless Joe never attended any of the meetings in which the fix was discussed. Jackson’s roomate, Lefty Williams, went further to say that Jackson had no knowledge of the fix – that the seven had used his star power as a hook to get investment from the gamblers; that without the name “Shoeless Joe”, there wouldn’t have been funding.

When Joe did get wind of the conspiracy, as the story goes, he tried to warn Sox owner Charles Comiskey and asked that he be benched for the series in order to avoid the appearance of being a part of any fix.

Even if one buys that a total ban was necessary for the players involved in the scandal, the historical evidence seems to suggest that Jackson was, at worst, attempting to distance himself from a fix which he heard about second hand.

Will Joe Jackson ever be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame? It doesn’t seem likely with the fervor with which the current crop of Hall voters sees themselves as morality judges and gate keepers of the integrity of the baseball. No matter, though. He is now a member of the Half-Baked Hall.


Half-Baked Hall Profile: Fred Clarke

March 13, 2015

The Half-Baked Hall has been in existence for over a year now. The brainchild of Beau, it began as the WGOM’s alternative to the real Hall of Fame. Over the course of the past year, the voters at WGOM have worked their way through the 19th century, and up to the year 1923. By my count, 28 men have been elected. There are a few who were not eligible for Cooperstown that get their recognition at WGOM, including players who didn’t play the required 10 seasons and players who were banned for life. There are a number of members of the Cooperstown Hall that did not make the cut at the WGOM. In my mind, the unique greatness of the Half-Baked Hall is best illustrated by this discussion thread about Fred Clarke.

There is not much that I can add, but I will try.

Clarke could have made the Hall of Fame both as a player and as a manager. As an outfielder, he played 21 seasons, all with either Louisville or Pittsburgh. On the field, Clarke was an all-around player, regularly appearing near the top of the offensive leader boards, and providing a rare combination of solid hitting, speed, and defense. In addition to playing, he was a manager for 19 seasons, all but one of them were seasons in which he appeared as a player. During his tenure he led his team to four pennants and a World Series win.

Clarke apparently lacked talent in one area: hat placement

The baseball world was not the only one in which Clarke showed all-around talent.

Blessed with mechanical as well as athletic talent, Clarke created and held patents for flip-down sunglasses, sliding pads, an additional rubber strip placed in front of the official pitching rubber to prevent pitchers from catching their spikes when they pivoted, a small equipment bag, and an early mechanical way of handling the tarpaulin;[9] he was an avid hunter and fisherman, a Kansas state champion amateur trap shooter, and an outstanding horseman who could do riding tricks;[10] and he became a prosperous rancher whose wealth was estimated at $1,000,000 in 1917—the equivalent of $81,100,000 in 2010[11]—after oil was discovered on his property the previous year.[12]

In addition, Clarke was involved in both community and national service. As a resident of the Winfield area, he was a member of the chamber of commerce, a charter member of the Rotary club, a supporter of sandlot baseball, and one of the founders of the town’s country club.[16] On the national level, he held leadership positions with the National Baseball Congress,[17] and he experimented with growing soapberry trees to see if the wood could be used to make stronger bats for the sporting goods company Hillerich & Bradsby.[18]

So, it is possible Clarke is the only member of the baseball playing, baseball managing, hunting, fishing, inventing, trap shooting, horsemanship, ranching, civic organizing, tree growing, and bat making Hall of Fame.


Half-Baked Hall: Home Run Baker

March 12, 2015

Nothing says “Deadball Era” like a guy who averaged 10 home runs per year earning the “Home Run” moniker without even a hint of irony. In fact, the man they called “Home Run”- Frank Baker, shared a locker room with Babe Ruth in 1921 and 1922. Over the course of those two years, Ruth fell just two home runs short of Baker’s career mark of 96 home runs, including a then unheard of 59 in 1921. From Baker’s SABR biography written by David Jones:

Perhaps envious of Ruth’s fame, Baker bemoaned the “rabbit ball” that made the home run a more frequent occurrence. “I don’t like to cast aspersions,” Baker later confided to a reporter, “but a Little Leaguer today can hit the modern ball as far as grown men could hit the ball we played with.”

Despite the fact that, in Baker’s prime years, conditions did not allow for the gaudy home run totals that he would watch Ruth attain in later years, Baker was a bona fide slugger. He led the American League in home runs for four consecutive seasons – one of only four men in history to accomplish that feat.

Home_Run_Baker_(1910_A's)_4“Home Run” admiring his work

Baseball lore suggests that Baker earned the nickname after he hit two key home runs in the 1911 World Series. While he did hit those home runs, the truth is that Baker actually earned the title before he hit his first official major league home run. A 1909 report attributed the nickname to Baker, with the following explanation:

Baker’s work has possibly been the most spectacular. On three occasions he has won close games with home runs, while his fielding inspires the belief that Mack will have the best man at the corner since the days when Lave Cross was good.”

Baker was ranked as the fifth best third baseman of all time by Bill James in 2001, enough to consider him a slam dunk in both the Half-Baked Hall and the real Hall, but it is possible that Baker could have been even better.

Baker sat out the 1915 season rather than continue to play for the same salary. He played some town ball during his year-long stare down with Connie Mack, but did not see major league pitching for 18 months. The numbers upon his return tell the story of a solid player – but nothing like he had been from 1912-1915. He was no longer the dominant player he had been, and slowly declined from there, playing out his final seasons with the Yankees.

Baker missed another full season of baseball in 1920. Though the decline in his numbers was already well established, the missed 1920 season likely took more of an emotional toll on Baker. Scarlet fever hit the Baker home, causing the death of his wife and near death of his two daughters. Initially Frank announced that he had lost his love of baseball, but ultimately after a time of grief and quarantine, returned to the Yankees to play the final two seasons of his career.





Half-Baked Hall Profile: Ed Walsh

March 10, 2015

In 1902 a 25-year-old pitcher for the independent California League’s Sacramento Gilt Edges was desperately seeking a way to extend his career. Elmer Strickett had never been a dominant pitcher, but won more games than he lost as he made his way through the minor leagues in places like Rock Island, IL and Wheeling, WV. He had been playing in Sacramento since the previous season, but had hurt his arm and by all accounts was close to losing his job.

Among the hodge-podge of teammates that came and went in Sacramento that year was a young outfielder named George Hildebrand. Hildebrand never pitched, but was nevertheless fascinated by the “drop ball” – the fact that he could make a ball break using spit. Pitchers of the era who used wet pitches typically just wet the end of their fingers, but Hildebrand experimented with different methods. He found that the more spit he used, the more the ball would break.

George Hildebrand- later became an AL umpire

Strickett found Hildebrand to be a godsend. The outfielder taught his version of the spitball to Strickett, who was able to resurrect his season using the new pitch.

Strickett’s success with the wetter pitch continued the next couple of seasons until the pitcher earned his way onto the White Sox for a cup of coffee in 1907. Though he went on to pitch for three seasons with Brooklyn, Strickett’s most important contribution to baseball history may have come during his short stint in Chicago. He appeared in just a single game and it was only memorable in how bad it went – he allowed 10 runs in 7 innings pitched. While he was with the team, however, manager Fielder Jones asked Strickett to teach the spitball to his roommate, a rookie named Ed Walsh.

Walsh, of course, went on to have a lot of success with the pitch. From his SABR bio:

Not surprisingly, at the time Walsh’s spitball was considered the most effective pitch in baseball. Walsh disguised the pitch by going to his mouth before every delivery, regardless of what he was going to throw. When he did throw the spitter, according to Alfred Spink he moistened a spot on the ball between the seams an inch square. “His thumb he clinches tightly lengthwise on the opposite seam, and swinging his arm straight overhead with terrific force, he drives the ball straight at the plate,” Spink wrote. “At times it will dart two feet down and out, depending on the way his arm is swung.”

For six seasons, Walsh was an iron man for the White Sox. He led the league in innings pitched four of those seasons. In 1908, Walsh won 40 games and pitched 464 innings. Not surprisingly, he was only able to muster 230.1 innings pitched in 1909, but was back with totals of 369.2, 368.2, and 393.0 innings pitched in 1910-1912.

Ed Walsh, no doubt chewing elm bark in order to maintain his saliva supply

A staggering total of 2,248 innings over the course of six seasons was ultimately what did Walsh in. Even with the great spitter at his disposal, his arm was essentially dead after the 1912 season. He had to wait for the Old Timer’s Committee to elect him into the Hall of Fame, but ultimately Walsh is among the great pitchers of all time due to his six year peak from 1907-1912.

There is no indication that Walsh expressed any gratitude to Elmer Strickett for teaching him the spitball in his later years, but he did spend time lobbying to legalize the spitter, which had been outlawed in 1920.

He once said, “everything else favors the hitters. Ball parks are smaller and baseballs are livelier. They’ve practically got pitchers wearing straitjackets. Bah! They still allow the knuckleball and that is three times as hard to control.”

Half-Baked Hall Profile: Sam Crawford

March 9, 2015

The prevailing wisdom at beginning of the 20th century was that hitting was a “scientific” skill. Most of the top hitters of the day used a finesse game at the plate, commonly employing bunts and well placed singles as a preferred way of getting on base.


Wahoo Sam Crawford was among a small handful of counter-cultural baseball stars of the deadball era who saw hitting differently.

“My idea of batting is a thing that should be done unconsciously,” he once explained. “If you get to studying it too much, to see just what fraction of a second you must swing to meet a curved ball, the chances are you will miss it altogether.”

See the ball, hit the ball hard. It was the way Crawford played in his early days as a member of a barnstorming team that traveled the plains of eastern Nebraska on a horse-drawn lumber wagon. It’s also the way he played with the Detroit Tigers, as part of the greatest outfield in baseball history.

Every good story needs a villain. For Sam Crawford that villain was long-time teammate Ty Cobb. From the time he jumped from the National League in 1902 until 1906, Crawford was the star of the Tigers. Cobb began to emerge as the game’s best player in 1906.

One might expect that a 25-year-old baseball star would have difficulty being eclipsed by a 19-year-old even if the teenage phenom was an amiable fellow. Cobb, of course, was anything but. While it is reported that early on Crawford took Cobb under his wing, Cobb held on to a bitterness that lasted long past his playing days for hazing that he said occurred early in the two stars’ careers as teammates.

Cobb “came up with an antagonistic attitude, which in his mind turned any little razzing into a life-or-death struggle,” Crawford recounted for Lawrence Ritter in The Glory of their Times years later. “He came up from the South, you know, and he was still fighting the Civil War. As far as he was concerned, we were all damn Yankees before he even met us.”

Crawford, for his part, resented the special treatment that Cobb was afforded. Crawford also had difficulty with what he perceived as the “me first” playing style of his cantankerous teammate.

Despite the friction between two of the team’s best players, the Detroit Tigers won three consecutive pennants from 1907-1909. Crawford did his part by putting up a 145 OPS+ and 63.5 rWAR over the course of his 15 seasons in Detroit. Crawford and Cobb are still considered one of the top double-steal duos in baseball history.

Crawford’s productivity as a player ended suddenly in his age 37 season. By the time he played his last big league game in 1917, Crawford’s OPS+ had dropped 80 full points from the previous season. He retired as baseball’s all-time leader in triples with 309 – a mark that still stands.

The end of Crawford’s playing career did not signal the end of his rivalry with Cobb, however. Cobb wrote a letter to the Sporting News accusing Crawford of not helping him in the outfield and fouling balls off intentionally when Cobb was trying to steal bases. Crawford responded by calling Cobb a cheapskate who placed blame for his own defensive deficiencies on his teammates. Cobb replied that Crawford was jealous. And so it went.

Despite the fact that the barbs went back and forth for the decades after their playing careers were over, it was Ty Cobb who lobbied hardest for Sam Crawford’s induction in the Hall of Fame, which ultimately led to Crawford joining Cobb in the Hall in 1957.




Half-Baked Hall Profile: Joe McGinnity

February 16, 2015

A boy named Tommy was born in 1870 in Manchester, England, where he and his family lived until he was 14 years old. Like most boys in Manchester his age, Tommy played cricket. When Tommy’s family immigrated to the United States in 1884, he had to learn a new game, so he naturally chose the one that looked most like his beloved cricket. Tommy’s interest in baseball, however, was less with the playing the game itself and more with the study of the rules. He read editions of Sporting Life and watched many organized games, usually as a bat boy.

By the time Tommy was 24, he had no experience playing organized baseball, but was already an umpire in the New England League. Four years later he was discovered by National League umpire Tim Hurst, who recommended Tommy as an umpire in the National League. His first few years of umpiring were tough, particularly as Tommy discovered that most of his rulings were not backed by the league president.

Enter Ban Johnson, who wanted to end “rowdyism” in his new American League in 1901, and promised umpires who would join his league that he would back them in that endeavor. Tommy Connolly signed on for the inaugural season of American League baseball and became a Hall of Fame umpire with more than a quarter century of service.

The first test of Connolly, and Ban Johnson’s promise to back him, came from 30-year-old star pitcher Joe McGinnity of the Baltimore Orioles. McGinnity had a late start to his career, but had established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball in two seasons in the National League. For reasons that remain unclear, the 5’11 bigger than his 207 lb listing McGinnity became upset with the 5’7 140 lb Connolly. The disagreement escalated quickly when McGinnity kicked Connolly and spit tobacco juice in the Englishman’s face. The skirmish quickly became a full-scale riot, including cleared benches, brawls throughout the field, and police with batons. McGinnity was arrested and brought before a judge following the melee.

Johnson, eager to make a statement, banned the instigator, McGinnity, for life.

In one of sport’s oldest and most enduring of story lines*, McGinnity’s suspension was reduced to 12 games on appeal.

*The Black Sox and Pete Rose are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Though Connolly didn’t get the backing he desired from the league president, some action ended up being all that was required. For the rest of his career, Connolly had the respect of the players, and rarely had to resort to ejection (though he did famously run Babe Ruth).

As for McGinnity, he continued his career by joining the New York Giants and becoming the rowdy counterpart to the refined Christy Mathewson. National League President Harry Pulliam once fined McGinnity for “attempting to make the ballpark a slaughterhouse” when the pitcher mounted an opposing catcher in order to throw a series of punches after a game-long verbal dispute.


McGinnity was also a key player in both the original “Merkle boner” game and the replay. In the first game, McGinnity was the guy who found the ball and threw it out of the Polo Grounds in order to prevent the Cubs from recovering it and tagging second base. Johnny Evers, of course, found a ringer creating the controversy that necessitated a replay.

Prior to that replay, McGinnity was the key player in a more sinister plot. With Christy Mathewson scheduled to pitch, the team’s other ace pitcher was expendable. So it was plotted that McGinnity would bait Frank Chance, traditional Mathewson killer, into a fight that would get both ejected. Joe hurled insults at the Cubs’ star player, stepped on his toes,  even spit at him, but Chance wouldn’t bite. Frank Chance went on to get a key hit in the Chicago Cubs win over the Giants.

The Giants released McGinnity prior to the 1909 season, but it was not the end for the “Iron Man” who pitched at least 14 more seasons in the minor leagues, primarily as a player-manager.

Joe McGinnity, of course, wouldn’t have made it into the Hall of Fame (either the Half-Baked variety or the real deal), had he not been a great pitcher. Though his major league career was on the short side, he was dominant once he found the strike zone*, thanks in part to an underhand curve he called “Old Sal”. He ended with 60.4 rWAR and 120 ERA+ in 10 seasons. In addition, he distinguished himself by being the brawler that kick-started (and perhaps spit-started) the career of one of the most respected umpires in baseball history.

*In 1900 McGinnity led the league in both walks (113) and hit batsmen (40 – 3rd most in a season all time).


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