Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The 1887 World Series: Game Nine (And Taking A Close Look At The Question Of Luck)

Who is the Browns' Jonah? It seems as though they can not win a game, and despite good playing they go down day after day before the Detroits. Again to-day did they outbat, outfield and outplay the Wolverines at every point, and yet again were they defeated. The day was dark and threatening [in Philadelphia], and heavy clouds no doubt kept many from attending, but despite this there were fully 4000 people on the grounds when game was called. Both teams arrived on their special train from Boston at 9 o'clock this morning. The Browns were slightly discouraged at their poor showing in Boston, and braced up wonderfully, putting up a fine game, but it was useless. The usual luck was with the Detroits, and they won from a superabundance of that article, so necessary in base-ball. Kelly attended to the field to-day, while Gaffney took care of the balls and strikes. Both did well. To King belongs the honors of the day. The Browns' young pitcher did magnificent work in the box, striking out nine of the Detroit sluggers. They made out six hits off him, but they made every one of those count. Boyle caught him in splendid style, and also batted well. Comiskey played a great game at first and batted well, also making the first two hits scored in the game. Robinson batted well and did good work in the field. Latham had but little to do. Gleason played in his old-time form, and also handled the willow with good effect. The outfield had but little to do. Welch led at the bat, and is improving in his work in this department. Conway pitched for Detroit, and was effective, being also magnificently supported. Bennett's hand being sore, Ganzell went behind the bat, while Bennett went to first. Both did well. Dunlap marred his record by a wild throw. White kept up his great work at third, and made several marvelous stops. Rowe also played well. The outfield had but little to do in the field, but earned the victory by their timely hitting.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 20, 1887

Since the Globe (and Arlie Latham) keeps talking about the Browns' bad luck, lets look at this game a little closer and see what part random chance played in the outcome:

Top of first: Latham thrown out at first on close play; Gleason strikes out but reaches first on passed ball; O'Neill grounds out to the pitcher and Gleason is forced out at second but breaks up a double play; Comiskey base hit; Foutz grounds to short and Comiskey is forced at second to end inning.

Bottom of first: Richardson strikes out, Boyle the fourth strike but throws him out at first; Ganzell grounds out to Gleason; Rowe strikes out.

First inning luck meter: Leaning towards the Browns; you could say the Latham play was a bit of bad luck but his bunt was foul before cutting fair so the roll of the ball neutralizes the close call going against them; they got some good luck when Gleason broke up the double play and when Boyle recovered to throw Richardson out at first.

And just for fun, let's track men left on base: Browns-1, Detroit-0

Top of second: Welch grounds out to White; Robinson strikes out; Boyle grounds out to White.

Bottom of second: Thompson grounds out to Comiskey; White grounds out to Gleason who had to one-hand the ball to make the play; Dunlap strikes out.

Second inning luck meter: Neutral. Nice infield defense by both clubs.

LOB: Browns-0, Detroit-0

Top of third: King strikes out; Latham grounds out to Conway; Gleason fouls out to Ganzell.

Bottom of third: Bennett pops up to Boyle; Hanlon grounds out to Robinson; Conway pops up to Boyle. King was pitching very well. At this point, he had three strike outs, two pop ups to the catcher and four infield ground outs. Very nice.

Third inning luck meter: Very neutral.

LOB: Browns -0, Detroit-0

Top of fourth: O'Neill grounds out to White; Comiskey hits to right; Foutz hits a slow-roller to third and beats the throw, Comiskey going to second; Welch hits to right, Comiskey scores, Foutz to second; Robinson pops out to Richardson; Boyle hits a slow-roller to Conway and is thrown out at first, stranding two runners.

Bottom of fourth: Richardson doubles to left (first extra base hit of the game and Detroits' first base-runner); Ganzel grounds out, Richardson goes to third; Rowe gets a hit to left and drives in Richardson; 1-1; Thompson bounces to short, forces Rowe at second; Thompson tried to steal, Boyle threw the ball into the outfield and Thompson ended up at third; White flies out to Foutz.

Fourth inning luck meter: Leaning towards the Browns; Boyle's throw was bad baseball not bad luck and they were lucky that the error didn't come back to hurt them.

LOB: Browns-2 [3], Detroit-1 [1]

We should also track extra base hits: Browns-0, Detroit-1 (and Thompson went first to third on the steal and error)

Top of fifth: King flies out; Latham strikes out; Gleason singles down the third base line; O'Neill grounds to Dunlap, who throws the ball away; O'Neill safe at first but Gleason is thrown out at third by Bennett.

Bottom of fifth: Dunlap strikes out [tough inning for the King of Second Basemen]; Bennett strikes out; Hanlon pops up to Gleason.

Fifth inning luck meter: Leaning towards the Browns; Dunlap gave them an extra out and they would have had guys on first and second with two outs with a chance to score another run if not for...

Bad baseball meter: Leaning towards the Browns; Gleason making the last out at third is what Whitey Herzog called (and forgive the language) "Horse Shit Baseball."

LOB: Browns-1 [4], Detroit-0 [1]

And the Browns still don't have an extra base hit.

Top of sixth: Comiskey grounds out to third; Foutz flies out to Rowe; Welch hits a line drive down the third base foul-line and makes it into second when Dunlap muffs the throw; Robinson hits to left, Welch scores; Boyle hits to left but Robinson is thrown out trying to go first to third; Browns lead 2-1.

Bottom of sixth: Conway struck out; Richardson grounded out to Gleason; Ganzell flies out to Welch.

Sixth inning luck meter: Leaning toward the Browns; if Dunlap holds onto the throw, Welch is out at second, the inning is over and the Browns don't score; which again leads us to the...

Bad Baseball Meter: In the red, full tilt, for the Browns; we can argue about Welch trying to go to second but he was out if Dunlap holds on to the throw; and, with Robinson's base-running error, the Browns again end the inning by making the final out at third; they were playing Horse Shit Baseball (and I love that term; I use it all the time; you have to love Whitey).

LOB: Browns-1 [5], Detroit-0 [1]

And the Browns still don't have an extra base hit because the Welch play was a single and an error.

Top of seven: King grounds out to Rowe; Latham grounds out to White; Gleason singled to right; O'Neill flies out to Thompson.

Bottom of seven: Rowe singles to center; Thompson singles to center, Rowe to third; Thompson advances to second on passed ball; White grounds out to Comiskey, Rowe scores; Dunlap struck out [really tough game for Fred]; Bennett singles to center, Thompson scores; passed ball by Boyle but he recovers to throw out Bennett trying to advance to second.

Seventh inning luck meter: I think it's neutral; single, single, passed ball, ground out (run scores), K, single (run scores), passed ball/caught stealing; you could argue that the first passed ball was a bit of bad luck but it has to be balanced by the second passed ball that turned into the third out; also, it's very possible that Detroit still scores two without the passed ball (Rowe and Thompson could have advanced to second and third on White's ground out and then scored on Bennett's single; maybe Comiskey tries to do something with White's grounder and goes to second with the ball but at the very least, Detroit gets one run out of the inning; if we want to be generous we can say that the luck o'meter leaned slightly to Detroit in this inning but, overall, it still has to be leaning St. Louis.

Bad Baseball Meter: Leaning St. Louis; the passed ball was a killer (and that's more bad baseball than bad luck) but it's balanced by Bennett getting thrown out at second to end the inning.

LOB: Browns-0 [5], Detroit-0 [1]

And the Browns still don't have an extra base hit.

Top of eight: Comiskey flies out to Richardson; Foutz grounds out to first; Welch flies out to Conway.

Bottom of eight: Hanlon hits a triple to right and scores on a passed ball; Conway strikes out; Richardson strikes out; Ganzell grounds out to second.

Eighth inning luck meter: Leaning Detroit; again, the passed ball was a killer and I think you'd have to say that Boyle had a worse game than Dunlap; but, I'm being generous here because...

Bad Baseball Meter: Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding for the Browns; not to be Captain Obvious but the catcher's job is to catch the ball and while I understand how difficult that was in this era, Boyle just killed his club with poor play; is it bad luck that your catcher can't catch or is it bad baseball?

LOB: Browns-0 [5], Detroit-0 [1]

And the Browns still don't have an extra base hit.

Top o'nine: Robinson flies out to center; Boyle popped out to White; King struck out to end the game (and they didn't play the bottom of the ninth).

Ninth inning luck meter: Neutral.

Bad Baseball Meter: Neutral.

LOB: Browns-0 [5], Detroit-0 [1]

And the Browns didn't have an extra base hit in the entire game.


Where was the bad luck? Overall, as far as random luck was concerned, I think it was a pretty fair game. Making errors at crucial moments in the game isn't bad luck. That's baseball. Running into outs isn't bad luck. That's just bad baseball. Hitting nothing but singles is not bad luck. It's bad baseball and a perfect way to lose a game. As far as I can tell, the Browns lost the game because they had to string together three singles to score a run, they ran themselves out of innings and Boyle made a couple of errors at crucial moments. That's not bad luck. That's Horse Shit Baseball.

King obviously pitched a good game but Conway pitched well, too. And did King really pitch a good game? He was obviously bringing it but doesn't he have to take some of the blame for the passed balls? This is 1887 and Boyle is back there without a glove and unprotected. A smart pitcher in the 19th century would realize that he had a young guy behind the plate who couldn't handle his best pitches and take something off the ball. King didn't do that. Yes, he struck out nine but, in the end, his pitching wasn't as effective as Conway's because Boyle couldn't handle what he was throwing. That's not bad luck. It's inexperience on the part of the 19 year old King and the 21 year old Boyle.

Also, Comiskey has to take some of the blame. He's the captain. He's running the team and should have told King to take something off his pitches. Maybe he should have had Bushong behind the plate. A good manager puts people in a position to succeed. If someone can't do the job you're asking them to do, that's not their fault. That's the fault of the manager who put them in that position. And that may have been the case here with regards to Boyle catching King.

But regardless of how you want to slice up the blame, in the end, the Browns didn't lose because of bad luck. There was no Jonah. They just made more mistakes than Detroit. Detroit got a couple of extra-base hits and the Browns didn't. Detroit was a very good team and the Browns' game wasn't working against them. That's the way it goes sometimes. But it has nothing to do with luck.


Anonymous said...

How many passed balls were there? The box score says one, plus a wild pitch -- I would guess one of the PB the game account blames on Boyle was debited to King as a WP by whoever did the score.

At any rate, when you commit three fewer errors than the other team and have as many base hits as they have total bases, that does seem like a winnable game. Nor was Boyle an unproven youngster; he was a rookie, but he had won his spurs with excellent play when Bushong was hurt, and within a month Von der Ahe would sell Bush and give the job to Boyle.

I do see your point about Detroit having a solid, smart, experienced team that could not be rattled by St. Louis' running game, as a lot of teams no doubt were. The Detroits just didn't make mistakes, and a team with Bennett and Ganzel catching was probably in a particularly good position to shut down the Browns' running.

I always think of Detroit as a team of big boppers, and I hadn't realized that in 1887 they had the second lowest number of wild pitches in the two major leagues; they committed 33 fewer errors than the next best team; and they had 44 passed balls while no other team was below 90. You always have to wonder whether some of this reflects peculiarities of home scoring, but they look like a fundamentally sound team that didn't make mistakes, and avoiding mistakes counts for a lot in 1880's baseball, because bad players make mistakes by the bushelful.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

My understanding was that Boyle had two passed balls, a dropped third strike and threw the ball into centerfield on a stolen base. That's a tough game for him. One of the passed balls may have been scored a wild pitch but the game account in the Globe wrote both of them up along the lines of "the ball got passed Boyle," putting all the blame on him.

And, sure, it was a winnable game for the Browns. They had a 2-1 lead going into the seventh but it probably should have been 3-1 or 4-1. But the real point is that the players and their Globe mouthpiece were carping about bad luck and the real problem was that they were hitting nothing but singles, making dumb outs on the basepaths and comitting costly errors.

You couldn't play this way against a team as good as Detroit and expect to win. You can talk about luck and vim and nerve and grit and all of that but in the end you have to score more runs than your opponent. And the Browns weren't doing that.

I keep going back to the point that this was a fifteen game series. That's a very fair test of baseball. A lesser team can win a five game or seven game series, happens all the time. It would be much harder for a lesser team to win a fifteen game series. If it had been a five game series, Detroit would have won in four. If it had been a seven game series, Detroit would have won in six. If it had been a nine game series, Detroit would have won in seven. As it is, the won a fifteen game series against the three time defending AA champs and defending world series champs in eleven games. I don't see where luck comes into play here.

I have to disagree a bit about Jack Boyle not being an unproven youngster (although I'm really not trying to throw the loss of the game or the series on Boyle). He was a rookie. He had all of one game of big league experience going into 1887. Also, I think that the reason he played so much that year was because Bushong was injured (specifically he had hand problems). While over the course of his career Boyle may have been a better player than Bushong, I don't believe that he was in 1887.

It's also tough to say if Boyle was one of the reasons Bushong got traded in the offseason, although it didn't hurt that the Browns had a guy who could replace him. The motivation for the offseason fire sale was complicated and had a lot to do with egos and money.

In the end, my real problem is with the way the games are being written up in the Globe (and some of that was picked up in the national coverage). Maybe I've read too much stuff at Fire Joe Morgan but if the team isn't hitting for power, is running into outs and throwing the ball all over the field than that's probably the reason you're losing and it has nothing to do with bad luck. To continuously blame the loses on luck (and not mention how well Detroit is playing and how good a team they are) is bad sportswriting. Sadly, given the one-sided nature of the series, it's also the best storyline I could find.