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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Look up “baseball rat” in the dictionary and a mugshot of Larry Bowa will probably accompany the details.  Bowa had more grit than ability, but the spark plug lasted a long time in the game, and is still going as a coach.  Reliable if not spectacular, Bowa was a sound defensive shortstop and good contact hitter.  He won two Gold Gloves in his career and ended his playing days with a sparkling .980 fielding percentage–sixteen points above league average.

Signed as an amateur by the Phillies in 1965, Bowa didn’t make his Major League debut until 1970.  Not one to sit and learn on the bench, Larry was a regular once the gate to the Majors was opened to him.  As a rookie with the 1970 Phillies, Bowa stole 24 bases and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.  Always ready and willing to take the extra base, Bowa tied for the most steals by a National League shortstop in 1971.  The scrappy shortstop banged out 162 base hits–a number he would eclipse four times in his career.

Bowa led the NL in triples and sacrifices in 1972.  Although he never set the league afire with healthy slugging averages or on-base percentages, Bowa was a valuable player given his defensive excellence.  Larry won his first Gold Glove in 1972 when he led shortstops with a .987 fielding percentage.  Over the course of his career, Bowa led shortstops in fielding percentage six times.  His .980 career mark is the seventh highest mark of all-time and his 6,857 career assists rests ninth on the all-time list 

His 1973 season was lost to injury and ineffective play but he was able to return to form in 1974.  Named to his first All-Star team that year (Larry would make five All-Star squads), Bowa led Major League shortstops in runs scored and base hits.  The following year, Larry was the only .300 hitting shortstop in the Major Leagues.  An All-Star again in ’75, Larry paced NL shortstops in runs scored.

The Phillies had built a solid club by the mid 1970s and became fixtures in the postseason of the late 1970s.  His first postseason action came in 1976 and Philadelphia repeated as NL East champs again in 1977.  Larry scored 93 runs for the Phillies in ’77 but the Dodgers beat them in the NLCS.  The Phillies won the NL East flag for the third year in a row in 1978 but again were denied a trip to the World Series when they dropped the NLCS to the Dodgers.  Bowa, who struggled mightily in both the 1976 and ’77 NLCSs, hit .333 in the 1978 NLCS.

Bowa was named to his final All-Star team in 1979 but the Pirates won the NL East flag that year.  He’d get his fourth try at postseason play in 1980.  That year the Phillies were finally able to reach the World Series when they defeated the Astros of Ryan and Niekro.  Bowa hit .316 in the NLCS and was even better against Royals pitchers in the World Series.  He hit .375 in the Fall Classic as the Phillies won the World Series. 

Larry raised his batting average to .283 in the strike shortened 1981 campaign.  Before the 1982 season, he was involved in one of baseball’s most lopsided trades when he was dealt with a youngster to the Cubs for shortstop Ivan DeJesus.  Although Bowa’s better years were behind him, the youngster that shared a train ticket to Chicago with him was none other than Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.  The Cubs would win the 1984 NL East flag in ’84–Bowa’s last year as a regular–but were defeated by the Padres in the NLCS.  The next year he lost his job to Shawon Dunston and ended his playing days.  Two years later he was managing at the Major League level with the Padres. 

THE NUMBERS

G 2,247/R 987/H 2,191/2B 262/3B 99/HR 15/RBI 525/SB 318/BB 474/SO 569/BA .260/SA .320/OBP .300

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Al “The Curveless Wonder” Orth was one of the top control pitchers of his time and one of the best marksmen in baseball history.  His stingy walks issued per nine innings of 1.773 ranks 48th on the all-time list.  Orth, noted for his exceptional control, also carried a formidable stick.  Used in over 50 games as an outfielder, Al hit .273 over the course of his career.

A minor league pitching sensation in the 1890s, Orth was bought by the Phillies in 1895 and he promptly reeled off eight consecutive wins for the Phils.  The 1890s was noted for his heavy hitting but Orth seemed to fail to receive the memo that pitchers were supposed to struggle during the decade. He won 15 games for the Phillies in 1896 and in 1898 he posted a low 3.02 ERA.  For skipper Bill Shettsline’s 1899 Phillies, Al posted a terrific 2.49 ERA and led the league in winning percentage with an .824 mark.

When the American League began play in 1901–as a Major League circuit–they raided the rosters of the established National League but the Curveless Wonder stayed on with the Phillies.  Al had his first 20-win season in 1901 and he tied for the league lead in shutouts.  His 2.27 ERA was the best mark of his career and the strike-thrower issued just 32 walks in 282 innings of work.  However, after the season, the siren’s song that was the American League soothed Al’s ears and he jumped the Phillies to join the Senators.

Things were less than rosy for Orth in Washington.  Although he won 19 games for the Senators, his ERA jumped from 2.27 in 1901 to 3.97 in ’02.  Despite the rise in ERA, Orth still hit the bull’s-eye more often than not with his offerings.  His 0.123 walks allowed per inning was superior to Hall of Fame peers Cy Young (0.138), Rube Waddell (0.231) and Christy Mathewson (0.264). 

After a dismal 10-22 season with the Senators in 1903, Orth was traded to the Yankees (then called the Highlanders) for Long Tom Hughes and Barney Wolfe.  The trade helped revive Orth’s career as he learned the spitball from Hall of Fame teammate Jack Chesbro.  With the 41-game-winner Chesbro and pack mule Jack Powell, Orth gave the New Yorkers three solid starters and they came in at second place in 1904.

Orth won 18 games in 1905 before his monster campaign in 1906.  That year he led the league in complete games and innings pitched, won 27 contests (some sources list this as a league leading stat) and posted a tidy 2.34 ERA.  Skipper Clark Griffith brought New York in at second place again in ’06.  But the wheels came off the bus in 1907.  Wee Willie Keeler and Hal Chase’s offense fell off from the previous season and Jack Chesbro was no longer the workhorse he had been in the past.  New York had a losing record and Al posted an unflattering 14-21 record despite adequate peripheral stats.

But 1907 was Al’s last decent year.  After eight years of 210+ innings pitched, Orth only logged 139 frames in 1908 and had a poor 2-13 record.  He made one start for New York in 1909 before leaving the club to work as player/manager of the Lynchburg Shoemakers. 

THE NUMBERS

W 204/L 189/PCT .519/ERA 3.37/G 440/CG 324/SHO 31/IP 3,355/H 3,564/BB 661/SO 948

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One of the top sluggers during the Deadball Era, Charley “Piano Legs” Hickman was a star in the batter’s box but a train wreck on the field.  As a member of the 1900 Giants, Hickman set a record for most errors by a third baseman but he also was a league leader in hits and total bases.  The classic definition of a designated hitter, Piano Legs played about six decades before his natural position was adopted. 

Charley played off and on for the Boston Beaneaters of the late 1890s before he caught on with the Giants, who used him far more than the Beaneaters.  The Giants bought his contract from Boston just before the start of the 1900 season and Piano Legs led the Giants in numerous offensive stats.  He topped the club in homeruns, RBI, triples and slugging average.  It was his first year playing regularly and it showed on the field, where he made 86 errors–good for an .842 fielding percentage.  His shortcomings with the leather were the reason for his rather nomadic career.

Due to his poor glovework, the Giants shifted him all over the diamond in 1901 and his offensive numbers tumbled.  Disenfranchised with the New York club, Piano Legs jumped the Giants and signed with Boston of the American League.  Although Hickman began the 1902 season with Boston, he spent the bulk of the year as the Indians (then known as the Bronchos) first baseman.  Piano Legs wore two uniforms during the season but nevertheless led the American League in base hits and total bases.  Piano Legs was the only Major League first baseman to slug over .445–his mark was a healthy .539. 

With Nap Lajoie teaming with Hickman in the Cleveland lineup, they easily had the best heart-of-the-order combo in the Majors.  The teammates were the only two American League players to slug over .500 in 1903.  In a class by himself among first basemen, Piano Legs led AL initial sackers in hits, triples, homeruns (2nd in the American League), RBI (also 2nd in the league), batting average and slugging average.  Although Cleveland had shifted Hickman to first base, he was still a substandard fielder. 

Cleveland grew tired of Hickman’s poor fielding in 1904 and traded him to the Tigers for the much more reliable–but far weaker hitting–Charlie Carr.  Piano Legs struggled mightily in Detroit as his batting tapered off until he had his contract sold to the Senators in 1905.  In Washington Hickman had his last good year.  Rotated between the outfield and first base in 1906, Hickman finished second in the AL in the homerun department for Jake Stahl’s club. 

Piano Legs split the 1907 season between the Senators and White Sox before latching on with his old Cleveland club for a final go in the Majors in 1908.  Out of the Bigs by the age 33, Piano Legs went west and played several years with the Toledo Mud Hens of the minor American Association.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,081/R 478/H 1,176/2B 217/3B 91/HR 59/RBI 614/SB 72/BA .295/SA .440/OBP .331

One of the most durable catchers of all-time, Bob Boone may not have hit with authority like Bench, Fisk, Simmons and Parrish, but he had few peers behind the dish.  He ranks very high in most career defensive stats from the backstop post.  His 11,260 putouts are sixth all-time and he finished in the Top 5 in throwing out would-be base stealers eleven times in his career.  A four-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Bob was awarded his final Gold Glove as a 41-year-old with the 1989 KC Royals.

The son of former Major League slugger Ray Boone, Bob was a sixth round selection by the Phillies in 1969.  The Phillies gave him a 16 game trial at the end of 1972 and with John Bateman serving as a minor roadblock, he took over the everyday catching duties in ’73.  Bob finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 1973 as he socked ten homeruns and eclipsed 60 RBI as a freshman.  Although his numbers tapered off in 1974, he was always a difficult strikeout victim.  Bob was only called out on strikes 29 times in 146 games in 1974. 

Boone made his first All-Star Game in 1976 when the Phillies captured the NL West flag.  Postseason play rarely gave Bob fits, as he hit .286 in the ’76 NLCS and was a career .311 hitter in 36 postseason contests.  The following year was Boone’s best with the bat.  He hit .284 with career highs in doubles and RBI.  The NLCS was another Philadelphia loss but another Bob Boone offensive explosion.  Bob hit a robust .400. 

His 1977 season was a good year at the plate and in 1978 his offensive line was quite similar.  He made his second All-Star team, won his first Gold Glove and had a career high dozen homeruns.  For the third straight year, the Phillies captured the NL East flag but were downed in the playoffs.  They finally got over the hump in 1980.  That year Bob guided the Phillies to a World Series title while hitting Kansas City Royals pitchers to the tune of a .412 batting average. 

Bob suffered through his worst season in the strike shortened 1981 campaign and after the schedule ended, the Phillies allowed him to test the free agent waters.  The wave of free agency carried him to the spend-thrift California Angels who were loading their roster with free agent talent around the time.  Their open-wallet ways got them an AL West title Bob’s first year with the Halos.  He won his third Gold Glove that year and hit a homerun in an ALCS loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Boone’s defense was at its peak in the early 1980s.  In 1982, he led catchers in putouts, assists and caught stealing percentage–he gunned down 58.2% of would-be thieves in ’82.  In 1983, he again led catchers in assists and made the American League All-Star team.  When his bat dried up in the mid 1980s, his exceptional defense carried him through his mid to upper 30s.  He led catchers in gunning down would-be base stealers again in 1985 and 1987 before experiencing an offensive reawakening in 1988.

As a 40-year-old catcher in 1988, Bob led Major League receivers with a .295 batting average.  His offense was simply gravy, as the elder was still a top-notch receiver, indicated by his sixth Gold Glove Award.  Despite Bob’s resurgent year, the Angels let him walk via free agency and he signed with the Kansas City Royals for 1989.  That year Bob won his final Gold Glove Award–at the ripe age of 41–while hitting the apple at a .274 clip.  His 1990 season was limited by injury and he gave way to Mike Macfarlane, thus ending his career.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,264/R 679/H 1,838/2B 303/3B 26/HR 105/RBI 826/SB 38/BB 663/SO 608/BA .254/SA .346/OBP .315

Now that Sweet Lou’s career appears over, let’s take a look at the cantankerous skipper’s time as a Major League manager.  Lou’s first managerial job came with the 1986 Yankees.  He brought the Bronx Bombers in at second place that year but they fell to fourth in 1987 and before the 1988 season had come to its close, Steinbrenner had run Lou out of town. 

His greatest success came in 1990–his first year as skipper of the Cincinnati Reds–when he led them to a World Series title.  The Reds failed to repeat and suffered through a dismal 1991 campaign.  When they returned to their winning ways in 1992, Piniella left the team after the season to manage the Seattle Mariners.  Most of his career wins came with the Mariners as Lou mentored such stars as Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson. 

Piniella’s tenure in Seattle was a fruitful one… just not in October.  In ten years in Seattle, Piniella won the division three times and had two more years finishing second.  His 2001 season was clearly his best year as Seattle romped to an AL West title with an amazing 116-46 record: a winning percentage of .716.  The Mariners won 93 games the following year but Lou decided to switch gears and left the Mariners to manage the lowly Tampa Bay Rays. 

Piniella lasted just three years with the AL East doormat before he took the Cubs job in 2007.  Initially, Lou had success in Wrigley.  The Cubs won the NL Central in Lou’s first two years in town.  But when Jim Hendry’s liberal ways with management’s money buried the team–too much money invested in aging veterans–the Cubs fell off.  They finished second in 2009 despite a winning percentage barely above .500. This year, probably his last as a manager, Lou’s Cubs were a defeated team from Opening Day.  The Cubs went 51-74 under Piniella’s leadership before he stepped down and Mike Quade was given the wheel on an interim basis… while Ryne Sandberg waits in Triple-A.

Lou Piniella’s managerial record:

W 1,835/L 1,713/PCT .517: 1 World Series championship, six division titles.