The Way to Win: Deadball

Connie Mack

In the previous post I talked about how the Yankees dynasty teams were all built pretty much the same way with a solid manager, star players, good players, role players, and one-year wonders. I found this a good way to look at a “big picture”, as opposed to a stat-filled view of winners. It’s not just the Yankees who’ve done it that way. Consider the Deadball Era’s Philadelphia Athletics if you will. Although they win differently than the bashing Murder’s Row Yankees of the 1920s, the A’s are put together the same way.

Connie Mack was both manager and owner (which makes for really great job security for the manager). He’d been a 19th Century catcher who’d never been a great player, but he understood the importance of team unity, of pitching, of defense, and timely hitting. He put together a team that between 1910 and 1914 won the World Series three times, lost it once,  and finished third in 1912.

The hitting stars were second baseman Eddie Collins and third baseman Frank Baker. Both made the Hall of Fame and both hit extremely well. Collins provided speed to go with Baker’s power (power in Deadball Era terms). Additionally, Eddie Plank was a star pitcher, eventually racking up over 300 wins (he’s still third among lefties).

As mentioned earlier, you don’t win with just stars. You need a lot of good players around the stars. Mack had them. Stuffy McInnis, started the era as a role players, but quickly became a very good player at first base. On the mound Chief Bender overcame the racial prejudice of his era (he was an American Indian) and rose to Hall of Fame status as a solid pitcher and Mack’s favorite. Two other very good players came through the A’s dynasty for part of the period. Danny Murphy, a converted second baseman, was an outfielder in 1910-11 and Wally Schang took over the catching job late. Then there was Jack Coombs. Coombs had great years in 1910, 11, and 12, then got sick and his career faded. For those three years though, he may have been the best pitcher on the A’s , if not in all of baseball.

The team had a lot of role players who were able to step into holes or step up in games to provide the kind of solid play a team needs to win. Jack Barry was the shortstop for the entire period. He was a decent, without being truly great, shortstop who hit some. The outfield, other than Danny Murphy, consisted of Bris Lord, Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk,  Topsy Hartsell,  and Eddie Murphy. Not all of them started the entire time, but each contributed for at least a year or two. None were household names during the era (nor are they now). On the other hand, Harry Davis was something of a household name in the era. He’d led the AL in both doubles and home runs earlier in his career, but by 1910 was reduced to pretty much a role player (and in 1911 lost his first base job to McInnis).  Both Bob Shawkey and Herb Pennock came up late in run and both went on to stellar careers (Pennock making the Hall of Fame), but at this point in their lives they were role players.

The one-year wonders? Well, there was Harry Krause who went 11-8 on the mound in 1911 and 25-18 for the rest of his career and fellow pitcher Rube Bressler who went 10-3 in 1914 and 16-28 for the rest of his career . Mack seemed able to find guys like this frequently. Maybe his being an ex-catcher helped.

The Deadball A’s were put together very much like te Murder’s Row Yankees. They won differently by emphasizing pitching, timely hitting, speed, and power (as defined by Deadball Era stats) as opposed to raw power and effective pitching. Both worked well. As mentioned earlier the two teams look very different in the method they used to accomplish their job, but both are put together the same way. I want to look next week at two more squads to emphasize how many teams work like this over both different eras and different methods of winning.

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