By Glen Sparks
George “Whitey” Kurowski was a tough guy and an unlikely baseball star. His big-league dreams could easily have died after he slipped off a fence when he was just seven years old. He nearly lost his right arm.
Instead, he played nine seasons in the majors, all with the St. Louis Cardinals. He made five All-Star teams and banged out 106 home runs. Kurowski, nicknamed “Whitey” because of a thick mop of blond hair atop his head, batted .286 lifetime with a .366 on-base percentage. The right-handed hitter, born on this date in 1918, finished in the top 10 in the MVP race two times.
Kurowski did all that, and he supposedly couldn’t hit the outside pitch, all due to that ugly mishap while growing up in his hometown of Reading, Pa.
The youngster fell onto a pile of broken glass and cut up his right arm. Blood poisoning set in afterward. That led to osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone and bone marrow.
Doctors thought about amputating the limb. Instead, they removed three inches of bone above Whitey’s wrist, making the arm weak and with an unusual bend. (Baseball legend Mickey Mantle also dealt with osteomyelitis. Someone kicked him in the shin during a high school football game. Doctors gave him penicillin, which reduced the infection and saved the leg. More recently, pitcher Rick Rhoden wore a brace on one leg as a youngster due to the effects of osteomyelitis. He went on to win 151 games in the big leagues, mostly with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970s and ‘80s.)
Kurowski kept playing ball. Not only that, he started playing third base, a position that requires a strong throwing arm. He compensated for his deformed appendage by developing a powerful group of muscles in his shoulders and back.
Whitey signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1937. He made a quick and favorable impression, hitting .339 as a rookie for Caruthersville, Ark., of the Class D Northeast Arkansas League. He batted .386 the following year for Portsmouth, Va., of the Mid-Atlantic League.
The Redbirds called up Kurowski late in 1941. He played with the club throughout World War II. His boyhood injury had left him ineligible for military duty. Over the next several seasons, Kurowski teamed with Stan Musial, Marty Marion and Red Schoendienst on some great Cardinals teams.
As mentioned, Kurowski could not hit the outside pitch, in part because his right arm was so much shorter than his left. He compensated by crowding the plate. That led to some bumps and bruises. Whitey led the league in 1947 when pitchers plunked him 10 times.
Also, he turned over his right wrist rather dramatically when he swung the bat. That made Kurowski a dead-pull hitter to left field. Some teams utilized a shift against him, moving the second baseman over to the left side of the infield.
Kurowski played on World Series winners for the Cardinals in 1942, 1944 and 1946. His greatest moment on a baseball field came Oct. 5, 1942, in Game 5 of the Series against the New York Yankees. With the scored tied 2-2 in the ninth inning, Whitey blasted a two-run home run off New York’s Red Ruffing to give St. Louis a championship.
”We nearly killed Whitey when he crossed the plate,” Marion said. ”I remember tackling him, and we mobbed him until he begged for us to let him go.”
The fans back in Reading loved their hometown hero. They honored him with a parade. Kurowski also did a radio spot with bandleader Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. “I got $25 and a record album,” Whitey recalled years later.
Whitey enjoyed his best seasons in 1945 and 1947. He batted .323 with 21 home runs and 102 RBI in ’45, finishing fifth in the MVP voting. Two years later, the line-drive hitter ripped 27 homers, drove in 104 and batted .310. He ended up ninth in the MVP race.
Kurkowski retired early in the 1949 campaign. He had hit just .214 the previous season. Most people didn’t know it, but that bad throwing arm always bothered him. He underwent 13 operations during his playing days and suffered from pinch nerves and other problems.
Later, Kurowski got into managing, first with Lynchburg of the Piedmont League in 1950. He skippered several teams over the next few decades, for the Cardinals, New York Mets and Cleveland Indians.
Eventuallly, he retired to a life of playing golf and signing autographs. Whitey Kurowski died Dec. 9, 1999, in Pennsylvania, age 81. He lived a big-league dream, an unlikely one at that.
By Glen Sparks
If I had to bet, and I really don’t bet, but if I had to bet on whether or not Yadier Molina will ever be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., I’d toss a dollar onto the table and wager that the St. Louis Cardinals catcher will indeed be enshrined someday as one of the game’s immortals.
Let the argument begin.
The Sporting News published an article on Oct. 10, 2015, titled “Yadier Molina’s surprisingly weak Hall of Fame case.” First off, writer Graham Womack praises Molina for his outstanding defense. The 33-year-old owns eight Gold Gloves. That number should go up at least another one or two before he retires. (Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez leads all catchers with 13 Gold Gloves. Johnny Bench earned 10. They’re the only two ahead of Molina at the catcher’s spot.)
Molina has, as Womack points out, been selected to seven All-Star teams. He also has been the de facto leader of four pennant-winning teams and two World Series winners. If the Cardinals had an official captain, and they don’t, Molina would be it.
Going into the 2016 season, Molina’s defensive WAR stands at 20.2 (baseball-reference.com), best among active catchers and fifth-best in baseball history at that position. He trails only Gary Carter, Pudge, Bob Boone and Jim Sundberg. Of that quartet, Carter is already in the Hall of Fame and Pudge probably will be there soon. Boone and Sundberg have no chance.
Baseball fans, especially those in Cardinal Nation, marvel at the way Molina shuts down an opposing team’s running game. He has a cannon of a right arm, throwing out 45 percent of would-be base stealers going into 2016. He also has 55 career pick-offs.
The problem, Womack writes, is that Molina’s great defense doesn’t not make up for his good, but hardly great, offense. Molina’s career WAR (offense and defense) is 30.3, or about 22 points behind the average Hall of Fame catcher.
Womack writes, “Molina’s bat hurts his case.”
Molina has 100 career home runs and 645 RBI. His batting average stands at .283, with an on-base percentage of .336 and slugging percentage of .397.
Below is a comparable set of stats for the last five major-league catchers elected to Cooperstown:
Mike Piazza: (1992-2007), 427 HR, 1,335 RBI, .308 Avg., .377 OBP, .545 SLG., 59.4 WAR, O GGs
Gary Carter: (1974-92), 324 HR, 1,225 RBI, .262 Avg., .335, OBP .439 SLG., 69.9 WAR, 3 GGs
Carlton Fisk: (1969, 1971-93), 376 HR, 1,330 RBI, .269 Avg., .341 OBP, .457 SLG., 68.3 WAR, 1 GG
Johnny Bench: (1967-83), 389 HR, 1,376 RBI, .267 Avg., .342 OBP, .476 SLG., 75.0 WAR, 10 GG
Ernie Lombardi: (1931-47), 190 HR, 990 RBI, .306 Avg., .358 OBP, .460 SLG., 45.9 WAR, 0 GGs
Now, take a look at the stats of some other All-Star catchers. All these backstops have come up short in Hall of Fame voting.
Thurman Munson: (1969-79), 113, 701, .292, .346, .410, 45.9, 3 GGs
Lance Parrish: (1977-95), 324, 1,070, .252, .313. .440, .39.3., 3 GGs
Ted Simmons: (1968-88), 248, 1,389, .285, .348, .437, 50.1. O GGs
Bill Freehan: (1961, 63-78), 200, 758, .262, .340, .412, 44.7. 5 GGs
Jim Sundberg: (1974-89), 95, 624, .248, .327, .348, 40.5 6 GGs
Molina’s offensive stats seem more in line with the second group than with the first. He enjoyed a trio of solid seasons from 2011-13, posting oWARs of 3.2, 5.1 and 4.3, respectively. In his nine other seasons, his total oWAR is just 5.8.
More than anything, Molina needs to put up a few more solid seasons with the bat. Is age starting to creep up on the catcher? He missed 52 games in 2014 and hit .282, with just seven home runs and 38 RBI. Last year, his average dropped to .270. He ripped just four homers in 136 games.
The Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan wrote last July that, “In an abstract way, Molina feels like a Hall of Famer.” He ranked Moina as one of 15 current players who are “Hall of Fame bound.”
Respected writer Joe Posnanski from NBC Sports rates Molina’s chances of making it into the Hall of Fame at 84 percent. He writes: “At retirement, he will have an argument as the greatest defensive catcher in the history of baseball. That gets him in, even with an average bat.”
One argument for Molina’s induction might be in the election of Bill Mazeroski in 2001. Yes, the former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman crashed a historic home run in the 1960 World Series. That certainly helped his Cooperstown case. But, he hit just .260 lifetime with a .299 on-base percentage. Maz ripped 138 homers, but he posted just a 19.1 oWar over 17 seasons. Fortunately, he enjoyed a great reputation as a fielder, especially in being able to turn the double play. His career dWAR is 23.9. Molina may be the catching equivalent of Mazeroski.
(My personal thoughts: I don’t know how I’d vote on Molina. I just think he’s going in. Or, that he has better chance of going in than not going in. Simmons and Freehan, among others, have stronger cases.)
Viva el Birdos, a great web site, for Cardinals news, published an article Jan. 6 that looked at “Who will be the next Cardinal in the Hall of Fame?” Writer Ben Godar predicts that Molina will be enshrined in 2026, just a few years after going onto the ballot. (Godar figures that Yadi will retire after his contract ends in 2018, making him Hall eligible in 2024. I think he plays a few years longer.)
Godar, like most observers, concedes that Molina lacks strong offensive numbers. He argues, though, that Yadi’s defense, as well as his leadership on so many good St. Louis teams, should help put him over the top.
The hubbub was about $65,000.
Steve Carlton, a 27-year-old, 6-foot-4-inch lefty with a nasty slider, asked the St. Louis Cardinals for that amount following the 1971 season. The Cardinals said “No.” Carlton, coming off a 20-win season, held out.
That was Carlton’s second contract squabble as a Redbird. He reported late for spring training in 1970 following a big year in ’69. He went 17-11 that season with a 2.17 ERA (second lowest in the National League) and 210 strikeouts.
Lefty wanted $50,000 in 1970 (He made $26,000 in 1969). The Cardinals offered Carlton a more modest pay increase, to $31,000. The pitcher, maybe miffed about the whole affair, proceeded to go 10-19 and put up a 3.73 ERA.
Each side probably had a sour taste in the mouth during Squabble II. On Feb. 25, 1972, St. Louis unloaded Carlton, under the order of team owner Gussie Busch, to the Philadelphia Phillies for Rick Wise.
At that point, Carlton, going into his age-27 season, had 77 career wins. Wise, entering his age-26 campaign, had 75 career wins. It seemed like a fairly even deal. But, it wasn’t.
Wise put together a pretty good career. The right-hander from Jackson, Mich., pitched two seasons in St. Louis before moving on to the Boston Red Sox. He won a career-high 19 games in 1975, the year Boston celebrated an American League pennant.
Following four seasons with the Red Sox, Wise left for the Cleveland Indians. He ended his career in 1982 as a San Diego Padre. Wise retired with a 188-181 lifetime won-loss record in 18 seasons.
Carlton, though, did even better. His first season in Philadelphia was his best. The Phillies were terrible that year. Some teams limp into September. The Phillies limped into May. They finished the year 59-97, dead last in the N.L. East.
Lefty went 27-10. So, without Carlton, the team was 32-87. The Miami native posted a league-low 1.97 ERA and a league-high 310 strikeouts. He also topped the N.L. in innings pitched (346.1), complete games (30) and ERA+ (182). Not only did he win the Cy Young award, he finished fifth in the MVP voting.
Before retiring early in the 1988 season, Carlton won four Cy Young awards and at least 20 games six times. He topped the senior circuit in innings pitched and strikeouts five times each. He remains the last N.L. pitcher to win 25 games (1972) and the last pitcher from either league to pitch at least 300 innings (1980).
He retired with a 329-244 record in 24 seasons. Carlton went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1994, He received 95.6 percent of the vote.
Cardinals fans still think back at Carlton’s departure and cringe. The hubbub was about $65,000.
By Glen Sparks
The baseball writers were sure in a hurry to knock Jim Edmonds off the Hall of Fame ballot.
Edmonds received just 2.5 percent of the vote last week, or half what he needed to remain as an eligible candidate. He fell 72.5 percent short of the requisite 75 percent for induction.
True, the Hall of Fame case for Edmonds is not a slam-dunk one. He may be one more solid player destined for the Hall of Very Good, along with guys like Reggie Smith, Dave Parker and Tommy John. Still, it seems harsh and misguided for the former centerfielder to be exiled as a one-and-done candidate.
Edmonds retired with 393 home runs over a 17-year career. He batted .284 with a .376 on-base percentage and 1,199 RBI. The California native belted at least 25 home runs in 10 seasons and drove in at least 100 runs in four. He topped the 30-homer mark five times and the 40-homer mark twice. Always eager and energetic as a centerfielder, Edmonds won eight Gold Gloves while filling up plenty of highlight shows.
More stats: Edmonds ended his career with a .903 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and 132 OPS+. The left-handed batter compiled 60.3 WAR points (Baseball-Reference) with high marks of 7.2 (2004), 6.7 (2002) and 6.3 (2000).
On the downside: He played in at least 140 games in just seven seasons and got into at least 150 games only three times. Edmonds fell 51 hits shorts of 2,000. Surprisingly, he only made four All-Star teams.
Let’s compare Edmonds with a center-fielder from an earlier era, Duke Snider, one of the fabled Boys of Summer for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Snider played 18 years in the majors, one more than Edmonds, who spent much of his career with the Anaheim Angels and St. Louis Cardinals. Snider hit 407 home runs, just 14 more than Edmonds. The Duke collected 167 more career hits than Edmonds and 134 more RBI. Snider batted .295, 11 points higher than Edmonds, with a .380 on-base percentage, four points higher than Edmonds.
The Duke’s slugging percentage (.540), OPS (.919) and OPS+ (140), also beat out Edmonds’ numbers (.527, .903 and 132, respectively). He retired with 66.5 WAR.
Snider made eight All-Star teams. He led the National League in runs scored three times, slugging percentage and OPS twice, and hits, home runs, RBI and on-base percentage one time each. Edmonds never led the league in any important offensive category.
Edmonds did not beat out Snider in any of the aforementioned categories. Still, the differences between the two players do not seem that dramatic. The question is, did Edmonds get a fair shake from the Hall of Fame voters?
The baseball writers elected Snider to the Hall of Fame in 1980, in his 11th year of eligibility. Interestingly In his first year on the ballot (1970), Duke received just 17 percent of the vote. He failed to get at least 30 percent until 1975 and didn’t crack the 50 percent mark until 1977, in his eighth year of eligibility.
The Duke finally made it to Cooperstown with 86.5 percent of the vote. He needed time to build some momentum and for writers to make a solid case for him.
As for Edmonds, he’ll have to wait for the veteran’s committee to examine his HOF merits a few decades from now.
By Glen Sparks
Born April 27, 1896, in Winters, Texas, Rogers Hornsby grew up in Forth Worth. He began playing baseball as a youngster on the local sandlots. The second baseman ripped line drives for more than two decades in the major leagues. He led the National League in hitting categories dozens of times. Nicknamed “the Rajah (an east Indian king or prince),” Hornsby was almost as famous for his prickly personality as for his powerful bat. He admitted, “I’ve never been a ‘yes’ man.” Even so, Frankie Frisch, his teammate with the St. Louis Cardinals, said, “He’s the only guy I know who could .350 in the dark.” Hornsby died of a heart ailment on Jan. 5, 1963, at age 66.
- Hornsby weighed in at 135 pounds when he made his debut with the Cardinals as a 19-year-old in 1915.
- Hornsby batted .358 over his 23-year career. Only Ty Cobb retired with a higher lifetime batting average (.367).
- A St. Louis Cardinal for 13 seasons, Hornsby played five years with the St. Louis Browns, four years with the Chicago Cubs and once season apiece for the New York Giants and Boston Braves. (He played for both the Cardinals and Browns in 1933.)
- In 1924, Hornsby batted .424, the highest single-season average of the entire 1900s.
- He, along with Ty Cobb, is the only player to finish the season with a .400 average three times. Besides that 124 campaign, the Rajah also reached the .400 plateau in 1922 (.401) and 1925 (.403).
- He, along with Ted Williams, is the only player to win multiple Triple Crowns. Hornsby did it in 1922 and 1925.
- Hornsby slugged .756 in 1925, a mark that stood until 2001 when Barry Bonds posted an .863 mark.
- The Rajah won seven batting crowns. He first led the N.L. in 1920 (.370), topped the league every year through 1925 and won another title in 1928 (.387).
- Hornsby led the N.L. in at least 11 offensive categories in 1922, many by a wide margin. He finished with 16 more home runs than runner-up Cy Williams (42 to 26) and 136 more total bases than No. 2 man Irish Meusel (450 to 314).
- Hornsby won the Triple Crown for the 1920s. No one hit more home runs (250), drove in more runs (1,153) or hit for a higher average (.382) than the Rajah.
- Amazingly, Hornsby led the N.L. in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+ every season from 1920 through 1925.
- Hornsby was the first National Leaguer to belt 300 home runs. He retired with 301.
- In 1942, Hornsby was inducted into the Hall of Fame with 78.1 percent of the vote.
- The Sporting News in 1999 ranked Hornsby as the nine greatest player of all-time.
- According to Baseball Reference WAR (wins above replacement), Hornsby is the 12th greatest player of all-time with 127.0 points. Babe Ruth is first with 183.6 points.
Look back at the 1925 MLB season.
By Glen Sparks
Rogers Hornsby hits 21 points lower in 1925 than he did in 1924. The great second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals still bats .403 to lead the National League. The Rajah also tops the N.L. in home runs (39) and RBI (143) in winning his second Triple Crown. Not surprisingly, he takes home the N.L. MVP trophy.
Babe Ruth suffers from his “bellyache heard ‘round the world.” He bats just .290 and belts only 25 homers, low marks for the immortal Sultan of Swat.
Bob Meusel, Ruth’s New York Yankee teammate, leads the American League in home runs (33) and RBI (138).
Detroit’s Harry Heilmann hits .393 batting average and wins a batting title for the third time in an odd-numbered year (1921, 1923 and 1925). He’ll do it again in 1927.
Dazzy Vance of the Brooklyn Dodgers tops the N.L. in wins (22) and strikeouts (221).
Cleveland’s Joe Sewell comes to bat 608 times. He strikes out just four times.
Pittsburgh’s Max Carey steals 46 bases, topping the N.L. for the 10th and final time.
Sam Rice collects 227 hits for the Washington Senators. That marks includes a record 182 singles.
Eddie Collins of the White Sox and Tris Speaker of the Indians both collect their 3,000th career hit.
The Pirates defeat the Senators in seven games in the World Series. Roger Peckinpaugh, the Washington shortstop and A.L. MVP winner in 1925, commits eight errors in the Series.
By Glen Sparks
Stan Musial kept ripping Dodger pitching to pieces. He knocked singles, doubles, triples and home runs all over Ebbets Field. The Brooklyn fans were going nuts. We can’t get this guy out. He’s killing us.
Just who does this Stan Musial guy think he is? He’s no ordinary ballplayer.
On one fateful day in Flatbush, Dodger fans spotted Musial popping out from the dugout or maybe kneeling in the on-deck circle. Surely, they noticed him before he stepped into the batter’s box.
“On, no,” some cried. “Here comes the man again.”
Bob Broeg, a writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, heard the rumbling, but he could not make out the exact lament. Later, he asked Leo Ward, the Cardinals’ traveling secretary about it. “They’re saying, ‘Here comes the man.’” Broeg wrote about it; and a nickname was born. Stan the Man.
Musial made his MLB debut on this date in 1941. He slapped two hits and drove in two runs. He did it at home against the Boston Braves. See, Musial didn’t just make mincemeat out of the Dodgers; he was The Man against every opposing team.
- “No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today.” Ty Cobb, 1962
- Musial was born Stanislaw Franciszek Musial on Nov. 21, 1920, in Donora, Pa. His mom, Mary, hailed from New York City and was nearly six-feet tall. His dad, Lukasz, emigrated from the Austria-Hungary Empire and was listed on naturalization papers as 5-feet-7. Some people say he stood several inches shy of that mark.
- Friends called Stanislaw “Stash.” The future big leaguer graduated from Donora, Pa., High School, located about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh. Later, the school produced another pretty good outfielder, Ken Griffey Sr.
- The Cardinals signed Musial as a pitcher in 1938. He posted a 6-6 won-loss record with a 4.66 ERA for Williamson, West Va., of the Class D Mountain State League. He batted .266. Prospect report: “Arm good. Good fastball, good curve, Poise. Good hitter. A real prospect.” The team didn’t convert their prospect into a full-time outfielder until 1941, one year before his St. Louis debut.
- Called up to the big club on Sept. 17, 1941, Musial batted .426 in 47 at-bats for the Cardinals down the stretch.
- In 1942, his first full season, Musial hit .315 and did not finish a season below the .300 mark until 1959, his age-38 campaign.
- Musial enjoyed single-season career highs of 39 home runs, 131 RBI, .376 batting average, .450 on-base percentage and .702 slugging percentage in 1948. He won the MVP that season, something he also did in 1943 and 1946. He finished second in the MVP voting from 1949 through 1951.
- One of the game’s greatest line-drive hitters, Musial topped 40 doubles in a season nine times and 50 doubles three times. He led the league in that category in eight seasons. He finished first in triples in five seasons. Musial collected more than 200 hits six times.
- “When a pitcher’s throwing a spitball, don’t worry and don’t complain, just hit the dry side like I do.” – Stan Musial
- He played on four pennant-winning teams and three World Series winners (1942, 1944 and 1946). His best Series was 1944 against the St. Louis Browns. He batted .304 in 23 at-bats and hit a home run in Game 4.
- Musial shares the record for most All-Star game appearance, 24, with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. (Baseball played two All-Star games from 1959 through 1962.)
- He retired after the 1963 season with a lifetime batting average of .331. The only player to retire with a higher batting average since then is Tony Gwynn, .338.
- “He could have hit .300 with a fountain pen.” – Joe Garagiola on Stan Musial
- The left-handed batter famously ended up with 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 hits on the road. Mr. Consistency.
- When he retired, Musial’s career total of 475 home runs put him No. 2 to Mel Ott (511) on the NL all-time homer list.
- His top salary as a player, according to Baseball-Reference.com? $75,000 a season from 1951 through 1953. He took some pay cuts after that. His career salary as a player–$980,050. Not even a million bucks.
- The writers voted Musial into the Hall of Fame in 1969, in his first year of eligibility.
- Musial remains second on the all-time list in total bases (6,134), third in doubles (725), fourth in hits (3,630), sixth in RBI (1,951) and sixth in games played (3,026).
- Famous for playing the harmonica, Musial performed his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and other events through the years.
- Presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, Musial died Jan. 19, 2013, at the age of 92.
- “How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.” – Vin Scully