Posts Tagged ‘Amos Strunk’

1914: The Big, Bad A’s

October 8, 2014
The Athletics

The Athletics

One hundred years ago this month one of the greatest upsets in World Series history occurred, the Philadelphia Athletics lost to the Boston Braves. No one expected to the Braves to win the National League pennant, let alone win the World Series. They were a bunch of cast-offs and losers who’d been put together from out of the trashcan, but they’d won the whole thing. They are, to this day, known as the “Miracle Braves.” I want to take a look at both the teams and the Series (and BTW Kevin at Baseball Revisited has just completed running a simulation of the Series on his site–see Blogroll at right) over the next few days. Because they lost, let’s start with the team that gets very little press in the entire endeavor, the big, bad Philadelphia A’s.

Connie Mack’s Athletics were defending world champions. In fact, they’d won three of the last four World Series (losing out to the Red Sox in 1912). To this point it was the most consistent of American League teams winning pennants in 1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, and the current pennant. They won 99 games in 1914 taking the pennant by 8.5 games over the Red Sox. If you look at their positional wins above average, they were above average in all positions except right field. They led the AL in runs, hits, homers, average, slugging, OBP, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. The hitters consisted of the $100,00 infield of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker from first around the horn to third. Collins led the league in runs scored, while Baker was the home run champion. McInnis was second in RBIs with 95 (it’s a league with Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker so you’re not going to lead the AL in much with them around). The outfield consisted of Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, and Eddie Murphy (obviously not the comedian). All hit between .277 and .272 and were decent fielders for the era. Wally Schang was now Mack’s primary catcher. He hit .287 with a 137 OPS+ and managed to catch 45% of opponents base stealers, which was dead on league average.

The pitching was beginning to wither a bit. The team finished first in no major category (except wins, obviously) but was second in shutouts and strikeouts. It was fourth in hits and third in runs allowed (fourth in earned runs). Stalwarts Eddie Plank and Chief Bender were aging (Plank was 38), Jack Coombs was gone, and an entire group of younger pitchers were trying to make their mark. Bob Shawkey, Bullet Joe Bush, Weldon Wycoffe, and Herb Pennock were all in their early 20s (Pennock was 20) and Rube Bressler was only 19. Bush and Bender were technically the aces with 17 wins each. If the A’s had a problem it was with the staff.

They were overwhelming favorites to win. The National League hadn’t won a World Series since Honus Wagner’s Pirates in 1909 and the Braves were an absolute fluke. No one expected what was coming, except maybe the Braves.





The Flying Foot

April 12, 2013
Amos Strunk

Amos Strunk

They called him “The Flying Foot.” Amos Strunk was fast, very fast. Connie Mack put him in center field and he helped lead the Athletics to four pennants, three World’s Championships, then moved on to Boston to help Babe Ruth win one. He was one of the finest outfielders of his day.

Amos Strunk was born in Philadelphia in 1889. As usual for the era, he played semipro ball, got to the minors, was noticed by someone with big league connections, and ended up in the Majors. For Strunk, it was 1907 for the minors, and in 1908 Connie Mack brought him to Strunk’s hometown team, the Athletics. He got into a handful of games in both 1908 and 1909, but spent most of each season in the minors. At 21 he made it to the Major Leagues to stay. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury and only played 16 games that season.

His career took off in 1911. He became the regular center fielder for the A’s, replacing Rube Oldring (who moved to left). He was fast, had a good arm, and was considered a superior outfielder (for the era and equipment available). He was noted for being able to track down balls in deep center field and catch most anything. He led the American League in fielding five times and was never in the top handful in errors (which can happen when a speedy outfielder gets his glove on a ball that other outfielders wouldn’t have gotten near).

As a hitter he was decent, but not spectacular. In years he played in at least 50 games, he hit .300 or better four times. He was mostly a singles hitter, managing 20 or more doubles only three times (his high was 30). Despite his speed, he never stole a lot of bases. His forte was going from first to third on a single and scoring from second on a single. He was used occasionally on a double steal. With Strunk on second and another runner on third, Mack would order a suicide squeeze. Strunk was fast enough to score from second on the bunt. There are a couple of stories of him doing this, but I was unable to determine how frequently he did so.

He stayed with the A’s through 1917, which means he was with the miserable 1916 team that lost 117 games. He was easily their best player. In 1918, Mack sent him to Boston. He took over as the regular center fielder (a position once held by Tris Speaker) and helped the Red Sox to their final World Series win in the 20th Century. In mid-1919 he went back to Philly, stayed into 1920, then went to Chicago where he helped try to rebuild the White Sox in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. He remained in Chicago through 1923. After one game with the ChiSox in 1924, he went back to Philadelphia, where he completed his career.

In 1925, he was player-manager for the Shamokin Shammies (don’t you love that name?) of the New York-Penn League. He retired from baseball in August of that season and went into the insurance business. He died in 1979.

In a 17 year career over 1512 games, Strunk had the following triple slash numbers: .284/,359/.374/.732 with an OPS+ of 112. He scored 696 runs and had 530 RBIs. With 1418 hits, he managed 213 doubles, 96 triples, and 15 home runs, for 1868 total bases. He had 185 stolen bases. The caught stealing numbers are incomplete for his career, but in most years in which they are available, he’s caught more than he’s successful.

If you look at the numbers above closely, you’ll see some of the problem with Strunk’s career. He played 17 years, and played in only 1523 games (an average of 89 games a year). Now some of that is garbage time as a kid and as an old player just hanging on, but Strunk had a lot of injuries over his career, mostly in the legs. He managed 130 or more games three times, peaking at 150 in 1916.

Strunk is one of those players whose stats I keep looking at and thinking, “One heck of a ballplayer.” But when I ask myself if he’s a Hall of Famer, I say no. But, like, Oldring (of a couple of posts ago) he’s the kind of player teams need to win.

This concludes my current look at the 1910-14 A’s. Over the last three years I’ve posted on most of the major players. I’ve still got a couple of outfielders, the catchers, and Mack to go, but I’ll do them later.

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.