Posts Tagged ‘Federal League’

Bedford Bill

September 12, 2016
Bill Rariden, with Cincinnati

Bill Rariden, with Cincinnati

I’ve spent a little time telling you about the players on my fantasy team. First I give you a short introduction to Vin Campbell. Then I did a little piece on Johnny Lush. I don’t intend to do every player, but I did find a few more that I consider interesting so I plan on passing along some information on a handful more. This time it’s my backup catcher.

William Rariden came out of Bedford, Indiana (hence the “Bedford Bill” nickname) to the Major Leagues. He was born there in February 1888. His father, like Campbell’s, was a doctor and Bill Rariden grew up in a middle class environment. He was good at baseball and in 1907 made the Class B minor league team in Canton, Ohio. He remained there through 1908, although the team changed leagues, and found himself was purchased by the Boston National League team, the Doves (now the Atlanta Braves) in August of 1909. He remained in Boston through 1913.

He wasn’t much of a hitter (his highest batting average while in Boston was .236 in 1913) but he was an excellent defensive catcher for the era. In 1914 he jumped to the newly formed Federal League joining Benny Kauff as a mainstay of the pennant winning Indianapolis team. He remained with the Feds until the league folded after the 1915 season. While there he established himself as the finest defensive catcher in the new league.

With the folding of the Feds, Rariden was picked up by the New York Giants and settled in as their primary catcher. His career year (other than the Federal League years) was 1917 when he hit .271 and helped the Giants to their first pennant since 1913 and a World Series date with the Chicago White Sox.  Rariden was superb in the World Series, hitting .385 with two runs scored on five hits (all singles), but became primarily known for a fielding gaffe that turned into a key play in the Series. In game six with Eddie Collins (who happens to also be on my fantasy team) on third, Happy Felsch hit a come backer to Giants pitcher Rube Benton. With Collins down the line, Benton threw to Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. Collins dashed home, Zimmerman tossed to Rariden, Collins stopped and ran back toward third. Rariden pursued him close to third then flipped the ball to Zimmerman. Collins, seeing the ball go back to third and noting Rariden was away from home and the pitcher was standing on the mound instead of at home, dashed back toward home, raced passed Rariden and came home with Zimmerman chasing him to no avail. It was the first run in the critical game and the play became the most talked about play of the Series.

Rariden played one more year, 1918, at New York, didn’t have much of a year, and was traded in February 1919 to the Cincinnati Reds. As the primary backup catcher, he got into another World Series, again against the White Sox. He got into five games, picking up four hits and two RBIs as the Reds won the Series in eight games against the infamous Black Sox.

He played one more season, 1920, hitting .248, and participating in the last triple header in Major League history. The games occurred at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on 2 October. Rariden played in game three. After the season the Reds let him go. He played a couple of years in the minors, one as a player-manager, and retired. He lived on a farm in Bedford, then opened a service station in town. He died in August 1942.

For his career, Bill Rariden had a triple slash line of .237/.320/.298/.618 with 682 hits in 982 games (including the Federal League years). He scored 272 runs, had 105 doubles, seven home runs, and 274 RBIs (not a lot of players get that runs to RBI ratio). He had an OPS+ of 81 and 8.7 WAR. During his Federal League years he led the league in several catching categories including both caught stealing and stolen bases allowed (you don’t see that very often).

Bill Rariden spent 12 years in the Major Leagues (including the Feds). During that time he played 982 games, or about 82 a season. That’s not a big number, but not a bad number for a catcher of the era. All in all, he was a fairly typical catcher for the Deadball Era.

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The Doctor’s Son

August 5, 2016
Vin Cambell

Vin Cambell

I’ve joined a fantasy league (don’t laugh too loud). It’s a new experience for me. I’ve never done anything like it before and I have no idea how good I’ll be or if the other “owners” will want to shoot me by the time we’re through. It’s a league that begins with the 1910 season and goes on for a while. Now I know a little about Deadball baseball, but I’m surprised at how much I’ve had to learn to be competitive in this kind of thing. I had to draft a team and that meant I had to study players I’d never heard of in all the years I’ve looked at baseball. One guy I drafted was particularly interesting and I thought I’d let you know a little about Vin Campbell.

Arthur Vincent “Vin” Campbell, Jr. was born in St. Louis in January 1888 to a prominent eye doctor and his wife. Education was important to the family so Vin went to an “academy” (we’d probably call them a “prep school” today) in St. Louis then took off for Vanderbilt in Nashville. He played both football and baseball, becoming the primary catcher for the baseball team. He was nicknamed “The Demon” for his ferocious style of play at football and the name slid over to baseball. After one season at Vanderbilt, he signed with the Cubs in 1908.

He made the big league team out of spring training, but didn’t play much (one at bat) and was sent down to Decatur for “seasoning.” Then he was sold to Atlanta. That got the attention of the National Commission (the ruling body of Major League Baseball). Under the rules of the day Chicago couldn’t be party to a sale between minor league clubs (remember the “farm” system of today didn’t exist in 1908) so it led to the Cubs paying a fine and losing Campbell as a free agent.

He signed with the Northwestern League in 1909, stole 72 bases, and ended up sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a winter selling shoes (he was a traveling salesman not assigned to one store) he made the Pirates teams as a the fourth outfielder in 1910. Injuries put him into the lineup and by September he was the regular right fielder. He ended the season hitting .326, good for second in the National League, and fourth in the league in OPS.

In 1911 he notified the Pirates he was not planning to play baseball that season, having gotten a job with a brokerage firm in St. Louis (it paid better). That lasted until late in the season, when he applied for reinstatement, which was granted. There are a couple of versions of what was going on, but my favorite is that he’d found a girl in Pittsburgh and she didn’t want to move to St. Louis. Apparently he got the girl, but Max Carey got the outfield job and Campbell spent most of the season as a pinch hitter and fourth outfielder.

In 1912 he held out for more money. Pittsburgh cut him and Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox) picked him up. He hit .296, led the NL in at bats, had 185 hits, scored 102 runs, and had what turned out to be his career year.

In 1913 he decided to retire. He took a job as President of the Keystone Motor Supply Company in Pittsburgh and announced he wasn’t going to play baseball unless he could join the Giants (pennant winners in 1912). That came to nothing, so he stayed away from the game until the arrival of the new Federal League in 1914.

The Feds were considered by the established leagues as an “Outlaw League.” They signed a lot of over-the-hill types, a bunch of “wannabes” and guys like Campbell who’d had a cup of coffee and a few good years. He ended up in Indianapolis where he helped lead the Hoosiers to the first Federal League title. He played again in 1915. Indianapolis had done poorly in attendance in 1914 and the franchise, along with Campbell, was transferred to Newark. He had one last good year. He was 27.

The Feds folded after the 1915 season and Campbell was offered contracts, all of which contained major pay cuts. He refused and retired, this time for good. He did, however, have one last dealing with baseball. He sued Newark for $8200, the size of his contract which he’d signed in September before the Feds folded. A jury gave him just under $6000.

He went into the tire business, was successful, and moved to New York. There he began managing a chain of tire stores, continuing to sell tires for the rest of his working life. He retired and died in 1969, a successful businessman, but a neglected ball player.

For his career Vin Campbell played in 546 games (both NL and Federal League) hitting .310 with 642 hits, 326 runs, 11 RBIs, 92 stolen bases, 85 doubles, 15 homes runs, a slugging percentage of .408, an OBP of .357, and an OPS of .765 (OPS+ of 114). All that got him 4.5 WAR. In 1912 he led the NL in at bats, outs made, and errors committed by an outfielder.

Campbell is part of my fantasy team. I’d never heard of him, but was fascinated by the shortness of a career that seemed to always verge on the very good. It seems he had outside interests, the skill to pursue them, and the finances (both his family and his in-laws had decent money for the era) to live a life without baseball. That set of factors alone makes him unusual for Deadball players and makes him interesting.

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.

 

The Whales

March 30, 2015
The Chicago Whales of 1915

The Chicago Whales of 1915

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the final season of the Federal League. It lasted all of two seasons before collapsing. Oh, there was a lawsuit (and it was major because it established baseball’s anti-trust exemption and brought Kennesaw Mountain Landis to the attention of team owners), but when it was all over to league was still gone. In memory of that long lost league, let’s take a look at the final Federal League champ. They were the Chicago Whales.

Opening day for the Whales was 10 April 1915. They were home in Weeghman Park against St. Louis and picked up a 3-1 win. In some ways it was the critical game of the season. In the final standings Chicago was 86-66 with a winning percentage of .566. St. Louis finished second 87-67 with a winning percentage of .565. In those days missed games didn’t have to be made up later in the season whether or not they impacted the pennant race or not. If Chicago lost game one their winning percentage would be .559 and St. Louis would move to .571 and take the pennant. And they tell me games in April don’t matter.

But because the season doesn’t end after one game, the Whales had to keep winning. They tallied a winning record in every month except August (12-19) and finished the season winning three of their last four games (including the last one). They were remarkably consistent. In the first half of the season they went 43-32 and 43-34 in the last half. They played at least .500 ball against every team in the league, going exactly .500 against three teams, including runner-up St. Louis. They also finished 44-32 at home and 42-34 on the road, a remarkably similar record. They finished fourth in hitting (.257), second in slugging, third in OBP, and second in total bases (by two bases). They led the league in home runs and RBIs, were second in both hits and runs. Their pitchers were third in the league in ERA, second in hits allowed, third in runs allowed, fourth in strikeouts, and third in walks allowed. In WHIP they are second. In one of my favorite stats, they are third in the FL in number of men left on base. They let ’em on, they don’t let ’em score.

The team was managed by Hall of Famer Joe Tinker. He played in 31 games, but mostly stayed in the dugout. Catcher Art Wilson hit .305 with seven home runs (second on the team), and an OPS+ of 164 (second in the league). He caught a staff that included Mordecai Brown, a Hall of Famer, who was at the end of his career. Brown went 17-8 with a 2.09 ERA (ERA+ 135), which was good for third in the league, and 95 strikeouts (tied for third on the team). The ace was George McConnell whose 25-10 record led the league in both wins and winning percentage.  His 2.20 ERA was fourth in the FL with his 151 strikeouts being third. Claude Hendrix won 16 games and Mike Pendergast had 14. All four of them had more innings pitched than hits given up and more strikeouts than walks. Brown’s 1.071 WHIP led the team.

The infield (first around to third) was Fred Beck, Rollie Zeider, Jimmy Smith, and Harry Fritz. Fritz’s .250 led the infield in batting and he followed up by leading the infield in slugging and OBP. Beck’s five homers led the infield and Zeider’s 16 stolen bases were tops in the infield (if Tinker had played full-time with the same percentages he had in part time work, he would have led in batting, slugging, and OBP).

The outfield hit better. Dutch Zwilling played center and led both the team and the Feds in RBIs (94). He also led his team and finished second in the FL in homers (13). He hit .286, slugged .442, had an OBP of .366, giving him an OPS of .808 (OPS+ of 142). Les Mann and Max Flack flanked him. Mann hit .306 with a 138 OPS+, while Flack led the team with 37 stolen bases and it .314.

The bench was large for the era. Twelve men played at least 11 games for the Whales (not all were on the team at the same time). William Fischer played the most with 105 games, He was the backup catcher and hit .329 (good for second in the league) and had 50 RBIs, good for third on the team. Joining with Wilson he gave the Whales the best combo of hitting catchers in the FL. Charlie Hanford and Jack Ferrell played 70 games, Bill Jackson 50, and Tex Wisterzil got into 49 games. None of them hit .250 and only Jackson had a home run. Hanford’s ten stolen bases led the bench.

With the folding of the Feds at the end of the season, the team was gone. The players went different ways. For the Hall of Fame players Brown and Tinker (and for Zwilling too), they hung on one more year then retired. Others went to the minors, many to other major league teams where they got a shot with the National or American League. None became big stars. But, as many of you know, they did give baseball a lasting legacy. Weeghman Park was a pretty good stadium and now it was empty. The Cubs, needing new digs, moved in. It was later rechristened Wrigley Field and is still in use.

28 June 1914: The Feds

June 23, 2014
Dutch Zwilling

Dutch Zwilling

One hundred years ago this coming Saturday (28 June), the world changed. A Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip fired two shots that killed the Erzherzog (Archduke) Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie. Ultimately, a month later, that action led to the outbreak of World War I. The United States stayed out of the war until 1917, but was eventually drawn in. Most Americans might have been horrified at the assassination, but very few understood that it would eventually lead their sons, fathers, and brothers into places like the Argonne Forest.

Baseball games were played on 28 June 1914. It was a Sunday and people turned out to watch three leagues play ball. Here’s a look at what was happening in each league on 28 June 1914, one hundred years ago.

Of the eight Federal League teams playing the 1914 season, four were in action on Sunday the 28th of June: Kansas City, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago. The Packers (KC) and Hoosiers (Indy) played a double-header. For the Terriers (St. Louis) and the Whales (Chicago) it was a single game.

The early game in Indianapolis saw KC pick up a 2-0 win. The Packers got both runs in the sixth when catcher Ted Easterly tripled, then scored on an error. Lefty Gene Packard pitched a complete game shutout giving up only three hits, striking out eight, and walking none. It was his tenth win of the season.

In the late game, you got a slugfest. The Hoosiers earned a split  with an 8-7 victory. KC picked up 18 hits, but committed three errors as Indianapolis scored one more run on only 11 hits. Eventual batting champion Benny Kauff went two for three with a walk and scored two runs while driving in one. Right hander George Kaiserling picked up his sixth win (against one loss) by going nine innings, walking one, and striking out three. He would finish the year 17-10.

In the other game, Chicago beat up on St. Louis 7-3. First baseman Fred Beck hit a solo home run while center fielder Dutch Zwilling went four for five with two runs scored and an RBI. Max Fiske pitched the first 7.1 innings, giving up all three runs, while walking two and striking out two. It was Fiske’s sixth win against two losses. Hall of Fame pitcher Three Finger Brown went the distance for St. Louis absorbing his fourth loss against five wins.

At the end of the day Indianapolis went home with a half game lead over Chicago with KC in fifth and St. Louis holding last place. By the end of the season, the Packers would drop a spot to sixth, but the other three teams would remain where they sat on 28 June. As the new league, they were not invited to postseason festivities.

The International Man of Mystery

March 25, 2014
Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Some really good players have short, intense careers. Others have long careers that were never sterling. Then there’s Jack Quinn, who had a long career with sterling moments and a lot of questions about his initial years.

Jack Quinn was born somewhere under some name and that’s about all historians can agree upon. A number of sites have him born in Stevfurov, Austria (now Slovakia). Others have him born in Jeanesville, Pennsylvania or Mahoney City, Pa. Another bunch show his birthplace as Wilkes Barre, Pa. Still others pick St. Clair, Pennsylvania. The year varies between 1883 and 1885. Finally, there’s the question of his name. He shows up as Jan Pajkos, as John Quinn Picas, and as John Picas Quinn. His Wikipedia page picks the Slovakia site and 1883 as does Baseball Reference.com. His SABR biography accepts Slovakia and 1883 but chances his birthdate from 1 July to 5 July. It also indicates that the first four editions of Baseball Encyclopedia give four difference places and four different dates. So I’ll start by saying I have no idea when or where he was born, but 1883 in Slovakia seems to be the building consensus, so it works for me. For what it’s worth, he was elected, in 2006, to the Polish-American Hall of Fame, which might do a job on “Quinn” as his original last name, but who knows.

Where ever he was born and when ever, he came out of the Pennsylvania coal country a pitcher on local semi-pro teams. By 1907 he was in the minors as a spit-balling pitcher with good control, an excellent spitter, and a good enough fastball to pick up interest among the big league scouts. In 1909 he made his debut with the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees), winning the game and going 9-5 for the season. The next year he was 18-12, then fell off for the 1911 and 1912 seasons. He spent 1913 with the Braves then went to the Federal League for both 1914 and 1915. With the Baltimore Terrapins he went 26-14 and then 9-22, the 22 leading the Feds in losses for 1915.

With the folding of the Federal League, Quinn went back to the minors for 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he went back to the Majors, settling in with the White Sox where he went 5-1 over six games. But there was a question as to who retained his rights. New York claimed that although Quinn pitched for the Federal League, his American League rights were retained by his last “real Major League” team, them. League President Ban Johnson agreed and Quinn went back to the Yankees for 1919. He remained there though 1921. He did well in 1919 and 1920, but by 1922 he was 37 (more or less) and spent much of that season in the bullpen. He got into the 1921 World Series, taking the loss in relief in-game three. After the Series he was traded to the Red Sox for a couple of younger arms.

He stayed with Boston into 1925, serving about equal time as a starter and a reliever. He went 45-54 with 14 saves. Midway through the season he was sold to the Athletics for the waiver price and remained in Philadelphia through 1930. He was now 41 (give or take). He had good years with the A’s going 18-7 in 1928 at age 45 (again more or less). In 1929 he got into his second World Series, starting game four. He was 46 (we think), the oldest man to start a World Series game. He was shelled, but the A’s won when the team  scored 10 runs in the seventh inning to pull out a 10-8 victory. He spent 1930 mostly as a reliever and  pitched only two innings in Philly’s World Series victory. Now at 47 (I guess)  he became the oldest man to ever relieve in a World Series game. For what it’s worth, Jim Kaat was 43 when he relieved in the 1982 World Series. Some believe that, because Quinn’s age is in dispute, he (Kaat) is the oldest man to pitch in a World Series.

Released at the end of the Series, Quinn caught on with the Dodgers in 1931. He stayed two years working almost entirely as a reliever (he started one game). He led the National League in saves in both 1931 and 1932 (as the save statistic wasn’t invented until much later, he never knew that). His 1931 total of 15 was an NL record that lasted until 1948. He was released after the 1932 season and signed with Cincinnati. He got into 14 games then was let go. He was 49 (give or take) and through. At his retirement, he had 57 saves, second to Firpo Marberry. He pitched a little in the minors as late as 1935. He was (depending on who you believe) 51. He died in April 1946.

Over a career lasting 23 years (at least we agree on the number of years he pitched) Quinn went 247-218 (a .531 winning percentage), struck out 1329, walked 860, gave up 4238 hits and 1837 runs in 3920 innings pitched. His ERA is an unexceptional 3.29, but his ERA+ is 114. In World Series play he is 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA. As a hitter, his average is all of a buck-84, but he did have eight home runs and 113 RBIs. His Baseball Reference.com version of pitching WAR is 59.

Quinn is one of the more unusual players ever. Not only did he pitch for 23 years, a major feat in itself, he was never a particularly great pitcher. In an era when wins were the most important statistic, he had 20 once (26 in 1914) and that in a marginal upstart league. He had 18 wins twice (eight years apart) and eight years with a losing record (although one of those years he went 0-1). Does that sound like a man who would have a 23 year career? He was, however, a pretty fair reliever (just over half his games pitched are relief appearances), but that wasn’t the same as it is today in the age of the “closer”. Is he someone the Hall of Fame has overlooked? Not in my opinion, but I supposed someone could make a case for him.

 

Opening Day, 1914: The Feds

March 21, 2014
Benny Kauff

Benny Kauff

With opening day scheduled for God knows what time in Australia on Saturday, it’s time to look at what the Major League landscape looked like 100 years ago. For the first time since 1890, there were three big leagues: the National League, the American League, and the Federal League. The Feds started their season first (13 April Buffalo at Baltimore), so it seems like a good idea to begin with the upstarts.

The Feds put eight teams in the field in 1914. Many of the players were over-the-hill types like Three-Finger Brown who were hanging on for one last fling. Others like Benny Kauff were new guys trying to make it in the big leagues. Most teams had something of a mixture of both kinds. There were teams in Chicago, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, all well established Major League cities. But the Federal League also ran teams in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Buffalo, and Kansas City, towns that didn’t normally see Major League quality play.

With no previously established rosters, it’s hard to say that any team was favored on opening day 1914. Indianapolis would eventually take the pennant by a game and a half over Chicago with Baltimore and Buffalo rounding out the first division. The Hoosiers won 88 games and featured six of their starting eight position players hitting over .300. The big name was Kauff who led the FL in runs, hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting, OPB OPS and total bases. He also played a decent center field. Bill McKechnie, future Hall of Fame manager, played third and hit .304. He was in the middle of what had been, so far, a mediocre career. Thirty-four year old Cy Falkenberg was the ace, going 25-16 and leading the league in shutouts and strikeouts. But the biggest name to come out of the team was a 21-year-old fourth outfielder with only nine games Major League experience. His name was Edd Roush and he would go on to win National League batting titles, a World Series with the 1919 Cincinnati Reds, and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1962.Despite finishing first Indianapolis had no postseason play as neither the National nor American League acknowledged their existence as a Major League.

Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Tinker, at the end of his career, managed Chicago to second, while Baltimore featured long time pitcher Jack Quinn who, at 30 was still only mid-career. A few other notables did well for the Feds. John Montgomery Ward, long retired from playing and running the Brotherhood union was involved with the Brooklyn team as their business manager. As mentioned, Three-finger Brown split time between Brooklyn and St. Louis going a combined 14-11 and serving for a time as manager in St. Louis. The Terriers (St. Louis) finished dead last but did feature both Fielder Jones, winning manager from the 1906 World Series, as their second manager and 22-year-old Jack Tobin hit .270. He would go on to be one of the stalwarts in the Browns outfield of the 1920s.

In many ways 1914 was a success for the Feds simply because the survived. There was a major overhaul for 1915, champion Indianapolis being dropped for one. That didn’t bode well for the continued existence of the league. Never able to garner first-rate players and having major problems drawing in most of their cities, they hung on for only one more opening day. There have not been three Major Leagues since.

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

1910: Chief

May 12, 2010

Today marks the centennial of Chief Bender’s one and only no-hitter. He beat Cleveland 4-0 (Cleveland was involved in both 1910 no hitters with Addie Joss winning in April) with 1903 World Series hero Bill Dinneen taking the loss. Dinneen had thrown his own no-hitter in 1905. Of the three major pitchers who were the centerpieces of the 1910-1914 Athletics dynasty (Eddie Plank, Jack Coombs being the others), only Bender tossed a no-no.

Charles Albert Bender was born in Minnesota in 1884. He was a Ojibwa tribal member who attended both Carlisle Indian School (before Jim Thorpe arrived) and Dickinson College, both in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He seems to have been an OK student and was a gifted pitcher. In 1903 Connie Mack brought him to the Philadelphia A’s where he became the third pitcher and leading right-hander  behind southpaw aces Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell. He pitched in the 1905 World Series, taking both a win and a loss. The win was Philly’s only victory in the series. By 1910 he was well established as one of Philadelphia’s aces. He was also a Connie Mack favorite, who was generally chosen to pitch critical games. In 1910, he will start two World Series games, splitting them. In 1911, he will start three going 2-1. With Coombs disabled in 1913, Bender will be the ace and win two games in the series. In 1914, lost his only start in the Miracle Braves sweep.

With the advent of the Federal League in 1914,  Mack began dismantling his team. Bender jumped to the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League where he had a terrible year, going 4-16 giving up more hits than innings pitched. With the collapse of the Feds, Bender ended up back in Philadelphia, but this time with the National League Phillies. He went 15-9 with other good numbers too. He retired then, went into war work for World War I, then coached for the White Sox in the 1920s. He got into one game in 1925, giving up a run in one inning with a walk and a hit, then was through for good. He returned to The A’s and coached, scouted, and manged at the minor league level through 1950, when both he and Mack retired. In 1953 he was elected to the Hall of Fame and died the next year.

For his career, including the Federal League year, Bender was 210-128 (a .621 winning percentage) with 1711 strikeouts in 3017 innings,  712 walks, and an ERA of 2.46. In World Series play he pitched ten games going 6-4 with 64 hits,59 strikeouts, and 85.1 innings pitched. Certainly a good enough career.

In one way it’s an even better career. Because Bender was an American Indian he faced the standard racial prejudices of his day every time he took the mound. Phil Sheridan of “The only good indian is a dead indian” fame had only been dead for 15 years prior to Bender’s rookie campaign. He faced problems from the stands and from the opposing players. One symbol of it was his nickname, “Chief.” It was common in the period for any American Indian player to have that nickname and frequently it was meant derogatorily. Mack, sensitive to Bender’s problem and his initial feelings about the name, refered to him as “Albert”, his middle name. Bender seems to have at a point late in his career finally embraced the name (or at least quite despising it) and used it as a badge of honor against a hostile world. One of his favorite responses to heckling from the stands was to refer to the hecklers as “Foreigners.”

His teammates and most of the Philly fans liked him (Considering the way they treat their own players today, what happened to Philly fandom in the last 100 years???). He was considered a good teammate and friend, a player the other players liked to be around both on and off the job. Mack trusted him with scouting and developing minor league players after Bender’s retirement. It wasn’t easy being an American Indian in 1910, but among his friends, coaches, and teammates Bender was respected and liked.

By this point, he’s been almost forgotten. Unlike the black community’s embrace of Jackie Robinson, the American Indian Movement never picked up on him as someone to remember and that’s a real shame. They probably should have done so. He’s worth it as both ballplayer and man.

The Feds

January 26, 2010

We tend to think of baseball as a monolithic entity of 2 leagues forever unchanging. Ain’t so, team. As late as 1914 there was a major challenge to the established National and American Leagues. It was called the Federal League.

James Gilmore ran the Federal League, a minor league, in 1914. He decided that the US could use a third major league so he went out, found backing from a number of major financial players of the day like Charles Weeghman, and announced the new league would compete on an equal basis with the established leagues. There were teams in Chicago, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Additionally, Gilmore said he would scrap the reserve clause (that’s the part of the baseball contract that bound a player to a team at the team’s discretion) and significantly raise salaries.

A bunch of players immeditely bolted to the Feds. Most were marginal players looking for a higher salary, or weaker players looking for playing time. Most major players simply agreed to stay with their current clubs for substantial raises. Ty Cobb did this, so did Tris Speaker and Walter Johnson. Others like Eddie Collins and Joe Jackson got trades because their old teams couldn’t afford the looming salary increases.

A third type of player went to the Federal League. These were older guys hanging on for one last chance at glory and/or a paycheck. Players like Three Finger Brown, Joe Tinker, and Eddie Plank ended up playing in the Federal League. Most of them had short rises in their career numbers, but never became stars of the new league.

The stars were new guys. Benny Kauff became the biggest Federal League star. In 1914 he led the league in batting, stole 75 bases, and his team (Indianapolis) won the pennant. The next season at Brooklyn he again led the league in both categories and was second in home runs. Kauff’s a good way to gauge the quality of play in the new league. In 2 years with the Feds he hit 370 and 342, stole 130 bases, had 376 hits, scored 212 runs, and hit a total of 20 home runs. For the entire rest of his career he hit 281, stole 104 bases, had 585 hits, scored 309 runs, and hit 29 home runs. He was 25 when he left the Feds and played until he was banned at age 30 in 1920. So most of his good numbers come from the 2 seasons away from the NL and AL (He played 5 of 569 games for the Yankees and the rest for the Giants.). Those stats are fairly common. Pitchers like Cy Falkenburg do the same thing.

The Federal League folded after the 1915 season (Chicago won the last pennant). It just wasn’t making enough money to continue offering the salaries it was offering and the fan base wasn’t growing. Indianapolis won the first pennant and promptly folded for lack of fans. There was a lawsuit (you knew the lawyers would get involved, didn’t you?), resolved by, of all people, Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Two Federal League owners got NL or AL teams (the Cubs and the Browns) and baseball returned to its normal 2 league set up.

But the Federal League had a legacy, quite a substantial one actually. The driving up of salaries and the subsequent collapse of paychecks is  considered, in some quarters, a major factor in the gambling scandals that were to hit baseball in the next 5 years, culminating with the Black Sox. It did produce one great player. Edd Roush was a centerfielder who got a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 1913 (he went 1 for 10). He went to the Feds, did well, and ended up in the National League. In 1919 he won the batting title at Cincinnati and led them into the World Series. He also led the NL in doubles once and triples once. For a career he hit 323 with a 446 sluging percentage and made the Hall of Fame in 1962. The lawsuit that ended the Federal League became the mainstay of Major League baseball’s contractual program into the 1970s. It’s the decision that ultimately led to the Supreme Court declaring that the unique nature of baseball made it immune to anti-trust laws and effectively made the players slaves to their teams.

Finally, the Chicago Federal League team (they were called the Whales) built a brand new stadium for its team. When they folded, well, there was this nice new stadium available and, you see the Cubs were playing in an outdated park, and, well, you know, it’s there and everything. The Cubs moved into the Whales park and later renamed it Wrigley Field.   They still use it.