Posts Tagged ‘1908 American League’

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: The End of May

May 31, 2018

Continuing on with something like a detailed look at the 1908 Major League season, here’s a few notes on where things stood at the end of May.

Honus Wagner

The National League

By the close of May, 1908, the National League began to settle down into those teams that were going to do well and the have-nots. Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh had winning records. Boston, Brooklyn, and St. Louis didn’t. The Cubs were in first, 3.5 games ahead of New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. The Pirates were a bit further back at four games.

It was Honus Wagner’s year. In 1908 he would put together the greatest year by WAR of any hitter prior to the arrival of Babe Ruth in New York. By the end of May Wagner was at .311 (.840 OPS) with nine steals. He’d end the year at .354/.957 and 53 steals. He obviously got better as the season when on.

The American League

T Cobb (see, he could smile)

The American League

The junior circuit saw huge changes in May. At the end of April, Detroit, the defending AL champs, were in last place. By the end of May the Tigers had clawed their way into second place, percentage points behind New York. The Browns, Athletics, and Naps (Cleveland) were all over .500 and fifth place Cleveland was only 1.5 games out of first. The White Sox had a losing record (17-19), but were only three games back, with seventh place Washington only a half game further back. Only the Red Sox were more than five games out of the lead (they were 6.5 back).

Much of Detroit’s turn around was attributed to Ty Cobb, who’d gotten his average back over .300 (.302). Of further note, Washington was holding close despite Walter Johnson not yet having pitched. His first game was 11 June.

Next month there are a couple of specifics I want to get into, but this should give you some sense of what’s going on 110 years ago.

1908: The Second Division of the Junior Circuit

March 13, 2018

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.

1908: The First Division of the Junior Circuit

March 7, 2018

ChiSox manager Fielder Jones

The 1907 season ended with Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cleveland holding down the first division (upper half, for all of you too young to remember the term) of the American League. Here’s a look at where each stood as the 1908 season was ready to unfold.

Detroit: The Tigers were reigning AL champs, having won the 1907 pennant with 92 victories. They’d lost the World Series in a sweep. Well, sort of a sweep. Game one was a 12 inning tie that a lot of fans thought was played to tie and increase the player’s take from the Series. In 1907 the teams got a cut from every game. That changed for 1908 when it was determined that the player cut would be for the first four games only (so already 1908 had created a change without a ball being thrown). It was supposed to stop teams trying to stretch the World Series for money purposes.

As you might expect for a World Series participant, the team wasn’t much changed. Germany Schaefer moved from second to short and 1907 shortstop Charley O’Leary would ride the pine for 1908. Red Downs would be the new second baseman. The strength of the team was the outfield. Matty McIntyre played one position. He’d been the fourth outfielder in 1907 and now switched positions with Davy Jones. But the stalwarts, Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, were still in the pasture and with Crawford in his prime and Cobb still getting better, those two positions were settled for the long haul. The pitching was decent, but not spectacular. One worry for the staff was that both Bill Donovan and Ed Killian were over 30.

Philadelphia: Connie Mack’s Athletics finished 1907 with 88 wins. They were two years off a World Series appearance (they’d lost) and were in something of a transition. Third baseman Jimmie Collins was 38 in 1908. Mack was looking for a replacement and brought John Franklin Baker to the team as a player who might take over the job (“Home Run” Baker was still two years away from the nickname.). Danny Murphy, veteran second baseman, moved to the outfield and the new kid (although he’d played some in 1907) was Eddie Collins, who held some promise. Bench players Jack Barry, Amos Strunk, and Jack Lapp were all less than 24 and were beginning to get their feet wet. All would be starters by 1910. And there was a rookie who would come to the A’s in 1910 named Joe Jackson. He’d do little for the A’s, so they’d trade him later. There was nothing wrong with the pitching. Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, and Jack Coombs would be around for a while.

Chicago: The White Sox were third in 1907. To begin that campaign, they were defending World Champs, having ousted the Cubs in the 1906 World Series. The 1906 team was nicknamed the “Hitless Wonders,” which should tell you a lot about their pitching. Ed Walsh was beginning his prime and Doc White, Nick Altrock, and Frank Smith were expected to contribute. Hall of Famer George Davis was 37 and player-manager Fielder Jones was 36. Three other everyday players were also in their thirties, as was a rather significant part of their bench. If the pitching held, the team could contend.

Cleveland: The Naps finished 1907 in fourth place, two games behind Chicago. They had Hall of Famers Nap LaJoie in the infield and Elmer Flick in the outfield. They had another Hall of Famer in pitcher Addie Joss. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much else. In 1907 only one other major starter (the catcher) hit over .250. In 1908, they hadn’t changed much.

Next time, a look at the bottom half of the AL at the beginning of the 1908 season.

1908: That Other Race

February 1, 2010

The 1908 season is most famous for the National League pennant race and the Merkle Game. but there was a heck of a race in the American League too. Three teams were in contention on the last day.

After five months of solid baseball, the American League race came down to September and October. Detroit was in first place with St Louis (the Browns, not the Cardinals), Chicago, and Cleveland all bunched 2.5 games or less behind. By the 23rd, the date of the Merkle Game, St. Louis had fallen off, but the other 3 were still tightly bunched with Cleveland 2.5 games ahead. On the 25th, Detroit would begin a run that led to 10 consecutive wins against the A’s, Washington, and St. Louis. Then they dropped two in a row to the White Sox.

Meanwhile the ChiSox and Cleveland had kept pace. On 2 October they met each other in one of the finest pitching duels ever. White Sox pitcher Ed Walsh, on his way to a 40 win season, struck out 15 and gave up a single run. Addie Joss, the Naps hurler, was even better. He threw a perfect game.

By 6 October, the end of the regular season, Detroit was a half game up and played Chicago. They won 7-0 to put the Sox back 1.5 games. Cleveland beat St. Louis 5-1 to finish a half game back. Detroit ended the season 90-63, Cleveland 90-64, and Chicago 88-64. Only the Naps had played a complete schedule, both Chicago and Detroit losing a game to a rainout. Under the rules of the day, the  game didn’t have to be made up. So the Tigers went to the World Series and promptly lost in 5 games. The American League moved to change the rules requiring ties and rainouts be made up if they impacted the pennant. There is no record of the Naps’ asking “What took so long?”

On an individual basis, Walsh ended the season 40-15 over 66 games (49 of them starts) and led the league with 269 strikeouts and 7 saves (a stat not yet invented). Joss’ 1.16 ERA topped the league. In hitting Ty Cobb won the batting, slugging, hits, doubles, triples, and RBI titles, while outfield teammate Wahoo Sam Crawford took the home run crown (in 1909 Cobb would complete the Triple Crown). The other Tigers outfielder, Matty McIntyre, led the league in runs scored , making it one of the more productive outfields ever. Chicago’s Patsy Dougherty led in steals with 47.

Over the years the American League race has been obscured by the National League. That’s a great shame because it was equally sensational. There just wasn’t one game and one incident that turned the season quite so dramatically as Fred Merkle’s dash toward second.