Posts Tagged ‘Deacon McGuire’

How Good Was Fleet Walker?

August 1, 2013
Fleet Walker

Fleet Walker

Most of you know at least a little of the story. Moses Fleetwood Walker, not Jackie Robinson, was the first black man to play Major League baseball (not counting the guy from Providence in the 1870s who got into one game and no one’s sure he was black). Fleet Walker played one season for Toledo in the American Association (1884) then both he and Toledo were dropped from the league after that single season.  He never got back to the big leagues and baseball’s “gentleman’s agreement” meant that no one else who was black was going to get there either until 1947.

This is not a biography of Fleet Walker, although his bio is fascinating. What I wondered was why no one picked him up to play Major League baseball again. Was it simply race, or was he clearly not big league caliber? As Walker was a catcher by trade, the obvious thing to do was compare him against the other Association catchers.

In 1884 there were 12 teams in the American Association. During the season Washington folded and a new team set up in Richmond, Virginia to play out the season, so a cursory look at the standing sometimes shows 13 teams. As Washington and Richmond used different catchers, I included both teams. I looked at the stats of the primary catcher for each team. And a quick caveat here: Walker only played 42 games at Toledo, so I added Toledo’s other catcher, Deacon McGuire (not to be confused with Deacon White who just made the Hall of Fame), in the mix so I’m looking at 14 total men.

I looked at a handful of stats (hits, runs, average, OBP, slugging, and OPS) only. The Association stats for 1884 are very sparse so some stats like RBIs, stolen bases, etc. are missing. Of what existed, I went with the ones listed above. I did not deal with fielding stats because the position of catcher was so different in 1884 that the stats are, to me, meaningless (no glove, no chest protector, standing back several feet from the batter, etc). Walker did lead the Association in passed balls, but much of that can be laid at the feet of Tony Mullane, a pitcher who hated the idea of throwing to a black man. Walker’s triple slash numbers are: 263/325/316/641.

If I had to rank the catchers in order of hitting ability I would place Walker in the fourth, fifth or perhaps sixth position. Someone named Jim Keenan (who I’d never heard of) is clearly the best hitting catcher in the Association. His triple slash numbers are .293/343/418/751.  All are first among catchers (actually the slugging percentage is tied for first and I didn’t work it out to four or five figures to see if it was actually first). He played for Indianapolis which finished last (he was easily their best player). Jocko Milligan (who tied with Keenan on slugging percentage) at Philadelphia, and Pop Snyder at Cincinnati were the second and third best hitting catchers (and Snyder managed the Reds). Next there’s something of a logjam that includes Walker, Sam Trott of Baltimore (and one of few left-handed catchers) and Dan Sullivan of Louisville for the fourth position. There’s not much difference between them in percentages, but because Walker plays so many fewer games, his hit and run totals are less. Because has more hits than games played (as do Keenan, Snyder, and Milligan) I’ll put Trott fourth, but Walker is probably next. You can get these stats at Baseball Reference.com and compare them yourself. You might make different choices. But one thing you will surely agree with me on is that Walker was certainly better than McGuire, who played three more games at Toledo (not all games for either McGuire or Walker were behind the plate, but it was their primary position). Here’s McGuire’s triple slash numbers: 185/217/252/468. Based just on hitting, who you want?

So it seems to me that Walker was legitimately a middle of the pack hitting catcher in 1884. When the Association contracted to eight teams in 1884 a number of the survivors had weaker catchers than Walker, but none chose to pick him up. It’s very hard to see any reason for this other than his skin color. So to answer my title question, he was probably not good enough to be a real star, he was certainly good enough to play at the highest level

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1910: Naps Postmortem

September 2, 2010

The 1910 Cleveland team is one of the more interesting failures in the American League. It has several first line players (four made it to the Hall of Fame), but not enough to make it into the first division. Ultimately the Naps finished 71-81, 32 games back in manager Deacon McGuire’s first full season. He didn’t get a second, being fired 17 games into 1911.

Cleveland’s hitting numbers reveal that they  probably finished where they should . They rank fifth in almost all major categories like hitting slugging, runs, and RBIs. The problem is that the stats are uneven across the starters. Second baseman Napoleon LaJoie hit .383, slugged .520, led the league in hits doubles, and in some sources the .383 won the batting title (Other sources give the title to Ty Cobb). Those are great numbers, but now look at the third baseman, Bill Bradley. Bradley hit .196, slugged all of .210, had 12 RBIs and 42 hits. It’s true he played only 61 games, but those kinds of numbers are typical of what’s wrong with Cleveland’s hitting. LaJoie is great, catcher Ted Easterly didn’t do bad, but the rest of the starters were nothing special. Other than LaJoie and Easterly, only first baseman George Stovall managed to hit .250.

The bench is equally bad. Of the 10 players appearing in 2o or more games, only Joe Jackson (who plays in exactly 20 games) managed to hit .300 (.387) and Hall of Famer Elmer Flick in his final season managed .265 in 24 games. The rest of the bench gives the team nothing.

The pitching is disappointing. A staff of Cy Young, Addie Joss, and Cy Falkenberg should have been pretty good. But Joss managed only 13 games (and never came back, dying the next season). Young was 43 and although winning his 500th game during the year, managed only a 7-10 record. That left Falkenberg as the ace. There’s a reason you’ve never heard of him. As an “ace” he left a lot to be desired. He was 14-13, had an ERA of 2.94, and managed 107 strikeouts to 75 walks. Respectable numbers, maybe, but not “ace”-like.

Cleveland looks like a team ready to make a few strides in 1911 (and it will rise to third), but it is a deeply flawed team. LaJoie is 35, Joss is ill (and, as stated above, will not return), Flick retired, and Young is old at 45 (and was traded after seven starts in 1911). On the other hand Joe Jackson is starting to embark on a great career, George Stovall is pretty good sometimes and Easterly is a decent catcher.

The year 1911 turned out to be interesting for Cleveland. The end of 1910 gave some indication of that.

Opening Day, 1910: Cleveland

April 19, 2010

Addie Joss

For the first time since 1905, Cleveland began the season with a new manager. Napoleon LaJoie took over in 1905 and remained in charge until late in 1909, when old-time catcher Deacon McGuire was handed the job. It changed the team dynamic, it changed the team name (they were called the Naps in LaJoie’s honor), and it changed Lajoie’s game.

For a team that had not done well in its ten-year history, including a sixth place finish 27.5 games back in 1909, Cleveland underwent very little change in the field for 1910. George Stovall stayed at first, LaJoie at second, and Bill Bradley at third. Terry Turner, the former backup middle infielder, took over at short. It wasn’t a particularly distinguished infield, except for LaJoie. Only LaJoie hit above .250 in 1909 and Bradley finished at .186. LaJoie had been on a downward spiral since taking over the managerial spot. There was some hope that released from those duties, he might return to the former player who won a triple crown in 1901, and batting titles on 1903 and ’04.  Neal Ball and George Perring were the infield backups. Ball was the starting shortstop in ’09 and Perring was a holdover.

The outfield saw two of three starters change. Joe Birmingham was a good fielding, decent hitting center fielder with little speed on the bases, a common trait in Cleveland,despite the prevailing strategy of the era. John Graney and Art Kruger were both new. Both had played a little for Cleveland in previous years (’08 for Graney and ’07 for Kruger), but were never regulars. Briscoe Lord remained the backup outfielder. It wasn’t a big hitting outfield and wasn’t a particular improvement over the 1909 version.

Ted Easterly remained the backstop. He hit .261 the year before and shared time with backups Nig Clark, and Harry Bemis. Both remained in 1910, but Clark ended up hurt and Grover Land became the third catcher.  Easterly would have a good year with the bat.

A real strength of the Cleveland team, if it had one, was its aging pitching staff. The problem was the “aging” part. Cy Young was 43 at the end of the 1909 season. Addie Joss, Bob Rhodes, and Cy Falkenberg were all 30. Among the starters, only Heinie Berger was under 30 (he was 27). For 1910 they kept all but Rhodes who disappears from major league rosters forever. They tried Willie Mitchell and Specs Harkness to fill in the gaps for age and loss. Mitchell pitched three games the year before and Harkness was a rookie.

Cleveland is a difficult team to figure. There are spots where they are pretty good (second, catcher, specific pitchers), but there are spots where they lack quality (third, the corner outfield, other pitchers). It’s a team that could rise, but if anybody gets hurt, or anything goes wrong, they could be in trouble. Late in the year they will bring up a 20-year-old rookie outfielder named Joe Jackson. He looks to have some talent.

Next: a break from the monotony of team-by-team to celebrate the accomplishments of Addie Joss.

The Worst Baseball Team Ever

January 28, 2010

OK, the title is a bit strong. You shoulda seen some of the Little League teams I was on. But for the Major Leagues this is really easy. Welcome to 18 May 1912.

Ty Cobb, being Ty Cobb, was in trouble in May 1912. He’d gone into the stands and beaten up a fan. This was the kind of behavior Ban Johnson, president of the American League couldn’t stand. He was trying to build a sport that could appeal to the “better angels of our nature” (with apologies to Abe Lincoln) and Cobb was something of a demon. So Cobb had to go. Johnson tossed him out indefinitely. In a move that surprised everyone, the Tigers players exploded. Basically none of them like Cobb, but he was one of the boys, he was their best player, and well, heck, you just can’t do that to one of us. So the Tigers struck. They refused to play until Cobb was reinstated. No one, frankly, believed them so the scheduled game for 18 May was on against the Philadelphia Athletics, reigning world’s champs.

The A’s showed up, the Tigers showed up, then the Tigers marched off the field and refused to play. Rather than forfeit, Detroit manager Hughie Jennings decided to play with what has to be the worst team ever. Anticipating the team might really refuse to play, Jennings had gotten together a group of “players” to take the field if his team refused to play.  His team refused to play. So on came the replacements. The new guys were a mix of old coaches, young college and high school guys, and a couple of failed major league wanna be types.

The two coaches were Joe Sugden, aged 41, at first base and Deacon McGuire, aged 48, as the catcher. I don’t want to say McGuire was old, but his rookie year was 1884 at Toledo where he backed up Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black player in a Major League. The guy caught Tony Mullane, for God’s sake.

The new guys were Jim McGarr, age 24, at second; Pat Meaney, age 20, at short; Jack Smith, age 19, at third; Hap Ward, age 20, in right;, Dan McGarvey, age 25, in left;  the youngest of the lot 18 year old Bill Leinhauser replacing Cobb was in center; and 23 year old Allan Travers took the mound.

There were couple of failed players on the team. The star of the team turned out to be 30 year old Ed Irvin would play both third and spell McGuire behind the plate (Did you really think a 48 year old could last as a catcher?). Billy Maharg got a turn at third, he was 29.

How’d they do? They got killed. Final score was 24-2. Travers pitched the entire game giving up 26 hits and ending with a 15.76 ERA. They got two hits, both triples by Irvin who ended his short career with a .667 batting average, a 2.000 slugging percentage, and a 2667 OPS. McGuire and Sugden scored the two runs.

The next day A’s owner/manager Connie Mack agreed to postpone the game. Ban Johnson met with the players, threatened them with banishment (sorry, couldn’t pass up the ban/banishment joke). Cobb called on his teammates to rejoin the game, and the farce ended with the one game. The Tigers went on to finish 6th (in an 8 team field). The game didn’t cost them much, they finished 6 games out of 5th.

Most of the replacement “players” went back to obscurity. Two of them did manage a certain amount of fame, or infamy depending on your definition. Maharg ended up one of the major players in the Black Sox scandal in 1919 and got himself banned from baseball (like he was ever going to play again). Travers did much better. He was a college man, finished his studies, and became a Jesuit priest. It’s tough to say which was his higher calling, priest or pitcher.