Long before Aaron, baseball had a Judge

JoeJudgeNew York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge is having a breakthrough rookie season, belting prodigious home runs and exciting fans across the country as his #99 soars to the top of the MLB best-selling jersey list and he becomes the early leader in the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year races

However, more than four decades ago a guy named Judge was a shining baseball star. No, not Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who served as baseball’s first commissioner from 1920 to 1944 and is famous for handling the Black Sox scandal.

The other ballplaying Judge, Joe Judge, was a stellar first baseman who played nearly his entire 20-year career with the Washington Senators before retiring in 1934. This Judge compiled a .298 lifetime batting average and hit better than .290 for 11 straight seasons beginning in 1920.

Although Judge was not a home run hitter (he had just 71) he finished his career with 433 doubles, 159 triples, 2,352 hits, 1,034 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .420.

Joe Judge was known as one of the best fielding first baseman of his era, the Keith Hernandez of his day. Just 5’ 8 1/2” tall, Judge led AL first baseman in fielding six times and finished second in five other seasons. He retired with a .933 fielding percentage, a record that stood for 30 years. The lefty still ranks among the all time first base leaders in games (2,084), assists (1,301), putouts (19,264) and double plays (1,500).

JoeJudgeGoudeycardIn 1920, Judge made a great stop and flip to Walter Johnson on the final play of the game to give the great Senators Hall of Fame pitcher his only career no-hitter.

The Brooklyn native had one of his best years in 1924, hitting .324 and helping the Senators win their only World Series. Judge batted .385 in the seven-game Series victory over the New York Giants.

Despite several injuries he batted .314 in 1925 as the Senators won their second straight pennant but fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates in another seven-game World Series.

Judge played the final two years of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, and later coached baseball at Georgetown University until 1958. He died at age 68 in 1963 after suffering a fatal heart attack while shoveling snow at his home in Washington, DC.


Washington missing the pitch with Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg’s season is over. Finished. Done. All for the sake of extra innings.

The Nationals are shutting down their best pitcher, a young stud who gives them their best chance to end a Washington championship drought that’s lasted four score and eight years.

The Nats are turning into the Washington Generals. You remember the Generals. Clowns. Foils tor the Harlem Globetrotters for oh so many years.

The Nats are fools. If they knew going in that 160 innings was the limit for Strasburg, the could have done a better job allotting those innings, stretching out his starts to ensure he was available for the playoffs. A start in May is much less important than a start in October.

So now, with a chance to win Washington’s first World Series since 1924, the Nats are waving the white flag for Strasburg.  After 159 1/3 innings. Modern baseball. They never did that to Walter Johnson, who pitched the Washington Senators to that 1924 championship.

A better plan
Maybe they should have talked to Strasburg about the shutdown, and together devised a better plan.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to accept it, to be honest,” Strasburg recently told the Washington Post. “It’s something that I’m not happy about at all. That’s not why I play the game. I play the game to be a good teammate and win. You don’t grow up dreaming out playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter. It’s going to be a tough one to swallow.”

Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels wonders out loud what Washington is doing. “I know you want to prepare for the future, but if this is your one opportunity to win the World Series, you have to go for broke,” Hamels told Sports Illustrated.

The last playoff appearance by any Washington baseball team occurred in 1933. In the midst of the Great Depression, with FDR at the helm, the Senators finished 99-53 to win the American League pennant, a comfortable seven games ahead of the Yankees. That Senator team, managed by Hall of Famer and shortstop Joe Cronin, lost the World Series in five games to the New York Giants.

The final game of that World Series was played at Washington’s Griffth Stadium on October 7, 1933, Mark the date. Do the math. Heck throw out the calculator, that’s a long time ago. Almost 79 years. Well DC has not hosted a playoff game since then.

Baseball in Washington
The original Senators never got back to the World Series, and vacated Washington prior to the 1961 season for Minnesota. They were immediately replaced by an expansion Senator team, a club that never made the playoffs before leaving for Texas  to become the Rangers in 1972.

Washington went 33 years without a MLB team to call its own before the Expos left Montreal and became the Nationals in 2005. Since then, the Nats have never finished higher than third in the NL East — until this year that is.

And now they’re willing to throw it all away for the sake of a pitch count. Ask Strasburg how his arm feels.

“I feel physically great. That’s the thing,” Strasburg said. “But I think, it’s not just about one player. They want me to be here for many years to come. It’s an unfortunate situation. It’s a lot harder decision because we’ve won this year.

1933 Senators
In 1933, the surprising Senators put together a 13-game winning streak in mid-August and easily won the American League pennant, 8 1/2 games over the second-place Yankees.

That year, the Senators hit .287 as a team. Outfielder and eventual Hall of Famer Heinie Manush batted .336 and first baseman Joe Kuhel .322. Playing half their games in massive Griffith Stadium, the Senators hit just 60 home runs as a team. Cronin hit .309 and led the team in RBIs with 118

General  Crowder won 24 times and Earl Whitehill 22 and Jack Russell had 13 saves.

In the World Series, the Giants won the first two games at the Polo Grounds, but the Senators won Game Three, 4-0, behind the shutout pitching of Earl Whitehill.

The next day, the Giants, behind ace left-hander Carl Hubbell, won 2-1 in 11 innings. Mel Ott’s 10th inning home run then gave New York a 5-4 win and the World Championship the next day.


The Curious Case of Sam Rice

As Derek Jeter climbs the all-time hit list, there is only one man that stands between the Yankee captain and the magic 3,000 hit plateau — Sam Rice.

With 2,987 hits, Rice has the most of any player not to reach 3,000. He was 44 years old when he played his last game, nearly 77 years ago.

Here is the curious tale of Edgar Charles “Sam” Rice, the man who finished 13 hits shy of 3,000.

When he retired, Rice ranked seventh the all-time hit list — behind only eventual Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Cap Anson, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Nap Lajoie. Rice spent nearly his entire career with the Washington Senators, before playing for the Cleveland Indians in 1934, his final year. That year he hit .293 and amassed 98 hits in 97 games.

He never returned.

Years later, Rice said, “The truth of the matter is I did not even know how many hits I had. A couple of years after I quit, [Senators owner] Clark Griffith told me about it, and asked me if I’d care to have a comeback with the Senators and pick up those 13 hits. But I was out of shape, and didn’t want to go through all that would have been necessary to make the effort.

“Nowadays, with radio and television announcers spouting records every time a player comes to bat, I would have known about my hits and probably would have stayed to make 3,000 of them.”

19 Years in Washington
Rice started his career as a relief pitcher, but moved to the outfield and made his debut at age 28 with Washington in 1915. He played 19 seasons for the Senators, and helped lead them to a World Championship in 1924 and American League pennants in 1925 and 1933.

Rice was regularly among the American League leaders in runs scored, hits, stolen bases and batting average. A left-hand hitter, he rarely stuck out, once completing a 616-at-bat season with nine strikeouts.

A contact man, Rice was not a home run threat (he hit just 34 in his career). But he had a .322 career batting average and stole 351 bases, including a AL best 63 in 1920. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963, and lived to attend his induction at Cooperstown.

A tragedy early in Rice’s career had an enormous impact on him, and surely slowed his rise to the majors. In 1912, as he played with a minor-league baseball team in Galesburg, Illinois, Rice’s wife, two children, mother, father, siblings, and a farmhand were all killed in a tornado that swept through Morocco, Indiana, on the Indiana-Illinois border.

Soon after, Rice joined the US Navy. He was a seaman aboard the USS New Hampshire when the ship saw combat at Vera Cruz, Mexico on April 15, 1914. A year later, he was in the big leagues with the Senators.

Catch for the Ages
The most storied moment in Rice’s career occurred in Game Three of the 1925 World Series. With the Senators leading 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth, the Pirates Earl Smith hit a long drive to right-center at Pittsburgh’s old Forbes Field.

Rice ran down the ball and appeared to catch it at the fence, potentially robbing Smith of a home run that would have tied the game. After the catch, Rice toppled over the top of the fence and into the stands, disappearing out of sight. When Rice reappeared, he had the ball in his glove and the umpire called the batter out.

For many years, people questioned whether Rice actually caught the ball and whether he kept possession of the ball the entire time. Rice himself would not tell, only answering: “The umpire called him out,” when asked.

The controversy became so great that Rice wrote a letter to be opened upon his death. After Rice died in 1974, the letter was opened and it contained Rice’s account of what happened. At the end of the letter, he wrote: “At no time did I lose possession of the ball.”

The Senators won the game, but the Pirates went on to win the World Series in seven game.


Rangers vs. Giants: Who Would’ve Thunk It?

The Texas Rangers will square off against the San Francisco Giants this week in one of the unlikeliest World Series pairings in baseball history.

Texas, which had never won a single playoff series prior to this year, knocked off the two teams with the best records in the American League — the Rays and the Yankees — to reach the World Series for the first time in their 50th season.

The Rangers weren’t always the Rangers. They started out as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961, and lost 100 games in each of their first four season. In 1972 they moved to Arlington, Texas, became the Texas Rangers, and promptly lost 100 games in each of their first two years. The original Washington Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961.

The Giants were heavy underdogs against the Phillies, who were attempting to become the first National League since the St. Louis Cardinals (1942-44) to win three straight pennants.

The Giants, who have called San Francisco home since 1958, won their last World Series in 1954, when they were the New York Giants playing in the old Polo Grounds. Only the Cubs (102 years and counting) and Indians (62 years and counting) have gone longer without a World Series title than the Giants, who lost the Series in 1962, 1989 and 2002.

There aren’t many people who picked a Rangers-Giants World Series in April…..and those who claim they did are probably lying. Either Texas or San Francisco will become one of the more surprising World Champions in baseball history.

Here are the SportsLifer’s 10 most unlikely World Champions of all time (in chronological order). With apologies to the 1944 St. Louis Browns, 1959 Chicago Go-Go Sox, the 1967 “Impossible Dream” Red Sox, and more recently the 2007 Rockies and 2008 Rays, who won pennants but failed to grab the ring.

1906 — The Hitless Wonders, the Chicago White Sox, defeated a Cubs team that won 116 games, still the National League record for a single season.

1914 — The Boston Braves, in last place on the Fourth of July, stormed to the NL pennant and then swept Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in the World Series.

 1924 — The Washington Senators (first in war, first in peace, last in the American League) won their first and only World Series, edging the Giants in a thrilling, seven-game Series.

1948 — The Cleveland Indians beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff, then held off the Boston Braves in six games.

1954 — The New York Giants swept the Cleveland Indians, who won an AL record 111 games in the regular season, to stop the Yankees run of five straight championships.

1960 — The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the strength of Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning, walk-off home run, stunned the New York Yankees in seven games.

1969 — Perhaps the unlikeliest World Series winner of all, the Miracle New York Mets rise from ninth place the previous year to stun the Baltimore Orioles.

1991 — After finishing last in their respective divisions in 1990, the Twins and Braves rebounded and made the World Series. Minnesota beat Atlanta in a hard-fought, seven-game series.

2004 — The Red Sox ended 86 years of futility, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS and then brushing aside the Cardinals in the World Series.

2005 — The Chicago White Sox win their first World Series since 1917, sweeping Houston in the Astros’ only World Series appearance.


‘The Babe’ Dominated ‘The Big Train’

Walter Johnson, left, and Babe Ruth, in California, 1924.

SportsNation America has always been enthralled with the one-on-one matchup. Dempsey vs. Tunney, Ali vs. Frazier. Arnie vs. Jack. McEnroe vs. Borg. Magic vs. Bird, Russell vs. Chamberlain

In baseball, it’s the batter vs. pitcher. Bob Feller pitching to Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams. Sandy Koufax facing Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. Sans steroids, Roger Clemens vs. Barry Bonds.

Perhaps the greatest one-on-one matchup was Walter Johnson vs. Babe Ruth, the greatest pitcher ever vs. the greatest hitter and player of all-time, the Big Train vs. the Sultan of Swat.

Johnson  recorded a record of 417-279, second only to Cy Young, with a 2.17 ERA and 3509 strikeouts in a 21-year career with the Washington Senators that began in 1907. He also hit 24 homers and batted .235 lifetime, including a .433 batting average in 1925. Not to bad for a pitcher.

Ruth smashed 714 home runs, third behind Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron, along with 2217 RBIs, and had a .342 lifetime average. The Babe began his career as a pitcher with the Red Sox in 1914, went to the Yankees in 1920, and wound up his career with the Boston Braves in 1935. Ruth was an outstanding pitcher with a 94-46 lifetime record and 2.28 ERA, and was 2-0 in three World Series starts. He started five games for the Yankees between 1920 and 1933, and won them all.

Johnson gave up only 97 homers in 5,942 innings pitched, 40 homers at home and 57 on the road. Nearly half of the homers hit off him at home (mainly Washington’s Griffith Stadium) were inside the park. There were three seasons in which he did not give up any homers: 1908, 1916, and 1919.

10 Homers for Ruth

Of those 97 homers, 10 were hit be Babe Ruth. Frank “Home Run” Baker is next on the list with five. Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig and Al Simmons connected four times each against Johnson.

Johnson, finishing out his final season with the Senators, was at Yankee Stadium when Ruth hit his historic 60th home run against Tom Zachary on September 30, 1927. In the ninth inning of that game, Johnson, making his final appearance as a player‚ pinch-hit for Zachary and flied out to Ruth

As a pitcher, Ruth  had unusual success against Johnson, beating him six times in eight decisions lifetime, once in 1915 and four times in 1916 alone, by scores of 5-1, 1-0, 1-0 in 13 innings, and 2-1. In their final meeting that season, Ruth blew a 2-0 lead to Johnson’s Senators in the ninth when he gave up a double to John Henry and was pulled. Washington won, 4-3, in 10 innings as Johnson got the win and Ernie Shore, who relieved Ruth, took the loss.

In 1917, Ruth beat Johnson again, 1-0. Johnson finally beat Ruth with a 6-0 shutout in October of 1917.

The two combatants met twice in later years in exhibition games. In 1924, shortly after Johnson had pitched three times in seven games to give the Senators their only World Championship, Johnson and Ruth squared off in a barnstorming match in Brea, California. Johnson gave up eight runs on eights — two of them homers by Ruth, the second estimated at 550 feet — in five innings, while Ruth went all the way to win 12-1.

1942 Benefit Game
On August 23, 1942, Johnson faced the Babe in a benefit match (check this video) that drew 69,000 fans to Yankee Stadium for a doubleheader with the Senators and provided $80,000 for Army-Navy relief.

“Babe, I just want to ask one thing; don’t hit any back to me,” Johnson asked.

“Hell, I’ll be lucky to hit one at all,” Ruth answered with a laugh. “But I’ll try to pull ’em down the line.”

As the huge throng at Yankee Stadium cheered him on, the 47-year-old slugger came through twice — first hitting a line drive into the lower right field stands on his third swing and then connecting on the 20th pitch for a huge smash into the upper deck in right. As the Babe rounded the bases and hugged Johnson at home plate, nobody seemed to care that the ball had hooked foul at the last moment.