Posts Tagged ‘Fred Tenney’

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: 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.

 

 

 

1908: Woeful

August 13, 2018

The immortal Chappy Charles

How do you win a ballgame? It’s actually not a trick question. You win by scoring more runs than the other guy. All this stuff about home runs and doubles and RBIs and WAR and OPS+ is just about how you go about scoring runs. In the history of Major League Baseball, going all the way back to 1880, the most woeful team at doing what you have to do to win is the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals.

First, a couple of caveats. The 1880 Cincinnati team scored 296 runs, but it was in a total of 80 games. The 1882 Baltimore team got 272 runs. The all-time record low for runs scored is 24 by the St. Paul Apostles of the Union Association in 1884. But they only survived for nine games. For something like a modern season of 162 games (or 154 by 1900) the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals are the non-scoring champs with (get ready for it) 372 runs scored over 154 games (49-105 win-loss record), or about 2.4 runs a game. And while we’re at it, they are low with only 301 total RBIs for the season (1.95 per game).

We should also take a moment and praise the Brooklyn Superbas for their own magical 1908. They went 53-101 and scored all of 375 runs in the season (also 2.4 a game) while the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) dropped to the bottom in the American League with 459 runs scored (2.96 runs a game–and the Highlanders played 155 games). And for what it’s worth, those extra three runs got the Superbas four more wins than the Cards while the Highlanders split the difference, winning two more games than St. Louis.

Now at this point I just know you’re dying to know who are these all-time greats that managed an all-time low in runs scored while playing at St. Louis, so I’m going to oblige you (You knew I would, didn’t you?) The big gun (well, sorta) was Red Murray a 24-year-old outfielder who hit .282 and led the team with 64 runs scored (just over 17% of all the team’s runs) and 62 RBIs (20% of the team RBIs). Second on the team in both runs and RBIs was first baseman Ed Konetchy with 46 runs and 50 RBIs (that works out to 12% of the team’s runs and 17% of the team RBIs). The other two outfielders, Al Shaw (40 runs) and Joe Delahanty (37 runs and 44 RBIs) did much of the remaining damage. Murray, Konetchy, and Delahanty were the only players with more than 20 RBIs (Shaw had 19). And finally, backup infielder Chappy Charles had 39 runs scored, good for fourth on the team (just over 10%).

So how does all this compare to some of the other teams in 1908? Well, Fred Tenney led the NL in runs with 101, Honus Wagner had 100, Tommy Leach had 93, Fred Clarke had 83 (as did Johnny Evers). Add ’em up and you get 377, more than the entire St. Louis (and Brooklyn) team. In RBIs, Wagner led the league (of course he did, it’s 1908) with 109. Mike Donlin had 106 and Cy Seymour had 92. That’s three players who added together had more RBIs than poor old St. Louis.

I suppose that if your team is doing poorly, it’s no comfort to know the 1908 Cardinals existed. But in the deadest of all Deadball seasons, they set a record. I’m not sure how you celebrate that kind of record.

1908: The End of July

August 1, 2018

Here’s the next update in my continuing look at the 1908 season (110 years on).

Bobby Wallace

With approximately two-thirds’ of the 1908 season gone, the pennant race in the American League was taking shape seriously. Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland all had winning records and held down the first division. The Tigers were two games up on the Browns, with Chicago 5.5 back, and Cleveland at eight behind. For Detroit, Ty Cobb was hitting .346, but fellow Hall of Famer Sam Crawford was only at .287. Chicago was standing behind Ed Walsh on the mound and 37-year-old George Davis (in his next-to-last season). Davis was only hitting .212. For Cleveland Nap LaJoie was having a down season so far (.269 with four triples), but the pitching (read Addie Joss here) was holding up. For the Browns, Bobby Wallace, their most famous player, was also having a bad season (hitting .269), but pitcher Rube Waddell was doing well (By WAR, a stat unknown in 1908, Wallace was having a terrific season. He’d end at 6.3). Among the also rans, the Highlanders (Yankees) were in last place, 25 games out.

John Titus

In the National League, five teams winning records on 31 July: Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. The Pirates were a half game up on the Cubs, two up on the Giants, 6.5 ahead of the Phils, and eight up on the Reds. St, Louis was all the way at the bottom 23.5 games out of first. The Pirates leaders, Tommy Leach, manager Fred Clarke, and Roy Thomas were a mixed bag at the end of July, but the team revolved around shortstop Honus Wagner. By 31 July, he was hitting .328 with an OPS of .939. Chicago, relying on the Tinker to Evers to Chance infield and Three-Finger Brown, was also getting good years out of Harry Steinfeldt, the other infielder, and a 21-year-old backup named Heinie Zimmerman. For the Giants it was a standard John McGraw team with great pitching from Christy Mathewson and Hooks Wiltse (with an assist from part-time pitcher, part-time coach, Joe McGinnity), and 3.0 WAR from first baseman Fred Tenney. Philadelphia played Cincinnati on 31 July and the Phillies win put the Reds another game back. Philadelphia’s John Titus was having a good year and for the Reds Hans Lobert was leading the hitters.

The season still had two months to go, two terrific pennant races to conclude, one utter memorable game to play. But it also had one of the more interesting games coming up between two also-rans in just a few days.

Opening Day, 1910: New York (NL)

April 8, 2010

John J. McGraw

In 1908 the Giants lost the National League pennant on the last day of the season (the so called “Merkle Game”). They slipped in 1909, finishing third, 12 games out of second. John McGraw, never content with anything but first place, began retooling his team for the 1910 pennant run.

He did it by going with a group of bench players who replaced the more established players in the field. In doing so he dropped the average age of his postion players from 28 to 26 years of age, the youngest in the league (actually tied wth Cincinnati).  Gone were first baseman Fred Tenney, center fielder Bill O’Hara, and left fielder Moose McCormick. In their place came new first baseman and seven hitter Fred Merkle (of “Bonehead” infamy), Fred Snodgrass in center and hitting third, and Josh Devore the left fielder and new lead off man.

Staying in the starting line up were two hitter and second baseman Larry Doyle (the 1909 league leader in hits), shortstop and five hitter Al Bridwell, Art Devlin the third baseman and six hitter, and right fielder Red Murray who hit clean up. The 1909 backup catcher had been Chief Meyers. He now took over the starting spot, and the eight hole. Former starter Admiral Schlei slid onto the bench. Holdover Cy Symour and newcomer Beals Becker (from National League rival Boston) were the substitute outfielders, while Art Fletcher and Tilly Shafer remained backup infielders.

The pitching staff was the heart of a McGraw team. Christy Mathewson was the ace. He led the NL in winning percentage and ERA in 1909. Hooks Wiltse, Red Ames, and Bugs Raymond remained from the ’09 team. Reliever Doc Crandall stayed in the bullpen, and newcomer Rube Marquard was on the roster as a spot starter.

As usual for the Giants of the era, the team was built around pitching, defense, and speed. It was younger, faster, and hit better. Most New Yorkers expected it to compete for a pennant and a return to the World Series, the Giants’ first since 1905.

Next: Cincinnati

1908: Wagner

February 4, 2010

Honus Wagner

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished  one game back in the National League pennant race of 1908, tied with the Giants. They hung close all season before dropping a key game to Chicago to put them out of the hunt in October. Losing wasn’t Honus Wagner’s fault, however.

Wagner’s 1908 is one of the finest seasons any major league ballplayer ever produced. The numbers don’t look all that stunning at first blush, but when you consider the context, the times, the pressure of a pennant race, they stand up against almost anything. I read a comment by historican/statistician Bill James that argued Wagner’s 1908 was legitimately one of the five best seasons ever and could be considered number one. In the 2001 version of his Historical Baseball Abstract he gives it a 59 win shares. Except for a couple of 19th Century pitchers who threw every game, that’s the highest total he gives any season, including the 1920’s for Babe Ruth.  

What’s all the fuss about? Here’s Wagner’s 1908 in a nutshell. He led the league in hits with 201, doubles with 39, triples with 19, RBIs with 109, stolen bases with 53, a .354 batting average, a slugging percentage of .542, an on base percentage of .415, an OPS of .957, and 308 total bases. For good measure he finished second in runs with 100 (to Fred Tenney, Giants first baseman who had 101 and 40 more plate appearances), second in home runs with 10 (to Brooklyn first baseman Tim Jordan with 12), and had 54 walks, good for a lousy tenth in the league (Roger Bresnahan had 83). Want to put that in Major Lague perspective. Ty Cobb betters him in  triples (20 to 19) but Wagner leads both leagues in all the other categories. His second in home runs and runs leaves him still second in home runs and he drops to fourth among all major leaguers in runs (Matty McIntyre and Cobb both have more than Tenney). Top all that off with a great glove at shortstop (in context of rough fields, gloves only slightly larger than a hand) and it’s quite a year.

In context it’s even better. The league average for runs per team was 3.32 in 1908 and the league-wide batting average stood at .239. The latter was the lowest for either league (and throw in the Federal League for good measure) in the entire 20th Century until the American League managed to lower it in consecutive years: 1967 and 1968. Pitchers dominated and hitters suffered. With all that going againt him, Honus Wagner stepped up to the plate in 151 of 154 games and simply destroyed the baseball.

The Pirates didn’t win in 1908. They did in 1909 and won the World Series. I supposed Wagner appreciated the outcome of 1909 much more than he appreciated his own efforts in 1908. We get to celebrate both.