Archive for September, 2018

1908: The End of September

September 30, 2018

Detroit’s Ty Cobb

Back in 1908, the last day of September didn’t end the baseball regular season. There were still games to play, a couple of them important, a couple of them famous. So where did the leagues stand at the end of the ninth month?

In the American League, which is frequently, and unjustly, overshadowed by the National League in 1908 the pennant was undecided. Detroit, the defending champions, had five games remaining and a half game lead on Cleveland, who had only three to go. Third place Chicago was a game and a half back also with three games to play. With five games to go, the Browns were four and a half games out and technically still alive for a tie (they were four games back in the loss column). Any of the four had a chance to claim at least a share of the pennant. Key remaining games sent Chicago against Cleveland and Detroit went to St. Louis.

The National League was equally muddled. The New York Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates were tied (the Giants were percentage points ahead) with the Chicago Cubs a half game back. New York had five games remaining, the Pirates three, and the Cubs five. The Cubs games were against Cincinnati and then a season closing game against the Pirates. Pittsburgh had the one game against Chicago after games with St. Louis. The Giants finished up against Philadelphia, Boston (today’s Braves), and Brooklyn. Hovering over it all was the tied game of 23 September between the Giants and Cubs. If it mattered for the standings, it would be replayed in the Polo Grounds in New York 8 October.


1908: “Iron Man” Reulbach

September 26, 2018

Ed Reulbach (foreground)

On the 26th of September 1908 the Cubs faced Brooklyn in a late season double-header. Fighting for a pennant, Chicago needed the wins to maintain pace with the Giants. For the Superbas (Now Dodgers), the wins would help keep them out of the National League cellar. What fans got by the end of the day was one of those things that only happened in Deadball Baseball.

In the early game, the Cubs triumphed 5-0. With a couple of doubles, four stolen bases, and a walk, Chicago tallied runs in the fifth, seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. The team picked up 11 hits and had no errors.

In the late game the Cubs won again, this time 3-0. On five hits, all singles, they managed a single run in the third and two in the eighth. Again, they went through without an error. At the end of the day, Chicago led the Giants by a half game.

So why, in the midst of all the late season games that might count, pick out these two? The answer lies in the Chicago Cubs pitcher. Ed Reulbach began game one. He shut out Brooklyn on five singles and a walk. Then he got the call for game two. He responded by again shutting out Brooklyn, this time on four singles and another walk. Along the way he struck out 11 Superbas, seven in game one and four in game two. At the beginning of the day his record was 20-7, by the end he was 22-7. He would end the season 23-7 with seven shutouts, two of them on one day. It is, in the long history of Major League Baseball, the only time that a pitcher has thrown two shutouts on the same day. Let’s hear it for Big Ed.

1908: Henry Clay Pulliam

September 20, 2018

Henry C. Pullliam

One of the more important, but most overlooked, results of the 1908 “Merkle Boner” was what happened off the field in its aftermath. It forever changed, and some argued shortened, the life of National League President Henry Clay Pulliam.

The future National League President was born in Kentucky in 1869, son of a tobacco farmer and named for one of the state’s most famous statesmen. He graduated from law school at the University of Virginia, became a journalist at the Louisville, Kentucky Commercial. Interested in politics, he ran successfully for the Kentucky state assembly and served a term. He came to the attention of Hall of Fame owner Barney Dreyfuss, who owned the Louisville Colonels of the American Association (a Major League at the time). Dreyfuss named him, first, team secretary (a position that would evolve into today’s General Manager), and later club President. While at Louisville, Pulliam signed future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner to his first major league contract.

When the National League contracted for the 1900 season, Dreyfuss and Pulliam moved their headquarters to Pittsburgh (Dreyfuss owned both Louisville and Pittsburgh under the “syndicate” rules of the day), taking with them Louisville’s primary players, including Wagner. It began the turn of the 20th Century Pirates dynasty that managed to get to the first World Series.

But by the first World Series, Pulliam was no longer with the team. He was well liked, considered knowledgeable about the sport, easy to get along with, and quite frankly a number of owners thought he could be easily manipulated. That got him elected to the presidency of the NL in 1902.

His first job was to end the “war” with the fledgling American League. Although Cincinnati owner Gerry Herrmann was primarily responsible for proposing the terms of the “National Agreement” that ended the war, and Dreyfuss was the first proponent of the World Series, Pulliam was instrumental in seeing both implemented. He got along with AL President Ban Johnson (almost no one else did) and was able to ease Johnson’s acceptance of the National Agreement. As NL President he, along with Johnson and Herrmann, was part of the trinity that ran Major League Baseball for the next several years.

But all this led him into conflict with two men of great importance to baseball: Andrew Freedman, owner of the Giants, and the Giants manager John McGraw. Both men argued that Pulliam’s decisions on disputed issues always favored the Pittsburgh position. After an initial unanimous election as NL President, Pulliam’s annual reelection was by a 7-1 margin with New York casting the no vote (later Cincinnati joined New York to make it 6-2). This continued even after Freedman left the Giants and John T. Brush took over as New York team owner.

Always considered “high-strung” Pulliam began suffering health problems by 1906. Some sources indicate he was on the verge of a “nervous breakdown” from the strain of his job. Then came the Merkle Boner (see the post just below this one) and he was thrust into the center of a raging fight between the Giants and almost everyone else. By 1908 John T. Brush had taken control of the Giants and he was furious with both umpire Hank O’Day, who’d ruled the Merkle game a tie, and Pulliam for upholding the decision. For the next year Brush relentlessly hounded Pulliam calling him a cheat in the pay of the Cubs and other things that are not acceptable for a family oriented site like this.

John T. Brush

All of that got to Pulliam and he suffered something like a breakdown in late 1908. He took a leave of absence and didn’t return to NL headquarters until after the 1909 season began. Apparently unable to withstand the pressures of his job, he went to his apartment and shot himself on 28 July 1909. He died the next day still in his apartment. He is buried in Kentucky. John Heydler, his assistant took over the job as NL President.

Pulliam is in many ways a tragic figure. He was good at his job, apparently honest and well liked. But he was unable to withstand the constant strain of the position. It’s much too much to say that Brush and the Giants killed him, but their constant abuse certainly helped lead to the depression that ultimately led to his demise.

Pulliam’s final resting place (from Find a Grave)


1908: Merkle

September 18, 2018

Fred Merkle in 1908

You knew when you read that I would be taking some time to talk about the 1908 season that it would eventually come down to Fred Merkle, didn’t you? The “Merkle Boner” is among the most famous of all baseball plays, probably the single most famous Deadball Era play. So without hesitation, let’s get on with it.

At the end of the day on 22 September 1908, the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were in a virtual tie atop the National League. The Giants were percentage points ahead (.635 to .629) by virtue of having played seven fewer games. They were three up in the loss column, but the Cubs had eight games to play while they had 15 more. The next game for both would be an afternoon game at the Polo Grounds the next day.

Fred Tenney

The Giants’ regular first baseman Fred Tenney was having back trouble and was forced to sit the 23 September game. In his place John McGraw inserted Fred Merkle. Our man Merkle came up in 1907, played a little, was again on the team in 1908. He had not started a game all season and at that point had all of 41 at bats for the year. He was, considered an excellent fielder, an acceptable hitter, and a player worth having. He was also 19 years of age.

The Cubs sent Jack Pfiester to the mound and the Giants replied with ace Christy Mathewson. Pfiester would finish the season at 17-6, while Mathewson would go 37-11. The first four innings were scoreless. In the top of the fifth, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker, who had a habit of hitting Mathewson well, stroked his fifth home run of the season (he ended up with six). The Giants struck back in the bottom of the sixth when a Mike Donlin single scored Buck Herzog with the tying run. The score remained 1-1 through the top of the ninth. By that point Merkle was 0-2 with a walk.

With one out Art Devlin singled, but was erased on a Moose McCormick grounder. Now with two outs, Merkle sliced a single that put McCormick on third and himself on first. Up came Al Bridwell who drove a pitch into center field scoring McCormick and giving the Giants a one game lead in the NL.

Except that it didn’t. Merkle, halfway to second and seeing McCormick score, turned and trotted toward the club house without ever touching second base. The rules (it’s 4.09) state that, with two outs, no run can score if the final out of the inning is a force play. Merkle was forced to run to second, so a force play was in order.

Johnny Evers

At this point, history leaves off and legend takes over. There a several versions of what happened next. All agree that Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle failed to touch second. He called for Cubs center fielder Circus Solly Hofman to throw him the ball. At this point there is great disagreement. The stories indicate that there was some interference with the throw. Most sources say that Giants base coach Joseph McGinnity intercepted the ball and threw it into the stands. Other sources say a fan (fans were on the field by this point) grabbed the ball and either tossed it into the stands or pocketed it. Whatever happened, Evers and other Cubs went after the ball. There seems to have been some sort of scuffle and Evers eventually emerged at second with a ball. Whether it was “the ball” or not is in open dispute. Wherever the ball came from, Evers was on second holding it and arguing that Merkle was out and that the run didn’t count. Umpire Hank O’Day agreed and called Merkle out. With fans all over the field and darkness approaching, he also called the game a tie.

Hank O’Day

New York exploded. McGraw was furious with the umpires, not with Merkle. Team President John T. Brush complained to the National League President. The Cubs prepared for the next game. The ramifications of the game would continue for the remainder of the season. They would effect both teams and, unexpectedly, help determine the fate of not only a pennant, but a life.




A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Hans Lobert

September 13, 2018

Hans Lobert with Philadelphia

1. John Bernard Lobert was born in Delaware in 1881. His father was a cabinet-maker.

2. The family later moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania (home of the Little League World Series) and then to Pittsburgh.

3. In 1903 he was given a tryout by his hometown Pirates. He was a neighbor of Honus Wagner, the two men liked each other, and Wagner, who was nicknamed “Hans” referred to Lobert as “Hans number two.”  He managed one hit, a bunt single, in 13 at bats that season, but picked up a nickname.

4. He spent 1904 in the minors then went to the Cubs in 1905, primarily as a third baseman. After a year with Chicago he was sent to Cincinnati.

5. Between 1905 and 1910, inclusive, he was the Reds primary third baseman, hitting as high as .310 and as low as .212. He did steal a lot of bases averaging 34 a season. In 1908 he stole second base, third base, and home in the same inning.

6. In late 1910 he was traded to Philadelphia (the Phillies, not the Athletics). He had a decent 1911, then was injured in 1912. While with Philly, he ran a foot race against Olympic Champion Jim Thorpe and won.

7. He had two more good years with the Phils, then was traded after 1914 to the Giants, thus missing Philadelphia’s first trip to the World Series in 1915.

8. He remained in New York through the 1917 season, then retired.

9. In retirement he coached at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY for eight seasons, then became a Giants scout. Later he managed in the minors.

10. In 1934, Lobert became a Phillies coach and remained a coach until 1942, when he became the manager. He was 42-109 in his sole year at the helm (he managed two games at Philadelphia on a interim basis in 1938, going 0-2).

11. He returned to the Giants as a coach and a roving instructor, then scouted for both the Dodgers and Giants until he died in 1968.

12. For his career, Lobert hit .274 with an OPS+ of 109, 316 stolen bases, 640 runs scored, and 23.1 WAR.

Edward G. Robinson (in cap) as Lobert

13. In 1953 the movie Big Leaguer starred Edward G. Robinson as Lobert.

Rucker for the Hall?

September 6, 2018

The post just below this discusses the no-hitter tossed by Brooklyn pitcher Nap Rucker in 1908. In a comment by rjkitch13, he speculates that if Rucker played for the Cubs, Giants, or Pirates, the dominant teams of the era, he’d be in the Hall of Fame.

Well, that lends itself to the question, is that the case? To begin with, the answer is “we’ll never know, because Rucker played his entire career in Brooklyn.” But we can do a little guessing. For his career (1907 through 1916) Rucker posted a 134-134 record, exactly a .500 winning percentage. In those same years, the Brooklyn team went 673-848 for a winning percentage of .443. So Rucker outperformed his team overall by a few percentage points (.057). Of course some years he did better and some years he did worse than his team, and in the final three years of his career he only started 35 games.

By contrast Chicago went 903-627 for a winning percentage of .590 over the same years (1907 through 1916). New York went 905-623 (.592 winning percentage), and Pittsburgh was 808-680( for a winning percentage of .555). All three teams did significantly better than Rucker’s Superbas/Robins (the two names the Brooklyn team carried while Rucker played for them). Would Rucker have fared better with any of these three teams? Likely, but ultimately unknowable.

In doing this short exercise I have concentrated on Rucker’s win-loss record. In the period most likely for him to have adorned a Hall of Fame voting ballot that stat would have been front and center in determining his enshrinement. With the Veteran’s Committees that followed, the same is true until at least very recently.

Finally, the answer to rjkitch13’s proposal is unknowable, but it is probable, based on what is unquestionably a small sampling of the information, that Rucker’s overall record, especially in wins and losses would have been better. Whether that would get Nap Rucker to the Hall of Fame is unknowable. But it is fun to speculate.

A thanks to rjkitch13 for bringing this little exercise to my attention and I suggest all of you take a look at his own blog. Give ’em the address rj.

1908: Rucker’s Gem

September 5, 2018

Nap Rucker

In an otherwise dreadful season, Brooklyn had one ray of sunshine in 1908. On 5 September, Nap Rucker, their best pitcher, tossed a no hitter against Boston.

Rucker’s gem was game two of a Saturday double-header (Brooklyn lost game one). The Superbas (that’s Brooklyn) sent him to the mound with a 14-14 record. He’d pitched well but hadn’t gotten a lot of support from his hitters. The Boston Doves (who are now in Atlanta) parried with Patrick “Patsy” Flaherty, who was 10-14.

Brooklyn put up four runs in the second inning and two more in the eighth to post six runs. Clean up hitting first baseman Tim Jordan went three for three with two runs scored and an RBI and an eighth inning solo home run (his ninth of what would be a league leading 12). Second baseman Whitey Alperman had two hits and scored two runs, while catcher Bill Bergen knocked in two with a second inning double. Rucker, meanwhile struck out 14 while walking none.

The Doves (don’t you just love that nickname?) took advantage of three Brooklyn errors to put men on base, but had no hits. Shortstop Bill Dahlen struck out three times in as many trips to the plate. Flaherty allowed eight hits, walked two, and struck out two.

Flaherty ended the season 12-18 with more walks than strikeouts, while Rucker went 17-19 with a 2.08 ERA,199 strikeouts, and a league leading 125 walks. At the end of the day Boston would was 52-72 and in sixth place. Brooklyn, after this day was 44-78 and in seventh place (next-to-last), 31 games out of first.

It was a long season for both teams, but at least Brooklyn had a no-hitter to its credit.

“The Last Innocents”: A Review

September 3, 2018

The Last Innocents cover

Recently I picked up a book entitled The Last Innocents by Michael Leahy. This is a volume concerning the 1960s Los Angeles Dodgers. It tells the story of the team through the eyes of several players, most prominently Maury Wills, Wes Parker, Sandy Koufax, Jeff Torborg, Tommy Davis, Dick Tracewski, and Lou Johnson, with side trips to talk about other players.

The book deals with the period from the call-up of Wills in the late 1950s through the retirement of Parker in the early 1970s. It looks at how each player interacted with the team, with his teammates, and with the larger community around. It is as much a social history of the era as it is a baseball book. Leahy looks at how the various team players dealt with the civil right movement, the assassinations of John  and Robert Kennedy (but doesn’t do much with the M.L. King assassination), the Watts Riot. Leahy considers the players as members of the community as well as ball players. Each sees the world differently, but also finds the ballpark and the team a haven away from the other things going on outside the stadium.

There are long passages about the entire process of contract “negotiations” (the players didn’t get to do much negotiating) and how it led ultimately to Marvin Miller ( a minor character in the book) and the Player’s Union.

Because this is primarily an oral history (done through interviews not documents) you get a look at the ideas, plans, fears, and concerns of the players not just as players but as citizens of a country beginning to make a major change in its society. If you find the 1960s fascinating, this is a different look at the era. If you are a fan of the Dodgers, especially the 1960s, team, this is worth the read.

I found it in paperback at Barnes and Noble for $16.99.