This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the final season of Connie Mack’s first great dynasty. The Philadelphia Athletics of 1910-1914 won four pennants (all but 1912) and three World Series’ (1910, 1911, and 1913). Over the life of this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time with this team. I’ve looked at the pitchers. I’ve looked at the outfielders. I’ve gone over the so-called “$100,000 infield”. I’ve even looked at a couple of bench players. However, I’ve never spent much time checking out the catchers. Here’s an attempt to rectify that.
For most of the period, Mack used two catchers more or less interchangeably. By that I mean no catcher played a lot of games in the field but there was no obvious platoon system. Although one hit from the left side (Jack Lapp) and the other from the right (Ira Thomas), Thomas got way too many at bats for there to be a platoon system going on. Being a former catcher himself, Mack seems to have understood how tough the job was, how wearing it was on the body, so he gave his catchers a lot of rest. At least I think that’s what’s going on. I can find no absolute confirmation of that, but I can find no other obvious reason for how he uses his catchers. That being the case, he got pretty good work out of a pair of really obscure players.
For most of the period, the A’s relied on both Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas for catching duties. There were a number of other men who squatted behind the plate for the A’s, men like Paddy Livingston, and late in the period Wally Schang (who more or less replaced Thomas), but Lapp and Thomas did the bulk of the work for the 1910-1914 dynasty.
Both men were decent catchers, generally finishing in the upper half of the fielding stats for the American League (an eight team league in their era). Both were generally considered good handlers of pitchers, but I can find no evidence that either was specifically a “personal catcher” to any of the pitchers (the way McCarver was for Carlton, for example). As hitters, neither was anything to write home to mom about. Neither hit much. Lapp ended up at .263 with five homers and 166 RBIs (but an OPS+ of 104) and Thomas .242 with three home runs and 155 RBIs (and an OPS+ of 82). Most of Lapp’s OPS+ came in three seasons, only one of which (1915) he played 100 games.
Lapp played in all four World Series’ getting into five total games. He had four hits (all singles), scored a run and drove in another, hitting .235. Thomas played in only the first two, hitting .214 with four hits, three runs, and three RBIs. As mention above, Wally Schang replaced him as the second primary catcher in the final two Series’.
After leaving the Majors, Lapp in 1917 and Thomas in 1916, neither man ever managed in the Majors. Thomas coached at Williams College, then joined the A’s as a coach. Later he scouted for Mack. Thomas died in 1958 and Lapp went down with pneumonia in 1920.
Both men are pretty nameless today. They were never stars nor even major players. They did contribute to the A’s winning three World Series’ in four tries and establishing the first successful American League dynasty.