Thursday, April 14, 2011

R.I.P. Addie Joss & Eddie Joost, and A.J. Goes to 3-0

There was a scary moment in last night's game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

Roy Halladay was pitching for the Phils, normally a fear-reducer for Delaware Valley baseball fans. In the bottom of the 4th, Danny Espinosa hit a grounder up the middle, breaking his bat. The bat flew toward Halladay, and he was just able to deflect it with his glove.

He finished the game, beating the Nats 3-2, but he could have been killed.

Imagine that. A man who is arguably the best pitcher in baseball, going down while still in his prime. Not like Roberto Clemente, who was 38 and already showing a slight sign of decline when his plane crashed. Not like Thurman Munson, who was 32 but constantly injured with few tomorrows and lot of yesterdays even if he'd landed safely. Not like Lyman Bostock, who was 27 and just beginning to show what he could do when he was shot and killed.

The best pitcher in baseball? A man who had never won a Pennant but was expected to lead his team to one soon? A man who had pitched a perfect game? A man almost universally admired? Dying at this point in his career?

ESPN would have flogged the story for days. The Internet would be inundated with posts.

It actually happened. Not to Halladay, but exactly 100 years ago today. And it's chilling that what almost happened to Halladay came almost on the anniversary.

On April 14, 1911, Adrian "Addie" Joss of Woodland, Wisconsin, died of tubercular meningitis, a disease that had already been misdiagnosed as pleurisy, and untreatable by the medicine of the time. He had just turned 31.

How good was Addie Joss? He had pitched 9 seasons in the major leagues, all for the team then known as the Cleveland Naps, in honor of their 2nd baseman/manager, Napoleon Lajoie, nicknamed Nap (for short), the Frenchman (for his ancestry) or Larry (I don't know why). In 1915, they would become the Indians, probably in reference to the defending World Champions, the Boston Braves, rather than to the Native Americans who once lived on the shores of Lake Erie, or 1890s Cleveland Spiders star Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot who was (probably) the first indigenous American to play in the majors.

Joss, a righthander of Scandinavian descent and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, was 6-foot-3, really tall for the time (at 6-foot-1, Christy Mathewson was nicknamed "Big Six"), and at 185 pounds, was thin for that height. This combined with his whiplash pitching motion, got him a great nickname: The Human Hairpin. A century later, some idiot would have tagged him "A-Jo." His last minor-league season was in Toledo, Ohio, and he continued to make his home there in the off-season, a good move since it was just 115 miles from Cleveland and a relatively quick and easy train trip. He even wrote a sports column for a local newspaper, the Toledo News-Bee. (Don't laugh: Sacramento's main paper is called the Bee, and the current only daily paper in Toledo is called the Blade.)

When Joss debuted in 1902, he was 22 and went 17-13. Not a bad debut in the Dead Ball Era. In 1904, he led the American League in ERA for the first time, at 1.59. In 1905, he won 20 for the first time. In 1907, he went 27-11 with a 1.83 ERA.

In 1908, he had an annus mirabilis, going 24-11, his ERA just 1.16, his ERA+ was 206 (making him 106 percent better than the average pitcher, so he wasn't just taking advantage of the conditions of the time), and on October 2, 1908, he won what is probably the greatest pitchers' duel ever, tossing a perfect game to defeat the Chicago White Sox, in spite of Big Ed Walsh striking out 15, an AL record that would stand for 26 years. This came in a hard-fought 3-way Pennant race, although both the Naps and the ChiSox were edged by the Detroit Tigers.

In 1910, he pitched a 2nd no-hitter, also against the White Sox, making him the first, and still the only, pitcher to no-hit the same team twice. But something was wrong. In 1909, he fell to 14-13, and his ERA rose to 1.76. In 1910, he only appeared in 13 games, going 5-5 with a 2.26 -- still a 115 ERA+, not that anybody would have been aware of the statistic of ERA+ at the time, but a significant downgrade. Was it the illness, already manifesting itself? Doesn't look like it; the only reference I can find to the cause of his comparatively poor season is at BaseballLibrary.com (yes, that's 3 straight L's, sort of like a typical Met homestand), which says, "he was plagued by arm injuries."

On April 7, 1911, shortly before the season began, he was already sick. Accordig to Wikipedia, press reports speculated about "ptomaine poisoning" or "nervous indigestion." Indigestion? Maybe. Nervous? Addie Joss? Not a chance. But a week later, on April 14, he died. With modern antibiotics, tubercular meningitis could be treated and cured. In 1911? He never had a chance.

On July 24, 1911, a benefit game was played at League Park in Cleveland, for the Joss family. This is not counted as an official All-Star Game, and it was only American Leaguers, no National Leaguers -- the Indians hosting players from the other 7 teams then in the AL -- but it was the first real all-star gathering in the game's history. There were 2 New York Highlanders (Yankees) in the game, the shady 1st baseman/manager Hal Chase and pitcher Russ Ford (no relation to Whitey). Despite threats from AL President Ban Johnson and the team owners, who didn't want money going to families of ballplayers even if that money did not already belong to the owners, the game was played, and the All-Stars won, 5-3. The game raised $12,914 -- and that, as sports historian Bert Randolph Sugar would say, was in Taft dollars. It would be about $300,000 in today's money. Baseball-Almanac.com has a link to this historic contest: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/tsn/addie_joss_benefit_game.shtml

Overall, Joss went 160-97. His ERA of 1.89 is the 2nd-lowest in baseball history, given enough innings to qualify, trailing only his 1908 co-duelist, Ed Walsh, at 1.82. His ERA+ is 142 -- meaning, for 9 full seasons, he was, on the average, 42 percent better at preventing earned runs than the average pitcher. His career WHIP (Walks & Hits, divided by Innings Pitched) is 0.968, and that's the all-time record, not that anybody knew about that stat in 1911, either. He pitched 45 shutouts in those 9 seasons.

And therein lay a problem: When the Baseball Hall of Fame was established, once pioneers like Harry & George Wright and Al Spalding were taken care of, they had a rule that a player had to have played 10 seasons in order to qualify for election. Joss died on the eve of his 10th season. If he had lived just a few more days, and had thrown so much as 1 pitch in an official 1911 game, he would have qualified. In 1978, the Hall's Committee on Veterans decided that it wasn't his fault that he didn't get into a game in his 10th season, and bent the rule this one time, and elected Joss.

Could he have pitched in today's game? I don't see why not: His home field, League Park, had a right field wall whose foul pole was just 290 feet from home plate. It was topped with a 50-foot wall, but that didn't stop a lot of homers (Babe Ruth's 500th would go over that wall in 1929), and it certainly didn't stop a lot of hits caroming off it for extra bases. He walked 364 batters -- in his entire 9-year career. Coupled with 1,888 hits and just 58 hit batsmen in 2,327 innings, he averaged under 1 baserunner per inning (.9927). That, ladies and gentlemen and combinations thereof, is control. And, as his contemporary, Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Albert "Chief" Bender (a Chippewa who nonetheless did not pitch for the Indians), taught, "A pitcher who hasn't control hasn't anything."

There is almost certainly no one left alive who saw Addie Joss pitch. But 100 years later, he deserves to be remembered.

*

Eddie Joost died on Tuesday. A shortstop, and a member of that amazing generation of ballplayers produced by San Francisco in the 1920s and '30s including the DiMaggio brothers, he won an NL Pennant in 1939 and a World Series in 1940 with the Cincinnati Reds, before becoming a 1952 All-Star, the last leadoff hitter, and the last manager of the Philadelphia Athletics before their move to Kansas City after the 1954 season, his only season as a big-league manager.

In 2003, when the Oakland version of the A's came to play the Phillies in their first series in Philadelphia in 49 years, I was on hand to see the first game. Prior to that first game, a few surviving A's were there, including Joost, Gus Zernial (who died this past January), Bobby Schantz (1952 AL MVP), Joe Astroth and Spook Jacobs. The Phillies fans, not generally known for their hospitality, and a few old guys who remembered the A's not just in the early Fifties when those guys played but even in their 1929-31 mini-dynasty, gave them a good hand.

Eddie Joost, Philadelphia's other Number 1, along with Richie Ashburn, was the last living player who had played at Baker Bowl, where the Phillies played from 1887 to 1938 before moving to share Shibe Park (later renamed Connie Mack Stadium) with the A's. He was also the last survivor of the 1940 World Champion Reds. He was 94 years old.

Currently, the oldest living former major leaguer is, as far as can be determined, Connie Marrero, part of the 1950s Washington Senators' Cuban connection, who will turn 100 if he makes it to August 11 of this year. Clarence "Ace" Parker, who played both Major League Baseball and in the NFL with the football version of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and is the oldest living member of any sport's Hall of Fame (Pro Football), is 98. I think -- if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me -- the earliest World Champion, with the death of 1940's Eddie Joost and last year of Tommy Henrich (1937, '38, '39, '41, '47, '49 and '50), is Stan "the Man" Musial, whose first full season was with the 1942 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

*

Back to the present, or at least the immediate past. Last night, the Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles, 7-4. A.J. Burnett (3-0) pitched shutout ball for 6 innings, but got into trouble in the 7th, allowing 4 runs, before David Robertson, who has wisely chosen to stop driving me crazy, bailed him out. Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless 8th, and Mariano Rivera did the same in the 9th for his 5th save of the season, the 564th of his career, leaving him just 37 short of Trevor Hoffman's career record. His ERA for the season is still 0.00.

Alex Rodriguez hit a 3-run opposite-field blast, his 617th career home run. Jorge Posada also homered, his 265th. Derek Jeter went 2-for-4, bringing his career hit total to 2,935. Chris Tillman was the losing pitcher for Baltimore (0-1).

As suggested (not promised) last night, I intend, later today, to post the Top 10 New York Postseason Wins Over Boston.

Way to go, Washington Capitals. Alexander Semin scored the overtime winner for them last night, in Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup with The Scum at the Verizon Center in D.C. The assist? Former Devils Stanley Cup hero Jason Arnott. He still hates the Rangers.

As do I. Have I ever mentioned that the Rangers suck?

No comments: