|Edition No. 5||
February 5, 2010
As we close out the first week of February of the year Twenty Ten, I share with you now a few musings and ramblings to help us all through this God-awful Nebraska winter:
The other day my personal Hot Stove, Will Ernst, was wondering aloud if there had ever been a Triple Crown winner who had not won the MVP award for his league that year. My knee-jerk response was in the affirmative, since I knew that Ted Williams had won the Triple Crown twice but thought (incorrectly) that he was voted only one Most Valuable Player award. When I went to Wikipedia to see if there were any other Triple Crowners who not also MVPers, I was harshly reminded that in neither of his Triple Crown seasons (1942 and 1947) was The Kid voted his league’s MVP, but that he did win the MVP award in 1946, when the Red Sox made it to the World Series, where they fell to the Cardinals and Enos “Country” Slaughter; and in 1949.
In 1942, the AL MVP award went to Yankee second-sacker Joe Gordon, and in 1947 to the Yankee Clipper, both in years when the Bombers won the AL pennant. Since there is a clear preference among the BBWA to cast their MVP votes for players on teams that won a championship, a superficial review of these two MVP awards might not raise anyone’s hackles. However, when one digs a bit deeper and compares the statistics of these two MVPs in their seasons of glory to the numbers put up by Teddy Ballgame, one has to conclude that a lot of voters moreso cast their votes against Williams than for Gordon and DiMaggio. Take a look:
If these numbers don’t show a clear bias against Ted Williams by the baseball writers, then Pete Rose didn’t bet on baseball. At least that’s what he told Giamatti.
Interesting that DiMaggio got the nod with his statistics that (1947) year. Perhaps it was kind of a career achievement award bestowed upon him by his admiring public. You could argue that DiMaggio wasn’t even the best hitter on his own team that year, as Tommy Henrich scored 12 more runs, had 4 more doubles, 3 more triples, 1 more RBI, 7 more bases on balls, and only 4 fewer home runs. The fact that the Red Sox finished in third place that year no doubt hurt Teddy’s chances, but it’s hard to argue against a guy who leads the league in the three major hitting categories, as well as runs scored and bases on balls, to boot.
Parenthetically, consider that Teddy Ballgame missed three of the four seasons between his bookend Triple Crowns to WW II, and use your imaginations to conjure up what kind of season and career stats he would have had if he had played in the majors in ’43, ’44 and ’45, at ages 24, 25 and 26, especially against the war depleted talent pool. Staggering numbers, that’s what.
As I read about Joe Gordon and his 1942 MVP season, and then read some more about his life and career, I was amazed that I didn’t then before know more about him, as excellent a career as he had. Born and raised in California, Gordon and his family moved to Oregon where he attended Jefferson High School in the early 1930s and then the University of Oregon, where he was a star baseball player as well as a halfback on the football team, a gymnast, soccer player and long jump. An all-around BMOC, Gordon was a Sigma Chi man and played the violin in the school orchestra for good measure.
After leading the Ducks to a 30-14 record over his freshman and sophomore years, and batting for a combined .358 average, Gordon turned pro and signed with the Yankees in 1936. He played for the Newark Bears in 1937, batting .280 for a team which is often acclaimed as the greatest minor league team of all time. The following season, the Bombers brought him up to the parent club to take over second sack for the now-dispensable Tony “Poosh ‘Em Up” Lazzeri. Gordon had an outstanding rookie campaign, cracking out 25 home runs as a rookie, an AL rookie record for second sackers until 2006. In the infield, he was known for making acrobatic plays while turning the doubloon with great alacrity. He became the premiere second baseman in the American League for a decade, making the All Star team nine times and cracking out a career total of 253 home runs while scoring 914 runs and driving in 975 runs. His .466 career slugging average placed him fifth among second basemen, behind the great Rajah (.577), Charlie Gehringer (.480), Tony Lazzeri (.467), and Nap Lajoie (.466), and only Hornsby hit more homers among second basemen. Still, it seems unfathomable that the BBWA would vote him the MVP for 1942 against Williams’ superlative Triple Crown statistics of that season. Moreover, Gordon had a very poor ’42 World Series, batting just .095 in the Yankees five-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, and he was picked off of second base in the bottom of the ninth in the last game.
After missing the 1944 and 1945 seasons during WW II, Gordon returned to the majors in 1946 and hit poorly, batting only .210 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs. The Yankees then traded Gordon to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Allie Reynolds. Gordon left the Yankees after exactly 1000 games and 1000 hits. With the Indians, Gordon acquitted himself with several fine seasons aplate and afield, hitting 32 home runs in 1948, which remained the American League single season mark for second basemen until a juiced up Bret Boone hit 36 of them in 2001.
After his playing career with the Indians ended, Gordon became a player-manager with the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, then a scout with the Detroit Tigers, and then back to the PCL to manage the San Francisco Seals. He later became a major league manager for the Cleveland Indians, but in the middle of the 1960 season, he was involved in a rare trade of managers when the Indians swapped him to the Tigers for Bengal manager Jimmy Dykes. The following year he signed with the Kansas City Athletics but was fired by owner Charlie Finley mid-year. In 1969, he returned to managing with the expansion Kansas City Royals, where he was succeeded by the little-known Charlie Metro.
Gordon died of a heart attack at age 63 in 1978. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, via the Veterans Committee, in 2009.
So now you know almost everything I know about Joe Gordon. Almost.
Previously unbeknownst to me—prior to my Wikipedia research on Triple Crown winners who were not the league MVP—there is a much less recognized Triple Crown of lowest league batting average, lowest home run total, and lowest RBI total, with the requirement of the same number of plate appearances as is required for the conventional Triple Crown. I guess with computers they can figure out just about anything.
In the history of our great game, there has been a Triple Crown Loser only twelve times, with one player, Freddie Maguire, accomplishing the feat twice. [Freddie Maguire was so obscure a player that Linda could not find a picture of him on the internet.] The most recent Triple Crown Loser is Ramon Santiago of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who managed only 2 home runs, 29 RBIs and a batting average of .225 as a regular with the ’03 Tigers. The most recent “Loser” in the National League was Ivan DeJesus, then of the Chicago Cubs, who embarrassed himself with no home runs, 13 RBIs and a .194 (below the Mendoza line) batting average as a starter for the ’81 Cubs.
Trivia question: There is actually one player who is in the Hall of Fame who was a Triple Crown Loser. Can you name him? If so, post your guess on the Message Board, and I will let you know next week if you are correct.
I was reminded the other day that the Splendid Splinter’s First Commandment of Hitting was “Never Swing at the First Pitch.” Even though The Kid may have been the greatest hitter that ever lived, he was dead wrong about his commandment, likely to his own detriment, but unequivocally to the detriment of the legion of hitters to whom he preached his gospel. Almost without exception, a major league hitter will hit for a higher average and a higher slugging percentage if he aggressively attacks first-pitch strikes. So how is it that Teddy Ballgame got it so wrong? Any opinions out there?
Penultimately, I leave you with links to three terrific vignettes (out of scores of them) from the Tom Boswell anthology Cracking the Show, which I just completed, as follows:
Do yourself a favor and print these off for your next three visits to the family throne. As always with Boswell, great reading.