Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Wallace’

1908: The End of July

August 1, 2018

Here’s the next update in my continuing look at the 1908 season (110 years on).

Bobby Wallace

With approximately two-thirds’ of the 1908 season gone, the pennant race in the American League was taking shape seriously. Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland all had winning records and held down the first division. The Tigers were two games up on the Browns, with Chicago 5.5 back, and Cleveland at eight behind. For Detroit, Ty Cobb was hitting .346, but fellow Hall of Famer Sam Crawford was only at .287. Chicago was standing behind Ed Walsh on the mound and 37-year-old George Davis (in his next-to-last season). Davis was only hitting .212. For Cleveland Nap LaJoie was having a down season so far (.269 with four triples), but the pitching (read Addie Joss here) was holding up. For the Browns, Bobby Wallace, their most famous player, was also having a bad season (hitting .269), but pitcher Rube Waddell was doing well (By WAR, a stat unknown in 1908, Wallace was having a terrific season. He’d end at 6.3). Among the also rans, the Highlanders (Yankees) were in last place, 25 games out.

John Titus

In the National League, five teams winning records on 31 July: Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. The Pirates were a half game up on the Cubs, two up on the Giants, 6.5 ahead of the Phils, and eight up on the Reds. St, Louis was all the way at the bottom 23.5 games out of first. The Pirates leaders, Tommy Leach, manager Fred Clarke, and Roy Thomas were a mixed bag at the end of July, but the team revolved around shortstop Honus Wagner. By 31 July, he was hitting .328 with an OPS of .939. Chicago, relying on the Tinker to Evers to Chance infield and Three-Finger Brown, was also getting good years out of Harry Steinfeldt, the other infielder, and a 21-year-old backup named Heinie Zimmerman. For the Giants it was a standard John McGraw team with great pitching from Christy Mathewson and Hooks Wiltse (with an assist from part-time pitcher, part-time coach, Joe McGinnity), and 3.0 WAR from first baseman Fred Tenney. Philadelphia played Cincinnati on 31 July and the Phillies win put the Reds another game back. Philadelphia’s John Titus was having a good year and for the Reds Hans Lobert was leading the hitters.

The season still had two months to go, two terrific pennant races to conclude, one utter memorable game to play. But it also had one of the more interesting games coming up between two also-rans in just a few days.

Magazine Man

January 31, 2011

J.G. Taylor Spink

There is no question that for much of the 20th Century The Sporting News was the premier baseball magazine. It did other sports too, but it’s forte was baseball. It promoted the sport, did its own awards, including a once prestigious MVP award. Its editor sat on the Veteran’s Committee for the Hall of Fame. Ultimately, he had the Hall of Fame’s award for baseball writing named for him, the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

John George Taylor Spink was born in 1888 in St. Louis, His uncle, a sports writer and one of the directors of the St. Louis Browns founded The Sporting News in 1886. The original magazine featured mostly baseball information. In 1899, J.G.’s dad took over the magazine and ran it until his death in 1914. At that point Taylor Spink became the editor, a job he held until 1962. The younger Spink was a huge baseball fan, but also understood the value of covering other sports. While not de-emphasizing baseball, he made certain that other sports, notably boxing, were given space in the magazine. He also gave a major boost to college football by beginning to follow it in his magazine.

But the centerpiece of the publication remained baseball, with box scores and stats featured along with stories about the teams and players. And by 1947 that included Jackie Robinson. It’s tough to determine Spink’s attitude toward Robinson. On the one hand, his comments about Robinson as a player are glowing, culminating with the awarding of the first Rookie of the Year Award, which was sponsored by Spink’s magazine. On the other hand, Spink’s seems to be less impressed with the “social experimentation” aspect of Robinson’s career. I don’t mean to imply Spinks opposed the “social experimentation”, but that he found it secondary to Robinson’s abilities as a ballplayer.

By 1953, it was generally acknowledged that the existing “Old Timer’s Committee” of the Hall of Fame was in need or reform. Spink had a reputation as a knowledgeable baseball man that he was chosen as chairman for the newly formed Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee. He would hold the position into 1959.  Although there are differing opinions on how well Spink’s committee did, he is acknowledged as instrumental in getting Bobby Wallace (a St. Louis man) elected and as influential in getting a number of other players picked for the Hall. You can take a look at the players selected by the Veteran’s Committee in the mid to late 1950s and make your own decision as to how good they were.

He continued to run his magazine until his death in 1962. With his passing, the Hall of Fame, which had for some time, been looking for a way to honor sportswriters established the J.G. Taylor Spink award for those writers. Spink won the initial award in ’62. The award winner’s names are displayed in the Hall library, so the winners, although honored, are not technically members of the Hall of Fame. Additionally, the Topps company, maker of baseball cards, sponsors a minor league player of the year award named for Spink. That’s quite a set of honors for a man who never played the game.

One-Trick Pony

December 23, 2010

In keeping with the animal theme that seems to be have started around here, I want to write about one-trick ponies. A one-trick pony is a circus horse that can only do one thing. He can do it really well, but doesn’t do anything else well. He still gets to be in the show doing that one trick. Baseball and its Hall of Fame are full of this kind of player.

In one sense all pitchers are essentially one-trick ponies. Their job is to pitch (and do that job only every second, third, fourth, or fifth day depending on the era). A closer is even more so, because his job is to pitch to one (and sometimes two) innings worth of hitters. Some of them, like Babe Ruth or Walter Johnson can hit some. No body cares. They are there to pitch and if they hit some, well, that’s great icing on the cake. Some of them, like Jim Kaat or Greg Maddux, field well. No body cares. They are there to pitch and if they field some, well, that’s great icing on the cake. Some, like Lefty Gomez, don’t do either well. No body cares. If they don’t field or hit well no body pulls them from the starting lineup because they can’t field a bunt or hit a curve. Can you imagine the following conversation? “Sorry, Lefty, you won’t start today because you can’t field a bunt.” Neither can I.  And almost by definition American League pitchers of the last 40 years can’t hit because of the designated hitter rule.

There are also guys who have great gloves and no sticks. Bill Mazeroski (who was an OK hitter, but nothing special), Rabbit Maranville, Nellie Fox (who had the one great year with a bat), and Bobby Wallace come instantly to mind. It seems that baseball always finds a way to get them into the lineup. I exclude catchers who don’t hit well, because most of them do a number of things well (like throw, block the plate, move to fouls, control the tempo of the game, etc.).

And then there are the sluggers who seem to always find a batting order spot. I mean guys like Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Ted Williams, and Orlando Cepeda. All of them hit, and all of them were less than sterling in the field (and I’m being generous here).  Despite the greatness of Williams and the others, they are simply another bunch of one-dimensional players.

All of which brings me to Edgar Martinez, an excellent example of a one-trick pony. What he did was hit and hit well. His knees gave out and he couldn’t field, but he could still hit.

You know what Killebrew, Kiner, Williams,  Cepeda, Mazeroski, Maranville, Fox, Wallace, and Gomez have in common besides being one-trick ponies? They’re also Hall of Famers (and Maddux will be). This is not a plea to put Martinez in the Hall, although I would vote for him, but to acknowledge that the reason many people say he shouldn’t be in (“All he could do was hit.”) is an invalid reason for excluding a man from the Hall. There are already a lot of guys in the Hall who could only do one thing, so excluding Martinez because he could only do one thing is silly. Maybe he should be excluded. Maybe his numbers aren’t good enough. Maybe he doesn’t have the proper leadership skills or the proper moral character and thus should be excluded. Fine by me, exclude him. Just make sure you do it for the right reasons.

1910: Browns Postmortem

August 23, 2010

By the end of August 1910, the St. Louis Browns were on the verge of elimination in the American League pennant race. If you ignored ties that might or might not be replayed, they were eliminated on 22 August. If you count the ones that were replayed, then they managed to hang on another week.

For the season the Browns went 47-107 (a .305 winning percentage). In an eight team league they finished 7th in hits, runs, and doubles; 6th in triples, walks,  and slugging: and dead last in hitting, stolen bases, and RBIs. They did manage 4th in home runs with all of 12. The pitching was as bad. They finished 7th in complete games (a bigger deal in 1910 than it is now) and hits allowed. They were dead last again with the most walks, highest ERA , and least strikeouts in the American League.

Individually, only Hall of Fame shortstop Bobby Wallace (.258) and outfielder George Stone (.256) managed to hit .250. Wallace and sub Art Griggs led the team in doubles with 19 and 22, while Stone led with 12 triples, 40 RBIs, and 144 hits. A real problem was that of all the bench players with 30 or more at bats, only Griggs managed to hit above .200 (.236), so there was no one to go to if one of the starters slumped (With this team I’m not sure how you determined if someone was slumping.). Another real problem for the team was that Stone and Wallace, their best position players were, at 36 and 33, the oldest position players on the team (pitcher Jack Powell was 35).

The pitching ace (if there is an “ace”) was Joe Lake who went 11-18 with a 2.21 ERA, which is third highest in the AL among “aces”. He’s the only pitcher to pick up double figure wins. Lefty Bill Bailey went 3-18 with more walks than strikeouts. Only Roy Mitchell at 4-2 (over six games), Rube Waddell 3-1 (10 games and only two starts), and Dode Criss 2-1 (six games, all in relief) had winning records (Bill Crouch and Harry Howell both went 0-0, which at least isn’t a losing record).

All this got first year manager Jack O’Connor fired. Shortstop Wallace was picked to replace him. Wallace would make in 39 games into 1912 before being shown the door. O’Connor never managed again in the big leagues.

I’d like to say something good about this team, but just can’t find anything positive to say. It’s not like a young George Sisler came up at the end of the year and showed possibilities or anything.  This team is a typical Browns team of the era. There’s a reason the Browns made exactly one World Series (1944) before transferring to Baltimore (where they are now the Orioles). Too many teams like this is the reason.

Over the next month or so, I intend to do one of these for each team that failed to win the 1910 pennant. I want to see what went wrong and what went right. It may take a while, because I’m not going to slavishly do it each time until all are done.

Opening Day, 1910: St. Louis (AL)

April 21, 2010

Bobby Wallace

It’s uncharitable to say that the St. Louis Browns were hopeless, but sometimes the truth hurts. The Browns were hopeless. In their entire existence, 1902-1953, they finished first once. 1910 wasn’t it.  

 The Browns finished seventh in 1909, 36 games out of first. It led to a general housecleaning, something the Browns did frequently. Manager Jimmy McAleer was canned and replaced by Jack O’Connor a former catcher whose rookie season was 1887 with the American Association Cincinnati Reds. It was his first managerial job (and his last). He would survive in the job exactly one year. 

He didn’t have a lot to work with in St. Louis. Three of the infielders were different. Future Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace remained at short, but he was 36 in 1910 and on is last legs as a player. Former right fielder Roy Hartzell moved to third base with fairly predictable results. Pat Newman and Frank Truesdale took the jobs at first and second. Both were rookies. Art Griggs and Dode Criss remained the men off the bench. Criss sometimes moonlighted as a pitcher for St. Louis. He wasn’t an upgrade. 

The outfield had two stable members, Hartzell moving to third as mentioned above. Al Schweitzer replaced Hartzell in right and Danny Hoffman and George Stone remained in the other two spots. Schweitzer had been, with John McAleese, one of the backup outfielders in 1909. 

The 1909 catcher, Lou Criger, was gone, replaced by ’09 backup Jim Stephens. The new backup was Bill Killefer who would go on to fame as Grover Cleveland Alexander’s catcher with the Phillies. Killefer played 11 games in 1909. 

The pitching in 1909 was weak, but at least none of the major starters had given up more hits than innings pitched, and only one had walked more than he struck out. In 1910 four of the big starters, Jack Powell, Barney Pelty, Bill Bailey, and Hall of Famer Rube Waddell were back. Joe Lake was new, coming over from New York. So was rookie Robert “Farmer” Ray. 

And that was it. There were new guys, but they weren’t much of an upgrade, if at all. There was a new manager, four rookies (including Killefer), and a bunch of guys nobody ever heard of. The genuinely good players like Wallace and Waddell were at the end of their careers. The 1910 season was Waddell’s final year. It was the same story for most of the Browns’ history. 

Next: the Senators

Decimation of a Team

March 23, 2010

There was a policy in the 19th Century that one man could own interest in two different Major League teams. It started out innocently enough because some teams were struggling and it was in the interest of the league to keep them afloat. So an owner of one team would loan the other money to help the second team survive the season. In return he could claim a stake in the team. This began to spiral, other factors got involved, owners worked to set up cabals and partnerships, and by 1899 it had reached the point were certain individuals owned two teams. One such combination was St. Louis and Cleveland.

Frederick and Stanley Robison owned the Cleveland Spiders (not the same team as the modern Indians). By 1899 they had also gained a controlling interest in the St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals). St. Louis provided a significantly greater baseball market than Cleveland (St Louis was the fourth largest market in the US in 1899), so the Robisons decided to put all their good ballplayers on one team and try to capture a pennant with the St. Louis team.

In 1898 the Cleveland starting eight were Patsy Tabeau (who also managed), Cupid Childs, Larry McKean, and Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace in the infield. The outfield was Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett, Jim McAleer, and Harry Blake. The catcher was Lou Criger, and three pitchers had double figure wins: Cy Young, Jack Powell, and Zeke Wilson. They finished fifth. By 1899 all of them except McAleer, who was out of the Major Leagues, were at St. Louis in 1899. With Tabeau again managing, they managed fifth place, the same place Cleveland finished the year previously.

The Spiders got what was the worst of the two rosters dumped in the same place, added in a few rookies, tossed in a couple of old-timers trying to hang on and attempted to create a viable team. What they got was a disaster. Third baseman Lave Cross took over as manager. Thirty-eight games into the season the team was 8-30 and Cross was hitting .286. He was promptly sold to St Louis where he took over much of the third base work. Backup outfielder Ossee Schreckengost hit .313 and took 43 games to end up in St. Louis where he settled in as a backup catcher. Starting catcher Chief Zimmer hit .342 and got out after only 20 games.

When Cross left for St. Louis, second baseman Joe Quinn got the managerial job. He stayed the entire year, despite hitting .286 with 72 RBIs and 176 hits (a sure call to St. Louis if Cleveland hadn’t needed a manager). The team hit .253, dead last in the league, was last in slugging, in RBIs (by more than 100), runs (by almost 200), hits, doubles, triples, home runs (although only by one homer), stolen bases, fans in the stands, hot dogs sold, and just about anything else you can think of.

If possible, the pitching was worse. Jim Hughey went 4-30, Charlie Knepper 4-22, Frank Bates was 1-18. The team ERA was 6.37 almost two full runs higher than the next team (Washington at 4.93). Harry Lochhead pitched 3.2 innings, gave up no earned runs, and became the only pitcher without a losing record. He went 0-0.

The last half of the season, Cleveland played every game on the road, even “home” games. No one was in the Cleveland park (except maybe the grounds crew) and the only way to pick up any money was to go on the road. Apparently on the rare occasions anyone showed up, the most common sound was “boo” and beer sales exceeded hot dogs and peanuts (Wouldn’t watching this team make you want to drink?).

They finished (hide your eyes if you’re squemish) 20-134, 84 games out of first. Their winning percentage was .130. By comparison the infamous 1962 Mets had a winning percentage of .250 and only finished 60.5 games out of first. The Spiders went 11-101 on the road and 9-33 in Cleveland. It was, as I said earlier, a disaster.

Fortunately it did change a few things. The National League had twelve teams and it was becoming increasingly evident that it couldn’t sustain that many and be profitable. So for 1900, four teams were eliminated. The Spiders were one of them. A handful of the players let go when the league contracted were pretty good. Western Association president Ban Johnson scooped up most of them and they became part of the nucleus of the American League in 1901. Because the other owners with two teams had done the same thing as the Robison brothers, all four eliminated teams were owned by other teams. This brought, by default, an end to dual ownership. As far as I can tell, that was unintended.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for the players. It must have been awful knowing you were going to lose every day. It had to have been a gnawing hurt for both managers, knowing that no matter what you tried, you just didn’t have the talent to compete. Mostly I feel sorry for the fans. They put out money to see competitive baseball and got the Spiders instead. After 42 games they just quit coming.

What happened in Cleveland was horrific. It is a great blackmark on baseball. There were bad teams before, there’ve been bad teams since, but nothing like the Spiders.