Pinky

April 20, 2018

Pinky Higgins

When I was a kid I had one of those baseball board games that had a spinner and some cards representing real players. You spun the spinner (it wasn’t as awkward as that combination of words) then consulted the player card to get a result. It was a step up from normal spinner games in that it tried, by use of the card, to get something closer to a real player’s result (Babe Ruth would hit more homers, Ty Cobb would have more singles). All the players were historical and I’d heard of all of them except one: Pinky Higgins. What follows is not simply my normal look at the playing career of Higgins, but some thoughts on other parts of his career.

Michael Frank Higgins was born in Red Oak, Texas in 1909. At the time it was a small East Texas town. Now it’s part of the Dallas suburbs. The “Pinky” nickname came from his childhood and he seems to have hated it. He made the big leagues in 1930 as a third baseman for the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s won the World Series, but Higgins didn’t play in the Series. He was back in the minors in 1931 and 1932, then resurfaced with the A’s in 1933. He stayed there through 1936, then shifted to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) where he remained through 1938. From Boston it was on to Detroit, where he got into the 1940 World Series.  In 1945 he was off to World War II, then came back for one final season in 1946, splitting time between Detroit and Boston. He finished his career in the 1946 World Series. For his career he hit .292 with a slugging percentage of .428, 140 home runs, 1075 RBIs, a 107 OPS+ and 27.5 WAR.  He also managed to hit for the cycle in August 1933. All in all, not a bad career.

After retirement from the game he managed in the Red Sox minor league system, then in 1955 became manager of the BoSox. He remained into 1959, then took over again in 1960, remaining to 1962. During the latter stint as manager he was also in charge of player personnel, making him a de facto general manager. He remained there until 1965, when he was fired. The Astros picked him up as a special scout.

Higgins drank, and he drank a lot. In 1968, while driving drunk in Louisiana he hit a highway worker. The worker died and Higgins was sentenced to five years in prison, one year deferred. He served a few months and was released with heart problems. He died in 1969, less than two days after his release.

But Higgins became, both during his tenure with the Red Sox and after his death, the center of a raging controversy about baseball and race. Although there are a few ex-players and staff who disagreed, almost everyone who knew Higgins agreed he was an extreme racist. Some have gone so far as to blame him for the failure of the Red Sox to integrate prior to 1959.

Now I grew up in Oklahoma and in West Texas. I’ve met my share of East Texas bigots (and to be fair about it, bigots from a lot of other places) and it wouldn’t surprise me that Higgins, growing up when and where he did, had his fair share of racial prejudice. But it seems silly somehow to blame him for the Boston race problem. He never owned the team. Tom Yawkey did. Yawkey never pushed to integrate the Red Sox (and for what it’s worth, Yawkey was from Detroit, a distinctly non-Southern town). Between the time Brooklyn brought up Jackie Robinson in 1947 through the arrival of Pumpsie Green in Boston in 1959, the following men served as General Manager of the BoSox: Eddie Collins (through 1947), Joe Cronin (through 1958). Neither man moved to employ black ball players at the Major League level (Cronin had several black players in the minors, but never promoted any of them). As far as I can tell, neither ever went to the owner with a plea “Mr. Yawkey, we’re losing and we can right the ship if we add a couple of black players.” Maybe they knew Yawkey would tell them “No.” As manager Higgins never pushed for integration either. I’m quite certain that Higgins was no friend to Black Americans, but it’s unfair to attribute the late arrival of a black player to Boston to him. He may have agreed, but he had a lot of others who nodded along with him.

 

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Another One of Those ESPN Lists

April 18, 2018

It’s time again for another one of those periodic lists that ESPN puts out touting something they consider important. This time it’s their annual list of the 100 best players in Major League Baseball. Obviously, I’m not going to go through the entire list for you. You can go to ESPN, click on their MLB section, and see the entire list. But here’s a couple of comments on the list:

First, if you want to put together a complete team with an infielder at each position and one each of all three outfield positions (in other words, one left fielder, a right fielder, and a center fielder, rather than a center fielder and two right fielders), a catcher, four starters (including at least one lefty and at least one right-hander), a closer, and a Designated Hitter (the first duplicate position player takes the DH slot–in this case he’s a first baseman), you get a lineup that looks like this, with the number following the name the position on the overall list:

1b Joe Votto-9th

2b Jose Altuve-3rd

ss-Carlos Correa-10th

3b-Nolan Arenado-7th

rf-Bryce Harper-5th

cf-Mike Trout-1st

lf-Christian Yelich-41st

c-Buster Posey-22nd

p-Clayton Kershaw-2nd

p-Max Scherzer-4th

p-Corey Kluber-6th

p-Chris Sale-8th

reliever-Kenley Jansen-28

DH-Paul Goldschmidt-11th

A couple of comments on this lineup. Note how many of the top players are infielders. Back when the big names were outfielders (Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Reggie Jackson), now you’re seeing more and more of the better players on the infield. There are several right fielders and center fielders on the list before Yelich shows up as the top left fielder. And finally Ohtani shows up on the list (52nd). I don’t care how much of a phenom he is or is going to be, he ain’t in the top 100 players after less than 20 games played. Even Babe Ruth wouldn’t be that good.

So take a look and if you have complaints, voice them here or where ever you feel like, but make sure you blame ESPN and not the messenger (that would be me.)

Opening Day 1908

April 12, 2018

Jack Coombs

Continuing with the ongoing look at 1908, 14 April was opening day. That’s a Saturday this year, and I don’t post normally on a Saturday. So here’s an early look at the first day of the 1908 season.

There were seven total games opening the 1908 season, three in the National League, four in the American League. The defending champion Cubs opened on the road against Cincinnati. Chicago won 6-5. There are a couple of interesting points about the game. First Orval Overall started the opener, not Mordecai Brown (Brown relieved). Second, the Reds got all five runs in the first inning (only one was earned) then were shutout for the remainder of the game. Third, Hans Lobert, a pretty fair third baseman, started the game in left field. For the season he played 21 games in left and 99 at third. Finally, the hitting star was Johnny Evers. He went three for three with a double, three runs scored, an RBI, and a walk.

The Giants beat the Phillies 3-1 with Christy Mathewson throwing a four hit gem. He struck out seven, walked one, and saw a shutout lost in the ninth inning. In the other NL game, the Doves (Boston) knocked off the Superbas (Brooklyn) 9-3. Brooklyn first baseman Tim Jordan hit the NL’s first home run in the losing effort.

In the American League, Cy Young picked up a win leading the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory over the Senators. The one Washington run was a home run by Jim Delahanty. The Browns (St. Louis) knocked off the Naps (Cleveland) 2-1 with Hall of Famer Addie Joss taking the loss. Fellow Hall of Famer Nap LaJoie, for whom the team was named, went one for four with a double. The New York Highlanders (now Yankees) beat Connie Mack’s Athletics 1-0 in 12 innings. All 12 innings took two hours and 25 minutes to play. In another oddity, later star pitcher Jack Coombs started the game in right field for Philadelphia. He went two for five. The two hits led the team. For the season he played 47 games in the outfield and pitched 26.

The defending AL champion Detroit Tigers were in a slugfest with the Chicago White Sox. The final was 15-8 for the ChiSox with Doc White picking up the win. Every Chicago starter, including White, scored at least one run. For Detroit, both Hall of Famers Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb did well. Crawford was two for five with a double and two runs scored, while Cobb went two runs scored, a double, and a home run.

That was opening day 1908.

 

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Jack Fournier

April 10, 2018

 

Jack Fournier with Brooklyn

1. John Frank Fournier was born in September 1889 in Au Sable, Michigan. His father worked in the lumber mills in the area. His family moved to Aberdeen, Washington when he was three. The family was of French-Canadian extraction. Some sources list his first name as “Jacques.”

2. As a child, Fournier worked in a livery stable and as a railway messenger. The town baseball team found out he could hit and paid him $5.00 to be the team catcher.

3. In 1905, now in Tacoma, Washington, Fournier played for his high school baseball team. He was good enough to be signed by first, Seattle, then by his former hometown of Aberdeen.

4. He wandered through the minor leagues until 1912, when the Boston Red Sox spotted him. They invited him to training camp, but he didn’t come (no reason I can find is cited in any source). Eventually he did sign with the Chicago White Sox.

5. He played through 1917 with the ChiSox, splitting time between the outfield and first base. There is general agreement that he wasn’t much of a fielder at any of the positions.

6. In 1914, he turned down an offer to play in the Federal League. At Chicago he finally hit over .300 (.311), had six home runs, and produced 3.8 WAR. In 1915, he led the American League in slugging percentage.

7. In 1917 he was sent to the minors (Chicago had acquired Chick Gandil to play first). He remained in the minors through the remainder of the season, then replaced Wally Pipp (who was off to World War I) at first for the Yankees in 1918. With Pipp back, and Fournier being no Lou Gehrig, Fournier returned to the minors in 1919.

8. The St. Louis Cardinals of the National League picked him up for 1920. He remained there through 1922 before being traded to Brooklyn.

9. With the Robins (now Dodgers) he hit .350 or better twice, led the NL in walks in 1925, and led the league in home runs in 1924 with 27. In 1926, he hit three home runs in one game. He had 11 for the season.

10. At the end of the 1926 season he was released. He signed for one more year (1927) with the Boston Braves. He did well, but was 37 and retired at the end of the season. In 1928 he played a year of minor league ball at Newark.

11. He sold insurance, did a little acting (he’s in a movie called “Death on a Diamond.” As far as I can tell, he’s neither the victim nor the villain), then spent most of 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s moving between minor league managing, coaching the UCLA baseball team, and big league scouting. He retired from baseball in 1962 and died in Tacoma in 1973.

12. For his career, his triple slash line is .313/.392/483/.875 with 1631 hits, 252 doubles, 113 triples, 136 home runs (for 2517 total bases), and 859 RBIs. His OPS+ is 142 with 41.2 WAR.

The Worst Job in the World

April 4, 2018

Fifty years ago this year I was stationed in Viet Nam doing my bit for God, Country, and whatever else it was I was supposed to be doing it for. I guess that’s brought on a lot of nostalgia (I’m not sure that’s the right word) and reminded me of this story.

I made it through ‘Nam more or less in one piece, except for a shoulder problem (see a post titled “The Doctor Was a Giants Fan from 12 February 2016), and forty-nine yeas ago I ended up at a small base in Virginia where I was doing my primary job, and the Army being the Army, a host of subsidiary jobs. One of those was to help in what we all called “The Worst Job in the World.”

One of the things the enlisted men on post had to do was drive high-ranking officers and dignitaries around the post. It was kind of stupid; most of them could drive themselves. But once you were on the roster, you were eligible to be called at a moment’s notice to go get a car at the motor pool, make sure it was gassed up, and meet the officer at wherever was designated. It wasn’t actually a hard job, but it could be boring and you had to get on your shiniest shoes and make sure your gig line was straight. There were a lot of these kinds of driving things and you dealt with them with something of a simple resignation knowing that “this too shall pass.” Except for one specific driving detail.

I was getting ready to head over to the mess hall for breakfast one October morning in 1969 when one of the company clerks showed up with instructions, “Top needs to see you.” “Top” was the unit First Sergeant (or “top sergeant”). Well, that meant either I’d done something awful or he had a job for me. So I wandered downstairs to the office and reported in.

“Get your Class A’s on (that’s the dress green uniform that is used for fancy occasions) and report to the motor pool,” were the instructions. “Make sure it’s gassed up and go over to the headquarters building. Ask for Captain (and I have no idea after all these year’s the Captain’s name). He’s today’s Casualty Assistance Officer. And take a book, you could be sitting a while.”

I knew that meant that I got to assist in “The Worst Job in the World.” My job was to drive this Captain to some address and then wait outside while he went in and informed some wife or parent that their husband or son had made the “ultimate sacrifice” in ‘Nam. At least I only had to drive. I didn’t have to go inside and inform, console, comfort the widow (this time it was a wife). But driving was tough enough because you knew what you were going to do.

The unit had a small library in the day room (it’s sort of a big rec room for the company) and I looked it over for something sort of mindless. I didn’t want anything too heavy because I knew I’d only be vaguely reading it anyway. There was one of those 1950s junior high/high school baseball biographies on the shelf (you’ve probably read something like it). It was Stan Musial and I’d heard enough about him from my Grandfather that I was sure I wouldn’t be too deeply involved in the book. So I grabbed it, changed into my best, went to the motor pool, tossed the book into the glove compartment, and headed to the post headquarters.

I don’t remember much about the Captain. I’d never seen him before and I don’t recall ever seeing him again. He was taller than me and looked absolutely awful (Casualty Assistance Officer will do that to you). As bad as my job was, his was “the Worst Job in the World” and he knew it. I saluted, we got in the car and drove off toward the nearest town (he had directions). We’d just barely cleared post when he decided to stuff some of his papers in the glove compartment. Out fell the Musial book and the ensuing conversation went something like this.

“You a big Musial fan?”

“My Grandfather loved him. Big Cardinal fan, Sir.”

” So you’re a Cards fan?”

“Dodgers, Sir. You?”

“Cubs.”

“I’m sorry.” It was 1969 and the Cubs had just run up against the Miracle Mets and lost the pennant.

“They had a good run.” I remember he liked Billy Williams, thought Ernie Banks was overrated, and adored Ron Santo.

“Who’s your favorite?”

“Big Koufax fan before he retired, Sir.”

“Good choice. I think Jenkins (Fergie) may be as good.”

“Could be, Sir.”

We talked baseball all the way to the address. It was mindless, it was trivial, but it kept both our minds off the impending job. Sometimes the greatness of sport is that it takes you away from the awfulness of what’s happening in your world to this wonderful, but ultimately trivial, world where your mind can ignore the bad things in life.

Finally we got to the address. I pulled up in front (I remember there was a sidewalk and a walkway to the front door.), got out, opened the door for the Captain. He gathered his papers and told me this might take a while. He went to the door, rang the bell. Someone opened the door (I never saw them) and he raised his hand in a salute. It was that long, slow salute you see at military funerals. I never saw the woman, but I heard the shriek. I stood by the car for a while waiting. It didn’t take long for people to come out and stare at the house. Not all of them, but some. They seemed to know what a waiting Army car meant and just stood around whispering to each other.

It’s easy, in that circumstance, to become self-conscious and I did. So I got back in the car, started reading the book, and tried, not very successfully to ignore why I was there.  A couple of people approached the car and the house, but never actually came up to either. I recall one woman was in tears.

I have no idea how long it took, but I was most of the way through the book when the Captain came back out. He saluted the widow, started down the walkway. I got out, opened the door for him. He was tired and terribly sad. We didn’t say much on the way back to the post.

“You drive one of these before?”

“No, Sir. First time.”

“Me too.”

“Sir?”

“First time doing the worst job in the world. I don’t think I can do it again.’

“No, Sir.”

I dropped him at the post headquarters, turned in the car, reported back to the First Sergeant that the job was done, and stuck the book back in the library shelf. I didn’t eat much for dinner, but I remember getting drunk that night.

I’ve been to the Viet Nam Memorial since and I can pick out, more or less, the right panel. But to this day I can’t remember the name of the casualty. I suppose that’s for the best.

 

MIBGs

March 29, 2018

The Judge

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were watching Ken Burns’ documentary on Jackie Robinson. When we were done she turned to me and the following conversation (more or less) took place:

She: Is he the most important player ever?

Me: Let me think about it.

Ultimately all that led me to thoughts about the Most Important Baseball Guys. And sorry, ladies, but it is all guys, Effa Manley, Helena Robeson, and the All-American Girls baseball ladies not withstanding (not to mention Marge Schott). So I put together, just for my wife, my list of the 10 MIBGs and you know you’re about to be let in on it, don’t you?

First, the usual caveats. This is a list of the MOST IMPORTANT baseball people, not the BEST PLAYERS. There is a difference. I’m looking here for people whose contribution is so important that it cannot be overlooked when detailing the history of the game. Also, I’ve done something like this before years back and I’m cleaning up that list because it included groups (like the Knickerbockers or the Atlantic) and that’s not what I’m looking for. As we really don’t know who “invented” baseball, the origins guy, whoever he is, can’t be on this list and the earliest teams are not a substitute for him.

So here’s my list. I reserve the right to declare, in a week or two, that it is utterly stupid and that this post doesn’t really exist.

Here’s my list of the 10 MIBGs in baseball history. First a list of seven non-playing contributors (in alphabetical order):

1. Ed Barrow invented the Yankees. OK, I know Colonel Ruppert owned the team and coined the name, but when Ruppert brought Barrow to the Yanks, he changed the fortunes of the team. As the team secretary (we’d call him the general manager today), Barrow was a knowledgeable baseball man who’d been instrumental in making the Red Sox a power (he’d managed the 1918 team to World Series title). Barrow went out and collected a number of players like Babe Ruth, Joe Dugan, and added new guys like Lou Gehrig and created a juggernaut that, by the time Barrow retired in 1946 his charges had won 14 pennants and 10 World Series’.

2. Do you like baseball statistics? Do you study them and quote them and use them to bolster your arguments? Then you owe a great debt to Henry Chadwick. A 19th Century sportswriter, Chadwick was the first to systematize baseball statistics. He invented the box score and came up with a number of other statistics that are still in use. New stats may have made some of Chadwick’s work obsolescent, but the guys who came up with them owe a debt to Chadwick.

3. William Hulbert invented the modern league system in 1876 when he founded the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (baseball was two words in 1876). The key word here is “Clubs.” Hulbert’s system put the clubs, not the players, in charge of the league. It created labor problems, it gave us owners who were first-rate jerks (including Hulbert himself), but it worked. It stabilized professional baseball and served as the model for all American team sport leagues (whatever sport) created since.

4. Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson founded the American League. After a quarter century of leagues coming and going, ultimately destroyed or absorbed by the National League, Johnson created a league that was stable enough to challenge the NL for players and gate receipts. After a short “baseball war,” the American League emerged as the equal and rival of the more established league, an equality and rivalry that remain today.

5. Kennesaw Mountain Landis was the first commissioner of baseball and, arguably the most powerful person in the history of the game. Coming into office with a lifetime contract he was able to clean up the sport in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal and to rule the game with an iron fist. He kept Branch Rickey from cornering the market for new players by opening up the farm system for other teams. That made it possible for teams to be more competitive. At the same time he was a staunch segregationist and almost single-handedly kept baseball from integrating until after his death (I never said these were all nice, enlightened guys).

6. If you are opposed to wage slavery and think people ought to be paid what they’re worth and what the market will bear, you have to tip your ball cap to Marvin Miller. Head of the Player’s Union, Miller revolutionized baseball by destroying the reserve clause (admittedly he had help) and opening up salaries. This led to more movement of players and thus more chances for teams to compete as the best players were no longer locked up forever.

7. Twice Wesley Branch Rickey revolutionized the game. A mediocre catcher and manager, he became team secretary for the St. Louis Browns in 1913, moved to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1919 and invented the farm system. This may have been deadly to a free minor league system, but it bound players to an organization in such a way that the best players were able to hone their skills in a team system, that emphasized working together, melding groups of players into a unit that knew each other and to at least some extent learned how to play together. It assured Major League teams of a constant supply of quality players (provided the scouts, owners, and executives knew what they were doing). In 1942 he moved to Brooklyn where he again revolutionized the game by integrating the Major Leagues in 1947. This action helped truly nationalize the game and was a major step in the civil rights movement of the 1940s through the 1960s.

And now two transcendent players:

8. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was not the first black man to play in the Major Leagues. There is evidence that William Edward White who played one game with Providence in 1879 was black. Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday, both of which played for Toledo (a big league club) in 1884 certainly were black. But none of them stuck. All were out of the major leagues within a year and the so-call “Gentlemen’s Agreement” re-segregated baseball until 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was an excellent player, a leader, and a person who could not be ignored as either a man or a player. His arrival opened up the game for an entire group of players who had been excluded for 60 years.

9. George Herman “Babe” Ruth revolutionized the game by introducing power as a central element of baseball. His feats were legendary, some were even true, but he became a household name unlike any other in the game and arguably in American sport. “Ruthian” still describes a larger than life feat in sports. He didn’t save baseball in the early 1920s (Landis did), but he made it popular again and became the centerpiece of the Yankees Dynasty that has been at the heart of baseball since 1921.

All of which brings me to the tenth guy. I thought about a lot of people, Al Spalding and Happy Chandler, Harry Wright, John Montgomery Ward, and Vin Scully, William Rufus Wheaton and Duncan Curry, Daniel Adams and Jim Creighton. All are important in American baseball history and I sort of hate to leave any of them off, but I’ve only got one place left and it belongs to

10. Andrew “Rube” Foster. Foster was an excellent pitcher in the rough and tumble black leagues of the early 20th century. By 1904 he was in Philadelphia and moved in 1907 to Chicago. Still a terrific pitcher, he became a manager and team owner of the American Giants. In 1920 he moved to form the first stable black league, the Negro National League. It was later joined by the Eastern Colored League. These leagues, led by Foster’s NNL, gave form and order to much of black baseball and made it possible for players to coalesce around specific teams. There was still a lot of barnstorming and player movement, but order was coming to what had been an essentially disorganized group. It made it possible for the black press to more easily highlight the black players and it popularized the game. Foster was confined to a mental institution in 1926 and died in 1930. The Great Depression killed the NNL, but the idea remained and a new NNL was formed in the 1930s. It joined the Negro American League in creating a stable playing system for black baseball until the Major Leagues were willing to integrate.

So that’s my list and my present to you on opening day. Feel free to disagree (I know many of you will). Now “Play Ball.”

 

 

Well, now you know

March 27, 2018

When BaseballReference.com first showed up, it was great. It still is and I find myself sometimes just going there to mine the wealth of information it provides. And every so often I find something totally new.

The next time you’re on BBRef click on the “Seasons” button. It will take you to a page that provides a long list of seasons so you can look at a single season in isolation from others. You knew it did that, didn’t you? But if you look just below the league index you’ll find “Major League Historical Totals.” There are two sets of totals, one beginning in 1871, and obviously including the National Association, and the other beginning with the founding of the National League in 1876.  Take a look at them someday.

One stat that is interesting is the total number of at bats is listed for each. It shows 14,756,972 total at bats since 1871 and 14, 667,589 at bats since 1876 (for 89,383 at bats in the National Association). It also gives total hits as 3,836,660 since 1876 and 3,861,190 since 1871 (for 24,530 hits in the NA).  For those curious that makes the overall batting average for the NA at .274. It also means the batting average for the Major Leagues since 1876 is .262. Overall you get, since 1871, an average of .262.

There are several other stats listed and a disclaimer that admits that some stats in some years are incomplete.

Is the information earthshaking? Probably not, but I did find it interesting. And for anyone curious, the last time the overall Major League average was .262 was in 2009. Other “average” years are 1941 and 1903. Now you can go and astonish your friends and relatives.

Press Box Red: A Review

March 22, 2018

Press Box Red cover

Time to leave the world of 1908 and move to something more modern. I haven’t done a book review in a while so it’s time to fix that. This time I want to look at a book titled Press Box Red by Irwin Silber.

Silber tells, in this work, the story of Lester Rodney, an American Communist who became influential in the sports world. Rodney became the sports editor, and generally the only member of the sports department, of The Daily Worker, the Communist Party of the United States newspaper. During the 1930s and 1940s he used the sports page of the paper to campaign for equal rights in the country. He was a stalwart supporter of Joe Lewis and one of the most ardent voices for the integration of baseball.

The book is very much a polemic as much as a history or biography. You know where Silber stands on the issues in which Rodney is embroiled. It is, having said that, still a worthwhile read because it reminds us that Branch Rickey wasn’t the only person desirous of integrating the Major Leagues. There were a number of voices raised arguing that it was time to make “The National Game” truly national. Silber also reminds the reader that several of those voices were white, rather than black. Beginning as early as 1936, Rodney wrote repeated articles arguing for the integration of baseball as “the right thing to do.”

The book is an interesting look at the role the Communist Party played in American society before the McCarthy Era, as well as a solid look at the sports world of the 1930s and 1940s. Interest in either the era or the integration of baseball makes this book a worthwhile addition to your sports reading. It is available from Amazon for $28.95. I got my copy for less at a used book store.

 

1908: The Second Division of the Senior Circuit

March 20, 2018

Bill Dahlen (with the Giants)

Now a brief look at the teams in the lower half of the National League (according to the 1907 standings) prior to Opening Day in 1908.

I’d like to say something good about the teams in Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Boston, and St. Louis, but there’s not a lot positive to be said about any of them. Brooklyn finished in fifth place, 40 games out. St. Louis brought up the rear 55.5 games back (and with 101 losses). It was harder to lose 100 games in 1907 simply because they played less games than (154), but the Cards gutted it up and took on the challenge and succeeded.

A measure of the desperation of the bottom tier of the league was Boston trumpeting the addition of Bill Dahlen to their roster. The Doves (and there’s a baseball name for the ages, the Fightin’ Doves) were right, he had a terrific year, putting up 5.2 WAR. But Dahlen was 38 and pinning your hopes on a geezer wasn’t the smartest idea in sports. I looked over the 1907 Doves pitching rotation in 1907. Never heard of any of them. I looked over the 1908 Doves pitching rotation. A few different pitchers, but never heard of any of them either. In 1908 they added Hall of Famer Joe Kelly in the outfield. He came out of retirement to play, got into 73 games, hit .259, and went back into retirement.  They also had, in 1907, Al Bridwell and Fred Tenney. Both would feature prominently in the 1908 pennant race. Unfortunately for Boston, they would do it with the Giants.

Cincinnati’s big player was pitcher Bob Ewing (apparently not related to the Ewing’s of “Dallas”).  He gave them 6.2 WAR with a losing record. They did have Hall of Famer Miller Huggins at second, but Huggins is in the Hall of Fame for his managerial skills (although he was a decent ball player). Hans Lobert moved from third to short in 1908. At least I’d heard of him. He put up decent numbers in 1907 and would do so again in 1908.

Brooklyn had Nap Rucker and not much else. He’d pitched well in 1907 and would continue doing so through 1913. He ended up with 134 wins and 134 loses, the very definition of a mediocre pitcher.

Going into 1908, no one except a few die-hard fans expected much out of the bottom dwellers in the National League. They would be right. As a group they finished fewer games out in 1908 (St. Louis was still last but only 50 games back), but most of that had to do with the teams at the top not putting up quite as many wins as they had in 1907.

 

 

 

1908:The First Division of the Senior Circuit

March 15, 2018

John Titus from his Wikipedia page

Following up a look at the American League going into 1908, here’s a look at the National League. Please note that the standings here reflect the end of the 1907 season.

Chicago: The Cubs were defending World Series champions going into 1908 (a phrase repeated exactly once since 1908). This was the famous Tinker to Evers to Chance infield (although the poem that made them famous came later) with Harry Steinfeldt at third. As you might guess, the Cubs stood pat mostly for 1908. Heinie Zimmerman would make more of an impact in ’08 than in ’07, and Orval Overall would slip behind Mordecai Brown in pitching, but the Cubs in 1908 seemed to understand the old admonition “if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it.”

Pittsburgh: The Pirates finished 1907 in second place, 17 games back. That made for a good team that needed to make a few changes. They shifted first basemen (and got older doing so) and brought Tommy Leach from the outfield to third base. That alone meant changes in the outfield. Chief Wilson replaced Goat Anderson (and I don’t know how he got the nickname “Goat”) and Roy Thomas took Leach’s place. What remained the same were player-manager Fred Clarke and simply the best shortstop in the game, Honus Wagner. In 1908, he would have a season for the ages. Sam Leever and Deacon Phillippe were still around from the 1903 World Series pitching staff.

Philadelphia: The Phillies finished third in 1907. You probably ought to think about that for a second. It didn’t happen often. They were 4.5 games behind the Pirates with an outfield of Sherry McGee, Roy Thomas (who, as noted above was in Pittsburgh in 1908), and John Titus who should probably be better remembered. The rest of the starters remained the same. The major change on the mound saw George McQuillan go from five starts to 42.

New York: John McGraw’s Giants were a formidable team in 1907 and again in 1908. As usual for a McGraw team it was built on speed, pitching, and good fielding (for the era). Gone were Bill Dahlen and Dan McGann, replaced by McGraw favorite Al Bridwell and Fred Tenney. Tenney, the first baseman, had a 19-year-old back up named Fred Merkle who would manage to get into 38 games. In 1908 Mike Donlan decided to play instead of go on the vaudeville circuit and was the major outfield addition. On the mound there was Christy Mathewson. He’d been great in 1907 and no one expected a falling off in 1908. Behind him Joe McGinnity was 37 and fading.

A lot of the names above are utterly obscure today, but in 1908 they had meaning. The National League was still considered the stronger league in 1908 and a lot of those guys were the reason why. Next time, the bottom feeders in the NL.