Posts Tagged ‘Eddie Plank’

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.

 

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: Winning in Philadelphia

October 14, 2014
Shibe Park

Shibe Park

The first two games of the 1914 World Series were played in Philadelphia, Shibe Part on 9 and 10 October. The home team Athletics were overwhelming favorites to defeat the National League’s Boston Braves. Games one and two would set the tone for the entire Series.

Game 1

The first game was the only blowout of the Series. Boston’s Dick Rudolph pitched a complete game giving up five hits, walking one, and striking out eight. The Braves scored on a  second inning walk to outfielder “Possum” Whitted, a one out double by Hank Gowdy plated Whitted. Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville then singled bringing home Gowdy. In the bottom of the second, Stuffy McInnis walked, went to second on an Amos Strunk single, then scored when Braves right fielder Herbie Moran threw the ball away. Strunk got to third, but didn’t score. From there on out it was the Boston bats and Rudolph that dominated the game. In the top of the fifth, Gowdy tripled and scored on a Maranville single. Then Boston tacked on three more in the sixth. Johnny Evers singled, Joe Connolly walked, then Whitted tripled sending both runs home. Butch Schmidt singled home Whitted and that brought Connie Mack to the mound to lift starter Chief Bender. Back to back singles and a Schmidt steal of home in the eighth finished off the scoring. Boston won 7-1 and shelled Mack’s ace, Bender. Every Braves starter except Moran had a run, hit, or RBI, including Rudolph. Gowdy had three hits, scored two runs, and furnished an RBI to take game hitting hero honors.

Game 2

The second game in Philly was a pitching masterpiece by both teams. Boston star Bill James squared off against Hall of Fame lefty Eddie Plank. For eight innings they matched zeroes. Through eight, Plank had given up five hits, walked three, and struck out five. James was even better. Through eight he gave up two hits, one walk, and struck out seven. With one out in the top of the ninth, Charlie Deal doubled, then stole third. James struck out for the second out, but Les Mann singled to center scoring Deal. After another walk, Plank got out of more damage by inducing a ground out. In the bottom of the ninth, James walked two, but a strikeout and a double play ended the threat and the inning. James had given the Braves a two game lead with the World Series heading to Boston.

The Series would resume in Boston for two more games. It appears that MLB used a two-two-one-one-one formula for the World Series in this era (although none of them went seven except 1912) meaning that the Braves would have to return to Philadelphia for any game five. (This seems to be the pattern for the era, but I’ve been unable to find anything that states this for certain.)

 

 

1914: The Big, Bad A’s

October 8, 2014
The Athletics

The Athletics

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Arrival of a Legend

July 11, 2014
The Babe while still a Red Sox

The Babe while still a Red Sox

Today marks one of the most significant anniversaries in Major League baseball history. One hundred years ago on 11 July 1914 the Boston Red Sox gave the ball for the first time to a rookie pitcher nicknamed “Babe” Ruth. It was the start of the most legendary of all baseball careers.

For the day, Ruth pitched seven innings against the Cleveland Naps giving up three runs (two earned). Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) knocked in a run early and catcher Steve O’Neill knocked in two in the seventh for the Cleveland runs. Ruth struck out one and walked none to pick up the win. At bat he went 0-2 with a strikeout. Better hitting days were to come for the Babe.

Most everyone knows the name Babe Ruth, many without knowing what it was he did. If you do know what he did, odds are you know about the home runs and the hitting feats. But Ruth was also a heck of a pitcher. If you look at the left-handed hurlers of the decade between 1910 and 1920 you could make a pretty fair argument that Ruth was the best left-hander of the decade. You might look at Eddie Plank or Rube Marquard early in the decade, or at Hippo Vaughn later in the decade (and he and Ruth faced each other in the 1918 World Series with the Babe picking up a 1-0 win), but Ruth is equally in the argument.

Ruth’s conversion from pitcher to outfielder is key to his career. But if you look around, you’ll find that while it wasn’t common, it wasn’t unheard of in baseball. George Sisler did the same thing and went to the Hall of Fame. So did Lefty O’Doul (without the Hall of Fame being attached). A lot of years later Stan Musial hurt his arm in the minors and switched from the mound to the outfield and ended up in Cooperstown. Bob Lemon went the other way, from third base to pitcher and made the Hall. Bucky Walters also went from third to pitching and won an MVP. Darren Dreifort, while at Wichita State, served as the DH when he wasn’t pitching, but didn’t play in the field (although he did pinch hit) in the Majors. I’m sure that’s nowhere near a complete list.

For his Boston career, Ruth was 89-46, a .659 winning percentage, with a 1.142 WHIP, a 2.19 ERA, and a 122 ERA+. He had 17 shutouts, 483 strikeouts, and 425 walks for his Red Sox years (there were also a handful of games with the Yanks). Ruth’s pitching WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 20.6.  His World Series record is equally good. He was 3-0 with a shutout and eight strikeouts. He did, however, walk 10. His consecutive scoreless streak in the Series was a record until Whitey Ford finally passed him in the 1960s.

I know over the years that a lot of people have tried to tell us that someone else (Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, etc.) was better than Ruth. And maybe as a hitter they were (although I wouldn’t bet on that in Vegas), but ultimately you have to decide that Ruth was the overall superior player because he could also pitch very well. Aaron was Aaron, Williams was Williams, and Bonds was Bonds, but Ruth was a combination of any of them and Walter Johnson. Top that crew.

 

Opening Day 1914: American League

March 27, 2014
Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Next week marks what most of us consider the real Opening Day for MLB. So it’s time for a look at what was going on Opening Day 100 years ago. As the American League contained the World Champion Athletics, I think I’ll start with them (having done the “outlaw” Federal League already).

The champion A’s were much the same team as the 1913 version with the $100,000 Infield in place (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Baker). The outfield was still decent and in Wally Schang the A’s had a good catcher. They led the AL in hits, runs, home runs, RBIs, and average. The Athletics used a dominant pitching staff to rule the A for five years, but it was beginning to fray. Jack Coombs was gone (he pitched only 2 games), Eddie Plank was 38 and not aging well. Herb Pennock had five starts over the previous two years, while Bullet Joe Bush had all of 17. As a consequence, the A’s would have 24 shutouts, but lead the league in no other category. They were fourth in ERA and hits allowed.

Two teams would give them a run for their money. One was Washington. The Senators finished 19 games back, but they had Walter Johnson who led the AL in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts.

The greater challenge came from Boston. the Red Sox still had Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, ad Harry Hooper as their outfield. Speaker led the league in hits and doubles. Pitcher Dutch Leonard went 19-5 with an all-time low ERA of 1.00 (try losing five games with that ERA). But the most important news at Boston and for baseball in general was the arrival on 11 July of a rookie pitcher from Baltimore with the nickname of “Babe” Ruth. He would go 2-1 over four games (three starts), but it was the beginning of the most famous of all Major League careers.

Around the rest of the AL, Ty Cobb again won a batting title (.368) and the slugging crown (.513). His teammate Sam Crawford led the league in RBIs and triples. Fritz Maisel, a third baseman for the Highlanders, won the stolen base title with 74 and Baker with the A’s copped the home run title with nine. In April future Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber made his debut for the White Sox, while Fred McMullin, one of the 1919 Black Sox (and Faber teammate) played his first big league game with Detroit in August. The 1920s stalwarts Everett Scott and Jack Tobin also first show up in 1914. Finally, 1914 is the rookie campaign for Bill Wambsganss, famous for the only unassisted triple play in World Series history (1920).

In the World Series, Philadelphia would be mauled by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston. It would be the end of Connie Mack’s A’s dynasty (he’d put together another in 1929) and the arrival of Ruth would signal the start of a new dynasty. This one in Fenway Park.

 

Gettysburg Eddie

April 10, 2013
Eddie Plank

Eddie Plank

Quick bit of trivia. Which left-handed pitcher has the most wins in the American League? Want some help? The number is 305. OK if you’re clever (and because you read this blog, most of you are) you looked at the title and the picture and guessed Eddie Plank. You win.

Plank was born to a farming family in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (scene of the famous battle) in 1875. His first taste of organized baseball came in 1893, when he was 17. It was a local team and brought him to the attention of Gettysburg Academy, a prep school for the local university, Gettysburg College. Apparently students enrolled at the Academy could participate in varsity athletics for the College, so Plank pitched for Gettysburg College but was never a student (Figure that one out, NCAA. I wonder if you can sanction a team after 100 years?). He came to the attention of Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics and in 1901 he joined the A’s without ever playing for a minor league team.

It was the first year for the American League and the Athletics. Plank was good and he would remain with Philly for most of his career. In his initial campaign he was 17-13 with an ERA over 3.– (which was big in the Deadball Era). The next four years he won 20 plus games each season. His ERA dropped, his strikeout total soared, peaking at   210 in 1905. The A’s won the AL pennant in both 1902 and 1905. In both cases Plank was the two pitcher behind Rube Waddell. In 1905, the A’s participated in the second World Series. With Waddell hurt, Plank got two games. He struck out eleven, walked four, gave up three earned runs, had an ERA of 1.59. Despite all that, he took the loss in both games as the Giants pitching staff gave up no earned runs for the entire series.

He continued to pitch well during the rest of the first decade of the 20th Century, having his first (of two) losing seasons in 1908 (14-16). By 1910 he was becoming the third member of the rotation behind Chief Bender and Jack Coombs. The A’s made the World Series in four of the next five seasons, winning three (1910, ’11, and ’13). Plank pitched well all three seasons, winning 20 games in 1911 (and again in 1912, the one year the Athletics failed to win the pennant).

His World Series record wasn’t as good as his regular season totals. In 1910 he didn’t pitch in the Series. Bender and Coombs pitched every game as the A’s beat the Cubs. In 1911 he was 1-1 with an ERA of 1.86. His game two win over Rube Marquard was a five hit masterpiece, but he was overshadowed by Frank Baker’s two-run home run that proved the difference. He wa 1-1 again in 1912 while putting up an 0,95 ERA. His victory was in game five when he two hit the Giants for a 3-1 win that clinched the Series for the A’s. In 1914, he pitched game two, lost it 1-0 on a double, stolen base, and a single in the top of the ninth. The Braves swept the A’s out of the Series in four games. For his career Plank was 2-5 with a 1.32 ERA and 32 strikeouts.

In 1914 the Federal League was formed. It offered players better salaries and something like quality play (the play could be pretty good or wretched depending on the team). Plank was interested and in 1915 Mack waived him (and both Bender and Coombs). Plank ended up with the St. Louis Terriers as their ace. He went 21-11, led the league in WHIP and ERA+, and found himself on one final pennant winner. The Feds folded after the 1915 season and Plank, now 40, found himself looking for work. The St. Louis Browns picked him up for the 1916 season (my wife’s grandfather once told me he saw Plank pitch with the Browns). He was 5-6 with a 1.79 ERA. It was only his second losing season. He was through. He retired to his farm in Gettysburg, where he farmed and led tours of the battlefield. In 1926 he suffered a stroke and died a couple of days later. In 1946 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

For all his ability, Plank had one severe problem when he pitched. He was slow. Really slow. Really, really slow. He was infamous for taking a lot of time between pitches. As mentioned above, my wife’s grandfather told me he saw Plank pitch. He told me “you could drink a whole bottle of pop between pitches.” It seems to be part of the reason that Mack went with other pitchers in critical situations. A slow pitcher can cause the defense to become lax and Mack, as a former catcher, had to be aware of that. I looked at a handful of Plank’s games that had times listed (all of them don’t) and compared him with both Bender and Coombs. His games did seem to take longer, although not a lot, but were nothing like the length of games today.

Over his career, Plank was 326-194 for a .627 winning percentage. His ERA was 2.35 with an ERA+ of 122. He pitched 4495.2 innings, gave up 3958 hits, walked 1072, and struck out 2246 for a WHIP of 1.119. When he retired he had more wins than any other left-hander. In the 96 years since, he’s been passed by only two other lefty’s: Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton. Not bad considering all the left-handed pitchers that have played since 1917. As mentioned in the first paragraph, he still holds the record for most wins by a lefty in the American League.

When I first began this somewhat extended look at the 1910-14 Athletics, I was a little surprised I hadn’t dealt with Plank. After all, I’d done all four of the infield plus Bender and Coombs (and utility man Danny Murphy). In some ways that’s kind of fitting. Plank was never really a big star and only infrequently the team ace. Seems to be that way here also.

Plank's final resting place in Gettysburg, PA

Plank’s final resting place in Gettysburg, PA

The Mackmen

April 5, 2013
1911 Athletics leave the field (note the White Elephants on their jackets)

1911 Athletics leave the field (note the White Elephants on their jackets)

Baseball is full of dynasties. Although some people might pick the 1903-04 Boston team as the first American League dynasty, I have a better candidate. I pick the 1910-1914 Philadelphia Athletics, Connie Mack’s White Elephants.

Connie Mack was a catcher for a handful of years in the 19th Century. He was known for his savvy and his knowledge of the game, but not so much for his hitting. When the American League was formed in 1901 he joined Ben Shibe in creating the team in Philadelphia. With tradition using “Athletics” for the team from Philly, Mack adopted the name, and after a jibe from John McGraw, adopted the “white elephant” as the team logo.

They were good from the beginning. In 1902, they won the second AL pennant. In 1905 they won another pennant and participated in the second World Series, losing in five games to McGraw’s Giants. For the next three seasons they finished in the first division in 1906 and ’07, then slid to sixth in 1908. By 1909 they were in a new ballyard, Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium), and on the rebound.

The 1910-1914 A’s were a truly great team. With the 1915-1918 Red Sox, they provide one of the two great AL dynasties in Deadball Baseball. They were a team that did almost everything well. They hit, they hit for power (Deadball version), ran the bases, fielded well (for the era), and had excellent pitching. With the prevailing small rosters of the era, they even managed to put together a decent bench.

The heart of the team was the infield. In 1910 Harry Davis was finishing up a  solid career. He’d picked up three home run titles and a couple of RBI crowns along the way and was one of Mack’s favorites. By 1911 he was being replaced by Stuffy McInnis, a wonderful fielding first baseman (for any era) who hit .300 for his career and regularly knocked in 90 runs (during the 1911-14 run). Jack Barry played short and hit low in the order for a reason. He was a good, but not spectacular fielder. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins anchored second. He usually batted second, stole a lot of bases, hit .300 regularly, played second well, and his career high in strikeouts was 41 (OK, he wasn’t Joe Sewell, but he was still pretty good at putting the bat on the ball). Some stat heads consider him the greatest of all second basemen. At third there was J. Frank Baker. He was the power hitter for the team. He won three home run titles, a triples title, a couple of RBI crowns, and in 1911 hit two memorable home runs in the World Series that gave him the nickname “Home Run Baker.” Like Collins, he is also in the Hall of Fame.

The other key to the Mackmen was their pitching staff. Mack always seemed to find jewels for his mound. Maybe being an ex-catcher helped. By 1910 the staff revolved around three pitchers. Eddie Plank was the oldest and the left-hander. He’d been a mainstay of the Athletics since 1901, had been part of both championship teams (1902 and ’05), had pitched in the 1905 World Series, and was generally Mack’s most reliable pitcher. He would, when he retired in 1917, be the winningest lefty ever (326 wins). But Mack’s favorite was Chief Bender. Bender Joined the A’s in 1903, won the only game the A’s won in the ’05 World Series, and was the pitcher Mack favored to start most important series’ and to anchor the postseason staff. Jack Coombs was the new guy. He got to Philly in 1906, had been fairly undistinguished, then in 1910 put it together for a great three-year run. In 1913 he came down with typhoid, which derailed his career. He got back to the World Series with Brooklyn in 1916 (winning their only game) but was never the pitcher he’d been between 1910 and 1912. In 1910 and ’11 Harry Krause and Cy Morgan were the other pitchers who spent major time on the mound. Boardwalk Brown and Bob Shawkey (who later managed the Yankees) replaced them for the late run with a young Herb Pennock being available in 1914.

Neither the catchers nor the outfielders were as well-known in the era. During the 1910-14 run, Mack used three catchers primarily: Jack Lapp, Ira Thomas, and Wally Schang, who was a rookie in 1913. Neither Lapp nor Thomas were much in the batters box. Thomas hit right-handed and all of .242 with no power. Lapp hit lefty and made it all the way to .263. Both men played almost the same amount of games one year, then the next one would play a lot more, so it’s difficult to see that Mack was platooning them (the percentage of lefty pitchers can’t have changed that much in one year). Maybe he was, but it’s hard to see. From what I can find, neither was used as a personal catcher for a particular pitcher (ala Carlton-McCarver), so I’m not quite sure how it worked. Maybe Mack, being a former catcher, knew how much the job wore on a player and decided to make sure each stayed healthy by using them about equally.

Five different men did most of the outfield work: Rube Oldring, Eddie Murphy, Jimmy Walsh, Amos Strunk,and Bris Lord. For 1910 only, Topsy Hartsell patrolled the outfield. As a group they tended to hit around .280 with at least one in the .300s. Strunk, in particular, was known for his arm. Add to them Danny Murphy (apparently not related to Eddie) who was good enough to play about anywhere and you had the makings of a pretty fair bench.

Between 1910 and 1914 the A’s won three World Series’ (1910, ’11, and ’13) and lost one more (1914). Hard times and the coming of the Federal League caused Mack to break up the team in 1915. Collins, Baker, and McInnis would go on to greater glory with pennant winning teams, but Mack and Philadelphia would languish in the AL until the late 1920s.

Opening Day, 1913: American League

April 3, 2013
Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

In 1913, the American League opened its season one day later than the National League. Opening Day was 10 April. Among other games it saw Philadelphia win its first game of the season.

Although the Red Sox were defending World’s Champions, Connie Mack’s Athletics were the loaded team. The 1913 A’s boasted the “$100,000 Infield” of Stuffy McInnis at first, Jack Barry at short, and Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Frank Baker at second and third. Of outfielders Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian), and Jimmy Walsh, only Oldring was older than 25 (he was 29) and only Walsh hit below .280. Jack Lapp and rookie Wally Schang shared catching duties with Schang being much the better hitter. Aging Danny Murphy was solid of the bench. It was a strong team that looked good for many years. They had won the 1910 and 1911 World Series and finished third in 1912. The fall back was primarily because of the pitching. Ace Eddie Plank was 37 and former ace Jack Coombs was ill from typhoid. There was nothing wrong with Chief Bender, however, and he managed 21 wins with a 2.21 ERA and 13 saves. The A’s would win the pennant by 6.5 over Washington and beat up on the Giants in the World Series, winning four games to one.

The Senators would finish second primarily because they had Walter Johnson and no one else did. Johnson had a season for the ages. He went 36-6, had an ERA of 1.14, struck out 243 men, and ended with an ERA+ of 259. It got him the pitching triple crown and the AL’s Chalmers Award (an early form of the MVP). The Chalmers lasted four years (eight total awards) and Johnson is the only pitcher to win one. Washington’s top hitter was probably Chick Gandil, who became infamous in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

Defending champ Boston would finish in fourth (Cleveland was third) 15.5 games back. Tris Speaker hit in the .360s but the pitching collapsed. Notably, Smoky Joe Wood went from 34 wins to 11.

Ty Cobb won another batting title, hitting .390, while Baker won both the home run and RBI titles. Collins led the AL in runs, while Cleveland’s Joe Jackson had the most hits.

1913 saw a number of rookies who would make their mark. On 28 June Wally Pipp played his first game for the Tigers. He would anchor first base for the initial Yankees pennant winners before losing his position to Lou Gehrig. Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush made his debut on 20 August with Chicago. On 4 August Cleveland brought up Billy Southworth. He was an okay players, but made the Hall of Fame as a manager. Finally on 17 September Detroit brought Lefty Williams to the Major Leagues. He would eventually lose three games while helping the 1919 White Sox throw the World Series.