Today is the last day of the Major League Baseball season.
It depends on how the St. Louis Cardinals do. They might have to play as many as two more games after today because of byzantine complications brought about by a COVID-19-shortened season that proved acute in the Cardinals’ clubhouse.
The Cardinals play for a playoff berth, a customary position for the team that trails only the New York Yankees in World Series titles won.
Another St. Louis team played for another kind of glory some 69 years ago — one that I think provides a lesson for this rugged year.
The current Baltimore Orioles once played in St. Louis as the St. Louis Browns.
They shared Sportsman’s Park with the Cardinals, but they seldom matched the success of their roommates.
Writers described St. Louis, once an industrial titan in footwear and, of course, Budweiser beer: “First in booze, first in shoes, last in the American League.”
That certainly held true in 1951. The Browns won 52 games against 102 losses and finished the year 46 games behind the New York Yankees.
But on Sunday, Sept. 30, Pitcher Ned Garver took the mound in pursuit of his 20th win.
Garver held the curious distinction of being the best player on the worst team in the league. He pitched 24 complete games in 30 starts and won 19 games with 12 losses.
Garver had won nearly 40 percent of the team’s games that year.
He possessed athleticism so great that when pitched, manager Zach Taylor batted Garver sixth. Garver hit .305 that season, an average the beat all the Browns’ regular position players.
The season had been a joke in which Browns owner Bill Veeck made the team its own punchline. Veeck signed 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to a one-game contract. Gaedel came to bat as a first-inning pinch-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader against Detroit.
Detroit pitcher Bob Cain tried to squeeze a ball into Gaedel’s strike zone, estimated at being less than 2 inches tall. Gaedel walked on four pitches and was replaced by a pinch-runner.
Garver, though, was a serious star for the Browns. Boston Red Sox hitting savant Ted Williams once said of Garver: “He could throw anything up there and get me out.”
(The Splendid Splitter was being generous. He batted .419 against Garver.)
The Chicago White Sox were in St. Louis for the final series of the year. The White Sox played to a more respectable fourth in the American League that season but were well out of the hunt that Sunday at Sportsman’s Park.
Garver retired the side in order in the first. He allowed a single to Ray Coleman in the second and walked Bud Stewart, before getting out of trouble with a strikeout and a groundout.
The Browns scored twice in the bottom of the first, including an RBI single by Garver to centerfield.
Staked to a 2-0 lead, however, Garver faltered in third and surrendered a two-run single to Ray Coleman with two outs in the frame.
St. Louis’ Earl Rapp singled in two more runs for the Browns in the third to put them up 4-2.
Again, Garver struggled with a lead. Chicago’s Joe DeMaestri hit a two-run home run to tie the game.
Garver made up for his own struggles by hitting a home run in the bottom of the fourth off Chicago’s Randy Gumpert. The Browns again led 5-4.
Garver settled and allowed just one more run on a fielder’s choice in the top of the eighth inning.
The Browns scored four more times, including a two-run home run by Fred Marsh in the fifth.
The Browns won 9-5 and Garver, the kid from the village of Ney, Ohio, pop. 350, won his 20th game.
Garver became just the second pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win 20 games for a team with 100 or more losses — and the only one to do so with a winning record.
(Irv Young went 20-21 for the Boston Braves in 1905.)
The lesson of Garver’s 20-win season should be obvious for our age. The year 2020 has been one of loss and derision from the pandemic to politics.
At times, we’ve made ourselves the punchline to the world.
But in 1951, once every four or five days, Ned Garver took the mound for the Browns and they were as good or better than any team in the American League.
We should all seek our inner Ned Garver. We should seek to be our very best even when those around us and circumstances produce the very worst.
Garver did not win those 20 games alone. He was one of nine in the lineup each game he pitched.
Those men who otherwise struggled to produce wins raised their level of play because the man on the mound knew how to win in way that they otherwise did not.
Garver could have easily thrown away the 1951 season. He could have been a joke, like Eddie Gaedel.
He chose, instead, to be outstanding.
Though the baseball season (maybe) ends today, the year 2020 is far from finished.
Remember Ned Garver and go out each day with intent to succeed.
We can still rise to be our very best amidst this parade of horrible.
Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.
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