Posts Tagged ‘Al Demaree’

McGraw’s Best Job

June 6, 2017

John McGraw with the Giants

Think about John McGraw. Go ahead, take a minute and conjure up your mental images of John J.. McGraw. I’ll wait. Done? Good. Now I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that not one of those images revolved around winning the 1917 National League pennant. That’s because the Giants pennant winning team is one of the more obscure NL winners and almost no one associates it with the great Giants teams under McGraw. But it may be his finest managing effort.

McGraw teams were always built on speed, good defense, and great pitching. This team was really no different, but it was a team that had no truly great player to anchor any of those things around. Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Rube Marquard, the name pitchers who had dominated all those winning teams from 1904 through 1913 were all gone. You can say what you want about the new guys, but they weren’t nearly the quality of those starters. Here’s the list of every pitcher who started 10 or more games: Ferdie Schupp, Slim Sallee, Rube Benton, Pol Perritt, Jeff Tesreau, Al Demaree, Fred Anderson. Ever hear of any of them? If so, maybe you remember Sallee because he was part of the 1919 Reds that won the infamous Black Sox World Series. Tesreau might strike a bell because he was a holdover from the last Giants pennant winner in 1913. So were Demaree and Schupp (although Schupp only pitched 12 innings). None of them were stars and none were the kind of pitchers great teams hang their hat on. But as a group they pitched well in 1917. They led the NL in ERA, fewest runs allowed, fewest hits allowed, were second in walks, and third in shutouts.

How about the rest of the battery? The main catcher was Bill Rariden with Lew McCarty and George Gibson as his backups. It was Rariden’s career year (if you exclude a stint in the Federal League). He hit .271, 34 points above his career average, and had 2.3 WAR, his non-Federal League high. McCarthy hit .247 and the 36-year-old Gibson a buck-.71. None were bad catchers, but only Gibson came close to the league average in throwing out runners (he tied the average at 44%).

The outfield was, perhaps, a bit better known. Benny Kauff was a refugee from the Federal League, who’d been a star with the Feds. With the Giants he was good, but not great. He hit .308 to lead the team and his 30 stolen bases were second on the team. George Burns was the other corner outfielder. He was over .300 and led the team in stolen bases and OPS while leading the NL in walks. Dave Robertson played center, hit .259 and led the team with 12 home runs. In in un-McGraw-like fashion he had 47 strikeouts and only 10 walks. Joe Wilhoit and Olympic champion Jim Thorpe were the backups. Wilhoit hit .340 in 34 games while Thorpe hit .193 in 26 games, and, for a player noted for his speed, had only one stolen base. Twenty year old Ross Youngs, a future Hall of Famer, got into seven games during the season, hitting .346 with five runs scored.

If there was a proven element on the team, it was the infield. They were, from first around the horn to third, Walter Holke, Buck Herzog, Art Fletcher, and Heinie Zimmerman. Zimmerman was a bona fide star of the era. He won the triple crown in 1912, won an RBI title in 1916, and repeated that title in 1917 (he’d later be banned in the fallout from the Black Sox affair). Both Herzog and Fletcher were favorites of McGraw. Both had been with him since 1909. Herzog actually game up in 1908 and had seen short stints with Cincinnati and the Braves. Fletcher had a fine year, leading the team in WAR, while Herzog was getting over-the-hill. Holke was a rookie (he’d had a few at bats earlier) who hung around at first through 1918 then went to the Braves. He hit .277 with 1.0 WAR.

As a team the Giants led the NL runs, home runs, stolen bases, OBP, was second in average and hits, and  showed up fourth in doubles. In the field the team made the least errors in the NL and was first in fielding percentage. All in all a good, not spectacular team. In many ways it was a typical McGraw team: it pitched well, it ran the bases well, and it was good on defense. What it lacked, and what McGraw had to make up for, was a top-notch pitcher. It is a great credit to him that he managed the team well enough to make up for that things. He would take the team to the World Series, where it would lose to the White Sox.

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1915: The New Kids in the Natonal League

April 8, 2015
Erskine Mayer

Erskine Mayer

Philadelphia joined the National League in 1876 and was tossed out before the end of the season. A team was formed in the rival American Association and won the 1883 Association pennant. The National League returned to Philly in 1883 when Worcester folded and the rights to a new franchise were given to Philadelphia. The new team was called the Quakers and managed to finish last. It was fairly typical for the NL team in Philly. Between 1883 and 1914 they’d won absolutely nothing. That changed finally in 1915, one hundred years ago.

The 1914 Phils finished sixth in an eight team league. It cost manager Red Dooin his job. Pat Moran, who’d played one game for Philadelphia in 1914 took over the job. He was 38 and a catcher. He’d not had much of a career (.235, a 78 OPS+, and a total WAR of 6.8), but he turned into a successful manager (He led the 1919 Reds to a World Series title). He ran a team that was greatly changed in 1915.

The 1915 Phillie infield (first to third) consisted of Fred Luderus, Bert Neihoff, Dave Bancroft, and Bob Byrne. Luderus was a holdover from the previous year. He’d hit only .248 but was second on the team with 12 home runs. Byrne was also a holdover, although he’d been the regular second baseman in 1914. Bancroft and Neihoff were both new. Bancroft was 24 and a rookie, just beginning what became a Hall of Fame career, while Neihoff came to the Phils from Cincinnati.

The outfield contained two holdovers and one new guy. The new guy was Possum Whitted. He’d been the cleanup hitter for the World Champion Boston Braves in 1914, but came to Philly in the off-season. His 43 RBIs were fourth on the team. One of the holdovers was Beals Becker. He hit only .246 in 1915, but was second on the team in home runs. The other was Gavvy Cravath. Cravath was the Philadelphia power hitter. He led the team in homers, RBIs, and runs, and was second in hits. His 24 home runs, 115 RBIs, 89 runs, and 170 OPS+ all led the NL.

Bill Killefer (played by James Millican in the flick “The Winning Team”) did the bulk of the catching. He wasn’t much of  a hitter, but was a good catcher. His backup, Ed Burns hit about the same but without the receiving skills. Dode Paskert and Milt Stock joined Burns as the only men on the bench who played more than 40 games. Stock led the bench with a .260 average and Paskert had three home runs.

Five men did most of the pitching. The ace was Grover Cleveland Alexander (who didn’t look much like Ronald Reagan in “The Winning Team”). Alexander went 31-10, had 12 shutouts, and struck out 241 while putting up a 1.22 ERA (ERA+ of 225) and a BBREF WAR of 10.9. Erskine Mayer was the two pitcher. He was 21-15 with a 2.36 ERA. Lefty Eppa Rixey had a losing record, but still recorded an ERA+ of 115. Al Demaree and George Chalmers rounded out the starters. Southpaw Stan Baumgartner and righty Ben Tincup did most of the bullpen work, but didn’t manage to post a single save (Alexander led the team with three).

The Phils won the pennant by seven games over reigning champ Boston. they were second in the league in runs, but last in hits (That’s a really odd combination, isn’t it?). They led the NL in home runs, were third in both doubles and RBIs. The staff led the league in ERA, hits, and runs, and was third in strikeouts. Individually, Cravath led the NL in offensive WAR, slugging, OBP, runs, walks, total bases, RBIs, and home runs. A caveat should be thrown in here. Almost all of Cravath’s 24 homers came at home in the small Philly ball park, Luderus finished second in hitting, second in doubles, and fifth in OBP and 10th in hits. Bancroft was third in runs scored and second in walks. Among pitchers Alexander led the NL in ERA, wins, WAR, strikeouts, shutouts, complete games, innings pitched, and just about anything else you can think of for pitchers. Mayer’s 21 wins were third in the league and he was ninth in strikeouts. He did, however, also lead the league in gopher balls.

The Phillies were one hit wonders. In 1916 they dropped back to second, stayed there in 1917, then went south quickly. They would return to their normal middle of the pack to second division status for the rest of the first half of the 20th Century. Their next pennant would come in 1950, the same year Alexander died.