Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January 1- Philadelphia Athletics

As a huge fan of the Oakland Athletics, I had to kick the year off with a hat from their past. 

I could have started with a hat of theirs from and even earlier time; however, it didn’t really match my outfit. This hat in particular is a tribute from the Athletics' time in Philadelphia, specifically from 1931-1949. From 1929-1930 the A’s had worn an all white with a navy bill, which also featured the “A” logo in the center of the front panels… but that is a hat I will feature later in the year. A particular note in the history of the A’s and their hats is that they never featured any kind of a logo of their hats from 1901-1928. During that time the A’s had won four World Series, while their fifth, and last in Philadelphia, came in 1930. Therefore, the all navy blue road addition with the white “A”, which I am featuring could in fact be considered a bit of a curse of the franchise as they were subsequently relocated twice after the 1954 season and never found World Series success again until the 1970s.

The A’s went 107-45 under manager/owner Connie Mack that season; in fact, the A’s won the American League pennant, but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in the World Series. An even more important detail of 1931, this is the first year the A’s put numbers on the backs of their jerseys. My personal addition to this hat does in fact date back to 1931. I figured; why not start at the beginning? Of all the players to choose from, I had to stick with three who were enshrined in the MLB Hall of Fame, but most importantly, three guys who were the faces of the franchise that particular year.

#2- Born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts in 1903, Mickey Cochrane was educated at Boston University, where he played five sports, excelling at football and basketball. Although he considered himself a better football player than a baseball player, professional football wasn't as established as major league baseball at the time, so he signed with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League in 1924. Holla! P-Town in the house!

After just one season in the minor leagues, Cochrane was promoted to the Majors, making his debut with the Athletics on April 14, 1925 at the age of 22. He made an immediate impact by becoming Connie Mack's starting catcher in place of Cy Perkins, who was considered one of the best catchers in the Major Leagues at the time. A left-handed batter, he ran well enough that Mack would occasionally have him bat leadoff. He hit third more often, but whatever his place in the order his primary role was to get on base so that hard-hitting Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx could drive him in. In May, he tied a twentieth-century major league record by hitting three home runs in a game. He ended his rookie season with a .331 batting average and a .397 on base percentage, helping the Athletics to a second place finish. Cochrane would finish in 10th place for the American League MVP that season, and probably would have won the Rookie of the Year award had it existed.

By the start of the 1926 season, Cochrane was already considered the best catcher in the major leagues. He won the 1928 AL MVP, mostly for his leadership and defensive skills, when he led the American League in putouts and hit .293 along with 10 home runs and 58 runs batted in. He was a catalyst in the Athletics' pennant-winning years of 1929-1931 when he hit .331, .357 and .349 respectively. He played in those three World Series, winning the first two, but was sometimes blamed for the loss of the 1931 World Series, when the St. Louis Cardinals, led by Pepper Martin, stole eight bases and the Series, although, in his book, The Life of a Baseball Hall of Fame Catcher, author Charlie Bevis cites the Philadelphia pitching staff's carelessness in holding runners as a contributing factor. But notwithstanding this, the blame for the 1931 World Series loss would dog Cochrane for the rest of his life.

1933 would ultimately be Cochrane’s last year with the Athletics as he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers at the end of the season where he went on to win his second AL MVP award as well as make two consecutive All-Star Game appearances in his first years. The first All-Star Game was held at Comiskey Park in 1933 and was the main reason why Cochrane never made it with the Athletics.

For his career Cochrane hit .320 with 1652 total hits, 119 home runs and 832 RBI despite only playing for 13 total years. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947 on his sixth ballot.

Cochrane was also a player I really should have written about during my Stars and Stripes Memorial Day articles, so having blown that opportunity, I’ll make it up now. Cochrane joined the Navy in 1942. He was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Station where he coached their formidable baseball team until 1944. On July 7, 1942, Cochrane managed an All-Service team that played against an American League all-star squad at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. Before 62,059 fans, the American League beat the servicemen, 5-0.

Tragedy struck Cochrane in 1944, his only son, Gordon Jr, was killed at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Former major league pitcher, Elden Auker, wrote in his autobiography, Sleeper Cards and Flannel Uniforms: “The bullet that killed him [Gordon, Jr] had some kind of range. It traveled all the way across the Atlantic, lodged itself into the spirit of Gordon's father, the great Mickey Cochrane, and slowly killed him. Mickey's gravestone shows he died June 28, 1962, but he started dying June 6, 1944. Consider this another life claimed by World War II.”

#3- James Emory Foxx was born in Sudlersville, Maryland on October 22, 1907 to Dell and Mattie Foxx who were farmers. Dell Foxx had played baseball for a town team when he was younger and he instilled a love for the game in young Jimmie. Foxx did well in school but truly excelled in sports, particularly soccer, track and baseball of which he played all three in high school. He dropped out of high school early to join a minor league team managed by former Athletics great Frank "Home Run" Baker. Foxx had hoped to pitch or play third base, but since the team was short on catchers, Foxx moved behind the plate. He immediately drew interest from the Athletics and New York Yankees. Foxx signed with the A's and made his major league debut in 1925 at age 17.

The A's catching duties were already filled by Cochrane, so by 1927, Foxx was splitting time between catching, first base, and the outfield. In 1929, installed as the A's regular first baseman, Foxx had a breakthrough year, batting .354 and hitting 33 home runs.
In 1932, Foxx hit .364, with 58 home runs with 169 RBI, missing the Triple Crown by just three points in batting average. Boston Red Sox first baseman Dale Alexander hit .367, but in just 454 plate appearances; he would not have won the batting title under current rules, which are based upon 3.1 plate appearances per team games played. Foxx did win the Triple Crown the following season, with a batting average of .356, 163 RBIs, and 48 home runs. He won back-to-back AL MVP honors in 1932 and 1933, the first player to ever pull off this accomplishment.

Foxx was one of the three or four most feared sluggers of his era. The great Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez once said of him, "He has muscles in his hair."

In 1937, Foxx hit a ball into the third deck of the left-field stands at Yankee Stadium, a very rare feat because of the distance and the angle of the stands. Gomez was the pitcher who gave it up, and when asked how far it went, he said, "I don't know, but I do know it took somebody 45 minutes to go up there and get it back."
When the Great Depression fully hit in the early 1930s, Connie Mack was unable to pay the salaries of his highly paid stars, and was obliged to sell off a number of them. In 1936, Mack sold Foxx's contract to the Boston Red Sox for $150,000, following a contract dispute.

Foxx’s Athletics career only lasted 11 seasons, ad the majority of his accomplishment occurred during this time frame. He made the All-Star Game every year in its first three years (1933-1935) and made six more over the next six years of his career in Boston. He won two World Series rings (1929 and 1930), both of which came in an Athletics uniform. 302 of his 534 career home runs were hit with the A’s, same with 1492 of his 2646 career hits and 1075 of his 1922 RBI. He won a third AL MVP award in 1938 with the Red Sox, led the league in home runs three times and twice in RBI with the Athletics and hit .339 for them as well. His career average was .325. But despite playing more years, winning championships and more MVPs with the Athletics, Foxx was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1951 on his first ballot… as a member of the Red Sox. Ridiculous.

#10- Arguably one of the Top-three greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time, Robert Moses Grove (Lefty) was born in Lonaconing, Maryland in 1900 and made his MLB debut on April 14, 1925. That’s right, the same day as Cochrane. Grove battled injuries as a rookie and posted a 10-13 mark (which would prove his only losing record in 17 major league seasons), despite leading the league in strikeouts. Grove then settled down in 1926 and won the first of a record nine earned run average (ERA) titles with a mark of 2.51. In 1927, Grove won 20 games for the first time, and a year later he led the league in wins with 24.

On August 23, 1928 Grover struck out the side in the second inning of a 3-1 win over the Cleveland Indians to become the third American League pitcher and seventh pitcher in major league history to accomplish the feat. On September 27, he did it again in the seventh inning of a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox, becoming the first pitcher in major league history to accomplish the feat twice in a career; since then, only Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan, both Hall of Famers, have joined him. Grove, however, remains the only pitcher to do it twice in the same season. The sportswriter Arthur "Bugs" Baer wrote, "Lefty Grove could throw a lamb chop past a wolf."

During the Athletics' championship run (1929-1931), Grove led the way as the league's top pitcher, posting records of 20-6, 28-5 and 31-4. In 1930, Grove led the league in wins, ERA (2.06), strikeouts (175), winning percentage, complete games, and shutouts. His 2.06 ERA was 2.32 runs below the league average. He was also chosen as the AL MVP in 1931, making him one of only a handful of pitchers to achieve this honor. His MVP award is the only one not enshrined in Cooperstown, instead being housed at the Georges Creek Library in Lonaconing.

In 1933, Grove became the first player in MLB history to strike out five times in a nine-inning game. On December 12, 1933, team owner Connie Mack traded Grove, along with Max Bishop and Rube Walberg, to the Boston Red Sox for Bob Kline, Rabbit Warstler and $125,000. Basically, as great as Mack was for the Athletics, he was an even bigger prick in the same regard. Grove’s career in Boston wasn’t as fortunate.
Grove was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947 on his third ballot, believe it or not. He led the league in strikeouts seven years in a row from 1925-1931. He led the league in wins four times in his career, all with the Athletics.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post. Can't seem to find that hat anywhere anymore. Would you happen to know where I can get it? Thanks!