February 6, 2023

Bogo Baseball: When Double-Headers Attack

January 2, 2023 by · Leave a Comment 

Zack Taylor (L), Rogers Hornsby, and Charlie Robertson (R)

Zack Taylor (L), Rogers Hornsby, and Charlie Robertson (R)

The number of seamheads who have ever attended a double-header is rapidly dwindling. Once a Sunday afternoon fixture on MLB schedules, the double-header is now a rarity, often a last resort in rescheduling a rainout.

Better drainage, Doppler radar, and domed stadiums have resulted in fewer postponements, but in days of old the rainout was as common as April showers. In pre-expansion days when the season was 154 games, each team played 11 games at every opponent’s park, so an early-season rainout was easily rescheduled as part of a double-header later in the season. The buy-one/get-one-free allure of a double-header usually drew more fans than a single game but not as many as two single games.

Ernie Banks aside, players were likely less than enthusiastic about playing 18 innings, especially on a warm, muggy afternoon. Surely the least enthusiastic would have been the 1928 Boston Braves, who overdosed on double-headers. From April through the end of August, they played 18 double-headers. That averages out to slightly less than one per week, a normal dosage in those days.

Then came September, the month of last resort for making up rainouts. Apparently, it had been a soggy summer in Boston, at least when the Braves were at home. The month of June was probably the worst, as the Braves played just 24 games that month. They had two two-day gaps and one three-day gap in their June record.

As was usually the case with the Braves in those days, they fell out of contention early. Their record as of September 1 was 40-78. Of course, any team can have an off season, but the Braves were in the midst of a slump that lasted from the end of World War I to the end of World War II. During that span, the Braves finished in the first division only three times (1921, 1923, 1934), never higher than fourth place.

Hard to believe, but two of baseball’s most illustrious players, George Sisler and Rogers Hornsby were on the roster of the 1928 Braves . First-baseman Sisler, who started the season with the Senators, was traded to the Braves 20 games into the season. At age 35 he still managed to hit .340, which matched his career average. Second-baseman Hornsby at age 32, was still tearing it up, finishing the season with a slash line of .387/.498/.632. All were league-leading totals, as was his OPS of 1.130. The batting title was his seventh. For good measure he led the league in walks with 107.

Another standout was right fielder Lance Richbourg, who hit .337, albeit with little power. His slash line (.337/.399/.428) was similar to Sisler’s (.340/.380/.434). Honorable mention goes to third-baseman Les Bell, who hit 10 HRs and drove home 91 runs, second on the team behind Hornsby, who had 21 homers and 94 RBIs.

Despite the presence of two future Hall of Famers and a couple of other decent hitters, the Braves were last in the league in runs scored. At the same time, their pitching staff was next-to-last in ERA (4.83) and runs allowed (867). Only two starters had ERAs under 4.00: Bob Smith (13-17) at 3.87, and Art Delaney (9-17) 3.79.

Hornsby also served as player-manager, taking over after Jack Slattery started the season at 11-20. Never known to suffer fools gladly, Hornsby must have found it extremely difficult to perform his duties that season. Just two years before he had piloted the Cardinals to a championship.

So September was destined to be a dreary month for the Braves. Other than staying out of the cellar (the Phillies, who would finish the season at 43-109, had all but clinched last place), they had no motivation. In the home stretch of a long season, in the waning days of summer, ballplayers with nothing to play for may choose to phone it in. The Braves, facing a glut of double-headers in September, were even more motivated to just go through the motions.

After splitting a double-header with the Phillies on Friday, August 31, the Braves began the new month as they had ended the old, by splitting a Saturday double-header with the Phillies. The next day they played a single game against the Giants at the Polo Grounds. On Labor Day, they did not play, which leads one to believe the game at New York was rained out. Ironically, on September 4, the day after Labor Day, the Braves’ Herculean labors began. They played nine consecutive double-headers! To wit:

September 4, Brooklyn
September 5, Brooklyn
September 7, at Philadelphia
September 8, at Philadelphia
September 10, New York
September 11, New York
September 13, New York
September 14, New York
September 15, Chicago

Mercifully, the Braves had three off days and only two of the double-headers were on the road. The eight consecutive games against the Giants were important, as the Giants were in the pennant chase. Whether the Braves tanked or the Giants rose to the occasion, when the smoke had cleared, the Giants had won all eight games.

The Cubs were also in the race, so the September 15 double dip with them was significant. As it turned out the Giants finished at 93-61, two games behind the Cards. The Cubs, who won three of four from the Braves (or five out of six if you count the two single game played after the double-headers), finished at 91-63, four games behind.

But there were still two more weeks to play, and the Braves immediately began another series of double-headers:

September 20, Cincinnati
September 21, Cincinnati
September 22, Cincinnati
September 24, Pittsburgh

This time around the Braves were playing also-ran teams so there was no opportunity to play the spoiler role. Against lesser competition, they took four of six over the Reds and split with the Pirates.

After a single game with the Pirates, the Braves were swept by the Cardinals in the last three single games of the season. So during the month of September, the Braves had played 35 games, only seven of them single games.

For September, the Braves were 10-25 (.286), dismal to be sure, but not much worse than their overall winning percentage. Considering they had played 14 double-headers in September (and 15 in a 30-day span from August 31 to September 30), it could have been worse. They were 9-19 (.321) in their September double-headers. This is about the same as their overall winning percentage (.327 based on 50-103) for the season. Curiously, home field advantage was nonexistent, since the Braves finished 25-51 at home and 25-52 on the road.

Curiously, the Braves lost all seven of their single games in September. That brought their percentage for the month down to .286. It was not their worst month of the season, however, as they went 4-20 (.167) in June.

Actually, the Braves had no good months in 1928. They began the 1928 season with three losses and never looked back. At no point did they reach .500. The only team they had a winning record (13-9) against was the last-place Phillies. Braves fans responded accordingly. Just 227,201 of them showed up at Braves Field. At the end of the season, the financially-strapped franchise traded Rogers Hornsby to the Cubs for $200,000 and five players. The deal worked out for the Cubs, who won the pennant in 1929.

Today it is difficult to imagine a team having to contend with such a slew of double-headers. Rainouts are few, chartered jets make travel more flexible, and owners are reluctant to offer a BOGO to fans. If playing two games in one day is unavoidable, a day-night double-header with separate admissions is the likely result.

Considering the kid glove treatment given to pitchers and the obsession with pitch counts today, one can imagine most pitching coaches would come unglued at the prospect of a September schedule similar to the one endured by the 1928 Braves.

At any rate, the next time you’re putting in long hours, fatigue is setting in, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself, remember the 1928 Boston Braves. Let a smile be your umbrella. It will have no effect on the rain, but maybe you’ll learn to accept being wet.

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