Posts Tagged ‘1910-1914 Philadelphia Athletics’

Opening Day 1914: American League

March 27, 2014
Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Next week marks what most of us consider the real Opening Day for MLB. So it’s time for a look at what was going on Opening Day 100 years ago. As the American League contained the World Champion Athletics, I think I’ll start with them (having done the “outlaw” Federal League already).

The champion A’s were much the same team as the 1913 version with the $100,000 Infield in place (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Baker). The outfield was still decent and in Wally Schang the A’s had a good catcher. They led the AL in hits, runs, home runs, RBIs, and average. The Athletics used a dominant pitching staff to rule the A for five years, but it was beginning to fray. Jack Coombs was gone (he pitched only 2 games), Eddie Plank was 38 and not aging well. Herb Pennock had five starts over the previous two years, while Bullet Joe Bush had all of 17. As a consequence, the A’s would have 24 shutouts, but lead the league in no other category. They were fourth in ERA and hits allowed.

Two teams would give them a run for their money. One was Washington. The Senators finished 19 games back, but they had Walter Johnson who led the AL in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts.

The greater challenge came from Boston. the Red Sox still had Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, ad Harry Hooper as their outfield. Speaker led the league in hits and doubles. Pitcher Dutch Leonard went 19-5 with an all-time low ERA of 1.00 (try losing five games with that ERA). But the most important news at Boston and for baseball in general was the arrival on 11 July of a rookie pitcher from Baltimore with the nickname of “Babe” Ruth. He would go 2-1 over four games (three starts), but it was the beginning of the most famous of all Major League careers.

Around the rest of the AL, Ty Cobb again won a batting title (.368) and the slugging crown (.513). His teammate Sam Crawford led the league in RBIs and triples. Fritz Maisel, a third baseman for the Highlanders, won the stolen base title with 74 and Baker with the A’s copped the home run title with nine. In April future Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber made his debut for the White Sox, while Fred McMullin, one of the 1919 Black Sox (and Faber teammate) played his first big league game with Detroit in August. The 1920s stalwarts Everett Scott and Jack Tobin also first show up in 1914. Finally, 1914 is the rookie campaign for Bill Wambsganss, famous for the only unassisted triple play in World Series history (1920).

In the World Series, Philadelphia would be mauled by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston. It would be the end of Connie Mack’s A’s dynasty (he’d put together another in 1929) and the arrival of Ruth would signal the start of a new dynasty. This one in Fenway Park.

 

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The Mackmen

April 5, 2013
1911 Athletics leave the field (note the White Elephants on their jackets)

1911 Athletics leave the field (note the White Elephants on their jackets)

Baseball is full of dynasties. Although some people might pick the 1903-04 Boston team as the first American League dynasty, I have a better candidate. I pick the 1910-1914 Philadelphia Athletics, Connie Mack’s White Elephants.

Connie Mack was a catcher for a handful of years in the 19th Century. He was known for his savvy and his knowledge of the game, but not so much for his hitting. When the American League was formed in 1901 he joined Ben Shibe in creating the team in Philadelphia. With tradition using “Athletics” for the team from Philly, Mack adopted the name, and after a jibe from John McGraw, adopted the “white elephant” as the team logo.

They were good from the beginning. In 1902, they won the second AL pennant. In 1905 they won another pennant and participated in the second World Series, losing in five games to McGraw’s Giants. For the next three seasons they finished in the first division in 1906 and ’07, then slid to sixth in 1908. By 1909 they were in a new ballyard, Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium), and on the rebound.

The 1910-1914 A’s were a truly great team. With the 1915-1918 Red Sox, they provide one of the two great AL dynasties in Deadball Baseball. They were a team that did almost everything well. They hit, they hit for power (Deadball version), ran the bases, fielded well (for the era), and had excellent pitching. With the prevailing small rosters of the era, they even managed to put together a decent bench.

The heart of the team was the infield. In 1910 Harry Davis was finishing up a  solid career. He’d picked up three home run titles and a couple of RBI crowns along the way and was one of Mack’s favorites. By 1911 he was being replaced by Stuffy McInnis, a wonderful fielding first baseman (for any era) who hit .300 for his career and regularly knocked in 90 runs (during the 1911-14 run). Jack Barry played short and hit low in the order for a reason. He was a good, but not spectacular fielder. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins anchored second. He usually batted second, stole a lot of bases, hit .300 regularly, played second well, and his career high in strikeouts was 41 (OK, he wasn’t Joe Sewell, but he was still pretty good at putting the bat on the ball). Some stat heads consider him the greatest of all second basemen. At third there was J. Frank Baker. He was the power hitter for the team. He won three home run titles, a triples title, a couple of RBI crowns, and in 1911 hit two memorable home runs in the World Series that gave him the nickname “Home Run Baker.” Like Collins, he is also in the Hall of Fame.

The other key to the Mackmen was their pitching staff. Mack always seemed to find jewels for his mound. Maybe being an ex-catcher helped. By 1910 the staff revolved around three pitchers. Eddie Plank was the oldest and the left-hander. He’d been a mainstay of the Athletics since 1901, had been part of both championship teams (1902 and ’05), had pitched in the 1905 World Series, and was generally Mack’s most reliable pitcher. He would, when he retired in 1917, be the winningest lefty ever (326 wins). But Mack’s favorite was Chief Bender. Bender Joined the A’s in 1903, won the only game the A’s won in the ’05 World Series, and was the pitcher Mack favored to start most important series’ and to anchor the postseason staff. Jack Coombs was the new guy. He got to Philly in 1906, had been fairly undistinguished, then in 1910 put it together for a great three-year run. In 1913 he came down with typhoid, which derailed his career. He got back to the World Series with Brooklyn in 1916 (winning their only game) but was never the pitcher he’d been between 1910 and 1912. In 1910 and ’11 Harry Krause and Cy Morgan were the other pitchers who spent major time on the mound. Boardwalk Brown and Bob Shawkey (who later managed the Yankees) replaced them for the late run with a young Herb Pennock being available in 1914.

Neither the catchers nor the outfielders were as well-known in the era. During the 1910-14 run, Mack used three catchers primarily: Jack Lapp, Ira Thomas, and Wally Schang, who was a rookie in 1913. Neither Lapp nor Thomas were much in the batters box. Thomas hit right-handed and all of .242 with no power. Lapp hit lefty and made it all the way to .263. Both men played almost the same amount of games one year, then the next one would play a lot more, so it’s difficult to see that Mack was platooning them (the percentage of lefty pitchers can’t have changed that much in one year). Maybe he was, but it’s hard to see. From what I can find, neither was used as a personal catcher for a particular pitcher (ala Carlton-McCarver), so I’m not quite sure how it worked. Maybe Mack, being a former catcher, knew how much the job wore on a player and decided to make sure each stayed healthy by using them about equally.

Five different men did most of the outfield work: Rube Oldring, Eddie Murphy, Jimmy Walsh, Amos Strunk,and Bris Lord. For 1910 only, Topsy Hartsell patrolled the outfield. As a group they tended to hit around .280 with at least one in the .300s. Strunk, in particular, was known for his arm. Add to them Danny Murphy (apparently not related to Eddie) who was good enough to play about anywhere and you had the makings of a pretty fair bench.

Between 1910 and 1914 the A’s won three World Series’ (1910, ’11, and ’13) and lost one more (1914). Hard times and the coming of the Federal League caused Mack to break up the team in 1915. Collins, Baker, and McInnis would go on to greater glory with pennant winning teams, but Mack and Philadelphia would languish in the AL until the late 1920s.