September 26, 2021

This Week in Baseball: 1928

April 15, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part of a weekly series in which I describe what was happening in Major League Baseball each week of a randomly chosen year. This week’s article chronicles the goings on during the week of April 8-14, 1928.

April 8:

  • The Chicago Tribune reports that Yankees hurler Urban Shocker is reinstated from the retired list by Commissioner Landis after being placed there by the Yankees in early March.

Shocker announced his retirement on February 16, claiming that he’d had his fill of baseball and wanted to spend his remaining days in his radio shop and flying planes. A telegram he sent to Yankees’ management seemed to explain his decision: “Due consideration of present state of affairs urges me to voluntarily retire from major league baseball for the furtherance of my business interests at home.” He also explained that he wanted to quit on a high note after going 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA and winning a World Series in 1927.

But Yankees business manager Ed Barrow insisted that Shocker was retiring because he was dissatisfied with his contract. “Shocker’s salary was not cut by as much as a thin dime,” Barrow told reporters. “As a matter of fact, he didn’t go so well last year. His record looks great, but Wilcy Moore saved him in quite a number of games. Shocker had trouble going nine innings and Moore rescued him many times.”

It was true that Shocker’s complete game percentage had dropped below 50% for the first time since 1916 and only the second time in his career, but he’d just come off a career year in terms of wining percentage and his ERA+ (136) was the third best of his career (as a full-time starter). Shocker waffled throughout the winter, insisting that he wasn’t a hold out and wanted to retire, while hinting that he was unhappy with his contract and could be coaxed back into action with a better offer. The Yankees finally tired of it all and placed him on the retired list. Shocker eventually changed his mind and was reinstated by Landis. But he continued to hold out, then disappeared, leaving the Yankees to wonder where he was and when he was planning on reporting to the team. He finally showed up at Yankee Stadium on April 24 and signed a one-year deal for a reported $15,000.

Shocker appeared in only one game for the Yankees in 1928, hurling two scoreless innings against the Senators on May 30. The Yankees released him on July 6 because, according to the New York Times, “it was apparent that he was a sick man and not himself. His stomach gave him trouble and it was also whispered that his heart was ailing.” Shocker pitched in a Denver semi-pro tournament in August, appearing in only one game before he contracted pneumonia. Doctors claimed he was already in a weakened state when he arrived in Denver, corroborating the Times’ story that he was sick when he pitched for the Yankees. Tragically, Shocker died on September 9 from pneumonia and what the Chicago Tribune called an “athletic heart.” Shocker’s wife insisted he died of a broken heart after the Philadelphia Athletics took the A.L. lead from the Yankees the day before. “He was excited about the two games Sunday. And then he died,” she recounted. The Yankees swept the A’s on Sunday, September 9 and copped the pennant.

  • Betting odds are released with the Pirates 2 to 1 favorites to win the 1928 N.L. pennant and the Yankees 3 to 5 favorites in the A.L. At the tail end of the spectrum, the Red Sox are at 50 to 1, while the Phillies are at 40 to 1. Other odds makers have the Red Sox and Phillies at 1000 to 1 long shots to win a pennant.

The odds makers did a pretty good job despite the fact that the Pirates finished fourth in the N.L. The Cardinals won the N.L. pennant, but they went into the season at 5 to 2, so it wasn’t all that shocking that they copped the crown. Most of the others teams fell into line, with the exception of the St. Louis Browns who were at 30 to 1 entering the season and expected to finish in seventh place, but finished in third with an 82-72 record. As expected the Red Sox and Phillies pulled up the rear, winning only 100 games between them and finishing a combined 94 1/2 games out of first place.

  • The Chicago Tribune reports that Pirates manager Donie Bush is worried that multiple injuries to his team will adversely affect his ball club. Third baseman Pie Traynor has a sore arm, as does pitcher Lee “Specs” Meadows, and pitcher Carmen Hill has a sore back that will require “spinal adjustments.”

Traynor’s sore arm had little to no affect on him as he batted .337 and drove in a career high 124 runs while fielding at a .946 clip, which was only one point below his career mark. Hill started 31 games and turned out to be Pittsburgh’s second best starter that year behind Burleigh Grimes, going 16-10 with a 3.53 ERA. Meadows, on the other hand, tossed only 10 innings and posted an 8.10 ERA, then threw 2/3 of an inning in 1929 before retiring because of a sore arm. Los Angeles Times columnist Johnny Gallagher speculated that it was the loss of Meadows to the Pirates’ staff that kept them from repeating as N.L. champions. “Specs” ended his big league career with a record of 188-180 and an ERA of 3.37.

  • The Los Angeles Times reports that there is “dissension” in the ranks of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and that “local fans are wondering whether Al Simmons, star center fielder of the Macks, has become obstreperous…” According to the report, Mack is threatening to put 24-year-old rookie Mule Haas into the outfield if some of his star players don’t “wake up and show more pep.”

Whether Simmons was being “obstreperous” or not, he was Mack’s best everyday player and remained so in 1928, batting .351 with 15 homers and a team leading 107 RBIs. Bing Miller and Ty Cobb batted .329 and .323, respectively, giving the A’s a strong outfield trio. Haas hit .280 while splitting center field duties with Miller and 40-year-old Tris Speaker (.267).]

  • The Los Angeles Times reports that A’s ace, Lefty Grove, has added a “puzzling” curve ball to his repertoire and that American League hitters had better take heed.

Grove went 24-8 with a 2.58 ERA in 1928, but there’s nothing in his record that indicates the addition of a curve ball made him a better pitcher. His strikeout % remained consistent with his career mark (up to that point) and he allowed fewer base runners per 9 IP, but that was due to an improvement in his control. Doc Cramer and Charlie Gehringer swore that Grove rarely, if ever, threw a curve ball, but Grove’s catcher, Mickey Cochrane, told Baseball Magazine that the southpaw had a “very serviceable curve.”

April 9:

  • The Christian Science Monitor reports that Pittsburgh has released pitchers Leroy Mahaffey and Charles Walsh, both being sent to Columbia of the South Atlantic League.

“Leroy” Mahaffey was actually Lee Roy Mahaffey. Mahaffey won his only decision with the Pirates in 1927, but posted an ERA of 7.71. He went 21-19 with a 3.47 ERA in 57 games for Columbia in 1928, then went 21-25 with Portland of the Pacific Coast League in 1929 before making it back to the majors in 1930 with the Athletics. He spent seven more years in the majors and went 67-49 with a 5.01 ERA in his nine-year career. Despite reports that Walsh was also sent to Columbia, he actually landed in the Eastern League, where he pitched for Waterbury and Bridgeport, going a combined 8-14 with an ERA of 4.72. He was promoted to Double-A Jersey City of the International League, where he went 1-1. In 1929 he went 4-10 with a 4.82 ERA in the New England League and retired from baseball, having never made it to the show.

April 10:

  • The Red Sox defeat the Washington Senators, 7-5, on Opening Day. Danny MacFayden gets the win while Ken Williams leads the hitting attack with two safeties and a run scored. First baseman Joe Judge goes 4-for-4 in the losing effort and Garland Braxton takes the loss.

Over the next 152 games (Boston played only 153 in 1928), the hapless Red Sox would score at least seven runs in a game only 28 times and would plate more than seven runs in a game only 16 times. Not surprising considering they finished last in the A.L. in offense, scoring only 3.82 runs a game, almost two full runs less than the league leading Yankees.

  • The New York Times reports that Yankees manager Miller Huggins has dismissed reports that Urban Shocker has been reinstated by Commissioner Landis. “We don’t care whether Shocker reports or not,” Huggins told reporters. “As a matter of fact I had not counted much on him this year. We have several young pitchers available, and if Shocker doesn’t care to report, it will be all the same with us.”

The only “young” pitcher Huggins relied on in 1928 was 22-year-old Hank Johnson, who went 14-9 but with a 4.30 ERA (87 ERA+). The pitcher who picked up the slack in Shocker’s absence was 28-year-old George Pipgras, who led the team with 24 wins and posted a very good 3.38 ERA. Pipgras had only become a full-timer in 1927, so perhaps that’s what Huggins meant when he said they had “several” young pitchers.

April 11:

  • The St. Louis Browns defeat the Tigers, 4-1, in their opener behind the pitching of Dolly Gray, who holds Detroit to just six hits, and the hitting of Heinie Manush, who goes 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.
  • After opening the season in Washington on April 10, the Red Sox and Senators resume their series in Boston, where the Senators beat the Sox, 8-4. Firpo Marberry gets the win, Sam Rice collects three hits, and Bucky Harris scores three runs for Washington. Ken Williams continues his hot hitting for Boston, going 3-for-4 with a double, a homer and a run scored.
  • Cleveland defeats the White Sox, 8-2, in front of 33,000 fans at chilly Comiskey Park. The Indians pound out 13 hits, three by shortstop Joe Sewell and three by pitcher George Uhle, and score five runs over the last three innings, knocking Ted Lyons from the box in the seventh. First baseman Bud Clancy and shortstop Bill Cissell collect three hits each for the White Sox. Cissell isn’t as solid in the field, however, as he commits two errors.

White Sox owner Charles Comiskey purchased “Spider Bill” Cissell from Portland of the PCL for $123,000 after Cissell batted .345 in 1926 for Des Moines and .323 for Portland in 1927. Cissell was often referred to as the “$123,000 shortstop” and claimed the burden placed on him because of the purchase price was enormous. He played for nine seasons in the majors and struggled at the plate, hitting .267 with an anemic .308 OBA, and recording an OPS+ of 73 in just under 1,000 games. He also struggled in the field, prompting a move to second base in 1930. He was actually a better shortstop than a second baseman, and was better at third than anywhere else. He retired after the 1938 season and eventually worked at Comiskey Park before he died destitute at the age of 45 in 1949.

  • The Yankees beat the A’s in Philadelphia, 8-3, behind the hitting of Lou Gehrig and Bob Meusel and the pitching of Herb Pennock, who earns the win. Lefty Grove starts for Philadelphia, but lasts only three innings, allowing five runs on four hits and four walks while fanning only one. Bing Miller leads the A’s with three hits, including a double, but the rest of the team musters only four safeties off Pennock.
  • The Cardinals fire the first salvo of the N.L. season by defeating the defending champion Pirates, 14-7, in St. Louis. The Cards pound out 16 hits against three Pirates hurlers and score six runs in the sixth inning to put an otherwise close game out of Pittsburgh’s reach. Frankie Frisch and Jim Bottomley both double, homer and steal a base for the Cards and Frisch scores four times. The Pirates collect 15 hits of their own, four of them courtesy of first baseman George Grantham, off Jesse Haines, who goes the distance for the win.
  • The Phillies defeat the Robins, 4-3, in front of only 12,000 shivering fans at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Third baseman Harvey Hendrick homers for Brooklyn and the Robins collect two of the game’s other three extra-base hits, but Jimmy Ring holds them to three runs in the complete game victory. Rookie Pinky Whitney collects two hits for the Phils and, according to reports, “fielded sensationally.”

It’s no surprise that Whitney’s fielding opened some eyes. From 1928 to 1939, his last year in the majors, no N.L. third baseman posted a higher fielding percentage than Whitney’s .961, nor had a better range factor than his 3.02, and only Willie Kamm and Ossie Bluege boasted better gloves in all of baseball.

  • The Reds beat the Cubs, 5-1, in front of 30,000 fans in Cincinnati, one of whom is Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Reds pitcher Dolf Luque allows a sixth inning homer to Cubs second sacker Freddie Maguire, but holds the Cubs to only six other hits and no runs over the other eight innings. Charley Root and Guy Bush hold the Reds to just five hits, but a throwing error by catcher Gabby Hartnett on a double steal attempt proves costly and provides the Reds with the runs they need for the win.

Of the Cubs’ seven hits, three were doubles and one was a homer, yet they mustered only one run. The Reds collected five singles, yet still managed to score five times. Maguire’s homer was the only four-bagger he hit in his six-year career; he retired with a .322 slugging percentage in over 2,000 at-bats. Luque led the Reds in home runs allowed in 1928 with 12, but surrendered only 113 in a career that spanned 20 years and over 3,200 innings.

  • Giants rookie second baseman Andy Cohen scores the team’s first run of the season in the fifth, then doubles home the tying and winning runs with a shot against the left field fence in the sixth to lead the Giants over the Braves at the Polo Grounds, 5-2. Cohen is later carried around the field on the shoulders of fans celebrating the victory. Edd Roush and Travis Jackson collect two hits apiece for the Giants to back Rube Benton, who surrenders only two runs on eight hits to the Braves. Eddie Brown goes 2-for-4 for Boston and pitcher Bob Smith homers in the third to account for the Braves only runs.

Cohen was a hero of sorts in New York, at least for a while. He had the unenviable task of replacing Rogers Hornsby, who had been dealt to the Braves in January (Hornsby went 1-for-4 in the April 11 game), but he batted .353 with 14 homers for Buffalo of the International League in 1927, and he was Jewish, which was something Giants manager John McGraw had longed for–a Jewish baseball star that would appeal to New York’s Jewish community and bring more fans to the Polo Grounds. Unfortunately he didn’t last long in the majors, playing only two full seasons before being sold to Newark of the International League after the 1929 season.

Cohen later blamed his short major league career on anti-Semitism and he made have had a point. A poem appeared in newspapers shortly after his debut that was less than politically correct (as were most in those days):

“And from the stand and bleachers
The cry of ‘Oy, Oy’ rose
And up came Andy Cohen
Half a foot behind his nose…”

Upon his release to Newark, it was reported that Cohen was slowing down and yet another anti-Semitic remark summed up his failing as a big leaguer: “If the Jew has a single constitutional weakness in baseball, it is the feet…Jews develop flat feet early in their careers and seem to slow up prematurely…”

Whether anti-Semitism ran Cohen out of baseball or not is debatable. There’s no doubt he faced it;according to Steven A. Reiss in “From Pike to Green with Greenberg in Between,” Cohen was called “Cocky Kike” and “Stupid Hebe” and threatened to kill a fan who kept calling him “Christ Killer” during a game in Louisville, but the fact remains that Cohen was a below-average hitter, even for a second baseman, a below average fielder, and a disappointment compared to Hornsby (but who wouldn’t have been?).

April 12:

  • 41-year-old Pete Alexander shuts out the Pirates, holding them to seven singles in nine innings in St. Louis’ 5-0 victory. Including the exhibition season, Alexander runs his scoreless inning streak to 19 and earns his 349th career victory. Frankie Frisch leads the Cards in batting for the second straight day, going 2-for-3 with a homer. The best Pirates hitter on the day turns out to be pitcher Burleigh Grimes, who collects two singles in three at-bats.
  • The Cubs drop another game to the Reds, thanks to a comedy of errors in the bottom of the eighth inning that breaks a 3-3 tie and results in six Cincinnati runs. With two outs and the bases loaded, Cubs hurler Pat Malone coaxes George “Highpockets” Kelly to ground to shortstop Woody English, who boots the grounder, keeping the inning alive and allowing a run to score. Malone walks the next batter to force in another run, then right fielder Cliff Heathcote drops Hugie Critz’s fly ball, which allows two more runs to score. A base hit plates the final two runs of the game, which the Reds win 9-3.
  • The Browns make it two straight over Detroit when they break a 2-2 eighth-inning tie with a five-run rally to earn a 7-2 victory. 30-year-old rookie Jack Ogden gets the win in his debut for St. Louis after he scatters seven hits and five walks while striking out three in nine innings. Ownie Carroll suffers the loss in relief of Earl Whitehill, allowing all five eighth-inning runs on four hits and a walk, after Whitehill had held the Browns to only two hits in six innings. Browns first baseman Lu Blue (a former Tiger who spent seven years with Detroit) is the only hitter in the game to rack up more than one hit, as he goes 2-for-3 with a double, a run, and an RBI.

Jack Ogden made his major league debut in 1918 at the age of 20 when he appeared in five games for John McGraw’s Giants and, though he wasn’t great, he also wasn’t terrible, posting a 3.12 ERA in 8 2/3 innings (the league average was 2.63, so he had an ERA+ of 84). He spent most of 1918 in Newark and went 5-5 but with a stellar 1.48 ERA. He went to Rochester of the International League in 1919 and went 10-13 with a 2.37 ERA, then moved to the I.L.’s Baltimore Orioles franchise owned by Jack Dunn. With Baltimore, Ogden became a star, teaming up with Lefty Grove to from one of the best one-two punches in minor league history. Ogden won 191 games for Baltimore from 1920 to 1927, averaging 24 wins a year, lost only 80, and posted a 3.50 ERA in more than 2,200 innings. His best season came in 1921 when he went 31-8 with a 2.29 earned run average.

He was secured from Baltimore in a trade that sent catcher Leo Dixon and pitcher Stew Bolen to the Orioles on January 11, 1928. Ogden went 15-16 with a 4.15 ERA for St. Louis in 1928, but went only 10-18 with a 4.35 ERA over the next three years with the Browns and Reds. He ended up back in Baltimore in 1933 and went 7-5 with a 3.76 ERA for the Orioles and Rochester Red Wings, then threw one last inning for the Orioles in 1934 before hanging them up for good.

  • The White Sox outhit the Indians 10-7, earn the only two walks of the game, and put a runner on base courtesy of a hit batsman, but strand 12 of 13 runners and lose to Cleveland, 2-1. Charlie Jamieson triples, singles and scores both Cleveland runs and Joe Schaute goes the distance for the win. Tommy Thomas allows seven hits, walks none, and fans four, but earns the hard-luck loss.

Ed Burns wrote in the Chicago Tribune that Thomas had been the victim of poor run support in 1927 and that his 2-1 loss in his first start of 1928 put him “on the way to equal his one run loser record of last year.” I looked it up and sure enough half of Thomas’ 16 losses in 1927 were of the one-run variety. But five of his 19 wins came in one-run games and the White Sox scored almost as many runs per game in his starts (4.31) as they did for the rest of the staff (4.33).

April 13:

  • St. Louis completes a three-game sweep over Detroit when they beat the Tigers, 4-3, in eleven innings. Detroit holds a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth, but pinch hitter Clyde Manion homers to tie the game before the Browns plate the winning run in the 11th on a Ken Holloway wild pitch. Harry Rice and Bob “Fats” Fothergill collects three hits apiece for the Tigers, while Frank O’Rourke leads the Browns with two hits.
  • The Indians and White Sox battle to a 1-1 tie through six innings before rain ends the contest. Chicago again puts more runners on base than Cleveland, but still can’t parlay their opportunities into runs. Indians shortstop Joe Sewell and White Sox third baseman Willie Kamm rap out two hits each in the shortened game.
  • Red Sox first baseman Phil Todt goes deep twice off Senators hurler Tom Zachry, but the Senators score six runs on eight hits, including four doubles, and defeat Boston, 6-4. Goose Goslin goes 3-for-4 for Washington and little-used shortstop Grant Gillis scores three runs. Boston’s Ken Williams adds two more hits to his total, giving him seven safeties in his first three games.
  • The Yankees and Athletics engage in a slugfest that sees the teams combine for six home runs, four doubles, and three triples in a game New York eventually wins, 8-7. Lou Gehrig triples and homers and Bob Meusel adds a double and homer for the Yankees, while Joe Hauser homers twice and triples for the A’s. Eddie Rommel starts for Philadelphia and lasts only into the second, allowing five runs before he’s removed. The Athletics outscore the Yankees 7-1 from the third inning on and plate four from the seventh to the ninth, but fall short in their comeback bid.
  • The Cubs learn they will be without the services of slugger Hack Wilson after he tears a ligament in his ankle while fielding a ball in their game on April 11. Wilson is expected to miss three weeks. Despite the bad news, Chicago buckles down and earns their first victory of the season when they shut out the Reds, 2-0, behind southpaw Art Nehf, who scatters six singles over nine innings.

Wilson’s injury wasn’t nearly as serious as reported and he returned to the Cubs’ lineup less than a week later, belting two round-trippers off Cincinnati’s Dolf Luque on April 19 in a 13-0 Cubs rout of the Reds. Wilson finished the season with 31 homers and 120 RBIs, belted 39 and drove in 159 in 1929, then enjoyed a record-setting campaign in 1930, when he slammed 56 homers and knocked in 191 runs, the latter mark still standing atop the record books after 77 years.

  • The Giants earn their second straight win over the Braves with a five-run eighth-inning rally against three Boston pitchers, including Joe Genewich, who goes into the eighth with a 3-2 lead, but comes away with the 7-3 loss. Ben Cantwell gets the victory in relief of Tiny Chaplin. Freddie Lindstrom and George Harper lead the Giants attack with two hits each, while Eddie Moore and Doc Farrell combine for four of Boston’s eight hits.
  • Robins ace Dazzy Vance holds Philadelphia to one run on five hits and strikes out six in Brooklyn’s 6-1 win over the Phillies. Backup second baseman Harry Riconda goes 2-for-4 with a triple, a steal, and a run to pace the Robins’ eight-hit attack.

Vance went on to fan 200 batters in 1928, finishing 45 Ks ahead of runner up Pat Malone and 78 whiffs ahead of #3 man Charley Root, the only other N.L. pitchers to strike out more than 100 batters that season. It would be another eight seasons before an N.L. pitcher would fan that many in a season (Van Lingle Mungo struck out 238 batters in 1936).

April 14:

  • Boston’s Herb Bradley and Washington’s Milt Gaston duel to a scoreless tie in a five-inning contest shortened by rain. Both pitchers allow only two hits and both teams get at least one runner as far as third base, but Boston’s attempt to score the game’s first run is thwarted when right fielder Doug Taitt is caught stealing home.
  • The Tigers lose their fourth straight game when they fall at home to Cleveland, 8-6. Indians first baseman George Burns starts the onslaught with a first-inning three-run homer off Tigers starter Lil Stoner and its all downhill for Detroit from there. Cleveland racks up 11 hits, eight of which go for extra bases, while Detroit smacks out 12 safeties against Indians starter Willis Hudlin, who goes the distance.
  • The Cubs even their record to 2-2 with a 4-1 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis. Chicago collects 11 hits in the game, but don’t score until first baseman Charlie Grim homers in the fifth to break a scoreless tie. Freddie Maguire goes 4-for-5 with two doubles in the victory. Third baseman Wattie Holm collects two hits in three trips to the plate and drives in St. Louis’ only run of the game.
  • The Pirates lose again, this time to the Reds, to start the season 0-3. Cincinnati hurler Red Lucas shuts out Pittsburgh on five hits, but it takes a four-run seventh-inning rally off Johnny Miljus before the Reds can put the game away. Reds center fielder Ethan Allen goes 2-for-4 with an RBI but has to be carried off the field in the seventh with a sprained ankle.

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