1908: Woeful

August 13, 2018

The immortal Chappy Charles

How do you win a ballgame? It’s actually not a trick question. You win by scoring more runs than the other guy. All this stuff about home runs and doubles and RBIs and WAR and OPS+ is just about how you go about scoring runs. In the history of Major League Baseball, going all the way back to 1880, the most woeful team at doing what you have to do to win is the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals.

First, a couple of caveats. The 1880 Cincinnati team scored 296 runs, but it was in a total of 80 games. The 1882 Baltimore team got 272 runs. The all-time record low for runs scored is 24 by the St. Paul Apostles of the Union Association in 1884. But they only survived for nine games. For something like a modern season of 162 games (or 154 by 1900) the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals are the non-scoring champs with (get ready for it) 372 runs scored over 154 games (49-105 win-loss record), or about 2.4 runs a game. And while we’re at it, they are low with only 301 total RBIs for the season (1.95 per game).

We should also take a moment and praise the Brooklyn Superbas for their own magical 1908. They went 53-101 and scored all of 375 runs in the season (also 2.4 a game) while the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) dropped to the bottom in the American League with 459 runs scored (2.96 runs a game–and the Highlanders played 155 games). And for what it’s worth, those extra three runs got the Superbas four more wins than the Cards while the Highlanders split the difference, winning two more games than St. Louis.

Now at this point I just know you’re dying to know who are these all-time greats that managed an all-time low in runs scored while playing at St. Louis, so I’m going to oblige you (You knew I would, didn’t you?) The big gun (well, sorta) was Red Murray a 24-year-old outfielder who hit .282 and led the team with 64 runs scored (just over 17% of all the team’s runs) and 62 RBIs (20% of the team RBIs). Second on the team in both runs and RBIs was first baseman Ed Konetchy with 46 runs and 50 RBIs (that works out to 12% of the team’s runs and 17% of the team RBIs). The other two outfielders, Al Shaw (40 runs) and Joe Delahanty (37 runs and 44 RBIs) did much of the remaining damage. Murray, Konetchy, and Delahanty were the only players with more than 20 RBIs (Shaw had 19). And finally, backup infielder Chappy Charles had 39 runs scored, good for fourth on the team (just over 10%).

So how does all this compare to some of the other teams in 1908? Well, Fred Tenney led the NL in runs with 101, Honus Wagner had 100, Tommy Leach had 93, Fred Clarke had 83 (as did Johnny Evers). Add ’em up and you get 377, more than the entire St. Louis (and Brooklyn) team. In RBIs, Wagner led the league (of course he did, it’s 1908) with 109. Mike Donlin had 106 and Cy Seymour had 92. That’s three players who added together had more RBIs than poor old St. Louis.

I suppose that if your team is doing poorly, it’s no comfort to know the 1908 Cardinals existed. But in the deadest of all Deadball seasons, they set a record. I’m not sure how you celebrate that kind of record.

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1908: Extra Bases

August 7, 2018

Tim Jordan, NL home run champ for 1908

In keeping with the idea that an individual game that appears meaningless in the standings can be interesting, here’s a look at a game played 7 August 1908, 110 years ago today.

On this date 110 years ago, the Cincinnati Reds were in Brooklyn for a Friday game. They were led by future Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins and sent pitcher Bob Ewing to the mound. The Superbas (again, the “Dodgers” would come later), led by first baseman Tim Jordan responded with pitcher Nap Rucker.

The game ended 5-3 with the Reds grabbing a lead in the fourth and adding three more in the sixth and tacking on a final run in the eighth. The Superbas got two run in the seventh to narrow the lead to 4-2, but were unable to tie it up. in the bottom of the ninth, they got one more run to give Cincy a two-run margin. Ewing got the win and Rucker, who went eight innings (relieved by Jim Holmes for the ninth), took the loss. At the end of the day, the Reds were at .500, 11 games out of first (in fifth place) and Brooklyn was 23 games out in seventh (next-to-last place).

“So what?” you ask. Glad you asked. There were four games played that day (it was a short schedule) and in this game Huggins had a double and a triple. He neither scored a run nor knocked in any of the Reds five runs. Jordan hit a two-run home run to account for a third of the Superbas’ three runs and two of their three RBIs (shortstop Phil Lewis had the other RBI when he knocked in Jordan). Harry Lumley was on base when Jordan homered. Jordan would go on to lead the National League in home runs in 1908 (one of the few hitting categories not monopolized by Honus Wagner). Again you ask, “So?” Well, here’s the thing. The double and triple by Huggins and the Jordan homer were the only extra base hits the entire day in either league. The other scores were 7-0, 3-0, and 2-1. There were a total of 36 hits in the other three games, all were singles. In the Cincinnati vs. Brooklyn matchup there were 14 hits, a total of 50 hits in the day, only three, all in the same game were for extra bases. There were also 11 errors spread among the games and 22 total walks. The 7th of August 1908 is an excellent example of Deadball baseball at its finest.

1908: The Ball

August 4, 2018

Bill Klem

The 1908 season is primarily famous today for one play in one game, a game between the Giants and Cubs. The game I want to look at today isn’t nearly as famous, but the quirk in it is worth noting.

In 1908 the teams from Brooklyn and St. Louis were in a dogfight for last place in the National League. It took a while, but eventually St. Louis would prevail and finish four games behind Brooklyn. One of the reasons for that five game gap occurred 4 August 1908, 110 years ago today.

The game was played in Brooklyn with the Superbas (Dodgers would come later) sending Kaiser Wilhelm to the mound. In 1908 if you were named Wilhelm, “Kaiser” was sort of an obvious nickname. Here’s a picture of the non-baseball playing Kaiser Wilhelm, and his baseball counterpart.

Der Kaiser

and Brooklyn’s finest

The Cardinals responded with Bugs Raymond

who looked like this and was really named “Arthur”

Neither lineup had names that are familiar today (except maybe the German Kaiser) with a pair of first basemen, Ed Konetchy of St. Louis and Tim Jordan of Brooklyn being the main players for each team. The only Hall of Famer involved in the game was umpire Bill Klem (see picture above).

Brooklyn won the game 3-0 with runs scored in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings. The latter run was scored off reliever Ed Karger. Center Fielder Bill Maloney who was hitting .191 at the end of the game hit a home run (he hit three all year and managed to get to .195 by the end of the season–obviously he had a hot streak late). A stolen base and a Jordan double plated the earliest run and another stolen base followed by a long single scored the other (typical Deadball Era runs). Wilhelm managed to shut out the Cards on three hits (all singles) and a walk, while striking out six. At the end of the day, Brooklyn was five and a half games out of last place in the NL. The game took one hour and twenty-five minutes to play.

So why am I telling you about this otherwise obscure and unremarkable game? Well, according to a number of sources the entire game was played using exactly one baseball. It seems umpire Klem thought the ball was in good enough shape to keep it in the game and never changed to a new ball. Somehow it’s absolutely appropriate for a Deadball Era game to be played with one baseball.

probably not the actual ball

 

1908: The End of July

August 1, 2018

Here’s the next update in my continuing look at the 1908 season (110 years on).

Bobby Wallace

With approximately two-thirds’ of the 1908 season gone, the pennant race in the American League was taking shape seriously. Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland all had winning records and held down the first division. The Tigers were two games up on the Browns, with Chicago 5.5 back, and Cleveland at eight behind. For Detroit, Ty Cobb was hitting .346, but fellow Hall of Famer Sam Crawford was only at .287. Chicago was standing behind Ed Walsh on the mound and 37-year-old George Davis (in his next-to-last season). Davis was only hitting .212. For Cleveland Nap LaJoie was having a down season so far (.269 with four triples), but the pitching (read Addie Joss here) was holding up. For the Browns, Bobby Wallace, their most famous player, was also having a bad season (hitting .269), but pitcher Rube Waddell was doing well (By WAR, a stat unknown in 1908, Wallace was having a terrific season. He’d end at 6.3). Among the also rans, the Highlanders (Yankees) were in last place, 25 games out.

John Titus

In the National League, five teams winning records on 31 July: Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. The Pirates were a half game up on the Cubs, two up on the Giants, 6.5 ahead of the Phils, and eight up on the Reds. St, Louis was all the way at the bottom 23.5 games out of first. The Pirates leaders, Tommy Leach, manager Fred Clarke, and Roy Thomas were a mixed bag at the end of July, but the team revolved around shortstop Honus Wagner. By 31 July, he was hitting .328 with an OPS of .939. Chicago, relying on the Tinker to Evers to Chance infield and Three-Finger Brown, was also getting good years out of Harry Steinfeldt, the other infielder, and a 21-year-old backup named Heinie Zimmerman. For the Giants it was a standard John McGraw team with great pitching from Christy Mathewson and Hooks Wiltse (with an assist from part-time pitcher, part-time coach, Joe McGinnity), and 3.0 WAR from first baseman Fred Tenney. Philadelphia played Cincinnati on 31 July and the Phillies win put the Reds another game back. Philadelphia’s John Titus was having a good year and for the Reds Hans Lobert was leading the hitters.

The season still had two months to go, two terrific pennant races to conclude, one utter memorable game to play. But it also had one of the more interesting games coming up between two also-rans in just a few days.

Gaming the System

July 18, 2018

old Food “Stamp”

Way back in the 1980s I was teaching and my wife was working. We’d just had our son and bought a house, both of which added to the bills. So I took a part time job at a local Convenience Store to help ends meet. It was a standard convenience store that most of you are familiar with in your hometowns and travels. We sold lots of gas, a ton of soda, more than our share of beer. My job was to keep the shelves stocked, clean up the place, take money from the clients, and make change. It’s the last of those that makes the heart of this little tale.

If you’re an American you have at least a passing knowledge of “Food Stamps.” They were originally stamps, but by the 1980s had evolved into “coupons” that looked a lot like dollar bills (see the picture above). Now they’re a piece of plastic. Their job was to help those down on their luck for whatever reason get a decent meal. You went to a store, picked up your items (a lot of things were excluded–like the beer at our place), presented the coupons with the item and you could get groceries to feed either yourself or your family.

The system was prone to corruption because people make bad decisions all the time (Why, even I have made a couple of them over time; but only a couple.). But a second problem, and the one at the heart of this story, was that they were all in “dollars.” There was no “change” in them. So if you bought $1.50 worth of goods, you handed the clerk $2.00 worth of coupons and you got fifty cents in change handed to you. This was legal tender coins we’re talking about. The kind of thing that, if you had enough coins, could buy you something like a beer.

One of the more common things that people did if they patronized our little store and had kids was to hand the kid a couple of dollars (or just one dollar) and send them to the store. The kid was free to use the dollar to buy some sort of treat for himself (It’s a boy involved in this tale.). If a customer was on food stamps, they frequently still did the same using the coupons in lieu of a dollar bill.

We had salesmen come in all the time trying to get the boss to add to the inventory and one of them brought in a box of Topps baseball cards. intrigued, the boss took a box and set it on the counter right by the cash register. It was a slow seller and after a few boxes the store discontinued the item, but it got the attention of one of the kids who came in regularly to purchase candy, soda, or to pick up something Mom needed for the meal that evening. The family used food stamps for their purchases. Baseball cards didn’t come under the rules for food stamps (apparently the gum didn’t count), so you couldn’t buy them with food stamps.

But this kid was a genius (my guess is he’s in the Oklahoma Legislature now). He walked over to the candy and picked out one piece of two-cent candy (it was a flavored jawbreaker and you don’t see them much anymore). He walked up, handed me the candy and a dollar food coupon. He got back 98 cents. Then he reached over to the packets of baseball cards and picked up one (or maybe two, I forget both the number of packets or the price of a packet) and handed me back the 98 cents. I remember giving him change. He thanked me and left.

A couple of days later he was back and we repeated the same little monetary dance. This went on until one day he came in and there were no cards. I told him we were out and the boss said we weren’t getting more. He was deeply disappointed, but took it manfully. He used the food coupon to buy a candy bar.

Don’t Ya Tell Me How it Was Tonight Tomorrow—

July 11, 2018

—Johnny Cash (from “See Ruby Fall”)

boxscore, 1918

One of the problems with being a geezer (Yep, I’m going to do one of those “I used to walk 5 miles a day to school in the snow in July uphill both ways” bits) is that you remember one of the simple joys of baseball back in the 1950s.

Back then you could get late scores on the radio (or TV) and go to bed knowing if your team won that day. Or if worse came to worse you could get the morning newspaper and get all the scores from the day before. Usually they would post a boxscore for each game so not only did you know who won, but you found out how your personal favorites did in their latest game.

All that changed when West Coast baseball began in the big leagues. The games started at somewhere around nine o’clock where I lived (Central Time Zone) and with school I had to go to bed by 10 pm. Without school I had to go to bed at 10 pm (I never understood how “It’s a school night, now go to bed” made any difference. I had to go to bed at the same time with or without school.) so I never knew the West Coast scores until the next day. Then the local newspaper went to press too early to get the late scores either. So there I was waiting an extra day to see if the Dodgers won or lost. The Monday paper might show the Sunday scores for the Cardinals or Cubs but the Dodgers score was from Saturday’s late game.

That’s all changed now. Among other things I get to stay up later (my wife says 10:30 is OK) and the internet gives me the late games as soon as I log on. But I still miss having the entire day’s games laid out for me to look over at my leisure. Sometimes progress stinks.

1908: 4 July

July 5, 2018

Hooks Wiltse

I know I’m a day late, but I was busy yesterday. The fourth of July in 1908 saw one of the strangest games played in the season. It was the no-hitter that was almost a perfect game.

On 4 July 1908 the New York Giants were home against the Philadelphia Phillies for a Sunday double-header. In game one the Giants starter George “Hooks” Wiltse matched zeroes with Phillies hurler George McQuillan. Both were doing well. McQuillan was pitching a shutout through eight innings. He’d given up a handful of hits, walked none, and struck out one. But Wiltse was great that day. Through eight innings he’d struck out one, walked none, and allowed no hits, not a single one. He had a perfect game going into the top of the ninth.

He got shortstop Ernie Courtney (Courtney had replaced starter Mickey Doolin earlier in the game) to start the inning, then retired catcher Red Dooin (note it’s Dooin, not Doolin, as in Mickey) for the second out. That brought up pitcher McQuillan. The Phils apparently left McQuillan in to bat because the game was still scoreless. Wiltse threw a pitch, then another and another running the count to 2-2. The next pitch, one pitch from a perfect game plunked McQuillan to end the perfect game. One batter later Wiltse retired third baseman Eddie Grant to keep the no-hitter intact.

The Giants failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, necessitating extra innings. With the no-hitter still operative, Wiltse set down Philadelphia in order. In the bottom of the tenth, Art Devlin singled and a Spike Shannon single moved him along. Shortstop Al Bridwell then singled to plate Devlin with the winning run. For the game Wiltse (who moved his record to 10-8) gave up no hits, no walks, no runs, and one hit batsman. McQuillan gave up 1 run on 10 hits and no walks. The win put New York a game an a half behind National League leading Chicago and a half game behind second place Pittsburgh in the standings. Chicago played Pittsburgh that day and won 9-3. They held Honus Wagner to a walk in five trips to the plate.

Wiltse would go on to post a 23-14 record in 1908 with an ERA of 2.24 (ERA+108) with 118 strikeouts, 6.8 WAR, and nine hit batsmen. None of the nine was as significant as McQuillan on 4 July.

The Green Corn Rebellion

July 2, 2018

The Green Corn Rebellion

Oklahoma is, today, noted very much for its Conservative tradition. And that’s fair. But the State also has quite a radical tradition. With a high number of poor and working class citizens, radicalism can come pretty easily. My grandparents were tenant farmers (for most of their working life) and had a radical touch in them that flared up sometimes. Take, for instance, the Green Corn Rebellion.

Back in August 1917 the United States was newly at war with Germany. The federal government instituted a draft that many in Oklahoma thought disproportionately targeted the poor. The tenant farmers of Seminole County (that’s just east of Oklahoma City), a rather significant number of which were Socialists, decided the draft, and the economy, was rigged and rebelled against the draft. They actually made something of an alliance with the local black and American Indian community to form the Working Class Union. It was radical, it was Socialist, and it didn’t like the way things were going in Oklahoma. On 2 August a group of farmers attacked the local sheriff and the “Green Corn Rebellion” was on. It lasted all of two days. The farmers were stopped by a local group and a handful of people were killed and others arrested.

My grandparents were living in northeast Oklahoma. They’d been married three years and when word got to them about the “Rebellion” they decided to help the union men. My grandmother packed some food, my grandfather hitched up a farm wagon, and they started off. Along the way they went by several other farms, found a number of like-minded tenants and something of a procession started to Seminole County. My grandfather liked to say they had twenty wagons on the road (my grandmother said it was more like 10) when word got to them that the rebellion was crushed and heading on southwest was useless.

What to do? Well, you have a bunch of people, including, apparently some children, a lot of food baskets, there was a river nearby (in August it didn’t have much water in it), and some open fields. So the procession pulled off, set up the baskets on the bed of a couple of wagons, and had an impromptu picnic. And after you finish eating at a picnic in 1917, what do you do? Well, someone had brought along a ball, there were tree limbs around, and the men started playing baseball in the big field. My grandfather said he even got one hit with an elm branch that cracked when he connected with the ball. I never heard a score.

It seems the local sheriff paid a call on the caravan. They convinced him they were out for a picnic, offered him some chicken, got him to umpire the game, and managed to stay out of the local jail. They spent the night sleeping in the wagons, got up the next morning, and headed back home. That seems to have ended my grandparents radical days.

1908: Cy Young

June 26, 2018

Cy Young with Boston

Continuing on with a look back 110 years ago to 1908, we come to a milestone for a great pitcher. On the 30th of June 1908 Cy Young, the fella they named the award for, pitched his third no-hitter. He was 41.

By 1908 Young was on the downside of his amazing career. He’d averaged 30 wins between 1892 and 1896, did so again between 1901 and 1903. He’d won an ERA title, a couple of strikeout titles, several times he’d led the league in shutouts. He’d even won two saves titles (OK, it was only three saves, but it still led the league). He started the first ever World Series game (and lost), won the first ever World Series in 1903 with Boston, and, in 1908 was still with Boston. It was his last 20 win season (21-11) and his ERA dipped below two for the final time (1.26–and it didn’t lead the AL). His ERA+ was 193, the second highest total of his career (219 in 1901), and his 9.6 WAR was the seventh highest total for his career (he peaked at 14.0 in 1892). The season’s highlight came 30 June.

The Red Sox were playing on the road in New York against the Highlanders (now the Yankees). Wee Willie Keeler, who was, like Young, toward the end of his career, was the only Hall of Famer in the Highlanders lineup. The opposing pitcher was Rube Manning, a 25 year-old righty in his second (of four) seasons. He was 7-5 going into the game.

Harry Niles

Young was almost flawless in this third no-hitter. The leadoff hitter for the Highlanders was second baseman Harry Niles, who was later in the season traded to Boston (as Mel Allen might say, “How about that?”). He was 27 and in his third (of five) seasons in the big leagues. He managed a walk from Young to lead off the game. Then he broke for second and was thrown out by Boston’s catcher Lou Criger. And that was all the base runners New York had for the entire game. Young struck out two on the way to facing the minimum of 27 batters. Meanwhile Boston ran up eight runs and Manning didn’t get out of the second inning. The big hitting star for the Red Sox was… you guessed it, Cy Young. He went three for five, scored a run and knocked in three. You could make an argument that combining pitching and hitting it was the best single day any player ever had in the Major Leagues.

Young, of course, would go on to win more games than any other pitcher, set a record for strikeouts (since broken many times), and rack up more innings pitched than anyone else. There’s a reason they named the pitching award for him. And for a great bit of trivia. On the same day (30 June) in 1962, Sandy Koufax pitched his first of four no-hitters.

Padding Time

June 19, 2018

Way back when I was a little kid, my grandfather, who was by trade a tenant farmer, got a job as a gravedigger. It was far enough back that you still used a shovel to dig the grave. He worked on an hourly wage scale, but sometimes they had to work overtime. They didn’t have overtime wages at the cemetery where he put in his time, so if the crew had to work late the owners would allow them to take a day off when their overtime hours reached eight. So, of course, if there was a grave to be dug late in the day, they’d move a little slower and manage to go an hour over. The crew called it “padding time.”

Baseball has that, sort of. One of the all-time greats, Albert Pujols, is doing “padding time” now. He’s a shadow of his former all-star self. He’s still a decent player, but nothing like what we saw 10 years ago when he was the greatest first baseman I’d ever seen. Right now he’s simply “padding” his career stats and moving up the list on a lot of statistical charts. Currently he’s tied with Jimmie Foxx for 22nd in runs scored, 27th in hits (less than 20 from Rod Carew), 11th in doubles (three from David Ortiz), seventh in home runs all of four behind Ken Griffey, within shouting distance of Lou Gehrig and sixth on the RBI list (and Barry Bonds is only one RB beyond Gehrig), and eighth in total bases (a long way from Pete Rose in seventh).

Now that’s not a knock on Pujols. He’s a great player who is the “padding time” mode and it’s not the first time a player’s done that. Rose, to some extent, did it when trying to pass Ty Cobb in hits.  There’s nothing either immoral or illegal about it and it’s well within baseball’s acceptable traditions.

But it comes with a built-in problem. There are a lot of fans, most of them in California, who will know and remember Pujols only as a nice ball player and not recall the wonderful athlete that became arguably the second greatest St. Louis Cardinals player ever (behind Stan Musial). And that’s a shame. It’s not Pujols fault so much as it’s the fault of the fans, but nonetheless it is bound to happen.

I think that part of the aura that surrounds players like Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax is that there is no “padding time” for either of them, or at least not much with Williams. He’d been falling off for a few years, but there was no collapse into mediocrity for “Teddy Ballgame” and the last homer in the last at bat is the stuff of legends. For Koufax, there’s no long slow decline as his curve doesn’t and is fastball isn’t. For those who saw both and can watch the film of both, there’s no watching a great become a former great. Barry Sanders is like that in football, as is Jim Brown.

It’s kind of painful to watch, but I wouldn’t trade getting to see Pujols, even at half the player he was, perform.