Tagged: Branch Rickey

The End of War

Today we paused to observe Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, November 11th marked 100 years since the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. More than 15 million people, military and civilian, lost their lives during the four years the war raged in Europe.

The conflict broke out on July 24, 1914 following the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the July Crisis. The web of secret alliances and miscalculations by leaders on both sides led to all out war. The United States did not enter the conflict until the interception of the  Zimmermann Telegram. Germany was encouraging Mexico to attack the United States if America entered the war in Europe. Germany promised Mexico support in regaining lost territories including Texas. The admission by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann of the authenticity of the telegram hastened American entry into the war on April 6, 1917.

The United States mobilized more than 4 million military personnel during the war. Among them were 788 former, current, or future Major League players. Players did not receive special treatment as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, George Sisler, and Branch Rickey were assigned to the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson contracted tuberculous and died from the disease in 1925 at 45 years old. Cobb, Mathewson, Sisler, and Rickey were among 28 future Hall of Famers who served during World War I.

CobbMathewson.jpg
Christy Mathewson (L) and Ty Cobb (R) while serving in the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson died from contracting tuberculous while serving. (Frank Ceresi Collection)

The brutality of the war led to more than 8.5 million military deaths among the belligerents. The United States alone suffered 116,708 military dead in the 20 months it was involved in the conflict. Eight Major League players lost their lives: Eddie Grant (Killed in Action), Tom Burr (Died in Training Accident Plane Crash), Bun Troy (Killed in Action), Ralph Sharman (Drowned in Training), Larry Chappell (Spanish Flu), Harry Glenn (Spanish Flu), Newt Halliday (Tuberculosis), and Harry Chapman (Died from Wounds). Three Negro League players lost their lives: Ted Kimbro (Spanish Flu), Norman Triplett (Pneumonia), and Pearl Webster (Spanish Flu). 26 minor league players also lost their lives during the conflict.

When World War I came to a halt on November 11, 1918, the concussive noise of shells stopped and soldiers could hear the birds chirping. One year later, President Woodrow Wilson spoke in remembrance of the sacrifice and lose, and of those returning home. On June 4, 1926 the United States Congress adopted a resolution that President Calvin Coolidge issue an annual proclamation calling for observances on November 11th in remembrance of the end of World War I. More than a decade later, on May 13, 1938, November 11th becomes an American holiday to promote world peace. Following two more devastating wars, World War II and the Korean War, on May 26, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law that henceforth November 11th would be known as Armistice Day. Later that summer on June 1, Congress amended the law, changing the name to Veterans Day.

On Veterans Day we honor the sacrifices made by the men and women who served or are serving in the military. Their sacrifices are up to and including laying down their lives. Deployments overseas and the separation from family and friends. The physical, mental, and emotional tolls of their jobs. The military protects the nation from enemies, both foreign and domestic. The military is not a nameless, faceless entity. It is ordinary people giving their time, skills, and sometimes lives so their fellow citizens can live in peace. On this Veterans Day, 100 years after the war to end all wars, take a moment to reflect on those who have sacrificed for us all. We should not waste their sacrifice on petty squabbles, but work together to create a more peaceful nation and world so that war becomes a thing of the past.

DJ

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Monte Irvin: More Than A Ball Player

We lost an important bridge to our collective past last week. Monte Irvin played in the Negro League for the Newark Eagles, in the Major Leagues primarily for the New York Giants and also served in World War II. Irvin, like Dr. King, helped positively transform the society we live in today.  

Debuting at the age of 19 in 1938, Monte Irvin became one of the best players in the Negro Leagues. He spent nine seasons with the Newark Eagles, interrupted by a single season with the Veracruz Azules of the Mexican League in 1942 and military service from 1942 through 1945.  After his discharge from the military, Irvin returned to Newark and continued playing for the Eagles until his contract was purchased by the New York Giants in 1949.

Monte Irvin

Monte Irvin made up for lost time when he was signed by the New York Giants in 1949. (www.cnn.com)

Monte Irvin debuted for the Giants in 1949, when he was already 30 years old.  Despite this late start, Irvin still enjoyed plenty of success over his eight seasons in the Majors.  Irvin hit 99 HR, 443 RBI, .293 BA, .383 OBP, .475 SLG, and .858 OPS.  He finished third in the 1951 National League MVP voting and was elected to the 1952 All Star game.  The true career stat line for Irvin has been lost to history, but spending just over half of his career in the Majors gives everyone an understanding how special of a player Monte Irvin was.

Continuing to make an impact after he finished his playing career, Irvin worked as a scout for the New York Mets for two seasons, 1967 to 1968.  In 1968, Irvin was named an MLB Public Relations Specialist for the Commissioner’s Office for then Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. In his role under the Commissioner, Irvin was the first African-American executive in professional baseball, outside of the Negro Leagues. Irvin’s accomplishments on and off the diamond paved the way for so many other who would follow behind him.  

“Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team,” said Hall of Famer Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles. “We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character, ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences and physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s. Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”

It was with this belief and understanding of how great a player and person Monte Irvin was that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee. Irvin was enshrined due to his play in the Negro Leagues. While MLB has not been perfect on recognizing the contributions of Negro League players to the development of the game of baseball, it has attempted to correct past wrongs.

Monte Irvin HoF
Monte Irvin was a Hall of Fame player, but his impact on baseball and society went far beyond the diamond. (www.baseballhall.org)

Respect is something that is earned over a lifetime. Monte Irvin had the respect of his peers and executives while he was still playing for the Newark Eagles and for the New York Giants. This respect carried over after Irvin retired from playing as he was brought back to baseball as a scout by the Mets and quickly hired by the Commissioner’s Office. The ability to be away from the game for nearly a decade, and then return and quickly have an impact speaks volumes about the respect people in baseball had for Irvin, and Irvin’s own ability and power to deliver.  

At the age of 96, Monte Irvin was the oldest living former Negro League player. In the same way we as a nation are losing our direct connection to the past as more and more World War II veterans pass away, so too are we losing our connection to the Negro Leagues. The necessity of the Negro League will always be a sad experience in our nation’s history. While some efforts have been made to correct the wrongs of the era, the unfortunate truth is history cannot be rewritten and we must learn from our mistakes.  The ability for us as a society to stop making the same mistakes and to move forward together depends on individuals such as Monte Irvin. His career was hindered simply due to the color of his skin. Irvin put any animosity he harbored, which would have been justified, aside and worked tirelessly to play the game he loved. He continued this after his playing days were over as he was a trailblazer for African-Americans, and other minorities, as he worked as a scout and an executive. Monte Irvin understood his opportunities and knew he would help lay the groundwork for those following behind him. Every day we are losing the men who played in the Negro Leagues, and with them the stories of those games. While it is sad that this chapter in our collective history ever existed, and that much of it has indeed been lost to history, we must remember how these men and women, working under difficult circumstances, tore down a bastion of institutionalized racism in baseball. The game of baseball has long been the forerunner to social change in America.  Men like Monte Irvin, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, and Sam Jethroe helped move the United States towards recognizing that all men are created equal by displaying their talents on the baseball diamond. The passing of Monte Irvin is a loss for baseball and America. His contributions to both will continue to reverberate for decades to come.  

Happy belated Martin Luther King Day. Let us always remember those who have come before us and righted the wrongs of society, and let us continue their work every day.

DJ

Larry Doby  

Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League.  He played his first game in the Major Leagues on July 5, 1947 for the Cleveland Indians.  Doby has unfortunately not received nearly enough attention for his accomplishments.  He faced just as much abuse and hatred as Jackie Robinson, and yet he is often not mentioned with Robinson in helping to permanently integrate Major League Baseball.

Doby, unlike Robinson, was a veteran of professional baseball before playing in Major League Baseball.  He played 5 seasons with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League (1942-1947).  He missed all of the 1945 season while serving in the Navy during World War II.  Like nearly every player from the Negro Leagues, Doby’s statistics are incomplete.  The numbers were do have are impressive.  In his time with the Eagles, we know he had 351 PA, 329 AB, 100 hits, 62 runs, 12 doubles, 9 triples, 8 home runs, 60 RBI, 8 stolen bases, 19 walks, .304 BA, .342 OBP, .468 SLG, .810 OPS.  Excellent numbers, even if they are only a glimpse into the type of player Doby was in his late teens and early twenties.

Larry Doby collects a hit against the Philadelphia Athletics on July 12, 1947 (www.britannica.com)

Larry Doby collects a hit against the Philadelphia Athletics on July 12, 1947 (www.britannica.com)

Less than two years after becoming the principal owner of the Cleveland Indians, Bill Veeck followed through with his proposal from 1942 to integrate baseball.  Veeck signed Doby after paying $15,000 to Newark Eagles Business Manager and co-owner Effa Manley.  Unlike Branch Rickey, Veeck felt the Negro League should be compensated for their players.  The Indians signed Doby on July 3, 1947 and two day later on July 5, 1947 be played in his first Major League game.

Fittingly, the Indians were in Chicago to play the White Sox.  Nearly 60 years after Cap Anson all but pushed all African-American players, including Moses Fleetwood Walker, out of baseball, Larry Doby integrated the American League against Anson’s old team.  Doby appeared as a pinch hitter in the 7th inning for pitcher Bryan Stephens, striking out against Earl Harrist.

Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby (www.sportingnews.com)

Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby (www.sportingnews.com)

Larry Doby played 13 seasons in Major League Baseball, 10 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, before playing with the Chicago White Sox, and the Detroit Tigers.  He was a 7-time all-star (1949-1955).  He played in 1,533 games, 6,299 PA, 5,348 AB, 1,515 hits, 960 runs scored, 243 doubles, 52 triples, 253 homeruns, 970 RBI, 47 stolen bases, 871 walks, 1011 strikeouts, .283 BA, .386 OBP, .490 SLG, .876 OPS.  Defensively, Doby was primarily and outfielder, but he did play eight games in around the infield.  He played 1,448 games in the field, 12,395 innings, 3,797 chances, 3,640 putouts, 93 assists, 64 errors, .983 fielding percentage.  Doby’s individual success also helped the Indians to find success.  Cleveland reached two World Series, 1948 and 1954.  The Indians won the 1948 World Series against the Boston Braves 4 games to 2.  Doby played all 6 games, had 22 AB, 7 hits, 1 run, 1 double, 1 home run, 2 RBI, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, had .318 BA, .375 OBP, .500 SLG, .875 OPS, and 11 total bases.  The Indians returned to the World Series in 1954, but were swept by the New York Giants 4 games to 0.  Doby did not have the same success as in 1948.  He played in all 4 games, had 16 AB, 2 hits, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, had a .125 BA, .222 OBP, .125 SLG, .347 OPS, and 2 total bases.  Doby would play another five years, last playing in the Majors in 1959.

After his playing career ended, Doby bounced around through various baseball jobs before returning to the diamond as a member of the Chunichi Dragons.  His return to playing baseball lasted only one season, 1962.  He played 72 games, 268 PA, 240 AB, 54 hits, 27 runs, 9 doubles, 1 triple, 10 home runs, 35 RBI, 25 walks, 73 strikeouts, .225 BA, .302 OBP, .396 SLG, .698 OPS.  He played alongside former Newark Eagle and Brooklyn/ Los Angeles Dodger great Don Newcombe.  Doby and Newcombe were the only non-Japanese players on the roster.

Baseball Hall of Famer, Larry Doby (www.sports.espn.go.com)

Baseball Hall of Famer, Larry Doby (www.sports.espn.go.com)

Retiring for good from playing, Doby returned to the United States and began coaching baseball.  In 1978, Larry Doby was named the Manager of the White Sox on June 29th after owner Bill Veeck, the same as in Cleveland, fired Doby’s old teammate Bob Lemon; the team was off to a 34-40 start.  Larry Doby was the second African-American Manager in Major League history; Frank Robinson was the first, having been named the player-manager of the Indians in 1975.  The White Sox went 37-50 under Doby to finished 71-90 and 5th in American League West.  The White Sox replaced Doby with player-manager Don Kessinger in 1979.

Larry Doby’s contributions to baseball on the diamond as a player, coach, manager, and man were critical to the successful integration of baseball and the decline of racism and intolerance in baseball and in the United States.  His contributions to the game and society far exceed what ant statistics can tell.  The Veteran’s Committee elected Doby to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1998.  While his career as a player and manager may not place him among the greatest that have ever played the game, Doby’s contributions to the game put him in rarefied air.  Jackie Robinson was the first to integrate baseball in 1947, but Doby was not far behind.  He faced the same abuse from other players and fans as Robinson did, and like Robinson his ability to not lash out at the abusers was as critical as his play, if not more so, to be successful.  Larry Doby and the other players who followed quickly behind Jackie Robinson often do not receive the same admiration, but they are as deserving.  If not for their success, the turning of the tide against segregation and racism could have been delayed.  Ignorance would have continued to drag baseball and society down for decades to come.  Baseball played a critical role in ending the legalized discrimination against African-Americans in the United States.  Men such as Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, Monte Irvin, and Roy Campanella helped secure the path that Jackie Robinson blazed.

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Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues

Jackie Robinson was not the best or most accomplished player in the Negro Leagues when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was however, the man Branch Rickey felt could withstand the abuse the first African-American player would face when he stepped on a major League diamond.  The players’ temperament and self-control were nearly as important as talent for Rickey.  African-American players faced abuse wherever they traveled to play their games.  The individual and collective hell they went through to play the game they love has fortunately become less of a reality in the decades since Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs.  Racism, intolerance, and ignorance are not confined to the past however, but they are no longer held by the overwhelming majority.

Jackie Robinson, 1945 Kansas City Monarchs (www.americaslibrary.gov)

Jackie Robinson, 1945 Kansas City Monarchs (www.americaslibrary.gov)

The 1945 season was Jackie Robinson’s only season in the Negro Leagues.  He played 47 games for the Kansas City Monarchs.  During his lone season with the Monarchs. Robinson had 58 AB, 24 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, scored 12 runs, stole 2 bases, had 5 walk, .414 BA, .460 OBP, .569 SLG, and 1.029 OPS.  Good but not great numbers for the small sample size we have available.  Robinson’s statistics are incomplete; this problem exists throughout the records of the Negro Leagues.  Robinson played shortstop for the Monarchs, but the statistics for his defensive play are murky and his offensive statistics are incomplete.  This lack of extensive record keeping unfortunately prevents later generations from properly appreciating the greatness of the men who played in the Negro Leagues.  During a time when those involved with the Negro Leagues were simply trying to make a living and survive, it is not surprising that the statistical record keeping was not a top priority.  It is a sad, but understandable reality.

The Kansas City Monarchs finished fourth in the Negro American League standings in 1945.  The Monarchs finished behind the Cleveland Buckeyes, the Birmingham Black Barons, the Chicago American Giants, and ahead of the Cincinnati Clowns and the Memphis Red Sox.  The Cleveland Buckeyes went on to win the Negro World Series against the Washington Homestead Grays.  The 1945 Monarchs featured two future Major League pitchers in Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith.  The rigors of the baseball season, though shorter than the Major League season, helped to prepare Robinson for life with the Dodgers.  Long bus rides, having to deal with racism on the road at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and a million other places along the way were part of being a player in the Negro Leagues.  This was his first taste of professional baseball, both the good and the bad.

1945 Kansas City Monarchs (www.captainsblog.info)

1945 Kansas City Monarchs (www.captainsblog.info)

Jackie Robinson was just one of numerous players in the Negro Leagues who had the talent to play in the Major Leagues.  Some did eventually follow Robinson to the Majors, but far too many never had the chance to show their abilities to the entire baseball world.  The celebration and admiration bestowed upon Jackie Robinson since 1947 are unquestionably deserved.  Robinson’s success was the beginning of the end for the Negro Leagues.  Less than 20 years after Robinson joined the Dodgers in Brooklyn the Negro Leagues were gone.  The Negro Leagues were the home of beautiful baseball, colorful characters, and plenty of fun.  The existence of the Negro Leagues was, and will remain, a national disgrace, as it put racism, ignorance, and intolerance on full display.  African-American players used the Negro Leagues as their only means to play the game they loved, due to the barrier Major League Baseball had erected to prevent them from playing in its league.  Jackie Robinson broke through the barrier and survived the gauntlet to integrate the Major Leagues and to close the Negro Leagues.  The injustice of segregation began to crack and would soon crumble.  Jackie Robinson helped to lead the charge in baseball that would see the best players in the world play in only one league, the Major Leagues.

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3 for 3?

The Texas Rangers have won the American League Pennant the last two years and they should compete again for the crown this year.  Although they have fallen short to the Giants and the Cardinals in the World Series, neither of those teams appear to be as stable or as solidified as the Rangers appear to be.  The reason for all of this can be traced back to three separate trades that Texas General Manager Jon Daniels made in a two year span.

The first trade occurred at the trade deadline in 2006.  The Rangers traded Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero, along with minor leaguer Julian Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.  This move has paid huge dividends for the Rangers.  First of all none of the major league players they gave up are in the same neighborhood as Cruz or Lee.  They are all serviceable big leaguers, with the only All Star caliber player given up in the trade was Francisco Cordero who has gone on to average 39 saves since the trade.  39 saves a year is not easily replaced but at 36 Cordero is clearly in the twilight of his career.

The Rangers let Carlos Lee walk away as a free agent, which some saw as a bad move at the time.  However, at 35, Lee is starting to slow down some and his big power numbers may be behind him.  Keeping Nelson Cruz though has been a major asset to the Rangers and has proved to be a major cog in the team’s success.  Cruz has provided the power to the Rangers lineup, while also providing solid defense in the outfield.  Cruz and Lee put up similar numbers, although Lee hits for better average whereas Cruz has better defense.  The five year age difference, Lee at 35 and Cruz at 30, is also an important factor.  The Rangers held onto the guy who would be in the prime of his career once the dust settled and not the immediate impact player that Lee was.  Nelson Cruz solidified the Rangers in Rightfield and in the middle of their lineup in the last two years and for several more years to come.

The second trade was with the Cincinnati Reds which brought Josh Hamilton to the Rangers.  The Rangers gave up Danny Herrera and Edinson Volquez.  The Reds waived Herrera; they felt the real prize was Volquez.  This assumption was wrong.  Since the trade in 2007 the careers of Volquez and Hamilton have gone in opposite directions.  Volquez had the best year of his career in 2008, going 17-6 with a 3.21 era and being named an All Star.  Since his magical year he has gone 13-12 with a 5.00 era.  Volquez has since been traded to the San Diego Padres as part of the deal which brought Mat Latos to the Reds.  Clearly the Rangers were following Branch Rickey’s advice of trading a player a year too early rather than a year too late.

Things have worked out better for Josh Hamilton.  He has averaged over a 162 schedule a batting average of .310 with 25 HR and 94 RBIs.  This includes the 2009 season when he only played in 89 games.  He has also been an All Star in all four season, winning two Silver Slugger Awards (2008 and 2010 respectively), and being named the 2010 AL MVP.  As feared as Hamilton is as a batter, he is able to play respectable defense in all three outfield positions.  This trade clearly favors the Rangers in every way.

The final trade which has cemented the Rangers recent success was the result of a trade with the Atlanta Braves.  The uniqueness of this trade is that the Braves have been renowned for their steadiness and always looking towards the future while continuing success.  However, the Braves broke from tradition and made a trade for the present.  The Braves landed Mark Teixeira at the 2007 trade deadline from the Rangers.  Along with Teixeira, the Braves got Ron Mahay who would eventually leave as a Free Agent.  Teixeira stayed with the Braves through the end of 2007 and until the trade deadline in 2008 when he was traded to the Anaheim Angels.

What the Braves gave up has not been of the same star power as the first two trades that GM Jon Daniels pulled off, but it has proved to be equally important.  In return for Teixeira and Mahay, the Rangers received Beau Jones who has risen to AAA and will likely pitch in the Majors soon or be used in trade by Daniels.  The Rangers received their starting shortstop Elvis Andrus, who is becoming a solid Major leaguer.  Texas also got Neftali Feliz.  He has been a dominant closer with back-to-back seasons of 40 and 32 saves.  He also won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2010 with a 4-3 record, 40 saves, and a 2.73 ERA.  Now the Rangers are converting him into a starting pitcher, with good results thus far in 2012 (2-0, 2.25 ERA).  Matt Harrison has become a solid starter for the Rangers going 14-9 with a 3.39 ERA, and 126 Strikeouts in 2011.  The final piece to the trade was Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Aside from having the longest last name in Major League history, Saltalamacchia was a catcher without a home.  The Braves were set with Brian McCann and the Rangers appeared to have their catcher in Gerald Laird which made Saltalamacchia expendable.  Ultimately he would be traded to the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2010 for three minor leaguers and cash.

Jon Daniels and the Texas Rangers have pulled off three trades which have paid huge dividends in the past two seasons.  The Rangers have avoided the pitfalls that many teams, including the Rangers earlier in their history, have stumbled into.  Instead of signing established stars to monstrous contracts, the Rangers have gone about making smart trades which brings young and relatively cheap talent to Texas.  The Rangers have built their team up the right way with an eye to the future and not just for the here and now.  Jon Daniels has replaced Billy Bean and Theo Epstein as the hot GM in baseball, although with less fanfare.  He is Billy Bean with money, but he is also the anti-Epstein for not simply buying hit team out of trouble.  Will the Rangers get back to a third straight World Series? Can they finally win a World Series? Only time will tell.  However, Jon Daniels and these three trades have made the Texas Rangers a team worth watching now and into the future.

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