Baseball Cards

Otoole 8.16

Baseball cards are an unbelievable source of information for baseball aficionados  especially kids. On the face or front  is a photograph of the player, always out of focus or off-centered so you have difficulty identifying him at the stadium, in the parking lot, or at card shows. On the back of the card is usually a cartoon with a balloon containing a statement of some sort about the player, along with a box that lists the player’s physical features. It was always great finding a player born on your birthday.

But the real good info, the data-mining that the card produced was the player’s year by year statistics that were for all intents and purposes his resume and APR: his annual performance record. Bubba hit .209 with three homers and 19 RBI in a 137 games: BUM -GIVE HIM THE PINK SLIP Or 22 wins 1.12 ERA  13 Shutouts.

ALL STAR, CY YOUNG -FUTURE HALL OF FAME.

The wealth of information on the back of a baseball card of course is limited by the size of the cardboard. In fact, if the player you found in your pack happened to be a veteran of 15 seasons, his cartoon was deleted , edited to fit all of his MLB years of service.

That’s when you knew you got some big time, respected player.

Of course you could also be in ownership of a Bob Miller card.

No not that Bob Miller who played his entire career for the Phillies, compiling a 42-42 record.

AND no,  not that Bob Miller either who pitched for the Tigers, Reds and Mets finished 6-8.

Yes ,that BOB MILLER who played 17 years with 10 different franchises in nine different cities and  compiled  a 69-81 mark with 52 saves and a 3.37 ERA in the “lead ball” era of baseball of the 1960’s and 70’s when ERAs dipped along with the batting averages as teams moved from neighborhood parks to cookie cutter stadiums resulting in a dearth of offense.  He was a flexible, itinerant  pitcher  whose role today would better be defined as a “spot starter’ or “bridge pitcher”.

He made the most of his career playing on World Series champions Los Angeles (1965) and Pittsburgh (1971).Unfortunately, complications from injuries sustained in an auto accident led to his pre-mature death.

But, for all the beauty of the baseball card and the fact that you could carry the info in the back pocket of your Levis or in the spokes of your bicycle, the info is limited especially now with the Internet and its plethora of websites devoted to anything you can think of pertaining to your hobby, sport or obsession.

Using one of those sites, baseballreference.com, I was perusing Babe Ruth’s stats recently and started to delve into his pitching logs. I started investigating the box scores and then began compiling Ruth’s records against the teams he faced , and the pitchers he battled. I even started to notice the dates on which he pitched and if there were any patterns his managers employed when using Ruth on the mound.

In short, the forensic evidence  that the website really aides readers  to flesh out the players of yesterday. It helps put their performances into context and reacquaints fans to some of the greats and introduces them to others unknown to them.

Returning to Ruth’s pitching stats.

Babe pitched against only four Hall of Fame pitchers, Walter Johnson, Red Faber, Stan Coveleski, Eddie Plank and a potential  fifth, Ed Cicotte , who was a member of  the Black Sox. His role in the fixing of the 1919 World Series was first admitted  then recanted so his role is still debated.

Ruth faced those five pitchers, studs, arguably the aces on their team’s staff a total of 12 times. This is fascinating because one might think that the aces would have been paired more often and generate more revenue at the gate.

Owners might have been under the belief that more tickets would be purchased on two separate occasions than one.

Perhaps, managers of the times had a different philosophy of  matching  your ace against the lesser opponent pitchers or  least experienced. The strategy: a team  would realize at least one in the usual three game series with the rubber game being a tossup. Ruth’s managers, and more research is needed,  appear to employ this approach because many of Ruth’s mound rivals were close to .500 pitchers.

Ruth faced 37 hurlers only once, including HOFs Plank, Coveleski, and Faber, compiled a 28-9 mark against them.  Some never even returned to the mound like Dan Tipple who lost his only game to the Bambino and finished his career 1-1 and never returned to a major league mound.

Pitchers who were mediocre at best included Philadelphia’s  Elmer Myers (55-72), and Jing Johnson ( 24-38) and New York’s George Mogridge ( 132-133).

Other pitchers that faced off against Ruth that were decent, respected and if they had played for a different franchise may have wound up in Cooperstown.: Detroit’s “Hooks” Daus (223-182) and Bernie Boland ( 68-53), St. Louis  “Lefty” Liefield  (124-97) who pitched his last three years with the Browns,  frequent AL traveler Vean Gregg (92-63)  Cleveland’s Guy Morton ( 98-86) who beat Ruth three times in six decisions.

Cleveland’s  Jim Bagby , another pitcher right on the cusp, won 31 games in 1920 to help the Indians to the World Series title, who finished  127-89 beat the Bambino four times in four tries. Ruth finished 9-9 lifetime against Cleveland.

However,it’s in his matchups with  Walter  “Big Train” Johnson that demonstrates how great a pitcher Babe actually was.

IP     H      BB       K        R      ER   ERA
Ruth                73.2   53     20       30       15     10     1.23
Johnson         62.2   50     10        37       13     13     1.86
Ruth won six of the contests in eight decisions.

In the quintessential game waged between these immortals, Ruth bested Johnson in 13 innings surrendering only eights and two walks. Johnson pitched 12.2 innings surrendering seven hits and five walks with the winning run driven in by Larry Gardner who collected three safeties in the game.

Great lines by great pitchers.

Today is the anniversary of  Babe Ruth’s death.