The Whole Was Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

With the BBWAA’s Hall-of-Fame vote out of the way, once again the Detroit Tigers’ double play duo, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker (who went one-and-out on the ballot a couple of years back), deserved — at the very least — far more votes than they got and were given the back of the voters’ hands. One person at the Baseball Think Factory suggested they share a plaque. Not a bad idea on the face of it. Although in my humble opinion, both have good cases for induction, and together, they were a force to be reckoned with.

Between the two, they copped seven Gold Glove awards, nine All Star selections, a Rookie of the Year and World Series MVP honors. They combined for 2617 runs, 4734 hits, 832 doubles, 120 triples, 429 home runs, 2087 RBI, and 437 RCAA.

They were the longest running double play combination in baseball history, sharing the keystone from 1977-1995. Indeed, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Similarly, the New York Yankees won five straight World Championships from 1949-53. Some of the players who brought the Bronx Bombers to glory over that stretch reads like a “Who’s Who?” of the Hall of Fame: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Johnny Mize, and of course, manager Casey Stengel. These Yankee teams also sported well-known, non-HOF names to contemporary baseball fans, such as Johnny Sain of “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” fame. Joe Coleman is well known as a broadcaster, and Bobby Brown went on the become American League president. Billy Martin, Ralph Houk, and Hank Bauer went on to manage World Series championship teams of their own.

However, pitching wins championships. The best known Yankee hurler of these teams was Whitey Ford. “The Chairman of the Board,” as he was often called, won 69% of his games (236-106) and posted a career ERA of 2.74 and an RSAA of 321. What isn’t as well known was the fact that he was a spot starter in 1950, and didn’t return from the military until 1953. Ford only had a part on two of these clubs: 1950 and 1953. The slick southpaw was only a full time member of one of the 1949-53 teams, and that was 1953.

It leaves the question to be asked then: Who pitched the Yankees to these five world championships? Surely the three dominant pitchers on a dynastic team can easily be found in the Heroes Gallery at the Hall-of-Fame.

No so.

There were three men who anchored the pitching staffs of these great teams. From 1949-53, this trifecta of excellence garnered a record of 255-117, 3.20 ERA (246 RSAA). To give an idea of how important these three were — from 1949-53, the Yankees won 64.4% of their games. When the aforementioned trio was pitching, the three hurlers won 68.5% of their decisions. The American League ERA from 1949-53 was 4.11, and–as previously mentioned–over that span, the terrific trio posted an earned run mark of 3.20.

Believe it or not, it’s difficult to individually make a serious Hall-of-Fame case for the three mound warriors who needed both hands to accommodate the World Series rings (unless you‘re one of those who believe that “one for the thumb” should be taken literally) that their golden arms helped generate. As a trifecta however, they were a force to be reckoned with. Truly the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

The three pitchers in question were: Eddie Lopat, Allie Reynolds, and Vic Raschi.

Eddie Lopat:

Lopat got his major league start in Chicago with the White Sox. Comiskey Park was partially designed with a lot of input from Hall of Fame pitcher Ed Walsh. So naturally it was put together to be pitcher-friendly. Lopat began his career unusually late. Lopat received his first taste of the big leagues at age 26. Once there, Lopat stayed for a long, long, time. In his four years with the White Sox, the Pale Hose enjoyed care free Octobers where the only pitching done was with a wedge. The White Sox never won as many as 75 games in the four years Lopat plied his trade there. The fact that Lopat was a game over .500 (50-49, 3.18 ERA; 22 RSAA) on a club with a winning percentage of .469 demonstrated that he had significant value from 60 feet six inches away.

Although Lopat was the prototypical “crafty southpaw” (read: couldn’t break a thin pane of glass with his fastball), his combative nature, coupled with his knack for getting outs, caught the eye of the New York Yankees’ rookie general manager George Weiss. Weiss brokered a trade for Lopat that was the first of many that would lead Weiss himself to the Hall-of-Fame. The Yankees managed to compete despite a plethora of problems in 1948, winning 94 games and finishing third, 2.5 games behind eventual World Series champs Cleveland. Lopat contributed 17 wins and a solid, though unspectacular ERA of 3.65 (14 RSAA).

It would be the last free time Lopat would enjoy in October for half a decade.

The Yankees began their five-time world championship streak the following year. Lopat finished 1949 with a solid 15-10, 3.27 ERA (21 RSAA), over 30 starts. In the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Lopat started Game Four. Lopat threw five shutout innings and was yanked after coughing up four runs in the sixth. Allie Reynolds was called in and shut the Dodgers down the rest of the way, preserving Lopat’s win.

In 1950, Lopat had his best season (18-8, 3.47 ERA 25 RSAA). The Yankees swept the “Whiz Kid” Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Lopat pitched better in the 1950 classic than he had the previous year. Lopat held the Phillies to a pair of earned runs over eight frames while Yankees bats scored a run in the bottom of the eighth, as well as in the bottom of the ninth to win Game Three. The win, however, was credited to Yankee reliever Tom Ferrick, who pitched a scoreless top of the ninth in relief of Lopat.

In 1951, at age 33, Lopat had his sole 20-win campaign. The Cleveland Indians doggedly battled the Yankees for the American League flag. Lopat won his 20th game of the season (Lopat would finish 1951: 21-9, 2.91 ERA; 19 RSAA) in mid September. The Tribe and the Bronx Bombers were deadlocked, and in the second game of a two game series against each other, Lopat went the distance against Cleveland, giving the Yanks a one game lead and they never looked back.

The 1951 World Series against the Giants–who had arrived there after Bobby Thomson’s legendary “Shot Heard Around the World” against the Brooklyn Dodgers–was Lopat’s finest hour. Lopat pitched the Yankees to a pair of complete game wins in Games Two and Five. Lopat would surrender a lone earned run in eighteen innings pitched.

Lopat’s 1952 was a troubled season for the now 34-year-old lefty. A sore arm reduced Lopat to being a spot starter. Lopat did manage to complete 10 of his 19 starts. When he did pitch, Lopat did exceptionally well, finishing 10-5, 2.53 ERA (16 RSAA). However, Lopat’s arm was done by October and was hit hard in the World Series. Lopat, given the start for Game Seven against the Brooklyn Dodgers, didn’t survive the fourth inning. Casey Stengel, mindful of Lopat’s discomfort, had a quick hook that day and put in flame throwing Allie Reynolds at the first sign of trouble. Raschi in turn relieved Reynolds, and the Yankees downed the Dodgers 4-2 for their fourth straight World Championship. In 1953, Lopat–although no longer a regular in the Yankees’ rotation–enjoyed another solid season. Lopat opened the 1952 season at 7-0 and over 24 starts, finished with the league’s best winning percentage among pitchers, going 16-4. He also posted the AL’s best ERA at 2.42 (22 RSAA).

Lopat would start Game Two of the World Series and pitch a complete game win against the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Preacher Roe. The Yankees won the series in six games; the Bronx Bombers fifth straight.

From 1949-53, Eddie Lopat was 80-36, 2.97 ERA (103 RSAA) in the regular season, and 4-2, 2.60 ERA in the World Series.

Allie Reynolds:

Allie “Superchief” Reynolds began his career in the Cleveland organization in 1939. His minor league tenure gave no indication of what was to come. Reynolds was finally promoted to the big club in 1942 to fill the void left by Bobby Feller’s induction into the service. Like Lopat, Reynolds got a late start to his major league career. Reynolds was 27 when he made the Tribe varsity. He quickly–and unfortunately–developed a reputation as a pitcher who’d beat himself, and also one that wilted when the going got tough…in short: a choke artist. It appeared that Reynolds had a million dollar arm and a ten cent head. At age 30 in 1945, Reynolds–with solid run support–won 18 games, lost 12, and posted an ERA of 3.20 (1 RSAA) but regressed dropping to 11-15, 3.88 ERA (-17 RSAA) the following year.

The Tribe sued for divorce, and the Yankees offered unhappy second baseman Joe Gordon for–at Joe DiMaggio‘s behest–Allie Reynolds.

Deal.

Sadly, the change of venue did little initially to change Reynolds’ fortunes. Although he pitched well statistically in 1947 and 1948, going an aggregate 36-15, 3.41 ERA (18 RSAA), Reynolds generally folded in big games. Reynolds still had the maddening tendency to beat himself (Reynolds walked more hitters than he struck out in both years), often snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In 1948, centerfielder Joe DiMaggio–who really had no one to blame but himself–became so angry at Reynolds’ inability to hold a lead that he challenged Reynolds to a fight.

However, a big change, actually two changes, came to the Yankees that would unlock Reynolds’ gifts. Casey Stengel took over as manager and Eddie Lopat became Reynolds’ roommate. Lopat, who had nowhere near the stuff possessed by Reynolds, helped him transform from being a thrower to a pitcher. Stengel’s pitching coach, Jim Turner also worked on Reynolds’ metamorphosis.

In 1949, Reynolds opened the season 8-1. However, that would be Reynolds high water mark. He pitched decently enough, going 9-5 the rest of the way, but ended the season with an ERA of 4.00 (3 RSAA). Stengel tabbed Reynolds to pitch the penultimate game of the 1949 season against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees trailed the Red Sox by a game, so if Reynolds lost, the Red Sox would be celebrating in front of his face. Reynolds arm went scattergun as he walked four and allowed three hits before Stengel gave him the hook with one out in the third. Fireballing reliever, Joe Page, was summoned out of the bullpen and promptly allowed two of Reynolds’ runners to cross home plate. After that early mishap, Page was unhittable, and the Yankee bats roared back to bail out Reynolds and give New York the win. The following day, Vic Raschi pitched a complete game win to clinch the pennant.

If there were any questions about Allie Reynolds’ courage after his game against the Red Sox, he promptly put them to rest. Reynolds shut out the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first game of the World Series. Reynolds appeared again in Game Four. As Lopat wobbled in the sixth inning, Reynolds came in and blanked the Dodgers the rest of the way.

Intrigued by Reynolds’ relief work in 1949, coupled with the inconsistency of Joe Page, manager Casey Stengel decided to use Reynolds in a swing role. Reynolds enjoyed a solid 1950 campaign: 16-12, 3.74 ERA; 18 RSAA. It was in the Fall Classic against the Philadelphia Phillies where he continued to build his reputation as a big game pitcher. Reynolds was given the ball in Game Two and posted his second straight complete game starting assignment, surrendering a single run. In Game Four, young Whitey Ford pitched a masterpiece, but faltered in the ninth, partly due to some shoddy outfield defense. With two out in the ninth inning and men on base, Stengel waved in Reynolds to get the final out. Reynolds threw three bullets and the celebration began.

In 1951, Reynolds continued in his swing man role. He excelled at both, winning 17 games, saving seven others, and posted a 3.05 ERA (14 RSAA). The biggest news of the season was what happened on July 12 and September 28. On those two days, Allie Reynolds threw no-hitters. In July, the Cleveland Indians were victimized with Bobby Feller matching up against Reynolds. Although Reynolds’ control was spotty early on (he issued three walks), he came back and retired the last seventeen Indians to face him. Reynolds struck out Bobby Avila for the final out. The second no-no clinched the American League pennant against the hottest hitting team in the Junior Circuit: The Boston Red Sox. There was some drama after Ted Williams–who came to the plate with two out in the ninth–popped the ball up and catcher Yogi Berra dropped it. Williams deciding to rub salt in Berra’s wound informed the backstop that he’d just blown Reynolds’ no-no. On the next Reynolds’ offering, Williams–proving he was more Nostradumbass than Nostradamas on this occasion–again popped up, and this time Berra squeezed it harder than Carl Pohlad does a nickel. Reynolds had his second no-hitter, and the Yankees had an American League three-peat.

In the 1951 World Series, Reynolds’ control abandoned him. Reynolds allowed five runs over six innings and proverbially “walked the ballpark” in the opening game. In Game Four, Reynolds stiffened and pitched his third World Series complete game, allowing the New York Giants a pair of runs.

Reynolds was simply masterful in 1952. “Superchief” enjoyed his first and only 20-win season (20-8), and led the AL in ERA (2.06), strikeouts (160), was second behind Philadelphia’s Bobby Shantz in RSAA (39), and for good measure, saved six games. In the Fall Classic against Brooklyn, Reynolds started shakily and finished magnificently. In Game One, Reynolds allowed four runs over seven innings, taking the loss. In Game Four, Reynolds threw a shutout. In Game Six, he earned the save after relieving Vic Raschi, and came in for another two-plus innings of scoreless relief, getting the win in Game Seven.

Reynolds’ iron man effort in the 1952 World Series, coupled with a bus accident in 1953–in which he injured his back–limited his use. When Reynolds was used, he was fairly effective, winning and saving 13 games and posting an ERA of 3.41 (2 RSAA). Reynolds had mixed results in the World Series, garnering a relief win and a save, but posting a 6.75 ERA against Brooklyn. His win, however, was after he blew the save in Game Six. Reynolds allowed the Dodgers to tie the game in the top of the ninth. He walked Duke Snider, then allowed Carl Furillo to homer. The Yankees scored in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees had won their fifth consecutive Fall Classic. From 1949-53, Allie Reynolds was 83-41, 3.22 ERA (76 RSAA) in the regular season. Reynolds was 6-2, 2.45 ERA in World Series play with four saves.

Vic Raschi:

Raschi, like Lopat and Reynolds, had a late start to his big league career. Raschi was 29 when he took a regular turn in the Yankees’ rotation (1948). However, unlike Lopat and Reynolds, Raschi originated in the Yankee organization. Over the next five seasons he’d average 20 wins per season (101 in all), would notch three consecutive seasons of 21 wins (1949-51), and would anchor the pitching staff that would win five consecutive World Series crowns (1949-53).

Raschi (21-10, 3.34 ERA; 24 RSAA) pitched the pennant clincher against the BoSox on the last day of the 1949 season. The day before, with the Yankees a game behind Boston, the Yankees were saved after a shaky Reynolds was relieved by Joe Page. Now, the Yankees and Boston were tied for the lead, and this one game would decide who would shed either tears of joy or tears of sorrow. Raschi pitched eight innings of pressure-packed, shut-out ball, preserving a 1-0 lead against an equally determined Ellis Kinder. The Yankees provided a five-run cushion with four markers in the bottom of the eighth. Raschi then coughed up three meaningless runs in the ninth as he sometimes did. However, Raschi finished off the Beantowners without further incident.

In the Fall Classic that year, Raschi went 1-1 with an ERA of 4.30 against Brooklyn, but again, these numbers are misleading. His loss in Game Two was the result of a 1-0 whitewashing by spitballer Preacher Roe. His somewhat inflated earned run mark in the series was due to the 10-0 lead the Yankees handed him in the clincher, and Raschi again let up somewhat in the 7th frame. Regardless, Raschi won the game with the World Series attached to it.

In 1950, despite an ERA of 3.99 (12 RSAA), Raschi again won 21 games. Raschi was given the nod to open the World Series against the ‘Whiz Kids’ Philadelphia Phillies. Raschi got things rolling by blanking the Phillies by tossing a 1-0 two-hitter.

In 1951, Raschi–due to a league wide drop in ERA–reduced his ERA to 3.28 (10 RSAA), and for the third year in a row, won 21 games. However, in Game Three against the New York Giants, Raschi’s command deserted him at about the same time his defense did. Stengel brought in Bobby Hogue to mop up and save Raschi’s arm for later. Raschi was much sharper in Game Six, pitching into the seventh inning, allowing just a single run. Some shaky relief work by Johnny Sain made it interesting until Bob Kuzava gave up three moonshots into the teeth of “Death Valley” that were all gathered in for outs. Had they been playing against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, Kuzava might have gone down in history alongside Ralph Branca and Ralph Terry.

Raschi posted a career best ERA in 1952 (2.78–17 RSAA), but his win total dropped to 16. Part of his problem in accumulating wins was a deteriorating knee. Raschi had his lowest total of complete games since 1947. Regardless, when the World Series rolled around, this time against the Dodgers, Raschi was ready. In Game Two, Raschi went the distance, allowing the Dodgers a single run at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers took two of three at Yankee Stadium, and with the Yankees down 3-2 and the series heading back to Ebbets Field, the Yankees needed this win to stay alive. Again they looked to Raschi. Again he delivered the goods.

Raschi’s knee pained him terribly in 1953. Raschi won just 13 games and pitched less than 200 innings for the first time in several seasons. In Game Three of the Fall Classic against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, Raschi went the distance, but lost 3-2. The Yankees won the series in six games, however, and Game Three was the final game Raschi pitched in pinstripes.

His World Series ledger in the Yanks magnificent five year run between 1949-1953 reads 5-3 with a 2.24 ERA in 58 2/3 innings pitched. The latter mark inflated somewhat by the four cheap runs he gave up in Game Five of the ’49 series. Subtract that one inning and his ERA drops to 1.67. Of the 20 victories needed for five World Series victories, the trio of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, and Eddie Lopat accounted for 15 of them, and they posted a collective ERA in those five Fall Classics of 2.38.

The Yankees had some phenomenal players those championship years, but none of that would’ve happened without these three gritty performers. Ed Lopat, Allie Reynolds, and Vic Raschi will likely never have plaques bearing their likenesses and accomplishments, but they may well be Exhibit A of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

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