When the 1910 season began, Fred Clarke’s Pirates were defending champions of both the National League and the World Series. When the 1910 season ended they were third, 86-67, 17.5 games out of first. What went wrong?
First, it should be noted that 1909 was something of a fluke for Pittsburgh. They finished 110–42 for the season. But in 1907 they were 91-63. In 1908 they were 98-56. That’s a 12 game improvement in 1910, but only seven games in 1909. Secondly, the team was aging, especially the big names. Honus Wagner, who won the batting title 1906-09 (and would win again in 1911) was 36. Clarke was 37, Tommy Leach was 32, and 1903 World Series hero Deacon Phillippe was 38. Both Clarke and Leach had noticeably weak years and Phillippe, although 14-2, only started eight games. And Wagner? Well, Wagner was Wagner. He hit .320, led the NL in hits (tied with teammate Bobby Byrne), and slugged .432. All were fine, but both the average and the slugging were down.
The rest of the team was younger, but not all that good (except for Byrne). Twenty-two year old Vin Campbell hit .326 off the bench, but no one else, starter or substitute, with 20 or more games played hit above .276. The team slugging average dipped to third in the league.
The pitching was down. Babe Adams had a good year at 18-9, but the other three starters were all barely .500 pitchers (with Howie Camnitz actually going 12-13). Vic Willis, who was 22-11 in 1909 was in St. Louis. He went 9-12 for the Cards, but the 22 wins weren’t made up in Pittsburgh.
By 1910, the Pirates were on a downward spiral. They were still competitive, and would remain so for the next two years before the wheels fell off, but you can see age and talent issues beginning to crop up. It will be 15 years (1925) before they will be back in a World Series.