Posts Tagged ‘Fred Merkle’

1908: Game of Games

October 8, 2018

Joe Tinker

With the regular season over, the National League pennant was still undecided. The Chicago Cubs and New York Giants had identical records, but there was still one game to make up, the so-called ‘Merkle Game.” The baseball world had never seen anything like it. There were fans clamoring for tickets even after the game began. There were stories in the newspapers about possible aspect of the game. The bettors were out in force. There was an eclipse of the sun, brimstone fell from heaven. Well, maybe not an eclipse or brimstone, but to read the accounts of the day, it was close.

The game started well for New York. In the bottom of the first Cubs starter Jack Pfiester plunked Fred Tenney (playing first for New York, the position Fred Merkle played in the famous 23 September game), then walked Buck Herzog. A pick-off removed Herzog, but “Turkey” Mike Donlin doubled to score Tenney and a walk to Cy Seymour sent Pfiester to the showers. In came Cubs ace Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. He managed to shut down the Giants without either Donlin or Seymour scoring.

Giants ace Christy Mathewson started for New York and got through the first two innings without damage. In the top of the third, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker, who’d hit Mathewson reasonably well during the season (and had homered in the “Merkle Game.”) tripled to lead off the inning. A Johnny Kling single brought him home to tie the game. With two outs, Johnny Evers walked. Then a double by Frank “Wildfire” Schulte scored Kling and a two-run double by manager Frank Chance cleared the bases.

With the score now 4-1, Brown cruised through the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh, New York staged a mini-rally. With Art Devlin on base, Tenney lofted a long sacrifice to score the second Giants run. It was all for the Giants, as Brown held them scoreless in both the eighth and ninth innings to secure the victory and the pennant for the Cubs.

There were recriminations in New York and celebration in Chicago. For the Cubs it sent them to their third consecutive World Series. They’d won in 1907 and lost in 1906. For the Giants it was the end of a famous season. They would wait two more years before returning to the top of the National League in 1911.

 

1908: Henry Clay Pulliam

September 20, 2018

Henry C. Pullliam

One of the more important, but most overlooked, results of the 1908 “Merkle Boner” was what happened off the field in its aftermath. It forever changed, and some argued shortened, the life of National League President Henry Clay Pulliam.

The future National League President was born in Kentucky in 1869, son of a tobacco farmer and named for one of the state’s most famous statesmen. He graduated from law school at the University of Virginia, became a journalist at the Louisville, Kentucky Commercial. Interested in politics, he ran successfully for the Kentucky state assembly and served a term. He came to the attention of Hall of Fame owner Barney Dreyfuss, who owned the Louisville Colonels of the American Association (a Major League at the time). Dreyfuss named him, first, team secretary (a position that would evolve into today’s General Manager), and later club President. While at Louisville, Pulliam signed future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner to his first major league contract.

When the National League contracted for the 1900 season, Dreyfuss and Pulliam moved their headquarters to Pittsburgh (Dreyfuss owned both Louisville and Pittsburgh under the “syndicate” rules of the day), taking with them Louisville’s primary players, including Wagner. It began the turn of the 20th Century Pirates dynasty that managed to get to the first World Series.

But by the first World Series, Pulliam was no longer with the team. He was well liked, considered knowledgeable about the sport, easy to get along with, and quite frankly a number of owners thought he could be easily manipulated. That got him elected to the presidency of the NL in 1902.

His first job was to end the “war” with the fledgling American League. Although Cincinnati owner Gerry Herrmann was primarily responsible for proposing the terms of the “National Agreement” that ended the war, and Dreyfuss was the first proponent of the World Series, Pulliam was instrumental in seeing both implemented. He got along with AL President Ban Johnson (almost no one else did) and was able to ease Johnson’s acceptance of the National Agreement. As NL President he, along with Johnson and Herrmann, was part of the trinity that ran Major League Baseball for the next several years.

But all this led him into conflict with two men of great importance to baseball: Andrew Freedman, owner of the Giants, and the Giants manager John McGraw. Both men argued that Pulliam’s decisions on disputed issues always favored the Pittsburgh position. After an initial unanimous election as NL President, Pulliam’s annual reelection was by a 7-1 margin with New York casting the no vote (later Cincinnati joined New York to make it 6-2). This continued even after Freedman left the Giants and John T. Brush took over as New York team owner.

Always considered “high-strung” Pulliam began suffering health problems by 1906. Some sources indicate he was on the verge of a “nervous breakdown” from the strain of his job. Then came the Merkle Boner (see the post just below this one) and he was thrust into the center of a raging fight between the Giants and almost everyone else. By 1908 John T. Brush had taken control of the Giants and he was furious with both umpire Hank O’Day, who’d ruled the Merkle game a tie, and Pulliam for upholding the decision. For the next year Brush relentlessly hounded Pulliam calling him a cheat in the pay of the Cubs and other things that are not acceptable for a family oriented site like this.

John T. Brush

All of that got to Pulliam and he suffered something like a breakdown in late 1908. He took a leave of absence and didn’t return to NL headquarters until after the 1909 season began. Apparently unable to withstand the pressures of his job, he went to his apartment and shot himself on 28 July 1909. He died the next day still in his apartment. He is buried in Kentucky. John Heydler, his assistant took over the job as NL President.

Pulliam is in many ways a tragic figure. He was good at his job, apparently honest and well liked. But he was unable to withstand the constant strain of the position. It’s much too much to say that Brush and the Giants killed him, but their constant abuse certainly helped lead to the depression that ultimately led to his demise.

Pulliam’s final resting place (from Find a Grave)

 

1908: Merkle

September 18, 2018

Fred Merkle in 1908

You knew when you read that I would be taking some time to talk about the 1908 season that it would eventually come down to Fred Merkle, didn’t you? The “Merkle Boner” is among the most famous of all baseball plays, probably the single most famous Deadball Era play. So without hesitation, let’s get on with it.

At the end of the day on 22 September 1908, the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were in a virtual tie atop the National League. The Giants were percentage points ahead (.635 to .629) by virtue of having played seven fewer games. They were three up in the loss column, but the Cubs had eight games to play while they had 15 more. The next game for both would be an afternoon game at the Polo Grounds the next day.

Fred Tenney

The Giants’ regular first baseman Fred Tenney was having back trouble and was forced to sit the 23 September game. In his place John McGraw inserted Fred Merkle. Our man Merkle came up in 1907, played a little, was again on the team in 1908. He had not started a game all season and at that point had all of 41 at bats for the year. He was, considered an excellent fielder, an acceptable hitter, and a player worth having. He was also 19 years of age.

The Cubs sent Jack Pfiester to the mound and the Giants replied with ace Christy Mathewson. Pfiester would finish the season at 17-6, while Mathewson would go 37-11. The first four innings were scoreless. In the top of the fifth, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker, who had a habit of hitting Mathewson well, stroked his fifth home run of the season (he ended up with six). The Giants struck back in the bottom of the sixth when a Mike Donlin single scored Buck Herzog with the tying run. The score remained 1-1 through the top of the ninth. By that point Merkle was 0-2 with a walk.

With one out Art Devlin singled, but was erased on a Moose McCormick grounder. Now with two outs, Merkle sliced a single that put McCormick on third and himself on first. Up came Al Bridwell who drove a pitch into center field scoring McCormick and giving the Giants a one game lead in the NL.

Except that it didn’t. Merkle, halfway to second and seeing McCormick score, turned and trotted toward the club house without ever touching second base. The rules (it’s 4.09) state that, with two outs, no run can score if the final out of the inning is a force play. Merkle was forced to run to second, so a force play was in order.

Johnny Evers

At this point, history leaves off and legend takes over. There a several versions of what happened next. All agree that Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle failed to touch second. He called for Cubs center fielder Circus Solly Hofman to throw him the ball. At this point there is great disagreement. The stories indicate that there was some interference with the throw. Most sources say that Giants base coach Joseph McGinnity intercepted the ball and threw it into the stands. Other sources say a fan (fans were on the field by this point) grabbed the ball and either tossed it into the stands or pocketed it. Whatever happened, Evers and other Cubs went after the ball. There seems to have been some sort of scuffle and Evers eventually emerged at second with a ball. Whether it was “the ball” or not is in open dispute. Wherever the ball came from, Evers was on second holding it and arguing that Merkle was out and that the run didn’t count. Umpire Hank O’Day agreed and called Merkle out. With fans all over the field and darkness approaching, he also called the game a tie.

Hank O’Day

New York exploded. McGraw was furious with the umpires, not with Merkle. Team President John T. Brush complained to the National League President. The Cubs prepared for the next game. The ramifications of the game would continue for the remainder of the season. They would effect both teams and, unexpectedly, help determine the fate of not only a pennant, but a life.

 

 

 

A Long Look at 1908

March 6, 2018

Honus Wagner

Back in 2010 I took a months long look at the 1910 season as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of a pivotal season. The 1910 season was important because it began the ascendency of the American League over the National League in postseason play. In the first decade of the 20th Century, the NL won most World Series. The next time that was true was the 1960s. The 1910 season also saw the coming of the first AL dynasty, the Philadelphia Athletics. OK, I know Detroit won three straight pennants 1907-1909, but they blew all three World Series. Somehow, you just can’t be a dynasty if you lose the championship game three years in a row. The year also saw the rise to prominence of several players, Eddie Collins, Frank Baker (not yet “Home Run” Baker), and Joe Jackson (and others). All in all it was an important year for the sport.

The 1908 season wasn’t quite as important, but it has, over the 110 years since, become far more famous. It was the year of the “Merkle Boner,” probably the most famous Deadball Era play ever and of the first game that was something like a “play in” game. Honus Wagner had a season for the ages, arguably the finest hitting season prior to the arrival of Babe Ruth in New York. It included two great pennant races; the NL one being the more famous, but the one in the AL being every bit as terrific. It saw two great pitchers, Christy Mathewson and Mordecai Brown step center stage in the NL race. It was still two years to “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” the poem that immortalized Tinker to Evers to Chance, but they were the mainstays of one of the teams in the middle of the NL race. And always standing forefront in the NL was the shadow of John McGraw. In the AL there was Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford and the Detroit team trying to repeat as AL champs, something that hadn’t been done since 1903-04.

What I intend to do is take a post or two every month through September and look at various aspects of the season. Sometimes it will be a team, other times a player, yet other times a game or set of games. There will be updates on the standings and the stats. The project won’t dominate any month (at least I don’t think so), but it will recur. I hope you will enjoy a long, frequent (but hopefully not overdone) trip back 110 years to see just what all the shouting was about. More importantly, I hope we each learn something.

110 Years On

January 5, 2018

Honus Wagner

We usually do anniversaries in years like 50 and 100, but this is the 110th anniversary of one of the more unique years in Major League Baseball history. So it seems like a good time to look back at one of Deadball Baseball’s most interesting years.

There are a number of reasons why it’s important to remember 1908 in baseball. The most common response is probably that it’s the last time, prior to 2016, that the Cubs actually won the World Series. It was the apex year for the Tinker to Evers to Chance Cubs (and let’s not forget Mordecai Brown’s pitching). They Beat up on Ty Cobb’s Detroit team in the Series, then faded in 1909 before winning a final National League pennant in 1910 (losing the Series to the Philadelphia Athletics).

It’s also a good time to remember John McGraw’s New York Giants. They were a terrific Deadball team, fighting the Cubs right to the end (and one game beyond) before bowing out. It was a typical McGraw team, great pitching, good hitting, lots of base running, and decent defense for the era. But it’s most famous in 1908 for the “Merkle Boner” play. In case you’ve forgotten, in a key game against the Cubs, Fred Merkle (first baseman) was on first when a two-out single scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Merkle didn’t go all the way to second and was subsequently called out on a force play to end the inning with the score tied. The replay (the “one game beyond” mentioned above) saw the Cubs win and head to the World Series while McGraw, the Giants, and Merkle headed home for the off-season. It is arguably the most famous Deadball Era play and was 110 years ago this season.

It was also the year of Honus Wagner. Read these numbers carefully. Wagner’s triple slash line was .354/.415/.542/.957 with an OPS+ of 205 with 308 total bases. All of those lead the NL in 1908. He also had 201 hits, 39 doubles, 19 triples, 109 RBIs, and 53 stolen bases. All of those also led the NL. He hit only 10 home runs, good for second in the league. All that got him 11.5 WAR, which also led the NL. In fielding he led all NL shortstops in putouts. It is unquestionably one of the greatest seasons ever by any player. Among WAR for position players it’s the highest ever until the arrival of Babe Ruth in New York in 1920. It still ranks tied for 11th even after 110 years. To put it in some context of the era, the NL average triple slash line was .239/.299/.306/.605 with an average OPS+ of 93 (meaning the average player was below average–chew on that for a minute). The .239 is a low for the NL ever, tying 1888 for an all-time low. For what it’s worth the American League in 1968 set the all-time low for either league with an average of .230 (and in 1967 they were at .236, also below the NL in 1908). In 1908 the AL also hit .239. Wagner was simply terrific in 1908.

So set back and enjoy the 2018 season. Hopefully it will be worth remembering 110 years from now. Unfortunately, I won’t be around to make comparisons.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About the World of 1908

November 7, 2016

So the Cubs finally win one after 108 years of failure. Normally I use my “A Dozen Things You Should Know About…” format to feature a particular individual. This time I want to use the same format to give you a dozen things about the world of 1908 that may surprise you (or maybe not, depending on you).

1. Theodore Roosevelt was the incumbent 26th President of the US. Number 27, William Howard Taft, would be elected in November but not take office until 1909. The next President will be number 45.

The Duke

The Duke

2. In Hollywood D.W. Griffith would direct his first movie “The Adventures of Dollie.” He would later (1915) make “The Birth of a Nation” which is generally considered the first “blockbuster.” In Winterset, Iowa John Wayne had his first birthday, while James Stewart was born in Pennsylvania, and Humphrey Bogart turned nine on Christmas day.

3. Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Quanah Parker, Geronimo, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Cole Younger were all still alive. Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy the Kid, died in February.

Nellie Tayloe Ross

Nellie Tayloe Ross

4. Women were still a decade away from receiving the right to vote in federal elections although a handful of states did allow some female voting in state and local elections. In 1887 Susanna Salter was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas and the town of Syracuse, Kansas chose an all female city council. But women were 17 years from Nellie Tayloe Ross becoming the first female governor of an American State (Wyoming).

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

5. Russia still had a Czar, Germany a Kaiser, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire still existed. Poland didn’t. Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son, was still on the throne in Great Britain, and Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria, still had six years to live. His assassination in 1914 would set in motion the events leading to World War I.

6. Adolf Hitler was still an unknown postcard painter and paper hanger in Vienna. Erich Maria Remarque (author of All Quiet on the Western Front) was 10. George Patton was a junior at West Point. Dwight Eisenhower was a junior at Abilene High School.

7. Jim Crow was the law of the land in most places, including many outside the American South. The NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was founded the next year.

8. The Model T from Ford Motor Company came out in October 1908. You had your choice of colors–black or black. Most people took black.

Nora Bayes

Nora Bayes

9. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was published and first sung on a vaudeville stage by Nora Bayes. The words were written by her then husband (second of five) Jack Norwood.

10. Old Tom Morris, one of the first winners of the British Open golf tournament died, as did former US President Grover Cleveland and Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Karsakov.

11. Abe Attell, later infamous in the Black Sox scandal, was Featherweight Boxing Champion, Fred McLeod of Scotland won the US Open Golf tournament for the first and only time, James Braid won his fourth (of five) British Open golf tournament (the PGA doesn’t show up until 1916 and the Masters comes in the 1930s), Jim Thorpe who later became first President of the NFL was in his second year at Carlisle, and a horse named Stone Street won his only major race, the Kentucky Derby, in the slowest Derby time recorded.

12. US coins in circulation included the Indian head cent (the Lincoln penny would come in 1909), the Liberty head nickel (the Buffalo nickel started in 1913), the Barber dime (the Mercury dime began in 1916), and the Barber quarter (the Washington quarter began in 1932). A first class stamp was two cents.

13. And in baseball, Fred Merkle failed to touch second.

Fred Merkle (all pix for this post taken from Wikipedia's page on the individual)

Fred Merkle
(all pix for this post taken from Wikipedia’s page on the individual)

Now you should all go to YouTube and find a recording of the old British ditty “The World Turned Upside Down” to celebrate the Cubs victory.

1912: Opening Day

April 11, 2012

Mae West in 1912

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of Opening Day in 1912. It was a different world then. William Howard Taft was President of the United States (although Woodrow Wilson would win the election in November). Most people still rode the train or horse and buggy. Wyatt Earp and Cole Younger were still alive, as was the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria whose death two years later would spark a World War. Al Capone, Frank Nitti, and Elliot Ness were nobodies. Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin were writing ragtime music and Geroge Gershwin was still four years from publishing his first song. No one had ever heard of John Wayne and Mae West was just getting started on Broadway, but Mary Pickford was America’s darling and Lillian Gish was just beginning a career that would make her a great star. She’d hitched her ambitions to a genius named D.W. Griffith who was starting to toy with the idea of making a movie two hours long, an unheard of length for a “flicker”. Molly Brown wasn’t yet “unsinkable” because the Titanic was still three days from be introduced to icebergs.  George Gipp (of “win one for the Gipper” fame) had yet to play a down for Notre Dame and Babe Ruth had not yet appeared in a Red Sox uniform.

For Boston, 1912 would be an exceptionally good year. Down 2-1 in the ninth inning, the Red Sox would storm back to win on Opening Day. By the end of the season they would win 105 games, finish first by 14 (over Walter Johnson and the Senators), then win a famous World Series over the Giants four games to three (with a tie). The outfield of Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker, and Harry Hooper is considered one of the finest, if not the finest, Deadball Era outfield. Both Speaker and Hooper eventually made the Hall of Fame. Although Hooper had a down year in 1912, Speaker was tremendous and Lewis had a fine season. Jake Stahl managed and played first. He joined Speaker and third baseman Larry Gardner as .300 hitters. Steve Yerkes and Heinie Wagner rounded out the infield and Bill Carrigan did the bulk of the catching. Joe Wood hit .290 and won 34 games. Hugh Bedient and Buck O’Brien both won twenty and Charley Hall and Ray Collins (not the old actor) won in double figures.

The National League saw the New York Giants score 18 runs and pound out 22 hits as the started the season with a victory over Brooklyn. John McGraw’s team would win 103 games and finish 10 ahead of Pittsburgh. As with most McGraw teams, it was the pitching that stood out. Christy Mathewson won 23 games and walked only 34 in 310 innings of work. Lefty Rube Marquard won even more games with 26, while Jeff Tesreau, Red Ames, and Doc Crandall won between 11 and 17 games. Tesreau managed to cop the ERA title. In the field, catcher Chief Meyers had a terrific year, hitting over 350, winning an OBP title, and slugging almost .450. The infield of Fred Merkle, Larry Doyle, Art Fletcher, and Buck Herzog (first around to third )feathured two .300 hitters and two men with 10 or more homer runs (Merkle and Doyle in each case). The outfield featured Fred Snodgrass, who would make a memorable gaffe in the World Series, Josh Devore, Beals Becker, and Red Murray. None of them hit .300, but Murray slugged over .400.

Other noteworthy achievements of the season in the NL included Heinie Zimmerman winning the NL batting, slugging, home run, and OPS titles. Honus Wagner picked up the RBI title while Cincinnati leftfielder Bob Bescher swipped 67 bases to win the stolen base crown. Larry Cheney tied Marquard for the league lead in wins while Grover Cleveland Alexander picked up the strikeout title with 195. Nap Rucker of Brooklyn and Marty O’Toole at Pittsburgh each had six shutouts. The league lead in saves was six, turned in by Slim Sallee of the Cardinals. The Chalmers Award (the 1912 version of the MVP) went to Larry Doyle over Meyers (got me). 

In the American League Ty Cobb hit .409 to win the batting title. He also picked up slugging and OPS titles, while Speaker won the OBP title. Frank Baker won the home run title and tied with Speaker for the RBI lead. Clyde Milan of Washington won the stolen base crown with 88 steals. Walter Johnson won both the ERA and strikeout titles at the same time he put up 33 wins, one less than Wood. Wood also had 10 shutouts, while Ed Walsh at Chicago picked up 10 saves. It should not surprise you that Speaker picked up the AL’s Chalmers Award.

“Non-Essential”

March 30, 2012

Harry Hooper during the 19-teens

In April 1917 the United States entered the Great War on the side of the Entente (Britain, France, Russia) and sent men off to “make the world safe for Democracy” (nice try, fellas). The federal government began to mobilize American society to fight a war unlike any the US had ever faced. It would take a million men to fight it and even more to provide the materiel (yep, that’s spelled right. Materiel is a particular military spelling of material whose origins escape me.), goods, services, morale boosting necessary to fight a modern industrial war. The basic government slogan was “fight or work.” Unfortunately, most people didn’t see playing baseball as work so Major League Baseball was declared “non-essential” and the 1918 season was scrapped.

Of course baseball struck back. The leadership of both leagues argued that the sport provided a morale boost for both men on their way to France and to the munitions and shipyard workers who were supporting the troops, so it should be allowed. The government relented and authorized a shortened season that had to end by Labor Day (2 September) except for a World Series that could be held immediately after. That gave the game a shortened season (126 games for the American League champion and 129 for the National League champion) and led to some funny looking numbers.

With a lot of good players off at either war or war work, the Boston Red Sox won the AL pennant by 2.5 games over Cleveland. They failed to lead the AL in any major category in hitting (leading only in sacrifices). They, in fact, finished dead last in hits with 990. Individually Babe Ruth, now splitting time between the outfield and the mound, tied for the league lead with 11 home runs and led the AL with strikeouts with 58. Pitching was a different story. Boston lead the league in complete games, least hits allowed, shutouts, least runs allowed, and was seond in ERA. Both first baseman Stuffy McInnis and third baseman Fred Thomas spent some time away from the team while serving in the military, but were available for the World Series. Dave  Shean (who lead the AL in sacrifices) and Everett Scott rounded out the infield with Hall of Famer Harry Hooper in right field, Amos Strunk in center, and Ruth in left (with George Whiteman spelling Ruth on days he pitched). Sam Agnew and Wally Schang took care of the catching. The staff had Ruth, Carl Mays, Sam Jones, and Joe Bush starting double figures games and Dutch Leonard who also started 16 games but was gone to the military by the end of the season.

They got to face the Chicago Cubs in the Series. Chicago, which hadn’t won since 1910 had put together a good team through trades and won a pennant by 10.5 games. Fred Merkle (of 1908 infamy), Rollie Zeider, Charlie Hollocher, and Charlie Deal were the infield with Max Flack, Dode Paskert, and Les Mann doing the outfield work, while old-time Phillies catcher Bill Killefer did the backstop work. The staff consisted of Hippo Vaughn, Claude Hendrix, Lefty Tyler, and Phil Douglas as the starters with Paul Carter as the man out of the bullpen. Expected ace Grover Cleveland Alexander was off in the army after only three games. As with Boston, the stars were on the mound (although the team lead the NL in runs scored). Chicago led the NL in shutouts, least runs allowed, and in strikeouts.

It was a terrific Series, with Boston winning in six games. No team scored more than three runs in a game, no game was decided by more than three runs (a 3-0 shutout win by Chicago in game five). Four games (1, 3, 4, and 6) were decided by one run. Ruth won two games (Mays the other two for Boston), including game one. In doing so he stretched his consecutive scoreless inning streak. It stayed until game four’s eighth inning when Chicago got two runs (both earned). The record lasted until Whitey Ford slid passed it in 1960. There were no home runs and only Cubs backup second baseman Charlie Pick and Boston’s Schang hit over .300 (Schang led all hitters at .444).

Maybe 1918 was “non-essential” but it produced a good pennant race in the AL. It also produced a fine World Series. All-in-all not a bad way of diverting a wartime populace from the tragedy of World War I.

The Crab

September 6, 2011

Johnny Evers

Some players have careers that are easy to evaluate. Whatever criteria you use, whatever stats you emphasize, whatever stats you make up, Babe Ruth is going to be pretty clearly marked out as a player. Others aren’t so easy to define. One of those is Johnny Evers.

Evers was born in upstate New York in 1881, and began his minor league career in 1902. That same year he was the “throw in” guy in the purchase of a pitcher by the Chicago Cubs. Evers was short, weighed barely 100 pounds, had great range, could throw well, and made a lot of errors because of his range (he got to a lot of balls then couldn’t make the play). Initially the shortstop, he was moved to second base after about a week. There he was terrific by Dead Ball Era standards. He teamed with Joe Tinker at shortstop and Frank Chance (later his manager) to form the most famous, if not necessarily the best, double play combination of the era. The team won 116 games in 1906 (a number equaled once, and that with eight more games on the schedule) but lost the World Series. They won the Series the next two years. Evers hit well, but this was a team built on pitching and defense and his play at second was, perhaps, more significant than his hitting.

He was also a pain, which is a nice way of saying few people liked him. It helped earn him the nickname “The Crab”. He and Tinker didn’t speak off the field for years. You get a lot of reasons depending on the source. Evers own version has Tinker firing a ball to record an out that hurt Evers hand. When Evers complained, Tinker laughed and that destroyed any brewing friendship. And with Evers there don’t seem to have been a lot of friends. To say he was “high-strung” is to understate the measure. He alienated teammates with his criticism of bad plays, opponents with his hard play. In fact, he alienated almost everyone (I guess his folks liked him, but that’s a guess). In 1911, he had a nervous breakdown that cost him most of the season. Again there are a lot of  stories of what happened, but Evers own account says he lost money in a business venture and was broke.

Evers also had a habit of not going out with the guys in the evenings. With his personality, would you want him along? (A Dale Carnegie graduate he wasn’t.). He used his spare time to read, including the baseball rulebook. He became something of an expert on the more arcane rules, which led to his participation in the most famous of all Dead Ball Era plays, the “Merkle play”. With two out in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game in 1908, Giants baserunner Fred Merkle failed to advance from first to second on a single while the winning run scored (there are a lot of places on-line where you can get the details). Evers retrieved a ball (probably not “the” ball), stepped on second, and demanded the umpire declare Merkle out and the run void. Apparently Evers and umpire Hank O’Day knew the rule. O’Day called Merkle out, the game ended in a tie, the season ended in a tie, the Cubs won the replay, and their last World Series to date.

In 1913, Evers became manager of the Cubs. Think about that. Here’s a high-strung guy that fights with everyone, that no one likes, and you make him the team manager (and you wonder why the Cubs don’t win often). Despite all that, the Cubs still finished third, but Evers managed to alienate everyone, including the beer salesmen and the owner, so out he went. They sent him to Boston where he took over the second base job for the Braves. His leadership skills (“Play hard or Evers will scream”) and his getting hot with the bat during the last half of the season were considered reasons why the “Miracle Braves” moved from last to first in the final three months of the season to capture the National League pennant, then win the NL’s first World Series since 1909 in a four game sweep of the Athletics. Evers won that season’s NL Chalmers Award (the early version of the MVP).

It was his last good year. He was on the downside of his career anyway and his nerves began really fraying. His did poorly in 1915, worse in 1916, and was cut prior to the 1917 season. He did some managing after his retirement, skippering both the Cubs and the White Sox. He did reasonably well, but never won. He  got into one game in both 1922 and 1929, drew two walks and had no hits, then retired for good. He ran a sporting goods store in Albany, New York (wonder how he was with customers), had a stroke in 1942, made the Hall of Fame in 1946, and died in 1947.

For his career Evers hit .270, slugged .334, had an OBP of .356, for an OPS of .690 (OPS+ of 106). He hit all of 12 home runs, had 216 doubles, 70 triples, and 1659 hits for 2051 total bases. He scored 919 runs and knocked in 528. He had 324 stolen bases.  He never led the NL in any major hitting category but finished as high as second in both walks and stolen bases. In World Series play he hit .316, scored 11 runs, knocked in six, and stole eight bases. He hit .438 with an OBP of .500 in the 1914 World Series victory. As a fielder he led the NL in assists twice and also in errors twice, doing both in 1904 (now that’s a neat trick). He also led the league in putouts and fielding percentage among second baseman once each.

So those numbers don’t sound all that great, do they? Even for Dead Ball Era players they’re not that spectacular. But Evers seems to be one of those guys that is more than the sum of his stats. He’s bright, he’s aggressive, he’s also a pain. Those are things difficult to evaluate. He’s a good second baseman, a lousy teammate. He’s a good glove man, not so great with the bat. He’s knowledgable about the game, but he can’t stay healthy. He’s certainly a mixed bag. I like him because he’s fun to study, but I don’t think I’d like to have known him. And maybe that’s the fascination with Evers. He’s all those things listed above and that makes for an interesting character.

The Iron Man

January 26, 2011

Joe McGinnity

Baseball has, over the years, produced some strange stats. Few are more strange than those of Joe McGinnity. He plays exactly ten years, averages 25 wins a season as a pitcher, then disappears from Major League rosters forever. I decided to find out what happened.

Joseph McGinty (the name change occurred after he reached adulthood) was born in 1871 in Rock Island, Illinois (home of the rail line made famous by the “Leadbelly” song). He tried minor league ball with little success, but did find a wife. His offseason job in 1893 and 1894 was in the Union Iron Foundry in McAlester, Oklahoma Territory (now state). He hit it off with the owners daughter and they married in 1893 (Is that a fringe benefit?). The work in the foundry earned him his nickname “Iron Man” McGinnity.

His baseball career floundering, he ran a saloon (also serving as the bouncer) and continued to pitch in semi-pro ball. During the sojourn in the semi-pros he discovered a new pitch. The pitch was a curve delivered with a submarine motion. It was difficult to hit and relatively easy on the arm. In 1898 he was back in professional ball, doing well enough to make the National League with the Baltimore Orioles (not the current team). He was an instant hit leading the league in wins and coming in second in ERA. He was also 29.

The owner of the Orioles also owned the Brooklyn team. Syndicate baseball was common in the era and the owner moved McGinnity to the stronger team, the Superbas (they didn’t become the Dodgers until much later). McGinnity again led the National League in wins and this time added innings pitched to his black ink stats. The Superbas won the pennant, but were challenged by second place Pittsburgh to a post season set of games called the “Chronicle-Telegraph Games” (named for a Pittsburgh newspaper which put up a fancy cup). Brooklyn won three games to one with McGinnity pitching two complete games and giving up no earned runs.

In 1901, the American League arrived. McGinnity joined the new AL team in Baltimore, also called the Orioles, but, again, not the same team as exists today. He won 26 games for the fledgling team, despite a 12 day suspension for spitting on an umpire (Joe McGinnity, meet Roberto Alomar). In 1902 he began the year with Baltimore but joined the exodus of players to New York and the NL, when his manager, John McGraw, jumped to the Giants as a result on a dispute with AL president Ban Johnson.

He spent the remaining years of his Major League career with the Giants, picking up 31 wins and pitching 434 innings in ’03. The latter is the NL record for the 20th Century. In August of 1903 he became famous for pitching both ends of a double-header three different times. He won all six games. He was already known as “Iron Man”, but now the nickname became synonymous with the double-header feat. In 1904 he was 35-8, winning 14 consecutive games, leading the league in wins, innings, shutouts, ERA, and saves. In 1905, he was down to 21 wins, but the Giants won the World Series. He took a loss in game two and won game four (of five) giving up no earned runs in either game (the loss came on errors). In 1906 he won 27 games, but was suspended for ten days, this time for fighting on the diamond.

By 1907, he was on the downslide. He pitched much less than before and began spending a lot of time in the coach’s box. By 1908 he was through, although he was famously involved in the “Merkle Game” (He’s supposed to have thrown the ball into the stands to keep the Cubs from making Fred Merkle out at second.). The Giants released him in February 1909. He was 39. He may have been through at the Major League level, but he wasn’t through with baseball. He went back to the minors, which were in his day not tied to the big league clubs in a farm system. He pitched until 1925 racking up 400 more wins, including a 30 win season, five 20 win seasons, and twice more winning both ends of a double-header. In the modern world of farm teams whose only job is to get minor leaguers to the big leagues, McGinnity’s post-1908 minor league career is unthinkable.

After retiring he coached a little with the Brooklyn team and assisted Williams College with its baseball program. He died in 1929 and was buried in McAlester, Oklahoma. He made the Hall of Fame in 1946.

For his Major League career McGinnity went 246-142 (or 25-14 per year) for his ten year career with an ERA of 2.66. In five of the ten years he led the NL in wins. He also led the league in ERA, shutouts, and winning percentage once each and led in innings pitched four times. His ERA+ is 1.21 and his WHIP is 1.188. What you get with McGinnity is an innings eater with a lot of wins. It’s fashionable to downplay “wins” as a major pitching statistic today, and that’s certainly fair in the modern era. After all, a starter goes six innings, turns the game over to any number of seventh inning stoppers, who turn it over to the set up man in the eighth, who finally gives the ball to the closer in the ninth. It’s hard to really consider the six inning starter much of a winning pitcher. Additionally, fielders have massive gloves and the field is manicured. That’s very different from McGinnity’s day. He started 381 games and finished 314 (82%) and had fielders with little gloves and terrible playing surfaces behind him. To me a win in 1905 is pretty meaningful, particularly versus the modern version. So, I’m more impressed with the 25 wins a year than I would be if McGinnity put them up today.

I began my search for McGinnity by wondering why he had such a short career. I think there are two reasons. First, he was 29 when he got to the Majors and 39 was usually the end of the baseball line in the first decade of the 20th Century. Second, with all those innings, I imagine that even a submarine delivery had to put a lot of strain on that arm of his. Although his subsequent minor league stats might belie that assertion.

While researching this post I ran across information that McGinnity’s home in McAlester, Oklahoma is still standing. Here’s a picture of it:

McGinnity home, McAlister, OK

 It’s in poor repair, but the article indicates that they are trying to restore it (as evidenced by the equipment to the left in the picture) to its original splendor. There’s some question as to whether McGinnity bought it or if it belonged to his wife’s family and she inherited it on the death of her parents. Considering the size and evident expense of the home and considering baseball salaries in 1905, I lean toward the latter theory. Either way, McGinnity actually lived in it. There is no information I could find about what memorabilia, if any, they have.