1) FRANCONA MANAGES CLEANLY BUT NOT WELL
On Thursday night, the Yankees and Red Sox played an epochal extra-inning game, possibly the most compelling contest of the season to date. This was the game in which Derek Jeter flew like a deranged Superman into the third row of seats in short left field. A consequence of If Jeter Had Wings was that Jeter had to leave the game and the Yankees were out of infielders. Alex Rodriguez slid over to shortstop and Gary Sheffield, who had last played third base in 1993, was called upon to take A-Rod’s place at the hot corner.
Sheffield’s first chance came on a Kevin Millar grounder. The outfielder looped the throw over first base for an error; it was clear that he had forgotten both the range and the mechanics of playing the position. The Red Sox, already up by a run, had Dave McCarty and Cesar Crespo due to bat. An obvious strategic question presented itself: could the Red Sox run up the score by bunting the ball at Sheffield?
In the event, Francona let his batters swing away. McCarty walked, then Crespo grounded to short for a double play. Why didn’t the Red Sox bunt? Maybe because Sheffield told them not to, just like Pepper Martin used to do.
2) JOHN LEONARD ROOSEVELT MARTIN
Pepper Martin, “The Wild Horse of the Osage,” was an outfielder with the Cardinals in the 1930s. A scrappy gamer, he was essentially Melvin Mora Mark One. He hit for strong batting averages, occasional power, ran hard, and played until his body gave out. “He swung on a ball as though he had a personal grievance against it,” wrote Frank Graham. “He ran as though the devil himself were at his heels and he would let no obstacle, human or otherwise, stand in his way. He threw as though he were trying to split planks.”
Like Mora, his best position was the outfield but if the Cards asked him to play the infield he shrugged his shoulders and gave it his best shot. Such was the case in 1933, when the Cardinals added Joe Medwick to their outfield and asked Martin to move to third base. The problem was Martin was a terrible third baseman with a scattershot arm. The opposition took to bunting on him, and Martin hated it. Each bunt he fielded was a personal humiliation. Eventually, he decided he couldn’t take it anymore. Prior to a game against the Boston Braves, he made it known that the Braves had better not bunt on him or there would be dire consequences.
Naturally, the Braves took this as a challenge. The leadoff hitter bunted to third. Martin fielded the ball and dropped the runner with the throw. The second batter bunted as well. Martin laid him out on the first base line. After that, the Braves didn’t bunt anymore.
The Braves should have taken him seriously. Martin was a very good guy to have as a friend, “one of nature’s noblemen,” Branch Rickey called him, emphasis on “nature,” like Rickey had bagged him on safari. But Martin was sensitive and emotional. As a minor league manager in later life, he was suspended for taking an argument with an umpire a bit too far.
“Pepper,” he was asked during a league hearing, “when you had your hands around that man’s throat, what could you have been thinking?”
“I was thinking I’d choke the son of a bitch to death,” Pepper replied. But Pepper was not an angry man. As a manager, he once walked out of the ballpark because he couldn’t handle the booing. “They hurt my feelings,” he said. “I’m not a good manager. I’m too thin-skinned and tender-hearted.” Later, he quit a job as sheriff because the job was too depressing. “When I had to take the boy to jail,” he said after arresting an army deserter, “the family cried and I did too.”
3) BLACK MIKE’S BLACK MOODS
You can’t think of Pepper Martin without Mickey Cochrane coming to mind. “Black Mike” was the Philadelphia A’s catcher when Martin ran wild in the 1931 World Series, stealing not only five bases but Cochrane’s reputation and, Judge Landis suggested, Cochrane’s underwear. A player-manager for four seasons, Cochrane was a bit like a cross between Ivan Rodriguez and Civil War general George B. McClellan. He was a great hitter, fielder, and inspirational leader (winner of two pennants and a championship) who was nonetheless a bit twitchy when it came to pressure situations.
After the Series, it was suggested that Martin stole not on Cochrane’s arm but on his brain: “There were other mitigating circumstances that contributed to Cochrane’s below par World Series play,” Fred Lieb wrote. “He was heavily involved in the depression stock market…and there was a bad break in the market during the Series. Several urgent margin calls from his brokers were delivered at the Athletic bench. Unable to meet them…he saw much of his early baseball earnings go down the drain….By nature, Cochrane was a worrier and a fretter, and teammates said he did not sleep the last three nights of the Series.”
Cochrane’s worrying finally knocked him out of the lineup in 1936. After hitting a grand slam at Philadelphia on June 4, Cochrane collapsed upon reaching the dugout. It took an hour for doctors to revive him. “His nervous system is backing up on him,” wrote John P. Carmichael. “The burned-up energy of a high-strung youngster, trying to carry the baseball world on his shoulders another year, has left Cochrane spent and gasping.” It was revealed that Cochrane had suffered fainting spells (panic attacks?) after games on several occasions. A thyroid disorder may have caused or exacerbated Cochrane’s emotional problems, but this connection was never fully explored.
Cochrane was hospitalized, then sent to the Wyoming ranch of a Henry Ford associate to recuperate. “The Tiger manager is riding and shooting and otherwise forgetting the cares of baseball. The length of his absence remains undetermined.” He returned in mid-July for a series with the front-running Yankees, but went back into the hospital four days later after fainting on the train back to Detroit. “The same old trouble,” Cochrane said.
He played in only 44 games. He was just 33. The next season, pitcher Bump Hadley of the Yankees hit him in the head with a fastball, fracturing his skull in three places. His career was over.
The best story about Cochrane’s leadership dates from his days with the A’s. Catching Rube Walberg one day, Cochrane became convinced that the pitcher was not giving his best effort. When Walberg loaded the bases, Cochrane stalked out from behind the plate, grabbed Walberg, spun him around, and kicked him in the ass. Walberg settled down after that. Memo to Jorge Posada: please consider this tactic the next time Jose Contreras pitches.
4) CIVIL WAR BASEBALL/SEVEN DAYS
Cochrane as McClellan brings up baseball in the disease-ridden camps of the Civil War, where just about everyone played the game to pass the time between episodes of carnage, destruction, and coughing. The central feature of baseball in the war between the states had to be bunting, because swinging away would have been too dangerous.
“Dang it, Johnny! That’s another ball lost in the Rappahannock! Go get it!”
“No way, Zeke! Them Reb pickets done shot the three boys we sent after the last ball!”
“Good point, Johnny! Let’s see if we can drill out a cannonball and invent us some bowling!”
George McClellan was a moral coward who continually flattered himself for the great things he was doing for the country while keeping his vast army in neutral or reverse. When Robert E. Lee became McClellan’s principle opponent on the eve of the former’s siege of Richmond, the “Little Napoleon” did a little dance. He thought Lee “cautious and weak under grave responsibility…likely to be timid and irresolute in action.” Actually, this was a near-perfect description of McClellan himself.
In the famous “Seven Days” of battle after Lee took charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, McClellan won six of seven battles but somehow convinced himself that he had lost all of them. Despite thwarting Lee at every turn, McClellan retreated after every battle, thereby allowing Lee to fulfill the purpose of his campaign, which was to get McClellan away from Richmond.
The Seven Days brings to mind Frank Howard‘s six days. The six-foot-seven, 285-pound Howard would have been a Hall of Famer had he (1) played at any time other than the 1960s and (2) not spent half his career in the punishing confines of Dodger Stadium. The owner of 382 career home runs went on an even bigger slugging streak with the Washington Senators in 1968. From May 12 to May 18, playing at home, Boston, Cleveland, and Detroit, Howard went on a power-hitting tear that might even make the great Bonds green with envy:
G AB R H 2B HR BB K AVG SLG OBP 6 24 10 13 1 10 1 4 .542 1.833 .560
Howard got Detroit southpaw Mickey Lolich three times in two starts.
6) YOU CAN’T FOOL THE FAT MAN
Lolich, who once called himself, “the redemption of the fat man,” was a heavy-set innings eater. From 1971-1974, Lolich started 169 games, 41-45 a year, and pitched 1,320 innings, including 96 complete games, enough to make the PAP system say “TILT.” After his retirement, Lolich owned a donut shop.
Whereas Lolich was a fat pitcher who was into pastries, Wilbert Robinson was a fat catcher who was into meat. Trained as a butcher before starring with the old Baltimore Orioles of the National League, in 1902 Robinson found himself stuck in the unenviable position of managing the tattered remnants of the American League version of the Orioles after Robinson’s supposed best pal John McGraw had taken all of the best players, including Roger Bresnahan and Joe McGinnity, and jumped to the New York Giants. Robbie, as he was universally known, compiled a 24-57 (.296) record, then went home. Finished as a player at 40, apparently uninterested in managing, Robinson opened up a butcher’s shop and started vending choice cuts.
Eventually, Robinson and McGraw reconciled. Robbie was the Giant’s pitching coach from 1911-1913, when an argument over a missed sign in the 1913 World Series forever alienated the two. Robinson moved from Harlem to Brooklyn, becoming manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
7) YOU KNEW HE WAS COMING
Uncle Robbie was Casey Stengel‘s second major league manager, the first being Bad Bill Dahlen, the great shortstop/thug (argument for another day: Bill Dahlen is, by any measure, a Hall of Fame shortstop). Robinson managed the Dodgers for so long that when Stengel himself became manager of the Dodgers in 1934, it had been only two years since Robinson had vacated the position.
Stengel’s main job in 1934 was to help the Dodgers play spoiler in a tight pennant race between the New York Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. The main enemy was the Giants, whose manager, Bill Terry, had insulted fans by asking if Brooklyn was still in the National League.
8) WITH DIZZY DEAN, THE PROFESSOR, AND MARYANNE
Stengel’s Dodgers succeeded in keeping the Giants out of the World Series. The Cardinals defeated Mickey Cochrane’s Detroit Tigers that fall. Remembered as the Gashouse Gang, the Cardinals featured all-time baseball characters such as Dizzy Dean, Frankie Frisch, Leo Durocher, and the team’s third baseman, Pepper Martin.
9) EVERYTHING RIGHT IS WRONG AGAIN
Pepper Martin, of course, has to remind you of Terry Francona….