Posts Tagged ‘Connie Mack’

Opening Day 1908

April 12, 2018

Jack Coombs

Continuing with the ongoing look at 1908, 14 April was opening day. That’s a Saturday this year, and I don’t post normally on a Saturday. So here’s an early look at the first day of the 1908 season.

There were seven total games opening the 1908 season, three in the National League, four in the American League. The defending champion Cubs opened on the road against Cincinnati. Chicago won 6-5. There are a couple of interesting points about the game. First Orval Overall started the opener, not Mordecai Brown (Brown relieved). Second, the Reds got all five runs in the first inning (only one was earned) then were shutout for the remainder of the game. Third, Hans Lobert, a pretty fair third baseman, started the game in left field. For the season he played 21 games in left and 99 at third. Finally, the hitting star was Johnny Evers. He went three for three with a double, three runs scored, an RBI, and a walk.

The Giants beat the Phillies 3-1 with Christy Mathewson throwing a four hit gem. He struck out seven, walked one, and saw a shutout lost in the ninth inning. In the other NL game, the Doves (Boston) knocked off the Superbas (Brooklyn) 9-3. Brooklyn first baseman Tim Jordan hit the NL’s first home run in the losing effort.

In the American League, Cy Young picked up a win leading the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory over the Senators. The one Washington run was a home run by Jim Delahanty. The Browns (St. Louis) knocked off the Naps (Cleveland) 2-1 with Hall of Famer Addie Joss taking the loss. Fellow Hall of Famer Nap LaJoie, for whom the team was named, went one for four with a double. The New York Highlanders (now Yankees) beat Connie Mack’s Athletics 1-0 in 12 innings. All 12 innings took two hours and 25 minutes to play. In another oddity, later star pitcher Jack Coombs started the game in right field for Philadelphia. He went two for five. The two hits led the team. For the season he played 47 games in the outfield and pitched 26.

The defending AL champion Detroit Tigers were in a slugfest with the Chicago White Sox. The final was 15-8 for the ChiSox with Doc White picking up the win. Every Chicago starter, including White, scored at least one run. For Detroit, both Hall of Famers Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb did well. Crawford was two for five with a double and two runs scored, while Cobb went two runs scored, a double, and a home run.

That was opening day 1908.

 

 

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My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1929

July 5, 2016

Time once again for my foray into what a 1901-1934 era Hall of Fame might look like if there was one. This time two worthy inductees.

Connie Mack

Connie Mack

Connie Mack owned and managed the Philadelphia Athletics beginning with their creation in 1901. His teams have won seven American League championships and four World Series. A fine baseball mind both tactically and strategically, he is also known for his ability to find talent.

 

Hank O'Day

Hank O’Day

Pitcher, manager, and umpire Henry “Hank” O’Day has been around baseball since he 1880s. Between 1884 and 1890 he was a Major League pitcher with five teams. Beginning in 1895 he started a successful career as a National League umpire that lasted through 1927 with a short break to serve a field manager of the 1912 Cincinnati Reds and then as manager of the 1913 Chicago Cubs, finishing fourth both seasons. As an umpire he worked in 10 World Series. After retirement he served as a scout searching for qualified umpires for Major League service.

And now the commentary:

1. Why Mack this time instead of earlier? I’ve not been certain when to put in Mack. He’s still managing as late as 1950 but the real Hall of Fame put him in very early. I always assume these classes are chosen in December of the stated year (December 1929 in this case). In other words I’ve done it in conjunction with the modern Veteran’s Committee vote. After falling off in 1915, the Athletics got back to the World Series and won it in 1929. Seemed like a good point to add Mack. BTW I love the picture of Mack that’s above. Three balls to reference World Series wins in 1910, 1911, and 1913 and then the white elephant emblem.

2. So you finally figured out what to do with umps, did you? Yeah, kinda, sorta, maybe. Hank O’Day is such a unique baseball man that it seemed like a good idea to add him. He’s a pitcher, although not particularly successful. He’s a manager, and probably best described as mediocre. His team finishes at the bottom of the first division both years he’s in charge, which is pretty much a definition of mediocre. He’s universally regarded as a fine umpire. I figure that umping in 10 World Series is evidence of an overall competence. After retirement he starts scouting around looking for new umpires. He’s doing it officially, not on his own, indicating a level of trust in him by MLB. I didn’t mention above that he also served on the rules committee. I couldn’t find the exact dates, so I left it out. I seems to have been a substantial number of years. All of that should tell you that O’Day is in partially because he’s a very good umpire, but mostly because of the variety in his career. He’s one of a number of people who, if viewed simply as one-dimensional with regard to baseball probably shouldn’t be in a Hall of Fame. But if you look at the broad nature of their career, they are incredibly impactful (Guys like Clark Griffith, Charles Comiskey, Hughie Jennings, etc.).

3. Next time brings me squarely up against the Negro League issue. Here I mean the Negro Leagues that most of us know about, not the leagues of the 19th Century. Several famous (and not so famous) players and executives are going to show up over the remainder of this project. Let me remind you my rules allow not more than one Negro League type each year and he must be accompanied by an inductee that isn’t black. I know that putting one in is ridiculous for the era, but I wanted to make some sort of reference to the Negro Leagues, so I’m adding them anyway. But I can’t imagine that there would be a situation where a black man would be allowed to stand on the stage alone for induction, so the rule, and it would be unofficial sort of “gentleman’s agreement” by the Hall (I’m not quite sure how this makes people “gentlemen” but that’s the term used), is at least one other guy has to be there.

4. Here’s the carryover for 1930 including new guys for the everyday players: Jack Barry, Cupid Childs, Jake Daubert, Harry Davis, Mike Donlan, Jack Doyle, Art Fletcher, Larry Gardner, Charlie Hollocher, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Clyde Milan, Del Pratt, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Burt Shotton, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George van Haltren, Tillie Walker. That’s 24 and I have a limit of 20 on the carryover list. So four have to either go or make it to the Hall.

5. The same list for the pitchers: Jim Bagby, Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Tony Mullane, Jeff Pfeffer, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White, Joe Wood. That’s 11 and the carryover total here is 10. So one is in or one is off.

6. And the same list for the contributors: Umps–Bob Emslie, Tim Hurst (who was also NL President); Managers–Miller Huggins, George Stallings; Owners–Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann, Ben Shibe; Negro Leagues–Rube Foster, Spottswood Poles, Candy Jim Taylor; NL President Henry C. Pulliam; pre-Civil War pioneer William R. Wheaton. A total of 12 and the carryover list is 10. So two have to go or make it. Don’t be too surprised if Rube Foster gets as serious look.

 

The Camera Eye

June 29, 2015
Max Bishop

Max Bishop

Back when I first became interested in studying baseball, rather than merely watching the game, I had (and still have to some extent) a love of the 1929-1931 Philadelphia Athletics. They were a great team that managed to sideline the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees for three seasons and were an interesting bunch in and of themselves. But I wondered about something. I couldn’t quite understand why, on a team full of excellent players, Max Bishop led off.

Bishop was born in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania in 1899. He was a good amateur player who moved to Baltimore at age 14 and caught the attention of the minor league Baltimore Orioles who signed him as a third baseman in 1918. While playing for the birds in the summer, he attended Baltimore City College in the fall and spring, playing second base for the college team. In 1919, the Orioles switched him to second also.

His play with Baltimore was good enough that both the A’s and the Boston Red Sox were interested in obtaining him. The Athletics landed him in late 1923 and he began the 1924 season as their primary second baseman. He developed rapidly a great batting eye (hence the nickname “Camera Eye”) and moved to lead off for Philadelphia, a position in the batting order he held for most of his career. He usually hit in the .270 to .250 range, once getting into the .300s and once dropping as low as .230. He had no power, little speed (his top stolen base total was 10 in 1928), but with the power hitters Connie Mack had behind him, he was never going to be asked to steal a lot of bases. He walked a lot, having more than 100 bases on balls in eight of 12 campaigns (and 80 or more two other times). He was a decent second baseman, never among the top fielding men in the American League, but a solid middle of the pack keystone player (although he did win three fielding percentage titles).

In the glory years of 1929-1931 he was a major contributor to the team, but hardly a star. He had 10 home runs in the inflated air of 1930, led the AL in walks in 1929, scored over 100 runs each year (and also in 1928), and had 150 or more total bases each year. In his three World Series appearances he hit only .182, but had 12 walks, and scored 11 runs. His World Series OBP was .316.

With the team floundering and cash running out, Mack sold Bishop to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) in 1934 (along with Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg). He played two final years in Boston, never getting into 100 games, and in 1936 moved to Portland to become player-manager of the Pacific Coast League team. He got hurt, couldn’t play second, and was fired in May. He played a few games with Baltimore, then became a scout, managed a little, then took over the baseball team at the Naval Academy. He stayed there 24 years, putting up winning season after winning season. He retired after the 1961 season and died in February 1962. He is buried in Baltimore.

For his career Bishop has the following triple slash line: .271/.423/.366/.789 (OPS+ of 103. In 1338 games he had 1216 hits, 236 doubles, 35 triples, 41 home runs, for 1645 total bases. He had 379 RBIs, 40 stolen bases (and was caught stealing 51 times), 1156 walks (about .86 per game), and only 452 strikeouts. He’s never gotten much support for the Hall of Fame, peaking at 1.9% of the vote in 1960.

Bishop, to answer my childhood question, led off because he got on base a lot.  He had a very good On Base Percentage, a statistic I’d never heard of at the time. Hidden in his lack of power, speed, and high average was the ability to draw a walk and get on base in front of the big guns of Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx hitting behind him. It was a successful formula that helped Philadelphia to three pennants and two World Series championships.

Bishop's tombstone

Bishop’s tombstone

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Connie Mack

November 20, 2014
Connie Mack as a player

Connie Mack as a player

1. He was born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy in Massachusetts in 1862. His more well know name is a shortening of both his first and last names.

2. He was a Major League catcher between 1886 and 1896, playing he entire career in the National League, except for a stint in the 1890 Player’s League. He hit all of .245 with five home runs.

3. He was player manager at Pittsburgh between 1894 and 1896 inclusive. After retiring he managed Milwaukee in the Western League between 1897 and 1899 inclusive.

4. In 1901 he was made manager of the Philadelphia team (called the Athletics after a previous team) in the newly formed American League. Almost immediately he moved to gain at least partial ownership of the team. He took 25% ownership in 1901 with sporting goods mogul Ben Shibe taking 50% and a pair of local sports writers owning the other 25%. In 1913 he bought out the two writers and became co-owner with Shibe. He handled baseball operations and Shibe the business side of the team. In 1937 he became majority owner of the A’s.

5. He was known as an excellent judge of talent and for judicious use of his catchers despite a limited roster.

6. His Athletics won the second American League pennant in 1902, then participated in the second World Series in 1905 (there was no Series in 1902). They lost in five games to the New York Giants.

7. During the years 1910 through 1914 the A’s won pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914. They won the World Series in the first three of those seasons.

8. Due to financial considerations Mack lost most of his quality players in 1915, had a disastrous 1916 (36-117 record), then began rebuilding.

9. Between 1929 and 1931 the A’s won three more pennants and the World Series in both 1929 and 1930. That made Mack the only manager to win back-to-back World Series’ twice. Both Casey Stengel (5 in a row) and Joe McCarthy (4 in a row) won at least three in a row later.

10. Again in financial trouble, he sold off his best players and never recovered. After 1933 his team never finished in the first division again. The team also suffered because Mack failed to create a “farm” system until late and did a poor job in signing quality Negro League players once the Major Leagues integrated beginning in 1947.

11. By 1950 he was in failing health and although still manager, was having his coaches make most of the on field decisions.

12. He retired after the 1950 season with 3731 wins, 3948 losses (both records), nine pennants, and five World Championships (not counting his 1902 championship–a year without a  World Series). He died in 1956.

13. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937.

Mack's grave

Mack’s grave

 

Shutting them Out

October 31, 2014
Christy Mathewson about 1905

Christy Mathewson about 1905

With all the hoopla over Madison Bumgarner’s World Series exploits, and that hoopla is well deserved, it’s time to put it into a bit of perspective. Somebody called it the greatest World Series pitching performance ever. Well, it isn’t. For one game nothing can top Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Not only was it a  perfect game but it came against four future Hall of Famers: PeeWee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, and Roy Campanella. Not bad, right? OK, so it’s not the greatest one game performance ever, it’s still gotta be the best ever for a single series, right? Well, no. Let me take you back to 1905.

The 1905 World Series, the second played, pitted the New York Giants (Bumgarner’s team removed one coast) and the Philadelphia Athletics (now playing across the bay from Bumgarner’s team). Connie Mack’s A’s were a pitching heavy team that was pretty typical for the era. The Giants, led by John McGraw, were likewise pitching heavy. And the heaviest pitcher on either side was Christy Mathewson. Mathewson was 24 and coming off a season that saw him with (read these numbers carefully) 31 wins, nine losses, a league leading 1.28 ERA, a league leading 206 strikeouts, and only 64 walks given up. His ERA+ was a career high 230 and his WHIP was a miniscule 0.933 (and it would get better a few years later). His Baseball Reference.com version of WAR was 9.1 (tying for his fourth best WAR).

Mathewson started game one against fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Plank. Plank pitched well, giving up three runs (all earned), walking two, and giving up 10 hits. Mathewson was better. He pitched  a complete game shutout giving up four hits and walking none (to go with six strikeouts). He gave up a single in the fourth, a double in the sixth, and doubles in both the eighth and ninth. Only one man, the first double, got to third.

Well, the A’s won game two, so McGraw decided to start Mathewson again in game three on two day’s rest. The short rest really got to him. He still didn’t give up a run in a complete game shutout, and again he only allowed four hits, but he did walk a batter finally (it went to Socks Seybold in the second inning). He did compensate by striking out eight. The walk was Mathewson’s first charged baserunner of the game (there’d been an error in the first), but he was erased on a force out at second. He allowed a single in the fifth. Then got into some trouble in the seventh when he allowed two singles. The first runner was erased on a double play and the second died at first when the next batter grounded to first unassisted. He hit a man in the eighth (see, I told you the two day’s rest was a problem) but got the next batter. With two outs in the ninth he allowed one more single, but struck out the next batter to end the game.

The Giants won game four and McGraw decided to end the Series as quickly as possible. With one day’s rest, he sent Mathewson back to the mound. It wasn’t unheard of to do it in the Deadball Era, but it wasn’t exactly common either. Mathewson responded with another great game. This time he again went nine innings without giving up a run. He did have one down stat though. He gave up five hits instead of four. And only struck out four while walking none. He gave up a leadoff single, but no runner advanced beyond first. There were two singles in the second, but a double play and caught stealing ended the inning. In the fifth he gave up a double with two outs and got out of it. In the sixth it was a harmless single that produced the final hit.

The Giants won the World Series in five games. Mathewson’s line reads as follows: three wins, no losses, an ERA of 0.00 over 27 innings (three complete games). He gave up 13 hits, walked one, and struck out 18. His WHIP was 0.519 and exactly one runner (in game one) got to third base. Interestingly enough, eight different Athletics managed a hit off Mathewson. Harry Davis and Topsy Hartsel each got three and Seybold picked up two plus the only walk.

The game was different in 1905. It wasn’t integrated, there were only day games, pitchers pitched more often, the home run was not a major offensive weapon, and there were less playoff rounds. Be all that as it may, it’s still the greatest World Series pitching performance ever over a complete Series.

1914: Winning in Boston, part 2

October 23, 2014
1914 World Series program from Boston

1914 World Series program from Boston

With the Braves up three games to none, Philadelphia did something that still surprises me, it went with its fourth pitcher for the fourth game (a lot of fours and fourths there, right?). I’m a bit surprised that Connie Mack didn’t go back to Chief Bender to right the ship rather than put the pressure on 23-year-old Bob Shawkey. I realize that Bender hadn’t done particularly well in game one, but, unlike Shawkey, he had World Series experience. By contrast, Braves manager George Stallings (pictured above) went back to game one starter Dick Rudolph.

Game 4

For three innings, picking Shawkey worked. He gave up one walk and nothing else. Rudolph wasn’t quite as good, giving up three hits, but neither team scored. In the bottom of the fourth Johnny Evers walked and went to third on a Possum Whitted single. He scored on a Butch Schmidt ground out to short. The A’s even the score in the top of the fifth on a Jack Barry single and a double by Shawkey.

The decisive inning was the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, Rudolph singled. Herbie Moran followed with a double sending Rudolph to third. With runners on second and third and two outs Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers singled to bring home both runs and put the Braves up 3-1. Rudolph set Philadelphia down in order in the sixth. He was in trouble in the seventh when he walked Jimmy Walsh, then wild pitched him to second. Then Barry struck out and Boston catcher Hank Gowdy threw down to second baseman Evers to pick off Walsh for the second out. Wally Schang struck out to end the inning. It was the last crisis. The Athletics went down in order in the eighth then a strikeout and consecutive ground outs in the top of the ninth finished the game and the Series.

Boston’s victory was, and still is, one of the greatest World Series upsets ever. There are two obvious questions to answer. What did Boston do right? What went wrong for the A’s?

First, Boston’s pitching was excellent. Both Rudolph and Bill James were 2-0. James’ ERA was 0.00 and Rudolph had all of 0.50 for his ERA (team ERA of 1.15). As a team they gave up only 22 hits and 13 walks in 39 innings (WHIP of 0.897), while striking out 28. Additionally James had one complete game shutout (the other win came in relief).

Second, the Braves hit well up and down their lineup. Their team batting average was .244. Every player appearing in three or more games (nine) had at least one hit. Every one of them scored at least one run, and seven of them had at least one RBI. Johnny Evers led the team with seven hits and Hank Gowdy had six. Gowdy and Rabbit Maranville each had three RBIs to lead the team. Gowdy hit .545 with the series only home run. He also had one of two series triples (Whitted had the other). That, along with five walks, gave him on OBP of .688, a slugging percentage of 1.273, and an OPS of 1.960. There was no series MVP in 1914. Had there been one, Gowdy most likely would have won it.

By contrast, the Athletics pitching staff was awful. Their collective ERA was 3.41 with Chief Bender clocking in at 10.13. Eddie Plank gave up one run in a complete game, but lost it to James’ shutout. As a team, they gave up 33 hits and 15 walks (WHIP of 1.297) over 37 innings. And they struck out only 18 (all of three more than they had walks).

Other than Home Run Baker, who only hit .250, the A’s hit poorly. Baker had two RBIs and four hits to lead the team and tied for the team lead with two doubles (of nine). Stuffy McInnis and Eddie Murphy were the only players to score more than a single run (each had two). The team average was .172 with an OBP of .248 and a slugging percentage of .242 for an OPS of .490 (six Braves players had OPS numbers greater than Philadelphia’s combined OPS). The team had no triples or home runs and stole only two bases (versus nine for Boston).

It was a complete victory for Boston. And, as with many World Series it marked the end for both teams. The Braves slipped back into second next year and went south from there. For the A’s it was the end of a five-year run. By 1916 they had the worst record in baseball (a lot of the stars were gone). For Boston it would be their last pennant until 1948 and their last championship ever. The next time the Braves won was 1957 and by then they were in Milwaukee.

As an interesting bit of trivia, in 1914 the teams apparently didn’t yet get rings. It seems someone made up one for Johnny Evers (maybe Evers himself). Here’s a picture of it.

Johnny Evers 1914 ring

Johnny Evers 1914 ring

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.

 

 

 

Wally Schang, Mack’s other Catcher

March 10, 2014
Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

As I mentioned in the post just below, the Philadelphia Athletics used three catchers during their 1910-1914 dynasty. The other post looked briefly at Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas. This one looks at Wally Schang,easily the best of the three.

Walter Schang was born in South Wales, New York, a town just south of Buffalo, in 1889. His dad caught for the local town team and two of his brothers also played ball, Bobby making it to the Majors (1914 and 1915 with the Pirates and Giants and again in 1927 with the Cardinals). In 1912, Wally caught on with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League (managed by George Stallings, later manager of his opponent in the 1914 World Series). In 1913 he made the Majors with the A’s. He got into 79 games with Philadelphia, then played four games against the Giants in the World Series. He hit .357 in the Series with a home run after hitting just.266 in the regular season.

By 1914, he’d become the Athletics primary catcher. He led all American League catchers with a .287 average and with 45 RBIs. He did terribly in the 1914 World Series (as did the A’s as a team), slumped in 1915, then had a great year (for him) in 1916. The 1916 A’s were one of the worst teams in AL history going 36-117. Schang, switched to the outfield in 1916 (he played a few outfield games in 1915 and again later in his career) led the team with seven home runs, two coming on 8 September when he became the first switch hitter to slug a homer from each side of the plate. By 1917, the A’s, already desperate for money, became even more desperate and Mack traded him to the Red Sox to start the 1918 season.

Schang was with Boston for the 1918 World Series. He hit .444 with an OPS of 990. He remained in Boston through the 1920 season when he was part of the continued dismantling of the Red Sox. Like Babe Ruth (who was traded a year earlier), Schang was traded to the Yankees. For the next four years he served as New York’s primary catcher, playing in three World Series’, including the Yanks first championship in 1923 (He hit .318 with seven hits in the victory). He slumped badly in 1925 and was sent to the St. Louis Browns for 1926.

He stayed at St. Louis four seasons, hitting over .300 twice and setting a career high with eight home runs in 1926. He went back to Philadelphia for 1930 as a backup to Mickey Cochrane. He picked up another ring at the end of the season, but did not play in the Series. His final season was 1931 when he got into 30 games with Detroit. He hit all of  a buck eighty-four and was through at 41.

He played and managed in the minors through 1935, then Cleveland hired him as a coach. His primary job was to teach Bob Feller how to pitch instead of throw. He remained in baseball until he was 52, when he finally retired. He died in Missouri in 1965. He was 75.

For his career Schang’s triple slash line is .284/.393/.401/.794 with an OPS+ of 117 (Baseball Reference.com’s version of WAR gives him 41). He had 1506 hits, 264 for doubles, 90 triples, and 59 home runs for 2127 total bases. He had 711 RBIs and stole 121 bases. He was considered one of the better fielding catchers of his era but he led the AL in passed balls (the Boston staff of 1919 will do that to you) and in errors (1914) once each. He appeared in six World Series’, helping his team to three wins. As mentioned above he was also on the 1930 A’s but did not play in the championship games.

Wally Schang was unquestionably the best of Connie Mack’s catchers prior to Mickey Cochrane. He hit well, fielded well, and helped his team win. He occasionally pops up on lists of players overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I don’t think he belongs, but I can see why he makes those lists.

Schang's grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

Schang’s grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

Mack’s Catchers

March 6, 2014
Jack Lapp

Jack Lapp

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the final season of Connie Mack’s first great dynasty. The Philadelphia Athletics of 1910-1914 won four pennants (all but 1912) and three World Series’ (1910, 1911, and 1913). Over the life of this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time with this team. I’ve looked at the pitchers. I’ve looked at the outfielders. I’ve gone over the so-called “$100,000 infield”. I’ve even looked at a couple of bench players. However, I’ve never spent much time checking out the catchers. Here’s an attempt to rectify that.

For most of the period, Mack used two catchers more or less interchangeably. By that I mean no catcher played a lot of games in the field but there was no obvious platoon system. Although one hit from the left side (Jack Lapp) and the other from the right (Ira Thomas), Thomas got way too many at bats for there to be a platoon system going on.  Being a former catcher himself, Mack seems to have understood how tough the job was, how wearing it was on the body, so he gave his catchers a lot of rest. At least I think that’s what’s going on. I can find no absolute confirmation of that, but I can find no other obvious reason for how he uses his catchers. That being the case, he got pretty good work out of a pair of really obscure players.

For most of the period, the A’s relied on both Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas for catching duties. There were a number of other men who squatted behind the plate for the A’s, men like Paddy Livingston, and late in the period Wally Schang (who more or less replaced Thomas), but Lapp and Thomas did the bulk of the work for the 1910-1914 dynasty.

Ira Thomas (note the chest protector)

Ira Thomas (note the chest protector)

Both men were decent catchers, generally finishing in the upper half of the fielding stats for the American League (an eight team league in their era). Both were generally considered good handlers of pitchers, but I can find no evidence that either was specifically a “personal catcher” to any of the pitchers (the way McCarver was for Carlton, for example). As hitters, neither was anything to write home to mom about. Neither hit much. Lapp ended up at .263 with five homers and 166 RBIs (but an OPS+ of 104) and Thomas .242 with three home runs and 155 RBIs (and an OPS+ of 82). Most of Lapp’s OPS+ came in three seasons, only one of which (1915) he played 100 games.

Lapp played in all four World Series’ getting into five total games. He had four hits (all singles), scored a run and drove in another, hitting .235. Thomas played in only the first two, hitting .214 with four hits, three runs, and three RBIs. As mention above, Wally Schang replaced him as the second primary catcher in the final two Series’.

After leaving the Majors, Lapp in 1917 and Thomas in 1916, neither man ever managed in the Majors. Thomas coached at Williams College, then joined the A’s as a coach. Later he scouted for Mack. Thomas died in 1958 and Lapp went down with pneumonia in 1920.

Both men are pretty nameless today. They were never stars nor even major players. They did contribute to the A’s winning three World Series’ in four tries and establishing the first successful American League dynasty.

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.