Posts Tagged ‘1910 baseball season’

Why 1910 Matters

October 11, 2010

Since April I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time running all over the 1910 baseball season. Part of that is simply because it was 100 years ago and a centennial is worth remembering. It’s also because the season is interesting in itself. But primarily I’ve been focusing on the 1910 season because it is a watershed season for Major League Baseball. There are a lot of reasons why. Here are some in no particular order.

1. The appointment of Hal Chase as manager of the Highlanders (Yankees) is not, for managerial purposes, all that important. What is important is the ability of the owners and the National Commission (which ran baseball before Judge Landis) to look the other way when it came to gambling in the big leagues. Failure to crack down on this sort of activity meant that it was going to get worse and that eventually something like the Black Sox scandal was bound to occur. The players likely to participate in this kind of thing now had proof that not only were the powers that be not going to do anything about gambling,  but might actually reward a player if the situation was right. I don’t want to compare it directly with the steroid situation of the 1990s, but it does seem that Malamud was right, we really don’t learn from our mistakes (The book “The Natural”–not the movie–has this as one of its central themes.).

2. During the 19th Century the National Association, the Union Association, the American Association, and the Player’s League had all existed, as had the National League. By 1892 they were all gone. Only the American Association survived 10 seasons, and by the tenth was on life support. By contrast the American League, founded in 1901, was now ten years old and flourishing. The 1910 season marked a decade of success both as a business and on the field. Frankly, baseball had not had this kind of stability in its history. Ban Johnson had managed to create a new Major League and made it work. By 1910 there was no question the AL was here to stay and that the National League finally had a partner co-equal to it. 

3. The Athletics had created the first successful AL dynasty. From league founding in 1901 through 1910, four teams won all the AL pennants: Chicago (1901, 1906), Philadelphia (1902, 1905, 1910), Boston (1903-1904), and Detroit (1907-1909). None of the pre-1910 teams created a dynasty. OK, Detroit won three years in a row, but was defeated in all three World Series matchups, which is kinda hard to call a dynasty. Let’s be honest, dynasties work, especially if they happen to be your team. Baseball seems to do best in attendance and popularity when there is a dynasty. They give fans both a hero and a villain (depending on whether you like the team or not) and 3500 years of drama tell us that nothing  in entertainment sells like heroes and villains. On top of that, it was easy to like the A’s. Connie Mack was a nice enough human being (except when it came to paying his players–a common problem in the era). You hear very few negative comments about Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, or Stuffy McInnis. And in the case of  Chief Bender, he was a sympathetic figure to many fans because of all the racial riding he took (he was an American Indian). All those things went together to help boost attendance and cash.

4. The Cubs dynasty had come to an end. If one dynasty was born in 1910, another died. The “Tinker to Evers to Chance” Cubs had their last fling in 1910. Between 1906 and 1910 the Cubs dominated the NL. They won four of five pennants (losing in 1909 to Pittsburgh) and two World Series’ (1907-8). But 1910 was the end. In the Cubs Postmortem post I detailed what went wrong, so I don’t intend to do it again. But the loss of the Cubs dynasty is signficant because it allowed for a more wide open NL. If having a dynasty is good for baseball, having two isn’t. One league has to remain open for fans to believe their team has a chance to win. With the death of the Cubs dynasty hope could rise for other teams in the NL, notably John McGraw’s New York team, but also in the next ten years Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Cincinnati would also win pennants (as would the Cubs in 1918). The end of the Cubs dynasty also ushered in the beginning of the Cubs mystique as the “loveable losers.” With only sporadic exception, the Cubs have been non-factors in the NL since.  After four pennants in five seasons, the Cubs have won the NL title exactly six times (1918, 1929, 1932, 1935. 1938, 1945). They are now a synonym for “loser”, a tradition that began with the end of the 1910 season.

5 The AL became the dominant league. I said earlier that the reasons 1910 mattered were in no particular order, but this one is last on purpose because it’s the most important. Between 1903 and 1909 there were six World Series matchups. The NL won four (1905, 1907-09) and the AL only two (1903, 1906). By 1910, the AL hadn’t beaten the NL in four years. All that changed in 1910. Take a look at the next ten years, actually 11 because I’m going to ignore the 1919 “fixed” Series. Between 1910 and 1920 inclusive the NL wins one untainted World Series, 1914. And it took a team known as the “Miracle Braves” to do that.  The AL won everything else: Philadelphia in 1910-11, 1913; Boston in 1912, 1915-16, 1918; Chicago in 1917; and Cleveland in 1920. And that kind of dominance continues in some measure all the way to 2010. Here’s the World Series wins by league by decade since 1910 (going from the zero year to the nine year to determine a decade, thus 1920-29, 1940-49, etc.) 1910-19: AL-8, NL-2 (including 1919), 1920-29: AL-6, NL-4, 1930-9: AL-7, NL-3; 1940-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1950-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1960-9: AL-4, NL-6, 1970-9: AL-6, NL-4; 1980-9: AL-5, NL 5, 1990-9: AL-6, NL-3 (and no series in 1994): 2000-9: AL-6, NL-4. In each decade except the 1960s, when the NL actually wins more World Series championships and  1980s when the each win five, the American League has won the more often. I think this is much more significant than the results of the All Star game which saw the NL have along period of dominance in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m not really impressed with winning an exhibition game. So the American League has been the superior league in most of the last 100 years, and that began in 1910.

I’ve enjoyed going over the 1910 season. I learned a lot, some significant, some trivial. I’ve begun to celebrate the players of the era more by having done this, and I consider that a good thing. Hope you enjoyed it.

1910: End of July

July 28, 2010

Huntington Avenue Grounds, Home of the Red Sox

Normally this post would be my last for the month, but I have a particular post I want to run on the 30th, so I’m doing the end of July 1910 post a little early.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he 1910 season was playing out as most seasons do. By the end of July half the teams were already playing out the string, while most of the rest were trying hard to maintain contact with the leaders. In each league, only a couple of teams were in position to actually take the pennant.

In the National League the Cubs were seven games up on the Giants and 7.5 ahead of Pittsburgh. The Cubs had gone 21-9 for the month, while the Giants were going 15-14 and the Pirates 19-10. Everyone else was falling back. The fourth place Reds were playing .500 ball (45-45) while Philadelphia, St. Louis, Brooklyn, and Boston filled out the second division. Last place Boston was 27.5 games out of first.

In the American League, the Athletics were in first place by six games over Boston and seven over New York. For July Philadelphia went 22-9. Defending champion Detroit was 9.5 games out in fourth place and the last team with a winning record. Cleveland, despite a great year from Nap LaJoie, had a losing record in fifth place followed by Washington, Chicago, and the hapless Browns who were in last place 33 games back.

The big story of the year continued to be in New York where the Highlanders (Yankees) are still in contention, although they had a bad July (17-16). Coming off a bad 1909, they were showing signs of making a run for first. Of course the continuing conflict between manager George Stallings and first baseman Hal Chase was not helping team morale (Stallings alleged that Chase wasn’t always playing to win. Stallings was right.).

1910: End of June

June 30, 2010

Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders in 1910

By the end of June 1910, the season was beginning to take definite form in both leagues. There were few surprises, although the American League had a big one. Here’s a look at the way Major League Baseball stood at the end of June 1910.

The National League was running true to pre-season expectations. The Chicago Cubs were in first place with a record of 38-21. They were 1.5 games up on the New York Giants, with the defending champion Pittsburgh Pirates another4.5 games back. Cincinnati rounded out the first division 8.5 games back with a .500 record (30-30 with one tie on the books). The Phillies, Cardinals, and Brooklyn Superbas were bunched closed behind the Reds in position to step into the first division. The Doves of Boston were already mired deep in last place 18 games out of first with a record of 22-41 (with a tie). Honus Wagner was on track for another batting title, but Philadelphia outfielder Sherry Magee was having a monster year and already ahead in the RBI department.

The big surprise was in the American League. Philadelphia was a game ahead at the end of June, but second place belonged to the New York Highlanders (now Yankees). The Highlanders finished fifth in 1909 and were not favorites for a pennant in 1910. But manager George Stallings (of 1914 Miracle Braves fame) had them in contention. They led the AL in stolen bases and Russ Ford was striking out a lot of batters. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, manager Stallings was already having problems with first baseman Hal Chase, who seemed not to be trying very hard to win games on occasion. It was to be a career long problem for Chase’s managers.

It helped the Highlanders, that the Athletics had a terrible June. The A’s went 12-12 for the month (unfortunately the Highlanders only went 13-11 for the month), their worst month of the season. Chief Bender was doing alright on the mound, but ace Eddie Plank was off his game. Jack Coombs was doing OK, but nothing special (his time was to come later in the season).

Both the Tigers defending AL champs) and Red Sox were in range of first (3 and 6 games out), but had yet to make a charge. The second division teams, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, and St. Louis, were falling back, although Senators pitcher Walter Johnson was having a decent first half.

So except for the Highlanders, the season was playing out about as expected. There were three months left (plus a handful of October games) to sort out the winners, but other than the AL’s New York team, there were no surprises. Of course, it was only half a season and a lot of things could change.

In July there will be a couple of major developments that will be dealt with on the appropriate date.

1910: Tinker

June 28, 2010

Joe Tinker

He is one of the most famous shortstops in the history of baseball, primarily for a piece of bad poetry that begins “Tinker to Evers to Chance.” Despite not having played a game outside baseball’s Stone Age, Joe Tinker is still known, if only vaguely, because people know that single line. But today marks the centennial of Joe Tinker doing something no other Major Leaguer had ever done. On Tuesday, 28 June 1910, in an 11-1 romp over Cincinnati, Tinker became the first big league ballplayer to steal home twice in a single game.

Over a career lasting from 1902 through 1916, Tinker played 1806 games, all but 267 with the Chicago Cubs. He managed to hit .262 with 2273 total bases, 263 doubles and  114 triples. His OBP was .308, his slugging percentage was .353, giving him an OPS of .661. He stole 336 bases (including the two on this date one hundred years ago) and walked 416 times. In 1914 and 1915 he played in the Federal League, hitting about what he hit for his career. He managed the Federal League Chicago Whales to second place in 1914 and then won the Feds pennant in 1915. In 1916 he took over the Cubs manager’s role and led them to fifth place, a spot down from their 1915 position. He was let go and the Cubs remained in fifth for 1916.

He played in four World Series’, all with the Cubs. He was part of a winning team in 1907 and 1908, and suffered losses in 1906 and 1910. He didn’t do particularly well in World Series play, hitting .235 with one home run, seven stolen bases, and 21 total bases. His best Series’ were 1908 when he hit the home run, slugged .421, and had four RBIs; and 1910 when he hit .333, slugged .444, and had two doubles.  

Over the years, because of the poem, he’s become most famous for his fielding. It’s also become common to deride his fielding as nothing special.  His fielding numbers certainly aren’t bad for the era, but Honus Wagner he isn’t. It is, however, wrong to deride his contribution at short. He finished first in assists by shortstops three times and second another three. He was also first in errors once and second a further two times. His range factor was consistently in the top four shortstops and led the league three times (plus once in the Federal League). He still ranks 38th in defensive games as a shortstop.

I think a lot of the problem people have with Tinker is that he’s in the Hall of Fame. His numbers aren’t bad, but to single him out for the Hall is a bit much for most people. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1946 by the “Old Timer’s Committee” (We now call it the “Veteran’s Committee”, which has a nicer ring for us old timer’s.). Prior to his election he’d not gotten a lot of support among the writers, but was steadily climbing the ladder, peaking at 27.2% in 1946, the year the Veteran’s Committee put him over the top.

I’m not sure Tinker really deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown. Maybe he does; maybe he doesn’t. And I guess that says a lot about what I truly think. It seems to me that there should be no question about whether a player is in the HoF or he isn’t, so if you have a question, then he’s probably not someone who should, in your opinion, be there. Now I don’t mean to imply by that comment that all of us will question the same people or agree on the same people, only that if you have a question in your own mind then you probably deep down inside don’t think the guy ought to be honored. For me Tinker is one of those. Having said all that, I’m still glad he’s remembered.

1910:The End of May

May 30, 2010

There’s an excellent chance I won’t be blogging more in May, so I want to add in the next of my posts on the 1910 season. This one’s focus is the situation at the end of May, one and a half months into the season.

The month of May saw a shake out in the standings in both leagues, particularly the American League. Each AL team had played between 40 and 32 games with the Philadelphia Athletics taking over first place with a 26-9-1 record. They were two games up on the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees). The A’s infield was producing well and the pitching was leading the league. Chief Bender, as mentioned in a previous post, had thrown a no-hitter. The Tigers and Red Sox were in thrid and fourth place 5 and 7 games back. Both had shown spurts of good hitting, but were having pitching problems.

But the real problems were in the second division of the AL. Cleveland was already 10.5 games back and Washington 11.5. Nap LaJoie at Cleveland was doing well and would ultimately challenge for the league lead in hitting. At Washington, Walter Johnson was beginning to turn into the dominant pitcher who would take his place in Cooperstown 25 years later. The White Sox were already 13 games back and woeful St. Louis Browns were 7-28-2 and 19 games out of first (12 out of the first division). They were the only team yet to win ten games.

The National League was more competitive at this point. The Chicago Cubs were in first, but only a half game ahead of the New York Giants. The Cubs infield was doing well as was the pitching. The Cubs staff had only allowed 94 runs by this point. The third place Pirates were 3.5 back and the Cincinnati Reds at four back rounded out the upper division.

The lower division was in better shape than their American League counterparts. St. Louis was six back, Brooklyn eight back, and Phillies 8.5. All were in easy range of the first division and still in contention for a pennant. The Boston Doves (now the Atlanta Braves) were in last place 9.5 back with a record of 13-23-1 (better than either the White Sox or Browns in the AL). So at this point the NL was much more wide open.

By the end of June much will change and the races will be shaping up nicely. A couple of other things will also occur and will be dealt with when the time arrives.

Opening Day, 1910: an Introduction

April 5, 2010

Shibe Park, Philadelphia

We’re still 10 days from the centennial of the 1910 season. Opening day in 1910 was 14 April. Leading up to that date, I am going to spend a great deal of time writing about the teams that played in 1910. I’m going to start with NL champion Pittsburgh (they won the World Series in 1909) and work to Boston which finished dead last; then move to the AL and start with World Series loser Detroit and finish with last place Washington. I want to look, briefly, at each team as it stood ready to open the 1910 season. What had changed from 1909, who was new, what prospects were there that the team might do well? Then during the season I’ll make updates, probably about one a month, keeping the season flowing into October. When I’m done, if I do it right, you should have some sense of the season 100 years ago.

Why do all this for 1910? Well, it’s because the 1910 season is one of the most seminal in baseball history. It’s not that the stats are overwhelming, no major records were established, except that Philadelphia set the AL record for wins (it would last two years). There were only two no-hitters, no where near a record, and there were no perfect games. Seminal?

Well, yes, because 1910 marked the transfer of Major League power from the National League to the American League. There were six World Series’ contested prior to 1910. The AL won the first and the big upset in 1906, but the NL won the other four and had won three in a row. The next time the NL wins three in a row is 1963-65. The AL will begin a dominence that lasts in some ways the entire 100 years. In the 19-teens, the AL will win four in a row twice, 1910-13 and 1915-1918. They’ll win four in a row in 1927-1930; five in a row in 1935-1939; seven in a row in 1947-1953;  and three in a row in 1972-1974, 1983-1985, 1991-1993, 1998-2000. In contrast, the NL wins the three in a row mentioned above and four in a row once (1979-1882). Only in the 1960s does the NL win more World Series’ than the AL (1960, 1963-65, 1967, and 1969). In every other decade since 1910, the AL has at least broken even at five-five. 

1910 also saw the rise of the first successful AL dynasty, the Philadelphia Athletics. They will play in four of the next five World Series and win three of them. It begins a long line of AL dynasties that carries the AL to the records mentioned in the paragraph above.

So to me 1910 is worth studying. A lot of modern baseball’s league power structure comes from that long ago season. I hope to chronical it, if not explain why it starts.