by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As the 2023 Major League Baseball campaign edges closer to the All-Star break, with that contest taking place in Seattle on 10 July, our local squads are actually nearly evenly matched to date, with the Dodgers, who won 111 games last year but flamed out against the San Diego Padres in the opening round of the playoffs, at 41-33, putting them a half-game behind the red-hot San Francisco Giants and four games back of the National League West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks.
Meanwhile, the Angels are 41-35 (last year the club was 16 games below .500), trailing the Houston Astros by a half-game, while the American League West-leading Texas Rangers are up by six games. A lot can obviously happen between now and the end of the season, so we’ll see whether the Dodgers turn it around during the remainder of the season and if the Angels pull off a surprise and contend for a playoff spot.
In the bedrooms of Walter, Jr. and Edgar Temple at La Casa Nueva, we frequently display sports-related items because the siblings were particularly athletically-inclined (certainly compared to their older brother, Thomas, and sister, Agnes,) including the display of issues of Baseball Magazine, which was published from 1908 to 1957. The featured edition of the publication for this post is the June 1929 one and it is interesting to note that the sixteen squads playing that season had played, to date, as many as 20 fewer games than this year’s teams.
Out of the gate like a rocket were the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics (whose modern counterpart in Oakland is dead last in the MLB, even as the team has just announced its intention to relocate to Las Vegas.) The Connie Mack-managed A’s were winning almost three-quarters of their games at 41-14, putting them 7 1/2 games ahead of the New York Yankees, the juggernaut of the era, and nine games ahead of the St. Louis Browns (who became the Baltimore Orioles in 1953) and 11 1/2 games beyond the Detroit Tigers.
Over in the “senior circuit,” the older National League, it was much tighter with the Pittsburgh Pirates, at 35-21, barely holding off the Chicago Cubs, who were a half-game behind. In close proximity were the St. Louis Cardinals, trailing by two games, and the New York (now the San Francisco) Giants, sitting three games back. It bears noting that there were no teams west of St. Louis until the late Fifties when the Giants headed west, as did the Brooklyn Dodgers, though the Pacific Coast League did offer high-quality semi-pro baseball with its seven teams including the Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Angels, the latter the forerunner of today’s squad.
The magazine offers plenty of great content and illustrations, including the cover by art editor Clifford Bloodgood of a player following through on his swing. We can’t possibly go into great detail here, but will focus on a few articles and briefly note others. In the “Editorial Comment” section, team owners were taken to task for starting the season earlier when the weather tended to be better, but said that the change meant that “the bloom is soon off the pennant race,” as “the weak clubs have lost their appeal” before too long.
It also addressed the sport’s commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who “holds sway over dominions quite as imperiously as the ancient divinity of the Caesars ever dominated the provinces of the Roman Empire. The main matter concerned Landis’ dispensation of punishment, as “nearly a dozen players have been loosed as free agents from contractual thraldom and several prominent major league magnates [owners] have been fined with judicial impartiality and severity, for conduct unbecoming a magnate and contrary to baseball law and regulation.”
While there were complaints from some in baseball about these actions, the magazine added that “the Mussolini of baseball is clothed with ample powers to enforce his decrees” though Landis, who fulfilled a vital role in working to clean up baseball after the devastating Black Sox (Chicago White Sox) scandal of 1919, of which my colleague Steve Dugan has written on in this blog, is now held to account for not working to integrate the majors, something that happened just a few years after his 1944 death.
A feature article concerned Brooklyn ace pitcher, Charles “Dazzy” Vance, who, despite being 38 years old, recently signed a contract paying him $25,000 a year, the most ever awarded to a National League hurler. Vance did have a stellar 1928 season, going 22-10 with a league-leading 2.09 earned run average and 200 strikeouts and earning a Most Valuable Player award. His career, however, declined after that, including a 14-13 record and a 3.89 ERA in 1929 and Vance finished his career in 1935 with a 197-140 record, a 3.24 era, and 2,045 strikeouts.
Editor Ferdinand C. Lane’s “Baseball’s Most Illustrious Player,” used a ranking system to determine which were at the top of the heap when it came, however, simply to batting and baserunning, and defined the process as looking at “a number of events, [then we] culled out the leading five players at each event, attempted to give to each event, roughly, its proper rating, and the summing up the total of credit points, [and] tried to find out, by simple mathematics what particular players led the field.”
A table listed 19 stars, many of whose last names are likely unrecognized by even the most devoted of baseball fans (Brouthers, Daubert, McInnis, Delehanty, anyone?) Still, the majority are recognizable, even in a few cases almost immortal, and it may not at all be surprising that ranking number one was the legendary Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers (and for his last two seasons, in 1927 and 1928, the A’s), who ranked highest in eight events and tied for the most in the second level, racking up 81 total points. Cobb had a lifetime .366 batting average and his 4,189 hits
Coming in a distant second was Tris Speaker, a long-time star for the Boston Braves and Cleveland Indians and whose 22-year career ended in 1928, while third was Honus Wagner, who after three years with the Louisville Coronels, spent eighteen seasons, through 1917, with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Other high-finishing stars were Eddie Collins of the A’s and White Sox; Rogers Hornsby, a two-time MVP with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs; Babe Ruth, whose sixth position might surprise some people; and Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie, the bulk of whose career was with the Cleveland Indians.
Also featured was “The Flashiest Youngster on the Diamond,” this being the Pirates’ Lloyd Waner, who became a star immediately on joining the big leagues in 1927 and who hit .353 with a league-leading 20 triples in the current campaign. With his brother, Paul, they were two of the outfielders for the Pittsburgh squad and they each became members of the Hall of Fame.
Another notable article, by John J. Ward, was “When Does a Ball Player Reach His Prime?” and who answered the question by noting that the careers of some of the game’s finest players led to the conclusion that almost all reached the apex after several years of experience in the big leagues. Among those mentioned to buttress the claim were Wagner, Lajoie, Cobb, Collins, George Sisler, Tris Speaker, and others and a chart showed that twenty field position players and ten pitchers had their best years at least four campaigns in.
Ira Irving wrote about exhibition games during spring training in which teams from the two leagues faced off, but these were judged to be subject to players not giving their utmost, teams not at their full rosters, and, most significantly, there being nothing at all to contend for because the leagues remained in their own spheres during the regular season. In fact, it was almost seven more decades before a regular-season interleague game was held, this taking place over a quarter century ago in June 1997 when the San Francisco Giants edged the host Texas Rangers, 4-3.
Lane’s article on the great George Sisler asked “Did the American League Blunder?’ when the longtime star for the St. Louis Browns, called a “wreck” by the writer, was sold to the Washington Senators of the same league before the start of the 1928 campaign. Though he batter over .400 in spring training and topped that mark twice in the regular season, in 1920 and 1922, he was benched. Lane then observed, “then came the astonishing news that every club in the American League had waived upon his services,” and the Boston Braves picked Sisler up for peanuts. Though hitting just .245 when he left the Senators, he batted .340 for the Braves in 118 games.
The 36-year old Sisler, when interviewed by the magazine’s editor, demurred on saying too much because, “I would be accused of sour grapes. So I had perhaps best say little or nothing.” He did suggest, however, that previous vision problems, which he asserted were long in the past, may have led many to believe that his career was on the wane. While some friends felt he could reach the hallowed .400 mark again (Miami’s Luis Arraez, after 70 games this year, is at a torrid .397 average), Sisler flatly stated that this was not likely to happen, though he did have a .326 average and ended his final year in 1930 at a .309 clip, with his storied career at a .340 rate.
“The Most Versatile Star in Baseball” wrote Cleon Walfoort was Jimmy Dykes of the A’s, with whom he spent 15 years under the tutelage of legendary manager Connie Mack before finishing his career over eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox in 1939. The 32-year old completed his ninth full season with the team in 1928 and, while he had a few years where he hit over .300, he was not known as a great hitter. Mack, however, valued Dykes for his ability to handle all of the infield positions and this made the player “a utility star.”
Morton Bluestone’s “The 1928 Rookie Team of the National League, included batters and pitchers, with a couple, such as Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants, becoming great stars. Ott, in 124 games, hit. 322 and clubbed 18 home runs, the latter second to Del Bissonette of the Dodgers, who had a breakout season but whose career ended after just several years.
Hubbell, meanwhile, posted a 10-6 record with a 2.83 ERA, placing him behind one other pitcher on the list. He went on to win more than 250 games with just over 150 losses in a 16-year career and was a two-time MVP, while Ott hit .304 over 22 years and clubbed 511 homers and nearly 1,900 runs batted in. Other players mentioned were Fred Maguire and Woodie English of the Cubs, Al Whitney and Charles Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies, Wally Roettger of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Andy Reese of the Giants.
Eugene Karst’s “The Ideal Build for a Ball Player” is an interesting look at whether the size of a player is that important, given that there are many examples of great athletes who were not the size of Ruth, his teammate Lou Gehrig, or Bill Terry of the Giants and Harry Heilmann of the Tigers. Lloyd Waner, Rabbit Maranville of the Braves, Fred Lindstrom of the Giants, the Yankees’ Tony Lazzeri and others were among those who were featured, while tables were included that shows the trends concerning records of pitchers by height and weight, along with others that dealt with batting statistics.
William Lindsey looked at a “novel pitching feature” in the form on an unearned runs percentage compared to total runs allowed. He found that, for ten hurlers in each league, the highest percentage in the National circuit was that of Burleigh Grimes of the Pirates, who posted a league high 25 wins in 1928 and was 17-7 the next year and whose percentage was .247, not far above that of Bob Smith of the Braves.
Over in the AL, Earl Whitehill of the Tigers, who was 11-16 with an ERA above 4 in 1928 and was 14-15 with an average approaching five the following season, was at .282. He was followed by Jack Quinn (born Joannes Pajkos in what is now Slovakia) of the A’s, who was 18-7 and with a 2.90 earned run average in 1928 and 11-9/3.97 in 1929 was second at .261. Lindsey noted that poor fielding and defective defense likely accounted for much of the question of unearned runs and this was generally not the problem of the hurler on the mound.
The 1929 season ended with the A’s winning the American League pennant by 18 games over the Yankees with a stellar record of 104-46. For the National circuit, the Cubs were 98-54 and finished 10 1/2 games ahead of the Pirates, so these squads had little competition during the campaign. Neither was the World Series much of a contest, especially the first two games as the Philly team won 3-1 and 9-3.
While Chicago bounced back with a 3-1 win in game three, the Athletics eked out closer victories, 10-8 and 3-2 to win the title, with star outfielders Jimmy Foxx and Al Simmons and their mate in the field, Mule Haas, who posted the best stats of his career in 1929, each clubbing two home runs. The champs posted a 2.40 ERA with the Cubs, including slugger Hack Wilson as well as Hornsby and Charlie Grimm, only batting .249. Howard Ehmke was stellar on the mound allowing just two runs in 12 2/3 innings, while Hall of Famer Lefty Grove threw six shutout innings and posted two saves.
We have several more issues of Baseball Magazine in the collection (having previously featured the May 1928 and October 1929 editions), so we’ll look to feature more of them in future installments of the “Games People Play” series of posts on this blog.