April 13, 2011
I was surprised the other day when I stumbled across the information that Ed Reulbach is buried in a Catholic cemetery in Montclair, New Jersey. I have always associated Reulbach with the Chicago Cubs, and I have never associated him with New Jersey.
Reulbach’s name is not well known today, except by people like me who live in the past. He was well known in his own time, however; he was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. Actually, in some respects he has had relatively few equals in the whole history of the game, but he pitched in the dead-ball era and he isn’t on the minds of the play-by-play announcers whose memories don’t go back much farther than the 1960s.
I’m in the midst of reading The House that Ruth Built, a new book about the 1923 baseball season in New York. (A review will follow soon.) The author refers to a pitcher who threw both ends of a double header, and that’s what got me thinking about Reulbach. Modern pitchers are such fragile creatures that the idea of one of them throwing a double header is absurd. A modern pitcher rarely throws more than five or six innings at a time.
This wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t long ago that a starting pitcher was expected to throw a complete game. Whether he did or not depended on his performance on the mound, not the number of pitches he threw. Even then, pitching double headers was unheard of after 1926, when Dutch Levsen, pitching for the Indians, became the last to do it.
The most spectacular performance in this regard was turned in by “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity of the New York Giants, who pitched three double headers in the month of August, 1903, and won all six games without relief. McGinnity won 31 games that year. Perhaps more significantly — in view of the modern practice of counting pitches — he won 35 games in 1904, , 21 in 1905, and 27 in 1906.
Altogether, there were 45 instances of a pitcher throwing a double-header. Grover Cleveland Alexander did it a couple of times. Also in this elite group was Fred Toney, who won a double bill for Cincinnati in 1917. What’s even more remarkable is that in that same season, Toney and Hippo Vaughan of the Chicago Cubs joined in the only game in history in which both pitchers pitched no-hitters for nine innings. Vaughan lost it in the 10th.
Reulbach’s performance stands out, because on September 26, 1908, he pitched two games for the Cubs against Brooklyn, and they were both shutouts. He’s the only pitcher in the history of the game to pull that off. To emphasize his point, he allowed a total of eight hits in the two games.
On April 19, I wrote about a 22-inning baseball game in 1962 in which the Yankees beat the Tigers, 9-7, thanks to the only home run of Jack Reed’s career. I mentioned in that post that Tigers outfielder Rocky Colavito went seven-for-ten in that game. That attracted a response from Gloria, who is a member of a group that is campaigning for the Veterans Committee to elect Colavito to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this year.
It’s well known by now that the Hall of Fame is not the Hall of Justice. I have commented here, for example, on the fact that Pete Rose — an obnoxious SOB, but one of the best hitters of all time — is ineligible because he gambled on baseball, but Adrian “Cap” Anson stares smugly from his plaque despite his critical role in keeping two or three generations of black players out of the major leagues. So if Rocky Colavito hasn’t been elected, there is no reason to be surprised.
I have a good perspective on this question, because I saw Colavito play at Yankee Stadium many times. I was fortunate enough to have a father who was devoted to both baseball and the Yankees, and at one point in the 1950s and 1960s, we attended an average of three games a week when the Yankees were home. We saw Colavito through most of his career.
Colavito’s stats as a hitter and as a fielder speak for themselves. They are readily available on the Internet, so I won’t recite them all here. I will mention that in 116 years, only 15 men have hit four home runs in one game; Colavito was one of them. That in itself doesn’t qualify him for the Hall of Fame, but in the context of the career he had at the plate, it can’t be ignored. The feat was first accomplished by Bobby Lowe of the Boston Beaneaters in 1894. Lowe was playing in the dead-ball era, but he was also playing in Boston’s Congress Street Park, which had a short left-field line. All four of his homers were hit to left. The only other player in the 19th century to hit four home runs in one game was Ed Delahanty of the Phillies, who did it in 1896. Records are incomplete, but it is known that at least two of Delahanty’s homers that day were inside the park.
Another thing that distinguishes Colavito’s share of this record is that he is one of only six men in major league history to hit four home runs in consecutive at-bats in a single game. The others were Lowe, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, Mike Cameron, and Carlos Delgado. As rare an accomplishment as that is, it was typical of Colavito in the sense that he always brought excitement to the game; he put derrières in the seats, as it were, and it’s hard to calculate the value of that. It’s unusual for the fans at a baseball stadium to jump to their feet because of an outfielder’s throw, but Colavito’s arm was a high-caliber gun, and I was often among those who bolted out of our seats when he uncorked one toward the infield.
Rocky Colavito belongs in the Hall of Fame. If you want to read more about Colavito or sign a petition to the Veterans Committee, you can do both at THIS SITE.
October 31, 2009
The coverage this week of Derek Jeter receiving the Roberto Clemente Award got me to wondering again about how he will be regarded a few decades from now. I’m not questioning Jeter’s qualifications; the performance and the stats are there. But baseball immortality, if that’s the right word, comes in more than one form. Many players of at least Jeter’s ability are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and their statistics are indelibly spread upon the record book, but they are largely forgotten except by people like me who have nothing better to occupy their minds.
Jeter isn’t done, and his career base-hits total promises that his name will come up again and again when that category is open for discussion. But whether he will take on a more transcendent presence in the baseball conversation of the future — especially outside the New York area — is not at all certain.
A player who comes to mind in this regard is Joe Sewell, who was a starting infielder in the American League from 1920 to 1933, the last three years with the Yankees and the rest with the Cleveland Indians. Sewell got into the Indians’ everyday lineup as a replacement for Ray Chapman, who was killed by a pitch thrown by the Yankees’ Carl Mays. A couple of Sewell’s batting statistics compare favorably to Jeter’s. His lifetime batting average was .312 compared to Jeter’s .317, and his on-base percentage was .391 compared to Jeter’s .388. But hidden in that on-base percentage was a factor that made Sewell one of the most remarkable players in history.
Sewell was the hardest man to strike out in the history of the game. Not by a little bit, by a lot. No one else comes close. He came to bat 7,132 times, and he struck out 114 times. Nick Swisher, to pick a convenient example, strikes out more than that every year — 129 times in 2009, for instance. There were four seasons in which Sewell played every day and struck out only four times — only three times in 1932, which is the all-time record. He once went 115 consecutive at-bats without a strikeout — also the record. Over his career, he averaged one strikeout per 63 at-bats. The closest challenger is George Stone who, over seven years in the early 20th century, struck out once in every 50 at-bats.
It’s always risky to talk about sports records that will never be broken, but it’s safe to say that I’ll be shagging flies with Shoeless Joe and “Moonlight” Graham long before anyone makes contact better than Old Whatshisname.