Yankees Suck postsFriday August 11, 2017
The Curious Case of Cliff Mapes, the Greatest Numbers-Wearer in Baseball History
Cliff Mapes (third from left) flanked by three future Hall of Famers: DiMaggio, Mize and Berra.
If you're talking retired numbers in baseball, you have to talk about Cliff Mapes.
Now if you're a non-baseball fan, you're probably going: Cliff Who? And if you're a baseball fan, you're probably going: Wait. Cliff ... Who? But if you're a longtime baseball fan, steeped in its history and trivia, you're probably just nodding your head. You know where this is going. Although maybe not all of it.
From 1948 to 1952, Cliff Mapes was an outfielder for three teams in the American League: the New York Yankees, St. Louis Browns and Detroit Tigers. For his career, he appeared in 459 games, slugged 38 homeruns, and retired with the following BA/OBP/SLG line: .242/.338/.406. Right: Not exactly Hall of Fame stats. So if we're talking retired numbers, why do we have to talk about Cliff Mapes?
Because Mapes wore three of the most iconic retired numbers in baseball history.
A little history. MLB teams didn't begin wearing numbers on their backs until 1929, and back then the numbers correlated to their spot in the batting order. That's why, for the Yankees, Babe Ruth was No. 3 and Lou Gehrig No. 4. It was an easy way to let people in the stands know who was who. The Indians and Yankees were the first to do it and by 1937 every MLB team was doing it.
The first retired number belonged to the Yankees' Lou Gehrig, a beloved figure and the “Iron Man” of baseball, who died of a disease that now bears his name. In 1939, on Lou Gehrig Day, after he gave his “luckiest man” speech, the Yankees retired his #4. Essentially they were saying, “No one is fit to wear this uniform again.” Five years later, in 1944, the New York Giants retired Carl Hubbel's #11. Four years after that, on the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium, and as he was dying of cancer, the Yankees finally got around to retiring Ruth's #3.
Back then, numbers weren't quite as sacrosanct as they are now. Indeed, when the Yankees released Ruth in February 1935, they immediately gave it to the new right fielder George Selkirk, who wore it for seven years until he entered military service during WWII. Bud Metheny then wore it from 1943 to 1946, but he only last three games into the '46 seasons, so the number went to Eddie Bockman (who lasted four games), Roy Weatherly (two), and finally Frank Colman, a midseason pickup from the Pirates (five games).
By now the number should've been a jinx. Allie Clark took it on in '47 and played 24 games for the Yanks, then was traded to Cleveland in the off-season. That's how, in '48, it wound up on the back of Cliff Mapes, a rookie outfielder. But then the Yankee organization threw itself a party for the silver anniversary of its stadium, not to mention its first championship (they'd won 11 by then), where it planned to finally retire Ruth's number. Here's how big of a deal that wasn't. This is the report in the May 25, 1948 New York Times.
It's buried on pg. 34, lost amid the box scores. It got a bigger spread the day of (“Famous 'No. 3' to be Retired for All Time”) but we didn't get any highlights the next day. Nothing on Ruth's weakened state and cancer-ridden voice. Two months later, Ruth died.
But back to Mapes. To replace his No. 3, he—as A-Rod would do in the 21st century—just added a “1” and went with 13. The following year, maybe figuring that 13 was unlucky, he chose No. 7. Which he kept through the '51 season, by which time he was in a limited role, coming to the plate as a left-handed specialist. Then a few things happened. In early July, rookie Mickey Mantle, of whom such great things were expected that he had been given No. 6—signaling that the Yankees expected him to be next in line after Ruth (3), Gehrig (4), and DiMaggio (5)—was sent to the minors for seasoning. By the time Mantle returned in August, Mapes had been traded to St. Louis, and Mantle, figuring the No. 6 was a jinx for him, or put too much pressure on him, took Mapes' No. 7. Which he wore until the Yankees retired it on Mickey Mantle Day: June 8, 1969.
So that's why we talk about Mapes when we talk about retired numbers: When he died in 1996, the fact that he shared numbers with Ruth and Mantle was the primary focus of his two-paragraph New York Times obit. Almost nothing else was mentioned.
But you know what the Times inexplicably left off? Mapes wore the number of yet another Hall of Fame icon of baseball. In his last season in the Majors, with the Detroit Tigers, Mapes wore No. 5, which, throughout most of the '30s and '40s had been the number for the original “Hammerin' Hank,” Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg. What was his number still doing around in 1952? Well, the Tigers were late comers in the retiring-numbers biz. In fact, they were the 13th of the original 16 teams to retire a number—Al Kaline's No. 6 in 1980. By that point, the Yankees had retired nine numbers, the Dodgers six, and three expansion teams (Astros, Brewers, Mets) had gotten in the game. The Tigers didn't get around to retiring Greenberg's number (along with teammate Charlie Gehringer) until 1984—two years before his death at age 75.
So there you have it: Ruth, Greenberg, Mantle ... and Mapes.
Or is that it? As mentioned, Mapes' No. 13 was later worn by Alex Rodriguez, one of the greatest players of all time, if not exactly one of the most beloved of all time. A lot will have to be forgiven before the Yanks ever retire it, but it could happen. Meanwhile, the fifth number Mapes wore, No. 46 for the St. Louis Browns, who later became the Baltimore Orioles, was worn by popular O's pitcher Mike Flanagan.
I've looked for others that might've shared the number of more, or as many, baseball immortals, but no one comes close to Mapes. He's the Forrest Gump of baseball.
O Captain Your Captain
As the stomach turns.
Wall Street Journal sports editor Sam Walker has written a book about what makes a great team captain, and, anticipating it, or publicizing it, or simply tweaking the noses of Yankee fans everywhere, he has a piece on Deadspin about why Derek Jeter doesn't make the cut—and why it's not even close. It's called “Why Does Everyone Think Derek Jeter was a Great Captain?”
It's the greatest thing I've ever read.
OK, but nearly.
He brings up stuff I know all too well but not enough apparently do: How Jeter became captain in 2003, after the Yankees' great run, meaning the team won just one World Series under his stewardship—and that thanks mostly to Jeter's bete noir Alex Rodriguez; how Jeter never suggested moving away from shortstop when a better defensive SS came along (A-Rod again), not even in his dotage when he was, by any statistical measure, a massive defensive liability. Walker also brings up that awful farewell tour in 2014, when enemy teams bestowed gifts upon him, and enemy fans stood and applauded. The stomach turns at the thought.
But this is the decisive blow:
There's another crucial piece of context to factor in, here too—money. It's true that Jeter's captaincy coincided with an aggressive new MLB luxury tax that forced the Yankees to surrender a chunk of their revenue to support the league's poorer teams, but the Yankees still had more than enough left over to maintain a sizeable spending advantage. In fact, according to payroll figures over those 12 seasons, the Yankees outspent the No. 2 MLB team by more than $1 billion.
All of that money, and Jeter's supposedly brilliant leadership, produced the same trophy haul as the Florida Marlins.
Read the whole piece. It's nice seeing this Macy's parade balloon popped.
No. 2 Circle of Hell
Yankee broadcast is advertising “50 hours of Derek Jeter-themed material.” There is a 10th circle of hell, after all. . .— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) April 30, 2017
The reason for all of those hours? Jeter, who may soon be the co-owner of the Miami Marlins, had his number retired this weekend in a lavish ceremony by the New York Somethingorothers. They now have zero single-digit numbers left. Unless you count zero.
Yankees Suck: Treating KC A's as Its 1950s Farm Club
Last week I read a not-very-good book about a very interesting baseball man, “Finley Ball: How Two Baseball Outsiders Turned the Oakland A's into a Dynasty and Changed the Game Forever,” by Nancy Finley.
Yeah, she's Charlie O's niece, and the daughter of Finley's right-hand man (the other baseball outsider of the title), and not a particularly good writer. Nor journalist. She's a “homer” in the worst sense, cleaning up after the family image. She spends way too much time, for example, tracking down dirt on poor Mike Andrews, who committed two errors in the 12th inning of Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, leading to an A's loss, and was then forced, by Finley, to sign a legal doc stating that he was injured and ineligible to play for the rest of the Series. Result: furor. A's manager Dick Williams objected, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn objected (and reinstated Andrews) and the Oakland players particularly objected. Ms. Finley wants to show that Andrews was injured, and knew he was injured, and kept playing anyway, to the detriment of the team. That's hardly the point. An owner doesn't show up a player (nor a manager) the way Finley did. You keep it in the clubhouse. Finley lost his players not because of Andrews but because he didn't play by the unwritten rules of baseball. The team didn't like him because he wasn't a team guy.
That said, she does give us some good dirt on the ways the New York Yankees used the Kansas City Athletics as essentially a major league farm club throughout the 1950s. Most of this isn't news to me, but it's more detailed than reports I've seen in the past:
- In 1954 [Arnold Johnson] bought the Philadelphia Athletics and moved the team to Kansas City. Johnson also had financial interests in Yankee Stadium, and he seemed to pay more attention to the Yankees than to the Athletics.
- Early on, Charlie had heard rumors that Johnson had been stripping the team of its best players and trading them to the Yankees. He hadn't completely believed it, but after he acquired the team he discovered that the rumors were true and that [Kansas City Star sports columnist Ernie] Mehl was complicit. ... Charlie immediately announced that there would be no more trades to the Yankees, a decision that could only be seen as a slap at Mehl.
- The cozy relationship between the Athletics and the Yankees became embarrassingly obvious. When the Athletics acquired the young slugging prospect Roger Maris in 1957, the American League president, Will Harridge—who had supported Johnson's efforts to buy the Athletics and approved their move to Kansas City—took the unusual step of publicly warning Johnson not to trade Maris to the Yankees for at least eighteen months. Johnson complied, but barely, trading Maris to New York in December 1959. The Athletics got little in return.
- “Kansas City was not an independent major-league team at all, it was nothing more than a loosely controlled Yankee farm club,” Bill Veeck wrote later. He said that he heard the Athletics general manager, Parke Carroll—a former K. C. sports writer—boast openly in baseball meetings that he had nothing to worry about by trading away so many great players because the Yankees' owner, George Weiss, had “promised to take care of” Carroll in return for his help in making those lopsided trades.
In one game in the early 1960s, Finley, a true showman, actually organized a bizarre pre-game demonstration of how the days of shuttling talent to New York were over:
The fans were chatting, sipping beer, and waiting for the game to start. Suddenly, they grew quiet. They watched as a beat-up old shuttle bus lumbered onto left field. Exchanging perplexed glances, they wondered what was going on. Then Frank Lane walked out to the bus and splashed it with gasoline. An instant later it was engulfed in black and orange flames. Then an unfamiliar voice came over the loudspeaker. It was the team's new owner. Charlie introduced himself and explained that the burning of the bus was his way of announcing that the days of shuttling Kansas City's best talent to the Bronx were over. The Athletics would no longer be the Yankees' farm team. After a pause, a few fans started clapping, and soon the stadium was filled with applause and shouts of approval.
That said, a book like this needs to embrace the beautiful outsized idiocy of Charlie O, and it doesn't quite. I like the below, for example, except she doesn't need to constantly disparage the Other in order to enshrine her uncle. It puts a slight damper on an otherwise amusing anecdote:
By the late 1950s, baseball owners formed an exclusive club of old-money boys and nouveau riche businessmen, and they looked out for each other. Charlie was a self-made millionaire, but he was just an insurance salesman—not part of the club. When it became clear that Charlie might actually acquire the Athletics in 1960, the other owners assigned the Baltimore Orioles' chairman, Joe Iglehart, to investigate him. Iglehart reported back to the owners: “Under no conditions should this person be allowed into our league.”
So anyone know of a better book on Charlie O?
A Belated 'See Ya' to the Benighted 2016 NY Yankees
I'm not exactly spreading the news here—the Yankees finally bought it for the 2016 season more than a week ago. Still, good to kick them to the curb. A shame they didn't have a losing record (they wound up 84-78) but as the man said: There's always next year.
Take 'em home, Carey: