Posts Tagged ‘Bill McKechnie’

Belly Up: the 1915 Federal League

April 2, 2015
The second place Maroons

The second place Maroons

The 1915 season was the final of two for the Federal League. By the beginning of the season it was already in trouble. In 1914 the team in Indianapolis won the pennant. Their reward? They were moved to Newark for the 1915 season. It’s never a good sign when your league champion ends up moving, especially if it’s a move forced by lack of attendance (as was the case here).

The Feds began their season on 10 April 1915, four days before either the National or the American League. The team in Newark, with much the same lineup (they’d lost Benny Kauff, the league’s best player, but most of the rest of the team was intact) as in 1914 was a favorite to win the pennant. They finished sixth. As noted in the post below on the Whales, the Chicago team won the pennant by a half game over the St. Louis Maroons. The Pittsburgh Rebels and the Kansas City Packers rounded out the first division and Newark was the last team to record a winning record (80-72). The rest of the league consisted of (in order of finish) the Buffalo Blues, the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, and the tail-end Baltimore Terrapins (47-107).

The league leader in hitting was Kauff. He absolutely dominated the Feds winning the batting title, slugging and on base titles (and obviously led the league in OPS), stolen bases, and WAR (BBREF version) at 6.8. The home run title went to Buffalo’s Hal Chase (yes, that Hal Chase) with 17, while the Whales’ Dutch Zwilling won the RBI crown. Babe Borton led the Feds in runs scored and Steve Evans led the league in doubles.

In pitching, Maroons ace Dave Davenport took the WAR crown (8.4) but finished third in wins, fifth in ERA, second in WHIP, and led the league in strikeouts (229 to 160 for second place) and shutouts (10). Whales ace George McConnell led the Feds in wins with 25 while Newark’s Earl Moseley won the ERA title (1.91). Jack Quinn of Baltimore put up the most losses (22), as befits a player from a last place team.

The league folded at the end of the season. By now it’s probably most famous for giving Chicago Wrigley Field, or for causing the lawsuit that led eventually to baseball’s antitrust exemption. But the Feds had a few other things going for them. First it brought Major League play to Kansas City, Buffalo, Newark, Indianapolis, and Baltimore. All had produced Major League teams in the 19th Century, but hadn’t had a big league team in years. It gave fans a chance to see Major League games in places and in venues that were new. Second, it provided a final shot for a number of fading stars like Mordecai Brown and Eddie Plank. Third, it introduced a number of very good players to fans. Kauff was number one. He tore up the Federal League, then had a solid, and totally unspectacular, career after 1915. Eventually he was one of the players banned by Judge Landis for associating with known gamblers. Edd Roush, a discarded American Leaguer, did well enough to get another chance. He latched on with Cincinnati, won a World Series (1919), a couple of batting titles (1917 and 1919), and eventually made the Hall of Fame; as did his teammate Bill McKechnie. McKechnie made the Hall as a manager, winning the World Series in 1925 and again in 1940. He got his first taste of managing as a mid-season replacement at Newark. Everything considered, all those things make for a fairly interesting legacy. Certainly they aren’t the worst legacy a league can leave.



Trying for Two: The Round in Detroit

January 26, 2015

With the 1940 World Series tied 1-1, the teams moved to Detroit for the next three game. A sweep by either would end the Series. A split would mean the two teams would return to Cincinnati for at least one game.

Game 3

Pinky Higgins

Pinky Higgins

Detroit sent Tommy Bridges to the mound for game three on 4 October 1940. Bridges was a 10 year veteran with six All Star appearances who was 3-1 in two previous World Series’ (1934 and 1935). But Cincy got to him immediately. Bill Werber led off with a double and with one out, Ival Goodman singled him home. Bridges got out of the inning without further damage and the run stood up until the bottom of the fourth. Barney McCosky led off for the Tigers with a single, went to second on a Charlie Gehringer single, and scored when Hank Greenberg hit into a 5-3-4 double play. Although Bridges got into trouble in the sixth, neither team scored again until the bottom of the seventh. With one on, Rudy York hit a two-run homer to put Detroit ahead. Billy Campbell followed the home run with a single, then Pinky Higgins slugged another two-run shot to put the Tigers up 5-1. That brought manager Bill McKechnie to the mound to take Reds pitcher Jim Turner out of the game. He was replaced by Whitey Moore, who proceeded to give up a couple of hits but kept Detroit from doing more damage. In the top of the eighth with one on Lou Riggs, pinch-hitting for Moore, hit into a force out, but consecutive singles plated him with the Reds’ second run. The bottom of the eighth saw two singles score a run for the Tigers, then a Higgins double drove in one final score for Detroit. Cincinnati tried to come back in the ninth against a tiring Bridges. Two singles and an error scored one run, then with two outs a single brought in a final run. Bridges managed a strikeout to end the inning and assure a 7-4 Detroit win. Higgins was the big hitting star with two hits, a home run, and four RBIs, while Bridges pitched a complete game giving up 10 hits, one walk, and three earned runs, while striking out five.

Game 4

Paul Derringer

Paul Derringer

Game four was held the next day, 5 October, with Detroit sending Dizzy Trout (who’d started only 10 games all season) to pitch. The Reds responded by sending game one loser Paul Derringer back to the mound. Cincinnati wasted no time in teeing off on Trout. Leadoff hitter Werber walked and was forced at second. Mike McCormick, on base replacing Werber, scored when Goodman doubled to left. A ground out put Goodman on third. A sharp grounder to Higgins was muffed allowing Goodman to score with the second run. In the third inning singles by Goodman and Frank McCormick were followed by a Jimmy Ripple double that scored Goodman. That brought Clay Smith in to replace Trout. Smith got out of the inning with no more damage. In the bottom of the inning, Detroit got a run back on a walk, a ground out, and a Greenberg double. The Reds got it right back with a walk to Werber, a double by Mike McCormick, and a sacrifice fly to right field. With the score at 4-1, runs came to a halt for a few innings. In the bottom of the sixth, a Bruce Campbell single and a Higgins triple made the score 4-2. In the eighth two singles sandwiched around a wild pitch, allowed Cincinnati to tack on another run, producing a 5-2 final score. The game was something of a redemption for Derringer. He’d managed to tie up the Series 2-2 while giving up five hits and six walks. He struck out four. Goodman scored two runs and drove in two more while getting two doubles to lead the Reds hitters, while Higgins got two more hits, including the triple, to lead Detroit hitting. Trout was beaten up badly with six hits, three runs, and a walk in two innings. The Series was now a best two of three with Cincinnati having home field advantage.

Game 5


Bobo Newsom

Bobo Newsom

On 4 October word came that Bobo Newsom’s father had died (a heart attack after seeing his son win game one). Newsom was scheduled to pitch game five. Despite the loss, he took the mound on 6 October (no days off during the Series). He would face Gene Thompson. Thompson got through two innings before disaster struck. He  gave up back to back singles to McCosky and Gehringer then grooved one to Greenberg who drove a home run to left field. In the bottom of the fourth a walk to Billy Sullivan, a sacrifice bunt by Newsom, and a Dick Bartell double scored one run. Then a passed ball sent Bartell to third. A walk to McCosky sent Thompson to the showers. In came Moore who walked Gehringer to send McCosky to second and load the bases. Another Greenberg fly to left, this one shorter than the home run, brought in Bartell. Rudy York walked to reload the bases. A Campbell single scored both McCosky and Gehringer. Higgins, designated rally killer for the day, then grounded to short to end the inning. The Tigers got one more in the eighth on a wild pitch. Final score? 8-0. Newsom was magnificent. He walked two and allowed only three hits in a complete game shutout. He struck out seven and no batter reached third. He was in trouble only once, and then only vaguely. In the fourth a single and ground out put Mike McCormick on second. Consecutive foul pops ended any threat. In the entire game, McCormick was the only Reds player to reach second.

With the Tigers up 3-2, the Series returned to Cincinnati for the final game (or two). Detroit needed one win, the Reds two. Fortunately for Cincy, they had both aces (Walters and Derringer) ready for the final two games.



Trying for Two: the Reds

January 20, 2015
Ival Goodman

Ival Goodman

If, in 1940, it was five years between pennants for Detroit, it was much longer for Cincinnati. The Reds hadn’t won since 1919, and that was the most tarnished of all World Series victories. For Cincy, it would be both a chance for a second title and for redemption from the fiasco of 1919.

For much of the 19th Century Cincinnati was a hotbed for baseball. They’d had the famous Red Stockings team of 1869, they’d been a charter member of the National League, they’d won the first ever American Association pennant. But the 20th Century turned the Reds into an afterthought. In 1919, they’d won their first NL pennant and promptly won the World Series. Of course it was the Black Sox World Series, noted primarily for Chicago throwing the Series to Cincinnati in eight games. The Reds argued they would have won anyway, but no one would ever know. In 1939 they’d won the NL pennant, and been destroyed in four games by the Yankees. The 1940 Series offered them the chance to finally prove they could be in true winner, particularly in the wake of tragedy.

In early August, backup catcher Willard Hershberger killed himself in a hotel room in Boston. Apparently he blamed himself for causing multiple losses to both the Giants and the Bees (now the Atlanta Braves). The team dedicated the remainder of the season to Hershberger and used his death as a  spur when they got to the Series. They also retired his number (5) but unretired it later and then gave it to Johnny Bench.

Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, who had a World Series title already as manager of the 1925 Pirates, but was primarily known as Babe Ruth’s last manager, took over the Reds in 1938. They finished fourth. He maneuvered them to pennants each of the next two years by emphasizing pitching, good defense, and timely hitting (obviously he didn’t invent that formula).

His infield consisted of NL MVP Frank McCormick at first, Lonny Frey at second, Billy Myers at short, and Bill Werber at third. McCormick led the NL in hits and doubles, played a solid first base, led the team with 19 home runs, and hit .309. He also led the league in grounding into double plays. Frey hit .266 for the season, but led the NL in stolen bases with 22. He’d come to the big leagues as a shortstop, was lousy at it, and ended up at second, where he was at least a little better. He played little in the Series because of an injury to his toe. Myers was at the end of his career (1941 was his last season). He hit .202 for the year, but was a good enough fielder his glove kept him in the lineup. Werber was, at 32, the geezer of the group (all the others were 29). He hit .277 and his 12 home runs were tied for third on the team.

The outfield contained two new kids and one veteran. The vet was right fielder Ival Goodman. He hit .258, was tied with Werber for third in home runs, was third on the team with 63 RBIs, and played an excellent right field. The new guys were left fielder Mike McCormick (apparently not related to Frank) and center fielder Harry Craft (who later did a lot of managing). McCormick was a rookie who hit .300 but without power. Craft hit .244,  played center well, and by the Series was replaced by Jimmy Ripple, who hit better.

The catcher was Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi. Lombardi was famous for two things: hitting the ball hard and being the slowest man on earth. For the year he’d hit .319 with 14 home runs and 74 RBIs. But he was hurt (his hand) and was limited in his performance during the Series.

With Frey and Lombardi hurt and Craft not hitting, the bench was essential for Cincinnati. Ripple, a mid-season acquisition from Brooklyn, filled in for Craft. He hit .307 in 32 games. For catcher, McKechnie picked part-time player, part-time coach Jimmie Wilson, age 39, to sub for Lombardi. He hit .243 for the year, caught 16 games (mostly after Hershberger’s death and after Lombardi’s injury), and was considered well over-the-hill. Frey’s replacement was 24-year old Eddie Joost.

McKechnie’s pitching staff was well front loaded. Twin aces Paul Derringer and converted third baseman Bucky Walters each won 20 games. Walters won the 1939 NL MVP and was third in 1940 voting. He led the NL in ERA and innings pitched, had an ERA+ of 154 and a league leading WHIP of 1.092. Derringer was almost as good, finishing fourth in MVP voting. His ERA 3.06 with an ERA+ of 124. Gene Thompson and Jim Turner also started 20 games and had a combined record of 30-16. Turner had given up as many hits as he had innings pitched. Whitey Moore was the only other pitcher to start more than 10 games. Double no hit Johnny VanderMeer was 3-1 in only 10 games. Only VanderMeer was left-handed. The main bullpen man was Joe Beggs who went 12-3 in 37 games (only starting one).

It was a good team. Except for Mike McCormick much the same team that had won the NL pennant the year before. It was for the Reds a chance to erase the questions of 1919 and to honor a fallen player. The Series started in Cincinnati.




Opening Day, 1914: The Feds

March 21, 2014
Benny Kauff

Benny Kauff

With opening day scheduled for God knows what time in Australia on Saturday, it’s time to look at what the Major League landscape looked like 100 years ago. For the first time since 1890, there were three big leagues: the National League, the American League, and the Federal League. The Feds started their season first (13 April Buffalo at Baltimore), so it seems like a good idea to begin with the upstarts.

The Feds put eight teams in the field in 1914. Many of the players were over-the-hill types like Three-Finger Brown who were hanging on for one last fling. Others like Benny Kauff were new guys trying to make it in the big leagues. Most teams had something of a mixture of both kinds. There were teams in Chicago, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, all well established Major League cities. But the Federal League also ran teams in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Buffalo, and Kansas City, towns that didn’t normally see Major League quality play.

With no previously established rosters, it’s hard to say that any team was favored on opening day 1914. Indianapolis would eventually take the pennant by a game and a half over Chicago with Baltimore and Buffalo rounding out the first division. The Hoosiers won 88 games and featured six of their starting eight position players hitting over .300. The big name was Kauff who led the FL in runs, hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting, OPB OPS and total bases. He also played a decent center field. Bill McKechnie, future Hall of Fame manager, played third and hit .304. He was in the middle of what had been, so far, a mediocre career. Thirty-four year old Cy Falkenberg was the ace, going 25-16 and leading the league in shutouts and strikeouts. But the biggest name to come out of the team was a 21-year-old fourth outfielder with only nine games Major League experience. His name was Edd Roush and he would go on to win National League batting titles, a World Series with the 1919 Cincinnati Reds, and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1962.Despite finishing first Indianapolis had no postseason play as neither the National nor American League acknowledged their existence as a Major League.

Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Tinker, at the end of his career, managed Chicago to second, while Baltimore featured long time pitcher Jack Quinn who, at 30 was still only mid-career. A few other notables did well for the Feds. John Montgomery Ward, long retired from playing and running the Brotherhood union was involved with the Brooklyn team as their business manager. As mentioned, Three-finger Brown split time between Brooklyn and St. Louis going a combined 14-11 and serving for a time as manager in St. Louis. The Terriers (St. Louis) finished dead last but did feature both Fielder Jones, winning manager from the 1906 World Series, as their second manager and 22-year-old Jack Tobin hit .270. He would go on to be one of the stalwarts in the Browns outfield of the 1920s.

In many ways 1914 was a success for the Feds simply because the survived. There was a major overhaul for 1915, champion Indianapolis being dropped for one. That didn’t bode well for the continued existence of the league. Never able to garner first-rate players and having major problems drawing in most of their cities, they hung on for only one more opening day. There have not been three Major Leagues since.


My Top List of Terrible Owners

September 19, 2011

Where these guys belong

Baseball is full of terrible players and coaches. I guess it’s not fair to call any player who makes it to the Major Leagues “terrible”, but there’s definitely a lot of players that are at best marginal. And coaches and managers can be real duds. But somehow owners tend to get overlooked by casual fans. Most people don’t seem to pay much attention to the impact of ownership. Well, baseball has had some really awful owners too. Here’s my Mount Rushmore (4 guys) of terrible owners in no particular order.

Charles Comiskey: The only owner who ever had his team mutiny to such an extent it was willing to dump a World Series. Ultimately the players themselves must take blame for their own actions, but Comiskey did more than his share to help them along with their choices. Comiskey was cheap, but so was Connie Mack. What Comiskey lacked was a shred of respect for his players, and that makes him lower on the ownership scale and thus higher on the Rushmore scale. And I’m not sure I understand it exactly. Charles Comiskey was a former player, actually a pretty good one. He was first baseman and manager of the St. Louis Browns team that won pennant after pennant in the 1880s. Having been a player, having seen the tussles with ownership and the league offices, I find it strange he seems to have had no sympathy at all for the plight of his players. Maybe it was an “I went through it, so can you” attitude. Maybe he was just a jerk. Whatever it was he gets a spot on my Mount Rushmore. And for what it’s worth, although Clifton James doesn’t look at all like Comiskey, his portrayal of the White Sox owner in “Eight Men Out” is pretty close (except that the flat champagne episode occurred in 1917, not 1919).

The Robison Brothers: Because there were two of them, the Robison brothers occupy two spaces on Mount Rushmore. Frank was the older brother. He married the daughter of the man who ran the Cleveland, Ohio streetcar company, Charles Hathaway. Today that doesn’t sound like a way to make a great deal of money, but in an era without subways, cars, or buses, the streetcar was the quickest, easiest way for someone to get across town to see the doctor or go to work or whatever. So the Robison’s made a lot of money, a whole lot of money. Very early on Frank brought in younger brother Stanley to help run the business. Between them they got very rich. Frank Robison was also a baseball fan (as was Stanley to a lesser degree). He decided that Cleveland should have a big league team and in 1887 he started up the Cleveland Blues, later renamed the Spiders. They joined the National League the same year. Mostly they weren’t very good. In 1892 that changed. Among other things, they picked up (the year before) a youngster named Cy Young who seemed to have some potential. It was the year of the first split season. Cleveland won the second half, then lost the playoff to Boston. In 1895 and 1896 they played for the Temple Cup, winning in ’95. It was the apex of the team and so far so good for the brothers as owners. But the Robison’s had a plan to make more money. In 1898 the National League forced St. Louis owner Chris Von Der Ahe to sell the Browns. The Robison’s bought the team. In 1898 it was legal to own two teams. It was called “syndicate baseball” and there were three of them, including the Robison’s. With St. louis being a much larger market (4th largest US city at the time),  the Robison’s immediately began stripping the Cleveland team of its best players and sent them, Cy Young included, to St. Louis. The Browns didn’t do any better and the Spiders were awful. At the end of the year, the NL shut down the team. Frank died in 1908, leaving Stanley in charge. In 1905 Stanley had tried his hand at managing the team. He went 19-31 (which was better than Ted Turner’s foray into managing). Now in charge, Stanley proceeded to watch his team continue to flounder. He died in 1911, leaving the team to Frank’s daughter.

The Robison’s make my Mount Rushmore because of their callous disregard for the fans and the city that made them, Cleveland. They had gotten rich off Cleveland and then they caused the town to lose its team and its finest players. Did it bother them? Apparently not. And they didn’t make St. Louis any better in the long run. The team went from last to fifth (but they had two rosters, theirs and Cleveland’s to use), but then stagnated topping out at fourth in 1901. About the only positive thing the Robison’s did was to change the uniform color from brown to cardinal red, thus giving the team its current nickname, Cardinals.

Emil Fuchs: Fuchs was the Giants attorney. In 1922 he joined with Christy Mathewson in buying the Boston Braves. Mathewson’s ill-health put Fuchs in charge. He proceeded to run the team into the ground. He knew nothing about baseball other than what he’d picked up as attorney for the Giants, couldn’t evaluate talent, couldn’t be bothered with the small details of keeping up a stadium. In 1928 he bought Rogers Hornsby as manager, found a way to make money, and sold Hornsby the next season to the Cubs. With no manager, he tried his hand at running the team on the field himself. They finished dead last. In 1935, out of money, unable to pay rent on the stadium, he bought Babe Ruth from the Yankees. He promised Ruth a vice presidency, a managerial job, and a share of the profits. Well, there were no profits, the vice presidency was nominal, and Fuchs admitted he wasn’t going to fire his current manager, Bill McKechnie  (who ended up a Hall of Fame manager). Ruth, not unreasonably, quit. At the end of the 1935 season, broke, short of players, out of options, Fuchs sold the team back to one of the men he’d bought it from in 1922.

So there they are, my four Mount Rushmore lousy owners. There are a lot of other people available; Arthur Soden who destroyed the great Beaneaters dynasty of the 1890s, Arthur Freedman who almost managed to destroy the Giants before John McGraw got there, Harry Frazee who sold away a rejuvenated Red Sox, Earle Mack who almost destroyed his dad’s Athletics, Frank McCourt who is currently destroying the Dodgers, the guys who’ve run the Royals and Pirates into the ground. And a host of others too. But for my money, these four are the guys I’d least like to see run my team.


Opening Day, 1910: Pittsburgh

April 6, 2010

Honus Wagner

The Pirates were defending champions when the 1910 season opened. As you would expect, they’d made few changes to the roster. In the infield, first baseman and normal six hitter Bill Abstein was replaced by rookie Jack Flynn (Abstein went to St. Louis of the American League). Dots Mller remained at second and in the five hole, while third baseman Bobby Byrne moved to the leadoff spot in the order. At shortstop Honus Wagner, defending batting, slugging, doubles, and RBI champ, took the clean up spot. The outfield remained unchanged with manager Fred Clake in left and batting third, right fielder Owen Wilson hitting seventh, and Tommy Leach in center and batting second. George Gibson stayed behind the plate and hit eighth. There were some changes. Ham Hyatt remained the primary pinch hitter, Ed Abbatacchio backup middle infielder was traded during the first week of the season. Bill McKechnie became his replacement.

The pitching staff of 1909 was led by Howie Camnitz, Vic Willis, Lefty Leifeld, and Nick Maddox. Babe Adams, the World Series hero; Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever had all spent the season splitting time between starting and the bullpen. In 1910 Willis was gone to the Cardinals and Adams replaced him as one of the four primary starters. Leever and Phillippe, the pitching ace of he 1903 World Series, were now almost entirely bullpen men.

At 28, the Pirates had the 3rd oldest hitting team in the league by average age, but their staff was the oldest staff in the NL. Phillippe and Leever were both 38 and Adams, though reasonably new to the league, was 28 as was Camnitz. As far as I can tell, Clarke didn’t seem to be worried about it. Maybe he should. His biggest stars, Wagner (36), Leach (32), and himself (37) were getting old by 1910 baseball standards.

So Pittsburgh went into the 1910 season with its World Champion team mostly intact. There was a rookie at first and an aging pitching staff, but as long as the hitting, especially Wagner, held up they would be competitive for the season.

Tomorrow–the Cubs