1908: The Second Division of the Junior Circuit

Branch Rickey, catcher

With the first division of the American League out of the way, here’s a look at where the bottom four teams at the end of 1907 stacked up to begin 1908.

It should come as no surprise that the teams that finished low in 1907 were undergoing transformation in 1908. Some went through large overhauls, others a tweak here and there. The Highlanders (now the Yankees) had finished fifth under Clark Griffith with Hal Chase leading the team in hitting. Half the regulars were 30 or more with Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Keeler the oldest at 35. By opening day 1908 they’d switched out a couple of players but still had four regulars at 30 or more. One of the players they’d gotten rid of was a back up catcher named Branch Rickey (whatever happened to him?). Of course one of the primary problems in New York was the presence of Hal Chase.

The Browns settled in at sixth, a game behind New York. For a team with only 69 wins, St. Louis had three players with 5+ WAR (George Stone in the outfield, infielder Bobby Wallace, and pitcher Harry Howell). But if you thought the Highlanders were old, the Browns were absolutely ancient with six regulars at 30 or older along with four of their five primary pitchers. That made them veteran, but also meant they could be prone to injury, fatigue, and just plain being done. The ’08 Browns had cut out one geezer as a regular, but added one on the staff. The one was Rube Waddell, who would one day earn a place on a wall in Cooperstown.

Finishing next-to-last in 1907 was Boston. The Americans (the Red Sox would come in 1908–another reason to celebrate the season) were, frankly, not much of a team. The big star was Cy Young, who could still put up a Cy Young season. But he was 40 and no other starter was close to him. Only one every day player, Bunk Congalton (never heard of him either), hit over .260 and no one had more than 20 stolen bases.  By the beginning of the ’08 season Congalton was gone (got me) and changes were beginning. Most of them involved new guys. Tris Speaker had gotten into a few games in 1907. By the next season he was on the bench and Larry Gardner got into three games. Both were instrumental in the 1912 pennant winner.

If the Boston team wasn’t much, the Washington Senators were even worse. They managed 49 wins, a full ten games below Boston. They could hit a little and three men had 25 or more stolen bases, but the pitching was a problem. The ERA’s were high for the Deadball period and only two had WAR over 2. One was Charlie Smith whose career year ended up being 1907. The other was a 19-year-old kid named Walter Johnson. A lot of people thought he had potential.

The 1908 season would see, as most seasons do, a number of surprises . A couple of these teams will rise dramatically, another will fall off drastically. Next time we’ll start our journey through the National League.

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