Mel Stottlemyre

A few years ago I read an article about how keeping score of a baseball game is something of a lost art.  I do not doubt the practice is in decline, but in my experience it was mostly a Strat-O-Matic thing.  Most of my classmates knew what an L-7 was, a square, but few had a clue as to what 'F9’ meant. 

Most summers my family would drive to either Chicago or Minneapolis to see a game.  We would spend a night in a hotel, which was a big deal back then.  The drives were long and cramped — the Skarda family would usually join us — but as a kid the only time I ever left Iowa was when we drove off to see the Cubs or Twins, so these were my great adventures.  Scoring the game was a way to capture the moment for posterity, but I must confess I’d usually lose track of a few outs here and there and have to fill the card with some guesses.  It is a good thing the Elias people didn’t depend on me.

In high school, somewhat ironically, I decided my dream job would be stat-keeper for a major league team.  Mine was a copy-cat career choice: I had read that a son-in-law of Nixon had this kind of job with a team (the Rangers?), and figured why not me.  Later I would switch out of engineering because calculus seemed beyond me, so maybe statistics would have been an equally poor choice for a major, but meanwhile I honed my skills recording Strat-O-Matic games on notebook paper.  Up to junior high, I had an idiosyncratic method for keeping score, but that changed when new neighbors moved in next door.

The Ahlgrens were from Buffalo, New York.  The mom was recently widowed, and her father let them live in the duplex next to our house on Howell Street.  It was an exotic situation.  The family occupied both halves of the house, with girls on one side and boys on the other, so two kitchens and two living rooms too.  Peter was a year younger than me, and we remained friends into our twenties; the older brother, Jim, was a few years older.  Both were as nutty about Strat-O-Matic as Jerry and I, and it was Jim who taught me the finer points of keeping score.  Lesson 1 was that a regular pencil was not cool, and that writing instrument (the gold standard was a mechanical pencil with thin lead) and penmanship mattered.

Spelling mattered too, and I definitely recall the struggle with some of the exotic names.  One of the hard ones was Mel Stottlemyre, who passed away last week after a long career as a player and pitching coach.  Mel was a rookie starter in the 1964 World Series, but this would be the only time in his fine career that he would pitch in the post-season.  He was the ace on a Yankee team that finished a mediocre 5th in 1968, going 20-12 over 279 innings, with a fine 2.45 ERA.  Stottlemyre was a minor star (along with Roy White) on what would be a long run of mediocre Yankee clubs.  A return to the franchise’s accustomed greatness would not come until after George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973.

The Des Moines Scarlets are an amalgem of the Yanks and what was a somewhat better team in ’68, the Cubs, whose stock was rising after finishing 3rd in the NL.  As we have seen, the hitters on these teams mesh pretty well, but will the same be true of the pitchers?  At the top are 20-game winners from each club, Stottlemyre and Fergie Jenkins (20-15, 2.63, 308 IP) — note that high inning total; the sun had not yet sunk on the era where a healthy starter took the ball every fourth game.  Behind them are two more Yanks, 23-yo Stan Bahnsen (17-12, 2.05, 267 IP) and Fritz Peterson (12-11, 2.63, 212 IP).  The best card in the rotation is probably Bahnsen’s, but the team’s 5th starter,  Bill Hands (16-10, 2.89, 259 IP), can make a similar claim with an eye-popping WHIP of .99.  That’s quite a quintet!  23-yo Rich Nye fills the swing slot, but his 3.80 ERA sticks out like a sore thumb and he’ll (hopefully) just throw batting practice on this team.

The bullpen is a mixed bag.  Assuming the starters go deep into games, however, it might have just enough ‘good guys’ to let the mediocre ones collect splinters on the bench.  There are two righty closers, Lindy McDaniel (1.75,  51 IP, 10 saves) and Phil Regan (2.27, 135 IP, 25 saves), and also a good lefty in 33-yo Steve Hamilton (2.13, 51 IP, 11 saves).  Quality drops quite a bit after them.  Right-handed middle men are Steve Barber (3.23, 128 IP), Joe Verbanic (3.15, 97 IP), and Fred Talbot (3.36, 99 IP); the lone lefty is Al Downing (3.52, 61 IP).

Just two pitchers with the sorting requirement of 120+ IPs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make the final 30-man roster for Des Moines:  Cubbie starters Ken Holtzman (11-14, 3.35, 215 IP) and Joe Niekro (14-10, 4.31, 177 IP), the two “must cuts” according to the rules of roster structure.  As a side note, it also was painful to cut Dooley Womack (3.21, 62 IP), whose name always made his a collectible card (at least for me) during a somewhat short career.

Here are the historical ballpark ratings for the Yankees and Cubs (note all IBC parks are 9’s across the board).  I hadn’t looked at these before writing about the hitters, so maybe the Wrigley studs will end up disappointing!

Ballpark Effect     New York     Chicago
Lefty Singles          9           11  
Righty Singles         5           19
Lefty Homers          17           19
Righty Homers          5           19

© John Kisner 2019