Posts Tagged ‘Eppa Rixey’

1915: The New Kids in the Natonal League

April 8, 2015
Erskine Mayer

Erskine Mayer

Philadelphia joined the National League in 1876 and was tossed out before the end of the season. A team was formed in the rival American Association and won the 1883 Association pennant. The National League returned to Philly in 1883 when Worcester folded and the rights to a new franchise were given to Philadelphia. The new team was called the Quakers and managed to finish last. It was fairly typical for the NL team in Philly. Between 1883 and 1914 they’d won absolutely nothing. That changed finally in 1915, one hundred years ago.

The 1914 Phils finished sixth in an eight team league. It cost manager Red Dooin his job. Pat Moran, who’d played one game for Philadelphia in 1914 took over the job. He was 38 and a catcher. He’d not had much of a career (.235, a 78 OPS+, and a total WAR of 6.8), but he turned into a successful manager (He led the 1919 Reds to a World Series title). He ran a team that was greatly changed in 1915.

The 1915 Phillie infield (first to third) consisted of Fred Luderus, Bert Neihoff, Dave Bancroft, and Bob Byrne. Luderus was a holdover from the previous year. He’d hit only .248 but was second on the team with 12 home runs. Byrne was also a holdover, although he’d been the regular second baseman in 1914. Bancroft and Neihoff were both new. Bancroft was 24 and a rookie, just beginning what became a Hall of Fame career, while Neihoff came to the Phils from Cincinnati.

The outfield contained two holdovers and one new guy. The new guy was Possum Whitted. He’d been the cleanup hitter for the World Champion Boston Braves in 1914, but came to Philly in the off-season. His 43 RBIs were fourth on the team. One of the holdovers was Beals Becker. He hit only .246 in 1915, but was second on the team in home runs. The other was Gavvy Cravath. Cravath was the Philadelphia power hitter. He led the team in homers, RBIs, and runs, and was second in hits. His 24 home runs, 115 RBIs, 89 runs, and 170 OPS+ all led the NL.

Bill Killefer (played by James Millican in the flick “The Winning Team”) did the bulk of the catching. He wasn’t much of  a hitter, but was a good catcher. His backup, Ed Burns hit about the same but without the receiving skills. Dode Paskert and Milt Stock joined Burns as the only men on the bench who played more than 40 games. Stock led the bench with a .260 average and Paskert had three home runs.

Five men did most of the pitching. The ace was Grover Cleveland Alexander (who didn’t look much like Ronald Reagan in “The Winning Team”). Alexander went 31-10, had 12 shutouts, and struck out 241 while putting up a 1.22 ERA (ERA+ of 225) and a BBREF WAR of 10.9. Erskine Mayer was the two pitcher. He was 21-15 with a 2.36 ERA. Lefty Eppa Rixey had a losing record, but still recorded an ERA+ of 115. Al Demaree and George Chalmers rounded out the starters. Southpaw Stan Baumgartner and righty Ben Tincup did most of the bullpen work, but didn’t manage to post a single save (Alexander led the team with three).

The Phils won the pennant by seven games over reigning champ Boston. they were second in the league in runs, but last in hits (That’s a really odd combination, isn’t it?). They led the NL in home runs, were third in both doubles and RBIs. The staff led the league in ERA, hits, and runs, and was third in strikeouts. Individually, Cravath led the NL in offensive WAR, slugging, OBP, runs, walks, total bases, RBIs, and home runs. A caveat should be thrown in here. Almost all of Cravath’s 24 homers came at home in the small Philly ball park, Luderus finished second in hitting, second in doubles, and fifth in OBP and 10th in hits. Bancroft was third in runs scored and second in walks. Among pitchers Alexander led the NL in ERA, wins, WAR, strikeouts, shutouts, complete games, innings pitched, and just about anything else you can think of for pitchers. Mayer’s 21 wins were third in the league and he was ninth in strikeouts. He did, however, also lead the league in gopher balls.

The Phillies were one hit wonders. In 1916 they dropped back to second, stayed there in 1917, then went south quickly. They would return to their normal middle of the pack to second division status for the rest of the first half of the 20th Century. Their next pennant would come in 1950, the same year Alexander died.

Opening Day, 1913: National League

April 1, 2013
Jake Daubert in 1913

Jake Daubert in 1913

Opening Day in 1913 was 9 April (10 days later than the current season). There was a single game played that day, Philadelphia defeating Brooklyn 1-0. The other teams opened play later and the National League had a good season, although one without a lot of suspense.

As two-time defending champions, the Giants were formidable still in 1913. Their eight position players remained the same with only Beals Becker missing, replaced by George Burns (not the comedian). Larry Doyle was a star at second, catcher Chief Meyers was a .300 hitter, Fred Merkle, five years removed from his “bonehead” play was a solid first baseman, and manager John McGraw was John McGraw. The heart of the team, however, was the pitching staff. Ace Christy Mathewson would win 25 games, pick up the ERA title (2.06) and walk all of 21 men in 306 innings. Rube Marquard would win 23 games and Jeff Tesreau would add a further 22. The Giants would make it three in a row by 12.4 games. Much of it came when the ran off 14 wins in a row between 26 June and 9 July. By way of contrast they lost four in a row 30 April to 5 May, their longest losing streak. They would go on to lose their third straight World Series in October.

Philadelphia would do well with Gavvy Cravath winning the home run title with 19, adding the RBI title at 128. Although future Hall of Famers Pete Alexander and Eppa Rixey pitched well, the ace was Tom Seaton who had 27 wins and led the NL in strikeouts with 168.

The emerging star was Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert. He would win the batting title at .350 for the sixth place Superbas (“Dodgers” would come later). At season’s end he picked up the Chalmers Award (an early version of the MVP Award), which should probably have gone to Cravath. The fading  star was Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner. For the last time he hit .300 and for the first time since 1905 didn’t lead the league in any major hitting category (it still got him eighth in the Chalmers Award voting).

The year saw two rookies arrive that would have an impact on the league. On 17 April, Bill James (not the current baseball stats man) made his first appearance for the Braves. He went 6-10 for the season, but was a key to the “Miracle” Braves run in 1914. For the Giants, outfielder Jim Thorpe made his initial appearance on 14 April. He would hit only .143 in limited service. He would make the NFL Hall of Fame and be known as the greatest athlete of the first 50 years of the 20th Century, but baseball was not his dominant sport.

The Middle Rung

September 18, 2012

This was supposed to be something like a standard baseball biography of Harry Hooper. As I delved deeper into Hooper I began to notice just how controversial his Hall of Fame selection is. And then I began to ask myself questions like “Self, do you think he should be there?” Finally the entire thing began to devolve into questions of the Hall.

I believe the Hall of  Fame has four categories of inductees: the obvious, the inspired, the “who?”, and the middle rung. I often subdivide these, but basically I always come back to four. You may choose more categories or less, but I can’t seem to get around four.

The Obvious: these are guys who we all know should be there. They have names like Ruth and Gehrig, Mays and Musial.

The Inspired: these are the guys who are in because of a moment of inspiration on the part of the voters or the Hall. They include putting in Clemente without having to wait five years, adding Addie Joss who died just before his tenth season, and every Negro League player who currently graces the Hall.

The “who?”: these are the guys who you’re fairly sure had a plaque made up, broke in one night, hung the thing up, and nobody noticed. I’m not putting names here; I’ll bet each of you has your own list of these guys.

The middle rung: These are the guys I want to talk about. Hooper is one of them.

The middle rung is my way of classifying those guys who are not terrible choices for the Hall of Fame, but are not the first names that jump instantly to mind. They are good players, even in their own era great players, but a quick look at their careers creates puzzlement rather than nods when the Hall of Fame is mentioned. Some of them are guys who made sense when they were elected, but whose plaques look a little out-of-place today. Two quick examples that I’ve used before are Eppa Rixey and Max Carey. When Rixey was elected to the Hall he was the second (to Warren Spahn) winningest left-hander in National League history. Sounds like a good reason to put a guys in, doesn’t it? Today, after Steve Carlton and Tom Glavine and others, Rixey is no longer second and his numbers pale in comparison to the men who went passed him in the last 50 years.  But, again, 50 years ago his numbers weren’t as bad as the sound today. Carey was the all-time leader in stolen bases in the National League (using the modern definition of stolen base) when he went into the Hall. Again, not a bad reason to put a man in the Hall. But today after Tim Raines and Vince Coleman and Lou Brock, Carey isn’t even close to number one. But 50 years ago no one knew that he was going to be sent sliding down the stolen base ladder.

It seems to me that you can’t exclude from the Hall those people who were among the finest players of their day just because their stats are now not as impressive as they were 50 or 75 or 100 years ago.  To stick with Hooper, he was one of the better outfielders of his day, a major factor in five World Series champions (although he did not play in the 1919 Series), and a decent hitter. Is that a Hall of Famer? Maybe. And Hooper is one of those maybe’s for me. He’s certainly not the best choice ever made, but he’s not a totally awful one either. That defines “middle rung” to me.

Feel free to disagree.

Making the Right Choices for Cooperstown

July 2, 2010

Sometimes I look at the list of Hall of Famers and wonder how a particular player got to Cooperstown. Some choices are obvious, some silly, some merely puzzling. Then I look at when he was elected and sometimes the choice doesn’t seem so bad in the context of the time the player was elected. Let me give you two examples.

Eppa Rixey

Left handed pitcher Eppa Rixey began his Major League career in 1912 and completed it in 1933. He won 266 games, had a .515 winning percentage, an ERA of 3.15, and struck out 1350 men. He also gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. He missed 1918 because of World War I, and took a loss in the 1915 World Series when he pitched the last six innings of game five for Philadelphia. He died in February 1963 and made the Hall of Fame the same year. Ignoring the fact that his death may have influenced the Veteran’s Committee to look at him more closely, his career isn’t bad, but doesn’t look all that special. As a Left-handed pitcher he did well, but here’s a list of all the left-handers who have more wins than Rixey: Spahn, Carlton, Plank, Johnson, Glavine, Grove, John, Kaat, and Moyer. Here’s that same list in 1963: Spahn, Plank, Grove. And note, further, that both Plank and Grove spent most of their big league career in the American League (Grove spent all of his). So in 1963, Eppa Rixey was the second winningest left-handed pitcher in National League history, with much more well-known Carl Hubbell 12 wins back in third. If you know that, then the Rixey choice doesn’t seem quite so bad. The Veteran’s Committee chose the winningest left-hander in National League history prior to about 1960 (didn’t bother to look up when Spahn won his 267th game), a period of 84 years, to enshrine in Cooperstown. So again, Rixey doesn’t look as odd to 1963 fans as he does to modern fans when it comes to the Hall of Fame (and remember that Spahn is still active in 1963 so he’s not yet 97 games up on Rixey).

Max Carey

Max Carey was a base stealing specialist, mostly for Pittsburgh, from 1910 to 1929. He hit .285, slugged .385, scored 1545 runs, had no power, and stole 738 bases. He was part of the 1925 World Series winning team. His best stolen base year was 1922 when he stole 51 and was caught only twice (He actually stole more bases a couple of times, but never with that success rate). He made the Hall of Fame in 1961. Currently Carey ranks seventh in stolen bases since 1898 (when they changed the stolen base run to its current form). OK, maybe that alone would get him a ticket to Cooperstown (although it hasn’t helped either Tim Raines or Vince Coleman, two of the players above him), but it was different in 1961. In that year he was third behind only Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins, both career American Leaguers. So again we find that the player in question is the all-time leader in a category (stolen bases) in the National League at the time he is chosen for the Hall of Fame. That makes the choice look better then than now, when Lou Brock is now the NL’s stolen base king.

This is not a plea for either man to be in the Hall of Fame. Maybe neither should be, or maybe only Carey should be.  Maybe being the all-time leader in something in one league isn’t a free pass to the Hall. But if you think neither looks overly qualified when you read over their stats, remember that both, particularly Rixey, looked a lot better in the early 1960s than they do in the 21st Century.