Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cardinal Pennant Clusters

Last week, as the Cardinals were closing in on the NL Central Division title, Missouri Senator McCaskill on Morning Joe expressed some irritation that the St. Louis Cardinals have not received the historical acclaim they deserve.  Indeed, they have won as many National League pennants (18) as the Dodgers since 1901, and they have won more World Series (11) than any team not named the Yankees, but both of those franchises have received much more historical attention and fanfare than the Cardinals.  This Baseball Historical Insight looks at the Cardinals' four pennant "clusters" of the 20th century--1926 to 1934; 1942 to 1946; 1964 to 1968; and 1982 to 1987--that fashioned a St. Louis legacy remaining to this day of teams that play fundamentally sound baseball and know how to win by being pesky and gritty when they do not dominate the league.

Cardinal Pennant Clusters

St. Louis was the last of the eight National League franchises that began the twentieth century to win a pennant. Through the first quarter of the century, the Cardinals were one of the worst teams in the league--finishing last or next-to-last ten times in 25 years, losing 90 or more games ten times, and posting a winning record in only eight seasons. By the mid-1920s, however, Branch Rickey was transforming the Cardinals--in fact, transforming all of white professional baseball--with his development of an extensive farm system and somewhat ruthless strategy of holding onto promising talent in his minor league system as an investment in the future and discarding veterans abruptly when he felt their skills were on the precipice of decline. Rickey‘s creative genius proved to be the foundation for the Cardinals being the most successful National League team between 1926 and 1946.

Until the major leagues expanded to divisional alignments in 1969, no National League team did better over any six-year stretch than the Cardinals in winning four pennants between 1926 and 1931. The Giants won four pennants in four years from 1921 to 1924, and the Cubs from 1906 to 1910, Cardinals from 1942 to 1946, and Dodgers from 1952 to 1956 each won four pennants in five years. But extend the run of each of those teams to six years and their achievement was exactly the same as (which is to say, no better than) the 1926-31 Cardinals--four pennants ('26, '28, '30, and '31) in six years. They made it five pennants in nine years by winning again in 1934, playing scrappy, die-hard, we-ain't-gonna-lose baseball that earned them the gritty nickname, "Gashouse Gang," which fit so perfectly the Depression Era.

The Cardinals may have logged five pennants and three World Series championships from 1926 to 1934, but were hardly a dominant team.  In only one year--1931, by 13 games--did they win the NL pennant in a rout; their four other pennants were each won by identical two-game margins. Moreover, St. Louis was not competitive in three of the four years they did not win the pennant, finishing fourth in 1929, sixth in 1932 with a losing record, and fifth in 1933. Notwithstanding Hall of Famers Jim Bottomley (1B), Frankie Frisch (2B), Chick Hafey (OF), and Jesse Haines (P) playing on at least three of the first four St. Louis pennant-winning teams, only Hafey was at the peak of his career in performance, the others on their downside. The 1934 Gashouse Gang was largely a different team, led by now-player-manager Frisch, near the end of his playing career, and including third-year outfielder Joe Medwick, whose best years were still to come, and third-year ace Dizzy Dean, whose 30 victories that year has been matched only one time since, in 1968.

It would not be until 1942 that the Cardinals next won the pennant, but that one kicked off three in a row and four in five years.  Of greater significance, however, the 606 games the Cardinals won between 1941 and 1946--an average of 101 per year--is more than any other team in history over six years except for the Chicago Cubs’ 622 victories from 1906 to 1911. (The most any of the great New York Yankee teams won over six seasons was 599, from 1937 to 1942. The Yankees won 598 in six years from 1936 to 1941.)  This Cardinals team dominated the league in every aspect of play and took the '43 and '44 pennants by decisive margins, but did so with Stan Musial as the only historically great player on their roster for each of their four pennants.  It can be legitimately argued that this St. Louis team's achievements should be discounted because two of the four pennants--those in 1943 and 1944, with 105 wins both years--were won when major league rosters were decimated by players being drafted during World War II. Their arch-rivals, the Dodgers, who beat out the 97-win Cardinals in 1941 and fell short of the 106-win Cardinals in 1942 by two games, lost many of their core players to the war effort, but St. Louis did not escape unscathed; outfielders Enos Slaughter and Terry Moore both lost three years in the service to their country, and the year the Cardinals missed out on a fourth straight pennant, falling three games short of the Cubs in 1945, was the year Stan the Man was himself in the armed forces. With all players from both franchises back in the big leagues in 1946, Brooklyn and St. Louis tied for the pennant with the Cardinals sweeping a best-of-three playoff to decide the winner.

After winning their ninth pennant and sixth World Series in 1946, it would be 18 years before the Fall Classic returned to St. Louis.  The 1964 Cardinals made for a compelling story with their dramatic surge at season's end to overtake the collapsing Phillies, and in 1967 and 1968 the Cardinals were not seriously challenged in winning back-to-back pennants, giving them three in five years. But the 1964-68 Cardinals played below expectations in the two years they did not win the pennant, buried in the second division in both 1965 and 1966.  While Ken Boyer had a superb 1964 and Orlando Cepeda a superb 1967 to each win MVP honors, St. Louis had only three stars—Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Curt Flood (four, if you want to include Tim McCarver)—among its core players for the duration of their run, but Gibson was their only player who was the best at his position (as one of four starting pitchers) for all of that time, based on the wins above replacement metric.  (Brock had the disadvantage of outfielders Mays, Aaron, and Clemente still in their prime.)

Similarly, the St. Louis team that won three pennants in six years between 1982 and 1987 (in '82, '85, and '87) endured two losing seasons and a third when they were never in the race for the NL East.  They had only one true star and historically great player—Ozzie Smith, the best defensive shortstop ever—but otherwise won with a cast of solid, fundamentally-sound players who played effectively and efficiently within manager Whitey Herzog's framework.  Like the 1926-34 and 1964-68 Cardinals, the 1982-87 St. Louis team had great success with few of the league's best players, which made them vulnerable to poor seasons in the midst of their winning three division titles, three pennants, and two World Series championships.

With the exception of 1942 through 1946, many of the Cardinals‘ pennant-winning teams through history can be said to be overachievers. Although by definition, they were the National League‘s best in the years they won the pennant, the 1926-34, 1964-68, and 1982-87 Cardinals cannot be considered among the all-time best National League teams over any extended period of at least five years because they all endured poor seasons in the middle of their otherwise impressive achievements.  Those Cardinals clusters of pennants were accomplished with relatively unimposing teams when it came to their core regulars.  Indicative of this legacy, 11 of the 24 times the Cardinals have finished first in the league or their division, they did so by margins of three games or less.  In fact, they won more such close pennant races than they lost (7), and in 2001 tied the Astros for the best record in their division (and the league, for that matter) but had to settle for the wild card because Houston won their season series.  Living so close to the edge makes for exciting pennant races and terrific lore, and even embodies the American ethic of overcoming great odds to achieve success, but it does not make a case for being the best over time.  It does make the St. Louis Cardinals one of the most compelling franchise stories in baseball history, who probably have not gotten quite the historical acclaim they deserve.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rise and Fall of the 1933 Washington Nationals

With the Nationals just eliminated from the wild card, it remains 80 years and counting since the last time a Washington team went to the World Series. From 1924 to 1933, for the first time in modern Washington baseball history, Our Nation's Capital was not the back end of the joke about being first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League, as the Nationals (also called the Senators) were overall the third most successful franchise in the league (after the Yankees and Athletics). This Baseball Historical Insight looks at the build-up to the Washington Nationals winning the 1933 A.L. pennant.

Rise and Fall of the 1933 Washington Nationals

An earlier post focused on the keys to success for the Washington Nationals winning back-to-back American League pennants in 1924 and 1925:  Although the core of the team remained substantially the same, the Nationals were not in the pennant hunt in any of the next three years as the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees dominated the league. Notwithstanding his managing the Nationals to pennants in each of his first two years at the helm, beginning at the age of 27 with all of four full seasons of big league experience playing second base, player-manager Bucky Harris was sent packing by Washington owner Clark Griffith after finishing fourth with a losing record in 1928. Griffith brought back Washington icon Walter Johnson, who had won 417 games pitching for the Nationals and retired in 1927 as arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of the game, to try to restore the team's fortunes--this time, as manager.

On the surface,the Big Train's first year at the helm in 1929 seemed less than a success as the Nationals fell to fifth in the AL.  His team was already 34-1/2 games out and 21 games below .500 with a 38-59 record on August 4 when, indicative of what was to come, the Nationals rallied to own the league's best record the rest of the way, playing .600 baseball with 33 wins and 22 losses.  The next three years under Walter Johnson, the Nationals were legitimate contenders--winning 94 and finishing second in 1930, 92 and third in 1931, and 93 and third again in 1932--except they weren't really contenders because the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Yankees were so dominant there was no contest for any of the three pennants. Despite his team coming off three consecutive 90-win seasons, averaging 93 victories a year, and the Nationals having the AL's best record at 19-7 in the final month of the season in 1932, Johnson was replaced as manager by his shortstop, Joe Cronin, and it would be he--Cronin, as player-manager--who had the distinction of leading the Nationals to the promised land of the World Series in 1933.

Clark Griffith was in love with Joe Cronin.  Well, his daughter was anyway; the boss's daughter married the star shortstop, not that that necessarily had anything to do with the managerial change. Griffith, remembering the instant success his team had with consecutive pennants immediately after naming young second baseman Bucky Harris as manager, was enamored by the possibility of another inspiring young on-the-field team leader doing the same.  And the same he did do.  The 1933 Nationals rode a stretch of 23 wins in 26 games between June 8 and July 9 into first place by four games over the Yankees, the only other team that figured in the pennant run that year.  Thirteen straight wins in August broke the race open, and Washington was 8-1/2 games up on New York going into September.  The Nationals ended up winning their third pennant in 10 years by seven games over the Yankees, but lost the World Series to the Giants in five.

It would not seem to have been a necessary move, replacing a Washington icon as manager with the team's star shortstop, especially when it would be dubious to argue that the Nationals could have done any better than they did under Johnson. The Athletics in 1930 and 1931, and the Yankees in 1932, were just too powerful.  They were two of the best teams in history, against which the Nationals were no match, player-for-player (see table at end of post).  Philadelphia's 1929 to 1931 championship teams featured Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove--Hall of Famers all, and at the peak of their careers; the Yankees had Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Babe Ruth, Earl Combs, Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing, and Lefty Gomez--Hall of Famers all, most at the top of their careers; and Washington's Hall of Fame players included Sam Rice, who was at the end of his career; Heinie Manush, whose best years had been in the 1920s, and Joe Cronin, who was the team's brightest star and the best all-around shortstop in the American League.

The Washington team Cronin inherited was solid and mature, but by no means great.  With the exception of Joe Kuhel at first base, only in his third year, Cronin had a veteran infield with Buddy Myer at second, himself at shortstop, and Ossie Bluege at third.  An off-season trade that brought back back former Nationals' star Goose Goslin, a key contributor to the 1924-25 pennants, helped strengthen the offense, particularly as he joined up with Heinie Manush in the outfield.  Cronin, Goslin, and Manush were three of the most dangerous hitters in the American League.  The trade acquisitions of catcher Luke Sewell, pitchers Earl Whitehead and Lefty Stewart to join Alvin "General" Crowder in the starting rotation, and Jack Russell to become relief ace strengthened the pitching.  And fortuitously for young (26 years old) first-time manager Cronin, the Yankees who had been so dominant in 1932 were vulnerable in 1933, mostly because age was catching up with key core players (notably Ruth, Combs, and Joe Sewell).  The Great Depression, meanwhile, was forcing Connie Mack to break up the core of his great Athletics team.  For the record: there is no reason to suppose, based on his record, that Walter Johnson could not have won the pennant with this team had he remained as manager, especially with the Yankees in decline and the Athletics splitting up.

By 1934, however, the mature pennant-winning Nationals of 1933 were decidedly older, as the Yankees had been, and beset by injuries to key players, notably Cronin and Kuhel.  Unlike the 1933 Yankees, the Nationals did not have the depth of talent to fall back on to prevent a catastrophic plunge from first to seventh.  The team that had been third in scoring and led the league in fewest runs allowed in 1933 fell to sixth in both runs scored and runs allowed in 1934.  The franchise would forever more be the back end of that old joke about Washington baseball, until moving to Minnesota in 1961 ended the pain, after which another AL team in Washington took up that particular mantle (until they moved to Texas).

(cumulative wins above replacement)
(starting position players + top 3 pitchers)

New York
Foxx                       22.1
Gehrig                 26.3
Judge/Kuhel                   6.6
Bishop                    13.8
Lazzeri              11.9   
Myer                              9.2
Boley/McNair           3.6
Lary/Crosetti         9.3
Cronin                          21.3  
Dykes                      6.9
Sewell                   6.2
Bluege                           7.7
Simmons                19.5
Ruth                    28.9
Manush                       10.4  
Miller/Cramer           7.8
Combs                 14.1
Rice/Reynolds               10.2
Haas                       6.7 
Chapman             13.0
West                            10.1
Cochrane               16.5
Dickey                 10.0
Spencer                         0.0
Grove                     28.6
Ruffing                  10.2
Crowder                        13.4
Walberg                10.5 
Gomez                   9.0
L.Brown                          9.5
Earnshaw              10.2
Pipgras/Allen          7.3
Marberry                         8.9

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Two Sox and the End-Game of the 1967 A.L. Pennant Race

Six teams are still in realistic contention for the two AL wild card slots as the season enters its final two weeks.  In 1967, four teams went into the final weekend with a shot at the American League pennant. Of the four teams, the most interesting story lines concerning the pennant-race end-game involved the Chicago White Sox--whose offensive deficiencies paralleled those of their "hitless wonders" namesake from sixty-one years earlier--and the Boston Red Sox, whose rookie manager, Dick Williams, had his own Gene Mauch moment in the final week of the season. 

Two Sox and the End-Game of the 1967 A.L. Pennant Race

The American League has the distinction of playing The Last Great Pennant Race in major league baseball's original structure of, for each league, just one pennant race.  The year was 1967--the year of the "Cinderella" / "Impossible Dream" Boston Red Sox, who had finished ninth, half-a-game out of last place, the year before with 90 losses.   The Chicago White Sox held first place for more than two months from June 11 to August 12, holding a 5-1/2 game lead at one point, but by September were competing with Boston, the Minnesota Twins, and Detroit Tigers in a fierce four-team race that would go down to the wire.  On September 6, all four teams were tied for first.  The four teams were separated by a game-and-a-half going into the final weekend--beginning Friday, September 29--each with a chance to go to the World Series:
  • Minnesota (91-69) was in the best position, one game up on both Boston and Detroit with two to play at Fenway Park on Saturday and Sunday.  If they won both games, the only team that could possibly tie them would be Detroit, and the Tigers would have to win all four of their remaining games against the Angels, which ended up being back-to-back doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday because of a Friday rainout.
  • In an ironic counterpoint to 1949, when the Yankees had to win both weekend games in their home stadium to beat out the Red Sox for the pennant, Boston (90-70) was in the same position now--having to win both games at Fenway to finish ahead of the Twins. To avoid a playoff, however, they also had to count on the Tigers doing no better than splitting their final four games of the season, and for the White Sox to lose one of their last three games.
  • Detroit (89-69) could win the pennant outright only if they won all four of their remaining games and Minnesota split its weekend series in Boston.  A Twins sweep at Fenway, on the other hand, would require the Tigers to win all four of their games just to tie for first place and force a playoff; if the Twins won one or if the Red Sox won both games at Fenway, the Tigers would still need at least three wins to force a playoff with one or the other team. 
  • As the fourth-place laggard, but only a game-and-a-half behind, Chicago (89-70) faced the biggest challenge going into the final weekend, needing to win all three of their remaining games,and the Red Sox to sweep the Twins, and the Tigers to win no more than three of four--and that would only give Chicago a tie for first with Boston and maybe also Detroit, if the Tigers did win three of four.
As it happened, no playoff was needed.  The White Sox were shut out, 1-0, by the Senators on Friday, making it impossible for them to reach 92 victories, thus eliminating them from contention; the Tigers split both doubleheaders, finishing them off; and the Red Sox swept the Twins to win the pennant outright and end a 21-year drought since the last time they had been to the World Series.

With by far the weakest line-up of the contending teams, it was predictable that the White Sox would not be able to pull out the pennant, even having the league's best pitching and defense.  It says something about the resiliency of that team that Chicago stayed in the race till the final weekend, ultimately finishing three games off pace. The White Sox' prospects actually seemed good at the start of play on September 27, when they were only one behind with their five remaining games against two of the league's worst teams--Kansas City and Washington--while their competitors for the pennant were all playing tougher teams, including Boston and Minnesota with two games against each other on the final weekend.  It was then that the predictable fate of teams that have difficulty scoring runs caught up with the White Sox.  They scored only five runs total in losing all five of their remaining games, and were shut out in three consecutive games.

Only the ninth-place Yankees (at this point in their history, no longer the Bronx Bombers) scored fewer runs than the White Sox in 1967, and only Washington had a lower team batting average than Chicago's .225 in a league that hit all of .236. The White Sox were 7 percent worse than the league average in both runs-to-hits and runs-to-runners on base ratios--two indicators of offensive efficiency.  (In case you were wondering, the 1906 "hitless wonders" White Sox, by contrast, were better than the league average in both categories.)  The 1967 White Sox hit only .214 as a team in going 16-14 in the final month of the season, had an on-base percentage of only .276, and only 21 percent of their hits went for extra bases.  While the White Sox hit 18 percentage points below the league batting average for September, the Twins' batting average for the month was 16 percentage points above the league average, the Tigers were 22 points better, and the Red Sox hit for a batting average 24 points higher than the league average. Only two teams had a worse batting average and on-base percentage in the final month than Chicago, neither of them in the pennant race (obviously), and no team had a lower percentage of extra-base hits. (The league average for extra base hits in the final month of 1967 was 26 percent.)  These kinds of stats are certain to subvert great pitching, as indeed they did:  down the September stretch, White Sox pitchers allowed fewer than one base runner per inning and had a superb 2.17 ERA.  But while the adage of pitching wins pennants may be true, you still need to score runs.  Chicago scored two or fewer runs in 12 of their final 30 games.

Like Phillies' manager Gene Mauch with Jim Bunning and Chris Short during his team's epic collapse in the last 12 games of the 1964 NL season, Red Sox manager Dick Williams relied primarily on Jim Lonborg and Gary Bell as his principal starters down the stretch; together they started half of Boston's final 28 games. Lonborg, his best pitcher, was pitching consistently every fourth day, but with three games left on Boston's schedule on September 27, Williams had him start on two days of rest at home against eighth-place Cleveland. The Red Sox trailed the Twins by one game at the time, but with two off days before the final series with Minnesota, Williams probably felt this was a necessary gamble to have his ace pitch twice in the five days before the season ended.  If Lonborg did not start this game against the Indians, he would have pitched the Saturday game against the Twins, but six days from his previous start because of the two days off.  Pitching against Cleveland on two days of rest would leave Lonborg available to start against Minnesota on Sunday--the season finale--with his typical three days of rest.  And Williams helped set up Lonborg's start on short rest by removing him in the seventh inning of his previous start on September 24 with a 7-0 lead.  As it turned out, Lonborg lost his start on short rest to the Indians, lasting only three innings, but pitched a complete game 5-3 victory over the Twins on the final day of the season to send Boston to the World Series--

--Where they (and he, in Game 7) ran into Bob Gibson.  Enough said.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Revisiting the 1956 Brooks Lawrence Affair

The Reds are virtually guaranteed a post-season berth this year even if they finish third in their division.  In 1956, Cincinnati finished third in the NL with 91 wins, only two games out, but had to go home for the winter since this was long before the wild card option.  This Baseball Historical Insight re-examines the Brooks Lawrence Affair about the reasons why Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts started his best pitcher--Lawrence--only three times down the September stretch with a pennant at stake.  Was it that Tebbetts did not want Lawrence to win 20 games because he was black?  Or simply the good baseball reason that Lawrence had not been pitching well since July?  Or, as this Insight argues, was it Tebbetts' decision to use Lawrence to pitch seven innings in the most critical game of the Reds' season with only one day of rest that ultimately led to Lawrence having so few starts in September?

Revisiting the 1956 Brooks Lawrence Affair

After eleven straight losing season dating to 1945, the Cincinnati Reds found themselves in the middle of a three-team pennant race with Brooklyn and Milwaukee through the summer of 1956.  (Historical note: the major league team in Cincinnati was then known as the "Redlegs" because it seemed politically unwise at the time to be called "Reds" during the Cold War red scare ginned up by Senator McCarthy in the early 1950s.)  The Reds' revival was mostly attributable to the arrival of two black players--rookie outfielder Frank Robinson and pitcher Brooks Lawrence, obtained in a trade with the Cardinals--who kept them in contention.  Lawrence won his first 13 decisions, 10 as a starter, and had 17 wins after a complete game victory against the Cubs on September 1.  In third place, 3-1/2 games off the pace, but with 29 days and 25 games remaining, Lawrence could have made at least seven more starts on the typical three days rest that was the norm at the time.  Instead he made only two--his last on September 15, when Lawrence won his 19th game, by far the most on the staff, to bring the still-third Reds within two of the top.  With 13 games remaining over two weeks, Lawrence could have made at least three more starts pitching on normal rest, and possibly four if winning the pennant came down to that.  Instead, Lawrence pitched only 4-2/3 innings in five games the rest of the season, all in relief, finishing with the same 19-9 record he had on September 15.

The competing accounts of Lawrence's lack of September starts stem from the allegation made by Lawrence to Hank Aaron (and related in Aaron's autobiography, I Had a Hammer) and also by backup Reds first baseman George Crowe (a black player), that Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts did not want a black man to win 20 games.  The counterargument is that Tebbetts had a very good baseball reason for not relying on Lawrence down the September stretch:  his "best" pitcher had been anything but in August.  In 10 August appearances, Lawrence had gone 1-6 with a high 5.89 ERA, including losing all six of his starts that month.  These were hardly numbers to inspire confidence in his manager as the Reds headed into September in a tightly-contested three-team race.

Revisiting the events of Cincinnati's (ultimately failed) September stretch for the 1956 pennant, however, a strong case can be made that Tebbetts not only did not have negative racial considerations in mind as he strived to bring Cincinnati its first pennant since 1940, but had confidence in Brooks Lawrence, despite his August struggles, when it mattered most, although with unfortunate consequences for the short rest of the season, as it turned out:

  1. However badly he had pitched in August, Lawrence was still in turn when he started on September 1 and threw a 4-hit masterpiece for his first victory as a starting pitcher in more than a month, raising his record to 17-8 on the season.  At this point, no other Cincinnati starter had more than 11 wins.
  2. On September 3, after losing the first game of a double-header to the first-place Braves to fall temporarily 4-1/2 games back, the Reds' 5-2 lead in the bottom of the third inning of the second game was in grave jeopardy when Cincinnati starter Larry Jansen loaded the bases with nobody out and Hall of Fame sluggers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews next up for Milwaukee. Despite Lawrence having pitched a complete game victory just two days before, Tebbetts brought him in to squelch the rally--surely a vote of confidence in Brooks Lawrence if ever there was one.  Lawrence not only escaped the jam by getting Aaron to pop out to shallow left and Mathews to bang into a double-play, he finished the game, pitching a total of seven innings on only one day of rest.
  3. If Tebbetts did not trust Lawrence's competitiveness and ability to get outs, this would not have been the time or place to bring him into the game, especially on one day of rest.  This was, after all, a game that meant the difference between the Reds leaving Milwaukee 3-1/2 games out, but still in the pennant chase, if they could hang onto their lead, or 5-1/2 down--almost certainly too big a difference to make up with only 22 games remaining--if they lost.
  4. Thanks to Lawrence's gutty performance, the Reds were still in the hunt, trailing by the same 3-1/2 games they brought into the double-header.  Using Lawrence in that second game, however, threw Tebbetts' starting rotation out of alignment.  Having thrown 16 innings in the space of three days, Lawrence needed recovery time.  Tebbetts handled Lawrence exactly as if he were in the starting rotation, his next start coming after four days of rest against the Cardinals.  Lawrence pitched badly, taking the loss after giving up four runs in two innings and failing to get an out in the third.  
  5. Although his next start was not until a week later, Lawrence was still in Tebbetts' rotation--the Reds had played only four games between Lawrence's starts, during which he had been used twice in relief. Lawrence's victory against the Pirates in what turned out to be his final start was not a work of art--he surrendered four runs in 6-1/3 innings--but it pulled Cincinnati to within two games of Milwaukee and Brooklyn, who were tied at the top.
  6. By the time it would have been Lawrence's turn again, the Reds had lost four in a row to dump them 4-1/2 behind with only nine games left on the schedule.  Basically, the pennant race was over for Cincinnati.  Lawrence did not make another start even as the Reds won eight of their last nine games without him in the rotation, although he did appear five times out of the bullpen.
Tebbetts had a last opportunity to start Lawrence when it might have made a difference--at home against the Braves on September 25, their deficit down to 1-1/2 games with three games remaining.  Tebbetts chose to start Jansen instead, who imploded in the last major league game he would ever pitch, giving up three runs in less than two innings. Why did Tebbetts not start Lawrence, who had not pitched in five days?  The answer might be that Lawrence by this time was dog tired.  His 216 innings of work were far more than in either of his two previous big league seasons, when he was used mostly in relief, and Lawrence had been mostly ineffective in his four relief appearances since his last start.  The Reds lost Jansen's start against the Braves, eliminating them from the race, during which Lawrence pitched two innings of mop-up relief.

Whatever the truth of the matter--and racial prejudice seems the least likely explanation, if for no other reason that it would mean Tebbetts deliberately undermined his own team's pennant chances--Brooks Lawrence returned to the top of the Reds' starting rotation in 1957.