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Baseball 2000
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Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
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Subways On Alert

At one point in baseball history, it seemed like a Subway Series might never happen again. Fortunately for New Yorkers, the expansion era provided a glimmer of hope with the birth of the New York Mets—a glimmer that finally gave way to reality in the year 2000. In 1958 (four years before the Mets joined the National League), the future of the Subway Series took a grim turn when both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved west, leaving the New York Yankees as the city’s lone representative. Over the previous decade, a Subway Series had become almost a routine event (in contrast to the expected ballyhoo and bombast of this year’s event), principally because it happened so often. During the first half of the 1950s, a Subway Series battle occurred every year from 1951 to 1956, with the exception of one uncooperative season. With all of that in mind, let’s take a look back at those last five Subway Series— the Fall Classics that greatly shaped our images and memories of baseball in the 1950s.

1956 World Series (Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees): Pitching in Game Five at Yankee Stadium, journeyman right-hander Don Larsen pitched the first—and only—perfect game in World Series lore. Larsen threw only 97 pitches that day—an average of just under 11 per inning—and reached a three-two count on only one batter. Impressive enough by itself, Larsen’s historic achievement becomes more noteworthy based on the strength of the Dodgers’ eight-man lineup. The ’56 Dodgers featured four future Hall of Famers—Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider—a .300 hitter in Junior Gilliam, and power threats like Carl Furillo and Gil Hodges. Larsen also shut down a disciplined offensive team that had a penchant for drawing walks, a bane to a perfect game… After losing the sixth game, 1-0, the Yankees recovered to win Game Seven in a runaway. Johnny Kucks pitched shutout ball in a 9-0 victory.

1955 World Series (Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees) The Yankees won the first two games of the Series, prompting talk of yet another Dodger defeat in the Fall Classic. The Dodgers responded by winning the next three games—all in Brooklyn. After a 5-1 defeat in Game Six, the Dodgers snared Game Seven on Johnny Podres’ second complete game of the Series. For the Dodgers, it was their first World Series triumph in eight attempts, bringing to an end the cry of "wait till next year"… The Dodgers and Yankees combined to hit a record 17 home runs over the first six games.

1953 World Series (Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees) The Yankees won an unprecedented fifth consecutive world championship, thanks to a large dose of unexpected offensive heroics from a journeyman second baseman. Billy Martin, a solid but unspectacular player during the regular season, carried New York’s offense by hitting .500. His unlikely offensive barrage included 12 hits, two home runs, and eight RBIs… In Game Three, Brooklyn’s Carl Erskine set a Series record by striking out 14 Yankees, giving the Dodgers their first win of the Series. Mickey Mantle struck out four times at the hand of Erskine… The Yankees and Dodgers combined to total 47 bases in Game Five, setting a new Series mark. Martin’s grand slam after Gil Hodges’ two-out error in the third provided the winning margin, as the Yankees took the lead in the Series… In the climactic sixth game, Allie Reynolds narrowly out-pitching Clem Labine. New York captured the finale, 4-3, in one of three Series games decided by two runs or fewer.

1952 World Series (Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees): In many ways, this Series was as good as the 1955 Classic, but it lacked the romantic appeal of a David-vs. -Goliath upset. Two games came down to one-run margins, while three others were decided by two runs… In Game Three, Yogi Berra’s passed ball in the ninth inning allowed two runs to score, giving the Dodgers a three-run lead. Johnny Mize homered for New York in the bottom of the ninth, but the Bombers still fell short… The Yankees evened the Series in Game Four, courtesy of Allie Reynolds’ 10-strikeout, complete-game shutout… Reynolds and Joe Black tangled in a classic Game Seven, with "The Chief" pitching the Yankees to a 4-2 win at Ebbets Field… Although Black lost the decisive game, he did post a win in Game One, becoming the first African-American pitcher to register a victory in World Series play… Yankee left fielder Gene Woodling, a solid but unheralded player who was usually overshadowed by the likes of Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, led all regulars with a .348 batting clip. Mantle batted .345 with two home runs and five runs scored. Although Mantle and Woodling would have been leading candidates, an official Series MVP Award did not exist. That would come about in 1955.

A Letter To The Editor

As a columnist, I encourage readers to write in, whether to express agreement or disagreement, joy or even rage, about items that have been written in the past. Last week, I received one of the more insightful letters I’ve had the pleasure of reading—so insightful that it could be considered a column in an of itself. The letter came from Allan Wood, the author of 1918: Babe Ruth and the World Champion Boston Red Sox, which is scheduled for release in 2001.

Dear Bruce,

On September 5, you wrote: ‘Many of Jeter's detractors point to his poor showing in two defensive statistics that have some popularity: range factor and zone rating. Range factor has some merits in judging a fielder's ability to get to more grounders and fly balls than his counterparts ...’ You also wrote: ‘Jeter's defensive statistics—specifically his range factor—are never going to be very good as long as the Yankees' roster remains the way it is presently composed.’

I looked at the American League shortstops in RF, and the leader was Felix Martinez (5.68). Jeter was well below league average at 4.12. That is an average of 1.56/balls per game—which over 150 games means that Martinez is getting to roughly 225 extra balls. I'm not sure how to translate that to estimated wins, but it is a decent amount of missed chances.

But is Jeter victimized by his pitching staff as you say? I looked at the Yankees’ ground ball to fly ball ratios for the season just ended.

Roger Clemens: 230 fly balls, 248 ground balls Andy Pettitte: 201 fly balls, 341 ground balls Orlando Hernandez: 282 fly balls, 200 ground balls Denny Neagle: 138 fly balls, 98 ground balls (NY games only) David Cone: 200 fly balls, 165 ground balls

It's almost even: 1051 fly balls, 1052 ground balls.

And among the most-used relievers:

Jeff Nelson: 72 fly balls, 64 ground balls Mariano Rivera: 73 fly balls, 107 ground balls Mike Stanton: 66 fly balls, 70 ground balls Jason Grimsley: 92 fly balls, 167 ground balls

There’s a big advantage to grounders here: 303 fly, 508 ground. I'm tempted to say that Jeter is not victimized by a fly ball staff, but rather that his work in the field is the weak part of his game. His range factor has been declining every year he has been in the big leagues (until this year). In 1999, his range factor was a mere 3.998. I believe all his seasons were below league average—and the Yankees’ staff has changed a bit in five years. Plus Martinez made only 14 errors to Jeter's 24.

But the important thing is—what are New York's fly/ground numbers compared to other starting staffs? I looked at Martinez’ Tampa Bay teammates (there were a few trades though, which complicates matters):

The five leaders in games started:

Bryan Rekar: 177 fly balls, 284 ground balls Albie Lopez: 176 fly balls, 309 ground balls Steve Trachsel: slight ground ball edge Esteban Yan: 176 fly balls, 188 ground balls Ryan Rupe: 130 fly balls, 127 ground balls

Top 4 in games played (if not listed above):

Roberto Hernandez: 72 fly balls, 103 ground balls Doug Creek: 80 fly balls, 41 ground ball Rick White (now with the Mets) and Jim Mecir (now with the A’s): ground ball edge

Well, the Devil Rays’ starters do allow more grounders: 908 to 659. Martinez had more assists in 106 games than Jeter did in 148: 369 to 349. Martinez was involved in more double plays too: 81-77. [Of course, Martinez was horrible at the plate, but this is field work only here.]

Is the pitching staff the real difference? Is the difference great enough to explain the gulf in range factor? I think to get a more accurate measure of range, the staffs should definitely be taken into account and somehow have playing time (for pitchers) weighted.


Allan Wood

Allan, thanks for your research, which is sure to raise additional questions about Jeter’s defensive merits. We’ll keep them in mind as we watch Jeter (and the Mets’ Mike Bordick) perform in this year’s World Series.

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