Posts Tagged ‘1910 New York Highlanders’

1910: The Absolute Worst Managerial Choice Ever Made

September 20, 2010

Hal Chase

That’s a strong statement in the title, isn’t it? Sounds extreme, right? The absolute worst choice ever made, really? Actually, it’s not even close. On this date one hundred years ago the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) fired manager George Stallings and installed Hal Chase as the new field general. No one’s ever done a worse job of picking a manager. 

It’s not like Chase was a bad choice. Chase was a disastrous choice. You want your manager to do a lot of things, and one of the most important is to make decisions that will enhance your team’s opportunity to win. Chase often made decisions that enhanced the Highlanders’ opportunity to lose. And he did them on purpose. You see, Chase was a crook. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. Chase probably holds the record for most games “fixed” in Major League history and the powers that be in New York just handed him the reigns to the team. Incredible. You want to bet on the Highlanders to lose? Well, just flip Chase a few bills and the pitching rotation will change. A few more bills, and the starting left fielder hitting .350 will suddenly be on the bench. Give him enough money and Chase will throw the game himself if necessary. 

Now I’ve heard defenses of Chase that basically say he was underpaid and was simply trying to make ends meet. Hey, Hal, so am I and I promise that if I could ever get to the Major Leagues, I wouldn’t throw a game. My son can testify that when our  little league team was eliminated from the pennant race, I didn’t start letting just anybody pitch. Even at that level you don’t throw games. I am the first to say I understand and sympathize with the salary plight of players in the Deadball Era. What the owners did to them economically was awful, but it doesn’t absolve them from knowing what’s right and what isn’t. I supposed somewhere in Chase’s warped mind there was a justification for “laying down” on the team. Tell, it to the fans, Hal. They put out good money see a real ballgame, not a fixed affair. And most of those fans made less money than Chase. 

You can, if you want, compare Chase to Pete Rose. I don’t consider them at all comparable. Rose was a manager with a gambling problem. Chase was a manager with a total lack of moral compass. I’m no expert on the Rose situation, but as I understand it Rose’s great sin was to bet on his team to win. That’s a lot different from the manager at New York putting down money on his team to lose. I don’t mean to imply that Rose was right in his gambling, but it’s not the same as Chase’s fixing games.I don’t like Rose, but I despise Chase. I’m not sure if I believe in a kind, loving, benevolent God who cares about all of us all the time, but I spent enough time in combat in Viet Nam to know that I certainly believe in a Devil and his hell. As far as I’m concerned, both men can visit him for all time and eternity. 

On top of it all, Chase wasn’t a particularly good manager. In the 14 games he managed in 1910, the Highlanders went 10-4 (maybe he hadn’t gotten enough cash out to the other players yet). After that the team went south fast. In 1911 they dropped to sixth with a 76-76 record. It cost him his managerial job. He stayed on at first for the Highlanders hitting well, fielding well, handing out cash well, and the team dropped to last in 1912. In 1913 he was traded to the White Sox. The Highlanders rose to seventh, the Sox dropped from fourth to fifth. He went to Buffalo of the Federal League in mid-1914.The team finished fourth. He stayed there in 1915 and the team dropped to fifth. Notice a pattern here?

He finished his career playing for Cincinnati from 1916-1918 and with the Giants for 1919, after which he is banned for life. Cincy actually got better after Chase’s arrival, but much of that is laid at the feet of new manager Christy Mathewson, who immediately clashed with Chase. As with New York manager Stallings earlier, Mathewson complained to ownership about Chase and “laying down” for games. Finally in 1918, Chase was suspended. I don’t believe in too many coincidences, so I’ll simply point out that the year after the Reds got rid of the cancer that was Hal Chase, they won the National League pennant, then won the World Series, although that was tainted by the “Black Sox” scandal. 

I know this isn’t one of my better written posts. It’s more of a polemic. But I admit that it’s difficult to be at all dispassionate about Chase. He’s a scoundrel, a thug, and a thief. I’m better for having gotten this off my chest, and we’re all better off Chase was banned.

Opening Day, 1910: New York (AL)

April 18, 2010

 

Hal Chase

Considering what the American League team in New York has meant to the AL since 1920, it’s a little surprising to note that the Highlanders (they were to become the Yankees in the next decade) were not a significant factor in the league. They were formed in 1903 when the Baltimore franchise relocated to New York. They finished in the first division in ’03 and second in the league in ’04 (1.5 games out), then slid back in 1905, made second again in 1906, then fell back, finishing last in 1908. By 1909 they were back to fifth.

It was a team in some turmoil. Manager George Stallings (the “Miracle Man” of 1914) had a fairly solid infield, but there were problems in the rest of the positions. Hal Chase, Frank La Porte, Jack Knight, and Jimmy Austin held down the infield from first over to third in 1909 and all were back for 1910. but the infield bench was different. Gone was Kid Elberfeld. Earle Gardner, Roxy Roach, and Eddie Foster now handled the backup duties for the team.

The 1909 outfield was gone. Willie Keeler, Ray Demmitt, and Clyde Engle were replaced by Harry Wolter, Charlie Hemphill, and Birdie Cree. In 1909 Cree had been the fourth outfielder, but the others were new. Bert Daniels was now the outfielder sitting on the bench.

Ed Sweeney, the ’09 backup catcher, moved to the starting role in 1910 with Fred Mitchell the backup. Former starter Red Kleinow developed a sore arm and was traded after getting into only six games. Neither catcher would manage to hit .220.

The pitching underwent something of a makeover. Joe Lake, Jack Warhop, Lew Brockett, Jack Quinn, Joe Doyle, Tom Hughes, and Rube Manning had done the bulk of the starting for the Highlanders in 1909. Quinn, Warhop, and Hughes were back. Manning was now a bullpen man and Doyle lasted exactly three games before a trade. In their place were Russ Ford and Jim “Hippo” Vaughn.

Well, it wasn’t a bad team, in fact it would show significant rise in 1910. But it had one serious flaw. By 1910 manager Stallings was already voicing concerns about the reliability of first baseman Chase. There were allegations that Chase was taking money to lose games, that he was spreading gambling money to other players in return for shoddy play in critical games. There were allegations that he was playing just well enough to look reasonably good in losing efforts. There was no proof, and certainly nowhere for Stallings to go with his complaints but to the ownership who had an interest in protecting Chase who was a definite fan favorite (Judge Landis was 10 years in the future).  All this made for major clubhouse problems. It would take until 1919-1920 to garner the evidence to ban Chase. Until then he would be a cancer on the club, and any club for which he played.

Next: Cleveland