Every year baseball remembers Jackie Robinson and his herculean task of breaking baseball’s color barrier. Nothing can sufficiently repay Robinson for the abuse he endured. While he was the focal point of baseball’s integration he was not alone, other trail blazers followed him to integrate every team. Collectively they changed baseball and America forever. They shouldered the weight of integration with some help along the way.
Branch Rickey believed Jackie Robinson could handle the abuse the first African American player would face. Robinson endured abuse from fans and opposing players. Even the Dodger locker room was not a safe haven. When he arrived in Brooklyn several players began a petition stating their desire to be traded rather than play with Robinson. The petition sought to force Branch Rickey to end his attempt to integrate baseball. Several players signed the petition, but it was critical that the de facto team captain sign to show a united front against Robinson. There was little doubt he would sign, having grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, surely a southern man would refuse to play alongside Robinson.
Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese was a southern man, but he held no animosity towards anyone based upon their skin color. When approached by his teammates Reese refused to sign, killing the petition. The other Dodgers may not have liked Robinson, but the locker room was now free from the abuse raining down on the field.
Pee Wee Reese was a Hall of Fame Shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers and friend to Jackie Robinson. (National Baseball Library and Archives, Cooperstown, NY)
Reese was called up to Brooklyn in 1940 and remained with the Dodgers for his entire career, retiring after the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles in 1958. He served in the Navy during World War II, missing three seasons from 1943 to 1945. Upon returning from the Navy, Reese began his career in earnest. His greatest season was 1949. In 155 Games, Reese led the National League with 132 Runs scored, collected 172 Hits including 27 Doubles, 3 Triples, and 16 Home Runs. He had 73 RBI and stole 26 Bases. Reese walked 116 times with just 59 Strikeouts. He hit .279, with an .396 OBP, .410 SLG, .806 OPS, and an 113 OPS+. Reese was named team captain before the following season.
Reese played 2,166 Games. He scored 1,338 Runs, collected 2,170 Hits including 330 Doubles, 80 Triples, and 126 Home Runs with 885 RBI. He stole 232 Bases, drew 1,210 Walks with 890 Strikeouts. He hit .269, with an .366 OBP, .377 SLG, .743 OPS, and an 99 OPS+. Shortstops were supposed to focus their attention on defense, but Reese was an elite offensive Shortstop.
Reese played more than 2,000 games at Shortstop. He led National League Shortstops in Putouts in four seasons. Over 60 years after his retirement, Reese still has the 12th most Putous and 13th most Double Plays for Shortstops. He was a solid defender even using modern metrics having led all National League players in dWAR in 1942, 1947, 1948, and 1949. His 25.6 career dWAR is the 17th highest of all time, regardless of position.
Pee Wee Reese was selected to 10 All Star Games and finished in the top 10 for MVP voting eight times. He led the Dodgers to seven World Series, all against the Yankees. Reese has the most World Series appearances with one team for a non-Yankee. Despite their success the Dodgers won only one World Series. Brooklyn lost in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, and 1956. Reese and Elston Howard have the most World Series defeats, six. Brooklyn won their lone World Series in 1955. Failure was not Reese’s fault. In 44 World Series Games, he scored 20 Runs, collected 46 Hits including 4 Doubles, 2 Triples, and 2 Home Runs with 16 RBI. He Stole 5 Bases, drew 18 Walks with 17 Strikeouts. He hit .272, with an .346 OBP, .349 SLG, and an .695 OPS.
In 1984, the Veteran’s Committee selected Reese for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The committee referenced his play and support of Jackie Robinson in their reasoning for his selection. No moment better underscores the support Reese gave Robinson than at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1947. Amid a deluge of abuse Reese put his arm around Robinson. The show of support told the crowd and opposing players that Reese supported his teammate and would defend his friend against the abuse. Some claim the event occurred in Boston against the Braves at Braves Field in 1948. Regardless where and when it occurred Reese helped ease the chaos surrounding baseball’s integration.
Pee Wee Reese showing his support for Jackie Robinson was critical in helping Robinson and other African American players successfully integrate baseball. (Ron Cervenka)
Reese standing with his arm around Robinson is immortalized in bronze and granite outside MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Reese could not deflect all the abuse directed at Robinson, but he could support him in public and private. A white player standing with Jackie Robinson was critical. The support coming from a southern man was monumental. Reese did not care what color Robinson was, they were teammates. Reese was asked if he was worried about losing his job prior to Robinson joining the Dodgers, “If he’s man enough to take my job, I’m not gonna like it, but, dammit, black or white, he deserves it.” Instead of replacing him, Robinson and Reese formed a dynamic Double Play combination. Reese joked with Robinson to ease some of the tension, he cared about Robinson the man beyond baseball. Their friendship lasted a lifetime, as Reese was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral.
People are rarely successful on their own, they receive support along the way. Jackie Robinson faced unfathomable abuse as he integrated baseball. No one could shield him from the onslaught. However, people like Pee Wee Reese helped lighten the burden. On this Jackie Robinson Day let us remember Robinson’s great courage and sacrifice to improve baseball and America. Let us also not forget those who helped him achieve success, including his teammate and friend Pee Wee Reese. Small gestures can change history.
8 years ago we began writing The Winning Run because of our love of baseball. Since then we have chronicled events in and around the game, the statistics the game produces, games we have watched, stadiums we have visited, books we have read, and films we have watched. Baseball has relatively stayed the same since 2012. It remains as exciting as ever.
We each love the game differently, yet the thrill of baseball draws us back each season for the same reason. Baseball has wrapped itself into our lives. A text about an injury or trade, discussions about why the Mets are their own worst enemy, trips to minor league parks, spur of the moment trips to our local MLB teams. Baseball is never far away.
Jesse, John, and Derek at the last Rangers game at Globe Life Park. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our local teams have changed in 8 years. Derek, Bernie, and Kevin were living near New York City with the Yankees and Mets, while Jesse and John lived in Atlanta with the Braves. Derek and Jesse love the Braves. Bernie and Kevin love their Yankees. John loves both teams. As we have moved, our rooting interest expanded as our local teams are now the Braves, Reds, Nationals, Angels, and Dodgers. Local teams are great, but we never turn down an opportunity to visit a new stadium.
Derek, Kevin, and Bernie enjoying a Rockies game at Coors Field. (The Winning Run/ BL)
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”
Time and baseball roll on. Our lives change, yet, like baseball, they stay the same. Happy 8th Birthday to The Winning Run. Here’s to many more.
After an off season of scandal, on again off again blockbuster trades, gigantic free agent signings, possible Minor League Baseball contraction, and the Mets being the Mets it is time to return to the diamond. Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training, the journey to October begins.
Expectations are high in the Bronx after signing Gerrit Cole. Houston is out to prove they can win without stealing signs, while the rest of baseball is out for revenge. The on again off again trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers showed how far Boston has fallen while searching for financial flexibility. The Red Sox continue searching for a permanent manager to replace Alex Cora after he was swept up in the fallout from Houston. Major League Baseball proposed eliminating 42 minor league teams, which immediately angered the communities potentially impacted, baseball fans, and even Congress.
The Mets once again managed to stay in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yoenis Cespedes reworked his contract after the revelation that his injury was the result of a run in with a wild boar. The Amazin’s General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, Cespedes’ former agent, now had to alter the contract he negotiated, but from the other side of the table. Carlos Beltran never made it to his first workout of Spring Training as Mets Manager. His involvement in the Astros scandal followed him to Queens. The Wilpons were unable to sell the Mets because they wanted to continue making team decisions once they no longer wrote the checks.
The Cincinnati Reds are poised to climb out of the cellar and into contention after an active Winter. (Kareem Elgazzar)
Anthony Rendon got paid by leaving Washington, Stephen Strasburg got paid to stay with the Nationals. Zack Wheeler left Queens for Philadelphia for a chance to win and a large paycheck. Madison Bumgarner left the Bay for the desert, while Hyun-Jin Ryu left sunny Southern California and moved north of the border. Josh Donaldson added his name to the slugging Twins lineup, a new age Murderers’ Row. The White Sox and Reds loaded up on free agents, vaulting themselves into contention. Hundreds of other moves happened. Time will tell which moves helped teams, and which teams will come to regret.
Baseball lost the legendary writer Roger Kahn. Few, if any, possess his ability to write about the game. He was baseball’s writer. His ability to put the passion and beauty of the game into print will be missed.
It was an odd and harrowing off season, but now Pitchers and Catchers are reporting to Spring Training. The world is a little more perfect because we are getting back to baseball.
The Houston Astros got busted. They used cameras to steal signs and relay the information to their batters, gaining an unfair advantage over opposing pitchers. Their technological operation was undone by their $5 implementation. Come on, if you are using technology to steal signs, why bang a trash can to signal the batter. Do better.
MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred punished those involved in the sign stealing scheme. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season. Unsurprisingly, both were immediately fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. Houston forfeitedtheir 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020 and 2021 drafts, and must pay a $5 million fine. The wait continues for former Astros Bench Coach and now former Red Sox Manager Alex Cora’s punishment. Cora was the mastermind of the scheme, so his punishment will certainly be stiffer as he brought his scheme to Boston. MLB will not punish active players, but this does not include former players such as new and now former Mets Manager Carlos Beltran. It is highly doubtful the Astros, and Red Sox, were the only ones stealing signs, they just got caught.
Opinions vary on the appropriate punishment. Sign stealing is not a big deal, move along. Give the Astros the death penalty and strip them of the 2017 World Series. The most idiotic assertion is this is worse than Pete Rose and his gambling. Rose controlled the Reds while betting on them. Yes he always bet on Cincinnati to win, but there is a problem. Rose had an additional vested interest in winning. If he over used a pitcher in a game he bet on, his actions influenced the next day’s game which he may not bet on. Managing a team should not be based on daily wagers. The Astros gained an advantage knowing a certain pitch was coming. This altered the outcome of games. Both Rose and the Astros are guilty of stupidity, among other things. However their baseball crimes are not the same.
The Astros MVP, complete with the wounds from getting hit to signal Houston batters. (ww.theathletic.com)
No perfect punishment exists. People will view the penalty as too lenient or too harsh. The teams Houston defeated have legitimate arguments that their opportunity to win was tainted. No one can change the past, but here is how to punish the Astros and dissuade future teams from creating sign stealing operations. First, Houston cannot hire a new General Manager or Manager until after the 2020 World Series. Obviously someone will assume both roles, but the Astros would have one less member of the front off and coaching staff. Second, Houston must host two home games which are not opened to the public. The Astros will pay game day staff for these days off. The games will be weekend games in June or July, not throw away games at the end of the season. Houston made millions winning, make them lose two games worth of income. Third, no regular season prime time games for two years. No Sunday Night Baseball. No special location games. No special attention. Fourth, make opposing players who had difficulty against the Astros and were subsequently sent down or released whole. If said player is within one year of reaching the 10 years necessary to receive an MLB pension, Houston must pay the player league minimum for the extra season and then cover their MLB pension for 10 years. If the player would not qualify for the MLB pension, Houston owes that player their highest one season salary each year for the next 10 years. These punishments are in addition to what was already handed down. Make the punishment long and annoying.
Obviously none of these additional punishments will occur, but you can dream. Houston did not just steal signs, they literally cost players and coaches jobs. Hopefully their cameras can see that too.
Eddie Cicotte takes the sign from Ray Schalk, winds and fires. OUCH! Cicotte drills the first Cincinnati Red, signaling the Chicago White Sox will throw the 1919 World Series. Baseball fans know what happened next. Eight White Sox players were accused, brought to trial, found not guilty, and then banned by new Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Chick Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsch, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, and Lefty Williams were placed on the ineligible list, where they have remained ever since.
The Black Sox scandal overshadowed the 1919 World Series. The Reds were largely ignored. So too was Cincinnati Second Baseman Morrie Rath who received the painful signal. Rath played for four teams in six seasons between stents in the Minors from 1909 to 1920. Connie Mack bought Rath from the Reading Pretzels of the Tri-State League on August 21, 1909. A month later, Rath went hitless in his Major League debut against the Cleveland Naps. On July 23, 1910, after playing just 18 games for Philadelphia, Rath and a Player To Be Named Later, Shoeless Joe Jackson, were traded to Cleveland for Bris Lord. Rath played 24 games for the Naps before his demotion to the Baltimore Orioles of the Eastern League. He stayed in Baltimore through the 1911 season, when the White Sox selected him in the Rule 5 Draft. He played 249 Games for Chicago before he was sold to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in August 1913. He was again traded to the Salt Lake City Bees for Dutch Ruether in November 1915. The Cincinnati Reds selected Rath in the 1917 Rule 5 Draft. He finally joined the Cincinnati Reds in 1919 after spending 1918 in the Navy.
Morrie Rath was the recipient of the most famous Hit By Pitch in baseball history. (www.sabr.com)
Rath played 565 Games for the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Naps, Chicago White Sox, and Cincinnati Reds. He posted a career .254 BA, .342 OBP, .285 SLG, 521 Hits, 36 Doubles, 7 Triples, 4 Home Runs, 92 RBI, 291 Runs scored, 83 Stolen Bases, 258 Walks, 112 Strike Outs, and 14 Hit By Pitch. Defensively, Rath was a good, not great, Second Baseman. In 4,518 Innings he had 2,817 Chances, made 1,167 Putouts, 1,565 Assists, turned 200 Double Plays, 85 Errors, for a .970 Fielding %. Baseball history is littered with players like Rath. Playing for multiple teams with a few successful seasons, before fading into history.
October 1, 1919 was Rath’s most memorable game. The Reds hosted the heavily favored White Sox at Redland Field in Game 1 of the World Series. Reds Manager Pat Moran inserted Rath in the leadoff spot against Eddie Cicotte, who was 29-7 with a 1.82 ERA in the Regular Season. Rath waited as Cicotte fired his first pitch. SMACK! Rath trotted to First. Jake Daubert followed, singling to Right Center, Rath took third. Heinie Groh then flew out to Left, allowing Rath to score. 1-0 Reds.
The Black Sox lost the 1919 World Series and were then banned from baseball. (www.worthpoint.com)
Reds pitcher Duth Ruether allowed an unearned run in the Second. Cicotte walked Ruether to lead off the Bottom of the Third. Rath dropped a sacrifice bunt to Cicotte moving Ruether to Second. However, Daubert and Groh failed to drive Ruether in, stranding him at Second. The game remained tied 1-1.
The wheels came off for Chicago with two outs in the Bottom of the Fourth. Runner on first when Greasy Neale reached on an infield hit. Ivey Wingo then singled to Right, scoring Larry Kopf. Dutch Ruether tripled to Left Center, scoring Neale and Wingo. Rath Doubled to Left, scoring Ruether. Daubert singled to Right scoring Rath. Chicago’s frustrated Manager Kid Gleason pulled Cicotte for Roy Wilkinson who retired Groh. 6-1 Reds.
Morrie Rath was a good player that would have faded into history if Eddie Cicotte did not hit him to begin the 1919 World Series. (www.cincinnati.com)
Rath lined into an inning ending double play in the Sixth and grounded out to Short for the second out of the Eighth. The Reds won Game 1, 9-1. Rath went 1 for 3, 1 Double, 1 RBI, 2 Runs scored, 1 Hit By Pitch, and 1 Sac Bunt. Defensively he had 4 Putouts and 2 Assists. In Rath’s only Fall Classic, he played all 8 Games, with a .226 BA and .333 OBP. He collected 7 Hits, 1 Double, 5 Runs scored, 2 RBI, 4 Walks, 2 Stolen Bases, and 1 Hit By Pitch. In the field, he played 72 innings, in 40 Chances he had 21 Putouts, 17 Assists, 2 Errors, and 4 Double Plays.
Morrie Rath played his final Major League game a year after the 1919 World Series. He went 1 for 5 in a 6-3 Reds defeat on the final day of the season. Cincinnati finished third in the National League, 10.5 games behind the Brooklyn Robins. On January 4, 1921, Rath was one of three Players To Be Named Later and $10,000 traded to the Seattle Rainiers of Pacific Coast League for Sam Bohne. He ended his career playing 124 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1921. After retiring from baseball, Rath returned to suburban Philadelphia to run a sporting goods store.
All Star voting is over and the starters for the Mid-Summer Classic are set. On July 9th, Cleveland hosts the 90th MLB All Star Game with the best players taking the field, in theory. Baseball altered the election process this year for All Star starters. It is an important step towards ensuring the best players are All Stars each season.
MLB continues the mass voting fans are accustomed to, giving every player the opportunity to be elected. This year however the top three vote getters at each position faced a runoff for the right to start the All Star Game. This extra layer of voting helps guard against a pure popularity contest, forcing voters to reexamine players a second time. While it is not a perfect system, it is a step in the right direction. Players still need fan support, but the second round of voting helps prevent players like Aaron Judge from starting the All Star Game with just 32 games played for the Yankees this season. Judge is talented, but he is not an All Star this season; he finished fourth, just missing an undeserved All Star Game. Houston’s Carlos Correa finished third among American League Shortstops. He has placed 50 games this season, more than Judge, but not enough to earn the honor of starting the All Star Game. MLB ought to establish a minimum games played threshold for All Star voting eligibility.
Judge and Correa should play in many future All Star Games, just not this season. If the idea of the All Star Game is to have the best players on the field, some high priced talent will miss out. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were not voted into the All Star Game by the fans. Big free agent contracts do not guarantee All Star Games. The fans elect who they want to play, but even this idea has been an issue in the past.
Tommy Pham raised a good point that All Star voting is unfair. MLB changed the voting process this season, but more may need to be done. (www.calltothepen.com)
Before the Big Red Machine began dominating baseball, it was the Cincinnati fans causing havoc. In 1957, Cincinnati fans so over stuffed the ballot box that seven Reds were elected to the All Star Game in St. Louis. Stan Musial was the only non-Reds starter. The farce forced Commissioner Ford Frick to step in, replacing two Reds players, Wally Post and Gus Bell, with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Frick went further, revoking the fan All Star vote until 1970.
Ballot stuffing continued in the computer age. In 1999 a computer programmer electronically stuffed the ballot for Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra. When discovered, Garciaparra lost 25,259 ill gotten votes, though he still started the All Star Game at Fenway Park over Derek Jeter.
The 2015 Kansas City Royals brought back memories of the 1957 Reds. Leading up to the All Star Game, fittingly played in Cincinnati. Eight Royals led at their respective positions. There was not a repeat of 1957, as Kansas City ultimately had four All Star starters. A single team having a stranglehold on the All Star Game may not be in the best interest of baseball, even if they win the World Series like the Royals in 2015.
The Mid-Summer Classic returns to Cleveland for the first time since 1997 and to an American League ballpark for the first time since Minnesota hosted in 2014. The All Star Game is an exhibition. Yes the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series, but this only impacts two teams. I doubt the Orioles and Marlins representatives will fight with extra vigor to secure home field advantage should their team have a miraculous second half turn around. The All Star Game is about seeing the best in the game play together one night a year. Interleague play has somewhat diluted the intrigue of the All Star Game. National League fans can see Mike Trout and American League fans can see Nolan Arenado more than one night a year. Despite the waning of the All Star Game’s novelty, the game is still important for growing the game and the enjoyment of the fans.
MLB is right to tweak the All Star Game voting process. It will never be perfect. Some deserving players are snubbed each year, but this is better than a return to fans are having no vote. Baseball must keep the fans involved, but there are limits. A small portion of fans in the past ruined the fun of voting. MLB should continue to tweak the process from year to year. There will never be a perfect All Star Game, but the change to two rounds of voting is a good first step.
I became a Dad on Tuesday. My wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl to the world. She has been flipped my world upside down in the best possible way. Every parent knows how life changes when your first child is born. You do not sleep. Everything she does is the absolute best. The sighs, the burps, the crying, the dirty diapers are all wonderful. I have never been so happy to be so tired.
Wednesday was her first full day in this world, and part of the day was spent with Dad and Daughter watching baseball. Mostly just Dad watching and Daughter sleeping. We will work on her staying awake during games a little later. The Reds tied the game in the bottom of the 9th on a Nick Senzel single to Left, driving in Jose Peraza. Senzel took second on a throwing error by Michael Brantley. The next batter, Jesse Winker walked it off against Houston and Roberto Osuna with a single to Right, scoring Senzel. Cincinnati wins 3 to 2.
It’s important to read to your children. Why not read to them about baseball. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
We will spend countless hours watching baseball together in the coming years. I hope you learn to love baseball as much as I do, but if not it does not matter. My love is not connected to a game, as the game is not important. Spending time with you, watching you grow and learn is what matters. You made me a Dad on Tuesday sleepy little girl. I will not always be the perfect Dad, I will commit errors. I will learn from those errors to be the best Dad for you I can. Sweet dreams sleepy little girl, your Dad needs some sleep. You will want your 3:30 A.M. feeding in less than an hour. The time is already going by too fast.