Posts Tagged ‘1909 World Series’

Tom, Dick, and Larry: Tom

May 24, 2010

Tommy Leach

Going to take the occasion of my return to something like normal around here to write about three players from baseball’s Stone Age that are worth remembering. As you know if you’ve read much of my stuff, I’m concerned that the players who were the foundation of the game are more or less ignored by modern players and fans. Here’s a small chance to recall a few of them.

Tommy Leach got to the Major Leagues with the Giants in 1898, managed to get into no games, and ended up being sent to the Louisville Colonels (then a National League team). When the NL contracted to eight teams from twelve in 1900, Leach and many of his teammates (including Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke) made the trek across Ohio to Pittsburgh and settled in with the Pirates. In 1901 he became the regular Pirates third baseman, hitting .305 with 153 total bases in only 95 games. For the next several years, Leach wandered all over the batting order, sometimes leading off, occasionally hitting third, one year as low as sixth. He finally settled in the two slot and about the same time (1907) became the regular center fielder. He had good speed, a decent arm, and range and was to remain in center through 1911, when he suffered a series of injuries. In 1912, he went to the Cubs in a trade. He stayed with Chicago through 1914, when to Cincinnati in 1915, then was out of the majors. He made a brief comeback in 1918, a war year (World War I), playing 30 games as a backup outfielder for the Pirates. He was 40 and done. He hung on in the minors for a while, but settled finally in Florida, where he managed a few years in the Florida State League. He died in 1969, the last surviving Pirate from the 1903 World Series.

For his career Leach hit .270 with a .371 slugging percentage. He had 2947 total bases, including 170 triples, 23rd on the all-time list.  He led the NL in home runs in 1902 with all of six, and in triples the same year. Of his 63 home runs, 49 are of the inside-the-park variety, which is second ever (Sam Crawford had 51). In both 1909 and 1913, he led the league in runs scored. In the 1903 World Series, he scored the first ever run (0ff Cy Young). For the Series he hit .273 with a series leading four triples and seven RBIs. In the 1909 World Series he led all hitter with a .360 average, four doubles, eight runs, and nine hits. The eight runs in 1909 ties him with a number of others for most runs in a seven game series and the four triples in 1903 is still the all-time record for triples in a World Series.

Leach did all this while standing only 5’6″ and weighing 135 pounds, making him one of the smallest players of his era. Having seen pictures of him, I’m guessing the weigh-in was done after a meal of at least two steaks and three deserts. (Geez, he’s tiny, especially when you see him standing next to Wagner–who was a huge man for the era.) You know you can make a pretty good team of small men. Leach, Johnny Evers (who may have been even smaller than Leach), David Eckstein, Mel Ott, Albie Pearson, and Bobby Schantz give you a pretty fair team to start.

Leach was never a big star in his own day. He had the problem of playing on the same team with Wagner, Clarke, Deacon Phillippe, Jack Chesbro, Sam Leever, and Jesse Tannehill. All were arguably better players. Each was certainly more well-known in their era. It’s fitting we remember him with them. He was a major part of what made that Pirate engine run.

The Dutchman vs the Peach

January 19, 2010

By general consensus the two great position players of the Deadball Era are Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. Two people more unalike is tough to imagine. Wagner was from the Pennsylvania coal fields. He was quiet, dignified, admired by his teammates, apparently relatively free from racism (when told John Henry Lloyd was being called “The Black Wagner”, Honus was supposed to have said he was honored to be compared with Lloyd). Cobb, on the other hand, was from Georgia. Quiet would never describe him. He was brash, angry, violent, tolerated rather than liked by his teammates, and violently racist. The did have one thing in common, they were great ballplayers. For fans who wanted to see both in action against each other, there was a problem. Wagner (“The Flying Dutchman”) played in the National League while Cobb (“The Georgia Peach”) played in the American League. The only way they could be on the same field in an meaningful game would be in the World Series. In 1909, that finally happened.

Cobb’s Detroit Tigers swept to the American League pennant by 3.5 games over the A’s. Led by Cobb, who hit league leading numbers of 377 in batting, 107 RBI’s, and 9 homers to become the second American Leaguer to win the Triple Crown (Nap LaJoie in 1901), the Tigers had future Hall of Famers Sam Crawford and manager Hughie Jennings on the team. The leading pitchers were George Mullin (29 wins) and Ed Willett (22 wins).

The Pittsburgh Pirates, who knocked off the Cubs by 6.5 games, had Wagner who led the league in hitting at 339 and in RBI’s at 100, along with a league leading 39 doubles. They also had future Hall of Famer and manager-left fielder Fred Clarke and got good seasons from Bill Abstein (1st base), Dots Miller (2nd base), and Tommy Leach (center field). The pitching was led by Howie Camnitz (25 wins) and future Hall of Famer Vic Willis (22 wins).

It was a good series, the first to go the full compliment of 7 games (The 1903 Series was a best of nine. There was a game 7, but it was the penultimate game.) The Pirates won all the odd numbered games, the Tigers the even numbered games (what are the chances of that?). Neither Wagner nor Cobb were the stars. Cobb hit only 231, stole only 2 bases, but led the team with 5 RBIs. Wagner did better hitting 333 with 6 stolen bases and 2 RBIs. But the big stars were Clarke who hit both Pirates home runs and tallied 7 RBIs with only a 211 batting average, Leach who hit 360, and an obscure pitcher named Babe Adams who won 3 of the Pirates 4 games (13 game winner Nick Maddox won the other game). Adams put up a 1.33 ERA and struck out 11 in 27 innings. He pitched three complete game victories, including game 7.

When the Series ended, Pittsburgh had its first championship, the Tigers had lost 3 World Series’ in a row. Neither Cobb nor Wagner would ever make it back to a Series as a player. Both men would be in the initial Hall of Fame class.