The Worst Baseball Team Ever

OK, the title is a bit strong. You shoulda seen some of the Little League teams I was on. But for the Major Leagues this is really easy. Welcome to 18 May 1912.

Ty Cobb, being Ty Cobb, was in trouble in May 1912. He’d gone into the stands and beaten up a fan. This was the kind of behavior Ban Johnson, president of the American League couldn’t stand. He was trying to build a sport that could appeal to the “better angels of our nature” (with apologies to Abe Lincoln) and Cobb was something of a demon. So Cobb had to go. Johnson tossed him out indefinitely. In a move that surprised everyone, the Tigers players exploded. Basically none of them like Cobb, but he was one of the boys, he was their best player, and well, heck, you just can’t do that to one of us. So the Tigers struck. They refused to play until Cobb was reinstated. No one, frankly, believed them so the scheduled game for 18 May was on against the Philadelphia Athletics, reigning world’s champs.

The A’s showed up, the Tigers showed up, then the Tigers marched off the field and refused to play. Rather than forfeit, Detroit manager Hughie Jennings decided to play with what has to be the worst team ever. Anticipating the team might really refuse to play, Jennings had gotten together a group of “players” to take the field if his team refused to play.  His team refused to play. So on came the replacements. The new guys were a mix of old coaches, young college and high school guys, and a couple of failed major league wanna be types.

The two coaches were Joe Sugden, aged 41, at first base and Deacon McGuire, aged 48, as the catcher. I don’t want to say McGuire was old, but his rookie year was 1884 at Toledo where he backed up Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black player in a Major League. The guy caught Tony Mullane, for God’s sake.

The new guys were Jim McGarr, age 24, at second; Pat Meaney, age 20, at short; Jack Smith, age 19, at third; Hap Ward, age 20, in right;, Dan McGarvey, age 25, in left;  the youngest of the lot 18 year old Bill Leinhauser replacing Cobb was in center; and 23 year old Allan Travers took the mound.

There were couple of failed players on the team. The star of the team turned out to be 30 year old Ed Irvin would play both third and spell McGuire behind the plate (Did you really think a 48 year old could last as a catcher?). Billy Maharg got a turn at third, he was 29.

How’d they do? They got killed. Final score was 24-2. Travers pitched the entire game giving up 26 hits and ending with a 15.76 ERA. They got two hits, both triples by Irvin who ended his short career with a .667 batting average, a 2.000 slugging percentage, and a 2667 OPS. McGuire and Sugden scored the two runs.

The next day A’s owner/manager Connie Mack agreed to postpone the game. Ban Johnson met with the players, threatened them with banishment (sorry, couldn’t pass up the ban/banishment joke). Cobb called on his teammates to rejoin the game, and the farce ended with the one game. The Tigers went on to finish 6th (in an 8 team field). The game didn’t cost them much, they finished 6 games out of 5th.

Most of the replacement “players” went back to obscurity. Two of them did manage a certain amount of fame, or infamy depending on your definition. Maharg ended up one of the major players in the Black Sox scandal in 1919 and got himself banned from baseball (like he was ever going to play again). Travers did much better. He was a college man, finished his studies, and became a Jesuit priest. It’s tough to say which was his higher calling, priest or pitcher.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “The Worst Baseball Team Ever”

  1. Julie Leinhauser Says:

    Bill Leinhauser was my great-grandfather. Great article. I just love hearing this story told over and over again. Even if they did get killed 🙂

  2. verdun2 Says:

    Glad you liked it. I’ve had trouble tracking down a lot of these guys. So tell me, what happened to your great-grandfather (other than haing kids). Best wishes,

  3. Graham Womack Says:

    This reminds me of how when Fleetwood Mac was an up-and-coming band, the members once refused to go on a tour. Their manager hired a few scab replacements and sent them out as Fleetwood Mac.

  4. verdun2 Says:

    Welcome aboard.

  5. Julie Leinhauser Says:

    Sorry I never replied to this…Bill went on to start the Narcotics unit of the PPD. Became pretty well renowned in that. He died in 1978 (I believe).

    • verdun2 Says:

      Thanks for the update. Always appreciate knowing what happened to people who became a footnote in baseball but when on to happy and productive lives.
      best wishes,

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: