19to21: July 17, 2007
In Praise of
19 to 21
No, that’s not how many baseball guides there have been over the past 92 years, it’s...Baseball, Then and Now...
News Item: July 16, 1912: Walter Johnson and the Senators defeat the White Sox, 7-2, his eighth consecutive win.
The 1912 season was a quite a year for baseball. The Red Sox and the Giants played what could rightly be called the first classic World Series, a fray not decided until the 10th inning of the eighth game (there was even a tie game that year) when a series of improbable events cost New York and Christy Mathewson a title at the expense of Smoky Joe Wood and the Bostons. Ahead by one run going into the bottom of the inning, Mathewson first had Fred Snodgrass drop an easy fly ball, then watched as Snodgrass took a sure triple away from the next hitter, Harry Hooper, with a circus catch. Then Matty walked an awful hitter, Steve Yerkes, and subsequently called for catcher Chief Myers to take Tris Speaker’s foul pop – a ball that first baseman Fred Merkle could have stuck in is hip pocket. Reprieved when the ball fell practically in the first base coach’s box, the Gray Eagle singled to tie the game. A sacrifice fly by Clyde Engle then won it for the Sox and Wood.
It was also the year that same Smoky Joe Wood went 34-5 with a 16 game wining streak, and didn’t even have the longest such mark in the American League, because Walter Johnson also won 16 in a row in a stretch that preceded and overlapped Woods’, leading to one of the classic games of all time – the Senators vs. the Red Sox on September 9, 1912 at brand-new Fenway Park (which also opened in 1912). Johnson (who had already had his 16 straight streak stopped) against Wood, who had won 12 straight at the time. The score? As you might expect, 1-0, Red Sox, one of the few times a hyped game totally lived up to its expectations.
As hot as Wood and Johnson were, neither one of them had the longest winning streak of 1912. That belonged to another Giant pitcher, Rube Marquard, who won 19 in a row, an accomplishment that has never been surpassed and, in fact, was actually 20 wins in a row under today’s rules… he relieved in a game the Giants were losing, but did not get credit for the victory when the McGrawmen came from behind to win the game.
This was also the year that Ty Cobb went into the stands at Hilltop Park in New York on May 15, to beat the living daylights out of Claude Lueker, a crippled Tammany all flunky (he’d lost a hand in a printing press accident) with a foul mouth who Cobb had previously known – and clashed with -- back in Georgia. The upshot of this affair was Cobb’s suspension and the subsequent first full-fledged walkout by an entire team. Although Tyrus was hardly popular with his Tiger teammates, they supported him to a man and refused to dress for Detroit’s May 18 game against Connie Mack’s defending World’s Champion Athletics in Shibe Park. Forced to use a team of Philadelphia sandlotters to avoid a $5000 fine for forfeiting the game, Tiger manager Hughie Jennings suffered through an all-time shellacking, 24-2, at the hands of the A’s. Still another result of this low comedy was the formation of one of the early attempts at a player’s union, the Baseball Fraternity.
So, yes, there was a lot to talk about on the baseball scene in 1912. Maybe lost in the excitement was a development on the literary front. The debut of a publication that ennobles the sport to this day. For more on that story, let’s go to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Quakertown, Pa., to be exact (alright, so the Society of Friends weren’t Dutch, it’s not relevant to the story). It was a time even before that Pennsylvania Dutchman par excellence, Jamie Moyer, was born. It was 1940, and one of the giants of modern baseball scholarship, writing and research, Cliff Kachline, was a young man, writing to J.G. Taylor Spink, the publisher of The Bible of Baseball, The Sporting News, asking for a job. As typically happens in stories like this, Kachline’s timing was impeccable… TSN was in the process of putting out the first Sporting News edition of “The Baseball Register” and Spink needed a proofreader for the hundreds of pages of agate type statistics. A daunting task, especially since Kachline only had one week to do the proofing. Only those of you who have done proofreading can truly appreciate the task Kachline faced – hundreds of pages with hundreds of little, tiny numbers in column after column. What to do?
Well, even as a veritable youngster, Cliff Kachline was pretty much the sharpest tool in the shed. He knew what to do. He knew of an already existing source of information, some 55 years before the advent of the Internet, that he could use as a guide. He went out and bought a copy of “Who’s Who in Baseball,” which is exactly what you should do if you don’t have your 2007 edition yet. Because, while The Sporting News may have been the Bible of Baseball, “Who’s Who in Baseball” provided, and still provides, what another baseball fan, Jack Webb, would have termed, “just the facts, ma’am.” Starting in 1912, and continuing to this day, Who’s Who has given baseball fans… just the facts, the individual player statistics that provide the framework for the game, and, in their own way, tell the stories and histories of current major league players.
Currently in its 92nd year (apparently there were four years along the way when it wasn’t published), Who’s Who remains, well, who’s who in baseball. Yes, there are many marvelous websites that have similar and, in some cases, far more statistics on individual players. (Sean Forman’s Baseball-Reference.com comes quickly to mind, as does Mark Pankin’s Retrosheet.) But, as marvelous as those monuments to technology and research may be, they cannot provide one thing that Who’s Who continues to provide… something you can easily and conveniently hold in your hand.
Think that’s not a big deal? It is. Yes, it still is, even in the Electronic Age. Don’t believe it? Then believe the “inventor” of the laptop computer, wireless communication and the Internet, Arthur C. Clarke. On page 121 of “2001,” some 64 pages after he invented the Internet, wireless and the laptop (he called it a Newspad, but, hey, this was 1968 after all) Clarke writes, “The information flashed on the display screen; simultaneously, a sheet of paper slid out of the slot immediately beneath it. Despite all the electronic read-outs, there were times when good old-fashioned printed material was the most convenient form of record.” Some 40 or six (depending on your point of view) years later, that hasn’t changed, although Who’s Who has, at least a little bit. Still published by Baseball Magazine Company in New York, Who’s Who added player pictures to its listings in 1965 and saves to the pitchers’ records some time in the late 1970s. And, the editor has changed, at least since 1954, from the fabled Allan Roth of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Seymour Siwoff of Elias to Norman MacLean, who has had the job for the past quarter century. MacLean, it should be noted, has the able assistance of another of the giants of modern baseball scholarship… his associate editor is Pete Palmer of “Total Baseball,” ad infinitum, fame.
With a pedigree like that, it shouldn’t be too hard to make the decision to pick up a copy of Who’s Who. You’ll want to keep it for the next 53 years or so, partly because these volumes become collector’s items (the current edition offers the 1971 version for sale for $85… 85 times what it sold for originally and $75 more than the 2007 edition), but more so for the knowledge to be gleaned in its pages. For instance, looking at the 1960 edition, did you know that Jim Bunning got his professional start at the age of 18 with Richmond of the Ohio-Indiana League, where he went 7-8 with a 3.22 ERA? (Of course he was pitching in a home ballpark that was 490 feet to dead center…although that information’s not in Who’s Who.) That’s one of the great things about Who’s Who… it gives complete minor league records for all its listees.
(As an aside… you’ll have to skip up to the 2001 edition to find another major leaguer who played professionally in Richmond, Indiana, also the home of Earlham College. That would have been Morgan Burkhart, who tore up the independent Frontier League before graduating to a brief, three year major league career with the Red Sox and Royals.)
Another of the charms of Who’s Who are the footnote listings for each player of all the transactions he’s been involved in, all the times he’s been on the Disabled List, plus his various honors like MVP awards and no-hitters. This feature, along with the advent of free agency, has helped change the book from the 128-page, 6”X4 ˝” volume of 1954 to the current 352-page, 8” X 5” edition. Even with the larger format, it’s often hard to fit more than two players on a page. The extreme example of this is Roger Clemens. His retirement and Cy Young-filled listing actually covers parts of three pages by itself, and the footnotes run to the letter “V,” which might be another major league record for the Rocket, if it weren’t for Rudy Seanez. The living embodiment of the term “journeyman,” While Seanez has pitched for eight major league teams, he has been on the Disabled List 12 times, has filed for free agency 11 times, has been traded five times, and has been released four times. That gets him to “ff” in the footnotes, or a total of 32 notes in all. Now there’s a record worth shooting for.
So Who’s Who’s stats don’t include Adjusted ERA or Adjusted OPS, to say nothing of batter walks, OBA or WHIP. Who’s Who is still, after all these years, a lot of fun to just pick up and browse through. Just to take one case… on page 217 of the 2007 edition we find Elmer Dessens. Although he’s only spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors, we find out that he’s pitched just about everywhere there is to pitch. A native of Hermosillo, Mexico, Dessens was loaned by the Pirates to the Mexican League in 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997, leaving one to wonder what the interest rate was. In between his stints back home, he also pitched in Calgary, Canada in 1996 (2-2, 3.15). Then, after the Pirates tried him and apparently found him wanting (a 2-8 record and astronomical ERAs might have had something to do with that), he was released and signed to play the 1999 season with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League (0-1, 3.86). Finally back in the states as a veteran pitcher of four different countries, he then bounced from Cincinnati to Arizona to Los Angeles to Kansas City, back to Los Angeles in 2006, leaving him with a 46-59, 4.41 record.
And that’s just one of 750 players in the 2007 edition. “Who’s Who in Baseball” is a lot of fun, and informative as well. What more can you ask for in a baseball reference book?
- John Shiffert