Archive for April, 2013

“The Father of Professional Baseball”

April 24, 2013
Aaron B. Champion

Aaron B. Champion

There are a bunch of debates over who is the father of baseball. Most of you know the Abner Doubleday myth. Some of you know about Henry Chadwick and his efforts; others know of Alexander Cartwright, Duncan Curry and the rest of the Knickerbockers. You might decide you pick one over the other and I wouldn’t argue with you about which you picked (except maybe Doubleday). But the creation of a solely, openly acknowledged professional team goes back to a specific man, Aaron B. Champion of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Aaron B. Champion was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1842. His family was wealthy enough for him to attend Antioch College from 1856 to 1860. He studied law (law schools were a thing of the future in 1860s Ohio) being admitted to the bar in 1864. He moved to Cincinnati and opened a law office. He was immediately successful. he also was interested in baseball. He joined the ownership of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, becoming second president of the club. the Red Stockings were good, but shared city prominence with the Buckeyes. Champion, looking to build a winner, hit upon an idea that would revolutionize the game. He hired 10 men and paid them to play baseball.

Let’s stop a second and go over a couple of things. Champion did not invent professional baseball, so to call him “the father of professional baseball”, as one article I read did(it’s where I got the title for this little commentary), is technically incorrect. Ballplayers were being paid at least as far back as Jim Creighton in 1860 and probably prior to that. There were generally two ways of doing this. One was to pay the guy under the table and hope no one found out (Lip Pike was paid this way in the late 1860s). The other was for some company to hire a guy, pay him a salary for a particular job, then make sure he spent most of his time working for the local ball team (Harry Wright made money this way). What Champion did was to jettison the under the table aspect of salaries, dump the fiction that the town’s star player was really just a clerk at the bank, and openly pay the entire team. It made for a fully, and acknowledged, professional team. His reasoning seems to have been that if you openly paid players, you could get the very best to come play for you because you could offer top dollar.

It worked. With Champion as owner and Harry Wright taking care of the baseball duties (managing, making hotel arrangements, etc), the team flourished. With George Wright the highest paid player ($1400) and utility sub Dick Hurley the lowest paid ($600), the team proceeded to run off the only undefeated season in professional baseball history. They began playing local and regional teams, went East later in the season, and dominated the best teams in New York, Philadelphia, and the other Eastern cities. Finally they moved West to take on the best teams in California. They were 57-0 when their season ended. Their undefeated streak finally came to an end at 81 games.

Things went south in 1871. Two cliques developed on the Red Stockings, causing the team to split. The Wrights, Cal McVey, and first baseman Charlie Gould left for Boston. The others joined the Washington Olympics in the fledgling National Association of Base Ball Players.

Champion, seeing the team falling apart, and noting declining revenues, resigned as chairman and went back to his law firm. He dabbled in politics, serving as a delegate to the 1876 Democratic Convention. It nominated Samuel Tilden, who lost one of the more famous  American Presidential elections (try finding info on “The Compromise of 1876” or sometimes it’s dated 1877). Champion became a leading Cincinnati “booster” and died in 1895 while on a visit to Great Britain. He was buried in London.

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The Broad in the First Base Box

April 18, 2013

I’ve never been known as much of an innovator when it comes to baseball. I have no real new stats that have revolutionized the game. I’ve not come up with a way to hold the bat that made .220 hitters into superstars. I did once do something for gender equity in youth baseball. Let me tell you about it.

The local youth baseball league where I live and where my son grew to manhood let girls play. Some of them were pretty good, others not so much. But that’s all they did. They simply didn’t have female coaches. Turns out I had a friend who played softball when she was younger. She was a catcher and knew quite a bit about the game. She was also a big baseball fan and she and I would talk about the game on occasion. most importantly for my purposes, she had a son about the same age as mine.

The way it worked around here was that you would tell the powers that be in the local league that you wanted to coach. They were always desperate for coaches so you were never turned down. Then you got to pick your own assistant coaches (you got 2). My buddy Pete was already an assistant so I needed a second. My solution? Ask “Jane” (Not her real name. She’d kill me if I used it). She said yes.

Now this created quite some shock. A handful of coaches thought it was a terrible idea, others thought it was fine. There were no Cap Anson’s (I ain’t gonna let my guys play against some team with a woman on it), but there were a few snide comments.

The team took it fairly well. No complaints from the players. She was actually pretty good at working with the kids, especially the guys I wanted at catcher. She managed to soothe a couple of ruffled feathers a time or two. In other words, she worked. 

I stuck “Jane” as the first base coach while I took third and Pete handled the bench. This brought her directly onto the field during games. She had a tendency to wear shorts (short ones) and her uniform top was fairly tight. That got the attention of the adult males in the crowd. Now “Jane” was still young (several years younger than either Pete or me) and still had her figure. It bent in and out at all the right places and in just the right amounts. With her in the first base coaches box you couldn’t help but notice. That led another female friend of mine to ask, “You trying to distract the umps?” Wished I’d thought of it.

We had a decent season, coming in third in an eight team league. We got trophies at the big awards ceremony at the end of the season. The kids were happy. Several of them asked if I was going to coach again next season. I thought to myself, “Isn’t it great to be appreciated?” A number of the father’s on the other hand asked if I was going to use the same assistant the next year. If so they wanted their kid on my team. I thought that a great compliment to Pete.

Andy Leonard

April 17, 2013
Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard

One of the best overlooked players of the mid-19th Century in Andy Leonard. He starred prior to 1869, he starred for the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 and 1870. He was a major player in the National Association. By the time the National League arrived, he was on the wane. Here’s a look at this interesting player.

Andrew Jackson Leonard was born in Ireland in 1846, his parents immigrating to Newark, New Jersey  shortly afterward. This begs the question is he named for the United States President Andrew Jackson? If so, is this an indication that his parents were contemplating leaving Ireland and named their son after Old Hickory?  It makes a good story, but I don’t know if it’s true.

Leonard was a prodigy on the diamond. By 1864 he was playing for Newburgh in New York. He played several infield positions, but his arm made him a natural in the outfield. Although an amateur, he was gaining national attention. In 1868 he was one of two players coaxed west to play for the Cincinnati Buckeyes, a local team. It’s unknown if he was paid to move or if he was offered a job that would pay him while he played ball. That was fairly common in the era and helped maintain the illusion of amateurism in the sport. Today, we call those guys “ringers”.

By 1869, the other Cincinnati team, the Red Stockings, were creating the first avowedly professional team. Manager Harry Wright approached Leonard offering him the left field job for $800. He took the offer and became one of the better players on the team. One source indicates that he was the third best player on the team (behind George Wright and Cal McVey). The Red Stockings were dominant in 1869 and 1870 and Leonard was part of the reason.

With the forming of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1871, Leonard moved to the Washington Olympics. The Olympics were the premier team in Washington so Leonard was joining an established team. They finished 15-15 with Leonard being their best player. In 1872 Leonard jumped to the new team in Boston, also called the Red Stockings (no idea if he brought his old Cincinnati socks with him or not). There he rejoined Harry and George Wright along with Cal McVey of the old Cincinnati team. They rolled to a pennant with Leonard hitting .349. One great statistical oddity shows up in Leonard’s 1872 campaign. He didn’t walk one time in 46 games, making his OBP also .349 (don’t see that often).

Leonard remained with Boston through the remaining life of the National Association (1873-5), putting up quality numbers and helping them to four consecutive pennants. For his Association career his triple slash numbers are .320/.324/,397/,721 (OPS+ 122). Over 286 games he had 456 hits for 60 doubles, 20 triples, and three home runs, amassing 565 total bases. He scored 326 runs, had 256 RBIs, and 74 stolen bases (28 caught stealing). He struck out 11 times and walked nine (about two strike outs per season and less than two walks a year).

With the death of the Association, Leonard and Boston joined the newly formed National League in 1876. He was already 30 and was slipping. He never hit .300 in the NL, but helped Boston to consecutive pennants in 1877 and 1878.  He retired at the end of the 1878 season claiming his eyesight was weakening and he was having trouble seeing the ball, especially in the field. He played one season at minor league Rochester, then tried to get back to the Majors in 1880. He played 33 games in Cincinnati, wasn’t very good, and was released. He worked for Wright and Ditson, a sporting goods company formed by his old teammate George Wright and died in Boston in 1903.

Leonard is given credit as the first Irish born professional. He did play in the first National Association game and repeated the feat in 1876 when he played in the first ever National League game.

The Little Brother

April 16, 2013
The 1869 Red Stockings, George Wright at top center

The 1869 Red Stockings, George Wright at top center

I’m an oldest child so that means I have my own particular problems. But I know several people who are youngest children. Each of them has in common the desire to keep up with their elder siblings, sometimes to absurdity. If you look at George Wright’s career, you wonder sometimes if it wasn’t all an attempt to show up his older brother, Harry.

George Wright, unlike older brother Harry, was born in the United States. He was born in New York in 1847, 12 years after Harry. Dad was a cricketer (as was Harry), but George took to the more American game of Base Ball. He was good. By age 15 he was playing with the Gothams, one of the earliest New York teams. At 18 he was their regular catcher. He moved to shortstop the next season and began a migratory period in his career. He played in Washington, D.C. where the local team, in lieu of paying him outright, managed to find him a job in the Treasury Department. He played for the Gothams again. Back in New York he played for the Unions.

By 1869 he was established as one of the finest shortstops in baseball. Older brother Harry had moved to Cincinnati and was in the process of putting together the first acknowledged all-professional team. He called on George to come west and anchor the infield. George Wright did so, becoming the star of the team. For a salary of $1400 the Red Stockings got a .633 batting average and 49 home runs over 57 total games (all victories). I looked all over but could find no other stats for George Wright for the 1869 season.

The Red Stockings folded after the 1870 season, but professional baseball was moving toward forming an all professional league. In 1871, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players opened its first campaign. Wright (along with bother Harry) moved to the Boston team, also called the Red Stockings. In 16 games, Wright hit .413, stole nine bases, scored 33 runs, and struck out once. Boston finished a disputed second.

From 1872 through the remainder of the life of the Association (1875) Boston dominated the league. Wright was one of the mainstays of the team. He led the league in triples once and, as the lead off hitter, led the league in at bats twice. Other players proved more dominant with the bat, but Wright was considered the premier shortstop in the National Association. If you look at his numbers they don’t look all that great today, but are very good for the era. He is supposed to have invented playing deep in the hole at short and charging the ball. A number of other players are also supposed to have done this, so I have no idea who really did it first.

With the end of the Association, Wright set up shop with the Boston team in the new National League. He was 29, and never did as well in the NL as in the Association. He helped his team to pennants in 1877 and 1878, then was offered the job as player-manager of the Providence Grays in 1879. He led the team to its first pennant. It was also his last big year. 

By this point, Wright was moving into the sporting goods business fulltime. He played sparingly (and did not manage at all) in 1880 and 1881, preferring to work at his business, Wright and Ditson. Ditson was Henry Ditson and the company is still around. In 1882, Harry Wright became manager at Providence and asked George to play fulltime one last season. He did so, getting into 46 games and hitting a buck-62. He retired after the season and was through with playing baseball.

But unlike a number of former ball players who have no idea what to do with themselves when their career is over, George Wright flourished in retirement. Wright and Ditson was successful, he played cricket locally and he got into golf and tennis. He designed Boston’s first public golf course in 1890. He donated the land for the second (which became the George Wright course, in his honor). His sons won both doubles championships and one US Championship (now the US Open) in tennis, with Beals winning an Olympic gold medal. In 1906 he was part of the Mills Commission that determined baseball began in Cooperstown with Abner Doubleday. Apparently Wright’s role on the committee was minimal and I’ve been unable to determine if he agreed with the commission findings. In 1937 he was elected to the Hall of Fame and died, a wealthy man, later the same year. He was 90 and outlived Harry by 42 years.

George Wright's grave in Brookline, Mass

George Wright’s grave in Brookline, Mass

For his career (National Association and National League) Wright hit .301, had an OBP of .318, slugged .398, and ended with an OPS of .715 (OPS+ of 125). He led the Association in triples once, but has the Association record with 40 triples. He played 591 games, had 866 hits, 124 doubles, 60 triples, and 11 home runs for 1143 total bases. He scored 665 runs and knocked in 326. He stole 47 bases in the Association (his National League totals are unavailable). As a fielder he leads his league in assists, double plays, putouts, and fielding percentage several times, giving proof to his reputation as a great middle infielder.

One of the things you always ask yourself about 19th Century players is “how good were they?”. With George Wright you face the same problems you always face: few games, wretched fields, poor equipment. Unlike the other brother combination (the Waners), I think it’s fair to put both Wright’s in the Hall of Fame. George deserves it as a pioneer (which is technically why he got in). He’s also a pretty good player, one of the better fielding middle infielders in early baseball.

The Flying Foot

April 12, 2013
Amos Strunk

Amos Strunk

They called him “The Flying Foot.” Amos Strunk was fast, very fast. Connie Mack put him in center field and he helped lead the Athletics to four pennants, three World’s Championships, then moved on to Boston to help Babe Ruth win one. He was one of the finest outfielders of his day.

Amos Strunk was born in Philadelphia in 1889. As usual for the era, he played semipro ball, got to the minors, was noticed by someone with big league connections, and ended up in the Majors. For Strunk, it was 1907 for the minors, and in 1908 Connie Mack brought him to Strunk’s hometown team, the Athletics. He got into a handful of games in both 1908 and 1909, but spent most of each season in the minors. At 21 he made it to the Major Leagues to stay. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury and only played 16 games that season.

His career took off in 1911. He became the regular center fielder for the A’s, replacing Rube Oldring (who moved to left). He was fast, had a good arm, and was considered a superior outfielder (for the era and equipment available). He was noted for being able to track down balls in deep center field and catch most anything. He led the American League in fielding five times and was never in the top handful in errors (which can happen when a speedy outfielder gets his glove on a ball that other outfielders wouldn’t have gotten near).

As a hitter he was decent, but not spectacular. In years he played in at least 50 games, he hit .300 or better four times. He was mostly a singles hitter, managing 20 or more doubles only three times (his high was 30). Despite his speed, he never stole a lot of bases. His forte was going from first to third on a single and scoring from second on a single. He was used occasionally on a double steal. With Strunk on second and another runner on third, Mack would order a suicide squeeze. Strunk was fast enough to score from second on the bunt. There are a couple of stories of him doing this, but I was unable to determine how frequently he did so.

He stayed with the A’s through 1917, which means he was with the miserable 1916 team that lost 117 games. He was easily their best player. In 1918, Mack sent him to Boston. He took over as the regular center fielder (a position once held by Tris Speaker) and helped the Red Sox to their final World Series win in the 20th Century. In mid-1919 he went back to Philly, stayed into 1920, then went to Chicago where he helped try to rebuild the White Sox in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. He remained in Chicago through 1923. After one game with the ChiSox in 1924, he went back to Philadelphia, where he completed his career.

In 1925, he was player-manager for the Shamokin Shammies (don’t you love that name?) of the New York-Penn League. He retired from baseball in August of that season and went into the insurance business. He died in 1979.

In a 17 year career over 1512 games, Strunk had the following triple slash numbers: .284/,359/.374/.732 with an OPS+ of 112. He scored 696 runs and had 530 RBIs. With 1418 hits, he managed 213 doubles, 96 triples, and 15 home runs, for 1868 total bases. He had 185 stolen bases. The caught stealing numbers are incomplete for his career, but in most years in which they are available, he’s caught more than he’s successful.

If you look at the numbers above closely, you’ll see some of the problem with Strunk’s career. He played 17 years, and played in only 1523 games (an average of 89 games a year). Now some of that is garbage time as a kid and as an old player just hanging on, but Strunk had a lot of injuries over his career, mostly in the legs. He managed 130 or more games three times, peaking at 150 in 1916.

Strunk is one of those players whose stats I keep looking at and thinking, “One heck of a ballplayer.” But when I ask myself if he’s a Hall of Famer, I say no. But, like, Oldring (of a couple of posts ago) he’s the kind of player teams need to win.

This concludes my current look at the 1910-14 A’s. Over the last three years I’ve posted on most of the major players. I’ve still got a couple of outfielders, the catchers, and Mack to go, but I’ll do them later.

Gettysburg Eddie

April 10, 2013
Eddie Plank

Eddie Plank

Quick bit of trivia. Which left-handed pitcher has the most wins in the American League? Want some help? The number is 305. OK if you’re clever (and because you read this blog, most of you are) you looked at the title and the picture and guessed Eddie Plank. You win.

Plank was born to a farming family in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (scene of the famous battle) in 1875. His first taste of organized baseball came in 1893, when he was 17. It was a local team and brought him to the attention of Gettysburg Academy, a prep school for the local university, Gettysburg College. Apparently students enrolled at the Academy could participate in varsity athletics for the College, so Plank pitched for Gettysburg College but was never a student (Figure that one out, NCAA. I wonder if you can sanction a team after 100 years?). He came to the attention of Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics and in 1901 he joined the A’s without ever playing for a minor league team.

It was the first year for the American League and the Athletics. Plank was good and he would remain with Philly for most of his career. In his initial campaign he was 17-13 with an ERA over 3.– (which was big in the Deadball Era). The next four years he won 20 plus games each season. His ERA dropped, his strikeout total soared, peaking at   210 in 1905. The A’s won the AL pennant in both 1902 and 1905. In both cases Plank was the two pitcher behind Rube Waddell. In 1905, the A’s participated in the second World Series. With Waddell hurt, Plank got two games. He struck out eleven, walked four, gave up three earned runs, had an ERA of 1.59. Despite all that, he took the loss in both games as the Giants pitching staff gave up no earned runs for the entire series.

He continued to pitch well during the rest of the first decade of the 20th Century, having his first (of two) losing seasons in 1908 (14-16). By 1910 he was becoming the third member of the rotation behind Chief Bender and Jack Coombs. The A’s made the World Series in four of the next five seasons, winning three (1910, ’11, and ’13). Plank pitched well all three seasons, winning 20 games in 1911 (and again in 1912, the one year the Athletics failed to win the pennant).

His World Series record wasn’t as good as his regular season totals. In 1910 he didn’t pitch in the Series. Bender and Coombs pitched every game as the A’s beat the Cubs. In 1911 he was 1-1 with an ERA of 1.86. His game two win over Rube Marquard was a five hit masterpiece, but he was overshadowed by Frank Baker’s two-run home run that proved the difference. He wa 1-1 again in 1912 while putting up an 0,95 ERA. His victory was in game five when he two hit the Giants for a 3-1 win that clinched the Series for the A’s. In 1914, he pitched game two, lost it 1-0 on a double, stolen base, and a single in the top of the ninth. The Braves swept the A’s out of the Series in four games. For his career Plank was 2-5 with a 1.32 ERA and 32 strikeouts.

In 1914 the Federal League was formed. It offered players better salaries and something like quality play (the play could be pretty good or wretched depending on the team). Plank was interested and in 1915 Mack waived him (and both Bender and Coombs). Plank ended up with the St. Louis Terriers as their ace. He went 21-11, led the league in WHIP and ERA+, and found himself on one final pennant winner. The Feds folded after the 1915 season and Plank, now 40, found himself looking for work. The St. Louis Browns picked him up for the 1916 season (my wife’s grandfather once told me he saw Plank pitch with the Browns). He was 5-6 with a 1.79 ERA. It was only his second losing season. He was through. He retired to his farm in Gettysburg, where he farmed and led tours of the battlefield. In 1926 he suffered a stroke and died a couple of days later. In 1946 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

For all his ability, Plank had one severe problem when he pitched. He was slow. Really slow. Really, really slow. He was infamous for taking a lot of time between pitches. As mentioned above, my wife’s grandfather told me he saw Plank pitch. He told me “you could drink a whole bottle of pop between pitches.” It seems to be part of the reason that Mack went with other pitchers in critical situations. A slow pitcher can cause the defense to become lax and Mack, as a former catcher, had to be aware of that. I looked at a handful of Plank’s games that had times listed (all of them don’t) and compared him with both Bender and Coombs. His games did seem to take longer, although not a lot, but were nothing like the length of games today.

Over his career, Plank was 326-194 for a .627 winning percentage. His ERA was 2.35 with an ERA+ of 122. He pitched 4495.2 innings, gave up 3958 hits, walked 1072, and struck out 2246 for a WHIP of 1.119. When he retired he had more wins than any other left-hander. In the 96 years since, he’s been passed by only two other lefty’s: Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton. Not bad considering all the left-handed pitchers that have played since 1917. As mentioned in the first paragraph, he still holds the record for most wins by a lefty in the American League.

When I first began this somewhat extended look at the 1910-14 Athletics, I was a little surprised I hadn’t dealt with Plank. After all, I’d done all four of the infield plus Bender and Coombs (and utility man Danny Murphy). In some ways that’s kind of fitting. Plank was never really a big star and only infrequently the team ace. Seems to be that way here also.

Plank's final resting place in Gettysburg, PA

Plank’s final resting place in Gettysburg, PA

Oldring in the Outfield

April 8, 2013
Rube Oldring

Rube Oldring

As mentioned earlier, the heart and soul of the 1910-14 Athletics was the infield, with a major nod to the pitching staff. The outfield, however, produced some quality play also. Amos Strunk was considered a superior fielder, Danny Murphy could play most anywhere, Briscoe Lord is almost totally overlooked today (but does have the best name of the lot. The best hitter was easily Rube Oldring.

Oldring was born in 1884 in New York. As with many of the players of the era, his dad was an immigrant (this time from Britain). Reuben grew up a baseball fan and a pretty good sandlot player. He played semipro ball in the New York-New Jersey area until he was noticed by the Montgomery, Alabama  minor league team. They picked him up, let him play third, short, and the outfield, and sold him to Connie Mack in 1905.  He got to Philadelphia in late September 1905 and was thus ineligible for the World Series (which Philly lost in five games). Mack sent him back to New York to play in the semipro leagues while waiting for the 1906 spring training. He played well in an exhibition game against the Highlanders (now the Yankees) and was signed for the remaining games of the 1905 season. He got into eight games, hit .300 with a home run and a triple, and was offered a contract with New York. Because of the existing contract with the A’s he couldn’t play in his home town. I have no idea how this double contract system worked. My guess is that the Yanks  and A’s didn’t play each other and Mack simply blew off the problem.

He made the 1906 Athletics as a third baseman. He could catch and throw. In fact he threw so hard that he frequently overthrew first base. In 156 chances he had 16 errors. They moved him to second and short. Same story. In 1907 they solved the problem by shifting him to center field. He remained there (with a shift to left as he aged) for most of his career (after 1906 he played 18 games in the infield). He was a solid outfielder with a strong, and still wild arm. He was quick and did reasonably well (again, for the era) in the field.

In 1915, Mack began dismantling his team. Olring remained with the A’s, hit six home runs (a career high), and retired at the end of the season. Desperate for players, Mack asked him back for 1916. He agreed. The 1916 team was an all-time clunker. Oldring played 40 games, was released and retired to his farm in New Jersey. The Yankees, also desperate for players, got him to play 43 games mediocre games for them. Then he retired again. He stayed away in 1917, but came back for one final partial season in 1918. With World War I going on, the Athletics were in need of players. Oldring got into 49 games, did some ball playing in the shipyards to entertain the ship builders, and finally hung up his uniform for good at the end of the season.

In retirement, Oldring played a little and managed a lot in the Minors. Between 1919 and 1926 he moved from team to team collecting two pennants as manager. He sold his farm in 1939 for a goodly sum and took a job with a canning company evaluating vegetables in the New Jersey area. It was a natural for an ex-farmer. He died in 1961 in New Jersey. He was 77.

He was a better hitter. After a good year in 1907, he had down years in 1908 and 1909, then at 26 found his stroke. He hit .300 for 1910, had four home runs, 57 RBIs, and scored 79 runs for the pennant winning Athletics. There was a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the World Series, so Mack arranged an exhibition. Oldring sprained his knee chasing a fly and missed the Series (which the Athletics won).

The next four years, the heart of the A’s championship run, Oldring played center and hit between .277 and .301 each year, averaged three homers, had his career high in stolen bases with 40 (his only time at 30 or more), and managed to miss a lot of games. In 1912 he was  suspended for missing curfew (a woman was involved–and see below). In 1913 he got hurt, again in an exhibition game (Hey, Mack, will you sit Oldring out of these exhibition games? That’s twice he’s gotten hurt.). In 1914 he was injured again (this time in real games). The A’s won the World Series in 1911 and 1913. Oldring had a big homer in 1911 but was overshadowed by Frank Baker’s heroics. As a whole, Oldring didn’t do much in the World Series, managing to hit all of a buck-94 with the one home run and all of three RBIs (all on the home run). He did manage to score seven runs in the 15 games he played.

All of which brings me to Rube Oldring, lady’s man. In late 1914, Oldring announced he was getting married. This was immediately contested by a woman claiming to be his common-law wife. Oldring insisted she wasn’t, she insisted she was. The problem was the 1910 US Census showed the two living together as man and wife (and you wonder why census takers have a rough time). Ultimately the problem was solved out of court (and with a substantial loss of Oldring’s revenue from the World Series winner’s share) and he married the woman he loved (they stayed married 47 years).

Over a career lasting 1239 games Oldring had 1268 hits, 205 doubles, 76 triples, and 27 home runs for 1706 total bases. He scored 616 runs and drove in 471. His triple slash line in .270/.307/.364/.671 with an OPS+ of 64. His OPS+ peaked at 142 in 1910 (it was 145 in 1905, but only for eight games). He struck out about twice as often as he walked and managed 197 stolen bases.

Rube Oldring is one of those kinds of players that good teams must have in order to win. He was not a star but a solid, competent player that did a lot of things to help his team win. His injuries limit his usefulness some seasons, but when he’s healthy he’s good. His curfew problems and his woman trouble remind us that he, like a lot of ball players, really are just regular guys trying to make it in the world. That probably describes most of us.

Oldring's final home

Oldring’s final home

The Mackmen

April 5, 2013
1911 Athletics leave the field (note the White Elephants on their jackets)

1911 Athletics leave the field (note the White Elephants on their jackets)

Baseball is full of dynasties. Although some people might pick the 1903-04 Boston team as the first American League dynasty, I have a better candidate. I pick the 1910-1914 Philadelphia Athletics, Connie Mack’s White Elephants.

Connie Mack was a catcher for a handful of years in the 19th Century. He was known for his savvy and his knowledge of the game, but not so much for his hitting. When the American League was formed in 1901 he joined Ben Shibe in creating the team in Philadelphia. With tradition using “Athletics” for the team from Philly, Mack adopted the name, and after a jibe from John McGraw, adopted the “white elephant” as the team logo.

They were good from the beginning. In 1902, they won the second AL pennant. In 1905 they won another pennant and participated in the second World Series, losing in five games to McGraw’s Giants. For the next three seasons they finished in the first division in 1906 and ’07, then slid to sixth in 1908. By 1909 they were in a new ballyard, Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium), and on the rebound.

The 1910-1914 A’s were a truly great team. With the 1915-1918 Red Sox, they provide one of the two great AL dynasties in Deadball Baseball. They were a team that did almost everything well. They hit, they hit for power (Deadball version), ran the bases, fielded well (for the era), and had excellent pitching. With the prevailing small rosters of the era, they even managed to put together a decent bench.

The heart of the team was the infield. In 1910 Harry Davis was finishing up a  solid career. He’d picked up three home run titles and a couple of RBI crowns along the way and was one of Mack’s favorites. By 1911 he was being replaced by Stuffy McInnis, a wonderful fielding first baseman (for any era) who hit .300 for his career and regularly knocked in 90 runs (during the 1911-14 run). Jack Barry played short and hit low in the order for a reason. He was a good, but not spectacular fielder. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins anchored second. He usually batted second, stole a lot of bases, hit .300 regularly, played second well, and his career high in strikeouts was 41 (OK, he wasn’t Joe Sewell, but he was still pretty good at putting the bat on the ball). Some stat heads consider him the greatest of all second basemen. At third there was J. Frank Baker. He was the power hitter for the team. He won three home run titles, a triples title, a couple of RBI crowns, and in 1911 hit two memorable home runs in the World Series that gave him the nickname “Home Run Baker.” Like Collins, he is also in the Hall of Fame.

The other key to the Mackmen was their pitching staff. Mack always seemed to find jewels for his mound. Maybe being an ex-catcher helped. By 1910 the staff revolved around three pitchers. Eddie Plank was the oldest and the left-hander. He’d been a mainstay of the Athletics since 1901, had been part of both championship teams (1902 and ’05), had pitched in the 1905 World Series, and was generally Mack’s most reliable pitcher. He would, when he retired in 1917, be the winningest lefty ever (326 wins). But Mack’s favorite was Chief Bender. Bender Joined the A’s in 1903, won the only game the A’s won in the ’05 World Series, and was the pitcher Mack favored to start most important series’ and to anchor the postseason staff. Jack Coombs was the new guy. He got to Philly in 1906, had been fairly undistinguished, then in 1910 put it together for a great three-year run. In 1913 he came down with typhoid, which derailed his career. He got back to the World Series with Brooklyn in 1916 (winning their only game) but was never the pitcher he’d been between 1910 and 1912. In 1910 and ’11 Harry Krause and Cy Morgan were the other pitchers who spent major time on the mound. Boardwalk Brown and Bob Shawkey (who later managed the Yankees) replaced them for the late run with a young Herb Pennock being available in 1914.

Neither the catchers nor the outfielders were as well-known in the era. During the 1910-14 run, Mack used three catchers primarily: Jack Lapp, Ira Thomas, and Wally Schang, who was a rookie in 1913. Neither Lapp nor Thomas were much in the batters box. Thomas hit right-handed and all of .242 with no power. Lapp hit lefty and made it all the way to .263. Both men played almost the same amount of games one year, then the next one would play a lot more, so it’s difficult to see that Mack was platooning them (the percentage of lefty pitchers can’t have changed that much in one year). Maybe he was, but it’s hard to see. From what I can find, neither was used as a personal catcher for a particular pitcher (ala Carlton-McCarver), so I’m not quite sure how it worked. Maybe Mack, being a former catcher, knew how much the job wore on a player and decided to make sure each stayed healthy by using them about equally.

Five different men did most of the outfield work: Rube Oldring, Eddie Murphy, Jimmy Walsh, Amos Strunk,and Bris Lord. For 1910 only, Topsy Hartsell patrolled the outfield. As a group they tended to hit around .280 with at least one in the .300s. Strunk, in particular, was known for his arm. Add to them Danny Murphy (apparently not related to Eddie) who was good enough to play about anywhere and you had the makings of a pretty fair bench.

Between 1910 and 1914 the A’s won three World Series’ (1910, ’11, and ’13) and lost one more (1914). Hard times and the coming of the Federal League caused Mack to break up the team in 1915. Collins, Baker, and McInnis would go on to greater glory with pennant winning teams, but Mack and Philadelphia would languish in the AL until the late 1920s.

Opening Day, 1913: American League

April 3, 2013
Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

In 1913, the American League opened its season one day later than the National League. Opening Day was 10 April. Among other games it saw Philadelphia win its first game of the season.

Although the Red Sox were defending World’s Champions, Connie Mack’s Athletics were the loaded team. The 1913 A’s boasted the “$100,000 Infield” of Stuffy McInnis at first, Jack Barry at short, and Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Frank Baker at second and third. Of outfielders Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian), and Jimmy Walsh, only Oldring was older than 25 (he was 29) and only Walsh hit below .280. Jack Lapp and rookie Wally Schang shared catching duties with Schang being much the better hitter. Aging Danny Murphy was solid of the bench. It was a strong team that looked good for many years. They had won the 1910 and 1911 World Series and finished third in 1912. The fall back was primarily because of the pitching. Ace Eddie Plank was 37 and former ace Jack Coombs was ill from typhoid. There was nothing wrong with Chief Bender, however, and he managed 21 wins with a 2.21 ERA and 13 saves. The A’s would win the pennant by 6.5 over Washington and beat up on the Giants in the World Series, winning four games to one.

The Senators would finish second primarily because they had Walter Johnson and no one else did. Johnson had a season for the ages. He went 36-6, had an ERA of 1.14, struck out 243 men, and ended with an ERA+ of 259. It got him the pitching triple crown and the AL’s Chalmers Award (an early form of the MVP). The Chalmers lasted four years (eight total awards) and Johnson is the only pitcher to win one. Washington’s top hitter was probably Chick Gandil, who became infamous in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

Defending champ Boston would finish in fourth (Cleveland was third) 15.5 games back. Tris Speaker hit in the .360s but the pitching collapsed. Notably, Smoky Joe Wood went from 34 wins to 11.

Ty Cobb won another batting title, hitting .390, while Baker won both the home run and RBI titles. Collins led the AL in runs, while Cleveland’s Joe Jackson had the most hits.

1913 saw a number of rookies who would make their mark. On 28 June Wally Pipp played his first game for the Tigers. He would anchor first base for the initial Yankees pennant winners before losing his position to Lou Gehrig. Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush made his debut on 20 August with Chicago. On 4 August Cleveland brought up Billy Southworth. He was an okay players, but made the Hall of Fame as a manager. Finally on 17 September Detroit brought Lefty Williams to the Major Leagues. He would eventually lose three games while helping the 1919 White Sox throw the World Series.

Opening Day, 1913: National League

April 1, 2013
Jake Daubert in 1913

Jake Daubert in 1913

Opening Day in 1913 was 9 April (10 days later than the current season). There was a single game played that day, Philadelphia defeating Brooklyn 1-0. The other teams opened play later and the National League had a good season, although one without a lot of suspense.

As two-time defending champions, the Giants were formidable still in 1913. Their eight position players remained the same with only Beals Becker missing, replaced by George Burns (not the comedian). Larry Doyle was a star at second, catcher Chief Meyers was a .300 hitter, Fred Merkle, five years removed from his “bonehead” play was a solid first baseman, and manager John McGraw was John McGraw. The heart of the team, however, was the pitching staff. Ace Christy Mathewson would win 25 games, pick up the ERA title (2.06) and walk all of 21 men in 306 innings. Rube Marquard would win 23 games and Jeff Tesreau would add a further 22. The Giants would make it three in a row by 12.4 games. Much of it came when the ran off 14 wins in a row between 26 June and 9 July. By way of contrast they lost four in a row 30 April to 5 May, their longest losing streak. They would go on to lose their third straight World Series in October.

Philadelphia would do well with Gavvy Cravath winning the home run title with 19, adding the RBI title at 128. Although future Hall of Famers Pete Alexander and Eppa Rixey pitched well, the ace was Tom Seaton who had 27 wins and led the NL in strikeouts with 168.

The emerging star was Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert. He would win the batting title at .350 for the sixth place Superbas (“Dodgers” would come later). At season’s end he picked up the Chalmers Award (an early version of the MVP Award), which should probably have gone to Cravath. The fading  star was Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner. For the last time he hit .300 and for the first time since 1905 didn’t lead the league in any major hitting category (it still got him eighth in the Chalmers Award voting).

The year saw two rookies arrive that would have an impact on the league. On 17 April, Bill James (not the current baseball stats man) made his first appearance for the Braves. He went 6-10 for the season, but was a key to the “Miracle” Braves run in 1914. For the Giants, outfielder Jim Thorpe made his initial appearance on 14 April. He would hit only .143 in limited service. He would make the NFL Hall of Fame and be known as the greatest athlete of the first 50 years of the 20th Century, but baseball was not his dominant sport.