(Blogathon ’16) Michael Clair: An (Abbreviated) People’s History of the World Through Baseball Cards

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

In the beginning, there was nothing. Just a swirl of atoms and gasses mixing about in a sort of cosmic stew. Perhaps there were some Lovecraftian elder gods with tentacle faces flitting about but honestly, that’s all just conjecture.

And then, for some unknown reason, everything smashed together. This was the Big Bang.

From there … everything was set into motion, like when you’re playing Mouse Trap and you flip the switch that starts the aforementioned trap. Eventually, single celled organisms had to combine into fish who had to crawl out of the ocean and onto land.

Those things then turned into dinosaurs. I think.

Of course, Carl Everett may disagree with that.

Humanity eventually showed up, evolving from apes. Somehow,like Leo DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” they survived against the cold and the dark and the ancient beasts that wandered the world. After stumbling around, smashing rocks into things, the first farmers showed up about 8,500 years ago to plant crops.

It was at this time that animals were first domesticated, too. Little could these wild and violent creatures have imagined what would one day become of them:

With our faithful Labradoodles by our side, humans were safe to grow and learn. 5,000 years later, the first signs of writing appeared. Some say this was the first thing a homo sapien ever scratched out:

Flash forward to 800 BC and not only do we see the very first Homer, who is busy penning the Odyssey (side note: I can’t believe Topps has never come out with a Homer’s Odyssey line of cards, with dinger gods receiving Grecian-style prints), but, fittingly, that’s also when the Iron Age began.

Jacked bros will tell you that it’s never ended.

A few hundred years later, alchemists got busy looking for the philosopher’s stone that could transmute base metals into gold. They generally dressed like this:

Then in the 5th century King Arthur and his McKnights of the Round Table showed up. If you’re trying to tell me that Lancelot did not look like this, then you clearly haven’t been attending many Ren Fairs.

Soon enough, the Renaissance was upon us, ushering in a new world of emerging thought and, most importantly, art. A new understanding of human physics and how to depict them made humans look almost lifelike. Almost.

But the Renaissance would eventually be swept away under the coal-fueled wheels of the Industrial Revolution. Soon, the repeatable precision that came from factories and cameras forced man to become machine and art to change its very definition.

Soon after, the Wright Brothers would get tired of riding bikes all the time and they discovered flight. Sadly, it left poor Sean Lowe without a purpose any longer.

After some of the worst wars man had ever seen (shockingly, not a whole lot of World War I baseball cards featuring the poetry of Wilfred Owen), man discovered nuclear fusion and the world would be plunged into a new terror.

That fear would force humans to look to the stars. And if you believe the “official story”, we walked upon the moon. Yeah, right. Wake up sheeple.

Not much happened after that until the internet was created. Finally, people could send letters without having to write anything down, while also doing sex stuff without ever leaving their houses.

And cell phones were invented. And people could do more types of sex stuff without leaving their houses.

What will the future bring? Will we soon walk amongst the stars? Will we discover the purpose of existence? Will we be able to order pizza through emoji? Humans may have no idea, but baseball cards do.

(Image sources: Baseball Card Bust, eBay, Trading Card Database, Stunning Purple, This Card is Cool, Garvey Cey Russell Lopes, and probably more.)

Michael Clair writes for MLB.com’s Cut4 and will likely one day suffocate under his baseball card collection. Follow him @clairbearattack.

This guest-post was part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

100 Years Ago Today: Babe Ruth’s First HR… it was, needless to say, a different time.

It’s says something about how old baseball is that we can hold centennials for home runs. As in, individual home runs. Such as the case of today, where we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first of Babe Ruth‘s 714 home runs, which he hit May 6, 1915 at the Polo Grounds against the Yankees. He also made his first error that day, but that presumably won’t be commemorated. It wasn’t much noticed at the time- a cursory look at SABR’s online Sporting News doesn’t bring up anything (although certainly that doesn’t mean it isn’t there).

Perhaps that was because Ruth was, of course, a pitcher at the time. And on that day, he went all 12.1 innings of the game before finally he gave up the game-winning run in the 4-3 loss in 13 innings. He went 3-5 at the plate that day, though, moving his batting average to .417 on the season- he would end up hitting .315 on the year in 92 ABs.

It was, needless to say, a different time:

  • The career HR leader was Roger Connor, with 138.
  • The single-season HR leader was Ned Williamson, who had hit 27 for Chicago in 1884. Gavvy Cravath would give chase to that in 1915 with 24 HRs.
  • The active HR leader was Honus Wagner, who had 94 at the time.
  • Ruth’s 4 HRs in 1915 were good enough for being tied for 9th in the AL.
  • Shoeless Joe Jackson would take the career and active leads in slugging percentage in 1915 and finish the season with a career total of .527- his career would end with it at .517. By comparison, Babe Ruth’s final career slugging percentage would be .690, a record he still holds to this day.
  • The highest career WAR at the time- and this was long, long, LONG before WAR was a statistic- was 168.4, held by Cy Young. Babe Ruth’s career WAR, still a record, ended up being 183.6.
  • The highest career position player WAR at the end of 1915 was Wagner, with 128.5. Ruth would end his career with 163.1, still a record (Barry Bonds is second at 162.4).
  • Ruth would win 18 games in 1915, good enough for being tied for 9th in the AL that season. It would have tied him for the most wins in the AL in 2014.
  • Ruth ended up throwing 217.2 IP in 1915, which wasn’t anywhere good enough for a top 10 finish in the AL that season (the 10th place man that year, Jean Dubuc, had thrown 258 innings) … but it would have been good for 8th in 2014!
  • On the flip-side, his 4.631 SO/9, which was good for 8th in the AL in 1915, would be nowhere near the top 10 in 2014, where, for comparison, the 8th best (Drew Hutchison) had 8.968 SO/9.
  • The man who Ruth hit his first HR (and, coincidentally, his second) off of was Jack Warhop, who would give up seven that year- tied for the most in the AL. By comparison, the player gave up the most HRs in the AL in 2014 was Hector Noesi, with 28.
  • The consecutive games played streak was held by George Pinkney, at 577. Ruth’s teammate that day, Everett Scott, would on June 20, 1916 begin a streak of 1,307 games. Wally Pipp, who Ruth would hold to 1-6 with a strikeout on this day 100 years ago, would later go on to have a fairly long consecutive game streak of his own, only to be replaced one day by a man named Lou Gehrig, who would break Scott’s record.
  • The Yankees had won a grand total of zero World Series titles.
  • The team with the most World Series titles at the time was the Athletics, with three. The Red Sox would tie that when they won the World Series that year.
  • Hank Aaron had not yet been born. Josh Gibson was three. Lou Gehrig was 11. Guy Bush, who would give up Ruth’s 714th HR (and his 713th, by the way), was 13.
  • The Cubs had won two World Series. That, as we know, is still their number. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

 

 

Best of 2014- How Babe Ruth’s trade was reported (Updated!)

Originally published on July 9, 2014.

This is an updated version of an article from last fall, now including things from The Sporting News of the era. Thanks to the Society of American Baseball Research (of which I am now a member!) for the access to the Sporting News archive, which made this update possible.
It could be said that the last vestige of the “Curse of the Bambino” fell last year, as the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in Fenway Park itself for the first time since 1918. To be more exact, they were the first Boston team to clinch the title at home since this game.

Take a look at that game. And notice how different it was: it took only 1:56 to play, it was a day game and only 15,238 were in attendance. It took place in September since the season was shortened due to WWI travel restirctions. Hall of Famers Harry Hooper and Babe Ruth (who was used as a defensive replacement, despite still being primarily a pitcher at the time) were on Boston, and HOF umpires Bill Klem and Hank O’Day were working the corner bases (there were only four umpires in the playoffs back then).

Of course, that ended up being the last World Series game that Ruth would play for the Red Sox, because on December 26 of the following year, he was infamously sold to the New York Yankees. And that’s what brings us to this article, where I take a look at how the Ruth sale was reported in the papers of 1919.. or, rather, 1920, since it took TEN DAYS for them to officially announce it.

(JUMP)

Continue reading

How Babe Ruth’s trade was reported (Updated!)

This is an updated version of an article from last fall, now including things from The Sporting News of the era. Thanks to the Society of American Baseball Research (of which I am now a member!) for the access to the Sporting News archive, which made this update possible.
It could be said that the last vestige of the “Curse of the Bambino” fell last year, as the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in Fenway Park itself for the first time since 1918. To be more exact, they were the first Boston team to clinch the title at home since this game.

Take a look at that game. And notice how different it was: it took only 1:56 to play, it was a day game and only 15,238 were in attendance. It took place in September since the season was shortened due to WWI travel restirctions. Hall of Famers Harry Hooper and Babe Ruth (who was used as a defensive replacement, despite still being primarily a pitcher at the time) were on Boston, and HOF umpires Bill Klem and Hank O’Day were working the corner bases (there were only four umpires in the playoffs back then).

Of course, that ended up being the last World Series game that Ruth would play for the Red Sox, because on December 26 of the following year, he was infamously sold to the New York Yankees. And that’s what brings us to this article, where I take a look at how the Ruth sale was reported in the papers of 1919.. or, rather, 1920, since it took TEN DAYS for them to officially announce it.

(JUMP)

Continue reading

Baseball Food Myths/Legends

Today, July 4th, is the famous Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. And, in homage to that and as a semi-sequel to the article about Chris Sale‘s diet, here’s a look at two of the other great baseball tales involving appetite… after the jump, of course:

Continue reading

If this is the end of Josh Beckett, his tale is a tragedy

Over the past few years, Josh Beckett‘s life has been a dark comedy. There were the fights with the media, the failure to live up to his contracts, and the whole thing with the fact he was one of the Red Sox who apparently were having chicken and beer over games of Call of Duty while the 2011 Red Sox burned.

But now, it looks like it will instead be a full-on tragedy, as the Los Angeles Times reports that Beckett has been feeling numbness in his pitching hand, something that could well end his career.

And that stinks. Because, while Beckett’s career has been in free-fall this decade, at his peak he was one of the best pitchers in the game, and, what’s more, he was awesome in the post-season.

In fact, it’s the post-season where, if this is the end, we will probably most remember Beckett. His first appearance on the national stage came in 2003, when he was the World Series MVP with the Marlins, finishing off the Yankees on short rest with a complete game shutout in Game 6.

That is more than can be said for many pitchers, but in 2007, he did it again, going 4-0 in his starts for the Red Sox, including winning the MVP of the ALCS, where he had a absurdly low ERA 1.93 ERA… which was actually higher than his ERA in the other two series he pitched in (although, admittedly, those series were sweeps where he only had one start).

Of course, after that, his career took a downturn. His postseason performances did a downturn first, with him going 1-1 with no ERA below 5.40 in the three series he’s pitched since 2007.  While he was a regular season All-Star in 2008 and 2011*, he was no longer the above-all ace he once was. Since 2011, in fact, he is 7-19 with a 4.76 ERA in the regular season.

But, perhaps if this is the end, we should try to remember where he was best: the World Series. In his three starts (so admittedly a small sample size) and 23.1 innings pitched in the Fall Classic, Josh Beckett went 2-1 with a 1.16 ERA.

And that’s impressive.

*Before the ASG in 2011, Beckett was 8-3 with a 2.27 ERA, but the second half saw him be a just-okay 5-4 with a 3.73 ERA.

Picture of the day: Everett Scott (also, a look at some of the weird connections between him, Wally Pipp, and Lou Gehrig)

Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig‘s record…. but who had the record before Lou Gehrig?

Well, the answer is this man, Everett Scott. He played in 1,307 straight games from June 20, 1916 to May 6, 1925. It remains the third longest streak in history.

Scott, a shortstop like Ripken, played at various times the Red Sox, Yankees, Senators, Reds and White Sox. When his streak ended on May 6, 1925, he was replaced at short by a man named Pee Wee Wanniger.

A few weeks later, on June 1, Wanniger was pinch-hit for by Lou Gehrig, who had only seen marginal time as a pinch-hitter and a defensive replacement before then, as 1B Wally Pipp had, since Scott’s streak ended, now had the longest active consecutive game streak going. The day after that, June 2, Wally Pipp had a headache. Lou Gehrig started in his place, and went 3-5 with a double in a 8-5 win over Washington.

Gehrig, as I mentioned before, had seen some marginal time before. In fact, his debut had come during his age 19 year in 1923, when, on June 15, he came in as a defensive replacement for Wally Pipp. As he looked across the diamond, standing at short, he would have seen… Everett Scott.

Here’s a picture of Scott from the Library of Congress: